Cross glanced up from the floor as Makina walked unceremoniously into his room. Without a word she made her way to his bed, climbing under the covers and pulling them tight around her body. After a few moments of wiggling around for comfort, she settled into a position where she could look out at Cross.
“Cold?” Cross asked as he returned to tending his Tenchi Blade.
“Hardly. I am not capable of feeling cold in the way you humans do. However, I do enjoy warmth.”
“And covers.” Cross glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “So, Ra doesn’t feel heat then?”
“He does not.”
“I see.” Cross held the sword up to the light, running his eye along the edge. There didn’t seem to be any lasting damage from his battle with Alice. “Thanks, by the way.”
“You will need to be more specific. There are many things which you should be thankful for.”
“You brought this back for me.” Cross brought the sword back and, resting it along his leg. “Lexi told me.”
“Well, yes. I couldn’t simply leave it lying on the ground, now could I? Don’t worry, I was exceedingly careful with it.”
“I appreciate that, really.” Cross gave her a small smile before turning his attention back to the sword. He let out a soft breath of displeasure as he eyed the small hook like protrusion on the backside of the sword, just above the hilt. Closing one eye in anticipation, he pressed this thumb against the hook until it pierced into his skin. His teeth ground together as he forced the point deep into his thumb before pulling away with a steady trickle of blood.
“What are you doing?” Makina’s eyes went wide and she leaned towards him.
“Tenchi swords are made out of a special kind of material. You have to refresh your connection to the sword occasionally, or the metal will warp if you try to use it as a focal point.”
“Oh, of course.” Makina nodded as though she understood, though she clearly didn’t.
Cross nodded and ran his thumb along the flat of the blade, first one side, then the other. The sword absorbed his blood like a sponge, leaving no trace of the process behind.
“That should do it.” Cross mumbled as he pushed his thumb into his mouth. “Always hate this part.”
“It is rather barbaric.”
Cross didn’t disagree. Sighing, he returned the blade to its sheath before placing it back into the case with his other belonging. With a sideways look at Makina he clicked the lock into place.
“Spare me your dirty looks.” Makina turned her nose up. “Now that I know there is nothing of interest in there, I have no desire to see the contents any further.”
“I guess that’s something.”
“It does not suit one to dwell on the past. What has happened has happened. Look towards the future instead.”
“From anyone else that might have actually been a wise saying.”
Makina stuck her tongue out at him. “I am plenty wise, child. Your inability to understand my divine brilliance does not discredit that.”
Cross rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, of course. Please, impart on me your timeless wisdom oh great and mighty Goddess of Winds.”
“Hmph. Perhaps I shall, but only when you deserve it.”
Cross rose up from the floor, stretching out his back with a groan. He glanced out the window, noting the few tendrils of frost beginning to creep up the glass. Winter was approaching faster and faster.
“How should I go about doing that?”
Makina rocked from side to side. “An offering would be a good start.”
Cross ran a hand through his hair. He did owe her. “How about I take you out to dinner tonight? Zachary should have stew on the menu about this time in the year.”
“With fresh bread?”
“Only the finest for a Goddess.”
“I accept your offering!” Makina popped out of his bed, dragging the blankets with her. Shaking herself free, she deposited the covers on the floor and stepped towards him. “Very well, since I am sure you will keep your word, I shall grant unto you my Wisdom. Please kneel.”
“Do I have to?”
Cross almost pressed the issue, but Makina’s suddenly serious face gave him pause. Suppressing a sigh, he did as he was asked, dropping down onto his knees. “This right?”
“Prostrate would be ideal, but this will work.” Makina nodded, stepping forward until she was directly in front of him. Reaching out, she placed her hand on top of his head. “Eyes closed.”
Cross did as he was told.
“Now, then.” Makina’s hand pressed down harder on his head. “The wisdom I grant to you is…”
Cross was abruptly thrown across the floor by a blast of freezing wind. He let out a shout of surprise as he tumbled ended over end before landing in a pile at the far side of the room.
“Makina, what the hell?” Cross growled as he managed to right himself into a sitting position.
“Stop kissing girls when you should be fighting them! That’s the wisdom I grant you, Idiot!” Makina snapped. “As my servant you absolutely humiliated me with that pathetic display.” Makina stormed over to the door, wrenching it open and pausing. “However… I was impressed by how you conducted yourself up to that moment. I believe you have the ability to become a fine servant. Do not let my faith be in vain. And do not be late for dinner!”
With nothing else to say, Makina slammed the door behind her, leaving a wind-tousled Cross alone on the floor.
“Well, that could have gone worse.” Cross grumbled as he pushed himself back onto his feet and slowly began to clean up the mess Makina’s tantrum had created.
“Perhaps, though I wouldn’t say she was wrong.” Alice said as she stepped into the room.
“Does my door simply exist for no reason?” Cross said as he spread the blanket across his bed.
“Well, it was my door first.” Alice said as she moved to the other side of the bed and helped arranged the blanket into place. “You seem like you’re feeling better.”
“Few days of rest will do that.”
“Not to mention a comfy bed!” Alice threw herself onto the bed, pulling over a pillow to prop her head up.
Cross rubbed at his temple “Just because you helped make it doesn’t mean you get to use it.”
“Killjoy. Most men would be overjoyed to have me in their bed, you know.” When Cross fixed her with a blank stare Alice let out a soft laugh and covered her eyes with her hand. “Not even a little bit of a reaction this time. You need to be careful Cross. You’re going to hurt my feelings soon.”
“Your material is getting stale.”
“I suppose it is. I’ll have to come up with a new plan of attack.”
“Or we could just not fight.”
“But where is the fun in that?”
“Not everything has to be fun.”
“But I so do enjoy it when it is.” Alice moved to a sitting position and held out her hand. Dutifully, Cross took it and pulled her back to her feet. “Sadly, you are right, and sometimes things simple cannot be fun. Not even a little.”
“I have to leave soon, Cross.” Alice tried to give him a smile, but couldn’t quite manage it.
Cross frowned. “You haven’t even been here that long.”
“I know, but sadly there is little I can do about.” Alice sighed. "I am already far behind my schedule. I hadn’t even planned to stay her beyond the Dance, but I found it so difficult to leave.” Her hand came up to play with his hair. “I really do love this guild… and the people in it, of course."
Cross was silent for a long time. “When do you leave?”
“My carriage will be here very soon. I am sorry, truly. I know it’s terrible for me to let you know so last minute, but I do so hate saying my goodbyes.” Her eyes dropped to the ground. “If at all possible, would you wait with me? I would like to spend my last moments here with you, if that’s alright with you?”
Cross nodded. “I’ll meet you out front.”
Alice let out a soft breath and smile. “Alright, then.”
Lexi glanced up from the table as Alice walked up to her, suitcase in hand. The two stared at each other at length. Lexi’s mouth set in a firm line and Alice only smiled in return.
“Alice,” Lexi greeted evenly.
Alice returned the cold greeting small wave “Hello Lexi.”
“Unfortunately, yes. It’s time for me to leave, you see.”
“Is that so?”
“A shame, I know. I’ve had so much fun here.”
Alice laughed. “Though we weren’t able to spend much time together, I do believe I’ll miss you, Lexi.”
Lexi narrowed her eyes. “Will you?”
“Of course. It’s actually quite frustrating for me, you see. I never got the chance to cross blades with you. Doubtless, it would have been quite an exhilarating experience.”
“Perhaps the chance will arise in the future.”
“I do hope so. Though I dislike leaving things to chance. I find it much easier to simply stack the odds in my favor until what I want comes to be.” Alice looked around the guild and took in a long breath. “Again, I wish to express my deepest gratitude for watching over Cross in my absence. I am quite sure much of his growth is thanks to you.”
“Cross is a member of my team. I will always be watching over him.”
“Of course. Of course. Although, I suppose that only holds true so long as he stays a member of your team, yes?”
Lexi rose from her chair. “What did you just say?”
“Oh, me? Nothing, simply musing dear. My apologies. My mind, it has a tendency to wander, you see. And please, don’t get up. I simply wished to give my final goodbye.” Alice glanced at the staircase “Ah, and there he is. Until we meet again, Alexis.”
Lexi watched as Alice made her way back over to Cross. Silently, he took her suitcase and followed her out into the brisk winter afternoon.
"A beautiful day. I love a cold winter." Alice let out a puff of air, smiling as it rose into steam before her eyes.
“I’ve enjoyed myself so much, Cross. Haven’t you?”
“It was… fun.” Cross said after a long pause.
“Wasn’t it?” Alice turned towards him, her eyes lighting up. Her hands found his, clasping tight and pulling to her chest. “Like a dream. I… I honestly don’t want it to end. And when I think that, I simply can’t help but wonder.”
“Wonder… If you would go with me, if I asked.” Alice’s eyes dropped down as she bowed her head. Her hands tightened around his. “Wonder if you would leave it all behind. The Guild. Everything. Just leave it behind, and come with me.”
“What?” Cross nearly flinched. If Alice hadn’t been holding him, he might have taken a step back.
“You wanted to, once. You wanted to go with me so bad, but I couldn’t take you with me. It wouldn’t have been fair then. Not to you, or me. We were children. But you’ve grown, Cross.” She was looking at him, her mouth parted ever so slightly as she stared deep into his eyes. “You’ve grown so much.”
Cross tried to swallow, but his throat was too dry. His tongue rolled over his lips. “Where would we go?”
"Anywhere. Everywhere." Alice moved closer. "We don't even need the carriage. We could be on the train in less than an hour. We could go anywhere. We could do anything. Just the two of us."
Cross's voice died in his throat as he stared down at Alice. She stared back at him with hopeful, watering eyes.
How many times? How many times had he pictured this exact scenario? How many nights had he fallen asleep with tears still in his eyes only to wake up minutes later hope, praying that it had all been a nightmare? That Alice had never really left.
“Alice…” Gently Cross pulled free from her grip and reached into his coat. His fingers curled around the notebook pressed firmly against his breast. Sucking in a soft breath, he pulled it out and pressed it into her hands.
She looked at it, confused. "What is this?"
"I wrote you, too," Cross said softly. "Every two weeks since you left, just like we promised.”
“Cross…” Tears began to leak from Alice’s eyes and she hastily wiped them away. She gave her head a small shake. “So that’s how it is, huh?”
“This is my guild, Alice,” Cross said softly. “My life, my team… I can’t leave them. Not even for…I can’t.”
“I see.” Alice glanced towards the guild doors and let out a choked laugh. She lifted her hand up to cup his cheek. Her eyes glistened with fresh, unshed tears. “It seems I have won that battle, yet lost the war.”
The steady clip-clop of a horse’s feet announced the arrival of the carriage. Alice’s hand dropped from Cross’s cheek and fell listlessly by her side.
“By how much, do you think?” Alice asked.
“How much time was I off?” Alice lifted a hand to her chin. A pale imitation of her playful smile reached her face. “I wonder. Was it a few days? A few months? A year? Two? How long ago did I lose you? Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter now, does it?”
“It’s not always about winning or losing, Alice.” Cross said with a small sigh before he reached out and grabbed her hand. Pulling her into his chest, he wrapped his arms around her, squeezing tight. Alice returned the embrace, burying her face in his chest.
"I will miss you so much, Cross.”
Cross rested his chin on the top of her head, closing his eyes and breathing in her scent, the smell imprinting into his memory. Finally, he pulled back and looked down at her. “Hey.”
Cross leaned down and pressed his lips just to the side of her mouth. Stepping back, he smiled at her. “Come home soon, Alice.”
Alice stared at Cross, a dark red beginning to stain her cheeks. She opened her mouth, but only a small squeak came out. After a moment, she finally managed to gain her composure and a soft laugh slipped over her lips.
“And here I was, worried about you.” Alice shook her head, before she dove back in for one more hug. She held him in her arms for only the briefest of moments before she abruptly pulled away and entered the carriage.
As the driver spurred the horse into action, Alice gave him one final wave through the window. Cross watched her go, the smile never leaving his face until she had long faded away into the afternoon traffic.
Only then did his shoulders slump and the smile slip from his face. He turned to enter the guild, but his hand stopped at the door’s handle as his vision went blurry. Reaching up, he rubbed harshly at his watering eyes, sending a scattering of tears down to the ground.
On the other side of the doors, a figure slipped away, silent as a shadow.
Alice dried her watering eyes on her sleeve as the carriage made its way out of town. Taking in a few deep breaths to compose herself, she leaned back in her chair and waited as the carriage came to a stop just outside of town and two men entered.
One had a particularly large nose. It had been broken and improperly set, leaving him with a large hump on the bridge that left his already large nose looking much more prominent. It was a sore subject for him. The other was a bit short and extremely muscular.
Both remained silent as they waited for Alice to speak.
"You will leave this guild alone from this point on," Alice said crisply as the carriage resumed its journey. "Our target is not among its members."
"That's impossible," Large nose shook his head. "I saw the boy. He's the proper age. He has the Sight. You mus-"
"Are you questioning me?" Alice cut him off. Her voice was cold and a tendril of purple light pulsed across her eyes.
Large-nose was instantly cowed. He looked to his partner for help, but none came. He quickly ducked his head. "No, Jer. Of course not. I would never question you."
Alice watched him with a disgusted gaze before turning to look out the window and back at the town. "Good. There is nothing for us in this town. Spread the word. I do not want anyone in our organization to interfere with the members of the Sleeping Dragon Guild. We have given them far too much of our attention and resources and I will not tolerate exposing our intentions because of a petty feud you have with a simple courier. This is the will of Jerrah."
"The will of Jerrah is absolute." Big-nose said in unison with Muscles as they bowed their heads.
Alice nodded and continued to stare out the window until the town faded from view. Her jaw clenched as a lump formed in her throat. She swallowed it down.
"The will of Jerrah is absolute."