In a time she didnít really belong in, in a land which she never had heard about one year earlier, in a castle not bound by time and space, in a small and dark prison cell a young woman was waiting.
Her once white, pure dress was torn and stained with both blood and dirt. She had tried to make herself less messy with her mana power, but those gentle, healing forces didnít work too well on clothes.
She was simply a mess.
The cane resting across her lap wasnít the beautiful sight it had used to be, either. She held her hands defensively on it, but avoided to look at what she held.
It was a weapon. It was a golden, surely enchanted stick, but it had become a weapon in her hands. And she was a healer. But she had become a warrior in Fateís hands.
That scared her more than the darkness and loneliness did.
She had been born and raised with the single wish to heal. But throughout the... what could it be, two years? Throughout that passed time, she had killed. Several times, even.
Monsters, evil beasts... but the fact was still that she had murdered.
What would her mother say?
She shuddered and threw a gaze at the wall to her right. It consisted only of iron bars, and was the most interesting part of the cell. The rest was only the floor, the stone walls, and the ceiling. And her, of course. Nothing else. But behind that wall of iron and that door was a deeper darkness. A torch tiredly lit up the closest surroundings, but its light didnít reach very far.
The only sounds were a distant dripping of water somewhere in the shadows and her own breathing.
But she knew that he would come.
She wasnít afraid of her future in the cell. Heíd come and get her out.
Once she had been in a cell like this, all alone and scared to death. That seemed like an eternity ago....
She had been shivering like a leaf in a storm, fearing her own fate and worried half-to-madness about her mother.
Then he had come, with a dirty sword in his hand and sweat dripping down his face. In that moment she hadnít known that some of the dirt on his weapon had been the blood of her mother, and she was forever grateful to him for sparing her the truth right then.
Not older than her--just as lonely and afraid. He had pried the door to her cell open using his sword, and they had talked with voices slightly unsteady with fears and worries. They calmed each other enough for the next step of the escape.
He had been hurt then; one of the soldiers whoíd brought him into the prison had pushed him off balance. In the fall he had bruised his left arm badly.
So she had used her mana power to heal him, as soon as she had noticed it.
The very first time she had healed him... how many times had it been now? She had lost track long ago.
She healed him, and he protected her. It was their silent agreement, a vital alliance in their friendship. She wasnít very good at fighting, and their foes had steadily grown more and more fierce. So she needed his protection. And he needed her healing.
She wondered where he was for the time being... what if he needed her help right now?
Her stomach froze, and it refused to stop feeling like a cold knot even though she tried to calm herself with the fact there was nothing she could do to get out of the cell. She had checked the door, and the lock was one of the sturdiest sheíd ever seen.
Still... what if he got deadly wounded?!
She tried not to think of it.
He could surely take care of himself...
She didnít want to think that either.
She wanted him to need her, she couldnít help it no matter how childish and stupid it was.
Her throat thickened as she looked upon herself. A healer. She could only heal. That was all she could do for him.
A pretty little doll healer. A warrior too, but not any good one.
It was a sword with two edges. She didnít want to be a warrior, but she didnít want to seem weak either. She wanted to be strong, for his sake.
He was all she had now, a closer friend than all the others. Her mother was dead, and he had been the first one to talk to her after she had become alone. He had been alone to, even betrayed by the only relative he had left.
Friends... close friends.
But still she was always worried that heíd feel the same for someone else. It was egotistic and childish, she tried to tell herself that her thoughts were immature.
It didnít help.
He had the right to have other friends. Yet she wanted to be one special friend of his. The only one he knew that well, and in that particular way.
The only sounds were that distant dripping and her own breath, which she fought to get controlled again.
Donít start to cry now! Why would you do that?
What if he needed her help right now? What if he was hurt in battle already and ran into one of those one-eyed beasts that were almost impossible to kill even in the best condition?
What if he managed anyway, and found that he really didnít need her help at all?
What if that realization would bring him over to Arche instead....
She clamped her teeth.
Arche: That half-elf was her friend.
If that red-haired woman only would stop glancing at him and say... like what she had called when heíd been battling in the coliseum.
The healer swallowed an embarrassed, angry lump in her throat.
He and Arche were friends as well.
She had no right to claim him as hers, sheíd never go in between or be so impudent....
She pulled her legs up against her chest and hugged her knees at the memory of what had happened in the Tower of the Twelve Stars.
That little, silly sprite had told Arche to kiss him. And the half-elf had gladly been prepared to do so....
And she had stopped Arche. He had been stunned, surprised at the demand and at the red-haired womanís will.
Gotten in between, stopped it.... Arche had only laughed afterwards, he had still been embarrassed.
And she had felt stupid.
She had called out and pushed Arche aside, like a jealous child.
What a shame... she still felt humiliated by her own reaction. But she remembered her anger. She wouldnít let Arche at him.
She wondered if he looked at that with fear for her becoming some kind of baby-sitter, always guarding his every movement.
No, he wouldnít think something like that... it was just her own stupid idea.
She clamped her teeth and tried to think of something else, worrying too much again....
How long had she been in the cell?
She wasnít sure about what had happened... they had come to a crossroad, and there had suddenly been some light on the floor. She thought that she could recall the form of a star, but the memory was blurred since the first spark of light had sent her flying through rooms and walls until she finally had landed in the small cell without a scratch. Just another trap of Dhaos... some kind of teleportation device.
The god of war had placed her in another cell.
But this time she wasnít afraid.
She knew that somebody would come to get her.
The only sounds were her breathing and the distant dripping.
She wondered what the others were doing. On their way, together in order to find her?
Would he come with Arche just behind, chatting with him from her broom? Would he be laughing with her, looking over his shoulder?
The young woman in the cell clamped her teeth again. They were friends. She shouldnít even carry these thoughts. But she couldnít help it.
Arche was strong and independent. She didnít need anyone. If she had been teleported into a cell as well, she would have surely busted out of it right away. She was plucky and beautiful in a fresh, strong way.
Not a little doll who needed someoneís protection.
The healer closed her eyes in a hopeless attempt to hide from her own thoughts.
The only sounds were that soft dripping and her own breathing.
And those distant footsteps.
She looked up, instinctively knowing that it wasnít a monster or anybody else but him.
An eerie, yet warm, light pierced the darkness as the footsteps came closer. And he walked into her sight, out of the corridorís fleeing shadows.
His once clean and glistening armor no longer shone, his cloak was torn and he was dirty all over. Even his face and hair had stains of blood and dust, though the lines on his cheeks reported attempts of removing the dirt. Still the Eternal Sword in his hand shed its light, hunting the darkness even further away.
The dirt seemed to melt away as he met her gaze and his walk turned into a run while she stood up.
The Eternal Sword fell from his hand and got stuck in the floor, its sharp edge easily cutting into the stone. He forgot the respect that the weapon really deserved and reached into the cell--she reached out.
With the bars separating them they carefully hugged, exchanging dirt and relief in silence.
The cold, rounded iron bars cut into her skin, but she didnít care. It was a hug of relieved friends, yet she felt such a burning happiness that it surprised her.
Had they ever hugged before, come to think of it?
No... and they were such close friends.
She smiled, of relief and a warm feeling of triumph as some kind of border in their friendship was crossed.
"Are you all right, Mint?" he whispered.
"Yeah,..." she mumbled, "letís go."
He nodded and let go of her. She felt a cold needle of loss going through her throat, even though she knew that it was only for the moment he needed to let her out of the cell.
She backed off a bit as he took the Eternal Swordís hilt and swung it with the profession of a thousand other swings.
The bars fell like grass cut by a scythe.
He then sheathed the sword and reached out a hand for her.
Mint smiled and placed her smaller hand in his, allowing him to bring her out of the cell.
But he made no attempt to hug her again, so she didnít either, even if she wanted to.
She opened her mouth in order to ask him if he was unhurt, but Cless spoke before her.
"Well, what do you know?" he kindly said with a smile. "Another prison cell, another dungeon."
He surely only meant to push away the fact that they still had to look for everyone else, or he wanted to joke a little. But his words took the wrong turn, cutting through Mintís troubled thoughts.
"Another we,..." she bitterly muttered.
Her hand fell away from his and grabbed her cane just below the other hand so that she ended up heavily leaning on the stick, watching the floor.
Cless bent down and turned his neck so that he could look up on her face.
"Do you really think that weíve changed that much?" he kindly asked.
No, no... she had no intention to accuse him for anything at all! Especially not to follow her downfall.
She shook her head.
"Not you, perhaps," she mumbled, "but look at me... what a false healer I am."
Bitterly she straightened up a little, causing Cless to do the same.
"I only cared about preserving lives," Mint muttered. "But now?"
"Hey,..." Cless said in a low voice and placed his hand on her cheek, forgetting that there was a thin layer of blood mixed with mud and dust on his fingers, "if youíve changed, then I have too. I had only killed animals for food before all of this with Dhaos begun. And anyhow, all that we have done has been because we had to do it."
Mint was too tired to really think about his touch for the moment.
"But I canít stop thinking about what my mother would say,..." she mumbled, helplessly desperate before her non-erasable crimes against life.
Cless shook his head, gravely.
"Sheíd have been proud that youíve gone through everything that weíve faced and still stand strong."
She looked up into his eyes in surprise. Strong, me?
His thumb moved a little against her cheek, and not until then Mint realized that he was touching her face like that. Her eyes flew in his handís direction by the sheer astonishment, so suddenly that Cless misunderstood it as shock. He hurriedly withdrew his touch, as if he had been burned.
"No, no, no," she hurriedly said, fearing to have pushed him backwards, "itís all right."
She reached for his hand and tentatively moved it back to her cheek.
"Okay," Cless, almost shyly, mumbled, "if you say so."
Mint held her palm against the back of his hand, strangely afraid that heíd remove his fingers again.
They watched each other silently for a while, but it wasnít a completely embarrassing silence.
Mint finally took in a deep breath, slowly. Among the many thoughts she had gone through in the cell there was one that she really wanted to share with him.
"You know what?" she said with a careful smile. "When I was alone I thought about that other cell, about how frightened I was back then. But this time I didnít worry the slightest about being left to die there, because I knew that youíd come for me."
Cless smiled warmly at that, and more than ever before she wanted to hug him again. He could smile like no one else, his lips moved into a smooth position that was calming just to look at. He was simply Cless to the fullest when he smiled.
Mint felt just the happiness she had hoped for being shared with him, and her own smile turned a little wider and warmer.
Did he really think that she was strong?
"That was the absolutely kindest thing anyoneís ever told me," he softly said.
Mint couldnít think of something suitable to use as a reply, worried that his words would go lost among others. So she just smiled at him.
Cless tentatively moved his thumb again, but as he did that a spear was sent through the delicate tenderness. He suddenly grimaced and heavily put his free hand on his right upper arm. Mint was startled.
"Are you all right?" she warily asked.
"Just remembered something...." Cless grunted.
He moved up against the wall and sat down on the dusty floor with a heavy sigh. Mint followed his every movement, sitting down by his side as he pulled up his legs and hung his arms over the knees.
"One moment,..." she mumbled and closed her eyes, mumbling a prayer to the healing streams of mana.
Cless let out a relieved sigh as her soothing powers embraced him, filling up the bruises and cuts he had received on his quest to find his friends. But as he felt relief, Mint was concerned. Through the healing process she could feel his wounds.
He had been hurt, out of her reach. Not deadly, but he must have been fighting for a long time with all this pain....
"Oh dear,..." she whispered before she could stop herself.
"Hmm?" Cless mumbled and looked at her, slightly puzzled.
"I should have been there,..." she muttered, turning her eyes away.
He straightened up and raised his hand to her cheek again.
Never had he done that before, but now it was the third time in only a few minutesí time. Mint found that she felt much calmer when he touched her, and that felt nice. Very nice, even....
"You couldnít do anything," Cless kindly said. "Besides, Iíve had worse wounds and I am still alive."
Cless... donít you need my help at all?
No, that wasnít what he was saying, for heavenís sake! He just wanted to calm her! Still....
Is there nothing I can do for you?
She looked away again.
"Iím all right, Mint," he carefully said, puzzled by her behavior, "are you?"
She turned back and managed to smile.
Did he at least care for her, then?
Come on... she knew he did, they were friends! Why was she thinking such stupid things?
"Yeah,..." she awkwardly said.
She tried to shake off the worries by changing the subject.
"Have you any idea what happened back there by the crossroad?" she asked.
Cless pursed his mouth and nodded.
"I think so," he said. "Some kind of teleportation device, thatís evident. But the thing is that I wasnít teleported anywhere."
With his unoccupied thumb he pointed backwards, at his backpack.
"Figured that I probably had something that fought the magic back," he continued. "So I checked everything. Iím pretty sure that itís the Dedis emblem; it gleamed when I stood on the pentagram."
Mintís mind automatically created an image of the whole group standing on a line by the crossroad; Cless passes the pentagram, throws the emblem to Klarth, Klarth passes the pentagram....
An automatic plan that wasnít needed, though.
"I sneaked around a little," Cless said, "and Iíve found us an emblem each."
"Good work." Mint smiled.
Cless grinned triumphantly for a moment but then he tiredly groaned a little, stretching out arms and legs. He straightened up even more, shook off his backpack and pushed it aside before leaning back against the wall to the fullest.
"I think the others are around here somewhere too," he muttered. "But if you donít mind, Iíd like to regain my breath a little before we continue."
"Sure," Mint said and moved up beside him.
She almost leaned on him at first, before she had gotten into the better position properly. Fighting a wish to blush slightly, she looked away once more.
"Say Mint,..." Cless carefully said, "are you really afraid that your mother would think that youíve done the wrong thing all this time?"
Her shoulders dropped. Why did he have to bring that up again?
"Yes,..." she reluctantly said.
She turned and looked up into his eyes when he put his hand on her cheek for the forth time.
His voice trailed off, he seemed to ponder how heíd give life to what he thought about. Finally he cleared his throat.
"All right, Iíll say it like this," he said. "You know what, Miss Adane? You remind me of this girl I met in Euclid. Come to think of it, that was in a prison cell too and sheís also a healer."
Mint watched him, uncertain about how she should react. Was he making fun of her? No, he wouldnít do that, and he looked so honestly serious....
"Really?" was all she could think of.
Cless gravely nodded.
"Yeah," he said, "and she emitted the same kind of innocence that you do. Sheís so kind and pure that even the unicorn himself agreed to meet her. He trusted in her still having the same, unstained soul, despite that she had been battling for a long time."
After saying that he almost shyly looked at her, awaiting her answer. Mint was silent for a while, pondering what he had said.
"I... guess that he wouldnít misjudge,..." she finally mumbled. "You have a point...."
"He shouldíve known a pure spirit when he saw one," he said. "Iím glad that he trusted her."
Mint smiled, getting dragged along in his unique but successful way of comforting her.
"It sounds like you trust her too," she said.
The warrior by her side looked a little shy again, an almost violent distance to the state of his equipment.
"Of course I trust her," he mumbled. "I have no idea where I would have been if she hadnít helped me...."
Mint stared at him, the seed of a happinessí flower being planted in her soul.
You do need my support? I really can do something for you, Iím not just a burden that you have to shield all the time?
She didnít know if sheíd ever felt so happy, still her cheeks were flaming. Yet, maybe not only because of what Cless had said, but also due to what she wanted to tell him in return.
"Iím sure that she trusts you just as much," she mumbled.
It was so much easier to say it in that way, as if she was talking about someone else. It didnít hurt either, not at all.
"Do you really think so?" Cless said, his ears somewhat darker than usual.
She nodded, her eyes moving away from his without her control.
Come on! You dare!
"In fact,..." Mint said in a low voice, to her despair finding that she was stuttering a bit and couldnít do anything about it, "I th-think that after all youíve g-gone through together, she might even hope that... you... like her a little more."
She didnít dare to look at him.
Well? Cless? Please say something....!
He was silent. She couldnít bear to look up, afraid that she had destroyed everything.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity he took in a deep breath.
"Do you... do you think th-that she l-likes me?" he slowly stuttered in a low voice.
"I th-think so,..." Mint whispered.
Cless took another deep breath.
He cleared his throat and tried again.
"When I find her again Iíll... if I only dare... Iíll tell her that sheís the closest friend I ever had, and... and that she means so much more to me...."
Mintís neck straightened up by itself, and she stared into his warm eyes. They were filled with hesitation now, and a lot of embarrassed worries too. He was blushing, but she knew that she was too.
You... Cless, you....?
"S-so what she... I wa-want to tell you is,..." she heard herself stutter.
Her voice trailed off, and she swallowed hard. It was impossible to continue.
They just stared at each other for a lifetime.
"I... understand," Cless finally whispered.
Those two words broke some dark chain of nervous tension. Almost simultaneously Mint and Cless sighed hardly audible of careful relief.
"I was worried,..." the healer mumbled, "that when all this is over youíd like to do as our parents did and vow to never meet again...."
Cless slowly shook his head, watching her gravely. His thumb fingers moved a little against her cheek, tentatively.
"No," he said in a strangely thick voice, as if the mere thought made him sad, "how could I ever want to do that? Whoíd heal me and... and make me forget all the pain with just a smile?"
Mint hardly dared to breathe, afraid to lose the moment when the words hung in the air like sweet butterflies.
"I wouldnít ever be able to just walk away,..." Cless awkwardly mumbled.
"Me neither,..." Mint whispered.
His deep, warm eyes floated together before her gaze as both he and she reached out and moved closer. They moved so slowly and shyly that it seemed as if they almost were ready to run.
Clessí chest plate felt hard and cold against the once fine cloth covering Mintís own chest, but she didnít care. In any case she hardly felt anything around her chest since her heart was beating hard enough to rob all other feelings.
"Mint,...?" Cless whispered against her mouth, his voice the only thing to be heard above the rushing of blood inside of her whole body.
"Y-yes?" she mumbled, stuttering.
But it seemed as if he had forgotten what he wanted to tell her as soon as he had spoken her name. Mint forgot about it too, securing her armsí encircling of his neck.
Cless couldnít let go of Mint. He didnít want to, and he was afraid that if he did he would hurt her.
But at the same time, her pureness and innocence made his soul shiver of fears to stain her. She treasured her role as a chaste healer almost desperately, her worries for her motherís opinion proved that.
So what if he was destroying her very being by admitting his love for her? Cless couldnít bear that, he couldnít face even the smallest possibility of hurting Mint in any way.
But he couldnít let go of her. For every doubt rising within him he only pulled her closer.
Mint had always seemed so slender, timid, defenseless. He knew well that she could fight, but she loathed it and that made her even more vulnerable. So he needed to be there to help. And he needed her help too, her healing warmth, her friendship... and so much more.
He felt a tremble running through her whole body as he leaned back against the wall again and dragged her with him. The doubts rose again, forcing him to tighten his embrace even more. Some forgotten part of his mind screamed that she wouldnít be able to breathe, but it fell into the mist again.
He couldnít let her go, he couldnít stop kissing her mouth, her cheeks, her eyes. All of her, all of Mint.
And all the time he was scared to death that he would hurt, blemish.
But by no means could he release her.
What if he scared her?
No, she had said... she had bent at him, she held her arms tenderly around his neck... but what if....? If... what....
"Mint?" he whispered again, once more against her lips.
He vaguely thought that he heard her whisper his name, but the more he felt her lips move against his the more his mind numbed and the rising emotions inside of him grew.
No... this is all wrong.
They both knew it. The emotions are right, no doubt... but the time and place were the worst possible. That was an obvious truth, a monster could show up any second....
But it was so hard to let go....
He reached up to kiss her eyes again. Without truly wanting to, but knowing that it had to be done. Mint bent her neck. She placed her cheek on his armored shoulder, silently creating space between their faces.
Cless didnít move for a few moments. Then his forehead lowered to Mintís shoulder.
She carefully stroked his hair, to tell him that it hadnít been his fault, but theirs.
His neck was just by her lips, but she managed to wrestle the temptation to kiss it away.
"I... I love you," she mumbled.
Clessí arms squeezed her a little again and he straightened up, just to be able to whisper in her ear.
"I love you too, Mint."
They held on to each other for another full minute, followed by a second. And a third.
Silent, close, warm.
"I guess... we better go and find the others," Cless finally muttered, not too enthusiastic.
"Yeah," Mint agreed.
"And defeat Dhaos."
"And then weíll rebuild Thotus. At least me and Chester."
They both straightened up and watched each other.
"Me too," Mint said and carefully smiled. "I havenít anywhere else to go, you know."
Cless tightened the hug for a moment before releasing her and helping her to her feet.
"Iím glad to have you around," he softly said.
They smiled warmly at each other and then began walking into the darkness, one arm each still wrapped around the other oneís back.
Two weeks later, in Thotus village....
Cless came down the stair into the kitchen. They had temporarily remodeled his old house; the training hall had become the place for cooking and eating since it had been the most open room when the rebuilding had started.
The cleaning up was a slow process. At least for the time being.
The elder Tristan had gone to Euclid together with a traveling merchant in order to look for workers; now that Dhaos wasnít able to control anyone in the police force it should be possible to find honest helpers. Tristan had said that he had friends there, it wouldnít be any problem.
Cless stopped by the end of the stair and stretched out a little for the third time this morning. It felt strange to just have normal clothes again, and no armor anymore. Still it was nothing but a relief that the battles finally were over with.
A fresh bouquet of flowers rested in the only unbroken vase of the whole village; a simple drop formed glass. Somehow it had survived the attack, almost everything else was smashed.
On a slightly cracked plate a piece of bread and cheese waited, but nobody else seemed to be in the house. Probably already gotten to work.... Cless felt a little stupid for over-sleeping. Mint or Chester could just have told him to get up....
The three adventures slept together in the same room, in the upper part of the house. They had become used to that during their journey. And none of them wanted to sleep alone in any of the cracking buildings, anyhow. It didnít seem very comfortable.
As Cless came closer to the table, he noted that there were two pieces of paper on the other side of the vase. Puzzled he picked them up.
The one on the bottom carried a short message written in tidy, soft letters.
Iím in the forest.
Cless absentmindedly smiled. She didnít want him worried...
They hadnít told Chester, Klarth and Arche about their love. But Cless had a sneaking suspicion that those three knew anyhow....
He put Mintís message back on the table and unfolded the second note.
It was Chesterís, he recognized the handwriting at once. A straight, almost sharp way of printing down the letters. But these were a bit irregular, as if he had written in a hurry.
To Cless and Mint,
I have gone to see Arche. I know that we agreed to rebuild first, but I canít wait any longer. And itís hard for me to go, you have to understand that. And leaving a letter like this, well... but I didnít want to face any disappointment or kind teasing. Not when I feel like this. I donít know if itíll work out between me and Arche, sheís a half-elf and all that. But I want to see her, alone. I hope youíll understand.
Cless smiled to himself and put the second letter aside too. Tsk... didnít Chester know his friends better than that? The young, blond man was really surprised that his lifelong pal hadnít gone earlier.
He looked out of the window. The sun was caressing the wounded village, smoothing the cuts and cracks on the buildings with its warm light.
Iím in the forest...
Taking a day off, eh?
Cless smiled again, took the piece of bread and removed smaller pieces from it to put in his mouth as he exited the house. He kept absentmindedly eating as he walked through his small hometown and southwards, soon entering the warm shadows of the forest.
He kept walking and soon came to the small lake.
Actually he had thought that sheíd be in Yggdrasilís clearing or by her motherís grave, but Mint lay in the grass just by the lake.
She lay on her back with her head resting on her arms, one leg pulled up to point at the sky and the other leg resting on the bent knee. Her feet waved at the heavens, free of shoes. Those lay in the grass just by her healerís hat.
The sun danced over her white dress and turned her blond hair into glistening streams over her shoulders and in the soft grass. Mintís eyes were partly closed and she was singing in a low voice, dreamily. Cless couldnít hear the words, but he recognized the melody from somewhere.
For several moments he stood still in the shadows of the trees and just watched her peaceful rest, enraptured by the complete feeling of harmony.
Mint seemed to fulfill the forest, as if it always had waited for her. She was right there, in the perfect place.
Cless wondered how many gods heíd anger if he went over to her, and how many he would anger if he didnít.
In the end he couldnít fight it.
To preserve the serenity he carefully pulled his shoes off his feet and left them by one of the trees. Then he walked closer to the young woman, creating as little sound as possible by moving.
Mint bent her neck backwards a little more as she heard something despite his care. She stopped singing and smiled warmly.
"Hi," she said.
Cless sat down beside her and leaned back in the grass until he also laid down. The last of the bread tumbled away somewhere among the green blades. Maybe it would make a bird or mouse happy.
"I was waiting for you," Mint mumbled, giving the sky a warm look.
The young warrior experienced a twirl of happiness as she said that. Deep down he had hoped that that had been her doing, still he had been worried that she had wanted to be alone. As he had watched her earlier he had wondered if it would be wrong of him to go over to her, but now he knew that it was the right thing.
"Hope, I didnít take too long," Cless told the heavens.
"No, itís all right."
They examined the clouds of the blue, never-ending ceiling for a while.
"Hey look," Mint suddenly smiled and pointed upwards. "Isnít that Klarth?"
Cless watched the cloud, noticing the shadows and curves on it.
"Yes, it is," he agreed with a smile "Heís even got his book right there under his arm and a pen in his handÖ"
"Uh-huh,..." Mint mumbled in agreement.
The winds way up there moved the formation, and Cless could have sworn that the natural sculpture winked at him before gently being blown into pieces.
"Speaking of our friends," the young man said, still watching the remains of the summoner, "Chester has gone to see Arche. He left a note."
Mint let out one of her short, twinkling laughs.
"Now he was late," she said.
Cless chuckled and tried to nod out of habit. But since he was lying down it was hard to do it properly.
"I hope she hasnít forgotten him completely," he said.
Of course both of them knew that she hadnít. Arche never ever gave up anything, and she had fallen for Chester just as reluctantly as he had done for her. That was just Chester and Arche....
Cless thought about Mint. She just lay there in the grass, being a part of the completed morning in the forest. The flowers on the table back in the village were her doing....
She was one of those young women who were created for picking flowers and resting in the sun to grant anyone who watched her peace of mind.
When he had kissed her it had been in a dark dungeon, both of them had been a mess of blood and dirt... he hadnít touched her like that since then.
What if she thought that he didnít care any longer? Hey, there had been monsters and people around all the time... but hadnít they been able to find one single moment for themselves?
He did care, a lot even. So why had it been almost fourteen days since he had shown it? Still afraid to stain her?
She had been blemished all over in the prison... but that was merely her outside. Now she was pure from inside and out again, could he dare to move closer when her true being was shown so obviously?
Cless watched the sky, frowning as he hesitated. Some part of him told him to turn to Mint and touch her cheek again, some other part screamed that it would destroy the harmony of the whole scene. He couldnít ask her for anything in this stillness....
No, just let it be... Mintís meant to be untouched and pure. Just like that. He didnít want to disrupt her.
A small, purple flower suddenly dangled above his nose and landed on his face. Cless snorted by instinct and took it in his hand, turning to Mint as she laughed again.
"Sorry," she smiled, "you looked so cute...."
Clessí eyebrows twitched and he laughed a bit since she did. It was contagious; he liked it. Mint had a very smooth, warm laughter.
"Well, thank you," he said and waved a little with the flower. "Itís just what I needed... donít really know why, but Iíll find out!"
His silly way of saying that caused both of them to laugh again. Mint was resting on her elbow now, she turned to him. Cless looked up into her face and felt himself smile. She warmly looked back.
"You need it for comfort," she said and continued in a dramatically despairing voice. "Because all our friends have left us alone to rebuild Thotus on our own! Woe art us!"
Cless had to sit up as he laughed, otherwise he wouldnít have been able to breathe properly.
"How are we ever going to survive in such conditions?" Mint groaned.
Then her theater broke up in a loud laugh.
After getting back to normal they watched each other for a moment, smiles still playing with their lips.
Mint fell back in the grass, her hair flowing out into the small and green landscape. She was still smiling, looking up at Cless with a rainbow of warm feelings twinkling in her eyes.
Before he knew it he was controlled by the part of him that had accepted his love for her several months ago, his arms encircled Mintís back and he was lying beside her. She warmly smiled again, moving her own arms around his neck and back in return.
"I love you, Mint," Cless said in a low voice.
She moved even closer, touching his lips with hers.
"I love you," she mumbled.
Cless moved his head backwards a little, watching her.
"Is this really what you want?" he whispered.
She tilted her head against the ground, looking at him with slight puzzlement.
"If I didnít, then I wouldnít love you," she finally said, calmly.
The young warrior held his gaze on his dear friend's fine face for a moment longer. Then he moved closer again, and Mint embraced his smooth kisses just as she embraced the rest of him. Her beloved friend, her guardian--she smiled against his lips and pulled him closer with care.
The sun fondly shed its light over the two young humans as they lay by the pond, holding each other in a silence filled with blossoming love. Both of them figured that, for the moment, Thotus could wait a bit longer for its rebirth. After all, how much could two youngsters like them do for such a crumbled village without help? They had time to care for nothing but each other until Tristan came back with some workers... and right then, they wanted to care about each other right there by the pond and nowhere else. Just lying in the grass, resting in the arms of the one they loved.