~ My Power, or Lack Thereof ~
There was nothing left to do, and everything that had to be tied up after that final battle in which we actually fought with the Magic Knights instead of against will get wrapped up eventually. Nobody was in a particular mood to handle such boring political issues, and everybody was exhausted. The people of Cephiro celebrated, but the officials only took a little part in the jubilance. After all, when the battle was over with and the land gained its ability to stabilize itself, Umi and the other two Magic Knights went back to their own world.
Guru Clef and Prince Ferio and everybody else obviously felt a great loss despite their happiness that no more sacrifices had to be made for the strength of Cephiro. For Tarta and I and the young princess Aska of Fahren, our missions failed, though in the end, we were satisfied with it. All we wanted to do was to help our friends in Cephiro despite that those friends really weren't from Cephiro.
We were invited to live in the castle during our stay in Cephiro, to which all of us gladly accepted. Well, everybody except for the commanders from Autozam. I hadn't seen them, which concerned me a great deal. The battleship was still parked just outside of the palace, and even then, I knew they had no strength to head home. I saw the damage that had been taken during several battles, and they will have to spend at least a week repairing. Poor Zazu. I know his job as the Chief Mechanic must be tough for a young child, but I am certain that Eagle and Geo would go easy on him. They're exhausted too, I assume, but I would imagine that they would send at least some officer to the palace. Autozam may be a militaristic country, but they are certainly not rude.
Out of everybody who battled, Tarta and I have never challenged the NSX. The Dome of Fahren clashed with the NSX, and the Magic Knights and us, and the Magic Knights have fought almost everybody. Tarta wanted to attack the NSX at one point, but I refused to let it happen. It was not that we stood no chance against them, I just didn't feel like being in battle with my friends.
Tarta doesn't know this, but I have met Eagle, Geo, and Zazu before. I'm almost surprised that she wouldn't have known; she was schooling in Fahren at the time, which was the only time in the past five years that representatives came from Autozam to form some sort of treaty with Chizeta. I was not present at any of the meetings, though during their stay, I constantly ran into the three of them. None of us really paid much mind to it at first--or so I thought--but in the end we settled for a snack together and had a lively talk.
I was more than surprised to hear that Geo had grown up in the worst living conditions and still managed to become best friends with the son of the president, Eagle, but it only made me admire the trio more. They obviously don't let their ranks or social statuses to get in the way of their friendship. I wish I could have friends outside of the palace like that, but I'm proud to say that those three were the first who treated me like a human instead of a princess in an overcrowded country.
Well, except in the case of Geo, who apparently thought of me as something higher than a queen, but I would never have known this if it hadn't been for Zazu.
Sometime after Umi escaped from the Bravada, Tarta finally realized that I had a boyfriend. I wouldn't tell her who he was, of course, because I'm even afraid of telling my parents at this point.
During the three weeks that the officials of Autozam visited Chizeta, I had gotten closer and connected more with Geo than I have either Eagle or Zazu. Yes, Geo is the one who is my boyfriend, and I couldn't ask for anyone better.
I still don't believe that my parents would be thrilled that their oldest daughter, heir to the throne, was in love with an outsider. An outsider from Autozam, of all things. I think that Tarta would make for a better ruler, and when Mother and Father finally realize this, I'll drop the bomb on them. For now, none of my family members must know.
Nevertheless, my observation that nobody from the NSX had arrived yet escaped from the tip of my mouth. "I hope everything is okay," I murmured.
Tarta made a small, puzzling noise. "What do you mean, Neesan?"
I wanted to sigh, but I caught myself and smiled. "Oh, nothing," I said.
Tarta and I were sitting in the garden of the palace, watching the remainders of the jubilant people of Cephiro celebrate their last for the night. Most had gone off to bed already, too tired to party any further, so the noise was alleviating. Lady Aska had gone with her servants either to the Dome or to their rooms, and there were a couple of select leaders of the Cephiro country helping to clean the litter and enjoying themselves.
Tarta and I had a nice talk with several of the young children, but their parents have long since shooed them to bed, for tomorrow everybody would get busy to rebuild their country. We spoke with Caldina, one of our dancers, and I envy her freedom to love a man of Cephiro without statuses to think about.
I saw, right then, Zazu emerge from the hallway connecting the garden to the rest of the palace, accompanied by a man clad in dark clothes. I wanted to wave and greet him, but I always had to remind myself that my acquaintance with the people of Autozam was a complete secret from Tarta.
At least, for the moment, until Zazu recognized me among the dispersing crowd and yelled, "Hi, Tatra!"
That's when I finally sighed, but before my sister could make anything of it, I smiled and waved to acknowledge him. He jogged over to us, and Tarta asked, "You know him?"
"Yes," I answered simply. When Zazu approached us, I said, "Hello, Zazu. Have you been well?"
Zazu nodded. "Sure have! It seems like we missed a party, didn't we, Lantis?"
He turned to the man who walked calmly towards us. I noticed that his eyes were a little melancholy, but since I didn't know him, I couldn't judge if he was always like that or if it was something new. I took a quick peek at Zazu to see if there was anything amiss with him, and sure enough, his eyes had a little bit of a puff to them. My concern then grew.
"Is there anything wrong, Zazu?" I asked. "You three weren't out here earlier; how are Geo and Eagle?"
"You know more people from Autozam?" Tarta asked skeptically, to which I nodded, intent on hearing Zazu's answer.
"Geo is still in the NSX, and Eagle, well, Eagle is..." Zazu trailed off and stared at his feet, trembling a little.
"Oh, dear," I muttered. "Is it too much for me to ask what happened?" I looked up at Lantis curiously. "Is it?"
Lantis closed his eyes and said, "I'll tell you later, if you really want to know."
I frowned. So something really had happened, and not only to the NSX. I must have missed something critical that happened during the battles, most likely when Tarta and I were helping the people of Cephiro from the fatal tremors that lead to that final showdown against Debonair. My thoughts led to the worst, and I wondered how Geo was involved if he was in the battleship instead of in the palace.
I shook my head as a negative to Lantis's offer and stood. "If it's not too much trouble," I asked, "may I go see Geo?"
Lantis and Tarta looked at me in shock, I could tell, and Zazu smiled up at me forlornly.
"That would probably be a good idea," he said. "He's more hurt than any of us over this."
"Neesan..." Tarta began with apprehension.
I gave my sister a grin. "Later. I'll explain everything to you later."
She didn't seem exactly satisfied with that answer, but she's smart. She knows that's the best she is going to get out of me for now, and I know that it will be sooner rather than later that I will have to tell her the truth about my acquaintance with Autozam. I only hope that the time will come at the same time that it would be appropriate to tell my parents about them.
I walked out of the garden and headed straight for the bridge between the Bravada and the palace with many concerns whirling in my head.
Geo was more hurt than anybody over something that had happened to Eagle?
I'm afraid of the worst, and nothing that Zazu told me had contradicted those fears.
Entering the NSX was quite easier than I expected it to be, considering that more than three-quarters of Eagle's subordinates would either not recognize me or not know me at all. Autozam and Chizeta also were not on the best of terms at the moment, so me wearing a Chizeta noblewoman's outfit on an Autozam battleship would not bode too well with the officers. Up until I found that most of the crew members have also retired to their sleep and the hatch to the ship wide open, I almost wished that Zazu had come along.
I wandered the ship, not knowing exactly where I was going but hoped that I was headed in the right direction. There were only a few crewmen onboard and shuffling about, some of the lower ranks, obviously. Cadets, even. As I walked past, they looked at me with suspicion and shock, but nobody said a word to me. It caused greater discomfort within me enough for me to gather my courage to take the smarter--or perhaps dumber--route of doing things.
I approached a young man who seemed to be dawdling with his work. "Excuse me," I asked, "do you know where the sub-commander is?"
He gawked, just like everybody else has, and stammered to find his words. "Um, I'm not sure if I should tell you, ma'am, because you see, uh..."
"It's okay," I said in the most reassuring voice I could manage. "I'm a friend of his."
"No," he said, shaking his head and doing a better job at keeping his voice straight. "That's not it, you see, there is no sub-commander as of a few hours ago. He was promoted."
"Promoted?" I'm sure I would have been happy for Geo if I didn't know that something horrible had happened to Eagle.
"Yes, just before the last commander went out into battle."
I kept myself from gasping, for I was truly shocked. Now that I thought about it, before we went to the Magic Knights' aid I caught a glimpse of a large cloud of smoke on the ground near the palace. I thought it had been my imagination at the time, so I didn't think twice about it. If that was the case, and if it certainly had been something Eagle had been piloting...
"Oh no," I murmured, knowing that the worst really had happened. In a regular volume, I asked once again, "In that case, could you possibly tell me where the commander is?"
The young man nodded and pointed to an upper level. "You're lucky you're unarmed--" I smiled; I actually had my saber tucked in my pants. "--otherwise I wouldn't tell you." He sighed. "Even so, I'm still risking getting discharged dishonorably. Anyway, up there is the cockpit. Commander Metro is up there speaking with the president. I wouldn't go up there until you're sure they're finished talking."
"Thank you," I said.
I easily found the staircase and climbed up slowly and quietly so that neither of the men talking would be startled by my "sudden" presence. When I reached the top, I paused and dared not go any further, for indeed there was Geo, alone in the room physically, but I knew that he really wasn't. He sat in a chair, looking and sounding very authoritative while he spoke to, most likely Eagle's father, over the console.
"Lantis wouldn't let me go out," he said. "I think he was smart to do that. If you would really like the body--"
"No," the voice from the computer said sternly, "it's all right. I'm sure that's what he would have wanted, for his final resting place to be where he died. We'll have an empty coffin; I don't want to have anybody digging through the wreckage. However, I'm glad to hear about Guru Clef's willingness to help us, so please come home whenever you're ready."
"Thank you, sir."
With that, Geo pressed a button on the console, which could only mean that the conversation was over. He sighed heavily and rested his elbows on the surface and held his head in his hands. I heard him mumble a curse, and I wish I never had to find out about Eagle this way, but maybe it would help me get stronger to help him somehow.
"Geo?" I called softly.
He looked up and met my eyes. His were glazed, probably because he was afraid of crying. I had never seen him in this state, so I invited myself onto the platform and walked towards him. As I drew nearer, he looked away from me. I only did one thing when I reached him, and that was to touch his shoulder lightly.
"It's all right," I told him. "You can cry if you want."
"So you heard," he said with a sigh.
I shook my head. "Gathering what one of your crewmembers told me, the way Zazu was acting, and the little bit of conversation I heard between you and his father, I came to the conclusion myself. Geo, I'm so sorry."
"Don't be," he said. "He wanted to die in battle rather than..." He sighed again. "He was going to die anyway. I was being selfish; I wanted him to live even for only one more day. And at the same time, I couldn't do anything to help him or myself. Lantis, the president and Zazu don't believe it's in any way my fault, but I can't help it... I..."
He cursed again, and the moment I saw a tear fall from his eye, I gently pulled his head to my shoulder and held him.