Around The Campfire

[04.02.00] » by Brickroad

With a whisper, the ancient indigo set the pile of dead wood and leaves ablaze to warm their cool hands and fears. It had been a hard day. Bleu looked sadly- for the first time in hundreds of years she choked back her tears- at the young dragon, whose back was turned away from the fire. His long blue hair blew in the wind, an awkward contrast against the bright red flames.

"Poor kid," she heard Gobi mutter, "had to kill his own sister to save our lives. I wouldn'ta been able to do it."

Bleu shot a fiery glance at the fish-man. "You just be quiet, you money- grubbing pipsqueak. It's none of your damn business anyway." Gobi shrugged and turned back to counting zenny on a portable abacus.

Bleu slithered silently over to Ryu, taking care that her scaly tail made no noise against the leaves mother nature had strewn about the ground. He had said nothing all day... so sombre...

What Bleu saw on his face surprised him. A smile. "Ryu, are you okay?"

Ryu chuckled slightly, nodding once. "Yeah." The heavy Drogen accent tickled Bleu's ear- she loved listening to him talk, the way he pronounced his o's was simply tantilizing. "It's funny, I should be really sad that Sara is dead. But she died like a war hero. I'm really proud of her. I miss her, but she gave us so much to look forward to."

Ryu turned his head, Bleu's eyes followed into his line of sight. Karn and Nina gently throwing insults at each other, Mogu dozing off silently against a small tree, Ox leaning over the fire preparing a slab of steak, Bo and Gobi deeply engrossed in some kind of political conversation. "I dearly love them all, Bleu. They're the best friends I have ever known. They have all saved me... I have been saved in every possible way through them."

Bleu nodded in agreement. "It's weird how destiny picks such strange individuals to save our world. Each of us an outcast in our own way, someone history would have been glad to leave behind. Together we're a tsunami, Ryu, a great wave."

Nina giggled as Karn tossled her hair, just before elbowing him in the gut. Mogu sleepily eyed Ox's beef, his little vegetarian nose crinkling in disgust.

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

Hand in hand, indigo and dragon joined their comrades in the light meal. "Excellent seasoning," offered Bo, which was strange given the wolf's mostly loner-style disposition. He nodded gently in Ox's direction, but the metalsmith was too busy gnawing the bone of his meat to notice. It genuinely amazed Ryu- Nina sighted the animal, Bo killed it, Ox cooked it, they all ate it. They were a watch, each one a gear.

Hours passed before the dying embers of the fire were drowned out by the snoring of the small entourage. Ryu slowly stood and stepped lightly away from his friends, overlooking the great vast blood-red ocean they would have to transverse tomorrow. A gentle touch on his shoulder shattered the blissful daze, but not for long.

"Are you okay, Ryu?" Nina asked, desperately trying to keep her eyes open. The dragon nodded.

"Is... is it wrong for me to love you?" braved the princess, her voice faltering once or twice along the way.

"No," Ryu responded. "It is not wrong to love anyone or anything."

Nina leaned her head on Ryu's shoulder, suddenly feeling comfortable enough to shut her delicate eyelids. "Ever since you saved me from Karma... ever since you helped rescue my father and my country I have felt close to you. That's why I asked to go with you, even though I know it might mean my death. Ryu... I feel as though, if I cannot aid you... if I cannot love you... then I'm worthless... just the same old materialistic princess I always was."

Ryu held Nina close to him, lovingly stroking her back. "I think I've always known that. But... I've never cared. Until now."

The sun eventually rose over the two, embracing amidst the sea of blood, thoughts of a dead goddess filling their minds.


Sten nearly burnt his fingers lighting the fire. "God dammit, finally got that thing started."

"Yep," retorted Ryu, checking his father's ancient gold watch. "And it's only 11:30. Great job."

Sten shot his long hairy middle finger straight upwards in the dragon's direction, sending laughter through them both.

"Nevertheless, it is time to EAT!" Bow flung his spired frankfurter into the spurting flames, licking his chops impatiently.

"Right on, buddy," Ryu commented, unsheathing his sword. "Hot dogs always taste better at the end of a blade."

"Boys will be boys," sighed Nina from her vantage point in a tree above the tiny fire. Katt took enough time from relentlessly hacking at a tree branch with her quarterstaff to respond. "Bow an' Ryu an' Sten... what can ya do, right?"

Nina smiled. She was enthralled by the way the orangish glare made Ryu's gorgeous jade eyes glow, how amazing his gently hued blue hair wavered back and forth... "Yeah... what can you do?"

Katt rolled her eyes. She had given up any hope of getting close to Ryu long ago. As she turned her attention back to chopping away at the leaves, she noticed Rand sitting alone some twenty feet away, his head in his gigantic hands. "Yo Nina- ya think Rand's gonna be okay?"

Nina snapped her gaze away from Ryu and to the tigeress above her. "I don't know. I hope so. I... I think I know how he feels though, to watch someone so close to him be killed."

"Damn Evans," said Katt, aiming an exteremely powerful hack into an already torn branch above her. "Damn the church, damn it all to hell. Why they gotta kill people? Why they gotta hurt people like that? I guess that's why we all out here, right?"

Nina nodded. She fluttered silently to the ground, not being particularly fond of the thought of being bombarded with one of Katt's stick-swatting fits.

Jean and Spar were still nowhere to be seen. They had left hours ago to hunt for insects- neither one cared much for conventional meat or plants- and hadn't come back yet. Of the entire mismatched team, Jean and Spar got along the best together. Jean drank in all the knowledge he could about nature and poetry and lore that Spar spewed forth, and Spar listened intently to all of Jean's stories of heroism and battle. They had probably fallen asleep somewhere in the woods, back to back. Nina chuckled. She had no real wish to go searching for them.

Nor did she had any wish to eat with the little kids around the fire. Ryu was busy with his fake belching trick, while Bow was guffawing (quite distgustingly, since his mouth was full of hot dogs) over one of Sten's dirty jokes. Nina had done a lot of studying about the Brood- respectable and heroic- and Ryu was almost the exact opposite. Tomorrow, though, she knew his act would change. He would become the serious battle hardened Ranger he was in every fight, refusing to let one of his friends bleed before he did.

Nina turned her attention towards Rand. After coming within five feet of the brute she could tell he was crying. He had watched his mother die today- crushed like an ant between two huge stones. He and his mother had a splendid love-hate relationship... it seemed that beneath the big ole' doof Nina knew and loved was a very tiny aching heart, bleeding for comfort.

Almost thrice the princess' size, Rand welcomed her company. "I'm really sorry, Rand. Are you okay?"

Rand nodded his tiny head. "I will be."

Just being there for him seemed to help Rand far more than Nina could have imagined. "Say, Nina... have you ever thought of the possibilities out there? I tried to make it big in Corsair, to gamble myself into greatness... I never thought I would be swept into all this. But I don't regret nothin'. It's really funny."

Nina nodded. She flexed her coal-black wings and replied, "I'm not sure why any of us are in this. It's really none of our business. Well, I can see why Bow wants to help Ryu out- they've been best friends since they were little kids."

Ryu's incredibly loud ripping burp suddenly made Nina realize they still WERE little kids.

"But the rest of us... Jean's got a perfect little pampered life back at Sima... Sten has been welcomed back into Highfort... even Katt could have opted to simply move into the background with Tiga... know what I mean? But here we all are, with Ryu."

"Do you love him, Nina?"

The question stung Nina so sharply she couldn't speak. "Ya know, it's because of the Brood that your blood is so diluted you can barely fly. You know that. But... if you truely love him..."

"I'm not sure, Rand. Maybe someday I will be sure."

Rand's tears blocked his full view of the little princess, but he knew she was smiling dreamily. "Then it's not so strange we're here with Ryu. We all love him. He's our friend. He's our rock."

Nina caught a glimpse of her 'rock' poking Sten in the stomach with a frankfurter stick.

She laughed, shaking her head. "That's one hell of a lump of clay to mold... isn't it?"


Four groans and a high pitched squeal split the sky as Garr lit the fire. "Dammit you big oaf," complained Rei, taking off every shred of clothing modesty would allow. "We're in the middle of the Desert of Death and you're lighting a fire?"

"We have to cook our meat, don't we?" Garr explained, taking the salted beef out of his pack.

Momo's long ears twitched as she sunk into her ocean of clothing. No one in the team had ever seen her take any of it off- even in the most extreme conditions. Rei even liked to joke that, underneath all that, she was just a shred of cloth.

"All your hot air don't help either, pal," said Ryu, snatching the canteen away from Nina's lips. She whimpered silently, not getting nearly enough to drink, and sulked into the tent. Ryu capped the canteen and threw it back into the pack loaded on the Rakda.

Garr set to work preparing the meal while Momo dripped the contents of a tiny vial of specially blended nutrients onto Peco's brow, the little bud cooing gently at the relief. What the concoction did, no one was sure, but it seemed to shield Peco from the heat.

Rei sank into the sand, closing his eyes. "Wake me when dinner's done."

Ryu tossed his sweat-soaked white cloak onto the team's rakda and knelt in a stance of prayer to Ladon. He barely even noticed when Garr knelt next to him, examining him like a science project.

"Something wrong, Garr?"

Garr shook his head, flexing his wings. A great amount of persperation flew off of the clawed tips as he did so...

"No, not at all. I just find it fascinating the way you pray."

Ryu was half kneeling, half sitting in the sand, his hands folded tightly together out in front of his bowed head and closed eyes. "What's wrong with the way I pray?"

"You look down. When my kind prays to Myria, we look up, for the heavens are in the sky."

"When my kind prays to Ladon, we look down, for the dragons sleep beneath the earth."

A sickening lump wedged its way into Garr's throat at that comment. How painful it must have been for little Ryu to look at the skelitons of the Brood strewn about the bottom of Angel Tower- how deafiningly painful!

"I see."

Ryu relaxed his prayer and leaned back into the sand, looking at the starlit sky. "Didn't you have another brother, besides Rei?"

Ryu nodded. "Yeah. His name was Teepo. He was a little punk, he enjoyed the life of thievery we led."

"Did you ever find out what happened to him?"

A sigh. "No. Rei and I somehow survived the onslaught of Balio and Sunder, but Teepo must have been killed."

Ryu looked solemnly at his brother, who was attempting to pawn a sip of warm water off of the archest of all his enemies, the chrysm scientist Momo.

"Rei never forgave himself. I can tell. He was a real uppity kid, ya know what I mean? But now he seems so out of it. I've seen his temper explode too many times. Once he even mentioned something to me about suicide. Do you suppose when we finally find Myria she'll be able to tell us how to help him?"

The mention of that seemed strange to Garr. His goddess? The mother of all life? The savior of the planet? Concerned with Rei? It might have been laughable.

But then, it was also laughable that a lost lone dragon, a runaway princess, a rebelling guardian, an insane tiger, a preoccupied engineer, and a living onion could ever have transversed as much of the planet as they had. "I'm sure she'll do everything she can to help Rei... mark my words."

Ryu chuckled sleepily. "A dragon... taking the words of a guardian. That's quite a thought, isn't it?"

Brood and guardian alike turned their heads to Momo's horrified shriek. She sat there, clasping her hand over a small tear in her robes, as Rei was silently unscrewing the cap of the water canteen. Feeling the eyes on him the tiger retorted, "What? A tiger's gotta drink, yeah?"

"You didn't have to shred into me like that!"

"For the love of canned hash, woman, you ain't cut. Not that I wouldn't love to hack up a few of them veins for ya, but..."

"Really?" Momo snatched her gunshaft from it's vantage spot leaning against the tent. "I'll blow a freakin' hole in that jaw of yours!"

"Quiet down out there!" Nina whined hoarsly from the tent. "Some folks are trying to get a decent night's sleep!"

Rei nodded victoriously and took a long draught of the canteen- only to pull back in disgust. He spat sand out of his mouth, glaring at Momo with pure venom. The scientist held up the real canteen, sloshing the water around inside. "You miserable bitch!" Rei spat, crawling defeated into the tent.

Momo nodded approvingly and slouched back to stroke Peco and doze off a bit.

Garr and Ryu once again looked into each other's eyes. "What say you we run off and find Myria ourselves?"

"No good. They'd just follow the scent."

"With you all caked with sweat like that it'd be a treacherous scent to chase down, eh?"

Garr chortled a bit, returning to the food preparations. "Don't ever change, Ryu. Don't you dare ever change."

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