Volume III of Legacy: Black Star, Part 1 - Cover

Volume III of Legacy: Black Star, Part 1

Copyright© 2023 by Uruks

Chapter 23: To Be Strong

After months of testing, the DNA sequences are ready. We can begin growing live test subjects.

Éclair and Ryan had now spent at least a month alone on the nearly dead planet, although it could have been a bit longer if what Éclair said about the planet’s day cycle was true. Ryan was still immobile, but every day he felt a little stronger and could move a little more. He now had free range of his arms, and partial mobility in his legs. Éclair fashioned a makeshift crutch from some of those weird-looking trees that seemed to be growing all over the place. All things considered, Ryan could think of worse situations than being stuck on an isolated planet with a beautiful girl whilst being served hand and foot by that same girl.

Although Ryan had to admit that things were no picnic. The planet occasionally fluctuated between being blindingly hot during the peak of the day and freezing cold at night. There were no animals to be found in the area, except for the occasional insect which Éclair and Ryan learned to relish in the weeks that came. Éclair usually came back to the campsite with some more of that strange herb that she forced Ryan to eat. Though the herbs and the soup Éclair made tasted horrible, he eventually got used to them. Ryan was also secretly impressed that she had enough knowledge of plants to know which were safe to eat and which were not, even on an alien planet. He had to admit, if she wasn’t here with him, he would have been dead a long time ago.

Thanks to Éclair’s ice powers, acquiring water was never a problem as she froze the moisture in the air to create ice palettes that would soon melt into puddles. It took her a little while to fully recover her powers, but soon she was once again in prime form, freezing things with both ease and grace. Ryan was both mesmerized and a tad jealous of Éclair’s recovery. Sitting around all day on his laurels just waiting to be fed made him feel useless. Problem was that every time Ryan tried to push himself a little harder, like a slightly psychotic mother hen, Éclair would shush him back to resting. One night, when Ryan tried to sneak out to prove to Éclair that he could get supplies on his own, she froze the ground from under him, causing him to slip and fall. After falling down, he didn’t have the strength to get back up again, only adding to his humiliation.

Talk about bedside manners, thought Ryan grumpily to himself after Éclair forced him back to bed. Éclair just doesn’t get it! It’s torture for a guy to just sit around and feel useless! She already said that I have a really fast recovery speed, so why can’t she trust me to go out on my own? It’s not like we’ve seen anything dangerous on this planet!

One day, after being out a little longer than usual, Ryan waited anxiously for Éclair to come back. The sun was getting close to setting, casting a strange orange haze over the black earth and white trees. He sat on a log just on the outskirts of their camp inside the pit. He had already prepared a fire for whatever supplies Éclair brought back, and a makeshift hut to combat the chilly wind. Although, the hut would probably prove a little less useful than the fire as Ryan had no idea how to make a proper hut out of sticks.

Ryan tapped his finger to his knee furiously, his anxiety increasing with every second. He turned to the freshly made hut just as a small gust of wind blew it on its side. The sticks from his demolished structure wobbled hopelessly on the ground as the wind rocked them back and forth.

Ryan then turned to his only companion left. “You think the hut looks alright, Sticky?”

The ‘Sticky’ that Ryan referred to was a small stick man that he had fashioned for himself for such occasions when Éclair was gone for a really long time. Sticky was made from five long, white sticks and was a little bigger than Ryan’s hand. The stick in the middle was the biggest and served as the body and head with two holes and a thin curved line to service as the face. The arms and legs were bound to the central sticks using thin, brown vines from roots Éclair had found here and there. Ryan had many very stimulating imagined conversations with his wooden companion. Sticky’s carved and slightly creepy smiling face was always a boon during those horrible periods of waiting and hoping for Éclair to come back safely. Although, there were times in their imaginary conversations when Sticky acted like a real prick, like now for instance.

Are you kidding me?” said Sticky condescendingly. “I’ve seen dog shit more structurally sound than that piece of crap right there!”

Ryan imagined that Sticky had a very high-pitched, squeaky voice, like something you’d hear from a cartoon character that was once lovable, but had over time become a real jerk. Ryan also imagined that Sticky had a slightly Italian accent, giving him a little bit of a mafia vibe.

“Shut up, you demented Pinocchio,” replied Ryan, his feelings slightly hurt by the quip. “It just needs a little spit and polish, that’s all.”

“Heh! Oh, please,” replied Sticky in that irritating, squeaky laugh that Ryan had imagined for him. “The way you spit and polish, we’ll be lucky if there are any sticks left that aren’t on fire, ya schmuck.”

Ryan stood up angrily, though with some difficulty as he leaned on his crutch. “You know something, kindling. You keep pushing me and pushing me, and pretty soon you’re ... well, you’re not going to like it.”

“Oh, come on, kid,” laughed Sticky once again. “What’s youz gonna do to me, stumpy? Hobble your crippled ass over here and teach me a lesson? With the condition you’re in, just one splinter from me would be enough to put you out of your misery!”

“Leave me alone, you bully!” cried out Ryan while pointing violently at Sticky. He was really getting into this imaginary fight as he actually felt his emotions rising. “Or you really will be kindling!”

“Ha,” scoffed the dummy of doom. “Don’t make me laugh! If I wasn’t around, you’d really go bonkers. Admit it! Every time Éclair goes off to get food for your sorry ass, you go out of your little mind. I’m starting to wonder which one of the two of you actually has a dick here!”

Ryan limped over, grabbed the evil little puppet, and shook it aggressively. “Don’t say that! DON’T YOU EVER SAY THAT, OR I’LL ... Oh, it’s no use,” he groaned in defeat, losing interest in the made-up argument as he dropped the stick man to the ground. “I’m so worried that not even an imaginary fight with an inanimate object can distract me. Not to mention, things were getting a little too crazy, even for me. What happens at the campsite with the stick man stays at the campsite with the stick man.”

Ryan sat back on his stump in a state of melancholy and sighed. “What if something really happened to her this time, Sticky, and I’m just sitting here on my butt while it does? I mean, she’s never been gone this long before.”

You wanna know my opinion?” asked the doll sardonically as the imaginary conversation resumed.

“No, but I’m gonna hear it either way.”

You need some closure in your relationship. You need to nut up, tell that girl how you feel, and kiss her full on the mouth. But don’t give her tongue unless she does it first, ya dope!”

“I can’t do that! Éclair would never forgive me. Plus, I’m pretty sure she’s still hung up on Leon.”

“Look, pal! You’re here, he’s not! All’s fair in love and war. Besides. In all likelihood, you’re never gonna get rescued anyway, so being stranded on a desolate planet with you as her only companion ... well, it’s not like the lady’s gotta lot of options at this point, right?

“Oh, that makes me feel better. So, the only time I might have a shot with Éclair is because I’m literally the only guy on the planet. No thanks! I’m not interested in being her rebound by default.”

“Hey! If the shoe fits, wear it, pal.

“Well, that’s encouraging,” muttered Ryan as he crossed his arms and stared out over the horizon, hoping to catch sight of Éclair.

“Look, kid.” said Sticky, persisting in this mad fantasy. Ryan was beginning to wonder if he really was going insane. “All I’m saying is that the girl may like you more than you know. Remember that touching embrace you two shared when you first woke up. She initiated that, not you.”

“Yeah, I remember,” acknowledged Ryan.

“And remember all them pretty lights from that meteor shower thing, and how romantic-like it was.”

“I remember.”

“And remember how much you two have been talking lately. That’s all you’ve been doing when she gets back. She says in that silky-smooth voice of hers,” Sticky then made his best impersonation of Éclair’s feminine voice, although she would not have been flattered by it. “‘Ryan, let’s talk about the Ministry. Ryan, let’s talk about Grafy. Ryan, tell me about your homeworld.’ If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that chick was falling for your rugged charms.”

“You’re crazy, Sticky,” said Ryan, determined not to give in to this fantasy.

“I’m telling you, bud! That dame is into you! You’ve been her knight in shining scales. You’ve saved that damsel’s life more times than Grafy’s farted. If that doesn’t spark a romance, I don’t know what will.”

Ryan looked down long and hard at his strange creation. “Are you sure this conversation is completely imaginary? Because I don’t think I’m smart enough to come up with half the stuff you’re saying, my little wooden friend.”

Ryan stared down at the little wooden doll, half-expecting it to get up and dance a jig. With all the weird things he had lived through, it wouldn’t surprise him.

“Talking to that doll, again?” broke Éclair’s voice through Ryan’s questionnaire.

Ryan was so startled that he fell off the log as his crutches and bandaged legs went straight up.

“You do know that’s a little creepy, right?” said Éclair half-jokingly, half-concerned as she watched him from the edge of the large pit.

“You try staying sane when you’re left all on your own with nothing to do but sit on your crippled butt,” replied Ryan in embarrassment.

“The question of your sanity has never been an issue for me. I knew you were nuts when I first laid eyes on you,” said Éclair, smiling down at Ryan. “Come on. Get up. I’ve got some good news for once.”

Ryan attempted to move from his humorous position but found the endeavor quite impossible. “Um, Éclair. This is a little embarrassing, but ... uh ... I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.”

“Oh, poor baby,” cooed Éclair mockingly.

“You seem to be enjoying my invalid state.”

“More than you can imagine,” said Éclair, still smiling oh-so-sweetly. It was amazing how beautiful she looked when she mocked him. “Alright, come on Humpty Dumpty. Let’s get you back up on your wall.”

Éclair made it to Ryan’s side in a single, graceful bound. She grunted a little as she pushed Ryan from his back up to his perch on the log. When he started to slip, she grabbed him from behind and pushed up. Awkwardly, Éclair might have grabbed Ryan’s bottom a couple times while grunting a little. When she finally got him back into his sitting position, Ryan couldn’t help but smirk.

“Well, I don’t know about you,” said Ryan mischievously. “But my day just got a whole lot better.”

“Mention that to anyone,” said Éclair threateningly with a raised fist. “And I’ll create enough frostbite on your foot that you’ll be lucky to have any toes left.”

“Trust me,” replied Ryan reassuringly. “This is one perk of our relationship I prefer not sharing.”

Unfortunately, Éclair glanced over at the pile of sticks that was supposed to be their hut. “Did you try to make a house only for it to fail miserably ... again?”

Ryan flushed in embarrassment. “N-no! Those are more sticks for the fire! I just stacked them weird ‘cause I felt like it, okay!”

Éclair just looked at him dubiously with a raised eyebrow, then she sat across from Ryan on the opposite log on the other side of the fire. “Right then. To business.”

“Well, you sound chipper,” observed Ryan coyly while folding his arms. “So, to business, huh? Didn’t know I needed an appointment now to chat with my fellow survivor. And you ask why I talk to the stickman that we made.”

“That you made,” corrected Éclair.

“You gave me the sticks,” pointed out Ryan while waggling a finger.

“Alright, smart aleck. That’s enough verbal jousting for one evening, thank you,” said Éclair as she pulled something out of her handmade knapsack made from bits of her dress. “Now, feast your eyes on this.”

Éclair brought out a tube of toothpaste and held up it proudly, as if she had just discovered the Holy Grail.

“OMG! It’s toothpaste!” mocked Ryan as he put his hands to his cheeks. He tapped the bottoms of his wrists together before exclaiming, “Yay!”

Éclair then promptly whacked Ryan on the head with the toothpaste tube. Though the action was not altogether unexpected, Ryan still said a quiet ‘ow’ all the same.

“You dunce! Don’t you know what this means?”

“That you’ll finally be able to keep up with your dental hygiene,” responded Ryan sarcastically. “That’s great news for all of us. I see why you’re excited.”

“No, idiot,” said Éclair, her face going a little red before thinking about it for a minute. “Well ... yes, I suppose, but that’s not the point. The point is that this came from the ship. This and loads of other stuff I found.”

Éclair unpacked the pouch which was full of half-burnt or dirty junk. There were other toiletry items. Metal pieces of a ship’s hull and parts of computers. Ryan also noted a few emergency rations which was a huge score.

“It means that debris from the ship must have come through the Gateway with us and landed on this planet as well,” she explained. “It means that not only do we get to enjoy the occasional emergency rations like the ones I just found, but we also might find something infinitely more valuable to our plight.”

“So, is this why you took so long today?” asked Ryan, trying unsuccessfully to conceal his concern.

“Hmm. Worried a bit, were you?” asked Éclair in a cat-like tone.

“You know I was,” admitted Ryan, a slight shade of purple embarrassment washing over his face. “Worrying is all I can do while I’m cooped up here.”

“Well, you needn’t worry,” said Éclair in a slightly scolding voice. “Now that I’m fully recovered, I’m a force to be reckoned with. Besides, if something did happen to me, there’s nothing you could do about it ... not in your condition.”

Ryan exhaled melancholily, and muttered, “Rub it in, why don’t ya?”

“I’m sorry, Ryan,” apologized Éclair with genuine sympathy. “It’s just the truth.”

“So, what’s more useful than emergency rations?” asked Ryan, wanting to change the subject to something other than his injuries.

Éclair grinned in anticipation before saying, “A computer console, or at least enough of one to make our own communications disk. If we can scavenge enough parts from the ship, then-”

“Then we can send off a distress signal and get off this rock,” interrupted Ryan excitedly. “Oh, I’m sorry for interrupting. I was getting caught up in the moment.”

“I’ll forgive you this once. But only if you admit how incredibly and stupendously awesome I am,” said Éclair with a cocky grin.

“Alright, alright,” conceded Ryan happily. “For once, you’re not a complete screw-up.”

Éclair gasped before playfully hitting Ryan on the shoulder. “That doesn’t count as a compliment.”

“Okay,” said Ryan, holding up his hands in appeasement. “You’re legitimately, genuinely awesome.”

“Oh, come on,” chided Éclair while grinning wickedly. “You’re a wordsmith. You can do better than that.”

“You’re the most talented person on this planet,” said Ryan, enjoying Éclair’s momentary playfulness.

“True, but keep going,” said Éclair with a motioning twiddle of her fingers, her grin only deepening.

“You’re an Elemental goddess whose mastery of ice and arrows is matched only by her beauty,” said Ryan in a deep, dramatic voice.

“Getting better,” cooed Éclair, her tone fishing for more compliments.

Ryan’s face turned a little serious as he wanted to say something a bit more genuine ... something that was sincere. “You are without a doubt the bravest, the smartest, and the most ridiculously overpowered chick I have ever met.”

Éclair was grinning from ear to ear as a sweet laugh escaped her lips. To Ryan, her laughter was like listening to a symphony.

“Mm. Now that’s the stuff,” said Éclair quietly with another soft laugh.

As Ryan started to join her in laughter, Éclair did something unexpected. She leapt over to him and gave him a good, long hug. Ryan instinctively caught Éclair in his arms and hugged her back, both still laughing. They rocked back and forth in their hug for a few moments, their laughter growing louder with each moment.

As Ryan slowly broke away from the hug, their eyes met. Éclair’s face was inches away from his. Her lips were inches away from his, and they seemed to be getting closer. Ryan’s heart was beating so fast that he hardly even noticed his breathing. Éclair was staring back at him with those perfect, violet eyes of hers that reflected the glow of the firelight. The night air was cold, so cold that their breath was coming out like vapor. But Éclair was not cold. Even if her power was ice, she felt warm and soft in his arms. And her arms were wrapped around his shoulders, and slowly moved to the back of his head. It was only a moment, but it seemed like the sweetest moment of Ryan’s entire life as Éclair’s face inched closer and closer.

Suddenly, Éclair broke away and shook her head as if coming out of a trance. “Oh, my goodness. I’m so sorry. I ... I don’t know what came over me. I ... I shouldn’t be jumping all over you like that, not in your condition.”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s okay. I’m feeling a lot stronger these days,” said Ryan, turning purple as he drew away, the sweet but short moment clearly gone.

Éclair quickly extracted herself from Ryan’s embrace and resumed her station on the opposite log. Éclair looked both embarrassed and ashamed as she stared down to the ground silently. “You know it’s all just for fun, Ryan ... don’t you?”

“What do you mean?” asked Ryan, though he dreaded what he knew the answer was going to be.

Now we’re at the point where she lets me down easy and reestablishes the friend-zone. God, I hate the friend-zone, thought Ryan to himself. Though, knowing what was coming would not make it hurt any less.

“I mean this. We’re just having fun, aren’t we? It doesn’t have to mean anything more than that ... because we’re stranded here together. And you ... and I ... um...” Éclair seemed to lose her train of thought. She suddenly met his gaze. The sad look she gave him communicated more than a thousand words, and it just about broke Ryan’s heart.

“I’m going back to Leon when we leave this place. You do know that, don’t you?” she asked softly, but Ryan knew the words she was going to say before they were even spoken.

Ryan had to take in a deep breath to keep himself from crying. It wasn’t the first-time Éclair had rejected his affections, but for some reason, it hurt much worse this time. He shook his head slowly and hid his almost-crying moment behind a cynical chuckle.

For once, I wish Éclair could read my thoughts so she could know how much pain I’m in right now.

“You must really love that guy, huh?” asked Ryan quizzically, hoping to hide his hurt as much as possible.

“I do, actually. Very much so,” said Éclair decidedly.

“Can I ask why?” said Ryan as humbly as he could. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. I consider Leon a friend ... most of the time ... but I just could never see him with you ... or, at least, I could never see you with him.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” asked Éclair, growing defensive.

Ryan threw up his hands apologetically, not wanting to offend Éclair. “I’m just saying that you guys don’t seem compatible. He’s all darkness and seriousness and getting the job done no matter what.”

“I’m like that, too,” insisted Éclair, though in a manner that suggested that she did not fully believe her own words.

Ryan shook his head knowingly. “No, you’re not. Not really. You just act that way around most people ... around him. But that’s not who you are. I’ve seen you. I’ve really seen you. Like you’ve been with me this past month. You’re fun. You’re mischievous. You’re playful. You’re full of life and laughter and everything that makes a person worthwhile. And the worst part is that you try so hard to hide that part of yourself ... the best part of yourself in my opinion. You drive yourself so hard to succeed. To do well. To impress people, especially him. You focus so much of your attention in getting things done perfectly that the fun side doesn’t show most of the time. It makes me wonder if you think of that part of yourself as some sort of weakness. Maybe because he’s convinced you that it’s a weakness, but it’s not. Your fun and kind nature is your greatest strength.”

Éclair just stared at Ryan in shock. Then shock turned to anger as she spoke coldly. “You think you know me so well. You think you’ve got me all figured out. But you still can’t figure out why I really love Leon.”

“Then tell me?” asked Ryan almost pleadingly.

“I love him because he knows me,” said Éclair passionately as she put a hand to her chest. “He knows the weight of living with his family’s legacy every day. Of living with their memories, knowing what they would expect of him, what they would require of him to do in their place. But worst of all, knowing that there’s not a damn thing he could ever do to live up to that legacy. To do what they would have expected of him. Just like there’s not a damn thing I can do to live up to my own father’s legacy.”

“Your father, the old Emperor before Chissler?” asked Ryan, revealing his knowledge of Éclair’s lineage.

Éclair looked shocked beyond words as she flinched away from Ryan slightly. “How did you-”

“An old dude named Zanderius might’ve mentioned it to me,” lied Ryan, not wanting to bring up his conversation with Grafael, or that it was Éclair herself who once told him when they were young. That would mean going over her lapse in memory again ... something that was just too painful.

Éclair was even more astonished when Ryan mentioned the old man. “You have met my Godfather then ... as I always suspected.”

“I didn’t know he was you’re Godfather, but yeah,” admitted Ryan, thinking back to his encounters with the mysterious old man. “I’ve run into him from time to time. He usually has this weird dog with him. I’m pretty sure he’s saved our lives a few times. I don’t know why he won’t just come out and tell us who he is and what he wants. But he seems like a decent enough guy. As far as I can tell, he’s some kind of Master Elemental, right?”

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