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

Volume III of Legacy: Black Star, Part 1

Copyright© 2023 by Uruks

Chapter 8: Departure

The Werewolves are taking their sweet time hunting Subject Zero. I’m considering hiring Werecats instead, who often brag that they are better hunters than Werewolves despite having less territory in the Hunting Grounds. If the Werewolves take much longer, I might have to agree with that assessment.

Éclair tried not to let her worry show. After studying the dossier, she realized that it could be weeks before they were all back together again. Maybe even longer. And worse, Leon and the others would be going dark on their mission, so she wouldn’t be able to contact them. She and Leon only just got together after years of waiting, and now they would have to separate. It was so unfair.

Of course, Leon wasn’t her only concern. She’d miss all the others too, especially Grafael. Over the past weeks, she worked tirelessly in her free time studying his blood and running tests on him. She also tried to find a way to replicate what she had done to cure him of his Berserker State by mimicking his brain waves in simulations. So far, her tests had come out inconclusive. She had no idea how she brought him back, or even if she could do so again. Her medical team had run all manner of tests, but could not determine if the Berserker Strain had been eradicated from his system, or if she simply stopped that one single incident.

Still, he didn’t seem as worried as he used to be. He even said that he was working to limit the threat of his Berserker traits. She wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but at least he didn’t seem depressed anymore. The Minister even placed special sensors and sedatives in his armor that would activate if his vitals started to spike at the levels necessary for a Berserker transformation. So the danger wasn’t quite so severe.

I wonder if I should run the same sort of tests on Ryan. Grafael was worried about him transforming too ... so worried in fact that he even considered killing Ryan. And Ryan has been acting strange lately. I’ll ask him when we’re away. I could probably use our assigned vessel’s med lab if need be.

Still, Éclair wasn’t that worried about Ryan, at least not to the degree that she had worried about Grafael. Sure, Ryan had been a little moody lately, but at least he still cracked a stupid joke every now and then. That probably meant that everything was fine for the most part. And he even seemed to have made up with Tork. Torsha’s doing no doubt. Éclair had to admit, the young Monk had turned out to be much more sensible than Éclair had initially given her credit for when they first met.

But just because he isn’t that bad, I still think we made the right decision keeping him out of the fighting. Ryan may be one of our more skilled fighters if he can focus, but his lack of cooperation for even our most basic drills is too much of a liability for a mission like this. I’ll have to give him a good talking-to before we meet back with everyone. That boy needs someone to set him straight, and I suppose I’ll be the only one around to do it.

Éclair’s racing thoughts came to a head as they made it to the docks. The morning sun was just peaking over the countless towers of Tarrus. Rays of light shined through the shields of the dome that surrounded the Fire Ministry and reflected off the shiny hulls of the vessels. There were two ships on the landing platform. One was a standard Fire Ministry shuttle. The shuttle was dark red, only a little larger than the average starfighter, and shaped like a jagged arrowhead. The cockpit windows were tinted dark orange. The hull had been designed to resemble fire, sticking out in jagged pieces seemingly at random. There was a Lion on one wing, and a four-legged Winged Dragon on the other. Éclair imagined that the shuttle would take her and Ryan to one of their capital ships in orbit around the planet.

The other ship was of a more earthy design. It was a commercial vessel, many years out of date if the rust was any indication. It looked similar to an oversized brown RV from Ancient Earth with long black wings and a red window around the cockpit. The wings came equipped with a good deal of weaponry, so Eclair figured that it must’ve been customized by some mercenary group. The rogue shuttle was twice as large as the Fire Shuttle, so she figured that her team would be taking it all the way to Nirvana. Saria most likely wanted them to travel under the radar, so a hunk of junk like that one was most likely preferable to a more modern vessel.

Seeing the two vessels and the squad of Fire Ministry Spacers waiting to escort them, Éclair realized that the time was soon upon them. She kept her features serene, but events such as this always made her uneasy. Ever since Zand left her at the Ministry more than seven years ago and never returned, Éclair felt uneasy about partings. And she was just starting to get along with Rachel too. Even Torsha was becoming like another sister to her. She would have to double her efforts to finish the trading mission as quickly as possible. Perhaps Saria would allow her and Ryan to join the others if they finished their assignments fast enough, and secured a military alliance with the Insectoids.

I wonder if Saria is planning a coup against the Emperor with this alliance. This and others she apparently intends to make. I wonder if Zand is helping her in those plans. And if so, what are the plans for my role in such an event?

Éclair put such worries from her mind. It wouldn’t do to concern herself with things outside of her control at present. She would just have to complete her assigned tasks as efficiently as possible. She didn’t know when she would see Zand again, but he said he would return when she was ready. Therefore, Éclair had to strive to always be ready ... ready for anything. No matter what, she would be strong. Or at the very least, she would never let herself be weak again. That crying little girl who first came to the Fire Ministry all those years ago was no more. Now, she was a full-fledged Elemental with a will and a purpose. Nothing would stand in the way of that.

“Alright then, say your farewells, and let us be on our way,” Kormal announced. “It will be a long while before you all see each other again.”

Mozar huffed. “Shall we give them time to hug and kiss goodbye as well? As if this weak-willed generation isn’t mushy enough.”

Éclair couldn’t help but laugh at the Werewolf’s comment. Somehow, she wasn’t quite as afraid of him as the others seemed to be. He just reminded her of a strange, grouchy uncle. Despite his complaining and dark sense of humor, there was something almost endearing beneath the surface that no one else quite understood ... except for perhaps Kormal who grinned mischievously.

“Well, what do you think, Leon? It seems we’ve been given permission,” Éclair joked.

Mozar rolled his eyes. “This one wasn’t being literal.”

Leon graced Éclair with one of his rare smiles. “This may be the first time we’ve been separated for so long in nearly six years. I don’t have to tell you to be careful. I trust you too much for that.”

Éclair allowed a wave of contentment wash over her at the compliment. “But I do feel the need to tell you to be careful. Not because I don’t trust you, but because we both know that the danger to you and the others is far greater. I only wish that I could be there by your side.”

Leon shook his head slowly. “No. I’ve thought on it, and I do believe that it’s better this way. This will help your development in the political spectrum of Ministry life. Besides, we both knew that as Elementals, the mission must always come first.”

Leon’s statement had Éclair feeling flustered for some reason. She realized that he was right in what he said, but she couldn’t stop her thoughts from reeling. They were separating for the first time in years, and so soon after they had officially become a couple. As this understanding dawned, a moment of vulnerability came upon her, and she found that she desperately wanted to ask the Minister to let her stay at Leon’s side. She nearly asked Leon to go with her to convince Saria.

“But still, maybe we should,” started Éclair in protest before stopping herself. She couldn’t allow herself to show such weakness in front of Leon. He had just acknowledged that the mission was more important than their relationship. In her heart, she knew that to be true. They were both Elementals after all.

Éclair forced a smile and nodded. “You’re right. The mission comes first. When we started this, we both understood that our lives as Elementals will not always accommodate our relationship. Still, I will miss you all the same.”

Leon drew a strand of hair behind Éclair’s ear, his dark eyes glinting mysteriously beneath his glasses. “Then finalize that treaty as quickly as you can, and perhaps the Minister will allow you to join us.”

Éclair’s smile deepened as it grew more sincere. So, he was thinking the same thing. It’s almost as if we were made for each other. I can’t think of a more compatible match for me.

Nearby, she overheard the others saying their goodbyes to Ryan as well. “Ah, little brother. I will miss beating you with my big hammer,” boomed Grafael as he hugged Ryan a few feet away, picking the Elemental off his feet and swinging him back and forth.

Ryan growled, almost sounding like Mozar. “Don’t say stuff like that when you’re hugging me!”

Ryan’s face was scrunched up so tightly that he looked quite adorable. Éclair couldn’t help a giggle. She turned her attention back to Leon, wanting at least a goodbye kiss. She leaned against his chest for a satisfying hug, and waited for him to kiss her. But no kiss came. He just hugged her, smiled down at her fondly, and then drew away. Éclair watched Leon as he started a conversation with some of the spacers, discussing routes and security measures. She couldn’t help but feel a tad disappointed. They had only made out a handful of times since they started dating. Though Éclair appreciated Leon’s proper decorum in their relationship, it did make her feel somewhat undesirable at times.

He’s really not going to kiss me? I know he usually doesn’t like to do that in public ... but still, it might be nearly a month before we see each other again.

But as she listened, she realized that this was Leon’s love language. He was grilling the crew that would take her and Ryan to their destination. He wanted to make sure they would be safe. Éclair decided to take that as his goodbye kiss and move on.

As Grafael and the others congregated around Ryan to say their goodbyes, Éclair caught Rachel’s attention.

Her stepsister looked down sheepishly, holding her hands behind her back. “No long goodbyes, okay. We both know you’ll be fine. It’s you, after all. Him, I’m not so sure about.” Rachel pointed a thumb back at Ryan who was trading jokes and insults with the others.

Éclair shook her head. “No. We’ll both be fine. After all, we had good upperclassmen to set us straight.” Éclair then took Rachel’s hands and held them for a moment as she said quietly, “The best, actually.”

Rachel’s eyes became watery, and she shook her head. “Damn it all. Look what you did. My whole persona as the She-Devil is ruined now.”

Éclair sniffed in a half laugh. Hearing the emotion in Rachel’s voice almost broke Éclair too. She wrenched her emotions under control, but with a bit of difficulty.

Éclair didn’t cry, but her voice broke slightly with emotion as she said, “Take care of everyone while I’m gone.”

Then Éclair embraced her sister, rocking her gently.

While Éclair hugged Rachel, Grafael held Ryan from his armpits like a doll as his feet dangled above the ground. The big Saurian then handed the dangling Ryan to the only slightly shorter Tork who buried Ryan’s head into his big, scaly chest, spinning him around while giggling. Ryan continued growling throughout the whole ordeal. It rather reminded Éclair of two very large children passing a grouchy puppy between them.

Grafael caught Éclair’s eyes and approached her and Rachel. He waited patiently for the two to finish hugging. Éclair let the moment pass with Rachel as she gave her stepsister one final squeeze and broke away. Then she looked up at her old protector. The look on his face broke her in an instant. His big azure eyes were already welling up with tears as he smiled down at her gently.

Éclair buried her face into his burly, armored chest, hoping that no one else caught sight of her tears. It took all her willpower to keep herself from sobbing. Somehow, it felt more real saying goodbye to Grafael. It felt more final ... like the time she had to say goodbye to Zand. She knew she was being irrational, but feelings weren’t always rational.

When Éclair was certain that she had her tears under control, she drew away from Grafael, contenting herself to just looking up at his scaly and kindly face. They didn’t say a word for the longest time. There were some things that needed no words.

Then Grafael spoke somberly, “I am a little frightened. Having you near was a comfort. You brought me back from the brink once already. I don’t ... I don’t know if it happens again ... will I-”

Éclair shushed him with a finger to his lips. “You’ll be fine. I know you will. I’ve been studying your bloodwork. The levels of instability that brought on your transformation from before seem to be dissipating. Your body is adapting to the Berserker Strain. It’s gone into remission. It’s not cured completely, but as long as you keep your guard up, you should be alright.”

Grafael gave a soft gasp. “I’m ... I’m adapting. I wonder ... is it because of what you did? Or maybe Ryan was right and the training has been helping.”

Éclair cocked her head to the side. “Wait. What? Training ... with Ryan?”

Grafael nodded. “Typically, the Berserker Strain intensifies the more a Saurian uses Elemency. However, some believe that if one becomes more familiar with Elemency, one can determine the limits of when the Berserker State will take effect. Ryan and I have been practicing with my Earth Elemency under controlled conditions to test this theory. I have felt that I have more control over my powers now, but I wasn’t sure until you confirmed that hope.”

Éclair scoffed, hitting him angrily on his bulky shoulder. “So that’s what you’ve been hiding from me. The nerve of you two going behind my back like that. And probably because you didn’t want to put me in danger. When are you going to stop treating me like a child?”

Grafael gave her a gentle smile. “I haven’t thought of you as a hatchling in years. But still, you are my protectorate. I must guard you even from myself ... even without your approval if need be.”

Éclair rolled her eyes, sighing with a small grin. “Just take care of everyone else while I’m away. They need your protection now, not me.”

Then she reached up and tickled Grafael on the soft spot beneath his chin. He tried to hide it at first, but then he couldn’t help a child-like giggle. In response, he goosed her beneath the armpit, forcing a laughing yelp from her lips. Feeling embarrassed, she glanced over at Leon, but he was still in deep discussion with the crew. She turned back to Grafael, hitting him in his huge chest. He laughed softly at her, or at least, soft for Grafael. Once again, Éclair felt the need to cry take her as the time for their parting drew near, but she barely managed to restrain that impulse.

Then Grafael hugged Éclair again, speaking softly in her ear. “My protectorate, be gentle with our little brother. He’s more fragile than he pretends. And he’s also stronger than he knows. You will help him realize both these truths in time.”

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