Story: A new life (all chapters)

Authors: Tukuyomi

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Chapter 1

Title: Chapter 1 - Loneliness

Why was she walking through the streets of Termina at night? She didn't know. Maybe because she didn't like the daylight very much and humans as well. They always stared at her, like she was a monster of some sort. They stared and whispered all the things she had heard at least a thousand times in her short life.

"Look at her! She comes from the circus!"

"Over there! A demi- human!"

"Hey little jester! Show us some tricks!"

But she didn't show them some tricks. She didn't even look at them. Couldn't they stop talking about her just once? Although Fargo and Nikki had done a lot for a more tolerant and accepting relationship between humans and demi-humans, they were still far away of living in peace, together.

Because of that, Harle preferred to go out at night. Nights were cool, quiet, refreshing. And lonely. She couldn’t help that, but tried to tell herself that it was unavoidable.

It was her third day in Termina, but she couldn't decide whether to go to Arni Village or not. The people there hated her for what she had done in the past, but that was no difference from every other town in whole El Nido. She couldn’t blame either of them. Everyone hated her for having been the right hand of Lynx. But it had been her duty as the seventh dragon to follow him, hadn’t it? Of course she knew of the evil she had done and she truly regretted it. But she had changed now, even though it was only for her to see.

She wished she could wash the blood off her hands, but she couldn't. The stains were too deep, having seeped deep under her skin. There was no way to clean herself from them. It was too late now.

Sometimes, when she sat in a little street corner at night, all alone, she wished she could die as well, but she wasn't meant to. It wasn’t her fate to die yet. Her punishment was to suffer alone.

But she tried to make the best of it, tried to see the one bright thing in her life. Serge. He had always understood her, had always supported and helped her even though he had to have known that she would eventually have to betray him.

So without giving it much more thought or preparation, she left Termina and went out to meet Serge, the only person who didn't hate her, maybe. Even though she couldn’t find the courage within her to meet him, yet. Would he even remember who she was? Maybe he already had a girlfriend and would send her away. She knew she could never bear that. There were at least a hundred things that could go wrong, but she had to try, for not trying would leave her in doubts forever. She couldn't bear that either. But most of all, she couldn’t bear being alone.

A tear ran down her cheek as she thought of herself sitting alone in a cold and dirty street corner again. She hastily wiped it off and headed for Arni. She should arrive there within two days if she didn't stop too much on her way to rest. Which she was certain she wouldn’t.

Chapter 2

Title: Chapter 2 - Do you love me?

"Bugger! Why do these things always happen ta me? Where's this bloody Arni Village?" She stamped on the ground angrily. "Whatever. Don't mind restin' for a while." She took her backpack off her shoulders and lay down on the ground, enjoying the light and comfortable feeling on her shoulders. "Serge, I told ya I'll find ya and what am I doin' now? Holy crap, I don't even know where I am!"

She sighed and watched the clouds in the sky slowly moving above her. Kidd felt like one of these clouds right now. She moved so slowly and she didn't know if she would even reach her goal. The clouds were better off, though. The drifted wherever the wind took them, not caring about the direction. They didn’t have a single thing to worry about, they had no need to hurry.

Kidd lay there for a few more minutes in blissful comfort and silence, then got to her feet. "Dammit! No time ta waste! I'll find ya, mate.", she said, knowing that it was herself only who needed those words to continue. She just had to believe in these words.

She shouldered her backpack again and almost cried out in pain as her wounded and sore shoulders experienced the unbearable weight of it after such a short time of relief. Blood was showing through her vest, but she tried not to care about it. She couldn't take care of it, because she didn't have any tablets or bandages left. She'd been through a lot of battles on her journey up until now, fighting off all kinds of beasts who had dared to get in her way. However, the last one had been a little too much for her. She had been walking for three days without a rest when a bunch of monsters had attacked her out of the blue, catching her unaware. She had used up all her elements in this battle, leaving her not one for the rest of her way. She just had to deal with that fact. She had been lucky to win this fight at all, but now it was time to find a town or village to rest and restock her elements. She would try to avoid fights for the time being, even though she thought of herself as immensely ill-suited for running away. "Time ta get movin'!", she said almost happily to cheer herself up a little. There was no one else to cheer her up, after all.

After a few hours she reached a beach, which seemed oddly familiar to her, but she couldn't remember the name. While walking through the white sand she discovered a swallow almost entirely buried. She had only been able to see the tip of it, reflecting the strong sunlight.

Kidd picked it up and regarded it curiously. Then it shot through her mind like a lightning. "Where angels lose their way? Right, that's Opassa Beach! This swallow must be Serge's!", she cried out in surprise, startling herself. She had gotten much too used to talking to herself lately.

Suddenly her heart sank. Was it possible that he had forgotten his swallow? What if something had happened to him? Without a second to waste, Kidd ran towards Arni Village, raising her pace even though her shoulders felt as if being torn apart.

Kidd didn't want to imagine what could have happened to Serge. There were far too many possibilities, one worse than the other.

After twenty minutes of running at full speed, she finally reached Arni. Without looking around, she headed straight to his house. She didn’t want to think about the possibility of not finding him there.

Her eyes were solely fixated on the familiar wooden house, so she failed to notice the person in her way and inevitably crushed into him. She tried to catch herself but fell to the ground rather inelegantly. After a few seconds she managed to get up.

"Bloody hell, watch where ya goin', boy!", she shouted fiercely while rubbing her head.

"Are you kidding? You were the one who knocked me off my feet!", the boy answered with the same vigour.

To Kidd’s surprise it was a voice she, despite its unusual fierceness, recognized in an instant. Could it be? "S…Serge?", she asked hesitantly. The boy turned around at once, looking just as startled as her. Kidd almost started to cry, but dismissed that feeling instantly. This was not the time for crying.

"Oi mate, nice ta see ya again, eh?" She tried to sound as normal as possible, but her voice was trembling ever so slightly. Serge didn’t notice.

"I can't believe it!" Serge grinned delightedly and hugged Kidd tightly. Kidd had half expected him to do something like this, but still she couldn’t keep her cheeks from flushing at the unusualness of the gesture. She tried to hide it by looking away. "You look very tired, I think you should rest tonight at my house. We can talk tomorrow."

Shortly later Kidd found herself lying in Serge's bed, her heart beating wildly. How nice he was, letting her sleep in his bed. She wondered where he was right now. She wondered if he too, couldn’t sleep at all. There were so many things she wanted to tell him, she couldn’t wait for the first rays of sunlight to appear on the still dark horizon. She had promised him she would find him, and she had. But what was next? He had smiled at her so gently, had worried about her feeling tired. Could it be? Could he really love her? With these thought on her mind, she eventually fell asleep.

When Kidd finally woke up it was almost afternoon, from what she could tell from the strong sun she saw through the window. She looked around, but Serge was nowhere to be seen. There was a note at the door: “Meet me at Opassa Beach.”, it read. Simple words, but Kidd nevertheless found herself reading the note three times. Meet me at Opassa Beach, meet me at Opassa Beach.

Meet me at Opassa Beach. It had to be what Kidd thought it was.

Kidd got up and noticed that someone took care of her wounds, for all were bandaged. Kidd flushed at the thought of Serge having done that, feeling slightly uncomfortable. She shook her head quickly, telling herself that Marge was probably the one. Kidd quickly got herself dressed, then left the room and headed outside.

"Where are you going so quickly? Don't you want something to eat?", a voice halted her. Kidd recognized this voice and turned around. It was Marge, smiling and pointing at the breakfast table. Though she wanted to meet Serge at once, her hunger made her sit down at the table, where she stuffed various things simultaneously into her mouth, trying to make it quick.

"Uhm, thank you very much.", she said, the words muffled by her still half-full mouth. She left the house, quickly buying some elements before heading to Opassa Beach. She was going to be careful from now on, even though her elements indicated that her understanding of carefulness was trying to end the fight quickly with the strongest elements she had instead of actually using healing elements. She would try to not even get hurt, so she wouldn’t have to worry about wounds later. She found it to be a good enough idea, for now.

As she reached the beach, she saw Serge already sitting there, watching the waves.

"Hiya mate!", she called and Serge turned around quickly. "Hi Kidd. Come and sit down."

Kidd did as he said and sat down right beside him. "So...whaddaya doin' now? Surely not sittin' at the beach all day?", she asked with a smile.

"No, I'm fishing. Nearly everyone does that in Arni, so there’s no reason for me not to do the same. Besides, thanks for the swallow. I don't know what I'd do without it.”, Serge said and caressed the blunt edge of his swallow. “But what are you doing here? I didn't expect you coming to see me."

He didn't? But why? "I told ya I'll find ya mate. Don't ya remember?" Kidd tried not to sound too disappointed.

“Sure…but many things have changed and…I thought you'd go back to Radical Dreamers. So…why did you come here?", his voice was innocent enough, but Kidd shook her head unwillingly.

What was he talking about? Why did he ask such things? Didn't he know? "Whaddaya talkin' 'bout? I came here for ya, Serge! Dammit, I could've went to Radical Dreamers!", she answered, suddenly angry.

"What is going on here, Serge?" It was Leena. She came towards Serge and kissed him on the cheek. Kidd was furious.

"Yeah, what's goin' on here?", she asked, demanding an immediate answer.

"Well…I'm going to marry Leena.", Serge answered truthfully, confused about Kidd’s strong reaction. Kidd couldn't believe it. This long and hard journey...for nothing?

"Oh well, I should've known. Bye." Kidd said in a voice that showed indifference, and stood up to leave. No use staying any longer. It was over. So soon.

She hastily wiped away the tears running over her cheeks." Kidd, wait!", Leena shouted and ran past her to stand right before Kidd, blocking her way.

"Whaddaya want from me? Outta my way ya bitch!", Kidd shouted fiercely and pushed Leena to the ground. She could hardly control her anger. Who did she think she was? She didn’t need someone like her, trying to explain. Kidd understood it perfectly. She didn't take another look at her as she ran past her and away from it all. Serge stood up to run after Kidd, but decided to help Leena instead.

"Let's go back to the village", Leena said softly, her voice still kind despite everything while Serge helped her to get up.

"I'm sorry, I didn't know she'd be so upset", Serge apologized genuinely. He didn’t know what had gotten into her all of a sudden. He didn’t know her being like this.

Together Serge and Leena went back to Arni Village. They decided to take a look at the new bar, which opened two days ago. They needed something to take their mind off of what had just happened. Leena didn’t know what to say. She knew she was the cause of it, but she couldn’t bring herself to feel sorry. Why would she? It wasn’t her fault Serge chose her and not Kidd.

They went inside and sat down at the table. "What is it, Serge? You look troubled.", Leena asked softly, trying to get a few words out of the suddenly pensive Serge. She knew he wasn’t able to simply forget about all this.

"Oh, nothing. I just wondered where Kidd could be. Could it be that she has left Arni already?", Serge asked thoughtfully. He couldn’t think of a place she would go to, however. She hadn’t exactly sounded pleased at his remark of the Radical Dreamers, though Serge wasn’t sure it that had been for different reasons.

Suddenly the door opened and Kidd stepped inside the bar, looking around with a face of curiosity that didn’t give away the feelings she was trying hard to suppress. It was no use having other people see them, after all. It wasn’t like anyone would offer any help.

Her eyes suddenly spotted a pair she hadn’t expected to see. "Dammit", she mumbled to herself while looking at Serge and Leena.

"Kidd!", Serge shouted and ran over to her before Kidd could turn around to leave.

"Let's talk outside. Just for a minute, okay?", he whispered to her, not wanting everyone in the bar to hear what they were saying. Kidd nodded solemnly and they went out of the bar, where Serge watched Kidd worriedly. He felt guilty.

"Listen, Kidd. Don't be so angry, please. I love Leena. You just…have to accept that." Serge held her shoulders to keep Kidd from going away.

Both of them didn't notice Harle sneaking up to them and hiding in a bush. She was too far away to be able to hear their voices, but that didn't matter to her. She saw their lips moving slowly, their bodies close to one another. Harle could imagine what they were talking about, and it both broke her heart and turned it to ice. She didn’t move, although she wanted to step out and smash Kidd to bits. She decided to keep hiding and watching a bit more, even though she could hardly bear seeing them close like this. It stirred feelings in her she had tried to forget.

Kidd stared into Serge's eyes and began to cry against her will. She never cried, so why did she now? How did she deserve breaking down in front of him like this? It wasn’t fair. Nothing was.

"I know, I know.", she said, trying her best to keep her voice from shaking. She quickly wiped away her tears and hugged Serge one last time.

"I'll leave Arni Village.", she said and tried to smile a little. It was the best she could do. She might have no idea on where to go, but one thing was for certain: She had to leave. She had tried and failed, as simple as that. She really tried to believe this, telling herself that it was no problem.

"Good luck", Serge said and went back into the bar without turning around a second time to look at her. It was no use making this any harder than it already was.

Kidd went into Serge's house to fetch her backpack and left.

Chapter 3

Title: Chapter 3 - Unfortunate meeting

Harle had left the village as well. She hadn’t been able to watch them any longer. She had known it would turn out like this. How could she have ever thought about Serge loving her? It was impossible.

She ran up to Cape Howl, catching her breath as she reached it. She watched the sunset. It was beautiful, but it was a beauty Harle couldn’t cherish today.

"You are such an idiote, Harle. Moi should have known. Mon chéri and zis vulgaire one, Kidd. Mon dieu.", she said to herself, trying to laugh but failing miserably. She kicked a few stones down the cliff and watched them dropping into the ocean far beneath her. She felt like one of these stones. Useless, kicked away.

After a while of simply staring at the ocean she leaned down to take a stone and started to scratch the engraving on the big rock in front of her.

However, she soon stopped and went to the edge again, almost falling down. She stared into the ocean right under her. Now her tears were dropping right into that vast pool under her, taking them in. Her tears didn’t change anything. It was just water, returning to where it had originally come from.

"Oi, committin' suicide, I suppose?", a sudden voice asked and Harle lost her balance in shock but regained it just in time to keep from falling. She shouldn’t have stepped so close to the edge, after all.

Harle turned around to look right into Kidd's evilly smiling face. "Just go ahead. So I won't have ta do it!", Kidd spat at her and laughed. The venom in her voice and all the hate she radiated made Harle cry even more. Did she really hate her to death? Did she really deserve all this? Yes, she did. But knowing this didn’t take the pain from her. She couldn’t bring herself to look into Kidd’s eyes.

"Se taire! You know not'ing at all. Juzt go back to your chéri!", Harle shouted, desperate. "Leave moi alone!" She ran past Kidd and got out of sight.

‘Chéri? What was she talkin' about? And why was she cryin'?’, Kidd wondered, still looking into the direction Harle had left. She made a few steps forward and noticed the scratches on the big rock, which had served to depict Leena’s and Serge’s affection. But now, Leena's name was all scratched and hardly readable anymore. There was 'Kidd' written above it.

"Did she…? Geez, that stupid jester. She doesn't know anythin' at all, that's for sure!" Kidd went to the edge and looked down.

‘Way too high ta fall down and survive! Did she want ta kill herself?’, she thought, contemplating the possibility of Harle doing that. From the way how she had looked at her, Kidd could actually imagine her doing it. But then, wouldn’t it be too good to be true? Kidd doubted the jester would do her a favour for a change.

“No way, girl! If someone kills you, then I'll be it!", Kidd said to herself, clenching her fists. With a smile on her face she started to run into the direction Harle took. For a while, she had actually forgotten about Harle, but now she had all the time in her life to get her revenge on her.

Harle ran and ran as fast as she could, her tears still dropping from her cheeks to the ground. She didn't know where she was running to nor why she did it. She just wanted to run away from everything. Breathlessly, she eventually came to a stop. It was already dark and cold, and Harle could feel the hairs on her neck raising. She didn't know where she was, but it was a forest, one she didn’t think she had ever passed through before. She had an uncomfortable feeling about this place, but shrugged it off. If anything, she wasn’t going to become paranoid now.

She turned around in search for a place to sleep, shivering slightly. It had to be later than she had thought, the temperatures had already dropped fairly low. After a while, Harle decided to simply sleep at a big tree, for lack of any caves or something similar around.

She gathered the leaves from around her and covered herself with them, hoping for them to keep her warm, if only a little. "Leave moi alone…what a fool moi is", she whispered and fell asleep. She didn't notice the huge creature creeping up to her in the middle of the night. Seventh dragon…your end is near.

It was already noon when Harle woke up with a start. "Seventh dragon? Must have been un dream. The dragonz are dead.", she tried to calm herself quickly. She knew the dragons were dead. She had seen it with her own eyes. She still remembered the day in Chronopolis, when she had said goodbye to Serge and escaped. She had done her duty until then, but she hadn’t been able to fight Serge, after all they had been through. So she had hidden until the dragons’ deaths. But sometimes, she still feared they would come back one day. To get her for betraying them.

Harle stood up, rubbing her eyes. She hadn't eaten anything for three days, so she decided to go hunting, her second favourite thing right after playing jokes on people. It was a small comfort, after what had happened, but the only thing to keep her spirits high enough to refrain from getting depressed. Her state was ridiculous, really. She was a jester, shouldn’t she be laughing all the time? Shouldn’t she be the one to laugh in the end?

After several minutes of walking, Harle spotted a little komodo hiding in a bush. Harle's crimson eyes flashed brightly as she killed it with only one throwing card of her prism deck. Too easy. Although she had changed, she still enjoyed killing if she was in a bad mood. She hated herself for being like that, but she couldn't help it. Somehow it made her feel better. She didn’t have anything other than this small feeling of superiority.

‘Moi haz to kill if moi wantz to live, non? It'z az simple az zat.’, she excused her actions, though she didn’t know to whom.

She took her prey back to her small camp, which still consisted of nothing more than a few leaves. She left the Komodo lying there while looking around for a few pieces of dry wood to make a fire. She had soon gathered a sufficient amount, but wasn't really in a mood of making a fire by herself, so she simply used a fireball element from her grid.

She roasted the Komodo and ate it without much delay. She had to admit that she had some reserves to eat like this, but there wasn’t much of a choice right now. She shouldn’t have left Termina, after all. There she could have at least stolen something decent to eat. As expected, it wasn't very tasty, but it was better than nothing at all, she had to admit.

While sitting at the fire she heard the trample of heavy steps. She stood up immediately and tried to locate the direction it came from. It got closer and closer and soon she could see it. She didn't need a second look to know what it was. It was the black dragon.

"Non...zis iz impossible!", she cried, not trusting her eyes. With eyes wide open she stared at the dragon as he came closer.

"It is time to die!", the dragon roared and attacked. Harle knew nothing. Didn’t know why he was there in front of her, didn’t know what he wanted from her, aside from killing her.

He tried to hit her with his huge tail, but Harle dodged and rolled aside just in time. She quickly tossed five, despite her shock well-aimed cards at its body, but they simply recoiled and fell to the ground without effect.

"Non!" Harle stood up and prepared for the dragon's next move. Her heart was pounding in her ears, and she tried her best to focus, shutting out her inner voice who was in despair.

The dragon cast a BlackHole element on the jester, but Harle hardly flinched. It didn’t hurt her.

"You are even more stupide zan I t'ought! Let moi show you how to fight!", she shouted and took a MeteorShower element. Before the Black Dragon was able to react, various meteors came crashing down on his head and he almost lost consciousness. Harle slowly went towards the dragon.

"Very amuzing. Too bad moi haz to kill you.", she said, laughing arrogantly. Her earlier fear had left her, and now all she could bring herself to feel was hate. She walked in a circle around the dragon, which lay helplessly on the ground. She was ready to strike at any moment, but a part of him wanted to see him suffer. She wanted him to suffer as much as she did.

"Please, don't kill me.", the dragon requested, his voice devoid of all its dignity.

"Alors, why should moi do zat? You wanted to kill moi az well, non? Why did you came here alone, anywayz?", Harle asked, still walking around the dragon.

"If you kill me, the others will come. They will kill you.", the dragon hissed dangerously.

Harle stopped and turned to the dragon. "I don't care about ze odders! If zey come, moi will kill zem. Zat iz it. Moi iz no longuer your puppet!", she shouted, finally speaking the words she had longed to speak for such a long time. She wasn’t their propriety, they couldn’t decide over her. They held no power over her.

Her thoughts were raging, but she soon placed her hand onto her forehead. "Mon dieu, why iz moi discussing? I mean-", she said, but was interrupted by the dragon’s tail, which hit Harle's back hard and smashed her to the ground so quickly that Harle hadn’t even registered the dragon’s movement until she felt a stinging pain all over her body. She had heard her bones cracking, but for the moment she was glad that the pain of her whole body numbed her senses enough to let her actually feel each broken bone. She had no desire to find out which bones it were.

After a few minutes, which the dragon had spent with watching her intently, Harle managed to stand up, breathing hard. Blood was dropping from her mouth and she stared right into the dragon's eyes. He was standing right in front of her, with no sign of fatigue at all. He seemed more than ready to crush her.

"Did you really think we created a puppet stronger than us? You are a fool. You betrayed us. Someone like you deserves to die!", he roared, and Harle stepped back unbelievingly. Her eyes were full of fear yet again, and she cursed her inattentiveness earlier. She should have known better, should have known that she was no match for him, after all. But could it really end like this? Had she put herself through so much pain and worrying, only to die at the dragon’s hands? There was only one answer: No.

"Non! Zat iz not true!" Harle shouted but couldn’t prevent her body from trembling. The dragon hit her and again Harle was too slow to realize. She stumbled to the ground like a doll that had been tipped backwards. She didn’t have the strength to try to catch herself, so her skull met the floor at the same time her back did. She hardly felt the pain.

Her costume was soaked with blood Harle knew was solely her own, but there was no stopping it. She couldn’t move anymore. She felt as if she was tied to the ground by gravity. There was no way she could stand up, so all that was left for her to do was watch the dragon’s paw hovering above her, ready to squash her.

"That's enough, ya bastard!", an unexpected voice yelled and one second later a dagger stuck deep into the dragon's neck. The dragon couldn’t do so much as gasp before he collapsed onto the ground. He was dead, and Kidd saw him soon vanish, as if evaporating into countless particles.

"Kidd.", was all Harle managed to whisper before she lost consciousness. Kidd approached her motionless body.

"I told ya, didn’t I? If someone kills ya, I'll be it.", she whispered, but she didn't seem to realize the meaning of her words at that moment. She took the jester into her arms and carried her to her sleeping place.

Chapter 4

Title: Chapter 4 - Don't die!

Harle was unconscious for about four days. She didn’t move the slightest bit in all that time, her wounds preventing her to do so even unconsciously. They were bad, extending over her entire body.

Kidd had decided to take care of her, although she could have finished her off easily. She didn’t want it to be like that. She wanted her battle with Harle fair and square, although she doubted Harle was going to survive. Four days were a long time, and she hardly expected Harle to ever open her eyes anymore. But somehow, when Kidd looked into Harle's face, which was smeared with blood but still oddly serene, she felt she had to help her.

The days passed with Kidd cleaning Harle's wounds and bandaging them regularly in order to prevent an infection, which could overcome her body all too easily. But she knew that this alone was not enough to save her. Harle's breathing became harder and more forced with every new day and Kidd feared that at least one of her ribs were broken and stabbed into her lungs. She could only imagine how such a wound hurt her.

On the third day, blood started to run from her mouth again and Kidd rushed back to Arni Village to get some Heal and Cure elements. Harle wouldn’t survive on her own, and Kidd wasn’t going to let her off so easily.

It would have been better if she had taken Harle with her, but that would have been too hard considering her various wounds. She didn’t want to ruin her work by her own hands. But also, taking Harle with her would have been too embarrassing. She didn't want anyone to see her taking care of Harle, of all people. She didn't know how she would be able to explain something like that to Serge or to one of the others. And also, there was the problem of her not knowing why she was doing something like that herself. It seemed so meaningless after all. But she had already started so she might as well finish it.

She sneaked into Arni Village at night. Careful not to make any more noise than absolutely necessary, she climbed onto the roof of the new bar, from where she could see the element shop clearly. She could still hear various voices from inside the bar and decided to stay there until the customers there were gone. It was too dicey trying to steal something with her back turned to a door which could open at any moment.

After two hours, which had passed painfully slowly, she almost decided to go back to Harle. While she was sitting there on the roof, another one of the dragons could have found her. She didn't want to imagine finding Harle in pieces when she came back. She didn’t want to think about the dragons. For now Harle’s injuries were more than enough for her to worry about.

Finally, when the last customer was gone, Kidd jumped off the roof and went over to the shop, watching her surroundings carefully. The elements weren't locked away, so it was almost too easy to steal almost all of the Heal and Cure elements. If she hadn't forgotten her backpack back at Harle's place, she probably would've taken every single element of the shop. But then, there weren’t exactly many elements she needed. The only thing she regretted was having actually paid for them a few days prior.

She knew she was greedy, but this time it was for something good, or so Kidd told herself. Kidd took as many of the necessary elements as she could carry and tried to make her way out of the village as quiet and quickly as possible. It had been easy until then, but it wasn’t to be.

"Stop at once!" The angry voice made Kidd stop and turn to the person behind her. It was too dark to see who it was right away, but when the person stepped into the light of a nearby lamp she could see it was Serge, waving his swallow angrily. His face wasn't as kind as always.

"Put the elements back, Kidd!", he shouted and came closer to Kidd, his expression one of disbelief.

"No way I'm gonna do that!", Kidd answered instantly. She couldn’t remember having ever willingly given something back which she had stolen before. And she certainly wasn’t going to start with it now that it was really important.

"This isn't funny, Kidd. Put them back, or else-", Serge hissed threateningly but was interrupted by Kidd's laughter.

"Or else what? Ya wanna fight? C'mon then!" Demonstrating, Kidd took out her fireball element. Serge took a few steps back unbelievingly. He shook his head. No way was he going to fight her. He could never hurt his friends, or those he had considered friends once.

"Uh, I see.", Kidd said put the element back on her grid. "Listen, they're not for me. So if ya don't fight, I'll be off!" With these words, Kidd ran like the wind and soon got out of Serge’s sight. With a sigh, Serge put back his swallow and went to the element shop, trying to make out what was missing. If it wasn’t too much, he would try to replace them himself. It wouldn’t be good to have the villagers gossip about unidentified thieves. Everyone here trusted the other, that was why the shops were never locked, as well as every entrance door. Serge cherished this spirit of his village. After counting the elements, he came to the conclusion that aside from a good deal of Heal and Cure elements, every single element was in its place. "What are you doing, Kidd?", Serge asked himself and went back to his house. He might have some Heal and Cure elements to spare.

Breathlessly, Kidd came back to Harle's place. To her relief Harle lay there near the fire in one piece, but she was in a bad shape. She was drenched in sweat, and the blood had left a thick trail from her mouth and across her throat. Her breathing was ragged, and Kidd could imagine how hard it had to be for her body to fill the lungs with the oxygen it needed when being pierced by a bone.

She ran over to her and put a wet piece of cloth onto her chin, partly cooling but for the most part soaking up the blood. Then she cast five Cure elements in a row and saw Harle's condition improving slightly. Five elements in a row were her limit, she had to wait for her stamina to recover before she could continue. She hoped Harle would last until then.

Kidd sat down at the fire and started to count the remaining elements. There were still eight Cure and ten Heal elements left. It was the disadvantage, that when used without a grid, they vanished immediately. But she didn’t think it wise to exchange them with her powerful attack elements, especially with the dragons probably still around.

At any rate, five elements should be enough for a while. She put the remaining elements into her backpack and started to change Harle's bandages which were once again soaked with blood. Kidd wondered just how much blood Harle had inside her. To her, it seemed as if there couldn’t be any left.

With her dagger she cut off a few parts of Harle clothes. She felt very uncomfortable doing that, but it made changing the bandages a lot easier. Still, she could easily imagine how angry Harle would get when she saw her costume in rags. If she ever woke up again. Kidd tried to imagine what it would be like when she woke up. Would she be grateful, or would she act as arrogantly as always?

Sometimes she thought Harle really was acting. Nobody could always be so arrogant to others and live so lonely. She knew that too well. A few years ago she too had though she didn't need friends and help, and she hadn’t been very kind to others as well. But in moments like this, she wished she had someone to talk to. Maybe she had been too hard to Serge, but she really would have fought him, if it had been necessary.

She still was a little mad about him. It could have been so wonderful just in that moment, if there hadn't been this Leena! It still enraged her thinking about that particular girl, but it had simply been fate. It was too late know anyway.

She was sitting here at the fire with a badly injured girl by her side she didn’t know what to make of. And it was cold. "Dammit, I thought it was summer!", she mumbled angrily and took two blankets out of her backpack. She put one over Harle and the other over herself.

As she lay there gazing at the stars, she thought of her and Harle being friends. But wasn’t that foolish? They were enemies, not friends. With all that had happened between them, it was impossible to ever be friends. Even though Kidd could imagine that sometimes, Harle would probably be fun to have around. But it was impossible after all. With these thoughts on her weary mind, she dozed off.

Harle's cry only a few hours later made Kidd wake up with a start. Within a few seconds Kidd got to her feet and ran over to Harle. Her bandages were soaked with blood again and she was trembling all over her body, moaning in pain. "Bugger!", Kidd shouted and hastily took four Heal elements out of her backpack. She was still tired, but it had to be enough. She cast three of them in a row and for the first time in days, Harle opened her eyes slightly.

"Can you hear me? Harle?", Kidd asked worriedly.

"…Kidd?", Harle whispered, her eyes unfocused. Speaking seemed to weaken her.

"Don't speak now! Just hold on mate!", Kidd said with a gentleness that surprised even herself. Mate? What was she talking about? She felt her cheeks reddening, but she shrugged it off. She changed Harle's bandages swiftly with routine but still carefully and gave her some water to drink. She looked like she needed it.

"It...hurtz…so…much.", Harle moaned hoarsely, still seemingly unaware of where she was.

"I know, I know. Just hold on.", Kidd tried to soothe her, which wasn’t easy considering the circumstances. Kidd used two more Heal elements and the bleeding seemed to stop, but Harle had lost consciousness again. At least she wasn't crying and trembling anymore, it was probably better that way. Maybe her body would be able to rest now, if only a little.

Kidd pulled the blanket over her again. She immensely relieved and sat down at the fire. It was still dark and cold, but Kidd couldn't sleep anymore, not after this. She wearily wiped the sweat off her forehead. She wasn’t used to using elements all the time, she rather used her dagger. Maybe she should change this habit from now on.

She watched Harle carefully. If Harle wouldn't get better soon, Kidd would have to take her to Guldolve, as the doctor there was the best of El Nido. Kidd could only imagine how much of an ordeal this would turn out to be, getting Harle across the ocean in that state. Kidd wasn’t sure if it was really worth it.

The sudden sound of breathing broke her train of thought. It was too loud to be Harle's but she knew it wasn't her own either. She turned around with a sense of dread and saw two bright eyes glaring at her.

Chapter 5

Title: Chapter 5 - Pure hate

"Who's there?", Kidd shouted and took out her dagger. Her eyes stared straight at the unknown being. It was too dark to see who it was, but as it came closer Kidd immediately took a few steps back, recognizing him. The light of the fire fell onto his face and she saw it was the Fire Dragon in its small form. He held the familiar rod in his paw and came even closer, looking over to Harle.

"I see she is in a bad condition. Poor little thing.", he said without the slightest hint of emotion.

"Shut yer trap! Whaddaya want?", Kidd shouted fiercely despite her fatigue. Just looking at him almost drove her mad with anger.

"I am going to take her with me. She belongs to us." The dragon calmly walked to her and grabbed her arm.

"Take yer bloody mitts off her!" , Kidd yelled and threw her dagger towards the dragon's face, but he simply stepped aside without even looking at her and the dagger hit the tree behind him.

"Crap! I tell ya, ya'd better leave, otherwise I'm gonna kick yer arse so hard you'll kiss the moons!", she shouted, it being the only thing she could do at the moment, with her dagger gone.

The dragon walked towards Kidd with a gleam in his eyes, laughing. "Tough words for a lady. Do you really think you could beat me? We are much stronger than you know us to be!"

Kidd walked towards the dragon now, leaving only a gap of a few metres between them.

"Stronger, huh? Well, the black dragon wasn't. So I don' expect ya bein' stronger either. Anyway, if ya don't leave, I'll kill ya. Ya won't get Harle 'til ya get rid of me!" With those words, she ran as fast as she could towards the dragon and leapt over his head, the dragon being to slow to react.

She quickly retrieved her dagger and turned to the dragon, feeling a lot safer now.

"You are indeed fast. But how will you manage this?", the dragon spat and soon after was illuminated by a bright fire which turned him into his big form.

Kidd had known this would happen, eventually. She quickly checked the elements on her grid. There were only two Ice Lances and one Aqua Ball. That wasn't a whole lot. She'd have to count on her dagger, again.

"Take this!" Kidd jumped over the dragon's head again stuck her dagger into his back, but the dragon seemed unperturbed and turned around to hit her body with his giant paw. Kidd smashed to the ground painfully. She had to fight off unconsciousness but managed to stand up again. As quickly as she could she cast Ice Lance it hurt the dragon more than she had anticipated. The dragon was trembling and Kidd didn’t intend to waste one second. She threw her dagger right into the dragon's left eye, catching him completely unaware.

The Fire Dragon roared and stepped back, but Kidd was too fast for him. She cast the second Ice Lance, ran over to him and took her dagger back from his eye, the blade now smeared with blood. The dragon bled heavily from his back and the left eye and he seemed not to be able to stand much longer. He swung his tail blindly into her direction, but Kidd simply jumped over it. However, he still managed to hit her feet hard, causing Kidd to fall to the ground once again. Her feeling told her that at least one of her feet was broken, because she could feel the dull pain spreading over her entire foot and ankle. She could hardly stand, said foot not being able to support the weight completely. The dragon came closer and closer, looming high above her. Kidd felt there was no other way but to use the aqua ball element and hope this would finish the dragon off. She cast it on the dragon, but it seemed like he had expected this. It hardly hurt him. He took Kidd with his right paw and lifted her up.

"Are you still optimistic about this battle?", he asked, showing an ugly grin. Kidd noticed his heavy breaths. He didn’t look it but Kidd knew that he too had to be tired. At least she hoped so. His eye looked terrible, and even knowing that she was the cause of it didn’t make it any easier to look at.

"I know there aren't any useful elements left on your grid. You've lost this battle.", he said with a snort, his voice having lost nothing of its venom.

How right he was. Fireball, Fire Pillar and Pilfer weren't useful at all. Kidd cursed her situation. How had she gotten herself into something like this? She should have known that sparing that little devil could do her no good.

"I think I should bite your head off. Then I'll take her with me.", he said and looked over to the unconscious jester, "She will be very amused if I tell her how I killed you!" He opened his jaws widely, Kidd being so close she could count his teeth. Which she had little desire to do, at the moment.

"No way yer gonna do that, ya bastard!", she shouted, but had to wonder where all this anger came from. Did she really care if the dragons took Harle away? Was she really okay with risking her life for someone she would just end up killing?

She had no time to think of such things now. She took one of her elements off her grid but instead of casting it she threw it with all her might into the dragon's left eye. Almost instantly the dragon roared in pain and let go of Kidd, who fell all the way to the ground.

Without thinking about it she landed on her feet, but upon feeling the white-hot pain shoot through her body cried out. She just wanted to cry, it hurt so damn much. But there was no time for crying.

She focused on the dragon's head and just in the moment he turned to Kidd she threw her dagger again and hit him right between his eyes. Without another sound the dragon sank to the ground.

"You... murderer!", he hissed but then vanished in the same way the Black Dragon had. Kidd hobbled weakly over to the spot where he had died to get her dagger back. She never felt safe without it. Suddenly remembering Harle, she tried to get back to her to see if she was alright, but she collapsed on the way and immediately fell unconscious.

Chapter 6

Title: Chapter 6 - Feelings well hidden...

Harle opened her eyes in time to see the first rays of sunlight battling through the ceiling of leaves above her. Her vision was blurry, which she knew was due to her head aching as if split into two. She found it hard to breathe, and kept her breaths as shallow as possible. Looking around, she saw nothing but trees above her. She decided to get up but found herself hardly able to. With all her strength she managed to sit up, smiling slightly at the achievement, even though her whole upper body hurt worse than before. She turned around to see where she was. It looked exactly like the place where she had spent her first night in the forest. She couldn’t remember too well what had happened afterward, but she felt as if it came back to her slowly.

Then she detected Kidd lying on the ground about five meters away from her. The sudden information flooding her brain made her dizzy, but after a few moments she could remember having fought against the Black Dragon. Harle wanted to get up and run over to Kidd but her wounds didn't allow her to move any further. "Kidd.", she whispered, biting her lips in pain. She had no idea what had happened to Kidd. "Are you okay? Kidd, stand up…pleaze.."

Harle almost thought the other girl was dead until Kidd’s right hand twitched slightly. A few seconds later Kidd took a deep breath and stood up, having obvious difficulties in keeping her balance. She then looked right into the jester's eyes and saw a few tears making their way down her face. When Kidd’s eyes widened at the sight Harle noticed them and wiped the tears away as quickly as her tired and battered arms allowed.

Kidd was overcome with joy that Harle was awake but she didn't want her to see that, so she masked her expression quickly. She didn’t even know Harle, it wouldn’t be a good idea to show her feelings so freely. She had to be on her guard.

Nevertheless Kidd took a few steps towards her. Harle was hardly in a state to hurt her, anyways. Harle noticed Kidd's hurt foot right away due to her uneven steps. She was hardly able to walk.

Kidd came to a stop two meters in front of her, swaying slightly. "Are ya okay? Ya shouldn't move." Kidd's voice seemed almost cold and emotionless.

"Ah oui. Moi iz fine, merci beaucoup." Harle answered hesitantly but tried to smile a bit.

"Fine. Take all the time you need. I'll finish ya off when you're ready." With these words Kidd walked off slowly, leaving Harle’s area of sight. Harle's smile faded, she didn't understand. She had felt safe for a moment, but no realized that she shouldn’t have. She was trembling all over her body, but couldn’t help it. Why did Kidd say such things?

"You're such an idiote Harle. What did you expect?" She knew that Kidd hated her to death, but why had she cured her if she wanted to kill her? ‘Moi iz not dead. Why iz zat?’, she asked herself. She really had no idea.

"Kidd! Turn around!", Harle shouted as loud as she was able to. Kidd stooped abruptly.

‘What does she want, now? Why did I say such things?’ She turned around and walked back to Harle. She saw her already standing and wondered just how Harle found the strength to do that, after having been on the brink of death for several days.

Slowly and swaying, she walked into Kidd’s direction, but her legs soon gave out and she fell to the ground.

"Kidd...if you want to kill moi, zen do it.", she whispered. Tears ran down the jester's cheeks as she lay there on the ground fifteen metres away from Kidd. She felt terrible, and genuinely wished that Kidd would make it quick. She could hardly bear it anymore. The sin, the loss, the dragons, the pain. It was too much. She knew now that her shoulders were too weak for her punishment. They were too small and too frail to bear the burden.

"I...I just…" Kidd stuttered, unsure of what to say. She didn't really want to kill Harle after all she'd been through with keeping her alive, she just hadn’t had the chance to admit it to herself until now. She should just let it go. As things stood, she didn’t have enough power to kill her anyway. She regarded Harle for a few moments, regarded her motionless form on the ground.

"Bloody fool!", she cursed and walked over to her, carrying her back to their camp. Harle's breathing was even worse now because of her fall and the resulting pressure on the still delicate lungs. After making sure Harle was slowly recovering, she lit the fire again and sat down beside Harle.

"Why do ya wanna die?" Kidd's voice was softer and calmer now, she was too tired to shout or curse. It was so meaningless anyway.

Harle turned her head to Kidd, thinking. "Moi haz nowhere to go. The dragonz want to kill moi. You want to kill moi. What do you expect?" Harle wanted to laugh but it only resulted in a fit of coughing.

"Do it. Moi iz not afraid.", she said but her voice trembled ever so slightly, betraying her where her face did not. Kidd regarded the fire, its flames causing her blue eyes to glow.

"I'm not gonna do it. Ya destroyed my future. If death's what you want, I won't give it ta ya, although ya deserve it more than anythin'." Her voice was completely even as she said that. No hint of anger, nor sadness, nor regret.

Harle turned her face to the fire as well. " iz sorry. If moi could juzt…" She couldn’t end the sentence. Did she even have the right to apologize, after all she had done?

Kidd stood up, facing the opposite direction of Harle. "I know. Just survive so that my work wasn't for nothin’" She cast a Cure element on Harle, and Harle enjoyed the blissful feeling of her pain being reduced to a mere dull throbbing.

"You should sleep now.", Kidd added, but her words were useless, for Harle was already asleep. Kidd found herself smiling unwillingly and hobbled to the brook nearby. Upon reaching it she took her clothes off and walked into the cold water. She wished she had a piece of soap.

After she had finished her cold bath she went back to the fire. She felt nasty for having been so rude to Harle. She was kind of glad that Harle was getting better but she also felt she could never forgive her for burning down her orphanage. But…Lynx had been there as well and she was sure he would have burned it down even without Harle's help. She had been just a puppet, hadn’t she? Kidd decided to excuse herself the next morning. Then she fell asleep.

She found herself in a burning house. Flames illuminated her and she could hardly bear the excruciating heat. The way to the entrance door was cut off by the flames, so she had to find another. She searched for her friends but nobody could be found. The flames came closer and she decided to go upstairs. She passed a few dead bodies on her way which weren't recognizable anymore. The smell of burning flesh was all around her. She started crying. ‘Lucca! Where are you?’As she thought of her being dead as well she cried even more. She went into her room, but nobody was there. Her breathing became shorter for there wasn't too much oxygen left. She had to get out. She ran out of the room to the next. If she had to she would even jump out of the window. She ran as fast as she could into the next room. When she saw the two figures standing at the window she stopped abruptly. Cold fear seized her, making her unable to speak or move anymore. She stared into the eyes of a demi- human and a red- eyed harlequin. The jester smiled devilishly.

"No!", Kidd yelled and sat up. She was bathed in sweat and quivered all over her body. She was breathing hard and upon touching her wet cheeks she noticed she was crying. Harle woke up as well, looking over to Kidd. She wanted to say something but decided to keep her mouth shut. Kidd tried to calm herself by telling herself over and over that it had just been a dream. A dream, nothing more. However, as she turned over to Harle she looked straight into her crimson eyes, which reflected the fire. Harle smiled.

Kidd's heart began to beat wildly and fear seized her again. "No! Go away! Leave me alone!", she screamed in sudden terror as she stood up and ran away. She ran as fast as she could, not even noticing her hurt foot anymore. She didn't dare to look behind her, she just ran straight ahead. The darkness and the tears in her eyes blurred her vision, but Kidd didn't mind until she stumbled and fell into the brook. She yelled at the sudden and unexpected touch of the cold water on her skin. She needed a few seconds to find out where she was. She tried to get out of the water but stumbled again. It was too damn dark.

Eventually she was able to get out, with her heart still pounding wildly and her foot hurting. She kneeled on the ground, panting for breath. ‘What was I doing? I was so afraid.’

"You're such a fool, Kidd. It's not Harle's fault.", she mumbled to herself. She then noticed a few steps and looked up from where her eyes had regarded the ground beneath her. Harle was walking towards her, holding her shoulder.

"Mais oui, it iz mon fault. Moi iz so sorry, Kidd." Harle extended her hand towards Kidd and she took it and stood up. "I t'ink moi iz fine now. I should leave zis place. Merci beaucoup pour saving mon vie. Au revoir.", Harle bowed slightly, careful not to lose her balance and fall to the ground. Then she turned around and walked away from Kidd.

It was the right thing, wasn’t it? There was no more she could do, except apologizing and thanking her for sparing her unworthy life. She was alone from now on. And she had only the dragon’s to expect from now on.

"Ya tellin' me you're fine? Ya can't even walk properly!" Kidd shouted, a bit angry but also oddly amused.

"Mais you can?", Harle asked without looking at her, her voice serious. Kidd stamped her foot on the ground and walked to Harle as good as her foot allowed.

"Where do ya wanna go?", she asked with genuine interest. Harle turned around. Her paint was all but smudged, looking more like a grimace than a smile.

"Away. I see zat you are not feeling well when moi iz around. Ze dragonz...and nightmarez. You cried more in ze last dayz zan on our whole journey with Serge. So I t'ink moi should leave." She looked down and a few tears dropped to the ground.

"No, please stay. I don't care about the bloody dragons!", Kidd said eagerly, taking Harle's arm carefully to it over her shoulders for support. She didn’t know she wanted her to stay, but she couldn’t bear seeing her leave like this either. In her state, the dragons would get her in no time. She didn’t want everything to have been in vain. And if that meant that she had to get rid of every single dragon left, then so be it.

"Anyway, we should go back ta the fire. I'm really cold.", Kidd suggested and Harle noticed Kidd shivering. She nodded and they made their way back.

"By the way, I'm sorry for bein' so rude ta ya. Sayin' things like finishin’ ya off, ya know. It was just...ya know...the orphanage n’ stuff. I know now that it was all Lynx' fault.”, Kidd scratched her head while saying this, trying to think of how to continue. “A-Anyway..I think I can forgive ya. Are we cool now?", she asked with almost unnatural shyness, causing Harle to giggle.

"Oui, merci beaucoup."

They went back to the fire with a smile.

Chapter 7

Title: Chapter 7 - Small talk

"Damn, where are my bloody clothes?" Kidd held the backpack upside down and its various contents fell to the ground before her. Harle was watching her, still giggling. She noticed a few Heal and Cure elements rolling on the ground, reflecting the fire.

"Why do you have so many Heal elementz? You don't usually have zeze, non?" Harle looked at Kidd curiously, wondering if she had retired from being the fierce attacker, instead concentrating on Healing elements. There was nothing that could surprise her, anymore.

"Don't ask such stupid questions!”, Kidd shouted, half annoyed and half laughing at the stupidity of the question. “Don't ya remember ya were the one lying half dead on the ground? I stole 'em from Arni, cuz I hadn't any left." Harle raised her eyebrow at that and waved her finger in a naughty- naughty way.

"You stole zem?", she repeated, smiling. It wasn’t that much of a surprise for her that Kidd was a thief, but for her to steal healing elements for her sake was unexpected. Some things could surprise her, after all.

"Yeah, why should I pay if they're not even for me? I stole 'em for ya, so actually ya stole 'em!", Kidd said and pointed her finger at Harle, grinning widely.

"Ah, okay, it iz mon fault. I stole zem." Harle answered with a guilty voice, raising her hands in defeat before breaking into laughter. Somehow it made Kidd feel comfortable and even happy to see her like this. So relaxed and completely different from the Harle she knew. She didn’t know what to make of this change.

"Nah, too late now. Serge probably hates me for stealing 'em. He saw me when I just wanted ta leave Arni. I tell ya, he was so mad! But he lemme escape when I said I would fight him if necessary. Guess I shouldn't go back there too soon.", Kidd said with a smile. Serge’s expression had been priceless. His disappointment and helplessness had been so evident, but Kidd couldn’t bring herself to pity him. If anything, he deserved it.

Harle didn't understand at all. "Serge iz angry about you? Moi iz sorry, sincèrement." Even though she could still feel jealousy within her, the flames were starting to cease. She had accepted it as best as she could. She didn’t think much about it anymore, the better part of her mind being occupied with worrying about the dragons.

"Well, it was fun ta scare him. He really deserves it! If he just wouldn't marry that bloody Leena!" Kidd cursed but wasn’t really that angry anymore. He would regret it some day. However, she laughed when she saw Harle's mouth fall open in shock.

"S...Serge marriez Leena?", she asked incredulously. This question sent Kidd rolling on the ground, giggling like crazy.

"Oh yeah, ya didn't know, did ya? I met him in Arni and he told me. Some kinda jerk.", Kidd said and laughed. She should have punched him right into the face, now that she thought of it. Somehow being around Harle made her forget about the pain of having been rejected. Maybe because Harle had to feel the same.

"You're such an idiote, Harle...", Harle mumbled, suppressing the desire to slap her forehead.

Chapter 8

Title: Chapter 8 - Taking a whole new path

"Enough of that small talk! Where are my bloody clothes? The ones I'm wearin' are wet! I'm cold!" Kidd shouted, wailing. Harle laughed mischievously, but she stopped abruptly when she regarded her own clothes for the first time. It was much different from the usual costume she remembered. The whole part around her neck was cut off so there was only some kind of hat left. The parts of her arms, stomach and a great part of the back were missing also. The trousers were mostly unharmed. Left was a hat, a top and the trousers. The uncovered places were mostly bandaged.

"What in ze world did you do to mon clot’ez? Not very adequate to ze weat'er, non?", Harle complained but actually didn't sound that angry.

"Well sorry…but your wounds…and the bandages…" Kidd felt quite uncomfortable.

"Never mind." Harle turned around and regarded herself from top to bottom. At least her bells seemed still intact. "But it lookz quite sexzy, non?", she asked smilingly, causing a faint blush to creep onto Kidd’s cheeks.

"Well, err…maybe", Kidd looked around to avoid Harle’s eyes, feigning to be searching for something. "Gotcha!", she shouted and took a fur-jacket and trousers into her hands. She stood up and took off her wet jacket first. Harle took her eyes off her own clothes and watched Kidd's instead. For some reason she just couldn't take her eyes of her body. Which was mainly because she would have never expected Kidd’s skin underneath her clothes to look so smooth and soft. She used to think that Kidd had rough skin, marked with various kinds of former injuries. Which wasn’t the case, in the least.

"Would ya quit starin' at me, please?", Kidd asked with red cheeks, but still had to laugh at Harle’s face, for her face was even redder as she realized she really had been staring.

"Oh, pardon!", Harle said hastily and both turned around. Kidd quickly put her warmer clothes on, hoping she would be able to discard them once the temperatures finally ascended to moderate heights. The fur was kind of scratchy, though she was intent on not letting it bother her.

"Oh là là, you look like a boy wit' zeze clot’ez, non?", Harle asked, smirking knowingly.

"I wouldn't even care if I looked like a bloody clown! It keeps me warm, that counts!", Kidd fired back. After Harle had calmed down from the laughter her comment had initiated Kidd sat down at the fire again.

"So...what's yer decision now?", she asked, a bit embarrassed. She hated to sound stupid.

"Hmm? Which decision?", Harle asked.

"Ya know, ya told me ya wanna leave. Do ya?" Harle was surprised at this question, for she had almost forgotten about this completely. Of course she didn’t want to leave. But did she have any right to stay?

"Do you want moi to leave?", she asked hesitantly.

Kidd didn't need to think about the answer. "No way! I mean, we two have nowhere ta go, so we could as well stay together and wait for the rest of the dragons ta come. It’s kinda hard ta take ‘em on alone, ya know." To Harle's surprise Kidd said these words quite easily.

"If you say so, moi iz glad to stay here." Harle said, a strange new happiness washing over her. She didn’t have a name for that feeling yet.

It wasn’t completely lost on Kidd, who noticed this wasn't like the happiness Harle showed on their journey. Kidd felt this time Harle was really happy, and not just acting.

"'sides, where the heck do the bloody dragons come from? I thought we finished 'em once and for all.”, Kidd wondered aloud.

Harle was surprised at this question. "I don't know. Maybe zey come from parallel worldz? Or zey managed to survive ze battle and hid somewhere juzt like moi?"

Kidd hadn’t thought of such things when she had fought the dragons, but she did find it quite mysterious where they came from. She knew Harle had been hiding in the last battle with the dragons since the dragon had been far too weak to be the real omni-dragon, plus there hadn’t been any sign of her in that battle. It was the best she could have done to escape the dragons who had abused her as a spy.

"Whatever. Should’ve no problem kickin' their arses one more time.", Kidd said and shrugged. She had already beaten two of them on their own, and with a little help from Harle, she doubted the other four would pose any threat to them.

Harle envied Kidd for being so courageous and fearless, so unlike her. Harle herself feared the dragons more than anything right now. It was as if she could feel their presence, their might still greater than hers. She felt as though she was still their puppet, and her little life of freedom had been nothing but a dream. "If you say so. I juzt hope ze odders don't come too soon. In zis state moi iz not very helpful, non?", Harle asked, looking down at herself. There really was nothing she could do right now, except surrender maybe.

"So am I. Maybe we should look for another place? These bloody dragons know where we are. But my foot's not gonna takin' me far."

Harle didn't really listen. She stared into the fire instead, thinking of a way to escape the dragon's wrath. But was there even a way? She was a dragon goddess as well, could she ever escape? "Moi iz sorry, Kidd, but it iz no use to hide. Ze dragonz will always find moi."

Harle was close to tears when she realized the real meaning of this sentence. If a dragon came now, he would surely kill them. She tried to get rid of this thought, but it was just too real. They didn't stand a chance against a dragon right now. If one came, she was going to die, for sure.

"Don't make such a face. We won't give up. The dragons will get what they deserve! There are only four bloody dragons left! C'mon, we can do it. Trust me, they won't hurt us more than they already did." Kidd tried to cheer Harle up a bit, but she couldn’t help but sound serious as she knew the next fight wouldn't be fun.

"Merci beaucoup. Moi triez not to be afraid. It'z juzt…moi iz half a dragon, too. If we kill ze odder dragonz, iz all alone. Alone in zis world where everyone hates moi for ze t'ings I have done in ze past." Harle's eyes were slowly filling with tears.

"Aww, c'mon! Do ya think the dragons don't hate ya? I understand you're afraid of bein' the only dragon left, but you're the only dragon who can show the world that not all dragons are bad and mean and…aww, whatever. Show the world you're different, Harle!" Kidd stood up and walked slowly over to Harle, placing a blanket over her shoulders. She hesitated for a moment, but then she gave her a tight hug. "I know you are, cuz I don't hate ya.", she whispered into her ears. The tears were now flooding from Harle's eyes, but this time of joy. The joy of having someone who cares.

"Damn, don't cry all the time, girl. Yer life ain't over or somethin'!", Kidd said softly and wiped away Harle's tears. Then she stood up and looked around. It was almost dawn. Suddenly her stomach grumbled and for the first time she realized that she hadn't eaten anything for a few days. She was so busy with Harle and the dragons, she simply forgot to eat. Not to mention that she would have been too tired to even chew, the previous day.

"Boy, I'm hungry! Wanna eat somethin' too, Harle? I'll try ta get some food." She grabbed her dagger and her backpack and threw two Cure elements to Harle.

"Be careful!", she called before turning to walk further into the forest, leaving Harle alone and without even knowing whether she was hungry or not. It was still dark and soon Harle felt quite uncomfortable sitting there all alone. She stood up, checked her bandages and tried to move a bit. She tried to jump, run, roll and throw cards. Fortunately she didn't have too many problems doing this, just her breathing caused a few problems still. She felt like she could even fight if it was necessary. Which was still something she loathed to think about, though.

To kill the all too slowly passing time she decided to collect wood for the fire since it was almost used up. It was easy for her to do this only by throwing a few cards, effectively cutting branches off for her to collect on the ground. She wished everything was this simple. Soon the ground around her was full of wood, but it was much more difficult for her to collect it all and bring it back to the camp. She was fully exhausted when she finally came back to the camp, placing the collected wood beside the fire. The wound at her left shoulder began to hurt again as well, so she used one of the Cure elements Kidd had given her.

Meanwhile, it took Kidd quite a lot of time to find these Dingos she wanted to hunt. She finally discovered two Bubba Dingos ones, with the mother somewhere out of sight. She placed a net on the ground which she took out of her backpack and put some chestnuts on it, which she had collected before. Then she took a rope, which was fixed on the sides of the triangle- like net and climbed up a tree standing right beside the net. She waited until the Dingos came close and then threw one more chestnut on the net. They noticed the sound immediately and soon after discovered the chestnuts. As they walked onto the net Kidd pulled at the rope with all her strength, thus enclosing the young Dingos in the trap. They were squeaking at the top of their lungs, struggling to get free.

"Shuddup!", Kidd hissed and climbed down the tree. She took the net with an inward cheer, which quickly was replaced with dread as she suddenly heard an angry grumble behind her. She turned to see the Mamma Dingo. "Bloody crap!", she cursed, before breaking into a run for dear life.

In the meantime Harle lay at the fire, with an entire batch of wood beside her, obviously bored. She scratched the ground in front of her with her cards. She had more time than she wished to have and after a lot of scraping, she recognized Kidd's face there on the ground. It smiled. Harle watched her work for a few minutes intensely, but then destroyed it with a sigh before anyone else could see it.

When Kidd came back the sun already shone through the gaps between the trunks of the trees, about to leave them for the day. Kidd's face was sweaty and she was breathing hard, but looked absolutely content with herself.

"Are you okay? You look très tired, mon ami.", Harle asked with a hint of worry.

Kidd came closer and placed the net she'd hung over her shoulder on the ground. "Trust me, I am. But it was worth it as ya can see." Kidd pointed onto the dead Bubba Dingos. Kidd quickly prepared everything and soon they were roasted on a spit above the fire.

"Ya know, I've thought 'bout somethin’. What about goin’ ta Termina? I mean, there's an inn and stuff and not everybody there knows us. We could visit Glenn and Karsh as well, they're bloody neat guys. I'm sure they'd help us gettin' rid of the last four dragons. That'd make things a lot easier for us. So, whaddaya think?", Kidd suggested, looked pleased with her idea.

Harle sighed and bit off a piece of meat before her. "Do you really t'ink zey would help uz? I don't t'ink moi iz très welcome zere.", she voiced her worries.

Kidd tossed the last bone of her Dingo away. "Aww, I think it's worth a try. If they won’t help us, we're gonna go over ta Guardia. I have some bloody good friends there at Radical Dreamers!", she tried to persuade her, even though she had someone else than the Radical Dreamers on her mind to help them.

Harle thought about the suggestion while digging a little hole into the ground, placing the bones into it. Kidd noticed and grabbed her tossed bone to do the same.

"I t'ink we should try. Mais what about ton foot? It doezn’t seem good." Harle looked a bit worried while regarding Kidd's foot. "It's okay. It already feels better and it shouldn't be too far ta Termina. Think I can do it." Suddenly Harle jumped up and clapped her hands together, surprising Kidd. "Alors, let'z go! We shouldn't waste time here."

The two of them left their camp they had used over the past few days and headed for Termina. However, it proved difficult to get out of that forest first, for at nightfall, they were still stuck in the forest, unable to find a way out.

"Dammit, what's goin' on here? We took the opposite direction from the way ta Arni Village, so what?" Kidd looked around furiously, but Harle only giggled. "What's so funny, girl? Can't ya do somethin'?" Harle thought a minute, but didn't come to a useful solution.

"No, pardon. I t'ink we should try again demain. We will be able to see ze sun zen. If we watch it carefully, zere iz no problem to get out of here, non? Moi iz très tired, let'z rest here for ze night, mon ami.", she said and Kidd nodded, sitting down at a tree.

"Why didn't ya say that earlier? Would've saved us a lot of time.", Kidd complained with a wave of her hand. Harle quickly made a fire, then turned to Kidd.

"What do you mean, mon ami?", she asked and sat down as well, regarding Kidd curiously.

"The sun of course! That's a bloody good idea!”, Kidd said, louder than intended. Harle however didn’t shirk back, she knew by now that Kidd always talked like this, and decided to not worry about it. “Never thought of that.", Kidd added in a low mumble and scratched her head. Harle couldn’t help but chuckle.

"You didn't? I t'ought you have been a pirate? I t'ought pirates know beaucoup about navigation? I said not'ing, because I t'ought you knew better zan moi.", Harle explained innocently, causing Kidd to flush of embarrassment.

"Well…I obviously don’t. From tomorrow on, you’re the leader. If I try ta lead us outta this forest, we'll never get out.", Kidd said wryly. Harle looked at her in surprise. Did Kidd really trust her that much? "Merci beaucoup, moi will try."

They sat at the fire a few more minutes until Harle tried to start a conversation to keep the silence from squashing her.

"So, what will you do, when ze dragonz are dead? Will you return to Radical Dreamerz, mon ami?", Harle asked curiously, by now adding the “mon ami” as naturally as though she had done it her whole life. She wondered why.

"Dunno, really. Maybe I'll go back ta Radical Dreamers. I know they'll always welcome me. But on the other hand…"


"Aww, dunno. I'll see once this is over! What are ya gonna do then?", Kidd asked, diverting the attention from her onto Harle. She was sure Harle had enough imagination to think past the next few weeks, unlike her. Kidd had never really planned anything in her life, simply dealing with the things at hand at all times. But she imagined it to be great, to have a goal in life. Maybe she should start thinking more about her future from now on.

"Alors, moi could go to Marbule. Zere are nice people zere, non? Mais moi doezn't know for sure. It iz not too bad now eidder, iz it?", she asked with a small smile.

"Whaddaya mean by that?" Kidd asked, obviously stunned. They were hurt, tired and hungry. Not to mention the dragon issue. How Harle managed to see their situation as ‘not too bad’ was a mystery to Kidd.

"Alors, moi iz not alone anymore and moi haz lost un enemy. That iz quite somet'ing, non? Moi feelz much better now and moi iz not alone to stand against ze dragonz. That iz more zan enough to make moi happy.", Harle explained truthfully. Of course they were in trouble. But Harle was still grateful for that change in her previously lonely life. Kidd listened carefully to every single word of Harle, nodding when she finished. Her words rang true, and Kidd felt exactly the same. She remembered the time a few days ago when she had pondered on the impossibility of them ever being friends. But now it seemed as though the more things they discovered they had in common, the smaller the impossibility became.

"Guess so. But I won't stop worryin' 'til we're in Termina. Sittin' here in the forest with a hurt foot, knowin' that I don't stand a chance against the bloody dragons right now just gives me the creeps. Aren't ya scared? Harle?" Kidd asked and looked up, finding Harle already fast asleep. It must have been a tiring day for her.

"Doesn't seem like it." Kidd said to herself and chuckled. She tried to sleep as well, but she was still too worried and scared of an attack of the dragons, so she stayed awake for the whole night.

To fight the boredom which led to sleeping, she looked for something to do and ended up with a piece of wood in her hand, trying to make a figurine of it with her dagger. And indeed, after a few hours of carving and countless little cuts on her hands, she had created a beautiful little figurine of wood. It resembled Harle. She was standing with her hands behind her back, smiling widely and wearing her 'new' costume, just without the bandages.

Kidd regarded her masterpiece for a few minutes, being perfectly content with the way it had turned out. Now that she was finished she noticed that it was almost dawn. She didn't have any use for the figurine and didn’t know what to do with it, so she almost threw it into the fire, but hesitated. She looked back and forth between her newly injured hands and the figurine, and decided to keep it, if only for a while until she grew weary of it. But for the time being, it looked much too nice to simply throw it away. She wrapped a stripe of cloth of her blanket around it and placed the figurine carefully into her backpack, making sure that it wouldn’t be crushed underneath her other items.

Not more than ten minutes passed until Harle woke up. Rubbing her eyes, she looked around to get her bearing. The sun hadn’t fully risen yet. Her glance fell on Kidd, and she was a little surprised to see her awake.

"You are already awake? Zat iz strange. I t'ought I stood up très early, but you...mon dieu.", she said, giggling.

"Yeah…ya know…I usually don’t wake up before the first crack of sunlight, but that tree was so damn uncomfortable!", she said, giving the trunk behind her a punch to emphasize. Kidd wasn't too good at lying, she was used to say everything straight out. But this time, she just didn't want Harle to know she was awake the whole night. Because she had the feeling that Harle would just worry all the time if she knew.

Kidd wasn’t sure if she really knew Harle that well already, but for some reason she hoped she did.

Chapter 9

Title: Chapter 9 - It's a long way

Harle jumped up and stretched her body, feeling her stiff muscles finally relaxing. "Ah, zis iz parfait! Moi feelz très fine. Let uz leave."

Kidd nodded and stood up. She took her backpack and quickly put the already weak fire out. "Yeah, right, let's go…leader."

Both giggled and continued their search for an exit of this forest, which they hadn’t been able to find the previous day due to Kidd’s inability to orientate and a general lack of sunlight. But surprisingly enough, under the leadership of Harle not even five hours passed until they found out.

"Bloody hell! How could ya…just like that?", Kidd asked unbelievingly while Harle met her question with a mysterious smile. She soon sat down on the grass beneath her feet and enjoyed the wonderful view over the plains. She was a little tired, but knowing that they had finally left the forest behind them, she was positive to endure the rest of the way as well. It would be easier from now on, walking through the grass instead of battling their way through the, at times, thick forest.

Kidd was still amazed, her head turning into all directions.

"Let'z rest here for a while, oui?", Harle suggested and patted the spot beside her. Kidd simply nodded and sat down beside her, still wondering how Harle actually did that. But then again, it didn’t really matter how she did it. The only thing that mattered was that they had gotten closer to Termina. Once there, Kidd would feel a lot safer, she knew. With the help of the devas, she was sure even the dragons would go down soon enough. With an inward frown she noticed that she was getting scared easily as of late. She wondered what the Radical Dreamers would think of her, like this.

The gentle breeze pulled softly at Harle's bells, causing them to toll playfully. That sound underlined the beauty and relaxedness of the scenery, which Kidd found she greatly enjoyed. It was good to not do anything for a change. The sun was shining upon their heads and now she felt that she understood what Harle had said the day before. It was nice not to be enemies anymore, to enjoy simply themselves and not to be alone anymore. It was strange and she had no idea what to make of it, but it felt too nice to simply dismiss it. She had given Harle another chance, and the way it was now, it didn’t seem to have been such a bad idea, even though it might have been a choice partly made from loneliness.

Kidd secretly wished that this moment would never go away. How could she think of the wrath of the dragons when she was lying at the best place she could think of, together with Harle? She hated the thought of standing up again and continuing.

"Ya know, you’re amazin’! Without ya, I would’ve been bloody lost there forever. We're quite the team, huh?", she asked brightly, not looking at Harle. She didn’t see Harle’s face lighting up at these words.

"Ah oui, I t'ink zat too. It should have been like zat all ze time, non?" Kidd nodded slightly and looked over to Harle.

"Yeah, we should have met earlier, under different circumstances…but now it's over and we started all over again. This time, we'll fight to...geth…er…" Kidd said but fell asleep before finishing. Harle noticed and stood up carefully, trying not to wake Kidd with the sound of her bells.

She looked down at Kidd and was a little shocked when she saw all the scratches and cuts covering her hands. She decided to ask her where they came from when she woke up. Which would probably take a while, Harle could see that Kidd was tired, though she didn’t know why.

Harle took her eyes off Kidd and looked over the plains instead. She saw a hill with a few rocks not even one mile away. It was close to the sea, so she decided to go there for to watch the ocean. It had been quite a while since the last time she had done that. She hardly ever used her time for such things though she didn’t know why. But now, while Kidd slept soundly on the grass beside her, she didn't have anything better to do.

It had gotten quite warm, so she took off her hat and placed it beside Kidd. Her long dark- brown hair reached down to her shoulders. It was a little curly, which was fine with Harle, for she liked playing wit her hair occasionally, even if she rarely had the chance to, wearing her jester’s hat most of the time. With her hat now left with Kidd, she went to the hill at the sea she had seen before.

It didn’t take her long to reach it, but when she did she noticed it was much bigger than it had looked like from afar. There were a lot of stones and rocks there which could make it hard to go up, but heights, climbing and jumping had never been much of a difficulty for Harle. She managed to reach the top almost effortlessly, but as she experienced the view from the top, she knew that even great efforts would have been worth the climb.

The view up there was similar to the view from Cape Howl, but in many ways was also better. Despite being not as high up as Cape Howl, the view was just as beautiful and captivating, but had a less threatening air to it because there was no dangerous cliff. Harle enjoyed it greatly.

After a while her thoughts started to drift off, swirling all around this strange situation she had recently found herself in. She had told Kidd she would probably move to Marbule once this was over, but actually, she didn't like Marbule at all. Despite considering herself as a one, she could find no relations between her and other demi-humans. They weren’t like her at all. They were strange, following their own odd little ways which were so different from humans’. She didn’t want to be one of them. She wanted to be human, completely. Marbule had always seemed to her like a village for outsiders, for those different from humans. But Harle wanted to be like them, to live like a human, together with other humans. She wanted that little spark of normality in her screwed life.

But actually, she didn't know what she wanted at all. She wanted to see the world, meet a lot of nice people, have fun and especially not to be alone anymore. She wanted everything at once, knew it was too much to ask for, but still couldn’t help but yearn for it. She wanted it so badly. And she wanted one more thing: having Kidd by her side. She didn't exactly know why, but for some reason unknown to her, she felt safe when Kidd was around. It was a strange feeling, altogether too similar to one she had felt before. She didn’t want to give it the same name yet.

When Harle looked up into the bright sky, she noticed that it was already noon. She had spent quite some time watching the ocean, but didn’t regret it. She decided to go back to Kidd, guessing she was already awake by now.

On her way down from the hill she discovered a few bushes with thick red berries she had never seen before. She picked one, hesitantly putting it into her mouth while preparing for a sour and poisonous taste. But as a light sweetness spread over her tongue, accompanied by a slight bitterness, she found they were really tasty. She picked a few more and thought and regretted the fact that she had left her hat with Kidd.

She gathered as many as possible with her hands and began her way back. She tried to be careful with the berries, walking slowly in order to keep them from falling to the ground. However, her look was so fixed on the berries that she didn't see the stone in front of her and stumbled over it. She couldn’t regain her balance and fell face first to the ground, which was already covered with berries by that time. Standing up again, Harle could feel the sticky wetness all over her face, but still counted herself lucky because she hadn’t fallen onto her delicate shoulder.

She looked at the mashed berries on the ground, having half a mind to just let it go and go over to Kidd, but ultimately deciding otherwise. She wasn’t too keen on Kidd seeing her with a dirty face like this, and also, she had an idea that Kidd was at least as hungry as herself.

She went back to the shore and cleaned her face, smiling as she regarded her new ‘face-paint’. Still, she cleaned it thoroughly until not even the slightest trace of the berries was left on her face, then went to collect berries yet again until her hands were as full as they could be. But the berries kept spilling whenever she started to walk, and she hated to risk stumbling again.

But then a really good idea struck Harle. She placed the collected berries onto the ground in front of her, and then used one of her GravityBall elements to lift them safely. Harle smiled proudly at her own ingenuity. With that same bright smile she headed back to Kidd, hoping to see a smile of her as well. The sun was shining directly on her head now, and Harle enjoyed the warmth. She found it rather strange herself that she appreciated the daylight so much when she had someone around her, but hated it when she was alone.

Kidd woke up before Harle reached her, her eyes unable to resist the strong sunlight that shone directly onto them. She felt much better now after that little nap and told herself that she would have to try to sleep, the next night. There was no use in wasting so much time just because she needed sleep. She looked around casually, expecting to find Harle still beside her. But she didn’t, which made her wonder just how long she had been asleep. She decided not to worry too much over it, which she didn’t, until she spotted Harle’s hat which lay on the grass beside her as if tossed away…or lost. The thought made Kidd worry more than she wanted, but she couldn’t shrug off the bad feeling she had. She quickly stood up to gain a better sight over the plains, but still couldn’t see her. It couldn’t be, could it? She would have noticed if one of the dragon’s had taken her…right?

“Harle? Harle! Where are you? Harle!”, she shouted as loud as she could, the feeling of dread growing with each shout, until she could hardly bear it anymore. Maybe she had just left her. But why would she do that? Hadn’t Harle said it was good that they were travelling together? Was that all a lie?

“Damn! No!”, Kidd yelled, kicking the ground in front of her before inhaling deeply for her last shout. “Harle!”

"Oui, Kidd?", Harle asked calmly and Kidd turned around abruptly. There she was and Kidd almost got a shock by seeing her so suddenly. She stumbled backwards and sat down. Harle smiled a wonderful smile, still holding the berries with the Gravity Ball. "Voilà! Très nice, non?"

"Is it…ya?" Kidd could hardly speak. She was confused, the immense relief mixed with too many unnecessary doubts making her dizzy.

"Oui, of course. Who did you expect, mon ami?" Harle placed the berries on the ground beside her and walked to Kidd, extending her hand to help her stand up. But instead Kidd suddenly jumped up, ran to Harle and hugged her tightly before she knew what she was doing.

"Never ever do that again, ya hear me?", she said, trying to sound angry even though her voice spoke volumes of the relief she felt. However, as soon as she noticed how tight her grip on the smaller girl was, she let go of her quickly.

Harle was completely surprised by Kidd, for a minute thinking the girl opposite her had gone crazy. "What did moi do?", she asked, honestly not knowing what was going on.

Kidd shook her head and tried to smile. "Silly. I thought the bloody dragons got ya! Or ya left or somethin’…I woke up and ya were gone, only the bloody hat was left. I couldn't see ya and…where did ya go anyway?", Kidd asked, still looking slightly alarmed.

"Ah…moi collected some berriez over zere. Moi t'ought you may be hungry. It'z not far away, mon ami. Maybe I show you un peu later?", Harle said and couldn’t help but smile warmly at Kidd’s worries. So she did care, after all.

Kidd sat down, rubbing her face. "Yeah, maybe." Harle walked up behind her and laid her arms around Kidd's neck.

"Were you zat worried about moi?", she asked with an unusually sultry voice and Kidd nodded with red cheeks. "’course I was. The dragons could have killed ya while I was asleep!"

Harle smiled, satisfied with the answer Kidd had given her. "Merci beaucoup, mon ami."

Somehow, Kidd enjoyed it, sitting there with Harle's arms around her neck, although she felt quite embarrassed. She had never had a friend like this. She had never had anyone who truly cared about her like this. Someone she could talk to, someone who made her worry but also made her worries go away. Of course she had loved her buddies at Radical Dreamers, but this was different. Kidd knew it was wrong for to trust Harle so much, to forgive her so easily. She knew she was betraying someone. But right now, she wanted trust, wanted to be comforted by someone real and alive. She had missed this for so long.

"Ya know…I like yer new look. I've never seen yer hair before. Why do ya hide such beautiful hair?", she said, calling Harle’s hair beautiful without even thinking about it. She couldn’t remember the last time she had used this word so openly, so honestly.

Harle thought about Kidd’s question for a while, despite blushing at her unexpected compliment. "Je ne sais pas. Moi haz worn zat jester'z drezz az long az moi can remember. What iz a jester's dress wit'out a jester's hat? Do you really like mon hair, mon ami?", she asked, taking of strand of her hair into her hand to regard it. She saw nothing special about it.

Kidd nodded eagerly, however, her movement reminding Harle that she still had her arm around her neck. She wasn’t about to let go, yet.

"Yeah, it looks great. But about yer dress...guess we hafta find a new one for ya in Termina.", Kidd suggested, finding another thing to look forward to. She really tried her best to think optimistically despite everything.

"Oui, hopefully. But if you like mon hair moi will leave ze hat off.", Harle smiled, already having decided that she wasn’t going to wear it anymore. She wanted Kidd to see her hair. She wanted to see it herself, she didn’t want to hide it anymore.

"Yeah, but what about yer paint?", Kidd asked, blindly touching Harle’s face above her, as though there was still paint on it. Harle dug in the pockets of her trousers, but couldn't find anything useful. "Moi haz to buy zat, too."

Kidd then grabbed a few berries and ate them. "You're absolutely perfect, Harle! These berries are bloody good, for berries. What would I do without ya?" Kidd was genuinely surprised by the affable taste of the red fruits. She had expected them to be terribly sour, but they just about melted on her tongue, leaving only sweetness.

"Non, non, moi iz not parfaitement at all. Au contraire, moi haz done so many mistakes. Mais moi iz glad you said zat. Merci beaucoup.", Harle said gratefully before releasing Kidd from her grasp to eat some of the berries as well. The mountain of berries quickly decreased in height until it was reduced to a mere fifth.

“Enough, enough, I can't eat one bloody berry more!”, Kidd said, holding up her hands in defeat. “We should really go now, too. There's still a long way ahead of us. Don't think we'll make it in one day." Kidd stood up and took her backpack, shouldering it energetically. She was ready.

"Oui, of course, let'z go. Mais what about ze berriez? We should take them wit' uz, juzt in case." Kidd turned her back to Harle, indicating she should put the berries into her backpack. Harle did so and after opening it, her look fell on a small cloth-wrapped item which was half-buried beneath all kinds of other items she recognized. She took it out and held it in front of her.

"What iz zat, mon ami? May I see?" She asked, but started to unroll the cloth without waiting for an answer from Kidd. As she regarded the small figurine of wood, Harle was struck speechless. It looked beautiful, and Harle didn’t need a second look to know it was meant to be herself. Even though she thought the figurine looked prettier than her. But then, she hadn’t seen a mirror for quite some time. Suddenly Harle remembered the cuts on Kidd's hands she had wondered about earlier.

"Moi didn't know you were so…skilled. It'z très nice, mon ami.", Harle praised the carver, but Kidd turned around suddenly and snatched the figurine from Harle’s hands. Harle hadn’t expected this and was a little frightened of Kidd's next reaction, half expecting her to slap her for her impudence. She shouldn’t have simply taken it.

"Don't touch it!", Kidd shouted as she quickly wrapped the cloth around it again. She knew she sounded harsh but she couldn’t help it. How was she going to explain this?

She pushed Harle aside and put the berries into the backpack by herself. Harle just stood there and watched, not knowing what to do. Had she done anything wrong? Obviously.

Kidd walked away from Harle, without even looking at her. She couldn’t think of any words to actually explain that figurine. She didn’t know why she had done it, herself. Silence was the only answer she could offer.

Harle followed her, also silent. None of them dared to speak the next two whole hours, they just walked straight into the direction of Termina. Harle was sure Kidd was mad at her. Why shouldn’t she? After all, Harle had been the one to simply take it out of the backpack without even waiting for permission. She was so stupid.

But after all, she was the one who spoke first. "Moi iz sorry. I guess moi wazn't meant to see it, oui?" Her voice was lighter than she actually felt. Kidd didn't answer right away, and the seconds which passed in between Harle’s question and her answer seemed like an hour.

"Stop that. You’re always excusin’ yerself. Let's forget this.", she said with a hint of anger in her voice. Harle didn’t know it wasn’t aimed at her. She simply nodded and came closer to Kidd, looking at her with a worried look. Kidd had to smile unwillingly when she saw the expression on her face. After seeing this, Harle smiled as well and everything seemed well again. At least for now. As long as she didn’t raise any questions.

By dusk they could already see Termina, but knew it was still far away. "Zere it iz, mon ami. We'll be zere demain." Harle pointed on the small silhouette far away to try to cheer Kidd up, because she had seemed unusually thoughtful and almost sad for the last few hours. But Harle herself wasn't in a good mood, she felt that something bad was about to happen. She refused to think about the possibilities. She knew that if she thought too much about those things, it would show, and she didn’t want to bother Kidd with it, since she seemed to have her own share of worries right now, so she kept her mouth shut.

They had come to a stop and Kidd took out her two blankets, giving one of them to Harle.

Both lay down and didn't say a word until Kidd took out two Heal elements, throwing one of them to Harle. The jester caught it easily.

"I think that's enough to cure yer shoulder, and my foot, too. We're lucky these dragons waited 'til now.”, Kidd cast it, forgetting about the fact of her drained stamina as the pain in her foot finally lessened, leaving only a slight tingle. Harle lit a little fire, she couldn’t stand darkness right now. Mostly because the dragons could be around, but also because darkness seemed to invite unwanted feelings. Things she didn’t want to think of right now.

"Ya wanna eat those berries?", Kidd asked and showed her the few last ones she had salvaged from her backpack. They weren't in a good shape, however.

"Non, merci. You can have zem.", Harle gratefully declined.

Kidd smiled and took out a little silver plate. She placed the berries on it and used a stone to mash them, making red paint of it. Harle watched her, but didn't know what Kidd was going to do with the paint. It dawned on her however as Kidd took her figurine out and began to paint certain parts of it with the newly-made natural paint. She did it slowly, meticulously painting as though it was something of great value. She didn’t seem to be bothered by Harle watching her closely. Harle noticed how unbelievably calm and satisfied Kidd looked while working on the figurine.

"What are you going to do when it iz finished, mon ami?", Harle asked after a while, unable to stop her growing curiosity. But as she saw Kidd grinned devilishly, she almost instantly regretted having ever asked.

"Whaddaya think? It's a voodoo puppet!", Kidd replied threateningly, her hand moving as if to stick needles into the figurine. Harle shook her head and stared at Kidd, unable to move. Had she really trusted Kidd too much? Was Kidd really such a person, after all? Was she really that hated?

"Non.", she said as firmly as she could, but couldn’t suppress the trembling of her body. Kidd was grinning even wider now. Harle looked scared.

"Aww, just kiddin', don't get too scared, girl.", Kidd said and laughed, but didn’t quite manage to relieve Harle completely, for she still stared at her.

"Aww, nuts. Ya don't like my jokes, right?", Kidd asked and tried a gentle smile, which caused Harle to finally breathe again normally.

"Ya disappoint me, Harle. Thought ya were such a tough lady, and now...nah, forget it. Shouldn't make jokes these times.”, Kidd said sheepishly what Harle guessed was meant as an excuse. “About the statue, I dunno what I'll do when it's finished. I'll probably put it on a table in the house I'll be havin’ when this is over ta remind me of all this. For now, I've no use for it, cuz you’re here now." Kidd was surprised she talked so much.

"Pleaze, never do zat again.", Harle said. She felt kind of stupid, doubting Kidd so much. But for a moment, she had really thought…

Kidd just giggled. "Listen, Harle, I said we’re cool, right? Guess ya could trust me a bit more."

After a while, Kidd finished painting the figurine. Most parts were painted red by now, but she needed blue and white to finish it completely. She had little options to make these colours by herself, so she stopped for the time being. Pushing her backpack aside, she lay down, looking up at the stars.

"What was the start of all this? What did we do that the bloody dragons want to kill us? How do we deserve all this?”, she mumbled thoughtfully, feeling cheated by fate. If such a thing even existed anymore.

Harle played with her hair absent-mindedly, thinking. "Je ne sais pas, mon ami. Mais moi won't complain anymore. Moi seez zis az an opportunité. Moi should have died some time ago, but moi still livez. Ze life moi livez now iz mon première chance to be libertine. Once ze dragonz are away moi will finally able to live like...a human."

Kidd was stunned by this statement of Harle and she realized that she was just complaining all the time. She always saw herself as a victim of all evil, but she hadn’t had such a terrible life at all. Since the incident with the orphanage, nothing had happened which she hadn’t been able to bear or get over. And even now, she had the feeling that everything was going to turn out just fine. Just like Harle, she should try to see the good things, no matter how hard it might seem.

"Yeah, you're probably right. We kick the dragon's arses and live like we've always wanted.", Kidd said boldly, hoping that her words would turn out to be true.

Harle hoped so, too. "Uhm, Kidd? What moi wanted to ask you since moi woke up a few dayz ago...why did you save mon vie? Why did you kill ze dragon instead of letting ze dragon kill moi? Pourquoi?" Harle sounded entirely serious while asking this, and Kidd thought hard to be able to give her an equally serious answer. She knew a simple ‘I just felt like it.’ Wouldn’t do, anymore. And also, she wanted to be honest to her, because she expected the same honesty in return.

"Well, it's kinda hard ta explain that, but I’ll try. At first, I was kinda...sorry for ya. Yer whole life, ya had ta follow the dragon's orders. They created ya, but that didn't make ya their child. They abused yer life ta make ya a tool for 'em, a spy, leadin' Serge ta destroy Fate. That's no life, is it? Ya never had a real father or a mother or anyone else ya could talk ta. Ya had no choice but ta follow the dragons, cuz ya didn't know how it felt havin' someone who cares 'bout ya.”, she explained, staring at the stars thoughtfully, as though they would make the next part any easier for her.

“I realized that because of this it’s been so easy for ya ta kill Lucca...there was no way ya could have understood our feelings for her. I loved her a lot, ya know. She was like my big sister, always carin' for me, teachin' me new stuff. If anyone ever asks me what my last name is, I will say it's Ashtear and not Zeal." Kidd stopped for a moment, trying hard not to cry, even though the tears seemed to come all too easily. After a few seconds the feeling was gone, and she continued.

"Anyway, Serge finally gave ya that feelin' of someone who cares and ya realized how stupid it was ta follow the dragons. It was the first right decision ya made in yer whole life, decidin' ta distance yerself from 'em. And what happened then? They came back just a few days ago ta kill ya. I couldn’t just let that happen ta ya, could I?” Kidd made a fist without realizing it, and Harle saw just how angry she was.

“But the second reason was...well, we've got so many things in common, don’t we? Both of us neither have a father, nor a mother. We’ve both been created ta fulfil a certain mission in life, ya as a puppet, and I as a clone. Bloody life hasn’t exactly been fair on us. And now, our first chance ta live...if the dragon had killed ya, it would have felt that my life was hopeless as well. I just think...we have ta help each other ta survive."

By now Kidd was so far away with her thoughts that she didn't even notice Harle had been crying all the time. When she finally turned her head to Harle and saw the glittering tears running down her pale cheeks, she immediately got up and ran the short distance over to her.

"What is it, Harle?", she asked worriedly, but Harle didn't answer. Her lips were trembling, but she didn’t get a single word out. She just sat there, crying uncontrollably. Kidd didn't waste a second thought and walked over to her to sit beside her, laying her left arm around Harle's shoulders, trying to comfort her if just by a bit.

"It'z true...every single word iz true. Moi waz alone...and moi wanted everyone eidder to be alone or to iz so sorry. Ze role az monsieur Lynx's hated it and moi wanted everyone to feel zat. Oui, moi killed Lucca...Lynx just watched me doing zis. Me dé” Harle's voice failed her at the end, drowning under all the tears. She cried onto Kidd's shoulders as though she had never shed a single tear in her whole life. As though she had never allowed herself to cry before.

As a jester, underneath all the thick paint on her face, she had always been able to hide her feelings without effort. She had always been able to sound happy and optimistic. But now, she couldn't control it anymore, the tears wouldn’t stop at her command, and her voice refused to steady. It seemed like every sin she had ever committed fell down onto her right in that moment. It hurt her to realize this, to see what damage she had caused.

After nearly ten minutes, the tears finally subsided. "It's okay, Harle. Ya know, I’ve been exactly the same, when I came ta Lucca's orphanage. Every child there was so happy, but I was new odd one, and the others didn’t exactly like me. They said I was rude, and looked strange. Took me a long time ta integrate, but Lucca always helped me. For me it’s been Lucca, for ya it might’ve been Serge. But we're different now, aren’t we? Let's forget about the past.", Kidd told her with a gentle voice, rubbing her shoulder softly. When she looked to Harle, her eyes were already closed.

"It’s been a hard day. Sleep well...mate.", Kidd whispered. She didn't move, for fear it would wake Harle, which was the last thing she wanted to happen. So she remained in that position and soon fell asleep as well.

Harle's sleep didn't last too long however, and after about three hours she woke up again. Upon noticing she had been sleeping on Kidd's shoulder, she tried to stand up as carefully as possible. It was cold and the fire was already out, so she placed a blanket over Kidd. Harle didn't want to sleep again, she knew Kidd had watched over her the whole previous night, and now it was her turn.

The first hour she spent playing solitary with her card deck, but that became boring all too soon. So, as a substitute for that, she killed time with throwing cards at various targets like plants and stones. She even could slice a bellflower into two from a distance of forty metres, which made Harle kind of proud of herself. She threw all of her cards, only three of them missing their target. When Harle realized she had thrown all her cards, she felt quite uncomfortable all of a sudden. Now she could be an easy target herself, and just the thought of that made her shudder.

She quickly stood up and retrieved all of her cards, then placed them beside her. When she looked at Kidd, who sat there with her head on her arms and a gentle smile on her face, Harle had to think about their conversation a few hours earlier. Finally, they had talked about everything. Now nothing stood between them anymore. At least she hoped so.

Schala, princess of the magical kingdom of Zeal. Harle could still hardly believe Kidd was only a clone of her, sent into the far future. What could have become of her? Serge had saved her from Lavos, but what had come afterwards? Had she simply gone back in time, to where she belonged? Harle didn't know what made her think about that just now, but this whole issue with dimensions for every possibility was just too hard to understand.

Harle dismissed these thoughts then, thinking too much tended to give her a headache. She guessed it was probably around five o'clock by now, almost time to think about breakfast. They had walked close to the coast all the time, so she decided to use this opportunity to go fishing. The coast was only about two miles away, so she needed less than half an hour to get there.

Now faced with the wide ocean, she had to think of a way to get the fish out of the water, for she didn't use to carry fishing lines with her. To fix this problem she started out with looking for a wooden stick, which wasn't too hard to find. The line was a bit more difficult, but she simply took three threads ripped from her already battered clothes and wove them together, leaving one thick thread, strong enough to endure the weight of a fish. Finding bait was even more difficult, but Harle knew fish wouldn't bite without bait luring them. This problem took her ten minutes, before she simply took one of her little bells of her hat which she had wisely taken with her this time around, and bound it on the end of the line, which itself was bound to the wooden stick.

"Excellente! You are quite ze genius, Harle.", she praised herself and laughed. But she wasn't going to be too proud of it until she actually caught a fish with it. After all, simple looks didn’t give any indication of the actual usefulness.

But the bait worked just as intended. Harle could see it shimmering beneath the surface of the water, but actually pulling out the fish proved much more difficult, as Harle soon learned.

Every time a fish bit and she consequently pulled at the line, the fish was gone. She finally got the idea to wait a little longer after the fish bit, and really, it worked. She waited until a fish pulled the bell with it, and then slowly pulled the a little closer to her, inch by inch. Then she yanked the line out of the water as quickly as she could, and the fish flew out of the water. Harle repeated this and soon had two fish to carry back to Kidd.

When she came back, the sun was already shining brightly, but Kidd was still asleep. Harle prepared everything and soon the smell of roasted fish made Kidd wake up.

"Bon matin, mon ami!" Harle beamed at her, but Kidd needed a few seconds to remember where she was.

"Morning.", she finally said, rubbing her eyes lazily. However, upon spotting the fish on the fire her expression became one of impression.

"Wait a minute...ya went fishin'? The sea is two miles away...and how the hell did ya catch these without a fishin' line?" She couldn’t believe Harle to catch them with her bare hands.

Harle just smiled and gave her one of the fish, which was put on a stick. "Zat'z un secret!", she said, putting her index finger over her lips. Kidd looked at her for a few seconds more, but then just shrugged and began to eat the fish. "If ya say so, whatever."

Harle ate her fish as well, savouring the quite pleasant taste which exceeded her previously grim expectations by far. "What a grand day zere iz ahead of uz! Only un peu longer and we reach Termina finalement." Kidd nodded then quickly ate the fish and fetched her backpack. "Yeah, let's get movin'. I can't wait ta get ta Termina." Kidd turned to Harle, indicating she wanted to leave as soon as possible.

"Are ya...okay, Harle? ", Kidd asked hesitantly, while they were walking towards the mountain pass, which lay ahead of them. Harle seemed worried despite her eager words earlier.

"Oui, no problème. Moi feelz much better." Kidd hoped Harle was telling the truth.

The mountain pass was quite steep and about three hundred metres above sea level at its top. But luckily they didn’t have to go that high up.

A few monsters attacked the two every once in a while, but it was nothing they couldn't deal with easily. About noon it started raining heavily, soaking them both to the bones. The wind picked up as well, and they soon found themselves within an unexpected storm. The rain whipped right into their faces. They tried to shield their faces with their arms, which made it difficult to see, however.

Eventually they descended the path at its end, both of them panting. "My arse, what a bloody bad weather!" Kidd shouted, which was the only way to communicate at the moment. The storm was even worse on the plains between the mountains and Termina. Both had to fight against the wind as it tried to keep them from walking forward. Running was impossible now, they could only put one foot slowly before the other.

It took them three hours for the last two miles to Termina.

Chapter 10

Title: Chapter 10 - New city, new luck?

Naturally, they were dead tired by the time they reached Termina, so they immediately went to the inn, which seemed more like a hotel now, more than the triple size of the rather modest inn before. But that wasn't the only building which had gotten bigger. The whole city was a lot larger and with it every shop, bar and just everything else. It was no surprise for Harle, who had been to Termina not too long ago, but to Kidd it seemed like a new city entirely.

"Geez, ya sure this is Termina?", Kidd asked, scratching her head. She hadn’t been aware of having had missed out on so much. Especially because the change was quite sudden. Changes like this made it seem as if she hadn’t been here for at least five years, which she knew wasn’t the case. Some things sure developed quickly.

"Mais oui. Zis iz ze nouveau Termina. Voilà!", Harle answered,with a beaming smile on her face and her arms spread wide out. Kidd giggled at the smiling Harle, who almost looked like she owned this town.

They walked inside the hotel, hoping to get two rooms. Kidd loathed the thought of having to sleep outside again. It didn’t go well with her nerves.

"Bonjour monsieur. We need two rooms, s'il vous plaît.", Harle asked nicely. The man turned around and came up with two shiny keys.

"Voilà, mesdemoiselles.", the man said with a smile, trying to sound like Harle. He obviously enjoyed his work.

Harle took the keys and wrote her name on a sheet of paper the man had handed her. Afterward she went up the stairs. Kidd followed her silently, slightly annoyed that she couldn't speak like Harle. It seemed to have a good effect on people, unlike her own manner of speaking, which rewarded her with a contemptuous look most of the time.

With a look at the keys Harle noticed their rooms were on different floors. She wasn’t too fond of that fact, but pretended not to care.

"Zat iz yourz, mon ami. You have to go un etàge higher.", Harle said as she handed one of the keys to her. Kidd nodded, took the key and went upstairs. At the top of the stair she stopped again and turned to Harle.

"I’m gonna take a nap. Let’s meet later, maybe six o'clock? What about it?", Kidd asked and Harle was grateful she did.

"D'accord! Until six heures.", she responded a little too eagerly, but nonetheless smiled and waved her hand before turning around again. Her room was easy to find, there were only eight rooms in total, not counting various staff rooms.

The room was in a good shape, but offered little luxury, which Harle was completely fine with. She didn’t need a glorious room when she was only going to stay two or three nights at most anyway.

She tossed her hat negligently onto the bed and went into the bath to take a shower, which she desperately needed. She took off her clothes first, followed by the various bandages which covered her body. She gasped when she saw her wounds. They still looked awful, even after all those Heal and Cure Elements she had used. The wounds were closed, but the sight of them made Harle wince. She hoped they would disappear eventually. She didn't want to have them turn into scars, carrying them with her for the rest of her life.

But still, feeling the soft touch of warm water on her skin made her completely forget about all this. She loved the tingle she felt as her whole body slowly warmed up, and turned the water as hot as she could possibly bear. Washing her hair and her skin was the most satisfying thing she could think of at that moment. The blood incrusted in her hair along with all kinds of mud was difficult to get out, and it took a whole hour until she considered herself clean enough to step out of the shower. When she did, every single inch of her body sparkled and Harle felt simply great. It was an almost exhilarating feeling to be so clean again. But the hot water had made her sleepy, so she decided to spent the last two hours until six o’clock sleeping instead of fawning over her cleanness. She walked over to the bed and looked almost disgusted at her clothes, which lay across the floor, hardly distinguishable from rags. She had little desire to wear these dirty, old and especially damaged clothes on her newly cleaned body, so she went to the bed without any clothes at all.

When Kidd reached her room, she did the same as Harle, just in the opposite order. Without bothering to regard her room, she dragged herself to the bed and fell asleep within one minute. By the time she woke up the clock read already half past seven and Kidd rushed into the bath, took a shower within five minutes and quickly went to Harle's room, hoping she was still there. How stupid of her, after all she had been the one to suggest six o’clock.

She knocked at Harle’s door three times, but nothing seemed to move within, and no answer came. Kidd tried to look through the keyhole, but she could only see one of her shoes and her hat. Would she go away without her shoes? Kidd started to worry and decided to go in.

‘Aw nuts, of course the door’s locked’, she thought as she turned the doorknob and found it unmoving. But she wouldn't call herself a thief if she couldn't deal with that. Kidd simply used her dagger to open that little lock. It was a matter of seconds until the door was unlocked. "Child's play.", she muttered while opening the door quietly.

Now Kidd noticed that all of Harle's clothes lay sprawled across the floor. She walked pass them and was obviously relieved when she saw Harle sleeping peaceful in her bed, although couldn’t help but blush at the thought of her lying there without clothes. Kidd didn't want to wake her up, but she gathered Harle's clothes and put them on a chair. Only now did Kidd see how dirty and damaged they really were, so she went quietly out of Harle's room with an idea. She wanted to look for a shop to buy new clothes for her, maybe one of them was still open. It was the least she could, after what she had done to her old ones.

It was almost dark outside and Kidd wasn't too familiar with this new Termina, but after asking several people, she found a suitable shop.

Now Kidd’s problem was to find clothes for her. Harle told her that she had worn this costume for as long as she can remember, but she told her she wanted to be more 'human' as well. Kidd definitely liked her hair and her face was too wonderful to hide under paint all the time. By now she had become perfectly acquainted with the fact of thinking about Harle as beautiful. She wondered why it was so easy for her to admit such a thing after having hated her for so long, but the longer she was with Harle, the more beautiful she became. It was as if every new character trait Kidd discovered was immediately planted onto her face, making it shine more with each new discovery. A body washed clean by an unexpectedly gentle soul. Kidd knew she had to be strange to think this, but found it hard to suppress these thoughts which assaulted her mind every so often.

She went looking for normal clothes, which would still be special enough for Harle. Something Kidd could imagine anyone to wear as well as something nobody wore. Kidd knew it was going to be hard.

After two hours and even more arguments with the shopkeeper, she ended up with a pair of nice dark-blue leather trousers together with a silver belt, red shoes, new red gloves, a red tight top and two blue bandages for both upper arms with little bells on them. Kidd paid for the clothes with a slight frown, then left the shop. She quickly went to another shop to buy paint and then went back to the hotel, without any money left in her pocket.

As she ascended the stairs to her room, she really hoped that Harle was still asleep, otherwise it would destroy the surprise. Luckily Harle really was still asleep, so she sneaked into the room again, removed her old clothes and replaced them with the new ones, without Harle noticing.

She took Harle’s old clothes into her room, instead of throwing them away, just in case Harle really didn't like her new ones. It was hard to imagine her choosing her old ones over the new ones, however.

It was late already, but Kidd didn't want to sleep just yet, so she took her figurine out of her backpack she hadn’t bothered to unpack, and tried to finish it with her new colours. After two hours of careful and meticulous word she finished, looking at the piece of wood with great satisfaction. It looked fine enough, and Kidd finally went to sleep.

Both Kidd and Harle slept well until a loud trampling sneaked its way into Harle’s nightmare, causing her to wake up with a start.

Your end is near, Harle. You can't escape from us.”

The sudden voice in her head made Harle cry out in fear. She trembled all over her body, which made her hardly able to move. She looked around frantically, but saw nothing but darkness illuminating her. She stood up and went to the window, but everything seemed perfectly normal, except of the trampling, which seemed to come closer and closer.

"Go away! Leave moi alone!", she cried, but the voice in her head didn't go away that easily. Harle had known it wouldn’t. She had known it would come to this.

Suddenly everything blurred before her eyes and was replaced by illusions of her past. Harle squeezed her eyes shut, but couldn’t block out the images before her.

She heard screams, terrible screams of dying children. She heard them crying, choking, gasping for breath. There was fire all around her and the dead body of Lucca lay right at her feet. Harle stepped back, shaking her head in shock. It couldn’t be. She hadn’t wanted this, she hadn’t. She hadn’t wanted to be the one at fault. Hadn’t wanted to be the one killing them all. When looked aside to avoid the sight of Lucca’s dead body, she saw Lynx staring at her.

Harle wasn't able to move or speak anymore. His eyes were fixated onto hers, looking right through her. It was a familiar feeling. Harle had always suspected that Lynx knew more than he showed. She had always had the feeling that he had known of her betrayal all along. These eyes of him had scared her the most, back then.

When she saw a girl storming into the room, Harle covered her mouth to keep from crying out. Streams of tears ran down her cheeks when Lynx hit the girl with his scythe, causing her to collapse on the ground, blood oozing from her stomach.

"Non! Stop zat! Leave moi alone! Pleaze!" Harle screamed as loud as she was able to. She couldn't bear it anymore. She was going mad. Sinking down to her knees, she clutched her face with her hands, shielding her eyes from seeing any more.

Kidd woke up in shock. She jumped onto her feet and tried to locate the sound she had heard. For a while she heard nothing, but then she heard another scream. Could it be...Harle? Without wasting any time Kidd rushed out of her room and ran down the stairs. She called Harle's name while running along the corridors, but got no answer.

She ran into Harle's room but stopped abruptly when she saw Harle kneeling in front of the window, sobbing and crying. She walked over to her, a lot calmer now that she saw that she was unhurt. She softly placed her right hand onto her shoulder.

"Harle?", she whispered, and Harle stopped crying for a short moment. She looked up, but upon seeing Kidd’s face she started to cry again. Kidd wasn’t sure what to do. She helped Harle stand up and hugged her, trying to calm the smaller girl. Kidd held the naked Harle for a few minutes in her arms, speaking quietly to her while rubbing her back.

"Zey...zey will never go away...zey follow moi...until moi iz dead.", Harle sobbed, her words muffled by Kidd’s shoulder.

Now Kidd could imagine why Harle was crying like this. "It's okay, Harle. Don't be afraid. The dragons won't hurt ya. I won’t let them.", she said firmly, wanting Harle to believe her. She didn’t know how to do that yet, but she would stop them, definitely. She wouldn’t let any one of them past her.

Kidd stroked Harle's hair softly until her crying subsided eventually. Harle still had her head on Kidd's shoulder and looked out of the window.

"Moi heard zeir voices. Zey are trés close. Pleaze, Kidd, don't go away from moi, oui?" It was a selfish request, but one she needed Kidd to affirm. She knew she wasn’t able to face them alone. She felt Kidd’s warm hands on her shoulders.

"I promise I won't ever leave ya alone.", Kidd answered with a moment’s hesitation. She was aware that she was promising a lot. But she was intent on keeping her promises. Harle watched her silently, new tears dreading to leak from her eyes.

"Merci...merci beaucoup." Red eyes met blue ones and both saw in the other's eyes nothing but truth and honesty.

"It's late now. Ya should go ta sleep again.", Kidd said after a while, hugging Harle one more time. She started to turn away from her, but Harle took her hand and pulled her back gently.

"Pleaze, don't go. Moi iz...scared." Harle hesitated saying this, she knew what she was asking for. But she also knew she was going to die if left alone. She would survive no single second more alone in this room. She was in a state way past embarrassment or modesty. She knew she was asking a lot from Kidd. But there was no other way.

A current of thoughts flooded Kidd's mind, as she tried to imagine how Harle felt, while keeping in mind how she herself felt. She knew she didn’t want to leave, but she was also...scared. Scared of even more new feelings, while she had still trouble to deal with the others.

“Okay.”, she tried to say as normally as possible, but her voice was hardly more than a whisper. She didn't look at Harle while saying this, she didn't want her to see her red cheeks.

She watched Harle getting into the bed first, then reluctantly joined her. Lying closely together, Harle was soon asleep, while Kidd found she had more difficulties with falling asleep. Harle was clinging to Kidd's arm and seemed to be very content, even though she was sleeping. Kidd waited as the minutes trickled by, but ultimately decided that she couldn't sleep at all. Her heart was beating so loudly in her chest, she almost feared it would wake Harle. She thought about many things. The dragons, her future, their future and many other things. Kidd hated the dragons, now even more than ever for making Harle cry all the time. Harle...she didn't understand why she had hated her for such a long time.

While sleeping, Harle often started to tremble and Kidd guessed she was having nightmares again. But when she took her hand into hers, stroking her thumb over the back of her hand, it stopped. They lay there like this for the entire night and when the first beam of sunlight reached Kidd's face, she decided to get up and to organize a breakfast for them. She stood up carefully and sneaked out of the room.

Harle woke up soon after. She felt perfectly fine despite what had happened the previous night. She remembered it too well, but the stinging pain was gone, for now. As she regarded the other side of her bed and didn’t find Kidd she grew slightly worried.

Stepping out of the bed she felt a surge of embarrassment upon noticing her bare body. She hadn’t even realized it the night before, but thinking back now at how tightly Kidd had embraced her. Her heartbeats quickened at the thought, bringing a dark red shade onto her cheeks. But she was nevertheless glad that Kidd had been there. It meant a lot to her. Walking away from the bed, she regarded her wounds again. Touching every one of them made her think of the attack of the black dragon, but also of her rescue by Kidd. She would never forget about that.

When Harle looked around she wondered where all her clothes had gone, and when she saw the clothes on the chair she wondered even more. Harle regarded every one of them curiously and decided to put them on, for her old ones were gone anyway. Every piece fit perfectly, as if cut just for her. Harle was beaming all over her face while regarding herself in the mirror when she was interrupted by Kidd, who opened the door holding a tasty breakfast on two plates in her hands. Harle quickly hid behind the door and waited until Kidd reached the other end of the room, placing the plates onto the bed.

Harle shut the door then, having Kidd look at her as she walked towards her with a wide smile on her face. Before Kidd was able to react Harle hugged her so tightly that Kidd found it hard to breathe.

"Merci beaucoup, Kidd!", she said...and kissed her. It was the right decision of Harle to wait until Kidd placed the breakfast on the bed because Kidd would have dropped it onto the floor in shock. Before she could think of what she was doing, Kidd pushed Harle away. "I'm glad ya like it.", Kidd said shortly and walked towards the door. She knew Harle was staring at her.

"Ya should eat somethin', we're goin' ta Viper Manor soon.", Kidd said without looking at her and closed the door behind her

Harle didn't know what to say nor what to do in this situation. She went to her bed and started to eat the breakfast Kidd had brought her. Harle had known what she did when she had kissed Kidd and she had almost expected Kidd to react like this. But that didn't make the pain she felt go away. It only increased it with the knowledge that she should have known better.

Harle was close to tears, but fought against them. She needed to be strong, after all that crying. Strong enough to beat the dragons, strong for Kidd and especially strong for herself. It couldn’t go on like before. She knew she shouldn’t have relied on Kidd so much.

Harle suppressed the tears and decided not to let anyone or anything hurt her like this again.

Kidd ran out of the hotel, not knowing where she wanted to go. She ran past an Element shop and into a bar. Even before sitting down she ordered two drinks, hoping for them to calm her down. The barkeeper looked surprised, seeing a girl all alone in a bar, in the morning no less. Kidd was obviously unhappy with the current situation.

She thought about what she had done to Harle. Deep inside, did she still hate Harle? No. But did she really love her? She didn't know. She hadn’t meant to simply run out on her like that, but she hadn’t known what to do. She couldn’t deal with these things, and she rather kept silent instead of saying something she was going to regret later. She wondered if there had been any way out of this without hurting Harle. Probably not.

Kidd found herself in the worst situation she could have ever thought of, and not knowing what to think, what to say and what to do about that. Kidd hit her fist on the table and threw the already empty glass at the door. The barkeeper almost got a heart attack, but before he could complain, Kidd was away. She was on the way to Viper Manor, she preferred to ask the devas without Harle.

When she arrived, she was quite surprised about how good the Manor looked. It had been fully rebuild and a few improvements had been done as well. Kidd went through the gate without saying a word. It wasn't necessary, for the guards still remembered who she was. Kidd made her way up to master Viper himself, who sat behind his desk as she had expected him to.

"Oi Viper, how's it goin'? I need yer help.", Kidd greeted him, being straight as always. She knew Viper could do without extended greetings and unnecessary words if it was her.

Viper looked up to see where this familiar voice came from. "Well, if it isn't Kidd! I haven't heard much of you lately. What is it you need my help for?", he asked more kindly than Kidd had actually expected him to. He seemed eager to help. Kidd told herself that he was getting old. She hesitated for a moment, not knowing how to explain.

"Well, it's the dragons...they're back. The black dragon and the fire dragon already attacked us, but we killed them. But there are still four left, we need the help of the dragoons to kill them all, or they will kill us.", Kidd explained, mentally kicking herself for finding no better way to explain.

Viper stood up and headed to the door. "Goodness gracious! I'll call the others immediately. Please wait at the front gate.” Kidd nodded gratefully and did what he said.

She waited at the front gate for a few minutes before the devas appeared. Viper, Zoah, Karsh, Marcy and Glenn, the newest member of the devas, stood in front of Kidd, saluting.

"Now Kidd, please explain exactly what you now about the dragons. ", Viper said.

"I dunno a bloody thing! They just showed up and wanted ta kill us!", Kidd said exasperatedly. Karsh stepped forward, indicating he wanted to say something.

"So you’re telling us you don't know where they are now? That's bad. I suggest we split up and search for the five remaining dragons at the same time.", he said, receiving a nod from his comrades.

Kidd stepped forward angrily. "Five? Whaddaya mean by five? There are only four!", she yelled, having a bad feeling of whom Karsh had been referring to.

Karsh raised his arms to conciliate her and stepped back. Now Glenn walked towards Kidd.

"He speaks about Harle. She is the seventh dragon, and the most fearsome, too. Harle is the one behind all of them, and she is the only one who can deceive people. I think we should find her first. Without her, the other dragons will show up soon enough. We all should-"

Before Glenn could finish this sentence, he was interrupted by Kidd's fist, which hit him right into the face and knocked him off his feet.

"Don't ya dare sayin’ things like that ever again! It's not Harle's fault, don't ya understand?", she roared, ready to punch him again should he say no.

Glenn quickly got to his feet again and pulled his sword, pointing it at Kidd. "Are you crazy? What are you thinking? Don't tell me you are on her side!"

Kidd took her dagger, ready to fight all of the devas at once if this was necessary. "Ya bet I am! Ya won't get Harle 'til ya get past me!", she shouted. They didn’t know a thing about Harle, and she wasn’t going to let them past her until they understood.

All of the devas stopped staring at Kidd when they saw who was walking straight towards them.

"Ooh la lah! I think moi causez quite ze trouble here, non?", Harle asked leisurely, casting the devas a provocative look.

"Harle!" Kidd turned around to see Harle right behind her, "Stay away! I'll take care of these buggers!"

Harle shook her head and pushed Kidd aside. "Out of ze way, Kidd. Zat iz none of your buziness!", she snapped and went past her to face Glenn, who still stood there with the Einlanzer in his right hand.

"Alors, monsieur, you want to kill moi? Zen go ahead and try. You can't beat moi so easily.", she said with a smile. She was going to enjoy this battle.

"Hah, I won't lose to a jester! No, wait, you aren’t a jester anymore. Trying to look like a human with these new clothes, eh? It's useless! One look into your eyes tells me you're a dragon, a monster and no human!", he shouted, and Harle was quite surprised to see him this angrily. But then again, if it was anger aimed at herself, nothing surprised her anymore.

Harle's eyes flashed and she took a step forward. "Enough of zat.", she said and took out her card deck, which was like a bell tolling to announce the start of the battle. The Einlanzer was a respectable weapon Harle knew, but it was nothing against her cards, which flew faster than Glenn could see. Before even having even struck once with his sword, Glenn sank to his knees all too soon and dropped his Einlanzer. Harle snorted contemptuously. He hadn’t put up much of a fight. It had been too easy.

"I t'ink zis iz enough. Moi doez not need any help of zese monsieurs! Why, relying on zem might be dangereuse indeed, seeing how weak zey are!", she spat.

Harle made a dismissing move with her hand, turned around and walked away from the dragoon devas and Kidd. Once she was out of sight, Karsh pointed at his giant axe at Kidd.

"You should leave, as well. Don't show up here ever again!", he said sternly. Kidd grumbled, but then turned around and left. It seemed like they had to fight the dragons without the help of the devas. Idiots. She shouldn’t have counted on them for help. After all, they were just little boys playing knights. Useless jerks.

Kidd decided not to worry too much about them. The more important thing was to find Harle now. Where could she have gone? Kidd decided to go to the harbour first. It was as good a place to start as any.

The sun shone onto Kidd's head and she could smell the sea she had left long ago. Many people walked along the harbour, which made it difficult to find Harle, if she even was here. Kidd combed through the crowds and asked people about Harle for more than one hour, but with no success. So Kidd just sat down on the edge of a gangplank, watched the calm sea and let the wind stroke her face. She hoped Harle would be back soon. She still needed to apologize.

Meanwhile, Harle was in a truly bad mood. Why did people always lay their blame onto her? Harle knew they had every reason to hate her, but it still wasn't fair. Harle had told herself she wanted to be strong, but that proved to be difficult. She found it hard to be strong when she had to deal with everyone’s hatred all at once.

While walking past a little tent, which seemed strangely out of place considering the rapid expansion of the city, a voice called out to her. "Hey you! Would you like me to tell you the future?"

Harle sighed. "Oui, d'accord." It wasn’t like she had anything better to do, so she might as well have an old woman tell her she was going to die or something similar.

The old woman walked closer to Harle and looked deep into her eyes. "In your eyes, I perceive...both the look of a beauty and the look of a beast. Be mindful not to bring about your own end. The truth is beginning to reach out to engulf you...wait, didn't I say that to another girl a while ago?", she asked herself while scratching her chin.

"Do you have a twin, my dear?", she asked. She usually didn’t mess up fortunes, but this one seemed just too familiar to be mere coincidence.

"Non, moi haz no twin. Merci pour ze fortune-telling old lady.", Harle answered and walked away from her. A beauty and a beast? Could she know? Harle asked herself what the woman could have meant with this.

Back at the harbour, Kidd really thought about trying to catch a fish. Harle had done it as well, so I couldn’t be that hard. But in fact, Kidd was just bored by simply sitting there without anything to do. Maybe she should try to find Harle again. She couldn’t have simply vanished.

"Hey Kidd! Whatcha doin' here?", a familiar voice called from behind her, and Kidd quickly turned around to see Korcha, smiling widely at her. Kidd stood up and took a few steps backwards when he came closer to her. She already expected the worst.

"What is it, Kidd? Don'tcha wanna say hello to me?", Korcha asked, and would have sounded hurt if it hadn’t been for that impossibly annoying grin.

Kidd made a face, but then extended her hand to him. "Hi Korcha." He took it, and would have smiled even wider, if that had been possible.

"Almost thought I’d never see ya again. Ya could've showed up here earlier! Ya remember the promise ya gave me, don'tcha? Well, I don't care about the dragon tear, but the other thing." Korcha mumbled something Kidd couldn't hear, but she could imagine what he was saying.

"A-about the promise...I...I'm not sure...maybe-", Kidd stuttered, but was cut off.

"C'mon Kidd, say you'll marry me!", he said, stepping closer to her. That was it. Kidd searched for words to decline, but there wasn't any nice way to say it.

"Listen, Korcha...", Kidd started, but stopped when she heard the sound of footsteps behind her. It was Harle. She stopped by Kidd's side and looked at Korcha with a raised eyebrow.

It was now or never. Kidd quickly turned to Harle and placed her hands on her shoulders.

"There you are! Quick, we have ta go, don't ya remember? The ship leaves soon! Sorry Korcha, we meet again!" Kidd said quickly and grabbed Harle's hand, pulling her with her when she started to run. Harle wasn't sure what this all was about, but she followed Kidd.

"Run faster, Harle!", Kidd shouted while running away from Korcha. Harle looked behind her and saw Korcha following them.

"Vite, vite, he followz uz!", she called to Kidd, suddenly not to keen on finding out what this Korcha-thing was about. If someone like Kidd was running from him, he couldn’t be up to any good.

Both of them ran like the wind until they spotted a big ship, which just started to leave the harbour. With a jump they reached it one second before it was too late. They turned to the harbour behind them, which got smaller quickly, panting.

"Heey! Come back Kidd!", Korcha yelled, but Kidd was hardly able to hear it.

"Damn, that was close! One minute later and I would've been his wife! Thanks Harle, ya came just in time.", Kidd said gratefully and both smiled, looking at each other.

"Uhm, Kidd? What kind of ship iz zis, mon ami?", Harle asked after a while.

Chapter 11

Title: Chapter 11 - On the sea

"Bloody hell! That's a Porre ship!", Kidd yelled, but Harle quickly covered her mouth.

"Be quiet, mon ami. We don't want zem to discover uz here.", she said in a hushed whisper, her face worried. They were hiding behind a corner and watched two Porre soldiers walking along the deck.

"What if zey find uz here? Do you t'ink zey would kill uz?" Harle asked as she took her hand off Kidd's mouth.

"Probably, but I don't wanna imagine at all. Maybe we should get us uniforms? We would be much safer with two of them.", Kidd suggested, still cursing over the fact that they had ended up on a Porre ship. As if they didn’t have enough worries already.

Harle thought about uniforms as well, but knew it probably wasn’t going to be easy. "Let'z do zat. Mais...are zere any female soldierz on zis ship? Moi iz too small for a male uniform, mais you could wear one.", she said and Kidd nodded. She watched the two soldiers, thinking about how to deal with them.

"Alright, ya distract the left one and when you're far enough away, just throw him over board. I'll do the same with the right one after I got his uniform, but make sure they're conscious when you do that, we don't want them ta die. Alright?", Kidd asked and saw Harle smiling an evil smile by thinking about throwing the soldiers over board.

"Oui, oui, one of zese Porre soldierz should be no match pour moi." Both waited until the soldiers were far away from each other, then they left their hiding- place and went into the direction their target had taken.

Harle followed the soldier quietly as a cat. "Pardonnez- moi, monsieur, j'ai un question."

The soldier instantly turned around and looked at Harle, not sure what she wanted from him. He started to say something, but Harle quickly interrupted him.

"If someone fell over board, would it be possible zat he reachez Termina?", she asked with as much of an innocent voice as she could muster while trying hard to keep a straight face.

The soldier was surprised at this question, but then he just laughed. "That's almost impossible! You have to be a damn skilled swimmer to manage this!"

Harle smiled mysteriously and came closer to his face. She looked deep into his eyes and got so close that she could feel his breath on her face. Then she whispered into his ear: "And...are you a skilled swimmer?"

A shiver ran down his spine, but before he was able to react, a Gravity Ball element hit him and caused him to fly far over board. When he fell into the water, he was already out of earshot. Harle smiled at her achievement and turned around. She put the keys she'd stolen from the soldier into her pocket and went back to Kidd. The poor man hadn’t noticed a thing.

Harle looked around the corner carefully and saw Kidd putting on the uniform. Kidd gave her the ok- sign and walked towards her.

"Heh! That was easy, wasn’t it? These Porre guys are pretty dumb if ya ask me." Both laughed and Kidd put on the hat of the uniform. She hid her hair beneath the hat and now perfectly looked like a man. The uniform was a bit loose, but that only served to conceal her curves. Harle giggled at the sight and took out the keys she had stolen, handing them to Kidd.

"Ooh la lah, trés bien, your uniform. Take zese keys, I t'ink zey could be helpful." Kidd took them and regarded them curiously.

"Girl, ya should’ve become a thief! Great job, really. But listen, I have a plan on getting yer uniform. Ya see that door over there?", Kidd asked as she pointed on an iron door about ten metres away from them, "I'll go through that door and try ta find a woman. I'll lure her out through this door and give ya a sign. I'm going to keep her mouth shut while ya try ta knock her out as quickly as possible. We'll then take her clothes and hide her somewhere.", she explained, her eyes already searching for a possible hiding-place.

Harle nodded, indicating she agreed with the plan. "D'accord, moi triez to get on ze deck over ze door and hide."

"Alright, let's go." Kidd went towards the door and opened it. Harle did her part and climbed with little effort onto the deck over the door and hid there, waiting for Kidd to come back.

Kidd was quite surprised of how big that ship actually was. There were so many corridors and she didn't know where to go first. She decided to go left this time. The left corridor was a long one, but it had only one door at its end. Kidd heard noises from the inside. Laughter, music and people talking. She went into the room and saw it was a little pub. When Kidd saw the huge crowd of Porre soldiers, she became a little scared, but she tried her best not to show she was afraid, telling herself that the soldiers had no reason to suspect her. She had a uniform after all. She went to the bar and ordered a drink. It would be good against her nervousness.

With a drink in her hand she immediately felt a whole lot better, she felt at least less conspicuous now. She looked like she belonged here.

Kidd looked around, searching for female soldiers. From what she could see, there were only three in there, but two of them had a conversation with a soldier, so Kidd decided to talk to the woman who stood alone at a table nearby. Kidd pulled her hat deeper down to hide a part of her face.

"Oi! Why’s a beautiful woman like you sittin' here all alone?", Kidd asked, trying her best to sound like a young man, which proved to be difficult because her voice was far too high to be considered a man’s, and her efforts to speak in a dark tone just made her feel ridiculous. She half expected the woman opposite her to laugh right into her face. However, she didn't seem to notice at all, instead looking up and smiling thankfully at Kidd. Kidd smiled back and took the hand of the soldier.

"My name’s Alex, nice ta meet ya." Kidd said and kissed her hand, before remembering that she should have watched her speaking. She doubted her accent would make her seem any more like a nice and honourable soldier, but then, she had no idea what this Porre scum was about. She didn’t really want to know either way.

To her surprise the woman didn’t look at her strangely as Kidd had expected she would. In fact, she had a faint blush on her cheeks, and Kidd had to try hard not to grin.

The woman seemed to hesitate for a moment before opening her mouth to speak. "My name is Dana. We haven't met before, have we?", she asked, leaning forward to get a better look at Kidd’s face.

Kidd turned her head away slightly, not comfortable with the woman staring at her like that. She searched for an explanation, but ended up with just saying "No, we haven't."

Dana noticed Kidd looking around nervously. "Let's go on the deck, shall we? It's too loud here to talk."

Kidd was both surprised and relieved at the suggestion, but also pitied her. She probably hadn’t been a soldier for long. No trained soldier could possibly as naive as her. But still, it saved Kidd a lot of trouble of finding a reason to make her go onto the deck. She nodded and took Dana's hand, leading her out of the pub.

"The sky today is really worth a look.", Kidd said but regretted it instantly. It was the most stupid thing she had ever said in her whole life, probably. She just wasn’t cut out for acting. She had an idea that Harle would have been so much better at this. But strangely, Dana seemed to like it and laid her head onto Kidd's shoulder for a moment.

"You know, there aren't many guys here like you. Where do you come from?"

"Err…Porre, of course! Aren't ya from Porre, too?", Kidd asked. Wasn’t it obvious? She could hardly imagine anyone else aside from Porre people to join the Porre army. After all, was there anyone who truly liked Porre, aside from the people who lived there? Kidd was pretty sure there weren’t any.

Dana thought for a moment, not sure whether she should tell or not. "No, I'm from Truce Village. But please, don't tell anyone! Porre people don't like us Truce guys too much."

Kidd wondered what a woman from Truce could want in the Porre military. Kidd often went shopping in Truce, there were really nice people there. The Porre people were the total opposite of that: selfish, arrogant and always showing off with their military. Kidd really hated them, but decided not to say anything about that. No use telling the Porre army personally how much of an annoyance they were. They wouldn’t get it, anyway. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”, she simply said. That woman was really too naïve.

Kidd opened the iron door and led Dana to the railing right next to the door. Harle noticed them and got into position, ready to jump down any second. Harle watched Kidd pointing at a few birds flying by, smiling as she spoke to the female soldier about what seemed like an explanation about birds to Harle.

"You are really nice. Thank you.", Dana said and kissed Kidd on the cheek, who was too taken aback by this to remember giving a sign to Harle.

However, Harle didn’t need such a thing as a sign. She had seen enough. With all her might Harle jumped off the upper deck and onto Dana, hitting her over the head with both of her fists, knocking her down. Harle eyes sparkled and she had trouble holding herself back. She breathed hard, looking at the soldier angrily, her hands still as fists. The soldier didn’t move, and when Kidd recovered from the shock of Harle suddenly attacking, she hoped Harle hadn’t broken her neck accidentally. She stepped closer and regarded Dana.

"Dammit, Harle! Was that absolutely necessary? Ya knocked her out for the whole week I guess! Save yer power for the dragons.", Kidd said, try to sound serious, but bursting into giggles when she regarded Harle's jealous face, who tried to look as if she had done it out of mere self-defence.

The uniform fit Harle perfectly, but she didn't feel comfortable wearing it. Kidd decided to hide Dana behind two rows of wooden barrels, standing at the far end of the ship. Harle of course wanted to throw her over board like the two men before, but the way back to Termina was too long by now and unconscious as Dana was, she would drown instantly.

"Now let's find out where this ship is heading ta. Shouldn’t be a problem with our uniforms.", Kidd said. Harle thought the same and they went through the same door inside the ship again.

"Where to, mon ami?", Harle asked when they reached the point where the corridor split into three. "Left is the pub. I dunno what awaits us in the other directions, but…", Kidd walked a few metres along the right corridor, "this looks like the cabin section. Nowhere else on a ship are so many doors, so goin' straight ahead will probably lead us ta the stairs."

After that explanation, Harle chose to go straight ahead and walked past Kidd, indicating Kidd should follow her. Kidd did and soon they reached the stairs, as predicted. They walked upwards, hoping to find the cabin of the captain there.

"That's a bloody big ship! Not like this nutshell Korcha lent us on our journey. Whaddaya think, how many Porre soldiers are there on this ship?", Kidd asked while walking up the stairs.

"Maybe deux hundreds? Zis sure iz a grande ship.", Harle estimated.

"Yeah, think that, too. There should be at least two hundreds of them here! Guess we have ta watch our back, eh? Don't wanna mess with them.", Kidd joked, trying to ignore the uncomfortable feeling that crawled up her back. Harle just nodded quietly.

There was only one direction on the next floor. They followed it and soon reached a big wooden door with golden ornaments on it.

"Do you really want to go in zere, Kidd?", Harle asked worriedly. She began to think that this was a really bad idea. Kidd knocked at the door three times. "Don't worry Harle, it'll be fine.", she said self- confidently, but when she heard the loud and angry voice from inside the room, she changed her mind.

Anyway, it was too late now, so they went in, but only three minutes later they were transported out by ten soldiers and down the stairs to a little cell on the lowest floor. They hadn’t had much time to defend themselves.

It was pretty dark down there, Kidd could hardly see the hand before her eyes. The soldiers threw them both into the cell, took their uniforms and keys and then left.

"Don't worry Harle, it'll be fine.", Harle imitated Kidd after checking the cell for any possible escape methods. Kidd tried to open the lock with her dagger, looking obviously annoyed.

"Dammit, Harle! At least we know this ship's headed ta Porre. Heh, these buggers really were stupid ta tell us that! This lock's child's play. Don’t ya worry, we're outta here in no time!", Kidd said enthusiastically, a sentiment Harle found hard to share. She made a face and sat down in the corner of their cell. It was dark and cold and Harle had the uncomfortable suspicion that they wouldn't reach Porre alive.

"It waz a bad idea to go to ze captain. Moi knew he would dizcover we are no soldierz. Now our uniforms are gone, ze stolen keys are gone and we are locked inside zis cell. Mon dieu!"

Kidd didn't really listen to her and concentrated on the lock. After several tries she kicked against it, but still nothing moved. "Dammit, I guess I have ta take this one!" Kidd took out her Inferno element, attempting to cast it.

"Non! Do you want to kill uz? Ze place here iz too small for such un element!", Harle shouted. Kidd stopped and looked at Harle angrily. "Do ya have any better idea, girl?"

Harle stood up and walked to the lock, regarding the size of the keyhole. "Oui, moi haz un plan. Give moi un Fireball element." Kidd gave it to her, not knowing what Harle was going to do with it.

"You need more power, that element is far too weak to destroy the door.", Kidd told her, but Harle giggled and put the Fireball element into the keyhole. Luckily it was small enough to fit into the hole. Harle went to the other end of the room, covering her eyes. "Now throw ze dagger at zis element, I hope it'z not too loud." Kidd went a few steps back to where Harle stood and aimed at the keyhole. She threw the dagger and hit right into the middle of the element, causing a small explosion which destroyed the lock from the inside. It wasn’t particularly loud, but all that was left of the locking mechanism was a puff of smoke.

"Great, Harle!", Kidd shouted and gave her the victory sign, but Harle laid her finger on Kidd's mouth, telling her to be quiet.

"Ssh, not so loud, zey will hear uz. Let'z get out of here, mon ami." Harle opened the door as quietly as possible and both went outside. The exit was a little hard to find on that maze- like deck, but after ending up at countless dead- ends, where only barrels and boxes stood, they found the stairs and went up carefully, trying not to make any noise at all. It was still dark on the higher floors, which was their chance to search for a good hiding place. A place from where they could escape as soon as the ship reached Porre.

The two of them sneaked along the dark corridors, hoping not to wake anyone. Harle could see well when it was dark, but Kidd encountered quite some problems concerning the walls every time they reached a corner. Both tried to hurry, they didn't want to wait until dawn.

When they finally reached the way which leaded to the pub, they tried to be even more quiet, because they heard a few voices from inside the pub. They opened the big iron door, wincing as it squeaked as though not having been oiled in forty years.

Harle and Kidd ran out onto the deck, searching for a good place to hide. Their steps on the deck were loud, which made them search a little faster.

"We found you, Harle. You tried to escape, but we will always find you, no matter where you go."

With eyes wide open Harle turned around immediately. She looked around, but nobody was there. She pressed her hands onto her ears, but the voice only laughed. "Go away! Why do you follow moi all ze time!", Harle shouted, trembling all over her body. Kidd turned to Harle angrily. "Will ya stop yellin', Harle? Ya wake up everybody! What in-", Kidd stopped when she saw Harle and ran over to her.

"Harle, what is it? The dragons again?", she asked worriedly. Harle nodded hardly noticeably and took her hands from her ears. "

Watch out. Ze water dragon will come soon. Moi feelz it." Kidd turned around and ran to the rail, looking out onto the ocean in search for the water dragon god. She couldn’t see him.

"He's not there. Quick, let's hide, it's almost dawn." Kidd grabbed Harle’s arm and pulled her along the deck, heading to the back of the ship, where they had hidden the unconscious Dana one day ago.

"Stop at once!" The angry voice sounded familiar to Kidd. Harle and Kidd stopped and turned to the person standing behind them. It was Dana, in a new uniform and with six soldiers standing behind her, aiming their shotguns at Harle and Kidd.

"Oh...Dana, hi there.", Kidd said and tried to smile a bit, which wasn't exactly easy with six shotguns pointed at her. Dana looked puzzled and told the other soldiers to put down their guns, then came closer to Kidd.

"Have we met before?", she asked gently. Kidd nodded and tried to sound like a man again.

"Yeah, we have, but I…looked a bit different." Dana went a few steps back, regarding Kidd's face intensely.

"No, that can't be! You are…", Dana gasped when she realized Kidd was 'Alex'. Kidd smiled and nodded again.

Dana's cheeks became red, so she turned around. "What should we do with these stowaways?", one of the soldiers asked. Dana hesitated, but then said: "Deal with them and take them back to the cell. But this time, make sure they don't get out that again!"

The soldiers put their guns up and drew a circle around Kidd and Harle. "Out of ze way!", Harle shouted and threw six cards in rapid succession, each one hitting the hands of the soldiers, who winced and lost their grips on the shotguns, which fell to the ground collectively. Kidd ran past Harle and knocked out two of the more dangerous-looking soldiers who stood in their way. Harle followed Kidd and both ran to the front of the ship, but they had to realize that they wouldn't get out of that without a fight.

The soldiers had quickly taken their guns again and followed them. Dana went to the front as well, telling the soldiers to stay behind her.

"Please, don't cause so much trouble.", Dana said, but Kidd only laughed and took her dagger.

"No way we give up now!", she shouted, looking straight at Dana. Kidd wondered yet again how she had gotten herself into this. There seemed no end to those things, recently.

Kidd was just about to yell at the soldiers when they stepped backwards all of a sudden, without having to be prompted by Kidd. They hesitated, but then dropped their guns and ran away. Kidd laughed even more now.

"Scared, eh?", she asked with big grin. But the grin faded when she saw that Harle and Dana wore the same look as the soldiers did.

"Ze…dragon…iz here.", Harle stuttered, pointing on something behind Kidd. There was a giant tidal wave moving towards the ship with great speed.

Chapter 12

Title: Chapter 12 - Together

Kidd wanted to run away, but Harle took her hand and laid it onto the railing.

“Hold tight!”, she shouted to Kidd. Harle did the same and both waited for the wave to hit the ship. Harle took Kidd’s other hand and smiled at Kidd, and Kidd smiled in return.

The wave hit the ship hard, making it sway and almost capsize. The whole deck was flooded with water and Harle slipped, but Kidd held her and Harle managed to stand up again. Eventually, the water went back and Harle and Kidd could see the one causing all this: The Water Dragon God.

“So there ya are, bastard!”, Kidd yelled, letting go of the railing. Harle did the same and checked her elements. Except of one Inferno element, she had only black elements equipped. She would have to put it to good use.

Harle took Kidd’s hand again and pulled her closer. “Mon elementz and cards are not trés helpful, so moi will diztract him. Use your strongest elementz on him, mon ami.” Kidd nodded and both went into different directions. Harle went to the front of the dragon, Kidd to the back.

“Alors, why do you follow moi all ze time? Do you want to die az well? Oui? Moi doezn’t know where you come from, mais we won’t let you kill uz!” Kidd could hear Harle’s strength in her voice and marvelled at the change in her. She looked ready to punch the dragon’s lights out, for good.

“Say yer prayers, cuz it’s time ta die!”, Kidd shouted fiercely and ran towards the dragon, Harle did the same. Both jumped up, but Harle was the first to attack the dragon. She threw half of her cards at once. She knew it wouldn’t hurt him, but it confused the dragon and made him unable to see anything for a short time.

This time was just enough to let Kidd land on the dragon’s back and ram her dagger with all her might into it. The dragon roared and writhed with pain. Harle landed on the deck again and took a few steps backwards. Kidd ran from the dragon’s back to his head and jumped off it. While she was in the air, the dragon tried to hit her with is paw, but was interrupted by Harle’s Inferno element.

The dragon looked a bit helpless, the two of them were definitely too fast for him. He had to think of a plan quickly. He went slowly backwards until he felt the railing at his feet. Now Harle and Kidd couldn’t attack from both sides anymore, but they looked through this immediately.

Both went towards him slowly, Kidd from the right and Harle from the left. Harle glanced over to Kidd and gave her a short sign that she would attack first.

So they used the same trick they had used before and hoped it would work again. Both ran towards the dragon and jumped. Just like before, Harle did the first attack with her cards, but this time, the dragon expected that and hit her with his paw, smashing her against the iron door.

Kidd’s eyes followed her, and as she saw her lying on the ground motionlessly, she could hardly suppress the fury she felt. She was worried about Harle, but she knew now was the last chance to hit him hard. As she had hoped, the dragon was distracted and didn’t notice Kidd casting her mighty Volcano element. By the time he did it was already too late. The element hit him and instantly killed him. The Dragon God sank to the ground and vanished. Kidd watched him disappear with deep satisfaction.

In the meantime, Harle had managed to stand up again and now walked to Kidd’s side.

“That was the third. Ya okay, Harle?”, Kidd asked, still regarding the place where the dragon had laid a few seconds ago.

“Oui, do not worry, moi...iz...fine...”, Harle aid, but could hardly finish the sentence before she collapsed and fell into Kidd’s arms. Kidd almost got a shock, but when she realized Harle was only sleeping, she sighed in relief. She looked for scratches and wounds on Harle’s body, but surprisingly couldn’t find any, so she guessed it was okay if she let her sleep for a while.

She took the sleeping Harle and turned to the door, quite surprised that Dana stood in her way, holding her gun, but not aiming at Kidd.

“Why do ya stand in my way? Ya better show me a room where she can rest!”, Kidd snapped at her. Dana nodded quickly and led Kidd inside, showing her a quiet room where Harle could rest. Kidd walked inside and placed Harle onto the bed carefully. She took the blanket and pulled it gently over her.

Dana watched them for a while, but then decided not to bother them anymore. She closed the door quietly and was surprised that the soldiers, who had run away from the dragon, now stood in front of her again.

“What should we do with them?”, the tallest of the soldiers asked Dana, trying to look cool and brave, as if nothing had ever happened.

“They’re tired now. They are surely no match for us in this condition! We could take them back to the cell.”, another soldier suggested, and Dana struck him across the face.

“Damn cowards! They saved our life! Don’t you dare to bother them. They’re our guests now!”, Dana yelled and walked away from them. The soldiers watched her with a puzzled look, but then just walked to the pub.

Harle slept through the whole day and Kidd looked after her all that time. Harle’s skin had a thin layer of sweat on it and Kidd hoped Harle hadn’t caught influenza or something worse.

But aside from the sweat, there were no changes at all. She didn’t move even by just a bit, just breathing in and out. It was already dark when Kidd told herself that there was no use watching her constantly, and went out onto the deck. It wasn’t cold and the sea was very calm. She went to the railing and watched the night sky, wondering when the ship would reach Porre.

The dragons...Kidd had a bad feeling about them. The Water Dragon had almost been too easy to beat, what were they plotting? On one hand, Kidd hoped this all would be over soon and she won’t have to fear the dragons anymore, but on the other hand...the time with Harle was great, they were such a good team. Kidd could hardly imagine being alone again, wandering the world all by herself, with no one by her side. So many things had happened by now and Kidd was still a bit irritated about their new circumstances. She really didn’t know what she wanted, but which seventeen year-old girl did? Kidd just hoped things would clear up soon.

Kidd was so deep in thought, she didn’t hear Harle behind her. Harle hesitated, thinking about whether to speak to her or not. She ended up saying nothing and walking to the railing. When Kidd finally noticed her, she was surprised, thinking of what she could say to her. She didn’t think she had ever thought so much about what to talk about with any other person. But she hadn’t really cared for anyone in the same way before.

“Did ya sleep well, Harle?”, was all she managed to say without looking at Harle.

“Oui... Merci beaucoup, Kidd.”, Harle said.

“Thanks for what?”, Kidd asked.

“Pour helping moi all ze time since we met à Cape Howl again, mon ami.”, Harle answered, smiling.

“That was nothin’. Ya help me so much as well, I don’t know what I’d do without ya.” Kidd found it hard to say such things, but she really meant it.

“Zen moi...”, Harle wanted to answer, but she stopped when she saw a shooting star cross the sky above them.

“Quick, wish for somethin’!”, Kidd said, pointing on the shooting star.

“Pourquoi...?”, Harle asked, puzzled.

“Just do it! Think of somethin’ ya wanna have.”, Kidd said, smiling widely.

“ will try.” Harle closed her eyes for a few seconds and when she opened them again, the shooting star was already gone. “Why did moi have to wish?”, she asked Kidd.

“Don’t ya know that? When people see a shootin’ star, they wish for somethin’ and hope it will come true. But they have ta keep it a secret, otherwise the wish won’t come true. I dunno if it really works, but let’s hope it will.”, Kidd explained.

“Moi didn’t know zere waz somet’ing like zat, mais it soundz trés nice.”, Harle answered.

Both looked at each other, hoping their wishes would come true. Although both of them were curious of what the other’s wish was about, they didn’t ask. They just looked at each other and shared that special moment. Harle wanted to do so many things at that moment, talk to her, hug her...but thinking of the last time she had done what she wanted stopped her. Harle didn’t want to get hurt again.

As if Kidd could read Harle’s mind she took her hand and hugged her tightly before kissing her on the cheek. Harle gladly accepted her embrace, enjoying the soft smell of Kidd’s hair.

“I’m goin’ ta bed. Good night.”, Kidd whispered into Harle’s ear and let go of her hand.

“Bon nuit, Kidd.”, Harle called after her as she left. She was a little disappointed that Kidd had left so soon, but didn’t let it bother her. She needed a little time to herself, anyway. She had a lot to think about. Once Kidd was out of sight, Harle took a big breath. Her right hand, which Kidd had touched shortly before, trembled as if screaming for more. Her whole body did, and she found she could hardly suppress that feeling. She knew she didn’t want to.

She loved Kidd...didn’t she? Harle knew they were two persons who couldn’t possibly be any more different, but why did she have these feelings then? These weren’t the same feelings she had harboured for Serge. Serge...she saw him in an entirely different light now. On their journey he had been everything, but now he meant nothing to her. A friend maybe, but perhaps even less. Harle had stopped to think of him shortly after she had met Kidd. But she was glad for him. She guessed it was the best for him to marry his childhood friend Leena.

She had probably never really loved him at all. Harle had never thought she could get over him so quickly, but everything was different now.

“Did you rest a bit?”, a gentle voice asked from behind. Harle turned around and looked at Dana, who stood behind her in ordinary clothes, without uniform and gun.

“Oui.”, Harle answered shortly. Remembering she knocked her out rather brutally, Harle didn’t really want to talk to her.

“I know you don’t like me. Both of you don’t seem to like any soldiers at all, but...well, I just came here to thank you for rescuing us from this terrible beast. To be honest, I don’t think my men would have been strong and brave enough to deal with it like you did today.”, Dana said, embarrassed she had to talk about her men like that. But it was the plain truth.

“We juzt saved our own life, not yourz. Ze dragon waz after uz.”, Harle explained, slightly annoyed. She wanted this conversation over soon. She didn’t know why she disliked talking to strangers so much. She would have to change that, eventually.

“After you? That sounds strange. I hope you aren’t in too much trouble.”, Dana looked into Harle’s annoyed face, “Well, I don’t want to bother you any more, good night.”, she quickly added and to Harle’s surprise even saluted before going inside the ship again.

Harle found herself alone again, gratefully so.

“Now Harle, what are you going to do?”, she asked herself, after a while. There wasn’t much to see after all, so she decided to go inside as well. Except of a few noises from inside the pub, the ship was quiet. Almost too quiet for Harle. She went back to her room, in which Kidd was already fast asleep. Harle didn’t turn the light on, she didn’t want to wake her. She went slowly past Kidd’s bed and went into hers.

It was cold and Harle wished she could sleep in Kidd’s bed. At her side..., but that was impossible, wasn’t it? She quickly shook her head. She shouldn’t have those thoughts, but they always sneaked into her mind, without her noticing before it was too late. Harle didn’t this feeling of longing and emptiness that welled up inside her every time her thoughts wandered to Kidd. She didn’t like the thought that it was completely impossible to ever stop this longing.

They had to talk, even though Harle knew it was hopeless. There was no way Kidd thought about her in the same way, and Harle herself didn’t know where hers had come from. It had all happened so suddenly, and so strongly as if she had never really loved anyone before. She couldn’t do anything to stop it.

Harle had wanted to talk to Kidd ever since she had run away from her in Termina, but there hadn’t been a good time or place to discuss something like this. And also, Harle she wouldn’t be able to bear the pain of being hurt again. She also knew running away was no solution, but another disappointment would surely break her heart. Just why did she have to get into those situations all the time? Why couldn’t Kidd do the first step? Why didn’t she do anything at all? With these thoughts on her mind, she fell asleep.

Harle didn’t sleep well at all. She had nightmares again. They kept on haunting her, to that place where Harle couldn’t escape them on her own. She was sweating and crying, and Kidd soon woke up. Looking over to Harle she immediately knew what was wrong.

If Kidd knew any way to make these nightmares go away, she would do it, give anything for that. But she didn’t. She feared that only killing the dragons one by one would banish the nightmares from Harle’s mind. Harle would have to bear them for a little longer.

However, when Harle’s crying got louder, Kidd stood up and walked over to her, sadly regarding her sweaty face. Harle was mumbling in her sleep, but Kidd couldn’t understand it too well. It sounded like ‘Kidd’ and ‘pleaze’, but maybe it was just Kidd’s imagination.

Kidd remembered how much it had helped Harle to take her hand, the last time Harle had suffered from nightmares, so she took her hand again, pressing it gently. With her other hand she stroked Harle’s cheek, carefully stroking the loose and already tear-soaked strands back behind her ears. As if feeling Kidd’s touch within her dreams, Harle sighed, and her mumbling quieted down. Kidd stroked Harle’s face and hand for a few minutes more, then went back to her bed. Harle was silent for the rest of the night, the dreams having been chased away.

Kidd was the first waking up in the morning, so she used the time to take a shower. She was already excited about seeing her beloved Guardia again, but knew she had to concentrate on different things until they reached the safe haven of the castle. Only three dragons couldn’t be so hard, could it?

Kidd still wondered why they wanted to kill Harle that badly. Didn’t they realize they didn’t stand a chance? Or did they have different reasons? Kidd couldn’t tell, but suspected that Harle knew more than she admitted. They had to talk about that, but somehow it had become hard to talk to Harle lately. They almost acted like strangers sometimes, although they had been so close shortly before. It was as if they drew apart as quickly as they had gotten closer. Kidd didn’t like the thought.

Kidd had just finished her shower when someone knocked at the door. Kidd hastily put her clothes on and opened the door, mumbling to herself. They didn’t need to make such a racket when some people were still asleep. But she nevertheless put on a friendly face as she opened the door.

In front of her stood two soldiers, holding a big plate with a giant breakfast. “Good morning, you two!”, one of the soldiers said loudly, but was quiet after Kidd gave him a sign to. “Oh, I see. Well, here’s your breakfast, I hope you like it.”

Kidd smiled all over her face by looking at this fabulous breakfast. “Ya bet we will, thanks!” The soldiers smiled as well and gave the plate to her. “I hope the captain doesn’t know that.”, the other soldier said worriedly. “Well, if we all keep our mouths shut, I guess it’s okay.”, the soldier answered, blinking at Kidd. “Oh yes, before I forget, the ship reaches Porre today evening.” They saluted and left.

Harle didn’t notice all that, but Kidd woke her up with a soft kiss on the cheek. Harle slowly opened her eyes, blinking a few times to see clearly. Harle’s heartbeat immediately accelerated as she saw Kidd’s face hovering so close above her.

“Good morning, Harle.”, Kidd whispered and smiled, pointing to the plate beside her. Harle rubbed her eyes and looked at the breakfast plate. “Bon matin, mon ami. Where iz zis from?”, she asked curiously, inspecting the unexpectedly big breakfast.

“The soldiers brought it. Bloody nice people, those soldiers.”, Kidd explained. Harle took a cup of tea and Kidd started to eat.

“We’re reachin’ Porre today, ya know. The soldiers told me.”, Kidd mentioned casually.

“So soon? What will we do zen, mon ami?”, Harle asked, knowing that she wasn’t the only one to decide where to go.

“Thought we go ta Guardia Castle. The people there will help us defeat the dragons. Just hope the dragons won’t get us earlier. Umm...tell me Harle, do ya really dunno why they’re followin’ ya? There has ta be more ta it.”, Kidd asked thoughtfully, being careful not to sound accusing.

“Non pardon, moi doezn’t know. Mais we will find out when we meet ze sky dragon god, moi hopez.”, Harle answered, feeling a shiver running down her spine at the mere thought of him. If they ever survived his wrath, they would surely get answers.

“My arse, those bloody dragons! Can’t they just leave us in peace? I don’t wanna fight anymore!”, Kidd shouted, but it sounded more like wailing.

“You don’t have to fight if you don’t want to, mon ami. Ze dragonz are juzt after moi.”, Harle said with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“Silly! That’s not what I meant! Just count on me! Together we’ll get the dragons! It’s’s so damn hard. Ya got hurt again, but the Sky Dragon God won’t be easier to beat than the last dragon. I’m just afraid that...we’re going to lose...something or someone important. I don’t want this ta happen.” Kidd still didn’t dare to take the dragons too lightly. Maybe this all was a trap? But even if that was the case, did they have any other choice than killing the dragons? They didn’t. That was why it was so dangerous.

“Let’z juzt believe we’ll win. I do believe zere iz a new life ahead of uz.”, Harle said thoughtfully.

“Our new life’s already begun.”, Kidd answered smiling, pushing the thoughts of the dragons to the back of her mind.

They finished breakfast and Harle went into the bath to take a shower. While waiting for her to finish, Kidd made the beds and tidied up a bit. It was then, that she noticed her backpack was missing. She hadn’t needed anything from it until now, so she hadn’t noticed earlier. Kidd cursed herself. She had probably left it in the hotel of Termina. It was probably lying on the bed of her room still. Kidd told herself to work on that rash behaviour of hers.

“Dammit!”, Kidd shouted and kicked against the bed. Her figurine, the Heal and Cure elements, her warm clothes and her money had been left in Termina. With the exception that her money hadn’t consisted of more than a few G.

“Damn, but I think it should work as a payment.”, Kidd said to herself. She grinned as she remembered that they had just run away without paying at all. Another town on Kidd’s favourite list, where she shouldn’t return too soon. Not that she cared.

Harle quickly finished and dressed herself, before they went out onto the deck. It was already a lot warmer than a few days ago and Harle went to the very front of the ship, spread her arms wide out and let the wind stroke her hair. It was a nice feeling.

“What a wonderful weather! Thiz iz going to be a great day. Not even ze dragonz will be able to take zat from uz, mon ami.”, Harle said, smiling even brighter than the sun in front of her. She hadn’t been this happy for a long time.

Kidd walked towards her, laying her arms loosely around Harle’s waist while looking over her shoulder.

“You’re right, Harle.”, she said softly and both smiled. Harle dared to lean back into Kidd, letting her hold her. Her heart ached, but her body was satisfied. They enjoyed the silence for a minute or two, until they were disturbed by Dana.

“Slept well, my dears?”, Dana asked kindly. Kidd quickly let go of Harle and turned around.

“Yeah…err... thanks a lot for the room! It was better than the cell, ha ha.” Kidd noticed she was talking nonsense again.

“Oui, merci beaucoup for zis belle room. Iz zere any way we can make it up to you?” Harle tried to be as kind as possible, even though she hardly felt like being kind after having been disturbed by this impossible woman.

“Hmm, now that you said it, there is something. We’re a little low on personal lately and there are a few problems with the spare drive. We don’t want to run into problems if the current drive breaks, so if any of you is familiar with machines, you could try your luck down in the machine room.”, Dana said, looking at them apologetically.

“Piece of cake. Gimme a few tools and I’ll repair it in no time!”, Kidd answered, almost happy to get something to do.

“What about moi? Anyt’ing to do pour moi?”, Harle asked a little shyly. She knew there wasn’t exactly much she could do, but with Kidd gone either way, she could at least try to make herself useful.

Dana thought for a moment. “Well, if you don’t mind, could you help the cook a little? His partner’s ill, so he has to cook all by himself. It would be very nice if you could help him in the kitchen.”, Dana explained, but with a look on her watch she said, “Oh, I must hurry. We’ll meet again this evening, right? Don’t you dare leaving that ship without saying goodbye!” Dana laughed heartily and left. Harle raised her eyebrow at Dana’s strange behaviour. She treated them like friends, even though they hardly knew each other. But Harle guessed some people just were like that. Either that or she liked Kidd, after all. Which was an unpleasant thought Harle quickly tried to forget.

“So, I guess it’s time ta work, eh?”, Kidd asked, grinning.

“Oui, it waz nice of zem to take uz to Porre, so it’z juzt fair zat we help zem az well.”, Harle answered and both made their way to work.

Kidd went down to the lowest deck, where the machine room was. There was only one person down there, controlling the current drive.

“Hi there, mate! I’m here ta repair the spare drive, so gimme a few tools, I don’t wanna waste too much time here.”, Kidd said, as straight-forward as ever. The man controlling the drive was obviously surprised, but gave her the tools without questioning. Kidd went over to the spare drive and regarded it curiously.

“My arse, how old is this thing? Ya sure I have ta repair this?”, Kidd asked with a puzzled look, pointing at the machine.

The man laughed at Kidd’s expression. “Yes, this is the broken spare drive. I know it’s old, but could you at least try? Unfortunately we don’t have the money to afford a newer one.”

Kidd nodded, taking the screw-driver into her right hand. “Of course I can repair it, that’s child’s play ta me.”, Kidd said, loosening the first few screws, “So the Porre military runs outta money, eh? What did ya guys want in Termina then? Asking for money?”

“No, the captain just had a talk with the mayor of Termina. Nothing special. This was probably the last time we visited Termina. The captain said we’ll have to concentrate more on Guardia. I just hope Guardia castle doesn’t plan on starting a war.”, the man explained with a hint of worry.

“Ha! Guardia castle would never start a war! If I remember correctly, ya Porre guys did all the time! If ya don’t attack, Guardia won’t attack either!”, Kidd said louder than intended, angry that the man even dared saying such things about Guardia. He obviously didn’t know a thing.

“I hope you’re right, girl. But...things have changed. I know we Porre people haven’t been exactly nice, but we have a new leader now. We’re trying try to make up for the things we’ve done. Because of that we left Termina, so it’s a free town again. I just hope Guardia castle sees that we’ve changed. If they’d attack us in this condition, we’re lost.”

“I see.”, Kidd took a few parts off the drive, “I’ll have a talk with Marle. Not that ya guys deserve this, but I’m bloody sure she’ll understand and talk to the king.”

“ know queen Marle?”, the man asked, surprised. “Now that’s something! It would be really nice if you could talk to her.”

“Sure, ain’t no problem.”, Kidd responded absent-mindedly, concentrating on the old machine in front of her. It took Kidd more time to repair the drive than she had originally thought, but she was positive about fixing it before the ship reached Porre. And before the other drive broke.

While doing that, Harle was still looking for the kitchen. This ship was just too large for her liking. Her orientation wasn’t the best and she always ended up at dead- ends, where only cabins or storerooms were. She didn’t want to look like a helpless little girl, so she decided not to ask anyone for the way. It was already hard enough being mistaken for a girl of fifteen or sixteen. She hoped that, with her new clothes, she looked older than before.

After almost half an hour of searching, she finally found the kitchen. She didn’t bother to knock at the door, so she went straight in.

The kitchen wasn’t exactly large despite the enormous size of the ship, but it seemed to be used by two people anyway, one of whom was missing at the moment. Harle wondered how two people alone could manage to make enough food for the entire crew.

She walked through the kitchen to stand behind the chef, who looked very busy running from one side to the other, juggling three pans at one.

“Pardonnez- moi, monsieur, moi iz here to help you.”, Harle said, a little wary of the obviously busy but skilled cook. She wondered if she could offer any help at all.

The cook immediately turned around and Harle as she caught sight of his bewildered face, she just hoped he wouldn’t smash her to bits.

“What is it, I’m busy! This ain’t no place for little girls like you!”, the cook said loudly, already turning back around to tend to the various pans and pots on the stove.

Harle took a few steps backwards, thinking hard. She had heard that voice before.

“Are you...Orcha?”, she finally asked.

“Yeah, so what? Look, I’m busy and-”, he didn’t finish this sentence, for Harle stepped right beside him, favouring him with a knowing grin.

“Don’t you remember moi?”, she asked. The cook scratched his head, thinking. “Gimme a sec, girl. I remember your face...could you be...Harle?”

Harle nodded quickly, smiling even wider now. It was a strange feeling that, even though they had hardly ever talked before, and Harle wore different clothes without face-paint now, he still recognized her.

“Ha, that’s something, meeting you in a place like this! But I must say I hardly recognize you, you’ve changed a lot. What are you doing here?”, Orcha asked curiously, now all ears.

“Moi iz travelling wit’ Kidd. We are going to Guardia. And what are you doing here, mon ami?”

“So, you’re travelling with Kidd. Ha, I can’t believe it! If someone had told me that a few months ago, I would have laughed at him. But I guess you have your reasons, I just hope the world’s not in trouble again? My, the time passes...I have to work. It’s not easy to be the only responsible cook here, but the Porre guys have changed into real nice guys and I always wanted to see the world. So I ended up here...with only two hours left for the cooking! So now that you’re here, you could as well lend me a hand, I guess.”, Orcha said, and even though he was complaining, Harle could see he loved his work.

“Mais oui!”, Harle said quickly and went to the other side of the table to chop the cabbage.

“You know, you really seem to enjoy yourself. A while ago, you always seemed worried about so many things, but now you’re looking really happy. Having a good time?”, Orcha asked, while spicing the meat.

“Oui, you could say zat. It iz fun travelling wit’ Kidd, only ze dragonz are getting in our way, but we can deal wit’ zem.”, Harle told Orcha, but her smile didn’t fade as she mentioned the dragons. She was sure they could win, if they only tried hard enough.

“The dragons, huh? If you’re in trouble, you can always count on me, you know.”, the chef offered.

“Merci beaucoup, mon ami. I wished everyone would be az kind az you are.”, Harle said, thinking back to the devas.

They ended up making a really good team preparing the meal, and they finished it just in time.

“Whew, that was tough! Thanks for lending a hand, you really helped me out here.”, Orcha said, extending his hand towards Harle. “You’re leaving this ship today, right? So I guess this is the goodbye. I can do the rest alone, go and enjoy your last hours on this ship.”

“Merci, Orcha. It waz bon to talk to someone like you, mon ami. Au revoir et bon appetite!”, Harle said, giggling. They shook hands and Harle left the kitchen.

She went to the front of the deck again, hoping to see Porre already, but it was still too early. So she simply stood there, watching the waves and the first birds. She wondered what Kidd was doing at that moment. Was she able to repair it?

Down in the machine room, Kidd had similar doubts. “Bloody hell, what a crappy machine! This took an eternity! I tell ya, if this thing EVER breaks again, buy a new one, no matter what. This thing can’t be helped one single more time!”, Kidd cursed, angry about wasting her time on such an old machine.

“Does...does it work again?”, the soldier asked, a bit scared of Kidd’s fury.

“! I mean...crap. Wait a sec and ya...”, Kidd stuttered, but then kicked with all her might against the drive. The drive made a noise which almost sounded like a cough, but then started working like all broken and stubborn machines would have done after this kick. Kidd had known that Lucca’s special technique would work without fail.

“Ha! Call me Kidd the great! My job’s done here, I’ll go. Bye.”, Kidd said self- confidently and quickly left, in case the old machine gave out again.

“Goodbye, and thanks a lot!”, the soldier called after her.

Kidd wanted to go immediately back to the deck, but after one look at herself she decided to take a shower first. She really didn’t want to look like that in front of Harle. So she went to their room to take a shower first. She hurriedly cleaned herself and went to the deck to meet Harle, who she was sure was waiting there for her. And as Kidd opened the iron door which led to the deck, Harle was indeed still there at the front, waiting for Porre to be seen.

“Still no land in sight?”, Kidd asked and Harle turned around.

“Non, mais it won’t take much longer...look over there!”, Harle said and smiled, then pointed on a flying bird above them. Kidd hadn’t seen one like that before.

“Yes, you’re right.”, Kidd said and stood beside Harle.

It was very quiet on the deck, for almost every soldier was inside, eating. Kidd sighed. It was the same as always. It was quiet and peaceful and finally they were alone, but Kidd didn’t know what to say. Running out of words as always when she wanted to talk to Harle.

So she just stood there and said nothing for a while, Harle keeping silent as well. But after a few minutes of silence, Kidd couldn’t stand it anymore.

“What...what are ya thinkin’, Harle?”, she asked, again cursing herself for not being able to come up with better words.

“Hmm? Moi? Why do you ask, mon ami?”, Harle asked surprised.

“Well...I’m...I’m just interested. Many things happened, and...I dunno...I’m just curious. Sometimes I get the feelin’ ya don’t wanna talk ta me. Do ya hide anythin’ from me, Harle?” Now it was out. Kidd just hoped Harle didn’t misunderstand it.

“Moi...hiding? Maybe. Moi doezn’t know for sure. Life iz so...difficile et illogique." Harle wasn’t sure whether to tell or not.

"But...why ? Ya can tell me everythin’, ya know that. We’re friends!”, Kidd said, but grew thoughtful after saying this. Friends. It was such a strange word to describe the two of them. They could hardly talk to each other, this wasn’t what friends were like at all.

“ hopez so. We are Mais what about later? Moi doezn’t want to be seule again.”, Harle said with a serious expression. She wondered if there would ever be the day when she would stop being so selfish. But for now, the thought of being alone scared her the most. But she knew there was no promise that could relief that fear. Kidd turned to Harle and touched her shoulders, making her look at her

“Listen, ya won’t be alone! I will be there...always...”, Kidd said but stopped when she saw Harle’s face getting closer to hers. Kidd moved her face towards hers as well, until she could feel Harle’s breath on her face. Kidd hesitated for a moment, but then came even closer, almost touching her lips.

“Liar.”, Harle suddenly whispered and turned away from her. Kidd didn’t know what to do, she just stared at Harle, but before she was able to say something, the soldiers came pouring out onto the deck.

“Look! There’s Porre!”, one of them shouted and the soldiers came to the front of the ship, watching Porre coming closer. Harle was completely surrounded by soldiers and when she looked for Kidd, she was already gone.

“Did moi do ze right t’ing?”, she asked herself quietly and tried to get out of the bustling crowd of soldiers.

Kidd ran along the empty corridors up to her room. She went inside and slammed the door shut behind her. She stood there at the other side of the door, breathing hard. Her right hand pushed against the door and her left hand locked it. She sat down, her back leaning against the door.

“Why... Harle?”, she asked with a trembling voice. She closed her eyes. She heard footsteps coming closer to her. Kidd recognized them as Harle’s. No one else walked so lightly. The steps stopped in front of the door. Kidd heard Harle’s hand on the doorknob, but it didn’t move. A few seconds later, the footsteps went away until Kidd couldn’t hear them anymore.

Kidd stood up and stared at the door. ‘Why didn’t she turn the doorknob? Why!’

Kidd didn’t exactly know why, but she felt disappointed and angry at the same time. Didn’t Harle want to see her? If not, then why had she come here?

“Just what’s goin’ on here, goddammit!”, Kidd shouted and hit the door with her right fist. What had she done now? Why hadn’t she been able to just shut up?

A few tears dropped onto the floor and Kidd sank down to her knees. She was crying and sobbing and kept on hitting the ground in front of her. She felt embarrassed, crying there like a little child, but she couldn’t help hit. Ten minutes until the tears in her eyes dried and her body stopped trembling.

“I guess...ya deserve this, Kidd. Maybe ya really did lie to her. How can ya say for sure that ya won’t ever leave her? Bloody fool. Everythin’ ya do is wrong, completely wrong.”, she said to herself after calming down a bit. She should apologize.

Kidd was surprised when someone knocked at the door. She quickly stood up and rubbed her face, hoping not to look as though she had been crying.

“Miss Kidd? The ship has reached Porre just now. Please go see Miss Dana before you leave. Goodbye.”, one of the soldiers reported and left.

Kidd was surprised that she hadn’t even noticed that the ship had come to a standstill. She opened the door and made her way back to the deck, hoping to see Dana on her way. She opened the big iron door and was surprised by the noise out on the deck.

Almost the whole deck was full of soldiers and in the background she could see Porre, which was still the biggest city she’d ever seen. From what she could tell by now, Porre was at least the triple size of Termina, much bigger than it had been a few years ago. Huge skyscrapers reached high over Kidd’s head, making her dizzy by simply looking at them, even from a distance.

Kidd looked around and finally found Dana, who stood beside Harle at the harbour, close to the ship. She ran to the railing and climbed down the ladder. Dana noticed her and went towards Kidd, but Harle remained where she stood.

“Hi, Kidd! Isn’t that a wonderful city? I hope you two enjoy your stay here!”, Dana said happily.

“Yeah, great city, really. Thanks for takin’ us here, Dana.” Kidd tried to look as happy as possible.

“My dear, we have to thank you. You helped us so much with the drive, the cooking and let’s not forget about the dragon! You’re always welcome on our ship!”, Dana beamed.

“Yeah, I hope we’ll meet again.”, Kidd said, looking over to Harle, who was already heading away from them, “well, I gotta go. Bye, Dana.” Kidd gave her a quick hug and then ran after Harle. She didn’t know why, but she felt happy all of a sudden. Maybe it was this great city in front of her or maybe it was the feeling that everything could only get better with every step she took from here.

Or it was the feeling, that she had finally found something that she didn’t want to lose ever again. Something she knew would make her happy and give her strength. Something she wanted so badly and now was almost close enough to catch it.

Chapter 13

Title: Chapter 13 - A little competition

But her happiness was over all too soon.

“Harle! Wait!...Could ya stop, please?”, Kidd shouted after Harle, who until now still hadn’t looked at her. She eventually came to a stop and turned to Kidd.

“What iz it?”, Harle asked.

“What is it? Well I dunno. Talk ta me, Harle.” Kidd didn’t really know what to say. She just wanted to talk to her instead of running after her.

“Je ne sais pas!”, Harle shouted irritably.

“So... I guess neither of us knows it, eh? Aw, c’mon, let’s search for a hotel. It’s gettin’ dark.” Kidd suggested. She didn’t want to argue with her.

Harle didn’t say anything and just followed Kidd. They walked through the new city, completely without knowing where they were. It was getting dark and even though Porre was huge, it was almost eerily quiet in the thin alleys.

“Ya don’t know where a hotel is, do ya?”, Kidd asked.

Without saying a word Harle pointed at a huge building about one mile away from them.

“There? C’mon then, let’s go!” Kidd took Harle’s hand and tried to pull her with her, but Harle didn’t move. Kidd looked at her with a raised eyebrow. Harle just stood there, looking at the ground.

Kidd turned to her and squeezed her hand gently, causing her to look up.

“I know you’re angry, Harle. Ya might hate me now, I dunno. We have ta talk about this, but can we do that in the hotel? Please, come with me, Harle.”, Kidd pleaded.

Harle couldn’t withstand Kidd’s gentle voice and soon gave in, following her to the hotel. It took them twenty minutes to get there. They didn’t talk at all on the way, they didn’t even look at each other.

What has become of them? They didn’t know. Something was tearing them apart. Was it the fear of the dragons? Doubts about each other?

The hotel was even bigger than the one in Termina, but neither seemed to notice, their minds being somewhere else. They went in, hoping to get a room.

“We need two rooms, please.”, Kidd said to the porter.

“Two rooms? Let’s see...”, the man looked through the lists before him, “I’m very sorry miss, there’s only one double room left.”

“That’s ok, we’ll take that.” Kidd said quickly and took the keys. They went upstairs without another word. Kidd opened the room and Harle was the first to go inside.

The room was quite small and there wasn’t much furniture standing around, aside from the bed. But at least there was a small bathroom. Kidd quietly shut the door and looked at Harle. She went over to the bed and sat down, her hand patting the spot in front of her. Harle did this and both sat in front of each other, looking deep into the other’s eyes.

“What...what are ya thinkin’ of me, Harle?”, Kidd asked softly.

“Je t’aime.”, Harle answered without a moment’s hesitation. She had known it would come down to this, and she wasn’t ashamed to admit that she had utterly fallen in love with the girl opposite her, for reasons she couldn’t quite grasp yet.

“ ya say that?”, Kidd asked, speechless. How could she say something like this, so easily? How could she be so sure? Kidd’s cheeks were flushed but she didn’t notice.

“How? Moi can feel zat.”, Harle answered, entirely serious. She had been this honest in her entire life.

“But...why? Why do ya…”, Kidd asked doubtfully. Why did it seem so easy for Harle, yet was so hard for her? She saw Harle staring at her. Kidd felt uncomfortable.

“Pourquoi? Haz zere always to be a reazon pour love? It juzt...feelz right to be wit’ you.”, Harle responded. She took Kidd’s hands into hers, stroking them softly. They were quivering, with fear or longing. Harle couldn’t tell. “Tell moi, do you love me?”

Kidd hesitated, not knowing what to do. Her hands trembled even more now that Harle touching them. It didn’t feel unpleasant, but it felt so strange and unusual that Kidd could hardly resist the urge to draw her hand back. This was going too fast for her. There was no way she could keep up with the pace Harle was setting. And yet, Harle was so honest, so serious. Revealing her feelings as though it was the easiest thing in the world. Just why couldn’t she do it as well?

“No. I’m sorry I can’t tell ya that. It’s just...” Kidd looked down, now trembling even more. She couldn’t find the right words. She hated herself for being so weak when Harle had gathered up her courage to tell her everything.

Harle shook her head and let go of Kidd’s hands. “...non?” , she whispered, her voice drowning in the tears which ran down her cheeks. She had been so stupid. So naïve to think that Kidd felt the same. She should have known it was impossible. After all, how could she have even thought about Kidd loving her? Wasn’t it obvious that she could never bring herself to love someone like her?

The tears dropped onto her hands and when she regarded them, she cried even more. Kidd wanted to touch her, but Harle quickly turned around and went towards the door.

“Don’t go Harle. We...we have ta talk about that. Now.”, Kidd called after her, pleading her to stay even though she knew Harle wouldn’t listen.

“Why...iz it so difícile?” ,Harle sobbed, but before Kidd was able to say another word, she had opened the door and left.

Kidd did nothing for a few seconds, thinking of what to do next. Then she jumped up and ran out of the room, looking along the corridors. Harle was already gone.

“Harle! Wait!”, Kidd shouted, even though she knew that Harle was probably too far away already.

Which path should she take? Going right would lead her down, going left probably onto the roof. Kidd ran left, towards the stairs. She followed them, taking two steps at once until she reached the roof. Kidd looked around and found Harle standing on the edge of the roof in front of her, looking down onto the streets with obvious interest.

“Harle! Please, listen!”, Kidd shouted breathlessly. She took a few steps towards Harle, extending her hand to her. Harle didn’t move.

“Turn around...please.”, Kidd begged, fighting against tears. She didn’t want to imagine what Harle was about to do.

Harle turned around, wiping off her tears. “Do you remember ze day when we met á Cape Howl again?”, she asked, smiling sadly.

“...Y...yes.”, Kidd hesitated, not knowing what Harle was up to.

“You wanted moi to jump down, Kidd. Jump down...and die. Mais moi didn’t want zat. Moi wanted to live. Mais now, moi doezn’t know what moi wantz. Tell moi what to do, Kidd.”, Harle begged, the tears freely running across her cheeks. She just wanted Kidd to take her into her arms, to kiss her and say everything was alright. She wanted someone like that, but knew it was too much to ask, after all. But she didn’t want to die either. She knew she couldn’t bring herself to jump off this roof.

Kidd shook her head and quickly grabbed Harle’s hand. She pulled Harle towards her, hugging her tightly.

“Forgive me. Please forgive me, Harle. I won’t say such things ever again, I promise.”, Kidd whispered into Harle’s ears.

Harle cried at Kidd’s shoulder. She cried and sobbed for minutes, crying the tears of having been rejected onto the shoulder of the one who was the cause for her misery. Still, she clung to Kidd and hoped she would never have to let go.

“Now listen, Harle. Don’t run away again, okay?”, Kidd asked, stroking Harle’s hair with an affectionate smile, which Harle immediately fell in love with.

Harle nodded silently, ready to listen to Kidd until the end.

“I said I can’t tell ya I love ya. That’s true. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings for ya. I do…like to be with ya, really. I just think...this is somethin’ ya only say once in yer whole life and truly mean it. It’s…really special and I can’t just say it that easily. I wanna say these words to a person I truly love and wanna share my whole life with.” Kidd stopped, taking a deep breath. This was harder than she had imagined.

“Ya see, I almost said this ta Serge…and look what a mistake that would’ve been. I just... don’t want to make such a mistake. Love takes time, doesn’t it? I want to be with ya now, but I dunno if I want this forever. I mean…do ya understand that, Harle? I’m really sorry...for making things so difficult for us.” Kidd took another deep breath after finishing, awaiting Harle’s reaction.

Harle had listened to every single word of Kidd. It was logical, it made perfect sense. And it still hurt. But she finally stopped crying and nodded.

“Moi...can understand, mon ami. Love growz, izn’t zat what you mean? Take all ze time you need, Kidd. Juzt...let moi know when you are ready.”, she said, her voice perfectly calm now. Kidd’s words had given her more hope than she had expected, and she was grateful that she was granting her a chance.

Harle looked into Kidd’s eyes and smiled. Kidd did the same and leaned her forehead onto Harle’s in relief. She couldn’t express how good she felt. To have these things behind them now, it felt refreshing. She would take her time, thinking about what she wanted. Carefully, making sure that she wasn’t about to make a mistake. If she ever said these three words to Harle, she wanted them to be true forever.

After a few moments of simply standing there on the roof, Kidd took Harle’s hand and led her back to their room. She heard Harle humming softly on the short way back, and the peaceful tune made her smile.

Upon stepping inside their room, Harle closed the door behind them and Kidd lay down on the bed. Harle quickly followed that example and lay down as well, lying close to Kidd. Their arms touched, but Harle made no attempts to touch Kidd any further. She would be waiting.

Both of them looked up to the plain white ceiling above them, lost in thought. They didn’t say anything for minutes, but neither of them felt the necessity to disrupt the silence, which was so different from the awkward silence between them before. This new silence was peaceful and calming. There was no need to say anything.

“How much do ya think this room will cost?”, Kidd suddenly asked after a while.

“Not too much, moi assumez. Do you have money?”, Harle asked back, even though she had the feeling she already knew the answer.

“No, that’s the problem. How are we gonna pay for this?”, Kidd wondered aloud.

“Moi doezn’t know...maybe we juzt run away like we did in Termina?”, Harle suggested, a small grin playing on her lips at the thought.

“That’s no good. I wanna have at least a few towns where I can return ta. We should pay.”, Kidd disagreed, surprised at her own scrupulousness. She usually didn’t worry about such things. But they already had enough other problems, it was no good to cause even more.

“Mais how wit’out money?”, Harle asked with a raised eyebrow. She turned her head to the side, regarding Kidd’s thoughtful face.

“I’ll steal it.”, Kidd simply answered, causing Harle to chuckle.

“That’z not any better zan running away.”, she said, nudging Kidd’s head.

“Wait, wait! I only steal from rich people. They don’t care if there are a few hundred G less in their pockets. They won’t even notice.”, she announced proudly and Harle couldn’t help but laugh at Kidd, who seemed to think she was the world’s saviour.

“Ok, let’z steal it.”, Harle then agreed. While not thinking about stealing in the same noble sense Kidd seemed to, she figured there wasn’t any other way aside from running away. Not to mention that it would be a nice diversion.

“What? Ya wanna steal too? Think ya can do that? It’s not easy, girl.”, Kidd warned, slightly sceptical of Harle’s potential as a thief.

“Mais oui, moi can do zat. Moi iz parfait at stealing.”, Harle pointed out without a hint of modesty. She had to admit that she had never exactly tried to steal anything, but she couldn’t imagine it to be all that difficult.

”So...what about a little competition? Here’s the deal: Both of us will try ta steal 300 G! Once ya have it, return ta this room. I don’t think you’re faster than me, but if ya say you’re good, prove it!”, Kidd said eagerly and stood up, as did Harle.

Harle went over to the window, watching the city below casually. It was dark and a little chilly outside. Turning to Kidd, she smiled mischievously.

“Bon, let’z do it!”, she called with an unusual fire. She had an idea that this would turn out to be fun indeed.

Kidd stood up as well, walking in direction of the door. She was smiling.

“Ok! Ready? Start!”, Kidd shouted, then quickly grabbed the door handle, ready to push it down and run out.

With one last glance at Kidd, Harle opened the window and jumped out.

“No! Harle!”, Kidd shouted in shock and ran to the window. She looked downward, afraid to find her lying on the ground. Her pulse was racing as her eyes traced the streets. Harle was nowhere to be seen.

However, as she looked up, she saw a thin outline of someone running across the roofs of several buildings. It was her. She made her way quickly and surely, never slipping on the steep roofs. She soon got out of sight.

“That girl’s unbelievable!”, Kidd shouted with raised hands, but laughed at herself. How silly she was, worrying over Harle so much. She had underestimated her. And with Harle’s advantage growing with every second, Kidd left the hotel in a hurry, trying to find her first victim.

While Kidd took the streets, Harle still leapt from roof to roof, laughing to herself. She could only imagine Kidd’s shocked expression the moment she jumped out of the window. Harle decided she should do those things more often from now on.

It was dark despite the various streetlights placed along the streets, which was to her advantage. She could see perfectly in the dark. She stopped for a moment, looking around for any possible targets. Harle didn’t care whether they were rich or not, as long as they were appalling enough for her not to have a guilty conscience about it, which was unlikely in any case. She decided to go to the big restaurant she had seen on their way from the harbour to the hotel. She should find more than enough people there.

Kidd had stopped running by now, instead sneaking from corner to corner stealthily, following a lady with thick diamond rings and clothes made of fur. She was showing off her money so much it was disgusting. Kidd wondered how a woman like her could actually walk the streets at night without being afraid. Rich people were just too ignorant to the real, ugly world.

Thieves were everywhere. Kidd had to giggle at herself, but tried to be quiet. This lady would find out soon enough. Kidd followed her until she was sure there was nobody else around.

Kidd decided to use the simplest trick of all: Distraction. It was absolutely foolproof. Kidd hadn’t met many people in her life who had been clever enough to see through that one.

She looked around in search of a little stone, which she soon found at a nearby wall. She quickly picked it up and hid behind a corner, with the stone of in her left hand. She waited for a short moment, then quickly turned around to throw the stone past her.

It worked perfectly. The lady was suddenly interested in the stone, while Kidd ran past her at full speed, snatching the woman’s handbag. When the woman heard the footsteps she turned around again, but simply shrugged as she didn’t find anyone. She didn’t even notice her handbag was gone. Kidd hid behind the next corner to count the money she’d stolen. The handbag was full of make up accessories a various papers, but she soon found the purse, finding 83 G within. She took the money and threw the handbag to the ground.

“Aw, better than nothin’”, Kidd mumbled to herself. She had expected the woman to carry more money with her, considering her expensive diamond rings she obviously hadn’t had any concerns for. Kidd continued along the street, trying to find her next victim, who was hopefully carried a little more money.

Harle used a tactic different from Kidd’s. She walked along the edge of the roof, looking down at a tall man with noble clothes. The roof wasn’t too high and she hoped she could knock him out with one hit. She waited for him to stop to look at something, but she had no such look. He didn’t seem impressed by anything that was going on around him. So Harle simply waited until no one else was nearby, and jumped down.

Much like she had done with Dana, Harle put her fists together and hit him over the head with all her might. She came to stand behind him, but to her surprise the man still stood. Harle needed another swift kick in the back to cause the man to sway and finally collapse. Harle rummaged through his jacket and took out his purse. She quickly ran away with it, not bothering to get the unconscious man off the street. Some people would find him quickly enough. At a safe distance she came to a stop to count the money. She had stolen a total of 156 G, which was more than she had expected, and caused her to smile in satisfaction.

“Not a bad rezult, non?”, she said to herself. At this rate, only one more to go and the victory would be hers.

By the time Harle thought this, Kidd was already following an old woman, who was heading home. She followed her relatively casually, her eyes all the while focusing on her handbag. They always made the easiest targets.

The old lady didn’t seem to notice that someone was following her, which was fine by Kidd. She was just about to open the door when Kidd approached her.

“Excuse me miss, could you tell me where the hotel is?”, she asked in the kindest voice she could muster, trying to smile innocently.

The lady turned around, looking at Kidd with a smile Kidd guessed to be the woman’s usual expression.

“Oh my, you don’t find your way back to the hotel, my girl?”, she asked with genuine pity.

Kidd couldn’t think of a suitable answer, so she simply smiled sadly and nodded. She stood beside the old lady, waiting for her to describe the way.

“Well, listen carefully, my dear. You just have to follow this street, then turn to the left...”, the old woman started to explain, not noticing Kidd’s hand in her handbag.

“...and finally you turn right and see the hotel. I’m glad I could help you, my dear.” Kidd had just withdrawn her hand in time to hear the last instruction. She bowed with a smile.

“Oh, thank you so much! I’ll better leave, then. Goodbye!”, Kidd thanked her before turning around to leave with quick steps. The old lady opened the door, completely unaware that she had just been robbed. When Kidd saw her go inside, she took the money out of the purse and threw the purse away. She had stolen 139 G, which made a total of 222 G after just 20 minutes. She smiled smugly, obviously proud of herself.

Harle had taken to walk along the streets, there were only so many people rich people walking through narrow alleys on their own. She had to try a different approach, one that wasn’t exactly easier, but one that would get her more money with one strike.

She was on her way to the restaurant, going over her plan once more in her mind. She was just about to take a shortcut through a less busy street, which she had seen from the roof earlier, when a little girl ran into her so hurriedly she almost knocked Harle off her feet.

The girl cried at the unexpected impact and stumbled backwards. Harle got down to her knees, looking at the little girl in front of her worriedly. She was crying.

“Mon dieu! Why are you crying, ma petite?”, Harle asked softly.

The girl wiped off her tears, looking at Harle. When she noticed Harle’s red eyes, she gasped and stepped backwards to be out of her reach.

“Don’t be afraid of moi, pleaze.”, Harle said soothingly and extended her hand towards the girl, motioning for her to come closer.

The girl nodded and stepped forward again. Harle regarded the girl’s clothes, her face darkening as she saw that they weren’t much more than rags.

“Where iz your maman?”, Harle asked, smiling sadly. She had a bad feeling, which she was confirmed of as the girl started to cry even harder.

“She...she is...dead.”, the girl sobbed, shaking her head.

“Mon dieu. Zat iz...terrible.”, Harle whispered in shock and embraced the girl to comfort her. She had seen it coming, but she was at a loss. “Izn’t zere any orphanage...?”, she asked but stopped abruptly the moment that word crossed her lips.

Orphanage? She had burned down an orphanage long ago. Harle suddenly remembered the smell of burning wood and flesh, and when she looked at the girl, she saw Kidd. This was how Kidd had probably looked like. All alone, without someone to care for her. With nowhere to go but the dark streets. No parents, no money, no home.

A wave of guilt washed over her, tears forming in her eyes too quickly for Harle to stop them. She had taken away the home and mother of so many children back then. How could she have done such a thing? How could she ever make up for this? Was there even a way to make up for something as despicable as this?

Harle trembled and hugged the girl even tighter. The tears ran freely from her eyes, an unstoppable current of water. Harle didn’t try to wipe them away. She stood up again shakily, digging in her pockets. She took out the 156 G she had stolen shortly before, handing them over to the girl. She looked so small. Harle guessed she was around four, maybe even younger. It was hard to tell.

“Take...zis...”, Harle said with a weak smile and stroked the hair of the little girl. The girl had taken the money, her eyes now wide and incredulous. She was too surprised to speak, but when she saw Harle turn around and leave, she found her voice again.

“Hey! Turn around!”, she called after Harle.

Harle turned around, still smiling despite the tears.

“Thank you so much, miss! What’s your name?”, the girl asked, smiling so broadly it almost broke Harle’s heart. There had to be something more Harle could do for her, but there wasn’t. She sincerely hoped the girl would be alright.

“It’z...Harle...”, Harle answered. She had better leave soon. If a dragon were to attack now…

“My name’s Trisha! Thank you so much! I hope we’ll meet again!”, the girl shouted, beaming all over her face.

It was the sweetest and most grateful smile Harle had ever seen. It touched her deeply. Harle had to cry even more, but tried to smile and waved her hand.

“I hope zat, too. Au revoir, mon ami.”, she called with a trembling voice.

The girl waved as well and then went away. Harle turned around with a sigh, walking towards the restaurant she had previously been headed to.

“It...waz ze least moi could do, wazn’t it?”, she asked herself thoughtfully. It was her first step to make up for what she had done, but there had to follow many more. Harle would have to keep that in mind.

Eventually Harle reached the restaurant. She went inside and sat down at a table near the window. She ordered a cocktail, thinking of how she would be able to pay it, if at all.

Soon a relatively handsome man of about thirty years came entered the restaurant, and the look on his face spoke volumes. He had a look on his face as though he owned the world. Harle hated these kinds of men, but knew there were too many of those around.

However, he looked like he had quite a lot of money with him, so Harle decided not to be picky.

The man looked around, searching for a free table when he saw Harle smiling at him. Her red eyes stared at him, pulling him to her table.

“May I sit down here, miss?”, the man asked, entranced.

“Mais oui, monsieur. S’il vous plaît.” Harle answered, blinking at him. She pointed to the chair opposite of her.

The man sat down, smiling in the same disgusting manner Harle had expected him to. Harle knew exactly what he was thinking about.

He took his jacket off and placed it beside him. With just one short look at the jacket, Harle could tell his purse was in his right pocket. It was easy to tell, but it would be harder to actually get it without him noticing.

The man called the waiter and ordered a drink before turning to her. “So, what is a beautiful lady like you doing here all alone?”, he asked, smiling. Harle had to keep herself from grimacing. If he would just stop smiling like this.

“Maybe...juzt waiting for someone like you to come?”, Harle answered temptingly. The waiter came back and placed the cocktail and another drink Harle didn’t recognize on the table. Harle sipped at her cocktail, obviously enjoying its taste.

“May I ask you what your name is, miss?”, the man asked. To Harle’s surprise, he even seemed a bit nervous.

“Naturellement monsieur, je m’appelle Monique. Et vous?” Harle asked in return.

“My name is John.”, the man said and touched Harle’s hand softly. Harle had the urge to withdraw her hand immediately, but knew that it was out of the question. John. What a dumb name.

“You are very beautiful.”, he proceeded. By now Harle was completely annoyed by his talking but she did her best to smile.

“Merci beaucoup, monsieur.”, Harle said and hoped he wouldn’t go any further. However, the moment that thought crossed her mind the man pulled her towards him and kissed her. Harle was taken aback, which was probably for the better. Otherwise the man would have found himself in pieces by now. Harle forced herself to calm down and think. There was only one way to use this to her advantage.

Laying her right arm around his neck, she pulled him even closer while her left hand reached over to his jacket, trying to get a her hand inside the right pocket.

She knew she didn’t have much time, but the pocket was still too far away. The man was about to stop, but Harle pressed her lips even harder against his. The man was surprised and now even more distracted from his jacket than before.

Harle finally reached the pocket and took the purse out carefully. She put it in one of her pockets and then let go of the man.

“What a…pleasant surprise.”, the man said with a dirty smile. Harle was just about ready to kill him.

She was disgusted, but suppressed her hand from rubbing over her mouth. She stood up and laid her hand onto his shoulder, favouring him with one last gentle smile.

“Excusez- moi. Moi will be back in one minute...John. Moi needz some make- up.”, she said and giggled.

“Of course. Take all the time you need.”, the man answered, touching Harle’s hand as she left.

By the time Harle reached the restroom she felt ready to vomit. She quickly went over to the washbasin, cleaning her hands before rubbing them forcefully across her mouth. She couldn’t believe the man who had done this to her was still alive, but there was nothing she could do about that right now.

Instead. she looked around and found a little window at the end of the room, just big enough for Harle to climb through. She waited for a moment until the last woman was out, then climbed through it.

Cold wind blew into her face as she reached the street outside. She shivered at the thought of that man and rubbed her mouth with the back of her hand once again. Then she went away as inconspicuously as possible. She reached a corner and stopped to count the money. Harle smiled when she saw she had stolen 245 G. She had been right, after all.

“Not really wort’ ze kiss, mais better zan not’ing at all.”, she said to herself, intent on forgetting about this as quickly as possible. She put the money into her pockets and looked up the wall of the building beside her. She saw an iron ladder leading to the top of the building. Harle used it and reached the roof.

In the meantime, Kidd had reached a bar with particularly loud music and whole crowds of people dancing, although it was almost morning. It was the perfect place in every way.

Kidd went inside and made her way through the huge crowd, dancing along. She fully integrated nobody looked at her strangely even though her worn-out clothing didn’t really fit with the others. The people didn’t notice Kidd, which was exactly what she wanted. Kidd danced and moved from one end to the other, and by the time she reached it she had already stolen three purses. Guessing that would be enough, she turned to leave when she bumped into a man. She quickly shoved the purses inside her pockets.

“Oh, sorry miss, I didn’t see you.”, the man said, raising his arms apologetically.

“No problem.”, Kidd answered and took the man’s money without him noticing. She had to smile at his unawareness, but tried not to look suspicious.

Kidd walked past him, heading towards the exit.

“Hey! Stop for a moment!”, somebody called after her.

Kidd jerked and turned around slowly, looking into the eyes of the man she had just stolen the money from.

“What...what is it?”, Kidd asked hesitantly.

“Do you want to dance with me?”, the man asked with a gentle smile, catching Kidd off guard.

“Oh, err...”, Kidd scratched the back of her head, thinking hard. “Alright, let’s dance!”, she answered, smiling back.

The man took her hand and led her back to the crowd. Kidd just hoped she could get out of here as soon as possible. She didn’t want to lose to Harle because of such a stupid thing.

The man obviously enjoyed dancing with Kidd, coming uncomfortably close to her occasionally. Kidd often glanced over to the exit, thinking of how she could get there.

To Kidd it seemed like an eternity until the song was finally over.

“Well, I have ta go, see ya!”, Kidd said hastily. She quickly gave him a kiss on the cheek and went out of the bar, inhaling deeply. That had been a close one.

She didn’t want to waste time, so she ran back to the hotel, counting the stolen money on the way. She found 97 G within the four purses, which made a total of 319 G.

“Bloody poor those teenagers nowadays. But enough ta win, anyway. I better hurry.”, she said to herself, hoping she would be there first. Kidd guessed the way back to the hotel would only take about fifteen minutes.

Harle ran across the roofs, knowing there wasn’t too much time left to get the money and win. She hoped Kidd wasn’t already back at the hotel. She wanted to show her she was worth something, not just standing in the way. She wanted to make things easier for Kidd, because she got in so much trouble all the time just because of her. Harle couldn’t think of a way how she could ever thank her for everything. She ran out of fingers when she wanted to count all the times when Kidd had helped her, but she didn’t need a single one to know how often she had helped her in return: never. Well, she had helped defeating the Water Dragon God, but that was a problem Kidd wouldn’t have had in the first place, if she hadn’t saved Harle.

Thinking about this made Harle sad and angry at the same time. She didn’t want to be worthless, she wanted to do good things, which made people happy. But as the dark moon dragon she probably wasn’t meant to do good things. Bringing hate and destruction upon humans was the only purpose of a dragon. Harle wished she could feel like a real human just for one day in her life. She would give everything for it.

A loud scream broke her train of thought. It was the scream of a woman, not too far away from her. Harle stopped and looked down from the roof. She saw a young woman pushed against the wall by an obviously drunken man. The woman cried for help and the man just laughed and touched her everywhere with his dirty hands.

Too many of those people around, indeed. Harle didn’t waste any time, she jumped down onto a lower roof and then onto the ground, not far away from the man.

“Take your filt’y handz off zat femme, maintenant!“, Harle yelled at the man, who jerked back in surprise. He slowly turned to her, but when he saw it was just a small girl, he laughed.

He let go of the woman for a moment to take a closer look at Harle.

“Hahaha, what does...what does a little girl like you want from me?”, the man slowly walked towards Harle, swaying slightly.

Harle glanced at the woman, indicating for her to hide somwhere. The woman nodded and slowly went away from the man. He was too busy with Harle just now, so he didn’t notice. The man wasn’t exactly small and Harle wondered if she could deal with him quickly enough. Her cards weren’t particularly useful against humans, especially not from such a short distance.

While going backwards, the woman stepped into a puddle. The man heard that and turned to her, attempting to run over to her.

“Stop!”, Harle shouted and when the man looked behind him, Harle hit his face with her right fist. The man swayed and Harle hit another time and then kicked him to the ground. Harle jumped upon him and kept on punching him until he lost consciousness. Her red eyes flashed bright red and Harle shouted at him. After she noticed he was unconscious she stood up, breathing hard.

It all went so fast she didn’t really know how she had managed to hit him that hard. It was her anger, she told herself. The anger of envying humans like this, when they weren’t worth of this kind of sentiment. She knew that she didn’t envy humans because of their worth, but just for the acceptance that came with it. It was ridiculous.

Harle heard the woman behind her coming closer, and turned around abruptly. The woman cried and took a few steps back in fear. She stared into Harle’s eyes and didn’t know whether to stay or run away. These eyes…so bright and angry. They looked eerie.

Harle trembled all over her body and tried to calm down to regain control. It was over now. Her eyes went back to normal and Harle extended her hand to the woman.

“Are you okay?”, she asked kindly. The woman nodded and took her hand with both of her hands.

“Thank you so much, I don’t know what I would have done without your help.”, she answered, smiling.

Harle enjoyed seeing her smile, it made her happy to be the one to have brought up this smile.

“How can I thank you?”, the woman asked, now more fascinated with the girl in front of her than scared.

“It waz not’ing.”, Harle answered and took the man’s money out of his pockets.

“Zis will be enough.”, Harle said and grinned, then ran away.

Now she had a total of 312 G and was ready to return to the hotel. Harle ran as fast as she could and hoped she would reach it in time. She took the shortest way and jumped from roof to roof.

When she finally reached the hotel she ran upstairs, not minding the curious glances the staff gave her. She burst into the room and looked around. She took a deep breath when she saw Kidd wasn’t there.

“Oi! Already here?”, Kidd asked, smiling widely.

Harle turned around and saw Kidd coming out of the bathroom, only with a towel around her body. Water from her hair dropped onto the floor.

“ were here before moi, oui?”, Harle asked, a hint of disappointment in her voice.

“Yeah, but I just came in and took a shower, ya came just ten minutes later than me.” Kidd went over to her clothes and took 319 G out of her pocket.

“Guess I won, right?”, Kidd asked, smirking.

“Oui, you won, mon ami.”, Harle answered, showing Kidd her 312 G. She tried to smile, but Kidd could see she had really hoped to win, and was understandably down now.

“Oi! You’re not bad, mate. Ya see, I’ve stolen money from people nearly all my life, it’s not easy ta beat me. But it’s amazing how fast ya were, anyway.”, Kidd said, trying to encourage Harle a bit, tapping her shoulder.

Harle thought of the little girl and the woman she had helped out, and a smile crossed her face. She hadn’t lost in every way.

“C’est la vie! Moi will beat you ze next time, mon ami.”, she said daringly.

“We’ll see ‘bout that.”, Kidd answered. “Ya should take a shower, mate. And after that we should at least sleep a few hours, it’s almost mornin’.”

Harle nodded and went to the bathroom. Kidd got dressed again and lay down onto the bed. She was glad she had won, but she wouldn’t have cared if Harle had been the one winning. Maybe it would have been better even, after all Kidd had just suggested a competition to cheer Harle up a bit. But that in itself seemed to have worked well enough.

“Silly girl.”, Kidd said to herself.

She looked to the side. Kidd still felt a little uncomfortable about things. She had thought things would be easier if they talked about it, but that wasn’t the case at all. It even was more difficult now. Kidd started to wonder what she would do right now if she hadn’t meet Harle. Would she still be jealous about Leena? Or would she travel all around El Nido, all alone? All the possibilities she could imagine were nothing compared to her situation now.

Thinking that, Kidd decided to be more grateful for what she had. Even though there were some problems, she didn’t want to change it. Sooner or later it would turn out just fine. At least she liked to imagine that.

When Harle came out of the bathroom, Kidd already was asleep. Harle smiled and pulled a blanket over her, then dressed herself. She still marvelled at her new clothes. They fit perfectly, as if someone had taken her measurements and tailored it just for her. She didn’t particularly enjoy the thought of sleeping in her clothes, but with only one bed for the both of them, Harle couldn’t imagine herself sleeping without. Just remembering the night in Termina caused her to blush fiercely.

She lay down on the bed, watching Kidd sleep. She thought Kidd looked unbelievably cute and innocent when sleeping, so unlike her rude and bratty self when awake. Harle thought she could watch her all night long, but after half an hour she fell asleep.

The night was dark and cold. While sleeping, Harle came closer to Kidd unconsciously, reaching out for her in her dreams. It was the first night for a long time, in which she didn’t have any nightmares. Kidd didn’t notice a thing and slept like a stone.

It was about noon when Harle woke up again. She stretched her arms and yawned. She looked beside her to find Kidd still sleeping. Harle looked into Kidd’s face and thought about kissing her to wake her up. She tried to get rid of the thought, but it was too tempting for Harle to ignore it for long. Her face got closer to Kidd’s, but when she was just about to kiss her, Kidd opened her eyes. Harle wanted to move back, but Kidd wrapped her arms around Harle’s neck and kissed her on the cheek.

“Good morning, Harle.”, she said, smiling widely.

Harle smiled back but then stood up. She opened the window, letting a soft breeze stroke her face. Kidd stood up as well and walked towards Harle. She laid her arms around her and looked outside.

“So...are ya ready ta leave, Harle? It’s a long way.”, she asked in a whisper, not sure why she felt so inclined to hug Harle all the time. She just did it without thinking, and Harle didn’t seem to mind.

“Do you t’ink we will reach Guardia Castle aujourd’hui?”, Harle asked, quivering slightly at the sensation of Kidd’s breath on her neck.

“No. If we’re lucky, we’ll reach Truce Village before nightfall. I really don’t wanna go through that creepy forest in front the castle at night! When I was a child, I played there once and got lost. I was there, all alone in that dark forest. Monsters came up and I was lucky Lucca found me in the last minute.”, Kidd told Harle, not sure why she had to think of that particular event right now. She still knew how scared she had been.

“ are scared of une petite forezt?”, Harle asked, turning her head to the side. She was smiling knowingly.

“Guess ya could say that. Trust me, it’s more than enough when we’re able ta reach Truce today.”, Kidd answered, blushing slightly. It sure was weird for her to be afraid of something like this. But Kidd knew by now that everyone was afraid of one thing or the other. Just a few weeks ago, Kidd wouldn’t have believed Harle to be so scared, either. Fear was only natural.

Harle nodded and turned around. Kidd leaned her forehead onto Harle’s. Harle took a deep breath, sneaking her arms around Kidd’s waist. She could do this so easily, she told herself. Despite Kidd having told her that she needed time to think, she could do this, and Kidd welcomed it. It gave her hope. And hope was what she needed right now.

“Are ya worried ‘bout somethin’?”, Kidd asked softly.

“Oui, moi iz a little worried. Mais moi hopez zis will be a fine day.”, Harle answered.

“Don’t worry. It will.”, Kidd whispered.

They stood there for a minute, until Harle let go of Kidd and walked to the door.

“Come on, mon ami. Let’z go.”, she said, trying her best to look forward to this new day.

Kidd followed her and they walked down the stairs. They had to pay 180 G for the room and then left.

Outside, the sun stood high above them and they peacefully made their way through the city. The streets were full of people. Kidd went into a shop to buy something to eat. After that, they left the city.

“Au revoir, Porre.”, Harle said as she walked through the gate.

“I really hope we’ll see it again.”

Chapter 14

Title: Chapter 14 - Battle of beliefs

Both started their way to Truce Village, walking under the almost unbearable heat of the sun above them. The way wasn’t exactly hard to manage within one day, but the sun made it all the more difficult. Soon they had to take a break and sit down under a tree. Out of a bag, Kidd took out two tasty-looking, red apples she had bought earlier.

“Here, ya must be hungry.”, Kidd said and gave one of them to Harle.

“Merci.”, Harle replied and began to eat it.

It felt good to sit there in the shadow of a tree. It was still very warm, but at least the sun didn’t shine straight into their faces.

“Tastes bloody good, eh?”, Kidd asked to start a conversation.

“Oui, trés bien.” Harle bit another piece off it and just relaxed.

Kidd lay down beside Harle, closing her eyes while eating. A faint wind came up and stroked their hair and faces softly.

Harle had almost finished her apple when she noticed the sound of footsteps not too far away from them. She quickly laid her right hand onto her cards, ready to throw them anytime.

She couldn’t hear any sound for some time, so she continued eating her apple. Then she heard a rustle to her right. There was probably an animal hiding in the bush, and Harle remained cautious while trying to seem calm. When she finished eating, she threw the rest of her apple in a bush to her left.

Suddenly a komodo-like monster shot out of the bush, running towards Harle with great speed. Harle took three cards in her right hand and threw them at the monster, every one of them hitting their mark. The monster howled at the unexpected pain and fled. Soon Harle couldn’t hear its footsteps anymore and relaxed.

“You are clever, mon ami, but not az clever az moi.”, Harle said to herself, with a smile on her face. She giggled and looked to her side, finding Kidd asleep.

Kidd lay on her back, with her hands beside her and smiling as though having a really nice dream. Harle didn’t want to bother her, thinking that Kidd had to be tired from the previous night still. She guessed letting her sleep for a short while would do her good.

Harle moved behind Kidd, laying Kidd’s head onto her lap to make it a little more comfortable for her. She stroked Kidd’s face gently, admiring the beautiful sleeping features. By doing that, she couldn’t help but eventually fall asleep as well.

The wind began to blow a little stronger, but none of them noticed. Both slept, with a satisfied smile on their face, only watched by a few birds sitting in the trees.

One hour passed until Harle opened her eyes again, just to find Kidd watching her with a smile. She was startled at first because she was so close, but when she realized it was just Kidd she calmed down.

“Hello.”, Kidd said and smiled.

“Bonjour.”, Harle answered, smiling also.

Both watched each other’s eyes and Harle stroked Kidd’s cheeks gently.

“How long waz moi asleep?”, Harle asked.

“Not much longer than I was.”, Kidd answered and stood up.

She walked away from the tree to see the sun.

“We better get goin’, the sun’ll go down in a few hours, and we have plenty of way ahead of us.”, Kidd said.

Now Harle stood up as well and walked over to Kidd, stretching her arms. They nodded at each other and then continued their way to Truce Village. It was only slightly colder now, but enough to make the walking much easier for them.

Not more than an hour later, they walked past Fiona’s Villa. Harle made a comment on how beautiful the Villa was and Kidd told her the whole story about this Villa, which Lucca had told her many times when she was a child. She told her about Prometheus, who worked hard to even the land and change the future with that.

“Prometheus...ze one from Chronopoliz?”, Harle asked thoughtfully.

“Yes. He must’ve been incredible, Lucca told me a lot ‘bout him. He was just a robot, but I guess he was kinda kind-hearted, much more than a lot of humans.”, Kidd answered thoughtfully.

That sentence made Harle think for a while. If even a robot could be better than a human, it couldn’t be so hard for a demi- human, even if she was half a dragon, could it? Harle decided to do her best to be as good as a real human. As good as humans could be, if they wished. Harle regarded the Villa for a while, thinking about what Kidd had said.

“C’mon Harle, we don’t have time ta lose.”, Kidd said and both went away from the villa.

While walking, Kidd noticed Harle looking a bit worried.

“Anythin’ wrong? Whaddaya thinkin’ about?”, she asked.

Harle didn’t reply until Kidd touched her shoulder.

“’z not’ing mon ami. Moi iz fine.”, she answered and smiled a bit.

Kidd nodded and decided not to bother her with questions. Probably it was just something she didn’t like talking about, after all.

After a while, both could see the great Zenan Bridge, where the legendary war between Guardia and Porre had been fought in the middle ages.

“Ya know, Lucca told me she was here when Porre fought against Guardia, over 400 years ago. Isn’t that amazin’?”, Kidd asked. She smiled while telling Harle the things Lucca had told her long ago. It felt good to her to remember Lucca as a great adventurer and storyteller. And of course, as a great inventor and scientist. And as a big sister, not to forget. Kidd was happy she couldn’t find enough words to describe Lucca. She had been something special, really.

Harle remembered she’d read about Lucca’s time-travel invention and their journey.

“Oui, zat iz really great.”, she answered. Harle was happy to see Kidd smile by thinking of Lucca, still watching and pointing at the bridge, which was about one mile away.

Harle and Kidd walked towards the huge Zenan Bridge. The closer they came, the more fog there was. When they reached the bridge, they were hardly able to see thirty metres ahead, there was too much fog.

They could hear the river far under the bridge, but they couldn’t see it at all. Harle was a bit scared walk over a bridge from where she couldn’t see the end or even how high it was. She quickly grabbed Kidd’s hand to feel a bit safer while walking over the bridge.

Kidd smiled at that gesture and accepted it thankfully. Somehow it made her feel important and brave. Kidd had to giggle when she realized just what she was thinking.

They walked quietly beside each other and Kidd was just about to say something when they heard a trample from the other end of the bridge, followed by a roar.

Harle knew who it was at once: the Earth Dragon. Definitely. There was no way she was wrong.

She panicked and clung to Kidd, who was holding her arms around her to defend her.

For a few seconds they only heard the footsteps, but then they could see the dragon emerging from the fog.

“Stay behind me, Harle.”, Kidd said, but her voice was trembling. Harle got even more frightened by the fact that Kidd was frightened, as well. But she did as she was told and went to stand behind Kidd.

“Oi! If it ain’t one of those filthy dragons! And the ugliest one as well, I have ta say. Ta give ya a piece of advice: Get yer bloody ass outta here as soon as ya can, otherwise I’ll kick it so hard, you’ll kiss the moons!”, Kidd shouted at the dragon as she was used to. She was glad her voice didn’t betray her. The dragon didn’t seem to notice how scared she was.

“Those are tough words. Too bad there is nothing behind it. To give you a piece of advice: Stay out of our business. I have no intention to kill you, this is a matter only concerning us dragons. I only want Harle. No more, no less.” The Earth Dragon was completely calm while saying this, which stunned Kidd. He seemed to underestimate them. That, or he had good reasons to believe he had the upper hand.

“Hah, don’t make me laugh! Do ya think I’ll just step aside and let ya kill Harle? You’ll have to get rid of me first, if ya wanna get Harle! But I won’t make it easy!”, Kidd shouted fiercely. She was a little surprised about herself, how brave she managed to sound even though she felt miserable. But she knew she couldn’t let the dragons take the most precious thing from her. Not now. She would never give Harle up without a fight.

Harle was standing behind Kidd, with tears running down her cheeks. Hearing those words from Kidd made her really happy, but also worried. The dragon was strong and serious about this, it wouldn’t be easy to beat him.

“So...I guess you aren’t the ones one can talk with. I will have to kill you both, then.” The dragon walked forward, preparing to kill them.

“Ha! Go ahead and try ya bastard!”, Kidd shouted and ran towards the earth dragon. She readied her dagger, prepared to attack first.

Kidd had almost reached the dragon when he attacked her with his giant paw. Kidd knew he would do this and dodged his attack by making a dive to the side. She quickly stood up again and ran forward. With all her might she leapt towards the dragon, ramming her dagger into his side, not far under his left arm.

The dragon howled and tried to hit her with his right paw again, but just before he reached Kidd, his paw was hit by a powerful GravityBlow element of Harle.

That was Kidd’s chance to get a bit distance from him, to prepare her next move.

Harle took out her cards now, placing five cards in each hand. She knew cards weren’t too helpful, because the skin of dragons were very resistant, but she threw them all into the already existing wound Kidd had just caused with her dagger. The cards buried themselves deep in the dragon’s flesh.

Harle didn’t expect it to hurt him too much, but the dragon suddenly winced in pain and howled with a quivering paw. It looked as though he couldn’t use it anymore, the cards having destroyed the nerves which made it move.

Kidd quickly discovered this as well and ran over to the left side of the dragon, where he couldn’t reach her. Kidd jumped onto his back and rammed her dagger into it. But when she was just about to jump off the dragon again, an enormous Thundasnake element struck her. Kidd fell onto the ground limply, not moving anymore.

“Non! Kidd!”, Harle yelled. She wanted to run over to her, but she had to deal with that dragon first. Nevertheless, when she saw that Kidd didn’t answer or move anymore, Harle felt a sudden surge of incredible anger. She knew this feeling.

“’z over! Die, Eart’ Dragon!”, Harle yelled fiercely.

She walked towards him with unexpected calm, but her eyes were glowing in a bright red. Then she took her cards again and broke into a run towards the dragon. Before he could hit her, she jumped into the air. She jumped higher than the dragon had expected, so he couldn’t reach her. Harle threw ten cards right into both of the dragon’s eyes, causing the dragon to howl again, a terrible sound Harle was sure never to forget.

Harle landed on the ground again and prepared her elements. She cast two elements in a row, at first a FreeFall element to hurt him and weaken his defence, and a powerful BlackHole element to finish him. She saw him dissolve into air with great satisfaction.

If the dragon hadn’t vanished with the BlackHole element, Harle was sure she would have smashed him to bits with her own fists.

When it was over, Harle felt a little frightened of herself. She hadn’t known she had this power inside her, and such disgusting feelings of hatred and anger.

But all her thoughts were unimportant. Only Kidd mattered, now.

Harle reached Kidd, breathing hard. Kidd lay on her back, her arms spread out. She almost looked as though she was sleeping, just as she had only a few hours earlier. But she didn’t move, and there was no peacefulness on her features.

“Kidd! Stand up, please! Kidd!”, Harle shouted to her, a sudden realization hitting her.

Harle got on top of Kidd, shaking her shoulders wildly and rubbing her face, in vain. She just didn’t move. Even after casting two Heal elements on her, Kidd didn’t react in the slightest.

Harle watched her for a few more seconds, then burst into tears. She couldn’t hold them back anymore.

“Pleaze! I beg you, come back to moi! What should moi do wit’out you?”, Harle shouted in between sobs.

She lifted Kidd up and took her into her arms, weeping onto Kidd’s shoulder. She pressed Kidd against herself, crying even more.

“S’il te plaît...mon amour...I don’t want you to die pour moi, not pour someone like moi...”, Harle whispered. Her voice was trembling too much to shout anymore.

Harle suddenly stopped crying when she heard Kidd breathing. It was weak, almost too faint to notice. Harle quickly lifted her head and looked into Kidd’s face. With both of her hands she held Kidd’s head, regarding it hopefully.

A few moments passed until Kidd slowly opened her eyes. Harle just stared at her, unable to say anything.

“H...Harle?”, Kidd asked, a bit confused about where she was and what had happened.

Tears of joy were flooding from Harle’s eyes as she regarded the newly awakened face. Kidd opened her mouth to say something when Harle closed it with her lips on hers. Kidd’s eyes went wide in surprised, but she didn’t push Harle back. One reason being her lack of strength to do so, and the other to simply enjoy it.

Harle’s kiss lasted more than a minute, and she put all her passion into it. It took Kidd’s breath away, and she had trouble to keep from falling unconscious again.

When Harle broke the kiss, both smiled at each other. Harle hugged her again, leaning her head against Kidd’s. After several minutes Kidd broke the silence.

“What...what happened ta me?”, Kidd asked, still confused about the situation.

“Ze...ze Eart’ Dragon hit you wit’ a T’undasnake elemente. It strong zat you fell unconzcious.”, Harle explained and wiped her tears off, “but it iz fine now, ze dragon iz gone.”

“Glad ta hear he’s dead. There are only two left now.”, Kidd said, a wave of relief washing over her.

Harle nodded. She was worried about the last two dragons. What if they were too strong for them? Harle decided to dismiss those thoughts at the moment, she should be happy that Kidd was alive and well. Both didn’t say anything for a while.

When Harle noticed she’d been sitting on Kidd all the time, she flushed a little and got off Kidd. She stretched herself and then exceeded her hand to Kidd, helping her stand up. Kidd was weak and swayed a bit, then lost her balance. Harle quickly caught her into her arms, looking at her worriedly.

“Are you okay? You should rest a bit, mon ami.”, Harle said gently, helping Kidd stand again.

“No, it’s alright. We have ta get ta Truce Village before it gets dark. Ain’t no fun sleeping out here, with so many bloody monsters around.”, Kidd said and smiled to calm Harle.

Kidd pushed Harle’s arms gently away and did a few steps without help. She walked about three metres, but then collapsed. Harle quickly ran over to her.

“Mon dieu, mon ami! Are you okay?”, Harle asked worriedly as she helped Kidd up again.

Kidd coughed and her face was all sweaty. She didn’t look good at all. She trembled all over her body.

“It’s...okay, just...just help me walkin’ a bit, will ya?”, Kidd asked, feeling uncomfortable to ask this.

“Naturellement, mon ami.”, Harle answered and pulled Kidd’s right arm over her shoulders. With her left arm she held Kidd’s side. She did a few steps and Kidd was able to do so as well. It was very difficult for her, though. She was breathing hard and coughing.

The way to Truce Village was about eight miles long, a very long way with Kidd in this in this state. They walked quite slowly and didn’t talk at all. Harle guessed Kidd was too weak to speak, so she didn’t say anything either.

It was already getting dark and Harle started to worry if they could make it before nightfall. After a while the silence between them started to annoy Harle, so she started humming. It distracted her a bit from her tiredness and cheered her up a bit.

“W...what a wonderful song.”, Kidd managed to say and smiled weakly.

Harle smiled as well and hummed all the way to Truce Village, almost forgetting about the pain in her legs and arms. When they finally reached it, it was about midnight. Harle didn’t really know where to go, but Kidd showed her they way to the tiny inn.

The door to the inn felt like it was made of stone, Harle could hardly open it. Both stumbled into the inn.

“We...need to rezt un peu...”, Harle said, fighting for breath.

“O-of course. Just go up the stairs. That makes 50 G.”, the man behind the desk said.

Harle dug into her pockets, taking out a few creased notes and handed them to the man. The man nodded and pointed to the wooden stairs.

Harle sighed when she saw the stairs, she didn’t really want to ascend them, but a soft, comfortable bed as a price was still worth the effort. Harle stood before the stairs, thinking of how she could get Kidd up there, the stairs were too narrow for both of them aside each other.

After a while she decided to take Kidd piggyback. That wasn’t exactly easy to do, but the only way she could think of at the moment. Kidd didn’t say anything at all, she just did her best to get onto Harle’s back.

With slow, steady steps Harle began to walk up. She thought she would break down soon, but somehow she managed to reach the top and get to the first bed. She sat down onto it and let Kidd lie down to rest. She pulled the cover over Kidd and as soon as she’d done that, Kidd was already asleep.

Harle smiled contently and bent down to give Kidd a short kiss on the cheek. With her very last strength she went over to the other bed and lay onto it. She looked over to Kidd, who probably wouldn’t wake up too soon. Her injuries weren’t that bad, just a few bruises here and there, just like Harle had. But this element almost took away all of her power, Kidd had almost died. Harle had to find another way to defeat the dragons, this one was too dangerous. Now they had to expect both physical and element attacks. Harle had to admit, she wouldn’t have thought of them using elements and because they weren’t aware of that, it was so dangerous. They had to be prepared for everything, Harle didn’t want to die, not when there were only two left. There could be such a nice life ahead of her if the dragons were gone, she didn’t want to waste this great chance.

She thought about that some time, and eventually fell asleep.

She had a weird dream. She was walking through the dark, with nobody to be seen, when a deep voice talked to her.

“Harle, my child. Do you still think defeating us is the right way?”

Harle quickly turned around, but all she saw was darkness. But she recognized that voice. It was the great Sky Dragon.

“Ha! Moi, your child? Non, moi waz a puppet, never your child. And oui, defeating you iz ze only way to save zis world!”, Harle shouted somewhat annoyed, but not scared at all. She wondered how she could be like that in front of her creator.

Suddenly the darkness vanished and Harle found herself on a destroyed planet, without any plants and only dirt and destruction everywhere. Harle seemed a bit shocked by seeing this.

“Where...iz moi?”, she asked.

“You don’t recognize it? It’s El Nido, but the rest of the planet looks like that as well. This is the future, Harle. The future you are going to bring upon us if you kill us. It starts with the extinction of animals like hydras, but it will end like this.”, the dragon’s voice was serious and almost touching.

“Liar. Moi doezn’t have anyt’ing to do wit’ it!”, Harle shouted, obviously not interested in listening to him.

“But you have, Harle. We, the dragons, were born to live in peace with the planet. But those humans aren’t grateful for anything and take everything from the planet. They destroy it. They hunt animals to extinction, destroy the places where animals live and don’t even feel sorry for it. Listen Harle, if we don’t stop them, this planet will die.”

“But there are good humanz az well. Moi will make humanz and demi- humanz underztand each odder, so zey live wit’ ze planet!”, Harle shouted. She was angry, because he talked about humans as though they were parasites. But she knew that he was right about some things. Humans were ugly and ungrateful in many regards.

Suddenly Harle didn’t know what she wanted at all. There were many humans who abused the planet, but there were humans like Kidd, travelling through El Nido, doing nothing wrong than stealing money from people. One could say she lived in peace with the planet. If Harle could just make every human live like that...

Harle woke up by a bright sunray shining directly into her face. She slowly opened her eyes and looked around. She looked over to Kidd’s bed and found her still sleeping. She smiled slightly and stood up. While stretching herself she walked to the window, looking outside. It was already about noon and Harle wondered how long Kidd would be asleep. Harle made her bed and walked downstairs. Her legs were still hurting a bit, but she didn’t care too much.

Harle went over to the man behind the desk. He was reading a book when he was interrupted by Harle.

“Excusez- moi monsieur. We will stay here until tomorrow. Iz zat ok?”, Harle asked friendly.

“Yeah sure, ain’t no problem. But it’ll cost you another 50 G then.”, he replied.

“Ah oui, of course. Merci beaucoup, monsieur.” Harle nodded at him. She took out the money and handed it over to him. Harle then left the hotel. She had to giggle when she tried to open the door and found it quite easy to do so.

The bright sun shone straight into her face, causing Harle to smile suddenly. She hoped it would be a nice day, but thinking of Kidd made her lose that hope. For her it was enough if Kidd would only wake up today. Just wake up and tell her she was fine, that would be enough.

Harle walked around the village, regarding everything and comparing it to the Truce she had seen years ago. It was a lot different now, with more shops and even a bar.

Harle decided to go into the element shop, taking a look on what it has to offer. She was surprised to see quite a lot of rare elements there. They were expensive though. She really didn’t want to spend all her money on elements, but thinking of the two remaining dragons made her do so. She bought two ThundaStorms and Earthquakes for both of them and two Black Holes for Kidd. Harle already had enough black elements with her.

Now with only 12 G left in her pockets, she headed back to the inn, more shopping wouldn’t make any sense without money and she didn’t want Kidd to be alone for too long.

On her way she spotted some kids playing hide and seek. She smiled at them contently and decided to sit down on a bench to watch them a little while. They ran around and laughed a lot. Harle sighed. How much she had wished to have a childhood like this. But why did she even pity herself? There were countless others who shared the same fate and she was just one among them. She wasn’t the only unlucky one.

Harle was taken off her thoughts when she noticed one of the kids lying on the ground in front of her, crying and sobbing.

“Mon dieu!”, Harle quickly stood up and walked over to the little boy.

Harle helped him stand up and wiped away his tears. The boy stopped crying but almost started all over again when he saw his hurt knee.

“Sshh, boyz don’t cry.”, Harle said gently and patted his head. He nodded and hurried back to his friends, but stopped to wave at Harle shortly. Harle just smiled and waved her hand as well.

Harle watched them a little longer, but when she realized the sun was already going down, she quickly returned to the inn.

When she entered the inn, she found the man the same way as she left. He was still sitting behind the desk, looking apparently bored, half sleeping and half reading a book.

She walked past him and upstairs to find Kidd still lying in bed. She went to her bed and sat down on a chair to face Kidd.

Kidd slowly turned her head to Harle, biting her bottom lip to prevent herself from crying out in pain. Harle could hardly bear watching her, she felt so sorry for her and hated herself for not being able to help her.

Kidd opened her mouth and out came a few words, hardly audible for Harle.

“ friend.” It was the first time Kidd really called her a friend in all seriousness. Harle was surprised about that, but a bit angry as well. Why did she waste her strength for those unimportant words?

“Don’t talk, mon ami.”, Harle said softly and laid her finger onto Kidd’s lips. She ran down her lips with her finger, staring into Kidd’s blue eyes.

Harle broke the gaze when she felt Kidd’s hand onto hers. Kidd managed a weak smile. Harle smiled too and pressed Kidd’s hand gently.

“Moi...waz trés worried about you, mon ami.”, Harle said slowly and a tear made its way down her cheek, but she was still smiling while caressing Kidd’s hand.

Kidd looked at Harle in a loving way, but fell asleep soon. Harle started to worry if one more night would be enough for Kidd to regain her strength, so they could move on. Nevertheless, Harle sat at Kidd’s bed the whole time, holding her hand.

Kidd slept calm and quiet and after about 4 hours, Harle fell asleep too, but never letting go of Kidd’s hand.

Harle woke up again in the middle of the night, the moons shining through the window. It was perfectly quiet, except of Kidd’s breathing. Harle found herself half- lying on Kidd. She moved away from Kidd carefully not to wake her up.

Harle walked over to the window, regarding the moons, especially the darker one. The dark moon was much smaller than the other one. Maybe too small?

Harle imagined herself fighting against the Sky Dragon. She could see his mighty wings which heaved him up into the air. He looked down on this tiny being that was Harle and laughed. He was so huge. It was impossible to beat him.

Harle didn’t want to think about her battle against him that way, but at the moment she couldn’t think of a way to win that fight. Sure, Kidd was there too, but it was no use. Maybe it would even be better if she didn’t come with her. Harle would never forgive herself if Kidd were to die by the dragons.

If she could just be a real dragon, strong and mighty and not such a little girl she was. A demi- human. Harle had to remember the Black Dragon’s words: “Did you really think we created a puppet stronger than us?” It was true. Harle started crying soundlessly.

The irony. Not too long ago she even wished for death, but now she wanted to live but wasn’t granted a life. Harle’s tears sparkled on her cheeks as they ran down.

“Why...why are ya cryin’ Harle?”

Harle quickly wiped her tears off, looking at Kidd.

“You are awake...” She glanced one last time at the moons, then returned to Kidd’s bed.

“How are you?”, she asked worried.

“I...I’m fine...”, Kidd replied and managed to sit up, but Harle could tell it cost her much strength.

“Why...were ya cryin’?”, Kidd asked again.

“ ne sais iz afraid, Kidd.”, Harle’s voice trembled and she was close to tears again.

“Don’t be afraid. Trust me Harle, we're gonna smash those bloody dragon’s ta bits.” Kidd’s voice didn’t have its usual power yet, but Harle was nevertheless encouraged by Kidd’s words.

“Merci beaucoup, mon ami.”, Harle said and leaned forward to give Kidd a kiss on the cheek. “Sleep well.”

Due to her lack of strength Kidd fell asleep again almost instantly and Harle went to bed as well. She lay down, watching Kidd for a moment.

“Je t’aime.”, she whispered. Her eyes closed.

Chapter 15

Title: Chapter 15 - A peaceful day?

Harle was the first to wake up again. She found Kidd still sleeping in her bed and sighed. Maybe Kidd needed one more day to rest. But that didn't matter, Harle would give her any time she needed to completely recover. They had no time to waste though, Harle wanted nothing more than to be in that safe castle, with Kidd, but Kidd's recovery had top priority. It wouldn't make things easier for them if they proceeded while Kidd wasn't in good shape. Sooner or later, they would reach the safe castle, Harle was sure of that.

While Harle feared the king or some of the soldiers would recognize her, she was sure Kidd would protect her from everything and stay by her side. Kidd...Harle wondered if she was already not able to live without her anymore.

All the dangers from which she had protected her, all those smiles she had brought upon her face and all those "lessons" of being human, Harle felt she needed so much. Her first attempt to act like a human had failed. While on Lynx's side, she had been evil, bringing destruction and sadness upon the humans she secretly adored so much for what they were able tobe. This time, on Kidd's side, she hoped she would do better.

Being with Kidd felt like every single dark corner of her heart was flashed with light. She wouldn't do any more bad things ever again. She had learned that lesson once and for all. Never again did she want to draw all the hatred upon herself. And all this was thanks to that girl. Harle had never thought of being that relying and dependant on someone.

Back when she had been a spy for the dragons, she had preferred working alone, although she had to join forces with Lynx. Now, was it better to be independent, but together with someone you hate, or strongly dependant on someone you love? Harle didn't have to think twice about that. Every little spark of independence didn't matter to her when it came to that girl.

Somehow Harle knew Kidd felt exactly the same. The way Kidd looked at her...Harle could tell she loved her too. But she was afraid of something, something Harle didn't know what it was. And it bothered her terribly.

"Good morning." Disrupted in her thoughts, Harle turned her head towards Kidd's and saw her smiling face.

"Bon matin, mon ami.", Harle answered softly. After a moment of watching her, she stood up and went over to Kidd.

"How are you aujourd'hui?", she asked, but at the same time she thought it was useless to ask. Kidd would always say she was fine, no matter how she felt. Harle wondered why Kidd was like that.

"I'm fine.", Kidd started and tried to get up in her bed. She pressed her hands beside her body onto the bed, trying to push her upper body upwards. Seeing her arms trembling terribly, Harle could tell Kidd used all her strength to do so. But despite the effort, Kidd wasn't able to sit up. So she lay down again, taking a deep breath.

"Aw, forget it. Every part of my body hurts and I can't do anythin'. I'm sorry...that I'm such a burden for ya...Harle.", Kidd said and turned her head away from Harle, not able to look into her eyes. Her voice was filled with disappointment, but also with...shame.

Harle had to smile unwillingly. It was the first time Kidd told her the truth, when Harle asked how she felt. Of course she was worried about Kidd and wished she could cease the pain, but feeling that Kidd became more open to her in situations like these, really made her feel a lot better.

"Non, non, you are no burden, mon ami." Harle touched Kidd's hand and hoped she would look at her again, but that wasn't the case. Harle could imagine Kidd's hurt pride, lying here in bed, not able to do anything. With Kidd saving her all the time, she had felt exactly the same, but now she got kind of used to her "guardian". And in moments like these, where she could repay it to Kidd, Harle felt extremely content. She wasn’t useless.

"Kidd?", she asked kindly.

"Hm?", Kidd answered, but still didn't look at Harle.

"How about moi preparez a nice breakfast? You must be trés hungry, mon ami."

Finally, Kidd turned her head to Harle and smiled shyly.

"Sounds great.", Kidd answered.

"Bon. Moi will go and buy somet'ing to eat." Harle went away from her and headed for the stairs.

"Don't run away, you hear?", Harle said teasingly, waving her hand at Kidd.

"Yeah, like I could." Kidd tried to sound annoyed but she was smiling all over her face at that unusual comment of Harle. "I guess I'll just wait here for ya." She lifted her arm and waved goodbye to Harle, who was already descending the stairs.

When Kidd wasn't able to hear Harle's steps anymore, she let out a sigh. How sweet Harle was. She really cared for her, watching her when she was asleep, making breakfast for her, crying for her when she was down. How did Kidd deserve somebody like her? She suddenly felt stupid for turning away from her, for feeling useless in front of Harle. There was no need to. Kidd knew Harle would never think something like that of her.

When it came to her, Harle was always so innocent, always looking up to Kidd. Maybe it was because of this, that she felt useless lying in bed. But actually, she should be very grateful to have such an "angel" by her side. She should enjoy it as long as she could. Who knew, maybe this would be over soon, and Kidd didn't want to regret anything. Maybe it was time she told Harle. Kidd had been thinking about telling her for a while now, but under these circumstances...they didn't even know if they would survive the next day, with having the dragons on their toes all the time. On the other hand...Kidd would hate it if she died before being able to tell Harle. No. It wasn't time yet. Kidd had to make sure she wouldn't lose her first. She could never bear if Harle just slipped away from her after Kidd told her.

Harle was in an obviously good mood while buying rolls for breakfast. Humming and smiling she walked through the little shop, buying everything necessary for breakfast. Rolls, tea, marmalade and apples found their way into Harle's bag as she approached the check-out.

Harle happily paid and left the shop, enjoying the fresh smell of rolls, mixed with the morning air. Inhaling the beautiful smell deeply, she smiled. She had really started to love this little village. It was so peaceful, she almost forgot they weren't here just for fun. As she entered the inn, she didn't even bother to look at the bored owner, she didn't want her mood spoiled. Not today.

"Already back?", Kidd asked when she heard footsteps coming up the stairs. She couldn't see Harle however, as long as she lay in bed. And she didn't bother to get up either. But as Harle came closer Kidd could see her beaming face, while holding her shopping bag to her chest.

"Oui, oui, mon ami.", she answered and favoured her with an affectionate smile.

Kidd smiled in return, feeling the warmth spread over her whole body. It was so lovely to see that girl smile. When Kidd thought back, the first days after they met, Harle had seldom smiled. Actually, she had often cried or looked sad. Kidd wondered what had changed that. The circumstances were still bad, the threat of the dragons still on their minds. Even worse, Kidd was lying here in bed, unable to do anything if a dragon were to attack them here.

But Kidd dismissed those feelings instantly. With a look at Harle she saw the other girl wasn’t allowing any bad thoughts today, so Kidd didn't want to destroy that mood.

Kidd turned to Harle and wanted to say something, but Harle had gone preparing the breakfast, and while she was humming and smiling while slicing the rolls and preparing the tea, Kidd rather watched her than disturb her with saying something.

It took Harle a few minutes, but after she'd finished she came over to Kidd again, holding a plate with her breakfast in her right hand.

"Bon appetit!", she said cheerfully and handed Kidd the plate.

"Thanks.", Harle answered and smiled as well, though her smile wasn't as bright as Harle's.

They smiled at each other for a short while, then Harle went to get her own plate and came back to Kidd, sitting down on the bed to Kidd's side.

Kidd began to eat and almost lost her good manners while doing that. She hadn't eaten something like that for quite some time, so she didn't waste time with eating like a lady.

Harle regarded her and giggled.

"Don't eat so fast, mon ami, you'll choke!", she said, chuckling.

Kidd flushed in embarrassment and slowed down a bit. Now Harle began to eat as well.

They enjoyed their breakfast in silence, none of them speaking. Harle listened to the birds outside, and sometimes she heard the shouts of those children playing hide and seek again. She smiled when she heard them laughing and shouting at each other playfully, and with a look at Kidd, she knew Kidd heard them too.

Those innocent children...Harle had never been one of them. She had never had a real childhood in the first place. She had been trained to fulfil her purpose, no more, no less. She had never experienced what love was, and even at that moment she wasn't wholly sure what love really was like. It was so hard to grasp. Her love for Serge wasn't real, no matter how real it had seemed to her some time ago. So how could she be sure it was real this time? Maybe she had done a mistake by telling Kidd about it. Could it be that Kidd thought that? That this was the reason Kidd didn't tell her she loved her? Maybe she wasn't sure if Harle really loved her, so she said nothing until she knew for sure?

Harle didn't know why she was thinking things like that right in that moment, but she felt she had to talk about it. Now.

"...Kidd?" Harle spoke so softly, Kidd could hardly hear it.

"Yeah? What is it?" Finishing her breakfast and putting the plate aside, Kidd was ready to listen to whatever Harle wanted to tell her.

"Moi...wantz to know..." Harle began, but wasn't able to finish the sentence just yet.

Kidd noticed Harle's hands trembling slightly, showing clearly how uncomfortable Harle felt. Kidd wondered what topic it could be to cause such nervousness to Harle. She thought of a way to make that nervousness go away, so she ended up laying her hand onto Harle's left shoulder.

"What is it ya wanna tell me?", she asked equally softly as Harle had before.

Harle stayed silent for a moment, in her mind debating whether or not to tell Kidd about her thoughts.

" you t'ink moi iz real? Zat zis...iz ze real Harle in front of you? Not...ze one who destroyed your future, not ze one who you saw on ze journey wit' Serge? Can you tell zat zis iz ze real me now, wit' real feelingz?" Harle's voice was shaking.

But just after finishing, Harle suddenly felt stupid for saying such things. Kidd probably didn't know what she was talking about, Harle didn't even know herself.

Why, just why did it have to be so difficult? Harle really wished it wasn't like that. But then again, if she felt so desperate, wasn't that enough proof that her love was real? Harle was so confused. Maybe it wasn't exactly a good idea to tell Kidd, after all.

Kidd's voice broke her train of thought. "Of course I know you're real, Harle.", Kidd stroked Harle's shoulder, leading her into an embrace, "Ya know, back then, I really tought ya were actin' all the time, never showin' yer real self, ta anyone. But when I see ya smile now, I know it's real. Ya don't smile to pretend anymore, ya smile cuz ya like it. At least I like ta think that.", Kidd finished with a chuckle.

Harle tightened the hug unconsciously. She wondered how Kidd managed to let the world seem all right again with such ease. She always did that. She could always calm her and dismiss the bad thoughts from her mind...and Harle was so grateful for that.

"Merci...merci beaucoup...", Harle whispered, resting her head onto Kidd's shoulder. Now she was sure Kidd didn't think that Harle didn't really love her...but then, what could be the reason?

Harle suddenly smiled and her mood brightened again. There was no need to question that anymore. Sooner or later Kidd would tell her, Harle was sure of that. After all, Harle couldn't force her to say those three words Harle ached to hear. Patience was a virtue, wasn't it?

Smiling contently, Harle let go of Kidd. Kidd smiled in return and her hand made its way up to Harle's face, stroking her cheek slightly. Harle enjoyed that touch for a moment, never breaking the gaze at Kidd. Then she took Kidd's hand into her hands, looking down at them.

"I feel a lot better now. Just lemme rest a little more and we can leave.", Kidd said, breaking the silence between them. Also, she hoped to cheer up Harle a little more. She wanted to see Harle's best smile today.

"Are you sure, mon ami? You still look trés weak.", Harle asked worriedly, pressing Kidd's hand a little more.

"Aw, the way ain't that long. I'll make it. No problem." Kidd sounded like she wouldn't take no for an answer, so Harle gave in.

"I'm juzt worried.", Harle said with finality, then stood up to get the elements she had bought the day before. She returned with a smile, and a handful of new elements for both of them.

Harle carefully laid two BlackHole elements, one Thundastorm and one Earthquake on the table beside Kidd. The other Thundastorm and Earthquake elements were for herself.

"Moi bought iz sure we will need zem."

Kidd regarded them curiously. She took one of the BlackHole elements between her fingers, turning and inspecting them with an arched brow. Her eyes wandered between the element and Harle, obviously asking for an explanation.

"So...why did ya gimme those? Ya should take 'em, I suck with black spells. As for the others...ya really think we'll need 'em?", Kidd asked with a doubting look.

Harle wasn't really prepared for such a question, she had hoped Kidd would just thank her for them and take them. However, she tried to hide her disappointment and started for an answer, leaning forward to look at Kidd.

"Trust moi, mon ami. Zere are ze Green Dragon and ze Sky Dragon left, wit'out zose elementz we...won't win. Zey can uze magic, and so do we have to. Your red elementz won't be trés useful, mon ami."

"Yeah, guess you're right. But...I elements?", Kidd thought back to her last try to use black elements. The result had been poor, to say the least. She had then decided that black elements just weren't for her to use. It was the element she disliked the most. "C'mon Harle, ya take 'em. You're black innate after all. You'll put 'em ta better use than me.", Kidd said almost pleadingly.

Harle was surprised at Kidd's childish behaviour, and it kind of upset her. She sighed and looked at Kidd, slightly annoyed at Kidd's antics.

"Non! Juzt take zem!", she answered a bit harsher than she intended. Kidd watched Harle for a moment, trying to find out why Harle was so upset. She was about to answer when she saw Harle's face grow worried.

"But...don't ya understand Harle? If ya use those elements, they'll be strong enough to actually do some damage, but with me they're bloody wasted.", Kidd didn't know if this was the best way to express it in her situation, but she left it at that.

"Don't you understand?", Harle shouted suddenly, tears welling up in her eyes. "It'z always moi! Moi can uze zose elements, c'est ça. Mais, ze Sky Dragon iz dangerouz, what if...what if moi izn't there! What if you have to fight him seule? What zen?" A few tears ran down Harle's cheek as she tried desperately to explain the danger of the situation they were in. She couldn't understand why Kidd could act like a child, when Harle only tried to save Kidd's life.

Kidd looked at Harle in shock. She was right. Damn right. Kidd had to admit she had never really thought about fighting the dragons alone, Harle was the reason she fought them to begin with. Kidd had always banished any thoughts of losing Harle to the dragons instantly.

She scolded herself inwardly for relying so much on Harle. Apparently Harle could still think clearly, preparing for anything that was about to happen, but Kidd...what did she do? Sitting around with her mind on anything but the dragons, she did nothing.

"I...I'm sorry, Harle. Now I understand...", Kidd looked at those BlackHole elements in her hand and clenched her fist around it, "okay, I'll take 'em. But trust me Harle, I won't need 'em." Harle sighed and looked at Kidd sharply, she didn't want this discussion again.

"I won't need 'em, cuz I won't lose ya, Harle.", Kidd looked at Harle hopefully, trying her best to offer a little smile. But Harle didn't smile, she turned her head away from Kidd.

" can you be sure? Ze dragonz want moi, zey won't give up...and zey are so iz afraid..."

"I'm sure, cuz those bloody dragons will only get ya over my dead body. But let's not think 'bout such things. We've come too far ta lose, Harle. As long as I'm with ya, don't be afraid.", Kidd said without looking at Harle.

Kidd stood up and tried to walk, Harle's eyes following her curiously. Kidd swayed a bit and took one cautious step after another. It seemed difficult for Kidd, so Harle stood up to help. She wanted to take Kidd's arm to brace her, but Kidd pulled her arm away stubbornly.

"I...can walk...alone.", Kidd said while walking towards the stairs, "Let's go. Maybe we'll make it till afternoon."

Harle quickly fetched her elements and cards, then rushed after Kidd, who was already on her way downstairs.

They said goodbye to the owner of the inn and left. Greeted by the warm sun, Kidd let out a sigh and smiled. Harle caught up to Kidd and both went alongside each other. Kidd wasn't able to walk at her usual speed, but Harle didn't mind that, she was glad Kidd could walk at all.

"Isn't it a nice village?", Kidd asked.

"Hmm, trés chouette.", Harle answered and looked around, watching children playing or people talking to each other. It was such a nice village, with nice people. She remembered when she went shopping for breakfast. The woman at the counter had seemed to notice Harle's red eyes, but unlike other people, she hadn’t looked shocked or something similar. She had just smiled at Harle, like she had to every other "human".

"Ya know, I really could imagine myself livin' here. It's pretty near ta the castle, the people are great and all my memories are here. The orphanage I lived in was near this village...", Kidd looked sadly over to Harle, "but I guess...ya know that."

Harle didn't respond and she was glad when they had left the village. Harle liked the village as well, but her memories weren't as nice as Kidd's.

Soon they entered the forest, which lead to the castle. It was pleasantly cool in there, the big branches of the trees covering the ground in shadows. Harle could only imagine how dark it was in here at night. She was grateful for Kidd's decision to go through here by day.

They encountered a few monsters, but nothing they couldn't handle easily. One throw of Harle's cards and they were finished. Kidd didn't even bother to look out for them, she knew Harle would take care of them immediately. Kidd did her own part with looking for the way to the castle. She remembered all too well how she got lost in here so many years ago, but she still wasn't wholly sure which the right way was. She didn't bother though, they had enough time to reach the castle, the sun wasn't about to go down anytime soon.

Harle threw two cards towards a pair of glowing eyes in a near bush and as soon as she had seen them, they were gone again. Harle still had enough cards left, they could walk through that forest and fight monsters all day. Harle sighed. It was getting boring. She wanted to talk to Kidd, but couldn't think of any topic worth interrupting her in finding the way. So she kept quiet and waited for new monsters to come. Almost sadly, there weren't any. After fifteen minutes Harle began to wonder. Where did they go?

"Kidd?", Harle asked, hoping not to disturb Kidd too much.

"Hmm? What is it?", Kidd didn't look at Harle, she concentrated on the split path ahead of them.

"Somet'ing iz not right. Ze monsterz are gone."

"What's wrong with that? Ya should be happy.", Kidd answered without thinking about it. She still focused on the path.

Not too far away they heard a growl. Kidd instantly turned to Harle.

" monsters ya said? Bloody hell, this'll be funny.", Kidd said sarcastically, reminding herself of her current state. She wasn't really in shape to fight one of the dragons right now. But she had to kill it, for Harle.

Soon they could see the slick green dragon emerging from the bushes which had hidden his presence so far. He wasn't clearly too be seen though, for it was rather shadowy and the green skin colour of the dragon didn't help matters.

"Harle, be careful. He can easily hide in the bushes.", Kidd said without turning to her, she tried not to let the dragon get out of sight.

"Dammit, if it wouldn't be that bloody dark in here.", Kidd cursed quietly.

Harle could see far better in the dark, so she didn't worry as much about the darkness as Kidd, but she was terribly afraid nonetheless.

"There you are, our precious Harle.", the dragon said in a deep voice, causing Harle to shudder. She tried to say something, but she couldn't bring herself to open her mouth.

"Geez, don't ya ever give up? What do ya dragons want from us anyway?" Kidd managed to sound bold and fearless as she used to, but she was a little nervous. The fact that she could hardly see the dragon worried her more than she liked to admit.

"We want Harle. You foolish human are only involved because you tried to save Harle from certain death. You could have lived a long and happy life if you hadn't decided to interfere with things that are no concern of yours.", the dragon answered spitefully.

"If one of ya bloody dragons dare ta touch Harle, I bet it is!", Kidd shouted fiercely.

Harle was impressed, to say the least. She stood behind Kidd, watching the scene, completely speechless. She dared not to move or say anything.

"Who do we have here? The brave prince in shining armour, fighting the evil dragon to save the princess. How noble.", the dragon said with a scornful grunt.

"Ya finished?", Kidd shouted and readied her dagger, charging the dragon. She felt weary but pushed herself forward. She didn’t have much of a choice at any rate.

The dragon raised his paw, but Kidd leapt aside, dodging his attack easily. Kidd rushed towards the dragon. However, when she was just about to ram her dagger into his side, the dragon's thorny tail hit her with full force, ripping big holes into Kidd's clothes as well as leaving one large scratch on her left side. Kidd was thrown back a few metres, landing harshly on the ground. Breathing heavily, she tried to stand up again, trying not to mind the wound too much.

In the meanwhile a handful of cards made their way to the dragon's right paw, succeeding in tearing the skin and damaging it badly. The dragon howled in anger and cast a Carnivore summon. Harle tried to evade but it hit her nonetheless. Fortunately it didn't do much damage on her as she had been prepared, so she was back on her feet pretty quickly.

Kidd used the distraction to her advantage and cast two MagmaBombs. However, she didn't aim them at the dragon, but on the trees surrounding the area. Soon seven trees around the dragon were on fire, forcing the dragon to step back. Now surrounded with fire the dragon howled again, obviously not sure of how to react. He couldn't stand the heat and smoke too well, it weakened him visibly.

Now with the place alight, Kidd was able to see the dragon perfectly. She leapt through the fire and charged him several times, hitting her mark with each attack. Harle added a powerful Thundasnake element and the dragon quickly sank to the ground, panting for breath.

" bring about your own'll never learn...the Sky Dragon", the dragon croaked.

"Aw, nothin's worse than a sore loser.", Kidd said and threw her dagger straight between his eyes.

Harle slowly approached Kidd, regarding the fading dragon until he vanished.

"Ya okay?", Kidd asked, turning to Harle.

Harle simply nodded and regarded Kidd with a worried expression.

"I'm glad he didn't harm you. C'mon then, let's go.", Kidd said and smiled. She turned and began to walk away and Harle did the same.

" okay, mon ami?", Harle asked, looking at Kidd's left side. Her top and vest was stained with blood.

"It's just a little scratch. Nothin' ta worry 'bout.", Kidd answered, and in all honesty, the wound was worrying her the least. She had more trouble to stay on her feet due to her exhaustion.

Harle nodded, but despite Kidd's words cast a Heal element on her.

"Thanks.", Kidd said and chuckled.

Within half an hour, they made their way to the castle. Harle had forgotten that it was really huge, even compared to the newer buildings in Porre. She was more than a little impressed at the sight ahead of her. With a look at the stunned Harle, Kidd started to laugh.

"Bloody nice castle eh?", she asked with a grin.

Again, Harle only nodded. She followed Kidd, who had already started to ascend the stairs, which seemed endless to Harle.

It took them quite some time to reach the huge gate. Looking at the two guards in front of the gate, Harle began to tremble. What if they recognized her? Harle had been to the castle once before, accompanying Lynx. It had been shortly after she burned down the orphanage. Lynx had had some business with the former king and Harle hadn’t really paid attention to the castle or anything else. But she remembered a few curious looks from the soldiers. She just hoped they won't recognize her with those different clothes and without Lynx. The whole world knew about Lynx's sins and almost as many knew of the harlequin at his side. They would surely kill her if they found out.

Harle took a deep breath and caught up to Kidd, hesitantly taking Kidd's hand in hers. Kidd smiled at that gesture, but didn't look at Harle. She feared Harle would pull her hand away if Kidd looked at her.

Somehow, Kidd was really glad that Harle felt safe with her by her side. Now hand in hand, they walked towards the guards in front of the entrance.

Chapter 16

Title: Chapter 16 - Love me

“Who are you?”, both guards asked as Kidd and Harle approached. Crossing their spears, they blocked the way to the entrance, watching the two strangers sternly.

“I wanna see queen Marle. Tell her it’s Kidd. She’ll be happy ta hear it.”, Kidd answered without hesitation and with a knowing smile on her lips.

“I doubt that.”, the right guard said, eyeing Kidd suspiciously. Her clothes were more or less in rags, she looked even more like a thief now.

“Aw, just go and tell Marle.”, Kidd complained.

Both guards looked at each other and nodded. The left guard arched his brow and looked at Kidd again, then briefly at Harle, but then he turned around and went inside.

Kidd and Harle waited a few minutes, Harle just standing behind Kidd, and Kidd tapping her foot on the ground with growing impatience. She was just about to say something when the guard returned from inside, looking somewhat disappointed and sceptical.

“Go in.” The guard said and together with the other guard, he pulled the entrance doors wide open and let the girls go inside.

Harle followed Kidd a few steps behind, but Kidd was too excited about what was going to happen, so she didn’t notice.

Finally she was close enough to see Marle, sitting on her throne in dignity. She looked a lot older than Kidd remembered, but it was positively her. Kidd’s face brightened up and she ran the last few metres to Marle.

The queen stood up and welcomed her in a tight embrace. Kidd laughed and giggled like a little girl. Finally she had returned. She was so happy to see Marle again, she was even close to tears.

“My, you have grown, my dear. But you still look the same.”, Marle said, while holding Kidd’s shoulders to regard her.

“Ya too, auntie Marle.”, Kidd answered and giggled again.

“It has been such a long time...since you left. I’m very glad to see you are well. What brings you here, Kidd?”, Marle asked with an expectant smile.

“Umm...I’ll explain everything later.” Kidd responded.

Marle hugged her one more time before letting go of her and sitting down again.

She smiled at Kidd when her look fell on Harle, standing a few metres behind Kidd. She looked somewhat shy and lost, Marle thought.

And exactly this was how Harle was feeling. Harle looked around, careful not to linger on one spot for too long. She could sense the eyes of almost every guard on herself. Harle felt like an unwelcome guest or even an intruder. Maybe she was.

“So...would you mind introducing us, Kidd?”, Marle asked, looking over to where Harle was standing.

“Oh yes, of course! Come closer Harle.”, Kidd said and smiled reassuringly to Harle. This relieved Harle a bit and she walked slowly closer to the throne.

“Harle, this is the queen of Guardia, queen Marle! I’ve known her all my life.”, Kidd explained and laughed, gesturing dramatically at Marle. Kidd’s antics caused the queen to giggle, Kidd was still the same girl she knew so many years ago.

“And this friend Harle, we’re...travelling together.”, Kidd finished less enthusiastically, not sure if her explanation was the best one.

“I see.”, Marle stood up and extended her hand to Harle, ”Nice to meet you, Harle.”

Harle bowed deeply in front of the queen and took her hand. “Trés nice to meet vous az well, reine Marle.”

Marle was obviously surprised at hearing Harle’s accent. She looked at Harle intensely, trying to remember.

“Have we...have we met before? Your voice seems so...familiar.”

Kidd inhaled sharply and looked at Harle blankly. The last thing they could use now was trouble.

Harle stepped back from Marle, looking around anxiously. She started trembling as she looked at the guards. She could swear they came closer. All of them seemed to stare at her, piercing through her with their eyes, all too ready to take their weapons out. Harle suddenly panicked and wanted to run away. Run away from this place, where she wasn’t welcome, the place which could easily become her grave.

But no. She couldn’t run away anymore. She looked over to Kidd and sighed. She had to be strong. Strong for herself, and for Kidd as well. She didn’t want to lead Kidd in any more trouble than she already had. Kidd had given up so much for her. She lost a lot of friends because of her. The devas, for example. Harle was genuinely sorry for that.

When she looked back now, she realized she had always been running away from her old self, trying so hard to become like a human...and simply forget about the evils she had done. But it wasn’t that easy. She couldn’t make the sins undone now, but she could at least take the responsibility. This was the first step to make up for the sins. To realize them as sins, and to take full responsibility for them.

Harle took a deep breath and stepped forward again, standing straight and with a serious look on her face.

“Oui, we met before. It waz about ten yearz ago, moi t’inkz.” Harle eyed the queen intensely, trying hard to show no sign of fear, “I waz here...accompanying monsieur Lynx. He had some buziness wit’ your father.”, Harle finished. Her voice was deep and serious. She wanted at least to appear strong. Inside she was a wreck. She wanted to cry and run away, and never come back. But now she had started this, and she wanted to finish it as well. Harle dared not to look at Kidd, she feared she would fall apart when seeing Kidd staring at her like that. So she just focused on the queen in front of her.

“Lynx!”, Marle shouted and one second later Harle was surrounded by almost every soldier of the whole castle, each of them aiming their weapons at her.

“No!”, Kidd yelled and wanted to push the soldiers aside to get to Harle, but without success. The situation was going completely out of hand and Kidd hated to see Harle surrounded by all those soldiers. But it was useless, the soldiers were too strong for her. She tried again to get through to Harle, but one of the soldiers harshly pushed her away, causing her to fall backwards. With eyes wide open she stared at the scene in front of her, not yet believing what she saw.

Marle didn’t even notice Kidd in her rage, when she stood up and walked to Harle.

“So you are the harlequin! How dare you to come into my castle after all you have done! I heard it all! You were the one burning down the orphanage and you killed Lucca! And you came here with Lynx to manipulate my father, so he would start a war with Porre! And now? Why do you come here again? What is there left you could destroy here? What?”, Marle cried and broke down to her knees, shaking uncontrollably.

“Why...why do you destroy everything!”, she shouted after a few moments, slowly getting up again. She looked at Harle furiously.

Harle listened to all of this without changing her expression. She hadn’t moved, and her eyes were still fixed on queen Marle.

“Moi iz...sorry.”, she said, and no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t avoid one tear running down her right cheek.

“Sorry!”, Marle yelled as if she was going insane. “How dare you!”

Kidd watched the whole scene, completely horrified.

“Get her out of my eyes!”, Marle shouted and the soldiers which surrounded Harle grabbed her and took her away.

Harle looked one last time to Kidd and then turned away, giving in to the soldiers, and following them to the stairs, which lead down to the prison.

“Wait...”, Kidd said hesitantly, hastily looking from Harle to the queen, and back.

“Stop it, dammit!”, she yelled, but the soldiers didn’t stop. They forced Harle around the corner and downstairs.

“Marle! Let her go! Dammit, let her go!”, Kidd shouted, while pushing Marle’s shoulders back and forth harshly.

“Stop it!”, the queen shouted and slapped Kidd as hard as she could. Kidd stumbled backwards and fell to the ground, looking at Marle in shock. She didn’t know her like this at all.

“Just what are you doing! She killed Lucca, don’t you understand? Why do you want to help her? Why have you brought her here?” Marle didn’t shout anymore, but her voice was filled with hate and anger.

Kidd got up to her feet again, trying to calm down. “I know she killed Lucca! But...she was manipulated, she isn’t like that! She has changed!” Kidd’s voice sounded almost pleading.

“What has...what has become of you Kidd? Lucca...she was like your sister...she loved you. And now...she’s dead and you turn against her? What would Lucca say if she knew you’re trying to help the one who killed her?” Marle was crying now, overwhelmed by the images of the past which returned before her eyes. She could still remember the day after the orphanage burned down. Everything had lain in ashes and Marle could still remember the smell of burned flesh. Just the thought of it made Marle nauseous. They had found five dead bodies, four of them children, the other one Lucca. They were almost burned to the bones, they had hardly been able to recognize them anymore. It had been horrible.

Marle still had nightmares about that day every once in a while. Thankfully, most of the children had been able to escape, like Kidd. It was a miracle. But still, losing Lucca had been hard for all of them, both the children and the friends of Lucca, Marle and Crono. The children hadn’t stopped crying for days and then...Kidd had run away. Marle could hardly bear it, although she could understand why she left. Kidd didn’t have a lot of friends among the children, the only person she had really loved and trusted was Lucca. And with her gone, Kidd had had no reason to stay there anymore. But for Marle it had been even harder without Kidd. First losing Lucca and then the disappearance of Kidd...Marle had been worried to death. But a few years later she had heard tales of a pirate clan known as the Radical Dreamers. And Kidd was part of it. That had given her hope and she had never stopped believing that Kidd was still alive. And now, Kidd was here again...and she brought that demon from the past with her.

Kidd walked towards Marle and took her into her arms, rubbing her back to reassure her.

“I know...I can’t make ya believe that Harle has changed. What she did is unforgivable, but I know what Lucca would do if she was still alive. She would give her a second chance. Ya know...she used ta tell me that people always do mistakes, sometimes they’re small, sometimes big. She always said no one is infallible...she was an exception, of course.”, Kidd said and chuckled, still holding Marle.

“When I remember myself back then...I did an awful lot of mistakes. But she was never really angry for longer than one hour. Not when I beat up one of the boys, not when I stole somethin’ from the other kids, not...when I destroyed her newest invention. And I’m sure...” Kidd stopped for a few seconds, trying in vain to suppress the upcoming tears, “...I’m sure, if she knew Harle like I do, she would give her a second chance. Because she...she knew what could become of people who didn’t know love. Without Lucca, I would have become the same.” Kidd finished and broke the embrace, looking at Marle worriedly. Marle had stopped crying and had calmed down.

“Maybe...maybe you’re right.’s just so hard to accept. I mean, the way she looked at me. You tell me she has changed, but when I look at her, she’s still the same. When I look into her eyes, they still have the same evil glow they had ten years ago. How can you be sure she has changed? One can never really know. She may be like that now, but who knows what happens when she gets out of control.” Marle voice was sad and worried. She didn’t know what to do.

“I know she has changed. I’ve spent enough time with her. You know, when I met her again a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to kill her. Really. But when I looked into her eyes, I couldn’t. And when I look back now, I don’t regret it. God knows, maybe I would be dead now without her. And if she ever...gets out of control...I will be by her side to stop her, so don’t worry. She won’t do any more bad things.” Kidd looked hopefully at Marle, and she smiled a little. Maybe Kidd was right. “Please Marle, let her out of the prison. If we’re not welcome here, we go anytime. But please, let her go.”

Marle laughed quietly. She laid her hands onto Kidd’s shoulder. “Silly. I haven’t seen you for almost ten years, and you think I’m letting you go away just like that? You can stay here as long as you want, you are always welcome. And about your friend...”, Marle stopped, debating about what to do with her now, “I will go and talk to her. I am willing to grant her a second chance, it’s up to her now.”

Kidd beamed all over her face and hugged Marle again.

“Thank you so much, Marle!”, she shouted in delight. Marle giving Harle a second chance meant a lot to her.

“Now stop that you brat!”, Marle said and laughed, pushing Kidd away, “I didn’t say I’ll let her go, I said I’ll give her a chance. If your friend is mean to ME, the queen, I’ll keep her till doomsday!” Marle smirked. Then she turned away from Kidd and walked towards the stairs.

“Make yourself at home.”, she said without turning to her and waved her hand. Then she disappeared behind the corner.

Kidd smiled and looked around to search something that would keep her occupied until Marle came back. She didn’t find much, so she just sat down on the throne, earning a few warning glances from the soldiers. However, they didn’t say anything, the queen told them she was a special guest, so they let her sit on the throne. And Kidd obviously enjoyed it.

Marle went down the dark stairway until she reached the bottom, where three cells were. Two of them only inhabited skeletons, leaning against the back wall of the cell. Harle however was in the first one, sitting in the dark corner, her head buried in her arms.

“Hello, young lady.”, Marle said in a very strict voice.

Harle’s head jerked up and she stared at the queen suspiciously. She didn’t know what to expect now, she almost feared the queen had come to tell her about her execution.

While Harle could see the queen very well, Marle could hardly see Harle, the corner was too dark. The only thing she saw was this pair of red eyes, staring at her. Those eyes unnerved her greatly and she asked herself if it was really such a good idea to grant her a second chance. When she looked into Harle’s eyes, no matter how hard she tried to see something different, she always saw a monster, a demon.

“Come a little closer...Harle.”, Marle said, her voice still devoid of any emotion.

Finally, Harle came closer to Marle. Marle was surprised to see a sad look on Harle’s face. She even looked afraid. Suddenly Marle was sorry for her, but she didn’t let that feeling come too close. Harle was still the murderer of Lucca, pity was the least thing she would allow herself to feel. But she began to understand Kidd a little bit now. Harle looked so afraid, so fragile.

“I want to apologize...for taking you here without having talked to you properly.” Marle said, frowning at her words. She hated to apologize, and as a queen, she wasn’t really used to do it very often.

“Are you going to kill moi?”, Harle suddenly asked.

Marle was more than a little surprised by that, she hadn’t expected her asking something, instead of answering.

“Excuse me?”

Harle sighed and looked at Marle, scrutinizing her.

“Are you kill moi?”, she asked again, but hesitated. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to hear the answer at all. Her hands trembled, and she could hardly stand looking at the queen anymore. She already regretted telling her about herself and Lynx. What if she wanted to kill her? Harle wanted to cry, but tried to save that last bit of dignity.

“I want to be honest to you.”, Marle started. Harle stopped breathing. As much as she deserved it, she didn’t want to die yet. Not after she finally had someone she loved. “I think you deserve death, after all you have done. And I hope you are at least aware of how much pain you caused to everyone here, but especially to Kidd. I don’t think you can understand how much Lucca meant to her, and how much Kidd has suffered from her death. Therefore I am surprised that she of all people is the one, who begs me to let you go. She told me you have changed, and regarding how much she has forgiven you, I am willing to believe her. I won’t kill you.”

Harle started breathing again, inhaling deeply before breaking down, crying. She buried her head in her hands, sobbing and shaking uncontrollably. She was ashamed of letting herself go like that, but she couldn’t help it. She was simply overwhelmed. All her worries suddenly vanished. Of course, she was still in that prison, but at least she wasn’t going to die, and that was all that mattered to her right now.

Marle watched her for a while, but then knelt down in front of her.

“Are...are you all right?” It was a stupid question and she knew it, but she couldn’t find better words at that moment.

Harle managed to nod and then wiped away her tears. Still sniffling she looked at Marle, but less anxiously this time. Marle really began to wonder if this was the Harle she met so long ago. The Harle now seemed so much like a child to her, no matter how much she tried to hide it.

“You know, I think you mean a lot to Kidd. They way she protects you and talks about you, you must be a really special person. It’s sad I can’t see you the same way, but I’m going to try.”, Marle sighed and looked away for a moment. She still couldn’t believe she was actually talking to the one who had burned down the orphanage, “But tell me that one thing. Why did you have to kill Lucca and destroy the orphanage? Just why did you do that?”

Harle wasn’t surprised by that question, she knew sooner or later she had to face it, although she had expected Kidd to ask her that question.

“Monsieur Lynx...”, Harle started, but was disgusted by still calling him that. It was as though she still worked for him. “He wanted to ask Lucca about Promet’eus. Moi doezn’t know about what exzactly, mais it had to do wit’ Chronopolis and Fate. I guezz Lynx could not control Promet’eus, so he wanted answerz from Lucca. Mais...being a proud femme az she waz, she didn’t tell him. Who knowz, maybe she saved ze world wit’ zat. However, Lynx t’reatened to burn down ze orphanage. Lucca...she cried...and begged him not to do it...”, Harle stopped for a moment, trying to concentrate and not burst into tears again, “Lucca said he could kill her, but begged him not to harm ze children. She waz...ready to give her save ze children. Mais Lynx...he ordered me to kill her...and moi did it.”, Harle couldn’t hold back the tears anymore, so she let them run down her cheeks freely. She didn’t care about them anymore. “Zen...when moi wanted to leave...he told me to set the house...on fire...and moi did zat az well. iz so sorry.” Harle looked away, she wasn’t able to look at Marle anymore.

“It is too late now to apologize, but...I guess I can imagine now. I always wondered about what happened back then, but there wasn’t anybody who could tell me...thank you...for telling me the truth about what happened.” Marle stood up again and so did Harle. Again, Harle wiped away her tears and hoped this would be the last time, at least for that day.

“I’m glad I had the chance to talk to you, Harle. I guess I just have to believe Kidd. You have changed. One last question, though.”, Marle looked at Harle sceptically, “What do you think of Kidd? What does she mean to you?”

Harle didn’t have to think about that. “Kidd iz everyt’ing moi haz.” Harle stood proudly in front of Marle. She truly meant it and Marle believed that, even though she couldn’t understand exactly how Kidd and Harle could get along. They were so different from each other. Marle decided not to think about such things, it wasn’t her business.

Marle took a silvery key out of her pocket and unlocked the door. “I think there is someone waiting for you.”, Marle said with a smile and gestured Harle to go out of the cell. Harle did so and bowed deeply in front of the queen. “Merci beaucoup, reine Marle.”

Then she started to leave, but not before looking at Marle one more time. And this time, she was smiling, something Marle hadn’t expected to see from Harle. She smiled back and let Harle leave upstairs. She leaned against the wall and took a deep breath. She just hoped she did the right thing. “Was it...the right thing to do...Lucca?”, she asked and looked at the ceiling, not really expecting an answer.

Kidd was about to fall asleep when she heard footsteps coming closer to her. When she opened her eyes she saw Harle standing in front of her, leaning forward.

“Harle!”, Kidd shouted and jumped up, hugging Harle. Harle just stood still and rested her head on Kidd’s shoulder. After all that talking about the past, she was tired. But she felt better, now that she finally had faced her past.

“I’m so sorry Harle. Were the soldiers mean to you?”, Kidd asked, babbling like a child. Harle shook her head and smiled at Kidd. “Good! Ya know, if they were, I’d kick their sorry arses so hard they’ll kiss the moons!”, Kidd said proudly and both laughed.

Marle watched them from afar. Her decision couldn’t be that bad, if it made Kidd happy, it was worth it. Marle really loved to see Kidd smile and laugh like that. It had been so long ago, when she had seen such a smile the last time.

“You two look tired. Maybe you want to show Harle her room? I guess you still know where the guestroom is?”, Marle said as she approached the two, smiling all over her face. Kidd nodded quickly and grabbed Harle’s hand. She wanted to go and show her the guestroom, but she turned to Marle again. “Thank you so much, auntie Marle.”, Kidd said and smiled. Then she turned to Harle again and they went towards the stairs, which lead upstairs to the guestroom. The tower was pretty high, they had to ascend more than hundred steps to reach the room at the top. Both were exhausted after that, but they were rewarded with an breathtaking view over the forest behind the castle, up to the huge mountains behind.

“Trés chouette.”, Harle said dreamily.

“Aw, that’s nothin’. Ya don’t even see Truce Village from here. But come, I’ll show ya a bloody nice view over Truce.” Kidd went to the window and stepped onto the edge. She turned to Harle and gestured for her to do the same, before she looked up to where the top of the tower was. On the wall beneath it, a few bricks were missing. Kidd put her hands and feet in those holes and made the short way up to the top. Reaching it, she turned to Harle, extending her hand to her. Harle looked at the ground about forty metres below her. She almost lost her balance, but pressed herself against the wall to prevent it. She wasn’t sure why she was afraid of heights just now. She anxiously looked up to Kidd, who offered her a reassuring smile. Harle took a deep breath and began to climb up as well. The top of the tower was about eight metres wide and equally long, with two rows of stones surrounding it.

Kidd went to the front and Harle followed her. From this side of the tower, they could clearly see Truce Village. And together with the descending sun in front of them, the view was beautiful beyond words. Both of them sat down and watched it silently. Harle laid her head onto Kidd’s shoulder and smiled.

“At least un happy end pour un terrible jour.”, Harle said and took Kidd’s left hand in hers.

“Hmm.”, Kidd simply said, looking over to Harle. “It really wasn’t such a nice day, Marle practically went mad.”

“Moi iz...sorry.” Harle looked away.

“Don’t excuse yerself all the time. It’s not yer fault...nor is it Marle’ was just a difficult situation...for all of us.” Kidd tried to reassure Harle with that, but she still looked sad.

“So...what did ya two talk ‘bout?”, she asked with genuine curiosity.

“She deserved to die, mais she trusted you. We talked about ze past...and about Lucca...”, Harle looked down sadly. Kidd noticed that and laid her arm around her shoulder, pressing her closer to her.

“I’m...I’m sorry I brought this up. I didn’t wanna make ya sad.”

Harle shook her head and forced herself to smile slightly. “Non, non it’z alright. Moi iz happy we talked about zat. Moi haz done terrible t’ingz. But moi will do better in ze future.”, Harle said and sighed. She didn’t know exactly how she would do better, but she would think of something, for sure.

“I know, Harle. We’ll just kill the last dragon, and then we can live like we’ve always wanted. By the way, what do ya wanna do after the Sky dragon is defeated?”, Kidd asked curiously. It felt a little awkward for her to ask that, and she hoped Harle wouldn’t tell her about Marbule again. It wasn’t like Kidd didn’t like the demi- humans there, but still, the people there seemed a bit too odd, for her taste.

“Je ne sais pas, mon ami. Mais it doezn’t matter, az long az moi iz wit’ you.” Harle smiled shyly and put her arm around Kidd’s waist.

“Harle...”, Kidd said hesitantly, blushing. The answer was a bit surprising for her, but she liked it nonetheless.

“Oui?”, Harle asked, moving her head to look at Kidd. Her red eyes met Kidd’s blue ones.

“I wanted to tell you...that for a while now...”, Kidd started and Harle could feel Kidd’s hand trembling on her shoulder. Harle squeezed it gently with her right hand.

“I...I didn’t, because of the dragons...I feared they would take you away from was selfish I know. But now...I don’t want to waste the time we have left...maybe it’s all over tomorrow, maybe not. I don’t know. The only thing I know is...”, Kidd laid her other arm around Harle’s neck as well, drawing her closer to her. Both looked at each other deeply. Their faces were only a few centimetres apart, both could feel the breath of the other tickle on their skin.

“I love you, Harle.”, Kidd said softly. Eventually she moved closer to Harle and kissed her hesitantly. To her surprise Harle responded immediately and kissed her back passionately. The sensation of Harle’s lips onto hers almost made Kidd fall unconscious. This feeling was overwhelming. They had kissed before, but this time...they both wanted it completely and it felt totally different. After a while Harle broke the kiss, but didn’t take her eyes off Kidd even for a second.

“Je t’aime.”, she said and kissed her again. Kidd’s heart beat wildly, she couldn’t believe what was happening just now. There were so many feelings crushing like a wave onto Kidd at that moment. She didn’t know how to deal with them all.

Harle was so happy. She couldn’t fully believe it yet, but she knew her wish had finally come true. After all she had gone through in her entire life, she had finally found happiness...and real love. She wished this feeling would never go away again, because right now, she felt like the happiest girl in the whole world. Now it didn’t matter anymore, if the whole world hated her for her sins, as long as Kidd was by her side, she could bear practically everything.

Harle gently pushed Kidd down. She lay above Kidd, caressing Kidd’s cheek affectionately. She smiled a wonderful smile. Kidd played with Harle’s locks dreamily, curling them around her finger. With her other hand she wandered along Harle’s back. Then she rolled to her side and pulled Harle with her.

With both arms around Harle’s waist, Kidd snuggled closer, burying her head in Harle’s locks. Kidd found the smell of Harle’s hair simply entrancing.

“I can’t believe this.”, Kidd whispered softly into Harle’s ear. So this was what it felt like.

“Moi neidder. “, Harle whispered back. A single tear ran down Harle’s cheek, although she was smiling, and Kidd kissed it gently away. While caressing Harle’s arm, she noticed it was cold, so she rubbed it gently. The sun was already down, leaving both of them in darkness.

“Let’s go in, it’s gettin’ cold.”, Kidd said and stood up, extending her hand to Harle. She took it and stood up. Both made their way down again and went through the window to get in.

The sight of the beds made Harle realize how tired she actually was. She went to the bed closest to the window and began undressing herself, starting with her shoes. Kidd did the same, but then went over to Harle, hugging her from behind. She kissed Harle softly on the neck, causing Harle to shiver slightly. With her hands on the bottom of Harle’s tank top, she slowly pulled it up and off Harle.

Harle then turned around and did the same with Kidd’s clothes, starting with her vest. Soon both of them stood in front of each other, completely naked. Harle giggled cutely as Kidd dragged her into bed with her, embracing her tightly.

Harle then pulled the blanket above both of them. She hesitated for a short moment, but then started to cover Kidd’s whole body with kisses. Kidd quivered and moaned slightly, earning even more kisses from Harle. She had trouble to deal with all those feelings but she tried her best not to think about her nervousness. She stroked Harle’s hair gently, causing Harle to look up. Kidd could see a mischievous smile on Harle’s face and couldn’t help but smirk herself. She gently pulled Harle up to her, kissing her while stroking her back. Both closed their eyes and completely gave themselves to the other. Kidd’s hand wandered along Harle’s side and up to her breasts. She cupped Harle’s right breast tentatively, unsure of how Harle would react, but Harle just smiled and laid her own hand above Kidd’s, pressing it closer against her breast. Then she kissed Kidd again, moaning quietly as Kidd’s hand moved all over her body. Harle had never felt like this before. She felt so content, so “whole”, a feeling she’d never thought existed.

Harle sighed and leaned her head onto Kidd’s chest, while Kidd laid her arm around Harle’s shoulder, stroking her hair. Harle looked up to Kidd’s face. The moon shone through the window, bathing Kidd’s face in light.

“Je t’aime.”, Harle whispered and pressed herself closer to Kidd, as if she never wanted to let go again.

“Love you too.”, Kidd answered and kissed Harle’s forehead.

Soon Harle fell asleep in Kidd’s arms. Kidd watched her with a content smile. Now that she had time to think again, her thoughts wandered to the dragons again. Only one was left. Serge had already beaten him once, it couldn’t be that hard to finish him off once and for all. But she worried a little about Harle. After all, the Sky Dragon God was her creator, the one who had guided her as a child. Even if he forced Harle to do such terrible things and work together with Lynx, Kidd was sure Harle respected him in a way. It had to be hard for her to kill him. She would be the last one then. Sometimes...Kidd wondered how it felt to be half dragon and half human. She looked like a human and acted like one, but still there was this dragon deep inside her. Kidd wanted so much to be able to help her, but she couldn’t. Harle was alone with that. However, Kidd would always be with her and do as much as she could to help Harle.

She wondered just when Harle had sneaked her way into her heart like this, bringing out emotions in her she had wanted to disappear. She wondered why they were here now, despite the cogs of fate having turned against them.

Glancing over to Harle once more, Kidd fell asleep as well. Their sleep was peaceful and quiet, Harle didn’t have any nightmares that night. It was the first night without them for a long time, and Harle hoped now with Kidd by her side every night, the nightmares would never haunt her again.

When Harle woke up again by the first sparkles of sunlight, she felt great. And one look to her side made her feel even better. Holding her with her strong arms, Kidd lay close to her, with a hint of a smile on her sleeping face.

Harle turned to her, kissing her gently. Kidd however didn’t fully wake up, she just tightened her embrace unconsciously. Harle giggled and nuzzled her head against Kidd’s chest. She remained like that for a moment, then lifted her head to whisper into her ear.

“Bon matin, mon amour.”

Kidd slowly opened her eyes and was greeted with Harle’s face, smiling at her.

“Good mornin’.”, Kidd answered. With her index finger she traced down Harle’s face, from her eyes to the tip of her nose and down around her soft lips. Both smiled lovingly. Kidd gave her a quick kiss and started to get up, but Harle quickly put her hands around Kidd’s waist and gently pulled her back to her.

“Already leaving moi?”, she asked and tried to sound disappointed.

“I guess...we can as well stay here for a while.”, Kidd answered and smiled affectionately. She lay down beside Harle again. Harle caressed Kidd’s arm, while leaning her forehead against Kidd’s.

“Moi’z wonderful...mon amour...”, Harle whispered.

“I...wanna live the rest of my that...with you...” They didn’t look at each other while saying this, but they knew the other would understand. They remained like that for almost an hour, only listening to the wind and the birds outside, caressing each was the most beautiful time both of them had ever spent. Eventually, Harle stood up and stretched herself, and Kidd did the same.

With a huge grin on her face Kidd looked at their clothes, which lay scattered across the room.

“What a mess!”, she said while collecting her clothes to get dressed. Harle just giggled and picked her clothes off the floor as well. Both got dressed quickly and headed towards the door. But just when Kidd was about to open the door, Harle took her hand off the doorknob and kissed Kidd softly. Kidd smiled and laid her hand onto Harle’s cheek, causing her to smile as well. Then they left the room, walking hand in hand, and made their way down to meet Marle.

The queen sat on her throne as always, already waiting for the two to come.

“Good mornin’, Marle!”, Kidd shouted and ran towards Marle, giving her a quick hug. Harle followed her slowly, greeting the queen with a simple nod.

“Good morning, you two. Slept well?”, Marle asked cheerily.

Kidd flushed slightly and nodded. “Yeah...thanks for lettin’ us stay.”

Marle just waved her hand. “No problem, you’re welcome. So...I guess you are hungry? Let’s go to the hall.”

Kidd nodded eagerly and followed Marle. Harle did the same, but she walked a little slower, noticing the glances the soldiers gave her. But she refused to let it bother her.

The three of them entered the well decorated hall, with a lot of expensive looking décor everywhere. Kidd wasn’t impressed in the least, she had seen it many, many times before. And besides, things like golden plates and expensive paintings weren’t things Kidd wanted to have anyway.

They sat down at a large wooden table. The queen sat at its end, with Harle to her left and Kidd to her right.

Soon a few maids entered the hall, bringing huge plates with food with them. After a few minutes, the whole table, which wasn’t exactly small, was full of plates. Harle was quite stunned, but she tried to hide it as good as possible, she didn’t want to draw attention with gawking at the food.

All three of them soon began to eat. Harle ate very slowly and mannered, she wasn’t particularly hungry anyway, but Kidd again was eating far too fast, obviously not thinking about manners and such. But the queen just smiled. She had known Kidd like that all the time, she didn’t bother. Besides, before she had become the queen, she had been a little like Kidd too. She hadn’t liked living in the castle all the time, and her adventure with Lucca, Crono and all the others had been the best time in her life. She too, just wanted to be normal, but now she had gotten accustomed to her “job”. Anyway, it wasn’t all that bad to be a queen. Marle had to smile suddenly, but decided not to dwell on this for too long.

“ still owe me an explanation, young girl.”, she said and faced Kidd.

Kidd wanted to ask what it was, but decided to eat up before talking. She quickly chewed the last bits of her breakfast and turned to Marle.

“What explanation?”, she asked.

“An explanation of why you came here, of course. As much as I would like to hear it, I highly doubt you just came back to see your beloved “auntie” again, am I right? So, what do you want from me?”

“Well...”, Kidd blushed profusely, feeling a little guilty for not having come to visit her for ten years, “...are ya mad at me?”, she asked hesitantly.

“No, no of course not! How could I ever be mad at you? But still, what’s the reason you came here?”, Marle said, and couldn’t suppress a smile at Kidd’s childish worries.

Kidd sighed in relief, then moved on. “Ya see...the dragons are after us. They just attacked us out of nowhere and tried to kill us...we don’t even know why they’re after us...and...”

Harle listened to Kidd for a while, but decided to speak for herself. “Ze dragonz...are juzt after moi...zey want to kill moi for betraying zem, for running away...” Kidd looked at Harle in disbelief and tried to say something when the queen interrupted her.

“So...I’ve heard of those dragons in El Nido...they were known as the protectors of the planet, living along with the demi-humans...the news of their deaths spread all over the world. The humans didn’t seem to care much, but the demi- humans were in complete outrage. That leaves the question: Where did these dragons come from? They were dead, after all. And many are there?”

“Originally...zere are seven dragonz, mais Kidd and moi already killed five of zem...ze Sky Dragon iz ze only one left...beside moi.”

“Beside you? Does that’re a dragon?” Marle was greatly surprised by that, but suddenly she started to understand. That glow in her eyes, this evil aura she had had back then.

Harle nodded solemnly and looked down, fidgeting nervously. Kidd noticed Harle’s nervousness and reached her hand over the table, taking Harle’s hand in hers, offering her a friendly smile.

“I begin to understand now. You turned against the dragons, because you didn’t hate the humans like the other dragons do. And so...they somehow managed to get back and they tried to kill you, with no success so far. And now you two want me to help you defeat the last dragon. Is that it?”, the queen asked, comprehension dawning on her.

Both girls nodded silently, looking at each other and then over to the queen.

“Well, I’m sure my men would be proud to lend a hand to defeat that monster.”, the queen answered and smiled.

Harle nodded towards the queen and smiled gratefully, while Kidd jumped up and ran over to embrace the queen.

“Thank you so much again. What would we do without ya?”, Kidd shouted joyfully. Now the two of them started to laugh and even Harle allowed herself to smile a little.

Finally, Kidd let go of Marle and the queen was able to stand up.

“Now, I think we should start preparations, the dragon could come anytime now. I have to call the soldiers and gather them in front of the castle. Together, we have to think of a plan. We have to divide the soldiers as effectively as possible. They have to distract the dragon from you long enough for you to figure out how to beat him.”

Both girls nodded in agreement and stood up as well, following the queen outside the hall. From now on, it wouldn't be long until the final decision: Death or a new life. Harle didn’t even want to think about the outcome of the battle, but one thing was for sure: She wouldn’t give away the chance of a new life that easily.

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Chapter 17

Title: Chapter 17 - Final battle

Within three hours, Marle managed to position her soldiers all around the castle. They were even on top of the towers, so they could see the dragon as early as possible. They all grew more and more worried with every passing minute.

Inside the castle, Marle was walking up and down the hall, almost impatiently waiting for the dragon to arrive. Not that she wished for the dragon to attack, but she wanted this whole thing to be over soon. Kidd and Harle sat at the table at the far end of the hall, holding hands. Kidd tried to encourage Harle a bit, stroking her hands and whispering soothing words, but all her efforts were in vain, although Harle truly appreciated Kidd's doing.

Harle felt so tired. It wasn't because of lack of sleep or physical strain, she was just...tired, of all of this. She wished for this all to end, but at the same time she felt like she didn’t have the power to kill the dragon. She knew the soldiers couldn't do much against him, it was all up to her and Kidd now.

Harle wasn't sure why she was thinking things like that, she hadn't been that afraid of the other dragons. Then why was there cold fear in her heart when she thought about the Sky Dragon? Somehow she had the feeling she would lose control.

"...Harle?" Kidd looked at her worriedly. Harle blinked several times, trying to clear her vision and mind and concentrate on Kidd in front of her.

"Oui?" Harle voice wasn't more than a whisper. Looking at Kidd and seeing her genuine concern for her almost made Harle cry.

" hurts to see ya like that...don't be so afraid, Harle. Just look forward. Tell me...what do ya wanna do when it's over? One thing you really want to do?" Kidd hoped to make Harle feel better with talking about the future.

Harle thought for a while...she didn't have many plans for the future, she always thought being with Kidd was all she wanted, but now she realized there was more, so much more. Harle blinked again and noticed Kidd staring at her, as though she was asking her if everything was alright. Sometimes, Kidd had such a childlike face, so innocent. Totally different from the face she had when she was angry.

Then she suddenly had an idea on how she could make up for everything, to finally lead a normal life. Harle was surprised of herself, she should have thought of that much earlier. Finally Harle smiled, surprising Kidd even more than herself.

"Oui, zere iz somet'ing moi wantz to do...", she finally answered. Kidd waited for her to continue but when no answer came, she decided to ask.

"What is it ya wanna do?", seeing Harle smile had made Kidd even more curious. It had to be something very special.

"It'z too early to tell zat...", Harle answered and gave Kidd a quick kiss, startling her. Harle smiled at Kidd and stood up, walking over to Marle, who had just spoken to one of her soldiers. Marle turned to Harle, an obviously worried look on her face.

"The dragon is coming our way. The soldiers on the top floor saw a giant thing flying above the ocean. The estimated time it reaches us is in two hours."

Harle's eyes grew wide and she turned to Kidd, giving her a sign. Immediately Kidd ran over to them.

"Now what do we do?", Marle asked them.

"When ze dragon arrives, ze soldierz try to diztract him until we reach ze forest clearing. Zis will take trois minutes. Ze soldierz may be able to weaken ze dragon un peu, mais if it getz dangerous, zey should hide in ze castle. Ze Sky Dragon will not attack here, for he knowz where moi iz. He iz juzt after moi, so he won't kill anyone...yet."

"Yet? You mean if he kills you, he comes back and kills us as well?", Marle was more than a little worried now.

"The dragons hate us humans...for destroyin' the planet...for discriminatin’ the demi- humans...I get the feelin' it wasn't such a good idea to wake the dragons...back then on our journey with Serge. If we hadn't woken them, they probably would have slept for another two hundred years." Kidd obviously suffered while saying this. It was all because of Lynx. If he hadn't stolen Serge's body, none of this would have happened.

"Oui, mais it iz too late, mon ami. We will kill..." Harle was interrupted by a soldier storming into the hall, panting for breath. He looked around wildly until he finally saw the queen.

"The Porre army! They're coming! Oh my god, they're coming our way!", the soldier cried with fear in his eyes.

"Is that true? What do they want from us?" Marle looked desperate. There wasn't any worse moment the Porre army could have shown up.

When Kidd suddenly started laughing out loud, Marle looked at her as if she was crazy.

"Why are you laughing?", she yelled, now utterly confused.

However, she didn't get an answer. Instead, Kidd ran out of the castle, towards the Porre army. Harle followed her instantly, leaving Marle behind. Not knowing what to do, Marle followed as well.

Outside, Kidd was already dashing down the stairs, waving wildly. After a few minutes, a woman running towards Kidd could be seen.

"Dana! You're here!", Kidd shouted and embraced the woman. Behind her, the soldiers of Porre got in position, waiting for new orders from their captain.

Marle walked down the stairs, still suspicious about what was going on. Finally, Kidd let go of Dana and both turned to Marle. Dana bowed deeply in front of the queen and the soldiers behind her saluted. Marle was stunned, to say the least. She had never seen the Porre army without their weapons drawn to fight.

"...Welcome...", was all she managed to say. Dana smiled friendly and stepped closer to Marle.

Marle backed away slightly, but Kidd held her in place.

"Don't be scared, they're here ta help us. Right, Dana?"

"That's right. While I was on the ship to El Nido four days ago, a giant dragon flew above us. Knowing the story about my friends here", Dana pointed to Harle and Kidd, "I thought we'd better come here and help out. That thing really looked scary. Besides, I wanted to talk to you for quite some time now, queen Marle.", Dana explained and offered her hand. Marle took it warily and forced herself to smile.

"Please come in...and..uh...your men as well.", she said. Kidd nodded in approval and waved the soldiers over.

Soon the Porre soldiers, about a hundred and fifty men, were lead downstairs to the spare dormitories, while Marle, Dana, Kidd and Harle went to the hall to discuss things.

" want to help us in defeating this dragon?", Marle asked, still a bit suspicious about this situation.

"Yes, after all Porre has done in the past, I guessed it was the least we could do to help you. Besides...I figured my friends would be here as well.", Dana answered and smiled to Harle and Kidd.

"Well...I truly appreciate the help and I guess the others do as well.", the queen said and shook Dana's hand. Harle and Kidd did so as well.

"So...we have a nouveau situation, mais we stick to ze old plan?", Harle asked after she sat down again.

"Yeah, I guess it's the best thing ta do. The plan'll work even better now."

"The plan? Would you mind explaining it to me?", Dana asked and smirked.

Kidd nodded and sat down next to Dana, explaining the plan to distract the dragon, while she and Harle would run to the forest clearing. There would be enough space there, so most of the damage or casualties could be avoided.

After that, they sat in silence, each of them deeply sunken within their own thoughts. They were all nervous and worried, but there was nothing to say or do about it at the moment. Suddenly, a loud sound from a trumpet-like instrument could be heard all over the castle. It was the sign of the soldiers on top of the towers, which meant that the dragon was close. Very close.

Kidd and Harle jumped from their seats and ran to the door, not even turning around once. Without saying goodbye, good luck, or even waving, they were out of the castle in no time. Outside, they could see the dragon clearly, so they hurried to the forest, where the dragon couldn't see them as easily as he probably could now.

Just an instant after them, countless soldiers, both Guardian and Porre ones, came rushing out of the castle, looking up to the sky, awaiting the dragon with their weapons drawn.

Upon the sight of the army of soldiers, the dragon howled fiercely. Shortly after that, he came to a stop right in front of them, causing the ground to tremble under his weight. Even though the dragon was well about five or more metres high, the soldiers didn't show any fear. The queen had told them the dragon wouldn't kill them, and they all tried to believe her, at least for now.

Soon the first wave of arrows flew into direction of the dragon, but they all just bounced off without doing any harm to the dragon. The dragon didn't move, he simply watched those tiny humans and laughed.

After a few more waves of arrows, the soldiers grew more and more frustrated, and even the soldiers with swords couldn't hurt the dragon one little bit. Some of them were already going to give up when one of the soldiers shouted to use fire arrows. The others did so and soon almost two hundred burning arrows were flying towards the dragon, but sadly, even those couldn't hurt him much.

Finally Dana came rushing over to them. "Idiots! Aim for the head, you can't hurt the body!" Dana herself took a bow with a burning arrow and shot it in direction of the dragons head, but the dragon, still unimpressed, blocked it with his paw, with send the arrow falling to the ground.

"Foolish humans! You could never beat me. I should teach you what happens if someone tries to hurt me, but you're not even worth dying right now. Tell me where the seventh dragon is and I will let you live for a few minutes more. Otherwise, you all shall die now."

The soldiers didn't budge nor did they answer the dragon, instead Dana raised her sword high into the air. "Spread out to a circle around the dragon and aim for the head! NOW!" The soldiers immediately reacted and sent another wave of burning arrows towards the head of the dragon. This time, it was impossible for the dragon to block all of the arrows, so quite a few hit the head. Dana watched this and waited for her chance. When the dragon was distracted, she shot one arrow with all her might in direction of the dragon. Catching the dragon completely by surprise, the burning arrow pierced right through his left eye, causing the dragon to howl and tremble in pain. It took him a while to recover from this, but he wasn't dead. Far from it.

"Foolish girl!", he yelled and struck his paw at Dana, hitting her hard. Dana flew about twenty metres until she crashed to the ground. When the dragon lifted his paw for another strike, the soldiers ran away, inside the castle.

The dragon watched them with an evil smile.

"Serves you right girl. I told you I'd let you live if you had just told me where the seventh dragon is. Why fighting me and die instead of just showing the direction they took?"

Dana didn't move for a while, but eventually she was able to stand up, facing the dragon. She trembled and blood dripped from her mouth, but her eyes were still full of hate for the dragon, not a single sign of fear was to be seen. "It's called friendship you bastard. Something you will never understand nor feel. I wonder what it is like, living without friendship and love...", Dana coughed and spilled blood all over her hand, but she didn't care. "I’m sure it’s pretty ugly and-" Before she could finish she was silenced by another hit of the dragons paw. This time, she didn't manage to stand up again.

"It was your own choice.", the dragon simply said. He tried to concentrate and after a while, he was able to locate Harle in the forest. He could smell her, he could smell her sweat, her fear. He heaved himself into the sky again and flew above the forest, searching for her.

By that time, Kidd and Harle had just reached the clearing and it was just a matter of time until they would be found. Harle was still panting for breath after they ran so fast while Kidd had already recovered her breath.

"I hope the others are okay...", Kidd said, looking up to the sky.

" iz sure zey are, mon ami.", Harle answered and laid her hand onto Kidd's shoulder to reassure her.

Harle wanted to say more, but was interrupted by the dragon's angry howl, which meant he had found them. Kidd and Harle parted, one standing left and the other one right to the dragon, which came down to the ground heavily.

"There you are...Harle, my child. Did you think you could run from me?", the dragon asked calmly, although he couldn't hide the piercing pain his eye caused him.

Kidd smirked at the sight of his left eye, which was struck by an arrow. In her mind she thanked the soldiers for doing that, it would make the battle a lot easier now.

"Moi iz not your child. You are un monster, mais moi iz not.", Harle answered to the dragon.

"I you are running away from the truth. You think your sins will be gone once you killed"

Kidd knew the dragon was trying to make her uncertain, and she really hoped Harle wouldn't fall for it.

"Non! Ze sins moi did will not go away wit' killing you. Mais you leave moi no choice. You should have never awakened." Harle already had enough of talking to the dragon, she feared he would somehow manipulate her.

"Enough of that! Why don't ya explain a few things ta us? We already know why ya wanna kill us and all, come you're here in the first place? Serge and his friends killed ya some time ago, didn't they?"

The dragon laughed at that, but it sounded like a deep howl.

"Indeed, they did kill the dragons.", he simply answered. Kidd was getting seriously impatient, talking to someone she would have to kill soon was unnerving. But the thought that it would worsen the pain in the dragon’s eye made her continue.

"They killed all of you. So? Why and how did you get back?"

"We didn't get back at all. The dragons Serge and the others killed are still dead, and they will not come back to this world. However, we don't come from this world. One day, not too long ago, we found ourselves here. We soon realized what had happened, since all of the dragons except for Harle were dead. And also, we figured out why and how we got here. It was Fate.", the dragon explained.

"Fate? Don't make me laugh! We destroyed Fate!", Kidd shouted, not yet believing what the dragon had said.

"That is true, but the end of the dragons by the hand of Serge was destined before Fate was destroyed. Serge didn't follow Fate's plans, so you could say, the dragons weren't meant to die, according to Fate."

Slowly, Kidd began to understand what the Sky Dragon God was talking about. Which didn’t make it easier to accept, however.

"Maybe you know what kind of effect that caused. The great inventor Lucca figured out this phenomenon. The death of the dragons, which were not meant to die yet, created a hole in the time-space continua. That hole brought us from out alternate world to yours, to replace the dragons here. The same thing happened to Serge, back then. But now I am here, ready to kill you, Harle, for betraying your family like that."

Kidd was quite stunned by the dragon's explanation. Not meant to die? How could she know these dragons were meant to die now?

"You'll never kill us. Why would we lose ta ya after we got rid of the others?"

"Foolish girl. Even if you killed me, that won't change your fate. Other dragons will come here to kill you, over and over again, until Harle is dead. You won't change anything by killing me.", the dragon answered.

"Non! Zat'z not true!", Harle shouted, unable to believe it. All this wasn't for nothing, was it?

"Even if they came back, we'll kill them again. Just like that." Kidd didn't believe the dragon, she knew of Lucca's theory about this phenomenon. Things like that weren't likely to happen twice within such a short time-span.

"Why don't you run away girl? You don't have anything to do with that. Don't be as foolish as the other girl.", the dragon snorted.

"The other girl? Who?", Kidd yelled, suddenly very angry.

"She was very brave, ordering her soldiers to strike me with burning arrows, and she even hit me once. Too bad she is dead now. And you will receive the same fate if you stay here any longer. But at least you can be happy to know the truth about us before you die, girl.", the dragon finished and lifted his paw.

"Bastard!", Kidd screamed and charged him.

She could dodge the dragon’s first attack and threw her dagger in direction of the dragon's right eye, but it missed. Now that her dagger was temporarily gone, Kidd cast a BlackHole element, which was more than a little effective on the dragon.

So Harle had been right after all. The element was very strong, even though Kidd wasn't good with any spells except red ones.

The dragon cringed in pain, and Kidd took this change to retrieve her dagger from behind the dragon. Harle, who hadn't done much until now because of her shock of hearing the truth from the dragon, now started to move as well.

She threw her cards into his direction, directly followed by a GravityBall element. But this time, it didn't hurt the dragon as much, for he saw it coming and was prepared. He hit Harle with his paw and sent her directly to the ground.

Harle coughed and breathed heavily, but was able to stand up again. Any more hits like that and Harle wouldn't stand up again that easily.

"That's enough!", Kidd screamed and cast BlackHole once again. She knew it was her last black element, but she also knew she couldn't do much any other way, standing behind the dragon.

Focusing completely on Harle, the Sky Dragon God was caught by surprise, again. The element struck him hard and obviously weakened the dragon a great deal.

It was now or never. Kidd ran around the dragon until she faced him and threw her dagger in direction of his right eye again, and this time, it hit.

The dragon roared in pain and Kidd was sure that even her friends at the castle could hear it, it was incredibly loud.

Kidd already prepared for her next move, since the dragon still wasn't dead, but Harle simply stood there and stared in disbelief. With her eyes wide open she stared at the blood running down from the dragon's eyes, this incredible amount of blood. She was so deep in her thoughts; she didn't even hear the dragon's roar anymore. It was all completely shut out, in front of her was just the image of the Sky Dragon being in terrible pain.

" me...these humans...don't you see? I may be not the Sky Dragon you knew, but even I know of the way the humans treat this world. Harle, they destroy it...they'll hurt you Harle..."

Harle could hardly stand this voice in her head. She shouldn't listen to him, but there was no way to avoid it. Harle pressed her hands against her ears and shook her head, but of course, that didn't make the voice go away. Harle wasn't sure if she would ever live without these voices haunting her.

Suddenly Harle's vision blurred, she couldn't see the Sky Dragon anymore. Instead, images of the past appeared before her eyes. She saw humans fighting each other in useless wars. She saw countless innocent people die, but especially demi-humans as well. She saw humans hunting animals to extinction, she even saw Serge killing the hydra.

Harle shook her head wildly, she didn't want to see this, but even though her eyes were closed, she was forced to see it. Other images appeared. Harle could see several people standing in a circle all around her. Except of those people everything was dark. Harle looked down at herself and saw she was wearing her old clothes again. Harle looked around in confusion and saw all these people laughing and pointing their fingers at her. She could hear everything they were saying...

"Look at her, what's a demi- human doing here? Go back to Marbule where you scum belong!"

"Yeah, and look at her stupid clothes! Did she think she could hide underneath this harlequin outfit? Did she really think she could fool us? Everyone sees you're a demi-human!"

"And this accent! Those demi- humans can't even speak proper English! They're so stupid, thank goodness we don't have to live with them. May they stay in Marbule forever!"

"Right. Leave, demi- human, and tell your friends they should never come here!"

Harle could hardly bear it. She looked around helplessly, but she only saw these people laughing at her. Harle remembered those days...she remembered them too well. This had been her everyday life. Whenever she was out to do errands for Lynx she was faced with this. She hated it and she was glad when she got order to punish some humans who dared insulting her all the time. Back then, she really hated humans. But now that she lived so happily with Kidd, she didn't want those memories to had taken so long to forget them.

When Harle looked around again, the people had come closer. Although she knew it was just an image of her past, she couldn't help this fear inside her growing bigger with every second.

Suddenly she saw her. It was Kidd. She was standing among the others, laughing and pointing at her as well. Harle could see an evil grin on her face and it made her heart stop. It was too much for her. Harle wanted to shout, but no sound came out. Crying and sobbing, she fell down to her knees.

"That stupid jester. Can't just someone get rid of her? She's annoyin’."

It was Kidd's voice. Harle could hardly believe it but there was no mistake. It really was Kidd, looking right down at Harle. The other people laughed even more now. This was no image of the past anymore...was it...the future?

Suddenly Harle's eyes flashed brightly. She stood up again and looked around angrily. Suddenly the people stopped laughing. One after another, they vanished. Eventually, Harle found herself back in the forest, her heart racing and an incredible anger building up inside of her.

She could see Kidd a few metres in front of her. She slowly walked to the place where the dragon had vanished, making sure he really was dead. After that, she retrieved her dagger.

"Harle! We did it! We- ", Kidd turned around, smiling brightly, but she stopped abruptly when she saw Harle's eerily glowing eyes. She had never seen those eyes so brightly...ever since the orphanage.

"Harle? What is it?" Kidd slowly walked towards Harle, but suddenly Harle took out her cards and prepared to attack her.

"Wh...What?", Kidd shouted in surprise and took a few steps back.

"You...killed him...", Harle said with a blank expression devoid of any emotions other than hatred.

"Harle, what is it? Calm down!", Kidd shouted in fear. She could already imagine what Harle was up to, but at the same time, she couldn't believe it. How could she do that to her?

"Foolish humans. All you can do iz kill. It iz time to put zis to un end. Humans do not deserve to live on zis planet." With these words, Harle ran towards Kidd and attacked with her cards. Kidd couldn't evade this storm of cards, so many of them hit her, cutting into her flesh. Kidd screamed in pain and tried to get away from her.

"Harle! What are you doing! It's me, Kidd! Why are you doing this to me?" Kidd couldn’t remember the last time she had been so afraid. The one she loved the most, the one she would give up everything for had turned against her. And she had no idea why.

With trembling hands Kidd dropped her dagger to the ground. She couldn't bring herself to fight Harle.

"Please, Harle! Stop it...", Kidd said and tears ran down her cheeks. They mixed with the blood from Kidd's wounds and turned entirely red before they fell to the ground.

Harle didn't listen to her, nor did she care about the dagger or the tears. She charged forward again and hit her with her right fist directly into the face. She could see Kidd's eyes widen before the girl fell backwards.

Kidd just couldn't believe this was actually happening. She had to fight hard to stay conscious. Lying on the ground, she could see Harle approaching. She could feel those red eyes burning directly into her mind.

Slowly, Harle took out an element, turning it between her fingers for some time, to make sure Kidd could see it as well. Kidd blinked a few times, her vision blurred because of the blood dripping into her eyes. However, she could see which element it was: It was an Iceberg element. If Harle used this, Kidd was sure she was going to die.

Suddenly her fear was stronger than her disbelief and Kidd got up as quickly as possible. She ran away, but she could hardly focus on the direction for she was dizzy and her vision was blurred. After a few steps she stopped and turned around. She saw Harle still standing in the same place. Just in the moment Harle attempted to cast the Iceberg spell, Kidd ran towards Harle and hit her into the face, just like Harle had shortly before. However, Kidd's punch wasn't as strong as Harle's, but it was still enough to send her to the ground.

Kidd quickly got onto her and pressed Harle's arms to the ground beside her face.

"Now listen ta me! What's gotten inta ya?", she demanded.

Harle didn't respond. She tried to get free from Kidd but found she wasn't able to.

"I hate you! I hate you humans!", Harle shouted in tears, her voice clearly giving away how frustrated she was. The glow in her eyes was getting weaker, but it didn't disappear completely.

"The dragon was it, right? The bloody dragon did this ta ya! C'mon, Harle. They're dead, all of 'em. Get back ta normal, Harle!" Now Kidd was crying as well, sad about the fact that Harle's will had been too weak to withstand the dragon.

"I hate you!", was the only answer Kidd received from Harle, but that was enough. Kidd slapped Harle in anger.

Suddenly, Harle's expression turned entirely sad and the glow in her eyes vanished completely. Kidd noticed Harle's shocked expression as her blood dropped onto her face.

Kidd noticed this and stood up, letting go of Harle, who got up as well.

"Everything alright?", Kidd asked and tried to sound as normal as possible, even though she was still a bit frightened of Harle. With the back of her hand, she tried to wipe away the blood in her face which dripped from a wound above her right eye

"...K...Kidd?" Harle's voice wasn't more than a whisper. She stepped forward, regarding Kidd. She noticed all the cuts on Kidd's body and stepped back again. Although the cuts were just superficial, they looked pretty bad. Kidd just smiled at Harle to reassure her, knowing that everything was alright again.

"Kidd!", Harle shouted. For a short moment Kidd was a little afraid again, but when Harle embraced Kidd tightly and cried at her shoulder, she knew Harle was back to normal.

"What happened?", Kidd asked softly, stroking Harle's hair gently.

"Moi...saw zem...zey were laughing at moi and" Harle couldn't finish the sentence, she was crying too hard to speak. But it was enough to know for Kidd. She could imagine what had happened.

"It's alright now...the dragons are gone...they won't hurt ya anymore. Nobody will hurt ya anymore, Harle.'s just you and me.", she said, holding the smaller girl tightly to herself.

Harle could only manage to nod. Kidd held her for a while, thinking about this new situation both of them fought so hard for.

"Are ya happy, Harle?", Kidd asked, smiling at Harle. Harle slowly raised her head and looked into Kidd's eyes. She hesitantly moved her head towards Kidd's and kissed her deeply.


Chapter 18

Title: Epilogue - A new life

With heavy shopping bags full of food, Kidd crossed the big wooden bridge leading to her house. It was still early and foggy, so Kidd couldn’t see the harbour of Truce Village yet. Usually, she stopped at this bridge for a while, to simply watch the ships at the harbour or the ocean below in general. She just loved this peace and silence every morning, and she appreciated it every day anew.

But today she didn’t have that much time to stop and watch. She didn’t want to let the others wait, she was sure they were pretty hungry. So she simply passed the old bridge and after a few minutes, she arrived at her house.

She looked up to the sign above the door. This time, she tried to remind herself to paint it anew, after these years, one could hardly see the letters anymore. A few years ago, when it was new, one could read “Petite Dragon” standing in big letters on it.

Somehow, with all the bags in her arms, Kidd managed to knock at the door. It wasn’t long until a young woman of sixteen years opened the door.

“Good morning, auntie Kidd!”, the girl exclaimed happily and quickly took a few of Kidd’s bags. Together they took them to the kitchen.

“Good ta see you’re already awake, Trisha. I could use a little help.”, Kidd said gratefully.

Trisha and Kidd began to take the food out of the bags and put it into the fridge. After that they began to slice the bread, prepare the cocoa and tea and set the table with everything needed for a breakfast. Trisha was humming all the while, happy as always.

Soon they heard heavy footsteps from the stairs and shortly after that the kitchen door opened slowly, creaking.

“Morning!”, Kidd and Trisha said in unison. The figure shuffled towards them and yawned while stretching the arms.

“My, ya don’t look good, Harle.”, Kidd said and pointed at Harle’s hair, which stood in all directions, and the bags under her eyes. Indeed, standing there in the kitchen in her pink pyjamas, with her shoulders down and her hair and eyes like that, Harle really looked awful.

“Merci beaucoup.”, Harle simply said and walked past them towards the fridge. Trisha just giggled and Kidd gave Harle a quick kiss on the cheek.

“You’re up late today, how come?”, Trisha asked Harle, who was already helping them in preparing the breakfast.

Harle just shrugged and yawned again, she didn’t bother to explain everything right now. “Someone waz quite complicated lazt nuit.”

Both Kidd and Trisha laughed now, knowing exactly whom Harle was referring to.

Soon the three of them were finished. The huge wooden table was set and everything was in its place. Harle inhaled deeply, enjoying the scent of fresh bread and tea.

“Guess its my turn today?”, Trisha asked with a sigh and received a nod from Kidd. So she left the kitchen and soon the ringing of a bell could be heard throughout the house.

“Guezz moi should get drezzed.”, Harle said and went back upstairs, from which she returned after a few minutes.

Right after Harle came down again, fully dressed and with combed hair, both of them already heard the shouting and laughing coming closer to the kitchen. A few seconds passed until the kitchen door burst open and a whole bunch of children came running inside, quickly searching for a place to sit.

Trisha followed, closing the door behind her. Soon everyone found a chair and sat down, Kidd at one end of the table, Harle at the other. Trisha sat in the middle.

“Morning guys!”, Kidd shouted happily and the kids immediately answered.

“Good morning Kidd and Harle!”, they shouted in (almost) perfect unison.

“Counting!”, Kidd shouted, trying to sound a little like an military officer.

The children began counting, beginning with Leana, who sat next to Harle.












Kidd nodded with each number mentioned, but abruptly stopped.

“Eleven? Who’s missin’?”, she asked.

The kids looked around curiously.

“Feena is.”, Carol said shyly.

“Uh, her again. Geez Trisha, ya shouldn’t forget someone.”, Kidd said with a smirk.

“Geez, Trisha!”, the kids imitated, laughing. Trisha stuck her tongue out at them and stood up.

“I’ll go.”, Kidd said to her and Trisha sat down again, smiling.

“Ya don’t have ta wait for us.” Kidd waved and left.

Now the children looked at Harle expectantly.

“Bon appetit.”, she said cheerily and everyone began to eat. Soon the room was filled with shouting and laughter again. The children told each other about the dreams they had had last night, about what they wanted to do today and so on.

Harle was grateful for every minute she could enjoy hearing the laughter of these children. It made her feel happy and content beyond words.

Almost twelve years had passed since Harle and Kidd defeated the dragons. Twelve years, which seemed so awfully short when Harle thought back. Time sure passed quickly when it was spent in happiness.

It was seven years ago, when Harle and Kidd had finally opened this orphanage. It had been Harle’s idea and Kidd had been quite surprised by it. She had never thought Harle would really do such a thing, but now both of them were happy with it and it had turned out just fine. They had built the orphanage exactly in the same place as the previous one. The place where Lucca had once lived with her kids. To Harle, it was the best thing to do to make up for the things she had done. Of course, a place like this reminded her about the things she had done every day, but that was something Harle just had to deal with. After all, guilt never vanished completely.

However, compared to the joy she felt everyday being with these children, her guilt only occupied a tiny place within her heart, not big enough to hurt her anymore.

Harle sipped at her cup of tea, noticing it was still too hot to drink. She looked around and saw Trisha looking at her, with a loving smile on her face. To Trisha, Harle was a mother, a sister and the best friend all in one. She adored Harle completely, but Kidd as well, even if not as much as Harle. Trisha reminded herself of the time she had first met Harle every single day. And she was overly grateful she could live here with them. Trisha had been the first one to live in this house, together with Kidd and Harle.

When Trisha had been nine, she had still lived in Porre. However, living may be not the best word to describe it. Her clothes had been not more than rags and she had lived from stealing money. She had been poor, but she hadn’t been alone. She had known another girl who shared the same fate. She had lost her parents as well. Together, they had been even a bit happy, but then the girl had died in an accident and Trisha had been all alone again. But shortly after that, she had met Harle for the second time, and Kidd as well. They had come to Porre on a ship and Kidd had caught Trisha while trying to steal Kidd’s money. Harle had recognized her, even after five years. They had immediately taken Trisha with her and together, they had opened the orphanage. Now that Trisha was sixteen, she could leave them and start a life on her own, but instead she decided to help Harle and Kidd with the children, because twelve children really were a lot of work for two people alone. And also, she wanted to give those children what she herself had received from Harle and Kidd: Love.

Harle smiled back to Trisha and drank her tea. In the meantime, Kidd stood in front of the door to Feena’s room, which she shared with Leen, Carol and Leana.

She had already knocked three times, but Feena still didn’t answer her.

“Alright Feena, I’m comin’ in.” Kidd opened the door and found Feena sitting on her bed, reading a book.

“Hey lady, breakfast’s ready.”, Kidd said and sat down beside her. However, Feena didn’t respond.

With one quick move, Kidd snatched the book from her and stood up.

“Hey! Give it back!”, Feena shouted, trying to reach the book, which Kidd held high above her head.

“Ah, so the lady can speak. What is it? Just come eat breakfast with us. After that, ya can continue readin’. Deal?”

“No! I’m not hungry! Just give it back, Kidd!”, the girl shouted desperately.

“Don’t make such a fuss, Feena. Just come and eat. What’s so great ‘bout that book anyway?” Kidd looked at the cover of the book and began to read the first page. “...that’s not one of ours, is it? What kind of book is it?”, Kidd asked curiously.

At first Feena didn’t want to answer, but she thought it was better to do so if she wanted to have the book back. “It’s an adventure book.”

Kidd nodded. “Sounds pretty good. But where did ya get it?”

Feena was at a loss for answers. She looked around, trying to think of something.

“Was it a gift from someone?”, Kidd asked, knowing full well that this wasn’t the case.

Feena smiled and nodded. “Yes, that’s right! So please, give it back to me.”, she said, but Kidd could clearly see her dislike of using the word “please”.

“Who gave it to you?”, Kidd asked, smiling to herself. Again, Feena didn’t answer, she couldn’t possibly think of someone who would give her a present, especially a book.

“Just answer me and you get the book back.”, Kidd tried to lure an answer out of Feena. When she didn’t say anything, Kidd decided to solve the case.

“We didn’t steal it, didn’t we?”, Kidd asked, looking directly into Feena’s eyes, with an evil smile on her lips. But Feena quickly looked down in embarrassment.

“Ok, I get the idea. Ya went ta the bookstore in Truce, like ya always do. Then ya found this”, Kidd pointed on the book, “a bloody nice book for an adventure fan like ya, Feena. Unfortunately…”, Kidd looked dramatically at Feena, “this book was bloody expensive. So...the only solution was to steal it, isn’t that right?”

Feena still looked down, but nodded slightly, afraid that Kidd would get angry with her.

“No!”, Kidd said a bit louder than she had intended and she saw Feena jerk back. “That wasn’t the only solution. Ya could’ve asked me or Harle ta buy it.”

Finally Feena dared to look up again. Rubbing her eye with her palm, she answered: “But...but it was so expensive.”

“No buts. It was expensive, so what? Good books are always expensive. It’s not like we’re poor or anythin’. But know I understand...ya didn’t wanna eat breakfast so ya could read the book alone. Because if someone saw ya readin’ a book which isn’t one of ours, he or she would have told me about it. Isn’t that right?”, Kidd asked. She was a little proud of herself for being able to see right through the children. She knew exactly when they were lying or not, especially if it was Feena. Sometimes Kidd was amazed of how similar Feena was to herself back when she had been a child.

Feena wasn’t very close to the others, she was a little different. She was older than the others as well. Feena was already ten years old, but the age from the other children varied from 4-8, so she didn’t like playing with them that much, she always thought of herself as mature, while the others were just children. Kidd was nearly the same, and she too had always wanted adventures, just like Feena did.

“Yes...I stole the I have to give it back?”, Feena asked shyly, but still not giving up hope.

“Nah, ya don’t have ta give it back, but ya have ta pay for it. Understood?”

Feena smiled brightly and nodded eagerly.

“I’ll come with ya. Let’s go.” Kidd took Feena’s hand and they went out of the room, towards the front door.

“Where are you two going?”, Harle asked as she saw them passing the open kitchen door.

“Oh...uh...we’re just goin’ for a walk. Don’t worry ‘bout the breakfast. We’ll be back soon.” Kidd and Feena waved and left the house, heading for Truce.

Outside, Feena started to laugh brightly.

“What is it?”, Kidd asked with a puzzled look.

“I can’t believe you just lied to Harle. Aren’t you always telling me one should never, ever lie?”, Feena asked and smirked.

“Well...that wasn’t really a lie, was it? It would’ve taken so long ta explain everythin’, so I told her we’re going for a walk. It doesn’t make a difference anyway...”

“Riiiight...”, Feena said and giggled.

“Brat!”, Kidd said and ruffled Feena’s hair. “I didn’t lie only for ya, ya know. I have ta buy somethin’ in Truce and Harle mustn’t know about it.”

Feena looked up to Kidd and smiled. “Oh I know what you mean. For tomorrow, right?”

“Yup.” Kidd simply answered.

Soon they reached the bookstore and went to the man at the counter. Kidd laid her hands on Feena’s shoulders and pushed her forward.

“Uh...hi...”, Feena said to the man and blushed.

“Oh, hi there little girl. What do you want?”, he asked gently.

“Eh...this here”, she showed him the book, “I was here in this store yesterday...and...uh...I wanted to buy this book, because it’s really good...and then I took it with me...and I completely forgot to pay! Haha!” Feena started to laugh sheepishly and she knew she was making a fool of herself, but she didn’t care.

Feena quickly took the money Kidd had given her and handed it to the man.

“What a honest girl you are. Thank you very much.”, the man said and waved Feena goodbye as she left.

“I’m impressed.”, Kidd said when they were back outside, “I didn’t think he’d believe ya. You’re quite the actress.”

Feena smiled proudly, although she was a little surprised of the man as well.

“Anyway...”, Kidd gave Feena a little smack on the head, “I told ya not ta lie. It ain’t a good thing ta do. The same goes for stealin’! That’s bad as well...I guess.” Kidd remembered that she had stolen so many times, she couldn’t count it anymore. And she didn’t only steal when she was ten, like Feena. Kidd quickly dismissed those thoughts, smirking.

“So...let’s go to the jeweller’s over there. It won’t take long, I promise.”

Feena nodded and followed her into the shop. Inside, she was overwhelmed by all these shining rings, pendants and earrings. She didn’t believe it when she looked at the price tag for a silver ring.

“Hey Feena, come over here.” Feena walked over to Kidd, who showed her a pretty pendant. “How is that one? Ya think she’ll like it?”, Kidd asked.

“Tsk, how should I know what your girlfriend likes!”, Feena answered loudly and grinned evilly.

Kidd blushed when she saw the other customers look at her. Feena spoke so loud everyone in the shop could hear her.

“Was that really necessary?”, Kidd asked and gave Feena another smack. Kidd turned around and searched a bit more, until she found something she really liked. She paid for it and they left the shop. Then they made their way back to their house, this time stopping at the bridge for a little while.

While Kidd and Feena were away, the others had eaten up and Harle and Trisha had cleaned up. After that, the boys had gone outside in the garden to play knight with their wooden swords, while the girls were inside practicing new magic tricks.

Trisha went outside to look after the boys, which wasn’t exactly easy. Every two minutes she had to console at least one of them, because he got hit on the head or was pushed in the mud and so on. But Trisha didn’t mind at all. It was fun to watch the children play, especially when they referred to Trisha as the princess, who was to be saved from mighty villains. It always made Trisha feel loved.

While Trisha was outside, Harle was inside, helping the girls with their magic tricks. Harle showed them a lot of tricks, especially those containing cards, after all it was one of things she could do best. The girls were always eager to learn them, so they could fool the boys. But the tricks weren’t easy, especially the younger ones, such as Leen, who was only four years old, had some difficulties with it.

When Kidd and Feena came back, Feena immediately rushed to her room and continued reading her book. Kidd went to the kitchen to get herself something to drink. While she poured milk into her glass, Leana approached from behind.

“Bonjour, Kidd,”, she said.

Kidd turned around, with a surprised look on her face. Leana was only seven, but her pronunciation was quite good.

Leana saw how surprised Kidd was and stood proudly in front of her, her hands to her sides. Kidd had to suppress laughing as she saw the superior look on Leana’s face.

“Bonjour, ma petite.”, Kidd answered and grinned, then drank her milk. She could clearly see the smile fade from Leana’s face. Of course, she didn’t understand what Kidd was saying. With tears welling up in her eyes, she turned around and ran out of the kitchen. Kidd could hear her crying for Harle and sighed. She didn’t want to make her cry, but the children should learn never to be too proud of themselves. Kidd left the kitchen to look for her, but Leana was gone, and so was Harle.

So Kidd sat down on the couch and tried to relax.

“Hey, Kidd is back!”, one of the girls shouted and soon all girls gathered around Kidd.

“Tell us a story!”, the girl pleaded.

“Yes, a story!”, the others shouted and soon the boys came in as well, nobody wanted to miss any of Kidd’s great adventure stories. And even Feena, who had been totally engrossed in her book, came to listen. She always liked Kidd’s stories, even if she knew they were pretty exaggerated. Nobody could kill a dragon all by oneself, she always thought. Those things could only happen in fairy-tales. However, she liked Kidd’s stories, they were even better than the ones in her books.

Soon all children had gathered on the carpet in front of Kidd, even Leana came back, together with Harle.

“A story, huh?”, Kidd asked and tried to sound annoyed. The children nodded quickly.

“Alright, it was one day many years ago, when I was a pirate...”, Kidd started. Now every child completely concentrated on Kidd, nobody dared to speak and interrupt her. Harle watched them form afar, with a content smile on her face.

With Kidd telling her stories, the afternoon passed quickly and soon it began to get dark outside. Trisha rang the bell, which meant it was time to eat, just when Kidd finished. The children stood up and went to kitchen to eat the meal, which Harle had prepared while they were listening to the story.

Everyone sat down and waited for Harle’s signal. When Harle finally said: “Bon appetit!”, everyone grabbed the meal and began to eat as though they were almost starved.

When they finished, Kidd knew it was time to take Harle away from the house, so both of them went for a walk in the dark.

Now it was time for Trisha and the children to bake the cake for Harle. Again, it wasn’t easy for Trisha. Baking a cake together with twelve children was pretty complicated. Trisha tried her best with keeping everyone occupied with something, like turning on the oven and taking the flour from the cupboard.

To make things worse, the cake had to be huge, it had to be enough for fifteen people. Trisha just hoped Harle and Kidd would be away long enough.

Already outside the house, Harle was quite surprised by Kidd’s suggestion to take a walk. It was the second time today and normally, Kidd wasn’t a big fan of walks.

“Why did you want to take a walk, mon amour?”, Harle asked, taking Kidd’s hand as they walked.

“Why not? Look...”, Kidd pointed to the sky above, which was full of stars, shining brightly, “it’s such a pretty night.”

Harle nodded and decided not to ask further. She could think of the reason anyway and Kidd was such a poor liar. Not that this was a bad thing.

They stopped at the bridge and looked down to the harbour of Truce. Only the lights from the ships could be seen.

Harle laid her head onto Kidd’s shoulder and sighed.

“It iz so quiet here.”, she said dreamily.

“Yeah...”, Kidd answered and kissed Harle. Sometimes she missed those quiet nights, this peaceful time alone. With these children around them the whole day, they didn’t have that much time for each other like they had years ago. But hearing the children laugh made up for it anytime.

When they walked across the bridge and towards Truce, Kidd watched Harle intensely.

“Are ya happy, Harle?”, she asked, looking up to the sky.

When Harle started giggling, Kidd watched her curiously.

“What is it?”, she asked.

“You ask moi zat question every day. And moi alwayz tellz you ze same. Moi iz happy, mon amour. Trés happy.”, Harle answered and gave Kidd a quick kiss.

“That’s good.”

Together, they walked past the windows of the shops, taking a look at each one of them. Of course, the shops were already closed, but it was nice enough just to look through the windows.

Then Harle dragged Kidd to the window of the jeweller’s. Harle just loved to look at those pendants and rings.

“Oh, look at zat one.”, Harle said and pointed on a beautiful pendant. It was a rather large oval sapphire with a beautiful silver chain attached to it. On the back of the sapphire, there was a little silver plate which could serve as a nametag.

“Wow, now that’s pretty.”, Kidd said with sparkling eyes, “Don’t ya think?”

Harle nodded. “Oui, it’z truly beautiful. Too bad ze shop has closed already...”, she said and sighed.

“Don’t worry. I’ll bet it won’t be gone so soon. Ya can buy it later.”, Kidd said and laid her arm around Harle’s shoulders.

“You’re right.”, Harle answered and snuggled up to Kidd.

In the meantime, Trisha and the kids had successfully managed to make the kitchen look like a bomb had exploded in there. Trisha knew the kitchen wouldn’t be exactly clean after they baked, but she hadn’t expected it turn out as pure chaos.

Now that the children had gone to bed and the cake was in the oven, Trisha started cleaning up. The dough was spread throughout the kitchen, together with the flour, sugar and salt. Trisha was annoyed that she had to do all the cleaning alone, but reminding herself of how much fun the kids had had baking the cake, it was well worth it. Especially the fact that the children actually got along with each other surprised her greatly. Usually, the girls often started a little war with the boys, and vice versa. But today they had worked together, the older ones trying to explain certain things to the younger ones, not minding if it was a boy or a girl. Trisha asked herself if it would be a good idea to cook and bake with them more often.

The ringing at the door took Trisha off her thoughts. Seeing that the kitchen was a total mess, she just hoped Harle wouldn’t come in here, at least not today. Trisha quickly took off her apron and ran to the door, opening it with a bright smile.

“Oh, you’re back already?”, she said smiling, looking at Kidd first, then at Harle.

Kidd nodded, indicating she got the hint.

“Yeah, I’m quite tired now. C’mon Harle, let’s go to bed.” Harle nodded and followed Kidd inside, directly going upstairs to their room.

Trisha sighed in relief and went back to the kitchen. By now, the cake was ready and Trisha took it out of the oven. She spent another hour with skilfully decorating the huge cake until everything was finished. Trisha yawned and rubbed her eyes as she looked at it for one last time, then went to bed as well.

The entire night was unusually silent. Most nights, there was trouble in at least one of the rooms. But tonight, it was all quiet, mostly because the children were very tired from staying up late.

The morning came way too soon, for everyone except Kidd and Harle. In fact, Harle was the first to wake up. She had nothing to do, so she already wanted to go down, but Kidd woke up just in time to stop her. Dragging Harle back into bed, she was sure she could keep her there for at least two more hours, and Harle didn’t really mind either.

Trisha woke up shortly after them. Having her room directly next to Kidd and Harle’s, she could already hear them laughing and giggling, so Trisha quickly got out of her bed, got dressed and left her room. She tip-toed past Kidd and Harle’s room and went down the stairs, careful not to make any noise.

Downstairs, she went to the kitchen and set the table, placing the big cake in the middle of it. Then she woke up the children. She told them to be quiet, but as always, screaming and shouting weren’t avoidable. Of course, Harle and Kidd heard that as well.

“Oh? Ze children are already awake? Why iz zat?”, Harle asked with a puzzled look and stood up.

“Dunno.”, Kidd answered and smiled sheepishly. Harle smiled knowingly and both got dressed.

“Ya go ahead, I’ll follow in a minute.” Kidd said and Harle went downstairs, heading towards the kitchen. It was still dark and quiet, so Harle reached for the switch. Just the moment when the light turned on, the children began shouting happily, running towards the surprised Harle to give her a hug.

Harle happily embraced each one of them, and finally Trisha as well.

When Harle’s look fell on the cake, her heart almost stopped. She had never seen such a big and beautiful cake before.

“Voilá!”, the children exclaimed proudly. Harle was close to tears. Seeing all these children smiling proudly at her just made her unbelievably happy. She wanted to say something, when the door behind her opened.

Kidd stood in the doorframe and smiled gently. With her hands behind her back, she slowly walked towards Harle.

“Happy birthday to you...”, she started singing, nodding at the kids, which instantly joined her, “happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Harle, happy birthday to you!” The children sang well and Harle was almost overwhelmed by it all.

Standing directly in front of Harle, Kidd showed Harle her present she had hidden behind her back until now. It was exactly the same pendant Harle had looked at the day before.

Harle was speechless and just stared at Kidd, while Kidd gently placed the pendant around Harle’s neck. The colour of the sapphire was just the same as Kidd’s eyes, and it matched Harle’s just perfectly.

“Happy birthday”, she said softly and gave Harle a long kiss. The children applauded happily and Harle felt herself blush.

Finally, Harle broke the kiss and turned to the children.

“Merci beaucoup, everyone.”, she said, with a few tears of joy running down her cheeks.

“Now ta the cake, I’m hungry!”, Kidd shouted and Harle began to slice the cake.

She sliced it exactly into fifteen equal pieces.

Soon everyone had a piece of cake in his or her hand, looking at it greedily. Harle nodded and everyone began to eat. The children made all kinds of funny noises, showing they liked the taste of it.

“So, how does it feel, being an old hag of thirty years?”, Kidd asked playfully, poking her elbow into Harle’s side.

Harle only grunted in response, and the children giggled. “Be careful.”, she said, taking a bite from the cake.

It was a great day for all of them. The children had fun, playing all kinds of games with Harle and Kidd.

At noon, even Marle came to visit, bringing another big cake and flowers with her. Marle enjoyed these days, when she could be a simple woman again, even if only for a short time. Not that she disliked being a queen that much, she just liked being normal every once in a while.

Later that day, Dana came as well, bringing along her husband. Together, Harle, Kidd, Marle and Dana had a long talk to catch up on things. They also talked about how Porre and Guardia had become allies, about this orphanage and basically everything which had happened within the past years. They talked for a long time, because they could only meet like this on rare occasions. Dana was always busy. Still working at the Porre army, she travelled around the world, together with her husband. They only passed Truce once within a few months, and even then they didn’t have much time to spend there.

While the women were talking, Dana’s husband played with the kids, teaching them how to fight with a sword properly. The kids were eager to learn, especially the boys. They all grabbed their wooden swords and tried to imitate his moves, being proud to be taught by a real soldier.

The evening came soon, and everyone said goodbye. Dana promised to be back soon and left, and so did Marle.

The children went to bed as well, being tired because they had to stand up that early this morning.

Kidd and Harle went for a walk again. It was a warm and pleasant night, and the sky was full of stars. Walking hand in hand, Kidd and Harle went into the forest of Guardia. After all these years, Kidd knew this forest quite well, so she wasn’t afraid of getting lost anymore. She led Harle to a little clearing in no time.

It was completely silent and they both lay down in the grass to look at the sky.

“Are ya happy, Harle?”, Kidd asked, but giggled at the same time.

Harle only smiled in return, regarding Kidd’s face in the moonlight. It was beautiful as ever. They moved closer to kiss, enjoying this peaceful time.

When they broke the kiss, Kidd saw a shooting star cross the sky and pointed at it, smiling brightly.

“Look, make a wish!”, Kidd said while looking at the shooting star.

When no answer came from Harle, Kidd looked to her side, puzzled.

“Ya don’t wanna wish for somethin’?”, she asked softly, a hint of worry crossing her face.

“Non, moi doezn’t need to. Moi already haz everyt’ing moi wantz.”, Harle whispered, gazing at Kidd.

“If that’s the case, I won’t complain.”, Kidd answered and smiled gently.

Harle took her pendant into her right hand, regarding the reflection of the moon on it. With holding it high enough to regard it, she also saw the silver nametag on the back of the pendant. Harle moved it closer to her eyes, so she could read the engraving.

It read: “Pour mon Harle aimée.”

Harle began to cry softly. Even though she knew how much Kidd loved her, it always warmed her heart to hear it one more time. It was something she could never get enough of.

Seeing the tears reflected by the moonlight, Kidd moved closer and kissed them away.

“Merci beaucoup, mon amour.”, Harle whispered, smiling all over her face.

With her left hand, Kidd stroked Harle’s cheek softly. She felt Harle’s skin was a little cold, so she leaned in to warm her with a long, passionate kiss. Harle laid her arm around Kidd’s waist, snuggling up close to her, trying to gather Kidd’s warmth.

Eventually, they parted and looked up to the dark sky again.

“For another thirty years?”, Kidd asked, squeezing Harle’s hand softly.

“At leazt.”, Harle answered and smiled.


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