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.