Dance of Wind VI
A Melody of Hope
They stayed like that for a long time, laying in Star Meadow; eventually, Ezreal lay next to her and they took a rest in the grass. Their minds wandered, still confused by their new-found feelings for each other – or perhaps this was the first time they paid attention to such things. "Hey Ezreal...?" Mareina whispered as they watched the clouds roll across the starry night sky. "Yeah?" he asked, glancing at her. "If everything ends well... do you really think we could be together...? I mean, umm... it's early to ask that, I guess, but I wanted to ask how you felt." The explorer chuckled, "Haven't you been listening to anything I say, Mareina? I told you that I want to be with you." his eyes wandered to the sky, and he raised his left hand out towards it. "Nothing stops me from having what I want," he closed his hand around a star and smiled.
Ezreal sat up and stared down at Mareina, holding his closed hand towards her. "See...?" He opened his hand, revealing a tiny sparkling golden star. Her eyes widened, "D-did you...?" She looked up at the sky, but a cloud covered the area where the star had been. He handed her the star with a laugh, "It's yours now. Wear it as a good luck charm!" The girl was amazed and took the star – it was a glittering hairpin – then pinned it to the other side of her hair. "Heh, I'll never take it off, Ezreal!" Roikan lifted his head from the grass and chirped. "Hmm, yeah that's true. We should get going, Mareina." Ezreal stood up and helped Mareina to her feet. "I want to get you to the Druid's Cove as soon as possible." She sighed, I was enjoying this time with him... I wish things weren't so difficult. There's no helping it, I guess. "Okay," she yielded.
Once they mounted the Garadea, they continued on their way out of Star Meadow. Days passed and Mareina slept and ate while riding the Garadea – Ezreal went without either for several days. Finally, they came to a dirt plain that had small patches of grass here and there and Ezreal decided to stop for a while to rest. The morning sunlight beat down on them as they shared the last of the fruit gathered from the oasis. "We have a lot of water left, but no food. If you're still hungry, you can have my share too, Mareina." Ezreal offered, but the girl shook her head. "You eat it, Ezreal. I'll be fine, I'm not that hungry anyway."
Is she craving blood again...? It wouldn't be a good idea to ask her. She looks normal, but we shouldn't stay here too long. Ezreal glanced around the empty plain. Something about this place seems ominous... "How many more days until we get to Crescentglade, Ezreal?" Mareina asked, bringing him out of his thoughts. "A few," he replied. "We're almost there. You can see the mountain range in the distance, and from there... it will take us a week to get to the Druid's Cove on the coast. We won't be able to take Roikan with us, though." Mareina was a bit disappointed, and the Garadea chirped sadly in response.
"Ready to go?" Ezreal asked, standing up. Mareina nods slowly, "I guess so." The explorer lifts her onto the Garadea and then gets on himself, "Just a bit more Mareina; I know you're tired, but we can rest once we get to the passageway, all right?" I'm tired of all this running around, I want to relax already. I hope these druids can help me... but I am feeling more doubtful every day. The curse is starting to return, I know it... damn that Itherion, why would he send me through the Thicket?!
The Garadea was speeding through the dirt plain until the sun began to set, but suddenly he became trapped and started to sink into the soft soil. Ezreal pulled Mareina off of the creature's back as it was sucked underground, crying and clawing all the way. "ROIKAN!!" she screamed, trying to break free from Ezreal's hold as he pulled her away from the pit-trap. Dammit, Karciates?! Ezreal knew what was coming. "Mareina, we have to run for it!" he took her hand and ran with her through the dirt plain, using his magic to teleport them short distances at a time. "WE HAVE TO HELP ROIKAN!"
"...He's dead, Mareina! I'm sorry, but we have to keep moving!" Ezreal cried. Hissing sounds echoed out all around them and Ezreal stopped, holding Mareina close. "Damn it, we're surrounded!" The dirt around them became up-heaved as hundreds of tiny blue raptor-like creatures with sharp claws and feathered necks appeared. "What are they..?" Mareina gasped, staring into their devilish golden eyes. "Karciates, 'earth devils'," Ezreal replied. "I'll take care of them – they are weak, so they travel in large numbers to overwhelm their prey. They have potent venom in their claws, but I'll get rid of them all in one attack!"
The Karciates growled and gurgled, circling closer to the pair as Ezreal summoned his energy bow and began to gather energy for a massive attack. "Why aren't they attacking us?" Mareina asked. "I don't know, but I'm not going to wait until they do!" the explorer released a barrage of missiles that fanned out and killed most of the Karciates. He spun on his heel and began firing white-hot energy arrows at the remaining earth devils and nimbly avoided their attacks. "Heh, is that all you've got?!" he exclaimed, vanquishing the final Karciate.
Wow, Ezreal is so cool... Mareina thought, watching him in awe. She didn't notice that something was moving underneath her, and by the time she realized it a larger Karciate rose up and grabbed her legs with its teeth, trying to drag her down into a pit. She yelped out in agony just as Ezreal disposed of the last of the group; he teleported to Mareina and shot the Karciate in the face with an energy arrow, causing it to screech in pain and release her. What the hell? This one's big! The monster lashed out for Mareina with its claws, but Ezreal tackled her out of the way so the beast would slash him instead.
Mareina sat up in the dirt as Ezreal held his right shoulder, bleeding heavily. Damn it! This poison... it's even stronger... His vision was getting blurry, but he lifted his bow again and used the last of his strength to kill the Karciate with a blast of golden energy. Then, he slumped down onto the ground, the light from his gauntlet fading away as his bow disappeared. Maybe I can heal it... Ezreal thought, placing his left hand on the wound, but the healing light was too weak to cure the poison."E-Ezreal! I'm so sorry--!" Mareina touched his wound, she wasn't sure what to do. Ezreal was in a lot of pain, but he tried to hide it from her. "Ma...reina... damn it... you have to... get to the Druids... you know the way..." he was losing strength fast. What do I do?! Mareina screamed in her mind. I won't leave him here, there might be more of those things! "I-I won't leave! I'll carry you with me--!!" She tried to lift him up, but he scolded her, "Leave me... I'll be alright." A healing spell, maybe I have a healing spell! "Heal...heal...!" Mareina muttered, placing her hands on his wound, but nothing happened. Ezreal took her hand gently and looked at her, "Mareina... go... please." I can't leave him! I won't... I have to help him!
Mareina wanted to cry, but still she could not; then, she heard a devilish voice in her mind – it was her own voice, but warped. See the blood? You can drink the poison from his blood... it won't hurt us, because we are strong. You and I, we are... a vampire. Or is your humanity more important to you than his life...? The choice is yours. The voice confused Mareina, but the strong smell of Ezreal's blood made her head spin. I can... I can save him this way... if I... She put her hands on his jacket and he looked at her sadly, "Don't... don't..." Mareina pulled off Ezreal's coat and shirt so that the upper half of his body was exposed.
The girl stared at the gaping wound in his shoulder, and the sight of the delicious red liquid made her mouth water. No, I... I am just going to take the poison... Her eyes flickered to fuchsia as she opened her mouth, causing fangs to grow. She lowered her head to his shoulder; Ezreal was too weak to resist. Mareina sank her fangs into his skin and he winced quietly as she began to suck the poison from his body. It was like acid in her mouth, but the vampirism became stronger as she let it dissolve the venom – she continued to drink his blood even after the poison was gone from Ezreal's body, she couldn't help herself... it had been so long since she tasted his sweet blood. She wanted to drink her fill, but how much was that?
"Mareina..." Ezreal put a hand on her head. Her eyes widened when she heard his voice and she pulled away, her body shaking. "I...I..." her voice was trembling, she finally realized what was happening. Blood dripped from her lips and she cursed herself for being unable to resist the temptation. Ezreal embraced her tightly and kissed her forehead. "I... I am a monster..." she clenched her teeth. "Let me go...! I don't deserve to be with you! I'm not... I'm not human!" The explorer lifted her chin and gazed at her, "You saved me..." he said, his wound still bleeding heavily. "This is just a scratch... I can heal it soon. I just need some time to recover." he sighed and rubbed her back. "Calm down, Mareina. It's okay..."
She wanted so much to let herself melt into his embrace, but there was a quiet, haunting laughter in her mind that was driving her mad. She knew that she had committed a grave sin, and now there was no turning back. It took all of her strength to keep herself from sinking her fangs into Ezreal's beautiful neck and drinking every last drop of life from him. What am I thinking? Such thoughts... "Let me GO!" Mareina tried to push him away, but he only held her tighter. "I won't. I won't..." She kept struggling, and then he stared her straight in the eyes and brought a hand to her head, then kissed her deeply. Her body felt limp as his lips pushed against her own, and for a moment her Thirst was gone. "Ezreal..." she whispered when he pulled away.
Ezreal healed his wound and helped Mareina to her feet, "Mareina... I told you to go, but you--" he glanced away. "Humph, you decided to stay... and save me. But you've put yourself in a lot of danger," his eyes slowly came back to her. "Where are my clothes...? Oh," he picked his shirt and jacket up off of the dirt and brushed them off, then put them back on. "Really wanted to see more of me, hmm?" he winked. Mareina's face flushed a bit, "No, I had to-- grr... don't tease me!" Ezreal chuckled, but deep down he was concerned for her well-being. She drank so much blood... I feel really weak now, but I don't want her to worry about me. Still... her features are becoming more vampiric, and most of her crystals have fallen. Without the Garadea, it will take us at least two more weeks to get to the Druid's Cove... damn, and that's without rest! Gotta stay positive... things will work out in the end, they always do.
Mareina shielded her eyes from the evening light as she stared at the explorer, "Ezreal, are you okay?" He nodded, "I'm fine," he lied. "What about you?" She brought her face closer to him and gazed into his eyes, "Are you lying to me?" He blushed, "No..." She squinted at him, "I'm not going to hold back anymore, Ezreal. If we are attacked again, I'm going to kill whatever gets in our way. If I become a demon--" Ezreal took hold of her wrists, "Don't speak nonsense. The Druids are going to cure you," he said, glaring at her. "I don't want to hear anything else negative out of you. Do you understand?" He really cares... but I can see in his eyes that he isn't so sure anymore. I just don't want him to get hurt because of me again. No, this time... I will do whatever I can to protect him, no matter what happens to me. No more being a helpless coward. "Fine. Let's go, Ezreal." she sighed deeply and he released her wrists, but held onto one of her hands firmly. "Right. Once we get out of this dirt plain, we'll be in a grassy area several days away from the mountains... we can rest there. It should only take us an hour or two to get there..." Ezreal explained, his voice trailing off as he led her forward. Damn, I don't know if I can make it... my body is rebelling against me. I should rest, but I can't put everything in jeopardy because of a little pain.
They continued onward, Mareina holding a hand above her eyes the whole time until the sky finally became dark. She noticed that Ezreal was starting to limp and his breath was labored – normally she wouldn't have been able to notice these things, but her senses were much keener now. "Ezreal," Mareina spoke up when they were nearing the end of the dirt plain. She embraced him from behind and held him tightly, "I want you to rest." Ezreal was grumbling in protest, "We're almost there... it's only about a half hour away. Mareina, I'm fine..." The girl rested her head on his shoulder, "Please..." she whispered in his ear, sending a chill throughout him. Her pleading voice was enchanting, but still he did not give in. "We have to keep moving," he insisted.
"I'll bite you and suck your blood until you can't move, Ezreal." Mareina threatened, flashing her fangs. "I'll drink and drink until I become a full vampire... and then I'll kill the King and die a martyr." She licked his neck slowly – she could hear his heart beat quickening, and she could even hear the sound of the sweat rolling down his forehead. "Heh," Ezreal closed his eyes. "Do what you want, Mareina, but I'm not going to stop. If you do that, I'll likely die from blood loss... because you are still far off from becoming a full vampire."
"What are you talking about? Look at me..." Mareina lifted one of her hands to him, her nails had become claws. "Monstrous. You think I--" Ezreal grabbed her hands, his rage finally overtaking him; he overpowered her easily and forced her down into the dirt. He sat on her waist and glared down at her, "You're a fool for saying such things, Mareina! You make me so angry... Don't you even realize that I'm trying to help you? The things you say, it's as if my wishes mean absolutely nothing to you. How could you be so cold? This entire time..." he shook his head – he wasn't angry at her, he was angry at the horrible curse. "I just... want you to be free. If you did do what you said, do you honestly believe you would be able to leave me alive? You've had too much of my blood already... if you become a full vampire, your Thirst will be insatiable. I'd be the first person you would kill, Mareina. Don't you have any common sense?"
"You could stop me if I did that! You could kill me!" Mareina cried. Ezreal stood up and left her laying in the dirt; he turned away from her and started walking away. "...I will never hurt you." The girl jumped to her feet and ran after him, "You're limping and I can hear your heavy breathing! You try to hide it from me, but it's impossible, Ezreal! Why are you.. why are you pushing yourself like this?!" Ezreal turned his head slightly and watched her in the side of his eyes. "Because... I love you... more than anything. I'd give my life to protect you, without hesitation. You're so na´ve and childish – I thought you would understand such things better, since you are a woman. Heh... maybe you just don't care...?" he shrugged and continued on his way. "Regardless... I'll do whatever I can do set you free from this unfair curse."
Mareina was standing completely still, staring down at her feet. It's true... he did tell me that he loved me in Star Meadow, too. I thought I understood what love meant... but now I... I think it is much more powerful than I can comprehend. Damn it... I'm so confused. I thought I was doing everything I could, because I love him... but I've only been doing things for myself. I want to scream, I hate this! I don't want to suffer anymore... "Mareina." Ezreal's voice brought her back. "You think too much, it makes you worry more than you need to. I'll take care of you, okay? Just trust me." he smiled. Mareina could feel Ezreal's love warming her heart, and it was the only thing keeping her from losing her hope and her sanity. "Yeah... sorry."
They went on through the dirt plain in silence – Ezreal was trying to keep himself together and Mareina was thinking about the fallen Garadea. "You thinking about Roikan?" Ezreal guessed. "I was. He was such a sweet little guy..." she sighed. "Don't worry; the heart of a Garadea is made of diamond – I'm sure the Ban'Geos will find it eventually and bring him back to life." he told her, a cheerful smile on his face. His words made Mareina feel a bit happier, but still she was feeling guilty. "Ezreal... does your shoulder hurt?" The explorer shrugged, "Not really. Just stings a little bit I guess," he replied. "It's no more annoying than this thick, sticky air though... kind of like we're walking through fly paper, haha."
At last they reached the resting area – from here to the mountain range was a wide field of grass covered in tiny yellow flowers, and nearby was a small, muddy pond. There were a few trees scattered across the field, but most of them had died from a lack of rain. The only tree that was alive was a single tall fruit-tree that grew out of the center of the pond. "Yay, we're here!" Ezreal said with a laugh; he collapsed in the grass and laid flat on his back, exhaling loudly. Mareina floated over to the tree and picked the largest, softest pink fruits growing on its branches and carried them over to Ezreal, "Hungry?" she asked, placing one on his stomach. "Oof!" he yelped, rolling the fruit off of him. "That wasn't nice..." Ezreal yawned, "I'm too sleepy, maybe tomorrow. Good night..." he closed his eyes.
Mareina sliced the fruit she held into smaller pieces with her claws and held one over Ezreal's mouth and squeezed it so that the juice fell onto his lips. He opened his eyes and she placed the fruit on his mouth; with a single chomp, he ate it. "Not bad," he muttered as he chewed the fruit and swallowed it. "Very sweet and just a bit sour. Unique texture, too. Antembams, I think they're called." The girl giggled at him and fed him another piece of fruit; he raised an eyebrow after he finished the Antembam. "Why are you laughing at me?" Mareina touched his cheek, "You're so smart. Is there anything you don't know? Hee-hee... no matter what, you're always explaining things. That makes you cool, Ezreal. I don't know why, but I feel happy again. All this time... no matter what I've done, you always treat me the same. You're just... like a perfect man."
"Perfect man? Nah..." Ezreal sat up and rubbed the back of his head nervously. "Just a man in love." He knew it was a cheesy line, but that was how he really felt. "Aaaanyway, we have a long day ahead, Mareina. It'll take a while to get to the mountains, then we go through the passage and--" As long as I can be with him, I don't think I'll ever succumb to this curse. But I don't wanna listen to this explanation again... Mareina came closer to Ezreal and kissed him on the cheek, then hugged him. "I don't care anymore. I just want to be with you." she smiled, finally accepting what she had become – she realized that no matter what, Ezreal truly cared for her.
Ezreal's cheeks reddened and he laid back down on the grass to gaze up at the cloudy sky. "W-well... um, I feel the same way, of course. Heheh, I'm just not used to you being so direct, I guess...?" he was slightly nervous. Haha, I feel like a child, Ezreal thought. Mom was right... being in love really is unlike anything else. This girl... for the first time in my life, I think I can honestly say that I believe in destiny. I wonder what Mom would say? I wish... she could meet Mareina. She would like her, definitely. I wonder if one day, Mareina and I will--
"Ezreal, what are you thinking about? Your face is all red." Mareina tilted her head. "I was thinking about when I saw you naked that one time at the oasis." Ezreal replied with a wide grin. The girl hid her face in shame, "YOU STILL REMEMBER THAT?! YOU PERVERT!" she cried. "Well, I wasn't the one flying nude in the moonli--" he paused when he heard her muttering under her breath. "What? You're... beautiful, you know." Mareina stared at him, "Grrrr... I... I..." her face was burning. I didn't want him to see me naked, not yet at least! I mean, what the hell? What...? No, I didn't mean that, I didn't think that! Gah! She picked up the other Antembam and chomped on it – it was completely unappealing to her, but she took out her frustration on it and felt better after she ate it. "Aughh... never mind. Just go to sleep, Ezreal."
"Sleep next to me," Ezreal insisted with a small smile. "I'll keep you warm." Mareina was surprised by his boldness and his lack of attentiveness. He should know by now that I can't feel hot or cold, she felt a bit sad. "I didn't mean your body, I meant your heart," he chuckled. What a line, Ezreal thought. I guess I'm a spur of the moment kind of guy. Mareina couldn't help but smile, Warm my heart...? She laid down beside him and he put an arm around her and pulled her close, then kissed her nose softly. "Ezreal, thanks for putting up with me..." she said quietly. "Haha, you're thanking me for something silly like that? Hmmm, why don't you reward me, then?" he snickered. "Huh? Reward?" the girl blinked. "Give me a kiss."
A kiss... on the lips? Mareina blushed when she thought about it. "I'm just kidding," Ezreal admitted. "The look on your face is priceless." he grinned. "Someday, though..." he mumbled, rolling over on his side. "I'm going to sleep now. I need to get some rest so I'll be ready for tomorrow. You should sleep too, Mareina. Good night..." Ezreal said with a yawn. Surprisingly, Mareina began to feel tired after she watched Ezreal fall asleep; with a yawn, she cuddled close to him and closed her eyes, eventually drifting off.
It wasn't long before she starting having a nightmare – she was standing in a burning village, people screaming all around her. She saw that her hands were covered in blood and the sky thundered as rain poured down like icy tears. Around her were countless corpses of innocent lives that she had taken, and when a bolt of lightning crackled through the heavens, she saw a shadowy figure approaching in the distance. She couldn't tell who it was, but she felt unbelievable anger when she saw it nearing. She let out a screech and lashed out at the figure, but she was struck down as the shadow stood over her and consumed her, all while a horrible laughter echoed out over the rain and the thunder.
Mareina awoke yelling and sweating, but Ezreal put a hand on her head and hugged her with one arm. "Hey, hey! Shhh.... it was just a nightmare... calm down, Mareina..." he spoke soothingly, caressing her head as he held her close. "A nightmare..." she breathed deeply. "It was so real..." Ezreal pulled her closer and she rested her head on his chest, listening to the sound of his heart – for once, the sound did not drive her insane, but instead it made her feel content and safe. "Ezreal, I-I'm scared... I dreamed that I--" He put a finger on her lips, "It's all right. It was just a dream, it wasn't real. Everything is fine. Just calm down and take deep breaths."