the heart afraid of breaking
that never learns to dance,
It's the dream afraid of waking
that never takes the chance.
It's the one who won't be taken
who cannot seem to give,
And the soul afraid of dying
that never learns to live."
- The Rose, Amanda McBroom
"...the Grobule distortional energy released by the destruction of the Seyfert Ring amplified the resonance of the Orbus Barrier by an amount hereafter referred to as the Zosimos Constant. Despite the theoretical limits of the Human Focular Effect once held as scientific truth, it is apparent that the Kaloric flow due to Craymel expansion during that explosion not only defies all prior notions of the Focular and Doctark Effects, but also disproves the heavily debated Orenash Equation. The amplified resonance caused the Barrier to generate sufficient force to repel the gravitational forces of Inferia and Celestia, hence preventing the potential catastrophe of the Grand Fall. It is believed that the Grand Fall is the direct result of the actions of the God Nereid working through a Celestian woman named Shizel, although there is admittedly little empirical evidence to support this other than the eyewitness accounts of the author and his companions. It is interesting to note that the group who defeated Nereid comprised three Celestians and three Inferians, although it must be mentioned that of the three Celestians, one was the half-Inferian daughter of Shizel and Balir..."
"Baiba! Is Keele talking about Meredy again?" Keele grimaced slightly as Meredy's ever-cheerful voice cut into his monologue. This wasn't the first time she'd interrupted his writing, and he was sure it wouldn't be the last. If this went on, he'd never be done with his treatise. That, generally speaking, wasn't a good thing. Chancellor Zosimos had sent supplies all the way to Celestia, via the Van Eltia, to help produce this book, and others such as Galenos and Professor Mazet were eagerly awaiting its release.
He put his quill down and looked forlornly at the stacks of books that surrounded him, most of them worn and dog-eared. Several lay open near him, strewn across the desk together with rolls of parchment and bottles of ink. Through the small circular window in one wall he could see the iridescent fence separating Imen from the Celestian wilderness.
Keele sighed almost imperceptibly and waved dismissively at the young Shileska clerk Max had generously provided to assist him. "We'll stop here for today; it's getting late anyhow. Come back tomorrow morning and we'll pick up from where we left off." The girl nodded, and began packing her things.
Meredy had the good grace to look abashed as she watched the assistant finish packing and scamper out of the room. She waited until she'd heard the door shut before speaking again, "Did Meredy disturb Keele? Meredy is sorry!" The tone of her voice, however held little apology, and it was clear from the look on her face that she had something else on her mind other than begging forgiveness. Keele didn't fail to notice this. Several months of living with Meredy in Imen had taught him to read her emotions easily, or at least more easily than was customary for him.
Her next words only served to prove him right. "Keele, come outside! It's snowing... it's so pretty! You never come outside, Keele." Her voice took on a slight admonishing tone, but quickly perked up again. "Meredy asked Celsius for some snow in Imen, and Celsius said yes!"
Keele shook his head. "Meredy," he said, "you shouldn't do that. The Greater Craymels are no longer obliged to help us, and in any case you shouldn't pester them with such trivial requests. One day you'll get them annoyed, especially Maxwell, and then they'll do something you won't like. Also, the sudden fall of snow in this region, which has never experienced such cold weather before, may well lead to an imbalance in the ecosystem. Local flora and fauna that aren't accustomed to the cold will be adversely affected and could easily die out if the weather stays like this too long. And another thing..."
It was Meredy's turn to shake her head. "Gnome has told earth craymels to take care of that. Meredy isn't stupid! And Celsius will not go overboard either... not like the last time." They both remembered all too well when Celsius had gone insane, in the days before the Grand Fall. Efreet had saved them then.
Keele looked at Meredy askance. She had certainly matured a great deal during their journey together. When they had first met, her height and manner of speech had led him to assume that she was still a young child. He had been very much shocked when they had acquired the Orz earrings, and she had introduced herself as being already sixteen years of age. Only one year his junior. It was so much easier to believe it now, after having been through so much with her. It had been difficult for Meredy, facing her own mother in battle, even though Shizel had been but Nereid's puppet by then. With Nereid subdued, and the Grand Fall reversed, Inferia and Celestia had been irrevocably separated. The Van Eltia was able to cross the space that now existed between the two planets, but no other craft had yet been able to match the technology used in Aifreed's legendary ship. And, with Chat's reticence toward allowing researchers on board her precious ship, it would be a long time yet before the technology could be replicated.
In any case, Reid and Farah had chosen to return to Rasheans in Inferia, to patch up with the Elder. Keele suspected there were other reasons that had led toward their decision to go together, but he was reluctant to jump to conclusions without sufficient evidence. He had made that mistake too many times already. He himself had chosen to stay in Celestia, to discuss matters at length with Galenos, and to learn more about this world which was still so wondrously strange and new to him. It was only later that he found out that Galenos had decided to return to Imen to aid the rebuilding project, and so Keele had ended up living with Galenos and Meredy. In the ensuing months, they had managed to rebuild almost all of Imen with the Craymels' help, and now he and Galenos were busy trying to repopulate the old library. He still had his treatise to work on, at the same time, and so now he rarely had time for such trivial pursuits as social activity and personal leisure.
He wasn't really a people person, anyhow. As a child he had always been teased by Reid about his lack of ability in all manner of physical activity, and when he subsequently left for Mintche University he had thrown himself into his studies in an effort to compensate. Mostly, though, he had just wanted to be able to outdo Reid at something... anything...
"...Keele? Is Keele all right? Don't fall asleep when Meredy is talking, Keele!"
Keele blinked, and started at Meredy's wide-open eyes staring at him, just a few inches from his face. His cheeks instantly coloured, and as he felt his face grow hot he quickly tried to push himself away from her. He managed this easily, by virtue of the fact that in his hurry, he tipped over his chair and crashed to the ground.
He righted himself quickly, and nervously shot out an arm to prevent Meredy from coming any closer. "I'm... I'm fine. I just... I mean... you should... ah... you're right; I do need to take a break... I'm going outside. To uh... look at the snow." Ignoring Meredy's anxious look, he stood up and drew his cloak around him as he hurried out the door, muttering complex algebraic formulae to himself in a vain attempt to steer his mind onto something - anything - as long as it wasn't Meredy.
Meredy watched his retreating back sadly. "All Meredy wants is for Keele to be happy," she said softly, knowing that he couldn't hear her. She sighed. She wanted so much to follow him out, but she knew that Keele wanted time to be alone. He needed that time. And after all... that's what love was about, wasn't it? Sacrifice. That was what she had learned from Shizel. From her mother.
She sat down where she was and began to cry.
It was at times like these that Keele wished he had Farah around to talk to. She had always been as good a friend as Reid had been, though certainly not as dim-witted. Farah had a way with people. She understood people; she could tell you how someone was thinking and why, and what to do to help them. Of course, Farah was all about helping people. It was her strength and her weakness all at once, and something Keele had always admired about her. But how could he help others, when he could barely help himself?
Keele shook his head as if to clear his mind, and looked up at the sky and watched the snow fall lightly over the Craymel City. Meredy was right... it was pretty. The white flakes drifting down played a curious contrast to the dark Celestian sky, and Imen's lavender lighting glinted off the multi-faceted snowflakes. It was rather relaxing to just enjoy the scenery for once, instead of pondering the theories behind the unique nature of snowflakes, or debating the exact range of temperatures and altitudes that would best contribute to the formation of the icy precipitation, or... oh damn. There he went off again.
All the books in the world could not prepare him for the real world. His mind was filled with so much information, so much knowledge, but in the end, what use were they when all they amounted to was theory? There was a limit to how much practical use pure knowledge could be. Knowledge, without application.
That's what he had accused Chancellor Zosimos of, back in Inferia, several months before. Of refusing to look out into the sky, of refusing to simply observe what was going on in the world around him, of refusing to take his nose out of his books long enough to make some practical use of his wealth of knowledge. And now, here he was: Keele Zeibel of Rasheans, Inferia, playing the hypocrite and making the same mistake.
It was at times like these that Keele wished he had the freedom to break down and cry. No... freedom was one thing he had. They had fought for their freedom, and won. It was courage which he lacked.
Something brushed against his leg, and he looked down to see Quickie curled up in a ball, shivering despite his thick blue fur. Keele smiled despite himself, and reached down to pick up Meredy's pet. He wrapped Quickie in the folds of his cloak, and the small creature uttered a weak "kweekeee", then snuggled into the cloth and swiftly fell asleep.
Keele watched Quickie with a touch of envy. The animal lived such a carefree life. Keele, on the other hand, had never really known how to be care-free. Reid had certainly demonstrated it all his life, but Keele was different. He couldn't just see something and leave it be; he had to find out everything he could about it, about its purpose for existence, about its role in the greater purpose of things. What made it tick? Why did it do the things it did? Why didn't it do the things it didn't? Where else can it be found? What else does it bear similarities to? Life was full of questions that demanded answers, and that Keele demanded answers to.
But here was a simple question that had faced him for so many months now, and to which he had no answer: how did he truly feel about Meredy?
He'd always tried to play it down as just another adolescent crush, and nothing more. What else could it be? He'd spent the greater part of his life sequestered in an academic town where the highest form of social activity was a demeaning sport that involved kicking a ball around, and he'd managed to avoid even that. Everyone in Mintche wore regulation uniforms, and the robes were sufficiently asexual that no one really noticed each other's genders. They were all students there, nothing more and nothing less. What time wasn't spent on academic pursuits was time wasted. In retrospect, it had been a poor way to spend one's childhood.
Now here he was, seventeen going on eighteen, but for all his experience with the opposite gender, he might as well have been a twelve year old prepubescent boy. Professor Mazet had once told him to pursue the unknowable. "That is true learning," he had said. Keele hadn't understood it then. And he wasn't sure that he completely understood it even now.
He shivered. It was getting really cold all of a sudden. Keele began to get up to head indoors for warmer environs, when he felt an icy hand on his shoulder. He didn't need to look to know who it was.
"Hello, Celsius," Keele said.
He stoked the fire and watched contentedly as the flames roared into life. Warmth... a warmth that Celestia was not used to. An age-old absence of fire craymels had given Celestia a cool climate, but now the Greater Craymels traversed the two worlds as easily as the Supreme Craymels did, and the lesser craymels were abundant in both. He had even had the honour of speaking to Sekundes himself once, after the aversion of the Grand Fall, and the two had spent several days in heated discussion over the possibility of time travel. They had not come to any conclusion, one way or the other.
Galenos settled back into his armchair. He wished he knew where Meredy was, and Keele as well. Neither of them usually stayed out very late. Perhaps they were enjoying the snowfall. Were he younger, he would have been out there with them, but his bones ached with rheumatism now, and his eyesight was beginning to fail him, in any case. There was no point in staying outside at this time of the evening.
He turned his head as he heard soft footsteps approach the door. "Meredy," he said, somewhat surprised. "Where have you been? You... you've been crying?"
Meredy nodded mutely, her eyes red and sore. "Galenos..."
He got up, and crossed the room to the doorway where the diminutive girl stood. He knelt and hugged her, as he had done so many times during her childhood. Though they were not related, he was the closest thing she had to a father after Balir's death. And likewise, she was like a daughter to him. Let go, he urged her through the elara. Tell me what's wrong.
Meredy burst into tears again, but this time she sobbed and bawled, letting her pent-up frustrations go in a torrent of tears. It took her another several minutes to regain her composure, and all the while Galenos held her tight, comforting her, calming her, soothing her.
"It is Keele, is it not?" Galenos asked gently, and Meredy nodded again. "Tell me," he said.
Meredy looked up at Galenos, wiping salty tears from her face with her sleeve. "Meredy loves Keele," she said plaintively. "Meredy thinks so, anyway. But Keele... he has no elara... Meredy cannot read his emotions well. Sometimes he acts like Meredy means a lot to him, and sometimes he just pushes me away! I get so frustrated..."
Galenos wasn't surprised, no, not in the least. Ever since he had first met the Inferian scholar in the ruins of Luishka, he had noticed something between the two, and the past few months in Imen had made it painfully clear. Keele was always stealing glances at Meredy, and looking away whenever he though someone was watching him. He almost always blushed at the slightest hint of physical contact with Meredy. Oh, the boy liked Meredy, that was plain enough to see. But he was so engrossed in his work and studies to the point of excluding almost everything else; it was a shortcoming of his. In fact, it reminded him of someone he'd once known, a long time ago... hmmmm. Now there was an interesting thought.
Galenos stood and returned to his armchair, beckoning for Meredy to make herself comfortable on the large dark green beanbag on the floor. "Did I ever tell you," he began, "about how your parents met?"
Meredy's eyes lit up, and all traces of her erstwhile sorrow disappeared from her face. "No," she said, her voice laden with curiousity and excitement. "You knew Shizel and Balir? Before they got married?"
"No, no, I did not. I only met them later when they came to Luishka... Balir had heard of me and was looking for me, much in the same way your friends sought me out. Later Shizel and Balir became good friends of mine, and when Shizel was pregnant with you, she spent a great deal of time talking to me while Balir was working. Often she spoke of their courtship... how they met, and how they fell in love."
Galenos looked at Meredy, his eyes twinkling with mischief. "Are you sure you want to hear this? It might get a bit sappy," he said.
Galenos laughed. "Very well."
He found himself shifting about uncomfortably, trying to avoid answering her question. He didn't even know the answer himself, did he? Or was it simply that he was unwilling to acknowledge his own feelings to himself? Keele sighed, and tried to formulate an evasive, ambiguous answer to Celsius, but, as if sensing his thoughts, she spoke first and cut him off before he could even start.
"You are a fool, Zeibel." The words of the Greater Ice Craymel cut like shards, opening bloodless wounds. And Keele couldn't even disagree with her; deep down he knew she was right. He'd admitted as much to himself earlier on, hadn't he?
Celsius sat next to him at the Monument, chilling the very air around her. For someone who had long lived in seclusion, and who had for so long shunned human contact, she had surprising insight into the thoughts and feelings of humankind. And, for some reason, Meredy in particular. Keele wondered about this. Perhaps the elara...
He looked at Celsius. She wore a disapproving look on her pale blue face. He looked down at his feet miserably. "I can't help the way I am, you know? I'm a scholar. My life revolves around knowledge, and academics. Half a year ago, I didn't even think there was more to life than the pursuit of knowledge. Now I do, and I'd like to change, if only so that Meredy won't keep getting upset over me... I just don't know how. And anyway, it's not something that can happen overnight, can it?"
Celsius shook her head, a slow deliberate act that showed nothing of its underlying anger and exasperation. "No. And I do not expect it to. But if you will not even try to change yourself, if you will give up on yourself before you even take that first step, how can you ever expect to accomplish anything? You hide yourself in your research and your books, as if it is some armour that will shield you from the world. You build walls around yourself, a steep and mighty fortress, and think that you can live out the rest of your life in this womb of solitude you've confined yourself in." Celsius paused a moment to let her words sink in, then spoke again. "No man is an island, Zeibel. Remember that."
Keele arched an eyebrow at her. "Rather poetic, Celsius. Did you make that up all by your lonesome?" He sighed and went on, ignoring the scathing look that Celsius was now directing at him. "It's not like I don't agree with you; I do. I don't think anyone knows and understands my shortcomings as well as I do. I do spend time considering myself and my flaws."
"Then," Celsius interjected, "you should also have realised what it is you need to do if you want to make Meredy happy."
"Make Meredy happy?" Keele laughed bitterly. Within the folds of his cloak, Quickie stirred slightly, and he lowered his voice to appease the small creature. "By Seyfert, Celsius, if I knew how to make myself happy, I'd be more than satisfied!"
"Has it never occurred to you," she said after a slight pause, "that doing one might accomplish the other?"
He looked at her, puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"You are less perceptive than I had given you credit for, Zeibel. Meredy likes you. She has for a long time now. I sensed it in her when we first met atop my mountain, and I sense it in her still."
"And if I'm happy, she's happy?"
"It sounds very clichéd, Celsius."
"But true, nonetheless."
Keele stopped to consider this. "Possibly. So now the question is, how do I make myself happy?"
"That, Zeibel, you must derive for yourself."
Keele was silent for a moment, then nodded to himself. "You're right. I think. Thanks, Celsius. I owe you one."
He smoothed out his robe, carrying Quickie in the crook of his arm, and got up to go. He needed some time to think about this. Alone. And maybe, after that, Meredy...
Meredy stood before the tall granite headstone, running her fingers over the words engraved on its surface. In memory of Balir and Shizel, she read silently, whose love and passion for each other surpassed even death. The epitaph had been Reid's idea, in a rare moment of inspiration. Beneath the headstone were buried the remains of her parents, or what little there had been to bury. Her father had been nothing more than a clean skeleton when they had found him at his Castle, and the final battle with Nereid had left Shizel's body broken and mangled. It was not a pleasant way to remember her parents.
She had other memories, happier ones. She smiled to herself as she thought of the time on the rooftop of the Hotel Tinnsia, when Reid had tried to explain to her what memories were. 'Warm feelings', he'd said, 'calm and light', and Meredy was sure she couldn't have put it better herself. What few memories she had of her parents were certainly warm, and happy ones. Picnics, walks, talks, stargazing, even watching her father's research. She remembered her mother's love, her father's dedication. Those were happy times.
Then, abruptly, things had changed. First her father had been ripped out of her life, then her mother. It was just as well than she had been almost ten when it happened; her parents had already been getting ready for her to move out and begin life on her own, in the Celestian tradition. Meredy hated to think what her life might have been like if she'd lost her parents at an even younger age.
Now here she was, sixteen going on seventeen, and already she had gone through more terrifying ordeals than most people had in their entire lives. She'd been forced to grow up quickly at a young age, but deep down she had never quite relinquished her hold on her childhood and its joys. Its freedom from worry, from care, from suffering. Her constant childish behaviour and speech was a shield she'd carefully constructed over the years, a denial of the maturity she'd attained but didn't want to acknowledge.
Meredy wondered, for a moment, if Keele had ever seen through her, then shook her head sadly. Probably not. It was that very childishness that he seemed to find so annoying. It was, she supposed, a kind of poetic irony, but not one she found any amusement in. In any case, Keele was surprisingly slow to understand other people's emotions and thoughts, even for an elara-less Inferian.
She had never been able to comprehend how Inferians could live without elaras. When she had first arrived in Inferia, she had been as shocked to observe the lack of elaras as Reid and Farah had been to see hers. For some reason she had never noticed her own father's lack of an elara, and this distinction between Inferia and Celestia had been until then unknown to her. The elara was part and parcel of a Celestian's everyday life. It permitted communication without spoken word, over small distances. Over longer distances it allowed the projection of basic emotions and concepts. Elaras helped convey thoughts that words could not express. Without her elara, Meredy would feel lost and alone. She knew this for a certainty, since she had felt exactly that when she had found herself in a strange land populated by people to whom the concept of an elara was alien.
She thought of what Galenos had told her, of her parents. It had not been easy for her mother, either, to find herself falling in love with an Inferian man, a citizen of the nation that had so many centuries ago been Celestia's enemy, and the first man she'd ever met who didn't have an elara. Nor had it been easy for her father, the first Inferian to visit Celestia after that last great war, to find himself in a strange land and among a strange people. The stories she'd heard in Inferia spoke as if Balir had gone searching for the Bridge of Light knowing exactly as if he'd known what he was doing; Galenos' telling of the tale said exactly the opposite, that Balir hadn't had any idea if the Bridge was truly going to work the way he hoped it would. It was, in fact, a tremendous risk that her father had taken, but she was glad he had taken it, even if it had led to the almost-destruction of Eternia by Nereid.
If she had a thousand wishes to make, none of them would be that Balir never made the trip to Celestia, or never met Shizel, or even that Hyades had never betrayed her parents. If it weren't for them, she wouldn't be here today.
And more importantly, neither would Keele.
Quickie's urgent squeaking interrupted her thoughts. Meredy looked down slightly, and found her longtime companion tugging at her leg. She lifted Quickie up, and thought at him: What's wrong? The little creature didn't reply -- he couldn't -- but as with any native Celestian animal Meredy was able to read basic ideas from his thoughts. And right now Quickie was thinking of a very specific person who was waiting for her at a very specific place.
Meredy smiled, and silently thanked Quickie, and ran all the way out of town, to where she knew Keele would be.
She arrived to find Keele standing by the old white structure, looking up at the sky. She padded silently through the grass, coming to a halt behind him, but something must given her away. He didn't turn around to look, but he knew she was there.
"Do you remember," he asked, without turning, "the first time we came here? All four of us?"
She nodded. "Meredy remembers."
"Our first time in Celestia -- for Reid and Farah and I, anyway. After traveling all over Inferia to get to the Bridge of Light, this was the first place in Celestia we arrived at. I remember looking at the sky, the sea, feeling the cool still air, and thinking how it was all so strange. So different. I remember, that was the first time I truly believed what you had been saying all along. That you really were Celestian. And I remember that you got upset with me then, because I hadn't believed."
Keele did turn around now. He knelt down on the grass in front of her, and took her hands, and looked up into her clear lavender eyes. Quickie scampered away.
"It wasn't the first time I'd said or done something to upset you, was it? And it wasn't the last, either. And I'm sorry, Meredy. For everything. I've been a terrible traveling companion, I know. I ridiculed you, and put you down so many times and generally didn't think too much of you. And over the past few months living with you and Galenos, I've disregarded you, and been so short with you all the time, and let myself get worked up over the smallest things, and... and I'm just so sorry, Meredy!"
Meredy nodded. She wanted to speak, to say something, but the words wouldn't come.
"I don't want to hurt you anymore, Meredy. I can't guarantee that I won't, but by Seyfert I'll never do it intentionally again."
"Meredy is sorry too," she said, trying not to choke on the tears that were beginning to stream down her face. "Meredy has been... selfish. I've been interfering with Keele's work, and getting in your way. I've always thought that what made me happy would make you happy too. Meredy was wrong. I never stopped to think how you're different from me."
She took her hand from his to wipe her face, and to brush the wisps of her hair that had fallen over her eyes. "But Meredy only wants Keele to be happy..."
"Funny, that. Because I've been doing some thinking, and I came to a very interesting conclusion. It's completely hypothetical, you understand. It's not something I've been able to test extensively yet. But my theory is this: that what makes me happiest... is you."
Meredy's heart skipped a beat, and her eyes went wide. Had she heard right? Could it be?
"Do... you really mean that?"
Keele raised his hand to touch the elara on her forehead. Then he reached for his ear, and tugged off the Orz earring, turned slightly toward the sea, and threw the earring over the edge of the cliff.
"With all my heart, Meredy," he said to her in flawless Celestian.
This time Meredy burst into tears, and darted forward to embrace Keele as tightly as she could. Happiness, she thought. Warm feelings. Calm. Light. She wished her mother could see her now. Shizel would be happy too, she knew.
She raised her head to look at Keele, the question unspoken but evident in her tear-streaked face. "Galenos has been teaching me," he said simply. "He told me the first step to understanding Celestia's people was to understand their language. I can speak the language quite fluently now, but--", here he grinned impishly at her, "--the people still tend to be quite a mystery to me."
Meredy swatted his arm in mock anger, and they both burst out laughing, feeling a sense of levity and joy that stemmed not so much from Keele's words, but from the sheer intensity of the moment they found themselves in, a feeling that they shared for the first time.
"I love you," she said. There was a strange thrill in saying this, aloud, to Keele, at last.
"I know." I love you too, Keele added in his mind, but couldn't bring himself to speak it aloud. Not yet. He didn't need to. Meredy heard it anyway.
Author's note: I wrote this fic because of several reasons. Meredy was one of my favourite characters in the game, not so much because of her abilities or magic, but because of the way she always seemed so cheerful and innocent. By the time you reach the end of the game, however, you find out how beautifully tragic her life story is. She's a wonderfully three-dimensional character, and I hated the way the game left her relationship with Keele hanging in midair. Also I was annoyed at how the game's ending featured Reid and Farah but said nothing about the other two main characters. I wanted to see closure, and I wanted to see Meredy treated well.
This fic wouldn't have been possible, however, if not for the Tales of Eternia anime series, and here I must thank the Anime Coalition (www.animeco.org) for fansubbing it. The anime series helped to flesh out the game's characters, and give them more life than speech balloons and poor voice acting could.
I'd also like to thank TSG for being so supportive of this fic since he first saw my initial incomplete draft (I remember that death threat I got from him demanding that I finish it), as well as Joelle Thomas from the RPGFFML, for her encouraging comments, and for pointing out my mistakes. Thank you.