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Pirates Round Robin

Chapter 12(b)

The Spider and the Fly

By Tanina Varagona

<<THE SEARCH IS COMPLETE. OUR SERVANT HAS BEEN LOCATED>>

<<INITIATE RECOVERY PROCESS. THE SERVANT MUST BE RECOVERED AND ONCE AGAIN BROUGHT UNDER OUR CONTROL>>

"You're kidding, right?" Chris couldn't believe was he was hearing.

"Chris, have I ever had any intention of lying to you?"

"But... trust an Eternal?"

"He's harmless."

"He?" Chris raised an eyebrow.

At this comment, Mel quickly turned away, but not before Chris had seen how red her face had become.

"Well, I guess that make us even, doesn't it?" she said as she rose to her feet. Smiling weakly, she proceeded to exit the room.

As Chris watched her retreating back he called out to her.

"Mel?"

She paused in the doorway and turned to him.

"I'm sorry for, well... you know."

Mel smiled.

"Thanks, Chris," she said and walked quietly out of the room. Just moments afterwards, Thella entered.

"Thella..."

"I know, I heard."

"She has a lot of trust in that thing, Thella."

"I think there's more to it than that. They seem to be acting as if they have a sort of special - almost romantic - bond to each other."

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, just little things, really. Like how that Eternal seems to remain stable only in Melanie's presence and not that of others, how Mel accepts its attachment to her without question and sometimes even returns it."

"They hold hands all the time..."

"Yes, reminds you of a couple we know, doesn't it?"

Chris blushed.

Thella couldn't help but smile at him affectionately. But moments later she allowed her face to fall slightly.

"Still, I agree. It's eerie."

Chris nodded and grimaced.

"Thella, I have a very bad feeling..."

"Are you sure we should be out here?" Mel inquired to her companion as they stood outside the ship's exterior. "I mean, what if Enlightenment..."

"It won't. As long as I'm with you, I should remain stable."

Mel frowned, trying to understand the scope of what he was saying. Did he mean being with her personally, or just her mind? Secretly, Mel hoped that it was the former.

Her thoughts were interrupted when she suddenly felt the sensation of a hand gently squeezing hers. Turning she found his crystal blue eyes boring into her mind, sensing both her thoughts and emotions. And, most shockingly, understanding them as well.

I still don't understand this, she thought. He certainly doesn't act like an Eternal. It's almost as if he has thoughts and emotions of his own. Almost.

She felt him tense up suddenly, his grip on her hand tightened as his eyes darted this way and that, scanning the area.

Mel frowned. She also had felt it, a slight change in the wind...

Drawing closer to him she asked, "What is it?"

"I think... it's found me."

Mel watched as an eerie pink mist filtered out through the forest. And towards the Nosferatu. With a gasp, she felt him grab her by the arm and begin to drag her towards the doorway of the ship.

"Quick! Inside!" he shouted at her urgently, throwing her through the doorway and pausing just enough to quickly follow.

The door of the ship slammed shut just as the mist reached it. It hovered by the Nosferatu as if frustrated, almost clawing angrily as the sides of the ship to get in.

"So this is it," Mel whispered as she lent against the door, attempting to recover her breath. He was standing next to her but didn't even appear exhausted.

"So this is it, isn't it?" she repeated to him. "The final encounter?" She winced, realizing just how melodramatic that had sounded. Can't you think of anything better to say in times such as these, Bush?

"Yes," he replied.

By this time, Thella and Chris also had approached them. It didn't take them long to catch on to their conversation.

"What... does it want?" Chris inquired.

"The only two things we have that are of any use to it: the Pilot and me," the Eternal answered unemotionally, not even looking at Chris.

"And unless we give it what it wants, it won't leave us alone." Mel thought aloud.

"But without the Eternal, it can't harm us, right?"

"Not necessarily..."

"Well, it's certainly not getting Thella!"

"I'm going out there," the Eternal said bluntly, interrupting Melanie and Chris's exchange. Mel stepped forward.

"Not without me, you're not! You're not stable, remember?"

He shrugged. "Suit yourself, but this is going to stop. You are all getting off this planet... now."

"Well, the Nosferatu is operational, but... Hey, wait!" Chris shouted as the Eternal disappeared into the pink mist. Mel paused before following.

"Don't worry, Chris, I've got it covered. He'll be fine just as long as he doesn't lose control. But if we don't come back, leave without us." And then she was gone.

Chris turned a perplexed look on Thella.

"Did she just say... leave?"

The vegetation of Seldric Four was in wild activity as Mel tried with all her strength to keep up with her companion's swift pace. Leaves, branches, vines. They all reached towards her eagerly... hungrily.

Mel shrieked as she nearly stepped right in the path of a wildly wiggling vine. She winced as she barely avoided contact, knowing that if she hadn't she would have fallen prey to this cursed plant. Maybe to Enlightenment itself.

She closed her eyes tightly and raised her hands in front of her face. Then, she ran on after him.

I can't lose him, she thought desperately, not realizing the double meaning of her own words. God knows what would happen if I'm not there for him. God knows what would happen to all of us.

What if he loses control?

Her thoughts were cut off when the Eternal stopped suddenly, nearly causing her to crash right into the back of him. Feeling her near him, he slowly turned around and grabbed her hand. Mel gasped at the action; it was almost as if he was relying on her for his own comfort.

"What's wrong? Why did we stop?" she asked as she laid her hand on his arm to reassure him. He looked down on her and was just about to answer...

When someone did it for him.

<<THIS IS FOOLISHNESS. YOUR ATTEMPT TO LIBERATE YOURSELF FROM OUR CONTROL IS FUTILE>>

The Eternal rebutted. "And what does Enlightenment know about fools?"

Mel tugged at his arm, whispering into his ear, "While we're on the subject, what do you know about them?" Indeed, what do you understand about Ephemerals, if anything at all?

"More than you might think."

His voice never failed to startle her. She had almost forgotten that he had easy access to her mind and her thoughts.

<<SILENCE>>

The voice rumbled, cutting neatly through Mel's thoughts and leaving her with no choice but to comply.

And so the silence came...

And surprisingly, it didn't only come from Mel and the Eternal, but from the whole of Seldric Four itself. The forests, the trees, the wind, entities and spirits... all activity and all life at that moment suddenly came to a complete halt.

The silence astounded Mel, as she had grown accustomed to the gentle rustling of the leaves, the soft force of the wind, and indeed all aspects of the planet that challenged the reality of Seldric Four's reputation. With all tranquility having been diminished, the atmosphere now was... was...

Eerie.

She turned to the Eternal and was shocked to find him collapsed on the ground, clutching his head and attempting desperately to shove out the pain and confusion stabbing through his empty mind.

And it was during this silence, that a final confrontation took place...

<<YOU TRY TO RESIST US.>>

<<BUT WHAT OTHER REASON IS THERE FOR YOU TO EXSIST? EXCEPT AS A FOCUS, AN OUTPUT FOR OUR POWER>>

"For your evil!"

It blinked, started by It's own remark. Where had such boldness come from? Certainly not from Itself, but from somewhere else... someone else.

<<AND WHAT DOES AN ETERNAL KNOW ABOUT EVIL>>

<<AN ETERNAL'S MIND IS EMPTY. IT IS UNCAPABLE OF DIFFRINCIATING BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL. ETERNALS CANNOT THINK FOR THEMSELVES>>

"Yes, I can. I..."

<<ONLY EPHEMERALS HAVE THE WILL TO THINK>>

<<YOU ARE NO EPHEMERAL>>

It clenched Its teeth, Its fingers digging into Its scull. It was trying desperately to push it away, to banish it from Its mind.

<<RESISTANCE IS FUTILE>>

<<YOUR ILLOGICAL ACTIONS STOP NOW>>

Mel was immediately worried. The Eternal had all but completely collapsed on the floor of the forest. He seemed to be in extreme pain and his skin was lacquered with sweat. She kneeled down and reached out to him, gently pulling him to his feet.

One eye opened, then the other. Two crystal blue eyes were staring at her... at her? Why not through her as they normally did?

The Eternal's eyes drifted down to where he was clutching Melanie's arms for support. Gradually, his hand began to drift upwards, slowly tracing up from Mel's slender waistline...

To her chest...

Then her shoulders...

His movements left Mel speechless, even as his palms glided over the top of her shoulder blades towards the bottom of her face. His hands hesitated for just a moment, allowing his fingers to gently caress the nape of her neck. His caresses became slower as he proceeded to curl the tips of his fingers around the soft skin. Tenderly, he wrapped his hands around her throat...

And squeezed.

Mel's eyes widened in shock as the Eternal slowly began to choke her, shoving her entire body down to the ground with two sturdy arms. She gasped and desperately scraped at his hands, trying to break his grip on her throat. It was no use, he was too strong. As Mel tried to comprehend what was happening, a voice finally interrupted the terrible silence.

<<ELIMINATE THIS USELESS CREATURE, THEN CONTINUE YOUR MISSION AND RETRIEVE THE PILOT>>

No... he couldn't possibly have lost his control that easily, could he? Or had she just fooled herself into thinking that an Eternal was capable of dedicating himself to a single mortal - that this emotionless being could realize the importance of devotion and love? Could she have been so blind as not to predict his inevitable betrayal?

Her breath was gradually being squeezed away and she was quickly losing consciousness. She felt herself slipping away... from a distant pain to an endless afterlife of darkness.

<<WHAT IS HAPPENING? YOU ARE WEAKENING>>

"I... feel strange," was all It said as It continued to choke the life out of the young woman who had so willingly placed herself at Its mercy.

<<SHE IS OF NO IMPORTANCE TO YOU, SHE MUST BE ELIMINATED>>

"I know, that is my purpose. But..." Its eyes trailed down to the exposed skin on the woman's slender arms. Something on that area of skin had caught Its attention.

A drop of liquid.

Frowning, It reached a hand to Its face then it pulled away to look at it curiously. There it was, more of the same substance... coming from Its face?

Wait, this was familiar. There was an Ephemeral word for this sort of physical excretion, It was sure. It was... it was...

Tears?

But, how was that possible? Crying is an act of... grief.

What is grief?

Suddenly, a tremendous scream was heard throughout the forests of Seldric Four. Panic flashed through the Eternal's eyes as he felt all his strength swiftly diminish. His grip on Melanie's throat weakened and her body fell limply to the ground.

"WHAT HAVE I DONE? WHAT HAVE I DONE?"

He dropped to his knees by Mel's body, lifting her up and pressing her face against his chest.

<<YOU DID YOUR DUTY, YOU DESTROYED A CREATURE THAT WAS A THREAT TO OUR CAUSE. THAT IS YOUR PURPOSE>>

"No..." he whispered. He buried his face in her neck, feeling a slow, steady pulse. "You're wrong, she's alive..."

<<THEN YOU MUST COMPLETE YOUR MISSION AND ELIMINATE THIS CREATURE. NOTHING MUST DELAY THE RECOVERY OF THE PILOT>>

"No!" he roared with a sudden, fierce courage. He scooped Mel's limp body up in his arms and brought himself up to his full height.

<<BUT IT IS YOUR PURPOSE>>

"Damn my purpose, just get the hell out of my mind!" he screamed before running out of the forest and towards the Nosferatu.

"Chris!"

Thella ran to the huge man's side, grabbing his arm and pointing beyond the gap that formed the Nosferatu's entrance. Chris squinted, the pink mist making it difficult to locate the object she was indicating.

Wait... there was a movement. Somewhere within the mist, a figure was walking steadily towards them, carrying a limp female form in its arms. A few moments later, the figure was close enough to identify. His normally silver hair was tinted a light pink by the mist's aura but he was nonetheless recognizable, as was the unconscious woman whom he was carrying.

"Melanie, what..." Chris's outburst was cut short as the Eternal approached him and gently placed Mel in Chris's arms. Chris was dumbfounded.

"What happened?"

"We've had... a slight accident."

"An accident?"

"Yes, have Melanie explain it to you when she's up to it. But for the time being, take her to safety and prepare for takeoff."

There's something different about him, Chris thought. When he and Mel left to confront Enlightenment, he was sincere and unemotional - just like an Eternal should be. But now he was acting... well, human. He wondered if Mel's current condition had something to do with it.

Suddenly, the Eternal's words sank it.

"Takeoff?"

"I said you were all getting off this planet." The immortal's gaze fell upon Melanie's unconscious form. "All of you. As soon as you are airborne, leave the vicinity of this place at full speed."

"Full speed? But..."

"Trust me." He turned on his heel and vanished once again amongst the mist. Chris called after him.

"What are you going to do?"

There was no answer.

Damn, the light!

Mel was forced to shield her eyes barely seconds after she had experimentally cracked them open. When she tried again more slowly, the brightness succeeded as not to overwhelm her. But she winced once more as memories came flooding back. The Eternal, his betrayal... she was surprised to find tears forming in her eyes. She instinctively reached out, expecting to find him near despite what had happened. But he wasn't there. Where was she? Her sight had become somewhat clearer, she was... she was...

In the control room of the Nosferatu?

Chris and Thella were sitting next to her makeshift bunk, regarding her with very worried expressions as she gradually came to. Suddenly, Mel's eyes snapped wide open and she sat up abruptly.

"Where is he?" she asked, knowing full well that there was no need to explain the identity of the 'he' to which she was referring to. Chris paled.

"Er, well..."

"WHERE IS HE?" she demanded, almost screaming.

Chris and Thella leaped back from the bunk as if they had been slapped. Ignoring their horrified reaction to her frustration, Mel challenged the two of them with an anxious expression.

"Y-you didn't abandon him, did you? You didn't leave him out there alone and unprotected..."

"Melanie," Thella started, desperate to calm her. "That Eternal saved your life and brought you back to us. He went back out there because he wanted to."

"AND YOU LET HIM?"

"Mel, please..."

"You don't understand, do you? He's unstable when he's on his own. He needs someone there, he needs me there..."

Melanie's sentence was cut off when the engines of the Nosferatu II started abruptly, causing the entire ship to shudder slightly. Mel's eyes widened and she sprang to her feet.

"No! You couldn't have, you didn't..."

"Mel..."

"On whose orders, Chris? Who gave the order to takeoff?"

"I did. The Eternal advised me to, for our safety."

Mel just stared at Chris for moment. Then she flung herself upon him and began beating on his chest wildly.

"HOW COULD YOU? YOU LEFT HIM! YOU LEFT HIM THERE, GODDAMMIT! CHRIS, HOW COULD YOU?"

Chris just shook his head, shocked to speechlessness. In the many weeks that they have traveled together, he had never heard Mel raise her voice... let alone swear! Thella was right, he thought to himself. She and the Eternal have a much stronger bond than he had originally thought.

Even Mel was affected.

Shaking himself out of his reverie, Chris gently pried Mel's hands off him and held her a safe distance away from his body to avoid further damage.

"Look, Mel. Listen to me..."

"NO!"

Mel was frantically fighting his grip, trying to get away from him. With a fierce shove, she broke away from Chris and bolted towards the door. She didn't get very far when Chris grabbed her from behind. But as Chris and Thella fought to keep Mel still, he began to doubt that they would ever succeed in calming her.

It sat amongst the trees.

Its head was resting against the bark and Its eyelids were closed. For the first time in Its existence, It was at peace. It felt confidence.

Confidence... that was an emotion, wasn't it? And strangely this feeling failed to confuse and panic It. It liked this feeling for it was calm and natural, a wonderful experience. It could bask in it for eternity. Enlightenment would never control It now and It never had to be Enlightenment's servant again. It was Its own entity, whole and free.

She had taught It how to be free. How to be whole. How to be Ephemeral, even if not completely Ephemeral. That was a debt It would never be able to repay.

Of course, there was never harm in trying.

A picture began to form in Its mind. It was fuzzy at first but started to clear after a moment's concentration. It frowned at the image. It could just make out the young man - Chris - as he tried to restrain a wildly struggling Melanie. As It gazed even further into Melanie's eyes It found an emotion It had never felt before... at least, not from her.

Anger? Hatred? Antipathy?

It had felt something like this before - many, many times - from Enlightenment itself. It recalled many a day when Enlightenment had shown something akin to anger at Its resistance. Anger was one of many roots of evil and Enlightenment's only emotion. And therein laid the solution, the means of Enlightenment's defeat. The only weapon was the one thing that Enlightenment knew best. It would use anger against anger.

Hatred against hatred. Evil against evil.

Suddenly, It found Itself doing something It had never done before... smiling.

I'm not your slave anymore, Enlightenment.

Why don't you come into my parlor?

<<WHAT KIND OF WEAPON IS THIS... THE ANGER AN EPHEMERAL?>>

In Eternal had slowly approached it in the dark void, unmoving and unafraid. He said not one word. He just stared.

<<EMOTIONS WILL NOT... CANNOT AFFECT US. WHAT YOU ARE INTENDING TO DO IS A WASTE OF EFFORT>>

<<STOP NOW OR YOU WILL BE DESTROYED>>

He did not flinch, did not shudder, and did not move at all.

He just stared. But from his lips could be heard a single word, spoken in barely a whisper.

"Melanie..."

Then he closed his eyes and opened his once empty mind.

Enlightenment screamed.

The shriek shuddered through the forests of Seldric Four, tearing through the sinister trees and ripping across the murky lakes. The explosion that followed expanded across the surface of the whole planet, consuming everything in its path. It consumed the trees, the lakes, and even the Eternal himself until all that was left was a dull fading glow at the edge of the universe.

Chris had stared at the monitor in astonishment along with the others. The shock from what they witnessed had since faded but the confusion was still very much prominent.

Seldric Four had exploded? Just like that? But...

His mind racing, Chris turned his gaze on Thella. The blue-skinned woman had been trying - with little success - to comfort the despondent Melanie. After the explosion the captain had slumped into a far corner and started sobbing heavily, taking no notice of the crew and caring little about what they thought of her depressing display. Thella had tried to reassure her by placing a gentle hand on Mel's shoulder, only to find it shoved fiercely away.

Watching this, Chris immediately felt for Thella. He knew how frustrating it could be trying to be there for someone who was too depressed to accept any consolation. He approached the two women slowly, kneeled down and gripped Mel's shoulder.

Surprisingly, it wasn't pushed away this time.

Before Chris even opened his mouth, Mel spoke.

"I know he's gone, Chris. You don't have to say it."

"Melanie..."

"And I know that Eternals don't die. You don't have to tell me that either, but he's gone all the same. Back to his echo-less void, back to the vastness of eternity..."

"Mel, please listen..."

"FOR GOD'S SAKE, JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!"

Chris lay blinking from his position on the floor. Throwing a despairing look at Thella as she helped him to his feet, he sighed.

"Well, I guess I can take a hint."

A couple of hours later, Chris found himself staring at a pair of objects in Thella's outstretched hand. His eyes squinted with confusion.

"I still don't understand."

Thella rolled her eyes, "Chris, how else do you think that the Eternal was overcome by Enlightenment so easily?"

Chris frowned and stared at the two objects again. The first was the - of course - the infamous crystal with which Chris had attached himself so dearly. As for the second... well, he really wasn't sure _what_ it was. It looked something like a blackened piece of glass.

All of a sudden it dawned on him. He pointed, "You mean that..."

"Yes," Thella answered, holding up the black piece of glass he had indicated. "Just a few hours ago, before Enlightenment's destruction, this black shard and the crystal were completely identical."

"So the Eternal also had a crystal."

Thella nodded.

"And that crystal was originally part of the corrupted Enlightenment."

Thella nodded again.

"So when Enlightenment was destroyed, that crystal had nowhere to draw its power from and thus became just a hollow black shard."

Another nod.

Chris pointed to the other crystal, "But what about this one? Shouldn't it have become just a useless piece of glass as well?"

"Not necessarily."

"What do you mean?"

Thella eyes grew distance for a moment as she gently held the crystal into the light. "You were right in saying that she wasn't like the others. This piece must have been a part of the original Enlightenment..."

"That somehow was drawn into the corrupted Enlightenment's control?"

"Yes."

"Okay, just one more question."

"What?"

"How did you end up with the Eternal's crystal?"

Thella turned her eyes away from the crystal for a moment and looked at him for a moment. "Why, the Eternal gave it to me himself. While he was on the ship."

"Oh."

"He really wanted to get rid of it, he felt used by it. Just like I felt used." She held the crystal up into the light again. "Just like she felt used." She sighed deeply, then offered the crystal to Chris.

"Here, she was yours from the beginning, anyway."

Chris stared at it for a moment, then reached forward. "If you don't mind, I'd rather have this one," he said and took the black shard instead.

Thella blinked in surprise. "What for?"

"Let's just say I don't want to take anymore unnecessary risks."

Thella chuckled softly, then stopped when she found that Chris had suddenly frowned.

"What is it?"

"I have another concern," he said and pointed to the door that led to Melanie's cabin. Thella followed his gaze and rested a gentle hand on Chris's arm.

"She'll be fine, Chris. She just needs some time."

"But what about the Etern-"

"Don't worry about that either. Wherever he is, I just hope that he finally found the peace that he was looking for."

The Fly opened Its eyes to find Itself in the endless darkness of eternity. But that didn't bother It, not at all.

For the Spider was dead.

The threat had gone.

And rest...

Rest was now all that It wanted.

Finis

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