"Ow! Okay, I'm fine. Stop, damn it!"
"You're still bleeding! You're not fine!"
"It's just a cut!"
"Blank and Sori, quit arguing' and get ready!" Baku bellowed at us, tossing a crumpled up piece of paper at Blank's head. With him distracted, I finished tying the cloth around his arm, covering the cut that our boss had given him just a few minutes earlier.
The Prima Vista shifted violently, a random action I should have been used to by now, and pushed me off my feet and onto my backside. I hit the hard wooden floor and let out a yelping noise. Once the ship stopped rocking, Blank laughed at my injury and held out his hand.
"You need medical help more than I do," he commented, pulling my back onto my feet.
"Shut up, stupid."
With a smirk still planted on his face, he patted my head, intentionally making my hair a mess, and walked off to run through his lines once more before performing them. Blank had a photographic memory, I swear. I don't even know why he was so persistent on reading his lines over and over.
"You remember what your job is, right?" Baku asked me for the hundredth time. I sighed, pulling my long brown hair back into a bun.
"Yes," I answered. "Make myself look like a noble, sit front-row in the audience, and jump if anyone tries to interfere. I know, I know."
"Good." And with that, he returned to the book in his hand: I Want To Be Your Canary by Lord Avon.
I glanced out the circular window to my side, watching in amazement as the kingdom of Alexandria slid underneath the ship. There were so many people walking around. There weren't nearly as many people in Lindblum.
"Go get your make-up on, Sori," Baku ordered without lifting his nose from the book.
I ran up the tiny flight of stairs and headed for the bedroom. Just as I reached the door, it opened and my face slammed into Marcus' chest. I could instantly feel the animosity rise up in my body.
Marcus was my least favorite person in the entire world. It was his fault that I almost didn't get accepted into Tantalus when I was seven. Although, that was about eight and a half years ago. Marcus had changed a lot; he wasn't the selfish teacher's pet (or in our case, Baku's pet) that he had once been. I still didn't like him, though.
"Sori," Marcus greeted, flashing a friendly smile.
"Marcus," I replied, stone-faced. "Break a leg out there."
He walked past me and I rolled my eyes. "Please break a leg. Or both," I whispered, pushing the bedroom door back open.
My gaze moved over to the two beds in the corner. Blank was lying on one of them, his headband that normally covered his eyes gripped tightly in a limped-over hand, dangling off the side of the bed. His eyes were shut tight and his lips moved silently. I watched them, listening to his voice in my head.
"We shall back thee, kinsman!" it said. I practically had this play memorized even though I wasn't a part of the cast. The Tantalus boys had gone through it so many times, I doubt I could ever forget the lines.
Knowing better than to disturb him when he was in his actor-state, I sat in front of the mirror and grabbed for my make-up. Before I could apply ten pounds of it onto my face, I heard rustling from the other side of the room. I shifted to the side to look at Blank through the mirror.
He was sitting up, looking at me with those bright cerulean eyes that I wish I had. "Remember to put a whole lot of color on your lips," he said, making a kissing face at me.
"You wanna come and do this for me?" I asked, holding the lipstick out toward his reflection in the mirror.
"Hell no. Not unless you want to look like Cinna."
I gripped onto the side of the desk tightly as the ship stopped. Blank stood up straight and stretched his arms over his head, then brought them back down to tie the headband back around his eyes. I hurried with my make-up and stood up to face him.
"Good luck," I told him, wrapping my arms around his neck and touching my nose to his chin. He exhaled slowly through his nose snaked his arms around my waist.
I backed away slightly and tilted my head a little more to look up at his face. "Hey, don't be nervous. You'll do great. You always do."
He grinned and lifted his hand to tousle my hair again, but I assumed the neat bun stopped him. "Who said I was nervous?"
"I just know you well, Blank."
"Unfortunately," he teased and let go of me. "Remember, only jump in if I do the hand sign."
I waited in the front-row of the audience, listening to their chatter about how wealthy they were or how educated their children were. It made me want to either puke or steal all their gil.
Suddenly, the street lights shut off and the lights on the stage of the ship turned on. Baku walked out and bowed to us. "Ladies and gentleman!" he shouted, his arms opened wide. "Tonight's performance is one that takes place long, long ago…"
Nervous butterflies fluttered in my gut. I bounced my left leg quickly and strummed my fingers on my knee. Noticing that my back was somewhat hunched, I hurriedly sat up straight, trying to look as proper as possible. I didn't want to be the one to give away our entire mission.
"And now, Your Royal Majesty, Queen Brahne, Your Highness, Princess Garnet, noble ladies and lords," Baku yelled, his eyes locking onto mine for a brief moment, "and our rooftop viewers, Tantalus proudly presents I Want To Be Your Canary!"
The lights shut off for a moment, and three voices echoed around us. It took everything in me to not speak along as Blank, Cinna, and Zidane recited their lines. I rubbed my arms, trying to rid myself of the goose bumps, as the lights returned and the trio ran onstage to face Marcus, Baku (King Leo) and his two henchmen.
"My word," the woman next to me mumbled. Her eyes were fixed on Blank and a crimson blush spread about her face. For a fleeting moment, I considered "accidentally" stomping on her foot.
"Agh!" Cinna cried out. My attention was brought back to the actors just in time to watch Zidane slash at Baku with one of his daggers. One of the henchmen was pulling the other, who was "dead," to safety.
"Thou hast not seen the last of me, Marcus!" Baku shouted and headed for the stairs that led to the balcony. I shifted my weight in anticipation. This next part was my absolute favorite.
My eyes followed Blank as he blocked Zidane from getting to Baku. He jumped back as Zidane swung at him. "Out of the way, Blank!"
"Consider this, Zidane! If Prince Schneider were to marry Princess Cornelia, peace would reign over both their kingdoms!"
I couldn't help but smile a little. During the times when they were just learning their lines, Blank would intentionally mess that part up. I laughed every time because it was always something different. That's one of the things I loved about him.
The two were now right in front of me, their swords pointed at each other. The expression on Blank's face was one that I'd only seen once before. As I pondered on that memory, I swore the scar on my leg felt as if it was bleeding again, as it did that terrible night.
"Expect no quarter from me!"
I flinched at almost every "clang" sound of the swords slamming against each other. They growled and grunted at each other, and if I didn't know any better, I would've thought they were truly trying to kill one another.
I suppose I wore a horrified expression on my face, because Blank snuck a quick glimpse at me. His murderous persona faulted and he fell onto his butt. He and I gasped at the same time. Thinking quickly, he groaned and grabbed onto the bandage that I'd placed on his arm before, which was now somewhat stained with his blood.
"Good improvising," I muttered under my breath.
He jumped back onto his feet and swung once more at Zidane before yelling, "We shall finish this later!" and running offstage.
"Come back here!" Zidane called after, following him off.
I exhaled slowly and allowed myself to relax in my seat. Now, I thought, I get to enjoy some of this play. At least for a little while, anyway.
"So bored. So…bored," I whispered to myself. I realized that once you see a play being rehearsed a hundred times, and then watch the actual thing, you are bored beyond belief.
"Quiet yourself, young lady," the woman next to me ordered. "King Leo is about to announce Marcus' execution."
"If only," I muttered, slouching over in the chair. I brought my gaze back to Marcus, who had been captured and restrained by the surviving henchman from before and a replacement.
Baku faced Marcus, puffing out his chest. "…When yon bell strikes three, under the axe thou shall be!"
The crowed stirred uncomfortably as the sound of church bells sounded. At the first strike, women started mumbling about how they couldn't kill an actor onstage. At the second, the woman next to me started to cry. Then, people emerged from underneath the stage.
"What the hell?" I whispered, locking looks with Zidane, who had risen up with a hooded girl. On the second trap-platform, a man dressed in heavy armor entered the same way.
He looked out toward the audience with a confused expression. "Ho? What is all this?"
Baku turned toward Zidane and gave him a look we all knew too well. Marcus caught on and broke free from the two henchmen, opening his arms to the girl.
"Cornelia!" he cried out.
So, that hooded girl is Ruby, I thought.
"Oh, Marcus!" she replied, falling into his arms. My stomach twisted up in unease. That girl didn't have Ruby's heavy accent. That wasn't Ruby.
"Now, who is that actor supposed to portray?" the woman next to me asked, still wiping her eyes. She was looking at the knight who came up after Zidane and his guest.
I looked around apprehensively for Blank. I wanted that hand sign to jump onstage and find my way back into the ship so we could leave. I just hoped Princess Garnet was tied up somewhere inside.
Blank was nowhere to be found and that worried me. Intensely.
"For my parents, and for my love, Cornelia!" Marcus fiercely yelled when I came back to the play. He was drawing his sword toward Baku. "I shall cut thee down!"
As he thrust the sword forward, the hooded girl ran in front of Baku, lifting her upstage arm slightly to allow the sword to pass through her, giving the illusion that she had been stabbed. She groaned loudly in pain and collapsed to the ground.
Next to me, the woman burst into loud, howling wails. She rummaged around her handbag for a moment, and then pulled out a handful of already-used tissues. I couldn't help but make a disgusted face at her.
"What have I done! Am I never to hear her loving voice again! Am I cursed never again to feel her soft touch! O, cruel fate! Thou hast robbed me of all I treasure!" Marcus shouted to the sky, forced tears streaming down his face. He lifted his sword and "stabbed" himself, then fell on the ground next to Cornelia.
"NOOOO!" the woman screamed, burying her face in the snotty tissues.
I bit down on my lower lip, trying to hold back tears. No matter how many times I watched them rehearse this part, I always cried.
I almost heard Baku's voice in my head. "Stop bein' a baby, girl! People die all the time! Suck it up!"
"Princess!" the knight cried, falling to his knees. He was a really talented actor.
"Leave me alone!" a childish voice screamed. I turned my head to the side to see a small Black Mage run onstage, followed by two Alexandrian knights.
The mage circled around Baku and Zidane, then hopped over Cornelia's body. The two knights remained on the other side of her.
"Don't come any closer!" the mage warned, holding out his hands toward the two. Flames surrounded his palms and grew until he shot them out. Instead of hitting the knights, the flames landed on Cornelia's robe.
"Ow! Ow! Hot!" she screamed, jumping to her feet. She pulled the robe off and hurled it toward the audience, who hurried to move away from it. My mouth fell open as I looked up at Princess Garnet, who had taken Ruby's role.
"Sori!" Baku growled at me. "It's time!"
I stood up with shaking legs. "But Blank was supposed to give the han-"
"GET UP HERE AND GET IN THE SHIP!"
I put a leg onstage to lift myself up, but the woman who had been sitting next to me the whole time grabbed my arm. "Kidnappers!" she cried out. "Hurry! Guards! Get her!"
The two knights that had chased the mage onstage looked at me. I struggled to get myself free from the woman's grip, but I couldn't. So, I closed my eyes and doubled my free hand into a fist, swinging it around my body and landing it right in her nose.
"I'm sorry!" I yelled to her and jumped onto the stage. Before the knights could catch me, Benero and Zenero, the henchmen, tackled them to the side.
I ran into the ship, followed by Baku. We hurried to the control room, but Blank blocked my way. As soon as I saw him, I clung onto him.
"Where were you? Where were you? Where were you?" I repeated. I wasn't even sure if I was speaking clearly.
"Get in the bedroom, now," he ordered, but I refused. I hooked my arms around his stomach, pressing myself as close to him as possible.
"No! I'm staying here with you guys!"
"Sori," Blank said harshly, gently grabbing the sides of my head and tilting it back so I could look at him. "Please just work with me. I don't know what Queen Brahne would do to stop us if she knew we have the princess. Just please get in the bedroom and cover yourself with as many blankets and pillows as you can find."
Even though I couldn't see his eyes, I knew how they looked. Scared, nervous, uneasy.
I sighed and dropped my arms. "Okay, fine."
His large hand engulfed mine and he took off running down the stairs toward the bedroom. His movements were fast and sharp. I'd only seen him move like this once before. It was strange to me because Blank was normally calm with his body language.
He practically slammed two of the beds together against the wall before pulling me toward them. "Stay as compact as you can," he ordered. I lay in the center of the two beds and he piled blankets and pillows on top of me.
"Blank," I said loudly so he could hear me through all the padding. The pillow in front of my face was lifted and he looked at me.
"What is it?"
His mouth formed into a hard line and he forced a smile. "You're going to be okay. I promise. We'll get the princess out of here, get back to Lindblum, and I'll take you out to dinner. I know how you love food. How does that sound?"
Before I could answer, an explosion sounded, followed by the ship rocking back and forth. Blank gasped and grabbed onto the side of the bed to steady himself.
"Damn it," he hissed and ran out of the room, slamming the door behind him. The ship seemed to vibrate with another explosion. I started to smell smoke, people started screaming, and I began to cry.
The ship shook violently as it took off. From the sounds of wood breaking and loud crackling noises, I knew we were being attacked. I didn't move from my safe place.
I could hear the Tantalus boys running around the ship, yelling orders at each other to go onto the stage and help Zidane. Everyone argued against it, though, saying that they didn't want to die.
I shut my eyes tightly, trying to ignore the smell of burning bodies and wood. The worst thing about the whole experience was trying to push out the memories that continuously tried to shove their way back into my mind.
My heart dropped into my stomach when I heard Cinna run by, yelling, "We're gonna crash! Grab anyone you can!"
I didn't know what else to do, so I started screaming as loudly as I could. I doubted anyone could hear me over the blankets and all the others who were screaming, too.
Suddenly, the blankets closed in more around me and a solid figure lay on top of me. "Sori!" Blank's voice sounded. "You're okay!"
I stopped screaming and reached out from under the blanket, feeling around for his hand. Once I grabbed onto it, I pressed my face into his palm and shut my eyes tightly again. He quickly pulled the blanket off me and crawled under, holding my body against his firmly.
"It's almost over, I promise," he repeated. It was hard to hear him through my gasping sobs.
"We're going to die," I told him. "We're going to crash and die!"
"No we're not! We're going to be perfectly fine!" I felt his hand snake up my back and his fingers press against the back of my neck. Before I could fight against him, I felt the light pop, and everything faded away.
"Blank! Sori! C'mon, you guys! Wake up!"
My eyelids felt so heavy, as did the rest of my body. After a few tries, I was able to fully open them. A mass of red hair was on my chest and Cinna was looking down on me. His face was covered in soot.
"Blank," I groaned, trying to push him off. I ran my fingers through his hair. Something warm had smeared on my palm. I stared at it for what seemed like forever.
"Sori…He's okay. A piece of wood just fell and knocked him unconscious," Cinna said slowly, as if I might attack him unexpectedly. "He's going to be okay."
I fought back the tears in my eyes. "Get me a rag," I choked out.
Once Cinna left the room, the tears escaped. With my clean hand, I rubbed the back of it across my face, looking at the dirt I'd wiped off afterwards. A loud slam of a door caused Blank to moan and lift himself off my body.
"Ow," he whispered to himself, running his hand over the back of his head. He frowned as he looked at the blood he wiped off his hair, and then forced a smile when he met my eyes. "Hey, why are you crying?"
"You got hurt," I mumbled, staring at his blood on my own hand.
"You're okay, right?" he asked. I nodded slowly. "Then everything is okay! At least the blood matches my hair."
Even though he was obviously trying to make me laugh, I couldn't. It just made more tears rinse off the dust on my cheeks.
"C'mon, Sori, I'm trying to make you smile," he said in a defeated tone.
"I've got a ra- Oh, bro, you're awake. How're you feeling?" Cinna asked, tossing the rag to me. I got to my knees and crawled behind Blank, carefully untying his headband.
"My head hurts. But I'm okay," he replied.
I blocked out their conversation and focused on wiping the blood off the back of Blank's head. It would've been much easier if his hair was not the same color as the blood. Thankfully, there wasn't as much as I thought there was going to be.
"I'm gonna go try to find Zidane. I think he fell off," Cinna said, heading for the door.
"Cinna, are we in…you know," Blank asked, obviously talking in that "boy language" they used against me all the time.
Cinna glanced away and nodded. "Yeah, bro. We are." Before I could ask any questions, he hurried out of the room, closing the door hard behind him.
I set the rag aside and sat back on my heels, looking at Blank. "Where are we?" I asked. "And don't tell me that you don't know because I know you do know."
"Evil Forest. It's rumored that no one has ever made it out of here alive." He stood up and flashed one of those don't-worry-I'll-take-care-of-things smiles. "I'm going to go check on everyone. Please stay in this room."
He ruffled my hair (which had fallen out of the bun a long time ago) and walked out, fastening his headband on his way. I waited a few minutes to be sure that Blank was gone before hopping off the bed and sneaking out of the room.
I walked past the members of the orchestra that had played for I Want To Be Your Canary. They were spread out across the main room, some knocked out and some awake in pain. I tried my hardest to avoid eye contact. I felt almost guilty that I had made it out with only a few scratches and bruises while they ended up with gashes across their bodies and broken bones.
I'll have to thank Blank later, I thought.
I made my way up to the control room, inspecting the damage on the way. Inside the room, Baku was complaining under his breath about how expensive it would be to get everything fixed.
"Hey, boss," I greeted.
"Hey," he replied. Or, at least, that's what it sounded like.
"Where's Zidane? Or the princess?"
"I don't know. Somewhere."
"Move, move!" Blank yelled from behind me, almost pushing me out of the way. He ran to the very top of the spiral staircase, where all the "first-aid" items were kept. Although we didn't have much, Blank always found a way to put things together to make what we had work ten times better.
"What the hell's going on?" Baku demanded to know.
"Zidane came back with that Alexandrian knight and that Black Mage," Blank answered from above us. "The mage was infected with reproducing seeds. I need to get this to him before they sprout in his body."
He ran back past me with a vial of black liquid in his hand. I didn't hesitate to run after him back to the bedroom. When we arrived, the mage was lying back on the bed I was on, breathing heavily. His scared yellow eyes watched Blank sit on the bed next to him.
"You guys are lucky. If it weren't for Zidane, you'd both be dead. Some of the monsters in this forest reproduce by planting seeds in other animals. And when the seeds sprout, its hasta la vista: you become beef jerky," Blank said casually.
The mage shifted his weight uncomfortably. "Um…Am I going to d-die?"
"No. Just drink this. It's like a seed remover."
Blank passed on the vial and we watched the mage drink it, which was strange in itself. All we could really see was the liquid fall toward where his face should be, then disappear.
"What's your name, anyway?" I asked, trying not to laugh at the shiver of disgust the mage did.
"Vivi. Thank you for helping me," Vivi said softly, giving the empty vial back to Blank.
"No problem. I'm Blank, by the way. This is-"
"Sori, his second in command and best friend."
Blank gently nudged my shoulder. "And obvious loudmouth." After Vivi chuckled after that remark, Blank smiled. "Well, Vivi, you should just sleep for now and give that medicine time to work. Come on, Sori."
I followed Blank out of the bedroom and exhaled slowly. "I just want to go back to Lindblum and sleep for a week," I told him. I shot him a grin, but it swiftly faded away when I saw the look on his face. "You're mad."
Blank turned his head to look at the group of musicians, who were watching us secretively. Shaking his head, he grabbed my hand and led me into the next room.
"I'm just frustrated with you," he told me honestly. "I told you to-"
"Blank, will you please take that thing off your face when you talk to me?" I asked, intentionally interrupting. He hated when people cut him off.
His mouth formed into a tight line for a moment before he untied it and yanked it off his face, glaring daggers at me. "Yeah, sure, Sori. Anything for you."
Irritation formed inside my gut and I ground my teeth together. "Why are you so pissed at me, Blank? What did I do?"
"You don't listen to me, Sori. The only time you listen is when you actually think you're going to die."
"That's the only time I should listen to you! Half the time, you don't know what the hell you're talking about! Just because you're two years older doesn't mean you can tell me what to do because you think it's what's best for me! Have you ever thought that I can take care of myself? I'm not little anymore!" I yelled, instantly regretting the words that flew from my mouth. It felt as if someone else was controlling what I was saying.
Blank was quiet for a few moments. He nodded slowly and smirked. "Okay, fine. I'm not going to tell you what to do anymore. You're on your own." He closed his eyes and lifted his arms to retie the headband.
"No. I'm not going to look out for you. I'm done caring." Without another word, he walked out, waving in a friendly way to the trumpet player.
After watching him walk off, I emerged from the room. "Tough break, honey," a tuba player said.
I occupied myself by helping the other members of Tantalus pull the dead bodies out of the ship. Looking around Evil Forest, I realized I missed Lindblum more than anything else.
How many hours passed, I couldn't tell you. How many charred, unrecognizable bodies we dragged out, I couldn't tell you that either. I lost count after eleven.
Blank was nowhere to be found. I figured he was holed up with Marcus in the map room, making some kind of plan to get out safely. I pictured him with his thinking face on, running through every scenario in his head twice to see where errors could be made. He had a strange way of thinking.
Feeling more exhausted than I had in a very long time, I made my way back to the bedroom, only to run into Zidane and the knight from before huddled around Vivi.
"What's going on?" I asked, sitting on the broken bunk-bed.
"That is none of your business, thief!" the knight yelled, pointing an accusing finger at me. I rolled my eyes and shook my head.
"Ouch, never heard that one before," I said sarcastically. "I wasn't talking to you, tin-can. Zidane, what's going on?"
"We're going to find the princess," he answered.
"Oh, so she's alive?"
"How dare you speak of the princess in such a disrespectful manner?" the knight yelled.
"Shut up, Steiner!" Zidane snapped. "Have you seen Blank, Sori?"
"That's weird. Do you wanna come with us?"
I thought about it for a moment. How would Blank feel if I left? Would he be even more upset with me? Or would he be happy that I was gone? Even if I wanted to leave, I couldn't bring myself to actually do it. Ever since I met Blank, separation was impossible.
"No. I can't leave…you know. I just can't," I mumbled, staring at the burned wooden ceiling.
"Yeah, don't worry about it. Come on, you two."
Three minutes after the trio left, I changed my mind. I hurried downstairs toward the hole blown on the side of the ship, but nearly skidded to a stop when I arrived. Blank was leaned against the wall, his head tilted down in a way he did when he was in deep thought. I knew his eyes were closed, so I carefully tried to sneak past him.
"Where are you going?" he asked, lifting his head to look straight at me.
"I'm…going with Zidane."
"Well, there's nothing else I can do here, so I figured I could do something to help them out there."
"Here, then," he said, holding out his sword. I stared at it for a moment, and then looked up at his face. "Are you going to take it or not? You're going to need it to get through the monsters."
"You're…just going to let me go out there? On my own?" I questioned in disbelief.
"You're old enough to take care of yourself. I'm not always going to be around to make up for your mistakes."
Blank's words felt as if they stabbed my heart a thousand times over, as depressing as that sounds. I bit down on my lower lip and tried to hide the tears that fell by grabbing the sword and running out, following the muddy footprints that led through the forest.
By the time I reached a spring, I was covered in not just my own blood, but the blood of monsters that I'd learned to slice through as I ran. A part of me was proud of myself. I'd never done something so dangerous without Blank's help.
I forced myself to keep going until I reached an entrance with stone roots emerging from it. Slowly, I walked inside, gripping the hilt of the sword securely.
I couldn't help but scream at the large plant that was swinging its vines at Zidane, Vivi, and Steiner. Fear paralyzed me and all I could do was watch them get thrown around and whipped.
"Looks like I made it just in time!" Blank yelled, running out from where I entered, another sword in his hand. He aimed at a vine and sliced through it, dodging the yellow slime that spewed from the gash. The large plant shrieked and backed away a bit, giving everyone a moment to breathe.
Blank dashed over to me and grabbed my shoulders. "Blank," I whispered. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I can't do anything without you."
Even though I knew he was terrified beyond reason, he smiled at me. "Don't worry about it, Sori. Go back to the ship. Marcus found an alternative way out of here."
"What about you?"
"I'll be fine. Once we get the princess, I'll be waiting for you on the other side of this forest, okay?"
He pushed me toward the arch of roots, which seemed to be slowly closing. "Just keep running and don't stop to fight anything."
I turned around when I was on the other side. The entrance was closing. It was turning into a stone barrier. "Blank, I love you," I think I said. I'm pretty sure my voice failed me and I only mouthed it.
But he still smiled. This time, it was a real smile. Not one he forced to make me feel better.
"Go," he whispered just before the small hole entirely closed up.
I stood staring at where his face had been just a few seconds ago. Something odd happened to my body then. I felt very warm and tense, like a sudden burst of rage and energy shot through me. I turned around and took off running back the way I came, ignoring all the monsters that tried to lunge at me.
"Do you think they made it out?" Benero asked as I took my first breath of fresh air the next day when we had finally made it out. It was so bright outside of the forest.
"Yes," I answered automatically. "Blank said he'd be on the other side, waiting for me."
"Let's go then. We'll come back for the Prima Vista later," Marcus said.
Avoiding any paths that led back into the forest, we hurried along, looking for any signs of non-threatening life. As we circled around, we found that half the forest had been petrified.
"Oh, no," Cinna whispered. "They're probably all dead."
"No, look!" Zenero called, pointing to foot prints in the dirt. We inspected them for a long time, until Marcus fell back.
"Bro," he mumbled.
My heart sank into my stomach. "What? Why'd you say that? What's wrong?"
"There's a pair of prints that are missing. Blank's boot prints aren't here." Marcus ran a hand over his face.
"How do you know? Maybe that knight's are the ones that are missing," I said, thinking of anything to deny what Marcus was saying. My legs were beginning to shake and I swear my heart was pounding in my ears.
"Look. That pointed one is the knight's. It falls deeper into the ground, so he must have been carrying the princess. Those little ones are Vivi's and the larger ones are Zidane's. Blank is still in the forest."
"Well how do you know Steiner didn't carry Blank out? Maybe the princess is still in-"
"Girl, stop," Baku said firmly, placing a giant hand on my shoulder. "Blank is petrified. No use in denyin' it. All we can do for him is find a cure."
For the first time since the day I met Blank, I felt empty and useless. I fell back into Baku and lowered my head. I knew better than to let the boss see me cry, but I couldn't help it.
"This is the only time I'll let you cry. Enjoy it while you can."
I dropped the sword and buried my face into Baku's clothing, sobbing loudly. Everyone was quiet for the longest time.
"He said he would be here!" I yelled in frustration. "He said he'd be okay!"
"Knowing Blank, he probably sacrificed himself. Heroic bastard," Cinna said, shaking his head.
"We should head back to Lindblum and start research," Marcus suggested.
"You're the one with the brains and crap," Baku said, gently pushing me off him. "You find out how to fix him and we'll do whatever you want us to."
"I'm helping," I said, looking at Marcus. He made an unsure face. Before he had the opportunity to argue, I held up my hand. "I've made up my mind. I'm going to help you. Blank has been my best friend for ten years. I owe him all I have for everything he's done for me in that time."
Marcus' gaze settled on me and he huffed. "Fine. First thing's first, we need to get to Lindblum."
"Let's go! I need to get some food in my belly! Sori, pick that sword up and wipe away those baby tears! Tantalus members don't cry!"
I grabbed Blank's sword tightly and nodded to Baku. "Yes, sir."