Hey, readers! Hope you all are having a good day! I come bearing gifts in the form of another chapter. I know that it took a while to get one in order and I apologize, but later is better than never. This chapter will be rather interesting because it will be a little sad. We say goodbye to one of our favorite characters for now but don't despair for he'll keep popping up from time to time. In exchange, we get a different character in his stead until the other returns for good. Hope you enjoy it!
Chapter 14: Kuronomei Academy
When I woke up, it was still dark outside and so I decided that I would wander about the ship. I walked around as my mind seemed to quiver after all that I had told Gareki. I couldn't believe that I had finally revealed my past to someone while it wasn't against my will. I barely even noticed where I was going until I bumped into something. I nearly fell backwards and looked up to see Hirato looking down at me.
"Captain," I said breathlessly. "Sorry about that. I wasn't paying attention to where I was going."
"Not a problem, Cleiona," he said with a small smile. "Just be careful next time or you might hurt yourself."
He turned around and was about to walk away when I called out to him. "Wait a minute, Captain," I said. "Is it true that Gareki is leaving the ship?"
"That is correct," he said with a nod.
"Are you sending him away? Is that why he's leaving?"
"You mean he hasn't told you?" Hirato asked. "I figured that you would be the first person he told about this. Gareki has asked to be a child of Airship Two, however I can't allow for this to happen unless he is trained properly. As of tomorrow, Gareki will be joining Kuronomei Academy so that he can become a member of Circus."
"Seriously? He said that he was leaving but I never imagined that this was where he was going," I said, more to myself than to Hirato.
"Would you like to go with him and be the pilot that will fly the plane there?" Hirato asked. "You can even give him a tour of the place since you are our most recent recruit."
With that, he walked away without a second look and not even giving me any time to answer him. I shrugged before going back to walk around the ship until I found the room that held the huge geode that I dragged out from the pool of water near my recent home. I decided on a whim to crack it open in two neat halves and gasped in delight when I saw the colors inside. They were silver gems with sapphire colors mixed about like tiger stripes. The whole thing was gorgeous and I decided to carve out a piece as a parting gift for Gareki. I made it egg sized so that it fit on the palm of my hand before breathing white fire on it until it sparkled brilliantly. By the time I was done, dawn had broken over the land and ran about towards the side of the ship where I could see the plane waiting. I quickly ran back to my room to change into white strapless tank top that zipped up from my ribs to the top of my chest and revealed my stomach while the rest of the material stretched down to my hips, black shorts, and black boots. The others were already outside and I made it just in time to see them giving Gareki his gifts. One was a Nyanperowna stuffed animal and another was a Niji that must have been made by Nai and Tsukumo since it looked a little strange.
"We're going to miss you, Gareki," Tsukumo said with a small smile.
"I can't believe that you're going to be leaving us!" Yogi cried and I just knew that he was bawling his eyes out again.
"Why can't you just stay?" Nai asked earnestly.
"Didn't Four Eyes tell you?" Gareki asked incredulously.
"He's going to attend Kuronomei Academy and become one of us," I said as I walked over to them. "But he's not allowed to leave just yet until I have a chance to give him my farewell presents." I bounded the last few steps to him as he looked me over, trying to make sure not to be obvious so that the others wouldn't notice. I handed him the piece of the geode that I made just for him. "It's just like the colors that my scales would be if I was a real Dragon. You can use it like a worry stone when your classes get a bit on the stressful side."
He looked down at it with a slight smile on his face before his expressions turned confused. "Wait, you said farewell presents," he told me. "That means more than one. Where's the other?"
"Right here," I told him with a grin as I grabbed him by the front of his blue hoodie, pulling him closer so that I could press my lips to his. He straightened a little in surprise before kissing me back. We stayed like that for a few seconds before I pulled away, watching as he seemed to want to speak up about it. "It means exactly what you think it does. I wouldn't have done that unless I meant it for sure."
"Cleo…" he whispered before I turned around to face the others. They all looked shocked beyond belief before I gave them a smile.
"The Captain told me that I am to be his pilot for the trip to Kuronomei," I explained. "I'll be back before sunset."
I grabbed Gareki by the wrist and walked with him to the plane. I bounded up the stairs easily before sitting down in the pilot's seat, starting up the plane while Gareki sat down. I flipped a switch to pull the door back into place on the plane before allowing it to fly into the air. I settled it in towards a course to the east and we flew along to Kuronomei. Gareki was looking out the window and I could see a slight grin on his face, all of his presents settled on his lap. It was about half an hour into the flight, which I was taking quite seriously and making sure to keep it safe, when Gareki spoke up.
"You really meant it when you kissed me?" he asked, his voice almost a whisper.
"If I didn't mean it, I wouldn't have done so in front of our friends," I told him with a tiny laugh. "However, it's best that we don't do that in front of anyone at the academy. I don't want them bugging Hirato about it if they see us. It might cause him a lot of trouble."
"I understand," he said simply and we fell back into silence for a few minutes before he spoke again. "What's Kuronomei Academy like?"
"It has its moments of levity and its moments of austerity," I explained. "You make a lot of good friends there that you can rely on, but sometimes you just have to do things alone in order to accomplish your goals. During your stay there, you'll be taught the basics until you can figure out which branch of learning you want to specialize in. After that, it will be a combination of the basics and that specialization."
"What are they?" he asked me.
"You've got the Circus Course, Management Information Course, Technology Creation Course, and last but not least the Life Medicine Course. If you have to ask me which one I picked, I might have to put this plane into autopilot so that I can go back there and punch you."
He let out a laugh that didn't sound as nervous as I'd expect from someone about to take a rather huge step in the next part of their lives. I put it in autopilot anyway and allowed my chair to swivel around so that I was facing Gareki. "I wasn't going to ask," he told me. "I know that you joined the Circus Program."
"And I know that you fully intend on joining it as well," I said with a smile before I turned serious. "Just know one thing, Gareki. You only get one shot at being in the program. If you leave for any reason except for being severely injured or sick, you cannot join it again. It's their most special program for a reason. Not even Hirato or me could get you back in."
"If I have to leave, then it will be my choice and no one else's," he told me. "I don't need your charity to get by. I've been able to do things on my own for a while now and I can still do it again."
"Just promise to make a friend or two while you're there," I said with a sigh, turning my chair back when I heard a beeping noise that alerted me to the fact that we were fast approaching Kuronomei. "It's always better to have someone to be able to talk to when your family isn't with you."
"What are you trying to say?" he asked, his voice sounding a bit hoarse as I began to land the plane.
"You and I both know that the people on Airship Two are like your family, no matter how much you try to deny it," I said kindly as I put the plane down on the ground in the specified area. I flipped a switch to allow the door to fall and form the stairs. I stood up and looked at him with a caring smile. "Just know that we'll be here waiting for when you come back. You've got our complete support. Not only that, but I'll stop by from time to time to check up on you."
He got up and hugged me tightly before he walked down the stairs, me flying slowly after him to be greeted by two adults waiting for us. One was an older gentleman that had to be the principal of the academy and the other was an incredibly familiar man. When he saw me and recognized me to be one from Airship Two, he pressed a finger to his lips to tell me to stay quiet. I gave him a mocking salute as I smirked but didn't say a word to Gareki.
"Welcome to Kuronomei Academy, Gareki," the principal said. "I see that you were escorted here by a familiar face. I should welcome you back, Cleiona."
"There's no need for the formalities," I told him. "Just like all those years ago, please call me Cleo."
The principal nodded and said, "We would give you the tour, but I think Cleiona will suffice as your tour guide. Take him to Room 12 in the boy's dormitories when you are done with showing him around."
They walked off and disappeared without a trace, just like they normally did when I had been in this place. "They didn't even introduce themselves," Gareki said flatly.
"The one who spoke was the principal and the other was a teacher here. He works in the Technology Creation Course on the side while he works in the National Defense Compilation Tower. He's a top rank member, so he has time to come here and teach on his free time."
"So what's his name? He looked really familiar, but I couldn't place how," Gareki said as I began to lead him along, flying beside him a few feet off the ground and keeping pace with him. I breathed a sigh of relief that he couldn't tell who he was related to.
"His name is Tokitatsu," I said with a sigh of exasperation. "Watch out for him. He's a bit on the rowdy side and extremely flamboyant. He likes giving people a good scare whenever they come to his office." What I didn't tell him because Tokitatsu had signaled for me not to reveal it was that Tokitatsu was Hirato's older brother. That definitely would have caused a stir with Gareki and I never would have heard the end of it.
"Has he scared you before?" Gareki asked me with a small smile.
"Absolutely not," I said with a snort. "If anything, I'm the first person to scare him. I was a bit too predatory and would 'sneak about' as he liked to put it. I apparently never made a sound when I walked, so I was all the time scaring him even if I didn't try."
I flew around and led him to a bunch of different buildings around the academy, some belonging to the different specialized programs and one to the basic program. I even showed him a few hiding spots that I used to take up residence whenever I was feeling overwhelmed by being around so many people, one of which being a large tree near the outskirts of the academy. He just shook his head with a smile until I showed him the training grounds, which was nearby the tree. There were different targets and training dummies strewn about, even fighting rings that could be used. I figured that he had everything mapped out in his mind and I was about to lead him to his dormitory when he grabbed my hand.
"Do you think I can do this?" he asked me.
"You sounding this hesitant isn't like you at all," I told him gently. "However, I will answer your question if it will assuage your worries. Yes, I believe that you can do this. You're probably one of the few people who could."
He looked as if he was going to say something else when we heard a voice nearby. "Gareki and Cleo? What are you doing here?" We both looked over to see that Tsubame was gaping at us, making all of us quite surprised.
"Gareki is here to join the Circus program," I explained with a smile. "I'm just here to give him a tour since I'm the most recent agent of Airship Two."
"Tsubame, why are you here?" Gareki asked her.
"I've been here for the same reason as you," she said and I watched as a harsh light began to spark in her eyes. "I want to take down Kafka for what they did to Yotaka."
I felt sobered by her words and the smile fell from my face. "Just don't push yourself too hard, Tsubame. Yotaka wouldn't want you to kill yourself in your endeavor."
"Thank you for the concern, Cleo," she told me with a kind smile. "I know you mean well. I should have thanked you a long time ago for all that you've done for Yotaka and me."
"There's no need for it. I only did what any person would do."
"No, you actually cared," she said firmly before changing the subject with a smile. "I can continue his tour for you so that you can go back to Airship Two if you want."
"I need to show her off to my new roommate," Gareki said with a smirk. "I need the intimidation factor on the table just in case I ever need it."
I looked up at the sky and could see that I needed to make it back soon and shook my head. "I can intimidate him some other day or night. Right now, I need to head back. Besides, you and Tsubame have some catching up to do." Flying closer so that our heads were level, I hugged him tightly to me. "You'll be just fine, Gareki. You've already got one friend and I'm sure that you can make more. Don't worry about it and it will be over with before you know it. I'll be back to check up on you in a few days."
His arms went around me and his head rested against mine. "Take care of yourself, Cleo. Don't do anything crazy while I'm gone and can't watch your back for you."
"You two have gotten much closer," Tsubame said cheekily, giving us an amused smile as we pulled away. "It's good to see Gareki acting like an actual human instead of someone cold."
I laughed and hugged Tsubame quickly before waving goodbye to them, flying off in the direction of the plane. Once I made it there and hopped in the pilot's seat, I forced the plane to take off and pointed it in a westerly direction towards Airship Two. I could feel a piece of me deep down break a little, leaving what felt like a hollow space in me. I felt a little cold, which was a bit surprising considering the fire burning through my veins. I chalked it up to the fact that I was going to miss Gareki since he had always been around after he came on the ship with Nai.
Just like I had promised, I had made it back to the ship before sunset, still feeling a bit unsettled. I was leaning back in the chair when I could hear running feet in the hangar before I saw Nai, Yogi, and Tsukumo jump inside, hitting a button that closed the door to the plane. As they panted in an attempt to catch their breath, I looked back at them and said, "Alright, I'm officially confused. Why'd you all rush in here like your tails are on fire?"
"Cleo, take us to the Research Tower!" Nai pleaded, begging me with his eyes in hopes that I would do as he said. "Hirato told us that Karoku just woke up from his coma! He said we couldn't go see him until you got back!"
"Can't exactly argue with that logic," I said with a grin as I started the plane back up. "Your wish is my command, little Nai!"
I flew the plane at top speed to the north, making sure to keep things safe as I sped along towards the Research Tower. It only took a half an hour to get there with me at the controls and I landed outside the Tower quickly before we all dove out of the plane before the stairs had even dropped, Yogi carrying Nai as we flew to the door of the Tower. We flew inside and startled a few nurses inside as we made our way up the stairs to Karoku's room. Once outside, we allowed for Nai to go in alone and Yogi and Tsukumo pressed their ears to the door while I stood beside them, relying on my excellent hearing instead to give them more room.
"Karoku!" Nai called out and I could hear the smile in his voice. "Karoku, you're okay! We were a bit scared when we found out you were in a coma."
"I'm sorry, but… who exactly are you?" I heard Karoku ask politely. I felt a sharp intake of breath that was involuntary and I knew that the others had done the same.
"Is this guy joking?" Yogi whispered, looking up at me.
His words don't ring falsely, my inner Dragon told me. Something isn't right here, but he isn't telling lies.
I shook my head at Yogi before I heard Nai ask sadly, "What do you mean? Don't you remember me?"
"Unfortunately, I don't believe we've ever met before," Karoku said simply. "I think I would have recognized you from somewhere if I had. You're not exactly a common sight with your appearance."
"But… you were the one to create me!" Nai told him firmly, his voice taking on a whole new determination. "You created the Niji Project and then named me! You called me Nai! You can't say that you don't remember me and all the good times we've had! You're my friend!"
"Listen here," Karoku said sternly and I could hear that his voice sounded strained, almost as if he was in pain of some sort. "I don't know you. We've never met. Get a grip and leave me in peace."
"I won't until you remember me!" Nai yelled, his voice shaking with the force of his emotions.
"Shut up! Leave me alone!" Karoku shouted and I heard a bang before I leapt into action.
I shoved the door open after pushing past Yogi and Tsukumo, bursting into the room and glaring fiercely at Karoku. I could see fear in his eyes for the first time, but I paid more attention to Nai, who was looking rather shaken as he sat on the floor. Karoku must have pushed him away and Nai fell. "I don't care what we've went through together, but you don't get to treat Nai like that," I growled as his eyes widened in shock. "Touch Nai like that again and I will kill you."
"Cleo, don't!" Nai told me, grabbing me by the wrist before I could move closer to Karoku.
"It's you…" Karoku said under his breath as he moved back to the far wall, fear making him shake uncontrollably. "I recognize you… You're the girl from my nightmares, the one who keeps trying to kill me no matter how hard I try to escape! Stay away from me!"
I looked at him in confusion before turning my gaze to Nai. "Be thankful he doesn't remember you," I said flatly. "I'd take that any day in comparison with this."
Nai gave me a wan smile before looking back at the stressed man over in the corner. "Get her away from me," Karoku said to the two people sticking their heads in the door to watch the scene unfolding. "Don't let her hurt me."
"Please," I said sarcastically as I rolled my eyes. "If I was going to hurt you, I would have done it already. I don't waste time in doing things when I need to. Just take a deep breath and calm down before I make you."
"Cleo, be nice," Nai whispered to me and I nodded faintly.
"Why am I having nightmares about you?" he asked quietly, more to himself than to anyone else.
"Well, I used to have quite the feral predatory side in the beginning," I explained to him. "Perhaps you were secretly afraid of that side of me after all. I changed, however, thanks to Nai. The only time I go anywhere close to that state again is when I need to protect those that I care about."
Karoku seemed hesitant still, but he nodded before sitting down on the bed. "Whenever I look at the two of you, my head feels as if it is splitting open. Maybe I do know you both, but I've repressed the memories somehow."
It was then that it hit me. "Or the memories were taken from you," I whispered. "Your brother did mention that he was even more like you than you are. Maybe that's how he's doing it."
"What did you just say about my brother?" he asked, his expressions darkening.
"I dearly hope that you aren't getting offended," I told him, glaring angrily.
"I wouldn't get offended by anything you say about him," he growled. It was weird to see him angry like this, especially since he never once would let us see him mad. "I can't remember exactly what he did, but he intentionally ruined an experiment of mine. He then tried to convince me to terminate it so that he could have it to himself. I decided that I wanted to try and keep it going, to give it a chance."
I was going to tell him that the experiment he was referring to was mine when Tsukumo came in and placed a hand on my shoulder. "We shouldn't push him too far," she told me. "He only woke from his coma an hour ago. Let the doctors come in and examine him some more. Then we can take him to Airship Two."
I nodded and picked Nai up off the floor, giving him a quick hug when I saw the lost look on his face. I wrapped my arm around his shoulders before leading him out of the room after Yogi and Tsukumo, watching as Dr. Akari walked inside to examine Karoku. I could see that Nai looked close to tears and so I bent down to take me to almost eye level with him. I rubbed his shoulder comfortingly and gave him a reassuring smile.
"Hey, calm down, little Nai," I told him in an attempt to placate him. "Everything will be okay in the end."
"But how do you know?" he whispered shakily.
"Because life always has a way of righting itself," I said. "I mean, I found you in the end. I'd take that as a sign that things turn out better eventually."
He sighed and hugged me tightly, his body still shaking a little but slowly stopping. A half an hour later and we were all situated on the plane, Karoku included. Yogi and Tsukumo were in the pilot's seats and I was sitting in between Nai and Karoku. The blue haired man to my left was clutching something tightly in his hand and I looked over at it curiously. It looked like he was holding it as if it was his last lifeline.
"What do you have there?" I finally asked, my curiosity getting the better of me.
"Apparently it's my wallet," he said tiredly.
"You're holding it awfully tight and yet you refuse to look at it," I said with a smirk.
"That's because there are pictures in there that I can tell are important to me and yet I don't remember taking them," he whispered.
With a shaking hand, he passed it over to me and I felt Nai rest his head on my shoulder so he could see what was there as well. I opened it up and gasped slightly when I saw the pictures. Both were during the time when I was allowed to go outside for the first time in my life. The first picture was just of Nai and me, the sun setting in the background and I was standing in front of Nai with a smile on my face as I stood in the water from the ocean. The other picture was of all of us together, my arms around their shoulders and one of theirs around my waist. I remember that Karoku had to tell me to actually smile but it was unnecessary since I was in an extremely good mood. Nai's smile was bright and happy and even Karoku had a faint smile on his face as he took the picture that day. I slid a finger lightly across the surface of the picture and felt my emotions shiver into a jumbled ball. I looked over at Karoku to see a pained expression on his face and I knew that it was partially because of his headaches.
"It seems familiar to me somehow," he told me softly, "yet I don't remember it. How can that be?"
"I'm sure that your memories will come back to you eventually," I said before closing his wallet and handing it back to him. Once again, he clutched it in his hand tightly like a lifeline. "It may not be right away, but they will return."
It took me a few minutes after our conversation for me to realize completely that we were flying now. I groaned and slumped back against the seat as my stomach protested intensely. "Looks like our Dragon is finally sick," Yogi said with a laugh. "I was wondering when it would happen."
"Nai, would you like to do the honor of keeping the ice pack on her forehead?" Tsukumo asked as she passed one back to him.
"Of course!" Nai said brightly, taking it from her before placing it on my head. "Does that feel any better, Cleo?"
"Much better, thank you," I told him with a sigh.
"Is she always like this?" Karoku asked.
"Only when she isn't the one flying the plane," Yogi explained. "We don't quite know why it happens that way, but we've all learned to work around it."
I kept my eyes closed and concentrated on forcing my stomach to calm down. By the time we made it to the ship, it had settled down enough for me to be able to sit up and push the ice pack from my forehead. We were in the ship itself for a while before Hirato found us in a common room to wait for him. He walked over to Karoku with a smile, Nai hugging me by the arm worriedly the entire time. Hirato looked over at us for a split second before turning his gaze back to Karoku.
"It's nice to finally meet the man who created those two," Hirato said, nodding his head in our direction. "It's definitely been… interesting having them here, especially since our Cleo is a member of Circus."
"Don't sound so upset, Captain," I said flatly. "Last time I checked, I was a delight to be around."
"Whoever said that to you lied," Yogi said under his breath until I threw a fireball at him, forcing him to dodge it before I let the fire fade.
"Let's behave, Cleiona," Hirato told me sternly. "There's no need to be hostile. Now, Karoku, I have been told that you have no recollection of these two."
"It's the truth," he said softly. "Every time I try to remember them somehow, I get a splitting headache. The only reason I know that I do in fact know them is because I have two pictures of them in my wallet, one of just the two of them and one with all three of us."
"I saw those pictures when we found that wallet on you," Hirato said with a kind smile. "It must have been a good day."
"It had been the first day that I was allowed to go outside," I explained. "I had never even seen grass or the sky, so I reacted comically. Then they took me out to the ocean and I chased the waves. That was when he took the first picture after Nai ran over to me. I didn't even know that it existed until today. The second one was because he said that he wanted to capture that moment forever."
"I want to remember them, but I can't and I don't even know why," he told Hirato. "Will you please assist me in getting my memories back?"
"Of course we will," Hirato said. "I'll have the Research Tower look in on some leads. In the meantime, if you need to go anywhere I will assign Cleo as your guard detail."
"I'd prefer if you didn't," Karoku said nervously. "I've had nightmares about her and I don't trust her at all."
"Wow, that didn't hurt at all," I said sarcastically. "Good riddance. This means I can do whatever I want."
Standing up before anyone could stop me, I walked out with my head held high. I made my way to my room and jumped on my bed to land on my back, staring up at the ceiling with disinterest. I still missed Gareki and then realized that I had something to remember him by. I had almost forgotten that I had on a silver necklace with a sapphire pendant. I gripped it tightly in my hand until the edges dug into my skin and let out a sigh. I told myself that I would go check up on him soon enough and planned it to happen next week. After that, I hopped into the shower and later went to sleep under the covers. Nai came in after a few hours and fell asleep next to me, not once stirring throughout the night.