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Piranha - Chapter 13: Tulik, Part 4: Coda

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PIRANHA
Chapter Thirteen:  Tulik
Coda:   End of a Long Day


Author's Note:

Okay, enough!  I’m posting this before I start in on it again!

Sorry I gave you a premature warning on this section.  I thought it was done!  For weeks now, I kept sitting down to revise the past few bits – “It’s just about finished.  Okay, I’ll finish it tonight.” “Okay, I’ll finish it tonight.”  “Okay, this time I’ll finish it tonight!”  Unfortunately, the “couple of lines” I needed to fix turned into several pages that just got more and more unruly.  Tonight I decided that no matter what I ended up with, it was going to be finished!  So that’s it.

It doesn’t quite do what I want it to.  Just can’t seem to balance it right.  Ah well.  Life is short and art is way, way too long, so occasionally something has to yield.  And since it doesn’t help too much for life to give way, generally it’s going to be the art.

Well, anyhow, I’ve already started on the next chapter.  That’ll be a change of pace.


By the way, you’ve probably forgotten how Chapter 11 ended (indeed, I could hardly blame you if you didn’t remember Chapter 11 at all by this time).  Since (believe it or not) that was the morning of the very same day now ending in Chapter 13, you might want to refresh your memory a bit of the last few paragraphs of that section.   (See the Author's Comment box after the story for the link.)

*****

PIRANHA
Chapter Thirteen:  Tulik
Coda:
  End of a Long Day

Elly had done everything she could think of to get the cabin ready for him to return.  She’d cleaned the place up, gotten fresh food and drink, made the beds, even gone so far as to wash herself and work her fingers through the thick, ragged, unruly locks of her bronze hair, in a futile attempt to tidy it.  If she made everything in the room pleasant enough, perhaps he’d come back.  

It was nothing for him to disappear without a word, usually after something had ruffled him more than usual.  He had always come back, taken things up brusquely where he had left off, without so much as acknowledging that he might have been gone for days.

But this time – Elly was halted in her work a dozen times that day, by the dismal, paralyzing conviction that this time he was gone for good. He’d never come back, not after what he’d let slip that morning.  

So often before she had dreaded his return, yet now...  Everywhere she turned today, she felt it, it was almost there – that forest, that soft darkness, that uncanny, ethereal birdlike song; those shadowy, shifting branches sheltering things too strange for her to imagine.

If he did come back, no doubt he’d meet her with the stone mask that stopped dead every glance.  Even so, she longed to look into his eyes, to have one fragment of a second’s search before the wall came down.  To touch again, for the barest instant, that unknowable world he concealed within him... that music she had not quite heard and could not remember, but would never be able to get out of her head.

* * *

The cabin was as clean as it would ever be, and there was nothing left to do but sleep.  Unfortunately, she was only becoming more and more jumpy.  Maybe she should eat something.  Though she had no interest in that, either, the old instinct to eat whenever possible still lurked in her from her starvation days, like a moral command.  She was in the process of forcing herself to the galley to poke through her latest collection of food, when the sound of a click split the air of the cabin like a gunshot.  The lock.  She leapt to the centre of the room and stood with her round, honey-gold eyes fixed on the door.  

It swung open just a little.  That big hat, that odd-shaped head peered into the room.  Elly, to her chagrin, found she couldn’t speak, couldn’t even move.

The dark figure slipped through the doorway.  He too stood still.  His large eyes, shaded to blackness by the hat, met hers.

Elly felt a clench at her chest.  This wasn’t the mask.  Nor was he angry.  His eyes were steady, serious.  

Confronted with them at last, she quailed.  Her own eyes turned her forcibly away from those two quiet pools of darkness.

Piranha smiled, then, a rather solemn smile.  From behind his back he produced a tan-coloured cylinder, perhaps the thickness of her wrist and length of her forearm.  “Elly,” he said.  His voice startled her, it was so soft.  “Look what I found.  I figured you should have it.”

She didn’t stir.  He walked up to her, took hold of her hands and closed them around the thing.  She looked at it uncertainly.

“Th-thank you?” she said.

“The gift part is what’s inside the tube,” he said, deadpan.

It took her a few moments to work that out.  Within the tubular box was another tube, a slender, transparent, flat-bottomed vessel, containing a long, thin, whiplike green object with small bunches of flat, scalloped-edged green things wrapping it at intervals, and a frail white bundle at one end.  It was vaguely familiar, vaguely unsettling.

“What is it?” she said.

He took it from her, smoothed its delicate white fronds.  “It’s a memory,” he said, “that you can hold in your hand.  But that’s too fanciful, isn’t it, for a pirate ship.  It’s – a map.  A key, to unlock something hidden – Something buried, long ago.”  He held it up to her.  “It’s a flower, Elly.  Give it some water and it’ll last for a while.”

Gingerly she touched the springy, flexible petals.  “It’s pretty,” she said.  Then, like a hammer blow, she knew what was wrong with it.

“Piranha!  How did you get this?  These things are sacred!  They all belong to the Boss!”

He shrugged.  “This one belongs to you.”  The firm finality in his voice cut off any further questions.

He took it to the galley, ran water into the clear vase, and set flower and vase on the table in the centre of the room.  “There,” he said, with satisfaction.  Then he smiled again, a wry, private smile.  “This can’t mean anything to Anaconda, Elly.  It takes forest people like you and me to appreciate these little items.”  She stared at the delicate thing, doing her best to feel more appreciation and less terror.  She couldn’t conceive of herself being connected to such an object; it was like being handed a priceless jewel, or a battleship.

Though as she gazed into the soft, clean complexity of its whorl of petals, gradually all thoughts of value, of ownership, of the Boss receded.  It took her into itself, it became what it was, only and overwhelmingly that.  The life in it, that unconscious, tenacious mystery, reached to enclose her; complicit against the clanging, metallic, soulless world of the ship.

It made her too nervous.  She turned uneasily back towards Piranha, at a loss.

“What, had enough of it already?” he said. “Then let’s go.”

“Go?” she faltered.  “Where?”

“You’ll see.”

***

What she saw at first was not very much, since Piranha led her into the air vent system, and into a dark, convoluted and claustrophobic trip through the ducts, snaking across most of the ship and up several levels. Her claustrophobia wasn’t improved by Piranha’s way of halting abruptly in the dark, indicating a branching duct (detectable in the blackness only by the air currents flowing into it) and demanding, “Which room does that lead to?  What?  Are you nuts?  That one’s two levels up from here!  Good grief, Elly, you still haven’t figured that out?”  Then, muttering to himself, continuing on, leaving her in dread of the next interrogation.  No matter how many times he took her through these tunnels, she had never yet been able to keep track of where she was.  

Elly was so relieved when Piranha whispered, “Exit here,” that she wouldn’t have hesitated to jump out even into the middle of an engine.  

It wasn’t that dramatic an exit, however.  They had arrived at a cabin.  Yes, it was about five times as large as their own, in fact the largest one she’d ever seen, and the walls and furnishings were clean and cloth-covered rather than hacked out of scuffed, worm-eaten, decaying old wood, but still it was just another cabin, obviously one of those reserved for the most important type of guest.  She’d been in a few others something like this.  (Those weren’t very pleasant memories, either.)

Piranha took her arm and led her to a large backless couch or chaise-longue – very oversized for small beings like themselves, and looking to her uncomfortably like a bed.  He sat her down on it and walked over to the cabin’s galley, returning in a few moments with a transparent cup filled with some tawny liquid, and a plate heaped with exotic foodstuffs she couldn’t even identify.  He placed it on a small table beside her, as she perched nervously on the very edge of the disconcertingly soft couch.  She stiffened as he touched her shoulder, indicating for her to lie down, and though she sank back when he gave her a push, immediately bounced upright when he let go.  Then gave a short scream, as he casually picked up her body and dropped it lengthwise on the lounge.  Firmly he laid her shoulders against the headrest, and blocked her feet from reaching for the floor.

She quivered.  Though he seemed to be smiling, that faint, enigmatic quirk of his mouth didn’t reassure her in the least.  However, once she gave in and lay quietly on the couch, he made no further move to touch her.

He only pushed the plate into her hands.  “Hungry?”

She glanced at it, then up at him, then, in need of something else to look at, around the cabin.  “Whose-whose room is this?”

“Mine, for now.  This is in what they call the VIP section.  Haven’t you been here before?”

She looked again.  “Not this cabin.”

“Good.”  He grinned slyly.  “Because I was hoping to surprise you.”

Elly sat back up, anxious eyes on him.  “P-Piranha—”

He put his hands out, palms up, as if warding off an attack.  “Take it easy.  We’re on vacation, okay?  Just for tonight.”  He smiled, a little more reassuringly this time.  “So relax.  Are you relaxed?”

Sitting tensely on the couch, gripping the plate in both hands, Elly nodded glumly.

“Good.”  That touch of mischief sidled back into his eyes and voice.  “Now I want to show you something.  Lie down and look up.”

Not knowing what else to do, she complied.  Eyes fixed obediently on the ceiling, she could hear him push a control lever somewhere near the middle of the room.  There was a heavy thud of hidden machinery; and nearly spilling the untouched food, she clutched the side of her couch.  A line appeared running the length of the high, slightly arched ceiling, splitting the long rectangular room in half.  Ponderously, with a low growling of gears, each half began to retract, like the opening of an enormous eye.  The line slowly widened into a field of blackness, speckled with the points and clusters of distant stars.  It was a gigantic viewport, she was looking through a transparent roof directly into space.

Tilting her head back to see the wall behind her, where it met the now transparent ceiling, she could vaguely make out that the wall continued straight up past the ceiling, a grey metal surface faintly lit by the light from their own room.  It faded upward into a mass of indefinite blackness, blocking out stars on that side; she was seeing the outside of part of the ship’s hull.  Their cabin was in a section jutting out from the stern of the vessel.

Piranha turned off the room lights.  Elly gasped.  The emptiness outside lurched, engulfed them; the starfield intensified, amplified, became an inconceivable array, an uncountable swarm of varicolored brightnesses.  

“It’s – it’s so big,” Elly whispered.  Then blushed, helpless to enclose that immensity in her small stock of words.

“Oh, that isn’t what we came here to see.”  Piranha threw off his hat and stretched himself out on another couch.  “Wait a bit.  The engines must be off at the moment.”

Elly had no idea what he was talking about.  But it didn’t matter.  For all that she had spent most of her life on a spaceship, it was a rare thing for her to see actual space.  Her eyes reached up into it, and instantly she was out, soaring through its limitless depths.  Stars slipped around her, clusters of glowing fruit, little floating toys she could have batted away like a kitten if she hadn’t been too shy.  There was no sound but the sighing of the ship’s circulation system; it seemed to be the slow breathing of the universe.


Then a deep rumble shook the room.  Into the blackness burst a tangle of enormous, undulating, greenish-yellow streamers, solid yet insubstantial, utterly silent, eerily aglow, spreading out, unforming and reforming, jerking and flailing like long banners in a high wind, trailing out past her line of vision, far behind the ship.  Elly choked back a cry, convinced for a fractional instant that the torrents of light were coiling and writhing all about her, winding her tight like a shroud.

Piranha, lying on his couch, gazed up at the display.  “It’s the exhaust trail from the engines way up there on the ninth and tenth levels,” he said.  “Some tourist attraction, eh?”

Elly didn’t answer.  There was nothing to say.

They both lay still, mesmerized by the riotous, uncanny light.  For a long time neither of them moved or spoke.


At last, however, Elly sat up and looked through that weird, flickering illumination over at Piranha.  All along, she’d had a dim feeling that his unaccountable actions of the evening must be a buildup to something... perhaps to his finally taking notice of her as – as his own property.  Surely that was what this was all leading to – the VIP cabin, the fancy beds, the unaccustomed luxuries, it was what always went with those things...

But no.  He had actually dozed off there on the couch, lying untidily sprawled like a little child, and in the uncertain light she thought she glimpsed a slight smile on his face.  No, that wasn’t a smile, he looked weary, anxious, even sad.  No, it was a smile, a smile as gentle and dark as the echoing song she had blundered into that morning.

She sank back down on the lounge.  He’d given her a flower – dangerous contraband, no matter what he said; something apart from the ship, anti-ship, a defiance of Anaconda and all the pirates.  It was as though he had emerged, bruised but victorious, from the depths of the forest to put it into her hand like a rescued talisman.

She glanced at him again.  His eyes were open, looking at her.  She felt a nervous thrill, but didn’t turn away.

Quietly, Piranha said, “Are you mad at me, Elly?”

She realized suddenly that her voice might not be very steady.  “H-How could I be mad at you?”

He rolled his eyes.  “Quite a few people manage.  I thought... maybe I’d frightened you.  I mean, this morning.”

A sort of faintness washed over her.  “No.”

“I was in kind of a ... I don’t know what happened to me.”

She said, hardly able to get the words out, and even less able to believe she was saying them, “Maybe you were f-frightened.”

His dark eyes widened.  He smiled that archaic smile again, the one that surrounded her with leaves and shadows.  She could feel the quiet, wild force of it even under the lurid wash of yellow-green light.  Then he lay back and closed his eyes.

Elly too lay back, gazing up automatically at the show above her, the firelike fascination of those glowing, twisting plumes, her thoughts twisting and glowing too.  She sank into them, sank into the heavy throbbing of the engines, so much stronger in this room than in the slaves’ quarters far below.  Even there, fearsome and familiar, omnipresent as a mother’s voice, that sound had accompanied all her years on the ship.  With that pseudo-heartbeat, with the lateness of the hour, the darkness, the inexplicable events and emotions of the day, she drifted.

* * *

Some unknown time later, Piranha’s soft, husky voice startled her eyes open.

“Elly?  I almost forgot to ask you – Elly, are you awake?”

“Oh yes,” she murmured, dazedly.  The yellow-green flames above were still burning.

“Elly – I hate to bring up business at a time like this... But do you know what the 'black hole' is?  That thing we’re supposed to be going to?”

Elly lunged to her feet, her still-untouched food finally crashing to the floor.  “We’re meeting the Black Hole?”

Piranha sat up too.  “Something not good?” he said.  “Imagine that.”

She sank back on the couch.  After a moment, she pulled her feet up onto it, hid her face against her knees.

“Er,” Piranha ventured, “– can’t you just tell me what this black hole thing is?”

Her hunched body was rocking slightly.  

“Elly?” he said, hesitantly.

Her words emerged muffled by her arms and knees.  “I’m sorry... I’m sorry I’m not what you want.  I don’t know how to be that.”

He sat on the edge of his lounge, staring at her quizzically.  “What in the name of the Twins are you talking about?”

“Now you’ll sell me!” she burst out.

“What?”

“After this morning, I thought you’d be angry.  But when you brought me here... I thought maybe you liked me after all.  But you don’t.  What can I do?”

There was no pleading in her voice, no apology.  Only a flat, lifeless resignation.

Piranha got up and went over to sit on the couch beside her hunched form.  “I can’t say I understand what’s going on in your head,” he said, lightly, “but whatever it is, it’s got nothing to do with what’s happening in mine.  Who said anything about selling anybody?”

Curled up like a pill bug, she didn’t answer.

“So this ‘black hole’,” he added, “Something to do with selling slaves apparently?  Is that what Anaconda does with his collection?”  Elly sniffled.  “Look, Elly, I know you don’t believe me, but I’m saying it anyway.  I can’t sell you, because I don’t own you.  You’re not a slave.  You got that?”  

There was a silence.  Then Elly said, still muffled, “Of course I’m a slave.  There’s nothing else to be.  Except a pirate.”

Piranha gave a soft snort of amusement.  “Okay, that’s in your world.  Mine’s different.”

Elly’s eyes just barely surfaced from behind her arms.  “What do you mean, my world?”

He shrugged.  “I mean the world you carry around with you, the one you live in.  The way you think.  Truth, as you see it.”

Elly’s brow creased with something like skepticism.  He gave her a little crooked grin.  “No two worlds are the same.  In Anaconda’s world, everybody, pirates included, is a slave.  In mine – well, nobody is.”

She hid her face again.  “Then the only world that matters is the Boss’s world.”

Piranha’s expression was an interesting blend of affection and irony.  “Elly,” he said – the irony much more audible than the affection – “I’ll tell you a secret.  The only world that matters is your own world.  That’s where action is born.”

She twitched a little, a subdued protest.  “The Boss is the only one with power.”

Piranha smiled again, the affection overtaking the irony.  “In short, he’s convinced you to live in his world.  So you give him power over you.  Is that smart?”

“But – Piranha, you know he can kill any one of us anytime he wants!”  A long chill ran through her, she hugged her legs tighter.  “Kill, torture, sell – how can thoughts stop that?”

Piranha looked at her for a moment.  Then he stood up.  “All right,” he said.  “I get it.”  He walked across the room, opened a drawer.  Though she didn’t raise her head, Elly could hear him rummaging about, then sitting in a chair, then scratching at something for a while with quick, firm motions.  Finally he let out a sharp breath, with rather fierce satisfaction.

“Elly.  You listening?”

Rubbing her fist across her swollen eyes, she looked up.  He was sitting at a small desk next to the control panel for the lights and ceiling.  Several sheets of paper lay on the desk, and a pen.

“So we’ll play the game your way.  Let’s say you are a slave – since you insist.  That means I, uh, own you, since your glorious Boss, for reasons best known to himself, wished you on me.  Right so far?”

Unconscious of the tears smeared across her face and glittering in the crazy light, Elly straightened up with new attention.

“Well?”  Piranha persisted.

She nodded.

“Good,” said Piranha.  “Now look at this.”  As Elly slowly stood up and approached him, he held out a piece of paper, covered with rapid scrawls.  “This official document here sets you free.  Anaconda gave you to me, now I’m returning you back to you.”

“What?”  Elly glanced at the paper then peered closely into Piranha’s face.

“You’re free, Elly.  All nice and legal, in writing.  You see?  I can’t sell you.”  Taking her unresponsive hand, he pressed the paper into it.  “Hold onto it.  Will you hold onto it?”  He closed her fingers around the sheet; they clung limply, but enough to keep it from drifting away.

Having disposed of the paper, he sat back, screwed up his face, shut his eyes, and sighed.  Then sighed again, deeply, slumping further into the chair.

“That’s better,” he muttered.  “Playing ‘slaveowner’!  Gah!”

Elly looked at the paper, at him.  “This means you won’t sell me?”

Piranha twitched.  “Have you heard anything I’ve said in the past five minutes?”

She brightened a little.  “You really won’t sell me?”  

Piranha gritted his teeth.  But then looked at her intently.  He swivelled on his chair, leaned forward and took her hand – that still automatically held the paper.

“Kid,” he said, quietly.  “I won’t sell you.  Nothing could make me sell you.  Not even if they offered me a whole planet.”

She gazed searchingly into his face.  He sat still, gravely letting her look far into his eyes, past that black barrier – but she couldn’t.  She couldn’t.  Dropping the paper, she covered her face with her hands.  

His big fingers lightly encircled her wrist.  “I’ll be damned,” he said.  “Here I’ve been wasting my time with legal documents, and all you care about is whether or not I want you around.  Elly, you hold onto that paper.  And if anyone tries to give you a hard time, you show it to them.  Got it?”

She didn’t take her hands away from her face.  She didn’t move.  She didn’t smile.  But something about her indefinitely lightened.  Shaking his head, Piranha picked up the paper then led her back to her couch.  Blissfully, eyes unfocused, she sank onto it and continued to settle, slowly, like a tire with a pinhole leak.

“Elly?”  Piranha said.  “Did you hear what I said about that paper?”

“Okay,” she said, dreamily.  She didn’t stir as he folded it and tucked it into her shirt.


Just then, the low vibration of the room ceased, the green-yellow streaming in the skylight vanished.  Startled, both Piranha and Elly looked up at the viewport.  The cold vacuum of space spread over them; stars crowded back into view as their eyes adjusted to the deeper dark.

Piranha glanced down at Elly, then turned towards his own couch.  Quickly she sat up.  

“Piranha,” she said.

He paused, looking at her.  She swallowed.

“Piranha,” she said again.  

“Yes?” he said.

She gasped.  “Piranha... This morning...”  Wincing as she thought she saw something flit across his face, indefinable in the darkness.

He hesitated.  Then, unexpectedly, he sat once again on the couch beside her.  Looking at her as closely as earlier she’d looked at him.

In the agitated jumble of her thoughts, she could hardly get hold of any coherent words, though they’d been cycling through her head all day.

“Piranha...  This morning... that was —”

Silently shaking his head, he laid a silencing finger against her lips.  But the shutters didn’t come down in his eyes.  

She sat a little straighter.  “You’ve been so different today—”

He shook his head again.  But there was the faintest smile hidden somewhere in his face.  

A sort of flush swept over her.  She looked at him very directly, something she’d almost never done.  All her frustration and confusion poured out in a single word:  “Why?”

He hesitated again.  Then, to her astonishment, lay down next to her, stretching himself out on his back, hands tucked behind his head.  And, looking up at the vault of the stars, took a long, slow breath.

Elly sat staring at him with a mixture of shock, doubt, and some touch of curiosity.

With an amused glint, his eyes flicked towards her, then back up towards the stars again.  He made no effort to get her to lie down, or do anything at all.

“Oh,” he murmured.  “I don’t know.  Well, maybe.  It’s been a long day.  A long day.  And I thought... couldn’t we have a break, just once?  Play hooky?  At least pretend we can?”  Again he glanced at her.  “Besides... it hit me today, Elly.  Like a bullet between the eyes.  What a terrible thing it is, to be without friends.”

She gaped.  “Friends?”

He chuckled.  “Please,” he said, “please don’t tell me slaves don’t have friends either.”

What was that supposed to mean?  Elly looked at him closely.  But his eyes, dark as they were in the starlit dark, were clear, wide open.  Deep and ancient as a woods haunted by secret gods.

Carefully, slowly, not getting too close, Elly lay down beside him on the ample couch.  “Yes,” she said.  “Slaves can have friends.  Sometimes.”

Another tiny smile crossed his face.  His eyes closed.  “Eureka,” he muttered.  “At last.  One not-insane thing about this ship.”

He wasn’t making much sense, but all the same, it was getting more comfortable to be next to him.  In fact, very comfortable.  Closing her own eyes, Elly didn’t resist a growing sense of peace that lapped around her, fraction by fraction, like a slow incoming tide.  

* * *

Had it drowned her?  Was she dreaming that soft voice – that voice?  She had thought she’d never hear that tone again, dark and rich and playfully serene – like cool, humid summer air, filtered through innumerable leaves, or a little stream trickling over a bed of moss.

“Things come back to me today.  For some reason.”  Elly held herself motionless, breathless lest some accidental twitch might break the miraculous bubble she’d woken into.  That voice, disembodied in the darkness; a rustling of branches, roguish creatures peering at her from under leaves and behind trees –

“Once... I used to leave things.  Little gifts on people’s doorsteps.  In the dark of the morning, before they got up.  For no particular reason, you know?  A wildflower, maybe, the first one to break through the snow in the spring.  Or the last sprig of the season’s berries, somebody’s favourite, picked miles away.  Or a booby trap – some old joke I had going with that person.  They’d shake their heads – ‘oh, R—’”  He halted; took a breath, went on.  “‘Oh... look who’s left his calling card.’  Because my friends might not get to see me too often.”

He shook his head, with a touch of self-mockery.  “You notice my life’s always revolved around enemies?  The games you play with enemies aren’t worth much.  They hardly ever get your jokes.”  

He fell silent.  Elly was suffocating, afraid to look at him, afraid it might not be him, afraid that whoever it was had gone away.  But presently the voice rose again.

“To have someone to give things to, someone to surprise, someone to pull pranks on...”  A long pause.  “To be allowed to – contact somebody, just for a moment.  Without having to think you’ve just invited death.”

Warily, she squinted her eyes open a crack.  He was lying quite still beside her, gazing up at the stars.  He was hatless, and his wiry blond hair shone pale in the weak light, feathering over his eyes.  Her gaze fixed on it, blurred, she was seeing double – two things at once, neither of them was real.

She refocused her eyes, forcing the two into one again.  

And it was Piranha whose glance met hers.  For a moment, though, she could still look right through him.  

His gaze lowered; he shivered, turned his face towards the transparent ceiling.  Elly kept her eyes on him, unable to turn away yet from the ghost who still haunted her; but under the silence, a low tension was muttering up.

He said, so softly she could barely make out the words, “I wonder if I’m looking at it right now.”  

“At what?” she asked, doubtfully.

Abruptly he sprang into a sitting position.  “Ancient history.  My home planet – star at least.  Stars.”  Again his face jerked up towards the skylight.  Despite his sharp movements, his voice again came out slow, low, half-tranced.  “The twin suns.  The hands that cradle the world by day.  If the two nights fall together, the world slips through sleeping fingers ... into the pools of the twin moons.”  He brought his hands up in front of his face, stared at them.  Then thrust them behind his back.  “Fairy tales!”  

Elly gathered herself together in some apprehension, sat up.

He glanced at her, then up again, one last hopeless scan for an invisible pinprick, so many light years distant.  Then, with a wrench, he turned away.  “When am I going to get it through my head that I’ll never go home again?” he growled.  “When will I get it through my head?”  

He snatched with a black-gloved hand at his own chest, curling the fingers tightly into his shirt and jacket as though to shake himself.  Indeed, he yanked himself half off the couch.  “Can you believe what an idiot I am?”

She didn’t stir.  Disgustedly he flung his hand away from his chest, lurched onto his feet.

“I... I’ve never gone home again,” Elly said, diffidently.

Piranha halted.  Those black eyes fixed on her.  

“It isn’t even home anymore,” she said.  

He paused, still looking at her.  Then sat back down on the couch.

“You’re – you’re the nearest thing to a home I’ve got,” she said.  And ambushed by her own words, turned completely red.

There was no change in his steady gaze on her, nor in his expression.  In a burst of fear and boldness she fronted him, she stared into his face – into that face, those unfathomable, luminous, star-gathering eyes.  

From the transparent depths of those eyes he looked out at her.  It would be nothing to – reach – into the rustling shadows, the fresh, scented air, the distant notes, the sly, infectious, irresistible laughter –

The eyes closed, opened.  And it was all gone.  They were not portals, merely eyes.  But, with those eyes on her, he smiled, gently; that soft, familiar smile from so long ago.

After a moment, a shy smile dared to steal across her own face.

They looked at each other.  Then he lay back down, hands behind his head.  

After a moment, she lay down too.  After another moment, she inched a fraction closer to him.

That quiet voice touched her, gentle, reassuring... yet with something so indefinably wayward in it.  “Everything okay, Elly?”  

She shivered, happily.  “Y-yes.  Yes!”

“Good,” he said, all innocence.  “Hope you’ll still feel that way – tomorrow when we start your fight training again.”

With an outraged yelp, Elly shot off the couch.

As she hit the floor – several feet away, swinging around, half-crouched, fists ready, to face him – she glimpsed that black eye, grinning, bright with mischief.  Then unexpectedly glistening.  Brushing at the moisture, he shut his eyes, rolled onto his side to hide his face.

Elly straightened.  Unconsciously, one of her hands clasped the other as if for support.

As she looked at him, that alien being, as remote and mysterious as the stars in the blackness above – the pang burned through her again, as it had that morning, deep, painful, exhilarating.  He would always be unfathomable, he would always keep her at a distance.  She would never understand him.  Yet – vividly, in some way he was more real, and more familiar, and more believable than her own life, all her years of miserable drudgery and fear in this vast metal prison.  


And silently, privately – instantly thrust down out of even her own sight – a perverse thought tumbled through her, one that could never have crossed her mind before:  that she was overjoyed to be alive and living at this moment.

[End of Chapter 13]
See beginning of deviation for the comments (thank you, DA's new policy :roll:) Here's the link to Chapter 11 - www.deviantart.com/deviation/8…. This section is the end of the day that began there.

The lovely header picture is taken from one by Mewitti with many thanks!  (And apologies that it's a bit mangled by DA's outrageous size restrictions.)

Rayman © Ubisoft
The rest © me. :faint:

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© 2007 - 2022 Rayfan
Comments40
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OC-Alert's avatar

Help they’re being cute again.

Piranha is very personable today...he almost seems out-of-character, it goes to show that for all he insists that Rayman is dead, that might still be a bit ridiculous.

Elly is such a sweetheart, bless her. Now now Elly, make him go too soft and he wont be able to walk straight. The hell are we gonna do with him...

Just when Piranha gets some damn peace Anaconda starts dragging the poor lad around again, but I suppose in a way it’s fair, it’s only truth.

Rayfan's avatar
I don't think he's out of character.  This is part of his character :)  It's true though that earlier in the story he didn't think he would be able to experience that part of his character anymore.  The events in this section also come out of the end of Ch. 11, part 4, where Elly got a glimpse of his - memories, I guess - and he knew she did.  After that, and after everything else that's happened in between, he's willing to be a little more relaxed with her.  And she's much less afraid of him after that incident
 
OC-Alert's avatar
No that's what I mean. It's not really at all, but he could have fooled everyone otherwise, that's what I'm saying.
Wouldn't exchange a planet he says...famous last words I'm sure. He'd stand up to Anaconda for her...
Rayfan's avatar
Ah, okay, I see. 
Scarlo-hara's avatar
"He had actually dozed off there on the couch, lying untidily sprawled like a little child, and in the uncertain light she thought she glimpsed a slight smile on his face."
Pirannha smiling? it seems impossible!
anyway.
Isn't it nice to find a happy moment in this story? aww

BTW I'm just going to say what EVERYONE else is saying.
The emotion, wuhh.
When I first started reading this story it brough tears to my eyes, though I was only a kid and I had no clue whatsoever of who you were back then.
(so kinda irrelevant to the present maybe.)

I love this story, It may go on a bit, but I still want more.
After all, it's not this story's gonna dissapoint.
Rayfan's avatar
Glad you're able to deal with the wordiness! :D Thanks so much for your comments. :)
Scarlo-hara's avatar
Thinking of words, you must have been searching in thesuaruses to get some of the words you use in this story, becuase many of the words you use I've never ever heard of.
Rayfan's avatar
I always try to find the word that says exactly what I mean. If I can. :D
fangirll4life's avatar
this story is so great!! i hope you keep writting it ^_^ :+fav:
Rayfan's avatar
Thanks so much! I've got more coming, as soon as I can manage to finish it. :)
raygirl's avatar
Awwwww, finally we get to see some nice Elly and Pirana moments in this chapter after having to deal with the nastier side of Pirana for so long XD YAAAAAY

Wow everyone's written such deep comments on this...all i want to say is that this chapter just enforces how much i love this fic, and how nice it is to be able to sit down and read it when i get the time ^_^
Rayfan's avatar
Aw, I still can't come up with any useful response to that comment, so, well, just thanks. :D I'm really happy that you still care for this monster!
Henriak's avatar
This be continue? Oh my god... How you stand writing so much? [link]
Awestruck This is awesome!!
Ask permission to Ubisoft publish this to book!! I mean it!! This is great story![link]
Affection
Rayfan's avatar
:D I'd write a lot more if I had time. This whole thing should have been finished years ago (and I could have moved on to something else).

Thanks very much! Stick around - I'm trying to get the next part out within a month or so. Well, month and a half. :fingerscrossed:
PutterPen's avatar
I was drinking a bottle of water when I sat down to read this. And upon reading the first sentence the water nearly sprayed out my nose. My first complete thought afterwards was "What the hell, Elly's alive? I thought she was fracking dead!.....soooo she's not dead.....sweet."

Yes that was an odd thought. But that just shows how much I missed Elly. She's still annoyingly brainwashed and oversensitive. But I still love her and the company she gives Pirahna. I knew deep down that she wasn't dead. At least you never wrote her death. But I'd have to go back through the ARCHIVES just to make sure.
Rayfan's avatar
Good grief no, nobody ever said she was dead. She just got left behind for a while, and it seemed a lot longer because the chapters have been coming out so slowly. :blushes: But you'll definitely be seeing more of her.

Hope your keyboard is okay. :D
rayian510's avatar
My overall impression on this part is that it sounds very literary and almost poetic. The way you combine words seems very imaginative to me, and I like the effects they create. It's like a written picture at times, you know? Things get visualized clearly in my head and it's not just limited to the visual sense. I'd be interested to see how different readers conceive different things from those abstract words despite reading the same thing. Especially the space sight you describe - I want to make people draw that and see how they come out different from what I imagined. What wouldn't I give to be expressive like how you play around with words!:)
And this probably went without saying but it needs mentioning; you make Rayman very believable. It's a joy to watch him brought into life like that, with the completeness of the character making him realistic almost like a real person. I think he's realistic in a fictional manner, if not entirey(not unlike this picture: [link]). He's driven by a totally fictional environment and he can be unrealistically courageous/intelligent/etc at times(I'm not saying he shoudn't be, though. He needs the fictional powers to cope with the fictional difficulties), but his mind is basically a humane character with all the human weaknesses, emotions, and layers(do I have a knack for stating the obvious.. This should be the whole point of the story after all). Although if he were to come to the Earth, it might turn out that he was unexpectedly different from the human psyche. I think.
This is irrelevant, but I occasionally imagine (without realizing, it happens in a friction of a second) Piranha being forced(for a reason I'm too lazy to think of, apparently) to be some sort of businessman somewhere in this world, in which case he becomes successful with his clever brain and all, but as he observes businesses, governments, education, the way humans live, blah, blah, blah, he gets cynical, dumps his job and donates his properties, moves into a remote countryside and tries to lead a quiet life, missing his home planet, ... ...
I don't know what's with this, it's quite dumb. But I thought I'd might let you know since it's your character.:giggle:(because it's Piranha rather than Rayman)
Rayfan's avatar
Oh, I didn't see this note before, I'm so sorry! Thank you so much, I love the way you're thinking here. There's something about Rayman that makes me want to see him in different environments, even like that businessman you were speaking of. (I found that quite plausible, by the way. I'm impressed if I inspired, directly or indirectly, such images. And I don't think what you said is dumb, either.)

I guess I'm much more intrigued by that "human" aspect of him than by what he actually does in the games, which mostly is run around and fight. (Although in the little TV series Ubi did, he didn't fight at all, he only solved problems - it was his cleverness that was played up, not so much his heroic side). Yes, I don't think he's a "normal" person in this story, but heck, he is a hero after all - he's got to be a little beyond normal, or he wouldn't have gotten into this situation in the first place. I do hope he feels believable though. Heroes are so often boring and need sidekicks to provide any interest. (Villains too; they tend to be a bit more colourful, but still one-note.)

And I'm happy about what you said regarding the way this section was written. I wasn't satisfied with it, but I was trying to go for something of that kind.

Man, I would love to see how people visualized some of those scenes, too. The descriptions were very hard to write, I hope they conveyed at least something like what I had in my head. :disbelief: Or at least something comprehensible.
snuurg's avatar
aggghh, flip, I'd only just got caught up on bit 3! Heh, looks like I have more reading to do :) Still going grand!

- and I reeeally have to get started on the story/book/whateveritmaybe that I'm very much intending to definitely get around to doing something about quite soon. Maybe later, though...
Rayfan's avatar
Hey, you're still reading this? I'm honoured, and I mean that.

Man, if you are intending even vaguely to write anything substantial at some point, LET ME KNOW when it happens, so I can fight my way to the front of the line to read it!
This is a great story. I just finished reading the whole thing yesterday and I love it keep up the good work.
Rayfan's avatar
Thanks! I'm currently working on the next chapter. :)
WebDragon's avatar
YAY another chapter! Wow, it's about time poor Piranha got a bit of a break, especially after his previous conversation with Tulik. Elly too, it's nice to see her growing to not run up a wall at every sudden noise. This chapter made me feel warm and fuzzy, thank you!
Rayfan's avatar
Oh, thank you so much for telling me that. I wasn't sure if anything came across, by the time I got done with this thing!
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