Part 1 - Chapter 6

The other girls chose to freshen up and as they waited for the laundry. Each of the girls had picked out a uniform that they felt suited their personal tastes. Kelvena chose a medic's outfit, Tolone chose the same green gear tech outfit Dominia had, but left the jacket out, and Seraphita ended up in the beige communications officer suit, sans jacket. When they went to check on him, the Commander was still asleep, so they decided not to disturb him. Sigurd led the girls down the hall, where Prince Bartholomew was waiting.

The prince motioned to the door. "Welcome, ladies! Dinner is served in the Gun Room."

Dominia was fully expecting to be jammed into a munitions closet, but when the door slid open, she found that it actually had a very nice space set aside for lounging. Bart led the way down a set of stairs and motioned for them to sit near the end of one of three very large tables that had been moved together. It had been adorned with a navy tablecloth with the Yggdrasil's sigil in it in yellow at the edge. She recognized most of the faces of the people already seated, but couldn't name most of them. There were at least three roast birds, a caramelized Hobgob amongst the pickings, with an assortment of sauces, breads, and various cooked surface vegetables, which Dominia hadn't had since she left Elru.

"Eh? Is that roast Dive Bomber I smell?!" Seraphita was salivating.

"You betcha! Served Aveh style, of course!" Prince Fatima said. He pulled out a chair for Seraphita and she sat down, and the rest of the girls sat where they felt comfortable.

Dominia kept quiet during most of the dinner conversation, but tried to be polite. Sigurd sat next to her and he taught her everyone's names so that she had a good idea of who was who.

Tolone took the first opportunity to sit across from Dr. Ricdeau and talk to him about her implants. Both of them chattered excitedly about machinery, while the young Etone Dominia was reminded was called William Lee Black attempted to interrupt to ask Tolone if she had any relatives in Aquavy. When Tolone was of no help on that account, Kelvena started conversing with him about healing techniques. Seraphita found herself in paradise with all the food and ate happily and loudly, which Prince Fatima seemed pleased by. Dominia found herself zoning out, and it sapped her to try to act polite around strangers she didn't feel she had a whole lot in common with yet.

As if on cue, Fei Fong Wong got Dominia's attention from the other end of the table and asked The Burning Question: "Are you girls going to be joining us?" Fei asked. Dominia felt herself freeze up when he spoke to her, and she must have gotten a certain look in her eyes because Fei broke eye contact very quickly all of a sudden.

Seraphita was quick to remove Dominia from the hotseat. "Whether the Commander can join us or not, you have our aid. If he objects, one of us might have to stay behind, but it'll be for the best. I'm like, 99% sure he's not going to join sides with our common enemy. It's really more a matter of if he's healthy enough."

"Is he still in the barracks?" Prince Fatima asked.

Yeah, he is. We're very sorry for the inconvenience," Dominia said. She could talk to the prince, but she might need some time to get used to Fei.

"This is going to be a little awkward for all of us at first," Fei said. "It's hard to go from bitter rivals to allies in the course of a week."

Dominia was so relieved the other girls were with her when Kelvena cut in with, "We'll do our best to make up the difference. And when we rescue Elly, I look forward to being able to talk to her again!"

Kelvena and Fei started conversing about Elly at Jugend, and Dominia found herself feeling a little guilty. She had never been kind to Lieutenant Van Houten for any reason. She couldn't explain why, but she just rubbed her the wrong way. She was sure there'd be a wall of ice between her and Elly at best when...if they succeeded.

Dinner ended and people shuffled seats, but kept conversing. Tolone and Dr. Ricdeau had continued talking about the same subject since they'd sat down, and she felt like she'd done something wrong with the way some of the others, namely the heir to Kislev and the young Miss Balthazar, had shifted away from her. Sigurd hadn't moved, and kept smiling at her politely, but it was Jesiah Blanche and his daughter sitting down across from her which broke her out of her gloom.

"C-commander Blanche! It's nice to meet you!" Dominia had never met him in person before, nor ever expected to again, considering how he took a traitor's leaving of Solaris.

"No need for formality, Mz. Yizkor. From one Earth Element to the other, how ya doin'?" He offered his hand to shake and she shook it strongly.

"Everything's happening really fast for me right now, so I don't exactly know, but I think I'll be fine..."

The small girl at Jesiah's side smiled and offered her hand, too, which Dominia also shook. Sigurd had told her earlier that the girl's name was Primera, and there was something about her that struck her, and she couldn't help smiling back at her.

"M-my, aren't you precious? Sigurd here tells me your name is Primera?"

Primera nodded enthusiastically, looked around and saw that her brother was talking to someone else, and giggled.

"I-it's a real honor to meet you, Miss Primera! I've been wanting to meet your father for years! My thesis at Jugend was on his ether techniques," Dominia had never imagined herself talking so easily with a little girl, but it didn't hurt that her father had been her idol.

Sigurd smiled as Jesse recounted his various ether techniques and Dominia excitedly repeated them back and started talking about how she modified some of hers for use in melee combat. Jesse seemed impressed and Dominia was really pleased to hear it. Their conversation came to a complete halt when Billy came over to check on Primera.

"Oh hey, Prim, looks like you've met Dominia?" Billy asked her. Dominia could see her freeze up and crawl back into her shell as soon as she spoke to him, and her heart broke a little. Billy smiled apologetically at Dominia and tried to continue. "Dominia's one of the strongest women I've ever met! S-she's really cool!"

For Primera's sake, she reached over the table and rolled her sleeve up, flexed her bicep. "He's right, I am really strong! Wanna feel my muscle? It's totally up to you!"

Primera excitedly hopped up and put a hand on it, and Dominia tightened her bicep as tight as she could. Primera gasped and started giggling again.

"Feels like a rock, doesn't it?" Dominia asked. Primera nodded excitedly.

"Looks like Dominia could probably carry all the Blacks in one hand if she tried, eh?" Jesse asked, looking fondly at Billy, who reacted neutrally. When her father spoke, Primera plopped in his lap.

"How old is she?" Dominia asked.

"She's just about eight, right?" Jesse asked, deferring that one to Billy.

"Seven and one half," Billy said, visibly annoyed.

"Seven and one half years ago is very close to when my Commander brought me to Solaris from Elru," Dominia offered. It was an awkward thing to enter into conversation, but she figured it was better than nothing. She felt herself return a little bit to the scared, fourteen year old she had been that day and looked at Primera sympathetically. She didn't know all the details of why Jesiah Blance's daughter didn't speak, but dividing what she knew about Isaac Stein and Billy still wearing several Etone accoutrements, she could guess it had something to do with that.

"So I guess the old Earth Element was leaving as soon as the new one was on her way in..." Jesse mused.

Dominia wasn't sure of where to take the rest of the conversation and stammered a bit. Luckily, Seraphita reached into her pocket and brought out her DRIVE stash. "Oh, hey, yeah, forgot I had this!"

Several of the people who had stopped paying attention came to gather around the small transparent case full of tiny vials.

"And that, my new friends, is why I said y'shouldn'ta spent money on that DRIVE that dealer was tryinna sell ya," she said triumphantly.

Fei and Prince Fatima were quick to inspect them. "This is amazing!" the prince said, aiming to pocket one for himself then and there.

Sigurd stood up at the table. "Now, Young Master, you be careful with that stuff."

Fei frowned, looking at the one he had in his hand. It was labeled in Solarian, which after the incident at Point Bethlehem, he could read almost without trying to. Its cap was blue. "This isn't the same stuff that Elly and Ramsus were on, was it? This one says Ether on it..."

Dominia was surprised he knew Solarian unassisted, but if what she'd heard was true about him and Id coming to a resolution, then it would have made perfect sense for him to know it all of a sudden. She stood up and leaned over to inspect Seraphita's stash, having never seen it before herself. "If I may, I'll show you..." She picked through them gently and pulled out one of three that she saw that was entirely red. "This is the one they were on." She handed it to Fei delicately and everyone leaned in.

Fei took it and read it. "Aggrodrive...?"

"Extreme bonuses to ether and physical attack, increased dexterity, but drastically reduces all defenses. The idea was to hit hard and dodge if you didn't kill in one hit. If I remember correctly, Lieutenant Van Houten was only ever given exactly one of these," Dominia said, looking a little guilty. "It's the most expensive DRIVE ever made."

Sigurd shifted uncomfortably. "Any idea how much of that stuff Kahr was on?"

Dominia frowned. "One of these is enough to keep someone my size awake for 48 hours, so I'm thinking maybe two or three...maybe four, with how awful he ended up. I think he could only withstand it because he..." She felt awkward bringing up Emperor Cain.

"Because he is a clone of Emperor Cain, yes," Dr. Ricdeau finished for her. He stepped in to inspect the stash. "There is a way to organize these to maximize our safety in battle. I do not think everyone here can read Solarian, so that is going to be important. I think even if Kahr joined in, taking all of this DRIVE as-is in one go could kill every one of us. How on earth did you manage to keep this much drive on you, Seraphita?"

Seraphita shrugged. "I dunno, for every two I got, I only used one. That and I didn't tell nobody where I kept the rest, hehe."

"That is very intelligent thinking, conserving a resource as precious as this." Dr. Ricdeau said.

The smile on Seraphita's face usually never left, but she smiled more at the compliment, especially considering who it came from. "Ehe, thanks, Doc! See, Tolone, it doesn't take being as smart as you to still be smart!"

Tolone rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah, whatever."

"If it turns out that we can't use all of it safely, we can try to sell the rest to that Big Joe person, unless he won't take it," Dominia said. She didn't like the idea of the Aggrodrive being used by any of her present company, least of all, her Commander.

Sigurd seemed to be in agreement with this. "Wouldn't it be better to just sell it all and get money enough for all those expensive gear upgrades in return?"

"As much as I'd normally agree with you, Sigurd, we could use every edge we can get in this last fight," Fei said, holding the Aggrodrive up to the light.

"What's the plan?" Dominia wondered if Id had been put on Aggrodrive before being deposited at Elru, and mainly asked to get her mind away from that thought.

Fei nodded. "We let Doc and you sort the DRIVE," he said, giving Dr. Ricdeau a distrustful look. "You two seem to know the most about how to use it responsibly. After that's done, we'll go down to Zeboim and try to sell the excess to Big Joe and see if we can't get those upgrades paid off. Whether we can or not, I'd still like to make sure we're all upgraded before we enter the Merkava again. The Yggdrasil's gear techs are very close to finding out what's wrong with Vendetta, so when Ramsus wakes up, it won't be long before he's fully capable of joining all of us. That is, if he wants to." He slid Seraphita's case back to her for now and she pocketed it again.

Dominia nodded. "If he doesn't, I've agreed to stay behind and watch after him so he doesn't become a problem for the rest of you. I think he'll agree to it, but there's a lot of bad blood between all of us. Thank you for taking us in even if you didn't have to. It means a lot to me that you've cleared us off some space and are trying to fix the Commander's gear even though we've been perfectly rotten and worse to all of you in the past..."

Jesse clapped a hand on Dominia's shoulder. "Once an Element, always an Element. We got a fight to fight, and what we can't make work face to face, we can split back up when we win. We owe Kahr that much to give him the chance to get Krelian back for all the shit he's dragged him through."

Dominia smiled and the others seemed to nod in agreement.

Jesse put a bottle of something on the table and the man Sigurd had pointed out as Lawrence Maison began passing out wine glasses to the adults. "Before we get all responsible, how's about one last drink while we're all still together?"

Billy rounded up those he considered not of age (himself, Primera, Marguerite Fatima (who had avoided all of the girls the entire night), Chu-Chu and Maria Balthazar) and said his good evenings politely. He must not have known that Kelvena and Tolone were both his age, or just knew better than to ask a guest of honor to leave. Seraphita nudged at Tolone. "Wonder why he was tryinna ask you where you was from?"

Tolone shrugged. "Iunno. We kinda have the same look, I guess. I'm 'from' Krelian's lab."

"I would not brush off an opportunity to bond with our new teammates. These next few days will be crucial if we are going to work together to stop Deus," Kelvena said.

"She's not wrong, Tolone," Dominia said. A shadow came up from behind her, and the other girls blanched a bit. She turned around and Rico Banderas offered her a glass.

"Thank you for apologizing," he said.

Dominia took the glass offered and Seraphita and Tolone dispersed themselves back into the rest of the crowd. "When things are over, I'd like to help rebuild Nortune, if that's acceptable."

"I would appreciate it if you did. Nortune has been due for a rebuild for decades, so it's a long time coming. I couldn't help but notice you flexing for Billy's sister earlier, which makes me think you'd fit in really well. That and Kislev is the Demi-Human capital of the world now, what's left of it," Rico said.

"The heart of Nortune is powered mostly by ether generators, is it not? It is likely it will shut down entirely after we vanquish Krelian," Kelvena interjected.

Rico nodded. "Yes, that's right. We've escorted most of the survivors just outside the city in case things get dangerous. We need to look further into better urban planning when we get the chance. I've asked for Doc Uzuki's help in this. Do you think any of you might know anything about that kind of thing?"

Dominia and Kelvena looked at each other. "Tolone probably knows a little bit, but I do not think it is her forte," Kelvena said.

Various chatter persisted into the night. Plans and hopes for the future, rebuilding projects in Nisan and Kislev and Shevat were subjects heavily favored. Tolone knew enough about urban planning to impress Rico, and the girls decided as a unit that Nortune was their first destination after Deus was defeated.

By the time that decision was made, Sigurd had passed out in his chair mumbling something about Nisan. The rest of the night started to blur as Jesse challenged everyone to shots. Kelvena ended up drinking too much, so Dominia ended up piggyback riding her back to their room after she'd gone the way of Sigurd before her. Seraphita checked to see if the Commander was still asleep (which he was) and Tolone retrieved their laundry. When they reached their room, they were exhausted enough that all of them just collapsed on the mattress clearly meant for Ramsus together.

Dominia was roused by Tolone's alarm buzzing the next morning. Kelvena had wrapped herself around Seraphita's arm, and Tolone was snoring loudly. She disentangled herself from the Elements pile and got dressed. Just outside the room, Vendetta looked even more taken apart than before, and she went to check on Ramsus again. He was still out. Not really sure of what to do, she returned to the other girls and laid back down until they woke up.