The sky was bright and clear over the Zeboim lighthouse. It was almost as if the world didn't know any of the horror that had gone on, nor was it paling in advance of what was yet to come. Dominia was very glad for that.
Lawrence Maison, the Fatima family...butler?...had introduced himself just before the Elements were about to head down and had offered them tea. Kelvena was delighted to have received such an invitation, and upon seeing this, the other girls pretended to be more interested than they really were, for her sake. Lawrence Maison was a delightful old man, but Dominia wasn't the sort for delightful old men, so she had let her mind wander off a bit while Kelvena and Maison chatted excitedly about the different varieties of tea that existed. She came back down when the conversation got a little more interesting to her.
"This tea set once belonged to Roni Fatima, the first king of Aveh. Its worth is beyond measure to the right collector," Maison said.
Tolone held her teacup up, and her eyes flashed a brighter shade of blue. Dominia recognized this as her analytic ether technique. "It's at least as old as that era. It's also much stronger than it looks. It's not porcelain, but it's been made to look and feel like it. They're made out of an alloy commonly found in gear armor from the Nisan-Shevati conflict five hundred years ago."
Dominia's cup was empty, so she tilted it to look at it a little closer. It was white, and the lip of the cup was thin enough that it allowed a small amount of light to pass through it. The symbol she'd seen on Avek flags was pressed into the sides of it. When she'd first picked it up, she had feared shattering it, but it had held fast, even with the weight of the tea in it. She let herself smile. "I'm officially impressed," she said.
"Good Maison, thank you for entertaining the girls," Sigurd's voice came from the top of the deck. The girls stood up and to attention when they saw Ramsus climb up and join the other Ex-Elements. "We are done with the Gun Room, should you wish to return."
"I believe I shall stay topside, Master Harcourt, if it's all the same to you," Maison said politely, "It would be a pity to leave such an auspicious reunion. All of the Elements, old and new, are in the same space for the first time, are they not?"
"You look like you're having a good time, girls..." All the girls had to do was hear his voice and they all came running for him.
"You're looking so much better, Commander!" Allowing herself a couple of contractions, Kelvena opened her eyes for him and he smiled at her kindly for the first time in a long time.
"Thank you, Kelvena."
She blushed despite herself and smiled back. "Y-you're welcome!"
Tolone tugged at one of his sleeves. "Really glad to see you on the up and up, Boss!" she chirped.
"I'm still a little weak, but not for long. Thanks for being patient, Tolone," he replied, giving her the same smile he'd shown Kelvena.
Tolone had momentarily forgotten that she could blush, but there it was. She shook it off with a toothy grin.
Seraphita gave him a peck on the cheek, "That's the spirit, Commander! We all still believe in ya! Let's see this through, ok?"
She flexed an arm, and he copied her with a wink. "Ok, Seraphita!"
Seraphita gave a squirrelish giggle, feigned a swoon and tumbled back. Dominia had hung back, allowing the others to go first, but now, all three of them dragged her forward.
"H-hey, there's no need to drag me, okay?"
"Sure there's not!" Tolone giggled.
Ramsus gulped, fearing he'd disturbed the girls' natural order by favoring Dominia. Everyone present seemed to at least have some kind of idea of what was going on between them, which made him feel self-conscious. He was extremely grateful when Dominia broke through the pomp the other girls were trying to put on her and walked up to him, simply saying, "Hey."
"Hey, yourself," he replied, beaming at her.
She smiled back, but was still overwhelmed by the concept of him smiling at her for very long, so she leaned in and hugged him to break eye contact. He hugged back a little more tightly than he ought have, but she didn't mind. "I wasn't expecting to see you back in uniform, sir."
"A friend convinced me that it's worth it for now," he said, glancing back at Hyuga, who nodded. "I can tell you about it later, if you like."
Dominia smiled. "Sure!"
Ramsus let himself look at her just a little while longer before attempting to mount up formalities with the others. Out of the heat of the moment they'd shared earlier, she was still the same tall and tough woman he'd known for seven years. She was just a little bit taller than him, though he hadn't been paying attention when they were kissing in the barracks. Looking on her now, he found that he really liked that she was taller, though he couldn't string any words or thoughts together to explain why, so he just stood there like an idiot, smiling at her.
She caught him staring. "Is there something else you wanted to say?"
"Quite a lot, but...I'd rather it be in private, if that's okay?"
Dominia flushed bright red. "S-sure, that's fine." She stepped away to try to shoo whatever spotlight had been drawn on her by the others. None of the Elements, new or old, looked on with any ire, but she still felt self-conscious.
"Well, uh," Ramsus said, sensing her discomfort, "Neo-Elements, meet the Ex- Elements?" He made a show of trying to introduce them. "Seraphita, this is Sigurd Harcourt, Element of Fire. Kelvena, Hyuga Ricdeau, Element of Water. Dominia, Jesse Black, Element of Earth. And Tolone, you know me already, I think."
When he said that, Tolone all but jumped up to hug him again, and they all laughed.
"Although we were not formally introduced, we did meet everyone last night at dinner, Commander," Kelvena said, shaking Hyuga's hand. "Though formality for something this important is very appropriate."
The Elements, all eight of them, took turns shaking hands and exchanging salutations. When they were done, Ramsus turned to the other Ex-Elements. "Thank you for seeing to welcoming the girls. I haven't seen them this happy in a long time. I'm sorry I missed that dinner now."
"Not to worry, Master Ramsus, there will be more," Maison piped.
Ramsus nodded politely. "Thank you, Lawrence, was it?"
"It is indeed, but call me Maison, if you please. Some may think the formality antiquated, but as you can see, I am just as antiquated."
"Of course, then. Maison it is."
"Are you done trying to fight me, Kahran Ramsus?" Fei's familiar, calm voice echoed from the hatch. Ramsus reflexively took a few steps back, but did his best to stand up straight to appear confident as Fei approached. The rest of his entourage, filled with only somewhat familiar faces, filed in behind him and circled outward around the deck.
"Y-yes, I am."
Fei offered his hand to shake. "So much bad blood has been spilled between us, Ramsus, and I want to formally apologize for all the things I have done that have caused your life to get harder. I know that can't undo them, but we have a big fight ahead of us, against people who've hurt both of us. I see no reason to fight you anymore, or really ever in the first place. Please join us, Kahr."
He had not seen Fei face to face in a long time, but the clueless, yet determined look that seemed permanently affixed to the younger man's face was replaced now with one of exhaustion and concern.
Ramsus inhaled sharply, biting back the urge to make a smart remark about being too familiar. Friends and lovers called him Kahr, and Fei Fong Wong was neither. He looked over at Dominia, who was just as tense, but she nodded for him to go ahead. Forcing the negativity from his mind, he stepped forward and shook Fei's hand. "Thank you. I accept your offer, and your apology, Fei."
Fei issued a sigh of relief, and he smiled. He could see several others relax and shift their weight where they stood. "You don't know how very glad I am to hear that."
"You've welcomed the girls, and taken me in when you had every reason not to help us. I can't find the right words to express my gratitude, but I hope I can make up whatever it is I owe to you, to all of you." Maybe if he just kept himself in diplomat mode, he could do this. He was a fuckup, but this was one of the things he'd prefer not to fuck up.
"There's so much I want to ask you right now, but I'm not sure where to start. Do you...have a place you want to start?"
"I...understand that you can recall some of Id's experiences." Ramsus said.
Fei looked at the ground. "I do."
"Do you recall anything at all about what happened to Elru?" he asked, reaching out for Dominia's hand, which was given freely.
"I remember that I was twelve years old. Solarian troops deposited me in an area and I just started...wrecking things. There was no logic to it. It was an interruption in the torture Krelian was conducting on me. I hadn't seen the sky in a year. I didn't listen to a single word my minders said to me. They were the first to die. I don't even remember how I got back to my containment cell."
Dominia squeezed his hand as Fei spoke, and he squeezed back.
"Id was made out of my rage at being my mother failing to protect me. It wasn't my mother's fault that Miang possessed her, but being experimented on by the person who turned out to be Krelian just made whoever or what I was supposed to be...wash away in a flood of anger and hatred. The Contact...is...not something you'd really want to be. Ramsus, if you would have been created as planned, Id could have been you."
The thought made him shudder, and Dominia disentangled her hand from his as Fei continued on.
"What kind of horror would the world be facing instead of having this chance, if you were Id? Would The Elements have happened at all? Where would your girls have ended up? Is that really something you would have wanted?"
"No, it's not. I can see now that your being the Contact has brought you nothing but pain. Krelian placed so much false value on the abstract concept of the Contact when he was creating me. I...didn't know what it really meant."
Fei shook his head, "Even I didn't know what it meant to be the Contact until Point Bethlehem."
Ramsus looked to the girls. "That must have happened while I was still out. What is that?"
"Before Doc slapped you, you were completely comatose for like, a week," Bart offered. "A ton of shit happened that week."
Hyuga cleared his throat. "Point Bethlehem is the landing site of an object known as the Zohar Modifier, which was the source of zero-point energy Deus' creators used to power it."
Fei recognized the look in Citan's eyes when things were about to get complicated, so he stepped in. "There is a person -- or more accurately, a consciousness – within the Zohar Modifier that calls themselves the Wave Existence. It was a higher being that was drawn into our space and trapped here when Deus was activated. When I touched it 10,000 years ago, I became the Contact, and the original 'Elly' was created. Through the Wave Existence's power, I've been able to retain the memories of every life my soul has lived since then. Because Id was the dominant personality controlling this body up until three years ago, most of those memories were closed off to me. But now I remember most of them."
Ramsus rubbed at his forehead. "How in the hell did Krelian think he could clone that kind of experience? I don't think I could have withstood that kind of thing."
Fei nodded. "Even if Krelian had continued to create you as he'd planned, your biological connection to Emperor Cain puts you at odds with the Wave Existence's will to escape this plane. Deus wants to keep it here, because that's part of what keeps it alive. It knows about Emperor Cain's deep-running ties to Miang. Cain changing his mind about humanity was completely unexpected, and probably impossible for he himself to carry out. But thank G--" Fei stopped himself for a moment, looking at Jesiah's son for a moment before finishing,"Thank actual God, that Krelian was foolish enough to cast you aside. It saved all of our lives."
"So even if Krelian's design for me was completed and I was plan-perfect, I would have failed in the end because the Wave Existence would have perceived my loyalty to Deus through Miang and Emperor Cain, and refused to align or bestow whatever kind of power or memory that it set aside for you." If it had been two weeks ago, knowing this would have caused him to go into another depressive spin, but everything mattered so much less now that he knew neither Krelian nor Miang were ever on his side. "When I arrived at the Merkava after losing Vendetta, Krelian put me in his gear to guard the door. I could still pilot and fight in Amphysvena, and its power got me drunk, but I still felt like I was too small for it. Borrowed power doesn't wield right. Krelian never understood that."
"The Krelian I knew as Lacan never understood that, either."
Ramsus frowned. "Lieutenant Van Houten is in very real danger. I mean, the rest of us are in danger, but all Krelian ever really went on about was the master plan to possess and control the thing called the Anti-Type. I didn't really understand what it was, at first. I thought it was some kind of powerful weapon or ether focuser or something tactical, but it's your forever-girlfriend that he wants, in a really bad way. Don't let him convince you otherwise."
Fei nodded. "I'll keep that in mind."
Ramsus scratched at the back of his head nervously. He'd run out of things to say. "Do you have any more questions for me? Is there anything I can do while I'm recovering until Vendetta is put back together?"
Fei stood and thought for a moment. "You're generally good at convincing people to do things for you. There's an arms dealer down below in the Zeboim ruins that's charging us an arm and a leg for gear equipment that's essentially going to be useless after the big fight. Maybe you could ride with one of the girls and try to talk him down in price?"
"I can absolutely do that."
There was no need to ask which of the girls he was riding with.