He puffed on his pipe as Freya took tired sips from her wine glass. The contrast of the setting sun under the deep azure sky lessened quickly, the candles on the outdoor table lit with Dr. Francis’ matches as they sat together in silence.
“She is cold,” Dr. Francis stated after a drowsy half an hour of quiet. “Now I see why they think they’re soulless.”
Freya shook her head. “They have known nothing but being expressionless for the better part of their years. It is hard for them to adjust.”
“Years? And yer friend seems just fine.”
“He has been on Gaia since he was a child. He did not grow up on Terra like they did.”
“She’s not very intelligent.”
“Now Dr. Francis,” she turned to him. “It’s the prophecies that are unintelligent. Madness, you said so yourself.”
“So we came here to hear her agree?”
“You didn’t have to.”
“Eh,” he settled himself deeper into the cushions. “If I didn’t ask, we’d be spending the night in the gutter.”
“You’re being extreme.” Freya sighed with his foolishness.
“Where will we go tomorrow?”
Freya was silent. None of these avenues had worked out. Have we been asking the wrong questions? Have we been too hasty?
“Are ye leaving for Terra tomorrow?” Dr. Francis interrupted her thoughts.
She looked at him. “Do you truly believe it’s gone?”
“It means nothing to me, but wouldn’t it be curious if it wasn’t?”
“It would be very concerning if it wasn’t,” Freya corrected. “And how could it mean nothing to you?”
“Terra isn’t my turf.”
“Then why did you come with me?”
“Because I stay far away from madness.”
“But it had already left.”
“Maybe it didn’t.”
She frowned. Her tired thoughts weren’t making sense anymore, and neither was Dr. Francis. “I will probably eventually go to make sure, if I don’t find any information here. Would you accompany me or no?”
“Go to see the rest of the blank faces? Eh, I can pass.”
I’m glad to hear that. But where would he stay? “What exactly is your doctorate, Dr. Francis?”
“Architecture. And some other things.”
She couldn’t suppress a chuckle.
“It’s complicated business, I tell ye, what’s so funny!”
“You’re full of surprises, Dr. Francis. It is a compliment.”
“I should hope so!”
“…” She finished her glass and stared at the half-emptied wine bottle.
“Ye can’t go into Terra alone.”
“…?” Just the mere suggestion of planning more arrangements made her pour herself another glass of wine.
I’m not a leader. I’m a follower. This is why all my personal endeavors fail. Even now, I have failed this small mission. She hung her head with her nose in the glass.
“Ye need someone to hold ye up when ye get down, like ye are right now.”
He was intuitive when he wanted to be. And ignorant when he wanted to be, like all intellects. “Who would come with me, Dr. Francis? This was a hair-brained idea to begin with, and…” Her thoughts wandered to someone unexpected. The flame she stared at with glassy eyes told her a name she hadn’t thought of in a long time.
“So ye tested a hypothesis and it turned out a dud, so what? Happens all the time.”
“But…” She shook the name out of her head. “Where did that book go then?”
“Hopefully someone jumped off a cliff with it. That’s a proper ending.”
She wanted to laugh. Someone I could almost relate to… She shook her head again and took another drought. No, bad news, bad friends corrupts good minds… She took another drought.
“Holy Daggi, what’s got into yer head that ye’r gonna finish the whole bottle?” Dr. Francis puffed and puffed, his eyes obscured by the drifting smoke.
“I need to lay down.” Drinking this fast again wasn’t an activity her body was familiar with. The numbness crept into open arms.
“Not so fast,” Dr. Francis put his hand on her arm.
She looked up at him slowly.
“Ye look like ye’r gonna cry. Slow down. What’s botherin’ ye? What’s it?” He puffed and puffed.
“I… I don’t know what to do. I feel… like I’ve failed. I… always fail when I’m on my own.”
“Eh,” Dr. Francis shrugged. “I just said ye can’t go alone. So why ye crying over something obvious?”
“Because I am alone.”
“Are ye? Are ye truly?” He puffed. “I think not. Ye’r too controlling. Too controlling of yerself. How many times I tell ye to relax? Ye’r the only one making life hard. Life isn’t perfect. It never was. And neither are you. So stop trying to make it so. Let it be.”
She looked up at him. “I have friends but… they aren’t really there anymore.”
“Now ye’r just feeling sorry for yerself. I don’t believe ye’ve went yer whole life and made it this far by being miserable.”
“It was circumstance.”
“Circumstance made you help save the world? Ye could’ve said no. Circumstance made Fratley lose his mind? It’s not yer fault. Stop beating yerself up for circumstances out of yer control. Control yer negativity, Miss Freya.”
“How did you know about…?” She shook her head. It’s not worth it. I wish I wasn’t important. I wouldn’t put these demands on myself if I wasn’t somebody. I used to be somebody. She jumped when he slammed his hand on the table, the candle and glasses tittering.
“I said stop feeling sorry for yerself!”
She stared at him.
“Now you go wash up and go to bed. And tomorrow, we’re going back to the library to see if these windbags will front an expedition for ye and another person to go and make sure this damned Terra is gone forever. Then we can all sleep in peace. Put an end to all those daydreamers. That’s why we’re here.” He stood up. “Go on,” he gestured to Freya.
She finally comprehended his speech, nodded, and stood up.
Isoto had indeed gone out before they had even awoken the next day. Mara was stiff and not entirely friendly, and they departed for the Court Library soon after they had a morning coffee and toast. Dr. Francis warned Mara that he was returning that evening, but Freya reassured her they wouldn’t burden them anymore than they already had.
Dr. Francis argued for his lodgings to remain at Isoto’s as they made their way to the library and Freya argued that it was entirely unnecessary and unfair for Isoto. He gave up when she began brainstorming the possible upcoming trip, and they arrived at the library in stable spirits. He would go in and negotiate while she waited outside.
She sat at the bottommost stair at the end. It was still relatively early and she hoped this wouldn’t turn into an all-day affair. So I’m going to the Black Mage Village. They call it ‘the Village’ now. There can’t be that many black mages left, there probably aren’t any left there at all. I won’t start looking for someone to come with me until we get the approval. Like Dr. Francis said, I can’t dwell on negatives. But was this all a waste? Where is that book?
Startled, she saw a moogle fluttering towards her.
“Kupo! Miss Freya!” It bowed very low.
“Nice to meet you,” Freya managed a small smile.
“Kupo! Very nice! I am Mori! Noggy did not say you would be here!”
Noggy was Daguerreo’s synthesizer’s helper. “I left in short notice. I didn’t see the synthesizer before I left, please give him my apologies.”
“No matter, kupo! Why are you here now?”
“I’m going to make sure Terra is gone. There have been bad rumors about its return, and I need to make sure they aren’t true.”
“Kupo! I have heard bad things too. But you cannot believe everything you hear, kupo.” He finally stopped flitting and landed on the stair beside her.
She nodded. This was the longest conversation she’d ever had with one of these peculiar creatures. “Do you work with Artemecion?”
“No, but Mognet is fine now that he has learned his lesson, kupo! Do you want to send a letter?”
“…” But perhaps a moogle would know more than the standard self-absorbed city dweller? “Do you know of any recent thefts? More specifically, a book from Daguerreo?”
“Yes, kupo, Noggy has told everyone he knows.” He leaned forward, his eyes squinty and mischievous. “They look in his letters, kupo. But this time it’s okay because he want everyone to know this: two people including author died for this book, then two thieves took it away without telling anyone, kupo!”
She felt her heart skip a beat. “Do they know where they took the book?”
“Noggy thinks they took it to the Shimmering Island. Noggy thinks they make new religion from it, kupo! Book has to do with Terra. That’s bad news, kupo, so I’m happy to hear you are going to make sure it has gone away forever.”
“The Shimmering Island… of course.” She hung her head. Of course. Where Gaia’s religion began. The entrance to Terra.
“ ‘Of course,’ kupo?”
“May I tell Noggy? He is very upset, kupo!”
“Yes,” she nodded. “But this information should be kept secret. I am very happy you told this to me.” Happier than you’ll ever know. She wanted to hug this small white creature with his smart black vest.
“It’s a bad book, kupo. Bad things, and make people do bad things. Kupo! I hope Terra is dead!”
“Me too, Mori, me too.”
He leaned toward her again, that mischievous look sparkling in his eye slits. “I not talk about your friend Zidane, kupo, but I don’t like the other Terrans. I don’t think they ever got their souls, kupo.”
“They are trying.”
“But you cannot get soul if you are not born with it, kupo.” He nodded in all seriousness.
“I don’t think they mean any harm, Mori.”
“I’m not talking about that kupo, I mean they have no heart. They may mean good but they are not whole. I scared of them, kupo!” He gripped her arm to prove it to her.
She chuckled and gave him a weak pat on his back. “You are smarter than all of us, Mori. We are indebted to your kind.”
“Yes, kupo, but you must keep us safe, too!”
“I shall,” Freya nodded.
“Kupo! Now I will tell Noggy, he will be relieved! Kupo!” He bowed quickly many times before he flew off in a rush.
The Shimmering Island. How could I have not figured this out! She balled up her hand into a fist and hit herself on the forehead.
She smiled and shook her head. What a miracle. She looked across the small plaza in front of her, at the mulling pedestrians and rushing scholars. Life could be so simple sometimes. The moogles proved that (principle) effortlessly.
“…!” She spied a familiar head of hair that quickly turned the corner.
She looked around. Would anyone notice? Probably. Dr. Francis wouldn’t be out that quickly. Freya stood up and jumped.