Rink cried like she had never cried before.
Sitting in the wagon, cradling Aniara's lifeless body, her nightgown dyed crimson by Aniara's blood.
Charon had stopped in front of the clinic, barely thirty seconds after Aniara had stopped breathing. He had collapsed himself, unable to move or speak at the moment, but conscious enough to have realized what had happened to Aniara... and fully aware that arriving thirty seconds earlier would not have saved her. A group of people had gathered around them, but Rink didn't acknowledge anyone's inquiries about if they needed any help.
"Excuse me, miss!" a female voice eventually called out to her. Rink did not reply, only continuing to cry, embracing Aniara. "Excuse me!"
"What?" Rink angrily half-screamed, looking up to see that Helga, together with another doctor and an apprentice, had come from the clinic.
"We just want to help."
"You can't help! Anni... she's... she's gone!"
"I'm sorry," Helga replied. "Get a stretcher," she whispered to her apprentice. "You should let us take care of the body-"
"She's not a body! She has a name! It's Anni! Aniara!"
"Ani-" Helga froze. "Aniara... Miman? The mayor's..."
"Oh, no..." Helga turned to her doctor companion. "Tyco is on his way over there already, right?"
"Yeah, he left as soon as we heard."
"They might need more help... go wake up Lydia and tell her to go assist him. Then I'll need you here."
"Yeah. I'll be right back." The doctor headed off as Helga looked back to Rink.
"In either case, miss... please, let us take care of her. I'm, I'm sure you have done everything you possibly could, please let us take it from here."
"Fine... fine... just... don't hurt her... don't hurt her..." Rink said in a defeated monotone and let go of Aniara's body. Helga and her apprentice moved it over to the stretcher, carrying her into the clinic. Rink remained sitting in the cart, not saying anything, tears silently rolling down her cheek, looking up at the night sky. Nobody took any notice that the immobile but semi-conscious animal in front of the wagon wasn't just a beast of burden. Anyone who tried to talk to her found themselves ignored, as Rink's head was now completely taken over by a single line of thought, repeating itself over and over.
Anni.... Anni... this can't be real...
I already lost you once... how could you leave me again...
What do I even have to live for now...
"Whu... M-Muse?" Rink finally snapped back to reality when she noticed Muse was standing next to the cart, shaking her and shouting her name. She had no idea how much time had passed.
"Are you okay? You weren't moving, just..." As Muse got a closer look at Rink, she noticed the blood on her nightgown. "How... how is... Aniara?"
"A-Anni..." Rink stammered before she started crying again, which told Muse all she needed to know.
"Oh, Rink... I'm so, so sorry..." Muse replied and grabbed Rink's hand. "If there's anything we can do... we're here for you. I'm here for you... sis."
"I... how am I going to..." Rink said and faced Muse, just now recognizing that it had to have been some time since they parted ways earlier. "Oh... how is... how did you..."
"We managed to get a larger wagon and some strong horses and oxen, so we could all ride into town..."
"Oh..." Rink looked up and around. Behind the cart she was sitting in, she could see that there was indeed a wagon with room for a lot more people, now empty. Looking down, she also noticed Charon was gone, and right as she looked over towards the clinic, Mirise came walking out and towards them. "What about... the others?"
"They're fine... everyone else is at the clinic... except for Allen."
"Allen... did he... what about..."
"Don't worry, he's just at the inn. The bear didn't wound him too badly, but he was exhausted."
"The bear... the bear! How did- where- who-"
"Oh, they fell in front of me and Mirise... me and Allen chased it off... and..."
"And we found where that attacker came from. Allen said he was certain it was a zoan, and... we saw it... escape the island... and to a ship."
"A ship- wait... it was... someone... attacker? They... they went for..."
"I don't know any more than that... but... they seem to have targeted the mayor's home... the fire wasn't caused by the thunder, either... it was set."
"No..." Upon hearing that the situation was even worse than she had thought, Rink shut down again. She fell silent, lowered her head, and put her hands over her face. Any further attempts at contact from Muse or Mirise received no response.
"Rink, you can't just sit here-"
"A ship!" someone suddenly yelled out from the docks.
"What?" Muse said and headed over, followed by Mirise. The man who had yelled was pointing to the side of the docks, and Muse could soon see the silhouette... and it was one she recognized. "That's... that's the ship..."
"The one from before?" Mirise asked.
"Yeah... the one that the bear was heading towards... the cause of everything that happened tonight..."
"You don't think they're gonna..."
"No... they're not attacking again. They're just leaving... they're not lining up to fire, they're just heading away... knowing... that we can't do anything." The crowd that had gathered at the docks simply watched the ship as it left Gondol, hopefully to never return. "Going out after them in this weather would be-"
A crash was heard, right next to them. Looking over towards Hans and Tag's workshop, Muse saw the gates leading out into the water had broken open... and a boat was making its way out of them. Quickly turning around, she also saw the door hanging open, and most worryingly... Rink was no longer in the wagon. Muse and Mirise stared in horror as Cassandra left the workshop, out into the stormy waters. There was no way a ship of that size, with only a single person on board, was going to have any chance reaching the larger vessel... especially not with this weather. Muse pulled out her bow and an arrow, but having no idea what she could do with them, returned them to her quiver. Mirise, likewise, saw no immediate way to provide help... she might have been able to make it out to Cassandra, but even if she managed to successfully challenge the waves and reach the ship, there was no way she'd be able to bring Cassandra or Rink back to shore alone. It was no mystery why Rink had done this... Muse had explained the situation, and then the ship, carrying Aniara's murderer, had shown up. It seemed to always be the same thing... throwing themselves into situations like this without thinking. Not that Muse could consider herself any less guilty of that.
Muse frantically looked around. There weren't any other boats in the water, and those that had been pulled onto land here would never be able to catch up to Cassandra to drag Rink back. She had already made it a fair bit out, but the dark ship was farther away. And not only that, the storm seemed to be picking up in intensity, making the sea even more violent. Waves crashed against the docks, and Cassandra had no defense against something like this. She started losing ground, and Muse was slightly relieved to see that she was now being sent backwards, closer to the docks. Perhaps they'd be able to recover her, if she could only get a little closer... she spotted a rope coiled around a mooring post, and crouched down to grab it. Maybe she could fire it over to Rink, or maybe Mirise could–
In the middle of Muse's thought, a large wave—much larger than any before it—caught Cassandra, sending her hopelessly out of control. It was followed by another one, washing over the small ship, only her mast remaining visible. But the third wave was the one that would conclusively put a stop to Rink and Cassandra's futile attempt.
It threw her into the air, sending her towards the docks at high speed. Rink held on as best as she could, but the first impact of the hull against the concrete edge of the docks was a sudden and violent one, and she fell overboard with a scream as more waves washed over the boat, bashing it into the docks several times. While the previous damage had been patched up, Cassandra hadn't exactly been reinforced to deal with anything this severe. Her hull cracked open, nearly split in half, and started taking in water. The waves remained relentless, with more and more of her parts flying off as she started sinking. Debris was starting to build up around the docks, that otherwise was almost empty—when Cassandra had been sent towards them, the group of onlookers at the docks had backed away to find cover.
Except for one.
Without hesitating for even a fraction of a second, Mirise had set off towards the water before Rink even hit the surface. She jumped in, knowing she had to get Rink out of there no matter what. The waves and the darkness didn't make it easy, but thanks to having acted as swiftly as she had, was able to spot the rapidly sinking Rink. She shot down after her as fast as she could, with parts of Cassandra descending alongside them. She reached out for Rink as she swam with more effort than she had ever done before, and managed to get a hold of the arm of her jacket. She pulled on it, but as Rink wasn't fully wearing it, only managed to yank it away from her. Cursing in her head, she dropped the jacket and resumed her dive, but she could see even less now.
Rink... where are you? she thought to herself, descending in the direction she believed down was, but getting her bearings straight when she could barely see anything wasn't easy. Worrying about Rink, tears were forming in her eyes, and near subconsciously, she started turning her hair into water. Only seconds passed, but to Mirise it felt like hours of helplessness, of being unable to save her friend. Suddenly, she felt something. She wasn't sure how, but for a moment, she sensed where something was sinking. Praying that it wasn't just a piece of Cassandra, Mirise hurried to the spot she had felt, and without being able to see anything, she wrapped her arms around... a body. This was definitely a human body. It had to be Rink. Holding her left arm around what she had found, she used her remaining limbs to swim back up as fast as she could. The harshness of the sea, the added weight from Rink, and the fact that she hadn't slept for almost twenty hours were all factors that should have made it less than possible, but Mirise didn't let any of it stop her. There was no way she was abandoning Rink to drown. Concentrating only on her ascent, she broke through the surface after the most draining ten seconds of her life so far. Looking around to confirm their position, she noted they had drifted away from the docks a bit, which helpfully was lit up by several people now carrying torches. Dragging Rink with her, she fought the waves going in every direction.
"There she is!" Muse yelled as she saw Mirise approaching. "Do you... is she..."
"I have her!" Mirise screamed in reply. "I need a rope! Something! Help me!"
"Just a second!" Muse shouted back and pulled her bow and arrow back out. Making sure the rope was secured to the mooring post, she tied the other end of it to her arrow, and ordered the people closest to her to make sure it stayed fastened. She took aim, carefully but quickly, and fired the arrow out towards Mirise and Rink. Even with the wind, it landed close enough to Mirise that she could grab onto it after only a short swim. She pulled on it to let those on land know she had received her lifeline. "She's got it! Everybody pull!" Muse ordered, and together with a few others around her, dragged Mirise and Rink in towards them. Muse crouched down and held her hand out towards Mirise when she came close.
"Get... get Rink first," Mirise said and pushed her towards the docks. Two of the men next to Muse each grabbed one of Rink's arms and got her out of the water, and without the added weight, Mirise was able to pull herself out with only a little assistance from Muse.
"Good job," Muse told Mirise, who was on all fours and breathing heavily.
"As long as... Rink is fine..."
"She's not breathing!" someone yelled from behind Muse, where Rink had been laid down on the ground.
"What?" Mirise and Muse shouted in unison and turned towards Rink. Muse ran up to her, looking down, and found that Rink was indeed motionless.
"Hold on... Markus taught me how to do this," Muse said. She kneeled down, put a hand on Rink's face to keep her mouth open, then took a deep breath and put her mouth over Rink's, exhaling directly into it. She repeated the process until she had given Rink five donations of air, then put her hands on Rink's chest and started pushing down repeatedly. She alternated between the breaths and the chest compressions, and soon noted that Rink's chest had started, if only a little, moving on its own. She breathed a sigh of relief as Mirise sat down next to them.
"How is it?" she asked.
"She needs more medical attention and soon, but at least she's breathing now."
"Oh, thank the stars," Mirise said and laid down on her back. "I'll just... rest here for a bit..."
"You've done enough for tonight," Muse replied. "You should get back to the inn. I'll get Rink to the clinic."
"Okay... okay... in a minute..."
"Hey, someone help her get back to the inn!" Muse yelled out to the crowd standing around them. "And get a stretcher for Rink!"
"Anni!" Rink shouted as she shot up from her hospital bed. She quickly laid back down again when she felt a stinging pain in her chest. "Oh, ow, ow..." She looked up at the ceiling, slowly registering where she was as the events of last night all came back to her.
"Oh, you're awake," came the familiar voice of Muse from the side of the room. Rink looked over and saw her sitting on a chair, yawning and stretching, clearly having just been woken up by Rink's shout.
"Muse... what is... how am I... what did I..."
"Take it easy," Muse said. "How are you feeling?"
"Well... last time I woke up in a hospital bed with no idea of how I got there, I had one less eye than I remembered, so... that's an improvement, at least. My chest really hurts, though..."
"Oh, that... was my fault," Muse said. "They said I fractured two of your ribs when giving you cardio... cardio pull... oh, I don't remember what Markus said it was called, but when I got you breathing again after you almost drowned. So... sorry about that?"
"You don't need to apologize for saving my life," Rink said and looked around. "What... what time is it, anyway?"
"Going by the sun..." Muse walked over to the window and looked at the sky. "I'd say a bit past noon."
"Where are the others? Is everyone alright?"
"Sleeping," Muse replied. "Everyone's got a lot of sleep to catch up on. Allen and Charon are recovering after those energy boosts they took, and Mirise didn't get any sleep at all last night before it all happened. She nearly blacked out after getting you back on land, but they all got help getting back to the inn. Markus helped out here until he nearly collapsed completely from exhaustion, so that lady doctor put him in a spare bed."
"What about the fire?"
"I don't know. People started arriving at the mansion to take care of that when we left for town, and I've been here since they took you in."
"So you just... slept sitting here all night?"
"Someone had to keep watch, so I volunteered... which reminds me, there's something I think I owe you," Muse stated and stood up.
Without saying another word, Muse walked up to Rink and gave her a slap in the face. "You reckless idiot!"
"Did you even think about what you were doing at all? Now Cassandra's a wreck at the bottom of the ocean, and if Mirise hadn't been there, you'd be as well!" Muse shouted. "Nobody else could have gotten you out in that weather, and even she struggled!"
Rink sighed. "I know. I know, and I still just... no, I wasn't thinking. I was just angry, and sad... Aniara was gone... and when you told me someone caused all of it, and the ship showed up... I don't expect you to understand, but-"
"I understand you perfectly!" Muse exclaimed, followed by a sigh of her own. "Look... Rink... I'm gonna tell you something that I've never told anyone who wasn't already involved. Not even Markus. You have to promise me that it will stay with you, no matter what."
"Oh, uh... I promise," Rink said.
"That didn't sound very convincing."
"Okay," Rink said and sat up, and put a hand on her chest. "I swear that whatever secret you tell me, I will keep to myself and take to the grave if I have to."
"That's better," Muse said and leaned in towards Rink, starting to whisper into her ear. Rink's facial expression soon went from curiosity to concern, and when Muse finished her story, Rink had to take a few moments before she was able to say anything.
"Muse..." Rink said with a wavering voice. "I... I had no idea that you... I'm sorry."
"That's how I want to keep it," Muse replied. "You see why I told you?"
"Of course," Rink said and gave Muse a hug. "I'm really grateful you would share something like that with me... and it helps me understand you better."
"There's... more to that story, but it's not important now. I'll go tell them you're awake, you just rest."
"Alright..." Rink said and laid back down as Muse left, closing the door. She knew Muse was completely right... it had been extremely reckless of her. When Aniara had passed, she had felt like she didn't have anything left to live for... she only had a single target in mind. She had not considered how James would feel about her using Cassandra for that... and with her gone, they'd be stuck here for even longer. And it was all her own fault.
She sighed, putting a hand on her face and closing her eye. She had a lot of apologizing to do, she thought. A short while passed before she heard a knock on the door.
"Excuse me," Helga's voice asked from outside the room.
"You have a visitor," Helga replied and opened the door, rolling a wheelchair into the room—occupied by someone familiar.
"I'm glad to see you're alright," Harry said as Helga left the room and closed the door.
"I'm... alive," Rink replied. "How about you?"
"The same," Harry replied with a weak chuckle.
"What about everyone else? Did anything else burn...?"
"From what I was told, they managed to keep the fire from spreading... but there was no saving our house."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"You have nothing to be sorry about... thanks to all of you, damage was kept to a minimum. If it hadn't been for your friends, I would have been stuck underneath that rubble until the fire got me... and Robe and Isagel... I don't even want to think about what might have happened to them. Even Miss Moa survived."
"Oh, that's our cat... or she was mostly Aniara's cat, really. One of your friends, that blonde girl, found her injured behind the house."
"There's been reports of some livestock and goods that have disappeared, and some smaller incidents... but nobody else who's gotten seriously hurt, and the only casualty was... was..." Harry said and looked away, clearly struggling to finish the sentence. "You went above and beyond what anyone would have expected... thanks to you, there's... we can lay her to rest, instead of her just... disappearing in the flames..."
"I didn't ever want to come back here, but... it really seems like it was a good thing we got stuck here when we did."
"I cannot overstate how grateful I am for all that you did. I don't know how I can ever repay you."
"I..." Rink started, before pausing. "I kissed her."
"Anni. I kissed her right as she... as she..." Rink took a deep breath. "I kissed your dying pregnant wife!" she half-shouted with closed eyes.
"Oh... thank you."
"Did you- did you seriously just thank me?"
"Yes... what about it?"
"That's not really the response anyone would expect to 'I kissed your wife'!"
"You were there with her when I couldn't be... you were there for her, trying to save her life. And most importantly... you were there so that she didn't have to... go alone," Harry said somberly. "And what good would it do to get mad about it now? It wouldn't change anything. And she wouldn't have wanted it."
Rink sighed and put per hand to her forehead. "Has anyone ever told you that you're annoyingly rational?"
"Oh, absolutely," Harry replied. "She did, all the time. I always thought that as mayor, I had to be. She told me to be more assertive. I just... wanted the best for everyone. But I failed at doing that for you, I guess..."
"What do you mean?"
"I knew the two of you had something, and I still proposed to her... I didn't realize just how close you two were. I can't imagine how you must have felt when you learned... you must've been so angry at me."
"I was. I was so mad I didn't know what to do... I hated you. If it hadn't been for Jack stopping me..." Rink sighed. "But it's like you said... it would be pointless to be angry at you for it at this point. Your only crime was loving her... how could I, of all people, blame you for that? She made the choice to be with you. To have a family with you." Rink paused. "Speaking of... how are the kids?"
"They're still scared from what happened, but at least they're unharmed. They'll be staying with Aniara's mother, for the time being..."
"And... how about you?"
"They want to keep me here for a while... but according to your doctor friend, I might never walk on my own again. My legs were completely crushed."
"At least Gondol will still have you to get them through this... someone who can make sure the island stays standing."
"You barely ever knew me... and you trust me that much?"
"Your father was a strong leader. I left before he retired... but if you couldn't keep up his legacy, you wouldn't still be mayor."
"Anni... chose a life with you. Regardless of everything else... I have to trust that she would not have chosen you if you couldn't live up to it."
"Perhaps..." Harry said as the door to the room was opened again.
"There's someone else here to see you," Helga informed Rink.
"I should be going, anyway," Harry said as the new visitor entered the room. Rink gasped when she saw who it was.