Aaron emerged on deck just as the sun was starting to set. The orange light hit the clear sky and the towers of the flying city, setting it alight. It was a sight he loved to see.
Cool night wind whipped across his bare chest and shoulders, and plucked at the pants he wore. The bandages wrapping his chest offered no protection for him, but he didn’t mind. It felt good against the incessant itching that was plaguing him now that the numbness had worn off.
“I see you’ve awoken finally.”
Aaron didn’t turn to look at Van. He wanted to enjoy the spectacle of the sunset as long as he could before it vanished into the coming night.
“I’m alive. Barely, but I’m alive,” grunted Aaron.
“A lower spine injury, multiple broken ribs, and many other shattered bones. You’ve barely had time to recover and yet you can walk.”
Aaron sighed to himself. “A miracle isn’t it.”
“From my experience, there are no such things as miracles.”
“Yeah, my experience too,” replied Aaron turning from the sunset and the city flying ahead of them.
Van was standing at the helm of the airship, one hand resting on the wheel, the other resting casually on the hilt of his sword. Aaron saw no threat in his stance though. Turning he around the mast and sat down against it crossing his legs. Setting his hands in his lap, he held them palm up staring at the callouses he’d developed over the years of working on the ship.
“How do you do it?” he asked after a while.
Van was silent behind him at the helm.
Aaron sighed. “How do you control all of your power? How are you not affected by the curse?”
“Soul Steel reflects it’s wielder’s thoughts and emotions. There is no curse,” replied Van finally, his voice unemotional.
“Easy for you to say,” grunted Aaron. His mind had wandered to Grace sleeping below deck. She’d fallen asleep after a while nestled next to him. He’d tried not to disturb her when he’d gotten up, and had tucked a blanket around her before he’d headed up on deck.
When he’d been injured by Barret, she’d clung to him, not wanting to leave his side. She’d given up her life to stay with him despite Barret’s threats. And when Van took him back to the ship, she’d given up her chance to return home when she’d stepped aboard. And it was all for him. He’d never felt that way for anyone in his life. Sure Mai had been his anchor to reality when he’d been consumed by the curse in his last line of work, but it had never been anything like this.
She cares for me too much to let me go… and I don’t want to let her go no matter how hard I try. This was never how I planned for things to turn out when I chose this new life for myself. No one from my past was supposed to find me and that damned pistol was supposed to stay lost!
Aaron shook his head and sighed. It was too late to change the past and to wish for something better to happen. It had been bad enough when Mai had found him, but now with Barret gunning for his head, he needed to do something.
He’s become much stronger than I remember… or maybe what he said was true. I have gotten softer in the time I’ve been away. Aaron didn’t want to think about it, but what Jay had said to him back then was true. Headquarters had it’s eye on this planet, Vale. Mai had been the beginning even if she’d been here on other business from Headquarters. Barret was the next step in asserting their power. However Aaron knew that Barret would keep silent about his whereabouts on the planet. Barret wanted him for himself and he would try to keep it that way until the very end.
I’m going to have to fight Barret again, and many more if I’m going to stay hidden here. I don’t want to… I gave up that life a long time ago…
His mind strayed back to Grace again.
I’m going to have to if I want to protect her though.
It was as if a shadow had fallen over his thoughts.
“Van,” said Aaron, his voice hard. “I want to you to train me. I want you to teach me how to wield my pistol as you do your sword.”
He could feel Van’s gaze on him from behind the mast. “I cannot teach you, that is something you must learn yourself, but I can guide you.”
“Just like that?” asked Aaron.
“I’ll do this for the same reason I am following you. We have a fight to finish.”
Aaron sighed and nodded his head. “Of course” he said quietly.