This is the first fic I have finished since I was 19 and in my freshman year of college. That was…five years ago. So, I'm kinda proud that I stuck it out!
If you do not like the pairing, the implied sexual relationship, or anything, then keep your damn mouth shut. I wrote this for my own enjoyment and for those who actually do enjoy the pairing.
Title: A Shandian Ghost Story
Rating: PG (Light Cursing, M/M)
Setting: Immediately Post-Skypeia, after the Mugiwara flee
Summary: Aisa finds more than she bargained for when she wandered too deeply into the woods.
This fic would not be possible without the beta-ing efforts of the awesome sans_pertinence . She certainly kept me on track, and taught me quite a few things. Love for you!! <33
! "Light the fire of Shandora!"
! It was the most beautiful sound he'd ever heard. From his vantage point near the ruins of the Shandoran settlement, the warrior watched as a false god toppled from power and the deep, mellow tolling of a promise fulfilled rang through the clouds. He watched as 400 long years of suppression and warfare crumbled from the sky amidst a golden song, the bitterness of defeat crashing down violently into the White-White Sea, forever submerged in a cloudy grave.
! Over and over again, the bell rang; how many times the warrior did not know. He sprinted across the surface of the heavenly sea, leaving no footprints in his wake. Moisture glistened on tattooed cheeks and a firm jaw clenched on fierce emotion, as the cliffs of ancient Jaya larger, closer.
! "We are here!"
! Calgara had watched them work all day from his position on a rocky ledge. Skypeians and Shandians, working together to pull the great golden bell from the White-White Sea; it was a curious, poignant sight to behold. Years, indeed, lifetimes of xenophobia and segregation were evaporating before his very eyes.
! During his lifetime, outsiders like the Skypeians would have been shunned and possibly killed for intrusion onto his island, but over the centuries things had changed. Even in Calgara's day, an outsider and his crew had been once been allowed on Jaya, though not welcomed at first. A bitter wind had blown an explorer to Jaya; a bitter fight laid the foundation for the closest friendship of his life. The short time that the man from the North Blue had resided on Calgara's island was one of the most precious memories he possessed, even tainted as it was by suspicion, anger, and regret.
! Montblanc Norland's curiosity and sense of adventure had brought him to Jaya. Once there, he'd stayed, healing its ailing people without asking for any payment. The gods had not brought him out of that stormy sea to bring upheaval and death, but to bring life and prosperity; to renew hope. Calgara had met his equal that day on the sacrificial altar. He had watched, laughing derisively, as Norland struggled in the landslide, but after listening to this outsider speak with such conviction, Calgara had slain a god to spare Norland's life.
! Calgara didn’t regret flouting his ancestors’ traditions. He couldn’t regret Norland’s survival, or the friendship that grew from it, solid as the rock under Calgara’s feet. He just hadn’t foreseen the attraction that would come with that friendship. Norland had seemed as aware as Calgara of the pull between them, but Norland’s 'civilization' had instilled an odd sense of reservation in him that baffled Calgara.
! In the end, Calgara had acted on their mutual desire first, his actions fueled by physical need and a decent amount of alcohol. He'd pulled Norland away from the bonfire that evening for a nighttime walk through the jungle, then moved in for the kill. Good-natured, somewhat inebriated laughter was silenced with a fierce kiss and Norland's reservations had soon been forgotten. No time was wasted that first night; the passion between them was swift and brutal, leaving both of them breathless in its wake.
! That had been the first of many encounters after that, always away from the eyes of Norland's crew and Calgara's village - hungry touches and kisses mingled with quiet conversation, all built on the underlying rock of their friendship. Calgara had known it was only for a little while, but he'd had every confidence that when Norland finally left, he'd return.
Then, Norland had done the unthinkable.
! Without listening to Norland's reasons, Calgara had turned his back on his friend, not even allowing him to explain his actions. Blinded by misplaced rage, Calgara had almost let Norland leave Jaya forever, and would have, had it not been for the pleading words of his daughter. Crashing through the jungle, fear a living thing inside, Calgara leapt into the sunlight and into the sea just as Norland's ship had set its course.
! A shout had burst from Calgara's throat. The bell rang, echoing his wordless oath - an oath that would become the broken promise of a future unrealized.
! Now, so many years later, Calgara watched the bell's resurrection and gritted his teeth against the pain of that failed promise. The bell had finally tolled, but it had tolled too late for Calgara's friend. Norland had died, never knowing Jaya's true fate, his questions met with the gaping silence the lost bell had left. Even death had been unable to conquer the regret Calgara held in his heart; the wound of Norland's absence only fueled his bitterness.
! What did you think, finding us gone? Did you think us dead? I heard stories from sailors passing through the sky islands of your death; how you never lied about our existence. To die with so many questions…do you still look for us even now?
! "…I almost didn't believe my ears when I heard it," said a quiet voice.
! Calgara jumped to his feet, surprised and angry that he had been so distracted as to not notice someone approaching from behind. He turned, spear in hand, prepared to fight, but his anger vanished as quickly as the mist on the sea.
! "To think that you were up here in the sky all this time…" There was a pause. "I would have never dreamed that people lived up here; I was so certain that you had all been killed. I am so damned thankful to know that I was wrong."
! Another pause as the bell tolled, then a smile. "After all these years, it's still the most beautiful sound I've ever heard," Norland murmured.
He was standing at the verge of a copse of trees. Though he spoke of the bell, his eyes were fixed on Calgara. He walked slowly forward, his footsteps on the ancient earth all but inaudible, and Calgara watched him come in equal silence.
! To Calgara, Norland looked only a few years older than he had when he'd first departed Jaya, but none of the wisdom had left his eyes, nor the strength his frame. There was sadness in his expression that had not been there before, but even now, it seemed to be fading. He stopped beside Calgara, smiling his wide, warm smile.
! "Hello, Calgara. Sorry it took me so long."
! About then, Calgara noticed the tears in Norland's eyes. That was all it took.
! Growling slightly, Calgara dropped his spear and lunged for Norland, strong hands grabbing him by the shoulders. And then no words were necessary. There were too many years of pain and absence behind them to waste this moment on words. Those would come later.
! For now, they only needed the song.
! For the first time in over 400 years, the forests of Upper Yard were free of the sounds of combat - free of carnage and struggle. Green solace fell over the former land of gods and fallen angels, the strength and tenacity of its trees sheltering the peoples working together to carve out a new life on its sky bound shores. The forests sang an old, welcome song, rich and full of promises never forgotten. The great bell rang, calling out to lost Jayan souls, summoning them home after centuries of wandering.
! Offering them the peace of their ancestral home.
! It was just days after the Blue Sea Dwellers had left for their own oceans when the strangeness of the deep woods got even stranger. Faint voices echoed through the leaves, as if carried on the breezes, and yet no one was there. Laughter rang out from nowhere, startling those passing through the thick brush. Most wrote this off as the spirits of ancient Jaya celebrating their return after centuries of exile or the overactive imaginations of those in awe of the Vearth's true beauty and mystique.
! But Aisa knew better. Oh boy, did she ever. She knew that the jungles of Upper Yard were haunted. And not by any ordinary ghosts, either!
! Even though she no longer needed to risk her life for a small bag of her precious Vearth, Aisa enjoyed wandering in the forest just outside the ruins of Shandora, taking in everything about her homeland. She listened in wonder to the voices of the Skypeians and her people working together to rebuild their lives. It was a sound that she never thought she would hear in her lifetime.
! One afternoon, she'd wandered a bit further into the woods than before, following an old path overgrown with brush and debris. Legend held that the ancient site of the Great Warrior Calgara's village had stood somewhere near the ruins of the golden city, but proof of that story had long ago been swallowed by encroaching jungle. It was still and silent here, the ageless trees reaching up with their powerful branches towards the sky. Even the large Southbirds were quiet, as though honoring hallowed ground. Whatever the reason, the stillness sent a chill up Aisa's spine.
! As she crept over a large tree root that had lain in her path, the sound of voices stilled her movements. More out of old habit and instinct than actual fear, she ducked out of sight, taking shelter at the base of the tree she had just passed. Carefully, she peeked up over the lip of the plant and gazed down the path she's just been exploring.
! At first she thought the two men walking towards her were a pair of fellow explorers out for a stroll in their new home. But…if that was the case, why couldn't she hear them with her Mantra? Everyone on this island had a voice, but out this far, she heard them as if they were in another room. As close as these two were, why couldn't she hear them at all? Suspicious, she kept her eyes trained on the two figures as they drew closer.
! They strode tall and proud through the brush, walking the forgotten paths as though they were as familiar as old friends. Every so often, the man in the long black coat would pause, place a hand against the base of a tree, and gaze up into the canopy. His companion appeared to be a Shandian warrior, but from this distance, it was hard to tell exactly who he was. With that wild mane of red hair, he didn't look like any of the warriors that Aisa knew. But there was something about him that was terribly familiar. She stood on her toes and squinted as the pair's path brought them closer. Now, she could see them in detail, though her Mantra still could not hear them.
! The man in the black coat was broad-shouldered with a good-natured smile, though the odd shape atop his head perplexed Aisa. She'd never seen a Skypeian, Shandian, or Blue Sea dweller with such a mark before! He wore a sword cased in red on his hip, tucked under a wide grey belt. He seemed to be talking to his Shandian companion about the Vearth's plant life and how amazed he was at how large things had grown here in the sky these past few centuries.
! His words made no sense to Aisa; no man could have survived the centuries it had taken for the Vearth to flourish like that!
! As the men drew even with her hiding place, Aisa could see them clearly. The warrior drew her attention - now she was certain she had seen him somewhere before.
! He was tall and bare-chested, with a feral look in his dark eyes. Blood red tattoos the same shade of his unkempt hair marked his eyes and chin, and trailed down his muscled shoulders. He held a primitive spear in his hand; it was a weapon that her people had not used since the days of the Great Warrior Calgara, before they had discovered the dials.
! Great Warrior Calgara…
! Aisa's gaze drew so wide she was certain her eyes would pop out of her head. That man…he looked like…but that was impossible! How could he be alive? The legends said that he died in one of the great battles for Upper Yard almost four hundred years ago! In his honor they had erected the statue that had stood proudly in their settlement for many centuries…
! "It's lost none of its beauty," the man in the coat said, pausing once again to kneel, gazing at a cluster of brilliant flowers. "Although, I hate to think of Shandora in ruins. It was such a beautiful place."
! "It will be as it was soon," the warrior said, glancing down at his companion, an odd smile on his face. "The fighting is over. This is a new era."
! That did it.
! Aisa was off and running through the woods before she realized it. The greatest Shandian warrior ever born, the hero of her people, was in the forests of Upper Yard! Her heart was pounding fast, adrenaline propelling her small feet back towards the settlement inside the golden walls.
! She skidded into the large encampment, her sandals slapping frantically on the worn cobbles. The sound caused several of the men working to look at her with concern, and many others to step out of their tents and shelters in alarm.
! "Laki!!! LAAAKI!" Aisa shouted, scared and thrilled at the same time. The small throng of people that had came out to see what the commotion was about parted to let Laki through.
! "Aisa, calm down! What happened?" she asked. Frowning, she knelt in front of Aisa and grabbed her shoulders.
! "In the jungle! I saw two men in the jungle!" Aisa began, catching her breath as she pointed back the way she'd come. "I couldn't hear their voices, and one of them was the Great Warrior Calgara!"
! There was a moment of stunned silence from the crowd. The Skypeians in the crowd looked confused, but the Shandians were either bewildered or skeptic.
! Laki sighed. "Aisa, it's not like you to tell such stories," she chided. "You know better than to-"
! "I'm not telling stories!" Aisa insisted. She broke free of Laki's grasp and stood defiantly, fists clenched at her sides. "Just because I'm a kid, no one ever believes me! I promise, you go back that way and you'll see him, and his friend in the black coat! They were talking about the golden city!"
! "It's not that we don't believe you," came the dubious voice of Kamakiri from the crowd, "But to come in here and say that you saw the great warrior in the jungle is-"
! "Perfectly normal."
! Almost as one, the crowd's attention turned towards the Shandian elder, who was standing in front of his tent, listening. There was a wistful smile on his face, as if he had been let in on some cosmic joke that no one else was privileged to understand. He chuckled slightly, his aged voice a rough rasp.
! "Are these jungles not the homes of our ancestors' spirits? Their souls reside in this very soil; our ancient homeland calls to them even after death. The tolling of the bell brings their wandering spirits back to these sacred shores, even from such lofty heights." He smiled at Aisa. "Why is it so hard to believe that the great warrior and his companion dwell in these forests now, watching over us? Have we become so detached from this earth that we have forgotten the very essence of our beliefs?"
! The elder glanced at the tall, imposing figure of Wiper, Calgara's direct descendent. Wiper's expression was one of disbelief. He briefly caught the elder's gaze before turning sharply away, hands clenching into fists.
! Wiper knew the story of his ancestor's greatest regret well - the tale had driven him since adolescence, pushing him to end the tyranny gripping Upper Yard and take back the bell. To light the great fire once more. Had Norland been vindicated? Had he returned to this island after all these years as they had promised?
! Wiper swallowed hard, choking down too-strong emotions and tears he refused to shed. He would not so shame his ancestor, not now that there was nothing to be ashamed of. The flame of ancient Jaya had been lit, bringing an end to the storm that had gripped them all for so long.
! It would forever burn forever, never to be extinguished again.