Song darts her eyes all over the forest, her heartbeat pounding so loud that she thinks her heart is outside of her body. It might as well be, as she strains her eyes to look for where Silva might be in the throngs of all the trees.
For once, her powerful eyesight is failing her. She can see things from faraway with absolute clarity, but it means nothing if things are hidden from her. On this island they're on, the land is fertile, so much so that there are abundant forests and the leaves on them have grown so dense that Song can barely see through them, That, combined with the shadows cast by the moon, do little to help Song see the forest floor where she knows Silva is running for her life.
There's a faint roar of a monster. Song's blood runs cold as her eyes swing in the direction of the noise. All she can make out is a huge body, and its sharp claws that glint in the moonlight before the trees hide it again.
She isn't afraid of the monster, she's afraid for—
There's a faint pop but Song has been around Esser and Silva enough to recognize the fire of a gun. Song whips her head in the direction of the noise just in time for the signal flare to explode in the sky, pinpointing Silva's exact position.
Silva's standing in the middle of an open plain, her rifle missing and clutching one of her arms close to her side, and a streak of blood running down the side of her head. Song instinctively moves to fly to her side, except that's when the monster that's been chasing Silva comes roaring out of the forest that had hidden it from Song's sight.
Now Song realizes why Silva fired the gun over there; there's barely any trees in that area, giving Song the perfect visibility.
The monster advances on Silva slowly, almost like a predator toying with its prey.
"She's not yours," Song hisses as she aims her bow. Without another second, Song fires off as many arrows as she can, her prey pinpointed in her sights.
But the monster doesn't go down. Even as Song shoots more arrows, the monster seems to shrug them off. Now, it's turning in the direction of Song, opening its giant maw—
"Whoa!" Song narrowly avoids the sudden attack fired at her, some sort of beam from its mouth. Instead of disappearing though, the beam lingers, and Song realizes that it's aiming the beam around, although erratically. She's forced to fly low as the monster searches for her in the air. It does so for a few more seconds before the beam disappears.
Even with how far away she'd been, the attack had come out fast. If she had been closer, it might have grazed her. Now she understands how Silva had been caught unaware.
Song flies back up, just in time for her to watch Silva get sent flying back by a slam of the monster's claw. The blood drains from Song's face at the sight of Silva's now prone body on the ground.
Even despite the panic that'd taken over Song, it's as if a strange calm washes over her right now. Unlike before, Song readies only a single arrow this time, a paralyzing bolt. The magic crackles in her hand, sparks flying down her arm. Her hand is shaking from the sheer power, but Song doesn't feel any of it, her eyes honed on the prey before her. With calculated ease, Song fires the single arrow, eyes never blinking as she watches the arrow strike true. The monster seizes up, its entire body paralyzed.
I need more power.
The strange calm is gone, replaced now by a simmering fury. Song fires more arrows, pouring even more magic into them. She had underestimated it the first time but not anymore. She can't afford to make that mistake anymore.
I need more—
Song abruptly stops firing. The monster is still upright before it twitches, its lifeless body collapsing backward. It might have been overdone, but when the other alternative is the possibility of Silva getting hurt, Song will always choose this option.
Song is already flying forward, rushing through the air as fast as she can. When she arrives at where Silva is, she nearly stumbles from her descent, so desperate she is to get to Silva's side.
Silva's still just laying on the ground but she's staring at the monster, thunderstruck. Her gaze moves up to Song, the same expression still.
"So this is what you meant, Song... the power of a—"
Now Song realizes what about this situation had been making her feel strange—it's almost exactly like that time years ago. She knows that things have changed for the better between them, but it's as if the past has dug its claws into her again. Song isn't even aware that she's stopped in place, staring at Silva. Again, Silva had been in danger, and if Song hadn't stepped in, but… but what if—
"S-Song." Silva calls out for her as she's trying to push herself up, face drawn tight into a grimace from the pain. Song quickly snaps out of her daze and closes the distance between them, wrapping an arm around Silva to steady her.
"Silva!" Song's breathless as she speaks, unable to hide the concern and panic from her voice. She can't help it; the darkness hides the true extent of Silva's injuries from her.
"Are you okay, Song?" Silva blinks up at her, trying to focus her hazy eyes. "When the monster looked at you, I—"
"Wha—Silva, you're the one hurt here! Of course I'm fine!" It's ridiculous, Silva had been concerned for her instead of herself. Tears sting at Song's eyes. It's such a small admission but…
"I'm glad—" Silva suddenly wrinkles her nose as if she's smelled something strange, and her eyes move down. "Song, your hands…"
"... huh?" Song looks down at them—oh.
That would explain why her hands felt strange; the magic she had poured into those arrows had burnt her hands, even fraying her gloves at the tips down to her knuckles. Now that she's aware of them, she's also aware of their pain, throbbing painfully from the burns.
"I-it's fine, Silva, I'm more worried about you." As carefully as she can, Song lifts Silva to her feet and throws one of Silva's arms around her shoulders, leading them through the forest now back to the nearby town.
Other than still being stunned and unable to focus properly, Silva doesn't seem to be hurt too bad. She'll have to get her head checked just to make sure, and Song's going to have to scour the forest for her rifle later.
"It's just like that other time," Silva says suddenly.
"What other time?" Song bites her lip. She should have known that it hadn't only been her to think about that day as well.
"When you also saved me from the monsters… but I'm glad you're here with me this time." Silva's voice has the sound of someone who's rambling, almost like all her drunken tirades.
Song knows what Silva means to say… but Song still can't help the knot of dread that forms inside of her when she thinks of that event. Song knows that she and Silva have moved past that—Song should have moved past it.
But it still lingers at the back of her mind. It always does.
Anyone else can call me a monster, but please not—
"My gun!" Silva exclaims suddenly, trying to pull out of Song's grasp to limp back into the forest. "Cucouroux and Camieux will never forgive me if I—"
"Silva." Song's voice is firm, at least as firm as she can make it. "We'll worry about that tomorrow." Surprisingly, when she tugs Silva back, there's barely any resistance, but Silva is leaning heavily into her again, mumbling something. Song hurries back, growing worried by the second.
By the time Song sees the entrance to the town, she feels like dancing in relief. Silva had been mumbling to herself, too low for Song to make out, but after a while, she'd stopped talking. Song was afraid she had fallen asleep but she had still been moving her legs and groaning from the pain.
It's late into the night by the time Silva gets looked after by the town doctor and gets her wounds bandaged. Thankfully, they hadn't been too serious, and all she needed was to be careful with her arm for a few days. Song's more than glad to hear it, which means the hardest part is really getting Silva to stay in bed.
Who would have thought a monster extermination could go so wrong?
Silva's sleeping now back in their room at the inn, with Song watching over her… that means she's left to her own thoughts. The adrenaline is wearing off now—or it had been once she heard Silva was fine, and now she can feel everything: the throbbing pain of her fingers from the burns, how heavy her body feels from the overuse of magic, her eyes strained from pushing too hard. Even though the room is dark, Song can feel it, the hint of a headache threatening to worsen if she didn't get any rest right now.
Unable to resist, Song crawls into the second bed, barely managing to roll herself onto her back to stare up at the ceiling. She'd been planning on going back out to find Silva's rifle but she can't even muster the energy to get back up. It's as if her entire body has a weight on it, and her eyes are suddenly too heavy to keep open. Drawing all that magic had exhausted her, even more than she's used to.
Song turns onto her side instead, facing toward Silva. The window is closest to Silva, and Song had forgotten to draw the curtains close so now the beams of moonlight is coming through the window, letting some illumination into the room. It lets Song focus on Silva, focus on the steady rise and fall of her chest and the peaceful look on her face.
Good. Silva's fine. That's all Song needs right now.
Song closes her eyes and although she falls asleep to the rhythm of Silva's soft breathing, she ends up dreaming.
She dreams of the past, dreams of outsiders who looked at her so fearfully and thought they couldn't hear when they whispered to each other, dreams of when she met the beautiful silver haired sniper who became stranded from her home, dreams of the monsters rushing toward Silva, dreams of the dreaded words falling from Silva's lips—
She dreams of what might have happened if she hadn't arrived in time.
Song's eyes snap open, her breathing harsh and wild with sweat beading on her forehead. The first sight she sees is Silva, still asleep on the other bed. The morning light comes through the window now instead of moonlight.
Another nightmare. Song gulps in air like she hasn't breathed for hours. Her eyes train on Silva, their monstrous power allowing her to catch even the slightest twitch of Silva's face, the single strand of hair that brushes down Silva's cheek, everything.
Song slowly sits up, rubbing at her eyes now before wincing. Her hands are throbbing again. The ointment the doctor had given her for it must have worn off. Song grimaces.
It'll take a while for them to heal but Song is tempted to pick off the bandages and look at the skin underneath. Her hands are burned raw but they'll heal and grow resistant. Once they do, Song can pull even more magic. Draw out as much magic as she needs, and her body will grow accustomed to it.
Song still thinks about it sometimes. The poisonous whispers of the Two Crown Bow should have been forgotten but they've all just been pushed into a dark corner of her mind instead. She doesn't mean to think about it, but last night's incident had made all her demons too loud to ignore.
Song has always thought that it was her eyesight that set her apart from all the other archers in the skies. This, combined with her expertise of being a hunter has led Song to being pragmatic and practical in her fights. Pinpoint a weakness and strike until a monster falls. So long as her prey is in her sight, nothing will escape her.
It isn't that she never thinks about the power of her own strength, it's just… never been as important to her. Any prey goes down the same way, no matter the means. But last night, the monster hadn't come down with one of her usual barrages. It had shrugged it off, and almost gone on to take out Silva.
What if there might be another monster like that? What if there's a monster that Song needs more power against? Will she be able to draw more magic? How much more magic can she still draw? How much more power does she still hold?
Will it ever be enough?
I have to get stronger…
"Surrender your humanity and head for a still-loftier summit."
A strange sound interrupts Song. It takes a moment for her to recognize what it is: Silva's snoring.
Even despite all her thoughts, Song feels her lips tugging into a smile. If Song were to let Silva know about her snoring, there's no doubt Silva would be embarrassed. Song keeps this as her own secret for now.
But what would Silva think of me?
That… is what scares Song the most.
By the time Silva finally wakes up, it's late in the day, the sun already descending behind the mountains. Song's already retrieved her beloved rifle but it looks like a few pieces of it are broken and unfortunately, Song doesn't know much about guns to be able to fix it. She's not sure if Silva would like Song messing with her gun anyway.
"Song?" Silva's voice is raspy but when she sees Song, her eyes and mouth curve into a smile. "You doing okay?"
"Why do you keep asking me that? You're the one in bed, Silva!" Song's laughing, hoping to push back the doubt inside of her.
Silva's fine. That's all Song could ask for.
Song gets her some food and water, which Silva eagerly goes through. Silva's embarrassed by it but Song's more than glad to see it; a healthy appetite means Silva's going to be fine. As Silva eats, Song updates her on what's happening: they'll be compensated for taking care of that monster since they weren't hired to exterminate that one, and that Song had found Silva's gun.
"Oh!" Silva's relieved as she looks over as it. Her hands are twitching, like she wants to get to work on it right away but one look at Song makes Silva pout. Song almost gives in, because how can she say no to such a cute face? But she doesn't want Silva to work on gun maintenance while she's got bandages on her head.
Spending time with Silva almost makes Song forget, almost makes the thoughts go away—
"Song? Is something wrong?" Silva suddenly asks.
"What happened?" Song blinks at her.
"You just looked like you were spacing out." Silva reaches out. Her fingertips touch Song's hand, and Song flinches away like she's been burned again.
Oh, no, now it's obvious. Silva furrows her brow and now she scoots closer. "Song, something's bothering you."
"Nothing!" Song says a little too quickly, but Silva's unconvinced.
"Is this because of what happened? Did it make you think of that time in the past?"
Silva isn't... exactly wrong. Song wants to deny it, but it feels like her mouth is stuck together. She tries to shake her head instead, but her body doesn't even want to listen to her. It's almost like she's turned into prey herself, frozen in her own fear.
"Song." Silva says her name in a voice that's as soft as a wind's caress, like when Song is hovering in the air. Song had expected her to sound disappointed and upset but instead she's still gentle and patient.
It hurts Song, hearing that tenderness from Silva when Song has been anything but right now.
"You saw all that power I had, didn't you?" Song ends up whispering, almost choking. "Aren't you scared of it?"
Song is afraid. It scares her. In that moment, she had wanted more power, had asked for more power, and it had been given to her. Her price had only been heavy exhaustion and the skin on her hands but Song knows she can hone this magic further.
The Two Crown Bow had been right. With her sort of power, she could have gone further. She should have gone further.
"It is only your right to stand at the summit under all you've trampled—"
"Yes, I'm scared of it," Silva finally says, and Song feels like her heart is being squeezed. Of course, how could Song think otherwise? No matter what Silva says, it's only normal to fear this power.
Her monstrous eyesight, and her monstrous power—
"Who would ever wish you to know peace?"
"It scares me, because you still don't see yourself as a person. And that's what you are, Song," Silva continues. Song opens her mouth to speak but Silva cuts her off with a quick shake of her head. "Listen, Song, I wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for you. I owe you my life again. You wanted that power to save me, didn't you? That already proves you aren't a monster. You could never be."
Silva's voice is firm but her expression softens. "So please stop speaking of yourself like that."
Song lowers her head and when she releases her breath, it's shaky. She hates how these doubts always seem to worm their way in and sink their claws into her. She knows Silva speaks the truth, but the similarity of this situation to the one that had distanced her and Silva before had made Song doubt everything again.
But Silva still believes in her… Silva had still looked at her and didn't run away this time.
Song looks back up and tries to smile even if it still feels unsteady. Silva grins at her and reaches out again. When she takes Song's hand, Song doesn't flinch or move away this time, even moving so she can hold Silva's hand with both of her own.
"It doesn't matter how strong you are... you're just Song, and you're a person just like me. That's it. And if you start thinking otherwise, I'll just have to shoot you out of the sky again." Silva's full of confidence as she says this, and Song knows that she'll keep her word no matter what. Once Silva has set her mind to something, she'll see it to the end no matter what… even if that thing is convincing Song she's not a monster.
Song doesn't say anything—she doesn't know what to say—but she answers by holding tight to Silva's hand in her grasp. It stings and her hands are burned, but Silva's warmth is the balm she needs.