In her head, Mythra tells her to ignore the call and just walk away, maybe go hide in the bushes or something. But, Pyra ignores Mythra instead, and turns around. Mythra groans. Pyra ignores that too.
“Pyra!” Crossette practically shouts again, even though she’s standing right in front of her now. She holds out a misshapen lump of rice that looks like it’d been singed on one side. “Wanna try? I made it all by myself! ‘Course, it’s nothing much compared to what you can make, but…”
“Oh… um, I’d love to.” Pyra gingerly takes the deformed riceball and holds it uncertainly. “What’s in it, exactly?”
Mythra groans even louder.
“Akhos showed me how to wrap them up in rice! And then he told me I did a terrible job and should give up ever trying to cook for the rest of my life… but what do I care about that jerk’s opinion?! What do you think, Pyra?!”
Pyra stares down at the riceball, nestled between her palms. It’s shaped like a… definitely not like a ball, or even one of those neat little triangles that Akhos’ riceballs take the form of. The rice hadn’t been packed together very well, and a few grains spill between her fingers when Pyra tries to turn it over. Something wet leaks out of it. Its smell is pungently aromatic.
She kind of really doesn’t want to eat it, but Crossette’s eyes are so wide and hopeful that she has to.
For a split second, she waits for Mythra to toss her opinion in, but there’s nothing. Maybe she’d went to sleep. Or she’s pretending to be asleep.
“I can really tell you worked hard on this one!” Pyra carefully says.
“H-Haha, not really. I mean— of course I did! ‘Cuz I wanted to make it for you. I know it looks kinda messy, but it’s not bad for my first attempt, right?”
“Sure, it’s not bad at all. Nice job, Crossette.”
“Awww, shucks! That means a lot, coming from you!”
Pyra makes a mental note to work on making riceballs with Crossette later. But, right now, she needs to face this beast head-on and get it over with.
She takes a deep breath and gingerly takes a bite out of the riceball.
… To her surprise, the taste is actually perfectly palatable, despite the mushy texture. She gives Crossette a thumbs up, and the tips of Crossette’s horns burst into flames as she pumps her fists in the air in joy.
They sit beneath the trees together, watching everyone else milling around the campfire that’d been set up close to the lumber mill. Akhos is tending to the fire and the food, kicking at anyone who tries to get too near, although he seems to be making an exception for Patroka. Currently, Crossette is complaining about those two, but Pyra is only half listening. The sun is warm on her bare skin. It’s such a nice day.
She glances at Crossette without completely turning her head. The other Blade is making animated gestures with her hands so fervently that her entire body is moving, and she makes a noise like bwooosh and then fwoooosh and wiggles her fingers above her head. Pyra giggles. It’s always a joy to be able to spend time with someone so earnest and honest with themselves.
And Crossette is… certainly all of the above. Most of the time. Mythra would just call her annoying, but Pyra would use a more gentle term like… outgoing.
To the point where it’s almost unnerving, really.
“Crossette,” Pyra suddenly interrupts whatever she’s going on about now. “Do you mind if I ask something a little personal?”
“Oh, not at all! Ask anything you want!”
“Well… I was wondering.” In her head, Mythra corrects her with a we. “What exactly do you see in me?”
Crossette’s smile slightly fades and she tilts her head. “Huh? What do you mean?”
“You treat me like I’m some sort of legendary hero,” Pyra says, eyes cast downward at her lap. “It’s flattering, but no one’s ever talked about me in that way.”
For once, Crossette seems at a loss for words. She opens and closes her mouth, brows furrowed in confusion, and crosses her arms to think for a moment. She’d never really put much serious thought into it. That’s not the kind of person she is. When she’d been awakened just a couple weeks ago, the world had been an unopened oyster with so many new things to learn about, and Pyra… had been the pearl within it.
“Well, then everyone else is just dumb for not seeing what I see,” she bluntly says. “You’re the standard that everyone should strive to be like!”
She can feel Mythra beginning to seethe, and Pyra struggles to push her back. “No— no, I’m not. Really.”
“What’re you talking about? Of course you are! You’re so kind and compassionate, always looking out for others— not to mention you’re so dang strong!”
“But so is Rex. And Mòrag. And Zeke. And everyone else,” Pyra says, Mythra’s exasperation creeping to the back of her words. “I’m not that special, compared to the others.”
“Yes, you are! Because you’re Pyra! You’re the Aegis!”
That does it. Mythra emerges in a violent flash, standing up to her feet before Crossette can even blink. She glares down at Crossette, finger pointed accusingly.
“You don’t get it, you simpleton,” Mythra snarls. “Quit treating Pyra like she’s some sort of idol to be worshipped.”
“But— she is my idol! Hey, let her talk to me!”
“Do you like her?”
“That’s a stupid question! Obviously I do!”
“But in what way?” Mythra leans down, eyes narrowed. “As a friend? Or as a hero? Or just a figure to project your own fantasies of the ideal person onto?”
“I’m the Aegis too, in case you’ve forgotten,” she snaps. “You have no idea what it’s been like for me. For her. So I’ll say it one more time. You don’t get it.”
Crossette visibly deflates against the tree, all her previous sparks fizzled out. She doesn’t even perk up when Pyra takes Mythra’s place, or when Pyra kneels in front of her and hesitantly extends a hand toward her.
“I just… like you for who you are,” she softly says. “That’s all.”
“And I’m grateful for that.” Pyra drops her hand. “I like you a lot too, Crossette.”
She presses her lips together and pulls her knees up to her chest, unable to look Pyra in the eyes. Normally she’d just let Mythra’s harsh words slide right off her back, or she’d snap in return, but Pyra hadn’t tried to refute any of that. Therefore, it must be true. Whatever it is. Her head is ringing too loudly. Over at the campsite, Rex and Mòrag are looking in their direction. Rex says something to Mòrag and she nods, but neither of them make any motion to come over.
The fact that Pyra just said she likes her should be more than enough to send her over the moon and back, but all Crossette feels now is confusion.
Now would be about the right time to ask for some time alone to think and clear her thoughts, but she’s just not into that kind of introspection. So she vigorously shakes her head as if she could shake the cluttered thoughts right out of her ears. No time for thinking. Just talking.
“I wanna be just like you, Pyra.”
Pyra almost winces. “I already told you, Crossette. There are better role models to look up to than me.”
“You really don’t want me to think of you like that?”
“I mean… I don’t want to push you away…” She places her hands over her Core Crystal. “But sometimes, it does feel like you’re just glorifying me.”
“Oh— oh.” Now she gets it. Sort of? Maybe. She wants to say so out loud, but she has a feeling that Mythra would swap with Pyra to yell at her again, so Crossette bites her lip hard to stop herself from blurting it out. “I— I never meant to make you uncomfortable. Sorry.”
“I’m not uncomfortable!” Pyra quickly says. “I’m trying to say that that kind of affection is difficult to accept.”
Crossette frowns, but at least she no longer looks so troubled. Maybe the pieces actually are starting to fall into place, slowly but surely.
“I always say I want to be your equal… but you could also be my equal?” Crossette almost sounds horrified at the thought of that reversal, but Pyra is nodding.
“Mhm! That’s exactly it.”
“Buuuut! But! But! You’re Pyra! And I’m just Crossette!”
“I want us to get to know each other on a more personal level. As friends, first,” Pyra gently takes both of Crossette’s hands, and her horns immediately ignite. “I know you tend to be kind of impatient, but is it alright if we start slowly?”
Okay. Now she properly gets it. She hopes. No— yes, that’s definitely it. Crossette can practically imagine Mythra sighing in exasperation, but it’s too late. She stares at Pyra with a big open-mouthed grin.
“Y-Yeah! Totally! Oh, wow, I can’t believe it— Pyra is holding my hands, I’m—!”
Pyra lets out a somewhat weary laugh. “We’ll definitely need to take this slowly.”
“The poor girl’s absolutely smitten,” Mòrag casually says, and Rex scratches at his hair. They’re still watching the two, and now they just look like they’re talking, although Crossette’s horns spark madly.
“I always thought it’s just one of her quirks. Crossette’s got her heart in the right place, at least.”
“She does indeed.”
“Should I be worried about Pyra, you figure? She doesn’t do well under so much attention.”
Mòrag makes some vague gesture with her hand, which Rex doesn’t really know how to interpret, but she seems unconcerned so it probably isn’t a problem. He takes a large chomp out of a riceball and immediately pulls a face.
“This one’s got pickled plums—?!”
“Those two have much to talk about.” Mòrag says, pointedly looking away when Rex spits out the offending food to the side. “Admittedly, I thought to tell you to begin intervening days ago, but it seems that Pyra and Mythra have been able to resolve the issue by themselves.”
“Yeah,” Rex says, scratching his hair again. “And they’ve been holding hands for an awfully long time. Have you noticed that, Mòrag?”
Should she tell him outright? … No, he’ll surely be able to see the signs in the days to come. Crossette will, too.
“Yes. I’ve noticed.”