• They stopped on the cliff. Maruru told them that Non and Rey past here all the time.
    “Well?” It was just one word but that was all Keller needed to say to express how impatient and doubtful she was.
    Maruru ignored her and stared into the sky. Other Aier riders came by but none of them were what they were looking for. Maruru was starting to get doubtful of herself. Maybe they don’t come to the kingdom everyday at noon like she thought they did.
    “We’ll just split in teams, then” Ayn says like a true boss. He waited to hear a complaint but none came so he continued. “Roe, stay here in case Non comes by. Fen and Keller, you two split up and search the town. I’ll take Maruru to the palace for the ransom money. Go”
    Fen and Keller took off fast. Maruru stepped onto Ayn’s Aier and he held her—not close. They were further apart than usual and quiet, too. The whole ride to the palace was silent. Maruru knew why Ayn wasn’t speaking but she didn’t know why she wasn’t speaking. Or maybe she does but doesn’t want to admit it.
    “Focus” Ayn says to her as they got near their destination.
    She takes slow breaths, clearing her mind so she can think.
    “Get ready” he slows the Aier so that the rushing wind became a cool breeze.
    Maruru was starting to get goose bumps, but it wasn’t from being cold. She buried her face in Ayn’s chest and gave him a desperate squeeze.
    “Whoa, hey, you alright?” Ayn asked, worried and surprised.
    “Yeah, better than ever” she bit her tongue as her lip began to quiver.
    “You sure? You’re holding on pretty tight…”
    “It just calms me down when I do this”
    “Oh…kay” he brushed an awkward hand through his hair.
    Maruru gulped. “It’d help if you hug me back”
    “What? Look, we really should get going and the palace is getting close so—”
    “It’d help if you hug me back” she says again then added, “For my acting” and it was the truth.
    “I uh…don’t really think…” he sighs. “Okay, okay fine” his arms went around her and he squeezed her back. Their bodies pressed even closer together.
    Maruru smiled to herself when she felt Ayn’s heart beat fast again. Butterflies fluttered madly in her stomach to her chest. The heat from his body warmed her but she was still covered in goose bumps and her body trembled.
    “We’re here” Ayn lets go of her. Maruru forced herself to do the same. “You think you can fake cry? Not just cry but really bringing in the waterworks”
    “Yeah” she says steadily. She turned her whole body around so that her back faced Ayn and her front faced the palace, the part where her room was at. The big hole in the wall was still there.
    “No guards even after the princess have been stolen…” Ayn mutters to himself.
    Maruru took in a deep, stuttering breath and screamed at the top of her lungs. “DADDYYYYYYYY!”
    Ayn was holding her shoulders so she wouldn’t fall. His ears rang static to his brain. Even the birds flew out of the trees around them in flocks.
    She was crying now—hard. It looked completely believable. Her dad came from the door of her room. His face twisted into fear and shock as he saw his daughter wailing her heart dry. Then it changed to fury as he gazed at Ayn with murder in his eyes.
    “Give me back my daughter!” he boomed.
    “Why should I?” Ayn pulled Maruru closer to him, acting possessive.
    The king’s face darkened. “Don’t touch her” he says through grit teeth.
    “Ah…I refuse to obey that order” he holds her closer—she cried harder.
    “D-daddy!” Maruru shouts, leaning forward. “I wanna go home…I-I wanna go h-home!” she reaches out to her dad. He reaches out to her too but then Ayn tilted the Aier up and blew wind to the king’s face while they flew backwards. Then they stopped after a couple feet.
    “Why you…” he didn’t finish cursing.
    “They won’t b-bring me back un-un-unless you…” Maruru was weeping too much to talk. “Pay them two m-million dollars…!” another sad wail. “Or else they’ll take me away…f-far far away! But I d-don’t want to go…I don’t wanna!”
    “Maruru…” Ayn says quietly but he said it without thinking. He snaps his attention back to the king. “If you want her back alive, come to the cliff with the money in a bag. You’ve got till sun down or the deals off” they flew higher and farther away.
    Maruru let out a last yell. “TAKE ME HOME! DAAADDYYYYY!” it was the longest farewell scream ever. She choked and coughed afterwards.
    After a nice distance away from the palace, Ayn lowered the Aier into the woods between a farm and the mountains. Maruru was still crying the same as before. He cradled her in his arms and didn’t say anything because he didn’t know what to say. Emotional situations weren’t his best subject. This never happened to him, either.
    He stroked her hair as he spoke. “Um…you okay, Maruru?” he said awkwardly. “I…you could stop crying now…we’re way far from the palace and any other living being. So…it’s okay now”
    Maruru shakes her head and stares up at Ayn. Her eyes were brimmed red and the endless tears that flowed from them made her aqua eyes look magical, like seeing the ocean sparkle under the sunlight.
    “I…um…uh…” he was baffled for a moment. “Your acting was…good. The fake crying looked so real—”
    “It was real!” Maruru exclaimed. “It was…real…!”
    He stared, bewildered. “But I thought—you really wanted to go back home?”
    She shakes her head fiercely and throws herself on him. He lost his balance on the Aier and fell back against a boulder. Maruru wrapped her arms over his shoulders and cried in the side of his neck.
    “Non…I’ve known him for only three weeks and he’s a great person. You are, too, and the others. Even Keller! I don’t really like her though because of her dangerous attitude and fierce presence. Everything about her spoke ‘strong warrior’. I guess I was just envious. I didn’t mean to offend her but I kind of liked having someone like Keller to argue with”
    “What are you trying to say?”
    She looks at him close so that their faces were only a few inches away. “I wanted to go with you, to stay with you, and that’s why I cried hard. And that was the reason why it seemed real because it was” when Ayn didn’t answer, she said, “I knew that after the act, you’d really be gone. And I didn’t want that!”
    “Because you won’t be able to ride an Aier again” it wasn’t a question.
    She shakes her head slightly but doesn’t break eye contact. “Because I wouldn’t be able to ride it with you
    He blinks. “You’re crazy”
    “I hope I am or else I’m saying this all wrong” she smiled but her eyes were still sad.
    He stared at her in silence for a while then lowers his eyes. “Forget about me. Forget about Fallen Star and everyone apart of it”
    His words formed a dark pit in Maruru’s stomach. “W…what…?”
    “Just forget about it. You don’t need to remember anything about us. It’s better that way”
    No, she thought. His voice sounded the same every time something like this comes up. Every time when they’re like this and their eyes are locked onto each other. Then he tells her to ‘forget’ and ‘it’s better that way’. Just like this. He’s doing it again.
    Why does he always have this pained look in his eyes? It’s always sad, lost, and unapproachable. What about him is making him feel this way?
    Oh no, god no, Maruru thought. He’s hurting because of me.

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