She looked out at the sky, as if it would be any different. It was still gray with a hint of faint blue. Instead, it only served to remind her the world was slowly fading, and it would dissipate entirely if someone didn’t do something.
On the other hand, it had been fading for some time because their efforts had gone to waste every time, and with each failed attempt, everything dissipated further. It was ironic, Starlight thought. No matter what they had tried to do, something went awry. Now, it was time to set things right. She touched the cross on her necklace, wishing for good luck, before walking towards the crowd.
The crowd, if it could be called that, was more like a mass of people in composed small groups by themselves. Once or twice, two people could be seen standing together, murmuring quietly to one another in nervous bursts of conversation, but most kept to themselves. Starlight tried to ignore the sparsity of the group and the spaces that used to be filled by people she remembered standing there. Those same spaces were now empty. Usually she liked the peace and quiet, but this was…unnerving, to say the least.
“Friends,” she addressed, and many turned to look at her. Others kept their heads down, though—hopefully—listening on silently. She could practically read the tension in the air. She hoped that by referring to them as closer to her, she would be able to hold their trust, though she wasn’t exactly sure it would work that way.
This wasn’t the first meeting the SAMBers had held in the past few weeks, and each time, there had been more and more whispers of dire news and foretold warnings. It came to be expected that if someone was going to summon a meeting, it would have to be important. After all, a mass of so many people together was like a summoning for trouble.
As if on cue, someone spoke, the voice cutting through the silence as if it were a butter knife slicing through thin paper board. “Is this just another one of those discussions? I know we all have time for that.”
The sarcasm was as thick as oil—in solid form. Starlight turned towards the speaker, a pale young woman with formerly red hair, and blue eyes leaning towards a dull gray. She was wearing a black dobok and no shoes, and completing her look with a highly skeptical expression, typical of Samurai.
“I should hope not,” another SAMBer responded. She looked intently at Starlight with her heterochromatic eyes, the lighter color of her left eye making it seem as if her gaze was focused on her right. Her strawberry-blonde hair was up in a ponytail casually, but the rest of Rune looked to be demanding action. With that statement, many SAMBers began muttering to themselves, as if they sensed the pattern to all the meetings they had had about this issue so far starting to repeat again. It usually ended in argument, and that would be the more positive way to sum it up. Anyhow, it usually didn’t end well.
Rune shrugged a bit, as if realizing she had started controversy, but didn’t want to bother to deal with it. She turned towards a person standing to her right, and Starlight thought she caught a glimpse of an older boy with dark eyes and spiky hair, saying something to Rune that made the latter laugh. But she may have been mistaken. After all, practically no one laughed any more.
But then, again, if anyone in SAMBria embraced change whole-heartedly, whether good or bad, it was Tiger. But not everyone was like him, and there had certainly been a lot of negative change over the course of recent events, most of it repeating over and over again, so the feelings of surprise and shock slowly dulled to something less and less. It was as if their feelings were fading away, along with the colors.
Starlight could relate. These meetings ending up like that was getting old, which was the reason for change. “The leave…the glitch…the change,” Starlight stressed, so attention was mostly focused back on her. “We need to do something, and not just individually—it is time for us to work together.”
There was some muttering, and she took a deep breath as quietly as she could, prepared for the onslaught of sarcastic remarks and skeptical questions. But they didn’t come. A few looked interested, though it was hard to tell. Every SAMBer had some kind of tension written on their faces, and it so rarely changed now.
A quiet voice carried over the crowd, some strength still present within it, but it still sounded somewhat faded. “Uh, what exactly are you suggesting then?” asked Millie. She looked somewhat nervous, though she was obviously trying not to show it. When she raised her right hand to run her hand through her blond hair, the nails were obviously bitten off—recently. She was standing near the back, making her seem somewhat small, but her air of confidence still conveyed attention. She looked directly at Starlight, clearly expecting a satisfactory answer.
Starlight frowned slightly. “The other day, I was talking with Echo, and she mentioned a breach in the code.” She looked into the crowd for the other girl for clarification, still maintaining her confidence. She hoped the other had come. Some had given up on the SAMBers communicating with one another.
With relief, her gaze stopped on the girl with silver-blue eyes and short, light cyan hair, cuddling a sketchbook with both hands. Echo was standing in the back as well, though it appeared she had purposely chosen her position so she could be positioned further away from others and draw in peace.
She also didn’t seem to realize that Starlight had mentioned her, until she felt the heat of others’ gazes on her. She yelped in confusion, shrinking slightly from the sudden, unwanted attention. Starlight nodded in encouragement, though she was now slightly worried about what response the other girl would give. Echo had turned partially transparent as she looked down and seemed to back away from the crowd.
Starlight was essentially giving up some of her credibility by saying this, but she could at least make a point. “You mentioned that the source of code was strange?” she asked, hoping the other would confirm this, or her argument was counterfeit.
Echo gulped, pursing her lips after she did so. “Yes. Also, I noticed with each leave…” she blinked awkwardly, if that was possible, “the code alters a bit more.” This sent a wave of worry cascading across most of the crowd, however, some perked up. In particular, a girl standing in front with mossy green eyes and formerly bright orange-red hair stood up even straighter, as if they had just confirmed one of her suspicions. She took a few steps forward gracefully, as if she were a dancer.
From the cowboy hat on the other’s head and prominent black streaks on her cheeks, Starlight was able to identify the other girl as Ray. “Was the code originally set to weaken the SAMB every time someone left?” she asked firmly.
“Why would the mods do that, if they wanted the best of SAMBria’s development?” prompted Syalla. She didn’t clarify further, even though Ray clearly shot a questioning look in her direction. It wasn’t clear whether she wanted to know, or already knew something the rest of them didn’t. If it was the latter, Starlight hoped the other would say it soon. They had enough puzzles to solve already.
There was quite a bit of awkward silence following that. Starlight quickly sorted out the rapid thoughts going through her mind using that time as her advantage. “The point is, the source of the problem may be what we feared,” she continued, trying to sound like she wasn’t just proposing a hypothesis. “It may be that the Crystals are affected, or are even outright wrong. If the problem’s even affecting the code…what if the mods never got our message in the first place?”
“Which we sent in code, the only type of message that shouldn’t be affected by code itself,” Arl reminded, with only a slight growl at the end. The electric blue in his eyes was practically conducting electricity.
Starlight believed that whether this meeting was for good or for bad, Arl still wouldn’t like it. He stood a bit to the side, though still in the front. However, that particular position also happened to be the closest to the doorway, and since practically no one was standing next to one another, it was clearly the easiest access to the exit.
Now that she thought of it, actually, everyone was centered in either the back or the front, as if they had left the middle as an invisible barrier. If things went on this way, confrontation between the SAMBers was inevitable. “Yet, if code is corrupt, then the consequences cannot be underestimated.” She took a deep breath, proceeding carefully. “I’m proposing for a large group of us to go to the Ruins, and decipher the mystery wrapped around the Crystals.” She tried to go on, Arl practically stormed up to the platform where she stood, so fast it seemed as if he’d been blown up there by a blast of wind.
“Are you crazy?” he exclaimed, skidding to a halt just before it. The echoes of his footsteps were still clambering noisily across the space.
“We’ve lost enough people through all the leaves…!” His voice was growing louder and louder, “And now, you want the large majority of all those that are left to plow headfirst into the dangerous, outside territories?” He looked like he was about to step up and shove her, or something of the like. Starlight readied herself, just in case, but someone stepped in between them.
“Are you done with all the fuss?” Ishmael questioned roughly. He looked somewhat agitated, though most of it wasn’t showing. The only reason Starlight could tell was because his eyes were narrowed, reminding her of those of a feline.
Arl still looked irritated, but he relented, and stepped backwards once. Not many would want to mess with Ishmael, in the few times he did become annoyed, though that number seemed to be increasing in the past few months.
With a simple “Good”, Ishmael retreated back into the shadows again—where Starlight hadn’t even noticed him before—but the tension was mounted in the air, as if they had just gotten on a ride they couldn’t get back off of.
Rune shifted on her feet, her arms crossed. Her eyes were flashing with impatience. “Why do you all act like young children, when it comes to need for maturity around here?”
“It’s because they are young children,” Samurai replied, smirking a bit. A few laughed nervously, not sure how to handle this situation.
Rune flashed a glare in Samurai’s direction, despite the fact Samurai was actually the only one in the SAMB now who had actually reached mature age, and thus was actually older than her by a handful of years. The rest of them were mostly teenagers, with a few approaching adulthood. Never had they been at such a loss for older, more responsible MBers.
“You’re proving my point,” she retorted.
Starlight had seen this look on Samurai before, and she knew it was a fair warning a barrage of roasts was due to come their way—or, more specifically, Rune’s way.
This meeting, so far, could be counted as a pretty big fail.
“Anything else?” Starlight asked hurriedly, and Rune shot a final challenging look towards Samurai before continuing.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and I think I’ve delayed it too much.”
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Starlight remembered hearing this—too many times. “It’s been too long.” “I’ve been thinking about this a while now.” “This place…has changed.”
Every time, she had refused to believe it, that they would just…leave. But they did. That was actually the more considerate action. She also remembered standing outside a door for half an hour, waiting for someone, until she finally realized they would never answer it. By then, they were gone. Slowly, over time, the shock had numbed, but it would never truly go away, unless…
She had given a label to this feeling, though in truth it could never be described. She remembered what she had, long ago, named this, the weight that was sinking into her stomach, and trying to drag her down, heavier than any stone.
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Gσԃ σϝ Lσყαʅƚყ, Lιϝҽ, αɳԃ Cσʂɱσʂ
Hitan, Camus, Milo, Shaka, Gemini, Shura, & Dolphin
"All I ask is...just respect one another."