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    Chapter 8: “Branches” [WRITER’S NOTE: Normally, I would use these to point out the writing problems that came up, like I did the Latin in Chapter 1, but… this is a bit different. I’m setting this as a disclaimer that there is… some raunchy bits ahead, so to speak. It’s nothing bad - it’s very much light-hearted, and I feel that anyone could see that if they read it in detail. What makes it become an issue is its context, which… let’s face it, I think we all can get what that context is. That being said, the CoDz forum was made to be built upon a series meant to be made for people 17 or older, and I do expect people to take to that with stride, and act responsibly and maturely. So… with that in mind, I’m posting this as it is. If I need to change the chapter, that’s up to anyone who sees this as anything other than what I’ve said it was. I’ll probably find a way to replace the context, but… I’m gonna be honest, it’d be hard to do that. Anyways… that being said, I hope you enjoy this! Not a whole lot left to the story now… so let’s wrap this up in a neat bow.] ==================================== The steam encloses itself like a veil around Jeanne as she sits in the warm, engulfing pool of water. Tired from the fight, and yet… relieved, perhaps. Relaxed. The first time in a decent while that she’s been able to find solitude. Thoughts of the Leak came back to her. The memories had been burdening her before, but now, in the calm demeanor of Vapor Serenitatem eased here into them… thinking on her and Adam’s conversation in Lux Hortus, before the Leak… the strange atmosphere of comfort and happiness where she once thought only bitter sorrows and burdens could rest. Then to that singular moment, where all that was taken, almost lost with him. All these experiences quelled within her, a force bellowed in her stomach, yet… somehow, she could feel it in balance, as if a calm tranquility were beyond her, yet holding her. Retrospectively to this, she was reminded of the words Stacey told her, the moment she walked into the Pillars. Immediately then, she realized what she was saying, all along. Stacey was right - the universe had been calling towards them, yearning for their arrival to the Pillars, so their fate is found, their destiny realized. What Stacey may not have seen, however, was how they acted for the universe, vocally pushing them when events began their cycle. She, among with the others, spoke for the quieted whisper of conscious sound within the echo of the universe. Perhaps… that makes them the universe as well. A cosmic, eternal force. Not a cog in a machine - but freely acting to sustain it. Knowing this, Jeanne feels a wave of contentment form over her. A moment later, she hears the door out of Vapor Serenitatem open. Shocked, and somewhat flustered, she finds Adam walking in. Adam, just as shocked, blushes and turns his head away from Jeanne, who is covering herself. “I, uh… didn’t expect you to be here… sorry if I am intruding.” Adam then begins to turn away, but not before Jeanne speaks. “No, no, it’s fine... can’t blame you for wanting a bit of rest, right?” Adam turns back around. “Heh… ain’t that the truth. So… do you…” Jeanne slightly smirks. “No. I don’t mind.” To these words, Adam began to undress, as Jeanne looked away. When she heard him set himself down in the water, Jeanne turned her head back over. “So… how are you feeling?”, Jeanne says, not wishing to keep to silence between them. Adam scratches at his neck, Jeanne’s sight looking towards the mark on his chest. “Well… I suppose I’m alright. The mark’s healing up.” Adam stretches his hands out. “To be honest, though… all this fighting’s tiring me o-” Adam stops, as he notices Jeanne looking down, at the verge of tears. “You know what I mean.” Adam’s slight cheerful expression begins to evaporate, as Jeanne continues. “You… died. You stopped breathing, you were… gone… yet you’ve acted so nonchalantly about it, like that didn’t happen… like you’ve been trying to close off all thought of that moment. I… I...” Adam moves closer to Jeanne, putting his arm over her shoulder. “Jeanne… I’m fine… believe me. I’ve been dwelling on it ever since… and I don’t forget it. Though… it’s dwelling on it that makes us falter. We need to move away from these thoughts if we want to move forward, and grow stronger, as people.” Adam looks away, a strained expression growing behind his face. “...yes, it happened. I… know what that’s done around me. I… don’t want people to worry. Believe me, I don’t.” Jeanne turns her head, and a few tears begin to roll down to her cheeks. Adam edges slightly closer. “Jeanne… what else is this about?” Jeanne stands up, moving towards the center of the pool of water. “Adam… we’ve been through so much. You, me… all of us. I… I’m just… afraid. I know that we have the power to make a difference, but what happens if one of us still can’t push through? What happens if one of us doesn’t make it? I…” Jeanne puts her hands over her eyes, and they begin to flood. “...I don’t want to lose you.” Adam slightly reels back, the weight of her words landing on him like cinder blocks… and yet, they felt weightless, as he realized. Adam moves towards Jeanne, grabbing her and turning her towards him. “Jeanne… I won’t ever leave you. Even if the world cracks apart and burns, I’ll always be by your side. You have my word on that.” After a moment’s hesitation, Jeanne puts her arms around Adam, in search of comfort and solidarity, and Adam does the same. Her eyes are closed still, sorrow still clinging. Adam continues. “Don’t let yourself down because of this… you’re stronger than that, I know you are. We can do this, we can make it…” Adam turns Jeanne’s head towards him, and Jeanne opens her eyes, looking into his. “...together.” A calming serenity encloses the room, as Adam and Jeanne kiss. A feeling that felt as if it would last forever, before coming back up from it. Adam looks to Jeanne, a calmed expression on her face as she slowly opens her eyes, meeting his gaze. Jeanne then suddenly begins to chuckle, to Adam’s confusion. “What?” Jeanne pushes her hair back, and looks to Adam. “Just… I don’t think you’ve ever used a pick-up line, since we met.” Adam slightly grins, looking to the side as he chuckles a bit. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Jeanne puts her hand to his face. “Nothing at all… just makes me adore that charm of yours more.” To that, Adam smiles. “Oh, really? Guess I gotta try a little harder, then…” A moment after, Adam drops her in the water, submerging her. Adam begins stepping back as she rises back up from the water. “How’s that for charm, Jeanne?” A grin emerges from her face, as she lunges forward to tackle Adam, sending them both under. Both came back up at the edge of the pool, Jeanne leaning against Adam, laughing together before Jeanne gives Adam an answer. “Y’know… I think it’s quite alright… try not to change too much on me, Adam.” Jeanne looks up to him, while caressing his chest. “...and be a bit more bloody careful.” Adam chuckles, putting his hand to her cheek. “...anything for my mighty rose.” As the steam hovers from the pool, it surrounds them as they kiss once more. Jeanne remembers the stars it created. ============================= “Are you certain this is going to work?” Adam inquisitively looks on towards Thomas. Unnoticed to him until now, the first shockwave left a mark to him, a seemingly golden pale shining on his skin. Thomas shrugs away the question, and smiles, to Adam’s response. “Yeah… certain.”, he replies. “Well, I suppose it’s time, then.” Adam says, turning towards Ex Machina, where Jeanne, Alex and Vladimir wait for him. Jeanne smiles at Adam, and Adam smiles back. Stacey appears, and with her, Vincent. “The device is ready.”, Vincent starts. “You’ll have as long as you need out there, but you won’t be able to take much more than your sidearms with you. I wish we had more to arm you with… the Entity seems to believe it’s the 'scheme of things', honestly…” Oh, shush, the Entity replies, weakly and collectively. You know exactly why I do that. Vincent scoffs. “Yes, yes, I know, I know…they’ll find the stuff they need when they get there, you’ll manifest a box or something, I get it. Y’know, the Epsilon itself only recently laid wasted to a portion of the Pillars… the least you could do is be a bit less condescending about it.” The Entity chuckles. I could say the same to you… in any case, however, I believe that’s not the big issue we have going for us. Stacey looks towards the Angels. “Yes, he’s right… listen, we’re sending you out to three specific places throughout space and time. Each area you find yourself in has a particular artifact, attuned specially to wavelengths of the universe itself… or, for a lack of better words, are very powerful. Whatever way you can, you must use them in a way that turns them towards our advantage, and makes it so we can use the powers they provide to revitalize the Entity, making him powerful enough to brave the storm that will come via the return of the Epsilon.” Stacey walks towards the machine behind the group, turning knobs and twisting gears, changing its seemingly rudimentary form to new ones each time she tweaks them. “I’ve set the coordinates correctly… you will only be able to access each area one at a time. We’ll be back here, watching you and helping in whatever way we can…” Stacey glances towards Thomas momentarily, then whole-heartedly towards the Angels. “Look, we’re all unsure of what’s about to happen, given recent events. I know that… it may be hard out there, and doing that which you think is right might be hard, but… I just need to know you’re ready for whatever you find. So… are you?” Vladimir and Alex nod as Jeanne walks towards Stacey. Placing a palm on her shoulder, Jeanne speaks. “You said the universe needed us. I think we all hear what it’s urging us to do.” Jeanne backs away as Stacey’s face shines bright with a newfound, prideful smile. “Alright… good. Vincent, set full power to the Machina Fini Mundi. We’ve got work to do!” With that, the machine begins to glow, as the Angels step forward with Stacey into Ex Machina as the doors behind them close. //

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