The Convergence Trilogy: Episode 24 – United We Stand

Authors: Avagon and Solia

(A lone dagron soars through the moonless night towards the ship below, the Maelstrom shrinking in the distance. In the saddle, Ioz clutches an unconscious Tula to his chest with rising alarm.)

Ioz: Tula? Tula?

(He fights back a sob when her eyes fail to open and her arms slip from his neck. He urges the dagron downward to land on the Wraith’s empty deck and slides from the saddle awkwardly with Tula in his arms. Balancing her carefully, he releases the dagron’s saddle and signals it to be on its way. As the dagron lifts away into the night, Ioz carries Tula into the cabin and lays her gently on the bed. He lights the lantern with shaking hands and quickly fetches some water and bandages. Returning to the bedside, Ioz surveys Tula’s battered body with pain-filled eyes.)

Ioz (in a low, dangerous voice): By the twin moons, Bloth will pay for this!

(Dawn. Ioz stands at the helm of the Wraith, the Maelstrom nowhere in sight. Up ahead a tiny island dots the horizon with the sanctuary he is looking for. He steers for a hidden cove and drops anchor. After making sure the island is safe and the ship secure he returns to the cabin and resumes his seat by the bed, where Tula lies wrapped in bandages.)

Ioz (taking her hand, tentatively): Tula? Can you hear me?

(He nearly falls off the chair when her eyelids flutter and open, and she looks up at him dazedly.)

Tula (shakily): Ioz? Where are we? What happened?

Ioz (almost giddy with relief): Don’t try to talk. You’re safe now. Here (holding a flask of water to her lips), drink this.

Tula (swallowing gratefully, but still worried): Bloth?

Ioz: Don’t worry–I cut their sails. They can’t follow us even if they knew where to look.

(Tula closes her eyes and breathes a sigh of relief. When she opens them again she is surprised by how haggard Ioz’ face seems in the morning light. She reaches timidly for his hand.)

Tula (softly): Thank you.

Ioz (ignoring his pounding heart): What for?

Tula: For rescuing me.

(Ioz shrugs uncomfortably, not knowing what to say, and Tula smiles again before closing her eyes to rest.)

*commercial break*

(Interior of the cave where Niddler is hiding with Ren. They are sitting around a small fire sharing a meal while the monkey-bird tells of Ioz’ plan. Ren’s head is still bandaged but he is able to sit up if he leans back against the cave wall for support.)

Ren: So he just went after her?

Niddler (nods): Just like that. I don’t know, he was acting kind of strange.

Ren (interested): Strange how?

Niddler: I’m not sure. He tried not to show it but…but I think he was really scared for Tula. (amazed) Almost as if he cared about her.

Ren (hiding a smile): Ioz does care about her, about all of us, though he’ll probably never admit it. I just wonder if he knows how much he cares…

(Cut to the Wraith, inside the cabin. Tula is propped up in bed while Ioz brings her some food.)

Ioz: Are you feeling any better?

Tula (nods, with an attempt at humor): At least I’m not tied to another jitatin post!

Ioz (snorts): This hasn’t been our week, has it?

Tula: I’ve had better. (growing serious) I wonder how Ren and Niddler are doing.

Ioz (quickly): I’m sure they’re fine. At least we know they’re safe.

Tula: Yes. (still uncertain) I’m just worried about Ren. That islander hit him pretty hard.

Ioz (in a strange, almost wistful voice): You really care about him, don’t you?

Tula (wondering what sparked that question): Of course. He’s like a brother to me.

(Ioz suddenly chokes on his melon, and fumbles for an excuse.)

Ioz: Chongolongan seeds! (stands hastily) I’m going to go…look for something else to eat.

(He crosses to the door abruptly, leaving Tula to stare after him with a puzzled expression on her face. Once outside he shuts the door and falls back against it in shock, breathing hard. His expression wavers between relief, incredulity, and joy before finally settling on awe.)

Ioz (whispering, to himself): She doesn’t love him!

(But his exultation slowly fades with the realization that the situation remains largely unchanged. Ever since he had discovered his feelings for Tula he had done nothing but fight and hide them, thinking her heart belonged to another. He had never given Tula any reason to think he cared for her at all, and in fact had done his best to push her away. Yet now that he knew she did not love his best friend he still could not tell her the truth, for he could not be as certain of Ren’s indifference. Suddenly feeling even more miserable than before, Ioz struggles to compose himself enough to go back inside.)

Tula (seeing his empty hands): You didn’t find anything?

Ioz (clueless): Huh? Oh, no. I’m not hungry, anyway.

Tula (concerned, searching his face): Are you all right?

Ioz (forcing a smile): Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?

Tula: I don’t know. You look like you’ve had another run-in with Zotaur.

Ioz: I’m fine. I’m not the one who got tortured. (He looks away from her bruises in shame.)

Tula (suspiciously, hearing the hint of guilt in his voice): I hope you’re not blaming yourself for that!

Ioz (caught, faltering): No, I- (unable to lie to her) I should never have left you on that island.

Tula (firmly): That was my decision, Ioz, not yours. And I would do the same thing again.

Ioz (grumbling, not entirely convinced that he couldn’t have acted differently): I should have tried to stop you.

Tula (with a wry laugh): Do you really think you could have?

(Ioz shakes his head reluctantly, looking down at his hands. Tula studies him curiously, confused by his odd behaviour and apparent concern for her. For some reason her heart beats faster as she ponders the possible reasons for his sudden transformation, and she turns to him with a new question.)

Tula: Not that I’m complaining, but why did you come after me by yourself? Why didn’t you wait for Ren and Niddler to get better?

Ioz (as if it were obvious): They were going to kill you! I knew you would never give that scum what they wanted.

Tula (touched by his unexpected faith in her): But you could have been killed!

Ioz (trying to shrug it off): Ren or Niddler would have done the same. (looking at her regretfully) Ren would have had a better plan. He would not have let this (indicating her bruises) happen.

Tula (with tears in her eyes, shocked by his disappoinment with himself and his rescue): Ioz, you saved me!

Ioz (shaking his head, angry): But not from Strant. (meets her gaze with rare openness) I failed you, Tula, and I’m sorry.

Tula (catching his hands, earnestly): No, Ioz, please don’t say that! You saved my life! (a note of awe creeps into her voice) You managed to trick Bloth, and Mantus, and everyone…and you fought all those men alone…you killed Strant, you crippled the Maelstrom…and you saved me. You didn’t fail!

(Tula’s eyes are luminous with tears, her face flushed with emotion. Ioz can’t stand it. He drops his gaze, pulling his hands from her grasp.)

Ioz (standing and backing away from her, almost desperately): We have to go. We have to get back to that island.

Tula (dumbfounded): But-

Ioz (cutting her off, already halfway out the door): Ren and Niddler must be worried.

(He is gone before Tula can reply and she stares blankly at the place he had been standing a moment before, utterly lost. Frustrated and confused, she heaves an angry sigh and lays back down again. But sleep refuses to come, and as she feels the Wraith move swiftly out of the cove her thoughts turn inevitably to the man at the helm. Just when Ioz had started to open up a little, something had happened to frighten him off and the wall had descended between them once more. Tula remembers the way her breath had caught to find him looking at her with such concern and feels tears sting her eyes at the sudden strength of her own emotions. She had not realized until now just how much she needs that concern from him. If Tula is completely honest with herself she has to admit that she has always been just as attracted to Ioz as she is annoyed by him. Now that attraction seems to be developing into something deeper, and the realization both scares and exhiliarates her. But Tula’s tears come faster as she recalls how eager Ioz had been to be out of her sight. She wonders why he can’t just let himself be the noble, caring man she knows is hidden behind all his bravado and independent attitude. She wants to help him, if only he would let her.)

*commercial break*

(Midday. Ioz pilots the Wraith to the jungle island where he had left Ren and Niddler and drops anchor. After preparing the dinghy he goes to the cabin to wake Tula, but stops when he finds her fast asleep and notices the traces of tears on her cheeks. New pain grips his heart as it occurs to him that his rude behavior may have caused those tears. His guilt makes him even more reluctant to face Tula, so he decides against waking her and carefully lifts her into his arms instead. Pretending not to be grateful for the excuse to hold her, Ioz takes her ashore in the rowboat and sets off toward the cave.)

Tula (bleary, stirring in Ioz’ arms): Ioz?

(Ioz freezes when he feels her arms snake up around his neck and her cheek nuzzle against his chest. But her eyes are closed and she obviously doesn’t realize what she’s doing. Ioz sighs with a mixture of relief and disappointment and continues walking. The motion gradually rouses Tula completely, and she is startled to find herself snuggled comfortably in Ioz’ strong arms.)

Tula (embarrassed, loosening her grip on his neck): Ioz? What–?

Ioz (looking away quickly): Sorry. I didn’t want to wake you. The cave is just up ahead.

Tula (guilty): I can walk now.

Ioz (grasping for any excuse): You still need your rest. We’re almost there, anyway.

(They fall silent as Tula is unable to think of an argument. She timidly lets her head drop back down to rest on his shoulder, secretly glad to prolong their closeness, and feels herself pouting as Ioz enters the cave and calls out cautiously to their friends.)

Ioz: Ren? Niddler? We’re back.

(Around the corner, Ren and Niddler look up from the fire to see Ioz enter the chamber with Tula cradled in his arms. Their relief at seeing both their friends safe is momentarily forgotten with the shock of such an unexpected sight, and they fumble to regain their powers of speech.)

Ren (overjoyed and rising to greet them): Ioz! Tula! Are you all right? (eyeing Tula’s bandages)

Tula (slipping reluctantly from Ioz’ arms to return Ren’s embrace): We’re fine. Ioz was just being…careful. (changing the subject quickly) Are you two all right?

Ren (pretending to miss her faint blush): Yes, and thank Kunda you are, too! You had us worried!

Tula (serious): No, thank Ioz. He saved my life.

Ren (noticing something new in her voice and smiling at Ioz knowingly): Must have been some rescue! Care to tell us about it?

(Ioz shifts uncomfortably as Ren and Niddler sit down again and motion for the others to join them, watching him expectantly.)

Niddler (impressed): How did you go up against the entire crew?

Ioz (shrugging dismissively): It was nothing special.

Tula (shaking her head): Yes it was. It was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen anyone do. (Ren and Niddler glance at each other with raised eyebrows, intrigued by the exchange as Tula argues with Ioz.) You can be modest if you want but I’m going to tell them all about it.

Ioz (defeated, but secretly flattered): Fine! Have it your way, woman!

(He sits back and pretends to brood while Tula relates the events of the previous two days. She doesn’t exaggerate, but he still feels that her animated description of the rescue gives him more credit than he deserves, and he can’t help but even the score.)

Ioz (interrupting): You didn’t tell them how you stood up to Strant. (unable to keep the raw admiration from his voice) That took a lot more courage than anything I did.

(Tula blushes in pleased surprise. Her mouth opens but she can’t think of anything to say. Ren, looking back and forth between the two, breaks the charged silence before it becomes even more awkward.)

Ren (sincerely): Well I think I am very lucky to have such brave and loyal friends as you two, and I’m glad we didn’t lose either one of you these last few days. (humorously) I just hope the next few treasures are easier to get than this one, or we could be in for some real trouble!

Niddler (with a groan): Don’t say that! I’ve had about all the trouble I can take for a while and I didn’t even have to face Bloth!

(Finally relaxed in the safety of the cave and each other’s company, the heroes share a much-needed laugh.)

*commercial break*

(Night above the jungle island, the Wraith ghostly in the starlight. Inside the cave, Niddler is curled up asleep in the corner, making soft chirping and smacking sounds as he undoubtedly dreams of his favorite food item. Tula sleeps also, stretched out gracefully before the fire. Ioz returns from checking up on the Wraith to find Ren seated beside her, studying her peaceful face.)

Ioz (miserable): I’m sorry.

Ren (startled, looking up): What?

Ioz (not meeting his gaze): I should have rescued her sooner.

Ren (not understanding): What? Ioz, what are you talking about?

Ioz (sinks to the floor as if weighed down by his guilt): Tula. I shouldn’t have let Strant hurt her like this. I know how much she means to you and I’m sorry I didn’t do a better job protecting her.

Ren (stunned): Ioz, I don’t–you didn’t–(starts over) Ioz, you saved her life. I don’t think I could have done what you did.

Ioz (bitterly): Yes you could have. You love her. (as if that is reason enough to prove his point)

Ren (speechless, then sputtering): What?! Ioz, what makes you think that? I care about Tula, yes, but–but I’m not in love with her.

(They stare at each other for a moment and Ren watches the jumble of emotions that play across Ioz’ open-mouthed face.)

Ioz (almost a whisper, choked): You don’t…you don’t love her?

(Ren shakes his head, knowing at last that his suspicions are confirmed. He takes a deep breath and decides to risk Ioz’ wrath. He knows he is not wrong about this.)

Ren (quietly): But you do.

(Ioz looks shocked and immediately starts to deny it, but the words die on his lips when he sees that Ren will not be fooled. His shoulders slump in defeat and he looks at Tula’s sleeping form with open longing.)

Ioz (tiredly): How did you know?

Ren (smiling): Even Niddler noticed it. You think you’re pretty good at hiding how you feel, but you’re not. (quietly) I think the only person you still have fooled is Tula. (prodding) You have to tell her.

Ioz (horrified): I couldn’t, not after the way I’ve treated her! (pathetically) Besides, she doesn’t feel the same way.

Ren (firmly): I think you’d be surprised, Ioz. She understands you better than you know.

Ioz (still unconvinced): But all I’ve ever done is push her away!

Ren (sadly): Because you thought that we…?

Ioz (feeling stupid, angry with himself): Yes. By my sword I’m a fool! (He looks at Ren with a bitter smile.) You know, I was glad when I thought Tula had betrayed us on Delpha, because it gave me another reason not to let myself care for her. But she wasn’t a traitor, and I treated her like bilge for nothing! I wouldn’t blame her for despising me.

Ren (sympathetic, pained for his friend but knowing he can help): Ioz, you have to trust me on this. She doesn’t despise you, I promise. You have to talk to her in the morning.

Ioz (nervously): I don’t know…

Ren (deciding not to push it): At least think about it, okay?

(Ioz nods reluctantly, and Ren bids him goodnight and lays down to sleep. Ioz is unable to do so himself and stays awake a long time staring into the fire. He remembers what Tula said about him to Strant, and admits that Ren’s argument is probably right. Maybe she doesn’t despise him…but then again, she might just have been trying to insult Strant…)

(Dawn. Ren stirs and sits up quickly, glancing around the chamber. Niddler and Tula are still asleep, and Ioz is slumped against the cave wall where he was sitting the night before, snoring softly. Ren silently gets up and wakes Niddler, covering the monkey-bird’s beak and holding a finger to his lips in response to his questioning stare. He motions Niddler to follow him and exits the cave, leaving Ioz and Tula alone. Presently Tula wakens and looks around for her friends. Her mouth turns down in a concerned frown when she sees Ioz, and she gets up to go to him, wincing slightly and fingering the bandage around her middle.)

Tula (bending close over Ioz and shaking him gently): Ioz? Wake up. (good-naturedly) Come on, you lazy bilge-tosser!

(Ioz opens his eyes to see Tula standing over him, her smiling face inches from his own and her long hair tickling his arms. He straightens with a gulp and scrambles to his feet as he remembers his conversation with Ren the night before. His throat has suddenly gone dry and he finds it difficult to think straight.)

Tula (noticing his ashen face): Ioz, are you feeling all right?

(He nods, not trusting himself to speak yet, and stares at her nervously. Gods, she is beautiful!)

Tula (growing worried): Ioz, you don’t look too good. Maybe I should go find Ren.

Ioz (finding his voice): No! (awkwardly, off her stunned expression) I’m fine…uh…Can we talk?

Tula (taken aback): Of course. Is something wrong?

Ioz (not sure where to start): No–yes–I don’t know. (frustrated, trying again) Tula, I owe you an apology.

Tula (dazed): You do?

Ioz (quickly, before he loses his nerve): I’m sorry for always treating you like an enemy. I should have trusted you.

Tula (incredulous): But, Ioz, I never gave you any reason to trust me. I betrayed you, remember?

Ioz: I know, but you had a good reason. And I shouldn’t have doubted you when we were captured on Delpha.

Tula: You couldn’t have known my intentions.

Ioz (shaking his head): Yes, I could–Ren did. But I always feel anger first. I jumped to the wrong conclusion.

Tula (smiling): It’s not your fault you’re such a hot-head!

Ioz (grimacing): Don’t remind me!

Tula (regretful): I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-

Ioz (cutting her off): Wait a minute! I’m apologizing here, not you!

Tula (automatically): Sorry. (then cringing)

Ioz (with a frustrated sigh–this isn’t going as planned): Never mind. Look, all I’m trying to say is that I misjudged you and-

Tula (insistently): No, you didn’t! You-

Ioz (getting upset): Will you let me finish? This isn’t easy, you know! (trying to calm down) I treated you badly before and I was wrong to do it, and-

Tula (interrupting again): Ioz, you don’t have to apologize. I-

Ioz (exploding in frustration): Kajinga, woman! Will you be quiet and let me finish? I’m trying to tell you that I love you!

(The cave is suddenly so quiet they can hear each other holding their breaths. Tula is in shock, her lips frozen in mid-speech. Ioz looks ready to bolt, unable to believe he just said that out loud. Then he sees a strange look come over Tula’s face and finds himself backing up against the wall as she marches towards him deliberately. She stops directly in front of him, takes hold of his ponytail to pull his face down towards her, and leans up on tiptoe to kiss him full on the mouth. After a long moment she pulls away to smile up at him, while he stares at her with a completely shell-shocked expression.)

Tula (grinning): Took you long enough, you big smool-brain!

(Ioz stares at her for a second more before a huge grin starts spreading over his face.)

(Cut to outside the cave, where Ren and Niddler are waiting anxiously. Disturbed by the sudden silence, they finally enter the cave cautiously, only to discover Ioz and Tula locked in a passionate kiss.)

Ren (caught between amusement and embarrassment): Ahem.

(Ioz and Tula make no indication that they heard his discreet cough. Tula’s arms remain tightly wrapped around Ioz’ neck and his own circle her tiny waist to draw her closer, his hands tangled in her hair. Ren can feel the blush rising in his cheeks and sees that Niddler is sharing his discomfort.)

Ren (louder): Ahem!!!

(Ioz and Tula spring apart at last, cheeks burning in humiliation. Her hair is mussed and his shirt is twisted out of place. They start talking simultaneously to cover their embarrassment.)

Tula: Ren! Niddler! We were just getting ready to leave.

Ioz: So, is the Wraith ready to sail?

*commercial break*

(Scene opens with a view of the Wraith being readied to sail. Ioz prepares to weigh anchor while Niddler finishes tying off the sail. Ren is up in the crow’s nest, holding the compass. Ioz takes the helm as they drift out of the cove.)

Ioz (calling up to Ren): Which way does the compass point?

Ren (twirling the compass, waiting for the familiar flash): East! Towards the rising sun!

Ioz (spinning the wheel with a grin): East it is!

(As Ren climbs down from the crow’s nest Tula emerges from the cabin having discarded most of her bandages.)

Ioz (sternly): Shouldn’t you be resting?

Tula (with a smile): And let you three have all the fun? Not a chance!

Ioz (flashing her a mock glare): Stubborn woman!

Tula (laughing up at him): Worrywort!

Ioz (grinning back, slinging an arm across her shoulders): Wench!

Tula (leaning against him): Smool-brain!

(From his vantage point on the deck Ren surveys his crew, smiling to himself and only half-listening to the couple’s affectionate exchange of insults. Though some things have changed others will remain the same, and he knows that the loyalty and friendship binding his crew are among the latter. Ren turns his gaze to the rising sun as the Wraith leaps across the waves towards a new day and a new journey.)

The End, and another beginning…

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