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The Fateful Heart 2



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Wed Mar 24, 2021 8:11 am
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soundofmind says...



The river raged loudly at their side, and James and Evaline walked in comfortable silence. Little could be heard over the sound of the rushing water, but the air seemed cooler than it had in previous days. It was a relief.

"James," Evaline called, voice serious.

James stopped and Elliot came to a stop behind him. He looked back at Evaline, and the look on her face was unnerving. It was like there was nothing behind her eyes. She stared at him blankly.

"Is everything alright?" he asked.

"Listen closely. We don't have much time," she said as her eyes peered past him towards the river. "Butch and Reed will be here soon. Our best bet is to get them to fall in the river. Butch will throw two axes at me, but don't let that distract you. He'll fight with daggers afterwards, but you need to keep swiping at his feet to get him to fall in the water. A dog will come after you, but you can use that to your advantage. Turn the situation around so that the dog will nip at his feet instead. Are you understanding?"

James stared at her. The emptiness in her eyes and yet the urgency of her message sent a chill down his spine. He knew without her saying that she had gone back. She hadn't said time's down, but he already knew. He wanted to ask her how many times she'd done this, but from the look on her face, it was far... far too many. He nodded quickly.

"Yes."

They needed to get through this first. He knew that. He would ask questions later. It sounded like Butch and Reed were only a minute or so away. They didn't have time to waste.

"Good," she said, getting up on the Elliot without prompt. She pointed at three respective directions. "Butch is coming that way, Reed that way, and three dogs that way. But only focus on Butch. Do you understand?"

James nodded. "I assume you have a plan for Reed," he said.

"Get up on the saddle," she said instead. "We'll ride forward until the appear. I'll take Elliot, but jump down with your sword as soon as you see Butch." She leaned back and took out the gun from the saddlebag, stowing it at the hem of her pants.

James did as she said, hurrying up into the saddle.

It was exactly what she said. He rode forward, and Butch, Reed, and the dogs came from their respective directions.

"So the sketch artist is the outlaw's bitch now, isn't she?" Reed taunted from one side, staring daggers at Evaline. "Hmph. I should've known."

"You've wasted enough of my time, Tiberius," Butch said from the other side. "We can do this the easy way, or we could do this the hard way. The easy way... we don't kill your companion."

James followed Evaline's instructions, getting down from Elliot as Butch approached with his sword in hand. He was playing her instructions over and over in his head. Swipe at Butch's feet. Get him to lose balance. Back him up towards the river. Use the momentum of the dog coming at him.

"So, the hard way," Butch said plainly, sounding tired.

Evaline didn't even hesitate. She motioned for Elliot to run, and suddenly everything happened all at once. Reed and two dogs followed her, and he was left with Butch and one dog approaching from the distance.

As he dodged a swipe of Butch's hand, he saw Butch throw an axe with the other. He could hear it rippling through the air, and Evaline's warning ran through his head.

Butch would throw axes at her, but she knew they were coming ahead of time. She would dodge them.

While Butch threw the axe, James used that opening to slice at the back of Butch's ankle, cutting as deeply as he could through the leather boot. He saw Butch's knee almost buckle before he righted himself.

He used his speed against Butch and whirled around him, hitting Butch's other ankle. Butch said a partial curse before he sent another axe in Evaline's direction and then turned to face James. But by the time he turned, James was on the other side again, and sliced right behind Butch's knees.

He heard two gunshots ring out. He didn't have time to look to the source as he saw the dog coming bounding in his direction. At the last second, he dodged, and the dog came charging into Butch's side, unable to course-correct. As it pummeled against Butch's legs, Butch's legs gave out.

That was his opportunity.

James gave one last push, swinging his sword across Butch's back. He could see Butch had drawn a dagger, but it was too late. Butch was stumbling back.

The drop into the river was a few feet, and James watched as the dog scrambled to the edge with a high-pitched whimper, and Butch was swallowed by the rapids.

His stomach turned as the dog flipped back towards him and growled, but the dog seemed unsure of itself.

James glanced back down the river, looking for Evaline and Elliot.

The two of them were separated. Elliot was a little far off, but he looked fine. James could see the body of a dead dog lying on the ground, and what looked like a pool of blood. Reed was also on the ground.

Evaline stood over him, holding a blood-covered dagger that she threw to the ground. Reed's neck was sliced open, blood spilling out onto the ground.

The dog near him whimpered again, and then withdrew, hesitantly backing away. James decided to leave it, and he hurried over to Evaline, running until he was at her side. He dropped the sword on the ground and slowed when he approached her, studying her closely. She was staring down at reed with the same empty-eyed expression she had before. Blood, splattered over her clothes and skin.

He had no idea what else she'd seen in the other timelines, but he knew this one alone would've been enough to validate that response.

But... something felt wrong.

She must have gone back many... many times. He had no idea how long it would take for her to recover from this.

He saw Elliot, wandering further down. Not too far away.

"Elliot!" he called out.

Elliot still seemed spooked, but James's voice caught his attention. Elliot hesitantly started making his way back. James returned his attention to Evaline, and he gently rested his hand on her shoulder.

"Evaline. How many times did you go back?" he asked.

Evaline was still looking down, and although Reed was already lifeless, she was staring at the blood that still gushed from his arteries. "This really isn't worth my time," she said after a long pause. "Me, being here. It's pointless if my purpose is to defend someone like you."

James stared at her. She'd said hurtful things before, the last time she went back. But this sounded... different. He didn't know how to place it.

She finally tore her gaze away and looked up at him, still with empty eyes. It was hard to tell whether she meant her words or not. "We both know I'd never fit in here. My purpose is on Earth." She paused, like she was the one studying him. "I want to go back now."

James felt his heart drop into his stomach.

"I want to wait until you're better before we make this decision," he said softly.

She scoffed, shaking her head in disappointment. "There isn't any 'we' in this decision. But you already knew that."

James frowned. "I'm not sure I'm understanding..."

"This isn't a decision you make," she said dismissively as she started to head towards the river, leaving the bodies behind.

James paused, looking down at Reed. The man's lifeless face stared up at him - somewhere beyond him. He pursed his lips together tightly and quickly leaned over, closing Reed's eyes.

Then he hurried after Evaline.

"The note said we both had to agree if you were to go home," he said. "At least, that was my understanding."

"And you'll agree," Evaline simply said, still walking forward towards the river.

Elliot was inching closer. James glanced over at him, clicking his tongue, and Elliot picked up his pace a little, skipping up to James's side. James took his reins.

"I'm not sure I do, Evaline," James said, continuing to follow her. He wasn't sure where she was going, but she seemed to be walking with purpose.

He looked at the river ahead of them, and he felt nervous. He hurried until he was by her side.

"So you don't think I should return," she said matter-of-factly, not even giving him a glance. "Even if that is my desire. Because of your selfishness."

"I understand that this is what you want right now," James said carefully. "But I cannot agree in good conscience until I know you've recovered from going back in time. I need to be assured that you're in your right mind if this is a decision you really want to make, and right now, you don't seem like..."

He paused, as realization started to dawn on him.

In order to go back, she had to let go. And to let go, she stopped feeling. She stopped feeling anything.

"Evaline. I want to wait until... until you can feel again. So you can make this decision not just with your head, but with your heart too."

Evaline stopped for a second to give him a long look, but then smirked, walking forward so that she was only a few steps away from the river. Her next words were spoken just loudly enough for him to hear her.

"It's a good thing I want to go back to Earth," she said, turning slightly towards him, still with the small smirk. "You'd probably hate that this is who I am for the next few years."

James felt his heart starting to pound in his chest.

"Evaline. When I told you I would wait I meant it," he said.

"You don't want me to go back," she reiterated again. "Is that right?"

James swallowed hard. He had to be honest.

"No."

For a moment, she stood there without a reaction, but then reached behind her and pulled out her gun. "That's a shame," she said as she cocked it. "But I'll ask again. You would get in my way to return to my world where I belong?"

James looked at the gun, then he looked at her face.

"Evaline, whatever you're about to do -- please, don't."

He was begging. He knew he was. And he wasn't answering the question.

"I'll take that as a no, but I believe in the rule of three," Evaline continued again, and she pointed the gun at him. But then she slowly turned it towards Elliot. "I don't even have to shoot him. The bullet would spook him to go in the river," she said, voice steely. "So, one more time. Would you get in my way to return home?"

James gritted his teeth, and he let go of Elliot's reins. He slapped Elliot's shoulder, hard, and Elliot started to turn and run. Evaline watched it happen with mild amusement, but true to her word, she fired a gunshot towards Elliot, and he neighed, crashing into the river.

She didn't even give Elliot a second glance as she cocked the gun again, watching James for a reaction.

James wanted to cry out. He wanted to say something. But instead, he fell to his knees, and watched as Elliot tumbled down the river, far beyond saving. James couldn't save a drowning horse. He pressed his lips into a thin line as he pushed back a sob, and it seemed like, for a moment, that was all he needed. The emotions were being held at bay. He was empty.

But then he looked up at Evaline, who was still watching him, almost smug, like she was taunting him. She wanted him to feel this. She wanted him to let her go.

She was right that this wasn't the Evaline he knew. But he knew this wasn't who she had to be. But maybe she was right... he couldn't change her. They both knew that.

Maybe he'd been wrong all along. Maybe the note had been wrong.

Why did he keep opening himself up, if people just kept turning on him when things didn't go their way?

Elliot was the only other thing he had besides Evaline, and Evaline didn't even want him anymore. So now he had neither.

He closed his eyes tight, and his mouth started to tremble as he held back whatever it was that was pounding at the walls of his heart, waiting to come out.

"I'm sorry," he said in a whisper. He curled forward, hiding his face, practically bowing at her feet, though he wasn't thinking anything of it. "I'm sorry I'm going to break my promise. Please forgive me. Someday. When you find yourself again."

His voice cracked, and he held his face in his hands.

"Go home," he said hoarsely as tears sprung to his eyes. "I want you to go home."

There was a sudden rush of wind that blew sand through the air, and then there was a thud on the ground. The gun Evaline was holding fell, but when he looked up, she was gone.

James buried his face in the sand with a sob.





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Wed Mar 24, 2021 8:21 am
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soundofmind says...



James walked along the river's edge, aimlessly following its flow until the deafening roar of the rapids died down, and the trickle of the river became soft and steady. Maybe hours had passed, maybe less. The sun was high in the sky, which meant it was midday, so James knew that time had passed, but his mind refused to acknowledge it.

He stopped at the water's edge, looking in, expecting, maybe, to see the remains of Butch's body somewhere, washed up and tumbled to the bank. But instead, he saw a horse.

Golden, wet, and heaving, but alive.

On the other side of the river.

James didn't think as he jumped in, swimming against the weak current, onward, onward, until he touched the ground. His boots scraped against the rocky bottom, and he trudged his way through the last few feet of water to Elliot's side, falling on his knees by Elliot's face.

He looked him over. Elliot was injured, but his legs were intact, which was nothing short of a miracle. With time... Elliot could recover.

James embraced Elliot's head, but he didn't have any more tears to cry.

"It's just you and me, buddy," he whispered. "You're going to be okay."

THE END








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