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LSS: The Fools' Quest

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Tue Jan 04, 2022 9:08 am
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soundofmind says...

an LSS Storybook by @soundofmind, @Carina, and @ShadowVyper


Long ago, in ages past, there was a god that dwelt in the glaciers of the arctic. It was said to be a powerful, ancient being - one who'd made its home there and ruled over the winds, the ice, and the snow. Its old name, though long since forgotten, was known as Cheva (pronounced Sheva).

When humans made their way to the arctic in hopes of settling and making a new home, they had difficulty adjusting to the harsh cold and the dangerous tundra. As the old story goes, the ancient settlers made a pact with Cheva. In exchange for her blessing, they would devote themselves to the land.

Gifted with supernatural endurance, resistance to the cold, and the language of magic, the people of the town now named Chevan were prepared to make a home.

But now, centuries later? That story's just an old campfire story.

But trouble has come to the little town of Chevan. Secluded at the edge of an icy lake, with a view of the ever-shifting glaciers and the aurora that floats over the night skies, a never-ending winter has fallen. Now, I know what you're thinking. They live in the arctic. Isn't it practically always winter?

Well, not like this.

Weighed down by blizzards, the town has suffered for two years, and has slowly lost hope. Ships have gotten stuck in ports, and countless trucks and vehicles have gotten lost in storms, buried under snowbanks. Supplies are dwindling, warmth is in small supply, and worst of all... the power of their magic is fading.

Spells that once could be relied upon to breathe life to a dying ember are becoming less and less dependable. Though the people of Chevan have been tightly knit and as closely connected to one another as they have been the land, people are thinking of giving up and moving away while there's still a chance. Anyone in their right mind would think that's the smart thing to do.

That is, except for our trio.

Right, that's where we'll start. What was that old campfire story again? Something about an ice god? I think I read that in a storybook once.


Spoiler! :

Rain - @ShadowVyper
Lake - @soundofmind
Gilson - @Carina
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Mon Jan 31, 2022 6:16 am
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Carina says...

"Careful, son - use that knife any more and people will think you're the butcher's boy instead!"

Fish sighed, listening to his father cackle at his own (overused) joke as he continued the mundane task of beheading and gutting the tuna in front of him. At first it really grossed him out, but after years of doing gutting and slicing, it was just another day and another coin earned... And more time spent listening to his father's same comments over and over.

Chop, chop, and chop. The knife followed the rhythm of the conversation.

"Gil is doing mighty good now, but when I was his age, I already owned the shop. Kids these days, eh?" his father continued as he packaged up the fish for Keigan... who happened to be Lake's dad. Yaaay.

"I know. You do what you can and hope for the best, though, yeah?" Keigan said with a grizzled grin and a shrug.

"How's Lake doing? Haven't seen her 'round these parts for a while. She's a teacher, yeah?"

Keigan let out a small sigh through his teeth. It was subtle, but Fish caught it. He figured he'd let Lake know about this catastrophe later on and wanted to make sure he'd tell the story right.

"Well, we all thought she would be by now," Keigan said. "But uh, she's still caught up in this uh, whole lumberjack dream."

Keigan paused, scratching the back of his head.

"I keep tellin' her to use that brain of hers she was born with but I don't know what's gotten into her head these days," Keigan admitted. "I mean, there's nothing wrong with hard labor and getting lumber. We need that these days more than ever, with this endless winter. But I just wish she'd see her potential, you know?"

Fish's father gruffly nodded, looking deep in thought since his thick eyebrows were furrowed close together. He was a big, meaty guy, but it was kind of funny seeing him delicately wrap up all the fish into nice packaging.

"Aye, you're tellin' me. Seems our kids seem to rub off on each other since Gil here keeps wantin' ta run off with these toys of his instead of stickin' to the family business."

"You know what kids are lacking these days?" Keigan said. "Initiative."

"That's 'xactly it!"

"Just wish I knew how to, you know, pass it down and all," Keigan sighed. "Just telling them doesn't seem to work anymore."

Fish rolled his eyes, knowing that his father was stalling more than usual since Keigan usually wanted a special order of fish eggs that went as a specialty dish in the family spa. It was packed in the back next to him, so he wiped down his grimy hands and picked up the sack, sauntering over with a too-forced smile.

"Hi Keigan," he said as he handed the bag over to him. "Here are the fish eggs."

"Great work, lad," his father said with a proud smile. "And don't forget to give 'im the rest of the fish I wrapped up."

"Ah. Right." He swiveled back around to pass it back to him even though they were perfectly capable of exchanging this without his help. "Here you are."

"Thanks, Fish," Keigan said with a smile.

"Say, it's been a while since we've played poker," his dad said, leaning into the counter. "What d'ya think of reliving old times together? You, me, and Lee if he's around. Man sure has a busy schedule, but he's gotta clear it for good ole fashioned poker."

Keigan laughed at that, and Fish couldn't help like he was missing a key piece of context that the three dads probably bonded over before he was even born. That weirdly explained a photograph that Rain showed him once of the three of them hanging out on old motorbikes when they were his age. Back when there were four seasons, and the roads were even clear enough for biking like that.

"Well, if you can convince Lee to come, I'm down," Keigan said with a smile, tucking his packages under his arm. "I'll just have to let Olive know I'm planning a guys' night out."

His father laughed and patted Fish's back, but it came out more of a slap since Fish wasn't exactly all muscle like him. He flinched and had to take a step forward to balance himself.

"I'm sure if she talks to Rosa, Lee will have to come!" he bellowed. "Say, son, why don't ya give Rain a holler? Convince her pops for your pops."

"Sure, dad," Fish said with a sigh, his eyes set to return to his work area. He stopped after a few steps to turn back and wave at Lake's dad before resuming. "Bye, Keigan."

"See ya!" Keigan waved in return, before the door shut behind him.

The rest of the day seemed to crawl by way too slowly. Like usual, Fish stared at the clock hoping it'd go by faster, while also predictively chopping and grinding and gutting like clockwork. While he father continued to chat and sell fish, Fish would occasionally go to the front to restock or provide something in the back, but for the most part, he stayed in his area and let his mind wander.

That was what he usually did. Wandered. But not physically. Just... mentally.

Random thoughts in, random thoughts out. Like how he'd dread having to go to the freezer since it was already cold to begin with, and then that'd spiral into the fire spell that he'd always somehow mess up unless he focused reeeeally hard. And then afterwards he'd think about that photograph again, and how it was weird that the three dads all hung out back then, but also weird that the background had a lot of grass and greenery. When was the last time he saw grass? Maybe in a dream.

But okay. His father was right. He really should hit up Rain... and Lake too, so that the three of them could hang out like they did practically every week since graduating high school. His father thought Fish's life was all about fish (yes, he realizes how ironic this sounds), but he did have a life, and friends, and...

"Ouch," Fish murmured, gently setting the knife down as he examined the nick on his thumb.

Bummer. He had gone so long without hurting himself. There goes his streak.

In a daze, Fish walked to the sink and washed up, loudly feeling around for the first aid kit. Predictably, his father poked his head in.

"You okay in there, son?" he asked.

"Yeah, just nicked myself," Fish answered with a sigh.

He could feel his father's eyes narrow at him, examining him.

"Blood, eh? ... Tell ya what. We're an hour to close anyways. Pack up and go home. I can close up shop here. Don't want to contaminate customers' fishs, hm?"

He said that, but Fish knew he was referencing the time when he was eight years old and learning how to help out for the first time. His father showed him how to de-scale a fish, but when he tried to do it himself, his fingernail got stuck on a scale and it caused a bloody mess everywhere. This was done in private, and his father being a frugal man didn't want to put it to waste, so instead washed the fish and put it on display. Turns out that part of Fish's fingernail was still stuck on there.

Huh... maybe that was how the nickname Fish started. Or maybe it was because he always smelled like fish.

"Sure, dad. Thanks," Fish said with a nod, but secretly sighed in relief.

His father expected him to simply head home, set the ingredients out for his Friday-night fish stew, and rekindle the fire for the home, and - well, okay, yes, Fish was going to do all of that. But more importantly, he was going to sit back, relax, talk to his two best friends, and play his favorite video game.

And not think about fish.

Before stepping out of the shop to brave the cold, Fish took out his phone and sent a group text:

Fish wrote:hey its friday. meet at the shed in an hour?

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Mon Jan 31, 2022 7:34 am
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soundofmind says...

Lake could see her breath like puffs of smoke coming out of her nose. Dragon breath. She and her little brother Snow called it that since they were kids. It used to be a special thing, a phenomenea that happened in the winter months, but now it was every day, and every hour.

It had been two years, and Lake could still remember what the summers were like, when temperatures weren't always below zero, and they could walk around in one layer instead of five. It wasn't like they'd never endured harsh winters before, but this was different. The beautiful thing about seasons was that each one was needed. The summer was the relief after the cold, and the cold was necessary for the earth to rest. Everything that needed to pass would pass, and regrow anew again. It was part of the cycle of life, and part of their story.

But these days, everyone was just waiting for the relief again, and she could feel it weighing down on everyone, even though they all carried on. You carried on because you had to. Life went on, and so did you. But that didn't mean it wasn't tiring waiting for the seasons to change... if it ever would.

Lake's snow-shoes crunched over the fresh fall of snow, carving a path for herself. Over her shoulder, she held a rope attatched to a large sled, and in it were stacks of wood, tied down with rope. She'd had to go further into the woods on foot, because yesterday's snow had come down heavy, and the trees were too dense to weave the snowmobile through. Unless she wanted to crash, which obviously she didn't.

She did, however, make it back to her snowmobile, which she'd parked just outside the thick of it. She could see it through the branches up ahead, through the dim light of the already darkening sky.

That was another thing about this endless winter. The hours of sunlight were so few. Days were so short, and yet felt so long.

She pulled the log-ridden sled up to the back of her snowmobile, tying it up to the back so she could ride it all back to the logging cabin where they stocked up all the firewood. After untying her snow-shoes and throwing them in the sled with the wood, she hopped on the the snowmobile and revved the engine, grinning just a little as it growled before she pulled out down the hill, towards the tire-tracked path.

The cold air nipped at her cheeks, but her fur-lined hat kept her head warm, and her scarf was thick, keeping in the heat.

It was a fifteen minute drive if she sped (which she did), but it was one of her favorite moments of the day, speeding over the snow with fresh-cut lumber behind her, and a good day's work put in.

She rolled up to the cabin, parking by the one of the big sheds out back where they stored fresh wood before chopping it into little sellable pieces. She brought the sled inside, lifting the big stacks of wood and piling them onto stacks that were already in there, waiting to be sorted.

It didn't take too long for Lake to finish, and when she locked up, she caught her boss stepping out of the back door of the cabin.

"Lake!" Shaun called out, waving to her. He was big guy, with a big beard, and long curly hair he always kept tied back. He was real stocky and strong, just a year away from 30, and he stood a good four inches taller than her. She couldn't help but have a little height envy when it came to him. It had always been her dream to be six feet tall, but not all dreams were meant to be.

She waved back, running through the thin layer of shoveled snow towards the cabin.

"'Sup, boss?" she called back.

"Just one last thing before you clock out," Shaun said, waving her inside.

He pulled back into the cabin and she followed inside, stomping her boots on the mat at the door.

"Whatcya need?" Lake asked, looking up just in time for him to grab her around the shoulders and give her a noogie, digging his hand into her hat.

Shaun laughed, and Lake felt her cheeks burn just a little, but she's gotten used to stuff like this. Shaun was always trying to mess with her and she was quick to get him back.

She moment he pulled away she quickly slipped off her mitten and popped her finger in her mouth, reaching up to stick it in his ear.

"Ha ha!" she laughed as he let out a grossed-out ew and cringed away, slapping her hand away.

"Hey! I don't pay you to be--" he started.

"Yeah!" Lake answered. "You pay me for this!"

And at that she pulled back and lifted her arms in a flexing motion, even though her thick coat easily disguised all of her muscles. Still, she curled her arms up and then down, making the poses as cheesy as possible. Really, she was just mimicking pictures of body-builders.

"Badaboom! Boom! Pow!" she said, making sound effects.

She caught Shaun roll his eyes, but he did smile genuinely, and that was the goal. Lake snickered as Shaun turned to walk down the hall towards the front office, and she followed.

"Okay, but really," Shaun said. "Can you shovel the back out a bit more before you leave? You're always able to get it done so quickly."

"You're just embarassed to sing," Lake teased, coming around the front desk as Shaun walked behind it, reaching into one of the desk drawers to dig around in it. "I've never even heard you do a spell before. They're really not that hard, I promise. You know, I could give you some tips if you really need help."

Shaun didn't reply as he pulled out a keyring, spinning it around his finger. It jingled as he shoved it into his coat pocket.

"You know I'm not into that hocus pocus stuff," he said, looking up at her with a smirk.

Lake narrowed her eyes at him with a thin grin.

"Yer a wizard, Shaun," she said in her best Hagrid voice.

Shaun snorted, closing the desk drawer a little hard as he stood up straight again and put his hands in his pockets, looking down at her with his lips pulled to one side in a crooken grin.

"Come on," she said. "Just this once. Look, you can just watch me do it. I'll demistify it for you, right? It's not that scary."

Shaun rolled his eyes for what was, what, the third time? She wasn't counting. Except that she was.

"Fine," he said.

She knew he'd been getting ready to head out, but a part of her felt smug about making him stay longer with her so they both left at the same time.

Shaun grabbed his gloves and Lake put hers back on too before they both stomped back out back. Lake leaped down the three steps from the door into the small patch of shoveled snow. The rest had been left as a several-inch wall around them, making only an almost tunnel-like path to the shed and back. It was typical Shaun work, doing the least amount of work. Working smarter, not harder - except magic was always smarter, though sometimes harder. At least, for some people. But not Lake.

She glanced back at Shaun for just a second with a smug little grin, flaring her nostrils as a skilled intimidation tactic. He stood in the doorway, watching her turn to the snow.

"Piled up without a care," Lake started to sing, making a melody she'd memorized years and years ago. "I now command you over there."

She paired it with a movement of her hands, even though it wasn't even necessary. The thing about their magic was that it was all verbal, not somatic, but ever since she watched ATLA, it just felt right to. They were the modern-day water-benders, except they didn't just "bend water." They did a lot of other things too.

The wall of snow in front of her slowly but gradually obeyed, being pushed back as if by a giant shovel. Lake pretended she was pushing it by holding out her hands, but she knew she never did feel the magic in her body the same way she felt it in the air when she sang.

With the last sustained note, the snow kept going, piling up as if pushed away by a snow-plow, and within only twenty seconds, half of the back lot had been cleared, and two of the three sheds were fully accesible, without having to climb into them.

She turned to Shaun, gritting her teeth into a goofy self-satisfied smile.

He clapped, making a good patting sound between his mittens despite his hands being mittened.

"You're a magical snow-plow," he said unenthusiastic, but she could tell he was trying really hard to deliver that line with a straight face.

"Okay, now your turn," Lake challenged, pointing to the other wall of snow behind her.

"Not a chance," Shaun said. "I know it won't work."

Lake huffed through her nose.

"Sore loser," she taunted.

"Not a sore loser," Shaun said. "I just know it's too late to learn something that's already dying."

That cut a little deeper than Lake expected or wanted to admit.

Shaun wasn't wrong. She'd always been good with magic, and she'd been able to make it by the past two years, but a lot of other people found that their spells were no longer working. Lake used to think maybe it was just an issue of belief, but she knew plenty of people who really did beleive it would work, and it still didn't.

Lake twisted her lips to the side, trying not to let Shaun's comment sting too much. It wasn't like it was personal.

"Fine," she said, closing her eyes dramatically. "I'll do it myself."

Spoiler! :

Singing the song again, she easily flung the snow away, clearing out the rest of the lot. When she was done, she clapped her hands together at a job well done.

"Thanks, Lake," Shaun said with a dip of his head. "See you Monday."

"See you Monday," Lake echoed.

And at that, Shaun headed out the front, going back through the cabin, and Lake locked up the sheds, and the back door before hopping on her snowmobile, ready to zoom.

Out of habit, though, she pulled out her phone, checking the time, and her notifs.

Fishie wrote:hey its friday. meet at the shed in an hour?

Hehe. She looked at her phone, and sung a quiet song under her breath.

"Warm these hands with prayer, push back the chilling air."

She felt her hands start to heat up, and she took off her gloves so she could shoot a text with her now-functioning fingertips.

Lake wrote:i'll bring pizza

wc: 3241/2500
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Mon Jan 31, 2022 9:54 am
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Shady says...

"Line up!" Rain said loudly, bringing order to the room. "We're doing an alley debate -- chop, chop!"

The high schoolers hanging around the classroom slowly moved to form into lines as they'd been instructed. Rain caught her little sister's eye. Lia rolled her eyes and huffed a sigh as she stepped into line next to her classmates. She and Lia were equally unhappy that she was here.

Rain had founded the school's first Debate Club about a month ago -- deciding it would be good for her students to have a place to develop their critical thinking skills and learn how to be convincing on the fly. It was an important life skill to have, and she was good at it -- so why shouldn't she share her knowledge?

Her parents, that was why. Well, her father, anyway.

Rain and Lia were fully agreed on one thing and one thing only: they didn't want to interact with each other at school. At all. The comparisons between them were endless. It wasn't cool for Lia to have a sister as faculty at the high school, and Rain certainly didn't want to have to have responsibility for her sister at school. And yet. It was inescapable -- for both of them. Everyone wanted to compare and contrast them, or send messages through them, or try to dig up dirt on the other.

It was exhausting.

So, Lia made a point of actively avoiding Rain's classes the first two years she was here. Now she was a junior, and had succeeded in -- once again -- finding other sections for her required classes so that neither of them would have to deal with Lia being one of Rain's students.

And then.

Rain never would have started this stupid club if she'd known her dad was going to force Lia to join it. But now it was started; she couldn't do anything about that at this point. And their father had decided that Lia was either going to be in Debate Club or she was going to be grounded -- perpetually. Apparently, it was going to build character in both of them. Or something like that.

The only thing Rain felt was resentment towards him. And annoyance at their mom for letting their father -- once again -- ruin her and Lia's lives. She never fought with him. No matter how wrong he was. And, Rain wanted to feel sorry for Lia for having to be in a club her big sissy ran -- but at the same time, she couldn't help but feel annoyed at Lia, too. She was acting like a caricature of a high schooler, and it was getting on Rain's nerves.

It wasn't her fault that their parents sucked, and it would be nice if Lia could at least put half a molecule of effort into it instead of just being a huffy, eye-rolling teenager. Had she been this bad as a teenager? She didn't think so.

"Fors," Rain said, gesturing at the row on the right, where Lia was standing. She smirked a little, knowing fully well the topic she was about to assign them was going to irk her. But, it wasn't her fault Lia had lined up on that side; she'd pre-planned which side was going to be which, and Lia had simply picked poorly, given the topic she was about to give them. She gestured at the other row."Againsts."

She looked down the row, ensuring they were evenly paired, then walked to the front of the room and rolled up the projector's screen, revealing a white board with the following prompt: Should Parents Be Allowed To Monitor Your Online Activity?

A groan rose from the entire room. When Rain turned back around, she was getting quite possibly the iciest glare Lia had ever given her. She smirked a bit more. "Alright, you know the drill! Two minutes to prepare your arguments. Starting now!"

Rain pulled out her phone and set a timer, and noticed she had two texts in the group chat: Hydrate Or Die-drate. It was a shitpost chat that she and her friends -- Lake and Fish -- had started back when they were irritating teenagers. Hydrate. Like water. Like the one thing that Rain, Lakes, and Fish had in common. Ha-ha.

sharkbait ooh haha wrote:hey its friday. meet at the shed in an hour?

landlocked loser wrote:i'll bring pizza

rain wrote:hell yeah, count me in

She grinned down at her phone, pleased at the turn of events. Perhaps she'd be able to get through this stupid debate afterall, with the promise of getting to spend the evening with people she didn't have to be a role-model around.

rain wrote:ill get drinks. what do you want?

The timer went off, and she looked walked back over to her kids. "Alright, let's start here. Wyatt? Why should parents be allowed to monitor your online activity?"

He huffed a deep sigh, looking at her resentfully. "Parents should be allowed to monitor online activity because it is their responsibility as our legal guardians to keep us safe; both in person and online."

Rain nodded and looked at the girl across the aisle from him. "Against? Traci?"

"It is parents' responsibility to not only protect their children, but to equip their children with the ability to protect themselves once they're grown. By the time someone is our age, our parents should have already taught us about the dangers found on the internet and trust us to make good choices."

Rain nodded and looked at the girl next to Wyatt. "For?"

"Cyber-attacks are constantly evolving and it's important for parents to be informed about the current threats their children face, not just the ones that existed whenever they educated their child in the first place."

Rain nodded to the boy next to Traci. "Against?"

"Parents are simply unequipped to be an effective barrier between their teen and a cyber-attack. Their generation didn't grow up digitially connected like we did, and they're more likely to miss not only cyberbullying but also phishing and other modern-day attacks that we may face. We're reliant on ourselves and our peers to have up-to-date knowledge which our parents aren't privvy to -- and which they wouldn't understand even if they did have access to. We should be trusted to make digital choices for ourselves and learn to accept consequences for any missteps we make."

Rain nodded. They were doing well. She was glad. They were all so anxious and shy and unengaged when she'd first started the club -- and now look at them. Debating about something she knew damn well every last one of them was opposed to. Hell, she was opposed to it. That's what made it the most fun.

"For?" Rain looked down the line, and realized it was Lia's turn.

"Parents should be allowed to monitor their teen's online presence to be able to screen for the threats they are able to recognize. According to yth.org -- Youth Tech Health --"

Rain smirked as Lia looked down at her phone. This was exactly the sort of thing Lia could be counted on to do. She couldn't care less about debates -- but she absolutely loved rubbing Rain's face in Google when they were fighting. Good. This was a good habit for her to be getting into: citing her sources.

"Forty-two percent of 13-24 year olds have reported being cyberbullied or harassed online and about six in ten have witnessed someone else being harassed or bullied online. And approximately a third of respondents reported that they know their bully in real life -- that they're not just some online stranger." Lia looked up and if looks could kill, Rain would have been struck down where she stood. "Cyberbullying can quickly escalate into physical violence if not handled correctly. And most teens will not report due to embarrassment or fear of losing tech privileges if they admit that it's having a negative impact on them."

Rain nodded. It was a good argument, even though they all knew damn well it wasn't going to sway a single opinion in this room. They were all Gen Z up in this house, and their phones weren't going anywhere -- parents or no. Her dad still couldn't seem to grasp the difference between saving to his device and saving to a cloud; a fact that had landed him with missing data more than once. And god help you if you tried to answer their mom's questions about the differences between a gif and a tiktok -- and how, no they weren't the same thing as a meme.

Rana listened to the rest of the arguments for and against as they went down the line, and began jotting down major points and counterpoints. They think took some time to walk through everything together as a class and brainstorm ways they each could have done better. Then finally, they trickled out of the classroom and Rain could relax and not have to worry about Being Respectable anymore. She still had a solid twenty minutes before she needed to be there. She picked up her phone and unlocked it, checking to see if either of her friends had put in drink requests, as she grabbed her backpack and started towards the parking lot.

wc: 4,789/2500

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"From the fish mother to the fish death god." - lehmanf
"A fish stole my identity. I blame shady" - Omni

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Tue Feb 08, 2022 8:02 am
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soundofmind says...

Lake shook snow off her boots, stomping up the steps to the back door of her home. She never liked going around the front because almost every time, without a doubt, her mother would answer and start pummeling her with questions and gossip from the day. Now, sometimes it was nice, just to talk and let her talk (though it was mostly the latter), but today she was in a hurry to get in and out of the house without much interruption. She'd see how much luck she had. It wasn't often a lot.

She quickly muttered a little spell to open the lock to the door because she was too lazy to take out her keys, and she couldn't help but feel a little nervous as there was a split-second delay, and the handle turned slower than usual. She flicked her eyes around, as if to see if anyone witnessed that, but there wasn't anyone out back. At least, no one human.

Snow's dogs were poking their heads out of their dog door, but they didn't stick out much more than their noses, seeing as they were all pretty snugly cuddled together to stay warm. Snow had four dogs in total, and he'd built the big dog house himself. He'd been super extra with it too, decorating the inside like it was a bedroom with posters on the wall and a lot of cushions and blankets inside. Some of the blankets were heated too, for especially cold days. Which of course, happened to be every day.

Lake made some goo-goo-ga-ga noises at the dogs before slipping inside, quickly shuffling in and slipping off her boots. No shoes inside. It brought all the snow in, which just melted everywhere.

Without even looking into the living room, she hurried down the stairs into the basement where her room was.

She slid in on the worn-down carpet with her thick socks, going in with a little run to create some momentum. She only slid about a foot before the friction stopped her and she sighed, hurrying to her mini-fridge she'd bought for herself in the corner.

She'd gotten it while it was on sale for 50% off, so of course, she didn't care that it was hot pink. It added a chaotic splash of color to her already chaotic room, which was perfect.

Throwing the fridge door open, she pulled out two frozen DiGiorno pizzas that she'd quite literally crammed into the fridge vertically so they'd both fit. She shoved the pizzas under her arm as she whirled around, habitually pulling out her phone again to check the group chat.

[quote=(B)rain]ill get drinks. what do you want?[/quote]

She typed a reply.

[quote=Lake]the good stuff[/quote]

Rain knew what the good stuff was. It was that bougie sugar cane soda that tasted like liquid candy and rotted your teeth.

You know, the good stuff.

All ready to go except for her shoes, Lake decided to not waste time. She ran back up the stairs with pizzas in tow, but, stopped halfway when she saw Feather standing at the top of the stairs. She had one hand on the wall, and it looked like she'd been home for a minute because she'd gotten comfortable without all her extra layers on.

"Oh good, you're home," Feather said. "I wanted to talk to you."

"That's nice," Lake said blankly, continuing her walk up the stairs towards her older sister.

"Don't be rude," Feather snipped, crossing her arms as she moved to block the center of the end of the stairs.

It was kind of funny how Feather always thought she could intimidate Lake physically, especially when she was four inches shorter and so, so much more petite. Lake could throw her if she wanted to.

In fact, she had. When they were kids of course. Definitely not within the past 8 months and 19 days. That would be immature and their parents would definitely not hear about it.

(It had been a joke, anyway. She'd thrown Feather in the snow and she was FINE. Feather was just a big drama queen who took everything too seriously.)

Lake walked all the way up to the top step, getting inches away from Feather's face and inching closer. She kept walking.

"Hey! Hey!" Feather protested, pushing up against Lake.

But Lake was an immovable object. An unstoppable force.

"Lake, I'm being serious!" Feather scrambled, being pushed back by Lake who was simply pushing back a little harder.

Lake couldn't help but giggle.

"I wanted to talk to you about your job!" Feather said as she finally pulled away to the side, brushing her shirt down even though it hadn't really gotten roughed up at all.

"Why?" Lake said, bending down by the door to put her shoes on. "Feather, if you're going to berate me for my career choice again can it wait until tomorrow? It's Pisces night."

"Lake, some things are a little more important than you playing video games with your friends," Feather said, brushing her long braid over her shoulder before folding her arms over her chest and pouting her lips.

"As I said," Lake said, looking up to Feather with a smirk as she slid her heel into her other boot. "It can wait."

"I came here to talk to you," Feather said. "And to have dinner with Mom and Dad tonight. Adrian's here too, and Dyna is waiting to see you."

Lake's brain slowed down a bit, like a loading sign.

"I thought we were having dinner tomorrow night," she said.

"We were," Feather said. "But dad said something came up and he moved it to tonight. Something about a guy's night? I don't know."

Lake slow-blinked, the loading sign still hovering above her head.

Guys' night? So she couldn't have her friend's night out...?

"Feather, we eat dinner together like, every other day," Lake finally said. "If I miss tonight it's not a big deal. I've done it before."

Feather looked like she wanted to protest, but Lake could feel like she already won. Feather clearly still wanted to talk about something that she thought was important, but judging from the look on her face, it really wasn't that important. I could wait.

Feather sighed, rolling her eyes.

"Adrian said you'd say that," she mumbled.

"Yeah, and he's right," Lake said with a laugh, finally setting her mittened hand on the door, giving Feather a look to indicate she was going to leave. "That's why I like him being an in-law. He always agrees with me."

Feather groaned.

"Wow," she said, unimpressed, turning around instead of saying goodbye.

"Love you too!" Lake said, blowing a kiss Feather didn't see as Lake jumped back outside, closing the door quickly behind her.

Lake hurried back onto her snowmobile and sped her way over to Fish's place. He didn't live too far away, but it was a few minutes of going the back way to his place until she eventually rolled up to his house.

They never did meet in his house, but his dad's house was a pretty big, two-story home with a lake-side view. Normally that would've been really nice in the summers, but now the only view was of a big slab of ice. Of course, there were plenty of things to do on the icy lake, like ice fishing, ice skating, and tons of other icy games. But it was just different, you know? All these people had boats that were just sitting in their garages gathering dust.

Not that she really cared about people's boats aside from the fact that it affected actual people's livelihoods for like, fishing reasons. Haha.

She slowed down and pulled around the back.

When Fish hit about 19 he was granted the freedom to transform his parent's shed out back into his own little private hangout oasis, and over the years their trio had made it a cozy little hangout spot where they could all just forget about the world for a bit and be themselves.

She parked next to the shed and hopped off, grabbing the pizzas before she hit the snow. Just as she turned to head towards the shed, she looked over to see Rain pulling in her aging Corolla. She looked vaguely annoyed but grinned when she saw her and gave a little wave.

Lake waved back with a smile.

"AYO, it's da big B-RAIN!" she shouted, deepening her voice.

"Da biggest," Rain said with a grin as she got out of her car and started digging around in the backseat. "I got you little hugs, as requested."

"I love little hugs," Lake said, walking up to Rain's car. "And big hugs. Any size hugs."

Lake tilted her head to look into the backseat. "Need help carrying anything?" she asked.

"Sure." Rain handed her a 6-pack of the cola Lake liked that she'd actually gotten for her. Then she reached in and grabbed her own and Fish's drinks. "You just get here too?"

"Yeah, just got here," Lake said, tucking the 6-pack under her other arm. She was now armed with pizza and drinks. Ideal.

"How were the children?" Lake asked.

"Godddddd," Rain sighed. "Dad's not relenting about making Lia stay in the stupid debate club. It's awful."

"Eww," Lake empathized. "Seriously? Why does he think that'd even help anything?"

"Why does he do anything?" she complained.

"You know what? You're right," Lake said. "He's probably not thinking at all."

"He really isn't," she agreed with a crooked smirk. "Brain empty; no thoughts."

"Same tho," Lake said.

"No. Definitely not same." Rain shook her head. "God. He's the worst. They both are, honestly. It's so awkward. We don't stan."

"Not a stan for the mayor man," Lake nodded, backing up as Rain closed the car door.

"Hey, could that be the next political jingle?" Rain smirked.

"Not a stan for the mayor maaaaan," Lake sing-songed, turning to walk towards the shed. "I think it's catchy. I'll pitch it to 'im."

Rain cackled, walking alongside her. "Please film him when you do. He'll get so huffy. It'll be hysterical."

"I'll have to be careful, though," Lake said with a little laugh. "He and my dad are friends. Wouldn't want word to catch that I put disrespect on his name. Though to be honest, does your dad even know what 'stan' means?"

"Prolly not..." She smirked wickedly, a thought clearly crossing her mind. "I bet I could convince him it's a positive to not stan him."

"Ohohohoh," Lake laughed, walking up to the shed door. "You're good."

With her hands full, she looked to Rain expectantly.

Rain looked at her for an ironically long moment. "Oh, did you want me to get that?"

"Oh, wait, no, never mind," Lake said, taking a step back and kicking the door handle with her heel. Rain cringed.

The door opened - it wasn't locked in the first place, and the door shook and shuddered open at the force of her kick, but otherwise was fine. She didn't break the door this time (keywords being 'this time').

"Atta girl," Rain muttered. "Stronk independent woman right here."

"Don't you know it," Lake laughed as she stepped into the shed with a booming voice. "FISHIE, I'M HOOOOOOOOOOOOME."

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Shady says...

Rain stopped by the local corner store that was between the school and Fish's house. She'd gotten the classic requests -- she wasn't even sure why she bothered asking at this point in their friendship -- so she quickly went to where all the goods were kept.

"Game night?" The man behind the counter, Hal, said with a little laugh as he looked at her merch.

"How'd'ya'know," Rain said with a grin.

"How many times you get sent as the go-fer now?" He teased, scanning the drinks. "It's gotta be going on five years now."

"More than that." Sadie handed him some cash. "How's it going?"

"Not bad, not bad," he said casually, handing her change back. "Freezing to death, but aren't we all?"

"True dat," Rain said. "Thanks, Hal! See you around."

"Next Friday, probably," he commented.

"A girl can hope," she said with a playful grin, grabbing her drinks and starting towards the door.

Rain walked to her car and put everything in her backseat, then started towards Fish's place. She was trying to shake off all the tension from the day. She was supposed to be the voice that lingered in her students' brains -- but it seemed like they were the ones who always managed to be on her mind instead.

Trevor needed to make up a test because he was 'very sick' and it just so happened to fall on the Friday before a big football game in the next town over. It was all very unfortunate. Poor guy. She felt bad for him. Really. And completely and totally believed every word of his story. Of course.

But then Bri had been struggling so, so much with the report Rain had assigned -- and she had made a mental note to find resources that might help her in terms of organizing her thoughts. She was such a smart girl, but was a hot mess when it came to proving that fact. Via writing anyway. Definitely not one of her strengths.

And then there was Lia.

Rain sighed heavily. She was trying not to let it get to her. And yet it was. It always got to her. He always got to her. No matter what she tried, her father's voice was always living in her head rent free. Judging. Criticizing. Being generally unhelpful -- much like he was himself. All around making life harder than it needed to be. But what else was new?

"Shake it off," Rain said to herself, then decided to plug in her aux cord and blast that song. There was a certain kind of catharsis that came with scream-singing some good ol' T-swifty alone in your car.

She'd more or less pulled herself together by the time she pulled in and parked her car, grinning as Lake approached and started chatting with her. It was always so good to see her. She was so goofy. So loveable.

And then they were through the door, barging in on Fish without knocking. Like good friends did.

"SHARK BAIT OOH HA HA!" Rain added with a laugh as she followed Lake in. "I got you your basiccccc water, aqua-boy."

wc: 2,410/2,500

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Carina says...

As soon as Fish opened the shed door, he was greeted with cobwebs that instantly made him panic and drop the bags of chips he was holding.

Spiders? Cobwebs? He was here last week. Why couldn't they find another warm home to infiltrate?!

He coughed and spat as he wiped his face, then sheepishly stood up straight and cooly played it off, looking around to make sure no one saw him. If Rain or Lake were sneaking up to him like they always did, they would have a field day. But looks like they weren't here... yet. Thank Cheva.

Fish sighed, picking up the bags of chips off the snow and dusting off the ice crystals with his gloves. He scampered inside and closed the door behind him, making sure that it was firmly closed so that a draft of wind wouldn't get in. There was one big window in the shed that brought in natural daylight, but when his friends were over, he usually pushed the curtains towards it and turned on the string lights so it was more homey.

So that was exactly what he did, pulling the curtains the casting the lights overhead. Speaking of casting...

Fish sighed, kneeling next to the fireplace. There was already charred wood in there that will last another day, but that wasn't what he was worried about. He was more worried about having to cast the stupid spell, and then it would be again just his luck if Rain and Lake walked in and he somehow messed it up and smoke went everywhere.

Everyone had a unique way of saying spells, but why did he have to be the one with a dumb quirk? Lake had to sing, and Rain dances, but Fish? ... He had to say the spell in a stupid low voice, much lower than his normal range.

After glancing at the door too many times, Fish said the spell quickly, but then said the spell again when he accidentally said 'meat' instead of 'heat.' As soon as a flame flickered, Fish breathed out a sigh of relief and slumped back on a giant beanbag chair that had so many sewn-on patches on it since he refused to throw it out.

A tiny flame wouldn't really do too much for heat, but eh... Lake can fix it later. First step, set up the game.

Snuggling into the beanbag with the controller, Fish sifted through the games on the screen, trying to figure out what he was feeling. A lot of it was hacked files he found online, and even though he wanted to play it, he couldn't really follow the story since it was all in Russian. Ah, the price of free games was steep sometimes.

Fish pursed his lips when he landed on the game "Mount Frost." It was an 80s styled fantasy game about adventuring on a mountain infested with enemies all looking to find a treasure. He knew that his friends likely wanted to play something more normie like Mario Cart or Crash Bandicoot, but honestly, it was now his turn to pick. It was their fault for not coming early enough that they beat him to his place, which happened more often than he cared to admit.

Happy with his choice, Fish continued to the menu screen but then nested the controller on his lap to wait for his friends to come in. He distractedly opened a big container of cheeseballs next to him while reaching in his pocket to pull out his phone.

Oh whoops. He missed the text chain. Rain went out to get drinks twenty minutes ago, but eh, she knew what he usually gets: a stout beer so dark it was hardly beer.

Fish started to type a message anyways.

if you get me one more ph-balanced water i'm going to

But before he could finish, the door slammed open and the girls loudly declared their entrance. The noise caught Fish off guard to much, he jumped in his seat and dropped his phone while sending cheese puffs flying around him. Many landed on the floor and bean bag, and he could feel some roll down his shirt and down his hair when he moved.

"Cheva christ, guys," Fish groaned as he collected himself, sitting up straighter and setting the cheeseball container back on the floor while rolling any strays away. "Have you ever heard of knocking? You scared the hell out of me."

Rain pounded obnoxiously on his wall at that. "KNOCK KNOCK."

Fish threw a cheeseball at her. "Har har."

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Carina says...

Fish sat up straighter, picking out the last of the crumbs still dangling on his coat. "Took you guys long enough. Did you bring the 'za?" he asked.

Lake closed the door behind her with her butt, causing it to slam again, but lightly in comparison to their entrance.

"Zazazazazaza," Lake sing-songed her sort-of answer as she carried the drinks over to the table, setting them down.

"And drinks, no thanks to you refusing to put in an order," Rain tsked.

"Thanks. Beer me," Fish said with his arm out, but his eyes were glued to the TV screen. With his free hand, he was just a few buttons away from pressing start.

Lake pulled out a beer from the six pack, handing it to Fish like she was passing a baton.

"Beer you," she echoed.

"Fish been beer-ed."

"How beery nice," Lake added.

"Beer from a lake," Fish said with a snicker as he toasted the beer up before a sip. "Must be fishy."

"I think you mean it's raining beer."

"You guys are hilarious," Lake said with a smile, communicating equal amounts of sarcasm and sincerity in one sentence.

"No you."

"No you," Lake shot back as she grabbed herself a soda and walked between Fish and the TV, briefly blocking his view before she flopped into one of the bean-bags.

Weirdly, this moment made Fish remember when his dad was talking to Lake's dad, sharing jokes and laughs.

"Hey, guys," he began, then paused to take the first sip of the extra stout beer. "Did you know our dads are friends?"

Lake stopped mid-chug to pop the glass soda bottle out of her mouth and look at Fish with her eyes narrowed, and her head tilted to the side. She didn't say anything immediately, though. She looked like she was thinking.

"You didn't?" she finally asked.

He blinked. "You did?"

"Of course we knew," Rain said. "Though I still don't know why anyone would want to hang around my old man."

"Wait, does this mean our friendship was inherited like, without us knowing it?" Lake mused.

"Ewwwwwwwww!" Rain picked up one of the spilled cheese puffs and threw it at her. "Gross. No."

Lake snickered and picked up the cheese puff, plopping it in her mouth.

"Why'd you ask, Fish? You just find that out today?" she asked, still chewing.

Fish scratched the side of his head, looking up at the wooden ceiling. It helped him think.

"I dunno. I heard them talk today at the shop. I thought my dad was just friendly with everyone. I guess I didn't realize they were friends-friends. Huh."

"I mean..." Rain shrugged and popped open one of the hard ciders she'd brought for herself.

"Dude, your dad was my dad's best man in his wedding," Lake said. "There's photo evidence."

"Well, how was I supposed to know that?" Fish huffed. "I wasn't born yet."

"Neither was I," Lake shrugged. "But I guess your dad doesn't keep photos in a lil scrapbook all sentimental-like like my dad does."

"I'm kind of genuinely impressed that you've stayed oblivious this many years in a row."

Fish scrunched his face, dismayed at the regular teasing. But they did have a point. What else did he not know?

"I, uh, found this new game," he said instead in attempt to change the subject. He gestured at the title screen. "Seems indie."

"CRASH OR BUST!" Rain protested.

"Is it Burnout 24? I just want to make big explosions," Lake joked, but he could've sworn she was actually being serious. It was hard to tell with her.

"Nah, it's called Mount Frost. Maybe you can explode... mountains?" he offered instead.

"I can dig it. I'll find a way. That will be my objective," Lake nodded.

"Yeah, sure, I'm down for whatever," Rain said. "Let's do it."

Fish slumped back in the beanbag chair, passing the two extra remote controllers to Rain and Lake before pressing start. The 80s themed music started to blast, and the graphics were terrible and pixely, but for an indie game, it was oddly endearing. There was a too-dramatic introduction of three mages each tasked to defeat a great and powerful monster that threatened to overtake their civilization. Each mage had their own specialty magic, and each one was a playable character you could choose. One was a spellcaster, one was a mage warrior, and one was an elemental-type.

And of course, it basically took ages for them to agree which character they would play.

"I'll be the mage warrior," Fish said immediately before the girls could even finish reading all the options.

"I'm naming him Boog," Lake declared loudly.

"No, his name is Faang," Fish corrected.

"Only if you're a coward, it is," Lake retorted.

"What kind of name is Boog?" Fish said with a scoff. "That sounds like booger."

"That's the whole POINT!" Lake sighed.

"Why don't you name the elemental Boog? He has literal boogers out of his nose."

"Well that's just too obvious," Lake said matter-of-factly, though her snark was seeping through. "Imagine if my parents named me Lake because I was an actual Lake. Don't be such a literalist, Fish."

Fish stared at her with a dead-pan look. "My name is literally Fish and my dad's a fisher."

"Okay, Gil's son," Lake said, biting back a smile.

Fish rolled her eyes, turning his attention to Rain instead. "Okay, Rain, why don't you be the spellcaster? I think she'll be a good fit for you. She has nice stats."

"Yeah, sure, whatever. I think we should all name our characters Booger though."

"So that makes me the elemental, then," Lake concluded quietly to herself.

"We can't all name our character Booger," Fish protested.

"Sounds like something a quitter would say."

"Yeah!" Lake agreed.

Fish stared at the screen. "You can't even change their names!"

"Maybe not on the screen, but we can in our hearts," Lake said, selecting the elemental character with her control.

"Yeah, okay. Rain, pick your character," Fish grumbled.

"Adding boogers to my heart, B-R-B." She patted her chest but then selected the character.

And after she did so, the screen proceeded to the next step. Clothes. Fish groaned loudly, knowing this would again take ages.

After they finally picked their characters and appearance, they finally proceeded to the tutorial. Lake, however, accidentally (Fish knew it wasn't accidental) skipped it, so they had to learn on the fly.

"Oh, okay, X is to jump and the top right button is to punch," Fish thought out loud as his character roamed around. "But how do we cast spells..."

Lake's character (also known as Booger) did a kick-flip and turned into a giant horse when it landed.

"Try the triangle," she said.

Fish tried a couple different combinations with the triangle, until he was finally able to wave his scepter around and cause a shockwave. Nothing really happened, but it was still pretty neat. Pretty advanced mechanics for a limited budget.

Rain walked her heart booger over to Fish's character and punched him. "Heh, look, friend fire's on."

Fish's character, Faang, tumbled over and nearly lost all his health since it appeared to be a critical hit.

"OOOOOOOOOOH," Lake said, running her character over to Rain's. Her character did another flip and turned into a bear, landing on top of both Faang and the other Booger, causing their characters to all fall over.

"Well." Rain set the controller down in her lap and took a drink of her cider. "That escalated quickly."

Fish sighed, eyeing his health bar at just one hit point. Since this was the tutorial, they couldn't die, right?

"I almost died," he said as he rifled through his bag to find a potion.

"Butchya didn't!" Lake said in the exact tone of the vine she was quoting.

About an hour passed and they had not only finished the tutorial, but also started a quest and leveled up. It was definitely a more Dungeons and Dragons type of adventure game, but it seemed like Lake and Rain were into it. It was easily going to be a night where they'd play late into the hours, but then Fish's phone kept vibrating and vibrating. When he picked it up to see who was trying to get a hold of him, he nearly threw the cheese ball container on the ground again for standing up so fast.

"Ah shoot, my dad's trying to reach me. I forgot to take out the frozen fish in the shop for tomorrow," he mumbled as he hurriedly put on his coat.

"Fishy in troubleeeeee."

"Oh cheeseballs," Lake said, then grimaced. "Hm. That sounded better in my head."

"You guys keep playing." He paused for a second, then shook his head. "Wait, never mind. I want the EXP too. Maybe you can play Burnout and explode stuff instead."

"Or we might just eat all the pizza without you."

"You know my stomach is a black hole so no promsies, but I'll try to save you a few slices, my man," Lake said before hitting pause and saving the game at their checkpoint.

Fish rushed to put on his shoes, nearly toppling over when he lost his balance. "Sounds good. I'll see ya soon. Bye!"

And unlike their entrance, Fish carefully opened the door, walked towards the cold night, and gently closed the door behind him.

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soundofmind says...

Lake leaned back in the beanbag, chugging away at the last of the sugary soday until the glass bottle was empty, and she set it on the floor on the side of the bag. She let out a sigh as the room was filled with a faint chill after Fish had opened the door, but thankfully he'd closed it quickly. Idly, she exited the game and went to the game menu, scrolling through their options like one would scroll through movies on Netflix. She didn't have anything in particular in mind, but if nothing called out to her, she'd always fall back on Burnout.

She pursed her lips and let her mind wander to the first thought that came to mind.

"Kinda wished I could've played the mage warrior," she commented. "He had a cool sword."

"We could 'accidentally' 'override' the saved progress," Rain suggested with air quotes.

Lake looked over to Rain with a smirk, but thought better of it.

"Nah... I don't want to make Fish that mad," she said. "Besides, he's probably in trouble with his dad. That'd be like throwing salt into an open wound... sort of. I mean, not the best use of the metaphor, but ya feel me?"

"Yeah, yeah." Rain waved her hand. "Sounds like you don't wish it strong enough." She smirked at her.

"I mean, I can't complain that much," Lake said with a little smile. "As Booger I basically get to live out my childhood dream, being any elemental animal I want."

"Glad you picked your Booger then."

Lake snorted, chuckling like a little five year old at that.

"Yeah," she said, shifting her shoulders so she sunk even further into the bean-bag with a stupid little smile.

"I always think it's kind of funny when we play games with magic in them, though," Lake said.

"How so?"

"I dunno, I guess it just makes me feel like I'm living in a fantasy world, and I'm the main character, because I do have magic," Lake said.

"Mm..." Rain said thoughtfully. "Yeah, that makes sense... That's kind of the point of media, though, right? To make you feel, like, attached? Invested? Whatever..."

Lake blinked very, very slowly, and looked over to Rain.

"What?" she asked. "I'm talking about me. I literally have magic. Like--"

She paused, letting out a huff and following it with a deep breath.

"The fire within, amidst the storm--" she started to sing.

"STOP!" Rain launched out of her bean bag to half-tackle her.

Lake let out a loud squeal, followed by laughter as she caught Rain, half-sliding out of her beanbag.

"I wasn't going to make a big fire!" Lake defended in laughs. "Just a little one!"

"Baaaaad," Rain chastised with a laugh, picking herself up off Lake and giving her shoulder a slight shove. "Didn't your parents ever teach ya not to play with fire? Literally?"

Lake continued to giggle as she righted herself in her seat again.

"You know I can control it," Lake said, sitting up a little straight with a cocky grin. "You've seen me do it before."

"I've seen you bury my entire car in snow with one of your stupid snow-moving-charm-songs when clearing your driveway," Rain said with a smirk. "Don't give me that."

"Bold of you to assume that wasn't on purpose," Lake said with a shrug.

"Oh, I have no doubt," Rain snorted. "And yet... trust issues stemming from your magic? I do have those..."

"Listen," Lake blurted. "At least I still have magic. Unlike--"

Her own words stung before she could finish them, and she grimaced at herself.

"Well... yeah," she muttered, giving a dismissive wave of her hand.

Rain sat in solemn silence for a moment, then, "Well... at least you get to be the video game protagonist for another day, yet." She offered a smirk, but it fell a bit flat.

Lake pressed her lips together, knowing she kinda killed the mood. But she couldn't help but remember what happened earlier that day.

"When I stopped by my house to pick up the pizza," Lake said after a small pause. "The unlocking spell didn't work right away."

Rain was quiet for longer this time. "Yeah... mine hasn't always been... yeah..."

"Has your magic felt more touchy lately too?" Lake asked, turning to her.

"Yeah," Rain said with a sigh, settling back into her bean bag again. "It's now making me actually dance, not just--" She did a little wiggle to demonstrate. "If I want to do something. It's annoying... and... yeah..."

"You know, I never thought Cheva would be a stickler for pitch, but I can't sing all silly anymore," Lake said slowly. "It's gotta be real singing or nothing happens."

"Yeah." Rain nodded. "Same."

"Maybe she's just upping her standards?" Lake joked weakly.

"... or maybe we're all screwed," Rain murmured, anxiety pinching her features.

"I mean, we can't be that screwed," Lake said quickly, her own anxiety showing through the speed of her words running together. She intentionally slowed down. "I mean, what I mean is, like, it... it's not like magic's gone entirely--"

"Yet," Rain interjected.

"But -- I mean -- like, we still have..." Lake trailed off, shaking her head with a big, heavy sigh.

Electricity. Gas. Firewood. She was going to say they still had practical means to survive. It wasn't like they were entirely dependent on magic, but during the winters...? They really needed it. Even before this endless winter she couldn't count how many times a warmth or fire spell had literally saved her life, keeping her and her family warm.

She had slumped forward, holding her head with one hand. Slowly, she turned her eyes to Rain again.

She wondered what her dad said about all of this in secret. He was the mayor, after all, and he kept trying to assure everoyne in Chevan that they were going to make do, they would get by, and they were all in this together. Typical politician stuff. Of course, he did back most of his words with doing everything in his limited power to make sure their town got all the shipments in, but the last several storms had created more and more delays.

Sure, they all had started saving and stocking up on stuff, but if the roads and the waters got so frozen and snowed in that no one could get through for a really long time, how long would they last?

Snow always had his sled dogs, and there were a few other sledders around, but that wasn't enough to save a whole town. Not when you needed food, warmth, and all sorts of other supplies.

There was this wordless understanding among everyone in town.

That was why so many people were moving away. Especially the people who'd lost their magic first.

"Sorry," Lake finally said quietly. "I know it's... we're all just trying to get by."

Rain shrugged, but rubbed her face. "Eh, it is what it is. Shit sucks and then you die."

Lake pursed her lips, looking to the side.


"Yeah," she said distantly. "I guess."

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Shady says...

Maybe Rain was just being a Debbie-Downer. She had a propensity for being a skeptic -- an over-correction against her dad's sheer foolishness -- and she usually tried to keep that to herself. Especially in front of Lake.

But c'mon. She couldn't be the only person noticing this. They were all screwed and there wasn't anything any of them could do about it. Was it a huge deal that she now had to actually walk through a charm instead of just BS-ing it? No. But it still made her uneasy. What if even that wouldn't be enough in the future? What if all of them were going to be entirely reliant on their insufficient infrastructure in the town? What if--?

"Sorry," Rain murmured. "I didn't mean to kill the vibe."

"Nah, I mean, it's fine," Lake said with a little shrug. "I started it anyhow. We both took the vibe and murdered it with our bare hands."

She made a strangling motion like she was trying to be comical, but it came off as frustrated more than anything.

Still, Rain smirked at it and held her bottle up with her left hand. With her right, she made a gesture like she was stabbing it with a knife. "We straight up shanked the vibe, yo."

"I made a little poison," Lake said, still miming. "And I put it in a box, and I sent that box to the vibe in the mail... and wait, I'm messing up this quote."

"Are you making a Kuzco reference?"

"EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE!" Lake said far too loudly, leaning back into her beanbag. "But yeah."

"Valid," Rain said, cracking her back as she also slumped into her seat. She grabbed the cheese puffs and munched on one.

"It takes so much energy to be so funny all the time," Lake said, clearly making herself sound more exhausted for the sake of the delivery. "Can't remember everything."

Rain snorted but grinned. "Oh, yes, you're so persecuted."

"All the time!" Lake said, dramatically flailing out her arm. "Bet it doesn't compare to the condescension you get from middle-schoolers though."

Rain laughed at that. "My god, they try so hard. The awkwardness. The social anxiety. The body odor. Incomparable no doubt."

"I only have one of those three things," Lake said, pointing at Rain with a grin.

"Which one?" she asked playfully, smirking.

"Guess," Lake said with a cheesy, smug grin.

"I mean, I don't wanna make assumptions..." Rain took a drink of her cider, bracing herself for a solid delivery. "But I'm just saying, I don't know when your last shower was..."

Lake's whole face lit up with a big mischievous smile, like the stinky gremlin she was.

"Yeeeessssss," she cackled.

Rain laughed too, pleased that she'd entertained her friend. She really did have a good thing going here, with Lake and Fish. They truly were the best friends she ever could have possibly made in her life. They were always there for her. Always. And they could shank the good vibes together and talk about whatever was on their minds weighing them down.

And, she felt like they were all trying not to talk about the magic waning. Trying not to think about it. But it'd been weighing heavy on her lately, and it seemed it was on Lake, too. How was Fish's magic holding up? Maybe she'd just go ahead and send the vibes straight to their graves and ask him once he got back. Ignoring the problem wasn't going to make it go anywhere.

And, well, she supposed that talking about it also wasn't going to help. Not really. It's not like they could manifest more magical abilities just by forming a friendship circle and willing it into existence. But, still, it'd be nice to rip the bandaid off and be able to have a conversation as deep and dark as this one was sure to be.

Rain was getting so tired of the boring, safe topics she was allowed to discuss at school. And at her parents' house. And in public. It Wasn't Polite to talk about how they were all doomed to frostbitten apocalypse in this frozen hellhole they called home. But surely she wasn't the only one who felt like this... right?

wc: 3483/2500

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Carina says...

Fish wasn't always the most coordinated, but he was familiar of the short walk to his father's cabin that he could probably walk out from the shed to the front door with his eyes closed. There was no guarantee he'd fall, though, especially with the perpetual heaps of snow everywhere.

The comforting warmth of the home's air greeted him when he opened the door, and he took the time to slide his boots off and brush off any snow that clung on to his jacket and hair. For living in the middle of snow-where, Fish hated being wet, and nothing was worse than walking around the house with thick wooly socks only to be greeted by a sad cold puddle.

With a sigh, he absently dawdled to the kitchen, not bothering to call his father since he knew he wasn't home. For one, all the lights were off. And two, if he was home, he wouldn't have asked Fish to take out the frozen fish.

Plus, didn't he just overhear that he was going to hang out with Lake and Rain's dad too? So weird, especially since they were all hanging out at the same time.

Fish didn't think much of it, taking out the food out of the freezer and separating the meats into its corresponding bins to take out tomorrow... until he saw the note on the table.

His dad was pretty old-schooled, being a terrible texter and hardly even knowing how to use his phone. It was sometimes nice to see notes around the house since it frequently reminded Fish of all the things he forgot, but sometimes they're random surprises.

Like this.

Fish picked up the note and read it.

I'm out for the night. Please stock inventory for tomorrow.
I did some house keeping today. Please store these items in the shed. Doesn't matter where.

Next to the note were a bunch of random old stuff, ranging from dusty boxes, stacks of vinyls, and books so old they looked like they would fall apart by the touch. Where did his father even get all this stuff? The hipster Renaissance fair?

Fish sighed. It didn't matter anyhow. Space was getting limited in the shed, but he'll find the room.

The minutes ticked by as Fish prepared for inventory. He did the easy stuff first, figuring he'd do the more intensive labor after Rain and Lake go home, or early in the morning if he continued to procrastinate. In the meantime, he looked for a suitable box that would fill up the other mini boxes his father asked him to put away.

It took some scuffling and there were a few spills since he lazily stacked the vinyls and one slid off during the move (and broke - but his father didn't need to know that). Fish was tempted to ask Lake for her help especially since he knew she would jump on the opportunity, but he willed himself to buck up and do it himself. He only hoped that by the time he arrived back in the shed, they weren't all asleep or already bored with the game.

Thankfully, that wasn't the case.

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Shady says...

Rain couldn't help but feel like the time was right to get into the messy, distressing conversation that was going to be in her mind as she tried to work through what she was thinking. What she was feeling. Their magic was waning. The entire town's. Which meant their lives were going to shit. And there wasn't anything at all any of them could do about it.

She kept chomping on the cheese puffs, pretending like chewing was the reason she wasn't talking, even though in reality it was because her brain was working too hard to remember how to talk. She could talk or she could think, and very little overlap happened between those actions.

Thankfully, Fish came back before she got fully yoinked into the abyss of her thoughts. "About time you came back."

"Yeah I almost stole your character," Lake jumped in, almost too quickly. "But I didn't."

Fish dropped a big box on the ground, sounding a loud thunk across the room. Predictably, he then went on to meticulously hang his coat and place his boots at his designated shoe spot.

"Thanks. Booger thanks you," he deadpanned with a shiver.

"That's why I always pick him first," Rain said.

Lake snorted.

"What's in the box?" Lake asked, leaning over her beanbag to peek.

"Oh, uh..." He glanced down at the box while he was standing on one foot to slide his boot off. "It's a bunch of my dad's old stuff. He asked me to put it away so I'm going to put in the corner over there."

"Oh! Let me see, let me see," Lake said, jumping to her feet and hurrying right up to Fish's side, leaning down to the box, already pulling it back out.

Rain felt equally nosy and also stood up, setting her controller down as she stepped towards the box as well.

"It's all super old and dusty," Fish said defensively, slightly leaning forward to obstruct part of the view, but that didn't stop Lake's nosiness.

Lake picked up the box and moved it to the middle of the room, plopping it down right in front of her beanbag. She knelt down and started digging through it, pulling out a record.

"Beatles," Lake said. "Why did I see that coming."

"I should keep all the records and get a vinyl player," Fish thought out loud, hanging by her and awkwardly standing with his hands in his pockets. "I think I can pull off the hipster vibes."

"I mean, your shed, your rules, right?" Rain said, kneeling down on the other side of the box as she looked at all the junk inside.

"Shania Twain, Elvis, Radiohead," Lake started listing out, pulling out records. "You've got a real mix here."

"One's broken. I don't remember which one it was," Fish said, then paused to already chuckle. "For the record, it definitely wasn't me."

"Booooo," Rain groaned.

"Duuuude," Lake said, pulling out another record that clattered inside its sleeve. "You broke the Nirvana one."

Fish continued to smirk and chuckle at the words he was thinking. "That's some bad karma."

"Wow," Lake said flatly, shaking her head as she started to push the records out of the way, pulling other things out of the box. She found a bobblehead of some baseball player, but no one recognized it. None of them followed baseball.

Still, Rain took it and started flicking its head and watching it bobble rather than focusing on the box anymore.

"Oh hey, this looks interesting," Lake said, pulling out a thick, dusty book. It was leatherbound, making it look oldschool. There was a picture embossed on the front, though dust filled in the indented outlines. Lake blew on it, causing the dust to fly towards Fish's knees.

It was a picture of two glaciers in a lake, and between the two of them, hovering over the waters, was the face of a bear in the sky, like it was peering through the aurora overhead.

"Maybe it's a Brother Bear fanfic," Lake joked, flipping open to the first page.

"Yeah, because my dad has definitely watched Brother Bear and loved it so much he turned to the arts," Fish said sarcastically.

"Hey, you never know," Rain said, smirking at him. "This is coming from the boy who didn't even know his dad has friends, sooooo...."

Fish scrunched his face at her. "Okay, fair. I was sure that my dad's only friends were fish, and I don't mean me. Maybe that's the real reason he's into bears."

Rain snorted, mind going to the gutter quick. "A man of many secrets."

Lake hummed, but not at Rain's joke. She was distracted by the book as she was flipping through it. When Rain looked down, it appeared to be a picture book.

The illustrations were really nice, though, and looked to be a step above what you might see in your typical chilren's book. They were detailed and high quality, drawn with ink and watercolor. The text below the images was just small enough to be too much to read from where she was standing, or how fast Lake was flipping through it. Lake looked to be skimming.

"What's that?" Rain asked, craning her neck in an attempt to see, but kept flicking the bobble head in her hands.

Lake stopped flipping and stopped on two pages. One was a full illustration of a mountain, and the glaciers forming alongside it. It was a landscape shot, and there were three small silhouettes of figures climbing up through the snow towards what looked to be a crack in the glacier.

On the other page, it was all text, but the familiar name of Cheva popped out, even from upside-down.

"It looks like, uh..." Lake said, like she was still processing. "A book about Cheva."

Fish glanced between the book and the TV still stuck at the pause screen for the game. "Kind of reminds me of the game," he mused.

"Yeah," Lake said distantly, flipping through the pages again. "Except this stuff's real."

"Is it though?" Fish said in a high-pitched voice. "That's just a picture book."

Lake stopped on another spread of pages, but this looked more like a detailed map. To Rain, it was reminiscent of Lord of the Rings.

"Well, maybe not all of it," Lake said. "But... there's some truth to it."

Suddenly Fish started to show interest in the book, staring down at it intensely. "You know... this just gives me DnD inspiration," he muttered. "That book would make a sweet campaign."

"Your life is a DND campaign," Lake said with a grin.

"Could be our life campaign," Rain mused, gesturing at the book.

"This map seems kind of legit, though," Lake said. "This is a map of Chevan. Like, it's antiquated, sure, but it looks legit."

"Is there an 'X' to find treasure at the end?" Rain joked, clearly not taking any of this seriously.

"Not an 'X'," Lake said. "But... there is a star marking a spot in the glaciers. It just says 'Cheva's Heart.'"

"That sounds like the lair of a boss battle," Fish said, still thinking about the DnD aspect.

"It's a map to the BBEG," Lake concluded, flipping the page again.

"Isn't Cheva the good guy though?"

"Desolation of Cheva," Rain smirked, keeping with the Lord of the Rings vibes. Well, Hobbit vibes, she supposed. But still. Tolkien vibes through and through.

"I mean, skimming through the story, it seems like it's about the origins of Chevan. You know, like the stories we were told as kids. I think this is maybe just like, how our people allegedy found her all those years ago."

She clearly threw in the allegedly to appeal to Rain and Fish's skepticism.

Fish shrugged, kneeling down to pack up items they had taken out to inspect. "Well, my dad clearly doesn't want it, and you seem way too interested in it, so you can borrow it if you want."

"Oh yeah?" Lake asked, slapping the book shut, sending dust flying everywhere. "You don't think he'll miss it?"

"I'm pretty sure he'll miss the broken Nirvana record more," Fish said with a smirk. "Take it."

Rain nodded in agreement, coughing a bit at the dust still stirred up. "Yeah, read us a story, Lake. Fishy, why don't you make the 'za?"

"Pffff," Lake blew through her teeth. "Nah. I'll read it later. I wanna get back to the game. I wanna smash more baddies by turning into a bear on top of them."

"Mount Frost, here we come," Fish said with a grin, passing the pizza around.

wc: 1,974/2,500

"u and rina are systematically watering down the grammar of yws" - Atticus
"From the fish mother to the fish death god." - lehmanf
"A fish stole my identity. I blame shady" - Omni

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soundofmind says...

Lake came home late to a quiet house, whispering a quiet song to make her steps silent as she entered so she didn't disturb anyone. The house was dark, and she blindly stepped down the staircase to her bedroom door, feeling the cool air of the basement meet her when she opened her bedroom door.

Her usual bedroom routine wasn't too complicated. It involved slipping into her pajamas, brushing her teeth, and then jumping into bed, under her several blankets and pillows, nestled in like a little baby bird in its nest.

This time, though, she took the book Fish had lent with her, and she sat up in her bed, flipping through it again. She started reading it, page by page, really taking it in this time.

As she read through it, it reminded her a lot of the stories she heard growing up.

A small group of people trying to make a life for themselves out in the harsh wilderness found themselves deep in the glaciers of the mountain, and it was there they found Cheva, who blessed them and granted them power to make a life here. She sat for a moment with the book open to the splash page, illustrating the group of three travelers hiking up to the place they found her.

Something didn't sit with her right.

Her conversation with Rain, and then Fish when he came back with the book left her feeling a little gutted. 

It felt like they'd both lost hope already, and it bothered her that they were both so cynical. They kept joking about magic like it wasn't real, but what did they call the powers they had, then? Sure, it was waning, but it wasn't like their whole town had imagined it for generations.

Disheartened, Lake set the book on her nightstand with a sigh and turned off her lamp.

As she laid down and curled up deeper into her blanket and pillow fortress, the warmth and coziness was quickly drawing her to sleep. But she didn't feel ready for it yet.

There was something missing. 

Not the magic. Something else. She didn't want to believe that they were hopeless and doomed like Rain believed. There had to be something they could do...

"God, you're a broken record, Lake," Feather whined.

Lake stared at the broken record on the floor and sighed, leaning down to clean it up. They shouldn't tell Fish's dad about this. He'd be pretty upset. She knew this stuff was all nostalgic memoribilia.

"Magic's dying," Feather went on. "Our town is dying. We're screwed."

Lake looked up at Feather, shuffling the broken record pieces into the sleeve as she stood up. Feather was folding her arms, and they were outside. There was a flurry of snow coming down like sparkling little feathers. It was poetic. Or, it would've been poetic, if it wasn't her sister.

"Sounds like something Rain would say," Lake said, tucking the record under her arm.

"Yeah, well maybe you should listen to your friends for once," Feather said, her tone biting.

Lake pursed her lips, staring at Feather for a moment. Feather's dark brows were knit together, and the snow was ligthly catching on her hair, like glitter in her braid. But then Lake's eyes drifted to the mountain behind her. They could always see it from the view of their backyard, like a shadowy tower hedging them in by the lake.

It was then that her eyes drifted to the water, shining with thick ice in the distance. The glaciers at the edge were tall and intimidating, like Lake imagined a sky-scraper might be.

But she didn't need to see one in real life. She didn't need to leave town, either. The glaciers were enough.

The wind started picking up, and Feather turned to look to the door.

"It's freezing out here," she said. "I'm going inside. Don't die out there."

Huh. That was probably the nicest thing Feather had said to her. Don't die.

"I won't," Lake said with a small smile. She didn't know why she felt such peace and confidence about it, but she did. 

But that peace was short-lived.

Lake was driving the sled-dogs through the snow. She knew that she needed to get to the mountain, to the Lake, into the mountains of ice. Snow had let her take them, understanding that it was important. Their livelihoods were at stake. Their town was at stake.

High stakes.

The little husky dogs pulled and pulled, even as the wind blew harder and harder, and the snow was coming down thick. Lake squinted through her goggles and pulled her scarf up over her masked face, trying to shield herself more from the piercing cold. 

A foreboding thought rung in the depths of her soul.

This is what it feels like when a god is dying.

She shouted at the dogs to go faster. Their pace picked up.

A swirl of snow came around them like a smoke-screen, and they were driving blind. But she had to keep going.

"We're not going to make it!" Rain said from behind Lake, holding tight onto her shoulders.

"I knew we should've stayed home! We'll never make it in time!" Fish shouted, his voice almost carried away by the wind.

Their expressions of doubt only hardened Lake's determination and will.

"No, we'll make it," Lake said.

And suddenly, they were flying. Leaping over the Lake, and the dogs were still pulling, taking the sled into the air. Lake let out a laugh from her gut, feeling a rush of adrenaline. Rain and Fish were screaming, but they were going to make it!

The sled landed hard on an icy surface, skidding across what looked to be a massive, icy room deep within the glacier.

“Woah!” Lake called the dogs to a stop, and they slowed down, panting hard.

Lake stepped off the sled while it was still moving, and stared up into the giant room. Reflecting off of the icy walls was a bright aurora, like the one they saw dancing in the sky every night. The lights flickered and reflected, like a beautiful moving painting.

In awe, she admired the beauty of it all, but then there heavy feeling crept in, weighing on her chest.

It felt like all the air was sucked out of the room, and suddenly, all of the lights went out, and they were in pitch black darkness.

In the midst of the dark, a tiny, flickering light pulsed in the distance.

The light was shaped like an X.

X marks the spot.

“Cheva,” Lake said, not sure why the name left her lips.

The moment she spoke, the light went out.

wc: 3,091/2,500
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soundofmind says...

Lake woke up with a start.

Her room was freezing, and she could hear heavy footsteps upstairs, patting down to the first floor. Down to the second floor.

She shivered and let out a puff of air. She could see her breath.

Oh no. The fire went out in the fireplace. But she could've sworn she saw it roaring on her way in, in the living room. It should've been good to go for the night.

Lake reluctantly but urgently threw off her covers and reached for her lamp, trying to turn it on, but it seemed that the power went out too. A deep dread filled her gut as she threw open her side-table drawer open in the dark, blindly feeling for the flashlight she kept there until she finally found it, and turned it on. When she went to check her phone that was charging on the side-table, it turned out it had hardly charged at all. It was almost dead.

When had the power gone out? That must've been why the heating in the house didn't kick in.

The cold basement air pierced through her pajamas, and she decided to stop wasting time. Before she did anything else, she made her way to her dresser with her flashlight and started throwing on layers. One, two, three, four, until she was practically fully clothed to go outside, shoes included. She'd probably have to go outside, too.

They'd need more firewood.

More fire.

More heat.

With her shoes and gloves, and even her hat secured she hurried to her bedroom door and started running up the steps. She could hear voices clamoring in the living room.

Snow and her dad were hurriedly throwing more wood into the fireplace, but there was no fire. It looked like dad was striking matches to no avail. She saw the matches light, and then immediately dissipate as if the freezing cold itself was drowning it out.

Worry pinched her father's face and Snow started digging through kitchen drawers like he was looking for something. A lighter, maybe.

Lake made her presence known.

"How's Gramma?" Lake asked, and her father's head snapped up to her.

"Your mother's with her. She's staying warm, but it seems like the power's out on our whole block. Maybe even further than that," he said, still fighting with the matches.

"Internet's down too," Snow said, gathering things in his arms in the dark. "No service either. Can't get a hold of anyone."

Lake pointed her flashlight on her dad, and he pinched his brows together, waving her over.

"Try lighting it," he said firmly.

She knew he meant by magic.

Running over, Lake positioned herself in front of the fireplace and held out her hands, clearing her throat.

She'd just woken up. She hoped Cheva was okay with morning voice - or rather, middle-of-the-night singing since it was still dark - singing.

"The fire within, amidst the storm
Come out to burn and keep me warm"

She felt heat in her hands, and there was a flicker of light at her fingertips.

A tiny, tiny flame.

Her dad shoved the tip of his match in it with force, and the match caught, but the moment he pulled the lit match away, her fire died with what was most comparable to a toot, and a puff of smoke.

Lake stared blankly at the dead space in front of her as her dad almost frantically fed the fire to the firestarter below the wood and fanned it, breathing more life to the flame. It was a small, weak, fire, but it was catching.

It would be enough. Enough if they kept it going and kept feeding it.

Lake stared down at her hands.

She tried singing it again.

"The fire within, amidst the storm
Come out to burn and keep me warm"

A puff of smoke. Another toot.

Her lips trembled with fear and frustration. She sang again, more insistent this time. She didn't even get smoke. Just a toot.

She tried again.

"The fire within, amidst the sto--

"Stop it," her dad snapped. "It's done. We have a fire."

Lake shut her mouth in a frown, backing away as her dad focused on watching over the fragile flames.

"I got flashlights," Snow said, coming over to the very dimly lit hearth, dropping them with a clatter to the floor.

Lake looked down at them. There was a mix of bigger, industrial-sized ones and pocket-sized flashlights. And one that could go around your head. She grabbed that one, slipping it on over her hat.

"Snow, I need you to take your dogs down to Feather and Adrian's. Make sure they're alright," her dad instructed.

Snow glanced to Lake for a moment but nodded.

"Yes, pops," he said, snatching up a flashlight and running off to likely grab his shoes.

"Lake--" he started.

"Dad, I had a dream," she blurted.

Her dad blinked slowly, turning to look at her.

"O....kay?" he said slowly, voice raising in pitch. "And?"

Lake suddenly felt very awkward.

"I'm having a very main character moment," she said nervously, looking off to the side.

"Lake, I really don't know what that means," her dad said with a sigh, stoking the fire.

"I just--uh, like. I. Well. Ya know. Hm..." Lake stuttered, starting too many thoughts and finishing none of them.

Her dad just looked at her expectantly.

"You know the whole Cheva blessing us with magic blah blah powerful ice winter whatever god story, benevolent but distant ruler whatever stuff right?" Lake said quickly.

"Yeah?" he said it more like a question.

"Dad, what if Cheva needs our help?" Lake asked, her words coming out like word-barf.

Her dad stared at her for a moment, like he was studying her in the flickering firelight. She didn't know why, but for maybe the first time ever, she actually felt seen by him. It was weird, and unsettling. She didn't know if she liked it.

"If she needs our help," her dad said lowly. "Then we're in more trouble than I thought."

Well, that was ominous.

There was an awkward silence that followed until Lake cleared her throat.

"So I'm thinking of doing something crazy," Lake blurted again.

Her dad looked at her with raised brows.

"I'm going to try to find Cheva," Lake said.

Her dad blinked, this time even slower.

"You're what," he said in disbelief.

"ONLY FOR THE WEEKEND THOUGH," Lake said even more earnestly as if she had to explain herself. Well, she kind of did. She really should, even.

"If our town is in as much trouble as I think it is then we--I need to move fast. I can take some of the dogs, the ones I've worked with more. I'll even bring my friends with me, just to be safe, and if you know, if we find out Cheva's not even real--"

"She's real," her dad interrupted.

Lake was the one to blink back at him this time. She cleared her throat again.

"So I-- we'll try to find her I guess. And-- and uh... I don't know..."

Lake scratched the back of her head.

"How do you bargain with a god?" she asked.

Her father gave her a level look.

"Be back for dinner Monday night," he said simply.


"You guys will be okay 'til then?" she asked.

"We'll make it," he said. "Be safe."

Lake nodded slowly to herself, starting to turn away.

"Okay... okay," she mumbled under her breath. "Okay then. I'm going to go find god."

wc: 1,265/2,500
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Carina says...

It was way too early for a blackout.

"Gil, my boy! Come help me start the generator!" Fish's dad bellowed all the way in the basement. For being two stories under him, it sounded like he was right next to him.

"Ugh... five more minutes..." Fish mumbled to no one, clutching the comforter over his head as he shivered into a fetal position. He didn't even realize it was cold until he woke up, but honestly, the temperature was perfect for sleeping.

"GIL!" his father bellowed again, almost causing the walls to shake from the sheer volume of his deep voice.

Worried that his neighbors would (again) overhear their yells, Fish sighed and slowly sat up, wrapping the blanket around him like a burrito. He blinked once, twice, trying to adjust his eyes to the darkness of his room. The blackout curtains over his one tall window didn't help, but since this was before his usual dreaded wakeup time of 6AM for work, this had to be in the middle of the night... which meant he probably would go straight to work afterwards. Fantastic, considering he was already running low on sleep from their game night last night.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," Fish weakly yelled back when he anticipated his father yelling once more, probably even louder this time.

He slipped into his fish-shaped slippers next to his bed (a gift from Lake), and then grabbed a thick warm robe nearby that had cartoon fishs printed on it (a gift from Rain - there was a pattern here, but at least it served utility). Shivering once more before hurriedly putting on the robe, Fish rushed downstairs, careful to not slip or fall on anything.

"Good, you're here," his father said as soon as Fish opened the door to the basement.

He was holding a flashlight that was violently bright, and shined it on his face. Fish hardly had time to take in his frown before he was blinded by the light.

"Son, you look ridiculous in that outfit," his father said plainly.

"You said you needed help with the generator?" Fish said with a sigh, blinking away the bright fuzzies dancing across his vision as he carefully went down the stairs.

"Mmmhmm. Been a while since we had to use her," his father said gruffly, patting the generator. "But she should be running okay for at least a few hours until the solar panels kick in. Help me gas her up."

If anyone in this town was prepared for the apocalypse, it'd be his father. There was an embarrassing amount of extra food and water in their so-called "bunker," and enough supplies that could last a family at least a year. It was like he had been preparing for this his whole life, and this one blackout was only a minor inconvenience.

Well, at least for his father. It was a big inconvenience for Fish. This cost him at least a few hours of sleep. That or internet time. Or gaming time.

Fish begrudgingly followed his father's step-by-step instructions, and after about fifteen minutes, the generator kicked and sputtered to life. It was rather smoky from the diesel, so Fish made sure that it was venting outside correctly. He already made that mistake once... maybe twice. How many blackouts had occurred this year? He was already losing track.

The lights flickered on to a dim constant, and his father patted his oily hands together in satisfaction.

"That oughta do it," he said with a proud grin, then patted Fish's back, leaving a slimy handprint against his fluffy fish robe. "Good job, son."

"Yeah... thanks dad," Fish mumbled, trying not to sneer from the grossness left on his robe.

Right when Fish was trying to think of an excuse to go back upstairs and sleep before his father thought of some random excuse for him to start work early, a knock was heard from their front door. Maybe someone needing to borrow their power?

"I'll get it," Fish said without hesitation, already going up the stairs.

"Alright, but if it's not a family friend, don't let them in. They shoulda grabbed their own generator," Fish's dad said snippily.

Fish sighed. Just like how his father worried about the end times for no reason, he was worried that one day someone would take advantage of the fact that he'd prepare for the end times. Even though there was probably a one hundred percent chance the world was never going to end.

"Sure dad," Fish mumbled, rushing up to the front door. He peeped in the hole first, seeing that it was Lake, all bundled up and bouncing around like she had to pee her pants. Maybe her water stopped running?

"It's Lake," Fish announced loudly for his dad first, and then opened the door. "Hey Lake. Do you need to use the restroom?"

Lake had snow goggles on and pushed them up over her had. He saw that there was a head-lamp strapped to her head as well.

"Fish!" Lake said with a big, eager smile. "Go get dressed. I need you to pack a weekend bag."

The wind from outside had already basically taken all of Fish's livelihood already, seeping the warmth from his face as he squinted into the darkness. He heard Lake's words, but he hadn't registered them. Yet.

"Do you want to come inside?" he said instead.

Lake glanced behind her, and Fish saw the dog sled with the dogs all hitched up, pawing at the ground.

"Sure," Lake said. "Wait here!" she shouted to the dogs before pushing past Fish inside.

Fish promptly closed the door behind her, sighing a breath of relief as he brushed away the little flakes of snow already accruing on his sleeves. He glanced back at Lake, barely visible from the dim light powered by the generator.

"Wait," he said slowly, now hearing her. "Are you going somewhere? Am I going somewhere?"

"Yeah, so about that, I was thinking about going on a little weekend trip, you know, just for uh, a little taste of adventure," Lake started saying quickly. "You know that book I borrowed, right?"

Fish narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously. "Yeeeeah?"

"So I'm gonna follow the map," Lake said, stomping her boots on his doormat.

"I thought that was all made up," he mumbled.

"Yeah, you did," Lake said. "But I read the whole thing in detail and I think it's really legit."

"I don't get it," Fish said, trying to follow her train of thought here. "Why follow the map? What's over there?"

Lake turned to Fish and met his eyes with deep intensity, and she reached out and grabbed him by the shoulders.

"Have you ever just had a moment where everything makes sense even though it shouldn't?" she asked.

"I feel like I'm having the opposite moment right now," Fish said, chuckling at his own joke.

"Fish, I think Cheva needs my help. Our help. I had a dream last night," she said, pulling away from him. "The town was in trouble. I think it was going to be buried under the snow, and in my gut I knew it was because Cheva was in trouble. I knew I had to find her, and the map told us how to get there."

Fish didn't know what to say at first. Lake didn't seem like she was going on with her usual jokes and lighthearted ideas. She seemed serious, and her words felt heavy. Was she seriously going to go on a quest to find god just because she got a hold of a book that his dad wanted to store in his bachelor pad?

"I'm afraid if I don't do something that the whole future of the town, of Chevan, of everything is in the balance," Lake said. "I know it sounds insane, and I don't know why it's me, or you, or us-- but you were in the dream too, and so was Rain, and it all felt more real than anything. I don't think it's a coincidence that just before we found her in the dream that I woke up to the power being out all across the town."

She paused, taking in a deep breath as she looked at him, seeming very sober.

"It... feels like a warning. Or like a kick in the pants," she said.

Another pause as she looked off to the side, towards the door.

"I'm going to go," she declared. "I just wanted to invite you too. Just... give me the weekend, and if we don't find her, then... maybe it was all just a really intense pizza dream."

To be honest, Fish had always been skeptical about Cheva. His classmates at the time would say it was because he sucked at magic, and maybe there was truth to that. But if Fish had to guess, he really didn't think Lake would find anything at the mountain... especially since it came from some arbitrary book.

But eh. If that was the case, what did she have to lose? What did he have to lose? Maybe this could be a little getaway from the routine of work. It'd be kind of a sucky getaway since it'd be a hard trek and freezing, but everyday out to the boat or the shop was a freezing and difficult trek sometimes.

"...Just the weekend?" he said after another hesitation.

"I have to be back by Monday for dinner," Lake said like it was obvious.

Fish shrugged with a little smile. "Sure. Why not."

Lake's eyes went wide and her whole face brightened with her smile. Before Fish could prepare himself, Lake had grabbed him and lifted him off the ground, squeezing him way too hard.

"Okay okay okaaaaay, you can put me down now," Fish said with a nervous laugh, but he would really rather be standing on his two feet. And be able to breathe.

Lake let out a little laugh as she set him down and let go, looking at him with a goofy, self-satisfied grin.

"Perfect," she said, her voice buzzing with excitement. "Okay. Okay. You pack your things for a weekend trip outdoors. I gotta go get Rain in on this and you gotta let your dad know and whatever. Meet me at my place at uh, like 9am?"

"Oh, uh... sure," Fish said, but he was too held back from her pervious words.

Lake was right. He had to tell his dad.

Ah, shoot, he had to tell his dad.

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