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The Outlands



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Wed Feb 20, 2019 8:35 am
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fraey says...



Adina Blackthorn
cowritten with @soundofmind


Adina strolled down the dirt path, checking that Posey had her equipment placed comfortably on her back. When James pulled her aside earlier talking about getting back his horse, she got excited at seeing some more animals.

Not that she didn't have Ursuku with her as well. The cowboy hadn't exactly told her not to bring the cat with them, so she deemed his silence as approval. Besides, Uri had ran all around her when she was packing up to go. Who could leave such a cute little animal behind?

She sure couldn't. And she knew a part of James couldn't either.

For a few moments, the only sounds came from their boots crunching on fallen leaves, and the soft breaths of Posey. She pet the horse happily, brushing her hair out in spikes.

"Hey," she said, catching his attention. "Do you think we could find some animals in this different town?"

James raised his eyebrows and looked over at her, eyes jumping from the horse to the cat. "You mean domesticated ones? Or just any animals."

Adina opened her mouth to say "anyone," but she thought for a second.She would hope the animals would be friendly. "I mean, as long as they're nice, does it really matter?" Her words ran through her head. Maybe she spoke a little hastily, judging by James' even more exaggerated expression, but still, all animals were mostly good.

"Okay," she muttered. "But, like think about a super friendly little panther! What if they wanted to join our cheery band of people?" Adina grinned widely at James, willing him to say no to her.

James squinted at her and pursed his lips. With a sigh, he started to quicken the pace. "There's only so much you can do to train wild animals, and at the end of the day, it's just not the same as... well... a house cat. But if you're really looking forward to seeing some animals, there will be plenty of other horses at the stables."

"That's fair, I suppose." She hummed, leading Posey away from some rocks on the path. "I'll be happy seeing more horses! I'm sure we can find some treats to feed them somewhere around here." Adina looked up to see James far ahead of her.

Maybe she talked too much about animals. "Don't leave me behind," Adina called out, laughter leaking into her voice even as she urged Posey faster. "I don't really know where we're going Mr. Cowboy!"

James looked back at her, his eyes wide with mild surprise. "Mr. Cowboy?" A smile tugged at his lips. "Gods, I thought that nickname died."

Adina giggled, nearly tripping over a branch at his smile. She didn't think that could happen! "I'm never gonna let that name go." She drew close enough to poke at his arm. "Cowboys are cool, and so are you."

James grinned, though it looked like he was trying to fight it down. "Well. You're the coolest not-cowboy I know, so that makes two of us," he said, giving her a little nudge in the arm with his elbow.

She brightened even more at that. James thought she was cool! "Thank you kindly sir," Adina said through a super wide smile. "I'm honored to be given this title."

"You're very welcome," he said.

James pursed his lips as his grin grew, and he looked up ahead at the passing buildings. They'd made their way to the edges of the town, passing through homes and shops until the previously crowded arrangement of buildings began to thin out. They made their way onto a small dirt trail that made its way up a grassy hill, and she could see the stables up ahead. It was a long, L-shaped building, painted a pale yellow that had been bleached by the salt and the sun. A white fence made another L-shape that opposed the buildings, closing it off and creating an area for some horses to wander and graze. She could see a few of them as little dots of black and white and brown from afar.

Adina looked around the last few buildings, wondering if any had hats for James later. She had a few coins left over from her lastest excursion with Rose. Adina could barely contain herself in wanting to see more horses, with her hands shaking even while holding onto the string connecting her to Posey.

All animals were awesome, but horses did hold a special part of her heart, as well as Uri who decided to poke her head out of one of the pockets on Posey's side. Adina stroked the cat's head, keeping an eye on the colorful decorations nearly littering the streets. She squinted her eyes at a sign laying half-collapsed on the side.

It read something like "Looking For Headwear?" Something dinged in her brain. She would have to try to find that store later for James. Hopefully he'd appreciate a hat, if not to fully complete his cowboy-persona. That would be for after meeting the horses though.

Adina started to skip, peeking at James' back in case he saw. She may have already shown him the more crazy side of her animal-loving self, but she didn't him to think she was obsessed. Maybe he hadn't noticed the couple of bunnies she snuck a couple of vegetables earlier? She could only hope.

"Do you know many people here?" The question popped into her head - she was curious. For him to leave his horse here, James had to trust someone, in some way.

James glanced over. "Just one. We have a mutual aquaintence."

Adina rocked on her heels. "Oh, okay! That's cool." She kept glancing at their surrondings. They were trekking slowly to the stables. "How many horses do you think we'll see?" She held back her question about whether or not they could take a few with them. Maybe she could accidentally spring a few free.

He looked up at the stables that were getting closer. He gave a little shrug. "We'll see."

--<>--


By the time they reached their destination, Adina still hadn't lost her excitement-fueled energy. She lightly jogged, (more like sprinted as fast as she could without wanting to scare the horses) through the gates. There were countless animals all around her. Amusedly enough, not one but two ponies made their way to a slightly startled James.

Adina hid her giggles in the soft hair of a cute dark brown-haired horse. They had approached Posey right after entering the pasture. She was happy enough to pet as many horses as she could. A few rabbits slipped under the white fence and ran through a few horses' legs.

From the corner of her eye she could see a woman approaching them through the field. Her greying black hair was tied back into a low ponytail, but that was the only indication of her age. She wore simple clothes, a little dirtied on the knees of her pants, like she'd been kneeling in the grass or something. Her eyes were alight with recognition as she approached, looking at James and giving him a wave before she came within reasonable talking distance.

"I didn't think I'd see you here any time soon," she said with a smile, looking over at Adina. "A friend of yours?"

James nodded. "This is Adina."

"I can see you like horses," the woman said with a smile. She stepped up to the mare Adina was stroking. "Her name's Thistle. And my name's Hannah."

"It's nice to meet you, ma'am." Adina waved a hand a little awkwardly. She could feel a blush forming on her face, judging by a rush of heat. "I really do love horses. You're super lucky to take care of so many of them!"

Hannah chuckled. "It helps to have a few stablehands as well. Managing them all by myself might be more than I can handle."

"Oh, I bet!" Adina shook her head enthusiastically. "That would probably be pretty tough." She drew closer to Hannah, to say something else quietly. "Does James ever help you?"

Hannah leaned in, and pulled away with a small grin. She looked over at James, who was far enough away that he couldn't overhear. "No, but that's a good idea. I should make him work for me sometime. To pay me back for all the trouble he is," she whispered with a teasing smile.

James cleared his throat.

Hannah gave Adina a pat on the shoulder. "Well, I suppose you'll be wanting to see Elliot, then?" she looked down at Adina. "I think you'd quite like him. He's a beautiful horse. Has a bit of an attitude sometimes, though."

Adina felt a grin stretching across her face. "A bit like his master, then, hm?" She gasped out before breaking down in laughter. She really didn't think she would laugh this much in a single day, but she supposed anything could happen with such an interesting person that James was.

Hannah hid a laugh behind her hand, and James only looked at the two of them with a slow blink.

"Where is he?" he asked.

Hannah put a hand to her chest and composed herself. "He should be further out in the pasture," she said, gesturing out into the field. "I can bring you to him if you'd like," she said, to which James nodded. "And Adina, you're free to wander the stables! Just be mindful of the creatures. Some of them are more shy than others and need some more space with strangers."

Adina nodded, her curly hair whipping all around. "I'll be careful, don't worry ma'am. I get being a little shy." She gave a small smile. "Good luck in retrieving Elliot!" She waved goodbye to the two amused adults, (at least more adult than her) and set off to take in her surroundings.

There had been that sign talking about hats right at the edge of the town. She could start there. Maybe Hannah could use a hat too. She hummed a little under her breath as she patted Thistle and Posey once more before shutting the gate behind her.

A few minutes saw her standing right by that original advertisement. Adina turned down the street, to see a few buildings that had a few items outside their doors. One did hold a hat rack. She happily moved closer to that store, taking a look at the selection.

An old, brown faux leather hat seemed to call out to her, so she picked it up, running a hand along the purple stitching. Perfect for a certain cowboy fellow. Adina strolled into the actual store, looking for an important-looking person.

A few people stood by, in quiet conversation, but none of them moved closer to her. She assumed that they weren't a worker. Adina figured she could take a peek around just in case and wait out someone showing up.

Inadvertently, she caught a part of the discussion between the three strangers. One was speaking quickly, the middle maintained a calm expression, while the third stayed fairly quiet.

"There's this place," one of them said, "that's for those special folk."

"D'ya know where?" Another fiddled with one of his knives.

"No one knows." The first speaker shrugged. "I've only heard the rumors."

"Rumors?"

The final person spoke then. "Yes. For the gifted."

The gifted? What could they mean by that? Adina turned back to the random items the store held, trying to think about their words. The only time she had heard that term was on a flyer talking about magic users. She paused. Could they really be talking about magic?

A small bubble of hope grew within her. Could a safe place for people like her really exist? For a second, she wanted to approach the men and ask them more, but that would be too dangerous. Especially after the sudden shifts in moods of friendly people their crew had met on their travels.

A rueful smile formed. She couldn't really trust anyone, besides her friends.

Someone knocked on the door, causing her to jump with surprise. They ended up being an actual worker, so Adina went over to purchase the hat she had been clutching. Another hat caught her eye as well, this one a tan color, that matched at least one of the horses Hannah had.

Adina only had a few coins, but thankfully, the hats didn't cost too much, so she was able to leave with two nice gifts for two nice people. She felt somewhat reluctant leaving that conversation behind, but there wasn't much she could do then reveal herself to be a magic user. Who knew what kind of attention that would draw.

With that, she walked the path back to where the lovely horses were. Adina stroked Posey before putting James' hat on Thistle for a second. She didn't mind waiting a few extra minutes for James and Hannah if it meant she could play for longer. Footsteps and two voices drew her attention to the opening that the pair had left through.

Sure enough, they were walking back, with a rather beautiful horse accompanying them. Elliot really was quite pretty, with a proud long, white mane and an almost gold-colored coat. The closer they got, the more Adina saw of the horse. He even had a cute stripe along his nose.

She honestly just wanted to pet him now. That probably could wait until they were all getting ready to leave though.

When James saw her he gave her a wave. Hannah said something to him in hushed tones and the two exchanged a few words before Hannah broke away and headed back to the stables and out of the pasture. She turned back to give Adina what looked like a wave goodbye.

Adina called out "Wait!" to Hannah. She jogged over to the woman to hand over a hat. "I don't know if you like wearing hats, but here's one I thought you might like." Adina smiled widely. "Thank you so much for letting me meet all your horses."

Hannah raised her brows and took the hat with a smile. "Oh my goodness, dear, you're too kind," she said with a thankful bow if her head as she slipped the hat on her head. "I could always use a nice hat. Horses like to nibble at 'em." She winked. "I keep telling them they're not goats, but I think they just like to mess with me."

"Surely a sign of their love." Adina laughed.

"Of course," she said with a tip of her new hat. "Now you two stay safe," she continued, sending a look James's way. "Keep an eye on that one for me."

Adina nodded. "I'll try my best ma'am." She grinned one last time before waving goodbye, and walked over to where James stood.

She looked up at the cowboy, then down at her decidedly empty hands. His hat! Where did she put it? Adina searched the ground first, then froze at the sight of his gift still on top of Thistle's head. She tried to sneak over to the mare and gently pull the hat off before he noticed.

Then, she moved over to him once more, barely containing her giggles and plopped the hat onto James' head.

"Now you're a true cowboy!"

James's brows lifted up and together, and he grinned down at her. He reached out and ruffled the hair atop her head for the briefest of moments before passing her with Elliot in tow.

"Guess there's no denying the nickname now."

"Maybe it was my plan all along." Adina grinned. She was looking forward to how the others would react to seeing the hat on his head.

"Well, at the very least, Rose will have something new to complain about."
  





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Sun Mar 24, 2019 2:44 am
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Lael says...



Kaia Nesbitt
cowritten with @Featherstone


"Here we are," said Kaia, interrupting what had felt like hours of Ari monologuing about anything and everything, as they walked into the town. "Do you remember what we're supposed to get?"

Ari changed subjects mid-sentence as she spoke, going from something about fish hooks and trees to the supplies in an instant, hardly taking a breath between words. "James said t' be gettin' food 'n somethin', 'n, uh..." he stopped, scratching his head like the massive ape he was. "Uh....uh....um...somethin' t' do w', uh, not eatin'," he concluded unhelpfully.

"Uh huh," said Kaia, giving him a look. "We are getting food for our journey, and other supplies that will help us. If you find anything that will be helpful to us, let me know."

He considered this, trying to think of things that would be helpful. Rope was helpful! Oh, and so were those little nutty things with honey that were in his boot and Brett really liked! What about shiny things? They were fun, that was for certain, but were they helpful? Did it count if they were helpful for smiles or only for eating and stabbing?

"I think there's the store." Kaia pointed at a building to the side of them. "Remember, I'm paying for everything, so bring what you find to me before you go up to the counter, okay?"

"Okay!" he agreed, grinning. He'd actually get to be helpful this time, and he wouldn't hold anyone up or almost get in a fight or do something really stupid that would mess everything up, or so he was determined to achieve. Ari reined in his horse and hopped off of it, half-falling as he slid out of the saddle. He was comically large next to the beast and the goofy grin on his face only made it that much funnier as he tethered it and all but skipped into the store.

Kaia shook her head but smiled as she followed him inside. What an interesting character.

She immediately went to look at the shelves of food, scanning them to find items that would last for a long time in case the group couldn't get more for a while. Some cans of beans would be good (the others would probably start calling James 'cowboy' again if he ate them); jerky, nuts, and dried fruit would also last a long time. Ah, since they were near a coast, the seafood should also be inexpensive.

Ardeshir disappeared into the shelves the moment he was in, scanning them for anything useful. No, wait...helpful. Rope, that was helpful, as he'd realized earlier, but were these scratchy blankets that sat under a few saddlebags helpful? What about the flint and steel that was next to them? Flint and steel was good for fires, and it was shiny, so...Well, it couldn't hurt to grab it, right? He snatched up the blanket and the flint and steel before disappearing into the shelves again to gather more.

When he finally did return to Kaia, he was carrying a bit more than necessary. He had a few more blankets than necessary, and the flint and steel in addition to some extra clothing, a couple knives (which he was sure Rosaleen could at least find a use for!), canvas they could use for tents because the weather wasn't going to stay decent forever, and two bouquets of mixed wildflowers that would be good for smiling.

Kaia eyed the items in his arms, raising an eyebrow at the impractical thing among the useful supplies. "Ari, are you sure we need those flowers?" she asked, hefting the food items into one arm.

Oh, no, had he gotten something that wasn't helpful? He thought they'd be helpful. Well, maybe if he explained their purpose, Kaia would understand. "Well, see, I was thinkin', we got lotsa food 'n fire things 'n stuff but everyone's always so grumpy, so, I thought, I was thinkin', I was thinkin' t'at them flowers would make more smiles! And smiles are good! Because if there's smiles then there's happy and if there's happy, Rosaleen is nice! And nice Rosaleen and talking James and laughing Brett is much better than prickly Rosaleen and broody James and sad Brett!" he said, hardly taking a breath between words. "I can pay for 'em!" Before she could agree or disagree or simply tell him he had no money, the supplies became a stack on the floor next to him and he pulled off his boot, pouring its contents onto the ground so he could find his money.

More things came out of the boot than should've been able to fit. There were a few pieces of jerky, a mushed stickers bar, a crumpled piece of paper that seemed to have some sort of childish drawing on it, some fish scales, a bit of crab chitin, a shark tooth, some gray rocks that didn't seem particularly interesting to anyone but Ari, a few leaves, several wilted flower petals, and a hunk of very old cheese. How all of that and his massive foot manage to all fit was a mystery.

"Ah, don't worry about it, Ari," said Kaia before he could take his other one off, a little embarrassed, "a couple of bouquets won't cost much, really. I'm sure I have a lot more on hand than you do, so I'll pay for them too." She grabbed a couple more tins of sardines off the shelf and motioned with her head towards the counter. "Come on, then."

He scooped all the items back into his boot, almost taking off his second one to double check, but then he remembered that he was really supposed to listen to Kaia so he left it on and gathered the rest of the supplies. "Okay!" he agreed, walking towards the shopkeep with her.

After pulling out her coins and counting out the correct amount, Kaia exchanged them with the clerk and began putting all the food and smaller supplies into a bag to make them easier to carry. As she was directing Ari to take some of the other things, she spotted a bright flash out of the corner of her eye. With a subtle turn of her head, she took in the sight of a guard pacing about behind them, but since he didn't seem to be entirely interested in her or Ardeshir, she chose to ignore him.

"Let's go, Ari," she said, and made her way towards the door.

Initially oblivious, he fell in behind her, shouldering the goods with an upbeat gait. It was about then that he registered the fact she'd been looking at something first. Something behind them.

Ari might've been naive and foolish and ignorant more often than not, but he had managed to survive the Outlands this long, and it didn't escape him. He glanced back to catch sight of whoever or whatever it was out of his periphery and he felt his heart stop.

It was a familiar face, one that he'd known since his days as a child running errands for the guards at Ali's side. Urth Rhydam. At the time, he'd been another trainee like Ari's big brother, and he'd initially been very nice to him. He'd been at Alix's funeral.

It was that fact in and of itself that probably led to their rather toxic last encounter. He felt betrayed both for himself and in Alix's stead when he heard about Ardeshir's sheltering of a criminal, and he'd been the first one to go bashing down Ari's door. He wasn't sure what Rhydam was doing here but whatever it was, it wasn't good, and he'd no doubt recognized Ari already.

The moment they were outside and had the gear on the horses, he leaned in close towards Kaia. "Kaia," he murmured, his voice low. "I know t'e guard behind us. He ain't nothin' good, pro'ly recognized me already. He ain't gonna just be lettin' us go."

She frowned, taking a glace behind again. Sure enough, the man had followed them out of the store and was staring at their backs. "We can't lead him back to the others," she said, continuing to walk as if nothing was wrong. If the man confronted them, there was only one thing she could do...

"Are we punchin' 'r runnin' 'n losin' 'im 'r somethin' else?" Ari asked softly as he tightened the girth on his horse's saddle.

Even as he spoke, Rhydam was walking towards them, his hand dangerously close to the hilt of his sword. The look in his eyes was a familiar one--this wasn't going to go down well.

"No," replied Kaia, lowering her hand to her waist where her knives and pistols were. "You follow my lead."

Ari nodded, glancing back at his former ally nervously before turning back to his horse. Kaia was much better at this than he was, and she'd managed to get through a dog-eat-dog world much longer than him. If she had an idea that she thought would work then he'd trust her with it.

Kaia closed her eyes briefly as she mustered up the mask she'd let go since she joined James' group. When she reopened them, her gaze was coldly hostile.

"Remember," she muttered, "don't say a word."

Then she turned around and fixed Rhydam with a steely stare. "You, guard," she said. "Why are you following me?" She made sure to refrain from using 'us' as she'd gotten used to thinking of herself as part of a group.

He closed the distance between them and gave her a slight nod, though his own expression was wary and showed slight distaste. "Ma'am, did you know this man is a wanted criminal? Helping someone like him could land you in prison."

"Help?" Kaia scoffed, pulling out a poster with Ardeshir's picture on it and holding it out for the man to see. It was a good thing she had kept the collection of wanted posters of the group that she'd gotten after the prison break. "I'm a bounty hunter, and he's got a handsome sum for his head. I make one stop on my way to drop him off and someone automatically assumes I'm helping the criminal."

"Well, he is unrestrained," replied Rhydam, gesturing at Ari, who had a nervous face as his gaze flickered to the guard.

Kaia put a hand on her belt, near one of her pistols. "He knows what'll happen if he tries to run," she said. "If you're trying to steal my bounty, I'm afraid I can't guarantee your security. Get lost." She turned back to Ari and snapped, "On the horse, now. We're going."

As they rode off, Kaia kept her eyes forward, but Ari looked back and the last thing he saw of Rhydam was the unforgiving look in the guard's eyes as he watched them leave.
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

"You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."
Jeremiah 29:13
  





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Wolfical says...



Brett Crawford


“The family resemblance is uncanny,” Rose said drily as they wandered aimlessly through the port town.

It took Brett a moment to register that she had said something because he was still in a daze. “Huh? Really?” He didn’t think they looked or acted similarly at all. He pictured himself back on the ship—bedraggled and filthy, with slouching shoulders, oily black hair, and metaphorical blood on his hands—face-to-face with the clean-cut model of success and kindness, draped royally in that pristine white captain’s garb.

“I was joking,” Rose said.

“Ah.”

“It’s actually kind of remarkable how twins could turn out so differently. What happened to you?”

“I dunno, Rose,” Brett said morosely. “I’ve wondered the same thing for a long time.” Long before he had committed the crime, even, Brett had been weighed down by feelings of inadequacy and guilt. He tried to put the blame on Matt as a way to lift his conscience and tuck away his feelings. It was an easy thing to do when Matt wasn’t a part of his life anymore, but witnessing his brother’s overwhelming kindness and love stripped his blindfolds away. Looking down at feet, Brett could finally see them again: the ball-and-chains of guilt dragging in the sand.

“Makes me wonder why you haven’t told us about this guy before.” Rose said. “If we knew you had connections like this, we could’ve been trying to reach him a long time ago.”

“I didn’t see the point. I never imagined Matt would treat me like that. I thought he hated me.” He sighed, stuffing his hands in his holey pockets. “And I think part of me realized that if you all knew what Matt was like, you wouldn’t like me so much anymore.”

“I can’t say you’re wrong,” Rose said. Brett tossed her a tired glare.

“Look,” she continued, “are we just gonna amble about town throwing a pity party, or are we gonna go find the others and catch them up on the news?”

Brett felt bad for being moody and pessimistic, especially when he should be celebrating the reunion with his brother. After allowing himself one last tired sigh, he leapt up onto the nearest storefront platform and leaned against a pole with a hand tented above his eyes, like a pirate scanning the seas.

“What are you doing?” Rose asked. There was so little enthusiasm in her voice that it was essentially a statement.

“Looking for the circus crew,” Brett said.

Rolling her eyes, Rose crossed her arms and sat on the platform, next to Brett’s feet.

“You have to admit that this is a good vantage point,” Brett said. Squinting down the street, he noticed a real nice-looking horse in the crowd, guided by a lead rope. Several moments passed as he watched it with interest before he realized that the man leading the horse was James. Their James. In a hat. Then he saw Adina too.

“My gosh,” Rose said, noticing them at the same time. “He really is a cowboy.”

--<>--


“I hope you can understand my apprehension,” James said. “It’s not that I don’t trust your word about your brother, it’s that we’re putting our safety of anonymity in the hands of someone none of us even know. Someone who’s a successful law-abiding citizen with a lot to lose.”

“Yeah, I get it. It’s a risk, but...” Brett scratched the back of his head. He was a little irked that James wasn’t ecstatic about the news, but he understood James’ point of view and wasn’t surprised by his wariness. “Listen, I know Matt has good intentions. We ran into each other for a reason. A day later, or a day earlier, and I probably would’ve missed him. This is a huge opportunity that just fell into our laps.”

“Yeah, I’m actually with Brett on this one,” Rose said.

“He does sound like a really nice guy,” Adina said as she stroked Elliot’s nose. “I think it’s a risk worth taking to let him at least just meet us.”

“Besides,” Rose added, “Brett already spilled the beans that he’s been traveling around with a group of criminals. If Matt wanted to hunt us down for the bounty, we’re done for already.”

“It’s not that,” James said. “I think I believe you, Brett, when you say that he has good intentions. I’m just worried that he doesn’t realize what he’s getting himself into. One small slip, and that’d be the end of us.”

“I’ll make sure he knows,” Brett replied. “He’s a smart guy, I promise.”

James shrugged. “I’ve made my case. If the rest of you want him to come meet us tonight, I can’t really object any further. Just... be smart, Brett.”

--<>--


Hazy tendrils of smoke curled into the sky from the campfire of dried driftwood, mixing with the deep clouds of bluish-purple that faded into pink ribbons, then into an orange wash, and finally into the yellow-white of the lingering sun peering just above the deep blue ocean horizon. There was a sharp, salty smell of fish as it sizzled and smoked above the flames.

The group, exempting Ari, watched the myriad of colors tensely, keeping an eye toward town as they awaited Brett and Matt’s arrival. Meanwhile, Ari could hardly concentrate on cooking the fish evenly because the sky was so pretty. Oblivious to the tense atmosphere and the potential magnitude of the situation, he assumed everyone else was just as excited as he was to meet Brett’s twin brother.

“I think that one’s burnt, Ari,” Adina said quietly.

“Oh!” He quickly flopped the fish around on its spit. “Sorry ’bout that. This one’ll be mine. I’ve gotta make an extra nice one for Brett’s brother.”

“I hope they get here soon so we can figure out what our plans are,” Kaia said, rubbing her hands together impatiently. “I didn’t like the look on that bounty hunter’s face. I can’t tell if he believed me or not, but I’d rather not take any chances.”

“I agree,” James said. “We should head out as soon as possible—we can break camp early tomorrow.”

“This’ll be Brett’s brother’s fish,” Ari proclaimed, skewering a new fish he had gutted and cleaned. “I won’t mess up on this ’un.”

“Speak of the devil,” Rose muttered softly.

They looked south, tensing when along the shoreline they could make out two dark figures on the beach. A few seconds later, one of them waved in a familiar, friendly fashion, allowing them to relax somewhat. James expelled a tense breath through his nose. He looked like he was about to say one last thing to the group—maybe something along the lines of “behave yourselves so he sees we’re nice people; I’m looking at you, Rose”—but before he could decide what to say, Brett and Matt awkwardly entered the orange circle of light and James rose to shake Matt’s hand.

Brett was amused by how polite everyone was, getting up to shake hands and introduce themselves and tell his brother how good it was to finally meet him. Ari, on the other hand, jumped up without warning and skirted around the fire to give Matt a big bear hug. Pulling away, he said, “It’s real nice t’meet ya, Brett’s brother. I’m Ari. I hope you’re hungry, ’cause I just cooked ya a real good fish.”

Matt was still taken aback by the hug. He laughed uncertainly, brushing his clothes off. “It’s nice to meet you too, Ari. The fish smells really nice, but—”

“I know!” Ari said. “I burnt the last one, but you can just tell by the smell o’ this ’un that it’ll taste real good. It’s all for you.” He went over to put the fish on a plate.

“It’s very tempting,” Matt said, sitting down on a driftwood log they’d left open for their guest, “but, ah... I’m not very hungry. I’m afraid Brett and I just had dinner on the ship.”

Brett put his hands on his stomach. “Yeah, phew. I am stuffed. Haven’t eaten that well in a long time. Sorry Ari, but you can enjoy that fish yourself.”

“Oh...” Ari looked sad for a moment, but then his face brightened again. “That food on the ship must’a been real nice. Here, Adina, you can have the nice fish.”

“No, it’s alright—” Ari thrust the plate onto her lap and she laughed. “Alright, if you insist.” Ursuku poked his head up in interest, his whiskers twitching as he smelled the food. “Here you go, little guy,” Adina said, slipping him a morsel.

“Oh, you have a cat!” Matt said. “What’s his name?”

“Ursuku!” Ari said. “Here, you can call ’im over with some fish.” He handed Matt a big piece.

Like a magnet, the kitten bounded across the sand when Matt called his name and wagged the meat in the air. Drawing the meat up to his chest, Matt grinned when Ursuku clambered on top of him.

“He likes you!” Adina said.

“Maybe because I have a cat too,” Matt said. The kitten had latched his tiny claws onto Matt’s coat, and he gently pried him off.

“You do?” Brett asked, surprised. “On the ship?”

“Yep. You didn’t see her because I keep her locked up in the crew’s quarters when we’re docked. When we’re out at sea, though, she has full reign of the ship. The sailors love her. She’s really more our cat than my cat.” He picked at the dirt and sand that Ursuku had tracked onto his well-ironed clothes.

“Speaking of the ship,” Brett said, facing the others, “after this I’m going back to stay the night with Matt.”

James shot him an alarmed glance. Brett cocked a questioning eyebrow. What is it now?

“That’d be... fine, it’s just that... Kaia and Ari ran into a potential threat in town today. We were hoping to leave as soon as possible in the morning.”

“Ah,” Brett said. “How serious is it?”

“Bounty hunter,” Kaia said. “Got his eye on Ari.”

“Brett can stay here if he needs to,” Matt affirmed. “I’d offer all of you a place on the ship tonight, but that would be too...”

“Suspicious,” James said. “Besides, we have our horses and all our supplies. Thank you, though.”

“Well,” Brett said, “if y’all need to go on ahead early in the morning before I get back, that’s fine. I can catch up if I want.”

James narrowed his eyes. “If you want?”

His cheeks flushed red. “I... didn’t mean it like that. I meant that I’m good at tracking and I can, y’know...” He swung a fist playfully, trying to lighten the mood. “Pull out the ’ol tracking skills whenever I want.”

James cleared his throat. “Of course. Oh, before I forget, I wanted your opinion on Posey, Brett. She was acting funny today. Might want to come check her out with me before it gets too dark.”

“Alright.” Brett didn’t know much about horses, so he could gather what was happening. He got up and followed James up the beach. The moment they were out of earshot, James turned to him.

“Is it just me,” he whispered, “or does it sound like you’re thinking about leaving us?”

“No, no. Sorry about that slip. I didn’t mean it.”

“You can tell me the truth, Brett.” His voice was edged with a slight bitterness. “I’d... understand if you thought that going off on a ship with your brother would be a whole lot safer than going back to the Outlands.”

In case Matt was watching them in the darkness, Brett gave Posey a couple of pats on the shoulder and pretended to be inspecting a leg. “I will tell you the truth. I’m just a little confused right now because it all happened so suddenly today. I don’t know what I want. I love my brother and I want to spend more time with him, and yes, I know he could find a way to help me and keep me safe. But there’s no way I’d just leave you all like that. After all we’ve been through, with everything we still need to do...”

James still looked suspicious, and if Brett was totally honest with himself, he didn’t feel wholly convinced by his words either. Before he ran into Matt, the thought of leaving the group never crossed his mind. That would be ridiculous; in a place like the Outlands, he had struck gold. They were as good as family to him now, and he had them to thank for his surviving as long as he had. And yet! The promise of being safe, warm, and well-fed on his brother’s ship... It was tempting.

Brett and James returned to the fire. “Posey’ll be fine,” the latter affirmed, glancing at Brett. “I hope.”

--<>--


“What did you think about everyone?” Brett asked Matt later that night, once they were walking back to the town alone.

“The youngest girl, what’s her name again?”

“Adina?”

“Right, Adina. Meeting her broke my heart. I could tell just by looking in her eyes that she’d never hurt a soul. As for Rosaleen, I still think she’s hilarious. She has a chip on her shoulder, but she has a good heart, I think.”

Brett snorted. “That’s a stretch, but alright. And I’d say Rose’s more dry than hilarious.”

“Sounds like a love-hate relationship. You two act like siblings.” Matt elbowed him playfully. “Anyway, moving on. The big guy, Ari... he’s good at giving hugs. And apparently hiding things in his boots. Like Adina, I don’t understand how he could be considered a criminal with a bounty hunter going after him and everything. Then there’s the one with the armor—Kaia?—I can’t read her very well, but I’m glad there’s someone who’s good at protecting you guys.”

“There’s one more,” Brett prompted.

Matt nodded. “Yeah, the cowboy. He was polite and all, but I get the feeling that he doesn’t trust me, and I guess I don’t blame him. Kaia’s hard to read, but that guy’s impassable as rock. Him I can see in the Outlands. It seems like he’s been through a lot. Regardless, he's experienced and probably makes a good leader.”

In the moonless night, the twins returned to the desolated docks, where the black ocean was indistinguishable from the sky. A single lantern rocked back and forth from the ship’s bowsprit. A low din murmured from the rowdy characters of the town behind them.

“I’ll show you where we’ll be sleeping tonight,” Matt said. “I hope you won’t mind the little cots we have.”

“I’ve slept on the ground or in a tree every night for the past few years. I think I’ll be fine.”

Matt laughed sympathetically. “You’re right. That had to have been hard.”

“Literally.” Brett shrugged. “But I’m used to it. Just still not a fan of all the bug bites.”

They climbed down into the hold where he and Rose had been hiding, then entered the crew’s quarters. The cat jumped down from a cot and mewed in greeting; she had long creamy fur and sea-blue orbs for eyes. Back on the beach, Ari had wrapped up a some extra fish in paper and handed it to Matt as a parting gift, saying, “You can give this to yer lil kitty on the ship.”

Matt uncovered the piece of fish from his pocket and plopped it in a little food dish that was screwed into the floor, then he sat down next to her, petting her as she ate. She purred and flicked her tail contentedly.

“Where’s the crew sleeping tonight?” Brett asked.

“They’re taking advantage of the night off in town. Probably most of them’re gambling and drinking all their wages away.”

“Drinking, huh,” Brett said. His face turned a little pale.

“Yeah...” Matt looked up at him with a knowing, sympathetic furrow to his brow.

Avoiding his gaze, Brett sat down at his brother’s side, so that they both had their backs against the wall. “I hate it.”

“I know.”

“I’ve never touched it again.”

“I’m not surprised. That’s good, I guess. You’ve gotta be on your toes in the Outlands, I’m sure.”

They were quiet for a while. All Brett could hear was the cat’s purring and eating. He looked down at his hands; he clenched them and unclenched them, then clenched them again into tight fists, his fingernails digging into his palms, as he spat out his apology. “I’m sorry, Matt.” His voice cracked.

“We already went over this with our dinner. You don’t need—”

“For rigging the skiff.”

The cat must have sensed a change in her master, because she paused to stare up at Matt. “Oh,” he said.

It had been bottled up for so long. Unspoken, seemingly small and forgotten, pushed aside by pride, but always there. A petty little thing festering over time, eating away at their relationship, becoming harder to treat with each passing year that Brett chose to ignore it.

“Took you long enough,” Matt said, emitting a short, tense laugh.

“Yeah. I... I don’t know why.”

“It’s a silly little thing to have made us mad at each other for so long.”

“It wasn’t silly or little for you,” Brett said. “I hurt you, and we were never the same after that. And then I never apologized because I wasn’t strong enough.” He thought of Rose trying to apologize to James, and sympathized with what it must have felt for her to let down her pride like that.

Matt sighed. “Brett, look at me.” He waited until Brett reluctantly tipped his blue eyes up to meet his own. “Please understand this. I don't want there to be these rifts between us anymore. I forgive you.”

Brett had been hoping his brother wouldn’t say those words, because he thought they’d feel like he was facing him again after the disqualification, waiting for the deserved punch to the face that never came. But instead the words washed over him like a warm embrace. He nodded with gratefulness, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “You’ve gotta admit, though. Those embellishments were impressive.”

“Mean, sneaky, and illegal. But yes, impressive.”

“Mean, sneaky, illegal, impressive,” Brett repeated, naming them off on his fingers. “Looks like you just described yours truly.”

“After what I saw today with you and your friend Rosaleen, I’m not so sure about the sneaky part. My first mate said he found you two playing hide and seek in the hold. Anyway, what kinds of pranks have you been up to lately? Have your youthful talents of illegally booby-trapping skiffs lent you any life-saving skills out in the wild?”

The previous tension mostly forgotten by then, Brett rattled off a few funny stories, including the one about being a mage in a tree and nearly falling to his death. Matt shared stories of his own, including many about his two-year old daughter, Brett’s niece, who until that day he never even knew existed.
John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.
  





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sherlockhson says...



Rosaleen Streinberg
cowritten with @Lael


Rose breathed a sigh of relief as everyone settled down around their camp for the night, with her as first watch. As usual she put herself a little further away from the group, telling herself it was just to get a better view of the area, but she knew that was only half of it.

The dim light of the campfire and the gentle sounds of the waves were the only things keeping her company as she tried not to get lost in her thoughts, so much had happened these past few days, but what stuck out for her was Brett and his brother. She could only the sense of belonging he would suddenly have now that things seemed to be patched up between them, something she wished she felt again.

Kaia noticed Rose isolating herself from the rest as they settled down to sleep. Although the girl often had a mask of irritation about her, now from the silhouette of her back, her shoulders were slumped forward. She appeared dejected, almost--at least, that was how Kaia felt was the way to describe things, since Rose never seemed outwardly vulnerable.

She stood quietly and walked over to Rosaleen. She stared out at the waves. "I was surprised you took first watch again," she said. "You must be as tired as everyone else."

Rose flinched and turned to face Kaia, trying to mask her suprise as best she could. "You... walk too quietly. But I'm fine, I still have a couple hours watch right? Unless you feel like joining me?"

Kaia shrugged. "I'm used to staying up at night for missions." Then she gingerly sat down in the sand, gesturing to the spot next to her. "Something's bothering you."

"And I'm used to staying up because dreams suck." She let out a small sigh. "But yeah somethings bothering me... You seem a bit close to the lot of them, do they ever talk about what I had done to James? Maybe some revenge pranks they might be planning?"

"No."

When Rosaleen turned to look at her dubiously, Kaia continued, "It would be quite childish to try to prank you for revenge, wouldn't it?"

"Childish for almost getting them all caught and thrown back into cells?" She looked over at the rest of them, seemingly sleeping soundly. "It doesn't feel right to stick around sometimes."

"Then what about me?" Kaia shifted to face the other. "Was it right for me to ask to join the group after nearly splitting you apart? It's a wonder that they all accepted me so quickly, just because I had a total change of heart. I think most would have spit on me and told me to get lost."

"I would have... Until I heard your story at least. For as abrasive as I can be I really did mean that sorry when you brought up your parents" Rose shifted around uncomfortably. "I know what it's like to lose people you love because people in power don't care."

Kaia sighed and glanced up at the moon, blinking at the sudden tears she felt. "You do have a place here, you know. They've all forgiven you. Just like they forgave me. Tragic past or not, they looked past the harmful things we did."

"And I think that's what bothers me the most, the fact that they can just forgive and forget so easily, but I have no idea how to forgive myself for the mistakes I've made. All I've known for the past few years is revenge and my desire for it." She scooped up a palm full of sand and watched it fall as she poured it back, trying todistract herself in some small way. "How do you not want it too? You said you wanted justice not revenge."

"There's a fine line. One that I worry I'll cross. My parents would never have wanted me to kill in cold blood. I've already failed them so many times, so you'd think that one more to avenge them wouldn't make a difference. And after all, the king isn't so great either, right? But I just don't want to disappoint them anymore . . . or myself." Kaia lifted her hands up. "My hands are stained with so many innocents' blood. I see that now. And to be honest, I don't think I've fully forgiven myself either. Justice and revenge, those are two things I try not to think about, at least not for myself, so maybe I'm trying to make things better by helping everyone here."

Rose sat in silence for a moment, refusing to look at Kaia as her words reminded her things were never as simple as she wanted them to be or as simple as she had to make them to survive this long. And when she spoke it was quietly and softly as memories of her parent's came to her. "My parents wouldn't have wanted me to either. 'Revenge is for fools too blind to see what it'd cost them.' my father told me when I asked him why he doesn't go after the people who wronged him. He always tried to put me on the right path, even though Ruddlan as a whole was determined to turn me into the cold person I am now..." She lost herself to memories for another few moments before her voice quickly returned to it's usual tone. "I don't know, maybe you're on to something with helping this lot here."

Kaia nodded, wanting to change the subject so she wouldn't keep dwelling on what it'd be like to kill Blackthorn. "You know, I'm sure James knows this, but I never told the rest of you. I'm actually an orphan, twice over. My parents found me as a newborn baby on the streets. That means that my birth parents most likely didn't want me." She laughed softly, to dispell her own mood. "But the Nesbitts did. My mother was teaching me to be a healer, and my father always told me that weapons and fighting were to protect, not to harm. We had a good twelve years together." She looked at Rosaleen again. "You know, I always wanted a sibling. I would beg my parents for a little brother or sister--I definitely didn't know where babies came from back then. But there was no chance of that anyway, once they died." She cleared her throat. "But now, I think I've found something like a family--you, and everyone else. And out of the whole group, I feel that of the two of us, we're not so different."

Rose couldn't help but chuckle, honestly thankful for her trying to brighten the somber tone of the night. "What a storybook villian thing to say, but you're not wrong either. though I don't think I'd make a very good sister." She leaned back, looking more relaxed as she began to feel more at ease. "I never really knew my mother for long sadly, but my dad had no end of stories about her, she always wanted a nice big family since she grew up an only child. Sometimes I think they would be sad to see some of the things I've had to do... But happy I've found good people to surround myself with one way or another."

"Something to be thankful for," murmured Kaia. Then, a little awkwardly, she reached over to wrap an arm around Rose's shoulders. "Something I've been telling myself recently is to take things one day at a time. Let's just do that, okay? Maybe we'll find one day that we've forgiven ourselves then."

"One day at a time huh?" Rose said as she fidgeted a little awkwardly, not use to the contact. "I suppose it's worth a shot, anything ot try and make the days stop blurring together... Also tell no one of this half hug."

Kaia immediately jerked her arm away and scooted back. "Yeah. Sorry. That wasn't such a great idea." She coughed quietly in embarrassment.

Rose let out a small laugh and looked over at Kaia with a rare smile. "It's fine really, just not so used to them anymore I suppose. I really appreciate it though, I mean it."

Kaia smiled back. And they sat there in a comfortable silence, listening to the crashing water until the first watch was over.
  





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Fri Jun 21, 2019 9:44 am
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Wolfical says...



Brett Crawford


Late in the evening, the gentle rocking of the ship eased Brett to sleep like a baby in a cradle; in the morning, the ship’s tumultuous movements were what woke him up. When he got to his feet and went up onto the cold and rainy deck to judge what time it was, Matt was still fast asleep in his cot.

A soft blue tinge seeping through the clouds in the eastern sky told him it was early morning. Directly overhead, dark rain clouds mirrored the dark churning waters below. The ship lurched and Brett caught himself on the slippery bulwark. He grimaced when he noticed the slick gangplank clinging to the deck to the boardwalk, remembering that fuzzy, fateful night in the rain when he had crawled across one in a drunken stupor.

In just a few moments he was cold and drenched, but he stood there a minute longer anyway, clutching the bulwark and squinting down the coastline, thinking about what was next. His friends were waiting for him down at the beach, and he hoped they had found cover in the rain. He also hoped they wouldn’t leave without him in this weather; if the downpour got any heavier it would obliterate their tracks and he’d have trouble catching up.

Always the heavier sleeper, Matt was still knocked out when he went back down. A smirk on his face, Brett without hesitation removed his dripping, raggedy jacket and wrung it right above his brother’s head.

“Pfftugah!” Matt spluttered into consciousness, shoving the jacket away when he recognized who the perpetrator was. “Alright, alright! You got me. Gah.”

“Who needs breakfast in bed when you can get a shower in bed?”

Matt regarded him groggily. “Out of all the things about you, this is one thing I definitely haven’t missed.”

“This one was mild. You should be grateful I’m leaving before I had time to plan a better way to wake you up.” Brett hanged his dripping jacket on a vacant hook.

“No kidding.” Matt sat up and shook his head like a wet dog. “So, it’s raining outside?”

“Yeah. The water’s rough, too.”

“Hopefully not too bad.” The cat hopped up onto the cot next to him, and Matt leaned over to pet her. “By the afternoon we’ll probably be exiting the cove, where the canal is narrow at high tide and the rocks are sharp. Anyway, I shouldn’t be complaining.”

“Why?”

“Consider what you could be facing by this afternoon. Bounty hunters? Outlaws? Another nest of griffins?”

“Yeah, you’re not wrong.” Brett sighed. He bent down to stroke the cat as she slinked by and rubbed against his legs. “I’m not exactly looking forward to going back. Even if it was just for a little while, being with you has been a real nice reprieve from it all.”

They were silent for a minute. “Y’know...” Matt started to say.

Brett could read his mind. “Yeah, I know. But I can’t. For right now, at least.”

“Alright, I understand. I’ll be waiting for you, okay? You know how to find me if you guys need help.”

“Thanks, Matt. It’s good to hear that.”

Matt started tugging on his boots. “Anyway, I would’ve liked for us to have breakfast somewhere in town, but I know you have to leave as soon as possible. I suppose we’ll see what we can find in the galley. I have a feeling that you’ll be happy to know that the cook usually has at least one barrel full of stickers bars on hand. They’re non-perishable while we’re out at sea.”

Brett’s face lit up. “Can I snag some for the others?”

Matt snorted. “Stealing food every chance he gets. Some things don’t change.”

Brett grabbed his things, then they climbed up and hurried through the quieted rain to the galley.

“You know what I miss?” Matt asked, holding the barrel’s lid while Brett gleefully scooped stickers bars into his bag.

“My face?” Brett said, flashing him a suave smile.

“That too, but what I was really thinking about was... TICKLE FIGHT!”

When Matt’s fingers jabbed into his brother’s side, Brett dropped the bag of stickers bars and pivoted to block the next jab. “Oh, you’re asking for it!”

While Matt was blowing off the tips of his fingers like smoke from a pair of pistols, Brett seized the opportunity to go in for a double jab. Matt tried to block with his elbows, but he was too late. He retreated to a corner of the tiny galley and begged for mercy in between uncontrollable bursts of laughter.

The galley’s door suddenly swung open. “Put your hands up!” a voice bellowed, and the next thing Brett knew was that he was staring down the barrel of a gun. Behind the gun was a rain-drenched man with a black, wiry mustache and angrily-slanted eyebrows.

“Woah, woah, woah!” Matt cried, stepping forward.

“Cap’n, did he hurt you?” the man asked, his hands quivering as they held the gun.

“Cookie! Put. The gun. Down.” Matt gently put a hand on the barrel of the gun and pointed it away from Brett. “He wasn’t hurting me. This is my brother.”

“Your brother? You’ve a brother?”

“Yes, I do. He’s my twin, actually. Brett, this is Cookie, our cook. Cookie, this is Brett.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Brett mumbled, still a bit shaken from so suddenly staring death in the face.

“When I saw that th’ light was on in here, I just knew that I was bein’ robbed,” Cookie said. “Then I heard your voice, Cap’n, and you sounded like you were bein’ attacked, so I rushed right in. What were you two doin’ in here anyway?”

“We were, uh...” Matt straightened his coat and put on an assured smile that belied the dignity he was about to lose by uttering the next statement. “We were having a tickle fight, Cookie.”

“A... a tickle fight, Cap’n?” His eyebrows rose in surprise and the corners of his mouth teased a smile.

“It was my idea,” Brett lied, since he knew he’d probably never see Cookie again.

“Yes, well, thanks for saving the day, Cookie. We’ll be on our way now. Remember who’s in charge of your wages.” Matt clapped Cookie on the back with one hand and smoothly snatched the bag of stickers bars with the other as they exited.

Outside, the rainfall had all but stopped, and the early morning sky welcomed a rainbow arching in the distance. Matt handed Brett his bag.

“Was that a threat at the end there?” Brett asked, highly amused.

“Cookie’s smart. He knows I’d find out if he told anyone.”

A few more sailors arrived across the gangplank from town. The way that they greeted their captain indicated that they thought highly of him; Brett wondered what they would think if they knew he had just lost a tickle fight.

“I’m so sorry, Brett,” Matt said as they were walking together on the docks, “but I don’t think I can walk with you all the way back to your friends. I have to prepare the crew.”

They said goodbye on the beach. Matt gave Brett the thick gray coat he was wearing as a parting gift. Brett tried to protest, feeling guilty and undeserving again, but Matt insisted.

“I love you,” Matt said as they pulled apart from their last hug. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Love you too,” Brett said. “Thanks for everything. You’ve given me hope. You’ve given all of us hope, I think.”

“Stay safe out there, alright?”

“You too, with all those, uh... high tides and sharp rocks.”

Matt laughed and turned away. “Tell your friends I said hi,” he said over his shoulder.
John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.
  





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soundofmind says...



FINAL ROUND

Tiberius James Hemming
cowritten with @sherlockhson

Image


Brett was back. They left the port town with an odd sense of security, not because they were in any less danger, but because they were together. James was glad that Brett had decided to stay, but he did think the better choice would've been to stay with his brother. It would've been in Brett's best interests to leave the group with someone in his family that was that well off and willing to help him.

James had been keeping tabs on their enemies in their travels. As the days passed and they kept moving along the coast, and he hadn't seen many signs that they were being followed. But every now and again, there would be a shift in the light that didn't feel right. A shadow, a sound, a feeling. He was never sure how much of it was in his head and how much of it was legitimate, but he took it all with mindfulness, making sure to keep up his guard. Making sure to keep an eye out for the sake of the group.

A week had passed. Things had been quiet, even among Brett and Ari, and it had felt like a slow day. They'd climbed up and down a few cliffs that overlooked the ocean a day prior, and some of the rocks had been tricky to maneuver around. While most of them had taken it in stride, he could tell Adina was struggling.

That, and they all were just tired. No one had disagreed when he'd told them they would be traveling the coast, but he was beginning to feel the strain of their pace on the group.

Moving quickly felt like a necessity, but with no physical proof to support their urgency. Of course... no one was complaining.

He would've expected Rosaleen to say something, but she was uncharacteristically silent - at least with him. She seemed to talk freely with the others of the group, but when the two of them had to discuss anything, for any reason, it was short and snappy.

James didn't really have a problem with limiting his interactions with Rose, but as time went on, he was beginning to grow weary of the tension.

Of course, he had no idea how to dissipate it, so he did nothing.

Under a canopy of trees at the edge of a small cove, they'd made camp early, while the sun was still in the sky. The air was warm and humid, but a breeze came from the ocean, pulling in smells of sea salt and seaweed. The palm trees and flowering plants around them were a welcome change from the usual mundane forestry of the Outlands, so the group sat gratefully at the edge of the water and the rocks that nestled them in the inlet of land.

It was silent for a moment.

"The ocean is so pretty,” Adina said softly, drawing attention to the vibrant blue waters that lapped against the sand.

“This is why the isles are the best,” Brett agreed. “Being land-locked is suffocating.”
Mundane conversation about nature and weather followed. James didn’t bother to pay attention.

James quietly did a routine head-count instead. A few feet away from him, where he sat perched on a rock, Adina sat beside Ari, and leaned her head on his arm. Ursuku was curled up in her lap. The horses were tied down by the rocks, further from the water than the rest of them. Brett sat just a pace away from Ari, and Kaia another pace or two down, sitting in the sand.

Almost comically distant from the others, Rose was standing.

“Hey thorns, why don’t you come join us?” Brett called out.

“How about I don’t and say I did?” Rose replied as she sat down.

Ari looked over to Rose with a pout. “But that would be lyin’.”

“Yeah because I never lie.” Rose couldn’t help but chuckle a bit.

Adina looked over Ari’s shoulder and over to Rose. “Aw, c’mon,” she said teasingly, though her voice was sweet. “A few feet won’t hurt you.”

“Ari’s foot almost killed me with that candy...But fine.” Rose sighed, begrudgingly as she stood up and took a few steps closer then plopped back down.

Adina and Ari looked pleased with themselves as they grinned, both petting the cat as it jumped back in forth between their laps. A breeze blew up into the cove, rustling the leaves of trees nearby, and James stared back out over the ocean, content on his rock.

“James?”

James looked over to Brett, who was looking at him expectantly.

“You coming over too?” he asked.

James’s eyes flicked between Kaia, Ari, Adina, and Rose. He let his heels slide down the side of the rock but didn’t move from his spot.

He didn’t understand the need for them all to sit together. They were together all the time.

He looked back to Brett, holding eye contact with him for a moment before shrugging one shoulder and shaking his head. “I’m fine over here,” James said.

“That wasn’t what he asked, though,” Kaia said, watching James as she dumped dirt out of her boots into the sand.

“Why ain’t you be sittin’ with us?” Ari piped up, turning to James with puppy eyes. James returned the look with a blank stare and sighed. He hopped down from the rock and slowly walked over.

“Is there are reason you want us all together?” he asked, looking down at Brett.

Brett leaned back into the sand, crossed his legs, and cupped his hands under his head.

“Just thought we could use some unifying,” he said with a flippant little shrug.

James slow-blinked. “Unifying,” he repeated. “How so.”

Brett’s eyes flickered over to Rose and back to James. James briefly glanced at her as well, before frowning down at Brett. Brett shrugged again, but James could tell the casual attitude was deliberate.

“Well, like, for example,” Brett answered. “You and Rose haven’t said more than two sentences to each other in say, a week.”

James raised his brows slightly. “Who’s counting?”

Kaia raised her hand, though her focus was on a knife she was polishing. James shot her a side-eyed glare.

“I always say as much as I need to...Maybe a bit less sometimes.” Rose frowned as she saw Kaia raise her hand.

James kept his eyes on Brett. “We’re not normally chatty.”

Brett met James’s eyes with a sharp gaze and sat up again, throwing his arms up as he did so.

“All I’m saying is, you two haven’t resolved your issues and you’re avoiding each other, and I’m tired of it. It’s not fair to the rest of us,” Brett said, standing up and facing James, taking two steps towards him.

“You said you forgave her, but you can’t just keep avoiding her while we’re together,” Brett said, gesturing to Rose.

“Yeah, you can’t just keep avoiding me!” Rose chuckled, glad for once that she wasn’t getting blamed for giving the cold shoulder.

Adina muttered a soft: “Rose..” while James shot her a glare.

“Then what do you suggest we do?” James asked Brett tensely through his teeth.

Brett smiled proudly and stood up straight, a little taller than James, looking down.

“Go fishing.”

-<>-


James withheld his bubbling annoyance and hid it behind his usual calm exterior, but he was surprised, and mildly bothered at how he (and Rose) got guilted into getting food for the evening.

It wasn’t that it was something he wasn’t willing to do. Eating was a necessity, and it was perfectly reasonable to assign the task to someone, but usually, he was the one doing the assigning or volunteering, and never did it feel like a punishment, or being put in a time out. And with the person he liked the least, of all things.

Rose and James had walked down the curve of the cove in silence until they reached a small rocky cliff that jutted out over deeper waters. Below, they could see the occasional faint shadow of a fish swimming down below, which was the only good sign so far of how their fishing was going to go.

As they’d traveled the coast, they’d made makeshift fishing poles out of sticks, since Ari suggested getting rolls of fishing line back in the town before they left. It was a good investment.

James had taken a roll of the fishing line and started to string his pole up when he realized that Rose had never done any of the fishing in their travels. He hadn’t given a second thought as to whether or not she knew how to fish or not. He only knew she’d never ended up doing it.

Curiously, as he tied off the string with a knot and snapped it off at the end with a tug, he looked over to see how Rose was doing.

He caught Rose glancing over at him when she didn't think he was looking, trying to copy what he had done, tying the line around the stick. As soon as the line was secured, she moved in and cast her line out, even though nothing plopped into the water.

James watched Rose blankly as he watched her failure of an attempt play out before his eyes. As the hookless, baitless line fluttered down somewhere into the water, he took in a breath.

“Have you… ever gone fishing before?” he asked.

A few moments passed as Rose stood there in silence, but nothing happened. “...No.” She quietly responded as she pulled the fishing line back in.

James’s eyes fluttered a moment before he closed them a moment and nodded. Okay. He could teach her how to fish.

“Well, first you need a hook. And bait,” he said.

Reluctantly Rose made her way over to him. “Alright, hook, bait… How do I do those?” she asked, for once sounding genuinely curious rather than bitter and moments away from a scathing comment.

James pulled a hook out of his pocket, offering it up for her to see. He took his own pole and line for demonstration. “Well, the hook is simple. You’ve just got to thread it through this hole here, like a needle, and then tie it so the hook stays put at the end of the line. I usually double knot it, in case a fish likes to tug a lot. Less chance the hook might slip out.” He reached in his pocket and pulled out another little hook, handing it to Rose so she could duplicate his small demonstration.

She raised an eyebrow as she took the hook, and tried to copy him. James was quietly impressed at her memory as she almost matched his knot, at least as closely as her fumbling hands could manage. “Alright, and then you said bait right?”

James reached into his pocket and pulled out a small worm, one of a handful that he’d grabbed throughout the day with fishing in mind. It wriggled in his hand as he held it out to Rose. “Stick the hook in it, and make sure it won’t slip off.”

Rose squinted at James. “Have you just been carrying that…? Nevermind.” She quickly took the worm and stuck it on the hook, looking a bit confused as to why they were using worms, but again, she’d never fished before. “And then?”

”Now you can toss it into the water,” he said, quickly securing a worm on his hook and again, demonstrating by launching the worm down into the water with a flick of the pole.

Rose followed his lead and cast her line beside him, her hook making that satisfying plop into the water he was used to hearing, “Well… I wasn’t that far off the first time.”

For once, the two sat in non-passive-aggressive silence as they paid close attention to their fishing lines. For a moment Rose doubted herself, starting to believe she had done something wrong as James had already caught a fish after a short time, skewering it on a stick to save it. She was about to let out an annoyed sigh as she felt a tug on her line, then another, and another, it felt pretty strong too.

A rush of excitement flew through her, something she hadn’t felt in a long time as she struggled a moment before pulling the fish to the surface, a triumphant smile spreading across her face, “Finally!”

James’s heart jumped with excitement on Rose’s behalf as he watched her pull the fish up from the water and hold it from the line. A small smile spread across his face as he shared in her victory with a small pat on her shoulder.

The fish began to flop back and forth, and, in worry that it would fly off the hook, he reached to grab it with an iron grip, passing the skewer to Rose.

“There’s room for another fish,” he said. “Please, do the honor of securing your catch.”

“Well, I suppose if I had a bucket list, that would be one thing off the list” Rose chuckled as she secured the fish before turning to James, “Thanks for teaching me, cowboy.”

James looked over to Rose, watching as she held the stick and the fish with pride swelling in his chest. He was happy for her.

“No problem.”

“No, there is a problem.” Rose quickly replied, quickly going back to her usual attitude. “I kinda wanna get back at Brett for making us do this. How about we keep giving each other the cold shoulder for a while when we get back there?”

James’s smile faded, and he looked at Rose for a moment, then out to the sea. His lips pursed to the side, before turning up into a smirk.

“That doesn’t sound too hard. For a while.”
I am a super duper pooper! : )
  





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fraey says...



Adina Blackthorn


Skipping along the coastline, Adina happily hummed a tune she remembered hearing as a child. Short little whistles startled Uri from the cat’s perch on her shoulder, fleeing for drier land. It had been a few days since James and Rose seemed to reconcile in some way - the whole fishing expedition worked somewhat in bringing the opposing heads together.

She was certainly happy to see the whole group getting closer with one another and simply closer to perhaps a peaceful time in their lives. A sudden urge to sneeze broke through her thoughts, leaving her disoriented afterward. She didn't know where this wave of tiredness came from, but it had set her off in a not-so-nice way.

Adina huddled into herself. The others were mostly ahead of her, caught by the ocean or being tempted to ask the others - mostly Brett or Kaia about their own backstories. She huffed, but then started to walk faster. No point in staying behind everyone, even if she felt like she was catching something.

By the time they took a break to pull out some food, Adina had sneezed twelve times and coughed a dozen more into her arm. Not that she was counting. Ari had asked her earlier if she was feeling ok, but she just shrugged in answer. Yes, she felt kinda alright, but not really, but she wasn’t sure how to describe how she felt.

Somehow, too, her feeling worse reminded her of what she used to cherish - her parents would pile her with blankets and warm soup whenever she felt sick. But that was before they realized she had magic and threw the whole family into disarray. There were a few times Adina could look back at fondly, though, when she froze her brother Rowan after he pranked her.

It was barely a few days past her twelfth birthday when she realized something odd like there was a disturbance in the air. Rowan had been running outside of their modest home when he suddenly yelled out. Alarmed, Adina raced outside, only to see him laughing in the grass, covered in dirt.

For a second, it felt like time had frozen, her brother's hand stretched out towards her, but motionless. She, however, could still move, and grasped Rowan's fingers with her own, seemingly unaware by how she must have looked - being the only one able to do anything in a short time.

His hand clenched then, bringing her out of that peculiar state. Adina was met with raised eyebrows and a rare concerned look on Rowan's face. A question laid in his expression, but she had no answers, no ideas as to where this power she held could have come from.

"'Dina?" That sounded like her father who had still been inside the house - she spun around to see wide eyes on both him and her mother.

"Hi." Adina felt that was all she could really say.

"Oh dear," her mother fussed, rubbing at her forehead.

That had been a long night, Adina peppering her parents with questions with very few answers, mostly due to the fact that none of them knew much at all. The memory could still bring a smile to her face, as that had been a good day overall. Never had she any control over her older brother. And, she thought with a bittersweet smile, she still didn't have that control.

Adina couldn't help the next wave of coughing, feeling bad even as her companions popped their heads to look at her. She tried to wave them off, but felt worse for wear, once she felt herself rocking back and forth.

"Adina?" She blinked open her eyes, not knowing they had been shut. Neither did she know how she could have slept half the day away, judging by the sun in the middle of the sky.

"How long was I out?"

A blurry vision of James wavered by her. "Long enough to be concerning."

"... sorry."

A female voice hissed. "Being sorry doesn't help the situation."

There was the lovely Rose. With that, Adina pulled herself up into a sitting position, peering bemusedly at the cat in her lap. She felt exhausted despite how long she had slept. Maybe something really was up with her, hm?

She must have tuned out for a few minutes, as the next time she was aware, a conversation had begun around her.

"No way we can keep traveling until she's feeling better."

Adina frowned at that, already feeling guilty that she must have paused their journey. They needed to keep moving. She tried to shake herself awake, but hands paused her movements.

“We can grab some herbs that’ll help - there has to be some around here.”

What sounded like Kaia and James whispered between them. Oh, she was so sorry - they didn’t need to go to such an effort for her -

“Hush, Adina. We’re going to take care of you.”

Had she spoken aloud?

“Yeah.”

“We’re helpin’ -”

“We’ll keep an eye on her.”

She fell asleep a second time, this time to a murmur between Rose, Ari, and Brett. Her dreams were a blend of memories with her mother handing over a book filled with “magical things no one needs to know about” or pausing a rock before it touched the forest floor.

The next moment Adina could remember were somewhat relieved looks on the trio waiting for her, along with Kaia and James talking a few feet away.

She didn’t recall having any medicine, but she was certainly feeling a bit better than when she had literally passed out. Adina sighed, annoyed at herself for a second, yet she smiled weakly, wanting to not be sick any longer than necessary.

“Hey, Rose,” she whispered, causing her to look up. “I’ve had some weird dreams.”

Her companion rose an eyebrow, sitting slightly closer to Adina. “Oh? Anything exciting?” A faint smirk spread across her face.

Maybe her apparent health made Rose feel better than she wanted to show, by that hint of happiness there. Curious.

“I - thought about my family a lot, for some reason.”

“Really? That’s random, huh.” Adina shrugged. She hadn’t let herself think about the easier times since she had been arrested.

“Wasn’t like I meant to bring up old memories.”

“Suppose there’s gotta be a reason,” Rose smirked a little. “Maybe it’ll come to you in a day or half a year.” She nudged Adina with her shoulder, soft enough to not hurt her but rough enough to put up a front.

Even if the rest of the group collectively saw through her guarded expression.

“I hope so.” Adina paused, thinking back at their modest little home surrounded by all kinds of animals that would pass by. “It might be from Uri, as I never had a pet growing up, just the wildlife.”

“Figures. You’ve been obsessed with that kitten.”

Adina smiled sheepishly. “Probably a bit overboard, but the kittens are something special.”

Rose squinted at her, amusement dancing in her eyes before blinking back into a blank look. “You’re something else.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Crouching close to her, Rose muttered, “You better,” before walking away.

Adina couldn’t help but laugh at her friend’s reaction of trying to keep a straight face even around her. She hoped she would keep in contact with all of these people, peculiar in their ways, but so endearing as well. Closing her eyes, she hummed the same tune she had just a morning ago, staring into the ever-shining sea by her side.
farewell, once, amidst a wave.
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Featherstone says...




Ardeshir
cowritten with @soundofmind, @Lael, & @Wolfical


Being sick was positively terrible. Ari knew this from personal experience, because one day he'd gone swimming when it was super cold out and then he got all shaky and sneezy and tired, and then he'd been all woozy for days. Ali had brought him warm fish stew and he'd huddled up in a blanket for a little over a day before he just got too bouncy and then went out on the boat with Ali to spear fish anyways. Then he'd gotten even sicker, and his momma said it was because he was being stupid, but they'd brought home a huge mola-mola and it'd made a spectacular dinner anyways.

It was because of this rather memorable experience that Ardeshir was so relieved when Adina began to perk up a little again. It wasn't long after that James decided that it was time to get back on the road, so they did, and Ursuku--who was getting a bit too big to sit on the saddle, as he was quickly approaching the size of a medium dog instead of a little kitten--ended up bounding about the sand as he wove between the horses and their human burdens. The coastal air was crisp and clean, the scent of salt drifting through the hint of seaweed and occasional fish, and soon enough they found themselves at a neat rock outcropping. More accurately, Ari rode a small ways ahead and ended up almost falling off his horse on top of it, and as he was scrambling for a grip on his saddle he yelled back to them.

"I found a flat spot fer t'e campin'!" he called as he pushed himself back up into the saddle. See, he could be useful! "'n it's got real nice rocks fer sittin' 'n eatin' 'n things!" Even Rose couldn't contest that it was a very nice spot.

Brett jogged to catch up, raising his eyebrows when he saw Ari's struggle in the saddle. "I'll be darned, Ari," he said. "We should be safe from view, too, at least from one angle. The rocks give good cover."

Ari beamed, that goofy grin of his splitting his features. "Do you think James'll be likin' it?" he asked, plainly excited about the prospect of pleasing James.

Brett assessed the area with his hands on his hips. "I don't see how he couldn't." They turned around as James and Elliot approached, looking at him expectantly.

James looked between the two of them and then surveyed the area with a sweeping glance. He gave the two a stiff nod. "This will do just fine," he said, mounting off the horse.

Oh. He didn't smile. Oh, well, he nodded, and that was awesome! That meant goodness! The giant slid off his horse with that smile still plastered on his features as he scooped Ursuku up in his arms. "Yay!" he said, lifting the monster beast in his arms. No sooner had he done so than Brett gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, Uri still wriggling in his grasp.

"I volunteer for scouting!" he said as his cat finally got done with being held and chose to extend its claws, scratching him as it tore itself from his arms and landed on the ground with an agitated twitch of its tail. The man let out a little yelp of surprise but there wasn't really that much blood, so he didn't think twice about it (or his now-ripped shirt, seeing as it had quite a few holes in it anyways) and he bounded back over to James to see who else was going to go scouting with him, since James always made the decisions.

James looked up at Ari with another nod. "That's wonderful, thank you," he said dryly, though he did mirror Brett's pat by patting Ari again on the arm briefly.

Ardeshir beamed before grabbing Uri, this time draping the feline over his shoulders before bounding off into the dusty terrain to scout. He made quite the image: a nearly seven-foot-tall giant with a peach fuzz mustache and a very torn and stained shirt with what looked more like a big cat than a baby kitten bouncing up and down on his shoulders as he jogged out. Uri put up with this for about five minutes before tearing another hole in his shirt as he scrambled away and shook himself off on the ground. Ari hadn't scouted that much before, and he wasn't really a hunter or anything, but he was good at seeing the little things. It was something he'd learned when he was still a guard and when he was swimming in the depths of the reef after fish that could only be spotted by the occasional shimmer of scales.

He was picking his way through some low cover, going back towards the way they'd come, when Uri stopped dead in his tracks, ears perked up. Despite his upbringing, the tawny creature wasn't a big fan of people, so when he encountered ones he didn't know, he tended to try to go and hide or avoid them. Ari froze as he saw his cat come to a halt and he dropped to his stomach in the bushes. He didn't know if anyone was actually close, but he knew that he was too big to go unnoticed.

There--the sound of voices, carried on the wind. It sounded deceptively near thanks to the moving air and Ari slowly crawled towards the edge of the hill, peering through the grass to see the source. A dozen tents spotted the sand a few hundred feet below and his eyes widened as he caught sight of the milling ebon horses and the group that was gathering wood and starting a fire. They were close. Dreadfully close. Even someone as dense as Ardeshir could tell that they were too near for comfort, and there was something...else. Something ticking in the back of his mind that made goosebumps creep across his skin. It was the feeling he'd had when he was being stalked by a shark once, and it was coming up behind him, or when the bounty hunters had first found him.

He didn't know what it was but he didn't like it. Not one bit.

The man crawled away from the edge and scrambled to his feet, pulling his shoes off so he could move faster as he sprinted through the sandy dirt and strands of grass. He needed to get back before the other people found out they were there. Them, and their dark horses, dressed in black like some creepy nightmare monster.

Dressed in black.

He was barely able to breathe when he came sprinting back into camp, almost slamming into James as he skidded to a stop and nearly tripped over his own feet. "James," he said through his panicked breaths, "James, they're 'ere, they're-they're--they're just down t'e, down t'e hill," he stammered, hardly able to form a coherent sentence.

James spun around, taking a step back to avoid Ari's stumble. Kaia stood up and approached and both Rose and Adina looked up from the fire they were stoking, while Brett caught the reins of a horse that had been startled by Ursuku's similarly panicked entrance. "Woah, woah, woah," he said. "What's going on, Ari? Who's down the hill?"

"What did you see?" James asked.

"They-they were wearin' black 'n all," he said, finally managing to sort out his sentences. "'n, 'n them horses were black, too, 'n I ain't got a good feelin', James, I think they're still after Adina, 'n they're just behind us. We can' be stoppin' 'r nothin', James," he said, shaking his head vehemently. "Not if they be this close. There's more of 'em, too, it ain't just a few, it's like, a whole group. Like a lil' school o' fish! Like twelve 'r fifteen of 'em!"

James reached out to touch Ari's arm, looking up into his eyes. "Are you talking about the mage hunters? The ones we escaped back at the cells?"

He nodded, head bobbing up and down in an affirmative as he started to calm down a little bit. "Yeah. They didn' see me 'r nothin' 'n the wind's goin' the wrong way if they've got dogs 'r somethin, 'r for 'em to hear us, but out 'ere it can change real quick. If it gets strong and somethin' gets loud accidental-like, 'r if any of 'em--"

"It'll be okay, Ari," James said, tightening his grip a little on Ari's arm. "We'll have to travel through the night." James turned to look at the others. "Kill the fire. We don't want smoke to draw their attention."

Adina and Rose both exchanged wide-eyed looks before Adina grabbed a canteen and poured water over to smother the small flames. Brett helped them bury the charred remains in the sand, then he brushed over as many footprints as he could. Ari went to go retrieve the horses' tack as they did so, tossing it onto the horses and strapping the saddles with Kaia at his side on so that they could get on the move quickly. His usual cheerful demeanor that had been replaced by panic was now swift and concerned but much more level-headed since he managed to get over the initial fright. He didn't know how to do much but fish, but he did now how to put things on horses and how to calm them down since he'd put several of them on edge with his initial entrance. Once the beasts were all tacked up, he turned back to James for further instruction, trusting the mustached man's judgement more than his own.

"Where did you say you saw them?" James asked, looking out over the rocks. "What direction?"

Ari turned, pointing back the way they'd come. "They're back under t'e hill," he said. "Right off t'e bluff, away from t'e water but 'fore there's any dirt 'r plants. I saw 'em from the top of the bluff."

"They might be coming down here before sunfall to fish," Brett said grimly. He realized he might have to let down his pride and go on horseback like the rest - running in the dark wasn't ideal for this situation.

"Then let's move as fast as possible. Quietly," James said sharply.

Ari took the reins of the horse that was the largest of the five but still too small for the massive figure who rode her, hooking his foot into the stirrup and swinging over Posey's back. Uri watched him with wide green-blue eyes as he did so, a plaintive look in his gaze. He didn't know what was happening, but he was aware of the fact that everyone else was scared, and that made him worried. Even Brett found his way to Penelope after everyone else was mounted, with Rose and Adina both on Rosey, despite the fact that he usually preferred to move on foot. Ari waited to take up the rear, falling in behind Kaia as they rode out. He slung his boots over the saddle before him instead of bothering with trying to get them back on and his cougar trotted after them, paws soundless on the rocks in sharp contrast to the clattering of hooves.

The tension of the night pushed onwards even as they left the outcropping behind. There was a fear inherent in the air, an ambient sort of sense that something was coming. It was as though a quiet cloud of apprehension had settled in around them and somehow the silence was louder than any voice could've been.

Minutes stretched onwards and Ardeshir was, for once, wordless, too afraid to break the silence. He didn't like trying to hide or to run. He really wasn't very good at it. Fighting, at least, had the adrenaline and the rush and every moment there was something moving. Something to do. To sit and wait was almost impossible for him even when he knew it to be the smart thing.

It was a couple hours into the silence before he finally spoke, some part of him hoping to cheer everyone up. Kaia was the only one near him, so he ended up pulling his horse up beside hers. "Ya wanna hear a joke?" he asked.

"...Sure?" said Kaia, not being used to jokes.

"Okay!" he beamed. "How do fish always know how much they be weighin'?"

"How?"

"They have their own scales!" he grinned, as though this was the absolute funniest thing that anyone had ever come up with.

Kaia was silent for a moment before replying, "Ah. That makes sense." She cracked a small smile.

Kaia was smiling! He'd done it! Success! His grin only got wider before he moved up to Brett, the person straight ahead of the both of them. "Hey, Brett, you wanna hear a joke?" he asked.

"Yes Ari, I'd love to," Brett said sleepily. Sitting down for so long made him drowsy.

"How do fish always know how much they be weighin'?"

"You're kidding," Rose said ahead of them.

Ari blinked. That was sort of the point of a joke, wasn't it? "Aren't jokes also kids?" he asked, plainly confused.

"What was that, Ari?" Brett asked, sitting up a little straighter in the saddle, his eyebrows furrowed in tired confusion about the connection between jokes, kids, and fish.

"They have their own scales!" he called back with another grin, since Brett would obviously like jokes. Brett loved jokes!

James slowed down from the front of the group and looked back. He lifted a finger to his mouth. "Keep it down," he said in a low voice.

His voice dropped. "Sorry," he whispered, then urged Posey forward to go tell Adina and Rosaleen the joke. "Wanna hear a joke?"

"I already heard it," Rose said, her voice croaky and tired.

"Oh." Ari was plainly disappointed, but this didn't stop him, and he flashed a smile to Adina before riding up to James. "Hey, James, wanna hear a joke?" he asked.

James glanced over at Ari before returning his attention ahead of them. "Sure," he said quietly.

"How do fish always know how much they be weighin'?" he asked, much more softly than he had before.

James stared out into the darkness for a moment before answering.

"Something about scales, right?"

Oh. He knew that one. Okay, that was fine! He had more! "Yeah! Okay, what do you call a fish with a tie?"

James squinted. "A fish with..." he started, sounding unsure. "High-scale fashion?"

His eyes widened a little. That was almost better than what he had! "I was gonna be sayin' sofishticated, but me thinkin' that works better!"

James raised his eyebrows and gave Ari a weary look and a small shrug. "Both work."

Not very well, evidently. No one liked his jokes except Kaia. "Yeah," he said, somewhat less enthused before falling silent with all the look of a dejected puppydog.

Brett coughed. "Listen, Ari. You're offishially the best giver of jokes." Normally he would've thought of a better one, but that was the best his sleepy brain could come up with at the time.

Oh, oh! Brett was doing it too! His face instantly lit up. "Well, I ain't FINished yet!" he grinned.

A small groan came from James and he turned back to look at Brett and Ari, his face deadpan. "We'll sea about that. Now you've got me hooked," he said in monotone, before turning away again and muttering. "Regretfully."

That woke Brett up. "Ah! Aha!" He was as delighted as Ari by James' utterly uncharacteristic puns. "Let minnow if you've got any more up your sleeves."

James did not turn back again, but he could be heard. "Whale, if I told you any more, I'd have to krill you."

Ardeshir's grin only widened as the pun war began, and he bounced in his saddle a little in excitement.

"Reeeal funny, guys," Rose said.

"Good one!" Brett said, grinning. "This is going swimmingly."

Rose blanched. "Huh? What'd I do?"

"I don't think she made that pun on porpoise," James said.

"Either way, y'all are kraken me up!" Ari added, beaming. "Don' worry, Rosaleen, we'll be schoolin' ya in fish puns!"

"You guys better clam down, though," James continued. "Keep your voices hushed."

"Just be lettin' us mullet over," Ari smirked.

Rose let out a long sigh. "When are we stopping to sleep?" she whined.

"When we find somewhere betta than last time!" the giant continued.

"You cod just join in, Rose," Brett offered.

"I'm too busy trying to keep Adina afloat back here," Rose muttered, gesturing to the sleeping Adina slouching over the saddle, held up by her arm. "She passed out I don't know how long ago."

James drew Elliot to a stop and looked back, straightening up. "I can take her. I don't think we should stop just yet."

"Let me," said Kaia. "I need to check her condition anyways." She came alongside Rose and Adina, slowing down to make the transfer. Rose helped hoist Adina over into Kaia's saddle but Kaia did most of the lifting.

It wasn't much longer before they finally found a flat spot against dunes down by the beach where they were able to set up camp for the night. Although the mage hunters were anything but gone, they were far enough out for them to at least get a little bit of sleep that night before they got a move on early the next morning. Miraculously, they managed to let Adina sleep through the entirety of it, settling her down in blankets next to the fire before one by one the rest of the group slipped away to rest. Ari was among the last but for James who had the first watch that night and he strode a little ways down to the shore. He was still in line of sight to the camp as he rolled up his pants to step into the gently lapping waves of the ocean.

The silvery stars of the sky reflected in the dark depths of the sea, the waxing moon hanging overhead like a lamp hanging off the back of a boat in the night. His gaze wandered up the beach back to James who was sitting near the fire before he grabbed the hem of his shirt and pulled it off over his head, hurling it back to where it was dry and wading deeper into the water until the waves licked at his neck and chest. It really was a beautiful evening despite the chaos earlier that day. The dark shapes of nocturnal petrels flickered across the horizon.

He wondered, briefly, what Alix would've thought of all of this. Of James, and of the oceans out here, with no corals and different fishes. Of Brett's pranks and Ursuku and Adina and Rose and Kaia. Ardeshir still missed him. He didn't know if Ali would've stood for what he'd done any more than the rest of his family had and the thought of being turned out by his brother was a painful one despite the fact that it was something that had never truly passed. Why did people have to die? Why did there have to be so much pain in the world, when there could be so much happiness instead?

He sighed, closing his eyes and slipping beneath the waves, disappearing entirely from sight. Maybe that was the point of it all, that no one could really have one without the other. Maybe people just died when they'd finished living and fulfilled whatever it was that they were there for. When they learned how to be happy instead of sad, and that way, everyone could smile before they died. It would explain why dolphins didn't live quite as long--after all, they already knew how to have fun and to live every moment. They were just around to teach other people.

Ali knew how, too. They said that he'd been smiling when he died. Ari hadn't been there, but he liked to think that that was true, and that he was only around as long as he needed to be before going somewhere else. Maybe he was a fish now. Or a dolphin. He'd make a good dolphin. They always smiled.

They always smiled, so maybe Ari could, too.

He bobbed up above the water again, wiping the salt water out of his eyes and finding his feet before making his way back to shore. He'd just have to make sure that James remembered how to smile, too, because he was too sad. He didn't know why James was sad. Just that he was, and that maybe, if he was happy like the dolphins were, he could have some peace before his final moments like Alix had.
"All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost."

Avatar by Kaenith
  





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Wed Aug 21, 2019 6:59 am
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Lael says...




Kaia Nesbitt
cowritten with @soundofmind


Although they kept noticing signs of the mage hunters still tracking them over the past few days, Kaia felt there was a comfortable rhythm and routine being among the others in the group. Ari and Brett with their jokes, while Rosaleen fired back with prickly remarks, and Adina, while recovering, still being sweet Adina. And James . . .

She glanced at him through her peripheral vision as she felt Adina's forehead for temperature. He was rather quiet, most of the time. Ever a locked box. There was the pressing issue of the future regarding the Moonlight Kingdom and its king, and more in-the-now problems of the group.

Maybe it was time to have a true discussion about things.

"Well, you're in good condition," she said to Adina. "No fever, and I think you're recovering well. Don't overexert yourself, as I've been saying." She passed her off to Rose and, clearing her throat, walked over to James. She put her hand lightly on his shoulder to get his attention.

"Do you mind if we talk?" she asked, her voice low. She motioned slightly away from the rest of their companions.

James turned to her, gaze flickering to Brett and Ari. Rose and Adina. The horses. His shoulders lowered a notch and he caught Brett's eyes, waving his hand to tell them to stay and nodding his head to the side to indicate that they were going for a moment. Thankfully, Brett only nodded and shrugged in reply.

"Sure," James said quietly.

They walked a little ways off from the small campsite, until Kaia was sure they were out of earshot. She stopped, and, after a moment of awkward silence, began, "Do you want to sit down?" She figured it wouldn't be just a short exchange this time.

James nodded slightly and sat down on a patch of rock on the rocky shoreline, facing the waves.

Kaia sat a couple feet away. She almost took out her knife to spin it, somewhat a comforting habit, but stopped herself before she could do so. She cleared her throat again. "About the mage hunters--how are we going to solve that? A more subtle way, like just continuing to run, or are we going to call more attention by confronting them?"

James looked over in her direction, but not at her. "Even if we did confront the mage hunters, there will always be more eventually," he said quietly. "Adina's name and face are known in the hunting guilds. If she makes a home in any city she'll be found eventually. You know that."

Kaia nodded slowly in assent. "But we can't keep running, not forever, that is." She sighed, rubbing her face. "I don't know what to do to help everyone, much less solve my own problems. Funny, isn't it? So different from before all this."

James stretched his arms back, propping himself up as he looked back out at the sea. "Before all of what?"

"Before the truth. Before becoming one of the group and realizing there's more to people than what you see, and life more than blindly following orders." Kaia looked at her boots, then up at him with a slight, rueful smile. "Nothing's certain anymore, but I don't think I'd trade what we've got now for my past self."

He looked back at her. "Well I'm... glad you feel that way."

"What about you? I mean, I kind of know what you've been up to these past years, chasing you everywhere and all that, but you've changed too." Kaia stared at him intently. He wasn't adding much to the conversation, so being the only one to spill inner thoughts was beginning to catch up to her embarrassment as a reserved individual.

James looked away again. "Everyone changes with time," he said softly. "Some things just accelerate the process."

"Just like how your ability to deflect questions has exponentially increased?" said Kaia, though she tried to add a more teasing inflection to her voice as to not sound accusatory. But she decided to lay off slightly, since locks could be more impossible to open the more force applied. "What are you going to do about Blackfield?"

James visibly stiffened, blinking slowly. "There's nothing I can do. Not anymore."

"Why not?" Kaia began to unconsciously lean forward. "It's not impossible, with the proper planning. You don't even dream of bringing him to justice?"

"Of course I do," James replied sharply. "I want to see him dethroned more than you know. But the problem doesn't just lie with the king. The very foundation of the kingdom is broken. If Blackfield were gone, his daughter would succeed him and things would go right back to the way they were. Yes, there would be an end to the injustices Blackfield organized in the dark, but there are still people being hunted for their magic."

"You're right." Kaia was taken aback by the ferocity of his words. "You know, I only recently wondered what if I assassinated him, even the princess as well. But that would only be completing the circle of atrocities, wouldn't it, since that's what he made me to be? The Nesbitts would've never wanted that. But," she continued, her tone resolute, "at this point, if these mage hunters try to take Adina away, I won't hesitate to kill them if necessary. To keep our--to keep this family safe." We are a family now. A real one. "But I really believe there is something we can do about the corruption. Just saying it's impossible this early on is like lying down to let Blackfield step all over you."

James shifted, his body stiff. He sat up straight, tucked his legs closer to him, hid his hands in his lap, and kept his eyes away from her. Something was stirring on his face behind furrowed brows and an intense gaze set out ahead of him.

"Kaia, I know you mean well, but trust me. I've thought about this for a very long time, and I haven't-" his voice cut off suddenly, like it wasn't supposed to. His lips closed together in a tight line and he clenched his jaw.

Kaia frowned, thoughts racing through her head as well as a foreign feeling of nervousness, like when she had gone on her first assassination missions years ago. Do it . . . or don't do it? Was it even an appropriate situation?

"You know what," she muttered under her breath, and scooted over before she could talk herself out of it. She stuck out her arms to pull James into an embrace and patted his back awkwardly. "Is this what people do usually, in this kind of situation? To make someone feel better?"

James's breathing was tight and shallow as he stiffened under her arms. "Sometimes," he said quietly.

She pulled back after he said that, turning away again. Embarrassed, she said, "Sorry, I guess you don't like that kind of thing?" But it was as nice as she remembered, back when her parents were alive. She covered the side of her face to try to hide how red she felt she must be getting.

"Not... really. Not anymore," he answered, tilting his shoulders slightly away from her.

Way to go, Kaia, with your lack of social sense. She shook her head. "I'll keep that in mind."

James just nodded, his eyes glued to the ground.

"Well, I just wanted you to know, if you're--you know, ever up for a rebellion, I'm all for it," she said, pasting a smile on even though they weren't even looking at each other. Fake it to make it, right?

James closed his eyes, his expression softening just a tad. "Thank you. Kaia."

At that moment, Kaia quickly threw a hand up to catch a rock before it could hit her in the face. She looked behind her, not saying anything. James, however, looked up sharply at the sudden movement and stared back into the bushes the rock had come from with a hardened glare.

Adina's head popped up out of the bushes, her face flushed and her eyes wide with apologetic worry. "I wasn't eavesdropping! I swear!" she pleaded.

Rose's head popped up beside her, with a smug, knowing sort of grin. "But I was! You know me, just looking for some juicy information to put in this head of mine," she said with a tap of her finger at her temple. She lowered her hand and looked between the two of them, grin only growing wider. "Besides, I could've sworn there was something going on with you two."

"Nothing's going on," said Kaia, giving her a look. "We were just planning what to do next."

"Go back to camp," James said sternly. Rose made a goofy expression in response, rolling her eyes as she stood up and stepped out from the cover of the bushes. Adina slinked out behind her, still looking like a kicked puppy.

"Make sure you actually get some rest, young lady," called Kaia after her. Then, she said quietly so only James could hear, "I think I'm going to ask Ari if he still has any chocolate in his boot. I think Rose would love that."

James blinked, looking over at her. "It's... a little too late for that."

"Oh." Her expression grew slightly disappointed. "That's too bad, then."

James was quiet for a moment. "For the record, Brett already did that. Before you came around. I don't think she'd fall for it again."

"Why am I not surprised." She smirked at the thought of Rose freaking out over finding out where the chocolate had come from. As they headed back towards camp themselves, she asked, "Could you tell me about that? It must have been priceless."

The slightest hint of a smile showed on James's face as he looked down at the ground. "It was. Maybe it was a little cruel to trick her like that, but it was all Brett, for the most part. Ari had pulled the chocolate from his boot and given it to Brett earlier, and Brett said he would save it for later. Rose wasn't with us at that time. So later, when we were all together, he pulled it out and offered it to her. It was Ari who ended up revealing that it was boot chocolate."

Kaia chuckled at that, biting back a smile that threatened to spread over her face. "Thank you, James. For everything."

He looked up at her, the hint of a smile growing to a small, closed-mouth grin that faded a second after it came. "No problem," he said with a dip of his head.

They reentered the camp, where Rose continued to try to tease them, which incited Brett to action as well, until they were all smiling and laughing, a welcome respite from the worry of being caught by mage hunters. Kaia studied the faces of the people surrounding her, and thought that what they all shared now was definitely worth defending.
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

"You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."
Jeremiah 29:13
  





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Thu Sep 26, 2019 7:37 am
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sherlockhson says...



Rosaleen Streinberg
cowritten with @Wolfical
and @soundofmind a little bit


The next few days almost passed without incident, Kaia and James were always keenly on point for any changes to the mage hunters movements, but they were thankfully always a few steps behind. The fact that the hunters were around in the first place made her greatly uneasy, Her dreams were filled with flash-backs and nightmares, had she not been used to them already she would have woke with a start every morning.

To keep her mind off things she took to focusing on Kaia and James now, watching their movements carefully, all for the sake of sowing a bit of innocent discord.

Over the days past she'd been making sure Brett could see her watching Kaia and James carefully, always sporting a curious or puzzled expression, getting Brett curious was the first part of her plan.

“What’s that face about?” Brett whispered to her one day, looking confusedly between her and the other two as he and Rose were cutting down leafy branches for shelters.

Off through the trees, James and Kaia could be seen walking together side by side. James had a bag full of fish - or something. It was hard to tell from the distance, but they knew they’d gone out to get food. For a brief moment, James seemed to lose his balance and Kaia steadied him.

Rose kept staring at them a moment, before turning to Brett, her natural deadpan expression rising to the occasion. “James seems to have fallen head over heels for Kaia.”

Brett was mid machete swing and hearing that sentence nearly cost him a limb. “What?!” Abandoning the stubborn branch, he whirled around and peered into Rose’s blank face to see if she was being serious. All she did was cock an eyebrow. “What did you just say?”

She blinked at him for a moment, glancing back at James and back to him, “Don’t tell me you haven’t seen it, if ones missing the other one is too, they’ve been spending a suspicious amount of time together too.”

Brett turned and stuck the machete in a trunk so he could put his hands on his hips. “Rose. Come on. You think I believe that?”

“You wouldn’t be asking me that if you didn’t.” Rose quipped before taking a cue from him and putting her machete away.

A shadow of bewilderment crossed Brett’s face as he pondered the magnitude of what Rose was suggesting. Then he bit his lip and crossed his arms, glaring at Rose suspiciously. “That just isn’t true. I can’t believe it. The two of them were enemies just a little while ago. And even if they weren’t…” He shook his head. “I feel like I’ve gotten to know James pretty well this past while, and it just doesn’t seem likely for him to go off and…” He laughed and threw his arms up. “Fall in love!”

“Well you never expected me and him to work things out huh? Or to reconnect with that brother of yours? Stranger things have been happening,” Rose replied simply, turning to walk away, happy her seed of doubt had been planted.

Brett couldn’t deny that argument. But he also couldn’t bring himself to believe that James and Kaia had a thing for one another. Shaking his head, he gathered up the downed branches and plucked the machete off the tree before jogging after Rose.

-<>-


Later that night, James helped Brett and Adina put the final touches on their shelters for the night. With Rose’s words heavy on his mind, Brett felt a little awkward around the guy, and tried to study his face to see if he was hiding any big secrets, especially when Kaia was nearby.

Brett was laying out the blankets with Adina when they heard James outside make a sudden grunt of pain.

Kaia could be heard ordering: “Get over here,” from the other side of camp.

Quickly poking his head out of the shelter, Brett watched with wide eyes as Kaia helped James sit down near the horses where their supplies were. She took out some wrapping, and—rather tenderly as Brett had to admit to himself—began to tend to his ankle.

Rose made her presence known with a light thud as she plopped to the ground next to Brett. “See? What’d I tell you, she’d never treated anyone so kindly when they’re hurt.”

Brett stubbornly turned back to the shelter as if he didn’t care. “You’re just making things up now.”

“Making what up?” Adina asked innocently. “Is James okay?”

“Just hurt his ankle,” Brett said. He shot a look at Rose. “Otherwise he’s perfectly normal.”

“Yeah, perfectly normal since he’s being tended to by the love of his life!” Rose had to stifle a laugh and actually remind herself to be as deadpan as everyone is used to her being.

“Huh?” Adina said. “The love of his life?”

“Don’t listen to her,” Brett assured her. “She’s just joking around.” He stood up and brushed his pants off, eyeing James and Kaia as casually as he could manage.

“Ah yes, we all know how much I love to joke, right?”

Irritated and not wanting Adina to get involved in this too, Brett went over to the canteens they had filled earlier and began emptying the water into the pot above the fire. Rose came alongside him and he handed her the empty canteens. “I’m gonna need more proof, Rose,” he whispered. “I still don’t believe you.”

Still by the horses, Kaia was wrapping James’s ankle. James looked over at the fire where Brett and Rose were but his expression didn’t indicate that he knew what they were whispering about. It was then that Kaia said something unintelligible that caused James’s eyes to avert as he looked down and to the side in what looked almost like a bashful gesture.
Rose couldn’t have asked for a better chain of events as a grin found its way to her face. “See? What more proof do you need? Who would’ve thought it’d take an assassin to make James blush!”

Brett fumbled with the last canteen and it fell into the flames, half of the water spilling out with it and causing the fire to sizzle. Cursing, he grabbed a long stick and quickly rescued the scorched canteen. “Certainly not me,” he muttered under his breath, glancing again at the lovebirds, who had both turned towards the fire in surprise. “Unbelievable!”

Finally, Rose let herself laugh, watching Brett fumble was just too priceless. She looked over at James and Kaia who were unknowingly helping her pull off her best prank yet, she gave them a quick wave. “No worries, Brett’s just being clumsy!”

Brett turned his back to James and Kaia so they wouldn’t be able to read his dumbfounded expression. After hearing the fire sizzling, Ari came over to help Rose gather the empty canteens and store them in their respective saddlebags, leaving Brett to himself as he pointlessly stirred the water, thinking over what had just happened. Looking over his shoulder, he watched as Kaia helped James to his feet. Brett could have sworn he saw a special twinkle in James’ eyes.

They were kind of perfect for one another, Brett started to think. The idea was alien and strange, but he was beginning to get used to it already.
  








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