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Aether's Heart



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71 Days B.N.D


Paimon felt herself be lifted off the ground. Though, Seir couldn't lift her too far. He was only a child, she thought as the grip around her neck grew tighter. Her breath faltered, and her vision swam back into the cave.

"Whooooooooaaaa," Seir said, leaning close to see the crystal. "That's so cool!"

"Isn't it?" Paimon exclaimed. "I'm gonna see if Dad knows anything about the rune. Maybe he's never seen it before!"

"That's so cool!" Seir repeated. "Maybe it's like, a super-healing rune that can heal people like Mom! Or maybe it, it turns you into a fish!"

"A fish?" Paimon asked, giggling. "A fish. Maybe! I'll just have to find out!"

"Oh, here," said Seir, holding his hand out. "Let me try."

Paimon blinked. "Why?" she asked.

Seir smiled. "Duh. You can't use runes, Paimon. I can find out what that thing is, c'mon." He made a grabbing motion and moved closer.

"No!" Paimon shouted, holding the crystal to her chest. "It's mine."

"Come on, Paimon, come on," Seir begged, "Please, come on."

"Back off," Paimon said, but Seir was already grabbing at her hands, trying to pry them open.

"Paimon," Seir said, pouting angrily. "Give it to me. You can't even do magic."

Paimon wrenched the crystal out of Seir's hands, bringing it high above his head. "I SAID BACK OFF!"

A clear wave erupted from the stone as she brought it down. Paimon felt the world blast away for a moment, before the cave fell silent. Everything was dark except for her small yellow lantern light. Seir was slumped against the far wall, a trail of blood dripping down the left side of his face. His staff lay beside him, its light extinguished.

"Get up." Paimon reached up and felt her neck. Her throat was sore. It hurt. It hurt a lot.

"I said to get up!" Berith screeched, wrenching her out of Seir's wooden hands. Paimon fell to the floor, gasping for air and holding her throat. Seir stopped and looked at Berith for a second, before slowly advancing towards Paimon, his hands grabbing greedily.

Blearily, Paimon saw Berith dash across the room to the sink, which still had the frying pan from their fish lunch. "Try this, you shit!" she roared, raising the pan above her head.

Paimon put her hand up. "Wait, Mom--"

Berith smashed the frying pan down onto Seir's head. Suddenly, Seir was slumped against the far wall of the cave. His fingers were twitching. He wasn't breathing.

"Mom!" Paimon cried, as the rune sphere exploded, throwing Berith across the kitchen. Her back collided with the kitchen counter, snapping her backwards as she tumbled over it. Seir's scattered pieces sank back into the floor, before gathering in the center of the kitchen and rising back up again. He turned to regard Berith with a look like concern, before focusing back on Paimon.

Slowly, Paimon got to her feet. "You're not Seir," she rasped. "Seir is dead." She ran towards the rune golem and grabbed its head, slamming it on the kitchen counter.

A flash of clear light enveloped her again. Seir's eyes were wide open. As Paimon walked closer, she thought -- she thought he looked at her.

The rune golem melded itself back together again, its head wound glowing even brighter. Paimon gritted her teeth, then screamed as she smashed its head again.

Clear light

The rune stared at her like a curious child's eye. Paimon crushed the golem's head again.

Sparks of light dying from Seir's staff

She was still screaming. It was the voice of her now, but maybe it was the voice of twelve years ago, too.

He was reaching for her

"He's dead!" she screamed. "He's dead!"

He was afraid to die

He needed his big sister

The golem's head shattered again, rattling Paimon's jaw with a shockwave. Faintly, she could see someone running into the kitchen. No, it was a lot of people. She saw her dad running to her mom, holding her in his arms. She saw him staring in disbelief at her rune, a curse that belonged to her and nobody else.

"He's dead," Paimon sobbed. "And he's been dead, I know that. I didn't care if you hated me, loved me, I just wanted a way to feel."

She jabbed her hand into the golem's head as it formed, watching it struggle to close around her fist. "But you two just went on like nothing ever happened. But -- didn't Seir's life mean something? Didn't it mean anything that I killed him?"

Berith coughed, sitting up. "So you want us to blame you, is that it?"

"I don't know," Paimon said, shaking her head. "But if I'm going to be your daughter whether or not I'm responsible, then what--" She brought her head down on the counter, wailing, "What's it supposed to mean that I'm the one who killed him?"

"I -- Paimy," Azazel began hesitantly, "this grief nearly broke us. What could you have done with it?"

"You don't decide what I feel," Paimon shot back. There was an outrage in her words that she knew was audacious, unearned for a murderer, but she kept going. "You don't get to forgive me in my place. I've carried this around with me for twelve years, and I, I don't even know what I'm doing anymore. I can't control it."

"I know it's selfish of me not to move on when you want me to. I'm the one who hurt you," Paimon admitted. "But I never got to mourn Seir. And there's no way to tell him -- there's no way to tell him."

Paimon hung her head as tears dribbled down. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry," cried Paimon in the cave, as Seir's eyes stared into nothingness. "Please get up. I'm sorry."

"Here." Paimon looked up to see a blurry scrap of white in front of her. When she wiped her eyes, she saw Berith holding out a piece of gauze.

"We all tried to grieve in different ways," Berith said. "Azazel crafted staves. You tried to become a doctor. And me -- I was already a doctor. And my son died of a head wound in a cave."

Paimon removed her hand from the golem's head and took the gauze. The rune golem -- maybe a little bit of Seir -- looked at the scrap of fabric as she held it in her hand.

"So I thought about what I could have done," Berith continued. "And I started tearing off gauze. It wouldn't do anything, but it was for him. So I just did it. You can try it too." Her breath hitched as she finished talking, and she pressed the back of her hand to her lips. "Go on," she said.

Seir's golem was staring right up at Paimon, his wound glowing bright. Paimon held its cheek and brushed her thumb below its runic eye. "I'm sorry," she whispered as she smoothed the gauze over the wound.

The eye stared right back at her, and, for a second, she thought it understood. Then it closed, and the golem's body began to shrink. Its head and limbs collapsed slowly back into its torso as it sank towards the floor, until it was just a small wooden ball wrapped in a scrap of gauze. Paimon bent down and picked it up, turning it over in her hands. It was humming slightly, a calm, clear light that filled her body.

In an instant, her father's arms were around her. Her mother, too, was pressed into the hug. Azazel's goggles were filling with tears. "I'm sorry, Paimy," he whispered, his voice breaking. "I had no idea you felt like that, I, I should have listened."

"You've grown," Berith added, holding her close. "Despite your guilt, you've grown and I'm proud of you."

Paimon wrapped her arms around her parents and sunk to her knees. "I'm sorry," she repeated. "I'm sorry."

Azazel laughed, sobbing. "We forgive you, Paimy. We love you, we forgive you."

Berith stayed silent, only hugging Paimon tighter. Paimon wondered if that was all that she needed in the end. She hoped it was.

Eventually, she stood up and wiped her eyes. "You know," she said, laughing through her tears, "I appreciate you all letting me have my moment like this. Really, it means a lot."

Railyn, Bel and Tyri were sitting in the doorway. Railyn in particular looked away, scratching his head. "Don't mention it."

Bel nodded along, but there was a hint of a smile on his tired face. And Tyri was looking straight at Paimon in a way that made her wonder if her life force had changed just now.

"Well, I love being forgiven," Paimon declared. "Really, it's, thank you. Thank you."

She broke off for a second before beaming bright again. "But we've still got to figure out a way out of here, don't we?"

"If that's your prophecy," Berith grumbled.

Paimon smiled at her. "It is."

"About that." Azazel popped his goggles off of his eyes and let the tears drain out. "I had an idea when I was out shopping, and decided to get a few more things. Put together, they may get you where you need to go; I'll show you. Tyri, Railyn, come to my workroom."

"Azazel."

"Know what, I'll bring them to you."
The hardest part of writing science fiction is knowing actual science. The same applies for me and realistic fiction.
  





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69 Days B.N.D


"Nice," Paimon said, letting the sea breeze ruffle her hair. "Something about today...it feels especially rad, you know?"

"I think so?" Tyri replied from inside. "It's good that you're feeling yourself."

"Right," Paimon said. She was leaning out the dining room window, her forearms on the sill. In the harbor, the sun was rising. "Because today's the day we take out that fleet."

Railyn hurried past, holding a bundle of wooden staves in his arms. Ivern was also clutching one in his jaws, flapping alongside him.

"Just a few more and we'll be ready!" Azazel called from the back porch.

"Paimon," Berith scolded, emerging from the kitchen. "Get back in here before you're seen. The map is ready."

Paimon walked into the kitchen, where Bel and Berith stood around a map of Nua Port. Two nights ago, they'd all been huddled around the counter, as Azazel explained his idea.

"I was walking along in the floating district when I saw a few boats out night-fishing," he'd explained, dumping a bundle of staves on the floor. "And Mr. Fisher, he called out to me in that big-mustached voice of his. He told me, 'You can travel the whole wide sea looking for the perfect spot, but you've got to cast your net sometime.' And that got me thinking about nets."

"Azazel."

"This is all necessary information," Azazel had insisted, placing the map on the table and unrolling it. It showed the town of Nua Port, with little marks where the land structures met the floating district. Azazel had pointed them out excitedly. "You see, Nua Port expanded from the land into the sea. They had to attach and anchor new pieces of the port as they built outwards."

"I see," said Paimon, who did not in fact see.

"So what would happen if we unmoored the streets of Nua Port?" Azazel had asked.

Berith had shaken her head. "We can't. Any boat in the main port would be set adrift."

Azazel had smiled at her. "Except there are no boats in the main port, because they cleared it out."

He'd then tapped a house on the far left of the map. "Say, a small house connected itself to the main port, then dragged it out to sea?"

"You're not thinking of--" Berith's eyes had gone wide. "Azazel. Azazel, no."

"It's an attack that the ships couldn't see coming," Azazel had proclaimed. "For an enemy like this, that means it's likely the safest. If they fire, they'll destroy the entire district anyway."

"Right, but you're talking about literally ripped the streets apart."

"Like catching fish in a net."

"No."

But they'd ended up doing it anyway. Now Berith was rubbing the dark circles around her eyes and pointing at street junctions that she'd marked. "Good news is that the dockworker accident means that work on the anchor system has halted. All you'll have to do is uncouple these streets."

"What if someone sees us?" Bel asked.

Berith shrugged. "Apologize. Look, nobody is going outside today. Not with gunboat diplomacy sitting in their harbor."

"I don't know if I can undo those hooks," Paimon pointed out.

"Break them then," Berith replied. "Look, if you take too long, they'll get suspicious and open fire anyway. Do what you need to do, these people are thugs."

"Oh." Paimon tilted her head. "Um, thanks for the permission, Mom."

"Careful with that!" she heard Azazel shout, followed by a sharp crackle of wood. Azazel barged through the porch door carrying a staff, the end of which had exploded in a ball of flame. He doused it in the sink, then looked back towards Railyn. "Staff safety is number one. You've got the power, now you've just got to store it."

"Sorry," Railyn said, wincing. Ivern looked curiously at the flaming staff as it exploded again in Azazel's hands.

"It's fine," Azazel said, removing his shirt and smothering the flames with it. "I've got more staves. And shirts."

"Spells like this aren't really my specialty," Tyri explained, holding two glowing staves behind Railyn. "Are you sure it'll be alright?"

Azazel nodded, walking back out to them. "Sure it will. It's just a matter of repurposing that energy so it propels outwards...." He shut the door behind him, continuing a long-winded explanation thankfully out of earshot.

"You understand everything on this map, right?" Berith asked.

"I haven't been gone that long, Mom," Paimon reminded her.

"Yes, I understand," claimed Bel.

"Well," Berith said, "good. Now, get to it."

She rolled up the map and passed it to Bel, then followed them to the door. "You're sure Eli will be okay?" Paimon asked.

"I've got him pressed between two mattresses," Berith said. "He's seaworthy, at least."

"Okay." Paimon looked at Bel. "We've got this, haven't we Belly?"

Bel smiled and nodded with confident assurance. "We've got this."

"Okay, three, two--" They bolted out the door, tearing down the front steps and down the road. Bel looked a little shaky on his feet, but kept upright, jogging alongside Paimon as they came to where their street connected to the main port. Other streets intersected the port at a perpendicular angle, leading towards the shore. These were the ones they'd have to disconnect.

Paimon unrolled the map without stopping and pointed to the nearest road. "Right there!" she said, then dove towards the intersection. She knelt at the side of the road and reached down beneath it, where a hook and a chain of heavy steel links connected the intersection just below the waterline. On the other side, Bel grabbed at a similar hook.

Paimon submerged her hands, careful not to fall off the dock, and heaved at the hook to try and take it off of the chain ring. "Dammit," she gasped, trying to leverage herself against the road. She was losing time, fast.

"This plan is not gonna fail because of my upper body strength," she muttered, and pulled again. But the hooks refused to budge. Paimon pulled until her hands slipped off of the metal, and she fell on her ass.

"Dammit!" she swore, scrabbling back to the ledge. She looked down and saw the rune sphere form like a bubble from the harbor's water.

"I'm sorry," she told it. "Can you help me?"

The runic eye regarded her for a second and expanded, the golem's head and shoulders rising from the water. Beneath the surface, its body flowed like a current towards the hook ring. Paimon plunged her hands back underwater and pulled with it.

The metal groaned for a second, before releasing, hanging down with watery slowness. She heard Bel grunt once on his end, and the streets began to drift apart.

"Good!" she shouted. "Next one!"

The rune golem nodded as well, climbing out of the water onto the road. Bel looked shocked for a second, so Paimon gave him a thumbs up. For their frantic situation, the gesture was enough, and he nodded.

They ran down the port, closer to the fish market plaza, which was abandoned in fear this particular morning. Paimon reached the connector hook and bent down in time for her head to leave the path of the cannonball, as it shot over her head and exploded into the carp stall. As wood splinters and the scent of fish rained down, Paimon looked at Bel. "They've got gunpowder now."

"Keep going!" Bel and Paimon attacked their respective hooks, the golem slipping between the planks of the pier and undoing the hooks beneath. As they did, another cannonball sailed far over them, smashing into a nearby house.

"No!" Bel shouted, running towards the house. Paimon ducked down as another cannonball flew far into Nua Port.

"Bel!" Paimon called after him, but it was no use. If the ships were firing on Nua Port, she needed to strike back as soon as possible. She turned to face the harbor. The rune golem's head popped up from between the planks.

"Sorry, I don't have my sling," Paimon told it. "Can you try something long-distance?"

She could have sworn the rune golem nodded as it reached its watery hand up. Paimon took it tentatively, and jumped as the rune's body warped into a long shaft, with four symmetrical prongs pointing sharply from the end. Yellow light suffused the form, like a river filled with gold. Paimon bounced her hand up and down. The spear felt as light as a feather. A smile crept up her face. "You know what, this'll do," she said, and raised it above her head.

She ran to the edge of the pier and hurled it, spinning, into the sky. "There's no cannon," she proclaimed, "that can beat Paimon Fel!"

The spear splashed into the water thirty feet away. Paimon stared at where it sunk into the water, dumbfounded. Then, slowly, she raised a hand to her face. "Dammit," she mumbled. "Dammit, dammit, dammit."

Suddenly, it felt like she was holding something. Paimon looked down and saw the spear back in her hand. "Oh," she said. "Well, I'll throw you farther this time."

She backed up, looking to where the ships sat in the harbor. Was it sixty feet away? Seventy? With ships as big as these, she'd probably get points for closeness.

"Okay," she said, running forward and swinging her arm towards the ships. "Please hit!"

The spearhead spiralled through the air, travelling in a nearly perfect arc. Paimon watched it fly directly towards the middle ship, overshoot the cannon, and smash high up against the mast.

Suddenly, a deluge of water erupted from the point of impact, blasting the main deck with waterfall froth. Some of the crew was caught in the swell and swept overboard, while others attempted to relight the cannon fuse, to no avail. Back on the pier, Paimon whooped twice. "Try firing again, see what happens," she taunted.

She jumped as another ship fired its cannon, which erupted the water right in front of her. Paimon giggled nervously as Bel reappeared, his face scraped up.

"The people in that house are safe," he said. "We have to take out those cannons!"

"Way ahead of you," Paimon said, raising her fist as the water spear climbed up her arm and formed in her hand. She stepped back and launched it towards the ship that had fired. It sailed cleanly through the air, only to veer sideways and splash into the harbor behind the leftmost ship. Another cannonball splashed closer to the pier.

As the water rained down on her, Paimon looked back at Bel helplessly. "I -- I don't think I can take all of them out," she said. "I just started this, I don't think I can do it."

There was a calming understanding in Bel's eyes. "Then we need to uncouple the roads as fast as we can."

"Right," Paimon agreed. The spear expanded back into a golem, diving under the planks to disconnect the hooks once again.

They finished the set of hooks as another cannonball flew overhead and sheared part of the roof off of another house. Bel grimaced, but followed Paimon on. "This way!" she shouted.

Three points were left on the map, further down where the main port attached to some side ports where fishing vessels usually docked. As they neared them, Paimon grabbed her golem and formed a spear. "There's no time," she explained, before hurling it at the intersection. The force of water groaned and twisted the connector hooks, until they tore out, along with a chunk of the road.

Bel nodded and slipped his fingers in between the two pieces of another intersection. For an instant, his eyes flared orange, and he shouted in a way that made Paimon remember the base. But in the next instant, the roads had cracked and were floating apart, and Bel was facing her with a drained expression. "One more," he rasped.

They both dove for the last set of hooks as a cannonball cracked through the street between them. This one punched a trench through the wooden street, splitting the planks as it rolled. Paimon dug her spear in as Bel set his claws between the roads. As the pier exploded around them in a hail of splinters, they pulled for dear life.

Cr-ack. The connected roads split violently, leaving the pier floating away from Nua Port. Paimon looked back at Bel. "Run."

They dashed across the floating road as cannon-smoke rolled across the harbor. By now there was dust rising from the town behind them; Paimon grit her teeth and kept running. She couldn't regret her snap decisions now, not when they were so close to succeeding.

As they neared the Fel house, Paimon heard a sound like a bundle of dry leaves catching fire all at once. A gout of red flame shot from the back porch; as the road twisted, she could see Railyn. He'd abandoned his staff, his tattoos blasting the house up to speed. Next to him was Tyri, who sat on the bench and aimed two staves at the water, pulses of blue light shooting from the tips of each. And leaning off of the side of the house was Azazel, gripping two staves in each hand, firing waves of emerald force and propelling the Fel house forward.

Paimon nearly fell sideways into the water as they lurched out into the harbor. She steadied herself and kept running. She was almost home.

Her front door looked just as she'd always left it. Then it opened, and there was her mother, reaching out towards her. "Welcome home!" she shouted over the roar of moving water.

Breathlessly, Paimon jumped forward and took her hand, pulling herself inside. Bel slipped and held on to the doorframe, clawing his way in as they took off. Berith shut the door behind them.

Paimon sighed. "Oh, thank god -- ow." The house surged over a wave, tossing her against a wall.

"Looks like a bumpy ride," remarked Bel, hanging onto the wall.

"There's just three bumps you need to worry about," Berith told him. "Here, hold onto a different wall, that one's bad."

Paimon got to the window as the Fel house shot over the waves, nearing the fleet of ships. Out the back door, she heard Azazel shouting directions. They were coming at them sideways, and she could see the starboard of the nearest ship, as crewmen jumped off of the stern.

"Now!" she heard a shout. The house lurched to the left, blasting out past the fleet of ships. As it did, the floating road wrapped around them -- like catching fish in a net -- and, whiplike, struck the nearest ship.

The road sliced into the ship at the waterline, biting in and dragging it along. The house put on another burst of speed, angling towards the next ship in the fleet. Paimon held on to the dining room table before remembering it wasn't nailed down.

When the road struck the second ship, she tumbled down and smacked her head on the edge of a chair. When she got to her feet, her mother was holding her up. "Almost there," Berith muttered, which was the closest thing to encouragement Paimon had ever heard.

"Full stop!" roared Azazel, and the house stopped moving just short of the third ship. But the floating road, and the two ships impaled on it, didn't quite get that message in time. Paimon and her mother held on tight as the end of the road smashed into the third ship, striking a fatal hole into the starboard side. The ship rolled for a second, as though trying to prolong its doomed life, then began collapsing beneath the waves. With the weight of three ships on its bladed edge, the floating road began sinking as well.

"You two get our house uncoupled before we all go swimming," Berith ordered sharply.

Paimon and Bel darted out to the front stoop, where they reached under the wooden planks. Half of the pier was already submerged, bending the junction upwards where it met the house. There was just one thing left to do.

Paimon and Bel nodded to each other and each took a hook in their hands. They uncoupled the Fel house from the floating road, which floated for only a few seconds more, before plunging beneath the waves.

Paimon stood on the doorstep and watched the fleet sink for a minute, before Azazel leaned out the window and aimed his staves forward. "We're backing up before we get sucked in!" he called. "Come in, you two!"

They walked back in the door and shut it behind them. Paimon sighed. "Fist bump?" she asked.

Bel gave a weary smile. "Sure." They bumped fists.

Railyn and Tyri were in the kitchen, leaning on the counter. They were sweating, out of breath. All it took was a look in their eyes for Paimon to know what they felt. They'd won. There was only this brief rest before what came next.

"We'll rest up for a bit and then motor back into town," Azazel said, walking back inside. "That is, if they'll forgive us about the pier."

"This was probably your most destructive project," Berith remarked, going over to her husband. "Still, it went well in the end." She leaned down slightly and kissed him on the cheek.

As the tension devolved, Paimon caught herself wondering what was for lunch. She smiled. With everyone standing around like this, she felt calm for the first time in two days, a week, six years. It was home.

"Hey!" someone yelled and then Eli was in the doorway, pale and sweaty, soaking through his bandages as he leaned heavily against the doorframe. He looked like shit --the left side of his face a mottled collection of black and blue-- frowning slightly as he swayed with the houseboat, bandaged arm tucked in close to his chest. To top it all off, he looked slightly green, too.

He panted out hoarsely, "We....have to talk, don't we?"
The hardest part of writing science fiction is knowing actual science. The same applies for me and realistic fiction.
  





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Thu May 20, 2021 9:15 am
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ScarlettFire says...



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69 Days B.N.D


Everyone stared at him for a moment, making Eli feel like he'd grown a second head. It certainly felt like he had--his head was pounding viciously with the remnants of fever dream; things he'd told Mythica, things she'd said, secrets he'd spilled, the fire-pain of lashes across his back, the sight of an axe coming down towards his wrist. Eli winced and then it was a flurry of noise and movement.

"You should not be up!"

"Go lay back down right now!"

"Eli, I'm so glad you're okay!"

"Gods, you look like shit."

He felt himself pale and shifted awkward to cover his mouth. What he thought was his head spinning was in fact the entire house swaying. Oh, no.

"I think I'm gonna be sick," he blurted and pushed off the doorframe blindly, trying to find the nearest window. A hand took his elbow and guided him there, letting him lean out and throw up. Several times. He really wished it would stop swaying like that...

Once he was done, the hand guided him back inside and sat him down. Eli couldn't find it in himself to protest, moaning pitifully and leaning against what appeared to be a hastily righted table, arms folded above his head and uninjured cheek pressed against cool wood.

"What happened?" he asked after he'd had a moment to compose himself. He still felt sick but it was currently managable. "Why're we here? Where's here?" A pause and he lifted his head to frown at the blurry figures before him. "Where's Mythica?"

"You're at my parents' place," Paimon said and then looked pointedly at Bel. Eli's frown deepened. "And, uh, you kinda almost died?"

"I what?"

"Kinda died," Bel said and Eli turned his head towards the blue blur. "Sorry."

"Why're you apologising?" he asked, confused. "You didn't do anything to me..."

"Er....how much do you remember of our little stint in the military base?"

Eli shrugged, pushing up onto his elbows on the table. "Honestly? Not a lot. It's...mostly just a blur."

He looked from one person to the next, vision slowly coming into focus. All of them were watching him with varying degrees of concerned expressions. He blinked almost stupidly for a moment, just... processing. Okay, so... He'd apparently kinda died. Had he been tortured to within an inch of his life several times? And then Mythica had used him to attack his friends. Okay, no.

No, that was not okay.

Eli grimaced and rubbed at his face with his good hand, glancing down at the banaged one. He still had his hand and it seemed to be functioning. That was...that was good, right?

"Um... Eli?" That was Tyri, and she sounded pretty concerned. He glanced towards her. "Are you sure you're alright?"

"Ah, yeah," he said, clearing his throat. "M'just peachy, yep. Totally fine."

"You still look like shit," Paimon told him, arms crossed.

Eli sent her a sour look. "Do you have to keep saying that?"

She shrugged. "It's a medical diagnosis."

He snorted and tried to get up only to collapse back down in the chair, naseua rising again. He slammed his right hand over his mouth and just took a moment to let it pass before he exhaled heavily. "Okay... I, uh. I nearly died, more than once? And, uh..." He lowered his good hand and gestured vaguely. "The bitch basically broke me down... I think..." He scrunched up his face in concentration and confusion, trying to sort through the jumbled mess his memories were. "I think she....tried to skin me..."

"Skin you?!"

"Yeah." He shrugged, like it had meant nothing. "Had worse."

It hadn't. And he hadn't, but he wasn't about to tell them that.

"Gods, she sounds like a bloody butcher."

Tyri cleared her throat. "That's because she is."

Eli nodded vaguely, still trying to recollect his memories. "I think I told her about us," he said slowly, softly, "and the prophecy. Not sure she believed me."

"What else did you tell her?"

He groaned and rubbed at his face again, hissing when he pressed too hard on bruised skin. "I don't know. I can't exactly remember."

"Well, that's helpful."

He was having trouble figuring out who was speaking and then decided he just didn't care right now. They'd sort it out themselves. Eli shrugged again, hand drifting down to gingerly touch his left wrist. Thank the gods he had his hand back. That had been the worst moment in his life so far.... Right next to being forced to attack his own friends.

"Eh, could be worse."

"Course be worse? COULD BE WORSE?!"

Eli glancecd up, frowning at the doctor standing with her hands on her hips.

"Could be worse my ass, young man!" the doctor seethed. "You're not the one who changed your bandages and gave you blood while you died and undied for two days straight! And you weren't anyone else in this room who had to watch you do it."

The doctor rubbed the bridge of her nose, and swiped at her eyes briefly. "You scared all of us. You are, without a doubt, the worst patient I've ever had."

He stared up at her almost blankly, slowly registering what she'd said. It took him a few minutes but it finally hit him, and he sucked in a sharp breath.

"T-two days?" he asked, eyes widening. "Dying and undying? What the hell?"

Gods, he'd been worse off than he'd thought. No wonder he felt like shit. And no wonder he'd noticed an extreme excess of dead... uh... sealife in the water while he was throwing up. Had he done that? Dear gods, he was a monster.

"I-I... I did that?" he whispered and then glanced at his friends. "I... I hurt you... I failed you.. Oh gods..." He buried his face in his good palm, shoulders heaving--but he wasn't crying yet. "I can't believe I-- I can't believe she made me... Ohmygods, please, don't let me do that again. I never wanted t-to lie to you... or make you suffer... b-but you did... and it was because of me and my stupid freaking family and their stupid feud..." Now he was actually sobbing, the words running together and even harder to make out, especially for himself. "Can't even be a fucking royal right cause I screw everything up... ugh... I don't deserve to be sixth in line... don't deserve to be a fucking prince. No wonder no one wanted me--"

"Wait," Tyri said slowly, but Eli barely heard her. "[/i]Royalty[/i]?"

"Apparently he's a prince."

"Specifically, he said he was sixth in line, Paimon."

"--Gods, I'm a monster--"

Suddenly, there were arms around him and a soothing voice by his ear; "You're not a monster, Eli, promise." Tyri. He tried to shake her off, but she clung tighter and then Bel was there, too and he just... melted, chest heaving with sobs and aching with every single one. He'd nearly forgotten about the broken ribs. "It's okay, Eli. We're here for you, no matter who you are, or what you believe to be. Right, Bel?"

Bel grunted. "Yeah."

Image


Eventually, he calmed down enough to have an actual conversation with them, tear tracks dried on his face as he sat on the couch between Paimon and Bel and tried desperately not to throw up for the fifth time in an hour. Paimon's parents had retreated to the other room sometime during his little breakdown.

"Alright," he said, clearing his throat as he looked at each one of them carefully. "What did you want to ask me first?"

"Are you really royalty?" Tyri asked, leaning forwards slightl from her seat at the table beside Railyn.

"And, uh, did she really try to skin you?"

Eli winced. "Yes, and yes... I'm sorry I didn't tell you all before..."

"And you're really sixth in line?" she asked, grip tight on her new staff. Eli nodded, then cleared his throat when he belatedly remembered she wouldn't see that.

"Yeah..."

"And Mythica still tortured you?" Tyri was frowning. "I can't imagine the ramifications between your families. And the personal ramifications..." She trailed off.

"Wars have started for less," Bel muttered.

"Yes." He dropped his gaze, tracing his fingers over the thin, silvery scar that encircled his left wrist where it was just peeking out from between his bandages. "Yeah, she did, and they have. It was... horrible. But it was worse when she made me hurt you all, when I had no control..."

Bel swallowed and ducked his head a little, fingertips pressed together in his lap. "I... know how that feels."

He nodded, throat tight. "I remember."

"I'm surprised," Paimon muttered. "You were pretty out of it."

Eli grimaced again and nodded. "Yeah. I think I... covered most of what she did and what I told her but I'm still... hazy on some things. Pretty sure she knows the line of succession for Asturia now, so there's that." And where that lab was, but he didn't want to bother his friends with stupid military secrets. "And, well... Us, too."

"Yeah."

"Yeah," he echoed softly, head hanging.

"Well, shit."

He frowned and was about to ask where Lady was when Azazel --Paimon's father-- swept in from the other room. "Lunch is ready!"

Eli groaned and let himself be helped up, Paimon tucked under his good arm as they shuffled into the other room. Bel trailed behind, Tabby perched on his head. It was slightly awkward, but everyone got situated around the table, Bel and Paimon's chairs were pressed up against his so he wouldn't fall too far right or left. He still hadn't seen Lady yet, but he could worry about her in a moment because despite the apparent naseua, he was starving.

Lunch wasn't anything truly amazing. Just... fish. He frowned at but let Paimon lean over to snag a plate for him and pull it in front of him. He wrinkled his nose slightly but picked up the fork right-handed and started eating. Converstation drifted into safer waters and Eli felt like he could breathe again without everyone so focused on him. He barely listened to them as he ate, not quite tolerating the fish as well as he'd liked.

Eventually, it grew quiet as everyone finished and he pushed his plate away, glancing up. "So," he said carefully, drawing attention to himself again. "What happened to Mythica?"

It was Paimon who answered, pointedly staring over Eli's head at Bel. "She, ah, went for a swim," she said, sickenly sweet. "Didn't she, Bel?"

Eli twisted to look up at the tiefling. Bel flushed. "Yeah."

He blinked. "A...swim, huh," he murmured slowly, not-quite a question. "I see." Then he frowned and glanced about the table again. "Where's Lady?"

Everyone seemed thrown by that and then the doctor--Berith, he'd learned--straightened up. "Oh, the cat?" she asked, then shrugged. "She's in the other room, sleeping. Hasn't moved in hours."

"Hasn't--" Eli broke off with a groan and tried to push up onto his feet. Bel caught him around the back as he swayed. "I need-- Where--? Take me to her. Now."

"Eli," Paimon said, frowning at him. "Maybe you should rest?"

"No," he said, too harshly and then took a deep, steadying breath that made his ribs ache. "You don't understand. I need to check on her... She never left my side while I was out, did she?"

"We had to drag her off of you, sometimes quite literally," Berith said.

Paimon didn't reply to that but her and Bel helped--basically dragged--him into the other room where Lady was curled up on the couch, eerily still. Eli fell to his knees beside it, leaving heavily against the couch and reached out a shaky hand to touch her.

"Lady?"

She twitched a little but barely showed any sign of moving beyond that and her slow, laboured breathing. Eli bit his lip and tried again, fingertips sliding over brittle fur.

"Lady, it's me. Are you alright?"

Finally she lifted her head up, tail flicking as she swayed slightly. Father? she asked in obvious confusion. I don't feel...so good...

He swallowed thickly, took weak to use his magic but he still knew. He knew what he'd done. "Oh, no," he whispered and turned a horrified look on Bel and Paimon. "I was unconsciously draining her that whole time, Paimon."

"Draining? How does that," Paimon began, but stopped short when Eli looked her in the eye. "Well...um..." Her voice trailed off into dreadful silence, and she looked away.

"You should have made her stay away," he breathed, pushing up onto shaky legs. Bel hovered nearby as if to grab him if he fell. "You shouldn't have let her stay. She's not..." He growled and pushed away from Bel when the tiefling made to grab his elbow. "She isn't strong enough to sustain a drain on her life like that! How could you!" He took a shaky step towards Paimon, taking a breath to continue only to choke on it and tumble to his knees, coughing violently, ribs aching with the effort.

"Eli!"

"D-Don't--"

Railyn stepped in between them, placing a hand on Eli's bare, bandaged chest. "You're in the same house as some of Synilas' best medics. If Lady will be okay anywhere, it's here."

"But--"

"If I've learned anything from a sentient companion, it's that they have their own mind. Lady's just as stubborn as you are. She'll be just as stubborn as you were while recovering. But, she will. Recover. Just like she helped you do so."

"Yes, so why don't you direct your anger to something useful, like resting," Berith poked her head out from the kitchen.

Paimon cleared her throat. "The doctors will make sure Lady is fine. Worrying won't help either of you right now. So, shoo."

Eli grunted and sagged slightly, feeling Bel catch him before he hit the floor and right him again. "Okay. Yes. Fine." He nodded and then tapped Bel's arm, signalling that the tiefling could heave him up onto his feet again. Paimon slipped under his good arm. "Can I just...lay down now? M'dizzy..."

At that, Bel and Paimon led him out of the room and back into the dining room where Tyri was trying to help Berith and Azazel clean up their dinner. They lowered him down onto a sleeping mat and within minutes, he was out again.
"With friends like you, who needs a medical license?" - Paimon, Aether's Heart


“It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” - Grace Hopper.
  





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67 Days B.N.D


Eli sat up in the dining room, leaning back against the wall as he watched the others discussing something around the table. He was almost used to the gentle rocking of the house-turned-boat by now and wasn't so sick anymore. The naseua lingered, but now he knew it had nothing to do with seasickness and was more to do with the fact that, while he was awake and somewhat mobile, he was still feverish. He was better than he'd been just a few days ago but he was still weak, still shaking.

"What are you lot discussing?" he asked, bending a leg and resting his good arm on his knee. No one looked at him and his gaze narrowed. "C'mon, share it with the poor, crippled boy."

"We were just discussing how poor and [/i]crippled[/i] you were, mister royal," Paimon threw over her shoulder, not even looking at him. Eli snorted. "Seriously, though. There's something going on in town and we think it needs to be checked out."

He blinked but didn't try to get up. The last time he'd done that, he'd had six people chiding him for it since he had clonked his head against the wall on the way down. He really didn't need more brain damage than he already had. Besides, he knew when to quit pushing himself. Usually. And Lady was at least looking better, too. He didn't want to leave him.

"You mean that Mythica's still missing?" he asked, and everyone turned to look at him. "What? You said she got tossed into the sea!" He shrggued. "Metal legs are heavy."

"No shit," Paimon said, after a moment and huffed, turning back to the table. "So you put here in there--"

"Come on. At least let me help with the planning," Eli tried, tilting his head back against the wall. "I'm bored and my back's itchy. I need a distraction--"

"Well, then, Mr. Bored," Azazel said, peeking over the top over everyone. "You can help with making staffs!"

"No."

"Ah, no thanks," he muttered, ignoring Berith's irritated no. "My magic bites, remember?"

"Psh, when does magic not bite?"

Eli stared at the man. "That is....not what I meant."

Silence.

He cringed. "You know what? Forget I said anything. It's not like you can just go ask Mythica's men for directions--"

"That's it!"

Eli flinched at the sudden volume, sending Railyn? a look. "What's it?"

"We go ask her men for information!"

He stared blandly at him. "What're you gonna do?" he spat, upset and angry. "Go up to them and ask nicely?"

Paimon cackled. "Oh, we'll ask nicely alright."

"You will not torture those men!" Berith yelled from the other room.

"Of course not, Mom!" Paimon yelled back, then lowered her voice. "We'll get Bel to do it."

Bel blinked. "Wait, what? Why me?"

"I heard that!"

"Sorry!" Paimon shouted while shaking her head.

Eli snorted, leaning heavily against the wall. "Please," he said weakly, "no more torture."

Paimon turned to Bel. "Because you're the big, scary, blue tiefling, that's why."

"Ah," Bel said. His expression looked blank. "Almost forgot." Then he smiled like he meant it in good humor, but it didn't seem quite genuine.

"Great, make the tiefling out to be the bad guy again, why don't you?" he muttered, tone sour as he rubbed at his face with his good hand. "Freaking typical..."

"What was that?" Paimon asked, almost too sweetly.

Eli glanced over and gave her a weak, sickeningly sweet smile. "Nothing!" he sing-songed and went back to muttering darkly into his hand.

"Aaaanyway," Paimon said, pointing at Bel. "You're our intimidation. You do the glow-y orange thing and bam, info."

"I don't think that's how it works, Paimon--"

"Actually, I think that might work," Railyn jumped in, cutting Eli off. He scowled at him. "It doesn't have to be long. But I've seen you turn... orange at will before. And if it terrified me the last time it happened," he coughed, and Eli saw him glance in Bel's direction, "so I'm sure it'll terrify whatever information we need out of anyone we find. It's not the best option, but I think it's the only one we have if we have any hope of catching Mythica's trail."

Eli groaned and thumped his head against the wall, turning disappoving eyes on Railyn. "When did we resort to the same tactics as Mythica?"

"I can do it," Bel said in what was almost monotone. "It's okay, Eli."

He frowned, turning a concerned look on Bel. "Are you sure?"

Bel nodded, offering him another smile. "Like they said, I'm probably our best bet at intimidation. Might as well use what I have going for me."

"Then it's settled," Railyn cut in. He nodded once, then spun around and left the room.

"If you get hurt," Eli warned softly, not looking away from Bel, "I won't be there to heal you. You know that, right?"

Bel's smile widened just a little and he glanced over at Paimon. He patted her firmly on the back. "I'll have a great doctor with me if I really need it."

"D'awww," Paimon said, blushing. "With friends like you, who needs a medical license?"

Bel snorted and Eli chuckled, turning his head to watch them. "That's adorable."

Tyri cleared her throat. "I hate to bring a cloud over this," she said carefully, "but let's not underestimate an Idora again, yes?"

Eli nodded and closed his eyes. It was going to be a long wait.

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With everyone gone and only Azazel in the house, Eli found it eerily quiet. He limped over to the kitchen doorway to watch the man for a moment before he turned to look at Lady where she lay on the couch. He was restless and worried--which was not a fun combination, especially when injured. And Lady... Lady was... He wasn't even sure how badly off she was. He still couldn't consciously use his magic. Azazel and Berith had assured him that the forced abuse of his magic had overloaded him, fried his magical batteries, so to speak. Eli frown and limped back the other way, rubbing his hip and thigh, gaze darting to the sleek, silvery line across his toes

Stop... pacing.

He winced and limped back towards Lady, gingerly lowering himself down beside her on the couch, hand going to her back. Eli stroked her brittle fur for a moment before heaving a sigh and shifting to press his face into her fur, gingerly working around his sore ribs and shoulder. "I'm sorry," he whispered into her fur, stroking gently. "I can't help it."

Lady huffed weakly and lifted her head to nuzzle into his cheek. She sagged almost immediately. I know, Father... And...we both know, she made a soft noise of discomfort and Eli quickly shifted off her. We both know that you... want to be out there, helping.

Eli exhaled heavily, sending Azazel a glance before turned back to Lady. The other man was clearly engrossed in whatever it was he was doing in the kitchen, and Eli would really rather not have him narrating every step of the process to him.

"What if I mess up again, Lady?" he whispered, slightly terrified. The last time he'd done something like this, he'd nearly gotten them all killed. How could he trust himself not to do that again? Not to get recaptured and put back in that thrice-damned torture chamber? With the pliers and the axe and the whip? He shuddered.

Lady heaved a heavy, strained sigh. We both know, Father, that it will happen again, and again, and again--

"Lady--" He grimaced, but she cut him off again.

But has that stopped you before?

"Yes," Elidyr bit out. "Multiple times, Lady."

Are you going to let that stop you this time?

He sighed and shook his head, brushing a thumb over her cheek. "I think I understand," he murmured softly, eyes tearing up as she pressed against his thumb, seeking contact and comfort. "But I...can't help them, Lady." He gestured to himself, lifting his hand away to do so. "Not like this. I can barely walk right now."

Lady turned her head and opened one eye, pinning him with a pretty green spike through his heart. Eli sucked in a sharp breath, but Lady just blinked at him, slowly.

Will you let that stop you? Has it ever stopped you before, during the war? During training?

Eli looked away, heart heavy and guilt thick in his throat. "Lady..."

Don't let it stop you, Father. Just like I didn't let fear stop me when I offered you part of my life to keep you here.

He froze, breath halting in his throat. She hadn't-- She had. He twisted to stare down at her, ignoring the bright flare of pain in his ribs at the movement. "Tell me you didn't," he demanded, nearly breathless with the pain coating the words.

Lady just stared up at him patiently. I did.

"Oh, Lady," he muttered, gently but akwardly picking her up one-handed and cradling her to his chest. "You didn't have to do that, you know."

Of course not. I wanted to, Father, she told him softly, nuzzling into his chest. After all, you saved me first. It was...only right to return the favour.

"You're not gonna die on me, too, are you?"

Lady huffed a laugh. No, never. She nudged him with her nose then gently placed a shaking paw on his chest, wings drooping. Now don't let the fear stop you, not of her and not of failure. You're strong, Father, and so are your friends.

"Oh..." So that's what she was getting at. He sniffed, tears slipping down his cheeks as he kissed her on the forehead and set her down gently beside him. She huffed and snuggled down into the warm spot on the couch, tail flicking. "Thanks, Lady. Uh, be brave." He lowered his voice. "Don't let the crazy man with the staves annoy you too much, okay?"

Okay.

"I love you, Lady."

Love you, too, Father. Stay safe.

Eli took a moment to swipe at his face before he limped over to the kitchen doorway and grabbed hold, leaning heavily against it. If Azazel had heard him speaking to Lady, he didn't seem to care or show that he had. Eli cleared his throat.

"I need a staff," he said, watching Azazel turn towards him slowly. "A metal one. And a dagger." He glanced down at his bandaged body and the too-tight pants he'd been wearing lately. "And, uh, clothes. Any idea where I can get those?"

Azael grinned widely. "I have just the thing!"

Image


Eli arrived just in time to see Bel literally drop a man off the pier with very little effort. He was panting and breathing heavily as he leaned against the railing, left arm still held tight to his chest as he watched Tyri and the others turn towards him. Paimon kicked the man she'd just dropped before skipping back over towards Bel. His ribs ached feircely and he groaned, collapsing against the pier rail.

"What are you doing here?" Bel demanded as soon as he caught sight of him, right as Tyri said, "You should be resting!"

Eli offered them all a lopsided grin. "What can I say? I just couldn't keep my dirty nose outta it, could I?"

"Seriously?" Paimon asked, stopping short and giving him a filthy look. "I know we mentioned you being the worst patient, but this really isn't a competition."

"Do you want to break your ribs again?" Railyn demanded, arms crossed.

Eli shrugged. "I was bored and restless."

"You really should be taking better care of yourself," said Tyri with a frown.

He glanced towards her and smiled fondly. "I think I've taken good enough care of myself so far, Tyri." Finally catching his breath, he straightened up, readjusted the slightly-too-big shirt he was wearing and cast a critical look over the downed men. "So, what'd they say?"

"Mythica this," Paimon said, waving a hand. "Mythica that. Why did she get to leave on the big ship, blah, blah, blah."

Eli frowned. "You mean to say she's gone?"

"Yup," Paimon said, popping the 'p'. "Out of the bay and beyond the horizon like the little coward she is."

He groaned and shook his head, shoving hair out of his face. "Bloody typical," he muttered and pushed off the railing to take a shaky step towards Paimon and the others. "By the way, in case you haven't noticed." He gestured behind him, back inland where smoke and dust was billowing up into the sky. "We have company."

"Ah, shit."

"You sure Mythica left on a ship?" he asked, adjusting the strap of the staff slung across his back. "And that she didn't, I don't know, double back to hit Nua from behind?"

Railyn nudged a nearby man's side with his foot. "Pretty sure," he said, eyeing the smoke and dust. "This lot were complaining about being left behind."

"Huh," Eli muttered and turned to watch the billowing smoke and dust with a frown. "Then who do you think that is?"

"Do you think it could be Synua?" Tyri asked, coming up beside him.

"Synua actually coming to the aid of one of its cities?" Paimon retorted. "Never thought I'd see the day."

Eli glanced towards her and shrugged, chuckling weakly. "Maybe they have?" he asked, considering the idea carefully. He smirked. "Think we pissed 'em off enough to follow us all the way here?"

"Now, that sounds more like the Synua I know and love," Paimon said and huffed out a breath. "We better go check it out."

He heaved a sigh and nodded. "I suppose we should."

Bel piped up, making the groaning, terrified men laying there on the pier jump and flinch. "What do we do with them?" He pointed to the sad excuses of mobsters next to him.

Eli glanced back and shrugged. "Leave 'em. They're useless now that they've ratted her out." He grinned wickedly and nudged a nearby one with the toe of his boot, making the guy cringe away from him. "She can't trust them anymore and if they show their faces, she'll probably kill them." He crouched down, grunting in pain. "Isn't that right?"

"Please," the man moaned in fear, curling up into a defensive ball. "Please don't kill us--"

He snorted and grabbed onto Bel's arm to drag himself back up. "It's not me you've got to worry about," Eli told him sternly, nudging him again. "It's Mythica. Best bet is to crawl off and hide somewhere before she realises that we didn't just kill you."

Paimon chuckled and thumped him on the back, carefully. "That's a good mobster," she said and Eli rolled his eyes, trying to pull away from her. She wasn't having it and leaned against him, throwing an arm around his neck. "Look at you go, threatening them all boss-like. So proud of you."

"Not a mobster," he muttered, but he didn't try to shrug her off. "Besides, that's more my brother's thing, not mine." He cleared his throat and looked away, ignoring the man as he started to crawl down the pier away from them. "Anyway, don't we--"

Suddenly, a chorus of shouts and cries went up from the direction of the smoke and dust. Eli turned towards it, Paimon swinging with him. He frowned, reaching for the dagger tucked into a makeshift belt and gripping the hilt tightly.

"What the--?"

Before he could say anything else, Paimon was off. Eli took off, following closely by the others. Something was wrong and he didn't like it.
"With friends like you, who needs a medical license?" - Paimon, Aether's Heart


“It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” - Grace Hopper.
  





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ScarlettFire says...



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67 Days B.N.D


"Paimon, slow down!" Eli panted, trying to keep up with her, but she was moving too fast. Someone grabbed him, tried to slow him down and he glanced over to see Railyn dragging his arm over the other boy's shoulders. "Thanks."

He looked for Paimon and found her well ahead of them, and sighed. He was too tired to keep up, breathing hard as he trudged along after. Eli grimaced, leaning more heavily on Railyn.

"I recognize those voices" Paimon said over her shoulder. Eli scowled at her back. "I thought I'd forget how they sounded, but I know who they are. I know these people!"

"Couldn't she slow down?" he muttered, annoyed, and Railyn huffed at him. "Too freaking fast--"

Railyn shifted Eli's weight. "If those sounds are indeed screaming..."

"Then it's nothing good, right?" he asked, glancing towards Railyn. "Right?"

"What if it's Mythica again?" Railyn whispered.

Eli felt all the blood drain out of his face. "I sincerely hope it isn't."

Railyn picked up speed, half dragging Eli at this point. He whimpered, not even trying to protest the treatment. They needed to catch up with Paimon, he knew that. He went to look for her and frowned.

"Hey, where'd she go?"

They were on the outskirts now, and the Synua Royal Guard colours were flying high. Eli squinted at the flags, tilting his head. That wasn't good.

"...Railyn, look...the flags..."

They stared up at the flags. Eli swallowed thickly, glancing around for Paimon but there was a crowd gathered before them, and Eli could hear more yelling. He twisted a little, unbalancing himself and Railyn as he tried to peek between people and over the crowd. It looked like there were people being arrested, several Synua Guards milling about and even more dragging people away.

"R-Railyn, maybe we shouldn't--"

Railyn wasn't listening to him, though. He was watching the guards. Eli frowned at the sight before them, pushing away from Railyn to stumble a few steps forwards to try and find Paimon. He spotted Berith off to one side, blindly reached for Railyn's hand and grabbed him, dragging him towards Berith and the small crowd gathered around her.

Eli nudged Railyn and gestured towards them. Together, they started making their way over. Berith was holding two fingers to her mouth, which twitched in agitation. "If you calm down first, I can stop repeating myself. This is a military lockdown and that's all we know," she said, articulating the words as if she were speaking to a child.

Paimon bounced up and down in a mix of rage and nervous energy. "That can't be right. They can't just go and arrest citizens like that, didn't we have a council? Why aren't they asking them?"

"Dead of bluecough last week." Berith shrugged. "I tried."

"That doesn't make sense," Paimon insisted. "If Synua didn't care about Nua Port then, why would they care now?"

"They don't," Eli muttered, but was completely ignored. He rolled his eyes.

Berith laughed harshly. "In case you haven't noticed, Paimon, a lot of things have changed since you arrived."

The name 'Paimon' sent a murmured ripple through the small crowd, and people started paying closer attention. Paimon's face was a supercharged mess of emotion. "It never ends, does it -- forget this, I'm going to work." Her sling unfolded from her arm, and the rune sphere dropped into her hand.

"Calm down!" Berith had been about to say something, but was shouted down by Tyri. The mage laid a hand on Paimon's shoulder, gripping firmly. "We're already wanted by Synua, remember?"

"Oh." Paimon scratched her head. "Yeah, sorry."

Berith shook her head with mock awe. "Is there anyone you're not wanted by?"

"Uh, probably not with me here," Eli interjected biterly, glancing towards the guards still dragging people off. He tilted his head towards them. "Regardless, what are we going to do about them?"

"You've all done enough," Berith said, glaring at Eli. "You especially. If the wind blew hard enough, you'd fracture your skull."

Eli scowled but didn't argue with that. "Well, they can't see us, Berith..." He hoped the implications were clear. If the Synua Guard saw him, and probably the others, then they'd be furious and Nua Port would probably be razed to the ground. He looked away, grimacing. "Shit..."

"Eli," Railyn muttered, but he ignored the other boy, pressing a hand to his side as he stared Berith down.

Berith regarded them both carefully, holding her tongue against her bottom teeth before speaking. "You're right. They can't see you, and that is how it's going to stay."

Eli nodded, pressing his lips tightly together and leaning heavily into Railyn again. His little adventure out of the house had exhausted him.

"Go home," she said. "Stay out of sight." Then, to Paimon: "Take care of your father."

He nudged Railyn and jerked his head to a nearby alley, shadowy and close enough for them to watch without being spotted. The other boy nodded and the five of them quickly slipped into the shadows, pressing against the wall and peeking around the corner carefully.

Berith's next words were a ragged shout that carried on the sea winds and blew across the crowd. "What do you think you're doing to my people?"

One of the men turned, a patch on his shoulder reflecting dull gold in the sunlight. Eli swore under his breath; that was a commander under Mythica.

"Are you in charge?" the man demanded, striding towards Berith.

"In charge? Everyone in this city is my charge," Berith replied. "Doctor's oath and all that."

The Commander frowned at her, then snorted, "You'll do," he said, gesturing at her. "Come with me." And then he turned and stalked off, clearly expecting her to follow.

Berith glanced back towards the shadows, and Eli couldn't tell if she could see them. Her face was hard-lined and stern, and before he could catch anything else in it, she walked into the phalanx of guards, enveloped by their stride.

"That was him," Bel said grimly, staring after them. "He was the voice that gave the ransom."

"Yeah." Paimon's voice was strangled. "Let's go find my dad."

Image


Eli sagged on the couch, one hand absently petting Lady as he watched Paimon pacing back and forth. He frowned, tilting his head back against the couch and grimacing. He'd really overdone it--his ribs ached and he was pretty sure his growing headache was because of the whole not-able-to-connect-to-his-magic thing.

"Four hours, twenty-five minutes," Paimon said at last. "We've waited enough. I should go look for her."

"She's definitely taking too long," Eli muttered, closing his eyes for a moment to try and push past the ache in his ribs. When he opened them, Azazel was lurking in the doorway. "That's not good. Maybe we should look--"

"We're wanted, remember?" Railyn muttered a little too harshly, cutting him off as he rubbed his temples. Eli scowled at him.

"And they're patrolling," Bel added, squinting out the window.

"That's right." Azazel fidgeted into the room, adjusting his goggles. "It's safer if you all stay here. I can look."

"This isn't just some shopping trip, Dad," Paimon snapped, and deflated immediately. "I'm sorry. What I mean is, it's more dangerous than ever now."

Azazel nodded and swallowed. "I know. I shouldn't have left her side in the first place, but if Synua caught wind of the staffs and staves I make -- well, your mother wouldn't like that either." He stared out the window at the first orange ribbons of sunset.

"But, you know, Paimy?" he said quietly. "I'd rather she be mad at me for that, because to be mad at me, she'd have to be here."

The room fell silent. Eli shifted awkwardly, not looking at anyone else. Eventually, Tyri spoke up. "Someone's coming," she said, moving to her feet.

Paimon and Azazel darted into the hallway as Eli heard the door open. He saw Paimon freeze, her jaw go slack, and then shut firmly as she sighed.

"I'm home, my lovely family," said Berith in a mocking tone. "Is dinner ready?"

Azazel fumbled into the kitchen. "I'll get it started right away." As he fled through the doorway, Eli noticed the tears swishing in his goggles.

Berith patted her daughter on the shoulder as she moved past her into the living room. Now that Eli could see her, she seemed unharmed, if a bit more weary and agitated. "It looks like you're feeling better."

Eli snorted. "Yeah, like shit."

"Shit's better than you were," Berith retorted, walking heavily into the kitchen.

He shrugged and shifted to lean back against the couch. "Anything's better than basically dying."

Bel leaned in with a wry grin. "You've been basically dying since the moment we met." Paimon folded her arms and nodded rapidly in agreement.

Image


Berith sat them around the dining room table as Azazel slopped chowder from a pot into their bowls. The steam rose up under Berith's menacing gaze as she addressed them all.

"Surprisingly, this isn't your fault," she said. "The Synua guard is here investigating the disappearance of a royal shipment. Though, that's why the Idora guards were stationed at the outpost, which is now at the bottom of the harbor -- I assume you were responsible for that."

"We may have accelerated that process," admitted Railyn, scratching his head.

Berith smirked with a bit of pride. "Good on you."

Bel swallowed a spoonful of chowder. "What was on the ship?"

"I thought it was a foreign diplomat," Azazel said.

Berith nodded. "I thought so too, but the way the guards were talking about it, it might have been a lot more than that. At the very least, it was important enough warrant that escort and to clear the main port."

"The main port we rammed into Mythica's ships?" Paimon asked.

"You did what?" Eli said, glancing up from where he'd been eating and listening in.

"Yes," Berith continued. "Nua Port will be answering for the disappearance of the ship, the outpost, and the port. We have a week to surrender the criminals responsible. The problem with this is--"

"We're the criminals," Tyri said bleakly.

Berith smiled thinly. "No need to be sad about that. I can't say I completely understand your cause, but you've done enough to win me over. You all hold strong convictions." She was looking directly at Paimon. "However, it's either turn you in or give up the Council to be executed in your stead. The problem with the other option is--"

"The Council are all dead," Eli finished.

"Not quite," Berith said. "The only problem is that as of five hours ago, the Council is me."

"Shit," he muttered, dropping his utensils to bury his face in his hands. "This is my fault--"

"No, it's not," Berith cut him off. "The fact of the matter is that all of you chose to be here. Given all that's happened, you're all to blame for disrupting those Idoras. That's a good thing, though."

Paimon nodded vigorously. "Then we'll take the fight to them and finish the job!"

Berith's stare shot icicles through her. "No. That's not an option anymore."

"Why not?" Railyn asked, looking sincere. "We've done it before."

"Just look at the state of you all," Berith remarked. "You can't just charge in because you feel guilty about not doing anything."

She was looking at Paimon, who grimaced and looked down. "Then what do we do?" Paimon asked.

"You run. This isn't your fight."

"But--"

"For once in your life, listen to me!" She slammed the table. Her anger immediately dissipated, and all that left was exhaustion. Eli flinched, peeking up at her from between his fingers. She closed her eyes and composed herself. "You five are all wanted by the Synua Guard. They have an army here. There is no scenario where you end this alive if you choose to fight."

For the first time since Eli met her, Paimon had no reply.

Bel spoke up. "Even if we choose to run, there's no guarantee we can get away. The port's been destroyed and the guards are blocking every road; we may end up having to fight anyway."

"Bel's right," Eli said softly, still not looking directly at anyone.

Berith smirked. "Luckily for you all, I have a bit of foresight. I... found these during mine and the nice commander's discussion." She fished out a roll of parchment from a fold in her clothes.

Azazel cleared the table of the used cuttlery and Berith rolled out the parchment. It revealed multiple pages rolled in on each other, but she pulled away just one. Eli reached for the other papers. Tyri pulled them towards him.

Bel squinted at the paper. "That's a lot of..."

"Descriptions of the royal ship."

"Yes, that. Of course."

Berith tapped an underlined portion of the scroll. "This is what interested me. Any official documents about bluecough have this designator on it."

"So the royal ship was dealing with something bluecough?" Paimon looked over her shoulder. "Okay?"

"That's not the interesting part. Look at the date."

Paimon leaned in. Recognition poured across her face, and she and Berith exchanged glances. For a moment, they looked truly like mother and daughter.

Paimon started, "This date places this--"

"As the first recorded bluecough case in Synua. Weeks before any I came across, and believe me, Synua has placed blame on Nua Port being the starting point of this horrible illness." Berith scoffed. "All the blame, yet no assistance."

"So Synua started the bluecough outbreak?" Railyn asked. "Why?"

"Population control?" Berith offered. "With all I've seen since this outbreak, I wouldn't be surprised."

"You're more right than you think," Eli cut in, setting the other papers down. He scowled. "This bluecough affects magic differently. Mythica..." He stopped, but his eyes met Bel, and he could see the same pain in the tiefling's eyes.

Railyn looked at him in horror. "I didn't even think about that..."

Berith cleared her throat. "Is someone going to fill me in?"

"Mythica could... she was able to control Bel and Eli because they had bluecough. Manipulate them into her bidding with that glove she was wearing."

"You two weren't showing bluecough symptoms, though."

"We had enough." Elidyr shook his head. "There's a lot of redacted information in these parchments. Also coded language. That tells me the ship was carrying something far more important than even the royal guards are letting on."

"Like the origins of bluecough?" Berith stated. "I've heard more than enough. For the sake of everyone in this town and every town, you all need to follow this through. Find that ship."

"What about Nua? What about you two?" Paimon countered.

"This is our fight, not yours." There seemed more weight to that than what was said.

"No." Paimon crossed her arms. "I'm not running away again."

Berith stared into her eyes. "And my daughter isn't going to get herself killed out of guilt." She scanned the room. "None of you are."

Eli felt like she was staring right into his soul. He fidgeted. "How will we even find this ship? If the Synilas Royal Guard can't find it--"

Berith shared a glance with Azazel. "With something they don't have, of course."

Azazel nodded. "Of course, of course! What is that?" Berith glared. "Oh, right! Yes! Magic!"
"With friends like you, who needs a medical license?" - Paimon, Aether's Heart


“It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” - Grace Hopper.
  





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62 Days B.N.D


There was a salty smell in the air that Bel was getting used to, but it seemed exceptionally strong as he sat out on the porch, looking out at the rolling water just a few feet down.

The sky was clear, and the wind was weak, and they were drifting slowly. Slowly like driftwood inching across the ocean in their house-turned-boat that everyone knew wasn't going to last them much longer.

It all started two days ago when Paimon discovered the wood panels on the bottom floor warping with the water and creaking under her weight. It was the beginning of an end, and everyone knew that unless a miracle happened, whatever prophecy they were meant to fulfill could come to a swift end if they ended up stranded in the middle of the ocean with no way to get back to land before they ran out of food, water, and supplies.

Houses were not meant to be boats. It seemed like an obvious observation in hindsight, and they all went into this knowing that it was one of their worst, but only options. There was no way they could've commandeered a ship to get out of Nua Port, especially not after all the destruction they themselves caused to the docks and ships kept there. It was a last-ditch effort for all of them. Azazel handed out a bunch of staffs and runes, told Tyri and Railyn how to use them, and in the cover of the night, he and Berith sent all of them out on the only sea-worthy ship left in the port: their house.

Paimon got to say one last goodbye to her parents who were left with the mess that was Nua Port and the guards occupying its streets. Elidyr was given strict orders to rest and recover. Lady stayed faithfully by his side, and Paimon and Tyri looked after him. Tyri and Railyn were left with magical staffs to steer the "ship," and Ivern clung to Railyn even tighter than before.

As for Bel, he couldn't help but feel useless.

He wasn't a doctor, and he wasn't a sailor. He didn't have any magic to help them keep a house afloat on stagnant waters, nor any creative solutions, or any skills that could relieve the others' exhaustion.

He did what he could, checking in on Elidyr, and helping Paimon with little tasks. He took care of the cats and kept his distance from Ivern. The little dragon - though he wasn't as little anymore - seemed far warier than before, and Bel knew it was because of the things he'd done when the curse of his powers took over. When he was controlled and puppeted. He overheard Railyn having conversations seemingly to himself, but he knew it was to Ivern. Part of him wanted to know what they were talking about, but in his gut, he felt like he already knew that if any of it was related to him, it wasn't good.

It was a tension that seemed to only pull tighter in his chest, one that grew harder to fight against with each passing day. The guilt felt like a noose made of stone. Heavy, and too tight to shake off.

Tyri and Paimon were doing their best to keep everyone's collective spirits up, and Bel felt like the least he could do was do the same. He was the only one out of all of them who came out of Nua Port with just a few scratches, aside from Tabby. He did have a significant chunk of his shoulder ripped open, but he was hardly clinging for life, and he could still function. He wasn't limping like the others, and he didn't mind sitting with the pain.

After everything he put the others through, he deserved it.

Bel looked down into his lap, brushing his thumb over Tabby's head as he sat curled up in his lap. When he started to massage his neck, he started to purr. It was a soft hum over the sound of water sloshing around the bottom of the "boat."

He looked down into the water silently, his bare feet hanging over the side of the porch, just a few short feet from the water's surface. It had been a week of drifting out into the open ocean, seemingly aimlessly as they tried to find something. Anything.

If they could be given a vision and powers they didn't even want... couldn't they be given a sign?

Bel glanced over his shoulder when he heard the creak of the floorboards and the soft shuffling at the back door. Before he even saw her, he knew it was Tyri from the taps of her new staff against the floor. Before Tyri could get very far, Bel had turned around and gotten to his feet, and he lifted Tabby up to his good shoulder, freeing his arms.

The house tended to rock unpredictably sometimes, and with Tyri's legs still in recovery from being slashed, and her being blind, and reserving most of her magical energy for Elidyr or propelling and steering the boat, Bel was aware she was running on fumes.

"Hey, let me help you," Bel said, reaching out and gently setting his hand on Tyri's shoulder to let her know he was there. She looked wearied. He didn't know why she'd come out here.

"I'm fine, Bel," Tyri said softly, though she leaned a little into his hand for support. "We're taking a little break. Railyn and I."

Bel nodded slightly. He and Railyn had hardly spoken since everything in Nua. Bel didn't blame him.

He knew they needed to talk about it. It just never felt like the right time. Everyone was so tired, and just trying to survive. Bel pushed it out of his mind as he led Tyri to the edge of the porch, near the railing. When she found the railing she nodded gratefully and carefully sat down, holding her staff in her lap. Bel stood next to her for a moment, glancing down at her, then staring out at the ocean. He could sense an uneasiness in the silence between them, and he wasn't sure he wanted to wait for her to break it.

"How's Elidyr doing?" Bel asked.

"Since you last saw him an hour ago?" Tyri asked.

So maybe it wasn't a great conversation starter, but it was something. A lot could change in that time. Tyri only paused for a moment before continuing.

"He's alright," Tyri said. "Paimon's in the kitchen making lunch."

There was a small pause.

"Railyn's taking a nap," Tyri added. "Are you doing alright out here?"

"There's not much to look out for," Bel said. "So far it's just been a lot of... blue."

He stretched his hand out over the railing, gesturing to the ocean, but the moment he shot out his arm, Tabby took it as a signal to move. Unfortunately, that meant he hopped up onto his head and down onto his still-aching shoulder. Eyes going wide, Bel bit back a hiss and took in a slow, deep breath as he reached over and grabbed Tabby, pulling the cat down and into his arms.

"They... the others, I mean," Tyri said as Bel slowly sat down next to her. "They keep saying you're blue."

Bel blinked.

"I know they don't mean it metaphorically," Tyri said. "At least, at this point, I know they don't."

Bel wasn't sure how to respond. He was facing Tyri, but still facing the ocean as well because that was what keeping watch was for. For just a moment, he tore his eyes away from the redundant expanse of water and studied her. She didn't quite look at him, and she never really did in the way that most people would make eye contact, but he did have a feeling that maybe, she was trying to see in her own way. With her magic.

"I've never seen a tiefling before," Tyri continued. "I've read about your kind, before, though. Back when I was able to read."

"I guess we have that in common, then," Bel said quietly, quickly adding: "Though, I guess I never lost my ability to read. So... I can't imagine what it's like to miss it in the same way you do."

Tyri nodded slowly, a small, wistful smile coming to her face.

"You know," she said quietly. "If you wanted to learn how to read, I could help you."

Bel looked at her, then at the ocean, then at her.

It almost felt silly to be thinking of reading in the future when they all weren't even sure if they'd make it much farther in their makeshift vessel. He didn't even know how that would work, with Tyri not being able to see. But he didn't mind going along with it.

"I'd like that," he said.

"I assume we'd be starting from scratch?" Tyri asked.

"Yeah," Bel said with a small sigh, feeling Tabby stir in his lap again. He was stretching out his paws, and he flopped onto her side, revealing his belly.

"No one ever taught me how to read," Bel said. "At least..."

Not that he remembered. But if someone had, he would still remember how to read. That was how he knew.

"Yeah," he said again. "Starting from scratch."

There was a small pause between the two of them, but this one felt a little more comfortable. Bel scratched around Tabby's neck again, looking back to the ocean, even though the sight of it was like looking at nothing, at this point. His gaze drifted to Tyri, who seemed like she was taking a moment to take in a deep breath and rest.

Though they'd all been traveling together for about two weeks, Bel realized he didn't really know Tyri at all. The most he knew about anyone in the group was probably Paimon and Elidyr, and that was mostly because most of the information about either of them had been learned through outside sources, like Paimon's parents, or... Mythica.

"I don't know if you ever said it," Bel said slowly. "Because a lot has happened in the time we've been together. But I don't think I even know where you're from."

Tyri's eyebrows raised a little.

"I'm from Syna," she said slowly. "Have you ever been?"

"Only a handful of times," Bel said. "Mostly just passing through. The clients I've had from Syna don't often like meeting in Syna. For obvious reasons."

Tyri nodded with what looked like understanding, but Bel couldn't help but feel like maybe the topic wasn't one she enjoyed talking about. Of what little he knew about her and Syna, he could do some of the math. She did magic, and that was outlawed in Syna. That was more than enough reason to make it a less desirable place to remember.

"What about you?" Tyri asked. "Where are you from?"

He knew he should've expected this question coming, but he still felt a little caught off-guard. Bel let out a little laugh.

"I don't really know, exactly," he said. "I've never really had a stable home, but I grew up in Great Western Desert in my early years."

"That's pretty far from Nua Port," Tyri commented.

"Like I said," Bel said. "I've traveled a lot. It's also the nature of my job."

Tyri nodded again, falling once again into silence.

Bel tried to think of something to say, but before he had much of a thought, Tabby stirred again and suddenly leaped out of his lap and into Tyri's. Tyri jumped a little at first, but upon feeling that it was just Tabby, she let out a little laugh and started to pet the cat as it rubbed its head against her stomach.

"I think Tabby's a little bored of me," Bel muttered. "Though I'm grateful he's stopped sitting on my head as much. Or using my horns as scratching posts."

"That sounds terrible," Tyri said, still with a little laughter in her voice, but she seemed sincere in her concern.

"Though it's not as bad as when Ivern used my head as a nest," Bel continued. "He's much heavier."

Tyri's smile grew just a little, but Bel watched as it slowly faded and she stared off to the side with her usual unfocused gaze. He felt for a moment that maybe he'd said something wrong. Was it in poor taste to joke about Ivern with the state he was in?

Bel felt his stomach start to stir with nerves.

"Are your horns very large?" Tyri asked curiously.

Bel blinked again, drawing his brows together.

"I don't know about them being abnormally large," Bel hummed. "But they are tall, I guess."

He paused, pursing his lips in thought.

"I suppose you could... feel them, if that helps you to see," Bel said slowly.

Tyri had been petting Tabby in her lap, but her hand paused like she was in thought.

"Would you be comfortable with that?" Tyri asked.

Bel had to take a moment to ask himself the same question. Normally, when people asked to touch his horns, or even sometimes his tail, it was always sighted people, for one. There was a certain level of discomfort in the way that people asked it in a way that made him feel distinctly less like a person. But, with Tyri, it felt different. She'd never participated in the "big blue tiefling" jokes, and he had a feeling that she didn't really know just how different he was from the others - at least, not at the start. She was smart enough to piece it all together, of course, but even still, there was something in the way she asked the question.

Even though she couldn't see him, he felt like she saw him as a person. Not just a tiefling. Or a demon. Or a monster.

He wondered if she'd seen him under Mythica's control if she'd think any different. She probably would. No, he knew she would, just like everyone else.

It almost felt unfair.

"If you are," Bel finally responded quietly.

Already, he could feel the guilt crawling its way back out of the crevice he kept trying to hide it in. It was like it was seeping through, and he couldn't seem to shove it back in.

Tyri slowly reached out towards him, her hands blindly searching in the open air for a moment. Bel reached out and gently took her hands, leading them to his head, one to each horn. When he let go of her hands, Tyri gently searched his forehead for the base of the horns and then felt her way up.

"Are they very heavy?" Tyri asked.

"I wouldn't really know," Bel said. "It feels normal to me. I've never gotten headaches or anything like that because of them, though."

"Are they very sensitive? I know you mentioned Tabby scratching them," Tyri said as she reached up higher, feeling the tip of his horns as Bel bowed his head.

"It does feel a little different than if Tabby were to scratch my skin," Bel commented. "But I still feel it. I don't know how to describe the difference."

Tyri nodded, hesitantly pulling her hands away.

"What does your face look like?" she asked quietly.

Bel stared at her for a moment. He didn't know how to describe that.

"Uh. Besides blue...?" he asked.

"Besides blue," Tyri answered.

Bel sighed softly and reached out to take her hand again, bringing it to his chin.

"I'm not too good at describing things," he said.

Tyri smiled, just a little, but her smile faded as she gently touched his face, finding his mouth, and his nose, and his ears. She was careful around the eyes.

"If you didn't have horns," she said quietly, with her hands on his cheeks. "I wouldn't have known you were any different from me."

Bel smiled weakly.

That was the thing, though. He was different. His whole life experience was different in a way that neither Tyri nor any of the others would ever experience. Regardless of him having a face structured like theirs, no matter where he went, he was never accepted by anyone as their own. He was always too foreign, too different, and too other than.

He stared past Tyri for a moment, looking out at the ocean again with a small sigh. Tyri seemed to sense something because she pulled away, but Bel found his attention drawn elsewhere.

Far off on the horizon, where the edge of the waters met the sky, there was a small dot.

Bel squinted, trying to make sure his eyes weren't playing tricks on him.

"I'm sorry," Tyri finally said after a long silence passed. "I didn't mean to say..."

Bel shook his head from his trance, his eyes still tempted to fixate on the dot in the distance that was too big to deny. Yes, it was distant, but it was something. It didn't look like land...

"No, no," he said quickly before Tyri could figure out how to finish her sentence. "I'm sorry. I got distracted."

Tyri's brows furrowed together in what looked like a mixture of concern and confusion.

"By what?" she asked.

"I think... I see something on the horizon," he said.

He stood up, leaning on the porch railing and squinting again as he stared at the speck in the distance.

"I think it's a ship."
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

  





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62 Days B.N.D


They didn't get moving right away. Railyn had to finish his nap, and Paimon had already prepared lunch. While there was a sense of urgency, they knew it didn't make sense to rush out to the ship when they were all already tired, but the hope of finding something out on what seemed like a vacant ocean was better than the nothingness they'd been staring at for days.

That said, Bel wasn't getting his hopes up too high. As they got closer to the ship, the first thing they noticed was that the sails weren't up, which meant the ship was either anchored, or it was also dead in the water. They couldn't make out much from afar, and for a long time, it felt like the ship was still so far away even though they knew they were coming closer.

Railyn and Tyri were on the front porch - which happened to be the back of their "ship" at the moment - and propelling and steering it with their staffs.

Bel didn't really understand much about magic and how it all worked, but he had peeked out there dozens of times over the past week to see what they were doing. To him, all it looked like was they were sticking the staffs down into the water, and there were ripples that seemed to come out from some power source as the "ship" was pushed forward.

Bel stayed on the back porch to watch as the ship got closer, and Paimon stayed in the living room with Elidyr. The two of them watched from the window and acted as an in-between through both porches, as they kept the front and back door for open communication down the long hallway. It usually resulted in some amount of yelling from Bel to Paimon, and Paimon to Railyn, and so forth.

Bel could feel that their house-boat was moving slower than normal, and he knew it was because the winds were so weak. They were pushing against the weight of the house and the waters that held it, and he wondered if Railyn and Tyri would be able to keep it up long enough for them to make it to the ship.

Bel kept his eyes on the horizon, watching as the boat eventually went from the size of his thumbnail to about the size of his palm. The change seemed quick, but at the same time, agonizingly slow.

He found himself leaning on the porch rails, a little lost in thought when Paimon's voice drew him out of his own empty head.

"Have they signaled anything?" Paimon asked.

Bel glanced back at her as she stood in the doorway.

"Not that I've seen," Bel said. "And I've been watching it the whole time. Nothing's changed, really."

Paimon hummed, pursing her lips as she squinted out at the ship in thought.

"Maybe they're just confused," Bel suggested. "I would be if I saw a house floating in the middle of the ocean."

"But you'd think they'd do something," Paimon countered. "A signal flare. A flag. Let down the sails. Something."

Bel turned around again, looking at the ship.

"Maybe no one's looking," he said slowly, not liking the possible implications of that. If the ship were functioning, there had to be someone on the lookout. Right?

"You know," Paimon spoke up after a small pause. "It could be the Royal Ship that went missing. It never did make it to Nua."

Bel glanced back at her for only a moment before he stared back off at the ship, in thought. Faintly, he could make out the colors painted on the sides of the ship. Red and brown. The royal colors of Synua.

"I guess we'll find out when we get there," he mused.

If this was the missing ship, it was clear that nothing was wrong with the ship itself. Bel had a sinking feeling that it had more to do with something that might've happened to the crew.

Maybe the ship was attacked and boarded by pirates? Mutiny? Or was it something worse?

"Let me know if you see anything weird," Paimon said. "Well, weirder."

Bel nodded, watching as Paimon turned to walk back into the house.

More time passed, and Bel could only estimate how long it was because the sun had inched past its peak. At some point, Bel found his mind idly wandering into a half-awake state, though his eyes were still open. It seemed sudden when it finally registered that the ship was only a few minutes away. Instead of just looking out at it, he was starting to look up. Though their ship was a two-story house, their house had also slowly sunk into the ocean.

Despite them being so close, Bel still didn't see any signs of life above-deck. It was starting to make him worry.

He felt Tabby come up beside his legs, rubbing her head against his ankles, asking for attention. Normally, Bel wouldn't hesitate, but the slow-approaching ship made him uneasy.

No one on the ship was responding. That meant they'd have to figure out their own way to get on board because no one was going to throw them a rope.

He reached down to pick Tabby up and walked back into the house, stepping into the living room. Paimon was standing by the window, looking eagerly out the glass at the dead ship in front of them. Meanwhile, Eli sat on the couch, craning his neck to try to see past Paimon's head blocking the view.

Bel set Tabby down on the floor and gave his butt a little pat. It'd become a quiet little signal between him and the cat for the cat to go off somewhere else, inside the house, and Tabby did just that, skittering off and hopping up on the couch beside Lady, who was curled up by Eli's side.

"I don't like that we haven't seen any signs of life yet," Bel said, standing at the edge of the room. "Before we jump ship, I can climb aboard and make sure it's safe."

The unspoken implication was that, if anything were to blow up in his face upon stepping onto the ship, be it either literally or metaphorically, everyone knew he was the most likely to survive anything like that. That, and he was the most able-bodied among them besides Paimon, but Paimon was more important than he was to their mission.

Besides, he was just the big blue tiefling. If there was any trouble, he'd be the most intimidating out of all of them. That could work in their favor...

He hoped.

But if the ship really was as lifeless as it seemed, there might not be anything or anyone to even intimidate.

"You wonder if anyone's even aboard," Paimon muttered, more to herself.

"If anyone was aboard, they definitely would've signaled something by now," Eli said. "It looks like it's deserted."

Paimon hummed. "Probably," she said, but the way she squinted out the window made it seem like she had more to say that she wasn't saying out loud.

"We should let Tyri and Railyn know they can stop soon," Paimon said, turning around to head down the hall. "At this rate, we're going to crash."

"Wait," Bel said, and Paimon paused in her steps.

"That might be the easiest way to get on," Bel said. "If we get as close as we can, maybe I can toss a rope over the deck and catch it on something."

"I'll see if we have any grappling hooks lying around," Paimon said with a sarcastic little smirk, turning to walk back down the hall, out to the front porch.

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Something felt a little bizarre about all of this.

It had been a lingering feeling, but it felt all the more real when Bel found himself standing on the roof, a few hazardous and fateful feet stretching out between him, the edge of the roof, and the deck of the ship.

Maybe it was just hard to believe that this was his life, when less than a month ago, he was going about life as normal. He was traveling from town to town like an invisible passerby, never staying too long and playing fetch for other people with runes and magic items. He was alone, and life was comfortable, as much as it could be. There was no bluecough. No towns burned down because of angry mobs. No prophecy. No powers.

No friends.

It felt wrong to question if they were really his friends, but somewhere in the depths of his gut, he couldn't shake the feeling that all of this would fall apart. It had to, at some point, right?

Tieflings didn't get to be the heroes. They didn't get to be the star of any prophecy.

But they had to keep moving forward. Regardless of how much nothing made sense, there were more immediate, pressing matters. Like their sinking house, and an abandoned ship.

Survival.

That, at least, he knew how to do.

Bel balanced his stance on the edge of the roof, digging his feet into the shingles as he started spinning the rope Paimon managed to find among her parents' former belongings. Instead of a grappling hook, they made do with a trio of stones tied in something like a star formation at the ends of the rope in hopes that it would tangle around something.

Now that Bel was atop the roof, he could just peek over the rails of the deck. Like they all thought, there were no signs of anyone, and it didn't even look like there were signs of a struggle. Whoever had been on the ship had just... left.

Or that was how it seemed.

Bel spun the end of the rope over his head, building some momentum before he threw it out, aiming for the railing.

His first try missed by a few feet. He could hear scattered applause from what sounded to be Paimon down below.

"Almost there!" Paimon chirped.

Bel rolled his eyes, pulling the rope back up.

On his second try, he overshot, and the rope wobbled onto the deck, and when he pulled it back, it didn't catch on anything. With a sigh, he brought it back in, and finally on the third try, the stones on the end of the rope spun and tangled around the edge of the railing. Bel gave it a few firm tugs to make sure it wasn't about to give when he put his full weight on it, but it seemed like no matter how much he tugged, there was no getting it un-stuck.

Next came the free-fall.

Bel pulled the rope as taut as possible, holding onto it tightly. With a deep breath, he braced himself and pushed off, leaping into the open air and stretching out his legs to catch himself and the impact against the boat.

He came swinging through the air, and as he fell and the rope went taught, he could feel the strain in his still-injured shoulder as he held himself steady. The water lapping at the base of the ship below and the distance of both the fall and the swim required to get back to the boat were motivation enough to grit his teeth and push through it.

Before he slammed into the side of the boat, he stretched out his legs and bent his knees when his feet hit the wooden boards. It was a hard hit, but after holding himself there for a moment, the rope still held.

From there, it was pulling up the rope. One hand after the other, with his feet stepping up the side of the boat and his tail swinging behind him.

The boat felt a little taller now that he had to pull himself up the side of it, but he was managing. His shoulder only ached more with each pull, but he continued to push through it, getting closer to the rails where he could finally pull himself up.

At least, that had been the plan until he heard something start to creak, and when he was only a foot or so away, he looked up just in time to see one of the rocks dislodge from the railing, taking the rest of the rope with it.

Adrenaline shot through him as he scrambled against the ship's side, and he grabbed at nothing. At first, his fingers scraped in vain against the wood, but he felt something shoot out of his fingertips, like claws.

Hard, long blue claws sprung out of his hands and had dug deep into the side of the ship, and as the rope fell loosely down into the water, Bel found himself hanging there with his hands stuck and his legs dangling. The sudden tug on his shoulder as he fell back made him wince.

"Bel!" Paimon shouted. "Are you okay?"

"I didn't hear a splash?" Tyri said, her voice a lot quieter.

"I'm fine!" Bel shouted back, gritting his teeth as he tried to pull his giant claws out of the wood. He found himself tugging at his hand a few too many times before he finally yanked it out. His heart skipped a beat as he thought he was about to fall again, but his reflexes were quick to swing to the side and reach up to the edge of the railing.

He was able to grab it, and after another few painful tugs, go his other hand ripped out and up to the railing as well. With a grunt, he finally managed to pull himself up and swing his legs up until he could climb over the railing.

"I'll find more rope so I can pull you guys up," Bel shouted back and then turned to finally get a look at what things looked like above-deck.

Unsurprisingly, and somewhat underwhelmingly, things looked relatively normal. Just empty.

It didn't look like anyone had been there in a while.

With light steps, Bel started to walk the deck, scanning it to make sure he wasn't missing anything obvious, but the more he searched, the more things seemed eerily in place, all except the people that were supposed to be there.

He paused at the door that went down below, hesitating.

If something lied within the heart of the ship, he still wanted to go first. But he didn't want to keep the others waiting too long.

On the side of the ship, saw a little boat rigged up with ropes for lowering it into the sea. It was likely meant for emergencies, or otherwise for a small group of sailors to go ahead of the ship and reach the shore for whatever reason. But for bringing the others up, it would work perfectly, and far better than rope. Especially for Eli.
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62 Days B.N.D


It took some time for everyone to safely get into the boat, and as the only one on the ship to pull everyone up, Bel found himself just a little winded when everyone was finally on deck.

Mostly it was his shoulder that was killing him, but compared to everyone else, he knew he was better off. He didn't need to complain.

Instead, he helped the others get out of the boat and onto the deck. He took Tyri's hand first, and led her onto the deck, steadying her. Her legs wobbled a little bit as her feet searched for solid ground, and he could tell she was still in pain, too. He kept her steady until she had both feet flat on the deck and her staff to support her.

Paimon was helping Railyn, and Eli was still sitting in the boat, with Lady in his lap. He noticed Tabby was also curled up by Eli's feet.

At this point, Bel had picked Eli up and moved him around enough times that he figured he didn't have to ask if he needed help. He did notice Eli started to move like he was going to try to get up himself, and at that point Bel intervened, putting his arm around Eli's back and carefully pulling him to his feet. Lady fluttered her wings and hopped out of Eli's lap, and Tabby jumped onto the deck by himself.

It took a moment, as both of them were moving slowly, but Bel helped lift Eli over the edge of the boat and gently placed him down.

"Thanks," Eli said quietly.

"No problem," Bel said just as quietly. He slowly pulled his arm away, looking Eli over to make sure he was good to stand on his feet.

When it looked like he was alright - at least for the moment - Paimon's voice was already grabbing his attention. She was already starting to walk up to one of the ship's masts, looking up at the unfurled sails. Everything was tied up.

"Leaving a perfectly good ship out in the middle of nowhere," Paimon muttered. "What a waste."

Bel turned his gaze back to the little boat. It looked like they packed the boat full of all of their supplies and essentials - which would also explain why pulling the boat up was exceptionally difficult. It was mutually understood at this point that whether or not this ship was functional, at least it wasn't on the verge of sinking like the house was. And at least, so far, nothing about the ship seemed structurally compromised.

He started taking their bags out of the boat while the others kept talking and looking around.

"It looks like everyone just got up and left," Railyn commented.

"If they were in a hurry, then they must've pulled up the sails before they abandoned ship," Eli added. "Otherwise, why would they bother?"

"Maybe they wanted to leave the ship just for us," Paimon said, standing at the base of the main mast, looking at all of them with a smirk.

Bel just heaved the last of their belongings off the little boat with a sigh. He noticed that Tyri was staying quiet, and she looked like she was very focused. He wondered if she was trying to use her magic. He still didn't really know how it worked, sensing auras and all. But he figured if she sensed anyone living or anything wrong, she'd say so.

But after all the work she and Railyn put into propelling the house to the ship, she might've been too tired to pick up on anything.

"Hey, Bel, did you get a look below deck?" Paimon asked as she began to stride back over to them.

Bel dropped the last bag by his feet. It felt a little lighter. Probably clothes or something.

"Not yet," he said, his eyes drifting to Railyn.

Railyn seemed to be soaking it all in. He was staring up at the crow's nest with wide eyes, and Ivern was perched on Railyn's staff. For a split second, Bel made eye contact with Ivern. He quickly looked away, to Paimon.

"Well, let's go check it out!" Paimon said, nodding to the opening in the floor, where there were wooden stairs leading down into the ship.

Bel glanced at the others. As curious as they all seemed, they also looked tired.

"I'll go with Paimon," Bel said, nodding to the others. "If anything weird happens up here just give a shout."

"And if anything weird happens while we're down there we'll give you guys a shout," Paimon added, already on her way to the steps. Bel hurried to catch up to her and slipped in front of her to go down the steps first.

Just in case. It was better if he took a hit.

Before Paimon could protest, Bel hurried down the steps on light feet with his senses heightened. He heard Paimon come down right behind him.

"Need a light?" Paimon whispered.

Bel glanced back at her stiffly. It was getting dark, but the daylight was pouring into the stairwell, at least.

"Not yet," he whispered back.

He stepped out into a hall, and the first thing he saw were various scuff marks on the floor. There was a picture with glass shattered on the floor. One of the hall lanterns had also been smashed, lying on the floor. A sickly sweet odor filled the narrow hall, and one of the doors was unhinged and kicked down.

He stepped to the side to let Paimon come down beside him, but his eyes were scanning the hall. There were four doors. Four on the right, one on the left. The other three of the doors were left slightly ajar, and though the light was a little dim... as he inched closer to one with the fallen door, seeing something dark splattered on the floor.

There was a trail leading into one of the rooms. Possibly blood. It was too soon to assume, but the nearer he got to the doorless entry, the stronger the putrid smell became.

He glanced behind him to confirm that Paimon was behind him. He lifted his fingers to his lips to tell her to be quiet and then gestured with two fingers for her to follow him.

He slunk along to wall up to the door and peeked inside, having to take in shallow breaths.

The room was full of bodies. Practically piled atop one another, there were men and women in what looked like sailor's uniforms, all dead and prone.

And blue.

He shot out an arm to keep Paimon from getting too close. The moment he did, he felt her bump into it, but she stopped in her tracks.

The smell was the smell of rotting dead bodies. They had to have been here for a while.

"They're all blue," Paimon whispered. And she was right.

Despite being dead, their skin was completely blue. Unlike previous cases, where the blueness was a spotty rash that sometimes became raised and bumpy, these bodies looked disturbingly swollen and discolored. Some of the discoloration was likely due to the dead bodies sitting around for a long time, but still.

This was a far more severe and advanced case of bluecough than they'd ever seen. Most people seemed to die before it ever got that extreme.

"We should tell the others," Bel whispered back.

"There might be more..." Paimon said, her voice still hushed. "In the other rooms."

"In any case, we don't want to touch them. The last thing we need is more bluecough," he said lowly.

Though, in the back of his mind, he couldn't help but wonder if he still had it. Because he did, didn't he? That was how Mythica controlled him, right?

He stepped back from the door, giving the pile of bodies another look.

Someone had to have piled the bodies up, and there had to be a reason for the signs of chaos and struggle. He tried to see if some of the sailors looked wounded, but --

"BEL! PAI--"

The shout came distantly down the hall, but the end of the shout sounded like it was suddenly silenced. It sounded like Tyri.

Bel turned tail and started running. Paimon was already ahead of him but veered off to let him barrel back up the stairs first.

He had his sword at his side. He had it drawn just as he emerged back up on deck but jerked to a stop at the top of the stairs when a different kind of blade nearly met his face.

Paimon bumped into him hard this time, but thankfully he didn't lose his balance.

"Hey--!" she started to say, but then, presumably, saw what Bel was seeing too.

Pirates.
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62 Days B.N.D


Tyri's hands were being held behind her back by a tall, muscular woman with deep brown skin and pointed ears. That was one of the first things Bel noticed -- she was an elf.

Her hair was pulled back in several small braids that resembled seagrass more than hair, and she had a choker with a sand stone in the center of her neck.

Bel's eyes didn't linger on the pirate much longer, because the whole deck was full of people. Behind Tyri's feet, he caught a glimpse of Eli, who looked like he was lying down, and there was another elven woman pointing what looked like a gun in his direction.

Bel's eyes rapidly searched the rest of the deck for Railyn and Ivern, until he finally spotted a man holding a knife to Railyn's neck, and a very tall, muscular woman pinning Ivern's wings to the wooden floor. Something inside Bel's stomach ached, and he tried not to envision himself in that position - but instead, prying Ivern's mouth open.

The painful distraction wriggled in and out of his brain only for a moment before the clamoring of the pirates brought him back to the present. Only a second had gone by, but it already felt like it'd dragged on too long.

The woman holding Tyri locked eyes with him, and Bel could feel Paimon trying to wriggle past him, settling for poking her head out from behind him. He hadn't moved from the edge of the stairs.

"I would suggest," the pirate said casually, "walking out with your hands above your head and dropping any weapons. You'll find you're outnumbered, and we're not afraid to play dirty."

Bel slowly reached for the sword on his hip, unlatching the belt that held the sheath. He kept his eyes on the seven pirates who'd surrounded them. Though he couldn't read, he was good at math. Seven to five, and most of their five were still weak or wounded, or both. He was trying to calculate their odds. Cooperation was the best move, for now, but they had yet to learn the pirates' intentions.

Bel walked up onto the deck and dropped his sword with a thump, as he stepped to the side to let Paimon pass, he raised his hands. For a second, he flicked his eyes in a double-take at his fingers.

The... claws had gone away. He still didn't understand how to summon them or extend them at will.

As Paimon slid up to his side with her hands raised, they briefly exchanged glances. Paimon seemed more curious than worried, but Bel couldn't say the same.

They'd barely survived their last battle. They really didn't need another one.

The elven pirate glanced over at the three pirates with their hands free, weapons out, and nodded her head at Paimon and Bel. Immediately, two went towards them while the third came to take a hold of Tyri, leaving the woman free to step towards Bel and Paimon. Bel noticed that Tyri seemed especially frightened and unsteady.

The elven woman drew one of her axes, not in an attack, but with a reassuring air to the movement. She seemed to be the captain of the crew.

"And what do you pirates think you're doing," she said, her voice dropping to a murmur as her eyes narrowed to study them, "coming aboard my ship?"

"You want to know the real reason, pirate to pirate?" Paimon asked.

"Paimon," Bel whispered tensely.

"Well if you look to the right, over there," Paimon said, looking to the rooftop peeking over the ship's railing. "Our house-boat is sinking. So we decided to abandon ship by hopping on another ship. It is preferable to, say, drowning. Also, did you know your ship is full of corpses that died of bluecough? You really should get that taken care of."

The captain, in a sudden movement, moved towards Paimon, axe leveled at her throat. "I would shut my mouth if I were you unless you wanted to be locked in a room with them," she said, not breaking eye contact until she turned her attention back to Bel. "How many are in your crew?"

"Five," he said. "Not including the cats. And the dragon."

"So if I were to go onto the house--" she paused, a hint of amusement flashing across her face-- "I would find no one there? I'd consider your answer carefully."

"There's no one else in the house," Bel said steadily. "Unless they're the world's quietest stowaway."

It was at that moment that Bel realized that the pirate captain was addressing him like he was their leader. Paimon was looking at him in the corner of her eyes, looking like she was fighting to keep her mouth shut. Bel didn't want to assume any roles, but since he was the one being addressed, he was going to try to make sure they all made it out of this alive.

"Five members to your crew. Are you sure you didn't suffer a bluecough outbreak?" The corner of her mouth twisted into a slight smile without any of the real joy behind it. "Then again, your ship isn't exactly seaworthy either, now is it?" This drew a few laughs from the other pirates.

"Believe it or not, it was our only option," he said.

He didn't think he should tell their whole story. Not with this many weapons being pointed around.

"Well," she said dryly, "while I'm sure that has a lovely story behind it, I'm not in the mood to hear it." Her eyes flicked around at each of them, before coming to rest once again on Bel. She seemed to come to a decision, and said, "put them away in one of the downstairs rooms. We'll keep them for now-- unless they prove to be too much trouble."

"Oh, how nice--" Paimon started to say before Bel firmly elbowed her the side, to which Paimon sent him a rather pointed glare, but she was silent after.

"Kniss," the captain said, and the other elf made eye contact with her. The other elf, Kniss, nodded, scooping down and grabbing Eli by his arm and hauling him to his feet before beginning to drag him towards the ladder. The captain withdrew her axe and placed it back in the loop on her belt.

Bel watched as Eli stumbled and grimaced as Kniss roughly pulled on his arm, and he slowly reached out towards Eli as he was brought close. Lady came flying forward alongside them, landing at Eli's feet.

"I'll take him," he said, looking to the captain to make sure that wasn't something worth lashing out for.

The captain's facial expression stayed the same-- a blank, almost bored look-- and she said, "Yes, you will."

Kniss let go of Eli and Bel caught him as he nearly toppled over. Lady flew up to Bel's shoulder, and then landed on his head. He noticed Tabby running over as well. With his hands full holding Eli, he couldn't protest as the feline scaled him like a tree and sat on his shoulder.

The man holding Railyn led him over at knife-point before roughly pushing Railyn into the huddled group. The woman holding Ivern slowly released the pressure off his wings and Ivern anxiously fluttered them free, scrambling away and clinging to Railyn's leg.

Tyri was led over by a dwarven woman, and once the woman let her go, Tyri looked like she was about to fall. Thankfully, Paimon was on it and quickly came to her side to steady her.

"You okay?" Bel heard Paimon whisper.

"I can't see," Tyri whispered, and Bel could hear her voice quiver.

Paimon hesitated, glancing over to Bel, and the two of them shared a look of confused concern.

They already knew Tyri couldn't see. That wasn't new. Was she talking about her magic?

"I've got you," Paimon said reassuringly, keeping her arm around Tyri's shoulders.

Meanwhile, Bel steadied Eli, bearing most of his weight to the point where Bel was wondering if he should just carry him again. He looked to the pirate captain again, seeking direction.

She pushed through their group without bothering to look at any of them specifically. She didn't bother with waiting for them either, because she went down the stairs quickly and without pause. Behind them, Kniss nudged Bel in the back with her gun.

Bel let Paimon lead Tyri down first, and then Railyn followed. Bel had the challenge of helping Eli down the steps, but after about two steps Bel just picked him up. It was faster that way, and he kept feeling Kniss nudging him in the back with the gun. He wasn't looking to get shot for being too slow.

With the captain in the front and Kniss - presumably the captain's right hand - in the back, they were ushered down the hall. The captain seemed to ignore the signs of struggle and the blood stains in the hall on the left as if they weren't new to her. It was possible she had helped put them there. He just didn't know how long the pirates had been on the boat, and how he'd missed them. Bel speed up slightly as the captain led them away from the bloodstains and down a hall before stopping in front of a door and swinging it open.

"You can hang out in my new office," she said nonchalantly, walking into the room as they trailed in behind her. "Maybe even sort through all these books for me. Haven't had the chance yet. Still settling into the new place, you know?" Kniss made some amused sound of agreement from behind Bel, staying in the doorway and not entering.

Unlike the room of corpses, this room looked undisturbed. It looked like a study, or rather, the captain's quarters. On the left side of the room, there was a bookshelf full of books and trinkets, along with a desk covered in maps and atlases. The windows faced the side of the ship where their house was still floating, drifting in and out of view in the corner of the window. A large patterned carpet covered a significant portion of the floor, and there was a table with chairs that filled half the space. On the other side of the room, there was a large bed that was well enclosed, likely so the person sleeping in it wouldn't roll out with the rocking of the ship.

Everyone filed into the room, and Bel walked in last with Eli in his arms and a cat each on his head and shoulder. Kniss stayed in the doorway as they all turned to look at the captain, who still remained unnamed.

"Lock the door and keep someone posted outside," the captain said to Kniss, glancing backward. Almost as an afterthought, she added, "and get Gibs to look them over. I'd prefer not to have my new office filled with corpses."

Kniss nodded in affirmation and turned her head back down the hall.

"Gibs and Geida!" she shouted. They could hear some distant shuffling and footfalls on the wooden steps, leading down into the cabin.

As Kniss stood by the door waiting for the others to arrive, the captain looked back at the group one more time, her eyes sweeping over each of them until they landed again on Bel. She tilted her head slightly, and he couldn't tell if she was just inspecting him or giving some kind of nod in goodbye. He wasn't sure, but before he could contemplate it longer, she'd turned swiftly on her heel and walked out the door.

Just when Bel thought they might be left alone, the dwarven woman he'd seen earlier entered the doorway. She stood roughly under five feet tall, and Kniss had to lean down a little to whisper something in her ear. For the few seconds that Kniss and Gibs shared secret information, Bel walked over to the bed on the wall and set Eli down, trying to be gentle as he laid him down and Lady fluttered off his head to curl up by Eli's arm.

As Bel turned to look back at the door, Gibs stepped in, closing the door behind her.

It was hard to gauge her age - she had a timeless look to her face, and prominent cheekbones, but peeks of grey in her dark black hair hinted at years of life experience. She glanced about the room, giving everyone a once-over before her eyes landed on Eli.

Bel found himself on high alert, keeping note of everyone's place in the room.

Railyn had slumped down in one of the chairs, with his arms wrapped around Ivern, who was sitting atop the table beside him, watching Gibs approach Eli with a hundred-yard stare.

Paimon led Tyri to the table as well, helping sit her down into the chair beside Railyn. And Tabby, previously on Bel's shoulder, jumped down to join Lady and Eli on the bed.

Gibs stopped at the edge of the bed, looking at Eli and then Bel with her lips pursed together.

"I assume all of this is just from... what, an accident?" she asked dryly.

Bel could see Eli's brows knit together tightly at the question.

"Oh, yeah," Paimon piped in, taking long strides as she sped her way across the room to join Gibs. "A horrible accident. It involves an underground bunker, mind control, and lots of sharp kitty-cat claws."

Paimon flicked her eyes to Bel with a smile behind her eyes, but Bel couldn't help but wither a little inside. He knew she was just disguising pieces of the truth with exaggerations and silly descriptions to make it sound ridiculous, like a joke, but it felt insensitive.

"Huh," Gibs said, looking to Paimon with an unimpressed sigh. "That's one of the more creative lies I've heard as of late, but it's not my job to get the truth out of you. Captain just wants me to make sure none of you are on your way to dying any time soon."

"So she wants us alive," Paimon said, raising her brows and looking to Gibs meaningfully.

"I didn't say that," Gibs retorted, rolling her eyes as she looked to Eli again.

"Now, are you going to make my life easy and be a good patient?" Gibs asked.

Eli let out what sounded like the longest, begrudgingly compliant sigh any man could muster, and he sat up with a pained expression.

"Fine," was his only reply.
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62 Days B.N.D


There was so much that needed to be discussed. So much that couldn't be said with a stranger in the room, never mind a pirate who held their health in her hands. Bel didn't have reasons to doubt that the captain meant it when she implied she wanted to keep them alive, but he didn't have any reasons to trust her either. The mistrust was mutual, but thankfully it didn't show in the way Gibs inspected their wounds.

Bel wished they'd had a moment to take a closer look below deck. He wished they'd had a chance to tell the others about the bluecough corpses before pirates swarmed down on them.

He knew the pirates must've seized the ship from the former crew, but he couldn't help but feel like their invasion was recent - if not coincidentally only moments after they boarded from their house.

That had to explain it. If they'd been hiding below deck and gone up, Bel and Paimon would've seen or heard them. It wasn't like the hall was very long, and they'd had the staircase that went up to the deck in view the whole time. And Bel had been thorough in his search above-deck. So unless they'd been hidden by magical means, they'd just boarded.

But there were other things going on too. There was still the unsolved mystery of what happened to the former crew. It was obviously bluecough, but the bodies all being contained to one disturbed space seemed offputting, and odd. It was unclear if the mess had been caused by desperate, dying sailors or something else.

And was that something else still aboard?

And what about Tyri? Bel couldn't stop thinking about her comment. She'd said it like it was different this time. She was blind. Really blind. Like she had no more primal magic to draw upon.

Was that related to the deaths of the sailors? Or was it related to the pirates? Or was it neither?

The unanswered questions spun in Bel's head as Gibs made her way from person to person. She'd spent the most time on Eli, since he admittedly was the least stable, and then looked at Paimon, then Bel. She inspected Tyri's legs, and then eventually landed on Railyn and Ivern.

With all of them, she'd refrained from making any more comments about the nature or source of the wounds, sticking to the present state of them. The overall consensus was that everything was healing, albeit slowly, though she did make it seem that she was under the impression they'd all been injured weeks ago. No one seemed to want to tell her it was far more recent.

Bel had stayed with Eli, sitting on the end of the bed while Eli laid down to rest and Lady napped in the crook of his arm. Bel held Tabby in his lap and found himself mindlessly petting the cat's fur, rubbing his neck and ears.

"What kind of beast is that from?" Gibs asked suddenly, sounding, for the first time in all of her examinations, almost disturbed.

She was looking at Railyn's leg, where Bel had dug in his claws.

The tension in the room quietly but rapidly rose. Bel could see Paimon's mind working like she was trying to think of a good lie this time. She was seated by Tyri now, and Tyri's face hadn't changed from her creased look of worry and fear.

Railyn was quiet. He'd been sulking the whole time with his head hanging low, but his face was especially despondent as no one rose to reply. Bel couldn't make eye contact with anyone, and he resorted to looking down at the floor.

"Well. Never mind that, then," Gibs said stiffly. "I'll have to bring in some new bandages. These ones look old."

Gibs finished re-wrapping Railyn's leg and got to her feet to pull away.

Bel noticed Ivern had not stopped looking at him since Gibs' question from the claw marks. He wished the young dragon knew how guilty he was and how sorry he felt, but he couldn't read his mind. Then again, Bel didn't know if he wanted to know what was going through Ivern's mind from the way the dragon's eyes pierced through him.

"I'll be back," Gibs said, glancing over to Bel.

He still didn't know why he was being treated like the leader. They didn't even really have a leader. Nonetheless, he nodded in return. Gibs nodded back.

"Probably," she added with a small smirk and shrug of her shoulders as she turned towards the door. They watched in silence as she opened it and slipped out, finally leaving them all alone.

A few seconds of silence passed between them like they were all holding their breath for something else to happen, but nothing did.

"Finally," Paimon said with a long sigh. "I thought she'd never leave."

Railyn was pulling down his pant leg, still avoiding eye contact with anyone, but Bel felt like he knew who Railyn was avoiding the most.

"What the hell did you guys find on this ship?" Eli asked, his voice quiet and thin.

Bel looked down at Eli, then at Paimon. They could talk across the room, but it was likely that the woman standing guard outside their door would be able to overhear them. Bel made eye contact with Paimon, nodding his head towards the bed. It would be easier to move Tyri and Railyn than Eli at the moment.

"Oh, yeah," Paimon said. She quickly got to her feet and walked around to Tyri, gently whispering Tyri's name before she put her hand on her shoulder. She started to lead Tyri over, but Railyn and Ivern weren't following. She looked back over her shoulder, with her arm around Tyri.

"Hey, dragon kid," she said. "Come on."

Railyn hesitated at first but came over slowly, dragging a chair along with him. He set it a small distance from the bed, and Bel couldn't help but notice that he'd set it on the far end opposite of him. He wasn't sure if it was a conscious decision on Railyn's part, but Bel took note.

When Railyn plopped down back into his chair, Ivern - who had been trailing behind, pattering on the floor - hopped up into his lap. Meanwhile, Paimon sat Tyri down on the edge of the bed by Bel. He turned to her, reaching out his hand.

"Hey," he said softly, lightly tapping her shoulder just to let her know he was there.

"Something's blocking my magic," Tyri spouted suddenly, like she'd just been waiting for the moment to say it. The desperation in her voice was evident. "I can't even use my primal sense. Everything's just gone. It's like it's being ripped away from me constantly."

Everyone's attention turned to Tyri.

"Was it like that ever since we stepped foot on the ship?" Bel asked gently.

"No," Tyri said slowly, her head tilting down, in thought. "It... I felt it just before the pirates came."

"You think the pirates have some kind of anti-magic stuff?" Paimon asked. "Like the jewelry?"

"If one of them was wearing anti-mage jewelry it shouldn't affect Tyri, though," Eli added.

"It could be similar," Bel said. "But a different purpose. I've smuggled different kinds of anti-mage goods. I wouldn't be surprised if something existed that could block magic within a certain radius."

"If it's blocking Tyri's magic, does that mean none of us will be able to...?" Railyn asked quietly, his question trailing off.

There was a pause between the five of them like they were all considering the implications.

"Does that affect our powers from the prophecy too?" Tyri whispered.

"It would be nice if it didn't. Like, our prophecy magic gets a free pass," Paimon said.

"I don't think it works like that, Paimon," Eli said, sounding tired.

"But it would be nice if it did," Paimon said. "It's too bad the prophecy isn't big news, too. Then we could just pull the prophecy card on people and they'd stop giving us all this trouble."

"Again," Eli sighed. "Not how it--"

"I know, I know," Paimon interrupted, waving him off. "It's called a joke."

"Hopefully," Bel said, steering the conversation back. "We won't have to find out whether or not our magic is affected."

"What does that mean?" Railyn asked, narrowing his eyes and finally drawing his attention to Bel for what felt like the first time in weeks.

Bel knew what he meant. He was talking mostly about himself. He didn't want to have to use his powers again, even though he knew it couldn't be avoided forever.

"I just hope that we don't have to fight the pirates, is all," Bel said. "With our magic."

Railyn's gaze dropped again, down to Ivern, in his lap.

As if sensing the tension -- and not wanting to sit in it -- Paimon cleared her throat.

"So, all those dead bodies, huh," she said casually.

At that, Eli let out a long sigh.

"Why couldn't we get a prophecy not in the middle of a pandemic?" Eli muttered.

"I know, right? If I'd had a two-week notice, this would have been easy!" Paimon said with an exaggerated sigh, leaning back. "But things keep happening, and they just happened here."

"We have no way of knowing what happened on this ship for sure," Bel said. "All we know is that they must've caught bluecough, and being stuck out at sea, it spread fast."

"It was the worst case of bluecough I've seen, though," Paimon said slowly. "And I've seen a lot of bluecough cases in the last..."

She looked off to the side like she was doing math.

"Well, you know how long," she said with a shrug.

Another few seconds of silence passed as they all sat around the bed, letting the uncertainty of all of the unknowns sink in.

"What do you think the pirates want with us?" Tyri asked quietly.

No one answered right away.

"Wait," Paimon said. "Where was their ship?"

"What?" Tyri asked.

Bel realized it too.

"When they boarded the ship, how did they get on? There wasn't another ship out there, and we know they couldn't have been on -- well, I know they couldn't have been on before us. Or before me. Did you guys see anything approach while you were on deck?"

"Honestly," Eli muttered. "I wasn't paying that much attention. But we didn't see any ships."

"They used grappling hooks," Railyn said. "And ropes. I saw them climb up from boats."

"Big boats?" Paimon asked.

"Like... like the one Bel pulled us up in," Railyn said. It was unclear if he knew the word for them. This was his first time on a real ship, after all. And two weeks ago, it was his first time seeing the ocean.

Paimon and Bel looked to each other, meeting eyes.

"Lifeboats," they said in unison.

"So you're saying," Tyri said slowly. "They must've lost their ship too?"

"That's what it looks--" Bel started to say, but didn't get to finish.

The captain suddenly opened the door, strolling into the room. "We didn't lose our ship," she said nonchalantly. "We chose a new one. It's kind of like house-hunting, but you don't have to pay and if they don't give it to you, you kill them." It seemed like it should've been a joke, but she didn't give any indication that she was joking. She didn't even smile.

"See, that was our plan too," Paimon said. "But I guess you out-pirated us."

Bel shot her another look. The captain hadn't responded well to her humor before. He didn't think that was going to change any time soon.

This time, the captain ignored her completely, looking over the others instead and narrowing her eyes as she surveyed them until they landed on Bel. She jerked her head towards the door and said, "Come with me."

Bel glanced back at the others.

Just him?

He got to his feet, slowly approaching the captain. He sent another glance back at the others, but they seemed just as confused as he did. When he turned his head back, he feigned confidence. He tried to pretend like this was normal, or expected, even though he didn't know what the captain wanted from him.

As he walked up to the door, the captain said sharply, "Not you-- just him."

Bel glanced back to see Paimon on her feet. She halted, glancing back at the others and then meeting Bel's eyes just for a moment.

Bel forced a confident smile and nodded his head as if to tell her it was okay. She nodded slightly in return and sat back down. When Bel turned back to the captain, now standing at her side, she turned and walked out the door, leaving him to follow behind.
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soundofmind says...



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62 Days B.N.D


To Bel's surprise, she led him not into another room but back up the stairs, walking until she was leaning over the side of the deck with her eyes narrowed as she looked down at the house on the water below, slowly drifting further and further away. The sun caught in her hair that made it glow a brighter green, and her posture seemed relaxed. Either she trusted him, which seemed completely impossible, or she was confident in her ability to fend him off if he tried something-- much more likely.

"There was nobody else aboard your... ship," she said, her eyes still focused on the house. "You weren't lying, which I must say was an interesting surprise."

Bel wondered if her mistrust was due to circumstance and the nature of her being a pirate, or if it had anything to do with his obvious fiendish heritage. He refrained from making that comment, though.

"We don't want any trouble," he said. "And I had no reason to lie."

"Most people don't," she said, unmoved, "and yet most do it anyway." She stood abruptly against the railing, straightening to her full height before she turned to look at him. "A group of five, wandering the sea on a house that's barely keeping afloat," she wondered aloud. "Your crew may not be pirates, but you're clearly not the captain of a merchant's ship either." There was a bladed curiosity to the edge of her voice.

"You need a real ship for that," Bel said, watching her closely.

"Clearly," she retorted dryly.

Bel let silence fall between them. If she wanted to ask a question, he wanted her to say it. He wasn't going to give information for free.

"Which begs the question," she continued, "what the hell you're doing here."

"Do you want the full story or the short version?" he asked.

"Well I appear to have some free time on my hands," she said, "and you're obviously not going anywhere."

Bel hummed.

"Fair enough," he said.

There was a small pause as he walked up beside her, leaning his elbow on the railing as he too, looked off the edge.

"Any chance I could get a name first before I tell you my whole life story?" he asked.

He wasn't being serious, though. He wasn't going to tell her his whole life story. Mainly because she hadn't earned it, but also because he didn't actually know his whole life story. But that wasn't relevant at the moment.

"Captain Spider Monkey," she said. "Captain Spider for short."

Bel looked over to the Captain, flashing a small, well-meaning smile.

"I'm Belxibis. No captain, though," he said.

"Yes, that much is obvious," she said, a small smirk settling on her lips as she looked away from him and out at the horizon.

Bel hummed again, but it was more like a faint laugh at the back of his throat. He took in a long breath as he looked back out over the ocean and their slow-sinking house.

They had no reasons to trust Captain Spider and her crew, but they didn't have much of a choice either. They could tell the truth now, or they could lie, and the truth was bound to come out later. They were all stuck on one ship in the middle of the ocean, after all. It wasn't like they had any options for an escape. At least, not any options that were appealing.

"I suppose, perhaps, the most interesting thing about all of us collectively is that we're all wanted in both Nua Port and... probably all of Synilas at this point," he said. "This house--" he said, gesturing to it. "Was our only ticket out of Nua. Something happened to all of the ships at their port, so there was none that we could commandeer. Not that we would've known much about how to sail a ship, anyways. When you're a fugitive, you make do with what you have. For us, that was a house."

Captain Spider raised an eyebrow. Bel was preparing himself for a question about elaborating further on the whole "we're wanted" bit, or maybe even what he meant by fugitive, but instead the captain asked, almost incredulous, "A group of five fugitives, and none of you have experience with boats? Half of Synilas is coastal, and Nua Port is a floating city."

"In all fairness, most of us have been on boats, but having been on a ship is much different from knowing how to sail. One of us came from Yse -- which is isolated, and not coastal. And Tyri is blind. Of any of us, Paimon's the most sea-worthy, but it takes more than one person to sail a ship," he said. "Most of us aren't exactly in full health either. We had a lot of different factors going on."

The captain said nothing for several seconds in response to that, and Bel realized that she had managed to make him feel so on the defense that he hadn't stopped to even consider what information he was giving her or if he should tell her some of those things at all. She didn't need to know one of them was from Yse-- she didn't even need to know their names, not unless she asked for them. He began to wonder if that was the point-- had she been trying to get him to let his guard down like that on purpose, by having him put his guard up?

After several more beats of silence, the captain said in a dry voice, "Your group does seem to be comically injured for the size of it."

"Comical for you, maybe," Bel said, matching her tone.

"Yes, it's very comical for me," she said in return with no hint of sarcasm in her voice. "A tiny group of injured civilians floating on the sea on a rapidly sinking vessel which just so happens to be a literal house. I'd say it's hilarious, in fact." Despite her words, her face gave no indication that she found it funny, and he had a hard time telling if she meant what she was saying or not.

Bel was quiet for a moment, staring down into the rolling ocean. He folded his arms as he leaned on the railing, and he drew his tail closer to himself, curling it around his legs.

So, they were a joke to her. He could imagine if he was in her shoes, he might feel the same. When she put it like that, their situation did sound comical, to the point where it could even be made into a joke or a funny story the pirates might retell to one another later. Maybe, in time, the five of them could look back and laugh at it too, but at the moment, it was still like an open wound.

"If you keep us here," he said slowly. "What are your plans for us?"

She shrugged. "Not sure. I'm still trying to figure out if you're more trouble than it's worth."

That stung. But at least she was being honest.

"Maybe we could help you in some way," Bel said. "I know it doesn't look like we have much to offer, but... if it would prove our worth."

"You said yourself none of you can do anything on a boat," she pointed out, not like she was trying to poke a hole in his argument, but simply like she was pointing it out. "And to tell the truth, I'm not particularly enthusiastic about killing your group. I don't trust any of you within ten feet of a weapon, and I'm not going to pretend I do-- but you see... you've presented me with a dilemma. You and your group are practically useless on this ship, and yet none of you have done something stupid enough yet to warrant my justified anger against you, besides maybe the girl who talks nonstop. Even then, she's a mere annoyance at best, a mosquito to a horse, though I have the feeling she's intending to be more than that. I'm stuck because you're five extra mouths to feed and you can do nothing in return-- and I don't even feel the need to kill you."

Bel understood what she was saying. He just wished there was more that they could do. He didn't even know what they could offer here because he didn't know what she wanted. It sounded like she didn't know either. She just wanted them to be useful, but the only thing that would probably convince her of their value was their magic. But that, he didn't want to risk mentioning just yet. Especially when the others weren't present.

"I can't speak for the others, and some of them aren't well enough to man a ship," he said. "But if any of your crew would be willing to train me, I'll do everything I can to pull my weight."

Captain Spider chuckled lowly.

"Oh, I'm sure you would," she agreed. "When left to stare death in the face, people begin to bargain with the devils." She paused, several expressions overcoming and leaving her face too fast for Bel to catch them all.

She turned towards him, then said, "Pirates are not known for our kindness or our word-- but loyalty goes to the bone when you begin to earn it. You're staring death in the face, I'd say. Make this devil an offer she can't resist."
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AlyTheBookworm says...



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62 Days B.N.D


Nothing.

Beyond the solid surface of the floor beneath her feet and the hard mattress she sat upon, her surroundings had dissolved like mist under the sun, leaving nothing in its place.

Tyri felt confined, as if the boundaries of her world had tightened, a barrier pressing in from all sides and limiting her to the meager physical senses of hearing and touch- and a claustrophobic awareness of her own body. The arrhythmic skip of her heartbeat, the thrum of rushing blood in her ears, the clamminess of her clenched fingers, the shakiness of her own uneven breath…

Calm yourself.

She almost heard her mother’s voice, felt the steadying pressure of her grip on her wrist. This wasn’t the first time her magic had failed her. Neither was it the first time she’d been utterly blind. It wouldn’t be the last.

Focus. Breathe.

Tyri obeyed the remembered demand, as she always had. She breathed deep, and the stuffy air of the ship’s hold tasted of brine. There was a slight sway to the surface beneath her as the craft rose and fell with the swell of the waves. It made her clutch the bedframe all the tighter, nails digging into splintered wood.

So, she couldn’t even trust the ground under her feet to stay still and solid. It took conscious effort not to whimper, and she gritted her teeth instead. She hated being helpless in this ever-moving, shifting place that stank of death and rot. She hated being a burden on her companions, someone in need of protection while unknown enemies held them captive.

Unknown enemies.

“-if they don’t give it to you, you kill them.”

The harsh words, spoken so nonchalantly, broke into Tyri’s thoughts.

When had the pirate captain entered the room again? It disturbed Tyri that with no primal sense to alert her, she hadn’t even noticed. She’d never fully known the depths of her dependence on her magic, but now, without it, she found herself crippled.

“See, that was our plan too. But I guess you out-pirated us.”

Paimon’s voice sounded from the bed beside her, dripping with characteristic sarcasm. The bravado was surprisingly comforting, even as Tyri silently wished she would stop provoking their captors.

After a pause, the pirate spoke.

“Come with me.”

More empty silence in response. Then- a scuff of boots on floorboards. The bed shifted as Paimon stood up and moved forward.

“Not you- just him.”

Him. Tyri felt her heart lurch in panic. Who was him?

Was it Railyn? Elidyr? Or Bel? Who was being taken, and why?

The door closed and a key turned in the lock with a near-inaudible click. The pirates’ footsteps retreated down the hallway, drawing further and further away with whichever one of Tyri’s companions they’d taken.

Then, as suddenly as it had left her, primal sense returned.

The world came back in a rush, her fuzzy surroundings swiftly building themselves up around her in a bubble of awareness: A small room with a table and chairs, a bookshelf, a desk, and the bed where she was sitting. She took in the brightly-shining forms of her friends and quickly counted heads.

Lady and Elidyr sat beside her on the bed, closer than she’d thought. Railyn was slumped on a chair at the table, Ivern curled up small at his side. Paimon was rattling at the door knob, then turned to pace, her posture tense with pent energy and indignance. Tabby lingered by the door, tail lashing restlessly.

Bel. They’d taken Bel.

“Alright. Ideas?”

Paimon came to a sudden stop in the center of the room, turning to run her gaze over the three of them as she waited for a response.

“For what?” Elidyr’s voice was bitter.

“Getting out of this room. What else?” she replied impatiently. “There are seven of them and four of us. Not the best odds, but do-able. We’re supposed to be magical warriors of prophecy charged with saving the world and all, right? We can take a couple of measly pirates.”

“You want to fight them?”

“If you were going to propose something else, I’m all ears, Eli. But think fast, because every second that passes with us trapped in this room is a chance for seaweed-hair to realize she has no good reason to let us live.”

Tyri pulled herself up from the bed, reluctantly abandoning the solid pillar of its headboard to head towards the back of the study, a rounded wall lined with bookshelves and various tools and paraphernalia of a sailor and navigator’s trade. She doubted the pirates would have been so careless as to imprison them in a room with weapons in reach, but maybe there would be something they could use in a fight or escape attempt.

“I can barely stand. We’re injured from our last fight and outnumbered, and they took our weapons. They took Bel,” Elidyr snapped. “And they have some kind of anti-magic device. You heard Tyri- she couldn’t even see anything! And you want to fight them? Are you insane?”

Tyri felt her mouth tighten into a thin line. She tuned out Paimon’s mocking response, focusing instead on the task she had set for herself. The familiar mantra repeated itself in her head: Breathe. Focus. Calm yourself.

Panic hovered in the periphery, and she kept it at bay only by her mother’s words. She wished they wouldn’t argue, but fear hung over them like a cloud, tugging each in either direction. Fight or flight. It was impossible to sit. They had to act. To do something. However improbable it was.

So she searched for weapons.

The desk drawers yielded nothing more threatening than a letter opener, but Tyri pocketed it regardless. Parchment scrolls crackled as she rifled through the compartments of the desk, tossing them to the floor to roll freely down the rising, falling deck.

Light.

Tyri froze. Had she imagined it?

She pulled at the edges of the stacked papers and scrolls and saw a glimmer of light. Thin glowing lines of curling script running down the edge of a page she’d crumpled in her careless searching. She lifted it up delicately, as if the paper might crumble to dust at a touch.

“This is stupid,” Railyn broke in. “We can’t do anything like this.”

“You’re stupid,” Paimon retorted.

“Oh, real mature,” Railyn pouted.

Elidyr groaned.

Tyri unfurled the scroll further and ran her eyes down its length, drinking in the words. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d read anything. Perhaps the letters should’ve felt foreign, but it seemed more a reunion of old friends. She’d spent her childhood years in the study of her mother’s home, studying cramped texts by lamplight until the words seemed imprinted into her brain and her dreams swam with them.

As a budding scholar and historian, they had been everything to her. She’d expected to live out the rest of her life that way. Cloistered away in libraries and classrooms and studies under her mother’s watchful eye, with only books and tutors for company.

Funny how chance works.

She’d never thought she would read again. To think the ability would open itself to her again here, made a fugitive and held captive by pirates in the stinking hold of a ship hundreds of miles from home. If her life and the lives of her friends weren’t hanging in the balance, it might’ve been amusing.

“What’s that?”

Tyri started as Elidyr peered over her shoulder. She’d been so absorbed she hadn’t noticed his approach.

“Elidyr,” she said excitedly, “Look- I can read this!”

That caught Paimon and Railyn’s attention, and they paused in their bickering to turn towards Eli and Tyri.

“It’s just like what happened before- with the rune. Look at what this says.” The words tumbled out in a rush as she proffered the scroll to them.

“I thought you couldn’t read,” Railyn noted.

Paimon snorted.

“Yes, usually,” Tyri said patiently. “Since I lost my sight, I’ve been able to use primal sense to get a faint impression of what ideas or feelings a text might contain, but never anything like this. I can actually read the words now. I see them.”

“All of them, or just this one scroll?” Elidyr took the paper from her outstretched hand and looked it over with a glance.

“I think only the one.”

“This is just a ship’s log. Looks like it was written by the old captain before… whatever happened here happened.”

“A ship’s log?” Tyri frowned. “That’s not what it looked like to me.”

“Let me see.” Paimon deftly snatched the scroll from Eli’s hands and pored over it.

After a pause, “He’s right. All the entries are signed by the ship’s captain. They talk about the progression of the crew’s bluecough. Seems it spread here far before it hit Nua.”

The four of them fell silent as they considered the implications of that, but Tyri was intrigued by something else. The words she’d read on the same scroll spoke of something entirely different from what her companions were reading aloud by corporal sight.

There was a secret here. Hidden by magic.

It stirred her interest, as forbidden knowledge always had. She’d always been too curious for her own good. Careless childhood exploration had resulted in bruises and scraped knees. She wondered what might result from digging into a secret like this.

Something worse than scraped knees.

“As fascinating as this all is,” Paimon said. “We still have our current situation to deal with.”

“I’m not really in a fighting mood, if you couldn’t tell,” Elidyr said dryly. He gestured at what Tyri assumed were his injuries. She saw only the bright, featureless outline of his body.

Paimon shifted as if to reply, but Railyn beat her to it.

“None of us are.”

Paimon breathed out, a sharp sound of frustration.

“Fine. But we need to escape this room, at least.”

“Easier said than done.”

“Oh, I have some ideas.”

Tyri heard the smirk in those unsettling words as Paimon turned towards the door, and didn’t wait to find out what those “ideas” might be. She returned to the desk, where Elidyr had set down the scroll, and picked it up once more.

The beautiful flowing script reappeared, rippling and shimmering like firelight on water. Certain cryptic phrases and lone words revealed themselves to her, but other sections of the text were inscrutable, letters shifting under her gaze like a mirage, impossible to pin down.

She couldn’t stare at it forever, hoping it would eventually yield its secrets to her. Paimon was on the edge of blowing something up, and whatever happened after that, Tyri might never get a chance to return. Was there a way to gain greater focus?

Tyri could think of only one: Entering the River.

She exhaled slowly, weighing her options. She still remembered the first time she’d done that in painfully vivid detail.

Using primal sense requires a direct line to the River, a thin hairline thread of vulnerability in the walls containing mind and spirit. Any larger than that and one risks losing everything in the rushing current of pure magic.

That was how Tyri’s mother had explained it. She’d used a calm, firm tone of voice as she held her daughter’s hand, the pressure of her fingers all that had anchored Tyri to the world.

Tyri hadn’t been in any danger of dying from her recklessness. At least, not a physical death. No, the consequences were far worse for those who risked losing themselves for power by diving into the world’s conduit of all magic. Primal sense users who overstepped their bounds risked a death of self.

Was it really the best time to be experimenting with this?

The golden words seemed to hover just out of reach, tantalizingly close.

“I’d be careful with that if I were you.”

Tyri jumped in surprise, turning about guiltily. The unfamiliar voice had sounded as if it were right beside her, but she sensed nothing. Her friends had gathered around the door, still arguing over the best course of action. She was, otherwise, alone.

“Here.”

Tyri concentrated, extending her sphere of awareness as far around her as she could, and finally noticed that Railyn’s dragon had left his perch at the table and joined her at her side.

“Ivern?” she breathed incredulously.

He twined about her legs like an abnormally large, scaly, cold-blooded cat, making a chirring click at the back of his throat that sounded suspiciously like laughter. When he spoke again, she realized it was by internal thought, not sound.

“Why the surprise? Did you think me a dumb animal incapable of speech?”

“You are incapable of speech”, Tyri replied silently.

“Better that than to be incapable of sight, wouldn’t you think?”

“No, I don’t, actually.”


The dragon leapt up onto the desk in one, sinuous motion, placing a clawed foot on the stack of disordered papers.

“Should I regret going through the effort of warning you, cloud-eyed mage?”

“Warning me of what, exactly?”

“Your focus is slipping. You’ve dropped your walls, and the River pulls. How else do you think I gained access to your thoughts?”


Tyri was startled to find it was true. She’d been sloppy. As careless with her own safety as ever. But this time, there was no one around to save her, to take her hand and drag her back to physical reality. The thought stung.

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

The little dragon gave Tyri’s hand a gentle bump with his snout. It was surprisingly touching, and she felt her annoyance at the creature fall away.

“Thank-you.”

“Young Beloved would be sad if you went insane.”


Ah, so there was the reason for the rescue. Tyri’s mouth quirked into a small smile of amusement. Then the dragon drew her attention back to the matter at hand with a lazy flick of his tail.

“The scroll you are so enamored with is directly attached to the River. You’ve unlocked only a fraction of the knowledge it contains.”

She sighed. “I’m aware.”

“You will have to enter the River to see more than this. I could help you.”

“I would appreciate that, Ivern.”


Tyri raised her walls once again, envisioning a rising construction of seamless granite blocks. It had only two openings to access everything that lay beyond it. At its base, a hidden back-door by which the dragon alone might enter. At its center, a small gateway by which one could flow into that thin, hairline thread of vulnerability.

She braced herself to exit, to dip herself into the River.

But Paimon’s raised voice broke her concentration before she had a chance.

“We’re getting out of here now.”

Tyri sensed something change, and turned to see Paimon’s brilliant aura flare up like a fire suddenly doused in oil.

“Use the lifeboats to get back to the house,” she said firmly. “We’ll figure out what to do then.”

She extended a hand to toss a blindingly bright light up into the air. At the height of the throw- instead of falling- it flickered and grew, morphing into a hulking humanoid figure Tyri had seen once before, its aura burning vibrant as molten gold.

The golem lifted its fists and brought them down quicker than anyone could find breath to protest, smashing through the door in a burst of splintering wood and twisted metal.

The impact shook the room itself, sending bits of door and doorframe flying out into the hallway, but the construct didn’t seem fazed. It charged forward through the hole it had created, shoving aside broken pieces of the door and barreling through whoever had been standing guard outside in the process.

Tyri, Eli, and Railyn gaped.

“Did you seriously just-“ Railyn started.

“Yup,” Paimon interrupted. “You wouldn’t do anything, so I did. Now hurry up before someone comes running to find out what’s causing all the ruckus.”

A questioning shout sounded somewhere down the hallway, followed by the sound of running footsteps. The time to talk had passed. Now to make the best of what Paimon had set into motion.

“C’mon!” she yelled with more urgency.

Tyri rolled up the scroll and stuffed it into her belt, drawing the cord tight to keep it from falling loose. Then she hurried to join the others as they filed out of the room and ran towards the stairs, Elidyr grumbling to himself as he leaned on Railyn’s arm for support, Paimon and her golem in the lead. The cats followed in the back, and Ivern surprised Tyri by sticking to her side, a silent guide.

She found herself last in line, waiting at the bottom of the stairs as the others climbed up towards the open air of the deck at a pace that seemed agonizingly slow. She willed herself to be patient and tried to focus on expanding her primal sense. Alert for any sign of pirates in the lower hallway, she felt and heard nothing but her own racing heartbeat.

“Bel!” Paimon said from above.

Bel?

Tyri looked up the stairwell, and sure enough, her friend’s figure stood shining at the top like a beacon. With a wild surge of hope and relief, she started up the steps.

Then the pirate captain stepped into view, stopping Tyri in her tracks. The pirate paused at Bel’s side, blade in hand, and cocked her head as she looked down at them.

“Oh? What’s this?”

“Seir!” Paimon shouted.

Her golem leapt the last three steps in one powerful bound, arms reaching for the pirate. She didn’t even flinch. Tyri didn’t sense or see her aura move to defend itself, but one moment the golem was posed to pound her into a smear on the deck and the next it was simply gone, melted away in an instant.

That was the last thing Tyri knew before the world stripped itself away from her.

Senseless again.

Blind.

Terror flooded her, and she felt herself stagger backwards, curling down and grasping for the ground, the sides of the stairwell, someone’s arm to steady herself. There was nothing. She fell.

Damn it. Will I ever get used to this?

She barely heard it when Bel’s voice came faint from the top of the stairwell.

“Uh. Hey guys.”
  





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62 Days B.N.D


The rocking of the sea beneath her, the waves gently moving the ship to and fro, had been Spider's home for decades. She'd become more stable on the slight shifting of the deck than she'd ever felt on land, the energy of the movement fueling her leaps amongst the ropes of the ship. Before their full crew had become separated nearly ten years ago and Spider had somehow become captain of what had remained, she'd been the lookout. She'd earned her name Spider Monkey from her inhuman jumps and acrobatics through the air, twisting in the ropes as naturally as her namesake through the trees. So Spider definitely knew she wasn't unsteady because of the waves.

Her tight grip on the railing beside her with her left hand stopped the sudden movement forward of her body. A rush of adrenaline, perhaps? She'd drawn one of her axes without a second thought, posture strong but flexible. And yet— no, that just wasn't it. She'd gotten that rush when they'd first ambushed the group, but after she'd actually seen them? No, they definitely hadn't made her feel threatened enough for a burst of energy. She especially hadn't felt threatened when one of them had immediately fallen backwards down the stairs mere seconds after emerging, stumbling, her own body weight carrying her backwards. Now she certainly wasn't used to the ship's constant moment, that much was clear.

So why the unsteadiness?

The most obvious conclusion pointed to whatever creature the annoying one had attempted to launch at her. It had been clear enough though that it was made of magic, and so Spider hadn't even flinched as it had charged at her. Magic wasn't a problem for her.

Well— that wasn't exactly true.

But attacking magic certainly wasn't a problem for her.

And yet she was trembling. She felt it faintly in her system, the hum of something suppressed and bursting to be let out. She clenched her jaw but slowly loosened her grip on the railing as she took in the group. It would pass in mere seconds, minutes at the most, but was still disorienting. Whatever the anti-magic stone encaged around her neck had just stopped, it had been big— and it had been a lot to absorb.

"Uh. Hey guys," Belxibis said, drawing Spider's focus in. Spider's eyes snapped towards the group of people. While they'd clearly had some sort of rebellious energy built up, it was quickly deflating. Spider could see the other pirates on deck already standing with weapons drawn, and other than whatever monster they'd tried to throw at her, they were unarmed.

"You dare—" Kniss began, but Spider held her hand up and she fell silent. Spider could hear the small puffs of enraged breaths she was taking.

"We were trying to come to an agreement," Belxibis said softly. "For why she should keep us alive."

The implications of what he'd said seemed to sink in, and Spider saw with a hint of amusement that several of their faces fell, but she couldn't bring herself to be fully amused. Had they thought she'd taken him to discuss the politics of Synua over tea and biscuits?

"Where is Geida?" Spider murmured. Kniss' posture stiffened, and Spider saw both Zefra and Valno tighten their grips on their weapons.

"Who?" The annoying one blurted out.

"She was posted outside your door," Hack said, and while he was usually calm and collected, it was clear he was becoming riled up with the rest of them. "What did you do to her?"

There was a silence from the group in the stairway, and Spider vaguely noticed that the one who barely looked old enough to be a man had made his way back down the stairs to help up the woman who had fallen.

"Gibs," Spider said without looking away from the group, "go check on Geida."

Gibs set her shoulders square, like preparing herself for bad news, and shouldered her way through the group and down the stairs. The tension of waiting seemed to rock through the pirates more than they were actually moving on the boat. It was surprisingly calm weather for the massive storm they'd escaped only around a day ago— or had it been two? Spider hadn't slept since they'd taken this ship. They'd barely been on it an hour before they'd spotted what they'd soon realize was a house on the horizon, and by then, she'd had to push through it and figure out some way to get the upper hand on an unknown number of people. Spider was practically dead on her feet, her ever-tightening grip on her axe one of the only things keeping her grounded.
  





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62 Days B.N.D


There was a thump from below deck after Gibs made her way down the stairs, and a loud groan. Spider let out a small breath— Geida was alive, at the very least, though in what condition there was no telling. If that monster had tried to attack her— the anger that rose up was swift and sudden, and her eyes narrowed as she concentrated on this troublesome group. This group she had been about to kill— until they'd tried to kill her first. And damn-it-all, whatever had just happened had intrigued her. She was no longer stuck in a balance of indifference. They'd tipped the scale, despite renewing both her distrust towards them and her loyalty towards her crew.

"Spider," Kniss said, her voice tense. Though she didn't speak it aloud, she was asking for permission: she was asking for permission to attack, and kill them. And under another circumstance, Spider would've barely nodded and the message would've been received. They would've been cut down in an instant, reduced to an annoying stain they'd have to work out of the deck flooring.

Instead though, Spider tilted her head, taking in the figures shifting in discomfort, the boy helping to steady the girl who had fallen, the annoying one tensed angrily in the front. She alone made her want to kill them... but no.

"Hold," Spider said, swiftly and suddenly. She walked forwards, leaving Belxibis stiffened by the railing. "I was going to kill you," she said, not gloating, not amused, just plain fact. "None of you have skills that are useful for a ship, and quite frankly, you've pissed me off— and make no mistake. This little outburst has increased that by tenfold."

She let that sink in. The annoying one opened her mouth to argue, and Spider cut her off abruptly. "But," she said, "that does not mean you have no use. This little show was... intriguing. It makes me wonder what your magic could be used for if you used it for real things instead of playing as the monster under the bed." This time, she made eye contact with the woman in front and smirked slightly.

Below, she could hear Geida groan out, "What happened?" followed by a sharp, "ach, my head..." The sound ran swiftly like a whetstone against her heart.

"This is your last chance," she said coldly, her loyalty grabbing a hold of her like a vice. "You hurt one of my crew members again, and you'll wish we'd slaughtered you now."

She could hear Belxibis speak up behind her.

"We won't," he said. And from the way he said it, she could tell he was staring at the woman in front. "Right, Paimon?"

The annoying one— Paimon— conveniently kept her gaze away from Belxibis. After a long pause of silence, Spider said, "Good decision. We all enjoy breathing, after all."

None of their group seemed to have a response to that, and behind her, Kniss said quietly, "Spider."

Spider turned towards her, the faint concern in Kniss' narrowed brown eyes cutting into Spider as she made her way over.

"You're not really thinking what I think you're thinking," she said quietly. "These fools have hurt one of our crew, and they just tried to kill you. We cannot—"

"It could work," Spider said suddenly.

"You're not usually one to take such dangerous chances," Kniss scoffed.

Spider tilted her head. "I'm well aware."

"You don't even like magic," Kniss hissed under her breath, her eyes glancing distrustfully over Spider's shoulder at the group. "Why should we trust them?"

"Trust them? Don't be ridiculous," Spider chuckled lowly.

Kniss clenched her jaw. "Then what are you planning to do? We can't just—" She faltered as she met Spider's gaze, then sighed. "Fine. Fine. Be an idiot, Spider, that always works out great for everyone!"

Kniss turned away and said abruptly, louder, "Hack, double-check the sails before we redirect our course again. Mar, go look around in the hull, make sure nothing's damaged." She sent one more glance back at Spider and said quietly, "I hope you know what you're doing," before she stalked off to oversee Hack and the sails.

Spider turned back around, walking to the group once again. "You can take this offer, or take your chances with the sinking house boat," she said flatly.

"What exactly is your offer?" Belxibis asked, drawing her eyes back to him. He was watching her intently— not hostile, but like he wanted to hear her out.

"My crew and I were targeting a very... intriguing ship," she said, though 'intriguing' sounded more like "filthy rich" from the way she said it, "when an unnatural storm blew us off course."

"Aren't you used to sailing in storms?" Paimon asked critically, and Spider saw Bel shoot her an irritated look.

"You don't live at sea and not run into storms," Spider said sharply, "but this one quite literally tore our ship apart. We ended up veering off course to pursue this ship just to stay alive."

"So... this ship wasn't your original target," the boy in the back murmured.

"Of course not," Spider said smoothly. "A room full of jewels is nice and all, but where's the adventure in that? This ship was a part of a larger fleet— a fleet carrying something far more valuable than all the riches already on this ship.

"So you want us to help you get through the storm, so you can get to the ship," Bel said. "Why not just wait for the storm to pass?"

Kniss audibly scoffed in the background, and Spider glanced back at her just in time to catch her rolling her eyes. Spider chuckled slightly.

"Why is waiting for a storm to pass funny? Isn't that what you usually do?" The boy in the back asked.

"Sure, we'd wait out a storm that only lasts a day or two," Spider agreed, "but it's a bit laughable to suggest waiting out an eternal storm."

"Huh. I thought that was just a myth," Paimon muttered.

"To a land-walker, I'm sure it is, as I'm sure it is to any of your royal fleets that choose to wander our waters. But to be a pirate who has never sailed through the eternal storm is... to be a bird without wings."

"Like a bouncybird?" Paimon's face scrunched up. "But I'm guessing it's some kind of ceremony for you people."

"It's preparation," Spider corrected. "You're crippled without the experience, dependent on clear skies and constantly clinging to your safety, so much so that it impairs your judgement in the real time. If you're quick and risky enough though, it can be a lovely experience," she ended with a mildly sarcastic tone.

"And you expect us—" the wounded one spoke up. "To weather that storm for you, when your crew barely made it?"

"We were ill-prepared," Spider shrugged, "but so was the Synua Royal Fleet we were following. More so than us, I'm sure. I doubt a single person upon any one of those ships had weathered the eternal storm before, and we took a calculated risk."

"So for all we know, their ship sank already," the annoying one said. "Whatever you're searching for could already be lost to the sea."

"There's a difference between sunken," Spider said, "and lost."

"And you would want us to help you find it," Bel said. "By whatever magical means possible. Right?"

"Whatever magical means necessary," Spider said. "I'm not interested in the possibilities, I'm interested in the end goal."

"Which is..." Paimon said slowly. "Being filthy rich."

"I think we're finally beginning to see things eye to eye," she said calmly.

The annoying one's mouth turned up into a self-satisfied smirk.

"Eye, eye, Captain," she said, winking.

Spider's grip tightened on her axe automatically, but instead she shouldered her way past the group and down the set of stairs to check on Geida. She would ignore the annoying one for now, but the sooner they were off her ship, the better.
  





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62 Days B.N.D


By the time Spider returned to the deck, the sun was slowly setting to the west. She'd spent a good hour going through all the rooms again after checking on Geida, and another hour listening to Mar ramble about the hull. She wasn't sure if her frustration at the group was fueling her exhaustion or if the fact that she hadn't slept in over a day was amplifying her anger. It could easily be both.

As she emerged onto the deck, she noticed with a slight twinge of amusement that all the house boaters were still huddled near one another, not interacting with the crew who were going about their jobs as normal. They were all practically dead on their feet at this point, and Spider knew it wasn't near ending. The rest of the crew would be catching up on sleep tonight, but she'd be staying up yet again to be on the lookout both for outside dangers and the newly found idiots aboard the ship. For now though, she'd focus on the temporary break she was going to allow herself. Her crew needed it, and they certainly didn't need to see their captain constantly exhausted.

She walked over to Kniss, who had already gotten over the cold shoulder. Kniss was one of the few people who was able to set those personal doubts aside and put her all into it regardless of the consequences. Spider didn't trust many people, but she'd trust Kniss with her life ten times over if she could. "Dinner," Spider said.

Kniss glanced at her, then shouted, "Dinner!" The pirates all froze from what they were doing, looking down at her. "Come on, we don't have all day," Kniss shouted again, then said scoldingly, "Valno, you rascal I've told you to stay away from that!" She took off towards him while the rest of the pirates put down whatever they were working with, a few tired smiles here and there. They'd had about as much rest as Spider had since the storm had knocked them off course. As the pirates began to converse with one another, the group of annoyances stood still, watching. Spider couldn't tell if it was with confusion or fear, and she couldn't tell which concept was funnier.

"Dinner," she repeated, walking towards Belxibis and ignoring the others together. "Gather your crew up."

Belxibis looked at Spider for just a second, raising his eyebrows and narrowing his eyes a little before the expression disappeared and he looked to the others, gesturing with a wave of his hand for them to follow. That seemed to be all it took for them to get up, and then Bel looked to her expectantly.

"Follow me," Spider said, turning to walk then stopping abruptly as the idea hit her. She turned to look at the annoying one. "Except you. Keep watch."

"Me?" she asked, pointing to herself, seeming more surprised than anything. She smiled, as if excited, and keeping watch was a privilege. "Course, captain. I'll bear responsibility for this whole ship, no worries." She tapped a finger to her brow in a flimsy salute.

Spider narrowed her eyes. She certainly didn't trust her to keep watch, but the idea of being away from her was such a tempting thought. "Actually— no, I don't trust you." She turned away from her and called to Kniss, "The crew'll eat on deck." Kniss nodded, but didn't respond verbally.

"Marmar!" Spider called, and saw him poke his head around the corner at the bottom of the stairs, small pieces of his black hair falling out of his messy bun.

"Spi?" He asked, voice echoing slightly in the stairs.

"Find the kitchen and take inventory. Bring up enough pre-prepared stuff for dinner."

Mar made a face. "We can't just catch a few fish?"

"Now, Marble," Spider reinforced.

He whispered, "Full name. Harsh," and backed around the corner again out of sight, presumably to go look for the kitchen.

"Is your name really Spider?" Paimon interjected, unfortunately drawing Spider's attention back to their group. "Is it short for something?"

"Yep," she said, swiveling back to face her. "It's short for captain."

"How is Spider short for captain?"

"It is for you. Now no more questions."

"I—" She was silenced as Belxibis slapped his hand over her mouth. She glared at him and tried to take his hand away, but Belxibis pushed it back.

"We're sorry, captain, it won't happen again," Belxibis said hastily.

Spider smirked. "Please, call me Spider."

Belxibis blinked, glanced at Paimon, and slowly pulled his hand away, leaving her looking between Belxibis and Spider with narrowed eyes.

"Alright... Spider," Belxibis said slowly. Paimon's eyes, if possible, squinted further.

"Close your mouth," Spider said coolly towards her, before she turned towards the stairs to seek out Mar and help collect the food. She called back over her shoulder, "You'll let the flies in."
  








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