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The Outlands



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Fri Mar 16, 2018 1:42 am
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Lael says...



Kaia Nesbitt
cowritten with @soundofmind


The last thing James could remember was a sharp, aching pain: a comglomeration of the arrow wound, the bullet wound, and the kick to his back. Then everything went dark. As he came to, the pain greeted him as a poignant reminder that he had lost, and he fully expected to be tied up. But as his eyes fluttered open, he saw Kaia in front of him, wrapping the wound she had given him on his forearm - which would be ironic, if he knew he wasn't needed alive. He attempted to move, but his body had yet to catch up to his mind and his eyes, and he only managed to tilt his head forward ever so slightly, before it fell back, leaning on the tree behind his head.

Rather rapidly, he drew the conclusion that she'd bound up the wounds on his back at well, when he felt the taut bandages wrapped around his torso.

James started to speak in a low grumble. "I really need to build an immunity to the drugs you lace your weapons with."

Kaia's eyes flicked to him briefly. Then she glanced back down at her work and replied flatly, "Gaining an immunity to poisoner's drugs would take many years of slowly increasing your exposure to them. Even the slightest mistake could lead to immediate death, and the process itself can be quite . . . unpleasant."

James sighed. "Still beats getting caught."

She pulled the bandage tight with a small jerking motion, perhaps a little tighter than necessary. She fought back the twitch that threatened to pull at the corner of her mouth as he winced. "Too bad, I suppose. Perhaps your luck has run out."

James looked down as his arm fell back at his side. He hated this side effect of her drugs more than anything else about getting caught. He lost total control over his own body, his own senses. It was maddening.

"It certainly hasn't been luck that's sustained me," he muttered.

Kaia fastened the bandage in place and paused. She leaned in close, until their faces were mere inches apart.

"Well, you will need it, once we get back," she whispered, her eyes boring into his. "It'll be quite fortunate for you if Blackfield decides to spare your life."

James returned the intensity of her gaze. "He'll only keep me around as long as I'm useful."

"And are you still useful?" she asked. She couldn't deny to herself that she hoped he was.

James broke eye contact briefly. "...As long as the posters still say I'm wanted alive, instead of dead, then yes."

Kaia pulled back and glanced off into the distance, contemplating what she should do next. "The sun will set soon," she said finally. "We'll stay here for the night."

"It's not like I have much of a choice in the matter, do I?" He asked as he started to moved his neck and head to the side. He was slowly regaining feeling.

Kaia's eye was quick to catch the slight movement from James. With a small sigh she pulled a length of rope from her pack and began to tie him to the tree. "Exactly. You are my--no, His Majesty's--prisoner now. Get used to it."

"I'm trying my best not to," he countered, casually. "Though it seems you have."

Kaia allowed her eyebrow to raise as she looked at him again. "I have gotten used to what?" She didn't like the feeling he was conveying.

"Being a prisoner to his majesty. Despite everything you've seen."

"I am not his prisoner," she retorted, though she could feel her heart sinking. "Merely a hand. I chose to serve him, freely."

"Yes, but, should the head banish his hand from his body?" James rolled his shoulders against the ropes holding him, able to feel more. "He sent you out here to get me, but once you bring me back, what will be your purpose? Do you really think Blackfield is worth selling your life away so that you can do his dirty work?"

"When we return, I will return to my old duties," she said, stopping herself from adding "most likely" to her statement. "I was banished - if that is what you choose to call it - because I betrayed him, like you. By letting you escape. It is not selling my life away." She glanced down at the grass. "Dirty work or not, this is what I know how to do best. The best way I can serve the king. I owe him my life."

"Just because this all you know that does not mean that's all there is." He tilted his head forward, trying to catch her gaze again. "And your life is your own. Blackfield has done nothing for you worth repaying. And even if so, you would have already paid him back tenfold."

"I was foolish to believe you'd understand, Tiberius," she said, refusing to look back at him. "Blackfield took me in and gave me a home, a purpose, when my parents were killed. I would have been an orphan twice over if he had not given me a new life. Nothing can pay that back. This is better than what kind of unsavory lifestyle I would be trapped in without him. Would it be better for me to be begging in the streets for food, or working in a . . ." She stopped, unwilling to let that thought come into being. "As Blackfield's assassin, it gives me protection. From unwanted things."

James had fallen into silence, but his expression looked conflicted. His brows tensed, and his opened his mouth as if to speak, but only let out a weak exhale. "I..." he stuttered, taking a deep breath and shaking his head as if agonizing over what his next words would be. "Kaia... you..." he paused again, biting his lip. Now he couldn't seem to look at her either.

"Do you... do you know what happened to your parents?"

"They were killed. In cold blood. What more is there to it?" She took in a ragged breath and kept staring at the blades of grass in front of her.

James was silent for a moment - not meaning to build suspension, but deliberating on just how to say it, before arriving at the conclusion that there was no gentle way.

"Blackfield... he..." James closed his eyes. "He had them killed."

Kaia stiffened. "Stop," she whispered, clenching a fist.

"I would never lie to you about this, Kaia."

"And yet you are."

"He saw your potential in medicine and wanted you conscripted into the army, but your parents refused to have you enlisted. Blackfield, for whatever twisted reasons he has to justify himself, made a way where there wasn't one."

"Where did you get such a depraved idea?" she demanded, an edge creeping into her voice. She could feel herself trembling.

"The king himself."

Kaia took a deep breath to compose herself, even as her vision blurred with unbidden tears. "Not another word, or I'll knock you out again."

James had to hold his tongue. Though he wanted to say something, he believed her on her threats. He'd told her the truth, but he could not give consolation or anything more if it was unwanted.

But his words turned over and over in Kaia's mind. To believe them would be impossible, because . . . "You mean to say, it's my fault that my mother and father are dead. That the king killed them because he wanted my skills." She shook her head and stood to pace. "That's not right. My father was a loyal captain. He kept His Majesty safe."

James dared to speak again. "No," he insisted, trying to sound gentle and keep his bitterness towards Blackfield out of his voice. "It is not your fault, Kaia. Blackfield had no right to kill your parents just because he wanted to make you into his pawn. The king is -" James bit back a look of disgust. "You did nothing wrong."

Kaia sat back down and dared to take a glance at him again. She blinked rapidly, and swiped the tears off her face quickly, though they kept coming. She hated this vulnerability - once she slipped over the border of feeling, it was as though she couldn't stop it. "I don't know what to believe," she said, her voice almost inaudible. "There are too many lies."

"I'm sorry..." James's eyes fell to the ground. "I just thought... you deserved to know. I thought perhaps, you had already suspected it yourself. But I was wrong."

Kaia didn't answer. Her thoughts drifted to her father and his loud, joyful laugh, and her mother's warm embrace and lullabies. To her surprise, she realized that she could hardly remember what those felt like. She hadn't thought about her parents in so long, and now . . . it was as though she was losing them again.

James remained silent. In any other context, were he not tied to a tree, he would sit beside her. But in the moment, all he could do was let her cry, and respectfully look away. He knew there were no words that could be offered to ease the pain of the loss of a parent.

Kaia breathed in, slowly, and wiped the last of her tears off her face. She didn't have any more answers than she had in the beginning, but just the thought that King Blackfield could have done something like that to her parents had drained her will to keep Tiberius captive anymore.

She stood and went over to the tree and untied him. She held out a hand. "Get up."

James stared up at her, his heart twisting in knots. "Kaia..."

" 'Nesbitt' will do just fine, Tiberius," she said. She had to reestablish a barrier between them, for her own sake. She motioned with her hand. "Get up, now."

James nodded and got up slowly, feeling his blood rush to his feet again.

Kaia turned to pick up her long dagger, unsheathing it to glance at its blade and sharp edge. She tossed it in the air a few times, then glanced back at James.

James watched the dagger warily, and with confusion.

"What are you doing?" she asked. "You can go." She sheathed the dagger and strapped it to her belt.

James looked at her in disbelief. In light of what just transpired, he wanted to believe her. But with things such as these...

"Just like that?"

"You don't believe me?" Kaia shrugged almost nonchalantly and continued to pack her things. "You can follow me, then."

James stared at her. He found himself believing her, despite what experience told him. But in shock, he remained standing still, before finally saying: "James."

"What?"

"Tiberius... is dead to me. I prefer to go by James."

She blinked and looked at him silently for a moment. Then she nodded. "Very well. James, it is."

At that moment, several people burst into the clearing. "Don't move!"
In God I Trust

"as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death."
Philippians 1:20
  





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Wolfical says...



Brett Crawford
cowritten with @soundofmind


Especially since he was feeling as salty as a stickers bar thanks to Rosaleen, Brett was relieved to be on his own again, scouting ahead on the trail. He had long ago established a code that the only person you can trust in the Outlands is yourself, yet here he was, tangled in a web of loyalties, trusting people he hardly even knew. Was he being stupid? Probably. But he was in too deep now. Even if one of them was responsible for getting a dozen glass shards stuck in his palm, another had saved his life and was now in serious danger.

It had been several years ago: the night he intended to spend at the pub for a couple of drinks that ended as a nightmare, with innocent blood on his hands. Saving Philip wouldn't erase his guilt, but it might lend another step to the impossibly long road of forgiving himself. He quickened his pace.

Following their painfully obvious trail backwards reminded him yet again of why he didn't like horses as a mode of transportation. He didn't once need to bend down to inspect the track; he followed the path of flattened underbrush effortlessly until in seemingly no time at all he was back at the edge of the forest, where they had last seen the unconscious Philip.

Creeping among the trees and treading lightly along the drugged-Philip-being-dragged trail, Brett finally heard voices up ahead. As he neared them, he was surprised to hear bits of a rather genial conversation between Philip and his female captor.

"It is not your fault, Kaia," Philip was saying. Kaia? Does he know this woman? "Blackfield had no right to kill your parents just because he wanted to make you into his pawn. The king is..." There was a long pause. "You did nothing wrong."

This was interesting! Brett found a good place in a nearby bush and huddled down to listen. He couldn't see Philip but he could just barely see Kaia's face through the leaves—were those... were those tears?! She said something that was too quiet to hear, but Brett caught the last part: "There are too many lies," uttered bitterly between sniffles.

"You can say that again," Brett whispered under his breath.

"I'm sorry," Philip said. "I just thought... you deserved to know."

Totally makes sense, Brett was thinking. She knocks you out with a needle, drags you through the forest, ties you to a tree. Yep. Definitely deserves it.

Brett was in a rather uncomfortable position and wanted to shift his weight but didn't dare in the long silence that ensued. The woman finally broke it, holding out her hand. "Get up."

"Kaia..."

"The utter emotion in his voice!" Brett whispered.

"'Nesbitt' will do just fine, Tiberius," Kaia replied.

Tiberius?

Philip—Tiberius—whoever he was stumbled to his feet at her order. Brett flinched when she unsheathed her dagger and his hand flew to his own at his waist. Brett was so engrossed in what was going on that he nearly forgot about the rest of his party. Until he heard the snap of a twig behind him and flinched again, only to see Ari.

"Didja find 'em?" he asked.

"Yes! Shhh. Get down here." Brett grabbed Ari's wrist and pulled him down behind the bush.

Philip-Tiberius was looking rather aprehensive as Kaia tossed her dagger in the air. Ari gasped. "What're we waitin' for?" he asked. "She'll kill 'em!"

"No no no," Brett whispered. "I don't think that's going to happen. I've been listening in and—"

"Are you crazy?" Ari said, starting to rise.

"I prefer to go by James," was the last thing Brett heard Philip-Tiberius say before Ari crashed into the clearing.

"Wait!" Brett cried, dashing after him.

Kaia whirled around, startled, as Ari grabbed Philip-Tiberius-James around the waist and tossed him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

Brett waved his arms. "Ari, wait! Wait!"

Philip-Tiberius-James kicked against the air. "Wh-Put me down!"

"Don't you worry!" Ari said. "We're savin' you!"

Brett gave Kaia an exasperated glance before hurrying after Ari, who was already well beyond the clearing and charging through the forest.

--<>--

By the time Brett and Philip-Tiberius-James had convinced Ari that they were in no great danger and that the latter could certainly walk on his own two feet, they had reached the horses and the girls, who were confused when they were told there was no need to run.

"What, did you kill her already?" Rosaleen asked.

Brett shook his head. "No, uh... We'll explain. But first. You've got some explaining to do, Mister Philip-Tiberius-James."

James pulled away from Ari, but froze, slowly looking up at Brett.

"How much did you hear?" He asked, his voice and gaze both indicating that Brett has just become an imediate threat.

Brett's eyes narrowed. He was annoyed with James' coldness, considering the risk they had taken to go back and rescue him. "Enough to know you're a man of many secrets. Secrets that could put all of us in danger."

"Then let me do you the favor of leaving."

"You can't do that!" Ari said.

"And why not?" James snapped with a turn of his head. "If you don't trust me enough to want me around I have no business being here."

"You can't blame us," Brett said, "for not trusting you after hearing all that, Philip, or James, or—"

"James." He stiffened his jaw. "Just stick with James."

"Great. That's not confusing at all."

"Guys," Adina whimpered, "what's going on?"

Brett opened his mouth, but for once he didn't have anything to say. He was so confused. He was just starting to like this James guy. He didn't want him to leave.

James let out a long sigh and held the bridge of his nose. "I was talking to my captor. Her and I know each other... from a while back. In honesty, any information about her holds no relevance to any of you and is none of your business—" he sent a sharp look to Brett. "So I don't know what you want me to explain. Yes, my name is Tiberius. Yes, I go by James. Yes, I keep a lot from you, and every person I meet, but for good reason. That reason being that you would be in more danger if you knew than just by being with me—but as you are all aware, danger is a part of all of our lives by nature of being ones running from the law, or whatever else it may be."

Brett was surprised when Adina's voice pierced the silence. "I understand," she said.

Brett sighed. "Yeah. I don't like it. But yeah. Sure." He couldn't help it when a layer of sarcasm crept over his tongue. "Just feel free to be this super mysterious man with three different names and super secret information about how corrupt King Blackfield is and—"

"Every kingdom is corrupt, Brett. That's no secret to anyone."

"Yeah, well. That... that's true. But I wasn't done with my list. A super mysterious man who knows a mysterious, needle-wielding woman from the south... and who, after getting knocked out by her drugs, manages to make her shed a tear, and, eventually, set him free..."

James glared over at Brett, his eyebrows drawing together in impatience.

Ari looked over to James with surprise. "You... you made her cry?"

James fluttered his eyes and turned his glare to Ari. "Well that certainly wasn't my goal," he said with a bitter almost-grin that quickly faded.

Rosaleen finally spoke up after being uncharacteristically silent for the entire duration of their arrival. "Then what was your goal?"

James looked at Rosaleen, who had her arms crossed and was glaring at him with a raised eyebrow.

"I didn't really have one. We were just talking. Something came up. A truth that was hard to swallow. And it really is none of your business what that was."

"The king killed her parents," Brett said.

James's head snapped in Brett's direction. "Something that should've been discussed in confidence." His upper lip twitched. "They were tears of grief and not for you to see."

"Sorry, sorry. Just had to, uh, rip off the bandage." He could see that James was seriously not pleased. "Sorry."

"Wait—" Rosaleen interrupted. "So are you saying, that we wasted all of this time and energy coming back for him, since she was already going to let him go anyway?"

"Well. Good to know you care," James muttered back.

"No, that's not..." She sighed. "Shouldn't we be going somewhere instead of standing around and talking about our feelings?"

"I don't know, I think it's been helpful, mostly," Adina replied softly. "But it is getting late, so... maybe we should start looking for a good place to spend the night."

James sighed, but nodded. "Agreed."

"So you're staying?" Brett asked.

James paused, hesitantly opening his mouth to answer, but closing it again, waiting a moment longer before actually replying.

"...Yes. That is, unless you want me gone."

"Naww," Brett said, elbowing James playfully. "We need you. You're the brains of the outfit. The mysterious brains. What'll we do without your secrets keeping us on edge all the time?"

James glanced down at Brett's elbow. "... I don't know how you expect me to respond to that."

"Well, bud, if you stick around we'll have plenty of time to find out!"
John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.
  





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Thu Apr 19, 2018 4:35 am
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sherlockhson says...



ROUND THREE
Roslaeen Streinberg
cowritten with @soundofmind


Rosaleen could finally say she agreed with the group as a whole as they decided to start heading as far away from the mansion and Kaia as possible. She chose to stay more towards the back of the group to collect her thougths about all that had happened.

What surprised her the most about the whole situation was that they wanted James to stay. Sure he made for a decent leader but he was also a huge liability. Kaia may have been about to let him go but there was no telling if she'd still be going after him or not in the end, and for all they knew James could have been lying just to get away from her. Who are you to judge him? You were the one that got him caught in the first place. You're no less a liability than him. The thought echoed in her head, but she quickly pushed it back. It was for the good of the group she reminded herself. He was a problem and he knew it.

James's reactions to Brett seemed to say that he was telling the truth. And if the reveal brought Kaia to tears even she must've known it was true.Maybe that's why you so foolishly trusted her as soon as you met her? Already had something in common without knowing it! She uncontrollably let out a sigh. All that mattered now was making sure nothing happened to her or Adina cause of everyone else’s bad choices.

Rosaleen wiped the sweat off her brow. They’d been traveling for two miserable days in the humid heat, and it seemed to only get warmer with each passing hour, making her exceptionally annoyed. That, mixed with the smell of the horses, and all of their sweaty body odor combined, everyone was feeling on edge.

As they set up camp, Brett and Ari eagerly volunteered to go down to the stream and catch more fish (which was a lot of what they had been eating: fish). The prospect of cool water splashing around their ankles was more than enough to motivate them to leave the others to the rest of the work.

I.E. Rosaleen, Adina, and James.

The three watched as Brett and Ari trotted off towards the stream. James slowly turned to the girls.

"That just leaves caring for the horses, setting up camp, and maybe scavenging to see if we can find any berry bushes or something like that. They normally grow in this area."

"Thanks for volunteering to tend to the horses, Mustache Man." Rosaleen replied as she looked at Adina. "Let's see about those berries then?"

James only gave Rosaleen a tired blink. Adina however, nodded.

"Sure."

Rosaleen lead the way away from camp. "Lets hope he's right and these aren't poisonous berries we're about to find..." She said mostly to herself.

"Well, it's easy to tell the difference, actually," Adina replied.

"Really?" Rosaleen asked sounding slightly surprised Adina knew this.

"Yeah. My mother liked to go berry picking in the wilds growing up. She said the poisonous ones always have a cherry red stem. But ones that aren't poisonous just have brown ones."

"That's a good thing to know... You were close with your mother i take it?"

Adina gazed at the ground sheepishly. "Somewhat," she replied in wistful quietness. "Were you... close with yours?"

Rosaleen stopped at her question, a part of her wanted to answer honestly since Adina had been kind enough to answer honestly, but a larger part didn't want to go down that path right now. She played off her abrupt stop by looking around and spotting a bush of berries. "And that would be one of the bushes I think." She said as she pointed towards it.

"Oh..." Adina lagged behind Rosaleen for a second, realizing she might've asked too sensitive a question. "Good eye."

An awkward silence settled in between the two of them as they started picking the best looking berries from the bush Rose had found. Rose knew the awkwardness was because of her ignoring the question and regret started looming over her.

"I-I uh..." She let out a sigh. "I didn't know my mother, she was murde-- She died when I was very young, my father raised me by himself."

Adina tried to hide it, but she looked surprised that Rosaleen had given a straight answer. There was a delay in her reply.

"I'm sorry..." she said quietly. "My mom's gone too. She uh... was like me. She had magic."

Rosaleen paused, unsure of how to reply to Adina, she filled the small void of silence by quickly picking a few more berries. "I-I see..." She finally said. "I didn't know magic could be passed down like that. I didn't know many people at all who had it though... You're only the second in fact."

"Wait," Adina stared at her. "You know someone else who can do magic? Out here? They haven't been caught yet?" There was a small glimmer of hope in her eyes - as if, maybe it was possible, for a magic user to survive in the Outlands.

Rosaleen stopped again, painful memories of Ruddlan coming back to her. The feelings only became more intense when she looked at Adina and noticed her expression. She looked as if she were hoping to hear of some secret place or way for magic users to live out in the wilds.

"It's uh...Not exactly, it's... Complicated." She managed to get out before quickly returning to berry picking. "I think we'll need a lot for Ari, yeah?" She said, awkwardly trying to change the subject.

The light quickly died in Adina's eyes, and she bit her lip. "Uh, yeah. We could probably just pick the whole bush clean," she said as she added more berries to the pooch she'd made with her skirt.

"Berries and fish though? Maybe that mustache man is a chef too... And maybe Ari is part giant huh?" Rose tried poorly to pull the conversation away from their sad pasts and more into the current situation.

"Ari is pretty big," Adina smiled, laughing to ease out of the awkwardness. "But I don't think berries and fish really go well together, haha. If we were in the city we'd have more options. But this is good too, though. Better than uh, starving."

"Well, we still might if those two knuckleheads can't catch any fish... actually I don't know how well they can fish without tools..." She squinted at the thought of returning to no fish being caught.

"I think they sharpen sticks or something?" Adina wondered out loud. "They're both from the isles. Maybe they just grab the fish with their hands, haha."

Rose let out a chuckle at the thought of Brett and Ari flopping about trying to catch fish with their bare hands, she quickly regained her composure though and tried to play it off as clearing her throat.

"Y-Yeah I bet those two idiots would try something like that." She replied but couldn't help a small grin.

Adina watched Rosaleen out of the corner of her eye with a smirk. "Probably just an excuse to splash water everywhere, since it's so hot out."

"Well I hope they get that out of their system before we come back... if Brett splashes me with water i'll drown him." She tried to make that threat sound non serious, but in the end she was mostly serious.

Adina replied with a bit of weak laughter wondering just how serious Rose was before they both decided they had picked enough berries and decided to head back to camp to see how things had been going while they were away. As they got close they could hear the crackle of a campfire and the smell of cooking fish. Brett and Ari had been successful from the looks of things. Adina and Rose took seats around the campfire with the rest of the gang and they started munching on the berries as they waited for the fish to fully cook. Rose quickly returned to her usual attitude and Adina had decided to sit close to James.

Aside from Brett inching closer to the fire to occasionally check on the fish, the group sat a distance from the fire, simply because of the uncomfortable heat. James looked hesitant for a brief moment, before he broke the brief silence before Brett or Ari could start talking again.

"So Adina," he cleared his throat. "I've been meaning to ask you about something, if it's alright."

Everyone looked at James curiously, but Adina almost looked a little worried as she looked over with her mouth full of berries.

"It's about your magic."

Adina forced herself to chew faster, and swallowed.

"I think you should practice it," he said.

Adina stared at him, wide-eyed. "You think I should -" she stuttered. "But it's -"

"I don't see why you can't hone your skills. You're wanted anyway, so you might as well get good at what you're wanted for."

Adina frowned, and her hand brushed over a small book tucked in her skirt. Though the thought seemed to trouble her, she looked to be seriously considering it.

"Do you really think that's... safe?" Brett asked.

James raised an eyebrow. "What, practicing magic? No one's this deep into the forest besides us."

"No, I mean, since she's so... new to it. Right?"

"What does practicing magic even look like?" Ari hopped in to ask.

"I think it's a good idea." Rose finally spoke and looked over at Adina with a smirk. "I think it'd be great if you could use your magic better, to help you take care of yourself and what not." What she really meant was so she could protect herself better than Rose herself or anyone else here could. Her thoughts slowly drifted back to Ruddlan and the young mage she encountered there as her smirk slowly faded.

Adina's gaze drifted to Rosaleen, and they made eye contact. Adina knew what Rosaleen meant. They all did. If she could use her magic better she'd have a better chance at surviving in the Outlands. If she could use her magic as a way to keep herself safe, she just might make it.

"I mean," she started. "I'd like to." She cleared her throat. "I want to."

James appeared satisfied with that response.

"We can figure out what practice looks like as we go," he explained. "Since none of us here use magic, it'll be learning for all of us."

Adina nodded, playing with the small book in her hands.

"Well if that's the case," she said with a small grin. "Maybe I can be the one to teach all of you magic," she chuckled.

"That would definitely be interesting," Brett added.

"Oh! I'd love that!" Ari said with a big smile.

"A giant using magic? Would love to see that." Rose replied as she leaned back and rested up against a tree and closed her eyes, trying to fight off the memories shifting around in her head.
  





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Featherstone says...



Ardeshir
cowritten with @soundofmind


There was a loud crack as Ari's foot came into contact with what used to be a small log, and is now two small logs. He stumbles, nearly falls, and then catches himself, laughing heartily. Philip-Tiberius-James is on the path right behind him and nearly runs into the giant in front of him at the sudden halt.
"Ey, sorry 'bout that, Ph- er, Tibe- er, I mean, James!" Ari says cheerfully.

James steadies himself. "You alright?"

"Yes, siree!" he says, brushing the leaf debris off his shirt. "Hope I didn' make ya trip 'r nothin'."

"No, I'm good."

"Glad t' hear it!" he beams, continuing his way down the twisting game trail to the creek where they're going to get dinner for the night, James trailing silently behind him.
"So, ya like fishin'?" Ari asks, trying to strike up conversation.

James shrugs. "My lifestyle necessitates that I do if I want to eat."

"I've always liked fishin'!" he says. "Sometimes the sharks would be a bit scary, though. I got bit once! Lotsa people died from sharks. Out here, ya ain't havin' t' worry 'bout them, though! That's good!"

James raises a brow at Ari. "You got bitten... by a shark?"

"Yep! Nearly took me leg off but then I got thick bones. Thick skull, too, that's what me momma always said!"

James's eyebrow furrows as he looks at Ari with a mix of disbelief and concern. "It's a wonder you've made it this far in one piece."

He laughs. "Nah, not really! I just kicked it in the nose like Papa always taught me! That's what he said. If ya were out 'n the water 'n ya were fishin' 'r somethin, sometimes the blood attracted 'em, 'n so if ya got bit 'r one got too close, ya just kick the nose 'cause it's real sensitive! 'n I had my harpoon, too, so I got 'im in the gills 'n he let go and I jumped back in me boat and got me back home so Ma could patch me up."

James's brows go from furrowed to raised as Ari tells the story, and he looks at him with a slow blink. "That's... uh. That's... wow."

"I still got a tooth from it, too, somewhere on me 'ere." He digs through his pockets, and finally finds it in his sock. It's a pretty good-sized tooth, about an inch in length, and serrated as most shark teeth are. He pulls it out of a little leather pouch. "I made it into a necklace, but it got cut, so it ain't nothin' more 'n a tooth now."

James leans in slightly, looking closely at the tooth. "Huh," he hums with interest. "That's really something."

"It was one of those ones w' the slit pupils 'n the black tips on their fins. Ain't big as them whites, but big 'nuff, that's fer sure. Surprised another 'un didn' get me on me way up. A saw a couple, but I was in the boat 'fore they got there. Made a hole in it, though, I tell ya - Pa never forgave me fer that one, no sir."

"Sounds like your father cared a lot about you."

"Aye, have good parents, I do," he says. "Taught me good, that's fer sure. Ain't wantin' t' let 'em down, I tell ya."

"Well, it doesn't seem like you have," James replies.

He shrugs. "I'm hopin' I ain't, but bein' wanted ain't exactly what they were thinkin' o' as success, 'r anythin' else but disgraceful, really. After me brother, musta hit 'em real hard."

"Ah," James pauses, quiet for a moment, before continuing with a gentler tone. "Is your brother an outlaw as well?"

Ari shakes his head, his smile disappearing for the first time. "Uh, nah. He died few years back, 'fore all this happened. He was a guard, ya see, 'n was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, I supp'se."

James looks up, watching as Ari's smile fades.

"I'm sorry that happened, Ari."

He shrugs, perking up again and smiling, though his eyes betray his sorrow. "I mean, he died good, 'n lots die younger, so it ain't that bad. Least 'e lived good. That's what I'm thinkin', anyways, but I ain't sure if it matters much in the long run, really."

James looks away at the creek coming up ahead of them, his expression solemn but unsure.

"I'm not very sure either," he says quietly.

"Well, least he ain't 'round fer all this chaos I guess. He wouldn' be happy w' me, no sir." He sits down on a rock and takes off his boots, then his socks, rolling up his pants.

James follows suit and does the same. "At least the chaos means things are rarely ever boring."

"That's fer sure, but I was always thinkin' sharks were chaos 'nuff fer me. It's my own fault, though, really, so I can't be complainin'," Ardeshir replies, wading into the creek.

James only hums a "hm" in reply, staying back as he grabs a sturdy stick from the ground. He pulls out a knife, and begins to sharpen the end.

Ari flops through the water nearly as gracefully as a fish on land, often making contact with the slick scales but unable to hold on due to the small size.

James watches from his seat on the rock, looking up at Ari occasionally as he finishes sharpening the tip. Once done, he pockets the knife and follows Ari into the creek, his eyes following the flow of fish in the stream. After a moment of waiting, he strikes the stick into the water and pulls it out. On the tip, there was a fish.

Ardeshir comes back out of the water, shaking it off his face and glancing over at James, noticing that he's spearing them instead. He never thought of using something like that on the small fish - back at home, there was never something worth getting that was too small to grab, so only big ones were stabbed.

James slides the fish up the stick and kept at it in the water. Though he misses a few, he ends up catching four more. He briefly looks back at Ari.

"Everything alright?" He asks, noticing that Ari stepped out of the creek.

"Yep! Can I borrow yer knife? These fishies too small fer me normal method o' gettin' em!"

James wades back up to Ari, handing him his knife. "Sure."

"Thanks," he grins, then grabs his own stick that's exactly the same size as James' despite his larger form. He begins whittling down the point. James watches for a brief moment before turning back to fishing.

A few minutes later and Ari's back in the water, perfectly imitating James' fishing style as he watches the water and makes a calculated strike, coming back up with a silver smolt and holding it up with a proud grin, like a little kid who just drew something he thinks is a masterpiece.

James looks over, catching Ari's eye, and seeing the fish. He grins ever so slightly at Ari's childlike enthusiasm, but his grin slowly fades as his eyes focus in on the growing mustache underneath Ari's nose. Or, what ought to have been a full mustache, but was was rather sparsely grown. He blinks a few times, and shakes his head, looking at his stick full of fish and determining it time to get a new stick to fill up.

He slides it up the skewer like James did, and proceeds to continue stabbing fish at a champion pace - aiming isn't difficult for him despite the distortion of the water, as it's something he's been doing since he was a little kid. James returns with another stick, but looks at how many fish Ari has amassed in his short absence.

"You think that'll be enough for tonight?" He asks. "Unless you're feeling exceptionally hungry."

He shakes his head. "No, sirree, I'm thinkin' yer right, this should be 'nuff fer us all, w' some left over."

James nods. "Good. Then we ought to head back."

"Yep!" he agrees, stringing the fish on a long piece of twine.

After putting his boots back on, James simply grabs his skewer full of fish and gestures for Ari to follow when he's ready.

Ardeshir starts up the trail, bounding up it with his usual energy, with James lagging slightly behind him. Due to the large movements of Ari's, one of the fish he strung up falls off as the knot loosens. As the giant of a man leans down to get it, a tawny fur ball leaps out of the bushes and attacks the fish, rolling around with it.

"Ursuku!" he exclaims with a grin.

James watches the cat nab the fish with steely eyes, and pulls on Ari's arm for him to get up.

He scoops up the cat and the fish, standing. "I thought we lost ya, little bear!" he tells it.

"...Make sure it doesn't get into our food," James grumbles. "Or more of it, rather."

Ari chuckles. "Don' worry, he won' go eatin' nothin'. Will ya, Ursuku?" he scratches its chin and it kneads his arm contentedly.

James narrows his eyes at the kitten in Ari's arms and frowns, but proceeds to hold his tongue.

They return to camp and he lets Ursuku down with his fish, then grabs a knife from one of the packs and starts gutting. James sticks his skewer in the ground beside Ari and goes to check on the others, but calls back to Ari.

"I'll be back in a minute."

"Yes, siree!" Ari calls back, tossing a tail to the baby cougar and watching it as it rolls around contentedly with the fish bits.
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Ernest Hemmingway

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Wolfical says...



Brett Crawford
cowritten with @soundofmind


"Hey James," Adina said, looking up from the berry bush. "Do you know where Ursuku is?"

Brett turned around and saw James coming towards them, his rolled-up pants and most of his shirt dripping with water.

James looked displeased at the mention of the small cat. "With Ari."

"Good," Adina replied. "I was worried he'd run off. Can we go see him, Rose? We can find berries elsewhere."

"Sure," Rosaleen said. "I think we've just about plucked this bush bare anyway." She took their basket and dumped the sweet red jewels into the covered one they kept at camp. Flies buzzed at the lid and Brett swatted them away as he continued to stack dry logs and sticks next to the coal of last night's fire.

"How'd fishing go?" Brett asked as the ladies departed.

"Fine," James said. "And everything's well with you?"

"As fine as things'll be when you're an outlaw."

"... that's fair, but I was talking about getting your task done. Which it seems you have," he said, glancing down at the pile of wood.

"Ah. Yes." He looked at the wood too. "I hope it doesn't rain tonight."

James looked up at the sky, which was partially cloudy. "If it does finding shelter will be a pain."

"Yeah." When he saw the conversation was going nowhere, he decided he'd dip into his past. "I've spent many nights in the rain. When I worked for my brother, I'd have to be up most of the night keeping watch, out on the deck."

"Hm," James hummed with a nod. "And you never got sick doing that?"

"Naw. I think it's in our blood. Ari and I - we're half fish."

James scoffed a half-laugh. "That would explain a lot."

The corner of Brett's mouth twitched in a grin. "That's one thing I hate about the Outlands - it's always so dry and hot. I miss the sea. Y'know what? I take what I said earlier back: I hope it rains tonight. This God-forsaken land needs it."

James slowly turned his gaze to Brett with his eyebrows raised. "... and you're sure you're alright?"

"Well..." Brett sighed. "Don't you miss your home?"

James's eyes quickly flicked away. "No."

"Where is your home, anyway?"

"I haven't had a 'home' for years, Brett."

Brett picked up a stick from his firewood pile and used it to indicate the ground opposite the old fireplace. "Sit down, would ya? It's hurting my neck to look up at you this long."

James looked down at Brett with narrowed eyes, but obliged, sitting stiffly beside Brett.

"Why're you holding back?" Brett asked. "What's the use anymore?"

James clenched his jaw for a moment as he looked away, resting an arm on a raised knee. "I can think of a few reasons. But it's not... it's not personal. My trust is hard earned and something I can't afford to give freely. For the sake of my own sanity."

"Hard earned, eh? How much harder do I have to try?"

James looked out into space for a moment, in thought. "I don't know, actually. But with most people, I come up with a completely fabricated past from which to draw stories and recreate myself so that they don't know who I really am. That is, unless they know who I am and that I'm wanted. Or in your case, also heard the briefest amount of information via eavesdropping. So I really don't know anymore. This is different."

"Wouldn't it help to be able to share your past, to get it off your chest? I could... I could be a friend for you, y'know?" He leaned forward and playfully nudged James in the shoulder. "What's the use in being so uptight?"

James gave no visual response, his face still a wall of stone. "Loose lips get people killed," he said quietly.

Brett drew back and threw his hands up. "Alright, I get it. Actually I don't. But I've never heard you say so many words at once in my life so I'll call that a victory."

James finally looked at him, making eye contact. "The people who are after me... it's not just a matter of treason or betrayal for them. It's personal. Vengeful. And they won't stop until they have me. Maybe it's different for you and the others because you're running from the law, but the law is not -" he stutters "-was not your..." he looked away again, face full of tension. He closed his eyes and let out a sigh.

"If knowing the bare minumum about me keeps people like you out of the path of my fate, I don't care how many times I have to lie about who I really am."

Brett, for once, was the first to look away. "I don't know what you've done in your past, or what happened to you on accident or whatever, but geez. I thought I was unlucky. Seriously, what happened? No - you... you don't have to answer that. Not that you would. I think I might get it. It's what you've asked of us all along. To be your friend, even though... we haven't the slightest idea who you really are."

A pause. "In my experience, no one really wants to be friends with someone who remains a stranger."

Brett nodded. "That's why it's tough. It's why I keep trying to crack you open." He sighed. "But I don't think you're a stranger to me anymore - it's not that extreme. I might not know your past, and you're stubborn about hiding your emotions, but... I have reason to believe you're a good guy."

James stared at the ground blankly, outwardly still an emotionless face. "...Thanks."

Brett's face suddenly broke out into a smile when he felt a drop of rain on his nose.

James looked over to Brett with brows drawn in confusion, but then he too felt the light drops on rain on his face. In contrast to Brett's smile, his expression immediately deflated into a miserable frown.

"Look," he said, voice filled with unenthusiastic sarcasm. "It's raining for you."

"Hah!" Brett cried. He joyfully got up and began gathering their things together, occasionally pointing his mouth zenithward and catching raindrops on his tongue.

James got up and sighed, following suit and calling out to the others.

"Everybody pack your things! We're going to try and escape this rain."

"No, no," Brett said. "We're going to take a delightful journey through the rain in search of a place where those of us who aren't half fish can sleep."

James half rolled his eyes. "However you want to put it, we're getting out of here," he said as he hopped atop his horse.

Adina, Rosaleen, and Ari, kitten in tow, filed back into camp.

"Aw," Ari said. "I jus' finished guttin' the fish. An' with the berries too we were gonna have a nice meal."

"I wouldn't call it nice," Rose said. "Seems like we have fish and berries everyday. Anyway, we can eat as we ride."

Brett, of course, opted to go on foot. He slung some of their supplies onto his back and then skipped off through the forest, leading the way.
Last edited by Wolfical on Sun Jun 24, 2018 4:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.
  





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Lael says...



Kaia Nesbitt


So James' companions came for him after all, mused Kaia. She sat against a tree in the same clearing, flipping her dagger over and over as she thought. There was no use in chasing. She'd already let him go herself, so what he did now was of no concern to her.

But . . . She closed her eyes. If what he said is true, then so many years have been wasted. Because I was tricked into serving--helping--my enemy.

Twelve years, and he was under my nose the whole time.


Kaia's hand tightened around the dagger hilt, and she spun the blade downward and stabbed it into the grass.

King Blackfield wouldn't get away with it.

She stood and made to walk out of the forest, but stopped in her tracks. But on the other hand, what if James was lying? Her cheeks warmed at the memory of crying like a child in front of the man, but it was soon replaced by another.

--<>--

Fourteen-year-old Kaia dropped another herb into the pot of boiling water, then stirred the mixture with the wooden spoon one hand while her other hand trailed over the instructions in her potions book, making sure she didn't miss any information.

" 'Add two drops of fire flower nectar,' " she read softly aloud. She crossed the room to the shelf of ingredients and carefully picked up the small vial of red liquid. As she headed back to the pot, she began to recite its attributes to herself.

"Fire flower nectar comes from the rare fire flower," she opened the vial, "which is highly reactive. Many have . . . died in attempt to harvest the nectar." She began to tilt the glass tube slowly. "When used in very small amounts, the nectar is good for flushing toxins from the body or warming a cold person." One drop touched the surface of the concoction, and a small puff of steam accompanied a quiet sizzling sound.

She winced at the sudden outburst. Without her noticing, her movement caused a second drop to fall into her potion. Quickly recovering, she glanced down at the footnote for that step in the recipe.

She read, " 'It is essential that the correct amount of nectar is added.' " She nodded and kept reading as she tilted the vial again to release another drop. " 'Should excess nectar be added, its high reactivity will cause the potion to--' "

Before Kaia could even blink, she was thrown across the room amid the noise of an explosion and glass shattering.

In the next moment, she groaned and pulled herself up to a sitting position. She knew she was unscathed, though disheveled, but on assessing the room around her, she wrapped her arms around her knees and buried her head. She trembled as tears began to leak from the corners of her eyes.

Nearly everything was destroyed. All the rare ingredients, her tools, her instruction book--all were strewn in pieces.


His Majesty will kill me. Forget receiving a lashing from her potions instructor, these ingredients must have taken years for the king to gather. Now, all of it was wasted, ruined. It's all my fault.

After what seemed like an eternity, she heard heavy footsteps running in her direction. A set of hands lay on her shoulders.

"Kaia?" She whimpered at the sound of the familiar voice, though it was oddly quiet and gentle. "Child, are you all right?"

Kaia raised her head to meet the eyes of King Blackfield, who crouched down in front of her. Another sob escaped her.

"I-It's all my fault, Your Majesty. I--I wasn't careful enough--"

She stopped as the king rested a hand on her cheek. He was never affectionate, in the two years she'd been under his care.

"Hush," he said, and wiped a tear away with his thumb. "All of these items can be replaced. But there is only one of Kaia Nesbitt in this world. I vowed to your late mother and father that I would raise you well. You will be able to try again and again, and one day you'll be the best poisoner in the four kingdoms. But today, why don't you take a rest?"

Kaia allowed herself a small smile and some hope as she nodded. "Yes, Your Majesty." It was there that she resolved to be the best poisoner, the best assassin, the best helper for this man who was like a second father.


--<>--

What was truth, and what was a lie? The stern, dark, but certain life under the monarch of the Moonlight Kingdom, or the painful yet compassionate revelation from James, one labeled as a traitor when he appeared to be only trying to do what was right?

She shook her head and mused, "Mother, Father, I thought I had everything figured out, but it seems I've lost my way without you.

"Might as well go back and sleep on it for now."
In God I Trust

"as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death."
Philippians 1:20
  





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soundofmind says...



Tiberius James Hemming


It took a long while for them to find cover from the swift downpour of rain. Ari and Brett, being part fish, didn't seem particularly bothered. But with one quick look at James, it might've been hard to tell the difference between him and a wet cat - so prevalent was his misery on his face at being soaked to the bone. At the very least, it was a warm, humid rain, and not the kind of cold that meant sickness and shivering. All it meant was the discomfort of wet clothes sticking to you and mud slush unavoidably getting pasted to your shoes, the horses's hooves, and anything else it got kicked up on.

After trudging through forest for what felt like too long, they finally found a dense area of forest, shaded by the thick cover of low-hanging trees. At that point, whatever light was shining through the cloud cover had faded as night came about, and they all hopped down onto the forest floor, wet, and tired. Or at least - he was tired.

Brett was still soaking in the rain with arms outstretched as if he was the one who made it happen.

"Don't spend all night out in the rain," James said from the shade of the trees to Brett's silhouette.

"I told you I'm part fish," Brett retorted.

"Doesn't mean a fish can't drown," Rose called out, with her usual, inflammatory tone. Brett's arms flopped down with a wet smack.

"Sure you aren't part shark or something?" Brett muttered as he slowly walked over to them.

"Every rose has thorns," Rose said in a mocking voice.

"Ha, clever," Brett muttered again.

There was a brief pause of silence as the five tied up the horses and rested on the mostly dry, and fortunately soft, forest floor.

"...Everyone's okay?" Adina asked.

"Yeah," Ari said as he stretched out with a yawn.

"Elated," Brett replied. "Or was. Until -"

"I'm fine," Rose interrupted.

"How about everyone just goes to sleep," James answered wearily, happy to hear nothing in reply but the soft sounds of shuffling as everyone lied down.

"I can take first watch," Adina offered with a quiet whisper.

"Alright. Everyone just... wake up whomever when your shift is up, takes turns, you know how it is," James whispered back, to which everyone only replied with soft hums of something like "okay." And it didn't take long for them all to fall asleep.

--<>--


James was left for the last watch. Which meant he was the first to see the sun come up, and he was the first to see that their shelter in the forest was not all that it seemed. What, in the darkness of night, was easily mistaken for just another patch of forest, was quickly revealed to be what looked like a cluster of what looked like abandoned griffin nests.

James quickly stood, drawing the attention of Posie, who he calmed with a gentle brush of his hand on her snout. As he pet her head with one hand he looked down at the others - still sleeping - seeing the reality of their position. They were sleeping right in one of the nests.

Keeping his hands steadily petting the horse, he told himself this was no cause for alarm. Occupied griffin nests would have griffins in them. If the griffins were still living there, there would at least be-

James's heart sank as he caught sight of two white, round eggs peeking out from a nest a few yards away.

In a second, he was slapping everyone's heads, and shaking them awake.

"Get up," he ordered harshly as Rosaleen pushed him away.

His tone brought the others to whatever amount of alertness they could manage at the break of dawn.

"We're in a griffin's nest," he hissed.

Rose, formerly insistent on remaining curled up on the ground, leapt up onto her feet in an instant, eyes wide. "Dragons above," she cursed under her breath, and panicked, scrambling atop her horse, nearly dragging Adina with her.

"I don't mess with griffins," she growled.

Adina managed to secure herself behind Rose.

"Neither do I, so let's-" James froze when he heard a branch crack in the direction he saw the eggs. As if in unison, he and the others all slowly turned their heads to see a fully grown griffin standing above her eggs, and two other griffins peeking out from trees behind it.

No one seemed to move, until the griffin suddenly let out an ear-piercing screech.

"RUN!" James yelled.

Rose and Adina, on horseback, were already on it.
  





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Featherstone says...



Ardeshir
cowritten with @soundofmind


The griffin landed, screeching on the top of her lungs. Her feathers were up all down her back and her aquiline crest was fully raised, giving her an even more formidable appearance than she already had - after all, an eagle-lion-creature is quite daunting in and of itself.

Ardeshir looked up at it, heart pounding in his ears. For a moment he found himself frozen to the spot in that moment of indecision: to run or to fight? But his brain didn't have enough time to think that through, so he did what he always did: the stupid thing.

He raised himself up and bellowed back at the griff, drawing his greatsword and distributing his weight evenly as he made eye contact with the massive bird-creature and dared it to come at him.

"What, are you insane?!" screeched Brett.

He glanced back for a moment at the sound of Brett's voice, opening his mouth to reply. The griffin reacted to this second of distraction with lightning speed and before Ari could actually say anything it was interrupted by a yelp of pain when onyx talons sunk into his arm. He dropped his sword, his fingers balling into a fist as he took a swing at the avian face. It was both taken aback and angered by this particular reaction and its toes ratcheted down even tighter on the massive man's arm despite the fact it didn't actually get hit.

"Brett, you have to grab its head and cover its eyes!" James shouted.

"I'M TRYING NOT TO DIE!" Brett yelled back. "Why don't YOU do it?"

"Whatever y' be doin' hurry it up!" Ardeshir interjected, pivoting to get in closer to the griffin without jerking on his arm too much.

With a hurried and panicked reluctance, Brett leapt atop the griffin's back, scrambling for a hold before grabbing for its head. The griffin flapped its wings with fury but Brett held on, getting his hands over its eyes.

It batted wildly and jerked back, its grip loosening on Ari without fully letting go. It was enough, however, and the man grabbed its hind claw and pushed it back, the rest of the foot opening with the single toe. The clicking of tendons unratcheting in its toes were fully audible. He rushed forward to help Brett before the bucking, screeching, clawing griffin dislodged Brett - if he was thrown and landed on the ground, the griffin would kill him without a second thought.

James swooped in to the side of the griffin, slicing under its wing, giving Brett just the few seconds he needed to hop off the griffin's back and book it out of the way. Unfortunately for James, as soon as the window opened to get under its wing, it closed, and wind came flapping down on him with force.

The griffin turned on the fallen swordsman with vehemence, golden eyes piercing as it reared up, ready to plunge both massive feet into him for a killing blow. He might've been able to roll out of the way, but luckily that wasn't put to the test, for Ardeshir jumped in the way and slammed into the griffin in an attempt to wrestle it back. He wrapped his arms around it and leaned into the attack, shoving it a few inches backwards in the eyrie, but the griffin wasn't taking that for long. It bit him in the shoulder and its feline muscles bunched, retaliating with fury and nearly making Ari trip over James - who, as chance would have it, was back on his feet. Ari yelled at the creature and pushed back, leaving them wrestling in a match that seemed to be a stalemate. That was, for the moment; he wasn't sure how long he could hold it back.

"AIN'T NO 'UN KILLIN' ME FRIENDS 'CEPT ME!" he bellowed.

"THAT DOESN'T MAKE ME WANT TO HELP YOU ANY MORE THAN I ALREADY DO!" Rose yelled from atop the horse as she galloped back towards the guys with Adina.

"YA LIKE US MORE 'N YA ADMIT, ELSE YA WOULDN' BE HERE!" Ari says, voice strained. His muscles were bulging and his veins are popping out with the strain of testing his own strength against a griffin's. A lion or an eagle would be enough; mix them and make it the size of a horse, and even his own great strength being enough was in jeopardy.

Coming up behind them, they could hear the steady thumping of horse hooves. James and Brett hurried out of the way as Rose stormed ahead.

"Move, you big idiot!" Rose barked.

"I can't!" he protests. "If I be lettin' go it'll knock me o'er 'n then I ain't gettin' back up!"

The pounding of hooves drew closer. Rose held a giant stick out in front of the horse like a jousting pole, while its tip was ablaze with fire. They weren't far from Ari.

The griffin jerked back when it saw the flames and Ardeshir took advantage, roaring as he used the last of his strength to push it to the side, using his whole body and shoulder behind the move. The already-startled monster stumbled and beat its wings to maintain balance, giving Ari the second he needed to leap out of the way before Rose came riding in with her glowing lance. The griffin didn't need further urging to leave: it leapt off the side of the nest and took off, disappearing into the sky and leaving them with a sweaty, bloody, and now sooty mess to clean up, the other two departing after it. Fire was something even they won't challenge.

Ari didn't move, staring at the clouds and breathing hard in the duff. "Nnnngggghhhhh," he groaned. His arm was throbbing and the shoulder the griffin bit didn't feel much better, not to mention that he was pretty sure he pulled at least four or five muscles and a few tendons.

James and Brett hurried over to Ari as Rose shouted at the griffins flying away, waving her torch around.

"Yeah! You better leave! You freaky oversized birds! Scared of fire! Ha!"

James put a hand on Ari's shoulder as he looked at Ari's bleeding arm that was pierced by the griffion's giant talons.

"Good gods, man, you took on a griffin," Brett rasped, still somewhat breathless.

He looked up at him, panting. "Me mum always said I ain't got 'nuffin 'tween me ears but impulsive stupidity....I think I mighta fractured somethin'...what's 'impulsive' be meanin'?"

"It means you don't think you before you act," James said quickly, still scanning Ari for injuries.

"Oof," he mumbled, sitting up and shaking his head. "Boy, haven't had a fight that good since t' shark," he grinned goofily. "Didn' think I'd get somethin' that exhileratin' 'gain, but I guess w' y'all I shoulda been knowin'! Think I'll get some good scars outta that? Gotta have some proof fer this one 'r ain't no 'un 'll be believin' me."

James gave Ari a firm pat on his shoulder, as if to tell him to calm down.

Unfortunately for James, he was hopelessly dense, and it completely flew over his head as he stood up. He did that a bit too quickly and swayed, going pale. "Oooooh I don' think the sky's supp'sed t' be down there like that," he commented unsteadily.

James and Brett hurried to steady the big man on either side.

"I think you oughta sit down for a minute, Ari," Brett said.

"Just a minute, until the sky's upright for you. Then we need to get out of these nests before the griffins come back," James added.

"I don' gotta know which way's up t' be ridin' a horse," he replied, starting to walk before stumbling again and nearly faceplanting. "Uh...maybe ya ain't wrong after all..." he plopped down where he's standing before he falls over. James and Brett struggled to catch his fall as Rose and Adina came back over on Rosey.

"Geez, you all look horrible," Rose muttered. "Then again, you usually do."

Adina slid off the back of the horse, hurrying over to Ari. Ursuku crawled from her shoulder down her arm into Ari's lap.

"Are you going to be okay?" Adina asked, before looking up at James and Brett. "He's gonna be okay, right?"

"Define okay," Rose said, still at it with giving lip.

James ignored Rose. "He should be fine, but we'll need to patch him up as soon as possible."

Ari looked down at his shirt sleeve. "Aw, there's big holes in it...well, ain't no use keepin' it in this state," he decided, pulling it off with his good arm and proceeding to tear it in half, bunching up one half to push against his arm and the other half to tie it down. He could tie a knot surprisingly well with one hand - must be all those hours fishing being put to good use.

Rose audibly rolled her eyes.

Brett came over with a canteen of water. "Let's clean it first before you start dabbing at it with your shirt."

"YEAH. When did you last wash it anyway?" Rose groaned.

"Well it rained yesterday 'n I don' think washin' it 'll do much good if it keeps on dumpin' blood the way it is," Ari replied with a shrug and quickly regretting it.

James gave another look around the cluster of griffin nests before he let out a sigh.

"Let's just get moving. Slowly."

Ari stood again, this time more carefully, before he got on the nearest horse, which happened to be Rosey. In the process, the cat on him falls on the ground and gives him a pointed look, which he doesn't notice. "A'ight, c'mon Ursuku, ain't wantin' t' be gettin' nommed on no more by them griffs, do we?" The kitten, seemingly forgiving him for dumping him on the ground a moment ago, climbed up his leg and came to rest on his lap. He smiled, scratching it behind the ears. All in all, it'd been a pretty good day.
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Ernest Hemmingway

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." - Richard Bach
  





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Wolfical says...



Brett Crawford
cowritten with @FalconerGal9086 and @soundofmind


The grapple with the griffins exhausted Brett and the others, and due to Ari's delicate, bloody condition, they picked their way through the forest slowly and quietly. Brett, at least, could now add "ridden a griffin" to his list of accomplishments, a worse experience even than the first time he rode a horse; at least with the latter, when he was thrown he had no fear of being eaten by his steed.

Walking deeper into the muddy forest reminded him of home, where it seemed to rain every other day. The streets were almost always muddy, and on the worst days, long planks of wood had to be stretched across the streets and over the river of rainwater—ignorant of the gutters, it washed to the sea.

The night that would ruin his life forever hosted such a river. Brett was in a foreign town, searching for a few minutes of warmth and whiskey before he returned to work on the ship. But then the storm picked up, and as he gazed drearily from a window seat, the river swallowed the planks. He called for another bottle.

By the time the river was calm enough and another plank was thrown over, several hours had passed. A couple of drunkards laughed as Brett stepped up to the plank to walk across, then slipped and fell into the water. He tried to stand up, but the water, although shallow, surged forward and knocked him over again. He was washed down the street, tossed into the darkness like a fish onto sand. It would have been disorienting enough for a sober man, but for Brett, he was utterly lost. He was drawn by the lights from the ships, which he supposed were from the town, and before long he was stumbling onto the docks and crawling across the plank to his brother's ship.

His brother would help him—but no, he was God knows where, safe and warm in some other town, basking in the riches of his success. It was that thought that had made him want to drown in his drink in the first place. What had he done wrong with his life? He and Matt had been on this earth for the exact same number of days, raised by the same parents, given the same opportunities; how was one so much better off than the other?

"Because you're a fool," Brett said to himself. He didn't want to remember the rest of the night. It was all hazy and confusing, anyway. One last image flickered in his mind before he shook off the reverie for good: his terrified face fractured into a million pieces in the broken mirror, where he wasn't sure whether the spray of blood was on himself or the glass.

He tried to think of something funny to make himself laugh, but nothing worked. He forced a smile anyway, and skipped along through the mud.

Behind him, James could be overheard discussing plans with Rosaleen and Adina.

"Ari's gonna need more than his filthy shirt to keep that thing clean and healing well," Rosaleen muttered.

"I'm sure medicine would help too. Some healing herbs or something?" Adina added.

"AAGH URSUKU STOP!" Ari yelped, tumbling off his horse and into the mud with the kitten. "Ow! No! Don't - ack!"

Adina hurried over to Ari, puling the little cat's sharp claws out of Ari's bloody bandage. "Aaaa! No! Bad kitty!"

"'e was just tryin' to be playin'," Ari sniffed, but there were now a few small holes in his bandage with blood leaking through it. He proceeded to pick up the kitten and put it on his shoulders out of habit before yelping again and dropping a very annoyed and now very wet feline in the mud.

Adina picked up Ursuku and gave Ari a concerned smile. "I'll hold on to Ursuku for now."

James and Rosaleen exchanged a look of mutual understanding.

"You and Adina could take a trip into the nearest town. It'd be a day's trip, but it's necessary," James replied. "We can stay back with Ari, and meet you outside town."

Rose nodded.

"For once you two agree on something," Brett said. "Aw, Ari... you're still bleeding everywhere." He was uncharacteristically bothered by the dripping bandages—he shuddered, remembering the dead sailors.

He glanced down. "Oh, yeah." He paused for a minute, then looked back up at Brett. Without a further word nor explanation he stood up, walked over, and grabbed Brett in a giant, muddy, bear hug.

"Ooof." Brett was stiff with surprise for a few seconds before relaxing and hugging Ari back.

Rosaleen blinked a few times, watching the exchange before clearing her throat. "Uhhh... what exactly is happening here? Do guys just spontaneously decide to give bro hugs? Is this normal?"

Adina gave Rose a scolding look, even though she was equally confused. Rosaleen awkwardly side-stepped past them over to Adina and cleared her throat. Again.

"Well I guess that's our cue to go! You guys just keep uh... hugging it out! We're gonna go uh... get stuff. Yeah." And with that she quickly grabbed Adina's hand and pulled her over to Rosey. They mounted quickly and headed off into the forest, Rosaleen pulling out a floppy wet map while Adina held on to Ursuku and turned around, giving a little wave goodbye to James, who was just watching everything with an unreadable expression.

Brett gently pulled away from Ari, not wanting to hurt him.

He turned to James, since he can't just give Brett a hug, and goes in to hug him.

James's eyes widened a little as he realized that Ari wanted to give him a hug too. He looked conflicted, and froze up.

Freezing up was not a good way to prevent such inevitable things such as a hug from Ardeshir, and so, he got a gargantuan hug which he could barely breathe through. James weakly returned the hug, patting him in an attempt to get him to loosen his grip.

"Is everything alright?" he asked, barely able to look over Ari's shoulders at Brett.

"Yeah!" Brett said. "I just... yeah." He looked away. "Bad memories."

Ardeshir stepped away from James and gave him a sympathetic look. "D' ya be needin' another hug?" he asked, completely genuine. Honestly, it was pretty sweet, but it was also a bit...over the top?

Brett laughed. "I think I'm okay Ari, but thanks. The one you gave me helped."

James, finally able to breathe again once out of Ari's grasp, walked over to Brett and gave a pat on his shoulder, along with a look of understanding. "I know how painful it can be to relive bad memories. But if you ever want to talk about it... we're here."

As James spoke, Ardeshir leaned over and dug around in his boot before producing a small, wrapped square and holding it out to Brett. "'n even t' most painful things can be made betterin' by chocolate!" he said in what seemed to be an attempt to be very serious and deep like James but was actually just him giving out chocolate.

Brett opened his mouth to say something, but could only gape at the piece of chocolate for several moments before speaking. "Ari, wha...? Where did you get that?"

James glanced down at Ari's feet. "...Has that been in your sock this whole time?"

He paused and considered both inquiries, scratching his head like a giant, soggy gorilla. "Uh...I mean, t' be honest in all I dunno where I got it, it's been 'round a while 'n all. I forgot 'bout it actually but then ya seemed sad 'n I remembered 'n chocolate's only fer cheering people up!" In his reply to Brett he seemed to have completely forgotten James asked him a question.

Since Ari was still holding out the piece of chocolate, Brett saw no other option but to accept it. By the deformed looks of it, the chocolate had melted and solidified again several times while in Ari's boot. "Thanks, uh... Are you sure you don't want this yourself, Ari?"

He gave him a big, goofy grin. "Yep! We're friends, and friendship is sharin' chocolate 'n happiness!"

James slowly looked over to Brett, silently making eye contact and ever so slightly shaking his head while mouthing the words: don't eat it.

Brett tossed the chocolate back and forth between his hands. "Aww gosh, Ari. I really appreciate this. But... do you mind if I save it for dessert tonight?"

"Nope!" he beamed.

"Fantastic. Thanks, Ari." He pocketed the chocolate, glancing at James with mirth in his eyes. If James didn't have such a stone face, he probably would've looked relieved.

"Well," James said, pulling back from the two. "If you're both feeling alright now, we're going to meet up with Rosaleen and Adina when they're done. So we don't have to hurry, but let's keep moving."

Brett nodded and helped Ari back onto his horse. Even though he hadn't consumed any chocolate, he was already cheered up and "made betterin,'" as Ari would say. The sun poured in through the trees, casting dappled shadows on the three bros as they trekked towards town.
John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.
  





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sherlockhson says...



Roslaeen Streinberg
cowritten with @soundofmind


Rose scanned the soggy map she had pulled out and found the small town close by, checking behind her to make sure Adina was ready to set off. She pulled up a hood to cover her head and got Rosey moving again.

"Alright, when we get to town don't wander off. Stay at my side or right behind me at all times. If there's trouble, get back to the horse and run. Do not look back. Leave me behind. Understand?" Rose spoke to Adina sternly. While she didn't anticipate danger in such a far off town, it didn't hurt to be prepared.

"Good." Rose picked up their pace now that the ground rules were set and out of the way, the town quickly came into view, and it was much smaller than Rose had anticipated, barely a dozen buildings of varying sizes, a few people wandered the dirt roads, the largest of the buildings seemed to be a bar or inn of some kind. This was obviously a rest stop for adventurers, which made Rose worry slightly and pull her hood up tighter. There was a very real chance bounty hunters would be around. Hopefully they weren't well informed ones at any rate.

"And here's where we walk." Rose said suddenly, stopping Rosey beyond the outskirts of the town, hidden away by the tree line, loosely tying her to a tree incase Adina needed to make a fast escape. "Remember. If things go bad, just run." She said to Adina once more as they got down, Adina replied with a nod.

"But before we head in..." Rose looked over Adina and turned back to the saddlebag on Rosey.

"You sort of stand out, worse than me." She dug around the bag and finally found a piece of clothing: a worn looking jacket, probably owned by one of the people they stole the horse from.

"Here put this on and turn around." Adina looked confused but did as she was told, putting on the heavy jacket while Rose quickly put her hair into a ponytail. "No the best but... eh it'll have to do."

"You really think I look much different?" Adina asked, lifting her arms up and down a few times as the large jacket hung loosely around her.

"Different enough... at least your hair will make you look less like your wanted poster." Rose replied, lookin over her one more time and shrugging. It was good enough. At least she didn't have a whole hair color to hide.

Adina shrugged. "I guess so."

"Come on, lets make this quick." Rose started leading the way towards the town. No one seemed to take special note of them as they entered, which she took as a blessing.

"We'll avoid the tavern unless we absolutely need to go there," she said to Adina as she looked around, taking note of the least shady looking person standing around. He wore nice, clean, casual clothes and short, well cut hair. He seemed to be looking around, waiting for something or someone. Rose guessed he was a store owner waiting on a delivery. Hopefully she was right.

"Alright, I need you to ask that person where we could find some medical supplies... and clothes." Adina gave her a puzzled look, about to ask why she had to ask for directions.

"Because I'm not the best people person, and I'll watch our backs, come on." Rose walked them up towards this well off looking stranger.

Adina took in a deep breath before the man turned around to face them, and she mustered her best smile. "Hello sir," she said in a friendly manner. "I was just wondering if you know a store here where we could purchase some medical supplies? And clothes?"

"W-wha- huh?" He looked at her puzzled for a moment. "I don't have time for- I don't know-." He let out an exhausted sigh and rubbed his forehead. "Look, I'm sorry but I'm waiting for something very important uhh, clothes? Medicine? One of the shops down that way or something!" He said impatiently, pointing to a small house down the way.

Adina only nodded and smiled. "Thank you, sir," she said as she turned around to Rosealeen.

"See? Much calmer than I would have been." Rose smirked as they left the man behind. He could be heard muttering about never trusting that Diamonds character again to sell him goods.

Adina grinned and shook her head, and followed Rose towards the little shop. She flipped up the collar of her jacket, tucking her face in a little as the two of them looked up at the little painted sign above the doorway reading: Clothing, Finery, + Other Wares. It was a bit of a wordy name for a shop, but at least it was straight to the point.

As they started walking up the steps, Adina stopped for a second, causing Rose to pause and look back at her. Adina was shuffling her jacket around, searching through her pockets.

"What is it?" Rose asked.

"We need mon- oh!" Adina's eyes lit up as she pulled out some gold coins from an inside pocked in the jacket. "We have money! Thank goodness."

Rosaleen couldn't help but smirk as Adina held coins in her hand with a triumphant little smile. It was cute, that Adina assumed they were going to buy everything.

"Awesome. How about you go get yourself some new clothes and Ari a shirt. I'll worry about the meds and junk," Rosaleen said.

Adina nodded. "Okay."

"Just... be careful." Rose said to her before she headed off towards the clinic nearby. She couldn't help but glance back at Adina as she entered the store, hoping she'd be safe. She took in a deep breath to calm herself as she entered the clinic, hoping her ability to steal things hadn't gotten too bad.

Rose entered the clinic only to find no one in the front to gret her. Thankful for that, she assumed they were in the back tending to someone. She started looking around for supplies quietly.

Adina entered the store and found it oddly fancy inside, considering it was such an out of the way town. She was greeted by an older woman asking if she needed any help, and with that Adina was set to look for some clothes (within her price range of course).

Back in the clinic Rose found her way to a supply room in the back, where she found plenty of bandages and medicine for the taking - which she helped herself to. In what seemed like a flash, Rose was in an out without notice by the owner.

Adina on the other hand was taking her time, looking around for cheap clothes that fit her, and looking over a shirt that was big enough for Ari. His shirt was probably where a lion's portion of her money was going.She took her time trying to imagine him the various shirts, she eventually had to ask for larger ones because Ari was so big.

Rose paced in the street. She knew she would finish first compared to Adina, but not that fast. She's fine, she's just taking her time, she's just being careful, shes fine. Rose tried to assure herself as worry built up quickly, boiling over just as fast as she stared at the store in a panic.

"Thank you!" Adina said kindly to the shop owner as she was finishing up her purchase. Without any warning the shop door burst open with a loud crash, causing both Adina and the shopkeeper to jump and yell in surprise. The crash was followed by a familiar voice shouting "Adina!?"

In the door way stood a Rose, panting heavily, a rock clutched in her hand looking ready to fight. She stared at the store owner, then quickly at Adina. She seemed to quickly and visibly calm down as she saw Adina safe and sound. It took a bit of explaining but they managed to calm the store owner down, explaining that Rose was just Adina's overly worried sister.

The two left in a hurry and headed down the street in silence, planning to head back to Rosey to get out of town.

"Rose are you...alright?" Adina finally broke the awkward silence as they neared the outskirts of town.

"Yeah, I'm... sorry," Rose responded, coming to a stop. Adina looked at her puzzled. Rose could tell she wanted to ask more questions.

"The mage friend I had, that I told you about before? I lost her because we got separated and I couldn't protect her... I just got worried alright?" Quickly, Rose regained her usual composure and continued towards Rosey without another word. Adina followed in a hurry.

As Adina hopped up on Rosey, she put a hand on Rose's shoulder. Rose looked back at her, though reluctantly so.

"I... I'm glad you're looking out for me," Adina said sincerely. "But just know I'm looking out for you too. I'm not completely useless."

"Th-thanks," Rose replied awkwardly. She was honestly glad Adina was so understanding and caring, but didn't know how to put it in words. Instead she just gave her a genuine smile for once. Adina smiled back.
  





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soundofmind says...



Tiberius James Hemming
cowritten with @sherlockhson


James dug around in the saddlebag with one sole focus: to find snacks. With the five of them speedily chipping away at their fluctuating food supply, it was always a draw for what was left in the bag. As he peered in, he found that the had only one thing left: a stickers bar.

As he grabbed it, he felt both Ari and Brett pressing on either side to look in the bag, and when he pulled out the bar they both simultaneously smiled and then frowned.

"There's only one left," Brett said with a sigh.

"You two can have it," James said, handing it out to him. But Ari quickly grabbed it.

"We don't gotta do that!" He started carefully breaking the bar into thirds. "We can just be splittin' it up with each other."

As Ari handed the small thirds of the stickers bar to them both, James knew it wouldn't be worth arguing about. Eating such a small portion of the snack would likely do very little to satiate their hunger, and they'd all still be hungry afterward, but James also didn't want to have the conversation where they fought over who would eat the entire thing. He had a feeling that conversation would just end up being a "no you" situation.

The three threw the bits of fruity granola tastiness into their mouth and turned as they heard hoof-steps approaching. Walking through the thick of the trees was Rosey, and atop her, Rose and Adina. Rose flipped her hood down before hopping off the horse, and turned around to grab her bag.

"We're here to break up your brotherly bonding," she announced, before flipping back around quickly and tossing the bag at Ari. Ari, a little surprised, barely caught it before it landed in the mud. "There's your stuff," she said as Adina hopped down beside her, wearing her new outfit. It was a simple pair of trousers paired with a flannel shirt, worn under what looked like an oversized man's jacket.

Ari began looking through the bag, first finding the new bandages and medicine and smiling. He looked up to the girls. "Thanks a whole bunch! Oh! 'Dina you lookin' nice in them new threads."

"You bought all of that?" Brett asked as he peeked into the bag with Ari.

"Everything but the jacket!" Adina said with a little twirl. "And I picked out a shirt for you, Ari. Asked for the biggest one there."

Ari's eyes lit up as he eagerly looked down into the bag and pulled out the brand new, clean shirt. "I LOVE IT," he declared loudly. "IT'S PERFECT."

It was, in reality, just a plain brown button-up, but Ari was overjoyed. Adina just smiled, and now with the supplies to properly treat Ari's wounds, Brett and Ari worked together to redress and clean them. James paused for a moment to oversee before turning to Rosaleen and Adina, patting Rosey's head as he looked over to them.

"The trip to town went alright? There wasn't any trouble?" He asked.

Rose slowly met James's eyes before giving him an eye roll.

"It was fine, you worrywart."

James let out a small sigh, looking back with a dead-eyed blink. He looked to Adina, hoping for something more straightforward.

"It went well," Adina added. "It was really fine. Just a small town. There's nothing to worry about, James."

At that, James simply nodded and turned away, leaving the others to chat. He walked over to Penelope and Posey, who nibbled quietly on the grassy forest floor, waiting to get on the move again. Because they would, of course, have to keep moving. Camping outside of the town would be too risky and exhausting, because he knew if they did, he wouldn't actually get any sleep (even if he pretended to be so).

In all his travels, he found that he slept most peacefully when he knew he was the most alone.

It was then that he knew he didn't have to worry about anyone else - either for their safety or for them threatening his. He didn't have to worry about trust being broken or things being stolen or people lying to his face. He just had to worry about himself. The only downside to traveling alone was that when troubles did come (and they always did, one way or another) he also had to face them alone. But that was the price to pay for his peace of mind, even if such peace was only relative and short lived.

James sat down at the horse's feet.

That was the difference between him and everyone else. For them, they felt safer in a group. They were able to relax. They'd begun to trust each other in a way that friends could, and even he had found himself more open with them than he had with any other person in years, despite keeping so much of his personal history to himself. And even though any sane person would consider that a good thing, James was worried. Worried that he'd grown too attached, worried that he wouldn't be able to say goodbye when he had to (because he knew he would). Worried that now that they knew him, without any masks, without him pretending to be someone else, that he would hurt them without meaning to. Worried that once he did say goodbye, his heart wouldn't be able to take it again, and he would be as ruined as before. Worried for them. Worried for himself.

Rose was right to call him a worrywart. It was all he knew how to be.

For the first time in all of his years on the run he was caught off guard, alias exposed, and a group of people knew, even in the most limited definition, his true identity. He hadn't thought it possible to find people this pure of heart who were wanted. Or - he looked at Rosealeen. Most of them were pure. Or at the very least, sincere, with minimal deception. That was, unless he was growing soft, and wasn't able to see through their facades.

Outwardly, James blinked. While inwardly, James began to beat himself for thinking someone like Ari could be faking such genuine kindness and sincerity. This persisted for an indeterminate amount of time, but eventually resulted in disassociation as he stared off into the forest, waiting for the others to be ready to leave again.

Brett walked up.

"Ari's all patched up now," he said, looking back at Ari, who was excitedly gesturing at his new shirt to Adina, and giving Adina a hug. "We're ready to go."

James nodded.

Brett watched as James got up, his expression blank.

"We should get some distance between us and the town before it gets dark," James said emotionlessly as he grabbed Penelope's reins. He wasn't looking at Brett - or anyone for that matter - until Brett pat him on the shoulder.

"You look like you need an Ari hug," Brett said quietly enough that the others couldn't hear.

"I already got one," James said stiffly.

There was an awkward pause as they stood there while everyone else gathered their things and saddled up. Brett didn't look like he was going to pry, but his presence seemed to say the same thing James had said to him earlier. Something akin to: if you want to talk about it, I'm here. But that was the problem. James didn't want to talk about it because it was about them. He didn't know how to tell them that he enjoyed them, but he couldn't stay. He didn't know how to tell them that he couldn't bear being any more vulnerable than he already had because everything inside of him was convinced they would use it against him.

They knew he had trust issues. But he didn't want to go that deep.

He gave Brett a little smile - one that was so practiced, it looked wholly genuine. "I'm fine. Really." He swung his leg over Penelope's saddle.

"Let's just get going."

--<>--


James stood on the edge the plank, looking down at the deep blue waters below. On his person he had three things, apart from the clothes on his back: a dagger, a life saver, and a bottle of rum. These were his parting gifts from his former crew, who watched him inch closer to the edge, peering down.

He looked back.

The captain had become his friend in their months sailing together. They discussed philosophy and lofty ideals freely, and though James was under the guise of "Timothy" at the time - a slightly more arrogant, snobbish version of a part of himself - him and the captain had grown to know each other as brothers. He took part in many adventures in slaying several a sea monster and searching for the Laokin sea serpent of myth, and it all seemed well and good until a new member joined their crew at the Yule's Mouth Port. Someone who knew who he was. Someone who waited until the right moment to turn the crew against him in hopes of collectively splitting his bounty. But then the captain did something no one expected. He came up with a different solution.

"I can't turn you in. But you can't stay on my ship either."

James closed his eyes as the captain looked away.

"Walk the plank, dear brother."

James looked back out at the water again, feeling the anxiety in his stomach rise and fall with the waves. What was only a few seconds felt like an eternity.

"Jump, Tiberius." With his true name said with so much contempt.

James gripped the life saver and held it to his chest.

"Goodbye," he said softly, too quiet for anyone to hear. And then he jumped into the monster infested waters.

--<>--


After traveling a comfortable distance from the small town, the sun started to lower in the sky, and the group went about what was becoming their usual routine to set up camp. They'd taken the time to stock up on fish a few days prior, and James had luck in setting a trap and caught a plump rabbit, so they had a semi-wholesome meal to eat around the fire when added to their usual nuts and berries. Such was the meal of people who were reduced to hunting and gathering because they couldn't stay in one place for too long. Or at least, James couldn't stay in one place for too long in good conscience. Maybe the others felt differently.

Rosealeen pulled away at the rough rabbit meat, ripping it away from the bone with her teeth. She started talking with her mouth full. "You know when you said you were setting a trap... I thought you meant for something bigger and less chewy. I'd rather go back to the fish and berries at this rate."

"I don't choose what steps its foot in the trap. I only set them," James remarked, taking a bite out of his share of rabbit.

"You know, if you're in dire need of something else to cleanse your palette, I might have something for you," Brett said with a small smile on his face as he reached into his pocket and pulled out the wrapped chocolate Ari had gifted him earlier.

"I'll take anything over this rabbit, I think more of it got stuck in my teeth than I actually ate." She replied as she discarded the rabbit bone and reached out for whatever Brett was offering. It looked like candy or something.

Ari leaned over to Brett, a question mark on his face. "You don't want it?"

"Nah, man," Brett said quietly. "I just think she needs it more than me, ya know? Chocolate's supposed to make you happy." He gestured to Rose as if to imply that she was in desperate need of some positive emotions.

Ari then nodded with understanding, watching as Rose took the chocolate, unwrapped it, and popped it in her mouth. As she chewed, her brows slightly raised, and she nodded her head.

"Chocolate," she noted simply. "Huh. Haven't had that in a while. I was expecting it to be something gross, honestly."

At her last comment, Brett made eye contact with James. James didn't think Rose was actually going to take it, nor did he think it would actually taste edible. He couldn't decide if he was concerned or shocked or amused or all three, but when Brett smirked James almost lost it, and had to look away, keeping a straight face.

"Glad to help," Brett said with a little twirl of his hand. Meanwhile, Ari was beaming at Rose's positive reception of the gift, and Adina was trying to figure out what was really going on as she observed James and Brett's silent interaction.

Then Ari ruined the quiet secrecy of the prank.

"I'm wonderin' if I've got any more of them candies now," he said with a curious reach into his boot.

Rose froze. Right as she had finished the last bit, staring at Ari. "Y-Your...Boot?" Her eye began to twitch as she looked at Brett, who was starting to laugh behind a hand covering his mouth. Her instant reaction was to ball up the wrapper the candy was in and throw it as hard as she could at Brett, scowling at him all the while. As the candy wrapper bounced off him, Brett only laughed louder. When Rose looked over to James, she saw that he was completely avoiding eye contact, looking away while his shoulders shook from laughter.

"Y-You were in on it too!? I should have known better!" Rose looked around for something else to throw at James, something that wasn't a rock. But then Adina put her hand on Rose's shoulder, and when Rose looked at her, Adina was giggling too.

"I-I'm sorry Rose," she said between breaths. "I didn't know it's just -" and then Adina's voice dissolved into gleeful laughter along with the others.

Ari was laughing too, but he wasn't 100% sure what about.

Rose looked around to see all of them laughing. She took another look at Adina who seemed to be getting as much of a kick out of the little prank as Brett. It reminded her of her past - how she used to find things like these hilarious, even if she was the butt of the joke. Then, in a moment totally unfitting for her character, she smirked, and let out a few chuckles along with everyone else - and together they filled that spot of the forest with joyful laughter.
  





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Wolfical says...



ROUND FOUR
Brett Crawford
cowritten with @soundofmind


"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! Welcome to the eleventh annual Western Isles Skiff Race!"

Matt and Brett, each only thirteen years old, were out at sea, sitting impatiently along with a couple dozen others in their homemade skiffs. They were by far the youngest competitors, and their skiff was by far the ugliest, for the twins had constructed it entirely out of the damaged pieces of an assortment of different boats in their father's repair shop. Getting the pieces hadn't been the hard part; it was trying to reach an agreement on every little thing they argued about while putting it together that made completing the skiff on time nearly impossible.

Against all odds, the boat was there all in (more or less) one piece and the race was about to begin. Unbeknownst to Matt, Brett had woken up early to rig a few...
embellishments to the skiff's belly. As he was sitting behind Matt, Brett checked the hidden levers and ropes with his feet.

"On your mark. Get set. Go!"

The skiff surged forward, the brothers paddling as hard as they could. Matt could hardly believe their luck when the two boats flanking them magically began filling with water and slowing down. Another skiff suddenly spun wildly out of countrol when its rudder failed.

They claimed second place, then first, and closed in on the final pair of buoys, sliding through them with ease.

Brett had never seen his brother so happy before. It delighted him. But his joy was short-lived when he saw the judge staring at the skiff suspiciously.

The judge ordered an inspection. Matt handed the boat over happily; he was bubbling with pride for their creation. Brett stayed silent.

Later that afternoon, Matt faced Brett for the first time since he had stormed away in a fit of tears following their disqualification from the race and all races in the future. He didn't say anything, but his fists were clenched, his knuckles white. But his eyes were more sad than angry, and it broke Brett's heart. He wished so badly that Matt would just sock him in the face so they would be at least a little bit more even. He wished his brother didn't always have to be the better person.

But Matt just turned and walked away.


--<>--


In the morning, the group trekked towards nowhere in particular. Brett normally would still be on a high from the glorious chocolate prank, but the previous night had afflicted him with nightmares about disappointing his family, most notably his brother, and it put him once again in a gloomy mood. He walked well ahead of the group, not interested in conversation.

Lost in his thoughts, Brett was suddenly aware of voices somewhere up ahead. He glanced back at the group and made eye contact with James, showing his palm as a symbol that he wanted them to stop. James drew up his horse quickly and ordered the others to follow suit.

Brett crept towards the sound of voices, walking slowly and quietly until he could zone in on their location. He soon could gather that it was a group around the same size as theirs, travelling north to who knows where. Brett skirted around the group until he was at their rear. He followed them silently, and he instantly gathered from a conversation between a man and an older woman that they were very, very lost.

"I swear there was a town there a couple months ago," the man said.

"If there had been a town there, we would have seen at least some signs of human civilization, you dingbat," the woman replied. "All we found was a pit of snakes."

"Don't forget about the mage hunters," the man replied. "Who knows - maybe the people they were going after made the town disappear."

"And why would they want to do that?"

The man shrugged. "They're mages. Enough said. I bet they left the snakes there, too."

Mage hunters? Brett felt a pang of worry for Adina; he hadn't been sure himself what to think of magic until he had gotten to know her and began to understand how none of it was her fault and that she could be trusted to control her powers. The lost travelers seemed friendly enough, and maybe they could give them more information.

Brett snuck away and then jogged back to his group. Catching his breath, he quickly told them everything he knew. "I think we should try and talk to them," he said. "They might know some important things, for Adina's sake."

"Adina's sake?" James asked, looking at her, along with everyone else.

"Did they say something about me?" Adina asked, her eyebrows drawn together in worry.

"Not exactly," Brett said. "But they were talking about mages and, more importantly... mage hunters. Sounds like they ran into some."

Adina stared at Brett with wide eyes and gulped.

"What if they are the mage hunters, huh?" Rosaleen shot back, stepping up to Brett. "They could just be lying to make it seem like they're safe."

"Unless they've already been alerted to our presence and are just pretending not to notice us, they have no reason to do so," James retorted with reason.

Rosaleen shot James a look, her entire face engaged in her frown. "Mage hunters are sneaky like that. Not like you would know."

"This isn't the time for a squabble," Brett said. "They're moving north, away from us. We'd better catch them now before they're too far."

"Then we'll follow them. If they know anything about mage hunters in the area it'll help us be more prepared," James said, giving a quick glance at Rosaleen, who was clearly unhappy (but she always looked unhappy). "Lead the way, Brett."

Brett set off at a jog, cutting northwest through the forest in order to intercept the other travelers' path. Turns out the group had switched directions again and closer than he expected; they were practically upon them before Brett slowed and indicated that they were close.

Brett waited until James was alongside him. "So, what's the plan?" he asked. "Intimidate them to submission or frighten them with near-miss gunshots or what?"

James looked over to Brett with brows slightly raised, failing to pick up on Brett's sarcasm. "We're not trying to rob them. We're just trying to start a conversation. And besides, if they are more dangerous than they seem, it's better they underestimate us by whatever measure possible so we have at least some surprise on our side. So no. Let's just talk to them, and say we mean no harm from the start."

Brett grinned. "I was just kidding, mustache man." He dug through his pack for an old white shirt, then waved it around. "Look, our flag of surrender. Too much?"

James only blinked, then sighed. "For you? No."

Once they were almost upon the group, Brett walked forward waving the shirt above his head dramatically. "Hear ye, hear ye! We come in peace!"

The group had been in the middle of a conversation and stopped abruptly, wheeling their horses around in surprise.

"Or alternatively: don't hurt us, we are just another group of travelers, much like yourselves," James said, giving them a respectful nod.

"Oh," the older woman said. "Well, what do you want?"

Brett finished waving his shirt and stuffed it back into his pack. "Simple conversation," he said. "And we'd like to help you in return. You sound like you're lost."

"And we have a map," James added.

The woman was still looking at them suspiciously. "Conversation? That's all you want? What kind of conversation?"

"Nothing more than what could be had over however long it takes for us to guide you and point you in the right direction," James said with a shrug as he pulled out a map from Penelope's saddlebag. "You don't run into a lot of friendly travelers in these parts. So it's a treat whenever we get to meet some decent folks."

Brett never thought he'd hear James say something so... neighborly, and he had to hold himself back from snorting in laughter. "Yes," he said instead. "A real treat."

"Like chocolate from my boot!" Ari exclaimed.
John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.
  





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Featherstone says...



Ardeshir
cowritten with @soundofmind


Before the group of wayfarers had a chance to answer, Ardeshir had already started passing out stickers bars that he pulled out of one of his pockets. "It ain't quite like chocolate 'r nothin' but I only had one 'o those 'n Rosaleen ate it so 'ere y'all are!" he beamed, oblivious to the fact that this was very odd behaviour for a normal human being, especially towards strangers.

The newcomers had no real precedence for how to behave in a situation involving a seven-foot-tall young man handing out candy bars, and so accepted the treats mostly out of awkwardness and unsurety of what else they could do when presented with such a peculiar encounter.

James, ignoring Ari, walked up to the older woman and began to show her the map as he unfolded it. "We're about here right now," he said, pointing at a spot in the forest. "You're actually not far from the next town, and you were headed in the right direction. There's actually a trail that aways."

The older woman pulled out her own map for comparison and frowned. "Huh. I don't have that trail marked on mine."

"Maybe it's an older map 'r somethin'," Ari said, towering over James and the stranger so he could see the maps, which really wasn't difficult considering his great height. "'r it was just made by some 'un who didn' know the area so well."

The woman pursed her lips, but nodded. "I suppose so."

"Since ya ain't got a map w' the trail on it, we can escort ya there if ya want, just so ya don' be gettin' lost again," Ari offered as he extended a stickers bar to her. Where he obtained all these stickers bars was something that wasn't easily figured out by the others in his group.

The woman hesitantly took the food offering, but offered Ari a small grin. "If it's not out of your way."

"Not at all," he beamed. "Right?" he looked over to James, naturally deferring to his hero.

"We'd love to," James said with a smile, though lying through his teeth - making it harder for Brett not to laugh. "I'm Phillip, by the way," he said, giving her hand a shake.

"I'm Willis," she replied, before nodding to her companions and listing off their names. "That's Winnifred, Fred for short, Joseph, or Jo, Phillis, or Phil, and then that's Bob."

"I'm Ari," Ari says. "'n then like 'e said that's Phillip, 'n Brett, 'n Rosaleen, 'n Adina, 'n then there's Posey, 'n Rosey, 'n Penelope, 'n that's me kitty, Ursuku," he introduced everyone, including the animals. It was horrible habit that he really should've broken but he just didn't feel right omitting such important members of the group.

Willis nodded slowly as he started introducing the animals, but didn't interject. "...right, ok, pleasure to meet you all," she smiled slightly. "So...which way are we going?"

Ari starts off in the opposite direction of where they're supposed to be going before James stops him. "North," he says, glancing back towards the straying islander, and starting to walk in that direction with Willis behind him. Ardeshir quickly realizes he's going the wrong direction and jogs to catch up with the rest of the group, oblivious to just how stupid that mistake was.

As their group fell in step alongside the travelling strangers, Brett initiated conversation before anyone else could.

"So! Have you run into anyone else here in the forest? Or are we the first people you've seen in a while?"

"You're not the first," Willis said.

"But the first to be helpful," Fred added. "I mean, I get that mage hunters are really focused and whatever, but as soon as they realized we had no magic, they just up and left us."

"Which is ironic, because if that was reversed, and like, we found people with magic, we'd ditch 'em real fast," Phil piped in.

Ari glanced back towards Adina, his heart going out to her, but even he knew better than to say or do anything that could tip them off. He was dense but not that dense and the last thing he would ever want to do was put Adina in danger. Which, as he thought about it, was kind of funny, because it was the exact same way his older brother had always treated him. Maybe that's where he got it from. He sighed and looked down at Ursuku, who was chasing the falling autumn leaves. He wondered what Alik would think of all of this - of what he did, of his new friends, of his cat, of how he tried to follow in his footsteps but ultimately failed.

He'd been so enthusiastic back then. So sure he could do everything his brother had wanted to, to fulfill his dreams for him, but then there was Lynx and it all fell apart. He hoped Ali would understand but at the same time he was unsure. Ari certainly didn't know the difference between what was right and what was legal until then - how could Ali?

He leaned over to grab his cat, then thought better of it as his shoulder protested with intensity. His usually joyful countenance creased into a frown at the pain and the grief that lurked in the back of his mind.

But Ali had lived a better life than most, hadn't he? He'd certainly done a lot for his little brother. Was that not enough? Everything happened for a reason, or so he'd been taught, but as he travelled with these people who'd been so wronged but whose hearts were still good he had to question that. He wasn't a particularly skeptical fellow, nor an analytical one, but it seemed reasonable enough to him to wonder. Especially with Adina - a young girl, and an innocent one, who was hunted simply because she'd been born with abilities others weren't. Magic still gave him the heebie-jeebies but that didn't mean she deserved to get hurt or killed because of it.

It was that questioning that had gotten him here in the first place, however. He could still hear the crack as his door came down like it was yesterday. That was the first time he'd used a blade with intent to harm - he'd drilled with them before, but it was different when he raised a sword against true enemies. It was different when he drew real blood with it. When people who he'd been raised with, worked alongside, who'd even protected him and his brother, were the ones he fought, all in the name of doing what was right instead of what was lawful. He still had to wonder if the betrayal was really the lesser of the two evils.

"Why?" he suddenly found himself asking. "I mean, if they ain't doin' nothin' t' hurt ya, why's it matter what they can 'r can't do?"

"Magic has done nothing but ruin our world," Willis replied, looking over at Ari with a mild look of contempt. "You weren't alive back then, but it wasn't long ago that magic threatened all of human existence. You never had to live through it, but if you'd seen it, you would know the dangers, and why anyone who calls themselves a mage is fundamentally rebelling against humanity."

"Yeah, but I mean, swords are killin' people every day, but ya don' look at Phillip 'ere 'n wanna kill 'im 'cause 'e carries one, 'n they killed way more people 'n magic, but it's even worse 'cause it's not a choice t' have it 'r not. It's just a tool that people are forced t' have, it ain't their fault! Don' it seem more monstrous to kill innocent human bein's fer bein' born with abilities than t' simply exist?" he protested.

"There are thousands of people with magic who choose not to use it for the greater good, boy," Willis retorted. "And careful with your words. You're beginning to sound like a mage sympathizer."

"Who cares if I am, we're in t' Outlands, who don' have people who want t' be killi-"

Rosaleen's arm shot out and grabbed Ari's wrist tightly, and she gave him an intense glare from below.

"Sorry Willi-"

He jerked his wrist out of her grasp. "I'm just sayin' if ya got power t' help people, shouldn' ya? Mage 'r otherwise, ya don' gotta be magic t' have that option," he said, considerably more subdued, but still confused and frustrated.

Rose snuffed, upper lip twitching as Ari pulled away. There was a short, awkward silence before James spoke up.

"People will always find ways to use power for good and bad. Keeping magic out of the picture just lowers the odds of us having the power to wipe out humanity again. It's not about having the freedom to use magic. It's about having the freedom to live without fear."

Ari didn't dignify that with a response, biting back his reply in the knowledge that James didn't really agree with the mage-hunting, and understanding that he was just going to get them in trouble, but still very adamant and disliking having to disengage. He'd always been a very stubborn and headstrong individual, for better or for worse. Instead of saying anything he kicked a rock that clattered off the sparse trail and into the trees.

Willis and the others of the group nodded in agreement. Then Brett popped another question.

"I haven't really met any mage hunters personally, but I know they can be kind of intense and intimidating. Did they uh, say who or what they were looking for? Should we be worried that there's a mage running loose in this forest?"

Ardeshir stayed quiet and carefully picked up Ursuku. Better to pet a cat than to keep on arguing.

"Oh, yeah," Fred nodded. "Some young girl I think. They've been chasing her since Ruddlan or something."

He felt his heart skip a beat as Fred spoke. So they were hunting Adina. Somehow, it hadn't fully registered with him up until that moment that the mage-hunters could really be that close, chasing one of their own. He glanced over at her to see if she was alright, wishing he could do something without making it evident that she was the magic user in question. Adina didn't make eye contact. She walked beside Rosaleen with her eyes cast down to the ground, and her head hung low.

He watched her for a few moments, then dug through his pockets until he found a piece of jerky. He proceeded to put the wiggling feline down and wave it in front of the beast's nose until Ursuku took notice, then threw it at Adina's feet, sending the bounding kitten after it like the little, oblivious furball of joy that he was. She needed Uri more than he did at the moment.

Adina stopped for a moment, glancing briefly up at Ari with the slightest hint of a smile as she picked up the little cat. Though she didn't say it in words, her eyes said thank you.

Ari gave her the smallest, most bittersweet smile she'd ever seen on him as the young cougar batted at her hair and ears, playfully nipping at her. Until then he'd never really realized how much of his instinctive protectiveness and caring towards her was because of his brother - and that realization was both very comforting and a pang of the deepest sadness he'd ever felt.
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Ernest Hemmingway

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." - Richard Bach
  





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soundofmind says...



Tiberius James Hemming
cowritten with @sherlockhson


James didn't bother to remember the names of the people they waved goodbye to on the road. As they walked away, waving back, he smiled, as if it mattered to them whether he was happy to meet them or not. Though as they got smaller, he was glad for the distance, because the look on his face grew more and more bitter with each passing second, until it returned to his usual resting frown. Though he had to admit, there was also some spite there.

If wasn't interested in keeping suspicion away from Adina, he would've gladly challenged the ignorant ideologies of Willis and her crew. But with Adina shying her face away constantly in the corner of his eye, he knew she could feel the impending attack that awaited her if they slipped out anything that could lead to her discovery.

So with all that in mind, he was glad to watch the strangers leave, and glad to at least be aware that there were mage hunters in the area searching for her. Knowing was always better than not knowing, and in knowing, they knew to keep moving and keep an eye out.

James turned back to the rest of their group, seeing the discouraged and unsettled looks on their faces on behalf of their token mage. His eyes specifically fell on Rosaleen, who stood boiling beside Adina, looking ready to blow, presumably at Ari, at any moment. So before she could, he spoke up.

"Adina, we will do everything in our power to keep you safe. So part of that means we keep moving. We move fast. Willis said the mage hunters left to go north, so we'll go south, for the most part, if we can trust their word," he paused, about to say something about Ari's arguments potentially affecting how truthful they were in sharing afterward, but he thought better of it. Rosaleen, however, sprang on the opportunity.

"We don't know anything for sure after Ari made us all look like we were mages or are mages ourselves," she spat. "Now they might catch up to the hunters and tell them we're suspicious and point them back in our direction! There's a time and place to argue ideals, and that wasn't one of them." She glared at Ari.

"It ain't just bein' ideas, it's called treatin' people like they're people, not less than that!" Ari shot back, still feeling the fire of the earlier argument.

"And I agree with you, you big oaf! But sometimes you just need to smile and nod and go with the flow, especially when you want to protect the people around you!" She yelled in frustration.

"Okay, okay, let's... let's just calm down," Brett interjected as Ari and Rosaleen's voices began to raise. "We all agree that Adina's great, and those people were wrong. We can't change what just happened so let's just... move on." He smiled a strained smile and made a motion with his hands to mimic what 'moving on' looked like.

James sighed, holding onto Penelope's saddle and leaning on the horse. He looked over at Adina, who had uncomfortably watched the interaction in silence. She met his eyes, and he tried to give her a look of compassionate understanding, but her gaze shied away again.

"Adina, how are you doing in all of this?" James asked, finally drawing attention the girl who'd been the center of so much indirect conflict in the past hour.

Adina looked up at the others, still holding little Ursuku in her arms.

"I'm... fine as I can be," she said quietly. "I didn't choose to have magic but... I did choose to use it. I think... I just didn't know just how deeply people hated it until I was the target of that hate myself. I guess... I always knew people were afraid of mages, but I never thought anyone would actually be afraid of... well, me." She looked down to the ground, avoiding eye contact with the others.

"We ain't 'fraid of you, 'Dina," Ari responded quickly, with urgency as he began to walk up to her and gave her a hug. "You're the least scary outta all of us."

Adina laughed a muffled laugh behind Ari's big-armed embrace.

"Is that a good thing though? Out here in the outlands?" she asked as Ari pulled away. "I feel like it just makes me look..." her voice fell to silence as she looked down at her feet again. She looked afraid to finish her thought.

"Kindness is not weakness," James answered. "Though many people think to take advantage of it, kindness is your strength."

Ari nodded cheerfully in agreement. "An' that makes you stronger than the lot of us!"

--<>--


It was a long day of travel, and James knew he probably pushed everyone and the horses further and faster than he should have, but there were two things driving him. One, he wanted to get as far away from the hunters as possible. And two, he was trying to get them back to a stream, so when they did stop, they would have plenty of water. Fortunately for him, he was right about the latter, and when they heard the quiet trickling of the creek up ahead, they all rushed forward with their last reserves of energy, knowing that he'd told them all they could stop as soon as they got there.

Brett, naturally, ran into the creek barefoot, and Ari followed suit. Rose plopped down on a rock with a big sigh, and Adina led the horses to water with James, standing beside him as they watched the three equines lap at the water.

The sun had already begun to inch towards the horizon, and they knew they only had an hour or so before sundown, so James ordered Brett, Ari, and Rose to set up camp while he got firewood with Adina. Despite the look he got from Rose, he didn't stick around to hear any protests.

As he walked off into the woods with Adina, he could sense the tense silence hanging in the air between them, and decided to break it so she didn't feel obligated to.

"I know this might be poor timing on my part, but I was wondering... if you'd feel safe enough to practice your magic while I gathered wood. I know we mentioned doing lessons or something of the sort a bit ago, but I really do think it would be beneficial for you. If magic is something you want to choose to pursue, there's no reason why you shouldn't work to improve it. Apart from the obvious stipulations regarding magic, but, it is what it is."

Adina picked up a few dry sticks of wood before she looked over at James, looking a little unsure of herself.

"I... I agree with you. I just don't know how exactly I should start."

James picked up a small branch and broke it in half over his knee. "Well, I was thinking, since your magic is time oriented. You could try a variation of what you did before when we escaped. Just focus on freezing a small moment in time. I was thinking you could just throw a pebble up in the air. Focus your energies on stopping it mid-air, then let it fall. Catch it. And try again. Simple as that."

Adina nodded, looking back at the others through the trees. There was a moment of hesitation before she said, "I can try that."

"Good," James said with the smallest grin. He held out his hand to take her small collection of wood. "I can hold on to that then." He gestured down to the forest floor, eyeing a small rock at the base of a tree. "That looks like an ideal candidate for the testing."

Adina followed his gaze and picked up the little rock, holding it in the palm of her hand. She looked back at James, then back at the rock.

"You can take your time," James said softly. "There's no rush. I want this to be for you. Not me, or anyone else."

Adina nodded again, that time taking a deep breath as she looked closely at the rock in her hand.

If she was going to do it, she wanted to do it right. She closed her eyes. She focused herself. She focused her mind. Then she opened her eyes and quickly tossed the rock up in front of her. For a second, she reached out her hands to try and stop it with magic, but she was too slow. She ended up catching it instead. She fumbled with the rock, flustered, and furrowed her brows in embarrassed frustration.

"Sorry," she mumbled.

"That's okay. Just try again," James encouraged. "Don't worry about me," he said as he walked forward. "Just... follow me as I pick up wood, alright? Stay close."

"Okay," she said, walking up after him to catch up, and then deciding to toss the rock up again. It landed back in her hands, and she sighed. But she threw it up again. And again.

Because the only way she was going to get better, and have consistent results, was with practice.
  





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Lael says...



Kaia Nesbitt


It was quiet that night. Kaia slept peacefully, until a violent crash yanked her back into consciousness. She sat up quickly, her heart racing. Was she just imagining it, or was she back in her room in her parents' house?

At that moment, she thought she heard a voice.

"Kaia? Kaia . . ."

"Mother?" she said, slipping out of bed and into the hallway. A smile spread on her face. Maybe the last twelve years of her life were only a bad dream, the horrible revelation James had shared just an unrealized fear.

"Kaia!" This time it was a different, low voice calling her.

"Father!" Kaia began to run towards the direction of her parents' voices, their bedroom. As she reached the door, she said, "You don't know how glad I am to see you."

The door fell open, and she stopped, taking in the scene before her.

Her father and mother were lying side by side on their bed with their eyes glazed, dark blood staining their clothes.

"No!" Kaia rushed forward. Her mother had already gone pale and was cold to the touch, but her father was still struggling for breath. Kaia placed her hands over the gaping wound in his chest to stop the bleeding, but his blood kept spurting from under her palms.

"Father, hang on. You're going to be okay." She applied even more pressure. "Just stay with me. Please."

Captain Nesbitt met her eyes, his own suddenly clear and full of love and fear. "Kaia," he gasped and raised a shaky hand, pointing in the direction of the foot of the bed. She followed his gesture and her breath caught in her throat.

"You," she whispered.

Standing in the shadows was King Blackfield. In his hand was a sword, still dripping with fresh blood. Her parents' blood.

"Run," pleaded her father, and his eyes closed for the final time.

Kaia took a step back. "No, no." She whirled around and launched herself at the king with a feral shout, her hands reaching for her swords. But at the last moment, she realized she didn't even have a single dart.

King Blackfield extended the sword and it plunged straight through her body. There was a smile on his face.

"Oh, Kaia," he said, "if only you remained ignorant. Now I have to kill you. What a pity, to be losing such a valuable tool."

Then he pulled out a knife and slit her throat.


***

Kaia gasped and sat up in bed, her body drenched in sweat. She put her face in her hands, trying to calm her heartbeat and breathing.

Who knew that truth is such a burden? She found that she had the urge to laugh, but she slapped her cheeks instead.

"Snap out of it," she told herself. "What should I do now? Where can I go?"

For some reason, in the middle of her musings, the image of James appeared in her mind. She remembered the kindness in his eyes and tone.

Yeah, I might as well go seek out a Moonlight Kingdom 'traitor.' It'll be nice to spend some time with someone who also has something against Blackfield. Why did I even come back here?

After arming herself to the teeth and gathering everything she cared to take with her--which wasn't very much--Kaia practically flew from the settlement and through the forests. She rode hard without stopping for rest. Surely James' group couldn't have traveled far from where she had kidnapped him before.

A few days had gone by, and though she could see signs of a larger group of travelers here and there, she was starting to wonder if she would ever find them again after all. However, she resolved to keep looking. They would definitely be relying on water to survive, so they'd probably be staying close to the river. If she kept following it, she should be able to catch up to them.

She could hear voices ahead of her. Very familiar ones. A small feeling of excitement sprouted inside her, and she hurried forward.

She burst into the clearing, much to the surprise of the ones setting up camp.

"You! You're the 'un who tried t' nab our buddy!" Ardeshir stood and advanced on Kaia.

Brett disappeared into the trees. James and Adina were nowhere to be found.

"Look," said Kaia, "we started on bad terms, but I'm not here to harm or kidnap anyone right now. I just want to talk."

"Do you think we're going to believe that?" demanded Rose, her eyes flicking between Kaia and Ardeshir. Perhaps she was wondering whether her secret would be revealed. Or maybe she was hoping her companion would silence Kaia. Neither would have been surprising.

"No, but it couldn't hurt for me to try. I need to see James."

"Kaia?" James rushed into the camp, with Brett and Adina close behind. "Ari, wait. What's going on here?"

"James," said Kaia, before anyone else could respond. "I'd like to join your group."
In God I Trust

"as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death."
Philippians 1:20
  








"There is nothing to fear from someone who shouts."
— Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart