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Fate's Hand

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Fri Mar 10, 2023 5:58 am
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Carina says...

16th of Sil

Although Elias had been making a conscious effort to reconnect with Eve, he had been trying to get to know everyone. He noticed that everyone else from Earth tended to stick to little friend groups, but he wasn't really confined to any person or group. He didn't think that was a bad thing, though. Honestly, Elias didn't mind getting to know everyone better.

The exception was with Deidra, of course. For the past two days, Elias noticed that she had been zipping around busy with random tasks that he had no clue were so urgent, because she was always fetching water, gathering firewood, repairing things as needed, and tending to the horses.

Deidra had this weird expression where it was like she was at a life-or-death situation. She had to fetch the water, or else. It was kind of weird, but Elias decided to not bother her during the day since she was so preoccupied.

During breaks and nights, Elias noticed that Deidra mostly socialized with Robin and Raj. Or maybe it was the other way around. He figured that Bo told them to keep an eye on her since everyone was still wary of her, but they also seemed interested in talking to her.

Although Mel, Alistair, and Hendrik hesitantly agreed to give her a second chance, there was still some hesitation. Elias could tell from the way they looked at her and talked about her. They probably felt like it was an obligation to take her in.

Elise was more welcoming, although she hadn't tried to speak with Deidra yet - maybe because she didn't want to stir anything up with the others and would prefer that they make contact first. Still, Elias knew that Elise actually spent time with Deidra and Tula. He wondered why she was so fast to come around, but he had a feeling she had a soft spot for people of her background since Elias wasn't much different.

Eve and Makiel seemed more neutral about Deidra, but maybe that was putting it lightly. If they had it their way, Elias knew that Deidra wouldn't even be here. But he was glad that they didn't try to fight this one, because - like Elise - Elias genuinely believed that Deidra deserved a second chance.

Besides, if anyone here were to understand how she grew up, it was Elias. He didn't even know her, but he felt a sort of pride when she admitted that she began to think for herself.

It was night again, and everyone got their food and went off into their little groups again. Elias noticed that Eve slipped out by herself to be away from the others again, and a part of him wanted to accompany her once more, but a last second moment of clarity washed over him when he realized that maybe she just needed some space alone since she was probably overwhelmed by the whole week.

Elias glanced over at Deidra again. Robin and Raj were accompanying both of her sides, making light conversation.

Elias had been meaning to talk to Deidra... and well, he could talk to Robin and Raj as well. He hadn't heard from them for a while.

Without giving it another thought, Elias walked over with a smile and a weak wave.

"Hey," he said as he nudged his head over to the open seat next to Raj. "Mind if I join you guys?"

Raj waved for him to come sit. Elias happily obliged.

"Hey, Elias," Robin started. "If I started calling Hendrik baby man, how long do you think it'd take for him to escalate to a murder attempt?"

"Robin has a very strong desire to test the limits of people's patience," Raj added with a small sigh.

Elias snickered. "I think that'd be a great way to get him to snap in two seconds, yeah."

"Hmm," Robin nodded. "I'll keep that in mind."

Elias peered over Raj and Deidra to curiosily eye Robin. "Why do you want to test his limits, anyways?"

"Why do you make jokes?" Robin asked.

"Uh... 'cause they're funny?" Elias said.

"Exactly," Robin said.

Elias hummed, stroking his chin. "I don't think Hendrik finds that funny, though."

"You don't think so?" Robin asked.

"Yeah, but he definitely finds jokes Mel's pranks funny. You should work together with her next time," Elias said with a growing grin.

"I'll consider it," Robin said.

Elias's eyes naturally fell to Deidra, who seemed stiff between Robin and Raj.

"What do you think, Deidra?" Elias asks. "What's your favorite type of humor?"

Deidra blinked, and then looked at him almost as if she were shocked he'd spoken to her in the first place.

"Oh," she said quietly. "I, uh. I don't know, really. I haven't really thought about it."

"Whaaaaat?" Elias drew out quietly, surprised.

It sounded like she didn't even know what made her laugh. That couldn't be true, could it? No way that could be true.

"What makes you smile or laugh, then?" he asked instead.

Deidra hesitated.

"Uh..." Deidra started, but didn't finish as she stared down into her lap, looking conflicted.

Elias tried to wait for her to finish, but the silence was killing him inside. This wasn't supposed to be a hard question.

"What about, you know... the last time you smiled or laughed? Surely you remember that... right?" Elias asked, forcing a little laugh himself.

The embarassed look on Deidra's face seemed to speak for itself.

"It's been a long time," she said, scratching the back of her neck.

Elias didn't want to pick on her for something so trivial, so he turned his attention back to Robin and Raj.

"What about you guys? When's the last time you laughed, and what happened?" Elias asked.

Maybe stories could help Deidra loosen up a bit... or remember.

"I laughed at the whole beard shaving prank," Robin said, looking to Deidra. "Basically Mel used her magic to trick Hendrik into thinking that she'd shaved his face in his sleep, and he was so upset for like, a minute, until he touched his face and realized his beard was still intact. But his reaction was priceless."

"I don't really laugh at others' distress," Robin said with a little smirk. "I tend to laugh more at the quick-witted comments, so long as they're not cutting in a cruel way. Bo makes a lot of puns now and again. I enjoy those too, but I can't say I laugh at them so much."

"Bo's puns are hilarious," Elias said with a wide smile. "How does he think of so many on the spot?"

"I think he just does it so often that it comes naturally," Raj said. "Anything that's practiced comes easier."

"So... what you're saying is that his puns are a muscle. And he works out often," Elias deduced.

Raj huffed a small laugh and smiled.

"Sure," he said. "Yeah."

"He does that too," Robin said dryly.

"I know what we should do," Elias said confidently, turning his attention back to Deidra. "We could help you work out, too." He paused. "Uh. Humor-wise, not actual muscles. I don't think you need help with that."

Deidra looked at him blankly for a moment before she smiled ever so slightly.

"What, you want me to try to make... jokes?" she asked. "I don't think I'm very funny."

"We'll build confidence, not jokes. That's the first step," Elias said. "Maybe you could hang out with funny people, like Bo. I'm sure you'll be smiling in no time."

Deidra looked down shyly, nodding.

"Okay," she said. "Sounds... good."

Elias found his smile waning. Something about the tone of her voice felt strangely familiar. Like she had more to say, but it was easier to follow orders and comply.

"So, um," he went on, changing the subject. "How's your new life so far?"

She blinked again.

"Uh... it's fine," she said. "I'm adjusting."

There was a split second pause.

"You?" she blurted awkwardly.

"Adjusting, yeah, that's a good word," Elias said with a nod. "I think life's here pretty good so far. I know we're not exactly living normal lives, but it feels like I'm flying under the radar in comparison to life on Earth. It's kinda nice. And also nice to not have to worry about bad guys coming after me or my friends."

He paused and realized that maybe that was kind of offensive.

"No offense, sorry. That was a blanket statement, not aimed at you or anyone in particular here," he added on.

Deidra nodded and was quiet for a moment.

"It's... fine. I think I'm still getting used to not being under orders anymore," she said faintly. "Oliver's... orders."

Elias nodded. "I can't believe you got orders from the big guy. Or... small guy, since he's not like, the supreme ruler or whatever. Is he as socially awkward as people say he is?"

Deidra smiled faintly, but it seemed like she was quick to suppress it.

"Yeah," she said. "Though it's hard to tell if its an act, sometimes. It works well for him, though. People... underestimate him a lot."

"Yeah... clearly," Elias said. "Did you go to military school?"

Deidra nodded.

"You did too, right?" Deidra asked.

Elias shook his head. "No, I was a late straggler. I went straight to a base at eighteen. Which one were you at?"

"Palatine," Deidra answered.

"Oh, no way. I was there too," Elias said. "We went to the same base? Huh. Makes sense though... there's a lot of people with your magic there."

"How did you get out?" Deidra asked. "It's..."

She looked to Robin and Raj, who were both quietly listening.

"It's hard to get out," she said by way of explanation. "You can't just quit."

"Yeah... yeah, that's right," Elias said with a nod, starting to piece together the story that Elise told him. Frankly, he was so out of it, he still didn't really understand. "It was mostly my sister. Elise. It's been her plan for years to get me out. She had this whole network of doctors. There's a doctor on the base she was close friends with, and he helped smuggle me out, along with others. I feel bad for the guy now. I hope he's okay."

Deidra nodded slowly.

"Me too," she said. "For his sake."

Elias nodded as well, already forming another question to ask her. They apparently shared more history in common that he thought.

"So. What's military school like?" he asked.

"Well, it's uh, very strict," Deidra said. "You don't get a lot of freedom or free time, and all your time is scheduled out. You learn the same things you would in a normal school but there's a heavier focus on refining your powers--er, magic. You train day in, day out, every day until you're 18. It's hard work but you come out of it an expert at using your magic."

"That sounds terrible and insanely intense. Did anyone have a normal childhood?" Elias asked with a faint laugh.

"I don't think so," Deidra said. "Though I'm not sure what's considered normal."

"Like, you know. Not have to listen to orders every second of the day. Having freedom, friends, and many laughs. I think it's normal to run around as a kid because it's fun, not because some sergeant is telling you to run some laps. You know?" Elias said.

"Hm," Deidra said. "I guess I didn't have that, then."

It was kind of a depressing thought, but Elias knew Deidra didn't need to hear that.

"I think it's nice that you're self-aware of your background now though," he said. "I gave up talking to anyone on the base. Everyone seemed so cruel. You're not, though. It's too bad that we didn't connect earlier."

"I guess we just have the present, then," Deidra said.

"Wise," Elias said with a smile. He glanced at the others and noticed that Robin must have left sometime during their conversation, but Raj seemed to be comfortable listening along.

"Thanks for, uh," Deidra started. "Talking... to me. After everything."

Elias knew what she meant. The last time he saw her, she was following orders from Tula to break Eve's limbs to taunt James. Although, he couldn't say he remembered much of that since he was surrounded with soldiers, bleeding out from a bullet wound.

Huh. That happened, didn't it.

"Yeah, of course," he said with a growing smile. "I believe in second chances. I can also understand what you've been through, which helps, I think. But even if we didn't share a similar background, I think everyone deserves forgiveness if they're being sincere, don't you think?"

"I'd like to think so," she said.

"Was it hard? To come around and be sincere, after everything you've been through?" Elias asked.

A small, somber silence.

"Yes," Deidra said, looking down into her lap.

"How did you get the courage to change?" Elias asked, curious.

"It was... James, mostly," she said. "I don't know how he-- being captured and all, still... tried to see some good in me. I don't understand it."

"Ah... you've never had anyone believe in you before?"

"Not like that," Deidra said. "Everyone's always wanted to use me. But he... I mean, he didn't even ask me to help him escape. Another woman did because she couldn't do it herself but... he told me to go anyway. Even when he couldn't make it himself."

Elias tried to follow along, but he was a bit hung up on who this other woman was. Not Tula, right? Maybe a bounty hunter.

It didn't matter. Point was, Deidra was inspired by selfless acts. It was a nice feel-good story.

"Well... you're going to help us save James, right? I think he'd be proud to see how you turned around," he said.

Deidra looked down, seeming somber.

"I don't know about proud," she said quietly. "After everything I did to him... but I guess we'll see."

"You already seem to be a whole new person and it didn't take long for you to come around. I think that's something to be proud of, at least," Elias said.

Deidra nodded, but there was an awkward pause that followed after.

"Was it hard for you... after you left?" Deidra asked quietly.

Elias was about to ask her what she meant by that, but then he realized that the two of them were alone. Raj must've dipped out while they were talking. He didn't mean to take over their conversation, but at the same time, it was nice to openly talk to Deidra about this since she could better understand the context.

"Hmmmm. Well... hard, yeah. But not really in the way that you'd think," he said after thinking about it for a second. "I didn't need to adjust to a new life like you are now, because I don't think I ever really fit the military stereotype. But it was hard in the sense that it was kind of... overwhelming. Like it didn't feel real. I think I bawled for days because I was so worried that all of this would be taken away so quick. Wouldn't that be cruel? Thankfully nothing like that happened. So yeah. Life has been pretty good to me so far now, I think."

Deidra hummed.

"I keep worrying that it'll be taken away," she said quietly. "Or that somehow Oliver or his parents will find us here."

"Are you scared of them?" Elias asked.

A beat of silence.

"Of course I am," Deidra said. "Aren't you?"

Elias leaned forward so that his elbows were resting on his knees. He squinted ahead, trying to rack his brain for any possible reason to be scared of them. He should be, but he'd be lying if he said he was.

"Not really. Is that weird?" he said.

"...A little," Deidra said. "I would think you should be scared. Realistically."

Elias hummed, slowly sitting up straight again. "I think I was, at one point. Probably. But I guess I..." He weakly laughed. "Stopped caring."

"Ah..." was all Deidra said as she looked out into the forest, lips pressed into a thin line.

"I think it's totally fair to be scared of them, though. They held a lot of power over you and others. That's pretty scary."

"And they could undo time," Deidra said.

"So could Eve. Are you scared of her?" Elias countered.

Deidra swallowed and looked down.

"...Yes," she said.

"Hmmm," Elias drew out, stroking his chin again. "I guess that's not an uncommon thing to think if you don't know her. But I'm not scared of her either. Maybe time travelers just don't scare me?"

"I think that's just you, Elias," Deidra said.

Elias smiled. "Yeah. Maybe. I don't think I'm scared of many people anymore. Is that weird?"

"...maybe you should be a little more afraid of some people," Deidra said. "Some fear is good. It keeps you from being too reckless."

"Well, who told you that? The military?" Elias asked with a raised brow.

Deidra went quiet again.

"...Yyyyes," she said slowly.

It was a little funny to have this moment now. Elias had always dreamed of telling someone else in the military that their fundamentals were flawed, but he never did get the chance to have an open conversation. Until now.

"Don't you think they tell you that so you listen and obey orders?" he asked gently. "I'm not saying that we should have no fear. I have some fear, but personally I'm not afraid of people giving orders anymore. I think I've wasted too much of my time listening without question. I don't know, I guess all I'm saying is that you don't need to fear and blindly follow people with authority. At the end of the day, they're human too - just like you and I. And they're likely scared too."

Deidra's brows were pinched together like she was in deep thought, letting his words sink in.

"You know..." she said. "Oliver did seem really scared after James and Eve escaped the first time. So did his parents."

"Oh, you have to tell me how it all went down after they escaped," Elias said with a little laugh. "I heard it from James's perspective, but time got unpaused after he escaped, so he never knew their reactions outside of, you know, Tula going crazy when you found us six months later."

"Well... everyone was really freaked out," Deidra said. "I know now that what they did was they froze time, but it seemed, at the moment, that even those with time powers in the room didn't know what was going on. Ovrell practically threw a fit in rage, Oliver seemed stunned in silence, and Alina seemed so angry she just left and told Ovrell and Oliver to fix it. I had been... celebrating with Katya and Tula, but what it felt like for us was that we were toasting drinks, then something felt off, and before we knew it, we were being yelled at and were told to find them immediately."

"That's crazy. Did they ever figure out how they escaped, you think?" he asked.

Deidra frowned.

"I don't think so," she said. "I think that was part of what they wanted us to find out... before... you know. They didn't say that, but they didn't say they understood what happened either."

"What would they even do with all of this information, anyways? I didn't really understand why they were so interested in James," Elias said.

Deidra looked up at Elias.

"Really?" she asked.

Elias shifted his eyes between Deidra and the camp. "What, am I missing something?"

"I just... I don't know, I thought... it was kind of obvious," she said faintly. "He's a time mage, sure, but he's from a different world. A world where the magic is far more powerful than it is on Earth. Ovrell and Alina wanted to find a way to use James to get a hold of that."

"Well that's an ominous thought. Imagine that they really did come here with us. What would they even do? Magically find a dragon?" Elias said.

"I don't know," she said. "They seemed interested in dragons because of their power. But I think they were counting on James being some kind of guide or... liaison. The connection between the two worlds, I guess. I don't know how that would work out. It wasn't my job to know."

Elias hummed. "Do you think there's a way to travel back and forth between worlds? If so, would you ever go back?"

"I don't even know how I got here," Deidra said. "But if there was a way to go back, I don't think I would. The only thing waiting for me there would be Ovrell and Alina and Oliver, and I wouldn't want to return to them without James... and Tula."

Elias nodded. "So you're still friends with Tula?"

Deidra looked down into her lap again.

"I don't know. She hasn't talked to me since I left. She reached out once and then never spoke to me again," Deidra said. "She hasn't even tried looking through my eyes."

"Is she upset that you left?" Elias asked.

"Yes," Deidra said. "She's... I've never heard her sound so hurt before. And I know when she's acting or not."

Elias was quiet for a moment.

"Maybe she misses you," he said.

"I know she does," Deidra said quietly. "I miss her too."

"If she does look through your eyes again..." Elias began as he faced her with curiosity. "What would you say?"

Deidra sighed and looked out into the forest, quiet for a few seconds as she appeared to be thinking through her answer.

"I'd tell her I miss her," she said. "And I'd ask her to... to try to find a way out, I think. I don't think she's caught on, yet, but I think Rita is using her, and I don't think she can be trusted. She reminds me of the kind of person you'd run into in the Gaea. They have silver tongues but the moment they're done with you they throw you out. I just don't want to see that happen to Tula. I don't think she'd know what to do with herself. Especially without me there."

Elias nodded slowly, trying to take in every word. She sounded sincere and confident in her answer.

"You're a good friend, Deidra. I think you can help Tula come around," he said.

"I... I hope so," Deidra said. "I just know... she's probably blaming James for everything. I don't know. Ever since we got here, I think she's been... blaming him for everything that's gone wrong, even the stuff that has nothing to do with him."

"Has she always had that behavior when things go wrong?" Elias asked.

"Yeah... she has a tendency to pick a scapegoat and then everything becomes their fault," she said. "She did that all the way back in school when we were kids, too."

"Have you ever talked about this with her? Or, you know, about any other stuff that's bad that she doesn't know about?"

Deidra swallowed.

"I... never really thought to bring it up," she said. "She'd always kind of been... my superior."

A pause.

"Well, she acted like my superior, even if we were partners," she said. "Tula was the one who got the job to work directly under Ovrell and Oliver. She gets to pick who she wants as her partner on the job to be more of the... brawn, as needed. And she always picked me."

"But she always picked you because you're her friend too, right? So she must value your opinion. She seems to also respect your decision to leave, so... I think that counts for something," Elias said.

"I guess it does," Deidra agreed.

"You were inspired to change by selfless acts from James and others. So maybe Tula could use the same treatment. And if that comes from a friend... well, friends are the best people to bring change for others," Elias said with a smile. "I'm sure we'll run into her again. You'll have another opportunity to see her again. You'll see."

Deidra looked encouraged, but the brightness in her eyes only lasted a moment.

"It's likely we'll only see her again in the context of confrontation," she said seriously.

"Right. But by then, you'd be a master of funny jokes. And you'll not only reason with her, but make her laugh. Crisis avoided," Elias said, still with the lingering smile.

"Ha," Deidra said without a smile. "If only life worked that way."

"I think it's better to imagine positive outcomes rather than anything that could go wrong. It's something to shoot for, you know? I don't think it's unrealistic to think that Tula could be convinced to change her way of thinking, especially if you can guide her."

"I... I suppose I can try," Deidra said. "Yeah. I can try."

"To guide her or say a funny joke?" Elias said with a growing grin.

"...Both," Deidra said stiffly.

Elias beamed. "I look forward to it."
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Carina says...

17th of Sil

Elise was helping out as needed during their travel breaks, as usual. The tasks could be fairly monotonous at times, especially since they repeated most days - but she didn't mind. She knew what she signed up for and was more than happy to help any way possible.

It was also nice that everyone was self-sufficient, for the most part. For the past several years, she didn't often have a lot of free time for leisure - but when traveling with friends, even for a specific mission and goal in mind - it did feel a bit like leisure, especially when she was with others she could easily connect with. Mel was also a doctor, and initially that was what connected them, but Elise enjoyed her company as she sensed a new friendship blossoming between them.

Bo had stepped out during the break, so Mel stepped in to fill the natural leadership role. Elise happily followed any suggestions she made, including fetching Bo since he wandered off to get some fresh air by himself. She figured alone time was a rarity for him, so she thought nothing of it when he excused himself.

They did need to get moving again though, so Elise walked towards his direction, trying to find him.

"Bo?" she called as she slipped between some trees. "Are you here?"

Elise stepped into an open clearing, and it wasn't hard to find him after that. He was sitting under a big willow tree, peacefully leaning back against the tree trunk with his eye closed. He looked to be asleep.

Elise walked closer, purposely trying to make as much noise as possible with every step she took, hoping the sounds would waken him so she didn't need to further bother him.

"I see you've found me," Bo said without moving or opening his eye.

Intrigued, Elise stood a few feet away, now silent. She wondered if she knew it was she who approached, or if he thought she was someone else.

"You can sit with me, if you want, Elise," Bo said. It wasn't until after he said her name that he looked up at her.

With a smile, she nodded and gingerly sat next to him. "How did you know it was me?" she asked.

"Your gait," he said. "The pattern of your footfalls before you started stomping to wake me."

"I'd ask how your nap went, but I see you've instead used this time to enhance your observation skills," Elise said with a playful smile.

"Naps can do that for you," Bo said with a smirk. "They enhance a lot of things."

"Well... I hope you had enough time to nap, then - because I have orders to bring you back to the camp so we can get moving again."

Bo nodded slowly, but didn't move to leave. Instead, he only looked out from beneath the willow's softly swinging branches.

"Ah, yes," he said. "That is important."

Elise waited to see if he would stand so they could begin to go back, but Bo seemed content to sit and watch the leaves sway in the breeze.

"Breaks are also important. I suppose letting you have a few extra minutes of peace wouldn't hurt anyone," she said.

"I suppose not," Bo said in calm agreement.

Wordlessly, they both watched the peace brought by the willow tree, letting the sounds of the leaves and wind fill the air between them.

"Do you like critters?" Bo asked after a short time passed.

That stole Elise's attention. "As in, squirrels, rabbits, and other small common animals?" she asked, intrigued by the random question.

"They don't have to be common, but I suppose critters are defined as small," Bo said.

"I don't have much of an opinion of them. I think some are more cute than others, I suppose. Why do you ask?"

"No real reason. I saw a birds' nest on the walk here and a small rabbit. It was just on my mind. You learn to appreciate the little things in nature the more you have to travel in it," Bo said. "Of course, I miss having running water, but that's not a necessity."

"What do you consider to be necessities?" Elias asked.

"Food, water, and safety first," he said. "Depending on the weather, shelter and/or warmth. Also family, friends, or at least a friendly acquaintance."

Elise hummed. "Even though it checks all the boxes, do you think the way we're living now is sustainable?"

"Oh, not long-term by any means," Bo said. "I realize I haven't told any of you explicitly, but after this is all over - if everything goes well - I'll be taking all of you back to somewhere a lot more stable. We won't be on the road forever. Or at least, you guys won't be."

"But you always will, won't you? There's always mages to save," Elise said.

"Yeah," Bo said with a small sigh. "At least, until something changes. Until then, we'll keep rescuing."

"And do you think that is sustainable?" Elise asked. "I'm not downplaying any of your intentions or acts. I just want you to know that everyone needs a break too. It seems you always think of other people more than yourself."

"You're much the same in that way," Bo said, looking to her with a grin.

Smiling, Elise laughed through her nose. "I think it's more nuanced than that," she said. "I do worry about other people too... but for the most part, my circle of concern tends to fall to people I know. I admit a lot of it is centered around Elias. But if I widen the circle like you have... if I worry about people all around the world - many of whom I've never even met - I think I would be overwhelmed by the pressure."

"It can be a lot, sometimes, sure," Bo said softly. "But I don't carry it alone. I have a whole team, and many other friends out there who are helping carry the weight of it as well. And I know that I can't save everyone. It's just how it is. I can't change the world, but I can change the world for one person at a time, and that's enough for me."

Elise nodded. "I think that's admirable. You know, that's not too different from how doctors think as well. There are many people we can save, and we can make a difference for each life. But there are also many instances of not being able to help someone. It took me a while to accept that lesson." She offered another smile to Bo. "Regardless, I'm glad that you have the support you need."

"Me too," Bo said with a small grin.

There was a natural lull in the conversation and a short pause ensued. Elise reflected back on what Bo said before.

"You mentioned that you'd take as somewhere more stable after this all blows over," she said. "What do you have in mind?"

"Well... there's a place deep in the wilds, up North," Bo said. "It's hidden in the ruins and the thick of the forest. It's like our home base, for everyone we rescue. Think of it like a secret city."

"So it's a secret city for mages?" Elise asked.

"In short, yes," he said.

He turned to look at her.

"When was the last time you had a stable home to stay?" he asked. "One that you could be sure was safe?"

Elise was pleasantly surprised by the question, but it was a good one to think about. She had to take a moment to reflect.

"I think 'stable' and 'safe' are not entirely related," she said. "I've always lived in a safe home, up until a year ago when I left to find my brother. But stable?... I'm not sure. I think my life was fairly stable up until I was twelve, but others could argue that it was still fairly chaotic. So it's a mixed bag."

"What would've made it chaotic?" Bo asked.

"I had a really big family," Elise said with a longing smile. "I was the third oldest. So naturally, I was always taking care of someone. I also grew up in a military infirmary base." She paused, trying to think of a concise explanation for this since Bo wouldn't understand the context. "It's not violent by any means. It's basically a giant, busy hospital that never sleeps. I was assisting my parents as soon as I could walk and talk."

"Sounds like an intense environment to grow up in," Bo said.

"Maybe," Elise said. "But it had everything I needed - including warmth, family, and friends. I can't say that it was a bad childhood."

She turned to look at Bo as well, now curious of his own background.

"What about you? Did you grow up in a stable, safe, or chaotic household?" she asked.

"Well, I suppose it's a little complicated. I uh, didn't have a lot of stability or safety as a kid until I was taken in by a guy named Mickey. I was a young teenager at the time he found me - I'd been on my own for a little while. He's been like a father to me ever since, and things got better after he took me in," Bo said.

"Where is he now?" Elise asked.

"Well, I can't really keep tabs on his whereabouts all the time," Bo said. "But he's usually at said super secret city running things."

"Ah. So he now runs the city, and you run the organization that sends people to the city," Elise said with a smile.

"It kind of worked out that way, yeah," he said.

"I think that's rather nice. It seems that the two of you are always keeping busy, then," she said. "Did he create this mage group?"

"Yeah," Bo said. "Many years ago. He's been helping mages for a long time. It's been his life's work, pretty much."

"Like father, like son," Elise said.

"Yeah," Bo said with a smile.

There was a beat of silence but Bo seized it before Elise could.

"You know," Bo said. "If - or, when - we make it to the city of mages. Do you think you'd want to go back to being a doctor, or do you have any other passions?"

That was funny. Elias asked her a similar question not too long ago. She wondered if perhaps she displayed herself to have her magic and upbringing be her identity.

"I don't mind being a doctor. I like to help people. There are still other avenues I haven't explored in the field - medicine for preventable sickness and disease being one of them. My magic wouldn't help, but it's still something to learn and discover. Outside of that, though..." She paused. "I think it'd be a good time to learn new passions. I used to bake a lot. I could rediscover that or find other passions. I'd certainly have a lot more leisure time to build my sense of self by then."

Bo's face seemed to light up at that.

"Baking!" he said. "That would be wonderful. I could show you around the kitchens when we get there. Maybe you could teach me how to bake some Earth recipes, and I'll share some from Nye."

Elise found herself grinning from the sudden brightness of his voice, and she let out an airy laugh.

"A fellow baker," she said with a smile. "I can't say I'm amazing at it, but I would love to exchange recipes."

"Hey, we're all still learning," Bo said. "I'm sure you could teach me a thing or two."

"Likewise," she said. "What are your favorite bakes?"

"Well, I love making all types of bread," Bo said. "I've refined my sourdough technique over the years in particular, but I also enjoy dessert breads, you know, sweeter fruity types. Banana's always a good one, but it's hard to get bananas out in the wilds. What about you?"

"I imagine it's hard to bake in general while traveling, yeah," Elise said. "I admit I probably make more unconventional bakes. I also like to make breads, but not so much the sweeter ones. I gravitate more towards savory, usually with herbs and garlic. Maybe vegetables or beans. It kind of depends on what I have, and it ends up being more of a meal. I do make dessert bakes too, but they vary between cakes, pastries, and biscuits. Let's see... I've made sweet carrot cakes, ginger biscuits, and red bean pastries. I think decorating them could be fun too, but I usually don't do that unless I'm asked to make bakes for an event."

"Alright," Bo said. "It's official. We are baking once this is all over."

Elise laughed. "I'm okay with that. That'd be a fun way to celebrate."

"We can make a big cake that says 'Welcome to Nye' with a little 'back' in parentheses underneath between 'Welcome' and 'to' for James and Eve," Bo said.

"That would be so sweet. Maybe it could be a three-tier cake. We both make our individual sponges, but we collaborate together on the third one," Elise said with a big smile.

"That sounds perfect," Bo said, beaming as well.

Elise let her smile linger at the thought, and a natural silence fell over them. It was peaceful and nice, talking to Bo about the future without the doom and gloom that came with their travels. But she knew that they had to return back to the present and continue on their day.

"I'd love to continue brainstorming our future bakes, but we really ought to make it back to the others. I wouldn't want them to worry if we take too long," she said.

Bo nodded, his smile starting to naturally fade.

"Neither would I," he said, finally getting to his feet. "Thanks for sitting with me for a bit."

"Of course," Elise said as she followed suit. "That's what friends are for."
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Mon Mar 20, 2023 4:13 am
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soundofmind says...

17th of Sil

There was a lot going on. Life still moved forward, people ate, people slept, and they traveled, but the relational dynamics developing around him were messy. That was most of life - messy - but this was something very different.

These people were from a different world, and Bo saw it even more now that it was out in the open.

"You know what I miss? Indoor plumbing," Elias said beside Bo. He paused for a second, thinking. "Unless... I mean, does Nye have that? Or have we only been exposed to the rugged side of Nye?"

"Nye has been through a long recovery process after the war and several natural disasters 100 years ago. There are cities with indoor plumbing, but that kind of technology hasn't really reached the places you've seen," Bo said. "Granted, if you wanted to experience Nye's indoor plumbing you'd have to go to some of the biggest cities in Nye. Which would be more dangerous for you all than anything."

They were sitting on a boulder. There were a few boulders in this area. This one was tall, mossy, and climbable. It made a good rest stop for the morning, and gave them a small view downhill, not that there was much more to see than trees.

Elias hummed, rubbing his fingers along the nearby moss. "Might be worth it, though. It'd be nice to have a real shower. Jumping in the river is cool and all, but it's kind of nippy in there."

"If it's a shower you want," Bo said. "Just ask Jordan to do some water magic. He can make it into a spray if it's the water pressure you miss. Can't do much about the temperature, though - at least, not as easily."

Elias hummed again, thinking it over. "Would it be weird if I asked him to spray soapy water too?"

"Can't that be accomplished yourself by lathering soap into your hair and skin as he sprays the water?" Bo asked.

"Yeah, but he'd be a human showerhead. I'm sure he could do it too, and it'd be way cooler," Elias said.

"I mean," Bo said. "You could push your luck with him. But if you ask him for a weird favor, I have a feeling he'll ask you for one in return."

"Oh, like what? I can do weird favors," Elias said, maybe a little too eagerly.

"I don't know," Bo said. "But I've known him long enough that I know he'll think of something."

Elias leaned forward, stroking his chin. He often did so whenever he was contemplating something.

"Hm. Yeah, okay. Noted. Ask Jordan for weird favors," he said with a nod.

Bo laughed lightly through his nose.

He liked Elias. He was well-humored and didn't take things too seriously, which made him a fun conversationalist. He still worried about him, but Bo was still building trust, and he was fine with that.

"I've noticed you like doing things people might consider 'weird,'" Bo said, making air quotes with his fingers. "Of course, what everyone considers weird depends on the person."

"Oh yeah? Huh," Elias said with a little smile. He seemed to not really notice until Bo pointed it out. "Well, what do you think is 'weird' then?"

"Well, personally, I like when things are weird," Bo said. "I find that when people are being weird, that's often when they're finally being their truest selves. Everyone's weird in different ways. Weird is just what's different or unconventional, I suppose. Anything that strays from the norm in a way that could be considered odd. Or unsettling, sometimes, I suppose."

"Yeah, yeah. That's a good definition," Elias said with a nod. "You're like a walking dictionary."

Bo guffawed.

"And talking too," Bo said.

Elias grinned. "Ooh, and you rhyme too. So clever."

"Clever as ever," he said.

Still grinning, Elias slightly narrowed his eyes at him. "Like an orange?"

Bo narrowed his eyes back at Elias.

"More like porridge," Bo said.

Elias snickered. "Marvelous. That was poetry. Excellent work."

"Thank you, thank you," Bo said with a small smile as he let the conversation lull for a moment. Bo was about to speak again, but it appeared that Elias spoke before he could. This was expected.

"I guess you're right though. I do think it's fun to do weird things. I never really thought about it that way though. I just think it's funny," Elias said with a smile and a shrug.

"Ever the comedian," Bo said. "I know what that can feel like."

"Do you source your humor from weirdness too?" Elias asked.

"My own weirdness, of course," Bo said. "But sometime I like to cater to the crowd I'm in. Figure out what kind of things make them laugh, you know."

"So your humor changes person-to-person?" he asked.

"The kinds of jokes I tell do, sometimes," Bo said. "But truthfully, the things I find most funny are usually the stupidest things. Or the things that make toddlers laugh, really."

"Right, yeah," Elias said as he squinted out in front of him, leaning forward once again in thought. "Huh. I think I have toddler humor," he concluded.

Bo grinned and looked over to Elias.

"That's why I find you so funny," Bo said.

Elias grinned as well, then twirled his hand in front of him and slightly bowed. "Thank you, thank you. Someday, I'll be a true comedian and say a fart joke in your honor."

Bo rested a hand on his chest.

"I'm honored," he said. "But I hope you know I enjoy your company even when you're not being funny. I appreciate your perspective on things in the moments I've gotten to see you in what we might consider more serious situations. Like how you handled things with Deidra."

Elias's grin slowly faded into a shy smile as he chuckled and he scratched the back of his neck. "Wow... well, uh, thanks. I appreciate you too," he said, clearly not expecting the slew of compliments. "I don't think I really 'handled' Deidra though. That's kind of a rough way to describe that, isn't it? I just talked to her, like I'm talking to you."

"I was thinking more in reference to our initial confrontation, when things were a bit more tense," Bo said. "I think you were influential in helping diffuse some of the tension, whether you meant to or not. I think you have a gift in that way, to calm people down, so to speak. Maybe it's just something in your manner, or maybe it's because you're normally a bit more silly, so when you say something in a serious moment people tend to listen more. But I appreciate you doing the simple things too. Like just talking to her. I don't think the importance of simple human connection can be understated. And that, I'll add, is another thing you're quite good at. You're a safe person, and I've enjoyed watching your friends - and new ones you're making, like Deidra - discover that about you."

Elias was watching Bo attentively as he talked, but when he finished, Elias quickly darted his eyes away, possibly feeling a little awkward due to the compliments. He nervously laughed.

"I hope you know I'm saying that out of obligation," Bo said. "I just like to put these things to words. It doesn't make sense to me to think well of someone and never express it."

"No, no, you're fine," Elias said with a smile. "Thank you. That's really nice of you to say. Sorry, you took me a bit of a surprise back there. But I appreciate it. I do."

Bo smiled softly in return.

"I'll give you a heads' up next time," he said with a light nudge of Elias's shoulder.

Elias laughed through his nose, throwing him some moss that he had been playing with. "That's okay. I'm usually pretty good with surprises. I'll brace myself next time."

"Hopefully it's not the sort of thing you have to brace too much for," Bo said, catching the moss in one hand.

Elias narrowed his eyes at him, somewhat out of suspicion, somewhat out of playfulness. "You know, you're really good at reading people," he commented.

Bo shrugged. "What does that mean?" he asked. "Reading people."

Elias hummed, squinting some more and leaning closer towards him. "Are you psychoanalyzing me?" he asked.

Bo snorted through his nose.

"I notice things, sometimes," Bo said. "Doesn't mean I'm always right about the conclusions I make. Sometimes you just have to hold things loosely and be content with letting other people set the pace of discovery."

Elias leaned away, but kept his eyes on Bo, still suspicious. But something about his expression made Bo think that his intent was less on being playful, and more about wanting to know his intentions.

"You're friends with my sister... right? I noticed you both talk a good bit too. It's nice to see her traveling with a friend," Elias said.

"Elise didn't set me on a mission to befriend you," Bo said. "If that's what you're worried about. I just happen to enjoy you both. But I'm aware that Elise has a very elder sister tendency to worry about you."

"And? Did she ever tell you why?" Elias pried.

"She's only alluded to it," Bo said. "And I haven't pressed for details."

"To what?" Elias pressed.

"A generally difficult past," Bo said. "But it wasn't my place to ask for details from a third party, so that's where the information stopped. I don't like hearing about other people's stories if it's from anyone but themselves."

Elias slowly nodded, turning his attention away from Bo and back to the moss that he was picking on the boulder. A short silence followed.

"I'm not trying to hide anything. I was just curious," he said with a sigh. "But... if you are worried about me, I am doing fine. Really good actually." He glanced at Bo to offer a small smile. "I appreciate all your sentiments. I do. It's kind of weird to hear it, though. Just saying."

"Is that just because it's from me?" Bo asked. "Someone who hasn't known you for very long?"

"No... I don't think so. I enjoy talking to you. Really, it's nothing against you," Elias said.

"Do I remind you of your sister?" Bo asked.

"Bo... I can't help but feel like I'm being interrogated right now," Elias admitted, offering a weak smile, but his voice was serious and sincere.

Bo let out a small sigh.

"Sorry," he said. "Forgive me for overstepping."

There was another short silence as Elias still focused on the moss.

"I don't mind telling you. I know you've got this whole psychiatrist observation brain thing going on. Must be why you're a great leader. But..." Elias began, pausing for a moment to gather his thoughts. "A rough past is accurate, sure. I've been through hell and back. I've been beaten. I've been an addict. I've been suicidal. All I wanted was someone I could talk to and connect with, among other things. I have that now, and really, this feels so long ago, I feel like a different person now. Elise worries about me because she has always worried about me for basically my whole life. I promise, I'm doing fine. Life's pretty good. You don't have to worry about me."

Bo took in a quiet, deep breath as Elias spoke.

He wasn't really sure how it happened, but he had ended up reminding Elias of his overbearing sister. He knew he had a tendency to be overbearing himself at times, and he understood how that put Elias on guard. He just felt bad that it happened.

Regardless, this was a closed door - and it often was. And he wasn't going to force anything.

"I'm sorry that I was overbearing," Bo said. "And you don't owe me any kind of explanation if you don't want to give it. I really wasn't hunting for information. I just wanted to point out some things I thought were really great about you."

"No, no, I know," Elias said quickly with his hand out in front of him as he he were shaking away the thought of Bo hunting him for information. "I know your intents were good. Like I said, I've always looked for people to talk to. So I'm not trying to hide anything. But... well... if you want to know something, you can ask me. But otherwise, I'd be glad to move on and get a fresh start. Talking about toddler humor. Or something."

Bo hummed with a nod.

And instead of saying something, he made his best wet fart noise as loud as he could.

Elias raised his brows, impressed. "Now that's a conversation starter I can get behind," he said with a grin.

Bo smirked and leaned in slightly.

"As a quick aside before we move on to farts - just know the same goes for me as well," he said. "If you want to know something, you can ask me."

He leaned away, but was content to let the silence sit again. Elias got squirmy any time a conversation got more serious, but now the attention was pinned on Bo, and not Elias. Bo hoped that made Elias more comfortable in return.

"You seem to always worry about other people and how they're doing, I assume because you're a leader and all. But..." Elias kicked a small pebble, sending it skirting across the ground. "Do you have people to worry about you?"

Bo smiled softly, looking out over the forest.

"I didn't always," he said. "But I do now. I'd say Mel in particular - my Mel, not yours - is the biggest worrier in my life. Next would be a guy named Mickey. You haven't met him, but he's my mentor, and my adoptive father."

"Oh... Do you miss him?" Elias asked.

"I do," Bo said. "But if this whole plan goes well, I'll get to see him again soon. Soon being a few months, but. You know. What is 'soon' anyway?"

Elias nodded. "What about Mel? How long have you known her?"

Bo hummed, looking up in thought.

"I think it's been..." he said while doing the math in his head. "At least fifteen years, I think."

"Oh, wow. That's a long time," Elias said.

"Well, I've lived a bit of life so far, so," Bo said with a shrug.

"How old are you, anyways?" Elias asked.

"A lot older than I look," Bo said with a small smirk.

"Eighty years old. Got it," Elias said with a nod and a smirk himself.

"A lot closer than most people guess, actually," Bo said with a laugh.

Elias raised a brow, not following. "Wait, you're eighty years old? No you're not."

Here we go.

Bo held up his hands in front of him.

"Hear me out," he said. "But I'm actually 93."

Elias stared at him for a moment, but then smiled and laughed through his nose. "Good one. But how old are you actually?" he asked.

Bo knew Elias wasn't going to believe him right away. That was expected. No one did.

"I'm really not lying about how old I am," Bo said. "I know it doesn't make sense."

Elias squinted at him, more confused than anything. "If you're 93 years old, why aren't you more wrinkly?"

"Because dragons age differently than humans do," Bo said.

"But aren't you..." Elias began, but trailed away when he fully processed Bo's words. He slowly turned to face him, eyes wide. "Wait, are you saying that you're a dragon?"

Bo slowly got to his feet, standing atop the boulder. He extended his hand down to Elias with a small, gleeful smile.

"Come on," Bo said. "I'll show you."

Elias happily took Bo's hand to briskly get to his feet, but not before rapidly blinking as he stared in awe at Bo.

"A dragon," he said, but there was some confusion in his voice. Maybe he didn't know the full weight of what that entailed. He probably didn't. "That's the type of blood that James stole that got him in this mess, isn't it?"

Bo led Elias off the boulder, walking him away from the group, a bit further out. Where they'd have more space.

"Seems so," Bo said. "That would be Svida's blood the kingdom had, I think. But that's a story for another time."

"So you're not human," Elias deduced. "But, uh. You look human."

"Fun fact about dragons," Bo said, still walking. "We can change forms. Kind of like werewolves have a wolf and human form. Dragons have different forms too."

"What? No way. Can I see?" Elias asked with a big smile.

"Just a little further," Bo said. "I don't want the others to see."

"How am I just now finding this out?" Elias asked with a laugh. It quickly subsided as he again processed his words too late. "Wait, what do you mean? Why can't the others see?"

"I'm not really ready for everyone to know, yet," Bo said. "It's a whole can of worms, you know? It'd be like saying -- I don't know. Like, that I'm secretly your father or something. Except that's not a good example."

"I wish you were my father. Then I'd be a dragon too," Elias said.

Bo chuckled, finally pulling them to a stop.

"That's also not quite how things work," he said. "But let's start with this."

Still holding Elias's hand, Bo finally allowed himself to slip into his other skin.

There was a flash of blue light as Bo hastily lifted Elias up and put him on his shoulders. For the first time in a long time, Bo felt like he could let out a full breath. He looked down at his dragon legs and claws, remembering again what he looked like with the silver-blue scales that shimmered in the sunlight. His long, lizard-like body swirled in the forest, curled just beneath the tops of the trees so as not to be seen. He turned his long neck around to look at Elias, who sat atop his shoulders.

He couldn't quite smile the same way humans did in his dragon form, but he did part his teeth and let out a small laugh, letting his breath pass over Elias's face.

Mouth agape in awe, Elias slapped his hand over his mouth to stop the giddy laugh that escaped. Eyes shining with wonder, he kept darting his head around to get a full view of Bo, still laughing.

"No way. You're a giant lizard!" he said with a grin between the laughs, attempting to stand but then falling back over when he lost his balance.

"Careful, there," Bo said, reaching in to nudge Elias with his snout. "It's a bit of a long fall."

This time, Elias stood still, mesmerized by Bo's face as he tilted his body from one side to another, trying to get a better angle to see him.

"You sound so normal. I thought you'd have more of a dragon voice," he said.

"What would be more of a dragon voice?" Bo asked, but before Elias answered, shifted his voice as low as he could make it. "Does this feel more fitting?"

"I was thinking it'd be more like GRRRRRAAAAWWRR and, you know, not understandable. And breathe fire while you're at it," Elias said with a grin.

"I can't breathe fire," Bo said. "But I can breathe lightning."

"Ooh, ooh. Demonstration?" Elias asked excitedly, almost in a child-like manner.

Bo huffed through his nose. "I would, but I think it'd cause a scene," he said apologetically. "And I think we have enough trouble as it is without drawing people out into the forest because there was lightning on a stormless day."

"Right... right," Elias said with a nod as he shifted his attention to his scales, running his fingers along it. "Does it... hurt? To be like this?"

"It doesn't hurt, no," Bo said. "But sometimes I do feel a little trapped in my human form. Feels like I don't fit."

"So it feels more natural for you to be in this form?" Elias asked.

"I don't know," Bo said, more quiet. "I think it's just because I don't get a chance to be like this as often."

"So? Why don't you? I think you're amazing like this. I mean, you're pretty amazing as a human too, but this is way cooler."

"I don't know if you've noticed, but dragons aren't exactly small," Bo said. "Waltzing around like this... would get me a lot of unwanted attention."

Elias furrowed his brows, finally leaving his scales alone as he slouched back, getting more comfortable on his shoulders. "And dragons... Being a dragon is more dangerous than being a mage, isn't it?" he said.

Bo was quiet for a moment, and he turned his head to the side, pulling away from Elias bit.

Even like this, he couldn't really stretch and sprawl out. Not if he was trying to stay hidden.

"It can be," he said quietly. "Even though I'm large and powerful, I'm still mortal. I'm not invincible."

Elias let a short silence pass as he pondered his words. "Is that why you're keeping this a secret from the others?" he finally asked.

"There are a few reasons," Bo said. "But that's the main one."

"Well... I'm sure I don't understand the many nuances that come from the other reasons," Elias said slowly. "But I think it can be difficult to hide a part of yourself from others, you know? Especially from close friends. And... okay, I'm just realizing that I'm now part of that group," he said with a weak laugh. "And I'm touched. Kind of feeling like I'm in an exclusive club now."

Bo grinned.

"That's because you are," he said.

Elias patted the side of his neck. "I'd say that this will be our little secret, but I'm awful at keeping secrets." His smile widened. "Just kidding. I can keep a secret. Pretty sure. Totally safe with me. Won't tell a soul."

"Mm hmm," Bo hummed with a faint laugh.

If it leaked out, Bo knew he'd have to deal with it then. But he had a feeling Elias wasn't lying about keeping someone else's secret.

"I appreciate it," Bo said.

"So I have like a hundred other questions," Elias said. "But I have a feeling we don't have time for a hundred answers right now."

"We have a few more weeks ahead of us," Bo said. "I think that gives us time. But right now, we have time for just a few."

"Okay, first question: why does your breath smell like apples? Is that normal dragon breath or is that your last snack?" Elias asked.

"It's probably because I ate apples recently," Bo said.

"So if you eat a dragon diet, like bugs or worms or - I have no clue actually - then human's Bo's breath will smell like bugs and worms?" Elias deduced.

"I don't really eat worms. I mean, I'll eat bugs about as much as any human who's fine with eating bugs I guess," Bo said.

Elias hummed. "What's a dragon diet, anyways? Can I become a dragon if I eat the same diet?"

"I eat a lot of the same things you do," Bo said. "Save for the fact that I kind of have to eat meat. But eating like me won't make you a dragon."

"So what does? You said it wasn't hereditary, right?"

"Right," Bo answered. "It's a little more mystical than that. Being a dragon comes with a much more powerful magic than a normal mage would carry. When a dragon passes - which can be after hundreds of years - that magic is passed to another. That person we call an inheritor."

"What's that process like? How did you find out that you're an inheritor?" Elias asked.

"Well," Bo said. "It's uh... ideally, a dragon finds their inheritor before they die. That's how it normally happens. It's a bit of a... magical phenomenon, a dragon being drawn to their inheritor. The former lightning dragon was named Ivar. He found me a bit earlier than normal and I got to learn under him before he passed."

"Oh wow. Do you know all of the dragons and their inheritors then?"

"Not all of them personally, no," Bo said. "But a few of them."

"How many dragons are there, anyways?"

"Eight," Bo said.

"So you're the lightning dragon... but what are the others?" Elias asked.

Bo shifted slowly, lowering so he was lying curled up tightly on the ground in the small clearing. He rested his head in front of Elias.

"Well, technically, my magic isn't just lightning. It's energy. Or electricity," Bo said. "And electrical currents. But lightning is the easiest for most people to comprehend."

Bo paused, but continued before Elias could ask another question.

"As for the other dragons," he said. "There's an air, fire, water, earth, light, life, and time dragon."

"Wow. There's a dragon for every mage out there, huh?" Elias commented.

"They were the first mages," Bo said. "So, yeah."

"How long ago was that? A bajillion years ago?"

"Something like that," Bo said with a grin. "More like a few thousand."

"Close enough," Elias said with a smile. "It's too bad that you haven't met all of them, though. You know, since you live a long time and all. It's a nice thought to have seven other friends who grow to be a couple hundred years old with you."

"Yeah," Bo said softly. "It is."

Elias patted his neck again, this time with vigorous energy and a growing grin. "Hey, you're not that old yet though. Still a ripe age of 93. I hope your bones are as young as you look."

"Hah," Bo laughed through his nose. "I guess we'll see."

And at that, there was another bright flash of blue light. One moment, Elias was sitting on Bo's back. The next, he was sitting in Bo's arms. His human arms, of course.

Bo set Elias on his feet.

"Well. Are you ready to go back now?" Bo asked. "No talk of dragons, though."

"Dragon? What dragon?" Elias said with a smile.

"Exactly," Bo said with a laugh.

"Wait, Bo," Elias said before they could get too far. "Just wanted to say - thank you. And also, sorry if I was being, uh... what's the word. Aggresive. But that word's aggresive. But you know what I mean. I appreciate you letting me in your exclusive club and showing me your true form, though. But I'm still waiting for you to demonstrate your ultra powerful electric zap breath."

Bo paused in his steps and turned to look at Elias with a small smile.

"That, my friend," Bo said, meeting Elias's eyes as he briefly set his hand on his shoulder. "Will come at the right time. But that time is not today."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Elias said, mirroring his smile. "But don't worry. We've got a couple weeks for me to ask my remaining ninety questions."

"Right, right," Bo said, walking again. "I suppose I have many conversations to look forward to, then."
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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soundofmind says...

The 19th of Sil

The firelight flickered outside the canvas tarp of the covered wagon, and it pulsed like a heartbeat. The hazy glow seeped faintly past the canvas walls, warm, and blistering. It was a sickeningly hot night - one of the last before the chill of fall came - and the humidity was so thick it felt like James was sitting in, swimming in, and breathing in hot water.

Nothing felt real. The days had begun to blur together. He'd been so high for so long he wasn't sure he could remember what sobriety felt like. If he could remember it, he might've missed it. But he felt like he couldn't remember anything. Everything was melting away.

He sat on the edge of the bed in the near-darkness, listening to the muffled, distant noises of conversations between people around the fire. Nothing was pronounced enough to understand. It felt like he was underwater.

The wagon was rocking like a boat when he got to his feet. He didn't know what drew him to move. Something just felt wrong.

He was swaying, catching himself on the sides of the wagon every few feet.

The distant conversations were growing louder. And louder.

It wasn't just conversations.

It was shouting.


Sweat was pouring down his back. It felt like he was crawling out of a murky pond. The air clung to his skin like a heavy weight, and he felt like he could hardly breathe.

He slipped out of the back of the wagon, stumbling onto the ground on all fours as the noise around the fire suddenly cut through with full clarity. The air around him was thick and hazy, but he could see the crowd of people huddled around the fire, hands raised in fists, cheering. Shouting.

A pit of dread formed in his stomach, and he pushed himself to his feet. He felt like he was drunk with how he couldn't stop swaying, staggering like the world was rocking beneath him, barely holding him up. But when he made it to the crowd he found himself pushing through, squeezing past the others until he could get a view of what was happening around the fire.

And when the sea of bodies cleared away, he found himself staring at Butch, holding Eve.

On a skewer.

James's eyes ripped open, and he woke up trembling uncontrollably. He was breathing quickly, but shakily tried to slow his breaths before it got out of control.

The wagon around him was dark, and he couldn't see anything beyond the faintest shadows of undefined shapes around him.

His breathing felt so loud.

Still trembling, he rolled from his back to his side, remembering again where he was.

Rita was beside him. It was night. He was a hostage. A captive.

He wouldn't get very far.

He looked at Rita's sleeping shadow, unable to make out her face to see if she was awake. He knew this wasn't the first time he'd awoken suddenly in the middle of the night from nightmares, so it was possible she'd been conditioned to sleep through it, or just wasn't bothered enough to move.

For a minute, he waited to see if she'd do or say anything. But she didn't.

He rolled over, facing away from her.

It took him a moment to bring his breathing down to a normal rate. The image of Eve haunted him, and he had to keep actively pushing it out of his mind - trying desparately to think about something, anything else - but his thoughts kept circling back to it.

Clearly, the stress of it all finally won out against the dose of lumshade normally used to keep him asleep.

And judging from how drenched in sweat he was, he probably sweat it out too.

Gods, he couldn't do this. He couldn't fall back asleep. He wasn't going to fall back asleep after that, and it was going to drive him insane to stay still. He could already feel himself on the verge of a panic attack if he let himself continue to sit in it.

Hoping Rita was as asleep as she seemed, he carefully got to his feet. He'd almost forgotten how much he was shaking, because normally, sneaking away came naturally. But at the moment, every movement felt clumsy and fragile. His body felt like a bruise, and it had for weeks, now. But he'd almost forgotten that when the consistent doses of lumshade kept the pain at bay.

It was all hitting him again, now.

He forced himself to walk with light steps to the end of the wagon. His bare feet were slick and hot against the wood flooring, and it felt like he was seconds away from reliving his dream. But instead of stepping out of the wagon, he sat down, and slid off the side, slipping under the tarp.

When his feet hit the grass and dirt, he felt more grounded. Even if everything was still shaking in his chest.

But once he was standing outside of the wagon, he realized... he didn't know what he was doing.

He'd just needed some air. But it was stupid to think stepping out wouldn't look like escaping.

Gods, the lumshade was ruining his brain functions.

James ducked into the shadows beside the wagon, quickly scanning the area. There was a shot of relief when he saw it was Pitch who was on watch. The fire had long since been put out, but he could just catch her silhouette in the moonlight.

Maybe if it was Pitch... he could actually try something.

He was in terrible pain, disoriented from the dream, and by all means thoroughly unprepared and physically incapable of pulling off any sort of escape attempts without the hunting dogs quickly noticing and tracking him down.

He knew he wouldn't get far. Not with how much pain he was in.

But perhaps he could try something else.

There was still an open door with Tula. But Rita wasn't letting Tula see him after the near-death-overdose accident that wasn't an accident but--

Regardless. As crazy as it was, James was desparate. That was the only reason any of this made sense.

What other options did he have?

Run. Get caught. Suffer again. Get turned in.

Accept it. Get turned in. Suffer again.

Both ended in death. He knew both paths ended there.

Eve wasn't giving up on him. He couldn't give up either. He couldn't. He couldn't afford to. Because if he did... he was already a dead man.

James's eyes landed on Tula's tent.

Hers was easy to find. It was smaller than the others. She always slept by herself, ever since Deidra left. That was good, though. It meant she'd be alone. They would be alone.

Not that James had any idea what he was doing. Gods, he wished he knew what he was doing. He still wasn't sure how to gain Tula's loyalty, but he was damned if he didn't try.

James began to slink away into the darkness, staying in the shadows as he crept past the other tents, out of Pitch's view, and finally came up behind Tula's. Fortunately, the entrance faced away from Pitch's post - and part of him wondered if that was in any way intentional, because he knew Tula and Pitch didn't exactly get along.

But it didn't really matter.

If Pitch saw him, she didn't blow the whistle. Either way, he made it this far.

He carefully opened the flap to the tent and entered seamlessly, amazed at himself for how he hardly made a sound with how his chest still trembled deep inside him.

If only he could see a damn thing in the dark.

He stood there for a moment, waiting for his eyes to adjust. It felt like it took ages, but in reality, knew it was only a minute or two.
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soundofmind says...

It was just enough for Tula to notice him. There was a light rustle, and then a small flame cast light across the room. Tula was sitting upright, holding a match she lit as she stared intensely at James.

Her messy curly hair was down and clung to her face. She squinted at him, seemingly unamused and still half-asleep. She held her stare for a few seconds then turned to her side to light the lantern next to her.

"Did you break into my tent to see me? I'm touched. It's too bad I don't want to share the same bed with you again," she said dully as the lantern lit up the small enclosed space around them.

James's eyes had to adjust again. He squinted as the light filled the inside of the small tent, revealing a minimal but neat living space.

He noted the weapons on the side of the tent - within arms' reach - a few guns and knives on top of some papers. They looked like they might be flyers or articles, probably from her time before she joined Rita.

"There aren't many opportunities to talk without someone else overhearing," James said lowly, sitting down a mere foot and a half from her. There wasn't much space to go anywhere else.

Tula kept her glare on him, highly suspicious. She stayed perfectly still as she watched him move. "What do you want?" she growled.

"To talk," James said simply. "If you'll let me."

"Do you know how much trouble I'd be in if Rita knows you're in here? I'd never hear the end of it," she said lowly.

"You know I'll be in far more trouble than you," James said.

"Doesn't matter. You're marching to your death anyways."

"As if you're not doing the same," James said quietly.

Tula tilted her head. "What does that supposed to mean?"

"I just think you should start thinking ahead," James said softly.

Tula rolled her eyes and scoffed, clearly annoyed. "Please. This again. Acting like you're so high and mighty. Makes me want to give you another overdose so I can shut you up again."

"I'm not trying to act high and mighty. I'm just concerned for you," James said. Then added, softer. "Despite everything."

Tula stared at him with half-lidded eyes, looking more bored than anything. "I can see how Deidra could fall for this act. You know, you'd be a great spy too. It's too bad we can't work together."

"I don't see why we couldn't," James said.

Tula's expression kept getting more and more impatient. She looked at him as if he were stupid. "I'd rather not work with someone who looks like literal shit right now, thanks. Now can you leave before Rita notices? Or do I have to make this look like your fault again?"

With a sigh, James forced himself to his feet.

"It is my fault," he said lowly. "But before I go, I just wanted to warn you. I spent four months with Rita in the past, and over and over I've seen her pick up people looking for a place to belong only to discard them the moment they're not useful to her anymore."

He looked to meet Tula's eyes.

"Just be careful. You can't trust her," he said. "As much as you might think you're a part of something, she only reserves that level of loyalty to the ones who get the mark."

Tula scoffed. "And I should trust you instead? You've disliked me from the start. And now, when you're so desperate to leave and have the happy little life you've always wanted, you come to me hoping I can turn around like Deidra did? Sowing seeds of distrust so I can trust you? Please. You are so predictable. That's never going to work."

"I'm aware my motivations are transparent," James said. "But that doesn't change the fact that what I'm saying is true. If I really didn't care about you at all, I wouldn't bother giving a warning. I would happily watch Rita stab you in the back just to spite you. But unfortunately for me, and fortunately for you, I've never been that petty. Take what I say as you will, but I do feel a sense of responsiblity for all of this. You ending up here was a mistake. If things had gone seamlessly, you would still be back on Earth and I would be here on Nye."

"Obviously, because you hate me so much," Tula said, voice heavy with sarcasm, but James knew those were her true thoughts as well.

"Well, I thought I did," James said. "But the magic that brought us here came with a condition. I know you're aware of my history with Eve, and how she found herself on earth, and I on Nye. Though how we travelled between worlds was always a mystery, there was always something left behind. There was something I never told you. I didn't even tell Ovrell. Not because he didn't demand it, but because I knew he wouldn't understand because it was too hard to believe."

He paused, but Tula didn't interrupt. At least, not yet. He continued.

"Every time we found ourselves on a different world, we found a note. At first, it was Eve who found a note on her person when she arrived in Nye. Then when I arrived on Earth, I found a note. Each note had different segments that would reveal themselves on the page like invisible ink under heat, but only after certain events would unfold.

"When Eve and I stopped time after you almost had me kill her, a new message revealed itself on the note I found when on Earth. In short, it said to think of people I care about, and they would be taken with me to Nye."

James locked eyes with her.

"I don't care if you believe in magic and things that can't be explained."

A deep breath.

"But you ended up here, didn't you?"

Tula was a quiet for a moment, her eyes still piercing through his skull. For a second, she seemed to really consider his words. But James backpedaled on that thought when a smirked tugged her lips before evolving to a snort and a laugh.

"Seriously? You're trying to tell me that I'm your friend? Oh, that is rich," she said with sideways smirk. "Do all your friends make you kill your lover and play mind games with you? My, my. Your friends sound fun. Perhaps I should join them instead."

She didn't belive him. Of course she wouldn't. Even he didn't want to believe himself, but he wasn't lying.

With a deep sigh, he looked away.

Obviously, Tula wasn't his friend. He wasn't saying that in the slightest, but Tula didn't seem to care about nuance. She was convinced he was trying to play her - and she wasn't wrong. He was desparate to win her over, but he wasn't insincere in his warnings.

He really meant it when he said he was worried about her and her future with Rita.

But maybe this door wasn't open like he'd thought. His heart sunk into his chest.


"I don't expect you to help me," he said, barely audible. "But if you can find a window of escape for yourself... you should take it."

He turned to the tent's flap door, hand resting on it.

"Or just forget I was ever here," he said. "Since you care about Rita's approval so much."

Tula rolled her eyes. "Escape from what? I choose to be here, unlike you."

James, just about to leave, hesitated, and tilted his head to the side to look back at her.

"I didn't have to come," he said in a firm whisper. "But I can't just leave. You can."

And without waiting for a reply, he stepped back out of the tent.

He hadn't been gone for long, but he knew his absence was at risk of being noticed.

The only light provided for him was the faint glow of candlelight inside Tula's tent and the blue light of the moon overhead. But there were still many shadows to hide in as he made his way back to the wagon.

At some point - and he really couldn't pinpoint to when - he'd stopped shaking. Maybe it was the moment he stepped into Tula's tent and had to focus on some kind of strategy to get through to her. Regardless, it meant he felt more steady as he found his way back at the rear of the wagon, and his head felt more clear.

He crouched behind the wagon for a moment, breathing in the humid night air.

It was hot, and muggy, but it was rare he had moments like this where he felt like he truly had space alone to think.

Trying to appeal to Tula's empathy didn't see to be working - be it him expressing concern for her or him trying to gain her concern. But Tula had seemed to settle into what felt like a more real version of herself. Formerly, she was a lot more reserved and less expressive, but he'd been noticing more genuine emotions leak through. Most of it was irritation and annoyance, but for once, it at least seemed real.

In the past, before his and Eve's first escape, and before she seemed to crack and become unhinged, she was more careful. She used to be more careful with her words, and said very little, sticking to quiet observation. She'd been intentional and explicit in her language, and on occasion spoke in metaphors, but she'd never really been... sarcastic.

Which was all he was getting from her now.

He tried to think back to the small circle of people she had in her trust back on Earth.

Deidra and Tula had a long history that presumably went back into their childhood. But Deidra was also quiet and softspoken, and quick to agree and obey any commands. James didn't know enough about Deidra to know much more, but Deidra wasn't exactly sociable, normal, or well adjusted in anything outside of a military context.

Katya was the only other person Tula had kept close, and Katya was... interesting. It never felt like she and Tula were the best of friends, but clearly, Tula tolerated her, and often seemed to find her amusing. Of course, the things that made her "amusing" were her mean-spirited comments and her more odd and eccentric nature.

Whenever Tula was around people who were well-adjusted, kind, or to put it simply average, she didn't seem to pay them any mind, or otherwise, was bored and annoyed with them. He'd witnessed as much in their interactions in group contexts.

Even though she'd been assigned to get information out of him at the time, she seemed far more interested in James when he was brooding and secretive than when he was actually trying to show her kindness.

James suppressed a sigh.

So... she just found him boring, now, then. That was it? And she'd been vocal about how annoying and self-righteous she thought he was.

Gods, was this even worth it?

He rubbed his hands down his face. He didn't know if he had it in him to be the exact type of person Tula "needed" to get through to her. What Tula needed was a wake-up call. A reality check. What Tula needed was some serious psychiatric help, and he could bring none of those things.

And still, there was a very real part of him that wanted to help her.

Maybe something was wrong with him instead.

But he was running out of time. No, he'd already run out of time. It was wrong to think he'd really had any time at all.

There was no way he was going to get back in unnoticed. He knew that. He was stupid to think he'd ever be able to sneak out without anyone noticing.

Holding his breath, he climbed back into the wagon.

It was dark.

His bare feet felt like they were stuck to the floor. He couldn't make out anything past the shadows of the drapes curtaining the wagon into two halves. For all he knew, Rita wasn't even behind them anymore.

He took in a shallow breath, trying to be as quiet as possible as he walked up to the curtains, gently pushing them apart.

His heart was racing. If Rita didn't hear his footsteps, it felt like she'd wake up to his erratic heartbeat instead.

He stepped in and the curtains closed behind him. Unable to see what was in front of him, he stood tiny steps, inching towards the bed he knew was there, but was unsure of exactly how far it was.

Then an arm wrapped around him.

Every muscle in his body tensed as he jumped back, but was pulled back in.

Everything spun as he was whipped around and fell back onto the bed, with Rita's arm over his throat, and her knee in his ribs.

"Have a good trip?" Rita hissed. He could hear the anger seething in her words. Her breath was hot against his ear.

"I just needed some air," he rasped under the pressure of her arm against his trachea.

"And where'd you go to get your air, hm?" Rita asked, pressing her knee into his ribs even harder. James involuntarily sputtered a gasp.

"Outside," James wheezed, barely able to take a breath enough to speak.

"Bastard," Rita said as she ripped him to his feet and gripped the back of his shirt in her fists.

He stumbled as she dragged him forward, across the floor of wagon, through the curtain, until she threw him out onto the ground.

He barely managed to catch himself on his hands and knees.

"Everybody get up!" Rita shouted.

Okay. Okay.

This was happening.

Great. Fine. This was fine. Gods, this wasn't fine. Tula, I hope you were worth it.

Lights flickered to life inside of each tent, and one by one, everyone started pouring out with lanterns in hand. Rita stood over him and stepped on his back, pushing him back down to the ground. Something inside of his physical frame felt like it snapped, and when his face hit the dirt, sharp, stabbing pain seemed to radiate down to every possible nerve ending.

It's only going to get worse.

"Does anyone want to tell me how a man who's high on lumshade, severely wounded, and has a history of pitiful, failed escape attempts somehow slipped out of my wagon unnoticed?" she asked as the crowd gathered around her.

No one responded.

"Pitch, you were on guard," Rita accused.

James couldn't look up to see her, as his face was in the dirt, and Rita's heel in his spine, but he dreaded where this could lead.

"I was," Pitch answered in a cool calm. "I didn't see him."

"Bullshit," Rita spat.

"Clearly he didn't get very far," Pitch said. "He must not have even come near--"

"You're useless," Rita cut in. "Useless as a bounty hunter and useless as a watchman. Grab your things and get out of my sight."

There was a second of tense silence.

"I said," Rita repeated. "Get. Out. Get out of my camp. Leave."

Pitch said nothing, but James could faintly hear her footsteps retreating.

Rita lifted her foot off James's back and instead stuck it in his side, kicking him with her foot to roll him over onto his back instead of his stomach.

James, finally able to see again, found himself staring up into the eyes of Butch, who stood above all of the other men with a menacing grin growing on his face.

Rita had just fired the main medic. Maybe Rita had another medic among her men, but none of them would be the ally that Pitch was to James. And everyone knew that.

James thought about trying to get up, but he thought better of it.

Rita was silent for a moment, and everyone tiredly stood around him, their lanterns casting shadows behind them and leaving him in the spotlight by Rita's feet. He didn't have to see Rita's expression to know that she was still seething with rage, but it had to be clear to everyone else, too.

They all waited for her to speak.

"Tula," Rita said. "You're staying with me. Butch, you too. Alexander, take Pitch's watch. The rest of you go to bed."

As quickly as everyone came out of their tents, everyone began to retreat back to them. The lanterns stayed outside their tents, lighting the camp dimly, and Alexander walked over to the dead fire, starting to re-light it.

"Pick him up," Rita barked to Butch. And Butch didn't hesitate.

With one hand, he grabbed the back of James's shirt collar and hoisted him up into the air. James's collar caught under his chin, making it difficult to breathe again, but as Rita moved, Butch followed.

Alexander had breathed life into the campfire. It was starting to crackle and grow. Rita motioned for Butch to put James down, and he did set James on his feet, but he held James's shoulders with a death grip.

Needless to say, it hurt.

James watched as Rita walked over to Tula and whispered something into her ear. Unflinching, Tula kept her focused, stoic stare on James, only nodding in reply.

But James knew what that meant.

Eve. I'm so sorry.

As Rita walked over to him, she met his eyes with a grin that made him feel sick.

"Say hello," she said.
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Carina says...

For a disorienting moment, Eve thought she had woken up at a different place. But she knew something wasn't right. She wasn't here. She wasn't supposed to be here.

Because she was standing in front of James and the other bounty hunters.

Tula was broadcasting another vision to her.

Butch was standing behind James, holding him in place. His hands swallowed James's shoulders, and she could see Butch's knuckles were turning white in the firelight. His fingers digging in.

James looked a little stronger than when she last saw him. He was on his feet, at least. But she could see the lines of pain on his face and the dark circles under his eyes somehow looked ever darker than before. His eyes looked so full of exhaustion and desparation. Eve's felt a pressure building around her chest as her heart sank from the weight of shared dread, knowing that he had endured so much hurt and pain, and it was only going to get worse.

But she could see bandages peeking out from under his sleeves where she once saw him being slashed to pieces.

At least he was being kept alive. But at what cost? Guilt sat heavy with her, knowing she was trying to instill hope in him. Now that she could see him again, she wondered if it ever even worked. And if it did, would it be considered cruel?

Tula only ever shared her vision when she had something to show. Eve knew that they were going to hurt him again. She felt her body physically roll over as she tried to scratch the vision away from her face, but she knew it was useless.

Rita was inching closer to James, like a wildcat stalking its prey. She reached out to touch his face - far too gentle for the pain Eve knew had to be coming.

"I was hoping I could trust you," Rita said. "But it looks like you haven't learned your lesson. I thought lumshade might be enough to subdue you... but you've taken even that for granted."

Rita's touch turned forceful as she clenched her hand around James's jaw, forcing his mouth open.

"Hold him still," she said to Butch, whose grip around James tightened.

James, however, started to squirm. He tried to pull his face away from her grasp.

"Down on the ground," Rita said, annoyed. "It'll be easier."

Butch eagerly pushed James to the ground and pinned him underneath his body, holding James's face between his hands so that he couldn't even move it. Tula followed to hover closer, getting a clear view of James's face as Rita closed in again. This time, with a knife in hand.

"What are you--" James started to say, but Rita reached in and ripped his mouth open with both hands.

"I'm tired of hearing your voice," she said. She nodded to Butch, who took over in holding James's mouth agape.

"This way, I won't have to anymore," Rita said cooly.

And, faster than Eve could process, Rita reached into James's mouth, yanked out his tongue, and sliced it.

James cried out.

Immediately, it started to bleed all over Rita's hand and over James's mouth.

Rita leaned in, and Tula drew in closer. Rita rested her hand on Butch's arm and whispered his dismissal. After a second's hesitation, Butch released James from his grasp and withdrew, leaving James on the ground, curling up his legs as he reached up to his mouth.

Eve could see the tears shine in James's eyes as they caught the firelight.

Rita knelt down beside him and set one hand on his shoulder while she ran her fingers through his hair.

Blood was spilling out of his mouth.

"There, there," Rita said too-sweetly. "It's only until you learn your lesson."

James coughed, spitting up blood. Rita looked up into Tula's eyes.

And then she smiled.

"And if you don't," Rita said. "We'll break your legs."

Eve didn't realize that tears were stinging her vision until she realized that Tula had stopped sharing her sight. Her head was spinning and her breaths were heaving with panic. Disoriented and numb, she realized she had put herself in fetal position, covering her face with her hands. Her nails dug deep into the skin on her face, but the pain didn't register until several seconds in.

With a jagged breath, Eve forced herself to relax as she pried her hands away from her wet, tear-stricken face, trying to stop her hands from shaking. No, her body from shaking.

She had no control over this. She couldn't predict that this would happen.

Still, immense guilt and shared pain washed over her. She was seeing through her own eyes now, but she couldn't stop seeing the image of James spewing out the blood gushing from his mouth, even when he tried to cover it.

How much more did he have to suffer? She was sure that she didn't know the full extent of it, either.

Eve wished she could be there to absorb some of the damage or at least help in someway. But until real progress was made in finding him, there was nothing she could do. She was useless. Useless.

Eve took in another deep, shaky breath, but it came out jagged and hollow. She couldn't be bothered to sit up and clean herself up. She needed some time to adjust and process, but knowing that others were nearby made that feel impossible - although she couldn't explain why.

Sharply closing her eyes, Eve covered her face again and focused on her breathing, trying not to dwell on the things she couldn't control. Trying not to dwell on James's pained expression, the sadistic expression of pleasure from Rita, and the potential hurt that was to come.

Eve wanted to send him another message - but not like this. Not when he was hurting. And not when she was hurting because he was hurting.

She had to compose herself, which felt pathetic in comparison since she wasn't the one living through the experiences, yet was telling him to remain strong anyways.

Deep breath in, deep breath out.

Eve didn't know how much time had passed. It was a blur, especially when she tuned out everything except her breathing. Eventually, her breathing patterns became more relaxed, and her eyes were dry from tears. Her heart wasn't pounding against her ears anymore, but she would be lying if she said she was in a complete state of calm.

She couldn't. Not when someone she deeply loved was in so much peril. But she could at least mask the intensity of her emotions for now and do her best to keep herself relaxed.

Slowly, Eve sat up, feeling numb and empty. She always did after Tula sent her message. She was glad that Tula would never know how much this deeply affected her, but she knew that she knew anyways.

Groggily, Eve stiffly pulled her legs together and rested her elbows on her knees. She rubbed the side of her head with her hands, trying to distract herself from intrusive thoughts.

She couldn't go back to sleep like this. If she had it her way, she'd get an early head start of her day and start moving again. But she wasn't going to abandon her friends. Not again.

She heard footsteps quietly approaching. She opened her eyes again to see that it was Bo, who was taking watch. He seemed worried and concerned. He must have seen her trashing in her sleep.

"Bad dream?" Bo asked softly.

Eve didn't speak right away, instead closing her eyes again and rubbing her temples. She didn't want to talk about this now with someone she didn't know too well, but she did plan on telling him and the others eventually. It was a macabre story to tell, but they all needed to know the truth of what was happening.

"No," she answered lowly, opening her eyes again, but staring ahead, unfocused. "It's worse than a dream."

Bo knew what Tula was capable of. He was smart. He could connect the dots.

There was a long pause.

"I'm sorry," Bo said quietly.

Another two seconds pass.

"May I sit with you?" Bo asked.

Eve was far too tired to fight this. She felt fully drained and was exhausted.

"You may," she simply said.

And Bo simply nodded before he took a seat next to her, though he left her a little space.

"I've heard a lot from the others," Bo said. "But... how long have you and James been together?"

Eve knew he was trying to help alleviate her stress, but talking about the things that were not pressing felt even more stressful.

"I just witnessed a horrific scene of James having his cut tongue. I'd really rather not talk about trivialities," she said cooly, not caring how blunt that sounded.

A beat of silence.

"Fair enough," Bo said.

Eve didn't know what he was hoping to gain from this, but she closed her eyes and rubbed her face again, trying to regain her composure again. Yes, she was going to talk to Bo eventually. But after seeing something like this... Eve needed time. A lot of time. She didn't think she could be fully calm until the morning.

The minutes ticked on in silence. Eve didn't hear anything beside her, and for a moment, she questioned that Bo was even there. She glanced his way and didn't know if she was disappointed or relieved to see that he still was.

"I can keep watch if you'd like to go to sleep," she finally said. "I don't think I'll be going back to sleep."

"It's alright," Bo said. "I'm awake too."

Well, at least she offered.

Eve didn't have any more to say. And neither did Bo apparently, because they both sat by each other in silence for at least an hour, although Eve wasn't entirely sure. She was preoccupied with continually calming herself, reverting back to subtle meditation practices.

She wanted to avoid becoming an emotional mess again, especially since she knew her best chances of finding James involved cooperating with the others. She wanted to be her best self during the day, but it proved to be difficult when she continually thought back to what James had been through.

The pain. The suffering. Not only that, but Rita's words cut in as well.

They were trying to undermine her, making her feel weaker. It always did work, at least for a little bit. But Eve knew that her desire to be with James again was stronger, and she held on to the glimmer of hope she had.

She thought of what she could tell James. He was so patient to her when she was in a coma, and although he was so far away now, she wanted to give him the same patience and love he gave her. Why did it become increasingly difficult to do everyday? She disliked how this wasn't easy to her. She disliked that part of her.

Her mind was wandering again. Eve reeled it back to just the sounds of her calm breaths.

Finally, she looked up at the sky. It wasn't dawn just yet, but it will be soon. She'd deliver another message to James around the time that Adina wakes up so she wouldn't scare her awake. That would be another hour or so.

She glanced to her side again, noticing Bo still keeping watch, alert. He wasn't even giving her any mind, even when she was staring at him.

Eve stared ahead again, taking a silent deep breath. She was ready to talk now.

"One and a half years," she finally answered, referring to the question he asked nearly an hour ago now. "We've been together for one and a half years, but it's not consecutive. Rather, it's disjointed across an even longer period of time. Perhaps that is fitting for two time mages."

There was a beat of silence.

"Hm," he hummed. "And in the most recent block of time it's been...?"

"Three months," Eve said. "That includes the time on Nye."

She was going to say that it also included the time she woke up from the coma, but that would require too much explaining, so she decided to omit that part.

"I see," was all Bo said softly.

Bo didn't ask for it, but Eve thought this would be a good time to get him on the same page now. She wanted to get this over with. She let a short silence pass before speaking again.

"Like I said before, I didn't have a bad dream," she began, her gaze falling over the camp. "As you have already guessed, Tula was letting me see what she sees. Their camp was in the forest as well. James was being punished for something - I assume because he was talking out of turn. Butch held him down. Rita grabbed his tongue and sliced it with a knife. It's as bad as you can imagine, and at the end of it, Rita looked into Tula's eyes - knowing she was talking to me - and threatening that his legs would be next if he didn't learn his lesson."

Eve sighed.

"It's a scare tactic. I know. This isn't the first time she's done this. I don't even know what to do with this information, but I thought I'd share this in case it helps you in any way," Eve finished.

She didn't think there was anything he could do with this information either - other than knowing that they were not in any particular city, and that James's condition was getting worse.

"Thanks for telling me," Bo said quietly. "I'm sorry you had to see that."

"...Yeah," Eve said, not really sure there was much more to be said. "Are you sure you don't want to sleep, even for a little bit? We still have some time."

"Eh," Bo shrugged. "If I try to sleep now, I'll fall asleep by the time I have to wake up. I'll just push through for today."

"Alright. Thought I'd ask anyways," Eve said, leaving it at that. She was fine with sitting in silence until the others got up.

"I appreciate it," Bo said with a small nod, and fell into silence again as well.

At least, for a minute or so. Then he spoke up again.

"We're going to find him," Bo said quietly.

Eve hesitated, casting a sideways glance his way. "I know," she said after a brief silence, just as quiet.

Bo nodded slightly, and he slowly got to his feet.

"We'll get moving in an hour," he said. "Try to rest until then."
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