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Fate's Hand

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Sat Jul 31, 2021 8:47 am
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soundofmind says...

Fate's Hand
a part three by @Carina and @soundofmind

Fateful Heart | Fateful Heart 2 | Far From Home

one last wish, soon no longer smother
to exchange one fate of yours for another
one irreversible, one yet uncharted
one in another world, one where it started
it's fated to all for one world to be home
think of your friends, and you won't go alone
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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174 Reviews

Gender: Female
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Wed Aug 04, 2021 5:10 am
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soundofmind says...

"As James stood there with the note in his hands, the paper - though one seemingly indesctructable - dissolved like smoke, and the note and its poems were gone.

The euphoria of escape only lasted a second.

Eve was sitting in front of James, bent over with her broken arm cradled in her lap. She looked relieved more than anything, but as James turned to look at the others, reality sunk in fast.

Elliot was still standing still, fast asleep, with Sleepy hiding underneath him. Alistair, who had previously been standing, fell to the ground in shock. His eyes were wide as saucers and he looked like he was beyond words. Mel was still lying on the ground unconscious, not far off from Elias, who, now unfrozen from time, was still bleeding. He held his hand over his shoulder as he knelt on the ground, and he let out a faint, pained laugh.

Elise was staring at the others for a moment in shock before she broke free and hurried to Elias. James glanced back at Eve

"James, the med kit. Do you have the med kit?" Elise asked with urgency in her voice as she bent down over Elias, helping him sit up straight.

James hurried towards Elliot. "I've got it," he said as he ran, and ripped it out of the saddlebag, spinning around to meet her with it.

"Alistair, help me take off his shirt so we can apply pressure," Elise said.

"Where are we?" Alistair spat out instead, the panic already laced in his voice as he glanced around with wide eyes.

"Alistair," Elise said more urgently, then took the med kit from James's hands, opening it up.

James took the initiative to do what had been asked of Alistair, and he came around Elias's side, first peeling off his backpack, his jacket, and then pulling off his shirt. Elias luckily cooperated, although he seemed a bit delirious since he was lightly laughing and staring at his bloodied hand. Elise instructed James to apply pressure on the wound while she was gearing up the supplies needed to remove the bullet from the wound.

"Elias, you've lost a lot of blood. How are you feeling? Talk to us," she said gently.

"I'm okay," Elias slurred, and he rolled his head to the side, squinting in the distance. "Really."

James bundled up the already bloodied shirt against the bullet wound and put his arm around Elias's back as he leaned forward and pressed it up against the wound.

"We're going to take care of you," James said, keeping the pressure. "Just hang on for us, okay?"

"Hey... sis," Elias said as he rolled his head back to the other side to stare up at Elise with an unfocused expression.

Elise had wordlessly beckoned for James to lightly lift up the wadded-up shirt so she can inspect the wound with medical tongs, but it was hard to examine since he was still bleeding.

"He's right. We'll take care of you, just hang tight," she said calmly.

"It worked," Elias said with another pained, breathy laugh.

Elise glanced at James again, pulling away so he could go back to covering the wound. "What worked?" she asked.

"I don't have the beserker gene anymore."

"I know," Elise said as she firmly placed her hand on his other shoulder and gave him a gentle squeeze. "And right now, I need to remove the bullet. It will hurt. It's close to an artery. I'll do my best to heal you afterwards. Okay?"

"Okay," Elias said quietly.

Elise had James hold pressure on the wound for a few more minutes until the blood finally started to clot. It would be easier to find the bullet once the blood stopped flowing.

Before lying Elias down, Elise finally managed to grab Alistair's attention and snap him out of his shocked daze, and Alistair brought a clean tarp over, lying it on the ground behind Elias. Although he still had so many questions and concerns packed in the anxiety flowing out of him, he hardly said a word as he stepped back and James and Elise guided Elias onto his back. When James finally pulled the blood-filled shirt away, the wound had stopped bleeding, and both Elise and James washed their hands.

They both put on a pair of sterile gloves while Elise came around to Elias's side, starting to wipe away some of the dried blood and clean around the wound, gently dabbing with antiseptic wipes until the skin was clear. Alistair became the trash-bag holder, taking the dirty wipes and making sure the space was clear.

Silence fell over the group as Elise carefully started to dig into the wound with the metal tongs, and the faint sounds of bugs and birds chirping seemed to grow louder in contrast.

"It's killing me," Elias moaned after about a minute of silence. Luckily, his comment didn't break Elise's concentration.

James sat by Elias's side and took his hand, squeezing it firmly in support.

"It's almost out, Elias," James said. "Just a little longer."

"I was talking about the silence," Elias said with a sigh. "The silence is killing me."

James stared at Elias for a moment and had to suppress a small laugh as he shook his head.

"Does that make it a silent killer?" he offered, trying to keep it light. He could see Elise had started pulling up, and the tip of the bullet could be seen.

"Hah, hah," Elias drew out slowly, even though he was in a daze. He didn't let the pain get to his expression, though.

"Sorry, I'm still working on my bedside humor," James said with a small smile. His eyes were on Elise, though. She lifted a part of the bullet out, carefully holding it in the tongs for a moment before quickly discarding it in the bag that Alistair held.

"Elias, there's shrapnel from the bullet. It'll take a little longer," Elise said, her brows knitted together in concern.

"...What is it? What's wrong?" Elias asked, squinting at his sister.

Elise slowly set the tongs on a small metal tray next to her, leaning closer and setting her hand on his arm.

"I'm afraid that if I remove all the shrapnel, the artery will be exposed and you will lose more blood. But if I don't remove it, you can get infected," she said solemnly.

"...Oh," Elias said, looking like he was trying hard to understand the severity of the situation.

"But I think, if we use both our powers, you will be able to heal," Elise said gently. "It would have to be done as soon as I remove the shrapnel."

"What do you -- what do you mean, both our powers?" Elias asked nervously.

"You may not have the beserker gene, but you can still heal yourself, and more than I am able to heal you," Elise said. She opened her mouth to continue, but was quickly interrupted.

"No, I don't want to do that," he said, although he sounded uncertain.

"Elias..." Elise glanced at Eve who was now sitting with Mel, trying to shake her awake. She then glanced at James as a silent request for help.

"We need you to get better if we're going to make it through this, Elias," James said, both gentle and firm. "The only way we're moving forward is together. This is our best option."

He paused, glancing up again to briefly meet Elise's eyes.

"I can help too," James said. "Your power works by taking from others, and I'm fine. You can take from me too, so that it's not as draining for Elise. Alright?"

"Me too," Alistair chimed in quickly. "I mean, uh - you can distribute the injury to me too. It's fine."

"That makes three of us," Elise said, trying to meet Elias's panicked darting eyes between the three of them. "Distributing the wound between the three of us is the safest route. Can you do that?"

Elias bent his arms and tried to sit himself up, but grunted and gave up when Elise gently pushed him back down, applying pressure on his wounded shoulder.

"That's the thing: I don't know," he said solemnly. "I've never done that before. What if I accidentally give one of you the full injury?"

"Then there at least won't be a bullet to worry about, making it a lot easier," James said. "We'll figure it out, and we'll be okay. But we need to do this now, okay?"

Elias glanced at the others for approval, and Elise and Alistair nodded.

"We have to try," she said softly.

"...Okay," Elias said as he laid back down in defeat. "I'll try."

Another bout of silence followed (likely much to Elias's displeasure) as Elise started to carefully reach into the wound and pick out pieces of shrapnel from the bullet wound. Before the silence could kill Elias, James decided to pick up the conversation, keeping it to light banter. He joked about how Elliot was missing all of this by taking a very long nap, and though the conditions by which Elliot was asleep were less than desireable, it seemed to amuse Elias nonetheless.

As Elise continued to focus, slowly pulling out small shards and placing them in the bag Alistair faithfully held beside her, James started explaining a little bit of the situation.

"I don't know how much you missed, being on the ground and all," James started. "But Eve and I managed to freeze time again. So if you're confused about the abrupt change in circumstances, that plays a big part of it."

He noticed that the comment earned Alistair's attention, but James didn't feel that now was the time to go in depth. Especially since Eve's efforts to wake Mel up seemed to be in vain. She'd dragged Mel over to a tree, propping her up, but Mel was still unconscious. He glanced over to Eve in worry, meeting her eyes for just a moment.

"I guess that makes you a very lucky man," James continued. "Turns out pausing time also pauses blood flow. So, that worked in your favor."

"Pausing time..." Elias mused, but was interrupted before he could completely voice his thought process.

"How did that move where we are?" Alistair asked.

"Great question," James said. "I would love to answer that when everyone's a little less unconscious or otherwise delirious."

"I'm not unconscious," Elias said.

"No, no you're not," James said, patting Elias's shoulder. "Which is great."

"Heh. James called you delirious," Elias said with a smirk up at Alistair.

Alistair stared at him, unamused, but at least the humor seemed to help ground him.

"Yeah, Alistair," James said with a small, lighthearted smile. "You might need a break after this. Maybe you and Elias can pet Sleepy and calm down when this is all over."

"I don't need to calm down," Alistair said stubbornly. "I'm just wondering where we are. That's all. It's a simple question."

"But as I'm sure Elias would agree, everyone could always use the company of a chicken," James said. He didn't want to cause a panic while Elise was quite literally doing surgery, and no doubt also listening to the converation, at least in the back of her mind.

James looked down at Elias, meeting his eyes for a second before his gaze flicked up to Elise, who pulled out another piece of shrapnel.

"Elias, are you hanging in there?" James asked.

"Yeah. Hey, where's Sleepy, anyways?" he asked, trying to tilt his head up to look.

"She's also taking a nap," James said, though it wasn't exactly true. She was hiding, but they didn't need to get her now. He put his hand on Elias's forehead to keep Elias from moving too much. His forehead was warm, and sweaty, but it didn't feel quite like a fever.

"Stay still," James said. "I'll get her for you later."

"And... Eve? Is she okay?" he asked.

"She's alright," James said. "Her arm is broken, but she's better off than you are, right now."

"And Mel?"

"She's unconscious," James said. "But we'll get to her as soon as we're done with you. She's still breathing. It looks like she just had a concussion. You've had one of those, before, right? They can be a pain, but she'll recover."

"No... well... maybe," Elias muttered.

"Then take it from me, as someone who's had a few," James said, patting Elias's head before pulling away and wiping his hand on his pants. Elias was sticky.

"There's one last piece. As soon as I pull it out, everyone will get close and you can try to transfer the wound. Okay?" Elise said.

James reached out to hold Elias's hand, and glanced at Alistair. Alistair hesitated, bending down to place the bag on the ground and then reach over to place a few fingers and the edge of his chest.

"Just focus," James said to Elias, realizing that would be hard for Elias with as much blood he'd lost, but he hoped, if worse came to worse and Elias only gave the wound to one person, that it was James who bore the brunt of it.

"Okay," Elias echoed, and Elise carefully went back to work. He was silent for a few moments, staring idly up at the sky before speaking again. "Uh... Elliot. How's Elliot?"

"He's fine," James said. "Just sleeping."

"Horses don't sleep," Elias said like it was obvious.

"They sleep standing up," James corrected. "Honest mistake."

"That sounds like it'd hurt their horse legs," he mused.

"Actually, it's very normal for them," James said. "Horses have a different anatomy. They can lie down, but it's not normal for them to sleep lying down. Lying down is usually reserved for play, or moments they're in pain. Like giving bir--"

"The last piece is getting pulled out now," Elise cut in. "Get ready."

James squeezed Elias's hand as a quiet show of support and nodded to him. Elias sharply inhaled as Elise pulled out a shard of the bullet that had a sharp edges, and blood immediately started to spurt out. She quickly placed the piece down and placed pressure on the wound, but still held his other hand, looking at him expectantly and urgently.

Elias tightly closed his eyes, concentrating and letting a low grunt escape his throat. James felt Elias's fingers tightly close up around his as he squeezed his hand, either out of pain or out of reflex. A tingling sensation started to crawl on his shoulder, first as an ache, and then as a deep burn. It felt as if someone had pierced his shoulder and then immediately cauterized it. Blood started to seep through his shirt.

After an agonizing thirty seconds of this, Elias's grip loosened and he breathed heavily, opening his eyes and staring up at Elise, Alistair, and James leaning in front of him.

"Did it work?" he asked with a strained voice.

James had been watching Elias's shoulder, though it was covered by Elise's bloody but gloved hand. Slowly, she pulled her hand away, revealing a completely healed shoulder.

"It worked," James said quickly, offering Elias a small smile. He then looked over to Elise. "Toss me a bandage roll. Alistair, do you need help?"

Just from looking down at Elias's healed shoulder and hearing James's comment, Elise knew that they all shared a similar wound now. Her jacket was covering her shoulder, and it wasn't obvious in her movement when she reached over and handed a bandage roll to James, but she was likely also bleeding.

"Do you have another one for yourself, Elise?" James asked before anyone could reply.

"Don't worry, we have plenty," she said with a reassuring smile.

Alistair had covered his shoulder with his hand, but he pulled it away, revealing a handprint with blood. His transferred wound had seeped through his black shirt, only now visibly revealing the blood.

"Wow, uh, okay," he said in the absence of anyone's reaction, still staring at his bloodied hand.

James glanced at Elise, seeing that she was already helping herself to the medkit and what she needed. He came up beside Alistair.

"Elise, toss me some gauze?" James asked.

As he turned to her, Elise quickly passed it over Elias, who was starting to realize that he was fully healed now, bending his arms to prop himself up. He glanced at the three of them, realization slowly seeping in that he had inadvertently caused this.

"Alistair, take off your shirt. Elias, you know how to dress a wound, right? Help me over here," James said. "Grab some antiseptic for me."

Elias quickly sat up straight, his hand reaching over his shoulder and patting it. "Wait. I did that? I didn't mean to fully heal myself. I'm sorry."

"We knew what we were signing up for, Elias," James said, giving him a quick nod and faint smile as he opened a packet of gauze and turned to Alistair, who had managed to clumsily pull off his shirt. James pressed the gauze against Alistair's shoulder, holding to add pressure. "Don't worry about us. We'll heal."

Elias was still soaking in his own surprise, rubbing his shoulder where the wound once sat. "I tried to divide it between the four of us..."

"And you did," James said. "Elias, I really could use your help. Pass me the antiseptic wipes, please."

"Oh. Right," he murmured, quickly getting to his knees to rummage through the med kit and pull out a few wipes to hand to him. "Here."

"Thank you," James said. Fortunately, he could tell that Alistair's wound was far more shallow than Elias's bullet wound had been. It would still bleed a lot, like most surface wounds, but he could feel the flow of blood stopping after a few minutes of pressure, which was a good sign.

"Elise, do you need help?" Elias asked.

"I can manage. Thank you," she said with a little smile over her shoulder

Elias nodded, turning back to James and Alistair. "Okay. Let me know if you need more help. I want to help."

James glanced back at Elias, and after another minute pulled away from Alistair and had Elias bandage him up while James took care of his own wound. A few minutes passed while they all cleaned and bandaged up their shoulders and got new, clean shirts. Elias commented that it was good that they all still had their travel packs, and everyone agreed. It certainly made things easier. In the meanttime, they put all of their bloody shirts in a waterproof bag to save for when they made it to a water source to clean them later.

As soon as Elise was bandaged and dressed -- and she was done first -- she hurried over to Mel and Eve, looking Mel over and checking Mel's vitals. She pulled out a bottle of rubbing alcohol and held it to Mel's nose, and that seemed to make Mel finally come-to. With a retch, unfortunately, but she was awake.

"Uggghhhhh," Mel groaned, turning over and covering her face like she was simply waking up from the sun shining over her. "What... ughhh."

"Elise," James said, quickly getting to his feet and walking over. "You take care of Mel. I can work with Eve on her arm."

"I'll help Mel too," Alistair offered, standing by Elise's side as she bent down to coax Mel.

"And I'll help Eve too," Elias said after Alistair's declaration.

"Great," James said, bending down to kneel beside Eve, who was still by Mel's side.

"Do you need help getting to your feet?" he asked softly.

"I can crawl," Eve said with the same tone.

"A three legged crawl sounds unpleasant," James said. "Why don't you just use me as a crutch. Let's get you back over to the tarp. The met kit's over there."

"I got her," Elias said, not even hesitating to swoop her off the ground, arms around her waist to get her to her feet in one quick motion, and then supporting her back so that she could lean on him if she wanted to. James quickly got to his feet, reaching out his arms to catch her if she swayed forward or fell.

Eve was surprised and not expecting this sudden movement, and although she seemed a little annoyed by it when she wobbled on her feet, she didn't express it out loud.

"...Thanks," she mumbled, choosing James to lean against instead.

"Okay," James said calmly, bringing his arm around her back. "Come on, then."

With slow steps, he led her back to the tarp where they'd had Elias lie down before. He had Elias quickly wipe it down before he sat Evaline down and started digging through the med kit.

"We don't have materials to make a hard cast," James explained out loud. "But we'll use a splint and a sling. First, we'll have to reset the bone. Fortunately, it didn't break through the skin, so we don't have to worry about blood loss, but it's going to hurt."

Eve nervously bit her lip, staring at James digging around the kit. "How much will it hurt?" she asked softly.

"It'll hurt a lot, I think, for you," Elias answered, resulting in Eve shooting him a sour face.

"It will likely hurt just as much as when it was broken, but it's necessary so that the bone will heal correctly," James said as he broke off a nearby branch, splitting it in two to use it as a splint. He started to quickly clean it and wash it down as he kept talking.

"Elias, can you find the pain medication in the kit?" he continued. "We can give it you beforehand, but it unfortunately won't kick in until later. But I'm worried about waiting to get this done. The sooner, the better."

"Oh, yeah, sure, I think it's, ah..." Elias trailed off quickly glancing around the kit and rummaging through it before standing up straight. "Let me ask my sis. One sec."

Eve watched as he hurried over to Elise who was taking care of a waking Mel. It seemed that she was mostly trying to calm her down since Mel and Alistair had already started to bicker, but Mel was dismissing his anxious statements.

"You were hurt too," Eve said when Elias was out of earshot. "Are you taking care of yourself too?"

James set the sticks aside along with the bandages, and the sling, getting them ready for once the bone was set. He paused and looked up at Eve, meeting her eyes.

"I dislocated my shoulder, but I already popped it back. I'll just need to take it easy for a little while," he said. "Ironically, its the same shoulder with the shared wound, and that's already bandaged up as well. It's your turn, now, to get taken care of."

Eve released a quiet, long sigh. "I know," she said. "But maybe Elise can check in with you later. If we're back in Nye... your health should come first."

"I'll ask her about it later," James said, watching as Elias came running back over. He lowered his voice to a whisper, leaning in towards her. "But it's nothing urgent. There's a lot more they'll want to talk about once we make sure everyone's alright. One thing at a time."

"Got it!" Elias said, sliding to a stop in front of them and wiggling a small bottle of pills in his hand. "Elise only has A pills. She calls it something else but they're definitely A pills. The A is for angel, because you're on cloud nine with these things."

He was about to toss Eve the entire bottle, but then thought better of it and decided to twist off the cap and fish out one pill instead, bending down to hand it to her.

"You only need one. Need some water?" he asked.

Eve daintily took the tiny pill from his hand, pulling it close to her face to stare at it apprehensively. "Please," she sighed.

James got up for a moment as Elias got Eve water and she downed the pill. He went back to Elliot -- who was still fast asleep -- and pulled a clean sock out of one of the saddlebags. As he walked over he rolled it up, and when he sat back down in front of Eve he handed it to her.

"To bite down on if you need," he said. "It's going to be quick."

She hesitated, picking up the sock by the edge and holding it in the air. "Do you think I'll need it?" she asked.

James looked down at her arm and the clear bend under her skin. He knew her tolerance for pain was very low. She'd never had to endure something like this before, and it told him that something had changed about her powers.

"It's up to you," he said. "But you might."

"I think you will," Elias said. "I dunno... I know you wouldn't want to scream at us from the pain. Plus it'll hurt a ton. Sometimes you just need a sock to scream in, you know?"

Eve shot Elias another questionable look, hesitating again before turning back to James. "Are you going to do it... now?"

James gently reached out, putting one hand over her broken arm and his other over her hand that held the sock. He guided it closer to her mouth.

"When you're ready," he said. He knew she was only stalling at this point.

Eve lightly resisted him pushing the sock towards her, but finally she gave in and let go of the stubborness, pouting in disdain as she placed the sock in her mouth so that her teeth held on to it.

"That's a good look on you. Mouth full of sock," Elias joked. Eve tried to say something in response, but it came out more of a groan.

James didn't look at Elias, but he did squint his eyes in confusion, barely shaking his head to himself as he turned his attention to Eve's arm. He slid a little closer and gently felt over the broken bone, trying to feel for the angle of the break.

"Hmm? What's that? You agree? I'm glad we can come to an agreement," Elias continued with a smirk.

"Hmmmf pphhf," Eve groaned with narrowed eyes at him, but at least her attention was taken away from her arm.

"Sock-mouthed Eve isn't that great of a conversationalist," Elias mused.

James pressed a little more just for a second to make sure he had the right angle, and then with a careful, deliberate, and sudden push, popped the bone back into place. Eve had been lucky. Deidra had made a clean break, making it easy to set back.

Elias had continued on to blab about socks while teasing her, but she had interrupted him with a pained, muffled yell through the sock. Her eyes went wide before she tightly shut them and leaned back with a shudder, and she balled up both her hands tightly in pain.

James watched Eve for a moment with his brows drawn tightly together in sympathy, but he knew they needed to finish this. He grabbed the roll of bandages.

"That's it," he said quietly. "It's done. Now it just needs to be bandaged and put in a sling. I'll give you a moment."

"Ya did it," Elias said with a pat on her back. "That wasn't so bad, right?"

Eve glared at him, unamused and tired, still with the sock in her mouth.

"Or... maybe a little bad?" he packpedaled, then paused even though she didn't react. "Or a lot bad? That's okay, at least it's over. Now you just have to wear a sling for, uh..." He glanced at James. "How long...?"

"That's a question better left for Elise," James said. "But it was a clean break. It'll probably be in a sling for at least a month."

"A month's nothing," Elias said nonchalantly, waving his hand dismissively in front of him. "You've been in a coma for four, and had to recover for two months. What's another month?"

Stiffly, Eve finally opened her mouth, letting the balled-up sock fall down on her lap as she continued to glare at Elias.

"Fantastic," she growled, voice thick with sarcasm.

"It's just going to take some time," James said calmly. "We'll get through it. Now, if you'd give me your arm again, I'm going to wrap it up, now. No more breaks."

Eve sighed deeply, closing her eyes for a few seconds before tiredly turning back towards James. "Will it hurt?" she asked.

"Only a little," James said, preparing the bandage roll in his hands. "Your arm's already in a lot of pain, but once we can get it secure so it won't move as much, and once the medication kicks in, it'll be less intense for you."

"You'll be okay. I know you will, because you're strong," Elias said with a reassuring smile, pausing for a second. "But also, yeah, that pill's going to kick in and you'll feel really relaxed and angelic real soon."
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Gender: Female
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Sat Aug 07, 2021 3:42 am
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soundofmind says...

After a very urgent and hurried first few moments on Nye, everyone was finally seen to and taken care of. Elliot was finally starting to stir, though he was still drowsy, and James was able to coax Sleepy out of hiding. He ended up handing Sleepy to Elias, who was eager to hold her, and James had no objections.

Elise and James helped get everyone settled down. They cleaned up the bloodied tarp and packed up the med kit again, and took out a large blanket instead for everyone to sit down on. They took out water and some snacks, passing them around and letting everyone eat and drink with mild chatter as they let the air settle between them.

While the others took a moment to rest, however, James was checking on Elliot. He knew Elliot had been sedated, but he didn't know if Elliot had taken any blows from all of the explosions. He did end up finding a few scapes, and a bruise on Elliot's side, but it wasn't anything too severe. Elliot was, however, covered in dust, so James took the time to brush him down and get him water as well.

Though he was only a few feet away from the others and their picnic-like setup, James appreciated the moment to breathe.

He knew where they were. It had been a year, at least in Earth's time, but they'd been transported back to where he'd been before. That meant they were in the outskirts of the Outlands, trailing between the lawless territories and the Western Isles. It meant if they went too far to the west, they'd run into mage hunters or law enforcement, and if they weren't careful in the Outlands, they'd run into trouble.

Still, it was hard to say how much time had passed. Though, James did notice that the weather was considerably warmer than he last recalled. From the tells of the plants around him, it was probably early summer. The plant-life was lush and green, but the flowers were a little past the height of their bloom. There was a creek nearby, and he'd been following it before as a source of water. Through the trees, he could see the little waterfall trickling over large mossy rocks, and he knew if his hearing were any better, he could probably hear it as well.

He did take a moment, however, to grieve the small loss of his glasses. He was grateful for the few weeks of clarity that he got to enjoy, but it seemed fitting that he returned to his previous state of blindness. Though, now that he'd experienced what clarity could look like, it wasn't the same.

Finally, he joined the others back on the blanket, sitting between Eve and Elise with a small sigh. Elise was quick to hand him a sandwich.

Mel and Alistair were still arguing over nothing, it seemed, and Elias was standing off to the side, hurriedly scarfing down a large sandwich while he held Sleepy under one arm. Eve was eating hers at a much slower pace in comparison.

"Did the medicine kick in yet?" James asked, leaning a little closer to Eve.

"Hm?" she said in response after a lag, and that was enough of an answer since it was unlike her to respond slower with needed clarity.

"Oh, hey, look what I found!" Elias interrupted. There was only a small portion left of his sandwich, but he stuffed the rest of it in his mouth to bend down and pick up an item off the ground while still holding Sleepy upright. With cheeks full of food, Elias grinned and walked back towards James, extending his arm out for him to take the item. It was his glasses.

James's eyes lit up with a smile.

"My glasses!" he said, reaching out to take them. He looked them over and wiped the lenses with his shirt before putting them back on. "Thanks, Elias."

"Mmmhmm," Elias hummed, mostly because he was still busy chewing.

"I'm glad you found them," Elise said next to him with a small smile. "You've probably gotten used to them at this point, right?"

"It's kind of hard to go back," James said. "I'm glad they didn't get broken in the middle of... everything."

"Mel, stop. Just - shut up for one second," Alistair cut in while Mel had babbled on about how it finally made sense to why they were talking about peanuts before the explosions went off. His comment seemed to cut her off effectively even though she was visibly annoyed, but Alistair didn't seem to care since he was looking at James expectantly. "Middle of what? Can we get an explanation now?" he asked.

"Yes," James said slowly, looking around at everyone. He made eye contact with Elias, who was still standing off to the side, and quietly motioned for him to sit and join them. "We can talk now."

All eyes seemed to be on Elias since James wordlessly motioned for him to sit, and he finally finished chewing his food and swallowed it down, now stradling Sleepy in his arms.

"So serious now..." he mumbled, sitting next to Eve who was still idly eating her sandwich, one slow, small bite at a time.

"Now that everyone's okay, I'd like to start from the beginning. Fortunately, you were all there for most of it, so all you need to know is what happened after time froze," James said. He then looked to Mel. "While you were unconscious, Tula, Deidra, and Katya caught up to us. We walked into a trap of explosions that Katya was setting off. Tula hurt Elias and Eve--"

"TULA CAME BACK?" Mel shouted in disbelief before he could finish his sentence.

Alistair sighed, facepalming first before running his finger down his hair. "I already told you that," he muttered.

James winced, leaning back at the shout.

"Yes," he said. "It seems like she was waiting for us at the bottom of the mountain."

"That bitch!" Mel huffed angrily. "What? What'd she do besides cause explosions? How the hell did she even find us, anyways? Ugh!"

"I didn't catch her whole monologue," James said. "But my assumption is that they already knew we were in the mountain and had been planning to catch us when we came out. It's likely they had the trap set for a long time."

"So, what, the trap was to somehow leave us in the woods? What's with that woman and her lame strategies?" Mel said.

"She had backup," James said. "About a dozen other soldiers came in once the dust cleared. We were surrounded."

"That's the part I don't get," Alistair said. "Mel, you were unconscious and missed most of this. We were surrounded, and things weren't looking good. But how did we get here?"

"I was getting to that," James answered. "Eve and I managed to freeze time, and in that moment, only the two of us could move in that frozen space. We realized that there was no way out of the situation where everyone made it out alive. But before we could act on any of our plans... well, I guess I never told any of you that there was a second note. Just like there was a note for when Evaline found herself on Nye, there was one when I came to earth. I didn't want to show it to any of you at the time because it was personal, and it didn't seem like something to share. At least, not until it started glowing, and a new poem appeared on it... all while time was frozen."

"That still -- I'm still confused on how we got away," Alistair said, his anxiety becoming more apparent. "Are you saying a note transported us? To where? Where are we?"

"Alistair, I'm going to need you to take a deep breath," James said, raising his hands and motioning up and down ever so slightly. "The note did magically transport us away from the trouble when I did what it asked. All I had to do was think of all of you, and think of home."

He paused, but not long enough to let the truth sink in before confirming it out loud.

"The note didn't just take us to a different location in the forest," he said, still keeping his voice steady and calm. "It took us to Nye."

"Nye?!" Alistair anxiously blurted out. "We're on Nye? A different world? Are you serious?"

"Shhh, calm down Ali. It's not like we're around an explosive trap anymore," Mel said nonchalantly, waving a dismissive hand out in front of him.

"How are you so calm?" Alistair snapped, slapping her hand away. He glanced at the others. "How are you all so calm?"

James took in a deep breath.

"I don't blame you for not being calm," James said. "Just a year ago, I found myself on earth, with little to no explanation or choice in the matter, so I can understand the panic. I'm sorry that I didn't consult each of you beforehand, but I hope that you can understand why I made the choice to choose Nye over what would've been a future where most of us wouldn't have survived."

"It is a bit frightening, but given our circumstances... I can understand why you did it," Elise said calmly, flicking her eyes between James and Alistair with a small smile. "You made a difficult decision under high pressure. We are all alive and well, and that's the most important thing."

"So we're... we're stuck here?" Alistair spat out, still in disbelief.

A small silence passed as everyone's eyes drifted to James. Evaline was the only one who didn't seem too engaged in the conversation, as she was still slowly munching away at her sandwich, but James knew it was likely the strength of the pain-killers she'd been given that were making her less present.

"That... seems to be the case," James said solemnly. "Yes. The note that brought us here disappeared upon our arrival, and it implied that it would be the last."

"But... there's got to be another note. Right? This can't be the end of it," Alistair said.

"Why do you want to go back, anyways?" Mel said with a sigh. "According to you, we were all literally about to die."

"We're on another world, Mel," Alistair replied sharply. "There's so much we don't know. Plus, didn't you say--" He faltered, quickly turning towards James. "Didn't you say that powers are illegal here? That you can be put to death for it?"

"That's only if you get caught," James clarified. "Nobody knows you here, so they would have no reason to believe you have any powers unless you use them in plain sight."

"But there's so much risk--"

"There's risk on Earth, too," Mel countered. "Plus, what did you leave behind, anyways? All your friends are already here. Well, except, you know... Hendrik and the others."

Alistair was staring at her with his mouth slightly open, a mix of annoyance and anxiety mixing into his face. Elias cleared his throat and then spoke in the short silence that followed.

"So, uh, speaking of which... there isn't a way to, you know... communicate, or send magical notes back to Earth, is there?" he said.

James shook his head slowly.

"No. There isn't," he said quietly. "I'm sorry."

Those were the consequences that James had been aware of when he'd chosen to obey the note, but it hung much heavier on his shoulders as he had to tell Elias that there was no way for them to speak to Elijah, or Samiya, or any of the others again.

Elias rubbed the side of his head, offering a small, strained smile. "It's okay, you couldn't control it. I hope they're alright, though."

"Oh my gosh," Mel said with a gasp. "Do you think Tula and her stupid army are going to go after them?"

James couldn't stop the slow, steady feeling of guilt that seeped in at the thought of what was unfolding in the present back on earth. There was no possible way for them to know what Tula would've done when they all just... disappeared, but judging on her questionable mental state, she may have done something rash.

"There's no way for us to know," he said, his voice serious. "We can only hope that she doesn't do anything stupid."

"I know this isn't easy, Elias, but Elijah and Samiya are in good hands. I'd like to believe they are safe," Elise said.

Elias gave his sister another small appreciateive smile, but didn't have time to respond since Alistair cut in again.

"But -- James, aren't you Nye's most wanted man? And if we stick together and somehow people figure out we're 'mages', isn't that... bad?" he said, anxiously leaning into his words.

James continued to breathe in steady breaths.

He was responsible for this. He'd brought everyone to a different world, and he knew that even though there were similarities, everyone else was far out of their depth.

"I am still wanted," James said. "Right now, we don't know how much time has passed in relation to Earth and Nye, but judging on the change of seasons from when I was here last, I think it's safe to assume that it has been a year, making it the same amount of time that I was gone. If that's true, then there may have been changes made to my wanted status, and because I wasn't even on Nye, it's possible people gave up on looking for me for a time. That's the best possibility. At worst, little to no time has passed. Right now, none of you have to worry about being wanted for being mages or having powers, and I'd like to keep it that way."

He paused, making eye contact with Elise, and Elias, and Mel, looking around the group.

"If you stay with me, you will be in danger by association with me, but only from people who would want me captured. If you were to be discovered as mages, however, we would have a much more persistent and dangerous enemy on our tails. There is a guild here in Nye that is hyper-vigilant about catching mages, and they are not to be underestimated. As long as you stick to not using your powers unless in secret, there will be no reason for others to suspect us."

"You mean I can't do this?" Mel said with a sly smile, and then blew a kiss over to James. An illusory heart left her lips and danced along the air until it landed on him and disappeared.

James stared at her with dead eyes, unamused.

"That's cute," he said flatly. "But I'd like to avoid adding more things to the list of reasons people would be interested in hurting us to a minimum."

"Hmm, it's so weird that that felt different," Mel mused, ignoring James's comment. Her face brightened with a smile as she flicked her eyes between Elise, Elias, and Alistair, but landing mostly on Alistair as she talked. "Hey. Since we're in a magical world, maybe our powers work different here! Does it feel different to you too?"

"It feels the same to me," Elise said.

"I guess it feels a little different, but I thought that was because I don't have the beserk gene anymore," Elias replied back.

Mel stared at Alistair expectantly, who seemed to be on edge that she was seemingly pressuring him to try out his fire magic even though James said they shouldn't use magic. He ignored Mel and looked to James for approval.

"Is it safe to try?" he asked.

James looked around the area, scanning the trees and bushes. If someone was watching them, they'd have to have been hiding for some time. They also would've seen them appear out of nowhere, which... he didn't want to have to explain.

"Just make it quick, and not too showy," James said. "I'm not sure if others are in the area."

"Okay..." Alistair said with a deep breath, pressing his lips together, concentrating at the space in front of him.

He flicked his fingers out, but then a big campfire-sized flame sizzled out of his hand like a short flame thrower, dangerously close to hitting Eve who was lost in her own world, still eating. James shot his arm out in front of her, just short of the flame. Caught off guard, Alistair fell backwards, crawling back in shock from what he just did.

Mel clapped, grinning. "Oooh, that's a magical flame alright!" she cheered.

James blinked slowly.

"Okay," he said. "Maybe hold back on the fire, for now. Until we know we're in a more secure area. And a more open space."

Alistair laughed, shrill and nervous. "What the hell is even happening?" he said, mostly to himself likely as his own sanity check.

"Nye is nice," Mel said. "I like it already."

"We didn't even get to see any of it," Elias said.

"But the magic is way more fun," she replied with a grin.

"Except that using it in front of any other humans around here will get you in trouble," James warned. "So please don't."

Mel released a "pffft" noise and dismissively waved in front of her again. "What humans? We're in the woods. We'll be fine as long as we're not in public, right?"

"Define what you mean by public," James said flatly.

"Cities?" she said innocently, but then her eyes lit up again. "Ooh, can we go to that mage camp you and Eve went to? That seems safe."

"Mel. That was five years ago," James said. "I highly doubt they're in the same place, and even if they were, that's at least a two month's trip from here on foot."

"I mean, what else are we going to do?" Mel asked, still with the innocent grin.

James glanced over at Eve. He knew she wasn't present enough to weigh in on future plans, but something felt wrong for him to be the only one directing everyone. He knew that he had to take charge, but he still felt guilty for the situation he'd put everyone in in the first place.

"I want to play it safe," James said. "Most of us are still wounded and will need time to recover our health and our strength. I think it would be wise to travel northward through the forests and avoid cities for as long as we can manage. We've all already packed for travel, so we have rations and supplies, and we should be able to make do. Since we'll be travelling on foot, it'll be slow, but I'd rather we keep moving than stay in the same place for too long. These forests may not be as dangerous as the depths of the ungoverned lands, but there are still beasts that lurk in the shadows and there are all sorts of people who end up out here in the outlands. I assume all of them have ill intent until they prove otherwise."

"Question!" Mel piped up. "Can we all get our own horse? There are more horses here, right?"

James met Mel's eyes and raised a brow. "Do you have money to pay for one?" he asked.

Mel scoffed. "You're the host. Shouldn't you have money?"

"I have been living on earth for a year," James emphasized.

"What, so you didn't have any money before coming to earth?" she teased.

"Not enough to purchase horses for five people," James said. "And I'd been living off the land, for the most part. It's kind of hard to keep a steady job as a wanted criminal. I'm sure you can imagine."

"Well, we're not wanted criminals," Mel said matter-of-factly. "It can't be that expensive, right? What do people do around here for jobs? Just saying, seems like we can be faster if we get our own horse."

"But then I'd have to teach you all how to ride a horse, and care for a horse, and then there's all of the tack, and food, and supplies needed for a horse," James listed.

"But if we get caught by the oh-so-mysterious people in the woods, we can all ride off on our trusty steed," she countered.

"Assuming they don't have trusty steeds of their own," James said, before quickly changing the subject. "Look. What I'm trying to say is, I'd like to take the path of least resistance. None of you are from here. Think of when you all first met me, for example. I don't know if you're all aware of just how hard I was desperately trying to fit in, but I know there were still some things I did and said that were strange, and you may have written off as me 'being from a different time,' but none of you have that excuse here. Here, in the Outlands, people will take advantage of you, and I don't want to give them that chance. I do want to explain things to you to help you learn, but that takes time. That's why I want to play it safe."

"So, what, we're going to travel north until it 'seems' safe? How do you know when it's safe?" Mel asked more seriously this time.

"The reason I want to travel as far north as possible is because that puts me at the greatest distance from the kingdom in which I'm currently wanted, along with any of its associated outposts," James said. "As long as none of you start experimenting with your magic in a city square, I'm mostly talking about our collective safety in relation to being associated with me. More distance, more safe. It's not a guarantee, but neither was the 'new safe zone' we were trying to get to only a few moments ago."

Mel hummed for a second, then shrugged. "Mmm'kay. Sounds good to me. What do you guys think?"

"I think we're lucky to be here and have James be our guide, even if there are dangers. We'll be safe if we stick together," Elise said.

Elias nodded. "Yeah. It's all a little weird, but nothing we can't figure out."

"I'm going to take Eve's drugged-out nibbling as a sincere 'oh yes, I'm happy to be here as long as me and my lover are together,'" Mel teased, then turned to Alistair. "Alistair?"

Alistair hesitated, all eyes (except Eve's) on him. He cleared his throat. "I guess... well, it's not like I have much of a choice, do I?" he said emptily.

"That's the spirit!" Mel cheered, patting him on the back, maybe a little too hard since he flinched and then glared at her.

"Alistair," James cut in, his voice more gentle. "I know this is a lot to take in, and again, I'm sorry that none of you had any choice in the matter. I want to make this as easy as possible for all of you, even though I know it will take a lot of time to adjust. But we're in this together, and if any of you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer and help."

Alistair sighed, mustering a faint appreciative smile, but it came out looking very forced. "Thanks, James," he said.

"We'll take this one step at a time," Elise said gently. "We've made it this far, and at least we have each other. Let's worry about our health and short-term problems first, and then we can worry about the longer-term questions. Should we rest for a bit before moving again?"

"I think that would be wise," James said as he glanced to Eve again. She seemed to be staring off into space vacantly, taking the last bite of her sandwich. "Eve, at least, should rest I think. And Elliot still needs some time to recover."
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Carina says...

As Elise and James had mentioned, everyone rested for a bit before they would continue the loose plan of "heading north," whatever that meant. Alistair was used to having vague plans since the people he worked with (mostly Mel and Hendrik, really) sometimes improvised on-the-spot with a vague plan, but this was different. Being on Nye meant there were so many more unknowns and dangers. This was more than simply not having a plan. This was chaos, and it was far outside his comfort zone.

While Eve dozed off on a grassy patch and Elise and Elias stayed up to talk to Mel so she wouldn't sleep and risk worsening her concussion (not that she would even sleep since it seemed that she was especially hyperactive at the moment), Alistair was pacing back and forth behind a canopy of trees, trying to get his nerves straightened out.

It didn't help that it felt like he was the only one wishing this wasn't happening. Mel strangely seemed ecstatic to be in a different world, which honestly didn't really surprise Alistair since she was always looking for the next exciting adventure. Eve likely didn't mind because her circumstances on Earth were far worse, and Elise and Elias didn't seem to mind as long as everyone was safe and together.

It wasn't like Alistair had an exciting life on Earth, but at least it was familiar. He knew that the situation before they were transported was gloomy and doomed from the start, and he was glad that they got out of it, but he wished that this magical note had magically transported them to somewhere far away on Earth. Now they were on Nye, where they could all potentially be in greater danger if they weren't careful. It just made him nervous, because it always felt like nothing completely went their way.

He sighed deeply and then sat, leaning against the trunk of a tree, crossing his arms and staring blankly up at the sky, covered by the sprawling leafy branches of the bushy trees. He heard a bird tweet above him before hopping around the branch, puffing out its chest. A squirrel also rustled around the branches.

It was weird. This world felt strange, yet also somehow familiar.

He heard footsteps come up quietly beside him. It was James. He stood beside the tree with his hands in his pockets and leaned onto the trunk, looking down at Alistair.

"How are you holding up?" he asked quietly.

Alistair sighed, breathing out through his nose. "Is the stress that obvious?" he asked, still staring ahead of him.

"A little," James said casually. "You've got that look about you."

"I'm not usually like this. It's not everyday that you stress about being on another planet entirely with no way to get back," Alistair said with a strained voice.

"I know the feeling," James said quietly.

Alistair paused, glancing at James. "How'd you get over it?" he asked.

"I don't know if I ever fully did," James continued, still keeping his voice low. "But it was a lot easier to accept when I knew I wasn't alone in all of it."

"I guess I should be asking Eve since she really was alone at the time," he said with another sigh. He paused again, wondering if it was worth asking, but decided to just ask it anyways. "Do you happen to know what her answer would be anyways?"

"I think, at the time, she didn't have much to return to on earth," James said quietly. "And when we both grew to trust one another, she had actually looked forward to making Nye her home. Before things turned out differently, that is."

Alistair knew the circumstances were different for her five years ago, but even so, it still held true that they didn't have much to return to on Earth. They couldn't return to the coastal safe zone or the sectors, which meant they were looking for a home that they didn't knew even existed.

Besides Eve, they all left people behind. Elias left his son and Samiya, Elise left her colleagues and mentors, and Mel left her million acquaintances and her strange neander family. And of course, there was Hendrik and Malkiel, too.

The only person Alistair felt like he truly left behind was his mother. He wondered if she'll now forever wonder what happened to her last son since her other son had already passed so young. He also wondered if she would try to reach Arima for information, only to find that she wasn't around either. Would she draw her own conclusions? Or would false information be fed to her?

"Yeah. Makes sense," Alistair said heavily. "I know this is beyond anyone's control, and it's the best outcome that could have happened. But it's still so stressful."

"Stressful seems a bit of an understatement," James said with a sigh. "But... whatever would've awaited us on Earth, had we attempted escaping Tula..."

James trailed off, not finishing his sentence.

"It would've been worse, I know," Alistair finished for him. "Still, I wished the note could have, I don't know... transported us to the other side of the Earth or something. But I know that was not within your control either."

"That would have been a lot more convenient," James mused. "The notes don't seem too concerned about convenience, though."

"You sure that you didn't find a magical third note somewhere?" Alistair said with a raised brow. He was only half-joking.

"I looked already," James said, almost wistfully. "Even the first note is gone too."

"Maybe we'll find it along the way and we'll be transported to a completely new world called Narth," Alistair said sarcastically.

"Not a very catchy name," James joked dryly.

"No, but like you said, it's never convenient."

James hummed with a small nod. "That it is."

The silence dragged on for too many seconds, and the two of them quietly stared ahead of them, letting the twittering of the birds fill the silence between them. Alistair's head was swimming with unanswered questions and what-if scenarios, and he had a feeling James not only approached to check in on him, but also to answer any questions he had. Alistair sighed, leaning his head against the tree, deciding he might as well use this time to get answers.

"So. We're on Nye," he began slowly. "What specific dangers should we be worrying about?"

"Right now, our most immediate dangers are nature and survival related. We may run into snakes, or spiders, or larger predators. For the most part, though, they can be easily avoided as long as you pay attention and make sure an area is clear before you settle down," James said. "I also mentioned that we might run into people out here, but that's less predictable. In general, though, most people who find themselves this far out into the Outlands are criminals, or mages on the run. Though the latter is much less common, these days. Unless something's changed in the last year."

Alistair hesitated, glancing over at him. "What about bounty hunters?" he asked.

"That... I'm not so sure about," James admitted. "Last I was here, there was one tailing me. But if a year has passed, and I've been gone... I don't know. Optimistically, people may have stopped looking for me. At least, actively. But I'm not prone to that kind of optimism."

"I'm just trying to understand our situation better," Alistair prefaced. "So, say there's a bounty hunter, or bounty hunters who are still after you, and you end up getting caught. What would happen to you and all of us?"

"Well... assuming they left you alone once they had me, you all would just be left to yourselves, I suppose. As for me, I'd most likely be taken to a Moonlight Kingdom outpost where I'd be held until soldiers could be dispatched to transport me to the kingdom securely," James said slowly. "Unless the bounty hunter was ambitious and wanted to do that themselves. Which... well, there's pros and cons to that."

"How would we know if bounty hunters are after you at all?" Alistair asked.

"...I wouldn't want us to go out of our way to find out," James said, not quite answering his question.

"So we'll assume that people are still after you, then. Got it," he said with a sigh.

"The trouble with communication in this world, I suppose, is that there really isn't a way to get information apart from word-of-mouth," James said. "Which would require going into towns, checking posts they've put up, talking to people, asking questions... and more often than not, doing so only alerts people in the area that I might be around. Or, at the very least, that someone's looking for me. And of course, I could wouldn't want to show my face there. Not when it could potentially put me back on the map, especially if I've fallen off of it for a year."

Alistiar mulled this over. "Okay. So don't ask around? Obivously it would have to be one of us... would it be safe to even go into a city?"

"My answer is no," James said. "But I assume, at some point, when supplies are running low, we'll have to. But I prefer that we're much farther north by the time it comes to that. There's less of a kingdom presence there, so in the even I were to get caught, I'd have more time before I was thrown into a cell. It's much easier to break free from cuffs or ropes than a cell."

Alistair was a bit nervous that that was even a possibility. How many times had James almost been caught?

"Okay," he said as calmly as he could, but he still grimaced. "When you say north... do you have a location in mind, or...?"

"A general location. The thing is, I've never actually been there, and it's not like I'm aiming for a city, so there will be some necessary discovery of the unknown. There's a section of land that humans haven't really explored, near the West Gulf. I figure our chances are better with non-humans than humans," James said.

"I know we're taking one step at a time and doing whatever we can to survive," Alistair said carefully, sitting up straighter as he turned to James. "But what's the end plan here? To live out with animals in lands that mankind hasn't explored yet?"

"Could that be enough for you?" James asked, looking down to Alistair, meeting his eyes. It was hard to read the emotion behind them.

"I don't think that's for me to say," Alistair said as he tore his gaze away. "I was just curious what you had in mind since I don't know anything about Nye."

James hummed, and another small silence passed.

"I will admit," James said, his voice far more quiet. "I never did fully allow myself to imagine what life might look like without a danger constantly breathing down my neck, nevermind a future that involved friends. I don't feel that we have many options, but I suppose, in some ways, it feels like my wanted status here is a hindrance to all of you. Were you not associated with me, I'm sure you'd find a way to integrate yourselves into the world eventually and find a future more fulfilling..."

"We're only here because of you," Alistair reminded him. "And alive, too. So I don't think it'd be possible for the rest of us to be living in Nye and not be associated with you." He plucked a blade of grass from the ground, inspecting it before letting the light breeze carry it away. "Besides, it's not like we'd know what to do if we lived on our own. Even with all the warnings, I can see us somehow getting caught to be mages. Doesn't sound like a fulfilling future to me."

"...Fair enough," James said distantly, barely audible. He was staring back out at the others, like he was lost in thought.

"Speaking of magic..." Alistair began, recalling the moment when he tried to conjure a simple spark in the wind, but accidentally conjured a big fire from his hands. "Do you know how it works here?"

James sighed softly.

"I really don't know that much about actually using it," James said. "I haven't met many mages who've had the time and opportunities to grow in their skills, nevermind hear how their magic works. Though, from what I've experienced on earth and on Nye, it seems that mages on Nye are more powerful than your average person on earth. I think... I've already explained to you the differences."

"Yeah, I've experienced the difference." Alistair sighed again, feeling the pent-up frustration rise to the surface, but he didn't want to take it out on James. "Elise and Elias said there were almost no difference, and Mel said it only felt different for her. I don't know about Eve, but her powers - or magic - is probably still only experienced by her. Me, on the other hand... I don't want to accidentally cause a forest fire here. Since you say we should steer away from using magic, should I stop using it altogether, especially since there's no one around to teach me?"

"It feels selfish to tell you to stop using it altogether," James said. "But it may be the wisest decision, at least for now. I wish I knew another way... fire mages are pretty common on Nye. I don't know. Maybe we'll get lucky and run into one who could give you a few tips."

It sounded like James's optimism was a little forced, but Alistair knew he was trying to make the best of the situation.

"It's fine. It's no big deal. It's not like my fire powers define who I am," Alistair said. "Is there anything else I should know about magic? What about the guilds that you mentioned before?"

"The mage-hunting guilds," James said. "The explanation's in the name. They work with law enforcement in the kingdoms, the Isles... all over the continent. Their reach spreads further than the Moonlight Kingdom, where I'm wanted. That's why I want you all to be careful."

"What would happen if we were caught?" he asked.

James's pause of hesitation felt like an answer.

"The guild doesn't waste much time," James said carefully. "Their goal is to rid the world of mages."

So, death. Somehow this didn't surprise Alistair.

"Why?" he asked instead.

"They think magic is evil and that it caused the calamity some hundred years back," James said. "It was a string of natural and magical disasters, diseases, famine... basically the whole world felt like it was ending for a decade or two until it all just stopped. The war against mages started early on as the disasters got worse, and people thought the disasters were stopping because mages were dying. Or at least, that's what the history books say."

"Is that what you believe?" Alistair asked with a raised brow.

"I don't think the disasters happened because of mages, if that's what you mean," James said. "I, personally, think that belief is stupid. Only a mindless fool looks at people who respect magic enough to master it and tells them all of the magic disasters are their fault."

Alistair hummed in thought. "If not mages, then what would have caused the disasters? Are there other theories and scapegoats?"

"Some people think it was the dragons, some people think it was a combination of everything... like some divine punishment, or something," James said. "There are a lot of theories. Personally, I think something happened to trigger the events, but there's no logical way to know what it was for certain."

At least Alistair wasn't alone in not knowing the history of Nye.

The next minutes were spent answering more practical questions that helped alleviate Alistair's concerns, and James seemed more than happy to help out. As James was discussing the regions of the world and pointed them out on a map, Mel's sharp voice could be heard.

"Alistairrrr! Jamesssss! Where are youuuuu?" she sing-songed loudly.

They weren't even that far away from everyone else, so Alistair couldn't help but grimace from her loudness and lack of care. They were probably fine, but she could at least be more careful and not treat this entire ordeal like some vacation or exciting adventure.

Not too long after that, Alistair and James headed back to the others. Alistair was about to shush Mel on the way over, but he heard Elise beating him to it.

"Eve is sleeping. We should keep it down," Elise said as she gestured to Eve, who was curled up on her side, laying as still as a rock in deep slumber.

"Yeah, I don't think she heard any of that," Elias mused, reaching over to push some of her hair over her head since it was covering her face. "She's out cold."

"See? She's okay," Mel said with a grin, then snapped her head to Alistair's direction when she saw him and James step out of the canopy of trees. "Oh! There you are. Where'd you go?" she asked.

"Somewhere away from the noise," Alistair muttered.

"We just wanted a moment to talk, is all," James added. "It's good to hear you've been staying awake, though."
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Carina says...

Eve woke up with what she thought was a splitting headache, but when she slowly opened her eyes, she was met with Sleepy's head lingering over hers, lightly pecking away at some loose strands of hair covering her face. She stared at Sleepy blankly with half-lidded eyes, her senses slowly waking up with her. Her vision was working, but her hearing was lagging behind. It took a few moments for her to realize that she could hear Mel, Alistair, Elise, and James in the background, talking about the regions of Nye.

Since Eve didn't outwardly react, Sleepy pecked at her hair again, probably picking out a seed or blade of glass stuck in her hair. Eve quietly moaned and turned her head away, too tired to swat at the chicken. She turned to her other side and instead came face-to-face with Elias, who had been twirling a twig in his hand like a baton while he idly listened to the conversation. Upon her movement, though, he grinned and grabbed the twig with his palm.

"Wakey wakey, sleepyhead," he sing-songed quietly to not alert the others. "How are you holding up?"

Eve stared at him, not finding the energy to form the words with her lips, but Elias kept on talking anyways.

"You were out cold. I bet it felt nice, though. Or at least, not painful. 'Cause, uh, that arm's gotta hurt. Just don't think about it and it should last until night, though."

Elias continued to ramble about the drug she took, but she ignored his advice and stared down at her arm in a makeshift sling. Never in her life had she ever had an injury like this... because this was preventable.

Why couldn't she go back in time anymore, but be able to help freeze time? She felt it working then. What was different? She wished she knew and could think this through, but the dull aching pain of her broken bone was clawing its way through the medicine's wall and drilling into her brain into a headache.

Eve's attention was diverted when James's voice cut off Elias, and she realized after staring at James in front of her for a second that he must have noticed (or heard) her wake up.

"You slept for a while," James said, his voice steady and calm as he knelt down beside her. "How are you feeling?"

With her only free hand, Eve rubbed her eyes, realizing she was crustier than she thought she was. Just how long had she been sleeping? The last thing she remembered was eating.

"Fine," she croaked, then cleared her dry throat. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sleep so long."

"Don't apologize for getting rest," James said. "You needed it. A lot's happened in the past 24 hours."

"Plus, the drug makes you sleepy. You deserved the nap anyways," Elias butted in.

"Were you waiting for me to wake up?" Eve asked James, slowly sitting up even though she still felt a little numb and drowsy. "I can get ready. To travel, I mean."

"We're not leaving just yet," James said. "Elliot's not quite ready for that yet, so we're staying here until he recovers as well."

It was early afternoon now , and Eve was grateful that she wasn't the only bottleneck that prevented them all from leaving the area. Elliot was still very drowsy from the tranquilizer, and even though James seemed antsy to leave, they were stuck until Elliot fully woke up. It wasn't too much of a big deal since he would wake up before the end of the day, but James explained to everyone that they were in the Outlands, and it would be in everyone's favor to be on the move, especially since it was still a bit unclear how much time passed on Nye since he had been on Earth.

Eventually, Elliot did wake up, and James helped coax him back into a standing position, slowly easing him back to comfort. While he headed to a nearby creek with Elliot so he could get food and water, everyone packed up their things and got ready to travel again.

Elias was eerily not any different after all this trauma, Mel was uncomfortably optimistic, Alistair was understandably stressed, and Elise was stepping in to bring unity whenever there was a hint of chaos. They were a ragtag group of misfits, and Eve only hoped that any passerbys they did see in future towns would only assume they were an eccentric bunch.

Traveling was painful, even with the medicine. Physical therapy to learn how to walk and talk was one thing, but dealing with a broken arm was another. It would take time to heal, but she hadn't even fully recovered from the effects of the coma.

She disliked that she felt useless. She couldn't control time, she lacked dexterity, and she was still weak. Recovery could take weeks, even months. The last thing the others had to hear was her complaining about pain, especially since Elias and James was able to brush off every major traumatizing injury so easily. She had to be stronger.

It did give her a strange peace of mind that Mel and Alistair grounded her. Mel wasn't afraid to complain about her incessant headache, as well as the annoying bugs buzzing around them and the bushy branches that keps swatting her face. Alistair was still obviously anxious and stressed over everything, which made Eve feel a bit more validated. James was happy to answer any questions he had, even turning to Eve to contribute from her limited time in Nye, which she appreciated. Elias, meanwhile, was walking a steady pace next to his sister, taking the role of being Sleepy's caretaker and carrying him on his backpack, acting like he had never taken the bullet for her.

Eve chose to not think about that right now, though. There was a lot to think about and to talk through with James... but they had to take one step at a time, even though her steps were Elliot's, since she was still too weak to walk far distances.

The hours passed by, and they continued to follow the creek's path until night rolled around, and the familiar pattern of Nye's constellations filled the dark sky. It was oddly comforting and nostalgic to see it again, five years later. She had spent so many hours of her time gazing up at it, memorizing the positions of the stars, and then comparing it to Earth later.

Everyone helped set up camp, with Mel egging Alistair on to try to make a fire, ignoring Elise's suggestion that he should be discreetly practicing with smaller flames somewhere else first. Eve felt a gentle tug of her shirt, turning to see James next to her.

"Let's get you settled," he said.

He helped her down on Elliot and helped settle him down first, making sure he had water and food for the long rest, while also picking out all the supplies they'd need from the saddlebag. Eve was happy to help lay down the blankets for everyone, and they were lucky that everyone had their own supplies as well, because spreading all of James's resources to the entire group would have been a stretch.

James volunteered to take the night first shift awake, which didn't surprise Eve. Mel seemed more than happy to get some shut-eye, and Elise insisted that she'll help with keeping watch too. After her declaration, Alistair grumbled that he would help too, and then Elias chimed in with a "me too," possibly to follow the trend.

Eve laid down on the two blankets over the bed of grass, staring up at the familiar night sky. The pain of her arm was giving her more than a splitting headache now; she felt the pain oozing out behind the medicine's waning effects, sharply coming in as waves. Any time she was trying to think through a coherent thought, the pain cut in like a taunt, and Eve had to start all over again.

How could she put up with this for weeks or months without depending on any substances?

The minutes rolled by, and sleep was becoming a lost cause. She wasn't excatly sure how much time had passed since she had been so distracted trying to ignore the pain, but when she sat up, she noticed that the others were silently curled around the fire, fast asleep.

All except James of course, who was leaning against the tree, across the other side of the fire, noticing her movement and catching her eye. Eve helplessly stared at him for a second, but before he could move to offer her words of support, she bunched up the blankets and slowly stood up, carefully taking one step at a time as she walked towards him.

Eve chose to walk around the others instead of through them, but safely reached the other dark side of the small clearing, silently cozying up next to James and offering him the two blankets.

James pulled up the blankets over both of their legs, and up over her shoulders. As he "tucked her in" he leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Amidst the pain keeping her up, Eve couldn't help but smile at the gesture.

"Trouble sleeping?" he whispered.

"A little," she answered back just as quietly. "I thought you could also use the company."

"I appreciate it," James said, taking in a deep breath and sighing as he looked out at the others.

"What's on your mind?" Eve asked after a lingering silence.

James hummed softly.

"I just keep thinking through all the unknowns," James said. "But I know we won't really have answers for a while."

Eve could understand that. In the past, the unknown future made her needlessly anxious, especially when she didn't have a clear-cut action plan.

"Yeah. It is a little scary because there's so much we don't know," she said as she turned to meet his eyes. "But at least we know that we don't have to worry about Tula, Oliver, and the others out to get us. I'm glad we're here."

"Me too," James said, still gazing out at the others with a severe expression. "I still can't believe we got so lucky..."

"I don't believe in luck," she said stubbornly, but playfully. "Maybe it was fate. Maybe we're supposed to be here."

James slowly looked over to her with a tired smile in his eyes, though there was tenderness behind them. He hummed softly and looked back at the fire.

"Would it help you to sleep if you leaned on me?" he asked.

Instead if verbally answering, Eve slowly leaned her head against the crook of his neck, watching the dim fire burn out around the others. She knew that there was so much they had to discuss, and for the first time since they were back in the room from the mines, they were alone. Just the two of them... even though their friends were sleeping not too far from them.

But Eve was far too tired and in far too much pain to use this opportunity to do anything else but sit near James in peace. For now, this was enough.

Eve wasn't sure how much time had passed before James spoke up again, but she was alerted first by hearing his deep breath with her ear close to his chest.

"It does feel a little anticlimactic," James said softly. "I thought we were going to lose everything... and then at the last minute, the note offered a way out."

Eve didn't respond right away, instead getting lost listening to his heartbeat and feeling his chest rise with every passing breath.

"Maybe anticlimactic isn't the right word," James said, still speaking in a low whisper. "Jarring?"

"I think it feels like a dream, and any minute now, we'll wake up," Eve said softly.

"Yeah," James agreed. "It doesn't feel quite real."

She tried to hum in amusement, but instead quickly breathed out some air. "Maybe we should do a reality check. Do you still have that mirror?"

"I saw it earlier," James said. "When I was looking through our things. Nothing seemed off to me."

"It's just strange... since on Earth, people from Nye spilled into your dreams. And now we are on Nye," Eve thought out loud.

"I didn't think it would actually happen," James said.

"If you would have told me it would back in Terra, I certainly wouldn't have believed it," Eve said.

"That makes two of us," James said with a huff of air through his nose.

He turned his head just a little to look down at her.

"I'm glad it didn't end there," he said in a whisper. "In Terra."

Eve tilted her head up to meet his eyes. If she wasn't so exhausted, she'd have wrapped her arm around him and pulled him in tightly.

"I'm glad it didn't either," she whispered back instead. "Things may be difficult right now, but every hardship strengthens our relationship."

"It certainly forces us to draw closer together," he said. "Which is by no means a bad thing."

He paused pulling his hand up out of the blanket to reach up to her face, brushing her hair with his hand.

"Does talking help?" he asked. "As a distraction?"

Eve slightly leaned into his hand before falling her head back against his chest. The pain had always been present, and maybe if she was alone and not so tired, she would even cry. But she wanted to be stronger than that.

"Talking... and thinking, and you holding me. Being close. It all helps. Thank you," she said.

"Of course," he said, brushing her hair again with a gentle stroke of his fingers. "In that case, I'll keep it going."

There was a short pause, like he was thinking, but he continued shortly after.

"How does it feel for you to be back in Nye?" James asked. "I know it's hardly been a day, and it's been a rough start."

Eve stiffened slightly at the question, but then relaxed because there wasn't anything to be afraid of. There was a time when she thought Nye would be her new world, and although it was unfamiliar, she was ready to be immersed and converted into the new culture. The last memory she had of Nye was traumatic, and she spent the remaining years internalizing it and pretending it never happened, but now... well...

Now that she was with James and she was actually here, it actually felt exciting, like it was an undiscovered hidden chapter of her life that was sleeping and only just awakening. They could truly have the original future she thought they would have in the beginning, but this time, with her friends. With their friends.

"It's nostalgic," Eve answered after a long pause of thinking. "It almost feels like deja vu. I know I've been here, but it's still unfamiliar. I know we have new problems to worry about now, but... I don't know."

A small, nervous chuckle escaped her lips as she casually looked off into the darkness past the fire.

"I guess I never completely eliminated the possibility of being a Nye citizen," she finished hesitantly. "Especially now, since I don't feel like I have a place on Earth anymore. Neither of us do."

James hummed softly.

"Honest question," he said slowly. "How much of that was my fault, and how much of that was inevitable?"

Eve pursed her lips at the thought experiment. "Neither," she answered after a brief second of thinking. "I think it was just meant to be."

"That does sound a little cliche, you know that, right?" James said, looking down at her with a small smirk.

"I think the only person I can blame for this is you," she replied with the same smirk.

"Fair enough," he said, his smirk tugging into a tired smile.

And it truly was like fate toying with them, because suddenly a shadow towered over them and a too-cheery voice said, "Whatcha talkin' about?"

Eve flinched, instinctively leaning towards James as she snapped her head back to see Mel with a sunny grin and messy hair standing over them. Evaline glanced between her and the spot she was just sleeping at, not sure how she was able to get up so fast without them noticing.

"Mel," James said dryly, though still keeping his voice low. "I'm sorry if we woke you."

"How did you even get here so fast?" Eve blurted out.

"I think that's the pain clouding your mind, Eve," James said. "I saw her get up."

"Aww, poor Evie!" Mel cooed, then flopped to the ground so Eve was sandwiched between her and James. "I'm glad you have someone to talk to to get through the pain, though. Like James. And me. Obviously."

"Yeah... okay. Thanks," Eve said, not really sure how to respond to that.

"Are you having trouble sleeping, Mel?" James asked softly, leaning forward to look over Eve's head at her.

"I mean, we did almost die and suddenly found ourselves in a brand new world. Kind of hard to sleep, don't cha think?"

"...I'll take that as a yes, then," James answered.

"Hey, I remember you having trouble sleeping when I first met you. That was when you first came to Earth, right?" Mel said as she stretched out her legs and settled into a comfortable seating position.

"That's true, but my struggles with sleeping go further back than that," James said. "The stress of the situation just... amplified everything."

"So you're saying you're a chronic insomniac," Mel replied matter-of-factly.

"I'd prefer for Elise to make the official diagnosis, but yes," James said stiffly.

"Hey, why don't you go to sleep and I stay up with Eve instead?" Mel persisted, smiling big.

James seemed to hesitate, and Eve could feel his body tense as she laid her head on his shoulder.

"It's really no big deal if you want to do that," Eve said gently. "You should get some rest."

"It's not that I don't appreciate the offer. I just... I've been dealing with this long enough to know that right now, even if I did everything I could, I wouldn't be able to fall asleep," he said quietly. "My mind is on high alert, and I can't just turn that off."

"Mmmm, okay, I see now," Mel said, nodding and squinting her eyes in thought. "So you're saying you can't, like, relax and chill out?"

"It's a little more nuanced than that," James said.

"Maybe you just need some snuggles. I didn't interrupt anything, did I?"

James was quiet, and when Eve glanced up to see his face, he was narrowing his eyes at Mel, unamused.

"What?" Mel said innocently with a smile in her voice. "Want me to leave?"

James turned to look at, presumably, the others who were only feet from them, still asleep.

"To go where, Mel?" James hissed in a hushed whisper. "To get lost in the forest and eaten by a--"

"Nah, I'd go right there," Mel said like it was obvious as she pointed back to where she was previously sleeping.

James let out a long, deep sigh, but Eve had to tightly press her lips together to stop herself from laughing. It was ridiculous playful banter to listen to.

"I don't want to wake the others," James said, still whispering. "If you want to stay up and talk, that's fine. Let's just keep it down."

"Cool, sounds good to me," Mel said with a victorious smile as she leaned back against the same thick tree, scooting closer to Eve but not so
much that she'd lean against her broken arm. "So, what were you guys talking about?"

"Nye politics," Eve said naturally. "Very fun topic."

"What's your opinion on the Isles' foreign policy?" James said, hopping in.

"Well, some islands have an embargo that is hurting the local economies, and others are thriving from the democratic union. I think the islands could benefit the most from trade with each other, but the politicians should reevaluate the current trading policies with the other nations anyways."

"For someone as new to Nye as yourself you very quickly formed an opinion based on nothing," James said. "I applaud you."

"Gosh, yeah, how did you answer that so fast?" Mel said.

Eve smirked and fluorished her free hand in front of her. "Maybe it's the government blood in me. You know... about making things up on the spot."

"The embargo you're talking about was actually resolved two years ago," James said. "That's old news."

"Oh, sorry. It's been six years since I've caught up on Nye news," Eve said with a playful smirk.

"I think that is a forgivable offense," James said with a faint playful smile in reply.

"Wait, were you guys seriously talking about politics and embargos?" Mel said with a disgusted frown as she stared the two of them down. "Ew. What are you, a hundred years old?"

Eve could hear James breathe in and let out a deep sigh.

"You know Mel, it wouldn't hurt for all of us, at some point, to go over the basics of this world again," he said. "When you're a little less concussed."

A playful smile tugged Mel's lips as she scooted a bit slower, curiosity piqued. "What about the fun basics? Tell me about that. Like, good foods and fashion."

James paused, like he was seriously considering it.

"Foods and fashion from where?" he asked.

"Nye, obviously," Mel said with a twirl of her hand.

"I meant where in Nye," James said. "Things a lot different on the coast than they are in the north or south."

Mel hummed in thought, then beamed with an idea. "What about where you're from?"

"The Moonlight Kingdom, then," James said.

"Mmhmm, yeah, that," Mel said as she scooted a little closer, leaning in.

James seemed happy to share Nye lore and culture, and Mel seemed interested in the trivial things he mentioned. Eve tried hard to stay present in the conversation, but as the two of them chatted back and forth - namely about subjects she already knew about from her many nights talking to James - she found it more and more difficult to not only pay attention, but to stay awake as well.

It had been a long night and an even longer day, and soon enough, sleep had overtaken her.
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Carina says...


Something was pinching Tula's nose, and in the dead of sleepy confusion, the thought of homicide raced through her head. They were in a field in front of the mountains that she and the group had staked out for ages, and somehow, she must have been drugged. And now they were suffocating her. That had to be it.

Rage coursed through her veins and she immediately opened her eyes and sat up, fiercely jabbing at her attacker. But instead of a person who should have been laying in front of her, she was looking at a crab laying on its back, claws up and legs scrambling to get back on its legs.

A... crab.

What the fuck?

Tula stared at the crab struggle for far too many seconds before she even looked past the creature and saw sand and the ocean. She was at sea. Somehow, despite beind hundreds of miles inland just a little bit ago, she was back at the coasts.

It took everything in her to not scream right then and there, and instead she slowly stood up, balling her hands so hard that her knuckles turned white.

Those sons of bitches did it again. She had no idea how they did it, but they got away. Again.

Tula thought she could contain herself, but she couldn't help it.

"What the FUCK!" she screamed into the ocean air, unleashing her anger and frustration.

"Where are we?"

Tula whirled around and saw Deidra standing, though half of her was covered in a thin layer of sand, like she'd previously been lying down.

"You," Tula seethed, pointing an accusatory finger at her as she marched towards her. "You're supposed to make sure they didn't get away. Why the fuck did you let them get away?!"

Deidra didn't move or flinch, but kept her eyes pinned on Tula as she marched up. Deidra's expression grew cold and serious.

"Tula," she said with a chilling sense of calm. "They must've used their powers to mess with time again. But that doesn't explain where we are. Either we've been out for a very long time, or--"

"Shut up, you old hag!" Tula screeched, snarling the words as she stood with her face mere inches away, her eyes piercing like daggers. She didn't care how much bigger or taller Deidra was; she was her subordinate, and she failed to perform her duty. "Tell me you're not completely useless and caught at least one of the fuckers."

Deidra let out a long, deep sigh, and that was all Tula needed to hear to know the answer.

"Hah," Tula said with a smile. She backed away, and at the same time, continued to laugh until it turned manical. She brushed her loose curls back, eyes wide with crazy determination as she pulled out a knife from her boot.

All hints of the smile and laugh suddenly disappeared as she held the knife, and then plunged it into the ground, perfectly piercing the struggling crab to its death.

"We're going to find them," Tula said cooly, looking back up at Deidra with a deadly serious face. "No matter what, we're going to find them. And this time, they will die. Every. Single. One of them."
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Carina says...

"Hey, watch this," Elias said with a sneaky grin.

He was bent down next to Mel who was snoring and drooling... and also, sleeping in. She'd always been a deep sleeper, but apparently they had to get a move on and she was the last bottleneck. Luckily for everyone, Elias knew the perfect way to wake her up without shaking her to death.

"Pssst. Mel. Wakey wakey," he said as he took out a flower from his jacket pocket and started to tickle her nose with it.

"Elias, you know she only wakes up like that because she's allergic to pollen?" Alistair said, unamused while leaning against the nearby tree with his arms crossed.

"Huh?" Elias said distractedly, but that was all he was able to get in before Mel started to make moves. And by moves, he meant that she spit. Also known as sneezing.

"ACHOO!" Mel sneezed, sending the snot all over his face.

Was it gross? Maybe. But at least she was awake now.

"Euugh," Alistair said with a disgusted face.

Elias crinkled his nose but didn't think much of it, wiping the snot off his face. As a father, he'd been through grosser things.

Mel sniffed, slowly sitting up and rubbing her eyes. She groaned as she saw the wet flower he was holding. "Can you not?" she complained.

"Good morning?" Elias offered with a smile instead.

"Are you three done?" James's voice came from behind him. Elias glanced back to see James helping Eve up onto Elliot's back and Elise strapping some of their supplies to the saddle.

"Yeah, she's awake now thanks to my magic," Elias said nonchalantly.

Mel scoffed, throwing grass at him as she rose to her feet and started to pack her things. Mission accomplished.

Elias looked down at the wet, shriveled up flower in his hand then over at a nearby patch of deep blue flowers nearby. He randomly picked this one up their first hour they were here and hadn't seen any more, so maybe he should restock and casually name them the Mel Awakening Potion.

"Hey, it's real effective though. So don't mind me while I pick out some more," he said with a goofy smile, slinking over to the patch of flowers.

"You really should be more careful with the flowers you pick," James said, handing Eve the reins as he steadied her. "That one's poisonous."

Mel whirled around, hands on her hips. "You mean he could have poisoned me?!"

"I think you'd have to eat it," Alistair said, clearly more amused now.

"The leaves can give you a rash, though," James added. "I'd reccomend not touching them."

"Oh. Huh. You mean this flower, right?" Elias said, the flower already in his hand. He had already picked it while James and Alistair were talking. Somehow, their voices were soothing enough to block out sometimes.

And maybe his voice was soothing enough to block out at the moment too, because everyone was too focused on getting ready and didn't seem to hear him. Elias twirled the flower in his hand, amused that he didn't have a rash.

Cool. Guess it was his "magic" kicking in, huh?

"Elias, stop dilly dallying and get moving!" Mel barked after she finished putting on her backpack. She was always so grumpy in the morning.

"Alright, alright, I'm coming," Elias quickly said, pocketing the flower and moving along.

It was a peaceful morning, and usually Mel was the one to spark conversations, but instead Elias took charge to ask James more about random pretty flowers and plants they may come across. James was more than happy to talk about nature, too. He was a really smart guy. Elias had no idea how he was able to fit so much information in his brain.

They were following a stream, and Elliot needed to take a break, especially since Eve was riding him. Elias suggested that they go for a dip, but James said it wasn't a good idea. Maybe someday.

The hours ticked by and it was getting a bit warmer, and a swim in the stream sounded more and more tempting. Elias was beginning to take off his light jacket when suddenly James, who was leading the way, came to an abrupt stop.

"What now?" Mel said, but seemed to understand the urgency to stay quiet since she said it in a hushed voice.

The answer arrived as faint noise patterns along the forest floor, twigs snapping with scurrying feet. It happened all so fast, and before they could see who was nearby, smoke filled the air. It not only clouded their vision, but also assaulted their noses since it was stinky.

"Goblins," Elias heard James said lowly through the smoke.

"What do we do?" Elise said before coughing.

"Be on your guard. We're running," James ordered. "Follow my voice!"

While he said that, Elias heard him dive backward and started to briskly follow. He heard Mel coughing and not catching up, so without asking, he grabbed her hand and lead her with him so they'd catch up.

Only a few steps in, Elias heard the strangest form of chatter. It was a language he'd never heard before, but it was low, and harsh, and sounded almost panicked. In the thick of the smoke, he felt something catch on the shoulder strap of his backpack, and then again on the next strap, and before he knew it, the backpack was falling.

"Alright, that's enough of that," Elias muttered, slipping the backpack off before he could fall with it. While he did so, he stole a glance behind him and saw a little green man with big, pointy ears catching the backpack and running off with it.

"You just let him have it?!" Mel said under her breath as he quickly jogged forward with her closely in front of him.

Just as she finished her sentence, though, Elias saw a small green shadow pop out from behind her and slice through the bottom of her bag with a knife, as if they were gutting it. Several articles of clothing fell out onto the forest floor and the small green person scrambled to grab them.

If given the time, Elias would explain that some things were more important than, well, things. Like their lives. He was tempted to slide the backpack off since it was clear they wanted to steal their stuff, but he could see Mel hammering about how he gave up this fight so easily, and plus they already had his stuff. He didn't mind if they had his sleeping bag, but he was sure Mel would mind if they had hers.

"Alright, we're done here," he muttered and scooped her up, arms wrapped around her waist under the bag to prevent any more stuff from falling out. In the midst of the ransacking, he couldn't hear where James was, but anywhere was better than where they were, and he did his best to run with Mel in tow despite her complaints.

After what seemed like a minute of running, Elias was finally able to run out of the smoke zone, but it seemed that they were still in the radius of the stink bomb. Elias's sense of smell was not the best anymore, but he could tell it was still super smelly from the face Mel was making.

Elias gently let Mel down, his eyes darting around their surroundings. It seemed like they hadn't made it to safety yet. There were four more green people - goblins, if he remembered the name correctly - and they were all different sizes. Like, three of them were more human-sized, and one was very tall and broad. James had mentioned goblins and other creatures before, but for some reason Elias thought they were very small... like the size of cats. So this was a pleasant surprise.

The feeling didn't last long since they were circling the others. Or rather, Eve on Elliot. James, Elise, and Alistair were being rounded up nearby.

Elias was glad that they were all safe, but he wasn't sure if he should be using that word yet. These guys look like they could be tough.

Suddenly, Elias felt something hit him in the back of his knees. Or rather, someone. Two someones, actually. It was the two smaller goblins, they'd returned this time with weapons - spears, to be exact, and were lightly jabbing at him, pointing for him to group with the others.

"Hey, hey, no need to resort to violence. I'll go, I'll go," Elias said with his hands in the air to show he wasn't holding anything, and then beckoned for Mel to follow with his head. She didn't look pleased, and she clearly wanted to rebel, but they were in some foreign world, so she must have thought better of it at the last second.

Elias made sure Mel followed okay and then joined the others, innocently looking down at the smaller goblin before turning back towards James.

"What's going on?" he asked quietly.

James didn't reply, instead turning his attention to one of the human-sized goblins who'd stepped forward, speaking in a different language than he heard before.

Elias watched James the the goblins bicker back and forth before he slowly looked back at Eve who was still mounted on Elliot.

"What are they saying?" he asked.

Eve gave him a pointed look. "They're speaking goblin. How would I -- never mind."

Elias understood enough that she was too stressed to even jab him with sarcasm. But if he had to guess, the goblins probably wanted to take all their things. Or something. He didn't really know what the motive was.

After James finished his spiel, the goblins' behavior suddenly shifted to be less aggressive and on edge. The suspicion was still there as they seemed to really be eyeing them up and down, but they lowered their weapons a teensy bit.

The goblin who seemed to be the leader took a small step back, looking their group up and down, assessing them. She looked strong and wiry, and her eyes were a bright yellow-green. Two pointy ears poked out of thick, dark hair, and she wore a lot of earthy colors with brown leather armor. The rest of her crew had similar clothing, and the only thing that made her stand out was a bright red pendant around her neck.

She said something and the other goblins put their weapons down, no longer pointing at them.

James glanced back at Elias and Eve.

"I told them we're mages," he said.

"I thought we--" Mel began.

"I know what I said," he said, interrupting. "Goblins are different."

Alistair cleared his throat when Mel made a sour face. "Should we, erm... prove it?" he asked.

"Yes. They've agreed to let us go on the condition that we prove ourselves. I told them that you're a fire mage, which is something they're familiar with. A few of them are fire mages themselves. I mentioned you haven't been trained and will need some space, but that you'd show them," James said, looking to Alistair. "Can you do that for me?"

"Sure, yes. I can try," Alistair said as he shuffled to the front, but then hesitated, looking back. "Uh. Now? Anywhere?"

James glanced back at the woman goblin with the pendant and said something in their language, then gestured to Alistair. She nodded and said something that sounded like agreement.

James looked back to Alistair, gesturing for him to step off to the side. The other goblins backed off.

Alistair did exactly that, taking a deep breath. Elias was tempted to cheer him on since he clearly was nervous, but decided to let him concentrate in peace.

He stared intensely at the air in front of them all and then spun a finger around, triggering a flame to also spin around. He probably meant to do a small spark or ember, but accidentally hauled in a big fire that immediately dissipated and turned to smoke. Alistair nearly lost his balance as he stepped back, coughing as the smoke aired towards him.

Thankfully, the flame went away, and the small display seemed to get approving nods from the goblins. The biggest goblin started chuckling, though, which triggered the laughter of the two small ones as well. One of the little goblins approached Alistair with a grin and, as if showing off, held out his hand and easily summoned a small flame that fluttered over his palm. He seemed to have far more control over it than Alistair did over his own flame.

The little goblin then snapped his fingers and dismissed his flame, as if to show Alistair how it was done.

"Nice job," Elias offered with a little clap. It was directed more towards Alistair, but he didn't care if the goblin thought he was talking to him.

Alistair didn't look like he appreciated the encouragement or the demonstration, and only looked back at James for approval.

James, however, was looking to the goblin woman. They exchanged a few words, and then Elias noticed the goblin woman's gaze landed on Elise.

James turned to look at her.

"They're going to leave us alone, and she's apologized for the trouble. But she wants to ask for a favor. I mentioned you had healing magic, Elise," James said. "And she says one of their own is wounded back at camp. She was their healer, and wasn't able to heal herself. They've kept her stable but she wants to know if you're willing to help."

"I've never healed anyone who wasn't human, but I'm willing to give it a try," Elise said eagerly, pausing for a second as she glanced at the others. "You don't suppose they'd give our items back in exchange, do you?"

James nodded and turned to the woman, exchanging a few more words. Eventually the goblin woman looked to the two smaller goblins who both seemed to sigh in unison before they ran off into the bushes and dragged out Elias's backpack and a pile of Mel's clothes. They dragged them all the way to Eli and Mel's feet, looking a little unenthusiastic at giving the items back, but still apologetic. Elias was happy to scoop his bag back up and thanked them, although he couldn't say that Mel was pleased since her bag was sliced.

Elise nodded. "Is the camp nearby?"

"It's not far. It's further down the stream," James said.

At that point, he seemed to look at everyone, like he was searching for agreement before they moved on.

"I don't know," Eve said, anxiety in her voice. "How do you know it's not an ambush?"

James's expression was a little hard to read. He squinted his eyes ever so slightly and turned to look at the goblin woman.

He said something, and the goblin woman looked at Eve. She said something more to James, and he replied in words they could actually understand.

"We're truly sorry. We have no quarrels with mage-kind. Your people have suffered enough," James said.

It sounded like he was translating.

"They might be useful for trade. We could stock up on supplies," Mel offered when Eve didn't look totally convinced yet.

"At the very least, they could point us in the direction of the nearest human settlement if necessary," James offered.

"Do you think these goblins could be bounty hunters?" Alistair asked lowly.

One of the little goblins laughed, drawing a glare from the goblin woman. She hissed something at him, and he replied defensively. After what sounded like another retort, or correction, the little goblin shriveled under her gaze.

"I only know a little common," the male goblin mumbled. "I didn't feel like talking. He understood!"

The little goblin gestured between James and the leader, but both of them looked annoyed and unimpressed. The small goblin let out a frustrated groan before walking up to the two of them.

"Sorry," he said begrudgingly, looking to the others. "Seriously, though, only one of you speaks islander?"

"No," Elias said.

"Yes," James said at the same time. He shot Elias an exasperated look.

Elias leaned towards Alistair to mutter, "Is islander what we speak, or...? I don't know what Nye calls it."

Alistair only gave him a funny look before James and the little goblin continued to speak.

"I don't care who speaks what," the goblin muttered, looking to their leader. She spoke something to him in what sounded like their own language and then he sighed, squaring his shoulders and looking to James.

"She says she wants to go. Our healer needs help quickly," he said. "We will show you the way, and you will follow."

James looked back to Eve, who was still sitting atop Elliot, and the two of them seemed to exchange a silent conversation.

"If you think it's safe..." she said slowly, then pulled her eyes away to glance at the others. "We trust your judgement."

"I think we'll be fine," James said softly, then looked to the leader.

"Jadis," James said. "Lead the way."

The female goblin, Jadis, apparently, nodded her head and turned to lead them northward - at least, Elias thought it was north, but at this point, he couldn't remember. Either way, they were heading in the same direction they were going before the goblins appeared.
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Carina says...

Eve wasn't lying when she said she trusted James's judgement, but that didn't mean she felt completely safe.

She continued to trot along riding Elliot with James close by, noticing that they were following the same stream as before. Alistair, Mel, and Elise were walking by their side, whispering to each other while Elias - unsurprisingly - engaged in conversation with the only goblin that spoke common, asking innocent questions about their lifestyle... or so she thought. It was hard to fully pay attention when there was so many more important things circling in her head, like if this was a trap.

Eve couldn't understand it. James may be more trusting of the goblins, but she was still too-wary of them -- and it surely wasn't because of the life she lived.

Suddenly the goblins leading the way veered to the right, interrupting her thoughts.

They passed through a thick cover of trees, and they had to start walking single-file to weave through. Eve had to duck her head to keep from getting caught in the thick branches and leaves, so she wasn't able to see where they were going until the trees cleared again.

When she was finally able to look up and peer over Elliot's head, there was a campsite nestled among the thick trees. There were three tents, each with thick tarps draped over poles stuck into the ground, creating tarp walls and a roof above. Each tent was angled around a fire pit that had been dug out into the ground, with stones piled around the edges to keep it contained. It looked like they'd burned it last night, as there was a pile of ash in its center.

Altogether, it looked like a pretty typical campsite for what Eve might've expected from Nye... at least, until she saw the three large griffins curled up beside one of the tents. As everyone approached, one of them lifted their bird-like head, and its eyes snapped to Elliot and Eve. The other two curled up with it stayed asleep.

One of the goblins said something to the griffin, and it slowly lowered its head, letting its guard down as it curled back up again with its lion-like tail curling around its body. It let out a heavy sigh as it closed its eyes, but Eve could sense Elliot was on edge.

And so was she, since James hadn't exactly painted these animals to be peaceful around other creatures. She slowly pried her eyes away to look at James, trying to gauge his reaction.

He looked... conflicted. He was still holding Elliot's lead with a steady hand, but James seemed tense, and unsure.

The goblins had begun to disperse a little. The largest one went off into the forest with one of the human-sized goblins, and the small one (that didn't speak 'common') went into one of the the tents. That left Jadis, the leader, and the small goblin who was serving as their translator, along with one other human-sized goblin who positioned himself outside one of the tents, presumably standing guard.

"Where would you like me to go?" Elise asked.

Jadis spoke, and the small goblin translated, pointing to the center tent.

"Our healer is in here. You will go with Jadis, and so will your wounded friend and your leader," he said, gesturing to Eve and James.

It was funny. Eve was evidently the 'wounded one,' based on who he pointed to. That would take some getting used to, but simply pointing this out reminded her of her arm injury. She had to grit her teeth and actively block out the pain. Again.

"The others will remain out here," the goblin continued to explain. "Around the fire. You will keep your horse away from the griffs, and wait."

"I can help wi--" Elias began, but was immediately cut off by Alistair.

"I can take care of Elliot," Alistair said, glancing between James and the griffins. "And keep them away from the... griffs."

They were already here. No use to do anything else but comply.

Eve hesitantly lifted her foot over the other side of Elliot so she could hop down. Jadis made eye contact with Elise and James, gesturing for them to follow. James turned around to Eve, offering his arm to help her, which she gladly took. In return, Alistair offered to take the reins from Elliot.

"Ready?" Elise said, waiting for confirmation before entering the tent.

James, now with Eve at his side, gave Elise a nod, and then looked to Jadis. The goblin woman turned, walking up to the center tent and pulling up the flap for them to enter.

When they entered, Eve noticed that the tent was surprisingly spacious, decorated, and well-lit, but that wasn't the detail she focused on. Because laying there on the middle of blankets was, undoubtedly, a face she had seen before. She had drawn this face in the past, and re-studied and remembered it five years later.

But this person wasn't human. This person was a goblin.

It was Marsha, the goblin who gave her an antitode to James's infection years ago when Eve was first in Nye.

Eve couldn't help but stare with pleasant surprise and shock, because of all people, she didn't think she'd ever meet Marsha again. She had to shake herself out of it when Elise kneeled down and examined her body.

"My name is Elise, and I'm here to heal you," she said as her eyes gazed at her belly where there were several deep, fresh-looking wounds that were bandaged tightly.

At that, Marsha stirred slightly. Her head turned towards the sound of Elise's voice, and her eyes slowly opened into little slits, looking distant and glazed over.

"Jadis..." she mumbled. "Who--"

But she was cut off by her own hiss of pain. Jadis said something in goblin, and Marsha seemed to relax a little, but her eyes opened up more in confusion. She looked up at Elise more closely.

"I understand you are in pain. I'm here to help. It's okay, you can relax," Elise said gently, then gestured to her wounds. "May I?"

Marsha attempted to nod, then said, "Yes."

Elise nodded, starting to undo the bandages and explaining who she was and what she will be doing. By this time, Eve had finally gotten over the wave of surprise and then pulled James a little closer.

"I've met her before," she whispered.

James turned to meet her eyes with his eyebrows raised.

"When?" he whispered back.

"When I was first here. In Nye. It was when you--" she started, then stopped mid-sentence when she realized it would be too much to explain in this crowded tent where they were right in front of Marsha and other goblins. Instead Eve leaned closer to his ear, whispering the only word that would piece everything together if he remembered the story: "Marsha."

When she pulled away she could see the look of remembrance pass over James's face, and his eyes drifted over to Marsha and Elise, eyes softened with what looked like sadness.

"Small world," he said under his breath.

Eve nodded, knowing this wasn't the time or place to talk about it in detail, but she did wonder if Marsha remembered anything from that night. Or if she'd recognize them at all.

Knowing this was Marsha's camp did make Eve feel at ease, though. An act of kindness six years ago was still affecting her actions and feelings now.

"This may sting a bit, but you will feel better afterwards," Elise said once the bandages have been removed. "Are you ready?"

"Yes," Marsha said, but her voice was faint.

Elise nodded, getting to work. She traced over the wounds with her fingers, but there was a slight glow, which was unusual. Still, she kept her hand steady and likely figured it was a magic conversion coming to Nye and didn't want to make a big deal of what should have been something common.

From what Eve had witnessed, she figured it would take a few minutes, but Elise finished fairly fast, which Eve also guessed was because of coming to Nye. She made a mental note to ask Elise how she felt later.

"All done. Your wounds have all closed up to scars now," Elise said with a friendly smile, wiping her sweaty forehead with the back of her hand while also leaning back to give Marsha room to move.

Marsha slowly sat up, and even though it had been a short minute, the difference in her face was evident. Her expression was full of relief, and she turned to Elise with a big, surprised smile. It was at that moment, that Marsha seemed to fully process what was going on, because her smile turned into something of a stare, and by the time she pulled her eyes away to look to Jadis for an explanation, her eyes caught on James, and then Eve.

Eve could see the surprise as her eyes widened, and her brows drew together in deeper confusion.

"Who... who are you?" she asked, looking to Elise.

Elise glanced back at James, but took it upon herself to answer since Marsha understood common and was speaking to her.

"My name is Elise," she said gently. "You were hurt, and I healed you. I'm a mage. We all are. Your leader, Jadis, brought us in."

At that, Marsha looked to Jadis, and Jadis simply nodded, then said something in goblin. Marsha nodded back slowly, like she was taking everything in.

"Thank you," she said, like she was still processing. As she spoke, she started tucking up her legs, and grabbed a shawl off the floor that had been folded up by the side of her bed mat. She pulled it over her shoulders, and pulled down her shirt to cover her now-healed abdomen.

She took in a deep breath and got to her feet, then looked to James and Eve.

"I never thought I'd see you again," she said, making eye contact with Eve.

Eve thought she was over the shock, but Marsha seemed so relax about recognizing them, that Eve had to look over her shoulder to make sure she wasn't talking about anyone behind her. When she turned to face Marsha again, her steely golden eyes pierced through her similar to how she caught her attention on that fateful night six years ago.

"I didn't either," Eve replied, trying to mimick her calm demeanor. She bowed her head a little as a greeting. "I wasn't able to convey my thanks to you before. Thank you."

Marsha hummed, nodding in reply. Her eyes flicked to James for a moment.

"I see you're still with your companion," she said, but the tone of her words conveyed a nuance Eve wasn't sure she completely understood. There were clearly things Marsha wasn't saying, and it was likely due to Jadis being in the room - though it didn't seem that Jadis understood what they were saying.

It was then that Marsha's eyes fell to Eve's arm.

"What happened to your arm?" she asked.

Eve flicked her eyes to James, but she didn't want to bring more attention to this more than necessary. And she definitely didn't want to say the truth.

"It's dangerous to be a mage in this day and age," Eve said, letting the words roll out of her tongue naturally.

Marsha smirked slightly, and her pointed teeth caught on her lower lip for a moment before the smile faded.

"Would you mind if I took a look at it?" she asked.

Eve hesitated a bit, looking down at her cast. James snapped it back in place and Elise did all she could to heal her. All that could help her now was time, which was already ironic.

Unless... was Marsha a healer too?

"If you'd like..." Eve said, not really sure where she was going with this.

Marsha looked to Jadis, and they exchanged words that none of them could understand. From Jadis's tone, she sounded concerned, but Marsha seemed firm, and eventually Jadis nodded, and dipped out of the tent, sending one last glance to Eve.

At that, Marsha turned her attention to Eve. She waved for Eve to pull back further into the tent and sit down, passing Elise who seemed to be hanging back now that her job was done. She was clearly confused, but didn't want to push it.

Eve paused to glance at James, but giving his hand a gentle squeeze before stepping forward to follow Marsha's lead. She sat down on a floor cushion and patiently waited for Marsha's lead.

Marsha knelt down in front of Eve before reaching for Eve's injured arm. She glanced up at Elise.

"Were you the one who took care of her?" she asked.

Elise nodded. "I did all I could. Healing open wounds is one thing, but healing bones is another."

"When was it broken?" Marsha asked.

"Yesterday," James answered quickly. She noticed he'd drawn closer, standing behind Eve.

Marsha glanced up at him with a small look of annoyance before looking back to Eve's arm.

"Now that I'm better," she said slowly. "Thanks to your healer, Elise, I may be able to heal your arm in return. As thanks. Or, at the very least, I may be able to speed up the process. It depends how bad the break is."

It took some moments for Eve to process this. The implication was that Marsha was also a healing mage, which honestly wasn't very surprising. Eve did trust Marsha, but she wondered if there was a catch. It didn't sound like an easy job.

"Are you sure? Don't you need to conserve your energy?" Eve asked, ignoring the throbbing pain of her arm pleading for her to just do it.

"I will need to rest regardless," Marsha said. "And I already have permission from Jadis."

Eve faltered for a second. She wasn't even sure why she was looking for answers to deny this act of kindness. She truly did want to go back to a comfortably, pain-free life.

"Then... if you don't mind..." Eve said quietly as she looked down at her cast, running her free thumb along the edge so she could pull it back.

Marsha stepped in to help unwrap the bandage and free her arm, and when the tension was released around her skin Eve could feel her arm throbbing. Marsha gently hovered her hands over her forearm before gingerly laying her hands over the swollen, bruised arm. Even at the light touch, it felt tender and raw, and Eve had to bite down her lip as she hissed in pain.

"Take in a deep breath," Marsha said calmly.

"I am," Eve said through her teeth, feeling needlessly stubborn.

Marsha slowly looked up to meet Eve's eyes.

"Fine," she said. "Have it your way."

A vibrant, fiery glow emanated from Marsha's hands and Eve felt Marsha increase the pressure around her arm, and for a moment, the stinging, stabbing pain was almost blinding.

No... it was blinding.

The light engulfed her vision all at once, but then was snuffed out like a candle so she was in the dark.

It was comfortable, and it simultaneously felt both like an instant and a long time, but by the time Eve processed that she had passed out, she was returning back to consciousness and began to hear the voices that were previously melted in the background.

"... over five years ago, and he had a horrible infection and one of the ugliest leg wounds I'd seen since."

That was Marsha. She must be describing James.

"For the record--" James started, but was cut off by Marsha.

"And if I hadn't intervened, he likely would've died from it."

"I'm thankful that you--"

James was cut off by Marsha again, and Eve gained enough strength to open her eyes as little slits to make out the lighting and blurs of their faces.

"I feel bad for this woman - Eve, you said?" Marsha continued snippily. "You seem like you'd be the worst patient ever. She seems stubborn, but you were definitely the type to stab someone in your sleep and there was no way I was going to risk that. Not when I was just doing my round checking the area. I also didn't know you were a mage, either."

Eve focused her sight enough to see James looking totally unamused. Elise, meanwhile, didn't hold back her chuckle.

"Glad to see your leg's back to normal, though. Seems you two didn't stay out of trouble since then," Marsha sneered.

"You said this was five years ago?" Elise asked, looking like she was trying to hold back another laugh.

"Six," James corrected with a monotone voice, clearly not invested in the conversation.

"Not like I'm counting," Marsha said, voice directed at James. "But, frankly, I'm surprised you lived this long."

At this point, Eve had gathered enough energy to stir, but she didn't want to disturb the amusing conversation. Still, she must have unadvertently moved just enough to catch James's eyes, which prompted the attention of the others.

"You're awake. How are you feeling?" Elise asked as she kneeled down in front of her. She didn't give her much time to respond, though. "You fainted likely because of the pain. Don't worry, it's common, and it only lasted five minutes."

Eve craned her neck to see the rest of her body and only just now registered that she was laying down with a blanket. Grunting, she used her elbows to prop herself up, and then it dawned on her that she could use both her arms.

"Yeah... I'm fine," Eve said, sitting up straight and placing her previously broken hand in front of her, palm up. It was like it was never broken.

"That wasn't so bad, now, was it?" Marsha teased. When Eve looked up at her, Marsha had a small smirk, but there was a weariness in her eyes and in her posture. She looked spent, and when Eve thought about it, Elise did too. Eve couldn't help but feel guilty that she had exhausted so much of her energy.

"Thank you," Eve said instead, too tired to quip back. "I appreciate it."

"Yeah," Marsha said dismissively. "Mage-to-mage, though, next time try to be more careful. Mage hunters can be ruthless. I've seen it before, and it's not pretty. It's good you all were able to get away. That isn't the story for most people."

"Same to you," Eve said with a nod towards her, setting her hand back on her lap. "Good that you were able to get away, I mean."

She didn't really know why Marsha was injured or who she was running from, but it was obviously threatening.

Marsha huffed through her nose.

"Wouldn't be the first time," she said. "Now... go on and get out of my tent. I'm going to take a nap."

"Wait, I -- is that it?" Eve said quickly.

"What do you want? My life story?" Marsha snipped. "I was bleeding out ten minutes ago. Give me a break."

"No, no, I meant..." Eve sighed. "Yes, Elise did help you, but you helped us twice, and you didn't need to. Do you truly want us to walk away now like nothing's happened?"

Marsha let out a deep sigh, looking up to the tent's ceiling with tired eyes before she looked back to Eve.

"Jadis probably expects something, but you'll have to talk to her," she muttered. "I can help with translating later. I'm exhausted, and I need to rest. And so does Elise, for that matter."

She gave a sharp look to Elise, like it wasn't an option, and instead an order.

"Oh, um... Here?" Elise piped up. "Now?"

"James," Marsha said, glossing over Elise's questions. "Tell Jadis that the healers are resting. She will understand. You and Eve can leave now."
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Carina says...

After James, Eve, and Elise went inside the tent, Alistair couldn't help but feel the awkward tension increase around them. Here they were, victims of a robbery and assault, talking to the assailants.

At least, Elias and Mel were. More so Elias than Mel.

"So, what's your name?" Elias asked the small goblin - the only one that spoke 'common.' "I'm Elias."

"Why do you care?" the goblin said, folding his arms and looking Elias up and down. "It's not like you're sticking around."

"I don't think this one likes small talk," Elias mumbled over to Mel, lightly elbowing her. He meant to speak lowly, but did an awful job of covering his voice.

"It's still nice to exchange names," Mel said quickly before the goblin could react. "Does that mean you only share names to people in your tribe?"

"I share my name with people I like," the little goblin countered.

Elias quickly scanned his surroundings. "So does anyone know your name?"

The little goblin rolled his eyes and sighed, flicking his eyes to the griffins.

"Well, if you're not going to share your name, then I'm going to call you Teddy," Elias went on. "How's it going--?"

"Garik," the little goblin interrupted, not looking back at Elias, still staring at the oversized lion-birds with his arms folded.

"Garik," Elias finished with a proud grin. "You've got spunk, kid."

"I'm not a child," the goblin countered, turning around to Elias with a pointed glare. "You don't know anything about goblins, do you? You probably came from a rich human city, sheltered within the walls until you found your magic and they kicked you out."

Mel scoffed. "Those are some bold assumptions you got there, little guy."

Despite the goblin saying he wasn't a child, Elias seemed to reinforce Mel's 'little guy' name by crouching down so he was at Garik's eye level.

"You're right that I don't know a lot about goblins, but it sounds like you don't know a lot about humans. Which is kinda funny, since we're both basically human. We just look different. But there's nothing wrong with that," he said.

"If we're the 'same,' then why not say we're both 'basically goblin?'" Garik countered, narrowing his eyes up at Mel.

Luckily, Elias answered before Mel could open her mouth.

"Why not? Call it a cultural thing. Basically human, basically goblin. Same difference," he said.

"Yeah, humans are as witty and snarky as you," Mel added.

Garik's narrowed gaze traveled between the two of them, but he kept his mouth shut. Instead of replying, he marched over to the nearest tree and sat down, leaning his back against it.

Sitting down, Alistair couldn't help but notice that Garik really was quite small. Compared to the average full-grown human adult, Garik was about the size of the average human ten-year old, apart from the fact that his face looked more matured and weathered. If Garik wasn't green, and a little grizzled, Alistair would've assumed he was a kid too.

"I think we made a new friend," Elias said as the three of them stared at Garik leaning against the tree.

"Are you kidding?" Mel said with a little laugh, elbowing Elias. "The guy clearly doesn't want to talk. I wish other goblins knew common," she said, then paused, saying the next words under her breath. "Fun goblins."

"Most goblins that know common," Garik said, still sitting a few feet away with his arms folded over his knees. "Were captured, or learned it from captured humans."

He turned to look at Mel, once again shooting her a glare, but it wasn't as harsh as the ones before. It just looked annoyed more than anything.

"What about humans learning goblin?" Mel asked. "Like James?"

"He doesn't speak goblin," Garik scoffed. "He speaks the language of the Isles, and so does Jadis. What, are all of you from the kingdom or something? Never heard another language before?"

"We're so clueless, we might as well be from another world," Elias said casually.

"No kidding," Garik said with a huff through his nose.

Alistair could tell Mel was holding back her alarm from Elias's casual truth bomb, so he took this opportunity to steer the conversation himself.

"Why don't humans speak goblin?" Alistair asked.

"I never said there aren't any humans that speak goblin," Garik countered. "There just aren't many, and the only ones I've heard of were mages."

At that comment, he seemed to give Alistair a meaningful look, as if to say that their group of mages was, perhaps, more of an exception to other groups they'd met. That, or he was just trying to say that they were exceptionally clueless, which, excluding James and Eve from that assumption, was true.

"Well, maybe we can learn. Is it hard?" Elias asked.

"Common was hard to learn," Garik said. "It's very different from Iddyan."

"All languages are hard to learn," Mel said.

"It took me ten years to be able to speak like I am now," Garik emphasized.

Mel hummed. "That's pretty impressive. Why pick it up if it takes that long to learn, then?"

"I was held in a Moonlight Kingdom prison for five years before I was broken out," Garik said cooly. "My cellmate was a human criminal. You either learn to communicate, or you go insane."

Mel and Alistair were quiet for a moment as they knew this was likely a sensitive subject for Garik, but Elias - unsurprisingly - spoke before thinking.

"Whoa. You were captured that long and survived. That's more impressive than learning a language," he said.

Garik furrowed his eyebrows together, looking at Elias out of the side of his eyes for a moment before looking away, back at the tent where Elise, James, and Eve had disappeared into.

"They kept me alive... for reasons," Garik said vaguely. "Barely alive."

"So you still went insane," Elias deducted. Somehow.

Garik whipped his head back towards Elias.

"I didn't go insane!" he snapped, but his last word hung tensely in the air as his eyes flicked to Jadis, who stepped out of the tent and closed the door flap behind her. She stood up tall, looking between the four of them, and then turned to the guard who had been standing faithfully outside the tent in silence, simply observing. The two of them exchanged quick, brief words before she looked to Garik and spoke, and Garik hung his head low, looking like he'd been chided. He got to his feet and begrudgingly looked back towards Alistair, Mel, and Elias.

"Our healer was successfully healed by your... Elise. Jadis wants to extend her thanks to you three as well," he said stiffly. He glanced back at the tent. "Your friends... are staying back with our healer, Marsha. She wants to heal your friend in return. The one with the broken arm."

"Aww. Your healer wants to heal Eve's broken arm? That's really nice of her," Mel said.

"Can we go in too?" Elias asked.

Garik and Jadis looked to each other, exchanging some words in goblin before Garik turned to reply.

"You will wait out here," Garik said.

"Just Elias, or...?" Mel asked, trailing off.

"All of you," Garik clarified. "Marsha is tired. Jadis doesn't want to crowd the tent."

"Makes sense. Seems kind of small in there," Elias murmured, craning his neck to peer behind the tent. "So, uh... we just wait out here then? For a few hours?"

"Marsha and Elise are going to rest," Garik said. "They are both going to be tired after healing. That's all I know right now."

"So that means we get to keep hanging out with you," Elias deduced. Again, somehow.

Garik looked to Elias with a slow-blink and let out a sigh, but before he could say anything, Jadis interrupted, and Garik turned his full attention to her. He nodded a few times before Jadis turned to them all with a small wave and then turned into the tent beside the griffins, closing the tent flap behind her and once again disappearing.

Garik was quiet, and he didn't look thrilled at whatever Jadis told him or ordered him to do.

Mel giggled. "She told you the same thing, didn't she?"

Garik stuck his hands in his pockets. "She's going to rest. I have to make sure you three don't do anything stupid."

"Like set the camp on fire?" Elias said with a goofy smile.

Garik scoffed, but it turned into a light laugh, and he smiled briefly, flicking his eyes to Alistair.

"Wouldn't put it past him," Garik said.

"Oh no, cage me," Alistair said dryly with a monotone voice.

Garik rolled his eyes.

"When did you find out you were a fire mage? Two days ago? You throw flames with the control of an clumsy bear cub who doesn't know his own strength," Garik laughed.

Alistair sighed. He didn't like that he was all of a sudden at the center of attention. He'd rather Elias and Mel continue to joke around so they wouldn't arouse any more suspicion than necessary.

"I didn't use it much, so I never really learned how to control it," he said naturally. He had plenty of time to think through this lie.

Garik's smile faded a little, and he stood up a little straighter.

"Well, I can't blame you," he said a little stiffly. "It's not like any of the old human masters are alive anymore... so I get it. Human mages have it hard."

"I don't think it's just limited to humans. It's difficult to live with magic in general," Alistair said.

"Without a teacher, sure," Garik said with a shrug.

"Even with a teacher, there's a lot of risk using magic," Alistair countered. "Why bother learning it if you can't even use it?"

Garik raised an eyebrow and looked at Alistair sideways, like he was trying to figure him out. Had Alistair said something wrong?

"So what, you just plan on not using it, then?" Garik asked, his tone cutting and confrontational.

"It's not like I will never use my magic. It's convenient at times, sure, and that's the level I'm at. But..." Alistair sighed again, not really sure where this was going. His bullshit meter was getting low.

But at the same time, he wasn't totally lying. Using magic was a literal death sentence if caught.

"The way I see it," Garik cut in. "The best way to get back at the hunters who drove you out and tried to kill you is to become the best fire mage they've ever seen. You got lucky and got away - normally, they end your kind before they ever have a chance to learn anything. If I were you, the next time I saw them I'm burn them to a crisp just to show--"

"So you're saying I should learn so I can get revenge," Alistair interrupted.

"And a million other reasons," Garik continued. "Human mages are a dying breed. Don't you guys care about carrying on the legacy of your ancestors? Does their blood mean nothing to you?"

Alistair stared at Garik, also trying to figure him out. Something about this conversation did prick under his skin, but he didn't really want to argue - especially when he knew nothing about Nye and magic culture.

But no. He didn't care. Safety was his priority.

"I've got it!" Elias piped up after a short tense silence. "Garik, you can teach Alistair how to use fire magic." He nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah. That would be perfect. Teacher and apprentice. What do you think?"

"It would be perfect if you humans were sticking around," Garik cut in cooly, looking to Alistair challengingly. "But I wouldn't want to teach a weak-willed mage like him anyway. It would be a waste of time."

"Weak-willed?" Alistair echoed with a scoff. "What makes you think I'm weak-willed? You know nothing about me."

"Ooooh-kay, great convo, guys," Mel said, but couldn't get any more words in time.

"Fire magic isn't just a fun little trick or a shortcut to lighting a match," Garik said, his words sharp like knives. "You seriously want to live the rest of your life settling for the bare minimum? For the gunk at the bottom of the fish barrel? I knew human mages were distanced from their own history but this--"

"What's so wrong with settling for the 'bare minimum'? That's just living life. Sorry I don't want to spend my life getting captured or in constant fear of death," Alistair replied cooly, standing a bit straighter.

Garik raised his eyebrows and his eyes went wide as a smile spread across his face that didn't reach his eyes. He let out a suppressed laugh, letting it come out more like a long, drawn out breath as he shook his head.

"Wow," he said, shaking his head. "You're all unreal. You seriously think you have an option. Unbelievable. As if death won't come pounding on your door whether you invite it or not. This is ridiculous. You really might as well be from another world."

"Um, Garik," Elias said after two seconds of awkward silence. "We're from a--"

Mel cut in before he could say any more.

"What Elias and I are trying to say," she said, shooting Elias a sharp look, "is that we would love to learn from your expertise. And Alistair too, if he wants. But we'd appreciate any tips and tricks you have. We're mages, after all. Magic is in our blood."

And, almost poetically, in the middle of all of the tension hanging in the air, James finally stepped out of the tent, casting glances between the four of them as Eve followed out behind him, flexing her hand and looking down at what appeared to be a fully healed arm, now out of its cast.

Judging from James's serious expression, it was evident that the tent wasn't sound-proof.

As James and Eve stepped forward, Garik took a step back, returning to the tree he leaned on earlier. He kept his mouth shut, silently smoldering and casting brief heated glances at Alistair.

"Oh hey, you're healed!" Elias said with a smile, patting Eve's shoulder. "Marsha the healer must have some powerful magic."

"Yeah..." Eve said as she scanned her surroundings, glancing at everyone. "Is everything okay?"

"Swell. Right, Alistair?" Mel said, but there was a hidden 'don't you dare mess this up any more' emphasis in her voice.

"Yeah," Alistair said defeatedly. "Everything's fine. Just, erm... bonding."

"I can see that," James said dryly, walking up to Alistair to Elliot, taking the reins from his hands. As Alistair let go of the reins, James briefly met Alistair's eyes, and though he didn't say anything, Alistair felt like James was looking right through him.

Why was he in the spotlight again? He just wanted some peace and quiet.

He didn't ask to be in Nye. He didn't ask to be a fire mage, or not even be good at magic.

Life really would just be better off without these risks.
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Carina says...

There was an uncomfortable silence that hung in the air, the only noise being made coming from Elliot as James led him to a tree to tie his reins around.

"So..." Mel began, breaking the silence, but Eve swooped in before she could get very far in that thought.

"Hey, Alistair, mind if we--?" she asked as she gestured to the back woods with her head.

Even before she said anything, Alistair knew that she wanted to talk to him. It was a feeling in his gut. This didn't surprise him, and also, he was not interested.

"No thanks," he said gruffly, hands in pockets as he leaned back along the tree.

James looked over Elliot's back over to Alistair.

"If you two want to talk, that shouldn't be a problem," he said, and then turned to Garik. "I can promise they won't be gone long, nor will they go far."

Alistair straightened up a bit uncomfortable. "No, really..." he mumbled.

"Listen," Garik interrupted. "I don't care what you all do as long as you don't cause trouble."

"Perfect," James said, looking to Alistair again, and the look James gave Alistair seemed insistent, and commanding. "You're good to go."

But it sounded much more like an order than an option.

"Yeah, enjoy your walk," Mel added, holding back a snicker.

Alistair had to hold back the glare to Mel as he sighed, trying not to feel embarrassed that he was put on the spotlight. Again.

"Sure will. Thanks," he said in a defeated monotone voice, then swooped his arm out in front of him in an exaggerated manner. "Lead the way, Eve."

Eve forcefully smiled, nodding to James and Garik. "Be back in a bit."

They didn't walk far, but they still walked in silence with the leaves crunching underneath them. Obviously Eve wanted to say something to him so badly that she had to take him aside, and it was getting to be a little annoying that she was simmering upon it every time she glanced at him. He almost preferred she just blew up in his face in front of everyone.

"What is it?" Alistair asked dully when the silence started to feel long. "I know that look. You want to tell me something. Or lecture me. So, what is it?"

Eve sighed, stopping to face him. She seemed to choose her next words carefully, articulating each word. "It's not that I want to lecture you. I'm just... worried about you."

That was new.

"Worried about me?" he echoed, shooting her a surprised look. "Are you sure?"

"Why are you so surprised?" she asked. "It's not a crime to worry about others, not even on Nye."

Alistair scoffed and shook his head. "No. I guessed I'm just surprised because it's you." He paused. "I guess I keep forgetting you're Eve, not Evaline. The old Evaline barely paid attention to me."

"I guess we've all changed," she replied softly, sounding a little hurt. That alone was enough to indicate change.

"I guess so," he said back, not sure where to go from here.

It was strange that, this time, he was on the receiving end of being the bitter and angry one.

Eve sighed, gathering her thoughts. "Look. Alistair. I know it's weird, traveling with your childhood friends in an unfamiliar world. Believe me, I know. I think about it a lot. And I know you're stressed right now... that's understandable. But you don't need to be so stubborn. Everyone here is just trying to help."

Alistair scoffed, already tired of this conversation. "Thanks, Evaline," he said sarcastically. "Like I haven't heard that from you a million times already."

"I've changed. I literally changed my name because I am a different person," she said, opening her mouth to speak more, Alistair quickly swooped in to interrupt.

"If you really wanted to detach your past from your current self, you'd have picked a different name."

That clearly stung since she drew her brows together and looked down in defeat. It felt strangely satisfying to give her a taste of her own medicine, but still, Alistair didn't mean to come across as arrogant. He didn't care what name she picked. He didn't care that she changed.

He was just tired. Tired of playing this game of hero that guaranteed danger and grief.

Alistair sighed, rubbing his forehead with his thumb and forefinger.

"I'm not trying to crucify you," he said calmly. "I'm just saying I don't buy it. You're still trying to lecture me for not doing the right thing. I don't think you or anyone here knows what they're really doing, or if what they're doing is the right thing. That's why it's--"

"Best not to get involved," Eve finished for him, letting out an amused breath of air through her nose. "I know. You really haven't changed, you know."

Alistair watched her carefully. "And are you still mad at me because of that?" he asked.

Eve hestiated, pursing her lips before shaking her head. "No. The past is behind us. All we can do is move forward."

"You've always said it was my fault," Alistair said, feeling himself get carried away. "It was fault for moving on too fast. My fault for not doing the right thing. What, am I supposed to pick a fight? Choose battles? Be consumed by revenge and start an uprising, like you did? What am I supposed to do?"

In the brief second that followed, words from the past two decades coursed through his mind with ease:

    What's wrong?
    Didn't you want to join us?
    I don't know... maybe we shouldn't combine groups.
    Do you mind if I talk to Arima alone?
    Is it okay if I come over to see Alan?
    I think Elias is free if you want to see him, or maybe he's with Mel...
    Hey, what's wrong?
    It's kind of funny how Evaline isn't the shy one anymore.
    Yeah, that's because Alistair took her spot!
    Has anyone seen Alistair lately?
    We're brothers. I'll always be around, even if I'm not here.
    You need to choose sides, Alistair.
    You are so damn stubborn.
    Are you going to fight or be a coward?
    Your brother was murdered. Doesn't that mean anything to you?
    I'm going to try to find her. Will you be okay?
    For a firefighter, you don't really have a lot of fire or fighting in you.
    I lost my son before he could even grow up. His father would be so proud of him. I miss him every day...
    Of course I remember you.
    How have you been doing? It can't be easy.
    I like spending time with you.
    It's risky... but they're your childhood friends. Maybe you need closure.
    If there's anything I can do to help, let me know.

    Thank you, Arima. I knew I can count on you.

Alistair tightly closed his eyes, trying not to drown in his own thoughts. "I'm just trying to live a normal life without hardship. That's it."

"But... isn't that what we all want?" Eve asked softly. "I don't think there's a clear path to that. I think it varies for the situation you're in, and the people you're with."

"I'm not following. Are you trying to give me advice?"

"No," she said with a smidge of annoyance. "I know you don't want it. But that's the beauty of it. You can choose who to listen to. You have people to talk to. It doesn't have to be me."

Alistair could feel a headache coming from this conversation alone. His mind was being pulled in too many directions. "Sounds like advice to me," he said after a lingering silence.

Eve, of course, ignored his wit and continued anyways.

"And if you want to learn magic, great. If you want to do nothing, that's fine too. But it sounds like you've made up your mind without wanting to listen to others. So, fine, I do have advice. And it's to listen to advice."

Hands still in his pockets, Alistair tilted his head up, staring up into the leaves and the rays of sunshine filtering through.

"Is that what you did when you first came to Nye? Listen to advice? Or did you do your own thing?" he asked.

Eve stared at him, maybe a little too long. "That's different. You know people here, and you have people you can trust."

Any other instance, and Alistair may have smirked and teased her since she was clearly hiding something. But he was far too tired to be in a joking mood.

"Fine. Okay. Sure. I'll do that," he said defeatedly. "Anything else?"

Eve shook her head, but not before faltering. She was suppressing her thoughts, but if she didn't want to say them out loud, Alistair didn't really want to hear it.

"Alright. Then let's go back before Garik gets even more suspicious of me," Alistair said, turning around.
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soundofmind says...

James watched as Eve and Alistair weaved their way through the forest until they were out of sight. He knew they wouldn't have to get very far to be out of earshot if they spoke at a normal volume, and he hoped that chance wouldn't spring upon them and bring trouble for the minutes they'd be gone.

When Alistair retreated, some of the tension in the air was relieved. James could sense that Garik let his guard down a little, and quiet settled over the campsite for just a few moments before it was interrupted.

"Soooo," Mel sounded out again, facing James. "You two were in there for a while. How'd it go?"

"Thankfully, Elise was able to help the healer regain her strength enough to heal Eve in return. So I'd say it went pretty well," James said. He briefly flicked his eyes over to Garik, aware that the small goblin was still listening. He decided better of making it public that he'd run into Marsha before, especially since Marsha had avoided mentioning it in front of her superior. Clearly, Marsha wasn't eager to make her five-year-old favor known, so James was going to hold his tongue.

"Elise is okay, right?" Elias asked. "And the other healer?"

"Yes," James emphasized. "They're both alright, just spent after exerting so much energy to heal. They need rest to recover. I think it's good that Elise is getting a chance to do so, especially after the day we've had."

"Oh yeah, we've had a day too," Elias continued, suddenly beckoning to Garik. "Have you been introduced to Garik? He's a character."

James, securing Elliot's lead rope around a tree, turned to look at the small goblin. They only briefly met each other's eyes, and both assessed one another, looking each other up and down.

"I don't believe I have," James said. "At least, not formally."

Garik narrowed his eyes slightly at James, but he didn't move from his spot by the tree where he continued to sit and lean back against the trunk.

"Garik, James. James, Garik," Elias said as he gestured between the both of them, taking the liberty of introducing each other for them. "I feel like you two could get along."

"A pleasure to meet you," James said cordially.

"Not for me," Garik retorted, and James could tell Garik was watching him for a reaction.

James only nodded slowly.

"See? A character," Elias said with a chuckle.

"I'm sorry for any inconvenience we've caused you," James expressed, keeping his attention on Garik. "I'm aware that you're only following orders, and I can imagine--"

"To be fair, we were the ones getting robbed," Mel said. "But it's all hunky-dory now since we both have healers. Definitely no hard feelings."

James slowly drifted his eyes to Mel, meeting her eyes with a dead-eyed stare. She pretended to not see him. He sighed, looking back to Garik.

"Whatever Jadis sees in all of you," Garik muttered, sounding like he was intentionally keeping his voice low. "I don't understand it. Just because you guys have magic doesn't mean you're helpful, or even good people. If it were up to me I would've run off with the empty-headed one's bag and not turned back. Looking at all of you... dumb luck probably would've gotten you through it," he scoffed. "You'd be fine."

"I see you're also quite opinionated when you're speaking a language your peers can't understand," James commented neutrally.

"Who's the empty-headed one?" Elias asked, not helping his case.

"Proving my point," Garik said with a flick of his eyes to Elias. "And yeah. It's nice to speak my mind when the only people around to judge me for it are humans whose opinions don't matter to me."

"Wait, now I'm confused," Mel said slowly with furrowed brows. "You just told Alistair a minute ago that every mage should be all-powerful and learn the very best magic and whatnot. But now you're telling us we're useless. What gives?"

Garik let out an ugly laugh-like snort, shaking his head.

"You're useless to us," he said. "We don't need to baby a bunch of unlearned mages."

"That's a big statement coming from a guy who couldn't heal one of their own," Mel muttered with a roll of her eyes.

Garik shot Mel a glare.

"Fine," he said thinly. "I misspoke. One of you was useful."

Mel stared at him for a few long seconds before smiling and giggling. "You know, I think we should be insulted, but I know most of us are fine. You're just grumpy. But also funny. I like you."

Garik didn't seem to want to dignify Mel's comment with a response, so instead he folded his arms and looked off into the distance, away from Mel, Elias, and James.

"No need to embarrass him, Mel," Elias said, bending down a little so he could see Garik better. "But for the record, I think you're kind of funny too."

Garik narrowed his eyes at them, but didn't say anything. He huffed and looked away again.

"Aw, he's blushing!" Mel cooed.

"Maybe give him a break," James suggested, walking up beside Elias and gently setting a hand on Elias's shoulder.

At that moment, the rustling of leaves were faintly heard, cueing Alistair and Eve's return. Elias nodded and Mel finally stopped teasing Garik just in time for their return.

"Welcome back," Mel said. "Had a good talk? I mean, walk?"

"Yes, it's fine, thank you," Eve answered, barely giving Alistair a glance.

There was a small pause as Eve walked up to Mel and Elias, and the latter two started striking up conversation. James however, was paying more attention to Alistair, who was trailing quietly behind. It was hard to tell if he was smoldering silently or if his expression was more akin to that of a kicked puppy. While James hadn't imagined that the conversation could've been very long since they were only gone a few minutes, clearly Eve had managed to say something that got under Alistair's skin.

James had been hoping the conversation would be more productive, but it seemed that they only returned with more tension between them, and James couldn't help but feel for Alistair. He hadn't meant to alienate him by pressuring him to go talk to Eve. He just wanted him to talk to someone.

As Elias and Mel started to keep up an almost self-sustained conversation with Eve occasionally being dragged in, both Garik and Alistair stood on the sidelines along with James, who simply hung back and observed.

He was still trying to weigh the situation overall. It seemed like once Elise woke up from her nap that it would be the end of it, and they would all part ways, but something in his gut told him it might not be that simple. It hardly ever was.

He glanced over at Alistair again, trying to gauge where he was at. He made it up in his mind to talk to Alistair later, when they left the goblin's camp and hopefully had more privacy - but to his surprise, Alistair seemed to take James's glance as an invitation.

Without quite making eye contact, Alistair inched over to him, careful not to draw extra attention to himself.

"Do you think Elliot may need some water?" he asked, but his eyes were still on Eve and the others.

James glanced back at Elliot only briefly.

So, Alistair wanted to talk. He just wanted a good enough excuse to get away without making a thing out of it like he had with Eve. That was fair.

"That's a good idea," James said, turning to Elliot and patting the side of his face. "You thirsty, buddy?"

Elliot, at this point, knowing the tone of James's voice, responded with a small bob of his head. Or, otherwise, what could be interpreted as a nod to people who didn't understand how horses communicated with their body language. James knew it only meant Elliot was happy because of the way James was talking to him.

James looked over to Alistair with a slight smile.

"It seems your senses are correct," he said. "Good call."

He then briefly left Elliot's side and walked over to Garik, aiming for a quick conversation.

"Garik--" he started.

"Just go," Garik muttered. "Be back with your horse. I don't care."

James pursed his lips together for a moment and then nodded to himself. Alright then.

He turned back around and quickly untied Elliot's lead from around the tree and began to silently lead Elliot away, back towards the stream.

"We'll be back in a bit!" he said over his shoulder, looking to Eve. "Getting Elliot some water."

"Ooh, can we come too?" Mel asked.

"You can wait here," James said, leaving it at that.

"Okay, Garik," she replied with a snicker, but then turned her attention back to Eve and Elias. "Okay, so as I was saying..."

James tuned her voice out and, predictably, Alistair caught his attention next to him.

"Want the company of someone not named Mel?" he casually asked only loud enough for him to hear.

James looked to Alistair with a raised eyebrow.

"I don't mind Mel's company, but I would enjoy yours as well," he said.

"Right. Okay," Alistair said quietly, hesitating before deciding to follow him. "Thanks."

James watched Alistair for a lingering moment, noticing how Alistair quickly dropped his eyes to the forest floor and didn't look up. He didn't know what was going through Alistair's head, but he assumed it would come out eventually, or he would just ask after some time. He decided to wait it out, keeping up a stead pace as they walked back towards the stream, weaving through the trees until they could finally hear the gurgle of the water somewhere up ahead.
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soundofmind says...

"So I have to ask," Alistair finally said, breaking the long silence. "What was Evaline like when she first came to Nye? Did she take your advice and always listen to what you had to say?"

James glanced over at Alistair. That wasn't what he was predicting, but he was going to roll with it.

"Sometimes yes, sometimes no," he said. "I think it was nuanced. She was alone in a completely foreign world, and though I didn't know it at the start, I was her only guide. So in some ways, she was dependent on my advice when it came to matters of survival. But as for other things... well, she was much slower to come around. But so was I."

"Other things... such as?" Alistair asked.

"It probably wouldn't surprise you to hear that for the first week, neither of us were forthcoming about our identities, or our pasts," James answered. "Though to say that only applied to the first week would be a dramatic understatement. We both struggled a lot with trust back then. And, well, I still do, but I'm far more aware of it than I once was."

Alistair took a deep breath. "I'm not trying to pry. I only ask because she wanted me to listen to advice. I had a feeling she didn't follow her own advice very well, though."

James suppressed a smirk, and he shrugged a little.

"Would that give you license to not heed good advice as well?" James asked, looking over to him. "Or would it just make you feel better?"

"I don't know what to think anymore," Alistair admitted. "Advice helps you feel better, sure. But I'm just feeling lost. I guess I just need a map."

"A map to what, exactly?" James asked, slowing his pace as he spotted the stream of water up ahead. "What are you looking for?"

Alistair maintained the pace behind James, slowing down with him. "That's the thing. I'm not looking for anything. I don't think Eve understands that, but I think of all people, you would."

James stopped at the edge of the water, looking down. Elliot was quick to dip his head down and take a drink, and James idly loosened his hold on the lead to give Elliot more room to do so. He stared down at the trickling water and the smooth moss-covered stones at the edge in the shallow water.

Alistair was right. He could understand.

"Have you always felt lost?" James asked.

"No. I mean... that's subjective," Alistair said as he firmly stood next to James, looking over the water. "What does being lost mean to you?"

"For me, it has always felt like more than just not having a sense of direction," James said quietly. "It's not having a sense of self."

He looked up, over to Alistair.

"What does being lost mean to you?" he asked in return.

Alistair nodded, keeping his gaze over the water. "That's a good definition. I agree with that. I'd also add..." He paused. "Losing identity, passion, drive... You're alive, but not really living." He paused again. "I haven't really thought about it too much to put into words, but you get the idea."

James kept his eyes on Alistair, and he couldn't help but feel a sinking feeling in his chest. To say he got the idea was an understatement. Unfortunately, what Alistair was describing was something that James knew all too well.

"Alistair," he started to say slowly, choosing his words carefully. "I know this is a difficult question to answer, and you by no means have to have a concrete response - but have you considered that you might be suffering from symptoms of depression?"

He paused, continuing before Alistair could answer just yet, even though the question prompted him to look towards James with surprise.

"I ask only because I'm trying to be helpful, and what you just described sounds like it. But I'm by no means a professional, so please don't take my question as the final word."

Alistair seemed to be at a loss for words, blinking once before letting out a, "I, uh... I don't think so?"

James drew his eyebrows together and nodded slightly.

"Okay," he said softly. "I just thought to ask. Like I said, I don't expect you to know, and I could be wrong."

"I mean, I haven't really given it much thought," he quickly added. "And besides, to know for sure, wouldn't I have to -- wouldn't I have to talk to -- a professional, you know," he continued, fumbling for words. "Like Elise. But mentally."

James felt his chest twinge in pain as he knew both of them likely had the same face pass through their minds, but for him, it wasn't just Arima from when he met her. It was the last time he saw her... tied to a chair. Unconscious.

He watched a similar pained emotion pass behind Ali's eyes, and slowly, he reached out towards Alistair, firmly setting his hand on Alistair's shoulder as he looked into his face with the deepest sense of heartfelt understanding.

James had lost many friends and allies in his years. He understood what it was like to grieve silently. To have to push it down and put others' needs before your own because that was what was necessary to survive. He knew that Alistair had been suffering quietly, never bringing Arima up since the day he heard of her passing.

There was another lingering silence as Alistair looked to be deep in thought but still clearly caught off guard by the conversation.

"...Thanks," he finally said, even though James hadn't directly said anything. "It's fine, really. I actually -- hah. The real reason I pulled you aside was because I was going to ask you for your advice on magic. What I should do... what you would do if you were me. So..."

James let another small silence pass, waiting for Alistair to look up. When Alistair finally did quickly shoot a glance in James's direction, James was quick to meet his eyes.

"Alistair," he said softly. "You're not alone in this, alright? You know that, right?"

Alistair darted his eyes between James and Elliot. "You're not talking about magic... are you?"

"All of it," James said. "Magic. Nye. And everything that came before, on earth. Just because we're doesn't mean its forgotten. I have not forgotten you, and I'm sorry if at any moment you've felt overlooked. I value your friendship, and I'm here for you. Okay?"

"I know that," Alistair said, maybe a little too defensively. "And I didn't feel overlooked or forgotten. I'm just stressed. I admit that."

James slowly pulled his hand away, but he still kept his eyes on Alistair.

"I know," James said, his tone still gentle. "But it never hurts to hear it again. I just want you to know... I see you. Really."

Alistair seemed skeptical. "Well... thanks," he said without confidence. "Really."

James felt his heart sink.

How long had Alistair grown used to going unnoticed? No wonder he only ever wanted to blend in with the background.

"I know it's been hard for you," he said, his voice low. "And I know we haven't had many chances to talk up until now. I'm sorry for not reaching out more. I know grieving feels so isolating in and of itself, but even moreso in silence. And I know our circumstances would make it seem like the time for grieving is over, but our hearts are never that simple. You can't just turn it off."

He paused for just a moment, searching for words.

"I don't mean to be long-winded," he said. "I just... I know Arima meant so much to you. And I would hate to make it seem that her name is something too taboo to be spoken."

"It's not. I know it's not," Alistair said quickly. "I wouldn't want it to be that way, and neither would she. Of coursed I grieved, and of course the others did too. We just had other things to worry about too. You don't have to apologize for that, or for what happened. It wasn't like it's your fault."

"I'm not apologizing for what happened," James corrected, though there was a small part of him that objected to that statement. He decided to gloss over that for now. "I was only trying to say that -- well, I know we still have a lot to worry about. The gist of what I'm trying to say is that despite it all, I'm still here if you ever want to talk. That's all."

"Well... I appreciate that," Alistair said as he glanced with a hint of a smile that disappeared as he gazed over the stream again. A short silence fell between them again before he spoke once more. "Though, it is a shame you didn't get to talk to Arima more. She has this way with words and understanding people like you do. I'm sure you'd have been her friend too."

James glanced at Alistair with a weak smile, but it quickly faded as he too looked down into the stream, his gaze lazing off to the side, catching sight of Elliot, who was now munching at the grass.

"I'm sure I would have," he said quietly, letting another silence pass, but this one felt more natural than the others. There wasn't as much lingering tension like there was before, but James was still anticipating what he was going to say next.

"You know," James started slowly. "Did I ever tell you about my father?"

"I don't think we've ever talked about our parents," Alistair said as he stole another glance at him. "Why?"

James hummed, smiling faintly to himself as he looked out over to the other side of the stream.

"I guess he used to be the same way," he said. "He had a way with words. He was kind, and gentle, and really understood people."

Alistair hesitated, turning his attention back to James. "You speak of him in the past tense," he said, but didn't continue and instead waited for James to finish the thought.

James nodded slightly, taking in a deep breath.

"He died when I was ten," he said. "It's been over fifteen years."

"I'm sorry. That must have been hard," Alistair said gently.

"It's always hard when you lose someone you love," he said with a small sigh.

"Especially as a child," Alistair added. "How did you cope with it?"

James took in another breath, trying to think of a succinct way of describing what happened.

"To make a very long story short," he said. "I don't think I really did, actually. Not for a long time, anyway."

Alistair nodded slowly, exhaling deeply. "Yeah. I understand that. Does that mean you still think about him?"

"Of course I still think about him," James said softly. "He'll always be a part of me, and I don't despise that."

Alistair nodded again in mutual understanding. He was deep in thought again and was clearly mulling over his words, but he didn't say them out loud. At least, not right away.

"I feel like that with Alan. I mean, we were born at the same time. We spent a lot of time together." He weakly kicked a pebble into the water, watching it slowly sink. "I think losing loved ones is painful when you're a child, yes. But losing them when you're older... it's a different kind of pain."

James nodded with understanding.

"I know," he said, barely audible.

"It's not like I need closure," Alistair continued, dropping his filter a bit. "I visited his grave every week when I lived there. And people have talked to me about him. Even Eve... even Elias. So it's not like I need closure to 'move on' or whatever you want to call it." He looked up at the sky, pausing. "I just miss him, even if no one's thinking or talking about him. And Arima, too. But I don't think there's anything wrong with that."

"I don't think there's anything wrong with that either," James replied gently. "I think that's okay. And if you end up missing them for the rest of your life, that's still okay."

"I know. I think that's fine too," he said. "We can miss whoever we want, whenever we want. But..." He sighed, frustration entering his voice. "For me, that's enough. So maybe it looks like I'm not caring enough, or am too deattached. I care. I do. But I'm not going to..." He sighed again, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Sorry, I don't really know where I'm going with this. I'm just tired of people making assumptions on how I grieve." He glanced back at James. "No offense."

"None taken," James said softly. "I'm glad you felt comfortable enough to share, and I'm sorry for any assumptions I've made on your behalf. But... I never once assumed you didn't care. Just so you know."

"I -- yeah. I know. I'm just broadly speaking. Making assumptions about people making assumptions," Alistair said as a weak one-liner. "I know you care, and others too. Like I said, I'm just stressed, especially with what happened, and..." He gestured around. "You know. New world. And the fact that we all almost died before coming here. But hey." He scoffed, his next words coming out flat. "At least we're okay."

James felt his body inwardly cringe with weariness at Alistair's last words, knowing that they were all still far from okay, though they were all still alive. He almost wished he didn't agree with Alistair's cynical sentiments, but that was where his gut was prone to drift at the end of the day. Not towards optimism, but what he used to call reality, and was only starting to now see as cynicism.

He let another pause pass before speaking.

"So... you wanted advice," he finally said. "On magic. From me?"

Alistair shifted his eyes at him. "Yes... and I see the irony now. But since you're the only human Nye person around, I don't really have anyone else to ask."

If Alistair wasn't being so sincere, James might've been tempted to laugh.

"It's okay," he said. "So... you want to know what I would do if I were in your shoes? Is that it?"

Alistair nodded. "Sure. Yes. Should I even bother advancing my magic if it's outlawed? I don't really see the point."

"I don't think you have to refine it obsessively," James said. "That kind of training - be it for weapons, or magic, or any other practice - is usually unto being able to use it in the context of combat. But it does seem that your magic has grown stronger since you've arrived here. I don't think it would hurt to learn, or even relearn some skills to make sure that you're at least not a danger to yourself or to others. You can only deny your magic for so long before you might end up using it on accident, and I think practically, it is far better to know how to control and manipulate it in moments of stress than to be found completely unprepared. Because then, it gets unpredictable, and sometimes those are the moments when people can get hurt. So... if I were in your shoes, I would at least look for opportunities to understand my magic more so that I know how to control it when the time comes. Not because I'm looking for trouble, but because I want to be prepared."

"So in other words, you'd learn enough magic to control it well enough to prevent unneeded accidents and minimize the unpredictable nature of it?" Alistair asked.

"At the very least, yes," James said. "And if I were to learn more and discover that I enjoyed the practice of magic, or that it was more useful than I once thought, I'd reassess and take it from there."

"That makes sense. But... well, I was thinking Garik might be my best shot of learning, but I'm not sure how well that would work since he's motivated differently."

"You won't know unless you ask," James said with a small shrug. "He may be more open minded than you think."

"That's true. Yeah. You're right. It doesn't hurt to ask." Alistair released a deep breath, looking back at James and offering a small smile. "Thanks, James. This was helpful."

James returned the small smile.

"Any time, friend."
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Carina says...

Alistair knew what he had to do. When he and James returned back to camp, Alistair stalled a bit by hanging by James's side and half-listen to the conversation between Mel and Elias, but when it became clear that Garik was only sitting and silently watching, Alistair decided now was a good time to approach him. Considering they didn't have much room for privacy, he was sure others would eavesdrop, but he didn't exactly have a lot of options here.

"Garik," he began. "I was thinking about what you said... and I agree with you. You're right. Every mage should learn how to use their magic."

Garik was still sitting against the tree, where he'd been when they left. As Alistair kept talking, Garik slowly turned to look at him up and down.

"Why the sudden change of heart?" he asked.

"Time passed and I saw the other side." Alistair shrugged. "I was stressed at the time and didn't think about it clearly until now."

"...Okay," Garik said with a shrug. "Great. Good for you. Is that all?"

Alistair squirmed a little. This was starting to get uncomfortable. "Uh..."

"I think Alistair wants you to teach him," Mel swooped in, inviting herself to the conversation. "Aw, that's really nice of you, Garik."

Garik scoffed. "It's not like I said yes," he said, looking to Mel incredulously. "Look. Alis... I forget the rest--"

"Alistair," both Alistair and Mel said at the same time. Alistair shot Mel a mildy irritated look.

"It's not like you're all staying once your friend wakes up," Garik said. "And there's not much I'd be able to teach you in the next hour at most even if I wanted to. Which I don't. So, sorry to disappoint you, but the answer's no. You'll have to find yourself another teacher. I'm sure there's another human fire mage somewhere. You just... gotta look for 'em."

Alistair sighed. At least he tried.

"Fair enough," he said. "Thanks anyways."

Mel scoffed. "You can totally teach him some tricks in an hour. Didn't you say he was at a baby level? Isn't there some super simple stuff you can teach him? It's not like you're doing anything right now anyways."

Alistair, again, gave her a long wearied look, but didn't comment. Sometimes it was hard to tell if she was helping him or tearing him down.

Garik leaned his head back against the tree, wearily looking over to Mel.

"Yes, I am doing something," he said. "I'm babysitting all of you."

"So, teaching lil baby fire mage isn't a babysitter's responsibility? Boo," Mel mocked.

"Yeah, it's not--" Garik started.

"Sis!" Elias interrupted.

Elise, Jadis, and another goblin finally left the tent. Elise looked like she had just woken up, rubbing her eye with a small smile as she waved towards Elias first.

"We're glad you're okay," Elias said.

"Hi, everyone. Yes, I am," Elise said as she suppressing a yawn.

"We were just, uh..." Elias glanced around. "I don't really know. Talking to Garik about magic, I guess."

Garik shot Elias a sharp look but then looked to Jadis and the other female goblin who was standing just behind Elise. Garik said something to Jadis - presumably translating an explanation in goblin. Jadis pursed her lips and hummed, looking from Garik, to Alistair, and then her eyes landed on James.

They spoke to each other in a different language - the one they spoke in before, when they first came to agreement to help one another. Garik seemed to be left out of it, and while James and Jadis talked, Garik slowly got to his feet.

Though no one could understand the conversation Jadis and James were having, Alistair noticed that James seemed a little surprised, and flicked a few looks back at the rest of them throughout the conversation. Finally, their conversation came to a pause, and James turned to them.

"She would like to come to an arrangement," James explained. "She and her crew need to make it to a rendezvous point to meet with their superiors, but they've been running behind since they were attacked and Marsha, their healer, was wounded and they were forced to slow down. The quickest way to their meeting place cuts through a few human settlements in the Outlands, but to go that near far into human territory puts them at too much risk. She believes that, maybe, traveling with other humans... who could at least lead the way, might give them more of a fighting chance. At least, with us, we're... less likely to be killed on sight. Whereas with goblins, there's no question. So, in short, she wants us to escort them. What we get in return would be shared supplies, maps, resources, and... magic lessons. For those interested. The trip would take us about two weeks, and would take us northward, which is the direction we were planning to go anyway."

"It seems like a win-win situation, but..." Eve glanced at the two other goblins. "Just wanted to clarify some things. If we travel with goblins, does that mean we will most likely end up fighting anyone who comes across our path?"

"Well... the idea Jadis has proposed is that from our group, some of us would go ahead of them, scouting first, and warn of possible run-ins with anyone. The goal would be that we would help them avoid any confrontations," he said.

"And if the scouting becomes fighting? Do we share manpower to fight as well?" Eve asked.

James flicked his eyes over to Jadis, presumably posing the question to her as well as he spoke in their shared language.

Jadis looked to Eve and bowed her head in a nod, speaking something in return.

"She said 'of course,'" James translated quietly.

Eve nodded, in thought as she curled a loose strand of hair around her finger. "The outlands are dangerous. It would be nice to have an ally. I think it's a good idea."

"Yeah, why not! Let's do it," Mel added.

Alistair briefly glanced at Garik. If they did this... did that mean he would teach him after all?

"What do you think, James?" Alistair asked instead.

James was quiet for a moment, looking to be in thought before he looked up at Jadis.

"I think it's our best option," he said. "And I think we should take it. Any objections?"

"None from me," Elias said.

"I think it's a great idea," Elise added.

Alistair glanced between everyone. For some reason, he was always the last one to ever chime in.

"No objections," he finally said.

"Wait!" Mel yelped. "If we do this, can we please not be babysat?"

James looked to Mel, raising his eyebrows. He slow-blinked at her and Alistair could tell he was biting his tongue from saying something. Instead, James let out a sigh and looked to Jadis.

"So it's a deal, then," he said, and then presumably translated so for Jadis.

Jadis offered them a smile and another bow of her head, and she and James exchanged a few more words.

"We'll head out in the morning, then," James told the others. "For now she wants to give everyone the rest of the day to gather our things and prepare. Moreso for her and her crew than us. Some of them are still out scouting and won't be back until later, and she still has to let them know."

"We can help if she needs it," Mel offered.

James turned to Jadis, as if he was translating Mel's offer. She replied and James turned back to Mel.

"She said when the scouts get back, she'd appreciate the help," he said. His eyes then flicked to Jadis, and back to Mel. "She wants to know if you're comfortable helping with the griffins."

Mel's eyes sparkled, and Alistair instantly figured out that she only offered to help so that she could play with the griffins.

"Absolutely. Never met one, but I already like them," she said.

James let out a small sigh before turning to Jadis and translating again. Jadis seemed to grin with amusement before nodding, and turning to Garik, speaking to him in goblin. He raised his eyebrows and seemed to protest but eventually caved, turning to Mel.

"...Follow me," he muttered, nodding his head towards the griffins.

With glee, Mel did just that.

"Aren't griffins... aggresive?" Eve said as they all watched them trot away.

"I don't think that's stopped Mel before," Alistair muttered.
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Carina says...

Mel knew she had a concussion. She could feel it throbbing at the back of her head, along with the slew of other thoughts running through her mind - namely about Nye and their uncertain future.

So far, she did like Nye. The magic here seemed way cooler, and it was nice not having Tula going crazy and trying to kill everyone. Still, it wasn't Earth. Mel had a wide social circle on Earth, and she knew she would likely continue to have a wide social circle in Nye, but it made her heart ache that she could no longer see her old friends and family. She was very thankful that she was at least surrounded with her closest friends.

With the chaos of being in a new world, Mel wanted to be as optimistic as possible, especially since Alistair was a beam of negativity. It almost truly felt faked at times, but she powered through it, deciding to not overthink things for the sake of the concussion.

So, griffins. James talked to her about griffins before, right? She was just going to assume yes even though she had no recollection of it. Pretending she did weirdly felt exciting though.

As she and Garik walked towards the griffins, she eyed their massive wings, folded against their backs, and their bird-like heads tucked into their lion-like chests.

"So! What kind of help do you need with the griffins?" she asked Garik.

"Feeding," Garik said flatly. She watched as he ran up to the nearest tree and started climbing. Hanging in the tree, there were a few animal corpses, some appearing to be freshly skinned.

Mel tried not to grimace too much. "Ew," she said simply, not hiding her aversion towards the dead animals. Was everyone on Nye a savage towards all animals?

"I'm going to lower it to you," Garik said, perched on a tree branch as he started untying the rope holding up a dead rabbit. That one still had the skin on.

"See, when you said you needed help with the griffins, I thought you meant, like, entertaining them or cleaning them," Mel said, as if that was supposed to be an explanation.

At this point she didn't really know what to say to get herself out of this. She didn't want to touch a dead rabbit.

"They clean themselves," Garik said gruffly. "For the most part. They get that from their cat side."

"Oh. Hah... right." She couldn't even stop herself from hiding back the disgust and fear from the skinned rabbit.

A realization then dawned on her: if she couldn't anticipate or rightfully prepare seeing a dead and skinned rabbit, what else was she not prepared for in Nye? The question unsettled her. Reality started to sink in, but not all at once. Just little by little.

"Ready?" Garik asked, starting to lower the rabbit as he held the rope. "They're going to smell it, so stand your ground."

"Why not just throw it at them?" she asked.

"They'll fight over it and hurt each other," Garik said like it was obvious. "I need you to hold onto this one. I'll get the other two. We'll feed them at the same time so they each have their own food."

"How do I make sure they won't just snatch it out of my hands?" Mel asked, fully aware that she was stalling at this point.

"Don't let them," Garik said, and then loosed the rope so the rabbit fell right in front of Mel's face.

"Well, thanks, Garik! So helpful," Mel wanted to say, but it all happened so fast, and she knew she had to act now.

It was stupid, but she felt her stubbornness return. There had to be an alternative. The rabbit was already dead, so it wasn't like she could just bring it back to life, but she didn't want to be a part of this type of feeding process.

There had to be another way. Right?

Hardly thinking it through, Mel's immediate reaction was to take a step back and wave her hand in front of it. She used her magic so the rabbit appeared to slide back up the rope, out of the griffin's reach. She looked at the griffins expectantly, not sure if she was able to fool them.

The three griffins, formerly curled up beside each other, were on their feet, eyes locked onto Mel. Curious, and seemingly confused, they tilted their heads, their bird eyes unblinking.

"Psst. Garik. Hurry up. I feel like they might notice the trick any minute now," Mel said impatiently under her breath, as if the griffins would understand what she was saying.

Garik jumped down from the tree with a dead animal in each hand.

"Just feed it to them," he snapped. "Now."

Mel didn't have to be told twice. She took two big steps back and concentrated on reversing the illusion, concentrating on making it appear that the rabbit slid back down the rope so it was within the griffins' reach. She was still getting a hang of how magic worked here, but it was surprisingly effortless in comparison.

Garik grabbed the attention of two of the griffins - the ones furthest from her - by waving the meat in front of their faces before he tossed a rabbit to each of them. At least, Mel thought they were rabbits. It was hard to tell when they were skinned, but it was definitely some poor animal savagely being eaten. She grimaced as she watched the griffins fiercely bite into them, slobbering it up. She knew this was the circle of life, but hey, they had claws. Couldn't they hunt animals themselves? Sheesh.

"Happy to help," she said to Garik, who was closely watching the griffins to make sure they don't fight over food. "Is that it?"

"Just make sure they focus on their own food," Garik said, folding his arms as he appeared to be doing the same.

"What are you supposed to do if they don't?" she asked.

Garik gave her a flat look.

"A minute ago, you were excited to work with griffins," he said flatly.

Mel scoffed, also folding her arms across her chest as she returned the look. "I never said I wasn't," she huffed.

"They respond to a shrill whistle," Garik said. "You can whistle. Right?"

Oh, could she whistle?

Mel smirked, placing her fingertips along her lips so it would be at the perfect angle for a loud, "shrill" whistle, as Garik put it. Any other circumstance and she would whistle as loud as she could, but just as she began to think better of it, Garik interrupted.

"Well don't do it now," Garik said. "Not unless they're misbehaving."

Mel dropped her hands. "That's it? They're pretty obedient. Did you train them?"

"Yes," Garik said flatly. "And they're not easy to train. So don't think you can just... befriend one in the wild. That'd be stupid."

Mel hummed, thinking this over. Not of what he said, but of the implication.

"Okay, but if Griffins are hard to train and you're able to do it easily..." She tilted her head down and raised her brows at him. "Then I'm preeeetty sure you can train a beginner fire mage."

Garik shot her a glare, looking back to the griffins with a huff.

"I don't have much of a choice now," he said gruffly. "It's part of the 'deal.'"

He said the latter word with distaste.

Mel could sense that Garik didn't like her - or really any human, for that matter - but that didn't bother her. In fact, she'd rather lean into it.

"Uh huh. I think you'd secretly enjoy teaching him, even if it wasn't expected of you." She was smiling mischievously, but her eyes sparkled. "I mean, I think that'd be a pretty cool legacy, teaching a human mage how to use their magic and all. Don't you think?"

Garik was quiet for a moment.

"What's... legacy mean?" he asked.

Mel twirled her hand in front of her, thinking of the best way to describe this simply while they were still literally in front of devouring griffins.

"Like, being known for something. Leaving your mark. That kind of stuff," she said.

"I don't know if I want to be known for teaching humans," Garik said. "No offense."

"Okay, then what do you want to be known for? Teaching griffins?" Mel asked instead.

Garik shot her a pointed look.

"I don't know you," he said defensively. "I don't have to tell you that."

"I feel like you don't want to be known for anything," Mel prodded anyways. "That's kind of lame."

"Still not going to tell you," Garik said stubbornly.

Mel continued through her thought process regardless. "I mean... I guess the griffins don't find you lame. You could go down in their griffin history book as being a mediocre trainer."

"You make a lot of... assumptions," he said, like he had to mentally work through the word.

"One could even say it's my legacy," Mel said with a grin. He didn't seem to want to tell her his deepest and darkest desires, but she also didn't really expect that of him. Yet.

Garik only hummed and fell to silence, his eyes falling back to the griffins. They were still working on their meal, but the meat had already mostly been stripped away, and they were just working on the bones.

Mel sighed, deciding to avert her eyes from now on. "Can you at least be a little less grumpy while we travel together?" she asked.

"No," Garik replied.

"Okay, but then I'm going to ask you every day until you say yes," she warned.

"That's a lot of work for you," he said simply.

Mel shrugged. "Not really. But I think if you're grumpy, you'd think talking to anyone is a lot of work, so that's understandable."

"It's more tiring to talk to you in common," Garik said with a sigh.

"I guess that means I'll have to talk more to fill the gaps," Mel said with too much enthusiasm.

A part of her was wondering if the enthusiasm was faked, but she wasn't going to overthink it. She couldn't change the fact that she and the others were in Nye, so she might as well embrace it.

Even if Garik was being grumpy.
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Tue Jun 14, 2022 4:49 am
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soundofmind says...

As was a common theme in his life, things weren't going as expected - though to say James had any expectations on the front end would've been inaccurate. The moment he'd taken the magical note's one-way ticket out of Earth, the first thing in his mind was making sure that everyone was safe. At the time, it seemed like the only option. In reflection, that proved to be true, but the consequences of magically transporting five foreigners to Nye were lengthy and nuanced, and the nuances were unfolding quickly the moment they started moving about the surface of Nye.

It had been different, six years prior, when Eve had shown up on Nye. He'd only had to help one person navigate a new world, and though it had by no means been easy, they'd been able to make it work. It helped that he kept them out of human society as much as possible, as well. There were many dangers and challenges in the wild, but he found them to be more predictable than those found in cities.

You could train someone on how to survive in the wild with practical examples in the day-to-day. But teaching someone an entirely new language and culture, even if there was some overlap, was different.

A beast wouldn't question where you came from. A magically mutated plant wouldn't get suspicious.

Even when he was on Earth, he struggled with the same challenge. Eve had done her best to prepare him for all of the questions and differences he'd be faced with on Earth, but there were still many places that he fell short, and circumstances that arose that she couldn't have known to prepare him for.

He was trying to avoid something like that happening to them.

He had five of his friends who - up until this point - had an elementary understanding of Nye that could easily be summed up as "something they could read in a storybook," but now that they were there, physically, he greatly feared they would treat Nye with the same amount of flippancy.

Yes, Nye was full of magic. Yes, Nye had "cowboys," and "ancient technology." But it was full of many dangers. Dangers many of them did not fully understand, despite how insistent he was trying to be about warning them.

And within less than 24 hours of being on Nye, they were already roped into a shaky alliance with a group of goblins.

Optimism was not James's first inclination. Nor the second, or even the third. He did not believe the goblins to be a risk to them as long as they upheld their part of the deal -- but escorting could get messy. If they ran into trouble and any of the goblins were hurt in the process, that could be viewed as a failure to follow through. Accidents could happen and be seen as deliberate. Trouble could come and the goblins could back on on their word.

It wasn't a trivial trust issue. He had to take the lives of his friends into account, as he was now responsible for helping them navigate in a world entirely new to them.

So with caution, he tried his best to gracefully manage their relationship with Jadis and her group. The fact that Marsha was under Jadis's leadership helped lend a sense of security because they had a small personal connection, but Marsha wasn't willing to tell Jadis of that history. James was grateful for it, though, because he hadn't told Jadis his true identity, and if she knew he was a wanted criminal among humans, that could ruin his already fragile reputation.

Could Jadis instead, be interested, and ask questions to learn the why behind the what? Hypothetically. But it was best not to take those risks when they were unnecessary.

So he kept his interactions with Jadis cordial and respectful. Simple, as much as could be managed.

When they embarked on their journey, the fullness of Jadis's team came in, amounting to seven goblins with her included. That left them about even, with six humans, including himself. Among their group, there were also three griffins, and a horse - which were kept separate from each other by every means possible.

Elliot, sadly, was visibly on edge most of the time regardless.

They spent a night at Jadis's camp, and after a restless night of fitful sleep, they all helped pack up before they headed out.

Two days passed like a blur.

They mixed up the scouting groups in pairs to go ahead of Jadis's party. James and Evaline split the load taking turns with Elias, Mel, Alistair, and Elise. James didn't want the four of them to run into anyone and be clueless about how to handle the situation or miss anything he would understand.

That meant James was out scouting ahead of the party, most of the time. But when he was back with the others, when they'd stop for the night, he was caught up on things.

Garik agreed to teach Alistair. From what he could gather, it was going... fine. Garik was still as bristly as ever, but Alistair seemed to be cooperating and at least giving it a try. James tried to encourage him to keep at it, especially since they were going to have limited time with the goblins, and whatever he could learn in the next two weeks could be crucial for him.

Elias had started picking up goblin phrases that Runa - one of the smaller, female goblins - was teaching him. Apparently - as Marsha put it - he was only learning "childish words" mostly. Though he did learn to say: "what is your name?," which Marsha said was actually mildly impressive.

Elise was still checking in on Mel to follow through with her recovery from her concussion, but Mel was (thankfully) starting to mellow out a bit after her initial 48-hour surge of nearly delirious energy. And Elise herself seemed to be managing well. She and Marsha seemed to be getting along, though James only witnessed it from a distance most of the time.

Eve has been fairly calm and collected ever since they arrived on Nye. Although James had been maintaining his composure despite the chaos from having to assimilate the others enough to not arouse suspicion, Eve seemed to detect that it wasn't easy. She did go through this herself, after all - and from both perspectives of not knowing the world and also from teaching others about the world.

Whenever there was trouble, she would always offer to help. They were all figuring this out together, and she was always by James's side, helping whenever she could, but not vocalizing her own concerns unless it was just the two of them together. But despite this, she would silently pull him aside at random moments of the day. She claimed that there wasn't a real reason other than to spend more quality time with him, but that was a real enough reason to James.

As the day came to an end and Jadis and her group began settling down for the night along with the others, it was another one of those times.

James had just tied up Elliot a good distance from the griffins on the other side of the camp. Mel and Elias were talking with Marsha and Garik, who were teaching them how to set up one of the tents. Meanwhile, Alistair and Elise were more quietly making themselves useful by helping with the fire.

The tents were being put up in an arch around the fire pit Ali and Elise were making, and a few of the goblins were bringing out cooking supplies and food to prepare for their evening meal.

They were camped out under tall, leafy trees, and they'd found a large enough clearing to gather into so that they weren't drowning in the overgrowth of the forest floor. Though, as they were drawing nearer to human civilization and the river Axis, the forest floor was getting clearer in common footpaths for both humans and animals.

Suddenly there was a gentle tug at his sleeve. Without looking, James knew it was Eve.

She smiled and gestured with her head towards the overgrowth of trees, tugging at his sleeve so that he would follow her.

Without saying a word, the both of them slinked away from the others, waving through the thick trees for about a minute. They didn't deviate too far so that they wouldn't get lost, but James could hear that they were getting closer to the river. That must be where she was taking him.

And it was... but more.

James thought he was hearing the river, and he assumed the river was deep and turbulent enough to account for the loud white noise, but he guessed wrong.

After they rounded a corner, Eve looked back beaming, because in front of them was a small waterfall. It wasn't just any waterfall; it was the waterfall from six years ago when they danced nearby. It was uncanny. The plants were a little more overgrown, and the river seemed to have widened just a little, but it was still distinctly the same place from his memories.

"It took everything in me to not tell you right away," Eve said with a big grin.

James turned to her with a warm smile.

"It's strange," he said. "To think it's been six years."

Eve tilted her head and smirked. "Strange ... Or fate?" She laughed and tugged his sleeve again, this time with an excited glint in her eyes. "Come on!"

James smirked in return, following her lead.

"What are we doing?" he asked with a laugh in his voice.

"Stick around and find out!" she said with a laugh, almost running with his hand in hers towards the water.

As they came closer to the water line, James realized that Eve didn't plan on stopping. For a moment, he thought about how impractical it would be to run in, fully clothed, and get his shoes, his socks - everything wet. They'd have to return to camp sopping wet. Just as he pulled back with hesitation, Eve started to slow, right at the water's edge.

Apparently, she'd had just enough foresight to think the same thing.

But she didn't stop completely. Instead, she used this moment to aggressively untie her shoes and roll up her pant legs. This random moment of spontaneity from her wasn't completely foreign to James, but it certainly was rare.

"We're getting in," she said with determination as she slid her boot off. "Who knows when we'll be here next?"

James started to quickly slip off his own shoes and socks, throwing them out of the way of the water before bending down to roll up his own pants up to his knees.

"I can't say," James said with a small smile. With his bare feet on the sandy river bank, he stood back up, facing her as he started to unbutton his shirt. "I guess we'll just have to seize the moment."

Eve beamed at him as she stood up straight, but the look of focus returned when her gaze rested back toward the water. She took a step forward, dipping her toes in first, but then flinching.

"I forgot how cold it was..." she mumbled.

With a little laugh, James gently set his glasses in a shoe and tossed his shirt by his side. Stepping up beside Eve, dipping his feet in the water. He leaned over and pecked her on the cheek as he passed.

"It must still be the beginning of summer, then," he said. "At least that helps me place where and when we are a little better."

"I don't know... I think there's something nice about not knowing the 'when.'" With a wistful smile, Eve followed his lead and took two slow and gentle steps forward so that she could stand by him with his hand in hers. "Maybe it's irony. But I think being timeless is the most freeing."

"That is very ironic," James said, turning to look at her. "Between two time mages."

Eve laughed through her nose, smiling as she also turned towards him. With her free hand, she flicked strands of hair out of his face.

"Yeah. Two time mages. I guess that's what we are now." She paused. "Although, I feel rather ordinary."

"I feel the same," he said. "I think the only extraordinary magic I've ever accomplished was in partnership with yours. I never thought... freezing time was something even possible."

Eve was silent for a second, thinking as her gaze rested on the waterfall. "I still don't even know how we did it, or the why, or..." She sighed. "I'd also say it's impossible. But we did it. Twice. So I don't know anymore."

"It only seems to happen when we both try to jump at the same time," James said. "I... still don't fully understand how it works, when I jump forward. All I know is that for me, it's like no time has passed at all. But when you jump back at the same time... it's like our magic, or powers, cancel each other out. And we're both just... stuck."

Eve gently squeezed his hand. "And in both cases, we both tried to use our powers at the same time because a dangerous situation called for it. It was life or death. And maybe that's a coincidence... maybe it doesn't only happen when it's a life or death situation, but a time when we're both able to control our powers and use them at the same time." She faced back towards him, smiling wistfully again. "But I don't really have a desire to try that right now. I just want to enjoy the present with you."

James let out a small laugh through a huff in his nose.

"If you were in the mood for that," he said. "I'd be concerned."

"Well, you know what I am in the mood for?" Eve asked teasingly.

"I really don't," James said with a laugh, not sure what to expect, but somehow excited nonetheless.

"A surprise," she said anyways with a smug grin, and then quickly reached down to splash water towards him.

The water was cold, and he felt it even more against his bare skin. It wasn't enough water to soak him, but it was wet enough that he would need to dry off later. She giggled and ran out of the water, looking back over her shoulder with a big smile as she headed towards the waterfall.

Smiling back at her, James squinted back at her with playful competitiveness. He started to half-run half-swim after her to catch up.

When he was finally within range, he scooped his arms under the water and pushed, making a small wave. Throwing his arms out of the water, he splashed it in Eve's direction with a laugh.

Eve prepared by lifting her arms and blocking the water from her face, but the water still splashed on her and soaked her clothes. She slowly lowered her arms and narrowed her eyes, grinning.

"Are we creating a life-or-death splash war?" she teased.

"Oh," James said with a competitive smirk. "Is that what you wanted? I was holding back."

"Aw, that's so sweet," she said with a voice full of mockery. Eve casually walked along the river's edge, keeping James in the corner of her eye. "So polite. Thank you. Your kindness deserves to be rewarded."

She stopped at the closest point to the waterfall, glancing from James to the water, and back again. With a devilish grin, she gracefully walked into the water without flinching, keeping her eyes on him the entire time as she walked to him.

Mirroring her playful smile, James met her halfway and started circling around her, waiting for her to make the first splash.

The two of them seemed to wait for the other to make the first strike, but suddenly Eve's playful demeanor changed to a slight frown as her eyes were fixated on the direction they came from.

"Do you hear that?" she asked seriously.

James squinted at her for a moment, but glanced behind them, because he never heard things before Eve did.

"It's the sound of my victory," Eve said with a smug smile, then tackled him with a tight hug.

Or at least, tried to tackle him. She was still recovering from the coma and the fight, and she didn't use enough force to send him down or pin his arms, but he could tell she was pushing. With a small smile, he lifted his legs up under the water and let himself lose balance, falling back with her on top of him.

They went into the water with a splash, and he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her down and then up with him, with a push of his legs against the river bottom.

Eve was laughing the entire time, trying to pull back her wet hair so it wouldn't stick to her face. She wiped the water from her eyes as she accepted her fate and set her head against his chest, smiling up at him.

With a full smile, James reached around her and picked her up, one arm behind her back and the other under her legs. Pulling her close, he planted a kiss on her lips and then let her down a little.

"I win," he said brightly.

"We win," she corrected with a little laugh. "But I accept my defeat anyways."

"Good," James said, giving her another kiss on the top of her head. "I also accept my victory."

Eve smiled, turning towards him, and gently rested her head over his shoulder. Her hands slipped down his shoulders down his arms until she found both his hands.

"Hey," she whispered in his ear. "I bet you don't know how to dance."

He couldn't help but laugh, smiling from ear to ear.

"Oh, really?" he said. "I guess I'll just have to prove it to you."

Turning to the shore, he carried Eve until they reached the shallow water, and then he let her down, taking her hand as he led her out onto the open grass.

They didn't have music, but it wasn't needed last time, and it wasn't needed now. The most important part of the dance was the connection, and even when they were dripping wet and dancing with their bare feet, they had more than enough.

James led her through some spins and cross bodies, but for the most part, they danced closer than they have before. Eve was moving slower than she had in the past, but that was okay. James was happy to support her and keep her close, making sure that it was her as the follower who was having more fun.

By the time James felt like he went through all the moves in his head, he readied her for a low dip. It was led through a series of fanciful turns and using the last of her momentum, he dipped her low to the ground, making sure her head and lower back were well-supported.

Eve smiled widely, and she wasn't shy to hide her rosy cheeks as she stayed in the dipped position, watching him for just a moment before she closed her eyes and leaned in for a kiss.

Leaning down as he held her steady, he met her there, remembering all the moments he thought they might never be able to do this again. Remembering the long six months he'd waited, not knowing that she would ever wake up again.

He was going to treasure this moment.

When he finally pulled away, he slowly lifted her up, still holding her close, looking into her eyes.

"I love you," he said softly.

Eve's eyes melted with his words. She gently grazed his cheek with the back of her hand, clearly also trying to remember every detail. She was never one to forget the little details of moments like these.

"I love you too," she said back, but her words trailed off as something in the distance caught her attention. Worry and confusion splashed across her face as she stared intently out over the river. "Do you hear that?" she asked, this time more serious.

"You're not trying to trick me again, are you?" James asked, somewhere between teasing and serious.

"No, I..." She squinted towards the waterfall. "It's not that I hear something. I hear..." She paused. "Nothing."


James blinked and looked around them, eyes landing on the river.

Eve was right. It wasn't the presence of sound that was disturbing. It was the absence of it. The rushing of the waterfall had come to a complete stop, and they stood in complete silence, apart from their voices. Even their breaths suddenly felt so loud in comparison.

"Did we... pause time?" Eve asked in disbelief as she was also taking in their surroundings.

Blinking again - this time hard - James pulled away to turn around, looking all around them.

"I think we did," he said slowly, turning back to Eve. "Do you... know how to undo it?"

Eve shook her head, still looking around in awe before she redirected her attention back to James. "I think we just have to wait it out."

"Last time it ended when we jumped worlds," James said. "Before that, though... I think it lasted almost ten minutes."

Eve seemed to mull this over. "I didn't try to jump back. Did you?"

James shook his head, walking over to his shoes. He bent down and picked up his glasses, slipping them back on.

Eve hummed, following behind. There was a leaf falling from a tree that stopped in mid-air, but when she poked it, she brought it back to the present, and it slowly drifted down.

"When I had my normal time powers, back on Earth, as you know... sometimes it was triggered by accident, especially when there were strong emotions running high." She crouched down and picked up the leaf, twirling it in her fingers. "Maybe something similar happened here."

"Wasn't it normally negative emotions that triggered it?" James asked.

In his experience, the only times he'd ever used his magic - aside from the dreams of undone memories in his mind - it had all been on accident, and solely triggered by extreme stress or life-threatening situations.

"Most of the time, but not always. Negative emotions run stronger, so it's easier, even if it's not fully intentional," Eve said as she glanced up at him, slowly standing back up as she dropped the leaf.

James stopped looking around and let his eyes land back on Eve as a strange, almost silly feeling thought passed through his head. He found a small, goofy grin creep onto his face.

"... What?" she said suspiciously, narrowing her eyes at him.

His grin grew into a full smile, and with laughter in his eyes, he found his cheeks burning a little as he shook his head.

"So you're saying we froze time because we both love each other so much?" he asked.

Eve stared at him, her cheeks turning red. She shook her head stubbornly. "I didn't say that. But if that were true, that would be very cheesy."

With a laugh, James stepped in front of her, grabbing her hands in his.

"Then what do you think caused it?" he asked.

Eve grimaced but happily took his hands, rubbing her thumbs against his palms.

"I don't know," she said after a brief hesitation. "But I refuse to believe that our fate is this cliche."

"We are still discovering my powers," James said. "And it seems like Nye has enhanced the other's magic in different ways. Maybe yours has changed too."

He paused, looking down to their hands and giving hers a small squeeze.

"We'll just have to discover it together," he said.

At that, Eve seemed to embrace this discovery. She smiled and huffed through her nose, squeezing his hand back.

"So if we encounter any bad guys, all we have to do is kiss and profess our love to each other?" she teased.

James couldn't help but laugh, and this one was full, coming up from his belly. After tilting his head back for a moment in laughter, he looked back at her, unable to stop smiling.

"In full honesty," he said. "That would be hilarious, but I would not despise it in the slightest if it meant avoiding more trouble in the future."

Tilting his head to the side, he smirked.

"Though it may be obnoxious to others if it were a common public occurence I don't see many downfalls to it."

Eve was grinning wide, the goofy smile reaching her eyes. She chuckled and lightly shook her head, likely imagining the scenario play out in her head in a thousand different ways. She closed her eyes and tilted her head forward so that her forehead touched his. After a few seconds of savoring the moment, she opened her eyes and smiled even wider.

"Yeah, okay. I'll do it for you. But we'll have to take turns on saying 'I love you' first," she said through the smile.

"Right now?" James asked with a laugh in his voice. "Or do you mean in the future?"

"I love you," she said anyways, leaning in to give him a quick kiss on the lips.

James had to force himself to close his mouth so she wasn't kissing teeth, but she pulled away before it made much of a difference.

"I love you too," he said in return, and in turn, gave her a quick kiss on the tip of her nose.

Pulling his face away slightly, he looked out at the waterfall, seeing that it was still frozen still.

"If time stays frozen as long as I am happy," James said. "We may be stuck here a very long time."

"Oh yeah?" Eve said with a little laugh, slightly pulling away so she could also look around their surroundings. "What do you think we should do with all this extra time?"

James hummed, looking out at the water.

"It is nice that we don't have to be in as much of a hurry to get back," he said softly. Then, looking back at Eve, his eyes lit up a little.

His first thought was that they could dance again, but he knew that after a long day of travel, Eve was likely already pretty spent. Despite being far better off than she was a month ago, she wasn't that far away from her previous comatose state. Even the evidence from their play-fight in the water told him that she was still a lot weaker than before, and he didn't want to push her too hard.

James didn't think he spent too much time thinking, but Eve must have thought he did since she let out a little laugh and filled the silence.

"I suppose we could use this time to dry off so one one asks any questions," she said as she patted down her damp shirt.

"What was your original plan?" James asked playfully. "Get soaked and just go back to the camp, acting normal?"

"What if I told you that all of this was part of the grand plan?" Eve teased.

"I would be disinclined to believe you," James said with a smirk as he patted down his pants. They were pretty soaked through. They'd take a while to fully dry.

"You know," he continued. "We may not have more than ten or so minutes of this. Not quite as long as you'd think."

"It could be ten minutes, three, or one hour," Eve said with a smile. "I don't really mind the when. I just enjoy the time with you... even if no time has passed to the others at all."

James just watched her with a small smile.

"Likewise," he said softly.
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