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A Chance Meeting

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Sat May 06, 2023 4:13 am
soundofmind says...

by @urbanhart and @soundofmind
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Sat May 06, 2023 4:15 am
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urbanhart says...

The forest was long told to be a place of change, or reveal. For uncovering something hidden about the world, or even oneself. Or it could be a place of obscurity, shrouded in mystery, as it was this night. Where one quickly learned that they knew far less than they ever could've thought. Truly a place of paradox, depending on how nature decided to conspire with the Fates.

In Lyall's personal experience, the forest was at least consistently a place of encounters. Strange encounters, where unfamiliar, twisting trails made the paths of complete strangers collide. People who would otherwise never have reason to smack eyes upon one another in the first place. It was exciting, in that sense. He always thoroughly enjoyed meeting people!

He'd say the view was also nice, but there was hardly a view now in the pitch of midnight. With just the moon cloaked by wispy clouds, Lyall had to rely solely on the scarcely lit edges of the trees and stones in the forest, and the glinting knives of the restless river nearby. Having left the walking trail a long while ago, he was sure he'd never find his way back. Within a reasonable amount of time, anyway. Perhaps he should've packed some food...

On the subject of meeting people, this was his exact intent here. In hindsight, maybe meeting with an unknown party who didn't even dare write him in their own hand, on his own in the dark of night, far out of earshot of other people, and in unfamiliar territory, was not one of the wisest decisions he'd made most recently. But! Wisdom was never a defining trait of his, so he couldn't let that stop him now.

Boughs shook and swayed slightly with a breeze. Beyond them, though, he was sure he glimpsed the form of another person. Just the vaguest of human shapes in the dark, and so fleeting that he began to doubt that he actually saw it.

Unwise enough to have not packed a light either, Lyall glanced about. Weighing his limited options, before deciding conjuring a small light shouldn't be too risky. Replicating a symbol with his hands, and with a flick of his wrist, a glowing orb formed at his fingertips.

Ah, yes, infinitely better already. Emboldened, he approached where he saw the human shape. Then cursed under his breath when the form revealed itself to be a bush and vines climbing into the tree above.

"I won't say it was a severe disappointment," he said idly to himself as he scuffed the dirt with his heel, "but my hopes feel quite sufficiently dashed."

Maybe he hadn't waited long enough, but this long-awaited meeting which he traveled a week for, was beginning to feel more like an elaborate, semi-pricey (in that it cost him a bit to even get here), and utterly pointless joke. He frowned deeply at the bush as he contemplated whether to stick it out, or simply cut his losses and go...who knew.

He sighed. Loudly. Quite pointedly, before calling out to the trees, "To whom it may concern, I'll have you know I traveled quite a distance to meet with you. On your terms! Be so kind as to either reveal yourself immediately, or hurry up if you've simply misplaced your own whereabouts! Thank you, and good evening."

He paused and listened for a beat.

"If you hadn't guessed," he added with not a trace of bitterness, "this is the fellow to whom you wrote, and who could not write back because you neglected to provide any sort of address!"

Then he waited.

He heard a thump behind him of feet hitting the dirt. Lyall whirled around, holding the light out in front of him like a shield.

"You've now scared off anything that might've been in this area, loud as you are," a man's voice said. Low and irritated, and muffled behind a mask that obscured half his face. Decked out all in camo, and with scowling eyes, he had the air of a seasoned hunter. One that you did not want to mess with.

"Whomever you're waiting for hasn't come this way," the man said.

It took Lyall a millisecond to register his words as he tried studying the stranger. Shaking himself back to the present, he gestured with his free hand and slowly asked, "Then you are...?"

"Not the person you came for," the man said cryptically. "And leaving."

He started to turn, already taking long strides to walk away.

Lyall blinked at the man's retreating figure. Then sprung into step behind him.

"Yes," Lyall countered, "and I'm supposed to believe that you sir happened to be here, at the right location and time, in this vast forest, by pure coincidence."

"Sometimes life is stranger than fiction," the man said, not turning around nor relenting in pace.

Now with the light (which the man seemed to not notice or simply did not care to take notice of), Lyall found it decidedly easier to pick through the underbrush and keep pace.

"I'll concede as much," he said. "Since what I assume was your hunt is officially ruined-- which I do regret, by the way-- and we're already talking anyhow, why exactly hunt in the dead of night?"

The river gradually disappeared behind them as the man weaved smoothly between the trees, as if it was second nature.

"You've never been hunting," the man said. "Have you?"

At that, the man glanced back at him, sending a brief, judgmental glance as he looked Lyall up and down - and just as quickly looked away.

Though the man couldn't see, Lyall cracked a grin. "What gave that away, praytell?"

"Everything," the man said flatly. "Do you even know how to get back to the trail from here?"

"Well, it's not like I'm trying to hide my preference for the more civilized parts of the world."

The man came to an abrupt stop and looked at Lyall sternly over his shoulder.

"I'm not asking your preference. What I need to know is if I need to make sure you make it back to the trailhead safely," the man said.

Lyall stopped, slightly thrown by the shift in tone. He gave an easy smile, though, and replied, maybe against his better judgement, "I'm touched you care. As a matter of fact, I am quite lost, yes. Even just a pointer would be appreciated."

The man stood still for a moment, like he was assessing Lyall and the situation. (That made two of them.) The look in his eyes was still harsh, lacking in all ways any friendliness or warmth, but after letting out a muffled sigh, he lifted his hand and pulled down the cloth mask that covered the lower half of his face.

Lyall, still holding up his light, could see the full reddish-brown beard and the black and green facepaint streaking the remainder of his face.

"What were your original intentions for coming out here?" the man asked intensely. "Who did you come to meet?"

This new situation with this seemingly hostile hunter in the dead of night with no one else within hearing radius, had Lyall rethinking all of his life choices up until the present day, and definitely not for the first time. Still, he tried to maintain his breezy front with a tilt of his head.

"If you weren't so busy trying to storm off," he replied smoothly, "perhaps you could've put the pieces together yourself. Truly, my only intentions were to have some nice chats--" And made a quick show of patting himself down, then patted his messenger bag. "--with a person who I wouldn't even recognize by face because I only ever received a letter from them, which you undoubtedly heard about. All I have on me are the letter, a book, and-- Oh!" He waved his open hand, which the light trailed after. "This, which you obviously have seen by now and aren't even remotely uncomfortable with."

Lyall straightened his posture, and dropped his smile as he evenly met the hunter's intensely searching gaze. "Which begs the question: how is it not you?"

"You want to know why I have no issue with magic," the man said coolly - like it was both a question and a challenge.

Lyall glanced off. The hunter was. Surprisingly smooth and blasé about it. "That's another way of phrasing it, yes."

"It's the direct way of 'phrasing it,'" the man echoed.

Lyall tsked and said faintly, "Sure, sure." He cleared his throat. "Anyway, yes. How come."

Instead of opening his mouth to respond, the man met Lyall's eyes with great intensity, and he swept his arm forward in front of him, palm up. Lyall recognized the somatic motion before a radiant beam pulsed out of the man's hand, taking the shape of a semi-solid longsword, glowing with golden light.

The man held the sword of light horizontal to the ground at the hilt between the two of them.

Lyall quietly looked from the sword to the hunter, back to the sword. He let out a low whistle.

"Okay," he mumbled, nodding slowly, "Sure, nice little trick there..."

Given the hunter's cryptic-ness earlier, this directness was a bit unexpected. And honestly kind of cut the fun of back-and-forth short.

The man dismissed the sword with a sigh, and it dissipated.

"You said a stranger summoned you into this forest with a letter," the man said. "Did you do any research on the things that have happened in this forest before you said yes?"

"I've had almost a week to catch myself up," Lyall answered with a small sigh of his own. "People missing, warnings posted by authorities to stay away, yadda yadda--"

"And you thought it would be a good idea to come out here alone?" the man asked. "Does anyone even know you're out here? Don't you have friends? Loved ones?"

Lyall huffed and said, more snippily than intended, "Though admittedly drastically underprepared, I'm fine, thanks. It really wasn't you who sent it?" Digging through his bag, he held out the folded up letter. Stained from a seal, and marked with a laurel branch in the corner.

"No," the man replied, looking down at the letter. "I'm out here looking for something else."

Letting out a longer, louder sigh, Lyall glanced over his shoulder. As if the mystery pen pal would just. Appear on cue.

"Fantastic," he muttered. Then turned a curious eye back to the hunter. "What're you looking for, then?"

"The killer," the man said plainly. "Be it man or beast."

Lyall felt both his brows shoot up. "Oh." He looked askance at the trees as it dawned on him. "Ohhh..." So he interrupted a manhunt. Or. Something important.

"The area you walked through happened to be where most people were last seen," the man said. "You know. Before--"

The man made a motion with his hand imitating a puff of smoke. Well, actually there was smoke. A small puff came out of his hand.

It felt a little inappropriate, but Lyall grinned faintly at the slight showmanship. "Curio's very own vigilante," he mused. "Well, in that case, I truly am sorry for the intrusion." He tapped the letter's edge before tucking it away again. "I'll get out of your...frankly lush and copious hair--"

"I never got your name," the man interrupted.

Ah, right. Proper introductions were in order.

Clearing his throat, Lyall held out a hand and fibbed, on instinct, "Vernon. Thomas Vernon, at your service."

The man met Lyall's hand with a firm, gloved handshake.

"Matthew," the man said, pulling his hand away.

Lyall grinned a little wider. He did consider the name 'Matthew' himself for a second.

"Pleasure meeting you, Matthew," he said politely. Then added with mock exhaustion, "Regardless of the fact that you weren't actually my secret admirer."

"If you came out all this way for love, then I'm very sorry for you," Matthew said. "But if you truly are lost, I am willing to guide you back to civilization. Though it's been a mercy you haven't run into any trouble yet, there is a reason the trail is closed, and local authorities don't want people out here."

He leaned forward ever so slightly, meeting Lyall's eyes with what felt like an ominous stare as Lyall's light underlit the man's face.

"What do you think happened to the others? They got lost too."

Lyall just tilted his head, intrigued (and a tinge concerned). "And what of you? Friends? Loved ones? Why are you out here alone?"

Matthew leaned back like he was assessing Lyall again.

"I want this forest to be safe again," Matthew said. "So no one else gets hurt."

Altruistic. And dreadfully lacking in details. Not unwarranted, though.

"I'll be fine," Lyall at last answered. "Really, if you could just point me in the right direction, that should be plenty."

Matthew pointed behind him - or rather, ahead of them both.

It seemed, perhaps, that Matthew hadn't been storming away, but rather, had been leading Lyall in the right direction from the start.

Lyall hummed. "You clever sod." Giving a sloppy salute, he stepped around Matthew and began the trek uphill. Louder, he called back, "You have been a true delight, Mister Matthew. A true delight! I do hope our paths cross again sometime in the future!" In fact, he'd plan on it.

Glancing back briefly, it seemed Matthew was simply hanging back, keeping an ever-watchful eye.

He was an intriguing fellow, indeed. Even though Lyall had yet to find the secret writer, something maybe good came out of this failed expedition.

"May the Fates smile down upon your vigilante endeavors!" he added pleasantly.

He thought he saw the man wave in the dim moonlight.

Though things went not according to plan, Lyall was willing to count this as a win. Spirits quite lifted by the encounter-- with a fellow sorcerer, no less!-- and potential threats be-damned, he broke into song as a playful adieu. Clear and with exaggerated vibrato, Lyall cut through the quiet of the wilderness:

    "We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when...!"

Because he'd yet to decide on such details, but he had plenty of time to do so on the walk back to Curio City.

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Thu May 18, 2023 12:57 am
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soundofmind says...

James stared down into the lake at the disembodied arm that had surfaced along the shore.

Kneeling down, he muttered a quiet incantation and a soft golden glow surrounded his hand. A small barrier, as a precaution, since the arm seemed to have been recently removed from its former owner, and the rest of the person was presumably consumed, or otherwise torn apart.

Legally, he was required to report this to the authorities soon. That said, he didn't have the most solid alibi for why he was snooping around in the forest in the first place. Yes, he'd been posing under the guise of a hunter, but even the local hunters knew this area was off-limits for a reason.

It would be best to say nothing, for now. It was very likely the local authorities wouldn't be able to handle something on this scale anyway.

This... didn't look like the work of a serial killer. The fact that James could recognize that wasn't something he was proud of, but what gave it away was the type of tear at the end of the arm where it'd been severed.

It looked like it had been bitten clean off. By teeth.

He picked the arm up, turning it around to inspect the semi-preserved bite mark, noting that this portion of the body didn't seem more than 48 hours old based on its state of decay. But something didn't fit together with the puzzle pieces he knew to be true.

Reports put lost and missing people a few miles back on the map, closer to the trails.

This lake was further off, and they would've had to wander all the way out here, only to presumably be lured into the water - each one of them - to be eaten by what James could only deduce was a leviathan. Nothing else would make bite marks so needle-like and large.

But the thing was, though Leviathans were known to be gigantic, powerful, and certainly not beyond consuming humans, they weren't exactly known for their charismatic prowess and ability to lure people to them. That was more of a siren thing when it came to dangerous water-related entities.

So... what got them this far?

Were they running from something else? Something worse? What would drive them into the water?

Unless... they were never alive when they entered the water in the first place.

Could someone be using the lake as a dumping ground?

James sighed, tossing the arm back into the water. It wasn't like there was anything he could do for the poor soul, now, besides leave them to decay. It appeared he'd been too late. He'd missed them, and he'd been in this forest, probably only miles away. The fact that it was so close of a window pained him, but he could only hope he'd be present to save whoever might be next instead.

He began to walk the edge of the rest of the lake with more caution, now keenly aware of the monster lurking under the surface, knowing it'd had its taste of human flesh and wouldn't be opposed to tasting more.

Maybe he really was dealing with a serial killer, then. One that was feeding the bodies to a very big fish.

Somehow, that didn't comfort him if that was true. Either way, he wasn't satisfied with the lack of answers he had and the confusing evidence that didn't add up.

He thought he saw something shift under the water, and just as he went to reach for his gun, he heard... a voice. A familiar voice.

    "I fall to pieces

    each time I see you again.

    I fall to pieces.

    How can I be just your friend?

James turned his head slowly, keeping one eye on the lake, and the other turning toward the forest behind him.

Seriously? Thomas? The completely random fellow he met, what, a few days ago in the forest, was back again, eager to be a liability.

James flicked his eyes back to the lake, any signs of movement and all shadows under the water receded and gone. Apparently, Thomas's singing had scared off the Leviathan, or otherwise caused it to go into hiding, perhaps in wait or someone dumb enough to step into the water that didn't know it was there.

With a begrudging sigh, James turned off into the forest, senses alert and aware that there was still more to these disappearances than met the eyes.

Thomas better not be involved. But he had trouble believing someone that seemingly unprepared and buffoonish would accomplish a feat of such cruelty and violence unless it was all a clever guise.

Though as Thomas seemed to cycle through a mental playlist of songs, James felt less and less like it was a guise, and more that he really was just that...


James stopped at the top of an incline, looking down at Thomas, who now stood in the midday light between the shadows of the leafy trees around him.

"You know," James called out to him. "The only people who sing gleefully in forests are princesses in fairy tales and people in horror movies before they get brutally murdered."

Startled, Thomas looked about, then quickly offered an uneven smile when he caught sight of James.

"Seems I'll only ever catch you in a bad mood," he called back, sounding amused.

"I'm always in a bad mood," James retorted. "By your definition. And you always seem to be in the mood to be willfully annoying."

Thomas put on an exaggerated pout. "You wound me, Mister Matthew." Without hesitation (or invitation), he trekked up to meet James at the top of the incline. "May I inquire about the status of your pseudo-investigation?"

"You think I'm a liar," James said flatly.

Thomas set a hand over his heart in playful offense. "I never suggested such a thing. I'm simply acknowledging the fact that your poking around probably won't go over well with the actual authorities in town."

"Are you going to tell on me?" James asked in a mocking, babyish tone.

"Considering that would only reveal my own snooping about?" Thomas chuckled, "No, I'm not inclined to."

"Ah. You can't tell them because they would only ask how you know in the first place," James said. "Welcome to my predicament. Now please leave, before you endanger yourself more than you already have."

His smile fading a bit as he glanced him over, Thomas only tucked his hands in his jacket pockets. "Why, what'd you find?"

James narrowed his eyes, assessing Thomas, looking him up and down, letting a small silence grow between them for a moment.

"Are you squeamish in nature?" James finally asked.

All traces of levity gone and replaced with an intensely curious gaze, Thomas tilted his chin up. "Stomach of steel," he answered smoothly. "There's little I haven't seen."

James stared at him for a moment.

"I may be in over my head," James said plainly. "Are you positive you want to join me? You could back out now."

"Fine," Thomas said, "I'll be more direct: Yes, please, show me whatever atrocity it is you have stumbled upon. I am desperate for this trip to not have been a complete waste." He clasped his hands together. "I will resort to begging if I have to. Please, please, please, show me the gross thing, I need something interesting to break the same, terribly tedious little routine I've found myself in."

James huffed in mild amusement, but he couldn't bring himself to be too entertained by it.

The weight of this situation still hung over his shoulders heavily.

"It is just as tragic as it is interesting," James said soberly, turning to lead Thomas back towards the lake. "So for your sake, I hope you weren't lying about your stomach of steel."

Thomas, though obviously eager to sate his curiosity, followed a short distance behind. Surprisingly, he didn't seem to feel the need to fill the silence.

"Tell me what you know about the disappearances in this forest," James said, wanting to know what he was working with, and where to start.

"Thus far, there haven't been any patterns with the disappearances," Thomas answered. "Aside from the location, off the trail, where we met. There are suspects due to their histories of aggression, but nothing solid enough to warrant anything beyond an interrogation."

"Right," James said. "I've looked into their suspects. They're all dead ends."

Thomas hummed. "They all had alibis."

"Legitimate ones," James said. "I looked into it. Sure, they're messed up people, but there was nothing to connect them to the disappearances, especially not all of them - which, it's looking like there's a pattern. So it would be a hard case to say they were a bunch of similar but unconnected attacks or kidnappings."

"Oh, so there is a pattern?" Thomas asked, not as a challenge, but out of what sounded like genuine curiosity.

"Yes," James said. "I know you said you've done 'some research.' But I've been pouring over this for months. That's how far back all of this goes."

Hopping over a stray branch, Thomas moved ahead to walk in front, facing James. Not liking that Thomas was obstructing his view, James slowed to a stop. Thomas likewise stopped, a bit delayed and with a look of confusion.

"Are we already there?" he asked.

"No," James said like it was obvious. "Were you planning on walking backward into the foreboding area I tried to subtly warn you about?"

Thomas glanced off as he thought about that, then twisted around to look behind himself. "So, the foreboding area is imminent? Excellent."

"Don't sound so excited," James said, breezing past him with a hasty walk, not wanting Thomas in front of him for this. "Real people have died here, Thomas. It's not just a fun game to make your life more interesting."

It took a second before James could hear Thomas falling back into step behind him.

"You make me sound heartless," he said.

"I don't mean to," James said. "I just want to make sure you know what you're walking into."

"Well, to be frank, 'foreboding area' isn't much to work off of," Thomas said.

"Well, how about this," James said, marching them up to the edge of the lake, tracing back around towards where the arm had drifted up the shore.

"At this point, nine people have gone missing. The ninth one hasn't been reported, because no one's found them yet. Except for me," James said, coming to a stop when he spotted the pale, stiff fingers sticking out of the water.

He came to a stop at the water's edge, merely looking down at it.

"And you know why I can't report it. But it's recent."

Thomas came alongside him. His demeanor wasn't so relaxed now, and he had no remarks as he stared at the arm. His expression had sobered. He blinked away what looked like momentary shock as he knelt down for a closer look.

"Was it sawed off or something?" he uttered after a long moment of silence.

"Look at where it's severed," James said quietly.

A pause.

"Teeth marks," James said.

"What's large enough to...?"

James looked into the lake, then back down at Thomas, wondering if he'd know.

Thomas's gaze was still fixed on the arm. He began to reach for it, then seemed to think better of it. Standing, he brushed himself off and glanced expectantly at James.

"A Leviathan," James said, answering the question that was still hanging in the air.

Thomas stared blankly at him. "You mean... they still exist?"

"Maybe we should do some lake diving to find out for sure," James suggested.

At that, Thomas backed away from the water's edge with a huffed laugh. "Yeah, no. We can just...tentatively consider it a possibility."

"That was my decision as well," James said. "But here's where it doesn't add up: none of the missing people who wandered off the path were even close to this lake. Now, maybe it was just the one who wandered over here... but you'd think they'd have found the other bodies by now if they'd all died..."

James was heavily implying he thought it was possible the people who'd been murdered were fed to the leviathan, but he let his sentence trail off, waiting to see what conclusions Thomas might come to.

Thomas's brows furrowed, then raised slightly as it seemed to click quickly enough for him. "Good way to get rid of evidence. If not a leviathan, then I presume other scavengers would take care of it."

"Lakes are always good places to dump bodies regardless," James said with a small sigh.

Tucking his hands in his jacket pockets, Thomas squinted out over the lake. "Have you crossed paths with a leviathan before? Or is there some handbook on strange wildlife that I've yet to encounter?"

James looked at Thomas for a moment, studying him. When Thomas glanced back, it was with a sharper gaze than before, like he was assessing James too.

"I've seen my fair share of magical creatures," James said. "Probably more than the average immortal. Not that I'm aiming to break any records."

The word 'immortal' gave Thomas some pause, and it was meant to.

These days, James could never know quite how old a mage was, but many of the ones he met in recent years never seemed to live past the average lifespan - but it was always hard to say. He himself had reinvented his identity several times, falling off the face of one part of the earth to appear on another as a different person with a different name.

That was the tricky thing with people who had magic. To some degree, they were all hiding in various ways - not explicitly from one another, but it happened all the same.

It meant that all in all, there weren't very good records of mages born in this past century.

He was trying to get a feel for how old Thomas was.

Thomas tilted his head with an interested smile, rather than perhaps an astonished one. Which meant the concept wasn't novel to him. "I'd say there's hardly anything average about an immortal in the first place. You and I are proof of that."

James hummed, nodding in quiet understanding.

So, it was as he suspected. The two of them were both immortals. Though, unlike James, Thomas seemed to take pride in it.

James has always felt it was more of a burden than a blessing, but he'd been determined to make the most of it.

He wondered what exactly Thomas - an immortal - was looking for out here.

Purpose? Entertainment? Meaning? A cheap thrill?

He'd already been dodgy about his motivations before, and James had a feeling he wasn't going to be any more forthright even with the shared knowledge they were both immortals. Just because they were both ancient didn't mean they'd earned one another's trust, and frankly, James didn't want to pry. Not yet.

Not unless it was relevant - and at present, it wasn't.

"So," James said, cutting the silence that followed. "Are you going to help me find this murderer or not?"

Thomas glanced at the forest behind them, humming as he seemed to weigh his options.

"It's this, or go back to Curio City," James said. "Or wherever else you came from."

Thomas laughed. "You say this as though you have authority on the matter."

"I don't," James said. "But if you're not going to help me with this, I'd really rather you didn't follow me around like a puppy dog, as much as I've tolerated your company."

"Ah, well in that case..." Thomas squared his shoulders and held out a hand to James. "Allow me to be of service, Mister Matthew."

James huffed in mild amusement through his nose, meeting Thomas's hand with his gloved one. James gave his hand one firm shake before he pulled away.

James was surprised that Thomas was so quick to come to a decision based on this tenuous agreement. The two of them were complete strangers, and Thomas had willingly sought James out... for what? Was he really just that curious? Or was something else going on?

Though James was always the careful sort, he did find that he felt more comfortable with Thomas under his watch than knowing he was somewhere in Curio City, pursuing who knew what. Probably looking for the person who'd summoned him.

"Well, you're lucky I pack with other people in mind," James said, adjusting the pack on his back. "Seeing as you didn't come prepared for..."

James looked Thomas up and down.

He didn't come with anything to sustain even a short wilderness trek. His shoes looked more fitting for a formal function, and the bag he brought with him was only big enough for the aforementioned book and maybe some city essentials. Since it was warmer during the day, he hadn't brought a winter coat to go over his blazer jacket.

"...anything," James finished. "What were you planning to do when you came out here? What if I wasn't here?"

Thomas gave him a curious look. "How long do you expect to stay out here?"

"As long as it takes to find what's been killing people," James said simply.

Thomas nodded slowly. "I'll come back better prepared next time."

Next time. Either Thomas was being intentionally bold or he really thought there would be a next time.

James hummed.

"Come along, then," James said simply. "I suggest we make camp nearby. Its possible our culprit may draw in another victim soon if this one was recent. It means they haven't left."

And at that, he began to lead them around the lake to a better place to stake out as the sun began to lower behind the horizon.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Tue May 23, 2023 12:20 am
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urbanhart says...

A few days later, Lyall had set out into the early morning, with proper outdoor gear and sustenance as promised. The better part of the day was spent poking around the woods on his own, once again in search of the writer, as well as for ingredients for an elixir. A personal project of his for the past...decade. Neither writer nor the desired ingredients showed up.

Eventually the sun sank low behind the mountains. By this time, he met up again with the hunter. Per Matthew's instructions, Lyall refrained from making conversation on the way to his hideout.

The quiet of the forest during the day was different from its silence at night. By daylight, it was actually quite scenic. Quite lush with plant life, with clean and crisp air. The lack of hikers on the trail made it feel like a private pathway, where one could comfortably wander deeper into their own thoughts, without interruption.

By dark, this solitude put one on edge rather than at ease. There were no more warbling songbirds in the canopies overhead, but instead the eerie calls of nocturnal birds on the prowl. Sometimes their calls sounded like ghosts that refused to give him peace of mind. Trees and bushes created illusions of monsters, made even more frightening by the imagination running rampant.

Juvenile as it may have felt, Lyall found singing (or making any sort of sounds) when alone kept these horrible things at bay. With Matthew confidently leading the way, though, he felt more grounded anyway. So he was comfortable with this silence.

Even once they were tucked out of sight in the hunter's shelter, they kept it dark. Made sense since of course they wanted to keep completely hidden. Matthew's vision was likely aided by his eyewear and a small, uttered spell that Lyall only vaguely recognized.

Lyall didn't bother with any of that, the light of the moon was plenty to make out forms well enough.

It had been awhile since he himself had last directly dealt with any fantastical beasts. And he'd honestly prefer to keep it that way. If Matthew had the experience that he claimed to, then they were both well aware that this far north, leviathans were actually more likely than one might initially think. Lyall didn't care for that possibility.

Until he could find the mystery writer, though, he figured this investigation would be a worthwhile endeavor. For the sake of the citizens and all that.

He glanced sideways. Matthew sat close by the narrow window, gaze alert and shoulders squared like a sentinel. The hunter's posture reminded Lyall of another close ally he'd known before, and it made him wonder if Matthew was ever a soldier anywhere in his lifetime.

Leaning back against the wall, Lyall set his bag between his feet and dug through. "Hungry?"

Matthew glanced at him.

"No," Matthew said.

"Suit yourself."

Lyall extricated a hearty sandwich from the depths of his bag. Probably shouldn't have thrown his notes on top of it, but alas. A squished sandwich was still a full meal. He took a bite.

The silence dragged on. While Matthew's gaze rarely strayed from the window, Lyall's attention eventually wandered around the bunker. It was...a functional space, he supposed. And that was all there was to it. Functionality. It seemed on brand.

"Do you live in that camo? Or have I yet to catch you in civilian-wear," Lyall eventually asked.

"The latter," Matthew said simply.

With his free hand, Lyall took out his notebook. He angled himself so that whatever light they did have from outside fell on the pages as he flipped through. He skimmed the scientific names of the herbs he'd noted, and stopped on the category of plants whose existences were widely contested. The ones with less-than-natural properties.

"You never said if you've actually seen a leviathan," Lyall commented.

"I have," Matthew said.

Lyall raised both brows at this. "Under what circumstances?"

"Sailing," Matthew said.

"You paint a vivid picture," Lyall hummed.

Lyall caught Matthew's unamused side-eye, but Matthew said nothing.

Making conversation wasn't exactly conducive to a successful stakeout in the wilderness, Lyall was aware. And there was little reason for either of them to truly trust one another, even after both established themselves as immortals who could wield magic.

In some instances, that was more dangerous than revealing themselves to an ordinary human. The fact that Matthew was the first to take the risk was intensely intriguing, especially given his largely standoffish nature. Lyall wanted to know why he did. And making a little conversation to appease his curiosity seemed hardly a threat to this mission at the moment.

He took another bite of his sandwich. "Sailing where?" he pressed after swallowing. "Was it a solo mission? Recent?"

Matthew pressed his lips together, and thought the man was more than slow to answer, Lyall could feel him thinking about it. As if deciding how much to divulge, or maybe even debating whether to answer at all.

"It was off the coast of Ireland," Matthew answered stiffly. "And of course I wasn't alone. You can't sail a ship alone."

Ah! So he's been abroad, around western Europe at least. From the sound of it, he might have worked on that ship too.

"I haven't been there," Lyall said with an interested grin. "Yet, anyhow. How recent was that? I haven't heard news of any giant reptiles around there recently."

"1934," Matthew said flatly.

That made Mister Matthew a little older than Lyall had initially assumed. In daylight by the lake, he looked like he was maybe in his mid-twenties, which Lyall had thought would put him closer to his fifties. The man aged well.

He wondered if the hunter was near enough to know about the unsuccessful Resurfacing in the North Sea. Something that Lyall himself hadn't the misfortune to see, but he'd heard from a first-hand witness not too long after.

"I myself headed more south," Lyall offered. "Mostly steered clear of potential encounters with such creatures by sticking to cities and villages."

"How nice," Matthew said simply. "And yet, here you are now."

Lyall nodded. "By my own volition. And some form of society is still nearby, so it's not too bad."

Matthew only hummed at this, apparently keeping his opinions to himself.

Undeterred, Lyall asked, "Have you ventured into Curio at all?"

"Briefly," Matthew answered.

"Since this recent undertaking?"

"Yes," Matthew answered again, eyes flicking to Lyall. "You?"

Even if it was only out of politeness or even annoyance with the barrage of questions, Matthew's turning it back toward Lyall officially made this a conversation. Lyall counted that as a win.

Smiling a little victoriously, Lyall answered, "I've been staying at the inn, Chinook Lodge. I was last there this very morning."

Very early morning, to ensure that not many-- if any-- citizens saw him head in the general direction of the trail.

Matthew seemed to have the benefit of not staying in town, and thus was able to go about unnoticed if he wished. Which he did. Lyall hadn't heard anything in town about a squatter camping in the woods, so the chance meeting with the hunter was a true surprise.

Matthew looked at Lyall out of the corner of his eyes again.

"I suppose that's wise," Matthew said. "In the event anything tragic were to happen, at least some people would remember your face and where you might've gone."

Pursing his lips, Lyall nodded slowly. "Right."

Matthew's cutting seriousness vaguely reminded Lyall of purpose of the stakeout. And effectively shut down the short-lived conversation.

While they let silence fill the shed, Lyall turned his attention more fully toward his notes.

The night wore on. The longer they went without any signs of man nor beast, Lyall began jotting down the plants he could recognize in the darkness. Anything he didn't immediately know, appeared common anyhow.

He wondered how the mystery writer could have access to a purported root of ancient origin, the gall to purposely locate another, more desperate mage, but then no means (or maybe just mind) to actually follow through with any promises.

He managed to suppress a sigh. There was always the possibility that the writer didn't actually discover anything of note. Lyall had vague ideas of what else they could gain from leading him here, but nothing that really made any of it click into place. Other than the theories that involved more insidious intentions...

Another one of Matthew's side-eyes made Lyall aware of his idle, loud pen tapping.

"You're not used to this sort of thing, are you?" Matthew asked in a hushed whisper.

Lyall hid his chilled hands in his coat pockets. "How long has it been?" he asked instead.

"Two hours, about," Matthew answered.

Lyall turned toward Matthew. "I'm sorry, two? That's it?"

"Yes. It's not even midnight," Matthew said. "We've got a while to go."

Not even midnight, and this hole in the ground already felt below freezing.

"You're cold," Matthew said.

"I'm fine," Lyall countered.

"I have an extra coat," Matthew said. "Do you want it, or do you want to be miserable more?"

"It's fine," he insisted. "I can handle the cold."

"It's going to drop another twenty degrees by 2am," Matthew said, turning around in what suddenly felt a very out-of-character manner, seeing as it was his first time abandoning his post.

Matthew bent down and reached for his bag at his side, digging into his massive backpack.

Lyall didn't know how to communicate that the external temperature genuinely wasn't the actual cause of his restlessness, nor how to respond to Matthew's rather sudden concern.

Matthew pulled out a slightly puffy jacket and roughly tossed it to Lyall. It landed in Lyall's lap, hitting his stomach with more force than expected.

"At least you'll look warmer," Matthew muttered, getting back up to once again return to his former post.

Resigned, Lyall quietly stared at the coat on his lap. It was covering his notes, but there wasn't any need to remove his hands from his pockets just to look at something he had memorized.

"Have you considered...compiling your experiences?" he eventually asked. "Into a sort of guide on how to navigate encounters with creatures. From the sounds of it, you're very well-versed in these matters." Lyall glanced at Matthew. "It could be helpful."

"Helpful to who?" Matthew asked.

Lyall huffed. "If not to those living on the borders of the Wilds, then at least yourself."

"You presume anyone would interpret such content as anything other than fictitious," Matthew said.

"True." Lyall shrugged. "Then lean into that. Play it up, even. People will still take in information if they're entertained."

"Maybe it hasn't become apparent to you," Matthew said. "But I'd rather remain hidden, and I'd like not to be remembered. Even publishing under a pseudonym gives the world an anchor of connection to me for as long as the book remains in existence. And I don't want to worry about that possibility."

Yes, that much was clear. And Lyall supposed it was fair. Some people just didn't like attention. And the few mages he'd known feared the worst of being known. His own family had certainly suffered for it.

Shrugging again, Lyall said, "All I'm saying is, writing things down could be useful."

"What is it you've written down, then?" Matthew asked.

Lyall looked down at the coat obscuring his notebook. "Reference materials. Though I'll concede, most of my original work has been written off as uncredible or indeed fictitious."

"Reference for what?"

"Identification of plants of allegedly mythical origin, and illnesses that only seem to afflict folks like us." Though there were so few cases of the latter, that sometimes he didn't believe his own observations.

Matthew hummed.

"Valuable information," Matthew said quietly.

Lyall huffed a laugh, a bit bitterly. "That's been the hope, anyway."

Matthew glanced at Lyall, his normally harsh expression softening slightly for but a moment. But he said nothing.

Unsure of what to do with what was either empathy or pity, Lyall cleared his throat and quickly asked, "So, have you been here long? In the area, I mean."

"About three months," Matthew answered. "When did you get to Curio?"

"A little over a week ago." Lyall shifted so that he faced Matthew more directly. "And you haven't run into trouble with the sheriff or whatever they have here?" he asked curiously.

"I only passed through the town once," Matthew said like he was reminding him. "And I know how to keep hidden."

Lyall paused. "Okay, fair..."

With that, he decided he ought to pack up and find a way to excuse himself that wouldn't come off as strange or rude. As much as he wanted to see this through, it was barely midnight, and he was pretty sure the murderer would be a no-show tonight. Like with every other night, it seemed.

When he bent down to tuck away his writing materials, a strange glimmer of refracted light on his bag stopped him short. He furrowed his brows. There was a layer of frost that wasn't there a second before.

Beside him, Matthew went completely rigid. The hunter uttered what sounded like a spell under his breath. The faintest of glows sparked and circled them, blocking out the chill for a split second. Once it faded, the bunker temperature plummeted-- far faster than Matthew had projected.

At that, Matthew prepared his gun, positioning it out of the bunker's slit, ready to snipe whatever was approaching. Lyall jumped away from the window.

"What is it?"

"Wendigo," Matthew whispered harshly.

A low hum reverberated through the trees outside. The bunker shook. Mind in a panicked daze, Lyall instinctively dropped down and brace himself in the corner. Matthew's head whipped around, and he darted to Lyall, standing over him. Lyall heard his gun cock overhead.

The wall by Matthew's head was smashed in. A gust of icy air blew in with a deafening screech. A skeletal arm shot in and clawed at the wood.

Lyall scrambled back to the other side. He caught a glimpse of a gaunt face framing wild eyes-- which were fixed right on him. It was a soul-less stare that pinned him to his spot on the floor.

A gunshot silently spun through the air, lodging in the creature's chest, then shoulder, then one exploded through one of its eyes. The thing stumbled back with an angry, pained roar.

"Finally," Matthew said loudly. He summoned his glowing sword once more, but this time it glowed with a pulsing, radiant light.

"No more hiding!" Matthew growled as he rushed forward, slicing at the creature's spindly arm with great force. Light crackled with the blow. The blade seared at its bones. It recoiled with another scream, and for a moment withdrew altogether.

"Thomas, take cover!" Matthew shouted, stepping out into the open as he summoned a shield of light as well.

Snapping back to his good senses, Lyall burst out of the bunker through the door. Counting down from ten, he kept his breath even as he stuck close to the side of the shelter. At the other side with the creature, Matthew attacked and yelled relentlessly, keeping its attention firmly on him.

Peering around the corner, Lyall got a clearer view of what they were up against.

It was definitey human-shaped. Its limbs and hands seemed to be stripped of its flesh. An over-sized overcoat swept about its diminished frame in tatters. Over its chest, shoulders, and skull, a thick layer of jagged rime glinted.

The frosty armor first led Lyall to believe it an ice giant of sorts, despite its relatively average size. But its feral methods of attack and crazed, hungry eyes had him leaning more towards Matthew's initial assessment. Wendigo, was it?

Whatever it was, Matthew still had the right idea of an offensive strike. He struck the wendigo's face with a burst of flames. It reared back. Then lunged forward with claw-like hands. It grabbed hold of Matthew's shield and, covering it in a thick layer of spiky ice, tried wrenching it from the hunter's grasp.

The shield dissipated in the creature's claws, and Matthew took a step back. Just as it was about to pounce again, Lyall stepped out and swung both his hands in an arc inward. Following his movement, a wall of fire erupted in front of Matthew. The wendigo leapt away with singed bones.

"Get out of there!" Lyall called to him.

Matthew only drew back slightly, taking the opportunity not to flee, but to cast another spell. He summoned a ball of fire in his hand, letting it grow wildly before he released it, and it exploded in the wendigo's face, catching on the fur around its shoulders.

Pain shot up through Lyall's wrists to his neck. His hands blackened, as though burned. The shield of flames faltered. He bit out a curse as he strained to keep control of it.

With fire still clinging to its coat, the wendigo let out another piercing shriek. A wintery wind billowed, extinguishing the flames. Before Lyall could think another defensive move, a wall of ice burst from the ground, blocking his view of its next attack.

Unthinking, Lyall moved to rush forward. To help in some way, though he wasn't sure how.

He heard a heavy thud against the ice. Then a blinding explosion of fire on the other side. It cast a bright orange light on the forest around them. Or so Lyall had thought.

The ice crumbled, enough to reveal the two at a stand-still. The strong glow emanated from Matthew's blade, which was stuck nearly to the hilt in the creature's chest.

In the light of the summoned sword, the wendigo was revealed to be a standing corpse more than anything. The skin and muscles of its jaw were rotted away so that its teeth showed. The heat of the explosion melted away the armor-like ice from its body. With a bitter gaze fixed on the hunter, and its hands gripping his arm, it weakly hissed.

As the dust of the ice cleared as the burst of light faded, Lyall saw that Matthew was bleeding from a gaping slash across his chest, shoulders, and arms. His eyes fiercely met the wendigo's, and with a feral shout he ripped his sword down the creature's mid-section.

It sliced through slowly, at first. With a low, guttural sound tearing from the back of its throat, it dug its claws into Matthew's arm, too weak to do anything else. Matthew's vicious puncturing was unrelenting.

Lyall watched as the wendigo's spine severed, and two halves of a body split at the base, legs separating with a sickening crunch before the body slumped to the ground like a grotesque, fleshy banana. The rotting innards spilled out at Matt's feet, and the creature's head flopped backwards, its shoulders and head the only things left intact.

The head stared out vaguely in Lyall's direction, eyes wide, lifeless and vacant.

Matthew stood in the wendigo's place, the blood-red sword still in his hands as blood seeped through his clothes, dark and red.

He was frozen, rigid, and huffing loudly. His ragged breath collected in clouds in front of his face.

Lyall silently gaped at the corpse. Then snapped his mouth shut as he looked to Matthew. The sight of blood staining the hunter's clothes shifted his focus from the gore on the ground to the fact that Matthew needed medical assistance.

So Lyall shook himself back to his senses, enough to try to help. He held out his hands in a placating gesture as he slowly approached.

"You can," he started, voice thinner than he'd have liked, "put away the glowy sword thing now."

Matthew stood frozen, eyes locked on the dead body. Lyall noted his hands were still tight around the hilt of the spectral sword, but a few seconds after Lyall spoke, Matthew finally blinked, and the adrenaline-focused haze over his eyes broke.

The sword dissipated like dust, and Matthew staggered back a step.

Lyall took another step closer, trying his best to not startle. "Very good, Mister Matthew," he said, managing to keep his voice level. "I'd like to help you with your wounds now. May I?"

Matthew was breathing heavily, and as Lyall approached, he seemed to flinch at first, but steadied himself.

"I should... make sure it's dead," he said, sounding, admittedly, very detached from his present reality.

Lyall couldn't help but huff a laugh. "It's quite dead, I promise you."

Without the blade's light, Lyall conjured his own little orb to help him more precisely assess the damage. The slash marks in his coat were frenzied. The wendigo attacked like a rabid animal; uncoordinated and utterly feral.

Matthew suddenly reached around and started unbuckling the combat vest he had on, shouldering its slashed remains off onto the ground. It appeared that the wendigo had managed to slash through Matthew's several layers of clothing and even what looked like light armor underneath.

Lyall uttered an incredulous curse under his breath. "Alright, sit down," he instructed as he quickly made his way back to the bunker.

Matthew was still peeling off his shredded layers of clothing, but at the instruction, he swayed and partially fell down to his knees, catching himself.

Lyall jogged back with his own bag in hand. He dug through for medical supplies (which he thankfully had the forethought to bring with him this evening) as he knelt down in front of Matthew.

The hunter had stripped of all top layers, giving them full view of the fresh wounds from the wendigo. Lyall found himself switching on auto-pilot as he deftly worked to stop up active bleeding and sanitize as best he could.

In the middle of wiping away excess blood, he paused for a split-second when he noticed the multitude of scars that covered Matthew's body.

Matthew muttered something unintelligible, weakly waving his hand in front of his chest. Words didn't always need to be clear in order for a spell to work. The worst of his current wounds closed up enough to drastically decrease blood loss.

Lyall nodded. "Excellent," he murmured. With a gentler tone, he added, "You really are quite the expert, Mister Matthew."

"You can... just call...me Matt," the man said between labored breaths.

Lyall grinned faintly. "I'd offer that you call me 'Tom' in exchange, but it just doesn't fit."

"Are you a doctor?" Matt asked, looking Lyall over with semi-glazed eyes. "Or just... pretending?"

Shrugging, Lyall reached for the gauze now that Matt was cleaned up. "Suppose you could call me a master pretender," he answered, oddly truthful. "I'm not a doctor. Anymore."

Scooting over to Matt's side, he carefully wrapped the hunter's chest. Cut the gauze, then tied it off. Moved on to the next largest set of cuts on Matt's arms. Lyall worked quick, methodical.

"Anymore," Matthew echoed, though it was at least a minute delayed.

He'd lost a lot of blood.

"So you were," Matthew said faintly. "At one point."

"Even half-alive, you're very astute," Lyall said. Setting himself back directly in front of Matthew, he went on, "I haven't practiced in years, so I don't have all the resources to help you to the full extent you may need." He paused before adding, "We should probably take you into town. Visit the doctor there."

Matthew let out a laugh, but it turned into a weak cough.

"I'll be fine," he said. "I can heal myself more tomorrow."

"'Fine'?" Lyall echoed incredulously. Then glanced off, and had to concede, "Right, that's a way of going about it."

Looking sideways, he glimpsed at the torn up corpse on the ground. His stomach churned a little, so he quickly looked back to the hunter. "Where's your place, then? I'll help you to it."

Matthew huffed through his nose, his warm breath creating another small cloud around his face.

"Can't," he said. "It's got a hole in it now."

Lyall blinked at him. "It's...?" He looked over his shoulder to the busted-in bunker wall. "By the fates," he mumbled slowly, "you were living there."

"I told you," Matt said weakly. "I wasn't staying in Curio. Where else did you think I was staying?"

"I don't--" Lyall shook his head at the pitiful structure. "Maybe a sort of abandoned cabin out here? Like some sort of... I don't know!"

Matthew let out another pained laugh and reached up to hold his side, wincing slightly as he leaned forward, looking a little less than stable. Lyall reached out and slipped a steadying arm around the hunter.

"I've been here three months," Matt said. "I didn't build a cabin."

"I didn't assume you built it," Lyall corrected, "just took up residence like...a badger in an abandoned burrow. I don't know, do badgers live in the ground?"

"You've never heard of camping," Matt said flatly. "Have you?"

Lyall laughed.

Before he could fire back another witty response, though, a spotlight flicked on somewhere behind them. Lyall nearly jumped out of his skin, and he instinctively held Matt more firmly.

"Ow," Matt said flatly, gently shoving Lyall away.

At that, Lyall stuck both hands skyward in surrender and declared, "I'm innocent!"

Matt fell forward, catching himself on his elbows with a pained grunt.

"Shut up," Matt growled lowly. "If it's local authorities, screaming 'I'm innocent' only makes you look culpable."

"Well, maybe they're at least less likely to get me if I'm not saying, 'I'm guilty'," Lyall shot back, keeping his voice low.

"Brilliant," Matt muttered, pushing himself back up, though his jaw was clenched, his whole body rigid with pain as he turned to the source of the light.

Lyall had another retort ready, but bit his tongue now. Matt was right; if this was law enforcement, the less said aloud, the better.

There was a long moment where no one said or did anything. When heavy footsteps slowly approached, Lyall was tempted to bolt.

"I have...so many questions," a quiet voice said, almost groaning.

Lyall frowned slightly as he twisted around to see who found them.

Squinting against what were actually the high beams of a vehicle, he could only really see that the man was quite tall. His shoulders sloped downward a little, reinforcing the impression of sheer exhaustion--rather than sheer terror. Which possibly meant either this was man was indeed law enforcement, familiar with The Horrors, or a... Lyall couldn't think of what else.

"Ever heard of a wendigo?" Matt asked casually, looking up at the man from his place on the ground.

The man stopped in his tracks. "Those are just myth," he said, tone tentative.

Lyall couldn't help but scoff aloud at that.

Matt looked back at the fallen wendigo, then back at the tall man.

"Understandable. Go see for yourself, then," Matt said plainly, pointing behind him.

"I can see it," the man answered simply.

It was a hard thing to miss.

The headlights were turned down to regular running lights, which Lyall found much more reasonable. And allowed for them to more clearly see the man. In a hooded sweatshirt and...plaid pants? Pajamas.

Right. It was rather an ungodly hour, wasn't it?

"I assume you're one of the park rangers," Matt said. "Or the sheriff?"

"Uhm. More like...." The man shrugged a little helplessly. "...animal control. I don't know whether I have authority to arrest you or not, so you can put your hands down, kiddo."

A little self-conscious, Lyall let his hands drop to his thighs.

The man pointed with his chin at Matt. "Need a layer? Or two?"

Matt glanced down at himself.

"At some point, yes," he said. "We just recently finished getting the bleeding under control. Right before you rolled up, actually."

Reaching into his vehicle, the man commented, "Good timing, I see." He tossed a bundle to Matt.

Matt didn't catch it, though. Instead, it hit him square in the chest and then fell beside him with a thump. Matt looked down at it, but didn't move.

The man gestured to Lyall next. "I think I know you."

Lyall raised both brows challengingly. "Oh?"

Matt looked between the two of them curiously.

The man nodded. "Yeah, some lady at the lodge was worried about you. Said you disappeared by the woods this morning."

"Told you," Matt said, looking to Lyall with a dead-pan expression.

Lyall shot him a half-hearted glare.

Matt half-rolled his eyes and reached down to unfold the bundle beside him, stiffly unfolding what looked like a heavy, patterned sweater and slipping it on.

"So, what," Lyall said, pushing himself to his feet and brushing the dirt from his trousers, "have you been trying to find me all day since?"

"Well." The man awkwardly scratched behind his ear. "Not all day, no..."

He peered past them at the split corpse. Then looked between the two of them, like he was unsure of how to proceed.

"You wouldn't happen to have any shelter nearby, would you?" Matt asked, like it was a suggestion. Though it sounded like Matt's words were starting to slur a little.

Matt leaned to the side, catching his sway with both arms, but Lyall could tell he looked faint, though he was trying not to be.

The man silently nodded at first, then said aloud, "Right. Of course." Closing the distance now, he went to help Matt up. "My house is pretty close by."

Lyall side-stepped away to give them room. Then snatched his light out of the air when he remembered he never extinguished it. The man never made comment on it, so maybe he hadn't noticed.

...Yeah, that was wishful thinking.

"You got names?" the man asked as he slipped an arm around the hunter and hauled him up.

"Matthew," Matt answered quietly as he leaned onto the man for support.

Lyall nodded. "Thomas."

The man nodded likewise before walking Matt toward the car. "I'm Caspar."

"Thanks for the help, Caspar," Matt said. "Sorry about the mess."

Caspar huffed a tired laugh. "Yeah, no, you've still got some answering to do. Don't thank me yet."

"Fair enough," Matt said quietly.

Lyall hesitated. He glanced over his shoulder, to the trees past the corpse.

With both men in front of him preoccupied and with their backs turned, it...really could be very easy to just slip away. Though he didn't know the woods...

He looked back in the direction of the car. Matt looked over his shoulder at Lyall, meeting his eyes.

"If you don't mind, Thomas," Caspar called, "I'd prefer if you both came. This forest isn't safe right now."

"You're telling me there's more than one of those?" Matt slurred.

Caspar stammered. "Not exactly. I-- It's just better that you're both. Not out here."

"Caspar," Matt said as he was helped into the car. "Would you mind... getting my bag?"

"Yeah, of course," Caspar quickly answered, and hopped right to it.

Lyall managed to suppress a sigh as he made his way to the car. As Caspar passed him on his way to the bunker, Lyall finally got a clear, up-close view of his face. With a double-take, he watched the man duck into the bunker.

Oh, damn. Lyall knew this guy.
Last edited by urbanhart on Wed May 31, 2023 2:46 am, edited 1 time in total.

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soundofmind says...

Last edited by soundofmind on Tue May 23, 2023 7:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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soundofmind says...

[i uh. posted in the wrong rp. wow]
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Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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soundofmind says...

[hah. oh well]
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Thu May 25, 2023 11:37 pm
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urbanhart says...

Caspar drove them east, away from the lake, along a vague path he'd driven many times to and from Curio. It was also a winding, bumpy path, for which he felt very apologetic. Matthew was...really banged up, to say the least. When Caspar checked the rearview mirror, the man looked pretty pale.

As promised, though, his cabin really was quite close by. Small mercies.

They pulled up by the front porch. Caspar went to help Matthew out of the backseat.

"Door's unlocked," he told Thomas. "Please wait at the table."

Thomas mumbled a, "Sure," before hopping out.

Caspar carefully wrapped an arm around Matthew the same way as before, then slung the man's bag over his own shoulder. "Sorry about the ride here," he said softly.

"It's fine," Matt muttered quietly, sliding out of the vehicle and tentatively setting his feet on the ground.

As he led the way up the front steps, Caspar murmured an idle warning for the man to watch his step. Then added, "Lucky for you, there's a spare room right on the first floor."

Other than a small stumble at the top--for which Matthew let out a deep sigh as he leaned more into Caspar's side-- they made it inside without much hassle.

Rather than waiting at the table as instructed, Thomas opted to wander around the dining/living area. He looked for all the world like a visitor at an art museum, pursing his lips as he examined the supplies and artwork hung on the walls.

"At the table," Caspar repeated, more firmly, as he led Matthew to the guest room beyond.

"Alright, alright," Thomas sighed.

"Am I not staying for this conversation?" Matt asked, sounding absent.

"I don't think you're in any state to have this conversation yet," Caspar retorted tiredly.

Thankfully, Matt didn't object to it.

"Alright," he said, barely audible.

Caspar flicked on the light of the guest room, then eased Matthew down onto the bed. Matt tucked his legs up onto the bad and laid down with a groan.

"I should be... better after I rest," Matthew said faintly.

Caspar huffed through his nose at the ridiculousness of the reassurance. He tugged the blanket from under Matthew's legs, then over. "Of course you will," he said amiably, setting Matthew's bag down by the nightstand. "I'm expecting a very productive conversation by then."

"Productive," Matthew slurred, his eyes half-open. "Right."

The poor guy was fading right before Caspar's eyes. Hardly a surprise. He'd just barely survived a wendigo attack. Whether or not one was armed with magic, such an encounter, more often than not, was fatal. The disappearances in the past months were plenty proof of that.

Caspar made a mental note to check on him semi-frequently. Tone softening, he bid him a quiet, "Rest easy," before switching off the light and slipping out of the room.

He closed the door, then scrubbed both hands over his face with a low, long groan. Unable to really think, other than that he really was not awake for any of this.

Somewhere in the dining/living area, Thomas cleared his throat. "Apologies for the disturbance."

Drawing in a deep breath, Caspar just shook his head as he joined Thomas at the table. "S'fine," he said. "You're not hurt, are you?"

Sitting straighter with his hands tucked in his pockets, Thomas offered a small smile. "Quite alright. I'm assuming the..." He tilted his head. "...You were awoken?"

"By the explosion, yeah," Caspar confirmed. "Which one of you caused that?"

Quietly, Thomas briefly glanced past him. Then turned a more intense gaze back to Caspar and asked instead, "Where are you from? I can't quite place your accent."

He slowly blinked at him. "I don't believe that's relevant--"

"That's fine," Thomas said breezily, "I'll figure it out eventually. How long have you been around Curio?"

At that, Caspar frowned. "I'd...like to ask the questions here--"

"How about this, then?" Thomas leaned forward and steepled his hands over the table-- hands that seemed. Charcoal-stained? Burnt? "We'll take turns asking and answering. An even exchange--"

"You said you weren't hurt," Caspar said, brows furrowing in concern.

"That's right, I'm not," Thomas said smoothly.

Glancing between his blackened hands and the man's challenging stare, Caspar was still doubtful, but didn't further press.

"Or," he slowly countered, "you just. Answer my questions, since you're the one who woke me up to begin with, and you're currently in my home, which I won't hesitate to boot you back out of--outside with gods-know-what lives out there-- should you refuse to cooperate?"

Thomas's grin only grew. Caspar could count the amount of people who tested his patience like this on one, maybe both hands, and Thomas was now already among that number.

"You don't strike me as the tough, heartless sort," Thomas practically lilted.

Leaning heavily on his elbows and clasping his hands together, Caspar pursed his lips. "Try me."

There was a long silence. Thomas didn't budge. Caspar evenly held his confident gaze. Though, the longer this quiet stretched, the more evident his bluff became.

Caspar desperately wished that Matthew was in a better state, and thus able to help this process along.

Thomas eventually just shot him another cocky smile. Heaving a great sigh to demonstrate just how much of an inconvenience he was being, Caspar dragged himself back to his feet and shuffled into the kitchen.

"Tea?" he tiredly offered. "Coffee?"

"Coffee would be nice," Thomas answered pleasantly.


They sat in uncomfortable silence for maybe a little over an hour before the door to the guest room opened. Matthew, though still looking like he'd been freshly put back and forth through the wringer, was definitely steadier than before. He'd also donned an actual shirt underneath the sweater Caspar lent him.

Stepping into the room, Matthew marched over to the table slowly.

"Ill-fitting length and clashing styles aside," Thomas said cheerfully, "civilian-wear looks nice on you."

Matthew shot Thomas a pointed glare, and with a jerky movement, pulled out the other chair at the table across from him, sat down, and looked to Caspar.

"You have questions," Matthew said curtly, cutting past the commentary and pleasantries.

Caspar nodded, then slid a glass of water over to Matthew. "And some answers would be greatly appreciated, if you feel up for it."

Matthew shot a look to Thomas, narrowing his eyes at him.

Thomas just blinked back at him. "What?"

"I was out for how long?" Matthew asked. "And you told him what? Nothing?"

Shrugging, Thomas at least had the decency to look somewhat sheepish. "I was thinking we should have... Go into this as a unified front, you know?"

Matthew narrowed his eyes further, pressing his lips into a line. He looked over to Caspar again, the look of suspicion fading into weariness.

"So we're starting at square one," Matthew said.

To be honest, Caspar was surprised they were being so compliant. If he were completely honest, he didn't think he had any authority to question them like this, even on the job. So, as much as he wanted for them to wait for an actual officer to come by and take this out of his hands, Caspar felt it best to get what information he could while the two were here and willing.

"I..." He nodded. "You may have to. Though I think I have an idea of what's happening as far as that wendigo is concerned, I have a very incomplete picture of how you both ended up there."

"I came into this forest with the sole intention of finding the creature - that I suspected to be of a mythical nature - that was behind the string of dissapearances in Curio," Matthew answered plainly.

"So you're a monster hunter?" Caspar asked.

"In essence," Matthew said.

Caspar looked to Thomas. "And you're...?"

Thomas leaned back in his chair. "You can just call me a researcher."

Caspar nodded. Though they were (finally) giving him information freely, they were still being awfully cryptic about it. He turned back to Matthew. "Curio's fairly small and remote. How'd you hear about the disappearances?"

"I am, admittedly, obsessively thorough in keeping up with recent events that even slightly smell of supernatural activity," Matthew said. "I went out of my way to come here and see it for myself after reading an article published online by a relative of one of the missing persons and doing some more research."

That was believable, actually. Caspar would have to head into town, then. Do a little fact checking and ask around to be sure.

"I came to meet up with a research partner," Thomas offered unprompted. "Ran into Matthew by chance on the way, and offered to help."

"And I recall seeing you around downtown," Caspar said. He gestured to Matthew. "You came through once...about a couple months ago?"

"Yes," Matthew said. "I've been camping out here since. Knowingly entering areas that were off limits, I know, but, alas. That was where I expected the monster to be."

A pause.

"And I wasn't wrong," he added.

So, Matthew wasn't permitted access to the trail or beyond. Something that Caspar will have to address, but not yet.

"Shouldn't you be writing this down?" Thomas asked abruptly.

Caspar looked at him flatly. "I'll remember."

"Will you, though?" Thomas pressed.

"Are you being obtuse on purpose?" Matthew snapped at Thomas.

Thomas just shrugged, unapologetic. His tone didn't feel antagonistic or intentionally obnoxious, but the comment still felt like an attack all the same. And Caspar wasn't quite sure how to respond to it. So he didn't.

"Have you two been in contact with anybody else about this? Anymore...buddies involved?"

"No," Matthew said flatly.

Thomas clutched at his heart. "You wound me, Mister Matthew. I thought we make a good team."

"You saved my life," Matthew said, looking to Thomas intensely. "For which I am grateful, and in your debt. But it makes you no less irksome."

Thomas sighed woefully. "I'll take it."

Caspar huffed a laugh. Then downed the rest of his now-cold coffee and mustered what little brain power he had left, since he was felt himself running very low on steam.

"Did either of you know the wendigo prior to tonight?" he eventually asked.

"No," Matthew said. "I'd been hunting it for months, but it wasn't until Thomas joined me last night that it finally made an appearance. That was the first I'd seen it."

Propping his elbow on the table and resting his chin in his palm, Caspar hummed quietly in thought.

These two both had magic. Matthew had to have healed himself at least a little, and Thomas seemed to use a small charm spell to provide some light.

"And who found who?" Caspar asked. Then clarified, "Were you the ones to find it, or did it find you?"

Matthew looked to Thomas.

"I was out there for three months," Matthew said more deliberately. "Searching for it actively. But last night, it found us."

But Matthew's eyes stayed on Thomas in particular.

Caspar followed Matthew's gaze. Thomas, for his part, glanced off uncomfortably, looking utterly confused.

"...It found Thomas," Caspar concluded. "Who I'm starting to believe is not very good at being a wizard."

Thomas cast him an indignant glare. "I beg your pardon--"

"Denied," Caspar deadpanned.

Matthew snorted at that, covering his mouth. At that, Thomas looked downright betrayed.

"Sorry," Matthew muttered.

Caspar couldn't help but huff a laugh. Then sighed as he scrubbed at his eyes again. He felt he had enough information by now; anymore, and his head would surely implode.

"Well," he mumbled, "I'm not exactly on duty, so I can't make you stay." He folded his arms on the table and shrugged a shoulder. "But I do strongly urge you to, while it's still dark anyway."

Thomas tilted his chin up with some suspicion. "...That's it?"

Matthew pushed out his chair, and it screeched across the floor under him. He got to his feet.

"I'll assume this kindness has a time limit," Matthew said. "Any other conditions?"

Caspar glanced up at the ceiling in thought. Before he could answer, though, Thomas cut in.

"I'm sorry, what makes this--" And Thomas gestured broadly at the room. "--shack in the deep woods, safe?"

"Because I say it is," Caspar said simply as he rose to his feet as well.

To Matthew, he answered, "No conditions, really. Just, don't go upstairs because it's a loft space; that's where I sleep. I don't mind if you get hungry, just clean up after yourselves. Know that I will have to report all of this eventually, and my boss will probably want a personal looksie, A-S-A-P. So if you want to avoid a run-in with the law, then leave by sunrise."

"I'll be gone before then, I assure you," Matthew said.

"Yes," Thomas piped up, "thank you for your generosity. I shan't impose any longer than necessary."

Caspar nodded and gave them a thumbs-up. He went to head upstairs, paused, then turned back. "Also, help yourself to the medical supplies in the bathroom, and snacks for the road. Please don't take anything aside from those."

"The bathroom is where?" Matthew asked, glancing around the room.

"Uh, right." Caspar leaned over the table and pointed his arm to the kitchen. "You have to go through there to reach it."

There was a beat of awkward silence as he debated whether he should leave them. Thomas was giving him another one of those odd looks that made Caspar feel self-conscious. Or maybe he should be keeping an eye on that fellow in turn, for fear of the strange little man plotting...

Maybe Caspar's, uh, gesture of goodwill as a fellow...whatever the term they preferred was, would be incentive enough for them to not cause anymore trouble. It was a risk he decided he'd have to take. He hadn't slept in awhile.

With that, Caspar nodded and waved to them. "Good night. Uh, morning, rather." Then he headed up to at least try and catch a little more sleep before the inevitable.

Was it wise to leave two strangers downstairs, unattended? No, probably not. It never was. It'd ended poorly before.

Caspar lied down with an ear turned to the door. He caught faint sounds of a hushed conversation. Nothing that sounded particularly conspiratorial. Facing the dreamcatcher hanging from the pitched ceiling, he eventually fell into a fitful sleep.

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soundofmind says...

When Caspar finally disappeared, James waited a few moments, staring down the way he'd gone, listening for silence. He wondered how thick the walls were, and how easily sound traveled. He had a feeling if they stepped outside that sound would travel even farther than inside the small cabin, so if they were going to talk about anything, now would be the best time.

If James was being frank, he didn't want to stay the night. But after the near-death experience with the wendigo, he was spent. He needed a full night's rest before he could exert any more healing spells that would be worthwhile - as anything he could manage at this point wouldn't accomplish anything noticeable.

Resigned to stay for at least a full rem-cycle's worth of hours, James let out a long, deep sigh, and turned to look at Thomas from across the table.

"I'm going to the restroom," he said.

He doubted over-the-counter painkillers like tylenol and ibuprofen would do anything, but he needed something.

His whole body ached, and he needed to lie down again. He could at least admit that.

Slowly - because he couldn't bother to move fast and pretend - he walked through the narrow, galley-like kitchen. Thomas followed close behind him, then stopped at the pantry.

"How do you know so much about wendigos?" he asked, tone conversational as he picked through what sounded like cans.

James paused in his footsteps, looking over his shoulder. Pointing at him with a soup can in hand, Thomas leaned on the pantry door with a pleasant smile.

"Or, the better question would be, did you know that that one in particular would be able to smell me out like a bloodhound?" he clarified. "Or was that a happy, accidental discovery?"

James stared at Thomas, not letting any expression show on his face as he let out a sigh.

"I had a hunch," James said quietly. "A wendigo was only one of the many options I'd considered as the cause of the disturbance. But I was not confident or clear on what was actually out there. I apologize that it did smell you out like a bloodhound. But I did everything I could to make sure it didn't harm you. I had no malicious intent in extending you the invitation to come along."

At that, Thomas deflated and murmured, "I'll concede as much." Aloud and oddly sincere, he added, "You fought valiantly." He then turned away in search of something, in the cupboard, under the table.

James watched him carefully, leaning on the kitchen doorframe that led into the hall where the bathroom was behind him.

He'd grabbed a soup can. He was probably hungry and looking for something to heat it up with.

"On the wall," James said, looking at the pop hanging on a hook.

Bumping his head on the underside of the table, Thomas straightened and twisted around. "Brilliant," he said. Snatching it from its hook, he lit a small flame in the wood stove with a flame from his fingertip, then threw on the pot.

James watched for a moment as Thomas opened the can and the coagulated chicken-noodle soup came out with a splat. The smell was a little unpleasant, but such was the nature of chicken-noodle soup.

Thomas made a face of disdain at its semi-solid state. "Modern cuisine," he mumbled.

Modern cuisine indeed.

James stared at the chunk of soup a few seconds longer as the stove top started to heat up, but the weariness in his body started to seep in again.

Turning, he slipped out of the kitchen and found the bathroom.

It was small; a little crowded for him, so he could only imagine how much more cramped it probably felt for Caspar, who was quite a bit taller than him. Everything in the cabin looked rather dated, as well, like it'd all been furnished in the 50's, and nothing had been renovated since.

The sink had mineral stains around the drainage hole, and James noted the cobwebs in the corners of the ceiling.

He wondered how long Caspar had been living here. And he couldn't help but wonder how Caspar and Thomas allegedly knew each other. Or at least, Thomas knew Caspar. And if he did, then it was probably as James suspected: Caspar was an immortal too, which means Caspar couldn't have been in Curio that long. Such was the way of immortals who lived among normal human society.

You couldn't stay anywhere too long before people got suspicious. It was hard not to, when you didn't age and everyone else around you did.

Then again, maybe it was a reach to say Caspar was an immortal. Maybe Thomas met Caspar only a few years ago. James couldn't just assume.

But Caspar had been so unfazed. By everything.

Thomas's magic. The wendigo. He'd even referred to Thomas as a wizard. Either Caspar had magic himself, or he was very well aquainted with people who were. Enough, at least, to say something like that so casually.

James leaned on the sink with a groan, looking into the old, hazy mirror with a sigh.

He looked a right mess.

Some of his camouflage face-paint had smudged around his eyes, mixing with splatters of blood, probably both his and the wendigo's. Blood splatter had dried along his neck and shoulders as well, and his pants got the worst of it, since all of the slashes had dripped down him. His hat stuck to his head, and he could feel how messy and sweaty his hair had gotten under it.

He hadn't even really been in the right mind to change when he was brought in. He supposed he couldn't blame himself. Severe blood loss made it difficult for anyone to have a clear frame of mind.

James shook his head and checked the drawers under the sink for the medical supplies and painkillers Caspar mentioned. He found aspirin, which was probably the best he could get anyway.

He hastily opened the bottle and popped two in his mouth, swallowing.

He didn't want to had to redo all of his bandaging, but he needed to wash up - his face and hair, at least - so he left the bathroom and walked back into the kitchen.

Passing Thomas, who was still staring at his melting soup, James asked: "Did you see where he put my bag?"

Delayed, Thomas looked up. "Hm? Oh, in the guest room."

With a nod, James traced his steps back to the guest room, finding his backpack on the floor. Just as quickly as he walked in, he picked it up and marched back to the bathroom, breezing past Thomas.

"You don't need to go to the bathroom, do you?" James asked as he passed.

"All yours," Thomas answered smoothly, still deeply contemplating the warming pot.

Within a few long steps, James was gone, and back in the bathroom again. He locked the door behind him, plopping down to sit on the lid of the toilet as he set his backpack on the only space on the floor, digging into it to find a spare change of clothes so he could return the sweater he was wearing to Caspar.

He didn't want to accidentally bleed through to it, either, in the event that happened. It wasn't his sweater to ruin.

So he peeled it off, and slipped off his boots, his shirt, and got the shower going. It sputtered at first, the pipes squealing with a high pitched ring before the water suddenly came out. Freezing cold.

James had a feeling there wasn't going to be any hot water, so he would just have to tough it out like he always did.

He slipped off his hat, undid his ponytail, and carefully stuck his head under the low showerhead, letting the freezing water shock him, sending a shiver down his spine. He shook his head quickly, feeling more awake as the cold made him jolt.

He didn't waste time, and he quickly went about washing his hair and face, borrowing the shampoo and soap Caspar had in the bathroom. He washed his feet, and used a washcloth to get the areas around all of the tender wounds, so at least he didn't feel so grimy.

Hurrying, because he didn't want to stay freezing, he took a towel and dried himself off as much as he could and then hastily put on a clean set of clothes, putting on a few layers - probably overcompensating for how cold he felt - but he didn't care at the moment.

With his hair still a little damp, because there wasn't much he could do about that, he stuffed his dirty clothes into a small travel-sized laundry bag and then tucked Caspar's sweater under one arm, carrying his backpack with the other.

Passing through the kitchen once more, Thomas was leaning back against the counter with a warm bowl in hand. He cast James a quick grin. "Oh, wow! An actual face under all that camo."

"Shocking, I'm sure," James said as he passed him. Again. He went to the guest room one more time, dumped his things on the floor, folded the sweater and left it on top of the dresser, and then turned around.

Finally returning to the kitchen a final time, James found the only stood at the edge of the counter and sat, finding himself too tired to bother with standing. He leaned onto the counter with both arms folded, and let out a small sigh before he looked up at Thomas, leaning on the counter across from him.

"So," James said. "What's wrong with your magic?"

The scraping of his spoon in the bowl stopped abruptly. James expected as much.

"I've been using magic," Thomas said, voice even. "What makes you assume something's wrong?"

"When we were fighting the wendigo," James said. "You couldn't hold the spell. It didn't seem like it was for lack of experience."

Thomas tapped his spoon on the edge of his bowl. "Maybe I'm just rusty," he countered.

"Maybe," James said with a shrug. "It appears it's a sensitive subject. Sorry for asking."

A beat of silence.

"It's a fair question," Thomas said, softer. "I apologize that I haven't contributed much else."

"I don't fault you for it," James said honestly. "I'm just glad we both made it out of there alive. And I'm sorry I brought you into it. I know I tried to warn you of how dangerous it was, but maybe I should have been more upfront about what I thought we might be dealing with."

Thomas snorted at that. "I wouldn't have taken 'no' for an answer, anyhow. Don't blame yourself for that."

"For your stubbornness?" James said with a smirk. "Oh. I don't blame myself for that at all."

Humming a laugh, Thomas set aside the bowl and crossed his arms. His already-faint smile fading, he said, "I highly recommend you stay past sunrise, by the way. Even with healing spells, you really should rest longer."

James huffed.

"And you?" he asked. "Are you staying?"

Thomas glanced up at the low ceiling. "...I'm not sure if I should impose on our unwitting host like that, considering I'm fine and dandy."

"Uh huh," James said quietly, still watching Thomas closely.

Thomas hadn't had any problems imposing on James's time and space. So what was different about Caspar?

"This wouldn't have anything to do with you allegedly knowing him 'from somewhere,' would it?" James asked.

"Now what would that have to do with anything?" Thomas challenged. "He maybe saw me this past month, once or twice."

"That's what he said," James said. "But you never where you knew him from. Have you met the man before? Before being in Curio?"

Thomas tilted his head, looking like he was deciding how to respond. Then settled for, "Fine, yeah. I knew him from before Curio, but apparently it didn't quite leave a lasting impression on him. Which." He shrugged. "In the grand scheme of things, sure. You can't remember every single person you meet throughout multiple lifetimes. People just don't have that capacity."

James hummed.

"Right," he said.

But he didn't want to press further. It seemed like Thomas, despite being talktative, wasn't very willing to divulge a lot of personal information - at least, not in detail. And James couldn't blame him, because he was much the same. All he really had wanted to know was if Caspar was, indeed, like them, and he'd gotten as much from Thomas's answer. So he'd back off.

"I guess we'll see if I remember you in a few decades, then," he decided to say, using a joke to turn the conversation a different direction.

"Assuming that throwing yourself headlong toward certain death isn't a nasty habit of yours," Thomas agreed breezily, "we'll see."

James let out a small laugh, looking to the side with a small nod in concession.

"Yes," he said. "We'll see."
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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urbanhart says...

Once Matthew had at last retired for the night, Lyall drifted back out into the living area. There wasn't much by way of literature or. Any form of enrichment, aside from a set of pencils and large paper off to the side. He figured he shouldn't touch those, at least. Not that Caspar ever minded lending, but Lyall really didn't want to take up any more resources than absolutely necessary.

Eventually, he did find a collection of magazines and newspapers tucked away in the side table. With no connection or common theme, the magazines seemed picked at random. For the hell of it, he sat down with one the couch and paged through. From the notes and drawn-over photos, he gathered some were visual source materials, and then they made more sense.

Lyall seemed to often find himself in the company of lone wilderness men. He wasn't sure what to make of that, because he certainly didn't find the forest a suitable living space.

This forest in particular was quite uninhabitable. It had wendigos, which he hadn't even known about until this past evening, and some sort of leviathan creature right in the lake. And apparently other vague threats, according to Caspar. Lyall meant to ask more about that, but the man, despite not just coming out of a brutal fight like Matt, looked half-dead on his feet. So he didn't.

So Lyall was left to wonder just how deep in the Wilds Curio actually was.

Thunder clapped outside. Lyall lifted his head in time to catch a flash of lightning through the swaying black trees.

Huh. Guess he'll have time to ask come morning.

He didn't know when exactly, but he'd let one of the magazines drop to the floor when he did fall asleep. Lyall didn't wake up cold, though.

Bleary-eyed, he tilted his head up again. Then dropped back down with an 'oof' and a crick in his neck. Uncurling, he straightened up. A blanket that he didn't remember using fell from his shoulders to his lap. Huh.

The room was still rather gloomy, from the persisting storm. Out the window, there was some light that suggested it was daytime. A live fire crackled in the fireplace across from him, keeping the cabin comfortable.

"You're still here," Caspar said from the table behind him.

Ah. The blanket was courtesy of his host. Lyall tried slowly stretching away the stiffness. "Yeah, well so's the storm. Which I didn't prepare for."

Caspar only hummed before taking a long sip from his mug.

"What," Lyall asked, "you're not going to boot me out, tough guy?"

Another noncommittal hum. "Only if you test me."

Looking over his shoulder, Lyall suppressed an aching sigh as he reminded himself about the statistics of human memories.

The door to the guest room opened with a tired creak.

Matt stepped out into the living room, and immediately, Lyall knew he should be back in bed. Matt was hunched over, not-so-subtly using the wall for support as he inched out, looking half awake and clearly tense with pain.

"You look like hell," Lyall said plainly.

Matt didn't look at either of them as he seemed to be crawling his way towards the bathroom. He grunted in reply.

They silently watched him disappear around the corner.

"Isn't there..." Caspar asked quietly, "...healing incantations or something?"

With a pang of guilt, Lyall hummed. "Don't know any."

The toilet flushed down the hall, and they could hear the lid slam down just before the sink started running. All of the pipes seemed to squeal at a low frequency.

Lyall turned another assessing eye toward the walls and ceiling. "How old is this place?"

"I'm...not sure," Caspar answered honestly. "It was in rough shape when I found it."

Like it could be worse than this.

Folding up his legs as he sat facing backwards on the couch, Lyall then studied the side of Caspar's face. "And when did you find it?"

Caspar shrugged, pointedly avoiding looking his direction now. "A little while ago, I don't know exactly."

That was. Unsurprisingly unhelpful. Lyall wasn't sure if he was being purposely vague, or if he truly couldn't recall. If the latter, then there might be cause for actual concern.

The bathroom door creaked open, and they could hear Matt's slow, heavy steps approaching.

It took a lot longer than Lyall expected for Matt to appear in the doorway. His breath was short as he leaned on the doorframe. He finally looked up to Lyall and Caspar. Caspar gestured to the nearest chair at the table. Lyall shook his head.

"Mmm, no," he said, "he really ought to get more rest."

"I'm right here," Matt said.

Lyall grimaced. "Right." Then amended, "You really ought to get more rest."

"I'm hungry," Matt said, then looked to Caspar. "If it's not too much trouble."

Caspar shook his head and amicably answered, "Not at all. What do you feel like?" He stood up and gestured again to the table.

"Something warm," Matt said. "I'm not picky."

Lightly patting his back as he squeezed past, Caspar hummed. "That can be arranged."

Matt looked like he was leaning very heavily into the doorframe, but he said nothing more.

Lyall pursed his lips. "How're the bandages?"

"Hm?" Matt said, looking up at him. It appeared he'd spaced out for a moment.

"Have you changed the bandages?" Lyall asked, a little louder for good measure.

Matt's face seemed to subtly scrunch up at the louder sound. Oop, too loud.

"Not yet," Matt muttered.

Lyall cleared his throat. "Apologies." Then he hopped over the back of the couch, and rounded the table to come around to Matt's side. "You should sit, at the very least."

Matt looked over at Lyall, and it was like all of his reactions were a bit delayed. His gaze drifted from Lyall to the couch.

"Sure," Matt said slowly.

He pushed himself off from the doorway and swayed, walking forward. Though he wasn't really in the habit of hovering, Lyall kept close. Fortunately, Matt didn't fall, but he did lower himself onto the couch with a pained grunt. Lyall noted that Matt's hand jerked up to his side, hovering over one of the deeper slash wounds.

Guilt twisted inside Lyall's chest again. He truly wished he could've done more to help, to prevent the exact kind of disaster he ended up drawing toward them.

"You're still here," Matt said lowly.

Lyall scoffed. "Trust me, I would've gone by now had it not been for the storm."


He really needed to figure out what was going on with the mystery writer. It truly was foolish and desperate of him to latch onto false hope like this. But if they were real and here as promised, then he just might be that much closer to sorting out his whole 'broken magic' issue.

Lyall walked the same little circle around the room, looking at the same generic art on the walls. Some reprints, probably, of scenes of nature. Seemed a bit much, since they were already surrounded by it.

Caspar re-emerged from the kitchen with a bowl of hot oatmeal in hand. Perching on the table in front of Matt, he held it out to him.

Matt took it - with the subtlest strain in his face as he moved his arms - and set the bowl in his lap.

"Thank you," Matt said quietly.

Caspar just nodded his acknowledgement.

At that, Matt merely began to eat his oatmeal slowly.

As he paced, Lyall glanced between the two, thinking of how they'd get along swell in each other's near-silent company. Only ever speaking in monosyllabic sentences, probably while fishing or something. Even at this lake, leviathan and all.

Which brought back to mind those unspecified nightly threats, and the wendigo corpse. And everything else that these entailed.

Had Caspar called his boss yet? Were they on their way right now, and he hadn't mentioned in order for Matt and Lyall to stay a little longer? Did he anticipate this inclement weather, for that matter? He was taking the extended stay so well, especially compared to the night prior, it made Lyall wonder.

And he never truly answered why this shack was safer than the woods outside. Four walls wouldn't stop a leviathan. Walls didn't stop that wendigo! And Caspar didn't have magic, so what made this place supposedly so protected?

Eventually, Caspar got up to tend to the fire. Matt was still only halfway through his meal. Lyall scanned the room for a way to check the time. Then paused when he saw a peculiar shape in one corner.

Upon closer inspection, he found it was a rune. Not a common practice for the projected era of the furnishings. He looked to the corner adjacent to this one. Another, different symbol etched into the wood. The same for the remaining corners. He couldn't read them, but he did recall a beloved mentor mentioning the protective attributes of these symbols.

"What are you looking for, Thomas?" Matt asked.

"Answers," Lyall declared.

At that, Caspar stood in a slightly irritated manner. "I'm sorry, what are you--"

Lyall waved his hands placatingly. "No, sorry, I'm not snooping." He swept an arm toward the nearest corner. "I'm merely taking notice of your resourcefulness!"

Matt's eyes followed to the corner, but he clearly couldn't see from where he sat. Caspar just stared at Lyall.


Dashing to opposite end of the room, Lyall inched into the corner and pointed for Matt's benefit.

"If you could do me a favor and just explain what you're seeing so I don't have to get up--" Matt said flatly.

"It's a rune," Lyall answered, a bit deflated.

"Oh!" It clicked for Caspar. "I thought you were talking about the snow shoes."

"So that's what you meant by this cabin being safe," Matt mumbled.

Caspar shrugged. "It's worked so far, I guess."

"Where'd you learn about those?" Lyall asked.

With another shrug, Caspar set aside the poker and padded back to the table. "Just picked it up somewhere."

Lyall followed and sat across from him.

"Do you have magic as well?" Matt asked.

"Only when I have the tools for it," Caspar answered.

"Ah. More of a ritual man," Matt said. "I can see why you'd study runes."

Humming, Caspar picked up his mug.

Lyall silently mirrored him, raising his own coffee. "You're quite superstitious for a man raised on a religion that denounces such practices."

Caspar froze before he could take a sip.

Aha. Perhaps this hint was clearer than the first.

Setting his mug back down, Caspar tilted his head as he studied Lyall more closely. With a pleasant grin, Lyall waited.

"What religion would that be?" Caspar asked carefully.

A test. Lyall raised both brows and glanced Matt's way. The hunter managed to turn just a little to observe.

"...The Christian one?" Lyall answered hesitantly.

Caspar's lack of response didn't exactly assure Lyall that he didn't make the wrong move here. He just leaned back and took that delayed sip of coffee.

Setting down his own mug, Lyall politely folded his hands on the table. This silence was tenuous, like he was on thin ice, so he kept quiet.

No one spoke again for a solid moment.

"Clearly you two have met before," Matt said tiredly. "I'm sorry you don't seem to remember it, Caspar. But it's more helpful to put it plainly than to be needlessly cryptic about it."

Lyall sighed. Matt had a knack for cutting the fun short. Though, his directness was best actually, since that was the language Caspar best spoke anyway. The two truly would be well-suited for each other.

Caspar nodded, expression softening a smidge. "That much you've made clear," he said, "I'm just trying to figure out the context. Anyone who'd still know me by now wouldn't be friendly."

"We were," Lyall said quickly. Then added quieter, "Friends."

Caspar's eyes saddened as he stared helplessly at him.

The room fell quiet again.

Norns, Lyall hated this. Coming to Curio was just a complete mistake, then.

"I'll head out as soon as the storm clears," Lyall said.

Matt let out a long, deep sigh from his place on the couch. He set his bowl down on the coffee table in front of him with a clatter and locked eyes with Lyall, his expression an odd mix of stern and weary.

"And leave me here?" Matt asked.

Lyall couldn't help but cast him a mildly incredulous look. Then sighed in defeat. Well-played, Mister Matthew.

"Fine," he said, "but we'll still need to head into town, restock on supplies for your symptoms." He nodded to Caspar. "And the state of your kitchen is downright depressing, and we should fix that."

Caspar looked a little put-upon by that.

Back to Matt: "Now that you've had breakfast, we're changing those bandages, ASAP."

Matt let out a small sigh, but didn't object.

"Here?" Matt asked.

"That would be best."

Lyall hopped to his feet and swung into the kitchen to raid the bathroom cabinet. When he returned, he leapt over the back of the couch and sat on the table in front of Matthew.

Matt half-rolled his eyes as he raised his arms with a wince and pulled off his jacket and turtle-neck simultaneously. He tossed them both on the couch and looked down at himself, where several of the bandages leaked with a fresh, bright red. Evidently, some of the injuries had re-opened.

Matt grumbled something Lyall couldn't make out. Something that wasn't Latin, at least.

"Maybe we should go to the bathroom," Matt muttered. "I don't want to bleed on the couch."

"It's fine," Caspar said reassuringly.

Matt glanced at Caspar, and then looked to Lyall.

"I'm used to having to patch myself up," he said. "But normally my magic is less spent."

"And mine's normally less broken," Lyall added, watching with a sympathetic wince as Matt unwrapped his wounds. "You'll just need to keep taking it easy for now. Recharge a bit."

Past Matt, he caught Caspar's concerned gaze. And Lyall had to huff a wry laugh, because by gods were they all a right mess.

"Aaaand I'm bleeding," Matt announced dully.

He was staring down at one of the larger gashes that cut across his chest. In the deeper part of the wound, it seemed to have opened up again.

"I'm not opposed to cauterizing if you think it'd be a better option," Matt said, still talking about it all too casually.

Lyall nodded reluctantly. "Frankly, that may be best."

Matt sighed.

"...Do you have anything to drink?" Matt asked. The question was clearly directed to Caspar.

Caspar pushed himself to his feet. "Hang tight," he said, ducking into the kitchen.
Last edited by urbanhart on Sat May 27, 2023 1:22 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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soundofmind says...

If James could count his blessings, at the very least, he could say he'd been through worse. Perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, that was not a comfort to most, but for himself, it was a reminder that he'd endured before, and whatever pain he felt at the moment was temporary.

Of course, it helped that he was more than a little tipsy at the moment. It didn't take much of the whiskey to take the edge off, but it was by no means an all-encompassing painkiller, so James still felt the ache of it all. Fortunately, though, it was a dull ache. At least, for now.

He laid back on the couch, a blanket between him and the fabric of the couch.

Thomas advised against any kind of strenuous movement, and apparently that involved putting on a shirt. Cauterization wasn't a fix-all and could still be undone. Thomas seemed to think that James wasn't going to be careful enough to not undo all the work he'd done, and James didn't see the use in arguing. The fire kept the living room warm, and the less moving James had to do, the better.

That said, with the drunkeness settling in fully, he couldn't help but feel the temptation to get up. Fortunately he had enough sense to stay put even as his senses started getting muddled.

Caspar was somewhere behind James, seated at the dining table. From where James laid, all he could see was the top half of Caspar's face. Faintly, he could hear the scratching of a pencil against paper.

James wondered if he was writing, but it was more likely he was drawing, based on what James remembered seeing on the table earlier.

James turned his head to look at Thomas, who sat on the floor, leaning against the couch by James's feet.

He was staring at James.

"What?" James asked.

Thomas just shrugged. "Gotta watch you like a hawk, is all," he said breezily.

James huffed at that.

"A pun," he muttered.

Thomas blinked. "What?"

"Hawke," James said.

With a grin, Thomas prompted, "What about it?"

James blinked slowly, having to rethink what he'd just said. His looked at Thomas with narrowed eyes.

"...I've had too much to drink," James said.

"Probably." Thomas sounded amused. "What about the hawk?"

James let out a long sigh.

"Hawke with an e," he muttered. "Not the bird."

"Oh! Like a name?"


James groaned, raising his arm to rest his hand over his face. Thomas grasped his wrist and tugged it back down to his side.

"I'm an idiot," James grumbled.

"Hey now," Caspar piped up, gently chastising.

James sighed even deeper. But it came out more like a groan.

"I lied to you," James mumbled, half annoyed, and half ashamed. He looked to Lyall but didn't meet his eyes.

Thomas arched a brow. "Oh?"

"...My name," James admitted begrudgingly. "Isn't Matthew."

"Is it Hawke?"

"Surname," James said. "That's my last name. James Hawke."

Thomas cast him a strangely delighted smile. "No middle name?"

"No," James muttered.

Thomas hummed. "Very nice to know. Thank you kindly for sharing."

James stared at Thomas for a moment, studying his stupidly pleased expression with speculation. Again, he narrowed his eyes, staring at him. Thomas's pleasant smile never faltered.

James has a hunch. An educated guess, rather. Because few immortals ever used their real names.

"What's yours?" he asked pointedly.

"Vernest Lambert Watkins," Thomas answered smoothly.

James's mouth curled in dissaproval, unamused.

"Don't make me get up from this couch," he threatened.

With a guffaw, Thomas waved him down. "Fine, fine! Please, stay down for your sake." Drawing up his legs and resting his arms over his knees, he tilted his head back against the couch. "My name is actually Lyall Ashlund. The surname was adjusted for American sensibilities sometime ago."

"What was it before?" James asked.

"Asklund." Thomas-- Lyall shrugged. "A minor change, but apparently it made all the difference."

"Sounds... swiss," James slurred.

"My family came from Sweden."

James hummed again. "I see."

Lyall glanced sideways to James. "How about you? Country of origin?"

James frowned at that, but still answered.

"Bulgaria," James answered.

"Huh," Lyall said. "Fascinating. When were you there last?"

"'S been... ages," James said.

"Huh," Lyall repeated, softer. "Same."

"Were you born there?" James asked. "Sweden."

"I was. Spent a part of my childhood there, before we shipped ourselves off to America." Lyall gestured grandly with both hands toward the ceiling. "The gleaming land of opportunity!"

"Yeah," James said. "And dysentary."

Lyall snorted at that. "Worth the risk, I suppose." He sounded less cheerful, though.

James couldn't say he agreed, but he knew history. And he had a feeling Lyall wasn't being wholly sincere about the United States being the 'land of opportunity.'

He wasn't sure he wanted to press for details.

"And you stayed here since," James said.

"Well." Lyall tilted his head. "I traveled for a while. For business. Saw some of western Europe, the Meditteranean. But yeah. This is the part of the world I kept coming back to."

"Where in the U.S... did you spend the most time?" James asked.

"East coast." Lyall turned to study him this time. He patted the back of his hand to James's foot. "What about you, then?"

"I've been all over," he said. "Haven't really settled down anywhere for..."

He squinted up at the ceiling, finding it difficult to order the numbers in his head.

"Ages," he said.

A pause.

"Stayed the hell out of Europe," he said.

Raising both brows, Lyall nodded somberly. "Wise."

"'ve been... around before all the," he went to raise his arm, but then thought better of it, and lowered it down. He sighed.

"I don't want to talk about it," he said.

"That's alright," Lyall said quietly.

James fell to silence for a moment, his eyes drifting up, over the back of the couch.

His eyes landed on Caspar, who's head was still the only thing in view.

"Is Caspar your real name?" James asked.

Caspar sat straighter and glanced only briefly at James. "Uh, yeah, actually. It's just easier for me."

"It's certainly simpler," James agreed. "Do you have a last name?"

Caspar nodded. "Calderson." With a small, dry grin, he added, "Also simpler, history-wise. Just my father's name, plus the, uh... what I am."

"You're also from out-of-continent?" Lyall piped up.


"Where?" James asked.

"Some island in Norway," Caspar said. "Way north."

"Sounds cold," James said.

"Kinda." Caspar set down his pencil and knocked back a swig of his drink. "I think we were on a warm current, so that helped."

"When did you make your way out west?" Lyall asked, twisting around to look his way.

"I, uh." Loudly scratching behind his ear, Caspar stared ahead at the wall. "Probably...early 1800s."

"Damn," James said, unfortunately out loud.

Caspar huffed a laugh through his nose. "Damn right."

It was beginning to make more sense why Caspar's memory would be failing him. If he was traveling at that time and an adult... there was no telling how old he was. Suddenly it made sense of Caspar's ceaslessly tired nature.

"How'd you end up here?" James asked.

There was another small pause as Caspar thought. "Got lost for a bit," he said.

"And now you're doing... animal control," James said.

Nodding, Caspar sighed. "Yes. And, speaking of..." He set aside his paper now and angled his chair their direction. "You two haven't been by the lake here, have you?"

James fell silent. Lyall didn't offer a response either. James glanced at Lyall, realizing their hesitation was already telling in and of itself.

"...I'll take that as a 'yes', you have," Caspar concluded.

"You wouldn't happen to know any good lawyers in Curio, would you?" James asked.

Caspar barked a laugh. "Sorry, just mediocre ones." He shook his head. "Don't worry about it, I just. Was curious if you got personally acquainted with Evangeline. For your sakes more than anything."

"Is that what you named it?" James asked.

Lyall sat ramrod straight. "I'm sorry, it?"

"I assumed he was talking about the leviathan," James said.

"I'm sorry," Lyall turned an alarmed look to Caspar now, "you named it?"

"So, you saw her at least?" Caspar asked James.

"Briefly," James said. "Until Lyall scared her off with his singing."

Lyall cast James a betrayed look. "You didn't mention that it was right there!"

"I didn't think it was relevant," James said. "Unless you decided to jump into the water. Which you didn't."

Lyall looked about ready to tell him off.

Clearing his throat, Caspar cut in and said, "My point being, there shouldn't be--"

"Uh, I find that information quite relevant," Lyall butted back in, "thank you very much. You let me stand at the edge of the water, within chomping range, to look at what I'm now realizing was probably a freshly nibbled-on arm, and you didn't think I'd like to know that you had just seen that thing? 'Forboding area', you said!" He waved both hands. "And that was it! Not, 'imminent death' or 'five seconds since last monster sighting'! Just the vaguest of warnings that could've made us both an easy lunch!"

James stared at him flatly for his whole rant, and when he finally ended, he huffed through his nose.

"Did you die, though?" James asked.

Lyall shook his fists at the ceiling. "That's not my point!"

"I didn't think you would believe me," James said instead.

"It wouldn't have hurt to try," Lyall huffed.

"Would it have made you take anything more seriously?" James asked.


"Sure," James said skeptically.

James turned to look at Caspar.

"What shouldn't there be?" James asked, wanting to hear what Caspar was going to say.

Looking between the two, Caspar coughed. "Uh, that she's really not likely to approach, so there shouldn't be any real threat. That said, giving her space would be best right now, since she's formed a bad habit of expecting, uhm. Handouts."

"Free food," James said.


"See?" James said, looking back to Lyall. "You were fine."

Grabbing the pillow from under James's feet, Lyall chucked it at him. On reflex, James moved to catch it, but was too slow. It smacked him in the face and flopped onto his chest.

"Blissfully ignorant," Lyall muttered, "no thanks to you."

"I'll be sure to tell you of every horror I see from now on," James said. "In great detail."

"Go to sleep, you bugger," Lyall ordered.

"What are you, my mother?" James retorted, his words running together. "Throwing things at a wounded man. Shameful."

"Worse," Lyall said. "I'm your doctor."

Off to the side, Caspar chuckled as he watched the two.

"You said you weren't licensed," James said sloppily.

"You asked me stay and fill the role anyhow," Lyall countered. "Sleep. Now."

James pulled the corners of him mouth back into a frown.

"Wasn't exactly what I said," he muttered.

It was Lyall who narrowed his eyes at him this time. "But we both know that that's what you meant."


James closed his eyes.

"Fine," James finally conceded.

"Good man," Lyall said, sounding victorious.

James made a note to get back at him later, but drifted off faster than he could think of something.
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urbanhart says...

So. His impromptu suspects-turned-guests ended up staying a couple days longer than anticipated. Though, given James's state when they first arrived, it was really for the best. And, because of how deep and extensive some of his injuries were, he didn't have the energy to heal himself up at first. So he spent the day mostly asleep.

Which Caspar didn't mind. It just left Lyall with not much else to do, other than poke around in kind of awkward silence. Or. Caspar felt it was awkward, maybe Lyall was perfectly okay with it.

Caspar just wasn't sure what to do with someone who was apparently a friend that he couldn't remember from sometime before. And, no, he'll be realistic, the information probably was still somewhere in his head. He meant it when he said he knew the smaller man's face, and not just from someone else's account of him.

That was all he had lately, was people's faces.

When Lyall and James were asleep (and were still Thomas and Matthew), Caspar had gathered the sketched portraits of all the nameless folks and hid them in his loft. Because that felt like something maybe one of them would ask about (with zero ill-intent of course), and the thought alone of talking anymore about it made him even more tired and frustrated with himself.

Throughout the following day, he made a point to stick with some still life practice. Which included James, once he had drifted off again.

Sometime in the afternoon, when the rain at last lightened up a bit, Caspar drove out to better assess the wendigo. It was. Bad. That James fellow really did a number on it. The man didn't seem to have any weapons on him to inflict this kind of damage. Caspar made a mental note to ask a bit about that later.

Night fell.

Lyall asked about what lurked in these woods, and whether authorities knew as well. Caspar answered honestly that he wasn't sure what they did or didn't know. Himself included. He just had a gut feeling that, outside once the sun had gone down, something or someone had their eyes fixed on the place. Hence the runes. Lyall looked hesitant, but decided to trust that the cabin was still standing.

Eventually, James moved back to the guest bedroom. He asked about the dreamcatchers (Caspar had hung three on the wall above the bed). Caspar told him they filtered out the bad dreams.

"I know what they do," James said simply.

With a faint, lopsided smile, Caspar just shrugged a shoulder. Then James nodded in understanding.

"Let me know if they work," Caspar said lightly by way of bidding him goodnight.

He half-meant it, though. He barely slept solid enough to be able to tell by himself anymore.

Lyall took the couch. As he passed, Caspar threw the blanket back over him like the night prior. Then slipped out onto the front porch.

He never saw anything, but he sometimes heard something. A low hum that would drift through the trees now and again, a kind of sound that didn't belong to any natural forest-dwelling creature.

Whatever it was, at least it always kept away.

Caspar headed back in. Didn't fall asleep until around 3 AM. Woke up again, alarmed, to the sounds of quiet bustle in the kitchen downstairs at 6. Then remembered that he still had guests. Guests that he was charged with driving back into town today.

As luck would have it, he'd already asked for the week off. Still, he pulled a sweater with 'animal control' and the town's crest emblazened in bold, yellow letters on the front. Then he tugged on a regular canvas jacket over it, and headed down.

He was first greeted by an empty living room, and the scent of brewing coffee. Peeking into the kitchen, it was James who stood by the pot on the stove. Lyall at the other end of the kitchen was half-hidden in the pantry, which he'd half-emptied the contents of onto the counter behind him.

Caspar leaned on the doorway. "Is my kitchen not up to code?" he asked, somewhat amused.

"It's outrageous," Lyall quickly answered.

"What he means is," James said. "A lot of your food expired at least two years ago."

"Outrageous!" Lyall repeated, reappearing with hands full of apparently expired-goods. His hair was damp, and a lot curlier than Caspar remembered. He held up the cans with an incredulous look. "When's the last time you bought food?"

Tilting his head, Caspar shrugged a shoulder. "I'm usually better stocked on fresh stuff."

Lyall just huffed as he tossed the cans into the pile. "Well, it's a good thing we're taking a trip into town today." He half-disappeared again into the pantry. "This is truly a depressing state."

Honestly, Caspar couldn't disagree. He turned to James and nodded toward the pot. "Almost done?"

"Think so," James said, pulling out some mugs from the cupboard. "Want some?"

Caspar nodded. "Please and thank you."

"How do you take it?" James asked, pouring him a cup.

Opening the small fridge to his right, Caspar grabbed a small carton of creamer. "Plus sugar."

"One sugar, please," Lyall called from inside the pantry.

"Will do," James said, preparing their drinks.

Finishing with Caspar's first, James slid the drink over to him on the counter.

"That's yours," he said.

With a nod of thanks, Caspar picked it up, gave a small swirl.

Lyall re-emerged and took the seat at the end of the counter. He began stacking the cans so that they didn't take up what little surface area they did have.

"If it's not too much trouble," he said, "I'd like to swing by the Lodge, pick up my things and check out. No point in paying for a room I won't need."

Caspar glanced curiously at him. That felt a little presumptuous. He supposed he didn't mind, he just didn't have the space--

"No, I don't plan on moving in here indefinitely," Lyall clarified when he caught both Caspar's hesitation, and James's quick side-eye. "Once I'm sure our valiant monster hunter is set up with the necessary supplies, and you've restocked on actually edible goods, I'm leaving."

Caspar nodded. "Oh," he said simply, trying to hide his disappointment. "Yeah, sure, we can swing by."

With a slight pause, seeming to catch on anyway, Lyall nodded likewise. "I greatly appreciate it."

James turned to hand Lyall his coffee.

"Yours," he said.

Lyall accepted it with a grin and, "Thank you, sir."

Caspar took a sip of his own once it'd cooled down enough. Then reached for the counter and spooned in a little more sugar. After a moment of quiet coffee savoring, he cleared his throat and said, "I've only got one guest room, but I don't mind putting you up for a little bit. I've got a cot somewhere. It's kinda small, but you could probably fit on it. Well enough."

Lyall blinked at him.

Without waiting for a response, Caspar gestured toward James and added, "You're already in the guest room, so. Nothing needs rearranging there. If you wanted to stick around, anyway." He glanced down at his mug and idly tapped the edge. "That's. An option."

"Well, the wendigo did completely destroy the meager shelter I once had," James said with a small shrug before sipping his coffee. "So... if you're offering, I'd be grateful for a place to stay for the time being. At least until I figure out what's next."

A pause.

"Just tell me how much to pay for rent," James added.

Glancing up again, Caspar nodded. "Sure, I'll think of something." Another beat of silence. Then he cast James a slightly more concerned look. "You've been around Curio for how long again?"

James hesitated, letting his sip of coffee linger as if to delay responding.

"Ah," he said with a sigh. "About... three months."

Caspar noticed James seemed slightly embarrassed as he looked down into his mug.

Glancing off, Caspar tried finding ways to ask that didn't sound judgmental. "In the...'meager shelter'?"

James shrugged.

"It's like camping," he said.

Caspar gave it another think. Then conceded, "Fair enough."

Lyall glanced between them, as if unable to believe his own ears. "'Fair enough'?" he echoed. "The least he could've done was stay a little while in town."

"What do you mean 'the least I could've done'?" James asked indignantly.

"I mean, 'the least you could've done'," Lyall retorted. "That shack that was falling apart without any wendigo's help was far less than the least! It shouldn't have been an option."

"Maybe it wasn't up to your standards, but I was faring just fine," James said.

Caspar looked at the window, brows raised a little in thought. And decided he was actually very impressed, because he hadn't any suspicions that someone was actually living in his forest. And he walked the forest extensively and on the regular.

Then furrowed his brows just a little when he remembered, that's right, James had magic. He had an advantage there that most others didn't, so maybe a bit like cheating.

No, but wait, he thought, brows raising again. This brought back to mind the wendigo body that looked liked it'd been drawn and quartered during the Dark Ages. With some invisible weapon that James had on him.

Caspar had known someone before with the power to draw from light itself a tangible tool, but that was so long ago. Where did James learn to harness that kind of power?

Slowly, James and Lyall's ongoing discussion faded back into focus.

"My philosophy in life is to be grateful for whatever I have in every season of life," James said. "It doesn't mean I don't complain. I simply aim to master the art of balancing both."

"Well, riddle me this, oh enlightened one," Lyall said, sweeping both arms outwards, "if you can afford to pay him rent, why didn't you pay for a room at the inn?"

Before James could answer, Caspar raised a hand.

James opened his mouth, but closed it as he looked at Caspar.

"What?" James asked.

With his raised hand, Caspar pointed to James. "What did you use to fight the wendigo?"

James blinked.

"...A spectral weapon," James said. "Imbued with light."

"And where'd you learn to do that?" Caspar furthered. "I've met only one other person who could do that in all my lifetimes. And they're long gone."

James seemed to study Caspar closely.

"A woman named Eir," James answered.

Caspar just stared blankly back for a moment. Eventually, he said, "Seriously?"

"Yes?" James said.

"Oh my--" Caspar staggered back. "Really?"

"Woah, careful," James said, reaching out to steady the cup in Caspar's hand that nearly spilled.

Caspar set his mug on the counter (it sloshed violently). "When? Where did you meet her?" he asked excitedly.

"1921," James said. "Ireland."

Lyall raised a hand now. "Oh, you mentioned Ireland before--"

"That's so recent!" Caspar exclaimed, unable to keep an excited smile off his face as he paced. He hadn't seen nor heard from Eir himself since a good century prior.

He stopped, and asked, just to be sure, "Really tall, right?"

"Absurdly," James said, raising a brow with a slight grin. "I assume you knew her at some point?"

"Yes!" Caspar barked a laugh. "Oh, she was one of my oldest, dearest friends! She didn't hesitate to take me in. She taught me everything I know about the Wilds, and--"

And he'd forgotten how much he ached for her companionship. He hated that he let himself forget.

With that high, he crashed that much harder. Taking in a breath, he sobered as he also remembered when he lost her-- thought he'd lost her. But she was still around long enough to meet James? With time enough to teach him too? Caspar wished he had the guts to head home, just for the chance to have seen her one last time.

Caspar eventually had to ask, quieter, "She's...not around anymore, is she?"

"...No, sadly she passed not long after I knew her," James said. "In 1937."

Swallowing, Caspar nodded slowly as he jumped math hoops. That was around the time of... "The Resurfacing," he murmured aloud. "The attempt, anyway."

"Yes," James said soberly.

"...Were you both there?"

James swallowed, sipping his coffee first before answering.

"Yeah," he said. "It was... you know."

Her last battle. Victorious, but not without sacrifice.

Clasping his hands behind his head, Caspar let out a deep sigh. If only he'd known she was still alive then...

Lyall had at some point politely turned his attention back to the cans.

Softly, Caspar said to James, "How incredible that her memory lives on." He gently clasped the hunter's shoulder. "In you."

James let out a weak laugh, but when he looked up to meet Caspar's eyes, there was a shared sadness.

"I try to honor her memory," he said quietly. "As well as I can."

Caspar offered a warm smile in turn. With one last pat to James's shoulder, he stepped back and glanced Lyall's way. Then down at the mess of coffee he'd made in his excitement.

"I'll clean that," he said aloud, "and, since my kitchen isn't up to snuff, we may as well grab breakfast while we're out."

"Good," James said. "I'm starving."

"An excellent plan," Lyall agreed.

It was unanimous, then.

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urbanhart says...

To be honest, the diner scene wasn't Lyall's absolute favorite. Yes, it had charm that distinguished it from other kinds of eateries. A visually oversaturated, heavy grease smells, sticky-booths charm. This diner was no different. Caspar liked the waffles here, though, so here they were.

The waitress knew Caspar well enough to notice that he was in town, even though it was his day off. He explained that he had some good friends visiting from out-of-territory who he wanted to show around a bit, and with that introduced James and Lyall (as Matthew and Thomas).

When she offered them coffee, Caspar accepted with a smile. James likewise accepted with an appreciative thanks. Lyall politely declined.

When they got their food, it was silent for a few minutes as they all were too hungry to bother with conversation.

Predictably, though, Lyall was the first to break this silence.

"You still haven't contacted your boss about the-- Uh..." Lyall glanced in the direction of the kitchen window, where the waitress and chef were preoccupied. "...pest problem? Yet?"

Caspar glanced up from his waffles for only a second. "Uh, not yet, no. Since the problems been dealt with pretty much, I'm not sure if I need to." He chewed for a moment as he thought deeply. Mouthful, he added, "Though, I'm sure my affected neighbors should know about it, sooner rather than later. Closure, you know?"

The bereft families and friends, of those lost. Lyall nodded slowly.

James seemed to be avoiding eye contact with either of them as he focused on his eggs.

Behind Lyall, the bell to the door rang. Glancing back with half-hearted interest, Lyall noted that the one extra guest made four total at the moment.

She made a beeline for the counter, where the waitress greeted her with a teasing smile.

"Late start, hon?" she said.

The guest groaned as she dug through her satchel. "I slept through my alarm, and I have only until this afternoon to edit the article." She slapped down some cash on the counter. "Coffee and toast, please."

James seemed to glance up as well, mildly curious.

The waitress took the cash with a chastising look. "What, no protein?"

"No time," the woman answered pleasantly. Her voice was further softened by her faintly French-sounding accent.

The waitress didn't bother arguing beyond that. Just took her order to the kitchen with a fond shake of her head.

While she waited, the guest spun around on her stool to lean back on the counter. Lyall quickly averted his attention back to his food as she faced their table directly.

"Monsieur Calder!" she greeted. "New friends? Is that why you--" Then she trailed off.

Upon mention, Lyall looked her way. And nearly dropped his fork.

Sitting there wide-eyed like a deer caught unawares, she stared back at him. Her hair, an unfamiliar shade of platinum, was tied back messily. Though shorter curls fell over her eyes, he knew them in an instant.

This was his dear, infuriating half-sister Hild, whom he had last presumed lost to an unforgiving sea.

James and Caspar looked back and forth between them.

"Do you kno--" Caspar began to say.

Lyall leapt to his feet, but kept by the table. Just in case he was wrong. "You're--"

She held up a hand, stopping him short. She glanced toward the kitchen doors, checking that no one else was watching or walking in. Then jumped off her stool, waving them along as she dashed back to the front door. Lyall wasted no time following her out.

James grabbed his plate, calling to the waitress as she re-emerged from the kitchen, "I'll bring it back!" And slipped out before the front door drifted shut on him.

Caspar hesitated, glancing down at his almost-finished waffles, before pushing himself up to his feet and trailing behind.

Once outside, Hild grasped Lyall by his jacket as they walked. Maintaining the accent and casual tone of voice, she said, "I don't have my own office space, and my house isn't exactly within walking distance."

Lyall searched the street a moment. Then remembered-- "Ah! I've got a room at the motel nearby."

"Which one?" she asked.

"The one with the fish logo."

She nodded. "That'll work."

"How do you know that I don't have an office at town hall?" Caspar asked from somewhere behind them.

Hild only spared him a quick glimpse over her shoulder. "You don't," she said flatly.

"I don't," Caspar conceded.

Lyall twisted around a bit to check that Caspar and James were keeping pace. Were it not for their urgency right now, he would've laughed about the fact that James had brought his food with him.

James glanced up at Lyall, his mouth full.

By the time they reached the lodge, and Lyall located his room, James's plate was empty.

Perched on the desk, Lyall watched closely as his sister paced. Unable to believe his eyes. Lyall noticed James sneak up and place his plate and fork on the edge of the desk beside him. Caspar took a seat on the bed, which dipped steeply under his weight.

"Did you write the letter?" Lyall asked.

Hild stopped and faced him. Tugging her coat tighter around herself, she folded her arms. "Yes," she answered, simply, and with no accent now.

"And then--" He tossed his hands skyward, incredulous. "You just didn't show up?"

Averting her eyes to the ceiling, Hild absently tapped her chin. "...Yes."


Then she glanced down at her shoes, mumbling in response.

Norns. He was going to hate the reason, wasn't he.

"Why didn't you show?" he pressed indignantly.

"I had work, okay?" she answered, matching his volume. "I had to finish someone else's piece since they called out sick halfway through--"

Throwing his hands again, Lyall scoffed. "Typical."

At this, she pinned him with a hard glare. "Oh, you're one to talk."

"What?" Lyall hopped off the desk and jabbed a finger in her direction. "That, madam, is unwarranted! I actually keep the appointments I make--"

"Because you're sooo much better at everything," she retorted with a long-suffering eye roll.

"Why did you set the forest as your meeting place?" James interjected suddenly.

Remembering herself and their additional company, Hild straightened again and tilted her chin up. "I'm not obligated to explain myself to you," she answered smoothly, "friend of my brother or no."

Lyall scoffed. She had to have some petty reason for it, then. "What, did you wish to dramatically reveal yourself in the cover of darkness?" he challenged. "Put me in peril to get back at me for something that I couldn't possibly care to remember?"

Hild bristled, then replied with heavy sarcasm, "Well done, you figured me out. I suppose I'll just go, then, since you don't need my input--"

"Why are you fighting?" Caspar murmured with great confusion. "Isn't this a family reunion?"

"I just thought it was relevant to ask considering the whole wendigo situation," James said casually.

She turned a genuinely surprised look toward James. "A wendigo?"

Lyall pointed in James's direction with vindication. "Yeah, see? That's what you left me stranded with."

"Me?" James asked, resting a hand over his chest. "Wow. After all we've been through."

"No, the--" Lyall dropped his hand with an incredulous look.

James was poorly hiding a smirk.

Lyall sighed deeply. Okay, he'll admit he probably deserved that.

Shaking away her shock, Hild said, "Regardless of what it was, I actually thought you might be able to help with that. And I figured the best place to meet would be right at the source."

"Even though the trail was emphatically and repeatedly announced off limits?" Caspar asked, tilting his head curiously. "Wow. There is no respect for the law between the three of you."

"You're technically by-law," both Lyall and Hild sharply retorted.

Caspar shrank back a little.

"In all fairness, I did everything I could to keep you out of it," James said. "Why do you think you never found me in the first place?"

A pause.

"Well, except for when you did, of course. Which I'm sorry for, by the way."

Lyall actually found himself frustrated at that. "Why are you apologizing? You almost died from single-handedly killing the thing!"

Hild sharply turned back to James, studying him. "You managed to kill it?"

"It was--" James said, looking to Lyall. "That was the only reason I was out here in the first place. So yes. Of course I killed it. And I'm only apologizing for Caspar getting dragged into it because of the legal complications you all so kindly dismissed. Unlike us, he's got a supervisor he has to answer to."

Lyall turned to his sister whilst gesturing to Caspar. "This was kind of partly his job, though. Why go through the trouble of tracking me down instead of recruiting him?"

Hild then swept an arm toward James. "Because, like your friend said, Calder has higher-ups who he'd have to explain to. I didn't want to saddle him with the responsibility of navigating half-truths for the sake of those who don't know. And he doesn't have magic." Then she poked Lyall's chest with great force. "You do."

Lyall huffed. Before he could reply-

"You were trying to find the wendigo too?" James asked.

"I wasn't aware what it was," she answered. "Just that it wasn't a normal predator."

James shrugged. "Fair enough."

Lyall frowned at the wall ahead. "Why didn't you show up the next day either, then?"

She looked at him flatly. "I did. You were the one who didn't show that time."

Looking up at the ceiling in thought, Lyall scrounged his memory for any signs of company who wasn't--


He glanced at James.

Lyall hummed. "Okay... So that was--" He sighed, any remaining irritation with her dissipating.

"He thought I was you," James said, pointing at himself, then her.

Hild arched a brow at him.

Lyall pursed his lips. "You came back at the exact same time as what you wrote, didn't you?"

She then frowned at him. "Of course. Why didn't you?"

That! Lyall had no answer for. Other than maybe he was a bit distracted by the missing persons cases themselves, and the curiosity that was the camo man. Which he was less willing to admit out loud.

"Might've been my fault," James offered. "I recruited him for the hunt. Which, now, is a bit ironic, seeing as you were apparently aiming to do the same."

After a moment's pause so she could study him again, Hild cracked a dry grin at that. "...Whatever gets the job done, I suppose," she relented.

Lyall looked her with betrayal.

"I've seen this before," Caspar eventually piped up again.

Lyall cast him a confused glance. "Seen what?"

Pointing between the siblings, Caspar answered simply, "This."

Setting his hands on his hips, Lyall studied him. Like he was staring at false hope or something. "Good," he eventually brought himself to say, because it was! It had to be. Memories were probably being brought back, then! More sincerely, he repeated, "That's-- that's good!"

Lyall caught the flash of concern in Hild's eyes.

James patted Caspar on the back as if in congratulations.

Pacing back to the desk, Lyall leaned on its edge. With the conversation fresh out of steam, he couldn't help but just stare at Hild. Like a lone traveler stranded in a desert, finally glimpsing an oasis in the distance ahead. He could've counted all the years since he last saw any of his family, but eventually had to stop. He didn't think he could bear knowing just how long it was.

With a weary sigh, Hild came over and took his hand, giving it a quick reassuring squeeze before stepping back again.

"Not sure if now's the right time to introduce myself," James said, breaking the brief silence. He looked to Hild and extended his hand. "But the name's James. James Hawke."

The introduction brought Lyall back to his senses. He presumed his sister politely took James's hand in greeting; Lyall didn't see, he looked down to quickly wipe at his eyes.

"Hild Ashlund," she replied. Then tilted her head slightly as she studied him. "I believe I saw you pass through at the beginning of June?"

"How observant of you," he said with a small grin. "And how long have you been in Curio?"

"Three years," she answered, folding her arms and letting her posture relax. "Not long at all. Where were you these past months since you first arrived?"

"Hiding out in the forest until I found the creature killing people," James said casually. "Turns out it was far more drawn to your brother than I."

She turned an amused grin toward Lyall. "So long as it worked."

Lyall frowned. "I don't know what this new dynamic is, but I don't like it."

James looked to Lyall with a raised brow.

"Sorry, would you like to contribute to the conversation?" James offered.

"Sure." Lyall pushed off from the desk. "I'll be checking out of this room now, so none of you can stay and..." He waved a hand vaguely at the two of them. "...chat, any longer."

James looked at Lyall, then back at Hild.

"The foyer?" he asked.

Stepping aside, she swept an arm to the door. "Lead the way," she said pleasantly. And James did so. With an old man grunt, Caspar got to his feet and ducked out as well.

Hanging back a moment, Hild marched over to Lyall and grabbed him in a firm hug before he could start packing. He held her tight, letting relief and joy fully wash over him as she quietly yet sternly assured him that not all had been lost.

"Gods, I missed you," Lyall murmured into her shoulder.

He could hear the smile in Hild's voice as she softly answered, "I missed you too."
Last edited by urbanhart on Mon May 29, 2023 2:22 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Mon May 29, 2023 1:29 am
soundofmind says...

It was unlikely that James suddenly found himself in the company of three other immortals. In honesty, it wasn't that often that he knowingly ran into other immortals at all, so to encounter three in one day (that all seemed to inexplicably know each other) felt like he'd suddenly fallen into the rare probability of four immortals being in the same room at the same time.

And miraculously, none of them were hostile towards each other.

Of course, that wasn't taking into account Hild and Lyall's persistent banter and occasional digs at each other, but that was different. They were siblings, and apparently quickly fell back into old habits with each other even after what he presumed to be years of separation. As for how long it'd been? And the nature of their separation? James didn't know, and it wasn't his place or his business to ask. But he was happy for them, at least, and it seemed that the two were genuinely relieved to be reunited, and even Caspar seemed to share in that joy with them, even if it was a quiet, tired expression of it.

Despite the unexpected encounter with Hild, Lyall was determined to follow through on their original intent for coming into town. And that was getting food.

So not long after Lyall checked out from the hotel, they all hopped back into Caspar's car and drove down to the town's only grocery store.

It was quaint, much like the rest of the town, and it was local. Which was nice, because it seemed to have a lot of local produce and other goods.

When they stepped into the store, James broke off from the three of them.

"I'm going to grab a few things," he said. "I'll meet you back out front."

"Don't get lost," Caspar said with a nod of acknowledgement.

"Ha," James said. "I would have to be very talented to do that in here. Let's find out."

Caspar huffed a laugh. Neither of the Ashlunds appeared as amused.

With a smirk, he parted and headed off to find things like toothpaste, an extra razor, and another shirt, among other things. He was still silently grieving the shredding of his clothes, no thanks to the wendigo - but he couldn't dwell on it too much. Clothes were just clothes. He was only really pained over the loss of monetary investment than anything. He hated having to spend money on extra things.

He snuck through some of the food aisles, finding himself breezing through the store, putting the few things he really needed in his basket. When he caught sight of Lyall, Hild, and Caspar, it looked like they were stuck at one of the freezers, and he could overhear what sounded like bickering over what brand of milk to buy.

Huffing in amusement, he picked up a few more food items before checking out.

The lady scanning his items looked like she was observing him.

"You came through here a bit ago, didn't you?" she asked.

"That I did," he said. "Good memory."

"Well, welcome back to Curio!" she said, voice chipper. "You staying longer this time, or just passing back through?"

"I'm staying with a friend for some time," James said, deciding to keep it vague, as he really didn't know how long he'd be staying, and he wasn't quite sure how to define his relationship with Caspar at the moment. Aquaintence felt too impersonal, and landlord sounded too formal.

"Oh, isn't that nice?" she said, scanning the last item, tossing it into the bag. "Well I hope you have a good time with them, sweetie. Have a good day, now!"

James offered her a smile as he took the paper bag.

"You too," he said politely, before slipping out of the store.

Glancing about the parkinglot, James briefly waited for the coast to be clear before he began to walk around the building, dipping into the alley between the store and the warehouse beside it.

Weaving his way around the large dumpster, he finally found his stashing spot for his motorcycle. There was a faint, magical outline that only he could see.

With a pleased grin, he dispelled the cloaking spell, and the bike came into full visibility, just as sleek and clean as when he left it. The helmet sat atop the seat, and he picked it up, tucking it under his arm. With his grocery bag at his wrist, he took both handlebars and walked the motorcyle out into the parkinglot, where he parked it next to Caspar's car. Hoping it wasn't too much trouble, he plopped his grocery bag in the car.

Caspar apparently had the very small-town habit of leaving the car unlocked. That, or he genuinely forgot. Regardless, James was by the car, now. So it was safe. Relatively. As were all things.

James leaned against his bike, pulling out his phone while he waited. He had a feeling it would be a while, considering nothing was in the cart yet when he saw the three of them arguing over milk. So he decided instead to shoot a text to his sister.

Another one, rather, since he'd been trying to keep in touch with her after the whole near-death experience. She rightfully demanded to know when his life was in danger.

His problem was he usually let her know after the fact. But she knew as much.

When he checked his phone, it looked like he already got another message from her.

So now you're living with this guy????? Who even IS he

James sighed, wondering if, at this point, it would just be easier to call her.

u free rn to call?

He waited. Not even ten seconds passed, and his phone started ringing. He picked up.

"Hey Larrel," he said, looking around the parking lot. "How's your day been?"

"It's always a great start to my day getting vague, cryptic texts from my brother," Larrel replied dryly.

"Silver lining," James said. "I'm still alive to send cryptic texts."

"Yeah, I'd really miss those," she said flatly. "Now what's going on? Are you okay? Who are you with?"

"I'm fine," James said. "I met some people like us. They're friendly. Most of them, anyway. One's a little annoying, but he's growing on me."

"Uh-huh," Larrel said. "What is this, some kind of business arrangement? There's nothing going on that I don't know about, is there? This isn't another resur--"

"Calm down, Larrel," James said. "I'm just making some friends."

"The brother I know doesn't have friends," Larrel retorted.

"Wow," James said. "I've... had friends. You know that."

Larrel made some incomprehensible noise on the other line. Something akin to spitting sounds.

"So what, you're all just camping out now in the creepy forest?" she asked.

"Not camping," James said. "One of the guys has a cabin. I'm renting out a room."

"Why does this sound like the start of some weird campy movie," she said. "Or a horror movie."

"No, the horror movie I already lived," James said. "That part's over."

"So it's what, three guys in a cabin, bonding over... being old?" she asked.

"You're only a few years younger than m--" James started.

"Irrelevant," Larrel said.

"One of the guys found his sister, so she's coming over for dinner," James said.

"What do you mean found his sister?" she asked.

"Wonderful question. Wish I knew the answer. They are still very much strangers to me, Larrel, but it seems they were separated for some time and inexplicably found one another in Curio," James said. "Very much through happenstance, it seems. Since they both seemed surprised about it."

"You're living in a disney movie and I'm over here, working a 9 to 5 like a normal person," Larrel said.

"We can't all have interesting lives, Larrel," James said.

"I'm going to find you in Curio just so I can strangle you for saying that," Larrel threatened.

"I'd like to see you try," James said.

"Don't make me--"

"Bet," James said.

Silence on the other line.

"You're picking me up from the airport," she said flatly.

James blinked.

"Will you be able to get time off?" he asked.

"WiLl I bE aBlE tO gEt TiMe OfF," she mimicked. "I'm sending you the flight information when I book my ticket. Strangle you soon."

"Ha. Love you too," James said.

And then she hung up.

Well, he'd hardly been able to answer any of her questions, but maybe she knew he'd have been too vague over the phone anyway. Apparently all of this was interesting enough for her to go out of her way to fly to Canada.

With a small sigh, his gaze drifting back to the store.

He checked his watch. He still had time to kill, so he decided to catch up on the other messages that had been piling up, now that he had service. He really hadn't gotten any out in the forest.

Maybe 30 minutes had passed, and finally, the trio emerged from the store, walking to the car with a full cart.

As they approached, James tucked his phone away.

With a low, impressed whistle, Lyall approached for a closer look at the motorcyle. "Where've you been hiding this?"

"Wouldn't be very hidden if it wasn't a secret," James said cryptically.

Lyall tsked. "Fair enough."

Hild walked over with her bicycle. "I'll see you later this evening, then," she said, slipping back into a French accent.

Lyall frowned. "Aw, what?"

She gave him a faintly amused grin. "I still have work to get back to."

"Do you want someone to pick you up later?" James asked.

"That'd be best," Caspar piped up while he loaded up his car. "My house could be reached by bike, but it wouldn't be a smooth nor short ride."

Hild nodded. "If it's not a trouble, then that would be preferable."

James looked to Caspar, meeting his eyes.

"I could pick her up," James said, then looked to Hild. "If you're not bothered by motorcycles."

Arching a brow, she inclined her head with a more open smile. "Works for me."

Lyall's frown deepened. "What's wrong with the car--"

Nudging the shorter man's shoulder, Caspar ushered him along. "Nothing. It'll save me on gas, though."

James had to bite back a smile, but as Lyall and Caspar were out of view on the other side of the car, he met Hild's eyes.

"Where should I pick you up?" he asked.

"Ah!" Leaning her bike against her side, Hild pulled out a pad of paper from her satchel and scribbled down her address. "The blue house, with plants hanging from the windows," she said, handing him the sheet of paper.

He took it with a nod, glancing at it before he pocketed it away in his jacket.

"Alright," he said. "What's a good time?"

She hummed in thought as she tucked her bag into the basket. "6, 6:30?"

"I can do that," he said.

Hild cast him a quick smile as she mounted her bike. "À bientôt, Mister Hawke. I look forward to talking more about--"

The car horn went off. When they glanced sideways, they could see Caspar bat Lyall away from the wheel. Hild rolled her eyes, then departed with a small wave.

James let out a light laugh, looking at Caspar with a smile.

"I'll follow you," James said. "Lead the way."
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Wed May 31, 2023 2:55 am
soundofmind says...

Now that James knew he was staying with Caspar for a while, he decided to get settled into his room. While Lyall and Caspar rearranged the whole kitchen, James took care of cleaning his bedsheets, getting some of his things situated in his room, and also setting up the cot for Lyall. He made his "bed" as well, making sure it was clean and there was as much space between the cot and his bed as possible.

It was tight, but at least they had somewhere to stay.

After everything was settled in, James noticed that Caspar and Lyall had started cooking in the kitchen. By that time, it was early evening, and James could overhear them talking.

It sounded like they were finally starting to connect again now that some of Caspar's memories were coming back, even if it was only a little.

Granted, most of what James overheard seemed to be discussions about Curio, and other mundanities. But all friendships had to start somewhere, and it sounded like their conversation was at least amicable, and the two of them were enjoying one another's presence.

Admittedly, James didn't know why he was so invested in their friendship being rekindled - but perhaps it was because he could see the pain in Lyall's eyes when Caspar didn't remember him at first. He couldn't help but wonder what an emotional few days it had been for Lyall: first, a near-death experience. Then he ran into an old friend who didn't remember him. Then he was reunited with his long-lost sister (who seemed to have quietly tried to orchestrate their reuninon).

The man had been through a lot, and James had only known him for a few days now.

Apparently James just happened to meet him at a very... dramatic time. He couldn't imagine all of Lyall's life was like this.

Slipping out of the cabin while the two of them were mid-conversation, James made his way out back to town to pick up Hild. The ride back took about 20 minutes, and another 10 to navigate his way to Hild's home.

When he rolled up to her house, it matched her brief description.

It was small, and painted a quaint, pale blue. It had large window boxes full of colorful flowers - yellow, orange, and red - and flowers hanging from the porch. The roof had faded green shingles, and overall, it seemed like a homey place that Hild had settled into and made her own.

As James pulled to a stop in the small driveway, he saw Hild was sitting on the porch, seated at a bistro-style table with her laptop out, and several papers. It looked like she was still working.

Briefly glancing down to check the time, he noted it was 6:05pm.

Taking off his helmet, he walked up to the porch.

"Do you need more time?" he asked.

She jumped, mildly startled, then let out a dry laugh. "Sorry, I'm just." She sighed a little as she checked her watch. "Transposing an interview, and thought I had time to edit as well."

"If you don't think it'll take too lonh, I don't mind waiting," James said, stepping up onto the porch. "I know I'm a little early."

"Just a few moments, thank you," she said. With her eyes fixed on the papers, she waved for him to take the seat across from her.

With a small nod, James pulled out the chair and took a seat, facing the street.

A brief silence stretched between them as she worked. Faintly, music from inside the house could be heard.

James glanced behind him, towards the door. It sounded like jazz, from what he could gather.

Presumably, Hild lived with someone else. Probably a housemate.

"So," she started, her attention still turned to her computer, "how far back did you meet my brother?"

"About five days ago," James said. "I believe he ran into me the first time he came out to find you."

Humming, she glanced up at him now with an arched brow. "More recent than I thought."

"Yes," James said. "Our first encounter was brief. The second time, it was more that I found him in the forest again. In hindsight, he was probably out there to find you again."

"That's what he told me," Hild affirmed. "Though a bit delayed, it worked out as well as it could have--" She paused. "Well. No, from the sounds of it, you had another, less-than-friendly run-in shortly after."

James hummed in affirmation.

"Could've ended better," he said with a shrug. "But in the end, no one died."

A pause.

"Except... whoever the wendigo used to be," James said, quieter. "But they were long gone before I put them out of their misery."

With a curious tilt of her head, Hild folded her hands and studied him a moment. "Myes," she murmured, "and I have questions about all of that. I want a fuller picture."

Then she stood up and swung her bag onto her shoulder. "I'll save the interviews for after dinner, though," she added pleasantly.

James studied her in return. There was something about her mannerisms and her form of curiosity that reminded him of a reporter or a journalist. It felt like when she said she had more questions that she truly meant it, and James had a feeling she was going to try to get as much information out of him as possible.

But to what end, and for what purpose, James couldn't say.

They knew that they both were immortals, so James wanted to believe she didn't intend to expose him or herself in the process - and whenever it came to matters of magic and supernatural beings, he (and most people involved with magic) were always careful to frame that sort of information carefully for the public.

Reaching back over her chair, Hild tapped on the windowsill and waved to whoever was inside. "Be back soon!" she said, switching back to an accent.

There came a loud objection, then rapid footsteps before the front door behind James swung open.

"Is this the friend?" a bubbly, slightly out-of-breath voice asked.

James turned around, seeing a woman with long dreadlocks and a heavy-knit sweater.

"Friend of the friend," Hild answered.

The woman held out her hand with a bright smile. "Well, hi, friend of my friend's friend! I'm Eloise's housemate, Ava Knowles."

James offered her a warm smile in return, shaking her hand firmly.

"Matthew Altschuler," he said. "Pleasure to meet you, Ava."

Ava dipped in sort of small curtsey before letting go. "Pleasure's all mine," she said politely. Then to Hild: "I'll wait up for you?"

Patting James's back to usher him along, Hild answered, "It might get late by then. Don't worry about that."

James got to his feet, stepping down the porch ahead of her. Hild gave her housemate a quick cheek-kiss farewell before trailing behind him.

When they walked up to his motorcycle, he offered Hild his helmet.

"For you," he said.

"Very well," she replied as she donned it, a little clumsily. She lifted the visor to cast him another curious look. "What about you?"

James lifted his gloved hand, twiddling his fingers in a "magical" gesture past his head.

"The helmet's just for show," he said. "To be a good role model for the kids and all."

She grinned and nodded slowly. "Ah, yes. Very admirable."

James grinned slightly as well, and then hopped on his bike, glancing over his shoudler.

"We'll be off-roading for the last 20 minutes of the ride," he said. "Are you alright with hanging on?"

She tapped experimentally at the leather of the seat before climbing up behind him. "I suppose I'll have to be," she said lightly.

James offered her a slightly apologetic smile over his shoulder.

He had asked - perhaps indirectly - earlier, if she was fine with being picked up on a motorcycle, and she hadn't objected to it. So he was going to take her at her word.

"Lest I fall off," she clarified, trying to sound more reassuring. "I really don't mind."

"Well," he said, smile brightening. "I'll make sure that doesn't happen."

Turning forward, he started the motorcycle, and with a little rumble of the engine, they were on their way.

Once they were down the steet, he spoke over his shoulder.

"So, Eloise, huh?" he asked.

Hild shrugged. "For the longest time, I wanted that name. Re-invention of myself provided the opportunity."

"What last name did you choose?" he asked.

"Clark. Which I'm admittedly not as attached to, but I was put on the spot at the time." She nodded to him. "Where'd you get Altschuler?"

"It originates from a synagogue in Prague," he said. "It's a Jewish surname."

Hild smiled. "It's a nice surname. Not very common around here."

"I don't normally give a full name when introducing myself," James said. "But Ava did, and you know how it goes. Mirroring one another."

"A fair exchange," Hild agreed.

"Have you been living with Ava all this time?" James asked.

"For most of this time," she answered. "Ava's been here longer than I have. Both our living circumstances changed around the same time, a few years back. We're good friends, in and out of work, so it felt like a natural choice for me to move in with her."

"Sounds like a good fit," James commented.

They cruised through the downtown area, past the diner and market.

"What is it you do for work, exactly?" he asked. "I gather it's related to writing, judging from your comment about editing earlier."

"I write for the local newspaper," she said. "I wasn't assigned to write about the missing persons cases, but I've been following closely for updates."

"If not for reporting," James asked. "What's the connection?"

"Well, I live here," she answered plainly. "I like to keep myself informed. Keep others safe where I can."

"That I understand," James said with a small nod.

Before Hild could change the subject, James had another burning question.

"And recruiting your brother," James said. "I assume that was more than just for the sake of having an extra pair of hands for detective work."

She hummed in thought. "Layered, yes. I figured it was time we reconnected."

"How long had you known about his wereabouts?" James asked.

"Just for a few years, honestly," she said. "He was surprisingly careful."

"As most of us are," James said. "It's fortunate you found him, though. I'm glad you two are getting to reconnect."

There was a hint of a smile in her voice as she replied, "Me too."

Paved road gave way to dirt as they left the bounds of the city. The early evening sunlight filtered through the dense trees, speckling gold on the path back to the cabin.

The way through the forest was a more difficult, bumpy ride, and conversation between the two of them lulled naturally as James carefully kept the bike steady, indicating turns before they came so Hild would be ready, and making sure she hung on. The only words exchanged between the two of them were occasional warnings if there was going to be a sudden dip or jump, but Hild stayed steady through it, and James was being extra cautious not to lose her as they sped through the trail.

When they finally came close to the cabin, James brought the motorcyle to a slow stop, rolling up behind Caspar's jeep with one last rumble of the engine before he turned it off and steadied the bike with his legs.

"Alright," he said. "Made it here, safe and sound."

"Masterful maneuvering," she complimented. Hopping off from the back, Hild took off the helmet with a small, exhilerated smile. "Even after two lifetimes, there's still a first time for something."

James smiled brightly, happy to hear it was a good experience. Hopping off the bike himself, he offered his hand to take the helmet back. Instead, she reached up and plopped it over his head.

He laughed, reaching up to steady it and flip up the visor, raising an eyebrow at her.

"Didn't know it was a first for you," he said.

"Maybe for the better," she hummed, making her way to the front door. "Lest you try anything 'funny'."

"Fortunately for you," he said, taking off his helmet as he followed behind her. "I wouldn't have either way."

He could feel that his hair had fallen a little bit out of its ponytail from the helmet being stuck on, so he tucked the helmet under his arm and he quickly pulled out the band and shook out his hair, letting it fall around his shoulders instead.

Just as Hild raised her hand to knock on the door, Lyall swung it open.

"Great!" With an excited grin, he ushered them inside. "Impeccable timing, you two. Dinner's ready."

James followed in behind Hild, setting his helmet on the small coffee table in the living room as they passed.

The dining half of the area had been expanded. The two chairs from the kitchen were brought out in order to fit everyone at the table. Which couldn't fit the pot of soup in addition to their dishes, so they grabbed their portions in the kitchen to carry out to the main living space.

It was a tomato-based stew, filled with hearty grains and long-simmered vegetables. Lyall was happy to announce that he helped chop. Caspar had also made a cracker-like bread to go with it. There were still spots of flour dusting his hands and hair.

While the room was small, there was still room enough to just be as they ate. Every once in awhile, Lyall would strike up conversation. But for the most part, he couldn't stop glancing his sister's way, as though still in disbelief. She looked back, though less frequently, and with something sad hidden in her silence.

Eventually, once their bowls were empty and the bread gone, Hild pushed aside her dish and in its place set down a notepad and pen. "So," she said pleasantly, "gentlemen. Would now be a good time to delve into detail about that wendigo?"

James glanced at Caspar and Lyall, but looked to Hild with a nod of affirmation.

"There'll be no dissuading you, anyhow," Lyall said.

Caspar just shrugged, looking about as ready as anybody could be for the nitty gritty of a serial killer case.

For the sake of keeping a straight and clear record, it was mostly Hild and Caspar reviewing the missing persons reports at first. Then she and her brother went over his involvement--which was rather limited, so this took up the smallest amount of time. And then she asked both James and Caspar what information they were able to gather about the wendigo. In particular, who the wendigo was.

"There wasn't any identifying information on the body," Caspar said with a heavy sigh. "And it didn't look like anyone I knew in the past...five? Maybe more, years."

Caspar had gone out to inspect the wendigo's body the day James had been, lightly put, on bedrest. While James had wanted to go inspect the body later, he knew that now that Caspar was involved, that was more in Caspar's territory of responsibility, and he didn't want to interfere more than he already had.

"You wouldn't happen to have any photos of it, would you?" Hild asked, glancing up between him and James as she took notes.

James looked to Caspar.

"What did you end up doing with the body?" James asked.

Caspar shrugged again, looking more at a loss. "Not take pictures of it, that's for sure."

"Well, that's fine," Hild offered, "I have a camera."

Lyall frowned at that. "I don't think you should--"

"It's," Caspar cut in, "a, uh-- Not-relevant. I don't think we could determine who it was by how it looks. A lot of it is...just gone."

"For the sake of records," Hild politely countered.

"Did you bury it?" James asked more directly, as Caspar never really answered his question.

"I, uhm," Caspar stammered, "didn't really know what to do with it. It techincally needs investigating, but I'm not sure anyone will believe us if we're honest about it. So I left it, for now." He nodded south, in the general direction of downtown. "Trail's still off-limits, so no one else should be poking around. And Evangeline is water-bound--"

Hild looked up at that. "I'm sorry, who?"

"She's not important right now," James said. "But at the moment, the sun's still up. I might be able to get some information off the body through other means, now that I'm recovered, if the body is indeed still there. And I should be able to put it to rest."

Lyall raised a hand. "I disagree, I think Evangeline's important--"

Waving James down, Caspar straightened. "I. Really would prefer you didn't do anything just yet."

"You want me to wait until the body's rotted even more?" James asked. "By now it's probably already starting to smell. Animals are going to start feeding on it if they haven't already. Whoever that wendigo was, they deserve to be buried properly, even if they're not human anymore."

"And I don't want to deny them that much in death," Caspar sighed. "I just-- There's...things like protocol--"

"Which you've delayed thus far already," Lyall pointed out. He shrugged and swept a arm south. "The province won't be able to do anything more with it than we can, so we may as well save them and ourselves the trouble."

James got to his feet.

"Caspar, I understand your desire to follow protocol, but I agree with Lyall," he said. "I might be able to get us some answers to determine who it was. The province certainly won't be able to do that - and I'm certain they won't know what to with the corpse of a wendigo. If anything, they'd treat it as less than a person. They'd make it a science project. And then the whole province would be in contention over whether its real."

Caspar remained seated, elbows on the table as he stared up at James. "Okay," he said quietly, "say we go with your plan. After that, then what do we do? Say nothing? What about the people here? They deserve to know that this threat is gone, that their home is safe again. And what about the families and friends of the victims? Don't they deserve some degree of closure? Maybe the wendigo will be treated more like an absurdity, but those people deserve to know what happened. Why should a killer's burial rights outweigh the peace of mind of the bereft?"

"I agree that the families deserve closure," James said simply. "I just don't think they need to know that it was a wendigo. If I can identify the body, we'll have a person - with a name and a face - and I'd argue that would give more closure to the families than telling them a monster killed their loved ones. And it could give closure to the family of whomever the wendigo used to be as well."

For a quiet beat, Caspar deeply considered this. Then nodded slowly. "You're right," he said. "It can't be the full, hard truth. But we can't provide anyone an answer without any form of evidence. People are far less likely to believe us if all they have is our word for it."

James set his hands on his hips, tilting his head to the side as he looked at Caspar.

"If it's physical evidence you need, I can fabricate something," he said. "Partial truths are easier to work with, anyway."

Cocking his head, Caspar raised both brows at him. "Fabrica-- What? Like..." He thought for a moment. "...a fake body?"

James gestured to Caspar with his hand.

"Yes," he said. "I could do that. More or less."

He'd have to work with the original corpse, but he might be able to do some ritual magic to restore the body to its original form before it underwent the painful transformation into a wendigo.

"I'll have to use all of your salt," James said.

"My salt," Caspar echoed with confusion, but was willing and pushed himself to his feet anyway.

"And some copper wire," James said. "I should have everything else I need."

Lyall looked rapidly between them with growing concern. "This is really happening?"

Hild tucked away her notepad in her bag. "I think we should have a full visual record of this transformation, even if it's really only for us."

"I have no objections to it, so long as it doesn't go public," James said, crossing the living room to go into his room and grab his bag.

"Don't forget who you're talking to," she said lightly, turning in her seat to face the door to the guest room.

Lyall raised both hands, perplexed. "Are we not going to ask him how he knows this sort of complicated fabrication spell?"

"I'm not going to do a fabrication spell," James said loudly from his room, the door open behind him. He decided to just take his whole bag with him, and hoisted it over his shoulder. "It's actually going to be a restoration spell. Technically it falls under transmutation but it's specific to mending a body that's been corrupted by magic, be it a curse or any other magical malady. Consider it a kindness, since all I really plan on doing is making the corpse human, like it used to be."

He stepped back into the doorway of his room, looking out at Lyall and Hild.

"And I learned much of what I know from Eir," he said. "But there were other things I learned on my own, and from the few other mages I've known."

Caspar re-remerged from the kitchen with a tall canister of salt. "Will the spell hold, or will the body have to revert back at some point?"

"It should be permanent," James said, walking over and taking the canister from him, stuffing it into his backpack. "So less trouble for you. Just work for me."

"But!" Lyall still looked doubtful. "The leviathan!"

Hild blinked hard at that. "The what?"

"Can't you just put up a 'no fishing/no swimming' sign?" James asked, though he wasn't being entirely serious. One crisis at a time.

"She can't leave the water," Caspar explained patiently, again. "And she's primarily a scavenger. Doesn't hunt for things still alive." He paused. "Maybe a sign would be good."

"Or a fence," James said. "If you're that worried."

"Also," Lyall went on, studying James more closely, "have you performed this kind of spell before? You seem very familiar and confident with it, and I'm not sure I find that comforting or disconcerting."

James stepped into the living room, looking down at Lyall as he sat on the couch.

"Not my first wendigo," he said.

And then he passed Lyall, standing in the space by the door, facing the two Ashlunds.

"And I've run into more than one person who's needed healing from a magical malady that had a physical expression," he said, glancing at Lyall's hands very briefly. "Spells have more than one use."

At this, Lyall cast him an especially skeptical look. At the same time, he missed his sister's confused, concerned gaze fixed on the back of his head.

James sighed. Right. Lyall was trying to keep that on the down-low. That was his bad, but he didn't want to waste a spell undoing his words.

"Regardless," James said. "Hild, you said you wanted to document this with photos. I assume you'll be coming along."

"Of course," she answered smoothly. "I'll keep out of your way, though."

James looked to Lyall.

"Do you want to tag along?"

"Not particularly," Lyall answered without hesitation, "but I at least want to see this through."

"Well then," James said. "Caspar, I guess that means we'll be in need of your car."
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

the only theft here is of decency when carina decided to rob me of my pride and put me on a banana
— veeren