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Island Magic

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Thu Sep 14, 2023 12:59 am
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SilverNight says...

Shane had been hoping the island would feel less surreal by the evening. It didn't.

He was now standing in a flock-- a herd? A pack? Even a pod, maybe?-- of people in atrocious shirts, and he didn't know any of them now that James had left. Well, he'd met Lyall, but he was talking one-on-one with someone named Hild, who Shane had gathered was his sister. And that left him to smile and stand around in the group, wondering if his shirt was a little too much. Of course he could be standing around people who were wearing shirts that were just as if not more ridiculous as him and still worry about that.

He just didn't know what else to be doing. All of the people around him seemed nice, but all were intimidating in their own way. Alan, the man in the shirt with possibly the worst pun of all, had such a nice, warm smile, but he had a confidence that Shane felt too anxious for. Clandestine, in the meme shirt, seemed like a top contender for one of the friendliest and bubbliest people Shane had ever met, but he didn't feel like he could insert himself in conversation in case it messed with her vibe. There was Clarity, the only one not partaking in the shirt business-- and not much in the conversation either, because she seemed polite but in a cooler-than-you slightly cold way. And of course, there was Cyrin from his own home country of Aphirah, the outgoing celebrity who still managed to make a punny T-shirt look like it cost five thousand and had a designer tag. It was not his crowd.

Although to be fair, Shane wasn't really a crowd person at all.

While the three of them chatted, Shane saw someone enter through the gates in the corner of his eye. It was Connie, arriving late to the party. He didn't go speak to anyone, but he was wearing the shirt from James' wardrobe, and seeing that made Shane smile a little more. He took a lounge chair by the bald man from earlier who was now in wolf form, and he sat down and got comfortable while staring over the view the infinity pool looked over.

Someone tapped Shane's shoulder, and he tried not to startle, turning his attention back to the group.

"Hey!" Clandestine said with a small smile. "Oh, sorry, did I scare you? You just looked like you were spacing out is all."

"You're good." Shane smiled faintly. "I kind of was."

"How was space?" she asked.

Shane felt tongue-tied for a moment, but he got out of it with a slightly nervous laugh. "Not so bad," he said, looking around. "A lot more quiet and peaceful than here. Colder, too. I think I'm melting."

"You look pretty solid for someone melting," she said, poking his shoulder again as if to check. "Is melting your power or something?"

Shane laughed, meaning it a little more now. "It is not," he said. "Or I'd surely be a puddle by now."

"Well I'm glad," she said. "Because that would be messy. Imagine people accidentally stepping on you! That would be dreadful."

"I heard a tell tale of someone's magic turning into a teeny tiny ant," Alan said as he lifted his hand and brought his thumb and forefinger together to show how small it would be. "I think they'd definitely find that dreadful."

"Aw!" Clandestine said. "So tiny... but terrifying to be so small."

Alan hummed. "Can you talk to bugs?"

"Yeah!" Clandestine said with a smile. "They're critters too." She turned to look at Shane, whispering like it was an aside to add: "I can talk to animals!"

"Hm. Sounds noisy," Alan commented.

"Really?" Cyrin asked, eyes lighting up with interest. "That seems like it'd be so cool. Which animal is your favorite to--"

Suddenly there was a blood curdling scream near the food. Shane's attention diverted towards the source of the noise, and he thought there were two people there, but when he blinked, he only saw a man in a trench coat, scrambling away from something that wasn't there.

"That's... ominous," Alan said with a nervous laugh as they all watched the man scamper away.

"Is something wrong, maybe?" Shane asked with a concerned frown.

"I don't know, but I hope that guy's okay," Clandestine said. "Maybe he saw a bug that scared him? Some people scream like that at spiders."

"He could be seeing things," Clarity suggested. "There's some interesting people here, for lack of a better word."

"You think it's his powers or does he need like, a doctor?" Clandestine asked, turning to Clarity with sudden worry.

"Has anyone met him before? I don't want to be too presumptuous," Alan said.

"Maybe I should go talk to him--" Clandestine started to say.

"Don't," James said, suddenly appearing behind all of them. "He screamed because some guy was messing with him. That's all."

"Hey, James," Alan said with a smile, then glanced back at where the man screamed before he ran off. "You saw what happened?"

"Yeah," James said. "The same guy tried to bother me a minute ago. Some kind of mind-reader, except he wasn't very accurate. Seemed like he was enjoying messing with people."

"That's... unsettling," Alan murmured.

"In my experience, people like that don't really deserve a reaction," James said. "That's just giving them what they want."

Cyrin glanced at where the scene had happened, and Shane saw a hint of something uneasy flash over their features. "What did he look like?" they asked, like they were already planning to avoid him.

"Short, very skinny. Big, buggy eyes," James said. "Pale skin and hair. Very unkempt."

Cyrin nodded once he'd finished, pressing his lips together thoughtfully. "Thanks. Shouldn't be hard to recognize him."

"Is there some kind of rule where participants can't use their magic on each other in harmful ways?" Shane asked. "It seems like there should be."

"There ought to be. I think it's also just plain respectful to not use your magic on others without their permission, but it seems that some people lack that," Alan said, and Shane nodded in agreement.

Suddenly there was a fanfare of music, electronic dance music filling the air as lights around them started to pulse around them.

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Confetti fell from the sky and disappeared into tufts of smoke when it hit the ground, resulting in a smoky floor pillowing around their feet. Clarity coughed, raising a hand to somehow sweep it away from her, and Shane guessed it was a power of hers.


The lights stopped roaming as they suddenly all shined on one spot: the top of the balcony where the two siblings walked out waving, wearing expensive outfits, as they always did. Maeve was dressed in a black dress with a low neckline, accessorizing herself with as many diamonds as possible, whether it was around her neck, wrist, or delicately-tied-up hair. Oliver was dressed in a sleek gray suit, wearing the same expensive watch as the thumbs up meme.

"Heeeelllloooooo, my lovelies!" Maeve chirped with her hands out to greet everyone, grinning wide. "Welcome to the first season of Maeve's Determiner of Magical Valor! You must all be soooo excited to be here..."

Maeve went on to talk about Island Magic, the importance of the DMV, and the memories they would all make along the way. She often rambled, tearing up and getting emotional even though it was badly acted, and talking too much about herself. There was a woman in blue-- all in blue-- standing behind the camera supposed on them, boldly mouthing silent shouts of encouragement and holding two thumbs up.

Just as Maeve was about to talk about the events of the day, her microphone suddenly cut off, and Oliver spoke over her. It was hard to tell if it was planned since Maeve seemed wildly offended and upset, but Oliver transitioned in smoothly.

"We are so excited to have you here today. Please, I implore you: eat, drink, and be merry. Today kicks off a round of activities for three months of exciting rich activities to improve upon our powers and make the world a better place. We at the DMV care about each and every single one of you, and we will do our best to accomodate your needs and wants. Right now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the luxuries the island has to offer. Welcome to your first day, contestants!"

Oliver raised his arms with a smile, and that seemed to be a signal for the DJ to play more music as the lights and confetti once again sprayed everywhere. The spotlight was no longer on the siblings, but Shane noticed Maeve angrily whining as she shoved Oliver, but he seemed to be unaffected as he walked away.

Waiters came out of nowhere, rolling in many tables of food filled to the brim with hot and cool dishes, featuring dozens of countries and different cultures to accomodate everyone. The fresh aromas filled the air, and the DJ transitioned to playing party music in the background as the lights dimmed to only light up the pool. The confetti stopped dropping, and the rest of the smoke billowed away.

"That was so needlessly dramatic," Alan said with a laugh, picking out a piece of confetti that landed on Shane's shoulder. It immediately puffed to smoke as he picked it up, causing Shane to laugh as well.

"I didn't realize Maeve and Oliver were related," Clandestine commented. "But suddenly it all makes sense."

Cyrin hummed. "Oh, they're related, alright. They're siblings, both of them some of the most famous people from Vietance. I've seen them together here and there, though I think they don't get along very well."

Alan glanced down at Clandestine's shirt. "Hm. That's the guy on your shirt, isn't it?" He paused. "I feel like I should know this, considering I'm here... but alas."

Clandestine smiled in amusement, looking down at her shirt, and then up at Oliver as he and Maeve stepped out onto the ground floor where they all were.

"Yeah," she said with a grin. "Never thought I'd see him in person!"

"Hey, act natural," Alan whispered loudly. "He's coming this way."

Somehow failing this simple direction, Shane proceeded to stand as stiffly as possible.

The friendly smile the DMV vice president wore on the balcony was replacced with a concerned frown. Oliver seemed to be walking with purpose, glaring down at their group as he bee-lined his way over. They all stared at him as he approached, and an uneasy feeling settled into Shane's chest.

"Gentlemen," Oliver said with a nod, then at Clarity, then finally landing on Clandestine. "Ladies." He cleared his throat. "How is your evening so far?"

"Really nice!" Clandestine answered cheerily. "You guys made the place look so cool."

"Is that so? I'm very glad to hear. We do try to to provide respect and honor to all our guests," Oliver continued with a polite smile that was obviously forced.

"That's really kind of you guys," Clandestine said, clearly not picking up on how fake Oliver's countenance was.

Somehow, Oliver made his smile look even faker as it widened. "Providing kindness is our specialty on this island." He paused. "However, I do kindly request that you change your attire." He gestured to the whole group. "All of you. I apologize for the inconvenience. Please understand, since we are filming live, we received threats for copyright infringement. I don't want to have to do this, but I must ask you all to change. If you need a new set of clothes, I would be happy to provide a clean set for you."

All of the light formerly in Clandestine's eyes dimmed as her smile faded into a small pout.

"Oh," she said quietly, looking up at Oliver what could only be described as puppy eyes. "Are we in trouble?"

"They're just shirts," James said before Oliver could reply. "None of them are 'copyrighted.'"

"James is right," Cyrin said evenly, watching Oliver with what Shane could tell was a barely concealed challenge. "I don't see any of us wearing Didney characters."

"Thank you, Cyrin," Oliver said with a feigned smile at Cyrin before he turned to James. "At least one is copyrighted." He focused back on Clandestine, his smile fully faded now. "And yes. You are in trouble. I won't ask again. This is a warning. Please switch attire, and we can resume the party business as usual."

"Which one or ones are copyrighted?" Shane found himself blurting before he could regret it. "Point to them. Tell us who's suing."

"This isn't up for debate," Oliver said too calmly with his lips pulled back in a weary smile. "I'm afraid I cannot release the details. If you need a new, fresh set of--"

"Wait," Lyall said. He held up a hand, brows furrowed as he feigned deep contemplation. Then he wheeled his arm to point at Clanny's shirt. "Isn't that...you?"

Oliver's eye twitched, but he didn't even glance down at the shirt. It seemed he was already very well aware.

"If you need a new, fresh set of clothes, we'd be happy to provide you with one," he finished more cooly, partly through his teeth as it became obvious he was losing his patience. "If you don't cooperate, I'm afraid I will have to escalate this to security."

"No one else on staff had any issue with these outfits until you stepped in," James cut in. "It sounds to me like this is a personal problem."

Stepping back, Lyall held up his hands to frame Oliver's face. "See," he murmured, "I'm pretty sure that's you. It's just..." He 'panned' over to the shirt. "I don't know, something about the face just isn't matching up." He turned back to study Oliver again.

Oliver's fake smile deepened into a frown. He turned his head off to the side, where there was a single camera pointed at them from the distance, but not being close enough to capture what they were saying. He glared at the cameraman in the flannel standing closest. Awkwardly looking askance, the man cautiously lowered the camera. Once Oliver's back was turned, though, he just slowly angled it up again.

"I'm sorry, you'll need to drop the scowl for a moment," Lyall went on, undeterred, "and perhaps stand closer. For better comparison."

Oliver seemed to accept this as an invitation, standing close to Lyall so he could look down at him with a daggering glare, but Clandestine spoke before he could get a word in.

"Do you not like the meme?" she finally asked in a quiet voice that made everyone else fall silent.

"All of you are making a grave mistake," Oliver hissed, still glaring down at Lyall. "Do you know who I am? I could ruin your lives. I can fuck it ten times over. You're willing to die on this hill?"

"You shouldn't have made it such a lovely hill," Lyall countered with a faint, challenging grin, while Shane felt a sick weight forming in his stomach.

Oliver talked over Lyall, completely ignoring him. "You're willing to ruin your lives over, what? A pathetic shirt? A woman who's far too naive and stupid to know what she's doing? I gave you a warning. I offered mercy. And yet you spit it back at my--"

James, who was formerly behind Shane, pushed past him faster than Shane could register. Before anyone knew it, James was right in front of Oliver.

With a sickening crack, James's fist pummeled into Oliver's face, and Oliver stood stunned for a split second before he fell back onto the ground.

Standing over him, James held his bloodied fist over Oliver's prone frame.

"The only one who's pathetic here," James said coolly. "Is you."

Suddenly it seemed that all the cameras were pointed at them as Oliver stared up with a bloody nose. He stared with wide eyes at James before a fire lit inside him. Whatever rage flowed through his veins did not show, though-- likely because of the cameras. Oliver slood up slowly, holding his hand under his nose to catch the blood as he glared viciously at James.

"Security," he said tiredly.

Right on cue, a tile under James's feet flipped over, and he suddenly dropped underneath like a Luney Toones character. Shane leapt back, his jaw dropping as he stared into the void below, until the tile flipped over and he was just staring at the ground.

Suddenly, the party music started blasting again, a little louder this time. Not even giving the others his attention, Oliver turned away and walked back inside, likely to get medical attention.

Shane pulled his hands to his chest to hide that they were shaking.

"What the fuck?" Cyrin whispered, then they leaned over the tile, shouting. "James!"

Lyall just openly gaped at the floor, completely speechless for once.

"He's okay," the man in the sunglasses said, stepping forward within view and holding out a hand. "He's in-- in timeout, if you will. They'll let him out when the pool party ends."

Lyall's bewildered frown turned deeply offended. "I beg your pardon?"

"Is he alright?" Alan asked, deep concern in his voice.

The man in the sunglasses pursed his lips, folding his clipboard to his chest, and even though his eyes were covered, Shane had the feeling he was just as displeased with it as they were. "He is alright," he assured them. "Like you may have gathered, it's a security thing. Just a way to isolate someone in a safe way for everyone. It's a cartoonish method, I admit, and I understand your concern. But I can promise he's alright down there."

"Can you?" Clarity asked flatly. "Who are you anyway?"

"I'm so sorry for the confusion. I'm Dante, your grounds manager," the man in the sunglasses said, tipping his head politely. "I'm here to address your questions, concerns and complaints. I figured you all needed some explanation of what just happened, but if you need some other kind of assistance, I can help with that too."

Lyall opened his mouth to say more, but Hild waved him down as she stepped closer with a diplomatic smile.

"Thank you, Dante," she said, inclining her head, "we are quite reassured now. We'll be sure to turn to you with further questions in the future."

Shane took a quick glance around everyone. With his hands tucked in his pockets, Lyall had recomposed himself by this point, but he still stared concernedly at the spot where James once stood. There was the slightest edge to Hild's smile, suggesting it was forced and even a tad mistrusting. Clanny was quiet, her brows knitted together sadly as her eyes were quickly drifting to whoever was talking. Alan was also quiet, but likely out of shock, or perhaps because he didn't have anything to contribute as he listened instead as an observer. Cyrin looked baffled, like he wanted to argue about something. Meanwhile, Clarity was giving Dante a cold, cautious stare.

"Thanks, Hild. I'd be happy to." Dante paused. "For the record, I like all of your shirts. Especially yours, Clandestine."

"Thanks," Clandestine said meekly, looking at her feet.

Dante smiled weakly, waving to all of them and resting his hand on the clipboard. "I'm easy to find if you need anything. My office is on the far side of the mansion--" He paused, craning his head to see past Shane. "Ah, there's Mireya, our director. It seems like she wants to talk to you."

The woman in full blue from earlier was leaving the mansion, rushing out in heels to their group. "Good evening, everyone," she said brightly. "How's the pool party going for you?"

"It's mostly been left turns so far," Lyall murmured.

Hild batted at her brother's face to shut him up. "Quite nicely," she added, "lovely view, extravagant spread."

"Or left hooks. Ha," Mireya said with a laugh, then cleared her throat and stood straighter. "I'm sorry to say this is where your fun ends for the night, though. You'll be leaving the pool and heading to the multi-purpose cabin, also known as the Marry Poopins House."

Hild's expression blanked at that.

Dante sighed. "What does Oliver want?"

"Detention," Mireya said casually. "A space to learn some lessons."

Lyall frowned suspiciously at her. "'Detention'?" he echoed indignantly. "What is this, elementary school?"

"It's an island," Mireya said, "where we are all expected to behave ourselves and get along. We don't want this becoming Lord of the Gnats, do we?"

"This is juvenile," Dante objected, folding his arms over his chest with a faint scowl. "Most of them did little or nothing."

"Take it up with Oliver," Mireya said with a shrug. "Or maybe do it later. He's kind of pissed right now. But hey, you'll get to drive one of the goolf carts over there. Won't that be fun?"

Dante titled his head back, until he was looking straight up at the sky. Even though Shane was missing half of his expression, and his face had a blankness to it, he knew the man had to be comtemplating some deep things right now.

"Very well," he said with a heavy, resigned sigh, waving the group towards the exit with his clipboard. "Alan, Shane, Lyall, with me. Cyrin, Clandestine, Mireya will be driving you."

"Oh, don't forget Constantine," Mireya added. "He's wearing a pun shirt too."

Dante scowled. "He didn't even--"

Talk to Oliver, not me, Mireya mouthed fiercely, and Shane had the feeling that would only make things worse.

Dante pinched the bridge of his nose. "Right. He'll be in your goolf cart, then. Go find him." He turned to Hild and Clarity. "The two of you are free to stay and enjoy the party. Sorry for the drama." His voice indicated it was an apology for all of them.

Hild plastered on another polite smile. "No worries. You're just doing your job." Clarity only nodded, her gaze still sharp.

Dante returned the smile faintly, then looked back at Lyall, Shane, and Alan. "This way," he said, moving towards the exit.

Shane hesitated, feeling like he should object, but he thought better of it. He reluctantly followed beside Alan and Lyall, exchanging glances with them as they walked to the goolf cart. He didn't know what he was expecting from detention, but he'd bear it and hope James really was fine.

One day down on this island, and so much had happened already. Three months to go.
"silv is obsessed with heists" ~Omni

"silv why didn't you tell me you were obsessed with heists I thought we were friends" ~Ace

"y’all we outnumber silver let’s overthrow her >:]" ~winter

silver (she/they)

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Thu Sep 14, 2023 2:02 am
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Carina says...

This was all a bit absurd, but truly, Alan wasn't questioning it. This entire day felt like a fever dream, and after witnessing what happened between James and the Vice President of the DMV, he didn't know if he should laugh or be concerned.

Both. But his heard hurt too much to figure out what the hell was happening right now as they were moving.

He sat next to Dante in the front of the goolf cart, deciding to use this time to strike up conversation and get more context to background he didn't quite understand. He learned more about Oliver and Maeve's role in the DMV, their fame, and their wealth-- with Lyall cutting in behind him to offer some random obscure unflattering facts that he must have read in media about him that painted him in a bad light. Shane weakly laughed from time to time, but for the most part, he kept silent. He seemed timid before, but now he looked more anxious.

And that was another thing, too. Alan was not only rooming with a famous celebrity, but also sharing a ride with a royal heir of Aphirah. And there was the first prince of Talia in the other cart, apparently.

A fever dream. That was really what it felt like.

The ride wasn't very long, and they soon reached a small house covered with vines. It looked abandoned and dusty, but Dante assured them that looks could be deceiving. It seemed that they were the first ones to arrive, so Dante unlocked the door and let them in. The room was dark, and Alan swore he saw a rat scamper away into a corner.

But then Dante snapped his fingers, and when the lights turned on, everything moved like it was the Didney Schmantasia movie. Furniture started to lift up in the air rhythmically as brooms and mops quickly swept across the floor. Alan watched in wide shock, but also in awe since he didn't even know this type of magic even existed.

"It's not me," Dante said with a chuckle, seeing their three looks of shock. "My magic doesn't work this way. The Marry Poopins house does, though. It's enchanted to only listen to staff."

It took a minute for everything to settle into place. The room was completely transformed into what looked like a primary school's classroom. Six too-small desks were neatly arranged, all ready with a notebook and several sharpened pencils. The front of the room had a green chalkboard, neatly printed with the words: "I WILL NOT WEAR UGLY SHIRTS."

"Yeah, this is pretty juvenile," Dante muttered, before turning back to the group, right as Mireya, Cyrin, Clanny and Connie entered. "I hope you understand. I don't find it fair, either, especially on a first day, but there's little I can do. I'm sorry for that, but I will help you every other time you come to me, even though my hands are tied today."

There were complaints, of course-- but Mireya was quick to address them, going right into business and telling everyone where to sit and what they were to do. Apparently, "detention" consisted of uncomfortably sitting in small chairs and writing the "I WILL NOT WEAR UGLY SHIRTS" sentence hundreds of times. Alan, Shane, Connie, and Cyrin were ordered to write it three hundred times, but Clandestine and Lyall had to write it five hundred times.

This was so bizarre. And really, really dumb. But Alan only sighed, deciding to get this over with. It took a while, but everyone did agree to cooperate as Dante and Mireya silently watched over the room like they were actual teachers.

They never said it had to be well written... and Alan had ample practice of writing quick, messy cursive to jot down an idea before it escaped him. He found himself zoning out, writing the sentence over and over again atrociously even for his standards, but not so bad that they would call him out on it.

A few minutes passed, and everyone's attention was diverted to Connie as he suddenly screeched his tiny chair back, picking up his papers and walking over to Mireya to turn in.

There was no way he finished. That was impossible. Alan didn't even see him write.

Connie stood silently in front of Mireya as she stared at his paper, her face incredulous as she visibly tried to suppress a laugh. With a shake of her head, she set the paper aside as waved him to the door.

The entire time Connie had been here, he looked like he was extremely annoyed-- but Alan didn't blame him, since he really wasn't involved in the ordeal at all. But since he was let go without writing anything, it seemed that Oliver must not even have wanted to punish him after all. He just wanted to save face.

Connie left without another word or glance to anyone (even though he didn't even say or look at any of the other contestants the whole time), and there were some murmurs from Lyall as he muttered something under his breath, but Mireya was quick to shush him.

Alright... this was going to be a very long evening.

~ ~ ~

If it wasn't for his hand continually cramping up on him, he'd get done faster. An hour had passed as he painstakingly wrote the same words again and again, filling out a dozen pages since he wrote too big. He really should have finished this in one hour, but Alan bit through the pain of not stopping, wanting to finish this sooner rather than later.

Plus, he was on his last ten sentences when Shane got up to turn his papers. How did he finish so fast, Alan had no clue-- especially since he glanced at his notebook and saw the neatest handwriting.

Alan took a second to stare at his last page, feeling like this was becoming illegible. Whatever. Mireya only glanced at it anyways.

He quickly finished the last ten sentences, not even caring if they were practically scribbles at this point. The words "ugly shirt" started to feel like a concept instead of words, now. He wrote it so many times, he didn't even know what it meant anymore.

There was also a certain irony in turning this in while he was still wearing the brightest tie dye shirt with the worst pun in history. He'd savor this moment.

Finally finished, Alan got up in a daze, picking up the notebook and offering it to Mireya. She squinted at the work, especially the last few pages, as if she was doubting the existence of the letters. Just when he was starting to think she wouldn't accept it, she shrugged, pointing to the door.


Alan offered a tired smile to her, then nodded at Dante as he walked past, heading for the door. It looked almost like Dante was sleeping behind the shades, leaning back in his chair, but a slight smile and a one-handed salute in return proved he was still awake.

Really, not much time had passed in the grand scheme of things, and he wondered what would happen if he went back to the pool party-- but he'd rather not test that theory.

Well, it seemed he'd just have to enjoy his first evening in paradise.

Alan stepped outside, careful to quietly shut the door behind him, but then he skipped down the porch steps, quickly looking around. He wondered if he'd be quick enough to catch Shane walk away, but that was several minutes ago, and it seemed he must have just missed him since he was nowhere on sight.

Ah well. He wouldn't mind walking down the lovely path back to his cabin by himself, anyways.

Remembering the route they took, Alan started to walk down the same sandy path, taking in the scenic views of the cabin on top of the craggy cliffs on the shoreline. He had been staring over the sandy beaches on the other side of the island, it was almost surreal to see that the island could even contain rocky cliff side coasts like this.

The view caught his breath as he walked by admiring it, but as he walked up the hill past the cabin, he realized Shane was actually on the same path, veering off closer towards the cliff side. It seemed that he caught him after all.

With a smile, Alan decided to join him, sliding down the rocky terrain and making enough noise so it was obvious that he was approaching, since he didn't want to scare him. Shane turned at the sound, his expression brightening slightly when he saw him, and he offered him a shy smile.

"Beautiful view, huh?" Alan said with a smile as he approached, now standing next to him as he also looked over the ocean. "It's a nice reward after a torturous detention."

"It is lovely," Shane agreed, letting out a soft laugh. "You know what they say. The best view comes after the hardest climb."

Alan hummed. "I haven't heard that one, actually. But I like it." He paused. "Although, I'm in no shape to climb. I can't feel my right hand after writing all that without stopping."

Shane glanced down at his own hand, flexing his wrist gently. "I can feel it," he admitted. "And it hurts. I've been on break from school for just a couple weeks and I'm already falling out of the practice of taking notes."

"Wait. I know this one," Alan said with a snap of his fingers, turning to Shane with a grin. "You're studying to be a historian, right?"

Shane smiled a little wider. "Yeah, that's what I've been working towards."

"Sorry. It must be tiring to have strangers know about your life," Alan said with a faint laugh. "I admit I only know because someone I know is obsessed with royalty news, and they sometimes put on videos in the background. I happened to sit in on a video about Aphirah, so I suppose I know a thing or two."

"I'm used to it," Shane said with a meek laugh. "It makes for awkward introductions, though. I don't want to assume what people already know about me, but sometimes they'll take the words right out of my mouth before I get to say anything."

"That's quite rude. Sorry you have to endure that." Alan paused, offering another smile. "But no more assumptions from me-- I promise. I think it's better to joyfully discover someone slowly with each passing day, anyways. Everyone deserves that, including you."

Shane's smile slowly widened, staying soft. "Thanks," he said after a moment. "I think that'd be nice."

Alan stared over the view again, letting a short silence pass as they admired the ocean. After a few moments, he glanced over his shoulder, back towards the path. "Do you mind if I join you on your walk back?" he asked.

"Of course you can," Shane said, nodding, with a lingering smile. "You seem like good company."

"I'll do my best to be more entertaining than nature," Alan said with an amused puff of air as he gestured backwards with his head. "Come on. There's more to see. We can stop to smell the roses some more later."

Shane chuckled, leaving the cliff side to walk alongside him as they started on the path. Alan had to do a quick calculation in his head, placing the route they took to get here on a map he had of the island, although he admittedly didn't pay too much attention when they got here, considering he had been talking to Dante the whole time.

"I like your shirt, by the way," he said as he glanced down at Shane's kitten shirt. "It's very cute."

Shane glanced down at it, laughing. "I've been thinking yours is the most atrocious," he said. "Which, of course, makes it the best among all of them."

"It's a crime that I had to write less than Clandestine, isn't it?" he said with a smile and a shake of his head. "In any case, I hope they're all hanging in there. That was a pretty stupid punishment, but it could be worse."

Shane nodded, looking more thoughtful now. "I didn't think they'd punish us at all, but now that we're on Oliver's bad side, I'm surprised it wasn't worse. I think all of us are going to have to be careful with him."

"Well. Whatever happens, it can't be worse than what James is experiencing right now." Alan signed. "I hope he's doing alright, wherever he is. When I see him next, he's getting a toast in his honor."

"I should make him a Welcome Back sign for when he gets back to the cabin," Shane said, sounding half-serious.

"Not a bad idea, actually. I think he could use a laugh," Alan said with chuckle, then glanced back at him with a slightly raised brow. "Is he your cabin mate?"

"He is," Shane said with a nod. "It's me, him, and Connie. I think they put us together because-- well, we all have bird last names."

"Huh." Alan hummed. "I'd have thought the DMV would put all the royals or celebrities together. Instead they opted for a bird joke."

"I guess they thought it was better to be funny," Shane said with a shake of his head. "If Cyrin were in that cabin instead of James, we'd all be even more different. I think Cyrin truly is cool, but I'm actually really glad that James is there. We got along pretty well meeting, and I'd hope both of us had a good time out on a walk together. That might be hoping for too much, though, because--" Shane frowned, blinking, as if he'd arrived at something he didn't really want to say. "Well, he got struck by another contestant's lightning while we were out."

Alan did his best to follow along, but he was processing the words slowly. "He got struck," he repeated slowly. "By lightning?"

"He's invulnerable," Shane said quickly, presumably as a way to say he was alright. "That's his power. He's got metal bones as well, though, so... An electric spark from the other contestant's powers became pretty dangerous around him. I was terrified for a good moment before he started healing."

"Ah. I see."

Alan nodded along, remembering when James told them that he had an "accidental near death experience" that he was able to be healed since he had rapid regenerative powers. Alan hadn't pressed for more detail, but now that Shane laid it out, it made a lot more sense now. He felt bad for the man, especially considering he had also gotten doused by water at the pool and then disappeared into Tile Hell. If Alan didn't know any better, he'd have thought bad luck was a side effect of his magic.

"That must have been so scary, especially since that caught you off guard," Alan continued. "James told me that he had an incident this morning, but I didn't realize it was that bad. I'm glad that he's okay, though, even though he likely downplays the pain. And I'm glad that you're okay, too. It would have been terrifying for everyone if you were caught between them."

"Yeah," Shane said, more soberly before he blinked and took a deep breath. "I'm fine though. We're both fine. I guess it wasn't the first close call for either of us." He glanced back to Alan. "Welcome Back sign it is."

Alan nodded. "Maybe you can throw a little welcoming party when he returns. I'll tell my cabin mates about it and we can stop by. Assuming James wouldn't mind, anyways."

"One of our cabins can provide the snacks," Shane said, with a faint smile. "The other could bring the drinks. Or maybe James doesn't drink. Let's hold that thought, actually."

"Well, if he does drink, we have enough wine and spirits to make everyone drunk every second we're on this island. And if he doesn't-- I'm sure we could make mocktails. Either way, a party sounds lovely," Alan said with a smile. "My cabin mates are Cyrin and Lyall, by the way. It seems that we're the two problematic cabins since we were all punished along with Clandestine. But I'd also like to think we're also the fun ones."

Shane let out a soft laugh. "Definitely the fun ones. At the very least, the ones with the best sense of fashion."
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soundofmind says...

"Captain's log," James dictated to himself. "It's been four hours, and I still don't know this man's name, but he's been muttering nonstop."

In the background, the near-emaciated man was hunkered over in the corner, speaking in something adjacent to english, though James couldn't really be sure. James had his head leaned against the cold, metal wall of their cell, and he was staring at the other wall - each of them blank, and empty. A single lightbulb on the ceiling kept them from being in pure darkness. The room itself was small, leaving just enough space to stand and only two yards between them.

The only reason the mind-reader was giving James that much space was because James had formerly threatened to kill him. It wasn't something he actually intended on doing, but the man believed him enough to leave him alone. At least, for now.

"I've been on this island for less than 24 hours," he said aloud, because he couldn't hold a real conversation with his cell-mate. "And already, I'm in the equivalent of jail. If I weren't the one living it I might find this amusing."

He did, of course, wonder if he was being recorded at the moment, and he wouldn't put it past them to have a camera in their tiny confinement. But what he wasn't sure of was how long he'd be stuck here.

All of his things were still at the mansion, too. Were they confiscated? Was this legal? He didn't think he was in any position to press charges against the DMV. It wasn't like he could afford a good lawyer.

He tapped his head against the wall with a sigh, leaning back.

When his eyes landed back on the man hunkering in the corner, it was like the mind-reader sensed his attention.

Turning around with big, bulging eyes, the man stared at him with a crazed smile.

Nice. Here we go again, he thought.

"You're a filthy criminal. You deserve to be in jail. Everyone will see who you really are. A filthy criminal!" he said with a giddy laugh, slurring his words quick like these were pent-up words waiting to be said for the last hour.

James put on a fake smile.

"Oh, yeah? Did that feel good to say?" he asked in a mocking tone. "Do you feel better about yourself now, getting that out?"

"You're a criminal! A criminal! A wanted man! You will die! You want to die!" the man said again as between maniacal laughs, his eyes impossibly getting more bulged to the point that it looked like they may pop off.

James's smile fell as quickly as he mustered it up, and he rolled his eyes.

"Hold on," he said. "Let me try this: you were neglected by your parents. Your mother never loved you. Your father left when you were young. You never learned how to make friends and never got attention so you learned the only way to get attention was to use your magic. Because any attention was good even if it was bad. It was better than being unnoticed. How's that for shooting in the dark?"

"Your mother's a widow! She left you! Your daddy left you! He died! Your brother is a thief! Your sister is a prostitute! Your life is... it's... a joke!" the man continued, and he couldn't get another word in since he was still maniacally laughing, now hunched over the floors with his fists pounding the floors like he had told the funniest joke ever.

James finally spotted the camera, seeing the red light blinking, telling him it was rolling. With the most dead-pan expression possible, he stared into the lens, hoping someone on the other side would be watching to know that he was not amused.

Yes, it was a cry for help. Not that anybody cared.

The man's laughter continued to fill the room as he spoke in broken sentences, partially in gibberish and in nonsensical phrases. He was laughing to the point where he was crying. It was so loud, and it echoed off the walls.

Then it finally stopped, and the man's smile fell, and he stared at James.

Dead silence.

"Surely," James said. "There must be someone in your life that you love or care about."

He was fishing for humanity. Something in this man had to be human.

"Love?" the man said, eyes still bulging out as he stared at him. "Who do you love?"

James stared at the man, unimpressed.

"My family," he said plainly, but honestly. "Who do you love?"

Suddenly the man got on all fours, wildly scampering over to James like a crazed animal. He didn't seem to account for the momentum to stop himself, because he ran right up to James with full force (which admittedly wasn't much, considering how frail the man was). The man flew back on his back but was quick to sit back up, crawling in close.

"Who do you love?" the man panted desperately, eyes still bulging with his face inches away from James's. "I hear it. The voices are telling me. You have loved. You have loved!"

James inched away, practically scrunching his head back into the wall to avoid having the man's breath puff right on his face. It was unpleasant, warm, and smelled like he potentially had a gum disease. This man needed to see a dentist, stat. And a psychologist.

He frowned, trying to hide the knee-jerk reaction of disgust to the man's lack of personal hygiene.

Love. James had finally gotten this man to talk about something semi-sensical, and of course it was about love. Good grief, this was exhausting.

Fine, he'd try having something of a conversation. By making things up.

It was easy to lie and pretend it was real enough. The man was only accurate maybe 20% of the time anyway. How was he going to tell the difference.

"...You're right," he said faintly. "I have. But it's too late now."

Time to come up with a sob story.

The man seemed to inch closer, enthralled by his few words as he panted heavily like a dog. "He left you, didn't he?" he said with raspy giggles, then stopped as all emotion drained out of his face, suddenly serious as he continued to stare at James. "No. You left him."

"It was a bad situation," James said, completely bullshitting a response.

"Why? Why would you let him go?" the man howled.

"We weren't meant for each other," James said, delivering it with earnest even though all of this was fictional. "He was hurting me... we both were. Hurting each other, in the end."

"Did you strangle him?" the man asked, deathly serious.

At that point, James wasn't sure how to respond. This was starting to get out of hand, and James didn't want to deal with the consequences of confessing to a fake crime on TV. Even if he told them it wasn't real, there were legal obligations to investigate at that point. But if there was no body... because there wasn't...

James decided to take a card out of the man's book, and he leaned in quickly, their faces an uncomfortable mere inch from one another as he met the man's eyes with intensity.

"Stop digging around in my head," he said lowly.

"Tula strangles me. She loves me. That's why your husband left you. You never strangled him," the man said with a straight face, unblinking and unmoving.

It took all of James's self restraint to not very loudly say what he was thinking.

What the BLEEP?

This guy. He... he was into... eugh.

James pushed the man away.

"Okay, that's enough," he said. "I don't need to hear about your BDSM kink."

Suddenly the man flew back, scampering towards the adjavent wall as he looked around wildly. "Do you hear that?" he asked with a hushed, quivering whisper.

"No," James said flatly. "Whatever it is, it's not real. We've been over this already."

"They're coming to get us! THEY'RE COMING TO GET US!" the man screamed loudly, suddenly banging his head against the wall.

James stared at the man with a sigh, once again looking into the camera with agony.

"I wish they were," he said flatly.
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urbanhart says...

The other shoe to drop turned out to be the fact that this island was run by a pretentious tyrant prone to temper tantrums when it came to personal matters such as their Public Image. Who could've predicted? Certainly not Lyall.

He milled about the classroom setting, putting on an even front, but really feeling quite offended by the whole ordeal. What were they, 8 year olds in a schoolhouse on the western frontier, suffering the consequences for cheating at a friendly game of jacks in the dirt? This was degrading!

The assignment was ridiculous. They were all instructed by the chalkboard ahead of them to write "I will not wear ugly shirts" 300 times. Miss Clanny and himself were given the special assignment of writing it an additional 200 times. Poor Miss Clanny sat there in manner that could only be described as a kicked puppy, writing even as her hand began cramping.

Connie was the first to go, despite the fact that he didn't appear to actually write anything. Fine, sure. This whole thing was ridiculous anyway. Good on him for not actually giving in to such juvenile demands.

Shane kept his head down, and his nose to the grindstone, just to get this all done and over with. Shortly after he was let out, Alan was likewise released.

Cyrin seemed to give the writing a shot at first, but after the first half-hour something seemed to kick in for them and they stood up as well, pacing a circle around the room. Dante and Mireya watched them suspiciously as first, but soon got bored and turned their attention away from them.

Pointedly walking around the desks, Lyall padded around the room until he found a world map spread across the wall to the left of the room. Keeping in line with the primary school theme (had he mentioned how much he despised that?), the countries were boldly color coded, and the names were typed out in the least professional font imaginable-- comic sans. What was worse, Fjelstad wasn't even noted. Disgraceful.

He tried to determine where this island was using as Nye as reference instead, so that he could potentially look into the laws pertaining to human rights per territory, if it was indeed in any nation's marked waters at all. But of course, this was a futile endeavor, seeing as he hadn't a single seafaring bone in his entire body. On the boat ride here, he never even ventured out onto the top deck for so little as sunlight or fresh air due to...a general disdain for the ocean. So, obviously the odds of him having the slightest sense of direction were slim to none.

Humming, he figured it was safest to assume this island was in international waters. Outside the jurisdiction of most human civilization as they knew it. Island paradise that it was (for the well-behaved, anyway), they truly were for all intents and purposes stranded here for the entertainment of the rest of the world.

"I did it," Clandestine's voice carried over to him, and he looked to see her standing in front of Mireya like a dog with her tail between her legs. Mireya didn't even look the paper over thoroughly before nodding her out. Clandestine glanced back at Lyall with a sad look, but hurried out to go home.

Lyall silently waved her goodbye. In the end, it was a true shame for something that should've been innocent, harmless fun to have gone so awry. Especially for someone so pure and upbeat as Miss Clandestine. He made a mental note to seek her out after this ordeal was over with.

Folding his arms and leaning back by the map, Lyall began to breezily say, "And then there were two--"

But there was, in fact, only one when he faced the room. Himself. His cabin mate, Cyrin, was nowhere to be found. And there was nowhere to hide in here. None of the furniture was large enough to properly accommodate a grown person for hiding.

Dante leapt up from his seat, taking off his sunglasses for the first time since Lyall had met him, and he could see his eyes were a rich, dark brown. "Where is Cyrin?"

"Oh," Mireya said disappointedly, spinning around in her chair to do a 360 of the room. "I don't think he's here anymore. He must've snuck off."

Lyall stared blankly into the room. "Huh."

Dante shrugged, sitting down again. "Well, I'm not mad. Worried for them, honestly. Carter will make them pay."

Hm. Mental note: Carter sounded important. Powerful, even. And not very fun.

"Sounds like Cyrin's problem," Mireya said brightly. "Maybe I'll catch some of the drama on camera."

Dante gave Mireya a glance-- but did not make eye contact with her, Lyall noticed. "Heaven have mercy," he murmured, doing a quick sign of the cross and reaching over to knock on the nearest wooden desk before he put his sunglasses on again.

Well. New note: warn Cyrin as soon as possible.

Scanning the walls, Lyall found the time. And was disappointed to find not much of it had passed. With a sigh, he eventually gave in and took a seat. Not in the chair, but atop the desk. He will not stoop so low. He still had his dignity, after all.

Then, remembering himself, he glanced down at the borrowed shirt. Okay, so maybe that was debatable at the moment.

Maybe it was just a immature as Oliver's outburst in the first place, but Lyall found that he couldn't stay on task. After line 58, he muttered incoherently under his breath as he found a new page and began a list. A list that was, admittedly, rambling and redundant. But this first day had been such a rollercoaster already, and he needed to blow off some steam somehow.

"Things to call Mister Oliver to his face:
pretentious tyrant
two-faced wretch
egotistical narcissist
scat face

No, wait. He scratched out the last two, deciding he ought to veer away from the food ones.

shit for brains

No, this wasn't working.

Contemplating the crossed out bullet points, it did occur to Lyall that he didn't have opportunity to actually eat at the party.

No matter! He was determined to hunker down and wait until they gave up. They would be forced to release him, without the satisfaction of a completed retaliation assignment. He will win this.

Tossing aside the notebook, Lyall then resorted to what he did best when all else failed: talk.

Mostly to himself. About the weather, foreign trade relations between Nye and their western neighbor Americhihuahua, the still-souring national ties between the latter country with their annexed states.

Lyall described the boat trip from his perspective (it was dreadful, he strongly recommended any other means of over-seas travel), how the island compared to Fjelstad (they were polar opposites in every conceivable way).

When sitting on the hard top of the little desk became uncomfortable, he got up and rearranged the furniture until they collectively made one surface long enough for him to lie on. As he did that, he began describing what a day in the life of a family physician was like, what his daily duties entailed, who he liked on his staff, who he didn't favor as much.

How he couldn't find a transcriber who could read his shorthand properly, but that was fine actually because it ended up saving him and his step-father time and money to find and hire someone for the job. It would be extraneous, really. He can transcribe his own notes just fine, it was just a matter of remembering to do so by the end of each day.

Lyall did frequently check the time on the wall clock as he talked endlessly about anything and everything. "Detention" crawled along. Outside, the sun slowly but surely sank until night was completely upon them. He was hungry, his back was stiff from lying on small children's desks, but he was undeterred. At this point, he had to be. He made it this far.

"I do believe plants," he began anew, clasping his hands behind his head, "are quite underappreciated nowadays. Sure, they make for lovely décor and nicely spruce up the blandest of living spaces if you can maintain them. But they've always served a practical purpose throughout history as well. Take, for instance, the earliest civilizations of Germaknee--"

"Ohhhhhh, I can't do this anymore," Mireya complained at last, thumping her head against the teacher's desk. "Dante, are you within legal rights to duct tape his mouth? Please?"

Lyall shot upright at that, alarmed.

"I am not," Dante said, though it seemed like he could have been making that up so he wouldn't have to do that.

Mireya let out a long suffering sigh. "Lawrence. Is it Lawrence?"

"His name is Lyall," Dante corrected quickly.

"Ly-all," Mireya ennunicated, looking Lyall dead in the eye. "Think about this. You may leave this room early, but is it worth Carter or Oliver's wrath?"

Evenly meeting her gaze, he gave this some genuine thought. Then shrugged and asked, "Well, what do you think? Seeing as you're more familiar with them than I."

Though, truthfully, he didn't intend to take any advice at this rate. He still hadn't heard anything about Mister James, and that felt like cause for concern and some feather-ruffling.

Dante and Mireya exchanged a look.

"I think--" Dante started, but Mireya spoke over him.

"Well, I'm not sure how to advise you," she said thoughtfully. "On one hand, if Carter gets his revenge on you, it means more televised drama, so I'm all for that. On the other hand, it's drama like you getting chased down by a swarm bees, and I don't think anyone wants that kind of drama on their TV screen."

Dante had to be rolling his eyes behind those sunglasses. Lyall had no idea why that was so clear, but he just had to be.

Considering this was only the first day, out of three months, maybe it would be best to keep his head low this time, get out as painlessly as possible.

But that sounded like something Hild would recommend, which made him pause.

"How's Mister James?" Lyall asked instead. "Or am I not allowed any updates on the outside world whilst in 'detention'?"

Dante opened his mouth, but again Mireya spoke.

"Neither of us know, actually," she said breezily. "No screens in here. We'd only be able to know for ourselves once we're free to leave. That means you need to do something."

"Actually," Dante said firmly, causing Mireya to sigh. "James is in security until we all leave this room. He'll be there as long as you are."

Lyall frowned. He wanted to call their bluff, but Dante didn't strike him as the type to do that. The long-suffering grounds manager thus far had only proven himself to be fairly honest. Probably. Who could say for certain, though?

Well. Lyall trusted Dante more so than Mireya, so that had to count for something.

He glanced at the clock again. 4 AM.

There was literally no telling where James was, and in what conditions he'd been left. For his sake, Lyall decided this was no longer a battle worth fighting.

Heaving a low sigh, Lyall slipped off the desks and stretched out the stiffness. Then let his arms hang tiredly at his sides.

"Very well," he at last relented, voice quiet with defeat.

"Fabulous," Mireya said, dropping her gaze back to her desk. Dante said nothing more, but gave Lyall the hint of a sympathetic nod.

Nodding his thanks to Dante, Lyall picked up the notebook, sat in one of the absurd tiny desks, and finally set to work.

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urbanhart says...

Well, it was nice to know that the outside world did indeed still exist. As far as he knew, anyway, within the bounds of the island.

Lyall stood outside, finally drawing in his first breath of fresh air in what felt like ages. To be honest, he was running out of topics to talk circles around.

He shook the soreness from his hand-- writing the same stupid phrase 500 times was no laughing matter. Especially when, anytime he mentally wandered from the task at hand and tried writing anything else, something small would poke the back of his head. It didn't hurt, but it was certainly irritating after the twenty-third time.

Anyhow. He supposed none of that mattered anymore. Worth it, in fact, when he finally saw James step out onto the beach, into the tiki torchlights that kept the beach from being clothed in darkness.

James was just a few yards ahead of him, but he didn't seem to see Lyall as he turned and trudged slowly in the sand - shirtless, shoeless, and with his hair hanging down over his face. Judging from his gait, he seemed exhausted.

Taking off his own shoes, Lyall tried springing into step beside him. Then found he couldn't-- exhaustion! How unexpected-- and so settled for dragging his feet through the sand.

"Waiiit," he called, waving an arm back and forth.

James paused in his steps, looking over his shoulder. He squinted, and Lyall realized maybe it was because the man was lacking his glasses.

"...Who is it?" he asked.

"Your unwitting key out of whatever pit they put you in," Lyall answered. When he didn't receive an immediate response of recognition:

"Lyall Ashlund?" He flopped over in a quick, sloppy bow to further prove himself. "At your ser-- eh." He waved dismissively as he slowly caught up to James.

"What happened to you?" James asked, watching as Lyall finally caught up.

Lyall took in a breath. "I essentially filibustered your freedom. I." Closing his eyes, he exhaled slowly. "Am so sorry." He looked James over with open concern. "What about you? They never gave you your things?"

James glanced off to the side.

"I guess not," he said vaguely.


Standing there with the torchlight, Lyall found himself silenty staring at a shocking array of scars littering the other man's body. Most of them predated...today, but the one over the center of James's chest was very newly healed.

Lyall supposed that was the near-death incident that Mister Hawke had mentioned when they first met. He decided against asking right now, however-- James had a sort of...haunted look in his eyes.

It wasn't cold (the ocean breeze was merely refreshing), but Lyall shed his jacket and held it out for James anyway.

"For decency's sake," Lyall said with forced breeziness.

James hesitated for a moment, looking at the jacket, then at Lyall, but he took it.

"Thanks," he said quietly, slipping it on.

They stood in silence. James zipped the jacket up. He looked over at Lyall.

"Do you know the way back?" James asked.

Lyall blinked back to attention, then scanned the beach. He clicked his tongue. "Nope."

They could probably...figure it out, though. Right? It was an island. The cabins were...on the beach somewhere.

James looked back out to the beach with a wearied expression.

"If it were daylight... maybe it would be easier," he said faintly. And then he started walking.

Lyall had to agree. Silently, he followed.

He supposed they'd see the mansion on the hill sometime maybe. From there, they could try retracing the path from the mansion to the cabins. And from arriving at the beach with their cabins, they could then go inside and finally sleep off the events of this bizarre first day. And--

No, wait. He had mental notes. Where were they? One of them was urgent.

Oh! Cyrin. He needed to find Cyrin, and... wake him up to...

Squinting against the darkness as he thought, Lyall hummed aloud. Maybe it could wait after some sleep, actually. Surely, whatever it was would still be there until sunrise.

Lyall then squinted up at the dark sky. When was sunrise anyway? It'd be nice if the sun picked up its pace a little bit, since the lines of torches by the multi-purpose cabin only went so far.

The early morning darkness very slowly swallowed James in front of him. Lyall sighed and, rubbing his hands together, sparked a small flame to help light the ground.

Once it felt like the silence had dragged on long enough, and Lyall couldn't stand it anymore, he finally asked, "Where did they put you?"

"In a small cell," James answered. "With Stravos."

"A cell?" Scornfully scrunching his nose, Lyall added in a mutter, "Place keeps getting better and better." He paused. "With what?"

"Stravos," James said again. "The shitty mind-reader guy."

"A, uhm..." Lyall bumped his hand to his forehead, trying to coax the words from the recesses of his brain. "Another contestant?"

"Unfortunately," James said with a sigh.

Note: avoid shitty mind-reader guy.

"None of this is humane," Lyall groggily concluded.

Plant-life and the waves encroached on the beach from both sides. The sand turned pebbly, effectively hiding any unforgiving roots jutting from up from the ground. His foot got caught on one such offender. Unsteady as he was from sleep deprivation, Lyall just tripped.

But before he could fall very far, James caught him, holding him up a few feet from impact. He hung there for a moment-- he spotted a tiny crab in the dirt-- before James slowly lifted him up to his feet.

"Careful," James said.

"Do I weigh anything to you?" Lyall just asked in response.

"I have metal bones," James said plainly, letting go of him. "I'm used to carrying weight."

He had... What?

Lyall blinked hard at him. "You only mentioned that you're conductive--"

Oh. Ohhh.

"Never broken a bone," he said. "Now come on. Do you think you can keep walking? Maybe put your shoes back on."

Lyall slumped against James. "Noooooo, no more walking."

"Do you suggest instead sleeping out here under the stars?" James asked. "In hopes we don't get eaten by mosquitos?"

Lyall just buried his face into James's back. "They usually only gravitate toward the highest heat signature," he mumbled. "That would be you. I'd be fine."

James didn't respond to that. He just stared at him over his shoulder. Lyall didn't budge.

"Do you need me to carry you?" James asked tiredly.

Straightening, Lyall narrowed his gaze at James. "Do not."

"It was a question, not a threat," James said. "I'd just rather sleep in my bed if that's an option."

Lyall tilted his head back with another long sigh, and flopped an arm toward the journey ahead. "Lead the way."

"If you're prone to falling," James said, starting to walk once more. "Perhaps it's better we walk side-by-side if I need to catch you again."

Lyall snorted as he trailed close behind. "Should we hold hands, too?"

James kept walking, but said nothing. He shoved his hands in his pockets.

Slowing to another stop, Lyall silently studied him through the dark. How Mister James's shoulders were held in a rigid line, and his steps heavy with exhaustion. Objectively, he'd been put through it. The second day had yet to even dawn.

Letting out a tired breath, Lyall ran a hand through his mussed hair as he kept pace again.

"I'm sorry," he eventually said in earnest. "Today's been...basically complete shit for you."

"Thanks for noticing," he said in a faint mutter.

Lyall nodded quietly. He could dial back the chatter, then. He was feeling pretty dried up, anyway.

Note, less pressing than the Cyrin one: drop by Mister James's later, after perhaps 24 hours of uninterrupted sleep for both of them. Just to be neighborly.

The pebbly beach gradually rose away from the water, turning into a sort of small cliffside as they went. Lyall did put his shoes back on by this point, and tread more carefully to keep from nearly falling on his face again. Because that was just what either of them needed. And he was fairly sure that, if he went down now, he wouldn't be able to get back up for...awhile.

"What do you mean by 'filibustered your freedom?'" James asked after a moment of silence. He kept his gaze ahead of him, glancing at his feet, and then the jungle.

Lyall tried his best to not audibly sigh with shame. "Where to begin," he murmured. "Well, see, Mister James, while you were stuck God-knows-where, the rest of us Oliver offenders were stuck in what they called--" He made little airquotes, despite James's turned back. "--'detention'. Complete with adult supervision. Upon the completion of a given prompt, each of us were released. It wasn't made known, however, that how long we spent there was directly tied to your own jail time."

"Eight hours," James said after a beat of silence.

Lyall stared at him.

"It took you eight hours," James said. "To do what?"

Lyall glanced off. "I was stalling," he answered simply, "I was feeling spiteful." He waved both hands emphatically. "In my defense, I didn't know!"

"Until when?" James asked.

"Until I outlasted them, and they simply released me." Which. Did not happen, but he was well on his way, he thought.

James lifted up both hands to rub his face, letting out a deep sigh.

"Right," he said quietly. "Okay."

Well, this felt...terrible.

Lyall came to another stop. James paused after another step, and looked back at him, brows furrowed and eyes sad.

"I don't blame you," James said. "I just wish I punched Oliver harder."

It felt slightly inappropriate, given the tone of the conversation thus far, but Lyall snorted at that.

"And normally I'd say, you have a whole three months to try again," he said, "but I have found myself humbled, and my expectations of this place irrevocably altered." He caught up once more. "It may be best to just...lie low for now."

James hummed. He looked off down the beach, resting his hands in his borrowed jacket pockets.

"Do you think this conversation is being recorded?" he asked plainly.

Lyall did heave a sigh this time. "Undoubtedly."

"So do I," he answered. "Even if I lie low, everyone will be able to hear my conversations. Either I spend these next three months becoming a liar or I embrace whatever storms are to come. Though I may be impulsive, I'm fully aware that picking a fight with Oliver puts me in hot water. I don't expect 'lying low' to do much for me in particular. But perhaps it will help you."

A pause.

"Though you did lay the teasing on thick," James said. "Which I'm sure he didn't appreciate."

"True," Lyall hummed. "And I can't say I won't be tempted to do so again." It was just so easy to rile up the guy.

Lyall waved dismissively. "Never you mind that, though."

James raised a singular brow.

"So what," he said flatly. "You're allowed to give me advice but when I return it to you it's 'nevermind?'"

"Well, you can take it or leave it," Lyall answered, shrugging. Then honestly added, "If nothing else, I'll rein myself in for my sister's sake. She tends to worry about...much, particularly in out-of-hand situations such as this. I really don't want to be the cause of added stress."

"Sounds like wisdom," James said. "And I'd be mindful that your actions might affect her. If the rules are as juvenile as they seem, I wouldn't put it past them."

Yet another ugly truth about this place, and the tyrant running it.

None of this was humane.

"You are keen, Mister James," Lyall further relented. He raised a hand as he solemnly promised, "Best behavior, from here on out."

"And I as your witness," James said with a small bow of his head.

Lyall huffed a quiet laugh. "You and the mosquitoes."

And the rest of the waking world. But, you know. Whatever.

It felt like they'd walked nearly the entire perimeter of the island by the time they found their way back to the beach houses. And, lo, the sun made its timely appearance to cast the beach in a soft, welcoming glow.

It was deceivingly peaceful. A lush, tropical front that hid the island's true insidious nature.

That said, the promise of a good sleep, and eventually some food, now lied within immediate reach.

Mister James beside him was...in truly rough shape. The bags under his bloodshot eyes were checked-luggage-sized. He and Lyall were about the same height, but Lyall's jacket did not properly accommodate the man's broad boxer's build. And he could really benefit from a quick hair brushing. Sand covered his legs and ridiculous "flamingle" trunks, and--

Lyall squinted. How did sand get in James's hair?

"Stop staring," James said, his voice hoarse.

"But I can't not stare," Lyall murmured back. "Good God, you are a trainwreck."

James twirled his arm in front of him, doing a sloppy bow as he kept trudging forward.

"Choo choo," he said, blank-faced.

Lyall debated parting ways right here. But he also genuinely feared that James simply would not make it to the porch if he so much as blinked. So Lyall at least walked him to the front door.

James stopped in front, tapping his forehead against the door as if in defeat. He stood there, unmoving.

"I don't have my key," he mumbled sadly.

"Damn," Lyall murmured.

This poor, tortured soul.

A quick beat of silence passed. Deciding to test his luck, Lyall slowly reached around James and jiggled the doorknob. The door began to give. He tragically miscalculated just how heavy James was, leaning his full weight against the door. Before he could pull back, the door flew open, pushed forward as James fell face-down to the floor with a heavy thunk.

Sand and dust flew up as James's body laid flat on the ground. Just ahead, Connie stared from across the room. It seemed he was gathering his things, ready to leave.

"My god. Is he drunk?" Connie asked flatly, grimacing.

"Nooooooo," James groaned.

Hands tucked in his pants pockets, Lyall pouted sympathetically at sad, sandy Mister James. "Yeah, no," he answered, "but I do believe he'll need help up the stairs."

Connie let out a deep, long sigh. He seemed to be contemplating his life before he shook his head and placed his bag down, heading over to them.

"I'm fine, I'm fine," James muttered, pushing himself up with what sounded like a creak. Was that his elbows cracking? Good lord, elbows should not sound like that.

With a small sway, James got to his feet, rubbing his face, which had taken a good amount of the initial impact.

"You're not drunk?" Connie said tiredly, looking down at him with his lips pulled back in annoyance.

There was a thumping of footsteps overhead, and a moment later Shane was hurrying down the stairs, rubbing his eyes. "James?" he asked sleepily. "Are you... alright?"

James closed his eyes, covering his face.

"I'm not drunk," he said. "I just haven't slept in... over 30 hours. I don't know. I lost track."

He dragged his hands down his face, pausing with them on his cheeks, the skin pulling at his eyes in what would've been a comedic expression if he didn't look so pitiful. Letting his hands flop to his sides, James looked at Connie, and then Shane.

"Sorry for waking you... or... disrupting," he said, clearly hitting a wall in searching for words.

"No, it's fine," Shane said concernedly, stepping forward. "We can talk about it all in the morning--"

"It's morning," James interrupted.

"Or whenever it is you wake up," Shane said quickly. "But you should definitely get to bed."

Lyall patted a hand to James's shoulder. "Yes, you should--"

James looked over to him, then at his hand. Picking up Lyall's hand like it were a dirty sock off the floor, James plucked it away and dropped it.

Okay. No touchy, then.

Lyall cleared his throat and continued, "Sleep. Now."

"You too," James said, but it almost sounded like a threat.

Lyall grinned at him. "See you later tonight, then. Hopefully not before."

James huffed through his nose, but said nothing more as he turned and started to walk towards the stairs, with Shane following at a distance and looking ready (but not able) to catch him if he tipped backwards. Turning on his heel, Lyall quickly and wordlessly slipped out the front door. Connie followed behind, locking the door behind him. He didn't say a word or glance Lyall's way, walking towards the other direction anyways.

Despite being dead on his feet, Lyall spun around to walk backwards and maybe catch a glimpse of where Mister Falco was headed. It seemed he was walking back to the other side of the island, exactly where Lyall and James came from.

Hmmm, mysterious.

Making a mental note to look into that another time, Lyall padded up the front steps and slipped inside his own cabin (he still had his key). Unsure of his house mates' morning routines and frankly not functioning well enough for conversation anyhow, he made a beeline up the stairs for his room.

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Carina says...


Spoiler! :
phpBB [media]

Sparkles and stars flew across the screen as a clip art saying Island Magic zipped across the screen with rainbow letters, the letters doing the wave like a tacky PoowerPooint animation. A cartoonish pixelated woman appeared, the size of a pixie. She had dark skin, big curly hair, and red robes as she danced across the screen, making the ":D" face as she followed doing the wave of the letters.

"Weeeeelcome to the RECAP~!" she chirped excitedly.

The stars and sparkles surrounding her as she then transformed like a magical anime princess girl, becoming a model figure, makeup fresh and her hair perfectly done. She winked at the camera and did a peace sign over her eye with her tongue sticking out, stars floating out of her fingers as she did so. The camera zoomed out until she was in a news anchor background, and the banner under her read "Mel Sommers".

The camera then panned out, revealing a one-eyed, very large, absurdly tall and ripped man in a stained white t-shirt and a white apron. He was taking of a beard net and clearly had just been pulled out of the kitchen. The banner under his name read "Bo". Just Bo.

"Hello everyone! Welcome to your first recap episode for Island Magic: Maeve's Determiner of Magical Valor! I'm your host, Mel, and today we have a special guest with us: the head chef of the island, Bo! Say hi, Bo!"

"Hi!" Bo said with a wide smile.

"Say, Bo, what a day, huh?" Mel said with a giggle. "We'll go through it in detail, and I'd love to hear your commentary as we go along. First, though, I must ask: what was your favorite part of today?"

"Hm. Well, I thought the t-shirts were really funny," he said. "I do love a good pun."

"Ooh! Why don't you tell the world what your favorite pun joke is?" Mel said excitedly.

The camera zoomed into Bo's face.

"We want racecars!" Bo said. "When do we want 'em?"

A pause.

"Neeeooeowwwwwwwwww," he said, imitating the sound of a racecar.

Mel giggled, playfully punching his biceped arm. "You're so funny! I love your puns!"

"Thanks," he said with a little laugh.

"Alright, alright. You brought up a good point earlier, Bo. Let's talk about those punny shirts, shall we?" Mel said with a smile.

Suddenly they were all brought down to cartoonish pixelated heads with only three frames per second talking as the screen instead showed six different shirts divided evenly across the screens, each one labeled with six of the contestant names. They were the shirts James, Alan, Shane, Clandestine, Lyall, and Connie were wearing.

"These are sooooo funny, aren't they?" Mel said with a laugh, her talking head reacting with a >w< face. "Which one's your favorite, Bo? I like Shane's cute kitten one!"

A tiny chibi hand stroked Bo's beard as he thought.

"Hmm," he said. "I like the kitten one, but I think the 'you dropped your crown, king' one is funny too."

Two animated fire emojis appeared next to Shane's name, and one thumbs up emoji appeared next to Connie's.

"That one is funny! Especially considering that Constantine did drop his crown! When is he ever going to step up to be king? Maybe we'll get news on that after the show!" Mel said with another laugh.

The screen then spiraled into a transition of Clandestine's shirt, but Oliver's face was censored and pixelated as if it were a Mimekraft character.

"Let's talk about this one, shall we? Boy, did this shirt cause quite a storm. Did you see any of it, Bo? We've been getting mixed stories," Mel said.

"Well, I was in the kitchen," he answered. "But we have a little TV in there with the livestream going. From what I saw it looked like Oliver might've asked Clandestine to change, and the others pushed back a bit on that. That's my understanding."

"Hm, that's an..." Mel's chibi face then seemed to be squinting, and her cheerful persona voice sounded like she was reading off a script. "...interesting theory. Rest assured, everything was a misunderstanding, and the incident did not involve any shirts. Please refer to the following graph for further evidence."

The screen then faded into an obviously-Photoshooped Twooter posts of various accounts telling the story, with grammar too perfect and the pictures looking like models.

"Well, anyways!" Mel continued, her bright voice returning.

The screen then shifted to many screenshots of James staring into the camera, unamused.

"Let's talk about the hottest contestant of the evening! And I don't mean that type of hot, but we can certainly ask a future audience poll later," she continued with her floating head winking. "This is James Hawke. Magic includes being a bad ass and having the worst luck ever! I mean, just look at this guy!"

The pictures then went on to fanart of James, muscular and ripped as lightning struck his chest and he absorbed it. There was another fanart of him wearing a yellow superhero getup and a red cape, punching (presumably) Oliver, although it was hard to tell since his face was censored as well. There were also some of him wearing his "SUNS OUT, GUNS OUT" shirt while flexing with extremely big muscles. This one transitioned to the same art, but with his shirt ripped from the lightning burns, now only saying "SUN...UT".

"What do you think of this bad boy, Bo? He's got attitude for sure!" Mel continued as more fanart displayed on the screen like a PoowerPooint presentation.

"I like him!" Bo said. "He's got spunk. I can appreciate that."

"Agreed! Let's teleport him over for an interview, shall we?" she chirped, pressing the big red button on their desk.

Suddenly James, wearing a matched short-sleeved set of plain gray pajamas, plopped on the stool between Mel and Bo with a puff of smoke. His hair was mussed and his eyes looked blearily, like he might've been, only moments ago, fast asleep. He blinked, looking to be in shock.

"Good morning, James!" Mel said with a bright grin. "How is your morning? Welcome to the montage show! Congratulations, you've been drafted for an impromptu interview! Isn't that exciting?!"

James squinted.

"...Where am I?" he asked.

"The montage show, of course! My name is Mel, and my friend over there is Bo. We do daily recaps, and you've caused quite a stir yesterday, so now you're getting interviewed. Welcome!" Mel said.

James let out a faint, shaky sigh.

"Okay," he said.

"So if you had to rate yesterday from one to ten, how would you rate it?" Mel asked.

James paused, and then said blankly: "A solid three."

"Hm! Not bad! Our Twooter polls thought you'd say a solid two. Seems you're more optimistic than the world thinks you are!" Mel said enthusiastically, the bright smile never having left her face.

"I aim to disappoint," he said in monotone.

"Speaking of disappointment," Mel went on, "we heard you almost died yesterday. Let's look at the video replay!"

They all turned into chibi heads again, James in particular hardly displaying any emotions with all his frames being some variant of a straight, unemotive face. The screen in the background showed the several seconds of sparks leaving Kazimir's body, sending James flying back with his ripped shirt, dead for those few seconds.

"And check out the fan art!" Mel added.

The screen showed the same fanart as before, dramatizing the events.

"What do you think, James? Anything to add for the world to hear?" she asked.

"This must be how the gladiators felt in ancient Roome," he said.

"Wow! Wise words for someone who just woke up. Check out the new nicknames spreading across our Twooter polls!"

A dozen different names were listed with a billion votes spread across between them, with the highest-ranked named being "HUMAN LIGHTNING ROD". Those words then enlarged and glowed on the screen with fire and lightning in the background as Mel and Bo's chibi heads stared up in awe.

"How does it feel to be such a bad ass?" Mel asked with a giggle.

James stared dead-pan into the camera.

"It's not worth it," he said.

"Amazing! You heard it first from here, folks! James is sooooo humble!" Mel said with another giggle. "Bo? Anything you want to ask? Now's your chance!"

"You okay, man?" Bo asked after a second's pause.

James frowned ever so slightly.

"It is too late for that question," he said.

"More like early, since it's the morning show! But let's move on to cheerier topics. James, check it out-- you're a viral sensation!" Mel said with a grin.

The screen then shifted to the five of them wearing the tacky shirts, walking in slow motion. There were also a few added variants of the meme, with all of them badly Photoshooped to have the same thumbs up that Oliver did, and another variant of them all wearing tacky sunglasses with the caption "damn it feels good to be a gangsta."

"It's the latest trending meme! A trillion hits! That's the first time ever in Island Magic history! Let's see the audience reaction. Oh, you're to love this!"

The screen then transitioned to people screaming into the camera, wearing bright tacky shirts or wearing the printed meme on their shirts as they jumped up and down on the streets. Some of them were holding signs, but the only one in English read "WE LOVE YOU JAMES!"

Then there was a video that played. It was Larrel, laughing and falling into a fit of giggles on the floor while watching the parade of tacky shirts. Someone else in the room - likely his mother - was filming.

"Awh! Isn't that so sweet?" Mel said with a sniff.

James was barely smiling, but it was a forced grimace.

"Yes," he said, tone wavering.

"Let's move on to audience questions!~"

James's smile faded into a true grimace. The screen then showed a giant comic dice that was badly animated. Upon rolling, the screen zooms up to the top of the dice, which was revealed to be a question.

"Oooh, this one comes from @urbanhart!" Mel said as she read off the big bold letters on the screen.

"can you smash a watermelon between ur thighs"
- @urbanhart

James's brows furrowed together, and he looked thoroughly weirded out.

"...Probably?" he said, pitch spiking.

The screen then showed a laughable gif of James's ripped abs fanart smashing a watermelon between his thighs, the guts of the fruit splattering everywhere. Mel let out a giggle before the die rolled again, revealing the next question.

"This one comes from @Carina!" she said.

"is your (BLEEP) made out of metal? how dat work"
- @Carina

"Oooh, SPICY!" Mel turned to James with arched brows and a grin. "What's your answer, James? The whole world wants to know!"

James stared into the camera, eyes slightly widened, and brows furrowed deeply in what could only be described as horror. His face went red with what was probably a mix of deep embarassment and anger.

"The world should learn to mind their damn business," he said.

"Oh, what's this? A follow-up question!" Mel said excitedly.

"also what ur hair routine"
- @Carina

Evidently still reeling from the former question, James closed his eyes and shook his head.

"I don't know. Wash it," he said, briefly throwing up his hands in exasperation.

"Someone get this man on a L'Ooreal commercial, stat!" Mel said with a laugh, and the die rolled again, revealing the next question. "This question comes from @SilverNight!"

“if someone fired a burger out of a gun at you, what brand of burger would you hope for it to be”
- @SilverNight

James was rubbing the bridge of his nose as he slouched forward in his chair, looking down at the floor.

"Six Guys," he said. "That one burger joint."

"Oh! That's the better version of Four Guys! Plus, they sponsor this video! Say hi, James!"

The background suddenly displayed the logo of Six Guys as the camera zoomed up to his face.

"We have time for one more question. Let's roll the die!"

The die rolled again, revealing the next question.

"hi james!!! i programmed this in when u weren't looking hehe. okay i have to ask: who do u love more? stravos or ur ex husband?
- Mel

"Hm!" she hummed innocently. "How'd that question get there?"

James looked up to meet Mel's eyes with a glare.

"I don't have an ex husband," he said flatly. "That was a lie in a poor attempt to get Stravos to shut the hell up."

Mel fake gasped. "What?! No way! You mean you haven't been telling the truth the whole time?! What! I thought you're sooooooooooo honest!"

James slow-blinked.

"This isn't a court of law," he said.

"Anyhoots! We have time for one last question! This is submitted as the top-ranked choice from our Twooter polls."

"Which of the two Ashlund siblings would you date?"
- Twooter

"So, who is it? Lyall or Hild?" Mel asked. "Or do you prefer your totally real ex husband?"

James rested his forehead against his hand, looking at Mel with a wearied glare.

"Can't other contestants see these interviews?" he asked.

"No, actually! Only staff can access the live stream! We've restricted everyone's internet access!" Mel said too cheerfully, then paused. "Can't promise you they won't see this after the show's over, though."

James sighed.

"Hild, I guess," he muttered.

Mel wrapped her hand around her ear. "Ooooh, do you hear that? I hear a ship sailing!"

James covered his face with his hand in a facepalm.

"Okay! We're running low on time before the teleporter magic turns you into smithereens! One last question: how was jail time with our dear friend Stravos, anyways? You looked like you were having so much fun!" Mel teased.

The screen shifted to a montage of James staring into the camera every time Stravos did anything clinically insane. Which was constantly.

"It takes more than that to break me," James said.

"Ooooh, OMINOUS! Mystery factor has increased!" Mel chirped as their chibi heads disappeared into a tift of smoke, revealing them back to be at their desks. She smiled at Bo. "Okay James! Anything you want to say to the world before we send you back to Dreamland?"

"Help me," he said, staring right into the camera.

"Bye James! Hope you have an amazing second day!" Mel said as she waved her hand with a curl of her fingers, pressing the button and sending James away with another tuft of smoke.

"I hope he gets a good nap," Bo commented, his voice laced with genuine concern.

"I hope so too! But alright... let's recap on a few other things. Let's see... who should we start? Let's start with the royals!"

They shifted back to floating heads as half the screen showed Shane's portrait and the other showed Connie's.

"Shane is soooo adorable! Isn't he adorable, Bo?!" Mel said excitedly. "He's like a cute puppy."

"In a very human way," Bo said.

"And Connie is... well. He's a good lookin' man! Right, Bo? He's not as muscular as you, though," Mel commented.

"You don't need to be to be a good lookin' guy," Bo said with a small smile.

"True! Let's see if he's just as good lookin' inside as he is outside! In any case, it'd be interesting to see what these two will be up to in the future! Enough of the bird surname men, though. Let's move on to the ~charisma~ cabin!"

The screen shifted to the portraits of Cyrin, Alan, and Lyall.

"Can you believe it?! Cyrin Bridger is here! I might be in trouble, he might be after my job one day! Have you gotten the chance to talk to him at all, Bo?" Mel asked.

"Not really," Bo said. "I've been in the kitchen."

"If you do get to talk to them, tell them I'm a big fan! It looks like Alan and Lyall have had plenty of time to talk to him, though. Alan seems like a real standup guy. I see him forming many friendships already! And Lyall is hilarious! And soooo nosy. I can't wait to meet him! I think we'd get along. Which of the two would you like to meet first, Bo?"

"Hm," Bo said. "Can I not say both?"

"Aha! You're saying the Cyrin 'both' meme! I see you!" Mel said with a laugh as the screen shifted to Cyrin's private interview, answering 'both' for every question relating to his cabin mates. "Excellent choice. But now I must transition to our ~chaos~ cabin!"

The screen showed the portraits of Kazimir, Hendrik, and Robin. After a few seconds, the divided screen then showed a montage of their highlights. Kazimir's included swimming in the ocean and pool, being scolded by Mireya, and striking James with lightning. Hendrik's included drinking a whole bottle of Hendrick's on the beach, throwing his suitcase at Robin but having it land out the window, and then standing over the pool with his oiled chest, swim cap, goggles, and speedo before he cannon balled in. Robin's was leaping out of a window, curling up to cower under a pool chair, and staring out windows.

"Oooh boy! What fun crazies! What do you think of each one, Bo? I'm curious to hear your opinions!"

"It looks like they've got a lot of strong personalities," Bo said. "Hopefully they'll be able to make living together work."

"True, yes! Hendrik seems like a strong personality type as well as, you know, always being drunk. He and Kaz seem to clash, but they also seem like they're already good friends! Robin... well... I hope he's doing alright. But we'll see!"

The screen then divided into four, showing portraits for Hild, Eve, Clarity, and Clandestine.

"And now let's transition to our lovely ladies! Hey, isn't it weird that they're the only gals on the island who are contestants? What gives? I thought the future was female!" Mel huffed.

"I'm sure the show would benefit from more ladies, for sure," Bo agreed.

"You heard it here first, folks! Bo sponsors more ladies!" Mel said with a giggle. "Alright, let's talk about them. They're all fantastic, of course, but let's look at them with more detail. Hild is rated high on the mystery rating. What secrets could she be hiding? She seems like she has a secret broody past! Eve doesn't seem too different. What is she hiding in her sketchbook? Why is she always by herself? Ratings say that Eve and Hild are slated to be good friends. Let's see if they're right! Clarity, meanwhile, is already trending as hashtag #madscientist. The STEM nerds are going crazy over her! And Clandestine-- oh, boy, if only she knows how loved she is by literally the whole world! She has a fan club and GoFoondMe titled 'Give Clanny All The Kittens She Deserves It.' What do you think of all this, Bo?"

"I think she does deserve kittens, yes," he agreed.

"And with that, we must now transition to a cabin that's voted to be the most cursed cabin of them all!" Mel said with a too cheerful voice.

The screen transitioned to portraits of Alexander, Aaron, and Jay.

"Strangely, they haven't gotten much screen time the whole day. I wonder why?" Mel thought out loud. "Still! We can get a feel of them..."

The portraits then changed to their montages of them consistently being in the background... Waiting. Staring. Brooding.

"Hm. They seem fun! Don't you think?" Mel chirped.

"They seem... sad," Bo said.

"Alright! One more contestant that's making waves! But..." Mel squinted at the camera like she was staring at someone. "Oh, uh... never mind! Seems that production doesn't want their face shown, for whatever reason! Maybe we'll feature 'em next time, but with a filter! Stay tuned, folks!" Mel smiled brightly, turning back to Bo. "Thanks for sitting in with me, Bo! Got any last questions or comments before we go?"

"I hope you have a good day, whoever is watching!" Bo said with a small smile.

"Byyyyyyye, everyone! See you next time!" Mel said excitedly as she waved her arms.

The music played again as they faded out, the same Island Magic logo displaying across the screen with the tacky wave as Mel and Bo's heads danced under it.

Eventually, all of it faded away into a question:

chaotic lazy

the queen of memes

secret supreme overlord of yws

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5/5
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SilverNight says...

In theory, Cyrin knew that Auslanii was several time zones off from western Aphirah. Somehow, knowing this did not translate as well as seeing several messages from three of their four siblings, sent at ridiculous times of night, did.

Cyrin didn't bother replying or even looking at the ones from Casper, knowing they'd all be backhanded comments of whatever had appeared on screen so far, but the texts from Allison and Camilla were warm and appreciative, and he sent a few messages to the two of them for them to read at a more reasonable time. He turned his phone screen off. Turned it on again. 5:49, the time read.

Cyrin set their phone aside. That was nearly sunrise, wasn't it?

His room was only just starting to brighten, with orange light barely slipping in through the cracks in the curtains. The drumset, the shelves full of books, the expensive dressers and desk, and the dartboard on the wall were starting to get illuminated, and before long, the sun would have risen enough for everything to be visible in the light. Cyrin slowly sat up and stood out of bed, making his way to the closet for something to wear.

He still felt exhausted from the fiasco that was yesterday, but this was a new day. And there was a new dawn to watch.

Once they were dressed, they made their way to the balcony, sliding the door closed behind them. A moment later, they box jumped onto the railing, then turned in place to face the side of the house and gracefully pulled themself up to the roof with two moves and a push. Turning east, they saw the sky turning pink and orange over the hills and ocean, where it seemed to be low tide.

It was peaceful, and it was already helping with the caged feeling they'd had ever since they'd entered that magic classroom. Open air really did do wonders, even if it was so different from the cold mountains of home.

Time passed, and his only guess for how long it was was based on the sun's movement-- maybe a little under an hour.

Cyrin heard a balcony door below slide open and close. Whoever it was let out an exaggerated yawn.

"If only I had someone to say good morning to and enjoy this lovely view," he heard Alan say out loud with obviously bad acting, knowing that they could hear him.

"That's really tragic for you," Cyrin said, grinning as they kept watching the sky. "If only someone was around. On the roof, maybe. It's too bad there isn't anyone."

"Ah. Thank you, God, for answering my prayer. I'm sorry I didn't believe in you until this moment," Alan said with a smirk in his voice.

There was some shuffling before Cyrin saw Alan pull himself up to the roof, swinging himself up before bringing his legs to the other side, grinning over at him.

"You dare disturb the heavens?" Cyrin asked, raising an eyebrow while still grinning.

"Please. Forgive me. I only wanted to keep a friend company," Alan said with a little laugh, crawling to come closer and sitting a few feet away. "God, I haven't sat on a roof in ages."

"Hmmm." Cyrin pretended to give it thought. "Well, there's room up here for two to lord over this island."

"Thank the heavens." Alan glanced back at Cyrin, still smiling. "And thank you. It's nice to have company during peaceful mornings."

"It is nice," Cyrin agreed. "As in during the tumultuous evenings. How's your hand after all that?"

"Not too bad, actually. I don't think I've ever written with that speed and intensity before, but I've definitely gotten a lot of practice. From playing instruments, anyways," Alan said. "Constant hand cramps comes with being a musician, I suppose."

"That's a good advantage," Cyrin remarked. "I can see how that'd be an acquired skill. The only separate thing that practicing the drums has helped me with is slapping mosquitoes quickly." He waved his hand around. "Could be helpful here, at least."

"Agreed. I think you should put your skills to the test this evening. Have a drum face-off with mosquitos. I'm sure they'd love to hear your skills," Alan teased.

"They won't know what hit them," Cyrin joked.

Alan clearly repressed a laugh, pulling his lips back as he closed his eyes and shook his head. "That was terrible."

Cyrin held up his hands in mock surrender, smirking. "Bold of you to cast the first stone over bad jokes when you were wearing that terrible shirt yesterday."

"To be fair," Alan began with playful defense, "I did tell James to give me his worst. He delivered. And I have no shame."

"Oh, clearly," Cyrin said, grinning again. "I can't imagine what the person making that totally copyrighted design was thinking when they created it."

"Clearly, about signs," Alan said with an amused puff of air through his nose. "I hope they don't get sued to oblivion, though. Maybe they can take my three hundred sentences from yesterday as testimony if they sue over me wearing their totally copyrighted design."

"You know, I'm a little disappointed we don't get to wear those anymore," Cyrin said with a melodramatically sad sigh. "We could've started a fashion movement."

"Who says we need punny shirts to do that?" Alan teased.

Cyrin drummed their fingers on the rooftop thoughtfully, beating out a rhythm. "Why, have you got something in mind?"

"Not particularly, actually." He paused. "In retrospect, I should have packed more items to begin with. If I'd have known we'd all be making fashion statements, I'd have brought my grandma's coat."

"Oh, just like Moocklemoar. That would've been a idea." Cyrin grinned. "If I suggested a fashion show with a runway as an event, do you think they'd take suggestions from me still?"

Alan laughed. "Cyrin, you're a celebrity. Of course they would. And yes, I accept being your model."

"You make good points," Cyrin said, waving with a flourish to him. "For that, you will be my model."

"Why, thank you. I have never modeled before, but I'll perfect my cat walk before I walk the stage." He paused, pursing his lips as he gazed over the ocean. "Just please don't make me wear heels. I'm fairly sure I'd trip."

"No heels," Cyrin said thoughtfully. "Alright, I'll wear them myself. I can balance in them."

"Hm. An admirable skill. I already accept my defeat from being far less fabulous than you," Alan said playfully.

"Hey, don't quit before we've started," Cyrin said with a laugh. "I wonder who else I could enlist in this."

Alan laughed, shaking his head. "We can ask around. I'm sure we could connect this to a few others today. I haven't gotten the chance to talk to everyone yet, but I'm hoping to do that today. Maybe I can bring it up, if the topic allows me to."

Cyrin hummed. "I need to do the same. What do you think of everyone you've met so far?"

"I admittedly only talked to a few people personally outside of a group setting." Alan paused. "Well. Really, I've been in a group setting all day yesterday, with the exception of you, Lyall, Clandestine, and Shane. All four of you are lovely, and I'm looking forward to spending more time with each and every one of you. I'm not so sure about the others yet, but I'm sure I'll discover them in due time."

Cyrin nodded. "With the exception of Oliver, obviously, everyone I've spoken to directly has seemed pretty cool. As for everyone else, there's still three months left to get to know them."

"We're on a big island with lots of time," Alan said with a longing sigh, still gazing over the gentle morning waves of the ocean as the sun crept up higher in the sky. "I didn't really come here with much expectation, so I've been pleasantly surprised with each passing hour of the day. It is beautiful, but I think I'd still rather spend my time with people I can easily connect with."

Cyrin turned his head to him. "Even if you didn't come here expecting that," he asked gently, "is that still something you've been hoping for? A time and place to connect with people?"

Alan softly hummed. "I suppose it is. At least, that's one of the hopes I have in life. I think everyone ought to have a safe place where they are free to be themselves, making rich, deep connections with others who care and love them just as much as they do."

Cyrin turned back to face the sunrise, letting the words settle in. "Yeah," he said after a moment, almost distantly. "You're like me then."

Alan paused, now the one turning back to face them with a raised brow. "I wouldn't give myself that much credit. You're your own person, as am I. It seems that we share some similar philosophies-- which I'm thrilled to hear, by the way-- but you're still someone with a thousand other unique characteristics that I am nowhere near to matching." He paused again. "But if I am like you, that'd be amazing, so I'm not complaining either way."

Cyrin pursed his lips together thoughtfully, brows furrowed as he kept staring out at the sky. They couldn't recall hearing this before.

"It's not all amazing," he said with a bit of a laugh, giving Alan a quick glance. "I'm sure you know all people have got their flaws, and I'm just a person too. Just because I've got a PR team trying to keep them out of the spotlight you've seen me in doesn't mean I don't have them. I'm trying to be myself more on this island-- which means I'll be messy, just like anyone else."

"I know," Alan said as he kept his gentle attention on Cyrin. "I think it's easy to be consumed by media. Everything is painted to be perfect because no one wants to show an ugly version of themselves to the world. The thing about beauty, though, is that it's all subjective. The media may think that a flawless, perfect person is someone to be admired and adored, but that's simply unrealistic. People are born to create, and creating is messy. With every perfect portrait comes ten others that are imperfect but still just as beautiful. I think it's this side-- this raw, unfiltered, hidden side-- that is so genuine and true. Maybe this side has flaws, but frankly, perfection is quick to bore."

He let out a deep breath, gazing over the ocean again.

"Sorry for giving you a speech. I don't mean to come across as obnoxious, but as cheesy as this sounds, I wanted you to know that your flaws are what makes you, you. And I don't think that's something to be ashamed of," he finished.

Cyrin finally turned back to him, smiling faintly after a moment. "Not obnoxious at all," he said, watching him. "Again, I like the way you think."

"Maybe we are more alike after all," he said with a growing smile.

Cyrin grinned, leaning back on the roof and folding their arms behind their head. "Maybe," they mused. "Maybe."
"silv is obsessed with heists" ~Omni

"silv why didn't you tell me you were obsessed with heists I thought we were friends" ~Ace

"y’all we outnumber silver let’s overthrow her >:]" ~winter

silver (she/they)

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SilverNight says...

Clarity had just found the brown sugar for her tea when there was a knock at the door. She paused at the counter, looking between the mug, the sugar, and the door as she decided what to do. If she didn't answer the door just yet and stirred the sugar in, that was rude. If she answered the door first, who knew how long she might end up talking to someone, and the tea might get cold. With a hum-like sigh, Clarity picked up the mug and headed for the door. Best not to be rude on an island of powerful magic users.

She opened the door to see one of the people wearing shirts last night that Clandestine had introduced her to-- Alan, if she recalled correctly. Today, he was dressed much differently, standing barefoot with a knitted ribbed short-sleeve collared white shirt and rolled up khakis. He was holding a small bouquet of pink flowers that seemed to grow around the island like a weed. He smiled upon seeing Clarity.

"Morning," Clarity said, taking a sip of her tea. Hmm. Definitely could use some sugar.

"Good morning, Clarity," he echoed, then lifted the bunch of flowers up. "Is Clandestine home? I brought her a 'sorry you had to endure detention' gift."

"She was, but she left with Eve not long ago," Clarity said, turning over her shoulder to glance up the stairs. "You could try to find her, or leave them here and I'll let her know they're from you." She paused, taking another sip of tea. "How was that, by the way?"

"It could be worse, all things considered. In short, we went to a magical house transformed to a primary school classroom, and we had to write the words 'I will not wear ugly shirts' hundreds of times. Clandestine had to write more than most of us, and I figure she had a rough day, so I thought I'd stop by," Alan said. "No rush from me to deliver this, though, so I'm fine with leaving the flowers here. Thank you."

"That's thoughtful of you," Clarity admitted, tapping her nails on the mug. "And honestly wild that they'd devise something like that. Not very vacation-like of them."

"I know," he said with a quiet chuckle, offering the bouquet to her. "It seems this island is full of surprises. But hopefully, most of them are good."

"Hopefully," Clarity said, taking the bouquet and glancing around for a surface within the house to place them on. She paused first, however.

"Do you want to step in and leave a note along with them?" she suggested. "I could tell Clandestine they're from you, but I'd probably butcher any message you wanted me to pass along about them."

Alan laughed. "I'm sure you'd do just fine, but I'd love to leave a note, actually. It always makes my day reading personal notes from others. I think it'd be nice."

So she had a ray of sunshine on her doorstep, then.

"No problem, then," she said, passing the flowers back to him and stepping inside, pointing to one of the kitchen counter drawers. "I think there's some stationery and pens in there."

Alan smiled warmly, walking in. "Thank you. Mind if I put this in a vase first? Or maybe a tall cup."

"I went through every cabinet in here looking for brown sugar," Clarity said. "If I recall correctly, the vases are in the cupboard above the sink."

"Alright," he said with a soft laugh.

He reached up to open the cupboard above the sink. As expected, there were a row of available clean vases. Alan took the one in the front, filling it with faucet water before he placed the flowers in it. He paused, pursing his lips for a moment before he spruced the flowers up with his hands, making it look fuller. Satisfied, he searched for the stationary in the drawers, pulling out a paper and pen. Clarity finally got around to adding the sugar to her tea in the meantime.

As Alan held the pen ready to write, Hild's cello practicing could be heard from upstairs as she played through a song. Alan seemed distracted by this, not having written one word yet as he glanced towards the stairs, then back at Clarity.

"Is Hild here?" he asked.

"Yeah," Clarity said, stirring her sugar in. "She's practicing cello. I don't mind it, but sorry if it's distracting to you."

"Oh, not at all. I find it soothing, actually." Alan tapped the pen on the paper, shaking his head and letting out a breathy laugh. "Well, maybe it's a little distracting. But only because whenever someone plays an instrument, I'm compelled to listen."

Clarity hummed at this. "Do you play or something?"

"I do," he said with a smile. "Violin, mostly. But these days I'm playing more piano than violin."

"Well, Hild's pretty good," Clarity said, glancing at the stairs. "I don't know if there's enough strings players to form a quartet on this island, but maybe you could play together sometime. I admittedly don't know the overlap between cello and violin music, though."

"If Hild would be interested in that, I think that would be very fun. I haven't dueted in a while, but I did bring sheet music, so I'd have to ask her." Alan paused. "You do know the difference between violin and cello, though, right?"

"That's like asking the difference between a housecat and a lion in terms of size," Clarity said with a faint huff of laughter. "I do know, yes."

"Interesting analogy. I haven't heard that one," Alan mused, smile growing as he nodded. "Not just in size either, though. A lion's roar is richer, fuller, deeper." He paused. "I'd make a comparison to a housecat's meows to a violin, but I think I'd be doing myself a disservice."

"I was not about to extend the analogy that far," Clarity said with a nod, taking another sip of her tea. "Figured that would offend."

Alan chuckled, focusing his attention back to the paper as he slowly began to write. "Don't worry, it wouldn't offend me. I've heard it all."

At some point during their conversation, the song had faded out, and Hild came quietly padding down the stairs. Her descent slowed for just a second when she caught sight of Alan.

"Salutations," she greeted with mild surprise in her voice.

"Good morning, Hild," Alan said with a smile as he set the pen down, now folding the paper in half. "I was only stopping by. You play very lovely, by the way. I've always thought the cello is a beautiful instrument."

Hild politely inclined her head in thanks; there was the slightest tinge of pink in her cheeks. Slipping past Clarity, she peeked into the fridge, seeming to momentarily weigh her options.

"It's always been a personal favorite of mine," she replied, glancing over her shoulder at him, "amongst the stringed instruments."

"It's a good choice. I admit I'm biased since I play the violin, but I was seriously contemplating cello instead. The richness of the deep notes are unmatched," Alan said, still with a smile as he watched Hild look through the fridge.

Okay, so they were talking music. Not her domain. Clarity took another sip of tea quietly.

Setting out eggs and a quart of milk on the counter, Hild hummed, "Really, the only downside is the size."

"Agreed. That's pretty much why I don't play cello," Alan said with a laugh. He wrote something on the folded paper-- presumably Clandestine's name-- then set it below the vase of flowers. He nodded at Clarity appreciatively. "Thanks again, Clarity, for letting me drop this off. I hope I haven't disturbed either of your mornings."

Clarity shook her head, smiling faintly over the rim of her mug. "Not at all. I'm sure Clandestine will appreciate the gesture."

Alan nodded again, tapping his hand against the counter like he was contemplating leaving. "Yeah. Here's to hoping for a better second day."

Hild raised the milk in a sort of toast. "Agreed."

Clarity raised her mug as well. "I commit to not punching anyone important, just to improve our chances."

Hild quirked a brow. "Is that a regular method of problem solving for you?"

"It is not," Clarity said. "I don't think I've ever solved anything that way. Especially considering most of my problems happen in a lab."

Alan hummed. "Are you a chemist?"

Clarity nodded and tapped her nails on the mug again, thinking that sounded better than a mad scientist. "I'm research-based. They were kind enough to give me a lab here so I could keep working."

Alan nodded, slowly processing. "By lab, do you mean a separate room? Or your room in this cabin?"

Clarity pursed her lips. "One of these sounds like a lot better of an idea, doesn't it? Now guess which one they went with."

He laughed, shaking his head. "Of course. Though, it must be strange to conduct experiments and sleep in the same room."

Clearly, Clarity thought, he's never fallen asleep waiting for a reaction to finish. "It does feel a little strange. Like I might sleep through a fire."

"Sounds peaceful," he said, holding back a bigger grin. Alan glanced back at Hild, who now held a large mixing bowl in the crook of her arm as she whisked together dry ingredients. "What about you, Hild? Hopefully no fires come your way, especially since you have a cello to protect."

Hild hummed her amusement. "Unfortunately between Miss Clarity's delicate ecosystem of a bedroom and my brother, I'm surrounded by fire hazards." She glanced up at the ceiling in thought. "Perhaps I should relocate it..."

Alan laughed, grinning. "That's right. Lyall is also in my cabin. Maybe I should also be worrying about the fire hazard."

"What do you mean about Lyall and fire hazards?" Clarity asked, hiding a shred of worry.

"His magic," Hild answered matter-of-factly. "Which he's fairly in control of, by the way, so he's not that much of a danger to our microsociety."

"It seems that his greatest danger is in his good looks and his sense of humor." Alan paused. "And his choice in wine."

Hild made a quiet sound of distaste. Setting aside the dry ingredients, she began to mix together wet ingredients. Taking note of this information, Clarity finished her tea and turned the electric kettle on again, setting a fresh tea bag in her mug.

"Ah, sorry. I forgot the sibling rule of only voicing roasts of the other sibling," Alan teased. "Although, in this case, maybe I'm using this rule to tease you, Hild, instead of Lyall."

"We have a strict 'insults only' policy here," Hild confirmed.

"Such a shame, because Lyall is a real stand-up guy. I admire how bold and lively he is all the time. He really uplifts the cabin and I look forward to seeing our friendship develop," Alan went on, continuing to highlight positive things about her brother.

Hild scrunched her nose, feigning visible disgust, and Clarity grinned silently. "You can have him, then."

Still grinning, Alan placed a hand over his heart. "Already done. He has a place in my heart," he said with an exaggerated voice.

She cast him a flat look. "I was going to offer a drink or breakfast," she said, pointing the whisk his way, "but now I'm reconsidering."

He hummed. "Would it help if I insulted him?"

Hild set the bowl down. "Just once," she challenged.

"I'm insulted that he never told me he had a feisty sister," Alan said, still grinning. "Although, I got to find out along with everyone else during your heartfelt moment yesterday."

Pursing her lips, Hild studied him closely. Then tsked. "You, Mister Alvaro, are too nice. Orange juice at most for you."

"Alright. Then I'll be just a little mean and scold you for calling me Mister Alvaro, since I thought you were addressing my father for a moment there," he said with a laugh. "But I accept anyways."

Unimpressed but with an undeniably amused glint in her eyes, Hild turned back to the fridge and poured that promised orange juice.

The kettle finished boiling, and instead of pouring it out, Clarity manipulated the hot water so it would leave the spout, form a bubble of water in the air, and drop into her mug. "What is this sibling roast rule that you both seem to know about?" she asked curiously. "Asking as an only child."

"Ah, it's a silent rule between siblings that you should only tease and make fun of each other," Alan said with with a gentle smile. "I'm not sure why that is, but I don't think I have it in me to be as nice to my brother either."

"Overexposure," Hild furthered plainly. "It just takes too much energy to be nice to someone who's just..." She slid a glass of orange juice to Alan, then waved vaguely. "...constantly, obnoxiously there."

Clarity did not quite get it, but she nodded like she did. "I see," she said. "So, it's normal to be a little mean to them?"

"Maybe mean is a little harsh," Alan said after a brief hesitation. "It's more like... tough love. But in a more endearing way."

"I like to think of it as a way to keep one another humble," Hild offered.

"That's good way to look at it," Alan agreed.

Clarity pressed a finger to her temple. "Alright. Saving this information for future reference."

Alan lifted the glass of orange juice and brought it to his lips, drinking it one gulp at a time with one breath. When finished, he let out a deep breath and placed the glass back on the table, letting out an 'ah.'

"Wow," Clarity remarked. "That was impressively fast."

"It's actually one of the things I do to annoy my brother. So, now you get to see this too." He turned to Clarity with a silly grin. "I hope you're taking notes."

Clarity knew he was making a joke, but she reached into her back pocket, pulling out her notepad and pen. "Oh, I literally go nowhere without this," she said casually with a joking air, smiling as she wrote down the words Siblings are weird underneath a balanced chemical reaction.

"I expect nothing less." Alan drummed his fingers along the counter, glancing between the two of them with a smile. "It's been a delight, but I won't bother you two anymore. I should head back, anyways. Thank you for the orange juice, though."

Hild gave a small wave. "Anytime," she said simply.

"It's been nice having you," Clarity said, actually meaning it. "Hopefully you can still get yourself some breakfast, even though we have denied you these crêpes."

"Looks like I'll have to try my luck next time," Alan said with a faint chuckle, heading for the door. "Alright. I'll see you both later. I hope you have a good rest of your day."

Clarity gave him a wave. "You too. Take care."

Once Alan left, closing the door behind him, Clarity checked on her tea, finding that it had just finished steeping.

"That was nice of him," she said to Hild, glancing at the flowers and note as she threw out the teabag. "He seemed nice in general."

Hild poured the wet ingredients into the dry now. "Too nice," she murmured. Then aloud asked, "What brought him here?"

Clarity tilted her head to the flowers. "Those are for Clandestine. Sympathy gift."

"Hm." The cellist carefully whisked everything together into a smooth batter, and placed a wide pan on the stove. "Thoughtful."

Clarity lifted her mug, blowing on the tea's surface. "You seem skeptical of his intentions," she said, not accusingly.

Hild cast her a doubtful glance over her shoulder. "Do you completely buy it?" She turned on the front burner. "He couldn't even think of one legitmate complaint about my brother."

Clarity paused. "Maybe he didn't actually want to shittalk him to your face," she suggested.

Shrugging, Hild conceded, "And I may be biased against Lyall. Sibling dynamics and whatnot." More pleasantly, she offered, "Crêpe?"

Clarity smiled faintly, reaching into a cupboard and taking down two plates, one for each of them. "Gladly," she said, setting them out. "Thank you."
"silv is obsessed with heists" ~Omni

"silv why didn't you tell me you were obsessed with heists I thought we were friends" ~Ace

"y’all we outnumber silver let’s overthrow her >:]" ~winter

silver (she/they)

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Sun Sep 17, 2023 5:22 am
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Carina says...

Tula was going back to Auslanii, the highest stakes island the DMV owns when it comes to assigning roles.

Of course, this wasn't public information. She only knew this because she was the first place winner three years ago, willing all her prizes that included the most prized reward of all: a role within the DMV, which was otherwise impossible to get in since they were more prestigious, famous, and rich than the UM.

But she was going back. Tula had to delay her spy duties to be back on this wretched island for the summer. It was such a nuisance, considering she had been spying in a refugee group for the past year under Oliver's oders, and they were on the final stretch now, waiting to pounce on the group since they were hiding in an elaborate mine. However, it was slated that the group wouldn't return for a few more months since their secondary target had the audacity to fall into a coma, so now they had to wait even longer.

God almighty, what Tula would give to point her gun at her target's lover and make her target play Rushian Roulette. She'd been dreaming about it for weeks now.

But alas. She had to come to this island, not as a world-class spy, but as a contestant again. A fake contestant.

She would have to resume her mission later. After last night's debacle, was under direct orders from Oliver and Maeve to come to the island and-- quote-on-quote-- "wreck havoc" on the contestants.

And watch them. Of course.

Maybe it will be a fun summer after all.

All the staff knew about her, of course-- especially since some of them were around when she played their devious games three years ago. She passed by the man who must have been the Grounds Manager since he was greeting her at the boat.

"Welcome to the island, Tula," he said, smiling politely with his arms folded over a clipboard. "Can I help you with anything?"

She ignored him, walking past him and paying him no mind. He was no one to fool, since he already knew who she was anyways. And the entire staff was under direct orders to not interfere with her meddling with the contestants. If they did, they'd not only be fired, but their lives would be ruined. She was sure of it, because she asked for it.

Not that it mattered. Maeve was a sadist too, just like her.

Her cabin was not far now. She was rooming with an Alexander, Aaron, and Jay. She didn't know who they were, but she was assured that they would be her closest allies. Regardless, it was her job to make sure that no one knew of her ulterior motives.

She approached the cabin's door, lifting her sunglasses up and setting her rolling suitcase beside her. Tula knocked three times, setting her hand on her hip and waiting for someone to answer.

She had the key to enter, but she figured she'd introduce herself in rather than risk any of her cabin mates being surprised since they may not know she was set to arrive.

Suddenly, the door swung open alarmingly fast, revealing a tall, slender man with brown skin and slicked-back black hair. He flashed a wide smile. Tula had studied everyone's files ahead of time. This was Alexander.

"I was told we'd have a new housemate coming late," he said. "I wondered about the spare room. You must be Ms. Tula Nazar. Please, do come in."

He backed away and held the door open for her, giving a small bow and sweeping motion of his arm.

"Pleasure to meet you," Tula said politely, entering the cabin and rolling in her suitcase behind her.

The cabin was similar to what she remembered it being last time, but bigger and more personalized. She turned her attention back to Alexander, still with the same smile.

"And you are?" she asked.

"Alexander Kingsman," he said, extending a hand to shake after he closed the door.

Tula took his hand, giving it a firm shake before she pulled away. "I missed the boat ride yesterday, so I hope I haven't missed too much of the party."

In the kitchen behind Alexander, a twiggy man in what looked like striped pajama pants and a trench coat poked around the cupboards until he had successfully foraged peanut butter and bread. He cast frequent, distrusting glances Tula's way as he slapped together a sandwich.

This must be Aaron. He was just as suspicious as his file painted him to be.

"Well, there was a pool party," Alexander. "Which really was, quite eventful - unfortunate for you to have missed - but I can tell you all about it while you settle in."

"That is unfortunate. I read the news about it yesterday. Shame I missed it," Tula said with a sigh, flicking her eyes to the twiggy man in the kitchen. "I presume he's your roommate?" she asked Alexander.

"House mate," Aaron sharply corrected. "No sharing of rooms."

Tula nodded. "I'm Tula. Your new house mate." She paused. "Is it just the three of us?"

"Oh, not at all," Alexander answered quickly. "Jay, our local ghost, is upstairs haunting his room, I believe. I haven't seen him all morning. You know, he's almost as much of a recluse as you, Aaron!"

With a laugh that felt simultaneously genuine and robotically laugh-track-ish, Alexander slapped his knee. Mouth full of peanut butter sandwich, Aaron stared blankly at the taller man's back.

Tula hummed. "Seems we've got a diverse cabin. This will be fun."

"You know, I think you could summon Jay with one of those spellbooks if you want to meet him," Alexander said.

As if on cue, a man's face flickered into existence through the ceiling, as if peering through. Flinching violently with a squeak, Aaron dropped to the floor.

"I can hear you," Jay said flatly, turning his eyes to Tula with disdain. Floating through the ceiling in a semi-transparent state, the small man continued to hover a few inches off the floor, his large oversized poncho flowing around him in a ghostly fashion.

Intrigued and watching him float down, Tula nodded to him as a greeting. "Pleasure to meet you, Jay. My name is Tula." She turned to Aaron despite him being on the floor, nodding to him as well. "And nice to also meet you, Aaron."

"Why bother being so polite?" Jay asked. "Something must be wrong with you, too, if you were put in this cabin."

Tula arched a brow, tilting her head at him curiously. "Do you prefer I be mean?"

"I prefer you be honest," Jay said. "No one's pleased to meet us."

As though in agreement, Aaron flung his sandwich at Jay. It went through him, splatting on the floor.

"Speak for yourself, ghost-boy," Alexander said with a pop of his hip, crossing his arms.

"Would you say that's true, Alexander? Are you all really that unpopular?" Tula asked.

"We've been here for a day," Alexander said with the neutrality of a politician.

"First impressions cast a lasting impression," she said, mirroring his tone.

"Fine. Unfortunately my brilliance was overshadowed by the violence of one James Hawke who decided to so rashly assault our generous host, Oliver," Alexander answered. "Now he's all anyone's talking about! It's a travesty. I planned to make an impression but my chances were stolen by his dreadful performance. I don't know if I can ever forgive him for it. It's going to take me so much longer to build a name for myself!"

Ah. James Hawke.

She was personally tasked by Oliver to make his time on the island as miserable as possible. It seemed that she and this cabin may share this goal in common.

"That is a tragedy, isn't it? What are you going to do about it?" she asked, still with the head tilt.

"You pompous ass," Aaron hissed at Alexander, "the only way to get out of here alive is by staying on the sidelines! Out of sight!"

"We're not going to be pitted against one another in a fight to the death," Alexander droned, as if he'd heard this dozens of times already. "No one's bloody after you, Aaron."

He turned to look at Tula, putting his hand up to cover the side of his face as he whispered an aside: "He's been paranoid ever since we got here. He's convinced someone's out to get him."

"Maybe someone is," Jay said blankly from behind. His figure flickered in and out of visibility.

"Why else!" Aaron shouted, making broad, rigid chopping motions with his hands. "Would I be here!"

"For the DMV, you idiot," Alexander spat back.

Tula heard enough. While the boys bickered, she went over to the nearby table and fiercely knocked the vase and porcelin lamp off, sending it clattering and shattering on the floor and prompting a silence.

"Enough," she said tiredly, making eye contact between the three of them. "Did you hear me? I asked a question. What are you going to do about it?"

There was a short, heavy silence, and Alexander propped his hand up on his hip.

"My specialty is nightmares," Alexander said. "So I was going to start there."

"And you, Aaron? What is your magic?" she asked.

"None of your," Aaron shot back, "or the rest of the world's damn business!"

"How the fuck are you supposed to beat the people after you, then? You think you can tell them to back off?" she spat. "What is your magic?"

Tula already knew this, of course. But she wanted to hear him say it.

He glared heatedly at her, but stepped back a moment. He dug his fingers into his arm, looking like he was physically restraining himself as he seriously considered her question. Calculating risks, pros and cons.

"Yours first," he finally muttered.

Still keeping her cool stare, Tula lifted a hand up to the corner of her right eye, tapping it. "I can see through people's eyes," she said neutrally.

Aaron narrowed his gaze then. "What, like...hijacking a security feed or something?"

"If the security feed are eyes, and we know of each other's faces, then yes," she replied. "Now, what is your magic?"

"...I have an alternate form," he answered, voice dropping to a murmur. "I'm a wendigo."

Tula slowly grinned, as did Alexander. The lights flickered around them, which presumably came from Jay.

Jay huffed through his nose. "Damn."

"Was that so hard? Your magic is nothing to be ashamed of, Aaron," Tula said, then made eye contact with each of the three again, expression serious. "Our magic is what defines us. You said it yourself. They call us freaks. Outcasts. Misfits. They put us in the DMV to give us a role in society, but we've seen it time and time again. They. Don't. Care. We'll be used, abused, and cast away. I asked you all: what you're going to do about it?"

Tula smirked, about to answer her own rhetorical question, but Aaron cut in and aggravatingly interrupted.

"Have I not been clear enough?" Aaron practically shrieked. "Survive! It's all we can do!"

"That's not enough!" she scolded loudly. "Surviving is not enough. You want to go on the next three months being recorded, tested, and become a part of the system? Only to, what, get released and run amok with no real change? Is that what you want?"

Flinging his arms Tula's way, relieved that someone finally understood, Aaron shouted, "Yes!"

There was a pause, and Alexander looked at Aaron, raising a brow.

"Aaron, if they know what your magic is," he said. "Do you really think they're going to let you lay low?"

Aaron glowered at him. "What other choice do I have?" he bit out, eyes turning desperate. "The only plausible explanation for bringing a literal monster to a place like this, is for a monster hunt. For someone else's moment of glory!"

"Who's says you have to let it be their moment of glory?" Alexander challenged. "You're acting like the three of us couldn't help you."

"Why would you want to?"

"Because we're all monsters," Tula said.

Jay finally fully materialized, his feet landing gently on the floor.

"You're a human camera," he said. "That's not a monster."

Tula crossed her arms, watching Jay carefully. "Monsters don't need to be tied to magic."

Jay slightly narrowed his eyes at her, but said nothing. He glanced over at Aaron.

"If you're looking for allies," Jay said. "Be careful who you choose."

"Are you insinuating we're untrustworthy?" Alexander asked, drawing closer to Jay to loom over him.

"I'm not insinuating it. I'm saying it," Jay said flatly.

"We don't need to trust each other, and we don't need to be friends. But what we can do is work together towards a common goal," Tula said.

"Do enlighten us on what our goal is," Alexander said, looking to her with a grin.

"The DMV is a competition. They say this season will be harmless, but I've seen what goes on behind the scenes in past rounds. Auslanii is the island where the contestants go against one another with tasks. And of course, monsters like us will always be squashed by the so-called good-hearted heroes."

Tula paused, meeting everyone's eyes.

"I propose that we get a head start to this," she continued. "We make the other contestants distrustful of one another and also sabotage any future tasks they have. If they fail at all of their tasks, that puts us at the top. And you know what the top contenders win?"

She paused again, but left room for actual guesses.

"A better life," Alexander said.

"A better life," Tula repeated. "Whatever you desire."

The three men looked amongst one another, none of them friendly, but no longer hostile.

Alexander was the one who met her eyes with a glint of mischief in his own.

"You know," he said. "I think this arrangement just might work wonders for us."
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Carina says...

Yesterday was strange. Eve didn't quite have all the answers until Clandestine came home, but even then, it was still a bit of a mystery. Since James disappeared, Eve had gathered his things and took them home with her since it seemed it was largely abandoned. She felt a bit guilty since she had suggested to leave his items in a corner to dry, so she felt responsible for returning the items back to him.

She didn't quite know where he lived, though.

Eve didn't want to snoop through his things, so she only rifled just enough for a clue, but not even his keys gave any indication of which cabin he was staying at. She had spent the majority of last night and this morning figuring out what to do with all this information-- from processing this strange 'detention' concept to wondering where James went down to figuring out how to return his items-- and the most productive thing she did during this time was dry his book with a hair dryer.

At least he'd appreciate that, although it was largely his idea to begin with.

On her way out, Eve ran into Clandestine who was also ready to leave, but upon hearing of her quest to return James's items, she offered to help. They both left together and made an educated guess on which cabin to go to based on what they both knew on the other cabins. There were only a few to choose from, and they started to walk along the beach towards the first option.

"It should be one of these two, I think," Clandestine said, pointing to the two cabins ahead. "Because I know Alan doesn't live with him and I'm, like, 99% positive James doesn't house with those two guys who were swimming. And they came out of that one."

She pointed at the cabin they were passing. Briefly, Eve caught a glimpse of a wolf peeking out the window at them. It ducked away.

Eve nodded, following along. "It's also not the cabin behind us. Hild and I saw a glimpse of our two neighbors wrestling." She paused. "He could be their roommate. I suppose we can't rule that out. We can go back if these two don't pan out."

"Wrestling," Clandestine hummed, rubbing her chin. "I thought James and Shane lived together, and Shane doesn't strike me as the wrestling type."

"Ah. I didn't realize they lived together. That must not be the right cabin, then. It's for the best," Eve said.

"I think Shane mentioned they live with Connie, too," Clandestine said. But at the mention of Connie, she seemed a little guilty, kicking at the sand. "He seemed kind of annoyed about the whole detention thing."

"I don't blame him. He wasn't even involved in the incident," Eve said.

She thought back to when James punched Oliver and then disappeared. It wasn't long before the others were escorted out as well.

"I think it was just because of the shirt," Clandestine said. "I still feel bad about mine. I think maybe I hurt Oliver's feelings. He seemed like maybe he was embarrassed about it."

"Was there a reason James punched Oliver? Did he say anything in particular to warrant the punch?" Eve asked.

Clandestine frowned and shrugged.

"He uh, called me stupid," she said. "Which wasn't very cool."

Eve glanced at her as they walked, furrowing her brows. This was new information she didn't tell them last night.

"I agree. That's rather mean and very disrespectful," she said.

"I guess I was surprised that he was that immature about it," Clandestine said. "About a shirt, I mean. To resort to insulting someone and all."

Eve sighed. "He seems insecure. He cares more about his image than other people. I could see why James would punch him."

From the corner of her eye, Eve noticed a cameraman hiding behind some palm trees. She wondered if anyone could hear their conversation, but frankly, she didn't really care.

Clandestine grinned slightly at that, and there was a brief skip in her step.

"Yeah," she said. "No one's ever punched someone else for me before. It was kind of nice. In a weird way, I guess. Like, I don't necessarily condone punching people as a general practice but I felt... defended, you know? And I only just met the guy!"

"If it's any consolation, Clandestine, I'm fairly sure most people would defend you. Maybe not punch for you, since everyone has their own ways of protecting, but you are surrounded with defenses." Eve paused. "Although, I do respect James even more since he jumped in for a punch. That takes guts, and it certainly made a statement."

"Yeah," Clandestine said, pounding her fist against her chest twice. "I respect him, too. I can appreciate someone who's got guts."

"Maybe you can tell him that when you see him," Eve suggested.

"You're so right!" she said. "I'll make sure to do that."

They weren't far from the cabin now. Eve let Clandestine take the lead, who happily skipped over and knocked on the door. It was opened a few moments later by someone who must have been Shane, now out of his funny shirt and wearing a flannel instead. He gave them a faint smile when he saw them.

"Oh, hey," he said, glancing between the two of them. "Good morning."

"Hey, Shane!" Clandestine greeted with a warm smile. "I hope we're not bothering you, but some of James's things got left behind at the party, and Eve held onto them for him. We came to return them."

Clandestine personally held out James's flip-flops, which she had been carrying. Eve had the backpack.

"Oh, thank you," Shane said, smiling brighter as he took the sandals. "I was wondering where his stuff was. He'll appreciate it a lot."

Eve took off the backback, offering it to him. "Is James home?"

"He is," Shane confirmed, taking it as well and glancing over his shoulder. "Still sleeping. I won't be waking him up, he needs it."

Clandestine tilted her head to the side, brows furrowing.

"Is he okay?" she asked. "We were never really told what happened to him... aside from being in 'timeout.'"

"He's..." Shane hesitated, shifting and tilting his head. "...safe, certainly. I haven't heard very much from him, because he was exhausted when he got back this morning, but I got the feeling he didn't have a great time."

Clandestine glanced of to Eve, making an awkward but worried frown.

"Oh, man," she said. "That doesn't sound good."

"Is he alright? He's been gone that long?" Eve asked with deep concern.

Shane's expression turned a little sad. "It was some early dawn hour that he got back," he said, and she could tell he was concerned as well. "He didn't appear to get any sleep while he was there."

"That's... deeply concerning." Eve sighed, trying to keep her worries at bay.

Of course Oliver would be angry that he was punched. If he sent the others to 'detention' over harmless shirts, what kind of punishment would he have in mind for someone that punched him? Eve was afraid to know.

"Maybe we can come back later. After he's gotten some rest," she suggested.

Clandestine pouted in worry, looking at the flip-flops in Shane's hand like they were the last thing left of James, even though he was home.

"I could bring over some food for him," she said. "Do you know if he's allergic to anything?"

"I don't know of any allergies he has, but I'm sure he'd appreciate that. Maybe that's information Dante has on file-- I had to answer allergen questions before I showed up." Shane paused, tapping his fingers on the doorframe. "I was thinking about organizing something for when he woke up. Sort of a party, but-- I also don't really do parties. So I don't think it'll end up looking that way."

Clandestine lit up like a lightbulb at the mention of a party. Lightly clapping her hands together, she smiled in excitement.

"A party?" she asked. "Ohhhh! I can help, I can help!"

"I can ask Dante about that question," Eve added.

"If you would like to... that would help." Shane smiled, almost bashfully, as he ran a hand through the hair on the back on his head. "Thanks, Clandestine and Eve. I'd appreciate it."

"I can take care of food!" Clandestine said. "I can make cookies. And hot dogs. And salad. And I think we have chips and salsa."

She was counting on her fingers like she was making a list internally as well as out loud.

"Hmm, then we'll have to think about drinks. Maybe I'll ask Alan to help with that."

Shane chuckled. "I could figure out... guests? We'll need some people to eat all that food."

"Oh, right! You have to invite all of the Silly Shirt Society, obviously," Clandestine said. "And I'm sure the ladies would love to come too! I'm not sure who else he's met yet... it's only been a day, so maybe just stick to that for now?"

Eve glanced between the two of them. "What time should we come back?" she asked.

"I think..." Shane hesitated. "Whenever you like, honestly. I don't think he's in danger of waking up too soon, so that leaves us plenty of time to organize."

"Okay!" Clandestine said. "I'll get started on some food options after I have some breakfast. Eve, you can let me know what you find out when you get to it so I make sure I prepare something James can eat."

Eve nodded. "Alright. We can come back in the evening."
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SilverNight says...

After Clandestine and Eve left, Shane stayed back for about five minutes to psych himself up for going door to door. Once he'd worked up the courage, he left the cabin, setting out over the beach. The cabin he and James had stood outside of earlier was closest, but he decided he wouldn't go there-- or at least, it wasn't a good place to start. James would probably not appreciate Kazimir showing up at his party, and Shane wasn't sure he wanted him around either.

He went in the opposite direction instead, deciding to stop at the first one that way instead and hope it was the one with Alan, Cyrin and Lyall. They'd probably be easiest, besides the girls cabin, and if all of them decided to go that might just make for the best invite list.

Walking up to the cabin, Shane stood on the doormat for a few moments, taking a deep breath and rehearsing his pitch in his head, before he softly knocked on the door. Just as he was starting to wonder if he'd done it too timidly to be heard and he'd have to try again, the door opened.

It was Alan who answered the door. He smiled immediately upon seeing Shane, arm leaning against the frame of the door.

"Well, well, well. If it isn't the future historian and Head of House at my door. I'm graced by his presence," he said, his smile turning into a grin. "Good morning, Shane. Looks like you found our cabin."

"Good morning, Alan," Shane said, smiling with a slight laugh. "It was a lucky guess, since I was looking for it."

"Well, today is your unlucky day, since I'm the only one here who's awake." Alan paused. "Or lucky day, depending on how you look at it. But I'm glad to see you regardless. Do you want to come inside?"

"Sure, thank you," Shane said politely. "I wouldn't consider myself unlucky at all, though. I'm here to drop by with some news and I was hoping I'd get to you first."

Still smiling, Alan nodded, stepping out of the way and ushering Shane in before closing the door behind them.

"I'm honored." He glanced back at the kitchen. "Just ignore the messy kitchen. I'd be a better host and offer you something, but I finished cooking and was about to clean when you came in. But we have an insane amount of fruits if you want anything."

Shane paused, hesitant about making requests, but remembered that he hadn't had anything to eat yet this morning. It wasn't unusual for him to skip breakfast, but the offer was making him hungry. "Do you have any berries, by chance?" he asked, a little timidly.

"Sure do." Alan nodded eagerly, heading over to the fridge to take out a carton of blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries. He set them all on the kitchen counter for Shane to take. "I'm not really sure who stocks our fridge, but after seeing the detention house come to life yesterday, the answer may very well not be a person. At least they're thorough."

Shane smiled a little wider. "Maybe Dante stands on your porch and snaps his fingers every night," he said, opening up the blackberries and pouring a handful into his palm.

"That would be a sight, wouldn't it? That's some very nifty magic," Alan said as he sat on a nearby stool, propping his elbow on the counter and setting his head against his hand. "How have you been doing, by the way? I know yesterday was rough."

Shane popped a few of the blackberries in his mouth, taking a seat on a stool as well. "I'm as good as I can be, considering," he said honestly. "Mostly concerned, worried, and tired. What about you?"

Alan nodded, his expression washing over with a hint of worry. "Oh, I've been fine. I've had a pleasant morning, actually-- but it'd be more pleasant if Lyall was doing better. I only had time to get a few sentences out of him before he knocked out, but since he came back around sunrise, he must have stayed in detention for hours. He's resting now, though."

Shane nodded empathetically. "Same thing with James-- Lyall accompanied him back very late, or early, depending on how you look at it. They both looked... really rough. James especially. I think he'll be sleeping for a while." He finished up the handful of berries, swallowing them down before he spoke again. "I'm here about James, actually. Remember how we were talking about a welcoming party?"

"I do, yes," Alan said with a raised brow and slight smile.

"There wasn't much celebrating when James got back, since we were all so tired, but I was thinking we would have another chance once he wakes up," Shane explained, going through his mental speech. "It wouldn't be much, just some food and drinks and general fun, but hopefully it'll help lift the mood a bit. Clandestine and Eve-- I don't know if you've met Eve yet, but she seems cool-- are helping out too. I'm discerning interest, seeing who might like to go. So, you and your cabin are invited."

Alan's smile grew with each passing word as he sat up straighter, letting out a faint laugh when he finished. "I think that's a great idea, Shane. I'm almost certain Cyrin will go, and Lyall-- well, he's got to come too. And of course, I wouldn't miss it. It will be a good way to get to know everyone while being away from the DMV's watchful eyes."

"I can't take much credit for the idea, since you mentioned it first," Shane said, laughing softly as well. "But I'm glad you want to go. I think James will like seeing the three of you."

"It's easy to think of ideas but harder to implement them, so I think you deserve more credit for this. But I'd also be happy to help you implement party plans, if you need an extra hand. Regardless, I'm sure James will be touched by the sentiments, and that's all that matters at the end of the day," Alan said.

Shane smiled a little more brightly. "Thanks," he said gently. "I was thinking about going around to other cabins, deciding who we should invite. If you wanted, you could tag along. I'd appreciate the company."

"I'd love to," Alan said with a warm smile. "Have you stopped by the other cabins yet? I'm afraid I don't know many of the others outside of our group yesterday, but today could be a perfect day to change that."

"Not truly stopped by," Shane said with a shake of his head, offering him a smile of thanks. "I agree this would be a good chance to, though."

"Never a better time than the present. When do you want to make the rounds? Right now?" Alan asked.

Shane tapped his fingers on the counter thoughtfully. "How about after I help you clean up?" he offered.

"Oh, you don't need to do that," Alan said with a laugh. "But I really appreciate it. I doubt Lyall will wake up any time soon, so I can leave an apology note for Cyrin saying I'll clean up when I come back. I'm certain he won't mind."

"Up to you," Shane said with a smile. "I do owe you for the berries, though."

"Berries that I didn't pay for," Alan teased. "How about this: I gave you some magically-stocked berries at my cabin, so in return, I ask that I stop by one morning and eat your magically-stocked berries. An eye for an eye-- or rather, a berry for a berry."

Shane laughed. "Alright. I promise to remember your kindness and not eat them all myself."

"Then I promise to hold you to it," Alan said with a grin.

He got up and walked to the other side of the counter, opening a drawer and pulling out a pen and paper. It must have been the note he was planning on writing for Cyrin. He seemed to mull over what to write for a few moments but then scrawled out a few lines, setting the pen back down.

"Alright. Ready to leave when you are, but no rush. The blackberries are waiting to be eaten, after all," he said.

Shane poured out another handful of berries, eating them quickly. "Ready," he said with a laugh once he was done, rounding the counter.

Alan nodded, putting the rest of the berries back in the fridge before he joined him at the door, leaving together and locking the door behind him. "Any particular cabin you want to stop by first?" he asked.

Shane paused. "There's the one past mine that I've seen a little of," he said pointing. "But I think I'd like to discern whether they'd be good guests for James before we say anything about a party or invite them anywhere. One of them was the person who gave James that electric shock, and while I'd like to think we just got off on the wrong foot, I'd want to make sure whether he should be there or not by checking. If it seems like James wouldn't like him there, we can always say we were there just to be friendly and say hi."

"That's a good idea. Seems like the first impression is off to a bad start, but we can scope him and the other roommates out and feel out whether James would enjoy their company. Do you want to go to their cabin first, then?" Alan asked.

Shane nodded. "If that plan sounds good to you, let's do it."

"No objections from me. Let's roll."

They walked over the sandy beach, past Shane's cabin and to the one the lightning strike had happened outside of. He couldn't locate the exact spot it had taken place, but he was wearing shoes now, so he didn't need to worry about walking over it. When they got there, Shane exchanged a quick look with Alan before he pulled his sleeve up past his knuckles to knock on the door.

There was a beat of silence before he heard slow, heavy footfalls approach, and the door opened. There stood Kazimir, shirtless, in Nyike sweatpants, with a hairless cat on his shoulder. The cat was wearing a sweater, and licking the side of Kazimir's head, effectively flattening the man's normally spiky hair.

If Shane didn't know any better, Kazimir looked hungover.

"Oh," Kazimir said. "Thought it was that blue chick again. Who are you?"

Shane blinked, exchanging a look with Alan that said: I don't really like the way he said that.

Alan was quick to dive into introductions, offering a small polite smile. "Hey. We thought we'd go around and say hi to the other contestants. I don't think we've met yet." His eyes glanced down to the cat on Kazimir's shoulder. "Cute cat, by the way."

"Yes," Shane agreed with a more awkward polite smile, watching the cat continue to groom Kazimir's hair. "Very cute."

"Oh, that's Ham," Kazimir said. "He does that."

He slightly turned his head towards the cat, and the cat kept licking, and ended up licking Kazimir's eyelid.

"The sandpaper feeling is kinda like sand," he said, squinting and picking the cat up off his shoulder, holding the bald creature in his arms.

Alan nodded slowly, seemingly processing this. "What's your name?" he asked, then gestured towards Shane. "I'm Alan, and this is Shane."

"Kaz," Kazimir answered, apparently resorting to just introducing himself by his nickname.

"Are your cabin mates home?" Alan asked.

Kazimir looked over his shoulder.

"Hendrik!" he shouted.

"Who's at the door?" a gruff voice shouted back.

"Just some guys!" he said.

"What do they want?"

"I don't know," Kazimir shouted again. "You, I guess!"

"Did you say me?" Hendrik shouted back.

"Maybe we'll come back another time," Alan offered.

"No, no," Kazimir said, waving a hand placatingly. "He's just being a LAZY ASS!"

He shouted the latter two words over his shoulder.

"Shut the hell up, sparky!" Hendrik snapped back, his voice getting louder as he began to approach.

It was then that Shane realized that Hendrik was the drunk man from yesterday. He stood tall, also not wearing a shirt as he scratched his beard and squinted at them. He held a red solo cup in his free hand.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"Oh, hey," Shane said timidly. "Good to see you again."

"That's Shane," Kaz answered before Shane could. "That's Alex."

"Shane. Alex. Name's Hendrik. This here is my boy sparky," Hendrik said as he slapped Kazimir's ass again. Kazimir responded by elbowing Hendrik in the gut.

Alan seemed unimpressed, not even bothering to correct his name. "Right. Well, we were just stopping by to say hi."

"Sparks? Did you not invite them in for drinks? Don't you know how to be a good host? We have guests!" Hendrik scolded.

"They didn't say they wanted to come in," Kazimir said in defense. "Besides, that's how you get bit by vampires."

Shane glanced at Alan uncertainly.

"Yeah, we were just thinking we'd say hi," he said slowly. "We may have gotten off on the wrong foot yesterday, so--"

"Vampires?" Hendrik repeated, attention on Kazimir the whole time as he finally processed what he said. "Are one of these boys a vampire?"

Kazimir held out Ham towards Shane.

"Ham will know," Kazimir said, directing the cat's face to Shane's hand. Ham licked it. Baffled, Shane smiled weakly, pulling his hand back and wiping it off on his shirt.

"We should leave, but thank you anyways," Alan said more directly, gesturing for Shane to follow him out as he took a step back. "Nice to meet you both."

"What the hell? There are vampires and werewolves on this island? What is this, a Dawn episode?" Hendrik said, still at the doorway, but seemingly lost his attention on Shane and Alan.

"I don't watch that vampire shit," Kazimir said, putting the cat back on his shoulder.

"Give me Ham. He's cold."

"He's on a fuckin' island," Kaz countered. "He's not cold."

"He's fuckin' naked, sparky!" Hendrik barked back.

Shane inched back another step, but Alan was already moving faster and had already turned around. He took Shane's arm so he could follow him back.

"Come back if you want to get wasted!" Kazimir shouted after them. "Henny makes beer outta piss!"

"Hell yeah! I also make great toilet water wine!" Hendrik shouted as well.

Alan sighed, letting go of Shane's arm and shaking his head, not even glancing back at them. "I didn't know if you wanted to invite them, but my gut was saying no, so I figured we'd leave before we'd get sucked in."

They heard the door shut, and when Shane glanced back, the two shirtless men were gone.

"Your gut was right," he said. "Thanks. Maybe we didn't start off on the wrong foot after all. Maybe that's just how it goes with them."

"Maybe," Alan murmured. "In any case, what cabin do you want to go to next? Maybe we'll have better luck with the next one."

Shane paused, thinking. "I think Clandestine and Eve are going to tell their cabin," he said. "So, I guess we could try either of the other two."

"Fair point. Alright, then. Which of the two cabins do you want to try first?" Alan asked.

"I've never visited either," Shane said. "Your choice."

Alan hummed, pointing to the larger of the two cabins in the distance. "Let's visit the bigger one. It's closer, anyways."

Shane nodded. "Let's, then."

They cut a diagonal over the sand, passing by the cabins in between and making their day there in a matter of minutes. When they got to the door, Shane was the one to start to knock, but he didn't cover his knuckles first. In an instant, a flash of two people wrestling on the porch flashed before his eyes, one of them slamming the other into the doorframe violently, which rocked with a shudder that Shane felt. He stepped back from the door quickly, eyes wide as the present returned to him.

"What...?" he muttered under his breath, staring at the door.

Then the door opened promptly.

"Greetings!" a man said, flashing a wide smile with very white teeth, and Shane recognized him as one of the people he'd seen wrestling just a moment ago-- or some unknown time in the past. He was tall, lean, and had short black hair slicked back with what looked like grease. "I didn't expect to see two members of the silly shirt society on my doorstep. Though I don't believe I've had a chance to get your names. I'm Alex. What brings you here?"

"Hi, Alex. Silly shirt society is making their rounds saying hi, that's all," Alan said with a friendly smile. "I'm Alan. And this is Shane."

"Hey, Alex," Shane said, smiling slightly. "Good to meet you. We missed you yesterday."

Alex extended a hand to Alan first, and they shook quickly before Alex offered it to Shane. Shane shook hands with him as well, glad there was nothing he might get another read on.

"Yeah, that party really didn't go as I expected," Alex said with a little laugh. "It ended pretty quickly, which was a bit of a bummer. I kind of wish I'd had a chance to get in on the silly shirt thing, though. That was iconic."

"Who knows, maybe we'll give it another whirl one day. We'd have to ask James," Alan said, then paused. "Have you gotten the chance to meet him, by the way?"

"I haven't, yet," Alex said. "I was going to come over and introduce myself to all of you just about when all of... well, I'm still not quite sure what all went down, actually. James like... disappeared? Does anyone know what happened to him?"

"James is okay," Shane explained. "Just very tired. He was in the equivalent of an underground holding cell all night long, apparently. It was pretty rough on him."

"Oh shit," Alexander said, raising his brows in concerned surprise. "That's, like... there's no way that's legal. Right?"

"Well, we are on an island with its own rules. Frankly, I'm questioning whether there are even any laws here," Alan mused.

"Maybe we should Giggle that to be sure," Alex mused with him.

"I've been wondering, honestly," Shane said, taking out his phone. "I don't know Auslanii law, but I do have lawyers. Maybe there's something to be discovered."

When he Giggled Auslanii laws and rules, holding his phone out for Alan and Alex to see, however, he was met with a different webpage: a picture of a cute, but very sad kitten, holding a sign that read: SOWWY! CAN'T ACCESS!!! :(((

"What the fuck?" Alex whispered.

"Did they really restrict internet access by keywords?" Alan murmured, squinting as he stared at the webpage.

"That... might be legal," Shane said slowly, mentally going over the implications of this. "But definitely not right."

"How... ominous," Alan said with a sigh.

"I guess we should all just... be more careful, moving forward," Alex said. "I don't know how much more severe punishments might get but I'd hate to find out."

"Why didn't I just do my research before arriving," Shane said with a slight sigh, closing the kitten tab and putting his phone away. "I always do my research."

"It's alright. We're here for the next three months anyways, so we might as well make the best of it." Alan turned his attention back to Alex, smile returning. "Are your cabin mates home by chance, Alex?"

"Unfortunately, yes," Alexander said. "But two of them are recluses, so, I don't think I'll be able to coax them into coming out."

He glanced over his shoulder and hummed.

"Tula just came in today, though," he said. "She might be down to say hi. Want me to grab her?"

"That would be great. Thank you," Alan said.

"Cool. Be back in a sec," Alex said, leaving the door open as he ran upstairs.

Shane checked to see that he wasn't nearby anymore, then turned to Alan. "He was wrestling someone out here," he said quietly, glancing indoors again.

"Oh?" Alan said with a raised brow. "Maybe his reclusive cabin mate?"

"One of them, maybe," Shane said. "I didn't recognize the other person, but they looked like a man. Just... I don't know what that means, exactly."

Alan hesitated. "Do you want to invite Alex? We don't have to."

Shane paused as well. If it weren't for seeing this, it would be an easy yes, and he didn't know whether he was supposed to interpret this as a warning sign about Alex's personality. He hadn't seen enough to make a full case yet, and he needed his evidence before drawing conclusions.

"If nothing off-putting happens when he comes back, I say we can invite him," he said. "I could keep an eye on him there too. This is strange, but I don't know if there's cause for alarm yet. Maybe it was justified."

Alan hummed. "Alright. So far, he seems more level-headed than the other cabin, so I'll let you decide. If you want to invite him and his cabin mate, feel free to bring it up to them."

Shane nodded, just as Alexander returned down the stairs, followed by someone else-- Tula, apparently. She had an olive complexion and arched green eyes with thick brows, her dark curly hair pulled back into a low ponytail. She wore a short flowy black skirt and a white low-cut shirt. She smiled lightly as she observed the two of them, her hand on her hip.

"Hi, you two. I'm Tula. I just arrived today, so I'm still meeting everyone," she said.

"You said you were late because of a surgery, right?" Alex asked as they stopped in the doorway.

Tula arched a brow at him, presumably a little surprised that he'd reveal her health history to them. "That's right. All recovered now, though."

Alex paused.

"Ah, sorry, was I not supposed to say anything?" he asked with an apologetic look.

"It's fine," she said dismissedly with a wave of her hand as she looked back at Alan and Shane with a small smile. "It's nothing major. I just got my appendix removed. It's nothing to be concerned about, though. I promise."

"Still, that must be painful. Sorry to hear about that," Alan said.

"Thank you, but really, I'm fine. It's amazing what doctors with magic can do these days. Did you know that some doctors can even remove scars?" She shook her head, clicking her tongue. "It's crazy."

Shane nodded. "It's impressive. Glad to hear you're alright," he said with a slight smile.

"Oh!" Alex said after the shortest pause. "Tula! These were the guys I was talking about earlier, the ones with the pun shirts."

"Oh, that's right. Let me guess..." She hummed, pointing at Alan then Shane. "James and Shane?"

"I'm Shane," Shane said with a faint laugh, raising his hand. "This is Alan."

Alan smiled, lifting his hand for a slight wave. "Close, though. It may have been the glasses that made you think that."

Tula laughed, nodding. "Ah, that's it, yes. Apologies. I'm still learning everyone's names."

"It's alright. Two others think my name is Alex, so this may add more confusion to the mix," Alan said.

"Oh god," Alex muttered with a laugh. "Hopefully we can catch that early, otherwise I'm going to get really confused really fast."

Shane laughed as well. "Speaking of James, though," he said, "we're hosting a small party this evening, sort of a welcome-back-from-jail celebration for him. If the two of you would be interested, you'd be welcome."

Alex looked over at Tula with a raised brow, and then back at Shane. He laughed lightly while Tula's smile turned to one of excitement.

"Welcome back from jail party?" he asked. "Hell yeah. I'm in."

"Me too. I'm sad I missed yesterday's festivities, so this will be fun to go to," Tula said, then paused. "What's this about jail, though?"

"Oliver insulted another one of us who was wearing funny shirts, and James punched him for it," Shane explained. "He got locked up for a bit as punishment, and the rest of us got detention."

"Wait, that's what happened? They told us James was just, like, a lit fuse," Alex said.

Shane winced. "Yeah, that is not what happened. I'm sorry."

"This island's pretty messed up," Alex said, looking to Tula. "So we're discovering."

Tula's brows were pinched together with mild concern. "Is he alright?"

"I think he'll be okay," Shane assured her. "Just needs some rest. Hopefully the party will raise his spirits a bit."

"I'll bet," Alex said with a small sigh.

"Thanks for letting us know. Should we bring anything? Maybe he's got a favorite drink we can bring?" Tula suggested.

"Yeah, we have a fully stocked wine cellar," Alex said. "It's insane."

"I think we have that covered, but we appreciate it. Right, Shane?" Alan said, looking over to Shane for confirmation.

Shane nodded. "We have someone going to Dante to figure out his preferences, see if they're on file. I think we can get everything we need."

Tula nodded. "Alright. But do tell us if you need help with anything. What time should we stop by?"

"How about 6 or later?" Shane suggested. "Hopefully James will actually be awake by then."

"What cabin?" Alex asked.

Shane turned over his shoulder, pointing to the distant one he shared with James and Connie. "That one. It's also got a yellow door."

"Awesome. I can't wait to see everyone else. Thanks again for the invite," Tula said.

"Yeah! I'm excited," Alex agreed.

Shane smiled. "Of course."

"We'll see you then, yeah?" Alan said. "It's great meeting you two."

"Likewise. We'll see you later, Shane and other Alex," Tula teased.

Alex laughed and gave Alan a teasing wink.

After waving goodbye, Shane left with Alan, heading to the final cabin. This one was much smaller, and Shane guessed it only held one person.

"That went well. Nice job," Alan said as they walked.

Shane laughed, running a hand through his hair bashfully. "Thanks. I guess it was a lot more promising than the last stop. Let's see if we can keep up our winning streak."

They arrived at the small cabin, and this time, Shane remembered to cover his hand while knocking. While he waited, he noticed there was a deadbolt on the door-- on the outside of the cabin. He almost thought about getting a read on it to see what it was for, but decided not to.

Some time passed. No response.

"Maybe they're not home?" Alan suggested. "Let's try knocking one more time."

Alan knocked this time, louder and more firm. He rapped his hand against the door three times, but at the third knock, the door opened by an inch. A person's big, gray-blue eye peeked out at them, bulging out of the socket. They didn't say anything, instead just staring at them.

"...Hey there," Alan greeted after a still silence. "We wanted to come by and--"

"You're a corrupted heir," the man said, flicking his eye between them, his voice a bit muffled since he was still behind the door.

Shane stiffened, shifting back a step. "What?" he asked quickly.

This seemed to confuse Alan as well, who stood staring back at him, processing this. The person behind the door slowly inched the door open, revealing a pale, thin, sickly-looking man with unkempt hair and sunken cheeks, wearing dirtied clothes as he stared back with huge eyes, his lips trembling into a smile.

"You got denied from every school. You use your job to scam people. You wish you'd have died instead," the man went on, his smile widening in a crazed manner, reaching his eyes.

Shane's heart skipped a beat with panic. Great. They'd found the inaccurate mind reader James had mentioned. All by himself in a single-person cabin. It was like he wasn't supposed to be around other people.

"That's not true--" he started, but the man kept going.

"You're deathly afraid of rejection. You're afraid you can't love properly. Your brother abandoned you. Your parents killed themselves! You--"

Alan suddenly reached forward and pulled the door in, slamming it shut and dead bolting it. There was a muffled banging on the other side, and if the mind reader kept talking, they couldn't hear it.

Alan took a shuddered deep breath, looking over at Shane. "Well. We're not inviting him," he said flatly.

Shane nodded shakily, backing up from the door and nearly stumbling backwards in the haze of thoughts. When James had mentioned the mind reader to him, he hadn't thought it had been like this. An awful mix of grating, ugly truths and fiction he didn't want attached to his name.

"I..." Shane started to say, but he didn't know how to finish up the sentence, shaking his head like he was dazed.

"Let's get out of here," Alan suggested, walking away and beckoning for Shane to follow.

Shane followed mindlessly, not even sure what direction Alan was guiding him in. He just felt glad to put distance between himself and the mind reader.

Some time passed, and they walked in silence.

"I wouldn't overthink what that man said," Alan said, finally breaking the silence. "I don't think he's very accurate. He said a lot of lies."

Shane swallowed. "I mean, he definitely said some things that were true too," he said quietly.

Alan didn't respond to that, letting the silence sit between them as they walked. It started feeling unbearable to Shane, and he found himself stopping in his tracks, a shot of panic coursing through his mind.

"I don't wish--" he started to explain, but his voice got strangled in the middle of the sentence, and he couldn't complete the statement. Worse, he didn't know if it wasn't true, because the words had the weight of a lie to them. Instead, he let out a sigh of frustration, pressing a hand to his forehead and closing his eyes.

"I know," Alan said gently, voice getting closer. "You don't have to justify anything to me. I think it's intrusive and disruptive to learn about someone through the mind of a clinically insane person, so I'm not holding any weight to his words. I'm sorry that you had to hear all of that, though."

Shane took a deep, shuddering breath, opening his eyes and blinking until they stopped stinging. "Okay," he whispered. "Good."

Alan was standing in front of him, brows drew together sadly as he searched his eyes. He took a deep breath. "Do you want to take another walk with me?" he asked.

Shane slowly nodded, forcing himself not to drop his gaze and keep looking at him. "Yeah," he whispered, his voice slightly shaky. "That'd be nice. Thank you."
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Carina says...

That was... something.

This must have been the inaccurate mind reader James had mentioned to them. Of course it was. Of course he stayed in his own cabin that locked from the outside.

Alan didn't know what to think about that. A mix of panic, uncertainty, and dread came up and pulled on his gut uneasily, but he pushed it away with a deep breath, facing Shane who was clearly even more anxious about this.

A walk would be good for them both, although Alan was sure Shane needed it much more than he did. A selfish part of Alan wanted to go on the walk alone, but he pushed that intrusive thought away, wanting to focus his time and attention in being there for Shane.

He didn't really have a specific destination in mind when he brought it up. This was his second day on the island, so he was still exploring and getting to know the place. But when Alan went to a walk this morning, he found the east side of the island to be quite peaceful, especially the pebble beaches consisting of tiny seashells that cracked with every step he took.

They walked in silence for a bit, but Alan didn't want to stretch it out too long, especially since Shane still seemed to be spinning in his anxious thoughts.

"I can't believe I haven't asked yet. Have you ever been to an island like this before?" he asked, keeping the conversation light.

Shane glanced out to the ocean, watching the tide come in. "I've been to some colder islands," he said. "Ones that see snow in the winter and storms in the summer. You get to see the clouds forming and rolling in over the ocean and wind-pushed waves. It's beautiful, but in a different way than somewhere like here."

Alan nodded, following his gaze over the ocean. "That is beautiful. This island is too, but I think it lacks authenticity. The clouds and storms are all likely controlled by magic, the sand is imported, and even the water feels like it's not too cold. The DMV seems to want to make this a perfect island, but in turn, they take away some of its natural beauty."

"I wonder what it looked like before they altered it," Shane said. "I wonder if I could see it then. But I'd have to find the right feature to get a read on."

"That would be interesting. What feature do you think you'd need to get a proper reading?" Alan asked.

Shane hummed. "Maybe... a tree," he said. "I'm making the guess that they didn't import those, instead caring for the ones that were already here and cutting down ones they didn't like."

"That's a good guess. There are some trees ahead, if you wanted to get a reading. But only if you want to," Alan said.

Shane scanned the layer of trees ahead, then turned back to Alan. "I'd be able to share with you," he said. "It might be worth a try."

They approached the line of palm trees, standing at the base of one of them. Shane looked up at the top, with his head tilted back, before he pressed his hand to the trunk and closed his eyes. Alan watched him in the five seconds that followed before Shane's eyes flew open.

"Oh, wow," he said, shaking his head out and pointing to the beach. "This used to a rocky beach. Boulders shaped by crashing waves, tide pools, and thousands of shells. It's... I think it was more beautiful then."

Alan smiled, in awe. "You saw all that? You have a gift. It must have been breathtaking."

Shane let out a bashful sounding laugh. "I like it when it lets me see small glimpses of history," he said, removing his hand from the tree and glancing back at the featureless expanse of fine, pristine sand. "It's sad when it shows me we've gone out of our way to remove beauty from the world, sometimes. But I'm grateful I get to see it. Because it was breathtaking here once."

"That's very special. This magic really fits you, considering your interest in history. Thank you for sharing," Alan said with a smile.

Shane smiled, still timidly. "I'm happy to," he said. "This isn't even why I got into history, but I guess it does complement that interest. Everything's got a history, and even if it's not the kind I studied, this type can still be learned from."

Alan nodded, starting up the walk around the coastline again, with Shane following beside him.

"Everyone's got a history," he mused, echoing Shane's sentiments. He turned to him with a curious smile. "What is yours?" He paused before adding, "And just so you know, I'm giving you a clean slate. It's like I've never heard of Shane Hawking until now. If you had to tell your history your way, what would you say?"

Shane chuckled. "Are you actually able to pretend you won't have heard of anything? I feel like there's nothing completely new I can tell you."

"That's alright. I don't need novelty to stay engaged. I like listening to you anyways," Alan said.

Shane hesitated, as if determining he meant it or not, before smiling slightly again. "Alright," he said, glancing up at the sky for a moment as they kept walking. "I grew up by the North Sea in Starlight City, which is one of my favorite places in the world. My parents moved there after they married, and that's where we lived until I was 15. It's an old city, full of historical and natural wonders, and I remember wanting to learn about it all. I would see museums, landmarks, and historical sites, and I didn't feel satisfied by just visiting them. I wanted to delve into the past of each place and figure out what made it special. So, I guess I've always had the desire to be a historian. It was a calling, if you will."

Shane paused, pushing the hair out of his face after a gust blew in from the ocean. He sounded more passionate when he was talking about the subject of history, his words picking up some excitement and volume.

"When I was 15, the Head of House we're part of abdicated, and my mom was Heir, so we moved in to the House," he continued. "She picked her brother as the next Heir, and I attended a boarding school for the rest of high school. After that, I knew I wanted to study history, of course, so I did my undergrad at Crystal City University, then went back for graduate school. And..."

Shane stopped talking, and his face went blank as his pace slowed.

"Well," he said cautiously, "I got selected to be Heir, so that puts academics on hold for some time. I can't be doing both, and the choice isn't really mine. So I guess you're caught up now."

"You know, there are a lot of details that weren't shared in the ten minute YooToob video I happened to watch in the background about Aphirah heirs. There's no better source than hearing from the person directly. You are far more interesting and sophisticated than the media paints you to be. I'm honored I get to hear your story. Thank you for sharing," Alan said.

Shane turned to him, a soft light glowing in his green eyes as the smile returned to his face. "Thanks," he said softly, sounding touched. "And now I hope you'll understand if I ask for your history as well."

Alan laughed, shaking his head. "Touché. But I promise you, my history is far less interesting."

"Don't say that," Shane said, smiling wider. "It interests me, and I know your history is more than worth hearing as well."

"Alright," Alan said with a smile, keeping his gaze on Shane for a moment before he stared over the beachy path ahead, noticing they weren't far from the pebbly beach now. "Well. I'm from Argentia. It's a small mountainous and coastal country in the continent under Americhihuahua." He paused, glancing back at Shane. "Although, you probably already knew that," he said with a faint laugh before continuing on, and Shane laughed with a nod. "My father is a violinist and my mother is a pianist, so naturally, I play both instruments. I have a pretty big family, but we're the only musicians. I'm not a professional musician, though-- unless you count me giving children lessons as professional experience, or when I play for three tourists weddings a week."

Alan paused again, trying to think of other highlights he could say, although not a lot came to mind. He never liked to summarize a subject as complex as life without a lot of context, but this would have to do for now.

"That about sums it up. I think coming to this island is the most exciting thing that's happened to me in a while. Sorry to bore," he finished with a teasing smile.

"I'm definitely not bored," Shane said, smiling back. "Far from it. I like listening to you, too, and I'm glad to hear your story. A person doesn't need to be covered on YooToob to be captivating and worthy of attention."

"Fair enough," Alan said with a soft laugh. "Although, the cameras around us think otherwise."

He nodded over to a floating drone in the sky, pointing a camera below them. It seemed that they had robot cameras around if they walked too far. How convenient.

"It's a bit strange to be filmed all the time, especially when I don't think we're doing anything worth capturing at the moment. But I try not to think about it too much anyways," Alan finished.

Shane glanced up at it. "I don't feel too strange about the filming, but that's probably just me," he said. "I get watched all the time anyway. What does feel strange to me, though, is the attitude towards what's filmed. It's one thing to capture something on camera, but it's another to look at the footage, see that it's likely to upset one or more of the people being filmed, and then deciding to release it anyway. That bothers me quite a bit, and this island seems like it's more than willing to do it."

Alan nodded with a sigh. "Couldn't agree more with you. I'm not familiar with Island Magic, but it's obvious to me now that it truly is a reality TV show that relies on cheap shots and drama, even if fabricated. And after the events of yesterday, it's likely that this is only beginning." He paused. "Although, I do still think this trip is what you make of it. And even if there are some struggles, I hope I can still walk away with good memories and genuine connections."

"Considering how hard they tried to make it a paradise, I would hope there are some good times," Shane said with a quiet laugh, before adding, "I hope for that, too. For both of us."
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soundofmind says...

Finally, James was home. His first day on the island had been the longest day ever. He'd been up at an early hour, and by the time he finally managed to lie down in bed, it had been over 36 hours he'd been up. Despite his exhaustion, he'd taken the time to shower, flopping into bed with his hair wet, even though it was heavy.

The moment his head hit the pillow, he was asleep.

Somewhere deep in his sleep cycle, however, he was woken up by someone shaking his shoulder. Groggy, and barely able to comprehend what was going on, he tried to shake himself awake, peering up in confusion at... Shane?

"What is it?" he mumbled, rolling over.

Was something wrong?

"You've been asleep for a while," Shane said, smiling that faint smile of his. "Over a whole day, really. I thought you'd need something to eat, so I made pancakes."

Oh. Had it really been that long? He still felt so exhausted. Maybe it was from over-sleeping. Letting out a long sigh, he forced himself to sit up, rubbing his eyes. Good grief, they were still irritated from the sand that had flown into them when he was parachuted out of that damned cell. He thought he'd washed them out, but they still felt like they were burning.

"Thanks, Shane," he said sleepily, his voice a good octave lower than usual, gritty and rough.

Shane nodded, glancing around the room before taking a step back. "Do you need some time?" he asked.

"I probably need a moment," he agreed, rubbing his face once more before he stumbled to his feet, wandering over to his suitcase, still on the floor. As he squatted beside it at the foot of the bed, he waited for Shane to withdraw from the room, but he never did.

Glancing back over, he looked at Shane.

He seemed... stiff. He was watching him a little too closely, too. Hm.

"You okay?" James asked.

"Yeah?" Shane asked, raising his eyebrows.

James furrowed his brows.

"You sure?" he pressed lightly.

"I'm fine," Shane said, but he didn't look any less stiff. He was still standing in place, watching, waiting. "Just waiting on you."

James pressed his lips together, unable to shake the feeling that Shane was, at the very least, uncomfortable, and at worst, hiding something. There was no reason for him to hover like this, even though James had been exhausted when he returned home. James was fine, now. He didn't need babying.

"You don't have to do that," James said. "I can just meet you downstairs when I'm ready. I might be a bit."

Didn't Shane understand basic privacy?

Wait. James had locked his door, hadn't he? He could've sworn he did. He was dead tired, but he always locked the door. How did Shane get in?

Shane hesitated, pressing his lips together like he was nervous, and his gaze left James to flick around the room. But still, he never turned his head or moved otherwise.

"I just want to make sure you make it down," he said calmly, but there was a slowness to his words that made them seem very deliberate.

James drew his brows together tightly, narrowing his eyes at Shane.

"I can manage walking down the stairs," he said slowly in response, trying to piece together what had Shane on edge. "I don't need your help."

Unless, this wasn't about help.

Was Shane... trying to ensure James made it downstairs?

"Is something downstairs?" he asked before Shane could retort with another stiff reply.

"Just breakfast," Shane answered quickly, his voice louder now.

"Are you lying about breakfast?"

Shane didn't answer, but James saw the shift in his expression. More tense. Almost afraid. If he'd been stiff before, he looked frozen now.

At that, James got to his feet, meeting Shane's eyes sternly.

"Shane," he said firmly. "Who's waiting downstairs?"

Shane's eyes flashed with panic at that, and James heard the shaky, scared deep breath he took. He swallowed, and he started to silently mouth something, but his lips didn't have time to get past the shape of a wide O before a trapdoor flipped open beneath his feet. With a scream of terror, Shane tumbled into the gap, and James barely had time to see a black, gaping darkness through it before it slammed shut as quickly as it'd opened.

Eyes wide and panic shooting through him, James rushed forward, scrambling to his knees to try and find the trapdoor that was now shut. In the spot where Shane was formerly standing, James could find nothing. No seams. No cracks. No hinges. No signs of anything, anywhere, like Shane had been consumed by some kind of otherworldly portal that swallowed him up.

In that moment, he began to understand.



So his short "prison" sentence had not been the end of his consequences. Now his housemates - other contestants were being brought into this. A fire of rage ignited in his chest, and he hurried to his door, running through the hall, skidding around the corner, and bounding down the steps into the living room.

He made it to the base of the stairs before he screeched to a stop, seeing Oliver standing in the middle of the living room with his hands in his pockets, wearing a navy blue suit and staring at James expectantly, seemingly waiting for his entrance. Around him stood two muscular people, dressed to the brim with combat gear to the point that he couldn't even make out distinguishable features between them.

"Hello, James. You are late. And I do hate waiting," Oliver said with a polite smile and voice, although there was venom behind his words. "I apologize about your house mate. You asked too many questions, so naturally, we had to take care of him."

James slowly proceeded down the remaining steps, his eyes locked on Oliver with a daggering glare.

"Why involve him in this?" James asked lowly.

"Because he's connected to you, James. Soon, you will learn that everyone you know will suffer for your actions. Really, this is a natural consequence to world order. If you don't follow orders, you will pay the price. It's simple law and order," Oliver continued, still with the fake smile and politeness.

James walked up to Oliver, stopping short of a few feet. He could feel the eyes of the bodyguards watching him closely.

"Bullshit," James said. "One punch doesn't mean the whole world has to burn, Oliver."

"Not the whole world," Oliver said with a now wicked smile, still keeping his eyes on him. "Just yours."

That was it.

James closed the distance quickly, going in for a swing. His fist nearly made contact when suddenly, Oliver's hand caught it, a mere inch from his face. James stared at Oliver for a second, brows furrowing while Oliver's mouth curved into a full, devilish smile.

James was about to pull away when Oliver's grip turned crushing. Before James could process what was happening, there was a loud, sickening crunch, and broken, metal bones broke through the skin of his hand as every finger crumpled up like an aluminum can. Pain coursed through his whole arm like a piercing dagger, and he could feel the fracture of his hand splinter through his forearm, creaking and cracking under the pressure.

James's legs buckled, and he fell to the ground, but Oliver didn't let go. He twisted James's arm, and his elbow popped out of place with an agonizing pop.

He screamed as Oliver dropped James's arm and it went spinning bloodily to his side. His sinister smile turned into a full grin, Oliver suddenly reached for his head, his hands crumpling James' skull effortlessly.

"You. Are. Nothing," Oliver hissed, and then everything went black.

Or so he thought.

Eyes shooting open, James found himself back in bed, panting and covered in sweat.

He stared up at the ceiling, utterly disoriented as the phantom pain of the dream lingered in his hand. He flexed his fingers with a wince, feeling for every joint, confirming it was still in place.

The room was full of fading light. It was evening.

It'd been a nightmare. Just a dream.

A really terrible dream, but only a dream.

Swearing under his breath, he reached up to rub his face, trying to collect himself. That dream felt way too real.

Suddenly there was a knock on his door.

Jumping, James flinched up into a sit, whipping around to look at the door. His heart immediately started racing, and he had to pause to lean forward, holding his face in his hands.

It wasn't real. It was just a dream. Ugh. He hated nightmares. They happened too often.

"Who is it?" he called from across the room, forcing himself to get to his feet and patter over.

"Connie," he simply answered.

Right. Connie. Housemate. Maybe he needed something. James didn't know.

Too sleepy and anxious to come up with an answer, James hobbled over to the door and opened it just enough to peek his head through. He looked up at Connie through squinted eyes.

Had Connie always been this tall? James felt like he was craning his neck just to look up at him. Maybe he'd just slept on his neck weird.

"What's up?" he asked, rubbing one eye.

Connie stared down at him, studying him. "Everything alright?" he asked.

James wasn't sure what this was about. He still had lingering uncanny feelings from the dream, and couldn't quite shake them even though he really was sure he was awake this time. Now that he was truly awake, he could feel the difference. It just... still felt off.

"...Yeah, yeah," he mumbled, wiping away a crusted tear from his tear-duct. "I'm just waking up. Why?"

Had it been long? The sun was still up.

"You screamed," Connie answered, still closely watching him, although his brows were drawn together in mild concern.

James blinked slowly. That had been out loud? That was... embarassing.

"Oh," he said, a little quieter. "Sorry about that."

"...Bad dream?" Connie said instead.

James swallowed, clearing his throat.

"Yes. Unfortunately," he said, his mouth twitching into a weak, forced grin that was paper-thin. "It happens. I'm used to it. But um, maybe I can have a fan going for white noise, if that'll help block out anything... in the future."

"The noise doesn't bother me. You weren't that loud," Connie said.

"Oh," James said with a small sigh of relief. "Okay. Good, then."

"Are you going to go back to sleep?" he asked.

Considering how jarring that dream had been, he didn't feel ready to go back to bed any time soon. And if he didn't want to completely throw off his sleep schedule, it'd be better that he tried to wake up anyway. It was for the best.

"I don't think so," he said.

"Are you feeling like socializing?" Connie asked.

James hesitated.

Was this... Connie's way of asking if he wanted to hang out?

"...Sure," he said. "I need a few minutes to uh. You know."

He smiled weakly, vaguely gesturing to his bedhead.

"I can be out in a bit?" he asked.

Connie nodded, already beginning to turn away. "See you downstairs."

"Alright," James said, briefly watching as Connie walked down the hall.

No trap doors. That was just the dream.

James closed his door and locked it again, shivering for a moment as he shook off the anxiety still clinging to him. With another long sigh, he went to his suitcase and found a change of clothes, putting on some sweats and another stupid tshirt in hopes that it wouldn't inflame another "consequence." All it said was: "FART REVERB FX ON OTHER SIDE."

He knew it was dumb, but he didn't plan on leaving the house today and being seen by many people. This was one of the throwaway shirts he told Larrel he wouldn't ever wear on screen, but he'd use it for things like working out, sleeping, or cleaning. Today he was going to use it for vegging. He didn't want to do much after how eventful yesterday had been. Frankly, he still hadn't processed the entirety of that day in general.

Pausing in front of the standing mirror in his room, James looked at himself. The shirt was white. The sweats were black. His hair was mostly dry, but it still was a little damp in the back. With a sigh, he dug around for a hair-tie and quickly put it in a messy bun atop his head.

His hair was too thick. For months, now, he'd been thinking about cutting it soon. He just never got around to it. But especially now, on the island, he was feeling just how much it kept in the heat on his head. It was unpleasant.

After spending a few too many minutes looking for his contacts, James finally popped them in and was able to see better. The world coming into focus, James stared back at himself in the mirror, briefly scratching at his beard.

Eh, he'd trim it later. After coffee, maybe.

Standing up straight and finally somewhat ready to face the world again, James left his room in bare feet, lightly stepping down the hall. After a brief stop in the bathroom to brush his teeth and go to the bathroom, he finally emerged into the stairwell.

Briefly, he heard what sounded like something clinking, but then it dropped to silence. Sounded like Connie was in the kitchen.

When James rounded the staircase's corner, however, he realized he was wrong.

"Surprise!" A chorus of voices shouted.

James jumped, accidentally skipping a step on the way down. Flying in the air for a second, his hands shot out and he grabbed the stairway railings just in time to catch himself, holding himself aloft with one leg sticking out, having missed the step entirely.

Frozen in place for a second, he stared wide-eyed at the group of people gathered in their living room.

Behind them was a large banner reading in bold black letters: "WELCOME BACK FROM JAIL!" On the kitchen counter was an array of five large, elaborate charcuterie boards that had meats arranged to spell a letter of "J-A-M-E-S" in each one. Standing in front of everyone were Shane, Alan, and Cyrin smiling wide, while Connie stood off in the corner of the kitchen, stacking on a grape with an amused smile.

Behind all of them, James saw Clarity, Eve, Clandestine, and two others he hadn't met.

James's heart nearly jumped out of his chest, but upon seeing that he'd walked into a party, he suddenly felt deeply embarassed.

He'd been under the wrong assumption that Connie meant socialization with him, not... this.

Letting out a weak, surprised laugh, James got back up to his feet and patted over his chest for a moment, trying not to reel from the whiplash of waking up from a nightmare to walking into a room full of people celebrating his existence.

A little speechless, James found himself briefly making eye contact with Connie, who just took a bite into an apple.

A little more warning would've been nice. James shook his head slightly.

"Welcome back," Shane said, with a slightly nervous smile that was still the brightest he'd seen on him. "We're here to celebrate the return of a hero."

James walked up to Shane, smiling with a bewildered laughter in his eyes.

"Hero?" he asked.

"You did punch a man who deserved it," Alan said with a playful smile. "That's also worth celebrating."

James raised his brows.

"You guys are serious?" he asked.

"Of course," Shane said brightly, smiling wider. "We're glad you're back, and we wanted to show that."

"Besides," Cyrin added, grinning, "I don't see anyone else's name on these charcuterie boards."

"Where did you even get those?" James asked, still surprised this was even a thing.

"Eve went to Bo, the island chef," Shane said, turning to smile at Eve. "He did a wonderful job at the catering."

James blinked.

Bo... the chef. Wait a minute. That other dream... the one before his nightmare. That was real?

James stared at Shane for a moment as his mind buffered a moment too long, trying to process if all of that really was a dream or not. If it was a dream, how did James know who "Bo" was before ever hearing of him? Had that information been somewhere else, and he'd just forgotten, but it'd stuck in his subconscious? This was far too confusing.

If there was truth in that dream, then what the hell was his dream about?

James needed to... to calm down. Put the dream conspiracy theories on pause until he had a second to wake up and think rationally about all of this.

"Wow," he said. "That's dedication to get professional catering."

He glanced between Shane and Alan, spotting Eve with Clandestine on the couch. Briefly, he made eye contact, and offered her a small smile.

"You brought the food?" he asked, projecting enough for her to hear.

Eve hesitated, looking more withdrawn now that she was on the spotlight, but she shook her head. "The staff did."

"Well, thanks for asking them," James said. "It looks great."

Eve nodded, then offered an awkward thumbs up and smile in the same position of Oliver's meme shirt, though it didn't last long since she quickly set her hand back down and looked away with regret and embarrassment. James smiled, laughing lightly. It was funny, even if she seemed to feel awkward about it.

"Did you just wake up? You must be so hungry," Alan said, gesturing for James to come into the kitchen. "Feel free to eat. The food literally has your name on it."

"I think I'm at the point where my body's on reserve mode," James said, glancing down at his shirt again, only to realize it was still just as ridiculous as when he put it on.

He wondered if it was socially acceptable to sneak upstairs and change at some point. Or if he should just accept it. It was too late now, though. Everyone had already seen it.

"But I'll eat," he said, leading the way to the counter.

He began to put together a small cracker sandwich with goat cheese and ham, glancing back as Alan and Shane followed.

"What time is it, right now?" he asked.

Alan glanced at his watch. "Seven-ten pm," he said. "How long have you been asleep?"

James held up his cracker sandwich, looking at it with brief admiration. The charcuterie board had very high quality foods from the looks of it.

"A little under twelve hours, I guess," James hummed. "I didn't get into bed until after 7am."

Alan hummed. "Your day is just beginning, then."

"Is this a good start to it?" Shane asked, smiling hopefully.

James looked over to Shane with a relaxed smile. "It is," he said. "Thanks for this, guys. It... feels a little bizarre, everything that's happened in the past 24 hours, but... this is nice."

He glanced at Connie who was on the other side of the counter, listening in while eating his apple.

"Even if Connie didn't give me much of a heads' up," he said.

"I asked you if you felt like socializing," Connie said flatly as his defense.

Cyrin chuckled. "It was the best thing to say while keeping it a surprise."

Connie glanced down at James's shirt and took another bite of the apple, not commenting on Cyrin's remark. But James could see it in his eyes that it wasn't his intention at all to keep the party a surprise. He was just a man of few words, it seemed.

"Mmhmm," James said, giving Connie another side glance before taking a bite of the crackers. Upon tasting food, it was like James's hunger resurrected.

He was very hungry.

He chewed quickly and shoved the other half of the cracker sandwich in his mouth. Giving Cyrin, Shane, and Alan a quick wave, James decided to make his rounds, since he supposed it would be the polite thing to do with this whole party being for him and all.

He started with Clarity, who'd wandered towards the end of the counter to pick at the charcuterie board.

"Clarity, right?" he asked.

"That's me," Clarity said, raising a glass of champagne she must have gotten from the party. "Congrats on your jailbreak. How'd you get your freedom?"

"Lyall won it for me, actually," James said. "Unfortunately, it took him until 4am to do so."

Clarity clicked her tongue sympathetically. "That is rough. Detention sounded awful, so I can only imagine how jail was for that long."

"I wouldn't recommend it," he said with a shrug. "But it could've been a lot worse."

He picked up a few pieces of salami that spelled out the "J," turning it into more of an "I."

"You didn't have to put up with any consequences, did you?" he asked. "Since you were dressed normally."

He plopped the salami in his mouth.

"Not me," Clarity said, with a shake of her head. "Among those who were there when you punched Oliver-- great move, by the way-- Hild and I were the only ones who weren't wheeled off in goolf carts to detention."

"Huh," James said after he finished chewing. "What happened after that? Did the party keep going?"

"It did," Clarity said thoughtfully. "But it was a lot more... subdued. I guess a fistfight and losing a third of the guests was a moodkiller. At least it wasn't that exciting of a party to begin with."

James huffed through his nose.

"Don't let the crew hear you say that," he said jokingly, grabbing another piece of cheese. "You might hurt their feelings."

As he said that, he caught the flicker of something in the corner of his eye through the window.

Pausing to stare, he held up a finger to Clarity.

"One moment," he said, walking across the room with the cheese slice in hand.

There was a cameraman in the window, peeking in.

Clarity turned, huffing when she saw the camera too. "Oh, come on. Really?"

"Seems so!" James said as he began going around the room, closing all of the blinds. "No privacy in this sandy hellscape."

When he closed the blinds of the last window (and there were a LOT of large windows), he found his way to the light switch, and flicked them on.

The room went from dark to light again, this time filled with more of a white light than the natural warm light.

"Hopefully that doesn't kill the mood," he said, glancing over to Clandestine and Eve, who were nearest on the couch.

"Hm?" Clandestine said with a tilt of her head. "Nah, I don't think so. Being watched by cameras feels a little creepy. This works!"

James nodded, leaning on the side of the couch for a moment, scanning to see if he missed any openings the cameramen might try to squirm through.

It looked like they were in the clear.

With a small sigh, he turned his attention back to Eve and Clanny.

"I heard you got the worst of the detention experience," James said to Clanny. "I'm sorry about that."

Clandestine offered a weak smile.

"Oh! I mean, it was fine, really. Just so juvenile. All I got was a hand cramp but after some stretches this morning, I'm fine! If anything all I was subjected to was some boredom!"

Her smile waned as she looked down to the floor.

"I do miss my shirt though," she said in more of a mumble. "They confiscated it this morning. It was limited edition on one of this tshirt kickstarters..."

Empathizing, James offered her a small bow of his head in remembrance of the shirt.

"They took my shirt, too," he said. "It's a true tragedy."

Behind Clanny, he saw Eve's lips were pulled back, like she was trying very hard not to laugh. That made James's mouth crack into a smirk.

"It does all feel very ridiculous, though," he said. "All of this over a shirt."

"I guess that's the power of memery," Clanny said. "It changes lives."

James snorted at that.

"Seems so," he agreed, and then looked back at Eve, who smiled and shook her head.

"You make it sound like the shirts were real people who died," Eve said.

"Hey," James said, putting his hand over his heart. "Nothing can replace 'What's up beaches.'"

"Maybe Oliver was on to something here. That pun is a crime," Eve said flatly, but with a smile.

"I already went to jail for it," he said with a smug grin. "I served my time."

Eve glanced at the welcome banner, hanging from the ceiling. "So the jail part wasn't an exaggeration," she said.

"Well, I don't know how you'd classify it legally," he said. "But yes, I was in a holding cell all night. Fortunately, it wasn't too disgusting. But there were no bathrooms, so..."

He decided he should probably stop there. He shrugged again.

"That sounds horrible," Clandestine said with a frown.

"I mean, I wouldn't advertise it," James said. "But in the grand scheme of things it wasn't horrible."

Was he downplaying it a little? Yes. But he didn't feel like killing the mood by talking about he spent the whole night listening to an insane man ramble in his ear.

"Did anything happen?" Eve asked with concern.

"Not really," he said. "I just had an odd cellmate, but I think he got released when I did. Hopefully he got rest too."

"Cellmate," Eve repeated. "Another contestant? Or staff?"

"I think so," James said slowly. "A contestant, I mean. He didn't seem like he was on staff."

Again. An understatement.

Eve didn't comment further, although she was obviously overthinking his words. Maybe even listing out names and faces of who this person could be.

He wasn't going to get into it, though. Even though Stravos was clearly mentally unstable, he didn't think it very kind to tell everyone that before they ever met him. Then again... maybe it would be a kindness to tell them as a warning.

He had already mentioned it at the party, though. He'd done his part already.

"I like your new shirt," Clandestine said, breaking the brief lull.

James glanced down at it with a bit of a sigh.

"Oh," he said with a weak laugh.

"I think it's funny," Clandestine said with a smile.

"Thanks," James said. "I do too even if I'm too proud to openly admit it."

He looked off into the room, again having a brief moment of grief for whatever kind of reputation he might've wanted to have. Not that he had much of one to begin with.

"Had I known you were all down here, though," he said. "I would've dressed differently."

And the sentiment was true, but didn't mean much, nor did anyone get to reply, because the front door right behind him flew open.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Tue Sep 19, 2023 5:34 am
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soundofmind says...

"Mister James!" Lyall greeted brightly, "you've lived to see another day!"

James spun around, seeing Lyall and his sister, Hild, step into the cabin. As they shut the door behind them, he could see the cameramen still trying to catch every moment they could.

"That I have," James said.

"And another..." Hild pursed her lips as she eased the door shut behind herself. "...interesting choice of attire."

James withered a just a little in embarassment.

"It was... I wasn't expecting to see people," he said with a small scratch at the nape of his neck.

"Don't change a thing," Lyall said with an amused huff.

James responded with a weak smile, trying to back away so they could filter in if they wanted. Lyall slipped past him and dove straight into conversation with the others, making a beeline for Alan and Shane first. Less eager than her brother, Hild lingered by the door with James.

"So," he said. "Did anything happened today that I missed?"

She hummed. "As far as I know, it hasn't been an eventful day. Given the mess of yesterday, I'd say that's been a comfort."

"That's good to hear," he said.

Hild's gaze flicked past him for a moment. "Late arrival?" she asked in a murmur.

James glanced over his shoulder, eyes landing on the woman talking with Cyrin at the moment. He didn't recognize her from the night prior, but it was possible she had come late like Connie, and James had missed her.

"Possibly," he said, a little quieter. "I haven't met her yet."

Slipping off her shoes and neatly setting them aside, Hild nodded for him to follow to where the snacks were. She took them a roundabout way, skirting those gathered in the middle of the room, and took a seat by the food on the counter.

"Thank you," she said, "for the literature." Hild dug in her bag and set Nye politics on the counter between them.

James's brows shot up.

"You finished it already?" he asked.

She nodded. "Indeed." Then, glancing off, added, "I didn't sleep very much last night, so I had time."

James furrowed his brows, knowing what it was like to lose sleep. But he imagined some of the restlessness was, at least in part, due to the events of last night. Hild was undoubtedly worried about her brother, especially since he'd come home so late too.

"Sorry to hear that," James said, sliding the book over to look at it.

Hild had finished it faster than he did. He was only halfway through when he'd lended it to her.

"I assume it was engaging enough to keep you up for a while?" he asked.

Leaning her elbow on the counter, she propped her chin in her hand. "Quite riveting," she agreed. "I don't imagine you've had much opportunity to read up more on alpacas."

James smiled weakly.

"All I've done since coming back here is sleep," he said. "And now this."

Hild glanced down at the spread that now looked more like "IAMES" since he worked his way through the "J" a bit. "A feast fit for a king," she mused.

James huffed through his nose with a small laugh.

"I do feel like it's all a bit dramatic," he said, picking up some apple slices. "But it's appreciated nonetheless."

"It's a kind gesture," she said, nodding.

"A nice way to make up for missing yesterday's party," Lyall cut in, sliding into the seat beside her. "Shane ought to study the art of event planning sometime, he's got a knack for it."

Looking over to Shane across the room, James hummed.

"I suppose so," he said, eyes landing on the large banner.

He had to admit, even though he'd just met everyone, he did feel pretty loved for them to go through the work of putting all of this together. It would've been just as easy to not try, or to do nothing at all. He didn't really deserve any accolades or acknowledgement, and punching someone - even deserved - wasn't worthy of a party by any means. At least, not normally.

Then again, nothing about their situation was normal, so he supposed he didn't know what standards to hold them to.

He was just glad this party wasn't being televised, when everything else was.

"Most of you missed the party, too," he said. "So it's a bit like redemption for all of us."

"Well, the rest of us at least got to partake in the extravagant spread," Hild said.

"It looked phenomenal," Lyall said woefully, dropping his head onto her shoulder.

She hummed in amusement. "If only you behaved yourself better."

"I was right," Lyall said stubbornly. "I stand by it."

James said nothing as he ate the apple slices in his hand, merely watching Lyall.

With a relenting sigh, Lyall amended, "I have the one regret."

"I did punch a man," James said. "I'm not surprised there were consequences. Only that they were bizarre. You don't have to feel responsible for what happened to me. It was unfair of them to tie my freedom to your behavior, anyway."

"The whole circumstance is deeply..." Hild glanced skyward in thought. "...troubling. What's with this mind-reader, who I've yet to even see anywhere?"

James blinked. Lyall must've told her about that.

"Oh," he said. "I'm not sure, honestly. I haven't seen him since last night."

Nodding, Hild then took from her bag a small notebook and pen. "I'll be sure to ask Dante about that as well when I can catch him."

James hesitated, watching her pen with a little apprehension.

"Oh, I'm-- it wasn't -- I think the guy just needs some professional help," James said. "I don't want anything bad to happen to him..."

Hild glanced up at that. "Neither do I," she replied simply. "In fact, I am concerned about the overall treatment of this fellow, in addition to everything else."

Ah. So they were on the same page. James was concerned too, now that he had more time to think without a sleep deprived mind. The man was clearly clinically insane, or at the very least had some array of unfortuntate but diagnosable mental struggles. If he'd been put in the cell with James, James didn't know what other kind of treatment that man was getting: but it clearly wasn't helpful.

He hummed.

"Right," he said, a little quieter.

"Which reminds me," Lyall butted in, "sometime at least one of us should brush up on humanitarian laws and where lawless waters are. If only for the sake of knowing how doomed we all are."

"Not to sound dramatic," Hild said flatly as she pocketed her notebook. "I don't believe it would help, but since you think it will: we are indeed quite on our own out here. We are in international waters, where no nearby country holds any jurisdiction over what the owners of this island can or can't do. So, though undoutedly unethical in a myriad of ways, none of this is technically illegal."

James paused to lean on the counter,resting his face in his palm.

Yeah. That's what he'd figured. He just wasn't thrilled to hear it confirmed aloud. At least it meant he couldn't be charged for assaulting the Vice President of the DMV. That would've been a nightmare.

Running his hand down his face, he looked up at the two Ashlunds, putting on a forced smile.

"This'll be an interesting three months," he said.

He didn't want to think about what else could happen to him - knowing what his powers entailed.

Lyall likewise looked not-so-thrilled with their prospects. "Well, as far as I can tell, the only way to get back at them is to hit them where it hurts: their money."

Hild frowned with confusion. "...You want to steal--"

Lyall snorted. "No!"

"He's talking about TV ratings and viewership," James said, already tracking. "It affects the net worth of the show and the funding."

She then slowly nodded her understanding.

"So what do you intend to do, then?" James asked. "Be so incredibly boring no one's interested in you?"

"Impossible," Hild scoffed. "He's like a peacock. He can't not strut everywhere in the pursuit of the world's attention."

Lyall huffed in offense. "I can lay low when the situation calls for it."

James raised a brow. He hardly knew Lyall, and he was still doubtful.

Lyall tsked at him. "Don't you start."

"I didn't say anything," James said.

"You were thinking it, though," Lyall countered.

"Having thoughts isn't a crime," James said in defense. "We're in lawless territory, remember?"

Throwing his hands in the air, Lyall had to concede, "Fine! It's not really in my nature. But desperate times call for desperate measures."

Hild rolled her eyes and huffed a laugh at his theatrics. "Well, first I recommend biding your time. Act as you normally would--"

"Done! Easy--"

She pushed at her brother's face. "Talk up both contestants and staff where we can. Get a better idea of the innerworkings of this place before we make any moves."

"We have three months," James reminded him. "We have time to play it smart."

"To form any real plans," Hild furthered with a nod.

"I like how you two think," Lyall said with a grin. "And in the spirit of keeping up appearances, I bid you adieu. I still have new faces with which to become acquainted."

James briefly watched as Lyall drifted away, quickly making another cracker sandwich and munching on it quietly for a moment.

He was still so hungry, and Hild seemed content not to hurry back into conversation while he ate, so he pulled up a stool, sat, and began working through the platter. Because he particularly liked the salami, he ended up eating most of the "E" in "IAMES." Now it was "IAMIS."

With his hunger finally sated for the moment - thought he'd really only scarfed down food for maybe five minutes - he sat back in silence for a moment rubbing his face.

The strange feeling of the nightmare still lingered, even though he was trying to ignore it. It still felt like his eyes burned.

James glanced over at Hild.

"My eyes aren't red, are they?" he asked quieter.

She looked up from a different book she'd whipped out from her bag. "They aren't," she assured him. "Why, is something wrong?"

Briefly rubbing his eyes, he shook his head.

"No, they're just irritated," he said. "I couldn't find my eye drops this morning. I'm just being self-conscious about having bloodshot eyes."

She looked him over with a hum. "If you need, you can always step away for a few minutes. Make a plausible excuse like..." She waved her hand in vague circles, then gestured at his shirt. "...needing to change."

James stared at her for a moment, processing the implications behind the suggestion. After her earlier look of disapproval at his shirt, he imagined this might've been her way of reemphasizing it.

"You'd like that," he said with an amused grin. "Wouldn't you?"

She wasn't a fan of the 'fart reverb fx,' apparently.

Her lips quirked in the faintest if smiles in turn. "I would, actually." Then she tilted her head. "Perhaps you could revert to your natural state, if only for the next hour or so?"

Still grinning, he nodded slowly.

"I'm sure I could come up with something," he said. "Then again, I could just go upstairs without reason. I do live here."

She hummed. "Yes, but there's also the obligation of attending the party being thrown in your honor."

James squinted, making a bit of a silly face as he pulled the corners of his lips back.

"Yes," he said. "But I won't be gone for long."

Giggling a bit, Hild playfully scrunched her nose at him.

Out of the corner of his eye, James saw Shane excusing himself from the conversation with Alan to grab something and cross the room to him. Glancing down at what was in his hand, James realized it was his backpack he'd lost at the pool.

"Hey," Shane greeted them softly, holding up the bag. "Sorry to interrupt, but I didn't want to forget I was supposed to hand this to you. Your flip flops are in here too."

James took the backpack with relief.

"I thought I'd lost this," he said with a smile. "Where did you find it?"

"I can't take credit for it," Shane said, laughing a little in a timid way. "Clandestine and Eve found it at the pool and dropped it off here this morning."

James set the backpack on his lap, unzipping it and leaning it against the counter. The first thing he pulled out was his phone.

"They failed to mention that," James said, trying to turn his phone on. "I'll have to go back and thank them."

But as he waited for any signs of life, he began to realize his phone wasn't responding. Maybe it needed to be charged.

"Is it broken?" Shane asked, peering over it with concern. "Or just dead?"

"It probably just needs to be charged," James said, digging into his bag for the charger. He pulled it out and plugged it into the outlet on the side of the counter for appliances, and set his phone on the counter, hopefully to be revived soon.

When he looked back in his bag, though, he realized it was very possible his phone had gotten water damage. Because... everything else had.

His face fell into a frown when he pulled out the book Hild had lent him. The pages had dried wrinkled and warped along with the paperback cover, and some of the front cover's illustration had a pool of bled ink, now dried in a blob where the alpaca's face should've been.

He looked over to Hild, deeply apologetic.

"I'm sorry about your book," he said.

"It's fine, I still have it." And she tapped her head demonstratively. "It's just a shame that you didn't get to read it first."

James nodded. "Ah. Right. I guess I'll just have to learn about alpacas later," he said, opening the book to look at the bled-through pages, half the text melding together.

Looking back to Shane, James set the destroyed book to the side and gave him another small smile.

"Thanks for returning it to me, Shane," he said.

"Of course." Shane returned the smile. "Is the party alright so far?" He asked it curiously, but James could tell there was an anxious hopefulness in his voice.

James's expression softened.

"It's great, Shane," he said, reaching over and patting Shane briefly on the shoulder. "Not only do I feel celebrated, but the food is amazing."

Shane's smile widened, relief flashing over his face. "I'm glad," he said sincerely. "It's good to have you back."

"And it's nice to know I was so missed for eight hours," James said with a little smirk.

Shane laughed softly. "You were. Speaking of, did you sleep alright? We tried to be quiet around the place while we were planning and the like."

James hesitated for just a moment.

"You know, I did sleep pretty deeply... for the most part," he said. "I had some weird dreams, but..."

He shrugged slightly.

"Eh. I feel rested," he said. "It wasn't you guys that woke me up."

Shane nodded sympathetically. "Could be the exhaustion," he suggested. "Were you okay?"

"Oh, I'm fine now," James said. "Really."

He briefly glanced at Hild. "Though I was thinking I might need to go put my eye drops in, now that I have my bag and my glasses. My eyes have been pretty irritated since I woke up. Do you mind if I step out for a moment?"

Hild gave a light grin. "As if that wasn't my idea to begin with."

He briefly smiled at her with his eyes.

"Yeah, no worries," Shane assured him. "Everything will be here when you get back."

"Alright," he said. "I'll be back in a few."

Slinging his backpack over his shoulder after he zipped it up, he left his phone to charge and the dead book to sit there sadly. Then, he disappeared up the stairs.

Briefly, he stopped into his room to set his back down, and he quickly grabbed a change of clothes. Grabbing everything he needed in his hands and arms, he left to run to the hall bathroom, and locked the door behind him.

When he looked back into the mirror, he frowned at himself, trying not to cringe too much on the inside at how much he still looked like he'd just rolled out of bed. Setting his clothes on the large vanity counter, he tried to pull himself together quickly, starting with his beard and touching it up. Once he cleaned away the little hairs and washed his face, he re-did his bun so it was neater, and he finally gave his eyes the relief they needed by putting in his eye drops and putting on his glasses.

Then he got changed. Putting on some casual white shorts and a short-sleeved collared button-up that fit him loosely, he looked in the mirror and saw himself again, instead of the half-awake meme man he had been prior.

With no one to witness, he did a little flourish of his hands, saying "V'wallah," under his breath and then put his things away in the cabinet. Tucking his former outfit under his arm, he finally went to the door and unlocked it.

Except he nearly ran into somebody and had to take a large step back to avoid doing so.

"Oh!" he said. "Sorry."

He looked out at the woman he'd noticed earlier, from afar. He still didn't know her name, but apparently she'd found herself an invitation into his home via Shane (presumably). He briefly took in her appearance but quickly decided to not look her up and down. She had a very low-cut shirt, and the world's tightest mini skirt. All black.

"Oh! Sorry!" she echoed with a laugh, her hand up like she had was about to knock, but her hand then travelled to her her hair as she looked up at him curiously. "This is the bathroom, right?"

"Ah, yes," he said. "Let me get out of your way."

Except, she didn't really get out of his way, so instead he ended up trying to awkwardly squeeze past her. He thought of just backing up and trying again, but--

"Wait, you're James, right? Man of the hour. I've been meaning to say hi to you," she said with a smile, still not budging.

He managed to slip out into the hall. Thank goodness. With a polite smile, he nodded his head.

"Yeah, that's me," he said. "I haven't had a chance to meet you yet. What's your name?"

"My name is Tula. It's nice to meet you. I just arrived today, so I'm meeting everyone for the first time. Everyone here is so nice so far," she went on, twirling a strand of her hair with her finger.

James shrugged. He was going to try to play this awkward interaction off as normal, even though he didn't know why Tula wasn't going to the bathroom if she really needed to. Maybe she didn't have to go that bad.

"Well, I guess that's good news," he said. "Is everyone you've met so far just those in this cabin?"

Tula nodded. "So far, yes." A beat. "Do you live here?"

"Yeah," he said. "With Shane and Connie."

She turned her head to scan the bedrooms in the hall, her gaze landing on the door with his name on the plaque. "Ah! That must be your room, then. What theme did they go with for yours?"

He glanced off at his door.

"I guess it's a pretty normal room," he said. "They had some books in there I like and whatnot. What about yours?"

"Ah, a man of culture," Tula said with a teasing voice. "I'm a photographer, so naturally, my room is equipped with photography equipment."

James couldn't quite pin it down, but something about the way Tula was talking to him was making him uncomfortable. Was she was trying to flirt?

"You know," she said as she leaned in with a more sultry voice and teasing smirk, "I could use a model, if you'd like to come over some time. You're exactly who I've been looking for."

Okay. She was trying to flirt. No more questions about that. He let out a short, nervous laugh.

"Oh, uh," he said, leaning back. He could feel heat rising to his cheeks. "I'm not really interested."

Tula pursed her lips, leaning away and looking disappointed. "Can I give you my number, then?"

She pulled out a folded slip of paper from her chest, already offering it to him.

Suddenly James was very grateful that his phone wasn't working. He looked at it, but didn't take it. He offered an apologetic smile.

"Even if I wanted it, I'm pretty sure my phone is dead from yesterday," he said.

"Oh, I insist," Tula said more persistently, practically shoving it in his face. "Have it."

James tried not to visibly wince in discomfort. Awkwardly, he plucked it out of her hand without touching her.

"Why don't you open it and give it a read?" Tula teased, smirking. "I wouldn't want you to forget me."

Did this woman even have to go to the bathroom? He frowned slightly, brows furrowing as he apprehensively opened the note, expecting see a phone number, but instead seeing a note.


James looked back up to meet her eyes. She was smiling.

"...Ooookay," he said, looking back down at the note. But somehow, in the second he'd looked away, it changed.


What the... what was this? Who sent her? Was it Oliver? There was no way Tula was late for no reason. This had to do with him, didn't it? There was a brief moment where he looked back up into her eyes and they were both silent, like she was waiting for a reaction. She smiled, patient for his response.

James crumpled the piece of paper in his hand, and stuck it in his front shirt pocket.

"Tell Oliver I hope his shattered pride recovers," he said lowly.

Tula blinked, confused. "Who?" she said innocently. "Anyways, you have my number, in case you'd like to reach me. You can call me at any hour of the night." She paused, tilting her head as she stared up in his eyes. "You have beautiful eyes, by the way. It's a shame no one has captured them before."

"They look pathetically small when I take my glasses off," James said flatly.

She ignored him, glancing past him and into the bathroom. "Do you mind...?"

James walked past her, saying nothing as he walked back toward his room. He threw his clothes onto his bed and closed the door, going back downstairs to return to the party.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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SilverNight says...

After the party went on for a little while-- Shane didn't know how long, but it was when the charcuterie boards had gone from JAMES to IAVIS-- the group gathered around for a game of Oooono. He found it risky to play such a game in a room where everyone's friendships were new and still budding, and they certainly all got competitive, but somehow they all left the room without turning into enemies. Cyrin won about half they games played, and Shane wondered what kind of supernatural luck they had to win that much in a high-player game. All in all, it was a fun night.

Later, they all gathered around for a Q+A time with James about what being in jail was like, with him answering vaguely and giving context. It was a time where everyone got to share their experiences of today and the day before, and Shane took it all in, realizing that it had been a strange time for just about everyone.

Near midnight, the food was about all gone, and everyone took that as a reason to head back for the night. Shane was relieved they decided to leave themselves-- he didn't want to have to kick anyone out, but of course they couldn't stay there for forever. There was cleaning to do, as the last part of hosting duties.

After waving goodbye to the last of their guests leaving, Shane started cleaning up around the kitchen. James tried to help with picking up as well, but Shane shooed him away, insisting that he didn't work at his own party. So James sat at the counter instead, hunched over his phone and picking at the last of the cheese.

Once he'd finished clearing up the trash on the counters, flashes of party chatter flying by quickly every time he picked up a cup or threw out a napkin, Shane glanced up to check on James again. He didn't seem to have moved much since the last time he'd looked his way.

"Are you doing alright?" he asked, sweeping some cracker crumbs off the counter and into a trash bag.

"My phone's dead," he said quietly, setting it on the counter like he was giving up on trying to revive it. "I was just... grieving."

He said the last word with a little laugh, but his expression turned sad soon after.

With a hum, Shane set the trash bag down, feeling concerned.

"Have you been using it to stay in touch with people?" he asked.

"Yeah," he said quietly. "Family, mostly."

Shane's gaze fell to the phone screen, which was dark, permanently off. His heart ached with empathy. He wasn't using his phone to stay in touch with family-- but he would be, if that were a possibility.

"You know," he said quietly, looking back up at James, "you could use my phone to text or call them, if you want. You'd just have to know their numbers. I ask that you don't tell them who the phone you're reaching out from belongs to, but I'd be happy to let you use it. Just let me know if that's something you'd like."

James met Shane's eyes with a small, sad smile.

"I might take you up on that," he said.

Shane smiled back. "Let me know whenever, anytime," he said, going back to sweeping. "What's your family like?"

James tapped his fingers on his dead phone, looking down at it as he answered.

"I'm pretty close with them," he said. "My sister especially. I'm the oldest of three. Do you have any siblings?"

Shane shook his head, smiling slightly. "I'm an only child. Having siblings has always sounded nice, though."

"It can be," he said. "I know everyone's families are different. I'm fortunate to have a good relationship with mine, but I know plenty of people with more strained relationships with family."

Shane hummed again, glancing down at the counter as he worked again.

"I have a pretty large extended family, I guess," he said, sweeping up more crumbs. "I don't know most of them, admittedly. So I'd probably limit my own family to just my parents. It might have been a small family, but I always had a good relationship with them. I do wonder what it would've been like with a larger family, but I'm also happy with what it was."

James hummed slightly.

"That's a good place to land, I think," he said softly. "Being happy with what was."

Shane nodded, feeling a tightness in his jaw that would've made it harder to speak. At least he couldn't think of anything to say either.

"I still struggle to land there myself," James said, a little quieter. "I lost my dad when I was ten. It's been fifteen years, and it's still a process."

Shane slowly looked up, meeting his gaze as his expression softened.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "There's never a good age to lose a parent, but it's worst to be young for it."

"Still hurts all the same," James said, offering Shane a sad smile. "I'm sorry about yours, too. I didn't have the whole world's eye on me when I lost my father. That's a dynamic I never had to face."

Shane returned the sad smile, swallowing as he nodded. "Thanks," he said softly. "I wouldn't wish that on someone else. It should've been a personal thing, but..." He shrugged. "Maybe it's still better than a lonely thing."

James was quiet a moment, looking deep in thought.

"If this is too personal to talk about, you can always let me know," he said quietly.

Shane hesitated, resting a hand on the counter.

"You know, I don't think I've ever had a clear idea of whether it is or not," he said quietly. "Sometimes I can talk about it, sometimes I can't. I never really know beforehand. So I guess-- it's not too personal. The moments when I'm not equipped to talk about it are just hard to predict."

"I get that," he said. "Sometimes it all just hits you. I don't know if there's a way to really prepare for that when it happens."

Shane nodded, taking a deep breath to steady himself.

"Do you know what you did?" he asked softly. "When the pain still felt fresh?"

James looked down into his lap, and there was a pained sadness in his eyes as he seemed to be reflecting.

"I was just a kid," he said. "So I didn't know how to handle it well. Honestly, my dad's death almost tore our family apart. My mother was so depressed at the time that she was emotionally absent, and I ended up pushing down my own feelings so that I could be there for my sister. In many ways, I never really processed my father's death until much later in life because of it. It's still hard to go back to those memories and dig them up again."

He looked out into the room, pausing for a moment to take in a deep breath.

"When I was older and having to work through it again," he said. "The thing that helped me most in the short-term was journaling. Or I'd go for a run. I was so restless at the time, and I didn't want to sit with the pain of it. But I think the most healing moments for me were when I'd actually let myself sit, feel it, and cry, instead of shoving it all down again. And it was always better if I wasn't crying alone."

Shane watched him sadly for a few moments, feeling his heart ache.

"Thanks for sharing that," he said quietly. "I guess I've been avoiding feeling it. I know that's not the healthiest thing in the long run, but it's been difficult to find the space for it. I'll keep this in mind, though."

"Life didn't do you any favors throwing you from one spotlight to another, with the DMV being what is is," James said sympathetically. "So I'd understand if you didn't want to open that door. The last thing a grieving person needs is an audience."

Shane smiled, just barely. "Yeah. There's a difference between not crying alone and crying for the whole world to see."

"Yeah," James said quietly, looking down at his phone again.

There was a small pause, and Shane could tell James seemed to be subtly scanning the room - perhaps, aware or suspicious that they were never truly alone.

"I, uh. I don't know how to change the subject smoothly," he admitted. "But I have a question about your magic."

Shane nodded, taking a deep breath. "It's okay," he said, picking up the trash bag and putting it back in the can. "What is it?"

James looked down into his lap, his brows knit together.

"Something weird happened earlier at the party," he said. "The woman who came late - Tula - she..."

He winced into a frown, like he was thinking back on an unpleasant memory.

"What's wrong?" Shane asked, frowning with concern.

"She caught me alone in the hallway and insisted on giving me her number," he said. "But it was strange. The paper she handed to me... I think it might've been magical. Or I'm going crazy. I don't know which. I wasn't sure if you'd be able to -- I don't know, determine that with your magic or not. Since you can see an object's history."

Shane hesitated, tapping his fingers on the counter thoughtfully.

"You don't have to if you don't want to," James said before Shane could reply.

"No, I'll do it," Shane said quickly. "I was just thinking about how I might be able to help. It's most likely that if I read it, I'd see the moment she wrote the note, since that's likely the most significant thing that happened to the paper, but that could still be a clue. If I went looking for a specific moment in its past, I could probably also look to see if it was enchanted at some point." He paused. "Why do you think it was magical?"

"The message changed," he said quietly.

"Changed," Shane echoed. "Like the words on the paper, or...?"

"Yeah," James said. "It said one thing when I first saw it. Now it says another."

"Assuming it was a larger change than simply a different digit in the phone number," Shane said slowly, "that would be a lot to hallucinate. I'd say you aren't going crazy."

James went quiet for a moment.

"Right," he said, tapping his phone.

"If you still have it, I'll read it for you," Shane said gently. "Hopefully I can help."

James nodded, reaching into his front shirt pocket. He pulled out a small piece of crumpled paper and took a moment to smooth it out, revealing it was folded. Hesitantly, he offered it across the counter.

Shane leaned over it, reading it first. It looked innocuous enough, but...

"You know, I didn't see her writing this, while we were waiting downstairs and setting up," he said. "That means she showed up here with it already written. With the heart and all. But she hadn't even met you yet."

James cringed visibly at that.

"Oh," he said. "Well that's creepy."

Shane nodded slowly. "I'm starting to get the feeling I shouldn't have invited her," he said, looking back up. "I'm sorry about that. I wouldn't have done that if I'd known before."

"If it's any consolation," James said. "She seemed normal enough during the party when everyone was around. It was only when she was alone with me that she was... uncomfortably forward. You couldn't have known."

Shane nodded again, having the feeling Tula had been flirting with James. Or fake flirting, possibly. He wouldn't have guessed that from before.

"If she's acting different around different people," he said, "maybe she's hiding something. All the more reason I should check."

James nodded, leaving the piece of paper on the counter for Shane to take.

Taking a deep breath, Shane reached out, touching the paper and closing his eyes.

He saw... nothing.

Not even something mundane that provided no answers, just... nothing at all. No scene of the past flashed before his eyes when he touched it. That... had never happened before. Everything had a past, even the most boring item, and this paper was no exception.

And yet, for all the nothing he saw, it was like the paper had no existence before this moment.

Shane pulled his hand back and opened his eyes, frowning with a stupified expression.

James stared at Shane, his expression turning to concern, his brows knitting even more.

"What is it?" he asked.

"There's... nothing at all," Shane said slowly. "Just... nothing. I've never had that happen before. Everything causes me to see something, and we know this paper has history, but I didn't see a single flash of even the most regular event. I don't know why."

He reached forward again, touching the paper a second time just in case something had somehow gone wrong with the first, but there was no difference. There was nothing to read.

"I don't know," he said again, even more quietly. "This doesn't feel right."

James frowned.

"Is it possible to make an object unreadable?" he asked quietly.

"I've never heard of that," Shane said, after a long, silent moment of thinking. "But I don't see how that could just happen naturally to something."

"You said this had never happened before?" James asked.

"Never," Shane confirmed. "I didn't think I'd ever have this problem, so..."

He stared down at the paper again.

"It's suspicious," he said. "I'm suspicious. But this means I can't prove anything specific happened with the writing of this paper, except that there was something very strange about it. I'm sorry."

James sighed, looking at the piece of paper with a resigned dissapointment as he picked it up and tucked it away back in his pocket.

"Well... thanks for checking," he said.

Shane nodded distantly, still in thought. He felt bad for not having any concrete evidence either way for James, and he didn't want to leave him with too many burning questions. It wasn't fair that he'd be left to question his sanity.

"If I can ask," he said quietly, looking back up at James, "what did it seem to say before this?"

"Nothing short of ominous," he said tiredly. "It said: I will burn your whole world."

Shane's jaw slowly dropped.

"...What?" he asked after a long few moments.

"Does Tula look at all familiar to you?" James asked instead of responding to Shane's shock.

"No," Shane said quickly. "I don't think I've met her before today at all. Why...?"

James leaned his elbows on the counter, pushing up his glasses as he rubbed his eyes.

"I don't know," he muttered. "I'm just trying to make sense of things."

Shane ran a hand back through his hair, trying to think. His thoughts were all over the place with confusion now, and he didn't know how to connect the dots.

"It just feels like since I've stepped foot on this island, I haven't caught a break," James muttered. "But I have a feeling now I never will, being on Oliver's bad side. I can only imagine he has all the influence in the world with his sister running everything, and who's to say he won't abuse it on a lawless island?"

James took off his glasses, setting them on the counter as he rubbed his eyes again.

"And now this," he muttered. "I don't know if this woman's trying to toy with me or what, but I don't want to play mind games with her. It was like the moment she thought someone else might be nearby, a switch flipped, and she acted like we weren't even having the conversation she'd started before. How many insane people are there on this island?"

Shane bit his lip, wrapping his fingers around the edge of the countertop-- seeing a quick flash of Cyrin doing the same thing earlier that night-- and leaned his weight against it slightly. If James was right, and he did believe him, it was going to be a long three months for him.

"Sorry," James said quickly after. "I shouldn't dump all of this on you. You're probably exhausted from the party. You should sleep."

James looked like he was already about to get up and leave.

"No, it's okay," Shane said quickly, holding up a hand. "Wait a moment. I... I believe you. I believe that you're being targeted. It's just difficult to wrap my head around, with the... mystery of it all."

He paused for a couple seconds, remembering something from earlier.

"But it fits with other strange things about this island-- or at least, it's one of some other strange things," he said slowly. "Earlier, I was looking up with Alan and Alex whether or not it was legal on the island to lock you up like they did. But my search was blocked." He shook his head. "It is lawless out here. It doesn't leave us much protection, especially in your case. This place feels very wrong."

"Most of the world is wrong," James muttered, standing up from his stool. "I'm not as shocked as I am angry."

James glanced off at the windows. Their blinds were still closed from earlier, but he stared at them with intent. Now that James was on his feet, Shane noticed James's fists were clenched at his sides.

"Angry... at the threat?" Shane asked slowly, standing back slightly. "At Oliver? For yourself?"

James took in a deep breath, his knuckles turning white.

"A lot of things at the moment," he said. "Feeling trapped, isolated from family, and powerless. I doubt they chose an island on accident. This whole thing is designed so we can't get out, and they have no accountability for their actions. It's wrong, and that pisses me off."

Shane's heart was pounding anxiously in his chest, and he had to take a deep breath, trying to manage the symptoms of the panic that was trying to take root in his head. He dropped his gaze, staring down at the counter.

"You should be angry," he said, very quietly. "What is happening is unfair, and Oliver's being a tyrant over a blow to his face and his pride. This place is controlling by design, and now they're trying to bring you into their twisted plans. Maybe not even just you. It could be the start of a lot more."

James went silent, still staring at the windows, fists at his sides. The silence in the room was tense, buzzing with anxious energy.

"I'm beginning to think that maybe this show isn't to test our magic at all," James finally said. "And instead we are lab rats in a cage, being played with."

He finally looked over to Shane, his lips pressed into a line.

"I don't mean to prophesy doom," he said quietly. "But it's been years since I've embraced optimism. I hope that I'm wrong..."

James looked down at the floor with a sigh.

"And I appreciate it... but you don't have to believe me," he said.

Shane took another deep breath, holding it for a couple seconds, then releasing it like his mom had taught him. Then he did it again. When his chest felt a little less tight, he spoke again.

"I do believe you," he said quietly. "I trust you a lot more than I trust this island. If you think there's something more happening on this island, we have the evidence to suggest it. And if you're right, I want to help, if there's anything I can do."

James cast Shane a worried, downcast glance.

"I'll let you know if I think of anything," he said, picking his glasses up off the table. He paused after he put on his glasses, hesitating before heading out of the room.

"Are you sure you don't want any help finishing with clean-up?"

Shane blinked, staring blankly around the room. There was still some stray trash to pick up and dishes to clear from furniture, and he guessed James wasn't going directly to sleep, but there wasn't much left to do and he still didn't want James cleaning up after his own party.

"I think I've got it," he said, a little tiredly.

James nodded slightly, but almost looked disappointed.

"Okay," he said. "I'll see you in the morning, then."

Shane nodded, tearing his gaze away from the room to face him. "Good night, James," he said quietly. "It's good to have you back."

James smiled faintly. "Good to be back," he said. "Sleep well."

And with that, he disappeared up the stairs.

When he was gone, and he heard a door to a room closing upstairs, Shane let out a quiet sigh. The weariness seemed to hit him all at once in the empty room, with the signs of a party all around him. It felt... like a strange ending of sorts. Like he didn't know where to go from here. But he knew things on the island were just beginning.

The feeling lingered as he cleared every piece of trash and dirty dish, leaving the place as clean as before, and when he turned off the lights, leaving the bottom floor in darkness when he walked up the stairs. Shane almost had the thought to pull the curtains open again, so that it wouldn't be dark in the morning when they went downstairs. But he felt watched enough already, even in the hallway that was silent except for his footsteps, like there were eyes staring into his back.

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