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Island Magic

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Sun Sep 03, 2023 11:07 pm
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soundofmind says...


Island Magic:
Maeve's Determiner of Magical Valor

On this season of Island Magic, we have the pleasure of hosting this year's most promising mages for their Determiner of Magical Valor. This year's director, Maeve, has arranged a fun, beachy resort for our contestants to prove themselves in their magic assessment. However, unlike previous years that were packed with heated, high-stakes challenges, Maeve wants to see how this group will do on a three-month, all-expenses-paid vacation! People who take the DMV only dream of an opportunity like this!

With fun beachside activities and a bunch of young mages thrown on an Island, we're looking forward to the entertainment to come. Tune in every evening to United Magic's stream so you don't miss this historic season!

The Invitation

Your character has reached their country's set age requirement for the DMV. As a citizen with magic, they receive a letter in the mail one month before the end of the year.

An invitation... or rather, a summons, as they've been expecting.

You have been formally selected for Maeve's Determiner of Magical Valor. This exam will take place on the Island of Auslanii. You may have heard of the televised show, Island Magic. This year, Auslanii was selected to be the star for this summer's showing. Lucky you! You will not only get to fulfill your obligations set by the DMV and UM, but you will also have an all-expenses-paid vacation live-streamed for three months! There will be some classes to refine your powers, but in your downtime, you get to relax and have a good time.

Island Magic is a popular reality TV show, dramatically interviewing characters going through the DMV process. Usually, there is some twist at the end, and they vary each year, depending on what the audience would like to see. Maeve insists that this year, Island Magic on Auslanii will be tame, with no drama.

But of course, there's always drama.
Last edited by soundofmind on Wed Sep 13, 2023 2:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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174 Reviews

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Wed Sep 06, 2023 2:54 am
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soundofmind says...

James had never been this far away from home.

Standing on the sandy beach, he found himself feeling incredibly out of place beneath the shade of the tall palms. All his life, he'd never left Nye, and even when he went to the coastlands, they never looked like this. Everything on this island looked bright, vivid, and like it came right out of a movie. The beach front was lined with clean, white cabins, decorated with tropical flowers, hanging plants, and lined with crisp pathways paved in wood panels.

The sound of waves lapping against the shore overlapped with the light breeze, rustling palm leaves overhead. Behind the beachfront were streets that led uphill, winding through thick, jungle overgrowth and into what looked almost like a small town. The hill kept going, and at the very top, there was a massive building that looked like a grand mansion.

From what he understood in the brochure, the crew was going to be living inland, while the "cast" kept their main residences on the beach. He had a feeling that Maeve, the director, was the one living in the mansion.

Taking in a deep breath of sea salt and the ocean breeze, he adjusted his backpack on his shoulders.

He did not want to be here, but he didn't have a choice.

Dragging his two suitcases behind him, he attempted rolling them in the sand for a total of two seconds before picking them up and walking towards his cabin with one under each arm. He was already fed up with the existence of sand, but he was going to ignore it for the time being until he could get somewhere semi-sandless and he could change out of his already sand-filled shoes.

He already knew where his cabin was thanks to one of the crew members pointing it out to him, so he didn't bother wandering. Making a bee-line to the building, he clambered onto the pathway, climbed up the porch, and heaved his bags beside the front door.

He reached into his pocket to grab the key he'd been given, and it took him a second to find it before he could stick it in the knob. But he noticed the moment he did that the door was already unlocked.

Someone was already here. And had a habit of not locking the door behind them. Fantastic.

Looking at the door, he took in the three names carved into a nice wooden plaque: James Hawke, Shane Hawking, and Connie Falco. Someone had a sense of humor. He didn't laugh.

Huffing through his nose, he pushed the door open and shook out the wheels of his suitcases before bringing them in to the main room - which was already more grand than anything he'd expected. He felt like he was in some kind of five-star hotel. The cabin was less a cabin and more of a fully-furnished home. There was a lush, long couch facing a giant flat screen TV, a massive kitchen in the back that looked like it was already stocked, and a long dining table with more seats than there were people populating the cabin.

At the far end of the room there was a staircase leading upstairs, presumably to their rooms.


Sighing, he quickly ditched his shoes at the front door, considering them far too sandy to bring further into the house. He left them outside the front door for good measure, and when he'd shaken his feet off, he hauled all his suitcases into his arms and began to carry them up the stairs, skipping past all of the extra things in the main room that he could look at later.

Books, games, and who knew what else were all neatly organized on shelves and around the living room. It was only three months, but it was like the crew was expecting them to get bored out of their minds. Fortunately, James had already come with things to keep himself occupied: his own books, his harmonica, his weights, and his guitar.

Hands full, he quickly scanned the hallway he entered at the top of the stairwell, finding the door with his name on it. Skipping past the others, he went to the end of the hall and managed to barely free one hand to push his (again, unlocked) door open. Stepping in a mere few feet, he dumped all of his belongings just outside of the walkway with a huff, wiping his hands on his pants and wondering how they already had sand on them.

Looking up and leaning on the doorway, he stared into what would be his room for the next three months.

His first thought was: why is it so damn big?

It wasn't a complaint so much as he was overwhelmed by the amount of space he'd been provided, as if the crew already anticipated what he'd use the space for. There was a lot of floor space, and a workout mat on one side of the room. On the other side was a desk workspace, several shelves full of books, and a wall rack for his guitar.

That, and his bed was... massive. He was just one person, but it was probably big enough to fit four people.

Shaking his head, his eyes landed on the boxing bag hanging over the exercise mat.

Instead of having, say, a gym that everyone could share, they gave him his own. He wasn't going to vocalize how he found that wasteful because he didn't want to sound ungrateful, but it really felt ridiculous.

Also, even in the air conditioning, James felt hot. He was not used to this level of humidity, and he found himself already sticky after his climb up the stairs and the walk across the beach. Peeling off his jacket, he threw it onto the coat hanger by the door, leaving himself in his tank top.

He had, of course, thought briefly about first impressions, but frankly, he didn't care much. So yes, he was wearing a stupid shirt he'd gotten from his sister that said: "Sun's out, guns out," with a picture of a sun. If people found it misleading, that was on them. He just found the shirt comfortable and breathable.

Turning around, James closed the door behind him to go fetch his shoes at the front door. But when he looked up, he noticed someone else coming out of their room. Briefly remembering the names on the doors, he already put the name to the face: Connie Falco.

The man was at least six feet tall, and he looked like some kind of magazine model or movie star. He had tan, olive skin and short, wavy brown hair. He was wearing all white, like he'd stepped out of the movie Mamma Mia or something.

"Connie Falco," James said. "Nice to meet you."

The man's expression seemed like he was already bored of this interaction. Lovely. They'd make great housemates.

Connie flicked his eyes between James, his room, and the t-shirt James wore. "James Hawke," he mused, already bounding for the stairs. "Funny."

Slow-blinking as Connie disappeared as quickly as he'd shown up, James sighed.

Yeah. Funny.

Looking around the hall, he figured Shane wasn't there yet, so he continued his way down the stairs after Connie. When he stepped back onto the base floor, he caught up just in time to see Connie breezing through the front door past a smaller man with a suitcase and backpack trying to come in.

"Oh, hey--" he heard the newcomer - presumably Shane - say before Connie was gone. Shane stepped back from the door as it closed, blinking surprisedly, before he shook his head and turned away. He seemed anxious, green eyes scanning the room. When he saw James, he smiled faintly and set the suitcase he held down on the ground, with dimples flashing on his cheeks. He looked much more like a normal person than Connie: he had dark brown hair, warm tanned skin, and was dressed rather casually, wearing a green open flannel over a plain white shirt and jeans. He seemed friendly-- behind the nervousness, that was.

"Do you think he heard me?" Shane said with an awkward laugh to James, glancing over his shoulder at the closed door again.

"He seemed in a hurry, so maybe not," James said. "I wouldn't take it personally."

James walked up to him already reaching for Shane's suitcase to help him bring it up.

"You're Shane, yeah?" James said, hauling it into his arms. "I'm James."

"Oh, thanks for grabbing that. And yes, that's me," Shane said, his smile brightening ever so slightly as he reshouldered his backpack. "Nice to meet you, James."

"You too," James said, turning to the stairwell. "Rooms are upstairs."

He started walking, and Shane followed behind him.

"You've probably already noticed," James said. "But they put all of the bird-related surnames in one cabin."

A pause.

"Frankly, I didn't expect there to be this many," he added.

Shane nodded, letting out a hum. "I'm sure they put us together on purpose once they made the cabin assignments, but it feels like they sought three of us out intentionally first. I guess someone thought it would be funny." He paused. "Is it funny?"

"Depends if you think puns are funny, I suppose," James said with a small grin, looking over his shoulder. He stopped a few feet from the top of the stairs, setting the wheeled suitcase on the ground. Pointing to the first door of the hall, on the left, he looked between Shane and the door w/the man's name on it.

"Should be unlocked," he said. "This one's yours."

Shane nodded gratefully to him, reaching for the doorknob, but he did something a little unusual first. He pulled the cuff of his sleeve down so it covered his palm up to the joint of his thumb, and then grabbed the metal doorknob, keeping his hand out of contact with the surface. "Thanks," he said, as he opened the door and glanced inside.

The door swung open to reveal a room just as large as James', but it was decorated differently. The walls were lined with antique wooden bookshelves-- there were far more than in his room-- and each shelf was filled with old, worn books. Shane also had a desk, but it was in an old-fashioned style, the kind that looked like it belonged to a writer from a different century. This old-fashioned, vaguely historical-feeling style went for all the other furniture in the room.

As James brought Shane's suitcase into the room after him, he stared at the room for a moment, reflecting.

He was a sharing a cabin with two royals, and neither of them were what he'd call socially apt. Connie was, as far as James could remember, next in line to the throne of Talia, but he'd been delaying his coronation and responsibilities for ages. Shane, meanwhile, was part of the royal family of Aphirah, and appeared to have the anxiety of someone who hadn't been under the scrutiny of the public all his life.

Well, everyone coped differently. Apparently. He couldn't judge. He was just a farmer, and he was immensely grateful not to be in their shoes, so he could at least empathize.

He did feel out of place, though, standing in his tank top and cargo shorts, barefoot, with a messy bun atop his head next to Shane, who despite already being a bit of a ball of nerves, did look rather put together, if simple.

Shane's eyes had widened slightly as he took in the room. "I don't suppose your room looks like it was designed by spies, too?"

"It does," James said with a weak laugh in the back of his throat. "They did their research, that's for sure."

"I feel like this is a matter of national security, if I'm being spied on," Shane joked faintly, setting his backpack on the wall against the door. "I'm not sure I can complain if it's the perfect room, though."

"Brochure said you can bring your complaints to the Grounds Manager," James said. "Who apparently wears many hats."

"I thought he wore sunglasses?" Shane asked. "I ran into him belowdecks on the ship over here. It was dark, but he didn't take them off."

James blinked, letting out a small snort of a laugh.

"I meant he must fill many roles," he said. "Sorry, it's just a colloquialism. But yeah, he's the man who wears sunglasses. I assumed it was power related," he shrugged.

"Oh, sorry, I see what you mean." Shane smiled faintly again. "That makes more sense for the sunglasses. I won't complain when I see him next, but I might ask about those."

"Fair enough," James said, looking down at the suitcase at his feet, then out into the room.

"Do you want a moment to yourself to settle in?" he asked. "We don't have anything on our schedule the first day, so we have time, but I can give you space."

Shane glanced around the room, eyeing the books for a moment, then looked back at James with a shrug. "I might not need it. What have you been doing on the island so far?"

James pulled the edged of his lips back in something of a frown.

"I did just get here," he said. "So nothing, really, besides moving in."

Shane nodded. "I think I'm going to explore the island," he said. "Maybe for a half-hour. Figure out what's around."

James glanced out into the hall.

"Mind if I join you?" he asked.

It wasn't like he had much else to do, and it didn't hurt to get to know one of the people he'd be living with for three months.

Shane nodded again, with that same faint smile. "Of course you can," he said, glancing out the window, where a view of the ocean showed it was low tide. "Company would be nice."

"Guess it's back down the stairs again, then," James said, turning to leave. Shane followed after him, shutting the door behind the both of them. They made it out to the front door, and James paused to grab his sandy shoes, shaking them out thoroughly, popping them at the heel.

"Sorry, one moment, please," he said, tossing the shoes just inside the door. "Didn't want to bring sand in."

"Good idea," Shane noted, doing the same after a moment. "I'm sure we'll end up with sand inside no matter what, but hopefully there's also a broom here. I'd expect it, with this budget."

"We'll have to check the hall closet when we get back," he said. "Or maybe the laundry room. I haven't looked around too thoroughly."

Shane merely nodded, and at that, they both threw their shoes inside, closed the door behind them, and James led the way out onto the beach.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Wed Sep 06, 2023 3:29 am
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soundofmind says...

This DMV had been advertised as a vacation, but Jay already knew that wasn't true. Everyone in the world knew the DMV was going to affect the rest of your life, and it was naive to think anything otherwise, even if it was an "island resort." The fact that everything was being televised told Jay that there was going to be a catch, and he was determined to be ready for it.

He had to get out of his hellhole of a life.

The last thing Jay wanted was to work as a barista for the rest of his life or to go from minimum wage job to minimum wage job. He was tired of having to be polite for customers and plaster on a fake smile. He was tired of having to deal with people. If he could ensure that he had enough money that he never had to deal with another entitled customer again, he'd do anything.

He stood at the base of his cabin filled with determination.

Sandals tucked into his fingers, he dug his bare feet into the sand. His backpack and dufflebag were each over one shoulder, balancing him on the side of the wooden pathway that led to the large "cabin" he was assigned to. On the door, he read three names: Aaron Keller, Alexander Kingsman, and Jay Mournsky. He noticed there were.... scratch marks around the "Aaron Keller" plaque, like someone had tried to pry it off.

Squinting, Jay frowned.

Okay. Someone was... a freak, or something. Shaking his head, he walked up to the door and opened it, not bothering to process the extravagance of the main room and instead hurrying through it all to the stairwell. He spiralled up the stairs until he entered a hallway, seeing three doors with names on them. One door was closed - the one with Aaron's name on it - and again, the plaque was defaced. The other door was wide open, and Jay walked right past it to the door with his own, hurrying inside and closing the door behind him.

Tossing his bags to the floor, he looked up into his room, noting that it was... unnervingly simple.

Squinting around, Jay noted that there were no decorations, and it was very minimalist, apart from basic furniture. The furniture itself was clearly expensive, but the room was lacking anything that could become... compromising with his powers.

It was like they knew he didn't like having extra things lying around.

Already suspicious, Jay tucked his bags under the bed, glancing out the window to see that it looked out over the beach and the waterfront, and had a partial view of the dock.

Closing the window's curtains, he turned around and began to check the whole room for bugs. He was looking for cameras, or anything that the crew might've snuck in to pick up on secret converations. When he spent several long minutes scouring the room only to come up with nothing, he stood in the middle of the room with his hands on his hips, frowning.

He'd have to search again later.

Then, he heard a knock on the door.

Right. Housemates. If this was real luxury, they would've gotten their own houses, not just their own rooms. He knew the director only put them in shared houses so that they'd be forced to interact with each other in the shared spaces. Shared bathrooms. Kitchens. Ugh.

He went to the door, opening it to look up at a man who towered over him. The man was of a light brown complexion, and had dark, black hair slicked back like some kind of greasy salesman, along with a patch of white hair. He would've fit the salesman type if he wasn't wearing the world's brightest hawaiian shirt with matching shorts. Sunglasses were atop his head. He was really embracing the "beach" aesthetic. Obnoxiously so.

"Greetings, Jay Mournsky," the man said, speaking like he was some character speaking from a script. "My name is Alexander Kingsman. I see we will be housing together, and I wanted to take initiative and introduce myself. It's a pleasure to meet you, little bird."

He extended a hand with a smile that almost felt like the grimace of a feral animal, and Jay did not take it. Alexander let his hand hang in the air.

"Don't call me that," Jay said, grimacing.

If this was Alexander, and Aaron was out there scraping out his name from every plaque, was he stuck with two weirdos?

"Apologies, fine friend," Alexander said instead. "I meant no offense."

But the way he said it felt like Alexander was speaking with the sincerity of, again, a grimy salesman only after his own prerogative. At least they both had that, in common, he supposed. But there was no need to be sleazy about it.

"Pretty sure you did," Jay said. "Or you're just the kind of person to get way too over-familiar with strangers because you don't know boundaries, or you're trying to see how far you can push them. Whichever it is, I'm not interested, so keep your weird pet-names to yourself."

Alexander raised his brows, smirking with his hands in his pockets.

"Right on, brother," he said, turning down the hall. "Have you met our other housemate yet?"

Jay stared at the man's back, frowning.

"No," he said.

"Neither have I," Alexander said, stopping in front of Aaron's door. "But I think we both should, at least, to have a face to the name."

Alexander's eyes landed on the defaced name plaque, smirk growing.

"And you think I'm the one with problems," he said with a low laugh, knocking on the door.

There was a long beat of silence, then a low groan. The door cracked open enough for Aaron to glare out at them.

"Helloooooooo~ Aaron," Alexander sing-songed. "Come out of your hidey hole, we want to meet you!"

Aaron narrowed his gaze up at him. "Well, I'm loathe to meet you. But I was told it's mandatory, and I have no way to effectively lock you out, so."

He then opened the door a little wider. He was about Jay's height, and wore a dust-colored trench coat that hid most of him. He nudged his glasses up the bridge of his nose-- one lens was cracked.

"At least you're honest," Jay said, folding his arms. He could respect that.

"And a party pooper," Alexander said in a babyish voice. "But that's okay. Every party needs a pooper. That's why they invited you to the island, I bet."

"Are you going to keep talking to him like a child?" Jay asked with a sneer.

"So long as he keeps acting like one," Alexander said with a sassy tilt of his head. "Skulking around like an emotionally unstable teenager. Come on, Aaron. You've just been handed a golden vacation on a platter. At least act somewhat grateful."

Aaron set his jaw, looking like he was grinding his teeth at Alexander's tone. "I've fulfilled my daily quota of social interaction," he said plainly, "goodbye--"

"There is no 'quota'--" Alexander tried to say.

The door slammed shut.

"There, you've met him," Jay snipped, gesturing to the door.

"His room's going to turn into a sty, I'm calling it now," Alexander said, resting a hand on his hip.

"I don't gamble," Jay said, pushing past him in the hallway. "So good luck with that.",

"Are you going to be as brusque as him, too?" Alexander called after him. Jay could hear his footsteps following.

"Only if you keep acting like a child," Jay said dryly.

And at that, Alexander cackled behind him, almost madly, and it made Jay feel unsettled in his gut. Good grief, what was wrong with this guy? Was this how he actually was, or was he putting on an act? Unfortunately, Jay had a feeling int was the former, which meant these next three months were going to be less than enjoyable.

At least Jay could hide away in his room and get out of the cabin whenver he wanted to.

Rushing to the door, Jay ignored Alexander's hastening steps and he hurried outside, slamming the door behind him.

Almost immediately, he noticed a cameraman outside, filming him.

Ugh. Right. They'd want to catch any drama they could get their hands on. Rolling his eyes at the filmmaker, he walked off down to the beach, not looking back as he heard the door open behind him, where Alexander presumably came out as well.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Carina says...

It was a fairly long boat ride to get to the island, and they slept through the night so they could arrive in the morning. It was hard to tell who was a contestant and who was part of the ship crew, considering they were given virtually no information.

Alan read the same brochure over and over, but the pamphlet looked like it was printed a decade ago, and he wasn't sure how much of it was inaccurate now. It certainly didn't mention anything about the TV show they were all going to star in. He wasn't too familiar with Island Magic, and although he'd been meaning to watch at least a few episodes beforehand to get a grasp of what he was getting himself into, he had been so caught up with other problems that he hadn't had the time to do so yet.

Alan had been friendly and talkative to others in the morning, but he was quick to depart with only a backpack and his violin case in hand. It was tempting to stop and watch the ocean and take it all in, but he wanted to drop everything off and meet his roommates first.

He was going to be here for the next three months, after all. He didn't know exactly what other plans were in store outside of magic training and apparently an all-inclusive resort vacation from a reality TV show that they were all starring in, but he didn't want that to get in the way of forming possible friendships and connections with other people.

Alan needed a change of pace, anyways. It would be good to change things up. Meet other people. Talk. Be somewhere new. Something and somewhere different.

Walking across the sandy beach and being careful to not get his shoes wet from the water meeting the sands, he passed by the endless cabins, keeping his eye out for the cabin number assigned to him. It took some time, especially since he could hardly see the number due to the distance and the glare of the sun, but finally, he found the one that was his.

It was nice. Too nice, really. This whole thing felt like a strange dream, and it still hardly felt real.

Shaking off the feeling, Alan walked up along the boardwalk, took a moment to enjoy the serene view of the ocean behind the cabin, and then walked in.

For a second, Alan stared in awe, and once again, wondered how he even made it here in the first place. The cabin was spacious, inviting, and luxurious. And, most notably-- empty. It seemed that he was the first one here. He slowly set his violin down and took off his shoes by the doorway, not wanting to get sand everywhere, especially since the floors already looked so clean.

"Is anyone here?" he asked curiously, but no one answered.

There was a lot to take in, but before he could get too absorbed in the details, he picked up his violin case and went up the stairs that spiraled upstairs, skipping two steps at a time. It seemed that upstairs only contained the bedrooms, and he noticed that there were three rooms, and each door had a wooden plaque engraved with their names on it: Alan Alvaro, Cyrin Bridger, and Lyall Ashlund.

It seemed that he was the first one here after all, but it made sense since he practically bee-lined over here. With a hum, he picked up his violin case and went over to his room, carefully opening the door.

And, predictably, it was nice... and unnecessarily big. He had an ocean seaside window view that his bed overlooked. The closet was open and held clothes that eerily looked like shirts he'd wear and fit him. There was a desk in the corner, along with books-- books that he recognized and liked-- and an electric keyboard between the bed and desk. An accoustic guitar was perched on a stand next to a microphone, music stand, and recording station. The wall even contained a violin holder, as if they knew he'd bring his.

Alright. So someone did their research. It was a bit unnerving someone would know all these details about him, but then again, the DMV seemed to have an uncanny ability to know everything about everyone.

Alan set his violin case down by the bed, rifling through the books. Minutes passed as he flipped through each one, but his attention was stolen when he heard the door open and close. Someone came in-- presumably a roommate, Cyrin or Lyall.

With a smile, Alan set the book down and then raced out of the room, skipping down the steps again and poking his head out.

"Hey there, roommate. Welcome to the fun cabin," he said with a growing smile as he locked eyes with the man at the doorway.

From first glance, he seemed well-dressed and friendly. The sleeves of his button-down were rolled to his elbows, and he'd draped his jacket over his arm, looking like he'd overdressed for this weather. He looked up from kicking off his shoes, caught off-guard for only a moment. His curly hair was overly windblown and obscuring most of his face. Without hesitation, he grinned wide, matching Alan's energy as he dropped a bag and waved.

"An early bird!" he commented brightly. "Pleasure to meet you...?"

"Alan. But also an early bird," he said as he stepped out from the stairs, approaching him closer. "Let me guess. Lyall?"

Upon approaching, Alan found that the newcomer was a good few inches smaller than himself.

"Yeah!" Despite the other, larger bag still slung over his shoulder, Lyall managed to bow at the waist with a small flourish then straighten again. "Lyall Ashlund, at your service!"

Alan was pleasantly surprised by the formalness of it, but he smiled and stopped to bow as well, dipping his head down like an exaggerated nod.

Lyall raised both brows, looking momentarily impressed. "Did someone tell you? I wasn't given anything to work off of myself."

"The credit is given to the names on the doors and sheer luck, but I can pretend I'm all-knowing," Alan said with a faint laugh as he stood by him, offering his hand to shake. "It's nice to meet you."

Lyall gave his hand an enthusiastic shake. "You, good sir, are too honest." Letting go, he pushed his hair back from his eyes. "Just lead with your omniscience, and offer no further explanation."

Alan chuckled at that, setting his hands in his pockets.

Lyall looked up and about, taking in the beach house with a faint, awed grin. "Bigger than I was expecting. How many of us are there supposed to be?"

"Three, but it's just us two for now." With a grin, he walked backwards and beckoned Lyall to come in. "Come on, this cabin is huge and it's waiting to be filled. Oh, and the rooms are upstairs, if you want to drop your stuff off."

Quickly dusting off the sand from his trousers, Lyall picked up his bag again and followed. "When they said 'cabin', I was expecting some shack, like in the brochure."

Alan laughed, leading him up the stairs, glancing back to match his pace. "Yeah, this surprised me too. They really are going for the element of surprise here, telling you nothing before dropping you off at a remote, luxurious island. I've learned to set my expectations to zero so I can be floored every time." He paused, glancing back again as he reached the top of the stairs. "Have you ever been to a place like this?"

Lyall hummed his amusement. "I've traveled a bit," he answered as he searched the hall for his name, "but never anywhere so tropical. It's a great change of scenery!"

He stopped by his door with a victorious, "Aha!" Then glanced at Alan. "Yourself?"

Alan smiled, standing by his door to give him the privacy to enter if he wanted it. "I also haven't been anywhere too tropical. Plenty of mountains, though. It's a different change of pace."

Sticking his bag under his arm to free up a hand, Lyall slipped into the room. He looked about ready to say something else, but the words were quickly lost. He let out a low whistle instead as he poked around inside, then finally set both bags on the floor.

Built-in bookshelves all along one wall were visible from even the hallway, as well as the abundance of lush, green plants tastefully set in the corners of the room. Standing in the very center, Lyall set his hands on his hips and spun around as he took it all in.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd have thought this cabin was enchanted. It looks so much better in the inside," Alan said with a chuckle as he watched Lyall admire his room from a distance. "It's home for the next three months, though. What do you think?"

"For three months, it's really quite nice," Lyall agreed. He disappeared from view as he made a beeline for the books. "I should probably think it too nice, given it was designed by strangers. As far I know..." He stepped back into view and held up a hefty biology textbook for Alan to see. "Your room is similarly... unnervingly perfect, right?"

Alan chuckled, noting the biology book. If the books were handpicked, Lyall must have a background or interest in it. "It is, but overall, it's fairly simple. Although, I do try to keep it simple." He paused. "It is strange. My favorite books are in there too, along with instruments. I don't remember telling them any of this information, although at this point, I shouldn't be surprised."

"This is what it must feel like to be a celebrity." Lyall hummed, pondering the textbook in hand. "Well, I don't quite dislike it so far."

"This summer just might spoil me. And you seem like a humble man, Lyall. If I ask for one thing of you, I kindly request for you to hold me accountable and make sure this trip does not coddle me," Alan said with a playful smile.

Lyall laughed aloud at that. "Only if you do the same for me. I could get very used to this lifestyle."

"Deal," he said with another laugh.

Alan's attention was taken away when he heard the door open and close again. He glanced back at the stairs and the grinned again. "Seems that's our third housemate. I'll go greet him," he said, already turning to skip down the stairs, hurriedly going down and saying, "Hey, welcome. We're up here!"

Alan came face-to-face with Cyrin, and he froze at the last step, just realizing the significance of the moment.

Of course. Alan usually good at remembering faces and names, but together-- it was hard to forget. And now that he had the face to the Cyrin Bridger...

They were rooming with a celebrity?

Cyrin, however, seemed to have none of this anxiety. Setting down his suitcase, he waved at Alan, flashing him a grin. Seeing him felt almost surreal, as he'd only seen Cyrin in pictures, but he recognized him immediately: black hair falling in waves to his shoulders, dark eyes, perfect teeth in a perfect smile, and warm light brown skin. As expected, he was dressed classy, wearing fancy black clothes, but he didn't seem to be sweltering from the island heat at all.

"It looks like I'm not the first one here," Cyrin said with a laugh. "Well, am I last?"

Alan snapped out of it, not wanting to stare. He let out a laugh as well, smiling as he approached, this whole situation feeling even more surreal. "The last ones are always the most fun ones. They keep the party going all night, and I have a feeling you're going to bring that energy." He stood in front of him, extending his hand out with a warm smile. "My name is Alan. It's nice to meet you in person."

Cyrin shook his hand while smiling, his grip firm. "Nice to meet you too, Alan. I'm Cyrin," he said, although he must have known he didn't have to introduce himself. "I have the feeling this is going to be a good cabin."

"I think so too." He grinned and stepped back, arms up. "Well, come on in. Get comfortable. Rooms are upstairs if you want to drop your stuff off."

"Why, thank you," Cyrin said as they picked up their suitcase and moved to the bottom step of the staircase, looking around at the beach cabin. "Shouldn't be hard. It does look comfortable here."

From the bottom of the staircase, they could hear a squeaked, "My God, is that--" before Lyall popped back out into the hall. "Mister Cyrin Bridger, or do my senses deceive me?"

Cyrin flashed Lyall another grin as he looked up, waving. "Just call me Cyrin, please," he said with a bright laugh. "You must be Lyall, right?"

"Yes!" Bowing slightly at the waist as he did with Alan, Lyall smiled broadly in turn. "Lyall Ashlund, at your service. A true pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mi--" He coughed, and quickly amended, "Just Cyrin."

For a second, Lyall shuffled in place, like he wasn't sure if he should join them on the first floor or simply stay put in the event that they might ascend.

Alan was glancing between the two of them, smile growing wider. Letting out a faint laugh, he bounded up the stairs again, glancing back at Cyrin and beckoning for him to join them upstairs. "Come on, you should see your room."

"Sounds exciting." Cyrin smiled again, lifting his suitcase and following him up. "It's nice to meet you too, Lyall. How's the island life treating you so far?"

"It's been a splendid first few hours," Lyall answered pleasantly. "Yourself?"

"So far, so good," Cyrin said at the top of the staircase. "I only wish it weren't quite so warm. I'm from somewhere a lot colder."

"Ah, same!" Lyall hummed. "Though I find the heat much preferable myself."

"It'll be a great vacation for you, then. The summer's only getting warmer." Cyrin glanced between the two of them, still smiling. "Where are you both from, by the way?"

Lyall stuck his his hands in his pockets. "Somewhere far too small and northern for my liking."

Alan let out a hum. "Not a city man?" he guessed.

Lyall grinned. "On the contrary! I quite enjoy city living. My family's set up in a small fishing town, however, so in that town I shall remain for the foreseeable future."

"That sounds very peaceful. And now you're surrounded by ocean. I'm sure you could do plenty of fishing around here, although it seems that this island is, for whatever reason, populated with young men instead of normal island villagers," Alan said with a playful smile.

"There's been an interesting pattern concerning the current populace, yeah," Lyall mused. Then waved dismissively. "You know, I've never actually fished, before. Might have to give that a try."

"That's only a little ironic. I also humbly request you fish on this island so your father can see you attempt on television and be proud," Alan said.

"I've never fished either," Cyrin admitted. "Maybe we should all try something new on this island. We're here to learn after all, aren't we?"

"An island of opportunities," Lyall agreed, raising an imaginary glass.

Alan mirrored his toast, also raising hand with an invisible glass, grinning. "I can drink to that."
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SilverNight says...

The sand was golden and smooth away from the shore, soaking up the sunlight, and Shane was glad it was early enough in the day that it hadn't turned scorching under his bare feet yet. Still, the heat kept him walking quick alongside James, not keeping his feet on the ground for too long at a time. Besides that, he felt soft flashes of the sand's past with every step, but the readings were faint and there was nothing to see besides sunny days like this one. He was glad there was nothing unexpected. There really was nothing unusual with simple things like sand, really-- but he was on an island full of strangers now, and he knew he'd have to be more careful than usual. He didn't want to accidentally invade someone's privacy, and he definitely didn't want to see something bad if he could help it.

He'd have to go around his room and get reads on most of the furniture, sometime when he was alone. He could've done it for the doorknob first thing, but out of precaution, he hadn't in case he saw something unexpected and startled James. It was probably a good idea to tell him and everyone else he talked to that he could do this, just to give them all fair warning, and he hoped they'd all do the same with any of their powers.

In fact, now was a good time to bring that up.

"So, James," Shane said, glancing his way again. "What are you hoping to get out of this vacation?"

James's expression turned into a bit of a frown, but he quickly replaced it with what looked like a bit of a forced, somewhat strained smile.

"Oh," he said. "I think I just want to get out of it alive. The bar is on the floor, I know, but I'd really just like to return to my normal life after all of this."

Shane let out a soft chuckle. "That's perfectly reasonable. What do you do for a living then?"

"I'm a potato farmer," James said. "It's the family business. What about you?"

Shane nodded along, but then paused for a bit at the question. He didn't want to make it seem like he was one-upping James, so... Maybe he could leave out the part about being Heir, or hope James already knew.

"I'm a history student," he said instead, kicking up a small mist of sand on the next step. "Graduate school. After that, I'm not sure what I'll be."

James hummed with what sounded like genuine interest.

"That must be what all the books are about," James said. "Are you going to have to continue your studies while here?"

Shane smiled weakly again, but he wasn't sure how to answer. "I'm sort of on a hiatus with studying," he said. "I might not be able to go back to classes after this summer--"

"HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEY!" a booming voice called, interrupting Shane.

Ahead, a tall, broad man between them and the next cabin was waving his arms out at them, trying to capture their attention. Shane couldn't help but also notice a big luggage bag beginning to drift away from the shore, into the deep sea.

"...Hey," he said hesitantly, trying to sound friendly through the feeling of vague alarm that was creeping up on him. "Um, if that's your bag--"

"WHAT? HEEEEEEY!" the man yelled again.

"Come closer, then!" James shouted back.

The man seemed to lean in, squint, then jog over. It didn't take him that long to approach him considering he made large strides and seemed to also miscalculate how far they were to begin with. When he approached, he towered over Shane and James, frowning as he looked them up one and down.

"Damn. You're not crew," he said, disappointed.

"Unfortunately, no," James said. "I think a lot of them are still at the docks unloading, though, if you need something."

"There's a wolf in my cabin," the man went on anyways, ignoring James's comment. "He was drinking a bowl of milk. My milk. I yelled at it but it just stared at me like a freak. I tried to throw my bag at it, but it instead went out the window. I'm too drunk to swim."

"A wolf," Shane repeated slowly, not quite sure he believed him if he was drunk. Meanwhile, the bag was getting waterlogged, starting to sink below the surface. "Drinking milk."

"... Some people have abilities to morph into animals," James said slowly. "Maybe that was your housemate? Wolves aren't native to this island otherwise."

"There's a wolf in my cabin. (BLEEP), does anyone here have common sense?" the man went on, then abruptly turned around to what was, presumably, his cabin. "HEEEEEY! IS IT OUT YET?"

A man stepped out onto the cabin porch, hand over his face as he looked out at the drunken fellow.

"Dude, he left when you threw the bag at him!" he shouted back. "He's been gone!"

The man screamed another curse word before huffing and puffing back towards the cabin. "Can you swim?!" he yelled.

"Yeah!" The man shouted back.

And their shouting match continued as the drunken man marched back to the cabin, and Shane and James watched as the man on the porch eventually bolted out towards the water, jumping in and swimming towards the suitcase.

Slowly, James turned to look at Shane.

"...This is going to be an interesting three months," he said.

Shane pressed his lips together in a thin smile. "I'm starting to see why it was free."

James let out a burst of a laugh at that, covering his mouth as he did so.

"I hope there's at least a few less... chaotic people," James said.

He paused, rubbing his face briefly with both hands like he was rubbing away the smile.

"Let's move quickly past their cabin," he said.

Shane nodded, watching the man swimming towards the suitcase out of the corner of his eye. From the look of it, the drunken man would have some very wet clothes when he got his luggage back, but he didn't seem to be thinking about that since he was cheering the swimmer on.

"I think that would be wise," he agreed.

He and James kept walking, giving the cabin and its chaos a healthy distance, but Shane kept watching the scene. The man in the water was swimming through his final strokes, wrapping his arms over the suitcase and using it as a kickboard. Well, a very ineffective kickboard, considering that having his weight on top of it was what caused the top of the suitcase to finally sink beneath the waves. Shane pursed his lips to keep from laughing quietly as the man had to dive in and fish it out before swimming back as he pulled it behind him.

Movement on the beach caught his eye, and Shane turned towards it, nearly stopping in his tracks when he saw the wolf jumping back through an open window in the cabin. The window slid shut right behind it with a noisy slam, and if he hadn't just heard about a wolf, he wouldn't have believed what he was seeing. It was still a little hard to believe, considering the chaos of the scene on such a seemingly peaceful island.

"Seems like that guy wasn't hallucinating about wolves drinking his milk," he said slowly. "You might be right about that animal morphing magic."

"I tried to do research before coming," he said quietly.

Shane simply nodded, thinking that must've been a good idea. He wished he'd done the same now.

The man in the water was returning to the shore, holding the suitcase overhead triumphantly. He was completely soaked, soaked enough that Shane could see right through his shirt to the coiling tattoos on his arms and chest, but he looked thrilled. He let out a delighted cackle as he dropped the suitcase in the sand, still holding his arms high while shouting "I GOT IT!" loudly enough that Shane almost felt like wincing even at this distance.

The drunken man looked less excited, stumbling through the sand to it while continuing to curse. He shouted at the man who had gotten it for him, then started shouting at someone else while he grabbed the suitcase and made his way back to the cabin. As Shane turned his head, he saw that the drunk man was hollering at a short, bald man who had slipped out onto the porch in this chaos-- a man who Shane guessed had been a wolf not two minutes ago.

Man, what was happening on this island?

Shane looked around, wondering if there were any cameras nearby-- and sure enough, there was a cameraman filming the entire thing from behind the cover of a palm tree not too far away. He shook his head, still partly in disbelief. He hadn't worried too much about being recorded before, thinking there'd be nothing interesting happening with him around, but... Well, he might have to rethink that assumption.

The man who was soaking wet, formerly trailing behind the drunken one - still yelling at the man on the porch - turned around with a sudden jarring spin and looked at James and Shane. His eyes widened, like he only just realized they were there, and after a quick glance back at the angry drunk, he began to run Shane's way after making eye contact.

Here we go, Shane thought nervously.

The man came short of a few feet before he offered the two of them a strange, lopsided grin. Now that the man was closer, he could see that he was strong, with a good amount of muscle. It was hard to tell what his hair looked like normally, since it was plastered to his head and probably darker than usual, but Shane would guess that it was normally brown. Something about the grin-- and the look in his dark brown eyes-- made him uneasy, and he didn't say anything yet.

"You two part of this vacay too?" he asked.

James briefly glanced at Shane with some side-eye.

"Yes," James answered for them.

"Sweeeeeeeeeeeet," the man said. "What're your names?"

Shane glanced at James before looking back. "I'm Shane," he said tentatively.

"James," James answered. "You?"

The man smiled wide and ran a hand through his wet hair, pushing it out of his eyes.

"Kazimir," he said. "Call me Kaz, though."

"Will do," James answered quickly. He looked like he was already ready to move on, shoulders turning as if to leave.

"Woah, woah, woah, man," Kazimir said, holding his hands out. "What's the rush? We're on paradise island."

The side-eye that James gave Shane said more than words. Shane found himself returning the look.

"We're just exploring the island," James said. "I assumed you'd want to deal with..."

He gestured over to the porch of Kazimir's cabin, but the situation between the drunken man and the wolf-man seemed to be resolving, as their voices finally lowered and they both went inside.

"...that," James finished. "Your housemates."

"Oh, that?" Kazimir said, looking over his shoulder. "I forget what he got so mad about. Something over spilled milk or something."

James glanced at Shane again, and Shane couldn't tell if it was a cry for help.

"Maybe you should check on them," James said. "Just to make sure it got worked out."

Kazimir hummed, and for a moment, it seemed like he was about to disagree, but then he nodded and snapped his fingers.

But as he snapped his fingers, there was an electric spark, and suddenly, his whole body erupted in electric energy, and faster than Shane could even process, all of that energy shot out of Kazimir's fingers into James's chest.

There was a blinding flash of light, and then a loud boom. Shane yelped in surprise, leaping back and closing his eyes as his vision flashed completely white. When it passes, his ears were left ringing, and he closed his eyes tighter, wishing the sound would stop. It took him a long moment to force himself to reopen his eyes, and when he did, James was on the ground, prone. Kazimir was standing, staring down at him, wide-eyed, frozen with his fingers barely having parted from the snap.

Kazimir's hair was standing on end, and smoke trailed off of his fingers. The smell of ozone burned Shane's nose as he stared, aghast, not fully processing.

"...Oh," Kazimir said distantly. "Huh."

Meanwhile, James looked unconscious, and the center of his shirt was completely fried, exposing a giant burn mark on his chest.

"Oh my God," Shane whispered in horror, hardly able to think through the words, before panic kicked in and he dropped to the sand, leaning over him. "What the (BLEEP) did you just do?" he shouted at Kaz, looking at the burn and fighting back a sick feeling.

"Normally it doesn't do that," Kaz said, scratching the back of his head, staring down at James. "You think he's dead?"

"I don't know, but he needs help," Shane said urgently, pressing two fingers to the side of James' neck, but he couldn't remember which side to do it for, and he only got more panicked as he moved back and forth in search of a pulse.

Kaz glanced over at the camera crew, who were still filming.

"Uhhhh..." Kazimir trailed off, and started to walk away.

"Help," Shane shouted, raising his voice since he couldn't be bothered to rush, and he hollered again as his voice shook with panic. "We need some help over here!"

Suddenly, Shane felt a pulse, thumping steadily against his fingers.

James's eyes fluttered open, and Shane felt the air rush out of his lungs as he released a deep breath he didn't know he'd been holding.

"...Didn't research enough, I guess," he muttered, sounding almost groggy.

Looking down at James's chest, the burn wound was... shrinking. Like it was healing itself, rapidly before his eyes.

Shane stared in disbelief for a few moments before he realized what he was seeing, and he buried his face in his hands, not caring that it got sand in his hair. "Oh," he breathed. "You're invulnerable. Thank God, it looked like he'd killed you."

"Sorry about that," James said with a small sigh, looking down at his now charred shirt. He slowly sat up, poking at the hole that was now where the "Suns out, guns out" lettering used to be. Now it just said "Sun... ut."

"I'm fine, though," he said. "My body's just very conductive. I wasn't expecting him to use his magic like that."

Patting his chest, he stared at it in disappointment for a moment before looking up at Shane.

"You alright?" he asked.

"Just wishing I'd asked you a couple questions about your magic before this scared me," Shane said, and before he knew it he was letting out a shocked, anxious laugh that lasted for a good several seconds. Now that the threat had passed, his panic had nowhere to go, and he was quickly starting to feel ridiculous. "It's my fault for not deciding to when I got the idea to ask. I'm definitely glad you have it."

James frowned and his thick brows pinched together.

"It's not your fault," James said. "We've only known each other - what - a mere thirty minutes? Don't blame yourself. I'm just sorry you had to find out in such a horrific manner. Normally I try to give people some kind of fore-warning, because I know it can be disturbing to see."

"I guess this did interrupt our question time." Shane winced.

James huffed. "Yeah," he said, glancing up to look back at the chaos cabin. It looked like Kazimir had gone inside, but upon James looking up, Kazimir stuck his head out the window.

"I'm sorry!" he shouted from afar.

"He just left," Shane scoffed, giving Kaz a dry look and shaking his head as he turned to James. "Just another way that could've been disatruous."

"Well, if he's leaking whatever kind of electricity magic he has, maybe it's better he went away," James said quietly. "Lest I get zapped again."

Shane thought back to how quickly it had happened. "You said you were very conductive?"

James shrugged. "Metal bones."

Shane blinked. "Oh. That would explain it."

"Well," James said with a small grunt, getting to his feet. "It's not the first time I've been struck by lightning, and with my luck, not the last."

After briefly brushing some sand off of himself, he extended a hand to Shane to help him up.

Shane took it after brushing the sand stuck to his palm on his jeans, letting James help pull him up. "Maybe you should give him some space," he said. "Improve your luck a little. Failing that, try standing around someone taller."

James raised his brows, briefly smirking as he let out a huff of a laugh through his nose.

"The latter's not so hard," he said, releasing Shane's hand once he was on his feet.

"See? You might just get out of this alive after all." Shane smiled thinly.

James's mouth curved into the hint of a smile.

"So," he said, like he was about to change the subject. "Now you know my magic. What's yours?"

Shane let out a hum, running a hand through his hair and trying to comb out the sand. "Nothing that would save me from lightning," he said. "It's psychometry."

"Reading the past of objects, right?" James asked.

Shane nodded. "Right. Usually, there's not much to see, but I try to be cautious anyway. I pretty much never pick up anyone's personal belongings if I can help it." He pointed to the beach. "Right now, all I'm reading from this sand is the regular event of a sunny day, since that's what it's seen the most of. But if I wandered closer to the shore-- well, I might see the chaos of the suitcase play out again. Once is more than enough for me, though."

"Fair enough," James said, stepping back from where he'd formerly been struck to the ground.

He looked at the sand for a moment, like he was pondering, and then nodded his head to the side, away from where they were standing.

"Let's walk around this bit, then shall we?"

Shane dropped his gaze to the area of sand, finding himself smiling. It still didn't feel like much of a smile, but... it felt like more. Like he wasn't just forcing his face to do something.

"Sounds like a good idea," he said, taking a couple steps back, and the two of them walked around the incident site as they continued their journey around the island.
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soundofmind says...

Sometimes, life really could be a dream.

Clandestine stared up at the tall, towering palms that lined the boardwalk, unable to pick just one thing to set her eyes on. She'd never been on an island before, and everything about it was so new, colorful, and exciting. The smell of the ocean, the dreamy pale blue skies, the way the sun danced overhead. Looking off the dock, she could see the shadows of fish and other creatures wiggling under the crystal clear waters. There were gorgeous reefs and crawling creatures - crabs, starfish, and many more she'd have to learn the names of. She wanted to stop and look at everything, but she found herself getting turned around, and before she knew it, she was the last one on the dock left behind with the crew.

Letting out a little laugh, she tucked her sunglasses further up atop her head to keep her hair from falling in her face, and she looked around, spotting a man with a clipboard who looked like he knew what he was doing. He had sunglasses too, and he looked pretty sharp in them! Very official.

Dragging her massive suitcase behind her, she skipped up to him, letting her flipflops clop across the wood beneath her. Stopping beside him, she smiled brightly.

"Hey," she said, looking up at him. "What's your name?"

The man looked up from his clipboard, giving her a warm, polite smile as he clicked his pen and tucked it behind his ear. "You're Clandestine, right?" he asked, checking the clipboard and looking at her face again.

"Yeah!" she said, tapping the side of her head. "Very sharp of you to remember."

The man grinned, laughing lightly. "Remembering is what I'm good at. I'm Dante, your Grounds Manager. I'm your person for addressing problems, reporting complaints, anything of that sort. Don't hesitate to reach out if you need anything."

Clandestine freed her hand from her suitcase and shot it out to offer him a handshake.

"That's a big job!" she said. "It's good to meet you, Dante!"

Dante nodded and kept smiling as he shook her hand, his grip firm. "It might be, but it's rewarding," he said. "Good to meet you too, Clandestine. Is there anything I can help you with for your welcome to the island?"

"Oh! Yeah, actually," Clandestine said, pulling away and rolling her suitcase over to her side. "I'm a little turned around already. Could you point at which cabin is mine? I just need a direction then I'll be good to go."

"Sure thing," Dante said, glancing swiftly at his clipboard again before turning and pointing to a cabin on the left, two houses down. "There you go. Looks like you've got a four person cabin-- but don't worry, that only means more space, not less."

Clandestine's eyes widened. It was the biggest cabin of them all! This whole beach was so fancy and grand, she didn't think by 'cabin' they meant a bunch of dream houses. This was way more than she could've even imagined. She couldn't help but wonder how much all of this cost. If she hadn't been invited to this, she would never have an experience like this in her whole life! It was still so crazy and surreal, but she found herself buzzing with an anxious excitement, buzzing in her stomach.

"Wow," she said quietly, staring at the cabin for a moment. Then she bounced on her feet and smiled again. "Okay! I'll let you do your ground keeping! Thanks so much, Dante! See you later!"

Dante gave her a joking salute and stepped out of her way, smiling again. "No problem. Enjoy your first day, Clandestine."

Pulling her suitcase with a heave, she began to roll it down the boardwalk, using the momentum of her running start to keep it moving behind her.

"I already am!" she shouted over her shoulder with a little laugh.

Running as fast as she could manage with a oversized backpack on and a big suitcase behind her, after some struggle-running through the sand, she managed to show up on her cabin's front deck a little out of breath.

"Woo!" she sighed to herself, leaning with her hands on her knees for a moment. "They don't train you for sand running in Gorl Scouts. I'm gonna need to start playing volleyball or something."

Letting out a little sigh, she stood up tall, adjusting her backpack on her shoulders so it felt less like it would fall off. Then she remembered she had keys she had to fetch out, and it took her a solid thirty seconds of slapping all of her pockets before she remembered she'd put them in her backpack, and then she had to do the whole "take off your backpack, dig into the bottom, put everything back in, put it back on, and finally be able to open the door bit." Surprisingly, she'd done that bit too many times in her life, but it was fine.

Finally with the key in hand, she fiddled with the door and pushed it open, kicking her flip-flops outside the door.

"Helloooooo!" she sing-songed as she dragged her suitcase in. "Anyone home?"

She noticed there were some shoes by the door, but everyone else must've gone upstairs to where it looked like their rooms were. She'd seen four names on the door but hadn't had a chance to read them. The key issue had kind of taken up all of her attention.

After a beat of silence, she heard some footsteps come down the stairs, and a really pretty woman stepped out with big, curly hair. She had a light sweater on and some capris, but she was barefoot, which was smart. It was way too warm and sandy to be wearing shoes!

"Oh, hey!" Clandestine said, closing the door behind her. "What's your name? I'm Clandestine. But everyone calls me Clanny."

The woman smiled politely and folded her hands in front. "Welcome, Clandestine," she said. "My name is Hild Ashlund. Please refrain from calling me anything else. There's no way to shorten my name, and no need to make it 'fun'."

Clandestine laughed at that.

"Oh, girl, I totally get you," she said. "I've gotten lots of weird nicknames and mispronunciations of my name. Hild it is!"

She shook out her suitcase near the door, realizing some sand got on the floor, and she smiled in a little grimace.

"Ack," she said, trying to lift her suitcase off the floor. "Do we have a broom in this place? I can clean this up in a second. I have a feeling sand is going to be a recurring intruder."

Hild's polite smile turned slightly strained. "Just one of the many downsides to this type of setting." She swept an arm inward in invitation. "Don't worry about that right now, please make yourself at home first."

Clandestine finally managed to hobble over to Hild, and she freed a hand to extend it to her.

"Hey, you too," she said with a soft smile. "This is home for both of us for a little bit!"

Hild briefly took her hand in a light shake, then stepped back. "If you insist."

Clandestine hesitated for a second, trying to read into what Hild was getting at, because that was kind of an odd response. Clandestine wasn't exactly insisting, but maybe Hild felt... a little forced to be here? I mean, that wasn't too far from the truth, really, but she supposed everyone had different feelings about the DMV. Some people really weren't a fan, so she couldn't blame her, really. She hoped that didn't stop Hild from enjoying herself, though! That would be such a bummer if she spent three months feeling trapped.

"I mean -- well, I just hope it goes alright for all of us," Clandestine said with a weaker laugh.

There was a creaking from the floor above before the awkwardness could go on for too long, and a blonde woman moved within view at the top of the staircase. Her face was mostly blank, with the slightest tinge of curiosity as she examined Clandestine. Her blue eyes were piercing, but not quite cold, and her expression turned thoughtful as she tilted her head to the side slightly like she were considering something.

"Oh, hello there!" Clandestine said, leaning to the side to get a better view.

"Hi," the woman said, still watching her closely.

"I'm Clandestine," Clanny said, putting a hand to her chest. "Or Clanny. And she's Hild!" She gestured loosely to Hild beside her. "What's your name?"

The woman nodded to Hild like she'd already met her-- oops. "I'm Clarity," she said, putting a hand on the staircase railing. "Seems like we've both got some-- names."

"And a good thing, too," Clandestine said with a little laugh. "If I didn't have one I wouldn't have anything to call myself. I'd just be 'that chick' or something I guess. And that could get confusing. Because there are a lot of women in the world. Imagine going 'oh yeah I met that woman.'"

She snorted a little. "Nice to meet you, though, Clarity!"

Clarity blinked, not seeming to expect that kind of answer, before she started making her way downstairs. "You too."

"So, did you two meet and settle in already?" Clandestine asked, looking over to Hild.

Hild glanced in Clarity's general direction. "We're acquainted, yes," she answered as she made her way to the kitchen.

"Oh, awesome!" Clandestine said, her eyes following Hild, curiously taking in the massive kitchen. "This place is so fancy. I've never seen anything like it!"

When she glanced back at Clarity, she saw another woman standing on the end of the stairs behind her - tall and lean, with long black hair and a long black overall-styled dress with a thin shirt underneath. It was really cute! She had super pretty clear fair skin, and super bright blue eyes.

"Oh, hey there!" she said. "What's your name?"

"Eve," she said after a hesitation, stopping in the middle of the stairs.

Clandestine smiled warmly. "I'm Clandestine! But you can call me Clanny."

She looked back over to the kitchen, eyes darting to and fro from all of the women. She noticed Hild had started pouring everyone drinks of water. So sweet and considerate!

"Well, I'm happy to meet you guys," Clandestine said, feeling like if she smiled any harder, she might burst. She danced on her feet a little in place.

"Can I squeeze past you guys to go put my stuff in my room real quick? I'll be right back down for that water, though, Hild! I see you! Thank you!" She pointed to Hild from across the room.

Hild faintly smiled again and simply waved her acknowledgement.

Clarity slipped out of the way with a silent nod, moving to loiter around the kitchen area as well. Eve also walked downstairs, stepping out of the way so that Clandestine could go past her.

"Thanks, guys!" Clandestine said, hoisting up her heavy suitcase with both hands. "Hooh, boy. Just one more stairwell! I can do this."

"Do you need help?" Clarity asked suddenly.

"Nah, I need the weight training. Thank you though!" Clandestine joked with a little laugh, beginning to lift the suitcase up mostly with ease. She knew she was small, but she had to be super fit for her job. This was nothing!

Clarity shrugged, turning around again. "Alright, whatever's good to you."

Taking each step carefully, Clandestine made her way to the top and dropped her suitcase on the floor, dragging it right up to the door she saw with her name on it. Wow, they even had fancy name plaques and everything! It made Clandestine feel like some kind of movie star.

Pushing into her room, she dropped her bags with a huff, but when she looked up, she found herself staring. Stunned.

What the...

So many pets!!!!!!

Clandestine's heart practically melted when a little scruffy puppy came running up to her, screaming: "Person! Person! Friend!"

Already kneeling down to meet him, she extended her arms to welcome the puppy, who jumped into them in a happy, wiggling mess, tongue spilling out of its mouth.

"Oh, you're just a little baby!" Clandestine said. "Hello, lil guy! Oh yes, I'm so happy to meet you too!"

She booped his snoot and he wriggled around like a lil crazy fellow, laughing and spinning down to the floor with an excess of energy. But he wasn't the only new friend in the room to meet!

Over to the left, there was a whole cat tower with three kitties on it! And oh goodness, they were all sweet elderly cats!

"Hello dear," one of them greeted her.

"Oh, look at her! What a sweetheart," another said.

"Welcome home!" said another.

Clandestine's heart was melting.

"Oh, thank you guys! You're so kind! It's good to meet you too. I'm going to have to learn all of your names! Do any of you want to come down with me to meet my housemates?"

"These old bones? I'll have to pass on that dearie, but thank you for thinking of me!" One of the elder cats said. "Why don't you take Buster, he looks like he's dying to meet new people."

Clandestine looked down at the little puppy rolling around her feet.

"Oh, is that you, huh?" she said in a baby-talk voice. "Are you lil Buster? Yeah?"

"Yes! Yes! That's me!" he yapped in excitement.

With a giggle, she picked him up.

"Okay, well if we're going to meet everybody, I need you to be good, okay! These ladies seem real nice and proper, so I don't want you scaring them. Can you be good for me? No jumping! And no licking!"

Buster wagged his tail, the fluff flopping everywhere.

"I'll be good! I'll be good!" he said.

Grinning, Clandestine gave him a big smooch on his forehead.

"Good lil boy," she said. "Okay, I see there's a lot more of you in here," she said, scanning the room and seeing a parrot in the corner, a big fluffy dog, sitting in the corner like such a good boy. A bearded dragon crawled out of a tank, waving hello with his tail.

"Are ya'll alright if I come back in a bit?" she asked. "No one has any urgent needs."

A chorus of answers hit her, but the overall sentiment was: "We're good for now!"

With a little relieved sigh, she nodded.

"Okay, phew. Sorry guys, I'm just a little overwhelmed! It's a lot of new stuff, and I wasn't exactly expected to see all of you! Thanks for being understanding. We'll talk for sure later. Have a good time in the meantime!"

Carrying Buster in her arms, she backed out of the room and closed the door behind her, hurrying back down the stairs. She didn't want Hild to have poured a cup for nobody! It'd be rude to leave and not come back for it.

Coming down the stairs, she held out Buster, whose tail started going crazy when he saw the other ladies.

"Guys! Look who I found in my room!" she said with a big smile. "His name's Buster! He's really excited, if you can't tell."

Hild set down her glass, raising both brows in surprise. "Oh," she eventually said, "how...severely unexpected."

"Is he-- supposed to be in there?" Clarity asked, biting her lip as she examined the puppy in Clandestine's arms.

Clandestine laughed lightly.

"I mean, I guess the people who made my room figured with my powers they'd stick animals in there," she said. "I can talk to animals, so I dunno. But he seems a good pup! Do you guys mind if I put him down and he says hello?"

Buster yapped.

"Please! Please!" he chimed in.

"Is anyone allergic to any animals?" Eve asked, sitting by the windowsill.

Clarity shook her head. "Not me. It's alright by me."

Hild inclined her head. "I'm sure he would enjoy exploring the place as well. By all means."

"I think it's fine as long as the animals stay out of our rooms," Eve said.

Clarity snapped her fingers. "Oh, that's right. I need to mention something. If you could, please stay out of my room. There's a lot of flammable chemicals in there, and you could blow up the place."

Buster started to squirm.

"Hey little buddy, just a little longer," Clandestine whispered. "Patience!"

She adjusted him in her arms, and she started to crawl up her chest, licking her face. She sighed, deciding to let it happen while Clarity talked.

"Flammable... chemicals," Eve repeated slowly as she stared at Clarity with concern, saying it like it was a question.

"You don't have to worry about me," Clandestine said, getting slobbered on. "That seems pretty normal to me! Respecting each others' space and all."

Hild blinked hard at Clarity. "I'm sorry, flammable? Explosion that's... imminent?"

"Yes, there's flammable chemicals upstairs," Clarity said plainly, like she were saying there's a chance of rain later today. "I'm a chemist. They put a miniature lab in my room. It's either unsafe living conditions or unsafe working conditions-- I haven't decided which-- but I have a degree in this stuff, so it's only an explosion hazard if someone else is in there."

Clandestine paused for a moment, thinking. Lots of things were flammable. Like hairspray. And other stuff. But if Clarity was a chemist, that made a lot of sense. Clanny got animals. Clarity got science. Obviously.

"Ohhh, that's cool," Clandestine said. "Maybe I can get one of those baby door fences for my room to make sure Buster doesn't wander out."

"Is this cabin a fire hazard? Is your room safe?" Eve said, directing the topic of danger back to Clarity. "All our rooms are right next to yours."

"They gave me four different fire extinguishers," Clarity said with a shrug. "That's safe to me."

"Are they all up to code?" Hild asked, eyes narrowing ever so slightly.

"What about other chemicals? Irritants? Anything toxic? Explosive? Or anything that must be vented?" Eve pressed.

Clarity didn't seem fazed by any of the questions. "They appear to be, and I can actually control the chemicals. Like--" She picked up her glass of water, which was sitting half-full, and clenched a hand above it. The water immediately lifted into the air, forming a perfect shining sphere that floated above her glass, before she released it again. "I can do that with all liquids and gases. Don't worry about the other things getting out of control."

"Woah, that's so sick," Clandestine said with genuine awe.

Clarity took a sip of her water, setting the glass back on the counter. "Thanks. It has its uses."

Hild nodded slowly, seeming appeased for the time being. "Right. Well, on the subject of our personal spaces, I was gifted an instrument. I assure you I won't practice at ungodly hours, but I will practice." She lifted her glass of water, gaze turning distant. "Since I've recently found myself with an overabundance of free time," she muttered.

Eve still seemed to have some reservations about Clarity, but if she had them, she didn't voice them, instead nodding along. "I'll be quiet and respectful as well. But let me know if you have any complaints."

"Oh, I love music!" Clandestine said. "You won't bother me. And uh, if any of you guys need some animal cuddles, feel free to stop by my room. There's kitties and a big papa dog and lots of friends. Just so you know."

"Noted," Hild replied, inclining her head. "Thank you."

Clarity paused. "Did you say you have cats?"

Clandestine smiled. "Yeah! They're real sweeties, gosh. They were so nice!"

Clarity nodded, tapping her fingers on the counter. "Maybe I'll take you up on that offer. Sometime, possibly."

"Okay!" Clandestine said. "It's no pressure, of course. Just if you wanna."

At that, Buster started to fight her hold, begging to be put down. She laughed lightly.

"Uh, you guys cool if I put him down now?" she asked.

After several nods of concession, Clandestine finally let the little bugger on the ground, and Buster ran straight to Hild first. Unable to suppress a brighter smile, Hild crouched down, disappearing from view behind the kitchen island as she offered Buster a pleasant 'hello'.

~~~ ~~~

Clandestine sat in a familiar chair, swiveling in it once again for her interview.

"They seemed to really like Buster!" Clandestine said with a bright smile. "And Buster really liked Hild, especially. I think little puppies know when people's hearts are really soft towards them, even if they don't have language to explain it, so I'm glad they could connect. Buster's such a small, small little poodle puppy..."

She measured the size with her hands.

"I wonder if he also felt drawn to Hild because they both have curly hair," she said with a chuckle.

The interviewer laughs lightly with her, and asks how she feels about her new housemates.

"Oh! I love them so much! They're so sweet and considerate. Hild's really got that gift for hospitality, Eve's very sensitive of others and asks good questions, and Clarity's got a fun sense of humor. I really look forward to getting to know them more over the next weeks. I think it'll be good! And hopefully we can bond over our fuzzy buddies too. Animals have a way of drawing people together, I think. That's one of their gifts to humankind, I think. Companionship that draws people together."

She smiled sweetly, the light in her eyes soft and genuine.
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urbanhart says...

Given the recurring pattern of the cabin far exceeding any and all expectations, perhaps the wine cellar shouldn't have been such a surprise. It was a very pleasant one all the same, especially after what felt like a long, wretched eternity spent out on the sea to get here. If you asked Lyall, they simply should've flown in.

Alas, beggars could not be choosers. And the drinks would more than make up for it, so all was forgiven.

"What's your poison, Lyall? You strike me as a wine man," Alan said as they stood together, admiring the extensive wine cellar.

Hands tucked in his pockets, Lyall cast him a grin. "Well, now I'm convinced you've got someone in your ear, feeding you information."

Alan grinned as well, glancing his way. "Could be. His name? Intuition." He then ran his finger along the top shelf, scanning the bottles. "Red or white?"

Lyall wandered deeper in and contemplated the labels. Hm. Nary a speck of dust.

"Red, please and thank you, good sir," he answered, glancing over his shoulder.

"Good choice. Malbec alright? I'm biased; it's my favorite," Alan said with another glance back, smiling.

"More than alright," Lyall answered amiably.

Alan hummed, searching the shelf off to the left before he pulled out a bottle. "This one is good. Let's see how long it'll take the three of us to finish it." He paused, chuckling as he gestured around. "Although, it would probably take us ages to drink all of this anyways."

"We've got three months to try," Lyall said, laughing.

Chosen bottle in hand, Alan led the way back to ground level, and into the kitchen area. Meanwhile, Cyrin was descending the stairs, coming back from dropping their things off. Their eyes widened excitedly when they saw the bottle, and they followed the two of them to the kitchen.

"Hey, perfect timing. We were just about to open a bottle of wine," Alan said as he set the bottle on top of the granite countertop. "Unless you prefer a different drink? Looks like we have a stocked liquor cabinet as well. The directors of this island seem to think we're alcoholics."

Lyall waved dismissively as he poked around in the cupboards, taking mental note of their food and appliance inventory. "Nay, they think us people of good taste. And they're right."

"Fair point," Alan said with a laugh, begining to open the bottle with a corkscrew.

"Wine sounds perfect," Cyrin said with a growing smile. "Did anyone else think we were going to be living in survival mode on a deserted island? It couldn't be further from the truth, apparently. This is luxury mode."

"Very true, and I certainly don't have any complaints. If I were stuck on a deserted island and could only choose one item to bring with me..." Alan snapped the cork off, and he pulled it out of the bottle and then lifted it with a hand, grinning to the others. "I'd bring this."

"Sustanence at its finest," Lyall agreed.

"Have you found the wine glasses by chance, Lyall?" Alan asked.

Ducking down, Lyall looked in the lower cabinets. "Not quite..."

The kitchen felt a bit too large. That may have been because he himself wasn't really in the habit of cooking, but damn. How were they supposed to find anything in here?

"If we only we had a map for the kitchen," Alan mused, helping him look by checking the middle cabinets.

Cyrin checked the top ones, eventually reaching in. "Up here," he said triumphantly, setting them out. "Good news. There's a lot of glasses for three people here."

"So what I'm hearing is that we ought to throw parties," Alan said with a grin, moving with the bottle so he could begin pouring them into the glasses.

"Are you reading my mind?" Cyrin asked with a laugh.

"Maybe. Lyall, can you confirm?" Alan said playfully.

"I'm fairly certain by this point that that's his particular skillset," Lyall said, humming a laugh.

"If your magic isn't telepathy after all, I'll be disappointed," Cyrin said, smirking teasingly. "No, not that. I'll be impressed, because you're still reading minds."

Alan chuckled, his grin fading into a smile as he finished pouring the three glasses to the first one-third of the glass, setting the bottle back down on the counter. "Here you go. Cheers."

He passed the two glasses over to them and clinked their glasses, and they all took a sip at the same time.

Alan hummed. "Strangely, this tastes way better than I remember. Must be island magic."

Leaning back against the counter, Lyall actually found that he couldn't fully savor it. He was too distracted by literally everything. There was so much to look at in this grand mansion of a cabin, he was really trying his best not to stare at Cyrin too much, and the reality of suddenly going from having an entire world on his shoulders at home to having basically nothing to do still hadn't fully set in for him.

Well, that wasn't entirely true, he reminded himself. The island was all sorts of perfect and marvelous, but it was still a place to rigorously test their magic. That was its only purpose.

Though he was thoroughly enjoying this taste of the high life, he wondered if it was all to compensate for something? The difficulty of the tests, maybe? Or for the fact that there was no way to sidestep this rather huge milestone in their lives being highly televised? He was willing to focus on the positive, but he couldn't not wait for the other shoe to drop.

Tipping back more wine to drown out this nagging thought, Lyall turned his attention back to his new housemates.

"And also, back on topic-- I don't have telepathy, so good to hear you're still impressed. Really, it all comes down to body language and first impressions," Alan said with a soft laugh, swirling the wine glass in his hand as he leaned against the counter. "But, you should probably know, since you'll be my housemates and we're on this island for magic training anyways: I have charm magic. Don't worry, I won't use it on you-- I actually hardly ever use it at all, since it has some unintended consequences. Regardless, I thought it'd be good to give you both a heads up, since it does tend to make people uneasy. But you have nothing to worry about."

Cyrin hummed thoughtfully, nodding. "I'm not worried, so you don't need to worry about me being worried. Likewise, I don't use my magic much-- I'm guessing you've heard of it, so I won't bore you-- and I'm sure there's other people on this island who have similar reservations. But thanks for letting us know."

"Similarly, I hardly find myself in actual need of my powers," Lyall said. Lifting a hand and demonstratively waggling his fingers, he went on, "In the shared spirit of courtesy: pyrokinesis."

Alan hummed. "Seems we've got a pretty diverse set of magic skills in this cabin, but we don't use it too often. I'd like to think that we're bigger than than our magic, anyways. People are born to create. They shouldn't be constrained by the limits of what they were born with."

Lyall raised his glass. "No truer words have ever been spoken."

Cyrin smiled, tilting their head to the side as they took another sip of wine. "I like the way you think."

"Why, thank you. But if I'm a mindreader, then it's your thoughts I'm saying, so I like how you think," Alan said with a smile before sipping his wine.

Cyrin laughed. "Thanks for the citation, but give yourself some credit. I wouldn't have said it the same."

Alan watched Cyrin for a moment, his smile lingering as he then faintly nodded and tilted his head. "Alright. I appreciate it." A beat. "But, if I may, can I just say: I admire your work on how magic has affected culture through folklore and legend. It's changed the way I think about storytelling and how magic has always been part of the human experience."

Cyrin's smile softened a little. "You've heard of that? I'm surprised. It was really just a paper someone else wanted to publish."

"It was an excellent read," Lyall added, tipping his glass Cyrin's way. "I'm sure you haven't the time what with your current success, but have you considered ever expounding on that research?"

Cyrin smirked slightly. "At times. But the world wants me doing backflips, I guess, which puts such things indefinitely on hold."

Suddenly there was a knock on the door. The three of them exchanged a look, and Alan set his glass of wine on the counter, already heading towards the door. "Anyone expecting company?" he asked.

"We might be able to host a party with all these drinks, but I don't think any of us actually decided to," Cyrin said, swirling their wine glass.

"And I don't believe we're expecting a fourth resident," Lyall said, rounding the counter to follow Alan.

Alan opened the door, but there was no one on the other side. He poked his head out, looking both directions. Lyall leaned out beside him, bending lower so as to not bump heads as he likewise scanned the outside. Suddenly there was a light breeze, and then a paper slid across the wooden deck until it was in front of them. Alan bent down and picked it up, holding it in his hands.

"Attention all contestants: you've been invited for a night to remember. Join the kickoff events at the mansion on top of the hill for endless fun in the infinity pool. Attendance is mandatory," Alan read, then looked up with a grin, waving the flyer in hand.

Tilting his head, Lyall caught a glimpse of the illustration that accompanied the bold, scrawling text. There was an oversaturated sunset and the typical poolside affairs (beach ball, flamingo float, etc.), and a cartoon swimmer with a broad smile to emphasize the promised 'endless fun'.

Lyall hummed. The note on mandatory attendance was interesting.

"Looks like this is this evening," Alan declared.

"Knock knock!"

Before either of them could fully comment on this, suddenly there were two actual people at the door. A tall blonde man wearing beach shorts, an office collared shirt, and flipflops was grinning at them, waving. He was wearing a lanyard and a badge, indicating he was staff. The badge said "Ethan B." Behind him was a scruffy cameraman, about this Ethan's height, with a trucker hat and a flannel shirt tied around his waist. His name badge, which read "Caspar C." was hung from his jeans pocket. He tipped his hat with a brief, apologetic smile.

"Do we have a, uhhh..." Ethan looked down at his clipboard. "A Cyrin Bridger here?" His eyes went wide and he grinned, peering past Alan and Lyall to Cyrin, who was standing a couple feet back. "Oh shit! The celebrity. Dang, they weren't kidding." He paused, looking back at Caspar. "Oops. We're going to have to bleep out that swear word. But this part isn't going in the show, right?"

Caspar blinked at Ethan. "Camera's not on yet, no," he murmured back.

"Right, yeah." Ethan nodded, attention back to Cyrin. "We don't usually do this, but the boss sent us out here to give you a super deluxe interview. Except it's not that deluxe. It's just in your cabin. It won't be long, though. Is that alright?"

Cyrin nodded, smiling and sweeping a hand through their hair. "That's alright by me."

"Nice!" Ethan flicked his eyes between Alan and Lyall. "Sorry, we try to keep our interviews private. Mind if you both give us a minute?"

"Oh, yes, of course," Alan said, gesturing inside. "We can step out."

"Sweet." Ethan invited himself in, his flip flops dragging sand in their floors. He gestured for Caspar to come in as well. "Won't take long, now."
Last edited by urbanhart on Sun Sep 10, 2023 2:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

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soundofmind says...

The camera rests on James's resting frown, zooming a bit before the clip cuts to being zoomed back out again and James talking.

"No, that wasn't my first time being hit with lightning," he says a little too casually. He sounds weary of the question, or the subject, or both.

"I learned as a kid not to stand outside during storms. Let's just say that."

The interviewer jokes that he's essentially a human lightning rod. The wearied, withering look he gives the camera is so memable but so relatable.

The interviewer admits with a strained laugh that they were legitimately concerned he might've died.

"Fortunately for all of you," James said flatly. "I'm probably the person you have to worry about the least as far as dying is concerned."

An awkward silence follows.

"I'll be fine," James adds with a sigh. "I'm just sad about my shirt."

At that, the camera mildly zooms in on his new shirt - an obnoxious bright green neon. In black letters, it reads: "The ocean made me salty." Beneath it is a faded black and white graphic of an ocean wave. If the shirt wasn't neon, it would probably be a nice tshirt design.

The interview cuts to the present.

~~~ ~~~

James was running around the beach, burning off some steam.

Frankly, being struck by lightning was messing with his head more than he wanted to admit. For him, the experience had been a bit harrowing - even if it was somewhat familiar - because he had legitimately died for a few seconds. His heart, at least, had stopped and everything had gone dark, leaving him rather disoriented when he came to again.

Fortunately he was able to play it off just fine for Shane's sake (and for the sake of the whole world watching) but he wasn't happy about his semi-death experience being something the whole world had to see or know about. Maybe for some they found it comical, since there wasn't any lasting physical consequence. But James now had to live with the memory and the scar, and so did Shane, Kazimir, and the rest of the crew.

James didn't blame Kazimir, either, even though the man had been reckless and stupid. If James hadn't been made of metal insides all that would've happened was Kazimir electrocuting himself - which James assumed Kazimir was immune to, since it hadn't affected him in a way that mattered aside from his hair sticking up on end.

James sped up, kicking up sand as his bun bobbed atop his head, and his bare feet mildly burned from repeated sandy friction.

His skin was quickly healing and creating callouses, so it was a beneficial workout at least. Aside from running being good for other reasons. Like releasing stress.

James started rounding around the front of the cabins again, getting more used to the layout of the beach front. It looked like most people were still in their cabins, adjusting and unpacking (Shane had gone back to do the same) but James was going to save that for later. He wanted to get some exercise while the sun was out. Before he'd have to go to the "Pool Party" in the evening that they'd all just gotten notified of with flyers on their door.

When he passed by the second cabin, he noticed some men starting to step out onto their porch. He had a feeling they were going to want to greet him, judging from their stares. Maybe it was just the obnoxiously bright shirt.

He was going to be obligated to talk to them though... wasn't he?

Glancing over his shoulder at the cameramen watching from afar, he awkwardly slowed to a stop, standing a good twenty feet away from the cabin.

"What, never seen neon green before?" he asked, stretching out his arms and gesturing at his shirt.

"Never seen such an...interesting shade of it before," the smaller of the men replied with an amused glint in his eyes.

"It makes me iridescent in the sunlight," James said. "So I don't get hit by cars. It's a recurring problem on the beach."

"Do you want to join us?" the other man with glasses asked, waving him over with a smile. "As you can see, we need protection from cars."

James huffed through his nose, sighing as he jogged up to them.

"What are all of your names?" James asked, quickly closing the distance and stopping at the foot of their porch.

Now that he was closer, he could get a better look at them.

"Alan," the man with glasses said with a warm smile as he offered a hand.

James took his hand, giving it a firm shake.

"James," he said, pulling away.

"Lyall Ashlund," the smaller man said pleasantly, bending at the waist in a slight bow. When he straightened again, he offered a bright smile. "Pleasure to meet you."

James slightly bowed his head in return.

"It's great to meet you, James." Alan paused. "How's your time on your island so far?"

"Aside from my first near death experience," James said. "I'd say it's been pleasant. I'm acclimating to the humidity."

Suffice to say, he was drenched in sweat after running for a good twenty minutes.

Alan raised a brow. "Near death experience," he echoed with surprise. "I'm assuming you didn't almost die from the humidity."

In contrast, Lyall's brows furrowed with deep concern. "Are you serious?"

"...I mean, I'm not exaggerating, if that's what you mean," James said. "My body has rapid regenerative powers, though. So I'm fine."

He had a feeling everyone was going to hear about this by the end of the night. It was better to get that out of the way now rather than later.

"It was just an accident," he added before anyone could get too worried.

"Much preferred to premeditated," Lyall said with a slow nod, seeming only slightly reassured.

"Just because you can heal yourself doesn't make it any less painful. Sorry you went through that, even if it was just an accident," Alan said, offering a smile out of concern.

James put up a hand.

"It's alright," he said. "Thanks for the concern, but I really am fine now. I just had to change my shirt to fit the mood."

"It's a good one," Alan said with an amused hum as he glanced down at it again. "So much better than the stereotypical Hawaiian shirts people wear on islands."

"In all honesty, most of what I'll be wearing are clothes my sister begged me to wear on TV," he said, pulling out the bottom hem of his shirt to look at the pun for himself. "She thought it'd be funny. Can't say I disagree."

"To each their own," Lyall said with a shrug. "If I may be so bold, Mister James, it's not..." He tilted his head as he further contemplated it as well. "...quite your color."

"Oh, I know," James snorted. "I'm not dressing to impress anyone. I just look forward to the screenshots my sister sends me after. She's already made, like... twenty memes."

Alan laughed. "Well, I'd say you are dressing to impress, but it's only for your sister. If she's made that many memes already, it sounds like you successfully impressed her."

"Fair point," James said with a grin.

Alan glanced behind them as a cameraman started to move in closer. He hesitated, looking at the camera. "It's a bit odd that we're being recorded, isn't it? What are they going to do with this footage?" He looked back at James with a teasing grin. "Seems like a perfect opportunity for the twenty-first meme, though."

"Are you suggesting I do something ridiculous?" James asked. "Entertain the world or something?"

"You know what they say," Alan said casually with a fluorish of his hand. "Do it for the meme."

James hummed, glancing off to the side.

"Right. For the meme," he said, thinking on what would be worth doing and how much he wanted to lose any sense of dignity on television.

"I'm open to suggestions," he said with a shrug.

Alan hummed, crossing ond arm and setting his hand on his chin as he stared at James's shirt. "Do you have any more punny shirts?"

"I came fully stocked," he said.

Alan grinned. "How would your sister feel about you sharing the shirts with some new friends?"

"I'm sure she'd be delighted," he said with a small smirk.

"The worse they are, the better. She needs to make twenty more memes today, after all." Alan turned to Lyall with a chuckle. "Although, Lyall might want to pick a shirt color he agrees with. But for me-- do your worst."

James looked over to Lyall, a tiny glint of mischief in his eyes.

"Sounds like a plan," he said. "Lyall, I assume you want to see what you have to work with?"

Lyall hummed a laugh. "Sure, show me what you've got."
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Sun Sep 10, 2023 5:00 am
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urbanhart says...

So Lyall joined Mister James to take a look at his wardrobe, hoping that there was at least one semi-flattering color. He couldn't be too bothered by it though, since this was an opportunity to meet with more fellow island residents. And an ugly shirt was a very small price to pay to brighten someone else's day.

Tucking his hands in his pockets, he glanced over at his new (sweaty) companion. Supposing James wasn't the talkative type after a stretch of silence, he eventually asked, "You arrived today too, right?"

"Yeah," James said, glancing over to him with his hands in his pockets. "I think we all did. Right?"

Lyall hummed in confirmation. "I just can't imagine how things went downhill so fast for you already."

"It was mostly a communication issue," James said. "Or lack thereof. To summarize; my internals are conductive, and another contestant has electricity magic. Neither of us knew this before he decided to make some sparks."

Lyall's brows raised at this, intrigued. "Interesting how that worked out." He'd actually go out on a limb and say that might've been intentional. "Cabin mate of yours?"

"No, actually," he said.

"Thank goodness."

James pointed to the cabin they were passing by. "He lives there. His name is Kazimir. There's also a fellow who can turn into a wolf and a drunken man. I didn't get their names yet. They were having a rather heated argument, but I think it's resolved now."

Lyall hummed, making a mental note to drop by that cabin sometime later. Though, they were all probably going to get acquainted that same evening, anyhow.

"Think you'll get along with your own cabin mates?" he asked, looking back to James.

"I think so," James said with a small nod. "It might be a little quiet, but I think that'll work for us."

Lyall grinned encouragingly. "Excellent! I likewise feel I'll thoroughly enjoy the company of my house mates. Seems to be well-orchestrated thus far."

"Seems so," James mused, glancing over his shoulder for the fifth time since they started walking. "They certainly did their research."

But from the way he said it, it was clear he was more unsettled by the fact than impressed.

"They certainly did," Lyall agreed absently, briefly following James's gaze to filming crew of three trailing a distance behind them.

Lyall himself didn't mind it as much as maybe he ought to have. Mister James seemed more the reserved type, though, and for that their current circumstances were a bit unfortunate.

James's place of residence wasn't too far. Made for a twenty-ish minute walk. Lyall made sure to shut the front door behind himself as James led the way inside.

This cabin came equipped with a personal gym. Lyall assumed at first that perhaps James and his new companions shared an interest in the noble pursuit of physical fitness. Until he noticed the single bed, a desk, and just two suitcases off to the side.

This was the man's bedroom.

Glancing from the workout equipment to sweaty Mister James (who'd been running around the beach mere moments ago, after a boat ride through the night just prior), Lyall decided this was fitting.

James pulled one of the larger suitcases to the side, laying it flat on the ground and unzipping it. Throwing it open, he started to dig around a bunch of rolled up clothes.

"So, Lyall," he said. "What kind of magic brought you here?"

Lyall wandered in, taking quick note of the guitar by the wall. "Human ingenuity," he answered. Then expounded with slight disdain, "The ancient art of sailing."

James huffed.

"I meant what magic do you have, but I share in your displeasure for sailing," he said. "Not too fond of it myself."

Lyall grinned, quite vindicated. Then actually answered the question: "Pyrokinesis."

James hummed.

"I suppose that would come in handy if we were stranded on this island with no resources," he said, pulling out some rolled up shirts from the suitcase.

"However, it remains extraneous in current circumstances," Lyall said, padding over to James's side.

James lifted up a shirt that was of a plain navy color. It read: "Without music, life would Bb." But the B flat note was noted on a bar of sheet music.

"It's cheesy," he said. "But one of the tamer shirts as far as colors go."

"One of the more fashionably acceptable colors," Lyall agreed. He scanned the rest of the suitcase's contents with the most neutral expression he could muster. "I'm feeling adventurous at the moment, though." Probably the wine he shared with Alan and Cyrin. "What would you pick?"

James raised a brow. He pulled out a vibrant yellow shirt, throwing it out to reveal bold faced letters that said: "What's up beaches?" in all caps.

"This is what I was going to wear," he said.

"Oh, well, if you planned on it," Lyall said, "then please. I shan't take it from you."

"Ohhh," James muttered, digging into his suitcase again. "You meant for yourself. Hm."

He pulled out a pink shirt - not neon - but more of a salmon. A shade of coral, Lyal would say. Unfolding it, he revealed the text: "That's shady." Next to a silhouetted image of a person pointing to a beach umbrella.

"Good God," Lyall murmured, "what does your wardrobe normally look like?"

James let out what sounded like a light, genuine laugh.

"Not like this," he said. "This? I'm doing it out of familial love."

Based on his...frankly alarming level-headedness about nearly dying once already, Lyall would hazard a guess and say James had a practical air about him. So he could only assume that on a typical day not on an island beach, his clothes would be more natural in color and generally sturdier material-wise.

Just his guess, anyhow.

"Some potent stuff right there," Lyall mused, laughing as well. Then offered with a sincere smile, "You're a good brother, Mister James."

"I try," he said with a grin. He pulled out another shirt. This one a pleasant teal. "Do you have any siblings?" he asked as he presented the front graphic.

With a rather unsettling red-eyed emoji reaching for the metaphorical camera, it read beneath it: "Some people gotta learn the hard way."

"Oh sh--" Lyall couldn't help but burst out laughing, he was so taken aback.

"It's a good color," he managed to politely articulate as he fought to recompose himself.

James smiled widely, laughing lightly with him.

"So you like it?" he asked with a glint in his eyes. "You should wear it, then. This is the only that's made you laugh thus far."

Still giggling, Lyall had to concede as much and shrugged. "Why the hell not?"

Then remembering the original conversation at hand, he went on to answer, "Uh, yes. Two siblings. Brother and sister, both younger."

James grinned, rolling up the shirt again to hand it to him.

"Nice," he said. "I'm the eldest of three as well."

Lyall accepted the bundled shirt with a nod. "Well, fancy that," he said with a grin of his own.

With a small sigh, James paused to look down at his suitcase, like he was thinking on something.

"Alan said to do my worst," he hummed.

"Something truly horrendous," Lyall playfully urged, sitting back by the desk as if to watch an artist contemplate his canvas.

Rubbing the stubble on his chin, James seemed in deep thought. Then, he dug into his suitcase, pulling out what looked like a tye-died shirt of neon yellows, greens, and fuchsias. It burned Lyall's eyes to look at.

Unfolding it with a delicate grace, as if he were unwrapping something fragile, James turned the shirt around to reveal the writing on the front, in black and white letters reading: "Well that's not a good sign." Next to it was an image of a person pointing to a literal sign that read: "Bad."

Lyall blinked. "No," he uttered in disbelief.

"He said worst," James said defensively with a shrug.

Lyall huffed a laugh. "No, like... I can't believe this exists."

"Many far more horrific things exist beyond our comprehension, Lyall," James said plainly. "It would do you well to anticipate the worst to avoid the shock. It's better for your heart."

He patted over his heart in a manner that Lyall wanted to assume was sarcasm, but seeing as they only just met, he couldn't be sure.

"Hopefully Alan will survive in this attire," James said with a smirk, rolling up the t-shirt. He offered it to Lyall. "Shall you deliver it to him?"

Lyall snorted, and rose to his feet again. "Just this once," he obliged. "If only so you have time to make yourself presentable for tonight's party. Then I'm washing my hands of this."

"It's not like I'm going to be dressing up for a pool party," James said, starting to close up his suitcase. "But then again, I'm second guessing whether I want to get into any water at the moment."

Lyall hummed, then waved for James's attention when a thought occurred to him. "Ah, wait! Perhaps one more, for our other friend. I'd hate to exclude him from this..." He waved vaguely, then shrugged. "...this."

James paused, holding the lid of the suitcase up as he seemed to process Lyall's words, and then he threw back open again.

"Should we keep it tame?" he asked. "Or should we go for something obnoxious?"

"They're a rather public figure," Lyall supplied with a thoughtful hum, "though I don't think they'll mind some absurdity."

James raised a brow.

"Another royal?" he asked, digging through his bag.

It was Lyall's turn to arch a brow. "'Another'?" he echoed. He bounced on his heels (with some excitement) and clarified, "No. Cyrin Bridger."

James paused, looking up with a small squint and a purse of his lips.

"The gymnast?" he asked.

Hm. "Yes, that's the one."

James hummed, and pulled out a shirt very quickly. It was bright red. On it, it said: "Fitness? More like fitness taco in my mouth." And naturally, there was a picture of a taco.

"Here," he said, handing it to Lyall as if he'd chosen it specifically with Cyrin in mind.

Pressing his eyes closed, Lyall tilted his head back as he drew in a slow breath, just to keep his composure. "Perfect."

"We'll be quite the sight together," James grinned, then looked off to the side. "I wonder if I can convince Shane to join in... though I'm not sure about Connie. Haven't seen him since he left this morning."

Tucking both shirts under his arm, Lyall clicked his tongue and gave a wink. "Don't know them, but the more the merrier!"

At that, James got to his feet, leaving the suitcase open. "Well, there's a few hours still until the pool party, but I don't want to keep you if you need to unpack or what have you."

"I'll have all night to unpack," Lyall said with a dismissive wave.

James shrugged. "Fair," he said. "I, too, am admittedly going to unpack slowly. Frankly, I don't know if I'll even fully unpack."

James set his hands on his hips, looking down at his things.

"Three months feels like an eternity and a minute all at once," he said.

"Quite the paradox," Lyall hummed in agreement. "In reality, though, this will be 'home' for awhile. So you may as well hang your hat."

James looked up and met Lyall's eyes.

"I don't really view this as home," he said. "Nor do I plan to make it so."

Lyall pursed his lips. "...Fair enough." He looked askance, back toward the door. "So, your housemates, then? Royalty, was it?"

"Yes," James said. "I think the cabin arrangements were more based on temperament than social status. That's what I'd wager, at least."

A pause.

"Strike that," he said, lifting a finger. "It was because our surnames are bird related. Someone was trying to be funny, I presume."


Lyall peeked out into the hall at this point, and took a gander at the doors' name plaques. Well, wouldn't you know it, it was true. 'Shane Hawking' was on one side of the hallway, 'Connie Falco' was set across from that. And finally, Lyall twisted around to find 'James Hawke' on the door behind him.

He felt his brows nearly rise to his hairline. The "another royal" comment suddenly made a lot of sense.

James followed after Lyall, standing behind him.

"I think Shane's home," he said. "I can go check."

Stepping aside, Lyall swept an arm outward.

James stepped around Lyall and walked ahead to Shane's door, knocking lightly.

"Hey, Shane," he said. "You there?"

A couple seconds later, the door squeaked open, pulled by a tall man-- apparently Shane-- wearing a flannel shirt who smiled gently when he saw Lyall. "Hey, James," he said. "Who's this?"

"This is Lyall," James said, waving him over. "Sorry I invited him in without much of a heads' up. I'll be sure to do that next time. Lyall lives two cabins down from us. The one on the other side of Kazimir's."

With a slight hop in his step, Lyall sidled on closer and gave Shane a quick bow in greeting, then stuck out a hand once upright again.

"Lyall Ashlund," he said brightly, "at your service!"

"Hi, Lyall," Shane said with a brighter smile, shaking his extended hand. "I'm Shane, it's good to meet you. You really don't need to bow, though, I'm nobody important here."

James gave Lyall a brief side-eye that Lyall could only describe as communicating: "Yeah, act normal."

Lyall paid sweaty Mister James no mind. "Duly noted," he said pleasantly, "no embellishments."

Then, unrolling the horrendous shirts and holding them up for Shane to see, Lyall asked, "How amenable are you to committing fashion crimes?"

"We've got four of us in on it at the moment," James added.

Shane scanned the shirts, his eyebrows raising further and his expression becoming increasingly amused and interested with each one. "I suppose it makes no difference if they have to arrest five people for these crimes."

"We can entertain each other in prison," James said.

Shane nodded. "If they let us keep these shirts, we won't even have to try to be entertaining. I'm down."

Lyall grinned even wider. He rather liked this Shane already.

"How do you feel about a shirt that says: Fish fear me, women fear me?" James asked.

Shane pondered that. "It's a good joke, but I don't think I'm very fearsome."

James hummed.

"I have one that just has a bunch of kittens on it," James said instead. "And it just says 'Peace and Love In the Whole Wide World.'"

Shane smiled slightly. "They might release me for that one. It's not bad enough for that."

"Perfect, then you can bail the rest of us out," James answered quickly.

Shane nodded, clearly pretending to give it deep thought. "I'll wear it."

Well, it sounded somewhat silly, sure. Lyall didn't think very much of the concept, though, until James ran back into his room and quickly came out with said shirt, revealing that it was, indeed a giant graphic tee with a bunch of kittens, but the text was outrageously misspelled: "Peas an Wuv in Da Whol Wyde Worl."

"Oh, cruel world, why," Lyall uttered with a disbelieving grin.

"Personally, I was actually looking forward to wearing this one just to see people's reactions," James said, handing it to Shane. "But I think it's better making its debut on you."

Shane let out a surprised, short laugh as he took it, covering his mouth with the back of his hand. "Wearing this on TV? I'd be honored."

"You are a fine fellow," Lyall decided, giving Shane a warm pat to the arm. "Now, what of this 'Connie'? Think we could convince them too?"

"Connie seemed-- well, I guess I haven't seen much of him," Shane admitted. "He didn't seem interested in introductions."

As if on cue, the front door downstairs sounded off. Someone entered, and the door swung shut. Probably the man of the hour.

Lyall swung back around to James's side and gestured for him to lead on. "Introduce us, would you, good sir?"

James twirled his hand, giving a bow of his head.

"Of course, your highness," he said flatly, turning and leading the way as asked.

"Huh! I rather like that," Lyall murmured as he trailed close behind.

Downstairs, they all found the newest arrival leaning against the kitchen counter with a half-eaten plum in hand. This was a tall man, all shades of sun-kissed (brown hair, brown eyes, deep tan), with the sort of sculpted face you would find on a tastefully expensive magazine set out on a sleek, dust-free coffee table. The linens he wore looked more expensive than all the contents of Lyall's suitcase combined and liquidated.

He looked up at them going down the stairs, continuing eating the plum, but not saying a word.

"Hey, Connie," James said, stepping ahead of all of them to stand by the counter, giving Connie a few feet of space before leaning on it with one arm. "Sorry to interrupt your eating, but I don't know if we've all had a chance to get properly introduced, aside from you and I."

He pointed back to Lyall and Shane, handing it off to them. Thankfully, Connie seemed fine with staying and hearing through their introductions, although he again seemed bored. Glancing at Shane behind him, Lyall caught a hint of recognition in the man's soft expression as he waved a mild 'hello' to the plum-eating model.

Turning back, Lyall folded his hands in front and (with a quick, pointed look at James) merely inclined his head in greeting. "Mister Falco," he said politely, "I hope this trip has been treating you well thus far."

Connie finished eating his bite, his eyes drifting from Lyall to Shane instead. "Nice to finally meet you. Sorry to hear about your parents."

With that, he ate another bite of the plum, turning towards the fruit basket and picking out an orange.

Shane faltered, the smile of greeting falling off his face. "Thanks," he said quietly, his gaze falling slightly. "Nice to finally meet you too."

After a beat, James intervened in the brief awkward silence.

"Connie," James said. "Would you like to be a part of something?"

"Ominous," Connie said after another pause. "But I'd argue we already are."

"Mayhaps," Lyall conceded pleasantly, "but this is something far bigger and more meaningful than you could ever possibly imagine." He clenched both hands with great feeling. "It will bring your life true purpose, you'll forge connections that will stand the test of time--"

James furrowed his brows, looking at Lyall with an unimpressed grin.

"No need to oversell it," he said, then looked at Connie. "Think fast."

Pulling out a rolled up t-shirt he'd apparently had hidden in his back pocket, James threw it across the counter. Connie caught it with his free hand, and the shirt unrolled in the air. He stared at it, his face unchanging.

The shirt was a pale blue, but on the front it had a big picture of a crown, and it read: "You dropped your crown, king."

"The plan's to show up to the pool party wearing all of my cursed t-shirts," he said.

"Pool party?" Connie asked, setting the shirt down.

"Yeah, this evening," James answered. "It's apparently required."

Connie sighed. "Nothing here is required. It's arbitrary."

James gave Lyall and Shane a bit of a weary-eyed side-eye, but didn't reply.

"Well, suit yourself," Lyall said. "It'll probably be one hell of a time, though. Would be a shame to miss."

"Uh huh," Connie simply said, stacking more fruit, this time in a to-go container. It seemed he was getting ready to leave again.

"Well," Shane said hesitantly, "hope to see you there." His tone suggested he didn't find it likely that he would be seeing him.

"I'm stepping out for the evening," Connie said, packing up the food, then giving each of them eye contact. "Shane. James." He paused, staring at Lyall. "...Man." He headed towards the door, already off to leave again.

He took the shirt with him, though. Hm!

Lyall looked to James and Shane. "You know, he never said, 'no,' outright, so..." He shrugged inconclusively.

Shane pressed his lips together, looking considerably less smiley. "I don't know. I had the feeling he didn't want to say it outright."

"I choose not to make assumptions," James said. "We'll see what he decides by the evening."

Shane nodded after a few moments. "At least there'll be five of us wearing these shirts," he said. "Who are the other two?"

"My cabin mates," Lyall answered, his own good cheer returning full force. "Though one of them doesn't quite yet know of their place in our scheme."

"Hopefully they're amenable," Shane said, barely smiling again. "I'd love to meet them."

"I've only known both of them for a few hours now," Lyall said, "but thus far they've been excellent company."

"And they'll be even more excellent company in my shirts," James added.
Last edited by urbanhart on Wed Sep 13, 2023 11:14 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Sun Sep 10, 2023 6:31 pm
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Carina says...

Eve nodded at the camera. "I don't mind them. My cabin mates are respectful. That's what matters most to me."

The interviewer asks if she'd prefer to be with someone else. Eve hesitates, flicking her eyes between the interviewer and camera.

"Like... who?" she asked suspiciously.

The interviewer shrugs, leaving it at that. Eve furrowed her brows.

"For the record, I didn't exactly come here out of my own free will. I didn't ask to be on an island, living with random people," she said curtly, then paused. "But for what it's worth... I'm glad I live with them."

Another pause.

"Especially considering I don't trust eighty percent of the other contestants."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It didn't take that long for everyone to separate, going off their own way. Clandestine was chatty, and the others weren't-- but Eve didn't mind. It seemed that everyone was respectful, and that was most important to her, at the end of the day. She was a bit concerned about Clarity's science lab and Clandestine's endless animals, but they didn't seem clueless, so she trusted them enough to know that they know what they were doing.

They did get notice about a pool party later in the evening, and that was everyone's cue to unwind, unpack, and explore before meeting back to get ready. Eve went back to her room-- which was really quite simple compared to everyone else's-- sitting on the cozy windowsill-turned-bench, her knees against her chest as she stared over the island. Part of her wished she had the ocean view, but then again, she'd much rather people watch than look over the ocean. Maybe the directors of the DMV knew that too.

Some time passed, and she scrolled through her phone and also listened to music, getting lost in her head as she stared out the window. Eventually, after listening to the same song over and over again, Eve finally moved away from the window, going over to her suitcase to finally unpack everything.

If she was going to be here for the next three months, she wanted to have a place for everything.

Eve was halfway through neatly picking out her shirts to hang up or fold when she heard a faint music playing through her wall. She stood still and held her breath, thinking maybe she imagined-- but then it kept going, and it took her a moment to realize that it was a sound of a cello practicing a section of a song.

Specifically, Amazing Grace.

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Ah. Hild's room was right next door. She must have been practicing. Hild did say she would keep it quiet, and although the sound was noticeable, Eve didn't mind it.

It was quite peaceful, actually.

She continued unpacking her things, listening to her play in the background.

~ ~ ~

The cabin was quiet. It seemed that everyone had either left or were in their room. Either way, Eve quietly left her room, slowly closing her door behind and then taking silent steps down the stairs, not wanting to disturb anyone in case anyone was home.

After stepping outside and locking the door, Eve sighed a breath of relief, adjusting her wide-brimmed sun hat and tote around her shoulder. She only carried her sketchbook, tablet, phone, and other drawing supplies. She wasn't quite prepared to go to the beach, but she wasn't planning on really doing much beach activities, anyways.

Eve peeked her head around the cabin, remembering that there were lounge chairs and umbrellas by the shallow water. It was perfect.

Sauntering over, she slipped out of her sandals and placed her tote on the chair before she sat down, staring over the shimmery blue water. For a while, she only stared, but really she was wondering which song she should pick to draw to.

Finally, Eve ripped her attention away from the water as she took her phone out of her dress pocket, opening Spootify and picking a song.

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Satisfied, she kept the song on repeat then fished her sketchbook from her bag, flipping through it.

The DMV had stocked her room with... well... a needless amount of sketchbooks. She didn't know why they gave her so many, but she was grateful for it nonetheless since she only brought one with her.

It seemed that the DMV did know everything after all. It was only day one, and she already felt inspired to draw.

As usual with any sketchbook, Eve labeled the front page and divided the sections up so it would stay organized. Since she had so many sketchbooks, she decided to devote this one to her cabin. A good amount of pages were divided to the people, of course, since that was what she was best at drawing.

The cellist rang in her ears, playing the song with grace and passion-- and she thought of Hild. What did she know about her? Not much... but with any new person she was drawing, it was sometimes good to guess.

Eve flipped to a new section devoted for Hild, writing "HILD ASHLUND" in big capital letters. She draw a line at the top first third of the page, writing out notes.

    - frizzy brown curly hair
    - hazel eyes (pretty)
    - short
    - round face, sharp brows
    - great posture
    - formal, serious
    - med student
    - cellist
    - polite

It really wasn't much, but she had three months to correct her notes and improve upon this as necessary. With any new person Eve drew, she usually started off by drawing their face as best as she remembered it, but with the music playing in her ears, she felt more inspired to draw Hild focusing while playing her cello.

It'd be a fun challenge since she didn't see her play, and it had been a while since she draw a cello to begin with. She admittedly had to look up reference pictures in Giggle, and it took some time to get right. Plus, she had to think about Hild's finger placement and how she held her bow, as well as her focused expression, and how her curly hair draped around her face, and...

"A great likeness," Hild's voice said approvingly from behind Eve.

Eve moved before she could even process what happened. She immediately slammed her sketchbook shut, accidentally dropping her pencil. She yanked her head towards the direction of her voice, feeling her face heat up from embarrassment. Slowly, she took her Blootooth earbuds out of her ears, the song pausing.

"...Hey," she squeaked, trying to figure out what to say.

"Apologies for startling you," Hild said. Though she didn't look very apologetic as she took the lounge chair next to Eve.

"It's not what you think," Eve said quickly. "I was just--" She looked towards the ocean as if it held the answers, then down at her sketchbook, then to Hild. "I heard you play cello through the wall. So I felt inspired to draw a cello. That's all."

She was suddenly so glad that she had spent so long trying to perfect the cello that she hardly had time to draw Hild in great detail.

Hild offered her a faint smile. "I'm happy to have provided inspiration for your own artistic pursuits."

"You sound good," Eve said quickly again, ready to change topics. "It's always nice to hear other people play instruments. You don't have to worry about complaints from me."

Hild's smile warmed at that, and she inclined her head. "Thank you. It has been awhile, though, so I feel quite rusty."

"How long have you been playing?" Eve asked.

Turning her gaze out to the ocean, Hild sank back slightly in her chair. "Since high school. Though, I haven't had much opportunity to practice afterward."

Eve quietly hummed, brushing some sand off her chair. "You'll have ample time to practice here. Consider this your unofficial summer music camp, but by yourself."

Hild hummed a laugh. "That's a nice way to look at it," she murmured, sounding lost to her thoughts now.

Eve nodded, leaving it at that as she stared over the ocean again, listening to the waves. She'd normally be okay with letting this silence sit between them, but she couldn't push away the thought that Hild may have walked up to her seeing Eve draw her like a complete stalker.

"I draw a lot of different people, by the way," Eve blurted out, immediately regretting it. "It's not... I don't know. It's a habit. Inspiration comes and goes. I think I heard you play and was inspired to draw a cellist. That's all."

She had to bite her lip back before she said anything else that made this sound more embarrassing than it really was.

Hild cast her a quick, confused look. After studying Eve closely, confusion eventually morphed into understanding.

"It's alright," she said reassuringly, "observation is an invaluable skill. One that you seem to have honed to a masterful degree." Shifting in her seat, Hild angled herself more toward Eve now. "Is art something you study? Or is it more recreational for you?"

Eve looked down at her hands, appreciative of her words. "It's just a hobby," she said after a short pause. "I actually study mathematics. I graduated recently."

Hild sat a little straighter. "Well, congratulations," she said warmly. "That's a considerable accomplishment."

"Thanks," Eve said softly, then glanced back at Hild. "What about you? You mentioned that you're a medical student?"

Hild nodded. "I am. Previously estimated to have four more years to go." Quieter and with some annoyance, she added, "What with this...unexpected detour, we'll just have to wait and see how it plays out."

"Ah." Eve nodded in sympathy. "I don't know how you do it. I did six years of school, but to do a minimum of eight years, with research on top of classes, no less..." She shook her head. "It's quite a challenging path." A beat. "But I'm sorry you're forced to endure this dramatized reality TV show island rather than continuing your studies for the summer. It really does set research back on path that's already so grueling."

Sighing in agreement, Hild sank back down. Lower this time, with decidedly not-so-great posture, and tiredly slung an arm over the top of her head.

"So, what brought you here, Miss Eve?" she eventually asked.

"Oh... Just Eve is fine," Eve said as she straighted the edge of her dress. "I'm here like everyone else. Drafted by the DMV and all."

"Very well," Hild hummed. "What exactly brings you here, Eve?" She turned a curious gaze back to her. "Your magic?"

Eve hesitated. "You first."

Hild arched a brow, but didn't argue. "I have an enhanced memory. Which sounds underwhelming, you can be honest." She tapped the crown of her head demonstratively. "Information retention, which has been an incredible tool in my studies as you can imagine. It also serves as a built-in defense against other mind-oriented magic."

Eve raised a brow, impressed. Suddenly her earlier comment made sense. Of course Hild would think observation is an invaluable skill. Eve thought she was observant, but Hild's observation skills must be magnitudes more impressive than she could even fathom.

"I don't think that's underwhelming. I think it's quite impressive, actually, and it does complement your studies well. You call me observant, but I'm sure you're much better at it than I ever could be," she said.

"I appreciate that." Hild then angled her chin down, her look pointed as she silently waited.

The silence stretched on. Eve sighed in defeat.

"It's... similar, but not at all the same," she began. "I have time magic, but it's not what you think. It's only to relive ten minutes in the past. I can't actually change anything. But it does make it seem like I also have enhanced memory, although only because I see certain actions play out again and again. It's hard to forget."

"Is it something you can control?" Hild asked, tone gentle but gaze incredibly curious.

"...Sometimes," Eve admitted, more quietly. "If I want to, I can. But sometimes I slip back without meaning to."

Hild quietly nodded her understanding. "Do you believe this place will be a good learning opportunity, then?"

"Maybe. I'm not sure what they'd teach me so that I could improve." Eve glanced at Hild. "I mean, what are they going to teach you?"

"Well." Hild pressed her lips into a thin line as she thought about that. "I couldn't imagine what, honestly. There will supposedly be tests, though."

"And what do you suppose those tests will test you on? Your memory?" Eve asked.

"Which is basically what I'm already doing in university," Hild said. "In which case, send me back please. Leave me to my actual studies."

Eve let out an amused puff of air through her nose. "If only there was a way to test out of this. Then we wouldn't be wasting either of our time."

"Unfortunately, the consequences for purposely flunking--" Hild began.

But suddenly there was yelling in the distance. Eve turned towards the source of the noise: their neighboring cabin, with what appeared to be two men wrestling each other on the front porch.

"Unhand me, you condescending nitwit!" the smaller of the two demanded.

He escaped the other man's fireman carry, and fled back inside. Their fight then devolved into incomprehensible yelling as the taller man in the bright Hawaiian shirt gave chase.

Both Eve and Hild watched in silent bewilderment until they disappeared, and Eve had a feeling that they were both thinking the same thing.

"They seem nice," she dead-panned.

"Dear God," Hild muttered. "If nothing else, we should've had our pick of next-door neighbors."

Eve sighed. Deeply. "As long as they don't bother us, I think we'll be fine. But we may have trouble sleeping if this goes on every night."

Hild hummed. "I'll make sure to locate the grounds manager, in that case."

Eve tilted her head back on the chair, already feeling a headache come on from the amount of nuisances she knew she'd have to deal with for the next three months. She was also very aware of a camera pointed in their direction in the far distance ever since Hild joined her.

"We're being starred in a dramatic reality television show. Of course they'd wring every ounce of drama in this island," she muttered.

What was next? They all backstab each other while the whole island was on fire?
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SilverNight says...

Mireya slammed her hands on her desk, causing the lamp next to her workspace to briefly flicker out before sparking to life again. She wasn't actually furious, she just felt like slamming her hands on a desk dramatically. She got to do such things, now that she had her own fancy schmancy show and even fancier schmancier office. The person in charge always got to do this in the movies.

"Look at this," she exclaimed, pressing a button on her clicker to move the presentation to the next slide, which displayed a graph. "Our revenue and viewer ratings are going to plummet. People cannot get zapped to near-death on this show!"


"Agreed," Carter said from his chair on the opposite side of the briefing room table. "I can have other lightning poles installed around the site as a precaution, but our best bet may be to simply talk to Kazimir. If he's given sufficient pressure I'm sure he'll avoid using his powers so recklessly in the future if he fears grave consequences."

The short man was reasonable, even if he looked more like a bodyguard than a Game Master. He tapped his pen against a notepad on the table in front of him, and with a click of it wrote something down.

"Exactly!" Mireya said emphatically, pointing at the graph. "Look at how much our revenue plummets from just one person getting zapped. With two, it gets even worse. With three people, it gets better for some reason, but I think that's just because people will start hearing people get shocked to death on our show and tune in for the drama. Otherwise, the trend is clear: people getting struck by lightning are bad for stonks."

"Yes," Carter said. "The stonks are failing. Apparently, the spirit of gladitorial entertainment has waned in our current generation. The people don't want blood. They want drama. Perhaps we can quell their worries with some follow-up interviews assuring them everything's been worked out. Maybe have one with Kazimir, making sure he seems remorseful of his actions."

Mireya hummed. "We either need to ask him to stop, or to zap two more people on camera. Which sounds better?"

"I think the former will leave our ratings higher in the long-run," Carter said. "I think we've already exhausted the shock-value of electric deaths."

Mireya drummed her fingers on the table thoughtfully. "Nice pun," she said cheerfully. "It's true, electric deaths are so last year. Alright, we save the ratings. How nice should I be about it? Today's been a fun day to use my shouting voice, with all the excitement about the show starting and what not."

"I'm not sure he'll respond to yelling, but so long as you communicate consequences for his actions I can see him cooperating for the sake of his own comfort and freedom," Carter mused.

"Consequences," Mireya said thoughtfully. "And what should those be? This is supposed to be a lighthearted show-- for now, of course. We don't want anything betraying that."

"I suppose kicking him off the show would defeat the purpose of the DMV," Carter hummed, tapping his pen to his chin. "He seems the kind to get antsy. Maybe a suitable punishment would be to confine him to his room for a time? That is, if you don't feel it's reasonable to threaten someone with jailtime for murder."

"Well, he didn't murder anyone I guess," Mireya pointed out. "Imagine how bad the stonks would be if he had. But I agree. Do we want him missing the pool party, then? There would be... water. And lots of people. It does sound like a bit of a potential disaster for him."

"Hm. I think that would suffice. I'm sure he'd at least rethink doing it again, and the other contestants would probably be more at peace. Namely, James," Carter said. "Mind you, we don't want him suing us."

Mireya wasn't too worried about the lawsuit of a potato farmer, but she nodded wisely, dropping into the chair at her desk and letting it swivel around. "And we're about making money, not losing it," she said, pointing at the stonks graph-- but because she was still spinning, she ended up pointing at everything in the room.

"I was thinking more about out reputation," Carter said. "But that too."

"Oh, sure," Mireya said breezily. "Let's put Kazimir in timeout for, say, the next 24 hours and have him pinky promise not to do it again. Maybe issue an apology to James. Or offer a refund for his shirt. It looked inexpensive, at least."

"I think that's a suitable plan moving forward," he said. And with that, he pushed out his chair and stood up. Somehow, while standing, he seemed shorter.

"If that's settled," he said. "I assume that's all you need from me for now?"

"Yep, you've been great," Mireya said, her chair slowly rotating to a stop. "Thanks for the advice."

"Any time," Carter said, dipping his head before dipping out.

Mireya looked down at her chair just to make sure it wasn't going to spin anymore-- it wasn't, to her disappointment-- before she got up and switched off the stonks graph with the flawless data. She could have Dante do the talking, she supposed, but it wasn't really his job, and it was her job to make this island and its people televisable. So it was up to her.

As she left the room, she switched the lights off-- by snapping her fingers, of course. She wasn't boring like that.

~~~ ~~~

Mireya marched up to the cabin with Kazimir, Hendrik and Robin like she was on a mission, but her walk lost its effect when her feet kept sinking in the sand. Disappointing. At least she'd arranged for there to be no filming in this sector for her walk over.

She stepped up to the porch, stomping her feet out on the doormat before knocking sharply three times, then stepped back and put a sweet smile on her face.

She could hear someone yelling behind the door. It was hard to miss the booming, loud voice that screamed inside.

"Someone get the door!"

Some rustling.

"Oh, for god's sake. Fine. I'll grab it, you lazy asses."

The door swung open, and Mireya recognized the tall man to be Hendrik. He was obviously drunk, although he was always drunk.

"Who are you?" he asked. "Are you animal control that I called in for?"

"Ah, there's no animal control on this island," Mireya said with a shake of her head. "If there is, it's Dante with a butterfly net, and that's not me."

"Are you serious? What the hell are you going to do with the wolf, then?" Hendrik swung his arms out exaggeratedly. "That thing's still out there, terrorizing people!"

In the living room behind him, Mireya could see Kazimir splayed out on one of the couches. Robin was in the kitchen and glanced at Mireya for but a second.

"Say hi to him, when I head inside," she said nonchalantly. "I'm Mireya Kaltrina, director of Island Magic. I'm here to talk to Kazimir."

Kazimir looked up from his phone, where she could hear noises from some kind of videogame.

Hendrik lowly whistled, looking back at Kazimir with a grin. "Looks like you're in trouble now, sparky."

"Oh, shit," Kazimir said in a Rushian accent. "Are you the big dog?"

"I don't know," Mireya admitted thoughtfully. "There's still technically people above me, but-- yes, yes, I'm the big dog, if you will. Mind if we chat?"

"What's this about? Why does he get a talk and no one's talking to me about the wolf problem?" Hendrik asked, suddenly more serious as he glared at her threateningly. "This is a serious threat."

"Dante with a butterfly net is still an option," Mireya said, glancing at Robin again. "For wolves other than your roommates."

Kazimir twiddled his feet on the couch for a moment and then hopped to his feet, tucking his phone away.

"Who's Dante? Where can I find him?" Hendrik asked, the references flying over his head.

Kazimir walked up to Hendrik and set his hand on Hendrik's shoulder.

"Hey, big man," he said. "Chill out. If a wolf spooks ya again I can zap it and no worries."

He patted Hendrik's shoulder lightly.

"Sparky, you nearly killed a man," Hendrik dead-panned unamusedly.

Kazimir blinked slowly. Then looked at Mireya.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said.

"Luckily, I do," Mireya said brightly. "I'm here to talk about that."

Hendrik let out a bellowing laugh and it echoed against the entire cabin. He patted Kazimir's shoulder aggresively. "You're in trouble now, boy."

Kazimir frowned, pushing Hendrik away with a light shove.

"Shut up, man," he mumbled.

"You're going to need this more than me," Hendrik said with another roaring laugh as he then reached behind the door and pulled out a random red solo cup. He smashed it against Kazimir's hand to hold, and clear liquid splashed out into the floor. "It's your last supper."

That's bad for the floors, Mireya thought disappointedly about her budget, but said nothing.

Kazimir grinned slightly, but the grin looked unsettling.

"Thanks," he said, very much like he was up to something.

Mireya cleared her throat. "Hendrik, if you're looking for Dante, simply look for a man wearing aviator sunglasses. He is the coolest man on the island, you can't miss him. Kazimir--" She pointed to the stairs. "Up."

"Roger that, blue." Still grinning, he aggressively slapped Kazimir's butt. Before Hendrik could walk off, Kazimir whipped around and slapped Hendrik's ass back. Hendrik grinned and walked away, now singing a cheery tune.

This wasn't what Mireya had expected when she knew she'd be making this show, but she also hadn't expected a near death experience on the beach on the first day, so that was on her.

Kazimir whirled his head around and locked his eyes on her.

"Up where?" he asked flatly, his voice suddenly cold.

"The hallway will do," Mireya said, keeping her tone bright. "Hey, Robin. Good seeing ya."

With a huff through his nose, Kazimir turned and walked ahead of her, heading up the stairs at a relaxed pace. When they got up into the hallway, he turned around to face her, solo cup in one hand as he leaned his shoulder against the hall wall.

"So he's pressing charges?" Kazimir asked, like this was far from his first rodeo.

"Not that I've heard," Mireya said lightly. "This isn't about what he thinks of it. We-- the DMV-- take safety kiiiiiinda seriously on this island, even more so because people don't like seeing other people nearly dying on camera. Unless they do, in which case... freaky. But they're not our target audience. I digress." Mireya paused. "Honest question, what did you think you were doing?"

Kazimir looked up and rolled his eyes.

"I didn't know he was made of metal!" he said in exasperation, as if he'd had this conversation twenty times already. "Or whatever that was. I was just trying to - you know - be cool and shit. Scare 'em a little, I don't know. Does there have to be a reason?"

"I guess you scared them a lot, so sadly we do need to have this conversation," Mireya said regretfully. "Largely to make sure it doesn't happen again. James may have been a one-of-a-kind lightning rod, but we are still on an island surrounded by saltwater. I take it I don't have to explain conductivity to you."

Kazimir scoffed, as if she was telling him he was being a buzzkill instead of a legitimate danger to people's lives.

"I'm not going to murder people on TV," he said, taking a sip of his drink. "I'm not that stupid. Too many witnesses."

Mireya raised an eyebrow. "I'd agree there doesn't have to be a reason for a lot of things, but I find it strange that that's your reason. Anyway," she continued smoothly, "you're here to get better at learning to control your magic, among other things. Does this feel like a first lesson to you?"

He pursed his lips, looking displeased, but chastened.

"I'll do better," he said. "It won't happen again."

"Okay," Mireya said, more brightly. "Well, I'm supposed to put you in timeout anyway, but I'm reconsidering. Is that a pinky promise?"

Kazimir stuck out his pinky, straight-faced, and met her eyes unflinchingly.

"Pinky promise," he said.

"Perfect," Mireya said cheerfully, wrapping her pinky around his and shaking it. "Don't miss the pool party, but do be careful. No more sparks. I should know, they're a little hard to control."

She pointed overhead, and the ceiling light fizzled out.

"But there's always a way to," she said, flicking her hand and restoring power to the bulb, which illuminated with a faint hum again. "And plenty of ways to be scary, if that's what you're aiming for. Have fun!"
"silv is obsessed with heists" ~Omni

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

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Carina says...

Alan was sitting on the usual interview chair, this time wearing a bright tie-dye shirt with cut-off wording. He grinned upon hearing the interviewer's question.

"My cabin mates are excellent. The DMV picked great job at picking them out. Lyall is a formal man, but I can tell he has a fun side waiting to come out. And Cyrin-- well, they're just as amazing in person than in media. I think we'll get along very well."

Alan paused, pursing his lips as he squinted up in thought.

"I still haven't met the other contestants, though," he said, thinking out loud. "I wonder how they are."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Alan was tempted invite himself to go with James and Lyall to pick out a shirt, but he knew that Cyrin was still conducting the interview inside. He'd hate for him to come out and see that everyone was gone, so he'd much rather wait it out. Plus, Alan liked surprises anyways. He wondered what kind of goofy shirt the two of them would return with.

Left by himself, Alan was standing by the ocean shore, his shoes pants rolled up to his shin as he let the cool water splash up to his feet. He was walking along the shore next to his cabin, letting his feet sink in the the wet sand with every passing step when he realized that someone was approaching. He lifted a hand over his eyes, squinting to see who it was, waving at them.

A young woman waved back excitedly, and that only seemed to cause her to rush over even faster. She had dark hair in a bun that bounced up and down, with bangs brushing over her eyes. She smiled brightly, waving again from the distance. One glance at her from the first impression of her actions and outfit, and he could tell that she must be a ray of sunshine. He waved back again, staying still since she seemed eager to close the distance between them.

Although-- what the hell. He may as well say hi now.

"Hey!" he yelled, cupping his hand over his mouth. "Nice to meet you!"

"I don't even know your name yet, but same!" she shouted back.

Alan laughed. "What's your name, then?" he asked, hands still cupped over his mouth.

Hurrying up her run into a sprint, she stopped a few feet in front of him with a huff.

"Clandestine!" she said, giving him a bright smile. "You?"

Alan hummed, smiling back. "That's a beautiful name. I'm Alan. It's even nicer to meet you, now that I know your name."

"Wow, a whole name can do that?" she asked with a laugh. She put her hands on her hips, like she was still catching her breath. "I guess that's the power of names or something. Hooh. Wow I'm not used to sand sprints. Sorry."

She flung a hand out towards him.

"Sweaty handshake?" she asked.

"Sweaty handshake," he confirmed, taking her hand and giving it a gentle shake. Her hand was a lot warmer than his, and he pulled away, still with a smile. "And no need to apologize. I'm actually impressed you ran all the way here. Touched, even-- just to say a name. I don't think I'll ever forget an entrance like that. Thank you for that."

"Well, what can I say?" Clandestine said with a little laugh, flipping a stray hair framing her face to the side. "I like to make a good first impression."

Alan clapped like he was a posh golfer, smiling wider. "Consider me impressed." He paused, hands dropping to his side. "And to be perfectly honest, you surprised me more, because I heard a rumor that the contestants mostly comprised of men. Are you part of the staff?"

Clandestine blew through her lips with a "pshaw."

"Nah, I'm not staff," she said. "Not unless they need an animal whisperer! I'm a contestant, just like you! That's weird that there's mostly guys, though. Maybe it just happened that way."

"It is strange. But maybe it's just a rumor." He paused again, raising a brow with a curious smile. "Did you said animal whisperer? Can you talk to animals?"

"Yeah! They have a lot to say," she said. "More than you'd think. But also, it's really not that deep. Trust me, I've tried holding a deep conversation with an owl and it was like talking to an eight-ball."

"Oh?" Alan laughed. "But surely you have had plenty of interesting and deep conversations with animals before, right?"

"I mean, one time a badger talked to me about his fear of dying and I guess that was relatable," she said. "And one time a wolf asked me if I knew wolves looked at humans the way humans looked at wolves. That got me thinking..."

"Well? What did you say?" he asked.

"I mean I said I didn't know that," she answered like it was obvious. "Then we sat and pondered in silence for thirty minutes before I thanked him for talking to me and he went to go roll in the mud."

Alan chuckled, imagining that. "That sounds very casual. I take it this is a normal occurrence for you? Not many people can say that they've even seen a wolf." He lifted his hands in surrender. "I'm guilty for being one of those people."

Clandestine laughed, and then tilted her head.

"Wait, for real?" she asked.

"For real," Alan confirmed. "Seen plenty of dogs, though. Although, I have seen some coyotes." He paused. "From a far distance."

"I mean, you've seen pictures of wolves though, right?" Clandestine asked. "You at least know what they look like?"

"I know what they look like," Alan said with a smile, lifting his hands up to his head with pointed fingers to mimic ears. "Pointy ears." He then tapped his nose. "Long snout." Bared his teeth. "Fangs. And..." He brushed his arms. "Lot of fur."

He realized at this moment that he was talking to her like he was talking to a younger family member, but he had a feeling she wouldn't be offended.

"Basically like a dog, but a lot scarier," he finished. "At least, that's how the media portrays them."

Clandestine nodded.

"Okay..." she said. "You passed the test. What's your magic, then? I wanna know yours too."

"Glad I can pass," he said with a warm smile, then paused before continuing. "My magic is a lot more different. I can basically influence other people, but it ends up meddling with my thoughts, so between that and not being able to find a use for it, I hardly use my magic. If I could pick, I'd much rather have your magic. It'd give me an incentive to find wolves to talk to."

"Does your magic work on animals, though?" Clandestine asked curiously.

"It only works if they can understand me. I haven't yet met an animal that could understand me, sadly," Alan said.

"Not even a very good boy dog?" Clandestine asked very seriously.

Alan shook his head. It dawned on him that Clandestine likely didn't know what it was like to not be able to talk to animals.

"No. Not even a good boy dog. You have a special gift for being able to understand them, but the rest of us-- well, we could only guess," he said. "What I can see, though, is that they are loved and cared for. You can tell just by looking at them that they're happy. You don't need to hear them for that. I think love transcends words in that way."

Clandestine stared at him blankly for a moment, but then nodded.

"Yeah," she said. "That's a really nice way of putting it."

"I admit, though, I've never actually had a pet." He let out a little laugh, glancing over the ocean. "I know plenty of others that do, though. And I can see how much they care about them."

"Oh, really?" Clandestine asked brightly. "I have so many in my room! You should totally come meet them some time! Maybe you can figure out what kind of animal you really like!"

Alan smiled, nodding. "That's a great idea, thank you. That's very nice of you to offer. What kind of animals do you have in your room?"

"Well, there's some cats, dogs, a parrot, and a lizard," she said. "Not a huge variety, but still!"

"That's still a good amount. Did you bring them from home?" Alan asked.

"They actually were there in my room when I came," she answered. "I have a dog back home though. His name is Billy, and he has my whole heart."

"He must miss you a lot," Alan said with a smile.

"He does! I wish I could've brought him!" she said with a small pout.

"Where is home for you, anyways? Hopefully not far."

"Well, I'm from Nye," she said. "So it actually is far. Other side of the globe far."

Alan nodded. "That is far. Have you ever traveled this far before?"

Clandestine looked off to the side with a sigh.

"Not really," she said. "Haven't even left Nye before."

Alan nodded again in understanding. "I haven't left my home country before either. It's a little scary to be so far. Exciting, too, I think, since it's all so new-- but that doesn't make it any less scary."

"Where's your home country, by the way?" she asked.

"Argentia. It's a smaller more obscure country compared to Nye, and not quite as far, but still far enough from here," he said.

"You'll have to show it to me on a map," Clandestine said. "I'm not as good with remembering all that stuff."

"How about this: one of these days, you can show me your animals, and I can show you where my country is on the giant map of this world." Alan grinned, offering his hand. "One of those statements is a better deal, but I'm willing to--"

Clandestine slapped her hand into his before he even finished his sentence. Shaking it vigorously, she smiled wide.

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urbanhart says...

It's a beautiful wide shot of the golden beach, with Hild standing in the middle ground, hand up to shield her eyes from the late afternoon sun. At the sound of a crash from inside the cabin by hers, the camera zooms in over her shoulder as she turns to also look at the same moment.

They catch quick glimpses of the small bespectacled man through the window, seemingly dragging furniture around inside to the front door. After a silent moment, the man in the Hawaiian shirt throws open a side window and scrambles out with obnoxiously loud complaints. The next moment, the furniture inside all disperses inexplicably from the front door to scatter in front of all the windows. The door is thrown open, revealing a third resident with a displeased look as they quickly pad out.

Hild faces the camera with a bleak expression.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Attendance is mandatory," the notice on their door had said.

After getting to know Eve out on the beachside, Hild made her way up to her room to change. She never liked swimming very much, but gatherings at pools inevitably led to water getting everywhere. So she may as well be properly dressed for such an instance.

The cello by the window tempted her to stay and practice a little while longer until then. She figured if she started, though, she'd lose track of time and thus be late. And she couldn't have that, she'd never been late for anything in her life.

Throwing a book and an emergency medical kit into a smaller personal bag, Hild set out to find this mansion atop the hill. Passing other cabins along the way, she faintly caught the sounds of yelling and what she could only assume was ongoing disaster in one of them; she picked up the pace from there.

It was a lovely walk, actually. Once she was out of earshot of that one place, anyhow. The sounds of the native bird species was quite soothing. She wondered how well-acquainted the wildlife was with human activity, since they didn't pay her much mind as they swept through the air overhead.

Through the trees, the mansion gradually revealed itself. Despite being a building three levels high, it was so wide-reaching that it looked low to the ground from afar. The landscaping was impeccably maintained and extravagantly lit, and the tree line along the edge of the property framed the sweeping, curved edges of the modern estate quite nicely.

The gate enclosing the front lawn was locked. And sitting by the gate, backpack set on the ground beside him, quietly read what looked like a fluorescent squatter. His long ruddy hair was twisted into a bun atop his head, his bright shirt cheekily asked "What's up Beaches?", his swim trunks were atrociously patterned with little flamingos, and he idly tapped the toes of his sandals as he pored over the pages held in front of his face.

As she quietly padded closer, Hild caught a glimpse of the title; it was a book on political ideologies, which was immediately intriguing.

"Eager for the party?" Hild asked.

The man looked up quickly, revealing large square-ish glasses on his face, and closed his book on his thumb.

"Oh," he said, his former focused frown relaxing into a small smile. "Hello. Sorry, I was in my own world for a bit there."

A beat, and he tucked a bookmark in to save his page.

"You must be one of the other 'contestants'," he said, tucking the book back into his backpack. "What's your name?"

"Unfortunately, yes." Hild offered a polite smile back as she held out a hand. "Hild Ashlund."

He got to his feet, a curious look in his eyes. He took her hand and gave it a firm, cordial shake.

"James Hawke," he said. "I see I'm not the only one here begrudgingly, then."

Hild let out a sigh. "A relief to find another sensible person here." Turning on her heel, she leaned back on the gate. "The word 'vacation' is tossed about frequently, as if this isn't some strange prison merely disguised as a tropical paradise."

"Similarly, I am not so optimistic about what these next three months will entail," James said, tucking his hands loosely in his pockets and leaned against the gate-post, facing her. "Nor am I at all enthused about it being broadcasted to the whole world to see."

Hild hummed, thinking back to the interview on the boat, and the occasional camera set up in an innocuous spot to catch whatever private moments it could. "That is another odd facet to the experience, yes."

"I know this DMV is merged with 'reality TV,'" James said. "But I wish it wasn't."

He sighed.

"That said... I really ought not to complain too much," he said, glancing out into the jungle foliage. "Lest the crew start thinking I'm ungrateful."

She briefly followed his gaze to the trees. "Alright, then," she relented, lips quirking in the barest of smiles. "Any silver linings so far, Hawke?"

James shrugged with a faint grin.

"I convinced some of the guys to wear a bunch of stupid t-shirts with me on live television," he said. "Which my sister will go absolutely crazy over when she sees it. So I look forward to seeing her reaction via text later."

Hild snorted, glancing at the text on his shirt again. "An interesting way to kick off this three-month venture."

"It's my very passive way of rebellion," he said, poking at his shirt and looking down at it for a moment. "But my sister gave me a ton of shirts like this. So brace yourself for more."

"I consider myself warned," she hummed in amusement.

"One day I'll finally wear a normal outfit," he said. "And everyone will think something's wrong with me."

Folding her arms, she shrugged a shoulder. "It could be nice to see you in your natural state, though."

He let out a light laugh.

"Like some kind of wild animal," he muttered as a small joke to himself. "One day, I suppose. But, t-shirt shenanigans aside, I'm curious as to what magic brought you here. There's quite a variety, thus far, that I've seen."

She hummed a laugh. "It's simply called an 'enhanced memory'," she obliged, tilting her chin up. "My mind is a steel trap."

James raised his brows with a small smirk.

"Huh," he said. "Steel trap--" he pointed to her, then to himself. "Steel bones."

Grinning, she furrowed her brows with slight confusion. "Oh?"

"My skeleton is comparable to solid metal and my body rapidly heals itself," he said. "Makes life interesting when I'm around magnets."

Hild scoffed. "Well, which is it? Comparable, or literal?"

James waved a hand dismissively.

"Doctors debated but did some tests and say it has all the properties of steel while somehow being functional as bones. I try not to think too much about the implications on the daily. Then I start feeling like a stone stuck in a fleshy shell."

He frowned a little at that.

"Sorry for the imagery," he said quickly.

"I'm not squeamish," she assured him. "It's just not the most flattering way to paint yourself."

"Look what I'm wearing," he said, dead-pan.

Hild laughed aloud at that. "Point taken."

He smiled wider, revealing dimples that briefly showed in his cheeks under the stubble.

"Honestly, I'm partially asking about magic as a precaution. Metal isn't always friendly with all of the elements. But if your powers are contained to here--" he said, spinning a finger pointed at her head. "We should be fine."

Hild nodded. "Hopefully no potential for catastrophe there."

He let out a short laugh that was a little too forced at that comment. Hm.

"Be warned, though," she added in a playfully ominous tone, "I remember everything."

"Must be a blessing and a curse," James said, raising a brow.

"Truly," she confirmed with a sigh.

There was a short beat of silence.

"So," James said. "Where are you from?"

"Fjelstad," Hild answered. "Small northern country that's made of more fjords than people. It's not terribly prominent on a desk globe."

"I like world history," he said. "I know where it is on a map. Just above Americhihuahua."

Hild hummed. "You know, my family did consider moving somewhere there for the weather. Never panned out." She nodded to James. "How about you, then?"

"Nye," he said. "The big scraggly continent with monster problems and messy politics."

She glanced off in thought. "'Monsters' and 'messy politics'. Aren't those actually one problem?"

James laughed lightly.

"Some would say so," he said. "Except I'm very glad my home country isn't run by merciless mutated baboons."

Hild couldn't help but giggle at the mental image of baboons in senate. "That's quite a unique issue," she commented. "We don't have merciless mutated mammals, but we have a bit of a bridge troll problem."

"I feel like that's still equivalent in terms of trouble," James answered. "Bridge trolls don't mess around."

"They certainly don't," Hild confirmed with a dire nod.

"I assume you've never had the misfortune of running into one," James said. "Right?"

"Not personally, thank goodness." She shrugged. "My brother likes to brag that he survived an encounter, though. I still don't fully believe him."

James raised a brow.

"Really? Hm," he said. "I suppose I'll have to ask him about that later, then."

Hild snorted at that. "Assuming either of us ever make it off this island, of course. I'll connect you two."

James blinked slowly, staring at her for a moment.

"Wait, how many siblings do you have?" he asked.

Her smile gave way to an utterly blank, confused stare. "I beg your pardon?"

"I met Lyall earlier," he said. "I assumed you were talking about him."

She narrowed her gaze at James. "You met him?" she echoed, disbelieving. "How did you--"

Straightening, she took a step away as she further scrutinized the confusing neon-clad man. "You met him?" she repeated.

James blinked slowly again, his expression turning to concern.

"I didn't know they hadn't told you he was here," James said. "But... I assumed he's your brother. Unless there's another Lyall Ashlund who bears your resemblance."

For a quick moment, she tried mentally calculating the likelihood that this was another Lyall Ashlund, and not her brother. Then the odds that this was her brother, and he was here without her knowing, for the same test as her. Then wondered how on earth they hadn't run into each other even once on the boat ride here. Did he come in on a different boat? Did he know Hild was here, and was avoiding her? She wouldn't put that past him, if only for the sole purpose of surprising her later since he knew she hated surprises.

She debated running back down the beach to hunt down her brother herself.

No, this was...an opportunity, she decided. Maybe she'll get the jump on him this time.

"Sorry," she eventually said, realizing that a long few minutes had passed by now, "I...apologize." Hild re-adjusted the strap of her bag on her shoulder as she glanced the camera's way. "I suppose I'm simply on edge. From." She waved vaguely. "Everything."

James's concern didn't seem assuaged, but he nodded slightly.

"Are you sure you're alright?" he asked.

She nodded. "Just taken by surprise." She added in a mutter, "I don't particularly like those." Then cleared her throat.

James frowned empathetically.

"Sorry about that," he said quietly. "I thought you knew."

Hild mustered a reassuring smile. "You couldn't have known. Think nothing of it."

James pressed his lips together in a thin smile and nodded. "Alright," he said, but seemed to fall to silence for a moment.

Hild awkwardly rocked on her heels, unsure of how proceed. Eventually, James let out a long sigh, and glanced back at the gate.

"We've got another twenty minutes," he said. "I have a feeling they won't open the gate until then."

He glanced down at his bag.

"Do you like to read?"

Sighing, Hild managed a more genuine smile and answered, "Yes, I enjoy it thoroughly."

"Well then, pick your poison: Nye politics or a mystery thriller?" he said, reaching down to his backpack.

"I could use a quick refresher on foreign politics."

He handed her the book he was reading prior.

"Then refresh all you'd like," he said.

With a faint grin and a nod of thanks, she accepted the book. Then in turn, offered him the softcover (an in-depth look at the biology of alpacas) from her own bag.

"Trade?" she asked.

With a small smile, he took the book.


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SilverNight says...

"My roommates?" Cyrin said, repeating the part of the question with a smile. "They're pretty great, all right. We had a bit of a wine party, and--" They held up their glass elegantly, swirling the dark read liquid inside for the camera to see. "They're both men of taste, which means they get my stamp of approval."

"Our Twooter feed has been poppin' off with a poll. It's a prediction of who you're going to befriend," Ethan said as he glanced at his phone. "Right now, it's a tie between Lyall and Alan after five billion votes. Who would you pick? Our audience wants to know."

"Easy," Cyrin said with a faint smirk. "I'm befriending both of them."

"Nice. Time to make a Twoot that will break this tie by saying it's a tie. Aaaand... done," Ethan said with a smile and a nod, a chirp sound ringing from his phone as he put it back in his pocket. "Okay. Time to get serious now. If you had to bring one food item to a desert island, what would it be?"

Cyrin considered this. "Dumplings. If this includes drinks, though, the answer's champagne. Needless to say, if I were actually doing that and this were a real desert island, I'd be dying out here."

Ethan nodded enthusiastically, checking his phone again. "Cool, our Twooter feed has been going crazy again since this is being live streamed. A hundo million viewers after only a few minutes! Nice. Okay, let's open it up for questions. First questions is in." He squinted at his phone, bringing it closer to his eyes. "'Who is your dumplin'?'"

"Is it actually written like that?" Cyrin asked, raising an eyebrow.

"There are also, like, five dumpling emojis. But I can read the emojis out loud for you next time, if you'd like," Ethan said casually.

Cyrin chuckled. "Unfortunately, dear viewer asking this question, I have an interview policy. No more than one dumpling related question per session."

"Second question, coming in hot! Which of your two housemates smells better?" Ethan asked, still reading from his phone.

"How do people come up with these," Cyrin wondered out loud, shaking his head amusedly. "I can only conclude that I've been in enough interviews that all the usual questions have been exhausted. Again, not taking sides and informing our audience that Alan and Lyall both smell perfectly fine, from all I've noticed."

"Third question has a ton of fire emojis, but our top-ranked viewer @soundofmind asks: who's hotter, Lyall or Alan?" Ethan looked up at Cyrin expectantly.

A flicker of something uncomfortable flashed over Cyrin's face. Just out of frame, he made a cutting the cameras gesture.

Ethan, fortunately, picked up on it, setting his hand on top of Caspar's lens, even though it was still recording. "Sorry, too much?" he asked.

Caspar looked between Ethan and the camera like he wanted to say something, but kept quiet since:

We're still on record, Cyrin mouthed at him.

"Oh, my bad." Ethan let go of the camera, poking Caspar. "Cas, let's cut the camera real quick."

With a soft "oop", Caspar flicked off the camera. Then twisted it around toward himself to assess if any damage was done to the lens.

"So, what's up?" Ethan asked Cyrin.

"Can we filter some of these questions or something?" Cyrin asked, almost tiredly. "I'm not comfortable with talking about my roommates in that way, and I don't think they'd like it either."

"Oh, don't worry. Contestants can't see any of these interviews until they leave. But also, fair, I respect that. Alright. Let me figure out how to filter stuff on Twooter... Let me ask ChatGeePeeTee. One sec... this will take a while..."

~~~ ~~~

Cyrin left the interview in a bit of a hurry after saying quick goodbyes to Ethan and Caspar. He found the cabin still empty, with Alan and Lyall off somewhere. Well, maybe it was time he did the same. He took off his shoes leaving the house, placing them by the door and stepping out into the warm, golden sand.

They were just starting to think about where to go from here when they heard laughter coming from the beach. Cyrin turned their head to see Alan standing on the shore with someone dressed in a very cute, frilly outfit. He stepped away from the cabin, waving to them and starting to make his way over.

That caught Alan's attention first, and he waved back, talking softly to the woman as he gestured to Cyrin, likely introducing them as his cabin mate.

She broke into a massive smile, waving at Cyrin cheerfully. Cyrin smiled back, completing the distance between them.

"Hey, looks like he's back to grace us with his famous presence," Alan said with a grin, then gestured between the woman and Cyrin. "Cyrin, this is Clandestine. Clandestine, this is Cyrin. Although, you may already recognize him."

"Hi, Cyrin!" Clandestine chirped.

"Hey there, Clandestine," Cyrin said to her with a bit of a laugh, standing next to Alan. "How's the island so far?"

"Oh, it's beautiful! I love it already," she answered.

"I was standing here admiring the ocean view when Clandestine came running over. I've pretty much chatted with her for the last ten or so minutes, so you're not missing much," Alan said, bringing Cyrin up to speed. He turned back to Clandestine with a smile. "What else have you gotten to see? We actually haven't really left our cabin area yet."

"Well, I only just left and met you guys, honestly," Clandestine said. "So I haven't seen much else either!"

"That's fair." Alan paused and nodded once, smiling again as he glanced up at Cyrin. "Ah, forgot to mention. Someone named James else came by after we left the cabin for your interview, and Lyall went to grab us all horrific shirts. So, now we're up to speed." He waved his hand in front of him dismissively. "Outside of James and my cabin mates-- and you, obviously, Clandestine-- I also haven't seen many others."

"Who's James?" Clandestine asked.

"A fellow contestant. He was wearing a fun, bright shirt. I don't know too much more about him, though," Alan said.

"I'm so sad I missed the horrific shirts," Cyrin said disappointedly. "The interview was so not worth it."

"Well, I did tell James to give me his worst, so maybe I'll give you whatever atrocity he picks. So then when you wear it, your publicity ratings will slip, and you'll be pulled into less interviews. What do you say?" Alan teased with a playful smile.

Cyrin knew it was a joke and his status probably wouldn't suffer at all, but he smirked. "It sounds like a win all around."

"Awh man," Clanny said. "I wanna wear a silly shirt."

She put her hands on her hips.

"How silly are we talking, though? I have a shirt that has the VP of the DMV on it giving a thumbs up. It's from that one meme that trended for a while when he went 'That's right' on TV and people took the clip out of context because they thought the thumbs up was funny. But then the UM tried to delete it off the internet but couldn't because you know. Internet. It was already on shirts by then."

"That meme?" Cyrin exclaimed. "Oh, I am begging you to wear it."

Clandestine laughed. "You don't have to beg!" she said. "I'll do it gladly to join the silly shirt society!"

Alan laughed. "I don't think I've seen that one, but I agree, I think you should wear it. It matches the energy of the other shirts, and it'd be fun to have you join."

"Yes!" Clandestine said with a fist pump in the air. "Sadly I can't see my housemates really wanting to jump on the bandwagon, but that's okay."

"That's alright. I don't think the world will be ready to hear of our fashion statement, but we're bringing it to them anyways," Alan said with a grin his gaze resting on a nearby cameraperson, filming their interaction.

Cyrin turned their head to watch the camera as well, smirking.

"Whether they like it or not," they said.
"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

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soundofmind says...

This was ridiculous. James didn't know whether to laugh or to cringe at how utterly serious the camera crew had been about insisting he go down the hill to join the others who were wearing silly t-shirts so that they could capture all of them walking together in some kind of movie montage, but he obliged only because they'd insisted. Giving Hild an amused but apologetic goodbye, he told her he'd see her in a few and departed, now finding himself in the front of this small herd of absurdity alongside a woman he just met named Clandestine.

Honestly, he thought her shirt was the most amusing of them all. It captured a meme from a few years ago that had gone viral and still circulated the internet regularly of the VP of the DMV smiling and giving a thumbs' up. He had a moment to compliment her shirt before the camera crew told them all to march forward.

Now being surrounded by camera-men catching every angle of their display, they walked up the hill in what James could only describe as the most outrageous "style" he'd witnessed.

Larrel was going to love him for this, at least, and that alone was going to make his day. Maybe his year.

The camera crew didn't seem to mind them looking into the cameras, but they did insist them all walked in slow motion. Frankly, James found it ridiculous, but they'd committed to the bit thus far, so he figured they might as well. They all had a good laugh amongst themselves while they did so, trying to make it look as natural as possible. Somehow, Cyrin - again, whom he'd just officially met - was the one to make it look the neatest, but they all still looked equally like fools. Clandestine was the one who embraced the silliness of it the most, and she just committed to doing a very silly walk the whole way, essentially doing slow-motion high-kicks and what was a very "wiggly walk" half the time alongside the occasionally imitation of the meme on her shirt, winking into the camera.

When they made it to the top of the hill, the gate was open, and they could see several others by the mansion's front entrance, being ushered in and followed by more cameras. One of the cameramen - a tall fellow with a backwards cap and shaggy hair - waved them over through the gate, pointing the way for them to follow inside. He looked to be biting back a smile as he kept the camera trained on them.

James gave the man a brief, subtle not of thanks before going with the flow of traffic, lagging a bit behind to fall in step with Lyall.

"Hey," he whispered, catching the curly-haired man's attention.

Something hit James in the side of the head. Hard. He stuttered in his steps and managed to brush it with his hands just before it clicked against the ground.

He stopped in his steps, seeing an acorn.

"Um..." Lyall came to a hesitant stop beside him. "Everything alright, Mister James?"

James scratched the side of his head, squinting.

"Uh, yeah, sorry," he said, a little distracted as he scanned the courtyard and started moving again with a shake of his head. "I... do you know much about who else is on the island?"

He was fishing to see if Lyall was as in the dark as Hild had been. Lyall had mentioned he had siblings before but said nothing of his sister being here. James was wondering if he'd somehow stumbled upon some kind of secret or surprise he wasn't supposed to.

Lyall grinned excitedly. "I assume we were all kept fairly in the dark. Are you here to enlighten me with some secret knowledge?"

"I don't know if it was supposed to be a secret," he said, lowering his voice as he leaned in a little closer, not sure if cameras were picking it up. "But your sis--"

Something else pelted the back of his head again. Whipping around, he scratched the back of his head in bewilderment, looking down at the acorn that clattered to the ground.

Someone was trying to send him a message. With acorns.

They were telling him to shut up, apparently. For some reason, this only made him want to spill the secret more, even though there were apparently acorn-related consequences for doing so. Why keep Lyall and Hild in the dark about them both being on the island? Of course they'd want to know. They were family.

"Your sister Hild is here," he blurted before he could get pelted again.

Even though he wasn't on the other side of a camera, he could tangibly feel the camera of the person following them zoom in on him and Lyall in that moment.

Lyall froze in his tracks, his bright grin falling in an instant. "Hild?" he echoed, voice almost cracking with incredulity.

"I met her like an hour ago," he said.

Twisting about in his spot, Lyall urgently scanned the area. "Well, where is she now?"


James started to say, but then another acorn came out of nowhere and pelted him between the eyes, just above the bridge of his glasses.

There was a mild ringing sensation in his head as he scrunched up his nose and rubbed his forehead, looking straight into the nearest camera.

"Why all of the--"

And then he was under a waterfall of acorns.

He couldn't even see Lyall.

"Are you serious?" he muttered, sticking out a hand into freedom, pointing in the direction of the mansion towards the door to answer Lyall's former question.

Without even questioning the absurd consequences of James's choices, Lyall dashed ahead into the mansion, loudly calling for his sister. James sighed, and instantly, the barrage of acorns stopped, and he was free. Too afraid to look into a camera again for fear of another acorn attack, he rolled his eyes dramatically and turned to finally follow after the others, who were all now already inside.

The mansion was gigantic. The entrance room was open, having high ceilings stretching three floors high, revealing winding staircases on either side of the room leading to each floor, stretching out in both directions. The decor was crisp, modern, and clean, and at the end of every stairway were guards and security checkpoints, and some walkways were blocked off with dividers.

Some staff and some signs helped direct the flow of traffic through the main entrance room into the back, but traffic clogged as everyone was seeing one another in the same place for the first time.

And, of course, much of the attention was on Hild and Lyall's reunion playing out in front of them. Lyall drew away from what must've been a long, tight hug. His excited smile could've rivaled the sun. Hild rolled her eyes, but couldn't help but grin back. Several people were saying "aww," some among the staff. A man wearing aviator glasses was smiling, pretending to dab at his eyes sentimentally.

Through the buysness of it all, Hild glanced out and caught James's eye. She gave an appreciative nod before turning a disapproving look back to her brother (namely, at the shirt he was wearing). James grinned weakly, glad that he could have at least given her a heads' up, since she'd seemed genuinely shocked prior. He had a feeling she would've been uphappy to be caught on camera and have her shock fed into for drama on live television. He knew he wouldn't appreciate it, at least.

Standing off to the side, James took a moment to take in the group of contestants once the drama of the reunion started to die down, and a bunch of chatter began to pick up again. They were all walking and talking, being led through a long, wide hall into a back room walled with windows facing a giant infinity pool in the backyard. Inside, there was bright lighting and ample comfortable seating with outdoor-friendly furniture. He realized it was made that way once the glass window screen began to part, opening up to the outdoors.

He wondered how many billions of dollars were spent on this mansion, and how much of that could've been used for - oh, he didn't know - helping people in need, or solving some of the world's more urgent problems.

That wasn't up to him, though, so he shoved that thought away for the moment, still reeling a bit from the bizzare acorn assault.

That was obviously orchestrated by the staff, but he didn't know why someone couldn't have just told him not to say anything. He guessed that didn't make for "good TV."

Sighing, he stood at the edge of the room as everyone else stared at the glassy display in awe (or overwhelmed anxiety, he assumed). There was a diverse mix of people, it seemed, at least in appearance. Taking the "silly shirt society" out of the picture, there were some very... interesting people wandering in the crowd. Some of which he didn't know what to think about yet.

Some of them were very odd. One spectacled man stood in a knee-length coat, hunching over a long snack table, stuffing food in his face as if he hadn't eaten in weeks and had no self control or manners. Then there was Kazimir, who was now completely shirtless and making a bee-line for the pool, his bare feet slapping on the pavement as he ran and did a flip, splashing loudly into the water. Just behind him was the drunken man, heckling Kazimir for running around a pool, like he was some kind of lifeguard.

The smaller man who James had formerly seen shift into a wolf slipped away behind one of the chairs where seating was, and James noticed he'd shifted into his wolven form and curled up under one of the chairs. Hiding.

Then there was another man - short and skinny, with short dreads - who stood in the middle of the whole room stiffly like he didn't know what to do with himself.

And then, of course, Connie was nowhere to be seen.

James briefly glanced back at one of the cameramen. The same one with the snap-back he saw before. The look he gave the camera hopefully communicated what he felt: "This is going to be a very weird three months, isn't it?"

The look was brief, and he shook his head as he hurried up to the gang of brightly colored shirts, of which Hild had been grafted in. Lyall looked like he was introducing her to everyone - or rather, already had. Everyone was splitting into different conversations when he walked up, and frankly, he didn't know how to insert himself.

He noticed two young women standing back, watching all of the chaos with what admittedly was pretty transparent apprehension. Hoping to maybe help them out a bit, he decided to approach, offering a small, friendly smile.

"Hi," he said. "What are your names?"

The blonde one in a pastel blue two piece swimsuit scanned their group, her gaze darting between all their shirts. Her lips quirked into the hints of an amused smirk. "I'm Clarity," she said. "Was there a fashion show planned? I didn't hear."

James huffed with a weak laugh.

"Some of us did coordinate wearing the most ridiculous things we could, yes," he said.

He turned to the woman with the dark hair. She was wearing shorts, flip flops, and a navy one-piece swimsuit under a sheer white cardigan.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Eve," she answered simply. "What's yours?"

"James," he answered. "It's nice to meet you both."

"You too," Clarity said politely. "What's the inspiration on the ridiculousness?"

"I think all of the credit ultimately goes to my sister, who begged me to wear goofy shirts on TV, and Alan, who asked if I could share," James said.

Clarity shot a glance at the nearest camera. "I wonder if it'll make this show more or less popular. Either way, it's probably annoying someone in this production, so I approve of the idea."

"That was, admittedly, part of the motivation behind doing so," he said.

"Good, then," she said. "I hate these cameras. They're encouraging cheap drama. Has anything actually exciting happened in front of them?"

James didn't think he wanted to answer that. Then he'd have to explain his NDE again, or the wall of acorns. Neither were preffered.

"I'm sure there's bound to be something," he said, a little more absently.

"Hey, Clarity and Eve!" Clandestine shouted from the big group of neon memes. "Wanna come over here and meet my new friends?"

James glanced back at Clandestine, hearing Clarity's response behind him.

"Yeah, sure, I'm heading over," Clarity said, stepping in front of James. "Nice meeting you, James. Keep fighting the good fight."

He nodded to her in a soldier-like manner.

"You too," he said, blinking as she walked off when he realized Eve was suddenly gone.

She seemed to use this opportunity as an exit, walking off in the opposite direction towards the number of beach chairs available for them to sit. Fortunately, it was in the direction away from Kazimir and the drunk man in the pool, so James decided to follow, hoping he wasn't intruding.

When she sat down, he stood near and made brief eye contact, tilting his head to the side.

"Can I join?" he asked.

He really didn't want to be melded into a giant group conversation at the moment. But he also didn't want to sit alone either, at risk of being approached by the more... unsettling figures in the room.

Eve glanced behind her at the row of other available empty chairs, then in front of them, again at the other row of availble chairs. But she nodded in response, placing her tote on the spot next to her, taking out her Kondle before laying back.

"Feel free," she said.

He didn't know why, but he got the impression she wasn't thrilled at him inserting himself into her personal escape from the crowd. It felt a little too late to bail, but either way this was probably going to be awkward. He supposed he'd just have to do what he could to keep it... as normal as he could, so long as more acorns didn't pelt him out if nowhere.

He sat down in the chair next to hers, glad the seats were amply spaced from one another.

"Were you planning on reading the whole time?" he asked lightly, setting his backpack off his shoulder and by his feet.

"Ideally," she said as she glanced up at him. "But nothing on this island seems very ideal for the contestants."

That was becoming a bit of an understatement in his experience.

"Yeah," he said with a bit of a sigh, glancing over at the cloaked man, still inhaling food.

Geez, by the time he was "full" there'd be nothing left at this rate.

"No kidding," he said.

Eve didn't respond to that, swiping through her Kondle, presumably to pick something to read. She seemed comfortable with the silence that fell between them, and James couldn't deny that a small part of him was relieved. If she was reading, then perhaps it would be acceptable for him to read as well. He didn't know if they'd be forced to stop or persuaded to by staff, but maybe they could at least read for some time.

Letting silence remain between them, James dug into his bag and pulled out the mystery novel he was halfway through. It was a rather gritty novel, and he wasn't always a fan of how in-depth things were described, but the plot had pulled him in and he wanted to know how it all ended.

Leaning back in his seat, he flipped open to where he'd last saved a spot. He blocked out the chatter and the splashes on the opposite end of the pool and focused on the place he stopped, re-immersing himself into the story.

At least, that was the plan.


He'd read two pages and barely had time to look up and process before a wall of water came washing over him - and only him - dousing the paper pages and leaving him dripping with water.

Pool water.

Ever-so-slowly, he lowered his book from his face, unable to fully process the instant grief of his book being ruined.

The drunken man, wearing a swimmer's cap and googles, was standing in the pool a mere few feet from him, and it took James two seconds of uncomfortable eye contact to deduce that he was the cause of the giant splash of water. Presumably, from cannon balling in. And he didn't even seem to realize what he'd done, since he barely gave James more than a glance before he started to swim aggressive laps around the pool.

He supposed this was the natural consequence of reading by the pool.

"Do you need a towel?" Eve asked, staring at him with her lips pressed together, obviously repressing a laugh.

James's vision was spotty with water covering his glasses. He set the book to the side and took his glasses off, giving her a nod.

"That would be helpful," he said. Because his backpack had been drenched too.

Eve reached into her tote bag, pulling out a folded light blue beach towel towel before offering it to him. "You have some bad luck. Out of all the chairs, you picked the only one within the splash zone."

James hummed, taking the towel and using it to clean his glasses.

"Seems an unfortunate side effect of my existence," he said with a small sigh.

"Bad luck or being in every possible splash zone imaginable?" Eve asked.

Pursing his lips, he looked off to the side in thought.

"Yes," he decided, not wanting to recall all of the countless times he's been the unlucky one in every setting.

She huffed an amused puff of air. "Sorry about your book, though." She lifted her Kondle for a second. "But if you're always in every splash zone imaginable, maybe consider getting something more waterproof."

James laughed lightly, but it was more weary than amused.

"I've yet to find a book or a Kondle that is truly waterproof," he said, squinting at his glasses in his hands to see if they were smudge-free. "Maybe I should just carry a hair-dryer with me everywhere instead."

Eve hummed, looked focused as she stared at the drunken man now making this second lap around the pool "Sounds like a fire hazard, if you're using it to dry yourself and any books from a wall of water."

Right. Fire-hazard. And now he was a hazard, covered in water. A small shiver ran down his spine as his skin relived the memory of painful electricity coursing through his body.

He picked up his backpack and dug inside, finding his glasses case, tucking the lenses away.

"Right," he said a little stiffly. "Guess I'll just dry off naturally, then."

Eve gave him another glance, hesitating. "Or with a towel," she said. "It'd be faster and less cold." She paused. "Just a suggestion."

"Ah," he said. "Yes. Thank you."

Using her gifted towel, he dried his arms and face, knowing his shirt was just going to have to dry on its own. This was going to be a whole ordeal, wasn't it? Good grief.

He picked up his soggy book and shook it out, glancing around for somewhere to set it so it could potentially dry. He didn't really want to just throw it away.

"Maybe over there, out of the shade," Eve said as if she read his mind, pointing to the row of other chairs without an umbrella. "The sun could begin to dry it. At least, until you get to an actual hair dryer."

He hummed.

"Thank you," he said, lifting his backpack and slinging it over his shoulder. He got to his feet and held the book gingerly in his hands.

"Enjoy your reading," he said with a small nod.

"I'd say you too, but..." Eve shook her head with a small smile, leaving it at that as she settled back in her chair.

At least someone found it amusing. James was a little too grated by the previous events of the day to take too much genuine pleasure in his own humiliation. With careful steps in squeaky, wet flip flops, he found himself walking to the furthest corner in the brightest sunlight, and there he set down his book, his bag, his shoes, and decided to just take off his shirt, too, since it was too wet to be comfortable anymore.

The chair became a display of his drenched belongings, and he ended up taking a seat in the chair beside it, taking his hair out of its bun now that the water had made it feel more heavy atop his head.

Gently massaging his scalp, he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, taking a moment to just... be.

Or so that had been the plan until he felt a shadow fall over him a mere few seconds later, and he looked up into the crazed eyes of the most scraggly man in existence.

This man had not been present when they walked in. Was he... late?

Was he even supposed to be here? No, they wouldn't have let him in if he wasn't.

"You stink of disease," the sickly-looking man said with a hollow, raspy voice, beginning to smile in a way that made James feel uneasy. "Does your family know?"

James furrowed his brows together, looking at the man with a small wince. The sickly man smelled strongly of sweat and must.

"You know," he said. "Most people start with their name when introducing themselves. Maybe you should try again."

"You're scared of them knowing. Why are you scared?" the man said instead, a giddy giggle escaping through the words as his smile and eyes widened.

Oooookay. This guy was. Not sane. Why was he not getting professional help?

"Here," James said. "I'll lead by example. My name is James. What's yours?"

"Trauma. So much trauma. Do they also know what you've done in the military?" the man continued, his eyes somehow getting even bigger.

James blinked.

So this guy was a shitty mind-reader.

"Nice," he said flatly. "You find that one by shooting blindly in the dark? Listen, I'm trying to carry a normal--"

"The DMV knows about your kink." The crazy man grinned, looking straight into a nearby camera filming their interaction. "It makes you feel powerful."

So this man was doing this for attention, huh.

James couldn't see well now with his glasses removed, but he, too, gave the most annoyed, displeased deadpan look in the camera's direction.

"I'm not sure what your parents or lack thereof did to make you end up this way," he started. "But on their behalf--"

"Parents?" the man interrupted again, starting to laugh maniacally. "Your father died!"

James sighed.

Getting to his feet, he reached out and firmly planted his hands on the man's shoulders, holding him in place as he met the man's eyes. He was breathing heavily like a rabid dog.

"You need serious help," James said. "But you are not worth my time. Leave me alone, or I will resume the rest of my days pretending you are a gnat on the wall. Ignoring you. If one day you decide you want to change, perhaps then we can have a real--"

The man started to laugh uncontrollably before he could even finish, growing louder and louder until James couldn't speak over him anymore.

James let go of him, pushing him away with and sigh.

"Gnat! He called me a gnat!" the man said with a howling fit of laughter, now rolling on the floor, pounding his fists on the floor.

James stood there, staring down at him, and then looked back up at the camera with a look that could only read: "Seriously?" They brought this guy on the show?

He looked back down at the cackling, deeply unstable man on the ground.

He didn't really want to leave his belongings within the vicinity of someone clearly mentally ill, but he also didn't want to stay.

Leaving his shoes, shirt, and book to dry, James picked up his backpack and started to walk away. Words clearly didn't work on this guy.

Luckily, it seemed that he didn't have to worry about the man following him, because when he turned to leave, the man suddenly stopped laughing and then scampered away on all fours like an animal, towards another corner.

Well. That was...

James sighed, shaking his head as he walked back indoors. He supposed his luck was directing him back into the crowd of people, since apparently being alone wasn't working out for him. A bit begrudgingly, he walked back towards the crowd of neon, deciding to stop avoiding socialization.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

A good artist should be isolated. If he isn't isolated, something is wrong.
— Orson Welles