The walk back was more awkward than the one after meeting Chris. That was saying something. Lucius pushed down some gnawing emotions that most definitely were not guilt or doubt. Fear, he decided, was what kept him at Mikhail’s side and what fueled the constant glances at Wila. It was a little off from before, but he must have been right, because there were no emotions that felt as heavy as fear did.
There was a brief second of nothing beneath his foot, tensing his entire body, and his heel plunged into a crumbling hole. Brain blanking out for a second, Lucius lifted his shoe back out. He had to pay more attention to where he was going.
“Lucius?” Mikhail studied Lucius’s face with an inviting tilt, ghostly-white hair dropping in front of his eyes like a shower curtain. “Are you okay to go? W-Wila’s not stopping…”
“Of course she wouldn’t,” Lucius muttered. He set his foot on flat ground and did an experimental stretch. He had been through worse. “It’s fine. Let’s keep on walking.”
A quick nod was the reply. Mikhail resumed walking, hands intertwined behind his back. His head was down and eyes on the ground, likely searching for any more indents hidden beneath the carpet of dry grass. Lucius wished him luck.
Lolling his head back, Lucius rubbed his arms and realized that he didn’t feel cold anymore. Whether that was because of the rising sun, or that they had switched biomes, he didn’t know. As he recounted the events in the past twenty minutes, he even felt a little too warm. Especially his face. He reached up to rub his cheek.
“I think we should hurry a bit,” Mikhail said. He pointed to where Wila was speed-walking into the distance. “She’s going awfully fast…”
“Ah, right!” Lucius didn’t want Wila to reach the camp before them. Who knew how she might distort the truth? Then, the sinking sensation in his gut returned. It looked like Wila hadn’t wanted to bring up the subject at all with Claud and Reyna. He might be able to trust her on that, at least. “Then again,” he whispered to himself, “That could be a lie, too.” A headache was returning.
“Huh?” The younger boy poked him in the arm. Concern wrinkled his forehead. “What was that?”
“Nothing.” To avoid further conversation, Lucius broke into a jog. He wasn’t too surprised when Mikhail kept pace with him, but it made him wonder exactly how Mikhail’s physique was. The boy was able to nimbly climb trees and run as fast as a man at least five years older him.
Now that they were running, the white-yellow fields seemed to shrink. The ground flew by beneath their shoes and the gray waters of the ocean peeked from behind approaching boulders. Wila must have scurried down the rocks a while ago, because she was nowhere in sight. Stopping at the edge, where the blades of grass sank into the sand, Lucius stepped onto a rock and scanned the empty beach. She had gotten to the overhang quickly, then. He made his way down with careful shuffles and lots of sitting down. He shot an envious glare was shot at Mikhail, who hopped down, gave Lucius a shrug, and ran for the base. It was halfway down the rock pile that Lucius gave up on caution and stood up, jumping down like Mikhail. A loose stone nearly had him hugging a giant, mossy boulder, but he mentally kicked himself and leaped onto the sand. “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Running in the sand was pain. The shifty ground swallowed his soles and made him wish he could levitate. Unfortunately, supernatural abilities did not exist, outside of the weird magical exchanging in the arena, and so he was panting by the time he was able to lean against the overhang. He found a section relatively free of lichen and took a couple deep breaths.
“Lucius?” Wila stepped into view from around the rock barrier, having spotted his shoulder or something. There was no accusation on her face, but a suspicious relief. Not from seeing him though; it looked more like a feeling carried over some a recent event. “Oh, come on!” Just like that, her expression morphed into worry. “Reyna’s been hurt!”
The heavy stone in his stomach reappeared, this time with its denser friends. “What?”
“Stop gawking and get over here!” Wila grabbed Lucius’s wrist and pulled him away from his resting spot. It wasn’t until they were a couple feet away from the wooden planks that Lucius, teeth gritted, looked around Wila. It also occurred to him that he was hiding behind a girl that he had been afraid of not ten minutes ago.
Lucius blinked several times. “Oh.”