One girl in particular watched intently with fixation on the breathtaking sight, a wildfire of pride and child-like wonder taking root in her very core. Suddenly, her body gave a shiver for the twentieth time that day. She should know; she counted.
She had a feeling, a strange feeling, and she was sure that others could feel it, too. Although no one knew what was happening exactly. Today was the day for celebration, and unlike any other year, they carried out their traditions respectfully. This year was no different, but... well, maybe different wasn't the word.
The sun had not risen like it normally did. One would expect it to come up in the morning, go down in the evening, and come back up again just as it should. But this time, it was a little slow. It's like it wasn't doing its job well enough anymore.
But what good would a worry do? She watched and listened to each explosion of color rise and fall, until a peculiar something caught her eye.
A distant firework unlike one she had ever seen shot down from the sky. It was the oddest color... light-blue? She tightened her gaze on the faint glow. As it neared the ground, she waited for the explosion. It never came. Puzzled, she thought it to be a dud, a botched firework. But she gave it a rightful second thought, wondering if not a firework, what else could it have been on such a night?
Garrick felt a sweaty heat pressing into the side of his face. Drowsily, he barely felt his body stir underneath the blankets as he turned over. He breathed out long and hard, unwilling to open his eyes.
He assumed he was alone. And he was left to that assumption only until he felt another stirring presence beside him. Imagination shocking him awake, he snapped opened his eyes and threw back his arms away from it.
"Torrin?" Garrick sluggishly breathed, relaxing again into the warmth of drowsiness. Torrin lay beside him, fast asleep and wiggling lightly while he dreamt.
Rather than let the boy dream, Garrick had the mind to gently shake him awake. "Torrin, hey, Torrin."
The young boy stirred again, but this time cracked open his eyelids to see his "guardian angel". He smiled sweetly. "Good morning, Garrick. Sleep well?"
"I-I really dunno." Garrick slurred, lifting himself with one arm. His formerly injured arm gave a jolt, but he hardly noticed. Once up, his eyebrows knit as he adjusted to a place that he should not have been.
He was in a small wooden house, like a cottage built for a family. In the bedroom, there was a tall mirror in the corner and a window draped with light-colored curtains. It looked humble enough and comfortable enough, but he had little to no understanding of where he was. One good whiff of the air gave him another clue. Salt? During the silence, he heard a soft rushling sound outside his open window that gave him the next clue.
No. Garrick rose to his feet.
"I found you and dragged you here." Torrin said at last. "Got you dressed and everything. I think we're very lucky."
"I - you... Found me? W-Where's-"
"I don't know."
"Where are we?"
"I don't know, really. I only got here since last night. I just woke up here, in this house. There was a festival going on in the town around here, and I went outside to see fireworks. And that's when I saw you by the lake."
The sandy-haired man had filled his mind with questions but stood at a loss for words. "You and me, we're here together in some house by a lake?"
"Yes, that's about the size of things." Torrin sat up and looked out the open window.
Astounded, Garrick walked towards the window, but thought twice after he caught his eye in the reflection of the sturdy mirror. He was wearing neutral, tanned clothing that looked as if it had been hand-sewn by a centuries-old tailor. Like something Torrin might look good in. But other than his new outfit, he looked the same as before. The same as before...
"Torrin, how do we get back? Does this mean we're mortal now...?!" His voice grew more and more desperate as more explicit questions came to mind.
Torrin was silent as he got up to change.
A small bell above the door sounded as Torrin and Garrick stepped inside the noisy bar. As they made their way to the back to consult with the bartender, they could feel eyes pressing into them with curiosity and judgment.
From the very moment they stepped inside, Garrick, the former Diviner of Fate, was acquainted with a sensation that made his head begin to throb. The thoughts of the staring crowd poured into his mind like an uncontrollable current. 'Who the heck are they?' 'New faces. They the ones that are staying in that old house?' 'I thought that house was abandoned. Past few years, ain't nobody living in it, I thought.'
Feeling the need to retain his posture and balance, Garrick sat down at the stool alongside Torrin, who sat quietly. The bartender was nowhere to be found, and so, the two sat and waited. Yet all the while, Garrick couldn't stop the voices. 'That guy seems interesting. I wonder what his story is.' 'Those two together? We don't need that here.' 'Looks like that one's got money. Should be an easy target.'
The moment Torrin noticed his friend's distress, he stopped to see three crooked-looking men take seats behind Garrick. The object in their hands caught his eye. Torrin rocked his foot to tap Garrick in the knee.
Squinting, eyes nearly tearing with strain, Garrick turned to follow Torrin's focus. He paused and hitched his breath to listen.
"Finders keepers, 's all I can say." The greedy man started, toying with the electronic device while the other two men snickered.
"That's my phone."
Without even looking, one of the three men decided to include Garrick in their conversation, "It ain't worth a lick. Got busted up and don't get no reception."
"I want it back."
This time, they turned, each man searing an incredulous look into Garrick's determined eyes. Garrick felt Torrin cringe beside him as one of them slobbishly stood from his seat to stare Garrick down.
"Looksee, we'll be sellin' this thing for parts in the next town over. What good's it to ya, anyways? 's busted up."
Of all the times for a full-blown headache to surge through. Garrick's head reeled once more, almost feeling his balance give way beneath his feet as he made a stand. He might have tried to steal the device from his hands if it weren't for the dull pain devouring his mind. My head... I can't keep all their thoughts out... My mindreading... What... He had no patience for dealing with these humans, and he could see that words would only go so far.
Just as Garrick felt Torrin tugging on his cotton sleeve, he felt something clear his mind. The sensation was new, light, and focused. Everything around him stopped feeling so menacing, and the storm raging in his head ceased.
Garrick wasn't sure whether it was him or Torrin that caused a flame to spark on the enemy's musty coat. The flame spread along the hems of his shirt. Garrick could only watch the heat begin to peel away at the collar, scorching away at the man's neck and shoulder.
The man was late to react, but his henchmen were quick on the ready, extinguishing the flame with their own hands and drinks they had ordered. They cast horrified looks at Garrick, who stood in shock as did his opponent. Without another word, one of the men grabbed Garrick's phone in his hand, dropped it to the ground, and crushed it beneath the heel of his shoe, before he and his two comrades fled out the bar.
By this time, all eyes in the building had turned, and all usual noise and banter faded away. The burning smell of flesh and cloth remained imminent in the room, disgusting Garrick to nausea.
Once the men had left, the bartender spoke with a voice sharp enough to pierce through Garrick's mindreading barriers, but what he said, Garrick couldn't be sure. Then everything started to blur again.
Torrin's light tug became a full-forced jerk, leading his friend by the shirt out the door.
"T... Torr-?" But Garrick was cut off by a hot acid being shot from his stomach through his mouth. In a state of complete weakness and shame, his body leaned against a lamppost to throw up.
Concerned and unsure, Torrin stood meekly by his friend and tenderly rubbed against his back. "Oh, Garrick." His sweet voice shone through the confusion, "What happened in there?"
"I f-felt-" Garrick started, shakily regaining his posture and swallowed thickly, "their thoughts. I'm m-mortal now, but I think my mindreading abilities are still...?"
"You couldn't control them?"
Garrick wished for escape. He felt sick of interacting with humans. Uncharacteristically, the blond man cursed, "Humans are so disgusting. And it's like all barriers are just wide open for me to hear. It- gahh, I think I'm going crazy-"
"Your powers will just need getting used to." Torrin halted his friend from following his anger further. "But I didn't know you could use that sort of magic."
"Hah. Magic. That's-" But he stopped. What else could explain the flame cast? Maybe it wasn't Torrin, and maybe it wasn't him. But then again, maybe...?
"Rest and wait here. I'll see if I can't get back inside to get our phone."
Garrick waited. While his heart grew heavy and his body ached, he felt frail and defeated somehow. He watched Torrin walk up to the door, enter as humbly and genteel as a Torrin could muster, but then be escorted out of the small building by a man wearing a uniform.
Their only lead had been crushed and disposed of, leaving the two boys to travel back to their house by the lake, where an alternate plan would be devised.
Garrick rubbed his arm up and down while he sat in bed. I thought it healed, but man, it's starting to hurt again. With those perceptive blue eyes, he noticed the once healing scar begin to turn deep red again. Why?
As soon as Torrin reentered their bedroom, however, Garrick ceased what he was doing and scratched at his neck instead in denial and incognizance.
Little Torrin carried in a tray of food he had cooked for lunch. Hawkishly, Garrick's mouth began to water, but his head gave a quick chirr when he heard Torrin think, 'Ohh, I'm sorry, Garrick, but you and your upset stomach is only getting toast.'
As Torrin sat down beside Garrick to set his toast plate down, he said softly, "There were clothes in the drawers and food in the kitchen... I'd say he went out of his way to make us comfortable."
Before speaking, Garrick took the butterless toast to his mouth and chomped away. He stopped, then said, "'S funny that he'd pick a house by the lake. I always wanted a lake house, but I never told him that. I wonder how he knew-"
Unexpectedly, a confident knock interrupted their sorrowful dialogue.
Both men sat still, waiting for the knocking to cease. They shared a look, and then Torrin got to his feet. Quietly, Garrick followed behind.
No sooner had Torrin opened the door for the visitor, a new voice - accented with a mesh of outlandish tongue - approached the two ex-residents of Runawynd. "Well met, sickly travelers. I'm Cade, and this 'ere is my partner, Treyston. Saw that scene you mates cooked up at the bar, and just came in t' check on ya. 'F you're really not feelin' all that well, mate, you should think about checkin' yourself in at the clinic. We'd be more than happy to take ya."
Standing before the doorway was a talkative, freckled male with a body slightly taller than Torrin's and hair lighter than Garrick's. The boy, Cade, was dressed shabbily with no sleeves but a poor-boy hat to boot. He wore an authentic sideways grin that seemed hardly suited to such a small, unwelcoming town.
As Torrin allowed the stranger in their house, Garrick's eyes strayed to the second man who entered in behind the energetic one. Treyston stood even taller than Garrick. He had dark hair that was swept to the side, and a more stoic, refined air about him that reminded Garrick of Sylas if he had glasses and a more featured build.
Garrick was unappreciative of the unexpected guests and coldly claimed, "You came here for a reason other than my wellbeing, I'm sure. So what have you come to take from me, if not medical bills?"
"Ouch, them be fightin' words, mate, and I'm not here to fight." Though he aimed for peace of mind, Garrick, again, had difficulty keeping Cade's thoughts away, 'Was hoping for some proper introductions 'n such, but since you got your panties in a bunch right now...'
Treyston lowered a heavy bag from his shoulder, "I know you're sick, but please hear us out. I figured in exchange for these, you might be able to answer some of our questions. Forgive our behavior, but these are desperate times." He had a quieter, humbler voice; one that Garrick might actually consider haggling with.
Then, familiarity struck Garrick. 'I wonder what his story is.' That guy, I read his mind in the bar. Ashamed and guilty, he was careful not to arrange eye-contact with the man.
After a bit of digging around, Treyston, at last, pulled out a paper bag from his knapsack, and with a spark of professionalism, he handed it out to Torrin, who gave it an inquisitive look. Skeptically, Garrick looked over at Cade and read, 'Found every piece of it, we did. Barkeep let me keep it as payment for a job I did 'im the other day. An' here are the pieces!'
Torrin looked through it, widened his eyes, and turned to Garrick, "Garrick!" Taking out a piece of mechanics from the bag, he burst, "Our phone!"
Their lead. Torrin went on to pull out piece after piece and set them each carefully on the kitchen counter. "Oh, Garrick, it's all in pieces, but I think I can repair it!"
"Can you, now?" Cade asked incredulously, removing his hat to swing it around artfully with one hand. "Well, won't ask, won't tell, but what's the story you two sharin'?"
Garrick was quick to retort, "What's your deal, anyway?"
"By trade, we're mercenaries, you know, doing whatever needs doin'. Just came back from the warring country next door and that's when we noticed it, mates." Garrick noticed Cade lean from foot to foot, as if they wore of travel and desired a rest. "Wrong somethings are happening."
"Tell me about it..." Garrick said distantly, finally allowing both men to take seats in the dining area, to which, the travelers happily obliged; Cade, in particular, making himself very comfortable. Garrick noticed a disapproving look that Treyston shot towards Cade, who shrugged in return but smiled nonetheless at the attention he earned. What a strange chemistry between the two.
"You 'ere long enough to see the sky? Noticing weird things, 's all." Cade started, spouting out as if speaking to no one at the table in particular. "First, the sun not rising right, well, you mates showing up from outta nowhere using Lord knows what sort of enchantment- Something ain't right, we can all feel it."
"Wait, the sun rising wrong?" Garrick asked, leaning forward over his folded arms.
"Sure," Treyston added, "Yesterday, the sun decided to rise late again. As in, four hours late. And we have no idea what's causing it. No amount of science can solve it, either. It's like the makings of the world are just - well, I can't say-"
"Failing." Cade wearily continued. "This all happened, what, two days ago? And now, not a cloud in the sky! Lucky if you spot even one or two! Everything's gettin' all dry without any rain."
Keiran... Garrick prayed, Why would you do something like this?
All at once, there was a sudden rush of white wind that erupted from behind them. Garrick was first to jump from his seat and speed around his chair to see Torrin with his back to the group and hard at focus with "repairing the phone".
"Holy-! What in Sam Hell...?" Cade slurred, joining Garrick and Torrin at the counter, while Treyston observed from above them.
Torrin had restored the phone.
Where did those powers come from? Garrick communicated, trying to get the gist of his mindreading. But when Torrin did not respond in thought, he whispered to him, "Okay, how'd you do that and can you teach me?"
"Keiran gave them to me. You might want to ask him when we get back."
The small device had power, but any attempt to obtain a map, signal, or reception to Keiran, naturally, ended in vain. They needed a location. An idea of where they could return and where they could find Sylas.
Treyston was outright and finally stepped up to ask, "What did you say your names were again?"
"I'm Torrin, and this is Garrick. We don't really know what's going on, but we're in a hurry to find someone so we can get back home. The sooner, the better. And if what you've said about earth's situation is true, then we only have a few days left to do it. Garrick, let me pack some things, and we'll take off."
Garrick gave a nod of approval and turned to gather his few necessities, but was intercepted by Cade, who shouted, "Hold on, hold on, not so fast, mate! This a guy you're looking for? He's a beaut, too, no less?"
Neither of the ex-Diviners said a word, and so Cade continued, as seemed to be his strong suit, "Pays to be nosy and a merc that been 'round the black a few times, I guess. See, we just came from that warring town next door, and heard they got a situation b'fore we had ours. Guy shows up outta nowhere? Probably your mate?"
Garrick's interest in these two strangers was finally sparked. A new lead was a good lead, and he was ready to follow it. "Wait, where?"
"Torrin, you ready?" Garrick asked for the second time.
To which, Torrin gave him the same response, "Let me pack just a little more, and then we'll take off. You can wait outside, our - erm, traveling partners are getting antsy."
"Don't remind me." Garrick groaned, sluggishly knocking his side against the bedroom wall for emphasis. "They could just point us in the general direction, but no."
"They'll just stick around until we get to the town over. It's no big deal."
Letting in a breath of heated air, Garrick griped like a cynic, "They just want us for our magic."
But Torrin was quick to comeback, and he did so with the utmost civility, "And we just want them for their sense of direction. Goodness, you can deal."
Childishly, Garrick emitted another groan, but then slunked out the door to entertain the guests.
As soon as he creaked their wooden front door open, he beheld a beautiful scene of earth, nearly forgetting about its misshapen calamities. Though his eyes began to tire, he looked towards the sky, wondering if the sun would ever set that day. He had to admit - though he couldn't be sure of the exact time of day - something did seem wrong. It was bright, hot, and quiet; unearthly and unbecomingly so.
The only thing he could hear was the soft whisper of the waves by his lake. Torrin's solemn words echoed through his mind, almost causing his eyes to sting upon realization of such betrayal, 'I'd say he went out of his way to make us comfortable.' While his ocean blues marveled, his ears were tickled and spellbound by the waves. It all seemed perfect... But why?
'Aw, Trey, I wish you'd just stop all this.' As if his mindreading was stronger than any of his senses, Garrick read speech. He traveled to the source - over the grassy hill behind his home - and found Cade and Treyston, standing rather awkwardly in a less-than face-to-face conversation. They stood a distance from the house, forcing Garrick to wonder what they were talking about so secretively. After all, he hardly felt trustworthy - having been subjected to betrayal - so why should he trust the direction of these two wayward travelers?
As Garrick made his way as stealthy as a Garrick could, he crept up the hill until he heard Treyston say, "I just... want to make sure you'll be all right... traveling like that." He said with difficulty, as if choosing his words considerately or treading over grounds that he didn't wish to cross. "You told me yourself, you'd never want to go back unless it was a job, so- I mean, is it worth it?" 'I don't want you going back to the town that hurt you. The town you ran away from.'
"Treyston." Although Cade spoke it, 'Trey' was what Garrick heard. "I told you, a'right? I'll be fine, and I got you to protect me, am I right?"
Garrick examined Cade make certain eye-contact with his partner, but Treyston's troubled face only squinted inward as he adjusted his glasses with class. "Now, you know I can't promise that."
'Please do.' "Come on, mate. Some team player you turned out to be." When Cade took two steps closer, Garrick began to wonder whether or not he should be looking. Ohh, what have I stepped into?
Treyston walked away, fixing his glasses as he went, "I'll do what I can, but you try and stay out of trouble. I can't watch over you all the time, you know."
'All the time... I wish it was for all the time, mate.'
"Wow." Disbelieving at what he inadvertently read, Garrick decided it best that he took his leave. He approached his door, trying his best not to make a sound - even shutting the front door behind him with noiseless grace.
Standing over one well-stuffed knapsack, Torrin had just finished his work to turn and see Garrick's wide-eyed expression. Cutely, he smiled and inquisitively cocked his head for explanation.
Garrick jolted towards the eye-locking presence. He decided to tell Torrin exactly what he witnessed, starting with, "I don't know about this."
"Oh, Garrick, please just deal."
Their journey began on the very same day. The same day Garrick had awoken on earth, the same day that he cast his first spell, and the same day that he and Torrin met the mercenaries, Cade and Treyston. The more Garrick thought about the slow progression of time, the more he felt an exhaustion drain him. Through the dense trees from above, the sun burned into Garrick's light clothing, and he watched it soak up all life from around him. Plants began to wilt, people began to lose energy... It wasn't right.
Truly, the next town over was nearly thirty miles away, which proved to be a somewhat decent trek for the odd team of four. Torrin expected that Garrick would send their two advisors away in a timely fashion - given all the griping he did beforehand - but he never did. It made him wonder how much longer it would take... Cade certainly liked to talk.
"Didn't want to be pushy or anythin', but I guess I was right not to ask whether you two mates 'd stay and join me and Treyston in merc-"
Torrin noticed something a little strange. Garrick was a typically itchy person, scratching away at his neck, face, or arms quite regularly during conversation. Given all the time he spent with him, Torrin came to understand his habits quite intimately. But there was something about the way he scratched at his arm - his one and same arm that had been injured before - that made Torrin keep a closer eye.
"Figured as much. Well, I can promise you, we'll find your pretty boy soon. I can't imagine what 'chu been through, mate. I won't judge or nothin', but say, can you... teach me magic? Oh, that 'd be somethin' out there on the job, a'right!"
As he listened half-heartedly, Garrick looked past the forested trees and towards the sky to see if he could find any signs of movement from above. It took a moment for him to recognize that the pause in Cade's speech was supposed to be his inning for a response. "I can't," Garrick said at last.
"Fine. I get it. It's for certain, special people only. A chosen few, I wager?"
Garrick answered vaguely, "Guess so." All the while, he eyed the scenery rather than show interest in conversation.
Instead of participating, Torrin kept busy watching each footprint he made into the crunchy dirt roads, eyes every so often gravitating to any budding flower alongside it.
He did it again.
"Garrick," The anxious Torrin started, trying to keep his cool without alarming his travel partners. "What's wrong with your arm?"
Garrick did a double-take in Torrin's direction, "Oh, it's- no big deal."
"It started hurting again as soon as we got here, didn't it?" But then again, forget it; he had no time for formality. Instead of letting this notification go as he did the first time, Torrin knew how to handle Garrick. He stopped, grasped his sleeve, and demanded in a soft voice, "Let me heal it."
"There's nothing to heal, Torrin!" Though Garrick was fervent and ready to pull away, he thought twice about doing something so rash to little Torrin, who peeled up Garrick's long sleeve and readied a spell over the arm.
Torrin made a face as he observed the wound for the first time up-close. It looked as if all its healing was slowly put in reverse, as if it would go back to its original bruise from before. It had only been a day or so (but really, who could count now), and already it had turned deep red.
Garrick shook his head. "You don't have to-"
"Now's not the time." And with that, the same white wind like before was rushed across Garrick's limb, running along it with soft, cooling pulses.
The red was gone, but as the four returned to their walking - Cade beginning his interrogation once again - Torrin still had to wonder if the pain had faded away, too.
"Now from here, the place you'll be lookin' for 's right over there!" All party members followed Cade point a scrawny finger to the highlighted burg that followed their dirt road.
"And what sort of establishment is that, I wonder?" Torrin piped, fixing his eyes on the glimpse of a town he saw.
Cade scratched at his small, freckled nose. "Oh, ya know, one of those places. Anyways, I could take ya in there, but I can't say whether or not we'd be let in. Only the best of men work there, y'see. Paying customers only. That sort of thing."
"Really, Cade?" Treyston prodded his partner with a strange humor. "And how would you know this?"
"Don't be a prat. I only know about what I've heard of. 'Sides, they're not interesting to me, anyways." Cade insinuated, only Garrick understanding the true nature of that message.
"I should hope not." Treyston shook his head, apologetic for Cade's pushy behavior. The two seemed to be perfectly contrasted. One rough country boy and one sophisticated young man.
After a few breaks and leg-numbing amounts of walking time down the thrashened roads and forested pathways, the men finally reached the town's border. The now setting sun cast an orange glow around the streets and buildings that drew them in like moth to flame.
In comparison to the town they had just abandoned, this one was bustling with a strange clamor of people and machinery. It was both a consolation and mystery that Garrick's mindreading this time around seemed to be in order. Perhaps spending time with his two guests had been a positive experience for him and adjusting to his abilities?
"I s'pose you two 'll head straight there? Me and Treyston will set up an inn for the two of - or maybe I should get another room for your mate?"
"Thanks, Cade, but don't trouble yourself." Garrick smiled wearily, smearing some of the dirt along his cheek as he itched the side of his face.
"Well, you may not be wantin' the rest, but you sure as hell need a shower." Cade added with a witty smirk, "I'll trouble myself, thank you."
Garrick watched as half of his exhausted traveling camaraderie walked familiarly down the streets. Though a soft bed sounded all-too enticing to the man, he had no mind to follow them. He needed Sylas.
As he made his way into the noisy, borough - Torrin following close behind - he counted the differences between this town and his last, all the while searching for that messy part of town. Industrial smoke poured from all around, choking much of the remaining earth. While the two outsiders walked, they noticed an apparent difference between poverty and wealth. From one side of the town, the streets seemed lined with the common people working, talking, living in rhythm of boundaries; but further along, there were homes lined with greeneries, lights, and extravagance. Garrick couldn't help but wonder what sort of oppression was at play here. Not that politics ever grasped his full attention.
At last, they arrived under the bold sign they had been searching for. But Garrick hesitated in stepping forward. When face-to-face with such a building, he began to feel disgraced and unsure. Why would Sylas be here? What kind of lead would he have followed to have ended up here?
Torrin was first to approach the man at the door, and for a moment, Garrick was envious of his fearlessness. "Excuse me, we're looking for a man about so-tall with dark short hair? He might go by the name Sylas?"
Though the man might have appeared unsympathetic, his words treated Torrin with care, "Oh, our new hire. Sharp as a tack, that one. The boys here love him. Oddest fellow you ever did meet, though. I'd let you in to see him, but entrance is for paying customers only. I'm so sorry, but I can't let you in otherwise."
Surely, bribery would not work on such an upstanding man, and so Torrin took out Garrick's wallet to flash him a large sum. "Then let me buy him. He'll see me." He said resolutely, unhindered by a sudden objecting outburst from Garrick.
The doorman seemed impressed. "He's not for sale, but if you say so, young sir. Come on in." And he opened the door.
"What are you thinking?! You can't just-" But then it started up again. No sooner had the man opened the door that little by little more thoughts around him and through the open doorway seemed to spiral into Garrick's mind.
Torrin turned to him and opened his mouth to speak, but it was drowned by the rushing waves of mindreading after the doorman opened the gate. Garrick watched his friend be escorted into the building and disappear beyond the doorway.
Alone on the streets, Garrick cursed, shaking his head and shutting his eyes - trying to cast them out. It was no use, and he began to feel sick again. I can't do it. I can't go in. I'm not like that. I'm not. I can't.
Garrick thought to sit, catch his breath, and wait for Torrin and Sylas to emerge, but his body walked him further away until he collapsed in a small, closed-off alleyway. Hiding himself from others behind a large crate, he rested against the wall. There, he threw up, soaking the concrete below him.
He was sore, pathetic, and his throat and stomach nearly burned him alive, but he had shade between the grimy buildings, and for that, he was momentarily grateful.
After heaving, his mind returned to calm. Despite all the doubts and worries the man harbored, he felt the most important thing was to trust in Torrin and trust that all would be well soon. He had nothing left to do. No money to enter, no strength to fight back, and no Keiran to pull him out.
Feeling well enough to stand, Garrick wiped off the spit from his face with a grungy sleeve and tried to remember the way back to the inn.
Torrin yawned while he waited. His body's misconception of time truly proved to be an issue. But every yawn only reminded him of the task at hand, and there was no time to waste on trying to keep up with a dying planet.
At last, the door opened. Sylas came in looking exactly as he left him, but with more fatigue around the features. His outfit was more casual than he might've preferred it, and his usual demeanor faltered a little while he entered the stylish room.
As soon as he laid eyes on his young visitor, however, his cool gave way. Sylas moved forward, as if trying to confirm an illusion away. "Torrin. You're... you came from the next town over?"
"Yes, me and Garrick both. You've heard your share of rumors here too, I see."
"Enough of them, yes. Two men appeared out of nowhere and ended up in our neighboring city. I figured you and Garrick would end up together. You're soul mates, after all. No matter how many times you're reborn, you will always find each other."
"Sylas, we'll be needing your help."
"And I'll be needing yours."
"What have you found out so far?"
"That the world will no doubt be nonexistent in the next few days. The way I understand it, Keiran's just bored with earth, and he's decided to kill it off slowly." Sylas felt strange using his name. It was like he was speaking about some distant someone that stole his heart away. "If this keeps up, I can't picture a happy ending for us. I've heard some people are looking to the sky or even space technologies to get away from this, but even then, with the sun failing, there's not much they can do. Especially under the clock like this." Sylas folded his arms, changing subjects and going back to the task at hand, "Anyway, how's Garrick?"
Torrin frowned. "He's fine, but coming down mortal for him hasn't been easy. His mindreading is still intact, but he's also using more magic for the first time. He's been ill by it, though."
"We'll need him. It'll probably take all three of us to make a warp spell. Keiran's the only one who can conjure one on his own, but for us... we'll just have to hope it works."
Perfect image of determination, Torrin said, "How do we learn warp?"
"Warp can only be learned by one who has passed on and seen Runawynd. So, really, it's only us three and Keiran. But first, we need to break three seals. This will re-open the rift or gate from earth to Runawynd. And once you've got the spell, you can get to the rift. But it's up to Keiran whether or not to let you in."
"And where are the three seals?"
"That's where Garrick comes into play. He's the only one that can sense them here on earth."
Torrin stopped and thought for a moment, pieces of a shredded map slowly coming together in his mind. "Let's get Garrick."
Following the same cue, both men took for the doorway. Sylas opened the door for his friend, but on his way out, he added an unexpected light humor to the conversation, "He... let you inside here by yourself?"
"Ohh, no. I'm sure he was against it. But I thought better me than him, so." Torrin smiled big at Sylas, "But that still doesn't explain what you're doing here."
"First off, it's not what you think." Sylas had to heed his voice level as they passed a group of men, who noted Sylas' every move. "I'm here for the information, and it's not like I work here as a host. I ended up in this town after falling. A place like this you wouldn't mind being wiped off the face of the earth. But that decision isn't up to me, of course."
They made their way past the front desk, where a second group of men stood and talked anxiously amongst themselves while watching Sylas and Torrin exit. When one voice asked the doorman "How much for him", he was answered with, "He's not for sale and already taken." "Lucky little lad."
On their way down the streets, merely guessing where their inn was set, Sylas asked the question that had stuck to his mind since the beginning of their meeting, "Torrin, are you okay?"
Torrin looked up at him, but then back down towards the dirty streets. "I'm just tired, that's all. I've used two spells already... I guess I never had to deal with it before, but the more magic you use without replenishment, it hurts. I want to rest so badly, but I really don't think we can afford to."
Sylas understood. Uncharacteristically, he reached a hand out to pat Torrin on the head. "You spoil him sometimes."
"Torrin's in there, and I'm here, can't even get this damned food in my stomach, can't even- Arghh, I'm so freakin' pathetic!" Garrick complained, gesturing out all his lamentations to his patient listener, Cade, whose partner, Treyston, had just gone out to retrieve medicine.
"Aww, quit yer whinin'. He'll be back soon, and health's most important-"
"Torrin's most important!" Garrick shouted back, to which, Cade only shrugged.
"'F you say so." With the manners of an impatient nurse, Cade worked at trying to make Garrick press a cold washcloth across his forehead. He also worked at adding more anesthetic treatment into bandaging Garrick's newly re-opened wounded arm. Neither man had a clue how such a wound - even after being healed by magic - managed to open itself again.
While Cade sat on his chair, soaking the cloth again, Garrick sat on his wooden stool, leaning forward and gripping onto his bad arm. Guiltily, Garrick took the sopping cloth, lowered his head towards his chest, and mumbled. "Thanks, Cade. Didn't mean to shout."
"I know ya didn't. Can't imagine what 'cha been through, 's all I'm sayin'. But I'm tellin' ya, he'll be fine in there, mate. The place has a rep for taking good care of their customers. Why, him and your other friend 'r prolly having some nice wine with the rich boys, with better livin' circumstances than ours then, eh?" Cade laughed darkly, forcing Garrick to groan into his cloth.
The room was quiet. Cade was quiet, and Garrick took this opportunity to speak honestly with his acquaintance. "I'm just pathetic. I don't have any powers like him that I can control, and the skills I do have don't seem to have any meaning. I'm useless. And all I do is hold him back."
Cade furrowed his brows, not completely comprehending but sympathetic nonetheless. "Now seriously, mate, where you say you're from?"
"Runawynd. It's like heaven, I guess."
"Heaven." Cade repeated, grasping his palms tight to his legs and inclining back. "Fallen angels, then, huh?" Slowly, he nodded, "I wonder if it's good luck or somethin' that I met you."
"Or maybe it's fate?" Garrick suggested as he rolled his shoulders inward for a stretch.
"Heh, however you wanna justify it." Cade shrugged, pulling his hat off his blond head and tossing it onto the bed in the corner of the room. Garrick watched awkwardly as he rolled a hair tie from his wrist to tie his thin hair in a ponytail.
He seemed such a frail thing, but passionate and travel-worn just the same. His clothes and face were mussed with dirt because of his generous will to let Garrick bathe and dress first. But there was something in his eyes... a deceiving flame for such a small boy that evoked story.
Garrick had to ask. Besides, there seemed nothing to do but wait for Torrin to arrive. "Hey, so, why'd you decide to become a mercenary? Seems a pretty fearless profession for somebody on the run."
Cade looked over. "I don't know how much of it I've blabbed already, but where I come from, this humble little town here - well, as you can well imagine, it's always one thing after another. Figured that by leavin', I could travel at least. See, I want to be airborne. I was over the clouds once. It was so beautiful, lookin' down at the clouds. I wasn't born here in this part of town, y' know. Came from down in the country by plane 'bout two years ago. Was shipped here, really. 'M scrapping together all my money of mercing so I can get a plane of me own. I always wanted to fly 'n go all the way up to heaven. I wish you'd tell me what it's like?"
Taken for a loop, Garrick blinked a few times, attempting words to place for Runawynd. "Oh, well, I'm not sure it's all it's cracked up to be."
"Does it have peace and quiet? Lots of food and a warm bed? Is there a window where you can keep an eye on all your loved ones, or is that just when you're a ghost?"
"No, it has all those things. I guess, really, it's my favorite place in the world- well."
"Sign me up, then. 'M glad to hear it, really." Cade allowed a smile to eke out while he looked down at his hands, toying with his thumbs as he spoke, "Anyways, mate, 'm sick of land, sick of fightin'. I think that's why I chose this 'fearless profession.' For the travel, and Treyston's been good to me."
"But not as you'd like it to be?" Garrick added knowingly.
In return, Cade paused a moment. "What makes ya say so? If ya don't mind?"
"A familiar vibe." Garrick smiled; a sign of acceptance.
A similar smirk crossed Cade's features, "Hold up, mate, so you and Torrin...?"
"Wh- no, it's not like that at all! He's a brother to me."
"Well, I won't pry, then, mate." The boy sat back in his chair, sinking in a deep sigh. "Ehh, just my luck, right? The only guy I'd consider worth my time... but well, in all honesty, I can't see it happenin'. To him, seems like it's only strictly business, what we got." Suddenly, a pink hue overtook Cade's already rosy cheeks. "Between you and me, I been havin' dreams about him lately. Makes it kinda hard to face him the next day, if you catch my drift."
"Errr, yeeah, that's a little too much information for me." I mean, I'm glad he feels he can be open with me, but still...! At the thought, Garrick's face reddened a deeper color than Cade's.
"So, since you won't teach me how magic works, why not offer some love advice?"
"Advice? I - well, it's definitely not my area of expertise." I'm sure Keiran would be much better at it than me. ...I wonder what he'd say to this guy.
"I trust your judgment." Cade welcomed with confidence.
Where to begin? "So, er, can you tell if he might like you? Like, has he ever said anything randomly romantic to you, or called you -uh, endearing nicknames, or tried making physical contact with you against your will?"
"Ahaha!" After listening to Garrick's outrageous questions, Cade burst out laughing, "Hehe, why, does he seem the type to you? Hahaha! No, he barely spoke to me before we got to know each other. Barely speaks to me now!"
After Cade stopped his laughing, wiping at his eyes as he went, the room became quiet again - almost eerily so.
Luckily, before Garrick had a chance to prepare such a speech, Cade started up again. "See, my mama always said if I wanted somethin' and wanted it bad enough, I had to work hard to get there. I worked real hard just to get him to open up to me and be friends 'n such. Sometimes, I don't wanna just botch all that up by askin' 'im for more. Guess I'm a coward."
"Maybe you're just being practical."
"Love is anythin' but practical. Or logical. Or rational." Cade rambled, his typical brash appearance giving way to a more sensitive one, and Garrick's heart went out to the boy. "But 'm really hopin' for more. Y'know. Even if it seems impossible."
Garrick recalled Treyston's worry beforehand about not wanting him to return to this town that hurt him. "Well, I think your chances are pretty good. Do you think he knows about your feelings?"
"I s'pose he would. 'S not like I'm nice like that to just anyone, y' see."
Garrick bent his head over again, concentrating hard on a board laid across the floor. "What makes you like him all that much? I mean, if you worked all that hard at getting what you have, then why want to sacrifice the relationship you have with him now? To make way for something more... why?"
"You got your share of troubles, too, no doubt. Dunno. It's just dunno. But you know that feelin' when you're with that person and want to be with them so badly, you just want them to stay with you forever? When you want to know everythin' about him, even if it takes you a lifetime? I think it goes somethin' like that for me and Trey. I almost wish he'd just belong to me." Cade habitually brushed a strand of blond hair from his face, as he, too, avoided Garrick's eyes.
It took a moment for Garrick to gather his feelings and put them to words, "You remind me of him sometimes."
Cade looked up. "A man, huh? Then, you're like me..."
"I dunno if I'd say that." Garrick knew he had to tread carefully. The last thing he wanted was to dishearten his friend.
"'S rough, in'it? I just learned to be true to meself. Lovin' one guy behind the scenes is better for me than lying to a lady. You just gotta figure out who you really are and what you really want out of life, I figure."
"But what if I don't know what I want?"
"Jus' make sure you have an idea before you do anything stupid. 'N if you don't mind my sayin' so, thinking doesn't seem to be a strong point of yours, mate."
"Hey, watch it."
"So, what's your advice? For me and my situation?"
"I mean, if you found a guy that tolerated you for so long like this," Garrick ignored the similar but accented 'Hey, watch it' and said with a grin, "I'd say go for it. You never know until you try."
Eyes shining with renewed vigor, Cade planted both hands firmly on his knees, puffing out his chest with a determined breath, nodding as he went. "'S about time for change, anyway. I'll do it tonight, I think. I'll ask him to be my mate."
"Whoa now, don't come on too strong." Garrick stifled a laugh. "But don't be too subtle, 'cuz see how far that got ya with tall, dark, and handsome?"
"Well, what about your mate?" Cade asked at last, craning his neck to peer right into Garrick's eyes. "You speakin' somma these things from experience?"
Immediately, Garrick shied away, "No, no, he's not my mate, but he wants, or wanted us to be. I- well, ugg, I mean, this guy really... adds some meaning into my life." Garrick never had to put his relationship with Keiran into words, and it was baffling him all the while Cade's eyes prodded into his burning face. "Well, he's annoying. He's always on my mind, and I can't get him out, and sometimes, I wish he'd just go away."
"But now you're trying to get back to him." Dreamily, Cade rolled in his bottom lip into a round smirk, comfortably setting his chin on his palm. "He ever confess to you?"
"Never flat out."
"What was your response? You must've did somethin' really nasty to get kicked out of heaven."
"I didn't get a chance to say anything."
Their door opened.
Thinking it was Torrin, Garrick stopped short with Cade, but when he found Treyston walk through the door, he continued his thought, "I don't really know, all I know is that he pisses me off and I want to go back so I can kill him."
"I have your medicine." Stoic, graceful, Treyston greeted. He removed a small bottle from a sack he carried with him and handed it to Cade, who looked in rapture for a minute. But was it only Garrick that saw it?
"Thanks, Treyston." Cade said.
"Anytime. I hope you feel better soon." Treyston directed at Garrick.
Instead of choosing his first option, denial of illness, he chose his second option, make Cade look good. "Cade's been taking care of me. I think I'll be fine."
But all thoughts of Cade's love life vanished. Little Torrin had knocked, entered, and held the door open for Sylas, who lifted his eyes up to greet Garrick.
"S-Sylas!" Without bothering to contain his joy, Garrick jumped from his stool and over to Sylas; ready to embrace him. "Where the hell have you been?"
"Gathering information, as you have, I'm sure." Sylas looked warily at the two unacquainted mercenaries.
Garrick shook his head at Sylas' natural cynical gaze. "They're our leads."
"That's travelin' mates, thank you!" Cade spoke up, also jumping to his feet to greet the new guest. And if Garrick didn't know better, was that a grin of excitement he shot towards the ex-Diviner of Karma?
Sylas' eyebrows raised, clearly unhappy, but still willing, "All right, then, I hope I don't need to explain myself any further, seeing as though we're running out of time."
Leave it to Sylas to bring us sunshine and rainbows at the world's end. "I'm listening."
Finally. I got the phone reprogrammed and working well enough. I still can't get in touch with Keiran, but at least the GPS is on. It's incredibly lucky that they were able to find it while I brainstormed here.
Hmm, I see one seal here, but I don't see... the other two... They're gone? How could that...?
In that case, there's only one last barrier to break through, and then the portal. And the second seal is... in the neighboring town? Well, I'm not sure how thrilled the others will be to go back.
And I'm not sure how we'll figure out the warp spell, but we'll need it to get up there. He sure didn't make it easy on us. But it should be doable.
Might as well get to sleep like the rest of them. I'll share the news with Torrin and Garrick tomorrow morning, but now, I can barely think anymore.
That is, if the sun decides to rise tomorrow morning.