Chapter 1: The Cost of Freedom
Walter cried out in agony as he hit the floor, having received another hit from the asylum doctor. This beating had been going on for what felt like hours to Walter. The doctor sneered at him, readying the belt again in his hands.
"I'm only going to ask you one more time, kitchen boy. Where is the girl?"
Walter stared at him for a few moments before giving the same smirk as he had before, coughing up a bit of blood.
"I'll say it once and I'll say it again, you're not getting an answer out of me no matter how much you beat me."
The doctor sneered.
"Who said I need to beat you anymore?" He grabbed him by his hair, forcing him to his knees. "You want her freed so bad? A dangerous inmate out into the world?"
"The only one dangerous here…" He coughed. "Is you!"
The doctor growled, shaking him a little.
"You don't understand, boy. They'll throw the book at you for this… or I'll find a much better punishment for you myself."
"Do what you want. The information you want you'll have to pry from my cold dead hands."
"So be it."
The doctor, threw Walter down before pressing a button on an intercom.
"Get a room ready. We have a new patient."
It wasn't long before other doctors came into the room, taking Walter away and into one of the many rooms of the asylum. They threw him in without much care, Walter skidding across the floor.
"Enjoy your stay, traitor." one of the doctor's said before closing the door.
Walter laid on the floor, soreness keeping him from being able to get up. He glanced at himself, least the best he could without his glasses. His clothes were torn in some places, he was covered in bruises and judging by the warmth he felt on his face, he most certainly was bleeding from his nose and had blood on his lips from coughing some up.
He sighed, curling up on himself.
Least Willow got away… I just hope Maxwell is going to keep his end of the bargain in regards to me.
The room was illuminated by a single light bulb that flickered overhead, casting shadows across the walls. Walter shuddered, curling up more on himself, wincing as he felt his abdomen.
Something definitely got messed up. He put me through the wringer.
Of course, tick off the head doctor twice…
It was hours before he heard any sign of anyone outside.
The door opened before it was quickly closed.
"Sorry for making you wait."
Walter glanced up, squinting his eyes at the person before him. He recognized the voice but he wasn't sure if it was who he thought it was.
Maxwell knelt to his level, putting on a new set of glasses over Walter's eyes.
"The one and only. Again, sorry for the wait, time got the better of me of getting Willow away from this place."
"I-It's fine. H-How is she? Is she okay?"
"She's doing well for herself and you'll see her in due time but right now, let's focus on you." Maxwell summoned magic aura to his hands, having it wrap around Walter, healing his injuries. "You know, I thought doctors were supposed to do no harm."
"Tell that to ones who see patients like Willow as science projects over people." Walter sighed in relief. "And then, when you break their rules this is what happens… At least here. There's some good ones out there I'm sure." He growled. "But not here… Not these people. They don't care at all."
"Hmph, cads the lot of them. Best we make haste now before more show up."
"Wait, one more favor, please."
Maxwell raised an eyebrow, crossing his arms. Walter gave him a pleading look.
"It's not huge I promise. Just… make it so my mother never gets any notification of me being forced to be in here. It'd scare her a lot."
Maxwell thought it over before nodding.
"Very well. Might not be a pleasant experience for the doctors here but considering what they do to people here I honestly will not feel bad for what I will do them to keep that from happening."
"I just don't want my mother to worry… She's the only person I have left that is family in this world and I don't want to hurt her."
There was sympathy in Maxwell's eyes.
"I understand and I promise I shall do what I just said to keep that from happening."
"Thank you." Walter held up his hand. "I'm ready to go now."
Maxwell took his hand, summoning shadows around them.
"Let's leave here then."
There was a rush of shadows around them before they vanished, something else, something quite dark left behind.
A terrorbeak skittered onto the bed, screeching as the door was opened before lunging for its prey.
Walter felt a little dizzy as the shadows dissipated around them. He looked around, seeing they were in a forest area, taking note the trees were burnt to a crisp.
"Looks like she was through here rather quickly."
"Oh goodness, Willow…" Walter gulped. "W-Where is she?"
"Somewhere far from here. Probably just best to follow the burn trail."
"You can't just take me to her?"
"Watch it. I'm already doing you quite a few favors in order to ensure your mother doesn't find out about this." Maxwell gave him a serious look. "You can't make too many demands."
Walter gave him a miserable look before sighing, adjusting his glasses.
"Right, right, my apologies. Nothing in this life worth having is easy to get, right?"
"Then…. I'll just get to work."
"Good." Maxwell summoned a backpack to his hands, offering it to him. "Here, something to start you off. Know these simple rules. Keep your guard up, stay out of the dark and whatever you do, don't starve. Best of luck finding your "sister"."
Walter took it, nodding.
"Thank you, Maxwell. You're a real pal."
"Anything for a friend. Now, if you'll pardon me, I have some "doctors" to check on." He grinned wickedly before disappearing.
Walter took a deep breath before going through the backpack, finding an axe inside.
"Well… if I'm gonna survive." He looked at the charred trees. "I'm gonna need something for a cooking means."
Hang in there Willow. I'm coming!
Chapter 2: Up in Smoke
Up in Smoke
The smoke was thick and suffocating all around. It had filled the factory within moments of the machinery malfunctioning and bursting into flames.
How could this have happened? Everything was just fine the other day. They had passed inspections and no one had found anything wrong with the machines. No loose gears, screws or anything. Yet, here they were.
Robert wheezed into his shirt collar, trying to use it as a means of filtering out the smoke as he tried to escape the facility but to no avail. He was getting weaker and the smoke was clouding his glasses, making it hard to see.
He fell to the ground, his glasses falling off and sliding across the floor. His eyes stung from the smoke.
This wasn't supposed to be happening. He was supposed to be finishing his paperwork for the day and going home after making sure his employees also went home and didn't work themselves half to death.
Now, it looks like I'm going to die here.
He closed his eyes, preparing for the end.
"Say, Pal, you don't look so good."
Robert's eyes snapped open at hearing the voice. He looked up weakly, unable to tell who it was without his glasses.
The person knelt down to his level, swiping their hand over his eyes, allowing him to see clearly for a moment. Standing before him was a man in a purple pinstripe suit with a narrow face and dark slicked back hair. His green eyes glinted a bit with the glow of the flames around them.
"I know it's been sometime and I've changed faces but I hope you haven't forgotten your dear king, Robert Wagstaff."
Robert's eyes grew wide as he looked him over. The face was new but the tone and the way he carried himself…
"In the flesh… and it seems you're in quite the situation, aren't you?"
"It would seem so." Robert wheezed. "Maxwell… Help me… Please… I… I don't want to die… E… Everything was just fine but… I… I don't know this happened… What did I do wrong…?"
Maxwell tipped his chin up.
"You did nothing. It was THEM. Seems they didn't want you being content with your radio factory. Such a shame, you were just getting things up and running too."
Robert reached a hand up to him.
"I'll do anything… just… please…"
Maxwell grasped his hand.
"If you truly mean that, then I can save you."
"I do… Please…" He wheezed. "I'm not ready to die."
"Then that's all I needed to know."
Shadows came around them, taking them far from the factory. Robert coughed as the shadows faded, revealing an open rock quarry around them.
I'm never taking fresh air for granted again.
Maxwell flicked his hands, producing a new pair of glasses in them.
"Something for your eyes." He said, slipping them onto Robert. "And I have quite the task for you but you'll need to be a bit stronger than you are now and of course, I need to take care of those injuries. So, hold still."
Maxwell pressed his hand against Robert's forehead. A warm and cold sense passed through Robert's body. His injuries faded, his clothes mended… and his hair turned from silver to a lighter brown and a new strength filled his being.
"There." Maxwell said as the magic finished its job. "Much better."
The man let out a sigh of relief, bringing a hand to his head.
"That does feel a lot better thank-" He stopped as he looked at his hand. He had been dealing with the typical problems of growing older in his profession. Including his hands being calloused from years of work. Now, he saw no evidence of that. He moved his wrist, noting no flare ups either. "... Wow."
"Rejuvenation is not something I give many unless I feel it's necessary and I feel you earned it and need it for what lies in store for you, old friend." Maxwell made a mirror appear. "I will say, you look quite dapper in that attire I've given you if I do say so myself. It was your old attire after all."
Robert looked at himself, shocked at seeing a younger reflection staring back at him. He looked like how he did when he was in his 30's and was now dressed in a brown trenchcoat with the sleeves rolled up, long black gloves, a light brown sweater vest, a red necktie and comfortable slacks and shoes. An outfit he was all too familiar with and happy to be wearing again.
"This… This is incredible." He grinned, leaning in for a closer look. "Not a single gray hair and these clothes are comfortable."
"All the better for what I have in mind."
Robert looked up, giving him a curious look.
"My King, what can I do for you?"
Maxwell looked over to a hole in the ground that had stairs present.
"The ruins in the caves below are a place of interest to me. There are things down there I need excavated and researched, see what is still standing and functioning. Think you can do this task for me, Robert Wagstaff?"
Robert nodded. It sounded intriguing… and exciting.
"I believe so… but I have a request of my own if I may."
"What is it?"
"I um… Well..." He fiddled with his gloves. "There was a young lady who lived here I'd… I'd love to see if she's still around, Sir. A-And I promise I'll do the task as asked but-gah!"
Maxwell was amused as he gave him a knowing grin.
"Yes, I distinctly remember seeing you with a young woman. You wish to continue what you two had."
"M-Maybe. If she'll have me."
"By all means. You don't have to stay down there permanently but the job will be done."
"Yes of course."
"Anything else you request?"
"No… Well, maybe one more thing."
"My factory… Go back there one more time and see if anyone is trapped. If anyone is there… please, help them."
"Request acknowledged." Maxwell gave a flick of his hand, a large wrench appearing it from shadow flames. "Here." He offered it to Robert. "I believe you'll want this with you."
He took it into his hands, finding it had a good bit of heft to it.
"For inventing AND fighting."
"D-Duly noted… Thank you again, My King." He bowed his head. "I am forever grateful."
"I'm aware. Enjoy your new lease on life. If you'll excuse me, I believe I have more work to do myself."
"I will. Thank you."
Maxwell disappeared with a burst of shadow flames, leaving Robert alone. He sighed, gripping the wrench tightly in his hands.
If you're out there, I swear I'll find you again.
The factory was falling to pieces when Maxwell returned. He had peeked outside to see how many had escaped. He saw there was a considerable group of escaped workers standing outside while the fire department was doing what they could to put out of the fire.
He turned his attention away from them, walking around the burning facility, using magic to keep the smoke and flames from reaching him as he searched the area.
With how things are this will be a quick visit.
He soon noticed a form collapsed on the ground, holding their hands close to their chest. He moved closer, seeing it was a woman with burns across her arms, the rest hidden from her position. He frowned, hoping he wasn't too late as he touched her, shaking her a bit.
"Can you hear me?"
She looked at him, her brown eyes barely open.
"Help… Please… I… I can't…" She coughed. "I need to…"
Maxwell shushed her.
"Everything will be fine. Your boss has requested I save someone else and seems you're the lucky winner of that request… though, I don't think that's entirely appropriate, considering your situation."
"Ya think?" The woman wheezed. "Just get me out of here… I can't stand this place for another minute."
"Hang in there." Maxwell summoned his shadows transporting them from the factory into a cleared area.
The woman looked up at him dazed, trying to focus her vision on him. Though it was flickering as she tried to stay awake.
She's in bad shape. I'll have to make this quick.
"Don't go to sleep, whatever you do."
Maxwell focused his magic, doing the same spell he had just used on Robert. The woman's body was healed in moments, her clothes returned to proper order and weakness leaving her body, being replaced with a new found strength.
Now that he looked at her, she seemed familiar to him.
Those eyes… I've seen them before.
The woman rubbed her head, slowly sitting up. She took a deep breath, sighing in relief that she didn't have any smoke in her lungs.
"Thanks. Ya really saved the day there." She looked at him with a small grin, her eyes lighting up a little.
"Maxy! I found some strawberries, you wanna share?"
… No… No it cannot be possible…
Maxwell stared at her for another moment, trying to be sure he was seeing things properly… and he was. The resemblance was close enough.
"You're welcome Miss…?"
"Winona. Winona Schuyler. No Miss, please."
Winona… No doubts, she has to be the sister that was mentioned but I never got to meet. She has Charlie's eyes. It's a only color their family has and the last name is a perfect match.
"I see. Well, your life is spared but… sadly." Maxwell brought a hand to her head.
"What are you-"
Winona didn't get to finish her sentence as she collapsed to the ground, feeling exhausted.
"I can't let you remember this meeting." Maxwell said, frowning. "Enough has been done for… him and her to suffer. I don't want THEM getting any other ideas." He knelt by her side, waving his hand over her head, magic seeping into her mind. "When you wake up, forget this meeting ever happened. You walked through a portal and found yourself here and are trying to find your way home. As my special gift to you, you have special protection from the night monster. You know her, you can avoid her attacks but don't stay in the dark forever. Stay in the light… and don't starve. Be safe… Winona."
Maxwell sighed, pulling away from her, walking off, disappearing with a burst of shadow flames.
Give Them trouble.
Chapter 3: The Wayward Chef
The Wayward Chef
I swear when I find that portal again, I'm burning down the whole dang building…. Well, maybe not burn. Tear it down.
That's a good way around it. Winona thought as she trekked through the forest of this strange new world. She remembered going through a portal and waking up here feeling exhausted but… refreshed at the same time.
That had been the first surprise. The other, was how strange this place was. Having to avoid the dark at all cost and learning to hunt.
Feeeh if I had a means of canning some of this stuff, I'd be just dandy. But nooo, I have to rely on cookin' for myself.
… I'm gonna starve at this rate.
Winona knew exactly how long to cook a piece of meat until it was done. That was about as much as her cooking knowledge went, simple things. Toast, a fried egg and coffee was her breakfast on most days she actually remembered to.
Eating stuff straight from the can was usually her lunch and dinner. Easy, didn't perish and could still be spread over a piece of bread if she had it.
But nooo, not gonna have it that easy… She dug through the backpack she found, pulling out a few pieces of jerky.
That had been another useful skill she had figured out. At least it couldn't go bad on her now and it was fine.
Not the tastiest but eh, it's food. She stopped, noting she saw smoke coming from another area. It didn't smell like a typical fire however.
It reminded her of when she was young and her father would take the family out to the cabin.
Heh… I remember him and that stupid smoker we kept worrying would blow up someday.
Her nose guided her this time as she followed the scent. It smelled good… like smoked fish.
She peered through the brush to see what was making the smoke.
A modest camp was before her, drying racks for preserving food as well as several crockpots… and some kind of box with the smoke coming out of it.
There was also a man. He grinned, peering into the side of the box, nodding to himself.
"Almost done. Just a few more hours and it's perfect." He sighed in relief. "No more going bad, just being tasty and ready to eat."
Who is this guy?
Her stomach growled a little as she silently cursed it.
The young man hadn't seemed to notice her. He dusted himself off, going about taking ingredients out of an ice box.
She took note of his attire as well. He was dressed like a chef, apron and all.
He lifted the lid on one of the crock pots as the scent wafted out.
"Ah, honey ham. Perfect."
Her stomach growled loudly as she tried to duck down in the brush. He looked over to her direction.
She heard footsteps before the brush was parted as she came face to face with him, seeing amber colored eyes and wild dark hair with grey-ish streaks in them. He raised an eyebrow.
"Can I help you?"
"UWAH!" Winona yelped, falling back. "Oof!"
"E-Excuse me, are you alright?"
The man smirked a little.
"The noise I heard earlier says otherwise. You hungry?"
Winona gave him a sheepish grin.
"Ah, breaking rule number one. Well, can't have that now. Come, come, I was just sitting down to lunch."
Winona looked him over, deciding if he turned on her she could take him in a fight.
She followed him into the campsite.
"You're feeding me and don't even know my name."
The man chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Where are my manners?" He took her hand, giving a sweeping bow. "Walter Gardner, at your service."
"Winona Schuyler." She replied, blushing a bit at the gesture.
"It's mine." She shrugged. "So, how long ya been here?"
"Few months?" Walter sighed as he handed her over a makeshift plate of food. "Had to take care of things first."
Winona saw his eyes darken with anger as he took a seat beside her.
"I see." She chose not to ask. It wasn't her business and she didn't intend to make it her business.
"Let's just say if I ever get back to Earth I'm doomed financially and probably going to jail."
Winona sputtered a little, giving him a look before snickering. Walter elbowed her.
"You… getting in trouble? You couldn't harm a fly!"
Walter gave her a look.
"I broke into an asylum and broke a patient out, as well as damaging medical equipment and causing probably thousands of dollars in damage on the way out."
She gave him a stunned look, eyes widening.
"... You did that?"
"Yep." He went back to eating. "You do what you have to, for your loved ones. I just need to find her now."
"Sorry, that wasn't nice of me to say that. That's dedicated. I'll give you that. It's also crazy."
"I've been told." He grinned.
Winona laughed, shaking her head.
"Well, what a person to run into. Breaking into asylums and getting out."
"Well, with some help." He winked.
They fell quiet, Winona looking over to him every now and then.
"Well… this is just weird. I haven't seen anyone since I came here who even resembled a person."
"I can say the same. Aside from my friend who dropped me here." Walter leaned back a little, sadness in his eyes. "I had hoped he would just take me right to her but… he said I have to play by the rules of this world too and had already asked enough favors "
Winona frowned, squeezing his shoulder.
"Who you lookin' for?"
"My little sister… Well, surrogate sister but still the same to me. She was a patient in the asylum, the doctors loved torturing her." He growled a bit. "Expected me to just stand by and watch. Well, I didn't. They tried to keep me away but I was not going to let up. Eventually, I found a way… had to make a deal but it was worth it."
Winona frowned. She felt sympathy for him, knowing what that feeling was like.
"You think she's here?"
"I know for a fact. What about you? Looking for anyone?"
"Trying to find my way home and… Stupid as it sounds, hoping to find my sister. She went missing awhile back and I still have this hope that maybe, just maybe she's alive. I just… I have this feeling y'know? That feeling that she's closer than ever but I can't see her." Winona tried to explain, sighing a bit.
"Yeah… I know that feeling all too well." He gave her a small smile. "Well… How about this? If we're both looking for someone, how about we work together?"
"You sure you want me around? I'm a bit crazy."
"I am too. Besides, would be a shame to let you starve out there." He stood up, offering her a hand.
Winona grinned before shaking it.
"You got yourself a deal there, Walt."
Chapter 4: Old Flame
An Old Flame
The candles flickered gently, their flames dancing as they burned. Slowly but with a purpose.
The flames reflected off a gleaming crystal ball in the center of a table. The woman looked over the ball, focusing as images were conjured before her, reflected in the glass.
Some she had expected, checking on loved ones, focusing on ensuring she had a safe path to travel between the village and her more secluded home in the darker part of the woods for the next day…
But what came next surprised her. Her eyes grew wide as the image of a man was reflected on the glass. A large wrench in hands being used as a walking stick as he looked around him, a look of determination in his eyes.
Is… Is this correct? Her hands shook as they hovered over the crystal, waving them over to see if the image would remain.
The image was as strong as ever. The man was still there. She could see his eyes now.
Eyes she knew and missed.
"Andddreeeaaaa! Your caaaandles!" A voice hissed from the shadows.
"Scrying, Brother." She retorted in response, turning back to the crystal, sighing, seeing the image was fading. She closed her eyes, whispering her thanks before blowing her candles out. There was a dim lantern she had on for her own protection but she knew the candles bothered him.
Andrea knelt down, offering her hand, a gentle smile coming to her face.
"Sorry about that. I… I saw him."
"Who?" Sebastian slithered out of the shadows, cuddling up to his sister carefully, not wanting to cause her any sanity loss if he could avoid it.
Andrea hugged him, nuzzling him as he gave a little chirp.
"Robert. I-I mean I think it was him."
Sebastian gave a sharp gasp before coughing a little.
"I ssshouldn't have done that."
Andrea shook her head, hugging him again. It was an odd arrangement. Sebastian was stuck like this but she still was able to enjoy his company. It was part of why her house was so far out.
That, and she liked keeping to herself.
But I won't be by myself if he's here.
If he still likes me.
"Sssstop lookin like that." Sebastian spoke, up giving his best serious look as he could manage, wriggling out of her hold.
Andrea hugged herself, giving a sheepish look.
"Yessss it'ssss that obvioussss I'm your big brother for ssssshadow'ssss ssssake!" He hopped up onto her table, tapping her crystal ball with his beak. "I made disssss for you!"
"You think… he misses me?"
"Andri I know for a fact he does!."
Andrea felt her cheeks heat up as her ears lowered a little.
"How about disssss? I'll watch your boyfriend-"
"SEBASTIAN!" She shrieked a little.
"And do some Terrorbeak LOVE SERVICESSSS!"
Andrea felt her face heat up more, covering it with her hands.
"Oh my goodness…" She whispered. "You are too much."
He slithered off the table and onto her back, nuzzling into her hair.
"I love you!"
"I love you too… Okay, Big Brother. You have a deal. But if you screech in his ear…" She gave him a playful look. "No chin scratches. For a year."
Sebastian fell off his perch with a shriek.
Robert sighed, wiping his brow with his sleeve. He looked up at the darkening sky, trying to recall the cycles from when he was younger.
Let's see… Tonight should be the full moon. Which means I can avoid getting killed by the darkness.
The man smiled, nostalgia in his eyes as he looked upon the moon. It brought back memories.
"Oh, there she is." Sebastian smirked, nudging Robert towards where Andrea was standing in the garden behind their home.
Robert blinked, noting she was leaning over what looked to him like a bird bath.
She jumped, looking to him, giving a little wave, a shy smile coming to her face.
He tugged at his tie before going up to her. It was daytime but there was a pale light coming from the bird bath.
"What do you have here?" He asked as she looked down into it. He followed her gaze, eyes going wide.
The moon reflected back at them. He looked to her as if asking permission as she nodded. He poked at the water as the reflection rippled but the moon stayed.
Andrea giggled quietly at the bewildered look on his face.
"The moon, even in the day time. Amazing."
"The moon dial's a lot of fun to use." She blushed a little. "As the moon changes, the water amount does too. Pure moon water, perfect for making salves or elixirs with."
"Incredible." He murmured, gazing at her reflection in the water.
"Wonder if she still has that thing…"
He jumped as he grabbed up his wrench, dropping into a defensive stance. A shadowy image flickered across his vision. A terrorbeak, as it flickered into a semi-solid form in front of him, hissing as it tried to make itself look bigger.
He moved back, confused when the creature didn't try to attack him. Instead, the terrorbeak attempted to clear its throat.
"Robbie! Been foreveerrr!" It hissed in a very familiar tone, as strained as it was. Robert's eyes grew wide in horror.
"Sebastian…!?" He gasped, moving closer looking him over.
What happened since I was last here?
"I know." Sebastian sighed. "It lookssss really bad. But I promissse it'ssss not! … Well, okay I can't do a lot without handsssss but I'm useful!" He tried to puff himself up a bit. "Sssseee?"
"Good heavens, what happened!?"
"... I ticked off the king."
"Sebastian, no. You didn't."
"I did." He gave a sad sounding chirp. "And Andrea moved far away sssso I could live with her sssstill when Melly'ssss not around."
Robert frowned, kneeling to his level, tilting his chin up.
"Well, I'm certainly glad to see a familiar face. Even if it took a moment."
Sebastian perked up, slithering onto his shoulder, giving a happy chirp.
"So, how's it like being one of those?"
He stood up, balancing Sebastian on his shoulder.
"I see… So, where's Andrea? If it's not too abrupt to ask."
"HA! That'ssss why I'm here!" Sebastian laughed maniacally, a laugh that made Robert shiver a bit.
Even with that warped voice, I know Sebastian's "I'm about to make your life Hell!" laugh.
"Terrorbeak Love Ssseervvicesss!" He cheered.
Sebastian shrieked a little, making Robert, move faster.
"Mush human! MUSH! THAT AWAY!"
Robert, despite it, found himself laughing as he was guided through the moonlit fields, down an old pathway that had been cleared.
"Mm-hm.." Sebastian grinned.
Soon, they passed through a veil of vines as a small cabin was revealed.
This garden was different from the one he remembered. It was more covered, the trellis' built to ensure there was cover as the plants grew. The large moon dial in the center of the garden flowed with water as it pooled over, running across the ground, illuminating it.
Standing over the dial, her hands hovering above it, was Andrea. Robert's heart skipped a beat as he took in her image.
She was a bit older herself but it was clearly her. Her hair flowing gently in the breeze as she gazed down at the moon's image.
Andrea's gaze was focused as she moved her hands over the dial, for her, the images changing and flickering… until she saw his own leaning over it.
Their gaze met in the water before both looked up. Robert felt his eyes get misty as he gave her a gentle look.
"I found my way back."
Andrea's eyes welled up with tears as she reached up, cupping his face in her hands. She opened her mouth to speak before biting her lip.
Robert smiled gently, cupping her cheek in his hand.
"It's okay. I know it's been a long time…"
Andrea shook her head before she threw her arms around him tightly, causing him to stumble back a bit before bringing his arms around her.
"A-Andrea…" Robert murmured, some tears escaping. It had been so long, he thought for sure he would never see her again.
"My Robert." She mumbled. Robert's gaze softened hearing her voice. Quiet but it was still her's. Her voice that he missed so dearly.
He tightened his hug around her, burying his face in her hair. Back on Earth he always thought about how this moment might turn out if he got a chance.
He never imagined it would be like this… and he was so relieved she was right there in his arms.
"I know I'm not as young as I was and the beard probably has to-"
Andrea put a finger to his lips, a playful look in her eyes.
"I like whiskers." She whispered.
Robert felt his face heat up before burying it into her hair again.
As always, she sets my heart a flutter.
"We have a lot to catch up on.. I have so much to tell you."
"And I you. A-Are you here for… For a few days?" Andrea pulled back a little, worry in her eyes. Part of her worried he might vanish again.
Robert gave her a gentle smile, touching his forehead to hers.
"I'm here forever."
Andrea's eyes grew wide, tears running down her face before a bright smile broke out on her face as she closed the distance between them.
Robert brought his arms around her, holding the kiss for a moment before pulling back gently. He laughed quietly.
"You sure you want me around? I owe you for all this lost time."
"You put up with Terrorbeak Love Services . I'm sure my brother didn't make it easy on you."
"No, he didn't. But it was worth it." He cupped her face in his hands, brushing her tears away with his thumb. "Look at you. So beautiful."
Andrea blushed a little, nuzzling his hand, a quiet sound escaping her.
Robert grinned, kissing her head.
"I see you still purr like a cat."
"Oh shush." Andrea hugged him tightly, tucking her head under his chin. "You owe me extra hugs."
"I do." Robert looked over to the moon dial. "Especially since I know I interrupted your scrying."
"In my looking glass and even the moon all I saw was you."
He closed his eyes, keeping her close.
Even if he still had to get used to this world again, it was already home to him.
He was finally home as far as he was concerned.
Andrea smiled giving him a kiss on the cheek.
"Welcome home Robert."
Robert nuzzled her, stroking her hair, sitting down in the grass, content to enjoy the last of the moonlight.
"It's good to be home."
I'll explain everything later. For now… I want to be here in the moment with her.
Chapter 5: A Promise Kept
A Promise Kept
"And that's what happened." Robert sighed, leaning forward, looking at his hands. It was the next day, due to staying up all night trying to catch up both were exhausted. Robert mostly asking Andrea about herself over the years, trying to put off telling her about the fire, among other matters.
Andrea had a saddened look in her eyes, taking his hands into hers before pressing her lips to them.
"H-Hey I'm fine." He smiled, nuzzling her before leaning back.
"So, when do we start packing?" She asked.
Robert was taken aback by this, giving her a confused look.
Andrea picked up her teacup, taking a sip. They had been chatting over breakfast, trying to catch up, Sebastian tucking himself under the thick curtain like table cloth to sleep.
"A-Andrea you don't wanna leave all this." He gestured around them. "I know how much work you put into it."
Andrea shook her head.
"A house is a house. It's not a home that easily. It's my home because my brother is here and because now you're here. But if I had to move home, then I'll go where it is."
Robert wrung his hands, glancing up at her. While they had courted for a long time before, they were getting to know one another once more… but Robert still knew how he felt.
This was his dream girl still.
I just wonder if it's too soon to ask her such a thing. I mean. good gracious I finally found her but…
He got an idea, nodding a bit to himself.
"Alright, how about this?" He grinned. "I'll find the perfect place to build us a new home that's just ours. One that has access to some light source so I can build you the most amazing moon dial you'll ever have the joy of scrying with." He offered, Andrea's eyes lighting up at the idea.
"You mean it!?" She squealed a little.
"Of course! And it'll be our home. Just us…" He held her hands gently in his. "And your brother."
"He's kind of a package deal."
Robert sighed happily, squeezing her hands.
I've missed hearing her voice.
I've missed everything about her.
"I promise, I'll take good care of you."
She kissed his head, giving him a warm look. Andrea had never quite clicked with anyone the way she clicked with Robert.
Around others, she barely spoke. Sometimes gesturing more than anything else due to how nervous she got at times.
Around him, she felt content. She could tell him anything and he would always be listening, all his attention on her and the sound of her voice.
She was looking forward to a new life together of that.
"Be safe down there. Come back to me."
"I intend to."
That night, Andrea was working on cleaning up a few crystal geodes she kept on a shelf, polishing them until she could see the insides shimmers in the light.
Robert watched her work, hearing her humming quietly to herself, singing softly every now and then. It was still a wonder to him that this was his Andrea. That she was still willing to be with him and had waited so long for him.
It's crazy to think we're here right now. I'm here to stay and… good heavens, we'll be together for good this time.
Robert took a deep breath before going over to her. He cleared his throat, getting her attention as she looked up, her ears twitching a little.
"Yeah, Robbie?" She grinned a little.
He gulped, trying to fight off the butterflies he felt. He had imagined this moment for years, even before they were separated the first time.
Had this ring in my pocket the whole time for luck. Even on that day.
Robert took a shaky breath.
"Well… we're going to be living together soon and… I want to ask you something I should've asked a long time ago."
Andrea stood up a curious look in her eyes. Robert took her hand in his, getting down on one knee.
"Andrea, I love you to the universe and back. I want to know…" He pulled out a small box, opening it. "Will you do the honor of being my wife?"
Her eyes grew wide, covering her mouth with both hands. She looked at the ring before her eyes met his. He had a hopeful look in his own, mixed with a touch of nervousness.
"Oh my stars." She whispered before she let out a loud squeal, throwing her arms around him. "YES! OH MY STARS YES!" She laughed.
Robert was nearly knocked over by the force, hugging her with his free arm as he laughed.
"Oh, Andrea! Thank you, thank you." He kissed her head before sliding the ring onto her finger. "There we go. Perfect."
Andrea huddled close, looking at the ring, seeing the lone purple crystal shimmering in the light.
"It's perfect. Just like you."
He chuckled, nuzzling her.
"On the contrary, you're the perfect one my Shadow Witch." Robert smiled warmly, cupping her face in his hands. "How did I get so lucky?"
"I ask myself that every day." Andrea whispered. "And each time, I still can't fathom it."
"Well, we're here now." He kissed her quickly.
"And this is the start of our new life."
Chapter 6: Vanished
It had not been Jenny Schuyler's month at all. She felt like a weight had settled on her shoulders and on her mind.
On the outside, she tried to act like she always did. Work hard with her clients, run her boutique as best as she could.
When she was alone however… that's when the pain took over. A cold deep pain that seemed to wrap around her, threatening to make her fall at any moment.
It was never easy to recover from a death. She had lost one sister already… and now…
Oh Winnie… Why did you have to go too?
Jenny wiped at her eyes before trying to focus on the project in her sewing machine currently. Her heart wasn't in it though. Everything reminded her of what she lost. Reminded her of how her father had reacted to the news and then during Winona's memorial service.
"No… No, she can't be gone. " Isaac had murmured, shaking his head. "Not my Winnie… Not my Charlie… Neither of them. This is just a nightmare…"
"Dad… Oh Dad." She brought her arms around him, burying her face a little. "I miss them too."
She shook her head, trying not to focus on it nut it was hard. It always was.
Before, it had taken time but Winona and her had been able to get their father to somehow move past Charlie's disappearance, at least enough he could smile again.
But after the accident, she hadn't seen him do much else besides work in the garden or tinker with his music boxes and even those seemed to mirror the pain he was feeling.
It was heartbreaking and she could only cope with what she knew best.
Throw yourself into work, Jen.
Jenny felt the pendant around her neck, before taking it off and winding up the tiny key on the bottom.
"This one's for you, Winnie. Remember when Dad would make us these pendants? And you would never wear yours cause you were worried it'd break?" She spoke aloud to the silent air, opening the lid on the pendant as a tune began to play.
As she worked through the evening, the shop began to darken as the sun lowered from the sky. Doing anything to keep from thinking too much about it.
Because she feared if she may, she wouldn't be able to stop.
Just don't think about it… Don't.
Force it out. You've had to help pick up the pieces before… Tomorrow, I got plans with Dad. I'll take him out for lunch and we'll eat until we're sick and I'll make sure he's taken care of.
I'm not going to fall apart. I can't afford to.
When she took notice of the time, she cringed. She knew she had to try to get some form of sleep if she was going to keep her plans. She didn't want to walk home in the dark but a task had to be done.
I'll take one of those big knitting needles Winona carved for me last Christmas and if I have to, that'll be my protection.
With much hesitation, she closed up her shop, gathering up her things. She was halfway down the block when she realized she forgot her pendant.
She looked behind her, sighing a little.
I can just go back for it in the morning before I stop by Dad's place.
She frowned before nodding to herself heading back.
"It'll save me time and… then I won't have to think about it too much." She reasoned, slipping inside the backdoor and heading back to her workroom.
She looked around before seeing it. She picked it up, looking at the little image painted on the lid. Of her name surrounded by lilies.
With Love, from Dad it read under it in tiny writing. She closed it, holding it close to herself.
"I promise I'm gonna bring you out of this one Dad."
She heard the backdoor open and slam shut. She cursed a little, fear going through her. Jenny quickly moved through the shop, hiking her skirt up a bit to keep from getting caught on things.
She heard footsteps moving around the back room.
Just go to the front door and leave. Run as fast as you can.
The footsteps increased and before she got to the door, something collided with the back of her head. Jenny saw stars as she stumbled, trying to keep her balance. She didn't see her assailant, trying to jab at them with her weapon.
Her wrist was grabbed as she was thrown back against the counter, the glass in the display case shattering with the force.
She saw a figure with a hood over their eyes.
"Where is the safe?"
"I… I don't know what your talking about." She lied.
The figure growled.
"I said, where, is, the, safe?" He struck her again as she cried out.
"IN THE ATTIC!"
She felt something sticky on the back of her head. It was throbbing as well, with every breath.
Just my luck. I'm being robbed because I made one mistake.
The figure disappeared from her line of sight. Jenny struggled to get up, wincing as she felt her head. She could get away, she was just a few feet from the front door.
She took a shaky step, then another… when her hands were around the doorknob, she felt her head swim.
Her grip lightened as she slid to the ground, leaning against the door.
It was quiet. Eerily quiet. She heard something moving about up in the attic.
There was a screech like an animal as well as the thief's voice before she heard a loud THUD!
Jenny swallowed hard, her hands coming up around her pendant.
"Please, please leave me alone." She whispered.
She closed her eyes tightly before reaching for the door, pulling hard on the knob, managing to get it open. She tried to run but the pain in her head intensified as she stumbled before collapsing, her head colliding with the pavement as she cried out.
Someone… Anyone… Please…
She looked around blearily until her eyes locked with a set of green ones that stood over her.
"Say, Miss, You don't look so good." A familiar voice said full of concern. Jenny's gaze managed to focus a little as her eyes widened in shock.
"Let's skip the pleasantries."
"Let's worry about you." He knelt beside her, lifting her upper body into his arms. "Hm… I'd say that fiend managed to give you a good concussion but the blood… Tsk. So rough over such petty things."
Jenny winced before relaxing as she felt the pain fade away.
"What're you doing…?"
"Just taking care of things. I had an offer for you but I can't make it if your too out of it to even properly agree."
What the heck is going on? I have to be having a nightmare. This is just a nightmare.
The last time she had laid eyes on this man, she recalled a rough almost cold look in those eyes. Not these eyes that were filled with concern.
"Where's… Where's Charlie? Is she still…?"
"She's alive. Winona too, Jenny. I… I wanted to take you to them."
At least for as long as I could before he wakes up. I had to work so hard to get these few minutes of freedom.
I have to hurry.
William finished healing her injury before helping her up, making sure she could stand.
"I'll send you back." Somehow. "But… if you want to see them… or at least see Winona, I know where she's been camped out."
"Please… Please. Then I need to get Dad. He'll be so happy."
William winced at how desperate Jenny looked. He couldn't blame her after the ordeal she had just been through.
He took both of her hands in his focusing.
"Just be warned… This isn't normal."
They disappeared within seconds, Jenny finding herself with another splitting headache as she looked around her. She brought a hand to her head with a wince.
"Mgh… What hit me again?"
William steadied her when she stumbled again.
"That's the effect of this world. A headache is expected." He explained quickly, handing her a backpack. "Winona's camp is north of here. You'll find her-" He gasped as he felt a chill go through him, fear in his eyes.
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!? Maxwell shrieked in his mind, causing William to cry out a little.
"Go to her and stay with her. Stay out of the dark. Charlie is not… is not herself. She can't control-"
YOU SHUT UP RIGHT NOW!
Jenny had a look of horror in her eyes as William struggled to even stay where he was.
"Just move! Stay out of the dark and don't starve! You have to live!"
Jenny gulped before breaking into a run to where he had pointed to. She looked back, hearing William scream in agony, falling to his knees. She saw shadows come around him before fading away.
I don't know what's going on but I'm not going to question this chance too much.
Please ,Winnie, hang on.
Charlie, you too.
And Dad… Hang in there.
We'll all be home soon.
Chapter 7: The Bond of Family
The Bond of Family
Winona and Walter were busy in the little camp they made their home. It was an adjustment but Walter loved having Winona as company. She knew a lot more about building than he did and it came in handy with the new structures they had. New machines, proper tents and best of all, an improved kitchen. It was wonderful.
However, Walter could never deny the sadness he saw in Winona's eyes from time to time. She'd brush it off, focusing on the task in front of her but he had a hunch of what was haunting her.
Her sisters. It has to be. I know that look. I've made it myself.
Today was a bit odd with what Winona was working on. Or rather, it was something Walter wasn't expecting. He was quiet as he peered over Winona's shoulder, seeing she was making a locket with a knob on it. His eyes widened as he recognized the design.
Winona jumped, clasping the locket in her hands.
Walter backed off a little.
"S-Sorry, didn't mean to startle you. I know how it is when you get in your zone but I wanted to ask… that locket. I've seen that design before."
"Yeah, I bought one not too long ago from a shop for Willow. It's a music box locket, right?"
"... Yes." Winona showed the locket. "My father was a master at making these."
Walter looked at it, nodding.
"Schuyler brand if I recall correctly- … You're related to guy who made these special music boxes?"
"My dad is the owner of the brand. He taught me everything I know about these."
Walter smiled softly, sitting beside her.
"That's amazing, Winona."
"Yeah… Wish I spent more time with him. He made all of his daughters these lockets. On the day we were born, we were given one with our names and a flower to represent us. Jenny had lillies, Charlie had roses and me? I had lavender buds."
"Heh, that's so sweet."
"Yeah. I rarely wore mine because I worried about breaking it but…" Winona dug into her shirt, pulling out her locket "The day I got brought here I happened to be wearing it. They all play a special song our mother sang to us… our father's precious iris flower…" She smiled sadly, turning the dial as the song began to play.
It was a gentle tune, something that Walter was most certain was supposed to be a lullaby. Walter looked to Winona, eyes going wide as a tear streaked her cheek.
Winona brushed her hand across her cheek but the tears kept coming. She hadn't listened to the locket since she came here. Reminded her too much of what she left behind.
How badly it had to have hurt her father and sister.
"I'm… I'm not okay." She murmured. "Call me childish but… I miss those simpler days. When we were all together and Mom was alive and we had no idea how awful the future was going to be."
Walter hesitated before bringing his arms around her.
"Trust me, I understand what that's like all too well."
Winona was stiff at the gesture but soon brought her arms around him, hugging him tightly. The two sat in silence, letting the music box finish its song. Walter stroked Winona's back, the woman relaxing into his embrace, her head resting against his. Nothing needed to be said, she just… needed this right now. A moment to grieve in silence.
The silence was broken by the sound of the music box… or rather, someone else's music box, not Winona's.
"Do… you hear that?" Walter asked.
It was faint but it could be heard.
Winona's eyes grew wide as she focused on the sound. It was the exact same melody.
She looked to Walter before getting up.
"I'll… I'll be back."
"I'll go with you."
They got up, hurrying to where the sound was coming from, Winona taking the lead. Deep down she was bracing herself for it to have just been some kind of trick or to find nothing but the music box…
But to their surprise, they saw woman lying on a straw roll, curled up around a music box necklace just like Winona's. The woman was still awake but was clearly trying to get some rest, a very exhausted look in her brown eyes.
Walter blinked, tilting his head.
Winona didn't waste another minute as she rushed over to the woman.
"W-Winona!?" Walter called after.
Winona knelt in front of the woman. She rested a hand on her shoulder, making sure she was real before speaking to her.
"Jenny?" she asked.
Jenny took a second to respond as it clicked who was speaking to her. Her eyes grew wide before getting glassy.
"Winnie?" She sat up, looking at her in shock.
"Y-Yeah." Winona's voice cracked. "Is… Is that really you?"
"You're alive… You're… You're…" Jenny threw her arms around her. "Oh Winona!"
Winona hugged her tightly, crying out a little.
"Jenny… Oh my gosh, Jen!"
The sisters kept close to one another, tears flowing down their faces as they savored the moment.
"Oh my gosh… You're alive, you're alive." Winona stroked her hair. a sob escaping her. "Jenny… Oh my gosh Jen…"
"You're alive too. I thought… I thought for sure you were gone forever." Jenny cried out. "Sis!"
"I-It's okay now… We… We have each other… We… We just need to find Charlie now and then... Is… Is Dad still…?"
"He is. When we find Charlie we're going to find a way to get home and then we are going to the cabin and we are spending quality time together. Ya hear me?"
"Loud and clear Jen. Loud and clear." Winona rubbed her eyes a little. "We're gonna get outta her together. That's a promise."
"Sure is." Jenny grinned before taking a glance behind her. She blinked, taking note of Walter who was trying not to stare. She lowered her voice. "So, uh, what's your suitor's name?"
"MY WHAT NOW!?"
Walter stiffened up.
"I don't really see you alone with some man, let alone someone so cute."
Walter turned bright red and if it was possible steam would be rolling off his head.
"I-It's not like that!"
"Okay, okay, no need to blow up." She grinned snickering a little. "Either way, got room for one more?"
"Ya kidding me? Of course! I'll build ya a tent, we'll get ya a real bed - I've gotten good at makin' cots ya know and Walt'll make you the BEST meal ever."
"A special reunion dish. I would be honored."
"Thank you." She hugged Winona again, keeping close. "Sorry just…"
"No, I get ya." Winona kept her close. "It's been too long, Sis… Love you."
"Love you too."
"We're gonna get through this together. Just hope Dad can handle waiting for us."
"I'm sure he'll be okay."
We still need to find Charlie but least we have each other
Chapter 8: Down in the Underground
Down in the Underground
He could hardly wait to see her face when she saw their new home. It had taken a few weeks of work, from mapping out the area, to finding a place that would allow adequate light from above to trail in.
But it was done.
Their ceremony had been a fast affair, all too eager to finally seal the deal as it were.
Andrea's hand was held securely in his as he lead her down. Once they had gotten closer he had her close her eyes.
"You're not peeking, right?"
"Robbie! Come now, you trust me right?"
Robert chuckled, squeezing her hand.
"I trust you. I don't trust Sebastian."
"WELL, NOW I'M WOUNDED!" His voice echoed from the shadows. Robert and Andrea laughed.
Robert fell quiet, leading her along until he arrived at their destination.
Andrea opened her eyes, a surprised look coming to them. It was a base like nothing she had ever seen before.
In the center was a house that resembled the one she had above ground. She could see light flowers curling like vines around it, illuminating it.
She looked upward, seeing it was also nestled in an area where natural light flowed in.
"That's not all." Robert grinned, leading her around to the back of the house. "Ta-da!"
There was a massive herb and flower garden in the back, forming a circle around a moon dial that looked as if it was carved out of moonlight with how it shone.
Large crystal geodes surrounded it as well, giving off their own faint glow.
"A proper moon dial for your moon scrying… A-And a proper circle garden to cast in. D-Do you like it?" Robert asked, a nervous look coming to his eyes. Andrea had her back to him, taking everything in.
Andrea turned to him, an overjoyed look in her eyes. She squealed, tackling him, hugging him tightly. Robert was surprised before he let out a laugh.
"I take it that's a yes?" He asked as she peppered his head with kisses.
"THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER!" She laughed, nuzzling him.
Robert held his wife close, resting his head against hers.
"I'm so glad you like it my love. I just want you happy."
"And I am. So very happy."
"YA DID GOOD BROTHER IN LAW!" Sebastian screeched.
"And something for you." Robert had a mischievous look as he reached over, uncovering a small stone den in the cave floor.
Sebastian scuttled over, looking at it.
"WOW. I GET ONE HOLE IN THE GROUND. You're SOOO generous."
"I mean I could just plant things-"
"IT'S MA HOLE." Sebastian scurried in.
"I mean, now you can keep around when I have candles and stuff going without getting hurt by the lights." Andrea pointed out with a giggle. Sebastian poked his nose out of the hole.
I think we're gonna be just fine.
"Alright, let's see… That should do it." Andrea sighed happily as she stirred the contents of the crockpot. "Robert'll be starving when he gets back."
"Ya mean more than usual?" Sebastian asked, swinging down from one of the rafters. Andrea poked his nose.
"Maybe. We'll see. Mandrake soup'll warm him up good though."
"Ya, it better. After all the trouble that thing was!"
"MERP, MERP, MERP, MERP, MERP, MERP!"
"Guuuuh shut up, shut up!"
The siblings shuddered as Andrea stirred the pot a big more vigorously as if to ensure the strange plant creature was truly dead.
Let's see… This should be fine to go for awhile.
She looked out the kitchen window into her garden, taking a second look when she noted some of the herbs had been disturbed.
… That's not normal.
He swung down next to the window, peering out.
"I ssseee disturbed stuff."
"And Robert's not the type to go through my garden without explicitly asking me if he can snip down one of the plants."
"... I scream?"
"No scream. We sneak."
Sebastian dropped from his perch, hissing as he scurried after his sister.
"You never let me have any fuuun!"
"Brother, contrary to what you believe, you are not a good alarm clock."
They quietly crept out, Andrea with a spear in hand, Sebastian darting through the shadows. Andrea looked around, taking note of some tracks in the dirt.
They look… insectoid... Great, we got big bugs. As usual.
Nothing looked as disturbed as she thought. A few herbs snipped down but that was about it.
Her eyes narrowed as she made her way for her moon dial, noting the water level had gone down as well.
Whatever was here, was sneaky. Not a spider. Spiders are too dumb for this and they're purely carnivorous.
Andrea kept scanning the area, keeping as quiet as possible, listening for any off sounds… That's when she heard it. It was the sound of scuttling footsteps. They sounded like the footsteps of a spider but… yet there was a slight difference. A light scratching of claws.
She let her ears guide her to the source, seeing a shape walking around in the dark, their white eyes having a slight glow to them. Now she was certain it wasn't a spider since there were only two eyes and not the eight eyes spiders were known for, not to mention these eyes were more human shaped and were set higher on whatever the creature was in the darkness.
She narrowed her eyes, gripping her spear tightly, taking a defensive stance.
"Sebastian, be a dear and bring 'em into the light."
Sebastian disappeared from her view before slinking into the shadows following the creature.
The creature gave a scream of their own, scuttling faster, trying to get away as Sebastian gave chase. He had to dodge a few hits from their own weapon before the creature came into the dim light of the light flowers.
Andrea's eyes widened at the sight of the creature. It was a human bug hybrid like creature. The top half was humanoid while the bottom half resembled that of a scorpion. They were red and tan in color and wore a pale green cloak along with a gold headpiece and were wielding a spear that was made of an odd stone.
"What the…?" She shook it off. "Who are you!? What are you doing in my camp?"
The creature stared back her, tilting their head. They spoke but Andrea couldn't understand them. The dialect wasn't any language she had heard before. Though from the tone of the creature's voice they sounded a little scared.
"Easy, easy…" She hesitated before going a bit closer. "Can you understand me?"
The creature stared on, seeming to try and process what Andrea was saying and gave her a confused expression in response.
Andrea hummed in thought before snapping her fingers as she recalled a spell she had read once.
I remember Melinda used it a lot when traversing the human world. Should work here too.
She focused as she conjured up a string of energy as it came around them both, chanting in an old language. When it was done the string faded away.
"Can you understand me now?"
The creature blinked before nodding.
"Y-Yes-" They brought a hand to their throat. "What… is this tongue I am speaking?"
"English. It's the tongue my people speak as well as my husband. What was yours?" Andrea asked with a head tilt of her own.
"Hm… I've not heard of that one."
"I have never heard of English before either." The creature came closer. "What are you exactly?"
"I was going to ask you the same thing. I'm a Shadow Being."
"Shadow Being… So strange." The creature looked closer. "Why are your ears so far out?"
Andrea flicked her ears a little.
"They're just like that. May I ask what you are too?"
"I am a Thulecitian." The creature answered. "The dwellers of the underground."
"Fascinating. So, you're the little sneak who's been taking from my garden."
"I needed water… and those herbs tasted yummy."
Andrea took note of how they sounded, her gaze softening.
Must be just a kid… not worth being mad over, Besides, this is definitely interesting.
"I-I promise I won't steal again. I-I'll make it up to you." The Thulecitian bowed. "O-On my apprentice's honor."
"Hey, it's okay." Andrea held up a hand. "No need to bow. Just ask if you need something. I don't mind sharing now that I know you weren't causing trouble. What's your name, young one?"
"Well, Laika, my name's Andrea… and sorry for scaring you earlier."
"That creepy thing was yours?"
"I AM MY OWN TERRORBEAK THANK YOU VERY MUCH!"
Laika shrieked, backing away and pointing their spear at Sebastian.
"S-Stay back fiend!"
Sebastian gave an unimpressed look.
"Oh, that's real polite. Reeeaaal nice. Hmph!"
"Easy now." Andrea grabbed her spear, making her point it away. "That's my brother."
Laika's jaw dropped.
"THAT is related to YOU?"
"It's a looong story."
"I USED TO BE PRETTY."
"You mean… You used to be a Shadow Being?"
"YEH. BUT I ANGERED A KING AND HE CURSED ME!"
"Oh…" Laika frowned. "I see… So even beings like you are susceptible to such a mutation."
"King Maxwell doesn't like us very much. Namely my brother here. He used to work for him along with his former archivist." Andrea explained. "The details aren't ours to tell but… it wasn't pretty."
"I let my anger get ahold of me." Sebastian bowed a little. "Sorry kid!"
"I-It's okay…" Laika looked to Andrea. "I w-will make things up though. I promise."
"Hm… Well, if you do wanna help, know where I can get some cave bananas? Robbie found some a few days ago but someone…" She looked to Sebastian. "Ate them all."
"Oh, I can find them! And hunt some splumonkeys!"
"I'll pay you in a good meal of Mandrake Soup. Deal?"
Laika scurried off without another word. Sebastian looked to Andrea.
"THISSS ISSS GONNA BE INTRESSSSSTING TO EXPLAIN TO ROBERT."
"Indeed, but honestly I think he'll be happy to know we have nice neighbors."
"Andrea! I'm home!" Robert called as he came in from his long trip of scavenging for materials around the caves.
"Welcome home love!" Andrea grinned hurrying over to help him unpack. "Find anything interesting?"
"You just want first dibs on the crystals."
"Maybe~" She gave a sneaky look before he pulled her into an embrace. "Eeep!"
"C'mere you!" He chuckled, kissing her head. "Missed you. What've you been up to?"
"Weeell…" She grinned sheepishly. "I met the neighbors."
"A being called a Thulecitian. Young one too. She was scrounging around the garden. Took a minute to understand her but she offered to make up for the stealing."
"Huh… Intriguing. What did they look like?"
Andrea conjured up shadow flames that took the shape of Laika as Robert's eyes grew wide.
"Fascinating. Do you know if she'll be back?"
"I sent them on a little errand so, soon probably. She got happy at the idea of hunting splumonkeys."
"I don't blame her."
"So, we shall see. For now, how does mandrake soup sound?"
Robert's stomach growled.
"Right this way then."
Andrea lead Robert out back, quickly getting him a serving before getting her own and sitting down with him. They ate in silence, enjoying the food. They soon heard the scuttling of footsteps.
"Andrea! I'm back!"
Andrea smiled as she saw Laika approach, a sack slung over her back.
Laika grinned back before curiosity came to her face at the sight of Robert.
"Who is this?" she asked, pointing her spear at Robert.
Robert yelped, grabbing for his wrench.
"This is my husband!" Andrea quickly got up. "Robert, this is Laika. Laika this is Robert."
"Your ears…" Laika tilted her head. "... They're so tiny."
Robert rubbed one of his ears unconsciously.
"Honestly, they're considered big for some humans."
"Yes. That's what I am, a human being."
"Hoomon being… I thought there were just Shadow Beings up there."
Robert smiled, giving a sheepish look.
"I'm not exactly local."
Laika's eyes grew wide.
"Are… you from another world?"
Robert grinned, giving a bow as he stood.
"Robert Wagstaff of Earth."
"Wow!" Laika was in awe of the man. "I… I have so many questions. Oh, wait till I tell my chief. He'll be amazed to know about other beings living down here!"
Robert smiled gently.
"Actually… if you'd be willing, I'd love to see where you're from. It's my current task to map out these caves and make note of what lives down here. I'd love to know more if I may?"
"I'll talk to my chief but I don't think he'd mind."
"Then we have ourselves a deal." Robert held out a hand.
Laika nodded, giving his hand a shake.
"Indeed we do, Robert Wagstaff of Earth."
"Please, just Robert, Ms. Laika."
"And as promised, I got food waiting for you Laika. If your still interested."
Laika's stomach growled as she grinned sheepishly, showing her pointed teeth.
"Ah, rule number one broken!" Robert laughed.
"Rule one?" She asked with a head tilt.
Chapter 9: Adjustments
Robert wasn't sure how he felt morally of ransacking abandoned camps. Camps that had clearly had someone living in them at some point, but long since deserted.
Technically he shouldn't have needed half the things he did. But he didn't want to trouble anyone in Andrea's former village and he also didn't want to keep asking things of Laika. The young huntress still had plenty of her own chores to attend to for her tribe. She didn't need him asking to help him with supply runs.
This was also one of the few times he emerged from the darkness into the light of the day.
It had started because he noted there had been at least one attempt made by someone long ago in the caves to survive. Not much had been there. A fishing rod near a pond that was still in good condition, a tent that aside from a spider he had to bludgeon to death inside, was still perfectly usable and the fabric, while needing a good washing, seemed to be salvageable.
It escalated into a theory if there was one like this in the caves, then was it possible there was more on the surface. As grim of a theory as it was, it had bothered him.
So, with a warning to stay safe from his wife, he set out. Traveling through a snow covered land, bundled up in a cloak made of beefalo fur found from one of the camps he had raided.
He spent a few days on the surface, mapping out the trail leading from the cave entrance to where he was now.
The camp before him had clearly seen better days. There was a tent with claw marks through it and a large fire pire that hadn't been lit in quite some time.
Robert took a deep breath before using his wrench to part the tent flap to be sure no one else was inside.
Like he had suspected, once more, it was empty. Part of him was relieved he wasn't taking from someone who might've needed it… but he also felt a bit guilty ransacking it.
It looked worse on the inside. He could see an abandoned bed roll with dark stains on it. There was a chest off to the side too.
Robert took a glance outside to once more be sure he truly was salone before digging through it.
"Hm…" He pulled out what seemed to be medical supplies. Honey poultice, a container of healing salve… He pulled out a small box, opening it to find a set of scalpels gleaming up at him.
This camp must've been home to a psychician.
Judging from how torn up this place is, I don't think he'd mind if I took these.
I may not be a doctor but I can handle basics. I can't rely on the Thulecitans to suddenly be human anatomy experts.
He gathered up the tools, taking a mental note of what else he found. He sighed a bit, shivering as the wind picked up.
Tomorrow… He decided, I'm going home to my wife.
"Alright, I think that's the last one." Andrea sighed in relief, counting the jars in front of her.
Living down in the caves, she had gotten quite adept at canning and preserving the things that grew in her garden.
Sebastian leaned over one jar, scrunching his face up as best as he could.
"Beanssss. Yaaaaay." He hissed.
Andrea shoved him off the counter as he gave a shriek, flailing as if injured.
"Oh don't be such a terror-chick." Andrea crossed her arms, giving him a grin. Sebastian went limp, throwing his head back, letting his tongue hang out.
"Gooodbyyeee cruuueeel world. Remember meee!" He hissed. "Rose…. Bud."
Andrea clapped slowly as he jumped up, taking a bow.
"Thaaank you, thank you I'll be here all weeeek!" He scurried back up onto the table. "Screee!"
Andrea slid him the jar of beans as he looked at it as if offended. He turned his nose up at it, diving under the table into a dark corner.
"You big baby." She dropped a tea towel on top of him as he poked his nose out.
"It'ssss keeping your mind off the hubby." He replied, his tongue hanging out a little.
Andrea sighed a bit as she brought her arms around herself. She was still worried, her stomach twisting in knots sometimes when she thought of the possible dangers.
Sebastian nuzzled her ankle before scurrying back into his hiding place.
The door opened as a chill came through the house.
"Andrea?" Robert called as she perked up, hurrying to meet him halfway. He was shrugging off his cloak, sighing in relief at being inside their home. He looked at her with an ecstatic look. "I'm home!"
She squealed, throwing her arms around him as he spun her around, laughing before they shared a brief kiss.
"Mm… Well, that's quite the welcome." Robert chuckled, pressing his forehead against hers. He still had a chill to his skin as she shivered a bit, bringing her arms around him.
"Oh, Robbie, you're freezing! Sit, sit, by the fire!" She said before shoving him towards it as he let himself be moved.
"Yaaayyy brother in law isssss home!" Sebastian chirped, scurrying to another dark area.
"I am. Good to see you too Sebastian. Take care of Andrea while I was out?"
"Terror Beak Theater."
Robert chuckled, rubbing his hands together in front of the crackling fireplace, sighing in relief as warmth came back to them. He looked behind him to Andrea as she laid a blanket around his shoulders before sitting nearby with his bag.
"You can look through it, just be careful. I need to clean quite a bit."
Andrea peered inside. She pulled out the box of scalpels, taking a look before putting them away quickly.
"While I'm not a doctor, I can pick up first aid quickly and I'd rather be able to help if something were to happen. I thought it'd be good just in case." He grinned sheepishly. "Call me overprotective but… I wanna make sure I can take care of you." He looked to Sebastian. "And you, if you ever get changed back."
"I vill NOT be your guinea pig!" Sebastian hissed.
"Guess I'll just fill in your little hidey hole."
Sebastian gasped sharply before scurrying out of the room.
Robert chuckled, offering an arm to Andrea as she huddled close, curling up beside him. He brought an arm around her, stroking her shoulder as she slumped a bit against him.
"How've you been?" He asked, running a hand through her hair. Andrea curled up more until she was almost a ball and sharing the blanket fully with him. He adjusted it to keep it close around her.
"Cold." She retorted. "And busy. I was preserving food or making sure it stayed preserved. Laika stopped by with Sanare and helped out. It was fun." She yawned a little "Wish I wasn't so stressed though."
Robert frowned, feeling a pang of guilt.
"I worry… and my stomach was all up in knots."
"Well, I'm home now. No more knots." He ran his hand through her hair before stroking one of her ears as she let out a small purr.
"M'supposed to be taking care of you. How'd you turn this around?" She asked, her eyes closing as she nuzzled his hand.
"Because I love you." He chuckled, kissing her head before shrugging off the blanket, wrapping her up in it.
"H-hey, I still have to make dinner-EEP!" She squeaked a little when he stood and lifted her up into his arms. "Robert!"
"I'm tired too. Let's go take a nap." He yawned a bit, carrying her to their room. Andrea wasn't going to argue with that as she kissed his cheek.
He set her down before heading out of the room. She sat up, tilting her head, wondering where he was going off to. He soon appeared, munching on a piece of jerky, offering her one.
".. No thanks."
"Suit yourself." He finished his snack before laying beside her, bringing her close.
Robert was the last to drift off, unable to help but watch his wife fall asleep. He still felt like he was in a dream that he feared he might awaken from.
Over the next month or so, life went on as normal for them in the caves. Visiting the tribe or hosting young Thulecitians in their abode for meals, Sebastian and Andrea bantering as always…
Until something felt off.
Andrea usually was up first. She would dust her crystals and meditated in the glow of her candles or scry in her crystal ball. She had a whole routine dedicated to her craft for when she first rose with the sun.
He was used to hearing her whisper or softly sing spells as she did so. But one morning… It didn't come.
Robert yawned, sitting up slowly, fumbling for his glasses. He slid them on, staring blearily at the clock he had made for them.
Andrea was beside him still, curled up on her side away from him. He shook his head, figuring maybe she had stayed up too late casting once more. Too much use of her abilities and she was exhausted.
He ran his hand through her hair, humming softly. Andrea's ear twitched before she looked up at him, exhausted. She blinked slowly at him.
"Hey you… Morning." He leaned over to kiss her head before she shook her head, pushing him away.
"No. You'll catch it." Andrea murmured, burying her face into her pillow, her response partially muffled by the action.
While she had tried to keep quiet - and her husband slept like a rock when he worked too long which he had, she had been sick all night, battling bouts of nausea between trying to get any form of sleep.
"Andrea, please tell me what's wrong." He pleaded gently. "What's going on?"
Andrea sighed into her pillow, her hair splayed across it like a curtain before rolling over to face him.
"I think I caught something. I don't want you sick either."
Robert gave her a gentle look, feeling her cheeks and head. He noted she did feel a bit warm.
"Nausea… Really, really bad nausea. Like, ate a raw green cap piece by accident levels."
Robert winced. He had been witness to that when they had been younger. He stroked her hair before getting up.
"Wait here." He said over his shoulder.
Andrea sighed, trying to make herself comfortable.
"Can you make me some tea, please?" She called.
"WHen I'm done."
He leaned back in, a few of his new tools in hand.
"I cleaned them and I have been studying I can't very well drag a healer down here." He gave her a gentle look. "I'll be fast, promise."
Andrea sighed, nodding.
"Besides your stomach Love, anything else going on?"
"My clothes were fitting a bit weird. More snug in some places." Andrea added.
Robert nodded before listening to her abdomen, focusing on what he was hearing. Andrea watched him, concerned.
Alright, so far so good-Huh?
He blinked in confusion as he heard a new sound in particular. He closed his eyes, focusing on the sound.
It was tiny but it was so strong at the same time. A heartbeat.
"Andrea… I… I think I know what's wrong." He threw the stethoscope around his neck, a look of surprise on his face. Andrea sat up a little, giving him a worried look. "N-No, it's not bad."
"Robbie, tell me."
He rubbed the back of his neck, a grin coming to his face.
"Andrea… I heard a heartbeat." He laughed a little. "A very tiny heartbeat."
Andrea's eyes grew wide as her hands came to her mouth.
"Y-You're not kidding?"
"No! I know what that sounds like. We're… We're actually…" He brought her into his arms, peppering her head with kisses. "Oh my stars Andrea we're having a baby!"
Andrea laughed, hugging him tightly, kissing his cheek in return.
"A little baby." She wiped away a tear that threatened to fall, her eyes a bit misty. "We're… We're having a baby."
Robert nodded, his own eyes glassy.
They had wanted a family of their own, they just didn't expect it to happen quite like this.
"This is really our life… Are we ready?" She asked softly.
"I… I have no idea. But we will be." He assured her as she brought both hands over her abdomen. "And I'll make sure you both are safe."
She smiled giving a nod.
"Heh… A baby… What do you think Sebastian's gonna think of this?"
"Heh, we'll find out." He chuckled, kissing her head again. "Now, you want that tea?"
"Mm-hm. More sleep and cuddling. Food later."
Robert laid down with her, his arms around her, his hands resting over hers.
We're really gonna do this. We're going to be bringing a baby into this crazy world.
I can't wait.