Chapter 1: One: To a Little Something New
"But that's just immoral!" Denying all professionalism, Garrick harshly snapped at the supreme god, Keiran, who calmly sat in his cozy, luxurious office seat, "I can't believe you want me to carry out a mission like that!"
With the mildest of expressions, Keiran merely blinked up at the enraged one and countered, unexpectedly cold, "Since when do morals matter here? At this place where we observe and judge humanity? We focus on facts, not feelings. You know that." He added, patronizing.
"Tch, I don't need you reminding me. And I know what I need to do, but there's no way I'm-" Garrick welcomed the coming verbal battle; his temper only rising further as his superior rose from his seat.
Keiran then approached him face-to-face, smirking all the while he spoke, "Look, I love the way you think…" A graceful hand took to Garrick's pounding neck, reached to his face, where it departed with a tender caress. "But talking back to your superior isn't a good idea when there are others present." He added in soft tones of warning.
Still frozen in his furious state, Garrick sharply turned his head to identify the intruder. It was Sylas, the Diviner of Karma.
In the noisy confusion of Keiran's office, Sylas wordlessly stepped in. He raised his eyes to behold an upset Garrick, and to such a god, a second thought was not needed as to why. The sharp-dressed man greeted Garrick's scowl with stern words, "It's already been decided. We've done our part, now it's your turn. Kill that boy."
The words of the other struck a manipulative chord in the man, and thus, Sylas was inadvertently dragged into the dispute. Garrick shouted in remorse, "But he hasn't done anything wrong! Sylas, you – of all people – should see that!"
"I know his karma is beyond normal mortal expectation, but it's his fate to die." Sylas, ever-cool, folded his arms comfortably. "There is nothing even you can do. And I'm sure you – of all people – know that life is hardly fair, Garrick."
"But the good humans are supposed to get happy lives! Isn't that the way your job goes? Why's this guy an exception?"
Before the fight proceeded further, Keiran raised his hand - a gesture to cease. His lungs first heaved an agitated sigh, as if preparing a speech before begging children.
Until both the boys ceased fire, he then determined, "Garrick, it's your job to foresee the mortal's fates and make sure they're carried out accordingly. Sylas, it is your job to judge them according to the lives they've led. And it's my job to make sure all of your work goes smoothly here in Runawynd. Let's get this done and out of the way, all right, gentlemen?"
"Sir." Sylas bowed his head with respect. Garrick bowed his head with obligation.
I hate him. That Keiran. Bitterly and carelessly, the Diviner of Fate began to conjure thoughts of malice. I hate how he treats me and patronizes me. I hate how he cares for no one but himself… That mortal boy is going to die at his hands when he doesn't even deserve it…
I refuse to kill him. I refuse to let him die because of Keiran's selfishness.
"Right. Well. Since your work is all done for the day, Sylas, would you be a dear and get my bath ready? It's about that time, you know. Oh, and dinner was fabulous; thanks again for the lovely meal."
After a second bow of acknowledgement, Sylas obediently and silently proceeded to take his leave. But when Garrick took to follow suit behind him, Keiran promptly called out, as though recalling a pressing matter, "Ah-ah, Garrick. Stay. We need to talk."
"Oh, yeah? What else do you want to talk about? I was on my way out to complete the mission." Though his body stood still on command, his desperate eyes still followed after Sylas, who shut the door behind him.
"Is that so? I thought that… well, you thought that…" A smile became a smirk. "Because of my selfishness, you refused to let that boy meet his end. Am I wrong?"
Curse him for reading minds. Curse myself for having my mind-reading barriers down. "That boy is innocent," Garrick stressed with great care. Instead of his direct approach, he decided to – this time – maintain pride and professionalism.
"Yes, yes, I know. I know… Sylas knows… you know." It seemed mere conversation failed to impress Keiran, beginning to prepare himself for his treasured bath time. Garrick watched his actions with little to no interest when the supreme god moved towards the window. "Now, before you leave, I'd like to ask a few questions."
Wishing deeply for an escape from that moment, Garrick's eyes ventured out the window where he beheld a world that Keiran himself created. The sun had sunk but a mere fifteen minutes ago, yet the world still seemed drenched in a golden hue of dusk. Everything seemed still and beautiful. For that moment, Garrick decided against questioning the motives and decisions of his superior.
And so, by means to progress with the interrogation, Garrick consented with a nod, "Go ahead."
"Can you see how he'll die?"
"No, not at this point. I just see that he'll die."
Garrick's eyes moved from the window's curtains to the cabinet; before which, the taller man now stood. Meticulously, Keiran peeled out a bath robe that matched the crimson hues of those curtains. "In two days," He responded at last.
"So you have two days of foresight in advance with this person, but you still can't specify how he'll die?" Keiran clarified. With a sweet, aristocratic smile plastered to his manly features, he turned to face Garrick, walked nearer to him, and draped his red robe on the sofa beside the hesitant subordinate.
Garrick was unappreciative of the space deprived from him, but he did not let his mind wander over such a trivial aspect. "Th-this boy is different, I think. Somehow I feel that… I should protect him. I don't want him to die, Keiran."
Preparations complete, Keiran eased into the sofa, smoothly stretching out his limbs like a feline. He paused momentarily to collect his thoughts, then took a breath. From where he was standing, Garrick could see Keiran gently close his eyes, run his fingers through his red hair, and sigh once more.
"You've never met him before. You've never seen him before. You don't even know his name, where he's from, or anything else for that matter. You just know that he's a kind individual and undeserving of the fate brought before him." Keiran's eyelids flickered open, lightly smiling at the intense Garrick.
He continued, "So why would you do something like that for a stranger like that? Really, sweetest, you're so unpredictable." With one hand, he began unbuttoning his own shirt (most likely - Garrick assumed – to change into his bath robe). And with the other hand, he reached out to playfully fluff Garrick's hair, running his fingers through the light, blond locks. "I like that about you. Your thoughts, feelings, emotions… It makes you so human-like."
The agitated Garrick turned away in an abrupt fluster, his eyes again wishing for freedom and scanning the door. "If you're done here with your interrogation, will you allow me to leave?"
Keiran chuckled softly to himself; upsetting the other even further. "Fine, darling! I give in! I'll let you save him. On one condition, naturally. You can't get something for nothing, after all."
Taken aback, the Diviner of Fate whirled around to face the debatably honest man. However, a sudden sweep of disgust found his way to Garrick's stomach. Biting his lip, he watched Keiran's smirk widen to a grin while he mumbled, "Ah, choices, choices… What can you do for me, my dearest? What shall I do with you…?" To add effect, Keiran unbuttoned the last one of his shirt, slowly revealing a slender, yet muscular build.
That unceremonious gesture had just about crushed any sanity that remained intact for Garrick, who thoughtlessly complained, "Don't be a creep. Just pick the first thing that comes to – wait, no, please don't say-"
Keiran submitted to his new-found, eager listener, "Never ask for his name. If he tells you, our deal's off, okay?"
Confusion was then the reigning emotion of Garrick, who fairly argued, "But that won't be hard at all. Why the odd demand?"
"Because I have a feeling it won't matter in the near future."
I just don't understand why he's helping me, that Keiran. I mean, in the end he gave me a photo of the guy, gave me a map of where he might live, and helped arrange for my stay on earth. This situation is really kinda odd… but then again, maybe not. Or at least, not for him. Odd definitely takes on its own meaning with that guy. As he walked, Garrick thought. The man harbored a wandering mind, after all.
Before becoming acquainted with Keiran - and truly opening his mind to him and his philosophical ways - Garrick didn't understand the importance of thinking. Only work. But that was before. It was only after an encounter with his own fate that he determined, "I've got a head, so let's use it."
Perhaps the saying rings true, "People change depending on who they meet." Perhaps you learn something new through each encounter, whether it's a small tidbit or a lifelong lesson. Because of personal experience (and therefore growth), Garrick felt that nuance stronger than ever.
He's such a powerful person… I don't know why he's so lenient with me. I mean, sure, I do my fair share up there. But I guess understanding his motives really doesn't matter. I mean, his business isn't mine. Well, I guess in this case, maybe it is. Whatever. I don't even know what I'm saying anymore.
Descending to earth exhilarated Garrick like nothing else did. Being among the people of earth – the humans, as well as their unique cultures – never ceased to fascinate him. Each person is so different, yet so alike. He thought in all his optimism.
Garrick glanced down at his map to find that his destination was but a few blocks away. Given the time of day, the town was adorned in a restful slumber. The shops, people, and lights of the town had diminished with the sunlight. For a moment, the Diviner of Fate wondered if it was wise to approach a human at such a late hour. Hah. Yeah, that could get awkward real fast.
In the near distance, he listened to the faint sounds of a sharp wind softly making its way through trees, causing him to shiver. The air down here is different from the air up there. It's colder here. Unbelievable how Keiran has the power to change seasons up there and down here, too. Up there, the flowers are blooming. Down here it's… autumn, I think. That's pretty incredible!
A sudden (if not random) gust of wind swept past the unexpecting Garrick, who swayed clumsily into a nearby tree trunk. In an odd moment, he felt a branch graze his arm affectionately…?
Is he… playing pranks on me?! Tch, messing with me through nature, that dirty - Goddamnit, I shoulda dressed warmer!
Stealthily navigating towards the house, Garrick at first wondered if knocking would be appropriate. After all, who would expect to hear a knock so late at night? And who would get up to answer it? Honestly, I must be joking-
Without even raising a fist to the door, it slowly creeped open. To Garrick's amazement, a young man (identical to the one in the photo he was holding) peeked out, gave Garrick one look, smiled, and proceeded to open the door.
"Come on in. It's getting colder outside, you know." His soft, calm voice matched that of his form. His pale skin emitted a radiance of innocence in the moonlight. His eyes were shimmering green, like that of a lush hillside. Among other things, Garrick noticed how the boy's body movements were equally as refined and subtle.
So this is the kind of person I wanted to save? The dazed Garrick thought in ironic wonder. Someone so… beautiful?
Before entering, the stranger politely halted the actions of the other. "Hold on a minute. You don't even know who I am. Why would you let me in your house like that?" Unintentionally, his voice grew humorous with disbelief.
After a confused look, the small gentleman then laughed, "I have a similar question to ask you later on tonight. Please come in! I've got tea ready – help yourself to some!"
And so Garrick entered, carefully sliding his shoes off, and following his host to a quaint dining area, where two seats were prepared and decorated. This time, he wondered if Sylas – karma - was playing with him. Or perhaps this was part of Keiran's plan…? I mean, why else would he have let me in so easily?
"Believe it or not, I actually had a dream that you would come." The younger male summed up cheerfully, filling up a cup of hot tea for his honored guest.
"A dream, huh?" Dream? I don't know anyone that can send dreams… That's weird. Unless Keiran can do it?
"Yup, that's right. A man with blond hair and blue eyes like the ocean will come to your doorway tonight. He will be your guardian angel… Or so I was told. So I stayed awake and waited for you." Such a sweet smile played along the sweet features of his face. "But that's… kind of crazy, don't you think?"
"You're not one to believe in 'fate' or anything like that, I'd take it?" Tactfully, Garrick questioned before taking a sip of the hot beverage.
The boy took a seat opposite of Garrick, watching him in amazement. "Well, I don't really know. I've had weird dreams like this before, but I still think this is pretty strange."
"Hah. That's an understatement." The two men exchanged idle chatter regarding the delicious tea, the house – in which he lived alone (Garrick was surprised to hear that the youthful-appearing boy was in his twenties) - and other formalities. However, the taller man was careful to leave out the one topic always brought up during introductions. His name.
I have no idea why, but… he's so easy to talk to. Like a brother, maybe? It feels like some long-awaited reunion… Such a feeling was new to Garrick, but he decided to refrain from dwelling on such a topic. "Anyway, I just wanted to ask if I could stay with you for a few days. Would that be all right?"
"Oh? As part of you becoming my guardian angel or something? Will you stay for long?"
"Two days." Childishly, Garrick began swirling the remnants of his loose-leaf tea around in his cup, and he watched them float around the bottom. "After then, well-"
Void of fear, the other calmly inquired, "Is something going to happen to me?"
He's quick to ask something like that. He's a smart kid. But what am I supposed to say to that?
"I just figured that… you know, since I need a guardian angel, something must be going on. Like I need the extra protection. I don't know why I would need it, though. It's not like anyone's coming after me, and this town is so peaceful, so I can't imagine..."
Keiran never told me not to tell him, so… "Yeah, you're in danger. Within two days, something is going to happen. I don't know what it'll be, but I wanted to stay here and protect you." After saying such an honest remark, Garrick cursed inwardly, Oh man, that sounded corn-sauce.
"Wait, so, you'd do this for a person you don't know? I know you're my guardian angel for a day or so, but even so, that's still a little crazy. In a world like this, such a thing is just, well-"
Crap, I think I said something wrong. He seems a little upset. "It's better not to question it. We're either with fate or against it, you know?"
Quietly, the green-eyed boy paused to sip his tea. He sighed a little, thinking deeply before speaking, "Don't you want to know who I am?"
"Nah, not really." I'm not used to being so unprofessional. I think.
"Not even my name?" His eyes seared straight into Garrick's.
…Mind reader. This kid a god or something? …Ha, or something. "No, I don't want to hear it. Just let me do what I have to do, okay?" So that was a white lie. Whatever; sometimes it gets me by.
A quick agreement was made between the two boys; Garrick would be allowed to share the young man's house, for the next two days. In Garrick's point-of-view, the closer they stayed together, the harder it would be for death to take him away.
Of course, Garrick was careful not to mention that the man could actually die. Although he had a suspicion that, perhaps, the he already knew. Or at least, had an idea. Perhaps the person would prove to be something more than what he seemed…?
The Diviner of Fate let him go about his daily duties; not once stepping on his toes. He did insist, however, that the boy remain home for the next few days. Because he knew the potential danger would arise on the second day, he felt there was no need to get in his way.
But at that point, Garrick already felt like a burden - especially after he was allowed to stay in his spare guest room. In addition, the gentleman had also cooked a fine breakfast, lunch, and dinner in his honor. I guess… in his eyes, I really am his guardian angel. And right now, that's good enough for me.
On the night of the first day, Garrick requested to set up a cot in the younger man's room; to keep safe. Without hesitation, the man immediately obliged. And although he offered to help Garrick set up his spot on the floor, Garrick refused, spouting that he had already done enough on his behalf.
The other male had fallen asleep first, leaving Garrick to watch him during his peaceful slumber. I still wonder what his name is, though. Keiran said it wasn't important, but…
Immediately, Garrick felt a familiar vibration in his pants pocket. His cellphone (given to him by Keiran for such a "dangerous mission") vibrated, leaving the bewildered man to first jump with surprise, then fumble around to find the right button to turn it on.
"Shh, whaddya want? You're gonna wake up the-"
'Don't talk, then.' Came a pompous voice, which seemingly came from receiver to the mind. Keiran's voice echoed strangely in his head. 'I can read minds, remember. And over the phone, too, yes, I can send my own thoughts.'
…You perverted scumbag.
'Yes, well. Keep your barriers up and you should be fine.'
Before Garrick had an opportune moment to ready his brain for conversation, Keiran's voice came in loud-and-clear. 'So how's the baby?'
Uh, so far, so good. …Hey, why am I holding the phone, if you can read my-
'You ramble a lot when you think, you know that, darling? Clear your mind a little. This is an art that can be mastered. Anyway, I'm glad to hear it. And I came to call and say you let your guard down.'
'I can see that you care for the boy. Like a brother, was it?' Garrick could sense the humor, sarcasm, and drama all leaking out his superior's echoing voice. 'Ack, I'm GREEN with envy!'
Readying himself on the "off" button, the Diviner of Fate gave his listener one last chance, Why did you call me? Seriously?
'How long are you planning on staying there?'
One more day. Tomorrow… I guess we'll see what happens tomorrow. But after that, he should be fine, right?
'You mean, you can't see it from there? His future?'
No, I can't. Especially here on earth. Hey, I have one more question for you, too, actually.
'Fire away, sweets.' From the other end of the phone, Garrick could hear a teapot begin to whistle in the background. Perhaps Keiran was in the mood for a midnight teatime…?
This guy said he had a dream. I was in it. I mean, that's why he let me in his house; because I was his guardian angel. You have any idea what that's all about?
'Hm…' Keiran added with suggestion, 'I might've had something to do with it, but I think it's something more about him, rather than about me.'
'I mean that the boy – as you've hopefully figured out – is more than he seems. Have you ever heard that people change depending on who they meet? Well, I think this is a perfect opportunity for you, my dear Garrick.'
Slightly irked that Keiran had changed the subject, Garrick went along anyway and whispered, Whatever. Oh, and one last thing, Keiran.
'Again, fire away, my dearest.'
Don't ever use random object to touch me. That tree hugging thing was a little weird. And random. And completely uncalled for.
'Ha ha. I'm glad you've enjoyed it.' Keiran chuckled loudly on the phone and began pouring the boiling water into (what Garrick could only imagine to be) one of his finest teacups. 'I just thought, Oh, I get the feeling he's starting to respect me! Talking about how amazing the differences our two worlds have! I was just touched – simply tickled! And I couldn't help but want to-'
There was a limit to how much a man could take, and with a strong and shaking thumb, Garrick's cellphone turned off. Before joining his partner in a well-deserved slumber, he would remember to keep his mind-reading barriers up.
"And then the kid's judgment day arrived. You know; day two. He stayed home, I kept a close eye on him, he made me breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and nothing more happened." Garrick summarized to Keiran, expressing with slight dissatisfaction with the previous mission. "It felt weird to think that that was all I had to do; keep him home. But we avoided it - whatever it was."
"Well, I'm glad to hear everything worked out in the end, darling." The pleased superior rose from his luxurious sofa to collect a new bath robe – it was about that time, after all. "It's really the smallest things that have the biggest impression, you know. I think… if you would've saved him from some horrible fate – like by slaying a dragon or something – he wouldn't have been any more impressed with you."
Before the hesitant other had an opportune moment to protest, Keiran spoke once more; ever-quick with the tongue, "Do you want to know how he would've died?"
"Nah, not really. It doesn't really matter now." Was Garrick's quick response.
"Do you… want to know my exact words to him? You know, after day two, when you brought him here to me?" While Keiran spoke, his actions displayed distraction, as he reached into his wardrobe and drew out his choice of bathrobe. "You did as you were told. I'm glad. Me and Sylas did our best with judging him."
To that, Garrick remained silent. Of course I want to know. For some reason, his thoughts went whirring, but his mouth dared not speak. Perhaps he was afraid. Afraid of what he may hear, afraid he might speak over something important…
"'You can go back to earth in the form of dreams.' That's what I told him." Content with his bathrobe decision, Keiran turned to behold his subordinate – as he often did. "There, now you're aware. He'll be working with us, as a messenger. He'll help us to give the humans certain signs. He had a kind of knack for it."
…Dreams? For a moment, Garrick pondered the oncoming information. He smiled in conclusion, "How fitting."
"Yes, well, I thought so, too." Keiran set his bathrobe aside, and would wait until Sylas returned. Instead, he decided to indulge in a small, candied sweet set up on his desk, which – Garrick figured – was also probably laid out by Sylas. "Guess what his new name is? Torrin. Cute, isn't it? I picked it out myself."
A new name; thus a new life here. I guess his old name doesn't matter now. "But that still seems kinda selfish, you know? He had to…" The blond man paused, upon feeling words about to flow from the heart. Briefly, he questioned to himself if such a thing would be wise…? Regardless, he continued to the faithful listener, "He had to deny all worldly things to join me. Is it really worth it? Or am I just selfish?"
Keiran inhaled dramatically, then added in a seemingly rhetorical fashion, "Who can say? It's not like I can answer that sort of question for you, my dear. But apparently, he had no problems with the change. He wasn't very attached to earth, anyway. Luckily for us."
A calm silence ascended on the two men. All oncoming words that Garrick prepared had left him, and all Keiran's actions to prepare himself for bathtime ceased. For a moment, they just stopped and mentally took in the lifetime change that time had presented them with.
A new member up here… That dreams guy. Torrin. Garrick felt that by thinking of the new name, he would quicker adjust to it. Despite his doubts, he was very content with the newfound situation.
Before he allowed Keiran turn his attention elsewhere, Garrick vocalized, "One last question… Did you know this would happen? Did you orchestrate this whole thing in advance? So that him and I would meet, and he'd be saved, and everything?"
"Humans are the same, but different." Keiran's smooth voice made its way across the room, "I like watching them, because most of them are just so fascinating. No, I had no idea this would happen. But yes, I chose to help you both, because I'm a nice guy."
Sensing a familiar, awkward pattern, Garrick felt the other quickly approaching. He didn't know whether to run or to stay put, but he had little time to think, regardless, before the man was upon him. Those all-too-familiar fingers ran through his hair, caressing at his face, and running down his back.
Refusing to let his subordinate go, the superior whispered softly to his prey, and adding with a short laugh, "And nice guys like to receive compensation, you know, dearest…" Garrick then felt a tug on his shirt, and realized that already two buttons had been undone.
In a flustered shuffle, the mortified Garrick struggled to release the unnecessary grasp of the other, breaking free, but foolishly allowing himself to fall into the lavish couch beneath him.
Like moth to flame, Keiran set off to join him.
There was a curt knock at the door, and without permission, a young man bearing a youthful appearance appeared in the doorway. Torrin stood for a moment, took one look at the now frozen men, and smiled to himself.
Completely unaffected by the sudden appearance, Keiran buttoned up Garrick's shirt back up for him. "Ah, Torrin, darling! How are you feeling?" Keiran made no effort to heed Garrick's sharp, stinging remarks, as he readied himself in front of Torrin.
"Yes, I'm fine. I just wanted… to say thank you. Ah, to both of you, that is." The nonchalant Torrin kept his hand on the doorknob, and left with a mysteriously joyful phrase, "Well, that's all, so I'll let you get back to work."
The door eased shut.
For the second time that day, that cordial silence befell the two men. Still in a huffy, Garrick thought about the just recent scenario. His ocean blue eyes dodgingly followed after Keiran, who stood quietly by his favored window spot of the room - merely gazing outward.
"I wonder if he's really going to be happy here…" Garrick thought aloud, almost wishing for Keiran's ever-honest reply.
"I gave you options, and you made a choice to save him. I gave him options, and he chose to stay. It's all about choices. Let that be a lesson to you, my dearest."
You know, I can't tell if he's a moron or a genius. That Keiran guy.
Well, whatever. Time goes by. That's all it's really meant to do, anyway. And we move on, because – essentially – that's all we're meant to do.
Chapter 2: Two: To a Rise and Shine
It's amazing to me. How it can take some people their entire lifetimes to figure it out. Sure, some people understand things sooner than others. Some might learn from experiences they've had or people they've met. And there are some people that might never get it.
But for me, those fifteen minutes was all it took. Like most things that happen, I can rarely explain the why. But as the Diviner of Fate, I can tell you this; what happens, happens regardless.
I remember watching him for the first time. I saw a man, sipping tea in his favorite chair, just watching things as they happened through a glass window. Always smiling, that man.
I'll admit, he confused me then, and he confuses me now.
But before that day, I never really enjoyed my own cup of tea. I'm not sure if he knows, but on that day, he definitely woke me up and snapped me out of something horrible.
I'm now alive and awakened, thanks to that man by the window.
"So what do you think of Garrick? Isn't he darling?" The supreme god, Keiran, inquired sweetly to the Diviner of Karma.
Quietly, Sylas watched his superior "at work"; more or less, attempting a recently-acquired hobby: number puzzles. Before answering the question brought before him, the man paused to collect his thoughts. While he did so, his eyes remained fixed to Keiran's hands, which were hesitantly yet gracefully moving across the notebook; every once and a while, etching down a number or two.
Sylas then spoke, "I think he's a little uptight at this point. Takes his job too seriously. ...Or maybe he stresses too much. He's dense and close-minded, I believe. But he is still fairly new here, so maybe he's just feeling uncertain."
"As always, honesty is your strong point. I think you've analyzed him quite spot-on." With a faint smile of adoration, Keiran added, "Except for a few things. He's serious, but in his own way… A different sort of serious than yours."
"…?" Sylas welcomed a further explanation – one that never came.
Predictably, the taller man switched topics towards his own interest. "Would you be a dear and get my bath ready? And some sweets, if you have the time. I'm planning on talking with Garrick tonight. Just me and him. You know… a one-on-one, man-to-man thing. You see?" Ever-suggestively, the redhead chuckled.
For a wavering moment, Sylas was hesitant to respond to the orders. Perhaps because a puzzle was brought before him, causing him to think before taking action.
Keiran turned his attention back towards his own riddles, frowned, and then shut the book. Perhaps he, too, was frustrated with his puzzle?
Without moving his eyes, the supreme god continued, "His thoughts are just reeking of wanting to get something off his chest, you know? I'm sure you've heard them, too...?"
"Y-Yes, of course." Keiran… What a strangely generous person.
I hate Keiran, that self-centered mook.
The newly-recruited Diviner of Fate, Garrick, sat frustrated at his desk. Although attempting to concentrate on his work with full-force, his attention was hypocritically devoted on his superior, Keiran - that ever-nagging thought in his mind.
He's so laidback about everything… He alone is responsible for the world he's created, yet… Argh, it's just so frustrating!
A curt knock on the door abruptly awoke the daydreaming worker. In stepped Sylas, who greeting Garrick with a nod, then stated his business, "Keiran would like to meet with you tonight over tea."
"Tonight? As in, a few hours?" The evermore frustrated man gestured towards his workload. "I have so much I need to- Tch, very well."
After receiving the answer, Sylas gave him one last look before exiting the room. One which Garrick interpreted to be cold and unsympathetic.
Then again, I guess that's how everyone here is. Heartless. I hate this. I hate Keiran.
Reacquainted once again with his workload, Garrick wholly immersed himself. Yet all the while, his thoughts remained stuck to Keiran like skin to hot leather. Discomforting.
Although he harbored much remorse for his leader, another new (yet all-too familiar) feeling took root - loneliness. After all, as the Diviner of Fate, he deemed responsible for judging (and if need be, carry out) the fates of human lives. Such a burden seemed trifling at times, unbearable as of late, yet lonely moreover.
Garrick listened to the empty sounds of a clock ticking, the wind picking up outside, and the footsteps of his former intruder pacing the hallway to make the needed preparations for his master. Quietly, the man scoffed. Such a noble little dog, that one. Serving that idiotic lord of his with no questions asked. What a joke.
The man checked his clock. Two hours to go. For the first time that day, Garrick actually noticed himself heave a sigh. Surely, he'd done so many times previous without being aware of it...?
Unhappy with his distracted state of mind, Garrick shook his head hard, heaved in another breath of air, and took his pen more firmly in his hands. On any other day, these small actions may have been all that was required to bring him back into a working mood. But alas, today was different; a known something - or perhaps someone - vexed his mind.
As his pen movements had ceased, his mind moved on. When one first joins this godly society at Runawynd, your past name is left behind. As in, Keiran "bestows a new name, therefore new life upon you." It's kind of like a reincarnation ritual of sorts. By getting rid of your previous name, it symbolizes supposedly getting rid of your previous life.
His head unintentionally lowered upon such past recollections. Momentarily, his blue eyes stared blankly into the half-finished document beneath him while a thick drowsiness began overtaking him. Not that I have any major complaints with it. My previous name wasn't all that precious to me, anyway.
After the unwanted topic was dropped, the scratching pen commenced. And for perhaps the first time within that hour, Garrick was able to reclaim his peace of mind. He finished sheet by sheet collecting bits of information from various mortals, for whom he would grant either happiness or unhappiness, depending on Sylas' reports.
For a brief moment, that lonely man wondered what his own "karma report" would look like. What did he deserve, truly…? A life of solitude, working under a selfish, cold man? A life of monotony, never stopping to take in the world's beauteous opportunities?
But I'm working now and can't be stopped by thinking. Because thinking is… unprofessional.
Sitting calmly, sipping tea. The way of Keiran had always been so simple. He greeted his guest with a soft smile, then offered him a cup of his own, to which Garrick declined.
"Fine. Don't accept my lovely offer." Keiran hinted dramatically. "He who hesitates is lost, as they say."
Silence overtook the room moments after Garrick had entered. Smiling, the observant superior chose to remain wordless as if waiting for the other to speak first. Such a discomforting silence drove Garrick into a corner when at last he chose to speak.
"Why are you always so laid-back about everything?" He finally snapped at his superior, who merely smiled a charming response. It seemed to the distressed Garrick that Keiran found everything he did to be amusing. Which, naturally, only annoyed him further.
"We're practically gods, no? The people of earth are almost no less, believe it or not. As I watch them, I notice certain life patterns. Some continue their lives merely living… as you feel, I'm sure." He added with a knowing chuckle. "You sure you don't want some tea?"
Per usual, Garrick inwardly rated the significance in his words. I have no idea what he's getting at. And why change the subject? "No, I really don't want any."
"So, you won't sit down and talk over a cup of tea with me?"
Garrick's wild eyes remained locked on suave Keiran's. With a sense there was more talking to be done, the man sat on the nearest chair, across from his superior, and listened half-heartedly to his commander's speech.
As Keiran hospitably reached for the second teacup across the table, Garrick quipped, "I'll sit, but I won't drink."
With a shrug, the man proceeded, "But you know, truly living is a gift. A gift I - we - give them. They live as they like, I watch them do as they please in a 'live and let live' sense, but in the end, we're still here to judge them when their time comes."
Garrick couldn't supress a cynical laugh, "Kah hah, I hate how you say 'we'. I'm the one working for these people. I have a lot of responsibility and have things to do. You have no idea how hard this is! And I do all of this alone! You just sit back and watch! Nothing you say makes any sense, and I don't…" A red hue grew around his manly features, quickly regretting his sudden outburst. "I don't get you."
Why am I being so honest with him? I shouldn't be talking like this - I need to be professional… Unemotional. But now, I just can't hold it in anymore… And I'm sure he wouldn't let me leave without spilling everything anyway.
"Why do you choose to work alone? You need to have some faith in me. After all, I'm the one who keeps everything ticking." Keiran stood from his seat, abandoning his warm teacup to walk around Garrick's tense form. "I could… take all this away for you. End your work; end the world. Destroy humanity. Is this what you want?" He added, suggestively.
Garrick sat motionless and speechless. Trying to seem unmoved by the others' startling words, he avoided any and all eye-contact for fear that Keiran would read into him. Which might have already occurred, knowing the ruler of Runawynd.
"I love how you're so human-like… It's your unpredictability – among other things - that makes you so attractive, beloved Garrick of mine…"
Unintentionally, the blush across the blond's face crept into a searing heat across his body. This act of his is getting way too repetitive. "If we're done here, I'm leaving."
"Do as you please." Keiran stated simply, then gestured once more to the teacup. "But won't you try some tea before leaving?"
"Don't want any."
"Have you ever even tried it? Or have you no time for tea, is that it?"
Garrick said nothing, but from the corner of his eye, he watched his superior's tall figure stride towards his favored, lavish window. All the while sipping his tea, he lazily rested his body against the frame, brown eyes hazed through the glass.
Although he was permitted to leave, something kept Garrick stuck in that one place. His troubled mind and body felt foggy and tired; a great relief stretching over him. The formerly-hasty man lifted his eyes. He had never really spent time with his superior, yet the thought never really crossed his mind before.
I sat on my chair and watched HIM this time. There wasn't much to the imagery, actually. It was just one guy, taking a look at an entire world below him – just standing there and watching.
In a blinded moment, Garrick became fascinated. "What is it that you do here anyway?" He asked, his prior hostility slowly melting away. "All I ever see you do is sit and watch the people down there."
"Garrick, my dear. Everyone has their share of problems and workloads, I assure you." Keiran gave a graceful turn then gestured a welcoming hand towards the window, "But rather than me try to explain things to you - because we can both see how well that's going - would you rather just take a look yourself?"
The man hesitated - afraid at first, but curious all the same. Slowly, he started to rise from his seat.
Garrick's eyes adjusted to a vast plane of land, water, and a sunset that nearly took his breath away. There were various horizons in the sky, the clouds (a bubbly speculation of unpredictable patterns) left a indefinite trail before him, and even the glimmering sun and earth, too, met and traveled onward together.
On the land, there were people full of life, with each location offering its own variety of color and architecture. From structured cultivation to compact, towering cities, there were things that were familiar and things that were unrecognizable to the beholding, sheltered man. Cars and unknown objects glinted and sparkled under certain inspections of the beautiful sunlight that stretched beyond the horizon.
He saw grand and lesser bodies of water, and in them, as well, there was life. Garrick marveled that, however small they appeared, the lakes gleamed like pools of gold gems in the light. Looking closer, he watched the oceans shake like foil against the wind, and he watched small objects dart across the calmer waters like water-based meteors.
Looking out that window, Garrick could see people each with their own purposes and inspirations. Roads connected, roads strayed, but altogether, they made up parts of a whole world that functioned and all of nature in perfect harmony. The beauty was blinding, the earth was beautiful, and each person seemed to have something to hold onto that made their living worth while. To Garrick, it was thought-provoking. It made him think.
I can't explain what happened. But what happened, happened. As it was probably intended from my beginning. Being the Diviner of Fate, you'd think I would've figured that out sooner.
"My goodness, I realize I've been rambling quite a bit! I sincerely apologize, love! But hopefully, my dearest Garrick, this talk did you some good. Now," Keiran returned to his seat, retrieving Garrick's unused, neglected, empty teacup, and held it up along with the small teapot, and asked once more, "Won't you join me for tea?"
For some people, it takes a long time to figure that stuff out. Some people are unfortunate enough to never get it. But for me, that fifteen minutes was all it took.
And by the way, guess who had his first cup of tea that day? It was bitter as hell could be at first, but after those first couple sips, it wasn't all that bad.
Chapter 3: Three: To a Dear Subordinate
From the eyes of Garrick, it was expected that Sylas would take the order from Keiran and see it through. Without hesitation, without incident. As was the Diviner of Karma's nature; to be calm and stoic. The last thing expected from Garrick was to see the man rebel before his master.
"Well, that's your mission objective! Good luck, man, and take care out there! Oh, and Sylas," The energetic Keiran swirled around to the man beside him, "You're going, too. Surprise!"
But this fated time, rebellion it was. "Keiran, I don't understand." With a voice that teetered with anxious emotion, Sylas' cool demeanor vanished. "I don't – He doesn't need a partner for this. And I shouldn't have to…"
"Don't be sour, dearest. Believe it or not, I'm doing this with you in mind! That… town I'm sending you to…" Lazily setting his chin against his knitted fingers, Keiran suggested carefully, "It should be quick and easy for you, right?"
Sylas paused for a moment, unmoving and mouth shut, desperately holding the unsaid words back. Unfortunately for Garrick, his mind-reading barriers were locked tight as always.
Still hoping to follow along the conversation as an observer, Garrick's blue eyes visited his superior, who was just as impenetrable with his ever-present smirk.
"I refuse." The charcoal-haired Sylas concluded at last.
"I don't care. You're going back to earth to fix that town, and you don't have a choice."
The coldness in Keiran's tone forced Garrick to side with Sylas. "Hey, if he doesn't wanna go, he shouldn't have to, right?"
When Sylas' eyes turned to him directly, the blond man wondered if he had spoke out of turn. After all, he understood little of what Sylas' issue was. Nonetheless, he still felt it honorable to make a stand, and for that, he felt no regret.
"Ah, but he does, my darling. Life is like that sometimes. Certain things just must be done, and certain limits must be pushed and tested." Such a tone hardly seemed empathetic.
Forgetting to bow, Sylas turned to the door, leaving in a hurry. Whether or not he would return was up to him, but both men present knew his decision.
There was a moment when Garrick and Keiran both shared heaved sighs. Surely, Garrick always thought of Sylas to be calm and responsible, and so seeing him upset and hesitant was new to him. Almost frightening.
While Keiran began organizing around his desk – tampering with things as he went - the curious Garrick took initiative to question the man, "You think I need help? Is that why you're sending him with me?"
"No." The supreme god answered simply; brown irises raised in amusement. "And it's not as if he doesn't want to be your partner, I assure you. He's not fond of the humans, that's all. I'm sure you wouldn't want to travel somewhere if you felt the people there were horrible. Potentially, people who would harm you."
Harm? But conversation had to cease there, and Garrick knew better than to meddle.
It only took a matter of minutes for one of Runawynd to descend to earth. When Garrick and Sylas arrived in the town, they were greeted by a golden sunset and cold chill – one that felt rare compared to the seasonally warm weather that Runawynd currently had to offer.
As proposed by Sylas, they wandered the town in search of lodging. After all, the untimely sun had already begun to set, and they needed a headquarters of privacy during their stay. One could only assume they had much yet to accomplish. Keiran's directions were strict but vague, as if he himself was unsure of how to "fix that town."
Upon entering, Garrick attempted conversation. "Dunno why Keiran had us leave so soon. I mean, we couldda stayed at home a little longer. Or at least 'til the sun came up. …So, whad'dya think's wrong here, anyway? There aren't a whole lot of people around, but maybe that's 'cuz it's getting late."
"…" Sylas chose to remain silent, leading Garrick to believe that he had no answer to offer him.
As much as the Diviner of Fate loved earth, he couldn't imagine how contrasted Sylas' feelings were. For a moment, he pondered how long it had been since the other man had last visited earth. Following that, he thought to ask, but decided to wait for something more opportune.
"I think…" Sylas started at last, his gaze still pressing into the ground beneath his footsteps. "It's strange that Keiran would give us a mission like this. Just how long does he expect for us to stay down here?"
"You really don't like it down here, do you?"
A blunt pause was then interrupted by a response, "You shouldn't be talking like that. If the humans were to find out about us-"
"I know, I know." Despite his exasperated tone, Garrick couldn't hide a smile. Sylas remained focused, yet genuinely uninterested in all else. But once again, Garrick found himself strolling spell-bound by the natural beauties of earth around him.
Their surroundings seemed innocent and humble. They followed a line of small homes and shops - already closed - along the cobblestone pathway until they came to a lantern-lit heart of town. A fountain that would otherwise be bursting with water sat idle in the center, adorned with autumn flowers and other decor.
The colored leaves of the trees (as Garrick recalled were just beginning to change from his last visit) had strayed from their branches and were now sprawled against the pathway in an array of color. There was little to no breeze; just the dry, piercing air around them.
"It's so nice out here!" Garrick suddenly burst, chest overflowing with admiration.
Without anticipation, a numbing gust of wind brought the leaves spiraling around the two men; reds, yellows, and browns rushing around them. And just as quickly as they rose, they fell. Garrick could swear he felt a few brush against his sensitive skin… In an odd manner that made him think of only one suited person…
Upon realizing where this "miracle" came from, Garrick yelled to the skies, "Shiiiit, that was cold!"
"…Be grateful there's no one here to witness your idiocy." And with that, Sylas commenced his walking pace once more.
Blushing? Is Sylas blushing? Interesting. A full-grown, unintentional smirk spread across Garrick's face, which he attempted to hide by lowering his head. He can be kinda scary and annoying sometimes, but maybe I just need to take the time out to get to know him better.
As if fed up with the childish nonsense, Sylas interrupted all oncoming thoughts by pointing out a particular building further off. Amidst the various brick buildings, Garrick noticed the words, "Inn & Tavern" etched in a wooden sign. They approached the establishment.
The smell of crisp foliage was replaced with that of liquor and grilled fish. The coldness gratefully eased from Garrick's body as soon as he entered the dimly lit room. He shot a relieved look at Sylas, hoping to get a mutual response, but that straight face never once wavered.
Such a welcoming place, and yet there were no humans in sight. Confused and slightly anxious, Garrick spoke up, "Hello? We're looking for a place to stay! Think you could lend a hand?"
Quickened footsteps. Behind the far counter, a stocky man briskly jogged from a staircase beneath the floor – apologizing all the while for his absence.
Once situated behind the counter, the stylishly-unshaved man greeted his new customers with a soft smile and a coarse voice, "Travelers, huh? I'll be damned. Where do you hail from?" Without being asked, the bartender readied two glasses of water to offer the guests.
Taking up the opportunity, Garrick made himself comfortable in the seat in front of the man - Sylas following suit. "Out of country. We're just here to check on you guys." Ambiguously, the Diviner of Fate took a quick glance around the room. Were there honestly no other guests? Maybe they're sleeping already…?
"I don't mean to sound nosy, but are we the only guests you have right now?" This time, Sylas spoke. Not only did he have keen eyes, but it seemed he had read Garrick's thoughts exactly.
"Well, you know, it's that time of year again…" The man rambled off, his smile melting slightly.
That's it. You hear that, Sylas? Discreetly, Garrick communicated before responding to the bartender, "We came at a bad time, then?"
"More or less. First off, can I get you anything special tonight? What kinda drink are ya in the mood for?"
"Anything'll do. We're hoping to stay the night here, too, if we can."
"Sure, we've got room. It won't cost ya much."
Money had never been an issue with Keiran, who graciously bestowed Garrick and Sylas the funds to afford a room and a few drinks. After first learning this, guilt grabbed ahold over Garrick, who thought it immoral to conjure money without labor. But in situations of travel - where it became a necessity - which of the Diviners would argue? In the end, Keiran calmed his unconvinced subordinate by claiming that it was "compensation for a life sentence."
Pleased with the arrangements, Garrick took a hard swallow of the unusual drink. As the warm liquid rushed down his throat, he noticed Sylas take a sip, but only for a moment before returning immediately to business.
"Getting back to topic, you mentioned that this time of year is distressing for you people. Why is that exactly?" Careful enunciation and perfect posture, Sylas was the image refinement.
"It's the storm, you know. Since you guys aren't aware, there's this thing that happens, and it… well, pretty much wipes out the town. As in, by tomorrow, none of us here are sure of what'll still be standing. If given the chance, that goddamn storm'll get the crops, as well as some livestock, 'n such. Nowadays, we smarted up and built our houses stronger and found hiding for the people and animals… But the first year was a whole lot worse."
"When does this usually happen?" Garrick asked, attempting to match Sylas' seriousness and thoughtfulness.
"I told you, once a year. One day from today, actually. Tomorrow night."
Thoughtfully, the man stroked his sandpaper stubble. "Hm… Around midnight, I suppose." Master of conversation, the bartender could sense their interest and deepened the details. "Hence why it's been quiet here. Everyone generally locks themselves indoors, holding their breath. Or praying. You know, they say it's the 'will of the gods' for this place to get destroyed every year like this. Not sure what kinda gods they are, but hell if I can say why they'd be bored enough to keep at it for so many years."
Perfect. We'll fix the problem while they're sleeping, then.
Sylas nodded. 'Sounds like a plan.'
"Sylas, do you hate me?"
Fresh after a shower, Sylas – still holding his towel – studied the childish question carefully. "No. …What makes you say that?"
Garrick had waited patiently for the other to step out of the bathroom to approach him with that question. Not only did it bother him that their partnership seemed not-so-mutual, but in all the time he'd known him, the immovable Sylas simply wouldn't open up to him. Because Garrick wanted answers, he questioned, "You must have a very different image of earth than I do."
The exhausted, pajama-clad man sat in momentary comfort on the edge of their bed. Aside from his usual, cleanly scent, Garrick also caught a whiff of the moisture that still stuck to Sylas' hair and skin. "It's not really the place, per say." Sylas breathed with disinterest.
"It's the people?" Garrick finished, squirming his way from sitting to lying position.
For a delicate moment, neither man spoke. While Sylas thoughtfully folded his towel, then joined him atop the mattress, Garrick made himself comfortable beneath the thick, warm blankets. In the oversized bed, the slender man kept his distance with the unwanted second presence beside him and turned his back to him.
Just before Garrick assumed the conversation had ceased, Sylas' quiet voice spoke from behind, "Humans are selfish. That's all I'm going to say. Keep your wits about you or one day you might get stepped on. Like humans, we have that fire in us that warns us. Follow it, and you won't go wrong, Garrick."
Garrick hated how he said it; it was like he was predicting his future. That's MY job. "If you say so. I'm sure you must have a hell of a reason for saying the things you do." Outwardly, he sighed then unintentionally breathed in the damp warmth of the person beside him. He must've been hurt pretty bad.
"It's not as if one incident made me think the way I do. It's through many experiences. Many encounters. You've had them, too; you've lived a lifetime. I've just learned that all humans are self-centered and have no interest in the welfare of others."
"Well, Keiran likes people."
"If you've noticed, he only watches them. He chooses not to mingle or be with them. They keep him entertained, I think. And you know it's his job to monitor things down here."
"You could be right about all this. But how can you judge the whole human race like that? I mean, just 'cuz you might've met some-"
"You can't change my way of thinking, Garrick. Don't try." Though his words were prone to sting, they were not filled with hateful emotion, but of exasperation of topic.
Predictable. Attempting to seem unfazed, Sylas' temporary partner heaved a disagreeing snort, then huddled back into the depths of his cozy blankets.
"This town… just brings back interesting memories, that's all. Keiran knew that. Though I don't know why he'd pair us up for this. And he promised me I wouldn't have to return to earth, but…" Sylas' continuations became distantly theatrical, and he ended them a whisper, "Here I am. I suppose he wanted me to have some 'fresh air'."
Except for the whir of the radiator, no other sounds were present. Truly, the entirety of the town felt ghost-like. For a moment, the Diviner of Fate wondered how or if the town had changed since Sylas' last visit. But he knew when not to pry. He's such a delicate kinda guy… I feel like I should watch what I say or I might break him. But seriously, I know that's not the case with Sylas; that guy can be more stubborn than me. …Thank god… Keiran… whoever for mind-reading barriers.
Changing topic and steering back towards their mission course, Garrick mentally mapped out what he thought to be a sound strategy, which he verbalized to the Diviner of Karma, "We'll sleep tonight, hang out in here tomorrow, and wait 'till midnight to try and stop that storm. Um, Sylas?"
A soft moan came from beneath a heap of blankets. "Hmmph?"
"How are we going to do that, anyway?"
"What about your foresight? You really don't know how this will play out?"
"Can't read my own future, you know. Plus, that stuff's harder for me to tell when I'm down here. Don't know why."
"Hm. Have a little faith. I'm sure we'll figure it out when the time comes."
"I guess you're right."
'Almost here, almost here…' When Garrick panics, his mind-reading barriers become weaker. It's just another something I notice.
From where I was standing, I could see him shaking with anticipation and autumn chills – most likely, in equal measure. As much as I tried to hide it, I was also failing horribly at maintaining my composure; the wind chilled to my core.
The storm was coming. We could both feel the air become unbearable, heavy, and shrouded. Standing at the edge of town, the two of us took a look at the deserted scene. Even though things may have changed since then, it was all-too-familiar to me. The town itself, the human race, even the scenario itself… I wanted out.
It was then that we could see the small houses become enveloped in pitch dark. The wind picked up and the fall leaves scattered all around. Assuredly, it left me and Garrick's insides quivering again.
With lack of anything better to do but wait, my eyes followed the leaves. They spun across yards, gardens, and twirled over rooftops. As I watched, my eyes beheld something off in the distance that was unforeseen. Something that perked our senses and left us feeling a little alarmed.
A small boy with messy hair and shining eyes had quietly stepped out from one of the houses. He froze as we made eye contact. It took less than a glance for me to notice Garrick's sudden concern for him.
'Fuck.' Predictably, it was my partner that made the first comment. He spoke like he was trying to sound calm, but I could sense the anxiety pouring from his words. "Hey, what's up? You know it's dangerous out here, right? You should stay inside where it's safe."
And that was all it took to cue the storm; its mass of grey swirled dangerously towards us. I watched those dark clouds spread from the sky to the world below. While earth seemed to disappear around us, I felt the air unrelentingly bite into my skin, my hair whip against my face, and my clothing tear at my flesh - assuring me that I was still there. Truly, nature is a greater force than any human – or dare I say, god - can resist.
'Please, gimme a hand here, Keiran. I think… I'll need you.' His thoughts spilled out like a prayer.
I figured I'd leave it to him. Besides, I didn't really care what happened to that town, anyway. I'd rather it have disappeared along with the memories.
But the boy…
The storm arrived. While the wind rushed around us, the storm clouds were fast-approaching the town's outskirts. Garrick - although aware of the duties at hand - was apparently worried about the child, who merely braced himself quietly at his doorway.
As soon as I felt like my footing was being caught in a whirlwind, that's when it stopped. In a rush of spiraling illumination, the black misted into light. For a lingering moment, it dazzled around us, then rose into Runawynd with majestic strength.
It was abrupt theatrics. But then again, that's how Keiran works, I suppose.
Garrick froze. Perhaps his mind was lagging behind reality. After all, I'm sure he'd never done what the mortals considered a "miracle" before. Like the rest of us, he'd always just gone to earth to see things as they are - not to meddle in their affairs. Unless, of course, instructed by Keiran himself.
I said nothing. There was nothing really to talk about, and I was ready to just leave it at that and return to Runawynd.
But it appeared that the boy had other plans. Snapping Garrick from his mental block, the small child walked up to him, looked him straight in the face, and plainly asked, "Are you God?"
With a genuine smile, he replied, "Nah, I'm just a guy."
I don't understand him. Or his childish way of thinking. He's nosy, inexperienced, and has too much energy sometimes. But in all honesty, I'm glad he's here with us.
Following that, the two of them maintained a casual conversation. At least one of us could. "What brings you out here? You're lucky I was able to… get the job done."
"I just wanted to see it. Sometimes I have trouble believing things I don't see. Everyone was all scared about the storm coming, so while they were all hiding, I thought I'd-"
"You have parents, right?"
"You know, you should probably listen to them." Garrick looked at the child for a minute, as if debating what to say to him. I could tell that he wanted to tell him something. Teach him something. Although, I'm sure the kid had figured something out by then, anyway. "Remember the ones who love you and listen to them. Chances are they only want what's best for you."
I watched them talk. Truthfully, it amazed me how Garrick could mesh with so many different people. Moreover, it amazed me how the people meshed with him. …Hell, even I have trouble keeping him out.
Thoughtfully, the boy nodded. "You know, that storm might come again next year. Why don't 'cha stay with us?" Such a soft voice suited such innocent questions. They were filled with simplicity and honesty. In that sense, I never minded children much.
Though Garrick was smiling, I could sense something else at play in his heart. Though I couldn't tell what it was exactly. Perhaps it was none of my business, but I do tend to notice these things, regardless. In order to face the child properly, he knelt down. Garrick's response to the boy was obvious.
Beseeched by Keiran to ready a "celebratory bath", The Diviner of Karma routinely stepped into his bathroom. Only to find a still-hot bathtub filled and a peculiar note sitting on its edge.
Good job out there. You've really come a long way since your last visit down there. I feel proud like a parent of their offspring.
…Although, I do feel jealous. Garrick seemed to warm up to YOU rather quickly. Why does he always bond with people like that? Where's his bonding spirit with me? Ah, but I digress; and regardless, I'm glad. He needed you as you needed him, and I'm glad it all worked out - random as the situation may have seemed.
And by the way, did you notice how much the town had changed from when you were last there? It's amazing; the things that time can change. Not just places, but people, too. Even the young man you remember from that town.
Just to satisfy your curiosity, I will tell you this. The boy you and Garrick met during your stay there belonged to that young man. Even though you gave that poor fellow a bit of trouble in the past, I'll have you know he started a beautiful family without you, and they are all very happy.
And believe it or not, you helped insure that. I'm sure that Garrick could tell you that – by saying no to him and by teaching him that valuable lesson of karma – you altered that man's fate to a better one. You didn't close the door exactly, you chose another pathway for him to follow. You've been forgiven. And surely, such a good man deserved such a happy life.
But who can say for sure? Would you be able to say that you, too, are happy?
But I ramble, darling. Pay me no mind.
Setting that sore topic aside, you realize that not all people will be changed by the miracle you and Garrick preformed. And some will still believe that the storm will come again next year. Of course, people will believe what they want to believe. And that's how they should be. Free will is – admittedly – one of my better ideas.
Sylas, I look forward to working with you in the remainder of your immortality. And won't you be a dear and prepare me some snacks? I haven't had a good spot of tea in two days! The horror!
-All my love and devotion,
Although attempting a convincing sigh, a smile lit up Sylas' face as he slowly began stripping.
Chapter 4: Four: To Differ
"Something is ailing the poor soul of your next mission objective. Can you guess what it is, Garrick, my dear? Here's your hint; it's destructive and, if handled incorrectly, it can kill a person."
"…A disease? Or drug? Weapon?" For such a vastly vague question, Garrick could only wait for any sign of approval from his superior. To each answer, none actually came.
Keiran tapped his fingers along his desk as if performing a one-handed piano concerto. "All of the above, and then some. It's stress." He ended somewhat anticlimactically.
It was only after it was verbalized that the answer seemed only too obvious to Garrick. "Haa, okay, I get it now. But what do you expect me to do about it? In my opinion, all that 'stress' stuff is more or less a mental thing."
"And that it could be, Garrick. Especially with the case of this young man. He has a great life, works hard, could have a bright future… But he just doesn't wish to see it that way. Unfortunately, humans are very prone to take things for granted, feel anxiety and stress with certain obstacles, and forget just what's truly important in the long run…"
During the other's oration, the ever-available listener watched Keiran thumb through a neatly stacked pile of papers - on top of which, he pulled out a folder labeled by name.
"Alas, I digress, darling. I apologize, I really do. Anyway, I want you to take a look at this." Instead of gesturing for the man to come and take it, Keiran rose from his seat to graciously hand-deliver it.
It took but a glance for Garrick to recall the face that was printed on the first page. In fact, those documents were recent; as the Diviner of Fate himself had assembled them. "Is that info on the stressed guy?"
"Do you know what will happen to him?"
"…He'll end up missing out on a lot of great opportunities, that's for sure. Probably because his sense of happiness has been warped, right? Because the stress changed him?"
"Hm. I wonder." Gradually, Keiran smirked while carefully studying the face on the page. Had Garrick's answer been Keiran-approved, after all? "And Sylas, my dearest Diviner of Karma, believes his karma to be acceptable. He's been given a good life based on that decision, but-"
In an uneasy moment, Garrick felt Keiran's eyes travel from the photo to his face, and he could still feel that smile searing into the new-found pink hue of his cheek… "That still doesn't explain what my mission objective is."
As if he had been waiting for those words, the ruler of Runawynd emitted a suppressed giggle. "I'll tell you exactly what that is, my dear…"
Unintentionally, Garrick braced himself with hitched breath when Keiran's face suddenly neared. What…?
As softly as the moonlight that poured through the window, Keiran whispered into his subordinate's ear, "Stress is not incurable. What I want you to do for him is…" And thus the mission statement was carefully planted into the wary listener's ear.
Entertained, Keiran couldn't help but press a tease into the clearly disturbed, angered Diviner, "Ah ha ha! What do you mean, 'that's it?' Were you hoping for a kiss?"
"Er, no! What I mean is- Ahh, hell, just forget it." And with that, Garrick strode from the room, seemingly making faster paces as he went. He now knew his objective, and he still had those papers handy. Locating the person should prove to be no problem with the information and resources at his disposal.
"Garrick," Upon calling out, Keiran inspected the hasty man stop in the hallway. He then commenced to say, "I'm sure you've heard the phrase, 'Never underestimate a work of kindness? Especially the small ones?' Well, it's true."
And thus, Garrick went off on his merry way, oozing of repulsion.
Comfortably, Keiran sat back in his seat. He just couldn't hide the amusement of his face. Ah, the power.
Okay, then… mission start. Garrick thought to himself, optimistically strolling through streets of the new, unfamiliar city.
When comparing to his last visit on earth, he might've assumed that – this time - he landed on a different planet altogether. The weather warmer, the people busier, and the town endowed with unheard of technology. Aside from the people and various forms of transportation that thrived, new smells, fashion, and towering buildings all seemed to play a characteristic role.
The seemingly old-fashioned Diviner of Fate felt he could learn much from the place and its people. Admittedly (and yet predictably), his eyes had difficulty focusing on the tracking device on his cellphone, which – conveniently enough – Keiran had gifted him upon joining Runawynd.
Sporting enough foresight to see that Garrick might require extra assistance for future missions, Keiran had entrusted an upgrade to Garrick's cellphone - a GPS. Not only used for navigation, it also contained human tracking capabilities; as long as he had Keiran's specific informational papers on that person. Seems a little troublesome for a Diviner, but whatever. I won't complain.
After that sheet of paper was scanned, a blue, orbed location flickered into view. Garrick observed that small, blue orb on his phone. It represented his mission objective, Hayden, the "stressed human", moving around within a nearby building. Considering the amount of time he's been in there, I guess I could assume he's at work…?
Garrick tracked Hayden, located the building, and stepped inside.
It was a bookshop. In the entrance walkway, lofty shelves encircled him. It was distracting to say the least. So many titles with so many topics seemed to stick out in the corners of Garrick's curious mind.
Overwhelmed, his focused strut became an aimless walk. But before he made any progress, he systematically scrambled to make sure to hide his cellphone and keep Hayden's documents out-of-sight in his pockets.
And Garrick found him. He was standing on a tall, sliding ladder from above - at work.
Clutching a large quantity of books and carefully shelving them away in precise order, the man hadn't yet noticed Garrick peering up at him. He seemed wholly consumed. But was it his work or something else in his mind that preoccupied him?
Verbally, Garrick approached the man, "Hey. Sorry to bother you, but can you help me find something?"
With the energy of a flitting animal, Hayden took a peek at the presence standing below him. "Oh, sure! Don't worry, you're not a bother! Let me just put these…" The tall man hastily set his work pile aside, then proceeded to climb down the ladder. Once he reached the ground, Garrick then noted his features up-close. A typical, stylish-looking youth. But could be more than what meets the eye. There's something wrong.
Hayden wiped some dust from his work-apron before greeting his customer with a flashy smile and professional speech. "I'm sorry about that. Now, what can I help you with?"
"There's a specific kind of book I'm looking for… I just can't seem to find it…" As soon as the words left him, he started to wonder, Wait, what AM I looking for? I don't really read, so- A hasty decision was made, "Tea."
"Like, How-To books on tea? We have a ton of those. Seem to be kind of popular nowadays. C'mon, I'll show you where we hide those at!"
Perfect customer service. "Thanks, man. I appreciate it." If he wasn't doing such a good job of lying to my face. Look at that smile; there are bags under his eyes. I don't need mind-reading to tell that something's up with this one… I know I don't usually make a habit of this, but maybe I'll pry… just this once.
Even while gracing his speaker with full, credible attention, Garrick could still feel the young man's heavy thoughts pouring into his mind, 'I hate it. Every time I look at the clock, it's always the same time. Like time's just stopped for me. Like I'm stuck in this stupid, monotonous cycle, and this pitiful moment will never end. I should've stayed in bed. I should've never trusted this place to provide me happiness. I want to leave. I'm so bored. This is so stupid.'
Talking all the while, Hayden led Garrick to a small section. Resting quietly on the bookshelf, were colorful titles pertaining to tea. Like a true salesman, the man went on to explain about the books' differences and contents, noting their bestsellers and prices.
In the end, Garrick was persuaded to actually buy a copy of one he found particularly interesting. Although tea was never really my forte, I think I know someone who'd like this. …Not like he deserves it.
"So, when do you get off of work?" Garrick asked, casually.
"In 'bout an hour, actually. Then, it's off to my other job." Hayden finished the well-played transaction and handed his customer his change and paid merchandise.
While keeping up with the small talk, the Diviner of Fate slipped his well-earned money back inside his stuffed jean pockets. "Another job?"
"Yeah, I have three of them, actually. Between you and me, they don't pay all that well, and all the jobs I have are just a few hours here, a little bit there…"
"Geez. Sounds like you're pretty busy."
"Between all my jobs and school and everything? Ha, yeah, something like that. But it's not like I have a fulltime job yet or anything. Still can't afford living on my own, you know. It kinda sucks. Just barely paying for school."
Oh, money problems. I get it now. Garrick chuckled, "But you're still young! You have a whole lifetime ahead of you to get things figured out! Just do what you like to do, keep an open mind to try new things, and you'll be fine. But above all else, just take it easy." He added, humbly, "…But these are just words coming from some random dude, so don't mind me."
Predictably, the boy seemed unconvinced, yet he laughed a little, "You know, I seriously hope you're right."
Thus, the transaction was complete. Words were shared, money was exchanged, and yet there was still one thing left of the two men. Garrick noticed a small pad of paper and pen conveniently tucked beside the register. It lay with its pages open, and thus the words exposed. Ah, there it is…!
Garrick pointed, "Is that writing there a story you're working on?"
"Huh?" Their eyes locked for a fated second. "Wait, how did you know I was…? Okay, that's just creepy." Hayden snickered, amused yet apparently flustered. Naturally, he was inquisitive of Garrick's unanticipated perception, but after the insistence met with and penetrated his embarrassment, the boy conceded – spirits lifted at the topic. "Yeah, it's nothing super incredible, but one day, I'd like to publish. We'll see if that ever happens."
Before sending off his patron with a formal "goodbye" and repeated "thank you", Hayden would return to that same bookshelf, climbed up the ladder, and started organizing materials.
Carrying his bagged gift out the door, the Diviner of Fate was still left to wonder… How much more would it take for that boy to accept that small bit of happiness?
Garrick made a phone call. Although he wished to speak with Torrin on behalf of a favor, the man anticipated that once the ringing stopped, it would be Keiran's joyous voice springing forth. As fate provided, he was deprived of such an important number as Torrin's, and so calling his superior would have to suffice.
'Oh, Garrick! Glad to hear from you! I was just thinking about you… I do that quite often, you know!'
I finished what you wanted me to do. Conservatively, the blond man kept his cool to avoid unwanted attention from on-lookers. I just talked with the kid, but I don't think just talking to him like that helped 'im any. I think he's still suffering.
'And have you figured out what's causing that suffering?'
Money. He's afraid for his future because of money issues. Not like I'd call it an "issue", really. I mean, he should be grateful for all of the small things, you know?
'Very true, very true. But there's another thing that's bothering him, too. Something related and meshed together with all that stress stuff. Have you guessed what it is?'
Merely sight-seeing, Garrick traversed the city before taking his leave back to Runawynd. Inwardly, he yearned to stay longer, but he knew better. In the uncomfortable mixture of warm weather and crowded body heat, he gracefully removed his jacket, while still paying attention to his phone. It's boredom. That one came through loud and clear.
'Are you positive? …I'm just thinking that may not be what's ailing this person, considering he keeps himself quite busy. Perhaps he's just having issues with figuring himself out. He's at a tender age, but I'm sure he'll figure things out sooner or later.'
Well, then, why am I here? I still don't feel like I've done anything for him. He seems like a good kid with good intentions, he's just… Haaa, I dunno. Following the example of those around him, Garrick waited patiently for permission from the blaring traffic light to walk forward.
'What does it matter? As soon as you're done there, you'll be coming home, right? There's really no time to get too involved. What other plan did you have in mind?'
With his phone pressed to his ear, the patient man's eyes lazily lowered to the concrete ground, where they fixed onto a shadow across his foot. There was nothing particular about it, but it still kept his eyes away from anything/anyone else. Is Torrin there?
'Hah! You call me, yet you want to talk to someone else instead? Keiran's voice was raised, as was his attitude, and Garrick struggled to keep the volume down. Really, beloved, that's just low! How could you-'
Seriously, Keiran, please?
'…Oh, fine, you win. And I'll only grant your request because of something you did for me today. That bag you're holding… I'll act surprised when I open it, I promise!'
Tch, just for the record, I only did it so that- But before Garrick had time to finish his hurried excuse, that unmoving shadow suddenly rose. With wide eyes, he watched it snap from his shoe to above his ankles; giving him a sense that there was a secondary presence at work.
Alarmed, the victim turned to see if anyone else around had noticed the strange phenomenon, but it seemed contrary. H-Hey, what's- The shadow animated for a moment before moving to higher grounds up to his shoulders, gracing him with a squeezing embrace. That all-too-familiar touch…
As he shuddered hard and pulled away from the deranged, manipulated patch of darkness, it returned to its natural state. It gave an excited wave for a moment, but then lay across his foot once more; completely still.
"Goddamn it, I wish you'd stop doing that, you creepy asshole!" Garrick shouted into the receiver - for all innocent bystanders to witness.
He heard a stifled – and utterly amused - laugh, before hearing him call out to someone else in the room.
Curtly, a new, softer (yet strangely equally amused) voice answered the call, 'Hello? Garrick, is that you?'
Torrin! Unlike Garrick's feelings towards his harassing superior, the Diviner of Dreams' presence always seemed to calm him. Torrin, I need you to do a favor for me. If you don't mind.
'Take a look at the faces around you. You are unable to recognize them, correct? Now take a look around you. Tell me - if you can - where are you? In the void of your dreams, you are seated at a table with complete strangers to you, each with burdens of their own.
Do you see that heap of papers before you? Like those seated around you, your own list of troubles has been added to that pile. Do you understand what's written on your paper?
Here is where you must make a choice. You may view each of these lists, contemplate them carefully, and based on your final decision, you may awaken with any of the lives you choose from the table. You've been given an opportunity by the gods.'
Among those seated, Hayden, too, had thrown his "list of troubles" on the table. Before the eager young man gave the situation considerate thought, he snatched one at random, determining, I never want my old life back. There's gotta be something better off at this table. Besides, I've got unlimited chances to choose and to change my mind.
The first sheet of paper told of a pretty, youthful woman, who bore a destructively flirtatious nature. Because of it, she lost respect, a solid seat in her workplace, and the one man she was fated to be with. Quickly, Hayden chose a truer love over beauty, and then discarded the paper.
The second sheet of paper told him of a middle-aged lady with fame, many friends, but a stubborn preoccupation for entertainment. This lady bore no significant connection to her family, however, and so again Hayden thought to make a decision, inclining to choose family over fame. Then he discarded the list.
The third sheet of paper told him that although he would be plagued by disease, he would have riches in return; with which, he would live comfortably in a beautiful home. Enticed by the promising sound of money, Hayden took a glance around the table. Disease? What kind? A second look directed to a man stiffly seated. He was missing a leg.
Having been acquainted with that imagery, Hayden's wayward spirit faltered. But think what I could do with that money! I'd pay off school loans, no, I'd pay off an entire mortgage! I could get whatever I wanted and rarely have to work a day in my life!
I think I could deal with that. If I had that much money, I could probably get used to walking like that.
…Then again, what would my parents think if I came home without a leg?
The wavering man continued to choose from the pile, and with each new list, a decision had to be made. Fame or family? Honest relationship or experience with many? Lazy entertainment, or ability to work hard? Peace or self-pity? Riches or…
He scanned paper after paper, filled with different stories and different trials that people faced during their own journeys through life. One by one, he made a choice, and one by one, he put them back onto the table.
Still, he held onto one. Should he choose riches or health?
With both sheets in his hand, he gravitated back and forth. He took a look at his own paper:
~Having trouble with money, just barely paying for rent and school
~Hasn't said anything to a girl he admires from afar
~Worries about whether or not he'll be able to succeed
~Wishes to write a novel, and sell it in his own book store – working for no one but himself - but feels a lack of free time
~Feels too busy and unable to relax
He froze, lost in the mist of decision, until his eyes beheld a miracle that only a dream-like world could muster. Miraculously, words etched their way onto his paper, as if an invisible source were writing them with quill and ink. His list continued:
~Has a loving, healthy family
~Has a home
~Has income and strong work ethic
~Has dreams for his bright future
~Has two feet to walk on
It continued its listing of blessings until it reached the bottom of the page, where it ended with a message,
'No one can change the cards they're been dealt. They must simply learn to live with them and move on. After all, that's all we can do. The only one who can give you the peace you crave… is yourself.
Think about it. The grass may always be greener, but maybe your front lawn isn't so bad, after all…?
-The Diviner of Dreams'
Hayden took his own list – like gold – and then discarded it.
We watched it all from above. It made me feel very Keiran-like, because now that I think of it, that's pretty much all Keiran chooses to do. An incredible man, that Keiran; he's a wonderful master.
Which I know I shouldn't really say, considering I'm still new here… But I really love it up here with Keiran and Garrick and Sylas. They're so good to me, and I can tell they all really love each other.
It was almost time for dinner – one of my favorite parts of day here in Runawynd. While Sylas was in the kitchen preparing, Garrick, Keiran, and I finished watching that dream all the way 'till the end. Oh, that one I gave to that man, in case you're unaware. The one Garrick called me about a few moments ago. Not sure if you were there or not…
But anyway, as it showed the man's final decision, Garrick got upset. Which was expected. I had a feeling he wouldn't like the ending of this story, but now I could sense a battle of verbal enlightenment about to ensue… Those two are like that, it seems…
He shouted at Master Keiran as if it was his fault, "Wait, Keiran, no! No, that's not how it's supposed to happen! He – he needs his legs! Both of them! Why would he-"
In return to Garrick's sharp temper, Master Keiran was as calm as ever. He's always like that, you know; very poised. I really admire that about him. "It's a choice he decided to make."
"I was supposed to help him!" If Garrick kept raising his voice, he wouldn't have a voice for tomorrow, surely…? He's so passionate.
You see, Garrick likes the humans. Out of all of us here in Runawynd, I believe his outlook is the most naïve. As in he really cares about the welfare of others, which – in my experience and short time on Earth – was a unique trait compared to other humans.
"And help him, you did. Come now, calm down, Garrick. Although that's not the choice you, I, or dearest Torrin would've made, that man has a different sense of priority. For better or for worse." His arms were crossed – I did the same. I always agree with Master Keiran, because he's always right, naturally.
Or at least, more often than Garrick is. And I do love Garrick, too; he's always so sweet to me.
But he still wanted to fight (he honestly doesn't know when to quit), and he stared Keiran down, standing his ground. "But he's just a kid. He wouldn't know any better. How does he know what's best for him now? Of course, health is more important than gold…"
"And now he needs to live with that decision." With all the grace in the world, Keiran turned – to leave, I guess. He said his final piece, and it was time to move on.
"…I want to do something for him." But my dearest friend had trouble with giving up. He's a persistent, headstrong sort of person.
Maybe that's why Keiran loves him so much. Not like I'm in a position to say…
"Garrick," Keiran stood by my doorway, which lead back out into the hall, in case you're wondering. "Mission accomplished. He's doing fine. Has enough money to sustain himself and his parents now, and he can find a less demanding job than climbing ladders and carrying heavy books. Maybe, like he wished, he'll own his own bookshop." He smiled genuinely. "…But who knows." Perhaps he knew, as Garrick did and could foresee.
Silently, I simply listened to what Master Keiran had to say. I believe that - in his own way – Garrick, too, even took his teachings to heart. I wonder if he loves him, too? As much as I do? Or as much as Sylas does?
When Garrick didn't respond, Master Keiran took the initiative. He does that sometimes. "You saw him persevering and earning little by little to accomplish his dreams, didn't you? Surely, that would've proven to be better for him in the long-run. But when it comes to money… you've seen money's effects on the human race. It led him to stress.
Hopefully, this experience will teach him something valuable, for he had to learn the hard way. He works hard. He will accomplish what he wants to. He will realize that he can't rely on anyone for happiness and he will take care of himself. I think… he'll overcome and become a better person because of it. He'll be strong. He's not a victim. It's curable."
Well played, Master Keiran. Well said. In my heart of hearts, I couldn't help but cheer for my hero.
After that thoughtful performance of Keiran's, all three of us left for the dining hall, where Sylas was setting the table.
I know you probably got to know us all a little by now, but I'm telling you; Sylas is an amazing cook. I love him, I really do. I just wish I knew him better. He's a very reserved man. …In more ways than one, I suppose.
I was seated at the extravagant table, adorned with lush flowers, fresh food, and the dimming light that seeped through the colossal window. Perfectly content (and quite hungry actually), I took a look around me and saw the faces of my favorite people. Garrick, still a little flustered, Keiran, smiling softly, and Sylas, pouring us drinks before he, too, would partake in our dinner banquet. For a moment, I felt like I was in the void of my dreams. I felt truly blessed by these gods to simply be.
As soon as Sylas sat down, we started eating. And no sooner had I lifted my fork that Garrick questioned Master Keiran yet again, "But I thought my job was to eliminate his stress…"
But Keiran is always ready and always able with a comeback. "Honestly, Garrick, how can you expect to do that? Stress is – more or less – a mental thing, after all. He has a mind; surely, he can figure things out in his own way."
"Oh, this is so nice. All of us eating together like this…" I didn't mean to interrupt anything, but when I spoke, everyone stopped to listen. And so I helped ease the mood by saying, "I'm so glad to be a part of your happy family!"
Wait, did I just say, "ease the mood"? Kidding of course. Keeping them on their toes is too much fun.
Chapter 5: Five: To Cleanliness
"Stupid spring cleaning thing… This is ridiculous. I know it's partly my house and everything, but it's never my messes… I don't see why I should hafta…" The annoyed Garrick fumbled with his mop; his eyes searing holes into the wooden shaft. His private bemoanings were cut short, however, as a peculiar, distant conversation tickled his ears.
"Oh, my beloved Torrin, whatever brought this up?" A familiar voice squeaked in amusement.
Hah. Rolling his eyes towards the audibility behind a closed door, Garrick figured, Wonder what Keiran and Torrin are up to.
"I… Well, it's just that I – I wanted to try something different. Something new that I thought… maybe you could help me with. You see, I found this book in your library…"
Scheming up some cleaning projects together? Good. Least I'm not the only one who's working. And with that, the blond decided to resume his cheerful mopping duties. He fixed his eyes on a questionably sticky spot on the stone-tiled floor, swapped his weapon of choice to a sponge, then scrubbed out all his frustrations. Lookin' good, lookin' good… The phrase was repeated enough times in a sad attempt to remain focused.
That was, if only he could concentrate. Being a devoted (if not the greatest) friend of Torrin's, Garrick couldn't help but become interested in a script between him and his superior. He wondered what would require the both of them to be alone in the office together - especially on Keiran's ever-important cleaning day. Whatever they're talking about can't really be more important than the chores… can it?
There was a brief moment of silence that lasted only until Keiran boldly declared, "Ahh, quite the adventurous one, aren't we? I simply love that about you, sweetest! Now, this will be a challenge to do… Especially considering how much experience will be required…"
"I'd like for you to teach me."
The supreme god slowly took a breath, "Are you positive? I know it's a common, manly need to want something with… pizzazz like this, but this is something a little more… sacred. More personal. Perhaps, with Garrick, you'd be more comfortab-"
"No, please. I… Please teach me. I'm sorry I'm being so- assertive, but I just… I feel a little… jumpy. I-It's my first time." Such an honest, sweet tone being carefully decorated in such a desperate, persuasive manner - it was so irresistibly rare of Torrin. Yet, such desperate tones were never heard of by his eavesdropping, devoted, best friend…
Garrick swallowed. What in the – Ackk! When did my ear end up crammed on the door?! Incidentally, his mop had been abandoned, his duties all forgotten, while his protective instincts peaked.
"Never you fear! Such feelings are only natural, and of course I'd be willing to help you. You'll learn from the best, I promise you. I am a professional."
"Thank you so much, Master Keiran. You're the only person I thought to ask for this… And you're so good to me. Thank you. It will be lovely. I'm sure it will."
"Anytime, sweetest of hearts. To be honest, I was a little stunned you were reading such material, but how can I refuse such an honest plea from such an intense will to be taught? Come. I'll teach you…"
Without forethought of any variety, the heated Garrick tore down the door in a panicked rage, "Stoooop! No, Torrin, don't let him-!"
But he was ignored. Ignored by the two men who stood before a workbench. Upon closer inspection of the workbench, one could see an elaborate vase, scissors, and a colorful array of flowers. Such things hardly seemed suited for what Garrick had in mind.
Keiran stood beside Torrin – book in hand – and graced his shoulder with a paternal pat, "Well, I can assure you, we'll get this flower arrangement done in no time! And it'll look absolutely fabulous in your room! You're right; this flare is just what the doctor ordered! Now let's get to work!"
"Anything for you, Master Keiran!" Garrick could almost hear symbolic hearts flow from those sanity shattering vocals.
"That was weird." Numerously, the astounded Garrick squeezed his eyes tight, hoping the mental images he previously conjured would dissipate into the now squeaky-clean kitchen floor. His body shivered before setting his mind back to work.
Now that the dining room and kitchen floors are cleaned, my next job is to clean my room, wash the bed, finish some totally overdue laundry, and…
By heading down the hall towards his own bedroom, he would pass Keiran's personal quarters. A place Garrick never felt inclined to visit. Would he visit his office on the many needed occasions? Yes, of course. But his bedroom? That – the Diviner of Fate predicted - would never happen.
"Sylas, my dear? What are you doing?"
There's that tone again… Hypocritically sprinkled with quizzicality, Garrick's thought process swerved. I kinda don't want to hear his voice ever again today. FYI.
"Doing what you told me to. I'm dusting the shelves."
And that's Sylas… Cripes, I hope he'll be okay in there.
"No, I think you should take a break. I've got something else for you to work on…"
"No, better. But I'll need your help. Won't you be a dear and prepare the bed for me?" Garrick hated how slowly and slyly the man was able to speak the poor, unknowing Sylas. It wasn't right.
After settling a hand on the doorknob, readying to blow Keiran's cover and head his one-man, mutinous assault, Garrick cocked his head to listen for an opportune moment to strike.
"Oh, yes. For what I've got planned."
"…Not sure I follow?" It was perceptive of Garrick to note that regardless of how he was being talked to, Sylas' tone of voice never changed. It's like nothing Keiran says bothers him at all. Either that's an admirable thing, or it'll cause problems for him in the future.
Keiran giggled, which – per opinion of Garrick - can never be considered a good sign. "You know what I'm talking about. It involves you and me. And a bed. Or we could do it on the floor, if you prefer. You follow now, my beloved Sylas?"
Despite the playful words of the other, the Diviner of Karma remained ever-stoic and commented matter-of-factly, "I'm not a fool. I understand what you want. But while I prepare the bed, you have your own preparations to make. Remove your shirt, then lay down here. If you please."
...?! Such a response was hardly expected by the eavesdropping victim, who then fathomed a low, unmistakable creak was heard, like the gentle thrust into a spring-loaded mattress.
At that point in time, Keiran's mouth was shut - downright frightening Garrick. After all, he had never been acquainted with a quiet Keiran. No witty comeback, no more begging, and not even a giggle of entertainment. Nothing. Just the audible sounds of clothing sliding off of bare flesh, then being tossed haphazardly on the ground.
There was a strange, rhythmic noise that sounded like scratching and hands sweeping across skin, but just as the dumbstruck man focused his ears to anything further, he jolted.
"Haa, Sylas, please!"
"Then don't tighten up. It makes it hurt even more, you know."
"I know that, but I can't help - Ah! Ergh, Nn…"
Sylas heaved a sigh, "You need to relax. The muscles are too hard and too tight for it to make it easier for me, you understand. Does it hurt?"
"Nn... No! I like it... like this..." His voice is muffled. Why is his voice muffled?! "Just that one spot. It's sensitive! Be careful! Gaah haha, I said, be careful! Do you enjoy toying with me, dearest - AH!"
"You talk too much."
"Well, you're too quiet for someone who's thoroughly enjoying themselves." Listening closer to the men beyond the doorway, Garrick could almost hear the distance between them close as their voices softened to a breathy insinuation.
"Would you like me to create some scenery for you? I could create a full moon with some sweet-smelling mist and open the windows, just like how you like it."
"Hasty, hasty. But I do apologize... Ahh, for requesting this two nights in a row."
Whoa, wait, what?! I had no idea… that sort of thing… went on… behind closed doors… Garrick was red, spinning, and mind-blown.
There were indisputable sounds of cloth rubbing against cloth, then skin against cloth, then skin against skin. Sickened beyond puking point, Garrick had just about reached the climax of the torture. Ahh, that Keiran! He's bullying him! I won't let him get away with this!
He must be stopped.
And thus, Garrick intruded Keiran's bedroom for the first time in his life/afterlife.
The room was not as it was predicted to be. Quaint, tidy, and humble. None of those words – Garrick thought – matched his superior. If the current situation wasn't so dire, perhaps he would have time to ponder why Keiran's room wasn't as lavish as the rest of their mansion was.
Blue eyes did a quick clean-sweep. He had yet to commence his thought-out battle strategy, however, due to the unsuspecting looks he shared with his two co-workers, one of which lay shirtless on his stomach, while the other firmly pressed his hands into the aching back of the other.
While Keiran had his mouth caught in a moan, he called out an inaudible, muffled greeting to the guest. Sylas merely turned, his expression completely norm.
Garrick choked on his built-up saliva. "I – you- back rubs? A massage? Why, why…?"
"His shoulders have been bothering him. So many knots, and I thought I had them all last night." Sylas finished in a mumble. "...Was there something you needed?"
"Affk 'im iff he wantff a mafffage, too!" The image of bliss as a grinning Keiran sluggishly turned his reddened, pillow-imprinted face towards the door, relishing in all the pleasures Sylas' hands had to offer.
Garrick decided to neither accepted nor declined the offer, but rather to leave the room as quickly as possible and to shut it ever-tightly behind him.
Okay, what the hell is going on? What is my problem?! The highly distressed Garrick felt hot and quite exasperated. With the distinction of an upset child, he tossed various dirty shirts and pants from the top of his dresser into his laundry basket. This is ridiculous!
"Garrick, dearest? Are you in there?"
Garrick stiffened. No. "No!" …Wait, did I say that out loud?
"Yes, you did say that out loud. Oops, did I say that out loud? Ahaha, all right, then, I'm coming in!"
"No, no, no. I'm doing laundry, I-" While Garrick's mouth blathered, his head turned and beheld something that made his insides cringe into a pit in his stomach. "No, you get out of my room dressed like that."
"Dressed like what?" His smirking superior coaxed gently and stepped uninvited into the bedroom, tying his waves of red hair back sloppily. "I'm finished with my cleaning. I thought I'd unwind a bit and check on you, my darling."
Garrick strained his gaze towards his mass of mismatching fabrics. For his next witty consideration, he made sure to double-check his mind-reading barriers, What does he think he is? No, no, I won't answer that. "Your ruffly shirt is completely see-through." He mumbled with restraint.
"Oh, like you've never seen the body of a god before." Ever in the mood for entertainment, Keiran's reply was in jest, and he moved in closer to face Garrick with a playful, burning question, "Feeling uncomfortable?"
Don't let it get to you; he's no more strange than usual. Remember the past two times, he wasn't serious at all. Just playing around. Just… messing around… Though his thoughts were meant to console, the man hardly felt reassured. He licked his lips, raised his eyebrows, and shook his head. "Whatever. I shoulda called in today."
"Whatever for? Cleaning day is of utmost importance."
"Cleaning day has been a waste of my brain cells, and I want you to leave my room before-" But his speech was cut. There was nothing more he could have said, he supposed. Flustered, Garrick shook his head once more and returned to his own business, attempting to ignore the unwanted presence.
But something about the topic caught the interest of the other man. "Before what?" Never one to heed an empty threat, Keiran strode across the room and began to deprive more personal space from the ignorant man.
No, no, no, no, I'm not falling for that. I refuse to take part of his creepy fantasies. Abruptly and predictably, Garrick retreated. However, in his hurried, non-directional rush to flee from the intruder, he lost track of where his laundry basket was, caught it with his foot, and his footing jolted.
It only takes one misstep and one opportune moment for chaos to ensue – one which moment that Keiran gratefully accepted and twisted to meet his own desires.
The falling Garrick let out an embarrassed yelp and was seized by the welcoming arms of Keiran, who – in turn – made his own dramatic falling scene onto Garrick's nearby bedspread back-first. Despite his resistance, the struggling Diviner of Fate found himself pulled atop a grinning Keiran, who repeated innocently, "Before what?"
The victim had little time to think. Nothing about this was fake or could be misunderstood. Not to Garrick. And he wasn't going to take any chances. Especially considering how the transparent nightshirt rested dangerously beneath his pounding, built chest…
From the very moment Garrick put his hands across Keiran's abdomen to release himself from his bonds, there was an unexpected sound coming from his bedroom doorway. The panicked Garrick jerked himself upwards – still stuck in contact with the ever-willing body below him. The door creaked open, revealing the slender frame of his dearest friend, the Diviner of Dreams.
Torrin peeked in curiously upon hearing the noise. For a mind like his, only one glance was needed to make an end conclusion. "Ah!" Completely disregarding Garrick's horrorstruck face, he smiled sweetly and mischievously. "I'm so glad to hear you're getting along so well! I'll just close the door and give you some peace…"
"Aghh," Garrick sprung to his feet. "Torrin, it-it's definitely not what you-!" But his words were trapped from the inside of the bedroom, because as quickly as the door opened, it was shut once more. There was no room for second impressions, and Garrick felt a sickening heat spiral up in his gut. Torrin, no…
Completely unfazed, Keiran repeated a third time, "Before what, love?"
Garrick let out another low groan while his hands flew dramatically to the sides of his aching head, "Before- ugh, before weird stuff starts happening! There's something wrong with today!"
Keiran's face showed utter amusement with a hint of confusion. "Like what? Is it something you'll do to me? Or is it… something I'll do to you?"
Considering all the built-up bile rising in Garrick's upset stomach, he could have spat at him and that innocent face of his. Conversation failed the man as he was urged to pursue Torrin to right the misconception. "I can't let this slide."
But Keiran took matters in his own hands. Like an attention-loving kitten, he briskly grabbed hold of Garrick's leg and drove him back into the mattress. With a secretive strength, he pinned his shoulders down into the bed, forcing the bedsprings to groan under the sudden weight. "I don't see what you're so worried about." He laughed. "You know I'd never hurt you…"
"Let go, Keiran! Let me go, I'm leaving! I wanna finish my goddamn laundry!" Garrick's patience was failing him utterly. Help me! Torrin! Sylas!
"What would you know about my fantasies?"
"My fantasies." Reaching a hand down to his subordinate's face, Keiran started, fluffing his blond locks with careful precision. "You claimed you didn't want to play a role in my 'fantasies'."
Wheezing, Garrick inhaled a sharp quiver before admitting, "You… you're psycho. Let me go." He had much difficulty keeping the Keiran-initiated staring contest in progress. For a shining moment, he doubted how far Keiran would actually take him if given the chance.
"Here, let me just…" And thus, Keiran's skillful hand began to wander.
A decision was made: Garrick was hardly the man to allow such a chance. "No! No!"
"Mmph hmhm. You, my dear, are taking things a little too seriously today." Steadily, the redhead's eyes moved to the top of Garrick's head, and as he stretched his arm upwards, Garrick let out a grimace, to which, he smiled a bit notably. "Look, I got it out of your hair. Calm down."
Shaking and clearly upset, Garrick stared disbelieving at a sizeable dust clot that Keiran held between his fingers. Oozing grace and utter amusement, he flicked the dust bunny to the lavish carpet.
It was in that fated moment that their second visitor arrived on the scene. Sylas knocked, entered, and stated his business, "Keiran, I've finished the library, bathroom, and-" An eyebrow rose. "Sir, might I suggest locking the door next time?"
"Wphh-" It appeared Garrick still needed to be reacquainted with his vocal cords. "Wait! It's not what you think!" Why is no one reacting the way they should?! No one's freaking out- Am I the only one that sees this as messed up?!
Without another word, Sylas shrugged, then left the two men alone. Though he had not been assigned a job, he made an executive decision by assumed his presence was less than needed.
Lazily, Keiran rolled around the frozen Garrick, across the mattress, and on his feet, wiping off his see-through clothing as he went.
Garrick glared at a hand that was offered to him, feeling that uncomfortable pit in his stomach pushing him to woozy point. "You – I don't get it. I don't get you."
"Honestly? You had dust in your hair, and it was driving me crazy, and you wouldn't let me get close to you, so I-"
"No! Today! I don't get today!"
"How can you not understand the importance of cleanliness? This day has been full of it, no? Changing things from mess to masterpiece is very meditative, you know. Some people prefer chanting while some might prefer simply taking a bath. But some lucky people get to clean their house together!"
Garrick sat up, but had difficulty looking the speaker in the eye. Sensing the danger had made its escape, he allowed Keiran to continue.
The man added with a wink. "Cleanliness is the first step of becoming a better person. Truly. I know it may sound strange, don't give me that look. By cleaning out, you take a look at your flaws and use elbow-grease to rub them out. Thus, your life becomes at a balance of sorts. Or at least, that's what some believe."
Swinging his legs around, Garrick hoisted himself up to his feet. Though much of what Keiran said to him made little to no sense to the Diviner of Fate, he still felt that somewhere, he could speak a philosophical truth. Even if it was beyond his reach. "I thought you were all about being true to yourself…?"
"Oh, but I am! Are you suggesting that by being yourself, you wouldn't be subject to change? Because I thought you learned that lesson a long time ago, dearest Garrick of mine!" Giddy after being able to claim and toy with his prize, Keiran was full of a new-found gusto and attempted a second service of helping Garrick with his laundry pile.
Sanity returning to Garrick's manly face, he snatched the last of his dirty underwear from Keiran's slim fingers, and then lifted his heavy load under his arms, heading towards the door.
Keiran jumped to open the door for his "dearest Garrick", while bowing almost mockingly as Garrick made his way past him. "Oh, and Garrick, are you sure you aren't feeling… ahem, needy today?" Sporting enough sunshine to sprout a garden, the supreme god added, "That, and you know I just love to mess with you."
It only took one opportune moment for Keiran to strike – one which moment that Garrick failed to protect himself from, as his rear end received a cheerful (yet wholly unwanted) pat as the two passed each other by.
A content Keiran toured the hallways of his mansion, where everything was in order, everyone seemed productive, and all was nice, clean, and tidy. Surely, there was a place for everything and everything was in its place. Hmm? Do I detect the sounds of spring fever? …Hmm, I wonder if spring fever has a sound. He digressed, I thought it was just a feeling?
"I-I just can't! You're so…" Garrick begged in a rather dramatic fashion, pulling away from his partner.
"So what? Fragile?" Torrin's voice responded, dangerously tangled in a mess of innocent persuasion, "Feel like you're going to break me? Or is it because I'm the-"
"You… are just so beautiful. So precious. Doing this, it'd be like defiling a god."
"Your honesty is really quite cute. You're very sweet."
"…Derp, I forget the next line. This reciting-game-thingy-without-laughing is hard. Not to mention, that was such a lame movie."
"Haha, I know, right? Okay, it's 'surely, you've' – ahh, now I'm all wet." Torrin's voice abruptly changed, as did their flow of conversation.
"Keh heh, feeling dirty enough yet?" Garrick teased.
"Well, it's not my fault it started to leak that way." The young man joined in the playful banter. "I wonder who's to blame for that."
"Ouch, it hurts, it hurts!" There was sound of theatrical play in which pained noises came from Garrick's sweet lips, where Torrin chuckled lightly.
"Hee, now I totally forgot where we ended off at. It's too hot, I can barely stand it…" Torrin's sweet, little voice suggested.
"D-do you want to switch? Or maybe you should get out and come back later? We've been at it for a while."
"No, really, it's all right…"
"We should wait 'til you're feeling up to it again. I mean, I don't want it to hurt or nothin'. I'm feeling kinda sore, too; I've had a long day…"
"Ah, oh, Garrick, is that Sylas? Sylas! Come on in! Do you want to join? Like Master Keiran says, two is always better than one!"
"Hey, Sylas! The more the merrier!"
"Heh. Mission accepted. It appears to me you two need someone with –er- expertise to make the job go quicker."
Clearing his throat and gathering his vitality, Keiran turned the corner with twinkling eyes, "Oh, just checking in on you all. Sounds like you're having so much fun, so I thought I'd…"
But it was not all it seemed to be. Three men with their sleeves rolled up worked less-than-efficiently on a pile of dishes and a boiling mixture of water and soap suds. Each man looked at Keiran, waiting for a continuation.
"Join… But you know what, darlings, go right ahead! Have at it!" And with that, the supreme god took a step back and left the men as they were. I never was a fan of dishes, anyway.
The importance and balance of cleanliness... or something along those lines. It seems we have plenty of that around this time of year. Ah yes, spring cleaning was definitely one of my better ideas! Keiran smiled to himself secretly, using his fingers to paint pictures in the wall as he walked on by. But goodness, what is it with today?
Chapter 6: Six: To a Headstone
"Torrin?" With a voice softened to a breeze, Garrick called, struggling for delicacy as he knocked and opened the doorway of the dimly-lit bedroom, "Hey, Torrin."
Underneath a heap of blankets, a small figure shifted, revealing a face that was red with fever. It smiled as wide as its ability. "Hey," It breathed with effort to regain its vocal chords, clearing its throat as it repeated, "Hey."
Feeling every heartstring being pulled towards his ailing friend, the ever-faithful Garrick approached the bedside and sat with fists on his lap and back arched forward.
"You'll… You'll get sick," Torrin warned, knowingly.
"Hah, don't care." The Diviner of Fate wasn't sure what to do, or how to fix the situation, but he knew that this was the most important place he had to be.
Gently, he placed a hand on Torrin's burning forehead, as if he could heal him with unforeseen magic; but of course, he felt powerless. Had it been Keiran or Sylas, they had such skills, but Garrick...? Torrin only melted his eyes shut at the touch, still keeping that smile intact. "Hnnn..."
"You, um," But what could he say?
"You have a job to do, right? You should get to work." The little voice quipped at him from beneath the blankets.
As much as Garrick wanted to argue and force the other out of his ways, the younger one always seemed to know better. He froze for a moment, awkwardly running his fingers through Torrin's wet hair, then said, "Get better, okay?"
"Heh heh," Torrin laughed, "Sure. I'll be back before you know it."
"Can I ask why?" Garrick summarized. Being a man of purpose, he was downright irked that his superior would ask something so trivial of him. "You don't usually give me a whole lot of info, I know, but come on. And no papers on this chick? Nothing?"
In the comfort of his office sofa, the supreme god childishly rocked his legs back and forth beneath his chair while going through an array of tea samples laid out before him on a tray. Cheerfully, he opened each canister one-by-one; having much trouble sniffing out the perfect flavor for the moment. Given the amount of times Keiran had re-sniffed the samples, Garrick feared his search would be forever undecided. "You need a reason to go to earth? I thought you liked it down there."
"I just don't see the point of it, is all. Usually you send me with a mission." Though Garrick considered Keiran's ways to be obscure and oftentimes cryptic, he could typically get a feel for some sort of underlying goal. But this time, he was baffled and had other things to worry about.
"And that I did! Your mission is to get a haircut and ask the hairdresser about her family photo. That's it." At last, Keiran poured himself and his subordinate a cup of his chosen tea leaves. He took another whiff of his recently-acquired tea, then he drew back, back arching and tongue out, then set the steaming beverage aside to cool. Such actions could hardly be fitting to the half-comical, half-severe situation.
It was in that moment that the door had opened. Both men turned to see a somewhat sickly-apparition of Torrin with a notebook in hand. "Keiran," A small voice mustered and coughed, "I put those finishing touches on that project you had me do… Please take a look."
Both Keiran and Garrick stopped what they were doing and jumped to their feet. But Keiran was quicker to make the first move, "Ah, Torrin! Goodness, you look absolutely horrid! Worse off than this morning! I told you these documents could wait! Now, hurry, get back to bed. You shouldn't be up like this. Back to bed, back to bed." And with that, the motherly figure urged the petite one out the door and down the hall with a final message, "Health is more important."
There was a delicate nature of Keiran's that only appeared when talking to Torrin. Garrick noted how Torrin was always able to make them smile. He had that effect on people. Always available if Garrick needed someone to talk to or depend on. The more he thought about it, the more he came to realize how irreplaceable Torrin was.
But as quickly as the sunshine came, it left.
Garrick sighed regretfully, wishing he had more time to spend with the younger one. His heart went out to Torrin, and he wished wholeheartedly that he could be at his side, taking care of him, rather than giving into another one of Keiran's bizarre requests.
Keiran waited until Torrin's presence was long gone before he continued, quietly, "Anyway, that's all I want from you. …Today, that is!" He quickly added with a wink, suggestion leaking out and escalating like the steam from his teacup.
"Uhh, I'll go, but I don't see what good it'll do humanity." The blond man ignored the tease, but as he felt his face burn red, he hung his head in self-pity.
"Excellent! Then, let me pull out a map for you…" Garrick's wary eyes watched as a quick hand took to his pants pockets, where his cellphone was swiped then man-handled by Keiran, who good-naturedly took a seat beside the retreating Garrick. To cure/add to such hesitation, Keiran pulled an arm around Garrick's ever-so-tense waist to draw him closer.
Finally content, Keiran pointed things out as he demonstrated, "You just need to go to... THAT salon and get your hair done by a girl with THAT name – no picture and no files this time; you'll meet her when you meet her." Ignoring the boo that came from Garrick's pouting mouth, Keiran continued, "And don't forget to ask about her family photo!"
"Okay, okay. I'll go now so I can get it over with…" And the man was about to stand and do as he said, but a hand pulled him back down.
An oversensitive Keiran peered into his eyes, hand still tight around Garrick's sleeve, "You're not going to finish your tea, darling?"
"Errg," The tea tastes good, but the company… "Y-Yeah, I guess I could-" Give him an inch, and he crawls all over you, what a pathetic bastard.
"Great! We can both sit here together and drink tea and-" While his speech droned on and on in a most energetic fashion, Keiran's body edged closer and closer to the unfortunate victim of his affection.
As soon as physical contact was initiated, Garrick sprung to his feet, "But on second thought, I really should get going."
Vigorously, Garrick's feet carried him in a beeline out the door, but stopped politely to listen to Keiran's final words, "Oh, angel, your game of hard-to-get shall never bore me! Come back safely!"
He had what he needed, he just had to go.
Garrick sat patiently for his hairdresser to arrive. The scenery around him was energizing yet draining at the same time. A cast of mainly women were all around him, all of which Garrick considered to be expensive fashion statements. Not only their hair, but their clothes, and even body language showed signs that they were all quite knowledgeable in the more modern, ritzier part of their society.
It was interesting for Garrick to watch. For about fifteen minutes. He was unfamiliar with all their cliquey terminology, and after a while, began to feel somewhat secluded in this land of stylish youths. But it seemed he stood out for a different reason. Everyone was enamored by the handsome stranger, as Garrick had earned several looks from the people around him.
Despite everything, his mind traveled elsewhere; thinking that his time would be better spent tending his to sick friend rather than getting his hair cut. Even for someone as cryptic as Keiran, this "mission" felt less than meaningful.
Thinking back to Runawynd, he imagined his half-full teacup that was waiting for him in Keiran's office. It must've been dumped down the drain already. How he'd rather be sitting, drinking that tea in good company, perhaps, beside Torrin, who could probably use a good spot of herbal tea, some soup, and a long, soaking shower or bath. Surely, he would have tended to that had he not been here. Now, he left that job to Sylas or Keiran.
Naturally, Garrick never considered Keiran to be "good company" - or at least, not in their previous episode. The man let out a deep, groaning sigh, his eyes watching some of the hair that was being swept away by one of the cuttery's workers. Especially not with that attitude he showed me earlier…
Keiran certainly had a way of upsetting him like no other. Even thinking about him in that manner forced his heart into a fearful corner. Ultimately, he hated how Keiran would display such playful affections. It was nauseating to say the least. It was plain to see that he enjoyed the chase; he said so himself. Maybe it's all just a game. I mean, it can't really be love, can it? He hardly seems serious, that Keiran guy. Besides, that would just never work and for a hundred different reasons. The first of which bein', I-
From his peripherals, the blond man noticed a petite woman approaching him. As soon as he thought to look up, her soft voice inquired, "Hi, are you Garrick?"
"Ah! Oh, ya, that's me." Garrick smiled with charm and gusto at his new acquaintance.
In return, the lady found herself laughing, "Hehe, I hope I didn't interrupt your train of thought there. Your face was so intense, I didn't know if you'd be ready or not."
I hate you, Keiran. I really do.
"I'm Edith. This way. I'll wash your hair first, if that's okay." She led him behind a layer of room separators, where she gestured towards a large chair stationed in front of a sink lined against the wall.
Following along quietly, Garrick hunched his back, hand behind his neck in a shy fashion, and then sat down. Unsure of how to sit, where to position his neck, or what he should do with his hands, he sat somewhat uncomfortably for a moment as the woman worked her way around the sink.
Garrick followed her orders, and soon, his fluffy hair was being soaked in lukewarm water. Although this sense of touch was somewhat unusual for the man, he quickly reveled in the benefits of getting a head massage. While she applied the needed conditioners, her skillful fingers moved through his dripping hair, hitting all the right points as they went.
To Garrick, it seemed that Edith was very attentive in the ways of customer service. She asked about water temperature was too hot or too cold, she asked if the pressure was too much or too little, all the while making careful sure her guest was well-treated. She had a very calm, sweet, and welcoming mannerism about her that made Garrick feel like he'd known her all his life.
After the washing, Garrick was guided to Edith's own station, where he sat facing his own, sopping-wet reflection.
"So, what will you have done today? Just a trim?" Edith asked, commencing conversation via mirror.
And thus, the two began chatting sociably with little difficulty. Unbeknownst to the Diviner of Fate himself, he had a knack for getting people to open up to him.
Amongst all the miscellanea at her station, Garrick spotted a framed photo. Remembering his quest, he changed topics to comment, "That's a great photo. Is that of you and your family?"
"Me and my parents," Edith started as she collected her choice of scissors, "I have a younger brother, too, but he wasn't there for that photo."
Without thinking or wondering about the fallacy of his statement, he commented, "That must be pretty convenient for him, huh? 'Stead of spending all that money on haircuts, he'd get it done by you."
Edith laughed, "I know, right? But you know, he just won't let me."
"Why?" Garrick felt he may have been traveling into dangerous, more personal territory, but Keiran gave him orders to ask about the picture, and he felt he hadn't yet learned the meaning of that mission. Nevertheless, he knew he was on the right track.
"I don't know. But I miss him a lot."
"Did he leave? I mean, how recent is this picture?"
"About a year old on vacation. Oh, I wish I could go back! It was great!" And thus, Garrick noted, she veered off course to switch subjects.
The appointment was finished quickly, and it wasn't long before Garrick could stand to his feet again. He took a look in the mirror to get acquainted with a new haircut, which he had no complaints with, then returned to the front desk with Edith to finish payment.
The two chatted, exchanged money and farewells, then – as Garrick was readying his things to leave – Edith handed him her business card. "Come back in about six to eight weeks from now when you need another trim. Keep in touch."
What does Keiran expect me to do? How am I supposed to help her if I don't even know what her problem is? And so, feeling unproductive, yet oh-so-relaxed and luxurious, Garrick thanked her again and set off out the door to find a suitable location in which he could return to his now-cold cup of tea in Runawynd.
The look on Keiran's face was only too joyous for the simple occasion, "Ohhh my, your hair is lovely! You look like one of those dashing lead males from the newest novel I've been reading!"
"Uh, I don't even want to know." Slouching, Garrick planted himself in his favored location of Keiran's office couch. In all his time of working in Runawynd, the scenery was beginning to grow on him, admittedly. "Anyway, do you want a report on what happened down there?"
The redhead smirked, "Always watching, you know. And no, I'm not all that interested. I just wanted to see you get a haircut. It looks great. And don't worry, it'll probably grow back by the next chapter of your little story." He added with a knowing wink.
There was a soft moment of silence then as the two each took their own deep breath.
"Then I guess I'll get something quick for Torrin to eat and head back to work." Eventually, Garrick gathered his thoughts and stood from the sofa.
"All right, then, you take care, darling! But won't you return to me soon? I might have something else for you to do after your break."
The Diviner of Fate nodded awkwardly, then all-too-quickly made his way out the door.
Keiran watched him leave, inadvertently hoping to read the thoughts of the other. But alas, his barriers were up. Ack, he's getting better at that. I suppose it's only a matter of time until he gets a handle on his magic casting, as well. Ah, how they grow up so quickly! Exhaling another deep breath, the now lonely man stretched his neck from right to left. There was something bothering his dear subordinate, and he'd like to know why. But there were times when even Keiran had to feign disinterest in order to allow fate to change things.
It was in that moment that Sylas appeared on scene. Just in time. It was time for snacks.
The reserved man stepped forward and placed the tray on the table. It took an extra moment for Keiran to speak up, which puzzled Sylas. After all, he knew him only too well. 'Is something the matter?' He communicated through thought like he was afraid his mere voice would break the blessed silence.
Keiran smiled weakly, then replied in a similar fashion, I can see he's walking into something bad.
'Garrick? If you don't mind my asking, why allow him such a mission? It goes against our policies, really.'
Have you checked her karma?
Then you should understand what he's up against and why I put him up to it. But I shouldn't let him go, and I shouldn't give him this next assignment. He can't read his own future.
''I have no advice to offer you. It's a decision you'll have to make and deal with.' Isn't that what you'd normally say?'
Haah, yes, I suppose I would've said something like that… But I feel… Feel like things are changing.
'You mean, Garrick is changing?'
I mean, there's a little piece of each of us that will end up changing. Or something along those lines.
Sylas paused to lock his brown eyes onto Keiran's weak posture. Speech could only go so far, and so, allowing himself leave, he took one small wrapped piece of food for himself before exchanging a quick farewell to his master.
Keiran sat, once again alone with his thoughts, which – per opinion of Keiran – can never be considered a good sign. I should stop him. He can't read his own future. I should be his eyes. To watch out for him. To keep him from this danger. If I truly love him like I say I do, then why… Why am I letting him go?
Seconds passed, minutes passed, but time is rarely of essence to the supreme god, who sat anxiously for his subordinate's arrival. To keep himself occupied, he fiddled with paper and pen, scribbling notes and sketches as he went.
When at last Garrick arrived - bright naïve eyes shining - Keiran felt inclined to relay to him part two of his mission. He retrieved his own preset tracking device from the top drawer and handed it to Garrick. His explanation was simple, "Track her via GPS and see how she's doing. And don't worry; this will most likely be the last time you two should come in contact."
There was something strange and surreal about a cemetery. Especially to one of the non-Earthbound like Garrick. Each headstone represented a person that passed on – some too early, some too late, and some that were ready - but Garrick's experience of life and death was different.
When he walked, he did so carefully. Some headstones stood, while others were bathed in the overgrown earth, illegible but hopefully never forgotten. Looking across each of the names made the man think and wonder about the people that might've been.
Before he became fully aware of his surroundings, his hearing perked at a quiet, distant tone. I hear water… Is there a cliff here?
Breaking him from his whimsy, Garrick felt the familiar vibration against his pants pocket. A text. From Keiran, most likely. Unable to judge the urgency of the message, he quietly opened the phone to read, "Hiya~"
Whatever. I'm not responding to that. But as he was ready to shove his phone back into his pocket, a second vibration occurred that forced Garrick to read the second text, "I love you."
He hesitated. Surely, he didn't mean what he said. …Whatever.
Garrick then took into account his mission. According to the blue orb on his ever-convenient GPS, Edith was present, but the vast graveyard permeated with a dimming fog. It was only but a ways in front of him, and yet he was unable to see his target. She couldn't be far.
Cautiously, he took his first few steps while his eyes adjusted to the grey hues the graveyard had to offer. And there, before a small patch of dirt and a relatively recent blank headstone, Edith stood completely motionless like the still of the dead. For a moment, Garrick remained quiet, watching and waiting for some opportune moment to speak with her.
But that occasion of opportunity never presented itself, and so he created one, "Edith?"
Her solemn face looked Garrick in the eyes - not wondering, not questioning. But in an instant, a small smile appeared on her face. "Oh, it's you." Her voice was unusually distant, cold, and surprised. 'What are you doing here?'
A stone face. Maybe it's not her first trip here, then. Mourning. I'm not used to consoling others. What do I say? …I wish Keiran were here to help me get started. He's the one that's good with words. "What are you doing here? Is everything all right?" Garrick questioned generically.
"I- Well, I'm just visiting."
"It's your brother, isn't it? He's not alive, is he?"
Edith said nothing, but merely turned her head to the small gravesite. Perhaps she didn't want to indulge in the topic.
Garrick read the emotion he found in her eyes, and he sympathized. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
It was in that moment that the man realized the graveness of the situation. Edith's small hand reached in her pocket in a slow consideration, then emerged with clean, silver scissors tight in a white-knuckled grasp. The scissors were brought to her skin.
"No." Simply, Edith answered at last. But behind that meek façade, the Diviner of Fate read into something a little more revealing, 'Someone took him away before I had my chance.'
Words should be used carefully, and strategy was needed. Garrick knew he had to say something. "Someone took him away before you… had your chance? To save him?" With newfound understanding per his ability to mind read, his own fears and impending anxieties caused him to shout, "Don't blame yourself! It's not your fault!"
Edith's brows twisted. "What?" 'He's not dead. I know he's still out there. Somewhere. But you wouldn't understand. You need to leave.'
"I… If he's out there somewhere, I'll help you find him!" Keep your eyes on her, not the scissors, maybe she'll forget.
"What?" Voice now wavering with uncertainty and disbelief, she repeated, "How are you doing that?" 'How are you reading my mind?' Her face changed. Her entire demeanor became tense. As Garrick's eyes flickered to the weapon in her hands, the thought of being her savior seemed further and further out of his hands… "You're the one who took him away, aren't you?" Edith accused.
"What? No, I'm sorry, but I had nothing to do with th-"
"Stop lying!" The panicked one shouted, causing Garrick to jump. "Stop lying and tell me where he is! Where's my brother?!"
"I-I don't know." He said evenly, "I didn't do anything, you don't know what you're talking about, just stay calm. I know it's hard, and I'm so sorry-"
Mindreading was a difficult task. There were often three to four conversations to keep track of. What she will say, what she will think, what Garrick will say, and what Garrick will think. It's an art that Garrick learned to master through all his meetings with each human being.
And if there's one thing he learned, it's how words can be deceiving. Her thoughts betrayed her, as thoughts often do, 'He was taken away before I was able to kill him myself.'
There were no further explanations. It was all in an instant that felt like something much more. The once-thought-of-to-be a soft, caring hand pulled Garrick by the jacket, then took to her scissors, shoving the blades into the arm of the dumbstruck figure.
Garrick stood in shock, experiencing an unbearable, searing pain along his limb. His head reeled as he regarded the bleeding wound. It pounded. Everything was numb; his mind and his body still unable to attain comprehension.
'I've never hated someone so much before that I just wanted them dead.' Edith struggled a moment to release the weapon from Garrick's seeping wound, but to no avail, she instead pushed them in further, and Garrick was cast off his feet, off the ground, off the cliff, and rushed backwards to unforeseen waters below.
The wind choked him on his way down. Tightly, his now bloodied fingers squeezed around the wound and around the scissors that wedged into his flesh. Before hitting the water, his body was struck and carried down the bottom of the cliff by sharp rocks that tore the tissue clean from his bones.
'I just thought that if he were gone, my life would be better. The world – my world - would be better off if he was never born.'
He could feel his body crash against the water's surface, then felt water being rushed around him and through him. And though his mind told him to fight and rise and breathe, his body was helpless. And surely, that he understood.
Battered and dying, Garrick left a bloody trail that he watched rise to the surface of the waters. Whatever light that was there dimmed to a mere flicker, then disappeared from life altogether. His sense of self spun, but his mind was still stuck on, Why?
It hurts. Goddamnit, it hurts so bad, my arm. I need to see it. The hell is it so hard to open my eyes?
Shakily, Garrick strained to open his blue eyes. One brief look alerted him of a figure standing above that caused him to double-take. It was Sylas, expression ever-serious and eyebrows knitted tight with empathy as he held onto Garrick's wounded arm. He was ready to give him the healing touch. Oh, my arm… god… The man wanted to close his eyes again to be rid of the bloody sight.
"What're you doing?" Garrick asked even though he knew the answer.
"Healing. Your arm is hurt. One spell will fix it-"
"I don't want it."
Sylas shrugged but respected the nonsensical wishes of the other immediately. Instead, he took to his sterilization kit and heavy bandages at hand to heal it the traditional way – to which, Garrick seemingly had no objection.
At first, Garrick sat in forced silence as he was being treated. He held his own until Sylas began cleaning the carnage and wiping the excess blood away. As he placed the lukewarm washcloth onto the flesh – careful as could be – Garrick hissed out in pain, his whole limb trembled hard as it attempted to pull back. Such pain seemed unbearable for the innocent one to handle.
Patiently, the charcoal-haired man grabbed the arm, waited for Garrick to psyche up, then repeated the process. Again, Garrick whimpered in his throat, unable to hold back or keep his cool.
Although he never intended to mock his pain, Sylas asked once more, "No instantaneous healing?"
"Nnn, no!" Garrick shouted, voice getting caught in mid-whimper.
"Then," Sylas bit his lip, holding back a little emotion of his own. He took a skillful hand to the blond man's forehead, cast some simple magic, and sent the stubborn victim into a gracious, compassionate sleep. "Let me work in peace."
There was a man sitting beside him. He sat there, quietly, reading a book – barely moving, barely breathing. It made Garrick want to close his eyes again and disappear again into his world of slumber and leave that man to his reading.
But as Garrick gave a stir and awakening sigh, Keiran looked over at him right in the eyes. And he smiled; sadly, softly, but relieved all the same.
For a moment, neither man spoke. Perhaps Garrick was waiting for Keiran to start something. But he was proven otherwise. No suggestive wink, no leap into the bed, unnecessary touching, or playing with words. Just a genuine caring smile and a voice that was so soft, Garrick almost had to think twice whether or not he actually heard it. "Good morning."
I hate this guy. Garrick turned away and pulled his only good arm up to his chest where it rested comfortably. Within his chest, he could feel a dull pulse. Like the other members of Runawynd, his body had quick regeneration. Given the damages, he imagined in a day or so, everything would be well again. Everything… That was except his arm. That would take a little longer to heal.
Ignoring the helping hands that Keiran hastily offered, Garrick hoisted himself up a little and craned his neck to take a look at his arm. There were layers upon layers of bandages that were stained deep red. Surely, if he denied healing magic, his arm still had days – or perhaps weeks - to go. Garrick's insides quivered when he recalled the stabbing and the falling…
Garrick's mind was swimming, and he just had to speak, "I guess I'm dead to her now, huh?"
"She is… dead to you. I killed her. The water took her away." Keiran continued to emplace a little extra comprehension, "Some people don't deserve second chances."
The words seemed cold, but such was the philosophy of Keiran. Although Garrick felt prone to argue, he had to reconsider. That girl, Edith, had a whole life ahead of her; the Diviner of Fate could see it. She was young, but with such a murderous intent, perhaps a second chance would be undeserving…?
"'Killed'?" Garrick mumbled, unsure. "Wh-Why would you do that?"
Keiran put the answer to words that struck an odd chord inside Garrick's chest, "What would you do if someone tried to hurt one you felt strongly for?"
How should he answer such an unwanted confession? Garrick merely shook his head, blinking his eyes shut tight, and puffed out a whiff of strained air through his nostrils.
"And Sylas? He carried you home like a knight in shining armor. During all this time, little Torrin's thought have been with you, as well. We all care about you, Garrick. And we're glad you're okay. Strange, though, how she aimed for your arm, rather than attacking a vital point…"
This voice was new - different. Very unlike Keiran, or so he thought. It was so honest and so caring. Everything he said Garrick could believe in to be true.
After his body and mind were able to settle down, pieces of this lopsided puzzle began clicking in place. He was assigned that mission to bring a human to the other side. Even though it may not have been her time, this was justice - justice in her brother's name. For the brother that Garrick had stolen from her, just before he would meet his demise at her hands.
Head rested into the unreasonably soft pillow, Garrick suddenly realized that this was the first time he'd slept in this bed – it belonged to Keiran. He had only seen his bedroom once before by mistake, and was amazed at how quaint it seemed. Especially in comparison to all the luxury Keiran had given him and the other Diviners. Though he may have come across as haughty, Keiran always did offer the best to others before treating himself…
Although he had to admit, Keiran's bed was quite lavish. With wooden posts around it, a drawn curtain, and an enormously thick mattress all made Garrick feel like royalty. It felt embarrassing, almost - too much for such a small person.
Garrick's head whirred again as his eyes reached his arm. Awkwardly, he tried lifting it, but a painful zing bolted across his body that made him think otherwise. He felt pathetic. I can't fight back when I need to. I have no magic like the others. And I always need help. How could I let this happen? Garrick began to lament in a shaky voice, "I-I just, I just want to help people, 'n do my job 'n everything. I thought… I thought I was supposed to help her, but..." Ashamedly, he reached his good arm up to cover his eyes. "Why would she think about killing someone else? Why would she do that?! Why would she hate 'im like that?!"
Keiran's heart shattered, but he had to be strong, "You were undeserving. But it would be naïve to think the good guys always win. I think… humans can be horribly selfish and very destructive creatures. You're so sweet, Garrick. Too sweet. Too sweet for anything humanity has to offer, my angel."
Both men shared a piece of the tragedy. Both men shared in a common understanding. Eventually, before either man lost their sanity, Keiran finally asked, "Can you guess who her brother is?" The question needed to come out. They both could feel it coming.
"I know. I wish I didn't." Though he hoped to suppress the aching tears that clung hypocritically, Garrick accidentally let one slip down his cheek. And with that first tear, came many more. He couldn't contain himself, and felt ashamed for doing so – especially in the presence of another.
Keiran took a seat on the bed beside him, wrapped both arms around the broken man, and placed a gentle hand to Garrick's scalp to rub out the sorrows. He was surprised but enlightened when Garrick returned the embrace by stiffly burying his tear-stained face into Keiran's shoulder. A perfect fit. "Speaking of, Torrin's doing much better since you last saw him. You saved him, you know, Garrick. Job well done."
Chapter 7: Seven: To Separation
Three men gathered together in a room. Not particularly unusual of them, but something this time was off. An odd, unsuspected something that just felt wrong.
Rather than sitting amongst his coworkers, Sylas stood to pace, needlessly busying himself by lighting the fireplace and moving drapes from the windows. Torrin shifted in his seat for the fifth time, shared a quick look with Garrick, then continued toying with his fingers. And Garrick had a dry aggravation floating in his throat. Though he sat completely still, he couldn't resist the urge to itch and fidget with his casted, tingling arm.
Neither man said a word although the same question played at each of their minds. No mind reading was necessary for the Diviners.
One minute passed since Keiran called them all into the living room. He had yet to arrive himself, to which the three men could only ponder. Apprehensive, unknowing. There was something about the nature and timing of his beckoning that frightened them – though none would admit it.
At last, Keiran arrived. To one who knew him well, they might notice his face hinted with weariness; as if exhausted from some psychological battle that no one else would understand. Nevertheless, he took a look around the room and greeted his comrades all with smiles. Not a man present was fooled. "Thank you for coming." He said simply.
"What's the matter?" Sylas spoke up, emotion willfully capped. As soon as he had seen his master enter the room, he perked himself upright on impulse and ceased the pacing.
Slowly, Keiran walked towards the open, burning fireplace. "All right, then, I'll get straight to the point. And there's no reason to be so uptight, everyone. I'm giving you all a golden opportunity I need you to think about." Great speaker that he claimed to be, he first paused for impact. "Would any of you like to be reborn?"
"What?" Garrick spat out, causing Torrin to jump beside him.
"I want to encourage each of you to think about what you truly desire. Think about how you'd like to shape your life, and I'll make it happen for you on earth."
Garrick was about to shout an objection but stopped when Sylas opened his mouth first. The voice of karma was firm, "How could you say something like that? I don't need to think about it. I want to stay here."
"Because you want to? Is that really it? Or are you doing this just because I ordered you to? I want what's best for you, really." Keiran was insistent, and for some reason, Garrick noticed the speaker take a quick look at his cast before speaking, "But don't you feel like there's nothing left for you here? Like you have a bigger purpo-"
The quiet man snapped. Any and all restraint was neglected as Sylas angrily reached forward, grabbed Keiran by the open-collar, and rammed him back-first into the chair nearest him. "You self-centered prick, I'm staying. I don't need time to think." He spat out, keeping sure his words were heard this time while he pinned Keiran further with a tight grip and unexpected strength. "This is my everything, and you want to take this all away from me?!"
Sylas displayed a new set of emotion that Garrick and Torrin had yet to witness. They dared not speak under such heavy pressure. What more could they say? He seems so worried, so scared. For a heated moment, Garrick wondered how far Sylas would take his fear…
As the Diviner of Karma let his hands ease against the fabric, Keiran lowered his voice, then slumped in his seat. Though he appeared defeated, his promise remained, "I'm sending you – all three of you – down to earth to think it over while you enjoy a vacation I've planned out. I don't need your answer right away."
"I won't." Sylas repeated.
"It's not your choice. You either pack," Keiran dangerously raised his eyes towards Slyas', then readied his fingers for a snap, "or I send you now."
"Then, what should I pack? And how long do you expect we'll stay?"
"As long as it takes."
"And I imagine you'll be making yourself tea every morning?" Nonchalantly, Sylas waved an impatient farewell to the discussion before walking around towards the exit. "Keiran, I fear for what would happen to the world if it returned under your rule again. You know you could never do this alone. If I leave – if Garrick and Torrin both leave you – that beloved world of yours will fall apart."
Garrick was taken aback. In response to the accusations, Keiran said nothing. Painstakingly so. If there was a conversation going on via mindreading, it was beyond his skill to listen. After all, the two shared a bond and history that made Garrick feel as if he had no part to play.
His only mission here would be to go earth on vacation, return with the same answer, then continue working in Runawynd peacefully. Everything would be as it was. Surely, Keiran would never consider leaving them for good.
Finally, the supreme god spoke up, "Go get your things. There's nothing wrong with a change of scenery once and a while. The warp point will be ready in half an hour."
Sylas was first to leave the room. Garrick waited until Torrin stood to escort after him.
Clothing for a week's worth, money for a month. A few miscellanea from the bathroom, and Garrick was as ready as a minuteman could be. After assembling his suitcase of goods, mentally checking things off as he went, his eyes glanced at the clock. He still had time before departure. Perfect, then, for a quick stop.
Garrick had it all mapped out in his mind. Where he would go, how he would get there, who he would meet, what he would say to him… It could be said that thinking was hardly his strongest suit, but it seemed anyone could do enough of it to make a plan.
He approached Keiran's open doorway, but before entering, he stopped. There was incense lit inside, the smoke twirling and hovering around the bedside in a calm fixation around the light. The supreme god lay naked – no, half naked on his bed; arms stretched out, eyes fixed to the ceiling. Out of concern, Garrick watched to make sure he was even breathing. Sure enough, that exposed chest of his was rising and falling.
"K-Keiran?" Ughh, I didn't mean to stutter.
Like a slothing feline, Keiran rolled over to one side – to face the wall - then answered vaguely, "Yes, dear?"
Without eye contact, Garrick could already feel a gaping void between the two. "This… vacation. I appreciate it 'n all, but I'm just wondering… um, when 'd this come about?"
"Whatever do you mean?" Keiran hummed.
"This isn't the reason, is it?" Garrick lifted his casted arm to the ignorant man.
Leisurely, the other turned his head to at last initiate an airy connection.
"Look, I'm not here to argue with you or anything. But as a wild guess, the reason you're doing this is because you want us safe, and gone, and out of your hands for a while. Right? Well, it's not your fault for everything that happened to me. But if you want me gone and safe so bad, then leave the other two out of it and just make me disappear!"
Keiran hoisted himself around to fall again on his side. His back facing the speaker once more.
Hands formed to fists, Garrick stood for a moment, wondering if Keiran even gave his speech any thought. Shunned, the blond man heaved a shrug, rolled his neck tense until it cracked, then moved towards the doorway. He thought, I still think Sylas was right. You'll need us.
'But do you need me anymore?'
Garrick had broken through his barrier. Keiran was in a rare, vulnerable state, and if there was one magic skill that Garrick was good for, it was mind reading. Or perhaps, Keiran wanted the message to be heard…?
"What do you desire?" Keiran asked; flowing words prodded into the other man with delicacy.
Such words – such easy, free-flowing words, decorated with a hint of suggestion and menacing risqué – never failed to make Garrick's heart pound. He could feel more heat rising in his body, blood boiling with an unmistakable frustration, yet also the pink hues of disconcerted shyness. Which he hid from Keiran the moment he realized it himself.
Fleeing from distraction, Garrick felt the need to respond. "I-I want to stay here." Ahh, I wish it wasn't so hard to talk with him right now… If only the cocky bastard would put on a shirt.
Keiran sat up now, leaning back into a comfortable shoulder stretch. "Why? Do you think that by staying here forever – with me – you'll be happy?"
With each question, Garrick felt that more and more forbidden ground was being surmounted. But this one he deemed unapproachable. He drew a breath before speaking through clenched teeth, "I wouldn't go that far."
"Well then, what is it you want? To just keep helping the earthbound ones solve their problems? Is that it?"
"Yes, Keiran! That's what I want!"
"Hmm." He hummed quietly. "The portal's all set. Enjoy your time off. Earth will be fine without you."
Though he entered with a goal in mind, Garrick left feeling he hardly understood Keiran's intentions at all.
Midday tea and snacks were served by a lovely innkeeper. She smiled all the while, setting up the table in such a manner to be artistry. Garrick thanked the lady and was the first to take a seat at the low, blanket-clad table, burying his feet underneath the insulation. Torrin followed suit, but Sylas merely stood in the corner of the room, his mind clearly venturing elsewhere.
This seemed to be the way things went on their terrestrial holiday. Garrick was first to enter the portal, then Torrin, then Sylas. He was first to get acquainted with their traditional hotel room, then Torrin, then Sylas, who did so with the stubbornness of an unwilling child.
Garrick's optimistic outlook was dampened by his two partners' slump. As soon as the woman left the room, he called out to Sylas, "Why don' 'cha drink some tea?"
"No, thanks." Sylas was resolute.
The blond man reached across the table to for a snack, glancing over at Torrin, who made the deduction, "You don't like to be served tea, right, Sylas?"
Yeah, that's it. It's not like he won't drink tea, he just wants it the other way around.
Tight eyebrows knit together when Sylas' downbeat became a full-fledged scowl. He looked scornfully out the window, as if demonstrating that look for Keiran himself.
Garrick would have no more of it. "You know what, guys? We got vacation, and we're going on enjoy it. Let's all go take a bath, right now!" With newborn gusto, he rose to his feet, strode to the bathroom to collect three fresh towels, and then waited at the door for the two men to follow.
But they did not - only heaviness clung to the air. Sylas hadn't moved, and it was only Torrin's eyes that followed Garrick by the doorway. Though it was occasionally hard to tell with Torrin, the caring brotherly figure, Garrick, knew just how to handle him.
"Let's go, Torrin, let's go!" Garrick jested, dropping his blankets to playfully scoop the fragile boy up in his arms. "Or I'll take you by force!"
In the instant Torrin stifled a laugh, Garrick at last felt successful, a smile washing over his triumphant face. "Haha, stop it! Put me down!" The younger man breathed between laughs, tussling his way back to his feet, "It's embarrassing and ruining my masculine charm!"
"Masculine-? Tchh, come on, let's get you dressed – er, undressed, that is! All right, let's go! Time to strip!"
Sylas turned his head for perhaps the first time since they entered the room. He beheld a giggling Torrin being wrestled to the straw-matted floors by Garrick, who managed to hold a towel in his other hand. It was an awkward struggle that required a comment of suggestion, "The two of you can share your own little house together on a beach somewhere, but leave me out of it."
The boys ceased the joviality to whisper in unison, "Ouch, someone's moody." "I think it's time we should go."
Once the commotion had settled, two of the three men stood, gathered their things, and took out the doorway with towels and robes in hand. Leaving the third man, however, to commence his train of thought in the quiet. He looked at at tea set on the table and recollected.
It bothered me. Granted, it never took much to bother me, but this one… this man… I wish I could change him.
When I felt bothered – and I don't do this all the time – but sometimes I like to play the piano. It's meditative. It calms me down, helps me think and stay focused on what really matters. It makes me feel good.
Oops, I struck a wrong chord. How does that next part go again…? Honestly, I-
"What are you doing?"
He interrupted all my thoughts. Yes, that man. The one that seems to be getting me all hot and bothered. I stopped my dinking around the keys to turn and greet him properly.
This was rare. He actually spoke to me, and if I didn't know better, I'd say he was genuinely curious about me and what I'm up to. Well.
"Good morning, Sylas." I pasted a smile on my face, hoping he might do the same.
But no, of course not. "Good morning." He responded without using my name. Yes, that's right; he still won't use my name. He must hate me.
I must've hoped then that he would have contributed more to the conversation, but no, he wasn't quite ready. That's fine. It's only a matter of time, I figured. And we have plenty of that. In fact, all the time in the world.
And so, I resumed playing the piano. I did my latest song, the one I was practicing.
Funny, you'd think. That a god such as myself would need to "practice" a song. But think again. It's not as if one could simply touch an instrument and master it. I can't do everything, you know. The only reason I can play the piano is because I've practiced it well enough to know how to.
I don't know everything. I learn through people, through experience, just like the rest of the human race might. I can watch from up here and learn from them. It's strange. Though I might come to know people this way, they don't know or understand me… But I still know them.
Ah, I digress. As much as I love to talk – most of the time, not always – it's difficult for me to find a good listener.
My song – or at least what I had learned of it thus far – was over. My thought process just sort of stopped along with it. I guess now's the time to find another song to play…
I reached my hands out again to play, but I thought twice. Sylas, my recently-hired Diviner of Karma, stood there patiently and intently. So he likes music.
"Want to try?" I asked him.
His face was difficult. It's always difficult. Because he's rare to speak, it really leaves me to depend on facial expression and body language. He frowned and his eyebrows were tight together. As a frightened animal might be towards a free gift from a human, he hesitated and looked at me with his head cocked a little to the side.
It took him a moment – another moment of me waiting for him to warm up – but after all that hesitation, he finally came to my side.
I'd rather he sat beside me, but there he stood, and I knew better than to cross certain boundaries with this one. He's so shy and so very unsure. I wanted and wished with all my heart that he would learn to trust me. And I vowed to use this piano as his break in. Or at least, I would try.
I showed him how to place his hands, but he wouldn't set them on the keys. I showed him the first few notes of a simple melody, but he waited for me to stand up before he sat down at the bench. It made me wonder if he was doing all this on purpose – just to irk me.
But with just about everything, patience is key. "Patience and practice, you know. It takes time to master something. It's a part of living." I told him, standing and watching him work from above, "And you know what the greatest thing about practice is? You can only move forward in the long run. There's no moving backwards."
At last, my inning. He looked up at me – such beautiful brown eyes - and asked, "Where do I start?" Then he let me guide his fingers on the piano.
I thought that if I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, it'd be boring. So I created a place in its likeness, where I would live and guide my own life and experiences. And now, I could live with you, Sylas… like an earth of our own. A utopia, if you will.
"Sylas," Nothing like the present. "Why would you decide to stay up here with me?"
"Anything's better than staying down there." Was his cold response.
I didn't understand it, but I held my tongue and just let things flow as they were. Because at least then, he trusted me enough to unlatch a lock in his heart. Even if for just a short while.
"How does your arm feel, Garrick?" Torrin asked with concern, carefully sitting himself down on the waters' edge, dipping his feet in the steaming pool.
"What? Oh, it doesn't really hurt anymore." As he took a seat beside his friend, Garrick awkwardly gestured to his arm, concluding, "Actually, I could probably take the damn thing off. Starting to smell pretty nasty."
After watching fate struggle with his cast, Torrin helped him remove it. In a timid, disconcerted way, the blond man thanked him, then worked on stretching out his arm. Though the limb was healing at a celestial rate, it was still discolored white with a clear red and purple streak along the surface of his skin. As he moved it around, bending and twisting, Torrin couldn't help but notice how it shook from the physical strain.
I can see he's trying to be strong for me. Torrin thought, removing his towel and slowly letting his body sink in the water. I wish he'd stop all that, and just be honest with me, and treat me more like an equal. I know you've been hurt, and even though I don't really understand it all, I know we can get it all fixed together. That's in our job description, right?
There was a minute of strained silence before Garrick communicated, 'Torrin?'
He knew he was caught. Mind reading barriers… Torrin reminded himself. Sometimes I forget. With a smile and innocent façade, he said, "Don't worry yourself, it's no trouble."
"Nah, you're right – you're absolutely right." Garrick admitted defeat to Torrin, "Guess I gotta work on that."
Torrin sensed his words were heartfelt. After all, the hot springs seemed like the perfect place to collect one's thoughts, so perhaps this time, he could learn something new about his friend…?
Garrick disrobed and submerged his sore body into the waters. Unintentionally, he let out a deep sigh of relief, and it was a while before he bothered to breathe in again.
Easing out his aches and pains in the spring, the Diviner of Fate noted the night sky. To him, it was beautiful and flawless. A stretch of stars were just overhead, projecting a glowing light across the skies, and the moon was set center-stage. It was still and quiet, save the soft running of water, and picturesque as the steam rose and disappeared somewhere along the cool night air.
"The weather's really nice. It's beautiful out." Garrick said aloud. Torrin nodded silently in agreement.
It was as if Keiran rewarded him for his respect. A soft flicker of light in the distance crept closer, and the flickering became an incandescent, disappearing and reappearing glow that seemed to join the two in the baths. Fireflies. The troop of fireflies came and went, journeying above and beyond the rooftops out of sight.
The weather, the serene location, the short little miracles of an earthborn life… It was as if Keiran was doing all he could to make the earth look more beautiful in hopes to convince them to stay. But those little miracles only reminded Garrick of the one responsible. "Even if I left, he'd still be with me. That's my fate, I think. To be stuck with that annoying jerk for the rest of my afterlife."
"Is that what you want? To be with him?"
"I dunno. When you put it that way, it doesn't really sound right, but… I mean, I can't really picture myself doing anything else, but…" Garrick shook his head and ran a hand across his bad arm, rubbing it out. "What about you?"
"Any secrets you wanna share, y' know?"
"You mean, do I have someone I like? Sorry, but that sounds like something you'd ask at a girly slumber party. Geez."
Garrick turned, disquieting the waters around him. "You know I didn't mean it like that! I mean, like – Gah, I dunno. Just – just forget it. It's none of my business."
He's so funny when he's flustered. He's so easy. I can see why Keiran has so much fun with him. "What I want… I just want to go home." Looking up to the sky, Torrin hoped he could get a glance at what lie beyond that sea of stars. "I've never minded earth, but I feel strange here, you know. Like I don't really belong. But it's sorta sad when you find a new family that doesn't want you anymore."
"Ohh, Torrin, it's not like that at all. He'd never want to leave you! He really cares about you, y' know! Like a parent, like family, he…" Garrick's words began to make little and little sense, and failed altogether to make the situation any nicer. He mumbled, "Well, I care about you. And I'd never leave you like that, ya know."
"I love you, too, Garrick." Torrin said with all brotherly intentions.
"I- hey, yeah." 'Uuug, my heart's poundin' like a moron. I hate how my face gets so red. Hope he can't see it, this is so – ahh, he's so cute, yet so awkward sometimes. I'll just turn my head and act cool. And I guess I love him too, but I can't really say that, 'cuz it's not like THAT, but-'
As the rambling soared further and further into disarray, Torrin sat in full confidence but feigned pure ignorance while Garrick's body became redder and redder. Goodness, I'd better be careful, or I'll make him pass out from heat exhaustion.
When enough time passed, and when temperature limits were met, the boys agreed to surrender and return back to their room.
"Oh, Sylas, we were just on our way out. Your turn?" In the changing room, Torrin greeted the robe-clad man, who was readying himself to bathe alone.
"Yes, I…" Sylas nodded but trailed off when his eyes beheld a horribly red, disheveled Garrick, hastily drying himself off in the background. Concerned, he pointed, "Is he all right?"
"Never you mind. He's just fine." Torrin fluffed his hair to dry. "I'm off to take a nap, but I'll see you around dinnertime then?"
With one more professional acknowledgement to the younger man, Sylas nodded, then stood tall to watch Torrin make his way around the corner and back to their room. A nap sounds good. He thought to himself.
In the time it took Sylas to disrobe and wrap a towel around his body, Garrick came bounding in the dressing room, "You came after all? Great! I'm going to help get Torrin ready for a quick nap, but then I'll come back and join you!"
Energy, energy, you have so much of it. "Don't trouble yourself."
In a second, Sylas noticed Garrick's eye contact veer to the right a little behind him, so he turned, too, to follow the distraction.
A tall man with auburn hair and tired smile approached the two, pushing the dressing room curtain out of the way as he lazily entered. Sylas noticed him glance at Garrick, who gave him a nod on his way out, but then turned to look Sylas straight in the face. The stranger beamed wide and indistinctly. "Hey."
Like Garrick, Sylas nodded a greeting as well, but he became irked. As this unexpected stranger arrived and started getting removing his clothing in Sylas' presence, he thought twice about the alone-time bath he promised himself.
Calmly and unceremoniously, Sylas grabbed his things out of the basket aside the man's. As Sylas came close, the handsome stranger looked over at him, completely unashamed while he continued removing his own robes, and whispered a soft slur of opening, "What, I'm g'na take my bath alone now? Too bad, mate."
Ignoring the man's incentive, Sylas mocked back only in thought. People like you don't need attention. Enjoy your bath alone.
Garrick returned promptly but was confused to see Sylas leaving, rather than going in. A second glance at the shady intruder,.
While they made their final sweep of the room collecting their things, the man said, "Hey, 's a nice night, huh? How long you guys stayin', anyways?"
"Only a night or two." Garrick responded, even though the question was aimed at Sylas. "And yeah, the weather's been real nice lately. We've been lucky."
And with that, the two made their way out the room.
"Ouch, dude. He was just trying to make conversation." Garrick grimaced at the attitude Sylas displayed, thanking himself inwardly that he was Sylas' friend rather than enemy.
"Don't go there. I know his type."
"Hmph, that's how you are, huh. Barriers and defenses up. What, do you think they're going to attack you, or somethin'?"
It took a day for the Diviner of Karma to be alone and comfortable when at last he dipped his tired body in that warm well of nature. A rare smile made its way across his face, while he took both hands to his forehead and smoothed back his dark hair.
All was courteously peaceful and well until an unfortunately familiar face came forward from the entrance door. It spoke, "Lucky me, look who it is. Where's that mate that was with ya?"
And his entrance is my cue to leave. Without hesitation, Sylas gathered his towel, stood to make his exit, and said, "That's none of your business."
The stranger parked himself aside where Sylas once sat in the tub. "What, leavin'? Thought you 'jes got in though. How long you been in 'ere, three minutes?"
It has been three minutes. …In fact, three minutes exactly. A disgusting realization hit. He's been watching. "Leave me alone. Don't touch me, don't come near me."
Adamantly, the man shot him a flirtatious smirk, enjoying the reactions he earned, "Tch, 'scuse me."
Water dripping down his skin, Sylas covered his half-baked body with his towel and stormed off - leaving a little magic behind to do the rest.
The hot spring in which the intruder sat suddenly became cold. Frigid cold, but the man was unable to stand. His feet and lower regions were trapped in an icy blockade, frozen to the rocks on which he sat.
As Sylas left the scene, a dumbstruck Garrick arrived. He hardly blinked while he watched, astounded at the frost that glistened around the pool. Not only had this man made Sylas furious enough to use magic, but how Sylas was able to cast such a spell was beyond his comprehension.
It made him think about his own powers. Wish I could use magic like that. Mind reading's really the only thing I'm good at… I wonder if Keiran would teach me when I get back?
Halting his train of thought in its tracks, Garrick noticed Sylas speeding past him, repeating underneath his breath, "I hate humans, I hate humans…"
Garrick quickly collected Sylas' forgotten things from the dressing room, then sprinted to catch up with him as they made their way to their safe room. Utterly impressed, he grinned wittily, "Instant karma?"
Sylas hardly smiled. "The water will be safe in about fifteen minutes. We can come back later."
Garrick had much trouble deciding whether or not to laugh or to cower in fear.
Knock knock knock. "Someone's at the door." Torrin had just finished his nap and briskly got from his comfortable cocoon to greet the visitor, while Sylas read quietly in the corner and Garrick prepared himself a cup of coffee from their kitchen area.
No sooner had Torrin stood to answer the door that Garrick exited the kitchen, then jumped upon seeing Torrin's "nightwear" which consisted simply of modest shorts, rather than the head-to-toe, cotton outfit complete with slippers as the decent man might have imagined him in.
In a sudden panic, Garrick nearly spilled his coffee as he ducked towards the bed and whispered a frantic warning, "Oh shit, no, no, no, don't answer it, shh!"
Regardless, the door had opened, revealing a girl dressed in a fancy robe and a wholesome amount of dazzling cosmetics. Her expression changed from inviting to sheer surprise when her eyes scanned the scene.
But yes, Torrin's sharp wit knew just how to handle the situation. He turned to Garrick and asked in a disappointed tone, "Oh, Garrick. Company? Does that mean I gotta go now?"
The woman, taken aback, sputtered, "Oh, he's - Oh, Garrick, I was going to- Forget it. Have fun, boys. I won't get in your way."
And with that, she left down the hall. Smiling, Torrin closed the door behind his back, turned to Garrick with hands still on the knob, and locked it tight.
Sylas was first to inquire, "What was that all about?"
"Hnnng, she's been following me around since we first friggin' got here. Sucks. So annoying, but thank god Torrin happened. I don't know what you just did or how you did it, but thank you, Torrin."
Sylas shook his head, "First I've heard of her. So that's why you've been so clingy to us this whole vacation. It looks like Keiran's trying to lure you into staying using a woman."
"Well, it won't work! I don't even like girls!"
A questionable pause. "Watch what you're admitting to there."
As would a devoted parent, Garrick made sure Torrin was comfortably sleeping before he made his way back to the springs. Two days had passed by, but this night would become the first night he spent solely with Sylas. Reason being, he wanted to give the man a little space, but decided that tonight would be a better night as any for a long-awaited discussion.
The hallways were peacefully, yet unbearably silent. He passed many a room in which lights had gone out, and only the soft flicker of candlelight and moonlight shone him the way. And though hard he tried, his feet still caused a creak underneath the wooden floorboards. But despite the hour, Garrick knew he would find Sylas in the baths.
When Garrick first pulled the entrance curtain aside, he had to stop a moment to hitch his breath. Sure enough, Sylas was soaking, but something in his posture exposed weakness. He rested his head in the nest of his folded arms, leaning against the rocky edges of the bath, and Garrick immediately sympathized.
Though he only scratched the surface, he understood that Sylas greatly feared being separated from Keiran. He feared returning to earth. He was happy and ultimately feared the change that Keiran forced upon him. He wanted to go home.
Fearfully, Garrick decided against trying to console him. He sat down outside the pool a short distance from Sylas, who jumped and backed away unexpectedly, but relaxed a little once Garrick had greeted him.
"Yo." Garrick started, wishing to brush off the uneasiness.
In return, the charcoal-haired man straightened himself up and exited the pool, drying himself off all the while. Garrick followed him quietly, and they both made their way out together to the garden area of the establishment.
For what seemed like an insufferable few minutes, both men sat speechless on the deck of the overseeing gardens. Until Sylas at last began, "A long time ago, it was only me and Keiran up there. But back then, he made some unfair decisions that ended up hurting a lot of people."
"Once there was a woman who – well, up until a time - spoke nothing but lies and hurtful things to others. Keiran had given humans the ability or privilege of free will, giving them a means to make mistakes, learn from them, and change to better themselves and others. But instead, he took it upon himself to dry out this woman's tongue, and within the snap of his fingers, she became mute."
"And that wasn't the first time he'd done something like that. Once, he noticed a girl being mistreated by a man that broke her heart. So he broke his heart, ripping his soul clear out, then tangling it to never be reborn. No second thoughts, no forgiveness, no time for fate to take its natural course."
"I would watch him do these things over and over, but it took a while before it actually started to phase me. I thought him to be cruel, so I confronted him about it, asking him why he wouldn't see me to check into their karma first. But I suppose he never really knew himself. He was unsure, then, and used 'sense of justice' as his excuse."
"Garrick, you don't understand, do you? That storm we fixed together? Keiran put that there for what he thought to be solid judgment, because of what one person did there a long time ago. It was one person's punishment, but the whole town suffers generations later? Is that fair? Hell, Torrin might have died at his hands if it wasn't for you when you first joined."
"He mentioned to me, back then, that he would continue searching for someone who would be better suited for determining one's fates. Someone that is compassionate towards all living beings, free from self-will. And he settled for you."
"He needs us. Otherwise, earth has no chance if it's being bound by his own sense of justice. All his mistakes, and he's been using us to slowly make things right. And even though he has the power to govern the human race, he's chosen to share that power with you, me, and Torrin. All just because he's incapable of making the empathetic choice. And if you ever leave him, I'll never forgive you." Such a final statement should have been terrifying, considering it came from karma himself.
Garrick sat quietly and listened. But as soon as his body started to shake and a familiar sensation began stinging at his eyes, only then did he feel he had the right to speak, "I don't care. I don't care. I can't see my own fate. I can't see Keiran's. I've got nothing better to do than follow his stupid orders anyway, and there's this part of me that can't get away from him, I… I'm stuck. Just like you are, right?"
But before he had a chance to break down completely, Garrick stood up furiously, wiping at his eyes, throwing his head up, and taking deep, hissing breaths.
"Garrick." Sylas looked up at him intently.
"Ugghh, I'm fine, I'm fine. Let's just go back t' bed, go back to Runwaynd, and get everything sorted out. I'm sick of all this. I just wanna go home."
"Well, back to work." The Diviner of Fate groggily rose from his bed, filling his lungs with the familiar scent of his beloved Runawynd.
While he hastily threw on a sloppy outfit, just barely forgetting to button his dress shirt, he at last noticed the oddity in the air.
Where is everyone?
The man searched for a face, a noise, any sign of life. Going down the hall, he checked Sylas' room. Everything in it was in its place, but no Sylas. Walking a little faster, he checked Torrin's room. No Torrin. Sprinting, he made a dash for Keiran's office. No one's around?
In a fit of panic, he fumbled with the doorknob before slamming it open. Brown eyes met solemnly with his. "Keiran."
The high god reclined on his most favored window seat, turned to Garrick, paused, then said, "They're already gone." Fatigued, he pulled himself up to his feet and looked his subordinate in the eyes, "It's your turn, Garrick."
"What is it you want, Keiran?" Garrick questioned, creating a whole new tension. "You want us gone?!"
But it was as if his words went unheard. Keiran came in closer, close enough to reach out and touch him, as his eyes sized up every part of Garrick, finally landing his fixation back onto his eyes.
Breathing hard, Garrick dared not move his gaze away, nor did he bother to run away. He even stood completely still as Keiran moved closer into him to stroke his face with both hands. His fingers stroked carefully, gently, yet achingly, and for a hypocritical moment of betrayal, disgust, and bliss, Garrick grazed his nose against the palms. He could have melted in the heat, but his head and heart were rushing, "You want my body? Then take it." Garrick whispered coarsely, voice struggling to keep volume, "I'll gladly give it to you if you stop this. Bring them back."
Intently, Keiran responded in all insinuation, "That's only a small part of it. I can never have what I really want. It's unattainable." As his gaze lowered, Garrick dared not close his eyes, which widened the moment Keiran took a hand over his chest, settling comfortably against his heart.
The Diviner of Fate was unsure how to respond. Do I let him, or… He lifted his head."Don't do this."
Keiran had waited long enough.
Garrick's lips were overtaken. An overwhelming heat suffocated his chest, and his world spun with a new-found exhilaration the moment Keiran made the connection.
But before Garrick had the mind to break it off, Keiran gave his shoulders one last squeeze, one last tug on his blond locks, then pushed him away.
Such a state seemed the best opportunity to send Garrick down the rift. Keiran readied his hands for a teleportation spell, but no sooner had Garrick realized it, "Keiran, don't-!", he was too late.
"But I must, my beloved Garrick. For that is your God-given fate."
Swirling blue and white immobilizing lights enveloped Garrick, driving him back away from Keiran, to whom he yelled, frantically, "I make my own fate! I'll make my own decisions, I'll think for myself, and when I get back, I swear I'll kill you!"
The lights around him sent him through the floor, out of Runawynd, out of his home, out of the reach of immortality, where he crashed to earth – as might a fallen angel.
Chapter 8: Eight: To Finding a Home
The show began. A vivid display of color and light shot up from the ground and trickled its way back down to earth, where a festive cast of people watched in awe and admiration. It was a special day for the humans; a celebration of birth.
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 – 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 found you by the lake."
"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 restaurant. 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 are they?' 'New faces. Where are they from?' 'I thought the roads were closed off because of the war. They come adrift? They don't look like fighters from the other side.'
Feeling the need to retain his posture and balance, Garrick took a seat 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 a family of five - humble and hard-pressed, they seemed - take seats behind Garrick. The youngest, a girl, ruffled her dirty dress with a grimy hand as she stared intently at something her mother held. There was an object in her hands that the little girl fancied… Torrin gasped and rocked his foot to tap Garrick in the knee.
Squinting, eyes nearly tearing with strain, Garrick turned to follow Torrin's focus. "That's mine." He said aloud. It hinted danger, and he immediately wished he could take back.
The parents grew wide-eyed at the unwelcome voice and jitterishly turned away from him in avoidance. But the little girl perked her head up and answered in the elders' stead, "I don't think it works too good."
"Can I please have it back?"
"I want to sell it so I can get some food…"
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 her 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…
Just as Garrick felt Torrin tug 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 briefly ceased.
A flame sparked on the family's table. Within a flicker, it spread along the hems of the tablecloth, stretching inwards until the entire wooden structure began to crumble. A wild madness swept the room. The parents grabbed their children and fled the building. Others ran to help the bartender put out the flame before the situation worsened.
The phone had been dropped by the family and crushed beneath the heels of panicked people.
Then everything started to blur again. Nauseously so. Voices were sharp enough to pierce through his mindreading barriers, but what they said, Garrick couldn't be sure. He stood cold with shock and guilt. On her way being hurried out the door, the little girl, too, looked back at Garrick to catch one last glimpse. 'Did he do that?'
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. Weak and ashamed, his body leaned against a lamppost to throw up.
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 just couldn't control them?"
Garrick wished for escape. He felt sick of interacting with humans. Uncharacteristically, the blond man cursed, "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, with somewhat duskier skin and dark hair that was swept to the side. He had 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." Garrick, again, had difficulty keeping Cade's thoughts away, 'Was hoping for some proper introductions 'n such, but since you got your pretty little 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 this, you might be able to answer some of our questions." He had a quieter, humbler voice; one that Garrick might actually consider haggling with. Then, familiarity struck him. 'I wonder what his story is.' That guy, I read his mind in the bar. Guiltily, 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 glanced over at Cade and read, 'Found every piece of it, we did. Barkeep let me keep it as payment for a job I did 'er the other day, bless 'er heart. 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. He 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 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 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 goddamned 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, giving gravity a shake around the room. 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 the f-?" Cade slurred, joining Garrick and Torrin at the counter, while Treyston observed from above them.
It was restored. 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 or where they could find Sylas.
Treyston finally stepped up to ask, "What'd you say your names were again?"
"I'm Torrin, and this is Garrick. We don't really know what's going on either, 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, "Hell of it is, 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.
"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 and wondered if the sun would ever set that day. He had to admit - though he couldn't be sure 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.' It all seemed perfect… But why?
'Aw, Trey, just give in.' 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 - to find 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. Why should he believe the direction of two wayward travelers?
As Garrick made his way as stealthily as a Garrick could, he crept up the hill until he heard Treyston say, "I just… want to make sure it's 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 this 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 back me up, 'm 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."
'For Gods' sakes, 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 gave Cade a swift punch to the shoulder, shoving him away. To which, the shorter man grinned a little and took it with a strange, kindled dignity.
"Just stay out of trouble. I can't watch over you all the time, you moron." Treyston said.
'All the time… I wish it was for all the time, mate.'
Wow. What have I stepped into? Disbelieving at his inadvertent read, Garrick decided it best that he took his leave. He approached his front 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 stunned 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 lit a table on fire, and the same day that he and Torrin met with two mercenaries. 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.
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 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. 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!"
Listening 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?"
"Guess so." Garrick answered vaguely.
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 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 twisted his neck as far away from Torrin's eyes as possible. "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's 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?"
Cade's lips kinked a smirk, welcoming banter, "Prick. I only know about what I've heard of. 'Sides, they're not interesting to me, anyways." He insinuated, though perhaps only Garrick understanding the true nature of that message.
"Idiot, I should hope not." 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 glinting buildings that drew them in like a crow to a mound of gold. 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 poverty and wealth in this town, all the while searching for that messy part of town. From one side, 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 each town's politics could ever grasp his full attention, due to all the quick visits he'd made all over earth.
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 unconvinced. 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?"
The doorman's 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 man seemed impressed. "He's not for sale, but if you say so, young sir. Come on in." And he opened the door.
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. It was starting up again.
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. He 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 vomited, 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. Why does this keep happening? What's wrong with me? Despite all the doubts and worries the man harbored, he felt the most important thing was to trust in Torrin and trust that the worst may be behind him. He had nothing left to do; 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 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', dolt. 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. 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- damn mouth of mine - 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; was shipped here, really, about a year ago. '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, "Guess I'm just a wayward refugee. '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." The boy sat back in his chair, sinking in a deep sigh. "Ehh, but it's just my luck, right? The only guy I'd consider worth my time… but 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' these wet dreams 'bout him lately. Makes it kinda hard to face him the next day, if you catch my drift. Can still feel it down below-"
"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 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, the bastard's 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, I always figured that 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. 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 freakin' 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' partners, 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.
Garrick neglected to put a shirt on before entering his and Sylas' bed, despite his partners' unhappy, insisting look. The bothered man took that opportunity to joke, "If only Keiran could see you now, maybe he'd let it rain."
"…That's not funny." Garrick shoved his blanket up and over his head, hiding from peering eyes.
Sylas almost laughed at the reaction. "You know it's prone to rain when he's happy."
"Wait, really? Huh, all these things I never knew about Keiran."
An elongated, hollow coughing came from Torrin's bed, and both men were alerted away from their childish conversation.
Garrick sprung from his mattress, "Torrin? Torrin, are you all right? That cough sounds really nasty…" The worried man had little to no decency as he pulled the blanket away from Torrin's face.
In between shivers, Torrin nodded an okay, looking up at Garrick, but not facing him so that he could cough again. "Fine, I'm fine." He managed to choke out.
"I'll go get some water." Garrick said more fervently. After bolted around from the cabinets to the sink, he returned and quickly handed Torrin the drink of water.
After Torrin had control over his lungs once more, he assured they go back to sleep, to which, the men obeyed.
Garrick made sure Torrin was comfortable before he sprawled his way back into his and Sylas' bed – all the while, a strange, yet ignorable prickle grasped at his bad arm.
For a second, the two men lying side-by-side shared a look, and then returned to a less-than-peaceful slumber.
The three men talked, planned, and then walked together, following the GPS' instruction towards Garrick and Torrin's original lake house, where the final gate would be. The two mercenaries joined them, going by Cade's logic, "'M not stayin' here any longer than I have to, and our hovel isn't all that far off from there, so we'll go along with ya."
At first, Garrick noticed Sylas to be troubled with their travel mates - as he, too, had been - but it was interesting to see how he warmed up to the quiet Treyston.
Garrick had little time to think or worry about Sylas' social matters, however, as he focused his observation on each soft cough from Torrin. They made it past the forest and down the last hill when Torrin broke out in a sudden fit of erratic coughing. Everything aside, they stopped to help him.
But rather than last night, Garrick now understood. Sylas had told him the following morning about the dangerous usage of magic on earth. And how sometimes, the effects of utilizing it without Runawynd's rejuvenation would wear on the body.
All of it, he did… on my expense. Garrick regretted, attempting to hold up the frail, apologetic boy with one strong arm. Upon seeing the pathetic sight, Sylas reached over and took Torrin carefully until the coughing ceased.
Garrick wished to offer Torrin more water, but was unable to open the bottle all the way with only one arm. Treyston was first to lend a hand.
I would carry you the whole way, if I could, Torrin. Garrick felt no greater frustration than having a will that was held back by his body. His heart yearned, but his body was useless to aid his friend.
Ever since he woke that day, his arm had been void of feeling. It started with a soft tingling, which Garrick shook off and mistook as a result of bad sleeping position. But eventually, it became incurable. And though Sylas tried once before they left, his magic was no greater help than was Torrin's temporary cure. Perhaps he needed rejuvenation, as well?
"There's the house. Let's get 'im inside." Cade pointed out, volunteering to carry Sylas' belongings while Sylas took care of Torrin.
Surely, the small lakeside hut was just a short ways away. Each of the men did all they could to keep the sickly Torrin comfortable, but as soon as they made their way through the front door, the coughing started again – this time, hard and breathless. Torrin coughed so violently that they feared he would stop breathing.
But then, the coughing ceased.
Garrick froze, unknowing and helpless, while Sylas and Treyston brought him gently down onto the mattress and Cade went to the kitchen to brew a soothing remedy. Shortly, Treyston went after Cade to assist him.
Garrick stood motionless as Sylas prepared a healing spell that swept over the entire room with a pure, white energy that wrapped the boy and his throat in a delicate indulgence. After such a massive spell was cast, Sylas wavered from standing position for a moment, and then fell into a seat where he rested.
Cautiously, Garrick squatted down to talk to the bedridden, "Torrin? That was a nasty fit… We're here, so get some rest. Do you need anything? Some more water?"
Torrin opened his eyes, but then closed them. Garrick watched meticulously as he noticed Torrin bite his lip before propping himself up. Both men jumped up, readying to aid him, but it seemed the young one's strength returned. He sat up with no problems.
"I'm hungry." Torrin confessed quietly.
"I'll get it." Sylas volunteered, giving Garrick's inoperable arm one quick glance before rising from Torrin's bedside to exit the room.
"I'm sorry," Torrin said. "I'm holding us back."
Garrick shouted in denial, "No, no, no! It's not like that at all! God, if anyone's slowing us down, it's me. It's my fault that all this is…"
He stopped to watch Sylas enter the room holding bread and water. The apprehensive man set the food down on the table beside Torrin, and then handed him the water.
But Torrin did not respond to the gesture. He sat there, and apologized, "I'm so sorry."
"I'll put it here on the table, you can drink when you're ready."
Torrin perked his head, swallowed, then reached an aimless hand out to slowly grab out. For a minute it looked as if Sylas stopped breathing as he suddenly drew back, but why, Garrick couldn't yet be sure…
The cup was knocked over. Torrin gave a short jolt, as water spilled onto the floors and across his lap. "I-I'm so sorry." He repeated again, nervously.
Garrick knew. He stood frozen, an unendurable knot gathering together in his throat. "Torrin."
"I didn't want to scare you…" His voice was so meek, so quiet, unsure, and scared. His hands went to his blinded eyes, where he rubbed at them and covered up a shamed look overcoming his face.
While Sylas tried to think of a cure or way around it, Garrick took a breath, calmed his head, and hoped to block out all his fears before he spoke. He took a seat beside Torrin, who instinctively searched to hold his hand, but grabbed Garrick's unfeeling one on accident. Garrick cupped Torrin's cold fingers with his one strong hand. "Don't worry, Torrin. We'll be back soon, and Keiran will help you. Hang in there 'til then. I've got this."
Torrin began trembling as soon as Garrick spoke. "Okay," he managed.
Surely, it was Torrin's strength and optimism that kept everyone together and on task. He was the peacekeeper and had been aiding Garrick and supporting them all unconditionally. Perhaps they had taken his strength for granted; only truly realizing his role until he could not see anymore. But it was now time that Torrin took a break. Mortality proved less than accommodating.
Sylas sat on Torrin's other side to wrap an arm around his slender shoulders, leaning over to grab the food from the table and give it to him. To Garrick, he gave the next order, "I'll stay. Go find the last seal."
He was nothing but a broken record, wandering and being spun around aimlessly. Garrick strived for sanity and peace of mind, but there was only disarray and pain around him. The more and more time he spent trying to get closer to his objective, the farther and father he seemed to meander away. There was no more time left, and his limits had been reached. He felt like half a man with only one arm, and now, Torrin…
Intently, Garrick stared at blue orb on his mistrusting machinery. "The gate should be right here. Goddamnit, I'm standing right on freakin' top of it!"
But there was nothing; only the quiet lull of rolling waves and a few soft voices in the distance of his cabin. There was sand, salt, and a black sky that showed no signs of ever waking. It was detrimental, but Garrick still found a mysterious beauty in all that surrounded him. He came to that realization long ago, when he first started working for Keiran in Runawynd. By nature, Garrick had an accepting conduct towards the human race; but one such genuine trust, he also learned, could prove weakness.
Despite everything, however, he could not help but love the earth and secretly become intrigued by the world that Keiran created. To him, it was beautiful, and there would always be good, if ever one wanted to open their eyes and look for it.
He began to speak to a listener that wasn't there. Everything he held inside, he let open freely. "You know what, Keiran? I'm good for nothing. I can't do anything to help him, and that really pisses me off. And what really pisses me off is that you can do something, but you won't. How is that fair?"
"I know what you'd say at a time like this. You'd make some kind of lesson out of it and say, 'Well, life's not fair. There is no such thing as justice anymore, Garrick.' Well, I know it's not fair. I already know it."
"But let me ask you this, Keiran. Do you think earth is really all that bad? I mean, there's fighting, there's injustice and trouble… But how could you create a world and just go 'n abandon it? You don't care anymore? The fuck's wrong with you?!" Now shouting, Garrick spilled out every little tamper that vexed him.
"I know it's not all perfect! I know there are people out there that we'd all be better off without, but what about the ones who still care? There is some good out there! We can't just quit because of the darkness out there! We need to continue being the light, the guardian angels for people, because that's my job! I want to help it, Keiran! Even if you don't care anymore!"
It was then that a miracle occurred. A miracle that only Garrick was able to verify and describe. An unnatural breeze had embraced him. As he looked out towards the still waters, the breeze had come from behind him, and it caressed his body, starting with his listless arm. Had someone been watching? Though all around him was lifeless, hot, and dark, Garrick's entire body shook from the relishing sensation. He remembered this touch, and the thought embarrassed him.
Tears threatened his eyes. "I always thought… that nothing would ever change. Always thought I'd just be spending the rest of my days up there with you. Like it was some sick, sad fate of mine." While he talked, the tears fell to the corners of his mouth; he only wiped them away once he tasted the salt. Trembling, his mouth curved bitterly as he said, "And I could've gotten used to it, actually."
"But I never imagined when I'd have to make a decision like that… t-to ever have to say yes or no to you… Kinda makes me think that I was wrong, making you wait… Makes me feel like it's all my fault for everything happening. I'm so useless, and Torrin- It's my fault for him, too. Being mortal scares me. If we die, there's no more coming back, is there? Not like last time. But if Torrin were to –my life would just be over."
Garrick lifted his face up to the stars, trying to get a glimpse of his listener. "You'll cure him when we get back. I know we'll get there. And I hope you're fuckin' happy. 'Cuz here we are, tryin' to get back to you, and you probably don't even care."
Swallowing hard over and over until his voice returned, Garrick lowered his head, remorseful. "I hate you. It's impossible for me not to think of you, and I swear to god, it makes me sick. I want to go home to you. Even if you've given up on me and Torrin and Sylas. I'm not going to just abandon you like you've done."
Garrick's stomach gave a familiar, revolting lurch. He braced himself this time and attempted to lower himself to the ground, but ended up rolling over in the sand as his hand gave way. Upset, he sloppily hobbled upwards, but stopped all movement when he heard a single, distant voice travel through his mind.
'I'm done. I'm tired. I give up. There's nothing more I can do. I can't watch them anymore. I can't protect them or keep them safe. They can do as they choose. I'm done.'
What? He's giving up?
'I'll sleep. Sleep forever. I give up. There is nothing he can do to change this.'
"You're wrong-!" But Garrick had been cut from his argument, and he bent over to puke in the sand. As soon as he did so, the voice in his head ceased, as it had done similarly before. The final seal had been broken from inside him.
Do you not realize what's going on here? Garrick tried to communicate.
In a flutter of unknown magic, a flash of strange, blue light swirled within the deep waters, starting from the bottom of the lake and worked its way up, where it ascended into the sky.
Garrick had been recuperating, breathing hard and dry and wiping the grimy sand from his face, but he watched it soar. If it had been an object, he couldn't be sure; it was just a blinding, aqua light. He had never seen anything like it before, but something about it felt familiar.
He rose to his feet. Then a bizarre realization flew in to ignite whatever hope remained in Garrick's heart. Was that the last seal? Was the rift opened?
Looking for the GPS, he scanned the beach until he had it in its hands, with results that confirmed his wish. When he looked up from the device, that blue light took from the clouds – white glittering tail following behind it - where it shot down like a botched firework. It headed for him. Garrick thought to run, but it had already come down and gently burst in a poof of blue and white shimmer.
He had to adjust his eyes to such brightness, but after squeezing out the last few uncertainties, he could see it was a portal. A warp.
Garrick stood, eyeing the doorway a moment. He reached an inquisitive hand out to it, but was seared by a defensive light that made him jump backwards.
As he went through a mental recap, Garrick whirled around and thought to return to his house. But no, he couldn't ask for their help. He couldn't bear to think of what would happen if he asked Torrin to help him with magic one more time…
But the moment he turned around to face the locked door, he heard Sylas calling him from behind, "Garrick! Garrick, wait!"
Garrick called back, "I got this! You take care of Torrin!"
Stomping footsteps ran towards him, and he was decisively smacked on the back of the head by the Karma Diviner, Sylas, who readied himself for a spell. "Cade and Treyston will take care of him. I saw the light. Can't believe you found it. Now do as I say." He added forcefully.
He did as Sylas instructed. He stopped. He quieted his mind, or attempted to until he could hear no further voices, save the soft humming of the portal before him. He set up his hand in front of him, and concentrated his energy for a spell. As he learned, concentration of one's inner energy meant his thoughts, emotions, and even physical being.
Once the connection with their inner energy became strengthened, there came a whisking flight of what felt like a powerful wind that nearly knocked their breath away, while it tore around their skin. The magical current that Sylas and Garrick conjured did its damage by first constricting and tightening their skin. It crawled around their arms, legs, and neck, nearly tattering the little clothing they were wearing.
Garrick fought harder to meet with that man he knew by the window. But the harder the concentration, the harder the magic became erratic and soon, it slashed away into their flesh. The constriction became unbearable while pressed deeper until it split skin and drew blood. Garrick tightened so hard – trying to ignore the cuts and burns - that he choked on his hitched breath. He winced once he felt a gash open on his leg, and he dropped on one knee.
From the ground, Garrick still held fast to the spell Sylas was teaching him. After maintaining a well-enough grip on his magic, he looked over at Sylas, who stood focused with torn clothing and blood dripping from the side of his mouth. Fresh, red blood littered his face like shiny paint against a pale wall. He struggled. 'We need to keep going.'
At last, Garrick could see a brief flicker at the doorway. The blue light became hinted with gold, and the doors opened slowly. As soon as Sylas gave the okay to stop, he collapsed in the sand.
Muddled and exhausted, Garrick shuffled over to Sylas, who was still breathing and slowly hoisting himself up. Garrick carefully sat him up, "Sylas, let's go. The door's open, we can go now."
But Sylas shoved the offering hand off, shaking his head, "Only one can get through." He mustered, smiling slightly at his discouraged partner.
There was nothing more to say. How could Garrick argue? Of course, their magic was limited compared to Keiran's, but this was the best they could do. He put a hand to Sylas' shoulder, and Sylas hissed in pain, breathing and hitching scattered. Garrick's hand apologetically retreated, but before he would leave, he made sure Sylas was well enough to stand.
After exchanging one look of assurance and determination, Garrick stood. He approached the doorway to Runawynd and stepped through. He was unable to maintain consciousness as the light force drove him back up home.
He was almost there. Garrick had traveled through the rift, but he landed and awoke in a place that was unfamiliar to him, but at the same time, he knew it as home.
It was a dying garden, and Garrick lie in the center of it. He stirred a moment, hazy eyes becoming accustomed to the location. It was the garden of Runawynd. To the left, there was Sylas' tea garden, and before him was the massive bench and fountain situated in the middle. He knew it well, though he spent little of his time there.
But his sweet memories of the flowing, gorgeous garden contradicted what he beheld now. The flowers and plants had been killed, the water stopped flowing, and everything was dark and cold. Was this place truly one and the same?
While he climbed up to his feet, Garrick was reminded of pain as it coursed through his body. He ignored the infliction and heavily moved on through the wisteria-covered lattice entryway; making his way towards the house of Runawynd.
Is it just nighttime in Runawynd? Or, no. It's not. Confidence turned to caution once he opened the door. Everything was the reverse of his remembrance, and an eerie emptiness surrounded him. He wasn't home yet. He was in-between. It was lifeless, and the cold chilled into his core. I need to find Keiran's room.
The echoing silence became insufferable. His leaden legs and callused feet took him down the hallway, where he soon had to press his hand against the walls to help him. With every footstep and every sound he made under his breath, the halls seemed to talk back in a ghostly manner.
When he at last arrived at Keiran's doorway, Garrick turned to look down each side of the hall. What he was expecting to see, he couldn't be sure, but the seemingly never-ending darkness on either side did little to keep his sanity intact.
He opened the door at last. It was empty. Nothing but a well-made bed and an opened window adorned with a simple shade that swayed in the little breeze.
There was no one there, but through the silence, there came a voice, "Many people pass through this place." It told him softly. "Some stay longer than others. Some people are ready, but some stay until they've finished a special something. If those people have that special something and can prove themselves, I can give them the chance to return formless. But all the people who come here have no body or senses as you have. What makes you so special?"
Garrick did not answer immediately. The voice was not Keiran's, but something about it rang a bell in the back of Garrick's mind… It was so calm. Garrick knew little of who he was dealing with, and so he heedfully gave his response, "I don't want to return to earth. My unfinished business is up there. I have no other reason to stay."
"Oh yes, that's right. You're his… I know of you and the things you've done. You seem to be in his good graces, but it's a pity your warp spell only brought you half-way."
"I made it this far. I did what I to to get here. Let me through." The steadfast Garrick continued, "Earth doesn't have long. He'll have it all destroyed when he doesn't even realize it! I need to stop him!"
"You intend to defy him?"
"I intend to help him. Let me through, he'll open the door for me."
"Diviner of Fate, if you truly desire to return to him, your home, then who am I to stop you?" The calm voice said at last, fading off into the air around him.
A spell had been cast; by whom, Garrick was left unaware. The breeze twirled around him, becoming a gentle mist of gold and blue. Out of the glimmering haze, a doorway formed. Garrick entered.
Wait? I'm back where I started? This is still in-between, it's so dark, but- No, this is Keiran's room. I'm here, I finally-
The pause Garrick made to help catch his breath gave him just enough time to stop and think. He looked around the quaint room, recalling everything as he remembered it. But Keiran had gone from his former spot on the bed. Surely, he still wouldn't be there after all that time…?
Drowsily, Garrick made way for the door. He had to find Keiran and wake him. If he could only meet with him to open a portal for Sylas and Torrin, then maybe they would have a chance. Maybe then, things would change. He didn't know how it would happen, but he knew it had to.
His feet carried him further, beyond the quiet hallways and out the door. It made no sense. He was never able to see his own fate, and of course, while he remained on earth, his fate-divining powers were obsolete. But he gave up trying to think and relied on his tired feet to take him there.
Garrick went out to the garden. It looked as exhausted as the man felt, but at least there were signs of life that could be reborn. He passed through the wisteria-covered lattice, and once he turned the corner, he saw, resting on top of the garden bench, a strange, white mass.
As slow and robotic as breaking clockwork, Garrick approached the form. He hovered over it a moment, controlling his breath, but then noticed red splotches around it. He then reached out to touch it. Like silk. A cocoon? Encasing…?
He found him.
With the adrenaline of realization, Garrick started to peel off the first few layers. The wispy threads were so astoundingly tight that he had to work harder. He peeled and tore and broke away at the chains and bonds – threads that Keiran himself had spun to hide away.
The deeper he dug, the more there seemed to be. The harder he tore, the harder it seemed to stick to his skin. He was so close that he started to yell, voice nearly giving way with strain. "Keiran! Keiran, wake up!" Unknowingly, as each piece was torn away, it floated off and emerged like a painted cloud in the sky, rebuilding itself as an impending storm.
The bonds had been done away with when Garrick found himself staring into the face of his sleeping master. His mind soared but was put into shambles at the same time. He couldn't understand what he was supposed to feel. Everything felt surreal and unsure. But something about that face – pale and clean as it slept peacefully – made Garrick feel he was finally home.
He wiped some silk from his eyes. Then, pulling all his strength together and focusing it in a fist, Garrick pulled his knuckles back then into the side of Keiran's face. Not that his power amounted to much; it barely even left a bruise.
A cough or a laugh, Garrick couldn't be sure. A wide and tired smirk stretched across Keiran's face as he opened his eyes at last. "H-Hello, Garrick. B-Business or pleasure?" His smile was phony, his speech was forced. He could barely look his subordinate in the eyes.
And yet, they established a familiar moment between them – a moment that both men almost forgotten. Everything Garrick planned had vanished. He understood the urgency of things and knew well he had limited time. But when he was with him, in that moment, it seemed like time had stopped and waited until Garrick gave his long-awaited answer.
As Garrick's insides turned, he let his mouth run free, "I should hate you for abandoning us."
Keiran said nothing. Just as he started to hoist himself up, Garrick stopped him.
This time, the Diviner of Fate chose not to let that familiar moment go. "But I can't. 'Cuz you're just a guy like me with the weight of the world on your shoulders." Forgiveness.
Lips touched softly, reluctantly at first. Fear, anger, and excitement played with Garrick's mind as his lips delicately occupied Keiran's own. But the moment he released himself from fear and doubt was the moment change took hold over him. His initial shyness bred new sensations as his body gave into instinct and his head fell prey to a mind-numbing relief and overwhelming compassion for the man that ever-plagued his mind.
Willingness met with uncertainty from the other, however, and Keiran pulled himself away; an uncharacteristic heat rising to his face. He put a questioning hand up to Garrick's pounding bosom, seeping into his core of emotion, as if carefully double-checking his sincerity. Could he have it? But how could Garrick judge Keiran's deserving of his heart?
Slowly, Garrick was beginning to feel comfortable with the man he held in his arms. He pressed his body closer to Keiran as their lips rejoined, breath and warmth forming a unison of unkempt hope and passion that drove them both to mutual desire. They were together.
Scared and unsure, the men parted. Garrick pressed their foreheads together gently, resolving in a shared smile.
Garrick hadn't noticed the storm begin to form. Rain spattered down over them; cold, yet refreshing. The coolness melted deep into his aching, heated flesh, which nearly stuck against Keiran's, dense with rain. Blinding multicolored streaks of lightning lit up among the darkened clouds, tearing across the sky while loud bursts of thunder quaked. Like a show of fireworks.
This time, it was Garrick that held onto Keiran and spoke kindly to him. "You're just a guy. You can't do all this alone, so I guess I'll just stay with you. Guess it's for the good of the world anyway if I do. You're learning from your mistakes, too. You're just as human as the rest of us. And I… we all love you, Keiran."
Keiran just listened. Perhaps he knew what he had done. Perhaps he wanted to end everything quietly. Perhaps he wanted a rest so badly that he forgot about the toll that earth would be left uncalled for. The man smiled weakly, his gaze drifting down until he settled in the solace of Garrick's shoulder, where he tenderly allowed himself to lose composure and sink into him.
A knowing gold and light-blue matter formed from behind them. Garrick knew the others would arrive soon, and so he took that one last second to bring Keiran up to his feet and support him.
Chapter 9: Nine: To Togetherness
Garrick took a drink of the hot drink Keiran prepared for him. Red tea with a hint of vanilla. His evident smile widened. He was getting better at this.
Mug in one hand and pen in the other, the blond man returned to work. Back to the old grind. He thought optimistically. Having been away from home for so long, his return reinvigorated his focus. Strange, how a change in scenery can broaden a perspective.
When he paused to rest his hand, Garrick checked at the spoils of his labor. Still a few files to go, yet small as it seemed, he couldn't help but smile at the accomplishment. Man, it's really piled up. Guess I should take them in to Keiran soon…
His focus – and stomach – veered. He drove his eyes into his workload, face burning, and thinking hard to himself. Every freakin' time, that feeling comes back and messes with my head. How I kissed him like that, how he felt, I-
Quietly, Sylas stood in the doorframe, looking on at Garrick. "Keiran wants you." He chose ignorance of the mindreading he just overheard and played the role of the unquestioning messenger.
Feeling utterly interrupted, the man scrambled for words to regain his flustered composure, "What does he want?"
"I assure you, I don't know."
Garrick rolled his bottom lip in, giving it a nip while he contemplated abandoning his nearly-finished assignments. And perhaps more importantly, his tea. "Huh. Probably a travel mission, then. I'll see what's up." He slid his chair out from under his desk, rising sloppily, but didn't yet walk away. It's hot.
His tea. With an open palm, stretched fingers, and a little burst of fixated energy, Garrick decided to add a few ice cubes to his teacup. Gently, he reached to pick it up –ice cubes floating and clinking about – then he took a sip.
Sylas said nothing, but gave him a look as ever a Sylas could.
"Was getting cold anyways, and I'm in the mood for somethin' iced." Garrick innocently gave reason, but his grin gave it away.
"Don't keep him waiting. And your spell-casting… needs work. I'll have to give you more training if you get out of Keiran's office in a timely fashion." Troubling the other man no longer, Sylas turned and curtly exited the room.
A day-worn Treyston sat down across his partner at the table. Unwinding, he peered over at Cade, who attended his own business but with a strange, meaningful grin. This initiated a smirk from Treyston, who just had to ask, "Aren't you all excited. What's with that face?"
"Found this gig that'll make me filthy rich, that's what."
"And did this job come from the board across town?"
"Hmm," The mercenary rocked his feet back and forth under the table. "Maybe, maybe not."
Treyston's face squinted. Not the answer he wanted to hear, apparently. "Those jobs have shady and rip-off written all over them. I don't care how much they'd pay me."
When Treyston got up to retire, Cade stayed behind to set his plan in stone, It'll get me my plane, and that's all there is to it. Quick 'n painless.
"Ahh, Garrick, excellent! Come in, come in!" Keiran coaxed his subordinate loudly from the other side of the massive office. With pinky finger and weaker fingers curled in elegantly, twirling his hand about its wrist for effect, he said, "You must be working quite diligently; I haven't had a chance to see you lately! How are things?"
When Garrick drew closer to deliver his completed workload, Keiran took the papers graciously, set them aside, and then went shuffling through some less-than-neat papers of his own.
The blond responded with a "fine, good, fine" before cutting straight to the chase, "So, where are you sending me this time?"
"Oh, it's nothing major. But there's this particular town that's been driving me absolutely bonkers lately. Here, take a gander." Keiran pulled a specified sheet and handed it up to Garrick, who set down his cup of iced tea to look.
He hadn't read a single word, but the picture of a small map on the page made his eyes burn and sent a strong jolt to his memory. Cade's old hometown? Wow, how long has it been? Two years, Earth time? Feeling Keiran's eyes pressing his, he turned, brows knotting.
"This town was hit hard by the… drought that happened, and the well is emptying. I was thinking to cause a major storm there, but as you can see about – here, on the map – I don't want it to flood the smaller population. I'll have it rain, but I'm thinking some instant gratification is in order. And I believe this would be an excellent opportunity for you to get a better handle on your magic. Sylas has been good to you, I hope?"
"Er, he's great."
"Excellent. Well, then. Off you go." And with that, Keiran resumed to paperwork.
To Garrick, it was strange. To be dismissed just like that. Yet, it was all the more strange that he anticipated more. He stood still a moment, then swallowed, "Ohh, and Keiran, um-"
"Strictly business?" Keiran looked up at him, displaying a smile. He knew. But it was an interesting way to show it, or so Garrick thought.
The man agonized, "Fine. It's just- I-I dunno, it's been a while of us just… dancin' around each other like this-" Ahh hell, wish I could say all this without gettin' red in the face. The more he thought about it, the harder his heart pounded.
Garrick wished he hadn't seen the soft expression growing on the other's face. In a second, the eager man suddenly stood from his chair and brought his palm along Garrick's jaw, using his thumb to rub the eminent blush along his cheeks. Keiran came forward, and in the same moment, Garrick gave into a soft kiss.
It was like reliving their first time. The moment was brief, chaste, but Garrick lost himself in the warm contact that rang against his lips and enveloped his chest. He lost his breath as he had before. But this time, there was no confusion to hinder him. He wanted this?
Sincerely, tenderly, Keiran pulled away, and Garrick opened his eyes. Keiran's face lit a smile, but before retreating his hand, he toyed with the other's blond locks. "I'm so glad. I feel like the most special man on, well, Earth, I suppose the phrase would go."
Reacquainting himself with his surroundings, Garrick let go of Keiran's shoulders and released himself of the grip around his waist – had he really gone and held him like that? "But there's work to do, right, and I'll get it done. Oh yeah, and you don't mind if I make a detour while I'm down there, do you?"
With a bounce in his step, Keiran whirled back to his desk. "You can do whatever you'd like, darling. I trust you'll see the mission through, so I don't care what you do during your breaks."
"Treyston, can I talk to you a sec? 'S really important." Cade had only just returned, and the moment his eyes caught his partner dining, he dropped his bag and jacket to the ground and began to speak.
It certainly seemed important by that anxious look on his face. "What is it?"
"I have enough for my plane. 'N they're offerin' me flight schoolin' if I make the trip. I… might have t' go."
What? Just like that? Treyston was certainly caught off-guard, but he played it off as coolly as he could manage, "Hey, that's good news! I'm happy for you."
"No, wait, aren't you- um." Cade struggled and swayed for quick words. By that look in his eyes, it was clear that he had something in mind. Something big. "I mean, I want you to come with."
"…Look," It was Treyston's turn to find the right words. Though he tried, he couldn't place them. Not after such a confession was made so… unexpectedly. And it wasn't as if Treyston misread Cade's intentions. "I don't really know what to say."
"Ahh, I know it's selfish, but-"
"…Say I agree. Then what? You get the plane, you take the lessons, but where would we live? What else would be out there for us, or for me? Cade-"
The bold man started to panic as his plan came crumbling apart. "Trey, we're mercenaries, for Gods' sakes! We go with the flow, that's how it's always been!"
Treyston said nothing. Taking a harsh, shaking breath, he got up from his seat – turning his back to Cade - to get something to drink. He needed water.
"You don't think I should go."
"I just want you to think, that's all."
If Treyston wanted it to end there, Cade would make sure it wouldn't happen this time. Carefully, he came around the table. While Treyston froze in place, feeling his presence, Cade leaned his head softly against his broad back. "Not sure I want to go, then. Not if it means leavin' you behind."
He had to finish this. "And I say you do what you want. You've wanted this for a while now; you shouldn't let feelings get in the way of that."
This startled Cade, as he hoped it would. He felt the head sink - caught and fearful of consequence - and lean deeper into him, Cade's shoulder pressing square in his back. "You… knew?"
"Had an idea, yeah." Quiet and removed. He let the words seep into the distance, choosing the far windowsill as his listener.
"Well, how do you feel about me? You fine with me goin' away like this? You don't care or nothin' if you'll ever see me again?"
Again, Treyston said nothing. Creaking floorboards beneath strong, fading footsteps assured him that was all the answer Cade needed. Instead of taking water, he reached for alcohol instead.
Arghhh, I can't believe I did that! A WEEK since I'd seen the guy, and I'm giving into him like he's got me in the palm of his hand! What's wrong with me?!
Amidst his lamentations, he trusted the direction of his heaven-sent phone to take him to his mission objective. Returning to that industrial warzone was like returning to a dream. He looked around and tried to recall things as he'd seen them before; the inn, the alleyway, the place they found Sylas… It all came back to him like a picture he held in his memory - though he still couldn't properly navigate through it.
But there was something darker about it this time around. Darker, drier, and there were times when dust would reach down his nostrils to raw at his lungs, forcing hard coughs.
He distinctly recalled this town's segregation between rich and poor. Back then, it struck a chord within him, but this time around, the difference was black and white. He moved on from cobblestone to dirt pathways. From green to decay. From uniformity to chaos. The people he passed by were few and far-between, but those that walked the streets wore masks - Garrick surmised, to help breathe.
At last, crunching along the dirt road, he stood before a quaint stone pit. The well. Here, he felt confident in his magic abilities; much more so than the last time he ventured to Earth.
He did as he was taught. Carefully collecting his thoughts and clearing his head, he pictured a strong rune, the one that Sylas showed him during lessons. He had it memorized, etched perfectly in the front of his mind until he channeled that energy into his arm, where his imagination and will strung together a precise flow of water from his palm.
His spell was weak still, but it offered just enough to continue a pour of rainwater from his hand and down into the well. Once the spell had been set, Garrick gazed down into the dusty hole in the ground, listening to the soft sound of his rain cast downwards, and watched the water rise slowly but surely. The Diviner cautiously looked around to make sure there were no passerbyers. He had to be careful when using his magic on Earth. Or at least, careful that he use it in moderation.
It's pretty amazing that I can do this. He thought to himself. I'd always thought it was just Keiran working his powers through me. But this time, I know it's me making it happen. Pretty amazing stuff.
Once the water level seemed sufficient, and Garrick's spell was beginning to die out, he took hold of a strong wooden board that lie beside the well and placed it on top of the formerly-hollowed pit. Taking one last glance around, Garrick stepped away and went off to sidetrack.
Direction was never Garrick's strong suit, but it still shocked him to find Cade and Treyston's former "hovel" empty. And not just empty, but sealed off with boards and concrete at the door.
His curiosity and nerves led him to his and Torrin's old house on the lake, hoping to find answers there. The house had been untouched, exactly as he painstakingly recalled it. Images of times better left forgotten exposed like apparitions before his eyes. The lake, the smells and sounds all strained his walk of purpose.
He approached the door - not caring to knock - and entered to an unfurnished, lifeless room. He called out regardless.
Abruptly, a clattering sound came from the room beside him. Garrick jumped and watched the doorway, imagining an animal that gained entry. But he eased the moment he saw a familiar face.
"Treyston!" Garrick would have gone and hugged him if the man wasn't freshly-showered and in a towel.
The taller male's face grew in amazement but managed composure, "Garrick? Wh-What are you- hold on, let me get some clothes on-" He retreated, hastily throwing on whatever article of clothing he could find. "I'm sorry about all this! Had I known you'd be coming, I would have prepared-"
"Don't worry about it!" Garrick cast his voice towards the shuffling figure in the other room. Had two years really gone by? Some things just never seem to change. He had to smile a bit at Treyston's predictably apologetic behavior. "It's my fault for coming unannounced. Shouldda given you fair warning."
"How have you been? How's the boy? Er, Torrin?"
"We're all doing fine! He's as good as new, and everything's starting to come together, which is great." He finished his sentence, and a more suitable Treyston returned to face him properly.
"Great, I'm glad to hear it. He had me worried for a while there." The clearly-taller man motioned his guest to sit in the quaint kitchen area. While Garrick made himself comfortable, Treyston got up to collect drinks. "I have water and alcohol, too, if you're interested."
Garrick was never much of a liquor drinker, but the occasion - and company - felt right.
When Treyston returned to the table, he popped open his can and handed Garrick his. "So what brings you here, angel? Did you get kicked out again?"
"Luckily, that's not the case this time. I just had something to take care of down here really quick, but thought I'd stop by to see you two. Was a pain to find you. Sounds like you did a bit of moving around then, huh?"
"Something like that."
"Speakin' of the little devil, what's he up to? I hope he hasn't been giving you too hard a time."
Treyston grew quiet. A silence that Garrick knew better than to play guessing games with. The man's eyes dropped to the table, and he took a hitched breath to calm something that plagued him on the inside. Garrick's eagerness caused him to mind-read, 'Little devil won't be giving me any more hard times since he's dead and gone.'
Guilt, shock, and disbelief. The Diviner of Fate felt all the icy emotion wash down him like a cold, winter shower. What?
"He was killed."
Garrick's heart squeezed until it suffocated. Dead? He was just getting started, had so much life…! But now it's all-?! He thought of Treyston. He wasn't sure how the tragedy happened, but he couldn't lose it in front of him now. "Treyston…"
"You know how… he always wanted that plane? Well, he got enough money for it. Did a job behind my back to get it, I know he did. He… asked me to go with him and stay with him while he studied out there… But I was selfish and scared, and I didn't know what to say, so I said what was easy and wrong, and I said no."
"So I left him. He took off. It was supposed to be for one year, but then another year went by, and I just figured that he moved on or something."
Treyston spoke listlessly. Like he had no more tears to cry. Torn raw. Garrick wanted to say something to comfort him, but words never felt so powerless.
"But then, he came back. After two years. Turns out, they gave him everything he wanted, but after that, they forced him to fight for their military. They used him and tricked him. He escaped after a year to come back to me. I-I'm an idiot for leaving him. He gets his first taste of freedom, with his plane, with me, and they take it all way. Even take his life, too, the self-centered-"
The man swallowed hard but continued, "He came back to me for only one night. And the next morning, they found his plane and took him away. He died in that plane. Even after I promised I'd never leave him again."
There was a heavy burden that overwhelmed the room. Garrick, for better or worse, finally decided to speak, "I'm so sorry. He was… really someone special."
"He always wondered what heaven looked like." Hope returned to Treyston's face as he leaned in against the table staring clear into Garrick's eyes. It was a manner that almost resembled his partner's; with enthusiasm and light burning. "You're here to tell me he's up there and doing fine, right? Tell him that he should never forgive me. Tell him to hate me. And tell him that I'll always love him, even if I'll never deserve it. Would you please do that for me?"
It all depended on him. On-the-spot, the Diviner of Fate started to plan, "I can."
Another warplane? Sounds close this time. The deep, tremoring sound of an aircraft was all-too-familiar to Treyston.
He hated flight. Useless to fantasize about a war machine, he thought. Useless to dream.
The noise and rumble got louder, closer. Alarmed now, Treyston rose from his seat at the table to look out his kitchen window. He watched it hovering around in midair, coming inland from the lake. It was landing nearby.
"Goddamnit," he cursed, quickly thinking out his options. Should he warn the town? He had his alarm on the table, and it's situations like these that they issue these to civilians… Or should he go into hiding again? Too soon to tell… He ducked under the sill, watched, and waited.
The plane looked smaller than usual. That solider has a death wish. To land in enemy territory solo with no backup. It was like a beacon, the way it stood out, even attempting to use the seaside cliff as cover. He'll be spotted by morning.
The plane sat dormant for a while, until one solider – the pilot – stepped out of the plane. "Just one?" He whispered incredulously. "What's he doing?"
Treyston watched the man trek from his plane, across the beach, and when he spotted the house, he started to come closer. But just when Treyston thought to reach for his alarm for invasion, something taut in his gut. I… I know that solider. And he ran to the door.
"Treyston. He's a beaut, isn't he? Pride and joy."
Treyston couldn't move anymore, couldn't speak. It had been two years of regrets, slow wounds that had scarred over. But all those wounds ripped right open again as he stared in disbelief at the boy – no, nearly a man - in front of him.
There was nothing more spellbinding than hearing his voice again. Why would that voice grace him, now and today? He was fighting the war? His uniform was cleaner yet unkempt. He stood a little different, bore a few new scars, and his blond hair was shaved. Even the way he walked had changed; strange of him to remember such things after all the time he neglected him, he thought to himself.
But something had changed him. Was it time? Could two years do that to someone like Cade? Though his dirty, freckled face seemed fatigued, it still bore that radiance of a soul lit on fire. No, he hadn't changed. But what had they done to him?
Noticing the way he was being watched, the blond youth spoke again, eyes shining and smirk widening like the cat that caught the canary, "You… Probably want some explanations. Or maybe you don't, fine, but if you're willin' to listen-"
"Cade." Just the name alone made Treyston realize how tight his throat had been. It came out weak and hoarse. "You - you know for two years, I thought… you'd made another life somewhere else. Found your calling."
"Not a life I chose for myself. And you didn't try looking for me, then?"
Guilt had eked its way out of Treyston's core, and his battered torment came rushing forth, "Who was I to do that? I didn't- don't deserve you anyway, after what I've-"
Cade's face furrowed, and he stepped closer. "Trey, don't-"
"Why would you come back like this?!"
"It… really should go without sayin', mate," he said with clear insinuation. Blunt, per usual; blunt force strong enough to force the other into surrender.
Treyston came forward to the other and entered the kiss already breathless.
At last, the inning Cade had been looking for. Finally able to lash out long-awaited desires, he responded quick and instinctive, encouraging the desperation with a fierce embrace and an even deepener kiss that sent blood coursing through his partner's body. They were so close, so pleasingly tight together, wrapped up in a mesh of swollen lips and hot breath.
Anticipation scorched as Treyston guided him to the edge of his bed. Awkwardly, yet voice hinted with soft laughter to accompany his grin, Cade leaned back but pulled Treyston by the shoulders down on top of him, urging him to take control. Bedsprings groaned under the sudden weight.
Panting wonderfully, they laid that way for a blessed moment; eyeing, craving, and feeling each other in a new light. Treyston then climbed gently over his small partner. On his back, Cade spread sweet streaks with calloused hands up Treyston's sides, brushing at the muscle and rigid bones underneath a thin shirt, pulling him in for another strong embrace to soak him in.
Treyston couldn't help but notice how Cade shifted against his leg, ever-so-casually… Both of them could feel what was about to happen. Both men felt the other quiver with anticipation, and they watched each other intently.
But then Cade looked back up at him, gracing him with the sweetest most sincere smile, and Treyston thought his pounding heart would stop. Those eyes, damn that look. I don't deserve this, Cade.
At last, he brought his hands to cup Cade's face delicately, to which Cade smiled softly and nuzzled against Treyston's palms. "I missed you. And I swear I'll never leave you again – if you decide to stay." When tears threatened his eyes, he hid in the other's shoulder to whisper, "I'm not much, but I want to be yours, and I'd like you to be mine. I want to get to know you, every part of you. Will you allow me? Please?"
Cade choked on the emotion caught in his chest, and he hissed pleasingly, "Fuck, Trey. I love you, too. 'S good to be home."
This was it; a dream within reach. Cade always had a way of surprising Treyston. Having Cade with him, being able to hold him like this, and more… How he didn't question or blame him, welcoming him again into his life. The hope that Treyston left behind two years ago now chose to love him and even bed with him, despite everything. It overwhelmed him. Made him go crazy. Especially when Cade's hand traveled downward, devilishly giving his thighs a good squeeze.
Of all the words exchanged that night, Treyston made many a promise to his lover. There would never be an opportunity between them wasted. He would learn to accommodate, anything and everything, he claimed. He would learn how to love him as proper as ever a man could. And that Cade would never know a day without him. But surely, neither of them knew that it would only last so long.
Like nothing else in the world mattered, Garrick strode into Keiran's office to demand justice, "Bring him back. This isn't fair."
No further explanation was needed, as Keiran always kept a close eye on his Diviner when he ventured the dangerous world below. He left his window to greet the always-welcome intruder. "Life's not fair, that's the thing, darling."
"Hmm…" It's not as if Keiran was unsympathetic. He just had a nasty habit of bending for any request of Garrick's. "Well, I suppose I can. But it's really not in my nature to do something so… unnatural."
But then Garrick made a face that Keiran was ready to bargain with, "How about this? Do me a favor first, and then we'll talk."
"I'll do whatever you want, but bring him back first."
That's the response he wanted to hear. Keiran nodded appreciatively and offered the heated one a seat and a few fresh snacks compliments of Sylas.
When hope started to flicker into the situation, Garrick calmed a little. The two sat face-to-face from their familiar seats –one taking the sofa, and the other on his chair.
The issue was pressed. "I don't know why you let that happen to him, it wasn't fair," Garrick said. But then he paused to rethink his track and switched suddenly, "There is no such thing as karma, is there? Or at least, he has a really loose way of doing things."
Keiran's paternal instincts flared. "Don't blame Sylas for the way the world works. We need him just as much as he needs us. I'll have you know, unlike the rest of you with your earthly lives, I've always been here. Alone. Until Sylas. He wanted escape from Earth, and I grew quite fond of watching him… That, and let's face it, I needed help up here. Earth became a much bigger place than I originally imagined, and more situations arose where I didn't know what to do. So I took him. I suppose I'm quite selfish."
Garrick huffed, "Yeah, I'll say."
Just the words he wanted to hear. How was Garrick so good at that? Sighing deeply as would a hopeless romantic, Keiran locked his eyes to Garrick's. "If I could just lock you in a dungeon and keep you to myself, dearest Garrick, I would."
"Maybe. Or maybe I just really love you."
Ah, that face. A rare look that none see grace Garrick's face, save Keiran. Garrick had averted his gaze to lower his head, breathe a little snicker, and then smile hotly up at Keiran to say, "…Or that."
Since when had Garrick become so comfortable in his office? Keiran certainly had no complaints.
"It's just… life doesn't seem fair, right?"
"Oh, you're just learning this now?" The red-headed man jabbed playfully, voice lifting to patronize the man before him, "So young, so naïve."
His flirtatious air and smile must have been contagious, because Garrick was quick on the comeback, "No age jokes, or I'll give you something to think about."
"Bad things happen to good people. Why?"
"That's a mystery of life, my dear. I'm not all-knowing. But I think that life means constant change. If something doesn't change, that must mean it's not living. Change and everything that comes with it – feelings, experiences, happiness, and suffering – is life."
"But if something happens to a person that is completely undeserving…?"
"Whether a person is deserving or not, the world sees no good or bad." Keiran leaned forward to put a reassuring hand to Garrick's knee, patting at the fabric. "We see good or bad, but all we can do is our best. To help out and change things around as we see fit."
"Be nice to actually do something really big instead of a bunch of small things, you know. Not sure how much of a difference I'm making sometimes. You could change things if you wanted to, right?"
"Please, I'm flattered you think so highly of me. You think it possible for me to fix the whole thing with a snap of my fingers? If every human has their own idea of happiness, how do I – with one solution - accommodate them all? It is no longer within our power to change the entire makings of the universe. It's set, and I'd be messing with a lot of people's lives if I… well, you know how my executive decisions turn out." He added at last, backing himself to his chair again and setting his eyes to his favored window.
Garrick stood and became silent. He listened, to be sure, but Keiran couldn't tell if his answer satisfied him.
But trivial talk could wait, and Keiran wasn't about to give Garrick any time to delve too deeply into things. "Anyway, if you want to make this thing work, I can bring him back. But you need to go back to the In-Between to talk to someone. And if he asks, tell him I sent you. Ask our beloved Sylas to help you make the portal, won't you? Not that I doubt your skill but… You'll definitely be needing him."
While he strategized with Keiran, it never dawned on him to ask where he might find Sylas. These were horrible times to be lost in the manor of Runawynd, and he felt like every second spent opening doors to empty rooms was more wasted time.
Garrick's conclusion: Sylas was most definitely not in the house. And just as he was about to head back upstairs to question Keiran, the thought occurred to him to check outside first.
Out the unnecessarily massive entrance doorway he went, feet nearly tripping down the first steps as he had reacquainted himself with this less-traveled territory. He was mainly accustomed to staying inside or traveling to earth; whatever got the job done. Outdoors was more or less Sylas' territory, where he tended the garden-
The garden. So many memories of that garden. It brought a quiver up his spine just to think of it. It was dead, cold, lifeless… That's where Keiran was, in that darkness…
He breathed in and shook his head with strong resolve as he looked at the garden ahead of him. Warm and full of life. This was his reality now.
There, in the patches of hydrangea, he found not only Sylas tending the bushes, but little Torrin, too, sitting on the bench, joining him. They were talking, and Garrick noted with the utmost parental pride how Torrin was able to make anyone – even the stoic Sylas – smile and laugh.
I'm not the guardian angel. Garrick thought, smirk widening as it occurred to him.
"I'm your angel, am I, Garrick? How romantic." Caught. Torrin's voice repeated lightly and laughed at the sheepish reaction he earned. Even Sylas, too, chuckled a little at Garrick's expense.
"Torrin," Garrick said, finally walking over to the two after eyeing them for a good ten seconds. "What are you up to?"
"Moral support. Keiran has Sylas working on the hydrangeas today, and since hydrangeas are my favorites, he's showing me how to change them from pink to blue. Look, he's even made some colors of his own!" The Diviner of Dreams pointed out with wonder, eyes shining and sunlight hitting him in all the right places. Definitely an angel.
"He does a damn fine job, doesn't he." Garrick complimented, patting Sylas on the shoulder. Of course, how could he have doubted him? He gave the shoulder a squeeze unintentionally, causing Sylas to swipe him away.
Removing his dirt-clad gloves, Sylas got up from his colorful display to say, "And what can I help you with, Garrick?"
Garrick almost wished he hadn't asked. A knot in his throat made him stop to clear it before speaking, "I need you for a sec."
Garrick heaved for oxygen while he watched the portal spell finally come into shape. To Sylas, it must have been amusing, because while he watched Garrick trying to tough out his exertion to no avail, Sylas merely gave his vertebrae a little crack, and waited patiently for Garrick to recoup and enter.
As always, Garrick was grateful for Sylas' help. Even with his magic replenished in Runawynd, he recognized that building a portal took a lot more manpower and someone with a keener wit for spell-casting.
While he regenerated, wiping sweat from his neck and face as he went, Garrick had to ask, "Purgatory, the In-Between… Now when Keiran says, 'the man won't have a problem', who is he talking about?"
"You mean the man working there? I can't say."
"You can't say, as in, you know but can't tell me?"
"I can't say, as in, I honest-to-goodness do not know." Sylas sighed and brought his fingers to his hairline. Did he have an itch or was he wiping a bit of sweat from his forehead? "He's a Diviner, too, like us. But I'm afraid he can never leave his position. Unlike us. I heard Keiran call him 'The Diviner of Souls' once. But I can't say I was ever curious enough to ask."
"Huh." Was all Garrick mustered. Picking himself up onto his feet again and stretching out his back and aching arms, he strode into the blue, swirling doorway, giving Sylas one more nod of appreciation on his way out.
The air tightened around his stiff body as he stepped through, but Garrick was unable to move until it finally gave way in a puff of glimmering smoke.
As soon as the portal drifted into nothing, darkness, emptiness, and an intense loneliness crept over him again. It was In-Between Runawynd - the dark, mirror image of a place he held dear.
Garrick explored. He traveled from room to room, taking in the oddities and calling out for someone to answer, until at last, he heard the voice. And it made him nearly jump out of his skin.
"Oh, it's you again. Hello, Diviner of Fate. How are things?" So calm, so quiet; whispering out of nowhere and coasting around Garrick's head like a sloppy mind-read.
To no avail, Garrick turned around to try and get a look at his listener. "I'm here to get someone that doesn't belong here."
"Hmm. The name of the victim?"
"Oh, that one. Would you like to see him? I doubt that you'd be able to revive him as is your desire, but you may visit him in the quarters." No sooner had the final word dispersed that a door closed and opened itself from behind. "Follow me."
Those words. Garrick took a step out the room and felt as if he was truly pursuing an invisible wraith. At first, the pace he set was a bit slow for his guide's taste. Even after the doors had opened before him, Garrick almost feared entering.
The said Diviner of Souls let out a laugh that sent a soft, warm breeze from behind Garrick's back, as if luring him forward. "Your walk is not one of purpose, Diviner. No need to be afraid."
"I'd be nice to know who I'm dealing with, is all." Garrick confessed. Confidently, he sped pace, and the voice gave another subdued snicker.
The doors led him down his familiar hallway, down the grand stairway, past the kitchen and dining area, and through to a door beneath the stairway that Garrick had no recollection of. Perhaps this was a new addition to the In-Between that can't be seen in Runawynd?
Garrick squeezed through the tight space beneath the stairs. The path narrowed, darkened, and for a moment, he wondered if the walls were closing in around him. He pressed on, hands being his only source of sense of direction in the dark, until at last, he heard the creak of another door being opened ahead of him.
It brought light, but yet even more uncertainty. Garrick entered and was surprised to find a whole room filled with chambers and doors. One of those nearest him gave off a faint glow like a bulb about to go out, and Garrick's eyes turned. But he froze in place when he swore he caught the image of a human form opening the door in a flash of light.
When all signs of the apparition dispersed, Garrick sprinted to the door, grabbed the knob, and tugged it open it.
This small room revealed bars made of dim light. Like a cell. Through the bars, Garrick saw a body sitting upright against the far wall in the back. Battered and covered with blood and dirt, the body would have been unrecognizable, if it weren't for the small muddy face that peeked out from beneath the mess.
"Ahh, Cade…" Garrick felt weak. His body shook, and he had to firmly plant his feet to the ground. He wanted to close his eyes and open them to a new Cade, but he couldn't take his eyes away. "Why's the blood still…?"
"He's one of my newest additions. And I would say he's looking much better than when he first arrived here. It takes time for a soul to be ready for its next cycle, you understand. I can take you this far, to this door, but I cannot open it."
"And what if I told you Keiran sent me?"
"Even he knows the terms. There are rare – if not any – exceptions to work such as mine."
Garrick kept his eyes on Cade. He had to get him out. "Then what can I do?"
"Humm… Is there no one that could persuade him?"
Garrick was granted permission by Keiran to do the following: Bring a mortal to Runawynd. Bring a mortal to the In-Between. Have the mortal meet a passing soul. And essentially, bring that soul back to live a mortal life.
Highly unnatural by all means, but these sorts of requests – such sympathy for others and deep-rooted concern for them – was a part of Garrick that Keiran happened to love dearly.
Sylas knew this. It had always been that way ever since Garrick was brought to Runawynd, really. In a way, he almost felt envious of such an attachment. After all, the bond he shared with Keiran had always been one built on duty and blind affection.
But he knew that no matter what should happen to them, Keiran would see to their happiness, as well. And through it all, Sylas would see to his.
Sylas aided in Garrick's second portal of the day. Surely, this had been a rough few lessons of spell-casting for the rookie. This portal set Sylas, Garrick, and Treyston through to the door that led to Cade's prison. The tall, dark one was afraid. Surely, they could all feel it. But Sylas believed they would have their ending yet. He never was particularly optimistic, but Keiran had their backs, and that was enough blind faith to keep Sylas believing.
Garrick was the first to reach for the doorknob again, but he didn't open it all the way. Instead, he stopped to let Treyston enter when he was ready. Garrick gave him a little warning, then Treyston nodded and pushed the door open.
From behind, Garrick and Sylas watched and waited to see if he could get Cade to react. And all it took was Treyston to call gently from the other side of the bars, and the lock gave way.
From his unmoving position against the wall, Cade's eyes snapped towards the intruder. He looked at Treyston for a moment as if he was the only one present, paying Garrick and Sylas no mind.
Treyston calmly entered. He was shaking and excitement almost got the better of him when he asked, "Do you recognize me?"
Cade did not respond, but he watched.
"I- I might not get this chance again. I want you to come with me."
The battered youth attempted to rise, but Treyston quickly took him and brought him back down, kneeling down to face him. "Easy, easy…" He didn't look down at the blood that kept seeping and soaked into his sleeves. He didn't look down at the broken legs or crushed shoulder.
Cade's nose whistled when he took a soothed breath. Treyston was careless enough to have his hand within reach of Cade, who put his fingers across his. That touch – soft, genuine, yet thrilling – put Treyston at his wits end. He wanted to spill everything, and he was about to, "There's so much I want to tell you-" but couldn't here. He wanted so badly to hold him and love him and take away his pain. But he couldn't here.
Cade ran his fingertips against Treyston's knuckles, watching him all the while, as if to test him. A shuddered voice came from his mouth, "You're beautiful." Blood leaking onto the muddy pores on his face, his mouth twitched a grin. "Who're you?"
Try not to reawaken any of his memories while he's here. Just get him out. Minimal touching. Don't give him your name, and don't say his. He started slowly, "I can't say, but I've always been on your side. And I can tell you once we get out, I promise."
"Why say this… to someone you don't know?"
"I- oh god, you're making this ridiculously hard for me." Treyston whispered a laugh to him. He had to laugh. If he didn't, he'd be crying. And he most definitely didn't want to scare Cade.
Cade sat and listened, but it was clear that he didn't understand. His eyes started to close lightly, and when his head started to loll to one side, Treyston began to panic. Tenderly, he reached behind his ears to keep his head up, wiping blood from his skull as he went. "Don't fall asleep. Don't leave."
"I won't leave if you don't leave." Cade mumbled quietly, the smile on his face diminishing slowly.
"Then let's stick together, all right?"
And with that, the worn soul managed an "all right", and the deal was done.
Then the Diviner of Souls – whoever he may be - took the matter into his hands. He authorized for everyone to leave him alone with Cade, so that he could return his soul and body to living again.
"His body has a greater chance of regeneration in Runawynd. The two mortals will stay until Master Keiran bestows us further direction. In addition, the Master has secured his aircraft and has also graciously given them the option of choosing where they will live their next life."
"Mortal, he will not know who you are, and realization may or may not come in the future. While it is possible for his memories to be regained and his body fully recovered, only time will tell. Luck and the Diviners are on your side. Quite apparently." From there, he promised Treyston could find his body sleeping in Runawynd. Away from the In-Between. "Until next time." He added.
"And you, Diviner of Fate. Master Keiran respects you, and I, too, grant you authorization to do with these two souls as you permit. He must really love you."
Leading Garrick out of the doorway, Sylas set up a new portal – what a day for magic it had been. It looks like I might have to start training a few new students. They've seen Runawynd. It can't be helped. And Treyston will need the healing out of necessity now. But I wonder about Cade. Cade falls from heaven, thanks to us angels and one very special mortal, he thought to himself.
This would be their new reality. Though Sylas considered that moment between them to be private, it was good to see things through.
There is a morning haze, and there is a point in the late afternoon - just before the sun really goes down - when everything is clear. Maybe it's the way the light hits everything just then.
And when the sun goes down, do you keep your resolve?
Garrick tried not to bother Treyston. Crossing the hallway as quietly as he could, he could see in the dimmed room a man sitting patiently while his lover slept. The dusk light trickled in through a crack in the drawn curtains. The air seemed anxious, but he could tell they were at peace. Treyston has a lot of work to do… He thought woefully, as he looked at the dark spots and casts along the bandaged body. And he may never get him back…
But he did what he could. And most assuredly, Treyston deserved that second chance.
It made him think, and for the most part, Garrick liked things that made him think. But this scene left a horrible, bittersweet taste. Cade tried so hard, and now Treyston will work even harder.
I've been lucky. He's always been here for me, through everything. Still, can't imagine what he has in store for me with this 'favor'. He thought, looking down at his 3-day-worn pajamas and letter in hand.
He stepped into Keiran's bedroom without knocking. Uncharted territory he had only entered on very rare occasions. But no occasion was such as this.
From his seat on the bed, Keiran turned to see Garrick shutting the door – and was that him locking the door as well?
"I got this letter on my bed." Garrick said, handing the paper to Keiran, who merely looked at it knowingly and smirked. "It says, 'Meet me tonight in my room. Bring your pajamas.' It's got this cute, little heart after it, too. See?"
"Goodness, that sounds particular." The redheaded man patted on the bed next to him.
Garrick took the hint, seating himself on the rather comfy mattress. "Um, Keiran… first, I just wanted to say, um. That I'm glad that, I, uh, have you. I mean, I've always had you, and I'm really grateful for that, and I'm really lucky, I think. To have you. So. Yeah, there's that. And second, um." He shifted around, keeping his hands tight to his wrinkled jammies. His voice dropped as did his gaze. "I don't know what I'm s'posed to do or say here, I guess."
"Garrick." What a heartfelt moment. Too bad he had to break the news. "You'll just be staying the night. No reason for that."
A visible weight was lifted from Garrick's shoulders. He looked over at Keiran, "Take it slow?"
"You know I'd never force you…"
Garrick's mouth twisted, and he raised a brown eyebrow, "I wonder about you sometimes…"
Keiran pulled back, forcing a little laugh with his "ouch pain" as Garrick rose from the bed.
"I'm going straight to bed then, I think. In that case, I mean. Should I change in here or in the bathroom?"
"Whatever you want."
"I'll do it here, then. It's quicker."
"Would you rather me close my eyes, then?" Keiran quirked, his interest peaking though he did his best to hide it.
"Whatever you want."
Garrick spun around, unbuttoned his shirt, and pulled an arm from its sleeve (disapproving at the smell that came from a hard day of spell-casting sweat), but then stopped a minute when he felt something light in his gut rise. He could hear Keiran getting undressed from behind him, and why he felt tempted to turn around, he didn't know. But he did, and sure enough, he swallowed hard when Keiran peeled off his worn shirt.
He wasn't exactly built, but he was well-toned, and Garrick's eyes couldn't help but trace along his shoulder blades to his arms with interest. The way his muscles tensed and flexed when he bent to let his shirt drop to the ground. Red hair fell loosely and for a minute, Garrick wondered what it would look like trimmed. That was, until he abruptly had the notion to run his fingers through it; he discovered maybe it didn't bother him all that much.
But it was all so nonchalant. Like this was just a part of his nightly ritual. As if Keiran was just minding his own business and no one else was in the room with him.
When Keiran went down to undo his pants, Garrick gave a swift turn. That's enough Keiran for one night.
Keiran must've felt the intense gaze (or read his thoughts), because he twisted around to meet Garrick's eyes. And there, he smiled. Disconcerted, Garrick found himself smiling back a bit. It was plain to see; familiarization was coming on as slow and easy as possible.
Garrick didn't wait for approval, but rather, he took a side – because he most definitely had no side of his own - of the bed, ruffling around with the blankets, moving around into a semi-comfortable position. Absentmindedly, he tugged underneath his shirt to give his stomach an itch. Funny, he never realized he did it so much until he was conscious about the person next to him.
"Do you always move around so much?" Laughing, Keiran had to ask.
"Gotta get comfortable. Do you always leave your clothes on the floor like that?" Garrick swung a thumb at the edge of the bed, pointing out the mess.
"I have Sylas take care of it in the morning."
"Ha haaa, he better not come in and see this tomorrow morning." The unfortunate man gestured this time at the entirety of the bed, signaling 'the two of them' could be an issue.
Keiran snorted, apparently finding the comment amusing.
They laid that way for a while. It felt like a long while. A long while of Garrick laying there, trying not to move or touch himself or make any noises, but to just listen to his breathing and soft noises from outside – every once and a while, hearing Treyston pacing a few rooms beside theirs.
When he was still and relaxed, forgetting about the presence next to him was impossible. It breathed slowly and felt so warm. And it smelled good. Nothing overbearing or apparent, just worn and… good.
A strange giddiness grabbed ahold of him, and he wasn't sure when or how it got there. He couldn't place it. He'd slept with Sylas and Torrin before, so what made sleeping with Keiran any different? The attraction was infuriating.
As quietly as he could (which wasn't notably quiet for an awkward Garrick), he craned his neck to see how Keiran slept. On his back. Eyes closed. God, I could never sleep like that. He thought, not noticing how he'd started laughing.
The longer he watched him – peaceful, open, and alone - the stronger he felt an urge to get closer to him. But he dared not kiss him. Not before bed like this.
Garrick had a question he thought twice about asking. He asked anyway, "Hey. You awake?"
Those tempted lips curved and mumbled, "How can I possibly be asleep right now?" When Keiran shifted suddenly to lay on his side and face him, Garrick twitched and instinctively put his hand a barrier between them - just at Keiran's waist. "Yes, Garrick?"
Damn, what was I going to ask? I'm sure it was reeeally important. Oh yeah. "Why did you decide to make things the way they are? Like, why does the sun rise and fall like it does, or dew; how it hits things in the morning so perfectly? Or like how the snow sparkles when it falls? You know, stuff like that?"
Keiran exhaled deeply. "Oh, I don't know. Because it just felt right? It just happened that way? Not sure what sort of answer you want. How about spending some time downstairs and hearing some theories the scientists have. Or how about this answer," The man – despite himself and his apparently very limited restraint span – leaned in closer and finished, "It's because I like to keep you guessing."
Garrick recalled the position of his hand and thought to pull it back. But no, if he did that, Keiran might take note. Maybe he doesn't notice? Then again, how could he not notice the way his fingers curled inwards against his stomach.
When Keiran turned, Garrick wanted him back around, and for the life of him, he wasn't sure why. Maybe it was the nerves. He called back in a voice that was as unnecessarily husky and rough as could be, scratching and reverberating from his chest up, "Well if I've got you, then I should get firsthand info."
With a jumble of the blankets and a quick motion that brought him just above Garrick's face, Keiran bent down to plant a kiss on the forehead of his beloved. He stopped a moment, as if taking in the sight, then sent a breath across his nose and cheeks and reaching all the way into Garrick's soul in a way that he knew his words to be true. "You make me so happy, Garrick."
He couldn't speak. Maybe he was tired or maybe it was the nerves again. Either way, Garrick basked in the closeness, the timidness, and watched his hand brush up against the other's collar and neck, but when he felt a pulse under his pads, he scooted away embarrassed and caught up.
Though he often discounted the recurring thought, this time, he let it linger and held onto it with a heart that opened unexpectedly with care and patience. He thought, I could get used to it.
Chapter 10: EXTRA: Inspiring Winter Can't Imagine Living Without You
Based on my original story, Diviners of Runawynd. This small ficlet was created for a Secret Santa writing prompt.
"To a self-sacrificing someone who gives, gives, gives and hardly ever receives. I can't imagine living without you," was the hand-written note on my package. I smirked, knowing full well where this mysterious gift came from. After all, who would go through so much trouble to make someone like me happy?
With precision and patience, I began to open the gift, imagining what I might find inside. It was a small piece. Of what, I wasn't sure at first. But upon closer inspection, I understood. Along with that piece, I found a second scrap of paper that read,
"This piece – your piece - is one of four. The other three are close at hand, always available for you as needed. You can always trust them, as they promise to care for you, encourage you, and love you as long as you live."
I shook my head. Honestly, what a strange man, giving me something like that. And yet, I couldn't keep that smile off my face.
Truly, spending time with our loved ones really seems to be meaning of the holidays.
"To a content little someone with dreams beyond my imagination. I can't imagine living without you," was what my package told me. A little something for me? How nice!
As gracious as can be, I opened up the little present, being very careful not to rip the paper. Inside the tiny box, there was an odd, broken piece, and with it, another note that said,
"This piece – your piece – is one of four. The other three love you with all their hearts, giving you their time and protection with anything you might need. They are brightened by the light of your smile, and will see to it that that darling little smile never fades."
Goodness, he's a thoughtful man, isn't he? It was a great present, but I couldn't wait to fit it together with the other pieces. I was sure it'd look absolutely lovely, given the beautiful design of the broken piece I had in my hand.
More strongly than ever, I really believe in the importance of family – that's the true gift of Christmas.
"To a beloved someone that might need a break, as well as a gentle reminder. I can't imagine living without you," was written on this little card attached to my package. Honestly, what kind of message is that? It actually made me think twice before opening it. Especially considering I knew who it came from.
Either way, something compelled me to open it. And inside was the strangest present I've ever received. Apparently, it was a chunk of teacup. That cracked fraction of a glass rested between the wrappings and a second note. Great, let's read this one;
"This piece – your piece – is one of four. The other three are those who will never forget you and your genuine heart. They promise to inspire you, teach you how to grow, and help you face anything this following year might have in store. They will continue to provide you with unconditional love. May you believe in that love and carry it with you."
I can't explain it. I couldn't understand why, but something made me smile then. At that pathetic teacup fragment I was holding, and the scrawled-out note that came with it. That guy…
Oh wait, I understand now. And now that I think of it, I guess people – friends and family - are really the reason for the season. Or something like that.
And all four pieces were together for the holidays. We all sat as a family, fitting ever-so-nicely as planned before the warmth of a heated fireplace.
Hopefully, my ever-witty notes and secret gifts I sent helped them to understand…? Why, with just one look at the mantle, one could see that gorgeous, little teacup, all mended back into shape. Although it had its few oddities about it, and there were a few marks along the edges – four pieces to be precise – those could easily be overlooked.
And before you say anything, honey; yes, I did plan a few other gifts for them. I'm not entirely cruel. But maybe this one will help them think. Gifts might be nice, and the spirit of giving is quite crucial in respect, but really, shouldn't this season be about thinking of the ones that mean the most to you?