It's been a rough year since we all set our feet on the Downside, each of us carrying a burden over our shoulders — a story we refused to tell to each other, but not to ourselves over and over again, as we all discovered it later. Mine was stuck in my head at all hours, a reminder of why I deserved to be punished with lingering here.
When Vraska told me we all deserved a second chance, I couldn't relate to it. I felt all efforts on redemption were aimless. She did deserved a second chance, you too and the rest of the exiles, but not me. Not after what I've done. But then you brought the Book of Rites to my hands and I knew my fate was between those pages. The Book was the greatest riddle I could ever lay my hands on, and it spoke to me. It wanted me to read it — as I did — and decypher it — as I hope I'll keep doing.
Hope . That word was meaningless to me until you two appeared.
You came to me for counsel, to ease your minds, to make this journey to freedom bearable and I couldn't help but trying my best to make sure you were okay. You made me want to be here, for both of you.
Discovering I could read your minds was terrifying. I still remember your longing memory of the district you grew up in, the first time your thoughts invaded my mind. I guess your sorrow was strong enough to break all barriers.
It was all so small from above the roofs and the storm was so majestic from the top of your world… I feel I could break every time the wagon flies near a storm, because your grief and the memory intensifying it reach to me, drags me to you, and I only want to hold you...
“Jace, are you okay?”. Ral was laying beside him on the grass, with a concerned look on his face.
He blinked and realized he had been staring at him right after finding out their destination on the stars. How long has he been out on his internal monologue? His cheeks reddened and he tried his best to cover his face with his hood while sitting up. “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m tired from the rite”.
“You’d better go to sleep soon, then. Did the stars told you where to go next?”
Oh, right. “To the Pit of Milithe”.
Ral sighed. “Okay, heading south, then. We’ll going to miss the fresh air and this magnificent grass”.
“I didn’t know you liked Glade of Lu”.
“I’m a box full of surprises”, he smirked. “I’m kidding. I’ll just miss it when I’ll try fruitlessly to stuff my nostrils with Vraska’s vials on that fetid swamp”.
Jace looked around searching for the bog-dweller. “Vraska, please tell this man Pit of Milithe is not that bad!”
“So we’re heading there?”. She approached and sat beside them and looked at Ral. “Don’t worry, I’ll get a ton of nice scented enchantments ready for you before departing. Last time I wasn’t prepared for it”.
Jace groaned. “Was that an option all this time?”. He let himself resignedly fall to the grass just to find his head unexpectedly over Vraska’s lap.
She shrugged and started caressing Jace’s now exposed hair very delicately, as his hood had fallen down. “He complains about everything all the time…”.
“Hey! That’s a strange phrasing to say I’m vocal about what everyone thinks. You’re welcome”.
“So, I had to be creative on shutting him up without hurting him”.
“And now you’ve discovered a solution for all of us thanks to me”. Ral looked at Jace grinning to share his victory over Vraska, just to find him almost dozing off. They look so good together, I shouldn’t stand on their way . His face and tone became somber. “I think I should go and leave you two—”.
Jace was hazed by the gentle touching and the usual exhaustion post-conducting the rites, however Ral’s thoughts alarmed his reflexes. He couldn’t let him think he was unwanted, particularly when it was the opposite. After all, on the Downside things worked on Triumvirates —like them right now. He was fast enough to grab Ral’s hand on the ground before he could stand up. “Please, stay with us”. He looked at Vraska. “If you don’t mind, of course”.
Vraska slid her hand from his hair and tightened her grip on Jace chest. She welcomingly opened her other arm. “Ral, come here”.
He hesitated for a second, but slipped alongside, sitting next to them still holding Jace’s hand. “I thought you’d never ask”. What meant to be a snarky answer came out as almost a whimper.
Jace grabbed the hand over his chest. “I know we’re going to be trapped here on the Downside for many more rites, but…”. He looked up at Vraska and then to Ral. “... I’m glad to be here if it’s for you”.
“Don’t you dare think we’re going to leave you behind. We’re all going to be free together”. Ral reassured this by squeezing the Reader’s hand.
“Strands may break alone, but twisted make a braid”, Vraska sang.
The two humans looked at the bog-dweller in shock.
“What? I’ve heard the Minstrel sing something like that and it’s catchy. I think it fits us now”.
Jace began thinking maybe he could let himself earn his redemption not for them, but with them.