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Roman and September

The first thing she noticed was someone jabbing a finger into her side.

“Fuck off,” she growled. It was probably one of her younger cousins, deciding to be an ass and wake her up. Not that they ever weren’t asses, but, you know. She’d still make them regret it.

“Not until you wake up!”

And, wow, okay, that was definitely not one of her cousins. She opened her eyes and the person she saw was red-headed, brown-eyed, and their light brown skin was covered in freckles.

She groaned. She knew who Roman Prince was. *Everyone* in school knew who Roman Prince was.

“How did you get in my—wherever here is?” she asked, sitting up and rubbing her head.

“I have no idea,” Roman replied. “Just, look around! We’re stuck in Minecraft!”

“What?” She asked, looking around. Holy shit, they were right. Everything was all… cube-ish. Except for them. She had regular hands, five fingers and all. So did Roman. Their face wasn’t all cube-y, either.

“How did we get in Minecraft?” she asked.

“Oh, like I know!” Roman replied, throwing their hands up in the air. “I woke up, laying down over there, just like you!”

She looked where he was pointing, and finally, truly took in her surroundings. They were in a plains biome. There wasn’t a tree within her sight, but plenty of tall grass, and she could hear pigs. Many pigs. And a cow. And was that a chicken?

Anyways. They were stuck in an endless plains biome, within Minecraft, with no clue how they had gotten there.

“I don’t even remember what I was doing before I got here,” Roman continued. “Like… I remember being in Mrs. Joyner’s class, and then it gets all… fuzzy… and then bam!” They throw their arms out, punctuating it. “Suddenly! Here! Laying down on the grass! It’s put a real damper on my week.”

“So, we’re probably stuck here,” she replied. “Have you tried to see if you can bring up your HUD? Or do we not get one?”

“A HUD?” Roman asked, tilting their head. “What’s that?”

She sighed.

“Heads-up display,” she replied. “You know, it has your health, hunger, armor, exp, inventory on it?”

“Oh,” Roman replied. “Okay. No. I haven’t. How would you even do that? If it’s not already up?”

“Well, normally it’s key-binded to tab, at least on mine,” she said, putting her chin in her hand and looking into middle distance. “But we don’t exactly have keyboards here.”

“Nice deduction, Sherlock!”

“Shut up. Maybe it’s a hand motion?” She started brushing at the air in front of her, swiping her fingers around, progressing onto even weirder things when neither of those worked.

After a couple minutes of that, Roman spoke up again.

“Well, obviously we don’t get HUDs!” they snapped. “So maybe we should probably focus on getting out of here!”

“We can’t do that if we die of starvation, or fall off a cliff, or get killed by mobs!” she fired back.

“Well, how do we do that? Because, I don’t know if you’ve cared to notice, I’ve never played Minecraft!”

“We need to find a tree,” September replied, suddenly all business. “And that’s not going to happen in a plains biome. Not like this. So pick a direction, prima donna, and let’s start walking.”

Roman huffed and crossed their arms. “Fine,” they said, and started walking. September followed after them. Of all people, why did she have to be stuck with Roman Prince?

Remy and Emile

The first thing he noticed was the water. There was a roar that reminded him of the time he had visited Multnomah Falls, and had stood in front of it, the biggest waterfall he had ever seen.

He hoped to go see Victoria Falls someday.

Wait.

Waterfall?

What was he doing unconscious next to a waterfall? That wasn’t right, there shouldn’t be grass making his neck and legs and arms itch, there were no big waterfalls anywhere near where he lived, at least none anywhere he would take a nap by… even if he was a prolific napper.

He groaned and opened his eyes. It was daylight out, early morning if he had to make a guess. He was used to napping at odd hours, but this didn’t feel like waking up from a nap, except for maybe the three hour nap you have the afternoon after you pull an all-nighter.

And… everything was… wrong. Very wrong.

Everything was square. Cubed. Wrong.

At least he wasn’t cubular. Rectangular. That would’ve been kind of terrible.

Wait, no, that’s off-topic.

He was stuck.

In a cube world.

Minecraft?!” he exclaimed, leaping to his feet.

Oh no, bad idea. His vision greyed out and his head swam as he stumbled a couple of steps, until his (new?) world righted itself and he felt steadier.

There, on his left (or was it his right?) was that waterfall he was hearing. It plunged down the cliff face from somewhere within the cliff itself, falling into a pool that flowed into a river nearby. A river that was carving its way steadily through the mountains, mountains which, despite growing up with the Cascades, felt like the tallest mountains he had ever seen. They soared above him, scraping at the clouds.

The canyon was so narrow, in fact, that the little cove the waterfall fell into was the only spot flat enough, with enough room for Remy and—

Remy and?

There was another person there! They were unconscious, like he had been, laying down on their back a few feet away from him. They had sandy blond hair and fair skin and were a bit chubby. They were wearing a pink shirt and… yellow jeans? With white vans? This person had wild fashion sense. Although, to be fair, Remy was wearing short shorts and, well, he remembered having his leather jacket with him while wearing the same shorts and tank top that he was currently wearing.

Oh, hey, they were wearing matching shoes!

Wait, off-topic again, brain.

There was another person there with him. He should check and make sure they’re okay, wake them up, and then figure out what the hell was going on.

He should. He definitely should. For a minute, he just kept staring at the waterfall, before finally turning and walking over to the other person.

What was the best way to wake them up? Shoulder shake? Poke? Dump water on them?

He settled for the shaking part. It took a couple tries, and a few times telling them to wake up, but finally, they opened their eyes.

And oh, what stunning brown eyes they had, damn, he could get lost in them.

Wait, no, table that thought.

“Hey, are you okay?” he asked.

“I have a bit of a headache,” the other teenager replied, rubbing at their head. “Wait—where are we?”

“Probably Minecraft,” Remy replied.

“Probably Minecraft?” the other repeated. After speaking, it seemed like they were a boy, so that’s how Remy began addressing him in his head.

“Yep,” Remy replied. “It’s all… cube-ish and stuff. See? The clouds are square.”

“The mountains are all blocky,” the other boy agreed. “Uh—I’m Emile, by the way. Thanks for waking me up, I guess?”

“You’re welcome… I guess,” Remy replied, giggling. “I’m Remy. Now that you’re awake… You seem kind of familiar.”

“I think we go to the same school,” Emile answered. “So… We’re in Minecraft. What’s the last thing you remember?”

“I… think I was at lunch,” Remy replied, frowning at the cliff. “Although maybe it was passing period? I’m not sure. What about you?”

“I think I might’ve been in psychology,” Emile replies.

“Oh, you take psychology?” Remy asked, his eyes lighting up. “My cousin takes it too! Logan, you know him?”

“I know… several Logans,” Emile replied. “But only one in psychology class! Really tall, brown hair, glasses, incredibly bad at making friends?”

“That’s the one!” Remy replied, grinning. “Anyways, so, we seem to be stuck in Minecraft. I wonder how we managed to end up here?”

“I have no idea,” Emile replied, shrugging. “Magic? Technology? How do we even begin to find out?”

Remy hummed. “Probably by going somewhere.”

“The only somewhere is up or wet,” Emile replied, and Remy shrugged.

“I don’t know about you,” he said, “but up sounds a lot better than wet, to me.”

Emile sighed. “I hate hiking.”

“Hey,” Remy said. “I’ll help you out. We can play I-Spy, or one-sentence story, or something. Come one!” He started walking towards the gentlest incline he could see, and then paused. After a moment, Emile started walking, and the two of them began climbing a mountain, together.

Patton and Chris

The first thing he noticed was someone else. There was someone else with him, moving around, breathing hard, crying—

Crying?

His eyes snapped open and he shot to his feet, immediately by the other’s side.

“Hey,” he said, “are you okay?”

The other person screamed.

“You were just unconscious!” he yelled, and Patton raised his hands.

“No need to yell, I’m right here,” he said.

“You, you were just u-unconscious, right, right there, right over there, and, and of course I’m not okay! Look at where we are!” The other boy made a very large, sweeping gesture with his arms, and Patton looked around.

Oh. That’s why the other boy was so upset. They most definitely were not at home, or school, or even anywhere in their world. Nowhere in the world could pull off being this square.

“We appear to be in a jungle of some sorts,” Patton replied. He couldn’t even tell what time of day it was, from all the huge trees above them, with their crowns full of foliage, casting a perpetual twilight down on the forest floor where the two of them were.

“Is that what you take from this?” the other boy exclaimed. “That we’re in a jungle? Have you noticed the cubes yet?”

“Well, yeah, I have,” Patton said.

“Then why aren’t you freaking out? We are in a jungle made of cubes!”

“Because me freaking out won’t help you stop freaking out,” Patton replied, feeling his heartrate start to pick up.

“How am I supposed to stop freaking out when we’re stuck in a jungle made of cubes!?”

“By focusing on me,” Patton said, putting his hands on the other boy’s shoulders and making eye contact. “Grab my arms. Focus on my voice. Listen to me.” The other boy was breathing hard, and fast, and might hyperventilate if Patton couldn’t talk him down. “You’re going to be okay. What are five things you can feel?”

“Uh, your hands,” the other boy said. “My shirt. Uh. The ground? Through my shoes. Uh, my tongue, and the rock in my left shoe.”

“What are five things you can hear?”

“Your voice. When you’re talking, I mean. Uh. The leaves? There’s a breeze. I can hear, uh, some water? Like, ripples. Like there might be a pond or something nearby. I can hear birds. And… Chickens? Are there chickens in a jungle?”

“In this one, apparently,” Patton replied. The other boy was breathing easier. “Do you feel better now?”

“Uh, yeah, somewhat,” he replied. Patton lifted his hands off his shoulders, and the other boy rubbed the back of his neck. “Um, I don’t know your name,” he said.

“Patton. Patton Sanders,” Patton replied. “And you?”

“Christopher Nathaniel Willis,” the other boy said. “But, uh, call me Chris.”

“Nice to meet you, Chris!” Patton said, smiling at him.

“Nice to meet you too,” Chris replied. “Wish the circumstances could’ve been less weird, though.”

“Yeah, I agree with you.” Patton took a step back and looked around some more. “This is way weirder than anything I’m used to dealing with. I wonder if there are any other people here?”

“Why would there be?” Chris asked, and Patton shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “But I really hope there are.”

Chris doesn’t reply for a few moments.

“Yeah. Me too.”

Logan and October

The first thing she noticed was the heat. It was hot. It felt like she was burning up.

“Come on,” someone was saying. “I don’t think I can carry you, not in this heat, come on, please wake up…”

“I’m awake,” she said, her voice raspy, like she hadn’t used it in a while, or she had been coughing a lot.

“Oh.” The boy, he looked like a boy, with short brown hair, fair skin, freckles, and blue eyes said. “That’s good. We should… probably get out of the sun. At least, I would think that dehydration and heat exhaustion would work the same here as at home, wherever here is.”

“Wait, what do you mean by that?” she asked, hauling herself to her feet.

And then she saw.

“I don’t think we’re on Earth anymore,” the boy said.

“Yeah.” Her eyes were wide, taking in the endless sand and the bright blue, cloudless sky. “I can see that.”

“Anyways, we need to find shelter, and water, and then we can worry about whatever this is,” the boy said.

“Yeah,” October agreed. “But we shouldn’t just… wander aimlessly. There has to be, like, some way to see if there’s going to be water or shelter or something. You’re smart, is there one?”

“No,” the boy replied. “We are completely and hopelessly lost in the middle of the desert.”

“That is completely and entirely unhelpful,” she said. “I guess we just walk, then. At least, unless there’s a sandstorm, we’ll be able to see our tracks so we won’t double back on ourselves.”

“I wonder if this desert can even get sandstorms,” the other boy said.

“Who knows.” October picked a direction—west, if her deductions were right—and started walking. “But I don’t want to find out just standing here.”

The boy followed her. She could hear his footsteps in the sand, the grains crunching underneath their feet as they went.

“How long do you think we were unconscious for?” she asked, after a few moments.

“Probably less than half an hour,” the boy replied.

“God, I wish I had been wearing sunscreen.” She could already feel the burn forming on her arms and face.

“Me, too,” the boy agreed. “I. Uh. We haven’t introduced ourselves yet.”

“No, we haven’t,” she agreed.

“I suppose we should rectify the situation, then,” he said. “I’m Logan.”

“October,” she replied. “And no, I do not go by Toby for short.”

“Okay.”

“Okay. Glad you understand.”

“Do people call you Toby a lot?”

“More than you could believe. So. Got a last name? Mine’s Goulding.”

“Lehrer.”

“Logan Lehrer? You must be a comic book character.”

He groaned. “Hardy-har, I’ve never heard that one before. Just wait until you find out what my middle name is.”

“What is it?” Well, now he had her interest piqued.

“Lee.”

“No fucking way.”

“My parents think they’re hilarious.”

“Can I call you L Cubed?”

“No.”

“Killjoy.”

They kept walking, October doing her best to keep conversation flowing between them. It had to be better than the quiet of the unending sand, despite Logan’s already-sharp tongue and clumsy social skills.

Otherwise, she’d have to really think about what was happening.

Remus and Todd

The first thing she noticed was the smell of salt hanging in the air. Following that, the sound of waves crashing, and the feeling of rocks.

She was laying on rocks.

No wonder her whole body was aching, if she was laying on rocks.

Wait.

Waves crashing? Salt?

How had she ended up at the beach? She lived at least an hour away from it, and there hadn’t been any field trips to the coast planned. So how the hell was she on a beach? Had she been kidnapped?

She opened her eyes and sat up.

No, the only other soul in sight was some ginger kid with a streak of silver dyed in his hair. On second look, she vaguely recognized him—Remy? Roman? Romulus? It was some kid she had seen in one of the school plays. Or maybe multiple of them, who knew.

So. Not kidnapped, unless that shrimp had somehow managed it, which she wouldn’t put past him.

That was when she noticed it. All the shapes were wrong. She had been unconscious on gravel, but it was very level gravel. And… it was squared off, where the waves hit it. She didn’t know much about geology, but she knew enough to know that erosion didn’t square things off so drastically.

So. Todd and mystery kid were trapped in some sort of Minecraft-lookalike.

Or she was hallucinating. That could be it, too. Or dreaming? Was this her first lucid dream?

She closed her eyes and concentrated very hard for a moment, and then opened them. Nope. Not flying. Not a lucid dream, then. Unless she just didn’t know how to do it?

Oh, hey, mystery kid was stirring.

She stood up and walked closer to him as he groaned and opened his eyes.

“What the fuck is going on?” he asked.

“Oh, I definitely know,” she replied. “It was definitely magic.”

“Don’t fuck with me,” he said, sitting up.

He froze.

His mouth dropped open.

Minecraft?” he exclaimed. “Fucking sweet!”

“Wow, incredible, I got stuck with a twelve-year-old,” Todd muttered. The boy scrambled to his feet and started running off. Todd followed, walking.

He stopped cold, and then turned and punched the sand. The cube-shaped sand. Wow, that was going to take some getting used to.

Anyways, that didn’t do what he (and Todd) were expecting it to do. Rather than starting to break, he just left a fist-shaped mark in it.

“What?” he said. “Why isn’t this working?”

“Maybe it’s not Minecraft,” Todd said as she came to a stop next to him.

“Looks like Minecraft,” he replied. “You know, I kind of always dreamed of being pulled into a video game. I wonder if our physical bodies are gone, or if we’re still in the real world, stuck in a coma? Kinda freaky to think about, huh?”

“No,” Todd said, like a liar.

“No? Not even a little bit? It’s freaky, but exciting! I mean, come on, who would’ve thought we would ever be put in Minecraft!”

Todd kept her mouth shut. Maybe he would wear himself out?

Oh, and he was running again.

“I wonder if I can punch wood!”

Oh, god, this guy was going to kill himself before night.

And then she realized one very important thing.

“I don’t even know your name!” she yelled, running after him.

“It’s Remus!” he shouted back.

There. Remus was going to get himself killed before night.

Virgil

The first thing he noticed was the ache. It was all throughout his body, like he had done a taxing full-body workout the day before and was just waking up the next day. The second thing he noticed was his head. The ache that filled the rest of his body was concentrated on his head. It felt like someone was driving an ice pick through it.

On their own, the pains would be enough to unsettle him. He wasn’t so forgetful that he wouldn’t remember putting himself through one hell of a workout.

The most unsettling thing was that he was laying on the grass and he couldn’t hear people around him.

A cool breeze blew over his body, the same breeze that was rustling the leaves on the trees and the grass. The ground he was laying on was flat. Incredibly flat, actually. It was light out and the sun was shining on him, judging by the red glow that was his eyelids.

Well. Maybe he should fix that.

He opened his eyes.

The sky was blue, the blue of a late spring afternoon where there was no rainclouds or fog or smoke to cover it up. There were a few white clouds traveling through it—

The clouds.

The clouds?

“Holy shit,” he said, scrambling to his feet and looking around. The trees, the ground, even the sun when he looked as closely at it as he could shared one characteristic with the clouds.

They were all square.

Or cubed? Cube-ish?

They were all cubes.

“Holy shit,” he repeated as he turned around, his eyes no longer focusing on any one thing. There was a rubber band tightening around his chest, static in his head—

There was a moment where he couldn’t think. His brain wouldn’t work. He was going to die

“Hold,” he said. “Hold up. I’m not going to die,” he whispered to himself. He started taking deep breaths from his diaphragm, the way the videos had shown him. In, hold, out, hold, rinse, repeat.

A few moments later, grounded again, he looked up and did his best to take in his surroundings without panicking again. Judging from the sun’s position in the sky and the temperature, it was probably mid-morning, around nine or ten. There was nothing on his person but the clothes he assumed he had been… transported in. He couldn’t remember the transport. He couldn’t remember how he had gotten there.

How was he there?

Why was he there?

A deep breath.

“I can figure that out later. I just need to, I need to—” What did he need to do?

Shelter. The first thing he needed to do was shelter. Make it, find it, something, because judging by what he knew of this world, there were monsters at night, and he did not want to fight them.

“Shelter,” he said. And then repeated it. And then he walked over to the nearest tree and punched the trunk.

His knuckles made contact with the bark with a resounding crack and he cried out, shaking his hand. Weren’t Minecraft trees supposed to break when you punched them?

Maybe the world he was in didn’t work exactly like the game? Would he have the HUD, health and hunger bars, inventory slots? How would he even bring them up if he did?

His eyes were stinging. It was too bright, there was too much going on, he just…

He just couldn’t.

He buried his face in his hands and started crying.

Roman and September

They had been walking forever, and no trees! Not a single one! Plenty of pigs, though. So many pigs. Once, the girl(?) walking with them had gotten frustrated and punched one.

Apparently, punching these pigs did not affect them like punching pigs in actual Minecraft.

Speaking of the girl, she was still following them. They could feel her somewhat sullen demeanor, even without looking at her. Couldn’t they have been given someone, anyone else to be stuck here with? They’d even prefer being stuck with Remus. At least he wouldn’t be such a Debbie downer!

“I can hear you insulting me in your head.”

“Telepathy doesn’t exist!” Roman snapped back. God, they didn’t even know her name! Although, she did look somewhat familiar. Maybe one of Remus’ friends?

“You aren’t denying it,” she replied.

Roman huffed. No, they weren’t. It was hard to deny the truth, unless they were on stage… or talking to their father.

Well. Anyways.

“Do your amazing Minecraft skills tell you anything about, I don’t know, what happens if we don’t find a tree?” they asked. “Because we have been walking forever—”

“It’s barely been half a day.”

“And we still haven’t found any trees! Not a single tree! Nada! Zip!”

“Honestly, we probably get eaten alive or something like that if we don’t manage to find a tree,” she said.

Roman stopped, their stomach dropping. “Eaten alive?”

“Yeah, there are zombies,” she replied, walking past them. She had put her brown hair up in a high ponytail some time ago, and it swung with her walk.

Zombies?”

“And skeletons. And creepers. Those explode. Oh, and giant spiders! And endermen, but those only attack you if you look at them.”

“We are going to die, and I am never going to get my big break on Broadway, and I’m never going to see my dumbass brother again, and—”

“I’m not going to let us fucking die,” she growled. “Now come on, let’s keep moving.”

Roman’s mind went blank for a moment, and then they took a deep breath.

“Very well,” they said, following her. “We are not going to die.”

That’s the spirit,” she said, her voice still as dry as always.

The two of them continued walking, pushing their way through the tall grass, walking through the flat biome. As it approached late afternoon, and they began despairing of ever finding a tree before nightfall, they stumbled across something.

Something decidedly not natural.

Well, as natural as a world made out of cubes could be to two people who had been born in a world made of… not-cubes.

“Hey,” she said, stopping. “What does that look like?”

They came to a stop next to her, staring at what was in front of them.

“That looks like… a path,” they replied. “Made out of gravel. God, it’s just as squared off as everything else here.”

Wait.

“A path!” they said. “That means there’s people!”

“Yeah,” the girl replied, her brown eyes seeming to glow. “And where there’s people, there’s shelter. Come on. Either end has to have some sort of shelter.” With that, she took off running down the path, Roman hot on her heels.

Remy and Emile

Emile wouldn’t call himself out-of-shape. Some people might see him and think he was, but he wasn’t. He took long walks, rode his bike, and played soccer. But hiking?

Oh, he hated hiking.

At least… he had.

Prior to this, his only experiences with hiking had been on family vacations, where his parents would force him and his siblings to spend all day together on dusty trails, and there weren’t any other options allowable in their heads.

Remy was definitely not his family.

The taller (only slightly though!) boy had been walking in front of him the entire time. Emile would be lying if he said the other boy didn’t have nice legs, and those shorts he was wearing were probably because he knew.

He was also wearing knee-high socks with dinosaurs on them, which was an interesting fashion choice—not that Emile was judging.

“Have I stumped you?” Remy asked, and Emile remembered: they were playing I-Spy.

“No, it’s definitely more grass,” Emile replied.

Remy sighed. “There’s just not much else,” he said. “At least there are some trees now.”

“Trees are nice,” Emile agreed. “We could move onto that other game you mentioned. What was it… one word story?”

“One sentence story,” Remy replied.

“Yeah, that one. How’s it played?”

“I start with a sentence,” Remy said, “and then you continue with one sentence, and we keep going, taking turns telling a story, one sentence at a time.”

“It sounds fun!” Emile said. “I’ll start: Once upon a time, there was a, uh, a cat in, uh, a car.”

“The cat wasn’t very happy being in the car because it thought it was going to the vet,” Remy replied.

Back and forth, the two of them continued the story as they climbed up and down mountains, as they walked past trees and sheep and ponds.

At least, until they came to a river.

“I don’t see its source,” Remy said, looking further up the mountain they were skirting the base of. Emile followed his gaze.

“There,” he said, pointing. “Way up there.”

Remy followed his point and groaned. “I don’t want to get my feet wet, but I also really don’t want to climb up and down that.”

“Neither do I,” Emile agreed. “I suppose… our feet will dry off eventually. And we’re both wearing canvas shoes. At least the water will wash them off!”

“At least there’s that,” Remy agreed, smiling at Emile. He had a nice smile.

“Well,” Emile said, looking away from Remy and taking a deep breath. “Here goes!”

He stepped into the river.

It was frigid, but he made it across, Remy following close behind. They stood there for a couple moments, shaking as much water off their feet and legs as they could. He hadn’t been expecting it to be that deep; he was wet all the way to his waist.

“Come on,” Emile said, smiling at Remy. “Walking will help warm us up.”

“God, I hope it does,” Remy breathed, his eyes—a most wonderful shade of blue—wide and his arms wrapped around himself.

This time, Emile took the lead, content to let Remy follow him.

Hopefully he wouldn’t lead them astray.

Patton and Chris

They hadn’t stayed in one spot, once they had figured out that this Minecraft didn’t work how they were expecting it to. Patton had taken the lead as they bush-whacked through the jungle, Chris more than content to let him.

Although, it was almost embarrassing, the fact that a complete and utter stranger had witnessed him break down like that. Oh, what that would do to his reputation if anyone else found out…

Not that anyone would, if they were alone. Forever. Just the two of them.

Patton, walking in front of him, was still chattering on about… okay, baking. He was onto baking now. The taller boy had kept up a steady stream of inane chatter as they walked, and Chris was glad for it.

It was easy to listen to Patton when the alternative was being alone.

“—And that’s why Tori was banned from using the oven!”

Wow, Chris had missed that whole story. Oh well. Something told him that Patton knew that and was going to keep talking anyways.

Which he did. He moved onto another kitchen anecdote as the two of them used the vines to climb partway up a tree and hop onto the foliage that was covering the ground. (And how weird was that, that they were able to climb through the leaves but also stand on top of them? It didn’t work like real Minecraft should at all.)

They trekked across the jungle floor, Chris occasionally adding comments to Patton’s stories. After a while, Patton paused.

“I think we should think about taking a break,” he said. “It’s been probably several hours since we started going.” He didn’t know the time for sure, because they had both checked their phones, which had both been dead as rocks.

“Yeah,” Chris agreed. He had been struggling for a bit, breathing hard and sweating. Patton was in a similar state.

The two of them sat down on the leaves, Patton stretching out his legs.

“So, I’ve been doing the talking all morning. Tell me about your family,” he said. Christ blinked.

“Oh. Uh. It’s just me and my parents,” he said.

“Oh?” Patton asked. “What do they do? For jobs.”

“My mom is a mechanic and my dad is a photographer,” Chris replied. He looked down at the leaves below him. “My dad mostly photographs weddings and events with his… business partner. My mom is, specifically, a diesel mechanic. Works on tractors and semis and things like that.”

“Oh, that’s cool!” Patton replied. “My dad used to drive trucks. He’s mostly a stay-at-home dad, now, though. And my mom’s a secretary.”

“What about your siblings?” Chris asked. “Are either of them older than you?”

“No,” Patton replied. “Chelsea and I are twins, actually! And Tori’s thirteen.”

They didn’t speak for a few moments after that, the only sounds coming from the forest around them: the birds, the chickens, rustling of leaves as things moved around…

“Man, I wish I had siblings,” Chris said.

“You can share mine,” Patton offered, and Chris looked up and smiled at him.

“Thanks,” he said.

“No problem!” Patton replied, grinning, teeth flashing bright against his dark skin, even in the perpetual twilight. “I think we should get going now, though.”

“Yeah,” Chris agreed. “I feel better now. Caught my breath.”

Patton stood up, stretching his arms over his head. “That’s good!” He started walking, and Chris stood up to follow.

After a few strides, Patton twisted around to look at Chris while he said something.

“So,” he said, “there’s a thing you need to know about my family—”

Chris watched him miss the step.

One moment, Patton was there, and the next, he wasn’t.

Chris screamed his name and ran forward to where he had been walking. There was a gap in the foliage that dropped straight to the ground, twenty or thirty feet below.

“Patton!” he yelled, and the other boy looked up from where he was sitting, arms wrapped around his leg.

“I’m okay!” Patton yelled back.

“No, you’re not!” Chris replied. “Stay there, I’m coming to you!” Without waiting for a reply, he drew back from the hole and found the nearest trunk with vines leading down to the ground.

It was scary dark underneath the bottom layer of foliage, and he could swear he felt something watching him as he made his way through carefully to where Patton was sitting, illuminated by a shaft of light where he had fallen.

“Chris,” he said as he approached. “Fuck, Chris, I think, I think my leg’s busted. My ankle and—my ankle and knee.”

“Let me see,” Chris said, crouching down next to Patton’s injured leg and pulling the other boy’s arms away from the limb. Luckily, he was wearing cargo shorts, so that meant Chris could look at it easily. There wasn’t anything obviously wrong about it, to his eyes. It didn’t look twisted, or broken, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t something sprained or torn.

Off somewhere in the darkness, something growled.

Patton and Chris both froze, and then looked at each other.

“Examination up there,” Patton said, pointing at the hole he had fallen through.

“Yeah,” Chris nodded. “Here, put your arm around my shoulders.”

Patton did as he was told, and Chris hauled him to his feet. His own knee gave a protest at that, but that didn’t matter. It wasn’t the freshly injured one.

With Chris’ help, Patton limped to the trunk that Chris had climbed down. Chris sent Patton up first, watching as the other boy hauled himself up with just his arms and one leg. Once Patton was a ways above his head, Chris started up, hoping and praying to a god he didn’t believe in that Patton wouldn’t fall.

Neither of them did, and once they were up, they laid panting on top of the leaves for a few moments.

“You heard that growl down there, right?” Chris asked.

“Yeah. I mean. We know there are mobs,” Patton replied.

Chris nodded and continued staring up at the treetops high above him.

“We should probably keep moving, at least find someplace to shelter before sunset,” Patton said, and Chris nodded again and sat up.

“What we were doing was working,” he said, and Patton put his arms around his shoulders and Chris hauled the two of them to their feet.

They continued.

Logan and October

The two of them had stopped talking. Their mouths were dry, and honestly, Logan was dying. October looked like she could still go forever, but his legs were dying and he was burning up. At least he was still sweating. If he had stopped sweating that would make the situation even worse. And she looked like she was still sweating, at least, so that was good.

Mirages shone and gleamed all around them. At first, they had excited him, had made him think there might be water nearby. But now?

Well.

Now he knew better.

Eventually, October stopped, standing in the shade of a rock outcropping. Logan came to a stop next to her, putting his hands on his head and panting. They didn’t speak with each other, only stood together for a few minutes, enough for Logan’s breathing to start evening out and the two of them to feel a little rested, and then October turned and took off again, trekking her way through the sand. Logan continued following in her footsteps, a few strides behind.

The sun would be setting soon, and while that would bring relief to the heat and the sun (oh, they were so burned already) nighttime would also bring monsters with it, and Logan was in no hurry to meet them.

So they continued on, pushing through the sand.

Remus and Todd

“For fuck’s sake, you’ve already tried punching everything!”

Remus didn’t know her name yet. Oh well, that could wait. He was in Minecraft! That should mean punching things would break things! But that wasn’t happening!

“I haven’t tried punching this,” Remus shot back, turning and smashing his fist into the dirt.

“Yes, you have!”

Okay, she was right, he had, but it wasn’t working. It wasn’t working right!

“So what,” he groaned, turning to look at her, and then turning away. It was a little unsettling, how different her eyes were. If they were, like, similar colors, it wouldn’t be so bad, but one was dark brown and the other one was blue! That was a little hard to ignore!

“So? Do you know what the definition of insanity is?” she asked.

“Oh! Isn’t that when someone snaps and starts killing—”

“No! No! No that isn’t!” She stopped and put her face in her hands for a moment and Remus cackled in response. She was so easy to rile up, it was amazing, his twin had long since learned how to just tune him out.

“The definition of insanity,” she said, looking up, “is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results! So, I do have to wonder if you’re not a little bit insane.”

“Oh, darling, everyone knows I’m a little kooky, a little off my rocker,” Remus replied, leering and leaning in closer to her. She leaned away and glared at him.

“I am not your darling,” she hissed.

“Oh, whatever.” Remus flapped a hand in a dismissive gesture.

“Seriously,” the girl growled. “You might bother to ask me for my name, sometime!”

“Nah,” Remus replied, flouncing away from her. “Much more fun just to call you names!”

He heard her groan. And then he… heard her turn around? He turned around and looked at her, and saw her back as she was walking away from him.

“Hey, hey, hey, where are you going?” he said, running after her.

“Away,” she replied.

“What? Why?”

“I don’t have to explain myself to you,” she said.

“Is it because I didn’t ask for your name?”

“It doesn’t matter now.”

“Aw, come on, please? What’s your name?”

She stopped. She turned to look at him.

“Are you scared of being alone?” she asked. There was something sharp and piercing in her mismatched eyes.

“What? No, of course not—”

“You have a twin brother, right? Very similar names. I doubt you’ve ever been alone, truly alone, ever. Never in your life. And the thought of me leaving you here, alone, truly alone, terrifies you.”

“Shut up!” he yelled, his eyes stinging. “That’s not true!”

There was something very smug in her smirk as she introduced herself.

“My name is Todd Vogt. You better not forget it any time soon.”

Virgil

He finished wiping his eyes. The knuckles of his left hand were still bleeding sluggishly, and were going to bruise. He had already wasted who knew how much time crying and, and panicking, and—

“Okay,” he said. “Okay. I need to focus. Can’t punch trees, so I can’t get wood. I need to find shelter some other way. Can’t go in caves, no wood, no torches. Treetops?”

He paused and looked up at the trees. “Maybe I can climb these trees. They don’t look quite… right, like Minecraft trees should.”

A moment later, “I’ll table that thought for now.” He shook his head, feeling his hair slap his face. It was long, it would get in his eyes, too bad he didn’t have a hair tie after giving the last one to his sister…

“Worry about hair later,” he muttered. He glanced around, taking in the trees, the grass, the flowers, the mooing of nearby cows. “I should… try going somewhere. Anywhere.” He shook himself again and started walking.

He could be walking forever. Who knew if there were any other people in this world? Who knew if he’d be stuck here, alone, starving to death? Or would he eat grass and leaves, still starving? Could he drink the water here? Would it get him sick? Would the mobs get him before he had a chance to starve or dehydrate?

Wait, no, spiraling, rabbit holes. He shook his hands as if he could shake off the thoughts physically. And maybe he could, at least for a little bit.

At least… wait. He stuck his hand in the pocket of his hoodie and sighed. At least he still had his cube and his tangle, and his chew was hanging around his neck. His phone had been… probably in his backpack? Which was obviously not with him.

He did have a sharpie in one pocket, though, and some safety pins. Oh, and that pocket knife he totally didn’t bring to school, ever, and hope that he wouldn’t get searched. Better to be not helpless and expelled.

Which gave him some level of comfort. At least with the small blade he could do… something. Not that a tiny three-inch blade would do much against an attacker, or the mobs that night…

But it was something. He could hold onto that something, and it might help him not panic.

Speaking of holding onto something, he wrapped his tangle around his fingers and pulled his hand out of his jacket pocket. He could also physically hold onto his tangle.

There was little change in his environment as he walked, past ponds and up and down hills and through the trees. There were so many trees. He had gone hiking in the wilderness with his dad, once, just the two of them. There were so many trees then, but they were so… messy. So unlike this place, with its neat cubes.

Not to mention that they had been conifers and these were mostly oak trees, not that they looked anything like real oaks.

Real oaks. Real life.

Was this real life? Or was it really a video game? His hand didn’t feel like a video game. It hurt, like he had actually punched a real tree with his full force. Fuck, he hoped he hadn’t broken any bones.

He stopped and looked at his hand. It had swollen up some, but the scrapes had stopped bleeding. He put his tangle away and felt along the bones, the slender metacarpals that were so easy to break if you hit something wrong, and oh, how he had hit something wrong.

Oh.

Oh no.

“Fuck,” he muttered. “That’s definitely broken…”

There was at least one break, probably more knowing his luck. He’d have to be careful with it.

Of course he’d break his dominant hand within minutes of waking up alone in a soon-to-be-desperate survival situation.

Oh, well. If he was lucky, he might be able to find somewhere safe-ish to hide before the fucking zombies came out.

Roman and September

The path led them from the plains into the savannah. That was good, there were at least trees in the savannah, not that they could actually usefully punch them, and trust her, September had tried. And failed.

And Roman had laughed at her, the jerk.

The sun was sinking low and the sky was beginning to change colors, in dusky oranges and purples.

And they had found a fence.

It was orangey acacia wood fence, and within the fence, there were cows and sheep. There was also the first lantern they found next to it, the switch flipped so that it was lit.

Oh, what a welcome sight that was.

“Civilization!” Roman said from behind her. “Well, kind of,” they amended.

“I’m sure that farmer would be flattered,” September replied. “Come on. Maybe there’s a town or something further along the road.

They continued walking, past fences and pastures and houses (which there were slowly more and more of). Occasionally, they saw another person, who waved at them. They waved back, a little slowly, a little hesitantly.

“I wonder if those are, like, real people,” September muttered, leaning her head in close to Roman so only they could hear.

“What else would they be?” they replied, giving September an affronted look. She shrugged.

“NPCs—non-player characters,” she said. “Not real.”

“They look real,” Roman retorted.

“Maybe so.”

September crossed her arms and they kept walking.

Slowly, the farmland became more town-like. The path widened, and there were more people. It meandered along the river on the savannah side. On the other side of the river was a desert, and what looked like some sort of marketplace, although it was empty at the moment.

The heart of the town—at least the densest part of it with the biggest buildings—was snug up against a cliff, from which there were two falls: a waterfall and—

“Is that lava?” Roman said. September turned to look where they were pointing, and her eyes widened.

“Wow. Uh, yeah, sure looks like it,” she replied. She looked back at Roman, whose eyes were as wide as hers.

“Wow,” they repeated. “Okay. We need to find somewhere to stay for tonight. That big building across the river looks like an inn, but I doubt we have the kind of money they take.”

“Maybe there’s a church or something?” September suggested, frowning. “Churches are supposed to like… offer shelter and stuff?”

“Maybe,” Roman replied, and then they turned and caught the attention of a random passer-by.

“Excuse me?” they said, “is there a church here?”

“Yes,” the person replied. They pointed. “Just head down that street there and you can’t miss it.”

“Thank you very much,” Roman replied. They turned back to September, who was watching, mortified, as they just… talked. To a random stranger. Like. With no fear.

“Alright, so… shall we find that church?” Roman asked, suddenly awkward again. September blinked and then nodded.

“Yeah, let’s do that,” she said, starting off down the road the stranger had pointed out for them. Roman followed her.

They walked slowly, taking in the sights. Everything looked so different from the towns they were used to. Most of the houses were built out of a mix of acacia and oak wood, with fenceposts and trapdoors and stairs built into their designs. The “streets” were all gravel and it felt nothing like the “concrete jungle”. Maybe it was just this particular town, and the concrete jungle would happen elsewhere, or maybe all of the world was like this.

Even with their rubbernecking, they quickly found the church. The stranger had been right: it was impossible to miss. It was built out of the same wood as the rest of the town and single-storied, but it still felt massive. And, of course, there was the sign, right above the double door: Cliffside, Church of Ignaer, it read.

“Do you think Cliffside is the name of this town?” September asked, “or are we in Ignaer?”

“There’s a simple way to find out,” Roman replied as they walked up and knocked on the door.

It took a few minutes, but someone came and opened one of the doors. It was a girl with long red hair, held back in two braids, wearing a simple blue dress with a tool belt of some sort. There was a stone sword attached to the belt and simple, but sturdy, boots on her feet.

“Hello,” she said. “Are you looking for Priest Tollin?”

“We are actually looking for a place to stay,” Roman replied.

The girl’s expression turned irritated for a moment before flitting back to the pleasant one, quickly enough that September doubted Roman would’ve noticed.

“The inn is just across the river,” she said.

“We don’t have any money on us,” Roman replied. “We’re terribly lost, too.”

The girl spent a moment looking them up and down, a scrutinizing expression on her face. After a moment, she nodded.

“Let me get the Priest,” she said, closing the door.

Roman and September stood there for a few moments until the door opened again. This time, it was opened by a tall man with short, dark hair and brown skin. He was wearing an orange robe, also with a leather belt around his waist, although his lacked the sword. He was plump and had smile lines, and it was obvious where they came from as he smiled widely at them.

“Hello!” he said. “My apprentice said the two of you were lost and looking for shelter. Come in!”

He stepped aside and gestured, and the two teenagers stepped inside. The inside of the church was simple, with orange carpet between the rows of pews leading to a wooden pulpit. The doors were right under a loft, where there were probably more pews. There was a staircase that led up there, at least.

“Have a seat!” the Priest said. “My name is Tollin Church. I’m the Priest of this church, blessed by Ignaer. What are your names?”

“I’m Roman Prince.”

“And I’m September Ellis.”

“It’s very nice to make your acquaintance. You said you were lost?”

“Yes,” Roman replied. “And we’re not quite sure where we are right now.”

“You’re in Cliffside!” Tollin replied. “The Heart of Northern Trade! It’s a good thing you found your way here. Wherever it is you need to go, I’m sure we can get you there. Every major trader in the northern end of the kingdom comes through here eventually.”

“The thing is,” Roman said, pressing their hands together, “we don’t know where we need to go.”

“No?” Tollin asked, looking at September, who nodded her confirmation. “Well, then. That’s a conundrum. Any idea where you’re from? How you ended up here?”

“We just woke up in the middle of the plains this morning,” Roman said. “No idea how we got there.”

“Are you missing your memories?” Tollin asked, squinting at them. Roman glanced at September, who shook her head.

“No,” Roman said. “At least, not all of them, if we are.”

“So you can tell me where you’re from,” Tollin inferred.

“I don’t think you’d believe us if we did,” Roman replied.

Tollin shrugged. “Try me,” he said.

“See, the thing is, we don’t think we’re from this world,” Roman said. “Our world isn’t… cubed, like this one is.”

Tollin raised his eyebrows. “That is hard to believe. But not as hard as you’re thinking it is. See, I know a secret.”

“And what is that?” September asked, crossing her arms.

“I know the gods,” he said. “And they are a tricky bunch.”

“Oh, you know the gods,” September said, rolling her eyes.

“So you’re a non-believer,” Tollin said. “Assuming my guess is correct, and you’re not from around here, how would you explain this?”

He snapped his fingers, and a dry wind picked up in the room. Sand started blowing, appearing from nowhere.

“Tollin!” the girl who had first opened the door shouted, sticking her head out from a door that presumably led to the offices. “Stop that! I don’t want to clean up after your little party trick tonight!”

“Sorry, Kara,” Tollin replied. The wind halted. Kara left. Tollin turned to face the two teenagers again.

“Ignaer is the god of the desert wind. When I became a Priest, he blessed me with his magic, which means I can call upon the desert wind as well, anywhere in the world, even in the middle of the ocean,” he said.

“I’m still not convinced,” September said, glaring at him.

“That’s fine. But if you are telling the truth, and I believe you are, then I am almost certain the gods brought you here,” Tollin said. “Although for what reason, I can’t say I know.”

Silence hung for a few moments after that pronouncement, until Tollin clapped his hands.

“Anyways! You’re here for beds! As it just so happens, we do have beds! Follow me,” he said, leading the two of them towards the door Kara had stuck her head out of. September and Roman stood and followed him, neither of them speaking.

Remy and Emile

The two of them could watch the sun set from above the forest, not that doing so held any attraction at the moment. It could almost be romantic if it weren’t for the fact that with darkness came monsters.

As it was, Remy was still following Emile as the two of them trekked through the mountains. The peaks were casting long, large shadows that grew as the sun crept ever lower in the sky.

“What if… we can’t find shelter?” Emile asked, his voice shaking.

“Then we climb one of the mountains,” Remy replied. “It’ll be harder for the mobs to get up there, at least.”

“Does the summit of a mountain even count as shelter?”

“No,” Remy replied. “Especially not if it started snowing. Luckily for us, there’s not a single storm cloud in the sky right now. And the sky’s turning red. You know the old saying, right?”

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” Emile replied. “No storms tonight.”

“No storms,” Remy agreed. “And at least there’s two of us. Could you even begin to imagine what it would be like if we were on our own?”

“It would be terrifying,” Emile replied, almost immediately. He turned his head so he could smile at Remy. “I’m glad we have each other, at least.”

“Yeah,” Remy said, getting butterflies. “Me too.”

“Hey!”

Remy and Emile turned around at the shout. There was another person—

Another person?

Another person!

There was another person running towards them, a torch in their—his? —hand. A few moments later and he had caught up with them.

He was very tall.

“Hey, what are you two doing alone up here, at sundown, with no torches?” he asked.

“We are very lost,” Remy replied. “What are you doing alone up here, at sundown?”

The new boy—he looked young, despite the beard he was growing – rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, I’m just a little late getting back. At least I have torches. And a sword! How lost are you that you aren’t even carrying a sword? And what are you wearing?”

He was mostly looking at Remy when he said that, although he also glanced at Emile.

“Clothes,” Remy replied. “And we are very, very lost.”

The tall boy sighed. “You can follow me to my village. Bill can put you up for the night, he owes me a favor anyways. And you can help carry torches so I can have my hands free.”

“Sure thing,” Emile said, accepting the lit torch from the boy. “My name is Emile, and this is Remy.”

“I’m Steve,” the boy replied, smiling. “Steve Johnson.”

“Nice to meet you, Steve Johnson,” Remy said, holding his hand out. Steve put an unlit torch in his hand and then pulled out a flint and steel and lit it.

“Come on,” Steve said. “We really need to be moving. We have a little time before the mobs really come out, and we should hopefully make it back to Frothwater before they do.” He took off, and Remy and Emile followed him, their legs working twice as hard to keep up with his long strides.

Patton and Chris

It was slow going. Well, of course it was, Patton’s entire leg was screaming pain at him and he couldn’t walk without Chris, but it grated on him. They were on a time limit. The sun goes down, the mobs come out, and they die if there’s no shelter. And Patton was at fault for their slowed pace. If he had just watched where he was going, he wouldn’t have fallen, they wouldn’t have been so delayed, and they might have found shelter by now.

“—So that’s when she decided she was going to completely quit volleyball just to play soccer—”

Where Patton had been the one keeping a stream of consciousness all morning, Chris had taken up the slack after Patton had fallen. It seemed as though neither of them wanted to be alone with their thoughts.

“It must have been quite the change, going from playing a sport with your hands to a sport with your feet,” Patton said.

Chris snorted. “Yeah,” he agreed. “She really struggled with it at first. A lot of her friends left her, too, because suddenly she wasn’t a star player so she wasn’t worth hanging around. But she and Veronica are still together, so I think it was worth it for her.”

“I hope it was,” Patton said. “but the shallowness of her ‘friends’ makes me sad.”

“Yeah,” Chris agreed. “I hate to admit it, but you seem like the understanding kind of guy, but I was one of those, for a while.”

“What changed?” Patton asked.

“I got injured,” Chris replied. “Tore my ACL, couldn’t finish the season, and they all dumped me the same way we did her. She was way too nice to me, honestly, when I talked to her.”

“That sucks,” Patton said. “Are you… good to be carrying me like this?”

“Oh, yeah,” Chris replied. “That was last fall. I could’ve played again this fall, but… Well, most of that team just kind of walked out on me after I got injured. I ran cross country instead.”

“Tori’s planning on joining cross country next year,” Patton said. “Maybe you’ll be her captain.”

“Nah, probably not, that’ll probably be one of the other seniors, but we’ll still be on the same team,” Chris replied.

“I’ll keep an eye out for you at meets, then,” Patton said.

“Thanks.”

They were quiet for a few moments.

“Hey, do you see that?” Chris pointed upwards, and Patton craned his neck.

Up there was light. There was light coming from the tops of the trees. It had gotten dark enough that it was impossible to miss.

“What is that?” Patton asked.

“Don’t know,” Chris replied. “Want to find out?”

“Yes.”

They picked up their pace as much as Patton was able to. It was approaching complete darkness, except for the light from the trees, as they went. Below them were the sounds of mobs coming out.

As the approached the trees with the lights, they could see more lights on the ground, making out a path.

“We’re not alone,” Patton whispered. “We’re not alone!”

The path crossed the river, over a bridge. A bridge that someone had to have put there. Patton could have melted from relief.

“Hey, look, there’s a ladder,” Chris said. “I bet someone lives up there.”

“Yeah,” Patton agreed, pushing himself to go faster.

It felt like an eternity before they reached the ladder.

“You first,” Chris said, ducking out from under Patton’s arm but keeping his arms on his torso to steady him.

“Alright,” Patton agreed, reaching out to grab one of the rungs above their head and haul himself up. All those pull-ups from weights class were finally starting to come in handy.

Chris followed behind him, not complaining a single time about how slow Patton was climbing, or how often he had to take breaks to rest his arms (as much as he could while clinging to a ladder, high above the ground).

“It’s a good thing Chelsea didn’t get stuck with me,” he said after making the mistake of looking down once.

“Is she afraid of heights?” Chris asked.

“Mhm. Terrified stiff.”

“All the little goat trails I’ve hiked along the coast cured me of that one,” Chris replied. “You’re one wrong step from falling into the ocean, and you’re high up, and you can see the rocks below you, and. Well. It’s a stunning view, but a little terrifying.”

“I can imagine,” Patton replied. “Don’t think we’ll run into many of those here.”

“You never know.”

Finally, finally, they reached the top. Patton hauled himself onto the platform, looking at the startled guard, who put her hand on the sword that rested at her hip.

“Hello,” Patton said, scooting forward as well as he could to make room for Chris to climb up.

“Hello?” the guard said. “Who are you kids?”

“I’m Patton, and this is Chris.”

“What brings you to Tvant?” she asked, squinting at them. Her eyes seemed to shine in the lantern light. He couldn’t tell exactly what color they were. He couldn’t tell the color of anything; the lantern cast them all in an orangey-pinkish light, but her hair was sleek and dark, and her skin was brown.

“We’re looking for shelter for the night,” Chris replied.

“All our guest rooms are full,” the guard said, and then she sighed. “But I can’t turn away two unarmed kids… especially if you’re as injured as you’re acting.” She turned a sharp eye on Patton, who squirmed under her gaze. After a moment, she turned away.

“Yunuen!” she called. After a moment, another woman, this one with long hair that was obviously white, even under the lantern, stuck her head out.

“Nadia? What is it?” she asked.

“These are Patton and Chris,” Nadia replied, pointing to the boys. “Can you see if anyone is willing to take them in for tonight?”

“Of course,” Yunuen replied, stepping out from the office.

“And also, maybe see if Eridani is willing to see them? Patton’s leg is injured,” Nadia added.

Yunuen watched as Patton and Chris stood up, with Chris taking most of Patton’s weight again.

“Of course,” she said. “Follow me.” She turned, white hair flowing behind her as she walked off, slow enough that the two boys could keep up. Nadia sat down at her post again, her eyes on the entrance they came through.

Logan and October

October had never hated her hair more. It was stuck to her neck with sweat and hung heavy and hot against her back. Every single inch of uncovered skin seemed to be sunburnt. It was lucky she had been wearing at least short sleeves. It would’ve been miserable, had she been wearing a tank top.

Logan was still several paces behind her and falling back more. The poor bastard had zero stamina, but at least he wasn’t complaining. October knew she wanted to, with the heat and the thirst and the burn and the hunger, but as long as he didn’t, she wouldn’t.

“October,” he said. His voice was raspy.

She stopped and turned to face him. “What?”

“Cave,” he pointed.

“Mobs come out of caves,” she replied.

“Could be small. Could hide in it,” he countered.

She bit her lip and considered it, but he was already heading for it anyway. She followed him to the mouth of it.

Wonder of wonders, it was a small cave, carved out of sandstone by wind or water or whatever created caves in this world. There was still enough light left in the dusk to see into it to the back, and it was empty. Logan climbed down first, and October followed him in, picking her way down carefully.

She hadn’t fully realized how tired she was until she sat down on the floor of the cave. The stone wasn’t comfortable at all, but it wasn’t sad. It didn’t shift underneath her as she walked.

“We should… establish a watch, or something,” she said.

“Yeah,” Logan agreed, laying down on the stone, using his arms as a pillow. “Wake me up when you start falling asleep.”

“What? Who says you get first sleep?”

The bastard was already asleep, though. She grumbled and looked up towards the mouth of the cave. As long as they were quiet, hopefully nothing would come looking.

Remus and Todd

“But I want to fight the mobs! I’ll tear their limbs off!”

Todd was going to murder him, if he didn’t get himself killed first. If it wasn’t trying to punch stone, he was jumping from high places. If he wasn’t jumping from high places, he was trying to go down holes to fight mobs. He had exactly zero self control.

“I’ll tear your limbs off,” she growled. He either ignored her or couldn’t hear her.

They had been walking and running in bits and spurts up the coastline. She had figured out that they were heading mostly north after actually putting some thought into where the sun was and where the sun was heading, and at the moment, it was heading directly for set into the ocean.

Not going to lie, it was going to be a stunning sunset, but she did not want to be out after dark, unlike a certain cretin.

Who was currently running up the shoreline again towards the next outcropping that overlooked the sea.

With a sigh, she started running after him again, but unlike him, she ran on the grass. Running on the sand was exhausting, and somehow he hadn’t exhausted himself because he had been running over the sand all day.

He crested the hill first and stopped to throw his hands in the air and yell, wordless, to the sky. She came to the top shortly afterwards, and rather then just screaming into the air, she scanned the horizon. Forest to the east, ocean to the west, coastline to the north and south, although she could see what she thought to be the beginning of a whole mountain range to the north, at the very edge of her sight.

There was something else to the northwest, though, something she had been seeing some of as the day went by, but as it became closer to night…

It would be perfect.

An island, a couple hundred feet off the shore, small (but big enough for the two of them to sleep on opposite ends and not have to see each other), and with one tree.

“Remus,” she said.

“Yes, Todd?” He hadn’t forgotten her name yet.

“I am swimming out to that island to sleep for the night. Follow me or don’t, your choice.”

“Wait, what?”

Rather than gracing him with an answer, she started descending the hill toward the island.

“To-odd!” Remus whined. “There aren’t any mobs on that island!”

“That’s so not my reason for going over there,” she replied.

At the bottom of the hill, she stopped and considered the water, and then looked down at her feet. Her Docs were amazing, and had done her well through the trek of the day, but they were not swimming shoes.

Oh well. She’d just have to take them off and hope a zombie didn’t eat them or something. Maybe the zombies would fancy a nice pair of Docs to keep their feet warm or something.

Remus walked up to her as she sat down to take them off.

“Thought you were swimming to that island,” he said.

“And I’m totally going to swim over there in my Docs,” she replied.

“Oh.”

A pause.

He sat down next to her and started taking his fancy-ass converse off as well. Their socks followed, and their shoes sat next to each other in the sand, socks tucked away inside.

Todd took the first step into the ocean.

“Come on in, the water’s warm,” she said.

Remus took a step in and cried out.

“You liar! It’s freezing.”

Todd scoffed. Had he actually believed her? It wasn’t like they were in SoCal. If anything, the coast they had been walking along reminded her more of the Oregon Coast, and that was never warm.

The two of them swam across the channel, fighting against the current trying to push them around. The water was fine once they adjusted to it, but getting out of it?

Immediately, Todd started shivering. It was so much colder with the sun going down, and now they were soaking wet.

“Todd, I’m freezing!”

“I am not your mom,” she snapped back. Maybe swimming over hadn’t been such a good idea, but at least they would be safe from mobs, and they would dry off eventually.

The grass cleaned the sand off of her bare feet as she walked over to the tree and curled up under it. Remus followed her over, and she looked up and groaned to see him standing over her, a pathetic sort of puppy-dog look on his face.

“We’ll warm up quicker by sharing body heat,” he said.

“The first logical thing out of your mouth all day is a request to cuddle?” she asked, blinking up at him and then shaking her head. “If you snore, I am so not going to throw you into the water.”

“Roman’s the one that snores,” the reply came immediately as Remus dropped like a sack of potatoes. On the ground, he scooted closer to her. Luckily, she was the taller of the two (by like, two whole inches, but the amount was not the point) which meant she got to be the big spoon.

Remus was right. Despite the fact that he smelled (did he use no deodorant?), it was warmer curled up with him than curled up on her own.

And after everything, she was tired. Her bones were tired. Her feet hurt. And she was sleeping on the ground.

She closed her eyes and let herself fall asleep.

Virgil

The sky was painted in reds, purples, oranges, pinks. It would be beautiful in any other situation.

As it was, it was terrifying.

In a few minutes, or half an hour, or whenever (he had no way of telling the time and that was terrifying) the sun would sink below the horizon, and the mobs would start spawning, or coming out, or whatever they did in this strange facsimile of Minecraft.

And Virgil had… nothing.

Well, that’s not true, he had a stick that he had picked up a while back.

He had a stick and terror.

He was still walking through the forest, which was now sporting a few birch trees as well, and carrying his stick in his uninjured hand. Not that he could do much with it, considering his uninjured hand was also his non-dominant hand.

So, there he was, with his stick and terror, walking through the forest as it got darker, and darker.

The red of the sky felt almost prophetic.

Slowly but surely, the last of the sun sank beneath the horizon and the forest was cast in darkness. The only light was the light of the stars and moon, hanging bright in the sky.

Every sense, every muscle, every nerve was on high alert. It felt like his senses had been supercharged. The sound of the breeze in the leaves felt so loud, almost overwhelming, and the back of his neck prickled, like he was being watched by something just out of sight.

He had been traveling in the dark for a while when he heard the first growl. He froze, head whipping around as he looked at his surroundings, desperately trying to find the source.

It was too dark to see much, and he had no light.

After a moment, he took a deep breath from his diaphragm, and exhaled slowly. He continued walking.

A couple hundred more feet, and there was another growl.

He continued this time without stopping.

They started increasing in frequency, coming from all around him.

The first thing he saw, though, wasn’t a zombie.

It was eight glowing red eyes, staring at him from underneath a tree, twenty feet away.

There was a moment, where he stared at the spider, and it stared back.

The moment was broken when another zombie growled, and the spider started scuttling towards Virgil.

Virgil would be unashamed to admit that he turned and ran. He sprinted through the forest, dodging trees. The only thing he could hear over his feet hitting the ground, his breathing, his heartbeat, were the sounds of mobs closing in on him.

Oh, god, he was going to die here. This was really it for him.

He kept running. He may die here but that didn’t mean he was just going to roll over and let them have him.

Well, that was the plan, until the ground seemed to vanish out from under him. He fell, doing his best to tuck and roll down the hill.

It wasn’t just a hill—the last ten feet was a drop straight to the ground, and he lay there for a moment, the breath knocked out of him.

The growls of the approaching zombies did a lot to knock the breath back into him, and he stood up. His legs weren’t hurt, but his hand was aching more than it had been.

He took a moment to glance around the area, at the mobs closing in and the walls behind him.

There was no way he could climb those, not with a broken hand. And he had broken his stick, and it was not like a three-inch blade was going to do anything against these.

He looked back at the mobs again.

Oh, god, he was really going to die. He was actually going to die right here, alone, in the middle of nowhere.

This wasn’t how he had wanted it to end. Of course, now that the end was really approaching, he wasn’t sure he had even wanted it to end in the first place.

Why did he have to realize that right before he was going to die?

They were closer, within fifteen feet now. Maybe he could make a break for it, run through the crowd of mobs to freedom?

Except he didn’t get the chance to try.

Someone jumped down and landed in a crouch in front of him. They were short and wiry and were wearing dark clothes.

“Back off, you lot,” the stranger growled.

The crowd of mobs stopped. There were a few confused groans, hisses, rattles from it.

“Yes, I mean it,” the stranger replied.

Oh.

He was talking to the mobs. Who were…?

Listening.

The mobs were listening to him.

Chapter Text

Roman and September

There was only one room, and they had to share it with Kara, too.

“There used to be a lot of apprentices here to study,” she said as she changed the sheets on the two beds Roman and September (they were so glad she had to introduce herself to Tollin so that they didn’t have to submit themselves to the embarrassment of asking for it after a whole day) were going to sleep in. “This was the dormitory for them. But after… well… being a Priest is a dying art, it seems. There haven’t been any blessed in seventeen years.”

There was a moment, and Roman searched for something to say.

“That’s why I’m going to break that streak,” Kara said, looking up, breaking off any train of thought they might have had. Determination burned in her green eyes as she glared, not at them, but at the challenge in front of her.

“Good for you,” September said, voice dry but probably not meaning it sarcastically. “Go get ‘em.”

“No one thinks I can do it,” Kara continued, shaking her head and taking a couple quick steps towards the two other teenagers. “I’m too young, or too dumb, or too sweet, or whatever excuse they can come up with to keep me from doing it. I think they think I’m going to die. Not a wild belief,” she paused to gesture with a hand and shrug, “considering that all of the trainees who have tried for full Priesthood in the last seventeen years have died, but like I said: I’m going to make it.”

“You can do it,” September replied, taking a step towards her.

“You don’t even believe in the gods,” Kara said, rolling her eyes.

“I believe in you.” She looked at Kara, stare level.

Kara paused and looked at September, her brow furrowed. “I don’t understand you.”

“I don’t think anyone understands her,” Roman said, jumping into the conversation. “She’s a deep pool of unexplored mysteries.”

“Yeah, to you,” she retorted, shaking her head. The motion made her long brown ponytail swing back and forth.

“I’m wounded,” Roman said, putting a hand over their chest and dipping their chin. “I thought we had something special.”

“You’re just another name on a long list,” September replied, sneering.

“Alright, I’m done preparing the beds. Are either of you hungry? I can run to the kitchen and grab you something to eat and drink,” Kara interrupted, stepping between the two of them.

“I’m fucking starving,” September replied.

“Food and water would be fantastic, thank you,” Roman added.

“Alright!” Kara smiled at them. “I’ll be right back.” She turned and left, leaving the door open behind her. It was just Roman and September in the room again, just like it had been all day.

They were quiet for a few moments, September sitting down on one of the beds, claiming it as hers, while Roman sat down on the other one next to her that wasn’t obviously Kara’s.

“I wasn’t hungry until she mentioned food but now I can’t ignore how absolutely starving I am,” Roman said, and September nodded.

“I know. There was a point earlier today when it was like… I just wasn’t hungry anymore.”

“That’s probably a survival thing, or an adrenaline thing, or something. We were going someplace—”

“Didn’t know where, but we were going—”

“And we at least had some sort of goal in mind, and we just… forgot our needs until we were safe.”

“That sounds about right,” Kara said, standing in the door. “It fits with some of the people we have in here occasionally, whose homes have been destroyed, or who are running from something.” She was carrying two plates. Each one had half an apple, a slice of bread, and a pork chop on it. She handed one to each of them.

“Don’t eat too quickly. You can make yourself sick,” she said, turning to leave. “I’ll be right back with the water.”

Roman started with the apple. It looked like it had been in storage for a while, which was fine by them. They bit into it, and, oh! They savored it, chewing slowly and closing their eyes.

“God,” they said after they had swallowed, “I swear this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten.”

“Same,” September said, taking another bite of her half of the apple. Kara returned with the flasks of water, setting them down on the bedside tables.

“Tollin is looking through our closet at the moment. There’s probably some clothes in there that will fit you, and he’ll bring them in soon,” she said. “And if you’re going to stay here long-term—no need to make a decision yet, though—you’re going to need to help out around the place.”

September set her apple half back down on the plate and looked up at Kara. “I think we will make that decision in the morning,”

Kara shrugged. “Alright,” she said. “I’m going to go get changed into my pajamas.”

She left again, leaving Roman and September alone with each other, again.

Remy and Emile

Steve was right: they made it to the edge of the village before they saw anything more than a few zombies.

“Hey, Evan, Vera,” Steve said, nodding to the two people who were standing outside together, one carrying a sword and one carrying a bow. They looked similar, like they could be father and daughter.

“Cutting it a little close there, huh?” Evan asked before turning and eyeing Remy and Emile. “And who are… these?”

“I found them,” Steve replied. “They’re lost.”

Vera giggled. “I can tell.”

“Well, get on then,” Evan said, jerking his head towards a hill. “Get in there. Darren’s been worried.”

Steve sighed. “He should know by now that I can take care of yourself.”

“He’s your big brother,” Evan snapped back. “’Course he’s worried.”

Steve didn’t reply, and instead continued into the village, Emile and Remy following like ducklings.

They entered the village proper, and suddenly, Emile understood exactly why it was called Frothwater. A waterfall poured from the ridge above the village. A creek, filled by the waterfall, flowed through the center of the village square, and sourced another waterfall that fell to the river below. A small gathering area appeared to be next to the creek where a bridge crossed it. Fire pits were scattered around the clearing, filled with dying embers and surrounded by chairs.

“Come on,” Steve said, gesturing to them as they walked through the square. “Bill’s place is this way.”

Emile and Remy followed them, through the houses and around one small outcropping. And there it was: a low-slung stone building (fitting in with all the other stone houses) nestled up into the ridge. A simple sign reading BAR was posted outside, although there was also an address sign next to it as well: William Green, 13 Frothwater.

Steve entered the bar, and so Emile and Remy followed.

There were only a few people inside it: two patrons at a table in the corner, and the man behind the bar, polishing an already-clean glass. He had fair skin, long brown hair and a short beard, and was wearing a leather apron over his simple clothes.

“Evening, Steve,” the barkeep said. “Coming in a little late, are you?”

Steve groaned. “Why is everyone making a big deal of that?”

“Because people worry about you. Who are these funky fellows you have with you?” He set the glass he was working on down and leaned over the bar, resting his elbows on it.

“I’m Emile.”

“And I’m Remy.”

“Pleasure to meet you two. I’m assuming since Steve’s brought you here, you’re looking for a room for the night?”

“Well, yes, but, uh, we have zero money,” Emile replied, putting the tips of his pointer fingers together and pushing them back and forth. Next to him, Remy shifted his weight back and forth.

The man behind the bar sighed.

“You’re calling your favor in now, huh, Steve?”

“Uh, yes? Please?” Steve replied.

Bill shrugged. “Alright. You two, follow me, behind the bar. Rooms are down the trapdoor. Steve, go see your brother and get home.”

“Yes, sir,” Steve said, turning and leaving. Bill opened the partition to let Emile and Remy behind the bar. Closer now, Emile could see light freckles on his nose. They followed him through the trapdoor and down the ladder.

He led them into a stone room filled with chests. To their right was an iron door, and there were two hallways carved into the stone.

“Here are your rooms,” Bill said, leading them down one hallway and opening a couple doors. “How did Steve pick you up, anyways?”

“We were lost,” Emile replied.

Very lost,” Remy added. “Still are, kind of.”

Bill sighed. “Are you hungry?”

“Now that you mention it, yeah, I’m starving,” Remy replied.

Bill sighed yet again.

“Curse my bleeding fucking heart,” he muttered, just loud enough for Emile and Remy to hear, and turned and walked away.

Patton and Chris

Yunuen knocked twice on someone’s door. There was some commotion from inside, and then another woman stuck her head out. Her hair was dark, streaked with grey, her skin was light brown, and she blinked twice at the group in front of her.

“Hello, Yunuen and strangers,” she said. “What brings you to my door tonight?”

“They need your healing,” Yunuen replied.

“Of course,” the new woman said, dipping her head and stepping back to let the three in. It was a bit awkward for Chris and Patton, trying to go through the door together, but eventually they made it in.

The plain wooden outside belied the inside. It was carpeted richly in greens and purples, with tapestries hanging from the walls. A cauldron and a brewing stand were the centerpiece of the room, and there were various potted flowers along the walls.

“I am Eridani,” the woman introduced herself. “The Priestess Mother of Tvant and blessed by Winoya. How should I address you?”

“Uh,” Chris began, “I’m Chris.”

“And I’m Patton.”

“Chris, Patton,” Eridani said, dipping her head as she addressed each in turn. “What ails you?”

“I, um, I fell and hurt my leg,” Patton replied, gesturing in general at the leg he couldn’t put weight on.

Eridani nodded. “Chris, help him over here,” she said, gesturing to a spot on the carpet in front of the cauldron. “Help him sit.”

Chris helped him over to sit in the spot she had indicated.

“Now, Patton, please, which parts of your leg hurt? Your joints? Or elsewhere?”

“My knee, mostly,” Patton replied. “Although my ankle hurts too.”

“Then please remove your socks and shoes. Your pants are already short enough, however, they will not get in my way.”

“Chris,” Patton said, looking down and blushing. “Do you think you could, uh, help? I can’t bend my leg enough to get to my foot.”

“Yeah, no problem,” Chris replied, kneeling down and untying Patton’s shoe.

Patton’s shoe and sock removed, and Chris got out of Eridani’s way as she kneeled down next to Patton’s leg. She laid her hands gently on his knee and began feeling it. She asked him where it hurt most, what felt better, what felt worse. Once finished with his knee, she moved onto his ankle and did the same thing.

“That’s done now,” she said, standing up. “Now, Patton, I will give you a potion. It will heal you- mostly. And then, if you are okay with it, I’ll use a healing technique on you. I will share energies with you and help open the pathways in your body to help it heal. It is a technique taught to me by one of the Master Healers of Anorian, and I use it in tandem with my blessing from Winoya.”

She deliberately made eye contact with Patton. “Please remember that this is no miracle. Your leg will not go exactly back to the way it was before. But it will take months off the healing time. You will be able to walk, and climb, and run, but you will need to be careful.”

“I understand,” Patton replied.

“Very well,” Eridani said, standing up. “Potion first, then.” She strode over to a chest, opened it, and pulled out a potion that shimmered in the low light. She walked back over to Patton and handed it to him.

“Is it going to taste terrible?” he asked as he took it, looking at it with trepidation.

“It tastes like sugar,” Eridani replied.

Patton shrugged, opened the bottle, and tipped it back. He grimaced and swallowed it, setting the bottle down.

“You were right,” he said. “It tasted exactly like drinking liquid sugar.”

Eridani smirked. “Yes. It does. Unfortunately, my efforts to make it taste any better have failed. I could have used a splash potion on you, but those are less effective.” Patton nodded, still cringing at the taste.

They waited a few minutes, in Eridani’s explanation, to let it take effect. And take effect it did: Patton squirmed some (having months of healing happen in a matter of minutes usually hurt, according to Eridani) and then his face softened in relief.

“Oh, it hurts so much less,” he sighed, leaning back, putting his weight on his hands behind him.

“That’s good,” Eridani said, sitting down next to Patton’s leg again. “Please lay down and get comfortable. Yunuen, Chris, please be calm and relax as well. To exchange energies effectively requires a calm environment.”

She looked up at Chris and Yunuen, who were both sitting next to each other. “You are within our circles, so you will be affected by the energy as well. Do not be alarmed. You may feel emotions that aren’t yours and will likely cry. Don’t fight it. Do you understand?”

They both confirmed, and with that, Eridani began.

Logan and October

October was alone.

Well, not entirely. Logan was asleep on the stone next to her, his head resting on her thigh. She could hear his soft breaths, she could watch him sleep, the way his mouth was opened slightly, the way he unconsciously clung to her sometimes, so tightly, like he was terrified in his sleep.

She could understand why.

Above them, zombies growled. She could hear the chirps of endermen. If even one mob stumbled inadvertently into their little hidey-hole, they would be toast.

There was something infinitely beautiful about the knife’s edge they were balanced on, and she almost hated to break the air.

But she was getting tired, and starting to fall asleep, and someone needed to be awake to keep watch.

So gently, quietly, she woke Logan, who blinked awake and then, the moment lucidity returned, scrambled away.

“I am so sorry,” he whispered.

“No, it’s okay,” October whispered back. “I don’t mind. I’m going to sleep now.”

Logan nodded, and she curled up on the stone and did her best to let her exhaustion pull her down to the depths of sleep.

Remus and Todd

He woke up because he was cold.

Of course he was cold, he had been soaking wet when he went to sleep. Except… he wasn’t, anymore. He had mostly dried off.

He was cold because Todd was gone.

Todd was gone!

He scrambled up, gaze searching frantically for her. There she was, sitting, staring out at the ocean. It was dark except for the spots where moonlight glinted off the waves.

“Do you think anyone misses us?” she asked as he sat down next to her. She wiggled her toes, burying her feet further in the sand.

“What, at home?” Remus asked, and she nodded. “Roman misses me. We’ve been practically attached to each other since birth, after all. And I think our step-mom might miss me, if we’re not back by the time she and our father get back from their trip. Why? Do you think no one misses you?”

Todd scoffed. “What? Of course they miss me.”

“You’re a liar, you know.”

“I know.”

“Come on, we need our sleep.” Remus stood up and held a hand out to Todd. She looked at it for a moment, and then stood up on her own. Remus instead put his hand in his pocket and tried not to let the hurt sink in too much. She thought that no one at home missed her. He could cut her a little slack.

So, he followed her back over to the tree, and didn’t comment about the fact that he was the big spoon, now.

Virgil

“What the fuck.”

The first words out of his mouth to his mystery savior after the mobs leave, and they were those. Of course they were.

“What the fuck yourself,” the other replied. His voice was hoarse, like he had been screaming for a while earlier.

“You—just, you just told them to go away, and they just… did!” Virgil retorted.

“Of course they did. You’re not from around here, are you?”

“What?” Virgil leaned back, eyeing the man. The much-shorter-than-him man. “How is that in any way relevant?”

“Oh, it is completely relevant.” The man shifted, and Virgil watched his hands. There was a sword buckled at his hip, but he made no motion for it. “Tell me. Do you know who I am?” The man turned around, slowly, and Virgil inhaled sharply as he took a few steps back.

“Herobrine,” he breathed.

“Now, how is it that someone from a completely different world knows my name?” the man asked, taking a couple steps towards Virgil. Virgil took a couple steps back. Soon, his back would literally be against the wall.

“How—what? How do you know that?”

“There’s residue, if you know how to look for it,” Herobrine replied, this time staying put. His hands moved, and Virgil flinched backwards, but he was just putting his hands in his pockets. “It’s similar to the dust endermen give off, although you can’t see it.”

“And you can?”

“Yes.”

The two of them stood there for a moment, staring each other down.

“Why would you be pulled through, though?” Herobrine eventually asked.

“That’s what I’d sure like to fucking know,” Virgil replied.

“Things are going to hell here in the Overworld, but I can’t imagine my brother would give a single shit about that.” Herobrine moved his hands out of his pockets and crossed his arms, glaring off somewhere to his left. “Unless he’s gone complete sadist and did this just to fuck with you.”

“You’re… talkative,” Virgil muttered.

“I prefer thinking out loud. So. You’re here, and stuck here for now, until someone finds a way to shove you back to your own world. I have the sinking feeling that someone is going to be me.”

“You don’t have to,” Virgil said. The pang of regret hit almost immediately. Why would he say that? To the only person here who’s helped him (the only person he’s met so far)?

“But I’m going to,” Herobrine replied, raising his eyebrows like he was expecting Virgil to challenge him.

Virgil was not going to challenge him. There were a few moments of awkward silence until Herobrine shrugged and started walking towards Virgil. Virgil stayed put.

“You need to get somewhere safe,” he said. “I could take you back to where I live. Forewarning: I do literally live in a cave. I could also make it so that the mobs left you alone, at least until you got to a town, somewhere with other humans. Whichever option you prefer.”

Wow! Two options, both of which literally had Virgil’s paranoia screaming at him! Go home with a strange, unknown man who was clearly armed, or be alone again and trust that the unknown man was telling the truth about mobs keeping away from him!

But… Virgil really, really didn’t want to be alone again. And Herobrine didn’t have to save him. Maybe he could go with him, for now?

Yeah.

For now.

“You’re going to regret this,” he muttered, stepping closer to Herobrine.

“Why?”

“Everyone regrets me, sooner or later,” he replied.

Herobrine huffed and grabbed Virgil’s elbow. It wasn’t a harsh grab, or a grab meant to hurt.

“I think I’ll be the decider of that,” he growled, and then the world blinked.

Roman and September

Kara returned, wearing what looked like this world’s take on sweatpants and a t-shirt, carrying a couple extra sets of clothes.

“Here you are,” she said, setting one change on September’s bed and one change on Roman’s bed. “There’s a bathroom down the hall if you’d prefer to change in private.” They both thanked her.

Roman smirked at September. “Ladies first,” they said, gesturing at the door.

“You expect me to fight you about that?” September asked, grabbing her hand-me-down clothes and leaving the room. The bathroom wasn’t difficult to find; all the offices and libraries were labeled, which left only one door it could be. How the church could get away with only having one single-stall restroom, who knew, but maybe there were more somewhere else.

The clothes were a little large on her, but it was better than sleeping in her jeans. They were soft and grey, similar to what Kara was wearing. She didn’t bother putting her socks or shoes back on, and as she walked, she could feel the smooth planks against the soles of her feet. They weren’t as rough or splinter-y as she was expecting.

“I know!” Kara was saying as September opened the door. “People are always saying that they’re so jealous of my hair and being naturally redheaded, but it’s just hair!”

“And don’t even get me started on what people are like when they find out I’m a twin!”

“Wait, you’re a twin? Me too! Identical or not?”

“Identical. Completely. Except my brother’s an asshole. And he dyed part of his hair silver, so now it’s easy to tell us apart.”

“My twin and I aren’t identical,” Kara replied. “He’s an asshole, too.”

“Okay!” September said, dropping her clothes on the floor next to her bed. “The bathroom’s open.”

“Thanks for letting me know,” Roman said, standing up and walking towards the door. “Sorry to cut our conversation short.”

“Don’t worry about it, we can continue when we get back,” Kara replied. Roman left, and she turned to face September, who was climbing into bed. “So, you and Roman are from the same place?”

“Yep,” September replied.

“Did you know each other very well before this?”

“Nope, they didn’t even know my name,” she said. “They didn’t even learn it until I introduced myself to Tollin.”

“Wait, what?” Kara asked, leaning in. “How?”

September shrugged. “I knew them, they didn’t know me, we didn’t have any sort of introduction moment,” she said. “It’s just how it happened to work out.”

“Still, though, that’s kind of thoughtless.”

“Yeah, it is,” September agreed, “but I’ve had to deal with a lot of thoughtlessness in my life. Theirs isn’t the worst.”

Kara frowned. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s not your fault. Can I ask you a question?”

“Yes, of course, go ahead.” Kara leaned in closer to September.

“Do you have to travel for your… Priest thing?”

“Well,” Kara tilted her head in thought. “To be official with the kingdom, yes, and unless I find some random god wandering around to bless me, I’ll have to wait until I’m in the capitol and doing the official things there and I’ll find one when I’m undergoing to final ritual.”

“Do you think I, at least, could travel with you? I just… It feels like. Staying in one spot doesn’t feel like the right thing to do.”

“I agree,” Roman said, and September and Kara looked up, eyes wide. How long had they been there? “I feel like I need to be moving, still.”

“Well…” Kara nibbled at her lip and then nodded. “Yes. You may. You’ll have to wait a bit, though, we’re waiting for a particular person to come through to trade, and Tollin will ask him if he’ll escort me then. I don’t think we’ll have to wait long, though, he generally comes through quite regularly.”

“We’ll wait,” Roman replied, September nodding her agreement.

“Okay,” Kara replied, nodding and looking down. “We should… probably get to sleep.”

Both of the traveling teenagers gave their agreement, and Kara flipped the lantern off.

Long after the light was out and Kara and Roman had fallen asleep, September was still awake, laying in the bed and staring at the ceiling. Some light filtered in through the window from the lanterns outside, and she had spent the time counting boards, trying to fall asleep.

When it felt like she had been awake until morning, she finally, at last, fell asleep.

Remy and Emile

Bill came back with food. Lots of food. Well, not really that much in the greater scheme of things, but after going all day without eating, the bread, apples, and mutton looked like a feast. Bill set down the two plates on the table in Remy’s room and then came back with water.

“Thank you, so much,” Emile said.

“Yeah,” Bill grunted, “don’t sweat it.” He left, leaving Remy and Emile alone in one room together. They ate without talking for the first few minutes, focused on being not hungry anymore.

Emile was the first to speak up.

“I think we need to talk about what’s happening.”

“What about it?” Remy asked.

Emile sighed. “Just… everything about it. How does it make you feel, being stuck here, no idea how we ended up here, with me?”

“Being stuck with you isn’t terrible,” Remy replied.

“That’s not… what I’m looking for. Okay, ignore the ‘with me’ part, focus on the stuck here, with no idea how we got here and no idea how it’s like back home.”

Well.

Emile sure knew how to bring down the mood of a room.

“Well, that’s the terrible part,” Remy replied. “My moms are probably worried sick about me. And Steve called that guy Evan, earlier, you know, and my uncle’s name is Evan, and Toni-mom’s probably already called him and Aunt Maria about me being missing, which mean’s Logan’s probably going to know because they’re not going to not tell him, and Teagan-mom’s probably called Uncle Ben and Aunt Kathy, so Chris and Taylor and Pen are going to know…” he trailed off.

“Yeah,” Emile nodded. “My… extended family’s not that close, but my parents are probably worried sick.”

“Well, we all live in the same town, and Logan and Chris and Taylor and I all go to the same school, and Pen’s going to be in the high school with us next year, so we’re all fairly close,” Remy explained. “Logan drives me to school in the mornings, you know? Since he’s the only one of us with a car. He even started picking up Chris and Taylor and Pen too, and he’s not even related to them.”

Emile smiled. “He sounds pretty cool. I suppose, when we get back—”

If we get back.”

When,” Emile corrected, gently but firmly, “we get back, I should put some more effort into getting to know him.”

They’re quiet for a minute before Emile speaks again.

“Well… We should probably get some sleep,” he said, standing up. “Sleep well, Remy.”

“Thanks. You too, Emile,” Remy replied, smiling as he watched Emile leave. The other boy closed Remy’s door behind him.

Remy sighed and got into the bed. He wished he had a change of clothes, but he would just have to make do.

Patton and Chris

Patton was walking away from Eridani’s… office. He was walking, when just earlier that day his knee and ankle had been injured to the point where he couldn’t put weight on it, and now he was walking without much pain.

Sure, it was a little stiff and sore still, but that was months of healing done over a matter of minutes, with some therapeutic stuff afterwards. It was… well, Eridani had been firm about it being a non-miracle, but honestly that was the closest he could get to describing it.

Yunuen and Chris were flanking Patton. Neither of them had spoken yet after that experience.

Eridani had been correct: there had been crying and moments where Patton would swear that he could feel Eridani’s emotions, and even once or twice where he thought he could feel Chris.

“I think I know where to take you,” Yunuen said once they were a way away from Eridani’s office. “They live just a couple trees over, it won’t take long to get there.”

The two boys followed Yunuen through the town. The first bridge they crossed over—“Since you’re new to Tvant, we call these sky-bridges”—was solid wood.

The second one was made of glass.

“Wow, I’m glad my mom’s not here,” Chris remarked as they crossed it.

“Is she afraid of heights?” Yunuen asked, and Chris nodded. She laughed. “Tvant life is not for everyone, but I find it perfect for those of us who call it home.”

“It’s beautiful,” Patton agreed, staring down through the glass at the forest below. The leaves closest to the town were illuminated in the lantern light. “It must be stunning to watch the sun rise and set from up here.”

“It is,” Yunuen replied, smiling at them. “Come on, we’re close.”

They were indeed close. Yunuen knocked on a door just a few dwellings away from the bridge, and a younger woman opened it.

“Yunuen,” she said. “I see you brought us a couple of stragglers.”

“Yes, I have,” she replied. “Would your family be willing to house them for tonight?”

The younger woman nodded and stepped aside to let Patton and Chris inside.

“Well,” Yunuen said. “Goodnight, boys.”

“Goodnight, Yunuen,” they both replied before stepping inside.

“My name is Holly,” the girl who answered the door said. There were two others inside: one woman, and one girl. Holly was tall, with short black hair, dark skin, and green eyes. The other two were in chairs in what looked like a living room.

The woman stood and walked over. “Good evening,” she said. “My name is Sorrel.” She had short iron-grey hair, fair skin, and the top of her head barely reached Holly’s shoulder. “Holly’s already introduced herself, and my other daughter over there is Ivy.” Ivy was a study of contrasts to Holly, with long blonde hair and pale skin. She waved as her mother introduced her.

The two boys introduced themselves.

“Are the two of you hungry?” Sorrel asked. “We still have some food leftover from dinner.”

Yes, please,” Patton replied. Sorrel nodded and led them to the kitchen.

“We only have one spare bed right now, I hope you two don’t mind,” she said as she pulled food out from the chest.

“Not at all,” Patton replied, glancing over at Chris, who shook his head.

“Good! So, what brings you to Tvant?” she asked as she set the food down on the table and sat down with the boys.

“We’re just traveling,” Chris said before Patton could reply.

Sorrel nodded. “That’s why most people end up in Tvant. Well, it’s a two-day trip through the jungle if you come through the Tvant path, or it’s a week long trip around. Although, some people…” Sorrel trailed off and shook her head. “Nevermind,” she said. “The two of you are probably quite tired. I’ll let you eat.”

“I don’t mind listening,” Patton replied.

Sorrel smiled and shook her head. “You don’t need to hear my complaining after you’ve had a long day of travel.” She stood. “I’ll show you the room once you’re done eating.” She left.

It only took a few more minutes after she left for the two boys to finish their food. Once they were done, they found Sorrel in the living room. Holly was still there, but Ivy had left.

“I’ll show them the room,” Holly said, standing before her mother could.

“Oh, thank you,” Sorrel said.

“This way. It’s downstairs,” Holly said, leading the two of them to a staircase in the corner. They followed her downstairs.

Glass floors seemed to be popular in Tvant. Of course, being a town built hundreds of feet off the jungle floor, it made sense. The view must be stunning in the daylight.

“So, you’re travelers, right?” Holly asked. “Where are you going?”

“We don’t really have a destination in mind,” Patton replied.

Holly sighed and looked at them through her lashes. “I know it’s dangerous these days, but would you mind travelling to Nevara with Ivy and I? I know it’s dangerous these days, but we haven’t heard from our sister in weeks, and our mother doesn’t want to let us go on our own.”

“I’m going to be honest with you, we weren’t exactly intending to travel,” Patton said. “We aren’t prepared at all.”

“Ivy and I are,” Holly replied. “And we can get you outfitted quickly. People are always ready to help here.”

Patton opened his mouth to reply, but Chris beat him to the punch.

“Can we give you our answer in the morning?” he asked.

Holly nodded. “Yes. Anyways, the room you’re staying in is the last one on the left, here.”

She opened the door for them and they stepped inside the room. It was obviously someone’s room, from the sketches pinned on the walls and the name plate that had been on the door, declaring this as Aspen’s room.

“Good night,” Holly said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

She closed the door behind her.

“At least it’s not a twin bed,” Chris said, walking over and sitting down on it.

“We’re going to travel with Holly and Ivy, right?” Patton asked, and Chris sighed.

“She said it was dangerous. I don’t know if she was referring to the travelling or the city, but… it is dangerous,” he said. “I just think we should think about it.”

“What is there to think about? We have no idea where we are, what we’re doing, and someone needs our help!”

We need help, Patton.”

“Well,” Patton shrugged. “Who knows! Maybe we’ll find it on the way. Or maybe they’ll help us. What are our other options?”

Chris bit his lip and looked away. “I… don’t know. It’s just… she said it was dangerous.”

“Yeah,” Patton agreed, nodding.

“And… I just wanna go home, Patton,” Chris finished, looking up at him. “I don’t want to be here. And if it’s going to be dangerous, it might make it so that I won’t… make it home, you know?”

Patton sighed and sat down next to Chris. “I know. I want to go home, too. But we’re stuck here, and Holly and Ivy need our help. And… I can’t help but hope that the way home may be somewhere on the road.”

“You… heard Sorrel. A lot of people come through Tvant. Maybe someone coming through would know how to help.”

“Maybe! But I couldn’t stand it if we had the option to help, and we didn’t.”

Chris looked away. “I’m not gonna change your mind, am I.”

“…No.”

Chris stood up and walked over to the lantern. “Then we should get some sleep.” He flipped the switch and then walked back to the bed and laid down. “After all, we have who knows how long of a trip ahead of us.”

Logan and October

This was the longest night of Logan’s life. He could compare it to the time he was waiting to catch Santa when he was a kid, but expectation of excitement and expectation of disembowelment were two different feelings entirely, as he was learning.

Somewhere above him, somewhere out in the endless desert, a zombie growled. It seemed to set off a chain reaction, as several more growled back. Perhaps it was communication? Their way of hunting?

He’d never given so much thought to zombies before.

Perhaps October had? He looked down at her, curled up on the stone, her long red hair falling over her face and spread out over the ground. There was barely enough light in the cave for him to see by, just enough that her hair looked dark like blood.

Hopefully that interpretation wasn’t prophetic.

Hopefully they’d find something, food, water, people, something before they both died out here.

Logan sighed, and looked back up at the cave mouth. He had to be ready to wake her up and run if anything came down, although who knew how much good that would do.

Remus and Todd

She woke, sudden and sharp. For a moment, she couldn’t tell where she was. Who was in her room? Who was curled up against her?

Who was growling?

Wait, growling?

Her eyes shot open, and about twenty feet away, illuminated by the half moon above them, a zombie was walking towards them. It was dripping wet.

“Remus!” She yelled, scrambling to her feet. “Remus, wake up!”

He groaned and rolled over. “Shuddup Roman.”

“Oh, real useful,” she muttered. There was nothing on the island that could work as a weapon against this creature.

Well, nothing but her bare fists and her fury.

“Hey dumbass,” she said, jogging away from where Remus was stirring. “Over here!”

The zombie gurgled, looked at her, and started following her.

“That’s right, dunderhead, come on,” she said, raising her fists.

As soon as it was in range, she struck. Her fist made contact with its cheek, and she danced back.

The fist didn’t seem to faze it much. It just shook its head and kept coming.

“Todd? What the fuck?”

“You couldn’t have woken up sooner?” she snapped back as she kicked the zombie in the stomach and then punched it in the throat. “It’s not like I’m fighting a zombie off while your lazy ass sleeps or anything!”

Remus came scrambling over and kicked the zombie’s ankle.

“Grab it! Get it on the ground!” Todd ordered.

“Grab the zombie?”

“Yes!”

Somehow, Remus did it. He grabbed the zombie’s shirt and threw it to the ground, despite the fact that it was half a foot taller than him. He laid across it, using his weight to pin it down as it writhed and struggled, grabbing him, its nails leaving gouges on any bare skin it could get purchase on.

Todd struck fast and hard, kicking it in the head with her full strength, once, twice, thrice, again and again, until it finally stopped struggling.

Remus rolled off the corpse with a groan. Luckily, he had been wearing a sweatshirt, so his arms were safe, but she could see blood welling up in four streaks across his face.

“Well, if we’re hungry,” he said, pointing to the corpse, and Todd swore she just threw up a little.

“We are not eating zombie,” she said. “Let’s just… roll it to the other end of the island and hope nothing else comes after us.”

The two of them did so, and working together, moved it away from their sleeping area.

“I don’t know about you, but I am not going to be able to go back to sleep after that,” Remus said, stretching his arms above his head. The blood from the gashes had started dripping down his face, and Todd frowned at him.

“We need to get those looked at.”

“Too bad we have jack shit!”

“There’s seawater. Salt’s a disinfectant, right?”

“Oh, no, fuck no, I’m not putting seawater in my wounds, fuck you and fuck your whole family for even suggesting that.”

Virgil

He stumbled coming out of the teleport, but Herobrine’s hand on his elbow steadied him. Balance reattained, he looked up and around the area they were in.

True to Herobrine’s word, they were in a cave. The only light source was the redstone torches placed up on the walls. Maybe his eyes were sensitive to the light?

There was one tunnel that led off, deeper into the ground, and one smaller tunnel that led to what was probably a bedroom.

“I only have one room, but I don’t need to sleep often, so it’s all yours for now,” Herobrine said. “But, before you do, you need to eat. I know humans need to eat fairly often, and you look like you haven’t eaten well for months.”

Was it that obvious? Apparently, it was. Herobrine handed him a slice of bread and flask of water, which Virgil took.

“Eat slowly or you’ll make yourself sick.”

“I know that,” Virgil snapped, and then looked away. “Uh. Thanks, though.”

“No problem,” Herobrine replied, moving to sit down on a seat that was inset into the wall and covered in what looked like red carpet. Virgil took a bite of the bread. “So. You probably have questions. And I don’t think you’ve introduced yourself yet.”

“They can wait. And, uh, my name is Virgil.”

Herobrine shrugged. “If you’d prefer. It’s nice to meet you, Virgil.”

Virgil finished eating the bread while Herobrine lounged on the seat. As he finished, Herobrine spoke up.

“There’s more food in that chest. Help yourself.”

The intensity of his gaze upon Virgil was uncomfortable, and he knew exactly what the other was waiting for.

Two types of anxiety warred in his head, and unfortunately, or fortunately, the social pressure won out, and he reached into the chest and pulled out an apple. He worked at it slowly, neither one of them speaking until he finished his food.

“Get some sleep,” Herobrine said. “We’ll figure things out in the morning.”

Virgil nodded and slunk off into the room. It had an actual bed in it (what was he expecting? A pile of bones?) with several blankets on it. He was thankful for that: the cave was cold.

He stood there for a moment, contemplating it, before slipping into it and curling up.

Miracle of miracles, maybe he was just tired enough, but he went to sleep without his brain throwing all manner of anxieties and philosophical questions at him.

Whatever it was, he was glad for it.

Chapter Text

Roman and September

Kara woke them up with the sunrise.

“Come on! Lots to do,” she said. “You can wear your clothes from yesterday, or you can find some clothes in the church’s community closet. Be ready for breakfast in half an hour!” she said before hurrying out the door.

From the next be over, September was already up and moving around as Roman was just starting to sit up.

“I’m not ready to be awake,” they said. September laughed.

“Aw, you not get enough beauty sleep?” she asked.

They pouted. “Don’t tell me you did.”

“I got plenty,” September replied. “She didn’t actually tell us where the closet was.”

“No, she didn’t,” Roman said, stretching their arms above their head.

September picked her clothes up from where she had dropped them. “I’ll see you for breakfast, slowpoke.”

With that, she left the room, and Roman finished getting out of bed. They took ten minutes to run through their morning stretch routine before picking up their clothes from the day before and just changing in the room. September had come back in the middle of his stretches to toss her night clothes back on the bed before leaving again.

All three of the other church residents were in the fellowship hall, eating at one end of one of the long tables. There was a spot set up for them next to September, and they sat down and filled their plate with eggs and fruit.

“Good morning, Roman!” Tollin greeted. Roman returned the greeting and began eating.

“So, Kara tells me the two of you will be traveling with her when she leaves for her testing,” he said, and Roman nodded.

“Yes, we are,” they replied.

“That’s good,” Tollin said, “but I feel like she must have left some important information out.”

“What… sort of information?” September asked, setting her fork down and leaning in.

“The capitol is a dangerous place these days,” Tollin said, leveling a serious gaze at Roman and September. “There are people who come through Cliffside, heading north for Frostpointe or Kozwell. Their stories are all similar: an expanding military, exorbitant taxes, and an abuse of power. The capitol isn’t a safe place anymore, and these people are fleeing that.”

Roman looked at September. She glanced at Kara first before looking at them.

“What’s happening?” Roman asked after a few moments. “I mean, why now?”

“Ten years ago, the king and queen were both assassinated. Eight years ago, the crown princess vanished,” Tollin replied. “And the regent has, slowly, been expanding his power.”

“I understand if this means you don’t want to go with me anymore,” Kara butted in, “but there’s a reason we’re asking Steve. He and his family are well-regarded, even in the capitol.”

“Oh, no, I’m still going, at least,” September said. She jerked her thumb at Roman. “Don’t know about this one, but I am.”

“You aren’t getting rid of me that easily!” Roman protested. “I already said I would go with her, and I am not about to make a liar of myself!”

Kara laughed and grinned at first September and then Roman. “Thank you. I’m glad you’re sticking with me.”

“Well.” Tollin cleared his throat. “If you’re going to be traveling with Kara, there’s some things that need to be done first. You’re going to be very busy until you leave, I’m afraid.”

“First things first,” Kara’s grin turned wild, “do either of you ride?”

“Ride what?” September asked.

“Horses.”

Remy and Emile

Emile knocked on Remy’s door. He waited, and then knocked again, receiving no reply again. Either Remy was still asleep, or he was already upstairs, so Emile headed up.

Bill was absent, but there was a note in rough handwriting taped to the bar.

Remy and Emile,

Steve came by looking for you but I told him not to wake you. He said he’d be at Darren’s smithy.

Emile set it back down on the bar and then went back downstairs and banged on Remy’s door with more insistence.

It took a while, but eventually, a bleary-eyed Remy opened it.

“What?” he asked.

“It’s morning,” Emile replied. “Steve’s waiting for us.”

“Wait, what?” Remy asked, blinking. “Steve? Minecraft Steve?”

“I’m sure there’s plenty of Steve’s in this world. Not every Steve we meet can be Minecraft Steve.”

“Oh,” Remy replied, rubbing at his eyes. “Well. Let’s go.”

They climbed upstairs and then left the bar, heading for the center of the village. The smithy wasn’t hard to find. It was right next to the river, in fact, the back end of the building where the actual smithing happened open up to the river.

Remy entered first, followed closely by Emile. Steve was in the armory part of the smithy, and he jumped up with a smile when he saw them.

“There you are! I was wondering if you were going to sleep all morning,” he said.

“Remy was well on his way to doing just that,” Emile replied.

“Hey!”

“Anyways, I get the feeling that the two of you… weren’t prepared for travel when you set out.”

“That’s a very polite way of putting it,” Emile replied, eyeing Remy’s shorts and tanktop.

“Well, I was thinking, if, uh, if the two of you approved of the idea, you could help me out with things and we could help… prepare you for whatever the rest of your trip ends up being,” Steve said, tapping his legs with his fingers and looking at the floor as he spoke. It was rather endearing on someone as large as him, in Emile’s opinion.

“I could… really use different clothes,” Remy said, looking down at his legs. “I’m in.”

“Of course,” Emile said. “I appreciate the offer very much.”

Steve clapped once. “Okay! I… may have made some assumptions. I already brought some of my younger brother’s clothes that should fit you. You can use the room over there, the second door,” he pointed, “to change if you want.”

“Thanks,” Remy said, taking the offered clothes and going to change first, leaving Emile and Steve alone in the armory.

“So, what do you do?” Emile asked.

“I’m a miner,” Steve replied. “I go out, find caves to go in, mine ores out from them, come back. You know how it is.”

“Not really, but it sounds like I will,” Emile replied, smiling up at Steve.

Remy came back out wearing a loose green shirt and a pair of jeans that had a hole in the left knee. They were a little large and held up with a plain belt. At least the white Vans didn’t look too out of place, although Steve might think they did.

“Sorry,” Steve said, blushing. “Mom hasn’t gotten around to mending the hole.”

“It’s not a problem,” Remy replied, smiling at Steve. “Your turn, Emile.”

Emile headed back with his own bundle of clothes. They ended up being a pair of jeans that were several inches too long and a yellow shirt. He belted the jeans and left the room.

“Very stylish!” Remy said, smirking at him. He stuck his tongue out at the other boy.

“Where should we leave our clothes?” he asked, and Steve looked around for a moment.

“Oh, uh, let me ask Darren if you can leave them here,” he said, heading towards the iron door at the back of the room and knocking on it.

He had to knock several times, but eventually a man exited the smithy. He looked like Steve: similar light brown skin, dark hair, and build, although the other was half a foot shorter and had dark eyes.

“Oh, are these those travelers you were talking about?” were the first words out of the man’s mouth. Steve blushed again and shifted his weight.

“Yes. Remy, Emile, this is my brother, Darren. Darren, these are Remy and Emile.” Darren nodded at them, while Remy and Emile waved. “I was wondering if we could leave some things here while we’re out for the day?”

“Yeah, sure. That’ll at least give you an excuse to come see me when you get back,” Darren said, glaring at his younger brother.

“Hey! I haven’t not come to see you when I get back in weeks,” Steve protested, and Darren rolled his eyes.

“Whatever. Yes, you can leave your stuff here. Now get going, you’re burning daylight.”

Steve stashed Remy and Emile’s clothing for them.

“Oh, and these are for you two to carry,” he said, pointing to a couple of packs that were sitting next to his pack. They were mostly empty, but there were a few unlit torches attached to them, and when they looked inside them, there were flint and steels and some wrapped items.

“The wrapped items are for lunch and dinner,” Steve said. “I would’ve gotten you swords and picks, too, but there’s a limit to my family’s generosity, it seems.” He shrugged.

All three of them put their packs on and exited the smithy, heading out the same direction they had come into the village in.

It was much prettier in the daylight, especially once they were cresting the ridge that divided the village in two. They could look down on both halves of the village and see people going about their day, some of them farming the sheep, some of them sewing together in the meeting ground, some of them using the stone to build a new building of some sort.

“I know Frothwater’s a pretty village, but Darren’s right! We’ve already wasted enough daylight!” Steve called, and the three of them headed off, through the mountains again.

Patton and Chris

Holly was doing her best to look like she hadn’t been waiting outside their door when they opened it.

“So?” she asked. Chris could see how hard she was trying to keep the hope off her expression, and how much she was failing. “What’s your decision?”

“We’ll travel with you!” Patton replied, smiling at her. She slumped in relief, smiling back at him.

“Oh, thank you,” she said. “Come—we need to have breakfast, and then Ivy and I will help you get outfitted for the journey.”

“What about your mom?” Chris asked as she was turning to head upstairs.

“She knows we’ve been wanting to make this trip,” Holly replied, looking over her shoulder at him. “She won’t be surprised. Disappointed, yes, but not surprised.”

Honestly, Chris felt uncomfortable just… leaving with the woman’s daughters like that, but he didn’t voice that, and instead followed her and Patton upstairs.

Ivy was sitting at the table, food out, presumably waiting for them. Her nose was buried in a thick book.

“They said yes,” Holly said, and Ivy looked up.

“That’s good,” she said. “Will we leave today or tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow,” Holly replied. “We need to outfit them today, and I don’t want to still be in the jungle before nightfall.”

“There are hidey-holes along the path, and even off the path,” Ivy countered. “Ira’s given me a map that has them marked.”

Holly sighed. “Okay, okay, fine, we’ll leave as soon as they’re ready, as long as that’s alright with them,” she said.

Patton shrugged. “It’s fine with me. Chris?”

Chris nodded.

With that decided, Ivy hopped to her feet.

“Let’s go,” she said, heading for the door.

“Hold up! They haven’t even had breakfast yet!” Holly called. She sat down and both boys followed suit, while Ivy groaned and trudged back to the table.

The boys and Holly kept up light conversation, while Ivy continued to read her book. Once they had eaten all their breakfast, Holly stood.

“Our first stop will be at Ambra’s to get the two of you more clothes,” she said, glancing them over. “After a few days on the road, you’ll be wanting to burn your socks.”

“I can believe it,” Chris replied, his thoughts turning towards the socks he had been wearing for somewhere around thirty-six hours by now, if his memory and math were serving him right.

“Come on, let’s go,” Ivy said, putting a marker in her book and setting it on the table. She stood up while Holly rolled her eyes, and the two boys followed the two girls out into the town.

Logan and October

When he woke her, October regained awareness slowly.

“Go ‘way, Harv,” she rasped, before her eyes fully opened and she registered that Logan wasn’t Harv, whoever that was. He could almost watch the memories come flooding back as she closed her eyes again and groaned, letting her head drop to the stone.

“Good morning, October,” he said, and she groaned again before hauling herself to her feet.

“We need to get moving,” she said. “While it’s still cool. And we can’t walk through the afternoon today like we did yesterday, either, unless we can see water up ahead, for sure.”

Logan nodded. He wasn’t keen on walking through the afternoon again, even if they couldn’t travel at night because of the mobs.

The two of them left their cave, their little hole-in-the-ground, and it immediately felt ten degrees hotter even though the sun had just barely risen. All the mobs had mostly gone into hiding, although he could see a few spiders still hanging around before it got too hot out and they retreated underground again.

If only Logan and October could follow them underground, out of the sun, somewhere there might be water…

They didn’t speak much as they continued hiking west, the sun at their backs.

Remus and Todd

“Remus! Wake your ass up!”

Well, that certainly wasn’t how he was used to being woken up. Roman normally just started playing musicals at full volume, or if Idonea was home, she’d be strangely gentle about it…

“Come on, fucknugget!”

Fucknugget?” he asked, sitting up and blinking up at Todd through his bangs. She rolled her eyes.

“Come on, I missed it last night, but there’s an apple tree over on the mainland,” she said.

“Apples?” he said, and then he launched to his feet and stumbled as his vision greyed out. He felt Todd’s hands on his upper arms as he lost his balance, keeping him upright until his sight came back and he felt stable again.

“You act like you’re never been dehydrated,” she said.

“Never this bad,” he replied, and she nodded.

“The apples will be juicy.”

“Juicy! Like that guy’s head after—”

She put her finger on his lips, shutting him up.

“Nu-uh. I don’t want that imagery,” she said. She turned and walked to the shore of the island and stepped into the water. “Are you coming?”

“Yes!” he ran over and leaped into the water, splashing her. The water was cool, and if it hadn’t been seawater and probably filled with fish pee, he would’ve drunk it right there.

Barefooted still after exiting the water, the two teenagers walked over to Todd’s apple tree. The branches were just barely within arm’s reach and they each plucked a couple apples off. Todd polished hers off on her shirt while Remus bit right into his without even checking them over.

“You didn’t even look?” Todd asked, staring skeptically at him.

“For what?”

“Worms?” Todd replied.

“Wait, apples can actually have worms? I thought that was just like… cartoons,” he replied, staring at the apple he had just taken a bite from.

“I can’t tell if you’re incredibly sheltered or just irredeemably stupid,” Todd said, voice flat as she walked over and pulled the apple from his hand and looked it over. “See, look. On the bottom where the blossom is. There’s no holes in it, it’s not gunky, so there’s probably no worm.”

Remus turned his other apple over and offered it to Todd to look at.

“See the gunk and hole and stuff on this one? It’s wormy,” she said, taking it out of his hand and throwing away towards the ocean while also handing back the one he had bitten out of. “If we had knives, we could’ve cut the wormy bits out, but. Well. We don’t.”

Remus took a bite of his apple and picked another one from the tree, making sure to carefully inspect it for evidence of worm. Finding none, he bit into that one as well.

Todd finished hers and then picked a couple more off the tree, sticking them in her hoodie pocket. Remus had no large pocket to hold apples in, so he just carried them in his hands back over to where their shoes were (thankfully) still at.

Shoes on, the two of them, still damp from their swim, continued heading north up the coastline as clouds gathered. At least they wouldn’t starve, not right away.

Virgil

He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting from Herobrine, but being woken up at the crack of dawn and teleported out to some meadow in the middle of nowhere to practice sword fighting wasn’t it.

“Wait, why are we doing this?” he asked as he fumbled catching the wooden sword Herobrine tossed at him, eventually pinning the sword to his chest with his uninjured hand.

“Bored humans get destructive. And also, if you’re going to be of any help to me while we’re figuring out how to get you back to your home, you’ll need to be able to defend yourself. What’s your dominant hand?”

“Uh, my left?”

“Interesting. Mine as well. Why are you holding it in your right, then?”

Virgil shifted his weight back and forth, staring at his feet.

“It may… be broken?”

Herobrine sighed. “Let me guess, it’s been broken since sometime yesterday before I met you and you somehow neglected to mention it. When did you hurt it?”

“…Yesterday morning,” he muttered, and Herobrine sighed again, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers.

“The best I can do for now is splint it for you. I guess you’ll be starting right-handed, then. Don’t go anywhere.” With that, Herobrine teleported away.

“Where would I go?” he yelled to the sky, just for the hell of it.

Herobrine returned within moments, a strip of cloth and some bark in his hand.

“Hand,” he said, and Virgil watched him for a moment before holding his injured hand out. Virgil winced as Herobrine first wrapped the end of the cloth around his hand, added the bark to stabilize, and then finished wrapping it. “This is the best I can do for now,” he said as he pinned it.

“Thanks,” Virgil said, taking his hand back and tucking it next to his body, up against his ribcage.

“So. Sword fighting. Do you have any experience with any kind of fighting?”

“Uh, yeah?” Virgil drew the word out, eyeing Herobrine. The man made a circular motion with his hands, asking him to elaborate. “Nothing… formal, but I know how to dodge and throw a punch.”

“Well, as long as you have a solid stance and good reflexes, I can work with that. We’ll start with the blocks: low, high…”

Herobrine walked him through the blocks, showing him where to put the sword for each one, before starting to drill him on them, almost excruciatingly slow at first.

“Why are you going so easy on me?” Virgil snapped after fifteen minutes or so, letting his sword hand drop. “Is it because I’m just a human?”

“No,” Herobrine snapped back. “I don’t know about where you come from, but this world is dangerous. You need to know these, and you need to be able to do them without thinking about it. You’re also at a disadvantage, since you’re trying to learn these with your weak-side hand. It has nothing to do with your being human. That is why we will be drilling these.”

Virgil bit his lip and nodded, staring at the ground. If only he could carry a sword in his own life, too.

“Alright,” he said, raising his sword again. And so, they resumed drilling.

Roman and September

The mare’s name was Dusty. She was, according Kara’s friend Ori, a dun. She was also the mare September was to learn how to ride on.

“I haven’t gotten around to teaching her anything fancy, but she can do everything you need for the trail,” Ori had said as they led Dusty over. “Hold your hand out, so she can sniff you. That’s how I like saying hi to them, at least.”

September did as she was told, and the mare put her nose against September’s hand and inhaled and exhaled a few times before seemingly getting bored with it.

“Alright,” Ori said. “I’m going to clip her into the cross-ties here and show the two of you how to saddle a horse. Before we begin, what’s the most dangerous part of a horse?”

“The rear end?” Roman muttered, and September covered her mouth to keep from laughing.

“No,” Ori said, pointing at Roman. “The feet. Getting kicked in the head is a quick way to die. Always be careful of their feet, and always be careful when going around behind a horse. So. First thing in saddling is brushing them, making sure there’s nothing that’ll be up under the pad or the girth that will irritate them…”

Ori walked them through saddling and putting the bridle on, and then led Dusty out to the arena so that September could mount her and start riding.

It took a couple tries, but eventually, September was up on Dusty.

“Okay, first things first, I need to shorten your stirrups so get your leg out. You need to get your knee out of the way, too, don’t be afraid to lean to the side, you’re not going to knock her over.”

Ori struggled with the stirrups for a bit before they were at a better length for September, and then they stepped back.

“Alright,” they said. “The balls of your feet should be in the stirrups, and you need to shove your heels down, like you’re going to grow roots from them. Use your heels to ground yourself, and make sure to sit on your pockets. Now, press your legs to her sides and kiss to walk forward.”

September did so, and Dusty began walking forward.

“You need to use both your reins and your legs to steer her. Press with your right leg and put the right rein on her neck to go left, vice versa if you want to go right. And for Saraika’s sake, don’t yank on her face!”

Roman got set up with another dun—this time a red dun gelding—named Plum, while Kara hopped on the sorrel gelding named Cody who was, according to Ori, practically hers.

The three of them rolled around the arena for a bit, the two green riders slowly getting the hang of riding. Ori saddled their own mount up eventually, a blood bay gelding named Zeke.

“No one but Ori—or their assistant—are allowed to ride Zeke yet,” Kara said, slowing Cody down to walk alongside September and Roman. “He’s only three, after all, he still has his baby moments.”

They got to witness one of those baby moments, too, when someone started opening the gate and Zeke decided that gates were terrifying, now, he was going to jump sideways.

“And that’s why green riders don’t ride green horses,” Kara said. “Or babies. But don’t worry, I haven’t seen Dusty really spook at anything… ever, and Plum’s almost as solid as she is.”

Eventually, though, they had to get off. There was more to be done with their day than just riding horses (sadly). They un-tacked and groomed and put the horses away before walking with Kara back to the church.

“Ah! There you are! Perfect timing,” Tollin said as the three of them entered his office. “I have some paperwork that needs to be sent. It’s all addressed to go, just drop it off at the post office. I also have a shipment of potions from Emylie, for Taria, so if you could take them to her, that would be lovely.” He held out a handful of envelopes which, as far as September could tell, all had wax seals on them.

“Of course,” Kara said, taking the envelops. “Could one of you grab the crate there?” she asked, pointing at a crate in the corner.

“Yeah,” September said, crouching down and picking it up. Once she had it balanced on her hip, she turned to Kara, who smiled.

“Alright! Let’s go get this done!”

Remy and Emile

It felt like they had walked for half a day by the time they reached the cave Steve said he had been working on. Maybe they had, who knew, but no wonder Steve kept coming back late if this was how far he walked to even get to his mining spot.

“Are you not allowed out overnight?” Remy asked as the three of them picked their way down through the torch light to where Steve said he had left off.

“No, not yet,” he replied.

“Oh,” Remy said. “Why?”

Steve paused and shrugged. “Overprotective parents? A whole overprotective village?” He continued walking. “Those might have something to do with it.”

“That sucks. I don’t know what I’d do if I had a whole village keeping an eye on me,” Remy said, and Emile laughed.

“From what you’re been telling me, it sounds like you do, with how close your aunts and uncles all are,” he said, and Remy snorted.

“Yeah, but they don’t count as a whole village. I’m sure Frothwater has more than just three families.”

“It does,” Steve confirmed, and Remy looked at Emile.

“There, you see? I do not have a whole village looking after me.”

“Not yet,” Steve corrected. “Stick around Frothwater long and you might just end up with one.”

Remy groaned. “Nooo, I don’t need more overprotective parents!”

“Learn how to live with it,” Emile replied, in a ‘then perish’ sort of voice.

“Anyways,” Steve interjected, “we’re almost to the end of where I got last time. Emile, you hold the torch,” he passed the torch to Emile, “and Remy, here’s a sword. Just… chop any mobs that we find, if I’m busy mining.” He pulled the iron sword out of his belt and passed it to Remy, who held it in both hands. It was heavy, heavier than he was expecting. And Steve… somehow pulled a whole pickaxe out of his bag? What?

“How did you fit that in there?” he asked, gaze jumping between the pickaxe and the bag.

“It’s an enchanted pack,” Steve replied. “Part of why I can mine alone. I don’t think I’ve filled it on a day trip yet.”

“Where do you even get an enchanted pack?” Remy asked.

Steve stopped in front of a vein of coal ore.

“You trade for it,” he said. “Some apprentice of some enchanter in Swoop was in desperate need of redstone, so they traded me this for my last stack of it.” With that, Steve started swinging the pick at the ore.

Remy and Emile kept their eyes peeled as Steve worked on the vein, chipping away at the stone and coal.

The first mob approached when Steve was nearing the end of the vein. They heard its footsteps first, and then its growl.

“Where is it?” Remy hissed, and Emile shrugged.

“It could be in a different part of the cave,” Steve suggested.

Remy glanced at Emile, who looked like all the blood had drained from his face. The other boy pointed, silently, and Remy turned, sword raised.

God, the zombie was hideous. Were those maggots in its eye socket? And Remy was the one with the sword, who had to kill it, despite having no sword skills at all. His hands were shaking so bad that the sword was shaking in front of him, no matter how he tried to brace himself.

“Oh, that’s disgusting,” he muttered. “Here goes nothing.”

He lunged at the zombie and stabbed the sword into its stomach. It made an ‘ouch’ noise.

“Oh, no, oh, that’s terrible, this is disgusting,” he said as the zombie struggled on his sword, hands reaching for his wrists.

Steve’s diamond pick seemed to bury itself in the zombie’s skull.

“Always go for the head, with zombies,” he said, pulling his pick out. He was apparently feeling nice, because he pulled the sword out, too, the blade coming out with a squelch. “Don’t forget to clean the blade off. I prefer wiping them down on the mob’s shirt, myself.”

“Oh, this is nasty,” Remy muttered as he did just that.

“Now, come on, I need to find something more valuable than coal here.” With that, the three of them took off down the tunnel, leaving the zombie’s body behind them.

Patton and Chris

The stop at Ambra’s hadn’t taken long, mostly just long enough for the boys to acquire a couple changes of clothes (and plenty of undergarments) and they were heading to the supplies store.

“We don’t actually have a blacksmith in Tvant,” Holly said. “We have to import all our tools. That’s why Aspen went to Nevara, actually, is because she wanted to learn how to smith and come back and set up a smithy somehow.”

“What that means is the two of you might be stuck with wooden swords,” Ivy said, and Holly glared at her before softening and turning back to the boys.

“I’m sure if that happens, we could find somewhere on the road to pick you up some better tools,” she said.

“Yeah, we could always stop over in Chasm,” Ivy said, and Patton could see Holly’s full-body shudder. “That’s what I thought.”

“Why’s Chasm so awful?” Patton asked, tilting his head.

“Nevara’s awful because of the people, Chasm is awful because it’s built right into a ravine and it has, I kid you not, the worst mob problem of anywhere in the south. Basically every night they get raided,” Ivy explained. “Every house has an iron door, they have to lock the livestock away…” she shrugged.

“So, it’s incredibly dangerous,” Chris summed up.

“That’s putting it lightly,” Ivy said.

“Well, we’re here,” Holly said, stopping in front of a door. “Let’s hope they have something other than just wood.”

She pulled the door open and walked in.

“Holly!” the woman behind the counter said, waving at the group as she walked in. “And Ivy! Who are your friends?”

“These are Patton and Chris,” Holly said, gesturing to each boy. “They’re going to accompany us to Nevara.”

The woman frowned. “And your mother approves?”

“We’re not giving her a choice,” Ivy said, tossing her hair back behind her shoulder. Patton shrugged awkwardly underneath the woman’s stare.

“And I suppose you won’t want word to reach her until you’re gone,” the woman finally said, her gaze landing on Holly and Ivy.

Holly shifted her weight back and forth. “…Ideally?” she said. “We’re going to leave a note…”

“You are doing a cruel thing to your mother,” the woman said. “The word of an old shopkeeper might not mean much to you, especially not to you stranger boys, but I would at least hug her good-bye before you go. Don’t just vanish.”

“She would just try and stop us,” Ivy snapped.

“And can you blame her?” the shopkeeper asked. “Boys, can you?”

“No,” Chris replied almost immediately. “I don’t.”

After a couple moments, “no, I can’t,” Patton replied.

The woman sighed. “Well, at least the boys you chose to take with you aren’t complete heartless morons, I’ll give you that. My name is Irini the Avenger. You may refer to me as Irini, if you wish.”

“We call her the Avenger because, when she was younger, before she came to Tvant, she sought out abusive husbands and fathers, often those who had killed their wives or partners or children, and killed them,” Ivy informed them, her voice pitched like she was reading a passage from a book.

“They don’t call me the Avenger outside of Tvant,” Irini said, baring her teeth in a facsimile of a smile. Not her front teeth, but the two next to them and the eyeteeth, had been filed into points. “There they just call me murderer.”

“Oh,” Patton said, his voice small. “That’s nice.”

“Anyways,” Holly interjected, “we were wondering what tools you had available? If there was anything iron or stone?”

“Unfortunately, Kanady has yet to return with some new stock,” Irini replied. “You’re stuck with wood.”

“Are you just saying that because you’re unhappy with us?”

“Perhaps.” Irini shrugged. “Or I might be telling the truth. Who knows? What are you wanting?”

“Just swords right now, two of them,” Holly replied. “And if you have any extra supplies you could spare?”

Irini leaned over the counter, squinting at Holly. “Are you asking for handouts?” The two of them stood there for a moment, staring each other down, before Irini straightened back up and laughed. “I suppose I could spare some! Help make sure a couple of my girls don’t starve on the road. You and Ivy already have packs, yes? So I’ll make up some packs for your boys. You still remember how to run the counter, right, Holly?”

“Yes,” Holly replied.

“Keep an eye on it for me, then!” Irini ordered, stepping into the back.

They kept an eye on the store for half an hour or so. A couple women came in, mostly just looking for some extra leather for a project they were working on.

Irini came back out of the back room carrying two packs. Each one had a sword and some torches strapped to it, and Holly squinted at them.

“Those aren’t wooden swords,” she said, and Irini cackled.

“I changed my mind,” she said. “I always keep a stash of irons in the back, just in case.”

“I know,” Holly replied, smiling. “Thank you, Irini.”

“Of course.” She turned to face Patton and Chris. “You two boys keep an eye on these two. They’re prone to rash courses of action now and again. Help try and cool their heads, at least a little.”

“Yes ma’am,” Chris replied, and Irini cackled again.

“Oh, he ma’amed me, I like this one!” she said. “I’ll have to change the sign!”

She pointed off to the side, and Patton saw the sign. In bright red letters it read: NO BOYS ALLOWED.

“You say that about every boy or man you like,” Holly replied. “You haven’t kicked a man out yet.”

“Oh, stop giving away all my secrets, you,” Irini said, sticking her tongue out at Holly. “Now get going. I’m sure you have other things you need to do before you leave.”

“Thank you, Irini,” Holly said as they turned to leave. She smiled at the old woman. “It means a lot.”

“Of course,” Irini replied. “Take care of yourself out there. I’ll still need another assistant when you get back.”

“Of course,” Holly replied. “I’ll make sure we all make it back in one piece, more or less.”

Logan and October

The morning warmed as they walked. October led the way across the shifting sands, her hand up at her forehead, shading her eyes against the glare of the sun. By this point, it felt like she would never get the sand out of her clothes, her shoes, her hair. Of course, that would mean she never left the desert, never made it home, never made it to somewhere without sand.

And that was unacceptable.

She couldn’t not make it out of the desert. She had to make it through it, make sure Logan made it through it. They both had families they needed to make it home to.

Not that she knew anything much about his family, beyond the basics. He had a mom and a dad and a whole bunch of cousins and he came from a family full of teachers.

She wanted to ask him more about his family, anything to break the endless quiet of the wind and the crunch of sand underneath their feet.

Was the sand here made of quartz? What had been here, once, or had it always been desert? Did geology work the same here as it did back home? Did this world have plate tectonics? She had questions and no way to answer them.

What about volcanoes? Did this world have volcanoes?

Logan would… probably appreciate her questions, honestly, given what little she knew about him. But it was too hot and too dry and they were too tired to enjoy conversation.

So they kept walking, not speaking, continuing on through the desert as the sun continued to climb in the sky.

Remus and Todd

Clouds gathered throughout the morning, heavy and dark with rain as the wind rolling off the sea started picking up.

“Is a hurricane coming? Are there gonna be tidal waves? Does Minecraft even get tidal waves? What about the trees? Can the trees fall over?”

And Remus had been asking a litany of questions for almost fifteen minutes.

“For the last time, I know just as much as you do! Let’s just… find somewhere out of the wind and eat our lunch,” Todd said.

“I guess we’ll just find out, then,” Remus said, shrugging and taking a bite of one of his apples. “And we can eat while we walk.”

“You are disgusting,” Todd said, also taking a bite of one of her apples. “And fine. Whatever. It’s not like we’ve been walking all morning or anything.”

“We have been, though? Like, my legs are exhausted.”

Todd sighed. “Whatever.”

The two of them ate their apples and threw the cores away as they walked. They’d moved off the beach but kept the ocean in sight as they went. They’d had to cross rivers, but still hadn’t drunk anything (although Remus had really, honestly tried his best to take a nice big slurp of unfiltered, unboiled river water before Todd had tackled him and soaked them both).

They steadily moved north, even as the storm rolled in and it started to rain.

“Great! Now we’re never going to dry off!” Remus groaned, looking up at the clouds. “At least we can drink this water.”

“Go ahead, you’ll probably be more frustrated than sated,” Todd muttered.

He did indeed try, walking along with his mouth open, trying to catch the rain, which was increasing in intensity until the two of them were soaked.

“I swear, this rain is blowing sideways,” Todd said as she walked, arms wrapped around herself. Remus was walking just behind and off to the side of her, trying to use her as a windbreak. She’d have to repay the favor someday…

“It is very windy,” Remus agreed, yelling.

“I can hear you without you yelling,” Todd replied, not yelling.

“What?” Remus yelled.

“Oh my god,” Todd groaned, throwing her head back.

“What? I didn’t hear you!”

Todd just shook her head. She could swear, over the wind, that she could hear someone else shouting.

“Seriously! The wind is very loud!”

“Shush!” Todd stuck her finger on Remus’ lips to shut him up.

Remus bit it.

“Ow!” she snapped, pulling her hand away and shaking it. “What the fuck?”

“Sorry! I just… had to, y’know?”

“No! I don’t! Now shut up, I thought I heard something!”

Remus, miraculously, shut up. And there it was, it sounded like there was maybe someone else shouting something—

The arrow flew by them. Todd whipped around to watch it sink into the ground ten feet away from them, and then whirled back around to watch the direction it came from.

Skeleton? Had she heard a skeleton coming out? But it wasn’t night, why was a skeleton out?

But it wasn’t a skeleton. People, dressed in iron armor with swords and bows and shields, surrounded the two teenagers.

“Halt! In the name of Regent Arev, explain yourselves!”

Virgil

They stopped drilling around what was probably one in the afternoon to go back to the cave and have lunch. The two of them sat in silence as they ate, the only sounds being their chewing and the sizzle of redstone torches.

After they finished their food, Herobrine stood.

“We need to do something about that hand of yours,” he said. “There’s a healer I know that I could bring here, or we could go to her. Or we could just do potions and not see anyone, but there’s a chance that, since the injury is over twenty-four hours old, it could permanently screw up your hand. Or we can just wait, and let it heal naturally.”

“I’d prefer to not have a screwed-up hand,” Virgil said. “What’s your healer’s name?”

“Eridani Angetenar. Like I said, we can go to her, or I can bring her here.”

“Do she… know who you are?” Virgil asked, gesturing with his uninjured hand at… all of Herobrine.

“I’m sure she has her suspicions,” he replied.

“Then we should… probably go to her,” Virgil said. “If she doesn’t know already…”

“Why make it obvious? Alright,” Herobrine finished. “She lives in Tvant, a city that’s built in the tops of jungle trees. Do you have a problem with heights?”

“I prefer not to fall from them,” Virgil replied. That got a chuckle out of Herobrine.

“Alright. I’ll blink us to the base of their main entrance, and then we’ll just climb up,” he said, putting on a pair of sunglasses that he had picked up from the table. “While we’re there, call me Ziv.”

“What, too famous to use your real name?” Virgil snarked, one eyebrow raised.

“You go down in myth and legend as someone who almost destroyed the world out of malice and try using your real name,” Herobrine replied. Given the movement of his eyebrows, Virgil guessed he had rolled his eyes.

Something about that last statement piqued his curiosity, but should he pursue it? Who knew if Herobrine would put up with it?

He kept his mouth shut and offered his elbow for Herobrine to grip. They teleported again—blinked?—and suddenly, there was a tree in front of them. The diameter, if it was rounded, would probably be around forty feet, if Virgil was guessing right.

The two of them walked around the tree to a path that wound through the permanent darkness of the forest floor, lit at intervals by lanterns.

There were two ladders on it, both leading up…

And up…

And up.

Virgil’s neck was craned backwards as he stared up to where the sky should be. It had been replaced by canopy, the thick green blanket hundreds of feet in the air above them.

He had never been to the old-growth redwood forests, but this must be what they felt like. It felt like they were in the sanctuary of a huge green cathedral, the canopy the roof and the trunks soaring pillars holding it up.

Herobrine broke the moment.

“Let’s get going. It’ll take us several minutes to climb this thing.”

“I didn’t think it’d be that high…” Virgil whispered, continuing to stare for a moment before shaking his head and following Herobrine up.

It was slow going, since he only had one working hand to haul himself up with. It was also awkward, both the way he had to climb and the way Herobrine kept having to pause for him.

And it went well, for the most part, until he made the mistake of glancing down. Just for a moment. Just one moment was all it took, and he felt the world drop away from him.

He closed his eyes as tight as they could go and leaned into the ladder, his forehead resting against one of the rungs, the knuckles of his good hand undoubtedly white where they were gripping for dear life. Oh, god, he couldn’t move, he was going to fall and die—

“Virgil?”

He twitched as Herobrine’s voice derailed his train of thought, and he looked up, meeting Herobrine’s concerned gaze for a moment before glancing away.

“Yeah?”

“You doing okay?”

“Yeah, I’m, I’m fine,” Virgil replied, internally wincing at the stutter as he resumed climbing the ladder.

He focused on his hand, his legs, on making sure he was breathing from his diaphragm as he climbed. He had to keep his mind on them, off the heights, away from the ground slowly but surely dropping away beneath him…

Breathe. In-two-three-four, hold-two-three-four-five…

Just focus on breathing and moving up. Breathe, hand, foot, foot, repeat ad nauseum.

Finally, finally they reached the top and hauled themselves onto the platform. Virgil stood, his legs week and both his hands shaking, but he had made it up and he was standing and alive and he hadn’t fallen.

“Ziv!” a woman who had been sitting nearby, dressed in armor with an iron sword sheathed at her hip, stood up. “It’s been weeks, and not a word!” She was short, with dark olive skin and black hair.

Herobrine huffed. “Really, Vivien, it’s not been that long.”

“Yes, it has! Eridani keeps asking us, ‘have you seen Ziv? Has Ziv come up?’ and every time, we have to tell her no! Who’s your friend, by the way?”

“His name is Virgil. We do need to see Eridani, actually.”

Vivien sighed, rolling her eyes. “Of course, you do. I wish I could be a fly on the wall for your conversation.”

Herobrine sighed. “Of course, you do. Come on,” he said, gesturing for Virgil to follow.

The two of them stepped past the gate and into the town beyond.

Roman and September

“Our first stop is Taria, since your box of potions is just a bit heavier than my envelopes,” Kara said, smiling at September as she said that.

The two girls were walking in front, Roman following them a few steps behind. People were waving and saying hi to Kara as they went, and she waved and smiled back at them.

“Where is Taria?” September asked, and Kara shrugged.

“I don’t know where Taria herself is, but her place is across the river, a bit into the plains,” Kara replied. “If she’s not there, I’m sure someone is.”

It only took them about half an hour to make the walk there along the road that Roman and September had walked into the city on. The house was large and simple and had a very large backyard, based on what Roman could see from the road.

Kara opened the gate into the yard and let September and Roman enter first, and then closed it behind them as three dogs ran up, barking their heads off.

“Hey! Hey puppies!” Kara greeted, handing the mail to Roman as she greeted the dogs with scratches behind the ears. All three had their tails wagging so hard their butts were wagging as well as they milled around the three visitors.

“Molly! Merry! Mira!” a man yelled as he came running around from the back yard. He was holding a hoe and covered in dirt and mud. “Oh, hello Kara. You have Taria’s potions?”

“We do indeed!” Kara replied. “These are my friends, by the way, Roman and September,” she gestured to each of them as she introduced them.

Roman waved, and the man dipped his head to them.

“I’m Jerry Hamilton,” he said. “Taria’s husband.” He held out a hand, and Roman shook it. Jerry’s hand dwarfed his and he was missing his pointer finger and half his middle finger.

“It looks like the garden is going well?” Kara asked, holding her hands behind her back.

Jerry laughed.

“It’s going well at getting mud everywhere, although that’s probably more my children’s fault for getting themselves muddy in it in the first place,” he replied. He set his hoe down against the wall of his house and walked over to September. “I can take that now. Thanks for carrying it over.”

“No problem,” September replied, passing the crate to Jerry. He started walking towards the door and paused.

“Say, Kara, are you ever going to come back to sword fighting? I know you’ve been busy preparing for your final tests, but Taria and the rest of the class miss you,” he said.

Kara shrugged. “I don’t know. Although, maybe Roman and September could join for a bit? If they wanted to. They’re coming with me, so they should probably brush up on their skills.”

“Should probably get some in the first place,” September muttered to Roman. He stifled a snort and nodded.

“Of course,” Jerry said. “I’ll talk to Taria about it. I’m sure we can make room for them. I’ll send one of the kids to the church later today with our decision.”

“Sounds good!” Kara said. She waved as the three teens left.

“You’ll love Taria,” she said. “I can’t imagine them not taking you. And Taria is a great teacher, I’ve been learning from her since I was seven. They’re basically my second family.”

“Who’s your first family?” September asked.

Kara tripped, a tiny bit, and then laughed, a forced sound.

“They’re. Well,” she began. “They’re dead.”

“I’m sorry to hear about that,” Roman said. “That must be hard.”

“Thanks, but it was, it happened a long time ago,” Kara replied, shaking her head. “And you weren’t the one to wipe out our village, anyways.”

“What did?” September asked, turning her head to look at Kara as they walked.

“What else?” Kara scoffed. “It was mobs. It’s always mobs.” There was a beat, and then she tilted her head. “Well. Now it’s also the army. But it’s always been mobs.”

The three were quiet for a few moments before Kara shook her head and started talking again, this time about the Hamilton family’s garden and the stories she’s been hearing about it. They reached the post office a while later, and Kara walked in to drop the letters off while September and Roman waited outside.

“I miss my bike,” September said, leaning against the wall of the building and crossing her arms.

“I miss cars,” Roman replied. They sighed. “My legs are so tired from this morning. Who knew horse riding took so much work?”

“My cousin stayed at one of those… ranch therapy place things for a few months a year or two back,” September replied. “I’ve gone with him to visit the horse he worked with a few times, but I never rode her.”

“Did it help him?” Roman asked. At September’s look, he clarified. “The ranch therapy place thing?”

“Oh! Oh. Yeah, for a bit,” she replied, shrugging. “Hard to get better when you can’t get out of the place that fucked you up in the first place.”

“Oh,” Roman said, looking at their feet.

Kara exited the post office at that moment, waving at the people behind her.

“Yeah! I’ll see you around!” she said before the door closed, and then turned back to Roman and September. “Alright! Time to head back to church for lunch! It’s a little late for it, I know, and I apologize, I should’ve told Tollin that we’d eat before doing these errands.”

September shrugged. “Don’t sweat it. I can handle it. And they haven’t been acting like a drama queen yet,” she said, jabbing her thumb in Roman’s direction.

“Excuse you?” they said. “Me? A drama queen?”

“I’ve seen some of your tantrums,” September replied, her amber gaze seeming to drill itself into Roman.

“I do not throw tantrums!”

“They sure looked like tantrums.”

“What did you see?”

September shrugged again. “It was that one outside… Paulson’s classroom, I believe.”

Roman sniffed. “Well, if you wish to know, Mrs. Paulson was being a bitch to Katy about her moms.”

“Oh,” September said, looking stricken. “Well. That’s a good reason to throw a fit.”

Anyways,” Kara butted back in, “lunch. Church. Let’s go!” She pointed in the direction of the church and took off at a brisk walk, leaving Roman and September to jog to catch back up with her.

Remy and Emile

The cave continued deep into the earth. Emile could almost feel the tons of stone and dirt pressing down on him from overhead, as if waiting to bury them all alive…

Did cave-ins even happen here? Did physics work better in this Minecraft-esque world than they did in true Minecraft?

“Hey, Emile, you good there?” Someone put their hand on his shoulder.

He inhaled sharply and turned his head to look. It was Remy, blue eyes filled with concern.

“Yeah,” he said, feeling strangled. “Just… don’t like being so far underground.”

 “We could always tell Steve and just… head back early,” Remy suggested. The Steve in question was about fifty or sixty feet away from them, well out of earshot, his own torch stuck to the wall.

“No,” Emile replied, shaking his head. “You heard him. He needs to mine something better than just coal and iron today. I’m not going to cause him to lose profit.”

Remy sighed. “Alright then,” he said. “But, like, if it gets worse, you gotta let us know, alright?”

“Alright,” Emile replied, and Remy nodded.

“I’m going to hold you to that,” he said, pointing at Emile as he turned and walked towards Steve. Emile smiled and followed him over. Being that far from the group, down in the cave, where mobs dwelled… it raised the hair on the back of his neck and made sicker the pit in his stomach. Better to stand with the others. Maybe the presence of the group would dissuade some of the mobs?

They continued to move deeper into the cave as Steve mined the resources out of the walls. Occasionally, groans and rattles and creaks and hisses could be heard, echoing through the cave system, the sounds bouncing off the walls.

“If we can hear them, does that mean they can hear us?” Emile asked, staring into the darkness of the cave they had yet to traverse.

“Probably,” Steve replied in between hits of his pick. Suddenly, he was all too aware of the sound of metal chipping away at stone, the way it was just… loud. It felt loud like an alarm, like the bell calling everyone back after lunch.

Would that make them lunch?

Okay, no, bad thoughts. Emile shook his head to clear them out, but with no one talking, it was hard to dislodge them. The only other thoughts coming to mind were just as bad. He didn’t want to think about how much he’d rather be back at home, even at school, even in the classes he hated. Not here. Not now. It wasn’t the place.

The three continued on, Steve occasionally checking his clock for the time. They stopped for a quick lunch of bread and apple before continuing on, still ever deeper.

As they went on, they encountered the occasional mob, quickly dispatched by Steve’s pick or Remy’s sword.

“I wonder if Michael’s gang will keep picking on Logan if they find out I know how to stab things with a sword now,” Remy said, wrenching the sword out of the body of the most recent zombie.

“Michael?” Emile asked, leaning over the zombie. It looked like it had been… someone. A girl, maybe, fair-skinned, with freckles, and hair that had once been long and blonde, now reduced to… this. Rotting, alone, in the depths of the earth, no one to know her name or miss her, if they even knew she had become a zombie.

“You know, Michael Wyatt. FBLA kid, basketball player? One of the most horrible excuses for a person to exist?”

Emile blinked. The name was slightly familiar… “Is he friends with Tyson Grant?”

Remy groaned and rolled his eyes. “Yes. And Kara what’s-her-face, and Will Greenleaf, and all those.”

“Oh.” Emile nodded. “I know who you’re talking about. I don’t think threatening them with a sword is a very good idea. They’ll hang by their own actions eventually. Better not hang yourself with them.”

“I’d rather just… ruin them myself and get it over with, honestly,” Remy replied.

“You know, when you have a problem with someone, you can just tell them, right?” Steve asked, and Remy and Emile turned to look at him.

“What, am I supposed to walk up to the jerkiest bullies I know and ask them to please leave my cousin alone?” Remy asked, turning to face Steve. “Because, you know, I’ve already tried that.”

“Well, that’s better than threatening to stab them,” Steve retorted.

“It’s not a threat if it’s just an implication,” Remy replied.

“Implied threats exist!” Emile protested. “And those can get you in just as much trouble as any other kind.”

Remy turns on Emile. “What, so I’m just supposed to let them torment my cousin?”

“No, but threatening to stab someone isn’t the answer!”

“Maybe it’s the only one that’ll work!”

“Hey! Quiet!” Steve stepped in between them, holding his hands out towards them. “Listen.” He was quiet as he spoke.

They listened.

Those groans and growls and rattles and hisses weren’t far away anymore.

Steve spoke. “I think they found us.”

Patton and Chris

The four of them walked through Tvant after lunch, dressed for adventure, carrying their packs with their swords belted to their hips. There was an almost resigned atmosphere to everyone who said hello to Ivy and Holly as they walked.

There was one moment, as they approached the exit, that Chris thought he saw someone he recognized out of the corner of his eye. Tall, dark hair… but he couldn’t catch a good enough look at them before they were gone.

“What were you looking at?” Patton asked.

“Just… thought I recognized someone,” Chris replied. “But that’s… not likely.”

“Maybe we’re not the only ones who were brought here!” Patton said, and Holly looked back at them.

“Brought where?” she asked.

“Tvant,” Chris replied. “We didn’t exactly know where we were going to end up when we set out.”

“Maybe there was something the gods did that pulled you here,” Holly said. Her green eyes lit up. “Maybe it was destiny! Us meeting, the two of you coming with us…”

“Destiny,” Chris muttered to himself, while Patton nodded from beside him.

“Things always happen for a reason,” he said. “Even if we can’t see them until we’re through them.”

“Don’t go on about your predestined bullshit,” Ivy groaned, throwing her head back. “The gods don’t care that much about their creation.”

“Hey,” Holly snapped. “Just because you don’t believe doesn’t mean you get to be mean about it.”

Ivy sighed.

“Hey you two! So, you’re finally leaving then?” The guard currently on duty was already on her feet and she walked over to the group. She was a couple inches shorter than Patton when she stood next to him.

“Yes,” Holly replied. “We are.”

“You told your mom, right?” she asked, eyeing the two girls.

“She knows,” Ivy said, walking to the ladders and sitting down with her legs hanging down. She turned over, hands braced against the floor, and reached with her legs for the ladders. Finding them, she started descending.

“We’ll see you when we bring our sister back,” Holly said. “Goodbye, Vivien.” She repeated Ivy’s actions, and Chris sighed, not looking forward to the climb back down.

“You boys are going with her?” Vivien asked, turning to look at them.

“Yes, ma’am,” Chris replied.

“Take care of them,” she said. “Watch their backs.”

“We will! We promise,” Patton said.

“Good. Make sure you keep it, please,” Vivien said.

“We will,” Chris said, following suit with the girls and beginning the descent.

The descent was much easier than the ascent, given that Patton had use of both his legs. When all four of them were on the ground, they took off walking along the lit path.

“There aren’t often mobs on the path,” Holly said. “By now I think they know better than to approach it, but occasionally you get the dumb one or the concentrated attack.”

“Concentrated attack?” Chris murmured. Holly turned her head to look at him, her brow furrowed.

“Yes,” she said. “They like to swarm travelers occasionally.”

“That’s terrible!” Patton said.

“We know,” Ivy replied, her voice flat. “Do you have anything productive to add?”

“Don’t be mean to him,” Chris said, glaring at Ivy. “Getting snippy at people isn’t a productive thing, either.”

Ivy sniffed and looked away, crossing her arms.

“Thanks,” Patton said, and Chris shrugged.

“Yeah. You’re welcome,” he said. “So, Holly, why do they swarm? Is there like… anyone that knows why?”

“Maybe the bastard who sends them,” she replied. “But other than that? No. Who knows why he does it. Maybe that’s how he gets his kicks, by destroying people and families and villages and towns. Maybe he’s just a madman.”

“He?” Chris asked. He had the feeling he already knew the answer.

“Saying his name will summon him,” Holly said. “But he’s the god of the night, the general of the mobs, the scourge of society. You must really have grown up isolated to not be aware of him.”

“No,” Chris replied, suppressing a shudder. “I know who he is.”

Patton looked at him, brown eyes wide with worry and an unasked question. He mouthed the name they were all thinking, and Chris nodded.

Maybe he wasn’t anything more than a ghost story, an urban legend, here as he was at home.

He could hope, but he wasn’t going to trust his luck.

Logan and October

They were hiding throughout the hottest part of the afternoon in the shade of sandstone outcropping, with the hope of continuing in the later afternoon and evening before it got too dark and mobs started coming out.

They sat in silence, backs against the stone, occasionally shifting.

Perhaps the desert truly was endless. Maybe they would never make it out. Maybe he’d never make it back, never see his parents, his cousin, his aunts again. Maybe he’d just die here.

They sat there, in the shelter of the rock, until the sun was dipping towards the horizon.

Maybe he’d just… stay there. He was so tired.

October stood. “Come on, Logan.” Her voice was dry.

He breathed. Turned his head. Met her eyes. They were amber, almost gold. Had he noticed that before?

“Logan,” she said. “Get up.” She held out a hand, sunburnt and red.

Slowly, Logan lifted his hand and grabbed hers.

How she still had the energy to haul him to his feet, he had no idea. But she did it. She got him to his feet and led him on, into the ever-shifting endless sands, into the sun and the heat.

Maybe the mobs would make it quick.

Remus and Todd

Remus raised his hands the second the soldiers came out. If there’s one thing he knew to do when surrounded by heavily armed people, it was that.

“Halt! In the name of Regent Arev, explain yourselves!”

“We’re lost!” Todd said. Remus had at least enough self-control to let her do the talking in front of all these heavily-armed armored people. “We are very, very lost!”

“Lost?” the lead guard scoffed. “A likely story. Not that we’ll get the truth out of two reprobates like you.”

How are we reprobates?” Todd asked, sounding completely incredulous.

“We should take them back to Nevara—the general will know what to do with them,” one of the soldiers said.

“But what if that’s their plan? Get into Nevara and then assassinate the Regent from there?”

“We have cells, don’t we?” a third soldier said. “Kaja, Elnur, keep an eye on them.”

“Yes, sir,” the two soldiers, a woman and a man, said. The woman paired herself off with Todd, while the man practically attached himself to Remus.

“Walk,” he said, poking Remus in the back with the tip of his sword.

“Sheesh! You could’ve just asked,” Remus replied. “Rather than poke me with that.”

“You are not walking.”

“Yeah, yeah, I was—”

“Remus, shut up!” Todd snapped.

Remus shut up and walked.

As they walked, and the shock started wearing off, he began to realize that there weren’t as many soldiers as he had thought. Sure, they were all armored and armed, but there were only six of them. If they were as unarmed as Remus and Todd, he had a feeling they could’ve taken them on.

But, well, they were fully armed soldiers.

They continued on their northward trek, and it was within half an hour that they began seeing signs of human life. There was a small harbor at the mouth of a small river, with a village around it.

People watched from the windows as the soldiers escorted them through. They ducked away, out of sight, and watched furtively. The mere sight of the soldiers was enough to clear out the roads.

Movement at the corner of his sight caught his attention, and for a moment, he met gazes with a girl, who was peering up from a boat. As soon as they met, she looked away and then ducked down out of sight.

They left the village behind, but there was a road to follow now. It was gravel, but it was more than they’d had the entire time they’d been walking.

The soldiers started talking amongst themselves, and Todd and Remus remained silent, listening as closely as they could.

“We should make it to the outskirts of Redmoore by nightfall,” one of the soldiers said. “And if we leave at dawn tomorrow, we can make it to Nevara by evening.”

“It’s tempting to just leave them at Redmoore,” one of the others replied. “They could use some more laborers.”

“That’ll be for the general to decide,” the one who looked to be in charge said. “If they’re going back to Redmoore, or anywhere else, that’s not up to us.”

Remus leaned in towards Todd.

“Slave labor?” he hissed. “Are they talking about enslaving us?”

“What do you think people do with their prisoners?” Todd hissed back.  “Just… not use the cheap and easily available source of labor they have?”

“That’s fu—”

Someone smacked Remus’s back with the flat of their blade. He yelped and rubbed his back.

“Shut up,” the soldier said. Remus glared at him but still listened, the gleam of the soldier’s naked blade shining even in the dim light of the storm.

Virgil

Tvant was made of wood, weathered and sturdy. There wasn’t a single flame that Virgil could see anywhere—all the light came from redstone lamps and the occasional glowstone fixture.

And it wasn’t just like someone had taken a town and smacked it down on top of the trees, either—it was built into them, on multiple levels. The platform they were on was simply the lowest one, with a staircase built, winding its way up the trunk.

They didn’t take the staircase, instead heading deeper into the first level. They crossed on bridge, thankfully solid wood (Virgil could see glass bridges above them and shuddered at the sight of them), and then turned and knocked on a rather unassuming door.

It took a few moments before someone came and opened it.

“I’m sorry, Eridani is—Ziv!” The young man who had answered the door brightened when he saw Herobrine. “It’s been ages! Oh, mama is going to be very excited to see you!” He was a little shorter than Virgil, with shoulder-length brown hair and light brown skin. He was wearing a plain green tunic and grey pants.

“It’s good to see you, Arrakis,” Herobrine replied, smiling at the young man. “Eridani’s out, you were saying?”

“Yes, I was,” Arrakis replied, gesturing the two of them in. “She’s currently in a council meeting. They’re working on planning an expansion to the northern end of the town, to accommodate some more permanent residents.”

“You’ve been getting some of the people fleeing from Nevara, correct?” Herobrine asked, and Arrakis nodded.

“Many of them. We don’t get as many as other places, say, Seavere or Torenshall, given our reputation, but enough that we don’t have enough space for them all, especially the ones who’d like to stay permanently,” Arrakis replied. “Who’s your friend?”

Herobrine didn’t answer, instead turning to look, pointedly, at Virgil, who raised a hand.

“I’m Virgil,” he said.

Arrakis nodded, smiling and waving back. “Nice to meet you, Virgil. I’m Arrakis Angetenar, Eridani’s son and assistant and trainee. Is this a social visit or is that wrapped hand of yours the reason?”

“Any reason it can’t be both?” Herobrine asked. Arrakis chuckled.

“No, there isn’t,” he replied. “I can get started checking it over while Eridani’s still at the meeting, if that’s okay with you?”

Herobrine glanced back at Virgil again, who nodded.

“Alright, I’m gonna have you sit over here,” Arrakis said, gesturing towards a spot on the green and purple carpet in front of the cauldron, which appeared to be the center of the room. Virgil did as asked, and held out his wrapped hand when Arrakis kneeled in front of him.

Arrakis unwrapped it, his hands gentle as he did so. He set the wrappings to the side and held Virgil’s hand in both of his.

The room was quiet as Arrakis delicately examined it, running his thumbs over it and along the bones. Occasionally, Virgil winced and hissed, and he could almost see Arrakis take mental notes of those spots.

“And how long has it been since you injured it?” Arrakis asked.

“A little over a day,” Virgil replied. Arrakis hummed and set Virgil’s hand down.

“I’m going to set the bones and then give you a healing potion,” he said. “The potion tastes terrible, but it should mostly heal it. They don’t work as well on older injuries as they do on newer ones, so mama will probably need to do some work on it to get it to finish healing.”

“Alright,” Virgil said as Arrakis walked back over with a potion bottle in his hand.

Getting his bones set was not a pleasant experience. It hurt, quite a bit, and once it was over, Arrakis passed him the potion, instructing him to inform him once the weird feelings stopped.

He had been correct. The potion was overwhelmingly sweet, and it took him a couple tries to drink the whole thing.

It took a few moments to take effect. His hand started tingling, and then it felt static, and then it started aching. While the potion was doing its work, Arrakis and Herobrine were talking, catching up on things that had gone on since the last time they’d seen each other.

The ache only lasted for about ten minutes, if Virgil’s wacked-up grasp of time was correct. He let Arrakis know it was probably done, and he walked back over to him and appraised his hand.

“It looks mostly healed,” he said. “Is there any lingering pain?”

“There’s some, but it’s not hurting to move as much,” Virgil replied. “It kinda feels like it’s a few weeks old now.”

“That’s an improvement,” Arrakis said. “We just need to wait for mama to get back, then. It’ll probably be a while—meetings tend to drag on, unfortunately. Feel free to make yourself at home.” Virgil stayed put where he was while Arrakis returned to where he had been sitting and conversing with Herobrine.

Roman and September

All four of them sat down for lunch together in the fellowship hall of the church. Lunch consisted of cold chicken and carrots, which September found herself scarfing down.

“I’m glad you seem to enjoy my cooking!” Tollin said, his eyes crinkling as he smiled at September.

“Are you kidding?” September asked. “It’s great. I swear this is some of the best chicken I’ve ever had.”

Roman, who was eating their food at a much more sedate pace, gave her a strange look.

“Well! That’s good to hear,” Tollin replied.

“He doesn’t get a chance to cook for anyone but the two of us,” Kara added. “Except for community dinners, but those are a lot more like potlucks than just him cooking.”

“Are there any community dinners planned soon?” She may not consider herself Christian anymore, but the potlucks had been some of her favorite memories from her childhood. The only other kids close to her and her cousin’s age were all girls, and none of them cared one bit if she played dress-up and put on the dresses with them, or if she was a princess or a witch or a dragon during make-believe sessions.

“We’re planning one for this Friday, actually,” Tollin replied. “If things go right at the market this weekend, then it’ll serve double as a sending-off party for Kara.”

“This might sound stupid, but what day is it?” Roman asked.

“Wednesday,” Kara replied.

“Who comes to the community dinners?” September asked. The carrot made a loud cracking noise as she bit a piece off.

“Whoever feels like it,” Tollin replied. “Everyone is welcome at them. We’ll spend Friday moving the pews and getting the tables out for it.”

Conversation continued as they ate.

“I need to go do some reading in the archives,” Kara said towards the end of lunch. “You can come with me, or stay here, or whatever you want.”

“What sort of archives are they?” September asked.

Kara bit her lip and looked up. “Well, for the most part they’re records of the city—the census, expansions, building projects, laws, things like that. There’s also copies, and rarely originals, of people’s recounting of their encounters with the gods.”

“So… your holy books?” Roman asked, and Tollin shook his head.

“Oh, no,” he replied. “We don’t have… holy books, at least, our corner of the faith doesn’t. Anorian, now they have their holy books, but we don’t. They’re just records of encounters.”

“And records of how the faith’s practiced, in different parts of the world,” Kara added. “We’re very loose about it here, but in places like Anorian and Torenshall, they have this whole code of conduct and beliefs and things. So, we have records of those, so we know how to accommodate people from there when they visit.”

“Not to mention, it’s just a wise idea to know more about other people and their faiths,” Tollin added.

September nodded. “That sounds fascinating,” she said. “I think I’ll come with you. Roman?”

“Of course,” they said.

“Then as soon as we’re done with clean up, we’ll head over,” she said.

It didn’t take long for them to finish eating and to wash the dishes. They left the church together, heading out into the late afternoon and walking towards the cliff that Cliffside was (presumably) named for.

Kara led them up a set of stone stairs in the side of the cliff. They were worn from the elements, and there was a furrow worn (or put there on purpose?) to the side, probably where the water ran off them.

She led them to an iron door set into the side of the mountain and used the lever to open it. They stepped onto a platform that overlooked a gymnasium-sized room, packed full of shelves and the shelves stuffed with books. There were desks and tables and chairs, and a few people studying at them.

They descended the stairs, still carved out of the stone, into the room. There was a young man wearing white robes sitting at the desk at the foot of the staircase, and he looked up and smiled as he noticed them.

“Hello, Kara!” he said, smiling. “And new friends.”

“These are September and Roman,” Kara introduced them. “September, Roman, this is Bran Morwen.” Bran raised a pale hand to wave at them, and they waved back.

“Enjoy the archives,” he said.

Roman smiled at him. “Thanks.”

Remy and Emile

There was a whole mob of mobs coming for them. They had two options: turn and run or stay and fight.

They turned and ran.

Through the caves, guided by the flickering light of Emile’s torch, they ran. The markers they had left to show them the way back out went by, those little smears of red dye feeling almost like a prophecy.

“They have our scent now!” Steve said. “We can’t stop until we’re out!”

Remy grunted and kept running. There was no way he could stop, not with that behind them.

“Uh, problem! The torch is almost out of coal!” Emile said.

Steve came to a stop, so Remy and Emile did as well.

“That’s an easy enough fix,” he said, grunting as he took his pack off his shoulders and pulled one of their spare torches from it. He lit it and passed it to Emile, who held both while Steve put his pack on.

He froze in the middle of that action.

All three boys froze. There was scuttling, all around them, and they looked up.

The ceiling was covered in glittering green spiders, each of them about the size of a large cat. There were hundred of glowing red eyes turned on them.

“Oh, fuck,” Steve whispered as the glittering mass moved.

There was a quaver in Emile’s voice as he spoke. “Those are the poisonous ones, right?”

“Don’t let them bite you,” was Steve’s answer, low and serious. “Run for the exit… now!”

All three of them broke for the exit, Emile still carrying his two torches, but cave spiders began dropping down in front of their way out.

“Cut your way through!” Steve yelled, hefting his pickaxe above his shoulder and swinging. It smashed through a spider, and he didn’t even bother taking the body off before swinging at his next target.

Remy raised his sword and began swinging, while to his right, Emile brandished both torches: one blazing bright, the other burning low.

Their blood was light blue on his blade, he noticed, as he hacked through one spider and moved onto the next. Their exoskeletons cracked as they were cut, stabbed, slashed.

And when Emile burned them, oh, they screamed.

“We’re almost there!” Steve yelled, and then moments later, they were free, running through the caves, leaving the spiders behind.

They ran, the cave walls blurring by them in a mass of grey. Up and down, winding their way through the earth, until they couldn’t keep the pace. Remy stumbled to a halt first, and Emile and Steve stopped alongside him. His knees were shaking, oh, god, they couldn’t hold him—

Steve caught him, strong arms holding him up.

“Hey, I’ve got you,” he said, his voice rumbling from where Remy’s ear was pressed against his shoulder.

“I don’t think I’ve ever run that much in my life,” he gasped between breaths. “Or at least—that fast for that long.”

“Yeah,” Steve agreed, also breathing hard. “It doesn’t happen often.”

The three of them stayed there, in that spot, just breathing for a few minutes, before Emile spoke up.

“We should get out of here,” he said, his voice shaking. “It was getting close to time to go back before we encountered the mobs, right? We should really get going.”

“Just let me get my bearings,” Steve said. He asked Remy, “can you stand on your own?”

“I think so,” he replied, taking most of his weight back while Steve looked around.

“Huh,” Steve muttered. “That’s… weird.”

“What’s weird?” Remy asked.

“I… don’t see any markers,” Steve replied. “There should be one, either there, or there,” he said, pointing at the two caves that were branching off from them in a Y-junction. “But there aren’t.”

“Let me make the light better,” Emile said, walking closer to the caves.

No red smear appeared on the wall. It was just stone, untouched. The three turned around, to look at the way they had just come from.

No red smears.

“Oh, no,” Remy whispered.

In their haste to escape, they’d lost the path.

“It’s—not there?” Emile stuttered, staring at the wall. “It can’t, it can’t not be there.”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Steve said, his voice soft. “We’ll find our way out.”

“No, I…” Emile backed up, shaking his head. “I… we’re lost.”

“I’ve been lost before,” Steve said. “And found my way back every time. The caves will lead us out, eventually, and we have our marker paint, and enough food to last us a day or two. We’ll be fine.”

“Yeah,” Remy chimed in. “We’ll be good. Just gotta breathe, alright?”

“No,” Emile gasped, looking up at the other two boys with wide eyes. He looked lost, almost more lost than they actually were. “I, I hate this. The, I hate the caves.”

Steve blinked, head twitching as if he were taken aback. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked, stepping forward again, hands held out. “I wouldn’t’ve made you come down here.”

“I’ve, uh,” Emile swallowed. “I’ve, well, never, I’ve never been in a cave before!”

Remy stepped forward, reaching out and taking one of Emile’s hands in his own. Steve held the other.

“You don’t have to come back down again. You could stay in Frothwater—I’m sure there’s a place you could find to help, to pay Bill back.”

“You sound like you know we’ll make it out,” Emile gasped, and Steve nodded.

“Of course we are,” he said. “Of course we’ll make it out.” He pulled Emile closer, wrapping his arm around the shorter boy’s shoulders. Emile leaned into him and Remy felt a brief pang of jealousy before pushing it away and stepping closer to Emile’s side.

They shared comfort for a few minutes before fear spurred them on, continuing further into the caves.

Patton and Chris

The path was busier than Patton was expecting it to be. They had been on it for maybe an hour, and already they’d seen seven or eight groups heading past them towards Tvant. They’d also been passed by a group on horseback, heading the same direction as them.

All of the people going by, heading for Tvant, had haunted looks in their eyes. Their clothes were dirty and fraying, and some of them carried nothing with them.

“So,” Chris said, “I noticed something about Tvant. For the most part, it looked like it was all women. Is there… an explanation?”

“It’s a refuge,” Holly replied. “It was founded by a group of women who had all left their abusive husbands and were looking for a safe place to live. Things were quite a bit different back then, and they would’ve been sent back to their husbands if they’d been found. So, rather than being found, they started Tvant in secret. It served then, and still does now, as a safe place to go for people who’ve been hurt by abuse.”

“We also have a reputation of eating men, so we mostly get the women,” Ivy added, baring her teeth at Patton and Chris. Even Patton wasn’t generous enough to call that a smile.

“That’s mostly Irini and her militia’s fault,” Holly replied, rolling her eyes. “Don’t mention her outside of Tvant, by the way. It’s an open secret that she’s there, but they can’t come after her unless someone confirms it.”

“Alright,” Patton replied. “We won’t.”

“Good,” Holly replied, and they continued walking without talking.

Occasionally, they’d hear mob sounds off in the distance, but they didn’t approach the path. Chris also made the group stop often for breaks.

“I don’t understand why we need to stop this often,” Ivy snapped, the third time Chris called for a break. Chris rolled his eyes and sighed.

“It’s because I have a messed-up knee,” he replied. “That a good enough reason for you?”

Ivy grumbled and crossed her arms but didn’t protest again.

Once they started on again, Patton pulled Chris back, letting Ivy and Holly walk a ways ahead of them.

“Why’d you lie?” he asked, and Chris gave him a quizzical look.

“About what?”

“About your knee? You didn’t need to stop this often yesterday.”

“Oh, that. I didn’t know if you’d want me to tell them about your knee,” Chris replied, looking down at the path. “Eridani said that it wasn’t… a miracle heal, right? I figure you’ll still need a lot of rest for it.”

“Oh,” Patton said. His knee did ache, some. Had he been limping enough for others to notice or was Chris basing it off his own knee injury? “Thanks.”

“Yeah, of course,” Chris replied.

“Hey slowpokes! Get back up here!” Ivy called back at them, and the two boys looked at each other and then jogged back up to the two girls.

Logan and October

The sun was dropping to the horizon, turning the sky red as it did, when she heard him collapse into the sand. It took her a moment to react, brain sluggish, but she turned and saw that Logan had dropped onto his knees, using his arms to support his upper body.

“Logan,” she rasped, staggering back to him. “You have to get up.”

She almost couldn’t hear his voice. “I don’t think I can.”

“You have to,” she repeated. He shook his head.

“October, look at this.” He sat up more, holding his arms up. He pinched the skin of one arm, and she watched as slowly, ever so slowly, it spread back out to normal.

“You need to get up. Come on, just a little further today and then we can rest,” she said, holding her hands out to him.

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to get back up in the morning,” he said.

“Three days, right?” she asked.

Logan tilted his head. “What?”

“Three days without water, right? That’s how long you can go without it?”

“That, that’s just an average,” Logan replied.

“It’s been… It’s been… This is the second day, right? We can make it,” October said. “Get up, Logan.”

He shook his head. “I’m… so dizzy, October.”

“Then I’ll guide you,” she replied, ignoring the fact that it felt like she could barely walk in a straight line herself.

“You can’t tell me you’re not feeling it too,” Logan said. Her silence was his answer.

They were there, staring each other down, for a few moments, before Logan finally reached out and took her hands and let her pull him to his feet.

“Come on,” she whispered. “Just put one foot in front of the other.”

Remus and Todd

After their fourth or fifth attempt at talking to each other, the soldiers had separated Remus and Todd. Remus was at the front, pushed along by the blade-happy man, while Todd was at the back, followed by the woman. Kaja? Was that her name?

Oh well. That hardly mattered, considering that the woman had leveled her sword at Todd, too, with little-to-no provocation. She had just been stretching. She was unarmed, for Pete’s sake, what was she supposed to do against someone in full iron armor? Magic?

Although, honestly, who knew.

At the front of the group, Remus was silent. He walked along, hands hanging at his sides, occasionally being prodded by the man. His posture was stiff, forced.

Maybe it physically hurt him to hold back the incessant chatter.

“Sir,” one of the middle soldiers said. “I think I saw something on the sea.”

“So?” the leader replied. “Keep walking.”

“Sir, you know there’re pirates around these parts,” the same soldier replied.

“And if we keep walking, they won’t stop for us,” the leader replied.

“We could head fifty feet inland and be completely hidden from the pirates,” Kaja pointed out, just to be ignored as the two men bickered.

Pirates, huh? Damn, it must really be hard for Remus to be holding his thoughts about that back. Honestly, she wished the pirates would see them and come by and free them. Pirates were all about freedom, sticking it to the government, right? At any rate, better to be kidnapped by pirates than used as slave labor by the crown.

Virgil

Eridani returned a few hours later. Virgil had, at one point, laid down and made himself comfy on the floor, and sat up as she entered. Her long brown hair, with grey streaks at the temples, was held back in a French braid, and her own green tunic was much fancier than Arrakis’s, with embroidery depicting tall trees and a stylized golden star on her chest.

The same star was emblazoned on most of the things in her workspace, actually, and it had been painted on the door.

“Ziv!” Eridani said as she entered. “So you’ve finally decided to grace our trees again, have you? And you brought a friend, even better! I assume that Ziv has already told you about me, but I’ll introduce myself anyways: I am Eridani, Priestess Mother of Tvant and blessed by Winoya. How should I address you?”

“Uh, my name is Virgil.”

“Virgil, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said. “You may just call me Eridani. I will guess, since you’re sitting where you are, that you have some sort of injury that needs seen to? Arrakis?”

“Yes, mama,” Arrakis replied, standing. “His hand was broken. It was over a day old, though. I already set it and gave him a potion for it.”

“Good job,” she said, walking over and kneeling in front of Virgil. “May I see your hand?”

He held it out to her, and she took it in weathered hands. They sat there, Arrakis and Herobrine still conversing quietly.

After a minute or two, Virgil’s hand started tingling, but it wasn’t the same tingling that had accompanied the potion. It felt like an exchange, almost.

Eridani spoke.

“Your hand is mostly healed. If you’d like, I can work on it, using a healing technique I learned from one of the Master Healers of Anorian, in tandem with my blessing from Winoya. This will speed up the healing process, but I do need to warn you: it doesn’t mean that your hand will be the same as it was before. It’s just like any other healed injury. It is no miracle heal.”

“I understand,” Virgil replied.

Eridani nodded. “I shall get started, then. Just focus on relaxing for me.”

Virgil? Relax? Fat chance. He could focus on his breathing, though, concentrate on relaxing his body if not his mind. All he had to do was focus on his breathing.

His breathing, and her hands. The tingling was… her. It felt like her. Like she was… messing with his energy?

“How does this work?” he asked, his voice husky.

“It’s energy,” Eridani replied. “I’m using mine to manipulate yours, and adding a bit of Winoya’s blessing in on top, to help it heal.”

“So that… the fuzzies,” he said. “That’s you?”

“Yes,” she replied.

As time wore on, Virgil felt a wave of inexplicable peace washing over him. It was almost intoxicating, the strength of the feeling.

“You’re doing a very good job of letting your barriers down so I can work on you,” Eridani said, her voice soothing.

“Thanks?” Virgil replied, opening his eyes. When had he closed them?

“Of course,” Eridani replied.

Eventually, the session had to end. Virgil stood, feeling floaty as he did. It wasn’t a dissociation kind of floaty, but he still felt… ungrounded.

“Would the both of you like to have dinner with us?” Eridani asked. “I could send for Sadalbari, Alioth, and their families.”

“That would be lovely,” Herobrine replied. “I haven’t seen any of them in a while. Virgil?”

Virgil shrugged. “Sure, whatever,” he replied.

“Excellent!” Eridani said, beaming. “Arrakis, would you go tell your siblings that they and their families are invited for dinner with us?”

Arrakis sighed and stood up. “Of course,” he said. “I’ll see you at the house.”

“Thank you,” Eridani called after him. “I appreciate it!”

“Yeah, you’re welcome,” Arrakis replied as he walked out the door.

Eridani sighed and then shook her head. “Let me clean up and close up for the night,” she said, moving to put away bottles and potions.

It didn’t take long to clean up, and as they left, she hung a sign up on the door telling people that no one was in.

She led Herobrine and Virgil upstairs, to the third level of the town. This level got more natural light than the lower levels, the town cast in gold light as the day grew later. People waved to and greeted Eridani, and occasionally she would stop and chat with them.

They were two trees over when they encountered what Virgil had been dreading: a glass bridge.

Okay. He just needed to keep his eyes up. Ignore the fact that he was on a glass bridge. A glass bridge that he could see through. A glass bridge hundreds of feet up in the air.

He could feel the rubber band, tightening around his chest as they went. Oh, god, not here, he’d probably die of shame if he had an attack here—

“So, Virgil,” Eridani said, “how did you happen to meet Ziv?”

“Uh,” he took a moment to gasp for breath. “I was lost. Very lost.”

“Ah, so he’s back at his old traveler collecting habits?” Eridani asked. Virgil looked back at Herobrine, who moved like he was rolling his eyes.

As if sensing Virgil’s unasked question, Eridani continued. “I traveled with Ziv when I was younger. There was a whole group of us at one point, although we all settled out to different places. I don’t think I would ever have ended up in Anorian, or become a Priest, without that experience.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Herobrine replied. “If you had wanted it, you would’ve made it happen.”

She shrugged. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. Regardless, those experiences shaped who I am today.” She glanced over at Virgil as they stepped onto wood again. “If you’re traveling with Ziv, you’re not going to recognize the person you are at the end of it. Goodness knows my own mother had enough trouble believing it was me when I returned.”

“That was because you hadn’t contacted her in seven years,” Herobrine muttered. Eridani spared a moment to glare at him before continuing the conversation, leaving Virgil to chew on that statement.

Eridani’s statement, not Herobrine’s, that was. Unless, somehow, they didn’t find him a way back for seven years.

Okay, put that thought aside. He’d burn that bridge when he got there.

Roman and September

The books were all titled in English, which was a little strange, in Roman’s eyes. Why did this world speak English, honestly? Or was it called something else? Was there some… magic translating it in their heads?

Kara had headed off, her step purposeful, towards the back of the stacks, while September had meandered off, running her fingers along the spines of the books. They’d lost sight of her by this point.

Roman had ended up in the middle of the stacks, a thick brown volume in their hands. It was worn and old, with papers pasted into it and various ribbons hanging from it as markers. On the title, in a simple hand, it read: Mayra Abasolo.

It was one journal of many in that section of the stacks. And yet, Roman had pulled it out first. At random.

They stared at it for a moment more before sliding it back into the shelf.

Why had they agreed to come? Well, they knew exactly why. But why?

Again, their eyes felt drawn to Mayra’s journal. They shook their head and continued on, heading for a volume bound in bright red. They pulled it off the shelf and looked at the cover.

In gold: Iaryn’s Grief, as told by Jaye to her Priestess, Saiph Angetenar.

Roman left the aisle and wandered over to one of the seats. They caught sight of September, already sitting, eyes wide as she read from the beginning of a book thicker than some of the biggest dictionaries Roman had ever seen. They sat down near her and opened their own, much slimmer volume.

The words were Jaye’s, that much was obvious from the first. Saiph must have transcribed the… goddess’s… story as she told it. Apart from Saiph’s own additions, in the footnotes and added paragraphs of explanation. Cross-references about Jaye and Iaryn’s relationship, thoughts about Iaryn’s other relationships, and extra cultural information about the gods.

The gods.

They were still finding it hard to believe that these people had interactions, face-to-face interactions, with their holy figures.

…At least they had that confirmation.

They were barely a chapter in when Kara came to collect them. Between the (many) references to other legends, myths, tales, and rambling text, Roman had both acquired a pile of books to check references and had also struggled making their way through it.

“Oh, you found Iaryn’s Grief?” Kara asked as they stood up and picked up their pile of books. “Tollin has forbidden me from reading it, on account of it being blasphemous.”

“Then you should read it anyway,” September said, following Roman over to the cart with her own dictionary-sized book. “Is it interesting?”

“It… sounds like it will?” Roman said, shrugging. “I could barely make it through the first chapter. Saiph added a lot to Jaye’s account. Why’s it blasphemous?” They turned to look at Kara as they set their books down.

“Well, multiple reasons,” she replied, starting the walk up the stairs. “It’s the only account of a process called Falling, which Jaye ascribed to no less than three separate beings! Jaye claims that Notch isn’t the creator, and refers to the Stalker as a god multiple times!”

“What’s the Stalker?” September asked, and Kara gave her a cold stare.

“Look it up yourself,” she said. “If you want to know. I won’t talk about him.”

September held her hands up. “Okay, okay. Fine. I will.”

Roman opened their mouth to respond but found themselves unable to speak as they stepped outside to the brilliant sight of the sun sinking to the horizon.

“Oh, wow,” September breathed. “That’s gorgeous.”

“Isn’t it?” Kara replied, taking a deep breath and releasing it. “I love watching it from the top. I’ll have to take you up there sometime.”

“That would be wonderful,” Roman replied.

The three of them descended the stone stairs into the town together. Roman drank in the sight of Cliffside as the sun set, at the lanterns coming to light, at the buildings silhouetted against the sky. The stars were clear and bright, visible and present in a way that they had never seen them before.

“The stars are so beautiful here,” they said. September made an agreeable-sounding humming noise.

“I’ve never seen them like this,” she agreed.

Kara looked between the two of them. “That… must be a rather different world you’re from,” she says. “To have no stars like this.”

“Where we come from, the cities are so big and so bright that they drown out the stars,” Roman replied. “You have to go out, far out to the country, away from it all, to see them like this.”

“Well,” Kara said, shrugging. “You’ve gotten to see them like this, now. We should hurry back to the church, though, since we’ll be up early tomorrow morning, too.”

They did hurry back and found Tollin preparing for bed.

“Oh!” he said, smiling when he saw them. “Lily did come by. She said that Taria had agreed to work with Roman and September.”

“That’s great!” Kara said, and it took Roman a moment to remember who Taria was.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “I’m excited.”

“You’ll need all the energy you have for tomorrow,” Tollin said, smiling at the three teenagers, “so hurry off to bed. Good night, Roman, Kara, September.”

They all bade goodnight to Tollin as they headed towards their room.

He had left apples on their beds for them to eat before bed, and Roman caught sight of September holding hers, staring at it, while Kara was out of the room.

“Penny for your thoughts?” they asked.

September shook her head. “Keep your money. You don’t want them.”

“Well, if you don’t want your apple, then I’ll have it,” they said, and September growled over her shoulder at them. They took a step back.

“Mine,” she said.

“Okay, okay, it’s yours,” they said. “Enjoy it.”

“I will,” she said, taking a bite out of it while staring them in the eye.

Remy and Emile

The fifth dead end, and Emile could feel tears pricking at the back of his eyes.

“Son of a bitch!” Remy snapped, kicking at the floor, his sneaker scuffing the rock. Steve took a couple steps forward and put a hand on Remy’s shoulder. The shorter boy shook it off.

“We just need to turn around and keep going,” Steve said, his hand slowly sinking down to hang at his side.

“Oh, we do? I was just going to dig my way to the surface from here!” Remy snapped, turning to face Steve, who froze and then raised a hand to cradle his chin. He stared at the wall, a contemplative look on his face.

“You know,” he said, “that’s not a bad idea.”

Not… a bad idea?

Emile and Remy stood there for a moment, both of them staring at Steve.

“N-not a bad idea?” Remy eventually spluttered. “How long would that even take? You’d be exhausted! You’d break your pick!”

Steve reached behind himself to pull his pick off his pack. He looked down at it and tossed it between his hands a couple times.

“I think it’d make it,” he said, resting the head against the ground and leaning against the handle. “It would be a more sure way of getting out than wandering around the cave system, hoping to stumble on the exit.”

Remy pressed his lips together and crossed his arms. After a moment, he shifted his weight onto one hip.

“Fine,” he said. “But only if you’re not the only one mining it out the whole time.”

“Deal,” Steve said. “My turn first, though, alright?”

“Fine, whatever,” Remy snapped, and Emile watched him walked over to the wall of the cave and sit down, leaning his back against it. He glanced back at Steve, who was picking his pick up and walking over to the wall opposite Remy.

“I’ll come give you a break soon,” he said, and Steve paused and turned to look at him.

“Alright,” he said. “You’re doing okay right now?”

Emile nodded.

“Yeah,” he replied, offering up a weak smile. “I’m doing better. I’ll just be, uh, over by Remy until then. We’ll keep an eye out for mobs.”

“Good,” Steve said, smiling back, his strong and bold. “It’s good to have the two of you watching my back.”

Emile could only nod, and Steve turned and continued to the wall. It took Emile a moment to catch his courage, and he turned and walked to Remy as the sound of Steve’s pick hitting the stone filled the cavern.

“We’re in for a long night, aren’t we,” Remy said as Emile sat down.

“Yeah, I think we are,” he agreed. “I think we really are.”

Patton and Chris

“There it is,” Ivy said, pointing to a creeper head mounted on a fencepost. “Single creeper head.”

“Just in time, too,” Holly said. “The sun’s probably setting right about now. Which direction is it?”

“This way,” Ivy said, walking off the path and into the jungle. Patton and Chris shared a glance and then followed them.

They only walked for a couple minutes, shoving their way through the foliage, until they found a door in the side of a hill. Ivy opened it, and led the way in.

It took a couple of moments of fumbling around int the dark, but the two girls soon had the lanterns lit, casting light in their little cave room. There were five beds along the back wall, and some crafting tables and furnaces closer to the door.

“Alright, dinnertime,” Holly said, sitting down on one of the beds and opening her pack. The other three followed suit, each claiming a bed by sitting down on it, and then opening their packs.

The bread and smoked fish was hard to get through, even as Chris drank the last of his water. He finished it off, looked down at the empty bottle, and then up at the rest of the group.

“We’ll be able to stop and get water somewhere tomorrow morning, right?” he asked.

“Yes,” Holly replied. “We should reach the Clatskanie River by midmorning tomorrow, at the latest.”

“There’s probably also creeks and stuff between here and there that we could fill up at, too,” Ivy added, shrugging.

“So… we’ll reach the Clatskanie River tomorrow,” Chris repeated. He frowned. “Does that mean we’ll be crossing it, or following it?”

“Both,” Holly replied, holding her hand out to Ivy. “Map, please?”

Ivy rolled her eyes and handed the map over to Holly, who stood up and walked over to Patton and Chris’s beds. She laid the map down in front of them, and the three of them leaned over it.

“There’s the Clatskanie,” she said, pointing to a spot towards the south end of the map. “We’re going to cross it there, and then follow it for a bit between the tundra and the jungle there, until it turns into the jungle, then we’ll just keep following the divide between the biomes to the northwest, until we reach the Wapato River, where we’ll follow it northeast.”

Chris looked at the spot Holly was pointing at, and then at the star towards the center of the map labeled Nevara.

“How long will it take us to reach Nevara?” Chris asked, glancing at some of the other names on the map as well. Nequera, Lava Springs, Frothwater, oh, and there was Anorian that Eridani had talked about.

“Only a couple of weeks at the most,” Holly replied.

“A couple weeks?” Patton exclaimed.

“Unless we get horses, somehow,” Holly amended, shrugging. “It’s really not a bad amount of travel time! At least we’re not coming from somewhere like, like, Frothwater or, I don’t know, Kavinian. It would take them over a month to get there, on foot.”

Chris opened his mouth to reply, but Ivy beat him to it.

“This is riveting conversation, but can we please get to sleep?” she snapped. All three looked over at her. She was already curled up under the green blankets with her back to the group.

“Uh, yeah, sure,” Holly said, grabbing the map and folding it back up. She stood up and stretched her arms over her head for a moment before turning back to Patton and Chris. “We were planning on leaving as soon as we woke up and eating breakfast as we walked. Is that alright with the two of you?”

“Yes, that’s fine,” Patton replied while Chris nodded his affirmation.

“Alright, well,” Holly said. She smiled at them and then walked towards her bed. “See you in the morning.”

Patton and Chris both echoed the sentiment as they got into bed.

Logan and October

They leaned on each other as they trudged through the sand. A wind was picking up, blowing grains in little rivers of sand over the dunes.

Together, they stumbled into another shallow cave and collapsed at the back of it. The light of the setting sun barely reached them there, and the way it curved prevented them from seeing the mouth of it.

“You know, even if a mob came in, I don’t think I could run from it,” Logan said. His throat felt hot and sharp, turning his voice harsh as he spoke.

“Good thing they won’t come in, then,” October replied, her voice sounding just as harsh. “Don’t think we need to bother with watches tonight.”

“Good,” Logan muttered, shifting so that his head was resting on his arm. “Goodnight, October.”

“Goodnight,” she replied.

He heard the sounds of her shifting into a comfortable position, and in the coolness of the cave, could feel the heat radiating off of her where she was curled up close to his back.

Slowly, he fell asleep to the sound of her breath.

Remus and Todd

“Well, we’ve made it, and just in time, too,” the soldier poking Remus along said.

“Oh, so this is Redmoore?” he asked, looking back over his shoulder.

“Stop—”

“Oh, yes, I know, stop talking, how many times are you going to tell me that?” Remus asked, shaking his head and looking at Redmoore in front of them.

It was situated at the mouth of a river. Not one as big as, say, the Columbia or even the Willamette, but a good-sized river anyway. There were several bridges built across it, some of them made of stone and arching high over the water, and some made of wood and traveling flat across it.

There was a harbor, as well, filled with docks and boats. There were people still coming in from it, even as the sun passed below the horizon, filling the sky with a golden light. The town itself was lit, by lanterns and glowstone and torches.

Two guards, dressed in leather and carrying bows, saluted the soldiers as they approached.

“Where would we find your jail?” the leader of the soldiers asked the guards, who looked at each other and shrugged.

“If you need a place to stick prisoners, we usually just stick ‘em in Barty’s basement until we can get them to Nevara,” one of the guards said.

“Great! Could you give us directions to there?” the soldier asked, and both guards pointed to the docks.

“It has a sign that says Barty’s on it, you can’t miss it,” the guard said. The soldier thanked them for their help and the group headed for the docks.

Sure enough, they couldn’t miss it. Barty’s was the biggest building there, and the sign was garish and fish-shaped.

The lead soldier opened the door and led the group in. A grizzled old man, with dark skin and scars and a missing hand, was the first person Remus noticed.

The other person in the room was a young boy, who the man gently pushed behind him as the soldiers approached.

“Can I help you—sir?” the man asked, his eyes narrowed, his hand still on the shoulder of the kid.

“Yes. Are you Barty?” the lead soldier asked.

“That’s me,” the man replied.

“I hear that your basement is generally used as a holding cell,” the soldier replied.

Barty grit his teeth. “I told the mayor that I’d not be having any more to do with that.”

“Yes, well, we need a place to stick these two for the night, and your basement is as good as any,” the lead soldier replied. He took another step forward and shrugged, armor clanking. “You… wouldn’t want to deny a soldier of the Regent, would you?”

Barty and the soldier stared each other down for several moments. The soldiers shifted, moving their hands to the hilts of their swords.

At last, Barty exhaled.

“Fine,” he said. He turned to the boy and knelt down. “Kody, run on back to your mama and papa.”

The boy nodded and did as told, running past the soldiers and out the door as Barty stood again.

“This way,” he said. His grey-streaked dreads brushed against each other as he turned and led the group to the back of the… shop?

Whatever it was, he led them to the back and down some stairs. The basement was filled with, judging by the smell, barrels of fish.

“You can just lock ‘em down here,” Barty said. “As long as you’ve checked ‘em for axes and whatnot. It’s not like they can break through an iron door with their fists ‘n’ fury alone.”

“Todd probably could,” Remus piped up. “She has a lot of fury.”

Barty chuckled while the soldier assigned to Remus smacked his shoulder with the flat of his blade. The lead soldier looked like he rolled his eyes.

“We’re going to leave you two in here overnight,” he said. “If we come back and find that you’ve made a mess of Barty’s fish down here, you’ll be in for a world of hurt.”

“Don’t eat the raw fish, got it,” Todd said.

“Or knock it over, or spill it everywhere, or… you get the idea,” the lead soldier said. “Alright, Kaja, Elnur, you can leave them now.”

The two soldiers watching Remus and Todd stepped away, shoving the two teenagers towards the back wall as they did. Remus stumbled and fell, while Todd managed to keep her feet. Both of them turned to watch the group of soldiers leave, followed out by Barty, who gave the two of them one last glance as he left.

They heard the lock turn in the door, leaving them alone with the fish and the lanterns and each other.

Virgil

The living room/dining room area of Eridani’s house was huge, easily large enough to fit several families in it. The three of them were the first back, and so Eridani moved to the kitchen to begin prepping the meal.

Virgil followed her that way, hands in the pocket of his sweatshirt. His left hand still ached some, but it didn’t hurt as much as it had.

“Is there anything I could help with?” he asked, and Eridani paused, tapping her chin with her forefinger and middle finger.

“Well, you could help set the table,” she said. “The dishes are in that chest there.” She pointed with her finger to a chest next to the crafting table, and Virgil walked over and opened it.

“How many places?” he asked, and Eridani hummed.

“Well, let’s see here, ten. Ten places,” she replied, and Virgil nodded, counting out ten plates and carrying them out to the table. He repeated the process with silverware and glass bottles.

That completed, he walked back into the kitchen, asking, “is there anything else?”

“You could fill the bottles in the cauldron,” Eridani replied as she sliced up apples. Virgil left to do just that.

As he was in the process of filling the fourth bottle, the door opened and two people walked in. Both were short. The taller one had long, loosely curly black hair and golden-brown skin and the shorter one had long, straight black hair and dark olive skin.

“Who’s here?” Eridani asked from the kitchen.

“It’s us, mama,” the taller one said.

“Sadalbari!” Eridani rushed out of the kitchen and hugged the taller one, kissing the top of kyne head and then turning to the shorter one. “And Ratree!” She hugged the shorter one as well.

“Ziv, you remember Sadalbari and Ratree,” Eridani said, pointing at the two people who had entered. “Sadalbari, Ratree, this is Virgil. He’s been traveling with Ziv. Virgil, this is my child and kyne life partner.”

“Hi,” Virgil said, waving at the two, who both waved back at him.

“Hello,” Sadalbari said.

The next person to arrive was Arrakis, who had a disgruntled look on his face. He was followed in by four people: a tall woman with dark skin and loosely-coiled hair that reached her chin, a shorter woman with lighter skin and an aquiline nose, a short, heavyset man with light skin and blond hair, and an average height woman with tan skin and brown hair.

“Hello, mama!” the tall woman said, hugging Eridani and then Sadalbari. “And Sadalbari, it’s good to see you outside of work, for once.”

Sadalbari sighed and smiled at kyne sister. “Yes, well, Ratree and I are very busy, but Arrakis told us that Ziv would be here, so how could we not make time?”

“Oh, so you’ll come for Ziv and not your family?” Alioth asked, putting her hands on her hips.

“I don’t see Ziv often, now, do I?” Sadalbari retorted. Kye gestured to Virgil. “And you haven’t introduced yourself to our new friend.”

“Oh, yes, I suppose I should do that,” Alioth said, holding her hand out to Virgil. “I’m Alioth Angetenar, Tvant’s ambassador to, well, everywhere else. You’re lucky you came by while I was in town.”

“I’m Virgil,” Virgil replied, shaking her hand.

“And now your partners?” Sadalbari prompted, raising kyne eyebrow.

“I’m Jyoti,” the woman with the aquiline nose said, waving.

“I’m Sindri,” the man said.

“And I’m Albena,” the last woman said, stepping forward to shake Virgil’s hand as well.

“Well,” Eridani said, stepping between Alioth, Alioth’s partners, and the rest of the group. “Dinner is ready, so we should sit down and eat. Arrakis, would you help me bring the food out while everyone else chooses their seats?”

“Of course,” Arrakis replied, following Eridani to the kitchen.

Space was left for Eridani at the head of the table, with a spot for Arrakis at her right hand. Herobrine claimed the spot to her left, with Sadalbari immediately sitting down next to him and Ratree sitting next to her partner. Virgil chose the spot next to Arrakis, while Albena sat next to him and Jyoti next to Albena. Sindri sat next to Ratree, and Alioth next to Sindri.

“Ah, you figured your spots out all on your own,” Eridani said as she walked back into the room, carrying dinner, followed by Arrakis. She was carrying the baked chicken pan, and she set it down near the head of the table before turning and heading back into the kitchen. Arrakis was carrying a dish of cooked carrots, and he followed his mother back into the kitchen after setting it down. They each came back out again, Eridani carrying another chicken and Arrakis carrying a bowl of sliced apples.

“It looks lovely as ever, thank you,” Ratree said as Eridani and Arrakis sat down.

“Of course,” Eridani replied. “We thank Sivt for a bountiful harvest, and Taithi, for a free-flowing trade.”

With that, she began carving the chicken on her end of the table, while Jyoti began carving the chicken at the other end.

The first part of dinner past well enough, with the group too busy eating to have much conversation. People started talking a bit more, though, as they got fuller.

“So, Virgil,” Albena said, turning to him and smiling. She had a radiant smile that easily reached her eyes. “Is this your first time in Tvant?”

“Yeah,” he replied.

“It sure is different from anywhere else, isn’t it? Although some of the villages I’ve heard of might be similar. Sindri likes to tell people that his town was perched on the slope of a mountain, but I’ve been to his hometown, and it’s in the middle of tundra,” Albena said. “Not many people dare to live this high.”

Virgil held back a shudder. “No kidding,” he muttered. “So… how did you meet your partners, then?”

“It was Alioth’s first visit to my home,” Albena said, setting her fork down as she started telling the story.

Dinner continued and eventually concluded, with Albena conversing with Virgil most of the time, and when she wasn’t, Arrakis took up the slack. Alioth hurried her partners out the door as soon as dinner was done.

“Dinner was lovely, mama,” she said. “But we really must be getting home. We’re leaving for Mika’s Valley bright and early in the morning and we need to be rested up.”

“Of course,” Eridani replied, stepping forward and wrapping her daughter in a hug. “Sleep well, all of you.” Alioth and her partners left, leaving Eridani to turn towards Sadalbari and Ratree. “And you two? Do you have to go soon, as well?”

“We can stay as long as you want us to,” Sadalbari replied, looking at kyne partner. Ratree nodded her agreement.

“And, Ziv, you and Virgil will be staying the night with me,” Eridani added, looking at the two of them. “No arguments. It’s already night and anywhere else you’d be traveling is a long and dangerous way away.”

Herobrine ducked his head. Virgil could just barely see his smirk. “Of course,” he said. “I wouldn’t dare argue with you.”

Sadalbari and Ratree remained for a while longer, at least until Ratree began falling asleep. Then they left, and Arrakis was tasked with showing Virgil and Herobrine their rooms for the night.

“I’ll see you in the morning for breakfast,” Arrakis said as he left Virgil in his room, leaving no time for argument. Virgil watched him leave, standing in the middle of the room for a few moments before shaking himself and walking to the door to close it.