The Planar Archivist
Volume 1: Astalon
Chapter 14: A Shameless Cheater
Post-Convergence, Year 49, Season of Fire. 15th of Wildfire.
Near the outskirts of Ciarac, over the roofs of a small village, a warm blanket of sunlight shone down from the sky and embraced the treetops outside. Cicadas buzzed in the trees. The sound of it rang clear through the glare of the afternoon sun, surrounding a small village and its orchard of lemon trees in the sounds of summer. The day was pleasant. Peaceful.
But it was not idle. Far from it.
In the streets of Cryota Village, horse-drawn carriages rumbled through the dirt paths. Peddlers sold food and commodities from distant cities. Carvings of the Pheonix were traded, feathers the color of fire were sold by the sackful, and the bags of ash that had been gathered throughout the year were finally set loose. The ash fell into the streets like gray snow. The color sunk into the ground, mixing with the browns of Astalonian soil. The smell of ash hung in the air. Thick, yet strangely sweet.
That was because the ash wasn’t the usual kind. It was scented. Mixed with grated lemon skins and peddled perfumes.
From it, a pleasant scent rose into the air, and an upwards draft carried it along the rolling hills and beyond. It went into the trees and past the gaping fields. Over the houses, and into the sky, the scent of celebration spread far past the small village that started it. Almost as if it was trying its best to remind the world of what day it was. Of what the day represented to all that lived in Astalon.
The day was the fifteenth of Wildfire. The hottest day of the year. The middle of summer, and the time for one of the biggest celebrations in the entire realm.
The Fire Festival, or as some people called it, The Day of Fire.
All across the country, people reveled in the season of merriment. Torches and pyres were lit in daylight. Games were played under the sun. Drinks were served for free in taverns all over the realm, and each person brought out the clothes they had waited the whole year to wear.
The streets of Cryota—and every other place in the realm—ran with color. Clothes, hats, shoes. Everything took on the vibrant color of fire. Orange, yellow, red; they decorated the streets and the houses, the crowds looking like leaves in autumn soil. Looking down from above, the entire realm seemed to have been set aflame. The people burned. Not with grief or pain or hatred, but with happiness. Thanksgiving. Hope. Today was the day that people were allowed to be happy, no matter who and where they were. In the hottest day of the year, the spirit of Astalon shone the brightest.
And as the time for noon rolled around, in the outskirts of Cryota Village, a boy lay comfortably in a bed of fur and straw. Theodore Auric stirred, and slowly, his eyes opened.
“You’re awake,” a voice said.
He stared up at the ceiling in a daze, before slowly turning his head to look at who had spoken. His eyes met hers, and Erys smiled. She sat on the floor beside his bed, resting a cheek on her palm as she looked at him. Theo looked past her and went still.
His room was packed.
For some reason, it had been tidied up in one way, and completely messed up in another. The clutter of blankets and straw-filled sacks he slept on had been folded neatly and put aside. The crumpled papers that usually decorated his floor were no longer there. And his bedside dresser was nowhere to be found. His closet was visible on the other side of the doorway, and for some reason, the large table in the kitchen had somehow been fitted through the door to be put in his room. Around it, a strange collection of people sat.
Ierth and Mr. Kamlin sat beside each other, chatting lightly as they ate a hearty lunch. On the table, Freyarch sat and nibbled on a massive sausage that magically hovered in front of his face. Caspian sat away from all three. He sat by the edge of the table, sullenly tearing into a piece of meat on his plate.
Theo looked at Erys and dazedly, he said, “We’re alive.”
“Thanks to Snuggles,” she replied, grinning at the cat. Freyarch gave the two of them a sour look and turned away. “He came in with Ierth and Mr. Kamlin before we got eaten by those big ants. He even healed the two of us up!”
“Actually, Corpse Harvesters don’t really eat—“
Erys clamped her hand over his mouth and rolled her eyes, “Save it. You know what I mean. How’re you feeling?”
“My head hurts.”
“That’s because you overtaxed yourself, little Auric,” said Mr. Kamlin. Theo turned his gaze to him, and the man shrugged. “By the time we found you, your mana reserves were just about depleted, and your body was at its limit with fatigue. You said you wanted to be a Rift Walker, right? Get used to that feeling. It won’t be rare.”
Erys gave Theo a look, “I don’t think Rift Walking would suit you, though.”
“I agree,” Ierth said.
Theo started, but stopped as soon as he remembered his time in the Harvester hive. The darkness, the walls pressing against him from all sides. The taste of death in the air. Waiting. Waiting to claim him. Theo looked down and sighed. No matter how he looked at it, he didn’t see himself enjoying that kind of lifestyle. Seeing him, Mr. Kamlin set down his tankard with a resounding clack.
“Theodore, you said your reason for wanting to get into the business was to see the other realms, yes?”
He looked up and slowly nodded, “Yes.”
“Why not consider just becoming a merchant, then? I could introduce you to a trading guild when you come of age. Cross-planar trading routes are risky, but they come with a tidy profit,” said Mr. Kamlin, sloshing the mead contained in his cup. He leaned back on his chair and took another sip. “Not to mention, the journey is its own reward as well.”
Ierth glared at the retired Rift Walker, “Stop giving him ideas, Kamlin. Journeying across the Planar Boundary in a merchant’s vessel is no joke.”
“It’s still better than diving into hostile Rifts, isn’t it?”
“That’s only if he isn’t—“
Theo awkwardly raised a hand, “I don’t think I’m cut out for either of those.”
Everyone in the room paused for a moment. Their eyes moved to him, and even Freyarch sent him a curious look. Mr. Kamlin crossed his arms.
“What do you intend to do when you come of age, then?”
Theo pursed his lips, “I don’t know.”
“Well,” Freyarch tossed the bone he was eating from aside, “it’s a bit early to be talking about these kinds of things, isn’t it? How old are you, Auric?”
“I’m turning thirteen in… three months? My birthday’s on the twenty-third of Bloodleaf.”
“See? It’s far too early. Give the boy two more years to think.”
At the cat’s words, Ierth looked at the fourteen-year-old Caspian, who looked uncomfortable. Mr. Kamlin shrugged before going back to minding his drink. Erys turned to Theo from where she sat.
“You’re turning thirteen this year? No fair!”
Theo smiled at her, “Did you think you were older than me?”
“I’m still a few months older,” she said, puffing her cheeks up. “My birthday was last month. The eleventh of Embershard.”
“How unlucky can you be to get stuck in another realm on the same month as your birthday?”
“It’s not so bad,” she said. “I like to think of it like a present. It’s actually been fun.”
Theo sat up from where he laid. Following her eyes, he watched a bird with three long tail-feathers swoop down to snatch a mouse off the ground outside. He gave her a sidelong glance, “Personally, I wouldn’t call almost dying in a Corpse Harvester hive a good present.”
“It was a new experience. And you came to save me, didn’t you?”
“I didn’t do a very good job at it, though.”
Erys laughed. “Yup. You even fainted.”
“It’s really embarrassing for me if you say it like that,” he said, feeling his face heat up. He turned away. If she asked, he was determined to insist that it was the fever’s doing. “I didn’t see it coming, either. It kind of just… happened.”
In the other side of the room, Mr. Kamlin stood up from his seat. “That was the adrenaline’s doing, kiddo. Probably only realized how bad you felt when you had the chance to relax. Now…”
The retired Rift Walker turned to the door, and Ierth stood up.
“Excuse us,” Ierth said, nodding to Theo. “I’m glad to see that you’re okay now, Theodore. If you’re feeling well, feel free to join in with the festivities in the village. Some of the villagers were quite worried about you and Er…” he coughed, “Amerys. It’d ease their worries to see you two enjoying yourselves in the festival.”
As the two of them walked to the door, Ierth called for Caspian, who followed after as if he didn’t realize Theo was in the room.
“Ierth! Mr. Kamlin!” Theo called. The two looked back at him, and Theo smiled at them and bowed his head. “Thank you for coming to save us with Freyarch.”
“Any time,” said Mr. Kamlin. “Have a good cycle, kid.”
Ierth smiled at him and walked out the door with his son. Mr. Kamlin followed after. Seeing the rest of the adults in the room leave, Freyarch jumped from the table and looked at the two of them by the bed. “It was only a matter of course for me to save you as well, Auric. I have things to do as well, you two. I will be off. Theodore, we will speak later.” Then, like paint against falling rain, Freyarch faded away from sight.
Erys whistled. “Yeah, you’re definitely in trouble.”
Theo sighed and plopped back down onto the bed. He stared out the window, watching the vast thunderheads roll across the sky. One of them cast a shadow over the house. Erys looked out the window and poked him in the side.
“Are you just going to lie down all day? I thought you were excited for the festival.”
He pulled the sheets over his head and groaned, “Well what can I do? I feel like a herd of cargo salamanders trampled over me in my sleep.”
“You should stand up from there. I have an idea.”
As his Erys-like reply came out the instant she finished speaking, Theo could practically imagine the pout on her face. Well, she could whine all she wanted. He hadn’t slept on his bed in ages, and nothing was dragging him out of his nest of comfort. Slowly, moment of peace dragged by without interruption. Theo felt himself smile.
Then, the sounds of rustling rang out from behind him. Theo frowned under the sheets as the sound of flipping pages rang out. What in Beyond was she doing?
He turned over, poking the top of his head out from the sheets. In front of him, Erys stood with his journal in his hands. She flicked it to an empty page and put it down on the table. Erys plucked his quill off from the bedside table and dipped it into the inkwell. Theo stared.
“Um, what are you doing?”
“Waiting for you to go outside with me.”
“What’s with my journal?”
“It’s my bargaining chip.”
“How?” he frowned. “It’s mine.”
She nodded seriously. “Exactly. Go with me or I’ll scribble on it.”
Theo felt the blood drain from his face, “You monster. Those pages are new, and I’ve never even seen you draw! You’ll waste them!”
Erys smiled, “I think I’ll start with a self-portrait.”
Just before she started doodling on his journal, Theo rose from the bed and snatched the book out from the table in front of her. Erys stood up and dusted herself off. Theo sighed, “My head’s killing me, you know.”
“I know. That’s why I asked you to stand up.” She made for the door, “Come on, let’s go outside for some fresh air. It’s too stuffy in here.”
Theo reluctantly followed after her. He stopped by the kitchen to get himself a drink, and as he drew water from the container he kept in the shelves, he winced at the unpleasant warmth that ran down his throat. Even the water was heated by the summer air. Was it so hard to ask for some nice, cool water? A trip outside was suddenly appealing. Despite the headache he was currently going through, Theo was willing to weather the pain just to take a sip from the creek. It would be a long walk, but…
Erys spoke as the two of them exited his house.
“What’s the Fire Festival about?”
Theo blinked. Oh, yeah. She wasn’t from Astalon. The two of them sat down under the shade of a nearby tree, and Theo took the time to take comfort in the cool breeze as he thought of how to reply. He laid down on the grass and Erys followed suit beside him. Her eyes looked to him for an answer, and he cracked one of his eyelids open to look at her as he spoke.
“You know how the 15th of Wildfire is the hottest day of the year?”
“Yup. It’s kind of a pain. Even back in Caereith.”
He closed his eyes. Theo took in the cool, summer shade as he spoke, “It’s a problem even with the trees, huh? Well, we humans believe in the Cycle of Rebirth, and the Phoenix is kind of our guardian spirit for it. It burns until it’s nothing but ashes, and then it comes right back up and flares to life again. Regarding your question, they say that on the Festival of Fire, the Phoenix is right up there in the sky, giving heat to the world at the peak of its life cycle.”
Erys tilted her head in curiosity. “So that’s the reason. Though, doesn’t that mean that it’s about to die again? Why is everyone celebrating?”
“It’s complicated to explain, but it’s because we know it’ll be back, and we want to send it off with a bang.”
“Do humans pray to it like the Triton do in their shrines?”
“No, we don’t,” Theo said, smiling lightly at the sky. “We just believe.”
A cold summer breeze washed over the two of them. It carried the smell of ash and lemons from the village, tickling their noses with its peculiar scent. “I kind of like that,” Erys said. Her voice was soft. A mutter. Whether she meant the smell or their beliefs, Theo didn’t know. Either way, he would agree. He liked both, after all.
No reply came. Puzzled, Theo glanced at her and found that she was fast asleep. Great Beyond, after going through so much trouble to drag him out here, she was just going to lay down and doze off?
Well, he supposed the place they were in was the best place to take a nap in the area.
He looked up, and a few rays of sunlight shone through the canopy to land on his face. It was warm. Theo pulled his journal up above his face.
“I’ve written more notes this past week and a half than I have all year.”
Theo flipped the pages open with the resounding shuffle of moving paper. His eyes hovered through each note-covered sheet. Notes on Bull Leopards, Erys, Caereith, Rifts—everything was in here. Everything he’d experienced over the past week and a half. Smiling, Theo turned to another page and froze. He stared at it, blinking.
Why were his notes intact?
The last time he saw them, they were soaked by the rain. Barely readable. How was—
Hurriedly, he turned to the first page and stared at the letters on the parchment. No way. Theo moved from page to page, each flick and rasp serving only to confirm what he was seeing. As Theo turned to one of the newer pages—the one where he had done the drawing of a dirt golem with fire in its hands—what he was seeing in front of him became definite.
Instead of the crude, simplistic sketch he’d made, a beautifully detailed illustration was now on the page. It depicted his little earth golem, slowly dissolving into dust. And yet, instead of fear, a perfect feeling of wonder was pasted onto its blank visage. It was staring down at white flames that covered its arms as if it was something utterly beautiful. Despite being a mere drawing on the pages, Theo felt like he was seeing the scene once more. The way its head tilted lightly. The way it stared down at the flames and curled its back to take a closer look. It was so lifelike. So real.
Theo stared at the handwriting above it.
A cute little golem, it said.
It was the only line in the journal he hadn’t written. No, it was the only line in the old journal that he hadn’t written. He stared down at the pages, and slowly, a single realization dawned on him.
The handwriting on the pages wasn’t his.
Theo’s handwriting was messy. Crude. Chaotic, even. Despite that, the handwriting on the pages he now viewed were neat and uniform. The letters were smooth and flowed into one another—a perfect example of competent calligraphy. Nothing like his amateurish lettering. Theo felt his grip on the journal tighten.
Someone else had written a copy of his old notebook. Every single part of it.
He turned to the last page. There were no notes, and instead, something else filled the empty space.
A gigantic, towering treant staring up at the trees. Growen Tal. Two Bull Leopards, each spot and pattern on their furs drawn to the most meticulous of details. George and Lady. The image of a pit. A long, dark passage covered in glowing mushrooms. And finally…
Two kids. Two kids standing together in one massive room. The heart of a Corpse Harvester hive. In front of them, hundreds of the Harvesters worked along the walls, and in the center of it, the illustration of a Harvester Queen stood to oversee it all. The kids’ mouths were open to shout, and Theo could practically hear their voices as the images came to life in his mind.
The journal dropped down to his lap. He closed it gently.
In a daze, Theo stared at the person that was asleep beside him. Erys. There were bags under her eyes, and the fingers of her left hand were red; sore from writing.
She looked like hell.
Theo’s eyes moved the leather-bound tome on his lap. Erys had probably spent the whole night trying to decipher the original with how much the rain had ruined his writing. His scribbles were bad enough on their own, and Theo couldn’t even imagine the headaches it would bring to read the pages when they were soaked. She even did illustrations, for Beyond’s sake. He wasn’t sure how much time she spent on the drawings, but one thing was sure:
She did not skimp out on the effort.
A complicated expression made its way into his face. He was touched, but…
“…Idiot,” he muttered. “Who asked you to do something this pointlessly nice?”
He looked to her and got a snore in reply. He pursed his lips.
Finally, after a long moment, Theo stood up and sighed. He eyed the forest and considered how much time he had left. He had six hours if she slept lightly, eight if he was lucky, and twelve before he started worrying. Theo nodded. He was tired, but she deserved at least this much.
Theo rolled up his sleeves.
“Guess it’s time to get ready for dinner.”
Seven in the evening, and Theo was practically on the verge of collapse as he stared at his magnum opus. His tired eyes wandered around the room. The fireplace was lit behind him, and the sconces along the walls bathed the room in an orange glow. The glass cups he only brought out for special occasions caught the glint of firelight. On their frames, they reflected the images of the food surrounding them.
Riverfish fried in butter, fresh goat’s milk, a whole roast chicken—everything was in there. Even a bowl full of mushrooms deep-fried in oil was placed within the collection of fruits, grains, and meats. The pleasant aroma of food hung thick in the air. Theo didn’t have a lot of money on him, but the coins he hid under the floorboards of his room were enough.
He stared at the food and felt regret in his chest for the briefest of moments. Those coins were the ones he was saving for when he came of age. Was it really a wise decision to spend so much of it?
Theo sat down on the only chair in the room and shook his head.
It’s all fine, I think, he told himself. He’d find another way to earn money in the future. It’s wasn’t like he had to head straight to Fargheist as soon as he turned fifteen. All the purchases he made today were going to set him back by a good amount, but it was all worth it in the end. He never spent much money in the previous Festivals of Fire. After all, Ierth was the only one that came over to greet him during those years, and he was far too much of a recluse to invite anyone else.
This year was different.
A knock rang out from his front door. He rose from his seat, “I’ll be right there!”
Theo pulled the door open, and a frowning Caspian greeted his smile. The older boy wore expensive clothes dyed in red, and a crimson-feathered hat sat displaced on his head of dark hair. In comparison, Theo’s brownish garbs felt out of place. Caspian’s green eyes watched him with a hint of complaint, “I don’t understand why you had to insist I be dragged all the way here, Theo.”
“I invited Ierth, so I figured the rest of his family might want to come along too,” Theo said, glancing around outside. It seemed Caspian had come over first. He pursed his lips, “…Is your mother not coming?”
Caspian pushed past him and entered the house, “She isn’t.”
The push was rough. Theo staggered and caught himself on the door frame. Heat built in his chest. Theo glared, “I know you don’t like me, Caspian. But despite that, I still invited you into my house. My home.”
“This shabby place? I didn’t ask to be here.”
“But you’re here right now. Don’t you think you’re being a bit rude?”
Caspian had his back turned, but even Theo could see that his fists were clenched tight. Theo tensed, but the boy didn’t leap at him. Yet. Caspian turned and met his frown with a glower of his own. “Don’t you think you’re being a bit too fearless, Theo?” the words came at him with an audible snap. Caspian jabbed a finger at him, “You must think you’re special just because you can use magic now. Are you itching for a fight? Is that why you made me come here?”
“If anyone’s itching for a fight, it’s you, Caspian.”
“Don’t forget what I can do, Auric.”
Theo walked around him and reached into a shelf by the couch. His hand came behind a book, and when it came out, he held a vial of putrid liquid in his grip. White fire danced at the tip of his fingers as he glared, “And don’t you forget that even I learn how to fight back. I’m a quick learner, Caspian. Do you really want to see how much I’ve learned since last time?”
The older boy stared at him, rolling his jaw as if he was getting ready for a fight. Theo stared right back.
Caspian dropped his glare, “Whatever.”
He turned and walked into the kitchen. As Theo watched his back disappear around the corner, he leaned against the door and sighed in relief. I can’t believe that worked, he thought. For all his big talk, he hadn’t exactly been studying how to fight. Not that he expected any of his attempts to be successful, anyway. Caspian was taller, stronger, and his arms were much longer than Theo’s. The older boy would straight up destroy him in a scrap.
A pulse of pain shot into his head, and Theo grimaced. Even his magic was out of commission. Summoning those small wisps of white fire was practically all he could do in his state, and his effort was rewarded with the return of his mana drain-induced migraine. He rested his head against the doorframe. Thank Beyond. His bluff actually worked.
Caspian was kind of like a Bull Leopard in that regard. Like the cats, he roared pretty loudly, but all it took to throw him off his game was Theo putting on a show of confidence. Both of them even hated the same things. Like Skunkroot. And him.
Footsteps crunched against the gravel path that led to his home.
“Good evening, little Auric. I honestly didn’t expect to be back here so soon.”
The voice echoed out from behind him, and Theo turned to greet Mr. Kamlin a good Day of Fire, “Hey, Mr. Kamlin. How was the festival?”
Mr. Kamlin waved a hand to the side, “I was too busy managing the inn to enjoy it. Let me tell you, it’s unbelievable how many people think I’ll serve ale for free just because it’s a holiday.”
“Did you, though?”
“Of course. One on the house for each person. Give a man a free mug of ale, and he’ll eventually order more. He'll even bring friends with him, and they'll eat up everything you have ready. I had to close the kitchen early because we ran out of things to cook. Did you know that? Preposterous. I expected to be there all day, you know. I was of half a mind to throw one of the spoons into the pot just to keep it going.”
“Couldn’t you just buy some food from the merchants visiting the village?”
“Those schemers? No. Their wares are way overpriced. Remember this, little Auric. Starve a man for long enough, and even he would trade a diamond for a loaf of bread. Merchants like the ones visiting our remote little village know this well. Meats, grains, and fruits sell for a treasury’s worth more in villages with a festive mood.”
Theo winced as he glanced at the kitchen. The merchants knew, but he sure didn’t. No wonder his coin purse took such a big hit. The food was costly enough even without the other purchases he’d made. Theo quickly wrote down a note in the corner of his journal. Learn the market prices. And haggling, it said.
Seeing him, Mr. Kamlin scratched his moustache and coughed politely, “Enough talk about money. Today’s not the day to worry about that kind of thing, so keep your chin up. It’s the Festival of Fire! How was it for you?”
Theo smiled bitterly, “Me? I ended up spending the whole day preparing for dinner.”
“Ah. Still, to invite so many people in here, you must’ve prepared a lot.”
“I did. I even used the recipes you traded me before.”
The innkeeper smiled and ruffled the hair on his head. Theo gave him a blank stare. Somehow, Mr. Kamlin seemed different from before. He was more… relaxed? Theo didn’t know the word for it. All he knew was that Mr. Kamlin seemed like a genuine person when he didn’t have that merchant’s smile on his face all the time. Theo liked that side of him. It reminded him of Aavish. He could actually picture the man in front of him enjoying a drink with the troll. Now that he saw the innkeeper outside of work, that was.
Theo ushered him into the house and served him a drink. He only had honeyed milk and lemonade, but Mr. Kamlin didn’t seem to mind. Theo figured he probably had enough alcohol to drink in his own inn.
More knocks came from the door. Theo felt Caspian’s eyes on him as he left the room, but he tried his best to ignore it. It wasn’t like Caspian could do anything to him now that Mr. Kamlin was there. Theo pulled the front door open and led Ierth inside. His lonely kitchen already looked crowded with just three people in it, but it was far from the end of it.
More people flowed in from the door. Mr. Copperfield, who he and Erys had borrowed goose feathers from. The old lady and her son that lived across the Meandering Goat Inn. A boy around his age—Antov—even walked into his house. Long ago, he was a friend of Theo’s before Caspian came along. Now he spotted the boy hanging around Caspian a lot more. Still, he appreciated the fact that the boy had asked after him and Erys after they’d gone missing. Ierth had told him all about it. It was… surprising. Shocking, even. Most of the villagers had always complained about him, so Theo thought they hated him or something.
As it turned out, they didn’t. Skunkroot was really just that unpleasant.
Villagers came into his house, and not just for him, too. The two men Erys loved to talk to in Mr. Kamlin’s inn also came to check on her. At some point, even Freyarch showed up in the kitchen. As the last of the visitors came in, Theo stood at the center of it.
Conversation rose up all around him. Laughter. Merriment. Antov tried to reach for the chicken, and an adult’s hand quickly slapped his away. Ierth and Mr. Kamlin chatted away in a corner. Atop one of the shelves, Freyarch lazily looked down at the party below. Theo looked around, and for a moment, he wasn’t sure if what he was seeing was real.
Astalonians believed in the Cycle. The day was a cycle. As was a week. A year. The passing of seasons, eternal and absolute. It was the same for him, and for everyone else. A cycle repeated. Endlessly. Eternally.
To Theodore Auric, the past five years had all been the same.
Empty kitchens. Lonely nights. A fireplace gone cold, and seats unused for the longest of times. Back then, Theo had changed seats every day just to pretend that he wasn’t eating alone. To tell himself that his journal wasn’t the only thing keeping him company. It was the same. Night after night, year after year.
It was a Cycle.
But Theo had forgotten one thing. Cycles weren’t meant to go on the same way forever. Not in Astalon. The seasons would stay the same, weeks would remain at ten days, and the number of nights in a year would never pass three hundred and sixty, but something always had to change. And that something was life.
Every year was a Cycle, and at the end of it came hope. A second chance.
The door to his room creaked open, and all the conversation in the kitchen stopped. All eyes turned to his room, and standing there stunned was the girl that came from another realm. Crimson hair, amber eyes. Erys. She stared at the crowd gathered in the room, dazed.
“What… what is this?”
“It’s the Fire Festival, stupid,” said Theo. He walked up to her and pulled something out from the bag he carried on his side. Theo wrapped it around her neck.
It was made of fine, crimson cloth. It matched her hair, and the trim of gold that lined its sides reflected the color of her eyes. Erys looked down at the scarf he’d put on her and dumbly blinked back up at him. Theo laughed and extended his hand.
Every year was a Cycle, and at the end of it came hope. A change, a chance.
“Thanks for fixing my journal,” he said, putting his hand at the top of her head. “Though I guess it’s yours as much as it’s mine now.”
Erys looked at him blankly. Then, slowly, a grin came over her face as his words sunk in.
“Your handwriting was terrible, you know.”
“The rain ruined it even more.”
“Yeah. It did.”
“It was a pain to write everything down. I skipped the parts I couldn’t read anymore.”
“You did your best.”
He nodded, smiling, and Erys looked down, “…Um, what did you think of the drawings?”
They were amazing.
Theo looked at Erys, and at that moment, he felt thankful from the bottom of his heart. He really was lucky to make a friend like her. She’d changed things for him the moment she barged into his life, and it was all in the span of half a month. His ‘rebirth’ into a new life had come, and damn was it late. Theo grinned.
He wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Theo ruffled up the top of her head, “Honestly? The artist could’ve used a bit more sleep.”
Erys punched him on the shoulder and laughed, “Idiot.”
“If I’m anything right now, it’s hungry,” he said, glancing behind him. The cheeky grins of the adults in the room greeted him. Theo smiled right back. “So, what do you say, Erys? Shall we eat?”
“Only if I take the first bite.”
“No way. Whoever in the room gets to the food first gets the first bite. That's only fair, isn't it? Let's race."
Erys narrowed her eyes and smiled, “You’re on.”
They stared at each other, and the entire room lapsed into silence like death as his words sunk in. All eyes wandered over to the food on the table. A moment dragged by.
Antov’s hand twitched.
The room exploded into a blur of action as half the people in the room dashed for the table. Theo sprang, but a hand snaked over his shoulder and held him still with an iron grip. Erys pulled him back, kissed him on the cheek, and sprinted past him as Theo stared stunned at her back. Her form disappeared behind the crowd of people that rushed at the table.
In a flash, the winner was decided. Erys didn’t win. Freyarch won the race as he plucked the entire roast chicken off the table with his magic, and Erys crossed her arms in the corner of the room, glaring at her guardian Fae.
“Cheater!” she cried, and Freyarch smirked at her. Theo watched the entire thing go down, and as he stared at the two plane-crossers, he thought that they shared at least one thing in common:
They were nothing but shameless cheaters. The both of them.