Sybil couldn’t think of anything to talk about. What was there to know about herself? She grew up in the core, he grew up in the outerland. There wasn’t much that Alton could say either. She knew all too well what outerland people were like, and he definitely acted like one. Greedy, despicable, and rarely caring about others unless it meant they got something for themselves.

“Tell me about your parents,” said Alton as she looked up at him. “I already heard a lot of stories about when you were a kid.” He leaned forward on the table and smiled at her. “They were cute.”

She apparently smiled a lot as a child, and she loved to sing. That was the first thing Chickadee or Zaniyah would bring up when they talked about the past. She had a bright smile that lit up the whole room and a lovely voice to match it.

“There isn’t a lot to say. My dad made the news in the outerland a few years back.” Because of the incident where Lydia Larkin was killed by a golem her father was working on. There was hardly a person in Carapace who hadn’t heard of her father because of that.

Alton heard of it firsthand from Lydia, but she insisted that Sybil’s father was framed. He wondered if Sybil knew about that. “What about your mother?”

“She died.” Lydia died when she was fourteen, and the woman who had been married to her father died several years before that. She was three at the time.

“You mentioned that before. I meant, how did she-”

“Suicide.” Sybil wrung her hands around her cup of foxnip as she stared down at the table. “They said it was an accident. She was attacked by a tusked snake while gathering fungi in the caves, but I don’t think that was the case. Father… He never talked about it like that was the case, and neither did Lydia. She always… I think she somehow believed it was her fault. Right after that was when she went to fight in the Southern War, and it was a few years before she came back.”

“I see.” Alton looked down at the table as he struggled to come up with a new topic. Girls from Starsons were easier to talk to. It was all gossip, fashion, or about how great he was. Talking with Sybil was… It wasn’t boring, but he found it difficult to find something that didn’t bring up painful memories for either of them.

Sybil shook her head. “I don’t remember anything about it. They had to quarantine me for medical reasons… She had done something that made me very ill right before she died. I had to leave Carapace for special treatment, but I don’t remember where. I only remember being really hungry all the time. Then the Krogastein family looked after me whenever dad was busy. Maybe dad or Miss Zoe know the details on what happened, but I never bothered to ask. It’s probably for the best that I don’t remember.

The worst part about it was that my dad was at a conference in Fogbloom when it happened. They couldn’t get word to him, and I don’t remember who I stayed with until he came back. I don’t have grandparents, but someone must have taken care of me until they returned... Or maybe that’s the reason why I was sick in the first place…”

Lydia had told Alton that it was her fault that Sybil’s mother wasn’t around anymore. There were only more questions he had in his head after he heard Sybil thought it was suicide. “My birth father died when I was fifteen. I had already been living with the Toval family for a few years when it happened.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” she whispered. “Were the two of you close?”

Alton had a flash of a memory race through his mind. He was riding on Bibi with his father walking next to them. The man was retelling a funny story about something Enzo had done, and Alton nearly fell off from laughing too hard. “... We were.” His eyes dropped to the table. “Before you ask, he was murdered. They caught his killer, but I couldn’t find out more than that. My mother might still be around, but it’s been a few years. I wouldn’t know.”

“But do you know how to get in contact with her?” Sybil looked up with a frown. “I mean, would you want to go your whole life never seeing her again? Unless you’re somehow forbidden from talking to her.”

He inhaled slowly and looked up at her. She was leaning in with a worried expression. “I won’t get in trouble if I find a way to contact her, no. She’s not in a place where I could send a letter. I would have to find a way to get there myself, and that isn’t easy.” Sybil’s worried look turned into curiosity as she leaned in further. Alton would’ve tried to kiss her in order to change the subject, but he was distracted.

He had a far off look in his eye as he remembered his childhood. His mother was beautiful. She had hair that was like silver in the waves, and when the light danced about in the water currents, her eyes shimmered like a rainbow. Even though there was so much of her that was in him, he couldn’t help but feel distant.

“Sweetie, can you hear me?” He could feel something cold draw about his face as his eyes opened up. His mother was speaking to him in the ancient tongue. The beauty of those words always made him smile. “Enzo is visiting. Go up and say hello.”

Alton’s legs kicked below him as he swam upward. He twirled about, moving through schools of fish until he broke through the water’s surface. A man in a fine suit was waiting for him. He held a soft smile as he knelt down and patted Alton’s wet locks.

“There you are, Master Alton. Ready for a trip to the surface world? Duxton has been asking about you. Patterfall is also here with Viokern, and Sena is visiting with Shaw as well. You’ll have the whole group to play with today.”

The boy’s cheeks puffed out. “I don’t like Duxton! Last time he held my head down in a fountain and ordered me to breathe so he could show off to Shaw!” His gills were on his ribs. How was he supposed to breathe water with his nose? Duxton was an idiot and Shaw was just as mean. If he hid behind Sena, they’d double their efforts to bully him the next time he appeared.

Enzo knelt down and spoke kindly to him. “Duxton has had some trouble adjusting to living in the palace. You must be strong enough for the both of you until he learns how to settle in.” He held out a gloved hand and clasped onto Alton’s when the boy reached out for him. “If you promise to humor him, I will buy you that harp you’ve been pestering your father for. Agreed?”

“Agreed!” Alton grinned widely and bobbed his head.

“You have my gratitude, Master Alton. Please get dressed. I need to speak to your mother about your schedule, so I will be here when you are ready.” The man winked at the woman whose head peeking up just past the water’s surface. He puffed out his cheeks slightly, looking like a blowfish as he did so, and she giggled as a response.

Alton ran over to his secret hiding spot, which was the best place to keep his surface belongings. He was in a cave that was illuminated by pulsing creatures that lived on the stones. He had been told they were golems, but he didn’t quite understand what that meant. His mother always told him that they were blessings from their god, and that was always a good enough answer for him.

Mist poured through small crevices in the walls, and he needed to be careful not to slip as he ran. He waved at the sword that was mounted on the wall as he passed it. Supposedly that was their god, but to him, it just looked like a sword that he wasn’t allowed to play with. Finding the right crevice, Alton squeezed his way in and began to look around.

There was a chest that had clothing in it, and he grabbed a towel to dry himself off. Drawings of the outside world were hung up on the walls, and there were shelves that had the treasures that he had brought back with him. Mostly toys, but a couple small instruments as well. He did miss his mother whenever he left the caves, but there were so many wonderful things in the outside world. Hopefully, he’d be able to grow up soon so he could help his father take care of mother.

“Alton?” He blinked and was back in the present. Sybil was awkwardly poking at his cheek. “You alright? You zoned out for a while... Is the heat bothering you?” She wondered for a moment if he had low alcohol tolerance.

Of course, he couldn’t tell Sybil about any of that. He couldn’t tell anyone about where he actually came from. “I was just thinking that my mother is… Far off. It would take a lot of effort to get there.”

“Alright...” Sybil moved her hand away from him. Though Alton said he wanted to talk, she wasn’t finding it easy to avoid awkward subjects. “What did you father do before he died?”

“He worked for the royal guard in Fogbloom,” he replied in a flat tone. “He was a high ranking member there until his death.”

“Really?” He nodded. “So that’s why you want to go into the royal guard after you left Braytons?”

“... Sure,” replied Alton, still using a monotone voice. “Sorry, this is a sensitive subject for me. Go ahead and ask me anything else. Again, sorry.”

Sybil pushed some of her hair away from her face. “Alright... I heard you were a bit of a womanizer back at Carapace. It seems like you have a few options here as well, so why are you after me? You already know what you want for your future, and I want something different. Why are you trying so hard to make this work?”

Because his arm was being twisted behind his back about it by an annoying ghost. “You’d think I was crazy if I told you.”

He’d think she was crazy if she told him about her sword with its creepy visions and talking mist people. Her eyes had been opened up to the possibilities of this world, and what she had seen was weird. “I’ll do my best to believe you.”

Alton frowned and looked away in embarrassment. “... When I first saw you, I heard music. It was exactly like a romantic play where the two leads meet for the first time and suddenly their theme begins to drift through the air, but there was music. It was so loud that I was annoyed by it.

I know I was a jerk at first, but that’s because I was trying to fight off the idea that I might be genuinely attracted to a girl for something other than her looks. Like how little boys pull on girl’s hair to show affection? You’re… You’re the type of girl that I’ve always wanted but couldn’t find. Someone like... I don’t know what it is, but I do know that I’m always going to want to be by your side.” He smiled bashfully to himself. “Is that going to be a problem?”

Her face blushed at his statement and she shuffled about uncomfortably. “Maybe. I don’t know yet.” She wanted to believe him, but what he said was hard for her to swallow. “Hearing music does sound pretty crazy…”

“I thought you said you weren’t going to judge.”

“I said I was going to try to believe you, but I’m still allowed to judge.” She pouted at him and spoke in a mocking manner. “Is that going to be a problem?”

Alton gave her a sideways glance. “When you act girly like that, it makes me want to step over this table and ruin you in a way that will make Zyris never want to take you back.” Her response was to throw a pillow at his face. “Hey! I’m serious!”

“It sounds like you’re lying about everything when you follow it up with something like that!” Her face was all the redder.

“You’re going to knock everything off the table and make a mess if you act violently. I’m serious about how expensive this stuff is!” Alton stood up and stepped around the table, sitting next to her as she leaned away from him. “My turn to ask a question.” He was close enough that she could smell the foxnip on his breath, and that made her uncomfortable. “If Lady Grulick is dead, how did you get your acceptance letter? Did Vex really forge it for you?”

“Vex did forge it for me.” It was a lie, but one that was more convenient than the truth. She looked up at him and tensed up as he was staring at her with a stern look. “What?”

“Did you ever ‘do anything’ with Vex while you were traveling with him?” Her face contorted into a disgusted look, and that was enough of an answer for him. “Fine, sorry. Why didn’t you use your sword during the duel earlier?”

Sybil was concerned over his sudden change of topics. “I’m scared of it.” Which was the truth. That sort of power can’t be safe for her to use. She still had concerns from the things she had seen the last time she used it. “I don’t like the way it makes me feel. I’m… Afraid of what I might become if I keep using it.”

“Do you want to elaborate on any of that?” She shook her head. “Do you at least feel okay now? You’re not going to cry over Zyris again?” Her eyes instantly started to water up again. Zyris was right outside. She should be with him right now, not with this pervert.

“N-no… I’m n-not going to cry again.” She absolutely was. “Why are you asking all of the questions? I thought we were taking turns.”

“I never said we were taking turns. “ Alton wrapped his arms around her and pushed her against the pillows. His put his hand against the side of her face as he hovered over her, and she looked up at him with a vulnerable look. “I told you that I don’t want to see you cry ever again. If you ever feel like you’re going to, tell me to do something like this.”

He dipped his head forward and kissed her gently. Her fingertips gently went across his skin as she moved them down his cheek and along his neck. They settled against the collar of his shirt and tightened about it. Pulling her hand away, he kissed her fingertips as he rolled off to the side.

If she got him worked up again, he wouldn’t be able to stop this time around. He chose to look at her instead. This was the first chance he had to examine her this closely without her complaining about it. She wasn’t bad looking. Her eyes were dark, flitting back and forth as she examined him in turn. There was something pretty about the way she was nervously chewing on her bottom lip.

He kept a grip on her hand as they silently stared at each other. With each passing moment, she was becoming more and more embarrassed. Alton let go of her hand and wrapped his arms about her tightly as he pulled her towards his chest. His eyes shut as she settled herself against him. This was nice. Oddly, something about this was nice.


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About the author

Adelaide West

Bio: Author of the Grimstone Series and Duck and Wolf.

I have a Twitter. I check it often, so I guess tag me anytime you want. I just don't post very often. @AdelaideGWest

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