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The efficiency of the construction crew was a magnificent sight to behold. The main force of workers dug out a roped off section of land that would eventually become the house, while others hauled off excess dirt for use on other projects. Giant slabs of rock and mountains of bundled timbers sat beside the pit on large stone rollers, ready to be moved at a moment’s notice. In the time it took for us to arrive, share a brief greeting with the foreman, and find a spot to survey the work that was out of the way, the clearing transformed from untouched wilderness to the beginnings of a home.

 

All of us elected to spend our time at the worksite, both for the chance to give input on the building process, and to watch the crew work. Marten couldn’t help but walk the grounds to keep a close eye on the construction, and Marin followed closely behind him with a seemingly never ending supply of questions about their soon to be established business. Hana brought along her knitting supplies and was happy to sit on the driver’s bench of the wagon, working away at her current project from an elevated vantage point from which she could watch her husband’s meanderings. Lia and I sat in the grass at the edge of the clearing, meditating over the scene with great interest.

 

I quickly learned that I had overestimated my knowledge on the topic of building houses. While I had initially assumed that the process of setting the foundation was a simple matter of digging a hole and fitting it with quality construction materials, the intricate level of detail we observed proved me entirely wrong. We watched with fascination as the workers meticulously graded and packed the earth at the bottom of their newly dug pit repeatedly, then lined the surface with fresh, finely crushed gravel. Only then did they begin the process of lowering the massive stone slabs into the hole, making sure to thoroughly coat each edge with a thick layer of sticky black mortar. Sturdy support beams were fitted into perfectly shaped holes in the stone floor at regular intervals, creating a grid of vertical timbers that would eventually support the first story floor.

 

The foundation was finished by the time the sun set, and we returned to town to find Elise waiting for us on her front steps. She welcomed us inside to a dinner table covered with food and drink, which consistently grew more full as Bella made trips in and out of the kitchen with platters and tankards. Over the course of the meal, she asked a multitude of questions about our experience with the workers, pushing us for details on their efficiency and adaptability. When she was satisfied that the project was proceeding as she expected, our conversation shifted to a more jovial, lighthearted tone, and we ate and drank together well into the evening.

 

As our visit wound down, Elise made an excuse to head back to her office with the increasingly flimsy promise to return afterwards, and we said our goodnights. Before she left I inquired about where in town I would be able to buy a notebook and pen, which was met with a hearty laugh; she showed me to a small office room behind the kitchen that was lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves filled with notes of various sorts, and was told that I could use anything that didn’t already contain writing. After an impressively long search through stacks of paper covered with records, diagrams, and hastily scrawled notes, I was able to find an empty notebook bound with metal lashes on one edge, as well as multiple inkwells and quills.

 

Lia and I returned to our bedroom for the night and began our next phase of planning. I drew diagrams of the various fittings and techniques we had seen, while Lia wrote a detailed list of what materials we would need, and in what order we would need them. She wrote her notes in the leatherbound journal that she had carried on all of our adventures, and became amusingly defensive whenever I asked to reference her information. When pressed on the issue she refused to hand the diary over, opting to instead dictate the necessary information aloud with a comical scowl. I quickly lost focus in favor of teasing her, and we gave up the task altogether soon after.

 

The following day provided even more new lessons. Due to Marten’s insistence on involving himself in the project, we were privy to a detailed explanation of each step in the process from the foreman as the pair chatted on their rounds. Metal rods affixed a wooden sill to the stone slab walls of the basement, which became the framing for the rest of the day’s work. I began to create a rough sketch of what our potential house would look like as the build process continued in front of us, while Lia wrote down the dictated steps verbatim. After a day filled with lessons on joists, support beams, and cantilevers, we had a satisfactory plan for our house’s foundation written in full detail between our two notebooks.

 

I was continually surprised by how quickly the work on the Corell’s house advanced. With the basement and framing finished, it only took two more full days of work to finish the project. I started the following day with notes on how the floor filled in over the frame, and by the time I had finished drawing, half of the walls had already been erected. With the floor in place, Marten, Hana and Marin walked through the skeleton of the house and gave their input on which rooms should be where. The left half was divided into three bedrooms, one large master room and two smaller guest rooms across the hall, while the right side was left mostly open like their original home in Tolamar, with a spacious living room leading to a dining room and kitchen.

 

As the workers laid overlapping slate roofing tiles on the last day of construction, a second full shipment of building materials arrived, just as Elise had promised. The foreman did his best to reassure Marten that his house had been built exactly as it was supposed to, and the extra delivery was clearly a mistake that we wouldn’t be charged for. Marten, having been informed of our plan, assured the clearly distressed foreman that they could leave the materials where they were delivered for the time being, and that we would take up any issues of returning or buying the excess delivery with Three Barrels directly.

 

With the construction finished and thoroughly inspected after our multiple walkthroughs, we piled back into the wagon and began our trip back to Elise’s house for our final night as her guests. Marin, Hana, and Marten had plans to meet with Elise the following morning to procure the necessary furnishings for their new home, which left Lia and I time to finally start our own project. We sat together in bed comparing notes and making plans well into the evening until Marin knocked on the door and chastised us for being too loud. Our planning continued in whispers under cover of darkness afterwards, ending only after Lia fell asleep mid conversation.

 

We said our goodbyes soon after dawn and, with a box full of Marten’s best tools, made our way to the stash of building supplies in front of the Corell’s house. We parted ways there as planned; Lia sprinted ahead to our clearing with a splitting axe to begin widening our building space, while I stayed behind to sort through our supplies. The small materials like nails and mortar ingredients were thankfully packed in large crates, which could easily be carried three or four high. Likewise, I could carry a bundle of timbers on each shoulder with a small boost from my Strength enhancement. Our stone slabs were a different story; although it was technically possible for me to lift one on my own, I knew that I could comfortably make three trips in the time it would have taken me to haul the slab through the woods by myself.

 

As I began my role as our pack mule, I passed the time by watching Lia through my Detection. A combination of Sharpening and Strength enhancements gave her the ability to chop down the surrounding emberwoods with only a dozen swings, which severely emphasized her lack of experience with the task. I couldn’t help but laugh as her first target fell exactly opposite of where she had intended; while falling trees would have been dangerous for most people, Lia merely stomped her foot in frustration as she dodged to the side. She grabbed it by a notch and, after a quick flare of mana, dragged it slowly out of the forest to its intended spot at the side of the clearing. Her skills increased with each attempt, and by the time I had arrived with our first load of crates, she had eight logs stripped and neatly stacked.

 

The work passed by quickly once we settled into a rhythm, and we finished our first set of tasks by noon. Knowing that the next task was hauling stone slabs, we both dragged our heels and took a more scenic route through the forest, casually chatting while we snacked on jerky and dried fruits. When her parent’s new house finally came into view, we both stopped short and looked at each other. “We could just...take a break for the day,” Lia suggested with a hopeful grin.

 

“I think we deserve this,” I groaned, stretching in anticipation of the work to come. “When’s the last time we did any training?”

 

“It was, erm…” she trailed off as she scrunched up her face. “Huh. I guess it’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

 

I nodded. “To be fair, we’ve been pretty busy for the past few weeks. You know, fleeing the country and what not.”

 

She laughed. “Well, we don’t have to worry about that anymore. No more Virram Yorrell, no more missions, nothing.”

“You’re right about that,” I said with a smirk. “Now we have to worry about moving these rocks instead.”

 

She threw her head back and let out a loud sigh. “Fine. I guess.” With our momentary break over, we crossed to where the first massive slab of stone waited for us. I heaved one end up and onto my shoulder, then waited as Lia spent a few moments experimenting with how much mana she would need to expend to successfully carry the stone. When she managed to raise the slab up to a comfortable enough position, I let her take the lead and set our traveling pace. It was slow going at first, but as she became more confident in her balance, our speed gradually increased until we were cruising through the trees at an enhanced jog.

 

We completed the task just before sundown. Lia’s energy visibly dimmed with each successive delivery as she spent more and more mana to keep up her pace; by the time we came to the last stone, I had to balance the entirety of its weight on my back as she merely guided me through the forest on shaking, unsteady legs. When we reached the clearing, she immediately collapsed face first into the ground, landing spread eagle in the soft grass. I hefted the final stone down where we had piled the others, then returned to check on Lia.

 

“Just leave me here,” she moaned into the dirt. “I’m not moving until tomorrow.”

 

“Don’t you want to sleep in a real bed tonight?” I laughed. “I imagine it would be a lot more comfortable.”

 

“Yes I do,” she answered, “but unfortunately, I’m not moving until tomorrow.”

 

I knelt down beside her and scooped her up into my arms. “If that’s the case, I’ll just have to move you myself.” She wrapped her arms around my neck as I stood up and began our final trip through the woods for the day. “You did a good job today, Lia.”

 

“Mhmm,” she nodded sleepily into my neck. “You too.”

 

Marten had promised us that they would arrive with the furniture before sundown, but we returned to find the house as dark and empty as we had left it. Without a key to the door, I had no choice but to rest my back against it as I sat on the front steps, still holding Lia in my arms as she slept soundly against my chest. I had nearly dozed off myself when a floating lamp in the distance signaled the return of our missing trio, all of whom sat on the front bench of what I assumed was a fully packed wagon.

 

I handed Lia off to Marten wordlessly, then moved to the wagon to unpack the most crucial furniture: three mattresses, each stuffed with what seemed like separate, cushioned layers of cotton and down feathers. I quickly brought one to each bedroom and retrieved a crate packed with blankets and pillows, then whispered a quick goodnight to the group as I took Lia back from her father. She never stirred during the entire ordeal, and we were sleeping comfortably side by side on our floor bound mattress a few seconds later.

 

---

 

Lia bounced on the balls of her feet as she watched me meditate. “Do you really think it’ll work?”

 

“I can’t say for sure, but we’re about to find out!” I activated the network of mana beneath my fingertips, and was rewarded immediately with a rumble beneath my feet. A huge cloud of dirt kicked up from the clearing in front of us, settling a few seconds later to reveal a large, perfectly rectangular depression in the ground. Tentatively, I reached my fingers down to the disturbed dirt, and was delighted when they sunk into the ground without resistance. “Yes, I think it’ll work,” I laughed.

 

She let out a wordless victory cry and clapped her hands. “Alright!” she yelled, running a lap around the edge of the disturbed dirt. “Let’s move on to the next one!” Without waiting for a response, she pushed me excitedly to the edge of the clearing where the cleared emberwood trees were stacked.

 

“Why the rush, all of a sudden?” I asked, laughing. “We have as much time to do this as we want.”

 

“We’ve got to keep the momentum going!” she urged. “If any of these tests fail, we’ll have to do a bunch of replanning, so we should find out as soon as possible.” Her fingers tapped against the closest log insistently. “Also, I’ve really been looking forward to this one.”

 

As much as I found her enthusiasm entertaining, there was a certain level of truth to her reasoning as well. The building plans we had drawn up relied on us using our magic in ways that, while straightforward, were entirely untested, and we would have to pivot sharply if any of the proposed applications failed. “Okay,” I nodded, pointing to our stash of tools, “get me the hammer.”

 

While she dashed across the clearing, I reached out a hand to the closest log and suffused a thin cross section with mana. When I was satisfied I had picked the right spot, the Shatter rune inside my ring flashed for the second time that morning, and the log groaned beneath my palm as a five foot long section separated from the rest of the tree. This would have been a helpful ability for Lia to learn before chopping down all of these trees. I hid my rueful grin as she returned and handed me a simple craftsman’s hammer. “Thank you,” I said, taking it in one hand and closing my eyes.

 

I examined the tool through my Detection, rotating the mental image end over end to observe it from every angle. When I was confident I had every detail mapped, I carefully recreated the hammer’s outline just below the surface of the emberwood log beneath my empty hand. The process created a unique strain inside my head, feeling almost as if I was crossing my eyes to observe an object that sat too close to my face. It also came with a more familiar sensation of vertigo I had come to expect from new uses of Detection, so I clenched my jaw in an attempt to push through and hold my focus.

 

“Is it working?” Lia asked insistently, her face hovering just a few inches away from my ear.

 

The sudden noise startled me, and I sighed loudly. “It would be, if I had a few more seconds of silence to focus,” I answered, cracking open one eye to glare at her. Her hands flew up to her mouth, and she stepped back with a contrite look on her face. “Thank you,” I said more gently. Restarting the process was simpler on my second attempt, and I soon had the outline of the hammer traced in a thin sheet of mana within the log. After a final moment of focus to trace out a few extra tendrils of energy to the surface of the wood, I activated the Shatter rune.

 

There was no visible or audible response to the magic, but my Detection told me that the attempt had succeeded. I opened my eyes and ran my fingers along the surface of the log where I had been working, then dug my nails into the bark and pulled. A perfectly square section of wood released without resistance, revealing a hollow that held a wooden replica of the hammer in my left hand. “Wow,” I whispered to myself as I pulled the replica from the log, “that actually worked.”

 

Lia bounded forward and stared at the two objects over my shoulder. “You did it!” she exclaimed, shaking me excitedly by my arm. “It worked!”

 

“It did,” I laughed, still amazed. As I held the two objects side by side, I marveled at just how thoroughly our plan had succeeded; every detail of the original tool, from its worn handle to the initials carved into the metal head, had been perfectly transferred to the wooden replica. The seamless nature of the wooden tool gave it a bizarre look, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of our time in Atsal, a city which seemed to have been carved from a single, impossibly large block of pure white marble.

 

“If that worked, and our first test worked, that means we can actually get started today!” she said, running over to our pile of tools and returning a moment later with a large shovel. “I’ll start clearing the first layer of dirt now!”

 

“I like your enthusiasm, but don’t overwork yourself. This isn’t a project we can finish in a day, no matter how much magic we know,” I cautioned her. She waved off the advice with a huff and rushed to the loose patch of dirt I had created. My earlier magic had completely separated the packed earth, allowing Lia to shovel it out into a pile with minimal effort. “Let me know when you finish that layer, and I’ll get the next one ready for you.”

While Lia rushed her way through her task, I read through our notebooks and prepared the materials we would need for the day. Many of the timbers and planks of wood needed to be cut and shaped before they could be used, a process that occupied five workers for an entire day during the construction of the Corell’s house. Armed with a measuring stick and a piece of chalk I marked out every cut that needed to be made for the day, then performed them all simultaneously with perfect, magical precision.

 

Between the inhuman efficiency afforded to us by our enhancements and our intricately laid out plans, we managed to finish the foundation of the house by the end of the first day of construction. We both continued to work on our next assigned tasks as the sunlight faded, neither of us wanting to put an end to the momentum we had built. The clearing was entirely dark as we began to lay down the first story’s flooring, but our enhanced senses meant typical working hours were only a suggestion for us. The moon had risen above the treeline when we finished and cast a silver glow over our completed work.

 

Although my hands were scraped and my muscles were sore, I felt nothing but satisfaction as I sat on the newly created floor and looked over what we had built. “Alright, I’m calling it quits for the night,” I said, patting the spot next to me.

 

“Not yet!” she insisted, scanning our surroundings. “We could at least get the exterior walls framed, and then—”

 

“Lia,” I interrupted, tapping the empty spot beside me more pointedly, “sit with me.” I watched her face fade from conflicted to defeated, and she sat down beside me with a loud thump. “There’s no need to rush. We just did more in one day than a group of fifty men; I think we deserve a rest.”

 

“I know,” she sighed, staring at the floor between her feet.

 

I put an arm around her shoulders and rested the side of my head on hers. “Something’s on your mind.” She nodded after a short pause, but failed to elaborate any further. “Do you want to talk about it?”

 

“No. It’s stupid,” she answered, laughing at herself.

 

“That shouldn’t stop you from wanting to talk about it,” I said, giving her a playful nudge. “I think about stupid stuff all the time.”

 

She laughed and nuzzled her head against mine. After another pause, she sighed. “Every time I feel like things are going well for us, something bad happens. It happened in Atsal, it happened with Val...and I keep feeling like it’s going to happen again. Life has been so great lately that I keep waiting for something to come along and change things.” She laughed again and kicked at a pebble on the floorboards. “I thought that maybe, if we finished the house as fast as possible, we could beat life to the punch this time.”

 

“That’s not stupid, Lia. That’s exactly how life has worked for us ever since I showed up.” I stared up at the moon and took a moment to reflect on the path my life had taken since arriving in Kaldan. “But it doesn’t mean that life will always be that way. Now that we’re here in Lybesa, things can be different. Virram Yorrell can’t hurt us anymore, and if he tries to…” I trailed off as the corner of my mouth curled into a dark grin, “...he’ll regret it.”

 

The clearing fell quiet for a while, and I watched Lia chew on a question out of the corner of my eye. “Lux?” she asked eventually. “Why didn’t you kill him? After we fought the Trinity Guard, back in the throne room...you could’ve done it.”

 

“I won’t lie to you, Lia. I wanted nothing more in that moment than to crush his head against the back of that stupid, golden chair.” My hand clenched reflexively at the memory of punching Virram’s perfect nose, and the gush of blood that covered his face as it broke beneath my gauntlet. “When a King is murdered, the only people who really suffer are his citizens. A slimy, underhanded king like Virram leaves behind a vacuum that’s always filled by someone just like him. I imagine that Gullen would’ve taken over if I had killed Virram; do you think anything would’ve changed?”

 

“No,” she answered, “Gullen was in on the plot with the Strategist.”

 

“Exactly. Gullen and the other councilors only benefit from the king’s death. Virram doesn’t suffer at all, because he’s dead; a fate far too kind, in my opinion,” I added bitterly. “No, it’s always the civilians that suffer. They’d use his death to justify some new goal of theirs: a war, a new draft, heavy taxes, anything they can scheme up. Despite the catharsis his death would have given me, I couldn’t do that to all of those innocent people.”

 

Lia wrapped her arm around my waist. “It sounds like you’ve seen that before.”

 

“Yeah, in Hedaat. I didn’t remember it until...recently. I’d rather not think about it too much.”

 

“Well, let’s not think about it, then,” she said, holding me tightly. “Virram will live a long, sad life while we start our happy one right here.”

 

“Now that is a punishment I can get behind,” I chuckled, thankful for her distraction. “I think the first step towards starting that life is getting some sleep, though.”

 

“I guess you’re right,” she admitted with a resigned sigh. She slid out from under my arm and walked over to our pile of supplies, returning a moment later with our well worn sleeping rolls. We had originally intended to return to her parents’ house to sleep after our work was finished each night, but it was clear in the moment that neither of us wanted to leave until the project was finished. Lia rolled out the mats on our freshly laid floorboards and sprawled out beside me. “You know, despite all the hard work, I had a lot of fun today.”

 

“I did too.” I unfastened my cloak and tossed it to her unprompted, and was rewarded with a soft, satisfied hum a moment later. “Lybesa has been pretty nice so far. I think I could get used to living here.”

 

She knocked loudly on the floor beneath us. “You’d better. We’re not moving this thing.”

 

I threw my head back and laughed. “Yeah, that’s true.” I took her hand as I laid down beside her and stared up at the stars. The forest around us was silent and still, empty of any human life for miles in every direction. “We’ll beat life to the punch on this one, Lia. I promise.”

 

Her fingers tightened around mine. “I know we will.” She rolled away onto her side, pulling my arm along with her like a blanket. “I love you.”

 

“I love you,” I echoed softly. After a final pulse of Detection to ensure we were truly alone, I closed my eyes and nestled my face against her braided hair, and we quickly fell asleep.

 

The following days of labor were filled with a series of nonstop successes. Our careful planning paid off in spades; every room of the house was predetermined with an intricate level of detail and multiple variations in case of last minute changes, which facilitated a perfectly efficient workflow. Our enhancements allowed us to drive nails in a single blow with complete precision, and carry entire wall frames into place between just the two of us. Any angled cuts or wooden fittings were crafted with an otherwise impossible accuracy through my new shattering technique, allowing us to chase our most ambitiously outlined designs. Each success emboldened us to work harder than we had before, and we reveled in the challenge.

 

As we worked, I reflected on my relationship with Lia, and how comfortable I had become with her. I counted her as one of the few people I had ever known that I could spend hours with in complete silence, without ever feeling the awkward urge to force a conversation. When we did talk, I spoke happily and without restraint. As we broke for lunch on our third day of work, sitting on our half finished porch with our legs swinging off the side, we held a spirited half-hour long argument about which flavor of jam was best on toast; we failed to reach a resolution on the topic, but the memory of the conversation kept us laughing quietly to ourselves for the rest of the day.

 

On the fourth day of construction, as the sun crested the treeline, Lia and I stood at the edge of the clearing hand in hand and marveled at what we had built. “It’s...done,” she said quietly, sounding a bit like she didn’t believe the words.

 

“It’s done,” I confirmed. “Now comes the fun part: filling it with stuff. Our stuff.”

 

“We don’t have much stuff,” she giggled.

 

“Well then, I guess we’ll have to get some, won’t we?”

 

She hugged my arm tightly and stared at our new home. “Can we show my parents now?”

 

“That’s probably a good idea. I’m sure they’ve been worried about us ever since the first night we didn’t come back to sleep,” I laughed.

 

“Ooh...right. I sort of forgot about that,” she replied, pursing her lips. “I’m sure we’ll hear about that when we get back.”

 

Despite the potential scolding waiting for us, we began our trip through the forest to meet Lia’s parents. She led the way at a brisk pace, dashing down the path we had already walked dozens of times before. Luckily for us, a quick scan ahead revealed that Marten, Hana and Marin were all gathered around the dining room table, enjoying a late breakfast. The house came into view after a comfortable ten minute jog, and Lia sprinted ahead excitedly. “We’re back!” she shouted as she popped out of the treeline.

 

Marin appeared in the doorway as Lia climbed the steps, and the girls shared a tight hug. “Oh Lia, thank the Primes you’re back!” Marin exclaimed, shaking Lia back and forth. “I’ve been so bored since you left! Nothing but paperwork and bookkeeping all day.” She stuck her tongue out and made a retching noise. Our eyes met as she finished the gesture, and she smiled. “Hi, Lux. How’s the house coming along?”

 

“Hi Marin,” I waved as I caught up to Lia. “We were just stopping by to see if you’d like to come visit.”

 

She dropped Lia and leapt down onto the grass beside me. “Yes, please! Which way is it?” she asked, bouncing on the balls of her feet as her head swiveled to scan the surrounding trees.

 

I shook my head and laughed. “You’re going to need shoes, Marin. It’s a bit of a walk.” She sighed loudly before running back up the steps and slipping between Marten and Hana, who had appeared in the doorway. “Good morning!” I waved to them.

 

“Hello, Lux,” Hana greeted me warmly as she leaned down to plant a kiss on Lia’s head. “Hello, dear. How’ve you been?”

 

“I’m, uh, good,” Lia answered, giving her mother a quick hug. “Sorry we didn’t come back.”

 

“No need to apologize, darling,” Marten laughed, “we know you’re busy.”

 

She took a step back in shock. “Wait, really? You aren’t mad?”

 

He shook his head. “Marlia, you’re a grown woman. We know you can take care of yourself now.” He glanced side to side, then leaned into her ear to whisper. “Besides, Marin is more than capable of occupying our time. That girl is...something else.” The trio shared a laugh as they stepped out of the door and down onto the grass. Marten turned to me and clapped me roughly on the shoulder. “So, Lux, how’s the build going? I trust you’ve been keeping my daughter busy for the past four days.”

 

“She’s been excellent company, and a fantastic building partner,” I answered with a smile. “We were hoping you’d all like to come see the place, now that it’s finished.”

 

He scoffed. “Finished, he says.” He turned back to Hana, chuckling to himself. “We’d love to see where you’ve chosen to build, wouldn’t we dear?”

 

“Of course,” Hana nodded. “It’ll be nice to get out of the house for the afternoon.”

 

Marin reappeared from inside the house, sporting a comfortable pair of shoes and a light jacket. “What are we waiting for?” she asked, waving her hand over her head as she made her way towards the forest. “Let’s go!”

 

“It’s this way, Marin,” Lia yelled across the clearing as the rest of us entered the woods on the northern side of the house, opposite of where Marin had charged off to. She caught up to us a moment later with a sheepish grin, and we made our way north through the unmarked forest. After an uneventful hour of walking, the telltale sound of our nearby stream told us we had arrived. “We’re here!” Lia announced as the clearing slowly came into view.

 

Marten stopped at the treeline and stared at the completed structure in complete awe. “That’s...you couldn’t have...but, you just…” he babbled, looking between Lia and myself for an explanation.

 

Hana patted him gently on the back. “He’ll be fine,” she assured us with a smile, “go on ahead.”

 

Marin took the suggestion to heart and ran ahead across the lawn. “It’s so beautiful!” she shouted as she circled the house, disappearing around the back corner.

 

As Lia and I approached, I couldn’t help but bask in the beauty of what we had built. The building stood two stories tall with a rough wood exterior and red slate shingles that matched the leaves of the surrounding trees. A deck sprouted from midway along the front face of the house and ran around the left edge, bordered with a thick railing and covered by a slanted wooden awning. A simple red door and a stone staircase were positioned at the right corner of the house, only a few yards away from a thin path through the trees that led towards the stream.

 

When Marten had recovered from his initial amazement, we all entered the house together. Although it was entirely empty of furnishings, it was still a sight to behold. The first floor was entirely open apart from a staircase near the center of the house, which bisected the space into two distinct rooms. The front door deposited us into what would eventually be a dining room, adjacent to a kitchen space with counters and cabinets, and a door that led to a small pantry room. Large emberwood timbers stood at equal intervals throughout the space, supporting the second story above our heads.

 

As we moved down the length of the house, the floor above our heads disappeared as we passed the staircase, leaving the space open up to the roof two stories above us. Long windows lined the outside wall to our left which looked out onto the deck and let copious amounts of natural light into the living area. A large stone fireplace sat in the middle of the far wall, with a door to the left that led out onto the sitting area of the deck. Behind us, the staircase led up to a second floor balcony that ran the width of the house. The lofted space was split into three rooms that would eventually become bedrooms, once we began the process of furnishing the space.

 

Lia and I leaned against the fireplace mantle with wide grins as our guests explored the house. Marin dashed up and down the stairs several times, examining every room on the second floor and the empty basement in an excited fervor. Marten moved at a significantly slower pace, stopping to examine various aspects of our craftsmanship every few feet; Hana consistently ushered him along when he dawdled for too long, nodding patiently as he admired and explained various techniques we had used. It became clear that his inspection would outlast our patience, so we waved Marin over and moved outside to the deck.

 

“This place is really amazing, you too,” she said once we were outside. “I still don’t know how you built it yourselves. And so quickly, too!” She spun and leaned back against the railing as she stared at the structure. “I wouldn’t believe it if I weren’t standing right here, staring at it.”

 

“It took over a full journal of planning, plenty of studying, four days of hard work...and some magic,” I said. “To be fair, I still can’t believe how well it went myself.”

 

“Magic,” she murmured, ignoring the rest of my statement. “Are we still doing that? The combat and magic training?”

 

“As soon as you’re ready,” I nodded.

The fuzzy ears that were usually folded atop her head perked up at the offer. “I’m ready now!”

 

“Okay, maybe not as soon as you’re ready,” I laughed. “How is your business with Marten going?”

 

She sighed. “We’re meeting with various businesses every morning for the next...forever. Elise set us up with all of the companies that don’t work with her for various reasons, to see if we ‘can meet their needs in a more effectual, personalized manner than a larger organization could provide’,” she said, mimicking Elise’s voice.

 

“That wasn’t half bad,” Lia giggled. “If you’re going to be busy every morning, how about this? We’ll meet you at my parent’s house at noon, bring you here for training, and take you back at sundown? That should give you plenty of time for your business meetings, and gives us time for our own work back here.”

 

“Yes!” Marin answered hurriedly. “I’m ready! Can we start tomorrow?” she asked me with large, excited eyes.

 

“That’s up to your teacher,” I said with a grin, nodding towards Lia.

 

Marin gasped. “You’re going to be teaching me?!” She grabbed Lia by the shoulders and hugged her briefly, then shook her side to side. “Can we start tomorrow? Please? Please!”

 

“Okay, okay!” Lia laughed, fighting for control of her own body. “We can start tomorrow.” Marin leapt up with a victorious warcry, but Lia stepped forward and put a hand on her arm. “This isn’t going to be all fun and games, Marin. It’s hard work. You’ll be more sore and more tired than you ever have been before. Do you think you can handle that?”

 

“I can do it, I promise! I won’t let you down.” She hugged Lia again, then hopped over and hugged me as well. “Thank you, both of you. You won’t regret this!”

 

I smirked as I patted her head, thinking back to Lia’s first few days of training. We won’t regret this, but you might. With our important conversation out of the way, we showed Marin around the property, leading her out to the stream and up to the spring that fed it. Her exuberance was on full display as she immediately kicked off her shoes and splashed out into the stream, wading around the shallow areas and drinking deeply from the crystal clear water. To my great relief she was perfectly content with entertaining herself, and didn’t attempt to draw us into the water as well.

 

When our excursion was finished we returned to the house to find Marten and Hana leaning against the deck railing, quietly staring up at the house. “You’ve built something special here, you two,” he said as we came into view. “You should be proud. We certainly are.”

“Awww,” Lia said, catching her parents in a group hug. “Thank you. That means a lot.”

 

“Yes, thank you,” I echoed. “I’d invite you in for some supper, but we’re a bit light on food at the moment. And on furniture.”

 

Hana laughed. “It all comes with time. Until then, we’d love to have you visit for dinner as much as you’d like.”

 

“I think we’ll take you up on that,” I answered. “Until we really get ourselves established out here, we might be over to visit quite a bit. Not that I’ll complain; I’ll take any excuse to keep eating your home cooked meals.”

 

“In that case, why don’t we head back now for dinner?” she suggested. The idea garnered unanimous support, and we all filed off of the deck and made for the woods.

 

I rested my arm around Lia’s shoulders as we walked at the back of the party and grinned. “Apart from eating your food, I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot of us regardless. We’ll be by every day at noon to pick up Lia’s new student.”

 

Marten and Hana stopped and looked between the two girls with amusement, which brought a blush to Lia’s cheeks as she looked away. “You’ll be teaching her, Marlia?” Marten asked. He let out a sharp bark of laughter. “Oh dear, Marin. You’re in for it now.”

 

“What’s THAT supposed to mean?” Lia yelled defensively.

 

“I still remember when you tried to teach me letters,” he said through a toothy grin. “It was not a gentle experience.” Lia sulked at the accusation, but offered no rebuttal.

 

Marin laughed. “It’s going to be great! We’re starting tomorrow, as soon as I’m back from our meetings.” Her statement reminded Marten of their impending business ventures, and the conversation quickly shifted away from Marin’s training as we made the trip south to the Corell’s house. Lia was quiet, but her face softened over the course of our walk, and her mood seemed much improved by the time we arrived.

 

The remainder of our day was filled with food, conversation, and multiple rounds of cards. Compared to the last time we had seen it, the Corell’s house was nearly overflowing with their belongings, both old and new. The hallways were lined with bureaus, chairs and other large pieces of furniture, all part of a matching set crafted from emberwood and upholstered with thick green and blue fabric. Crates from Marten’s business sat in the corners of every room, still packed with the belongings we had been able to save before fleeing Kaldan. When the sun had set, Lia and I quickly moved the larger pieces of furniture to their intended destinations before preparing to leave. With her parent’s blessing, we said our goodbyes and left with a crate full of Lia’s clothes and keepsakes and the mattress from their guest room.

The night sky was overcast and dark, but I required neither Detection nor my enhancements to find our well-traveled path. Our trip started in silence, but a growing look of concern on Lia’s face soon culminated in a question. “Do you think I’m going to be a good teacher?”

 

“Of course I do,” I answered matter of factly. “You have a fantastic teacher, so I’m sure some of that will trickle down.”

 

“I’m being serious, Lux.”

 

“I am too! At least, with the part where I believe you’ll do well.”

 

She shook her head. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. What if I’m too mean, and Marin quits training just like my father did?”

 

“Lia, you don’t have a mean bone in your body,” I answered. “Well...maybe one of the tiny ones, like a finger bone, but that’s all.” I nudged her with the corner of the mattress until a small smile lit up on her face. “In all seriousness, I think the best way to prepare to be a teacher is to be a good student. You’ve already got that down, so I’m sure you’ll do great.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Think about it this way. Marin is going to be in the same position you were a few months ago; she has no prior combat training, and absolutely no idea of what she’s getting herself into. When you were in that position, what did I do that helped you the most? What did I do that made you frustrated? With all of the knowledge you’ve gained since then, what would you go back and tell that version of you to help you through it?” I let the thought linger as our house came into view through the trees. “If you can answer those questions, you’ll be an even better teacher than I was.”

 

We paused our conversation for a moment as we fought the mattress through the front door and up to our empty master bedroom. “Also, don’t forget what you did on your very first day of training,” I laughed as I tossed the mattress to the floor and began to disrobe. “Fifty repetitions of each of the basic swings I taught you. Not a very complicated lesson.”

 

“I don’t think I’m going to start like that,” she chuckled as she fished through her crate, retrieving a blanket and her nightgown.

 

“Oh, already changing things on the first day?” I walked around behind her and grabbed her around the waist, catching her midway through changing for bed. “Tell me, professor,” I said, speaking softly into her ear, “what could I have done better?”

 

She spun me around and shoved me backwards onto the mattress, then followed up by throwing a pillow into my face. “You could have not started with fifty repetitions of every basic swing.”

 

I put a hand to my chin and considered her statement with exaggerated care. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” I concluded with a laugh.

 

After slipping into her nightgown, she joined me on the mattress and spread a heavy blanket over us. “Thanks for the advice, Lux,” she said, giving me a quick kiss on the cheek. “I feel a lot better about tomorrow now.”

 

“Anytime, love,” I said, pulling her close. “If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed and need some help, I’ll be right here. We’re in this together.”

 

“Together, forever,” she murmured, curling up against my chest.


I smiled, but I felt a heavy pang of longing deep in my heart as I heard the promise echo in Amaya’s voice a thousand times in my memories. Forever, I thought sadly. I don’t think I know what that means anymore.

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About the author

Adam Ladner

Bio: Hi there. I'm Adam, the author of the "Restart Again" series. I started this writing project in the spring of 2019 as a fun creative outlet, and much to my surprise, I actually stuck with it! Fast forward to a year later, and here I am with the first book completely finished, and the second well under way. It's been a great experience, and I'm glad I have a chance to share it now!

I'd never heard of this site until recently, when one of the Amazon reviews for this book suggested I share it here as well. I'm not entirely familiar with how the site works, and whether or not it's frowned upon to just come here to share fully finished products that exist on other sites. With that in mind, I plan to drop a chapter on here every Sunday and Wednesday until the entire book is posted. If you enjoy it, hop over to my website to find the latest news on the project, and a link to the Amazon page where you can buy the eBook/paperback. I hope you enjoy it!

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