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The heavy wooden door shattered beneath Jarut’s shoulder, and we slipped past him through the splinters, each clearing one side of the throne room’s entryway. The two guards in front of me jumped away from the shower of wood and metal with just enough time to scramble for their weapons and shout before my sword ended their protests. I spun to assist Kel, but I found her standing casually above the three corpses she had silently created, watching me. She tapped a dagger against her shoulder and mouthed the phrase I already knew was coming: “Too slow.”

 

The bloody violence of our procession towards the throne stood in stark contrast to our last visit to the room, when we had been paraded as heroes before the most important nobles in Alderea to receive the King’s blessing. A three year campaign of death, loss, and betrayal stood between the two events. Every guard that fell before us on our advance towards the throne stood as a poignant reminder of where we had come from, and what we had lost to return.

 

“ORLAN!” Jarut bellowed as he caved in the skull of an approaching Disciple with the blunt end of his battleaxe. “Come down here and face us yourself!”

 

King Orlan recoiled on his throne, and his disheveled grey hair and untamed beard began to tremble beneath his bejeweled crown. “Protect me, Disciples! Protect your King!”

 

I felt my blood boil as he cowered behind the sea of expressionless faces. A series of rainbow lights flashed along the length of my sword as my combat enhancements flared to life, and I dove headfirst into the crowd of Disciples. Kel and Jarut joined me a moment later, but their assistance was entirely unnecessary; none of the members of the mob before us were strong enough to deflect my blows or fast enough to escape my onslaught. The place within me where I once felt pity for the Disciples sat empty, replaced instead with a growing fire of rage and disgust.

 

The guards that fell to our assault were clearly not trained soldiers; anybody who had so much as looked at a sword had been rounded up and sent to the warfront years ago, leaving the Alderean capital almost entirely undefended. The King’s retainer had stayed behind at his insistence, but their bodies were strewn across the front steps of the keep, having valiantly blocked our path as we arrived. Despite the matching royal armor and weaponry, the clumsy movements and lack of coordination of the King’s current defenders revealed them for what they truly were: civilians.

 

I broke through their ranks before Jarut and Kel and charged ahead, leaping the steps up to Orlan’s throne in a single jump. “YOU,” I roared, pointing my sword into his blue and purple robes until the tip pressed against his sternum. I lunged forward and shoved him roughly against the throne by his shoulder. “How could you do this?” I shoved him again as my arm began to tremble, not waiting for a reply. “HOW?”

 

“Elden!” Jarut shouted, rushing up behind me. “That’s enough. Let him go.”

 

I looked up at him in bewilderment as every inch of my body screamed for me to run Orlan through with my sword. “You can’t...Jarut, he—”

 

“Elden,” he repeated, “listen to me. You aren’t thinking clearly. Let him go. ”

 

My nostrils flared at the admonishment, but I shoved Orlan one final time as I withdrew my sword and took my spot next to Kel. Jarut stepped forward to take my place, crossing his massive, plated arms as he stared down at the cowering King with cold, narrowed eyes. “Please, spare me!” Orlan shouted, holding his arms up over his head to defend against some unseen attack. “I’ll give you anything you want, just spare me!”

 

“I want answers, Orlan,” Jarut snapped. “Tell me: Was the war always a lie? Did you plan all of this from the start?”

 

“No!” he cried. “No, I had no idea, I swear! It was Baasch! Baasch was working for Kalateth the whole time!” The old king seemed to struggle backwards against the dark iron throne as he babbled, trying in vain to find a means of escape. “He started the war, and tricked me into sending my troops away so he could take control of the capital himself!”

 

“And you just GAVE it to him?” I shouted over Jarut’s shoulder, unable to contain my anger. “I saw my friends DIE because of you, and you just—”

 

Jarut turned abruptly and blocked the king from my view. “ENOUGH, Elden,” he commanded. “You’ll stay quiet, or you’ll leave.” We locked eyes for a long moment before I turned my head away to stare at the floor, silent and seething. He turned back to Orlan and pointed an armored finger into the king’s chest. “You could have recalled the royal army. You could have called for aid from the north. But you gave the city over to him and didn’t say a word.” He let the statement linger for a moment, then leaned his face down level with the king’s. “Why?”

 

“If I hadn’t gone along with his plan, Baasch would have just killed me and done it anyway!” he replied frantically. “He told me it was the only way to save Alderea from evil! He said it was the only way to keep everyone safe!”

 

In a sudden flurry of movement, Jarut hauled Orlan out of his throne by the collar and carried him down to the base of the dais, where a thick pool of blood had formed around the dead Disciples. “THIS is keeping everyone safe?” he demanded, grabbing the nearest corpse and holding it before the king. He turned the slain man’s head to one side, revealing the long, tell-tale crimson scar of the Disciples that branched out from his ear and mottled the right side of his face. “No emotions? No desires? No free will? You consider that safe?”

 

“Yes, because they were alive!” he insisted. “Either everyone followed the Path of Kalateth, or they died. That was the choice Baasch gave me, and I chose the option that kept my people alive!”

 

“Everyone?” Kel said, silently appearing at Orlan’s side. She drew a dagger and traced it along his bearded cheek to his right ear. “If that’s the case, why haven’t you become a Disciple?”

 

“Baasch said Kalateth had greater plans for me than a mere Disciple,” he answered indignantly.

 

Kel snorted. “Jarut, I’m tired of this insipid old man. Can we kill him now?” I took a quick step forward and tightened the grip on my sword in anticipation.

 

“No,” Jarut answered calmly. “We aren’t going to kill him.”

 

Kel and I did a double take in unison. “Excuse me?” she asked, annoyed.

 

“Thank you!” Orlan sputtered, patting at the arm that still held him by the collar. “Thank you, Jarut!”

 

Jarut’s eyes narrowed as he stared intently into the king’s eyes. “Death is a kindness you don’t deserve.” Orlan fell silent at the harsh indictment. “You deserve to live the rest of your life knowing what you’ve done. And when we kill Baasch and remove Kalateth’s influence from Alderea, all of your subjects will know what you’ve done, too. History will remember you as Janus Orlan, the King who brought ruin to his country. You’ll live with that shame, and you’ll die with it. That’s what you deserve.”

 

Orlan fell limply to the ground as Jarut dropped him and turned away. The throne room fell silent for a long moment, until Kel kicked at Orlan’s foot. “Tell me: where’s Baasch now?”

 

The King who brought ruin to his country looked up at her, looking suddenly more frail and tired than he had moments ago. “He’s...in the undercroft.” Kel nodded and stepped away, but Orlan grasped out for her boot. “He’s too powerful to be stopped now. Kalateth has blessed him with gifts beyond what any normal normal man can do.”

 

“Luckily, I’m not any normal man,” Kel quipped as she walked back to the chamber’s entrance. “You might get to live through tonight, but Baasch doesn’t.” I followed along closely behind her, focusing all of my rage into the task ahead of us. “You ready, Luxblade?” she asked.

“I’m ready,” I agreed under my breath. “Baasch dies tonight. But before he dies, he’s going to suffer for—”

 

---

 

I awoke to a loud crash and an agonizing fire in my chest. Thrashing against the bedsheets above me, I struggled up to a sitting position as I sucked in air to appease my burning lungs, but the breath did little to assuage the pain. My thoughts were far too frantic and scattered for me to assess the source of my distress, but I could feel that something was missing that I dearly needed. I struggled to my feet and scanned the bedroom wildly. “Lia!” I shouted, clawing at my chest. “Lia, where are you?”

 

There was a series of thumps on the stairs beside the bedroom, and the door crashed open a moment later to reveal Lia, panting with a pained look on her face. As our eyes locked, the source of our issue finally revealed itself:; the mental bond we had shared since our encounter with the monster had broken. She sprinted across the room and threw herself headlong into my chest, bowling me over back onto the bed. I felt an immediate dampening of my pain as her body pressed against mine, and I pulled against her desperately in an attempt to fill the void her presence had left behind.

 

Our mana coalesced in an effort to reform the lost connection, but the bond we created was only an echo of the one we had shared before. I could feel her consciousness against mine, but we distinctly remained as two separate entities as we had hundreds of times before during our meditations. Even so, the presence of her energy was enough to calm my panicked mind. “Lia,” I gasped, “what happened?”

 

She remained quiet for a long while as her breath slowly returned to its baseline state. “I’m not sure,” she answered eventually, curling even tighter against my bare chest. “I was downstairs making us some breakfast, or, um,” she paused, looking out the window at a clearly setting sun, “dinner, I guess. I was making us some food, and you started to...remember.”

 

I ran my hand along her tightly braided hair and sighed. “You saw my dream.”

 

“That was a dream?” she asked, turning her head to peer up at me with one amber eye. “I could feel everything like I was actually there. Like I was you. I’ve never had a dream like that.”

 

“That’s just how I dream, I guess,” I shrugged. “Or, used to. It used to be a nightly occurrence, but I haven’t had a dream like that in a long time. At least since we built our house here.”

 

Lia thought over the statement quietly, then turned her head back onto its side, resting her ear over my heart. “That was Alderea, wasn’t it? And those people...Jarut and Kel?” I gave her a small nod. “You’ve told me about them before, once or twice, but it was strange to see them so clearly, and to...know them.”

 

I closed my eyes and watched the memory back again. “That was my last night in Alderea. The last night I saw Jarut. The night Kel died.”

 

Her hand slid up my chest to gently brush along my jaw. “There was so much anger in you then. When you left to find Baasch, it felt like—”

 

“I...don’t want to talk about that,” I interrupted her. “I don’t want you to think about me like that.” For a brief moment, I felt a twinge of relief that our mental connection had broken. That darkness was with me, even back then. I didn’t know.

 

“Lux, I’m…” she trailed off before sighing softly. “Alright,” she agreed eventually, pulling herself up to kiss my cheek, “we don’t have to talk about it right now.”

 

“Thank you.” I kissed the top of her head, then slid to the edge of the bed and surveyed our room. The floor around our bed was scattered with various pieces of our armor, still lying where we had dropped them after we returned home. After Miles and Lyn had reached their room at the inn, we had sprinted the remaining distance between Lienna and Mayaan over the following few hours, avoiding main roads and foot traffic to avoid making a scene with our abundantly enhanced speed. We reached Mayaan before noon and avoided both Elise’s office and Lia’s parents house, instead choosing to return directly to our house to sleep away the previous night's events.

 

“There is something we do need to talk about, though,” she continued, sitting cross-legged in the center of our bed.

 

I halted the search for my pants and turned to her with a raised eyebrow. “Oh?” The hard line of her jaw and brow sparked my anxiety as I waited for her response.

 

“You said we had to go back to Kaldan,” she said quietly. “Why?”

 

“Val warned us that there were monsters in Kaldan,” I answered. “I ignored her, and our friends paid the price. We have to go stop whatever is happening in Shadowmine.”

 

“No, we don’t,” Lia countered. “We have no way to prove that thing came from Kaldan. It could just as easily have come from somewhere here in Lybesa.”

 

I shook my head. “I don’t buy that. There’s no way it could be that big of a coincidence.”

 

“That’s just it!” she exclaimed, leaning forward with sudden passion. “Everything that’s happened since I met you has been that big of a coincidence! The Strategist’s men looking exactly like the Thralls you fought before? Getting captured by Virram exactly when he needed someone to go to Attetsia? Primes, even the way we met was a coincidence! I just so happened to be sent to the cell opposite yours in the dungeon; a cell you were only in because you just so happened to talk to that one thief girl!”

 

Each of her points grew more emphatic than the last, and a pit opened in my stomach as I realized how upset she truly was. “That’s not coincidence. That’s the stuff that follows me around, no matter what life I’m in. I don’t know why, but that’s my fate.”

 

“I don’t think it is, Lux,” she said in a gentler tone, wringing her hands in front of her as she stood up. “I think you’re putting yourself in those situations because you feel guilty for what happened in Hedaat. You’re punishing yourself for what happened to Alda.” She offered out her hand as she took a step forward. “You don’t have to throw away the life you have now to make up for what happened before.”

 

I took a step back defensively. “I’m not...you’re wrong.” I shook my head as I tried to fight through the cognitive dissonance I suddenly found myself in. “Lia, I swear to you, there is nothing I want more in this life than to live it here with you, but—”

 

“Then do it!” She leapt across the room and took both of my hands in hers. “If you really want to stay here with me, then stay here with me.” Her eyes bounced back and forth as she watched my face intently.

 

My mouth opened to respond, but I couldn’t find a single word in my defensce. All of my primal reactions fought for dominance in my mind simultaneously: run away; double down and fight; crumple up into a ball and cry; kiss her to prove my love. The mental fight was exhausting, but Lia gave me the time I needed to see it through to the end. “You’re right,” I said eventually, turning away to hide from her intense gaze. “I’m sorry. My head is just..soup, right now; I can’t think straight. There’s too much up there for me to figure out on my own.”

 

Her hand cupped my cheek as she turned my head back to face her, and she pulled me forward for a kiss. I felt her lips curl into a faint smile against mine, and she tipped her face forward to rest her forehead against mine. “I’ve told you this before, and I’ll keep telling you until you finally listen: you’re not alone anymore. We can get through it together.”

 

I felt my stomach churn as flashes of my rampage in the Attetsian plaza came unbidden to the forefront of my mind. “I can’t put all of that on you, Lia. Not—”

 

“Stop it,” she insisted, poking my bare chest with her finger. “I’m not some weak little girl you have to protect anymore, okay? I can handle it. We can handle it. Together.”

 

“You’re right,” I murmured. I took a long, deep breath in through my nose, finding comfort in the faint mint aroma of her hair. “You’re right,” I repeated, taking a step away from her and clapping myself lightly on my cheeks. I leaned back and forth on the balls of my feet as I breathed out the last of my anxieties. “I love you, Lia.”

 

“I love you too,” she said, wrapping me in a tight hug.

 

I basked in her warmth for a moment, then gave her a soft pat on the back. “We can talk more about this later, but there are some other people we need to talk to first.” I returned to my forgotten task of getting dressed, finally finding my pants hidden beneath my breastplate. “You should tell Marin and your parents about what happened. Your father probably shouldn’t accept any jobs that take him more than a day’s travel out of Mayaan until we get a better handle on what’s going on out there.”

 

Lia nodded as she crossed the room and slipped out of her nightgown, searching through her wardrobe for a more appropriate outfit. “And while I do that, you’ll go into town to meet with Elise?”

 

“Right,” I answered with a grimace. “She needs to know what happened to her employees.”

 

“I can come with you, if you want,” she offered.

 

“No, it’s fine. I’m sure your parents want to see you, and I need to requisition some more building supplies from Elise anyways.” I sighed as I buttoned up one of the few casual shirts I owned. “I just don’t know how to break the news to her.”

 

“Elise is tougher than she looks,” Lia reassured me. “It won’t be a pleasant meeting, obviously, but she can handle it.”

 

I crossed the room and slipped my arms around her waist. “Alright. I won't be long, hopefully.” She gave my hands a light squeeze of acknowledgement, and I turned and made my way to the door. I lingered for a moment as my eyes fell on my strewn armor pieces, and I momentarily considered donning the full set before I left; I owned little in the way of clothing apart from a few ill-fitting donations from Marten’s closet, and often found myself feeling overly exposed when wearing anything other than the protective leathers. With a shake of my head, I pushed the feeling away and made my way to the front door, where I retrieved my cloak before beginning my trip into town.

 

Had I been on my way to meet anybody else, I would have been worried it was too late in the day to find them at work, but my past experiences with Elise told me she would be exactly where I expected her to be, and would remain there long after I had come and gone. My brisk jog into Mayaan proper brought me to Three Barrels just after the sun had dipped below the horizon. The front desk attendant warned me that the late hour meant Elise was most likely too busy for an impromptu meeting, but I was quickly led to her office when my presence was announced.

 

“You’re back early,” she greeted me as soon as we were alone in the office. The serious formality of her tone was off putting in contrast to her usual playful, overly flirtatious demeanor, and she watched me with tight eyes as I sat down opposite her. “You have news for me, I assume?”

 

“Yes,” I answered gravely. “I’m afraid it’s not good news.”

 

She sighed. “I’ve held out hope these past two weeks that all of my people were miraculously alive and unharmed, but...I think I’ve known.” She steepled her fingers and leaned forward onto her desk. “Tell me what you found.”

 

“I don’t exactly know how to say this, Elise.” I started. “It’s a difficult—”

 

“Tell me what you found, Lux,” she repeated, her voice now low and harsh.

 

I swallowed hard and gave her a small nod. “I believe all of your missing crew is dead. I found their scattered bones alongside the remains of your caravans. There was a...beast of some sort that had made its den a few miles off the road in the Midlands. It was hunting travelers for food.” I paused, letting out the breath I had unconsciously held in my chest. “The beast is dead now, too.”

 

“I’ve heard rumors of monsters roaming northern Kaldan, lately,” she said quietly. “I assumed they weren’t true.”

 

“Unfortunately, it seems they are,” I answered. “It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Armored like a monstrous crab, with bladed forearms and powerful hind legs.” The image of the beast’s skeleton made me shudder, and I pushed the thought away, keeping the information to myself. “I have no reason to believe there are any more of them around, but it’s still a possibility.”

 

“I see.” We sat in silence as she processed the information, her brow furrowed in deep concentration. “What’s become of my people’s remains?”

 

“I burned the bones. It was the best I could do, given the circumstances.”

 

She nodded. “Thank you, Lux. While it was the outcome I dreaded most, just knowing puts my mind at ease, in some small way.” She cleared her throat and brushed her hand over a stack of papers at the edge of her desk. “I’d already written letters for the families, were my fears to be realized. I suppose I’ll have to send them out.”

 

“I wish there was more we could have done for you, Elise,” I lamented.

 

“Nonsense. You and Lia have saved a lot of lives with what you’ve done, I have no doubt,” she said, waving off my concern. “I’m eternally in your debt. If either of you ever need anything from me, please, don’t hesitate to ask.”

 

“There is something, actually. I’m building a forge, and could use some materials: mortar, stone, and a supply of raw iron.”

 

“Done,” she answered immediately. “I’ll have it delivered to Marten’s by tomorrow evening. I trust you can take it from there.”

 

“Yes, thank you.” As the silence returned to the room, I stood and glanced out the window behind her at the dark sky. “I should be getting back now.”

 

“Of course,” she nodded. “Thank you again, Lux. Give the Corell’s my love.”

 

“Of course,” I echoed. I turned to go, but a thought held me in place. “Actually, there’s one more thing.” She nodded for me to continue. “Lia and I met some friends on the road. They were attacked by the beast as well, and lost some loved ones in the encounter. I promised them that, should they need to contact us, they could just get a letter to you, and you would pass the message on to us.”

 

“I’ll inform my staff,” she assured me.

 

“Thank you.” I made my way to the exit, turning back to her one more time. “Goodnight, Elise.”

 

“Goodnight, Lux,” she called out, giving me a small wave. As I left the room and closed the door behind me, I let out a long, hissing sigh. Elise had handled the news better than I had hoped, but despite her strong facade, I knew it hurt her more than she let on. My Detection scanned out through the building as I prepared to leave, and I caught a quick glimpse of her holding her head in her hands as she began to cry. I withdrew the mana from her office immediately and focused it specifically onto the road back home, giving her the privacy she deserved.

 

I met the edge of Lia’s Detection as I entered the forest, and I felt her perk up immediately. How did it go?

 

Better than I expected, given the news, I answered her. How about on your end?

 

Fine. My parents are just happy we’re safe, but Marin says she wants to see one of the monsters for herself.

I rolled my eyes for no one’s benefit but my own. She wouldn’t think that if she’d been there.

 

I tried to tell her that, but...you know how she is.

 

I do. The Corell’s house came into view ahead of me, and I slowed to a light jog as I approached the front door. I knocked lightly on the door, then entered without waiting for a response, moving to the living room where my family was waiting.

 

“Lux!” Marten yelled as I came into view. “You’re still alive!”

 

Hana scowled as she prodded him in the ribs, but I laughed at the outburst. “I’m just as surprised as you are, Marten.”

 

“Tell me about it, Lux!” Marin chimed in, leaning forward excitedly. “Tell me about the monster!”

 

I resisted the urge to scowl at her. “Marin, this might just sound like adventuring tall tales to you, but it’s real. A lot of people died because of that thing; we’re not going to sit around telling stories about it.” The room fell uncomfortably silent, and I realized I may have been too harsh in my response. “Plus, you’ll learn more than enough about it when we start training again tomorrow.”

 

“Training?” Marin said, confused. “You just told me I was trained before you left!”

 

Lia and I shared a raucous laugh. “What, you thought you were just finished? For good?” I asked between laughs. “You’re never done training, Marin. Besides, you might be trained enough to deal with any regular thug, but that’s not the problem we’re dealing with anymore is it?”

 

“We initially wanted to get you trained enough that you could help protect our family if Virram ever sent guards after us again,” Lia explained. “If the rumors are true, and that monster really did come from Kaldan, I think he might have some bigger problems. But, clearly, so do we.”

 

“Until they can put an end to those problems, we need to make sure we can keep everyone safe here. Which means a lot more training for you,” I added. I turned to Marten and gave him an apologetic smile. “I hope you don’t mind that we’ll be stealing your business partner away from you again.”

 

“Oh, I suppose that’s alright,” he answered, rubbing his chin. “I’ll have to dock her pay, of course…”

 

“What?!” Marin yelled, jumping to her feet. “You hardly pay me anything as it is!”

 

“When you consider your free room and board, you’ll see you get paid more than a fair wage!” he countered. “What do you think you need so much money for, all of a sudden?”

 

Hana shook her head as they continued to argue. “They do this all the time,” she said under them, nearly drowned out from the shouting match. “I think it’s their way of showing affection for each other.”

 

Lia laughed. “As much as I’m sure we’d both love to stay and watch, we should be heading home now.” She turned and gave me a knowing smile. “We had a long day of traveling today.”

 

“Yeah, I’ll definitely sleep well tonight,” I agreed. While the idea that I was tired after a day of travel wasn’t true, I was exhausted all the same; the manner of our awakening coupled with my meeting with Elise had left me both mentally and physically worn out. “It’s nice to be home. We’ll have to have another dinner soon.”

 

“Anytime,” Hana smiled as we all stood up to say our goodbyes. “We still have plenty of bihorn from your last hunt.” She gave us each a quick hug as Marin and Marten continued to argue, having switched topics from payment to their division of labor.

 

Our movement caught Marin’s attention, and she immediately spun towards Lia with a beaming smile. “I’m glad you’re home,” she said cheerily, wrapping Lia in a tight hug. “You’ll be here tomorrow to pick me up for training, right?”

 

“Bright and early,” she answered, hugging her back. “You don’t get the mornings off anymore.”

 

“I’m ready!” she said excitedly, hopping backwards and pumping her fist. “Just you wait! I’m going to be beating you before you know it, Lux,” she smirked, stepping forward to hug me in turn.

 

“Oh really?” I said, patting her on the back. “You seem awfully chipper for someone who was just complaining about more training.”

 

“I wasn’t complaining!” she exclaimed. “I was just...surprised! I want to get stronger like you two, and I know that means more training! I’m ready.”

 

“Okay then,” I nodded, stepping back in line with Lia. “Tomorrow morning it is.”

 

“Glad to see you both home safe,” Marten said to both of us. “Even if it means more work for me.”

“Oh, speaking of work, Marten,” I started, remembering my conversation with Elise. “I’m having some more building materials delivered tomorrow. I hope you don’t mind, but I asked for them to be delivered here.”

 

“I’ll have to start charging you delivery and storage fees, at this rate!” he grinned.

 

“I suppose that’s fair,” I chuckled. I put an arm over Lia’s shoulders and looked over the group one final time. “Alright, time to head out. Goodnight, everyone.”

 

We were met with a chorus of goodbyes as we took our leave, stepping out into the cool night air and beginning our trip back through the forest. “So,” I said, pinching Lia’s shoulder lightly, “a long day of traveling, huh?”

 

She shrugged. “I thought it was an easier explanation than ‘we sprinted the entire journey back in a few hours, slept all afternoon, and fought through some weird magic issues we don’t really understand.’”

 

“That’s true,” I chuckled, pulling her tighter against me as we walked. “Do you have any new plans for Marin’s training?”

 

“I’m not sure,” she said, tilting her head to the side. “I think I want to do more strength training with her, without any enhancements. She should probably learn some basic magic that isn’t enhancements, too.”

 

“I think we could all use some practice on that front,” I agreed. “But if that’s the case, we’re going to need a place to train that isn’t our front yard. I don’t want to have to rebuild our house because I sneezed during Fire practice.”

 

She giggled. “We’ll have to finally make that sparring ring you wanted.”

 

“You know, that wouldn’t be a bad way to kill two birds with one stone: You could get some good strength training done by clearing all those trees up north, and it would be a great opportunity to teach Marin how to use Shatter,” I suggested.

 

“That’s exactly what we’ll do,” she said, clapping her hands together.

 

“And, while you two work on that, I can finally build my forge,” I added as a grin spread across my face. Lia giggled again, and I looked down to find her smirking at me. “What? What’s so funny?”

 

“You really want that forge, don’t you?”

 

“Well...yeah!” I answered, feeling defensive. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing’s wrong with that!” she laughed, patting me on the back. “You don’t get this excited about most things, is all. It’s cute.”

 

I let out an exasperated sigh and hung my head. “I’m not trying to be cute. It’s just...I’m good at being a blacksmith, and I haven’t had a chance to work at it for a long time. All I’ve been doing for so long is fighting. I’m good at that, too, but I don’t want to be good at just that. I can do more than just fight.” I paused for a moment, surprised by the honesty of my statement. “Besides, Layne got me all excited about working on some projects with him. I want to start some of those, even if he can’t be there with me.”

 

“I get it,” she said quietly. “What were you two planning on making?”

 

My free hand shifted up to rest on the pommel of my sword, and my thumb circled slowly around the band at its base. “Nothing in particular,” I lied. “I wanted to make a sword for him, seeing as he said he never had one. I’m sure he wanted my help on some of his projects, too.” I took a deep breath and sighed out through my nose. “I think I’ll still make that sword for him.”

 

Our house came into view ahead of us, and the thought of our awaiting bed pulled a yawn out of both of us. “I think that’s a great idea,” Lia said, wiping her eyes. “An idea for tomorrow, though. All of that talking about being tired made me pretty tired.”

 

I yawned again. “That’s for sure. We’ve got some busy days ahead of us, too.”

 

Lia smiled as we entered the house and made our way to the bedroom. “I can’t wait.”

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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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