Alex and Theresa strolled through the quiet beauty of the university campus. They weren’t in any particular hurry: it was too early for their reservation, and the grounds were beautiful. It had been a long time since they’d just walked through campus to simply enjoy the sights without having to worry about hurrying from class to class, or work, or some other appointment.
“It’s so quiet,” Theresa said as they walked through parklands and past buildings of white and grey stone.
She looked up fondly at the towering buildings with sculptures and gargoyles crouched on the edges of their roofs. “It reminds me of when we first came here.”
“Yeah…it really does,” he agreed, holding her hand a little tighter. “I remember you, Selina, and even Brutus were so tired that first day, that you just collapsed at the first place you found in the apartment. Left me to explore campus all by my lonesome.”
“Did I do that?” she asked. “Nooo-Oh yeah. I remember now. It was a lot. All this magic and flying and just…everything: you knew more about magic, but for me, it was…like I said, a lot. Strange how I’ve almost gotten used to it now.”
“Yeah…” He looked at the fountain in front of the squat, windowless library: water poured from the hood of a stone figure with scrolls hanging from its robes, and two books hugged to its chest.
Alex fell silent, fighting nerves that had been growing. He and Theresa had known each other forever, but being on a date with each other—an actual date—made his gut feel like it was turning to ice, and his legs like they were made of jelly. Strangely enough, them knowing each other so well made him feel even more nervous. They were well beyond making ‘get to know each other’ conversation, so what was he supposed to talk about?!
If he just carried on making his usual jokes, it would be just like any regular day!
‘Alex, come on!’ He scolded himself. ‘You fought a bunch of claw monsters and a mana vampire, why’re you freaking out? Get it together! Say something.’
He opened his mouth and glanced at Theresa’s face. She was wearing a look of calmness. Of pure, quiet contentment and peace. He closed his mouth.
They walked in comfortable silence, just enjoying the afternoon sun and the pleasure of being in each other’s company, though the dark clouds continued to build in the distance.
Alex remained quiet while he tried to will them away.
Taking their time, they travelled to different parts of campus, some well-known and some little-known. They passed the sky-track, which was a stadium that floated about a hundred feet off the ground and was surrounded by bleachers painted in bright colours.
A number of people were training, either racing each other, or just enjoying the art of flying. In the distance, he and Theresa could see a short, squat wizard drifting through the air, gripping some type of magical sky-kite.
Theresa sighed wistfully. “Doesn’t that look amazing? Just flying for the sake of it? Nothing but the warm air and wind around you?”
“Yeah,” he said, his eyes flicking to his bag. “It does look amazing.”
In another part of campus they passed a tall, wide tower with a domed marble roof. A gigantic brass telescope rose from it, pointing at the darkening sky. They passed the Deep Insula, set in a magically refreshed lake, where students of aquatic races could live comfortably.
They saw other folk walking around campus, including a horned figure far along the path-wait, was that Thundar? The figure paused, cupped their hands above their eyes as though squinting to see, and then immediately turned and headed the other way.
Theresa chuckled. “It seems Thundar’s being considerate.”
The early evening sun washed through the window onto Alex and Theresa as they sat in the revolving restaurant where Khalik had taken them long ago when they first met.
Alex had reserved a seat by the window so they could enjoy the views of campus. Each time their window faced the oncoming clouds, though, his uneasiness grew.
It really looked like it was going to rain.
He thought about the gazebo by the beach where he’d planned they would have dessert and kept hoping it wouldn’t rain until dessert was a delicious memory...maybe sometime next week.
“Mhm?” He turned his attention back to his girlfriend.
Theresa was cutting into her fried swordfish and looking up at him. “You ever think…that it’s too bad that we don’t get to enjoy stuff like this more often?”
“Hm? What do you mean?” he asked, prying open one of his steamed clams. “You mean dates?”
“No, I mean…just being able to enjoy this place.” She looked out the window. “It’s…when we were walking today, I was noticing things…new things about places we pass everyday. Did you know that one of the gargoyles on the lecture hall in front of the library is chipped? The one on the west corner.”
Alex chuckled. “Your senses are better than mine."
“Yeah, but my senses have been a lot sharper for months…I feel things more precisely. I see clearer and farther, I hear better. And that building was the lecture hall for my geography class this spring. And I nevernoticed it. It’s like…it’s like we go numb. The first day I was here I had to sit down from it all, now I barely notice all the magic.”
“Yeah, me too…” Alex said. “Like, you see flying carpets and walking chairs for the first time, and you can’t pick your jaw up off the floor. But now, it’s like…it just fades into the background a lot.”
“Mhm, and we’ve got so much that we’re so busy with. Now, summer’s here, maybe we can just…be again. Professor Kabbot-Xin talked about that this morning: just being. We’re always doing, always thinking, and planning. Never just…being.”
“Right,” he said. “And then we stop noticing what’s going on around us, right?”
“Yeah. Like…I’m sitting here,” she gave a bitter laugh. “And I can barely taste this super expensive, super delicious swordfish because I keep telling myself not to say something stupid and embarrass us in this restaurant.”
“We both know I’m more likely to do that,” Alex said, trying to lighten her mood.
“Yeah maybe,” she chuckled. “But…it’s not right. It’s not right to just get so used to something so wondrous, that it just doesn’t mean anything, or you stop paying attention to it. Maybe that’s why great-grandfather travelled so much. Just to keep seeing new things.”
“Yeah, but he settled in Alric. Fell in love with Thameland.”
She paused. “He did. Maybe he just got used to being.”
“…I remember you said that you stopped feeling excited in Coille,” Alex said. “I mean, it makes sense, you’ve been in and out of that forest so many times…did you ever stop noticing new things about it?”
She sighed. “I kind of did. I mean, I still love it there, but…I know most of the trees like old friends. It’s not like I walk in there thinking, ‘oh what am I going to discover this time’. It’s not exciting to explore anymore.”
Theresa shook her head, then suddenly burst out laughing.
Alex startled. “What?”
“I just remembered something: do you remember Arla?”
It was strange, he’d barely even thought about most of the people he knew from the church-school. He’d never been super close to most of them. Sure, he’d had friends he used to talk to a bit, but his focus on working at McHarris’, teaching himself about wizardry, studying all the time, trying to help out at the inn and with Selina, didn’t leave him a lot of time to get close to the other students.
“I remember talking to her a few times,” he said. "Didn’t seem like she was too interested in talking to me…and I guess that road went two ways. She moved to Elmvale didn’t she, right after we finished at the church school I think? Was she someone you used to talk to?”
“Not much.” Theresa shook her head. “But do you remember how she had a few boyfriends?”
“Not really,” he admitted. He vaguely remembered seeing her hanging around with different guys, but hadn’t paid much attention.
“Well, I’m not sure if I ever told you this.” Theresa took a sip from her drink. “But, this one time Arla and I ran into each other at the miller’s. On the way back, we got to talking. It was really close to us finishing school for good and she just started talking. You know that thing that people do where they think they’re not going to see you again so they open up?”
“Oh yeah.” He nodded vigorously. He couldn’t count how many travellers passing through Alric had stopped by McHarris’ bakery and cornered some staff member with a tale of half their life story. “Is that what she did with you?”
“Mhm, she’d just broken up with Harold, whatever his last name was, and…she said the strangest thing to me.” Theresa put on a voice. “‘I dunno, whenever things are going too smoothly I get bored. When you’re with someone long enough there’s nothing new anymore. At least fighting makes things interesting’.”
He snorted. “Sounds like she’d get along with Baelin, pretty sure he’d like, ‘fighting makes things interesting’.”
“Maybe.” She chuckled. “But like…that’s pretty terrible, isn’t it? You’re with your partner long enough, and then it’s like, ‘oh sorry, you’re not new anymore I’m bored now, let’s fight ‘cos that’ll make things interesting, or maybe break up’! We don’t do that with friends, right? ‘Oh, this friend’s boring now, let’s stop hanging around with them.’ That just sounds crazy.”
“Yeah,” Alex said. “And I guess it’s the same thing with places. We’ve been in wizard-world so long that we just don’t notice how cool it is a lot of the time.”
“Yeah, and I don’t want that to happen,” Theresa said. “I still want to travel, but what’s the point if you can never be and simply enjoy where you are and whoever you’re with? You’re just going from place to place just chasing something you can’t find. A hunt that never ends has no point to it. I just want to be…be, and enjoy what I have…like being with you.”
“Me too, Theresa.” He smiled. “I just love that we’re together. And I love you.”
She smiled. “Love you too.”
The dark clouds continued to build outside.
When they left the restaurant, the late-evening sun had turned the world a fiery orange…but it was almost hidden behind a wave of angry clouds to the east.
“It looks like rain,” Theresa finally said, staring up at the sky.
“Yeah…” Alex muttered, trying to figure out when the rain might come. He hoped it would hold off for a little longer. “Do you want to go home…or do you want to keep things going? I have something else in mind.”
“Let’s keep going,” she said eagerly. “I’m having a lot of fun.”
His heart jumped at that.
“Right, then.” He took two Potions of Flight from his bag. Two of his few remaining ones. “Like you said before, we’ve never really had a chance to just…fly, have we? Just to enjoy it.”
He handed her a potion. “Come fly with me.”
She looked up at him as her eyes widened with delight, and she kissed him. They held each other under the fleeting sunlight and then...
Holding the potion bottles up, they clinked them together in a toast then quickly downed them and took off, soaring up into the evening sky. As they climbed, the campus shrank away and Theresa was soon giggling with delight, which spread to Alex.
“Look how small everything looks!” she laughed.
Below, the glass structures of the beastarium and the botanical gardens glittered like diamonds in the evening light, and the main castle looked like something from a fairy tale.
They flew through the warm air, and—for the first time—just enjoyed it.
“Alex!” Theresa cried. “We’re flying! We’re actually flying! How did I never just enjoy this!?”
“Right?” He spread his arms like the wings of a bird and flipped upside down as he soared, kicking through the air like he was swimming. “It’s a little different when you’re not up here fighting, isn’t it? By The Traveller-Oh look out!”
The young couple squealed and dived as a flock of geese flew past them, their honking mixing with Alex and Theresa’s laughter.
They sailed through the fading light as the beach grew closer and closer.
It was wonderful.
A cold drop hit his hand.
Followed immediately by a moment of horror.
“No no no!” he cried.
Both squealed as the cool rain hit them, sending them into fits of laughter. Alex considered casting wind-and-rain shield, but it was only falling lightly for now, and besides, trying to outrun the rain might be kinda fun since Theresa was having fun.
They reached for each other’s hand and shot forward as the rain began falling harder the closer they got to the gazebo beside the sea.
Just as a rumble of thunder sounded in the distance and the heavens opened up, they touched down, running up the steps before they were completely soaked. They were still laughing as they stood under the shelter shaking like a wet Brutus, and squeezing rainwater from their fancy clothes. “Do you see a pattern here?” Alex said. “Everytime we get dressed up, something always happens to mess up our clothes!”
“At least it’s only rain and not monster guts this time.” She laughed.
The rain hissed against the roof and churning ocean as waves broke upon the beach. The white sand darkened with every drop.
Alex had cast two forceballs, a crimson glow illuminated the gazebo.
“Well, damn.” He put his hands on his hips. “We nearly made it. Ah well, I guess we’ll just have to eat our dessert and hope the rain lets up.”
“Yeah…” she said, giving the rain an appraising look. Then she quickly looked back at him. “Wait, did you say dessert?”
“Uhuh, such as it is.” He opened the box that was shielded by his forceball. Inside, was the sad looking little spit cake he’d managed to finish making. “There’s just enough for two of us…none for seconds, but uh…happy first date?”
“Alex, it’s not my birth-Oh by Uldar, never mind!” Her chuckle turned into giggling.
They sat at a picnic table and he handed her a fork while nervously eyeing the dessert.
Together, they dug into the cake that looked like a little evergreen tree.
“Wow!” Theresa said.
It was…actually really good.
Different from what he usually made, and probably not as good as it could’ve been if he’d had more time, but still, really good. He would definitely make this again.
Making little sounds of appreciation, but no intelligible words, they finished it off.
“Oh by Uldar, I want you to bake for me everyday,” Theresa said as she put her fork down.
“Only if you hunt for me,” he chuckled, glancing out at the rain. He sighed. “Alright, looks like it’s here to stay. So, do you want to sit here for a bit? Or walk on the beach. The wet sand’ll be kind of gross, but I can cast a wind-and rai-what are you doing?”
Theresa had pulled off one of her long boots.
Then the other.
His eyes went wide when she shrugged off her cape.
She wiggled her toes then jumped to her feet, looking at the beach. “Forget the spell.”
“So you want to just-Oh hey!”
Laughing, Theresa ran down the stairs of the gazebo and onto the rainy beach. She twirled; her black hair and dress whirling around her in the fading light.
The smile she gave him was absolutely radiant when she turned toward him. “What’s wrong? Afraid of a little rain, mighty wizard?”
She spread her arms. “Come on, Alex, come to me. Just be! Be with me!”
There was only one way he could possibly respond.
Quickly dragging off his shoes, he sprinted onto the beach after her.
“Ahhhh!” she screamed as she ran. “Now I’m the one being hunted, someone save me!”
“Muahahaha! No one around to hear you!” he laughed as he chased her along the sand.
She was faster than he was, but he noticed her slowing, probably on purpose, until he reached her and caught her up in his arms. Theresa squealed as he lifted her from her feet and held her by the waist high above his head.
Her body straightened above him and she spread her arms. “Look! I’m flying again!”
Laughing, he gently lowered her down and kissed her. They kissed until she laughed and squirmed out of his grip. She started to dance, one of the same dances they’d shared on the night of the patrizia’s party.
Alex joined her.
And they danced.
And they danced.
Brutus whined as he buried Khalik’s lap with one of his heads. Two of the other heads watched the balcony.
“Alright, Brutus, don’t bay your heart away, boy” Khalik said, laying down his book and goblet of wine, then handing the cerberus a treat. He pet him as he wolfed it down. “There’s a good boy.”
As soon as he started petting Brutus, he felt a surge of indignation from outside himself; then Najyah was landing beside him, opening her mouth like a newborn chick.
The prince gave her a withering look. “You are not a baby bird begging for worms, Najyah.”
She moved her open beak closer.
He sighed, handing her a treat too, and felt a surge of satisfaction from her as the food disappeared. Shaking his head, he continued to pet Brutus.
“Aaaah, your mother will return soon, my friend,” he said. “Not too soon, with any hope. But soon enough. Besides, you get to spend the day with both her and Alex tomorrow.”
He handed him another treat, which drew another squawk and opened beak from Najyah.
“Najyah…one of these days, I will be seeing Sinope and Alex and Theresa will be watching you. Will you give them as much trouble as you give me?”
The giant eagle immediately shook her head.