8th of January, 644
Trainyard, Riamal Haven

"Hurry up, Lucas, you’re slowing us down," Lethe said with irritation. A light dusting of snow covered the ground around them, and the sunlight from the bright morning made Lucas squint. The industrial park stretched wide in all directions, and Lucas and Lethe walked along the railroad tracks together with her leading. Lucas dragged his feet, exhausted from having barely slept, the excitement of the day to come more than he'd been able to handle.

"A little urgency, if you would please?" Lethe said, her tone tense. She'd been stomping off ahead, and her legs were longer than Lucas', making it hard to keep up. The pack on his back sagged with the weight of most of his possessions - things he'd accumulated over his days at Rocky's warehouse. He'd gone against Lethe's instructions to keep it light, but how else was he supposed to have anything to take to the new place they were planning on going to?

The train they'd found was headed across the plains of Noctavia to the south, towards the borders with Alaeris and Beldara - Lethe had said she wanted to try going to Port Alhena on Beldara Bay as work might be more substantial there, but Lucas had pushed for the idea of a quieter town away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Lethe had rejected the tiny port towns of Dorast and Oteil in Alaeris but hadn't been opposed to the smaller suburb of Serella on Port Alhena's northern coast. He'd seen it in pictures, and it looked beautiful - its beaches pristine and oddly made of black, almost blue sand - but most importantly, it wasn't anywhere near the Empire's reach.

We'll leave this place a memory, she said. Lucas was grateful that she'd been willing to bring him along with her, and he found it difficult to veil his puppy-dog crush. He knew she knew but was grateful she hadn't said anything about it.

"I'm trying to go fast, this thing's heavy," Lucas said, sighing. "I know you said not to overpack, but like, I've got all the Terracius Cartographia books that Rocky gave us. How am I supposed to leave those, huh?"

Lethe eyeballed him calmly. "I suppose you couldn't. But if you need a break, you have to say something. We don't have long before that train leaves, and if we're not on it we're not going to have another chance ‘til freaking January, and that's next year."

"I get it," Lucas said. "I'm doing my best though."

"And I never said you weren't. I know you are. C'mon, let's going," she said, and Lucas felt his cheeks flush hot. Compliments were more common from her as of late, and he was all too greedy for them. He knew that the parents Lethe had run from were angry, miserable people who fought constantly, and he was grateful for her ability to confide her fears and reservations in him. She knew his situation, too, and she gave him stability in ways that he'd never felt since that bloody afternoon at his old home in Mormont.

The two of them were truly inseparable. Everyone in Rocky's warehouse had taken notice, but Lethe maintained that they were just friends. Lucas knew he was too young for her - she was on the cusp of sixteen, Lucas himself was almost thirteen - but how desperately he wanted her to love him the way he felt for her.

"We're coming up on the meeting point," she said, reading a street sign. "Rocky said 3rd and Croxley, right?"

"Yeah," Lucas said, nodding. "He said his guy Solar was out here doing something and that he'd get us packed up to go."

"Doing... something? Lucas, did you ask anything else?"

"Was I supposed to?" Lucas looked at her wide-eyed.

"I was counting on you to ask more than that," she said, gently smacking her forehead. "Did Rocky tell you when we should expect to see this guy? This whole area's a ghost town."

"Uh... I forgot to ask?" Lucas said sheepishly. He could see the disappointment on Lethe's face and hated himself for causing it.

"We might be here a while, then," Lethe shrugged. "I'm kinda hungry, though. You got any food in that bag?"

Lucas nodded as he pulled a small bag of beef jerky from one of the pack's pockets, and Lethe chewed a slice of it hungrily.

"You get this from Felicity?" Lethe asked, smiling. "You know she smokes it herself, right?"

"Really? I didn't," Lucas said, taking a bite out of his own.

"Yeah," Lethe said, sitting down on a large rock near the tracks. "She's got this whole setup behind the warehouse. It's neat." She sighed and stared out towards the empty void beyond the tracks' end. "Gonna miss that place, though. They were always good to us, weren't they?"

Lucas joined her on the rock. "Yeah. It was hard saying goodbye to Rocky, but he's the one who set us up with this guy to begin with."

"The little birds had to leave the nest," Lethe smiled at Lucas. "A better life starts today. Just stick by my side, okay? Leave it to me."

Without as much as a word, she put her arm around his shoulder and tugged him closer in a hug that melted him inside and out. It was just a friendly hug, but it meant everything to him.

10th of May, 649

Lucas woke with tears in his eyes. He hadn't had many dreams of Lethe like that over the last few years, but he felt completely gutted in waking up back in Cygnus. It was morning, but it was pouring outside as it had been the entirety of the previous day and night before that.

He hadn't left the room much the day prior - when Joel finally returned home that previous morning, he'd told Lucas he'd need to let him go from the workshop, which made Lucas feel acutely worthless. He'd sworn at Joel and felt terrible about it, but what else was he supposed to do? Between the arguments with Ceres and the blowout at the workshop, Lucas had felt completely out of sorts and miserable.

He felt like he was on the ropes after eleven rounds in a boxing ring, just staggering through the days. The rain wasn't helping - memories of long, cold, rainy nights in Riamal Haven put him in a truly dour mood on top of it all. He'd decided to skip out on the Technica Academy exam much to Ceres' chagrin, and the more he thought about it, the more he just wanted to get away from Cygnus.

Lucas sat up in his bed and looked over at his desk. He stood and rummaged through a stack of papers, pulling out a notebook that he brought back over to his bed. He snagged a pen and began writing something - the words flowed to him almost as if he'd been possessed - and when he finished, he marveled over what he'd completed.

It's time to get out of this place forever, Lucas thought, his heart beating hard in his chest.

Trainyard, Riamal Haven

Clouds filtered over the sun as Lethe and Lucas waited for Rocky's contact, Solar. They hadn't been waiting long, but as they were technically trespassing by being there, they'd had to hide a few times already from passersby. The sounds of trains clacking along their tracks seemed to come from all directions as the morning turned to midday, and though it was sunny out, it didn't do much to diminish the lingering cold. Lucas shivered in his thin jacket. Lethe moved closer to him, and he was grateful for her warmth.

Heavy footsteps approached where they hid - Lethe peeked around the edge of the boxcar, then withdrew swiftly. "I think he saw me," she whispered as the steps approached more quickly now.

"You kids from Rocky's place?" The voice asked, thick with an accent from somewhere in the Minervan Isles. "My name is Solar. I believe you are waiting for me."

Lucas and Lethe poked out from around the edge of the car together, eliciting a belly laugh from the heavyset man. "Ah, like baby birds, are ya? Come now, nothin' to be afraid of. The train should be leavin' in about 30 minutes or so, so let's beat feet, yeah?"

The two followed Solar through and between train cars - he moved far more quickly than Lucas would've expected a man of his stature to, and Lucas found himself having a hard time keeping up. The trainyard felt like it sprawled on forever, and Lucas' tattered old jacket still wasn't doing much to keep out the cold. He shivered as Lethe panted next to him - she was in shape about as much as anyone else he knew, but even she seemed exhausted at the pace they were taking.

Solar turned to them, regarding them carefully for a moment, then continued forward wordlessly. Lucas knew that he wasn't going to get out without some measure of struggle, so keeping his focus on the end goal was of utmost importance. You'll be free together, Lucas thought. One day you'll marry and have kids together and tell them all about how you survived it all. One day! It'll be a great day!

"Come on, speed it up a bit. I know that guy ain't feedin' ya much, but kids don't eat a lot, do they?" Solar asked as Lucas and Lethe panted behind him. Lethe looked at him strangely but chose to say nothing.

"No? Huh. Alright then, come on. Less talkin', more walkin'," he said. "Not much more now," Solar continued. "See that smokestack? The station we're headed for's over there. Y'all know the Falco Fortis movies? They filmed that one scene there. It's famous."

"Ooh," Lethe said, looking at Lucas. "You love those, don't you? Try not to get too distracted."

About ten minutes later they arrived at the walkway leading up to the elevated train station. Solar was right – Lucas had definitely seen this exact location in the second Falco Fortis movie - he looked around with wonderment at it. How cool is this?

Above them, a train rumbled over the tracks. It was one of the newer models out of Valdena, an express train - they were going to be stowed away as cargo on Solar's 'shipment' as Rocky had explained. Lethe seemed hesitant to be packed away when Rocky had discussed it with them, but he'd managed to somehow calm her nerves - in her pocket, Lucas knew she had a pill for the anxiety that Rocky'd given her. He'd seen her check a few times on the long walk over to see if it was still there.

"Alright, my guys are on their way. Give 'em about sixty seconds and we'll get you packed away. Your guy sent over some food to keep ya from starving, but Erzulia forbid if ya gotta use the bathroom or something. Just go to sleep if ya gotta piss. When the train stops in Serella, we'll get you off and cut ya loose."

"And you won't need us to pay you or anything?" Lethe asked, and Solar shook his head.

"Nah, your guy Rocky took care of it. We got more than enough, let's just say that. Don't pry any further, ya hear me?"

Lucas looked at Lethe and both nodded. Three large men approached - one pushed a dolly cart with two long crates on it.

"You're sending us in coffins?" Lethe asked incredulously, and Solar and his men just laughed.

"Nah, young lady, these normally ship fish. We usually fill 'em up with ice and pack 'em full of salmon and whatever else we catch on the coast. Fair warning, it might smell a bit."

Lethe scrunched up her nose and Lucas bit his cheek.

"So we just lay down and..."

"Yeah, lay down on in there," Solar said, gesturing to the box that one of his men had just opened up. "You first," he said, pointing to Lethe. She gave Lucas another quick hug before laying down inside of it - the men put the cover back over it and sealed it shut before moving onto the next. Several small airholes around where Lethe's head was were the only light Lucas knew she had in there.

"Your turn," Solar said, gesturing to Lucas. Lucas had been through worse things in Riamal Haven than this. The smell of old fish seared through his nostrils, but he fought through the feeling of gagging as he laid down in the box. "Seal it up," Solar ordered, and the box closed over him. He could feel himself being lifted off the ground and onto the dolly, where his box banged against Lethe's.

"Now shut up in there," Solar whispered. "Not a single peep outta the two of ya the whole trip and you'll make it just fine. Get some shuteye, if ya would."

Lucas didn't respond and neither did Lethe. He could hear the train car doors open as Solar walked the dolly down the aisle. Lucas could only assume where they were, but it was quiet and warm now - they were in the back of the train with the rest of the large luggage, he guessed.

"Safe travels, and we'll see ya soon," Solar said, his footsteps receding into the train noise.

They did it. They were leaving Noctavia. Forever.

Present Day

Lucas stashed the duffel bag under his bed when someone knocked at his door. He felt his heart pounding as he kicked it more deeply underneath.

"Who is it? What do you want?"

"Lucas, it's me," Espee said. "I was just checking on you, I wanted to know if you wanted lunch. I made tuna salad and I know how much you like that..."

Lucas was hungry. His plans wouldn't go off as well as he'd want them to on an empty stomach, anyway.

"Yeah, sure, gimme a minute. I gotta get dressed."

"I'll make you a plate," Espee said. Lucas didn't understand her cheerfulness - Joel was next to useless in that he was never home, and all Ceres seemed to do was complain at her. Why was Espee so happy?

He pulled on a pair of jeans and a clean t-shirt before heading downstairs to the kitchen, where Espee sat at the table, eyes on the Technivision in the living room. There was some kind of daytime talk show playing, but Lucas didn't recognize it. He plopped himself down in a chair next to Espee, who'd set down a surprisingly bountiful lunch for him.

Do you really want to do this? His mind thought, but he'd already made his decision.

"We got those fancy pickles at Shaffer's Market," Espee said, side-eyeing Lucas as she took a bite of a potato chip. "I know you like those, too."

Lucas grumbled. He didn't appreciate that she was trying to use food to apologize to him, and besides - it wasn't even her fault that things were falling apart. If there was anyone in the house that he'd miss, it'd be Espee. She'd done up her hair in a messy bun and wisps fell down in front of her ears - Lucas had noticed how good she'd looked in the past, but she seemed somehow more attractive than usual today. He liked her earrings and found himself staring at her a second too long as she turned back to him.

"Are you alright? I know you've been having a hard time. Is there anything you wanted to talk about?"

"No, I..." Lucas blushed at having been caught, or at least he assumed she was asking because of the staring. "I'm not having a hard time. I'm just bummed out, that's all."

"I see," Espee said, taking a drink from a glass of iced tea and turning off the Technivision with a remote control. She turned to face him, and he felt the heat of her steady attention. "You've holed yourself in your room since Bobby brought you back. The only reason I even think you're out here is for the food. Am I right?"

Lucas shrugged. He liked seeing Espee in a tank top, but he couldn't say that as an answer. "I like the food. Thank you for it," he said, taking a bite of the sandwich. He just hadn't been hungry enough to eat a full meal the day before, so something fresh like this was a welcome change from the bagged snacks, lunch meat, and random pieces of fruit he'd nabbed when no one was around.

"Glad to. You know, I worry about all of you. I just want you to be happy here, and I know that you're thinking about moving away with Ceres at the end of the summer. I can't stop you from doing that, but at least I can try to make things easier for you in the last few months we've got you."

"The last few months?" Lucas tilted his head curiously. "Am I disappearing or something?"

"My goodness, no," Espee laughed. He liked her laugh. It was a rare sound these days. "I'm just saying, you're going off on your own. I feel like we're just starting to really get to know the strong young man you are, Lucas, and part of me wishes selfishly that we'd gotten to meet sooner."

"I'm not dying, Espee."

"I know you're not. Do you understand what I mean, though?"

"I guess," Lucas said, chewing another mouthful.

"Well, that's good, then. I hope you know that no one here is mad at you. Joel didn't want to have to let you go, but he felt pressured by his other employees - it was nothing personal, it was just..."

Lucas glared at her. Oddly, Espee glared back at him.

"Don't you look at me like that, Lucas. This had nothing to do with me and you know it."

Lucas' guts rumbled with the chill that swept up his spine. He wasn't feeling particularly hungry anymore. He pushed the plate away conspicuously before standing up from the table.

"Thanks," he said, shaking his head.

"Stop yourself, Lucas. Take a breath, alright? What did I do to you?"

"You wouldn't get it even if I tried explaining it," Lucas said. "I need to go out for a bit and clear my head, okay? Don't come looking for me."

"Lucas, that’s unfair. Please, sit back down."

Espee looked so hopeless, and Lucas hated seeing her like that. He knew that if he backed down, though, that he'd never have the gumption to execute on his bigger plans.

"This isn't your fault," he said, shaking his head. "If you put that in the fridge I'll come back for it later, okay?"

Espee looked resigned to defeat, which made Lucas feel bad, but he saw it as a necessary thing. When did he become like this all the time? He thought as Espee sighed and stood up from the table, reaching for a container in a high cabinet. He forced himself to walk over behind her to reach up - he was a good deal taller than she was, and he handed her the glass container. She gave a pained smile as she nodded appreciation, and Lucas left her alone in the kitchen. She smelled good, he thought as he went up the stairs.

Once back in his room, Lucas took the SGNL from his desk and sent a message to Bobby to see if he could get a ride to the store - Bobby didn't respond right away, so Lucas made the decision to walk there instead. He walked down the stairs, avoiding Espee as he continued down the driveway and away from the Leonarts' house.

Lucas knew he didn't need to leave the house behind, but he hated feeling cornered like that. He resented Joel for choosing his employees over him, and it felt in no uncertain terms like betrayal. Lucas could not forgive that.

Somewhere Between Riamal Haven and Serella

Lucas had lost track of time in the uncomfortable wooden box, but he knew it had to have been at least several hours now. The trip took them across the entirety of the Noctavian countryside, and Lucas also knew that at some point they'd be going over one of the largest rail bridges on all of Terrah - while he wished that he was able to see it, he was just happy to be safe and away from the eyes of those who may try to hurt him if he left his box.

"Psst," Lethe whispered. Her box was stacked on top of his, and he could hear her breathing. It soothed him to hear her - they had bunked together in Rocky's warehouse but had never shared a bed or been this close before. Lucas felt butterflies in his stomach as he thought of her. "Psst, Lucas. I gotta piss so bad."

"Me too," Lucas said quietly. "But shh, we don't wanna get caught or nothin'."

"I know. I just..."


"It's weird. We're getting out. It's a new day for both of us. I'm a little overwhelmed."

"Me too," Lucas said. "But we gotta be quiet!"

He could hear stirring from Lethe's box, then movement. Had she gotten out?

"A bit cramped in there, wouldn't you say?" Lethe said, placing her face level with the floor so that Lucas could see her face through the breathing holes. "C'mon, I'll get you out, too. We can just hide behind those boxes over there..."

The train's bell dinged - they were arriving at the Lake Drail station, immediately before the railway cut west towards the Beldaran border. Lucas was intrigued about getting to see the bridge that was only minutes away and was struggling to justify to himself staying in confinement. He'd already missed seeing Mormont as the train's tracks snaked east along the bayside, and he didn't want to miss this.

"Yeah, get me out of here."

Lethe lifted the lid and Lucas sat up, happy to be able to move again. It was now at least the middle of the afternoon, Lucas guessed as he looked out the small window, and the golden light of the sun over the fields to the west peeked in between the slats and cast a wonderful glow upon Lethe. Lucas blushed as he looked at her.

"C'mon, let's go behind those suitcases over there. At least there we can stretch out. There's gotta be somewhere to piss here, too. Do you care if I do that?"

"On the suitcases?"


"I don't wanna know," Lucas said, shaking his head. Lethe just laughed.

"I'm teasing, I'm teasing. What do you take me for, a crazy person?"

"Sometimes," Lucas said, and Lethe grinned.

"Good. Hey, c'mere a sec. I've been thinking about some stuff about when we get there, and like..."

Lucas edged closer to her, and the two sat side by side in the corner of the slowly darkening train car.

"Like what?"

"I don't want you to... feel burdened by having to have me with you," Lethe said. Lucas wasn't used to this kind of vulnerability out of her, but it wasn't the first time he'd seen it. "I'm not saying I'm a burden, but where I go, trouble follows. Is that okay with you?"

"Won't no one know you where we're going? Why would trouble follow you?"

Lethe rubbed her wrist gingerly. "I guess maybe I'm just worrying too much then. Is that what you're thinking?"

"Maybe. But I wanna know. Why, is something bad going to happen to you if I come with you?"

"Goodness, no," Lethe smiled. "If anything, when I'm with you is when I feel the most safe."

Lucas knew he was as red as a tomato as he smiled at her.

"So I've got another question," Lethe said, placing her hand on top of his. Everything inside Lucas' head was beginning to shut down at the mere touch.

"What is it?" Lucas just barely choked out. Lethe took a breath and put her other hand on his cheek.

"Promise me then," Lethe said. "Will you promise me that you'll protect me, no matter what?"

Lucas nodded slowly. It was a big commitment and probably more than he could ever do, but he'd die for Lethe. He knew that as clearly as anything on all of Terracius that he did.

"Always, Lethe."

She kissed him gently on the forehead, then looked at him with hopeful eyes.

"It's you and me, Lucas," she said, "until the end of everything. You understand me?"


About the author


  • Connecticut / Colorado
  • Oh, Mother Betsy

Bio: Nick and Chris have known one another since the days of the "Tornado Club" in 1996. They've come a long way from eating pizza and watching Twister in Matt's basement.

Both have been writers for a number of years - and when the COVID-19 pandemic came and lockdown followed, both committed to putting Nick's vision of Feystorm to the page.

Log in to comment
Log In