Even from deep in the Forest, seated up on a branch of a low tree, Baylor could see the world changing. It was as dark as Gislan, though it should have been creeping up on morning. He looked down; everyone was still sleeping, exhausted from what they had endured that night, but Baylor found it impossible to sleep. He couldn't bring himself to understand why things had gone so wrong. Everything was going so perfectly well, and then something happened: why couldn't Walden taken the Power of the Fighter? Why, when he touched it, did it not react?
He peered down at his palm where he had touched the orb so see the red mark left by the Mystics. Looking past his hand, he could make out Cyrus sleeping on the ground next to Princess Erestina. Why did the Fighter go into the little boy instead?
Most importantly of all, where had James gone? One minute, he was standing there among them, and the next he had completely disappeared. In fact, the more Baylor thought about it, he came to realize that he couldn't even pinpoint the exact moment when he had last seen James. Gravely, he reasoned that he wasn't even sure if it was before or after Walden had been stabbed.
There was movement from below him, so he quickly drew his sword and readied himself for whatever would face them. Instead, he only saw Louisa sitting up, rubbing her head, sniffling softly. He relaxed as she looked around, then peered up at him, her eyes red and distant.
After he sheathed his sword, he hopped down from the branch next to Louisa as lightly as he could and the two children did not stir. His original intention was only to put his hand on her shoulder, but as soon as his arm moved, Louisa dove and pulled him into a hug.
"I was hoping it was a dream," she confessed, her voice shaking.
"I'm sorry," Baylor whispered.
"So they're really gone," Louisa said.
Short of apologizing again, Baylor was unable to think up something to say.
"We have to go back," she said.
"We can't," Baylor said. "That's the first place the Forces are going to go so it's not safe. And besides, we can't leave the princess and the boy alone. This Devin guy is orchestrating a massive uprising. If Ailyth is going to have any hope coming up against him, then the princess has to be safe."
"I know." Louisa nodded. "But what about Walden? Don't you have any magic that could…? I don't know…?"
Baylor pulled away from her. "There's nothing I can do," he said.
"What is this Ultimate Power supposed to be good for then?" Louisa demanded, wiping her eyes. "The Mystics. What does that even mean? And that boy took the Fighter, and I can't even care to remember what I have. The Rescuer? I didn't do a very good job rescuing anyone, did I?"
"Don't blame yourself," Baylor ordered. "I don't know what happened in that place back there or why things fell apart the way they did. But at least we have all the pieces, right? We can put this back together."
Louisa crossed her arms. "We don't have all the pieces," she said through her teeth. "James is gone. Walden is dead."
Baylor sighed heavily. "Is there anything I could ever say to make things better?" he said gently.
"Just that you can't leave me too," Louisa said.
"We have to stay together and we have to work together."
Louisa bit her lip. "What's first?" she said, trying to smile.
"We'll figure it out," Baylor said.
"First," she said, stuttering a little. "I suppose… we have to tell their families. Walden's family and James'… well, he has friends, doesn't he? Here in the Forest. Isn't that a customary thing to do when someone has died?"
"I've never done this before."
"Neither have I."
"We'll work it out."
"You know," Louisa began, clearing her throat. "When we were in the mountain of Miner Town, right outside the Sky Shrine, we fought the Forces; me, James and Walden. It was this strange bug. It stabbed Walden in the stomach that day. And…for some time…I thought he was dead. Just for a few minutes."
"But the thing is…" Louisa continued. "He wasn't dead. He was just paralyzed. In the end, he got better and recovered. Then we continued our journey." She smiled a little bit. "Then we went to Gislan, and that's when we met you."
Baylor rubbed his eyes and gave a heavy sigh.
Louisa seemed to detect the tone of his sigh and followed up with, "I know Walden's not paralyzed. I know he's gone… I know he's dead. Just think, though. It would be wonderful if he was alive, wouldn't it?"
"Of course it would."
"Daigh—Baylor…tell me honestly. Is there some chance that James could be alive? Somewhere?" She closed her eyes tightly and then grabbed his shoulders before he could respond. "Don't answer that. Wait, do answer it. But just tell me that he's alive, whether it's true or not."
"Do you want to hear a lie or the truth?"
"It doesn't matter," Louisa said. "Just tell me there's a chance he's alive and don't tell me whether you're lying or telling the truth."
"Just do it." Her instruction was firmer and somewhat intimidating.
Baylor took a deep breath and said, "All right. None of us saw him actually disappear. There was a lot going on at the time. There's a chance something happened and we just don't know what. Wherever he is, the stones are with him, so there's always the chance he could…you know, just come back."
"I believe you," Louisa said definitively as she pulled him into another hug. "I don't care if it's a lie."
Baylor hugged her back this time, wondering if he even knew whether he was clawing at possibilities or if he, like Louisa, could trick himself into believing something impossible. When he finally let her go, he looked over his shoulder at Princess Erestina and Cyrus, unsure of how their fate had become so intertwined with his own.
Disaster, or something like it, was on the horizon.
TO BE CONTINUED
A/N: I've decided this needs a second book! I think if you've made it this far in this story, then you'll want to continue? (Hopefully?) The next section will continue the story, and you can probably expect it in about a week or so. Until then, thanks to everyone who's read and reviewed! It's about to get even better!