PART 1: Fairness
Ten years ago, James discovered he was part of a prophecy to save the world. Without ever reading this Prophecy, he enlisted his life to complete it. Admittedly, he figured it would only be a week long endeavor, but that turned out to be a vastly inaccurate estimate.
Upon failing to properly fulfill the Prophecy, James was taken away by his ancient ancestor, Lorne, who kept him in a strange dimension as the rest of the world continued to move without him. He had gone willingly, a careful secret he was keeping from his companions, and was gone for an entire decade. Yes, he had returned, but things were tense since then. In a sense, he was given a second chance to complete the Prophecy correctly. So far, things were going relatively well, though they could be better.
James's eyes sprung open, which was never a good sign. Whenever he woke up so urgently, it meant bad things were about to happen. He sat up in the back of the steadily moving carriage, his heart feeling somehow slow, and glanced around. It was dark outside so he could barely see the outlines of two of his companions resting inside the cramped cart next to him. Conscientiously, he maneuvered out of the carriage and stepped outside, feeling confident enough to step down despite the movement.
He jogged up to the front of the carriage where Louisa was seated, holding the reins and looking extremely bored. In the beginning, it had been Louisa who originally told James of his destiny and convinced him to come along with her to meet the princess of Ailyth, Erestina. Louisa was startlingly beautiful, and she knew it too, which gave her all the more unapproachable aura. Despite this, James felt strangely comfortable with her. She tucked some of her perfectly styled blonde hair behind her ear as she watched him climb up on the seat next to her; somehow, even the midst of their arduous journey, she managed to keep her appearance absolutely flawless, though James wagered she would be gorgeous even if she didn't try so hard.
"I can't even see Market City yet," she said, looking unimpressed. "You should rest for a few more hours."
"I can't," James said. "I'm up, so I'm up."
She sighed and faced forward again. She was being weirdly compliant and James wondered exactly why she hadn't decided to either tease him or at least attempt to force him to go back to sleep.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"What?" she questioned curiously.
"You're being all quiet," James observed.
"I'm just bored," Louisa answered. "I don't see why we couldn't go to Cyanyanka first. Ivilia is so far away. That's so much extra traveling we could have avoided."
"We need to go to Ivilia first," James reminded her. "Once we shatter the Life Stone, Baylor will get the ability to heal again, and he'll be able to fix Luke's legs."
"I know," said Louisa, rolling her eyes. "You don't have to explain it to me."
The mission was to travel to each Shrine and destroy the stones they had collected ten years ago with the help of those called the Resurrected Spirits. They were already successful with both the Rain Stone and the Shadow Stone, but they ran into a few complications along the way. Luke, old friend and Resurrected Rain Spirit, received very severe injuries while they were inside the Shadow Shrine destroying the Shadow Stone to resurrect the Spirit into Raven, Baylor's younger sister.
Their only consolation was that, with every stone that was destroyed, Baylor reacquired the abilities associated with that stone. Therefore, since the Life Stone in Ivilia originally gave him power to heal, they were fairly certain taking care of that particular loose end first would be most beneficial to the entire team.
"How are you?" Louisa asked, sitting up suddenly.
"Your pain. Your hands, right?"
"Oh, it's fine," James lied, closing his fists awkwardly. The truth was, he actually felt a lot of residual pain from his confrontation with the Forces inside the Shadow Shrine. His chest and knee were extremely weak and bruised while both his hands were scraped and shaking from sliding across the jagged rock. He tried to ignore it because it felt weird to complain about anything he was feeling when his best friend had been crushed by the Forces.
Louisa leaned over and made a face when she saw the marks on his hands he was trying to hide. "Yeah, looks fine," she remarked, rolling her eyes.
"I can handle it," James decided.
"I'm sure you can," said Louisa with a shrug.
James checked behind the carriage and then sat back down, unsure if she was being sarcastic. "Where are Baylor and Cyrus?"
"Ahead," Louisa replied, squinting at the horizon. "Isn't Cyrus sleeping in the carriage, though?"
"No, Raven is," James answered. "They switched off a while ago." He paused a moment and turned his head to the side. "You called him Cyrus."
"Well, usually you call him Felix. That's his first name, isn't it? Do you only call him that to annoy him?"
At first, Louisa looked as though she was going to be offended with the notion that she would do something so petty, but she eventually faced forward again, defeated. "I guess maybe I do," she admitted. "He can handle it."
James was going to remind her that she and Baylor perhaps gave Cyrus a hard time a little too often and, in the end, the reason was not justified. Ever since James originally disappeared, they automatically assumed it was partially Cyrus's fault because he touched the third Ultimate, called the Fighter, which was theoretically intended to belong to another companion, Walden. Unfortunately, Walden had been killed that same day and was unable to take the Fighter.
Even worse, however, was that James had learned Cyrus really was supposed to be the one to take the Fighter. Cyrus swore him to secrecy, feeling as though it would create more bad feelings among the team if they assumed Walden died for nothing. James could see the logic in it, but he didn't think it was fair for the others to go on resenting Cyrus for something which was not his fault.
"Do you remember when Walden used to call me Lou?" Louisa reminisced.
"Yeah," James said with a fond nod. "You always got mad at him."
"I loved it," Louisa said, almost laughing.
"I know," said James.
"You know now."
"I knew then."
"Sure you did, James."
It was not a point he was going to argue with her. He never knew if Louisa and Walden had ever become romantically involved with one another but, if they ever had, then they were very stealthy about it. In the end, he supposed that none of them knew each other well enough before they were all separated.
Following the token silence, James cleared his throat awkwardly. "Why did Baylor ride ahead?"
"To check for Forces," Louisa replied. "But we haven't seen any since the Shrine. You see that pattern?"
"Yeah, there were none left in the Forest after we left the Rain Shrine too," James said with a nod.
"That might just mean that there are going to be more in other places, though," Louisa reminded him. "Cyrus might have ridden ahead too. That might be him right there…"
Daigh Baylor and Felix Cyrus were distinctly different in their appearances, so he didn't think there was any possibility to mix the two of them up. Baylor was dark skinned and small framed and although he was eight years older than Cyrus, James might have guessed he was the same age or even younger. Part of that might have also been because Cyrus was mature for his age, in appearance anyway, and was certainly mature enough to wield and swing a sword. While both men had light hair, Cyrus's was the type of glowing and trimmed blond while Baylor was relaxed in his appearance and all around more tattered.
In their own ways, they each had their difficult histories and childhoods, but as a group, they only recently all met up again. Following James's return to the world, Cyrus traveled back to Miner Town with Princess Erestina of Ailyth where Louisa and Baylor were both setting up camp. They also looked after Johanna, Walden's daughter, but it had been a mutual decision to leave both she and Erestina with Baylor's brother, William, in Gislan. Although was difficult to walk away from all three of them, they more or less agreed that it was in everybody's best interest if they stay behind.
The biggest concern was the fact that the Forces were apparently seeking James out indiscriminately. Wherever he was, the Forces seemed to appear. It was confirmed during a brief interaction with Devin, the one who caused all the troubles in the first place ten years ago.
The horseman in the distance turned out to be Cyrus, looking concerned that James wasn't in the carriage to rest. Before he could voice his concern, James said, "It's all right. I'm not very tired."
"If you say so," said Cyrus, an accusatory and skeptical look still lingering.
"See anything up ahead?" Louisa questioned.
"Market City is just over that hill," Cyrus replied. "Change course slightly. If we go around the west side instead of the east, then it'll shave a good three hours off the trip."
Surprisingly, Louisa bit her lip to that comment as James looked at her quizzically. "What did Daigh say about that?" she asked finally.
"He didn't say anything," Cyrus said, confused. "Is this something I need to ask him about?"
James waited, also wanting to hear the answer.
"Yes, you should of course ask him!" said Louisa, sounding oddly hostile in response to the scrutinizing looks she was receiving. "You can't just go changing our course randomly like this. He's the one in charge, not you. The sooner you figure it out, the fewer problems we'll have."
Her tone was intentionally overly sharp, specifically designed to offend Cyrus and make him feel insufficient. James uneasily and, for some reason, apologetically looked back at Cyrus who had a very standoffish attitude. "What should I do then?" he said, indignant.
"Go ask him if it's all right," Louisa answered.
Cyrus did not hesitate a moment to pull the reins of his horse to ride off, wanting to get as far away from Louisa as possible. She glared at his turned back and then changed her expression to James, expecting him to be fully on board with how she had just spoken to Cyrus. When she didn't see immediate agreement from James, she seemed shocked.
"What's the big deal?" James said. "You were just saying you wanted the time to go by quicker. Does it really matter whether we go around the left side or the right side of Market City?"
"Of course it matters, James," said Louisa. "The east side of the city is harmless. The Door is along the west side of the city. Perhaps you've forgotten."
James lowered his head; he hadn't forgotten. That was the place where the Prophecy was supposed to come together. It was were they acquired the three Ultimate Powers, where James had both disappeared and reappeared, where Walden had died and, most recently, where Baylor was tortured by Devin. It was understandable that Louisa wouldn't want to go that way, and it was expected that Baylor wouldn't either.
"Sorry," James said.
"Don't apologize," Louisa said harshly.
Within a few seconds, there was another figure on the horizon. James knew right away it was Baylor, who was followed soon after by Cyrus. It was obvious Cyrus had immediately gone to him to ask about his suggestion.
"If we can get there three hours sooner, we should do it," Baylor said to Louisa, not even bothering to say anything else first. "Go around the west side."
"Fine," said Louisa somewhat angrily, but he didn't stick around to listen, nodding at James, then Cyrus, and turning the horse around. He rode ahead again, and Cyrus only lingered a few seconds before doing so as well. They were distinctly far apart since they didn't have exactly the smoothest of relationships, and were merely forced to be in each other's company because of the Prophecy.
James sighed and looked at Louisa.
"If I had changed the course without asking him, then he would have been mad," Louisa said defensively before James could say anything.
"I'm sure he appreciates it, he just doesn't know how to say it," James assured her.
"Don't patronize me," she commanded.
"All right, all right." James laughed a little, putting his hands up as he hopped off the cart.
"Where are you going?" Louisa questioned.
"I'm going to lie down again," James answered.
"I thought you said you weren't tired."
"I'm not. But I don't think I can handle anymore of this passive aggressive anger the three of you have got rolling around among you. Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable."
Louisa only frowned at him and rolled her eyes. James's statement was partially meant to be a joke, but it was also mostly true. Whenever his three comrades quarreled, he was only reminded of the good natured mocking and conversation he used to share with Louisa, Baylor and Walden ten years ago. He guessed things had changed too much since then so they weren't going to go back, but he'd be lying to himself if he didn't childishly wish for it.
He hopped back into the carriage from behind. Luke was lying down in the middle. His friend was just a little bit more than him in almost all ways; he was a little older, a little taller and a little darker. All around, his features were deep and heavily defined from spending many years alone in the Forest, forging his own weapons and fighting off the Forces in an attempt to get inside the Shrine. He was doing well on his own all that time, but since James's return, he retained several injuries. James tried to reason that Luke's injuries were a result of his friend's tendency to shoot his bow first and then proceed, though he knew that was an unfair assessment.
Raven Baylor was lying next to him, noticeably close. James wasn't sure if she had purposely snuggled up next to him, her hand draped across his chest in a very longing sort of way, or if it was just incidental. From what he could see, they were both asleep, so he just reasoned Raven stretched across him while turning over. She did not resemble her brother too much outside their standard Gislan features, and James hadn't known her long enough to assess her personality. However, if she was anything like Baylor, James worried about more potential conflict on the team. While Baylor wasn't necessarily confrontational, he didn't seem too interested in keeping things pleasant, either. The few interactions James had with Raven made her appear nice enough, but he guessed he would have plenty of time to get to know her.
Letting out a heavy sigh, he lied down, almost shoulder-to-shoulder next to Luke, and stared blankly at the ceiling. He tried to be conscious of disturbing Luke's broken legs wrapped up in makeshift splints, but as he turned over to face the outside, his foot accidentally grazed one of them.
Luke immediately sprung awake and let out an agonized grunt which he quickly stifled. James sat up and repeatedly apologized as Raven drew away from him, surprised and sitting up as well.
"It's fine," Luke said rigidly through his teeth.
"Are we at Ivilia?" Raven asked tiredly as she carefully readjusted herself so she didn't brush against Luke as well.
"No, we're not even at Market City yet," James replied. "But we started pretty deep in Gislan. We're probably more than halfway."
"I just want to be there already," Luke groaned.
"Try to concentrate on getting better," Raven urged.
"No amount of concentration is going to help," Luke said in an understandably frustrated tone.
"I wish there was something I could do," Raven said helplessly to James, as if there was some kind of power he was able to bestow upon her that he had been thus far withholding.
"This is all my fault you're like this," James said, shaking his head.
"Stop saying that. If it wasn't for you, then that Forces would have crushed me completely."
"If it wasn't for me, then that Forces wouldn't have been falling towards you in the first place."
"You could go in circles like this forever," said Raven judgmentally. "So just laugh it off for now and we can all get on with our lives. After this whole Prophecy thing is done."
"I'm having a hard time laughing much of anything off right now," Luke said in a joking manner.
James shook his head and tried to add, "We actually might be getting there sooner than originally expected. We're heading around the other side of Market City, which I guess is kind of a shortcut. That's going to put us real close to that place we met up with Devin, Luke."
Luke nodded and James actively decided to leave out the little tidbit of information which involved Baylor's torture and subsequent coma while Raven was sitting right there. He got the feeling that Baylor did not want Raven find out about that in an indelicate fashion. Raven did not pester James to learn more because perhaps she did not feel engaged with what he had presented.
"I could fall back to sleep in one minute," Raven said, rubbing her forehead and yawning. "It'd be nice to sleep away another few hours. How much longer do I have before I have to switch with Louisa?"
"I think you have enough time to go back to sleep," James said.
"I was going to go to sleep anyway," Raven said, waving her hand at James dismissively.
"All right," said James with a shrug.
"It would be a miracle if I could fall back to sleep too," Luke complained.
James lied down as well, this time making sure he was especially careful of avoiding Luke. He didn't speculate he would be able to go to sleep again, still worried that something dangerous was on the horizon, but he closed his eyes anyway.
"James?" came Raven's quiet voice.
"Yeah?" James said.
"What's going to happen after the adventure?" she asked. "You know, after you beat Devin and set everything right? What will happen then?"
James opened his eyes very slightly and squinted at the ceiling. He imagined what would be expected of him. He knew the order was hefty, but he found himself disinclined to answer. Honestly, he had no idea what would happen after they defeated Devin, though he did hope it somehow involved Megan Vale, a very kind woman he met in Market City weeks ago.
So here is part 3. I suggest reading at least part 2 before this one. Part 1 is recommended but not required. I'm taking all of your reviews of part 2 to heart, that everyone wants a more fast paced adventure like we saw in the 1st part, so I hope I can deliever. Please enjoy! :)