Author's note: The end of this chapter is probably the saddest thing I will ever write in my life. I even made myself cry a little. I've never made myself cry with my own writing. I guess there are benefits to not planning anything out with this story. The details of this chapter ended up being as much a surprise to me as to you. On the downside, the lack of planning out means I'm never completely sure where to go next. Since I'm not planning anything out, though, I am much more open to suggestions. Anywhere you want to see the characters go? I'll probably be sticking to the southeast for a bit longer, but I'll be moving gradually around the country. So, where and what do you want to see? All feedback is appreciated. hotwing: Most of them don't think of FRIDA as being a person. Lisa does, but Lisa's odd. Even Raven, who has experience with a sentient computer, still thinks of them as just machines. FRIDA is no more a person than Siri on the iPhone, as far as they're concerned. And don't worry, there'll be action chapters mixed in here and there. But this is more an adventure story than an action story, so that'll affect things.

February 8, 2013

It was 24 hours later before Lisa woke up. She still had a fever, and spent two more days in bed. But finally, she was recovered from what happened in the swamp. So they were all more than a little surprised by what she had to say.

"We need to go back to the swamp."

"What?" Eric said. "Go back? Are you nuts?"

"Yeah, I don't think we need to go back," Ashleigh said. "Once was enough. More than enough."

"No," Lisa shook her head. "I'm sorry, but we have to go back."

"Why?" Raven asked. "Why would we have to go back?"

"Because there's something there."

"What's there?" Jacob asked.

"I don't know. Something. Something important. I'm sure of it."

"I'm beginning to hate magic," Ashleigh said.

"The swamp is currently closed off," FRIDA said. "The police are still investigating what happened, and they're not letting anyone in."

"Especially not a bunch of snot-nosed teens, I'm betting," Eric added.

"That would probably be a safe assumption, yes," FRIDA agreed.

"It doesn't matter!" Lisa said. "We need to go!"

"What are we going to do, walk through miles of swamp?" Eric asked.

"If we have to, yes."

"But I don't see why we have to. Whatever's there, it's none of our business anyway. Raven can call up her superhero friends to check around."

"But it does have to do with us. Or at least, with me. Whatever it was I sensed, it was something related to my past."

"But you don't have any idea what it could be?" Jacob asked.

"No. I don't even know how I know. But I do know. And I can't let this go. If you guys don't want to go, I'll go by myself, but I need to check it out."

"Of course I'll go with you," Jacob said.

Raven sighed. "I guess you'll need someone to keep the snakes and gators away from you. I'll go, too. Dammit."

"I shall accompany you, also," FRIDA said. "I can help you avoid any people present."

"I don't think I'll be of much use to tramping around a swamp," Ashleigh said. "Maybe us norms should stay behind."

"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea," Taylor agreed.

"I think I'll go with them, actually," Eric said. "I'm curious to see what's there."

"Does that mean we should go along, too?" Taylor asked Ashleigh.

"I think it's fine to stay behind," she replied. "Unless you wanted to go?"

"I'm fine either way."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah. I don't mind going through the swamp, but I don't mind staying here, either."

"Then I guess we'll stay here," Ashleigh decided. "Because I don't want to walk through a swamp." Eric mouthed finally. "If I'm going to have gunk on my feet, I'd rather it be part of a pedicure."

"Not that we can afford for you to get one," Jacob said.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Stupid budgeting."

"We'll have a lot of ground to cover," Eric said. "So we should probably get started soon."

"All right," Raven said. "We'll take a cab there. Everyone ready?"

"Yes," Lisa nodded. "Let's go. I have so few clues about my past, so I'm eager to find this one. Whatever it is."

"I just hope it's not a trap," Jacob said. "I mean, that albino guy could be behind this."

Lisa shook her head. "I don't think so. I think he was trying to stop me from finding it. Of course, I only sensed it when I used my magic against the mud monster, so it backfired on him."

"Which opens the possibility he was trying to make sure you sensed it," Taylor said.

"Definitely not. He was trying to hurt me. Maybe even kill me. I don't know why, though. It's not like I had anything against him before he attacked us."

"I guess something in your past makes you a threat," Ashleigh said.

"You could be an ancient sorceress who's been battling him for centuries," Taylor said. "And he managed to erase your memories and trap you in the form of a teenager, and he's trying to stop you from discovering your past and your powers, and resuming your battle with him."

"Let's hope not," Jacob said. "I don't want my girlfriend leaving me to fight some jerk."

"How do we know he's not the good guy?" Raven asked with a smirk. "For all we know, Raven could've been an evil sorceress whose memories were erased to save the world from her."

"Come on, do you honestly think Lisa could be evil?" Jacob said.

"Hey, we're just spit-balling here. Don't get mad at us for coming up with ideas."

"I am getting mad at you for coming up with ideas, because they're stupid ideas."

"But these are possibilities we should probably be prepared for," Lisa said thoughtfully. "I mean, she's right. We don't know. That's the whole problem. What if there's a reason I can't remember anything? What if I am evil?"

"You could never be evil. You're, like, the nicest girl I've ever met."

"I'd object," Ashleigh joked, "but we all know Raven and me are bitches."

"What if my niceness is a result of magic?" Lisa asked. "Because my real personality was suppressed? I don't know what magic is really capable of. I don't even know what I'm capable of, let alone people with decades of training and experience."

"Are you saying you don't want to learn about your past any more?" Jacob asked.

"No. Of course I do. I need to know. I'm just saying we need to be ready for the worst."

"I think you're worrying about it too much," Taylor told her.

"I want all of you to keep an eye on me. If I start acting weird, then I need you to do whatever's necessary."

"You're already pretty weird," Ashleigh said with a nervous laugh.

"I mean weird for me. If I start acting out of character. If it starts to seem like I might be turning bad, I need you to stop me, no matter what it takes."

"Nothing will happen," Jacob tried to pull her in for a hug. She pushed him back.

"Promise me," she demanded. "All of you, promise me you won't hesitate to stop me if you need to." Everyone exchanged a glance. "Promise!"

"All right," Raven nodded slowly. "I promise."

"I don't know what I can do," Eric said, "but OK."

"I'll keep my good eye on you," Ashleigh pointed at her eye.

"If you insist," Taylor shrugged.

"Jacob?" Lisa turned to her boyfriend with wide, worried eyes. "Promise?"

Jacob rubbed the back of his neck. "I still think you're making a fuss over nothing. But OK. I promise to keep you sane, as best I can."

"And to stop me if you can't?"

"Yeah. That, too."

"Oh, thank you!" she threw her arms around him. "Thank you, everyone. I really appreciate this. It makes me feel better knowing my friends won't let me do anything bad."

"Except the bad things we ask you to do, obviously," Raven said. "Like helping us steal."

"Yeah. Aside from that. But I still love you all."

They got a ride out to the swamp. Just as FRIDA said, there were police there, keeping anyone from going in. The four teens walked down the road, until they were far from the cops. Then, they entered the swamp.

It was even less pleasant than they remembered. It was a chillier day, at least. But it was still wet and gross. It was also darker where they entered, as the tree cover blocked out most of the sun. They could still see, but it made the swamp creepier.

FRIDA guided them, trying to keep them on land as much as possible, but at times, it became necessary for them to wade into the water, and at a few points, they had to outright swim. They discovered Raven's power worked on leeches, when one attached itself to Eric, before she made it let go and ordered all the nearby leeches to stay away. "Can't believe I volunteered for this," he complained as he sat rubbing at where the leech bit him.

"You'd rather be back watching the Cyclops make out with Geek Boy?" Raven asked.

"That's not why I'm here," he grumbled.

"Of course it isn't. See this?" she pointed at her face. "This is my 'I believe you' face."

"Shut up. I just wanted to keep an eye on the rest of you."

"Whatever. You wanna pretend seeing Ash and Taylor together doesn't bug you, go ahead."

"Why would it bother me? They're my friends, and they're happy together."

"Dammit, Raven," Jacob said. "Leave Eric alone."

"All right, all right," Raven shrugged. "You ready to get going again, Princess?"

"Yeah, I'm ready," Eric stood back up. "Let's go."

They spent hours wandering through the swamp, moving back towards where they had their fight. Finally, they reached the spot. No police were present, luckily. "OK, Magic Girl," Raven said. "Where's this thing we're looking for?"

"Give me a couple minutes," she replied. "I need to focus, to sense for it." She sat down and closed her eyes. The others stood around and waited patiently. Raven petted a large snake she summoned. Eric and Jacob eyed it warily.

"That way," Lisa pointed northeast. "It's that way."

"Where the boat was heading," Jacob said. "Makes sense. OK, let's keep going."

"Any idea how far?" Eric asked.

"Um, I'm not really good with distances," Lisa said. "Not too far, though. Maybe around half-hour, I think."

An hour later, Lisa stopped. She looked around, sensing something and trying to locate it. She closed her eyes. "It's close," she said, as much to herself as to the others. "I can feel it." She turned slightly to the right, following her instincts, and stepped forward.

"Um, Lisa?" Jacob said as she walked forward.

"You'll break her concentration," Raven told him.

"Yeah, but-"

"Shh. She's magicking."

"But-"

"Shush!"

"Shut it. Lisa, you're walking towards-"

He was too late. She took another step, and fell right into the water. Raven laughed, and even Eric snickered. Jacob winced as Lisa popped back out of water, sputtering and soaked. "It's right here," she said casually. "It must be buried under some mud. I'm going to dig for it. Just a minute."

She took a deep breath and went back under. Jacob shot Raven a dirty look. She smirked, completely unashamed. "I should throw you into the water," he said.

"Especially if you want a snake to bite you on the butt," she replied.

"I can move faster than a snake."

"And I can control dozens of snakes at once."

"Yeah yeah," Eric said, "you're both awesome, now shut up."

Lisa needed to pop back up several more times for more air, but finally she emerged with a small, watertight box in her hands. "Ha!" she cried triumphantly. "I got it! I'm awesome!"

"Is there any magic you could've used to make it easier?" Eric asked.

Lisa's triumphant look quickly dropped. "Oh, nuts."

"Sorry," Eric said. "Here, gimme the box while Jacob helps you out of the water."

He took the box from her hands, and Jacob pulled her back to land. She shook some of the water off herself, then took the box back from Eric and looked at it. She shifted nervously.

"What's wrong?" Jacob asked her.

"What if I was wrong?" she said. "What if this has nothing to do to me? What if it's just some box? Or what if it was sealed away for a good reason?"

"We came this far," Raven said. "You're not chickening out now. Let's get the lock off and see what's inside."

"You're right."

"Should we take it back to the hostel," Jacob asked, "or do it here?"

"Here," Lisa said. "I want to know now. I need to know now. I'll just magic the lock off."

She held her finger up to the lock, and after a moment, it opened. She kneeled in the grass and put the box down. She closed her eyes and took a long, slow breath. When she opened her eyes again, she slowly lifted the cover off the box. Inside, was-

"Another box," Eric said. "This better not turn out to be some weird joke."

Lisa lifted it out. It was small, made of hardwood. "There's something familiar about it," she said. "A memory, on the edge of my mind."

She opened it. A ballerina spun around, and light music played. "A music box," Jacob said.

"Pretty song," Eric added.

"This mean anything to you?" Raven asked Lisa.

Lisa gave no response. She stared at the tiny dancer, listening to the tune. It stirred something in her. Flashes of it in her mind. She remembered sitting with it, listening to the melody. A beautiful woman dancing. That same woman handing it to her while mouthing the words when I am gone, this will be yours.

"Gone?" Lisa whispered. "Where are you going?"

"Huh?" Jacob said. "We're not going anywhere."

She didn't hear him. Someday, the woman said, I will have to leave you.

"When?" Lisa whispered.

Not for a long time, when you're big and strong. When you don't need me any more.

"Where will you go?"

Farther than the moon, and closer than the air. I will wait for you there.

"But I don't want you to go away."

I know. And I do not want to leave you. But sometimes, we need to lose something, to truly appreciate what we still have.

"I don't understand."

You will. Someday. When this music box is yours, you will understand. And as long as you have this box, you will always have something to remember me by. And you will know that I love you, now and forever.

"I . . . love you too. And I do understand."

"Understand what?" Jacob asked. "Lisa, who are you talking to?"

She looked at him sadly, blinking back tears in her eyes, then closed the music box and turned it over. There was an inscription on the bottom.

My heart, I will dance for you when we meet again.

"My mother," Lisa choked out. "I remember my mother, Jacob. And now she's dead."

She couldn't speak any more, and Jacob held her as she cried.

Next: Jackson, Mississippi.