AN: We posted the first two chapters because we were just too excited to introduce all the main characters. We hope you enjoy! ^^
From Ashes - Good Fortune
Victor held the door open for William, standing aside. Once inside, safe from the unseasonably high temperatures outdoors, Victor started leading William toward one of the tables in the chain cafe. As he approached, he held up a hand to wave, grinning brightly when the couple sitting at that table noticed him.
One of the two waved back. "Hey, Victor! Good to see you." He turned his dark brown eyes to William, offering a friendly smile. "This should be William, yes?"
"You're a step ahead of me," Victor chuckled. He looked back at William, gesturing toward the dark-eyed one first. "This is Rahasai and Ahyo. They're good friends of mine."
"It's nice to meet the both of you." William smiled timidly, looking between the two of them. He had heard about them through Victor, but meeting them face-to-face was a different story.
"It's good to meet you, too," Rahasai responded, holding out a hand to shake William's. As he returned the gesture, William couldn't help but notice the numerous rings and bracelets he was wearing.
Rahasai's companion also wore a significant amount of jewelry, but was dressed more revealingly in comparison. "We heard you just moved here," Ahyo said, holding out his hand next. "How are you liking the city so far?"
"It's… different than what I'm used to," William admitted, taking a seat at the table once he released Ahyo's hand. "But I think it was a good idea."
Victor took the last available seat at the table as Rahasai spoke. "My first time in the city was a big change, too, so I understand. You get used to it."
"I think each one of us here can relate to the experience," Ahyo remarked, sharing a knowing look with Victor.
"Oh… how long have you both lived here?" William asked.
Rahasai averted his eyes a bit. "Uh… About a year and a half."
"I've lived here about five years," Ahyo added. "We both know the city rather well now, and we've quite a few friends here, including Victor."
William smiled slightly. "That's... reassuring to hear."
"It's not a big city by any means," Victor added in.
"Oh, I know," William said back, pausing to choose his next words carefully. "But it's very unlike any of the... other cities I've been to. Living on my own is also new."
"It'll be nice to have your own space to do with as you please," Victor said.
William nodded, "I do like having a room to work in, but the rest of the space feels like more than I know what to do with."
Ahyo leaned in with obvious interest. "What kind of work do you do?"
"I do… I suppose you could call it alchemy," William said. "It's part of why I moved here, actually, since I could get work nearby."
"Alchemy?" Rahasai tilted his head curiously. "I don't… know what that is…"
"For me, it's mainly potion and charm crafting," William explained. "There's other kinds, but I enjoy those the most."
Victor nodded. "He's really good at it, too!"
"I'm interested," Rahasai said, leaning forward a little.
Although William had been nervous at first, Rahasai's gentle questions and Ahyo's earnest remarks slowly put him at ease. He began asking more questions of his own, dwelling less and less on his inner insecurities. Even as Ahyo asked him more searching questions in return, Victor's company at his side kept him from getting unbalanced.
At one point, Ahyo seemed to share a meaningful glance with Rahasai. Then, he said, "You know, if you ever want to see more of the city, Rahasai and I could take you to some of our favorite places. But, I want to ask, would you be comfortable if it were only us?"
"What do you mean?" William asked, unsure if he understood.
"Rahasai and I are a couple, and I understand that some people don't like… 'third-wheeling'," Ahyo explained. He looked at Rahasai again. "We have another friend we could invite - I don't like leaving people feeling left out."
"That's not to say that we would make you feel like a third wheel," Rahasai quickly added.
William was caught off guard by the question, and he took a moment to consider it. He normally would have waved the concern off, but it resonated too closely with his recent decisions to ignore. It was also something he had brought up, once, to Victor before the move - if he didn't answer honestly, Victor would bring it up to him later.
"I don't think you would do that," William said back. "But… it would be nice, I think, to have another person there."
"Alright." Rahasai nodded with a smile. "Whenever we get together, I'll speak to my friend Stephen to see if he's able to join us."
"Don't worry," Ahyo reassured William. "I think that you'll like him. He's very charming."
William smiled back at Ahyo, only feeling a little bit uncertain. "I'm sure that I will."
Victor's visit ended later in the week. He left William with reassurances that he'd still be available to talk to, even if not in person, and a subtle reminder about the concert tickets. William had the date marked on a calendar in his bedroom, but even without those reminders it would be omnipresent in his mind. While he lacked the confidence about being able to convince someone to go to the concert with him, the thought of failing to meet Victor's expectations beat it out.
Still, Ahyo reached out to William first. After meeting them, he exchanged phone numbers with Victor's friends and promised to keep in contact. He had only gotten as far as sending them a formal greeting, so he was surprised by how quickly the invitation came his way.
They arranged to meet at a nearby park the next day - Ahyo claimed it was one of the quieter parts of the city, and Rahasai helpfully sent him directions. William was relieved, since it would take him away from any likely public scrutiny. However, he still opted to dress up as well as he could in casual wear. He was, after all, meeting someone new without the buffer of Victor's company.
When he arrived at the park, William immediately began searching for the distinct white of Ahyo's hair. He found Ahyo and Rahasai sitting at a table under a large gazebo with flowering vines crawling up the posts. They were talking to someone William had yet to meet, whom he assumed to be Stephen. He contrasted their androgynous, somewhat lavish sense of style completely. Stephen was tall with broad shoulders, dressed in a plain tee shirt and jeans that hugged parts of his body in just the right ways. His light brown hair was also in a bit of a mess from the slight spring breeze.
As William approached their table, Ahyo and Rahasai seemed to notice him and waved him over. "Hello, William! Glad to see you found your way here," Ahyo called out. He patted the open bench space next to him, and said, "Don't worry, I saved you a seat."
"Implying it can be taken," the unfamiliar young man chuckled. He then turned his gaze over to William, holding out a hand with a friendly smile. "William, right? I'm Stephen."
After taking the space at the table, William returned the smile and reached over to shake Stephen's hand. "It's nice to meet you, Stephen."
Stephen gave it a firm but comfortable shake, before gesturing toward the paper to-go bags set up at an end of the table. "I hope you like Good Times as much as I do, maybe. I kind of insisted."
William glanced over at the paper packages. He didn't recognize the logo, so he hesitantly said, "I... don't think I've had it before, actually. What kind of food is it?"
"They're hamburgers and fries," Ahyo said, pulling one of the bags over. "I would have messaged you first about what you might've wanted, but this was a last minute decision." He gave Stephen a slightly withering look.
"Oh, no, that's completely fine," William reassured quickly, looking back at Stephen. He didn't want the other to think that he didn't appreciate the kind gesture. "I do like hamburgers and fries, so I think I'll like it."
Stephen winked with a smug look, reaching into one of the bags and handing a burger over to William. "You won't be disappointed." He then reached for his own food. "Honestly, I hate when I have to leave the state for anything over a month. I start to miss it."
"You might as well be addicted," Rahasai said as he claimed one of the cardboard trays of fries.
The burger looked unassuming, but after taking a bite of it, William had to agree with the sentiment. As he started to eat the rest of it, he quietly watched the others continue to talk over the meal. Ahyo, despite seeming annoyed with him before, told Stephen, "We have to show William everything good around the city, and you know a lot of good places."
Stephen shrugged, chuckling a bit. "I know some things, sure." He turned his gaze over to William, a thought coming to mind. "Speaking of which, what's your schedule like, William?"
"Well… I don't have a lot of other things to do at the moment," William said. "So it's not very busy..."
Stephen considered that for a moment. "Good to know," he said with a smile.
"Great! Now that that's settled, let's finish up here and go around," Ahyo said, picking up a fry. "If I'm having junk food, I need to do a bit of leg work."
Stephen raised an eyebrow. "What did you have in mind?"
"Just a walk and talk down one of the trails," Ahyo answered, then looking at William. "Unless you'd like to stay here?"
"I'm fine either way," William said. "But… I think I'd like to have a look around."
"One of the trails takes us through one of the older parts of town, pretty close to their place," Stephen said with a nod in Ahyo and Rahasai's direction.
"Oh, we should stop by!" Ahyo said, lighting up with excitement. "You haven't seen Rahasai's shop yet, but I think you would like it, William. He uses lots of interesting things for his work."
"Interesting things?" William repeated, looking between the other three for clarification.
Rahasai averted his eyes, smiling shyly. "Um, well… I have a way of… uh… seeing people's fates, and things like that."
"You mean like divination?"
"Yes, divination," Rahasai said with a nod. "That's what I do."
"Oh…" William looked at Rahasai with open interest. "How does it work? Do you perform some sort of spell or ceremony? Do you use some sort of tools?"
Rahasai smiled. "I sort of use tools. I can show you when we get there."
William nodded, folding his hands into his lap and squeezing his fingertips, trying to reign in his obvious interest. "I look forward to it."
Rahasai's shop was warm compared to the cool breeze outside. The lamps that lit up the room beneath their shades cast a soft amber glow over their surroundings. Rahasai guided everyone in and led them to the coffee table with a couch and an armchair nearby.
The group took seats around the table, Rahasai taking his place in the arm chair. William sat at one end, and Stephen settled into the middle, leaning back and resting his arms along the back of the couch on either side of him. William looked around the room curiously, attention caught on the nearby shelves full of opaque jars. Noticing his inattention, Ahyo spoke up and said, "Rahasai sometimes uses those for his work."
Rahasai nodded, giving a proud smile. "My mentor taught me this form of divination."
"It's pretty cool," Stephen put in. "It's pretty much always spot-on."
"How does it work?" William asked.
"Would you like me to show you?" Rahasai asked back.
"If that's alright. I'm always interested in learning about different kinds of magic."
Rahasai stood up, gesturing for William to follow him to a table and chairs sitting next to the bookshelves full of jars. William followed him, taking the opportunity to give the containers a closer look. None of them were labelled or seemed to be in any order, and William almost cringed from the lack of organization.
Rahasai sat down at the table, tapping it absentmindedly. "Do you have any questions to ask?"
William redirected his attention to Rahasai. "Oh… I didn't think of anything… What do people usually ask?"
"Well, what's been bothering you lately? Maybe I can offer some insight."
William nervously glanced back at the other side of the room where Ahyo and Stephen were still seated, talking to each other. "I don't know. I suppose I'm just having trouble adjusting to a new city."
"Hm… Alright." Rahasai waved toward the bookshelves. "Grab a couple of jars. Any that pique your interest."
"Oh… alright." William stood up, looking at the shelves with uncertainty. Other than being painted in mismatched colors, there was nothing specific about the jars that stood apart. After a long moment of indecision, he simply picked out a dark blue jar and a purple jar and brought them back to the table.
Rahasai then gestured to the table. "Place one on the left, and one on the right." William raised a brow at Rahasai, and then set the jars out in the order he retrieved them.
After William sat down, Rahasai put a hand on the blue jar. "This one represents what will come of your move to this city. Something inevitable." He then placed a hand on the purple jar. "This one represents something that you can have, if you make the right choice."
"...Alright," William said, understanding.
Rahasai opened up the blue jar and took a peek inside. He immediately tensed, sporting a nervous smile. Snickering quietly, he looked over at Stephen and Ahyo. "Hey, can you guys go to the back?"
Stephen looked up, pausing his conversation. "Oh, sure. You guys want privacy, huh?" He stood up.
Ahyo gave both Rahasai and William a questioning look, lingering on the former, but followed suit. "Just let us know when you're done up here," he said as he and Stephen made their way to the back door.
As the two began to disappear from sight, William concernedly asked Rahasai, "Um… did I pick something odd?"
"Not odd, but…" Rahasai leaned in close, making sure the door to the back was closed. "Something that will happen soon is about, uh… a sexual encounter."
William blinked, taken aback. Immediately, he could feel his face flush in embarrassment. "...I-I'm sorry?"
Rahasai couldn't hold back his second-hand embarrassment, flushing as well. He pulled out a small handful of candy from the jar. "Candy is representative of sex. Sexual prowess, sexual encounters, sexual satisfaction. Those sorts of things."
"Um, okay, I get it," William quickly said back, squeezing his eyes shut in mortification. "Can we, um, move on to the other jar please?"
"Yeah, of course," Rahasai said, nodding his head. "Okay, um…" He took in a breath, opening the purple jar and looking inside. Smiling, he pulled out a few glass marbles. "This is pretty good news."
"What do those mean?" William asked, eager to move on.
"The struggles you've been through will finally pay off," Rahasai explained. "You're going to find something rewarding and beautiful, if you follow the right path."
"I see…" William paused, and then said, "Can you… not mention this to anyone?"
"Don't worry about that," Rahasai reassured. "I don't tell anyone what's been said here."
"Thank you," William said, sighing in relief.