Lir’s legs are teetering when he and Tobias exit the fisherman’s boat and find land once more.
Thankfully, Tobias takes it upon himself to bid the helmsman farewell, for Lir isn’t sure he could simultaneously concentrate on standing still, all the while pretending being Tobias’s nephew and trying not to throw up.
After what feels like an eternity, though is surely only minutes, the fisherman finally takes his leave.
Lir steps back from the shore. He waves his farewells, but regrets it instantly.
He loses balance. He topples over. Yet, the pain of falling does not come. A warm embrace, a worried look from Tobias, is what arrives instead. “Easy there,” his mentor says as he helps him up. “Even people who regularly use their legs have trouble walking on land after long trips out at sea.”
The statement makes Lir frown. “You seem fine though.”
His mentor keeps a firm grasp of Lir’s waist as they scurry further from the ocean and into the woods. “I’ve had my fair share of experience. But trust me,” Tobias chuckles, then meets Lir’s gaze. “It wasn’t always like this. I was terribly seasick the first few times.”
Lir is on the verge of asking Tobias more about his adventures, but the first signs of rain sprinkle their clothes. The light drizzle washes away Lir’s face-paint. The way his dark strands are flattened out next to his eyes makes the yellow in them stand out even more.
As water pelts his skin, pieces of him feel connected to the world around him like never before. It is like Lir is one with the Earth. He shuts his eyes. He cannot pinpoint what it is exactly that causes this, yet the sentiment of being stalked by something beyond his comprehension is also intensified in this very moment. Lir considers telling Tobias about it as they march around a swamp. However, lightning spreads throughout the sky and forces him to pause, and reconsider.
A loud crash follows. It takes everything Lir has within him to resist the urge of covering his ears. He can’t. Not when he is holding on so tightly to Tobias’s clothes, who keeps him upright and steady as they hurry through the storm. The weather’s violence increases with each passing second. When his mentor clears his throat, Lir knows what’ll come next won’t be good news. “I hate to say this,” Tobias blurts, between two heavy huffs, “but I think we might not make it to the inn tonight.”
“It’s fine.” Lir gulps. Is it really fine? Will they even survive this, with the little provisions they’ve packed? “It’s not like I have anything else to do anyway.” He pauses. “Hey, can I ask you something?”
“You already know the answer to that,” although Tobias’s phrase is somewhat of a tease, the way he says it is more fond rather than a taunt.
“Why didn’t you ask the fisherman to drop us off directly at the capital’s port?”
“Ah…” Tobias knits his brows together. “About that…” He glances around for a potential place of refuge. “I know I said we’d be going to Aglia, but the man we want is very secretive. He’s not easy to find. We’ll need a guide.”
Lir cocks his head to the side. Suddenly, he’s a bit dubious about Tobias’s previous plan. “I thought you knew him.”
Tobias nods. “I do,” he says. “However—” The wind lashes out at their faces and slices his phrase in half. Tobias raises his arm before his face. His sleeve resembles the wings of troubled bats. “He often changes the location of his office which, I admit, always leaves me a bit at a loss… though I suppose that is the whole point of him doing so.”
This man Tobias is describing must either be an extremely careful genius, or a very paranoid hermit for bothering with such eccentric measures. Lir raises a brow. “So…” He clears his throat, then coughs—although his new body has gills, it isn’t very great at shielding him from the cold. At least, not yet. “Why would this guide know more than you, if you and this are close enough for him to harbor a Halloran in your name?” he asks Tobias.
Tobias shrugs. “Simply because Gale delivers ingredients to his doorstep every other month.” There is another crash in the sky. His shoulders tense. “If anyone would know, it’s definitely him.” Lir’s mentor stops in his tracks. He takes a deep breath, then points to a cliffside that towers over the forest. “Look,” he says, and if Lir concentrates hard enough, he can vaguely make out the shape of a cave, protruding from its arched rock. Though, Lir is far from convinced this idea is a good one.
“You want to go in there?” Lir cringes. “Really?”
Tobias nudges Lir’s hip with his own. “I’d rather not,” he mutters. “But it’s better than staying out here.”
They don’t talk much after that. It’s dark, and difficult to navigate throughout these woods as the storm continues to howl throughout the night. Lir is persuaded they could run into something, or someone, that could mark the end of their days—the very thought gives him chills.
Thunder continues to reign among the land. Lir detests the sound, and even if he forces himself to carry on, he still finds himself jumping, always, at each additional blasted quake of the clouds.
In a nearby bush, something growls.
Lir parts his lips to speak, but Tobias hushes him. “Don’t speak,” he whispers. “We’ll have all the time in the world to be afraid once we finally reach shelter.”
Lir obeys. He keeps to himself in silence and nods. For the first time in days, he thinks of Wolf.
It was also raining on the night the young man confessed his feelings to Lir, and it feels like it’s been an eternity since they last stood beneath the market’s tents, listening, to pitter-patter fall. Murmuring sweet nothings, into each other’s ears.
He hopes Wolf is okay.
Lir hopes, that if anything, Wolf hasn’t gotten himself into too much trouble since he disappeared.