Melody was very relieved to learn that they would not have to pass near Iselia to reach the land bridge.  The more she thought about the more she realized that much of her current comfort was dependant on the fact that she knew both the human ranch and the undead monsters were far from her.  So maintaining that distance was very desirable. 

            Devon was having similar thoughts, though he, of course, was more focused on the practical aspects.  Devon was glad that the zombies were not in their path because even though they were now equipped to deal with them it still took far too much time.  He was glad they were traveling out of the Desians’ path because skulking around to avoid them also took too much time.  And time was a luxury he did not have.  By taking the land bridge they had added weeks to their journey.  From what he understood they would travel north and then, once on the eastern continent, swing down and through the mountains between Hima and Asgard, up over Hakonesia peak, and then head south through the wilds toward Palmacosta.  At this rate they would travel more than half of Sylvarant before they reached their destination.  It was frustrating, because he knew that his men were suffering, even dying, while he wandered the whole world trying to get home.  He needed to be in Palmacosta mounting a rescue mission, or a defense, or whatever else was needed.  He needed to warn the Governor-General.

            Maybe he should have stopped to do that before getting his keycrest.

            His right hand unconsciously reached to brush over the object.  Intellectually he knew that taking care of his exsphere had been his priority for good reason.  If the exsphere had destroyed him he wouldn’t have been able to help anyone.  But it still felt as though he should have been able to find some way to do both. 

            He had the uneasy feeling of eyes watching him and glanced up to see Seth looking at his hand.

            “Something bothering you, Relyan.”  He didn’t recall where he had heard Seth’s last name, but he felt more comfortable with it than with his first.  He was a soldier after all.

            “Just observing.” The red head responded amiably.

            Devon held his gaze a moment, gauging his response, and then deliberately shrugged it off.  If there was one thing he was certain of it was the Seth Relyan was not a Desian spy.  He moved closer to the adventurer, falling into step beside him.

            “I was a guest at a human ranch recently.” He explained.  Seth didn’t need to ask him any questions, he already knew what they were.  It wasn’t particularly easy to speak about the experience, it made his blood boil, but he didn’t want Seth to come to his own conclusions.  He drew a discreet breath before continuing, “I was an officer in the Palmacosta militia.” He watched Seth for any sign of reaction, but Seth remained impassive.  “We were ambushed on training exercises and taken to various ranches where we became a part of the exsphere cultivation projects.”  Seth nodded at this.

            “I’ve heard about that.” still, neither his tone nor his expression gave any indication of how he felt about all that.

            Devon grit his teeth, “That’s why I have to get back to Palmacosta, muster what force we have left, and rescue my comrades.  Then we’ll launch an attack on the Desians and stop them from using us for their own ends.”

            Seth nodded, though Devon wasn’t sure if it was in agreement, understanding, or something else entirely.  It struck him suddenly that he and Seth were very different men.  He had already known this, of course, but now it struck him anew.  To a stranger they might seem quite similar.  They were close to the same age, similar in stature and build.  They were both skilled swordsman.  But Seth and Devon had entirely different views on life.  The adventurer was laid back, he took life in stride, enjoying what he could and essentially ignoring the rest.  Devon had always had a much more serious outlook. He suddenly wondered if Seth cared about the Desians at all.  It bothered him, the thought that there were people who didn’t care what the Desians did one way or another.  Seth had no home, so maybe the Desians didn’t seem like much of a threat to him, but didn’t he have a moral code?  What the Desians were doing was wrong.  It wouldn’t have mattered to Devon if he could avoid them his whole life – they were still mistreating other human beings.  Someone had to stop them.  And Devon felt obligated to be one of those some ones. Seth obviously did not.  As if to confirm his recent conclusion Seth suddenly spoke.

            “I’ve never fought a Desian.”

            Devon stiffened.

            “It just never came up.  It always seemed more prudent to avoid their notice. I’ve hardly ever even seen a Desian.” He shrugged casually, “I suppose I will now.” He looked pointedly at Devon’s exsphere.  “They were looking for you – in Triet.  I saw the wanted poster.” He gave a dry chuckle, “Whatever you took when you escaped must have been important to them.” His gaze turned more serious as his eyes fell on Aura and Melody walking a few yards ahead, “I wonder if it will be worth it.”

            And Devon knew what the older man meant.  The Desians were still looking for him, they hadn’t given up.  And he couldn’t avoid them forever, eventually he would be found, and then they would all be in for the fight of their lives.




           “We make camp here.”

            It was more words than Melody had heard Aura speak all day and it startled her.  She had been caught up in her own thoughts and only now did she realize that the sun was sinking low on the horizon.  She felt a small measure of pride that she wasn’t exhausted.  She was building up her endurance.  By the time they reached Palmacosta she might be strong enough to convince Devon that she could help him.  Glancing sideways at him she somehow doubted he would ever decide that.  She knew he was trying to protect her, but she just wanted to help him.  She felt eyes watching her and looked to see the adventurer smiling at her knowingly.  Her face flushed and she turned away quickly.  What was it with that man?  Didn’t he have anything better to do than make her uncomfortable.  She swore she heard him chuckle, but at least he didn’t comment.  She began to relax once more as she set her bag on the ground and stretched out beside it.  She closed her eyes, taking in the twilight sounds.


            She started slightly, she hadn’t heard Devon come up behind her.

            “A little.” She admitted, smiling up at him.

            He smiled back and sank down beside her, crouching easily with his hands dangling off his knees.  “You’re doing much better.”

            She flushed at the compliment and ducked her head to hide it.  “Thanks.” She murmured.

            “I mean it.” He lowered himself to sit beside her, stretching out his long legs.  She studied the odd contrast they made against her own.  They were so much longer than her own legs.  She wiggled her toes in her shoes, stifling a silent giggle, relieved that he couldn’t see her antics.  She loved this.  It was almost like she had a family again.

            For a long time they just sat in comfortable silence, and Melody was grateful that Seth didn’t come interrupt.  There wasn’t enough quiet time in her life, not enough peace.  She watched the sunset, enjoying the colors it painted in the sky.  Finally Devon broke the silence with a deep breath, and she looked over at him curiously.

            “Better get some rest.” He admonished lightly, standing and stretching.  They had eaten their supper many hours before.  “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.” She heard what he didn’t say – this trip was taking so much longer than he had hoped.  Still, he never made her feel like she was an inconvenience – he never rushed her.  She nodded and heard him walking away, no doubt finding a spot nearby to settle down for the night.  She smiled as she lay down and closed her eyes.  Yes, this definitely felt like family.




            Devon was trying to take his own advice and get some sleep, but it wasn’t easy.  There were so many things on his mind, so many problems, so any issues.  He rolled over onto his back, propping his head up on his elbows and staring at the stars.  When he got home what would he do?  His men were all imprisoned – or dead.  How was he supposed to mount a force large enough to take down a human ranch?  There were just so many Desians.  And what was he supposed to do with Melody when he went off on this desperate crusade?  He didn’t have any family, and precious few friends- most of whom were likely rotting in Desian cells right now.  Could he leave her with Aura?  Was it fair to ask that of the elf after she had done so much for them?  And what of the promise they had made to Dirk?  Would they find the Chosen and her companions?  How could they get a message to Dirk even if they did?

            He sighed and shifted to his side, shifting to prop his head up on one elbow as he stared off over the empty fields. 

            He just didn’t have the answers, and turning the questions over in his head was counter-productive.  What he needed was some rest.  Maybe he would have a fresh perspective in the morning.  After all, he now had weeks to formulate a plan.  Things would work themselves out.  They generally did one way or the other.

            Calling on his military training to push the scattered thoughts to the back of his mind Devon resolved to fall asleep.  His eyes had just drifted shut when a noise caused them to fly open again.

            It was faint, the murmuring of voices, and he peered back over his shoulder, searching for the source.  That was when he noticed that, while Melody was peacefully sleeping nearby, Seth and Aura were nowhere near the small campfire.   Lifting his eyes he found their silhouetted forms beneath a lone tree a hundred or so meters away.  He knew it wasn’t any of his business, but curiosity stirred in him and he stood, stretching and moving closer under the pretense of restlessness.  They had been talking that night in Triet as well…

             Honestly Devon was a bit perplexed.  Everything about Seth shouted womanizer.  Not that he thought Seth abused women, just that he didn’t take them seriously.  Devon had never had much interaction with the fairer sex one way or the other.  He had lacked the time and the interest.  After all, why seek female companionship except to marry, and why marry except to have children, and why would any reasonable adult wish to bring children into a world like this?  It wasn’t until Devon had met Melody that he had realized the comfort a simple friendship could bring.  However, he doubted Seth had an interest in anything but entertainment.  Which was why he was baffled by the man’s behavior toward Aura.  Yes, she was attractive and intelligent, and he could see how a man like Seth might even be attracted by the challenge she represented.  But some of Seth’s actions were so incongruous even with this view that Devon found himself trying to sort it all out.

            He had wandered into hearing range without being noticed, and he felt a little guilty for eavesdropping, but he told himself that they wouldn’t care – hadn’t they put on that show in Triet – and really since they were traveling with him it was his business in a way.  It did affect the group dynamic.  Having rationalized away all of his concerns Devon paused to listen.

            “Seth,” Aura was clearly weary of the conversation and Devon wondered how long they had been out here while he had been lost in his own thoughts.

“I’ve chased you for eight years now.”  Devon was a bit taken aback by this confession, ladies men like Seth rarely focused their attentions on one woman for so long.  Perhaps he simply enjoyed the challenge of a totally disinterested woman.  But wasn’t three years taking it a bit far?

            “And you could chase me eight hundred more with no more success.” She replied coolly.

            “Aura…” the adventurer reached out a hand to grasp her arm, and she didn’t pull away.  That was odd as well.  There was definitely a dynamic to their relationship that he couldn’t understand, a vital piece he was missing.  He remembered Seth’s murmured words that night at the desert oasis.  Was there more here than flirtation and conquest?   Apparently so.  Seth’s voice had dropped even lower, and it was difficult even for Devon’s trained hearing to pick out the words, but he certainly heard the emotion, “if that’s how long it takes.  I can wait.”

            For the first time since Devon had met her Aura actually looked surprised.  He couldn’t see her face, but it was written in her stance.  Devon’s head jerked up and he decided that this would be a good time to beat an unobtrusive retreat.  It really wasn’t any of his business after all.




            Morning dawned too early and Devon was regretting his small bout of insomnia, but there was no need for the others to know that.  He was up at dawn running through his exercises, once again grateful to the dwarf smith for his long sword.  He loved the clean sound of it whistling through the air.  He was surprised when part way through his routine he felt a presence and looked up to see Seth watching him.

            “Don’t mind me.” The adventurer grinned, waving a hand absently in the air as her settled down on a slight slope to watch.  “I’m just curious.”

            Devon shrugged, but resumed his practiced movements.  He didn’t particularly enjoy performing to an audience, but he wasn’t going to let Seth bother him.  He watched him out of the corner of his eye, reflecting that Seth didn’t seem any the worse for wear despite his late night tryst.  Aura had been up before he had and was probably off rounding up breakfast.  Now that he thought about it he wasn’t certain he had ever seen her sleep.  The first few nights in the open country he had tried to implement watch shifts, but Aura has casually side stepped his attempts and had made it clear that she would handle their night time security.  He was grateful for the rest and respected her judgment so he had let it be.

            “You do this every morning?” Seth’s elbow was on an upraised knee, his palm supporting his chin casually.  He actually sounded genuinely interested so Devon decided to answer him.

            “I do.”

            “Hm.” A short, noncommittal noise. Devon wasn’t quite certain what to make of it.  He nodded at the sheath already fastened to the other man’s back.

            “Do you practice?” he didn’t watch Seth, instead concentrating on even swipes through the air.

            “Sometimes.” Seth laughed, “out here I usually get more practice than I want though.”

            Devon had to admit that he was likely correct.  The world was so full of monsters now that there was always opportunity to fight.

            “Of course, I’m not a soldier.  So it isn’t the same for me.” Devon could have sworn he heard respect in that tone.  Was Seth actually giving him some sort of compliment?  He had expected at best silent indifference, at worse outright mocking.  Perhaps Seth had more merit than he had credited him with.  He certainly wasn’t the worthless bounder Devon had first pegged him as.  He was certainly a capable fighter, and intelligent as well.  So maybe, maybe Devon could respect him as well.  He stopped to study his companion who simply stared back.  Something passed between them, a silent understanding.   They were very different men, and there were things they would never understand about one another, but they could respect each other even in their differences. Seth gave him a slow nod before turning his head sharply to the side as though something had caught his attention.  He grinned and stood languorously.

            “Sounds like breakfast is here.”

            And now Devon understood the grin – Aura was back, and it looked as though Seth was in top form.  He shook his head, but this time with amusement.  He had looked into Seth’s soul and seen depth there; he would give the man the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps there was more to his relationship with Aura than met the eye.  In fact, he was certain there must be, because Aura hadn’t sent him away.  Perhaps she felt more for him than she let on.  Anything was possible in the light of a new day.

            Yes, a new day had certainly brought him a fresh perspective on so many things.

            Devon turned to follow Seth back to the camp, his eyes lighting on Melody as she rose sleepily.  He fought back a smile of his own for once allowing himself to feel nothing but contentment knowing she was here with him.  She was an adult and she had made this choice.  The best way to respect that decision was to stop worrying about her and just enjoy the time they had together.  Yes, there would be difficulties and things were bound to change, but that was alright and he didn’t have to solve all the what-ifs and might-bes right now. 

            He shook his head and chuckled.

            Yes.  Fresh perspective was always a good thing.