I wasn’t completely convinced that this place was real but it had felt rather familiar the more time I had spent there, I wasn't gonna lie.
Even the people seemed better but it still wasn’t like home; if I could even call it that but I was surprised that I hadn’t completely freaked out yet. That’ll be later, I promise.
After finishing the first episode of Fairy Tail (they had just started watching it for the fifth time and honestly, same.), we all got off our lazy asses and made it through the halls, I making sure to memorize the way back so that I wouldn’t get lost.
As we walked out of the doors, I wondered where J was actually taking us. Gram never told us where my uncle was holed up in. And it’s not like I hadn’t seen him recently. He just hadn’t visited as much as normal and I didn’t find that odd, why would I?
“Where are we going, if you don’t mind me asking’?” Griffin piped up, stealing the words from my mouth.
J twisted around, walking backwards as Sully just smiled at his sister. “To a tree.” And she whipped back around, skipping as if she had no cares in the world, still a child.
The tree she lead us to was definitely a tree. It was basically that murderous tree from Harry Potter but with those weird fluffy looking leaves and a thick, easy-to-climb trunk.
J sat at the base of the tree, Sully climbing up and was dangling his feet from one of the long, heavier-seeming branches located near the bottom. Griffin and me decided to join Sully, all of us in some weird position to prevent ourselves from falling off while J had to crane her neck to look at us.
Her face gave away her thought on being left on the ground but she did not complain.
Sully pulled out the giant leatherback, opening to a new blank page of the crisp, white dead tree. The tip of his fingers began to slowly bleed ink, him using it to draw on the pages, to write. He was basically a living fountain pen and oh boy, that was weird.
“What about my uncle?” I asked, no clue as to why this tree mattered and stared transfixed at Sully. Right on cue, and with a loud thunk, a man with thin-rimmed glasses and a purple bowtie plopped down right beside me on the tree and hugged me as tightly as possible.
“Good to see you, kiddo. How you doin’? Although, I guess it’s hard to acclimate to this world!” He said, smiling as bright as ever, his bowtie still crooked and glasses still smudged with some form of dirt. But his eyes were darting all over the place. The normal for him, mind you.
I just hugged him back, sighing. It felt nice to see him again. I hadn’t seen him in about… a month? I dunno man, sometimes a day feels like a year and a year like a day, you know?
Anyways, after letting go of my uncle, I responded to his question. “No idea how the hell I’m doing, Auggie. And this world is just… oh boy, it’s something. Also,” I began to ask, Griffin carefully making his way over to my uncle who noticed him and just about fell out the giant scarlet colored tree.
“Claric! Well, I’ll be! Didn’t think you’d be here!” Auggie exclaimed, interrupting me and making Griffin look like he had just been stabbed through the gut.
“As I was saying,” I stated at my uncle who looked back at me apologetically. “Why does everyone have tattoos? It’s confusing and the only thing I can seem to realize is that some people have powers based on them? If so, will me and Griffin get them?”
Auggie paused at my question, his mouth moving up and down like a fish out of water. He shut his mouth again and got this look of thinking.
Before I go any further, my uncle is known for traveling and his obsession with history, not to mention bowties. That’s actually mostly why he traveled. Bowties and history and I’m not joking around with you weird people, seriously. When my Dad was around, he asked him and that was literally his response - he traveled for bowties.
But nowadays my uncle teaches history about the places he had visited, using his experience in those places to help teach his classes. It’s really neat, actually. He's told me stories about them in the past but sometimes I'd ask him about a specific country and he'd brush me away. I guess this was why.
J then climbed her way up the tree and sat a branch above me, all of us having leaves or feet in front of our faces. Thank you, so much.
Auggie sighed, taking off and cleaning his glasses. “You haven’t completely… changed yet. It’s like puberty but with a snap of your finger. It’s normally painful, one part of it anyways, and you can see the tattoos forming. You both should be done with the second to last stage soon enough and it’s not something that you are just good at.
“It’s like being a wizard, you have to practice and figure out what you can do. And the years that you spend here are basically like taking four years of college. Just, without the frats. And the drunks. And the stressful homework. And the-” Auggie bantered as Sully threw a pencil at him, making him startled.
I laughed at my uncle, who I was still happy to see. But I would bother him later about more answers. For now, I think it would be best if I was to learn about this world, then the family.
Right? I hope I’m right, otherwise I’m a dumbass.
The wind blew through the trees - well tree - as more weird birds flew overhead and a loud screech rang through the grounds, teachers trickling through the doors and wide, open windows.
J smiled widely, shaking Sully who seemed to be pleading silently to make his sister stop. His face only added to the need to be set free from his sisters grasp.
I wondered about the tattoos. So, we had to train to figure out what we could do? Like, leveling up or solving an equation? Um, yeah, no. Sounded cool and all but if I put in so much effort only to find out that I could sprout little flowers or grow fur, I think I would rather go back to my mother.
Ohhh, frick. My mother.
How was she? I know, shes not the nicest person ever but still. You still care about people, even if they’ve done you wrong. It’s kinda hard not to, if you think about it. Unless, you know, you’ve got some form of an antisocial disorder than I wish you luck.
Snapping out of my thoughts, J and Sully had jumped down from the tree. J was trying to fix Auggie’s bowtie who was persistent in the fact that nothing was wrong with it and the bowtie was perfectly happy with being crooked.
I rolled my eyes at that, jumping down right as Griffin did, a loud thump upon the grass and roots which made my ears have this low-pitched noise run through them.
I wished the tattoos would get here already. The pain was really starting to bother me; Now that I knew what it was.
“What’s with the screeching?” Griffin asked, rubbing his nose.
“Schools out, officially. The students have had off since yesterday but the teachers only got off a few minutes ago. We get about a week off for Halloween.” Auggie stated, shoving his hands in his pockets. “You guys can basically take this week to catch up on the history, meet some of the teachers or just wander around town to find bounties. You’re all at least eighteen so you have free will to do what you please.”
I looked at J to Sully to Griffin. I’m pretty sure Griffin and Sully wanted food, considering they were both now huddled over Sully’s book and discussing the best way to prepare chicken cordon bleu. I was focused on the fact that here they got a week off for Halloween. Seriously. A week.
At the thought of food, my stomach growled loudly. The sun was setting so it must have been late evening. That meant dinner. Which meant food.
J giggled at my stomachs demands for food, telling Auggie we would check in later. He nodded and gave me one last hug, saying that if I needed to, I could come by his classroom and he could help me and Griffin figure out our forms.
I smiled at him and hugged back, grateful for the help. I still was trying to wrap my head around this world but knowing that most things were similar, like bands and books and clothes, it made it easier to believe.
Or it could be some weird-ass dream.
A loud slam startled me as Sully put away the book, saying that they should hand in one of their bounties. J agreed, saying that it could help me and Griffin understand what those were and we could get some food afterwards.
Griffin agreed immediately, curiosity in his eyes. I nodded, feeling the hunger in my stomach grow.
Sully grabbed my wrist as J started skipping along, Griffin’s long strides making it easy for him to stay close. I didn’t even understand how he stayed close. He had stubby little legs which is fine you know, just how.
Sully lost his grip, taking his hand away as our feet hit the cobble roads and walks. I noticed then that some of the clothing shops were still open and that I need some new clothes. But food overruled that thought.
J was walking backwards again, something she seemed to do a lot. She babbled on and on about the different restaurants and how the bounties worked. Basically, like any classic video game bounty. Take it, do it, complete it.
The chattering of students began to fill the small street and alleyways, street lights turning on with their rustic designs that gave the streets a victorian steampunk feel. Shops lit up their halloween lights and turned on decorations as the smell of baked treats and fries filled the air.
My stomach growled again. I wanted food. Gimme food.
J turned back around as we approached a building with a sign saying Burning Scrolls, a sword and pen criss-crossed in gold and black paint. She entered the worn red door, the creaking and sound of yelling hurting my ears, making the pain worse.
It smelled like ale while men with magnificent beards or missing limbs, women who were missing eyes or throwing knives at one of the many dart boards scoured the place. Tables lined the walls, a wide open lane in the middle of the room and a staircase that lead up to an upper floor.
J and Sully got some friendly waves, smiles and a few jokes. Me and Griffin were just stared at by wide-eyed patrons. There should be nothing weird about us, right? New people had to visit all the time, considering this place had a giant school.
Pain spiked through my entire body, my throat burning and legs trying not to buckle as J lead us into a back room, the doorway only a small beaded curtain.
Deep breathes me, deep breathes. Just part of the process, right? Right?
A woman was sitting in a rocking chair, her white hair frizzy on top of her head and wrinkles very prominent as her milky eyes stood still and her hands tapped against the chair arms.
A younger woman with similar eyes that looked sad and similar hair to the elderly woman was writing furiously on paper, a stack of them beside her as a fire crackled lightly beside her. One of those weird snakes was wandering around the room a duster in hand and little bonnet on top of its head.
The woman with sad eyes looked up, seeing J she stood up abruptly as papers fluttered to the floor in her hurry. Her fingers tapped loudly against the desktop in nervousness.
J smiled at her, opening the frosty blue pouch tied to her jeans. She pulled out a hand full of golden rose petals and this sparkling strawberry that was covered in spikes.
The woman sighed, thanking J feverishly and turned to Sully who was jotting down notes again in his book. He waved at her and nodded slightly, stuttering out a welcome.
J took out a mortar and pestle, crushing the petals and odd looking strawberry that soon formed this sticky, sparkling paste. The sad-eyed woman took it from J and she poured the substance into a small cup and added water, handing it to the old woman in the chair who didn’t reply, nor try to reach for the cup.
She slowly helped the old woman drink the odd juice who sighed in relief.
“Thank you, so much. It means a lot.” The woman said, relief and thanks in her eyes.
“Hey, it’s what we do. Can’t let our favorite bounty hunter lose her last contract, now can we? I hope your mother will remember what happened to your son.” J replied as Sully put away his book and nodded at her.
Griffin and me stood oddly in front of the curtain, nervously shifting at the atmosphere and impressive woman before us.
See, she had these sad eyes and short, frizzy hair but her one arm was mechanical. Sleek and smooth looking. Her one eye was mechanical as well, the iris a neon pink that matched her hair.
She smiled at them again, in silent thanks then her gaze turned to us. The woman seemed perplexed.
“I know all of my patrons. Who are you?” She said, waving her mechanical hand about in a menacing way.
Me and Griffin stated silent, unsure of what to say.
A loud shrink sounded through the room, her mechanical arm now sided with double-edged daggers that shined in the light. She moved her arm closer and we backed away in return.
Sully jumped in front of us, startling her. She stopped herself from stabbing him but he didn’t seem to care.
“We need your help, Bitsy. With-” He stopped, his eyes falling on the floor as he tried to recollect his thoughts. “With Nayleth and Griffin. They need to know how something like this functions.”
Bitsy turned to me and Griffin, both of us acting as if we were Shaggy and Scooby running from a monster.
“See that bulletin board out there? Quest are put up there. Anyone can take one and each pay differently. Some people give gear, some people money. It all depends.” She said, sheathing the daggers (I guess you could call it that, I’m really not sure guys.), and walked over to her mother to check her temperature.
She said nothing else as she tended to the old woman in the rocking chair. She just sighed on occasion, her mechanical arm changing shape every once in awhile to best accommodate her task.
J slowly walked over to her desk and picked up a hundred dollar bill and shuffled out, Bitsy grunting in response.
She lead us out toward the bulletin, showing us all of the task that we could choose from.
One was to kill a Grove, apparently one of the most dangerous creatures here. The image showed a long, spidery like creature that had dozens of eyes but no mouth, only a seemingly taped on smile. Spikes covered its back and two frayed, small wings hung on its side like limp caterpillars.
I shudder at the rendition of the creature, realizing this person was willing to pay over a thousand dollars to have the creature killed. And that they used normal currency. That was nice. I think?
A weird snake wiggle through my legs with a tray of empty beer bottles and soup bowls, quickly returning to the back of the kitchen. The smell of fries and ribs wafted toward me, making my mouth water.
The door banged shut loudly as J ripped off one of the bounties, smiling.
She held it up to show me and Griffin.
“It’s for Woodgrove. You could meet my mom, or you could try the Longlow syrup or-” J began to jabber to but Sully grabbed the paper, reading over it over. He frowned.
“J, this says we need to kill the Grove in the area. I mean, the pays good and anyone involved gets armor of their choice but still!
“And - no offense Nayleth and Griffin - but they don’t even have their forms yet!” Sully told his sister who just looked at him as if he had crushed one of her lifetime dreams.
He looked back at J as she looked back at him, J trying to to convince him that it would help teach us. And if we wanted to we could go take the day to get help from Auggie before going.
Me and Griffin just stood there and watched as they bickered, J’s facing getting red as Sully stayed relatively collected. Griffin went to say something but a burly man with pink wire-rim glasses pushed us over to get to the board, startling us but the two kept arguing.
My stomach growled loudly, Griffin’s in turn. Sully stopped, looking back at Griffin who just smiled and rubbed his stomach in a comical way.
J slapped her forehead, a whimsical facepalm. “Food! Oh my god, I’m so sorry! You guys haven’t eaten in how long?” J stopped, counting her fingers but gave up after an entire hand.
She grabbed me and Griffin, whipping us out of the store as Sully followed suit. J dragged us toward a building across the street with bright, warm yellow lights, red bricks and a lopsided roof.
The places name was Grove Jambalaya, a play on words that made me smile.
J let go of me and Griffin, finally. The girl had a death grip, I swear. Like that one scene from Percy Jackson where Annabeth gets her hand stuck in that statues grasp because of Medusa? Just me? Alright then.
The smell of fresh bread with hints of cinnamon made my mouth water and the number of carbonated drinks seemed enough to make a toddler giddy at the thought of them. People were sitting at tables, chattering as they ate. Others were drinking or discussing business plans.
A fire crackled in the back of the place, warmth caressing my skin even if it felt like a tickle of it. Chairs lined the bar counters and tables were scattered in every nook and cranny.
Two woman, one with a tattoo that made her collarbone look like it was covered in poison ivy and the other was actually using there form to help get out drinks and food.
Another one of the weird snakes slithered by but stopped and stared at the four of us, tilted its head to the side then quickly left.
“Oh yeah, those are basically this worlds goblins but not as smart. The snakes are basically mutated reptiles that enjoy being around us too much so most households have one or two to help with cleaning, cooking or to just be a part of the family.” J told us as the snake came back with four menus and a floppy yellow rain hat.
“And they like stealing hats. It’s like with gnomes; always stealing your earrings. And only the right one. Why is that?” J blabbered to us as the snake lead us to a table beside the bar counter and slithered away after we had been seated.
People chattered loudly, most waving a hello to J and Sully when we passed them. Me and Griffin got a few odd looks but the one guy seemed like his entire world had just exploded when he saw Griffin who was now trying to lick his elbow.
Don’t ask. I think Sully thought it would be funny but now its just to idiots looking like disconfigured anteaters with abnormally long forearms.
J looked at me and sighed with an exasperated look. I held my hands up, a silent surrender.
A guy walked over with a blackshirt, a one of those Grove creatures on the pock and the name of the restaurant in gold calligraphy on the left breast pocket. He had one of those weird things that waiters keep straws and stuff in as well.
He smiled at the four of us and the tattoo around his lips stretched, like stitches ripping then winked at J who ignored the gesture altogether.
“New people! That’s a first! Who might you be?” The waiter asked, his eyes darting from face to face. The stitches were real, now that I looked closer. They seemed to be woven on the outer rims of his lips that spread to the edge of his jawbone.
“Nayleth. That’s Griffin. May I have a coca-cola?” I asked the waiter, too focused on food to be polite. I saw the soda machine in the back, the bright red and white calligraphy signature staring at me. I wanted it to stop teasing me, thank you very much.
The waiter looked at me, taken aback by my question but complied, writing down a Pepsi for Griffin, Nymph Tea for J and a sugar water for Sully.
After the waiter left, J flipped through the menu trying to find something appealing.
“How about deer loin with garlic mashed potatoes, sea-grape seeds and endless smiley fries?” J offered up, me and Griffin perplexed by the name of the seeds but intrigued by endless smiley fries.
C’mon, no matter how old someone is, you can’t pass up smiley fries! It’s like, a rule people. An unwritten rule.
J looked from me to Griffin as the waiter came back with our drinks. J’s tea was sparkling, the pink and purple liquid inside of it twisting and twirling like a childs toy.
J took a long sip of her drink, Sully staring at his sugar water with a frown. He picked up a spoon and began to stir the drink, Griffin already half way done with his Pepsi.
“Sea-grape seeds are basically these brussel sprout looking things but they are see-through and you can see the one, giant seed in the middle of it. It’s kinda like if you were to breed a plum and brussel sprout.” J said, looking at Griffin to me.
“Um…” Was the only thing I could say before Griffin agreed, wolfing down extra smiley fries he had somehow ordered without us noticing. I laughed at his exuberant love for the smiling fried potato.
The waiter came back again, J order two servings of the deer loin and the waiter shuffled away, his eyes darting back and forth between me and Griffin.
Sully pulled out the leather books again, moving his water after taking a long gulp of it. He opened the book to a page filled with words in chicken scratch handwriting, accompanied with life-like pictures with smudged ink.
The page that was opened was covered in ink, the image drawn an elegant rendition of one of the many snakes that creeped around the place.
Sully went right to drawing, ink pouring from his finger whenever he needed and stopped when needed as well. He traced and outlined and shaded, unaware that me and Griffin were watching him work.
J smiled at her brother, the chatter of the people in the building making my ears hurt but Sully didn’t seem to mind the banter.
Griffin had finished his Pepsi at this point, trying to flag down another waiter to get another soda. I shook my head, sipping some of my Cola. The fizz burned my mouth but soon felt relaxing to my senses.
J moved my arm aside, shoving the bounty toward the middle of the table. Sully didn’t look up from his page, the making of arm in process.
How do artist do it, eh? Like, give me those wondrous powers to draw and I’ll give you my… I dunno, I’ll give you something.
Griffin started slurping his second Pepsi, looking down at the bounty.
The paper was frayed and torn, a huddle of ten tally marks in the top left corner. The beast on the front was still the same, with a hunched over back and spidery body. The reward was one thousand dollars to kill the thing, now running rampant through the outskirts of Woodgrove.
I remember J saying something about meeting her mother. Diana, was her name if what Auggie had said earlier was correct. I wondered what she was like. Hopefully she didn’t lock them in a room or threaten them with forks.
Looking over at Sully, I realized he was drawing Griffin. He had the eyes just right, the hair too. But he had little patches of some chitin like skin on his jaw and arms. Why would he put that there?
Sully looked up at me, his eyes wide. He frantically flipped to a new page and began to roughly sketch my face. Round eyes and a weak jawline were what was to my name. But as he sketched more, my face became more defined and soon, soon he had put scales on my face.
J looked at Sully’s drawing, saying how it was a cool concept. She turned to me but she only started to look back and forth between the pictures, me and Griffin.
“What?” I asked, the waiter setting our food out in front of us. It smelled wonderful and the sea-grapes seeds looked like a deep purple.
“Your tattoos. They came in.” J said, staring at Griffin who was looking at his forearm in wonder. Defined tattoos that looked like they should be a part of his skin now covered his forearms, tracing his neck and jawline.
Griffin smiled in wonder at the inky art, admiring it from every side.
“Cool…”I whispered and I felt a chill run through my body, colder than ground that housed corpses. I popped a sea-grape into my mouth, the thing popping like a gusher and the spikes folding in on themselves and started popping as if they were pop rocks. It tasted sweet and starchy.
Sully reached a hand forward and traced his fingers over the scale-like tattoos that covered the muscles in my arms. He traced them, stopping every so often. It made me uncomfortable but I didn’t stop him.
After he was done doing… that, he began drawing again.
J shook her head but then a smile lit up her face.
“We should get Auggie to help us with the Grove! You could see what your uncle can do and maybe get some lessons in along the way!” She exclaimed as I shoved a piece of deer loin into my mouth.
Sully stopped drawing, looking up at his sister. The ink from his fingers stopped flowing. “No. We still don’t know what they can do.” And he went back to drawing, firm on his opinion.
J chuckled, retorting. “Yes, but we’ll have a teacher, former bounty hunter and world traveler with us! No one else better than Mark could help!”
Sully stopped drawing again, the ink stopping as he did. He turned to his sister, and eyebrow raised. “Are you sure? I don’t want them dying, I quite like them.”
J nodded, smiling as Griffin took the rest of the deer loin and I wolfed down the fries.
So, issue was settled. We would go after the Grove, forcing Auggie with us.
I shook my head, sighing. Only two days in this world and I was most likely going to die. Yes, my lifetime dream was going to be completed sooner than I thought.