She pretended not to notice how Nico tensed, though it had actually bugged her ever since they left the house. What about the statement made him tense, anyway? The fact that she said she needed them? Or perhaps the fact that she knew he could use their powers against the mage from the volcano? She wasn't sure, but there was no way she could ask him, either.
Nico and Nero had decided to lead them to the site of the volcano in order to find the next mage. Usually, Darius and Mika would be sharing the map and she would just trail after them, Kaspar and Mark until they found the next place, but Nico and Nero seemed to want to take charge and Kaspar joined her in the back for a change.
Unlike the others, who seemed calm and in Darius's case, reluctant to find the next mage, Kaspar was bouncing as they walked forward, humming under his breath and allowing a wide smile to form on his lips. Though she was mostly glad that she could see this side of Kaspar, as she wanted to learn more about the mages she was with, she was a little worried that Darius's warnings actually held some truth in them.
"Percy and I were best friends." Kaspar explained, and he glanced at her for a brief moment before his eyes fixated on the backs of the mages that were walking ahead of them. She couldn't help but wonder if maybe Kaspar also had mind reading powers, "He was the only one who would be completely okay with my trolling, and afterward, he'd excitedly tell me what aspects of my trolling he'd use on someone else."
"Were?” She couldn't help but ask this as Kaspar used the past tense to refer to his friendship with Percy, and she definitely didn't miss how his shoulders deflated at the question.
"We were pulled apart when they became mages." he explained, and her eyes widened because she never expected any of them to have known each other before they were mages, and she never expected anyone other than Darius to share his story about how he had been before becoming a mage, "We were both orphans and were bullied because of it. When they met each other, we just silently agreed to stick up for one another and so when we were pulled apart, he made new friends with the other mages and I was just... here."
Then, her gaze shifted to where Nero and Nico were at the front of the group and she couldn't help but think of how close Kaspar and Nero had been ever since the mage of empathy appeared. "You say it like you don't have friends here, but what about Nero?"
"Nero?" Kaspar's face lit up again and he nodded as he gestured to the mage he was talking about. "Nero was the first to acknowledge me as a mage. Even though he can't really take my trolling as well as Percy does, he's never gotten angry with me for being myself."
"The first to acknowledge you?” She was getting more confused about Kaspar than she was getting answers, and the mage turned to her with laughter humming on his lips.
"He didn't take anything seriously." that was Mika speaking, and she looked ahead to see him shake his head, and she wondered if maybe they had been listening to the entire conversation, "While most of us were forced into becoming mages, Kaspar asked to become a mage, like ruining his life wouldn't mean anything."
"You all make it sound like you're unhappy with your powers." Kaspar's voice held irritation, a tone she wasn't used to hearing from them, "Yet these powers gave us all a second chance to live. Why would I hate her powers if they saved me?"
"If you forgot, those powers also had us manipulated, mistreated, battered, and hidden away!" Nico had stopped walking as he shouted, turning around with his eyes lit with anger. For a moment, she herself was terrified at the look in his eyes.
"And if you forgot, getting those powers and being put in those rings led us to meeting her." Kaspar was pointing to her now, and the other mages had stopped walking in order to look at her, "Can any of you remember a time where someone cared for us? Genuinely? Without fear of our rebellion? Without wanting to use us in return?"
Charlotte didn't know if she became more frightened of Kaspar or Nico, but she know that she didn't like their argument. They shouldn't ashamed of their past because though it happened, it could never be changed, and instead of shunning who they were, they should be using that in order to shape the rest of their lives.
"Stop.” She couldn't take it, what with them getting angry and shouting. Even Darius looked like he was about to start shouting, and she honestly wasn't ready for that; so when she spoke, they froze and turned to her to see what she'd say, "Those powers led you to meet each other. In comparison to me, who you've only known for days, those powers brought you to eleven other mages who you've known for hundreds of years."
"Don't let your past slow down your future."
After saying that, she passed all six of them and led them to the volcano. For the most part, the mages were quiet after that, though sometimes, Mika or Mark would try to break the tension by saying something about themselves being cute, and Nero would occasionally ask if they were going in the right way. She preferred it this way, since it allowed her the privacy to think.
The more she tried to learn about the mages, the more confused she ended up being. Why would they hate their powers so much that they'd yell at each other in the middle of a desert? Why did Kaspar make it sound like meeting her was the greatest moment of his life? What happened in the past that made Nico so wary now?
Thankfully, they didn't have to go through any infected towns, so they had nothing to fear other than another argument between the four of them as they neared the spot they'd found on the map. Apparently, since water is everywhere, Nico had the ability to tell us where they were, like a compass.
"Stand back." when Nico spoke again, she was worried. Exactly why was he telling them to stand back?
A loud bang filled the air then, and as she widened her eyes to figure out where the bang had come from, the sky reddened and she gasped. It was starting! Her dream was coming true and she was excited as her legs carried her closer to the volcano that was now spewing lava into the atmosphere the way it did during her dream. Only, her dream never let her know how hot and just plain murky it would be around the volcano.
"Is this the place?" Mark's hand was wrapped around her arm and tugging at it lightly, as if he were actually unsure if that was what she wanted.
"This is it.” She breathed in reply, her eyes darting to Nico for a moment before focusing on the volcano again.
"We can't get closer." Darius muttered, and just as she was about to suggest that Nico do what he did in her dream, she realized that Nico was walking toward the volcano without even being told.
"Summon the rain." Nico muttered, and as he lifted his hands into the air, rain fell from the sky. Nico's eyes were closed as he stood there, and his lips started uttering something in a language she'd never heard before, and all the water that fell on and around the volcano froze.
"The spell won't last for long." Nico's attention was on her the moment he finished casting the spell, his hand gesturing to the now frozen eruption, "With Percy's powers like this, it won't take long before the ice melts completely."
"I'll go with you.” She didn't know why she smiled when Mika offered to go up there with her, but she shook her head and started climbing up to the top, her hands gripping onto every jagged rock sticking out at the sides of the volcano.
Charlotte usually would have been okay with one of them offering to go with her, but she needed to go and claim the box on her own, and she needed to do it before the ice melted. She found herself sighing in relief since the volcano was so close to the ground, but ice was already melting and she could see the lava starting to flow from cracks below her. How she'd get back down there was beyond her.
The top of the volcano was exactly as she dreamed it, but a lot more terrifying. There was lava bubbling underneath the thin sheet of ice and poking holes wherever it touched the surface of the ice. Fear was actually starting to build in her chest as she watched; because she knew that was probably one of the most dangerous situations of her life.
Her eyes roamed over the ice and the rim of the volcano's mouth, trying to find a safe route to get to the other side where she knew the ring would be sitting, but she had no such luck. It was as if her only option was dying on the way to finding the seventh mage. So after taking a deep breath and pumping a fist in the air, she edged around the mouth of the volcano and crouched down to just below the rim. By that point, the ice had melted, and she almost screamed as the lava got closer to her, but she successfully got the box out and was running for her life- literally.
The lava was gaining on her as she ran, and she constantly glanced over her shoulder to make sure the rushing lava wouldn’t burn her to the ground. Now since she'd already been saved once by the ring she was in possession of, she yanked the ring box open and slipped it onto her left hand's index finger, watching the ring with a small fire symbol reach her eyes contract before her feet picked up its pace.
Suddenly, a body appeared before her- a tall male with tanned skin and long braided black hair. He grinned widely at her and seemed to think nothing was wrong as he ran after her, without realizing the danger of what was following them, "Why are you running?"
"Lava." It was all she said, and after one glance over his shoulder, the mage squealed in horror and booked it down the side of the volcano. She watched after him in a mix of amusement and surprise and tried to catch up with him as best as she could, though her adrenaline rush was wearing down.
Somewhere along the way, she had tripped against some rock and went tumbling down the rest of the way. While she was surprised she didn't roll right into lava, she was also far more surprised to know she was going faster than she had been on foot, and that she was probably going to end up with a couple of broken bones.
"Charlotte!” She heard someone call for her but she could hardly hear them as she came to a stop by the foot of the volcano. Someone had lifted her into their arms and they were running, and though she wanted to thank the person, she found that it had become hard to breathe.
"She's bleeding!" The second voice belonged to a frantic Mark, and when she forced her eyes to look at who was holding her, she found herself looking into Nico's eyes. Also, she found herself looking into blood. Her blood, to be precise.
"Stay with us, Charlotte." he muttered as they continued running, and she reached up to grab a hold of his shirt because if they were alright, she could die without worry.
"Where are we going?" someone else asked, the voice becoming heavy and barely recognizable, though if she had to guess, she would guess it was Mika talking.
"Where do you think?" that was Ion, who had appeared by Nico and took her free hand in his, squeezing it in reassurance, "We're going to find Dale."