Chapter Six: A Strange Time to Get Acquainted
The fall didn’t go on for nearly as long as V anticipated. Once she burst through the thin sheet of darkness, she was plunged completely into water. It was a welcome surprise over the alternative to be sure. She swam to the surface, paddling to keep her head above water as she spotted Otis helping June onto a nearby rock. Both of them were drenched, but most importantly they were alive, if just a little pissed off, or at least June was.
“I swear to the gods, what is wrong with you? You could’ve killed me!” shouted June as she spotted V swimming up to the rock.
“What did she do?” Otis asked, as a rather disgruntled June jumped at the chance to express her distaste at V’s previous actions.
“She pushed me off the edge after you’d fallen, I suppose she thought she could kill two birds with one stone, so she tried to kill me herself,” replied June, turning to V as she pulled herself up, watching her with a beady-eyed stare.
V walked past Otis and shot June a nasty look similar to the one she’d been giving her.
June reacted with a shocked gasp as if she’d said something wrong, or perhaps it had just been a preemptive reaction to what V was about to say.
“If I wanted to kill you, believe me, I wouldn’t do such a shit job,” she said.
“Watch your language, thief,” June shot back.
“Oh bite me, wonder girl,” V called out, walking down the ravine to what she hoped would be an exit of some kind.
Otis went to follow her, but before he did, he leant over to June to nudge her into moving. She recoiled from his touch and told him to keep going.
“I can walk by myself thank you,” she muttered, following behind Otis when she believed there was an adequate amount of room between her and V.
Otis wasn’t really enjoying the walk through the ravine. Not only were his robes, which were soaking wet, weighing him down, but there was also no small talk to help keep his mind off things. The only thing he’d hear was the occasional mutterings from either of the girls or the rustling of trees overhead, which was probably the result of that monster patrolling the woods. Though he guessed he should be happy with being alive and all. It was only two or three minutes ago where he’d thought his clumsiness had cost him more than a couple of bruises or a broken nose; the former injury being one he’d never fully recovered from. His nose still twisted after years, with no sign of straightening up without some form of enhancement charm.
When he’d landed in the pool of water, it had been a pleasant surprise, though he wished he’d fell in a different position. He hadn’t exactly performed a majestic swan dive and he could only imagine how red his back was from impact.
“I think I found something!” he heard V call from ahead.
He looked up from his feet and saw the steep rock wall that stood ahead in the distance. It looked like a dead-end to him, that was until V pointed out the sizable hole ahead with what seemed to be light protruding out of it. It looked promising, though at this point anything would with how dark it had been getting, Otis had been having to take his steps with even more care than usual in the ever-dwindling sunlight.
V started to run toward the entrance, swiftly leaving Otis and June behind.
Otis thought of repeating V just in case June hadn’t heard. But after looking back, he decided he didn’t want to disturb her. She wasn’t in the mood at that moment and from the looks of things, it looked like she could do some damage with that staff if she wanted to. Otis was sure she’d follow them at her own pace.
Eventually, Otis made it to the opening where they’d seen the light. He brushed aside a nearby piece of torn fabric which lay over the entrance and, guessing by the smell, it was very old, though he didn’t know if that was a good or bad sign yet. Entering through the makeshift door, he was met with a strangely homelike cave with candles and make-do furniture around the centre and a bed by the side.
That was where V stood and, though he couldn’t quite make out who it was, Otis could see that she was looking down at someone who was lying on the bed. He walked around one of the improvised chairs to get a better look and, when he could see them fully, V’s expression made all the more sense.
It was Jamal, lying peacefully on the bed cuddling with a large rock which he clung to tightly.
Otis couldn’t fathom how he’d ended up at the bottom of a ravine. It was hard enough to believe they’d gotten so lucky, but for the same to happen to Jamal was borderline silly.
V reached out to Jamal as Otis watched on, not knowing what her intentions were. That was when he remembered what she’d said just before he fell. She gave him no time to react as she threw Jamal’s red cape over his face.
Otis ran over and pried her hands off, allowing for Jamal to breathe momentarily before she started smothering him with the cape again.
After a brief struggle, V’s attention was diverted as someone’s voice shouted out toward the three of them.
“Unhand that young man right now!” bellowed a low voice from behind them, causing the three to twist their heads toward the source, an old man in a similar getup to Otis, though his robes looked like they weren’t made out of scraps. He stepped closer and the candlelight highlighted him more. He wasn’t just another wizard. No, he was a warlock and, at that moment, he was pointing a staff toward them.
Otis and V had no other choice than to throw their arms up into the air.
“Listen, dude, it was just a joke!” said V as Jamal looked on in disbelief, he certainly didn’t get the funny side.
“Who are you?” said the old warlock, now walking toward the bed Jamal was on, still clutching the rock and all.
“We’re the Great Four!” exclaimed Otis, hoping that name-dropping might help bring the altercation to a peaceful end.
After an interminable pause, it even seemed like it might have worked, that is until the warlock laughed so much they thought he might have a heart attack, now it was all three of them who didn’t see the funny side.
“Mate, they’re not kidding, we’re the newest incarnations of the Great Four, the Sage told us,” said Jamal, shifting over to sit by the edge of the bed.
The old man wiped a tear from his eye and stopped laughing, looking over at Jamal with a curious brow.
“Great. So, even now I’m raked into this nonsense, ” he said with a condescending voice that didn’t go unnoticed even by Jamal. The way he was talking, it was almost like he’d met them before.
V thought of bringing up June, though, a part of her wondered if her walking in would really ease this guy’s patronising tone or just make it worse. Nonetheless, the curtain being pulled behind her notified her she was about to find out anyway.
“And who is this?” asked June, gesturing with her staff over at the warlock.
Otis shrugged, despite being there longer he still had no clue.
“And here we are, welcome to the party young lady. I’m just the one who helped your dear friend here. The one little miss sunshine tried to smother,” said the warlock, giving June some form of answer which, whilst not answering her question fully, gave her another reason to have a go at V.
“So you’re trying to kill all of us now, good to know, I’ll make sure I don’t turn my back to you,” she said.
V replied with an eye roll so big that Jamal was surprised she didn’t concuss herself by doing it.
“To the gods, what are you, children? Stop your bickering at once!” shouted the warlock, putting an end to the argument.
Otis let out a sigh of relief, enjoying the moment for as long as it lasted.
“Don’t worry, we will. Now, if you don’t mind, we’ve got to get to Glasshall,” said June, storming off past the old man down a corridor that for all she knew was nothing but a dead end.
“I wouldn’t think that to be wise,” he said, putting her exit on pause. “It’s almost pitch-black outside and you’re in the lost woods, it’s not a good combo.”
What the old man said rang true, even if none of them wanted to admit it. Going out into the woods now was outright suicide. The slight chance they had of navigating them in the day would be completely gone and, with the beast wandering around still, they’d have more to worry about other than just getting lost. As much as they needed to push on, getting killed on the way would not help anyone.
“Plus, your friend here...” he kept snapping his fingers toward Jamal, Otis supposed this was his way of asking for his name. Although Otis couldn’t answer, in fact, none of them could, they’d been so caught up in today’s events that they’d skipped introductions.
The warlock caught on to the group’s quiet glances and worked out what was going on and let out a sigh of disbelief. “I swear to the gods above, you don’t even know each other’s names, no wonder you have to squabble in order to communicate.”
“In all fairness, we’ve had a busy day,” Otis said truthfully, they’d found it hard to speak when having shades trying to tear them apart, and that probably wasn’t helped by the group’s reluctance to talk to one another when they got some short-lived peace.
“Luckily for you four, I’m above sending you lot to your deaths so I’ll let you rest here. But don’t get too comfy, I want you out of my sight when morning arrives. Now, sit by the fire, it’ll keep you all warm,” said the warlock, partially sounding sincere.
“What fire?” asked V as the warlock cast a spell igniting the fire pit between the seats.
“Ah, that fire,” said Jamal, jumping off the bed after gently placing the rock next to him. The warlock left the room without another word. They decided not to ask anything else in fear he’d make them burst into flames too.
The four moved over to the fire as he’d instructed. Sitting down on the makeshift chairs, ones that were more comfortable than they’d been expecting. They all perched at the end to be closer to the heat. The only sound now permeating the cave now being the fire crackling before them. Clearly they still had a lot of issues to sort out.
June and Jamal had refused to even look at V, a courtesy she gladly returned.
Otis sat by twirling his wand in between his fingers, an action he was finding quite difficult, though it didn’t hold his attention for too long.
He thought back to before when the old man had asked for Jamal’s name, one which none of them could give. With everything going on, being sent on a quest by the Great Sage, being hunted by evil shadow creatures and having the fate of the realm in their unqualified hands, he supposed they should at the very least be acquainted by now.
That was a problem he planned to rectify. Standing up and clearing his throat, he prepared himself to put an end to the petty and not-so petty fights that had caused this very silence.
“Listen, I know you guys aren’t exactly on the best of terms right now,” he said, drawing nothing but a quick glance as the three returned to their own sulking sessions. “Things have been said that people didn’t mean, some things have been done that people didn’t mean. But if we’re going to be on this journey together, then we should at least get to know each other a bit. So, I say, whilst nothing is trying to kill or maim us, we have a little chat.”
Otis continued, now gaining the full attention of V and Jamal. “That and sitting here in complete silence is boring as fuck,” he added, drawing a chuckle from V and Jamal who now seemed to be up to the talk. Otis looked over at June, who still sat not facing anyone.
Otis noticed June’s silence and turned to V, nodding his head in her direction. He’d tried and failed to reason with her before, but maybe an apology from V could manage to break through.
V didn’t need to speak to Otis to understand what he wanted her to do. But it didn’t make her want to do it any less. June was stuck up, she shouldn’t have to do it. But then again, she’d seen how useful she could be back in Bellkeep. They needed her, or more specifically her abilities and that’s something V couldn’t argue with. She didn’t want to do what she was about to do, but she knew it was for the best, she’d just have to swallow her pride for the moment and apologise. She was just happy that she didn’t have to apologise to Jamal too. Luckily he’d bought the prank story, much to her surprise.
“Listen, June, I did what I did to save you. I know it may not have seemed like it but, without me, you’d be dead,” she said, trying her best to be apologetic. Though guessing by the hand signals from Otis, this wasn’t the exact way to word it. She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry for being so stupid, you were right and I could’ve killed you. It won’t happen again,” she said, each word being harder to get out than the last. Though it turned out to work, June sprung up and hugged her, thanking V for “confessing her sins.” It wasn’t quite what V would’ve called it, but if it worked she didn’t mind too much.
The four had now gathered closer, partially so they could hear each other speak but also so June, V and Otis could dry off a bit quicker.
Otis thought it would be best for him to start as it had been his idea in the first place.
“So, my name is Otis, I was born down in Southedge, I have a younger sister called Clara. I’m the only wizard in my family, and when my family found out they were over the moon,” he said, letting out a slight titter as he recounted the memory, one which turned bittersweet when others echoed through his head. “But yeah, I’ve been travelling around since then. Going from town to town, for, uh, training of course,” Otis finished with a nervous smile.
V was next to go, and she barely let Otis finish his sentence before she wove one of her own.
“My name’s V,” she said, leading the other three to give her puzzled expressions, one she was used to receiving on the rare occasion she would actually reveal her name. “It isn’t short for anything so don’t ask,” she said quickly, stopping June’s hand which she’d raised like she was in one of her lectures. “As for my past? I don’t like to talk about it, let’s just say the person I used to be died a long time ago, and so far, I haven’t looked back,” she said, throwing one leg over the other. Her story had been a little vague, to say the least, but after her reluctance to answer questions on her name, no one bothered to push any further. Next up was June.
“My name is June, and ever since I could remember I was taught to be the best cleric I could be,” she said with an actual smile, the first the others had seen the entire time knowing her. “I read through the books of enlightenment by the time I was eight, and by eighteen I could recite every word,” she continued, sounding quite proud. So proud, in fact, that she even offered to display this ability, an offer the three very quickly turned down, much to her disappointment.
“What did you do for fun though? You know, like stuff that doesn’t involve the monastery?” asked Jamal.
June pulled a confused expression, and then it dawned on them that this was her idea of fun. They didn’t know if they should have felt bad for her or just laughed. Not wanting to risk getting another outburst from June, they decided to move on to Jamal as quickly as they could.
“So, um. Do I follow a similar structure? Like, name, backstory and et cetera?” he asked the group who all groaned, telling him to get on with it; all whilst being impressed he knew the word et cetera. “My name’s Jamal, or Jamal, the Dragon Slayer,” he said, brushing the cape over his shoulder, his eyes shooting open as he realised what he’d just said.
Otis had heard the name, or at least people saying it. To be talked about around the kingdom he must be something important. The only other person this name had any significance to was June, who pointed over at him.
“Yes, I’ve heard that name before. You slayed the Dragon that attacked a watchtower outside of Glasshall, you were gifted knights honours by the King,” she said, recounting the story Jamal had heard a thousand times by now. He really wished he hadn’t let the title slip. He supposed he wasn’t used to filling that gap himself.
“Listen, don’t freak out about it, I’m nothing special. I was just at the wrong place at the right time,” he said grimly, knocking himself down a peg so the others didn’t need to, a slight disappointment to V who had already been brewing a response for the occasion, though just this once, she let it go.
The four continued to talk through the night, the crackling fire playing throughout until it was the only thing to be heard in the room.