The past few months have been a blur. Nothing eventful seemed to have happened, nothing that warranted for Tim to do anything out of the ordinary. Hargeon’s ports have been stricter lately, but it was more because of the state of the world than anything. Other than that, everything was routine. Granted, Tim was far from living the same life he had before. Money problems weren't as looming as it had been before he became a wizard, it definitely wasn’t now that he left that life. All those jewels he gathered from the jobs he had done went nowhere when he was busy traveling all over the place back then, he had little to spend things on. Asena would’ve been a good way to actually spend money if she wasn’t well content with eating his light magic more than actual food. In the end, most of the money went to physical therapy and medicine to keep Tim’s body from hurting too much.
“Your pills,” Heba said as Tim stood up from the table. “You forgot.”
He winced at his ward. “I took them—”
She pointed at the tablets on a small saucer.
“…before we ate.” He corrected himself.
Heba’s glare went narrower, not convinced in the slightest.
Ever since he got revived Heba practically dragged him back to Edna Rollin’s residence, Tim’s old boss and where she also worked now, so she could take care of him on a daily basis. Tim was grateful for her help, she was especially helpful when he still felt like each breath he took had needles prickling every inch of his chest. Jumping forward a few months now, however, Heba became less a caregiver and more a household tyrant now, molding pretty well into becoming Tim’s personal warden. Edna, meanwhile, had been careful in making sure she was already out of the house so Tim had no one else to coerce into helping him.
“We were supposed to go out today,” He scratched his chin, darting his eyes away. “I don’t want to feel sleepy halfway.”
In truth, it was because he wanted to drink tonight. For the past months Tim was going crazy not having any proper drink in his system, he drank every kind of juice out there to trick his body into thinking it was drinking cocktails instead, but it was a bust. Now that his body was getting a lot better, he wanted a single night off. That’s when the medicine would complicate things. The doctors said the medicine would complicate things if mixed with things like alcohol, so he had to get clever. Tim felt bad using Heba’s weakness like this, but he really needed to glug something that wasn’t prune juice.
His little ploy worked though, Heba beamed at the mention of their little outing, but she quickly tried to bring back her anger earlier, looking at Tim half lidded while pointing her small finger over his nose.
“If you lied to me and I see you feeling pain during our train ride, you will taste my slipper,” She hissed. “I will bring medicine just in case.”
Tim still gave her a sheepish smile, once her composure dropped earlier she never regained her menacing demeanor.
“Of course,” Tim agreed, if only to keep her from fuming all day. “I’ve already packed our stuff.”
“When?” Heba dropped her finger, looking at him in confusion.
“While you and Edna were cooking,” Tim huffed a laugh.
“You should have rested, I can—”
“Heba, I still have an arm and a leg left,” He sighed. “I’m not completely inept.”
“We can argue about this again,” Tim pulled out his iLac and showed her the time. “Or you can finish your lunch, the station’s not gonna wait for us, you know.”
She snapped her neck at the screen, shrieked at the realization and immediately sat down to eat.
Tim laughed softly at her panicked eating. He never realized how strict Heba really was, especially now that she was very comfortable around all of them. She was definitely a far cry from the lost urchin he found in Desierto. Her basic education had improved dramatically since she was under Edna’s care too; she went from only knowing one or two words into berating Tim in ishgar about how he often intentionally tricked her from taking his medicine, and immediately switch back to desiertan to exclaim something she probably didn’t want him to hear. This might be mundane to some, but if this was Heba from a few months ago she would’ve kept her lips tight the entire time. Even if she’s becoming a second Edna, Tim couldn’t help feeling proud of how much she’s changed.
The rest of their morning went without a hitch. Heba changed from her work clothes into a puffy light blue short-sleeve hoodie, a white sports skirt and a pair of platform shoes. She had a very excited hint on her steps as she kept her pink rucksack snug behind her.
“You look cute in that, Heba,” He said as she ended her lively steps with a short hop beside him.
She beamed at his compliment, but when it was her turn to give him a once over Tim was met with a pair of furrowed brows. He smiled knowingly. Tim was wearing one of his white dress shirts over his usual trousers and black shoes, over the ensemble was an overcoat and his usual duffle bag. In contrast to Heba’s hiking-ready gear, he was the complete opposite.
“I’m not gonna walk any faster than I usually do, Heba,” He explained, flicking his prosthetic leg.
This time it wasn’t the hastily carved stump Tim had months ago, Dr. Arthur Schwartz finally finished his design. The leg looked like a collection of thin metal pipes with ball joins in between. Arthur made it as light as possible, and with some basic Bosconian designs he made the leg so Tim could neurally link and command it in specific ways. There were some drawbacks with it. For one, because of Tim’s now total lack of magical senses the link needs his undivided attention for it to move the way he wants it to. Other than that, the prosthetic can still be used like a very comfortable pegleg, its joints were designed to position accordingly when Tim walks the way he usually does. His missing arm is on the same boat, now having the same kind of prosthetics. Tim could’ve had better ones set up, Edna definitely told him a number of times but there really wasn’t any need. He wasn’t a working wizard anymore so this simple but reliable pair was enough for now.
“Mr. Pegleg here’s not gonna let me.” He smiled. “Are we ready?”
The two of them stepped out of Edna’s house, ready to lock the door behind them.
“Unless Wolf forgot something, we’re good to go,” Tim then whistled.
As if on cue, Asena materialized beside them. She took her time looking over Heba and Tim and, with her usual indignant huff, went back inside. Not a moment later she stepped out of the house looking smaller than her usual size. She shrunk down until she was about shoulder height, still very much tall but already tiny compared to the usual height of spirit wolves. She was wearing a black leather harness housing a sheathe by her side, inside was Tim’s sword. Since he stopped being a wizard Asena took to taking care of the blade, though the whole harness looked like it ruined her whole ethereal-like flame aesthetic. But that wasn’t what she went inside for, it was the wooden cane she was holding with her maw. The spirit wolf looked at Tim and threw the stick his way.
“I was planning on leaving it, Wolf,” He said, but sighed at his companion’s dismissive shrug. “Fine.”
Tim didn’t like using the cane, it made him feel a lot older than he actually was, but having it around was a bigger help than he cared to admit. It definitely made the wait for the station a lot more bearable, having something to lean against that wasn’t his artificial stumps. He didn’t know if they were supposed to be really uncomfortable or he was just slow in getting used to them. Heba, meanwhile, was happily scratching Asena’s fur. He couldn’t blame her, the ethereal wolf’s warm flame-like fur was very fluffy. What weirded Tim out was how much Asena let Heba ruffle her body around. He would’ve never gotten away doing all that without the wolf toppling over him for double the time he spent playing with her fur.
Before Tim could complain to the wolf about this injustice the train finally arrived. He told the two to stay put as he went to the train conductor who came down from one of the carriages. The man was older than him, the distinct oak-like smell permeated from him as Tim got closer. The man smiled wide when he noticed Tim.
“You wouldn’t happen to be Master Timothy?” He reached for Tim’s hand, but quickly thought otherwise. “Ah, my apologies—”
Tim huffed a laugh, pitting the cane between his arm and torso and shaking the older man properly with his left hand. “Well met, Mr. Michel.”
“We have been notified in advance by the company about your request, sir,” He clapped his hand and a few men practically appeared in thin air. “Your ethereal companion is more than welcome to the Express.”
“Glad to hear it,” Tim had no problems getting Asena aboard the usual trains around Fiore, but luxury trains were another problem entirely. What he didn’t expect though, was how easily he and Edna convinced the company operating said express. It was a move Tim might have gotten from his father back in the ivory towers. All they had to do was book the Grand Suite for themselves and sponsor the Express-wide Hallows Eve celebration, the company was rather quick to agree to whatever personal stipulations they had afterwards. “It’s only me, my ethereal wolf, and my ward. I don’t know what you do on this kind of train so I’ll follow your lead.”
“It’s your first time riding the Express?” The older man didn’t even hide his surprise. “Please! We will make sure this will be a very memorable trip for you, Master Timothy.”
With the help of the conductor and his fellow staff, the rest of Tim’s afternoon went by smoothly. Heba was a bolt of lightning the entire time they were in their cabin. She went from taking a bubble bath, jumping around the springy bed, and finally staring at the scenery whizzing past in under an hour. Asena laid herself over a couch, looking at the same window as Heba. Tim was sitting by an armchair looking at the two.
“Everything is moving very fast,” Heba finally said. “But the sunset isn’t.”
“We’re the ones moving fast,” Tim chuckled. “The sun’s too big to notice us zipping around though.”
Heba muttered something in desiertan, to which Tim tried to open his mouth to ask what she said but opted to keep them to his thoughts, it looked like she was enjoying the view well enough.
Moments later a steward knocked on their door and told them the train’s event was starting. The whole affair was slightly formal so they went along with the dress code: Tim kept his ensemble except the overcoat, which he exchanged with a clean vest. Heba went with a frilly sundress while Asena changed from her fierce purplish flame into a calm blue. She also left her harness along with the sword. It took Tim a good amount of convincing too, but he didn’t blame the wolf. Ever since what happened Asena had become overprotective of him, doubly so now that he was magicless. Tim managed to convince her, but he had to compromise. Now she was sitting on her own side in the dining carriage along with them. The other passengers aboard gave them a side glance every once in a while, mostly because of Asena.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you enjoyed your dinner,” the event’s Emcee gave them a small bow. “And before we open the carriage in front of us for the event, we must implore you to participate in our potion brewing extravaganza! Our staff will bring you a brewing kit on your table and help you with your personal brew. We hope this will enchant your experience with us tonight.”
Tim quirked his brow at that.
“Potions?” Heba seemed to wonder as well.
“They’re pretty much magic,” Tim supplied, which made her excited.
Asena, however, looked at the emcee with half lidded eyes.
When the staff finally brought their kit, they didn’t really find anything suspicious from the ingredients the staff laid on their table. Most of the ingredients were readily available on the market, some of which Heba already recognized.
“Is this really magic?” She asked, looking slightly down. “Miss Edna and I use these everyday.”
Tim was hesitant to say anything; while he was a wizard before, making potions wasn’t really in his skillset. Fortunately the staff member assigned to their table was kind enough to do it for him.
“The potions we are making aren’t the most potent, little Mistress,” The staff member took out a small booklet. “But these ingredients, if extracted a certain way, can be used to make fun potions that can last for the rest of the night.”
Heba was more surprised someone called her mistress, but she was still able to understand after pondering for a moment. She nodded with renewed curiosity.
“Now that you said that, how can we know what these potions will do to us?” Tim asked as he picked up a random ingredient on the table, sniffed it, and put it back in its place. “I’d love sprouting wings as much as the next guy—”
The staff snickered. “That’s the fun part, you won’t know what it’ll do! These ingredients’ combinations have been known by potion sellers for a while now, they are completely non lethal.”
Tim winced at the word. ‘Non-lethal’ was a very specific one to use.
“We might as well try.” Tim shrugged.
Heba smiled at him and they got to reading the booklet they were given. The whole activity lasted a lot longer than Tim thought it would. By the time they made three different potions the view from outside was already well deep into the night. The rest of the passengers were having their own share of fun; some of the guests sprouted branches out of their ears, while others shrunk down to the size of a tack. The staff were quick to take care of them, but for the most part everyone was having a blast. Only Tim, Heba and Asena took so long, mostly because the latter was adamant in giving very specific instructions to the former two. Tim had never seen her so focused outside of fighting.
“Alright, who’ll drink first?” The staff, who seemed to enjoy seeing their antics, excitedly gestured to them to go on.
“Nothing ventured…” Tim looked at his magical cocktail. The drink was glowing orange, with small fizzing sparkles popping around. He honestly didn’t know how he got this result, he only picked specific ingredients so he could have a potion that won’t end up tasting like spoiled milk. He gave the drink one last look before chugging it down. It tasted fine, more a fruit punch more than anything. By the time he finished glugging the whole thing he saw Heba and Asena finish theirs as well.
“Congratulations!” The staff cheered. “You can now freely roam about the event carriage and play around the attractions we have set up.”
Heba slowly craned her neck at Tim.
“You can go, I’ll catch up with you in a bit,” He smiled her way.
With a high pitched squeak, Heba jumped off her seat and tried to skip towards the other car. Emphasis on ‘tried’, because after a few steps the little lady sunk down into the floor like quicksand! Tim shot up his seat and moved as quickly as he could.
“Heba?!” He cried. “Are you—”
Then, an echo of laughter bounced across the whole carriage. Heba’s head plopped back up from the floor, she breached for air like she just dunked her head down a pool. She started flapping her legs around the floor too. She really was swimming around the floor!
“Oh my, this effect is quite the doozy!” The staff was standing beside him completely composed. “Don’t worry, sir, this is one of the ones we expected to happen.”
Tim sighed in relief. “Would you mind looking after her? I don’t think I can keep up at this rate.”
He smiled and waved at Heba, who was already swimming towards the event carriage. “Be careful, Heba.”
She splashed her hands around the floor in response, a big smile on her face as the staff member followed her along inside. Tim made another sigh as he sat back down his seat; for someone who prided in not wanting to have anything to do with magic, the first thing he thought of when he saw Heba being eaten by the floor was how much he wanted to have magic sensory at that moment.
“Do I really hate it?” He muttered absentmindedly, leaning back and closing his eyes. “I really should make my mind about how I feel about all this…”
“It took you a death and a resurrection to take an infant’s worth of a step forward?” Tim heard a stern voice beside him. “You might have been part deity once, Timothy, but by the spirits you are horribly slow!”
Tim snapped back awake! He darted his eyes around to find whoever spoke to him just now, but the only one beside him was Asena.
“Wolf…did you hear that?” Tim looked around, betting on his companion’s sharper ears.
“Hear what?” This time, he really wasn’t mistaking things. The voice came from Asena! The ethereal wolf looked at him half lidded. “Timothy. Please do not tell me you thought it was someone else who spoke…”
Tim wanted to say the first thing in his mind, but somehow he knew Asena would go ballistic on him–even more than she usually does–if she hears him say anything obvious. So instead he opted to ask something that sounded a lot more clever. “How come it took this long for you to make this potion? We could’ve made one back in the guildhouse.”
“Never have we been given the opportunity to encounter this many ingredients in our misadventures before,” Asena said. “You are not much of a scholar in many schools of magic, let alone a competent potioneer.”
Tim shrugged. “And this’ll last until tomorrow? That’s not much time to catch up, is it?”
“Catch up?” She cocked her head. “What is there to catch up on?”
Tim blinked. Now that she mentioned it there really isn’t much, if at all. Asena could talk, but they’ve been able to get around their language barrier ages ago. What’s one night of being able to completely talk to each other compared to the year’s worth of experiences where they came to completely understand each other? The thought made Tim laugh at himself. If that wasn’t why he said the time limit felt short, then there was only one other reason.
“I think it’s neat to speak to you like this all the time,” He finally confessed. “That’s all.”
In response, the she-wolf looked at him with a half lidded gaze. Asena stepped closer and leaned her head closer to Tim’s shoulder.
“You are one disingenuous man, Timothy.” She huffed, nudging his chest.
“This isn’t the first time you told me that, is it?” Tim stoked her head gently. “That sounded a lot like your usual huffs.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.” She cooed.
The entire carriage then became pitch black. Tim and Asena didn’t let go of each other, but they kept watch as they felt a cold breeze whistling around them. The feeling of motion they had since the train got off the station disappeared and the noise of the party happening just one carriage away became silent.
“I can’t see anything,” Tim said, slowly getting off his chair to kneel down. It was hard using his prosthetic this way, but there was no time to complain. “I can’t hear anything either.”
Asena hummed. “I can hear you just fine, but I can’t see anything too. I can only feel that cold wind.”
“I feel cold, but I can’t feel any wind.”
“Curious,” Asena stood, but kept low to let Tim hold her fur. Between the two of them at the moment, she was the one who could react the quickest to anything magical. “If it planned on communicating with us it should have already done so.”
Tim cursed under his breath. There were dozens of things he could have done in the time he spent here doing jack all! His magic sensory was non-existent, any idea he had that needed Asena to leave him would backfire in a heartbeat because he knew the she-wolf wouldn’t abandon him, not after everything that happened.
Whoever dropped them into this pitch black darkness decided to reveal a few things to them. It was a very familiar lump of a dying body lying motionless on a stone road while a large wolf-like monster slowly stepped closer, nothing but a single street lantern illuminating the upcoming horror. Tim froze at the sight while Asena showed her teeth at the creature.
“I will rip apart whoever subjected us to this illusion,” Asena growled, moving forward to shield Tim.
‘Illusion,’ Tim thought, a silver lining finally showing itself to him. ‘That’s it!’
The street light’s rays paved away the pitch black nothingness they were being lathed not a moment ago, and the way the darkness edged closer enthralled Tim. His position was a bit awkward to move so suddenly, but his prosthetic leg was still half cloak in the shadows. Tim concentrated on the coldness around them; this was the veil of the illusion taking effect around them. He needed to differentiate that from the wind Asena felt, because that wind was part of the memory.
If Tim could feel the nature of the illusion, he could understand the one who made it. He couldn’t manipulate magic the way he had before he died, but being dipped into an illusion was a different matter entirely. This was his mind, inside a being’s domain, surrounded by magic! This couldn’t be any closer to home if he tried.
When something in him finally clicked, the darkness crawled along his prosthetic until it lathed around his leg completely. Tim slowly stood up and leaned against this ‘leg’, it felt like every bit his own limb! The inklike dripping of the pitch black limb was horrifyingly nostalgic, but he shook the thought as he looked at Asena.
“How…what manner of thing did you do?” She looked at him wide-eyed.
“This illusion is their maker’s domain, in a way,” Tim didn’t know how to explain it exactly. “And understanding these things…you know…”
Asena made a sound which Tim could only interpret as a wolf’s attempt at a laugh. “You truly are one disingenuous man, Timothy.”
Their little moment was promptly ruined a second time, this time by the wolf-like monster who roared at them. It wasn’t the familiar feeling of being under his old curse that made Tim suddenly stand taller, but the comfortable feeling of being whole again did. He never really realized until now, living his old life magicless was peaceful but he still felt fragmented. It was a gnawing sense of discomfort within him he never really admitted until he found the closest thing to resemble them.
“I’ve already killed you once,” Tim moved his shoulder, commanding his arm prosthetic to wave around the street lamp’s rays of light. As if the light itself was tangible, it clad his false arm a purplish flame. “But I suppose Wolf here needs her slice of revenge too.”
“Not even a moment after you gained a similar power, and you’re already brimming with overconfidence,” Asena huffed.
“Like you’re one to talk,” Tim smiled her way, the she-wolf was already growing back into her usual size. He caressed her fur as it changed from her calm blue into a fierce purple. “Let’s go, Wolf.”
“Lead on, partner.”
The monster lunged at the illusion of the dying boy, but Tim was quick to flick his flaming fingers. The flames crystalized into a purplish rock and snapped together creating a bright flash. The monster was stopped dead in his tracks, its fangs digging into nothing but a purplish glass of light. Tim’s crystal hand thawed back into its flame and at the same time the crystal barrier turned into a wall of purplish light, burning the wolf! It howled in pain as it reeled back into the shadows.
“Ah,” Tim laughed. “You think darkness is your ally?”
He stepped on the ground and the shadows converged into him, revealing more of the scenery and the corner the wolf-monster tried to lurk.
“Also learn to hide better,” Tim waved and five pillars of crystalized light materialized to shine the entire area. The wolf-monster closed its eyes from the sudden flash, never noticing Asena skulking ever closer. “Now!”
Asena howled as hard as she could, blowing the monster into the center of the pillars. It tried to run away, but an inklike pool of darkness slowly swallowed its legs like a quicksand of tar. The wolf-monster roared in desperation.
“You’re not going anywhere.”
Tim waved his arm, crystallizing the light above the tar into a floating bouquet of glass flowers in every shape and size. Each of the flowers the monster it grazed from its struggling sliced its flesh, then the glass it bled on melted back into a purplish flame slowly falling down into the monster burning its gaping wounds. It came to a point where the monster finally stopped moving, too hurt to try anything.
“You’re learning,” Tim clapped his hands. “How about I set you into a bed of roses as a reward?”
With that last farewell, Tim turned the remaining flowers into glass roses. The monster then felt something dripping from above. When it looked up, it saw its own legs slowly coming down! With wide eyes it turned to Tim, its predatory gaze from earlier long gone. No sooner it saw part of its belly coming out of the pitch blackness above it felt its belly below slowly become weighted. It didn’t take long for the rest of its body to get sucked into the blackness below before being spat back from above and into the floating crystalized roses. With one last howl the monster burned, the pillars of crystallized light around it finally toppled down and crumbled into the purplish bonfire, acting as kindling.
Tim snapped awake, grabbing the first thing he could get his hands on, which was Asena’s head still resting on top of his chest. It looked like the illusion was now gone, along with the cathartic feeling of having both his old limbs back. He sighed.
“It was an illusion,” Asena softly muttered, her eyes slowly opening. “But I’m glad I could have some form of payback to that monster.”
“Definitely,” Tim stroked her fur. “And you’re right, we never really needed to talk to get each other.”
“What a coincidence,” Asena nudged her head closer. “I was about to say I am going to miss talking like this. It was an enlightening experience.”
“You’re unreasonable, you know that?”
They both laugh, but stopped when the staff from earlier and Heba came back from the other carriage.
“Oh my, no wonder not a single one of our Fae went into the event carriage, they were all here,” The staff said, worried.
“Wow! How did you make them stay, Tim?” Heba swam across the floor, stopping beside him. “They’re pretty!”
Tim, trying to focus his eyes around, became wide eyed. There really were balls of light dancing around him and Asena.
The staff, sniffing closer. “Oh my, your potion’s effect was attractive to these little ones. It’s like catnip to them. I hope they didn’t subject you to any mean spirited pranks, sir.”
“Far from it,” Tim smiled. “It was a nostalgic experience.”
“I also won games!” Heba interrupted, showing off two blue tickets, a handful of assorted canies, and an apple. “They were fun!”
“You are getting better at magic if you could do all that while swimming on the floor, little one,” Asena cooed. “Good job.”
“Miss Wolf? You can talk! Let’s go back inside, I know a game you’ll win easily!”
Tim smiled as the two went back to the event, yet the small feeling of longing he had when he regained his old self remained. Being whole was an enthralling thing, even if he didn’t want to go back into a life of death and danger. Tim could only hope he would be strong enough to resist the pull when fate comes knocking.