This event challenges writers' creativity and speed. Every day a new prompt will be available for writers to look at and take up the challenge of writing for. The writer is given 48 hours to complete the prompt. There is a minimum of 100 words per prompt.
This was a continuation of RPApril Extravaganza 2018 Writing Marathon which was started in RPApril Extravaganza 2017 Writing Marathon. Prompts are bold in each entry.
This was a continuation of RPApril Extravaganza 2018 Writing Marathon which was started in RPApril Extravaganza 2017 Writing Marathon. Prompts are bold in each entry.
Day 01: Born to be wild
"Madam, I truly do not know who you are talking about."
The man frowned at the pair. Neither were apparent customers to his shop, what with the hallway having many shop entrances lining its walls, but from the small snippet of words he had heard, it almost sounded like someone was lost.
The woman crossed her arms even as her face seemed to only lose more color. "That is enough, Neryk. Where is he?"
The androgynous one shook their head, expression set. "Madam, I am not lying. I do not know who this Diggory person is."
"You missing someone, lady?" he asked, approaching even as a part of him recoiled at the action.
Her sharp gaze snapped to him and his immediate reaction was to freeze.
She pulled out her personal device and quickly brought up a picture. "Have you seen him? His name is Diggory."
He frowned at the smiling man in the image. Even the androgynous person next to her frowned at it but there didn't seem to be a single flicker of recognition in their gaze. His frown only deepened. Despite the other not recognizing the photographed man - despite it sounding like they should if the woman was to be believed - he couldn't shake the feeling that he recognized that face.
He shook his head, leaning back. "As much as the face looks strangely familiar, I can't place where or when I had seen it. Sorry, lady."
The woman turned the picture back to herself but the device was one of those that was see-through on the right settings and he could still see that smiling face obscured by the opaque device.
Where had he seen that young man before?
The sneeze echoed through the trees. Several birds in the nearby branches sent leaves and a scattering of feathers raining down on him as he sniffled.
"You alright, Diggory?"
He looked over at the ghost trailing along beside him, smiling. "I'm fine, Richard."
"Bullshit you are," came a snappy comment from behind him and he glanced back to find Ghost Diggory glaring at him. "Will you stop and rest already? You're going to kill all of us if you keep going like this."
Diggory rolled his eyes, amusement pulling at his expression. "I'm not going to keel over dead. Besides," he focused back on the way he was heading, "I want to make it to the top of this before nightfall."
He was fairly certain Ghost Diggory rolled his eyes, too. "That's what you said the last two times."
Diggory shot him a grin over his shoulder but said nothing more.
Hours passed and by the time he reached a place to settle for the night, the sky was already showing the first stars of the evening. Richard was still at his side, still stoic as ever, but Ghost Diggory was getting agitated behind him. He glanced back, inquiring, "We're safe here, you know."
Ghost Diggory laughed. "We're safe? Here?! Are you out of your mind! We're in the middle of who knows where with no supplies, no provisions, and you're telling me we're safe?" The ghost gestured wildly. "We're a construct of magic and the only one with a proper, physical form is roughing it with a high possibility of dying on us."
"Do you have so little faith in your creation?" Richard asked, his voice calm and the question unobtrusive.
The other ghost scoffed. "I have no faith in the consciousness it houses."
Diggory smiled at that. He probably should be offended but the whole ordeal was just touching. "Well, thankfully this consciousness is a bit more prepared than you think."
"Oh? Do you actually happen to know where we are?" Ghost Diggory challenged.
"No." The ghost threw his hands in the air, expression clearly spelling out that proved his point. "But I do know what I'm doing."
"What are you doing?" Richard inquired.
Diggory offered him a soft smile. "Seeking shelter." He gestured past both ghosts towards the rock face not too far off. "I caught sight of what looked to be an outcrop. I'm hoping it's more like a cave but even a simple overhang would work well enough for tonight."
Ghost Diggory huffed at that. "Then summon me when you're through mountaineering. I'm done here."
The ghost vanished, leaving Diggory with only Richard's ghost for company. Diggory sighed, feeling dejected.
Richard's hand was surprisingly solid against his shoulder and he looked over to find an encouraging smile on the ghost's face. "Don't let his attitude get to you. He's just upset that you gave up a seemingly perfect life."
Diggory chuckled softly. "That and probably put them in even more danger because of it." His smile grew. "I've kind of gotten a pretty good handle of how his thoughts work after everything."
Richard arched an eyebrow at him. "Impressive, seeing as it has only been mere hours."
"Has it?" Diggory asked, starting towards the rock face. "I hadn't noticed."
The sun had set completely by the time he had a decent fire going. Richard had been kind enough to help, even if all the ghost had done was make sure the fire didn't go out as he went and got a better store of wood. The overhang was part of a deep alcove, leaving him enough room to stay dry and warm for the night.
A howl went up far too close and his head snapped up as Ghost Diggory appeared suddenly at his side, a solid hand forming on his shoulder. "Easy," the ghost softly commanded.
"There is nothing to be concerned about," Richard assured them both even as a wolf came into range of the firelight. "They were born to be wild and, as such, they know when to leave prey alone."
Diggory watched the wolf as it studied them. For a moment, he thought it would try and approach, but it simply turned around and leapt back into the trees. He let out the breath he had been holding.
Day 02: Good to be bad
The grip on his shoulder tightened before Ghost Diggory removed his hand. He glanced back to find the ghost had turned to face the other one, a frown marring Ghost Diggory's expression. "Why are we even here, Professor?"
Diggory had to turn his head the other way to look at Richard without killing himself. He caught the tail end of the ghost's shrug as Richard offered, "Because it is Diggory's will to have us here."
Ghost Diggory rolled his eyes. "That's not what I meant."
"Oh? Is it not?" There was an edge to them, like Richard was refraining from making those words a condescending remark. "Because you have already proven that Diggory's desire has no bearing on whether or not you have a corporal form so I assumed you meant why we were in the middle of some forest far beyond the reach of man."
Ghost Diggory frowned. "Wait. What? How?"
Richard shrugged. "It would be best to ask that of your creation, not of me. I can only speculate, not actually provide answers."
Diggory suddenly found himself under the scrutiny of the two ghosts and, despite how bewildered he was by the exchange, he shook his head and offered honestly, "I have no idea why we're way out here."
Richard arched an eyebrow at him. "What had been your intent when you touched the Crystal Heart if not to banish us all from reach?"
"I wanted to hide it, to keep it safe as I figured out what was going on." He scratched as his chest where his crystal heart sat warm under his touch. "I hadn't had a destination in mind."
"Which brings us right back to my initial question," Ghost Diggory pointed out, exasperated. "What the hell we doing here, Professor?"
Richard tipped his head to the side as he studied the pair of them. Diggory fought the urge to squirm when that gaze settled on him briefly. "Neither of you have noticed, then?"
"Noticed what?" Ghost Diggory barked.
Diggory frowned. "The magic?"
Richard nodded as the ghost's gaze drifted towards the trees. "This place - this entire area - is saturated with magic. I would not be surprised to discover creatures here that should not exist, be it due to extinction or being of nothing more than myths and legends."
"Like unicorns and dragons," Ghost Diggory offered, though he sounded equal parts fed up and bored with the entire thing.
"Exactly!" Richard enthused, gaze returning to the other ghost. "Where is the best place to hide a needle than in another pile of needles. The Crystal Heart cannot be hidden by conventional means. It exudes magic in a way that twists and warps reality when left unattended, purposely drawing in souls both living and dead so that it can continue doing what it's always done; collect."
Diggory shuddered as Ghost Diggory scoffed at that. "You want me to believe that the Crystal Heart brought us here with very little guidance from him?"
Diggory flinched back from the hand suddenly in his face.
"No," Richard corrected. "I'm saying it was Diggory himself that brought us here. The Crystal Heart was nothing more than a catalyst at best."
"I don't understand," Diggory voiced. "How could I have brought us here? I can barely do any other sort of magic even with my memories back. I had to start the fire by hand."
"You truly cannot feel the magic in the area?" Diggory shook his head, watching as Richard's curiosity shaped his expression. "Fascinating. I wonder, then, if something else drew the Crystal Heart here with you in tow."
"Is it possible it could truly be a coincidence?" Diggory asked.
There was a brief pause before Richard answered him. "It could be, yes, but the chances of it happening like this are so slim, they're nearly nonexistent."
Ghost Diggory took a step forward. "You say that but nothing is normal about him. He exists outside of the normal rules and the fact that he even has magic to begin with shouldn't be possible. I didn't create him to be compatible with magic, not when I wasn't."
Richard just shrugged Ghost Diggory's comment off. "That is neither here nor there and proves my point. Diggory is so much of an outlier that coming here was not mere coincidence. Either something else is in play or he was naturally drawn here."
Confusion pulled at Diggory's expression. "Naturally drawn here? But I've never been here."
Richard shook his head. "That doesn't matter. At this point, all that mattered was your intent on keeping the Crystal Heart out of the current Professor's hands and you've effectively done that even if you never meant to send us out this far, if send us anywhere at all." Richard smiled softly at him. "Not that I'm complaining. It has been a long time since I've seen anything other than the inside of some crate or asleep in the Crystal Heart."
"Wait, you couldn't come out if you were in the crate?"
"Oh, I could," Richard assured him. "it was quite easy, actually, but there is a limit as to how far i can wander away from it. Despite what others may say, sometimes it is good to be bad at something. I was rather bad at being patient and seeing if I could push the limits a little bit each day and settled into the Crystal Heart with every intent of just sleeping for the rest of existence. It turned out to be in my favor because I was brought back upon your arrival within the vicinity of the Crystal Heart." Richard gestured towards him. "For you, it turned to be in your favor that you were not overly good with simply picking a way to hide the Crystal Heart because now we are given the opportunity to explore something almost no one else has explored before."
"A patch of wild forest?" Ghost Diggory guessed. The eye roll was audible in the ghost's words.
Day 03: Smoke on the water
Ghost Diggory gave a snort of a laugh and Diggory found himself agreeing. It seemed a bit too far fetched but, then, how far fetched was it that there was something else leading his hand? Be it magic or something else, they were there for a reason. As idiotic as it may be, he trusted Richard's words and if the ghost said the area was saturated in magic, he believed him. His gaze drifted out to the woods as the pair started arguing about something, wondering if he could feel it himself.
He blinked and brought his head around. Both ghosts were staring at him but he couldn't quite make out the depth of their expressions. He blamed the fire and the night encroaching in on them for that.
"Are you alright?" Richard asked, a soft frown curling the ghost's lips.
Ghost Diggory took a step forward but the ghost gaze wasn't on him. "Look back at the trees, Diggory."
There was a note in those words that made Diggory's heart sink and he returned his gaze to the trees.
Pure instinct drove him backwards as he scrambled to get away from the creature standing in the treeline but his back collided with a pair of legs and he looked up to find Ghost Diggory had stopped his fleeing. The ghost wasn't looking at him and didn't react when Richard came to his side. Diggory looked between them - both stony faced of varying curiosity and concern - before returning his gaze to the creature before them.
"What is it?" he asked in a choked whisper.
"I'm not sure," Richard offered cautiously. "I think I may have read about them before but it's not coming to me quickly."
Half buried in the treeline was a creature that looked almost like an elk or a deer, but it was far too large for either animal and the antlers were far from normal. They glowed with some inner light and looked like they were steaming or smoking, soft curls of the visible air particles lazily drifting about. It reminded him more of fog that rolled down the mountainsides rather than steam or smoke as he watched whatever it was coming off the antlers drift back before heading towards the creature's shoulders and curling around the body.
"It's not a frost spirit, is it?" Ghost Diggory asked softly, the frown on his face audible in his words.
Richard shook his head. "I don't know. It's the wrong time of year and there are no signs of frost or ice where it touches the ground."
Ghost Diggory hummed as if to agree but it told Diggory nothing. He brought his gaze back up to the creature's face and was startled when it seemed to look at him. It took a few steps forward, huffing air as if it was smelling something, and its hindquarters became visible.
He wasn't sure if he wanted to gag or scream.
Ghost Diggory's hand over his mouth prevented both.
Past the shoulders, the creature's body was like a study of decay. The entire torso went from decaying skin and muscle to nothing but bones at the pelvis. It was disconcerting to see the bones of the pelvis and upper legs move without muscles and skin covering it. The hind legs were in the same state as the torso going from a healthy hoof to barren bone at the pelvic.
"Diggory," Richard seemed to breath. "Whatever you do, don't touch it."
The ghost spoke this as the creature approached him and Diggory wasn't sure how he was going to accomplish that when the creature was the one pushing its nose out to touch him and Ghost Diggory was an unmoving force at his back. Still, he did press into Ghost Diggory in an attempt to heed Richard's words but the creature's nose still pressed into his chest.
A gasp escaped him. From one instance to the next, he had gone from sitting on the side of some mountain to sitting at the edge of some lake he didn't recognize. A thick forest still surrounded him, all of it illuminated by the moon high overhead that was nearly full.
Ghost Diggory's hand was still over his mouth, the ghost solid against his back. Richard was still standing near his right knee and Diggory was relieved they were still with him. He couldn't imagine handling being sent to some strange place alone.
Out in the depths of the lake it looked like there was smoke on the water - or was it fog - but he couldn't make out the source.
The creature stepped around him, startling all three of them. Entranced by the view, Diggory had nearly forgotten that the creature had even existed in the first place. It paused at his left side to look down at him before continuing on. He watched as the creature walk right up to the edge of the lake and then kept going. But the surface of the lake didn't give under its hoof and Diggory watched in awe as the creature traveled across the surface of the water like it was solid ground.
"Professor," Ghost Diggory spoke up from behind him. The ghost's hand was still over his mouth. He didn't move to remove it. "What is that thing?"
"I'm not sure." Diggory glanced at the other ghost, seeking out the man's expression. It told him very little beyond the man was piecing something together. "All I know is that we shouldn't initiate an interaction with it. It's...I don't know how to describe it more than an ingrained, instinctual reaction."
"Is it that dangerous?" Ghost Diggory asked as his hand fell from Diggory's mouth.
Richard shook his head. "Does it matter? As much as I'm one for testing the limits of the universe, this isn't something I want to see the results from."
Diggory looked back at the creature. It had stopped at the edge of the smoke - fog? - and was staring at him.
Day 04: Spill blood on fire
"I wonder what it wants."
He knew both ghosts were staring at him now but he couldn't bring himself to look away from the creature's stare. Slowly, carefully, he rose to his feet. Both ghosts hissed at him but he ignored them.
Silence suddenly rang louder than their words and he looked over at where the ghosts had been to find himself alone. A part of him panicked at that; the other part was glad they weren't there to see him make a fool of himself. Facing the lake again, he took a step forward under the creature's watchful gaze.
The surface of the water gave like sand underfoot.
It was quiet and he realized that it had been that way since their arrival. The only sound that seemed to be there - the lapping of the water on the lake shore and the faint breeze through the trees - diminished till he couldn't hear them anymore as his journey across the lake stretched on.
By the time he reached the creature, he couldn't make out the shoreline; it seemed as if the forest had grown from the lake itself.
It was smoke that clung to the surface of the water; the sharp scent of burning wood wafted over him as the creature shifted about, stirring the smoke up into his face. It made his eyes water.
"You.....listen....." His eyes snapped wide and onto the creature's face towards the right. It didn't so much as blink at his reaction. More words echoed in his ears but beyond the creature's steady gaze, there was no apparent source. "You.....follow....."
Abruptly, the creature turned and started to walk through the sudden wall of smoke. Diggory looked towards the top of the smoke and couldn't fathom how he had missed the low rolling smoke becoming a thick wall too tall for him to see the top. He hesitated but the creature glanced back and he could see its glowing eyes through the smoke. The sight made his skin crawl.
He stepped into the wall of smoke, willingly following the creature into the murky depths of the smoke.
It was strange. The air seemed to buzz all around him yet the smoke wasn't even touching him. It was like there was a few inches of clean air hugging his body and keeping the smoke at bay. Even when he lifted a hand as if to touch the smoke, that layer of protection stayed wrapped tight around his limb.
"You.....magic.....strong....." the voice echoed in his ears.
Another step and suddenly he was outside the smoke in a space he couldn't classify. He wasn't sure if it was a proper cave or if the smoke pressed against some invisible dome thick enough to block out the remaining light of the night sky. The only light came from the creature's antlers and eyes, and the small fire before it.
He frowned. "Why?"
The creature's head tipped to the side to the point of looking unnatural. "Why.....question....."
"Because I..." He mulled the words over. "I'm not sure if I want to."
He nodded, starting to cross the space to the fire. "And still I do. I just want to know."
The creature stared at him as he continued his sedated walk to the fire. It wasn't till he was within arms reach of the flames that the voice responded.
He frowned. "I don't understand."
"See.....magic....." The creature's head tipped a bit in the other way. "Sense.....magic....."
Something seemed to grip his very being; whether that was the crystal heart or whatever he had that counted as a soul, something had grabbed hold and was squeezing it tight.
It was like a fog was filling his mind. He stared at the object pressing into his palm, not understanding till a pair of different hands grabbed at his wrists. They burned like fire but it was enough for him to recognize the knife he was pressing into his own palm.
He had yet to draw blood.
"What are you doing?" Ghost Diggory hissed in his ear.
Richard's words were not far behind. "Do not do as it says."
Both ghosts flinched.
It was Ghost Diggory's fist that collided with his chest grabbing at the fabric just beneath his clavicle; Richard still had an iron grip of his left wrist and a death grip on the fabric against Diggory's back. Ghost Diggory still had Diggory's right arm in a tight grip and positioned where he wouldn't be able to cut anything.
Diggory shook his head. "I want to-"
But Richard forwent holding his left wrist to clap a hand over Diggory's mouth. He calmly pulled the ghost's hand from his mouth despite how much both ghosts were fighting him. "I want to be able to do it without influence. I want it to be my choice."
For the first time since setting eyes on the creature, he saw it blink. And just like that the fog in his brain vanished.
"Diggory, you can't be serious," Ghost Diggory hissed in his ear. It was strange feeling the solid touches from both ghosts vanish as they lost their solid forms. They stayed but their hands passed through him. They couldn't stop him now.
Ghost Diggory didn't seem to be overly concerned with this new state of being as he glared daggers into the side of Diggory's head but Richard turned his hands over and back, staring at them in bewilderment. "Strange," the ghost muttered to himself.
He met the creature's gaze head on again, clarifying, "I will not be binding myself to anything, right?"
Diggory sighed. That would have to be enough.
He brought the sharp edge of the knife to his palm again, letting the weight settle there for a moment before he shifted his hold and pressed his thumb into the sharp edge.
He didn't flinch when the skin broke under the sharp blade and let a few drops fall into the flames below.
Day 05: Kingdom Come
Or, at least, nothing 'magical' happened. The creature simply reached over the flames where his hand was still extended and licked at his thumb. It startled him, though not as much as the two ghosts at his sides suddenly becoming solid again and grabbing onto him. His head whipped between them but neither looked at him. Both sets of eyes were locked onto the creature itself, watching as it pulled away and turned around.
Both ghosts hissed something as he dropped his hand; the words were too muddled for him to make out. Neither grip kept him from moving forward and as he took his first step into the flames, he realized that same thing that had protected him from the smoke protected him from the fire. It was very strange but he was grateful as he passed through the flames without burning anything.
Diggory looked back in surprise, watching as Ghost Diggory staggered back from the fire as the flames seemed to lick at him, following after his form till he was beyond their reach.
"Diggory!" Richard called out, rushing to the other ghost's side. He wrapped his hand around the hand Ghost Diggory had wrapped around his own wrist. The hand connected to that wrist looked raw.
"I'm ok," Ghost Diggory urged through clenched teeth.
"Bull you are," Richard retorted.
Diggory looked back at the creature. It had kept its body facing the direction it had been walking and simply craned its neck around to stare at him and the ghosts. "They're not alive like me. They're just ghosts."
The creature kept staring at him even as the voice spoke up. "You.....follow......alone......"
"Don't worry about us, Diggory," Ghost Diggory called to him. "We'll be fine."
Diggory glanced towards them but the thought of leaving them exposed left him uneasy. "Can they at least return to the crystals?" he asked as he turned his attention back to the creature. "They won't come out and I'll remain alone like you want."
Silence stretched between him and the creature. The only sounds came from the fire behind him and Richard's soft mutterings with Ghost Diggory. If the few words he was catching was anything to go by, they were both trying to figure out what had happened and how. But the longer he went without a response, the more he feared he wasn't going to get one at all.
Diggory let out a sigh and quickly turned to look at the pair. "Guys, quickly."
Ghost Diggory vanished first. Richard delayed, urging, "Be careful, Diggory. We don't know what this is or where it is taking you."
He nodded, watching as Richard vanished too. Turning back around, he returned his focus to the creature only to find the creature had continued on and he ran to catch up.
He kept at the creature's hindquarters, though he made sure it was longer than an arm's length. He didn't want to accidentally touch the creature. They progressed slowly through the space and yet it seemed as if they reached their destination instantly. He shuddered against the unwanted similarities.
The seemingly cave like area was now a cave far larger than any he had ever seen or known had existed. Gravel crunched underfoot as the sound echoed all around him oddly. There was something glowing ahead and it wasn't till they reached the edge of what he realized was a massive lake that he saw what it was.
The water was illuminated by glowing crystals under the water revealing every bit of ground at the bottom of the lake. There was no ease into the water; the edge just dropped off and with how glass like the water was, he wasn't even sure he trusted how deep it looked.
His gaze snapped to the creature. "Swim where?" he asked tentatively, not liking that idea.
He frowned. "I don't understand."
Something slammed into him sending him out over the water. It was in that brief moment between being airborn and hitting the water that he discovered the creature had basically hip checked him into the lake.
The water was ice cold as it surged up around him and he instinctively curled in on himself. His lungs burned for air having not been prepared for any of it and it was all he could do to keep his motions calm as he kicked back to the surface.
His head hit something solid and the sound reminded him of glass.
Horror seeped into his body as he pressed his palms against the glass. There was no layer of air between the water and glass. In fact, he could see that the surface was still a good few feet above the glass he was pressing against and no matter which way he looked, he couldn't see the ends.
He tried looking for it but his lungs had already been burning and while his will to live was strong, his body won out in the end.
He sucked in a breath and found air filling his lungs instead of water.
He coughed, shaking, as blessed air granted his body the much needed oxygen. He brought his trembling hands up to his face and found that once again, that layer of protection was still around him, keeping breathable air trapped against his body for as long as it lasted.
He didn't expect it to last long.
Swimming while breathing was the most bizarre experience of his life - aside from going through the experience of discovering he wasn't actually human twice, but that was beside the point - and he found that there was still a part of him that held a tight grip on urgency. He needed to find whatever it was the creature wanted to see and he wasn't about to roll over and die if he could help it.
He kept expecting to start passing out when the oxygen trapped against his body was used up but it was taking a while.
Day 06: BEautiful World
As fascinating as the bottom of the lake was - what with pillars of stone stretching from the floor to the ceiling covered in a spattering of glowing crystals, some pillars still stalagmites under the water's surface - it seemed rather ordinary. Nothing seemed to speak of anything spectacular or different even as he started going farther and farther from where the creature was certainly still standing sentry. The last few times he had looked towards it, the eyes and antlers were stark against the oppressive darkness of the space beyond it and he had given up keeping tabs on it. Honestly, it would reappear if it wanted to. And if not, he would be completely content with never seeing it again.
He stopped his forward momentum, frowning. The lake bed was maybe five feet under him but something about it was strange. He turned in the water, looking back the way he came and dragged his gaze across the floor. It took looking towards where he was going that he realized that the floor was going from rocky lake bottom to an actual stone floor. Even the pillars started looking like the slow progression of a stone carving and the glowing crystals settling at a specific height on the pillars.
He kicked forward, confusion and curiosity driving him on.
The change was so gradual, he didn't even notice till the area went from simple pillars and stone floor to ruins suddenly appearing in the depths of the water. Here, there was no light beyond the glowing crystals at the base and roughly twenty feet above his head on every pillar. Beyond that, the encroaching darkness created a sense of nothingness beyond the world he found himself in.
He pressed one foot to the stone floor before settling his other down. It was strange being weightless and trying to walk through water at the same time but he fell into a rhythm and felt less strange walking around the apparent city than swimming through it.
Besides, the buildings looked to be designs for open air rather than under water. The apparent entrances were ground level. He even walked up to one of the more complete structures to peak through the doorway and found signs of stairs against the far wall, though it was only the bottom three steps. If this city was meant to be traveled by swimming, why would they have stairs in their buildings?
The deeper into the city he went, the more solid and complete the structures became. Just like his arrival here, the progress was gradual that he didn't even notice till he found himself at the city's heart.
The buildings fell away as the street he was on ended. Before him was a massive open space with trees, grassy areas, and flowers galore. Beyond all of it were two massive structures looking brand new centered in the massive open space. He realized the space was circular and where the city met the road that encompassed the green space oddly, there were little plots of either more greenery or tiny shops or elevated paved areas for gatherings or seller's carts. It was incredible but it left an uneasy feeling thrumming through him to see it still so empty.
"We shouldn't be out of the crystals, Diggory."
He jumped, bubbled swirling around him as he slashed at the water to turn around. Ghost Diggory was giving him a disapproving look but there was an echoed unease in the ghost's expression that negated the look's severity. Richard was beside him, looking equally apprehensive as he felt yet still fascinated by what he saw.
"I hadn't called you guys intentionally," Diggory defended as he got his feet back onto the road. "Go back into the crystals. I'll be fine."
Ghost Diggory shook his head as Richard pointed out, "We can't. Whatever has you spooked is making it impossible for us to return. You're unconsciously keeping us from disappearing and until you settle down, I don't think that'll change any time soon."
Diggory winced at that but Ghost Diggory walked over to him unaffected by the water he was passing through. His hand was still solid against Diggory's shoulder, though. "We'll stick around as long as you need but it's your fault if we get into trouble."
He nodded, accepting that. His gaze flickered between the two ghosts as he asked, "Does this place look familiar to either of you?"
Ghost Diggory's gaze went to the city as Richard shook his head. "Not to me," the older ghost confessed. "But that's not necessarily a strange thing. I've been to many major cities but that would only be a small percentage of those that had existed in the world. It is possible that this existed before or even after I had done my traveling, vanishing before I could have had a chance."
Ghost Diggory frowned. "I don't think it's something like that, Professor. There's several different architecture styles here that wouldn't be in the same city. At least, not for anything that had existed in the time that it could have disappeared."
"What do you mean?" Diggory asked, coming to the ghost's side. "It seems like a pretty modern city to me."
"It is," Ghost Diggory confirmed, looking over at him. "But the likelihood of a city this size vanishing without the world knowing would be unusual." The ghost looked back out over the city. "Besides, the blending of styles isn't in just the new stuff. There are things here from architectural eras that would have never ended up side by side in their times. Whatever this is, it isn't an original city."
"Piecemealed, then?" Richard clarified.
Ghost Diggory hummed an affirmation. "Someone crafted this city. The next question is why."
Diggory's head snapped up. There floating somewhere between thirty and forty in the water above his head was a...well, he wasn't sure how to describe it because 'creature' wasn't exactly right and neither was 'thing'.
"Welcome to my beautiful world."
Day 07: Midnight Hallelujah
The entity was suddenly in his face, eyes gleaming in a way he recognized as dangerous. "And you were supposed to come alone."
"I-I did," he sputtered. "These two are ghosts and they had been in their crystals up until just a moment ago. The only thing they've seen is the city's center."
"One thing too many," the entity seemed to sing in displeasure, swimming around him slowly. It perked up at his left shoulder, looking at him as its....hands - for a lack of a better term - grabbed onto his shoulder stilling its momentum. "Crystals you say?"
He nodded even as both ghosts behind him hissed his name. "Two."
"Can I see?"
Ghost Diggory was on his other arm in an instant, solid hand painful on his upper arm. "Diggory, don't. We don't know who or what that thing is. Showing them off could spell disaster."
Diggory went to say something but the entity beat him to it and not in the way he would have handled it. It shoved off his shoulder towards Ghost Diggory and came to a stop inches from the ghost's face. "You have no say in this. Be gone, bug."
The entity flicked Ghost Diggory on the forehead and the ghost vanished in a storm of bubbles.
"Diggory!" Richard cried out. The older ghost stopped short of where Ghost Diggory had been, hand clasping at empty water as he stopped himself from approaching further. "What did you do to him?"
"Nothing, nothing," the entity happily chimed. "I just sent him back to his crystal." Its gaze settled on Richard. "You should go back as well if you know what's best for you."
Richard shook his head. "I can't of my own free will." Richard gestured towards him. "He's the one keeping me from returning and it's not even intentionally."
"Hmm, pity," the entity offered. Whatever pity it was portraying was fake as it grinned. "You're going back anyways."
"No! Wait!" Richard tried but he vanished in a storm of bubbles just as Ghost Diggory had from a flick on the forehead.
"There!" the entity chirped, clearly pleased with itself. It spun around, focusing on him completely. Clasping its hands together, it continued, "Now that we're alone, let's get started."
"Started with what?" he asked, watching the entity swim past him and towards the two structures at the center of the open space.
The entity giggled. "With becoming magic, of course." It swam up to his face bobbing a foot away. "Silly. Did you forget your reason for coming here already? It's a good thing I sent those two away, then."
He shook his head. "I was just doing what that strange, half dead creature told me to do."
The entity blinked at him before its head tipped to the side. "Did you not come to become magic?"
"I'm not completely sure why that creature even came to me in the first place."
The entity pouted. "Well obviously you summoned it. What had you been thinking when it first appeared?"
He frowned as the question rolled through his mind. Somehow it seemed like days had passed since the creature's first appearance but it was probably closer to an hour, three at most if he was lucky. Still, it took a while for his brain to piece together the bits of memory enough to answer. "I...I was thinking about magic." He could see the moment: Richard and Ghost Diggory talking about something, his gaze drifting away, them calling his attention back. "I was thinking..." He focused on the point just before he returned his attention back to the ghosts, tried to remember what he had been thinking, what had spurred on his thought process. He opened his eyes. "I was wondering what it would be like to sense magic like Richard had." He met the entity's gaze. "I wanted to be able to see it but it was more a flight of fancy rather than a true desire."
The entity smirked. "Oh?" It swam closer and jabbed a finger into his chest. "Your heart said otherwise." His hand splayed over the point of contact as he took a sluggish step backwards. That smirk turned into a grin. "You want to be magic, just like all the others that make it here."
He shook his head vehemently. "No, I don't. I want to be able to work with it better, sure - to understand it more - but that doesn't mean I want to become magic. I just want to understand and work with it. Nothing more."
The entity's grin only seemed to grow. "You're lying."
"Enough," a sharp voice cut through. It was a stark contrast to the entity's voice and sent a shiver down his spine. "It is midnight, Hallelujah. You are not supposed to be out and about anymore."
Well there went his assumption to how long it had been since the creature had first arrived.
The entity before him rolled about in the water swimming a few paces away as it moaned. "Aw, why can't I have fun with this one? You wouldn't even let me see the last one."
"Hallelujah," the voice warned and the entity flinched.
"Ok, ok," it urged, swimming away as quickly as it was able to manage.
He lost sight of it in a matter of seconds. The entity was far faster than anything he had ever seen in the water and was glad he wasn't alone with it anymore.
Another entity - this one nearly ten times the size of the original entity - slowly came into view from behind him. It swam over his head to settle a good twenty feet in front of him. "Please excuse Hallelujah's behavior. They should not have been able to greet you in the first place and that falls upon me."
He dismissed the apology with an ambiguous hand flail and pleading expression. "As long as my companions are not trapped in any crystal - their own or a foreign one - there is nothing to forgive."
Day 08: Running Wild
The entity gave him a soft smile, though it was more of an impression of an expression than actually seeing one. The entity before him didn't really have a face, similar to how it didn't really have a body. "They are not, I assure you."
The entity moved with a gesture reminiscent of one waving their arm except it wasn't made with anything he would outright classify as an arm.
And just like that, Richard and Ghost Diggory were at his side again.
He looked to Ghost Diggory first to find the ghost frowning at the entity before them. A gasp from Richard drew in attention and he turned in time to see the ghost sink to his knees.
"Magic," the man breathed, eyes wide in supposed wonder.
Ghost Diggory reacted to that word, though Diggory had missed what exactly that reaction had been as the other ghost muttered, "No. It's not possible."
"I don't understand." Despite every eye turning to him, he only felt confusion. "I thought magic was just an energy of the world, a part of everything."
The entity chuckled and it sent a thrill of fear down Diggory's back. The entity drifted closer but still remained some distance away. "I am glad Egos sent you to me. It has been too many years since he found someone so willing to be wrong."
"Egos?" Diggory parroted as the two ghosts pressed closer on either side.
The entity's gaze flickered up over his head, a smile spreading across a faceless expression confirming, "Egos,"
"It has been too long, Arcane."
Diggory's gaze snapped over his shoulder and found he had to look up to see all of what had appeared behind him. There, floating in the water no higher than a foot off the floor, was another entity. This one was equally large but instead of being ethereal and looking more like smoke than actual substance, this new entity was very clearly made of some substance - be it glass, ice. or a crystal of some sort - that looked far too fragile to even move without cracking.
"I don't understand," Diggory repeated.
"Diggoy," Richard softly urged, gripping at his upper arm a bit too tight. "That's the embodiment of the Crystal Heart, the sentience granted from exposures to so many souls," Richard's words stalled as he glanced at the other entity, "and magic."
"That is mostly accurate, yes," Magic confirmed, "but Egos and I existed long before there was sentient life on this planet."
Egos hummed in thought. "Though I wouldn't say I am an embodiment of the Crystal Heart so much as the Crystal Heart is a physical manifestation of me."
"Oh please," Richard chided. Egos actually flinched at that as the ghost berated him. "You had no problem with letting everyone know that you were not pleased with where you were at. If it were a physical manifestation of yours, you would not have it be be a crystal shaped into a heart."
"He's not wrong," Arcane agreed.
The amusement from those that understood what was going on was contagious and Diggory found himself grinning as Egos seemed torn between going after Richard's comment or countering Arcane's.
There was never a chance for the entity to decide.
Everyone turned their attention on the strange creature that had led Diggory to the this strange place. Arcane appeared at the creature's side, rubbing at its snout. Egos seemed to frown at the creature's arrival. "Is that...is that Ayadezur?"
"It is," Arcane offered mournfully. "Things have taken a turn for the worse, Egos. I'm glad you are here now."
Egos shook his head. "This is not possible. Ayadezur was untouchable, especially to mortal and magic-aided hands. Why-how did he end up like that?"
Arcane's gaze landed on Diggory. "There were a few that can."
A flicker of a thought and the answer was beyond his lips before he could figure out why.
"What?" Richard barked as Ghost Diggory shook his head, rushing, "That's not-if the manifestations of lore and existence say that there is no one that can touch that creature, not even the Professor could."
Diggory swallowed thickly before looking over at Ghost Diggory. "But I can." Where the silence would normally ring in his ears, the water rushed around his layer of protection instead. He kept going. "If I wanted to, I could touch...whatever they had called that creature. I could touch its hide and injure it more if I wanted to." He met Arcane's steady gaze. "The Professor is the same way, aren't they."
What counted as Arcane's head dipped in acknowledgement.
"But are they like me? Is the Professor artificial like me?"
Arcane focused on petting the long fur around the creature's neck. "If they are, I cannot tell. They work with magic in such a way, it makes me too drunk with it all to even care enough to check. Any time I managed to get close enough with the resolve of making them stop, they would do something so glorious, I would forget why I had even appeared till after I had already returned."
"Have they seen you like this?" Ghost Diggory asked. "Do they know of your existence like we do now?"
Arcane curled closer to the creature, offering meekly, "No. I have never shown myself to them as I have you."
"But what does it matter what they are?" Richard challenged. "Mortal, magic-aided, or artificial, they are clearly a threat to all now and must be stopped."
"And how would you suggest we go up against someone we know nothing about beyond an alias and the fact that their touch with magic is far greater than anything we have dealt with before?" Ghost Diggory countered.
Diggory gave a breathy laugh. "You don't." He was starting to get used to everyone looking at him expecting something - great or otherwise - from him. Parts of him still yearned for those days in the world the Other had crafted. "Or, more accurately, you can't."
Day 09: The sky is mine
"An enemy you know nothing about will outmaneuver you and overpower you even if they were far weaker than you were." He took a step forward, his hands going out to either side. "If we are going to go up against the Professor, then we need to come up with a plan starting with gaining more information about them."
"And how would you suggest starting?" Richard inquired.
Diggory glanced at him before looking to Arcane. "Could you take me to him?"
Arcane blinked at him. "Right now?"
Diggory laughed. "No, no. I still want to learn about magic and be able to work with it differently before confronting whoever this Professor is. It will take time for me to get a grip on all of it anyways and the more time I have, the better." He looked to Ghost Diggory and Richard. "But I am also very aware of how little time we have. If I truly want to make any impact on how things go from here, I will have to learn a lot very quickly otherwise the Professor will make their move before I get the chance to do anything."
The silence that followed was a contemplative one.
After a moment, Richard clarified, "You have intentions of confronting the Professor face to face."
"And what if you can't get others to help you?" He turned, focusing on Ghost Diggory. The other's gaze was determined even as he continued, "What if when we get back, you have no one to rely on?"
"Certainly Neryk and Jamie will be-"
"And if they aren't?" The pause was heavy but Ghost Diggory did not let it last long. "No matter the reason why, what are you going to do if they cannot help you?"
It wasn't an easy question and there wasn't any real answer he could give that didn't sound like a cop out. Still, he found himself answering, "Then I figure out how to do it on my own before trying to get help."
"You have some idea of what you want to do, though," Egos pointed out.
Diggory nodded. "The only way we're going to get any proper intel on the Professor is by personally being there and collecting it."
"You want to get within arm’s reach of this supposed Professor?" Ghost Diggory challenged.
"Yes." The following silence was heavy and he let it stretched for far longer than he needed it to. The dramatics were amusing at least as he added, "I want to get in and work beside them as you did with this Professor."
Richard shook his head when Diggory gestured at him. "The two situations are different, Diggory."
"But the outcome is the same." A pained look crossed Richard's face and he pressed on, "Look, if I can get in and get close, if nothing else, I might just get a conversation with the Professor and maybe solve things that way. We know nothing about this new Professor and if we go in blind, I can almost guarantee that it'll all be for naught. Getting in close - regardless of how that looks - is the only way I see about getting what we need."
Ghost Diggory looked away with a sharp noise of disapproval. Richard, though, looked to be giving Diggory's words actual thought. The older ghost met his curious gaze. "You certain this will work?"
Diggory offered him a soft smile. "Whether it does or doesn't, I believe it's our best bet at taking the Professor down." He looked to Arcane. "But before I can get close, I need to understand what is inside and around me before learning how to work with and amplify all of it. If I can't get magic use reintegrated into my subconscious, I don't think things would pass as well as they could."
"So all you want to learn is control?"
Arcane’s faceless expression betrayed their confusion. He shrugged. "In the beginning, sure. But all of this is so much more than simply becoming proficient in magic. I want to be able to sense it as Richard had, to be able to see it on some level connecting everything together. That way, when I do use magic, I don’t overuse or get lost in magic. As much as the sky is mine to explore and conquer, I don't want to get beyond my limits and come crashing back to Earth to never get back up again. I just want to be me with a better view of things. That's it. If more comes from this than that, then it would be more of a success than I had ever intended."
He got the impression Arcane was smiling at him again. "I can help with that."
"We both can," Egos added.
Diggory smiled up at him. "You're not obliged to help me. I don't want to impose on you."
Egos chuckled. "Please. This will be the most fun I've had in centuries."
"Exaggeration," Arcane cut in, amused.
Egos ignored the other entity. "Besides, if Arcane is willing to teach you, then it would be best if I got in on this and teach you what Arcane can't. That way you truly learn everything you can from us."
Diggory grinned at both of them. “Then where do we start?”
It was all she could do not to shoot the idiots around her. In fact, she was starting to contemplate taking herself out instead just to simplify matters. The chaos that would ensue afterwards would be oh so pleasing. The only reason she didn’t follow through was the thought of missing the fallout.
Shame. It would seem she was left with entertaining herself with simply running through the number of people present to see who would be far more enjoyable to take out over others.
“Shouldn’t we be considering the opposite?” a young male spoke up, leaning forward trying to cut through the idiocy. Brendan Hash was a good man and at the bottom of her morbid list.
Day 10: Jeremy
“We can’t just dive in assuming the worse. There is always the chance it could be for what they perceive as the greater good.”
“Oh please,” one of the old farts spoke up. She glared at said old fart but he either didn’t notice or was too stupid to be affected by it. Unfortunately his stupidity didn’t put him at the top of his list, but she was tempted. The fallout from his death just wouldn’t be quite the same, though. “There is nothing that can be good with the actions they are taking.”
At the other end of the table, though, was a man that had himself at the top of her list since the day she had met him. Only reason she hadn’t shot him yet was because there were at least three armed personnel that were far too loyal to him for her to live long enough to enjoy the pandemonium that would follow.
Valcor Credence was a man of great power and greater ego. He was highly intelligent and if it wasn’t for clear evidence he wasn’t the Professor, she would have taken him out years ago. Unfortunately for her, Valcor was also very popular to those that follow like sheep and, while she hated him on several things beyond principal, he wasn’t an overly bad guy.
Didn’t make him good either.
“It doesn’t matter,” Valcor spoke, the words rolling off his tongue so smoothly, everyone immediately quieted down. She hated him for that too. “Until this ‘Professor’ character shows himself, we are left with nothing more than speculation.” The man looked right at her, a condescending smile on his lips. “So, my question is: why are we wasting our time and resources on a person we don’t even know properly exists?”
That had another riot of arguments go up, though it was more shouting than it was proper conversations held at much too loud of volumes. Valcor seemed unaffected but he had yet to release her gaze. She held his with as flat of an expression as she could manage.
Her eye twitched when he broke eye contact because he happened to chuckle. He stood from his chair but not even his sheep noticed. He gestured to the side in a way she recognized as him wanting to speak. She obliged him and went equally unnoticed as she stood up and followed him down the service hallway.
It was so far into the night that it was now the early hours of the next day leaving the hallway barren. The silence was almost as deafening as the chaos in the conference room they had just vacated, the sound of their shoes softly connecting with the hard floor the only sound filling the space.
“How’s Jeremy?” she inquired, letting the world around them swallow her words. As much as she didn’t want anything to do with this man, she was obliged to at least keep face.
“Missing his mother but doing well,” Valcor offered in turn. “He gets to get his license next week so he’s excited about that.”
“And giving you white hair in the process?” she chuckled.
He laughed at that and, for a moment, she could almost see the man not being quite such an asshole. Almost. “Please. He is a good learner and does well behind the wheel. I am far less concerned about him as I am for him.”
She frowned at that. “Reckless drivers, then?”
Valcor nodded and despite the soft smile on his face, sorrow clouded his eyes. “It is still hard to think she succumbed to such events. I can’t help but fear the same is in store for my son.”
“The odds aren’t that high,” she spoke. She didn’t believe the words and wasn’t surprised when Valcor didn’t either.
“They weren’t for her either, and yet here we are.”
They lapsed into silence again.
This way and that they twisted their way through the complex. From one hallway to the next they went till they were as far from the conference room as they could get. Valcor opened the door to some unused room and gestured for her to enter first.
She obliged him.
It was small, which surprised her, but the view beyond the windows was a smattering of lights of the surrounding city, filling the darkness of night with artificial stars of varying colors. She pressed her hand against the glass just to know where the barrier was as she looked towards the dark sky above. She knew there were no clouds obscuring the real stars but the light of the city blotted them out.
She was mildly surprised when Valcor joined her at the window and it only increased when he started to speak.
“Why are you so adamant about this Professor fellow?”
She rolled her eyes. “I have told you many times why, Valcor. You shouldn’t need to ask that question.”
Valcor turned, pressing the back of his shoulder to the glass as he crossed his arms. “But he’s a magic user, Jamie. Those are becoming fewer and fewer as time passes.
She shook her head, adamant as she reiterated for what felt like the millionth time, “And I stand by the fact that this one cannot be permitted to continue on, not with what they are looking for.”
Valcor’s expression darkened. “You still believing the Crystal Heart nonsense that subordinate from ICARUS was spewing? Dick or whatever his name was?”
She rolled her eyes but knew he was just baiting her. She was very aware he knew exactly who he was talking about. “You trust his word just as much as I do, Val,” she offered softly, suddenly too tired to deal with any of his crap. “He was just as important to you as he was to me and for whatever reason, the only other one that even remembers him.”
Silence filled the room and it was all she could do to not look at him.
“Where did we go wrong?”
Day 11: West Covina
She wasn’t sure if she wanted to laugh or cry. “If you want my honest opinion: West Covina.”
Valcor sighed and she found herself back too many years into the past to be comfortable. She pressed her forehead against the glass in hopes it would freeze her thoughts before they delved too far into the past.
Long, sleepless, breathtaking nights filled her mind anyways.
“In my honest opinion?” Valcor offered quietly. “Newmont.”
She pulled away from the window, unable to not frown at him. He wasn’t looking at her. “Newmont?” she parroted.
“Our not so smooth breakup.”
The memories slammed into her hard enough to cause her to hiss. “Oh,” She ground out. “That.” She shook her head and stepped back from the window. “Why did you even cheat on me, Val? Was it something I did? Something that I couldn’t appease?”
Valcor pushed away from the window as well and his hands came up to hover between them like the man was either fighting to not touch her or wasn’t even aware he wanted to. “It was my own hubris, my own flaws I never wanted to see. I know that a large amount of the anger you hold from me stems from that night-“
“More like everything you did that night on,” she commented snidely.
He pressed on with a shake of his head. “And to be perfectly honest, I have thoroughly enjoyed every banter we’ve had since simply to see you so passionate again.”
Her eyes narrowed accusingly. “When have I ever been not passionate about anything? I created this organization and have led it into what it is now.”
“But I remember the distant look you had, how separate you kept yourself. It wasn’t till Diggory arrived that you changed and suddenly the fire you were portraying to everyone was now burning in your eyes. There was so much more to every action now that people started to notice and started listening more.” Valcor’s shoulders sank a little. “It’s why I made an effort to get to know him.”
“Oh please,” she spat. “You did it just to get at me.”
He dipped his head. “On some level, yes. But truly? I wanted to know who had brought your spark back.” He chuckled. “I half expected it to be a lover, honestly.”
She smacked his arm.
He just laughed.
“Did you know that I hadn’t really given him the light of day before the incident because I thought that was what he was looking for?” she admitted, breaking the brief silence that had settled over them.
“Isn’t he a good number of years younger than you?” he asked, frowning.
She laughed and the sound was almost bittersweet. “That’s what I had thought, too. Fortunately he made it very clear when we had met in private and the disaster that befell us before we could even finish speaking that he was just looking for my trust and guidance. He wanted to show me that despite not having a history, he was worth something to take a risk on.”
Valcor nodded. “Glad you did. He’s certainly been of use.”
She gave a snort of a laugh, a smirk curling her lips. “And then some.” She looked back out the window. “But you were not wrong when you said he changed me. I certainly remember feeling far more alive than I had in years keeping an eye on him, trusting him with things I couldn’t trust others with and watching him prove himself time and time again. I was amazed by him and driven to make sure there was a world where he could fit in when the organization was no longer needed.”
Her gaze flickered to his reflection as he turned his gaze out the window as well. “You believe that whoever this Professor is, is a threat to that world. Truly believe that.”
“With every fiber of my being,” she informed him. “As much as I would love to follow the evidence stating the Professor is nothing more than a minor threat – even if I believe the evidence isn’t wrong – the threat of the Crystal Heart is very real.”
The window reflected Valcor’s frown well, even enhanced it in some ways. “Isn’t it just lore? Fantasy?”
She shook her head. “If it was, I wouldn’t think much of the warning as most of you have.” She looked at him sideways. “But just as you have, I too have read almost every piece on the Crystal Heart out of equal parts of curiosity and necessity. And despite how often they treat it all as some fairy tale to scare children or some sort of warning against absolute power but we’ve both read texts that have stated it with such surety that the possibility of it actually being real is far greater than either of us would like.”
Silence settled over them and she made no move to break it. The ball was in his court now and she felt no need to pressure him when there was no one to disturb them.
“Why West Covina?” Valcor softly inquired.
A tight smile pulled at her lips at that one. She wasn’t surprised by the change of topic but she was amused that he hadn’t figured it out.
“Guess,” she said in lieu of a true answer.
She nodded and her expression hardened. “It had never been my intent to send him into a situation that he would become MIA. Otherwise I would have sent someone else, a different team. That situation was never meant to become the disaster it had turned into.”
“Why not Brethdin?”
She gave a breathy laugh as she stepped to face him again. “Because despite how much of a dick you are now and how high you are on my shit list now because of it, I have never been able to bring myself to regret those years together. Oh, I regretted ever becoming so intimate but I still cherish every moment.”
Day 12: House of Sleep
He shifted his weight in the mud trying to get realigned. Not that it mattered; with his arm outstretched towards the target, he let magic have at it in a way that was become very familiar very quickly.
When the smoke cleared, a piece at the upper left of the target was missing.
Egos gave a pleased hum but the entity’s voice was still sharp as they barked, “Again."
The target repaired itself.
Diggory didn’t give it a chance to finish the process – didn’t even give himself enough time to keep his footing – before he was firing at it again. The mud came up and cradled him before the smoke cleared.
There wasn’t a target left.
“Better,” Egos spoke. The entity made no move to help him up. Diggory didn’t ask for it. “Again.”
Either the old target repaired itself or Egos had gotten a new target. Either way, it returned to the same place.
He didn’t even worry about outstretching his arm this time. Over and over he had worked to take out the target and all the magic work left him exhausted, the new layer of mud making what was on him feel like cement, and it wasn’t like it was a necessity anyways. Egos had told him it was a way to focus on the target better bur wasn’t a necessary way of focusing magic. So he did without this time. He turned an exhausted gaze onto the target and sent magic its way without any other motion.
He collapsed to his knees in the mud before the attack even connected.
The smoke cleared, leaving the area barren.
“Excellent,” Egos appraised. The entity looked down on him. “It seems you can learn this faster than what would be considered normal.”
He hoped he would be able to do it again as his arms shook under his weight.
Diggory gave a half hearted chuckle. “Oh. That’s good. For a second there I thought I wasn’t going to get anywhere.”
“Compared to what’s in front of you, that wasn’t much,” Egos informed him.
He sent the entity a soft smile. “I figured as much. What next?”
He looked behind him to find Arcane had joined them at some point. It took a bit of struggling but he managed to pull himself out of the mud. “I can still keep going.”
He attempted to take a step to the side but one foot sank in the mud and the other got caught in it. He pitched in the wrong direction but instead of the mud coming up to greet him softly, it was Arcane.
"And yet your body needs rest, Diggory," Arcane chided softly. "You are asking it to do things beyond its original level and pushing it too far too quickly will shatter it."
He pressed into the entity's warm presence finding it hard to argue. "Just a few more times," he found himself asking as compromise. "I just managed to hit the target without having to keep my hand out as a focus."
Arcane chuckled and the sound reminded him of haunting bells tolling. "It is time for rest, Diggory. Though, if it appeases you, it will be just as informative as your session with Egos."
The mentioned entity shifted and Diggory tried to look back at Egos only to find himself far too weak to do much more than turn his head. "Arcane, you can't be serious expecting him to handle the House of Sleep this soon."
"House of Sleep?" he parroted.
His question went unanswered as Arcane responded, "If he cannot handle it now, he will not be able to handle any other lessons I may have for him, nor yours."
Egos scoffed. "The number of mortals that have gotten lost in there-"
"Mean nothing when it comes to the individual," Arcane cut in, the words final before softer words followed. "I do not believe Diggory is in any more harm doing this now than he is doing any of your lessons."
Another scoff, only softer. "Fair enough. If he does not return, though-"
"He was not meant to be here, regardless of all the training we could have given him," Arcane cut in once more, but her words were heavy with grief and he feared what they were talking about.
"Am I in any real danger?" he voiced meekly.
Arcane adjusted how he was held till his own two feet were underneath him properly and supporting his weight even in the relenting mud. "If you are strong enough, no, but there is little we can do to prepare you for this. As much as we speak of seeming absolutes, each person that rests in the House of Sleep experiences something different."
He frowned at that. "So I could just get a restful sleep?"
Arcane beamed at him. "Yes. It is possible nothing more than proper sleep happens."
That helped and he returned the expression. "So where is this House of Sleep, then?"
"Closer than you think," Egos supplied as he lost Arcane's touch.
"Oh? How so?"
An icy wind slammed into him and he stumbled against the torrent of snow that came with it. He clenched his eyes shut and threw up his arms in a desperate attempt to keep most of the sudden storm off of his face. It didn't work but at least he had enough shelter to peak an eye open. Wherever he was now was completely different from the city at the bottom of the lake. Even the training field Egos had created by pushing back the water and creating a dome of air had still been in the heart of the city. This place was completely black beyond what of the snow he could see but without a proper light, he couldn't see much around himself to begin with.
His foot slipped off of some edge. His heart leapt in his throat as he screamed reaching for anything to save him.
He couldn't feel any magic.
Day 13: Center of the Universe
He found himself slowly waking as suddenly as the storm had pressed in on him. He could hear a fire crackling, smell the burning wood, even feel the warmth of the room on his face but sight didn't return. He even went as far as placing a hand over an eye to make sure his eyes were even open. The motion hurt, every part of him screaming in displeasure at his decision but at least he knew he was just simply blindfolded. Not that it was easy to tell. It seemed there was something dulling the senses in his hand but he couldn't quite place what that meant.
"Ah! Don't do that!"
An unfamiliar voice cut through the ambiance of the room as hands he didn't recognize carefully wrapped around his arm. This new person carefully returned his arm to his side, burying it under the blanket with the rest of his body. "If you move too much, you'll undo all of my hard work."
He tried to frown but things on his face pulled in odd ways leaving him to wonder if he had managed the expression or not. He tried to speak but the best he got was opening and closing his mouth before a single, "Work?" was croaked out.
"Yes, work," the stranger replied. He wondered if they had rolled their eyes. In his head they had, it had sounded right. "I patched you up and stitched you back together after I found you out in the middle of that snow storm." Something soft smacked into the side of his head. It sent a pulse of a headache through his temples. The headache remained even after the initial spike. "What were you thinking wandering out in the middle of a blizzard with nothing to guide you? Were you looking for death or something?"
"N-no," he croaked this time. "Just...ended up there."
"Bullshit," the stranger shot back. There was the sound of a liquid being poured into a cup of some sort though it was partially muffled by the soft thing still pressed against the side of his face. "No one just suddenly appears in the heart of a blizzard without even the smallest bit of protection." Something oddly shaped yet round enough to consider as cylinder like slipped under his shoulders and pulled him into a sitting position. The hiss against the sudden flare of pain was involuntary. "I know," the stranger softly urged in his ear. Something pressed against his lips. "Here, have some water. Drink it slowly or I'll feed the water to you with a spoon."
He huffed out a chuckle. Every little pain he had spiked from it. "What kind of spoon?" he managed around the edge of the cup.
The stranger huffed at him in return, tipping the cup higher so that cool water rushed into his mouth. He swallowed the mouthfuls greedily. "A teaspoon if I can find one." The cup was pulled away from his lips. He tried to not whine after it. "This place is an absolute dump."
"Are we not where you live?" he asked as he was laid back down.
The stranger laughed. "Highest, no. I live nowhere near here and even if I did live here, this place would not be this bad." There was movement somewhere behind him. "No. I'm just bumming off this place till you're good enough to take care of yourself. Then I'm back on the road to my proper destination."
Again, a laugh, but there was a note of tension to it that had him expecting a lie.
"Why would I tell you?"
He relaxed. Omission he could do but for some reason being told a lie seemed like the worst thing for the time being. A soft smile pulled at his face as the frown had; it didn't sit right but it was good enough as he replied, "You don't have to. Was just curious."
The crackling of the fire filled the room. Whatever the stranger was doing, it created no noise.
"You're strange, you know that?" the stranger pointed out, suddenly making noise again.
He jumped when they started talking but smiled even more. "Yeah, kind of aware of that. Sorry."
The soft thing still against his face moved away only to smack into the other side of his face. "What are you apologizing for?" the stranger almost demanded sounding flabbergasted and frustrated at the same time.
He chuckled. The pain still spiked but he thought it seemed less than last time. "I'm sorry."
The soft thing smacked him in the face again. He laughed at they half shouted, "Quit apologizing!"
"Sorry," he urged between gasps, everything hurting as he laughed with a massive grin on his face.
"Quit it!" they squealed and he only laughed harder.
He wasn't sure when he fell asleep but he was fairly certain it hadn't been long after his laughter had sputtered out. He woke to aches and pains unlike his first awakening in that unknown space but, from the sounds of it, he was still there. Unfortunately, he felt a lot worse than he had when he had first woken. He flinched when something cold pressed against his forehead. He wanted to bat it away but his arms felt like lead.
"Hey," the stranger offered softly in greeting. "Welcome back."
"I feel awful," he ground out, making a face as best he could.
"I'm sure." The stranger moved away, speaking as they started digging through something. "You have a fever. Several of your injuries have - hopefully - mild infections."
"Hopefully?" he parroted.
The stranger hummed an affirmation. "I'm not a doctor so I couldn't tell you but there's no puss or anything like that from the injuries. They're all just red." They prodded his side, albeit gently. "Don't expect everything to be magically fixed for you. You're not the center of the universe."
That pulled an endearing smile to his face. "An unfortunate fact that keeps smacking me in the face."
Day 14: Holy Diver
The soft thing bopped him in the side of the face again but its touch was faint. "As it should," the stranger agreed, though the words seemed tight.
He wanted to reach out, to catch their hand and give it a comforting squeeze, but just the intention itself seemed to drain whatever strength had him staying awake. Sleep washed over him like waves on the shore, tugging at him as it receded urging him to follow. He stood fast as best he could against its lull. "So what happened?" he inquired.
"What do you mean?"
"After all of my apologies and the laughter," he elaborated, wondering if they were faking the confusion. "You sound...hesitant. Like you see me as more fragile now, or something."
The silence in the room seemed to thicken around him as if the fire died down in anticipation for the stranger's response. Oh how he wished he could see their face right now - even if it didn't divulge anything, at least he could be able to get a glimpse of what they were thinking more than what he could glean from their words alone.
"Nothing happened," the stranger spoke. The words were heavy in the silence that wouldn't recede and they coiled in him like a toxin.
Why was there a weight on his chest pinning him down and preventing him from breathing properly?
"Yer'a Liar," he managed to speak.
"Holy diver?" the stranger asked, the words sharp in their confusion.
"No," he urged, the one word taking what air he had left. He sucked in another breath as best he could, repeating with fewer words, "Liar."
The weight on his chest got abruptly heavier and he lost what breath he had managed to take in.
"Why does it matter?" the stranger ground out. Their voice sounded distant.
He swallowed and tried to take in a deep breath.
The thing on his chest wouldn't move.
"Because I can't see," he pointed out, the words barely more than a breath. "I can't...." He sucked in what air he could get. "I can't see. I can't tell how bad any of my injuries are."
The silence enveloped him but the weight on his chest didn't increase. He wasn't sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing he couldn't reach up and find out if something was truly on his chest.
"You..." Their words stalled out. He waited. "You had some sort of fit. It...it made a number of your injuries worse."
The weight eased but it was minute and he wanted to shove at it. "How so?"
Not literally, thankfully, but something in the air gave and the weight on his chest became half what it was as the stranger suddenly moved. It sounded like whatever they had been sitting on fell over. "Why should I tell you? Why am I even here?! I should have up and ditched you here the moment I found you! Should have kept going but no! I had to stop and drag your frozen ass out of the snow, patch up injuries I know nothing about tending, and then watch you suddenly go through some fit that scared me half to death for who knew what reason on both accounts that made everything worse!"
The stranger's breathing was ragged and he wondered if the same weight on his chest was constricting theirs. "You can leave," he informed them. "I'm not keeping you here."
The stranger scoffed at him. "Like I'm going to leave you in your current state. Can you even lift a finger?"
His eyebrows rose in surprise. "Well, yes-"
"Your hand?" the stranger barked, cutting him off.
He offered a tired, amused smile. "No, but that doesn't mean you have to stay here."
There was an odd thunking sound and for a moment he couldn't place what it was. "I'm not going to leave you just so you can die."
He settled on it being them righting their seat. "I won't die if you remove whatever's covering my eyes for me."
That heavy silence came back and some of the weight returned.
"Removing the wrappings won't bring back your sight," the stranger offered heavily.
Even with how much weight left at that, he still couldn't seem to get his breath back. "What?" he finally gasped out. "Why?"
Why couldn't he seem to breathe?
"Because it's already off."
His arms twitched in his sudden desire to feel the truth but the stranger was a step ahead of him pinning his arms against the mattress. He wasn't sure what left his throat but his eyes burned and his face stung and it was all he could do to try and shake the stranger off.
He woke slowly this time in every sense of the word. He couldn't remember falling unconscious but the fire was still crackling where it had been crackling the last two times. There was a shuffling before the sound of footfall on wood informed him someone was approaching his bedside.
"Welcome back," the stranger offered weakly.
It would seem they were still alone as far as he could tell.
"Why do you say that?" he asked, his voice hoarse.
More sounds of the stranger moving about - something scrapping against a wood surface briefly. A few clinking sounds and then something was pressed to his lips. A few meager drops of water slipped into his mouth. It wasn't till after the second spoonful that the stranger actually answered.
"I'm not really sure. Just seems fitting."
When the spoonfuls stopped, he let the stranger put the water down before asking, "So how bad is it?"
The stranger released a breath but he couldn't tell if it had been a laugh or a sigh. "You're going to have to be more specific. Or at least tell me where to start."
"My eyes," he clarified. "They had been wrapped before."
"Yes, but they're not damaged like that." There was shifting beside him. Cold fingers brushed over raw skin.
Day 15: Becoming insane
He shuddered at the sensation. "There's a nasty cut that missed both your eyes that I couldn't bandage normally." The stranger moved away. "I have it uncovered right now because I didn't want to freak you out with your eyes covered again."
"I appreciate the consideration," he offered in turn. "Then my sight?"
There was a brief pause as if they had physically responded to his question first. "I'm not a doctor."
"Best guess?" they repeated like they weren't sure what he had asked. "Best guess would have to be you hit your head on something. I've heard its possible to lose your sight from hitting your head but I've never seen it actually happen."
Diggory gave a soft smile. "Sounds like a good enough theory to me."
The stranger scoffed. "Some theory you're trusting, half baked by both of us."
He wanted to shrug. "Unless you have any other theories that work better, I'm good with going with the one that doesn't sound overly permanent."
He didn't realize there was a pause in their conversation till the stranger informed him, "It might not come back."
He swallowed the urge to scream. "But it coul also come back."
"Yeah," the stranger agreed weakly. "It could."
"But I shouldn't hold my breath."
The stranger gave a huff of a chuckle. "Probably not."
The crackling fire filled the silence between them. He was surprised when they didn't say anything or get up to do something. But he wasn't strong enough to stay awake and he found himself falling asleep.
"Do you have a name?"
He took in a breath to wake himself back up. "Diggory," he offered simply. A slight weight pressed against his chest. He ammended, "But it was a name I was given, borrowed from another. So, not really."
The weight left. The stranger huffed. "I'm gonna call you Roy, then."
"Roy?" Not that he was complaining. His current name could be a mouthful and he could see where they had gotten 'Roy' from. Least it wasn't 'Alex' or something outlandish like that.
"Why not? It's short, it's easy, and it suits you so much better."
A smile pulled at the corners of his lips at the teasing undertone. "I don't know. I think Diggory suits me quite well."
"I could call you Dick," the stranger retaliated,
He flinched from that, laughing. Pain flared all throughout his body. "Please no."
"Then put up with Roy."
"What do I call you in turn?"
Silence greeted his question. The longer it stretched, the stronger his apprehension grew.
He licked his lips before offering softly, "You don't-"
His words stumbled to a halt as his brain took in the word. "Iro?" he lamely parroted.
"It's some random word I know from some place too far for you to have visit. It's nothing important but certainly easy enough to remember."
Something pressed into his chest. He thought it was rather similar to the strange pressure that had pressed into him when the stranger wouldn't tell him about his injuries. It also informed him as to why he had been apprehensive to lies that first wake up. Somehow he knew what would happen without it actually happening till later.
Somehow he knew calling the stranger a liar again wasn't going to help this time. "What does it mean?"
The stranger brushed his question away. "I don't remember."
The weight on his chest increased. "You wouldn't have chosen it without reason," he coaxed.
The silence was only broken by the fire.
He frowned as the weight vanished. "Why do you want me to call you 'fake'?"
The stranger chuckled. "It's accurate."
The weight didn't return.
"Alright. Iro, then." He shifted deeper into the mattress only to hiss when it caused him pain. "Do you have a story?"
"A story?" the stranger - Iro - repeated, incredulous. "I'm not telling you a bedtime story."
He laughed. "No, no. A life story: how you got here, what keeps you going, tales of friends and family."
"Oh." There was some shifting at the side of his bed. "Not one that's interesting."
He grinned. "Neither is mine but I'd happily share if that's what you want in return."
The stranger leaned back. "There's no way I'm not becoming insane if I'm actually considering telling you."
He shrugged out of reaction rather than thinking about it and shied away from the sudden flare of pain. "I'm a stranger," he ground out. As the pain faded, he found it easier to relax and his voice reflected that ease. "It's easier to tell your life story to someone you'll probably never see again."
Iro hummed but he couldn't tell if they were agreeing with him or just taking the information in. "Tell me yours first."
Diggory gained a thoughtful look as he started too dredge up memories. "I don't remember any childhood but my adult years were rather secluded. As far as any family goes, they either never existed for me in the first place or abandoned me early on in whatever form that could have been, their choice or otherwise."
"I'm sorry," Iro muttered, the words oddly heavy. "That's....not having family can be hard."
Madam Jasmine - Jamie popped into his head and he found himself replying, "It was but that didn't stop others from all but adopting me as part of what they considered family." Neryk popped into his head too. "I learned from them how to choose my own family."
Iro hummed, agreeing with him. "Sometimes we have to make our own families."
With as much care as he could manage, he rolled his head in the other's direction. "Personal experience?"he asked, a playful smile on his face as his serious question held a teasing undertone.
The soft thing was back, colliding oh so gently with the side of his face. "It wasn't like the family that bore me wanted to keep me around."
Unlike his teasing, the humor in their statement was used as a defensive tactic.
Day 16: Big in Japan
It pulled at his heart and it was all he could do to fight the urge to reach blindly for them in hopes of conveying physical comfort. "Certainly they weren't that cold-hearted," he tried.
Iro gave a bark of a laugh. "Oh please. The instant I showed anything outside the norm, they kicked me to the curb with nothing to my name and no way of making it in a world that hated me for being different. I scraped by, surviving for far too long till I could get back up on my feet and show them just how different I could be. I had plans of rewriting the world order so that no one else would ever have to go through the same thing I did. Never."
Diggory couldn't find words to offer, nothing to soothe the pain he hadn't realized he could cause with a simple inquiry. He should have left it be and yet he couldn't bring himself to feel overly bad about it. If nothing else, he now knew a bit more about his stranger of a companion.
"Did you ever make it?" he asked softly. "Did you ever get your plans to come to fruition?"
There was a brief moment of silence filled by the crackling of the fire. Without being able to see, he couldn't tell what kind of silence it was.
"Not yet. There's still so much to do but it's getting there."
He offered a smile. "I'm glad."
Another weird silence.
He hummed his question.
"Why are you glad? So many people are fighting me every step of the way."
"Because I believe in your intention, of making the world a better place for those that aren't part of the norm; of creating a world that supported everyone, not just those that have claimed themselves as perfection."
This time he could tell the silence was strained but he couldn't find words to fill it.
"You really don't know who I am, do you, Diggory?"
Diggory turned his head but without any sight, it was instinctual motion. "I could guess," he offered with a soft smile. "After all, Arcane and Egos were both wary of the House of Sleep, of what could happen within."
"So who am I?" Diggory found his tongue heavy but Iro was having none of it. "Diggory. Who am I?"
He took a deep breath but there was no strange weight on his chest as he replied, "I wish I could actually see. You sound so much younger than I had always assumed you would be, Professor."
Iro let out a breath, the sigh heavy but sounding oddly relieved. "That would be because I am not that old. In fact, I'm probably no older than you are despite how non-human you are."
Diggory offered a soft smile. "What gave my non-humaness away?"
He frowned. "How so?"
"Well, for one, you're actually injured. Most in this plane have some sense of control over what they look like and what they experience, despite how unconscious of it they may be. Second, the fact that you're still blind. This is nothing more than a mindscape of sorts and things like blindness, illness, and pain aren't supposed to be here." A pause, a breath, one that he found he couldn't interrupt. "Third....is how real this mindscape is. I've never been in the mindscape of another that has been so potently real that it has made me question my memories as yours has. You are either one of the most powerful beings on this planet or our harmony must be out of this world."
"Resonance? Same wavelength?" Iro offered in turn. "Magical compatibility?"
"How would that affect this?"
The other let out a breath. "Well, it would explain how this is all so real. I've normally never have to worry about injuries in mindscapes but in yours I've already pricked myself with a needle, felt the burn of ice and fire on my skin, and have felt proper exhaustion. I've gotten hungry, have had the urge to go pee, have even fallen asleep while very uncomfortable in a chair. All of these are not consistent with what I've experienced."
"And that has something to do with our magic matching?"
There was the sound of something shifting. "It's the only thing that makes sense. Beyond something outside of both of us tying us together for whatever reason."
Silence settled over them again but it was comforting. He all but dozed off by the time Iro broke the silence.
"You seriously have no hard feelings towards me just because I'm the Professor?"
Diggory let out a soft chuckle. "In all honesty, I don't even know who I'm supposed to be looking for beyond the Professor mantel. The Other did a number on my memory and despite being able to remember every memory I had with quite a bit of clarity, it tells me nothing of what I have to be watching for."
Iro hummed. "So I could be the wrong Professor, then."
"Possibly, if you're not at the top of IPPA's 'Most Wanted' list," Diggory agreed, though the words were getting heavy on his tongue as exhaustion pulled at him again. Iro hummed again. Diggory waited a moment before asking, "How many are there that use the Professor mantel for things other than teaching."
"I'm not sure of the exact number," Iro confessed. "Professor Richard's work - the first 'Professor' - his work was big in Japan, North America, Spain, and Russia at minimum. There could be numerous copycats or just one other. The only thing I know is that I'm not the only one. Whether I'm the specific one you're looking for, I couldn't tell you."
"Are you continuing Professor Richard's work?"
"With the Crystal Heart? No," Iro dismissed. "It wouldn't help me in what I want to do but it is on my radar enough for me to keep an eye out for anyone that could and would threaten my intentions."
Day 17: Take on me
"What are you intentions?" he asked, curious. "Certainly you've got more going than just simple drive to change things. You've got plans, intentions. What are they?"
"Why do you ask? Looking for a body count or something?"
Diggory found himself chuckling. "Not completely. More of if you're going to try and do this with as little bloodshed as possible."
"If I can, I will." A beat. "You do realize the moment I get going on my plans, IPPA's going to be breathing down my neck with their hands reaching for my throat, right? I'm not going to be able to get out of this alive if I try to keep all of them alive."
"I know," he assured them. "I'm more concerned about the bystanders than the ones going up against you. They know what they're getting into. The bystanders, not so much."
Iro gave a huff of a laugh. "You're an odd one, Roy. You know that?"
He grinned. "It's hard to ignore."
Iro fell silent for a moment again and Diggory found himself yawning. It hurt but it wasn't like he could keep it from happening.
"Go to sleep, Diggory," Iro urged.
His lips quirked up to a smile even as he settled more into the bed. "I thought you weren't going to call me Diggory,"
That soft thing collided with his exposed cheek. There was no power behind it so it ended up being more of a touch than a collision. "Go to sleep, smartass."
Diggory gave in immediately.
This time when he woke, he didn't feel like death warmed over.
"I have breakfast ready. You hungry?" Iro asked. The other's voice seemed oddly distant. The strangeness was quickly answered when he sniffed the air and heard the clank of a utensil against a pan. "I made breakfast."
"If there's some for me, absolutely," he readily replied. It took a bit of maneuvering - and Iro's assistance - to get propped up on some pillows. Even just trying to eat was a task within and of itself without sight. Eventually he got the hang of it but it certainly wasn't easy.
It was all worth it.
Iro was an incredible cook and he found himself contently full by the end of it all. It was when Iro was removing Diggory's plate that they asked him a question.
"Who are Arcane and Egos?"
His thoughts now more awake than they had been before food despite their well rest turned the question over. He didn't want to lie but telling him the full truth seemed dangerous. "I guess they count as my magic teachers."
"Yeah." Diggory shimmied a bit deeper into the covers and pillows. "I want to get a better understanding of magic to the point where I can feel its presence when I'm in a heavily - or not so heavily - saturated space."
"You can't do that now?"
He shook his head, mindful of the injuries he had.
"So take on me." Diggory hummed his confusion. Iro elaborated. "I'm a self taught magic user. If nothing else, it would give you some different insight and perspective when learning formally."
"Can you sense magic?"
The crackling fire filled silenced seemed thoughtful to him.
"I can see it, feel it, and work with it. I can gauge how much magic is in a person, follow the trail of magic they leave behind, and send messages along said trail."
His eyes widened even without him being able to see. "That's possible?"
Iro hummed an affirmation. "It takes a bit of work and a lot of practice, but I don't see why you couldn't be able to. Even without me being able to see your magic level now, I'm still betting on it being large.
That brought a thought to mind. "How are you going to teach me if I don't have magic here?"
"I couldn't feel it when I fell in the snowstorm."
"Hmmm." Diggory listened to Iro's chair creak. "We'll have to get you accustomed to it from the mindscape, then, first. You shouldn't be that separate from it even in here. Especially in here."
"Can I do that from the bed?"
Iro's chair creaked again. "It's the only thing you can do till your injuries are less likely to open again and I'd rather not push our luck with your health seeing as you'll be bumping into everything till you either got used to everything's location or used magic to see."
"Like a spell?"
Iro made a noise. "More like echolocation without sound or a pulse. It's a way to see with more than just sight. It is great for when you can't see, be it blind or trying to find someone in a maze."
Diggory smiled at that. "How long would that take to learn?"
"That more depends on how well you connect to your own magic. If you are able to find it and reconnect quickly, then there's a greater chance you get this just as quickly. But it's not a universal thought. Everyone has challenges with it. I had challenges with it when I was first starting and most people called me a natural when it came to anything magic related. But, in the meantime." Iro stood up. "The best way to find your magic is to search internally for it. Most people use meditation. You can do whatever suits you best. If you can get some sleep, though, that would probably be a better place to start."
He frowned even as he felt exhaustion playing at the back of his mind. "Why?"
"You still have a fever and are not quite well yet. This will be taxing in many ways - even this first part - so the better rested you are before we dive too deep, the better."
Diggory gave a bit more into the pillows and blankets. "And when I wake, you'll teach me?"
Iro chuckled. "The only reason why I would leave is if you left this mindscape. Otherwise I'm stuck here."
Day 18: Wake up dreaming
True to their word, Iro was still there when he woke and he was glad to still be in the House of Sleep. Now it was just a matter of time of how long he could wake up dreaming in that strange world Iro called a mindscape - his mindscape. That still boggled his mind.
"Welcome back," Iro greeted him from somewhere near the fire. "Ready to learn?"
Despite how ready he was, he quickly found the things Iro was having him do equal parts frustrating and exhausting as he tried to keep his balance trying to maneuver around a chair. Iro's hands were quickly becoming rather familiar.
"Easy, Roy," they urged gently. "Remember, you're still healing. This will take time to get over until you manage to take control of the mindscape."
"If I can."
Iro let out a breath. "Doubting if you ever will isn't going to help you get control."
He smiled at that. "No, it was more of the thought that this may have been constructed for me. As much as it is my mindscape, I am just as much of a guest in it as you are."
"That 'house of sleep' thing you were talking about earlier?"
He nodded. The motion threw off his balance and Iro's hands pressed into his body keeping him upright. "Arcane and Egos were not comfortable with having me experience it but both agreed that it was necessary to get it done and over with first and foremost. If I couldn't live through the House of Sleep, then there was no point in me continuing on."
He shrugged. A muscle in his back spasmed and he ignored it. "I couldn't quite tell but from what I understood to the point that I could, they were talking as if it was someplace I could get lost in to the point of never making it out again."
He ran his hand over the top piece of the chair's back taking in the grain of the wood. "I don't know. I hope so, if for nothing else other than being able to meet you properly."
Iro's touch tightened before releasing him, letting him wander the maze that the other had made while he had slept. It was hard to try and wander it without using his arms to feel his way or test the route with his foot. "We can't meet in person, Roy," Iro spoke, the words rolling like a repeated reminder while feeling heavy like regret. "That would spell disaster for both of us. I've told you as much."
A soft smile pulled at his lips. "I know, but I still want to meet you, to see you."
"You'll see me soon enough once you get the hang of this mindscape of yours."
His foot connected with some object. The only reason he didn't pitch forward past the point he could keep standing was Iro's hand suddenly clinging to the back of his shirt. They pulled, bringing him back upright as their hands splayed across his back to counter the momentum in the other direction. He pressed back against their hands as he tapped a foot along the new obstacle. It was a wall of the maze and he chose a direction.
"Still not the same," he commented.
He could practically feel Iro rolling their eyes. "Yes it is."
"No, not really," he countered, amused. "You said people can manipulate their mindscape, can make it look like or do whatever they want. Wouldn't that include themselves?" He didn't get a response from Iro, though the hand still holding onto the back of his shirt seemed to tighten. He hadn't really been looking for one as he added, "And isn't it possible that what appears as them in the mindscape is how they see themself rather than a true representation of who they are?"
The silence between them was only disturbed by his shuffling, the occasionally bumped object, and the fire he was certain they were circling. Iro didn't let the maze wandering last overly long, though, depositing him on the bed a few minutes later. Injuries were checked and rewrapped.
"You really think this place isn't yours to control?" Iro voiced as he settled back into bed.
He shrugged, ignoring the pain it caused. "It would make sense. What with my injuries and lack of sight, no control over anything."
"Your inhumanness," Iro added.
Diggory couldn't help the smile that pulled at his face. "It will be nice to have magic again. If for nothing else than to be able to work with it and get better at using it."
"You don't feel weird without it?"
"No." He mulled over whether to share more or not for about two seconds before he explained, "I was forced to experience a whole life without magic not overly long ago. It was so intense that the memories of that....fake life were so ingrained into my consciousness that when I returned here - well, not here specifically - I didn't remember anything prior to the fake life I had lived and died in. Even when I had magic back, I hadn't felt any different. It wasn't till I started learning to work with it again that I started to notice its presence."
"Not normal?" he offered helpfully. He smiled. "Yeah. A dear friend of mine managed to get to me before I created any sort of panic by not being my normal self afterwards. Hopefully when all of this is said and done, I won't ever have to worry about magic or Professors ever again."
"You do realize that sounds like you see death as an option."
He shrugged again. This time the pain was worse and he chalked it up to the maze wandering. "I've already died once. It doesn't really phase you after that."
Iro shifted, their normal chair creaking from the motion. "Well, make sure it's the last option. Don't go dying on your friends and family yet."
Day 19: True Survivor
Diggory grinned in their direction. "I can do that. But only if you do the same."
A strange tension filled the room and for not the first and probably not the last, he desperately wanted to be able to see Iro's expression.
"Sure." The chair creaked as the sound of footfall told him Iro had stepped towards the fire. "Get some rest, Roy. We'll see what else we can get you to do in the morning."
"You too, Iro." Diggory shifted deeper into the mattress. "Good night."
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. Time moved on farther than either of them were comfortable with. Wherever Arcane and Egos had sent him, there didn't seem to be an end to his stay. Even Iro voiced how strange the length of time was as the first month rolled past. By the time they reached month four, it was hard to remember there had been anything before.
The weather changed as it would anywhere else. It went from snow to cold rain to heat. There wasn't a surplus of food beyond the initial stores that got them through the longer snowstorms in the beginning but the lands seemed plentiful with game to hunt, fish to catch, and flora to cultivate. It was peaceful.
"This is starting to get ridiculous," Iro commented, dropping the latest catch onto the porch. Diggory made a face as the thought of having to scrub the porch before nightfall. "Are you certain you can't control anything?"
Diggory walked the length of the porch to the barrel tucked against the outer corner of the railing. The back of his hand bumped against the rail first but there was no hesitation nor surprise like there had been those first months. While he still wasn't sure of the land beyond the cabin, he knew his way around his temporary home. It helped Iro kept things where they belonged now that the place was cleaned up. The small bucket - though it was probably closer to a small flower pot than a bucket - was hanging upside down where it was supposed to be. The water within the barrel was cold against his hand and rapidly cooled the bucket. A smile played at his lips. "Nothing has changed, Iro," he assured the other. "I will let you know the instant it does."
There was a huff from the other as their footfall approached. The other was light on their feet but Diggory could hear their footfall as surely as he could hear his own heartbeat at night. "I know." The bucket was pulled from his grasp. Iro touched their fingers to his and Diggory wrapped his hand around the offer appendage. Iro squeezed his hand in turn. "It's just, I'm getting anxious. If we're not separate from the time passing back home, then we're wasting time without being able to do anything."
"I know," Diggory assured them. He gave a gentle pull and Iro followed. The other pressed their forehead to his shoulder as he pressed the back of their hand to his chest. "I'm worried too. I left several people I hold dear without a word of where I was going and I fear for the ramifications that followed my disappearance." His grip tightened on their hand. "But I still believe that there is the possibility that very little if any time has passed back home. I believe what we experience here is outside of normal time and it's just a matter of finding the exit."
"But I've gone as far as I can and have checked every nook and cranny of the surrounding mountain."
Diggory felt his heart constrict with his next words.
"Only what'll allow you to come home before dark. You haven't gone beyond that boundary."
He didn't want Iro to leave.
But if it meant they could get out, Diggory knew he would survive just fine without the other's company. It hurt, but it was the truth and it reassured him on some level.
"I can't go farther than that," Iro countered sharply, their forehead still firm against his shoulder even as they shook their head in denial.
Diggory smiled as a soft breath of a laugh escaped him. "Yes you can. Just follow the river. It'll give you plenty of food and water with more chances to-"
"I'm not leaving you behind!"
His breath caught in his chest. That hurt. That hurt far more than he had ever thought it would be cause he knew, just knew that he could not follow Iro out beyond the boundaries the other had set in those day trips. Not when he couldn't see. They wouldn't even get past the boundary more than a few yards before they would have to stop. It was all he could do to swallow against the dryness in his throat. "Iro," he tried but the name came out weak. It would have to do as he reminded the other, "I'll only slow you down."
Iro shook their head no again, this time more violently as their other hand came up to grab at his shirt sleeve with enough force that Diggory thought the other was going to manage to put holes in it. The bucket his the floor splashing cold water over his bare feet. It probably splattered Iro too. "I don't care. If I leave this place, it'll only be if you were at my side. I don't..." Iro sucked in a rattling breath and it was all Diggory could do to keep his hands firmly wrapped around the other's hand he had yet to release. "I'm not strong enough to do this on my own."
Diggory offered the other a tight smile even without them looking at him. "Yes you are. You could make it to the other side of this planet without me and still be ready to take on the rest of it. You're a true survivor, Iro. You could make that journey."
"But I don't want to be alone."
Day 20: Lost in space
He gave in.
He wrapped his arms tightly around Iro, pressing his face into the other's hair as he buried a hand in it at the same time. His other hand clenched at the fabric against the other's back as he felt Iro cling to him in turn.
He gave in. "All I ask is that you are patient and guide me because I cannot see and I do not have the same faith in myself as you seem to have in me."
"Anything." Iro returned, the words soft, hoarse. "Just don't make me do it on my own."
"Not if I can help it."
They left the temporary home the following week. The atmosphere between them had gotten strained but Iro still spoke with him, still brought back game that left bloody patches on the porch, and helped him prep for their indefinite travels.
"Alright," Iro spoke into the chilly morning air. Diggory wondered if the sun was even up. "Let's see if the river leads us anywhere."
The start of a long, slim object was pressed into his free hand and Diggory gripped it just as tightly as the other. "Still a good weight?"
Diggory nodded, shifting his hold so that the end of the long object tapped against the ground a foot ahead of his feet. "Thank you."
There was the sound of fabric on fabric as Diggory let the tip of his new guide stick rest against the ground. "Of course. Don't hesitate to speak up."
There was a pause before Iro's hand wrapped around his forearm and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I mean it, Diggory. At any point, just speak up. I'll lead but you set the pace. We're in no hurry."
Diggory nodded and tried to smile again. It didn't feel quite right.
The journey to the river was the easiest. He had traveled it countless times. The panic came when Iro came to a stop. "This is the farthest you've been. We have a few more hours before we reach the point I always turn back at."
Diggory nodded. "Lead on."
There was a pause. "Ok. If you need me to lead with the guide stick, just let me know."
Hours passed with ease. He slowly grew comfortable following Iro with the guide stick tapping and swinging between them.
"We'll be climbing over some rocks in a little while."
It didn't last.
"Climbing how?" he asked, trepidation heavy in his words.
"Nothing serious, the ground will just become a bit more treacherous. I'll be at your side the entire time."
It wasn't as bad as he had feared it would be.
"This is it."
He paused as his foot settled on a large rock. The hand around his guide stick was just as hot and sweaty as the one clutching Iro's hand. The other's arm was under his, supporting him on the uneven terrain.
"This is the point of no return."
He turned his head towards Iro. "This is where you've turned back?"
Iro hummed an affirmation.
They kept going.
The day decayed into night and they camped in the treeline. When it came time to sleep, Iro situated the blankets and pads to make a single bed. Diggory was grateful; there was a sort of calm strength that eased the tension of being so far from their temporary home that came from feeling Iro breathe beside him. The more days that passed and the more nights they shared side by side, the easier wandering nature half blind became.
Till they collided with something solid that even Iro couldn't see.
"I don't understand," the other growled as Diggory pressed his hand against whatever it was. It felt like cool metal, smooth and blemish free no matter where he dragged his fingers. "The scenery goes beyond this. I can see a blasted flock of birds tree hopping."
He smiled at the turn of phrase. It always brought the most amusing images to mind. His hand found the first blemish on the wall.
There was a chirruping from in front of him and he leapt backwards with a squawk.
He reached blindly for Iro as the other ran to him. "Iro, I don't know what happened. I found something strange and then there was a sound and-"
"You opened a door."
His thoughts collided to a stop. "I...what? How?"
Iro's grip on him tightened. "I don't know. But it leads into a metal hallways."
He swallowed against the tightness in his throat. "Iro," he started but there was too much going on in his mind that he couldn't even fathom what he had wanted to say.
"Stay close," Iro urged, moving Diggory's grip to the other's pack and hip before starting forward. Diggory dutifully followed behind, letting Iro guide him more behind the other's pack as the air changed. He shuddered. Whatever hallway they had stepped into felt freezing cold after the warm day they had stepped in from.
"Which way?" Iro asked.
Diggory frowned. "Why are you asking me?"
Iro gave his hip a soft squeeze. "They look the same to me. I can't tell if there's anything significant in either direction beyond both ways ending at new hallways."
Diggory pressed his face into Iro's pack. "Right," he chose.
Iro turned right.
Their footfall echoed in a way that made Diggory's head spin. It almost sounded like they were being followed but every time he stumbled, the sounds would be too exact to be someone following after them.
Iro came to an abrupt halt and Diggory pressed into the other's pack. He felt Iro's hands grab at his hips to steady him as he brought his face out of the pack enough to whisper, "Iro? What is it? What do you see?"
"Where did you say you were sent to again?" Iro asked, words tight.
It took him a moment to figure out what Iro was talking about. "The House of Sleep. Why?"
"Because I think we're lost in space."
Day 21: Save me
Whatever he had been standing on gave out from under him and he nearly lost his grip on Iro's pack in turn. The guide stick clattered to the metal floor as Iro's hands clenched painfully at his hips as the other cried out. Whatever the other had shouted sounded like it was trying to reach him through several feet of water as his entire being seemed to shut down. Nothing seemed able to break through whatever had a hold of his mind.
Warm hands cupped his face and Diggory blinked. It focused his mind but did nothing else.
He still couldn't see.
"I don't understand," he shakily breathed out. "I-we were in a mindscape. How-how are we in space?!"
"I don't know," Iro urged, a thumb rubbing at Diggory's cheek in a soothing gesture. "But it'll be fine. We'll figure out what we're on and we'll get the heck out of here."
He gripped at Iro's wrists, begging, "Please don't leave me alone in here. Iro, please, not here, not back there. I don't-I want to go back home to Jamie and Neryk. Please don't leave me here. I don't want to die."
"I know," Iro spoke, their voice cracking even as they tried to keep it steady. "I know. I won't. I'll get you home, and you can introduce me to Jamie and Neryk and everyone else. We'll get out of this and we'll get home. But in order to do that, I need you to calm down for me."
"I can't," he choked, shaking his head in Iro's grasp. "I can't!"
"Diggory," Iro coaxed. "Take a breath with me, ok? Breath in..." The other took in an audible breath and he found himself unconsciously following suit. "Breathe out..." The other released the breath and he did the same. "Diggory, can you tell me three different textures you can feel right now?" He started to shake his head but Iro shifted and it seemed like the other was pressing in on him. "Just three textures. Please."
His mind went to the surface his back was pressed into. He briefly wondered where his pack had ended up. "Hard," he spoke, frowning. Was that right?
Seemed enough for Iro. His thoughts went to the other's hands. "Rough." To the skin beneath his hands. "Soft."
Iro shifted before him. The sense of the other pressing in on him eased. "Can you name two items those describe?"
He could. "The wall." His grip on Iro's wrists eased. "Your hands."
Iro's forehead rested against his. "Can you name an item you brought with you?"
The answer was on his tongue before Iro finished asking. "The guide stick you made me."
Iro released a breath and Diggory could feel the tension leaving the other's body. "You going to be ok now?"
He nodded, giving the other's wrists a squeeze as Iro pulled back. "Thank you."
Iro removed his hands from Diggory's face. "Thank me when I get you home."
Iro pulled him to his feet. He didn't feel like the world was going to shatter around him anymore.
They traversed the hallway keeping with the outside wall. Iro spoke mildly of what they were seeing beyond the windows. So far it was only stars.
It felt like hours before he spoke up. "Iro," he started.
"I know," Iro commented. "I'm getting tired too. We're at another hallway. You ok if we go down it and find a room to settle in?"
Unfortunately it meant more walking and it seemed like two more hours passed before Iro finally stopped walking. "I found a room with a bed. It looks unused. You ok with using it?"
"If it means we're not sleeping on the metal floor, I'm all for it."
Iro chuckled and entered the room fully.
Diggory explored the small space as Iro went about securing the room. Diggory didn't ask questions about the place and Iro didn't bother giving any. He found that the room had another door that led into what he was assuming was the bathroom. It was confirmed when Iro joined him, though the other stayed in the doorway. "Wow. This actually looks like a normal bathroom, proper toilet and everything."
He frowned. "That's...really strange."
Iro hummed in agreement. "Do you want to shower or sleep?"
He looked towards the other. "A shower would be nice but I don't want to stumble my way through exploring a new shower. Too tired for that."
"If you're comfortable with it, I can shower with you. The shower is large enough and that way we're not left alone."
The exhausted, stressed part of him was relieved when Iro offered that. He wasn't sure he would have been able to ask. "Please. If you don't mind."
"Not at all. Let me grab some of our things. Go ahead and strip down."
The shower was nice and hot. It warmed up the small space well that even without him being under the stream of water for the entire time didn't freeze him out. Before he knew it, he was dried off, in fresh clothing, and tucked under familiar blankets with Iro at his side. Sleep came quickly and he happily gave into its warm embrace.
Just as quickly as it cradled him, it was ripped from him.
There was a cacophony of noise and strange hands were suddenly on him. Shouting and screaming rang through the room and no matter how much he struggled, whatever was grabbing at him was dragging him free of the bed with little struggle.
"No!" he shouted, finding his voice in all of the sound. "Let me go! Iro!"
"Diggory! Let him go!" the other shouted back but even that seemed distant.
"Save me!" he screamed, tears streaking down his face as he twisted, trying to blindly reach towards Iro.
"Leave him alone! Diggory!" Iro screamed in turn but the distance between them had gotten even greater and it was all he could do to keep fighting.
Day 22: Send love through
There was a hiss of the pressure stabilizing on both sides before the door opened. He stepped through without a glance at the personnel waiting for him
"Where is she?" he asked, shrugging off his jacket.
"We've tried to get her to calm down and listen but she's being adamant about seeing the prisoner," the personnel rushed, their footfall quick to keep up with his long strides. "We're not sure what to do and are glad you're here."
He huffed. "That doesn't answer my question. Where is she?"
"Oh! Ah, still...still trying to get in the room. It's just up ahead."
Voices echoed down the hallway towards them and he heard her before he saw her. Sure enough, she was arguing with the personnel standing guard over a closed door. "I am your superior. Let me in."
"Madam, we can't," the personnel urged. "He's already killed fourteen people. We don't want to lose you too."
"Jamie," he cut in, stalling whatever she had to say. He didn't gain her gaze immediately but he did have her attention and that was all that mattered. "Leave the poor chap alone."
She rounded on him. "Not until I see him personally."
He frowned as the personnel spoke to him, "The Professor was found on board. We are not sure how the two of them made it on board but she is adamant about talking with the Professor's accomplice. We're still looking into who he is but so far there is nothing on the accomplice."
He looked to the other leader before stepping up to the door and looking through the small window set into the plating. The person inside was sitting against the far wall, table and chairs strewn at the edges of the room and splotches of what could be perceived as blood everywhere. Even with the person covering their face, he knew immediately it was Diggory.
That would explain why she was so adamant about seeing the man.
But his attention went to the other piece of information the personnel had provided him and asked with a frown, "You said this man was with the Professor and is considered an accomplice?"
The personnel nodded. "They had settled to rest in one of the unused personnel quarters. When we separated them, they shouted for the other."
He sneered. "And whose bright idea was it to separate two magic users?"
"I'm going to kill that woman," Jamie muttered behind him.
He was inclined to agree with her.
"And the Professor; are we sure this is the one we were looking for? There have always been reports of copycats and shared names world wide."
The personnel nodded. "It was confirmed by a number of sources, Master Harper and Leader Metz included."
"Can you take us to where this Professor is being held, then? I have a few questions for him."
The personnel glanced at the other one he had almost forgotten was there. "Yes, but Richards cannot come with."
He waved the concern away. "Richards has tasks I am interrupting." He looked to the given personnel. "There's no need for you to accompany any further. You're welcome to return to your duties."
Richards gave a brisk nod. "With all due respect, Leader Credence, I will simply take over watch till Markette returns. There has to be someone here at all times to make sure no one enters."
He dipped his head, acknowledging the choice as a good one. "Then we will make sure not to keep Markette for long." He turned his attention on the mentioned personnel. "Lead the way."
Markette gave the same brisk nod Richards had before turning sharply and leading the way down the hallway. He fell into step after the personnel. She followed suit but he did not miss she was forcing a distance between herself and the personnel. He matched her pace, curious.
"What are the chances this Professor knows what happened to Diggory?" she finally voiced.
He sighed. "Almost nonexistent. He vanished from everyone's memories and all records, including Neryk's. Regardless of whether this Professor had anything to do with that, there's still the unknown factor of what exactly this Professor is after. No one is sure how they both made it on board. Even the security system caught them exiting an interior room with no clear signs as to how nor when they got there."
"Strange. Any theories?"
"The initial is the same as yours: magic."
She nodded. "I would be surprised if it wasn't tied to magic in some way."
"Other than that, nothing of sustenance."
"It's the same for the rumors floating among the crew." She scoffed. "I swear the way the rumors fly through the social chains makes me wonder how they don't manage to send love through it."
"I don't follow," he admitted with a frown.
She glanced at him. "Hook-ups?"
"Ah. I'm sure they do, they just happen to be wary enough to not let us hear."
She gave a huff of a laugh. "Wouldn't surprise me."
"Here we are."
The pair turned their focus on Markette as the personnel stopped at a door. There was a brief exchange of words with the one standing guard before Markette turned to them. "You have twenty minutes. If there are any signs of danger, we will pull you out immediately."
He nodded as she stepped forward. "Open the door."
There was the solid thunk of the lock disengaging before the door itself swung open. The person in the room was bound to a chair with their head bowed in the otherwise empty room. The door gave a resounding thud behind them. He wondered if that was what had her marching right up to the person and yanked on their shirt collar.
"What did you do to Diggory?"
The Professor didn't react. He was startled to find the Professor looked like they had mentally checked out and it took a few blinks before that gaze cleared. When it did, the Professor started laughing.
Day 23: Dance, dance, dance
And continued to laugh. They laughed for so hard and so long that he shared a worried glance with her.
"What's so funny," she demanded but the conviction from earlier was gone.
"Oh," the Professor spoke, cutting through their own laughter sharply. "You want to know what's so hilarious? Even with you coming in here demanding to know what I did? I did nothing; nothing but tend to one of yours for months and I didn't even know it. Didn't even know who he was!" Laughter tumbled from the Professor again. It was easier to make out the hysteria now. The laughter sputtered out but it took a moment for the Professor to continue. "I honestly believed he was some great guy only to find out he was a traitor all along." They rolled their head around to look up at her and he took a step forward, not trusting the grin that spread across the Professor's face. "So, tell me, Madam Jasmine," the name was a purr of syllables, "what did dear Diggory tell you about me? Anything useful?"
"He hasn't said anything," she stated, voice soft but the words still cold. She released the Professor's shirt, letting them fall back into the chair's support.
The Professor frowned at her before their gaze flickered to him. "What? Didn't get much from him and now you're trying a new angle to get more information? Please. It's not going to work."
"He's killed fourteen people," he returned calmly. Her expression twisted in distaste and disbelief.
The Professor didn't miss the expression but the confusion won as he gained their attention again. "What do you mean he's killed fourteen people? He's fucking blind." Their expression darkened. "Unless it was an act." They scoffed, pressing into the back of the chair like they wanted to tip it backwards. Even if they had the mobility for that, the chair was bolted to the floor. "And a fucking good one at that. I actually believed it."
She sent him a worried look. He shared her sentiments as she clarified, "Diggory's blind?"
The Professor rolled their eyes. "For the last five months it's certainly seemed like it. Ran into every wall of the cabin at least five times a day so either he was really good at acting or he was actually blind." The Professor's gaze snapped between them. "Wait, why don't you know this? You're The Madam Jasmine, the one who founded and still actively leads IPPA. It's no secret that you personally interview captives and are scary good at doing so. Why have't you gotten all of this from Diggory yet?"
"He's being treated as a highly dangerous accomplice of yours," he informed the Professor. "His magic has gotten beyond his control and, as such, he as inadvertently killed fourteen people."
A tense silence filled the room as the Professor's expression flickered between disbelief and confusion. "Diggory doesn't have magic. And even if he did, neither of us have been able to touch it in months. Still can't, but that's probably because you've bound my magic with some fancy gadget."
She glanced his way. "There isn't anything binding your magic. You should be able to use it right now."
He frowned. "Which is odd, seeing as you're one of the most wanted magic users." He caught her gaze, commenting, "We'll have to see about that when we get with the leaders here."
She nodded in agreement.
"No," the Professor cut in. "You've bound my magic. I know you have."
"Unless it's some new tech I haven't been informed of, you should be able to use magic at will," she countered.
"No!" The Professor strained against the restraints. "It's bound! I know it is! I haven't felt it in months! If it came back, I would know. It's not. You've bound my magic somehow!"
He took a step forward to counter her step back, words tumbling past his lips. "How would you know?"
"Because I would feel it!" He frowned and the Professor huffed, rolling their eyes again. "Why am I-my magic has always been a buzzing under my skin. That sensation vanished when I was suddenly pulled into some stupid snowstorm in some highest forsaken mountain range with no way to get back. I spend five months with that blind idiot trying to make the best of it and actually got used to not feeling magic. No. If I had my magic, I would know. I would feel it."
He swallowed thickly fighting every instinct that was telling him to run. "Professor," he spoke tightly.
"What," the Professor snapped.
Another eye roll but the Professor complied. "Why would I want to-"
The moment their gaze locked onto what he and Jamie were seeing, the words died instantly. Magic was visibly churning behind the Professor licking at the edge of some invisible boundary. He forced himself to focus back onto the Professor and found that they had gone severely pale, fists clenched so tight there probably wasn't any blood flow in the extremities anymore, and straining against the restrains that was causing said restrained to slice through any exposed skin pressed against it.
The silence was nearly as choking as the magic was.
"Professor," he croaked.
It was like a switch had been flicked. The Professor sucked in a breath and with a few blinks, they had gotten themself back under control. The magic vanished; or at least the visual representation had. Wide eyes locked onto him and there was a fear there he hadn't seen.
The Professor licked their lips. "You have to take me to him."
"Professor," she started but the Professor was shaking their head vehemently.
"No, you don't understand. All you ever do is dance, dance, dance and it gets you nowhere. Even now you're dancing your way through this entire thing. Let me get in there, let me get him calmed down. If I don't, we will have more to worry about than just the vacuum of space."
Day 24: My Confession
"Why?" he challenged. "What's going to happen?"
That fear only seemed to get worse. "Are you deaf? I. Can't. Feel. My magic. And if I can't feel mine, that means he can't feel his. He will do unspeakable things, tear this place apart even, and not even know it. He will kill himself with magic if the situation gets too dire." The Professor's expression twisted into something he couldn't name. "And there's no telling what kind of magical backlash will come from that." A breath, like the Professor was fighting for words; or committing to them. Those sharp eyes met his gaze again. "Please. You have to let me try and calm him down."
He shared a glance with her but her resolve was written on her face. At least he didn't have to convince her. The whole 'Diggory might die and we might too' part was probably a big factor. "Ideas?"
She shrugged. "I'm all for the forward approach of just walking right in, the Professor in tow."
He focused back on the Professor. They were still bound to the chair. "Do you have enough control to see this through?"
The Professor frowned. There was a moment that he expected some verbal conversation. Instead, the restraints vanished and their injuries were healed in what seemed to be a single breath. They rubbed at a wrist as they stood. "I can knock people out as needed and remove doors and walls as necessary."
He nodded and turned. He crossed to the door and opened it. Both personnel were standing outside but it was Markette that was looking a bit skittish. The other personnel looked ready for orders and far too willing to do whatever was asked. He focused on Markette. "Are you going to be trouble?"
"I-" Markette choked on the words and he watched as resolve settled the personnel's body. "No, Leader Credence. I'm with you and Madam Jasmine. What do you wish of us?"
He looked to the other personnel as he said, "If you two are not going to try and stop us, I want you to accompany us to the other holding cell so that the Professor can neutralize the threat."
"That sounds like a horr-"
Whatever the Professor was going to say was cut off as a smack sounded from behind him. The muttered cursing coming from the Professor told him that Jamie had smacked them upside the head. Hard too, if the hissed argument that followed was anything to go by.
The unnamed personnel nodded as they responded, "Whatever you and Madam Jasmine need."
Markette mirrored the gesture. "We'll do our best to keep anyone from interfering."
He shook his head. "No. I want you two to make sure the Professor makes it to Diggory. Madam Jasmine and I will keep anyone from interfering."
The two personnel nodded again with the same determined look on their faces. He looked back into the room and locked eyes with the Professor. "We're counting on you."
The Professor waved him off. "Whatever. Just lead the way."
He expected more resistance but the only trouble came as a few personnel running to stop them that were easily stopped with a short order to stand down. The door to Diggory's holding cell was suddenly before them and he felt his gut twist. Richards was waiting for them, expression one of alert attention ready for orders. He wondered what that meant for IPPA if so many personnel were willing to go against one set of leader orders to follow another's.
He stopped just past the door, allowing the Professor access to the window. There was an sharp intake of air and suddenly a furious gaze was on him. "Why hasn't anyone talked him out of his panic attack?"
"We tried," the unnamed personnel stated. "Why do you think the count made it to fourteen."
The Professor tsked. "IPPA's full of idiots." They looked up at him. "I'd suggest you keep your lot out here. There's no use risking more lives than necessary." A vicious grin spread across the Professor's face. "Not that a few of you dying wouldn't help me out in the long run."
He rolled his eyes and gained a laugh from the other. "Whenever you're ready, Professor."
Their expression sobered immediately and those sharp eyes locked onto Diggory again. He watched their chest expand as they pulled in a breath. When their lungs reached capacity, their magic became visible. It churned around the Professor's body similarly to how he had first witnessed it but this time it stayed close to the Professor's body like a coiled snake waiting for the perfect moment to strike. As the Professor released their breath, the magic moved forward, pressing up against the door as if it was trying to get in. Their eyes flickered towards him, towards where his hand hovered over the door release. "Ready."
He looked towards the voices. "Make sure Diggory's ok, Jamie," he spoke over his shoulder. "The rest of you, with me. We're going to delay Master Harper and Leader Metz for as long as we can. And Professor?" He gained a non-committal hum. He locked eyes with the Professor one last time as he pressed the door release. "Don't mess this up."
He started down the hall without waiting for a response.
The door slid open and their magic rushed forward. It clearly collided with something but they couldn't feel it beyond a mild sense of it touching something. It caused a laugh to rip itself from their throat.
"Professor," they heard her warn and it was all they could do to keep the grin they sent her from looking feral.
"Madam, you would laugh too if you suddenly felt invincible." They looked back into the room knowing that it would take nothing to bind Diggory's magic if necessary. "It's almost making me giddy enough to promise you my confession." This time there was no controlling the grin they shot her. "Almost."
Day 25: Stay
They stepped into the room with utter ease. Their face felt like it was going to spit they were grinning so hard.
It didn't last.
Three pride filled steps into the room and they went from giddy confidence to suffocating. Panic thudded through them as severely as their pulse in their ears. They were going to shatter. They were going to be torn apart and he knew - just knew - that they weren't going to be able to save Diggory. They weren't going to be able to save anyone!
They jerked back but they didn't go very far. It took their brain a minute to register they were up against a wall and there was a hand between their head and said wall. There were too many bodies too close and they tried to shove those bodies away.
They found their wrists restrained.
They're magic nearly exploded out of them.
"Professor, calm down," he ordered, though he tried to keep his voice careful, gentle. He could feel her breathing down his neck. "You're safe."
"Fuck off," the Professor ground out, still struggling,.
"Is he going to blow us all up?"
He ignored the unnecessary peanut gallery as he slowly released the Professor's wrists. They didn't give him the chance to completely release their wrists before they were jerking out of his grip.
The Professor pressed the back of their head against the wall, hands pressing into their face with excessive force. If the Professor did not end up with bruising, he would be surprised. "How the hell did I forget?"" the Professor mumbled. He didn't answer and the Professor didn't ask one of him. "I knew who he was, knew explicitly to stay away. How could I forget? How could I have been so stupid!" Abruptly, the Professor turned an accusing glare onto him. "Why the hell did you not warn me he had a crystal heart?"
"A what?" he choked. Out of all the things he expected to come out of the Professor's mouth, that certainly hadn't been on his list.
She spoke up. "I hadn't thought it relevant."
He snapped his head around, staring at her. "Since when did Diggory-"
"He's always had one," she informed him, though her expression belayed her confusion. "You didn't know?"
"I knew he wasn't overly human but he never told me what kept him alive."
"It doesn't matter," the Professor spat. "He not only has a fucking crystal heart, he has the Crystal Heart and both are cracked, if not shattering."
The silence in the hallway was deafening.
"So what does that mean for us?"
He glanced back to the peanut gallery, meeting Master Harper's confused gaze. Leader Metz looked to be piecing it together. He felt envious the other man seemed to understand far more than he did.
"Are you serious?" He turned his attention back to the Professor. "Are you completely dense? If a crystal heart suffer's a crack, the vessel becomes flawed with a high chance of death by shattering. If the Crystal Heart has a crack, then we're all screwed."
The Professor rolled their eyes. As much as he wished for Master Harper would stay out of the conversation, it was the same question he had wanted to ask. "Because the Crystal Heart, the one of myth and legend, is a powerful artifact that is tied to so much more than lore. If you want to live, you need to get him to calm down. Expending himself too much with cracks in both will lead to disaster."
"How do we fix it?" he asked, careful to gain the Professor's attention again.
There was....he wasn't sure how to describe the blend of emotions on the Professor's face but it all settled into a sort of resolve that seemed almost bittersweet in its appearance. "You lot don't do anything." The Professor pushed themself to their feet. "I'll go talk Diggory out of his panic attack. Won't be the first and, if I live through this, probably won't be the last. After that, I'll play it by ear."
"I've never seen him have a panic attack before," she commented offhandedly behind him. He glanced back finding her gaze on Diggory. Her gaze turned to the Professor. "When did he start having them? He was only missing for 10 days."
The Professor stilled a few paces from the door. He caught the edge of a tight expression, one that spoke of so much more than the Professor was verbally letting on. He was certain if the Professor knew of him watching, that expression would have never seen the light of day. There was a huff of a laugh before the Professor offered, "For the two of us, it was months. I don't know what the time frame was between us appearing in that strange world and his disappearance but I wouldn't be surprised if it was for those last five days." They focused back on her, the expression they wore hard to decipher. "Wherever we had ended up, however that had happened, it had left Diggory severely injured. When he discovered he was blind..." Silence settled over the hallway again as the Professor's gaze wandered to Diggory. "Let's just say the episode that followed it, it scared me. He didn't even remember it and ended up having another episode that was - thankfully - tamer. But I couldn't forget that first episode. I would dream of it every night, waking after only a few hours and I watched him struggle with the ones that followed that only made the dreams worse. At least I had some inkling of what to do and as time progressed, we figured out what worked best." They focused on him and Jamie. "I chose to stay because I didn't know who he was and was not affected by his presence as I am now. But even with knowing who he is now, I can't seem to walk away and leave him to suffer and die like this."
Day 26: Superheroes
"So you'll help him?" she asked, her voice quaking at the edges.
The Professor shrugged. "It's like I have any other option. If I tried to leave, I'm sure the peanut gallery would take me out before I could even discover where the exit is."
He stood up. "Will you be alright going in?"
The Professor looked at him. Those eyes were weary but there was a bittersweet resolve in their depths. Apprehension filled his chest at the sight. "We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?"
He took a step forward, hand reaching out to stop the Professor and get a firm answer out of them, but the Professor was across the threshold and far out of reach by the time he finished the motion. He let his hand fall to his side as Jamie joined him. "Be careful," he urged softly to their retreating back. He silently prayed to whatever would listen that this worked without losing any more lives.
It didn't matter now if the Professor was a wanted person or not: that bittersweet resolve in those weary eyes spoke of someone who wasn't planning on coming back and he didn't want to see that happen again.
The magic rolling off of Diggory pressed into their magic but they felt none of the recoil, none of the pressure like they were used to. But instead of causing giddy amazement as it had done before, it barely registered in their mind; the waves of anguish pulsating from the curled form at the other side of the room had their complete attention. Each pulse, each wave that slammed into them grew stronger and far more effective at making them feel like they were drowning as they got closer. Sometimes there were stutters where there were several quick waves right after the other and sometimes the gaps between waves allowed them to suck in a breath.
They couldn't breathe by the time they knelt at his side.
"We're going to pull you out of this mess, alright?" they croaked around the tightness in their throat. A fresh onslaught of waves and while there was nothing physical about the waves themselves, they felt backwards anyways. They gasped for breath as soon as there was a break, surging back upright as quickly as they could manage.
It felt like they were moving through sludge.
"Come on, Roy," they half snarled, half gasped. "It's me. It's Iro."
Another bout of waves.
They found themself on their back staring up at the dark ceiling. The magic churning in the room was blurry and it wasn't till they had blinked a few times that they realized it was because they were crying.
Sobs tore at their chest as they pushed themself upright, struggling to push through the emotions drowning them. It was getting harder to keep remembering the emotions they were feeling weren't theirs.
"Diggory," they ground out. "It's alright. You're safe. I'm here."
"That won't work."
They spun around, magic following the desire only to become useless against a person that wasn't physically there. The ghost looked exactly like Diggory, except they were see-through and an odd color they couldn't name. It was like the ghost was every color at once or couldn't quite settle on one.
Another burst of waves.
The ghost's form flickered like a bad video image.
"And why not?" they demanded, fighting against the desire to just curl up and sob till they passed out.
"Because he doesn't believe you're really here."
They weren't sure if their crystal heart had cracked at that or if it had been their will to live shattering. Not that they had expected to live through their decision.
"But I am here," rushed passed their lips. "I'm not-I'm real, dammit!"
it was as if someone had turned their blood to ice. Every part of their body seemed numb and heavy with it but there was still a fight in them. "Yes," they snapped. "Far more than you!"
The ghost arched an eyebrow. "Yet you have a crystal heart, are powered by it."
They shook their head, countering, "So? So does Diggory and he's as real as anyone else!"
"But do you know if he actually believes that?"
The adamant 'yes' died on their tongue. It was all they could do to hang on to that stubborn idea that both of them were very real, that nothing would change that, even in the face of this ghost's prodding. "I'll believe it for him," they spoke, their words quaking at the edges. "I'll believe it for the both of us."
"And what if he doesn't want you to?"
They sneered at the ghost but it felt tight. "Then he would have to tell me to my face. Otherwise I'm ignoring everything you've said and wake him up."
They turned their back to the ghost but there was no way they were going to get close enough to Diggory to do anything. There was now a persistent wave rolling off Diggory and it shoved at them. it was all they could do to keep themself from falling apart. Diggory's magic started slipping out from under theirs as they focused more on keeping steady against the torrent of emotions than making sure Diggory's magic was contained.
"Dammit, Diggory," they ground out, fighting against the tears that wouldn't stop. "Come on! Five months I spent at your side helping you through every tough moment, every panic attack! I worked day and night to make sure you were ok - that we were ok - so that when we made it back, it would be on good terms, not this bullshit!" The persistent wave gained more force. "I had never intended for you to ever be put into harms way, my history and enemies be damned!" They ignored the fresh wave of tears that had nothing to do with what was rolling off of Diggory. "Because while superheroes might not exist in our world, you certainly became one for me."
Day 27: Twisted Mind
They rubbed at their face, not wanting to admit any of it when they weren't even sure the other could hear them. But the words were easier to speak than they expected and there wasn't any real desire to stop now.
"I had nothing to strive for before I met you. There was nothing driving me beyond the desire the fix the world, to make it so that those like us would be treated equal, that those not like us would be treated equal. My twisted mind had only the one desire to make the world a utopia for all, a place where hate crimes and racism just didn't exist and see it become reality." They buried their hands in their hair. "But there wasn't any drive behind it. There was no spark, no desire to better myself, and I just kept with the motions and lost myself in the work."
A watery laugh bubbled out of their chest. "But then, I was yanked from all of it and thrust into some snowstorm out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to keep myself warm beyond the clothing on my back. No magic, no sense of direction, nothing. Left to freeze to death unless I got stupid lucky." A fond expression pulled their lips into a smile. "And stupid lucky I got: the cabin was the luck and you were the stupid." They laughed again. "I-I honestly thought I had wasted my time saving your sorry ass from the snow when you wouldn't wake up right away. Was tempted to throw you back out just for the sake of it." The smile on their face faltered. "But then you woke up and you were nothing like I had anticipated."
They dragged themself to the wall beside Diggory, leaning up against it so that they didn't have to keep supporting themself. "Sure, I half hoped for someone to be kind and willing to help out but I never thought that I would ever end up with someone that had boundless patience and kindness like you do. I never thought I would ever meet someone that would treat me as if I was worth something more than a passing thought."
The truth choked them briefly. It wasn't anything that needed rectifying immediately and they let their gaze settle on the magics warring above both of their heads. It was pretty easy to realize theirs was very languidly keeping Diggory's back without much difficulty or threat of failing.
"You suddenly became an integral part of my every day life," they continued softly. "Day in and day out I had to make sure I was keeping you and your condition in mind. Day in and day out I ingrained a habit that I knew - I knew that it wouldn't last, that at some point we would get back to reality and I would have to live with the consequences, but then the days continued into weeks and then into months and I forgot." A tight breath. "I forgot that there was a reality to return to that didn't have you part of it. I forgot that going back meant that I would be all alone again." They couldn't breathe and it took far too much effort to get the words around the lump in their throat. "Please, Diggory. I don't..." Their words stalled out and it took all they had to keep going. "I don't want to be alone here, not until you tell me to leave. So be as stubborn as you've always been; stop letting the storm win and come back to me so that I can stop talking to ghosts and start talking with you again." They swallowed thickly before whispering, "I don't want to lose you like this."
The only sound in the room was their own heartbeat in their ears and the churning magic above. It didn't really have a specific sound but it was certainly efficient at filling the silence.
Diggory's magic suddenly slowed down. They weren't certain when it started to change; for them, it was an abrupt transition but there was no way it hadn't been gradual. They pushed themself away from the wall so that they could twist and look at Diggory, searching for some sign that the other was actually pulling himself out of it.
It took Diggory's body starting to move that they actually allowed themself to believe that he was truly coming out of it.
They opened their mouth to offer encouraging words.
A sharp crack shattered the mood.
From one instant to the next, their world was nothing but all consuming pain. They tried screaming, tried ridding themself of the source, but they felt only pain and there was no telling if they managed to actually relieve any of it through their actions.
The floor was cold against their cheek.
Their mouth felt like it had been filled with cotton as the rest of them was too cold to move. Sharp little needles assaulted any part that so much as twitched and while it wasn't the pain they had just experiences, their body seemed overly sensitive to the sensation and they certainly didn't want it to continue.
But what about Diggory?
The thought had them shoving at the floor, blistering pain be damned. Their arms shook with the effort and they felt like they were five times heavier than they had originally been. By the time they were propped up on ramrod straight arms, they were certain they had no more strength to pick their head up and look around.
The word - their name - was a choked whisper so soft, they almost didn't hear it. It brought their head up for them, bringing it around to stare at Diggory as anxiety and concern warred within their veins.
Those eyes that had never once been able to focus on them were now honed in so sharply, they feared Diggory could see all the flaws within their very being.
"Are you Iro?"
Day 28: My Curse
"Diggory," they all but choked. "Thank the Highest. I thought-"
Their words were cut off by a sharp cry.
They had tried to move closer and while they didn't remember how exactly they had wanted to accomplish such a feat - for some reason Diggory was a good number of paces away but it wasn't too far not to just crawl over to him - they had placed their hand on the ground to shove themself forward in some fashion.
Only, the ground had burned them and ice clung to their bare hand as they brought it quickly to their chest. It sent tremors up their arm and through their body, a strange weakness chasing the pain through their veins. It hurt. It hurt so much.
Searing pain flared in their legs and a scream ripped itself from their lips. In a desperate attempt to be free, they scraped at the ice growing around their legs, trapping them where they were. The ice was unforgiving and what they were able to break off only grew back as it sliced into their palms and pressed into their legs squeezing tight.
The ice stopped abruptly and the relief brought its own cry to their lips. It choked a sob out of them.
Why hadn't their magic responded?
Their entrapment shattered as if it was nothing more than a thin sheet of ice. Their hand tingled as it was freed from its frozen glove, anything warm feeling like pins and needles against their skin. They clung to it anyways.
They weren't sure how much timed passed before they managed to uncurl themself and look at Diggory.
The other was much farther away and curled in on himself. They frowned, unable to tell if they were seeing things or if Diggory's back was indeed quaking. "Diggory?" they called out, moving to stand without putting a hand down on the ground.
"Don't!" Diggory barked, so many emotions behind that one word, it left them bewildered. Diggory's sharp gaze was on them again and it was clear to see whatever had happened to them had freaked him out. "If you come closer, you'll get encased in ice."
That didn't seem quite right. "Come on, Roy," they tried, smiling and opening their arms to him. "I'm fine now. It's not like you did it on purpose."
Diggory shook his head. "But I did cause it without knowing how and that's even worse."
They rolled their eyes. "So your magic's acting up. So what? I'm fine now." They got to their feet without touching their hands to the ground. "And now that I'm not ice covered, let's get you out of here."
"I'm not leaving," Diggory countered.
They ignored the sudden tightness around their chest. "Very funny, Roy. Come on. We're leaving."
Two steps was all they were able to make as they spoke before a sudden wall of ice erupted from the ground as Diggory retaliated, "No! I'm not leaving!" The ice wall settled. "I can't leave."
Despite the wall of ice, Diggory's voice still carried to them, echoing only slightly in the expansive space. They pounded their fist against the wall letting it settle against it. The ice started to burn but they ignored it, demanding, "Why not?"
"I don't want anyone else to suffer."
They slammed their other fist against the ice wall. There wasn't even a crack from the force of it. "Suffer how!? You never coming back will be more devastating than you will ever know!"
An icy wind slammed into their chest and they were thrown backwards. They didn't even get the chance to fathom that as they were swallowed by the icy torrent even as their back hit what counted as ground.
There were screams on the wind.
Emotions, thoughts, and desires assaulted them, ones that were not theirs, ones that were foreign and painful. The majority of it all was sad, morose, and regretful, but there were parts that were furious, frustrated, and enraged, parts that were giddy, mischievous, and excited. It was overwhelming and even when it all abruptly stopped, they were still drowning in it all.
"Wha..." they tried but the words died. They had no breath to even try and finish it anyways.
"I know the Crystal Heart is cracked," Diggory informed them. "It's...I think it's been cracked for a long time. When I first took it on, I hadn't thought anything of it, hadn't even noticed. But I don't think that was because I wasn't affected. I think it was because of Professor Richard's interference, why I'm now suffering the full onslaught."
A strained silence settled over the space but they couldn't hear it beyond the ringing of voices still in their ears. It was a wonder they were even managing to make out what Diggory was saying.
"This is my curse," Diggory finally added, "my burden to bear. One that I'm not willing to pass on to anyone else."
They shot upright, Diggory's words drowning out everything else. They pointed an accusing finger at the wall, snarling, "You promised you would keep that as a last resort, Diggory. Do not go back on that promise now only because you can't see any other solutions!"
"What solutions are there, Iro!" Diggory demanded in turn. "Let the Crystal Heart continue to inflict this kind of harm on another? Because you and I both know that no matter where we buried it, someone would find it. Force it to shatter, then? Do you even know what that will do to the world, much less me?"
"I wouldn't do something as stupid as not removing it from you before doing any such things!" they shouted back.
"I can't be separated from it!"
The ringing silence was deafening.
"What," they tried but the words caught in their throat and they tried to swallow against the sensation. "What do you mean?"
They weren't sure they had been heard as silence filled the space again.
"The Crystal Heart is a part of me."
Day 29: Boulevard of broken dreams
"If you try to remove it, you'll end up killing me."
Even sitting down it felt like the world was giving out underneath them. They pressed a hand into the ground and the other into their face trying to come to terms with that new information. "No," they croaked. "We can still remove it. We can make sure you're not tied to it anymore."
"Iro." They flinched at the sound of the name they had given Diggory to speak. Its meaning seemed so accurate now. "A crystal heart will merge with the Crystal Heart if in the same host."
They choked; on what, they weren't certain but they were betting it was the first sob that tore through their being. There seemed to be no end to the despair that swallowed them as echoes of cracks played across their own crystal heart. Their crystal heart still resonated with Diggory's even in this strange place leaving traces of what Diggory was suffering through etched onto theirs. But there wasn't the countless souls trapped in the Crystal Heart all crying out at once for them as Diggory was living it.
They were still raw from the echoes of their screams.
"Iro," cut through their suffering. "It's alright. I'm ok with this."
"You shouldn't be!" they shot back. Their gaze snapped up with their words and they found that the ice wall had vanished. Diggory was still as far away as ever but at least he was looking at them, giving them the light of day. "I don't want you to be!"
"Why?" Diggory asked, the word soft and curious, tired even.
"I don't want you to be ok with dying like this!"
Diggory sent them a soft smile, amusement pulling his expression into something that tried to be happy but looked more melancholy. "What difference does one more death make?"
"Everything, when it's you're death we're talking about!"
"Because you can't leave me like this!"
Diggory frowned even as they tore their gaze away. Their entire body was shaking and they knew a part of that was from adrenaline and nerves. The rest of it wasn't important. It was all they could do to keep talking, to explain. "Five months may not be that long but when it's only two people, it becomes forever. I'm too used to your constant presence, too used to knowing that you would always be back at the house when I returned, that the thought of us leaving went from a desire to a dread. I hadn't had that here. I had been alone and I hadn't even realized how alone I had been till I was stuck with you." They forced themself to look at him again. "So you can't leave me like this. You can't just up and ditch me when I don't even get the chance to get to know you outside of that crazy place. I want to see you - the real you - before you up and die on me."
Diggory sent them a soft smile. "Someone once told me that was one way down the boulevard of broken dreams: to always wish for more time in a world where life has an end."
They shook their head. "I don't care. I still want a chance. Can't you at least grant me that?"
That smile fell. They should've realized they were going too far but Diggory was already talking. "I don't get a choice in that, Iro."
"And why not?" they nearly whined.
"Because the Crystal Heart may not hold together much longer."
Ice cold reality shot through their veins. They buried their face into their hands silently fighting the urge to cry again. The silence wasn't strained but they certainly wouldn't call it peaceful.
"You really are ok with it shattering, aren't you?"
They didn't have to look up to know the other simply shrugged. "There's no point in fighting it. It is what it is. At least this way no one else has to suffer like this. And with knowing it's going to happen, I'll be able to keep it from doing any more damage than taking me out."
They chewed on a thought and wondered if he would accept the attempt. He wouldn't if he knew the risk but if he didn't...
"Will you let me attempt to heal the crack?"
"You can do that?"
They finally looked up at Diggory, finding a wide eyed gaze on them. They offered him a smile. For a fake one, it felt rather real. Diggory certainly didn't challenge it as they offered, "I don't see why not and, if nothing else, we lose nothing more with trying." Their smile fell. "Please? I know I'm being selfish asking you to stay but I can't let you just keel over dead without trying everything I can to make sure you live."
Diggory grinned at them. It made the deception taste bitter on the back of their tongue. "If you want to try and fix it, I'll gladly give you the chance. But Iro." The other's expression turned serious even as it stayed soft and curious. "If you can't fix it, I want you to get as many people as you can to safety. Even I don't know how much I can mitigate the damage of the Crystal Heart shattering despite my words earlier."
They gave the other a sharp nod. "Of course."
They gasped, coughing as the air caught oddly in their lungs. It took far too long for the vertigo to dissipate and they were certain the lack of being able to properly breathe at that moment wasn't helping.
The magic colliding above their head informed them that they were back in the room.
Belatedly they realized they had been in Diggory's true mindscape.
Where had the two of them been, then, for all those months?
"You got through to him."
They looked over at the ghost, the one that looked far too much like Diggory for them to be comfortable.
Day 30: In the End
"If just barely," they grunted as they clambered to their feet. The world moved around them and it was all they could do to keep from collapsing onto their knees. The trip into Diggory's mindscape had overwhelmed them and in turn had taken a toll out of their body. "He seemed rather content just wasting away and not letting anyone help him."
"Can you blame him?"
Thoughts filled their mind, most of them memories of things they had known about Diggory before they had finally met; they really could not fault him no matter how much they wanted to. "No, but that doesn't mean I can't at least try."
The ghost hummed behind them. They pushed themself to their feet. Their arms and legs shook with the effort but they kept themself moving. Their magic pressed on Diggory's, calming it as best they could while their magic started to gather in their chest around their crystal heart. They weren't sure why that specifically but they weren't about to ask questions as they approached Diggory.
How had they managed to get so far away? Had their magic reacted to their experience in the mindscape or had it been Diggory's?
"What are you planning on doing?" They glanced at the ghost. For whatever reason it was following them. "Do you even have a plan or are you going to try and talk to him again?"
They arched an eyebrow at the condescending tone. "I have a plan, but that doesn't mean I have to tell you."
The ghost gave them an incredulous look. "So it's a half baked, flying in blind kind of plan, then."
They gave the ghost a shrewd look. "And what's wrong with that?"
The ghost sighed. "You're only going to create more damage."
They felt their lips quirk up at that. "Probably."
There was no rebuttal when they approached this time. Diggory's magic let them get right up to his side and they took full advantage of it. Diggory was still curled in on himself but there was enough room for them to slip their arm in among the tangle of limbs to press their hand to the other's chest. They shuddered. The physical contact - even with it being through fabric - amplified the resonance between their crystal heart and Diggory's. The echoes of voices and emotions made it difficult to concentrate but it wasn't like they needed to concentrate much anymore anyways.
They started to pull all of their magic back in, bundling it tight in their chest to make sure they didn't screw this up. They could practically feel the ghost breathing down their neck but they ignored it, focusing on the Crystal Heart instead. There was no guarantee this would work but they were going to try and be damned if they didn't give it their all.
In the end all the plans they had once held above all else were nothing more than faded memories as they poured all they had into Diggory's crystal heart. They weaved their magic through the cracks, repairing each one as they offered Diggory a silent apology.
He better keep his promise to them after all they were doing for him. They were not above haunting his ass if it came down to it.
The pain was so beyond anything he had ever experience, even agony failed to describe it. He fought against whatever was causing him harm but his body wouldn't react. He was forced to suffer through an eternity of pain with no end in sight.
And then it stopped.
All of it stopped.
The peace that followed was euphoric. He had never realized he had never known true peace till he was in the middle of it and it scared him.
It scared him because that meant something had changed and that never seemed to bode well for him.
He opened his eyes to familiar faces.
"Diggory," Madam Jasmine breathed, the tears in her eyes finally escaping. Her hands were gentle and warm against his cheeks, fingers rough from callouses he knew the stories behind. Leader Valcor Credence was beside her, the man's hand heavy on his shoulder.
"Welcome back," Leader Valcor offered thickly.
There were other faces there, ones he half knew or wasn't certain he could remember their names, but they were all friendly and one stood out to be very familiar. He could feel Neryk's hand in his as they asked, "How do you feel?"
He had to wet his lips before answering. "Like I've lived a third life in a matter of seconds." He frowned, squeezing their hand. "When did you all get here? Where even is here?"
"We're in IPPA's orbital base," Madam Jasmine informed him. "You somehow managed to appear in the middle of it without anyone knowing how or why."
"Jamie and I were here relatively quickly," Leader Valcor added. "For the longest while there, we were the only one that had remembered you and had been keeping an eye on anything that could have been you."
"Whatever had been keeping the rest of us from remembering you lifted not too long ago," Neryk finished. "I only arrived a few minutes ago."
He frowned. There was something he needed to check on but he couldn't quite figure out what. He focused on Madam Jasmine and Leader Valcor. "Any ideas what changed?"
The pair shared a look that made his stomach drop. Madam Jasmine spoke up. "The Professor....we're certain the Professor attempted to repair the cracks in your crystal heart."
Diggory's eyes blew wide and he jerked upright out of everyone's holds. He could see every bit of magic imaginable and, for the briefest moment, he was overwhelmed. "Where's Iro?" he demanded in a panic. His gaze immediately latched onto a faint, fading strand of magic he somehow knew far too intimately for never having seen it before. "Where's-"
The words died at the back of his throat as the fading strand led to a prone body several feet away.