“Riz, wake up!”
“You were having a nightmare. You were screaming in your sleep”
“Yeah, are you okay?”
“Yes, of course I am”
“Do you remember what you dreamt of?”
“I-I, no I don’t”
“Hey. It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it”
“Of course. Sometimes nightmares are freaking scary. But then you wake up and there is hot chocolate and TV”
“But there is no hot chocolate”
“So, let’s go make some, champ. We can watch some crappy reality TV as well”
“I wanna watch a murder mystery”
“After having a nightmare? No mister. You are watching ‘Fantasy Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ with me”
“Okay, but don’t be mad when I know the answers, and you don’t”
“Hey! It’s not my fault that you are a nerd, Riz”
“Aw, shut up”
“C’mon. Let’s go make some hot chocolate”
Riz was at the Seacaster Manor. Again. This time for a sleepover. He was forced to be there because he was supposed to keep an eye on his party. Also they threatened that they’d kidnap him if he said no.
So here they all were, in Fabian’s room, where the floor could barely be seen from the plethora of mattresses placed. Riz let Fig paint his nails a soft pastel yellow colour, that according to her, really complimented his skin tone.
“We should play a party game!”, Fig said gleefully.
“Oh, I know”, answered Kristen. “There was that game in camp where you started a quote from the Bible of Helio and the other had to finish it. I was three times champion at-”
“Okay, any suggestion from someone who wasn’t in a cult?”, interfered Fabian.
“We can play truth or dare”, suggested Gorgug.
And so they did. They played for several rounds and Riz learned some interesting truths, like that Gorgug liked this satyr girl, Zelda and that Fig was most likely to kiss Adaine of anyone in this room.
Riz decided to play it safe and he picked dare every single time. In the thrill of the moment, he didn’t want to spill any valuable information about him. But eventually, the others caught on.
“The Ball, you have to pick Truth at some point”, said Fabian exasperated.
“Nope, I don’t. It’s Truth or Dare. Not Truth and Dare”
“Okay. Truth or Dare?”
“I dare you to climb the outer wall of the house and reach the roof”
“Fabian, you are gonna get him killed”, intervened Adaine.
“We are on the third floor”, added Gorgug.
“Well he can always pick Truth, right Riz?”, said Fabian, fake innocence in his voice.
Oh, challenge accepted.
“Don’t worry guys. I got it”
“Oh my gods, Kristen please tell me you’ve got Revivify stocked”, said Adaine.
“I am not wasting my spell slots if he dies doing this”, she replied
“Wow, thanks for the vote of confidence, Kristen”, Riz said, one foot already out of the window.
He inspected the wall. The house was made out of a ship, so there were ropes hanging and stools of the portholes sticking out. Piece of cake.
He immediately started climbing.
“Oh, no the Ball! I was kidding! Come back inside”
“Shit, he really is doing it”
“I can cast Featherfall” suggested Adaine.
“Nope, I am doing this”, said Riz, raising his voice to be heard. He had to scale far smoother and difficult walls for missions where he had to assassinate people or steal valuables.
“Oh my gods. The Ball is gonna die. At my house”, Fabian said.
“We can drop some mattresses down, so he can land safely”, suggested Fig.
“Nope, those mattresses were built from elven masters. My mama will kill me if they get torn”
“You worry more about mattresses than Riz?”, asked Adaine.
“Is Riz worth twenty thousand golden pieces per mattress? And we have a cleric. He is gonna be fi-”
“Hey guys! I reached the roof!”, Riz announced. The roof was more or less the deck, of what used to be a giant pirate ship. The surface was smooth, so he had no difficulty standing up. “Do I come back down?”
“Nope!”, immediately yelled Fabian. “I am coming to get you through the attic. Can’t have you dying at my own slumber party”
He waited until Fabian opened a trapdoor and he climbed back inside. In less than five minutes he had joined the others.
“See?,” he showed his hands to Fig. “Didn’t even ruin my nails”
She hugged him.
He sat smashed between her and Fabian laughing along as Kristen was dared to scream at the top of her lungs that she had a crush on Tracker. When it came Fabian’s turn, Riz dared him to jump out of the window, with Featherfall cast on.
“Revenge for saying I am worth less than twenty thousand golden pieces”
To be fair, he was a trooper and jumped with only a little hesitation.
Then it was Riz’s turn again.
“Okay. Truth or Dare?”, asked Fig.
“I dare you to pick truth”, said Fig with a shit-eating grin.
“I hate you. I absolutely hate you”
"No, you don’t. Now pick Truth”
“Fine. I pick Truth”
“Alright. If every one of us was drowning and you could only save one person, who would you save?”
“I am four feet tall. I cannot realistically save anyone”
“Say you’ve got a magic switch. Or you went to the gym and got super buff”
“Got super buff?”
She nodded and he sighed in annoyance.
He remained silent for a second deep in thought.
“Okay. Definitely not Fabian”
“Hey! Why not?”
“You are the son of a pirate. You should know how to swim. If not, you deserve to die”
“That’s harsh. What if I was chained up?”
“So I have to pick a lock and carry you to the shore? No way! That is too much work. Also fuck Fig, for daring me to pick truth”
“I know you love me”, she winked. Riz rolled his eyes.
“I guess I’ll pick Gorgug. He is the least annoying”
“I thought you were gonna pick me, you jerk” Adaine threw a pillow playfully at him. “We had a heart to heart and everything”
Riz could swear he had Tasha’s Hideous Laughter casted on him, because he couldn’t stop laughing.
“Alright Kristen. Truth or dare?” he asked a whole two minutes later.
“Is it true that you asked Daybreak to put you in detention just to seem cool?”
“Wait. What?”, interjected Adaine. “Really?”
“I just wanted to meet you guys. You looked interesting”
“That’s sweet”, said Gorgug.
“And hilarious”, added Fig. “What would you do, if you weren’t put in detention?”
“Well, I think that it was fate for us to meet-”
“That’s stupid”, interjected Riz.
“Okay, Riz, what would you do to make friends?”
I can’t say I wasn’t planning on having friends. I still don’t. Not if they knew the truth.
“I’d make business cards and pass them around”, he said instead.
The room was silent for a second before everyone started laughing.
“Shut up! It’s a practical method to pass your crystal number around. Also memorable!”
“It sure is memorable”, said Fig wiping tears off her eyes. “Who would have thought that Riz, super rogue extraordinaire, was a giant nerd”
He threw her the pillow that Adaine had previously thrown at him.
“You are all terrible people”, he stated but he could feel a smile creeping on his face.
Finally after many yawns, and accidentally momentarily falling asleep, they decided it’s time to go to bed.
“Wait, guys! The gift!”, suddenly said Gorgug.
“The gift?”, asked Riz.
“Oh shit, the gift”, Fabian stood up. “Who has it?”
“I do!” said Adaine, stumbling to her bag and taking something out.
“What gift?”, repeated Riz.
“Your gift!”, said Kristen excitement clear on her face.
“But… It’s not my birthday? What’s the occasion?”, stuttered Riz.
“No reason. Just friends stuff”, said Adaine handing him a small velvet pouch. “It’s a dream catcher. To keep your nightmares at bay”
“We all contributed”, added Kristen. “Fabian bought the fabric, Gorgug sewed it, I filled it with herbs needed as magical ingredients, Adaine did the ritual and Fig-”
“I decorated it!”, Fig interrupted.
Indeed the pouch, which was made of dark blue velvet, had a sticker on it with the phrase ‘suck it nightmares’ written on along with an anarchy symbol.
Riz wasn’t moved by this. No, of course not.
And anyways, he rarely got nightmares anymore. He spent so much time calculating moves, making plans and trying not to screw up that he fell into a dreamless sleep afterwards.
This is all because of a lie I made up.
So why the hell did he feel his heart swell up?
“Thank you”, he said, his voice strained despite himself.
They did this for no reason at all. Just to help me.
“Group hug!”, Kristen yelled and everyone complied.
What a bunch of idiots.
However, the thought sounded affectionate in his mind.
The next weekend the atmosphere was heavy at Gukgak household. It was the anniversary of Pok Gukgak’s birthday. A few years ago, that was a day full of laughter and ice-cream cake. Now, it was eating silently in a dim-lighted room and a visit to the cemetery.
Riz came to hate these visits. But there he was, holding his brand new briefcase and wearing his father’s clothes, which felt more uncomfortable and unearned than any other time.
“I leave you two together”, said his mom squeezing his shoulder, before leaving to watch him from a distance. “Talk to him. He can hear you”
Riz wasn’t sure if his father could hear him, but he bet a Tabaxi woman did.
“Hey, dad”, he said, feeling awkward.
Mom said you were a good person but you worked with Kalina.
“ Hey, I learned you were a spy. Pretty cool, huh?”
If you had told me you were a spy, I wouldn’t have played right into Kalina’s hand. If you or mom had told me earlier, I would have been smarter, I wouldn’t have been as naive as I was.
“I miss you”
I am a spy now as well. It’s awful. I’ve done despicable things. Would you be proud of me?
“I wish I knew you better”
For the last few years, I have lived every moment in fear. Every moment I know I am not alone, that I might be observed. I learned not to trust anyone, because of you.
“Bye, dad. I love you”
And despite myself, I hate you too. I hate you because I had to grow up early. I hate you because I am leading people that care about me to the slaughter. I hate you because I did unspeakable things in your name.
Indeed, those visits were the worst.
There was a complete mess up at Ostentatia Wallace’s house. Aelwyn Abernant had got sloppy. A fight occurred in a matter of seconds.
Riz found his hands full, battling those elementals. However, as he turned an earth elemental to dust, a thought occurred to him. He was fighting his old ally, and they were winning. Aelwyn, who he had all those secret meetings with. Aelwyn, who was snarky but also rarely sincere and helpful. Aelwyn, who was always playfully making fun of his clothes.
Aelwyn, who he had a fight with. Aelwyn, who knew his secret. Aelwyn, who was completely out of control, not caring enough and capturing maidens in plain sight. Aelwyn, who hated him.
He aimed at her with his gun. Kristen was distracted by some fire elementals on the other side of the house. Even if she wanted to, she wouldn’t be able in the heat of the battle to revive her.
No, if Riz chose to, Aelwyn would die. And he knew the right answer, without having Kalina whisper in his ear.
Aelwyn Abernant should’ve died.
As he aimed at her she turned and looked him in the eyes. Crystal blue met yellow, and Riz hesitated. Because those were Adaine’s eyes. Because deep, deep, inside, he still considered Aelwyn his friend. And because after all, this was Adaine’s fight.
He could see her too, fuming with anger, her blonde hair floating in the air with divine energy. She wanted to fight her sister, she wanted closure.
If someone had earned to determine Aelwyn’s fate, that was her sister. And she did, giving her a sucker punch, that would make any professional kickboxer proud.
And later when all was done, and Aelwyn was led to the police car by his own mother, he saw her searching him in the crowd.
When she found him she mouthed three words;
Look after her.
He couldn't promise her that. He couldn’t nod, not even to comfort her.
But she didn’t wait for him to answer.
She looked at Adaine one last time, a hint of pride in her eyes, and then she was gone.