Luna takes things for a spin (and throws Kacie for a loop) as our characters visit a new setting and we learn a little more about the world they’re in.
“Can I get a coffee for the road home?”
“Sure thing, hun.”
The smell of bacon filtered from the kitchen window despite being past sunset and the High Council was having a press conference on the muted TV overhead, having been a less boring game of basketball seconds before. The air conditioner whirred cooler air at them but the always present humidity made it sticky, and the jukebox just started playing Country Roads for the fourth time. None of this would have been uncomfortable if their group hadn’t been too uncomfortable not to notice.
The waitress walked past their table with a to-go cup of coffee in hand, eyeing the two kids silently picking at their food with slight suspicion. Jose supposed it wasn’t her fault, they do always come here after stealing from the hospital. It was a wonder they hadn’t been turned in yet, but the slouch in her posture, the messy bun, and the stains in her uniform told him she probably didn’t care that much.
Jose spun the nearly empty cup of cocoa in a slow circle on the table, twirling it by the handle with his finger. He glanced up at Nedjma again. Nope, fingers at her temple and staring at her food meant not yet. Now? No, that was an angry bite just now, basically tearing the sausage off of that fork. Jose rubbed his slightly bruised arm.
He could understand being stumped by all this new stuff so suddenly, but just being quiet and thinking about it had always been Nejma’s jam more than his. Made him want to run laps around the diner screaming until he collapsed on the ground, probably after the second lap. But he held it in, like always.
“Look, I understand you have a lot on your plate now,” the spectral face peeking out of the back of the booth seat said in a quieter voice. Jose looked at Nedjma’s nearly gone french toast with furrowed brows.
“…Figuratively speaking,” she said, with an obvious look at him. “But I don’t think you should just be sitting around here acting like you just came from a funeral.”
“I’m thinking, okay?!” Nedjma burst out in frustration and Louis hid, the diner quieting and glancing in their direction before slowly returning to its normal volume.
“You can think with me?” Jose offered meekly. Nedjma looked up at him with a sigh before losing her hunch and leaning back in her seat.
“You know why we can’t go down the mountain. It’s the same reason no one can go down the mountain. We will get sick. And die. There’s a reason Faraday is a the peak and our poor town isn’t, remember?”
“Yeah but we’re probably gonna die if we get possessed by those red guys anyway, right?”
Jose looked to Dr. Louis for answers, but she only scrunched her face up in thought before saying, “It’s entirely possible, but I haven’t seen it tried yet.”
“Can’t we just get your brother to… borrow one of the suits from the castle? We put those on and we could even take a walk to Marranon Mountain afterwards, you’ve always wanted to go there.” Jose was coaxing, but it only seemed to exacerbate the situation.
“Those aren’t real! That was from a story you read in fourth grade. I know because I lent you the book. And we can go to Marranon Mountain, or any other mountain in the Allied Peaks once we have degrees from Faraday U and can afford the airfare.”
Jose slumped further in his seat. He hadn’t seen her this stressed since she’d gotten to the last round of that state writing contest in middle school.
“Out of curiosity, how close is the mouth of the mountain to the ground then? Is it above the meesma?”
“Miasma, and hard to say exactly, but it’s not ground level,” the doctor stated, sticking a silvery hand from the seat to point her finger, then waving to Nedjma. “But that can all be alleviated by your friend here, if she can handle focusing that long. Not being alive, I don’t really have the strength to do it anymore.”
“What? You’re saying I can-” and left anyway.
Dr. Louis phased back into the seat just before the clanking of the waitress collecting their plates made Nedjma jump. She gave them an even more suspicious look now that they suddenly stopped talking, but slid them their bill.
“And that’s why I suggested you not stop here to talk. Basically the watering hole of, as you say ‘spilling the beans’, you know.”
“But I was hungry,” Jose whined, more to himself, as he and Nedjma dropped their coins in the little tray.
“We can talk more on the way home.” Nedj got up and pulled her windbreaker back on, maybe a little too hard, and walked out of the diner before he could argue to get a cocoa to go, too. He whined again, following her out.
Dr. Louis walked from the diner wall to the empty lot as naturally and gracefully as if she were walking down the stairs in some flowy gown like those old-timey movies his dad watched. He was the only person he knew of that still watched those centuries old things.
“So… option one,” Jose started as they set to climbing back down the mountain, using the thin trees as handholds on the steep slope. “We give the medicine we worked real hard to get to the clinic and go on about our lives, forgetting this all happened. Study for our final exams. Also potentially getting possessed in a few weeks. Aw, sick!”
Jose bent and pulled a fat and stubby mushroom from a fallen tree and shoved it in his pocket. “We should go mushroom hunting again soon. Anyway, option two. We go down the mountain immediately and maybe get sick and die, maybe get murdered by some zombie overlord, or maybe kill this zombie overlord and become heroes and get full ride scholarships to the university.”
He skids down the slope to the dirt road, obviously having much more fun than when they were going up the mountain.
“Neither sound like good options to me,” Nedjma yelled ahead to him.
“But option two does have the better positive outcome.” Jose her gave her a hand down and they walked the short road to their neighborhood.
“And the worse negative one. I don’t see how you can be so calm about this.”
“Oh, you know me,” he said with a sigh. “All my bad thoughts and worries go in a bottle ‘cuz I don’t know how to deal with them,” he said a quick and joking manner, his face neutral.
“You gotta go see Dr. Sonora again sometime,” Nedjma said in a softer voice with a quick pat on his arm.
“No insurance!” he answered quickly. “Either way, I say we pack up and check it out. We’re on school break anyway, we have time.”
“I like his idea,” Dr. Louis piped up, and Nedjma lost any relief Jose managed to coax her into.
“Of course you do,” she said with an eye roll.
Jose flashed his usual dimpled smile, walking up to Nedjma’s newly fixed window and smirking at his work before ducking inside. Not even a minute passed before footsteps rumbled from the hallway and Lord Kenneth barged in without knocking, as usual.
“Nedj, I know you didn’t sneak out to the diner again when I told you I was bringing home beef stew- and of course Jose’s here too.”
Jose smiled meekly and waved.
“And-” he stopped abruptly, running to open the closet, finding Dr. Louis, who had just phased inside.
“Nedj, this is-“
“I know I know I know, I said I was stopping the necromancy but something happened and-” She ran to pull him away by his arm but stopped at the sight of the expression on his face.
“No Nedj, this is… ” His voice was barely there and he took a step back. Dr. Louis’s expression grew hard, completely unlike the glowing kindness she had before.
“Time to go, kids.” Her voice was more of a command, and the next Jose saw, Kenneth was on the ground at a touch of her finger, the light in his eyes gone out.