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Beautiful Omen

Eraesyx the Omen was borne from the sea, set apart from the others of his kind because of his ferocious looks, and yet revered because he protected his kind from those who would do them harm. He thought he was content with the life he lived, even if it made...

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Chapter Four: The Fort

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Chapter Four

The Fort

 

    The morning wasn’t as sunshiney as it was yesterday. The sky was blanketed in bright grey clouds that made the surrounding forest seem brighter than usual and the birds sang just a tad more quietly - sleepily in fact. Mallory supposed last night was tiring for both him and nature.

    Though the outside was gloomy; when Mallory stepped out into the living room, everything seemed warmer, cozier even. Beau was setting up a fortress of pillows and blankets with the sofas and recliner acting as posts while a delicious smell and hissing sound escaped the kitchen around the corner. Chey was humming and Beau was whistling.

    “What is this?” Mallory broke his silence, and Beau shot her head up.

    “‘Lory! Just in time!” She ran to him, immediately sliding into his side and hooking her arms around his waist to keep herself from falling. The cause were the incredibly fluffy slippers she had on.

    “Sorry about that,” she laughed. “I’m making a fort and then we’ll all have breakfast in it.”

    “Is this . . . customary?” Mallory frowned.

    “Well, for us, sure!”

    “Hmm.”

    “‘Lory awake?” Chey called from the kitchen.

    “Yep,” Beau replied. “Meet us in the fort!”

    Beau then ushered Mallory into the livingroom and lifted up a piece of blanket that hung loose from the rest, like a primitive door to a tent. Bewildered, Mallory crawled inside and sat against the sofa. The thin red blanket above him allowed a warmer light inside the makeshift fort, and as he sat there in that warm light, he gradually began to understand the purpose of this fort. It offered a cozier, more secure place to relax in.

    From where, he wasn’t sure, but Beau had garnered an arsenal of pillows and chucked them inside the fort one after another until she threw herself inside last.

    An odd, bizarre instinct came over Mallory then, looking at all those pillows, and he just dropped onto them and buried his face in one. Every muscle in him relaxed and a deep breath filed out of him slowly.

    Beau laughed and fell on the pillows beside him. “You’re like a rabbit, ‘Lory.”

    “Hm?” he inquired sleepily.

    “They’re always nervous, but when they’re feelin’ super safe and comfortable, they flop over, like you did. Maybe we could make a fort in your room!”

    How kind of Beau. Perhaps . . . if he truly is staying here, he can have a fort of his own.


 

    “Make room!”

    Three plates full of food came sliding in on pads and Chey followed suit. His presence instantly made the fort seem smaller - although that wasn’t a bad thing. It was less lonely this way.

    Beau handed her father a pillow to sit on and immediately started digging into a plate, set up exactly like the other two.

    “What are those?” Mallory asked, eyeballing the odd red strips of meat. “More fish?”

    Chey chortled, his mouth already full of the fluffy looking bread, “Nah, das bacon.”

    “It’s made from pigs. Don’t you have pigs where you’re from?” Beau questioned, crunching on the “pig.”

    “Erm, I’m from here,” he mumbled.

    “Uh huh,” the Ellwoods said in unison.

    Mallory’s ears grew hot and he shoved a whole piece of bacon in his mouth. His face scrunched up at first, but as he chewed, Mallory became accustomed to the overwhelming and delicious taste of bacon. Before he knew it, he was reaching for an empty space on his plate.

    “Oh.”

    “Haha, finish the rest and see then if you’ll want seconds. I’ll happily oblige, ‘Lory.” Chey winked.

    “You forgot juice, Dad,” Beau groused.

    “No I didn’t. I had a feeling ‘Lory here would spill his.”

    Mallory perked his head up from the odd crunchy sandwich he’d bit into. It was filled with some fluffy yellow stuff and Eraethean vegetables. “Waht?”

    “Ahh. Dad’s clairvoyant!” Beau poked her father’s cheek. “Sometimes he uses it as an excuse, but most of the time he’s serious.”

    “Hey.”

    “OH, once he predicted an attack and told the King about it! It was SOOO cool! He was gonna be the King’s Royal Advisor!”

    “Well, I don’t do predictions like that anymore,” Chey smiled sheepishly. “That was years ago. Mostly it’s just small stuff now. I’ve become a sort of consultant for folks around here.”

    “Why not take such an opportunity?” Mallory inquired, intrigued.

    “Being young and stupid, I didn’t ever have any proper training, so using so much of my clairvoyance at once put a cap on my maximum potential. It was like . . . starting muscle building; I went with the heaviest weight first and sprained myself. If I were to become the King’s Advisor, I’d only be able to tell him what the weather was gonna be like, what his queen was up to, or who was gonna be knocking on his door. Stuff like that.”

    “Y’know what else is cool? He used to be a warrior!” said Beau.

    “By the gods, child. Stop tellin’ ‘Lory it’s cool when it ain’t!” Chey groaned. “Listen, ‘Lory, what’s cool is my daughter bein’ an engineering genius. Now she’s gonna go places.”

    “Don’t make me blush,” Beau snickered.

    Chey smiled and shook his head and looked to Mallory once more. “What about you? What do you do?”

    Mallory swallowed his food down. “Um, I make potions. Anything from defense to perfumes.”

    “Oh? I bet your store made a killing huh?”

    “Store? No . . . I sold potions from my . . . home,” Mallory ended with a mutter.

    “Holy shit, you could use the shed!” Beau barked.

    “Eh woah, watch the fucking language,” Chey scolded.

    Mallory clapped his hand over his mouth, snorting loudly.

    “Sorry - but! If he’s staying he could set up shop in the shed! It’s pretty big, we could fix it up, take the cart to town and give people samples of his stuff!”

    Chey scratched his beard. “That does sound like a good idea - who am I kidding? Your ideas ain’t never let anybody down.”

    Mallory’s eyes went downcast, his brows furrowing. “Occupying even more of your space? I don’t . . . even know how to repay the kindness you’ve shown me thus far.”

    “Of course we ain’t gonna let you loaf around the house,” Beau snorted. “There’s bills to pay.”

    “Beau,” Chey eyed his daughter.

    “Well it’s true. If we can get him a shop to work out of, then he can pay rent.”

    That would be a start to repaying them. Mallory’s eyes widened. It could work. If Eraethean’s are willing to buy his products, if he could work, it’d make him feel better. It was always therapeutic for him to create potions, that’s why he practiced the craft in the first place.

    It was the one thing that witch didn’t take away from him.

    “You would really help me . . . ‘set up shop?’” Mallory looked to Beau and Chey. “I want to repay you both.”

    Chey grinned brightly, a shine in his big brown eyes. “Sure thing. But for now, we should start small. Beau can make you a cart to sell from in town.”

    “It’ll take a while to gather ingredients . . .” Mallory mused. “What do Eraethean’s like?”

    “Perfume is popular I guess. Stuff that smells like flowers. Old people like Dad want more hair. Some want less hair -”

    “Excuse me, do I look bald to you?” Chey glared.

    Beau snorted. “You don’t know?”

    “Know what?”

    “Pa, you’ve got a bald spot.”

    “WHAT!?”

    Chey immediately scrambled out of the fort like his life depended on it.

    Beau burst out laughing.

    Mallory frowned. “Is there . . . a lot of importance placed in appearance here?”

    “Hmmm, yeah, I’d say so. If you can make stuff that’ll make people feel better about themselves appearance-wise, then you’ll do great!”

    Quietly, Mallory resumed eating, pondering Eraetheans, and what they found important in appearances. He’ll have to further question Beau about this to appeal to Eraethean tastes.

    As he expected, they’re quite strange.

    “BEAU, YA LYIN’ SNOT!” Chey roared from the bathroom.

 

    ❀

 

    “Come on! Careful about your arm, ‘Lory,” Beau called over her shoulder as she hopped over an old fence, with red paint chipping off.

    A bit of sun was poking out of the grey clouds, bugs and birds were bouncing about merrily and the ground was chipper from all that rain last night. It was a good thing Chey gave Mallory boots, for beyond the fence was a little area dedicated to vegetables, a well kept garden. And part of the wall of the fence, across the garden from where Mallory stood, there was a bright red shed. It sat conveniently by a dirt road leading out of the forest.

    Mallory unlatched the gate and stepped into the garden, passing by a trove of milkweed covered in monarch butterflies, a row of lilac bushes and a conglomeration of flowers from roses to fly traps. These Ellwoods were also fond of potatoes, as there were at least four rows dedicated to them, and others Mallory did not recognize.

    Strangely, there was a random lizard scuttling about through the bushes and flowers, hissing at Mallory. It was, perhaps, half Beau’s size.

    By time he’d reached Beau, she’d found a key in the myriad of oily pockets on her overalls and shoved it in the rusty lock of the shed’s double doors. With a click, she’d tucked the lock in a pocket and swung open the doors.

    Mallory peeked inside eagerly, greeted with an overwhelming amount of trash, metal bits, old Eraethean machinery, and plenty of old hay. Plus a few mice here and there.

    “Hey, it might look like a lot of work, but if your cart is successful, then you can help fund new floors, paint and even a mover to get this junk outta here,” Beau said optimistically, patting Mallory’s shoulder. “There’s a cellar to this place, it hasn’t been used because Dad is scared of spiders.”

    “The cellar would be perfect to make most potions,” Mallory informed. “Some special ones cannot touch natural light until they’re finished.”

    “What kinds are those?”

    “Love potions, creature repellents - oh, and potions made with demonic spirits!” he informed excitedly. He couldn’t wait to get his hands working with something familiar.

    Beau’s eyes widened. “You can make love potions?”

    “Oh most certainly,” Mallory smiled. “Each one takes at least two months, however. If you want one that lasts ‘til death. Others done more quickly only last a measly ten or twenty years.”

    “That’s awesome,” Beau spoke with awe. “How many people have bought love potions?”

    “Hmm, they’re quite expensive. I’d say about three.”

    “Make me one!” She blurted, grabbing Mallory’s hand. “I’ll do anything for it! I’ll make your cart for free, get your ingredients -”

    “Why?”

    “Huh?”

    Mallory met Beau’s wide eyes with a stern look. “I never make a potion as volatile as a love potion without knowing why.”

    Beau lowered her gaze to her boots, letting go of Mallory’s hand. “I want it . . . for my mom.”

    “Your mom?”

    She darted her eyes towards the house and back up to Mallory, “I don’t think she loves Dad anymore. Or . . . or me. But she hurts him more than she hurts me. That’s why I want a love potion. I want my mom to stop hurting him.”

    Mallory breathed out slowly, unable to tear his gaze away from Beau’s big, hopeful brown eyes. He could never resist any plea that he could remedy.

    “I’ll do it,” said Mallory, “As payment for the kindness you both have shown me.”

    Beau’s eyes watered and she latched onto Mallory’s waist, holding tightly. “Thank you! Thank you so much, ‘Lory!”

    Mallory’s smile withered and he looked to the house, wondering if a broken love can still mend with a little bit of magic.

 

    ❀

 

    After Mallory helped Beau find a spare wheel in the chaos that was the shed, Beau ran off to the other side of the Ellwood land, towards a smaller shed that was littered with odd contractions made of metal or wood. He supposed that shed was her own workshop.

    Of course, Beau didn’t leave him without giving him a task of his own. While she would fix him up a cart for his wares, Mallory had to supply the wares. She suggested mostly perfumes for now but he could make a few other oddities if he liked.

    What smelt good to Eraetheans?

    Perhaps Mallory could enlist Chey for assistance, if the man wasn’t busy.

 

    “What smells good?”

    “Yes.”

    “Well, flowers maybe, but whenever I try to get me some cologne, the stuff never smells like the label,” rumbled Chey. “In fact, most of the scents are just too sharp and unnatural. Probably too much alcohol in ‘em.”

    Mallory cringed. “Alcohol? Simply use Varnis Bane, it’s much safer and enhances the scent.”

    “Where do you get that?”

    “Caves inhabited by Varnis Pests. I leave bottles beneath dripping stalactites. They build their perches from their saliva.”

    Chey’s mouth sagged, “Yyyick. Don’t tell anyone else what yer gonna make those perfumes out of.”

    “It’s perfectly safe. The young Varnis have to live in it.”

    “Just keep it ‘part of the secret recipe, alright?”

    “. . . Fine.”

    With a last swipe of a rag across the kitchen counter, Chey asked, “So when are we gonna go for the hunt?”

    “We? Hunt?”

    “We’re gonna need to get you supplies, right?” Chey leaned against the pristine counter, “I’ve got some empty bottles for the saliva, but I don’t know where to find you some pungent flowers. Though there’s some trees full of sap around. They smell good.”

    “You’re not occupied?”

    “Nah, I’m all yours.”

    Mallory cocked his head to the side slightly at Chey, and the man’s face fell and grew darker with a blush. “Erm, I mean I’m free to do whatever! An’ Beau’s probably busy and I don’ have much to do anyway -”

    “Thank you,” Mallory smiled reassuringly, “I appreciate it, Chey.”

 

    ❀

 

    “The vegetation here is wonderful,” Mallory mused to himself, plucking just about everything out of the ground around him. There were all sorts of weeds and flowers in these “pocket valleys” as Chey called them, hidden in the trees and over large hills and small cliffs. Mallory of course never went this far to discover such tiny valleys. It was deemed Eraethean land, and thus dangerous for him and any other creature like him to venture.

    But now . . . at least he has the advantage of an Eraethean appearance.

    Chey stood idly by, watching over the horse they’d ridden on. Attached to the horse was a very small trailer, where Mallory could toss his findings.

    “Chey,” Mallory called, holding up a tiny white flower.

    Chey strode over and took the flower, giving it a light sniff. “Oh, this one’s nice. Kinda like vanilla.”

    Vanilla. That’s in some of the tea Mallory liked.

    “Good. They come in large bushels around here. Perhaps try to dig them up by their roots?”

    “Will do, ‘Lory,” Chey saluted and pocketed he tiny flower, crouching down and setting to work on digging up the bushels,

    Earlier, as Chey was tying the trailer to the horse, they’d decided it would be best if Chey was the “nose” of the duo. Clearly Mallory didn’t know what smelt nice to Eratheans and what didn’t. It was possible he had a nose only for functionality, rather than a nose for aesthetics. Now a smell Mallory would gladly greet would be the pungent, bitter smell of the Witch’s Cry weed. It’s stench keeps away pests and protects against most minor demons.

    But Mallory soon found that Chey and a number of his kind like destroying the Witch’s Cry as soon as any pop up in their gardens. What a waste.

    Clearing his throat a little, Mallory continued pulling up flowers and weeds. His throat felt odd, perhaps a little scratchy even. He has talked more in the past two days than he probably ever did in the past. Of course, loneliness has no company most days.

    A bird whistled past Mallory and he jerked his head up, watching the bright blue thing soar up into the large white clouds. The wind caressed him gently and the surrounding land and Mallory blocked the emerging sunlight from his eyes. With the simple emergence of the sun, the air warmed, and so did his skin.

    Mallory’s eyes slid closed as the warmth spread throughout his body. The sun was an unfamiliar entity . . . most of his days were spent inside, in the moist dark, or in the ocean, where a creature of his like was hidden and safe.

    The few times he was in the sun though . . . he’d fallen in love with it every time. Once again he’d forgotten that love, of this delightful warmth scaring away the cold pit in his body and breathing life into earth.

    “Beautiful day, huh?”

    Chey’s fingers brushed against Mallory’s ear as he stuck a damn sunflower in his hair.

    Chey snorted at him as Mallory shot him a hard look. “Sorry. Annoying people is my job. Beau’s right though! Ya look good with flowers.”

    Mallory tossed the sunflower aside and continued digging into the ground. Obviously the Ellwoods have been talking about him.

    “What’s your real name, ‘Lory?”

    He froze. “. . . Mallory. That is it.”

    Chey is much more astute than his appearance might lead others to believe. His eyes were staring into the back of Mallory’s head like needles trying to find their way in. The Ellwoods and their curiosity would grow, but Mallory has made a silent vow to himself; to start anew, forget his past, and never say a peep about it.

    Most of all, he wanted to push away and swallow down the overwhelming feeling of loss as if he were never affected by that accursed witch.

    “I’ll try not to pry much,” Chey spoke up. “Somethin’ tells me I can trust you, but I’m always warring with myself.”

    Mallory eyed him over his shoulder. “Your clairvoyance tells you this?”

    “No. I know a bad guy when I see ‘im. They leave a sick feeling in my gut and make me itchy,” he chuckled.

    Mallory tore a particularly large root from the ground, a mandrake, and he’d torn it in half before it could scream. His throat felt tight and hot.

    “Don’t trust this pretty mask,” Mallory hissed silently and stood, walking further down into the small valley. He needed to be alone.

 

    ❀

 

    Mallory is a damn gorgeous man, Chey’d be damned if he couldn’t admit that. Faces like ‘Lory’s still leave him tongue-tied - and the old bitties in town wonder why Chey ain’t married even once. He’s a dork through and through.

    However, Chey never judged a man because of his looks - if that’s what Mallory was thinking. Strangely, that man seemed bitter about the way he looked. Is it because it rendered him androgynous?

    Chey watched until Mallory become the size of a rice grain in the middle of the valley before gathering the myriad of plants ‘Lory unearthed. Except the mandrake. He wasn’t sure about that thing - in fact, Chey wasn’t fond of plants that screamed in general. Imagine if potatoes screamed; he’d have to give up mashed potatoes, fries, and his favorite stew!

    What was Beau up to right now? Probably still working on Mallory’s cart. No doubt she got that wheel on there already. Might be washing that old tent Chey had to be cut up and made into an eaves for the cart. It may have had a ridiculous pattern for a tent, but it’d do well as an eaves to attract people’s attention in town.

    Most people would consider it bad parenting, leaving Beau by herself at home, but most people don’t have clairvoyance, and most don’t have such a child so remarkable as Chey’s. Beau is a quick witted, mischievous kid, with a galore of traps and tricks up her sleeves. She can protect herself better than Chey ever could in his time as a warrior, telling by the amount of scars he’s got on his body, not to mention the ugly one on his face.

    Chey lightly scratched the aforementioned scar, frowning. The beard helps hide it a little . . . ? Meh.

    Ah, later he should check on ‘Lory’s wound. Last night he wasn’t so sure if it needed stitches, but Mallory seems to be moving his arm about just fine.

    He found himself watching Mallory again, conjuring up stories in his head, backgrounds that Mallory might’ve come from.

    Maybe ‘Lory is a prince, and his home was invaded and he was the only one to escape. Chey and Beau will have to help him reclaim the throne.

    Now that’s too much fantasizing there.

    Maybe he is just a simple man who simply lost his home and found himself in the care of strangers.

    Still, there’s a lot about Mallory that doesn’t seem simple or ordinary. Guess that’s just apart of his allure.

 

    ❀

 

    “WOAH!” Beau whistled at the cart as Mallory and Chey trotted on past her on the back of “Gerry,” as the horse was called. The cart was filled to the brim, and both Mallory and Chey’s hands were comprised of filthy nails, scratched fingers and green stained palms. After the thorn bush incident, Mallory implored Chey to step back and let him do the rest, but the man was stubborn and continued plucking from the earth.

    Mallory slid off the horse, from where he sat behind Chey, and rubbed his arse. He should have walked; behind Chey was by far the most uncomfortable place to be seated.

    Beau ran up to him, a broad smile on her face. “How much perfume can you make outta that?”

    “Perhaps about twenty different scents,” Mallory mused.

    “Holy - how far did you guys go!?”

    “All the way up to them caves I took you hiking around - remember?” said Chey, hopping off Gerry and patting the horse’s long neck.

    “That’s good timing for so many plants.”

    “Mallory and I split up for a bit. He got some Varnis saliva from the caves and other stuff that he won’t even show me.”

    Beau raised a brow at Mallory, and he returned the gesture with a wink. She stared at him for a hard moment before coming to a realization. Hopefully she knew that Mallory had gathered at least half of the ingredients required to make a love potion. Remarkably, he’d found one third of the key ingredients, a rare “weed” found in the crystal cave system not far from the Varnis caves. It lays untouched by most, in fact, Mallory wouldn’t be surprised if he was the only one to know of its existence. To make good time he had to run to that secret cave system, then come back and scrape Varnis saliva into the bottles Chey provided. Luckily, there were already some other bottles in there, filled to the brim, from the last time he’d been to the Varnis caves.

    Beau, grinning ear to ear, went to her father and started helping him unlatch the cart from the horse.

    “Dad, do we have any perfume bottles?”

    “I think I’ve got two or three, I can dump em and clean them out.”

    “That sucks. Not even tiny bottles? Mallory needs something nice looking to have the perfume in, or no one’s gonna buy some!”

    Mallory spoke up, “I’m skilled with glass blowing. Although my tools are . . . where are they?” He’d forgotten if he ever brought his tools home, or if he left them in his work space, a cave beneath the waters rushing up against Banshee’s Precipice.

    Gods, how will he get there to check? Mallory no longer appears to have gills of any kind - just lungs. He could make a potion . . .

    “‘Lory, you’re so cool,” said Beau. “Maybe I have some tools you can use?”

    “Perhaps,” he smiled.

    “For now, a break. My hands are sore all over,” Chey grumbled. He found a tiny thorn on his thumb and plucked it.

    “Well, come look at what I’ve got after you wash up!” Beau exclaimed, running off back towards her shed with a skip in her step.

    “Can’t wait. There’s a lot that girl can do in four hours.” Chey winked at Mallory and headed towards the house. Gerry the horse wandered off to the field, leaving Mallory by himself.

    ‘Lory pulled the hair out of his face and sighed at the cart full of herbs, flowers and the like. A long time ago, he had to work with primitive tools to make his potions, it won’t be too terrible a second time. Now that he has this new form, it just might be easier to obtain the more efficient tools. All the sneaking around last time was terribly stressful.

    But . . . he’s never been seen by many Eraethean’s before. Mallory is grateful the first two were Chey and Beau, even if they’re only kind to him because of this form.

    Stop thinking about it. Take their kindness and return it. That’s all his existence is right now.

 

    ❀

 

    Mallory watched sleepily as Beau constructed him a fort. She’d pushed his bed closer to the wall at an angle and tucked a blanket underneath the mattress and pinned the other sides to the walls. She also brought in plenty of pillows, blankets and a small lantern. Plus cookies, courtesy of Chey.

    Beau crawled halfway out of the low hanging entrance to the fort, now emitting a warm glow from within.

    “Finished! Come on in, I’ll comb your hair.”

    “I care not to keep it kempt. It’s troublesome.”

    Beau frowned at him. “But then it’ll hurt when you do comb it.”

    “I never said I would.”

    “Never!? What, you won’t take baths either?”

    Mallory shrugged.

    “That’s awful. Dad’s gonna take one whiff of you and give you a bath himself - trust me, they’re bad when he takes out the scrubber! I learned the hard way.”

    “Excuse me? He wouldn’t.”

    “Go ahead and try him then. It’s your funeral. I know he made a face at your back after you came outta the cellar. You smell like a perfume shop mixed with dust and crap.”

    The Ellwoods are blunt. So blunt that, for the first time, Mallory might be feeling offended, worried even. Does he smell that bad?

    “Oh good, you’ve realized,” Beau laughed at his expression. “You better take a bath in the morning, okay?”

    Mallory nodded begrudgingly, sighing and sliding off the rocking chair. Beau crawled back inside the fort and he followed.

    Beau eagerly took a comb to his hair, pulling out a myriad of knots. “Geez, should’ve put it in a braid like yesterday. Each strand is so pretty - look! This one looks like gold.”

    She handed Mallory a long strand over his shoulder, and in the light of the lantern, it did indeed appear golden. What of it?

    “I wish my hair was like yours.”

    “Why?”

    “Because! It’s so beautiful and silky.”

    “Aren’t you content with the features you share with your father? I’d give anything to appear more like . . . my kin,” Mallory murmured.

    “Well . . . I guess I don’t really want different hair . . . not a lot anyway. There’s a lot more I want, like other girls. I can’t help that I don’t have what they have and it makes me really angry. Mostly sad though.”

    Mallory closed his eyes wearily. Sounds so familiar; he never thought Eraetheans might share his feelings. Perhaps in every society, there are outcasts like himself.

    “Embrace what you have, Beau,” said Mallory. “Don’t become like me. Bitter and lonely.”

    “Then, you have to embrace what you have! We’ll work on it together, ‘kay?”

    Mallory met Beau’s sincere gaze over his shoulder, wondering at her and her courage. “But how?” he asked, a quiver in his voice. How can he accept this mask stitched over his face?

    She chuckled. “Well I dunno. Let’s try not to have bitter thoughts about it for starters. Find somethin’ you like about yourself! Let’s start right now.”

    “Now?”

    “Now. I’ll go first. Hmmmmm, I like my eyes because . . . because they’re like my dad’s.”

    Mallory breathed out heavily. “I like . . . “

    “It doesn’t have to be something physical.”

    “My skills as an alchemist?”

    “There you go!”

    He forced a smile away from his lips and rubbed his eyes.

    “Long day?”

    Mallory nodded. “I’ve gotten good work done for at least four fragrances. It takes a lot of energy to grind down or extract the oils from the flowers.”

    Beau was silent for a moment before asking quietly, “Did you start making it?”

    “Yes. But I cannot continue until I have the other two ingredients.”

    “Are they hard to get?”

    “They’re in very . . . precarious areas. But I know my way around them.”

    “When can you get ‘em?”

    “Patience, child.”

    “Right . . . it’s gonna take two months anyway.”

    Beau took the comb and parted Mallory’s hair on the side. She then braided it in a very short braid and tied something silk around it. He knew she’d put it in a bow.

    “Never cut your hair, okay? It’s too pretty.”

    Mallory withheld a heavy sigh and instead yawned deeply. He wiped the water from his eyes. Oh gods, he was eager to sleep in the fortress Beau ever so kindly made him. Unfortunately, he had one more person to chat with.

    “Knock knock,” Chey piped up as he entered Mallory’s room. “Time to hit the hay Beau. Your tea is on your dresser.”

    “Oo! G’night ‘Lory!” Beau punched Mallory’s shoulder with a surprising amount of force and slid out of the fort.

    “Night, lil sparrow,” Chey grunted as he gave his daughter a big hug. Beau’s feet slapped on the wood floors as she dashed to her room.

    Chey’s heavy footsteps slightly shook the floor as he lumbered over to the fort and peeked inside, giving Mallory a much too bright smile. Is this man not tired? Leave such smiles for the morning.

    “Made tea - pretty sure you won’t drop it this time - er, well you didn’t drop it last time ‘cus I prevented that, but y’know what I mean.”

    Chey slid in a small tray bearing two plain ceramic mugs and crawled in himself. Once again he took up a great deal of room in the fort, but his large presence was comforting, as if he himself were a fort.

    “Oh, had a feelin’ you like a bit o’ cinnamon in you tea, hope you don’t mind.” Chey scooched a specific mug towards Mallory.

    “Not at all.” Mallory lifted the mug and stared at it for a moment, having the overwhelming urge to drink it the way he usually did - holding it to the side of his face and pouring it in - but he watched Chey drink from his own mug. Ahh, okay.

    “Fuck!” Mallory yelped, covering his burning mouth.

    Chey cackled as though he were a witch. “Too big a sip, ‘Lory! You’ll be feeling that all day tomorrow.”

    Mallory set down the mug angrily. “Do you not predict all unsavory events?”

    “If I did, that’d be sensory overload. I can control it mostly, like those new on/off switches.”

    “How does it work? What is it like?” Mallory asked and flexed his tongue uncomfortably inside his mouth. Eraethean’s are such fragile beings.

    “Hmm . . . it kinda starts out as a feeling, and slowly turns into a thought. If I’m lucky, that thought will turn into an image. It’s real simple - not as mystical and mysterious as some phonies make it out to believe. What’s funny is that people didn’t believe my clairvoyance because I didn’t speak in riddles!” Chey laughed heartily, a laugh that stuck inside Mallory’s chest like the beat of a drum.

    Mallory smiled at him softly. “You’re fun, Chey.”

    “Oh? Thanks!” Chey chugged at his tea, the tips of his ears turning red.

    “You’re much like the . . . people I would see, always surrounded by others and adored by them. I envy that.”

    “Well, me too. I might get along with people, but they don’t stick around long.” Chey set down his mug, hugging a knee to his chest, a humored grin on his face. “Beau’s mother always did say I’m ‘an acquired taste.’”

    “Odd . . . I would call you infectious. I was tired not five minutes ago, but you’ve ‘revived’ me, per se,” Mallory mumbled.

    Chey raised a brow. “Is that a bad thing?”

    “I don’t know.”

    His gracious host chuckled quietly, and they soon fell into a peaceful silence. Grasshoppers sang from outside Mallory’s window. Their song became so hearty, there might as well be a choir of them underneath his bed.

    By now his tea had cooled down, and Mallory took careful sips, deciding to watch Chey as there was nothing much else to do. Chey wore a large sweater, the largest piece of clothing Mallory has ever seen; so large that the collar nearly spanned Chey’s shoulders. It revealed to Mallory his prominent collarbone and plenty of small scars - plus a large one snaking out in a long tendril. All Chey’s scars no doubt came from his time as a warrior. He wondered if Chey slayed any sea demons back in the day.

    Chey appeared lost in thought, his eyes dark and unmoving as his fingers lightly followed the length of the scar running over the corner of his lips, along his jaw and down his neck. Such a wonky scar. If Mallory weren’t sleepy from the tea, he’d ask all about Chey’s scars.

    “Hey ‘Lory.”

    He jumped ever slightly, eyes fluttering open. “Hm?”

    Chey smiled, “Thank you for being so good with Beau. She’s been lonely for quite some time now, pretty isolated, an’ I bet your company was a breath of fresh air. Y’know it’s not always that great for a kid to spend so much time with their father apparently, haha. So thanks. It’s good having somebody else around the house, even if they do smell like a perfume shop.”

    Mallory rolled his eyes, though managed to smile through the offense. “Beau is an interesting child. It’s my pleasure. And I promise to take a bath in the morning.”

    “Good deal,” Chey chortled. “See you in the morn’, friend.”

    Chey took it upon himself to take Mallory’s mug and crawled out of the fort. Mallory felt his heavy footsteps all the way until Chey closed the door behind him.

    Mallory breathed out slowly and feel to the pile of pillows, pulling a blanket around him. Safe and warm, Mallory finally drifted off to sleep without his anxiety hanging over him precariously. The fort is a magical place.

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