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Last chapter was last month? What kind of blasphemy is this? Isn't sunset supposed to only post a chapter once every couple of centuries? Anyhow, things cool down a bit after last chapter. Happy Mindcrack Marathon, guys!

Breathing Room
"Just because the portal gave us more questions than anything, that doesn't mean it gave us nothing. We may now have better avenues to explore for the moment, but the portal was a lead nonetheless and we're not gonna forget that."

It had been several weeks since the party of six had stumbled, tired and weary, from the strange obsidian portal. In spite of the discovery, the rain had eventually petered out and life had gone on as usual. No gains, no loses. Another average day in the Mindcrack camp, and for the while, everything was just fine.

In the meantime, Seth had been finally found a place in the compound's ever-busy daily roster.

His assigned task for today was caving for ore, alongside Guude, Beef, and Etho. Holed up in a quiet corner, the group took stock of their gear while Guude discussed the happenings of the compound. From what Seth had heard, Kurt was digging into a new lead he'd come across in his mapping of the area, but everything was still rather hush hush.

Etho hummed in agreement at Guude's comments, stuffing his final bit of gear into his pack.

"Go time?" Guude asked, interrupting his own tangent.

"Go time," the others agreed. And as if someone had flicked a switch, the stiff all-business air that filled the stone hollow was gone.

"Winner takes it all!" Beef exclaimed, bolting for the cave entrance. The others were quick to follow, all scrambling to get first dibs on the ores inside.

"And you know I'm the winner!" Etho said, running to take the lead.

"You wish you were," Seth grinned, making a daring leap from a ledge to catch up with Beef. This was a competition, after all, and Seth was never one to lose…

A good hour later, the group took a break in a small offshoot, their packs now bursting with ore. Panting, Seth leant against the cold stone wall while Guude unbuckled his armour near a stream of fresh water . On the other side of the cave, Beef and Etho playfully quibbled over the legitimacy of Beef's last piece of ore.

"Good game, huh?" said Seth. He pulled off his helmet and slid down the wall, his gains clinking loudly in his pack.

"Says you, Mr. Twenty-Two Diamonds In One Day ," Guude snorted. "If I had your luck, I'd be the richest man alive!"

"Hey. Better than being the richest man dead," Seth retorted.

Guude threw a small rock at him, a jovial twinkle in his eye. "At least you don't play like Nebris. That guy cheats like there's no tomorrow."

At the mention of his friend's name, Etho glanced over at the pair. His forehead creased and his banter with Beef was quickly forgotten. Seth looked up at him from where he sat, raising an eyebrow. "How is the guy, anyway?" Seth asked. "I haven't seen him since that time you put me on guard duty."

Something in Etho's expression flickered, but he made no move to interject.

"He's doing alright. Still a little left from centre, though. Last I heard he was babbling about 'the end' or something. All doom and gloom with that guy. We're still trying to get a vote together to let him out of that cell of his, but half of the compound is still pretty darn set on keeping him in." Guude shrugged, like he’d been defeated on the matter. He'd made it well and truly clear that he wasn’t comfortable with keeping the man caged up like that, but the community was built on trust and democracy: something Guude wasn't willing to sacrifice.

Seth nodded. "Fair enough."

Beef, now free from Etho's teasing, came and joined them. Seth cupped his hands in the stream and took a drink before splashing some water over his face. Guude finished taking off his armour and began counting his collection of ores.

The ensuing silence was somewhat unnerving, and Beef was quick to fill it. "Speaking of people we haven't seen in a while, what's up with Pyro? Last I saw of him was when you guys returned from the portal."

Guude rested his cheek on his hand and glanced over at Seth. He sighed. "I've got no idea what that fucker's gotten himself. He's been sick ever since we got back and the healing pots have done nothing. The darn guy even tried to hide it and argh-" His other arm jerked to the back of his head before sliding down to cover his neck. "JSano's been looking into it with a bit of help from Kurt. He says it'll pass."

"It'll be fine," Beef said with a slightly strained smile.

"Yeah," Seth added. "Nightmen excluded, it's not like anyone else has gone and died on us… right?"

Guude gave a stilted laugh and scratched the side of his neck.

Seth opened his mouth to speak, but when he looked up, Guude had already gone back to taking stock of his loot. The cave returned to silence, bar the clattering of rocks and the gentle whisper of air through the caverns. Shortly after, they gathered their belongings and began the trek home.

~ ~ ~

Seth marvelled at the trees around him, twisting and arching towards the sky. Green intertwined with green in the canopy above, creating a cool sanctuary speckled by pools of sunlight breaking between the leaves. It was peaceful. It was quiet. It was breathtakingly different to the scenery he'd been lost among on his first night here. Without the threat of flickering shadows and a sinking sun, it was actually quite beautiful.

As the four of them made their way back to the compound, Seth accompanied Guude at the back of the group. The green-eyed man had seemed distracted ever since they'd made their way out of the cave. Enough so that it took several taps on the shoulder to finally grab his attention.

"What's up?" Seth asked.

Guude looked away from his current favourite point of empty space and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Nothin'," he said.

"Not even the sky?" Seth nudged him with a shoulder, face lit with a small smile.

"Nope."

"But seriously, what's up, man?. And 'nothing' isn't a valid response."

Guude offered him a thin-lipped smile in return. "Okay, fine. Valid response, sure."

"Guude..."

"Alright, guy, no need to nag. I've just been thinking about things."

"What things?" Seth asked.

Guude sighed. "I dunno. I've just been thinking about some of the things people have been asking me."

"Like what's going on with Pyro?" Seth raised an eyebrow, pushing past a stray low-lying branch as he walked.

"Yeah. Kinda like that. They want answers. And as the leader of this place, they expect them from me. Rightfully so, I mean. It's just- It's just they want answers and I- I ain't got none," Guude admitted. He stared at the trampled greenery below him. "You see what I mean?"

Seth nodded. "Yeah. I think so." He thought for a moment before continuing. "But is it really right for everyone to expect all these answers from you? You're in the same position as the rest of them anyway, aren't you? You woke up here just the same. ‘Leader’ is just a title anyway."

"Yeah, but-" Guude bit off the rest of his argument, the forest breaking into an open plain just ahead.

"Don't stress, okay?" said Seth.

Guude nodded.

Eyes on watch, the group exited the confines of the forest and began the final stretch to the compound. Behind them, the sun began to dip below the canopy of the trees, setting the sky alight in a blaze of orange. They continued on, cool wind nipping at their heels.

Seth looked out at the grassy plain before them. The forest formed a wide ring around the natural clearing, and the compound sat on the edge of the opposite side, roughly twenty blocks from the forest's easterly border. Seth shivered, remembering his first night spent sprinting through the undergrowth. Darkness crawled in through the backdrop of green. The wind whispered between them. They picked up their pace.

In the shadow of the compound, Seth saw purple eyes glinting. He blinked, and they were gone. The sun dipped further below the horizon.

Several minutes behind the others, Guude and Seth arrived at the gate just as the last of the light faded from the world. Leaves crunched and bones cracked in the darkness behind them, and as the gate shut with a reassuring thud, a familiar sound cracked through the air. It sounded as if the world had split, wind rushing to fill the void.

Beyond the safety of the fence, the creature croaked its garbled cry. Seth looked at Guude from the corner of his eye. The blond man remained stoic and steely-eyed. "Don't worry, we're safe now," he said to Seth.

He was right. No one had ever been taken from within the confines of the compound. Everything was lit and nothing could get past the high-reaching fence built around their settlement. They were safe now. No need to worry. Seth released a frigid breath. Everything will be fine.

Only in the confines of the dining hall, surrounded by the flickering light of torches and the familiar hum of chatter did Seth move his hand from where it had been resting on the hilt of his sword. Despite the apparent safety, a certain stillness permeated the air. Eyes flickered to Guude as the man entered behind him. Some looked down, others made no effort to hide their stony expressions.

From the back of the hall, BTC stood up. The chatter came to a starting halt. Voice level and expression taught, BTC announced, "We need to talk."

~ ~ ~

"You want to what!?" Guude paced in front of the burning hearth of the mostly-empty community hall. In the front row, BTC, Bdubs, and several others sat, taking part in the conversation. Seth, surprisingly invited along by BTC, sat alone in the row behind. The air was just as thick as that of the dining hall. Seth looked around nervously; this wasn't his fight.

"In your defence, Guude, I think they’re crazy too," Bdubs said, arms crossed and eyes weary.

BTC shot him a dangerous look, but kept his words calm and even. "Look, we've talked with the others so we know things aren't going to change. It's 'my way or the highway' around here, and frankly, we don't like how things are being run here anymore."

Looking a little worse for the wear, Millbee cleared his throat. "Shree's gone, Pyro's infected with who-knows-what, and you keep telling us to stay put like rats in cages while nothing is done to stop Nebris or the nightmen. Both of which are actual problems that are affecting us right here, right now. How long are you going to spend chasing those fairy-tale portals of yours before more of us get hurt?"

"Millbee-" Guude began.

Millbee stood up, cutting him off. "What have your efforts brought us so far? Nothing. Nothing but misery and wasted effort." Visibly agitated, he wrung his hands and swallowed hard.

Guude, halted mid-pace, looked visibly pained by Millbee's words. "We're safe here— "

"—He's trying his best," said Seth.

"The nightmen attacks are getting worse. The mobs are swarming at night," BTC stated stonily.

"There's only so much we can do. How many times can I save your asses before I'm the one who needs saving?" He gave Seth a pointed look: 'you shouldn't be on his side.'

"Like you'll be any safer out there," Guude spat. He ran a hand through his hair and resumed his pacing.

BTC turned to Seth. "Are you okay with this? You’d barely been here a week when Guude’s little adventure through that portal almost had you killed. Is that the kind of leadership you want to live under?"

Seth shifted nervously in his seat. He'd been living here for a couple of months now, but he was still very much the 'new kid'. He was still finding his place here. He didn't want to be a part of this. He sighed. "Guude's right. Better in than out," he said, voice wavering.

"Better in than out," Bdubs echoed. He turned around and gave Seth a smile. It didn't make him feel any better.

"We'd rather out than be sitting ducks," Millbee said. "If nothing changes, we're leaving."

Expression unreadable, Guude spoke again. "Then I'm not going to stop you."

"Good."

Guude stared, arms folded, as the others left. Bdubs stayed dutifully and Seth remained, unsure what to do. Guude fell into the chair beside his friend as he rubbed his face. Bdubs placed a supportive hand on his shoulder. "Seth," Guude finally said, voice croaking, "thank you. I know you’re still new here and a decision like that must be hard on you, but I appreciate you for sticking with us, especially since I know BTC wanted you to go with them."

"This is my home now," Seth said with more certainty. "And even if it wasn't, you're right. We're safe here."

"But am I doing the right thing by letting them go?"

"You're doing your best and that's all that matters."

~ ~ ~
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Date: Sunday, November 8th, 2015 06:57 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Ohhhh man. Inner conflict as well as outside danger. This is getting interesting.

-the lurkiest lurker

Date: Thursday, January 21st, 2016 07:33 am (UTC)
yamina_chan: (Default)
From: [personal profile] yamina_chan
Tension like this was bound to happen. I do wonder who the "we" BTC spoke of includes, as a broken group is the last thing one would want in this situation. But again: not a surprise.

I'm also starting to wonder if Nebris 'knows'. Or, remembers,is perhaps the better word.

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