I think the teen wants to watch a movie. Hopefully it will be better than Pain & Gain, although that would hardly be an achievement if it was…
I don’t have anything particularly interesting to report on at the moment. It looks like the new month reset the comic’s place on that voting site. Apparently we were not able to get into the top ten last month. I suspect that other contenders are more apt to beg for that sort of thing than I, so somewhere in the teens to thirties may just be where Between Failures is doomed to be. XD I appreciate whatever support you were able to give last month none the less.
In any event here is another story section.
“This…” Remarked Julius. “This is bad. Remarkably bad.”
“There’s no other way out of this place…” Gaped Niona.
“Can a shield charm hold it back enough for us to walk across?” Asked Twig.
“If I was rested maybe.” Replied Alina. “But as it stands I couldn’t get us more than a few feet in.”
“I’d always hoped to die disgustingly old and rich…” Said Julius.
“Looks like you got as far as disgustingly…” Observed Regalius.
“We could shadowjump.” said Twig.
The group turned to her as one.
“But it could kill you, it could kill all of us.” Offered Niona.
“At this point we’re just settling on a method.” Said Julius. “Even if it doesn’t work…”
“What do we need to do?” Asked Alina grimly.
“Uh… hold on to each other hard.” Twig began. “It’s super important you don’t let go… Master will be our guide since I never saw the outside of here.”
“Can you do that, Julius?” Asked Alina.
“I have over very short distances. Again, what have we to lose?” He replied.
“Fair enough.” said Alina.
“We need to do this now!” Shouted Herrin, as the slime crested the top step, a few disoriented skeleton warriors slipping around in it comically.
Everyone linked themselves together. Julius in the lead, followed by Twig.
“Fair warning,” Said Julius. “This is probably going to suck for you guys.”
Before anyone had a chance to reply Twig shifted them into the shadow plain. Alina felt as though she was being smeared across the floor. Then, suddenly, she blacked out from the experience. Her last thought focused on the idea of clinging to her friends.
Focusing on the little clearing they had camped at Julius strained to lead the group. Thought to someone observing outside the event it would seem like seconds inside the pathway the seconds stretched out like minutes. It was painful, like breathing dry air on a hot day. If not for Twig anchoring them all there would be no way he could have stayed phased out so long or far. After several agonizing moments he spilled out of the long shadow of a tree. Skidding to a halt, clutching Twig’s hand, in the soot of their campfire.
The air was cool and moist. The taste of green and soil was in it, mixed with the burnt taste of cold cinders. He might have been there for hours as far as he knew. Suddenly a spike of terror arced through his heart. The little hand he was grasping was much colder than his own. Without accepting the possibility he felt tears beginning to form in his eyes. They shot open and were assaulted by the light of afternoon sunlight. Stricken he pulled Twig’s limp body into his arms.
“Twig! Wake up, girl!” He gasped. “This is no time for jokes!”
A long silence filled the spaces between the rustling of leaves. He began shaking, and clutched her chest to his ear. Somewhere to his right a bird sang it’s cheerful call. Then, a heartbeat. Still panicking, Julius lept to his feet. Carefully he scooped up Twig and ran to the edge of the woods. As he pelted across the soft ground he noticed the others, laying at odd angles to one another, still dazed, but clearly alive and well.
Julius ran until he found a patch of verdant grass and carefully placed Twig upon it, then, with on hand on her chest and one in the grass, he concentrated. Slowly the grass began to whither. All around his hand it wilted away and he quickly moved it to a fresh patch as each section was spent. Soon Twig was laying in a circle of brown grass, and she took a weak breath. For just a moment Julius allowed himself to feel relief, but after her intake of air she gave a weak cough and bright red blood drooled from the side of her mouth. Julius came apart. His mind now hung someplace beyond panic or terror. Then a voice.
“Is everyone alright?” Asked Alina. Before she got a response from anyone else she was being half dragged across the ground. Julius, completely mute and weeping, motioned frantically at his little friend. Years of training focused Alina’s mind. Everything else pushed back as she passed her hands over the Twig.
“This is bad…” She muttered, turning to Julius. “Get the others!”
Julius scrambled to rouse everyone else. Herrin was still completely out, but Regalius and Niona snapped to life at the site of Julius’s frantic manner.
A little way away Dewbeam had noticed the commotion and was making for the group of new friends as quickly as she could. Whatever they were doing seemed very important, and she hadn’t seen them come out of the horrible cave from before.
“It’s not enough!” Cried Alina. “I don’t have the strength to do heal this!”
“Should we move her to the trees?” Asked Niona.
“It wouldn’t matter…” Said Alina. “I’m not strong enough to force the transfer.”
“What do you mean force it?” Asked Regalius.
“Healing magic doesn’t work properly unless it’s done willingly.” She explained. “When you do a regular spell you’re giving part of your essence away. I can transfer essence from a tree, but it doesn’t understand what’s happening, so it resists. It makes it much harder.”
“Can’t you use one of us?” Asked Regalius.
“I can, but these are magical wounds. I could drain all three of you dry and it might not be enough…” She replied.
Julius reached out and grasped her wrist. “Try.”
“I won’t sacrifice 3 people to save one. I can’t.”
”Just me then!” He begged.
“No!” She said. “You’re basically fine! It would be a waste!”
“But she’s special! You saw her when Niona showed her the spell!” Julius pleaded. “She’s all potential! I’m nothing compared to her!”
“I’m sorry Julius! I truly am!” Alina cried. “She sacrificed herself for us, and I won’t piss it away!”
Utterly broken, Julius slumped into a heap. Alina, now crying, stiffled a sob with gritted teeth. Even Regalius turned away, unable to force his mouth to make the shapes needed to play.
“Alina wait! Don’t give up yet!” Cried Niona. All looked to her. “I explained things to Dewbeam, she says she knows what you need her to do!”
Dewbeam strode up to the party, in a manner equivalent to running for her species, and held out a limb to Alina. Grasping it tightly Alina concentrated. Dewbeam stretched herself into the sunlight, her leaves rustling in the gentle wind. The soft soil gave way easily as she sunk her roots deeply into it. Twig took another breath and couched up more blood. Alina bore down, her hair beginning to levitate from the power moving through her. Dewbeam’s hand began to brown, but she made no move to withdraw it. The discoloration began creeping up her limb.
“I don’t think… this is going to be enough…” Alina muttered. “They’re both going to die if I keep going…”
She made to remove her hand, but Dewbeam’s fingers moved, wrapping tightly around her wrist. Alina pulled her hand away from Twig’s chest, but the dryad simply repositioned herself and forced her hand back in place.
“She says you need to quit fighting her, Alina!” Explained Niona.
“But… it’s going to kill her…”
“She says it won’t and you need to stop being… not nice…”
“Did she now? Fine then! I won’t hold back anymore!” Sensing Alina’s renewed commitment Dewbeam eased her grasp. Alina extended both hands and concentrated with all her might. Regalius played with renewed vigor. Dewbeam’s leaves began wilting and falling to the forest floor, her bark turned brown, then gray. In places cracks began to form. Her movements stiffened then she stood, frozen in place.
“I think…” Alina said, panting. “That should do it…” With that she fell limp, suspended in the dryad’s withered, motionless, arms.
Everyone gathered around Julius, who was cradling Twig in his arms.
“Twig. Twig! Wake up! Can you hear me?” He asked. There was no response apart from her slow breaths. Julius looked around then back at Twig. Very quietly he whispered in her ear. “Athena… it’s time to wake up.”
A frown crossed Twig’s face. She opened one eye partially.
“Juuuuuliussss… don’t call me that.”
Animals of all kinds, and great distances away, were startled by Niona’s triumphant whooping.