As the greenish fumes of the cauldron’s bubbling brew rose to the ceiling and the curtains blew in the aetheric wind, in a dark, dreary room illuminated by naught more than candle light, a lone magi toiled over his latest magic. Dressed in robes, the wizard carefully waved his staff with one hand while his other hand slowly added ingredients to the mix. The young wizard grunted as his gnarled wooden staff got hot. There was a puff of vapor as a large bubble burst on the surface. He waved his hand, attempting to waft the foul scent from his nose. As he attempted to maintain his composure for the spell, the horrific stench burned his nose and caused him to lose his concentration. The roiling liquid quickly subsided, becoming a thick, useless liquid, “Dang it,” He grumbled to himself as he shook his head. He took off the dark robes and hung them up on a nearby hook before taking the cauldron over to the sink and dumping it down the drain, “Third time this month,” He mumbled to himself. He put the big iron pot back on its stand and pushed it all back into the corner along with his crystal ball pedestal. As he threw the windows and curtains open, the candles all went out. The wizard looked at the orange afternoon sun and sighed as his mind once again turned to his recently deceased grandfather. The young wizard, named Lance, had inherited his magical abilities from the old man and thus it was hard to keep the old fart from his mind especially after failing a spell like that. He stuck his hand in a small dish he kept on the couch side table and rubbed the mana infused salt on his stinging palm. It still glowed red from the magical feedback his staff had picked up as he lost concentration. Wincing in pain, Lance’s eyes drifted around his small home as he tried to distract himself. His living room doubled as his main room to practice his spells as it was the only one with good enough ventilation. The room also held a couch, two small tables, and a TV in addition to various magical equipment. A cat lounged sleepily on said couch, every so often one of its eyes would open and sneak a peek at Lance before shutting them again as if to tell him to quiet down. He looked at his staff and robes in the corner and thought about giving up magic again. Monster girls did it better anyways, he reminded himself. Lance smirked as he recalled his grandfather’s words, “Even if you are not the best, you can still make a difference,” He recited. He smiled and shook his head, “The last thing he told me was to keep practicing,” He reminded himself, “Maybe tomorrow,” He turned from the living room and stepped into the nearby kitchen and put a kettle on the stove. Pushing past magical reagents and semi magical spices, Lance found his tea leaf rack. He grabbed a small metal container at random, not really caring which he got. A shiver ran down his spine as his doorbell rang and a pounding came from the front door. With a sigh, he went to answer it. He just hoped it wasn’t another debt collector. The small wand in his pocket twitched as he readied his casting hand, just in case. He undid all eight of his locks and gently pulled the door open. A woman he didn’t recognize stood before him. She had blueberry skin, red eyes, long black horns and a resting bitch face, “Lancelot Oxley?” She asked in a very disinterested tone. “Uh, yeah that’s me,” The wizard replied. He was suddenly glad he was dressed in business casual as he looked at the formal attire the demon was wearing. Then again all demons dressed like that. “You are not an easy man to find,” She scolded angrily. “Yeah. I like to be left alone,” He shot back before opening the door wide for her, “What do you want?” She was taken aback by his rudeness, “You could at least be a gentleman and invite me in and get me out of this humidity and heat!” “Fine, come in,” He folded. He did feel a little bad for her. His house was a pain to get to, with or without magic. The demon stepped past the wizard and into the main room. She quickly sat on the couch, “Shall we get to business?” “Want some tea? Kettle is almost hot.” “That… would be wonderful, thank you,” She looked surprised at his sudden offer. Lance quickly got two cups and prepared them both for himself and his guest. Even just smelling the sweet liquid made him feel much better. He sat himself down on a folding chair across from the demon, “What’s someone like you doing all the way out here? I’m not interested in dating, if that’s what you’re after,” Lance quickly explained, “Too busy with my studies.” “It is simple,” The demon eyed him after sipping on her tea, “Are you aware that your ancestor Percival Oxley, the father of your father, recently passed?” Lance scowled, “Of course I know. I went to the funeral.” “You did not attend the reading of the will,” She pointed out. “He gave me enough in life. What more would he have for me?” “Well… sign here,” She offered him a single sheet of paper. Lance quickly scanned the paper for the word ‘debt’ or ‘money’ and nodded when he saw it wasn’t actually about any of his debts. He signed it and the demon quickly snatched it away and put it in her bag. She grabbed a cardboard box and pushed it across the table for him, “He left you a quest.” “A quest!?” The wizard looked at the box with a shudder, “W-what does he want me to do?” “I cannot say. My task was to ensure that you received this package. You will have to read his note yourself. Open the package and retrieve it,” The woman finished her tea and stood, “Good day.” “Yeah. ‘Good’,” Lance scoffed. He watched her go, not bothering to walk her out. Due to ancient traditions in his bloodline, he couldn’t turn down the quest. Besides, his grandpa had entrusted this to him, he couldn’t just turn it down. With a sigh, he opened up the box with his pocket knife. Wrapped in newspapers and surrounded by packing peanuts was a brass and copper urn inlaid with simple leaf designs. Lance didn’t need to investigate the urn further to know it was his grandfather’s ashes within the urn. It was the same one from the funeral. He did find it strange that the urn was in his hands as his grandfather’s ashes had already been spread. With reverence, he gently set the urn down on the table, “Just what are you up to grandpa?” Another object in the box was a tape recorder with a tape in it. ‘Play me!’ a note read. Without hesitation, Lance rewound the tape and hit play. Static came through the little device’s speaker before someone cleared their throat, “Lance, my boy,” His grandfather stopped for a moment as he coughed violently, “I trust you are well. I… I will not waste your time. I need you to do something. No doubt if you are hearing this I have since passed and been cremated. Before you sits my urn-- My REAL urn. The one that my family will be spreading at my orchard is a fake!” The old man laughed and coughed, “Listen Lance, I need you to do something very special for me. I want you to take my ashes to Oregon. Do you remember the vacations the whole family would take out there? How your parents and aunts and uncles would drag me and your grandmother out of our tower to vacation with the family?” He chuckled quietly to himself. Lance looked at a small framed picture he had of the whole family at the coast. Grandpa had married an anubis warrior after a trip to egypt shortly after coming through the portals. Lance’s father was the only human son of the four children the two had together. Lance’s mother was some kind of cat girl who practiced witchcraft and came from a wealthy family. “Lance,” His grandfather continued, “Take my ashes to Oregon, to the coast. Near Tillamook there is a hiking trail called the Cape Lookout Trail. We used to hike it every few years when it was nice. I want my ashes spread at the end of the trail there.” Lance grimaced. Oregon was two states away from him, “Why me?” “Your grandmother is much too old to be doing something like this. Her other hip could give out during such a trek. You are one of my eldest grandchildren, Lance. Other than your cousins Isis and Shani, of course. But you know how they are,” Lance smirked as he thought of the manic and perfectionist anubises trying to just pack for such a trip, “I would not ask you to partake in such a journey if there was nothing in it for you. Once you are done, I will give you something magnificent. Something left for you alone. IF you make it in time that is. You have a week starting tonight to make it to Oregon and spread the ashes, just to spice things up a little bit!” Lance groaned, “It’s not all bad. Perhaps you can visit some places you and I went to in the past on your way back? A little trip down memory lane. Well,” The old man coughed, “I trust you have already signed the paperwork. My demon attorney will never let you get this far without it, so you have already agreed to it. Please do not tell any of my children or other grandchildren, at least until you have accomplished this task. This is for you and you alone,” He coughed again, “Lance. Good luck. I-I love you.” “Love you too,” Lance heard himself say. His home suddenly felt quite cold. He let the tape play, hoping that he’d hear more of his grandfather’s words. Maybe he was hoping this was all an elaborate ruse to get at him one last time. As the tape ended with nothing new, he knew that it was definitely real. Left alone with nothing more than the stench of a failed spell and waning sunlight, “I wonder if that rumor about his stockpile of gold is true. Ah well. Guess I better call in my sick and vacation hours,” He decided as he pet his cat and scratched it under the chin, “I’ll leave tomorrow.” Lance had managed to put everything he needed into a duffel bag and a backpack. In one hand he held his staff and in the other, carefully tucked under his arm was the urn. Just to be safe, he had duct taped the lid shut. He wiped his brow with his still tingling casting hand as the hot desert sun beat down on him. Hidden inside one of the mesas of New Mexico towards the south east side of the state, Lance had his ‘wizard tower.’ His tower was more of a simple vertically oriented home that he lived in alone with his cat. He wasn’t sure how long he would be gone but he made sure to leave out food for the cat. Lance stepped outside after wishing his cat farewell and used his magic to move aside the huge boulder that covered his garage. His car was an old beater with a broken radio. The air conditioning worked at least. He threw his bags and staff into the trunk before getting in the driver’s seat and pulling out. The map on Lance’s phone said it was about 24 hours to Tillamook, Oregon. He guessed it would take him two days as he knew he would want to take a break. He knew it should be fine since he had six days and twelve hours to get there. The roads near his abode were flat, long and boring. He settled in as he knew he had a long drive ahead of him. Unfortunately for Lance, it only took a little over three hours of driving for his car to break down. No amount of swearing or praying would make his car start, so in the end he had to call for a tow truck. Sitting in the air conditioned waiting room of the mechanics’ shop was wonderful. Valene sat right below one of the fans that blasted cold air on her face. It sure beat the once broken air conditioning in her van. Her short, white hair was thrown back by the force of the cold wind. While she loved the heat, the blazing sun of New Mexico was a little too much for her especially because her arms and legs were covered in thick white fur from the elbow and knees down. She shook her head as a stray hair fell on her face and smiled as she enjoyed the cool air with her tail flicking back and forth. Valene heard the door to the building open and one of the five mechanic cyclops sisters stomped in followed by a gaunt young man. Valene put her sunglasses on her forehead as the soft ears on the top of her head twitched, “I’m tellin ya,” The cyclops told the man, “Your transmission is totally shot, the demon mana reactor that powers it all is leaking and your ignition might need to be replaced. How the hell were you driving that thing at all?” The man sighed at the tall cyclops, “It was fine last month. Anyways, how much is it gonna cost to fix it and how long will it be?” The man caught Valene’s watchful eye. “I’ve gotta order some specific parts. We don’t carry stuff for anything that old on hand,” The cyclops explained to the man, “Maybe a week to get everything in then a few more days to get it all installed. For price--” “I don’t have that long!” The man interrupted her, as he was suddenly thrown into a panic, “After how long it took for you to come get me and tow me here… I’ve only got about six days and seven hours left. She was taken aback, “W-what?” He blinked at her, slowly calming himself down, “Sorry, I have to make it to the coast of Oregon within the week,” The man quickly explained, making Valene’s eyebrow rise. Oregon? She was going to Oregon. What are the odds, she wondered, “Look. I’ll take whatever you’ll give me for the car in scrap. I’m gonna have to find some way to get to town.” The mechanic nodded, “Alright. Gimme a bit to ask my sisters.” She looked him over again. He was pretty cute, she decided, and was that a staff in his hand? She didn’t see a lot of magical humans and due to her nature, she was curious about people like him. A little thin for her taste, but he was more than tall enough. She could totally take advantage of the fact he needed a ride, “Delightfully devilish, Valene,” She chuckled to herself. The short familiar sat up straight as she watched the man take a seat away from her in the seating area. They were the only two in the shop. Valene threw a cinnamon mint in her mouth before getting up and sitting right next to the man, “Heya, dude,” She greeted with a smile. The man glanced at her, “Hello,” He grumbled, very obviously in a bad mood. “The name’s Valene,” She said, “You?” “Lance,” The wizard said back as he tried to figure out how he was gonna get to town. “So. Oregon? I’ve never been there before.” “I have a few times. With my family. Tillamook and Salem mostly,” He looked the tanned skinned familiar up and down. She was dressed surprisingly conservatively, for a monster girl at least. A hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts that reached down to her knees covered her tastefully plump body. The thick, white hair on top of her head covered one of her eyes and came down to her waist. She also had massive, white and fluffy ears jutting out of the sides of her head that had little tufts of black fur coming off the tips. Her arms and legs up to the knees and elbows were also covered in a thin layer of soft looking white fur. A slender tail of similar color with a black ball of fluff on its end flicked back and forth casually, like an animal that had taken an interest in some curious looking bug. He couldn’t figure out what she was thinking behind those cheerful, raven black, yet starry eyes. They reminded Lance of the times he would be looking at the night sky. He also couldn’t discern her age at all, which was typical of most monstergirls, but especially prevalent with her, “What are you doing in a mechanics’ shop in the middle of nowhere?” “They’re just doing some maintenance on my van, man,” Valene explained, “Gotta keep my baby in working order.” He frowned as he looked at her shapely, yet short, form, “Where’s the rest of your sabbath crew? I’ve never seen a girl in that group as, uh--” “Big boobed as me?” Valene laughed as Lance’s face lit up red, “It's cool man, I’m proud of these fat honkers! As for the sabbath. Eh, I’m not with them anymore, my dude. Been out for a while, that’s why I’m not a flattie, and I’ve got no intention of going back, bro.” Lance smiled, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a familiar outside the sabbath. Baphomets, sure. Anyways, I won’t pry about it. A van, huh? A lot of monsters aren’t fond of cars.” “Nah bro, cars are great! You can go anywhere you want with a car!” She laughed, “I just got done at the Gulf Of Mexico doin’ some beach bummin’. Had to leave, unfortunately.” “Because of that hurricane rolling in, right? What the heck are you doing beach bumming?” He asked with a raised eyebrow as he firmly gripped his staff. Valene grinned, “See, I’m the kinda girl that loves the beach and sand! Part of why I left the sabbath, bro!” She cracked a smile, “I just love the ocean, the sand, all of it.” “Lance?” The cyclops returned with a wad of cash, “Here, for the car. Minus the towing and all that.” “Thanks,” He counted the money and nodded before stuffing it in his pocket. “Good luck getting to Oregon, chief. Need a ride into town?” “I’ll take him, dude,” Velene announced, “Least I could do for the conversation he gave me.” “Uh, thanks,” Lance gave her a strange look, “Why are you…?” “Look, I go where the wind takes me and I pick up all kinds of hitchhiking mamano. Maybe for once I’ll let a guy ride in my van. I don’t know why you wanna make it to Oregon, but I was headed that way anyway. The sun is shining on the west coast, but California is a hell hole and Ork-Land took over Washington. Do you know what those orks do to girls like me!?” She scoffed. “Hey! Valene!” One of the cyclops sisters entered the waiting room, “Your van’s good to go!” The familiar caught the keys that the cyclops tossed to her, “Sweet!” Valene got up, ”Yo, Lance. You want in? I’ll make sure you make it there safe.” “Well,” Lance looked at her excited expression, “If you take me, due to the ancient laws, you’re in the quest ‘till the end. I need to get to Tillamook specifically,” He offered her his hand. “Whatever, man. All we gotta do is get to the coast then, right? Easy! We can get some cheese there too, unless that brand somehow isn’t named after that town!” She grabbed his hand and shook it, “I’m in, bro!” The wizard smiled, “Thanks. We don’t have a lot of daylight left, we should go.” “Don’t have to tell me twice, hey we should snag some burgers in town. I’m starving, man!” She hurried out into the sunlight, eager to get back into her precious van. Lance followed her out into the hot sun and squinted against the bright light, his eyes were quickly assaulted by an even brighter van of an almost neon blue color with orange flowers and green details. It was almost like the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo but somehow even more hippy looking and without that signature branding. It looked like an old ‘66 Volkswagen camper or bus with blinds over most of the windows, “Ah, there’s my baby!” Valene ran her hand over the polished, glossy paint, “Like what you see, my dude? I titled it Vincent Van Go. Like the artist! Get it? Van? Go? Like G-O?” She raised her eyebrows at him and got a tiny laugh in response. She watched as Lance went and grabbed his bags from his car. She raised an eyebrow as she saw the taped up urn. “Yeah, I get it. Looks well cared for,” Lance nodded, “What model of demon mana reactor engine does it have?” She shrugged, “Model three alpha, bro. Pretty out of date, which I like and it's still good. Unfortunately, it can’t go super far in one day, but it's damn reliable! Recharges pretty fast too. It can drive about nine hours in one day before it needs to charge.” “Very nice,” Lance nodded as he inspected the glossy exterior, “Can I throw my stuff in the back?” “Yeah, man, gaze upon this,” Valene proudly opened the double doors on the back for him. The van was a bit bigger on the inside than the outside, mostly just longer, but Valene had two rows of two seats including the two front seats, a full size waterbed, some storage for clothes and food, a little table, a couch, a tiny kitchen area, and netting along the walls that held various other things like a surfboard, a big beach umbrella, a tent, and another table with folding chairs. “Damn,” Lance caught a whiff of the magic that made the vehicle larger on the inside, “Impressive,” Next he caught the strong scent of incense. He climbed into the back and put his stuff next to the waterbed. All things considered, the van was incredibly clean. Bed was made, the shag carpet was vacuumed, the windows were sparkling and none of the paint on the walls was chipping. The familiar obviously loved her van. Valene followed him in and closed the doors behind them, “Glad you like it, dude. Take a seat, I’ll be a second.” Lance nodded and took his urn and the staff up front with him after he dumped his bags by the bed. He put his grandfather’s urn in the back seat and buckled it in, “We’ll make it there gramps,” He mumbled. “Gramps?” Valene repeated as she grabbed some incense and her mirrored aviators. He nodded somberly and took a seat, “Yeah.” Valene decided to drop it for now as she sat in the driver’s seat and put the incense in its little holder. As she went for her lighter, Lance snapped his fingers, producing a small flame that he used to light the stick, “Hey, neat trick, bro. You some kinda sorcerer?” “Eh, wizard,” He smirked back. “Wizard? That’s cool, bro,” She turned on her van, “Nice staff, man.” Lance grinned, “You think so? It's a bound staff, completely tuned to my specific form of casting. No one else can use it to cast but me and it makes my casting just a little bit stronger,” He explained proudly. The familiar giggled at how nerdy and passionate he was about it. He blushed, “Your van is pretty cool too.” “Bitch, I know it! Listen to my baby purr,” She chuckled before pulling away from the garage in the middle of nowhere and back onto the road. “So, uh,” Valene took a bite of her burger and eyed the young wizard, “What’s with the urn, bro?” She asked as she wiped the ketchup from the corners of her mouth. “Ah, yeah, I guess I had better tell you,” Lance peeked out the front window. It was dark now. Valene’s van sat in the parking lot of a rundown motel on the edge of town, “Especially since we’re on this quest together now,” He crumpled up his burger wrapper and shoved it into a discarded fast food bag, “Those are my grandpa’s ashes in that urn.” “Yeesh, sorry for your loss, uh, dude,” The familiar frowned as she reached up and scratched her fluffy ears. “Thanks. Well, apparently my family spread some fake ashes and in the will he gave me a box with his real urn in it. So, I’ve got a week-- less than six days now, to make it to Oregon and spread the real ashes.” “Anything special about Tillamook?” “There’s a hiking trail that we used to hike when we went out there. It means a lot to him, it seems,” Lance explained quickly, “I guess it means a lot to me, too. He also promised some big secret reward if I manage to do it. I’m thinking it's going to be his rumored stash of gold and gems. I’ll give you a cut of it since you’ve so graciously offered to drive me there,” He promised her, ”Should be an easy pay day for you.” Valene’s eyes raised. She did like gems, “Alright, dude. I’ll take you up on that. We should both get some rest soon.” “Are we going to rent a room here?” Lance asked as he grabbed his fries off the little table he sat on a firm pillow near. “Ew, heck no, dude,” She got up from the couch and opened a drawer underneath the waterbed and pulled out a thick sleeping mat. She laid it out in an open space and tossed a pillow and blanket on the mat, “Got all the comfort of home right here. Some homes, at least. Dunno what a wizard like you's got in your house.” “I brought most of what I need with me,” He gestured to his duffle bag, “So, are we headed through California or Nevada?” “Nevada. Cali is a damn hell hole even after the mamano regime tried to clean it up! There’s a reason the Maou lets them be a ‘FREE STATE’,” The familiar used her fluffy fingers to make air quotes, “Californians can’t leave their state and it's pretty damn hard to get in and out without a husband hunting license. I may be single, but I don’t got one of those.” Lance chuckled, “Fair enough. I try not to know what’s going on in that state.” “Yeah, that’s smart, dude,” She stretched and got on her waterbed, “I’ll start driving again once I get up.” Lance nodded and stared back out the front window. He really thought about his grandfather again for the first time since he first received the tape. He missed him for sure, but getting his urn and hearing his voice had torn that emotional wound open again. He grunted and reached forward to close the curtains. With a sigh, he retired to the mat that the short woman had laid out for him. Valene was wrapped up in her blankets on her waterbed with her eyes closed. He yawned and took off his coat and shirt before laying out and covering himself with the warm blanket. Within minutes, he drifted off to sleep. Valene woke up first at the crack of dawn. Soft morning sunlight came through the thin curtains around the van and illuminated the cream colored interior and dark green shag carpet. She untangled herself from the blanket burrito she was wrapped in and let the warm air touch her skin. She smiled and stretched as the grogginess slowly left her mind. She stopped herself as she nearly rolled off the water bed. She snuck a peek and Lance. During his sleep he had thrown most of the blanket off of himself and the familiar could see his bare chest. She had never really seen a human like this, she could guess what a human woman’s body looked like under the clothes, but she had no reference for a man’s. She got up and started to open up the curtains around the bus. While she stepped quietly, she kept glancing down at Lance. She wondered how warm he was. Or maybe he was cold without that blanket. Timidly stepping closer to the man, she reached out a fluffy hand and felt his bare skin. It was a strange feeling as she took in a bit of his body heat, it was kind of tingly as she felt his mana through his skin. It was definitely strong, not comparable to any sabbath magic but it still gave her that same old feeling akin to when she had magic coursing through her. She shuddered as memories came flooding back. While shaking herself, she pulled the blanket back over him and made her way to the front and turned on her van. Lance woke up face down in the pillow. The van rumbled down the road as Valene sat behind the driver’s seat. Since she was short, her seat was raised as were the pedals. Anyone taller than her would struggle to drive it. The wizard yawned and crawled to his backpack. Reaching in, he drew his short sword and set it aside, “Damn, okay, dude!” Valene called with a laugh as she glanced in the rearview mirror, “Didn’t know I was ferrying around some medieval guy!” Lance smirked as he grabbed his smaller, more portable cauldron, “It’s more ceremonial than for combat. I have a few spells I have to use it as a component for,” He explained as he grabbed his spell book and a few bags of arcane components. “What’s up with the pot?” “It’s an older style, but I have to use it to prepare my magic for the day. It’s a bit more powerful than most other practices. Mind if I use your little stove?” “Yeah, go for it, bro.” Lance carefully got up and placed everything on the thin countertops. With a wave of his hand, his staff flew to him. He gripped the smooth wood as he prepared the pot, “You’ve got magic, right? As far as I know every girl in the sabbath has some.” The snow colored familiar stared at the open, barren road, “Nah. I don’t have any,” She answered sadly, “I may be magical in nature, but I’ve never had my own. Don’t have the spark or whatever in my body.” “Ah, sorry,” Lance turned back to his work. Valene snuck a glance over her shoulder at him. The strange ways in which he moved mesmerized her as she watched him prepare the cauldron with something small. Salts, leaves and a magical ichor all went in. He waved his hand and magically mixed all the ingredients as he turned on the stove. The magical energy wafted through the van, assaulting Valene’s nose as she drove. The smell of mana and magic was heavenly to her senses as she took a deep breath of it, “Seems like you know what you’re doin’, dude. How’d you learn? Are you one a’ those self taught prodigies?” “Prodigy,” Lance scoffed at the word, “I’m nowhere near that good. I have to use tricks and harder to use magics just to keep up with others. Even if gramps gave me this affinity as did my mom, I’m just a below average caster.” “Hey, don’t say that, bro,” Valene frowns at him through the mirror, “I’ve been around magic ladies most of my life and I know what good magic feels like. It feels to me like you’ve got some potential, dude. You’re still young. You’ve got time.” With a smirk, Lance chuckled, “You make it sound like you’re way older than me.” The familiar blushed, “Can it! Finish up your dumb magic and come sit down before I get a ticket!” Lance nodded and finished mixing the brew. Using a spell, he tore the raw magic from the bubbling liquid and siphoned it into himself by inhaling the raw mana, thus recharging his mana banks. He shuddered as the raw energy spread through his body, “Ugh,” He grunted to himself, “Never very pleasant.” “Jeez, dude. Looked like you nearly had a stroke!” He quickly dumped the discarded, mundane goop out the window and grabbed his staff before stepping to the front and taking his seat, “Sorry. Anyways, where are we?” “Little over an hour into Arizona.” “Arizona? Shouldn’t we be going up through Utah?” “We’d miss out on all the sights,” She glanced at the man sitting shotgun like he was an idiot, “We’ve got like five days left right? We can easily stop at Vegas! Have you ever even been there?” "When I was maybe eighteen. It sucked since I couldn’t gamble or drink or anything. I’m pretty sure all that happened was I got hit on by lonely cougars,” Lance sighed “And you didn’t take any of them up one it!? I thought dudes were super into older ladies! U-unless you were there with a girl,” She sheepishly added. “I went there with my grandpa and some of the family,” He answered sadly. “Sounds like you two were really close.” “He taught me what I know since teaching your own kids magic doesn’t really work generally,” The man explained as he stretched out, “Mom taught me a few things too, of course, but mostly him. Grandma taught me sword fighting too.” “What were they like?” “Grandpa was usually pretty crotchety. I think grandma was the only girl who ever saw past that part of him, really,” The wizard chuckled, “Might be because she was even more stubborn and eccentric than him somehow. He was a wizard and she’s an anubis.” The familiar smirked, “Sounds like fun. What about your parents?” “Dad lived a relatively ‘normal’ life. I think my mom verbally claimed him in middle school. She protected him so I don’t think he really cared. Mom’s some kind of cat girl. She calls herself a witch but she was never with the sabbath,” Lance tilted his seat back and browsed his spell book. “Wanna listen to some jams, bro?” Valene asked as she turned on the radio then started to carefully tune the radio and get off the static. Lance winced as she picked up some screeching emergency broadcast, “God, turn that off!” “No way!” She scoffed, “This stuff is always interesting!” She got all giddy as the blaring emergency noises subsided and the broadcaster started to speak. “We interrupt your regularly scheduled radio broadcast with an important warning. A crazed lunatic has escaped from the Utah State Mindflayer Penitentiary. The man, named Clark Gibbleson, white male, 5’2”, portly with short gray hair, is considered to be dangerous and is most likely armed after an altercation with an officer where he managed to steal a cruiser. If you see this man you should not approach him, contact the police immediately, for more information please look into your local broadcast website,” The announcer paused, “We now return to your regular radio broadcast,” Some trashy pop music immediately started to play. “Aah!” Valene groaned. She quickly switched the radio to the aux input and grabbed her old Ipod classic. The black metal device was covered in scratches and the back looked like a grinder had been taken to it. She plugged in the aux cord and turned up the volume as The Rolling Stones came blaring through the radio, “That’s better.” “Not a fan of those factory made pop songs?” Lance gave her a little sly smile. “No way. It’s all trash! Like you said it’s all made in a factory by a team of writers specifically trying to make the song get to the top charts. There isn’t an ounce of soul in that shit!” She slapped her hand against the steering wheel in tune with the rhythm of the drums. Lance’s foot tapped along as well as he tried to focus on his magic, “Hey, if you were in one of those mindflayer penitentiaries, what would you be in for?” “Maybe my introversion. I know a lot of girls want to help guys get over that and being shy,” The wizard guessed, “I am both, after all. What about you?” The familiar giggled at his answer, “You think being shy is a crime? You know some girls are into that, right?” “Oh whatever, what’s your answer?” Lance retorted, trying his best not to smile at her teasing. “Hm…” Valene rubbed her chin, “Maybe they’d try to get me to stop bumming around and stop saying ‘bro’ and ‘dude’. I won’t give that life up without a fight, bro!” She laughed. Lance shook his head and returned to reading through his tome. The two rode silently while listening to the music. “Hey, um,” Valene awkwardly started a conversation after a few hours of chatterless driving. It was getting to be later in the day after a lengthy stop for lunch, some backed up traffic near Phoenix, and another stop for groceries. She had grown bored of the various artists on her playlist and needed some other kind of stimulation. Unlike most other people she had picked up before, Lance was extraordinarily quiet, “What’s your favorite color? I can tell a lot about someone just from that.” The wizard glanced at her and put down his tome, “Orange, I guess?” “Warm, positive, and creative but you’re also impatient. Am I right?” “I don’t know. I guess so?” “I think I’m right. Oh!” She suddenly pointed at a sign, “The Grand Canyon!” She got off the freeway and started down another road towards the natural landmark. “In case you’ve forgotten,” Lance scowled at her, “We’re on a quest here, Valene. We’ve got somewhere we’ve gotta be!” “See? You are impatient!” She laughed, “What fun is a road trip if we can’t make any stops to look at stuff? We’ve got more than enough time to make some stops, bro.” “We only have five days!” He growled. “Yeah, but we only need, like twenty hours to make it to the coast from here, Lance. We can check out the canyon then head west over to Vegas. It’ll be fun!” She assured him. Lance grunted and leaned back in his seat, “Come on, stop being so glum! Here, let’s talk some more. What do ya do for fun?” “I… I don’t get to do a whole lot just for fun,” Lance admitted, “I mostly just practice magic to keep up with my sisters. Other than magic, I guess I cook a little bit.” “See!?” Valene groaned, “This is why magic sucks! You don’t get to do ANYTHING else!” With a flash of frustration she turned to the man next to her, “I’ll bet that even during your ‘vacations’ with your family you were still practicing magic!” She jabbed a fluffy finger in his arm. “S-so what if I was?” Lance defensively crossed his arms. “You don’t know how to have fun!” Lance looked shocked, “I-I do too!” “Then tell me something fun you did this week!” She shouts back. “I… I practiced some spells. I enjoy my magical studies. I always have!” He said back. “You can’t lie to me! I’ve been in the sabbath, you nerd! Real magic isn’t as fun as it's said to be in Harry Potter!” Lance shuddered, “Don’t mention that FILTH near me!” Valene laughed at his pain, “You wouldn’t BELIEVE how many human women wanted to be just like their precious Harry Potter when mamano first came to this world! I had to deal with so many of them!” Lance laughed with her, “I can only imagine how fat most of them were.” “I started turning them away! They all whined once they learned it was actually hard work being a sabbath member,” She shrugged, “It's hard to get out once you’re in.” “How’d you get out?” He very rightly decided not to inquire about her age. It had been a few decades since monsters had come to this world and it sounded like Valene had been here since day one. Valene frowned and slouched in her driver’s seat, “I don’t like to talk about it. Maybe another time.” “Yeah, sure,” Lance slouched too, “So, what’s your favorite color?” He tried to cheer her up. “Uh,” Valene perked up slightly, “White. What do you think that means, bro?” “Purity, right? Maybe innocence?” She nodded, “Exactly.” “What about the bad traits? I can’t think of them but are they true for you?” The familiar frowned, “Uh, well, maybe. I… I can’t remember what the traits are,” She fibbed quickly. Lance frowned back and decided not to push his luck, “Alright. Looks like we’re almost there.” “Yup!” A smile reappeared on Valene’s face, “It’s been a while since I’ve been there.” The two stared out the front glass at the bright sand. Soon, the massive canyon came into view. The drab brown and yellow colors that stained the rocks and sand gave way to the canyon’s red and orange cliff faces. It was gradually getting dark and the dimness of the light only accentuated the colors. Valene pulled into one of the parking spaces in the sparsely populated lot and shut off the engine. She stepped out of the van and stretched her legs and twisted her back with a loud pop, “Ah!” She sighed with relief, “That felt good!” Lance looked around, “Doesn’t look like many people are around.” “Good! Why don’t you show me some of that magic that you claim is so much fun, Lance?” Valene challenged him as she ran toward the canyon. The wizard grabbed his staff from the back seat but not before glancing at his grandfather’s urn. He grabbed his tome by the spine and held it flat. With a single word the book magically lifted off his hand and the pages flew open as he scanned for a simple spell or two to dazzle her with, “She’s lucky I’ve got mana to burn,” He grunted, knowing that the old mana would start to harm his body. He stopped on a simple spell, one that could summon beautiful colors and another that could encase the spell in magical fireworks. He nodded as he began to combine the magic words in a mental mixing pot as he grabbed a few cheap components from his pouch. He waved his staff as he uttered the magical words before sweeping his casting focus over the hard packed soil. He could feel the aetheric winds in the air blow powerfully as he commanded them. Numerous multicolored rockets stuck out of the ground and pointing over the canyon, “Valene!” He called. Standing close to the edge, the familiar glanced down at the river that ran through the bottom of the canyon for what seemed like miles down. She felt nostalgia as she stared at the reddish cliff sides and a strange sense of ease. She hadn’t been to this place in a very long time. When she came to this world many years ago, this was the first sight she saw. It took her breath away at the time and it still did. She was a lot smaller then and was still with the sabbath. She hadn’t even noticed the panic of the people around her at the time. She put her hands in the pockets of her cargo shorts and wondered what her old friends were up to. With a shake of her head she decided it was better for her to just forget. She hoped they forgot about her. “Hey! Valene!” The shouts of her traveling companion roused her from her depressed thoughts, “You’re gonna miss it!” “Huh?” She looked at the colorful objects at his feet, “I’m paying attention, bro! Do it!” With a nod, the wizard looked toward the darkening sky. He lifted his staff and hit the butt of it on the ground which lit the tip on fire. He swept it over the rockets and stepped back. The rockets’ fuses sizzled as they slowly burnt at various rates. One by one, the rockets lit off and shot into the air where they burst one by one into shaped explosions of colors. Shapes, animals, Vincent Van Go, Valene, and a few depictions of people in Lance’s family. He smiled as he saw his grandfather in the sky in his billowing robes. As more sparkles than normal filled her eyes and a slightly agape mouth, Valene stared at the colorful display with childlike wonder. For the first time since she came of age she felt like a child again. It made her giggle as she stared at the bursts of shapes, lights and colors. She tried to step back to more easily take it in. She took two steps before quickly realising there was not ground beneath her. Valene yelped in panic as she struggled to keep her balance on a single foot on the edge of the Grand Canyon. She felt herself start to fall backwards. Her body suddenly stopped as something gripped her and squeezed some of the air from her lungs. She could smell magic. Next, she was launched across the ground with her feet hardly dragging across the hot sand. She looked into the wizard’s eyes as he stared at her with an intense look. She was pulled right into him where he grabbed her tightly with a hug, “Are you alright?” “Y-yeah,” She shuddered as the shock of nearly dying rocked her. Lance slowly let her go as the last of the fireworks went off. Without a word, she very carefully walked to her van and climbed in through the side doors. She wrapped her arms around herself as she sat down on her couch. “Valene?” The wizard locked up the van behind her and turned on one of the overhead lights, “What’s wrong?” “I nearly died!” She snapped, “What the hell do you want me to say, bro!?” “I don’t know!” He shot back, “My heart is pounding too, but thank the heavens I’ve had all these instinctive reactions beat into me as a child!” He groaned as he slouched on the couch next to her. “Haha… Yeah…” Valene rubbed her face with her fluffy hands, “Hey, dude?” “Aye?” “Thanks. For saving me and all,” She leaned on him for some form of comfort. She had no one else to go to. “Yeah, of course,” He grunted as his hand started to burn and his arm started to shake, “Dammit,” He moaned in pain. “What is it?” She asked as she got off of him and gripped his arm. “I overdrew my mana. Hurts like hell,” He explained as he writhed with pain. “Here,” She took a deep breath and put her hands on his arm. One on his red, rash covered palm and the other on his shoulder. The pain subsided as the familiar pumped as much of her mana as she could into him, “How’s that?” “Better, thanks,” He panted as sweat poured down his brow. “Yeah, no problem, bro,” She returned to leaning on him, “What’s up with your magic?” “Like I said. I have to use all these different methods than normal just to keep up,” He reminded her as he leaned on her, “How was the light show? Did I prove magic can be fun?” “I liked it,” She admitted to him. She felt tingly as she felt his mana and absorbed body heat. It was a nice and comforting feeling. She couldn’t quite place it, but it was something familiar and almost nostalgic to her. It suddenly felt sickening as she broke out into a cold sweat. She knew she had to get away from him to stop it. After she hopped up from the couch, the familiar shook herself, “Well. Dinner?” Lance woke up at the crack of dawn. For once, the van was stationary as he tried to wake up. After rubbing his eyes, he took a quick look around and didn’t see Valene anywhere. He quickly checked up front and didn’t spot her there either. There wasn’t anywhere for her to hide in the van besides within her little blanket burrito. She wasn’t there either. He threw on a shirt and looked past the thin curtains. He pushed them aside and scanned the flat ground around the van. Tourists were starting to arrive but Lance managed to spot her near the edge of the canyon. The wizard grabbed his staff, stepped out of the van and made his way to her. The familiar sat on the edge of the canyon where she hugged her knees, “Hey,” Lance grunted as he sat near her, making sure to give her a respectful amount of space. “Nice view, huh?” Valene asked as she stared toward the slowly rising sun, “This is the first thing I saw when I came to this world.” “It’s beautiful,” The wizard nodded, “Anything like this back home?” “No idea.” Lance glanced at her, “You really don’t look that old. Nor do you act like it,” He thought aloud. His face quickly turned red as he realized what he just said. Valene laughed quietly, “Thanks, bro. We should get going. People are showing up and I need a damn shower.” “Here, I’ve got a little something,” When the wizard got back the van he grabbed his staff and a few orange peels. He jabbed his staff into the ground as he uttered a few magic words. The peels disappeared as a citrusy smelling mist enveloped the two leaving their clothes cleaned, mended and unwrinkled. Their bodies and hair were cleaned of dirt, sand, grease and anything else. On top of that, they were left smelling like oranges. “Wow!” Valene touched her clothes, “Can you do that with the rest of my laundry!?” Lance nodded but leaned heavily on his staff, “Once I--urgh-- get some mana in me I can do it.” “You look like you’re dying!” Valene grabbed his wrist and pulled him into the van. “Just a little wrung dry,” He grunted in pain before the familiar forced him on the couch. “Sit here until you’re well enough to make some more mana for yourself,” She scolded gently. She grabbed his pillow and handed it to him. He gladly took it and laid out on the small couch, curled up into a little ball before the familiar threw the blanket over him again. He closed his eyes and shivered, “Jeez, man,” She idly stroked his hair which seemed to calm him down at least slightly, “You’re gonna kill yourself at this rate!” She shook her head and started to make a quick breakfast. She quickly made a two person batch of apple cinnamon oatmeal, “Don’t do any more magic for me,” She insisted, “If you died because of me I’d feel awful.” “Sorry,” He grunted, “I over drew last night because of how panicked I was. I can hardly keep my emotions in check, Valene. I’m hardly a good wizard.” “Why don’t you naturally regenerate mana like a normal person?” She sighed, wishing she had more mana to spare for him. “All the things that generate mana naturally for me have been turned into something that can expel more mana so I can cast more powerful spells. That’s why I have to make my own mana in the morning,” He explained softly, “It’s hardly a viable form of casting. On the plus side, I can dabble in most schools of magic.” Valene shot up as the kettle began to cry. She poured the hot water onto the two bowls of instant oats, “Here. Eat,” She shoved one of the bowls near him, “That should get you going, right?” “Thanks,” The wizard blew on his food as he smelled the apple cinnamon scent of the oats, “Sorry for scaring you.” “Just feel better, dammit!” She grunted before slowly eating her piping hot food. Lance did the same before giving her a little smile. Valene felt strange again as she looked at his face. It was that same nostalgic and sweet feeling but at the same time it made her feel ill and a little nauseous. She looked away from him as she wondered what was up with her. Her travelling partner frowned, wondering if he had done something wrong. The van rumbled down the thin road. Everything in the car rattled as Valene carefully took turns. She was coasting down a series of backroads after being forced to double back due to traffic and road closures. The going was slow on account of how many people were using horse drawn carriages on these smaller, more obscure roads. She wondered why so many people were headed towards California at this time. It might have been manhunt season, but Valene didn't know nor did she really care. Lance sat in the passenger’s seat as he tapped his fingers on the arm rest. He was still exhausted from his mana deprivation and was trying his best to take it easy, but something was bothering him more than his lack of mana. The familiar hadn’t said a word to him since breakfast and the lack of conversation was getting maddening and the soft music coming from the driver’s radio was hardly helping. At this point he could only wonder if he had done something wrong. He grit his teeth and tried to breathe deeply to push these thoughts from his mind. Just like always, he was too emotional and lacked a way to reign them in. He let out more than a few sighs throughout the hours, whether they were from boredom or a subconscious way of him trying to get Valene's attention didn’t matter to him. Eventually he gave up, “I’m gonna go brew some mana,” He grunted. The tone he used hardly obscured his frustration as he jumped up and grabbed his cauldron. He made a double batch of his brew, pouring in ichor, salts, and various other magical components. Soon, the brew was bubbling and wafting the raw mana into the van. Valene tried to ignore the scent of his magic as she focused on driving. The smell was so intense that it made her drift back and forth on the road. Lance used what little magic remained in him to pull the raw mana into himself. He shuddered violently and grabbed onto the counter to keep himself upright as his knees started to give out and Valene swerved the van. He looked down at the now clear and scentless thick liquid with disgust. He was starting to detest his own magical capabilities. With frustration in his quick and powerful movements, he threw the window above the tiny sink open and dumped out the refuse, leaving it to shrivel up and biodegrade in the sun. Valene nearly jumped out of her skin as the sirens started to blare. Lance fell on his ass as she hit the brakes and started to pull over, “Oh shit, oh shit,” She mumbled nervously as she looked at the red and blue lights in her rearview window. A sleek black cop cruiser had snuck up on her, “Get in your seat!” She barked at Lance. The wizard was already crawling to the front as the raw mana painfully wracked his body with shivers. He climbed into his seat and buckled up, still gripping his staff quietly, “I’ll talk.” “I’m sorry,” Lance apologized for some unseen sin that he believed he had committed. “Ssh!” She hissed. The twinge of fear she felt only expanded as she saw the shaking, shivering form of her nearly in tears companion, “Oh my god, what happened?” “I took a big whiff of mana. I needed it,” He explained with a groan. “J-just be cool, I can talk this out, dude,” She was mostly trying to convince herself. In her side mirror she saw the cop, a single police woman sitting in the cruiser. With numerous yellow eyes staring into her van, Valene realised that she might be totally screwed. Officer Crawford grunted into her radio, “I see at least two in the most gaudy looking van I’ve ever seen. Guy looks like he wasn’t buckled in, might have been sleeping. Dunno how, the vehicle was swerving something fierce. It looks like they’re in some kind of camper,” The gazer explained to dispatch as her numerous, watchful eye stalks examined the two up front as they talked to one another, “I saw the guy dump something weird out the window. Some clear looking slop.” “Need another unit?” The kobold on the other side of the radio asked, “I’ve got someone nearby.” “Yeah, just to be safe. I might have to do a vehicle search. Guy looks kinda shaky,” The gazer noted with her superior eyesight. “Think he’s tweaking?” The kobold sounded quite sad at the mention of drugs. “Maybe. Can’t tell yet. Gonna walk over and have ‘em get out,” Crawford decided as she grabbed her demon silver loaded service pistol and shoved it in her holster. “A-are you sure? You should wait for your back up!” The kobold insisted. “Nah. She can help when she gets here. Crawford out,” The gazer got out of the cruiser and out into the hot sun. She tugged on her black uniform and pulled her hair back before putting a hat on. As she walked past the van, she struggled to get the whole picture of the interior, everything behind the seats looked squished together to be thinner. She frowned but remained stalwart as she reached the driver’s window. A white haired familiar stared back at her with a nervous expression before rolling the window down. “What seems to be the problem, officer?” Valene asked the gazer. “Do you know why I stopped you?” The gazer inquired as she examined both passengers. The man looked pale as he gripped the branch in his hands and shook slightly. It was minor, but Crawford’s eyes were trained. The familiar seemed fine. It was hard to tell if her eyes were bloodshot or not due to how sparkly they naturally were. “Um… No?” Valene frowned, “Are one of my lights out?” “You were swerving all over the damn road, you littered, that guy looks like he’s on something, and he definitely wasn’t buckled up!” The gazer spat, infuriated by the familiar’s feigned ignorance. “He’s just nervous!” Valene was still trying her hardest to play coy, “He nearly gets molested every time we’re pulled over! Leave him out of this. If my driving was the problem, I’ll take the fall for it.” “Why the hell wasn’t he buckled then!?” “He was trying to hide. The poor thing is terrified,” She grabbed his wrist, “My poor sweetheart. He’s uh,” She hesitated, still acting, “A little on the spectrum. He gets freaked out when you shout at him,” She wondered if she was laying it on a little thick. The genuine feeling in the familiar’s sad tone made Crawford feel a little guilty. But she was still wary of the familiar’s tricks. She looked at the back seat and saw a very suspect looking jar, “Well… I still need you both to step out of the vehicle.” “Alright,” Valene nodded and grabbed Lance’s wrist, “Can you get out, sweetie?” He nodded, still full of fear. If the gazer saw his magical paraphernalia she might start asking questions. The gazer watched both of them. The man was leaning heavily on his weird branch. The familiar handed Crawford her license and registration as well, “Hm…” She was still using her eye stalks to look around the interior of the van through the windows, “Alright, well. I’m gonna have to do a vehicle search which means I need to cuff you both. Don’t take it the wrong way,” The gazer’s eyes started to charge a flash of magical power to stun them both. Lance’s instincts jumped into action again as he saw the arcane energy. Just before the gazer could finish readying her stunning spell, he threw a handful of mana infused salt particles into the air. Crawford, now startled, let loose her paralysis attack. Using the mana in the air, Lance created a reflective barrier just before the attack went off. Valene shrieked as the gazer’s eyes all rolled into the back of her head and she went down, “What did you do!?” She demanded of Lance. “Oh god,” He suddenly realised what he had done, “Stupid instinctual casting BULLSHIT,” He shouted, his whole body shaking now. With the wave of his hand he spread the salt on the winds, “H-here,” He knelt down and touched the gazer’s forehead. He mumbled quietly as he cast another spell. “What are you doing!? MORE magic!?” “Can it for one second, will you!? You don’t talk to me all day after breakfast and now you’re breathing down my neck! I’m trying to save our skins!” He pulled his glowing hand away after a few moments, “I wiped her memory of the past three hours.” “You couldn’t do less?” “No,” He grunted, “Magic’s too damn strong out the gate. We--” “Weoo! Weoo!” A voice cried in the wind, interrupting him. “What the heck is that?” Valene asked as she glanced toward a massive dust cloud. “Uh… Shit…” Lance shook even more with fear. “WEOO! WEOO!” The voice was practically screaming. The dust cloud slowed down but still sprayed the two with sand. Both coughed and fanned the dust from their faces, “Dun dun dun duuuun! Have no fear! Wurm Patrol is here!” The voice cried. Once the sand storm she had brought had died down, Lance and Valene were staring at a massive, grinning wurm with hard copper or brass colored scales that covered her long armored snake body, “Hello, citizen! I’m Officer Cooper! Where is Officer Crawford?” Lance looked down at the collapsed gazer and started to stammer. Valene started before he could even try, “Officer Cooper! Thank the Maou you’re here!” She cried as she started hamming it up, “She pulled us over and was sweating like mad! I tried to give her some water but she succumbed to the heat! I think she had a heat stroke! I-I think you need to hurry and take her back to your precinct!” There was so much genuine fear and worry, at least in Officer Cooper’s view, that she had to believe the familiar, “Oh!” The wurm picked up her gazer friend, “She always was working herself to the bone! I’ll take her right to the hospital! Wurm Patrol is on the case!” She proudly announced. With a flick of her long tail, she took off again, leaving a massive kicked up cloud of sand in her wake, “WEOO! WEOO!” She screamed as she quickly slithered along the desert ground like a rocket over the sands. “Oh, thank god,” Lance leaned on the van as he took a deep breath. “Well, that was fun! Back to the road!” Valene picked up her license and registration, nodded, and climbed back into the van. “Are we… not gonna talk about what just happened?” Lance asked, hobbling his way over to the passenger side of the van. “Nope!” Valene replied cheerfully, slamming her door before turning over the ignition. Lance stared at her in disbelief before climbing into the passenger seat, “Yeah… Okay.” The familiar hummed to herself in thought, “I’m craving a shitty cheese burger or two. We’ll drive into town and stop for the night after dinner.” “O-okay,” Lance stared out the window at the sky. The sun was starting to go down after a long and horrible day. He was ready to retire for the night, “Counting today, we’ve only got four days to make it to Tillamook and hike that trail.” “We’ll make it, calm down,” She shrugged him off quickly and focused on her driving again. “I...“ Lance clenched his jaw and figuratively bit his tongue, “Alright.” The burgers would be cheap, but mostly filling. The rest of the night was as silent as the morning as the van travelled down the road into town. Valene woke up in the middle of the night with a rumbling stomach. She needed a snack. She stretched and threw the blanket off of herself before getting up. As her ears twitched, she stopped for a moment. She could hear a soft voice in the back corner of the van. She looked at the mat and saw Lance wasn’t there. He was in the back of the van, huddled in the corner as he held something close to his head. A soft voice played as he quietly sniffled, “Lance?” She called out quietly. Her worry quickly suppressed her need to distance herself from him. Lance stopped the recording and turned to him, “D-did I wake you up?” “No. I’m just hungry, bro. You okay?” She asked as she watched him wipe his eyes. “Yeah. Fine,” He fibbed. “Lance, bro,” She said firmly, “That’s not the face of someone who is doing fine!” “Okay, look. I was upset because my negligence nearly got you killed! Then afterward you started getting cold and distant and on top of that I reflected a spell at a cop! A cop! It wasn’t even on purpose! I also thought I had already ruined what little friendship we had! God, grandpa would be so disappointed in me that I even let this happen!” In a fit of frustration, the wizard threw down his tome, “Why’d you make me do this on my own, grandpa!? I can’t do this!” He wailed into the void. Valene timidly picked up his magic book as he put his head in his hands, “You’re not alone, dude. I’m here. It wasn’t your fault I acted like that, I was still kinda shaken from nearly falling like I did,” She offered him his book, “I don’t know your gramps but I’m sure he didn’t intend to make you feel like this when he sent you on this quest.” “You… You’re probably right,” He took his tome back and wiped his face, “I’m sorry I’m acting like a big baby.” “Oh, shut up, bro,” The familiar groaned, “I know what people look like when acting like babies!” She lunged forward and hugged him around the neck, “You’re good, dude.” “You’ve got a way with words, Valene,” He gave her a weak hug back, “A weird one, but it still works on me,” He could feel the warmth of her skin through his clothes. She was only wearing form fitting shorts and a sports bra. “Just my silver tongue in action! Like what I used on that wurm,” She laughed before letting him go, still afraid of that weird, gross feeling coming back, “Want a snack before you go back to bed?” The wizard picked up his audio recorder and examined it, “Nah, I should be okay.” “What’s that?” The shortstack asked as she pointed to the device. “Recorder. My grandpa left me a message on it. I had hoped for some comfort from his voice, but I really only feel worse,” The man sighed, “I miss him so much,” The tears started to well up in his eyes again. With a sad and empathetic sigh, Valene leaned into him again and hugged him. She rubbed his back with one hand, “It’s alright, man. I know it's hard to lose family.” He returned the hug firmly, “Thank you,” The pair sat quietly in the dark for some time before finally letting one another go. Valene felt tingly and melancholic while Lance felt better for the most part. He got up and stretched, “We should go to bed. We need to keep moving in the morning.” “Right,” The familiar grunted and looked around the van, “You know, for how perceptive that gazer was, how didn’t she figure you were a wizard?” “I’ve been in plain clothes this entire time,” Lance guessed with a shrug, “Most human wizards are freaks who wear nothing but big goofy robes and pointed hats.” “You do that on purpose?” Valene blurted out. He shrugged, “They’re just hot as hell, mostly.” “Ah,” The familiar ate some more crackers, “Do you think your grandpa intended for this to happen? Maybe for experience and to meet people?” She mumbled as her mind wandered. “Huh?” Lance hadn’t heard her as he put away his tome and staff. “N-nothing. Forget it,” She quickly shook her head, “It was something dumb, bro. Go to bed, you just said we needed to!” “Right…” He got on his mat as he watched the woman dig through her pantry and chow down on some crackers. He got a little warm and fuzzy as he thought about how she had hugged him twice. He just hoped he wasn’t misinterpreting affection for something else again. After a slow morning where the pair actually conversed with one another again and nearly seven more hours of driving with a handful of stops, Valene’s eyes started to sparkle again as she stared at the glowing signs, “Welcome to Vegas!” She shouted. Lance shot up in his seat as he was roused from his nap, “Huh?” “Las Vegas you idiot! Look!” She gestured as they drove down the Strip. Heads turned as the colorful van coasted down the street. Tall, bright buildings flanked the street on both sides along with high flowing lit up fountains. While the Strip still featured gambling, the streets had been cleaned up quite a bit since they had been taken over by mamano rulership. Gambling had fallen by the wayside and instead it was used as a popular couple’s retreat with entertainment of nearly any kind available. Shows, movies, theatrical performances, all of it was here along with arcades, casinos, bars, restaurants, and, arguably most importantly, hotels to retire to with your lover, “I think there’s an RV park a little north of here. We’ll park there and walk back.” Lance sighed, “Valene--” “I know, I know! Three days until the deadline. We’ll make it!” The familiar assured him, “I told you that I’d show you how to have a bit of fun, remember, bro?” “I don’t know,” The wizard frowned as he closed his tome and set it aside. “We’ll get to Oregon tomorrow, I promise,” She smiled, “All we gotta do is hop on the 95 up to Oregon and then take the 20 west for a while then go up through Salem over to Tillamook! Easy! It's probably another sixteen hours, but we’ll make it!” Lance knew her persuasive abilities were easily affecting him. He sighed and shook his head, “Fine. But I don’t want this to come down to the wire.” “Come on, push that from your mind! We should have some fun tonight!” “Alright,” Lance slouched in his seat as they slowly coasted through limo filled traffic, “Looks like a ton of people are having weddings in Vegas. Some things never do change, huh?” “Yup. Just like you’re gonna be a huge nerd forever, dude,” Valene snickered. “Oh, shut up,” He groaned at her teasing. “You’re a great nerd, bro! Don’t ever give up on your magic, alright?” “Even with how much I’ve messed up during this trip alone?” Lance asked quietly. “Yeah. You’ve done a lot of good too. I know I freaked out when you blasted that gazer, but that was honestly the best outcome we could have gotten. Are we even, by the way?” She gave him a sly smile. “Even? For what?” “You saved my life at the Canyon and I kept you from squealing and getting your head torn off by that wurm!” She laughed, “We’re even now.” “Fair enough, Valene,” He looked out the windows and took in the sights and sounds of the people and the buildings. “Is this bringing any memories back?” The familiar asked, “Good ones?” Lance nodded, “A few, I think. Mostly walking up and down this road. I remember seeing some shows and having a big dinner in a restaurant with my extended family and grandparents. I remember the fit my cousin threw because her sister got bigger chicken strips than her. Swimming, parents gambling, I had one of the best burgers ever around here too.” “Oh! Let’s do that!” Her mouth was starting to salivate, “What’s with you and hamburgers,” Lance chuckled, “You’ve eaten more of them this week than I have in a year.” “What can I say? I love me some meat between two hot, steamy buns.” She grinned at him playfully, sending a jolt down his spine. Whether that was meant as a joke or not was lost on the wizard, “We’ll get a nice meal, drinks and do some gambling together! If I had the money, maybe a show too!” “If gramps does give me that treasure cache as a reward, maybe I’ll pay for us to see a show on the way back to New Mexico,” Lance offered. The van had gone past the strip and was now rumbling down the road. Valene frowned and turned the van slowly, “I’m… a beach bum, remember, dude?” She reminded him quietly as an overbearing feeling of longing made her heart heavy, “I’m trying to get to the Oregon coast to live there for a while. I won’t be coming back with you.” “Ah. Right,” He folded his arms, “I guess that slipped my mind.” “I’ve had a lot of fun with you already, Lance. You’re probably one of the best hitchikers I’ve ever picked up,” She praised as she tried to keep both of their spirits high. “Honestly, I’ve had a good time with you too despite the missteps along the way,” Lance smiled, “I think I see the place you mentioned up there.” Valene leaned over the wheel and squinted her eyes, “Oh! I see it! Come on, stupid traffic!” She hissed at the horse drawn carriages that had ‘JUST MARRIED’ painted on the back. She stuck her tongue out as she imagined the newlyweds making out with one another in the back seat, “I’m hungry and I need to pee!” She screamed as she shook herself in her seat, “I need to stretch my cramped legs!” The wizard laughed at her, “I can’t feel my legs either,” He admitted as his stomach started to rumble. Valene pulled into the overnight RV parking area of a nice looking hotel and rolled down her window as she neared the front booth, “One night please!” She cried at the man manning the booth. She quickly handed over the money for it and found a parking spot near a little grassy area with a picnic table and quick access to the bathrooms. The two spent a few minutes relieving themselves and stretching before heading to the strip in search of tasty food, drinks, and fun. With the moon hanging overhead, and her pockets a hundred dollars lightened but her stomach full of tasty food and drinks that her friend mostly paid for, Valene returned to her precious Vincent Van Go. Trailing her and making sure she didn’t fall down and scuff her knees again was Lance. He hadn’t gambled nearly as much as the familiar had and he hadn’t had much to drink either. The only reason he had lost as much money as her was because he bought her numerous drinks, “Did you see that white furred jinko!?” She asked with a slightly slurred voice. “Yeah I saw her,” The wizard nodded. “Did you see how she juggled those bowling balls!? That was insane! What if she had dropped one on a kid? Think that kid would die, or would he just like, crunch down like an accordian? Oh man, imagine if you saved the kid with your magic!” He grunted, “If I had brought my staff with me maybe I could have saved them with that same thing I saved you with.” Valene leaned on her car, “Hi Vincent. How was your night? Any other cute cars around here?” She giggled, “Yeah they do look like a bunch of skanks.” “Okay, I don’t need you to start drunkenly screaming at another monster girl tonight, get in,” Lance grabbed the keys from her hand, unlocked the door and forced her inside. He shuddered as he remembered the shouting match she had gotten into with that ‘penny pinching ring tail having poopy head’ after the danuki had made a slight against her supposed age. The familiar looked up at Lance as he helped her in, “But those DAMN kistunes and danukis! They think they’re fluffier than ME! Look at me!” She gestured to her admittedly fluffy arms, legs, ears and tail, “I am MADE of fluff! W-well… if I was a little pudgy I would be, bro!” She took off her flower print button up and jorts revealing her skin tight sports bra and bike shorts. Lance looked away quickly as his face started to turn flush, “Y-yeah. You are pretty fluffy,” He plopped down on the couch and got comfortable, ready to chat for a bit before going to bed. “Here, feel it,” She grabbed his hand and ran her soft white fluffy hands over his palm, “Way better than those dumb tails, right?” He got goosebumps as he felt her warm fur. He only nodded in response, “Your hands are so calloused,” She commented, “I bet your magic did all this, dude. All those scars… these have seen a lot of action.” “Miscasts, shrapnel… explosion. It's been a little rough,” He admitted, getting carried off by her infectious charm. She sat next to him and curiously pushed up his sleeve and looked at the wrist on his arm that usually held his staff. He had blue lines like veins of dried up mana under his skin, his fingers twitched as she timidly ran her soft hands over them, “You poor thing,” She sadly looked into his eyes and he stared back with nothing but embarrassment. “W-What’s with you? Just yesterday you were all cold and distant,” He chuckled nervously as he turned away from her, “Now you’re getting all touchy feely with me.” Valene gently touched his chin and pushed his face back toward her own, “Are you scared of intimacy?” Lance shook his head, “N-no, of course not. I’ve just never had anyone want to get intimate with me before,” He could feel her hot breath against his chin as she gently caressed it. “Oh? What if someone wanted to?” “I-I don’t know,” He stammered as the familiar got a little closer to his face. He could smell the alcohol on her breath. With a surge of confidence, he grabbed her shoulders and kept her at bay, “Valene, you’re intoxicated. Don’t do something you’ll regret.” Valene sobered up quickly and pushed herself away from him, “Oh no,” She put her hand on her forehead. That feeling came back, the sick feeling in her stomach that made her act funny. “It's not that I don’t like you or anything,” Lance quickly added as he saw how upset she was, “I-I just don’t know if you like me or if we’re ready for that or--” “That’s not it!” She shouted, startling him, “It's that sabbath bullshit all over again! Maybe you’re not scared of intimacy but I am!” “What are you talking about?” She got on her bed and curled up. That strange feeling she was getting, it was reminding her of why she left, “I… I’ll tell you. You deserve to know what happened. I was in a sabbath cult most of my life. I was born into it. It was a seemingly very standard and very small branch where pretty much everyone acted childish and researched or practiced magic every day. Of course I was jealous that the other girls had magic and I didn’t. Even my mom had the ability to cast spells.” “And that’s why you left? That sounds a little tame,” Lance noted as he folded his arms. “I wish that was it,” She sniffled, “I was pressured into something. A relationship with a young guy. A-and I went along with it since everyone around me wanted to. But I got this feeling, this sick feeling in my stomach as the day we were supposed to get betrothed approached. It was unbearable. I quickly realised I only felt it when I saw him or thought about him. But I couldn’t back out! I couldn’t get away from him! Everyone wanted me to marry him so he could have my mana or whatever! And then I realised something,” She got up, completely exasperated, “The girls in this sabbath, they only married specific people based on these weird arcane rituals so that one or both of them could get much stronger for the marriage! I was being married to him for HIS benefit! Or maybe we were supposed to have some crazy strong kid!” “I-I--” Lance stammered as he stared into her eyes. “I DIDN’T LOVE HIM!” She shouted, drilling it into her friend’s head, “I didn’t want anything to do with him or that sabbath! I did the only thing I could think to do! I bought a car and ran away. I just wandered and did little jobs and I bought this van and all I could do was keep running. And I had a rule, I forgot why I had the rule, no dudes. Don’t pick up any dudes!” “Because you didn’t want the same thing to happen again?” The wizard guessed. “No, because I didn’t want this to happen,” The tears she had been holding back started to roll down her face, “I got close to you because of how nice you’ve been and I’m feeling this awful sick thing again just from being around you. I-I don’t know what love feels like, Lance. I don’t know what it’s like to be loved or love someone and I’m terrified of relationships because of it! I-I-I feel like I’ve led you on because of my own stupidity!” She wailed before going face down on her pillow. “I don’t know what love feels like but I know it doesn’t feel like this!” Without any other idea of what to do, Lance scooped her up in his arms and hugged her tight as he sat on the edge of her bed, “No one here is forcing you to do anything, Valene,” Timidly, he ran his fingers gently across her scalp. Without another word, the familiar cried into her friend’s shoulder. Even if she was hugging him back, she didn’t feel the sickening feeling in her stomach. Her arms wrapped tightly around her friend’s neck as she let all her sadness, wailing into his shirt. The two sat together in the warm, dimly lit van together for an unknown length of time. All Lance could do was hold her and tell her that everything was going to be okay. Eventually, the sobbing familiar fell asleep in his arms, her crying turning to hiccups while she slumbered. With a thankful sigh, he laid her down on her mattress and wrapped her in her blankets, “I guess you don’t feel the same way about me, huh?” He wondered aloud as he felt a horrible pain. He had wondered for a long time how having a heart broken felt and now he was sure he knew. He just hoped the pain would make him stronger. With a glance, he saw how unhappy she still looked. He knew he was frowning just as much as he settled onto his mat. He just wanted to get to Oregon, get this quest done, and take a plane or something home so he could shut himself off from the rest of the world again and get away from the pain. He closed his eyes and waited for sleep to take him. The morning sun came and with it the noises of morning traffic. Both Valene and Lance were awakened by a loud nearby car honking. The familiar groaned as she felt her body was laying on a hard surface. She quickly began to miss her water bed as she looked around. She had rolled off the bed and onto the mat that Lance was sleeping on. The wizard rolled away from her as the two locked eyes, “Morning,” He grunted. “Uh, yeah, good morning,” The familiar sat up and rubbed her head. She winced in pain as she felt her slight hangover, “Jeez, what happened last night?” She got up, went to her tiny fridge and grabbed a bottle of orange gatorade. “You really don’t remember?” The wizard asked as he got up and changed into his normal clothes. Valene glanced at him and saw a somewhat sad or hurt looking expression on his face, “I… did I do something dumb, dude? Come on, don’t leave me in suspense!” She racked her brain as she tried to remember. She smirked as she recalled shouting at a danuki while they played slots, having some food, drinks and playing black jack with Lance. Lance frowned again as he grabbed some sweet, soothing lavender, “It wasn’t dumb. You really just told me how you felt. Come here,” He waved her over and cast his cleaning spell again. Valene breathed a sigh of relief as the nice smells of the lavender and the comforting feeling of Lance’s magic made the headache subside. She quickly styled her hair as she thought about what her friend had just said, “We came back to the van, I think you forced me in and--” She stopped as she remembered trying to kiss him, “I told you about my past, didn't I?” She frowned, “You don’t think less of me for all that and my breakdown, right?” “Of course not. You had a valid reason for running away,” Lance answered. His arms were folded and his leg was crossed over the other. He didn’t look his friend in the eyes, he couldn’t bring himself to, “I just know how you really feel now.” “Lance?” She said his name meekly as his words pierced her heart like a dagger. “I’m not upset or anything. Last thing I wanna do is force anything on you,” He said coldly as he stretched out on the couch. She smiled and tried to look past his cold demeanor, “Thanks for that, bro. You’re a cool dude, you know that?” Lance bit his tongue and kept himself from saying ‘not cool enough, I guess’ in response. He merely nodded, “Thanks.” “How about some breakfast then we can get moving?” Valene began to prepare some toast with strawberry jelly and some scrambled eggs. She sighed with a heavy heart and looked at her sad friend as he browsed his phone. She felt empathy for him, but wasn’t really sure what he was upset about. After an agonizingly silent period of cooking, the familiar placed a tiny table in front of Lance before placing his food on it, “Eat up!” “Yeah. Thanks,” Lance grunted before slowly eating the food. “Jeez bro,” She laughed nervously, “You not used to waking up next to a girl? It frazzled you that bad?” “That’s not it,” He suddenly growled. Valene could only think to continue acting coy, “Is it about your grandpa?” “You know, I wish it was.” “Then what is it?” She pestered with the friendliest tone she could muster in spite of her emotions. She jumped as Lance slammed his hand on the table. Silverware rattled as his toast fell to the floor. He clenched his fist until his knuckle got white. Valene cowered away from him as she saw his watery wide eyed stare. He couldn’t hold it in any longer, “Valene, goddammit, I like you!” He admitted to her and himself. “Oh,” She chuckled nervously as she kept up her demure facade, “I-I like you too, buddy!” “I don’t mean it like that!” He cried, exasperated, “Romantically! I like you romantically! Maybe even love, I don’t know! I’ve NEVER felt this way! I don’t know WHAT is going on!” “I-- I-- Uh,” Valene stammered, trying to shrug off his declaration. “I finally got so close to this thing, something that I never thought I’d find and I think I finally did, but-- but--” He clenched his jaw, “And then it’s gone! Snatched away!” He choked back his tears as he struggled to retain a semblance of composure. “But, Lance,” She desperately tried to console him but couldn’t find the words for it. He picked up the toast from the shag carpet and put it back on his plate, “Don’t try to convince me otherwise, Valene. You’re terrified of becoming close to someone, I get that. After what you went through, I probably would feel the same way, but I’m still a man. I want to respect your wishes, but it feels like we’ve been flirting for nearly a week now and it’s messing with my head and giving me mixed signals!” The familiar was at a loss for words as she found herself only able to stare as the wizard cleaned up his dishes and casted a spell to get the jam out of the carpet, “Nothing to say?” “Dude, Lance, you can’t just drop this shit on me and expect me to have a coherent response!” She protested, “I-I don’t know how I feel!” “You can just say no, Valene. I can take it,” He said quietly before taking his seat up front, silently waiting for the trip to continue, “Sorry… for yelling.” The defeated tone in his voice dealt another blow to the small familiar’s heart, “Y-yeah, man. It-it’s cool,” She found herself choking back a torrent of tears. She looked down at the eggs and half eaten toast. She couldn’t bring herself to take another bite of it. She felt even sicker now that her friend was so upset and hurt. With a sigh, she cleaned up her own dishes and headed up front, ready as she could be to get back on the road. Lance didn’t look at her at all as she started up the van and pulled onto the road. Vincent Van Go cruised down route 95 headed north. The rumbling moving van was gradually heading towards the deserts of eastern Oregon and out of the deserts of Nevada. Valene cleared her throat as she tried once more to get Lance’s attention. She didn’t know what she wanted to say at all, but she felt like she needed to say something. As Van Halen started to play, she angrily shut off the radio, hardly able to keep herself from striking the dashboard as her emotions flared. She understood how her friend felt when she had acted like this just a few days prior. She had no idea what she would even say to him if they did start talking, even if she said she liked him back, would she even be telling the truth? Lying to him and herself would probably only make things worse in their relationship. She could do what she had so many times before and just wait for the problem to go away. Or run away from it herself. She just had to put up with him for one more day and he’d be out of her life, probably forever. The familiar wasn’t even sure if she wanted that, she knew that she found him fun to be around at the very least, plus he would be nice to have around for cleaning, cooking and most other chores due to his magic. Valene’s mind strayed to her friend’s magical prowess. He was a wreck, that much was for sure. She wondered if he’d stop getting himself hurt if left on his own. Probably not, she quickly realised. His emotional state was all over the place right now and if left alone who knew if it would ever get better. Valene scoffed at herself, ‘What has that boy ever done for me?’ She asked herself silently, ‘Other than help me clean, buy me drinks, make me laugh and save my life?’ She felt her heart sting even more. The familiar glanced over at the man. He sat completely still as he stared at the road. What she wouldn’t give to know what was going on in his head at that moment. Voices in her head screamed at her to talk to him, to try and make amends with him somehow. She wondered if she would be able to convince him that she didn’t hate him, that she was just confused and needed more time to sort things out in her head. That she thought about him near constantly and this was hurting her almost as much as it was hurting him. She clutched her stomach as she felt some hunger pangs. She wasn’t exactly sure if it was really hunger that was hurting her or those new, horrible pains that had been here since Lance had admitted how he felt. It felt like it took her another hour or so to work up the courage to speak. Her mouth was dry and her body was shaking, “So, uh… you excited for the scenery to change once we’re out of this damn desert?” She tried to start some form of conversation with a weak and nervous voice. With a shrug and without looking away from the road he mumbled, “I guess.” Valene could hardly keep herself from having a breakdown, “Lance--” “Could you stop up here?” He interrupted her as a ‘rest stop ahead’ sign came into view, “I gotta go to the bathroom.” “Oh, yeah, totally bro,” She felt a modicum of relief that he had talked to her at all. Within a few minutes, the van was pulled off of the long boring road and into a tiny rest stop. There wasn’t a single car around so Valene got prime parking at the bathrooms. She pulled into a spot and shut Vincent Van Go off, “I hope it comes out okay,” She joked meekly. Lance shot her a tiny smirk before climbing out of the van and trudging to the bathroom. The familiar slammed her palm onto the top of the dashboard and groaned at herself in anger. She knew she had to come up with something before he came out. An apology of some kind. She really didn’t want to lose her new friend already. Clark Gibbelson perked up as he heard the bathroom door open. Someone trudged in and unzipped their pants before reliving themself in one of the urinals. Clark gripped the object in his hands tightly, felt the sturdy plastic it was made of and the heft of the thing. The man at the urinal sighed with relief and zipped his pants back up. Slowly and carefully, Clark undid the latch on the stall and peered out. The man, young and gaunt, stared at himself in the mirror as he washed his hands. He looked miserable, ‘Perfect,’ Clark thought with a grin, ‘His day is about to get a whole lot worse,’ Clark stomped forward, brandishing the thing in his hands, “Alright, you,” He said in a gruff voice. Lance’s heart nearly jumped out of his throat as he was startled by someone. It almost happened again as he quickly realised he was staring down the barrel of a gun, “Oh, shit!” He shouted. “Hands where I can see ‘em. This ain’t a prop,” The older, gray haired man ordered. He was pretty short, hardly taller than Valene and a bit pudgy. It rang a bell but Lance couldn’t place it as his fight or flight activated. “W-what do you want?” Lance asked fearfully as he put his hands up. He knew he should have brought his staff into the bathroom with him. “Your keys. Now.” “I-I don’t have any, really,” Lance insisted as he tried to examine the gun. It was some kind of ugly, all black Glock. He could seal the red sigils that let the gun actually function and fire grafted into the slide that glowed and pulsed slightly. It was definitely real. “Then how the hell did you get here, you walk or somethin', asshole!?" Clark shouted, shoving Lance towards the exit. Lance could feel the barrel of the gun get pushed into his back, right on his spine. He swallowed nervously. He knew he had to get Valene out of there. He stepped out into the hot air with his arms still raised, “Alright, then help me steal that stupid looking van.” The familiar looked up from the floor as she saw movement in the side of her vision. She saw Lance but he was acting funny. Her heart sank as she saw the man behind him. The wizard was trying to mouth something at her, ‘GO. NOW,’ He tried to order. Valene shook her head, she couldn’t just leave her friend behind. She froze as the short man pointed his gun at her, “HANDS UP!” He shouted. The familiar nodded and did as she was told, “OUT!” In moments, she undid her seatbelt and threw her driver’s side door open. Lance was shoved aside as the man went to get into the van. Valene stood by her friend’s side, “Are you okay?” She asked quietly. “I’m fine,” Lance’s heart was still pounding, “Why didn’t you take off!?” “And let you get shot up by some lunatic!? No way, dude!” She shot back. He shook his head, “You should have! He’s going to steal Vincent Van Go!” “I can get a new van but I can’t get a new Lance,” She firmly explained. Her heart fluttered as she saw him smile awkwardly for the first time all day, “Thanks, Valene,” He stifled a chuckle. “What the hell is this shit!?” Clark demanded as he saw how high up the driver’s seat was. On top of that, all the pedals were raised so someone of the familiar’s size could drive it. Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible for someone just nine inches taller than the familiar to use it. On top of that, the damn thing had a stick shift, “You!” He pointed a finger at the familiar. Lance stepped forward to put himself between the two of them, “You’re driving me to Ork-Land. Get in. Now!” He hissed, brandishing his firearm, “And ditch this asshole too.” “I’m not leaving him, you prick,” Valene hissed, “Oh yeah, shoot the only person within a hundred miles that can drive this thing. That’s a real smart thing to do, dick head!” She was unfaltering despite his angry gaze. “Fine,” He threw open the back door and climbed into the back. His eyes instantly focused on the gnarled tree branch, “Can’t have you assholes using this,” He snatched up the staff and broke the dried wood over his leg before throwing it out of the van. Lance grabbed his chest as pain suddenly wracked him and fell to his knees. The two now mundane pieces of wood shot multi colored sparks out of the cracks and splinters. He weakly picked up what remained of his precious staff. Beyond its use in his magic, the sentimental value associated with it is what hurt him the most. Valene grabbed his arm, “Are you hurt?” He nodded weakly, “My staff was bound to me. That bond being severed yanked a bunch of mana out of me.” “Don’t need this either,” Clark grunted as he grabbed the stupid looking jar in the back seat and tossed it out. The familiar’s eyes got wide as she saw the urn being tossed out toward her. With a dive onto the concrete, she hardly caught it, keeping the contents from spilling out, “What’s the big idea, asshole!?” She shouted at the gun man as he settled into the back seat. “Just get in and drive!” He shouted back. The familiar handed the urn to her friend before closing the back doors, “I think I know who this guy is,” She explained quietly, “Remember that emergency broadcast? The guy who escaped that Utah mindflayer facility? This is that guy!” “We can’t do anything about it now,” Lance grunted as he held the pieces of his staff, “Just do what he says. If shit hits the fan I’ll buy you time to run.” “No! We’re both going to make it!” She snapped, “I’m not letting you die for nothing!” “You’re not nothing!” Lance shot back as he got up and went to his side of the van, “We have to do what he wants. I’m sorry.” “But if we take him to Ork-Land, even just to Portland where they’ve taken over recently, we won’t be able to get back into the States in time to make it to Tillamook! Even if I drive all the way there tonight!” Lance gave her a stoic look, “So be it. I’m not letting you get hurt.” “Lance…” She shook her head and trailed off before climbing in. She started up the van, “So, uh, why are you headed to Ork-Land?” “Can it, woman,” The man grunted at her, “Just drive to Portland or somewhere in Washington. I don’t care which.” “Sure, whatever,” Valene sighed and turned to the road “I’m not going back to that penitentiary, dammit! You monster girl bitches aren’t gonna lock me up again! Those damn squids aren’t gonna touch me! They can’t fix me!” Clark grunted. He could taste freedom. It was so close. He’d be left alone by those stupid, smelly orks or whatever was left of those pussy Canadians. If not, he held the solver of all his problems in his hand. Lance kept his cool as he tightly gripped his grandfather’s urn. He needed to stay calm to think straight. He quickly ruled out trying to get an officer’s attention. The man in the back, that he was pretty sure was named Clark, would definitely get suspicious. He snuck a glance at Valene. She was sweating slightly. Despite her confident sounding words, she was definitely more nervous than he was. She peeked at him and gave him a tiny smile. He returned it, but couldn’t do much more than chuckle at their situation, “We’re in a big mess now, huh?” He mumbled. “I’m just glad you’re talking to me again,” She replied just as quietly. “Thanks for saving the urn,” Lance whispered as he shuddered from another bout of pain. He wasn’t sure if the pain was because of his mana burn or the guilt of acting like he did, but right now that didn’t matter. “Yeah, man. We’re on this quest together after all,” She reminded him. Lance smirked, he hadn’t kept it on his mind especially now that they were under threat of getting shot or even killed. “Shut up, dammit!” Clark demanded, starting to get paranoid. Those two were up to something, he knew it! Valene rolled her eyes and glanced at him in the rearview window. The guy definitely looked insane, she could see it in his eyes, the way they darted back and forth like he was seeing something constantly on the edge of his vision. The look on his face told her much, his mouth twitching like a rodent, his nose and brow wrinkled in a perpetual rage, the sweat pouring off his brow and along his fat cheeks. She wondered if he was insane enough to kill them. On top of that, what was that gun loaded with? Even if it was just demon silver rounds, they’d both be incapacitated in a shot or two and he would be able to finish them off. What if he did it anyway after they got him to wherever he was going? She glanced at the dash and frowned, her precious Vincent was running out of steam. They had made it to Oregon like she had planned, at least, “Hey, crazy gun guy,” The familiar growled, “We’re running out of steam. We’ll have to stop for the night and let my baby recharge.” Clark grunted angrily, “Bullshit!” “We’ve been driving all day. These old engines can blow if they’re run too long,” Lance fibbed, “Then how will you make it to Ork-Land? You’d have to steal another car and most of those tow truck drivers are packing heat.” “Ugh, dammit. Alright, find somewhere open and hidden away to stop,” He barked an order. “Aye aye,” The driver nodded. It took her another hour to find somewhere to stop after she hopped on Route 20 and headed west. There was a spot off the road in the middle of nowhere hidden behind some trees from prying eyes. Valene carefully pulled into it and parked, “Now what? You want the tent, guy?” “Give me the keys, your phones, and any other electronic bullshit you have,” He hissed. The pair quickly handed it all over, “Take your stupid tent and get out. Don’t try running or I’ll find you.” “Yeah, yeah, whatever. I’m not abandoning my van,” Valene got out of the driver’s seat and found somewhere flat on some grass. Lance had grabbed the mat, the rolled up tent, and a couple blankets. The two quickly got the tent set up as Clark watched them with his wild eyes. He couldn’t rest. They were still up to something, they had to be! “I got my eye on you, don’t do anything stupid, I’m a light sleeper!” He hollered at them. Lance shook his head, stretched, and crawled into the tent, ready to retire for the night. Valene followed him in quickly and leapt into his lap, “Lance, I’m scared. If we drive across the border those orks will let us in but coming back the State border security might not!” She quickly admitted, “We have to do something.” “Valene, he’s gonna shoot us! I can’t let you get hurt!” He protested quietly. “He’s gonna shoot us anyways and kill us when we get to Ork-Land. Do you see that look in his eye!? He’s fucking nuts! There was a reason he was in that correctional facility!” “Right…” Lance stroked his chin. He hadn’t considered that threat before. If she was right and he would be violent either way, they would have to act now, “Valene, I’m weak without my magic. I can’t do anything against him, gun or not.” “Yes you can,” All of her worry slowly dissipated as she looked into her friend’s eyes, “I can help you. Use me as your catalyst, Lance.” He folded his arms, “Absolutely not. I will NOT put you in harm's way like that. You’ve seen what my magic can do first hand, I could hurt you very easily.” “I don’t care,” She got up from his lap and stood at her full height, “You’re going to do it. We have to make it to Tillamook.” “B-but… We have to tune to one another’s mana, it could take days for us to be in sync,” Lance started to sweat. “I’ve been getting bits of your mana this whole time and I gave you a whole bunch of mine once. Lance. We can do this, even if you don’t think you can do it, I trust you wholly. I completely trust you and believe in you. You can do this, Lance.” The wizard wiped his eyes, “A-alright. We might as well try. What do I do for this?” “Here,” She sat across from him and held out her hands, palm down. Lance quickly put his hands under hers and allowed her to grip his hands, “Close your eyes and focus. You can feel me, right? My mana? Reach out and take it, Lance. Feel my energy.” The wizard took in a deep breath and touched all the mana around him. The magical energies in the air entered his lungs and were infused with his body. He waited for a few moments before reaching out to Valene’s magic. It was warm and inviting, waiting for him to feel it. It was familiar too since she had imbued him with it before. It was the same warm, caring and almost loving feeling energy that he gladly absorbed a portion of, “I can feel you.” Valene did the same, reaching out to his body to find his mana. It took her a few moments, it was more guarded than her own. Once she found it she breathed sharply. It was powerful, some of the strongest magic energy she had come across. She calmed her breathing and siphoned just enough of his mana to retain it and link with him, “Alright. How do you feel? Bro?” “I can feel, uh, you?” It was a similar feeling to being bonded to his staff. Except now the thing he was connected to could reach back out to him and touch him. That was a new feeling. His mother had messed with his mana a few times, but this was much more gentle and warm, yet stronger and more firm within him as it had two people supporting the link. “Cast something simple,” She ordered. With a sigh, he calmed himself down and tried. He conjured a small illusion between the both of them. Valene breathed a little sharply, her back arched and her eyes squeezed shut as she felt the powerful and raw magic flow through her and out into the aether around them. The familiar let out a tiny squeak as the illusion of a little, tiny elephant stomped around and silently blew its trumpet before disappearing. “A-are you okay?” Lance asked, putting his hands on her shoulders. “Dude… that felt amazing. But you did it!” Valene jumped into his lap again and hugged him around the neck. Every little bit of that sick and worried feeling had dissipated now. “Y-yeah I did,” He sighed with relief. “See? All it took was you believing in yourself!” “Correction: I needed you to believe in me,” He hugged her back, “We should sleep. I need my mana to recover enough to do something.” “What’s the plan?” Valene asked as she laid out on the mat and wrapped herself in a blanket. “I’ve got a little something in mind for this fucker,” He clenched his fists, “Death is too good for him.” Valene grinned, “I like your style, bro. Come on, go to bed and stay calm. You’ve got this.” “Yeah. We do,” Lance laid next to her, giving her a respectable amount of space, “Good night.” “Yeah, good night, bro,” She yawned and closed her eyes. She waited until she heard Lance’s steady breathing before opening her eyes again. She smiled as she saw his peacefully sleeping face. She reached out and touched his warm face and felt his mana, soaking it in while giving him back just as much as she took, “Rest well, chief.” Clark woke up as the sun rose. To anyone else, the morning would have been quite beautiful, but to the paranoid, rat like man, he saw the light as nothing more than a terrible thing that would just reveal where he was visible to prying eyes all over. He had already scanned the van for microphones and cameras. He hated that those two were already involved. That stupid little girl and her stupid modified van infuriated him. He would have to dispose of them eventually, preferably in Ork-Land. He grunted and rose to his feet as he got off of the hardly comfortable waterbed. He grabbed the stolen pistol off the nightstand and shoved it in his pocket. He doubted those idiots would do anything, just looking at them made them cower like cornered rats. They looked frail and meek, much too cowardly to fight back especially after Clark had broken the small one’s staff. Clark left the van after putting on his shoes, “Hey! You two! Get up! We’re going!” He stood for a few moments as he impatiently waited for their response, “Dammit, I’m gonna shoot that boy!” He drew his gun and approached the tent with the intent to kill. He unzipped the tent and pointed his gun inside. There was no one there, “Those dumb--” He perked up as he heard a voice speaking in a strange, ear grating language. He readied his handgun and started to make his way around the side of the tent. He spotted the smaller, white haired little shit. She quickly dove for him and grabbed one of his ankles. The man stepped into view with one hand outstretched and his lips moving rapidly as he stared with blank, glassed over eyes. Lance’s magic words neared completion, Valene could feel the power building up within her, and Clark felt strangely light. In a panic, the fugitive raised his weapon and fired three shots wildly at the man. As the deafening bang of the final shot rang out, the spell travelled from Valene into Clark giving her another wonderful burst of mana. A bright light flashed, blinding the gunman for a moment making him shut his eyes tight. He felt himself with both hands in a panic, wondering if he had been harmed in any way. It had all happened so quickly, but he felt no different than before. That stupid kid got shot trying to be a hero and Clark had gotten away unscathed! He laughed and opened his eyes as the blindness subsided. The smile fell off his face as he looked around. He was in the lobby of a building rather than outside in the sun. “Oh! Clark! How wonderful for you to return~!” A cheerful but also terrifying chorus cried joyfully as one loud sing songy voice. “No!” Clark shouted as he whipped around to face the voices. He knew where he was. He was back in the Utah State Mindflayer Penitentiary! A purple skinned woman with numerous tentacles for legs held her arms out for him. She rode the mass of writhing tentacles toward him, “Put that down, sweetie,” She ordered in a kind voice, “We’ll get you all cleaned up and back into a straight jacket.” “NO!” He screamed again as he readied his gun. The slide was locked back, when he looked in the ejection port, he saw the magazine was empty. In his last desperate attack, he wound his hand back to throw it at the mindflayer. His wrist was grabbed from behind as one of the huge guards tried to restrain him. With all the strength he could muster, he tore his arm free only to be grabbed by another woman. Both girls together easily held him still as the mindflayer nurse approached, “Ssh, sleep, darling,” She commanded as her hair tentacles felt his head where they messed with his brain and forced him into unconsciousness. As he started to collapse, the mindflayer held his head to her chest and caressed his scalp, “Oh, my precious, darling. I am so happy you have returned to me! Please escort mister Gibbelson to a cell,” She ordered the guards. With a nod, they dragged him off. With a contented sigh, the mindflayer went to her office to prepare for the procedure. As the blinding light from the spell died down, Valene opened her eyes. Clark had vanished, just like Lance had said would happen, “Gotcha, asshole,” Lance grunted. Pain quickly shot through him as he got light headed. He was almost completely out of mana now. “Lance!” Valene shouted gleefully, “You did it! I knew you could! Lance, you--” The familiar turned to face the wizard. She watched in horror as he fell to his knees, “Lance!?” She dashed to his side and caught him before he could fall flat on his face, “What is it!? What’s wrong.” “I-I got hit,” Lance moaned in pain. His body was shaking from extreme mana deprivation. She easily recognized his shaking as him being out of energy, “You’re out of mana too, oh no. Come on,” Using all of her strength, she dragged the wizard into the van and laid him down on the floor with his head propped up by a pillow, “There’s no blood so it has to be demon silver but why the hell is it hurting you!? It didn’t even leave a wound!” “It drains mana to incapacitate, but my body doesn’t make mana,” He choked out through clenched teeth before shuddering again, “Ugh, I feel like I’m burning up.” “What do I do? Tell me what to do!” She cried as she grabbed his wrist. She felt his head with the back of her hand. He was definitely running a fever and from that look on his face he was absolutely in a lot of pain. “Valene,” Lance looked her in the eyes. She could see the light fading from his usually vibrant eyes, “I don’t know if I’m gonna make it.” “No!” The familiar cried as tears welled up in her eyes, “You have to! Please!” “Can you… do something for me if I don’t?” “I know what you’re going to say, and you’re going to do it yourself with me. I don’t want to do it alone. I want you to be there with me. That’s what your grandpa would have wanted! Lance, I need you!” She choked back her tears, “Don’t make me be all alone again! I can’t be alone any more! I love you, dammit!” She wailed as tears started to waterfall down her face. Lance hugged her tightly, “I love you too. I-I don’t want to leave you all alone, Valene.” “You need mana? Right!?” She grabbed his cheeks and pressed her lips against his. The two kissed passionately as the familiar dumped every bit of mana of her own that she could into him. She shuddered as she felt the effects of being mana deprived. She looked into his face and saw life slowly returning to his face, “I never knew how lonely I was until I almost lost you.” “What happened to being afraid of relationships or intimacy?” Lance asked skeptically, he was still incredibly weak but was steadily recovering. She smiled weakly, “You’re reliable, courageous, a-and I know you’d protect me. I don’t have anything to be afraid of with you around. Besides!” She suddenly had a flash of anger on her face, “You need me just as much as I need you! I could count the times you’ve hurt yourself with your own magic on two hands! Maybe three!” “Yeah… You’re right,” Lance tried to get up but found it nearly impossible to rise. “I don’t have more mana for you. We should make some in your cauldron.” “I-I can’t. I need my staff for that.” Valene looked around the van. She was weak too and could only think of one option, “We’ll make some the old fashioned way!” She peeled off her clothes, quickly going down to her underwear. “You don’t mean…?” He whimpered nervously before being shut up as Valene kissed him again. “Yup. I don’t see another option, Lance. We’ve gotta get to the coast TODAY and neither of us can function right now,” She tore open his shirt, buttons flying everywhere around the van before running her fluffy digits over his exposed chest, “Plus… I want to claim you. I’m not missing out on all this,” She traced a big heart with both hands starting on his upper chest and ending just above his belly button. With a sigh, Lance nodded, “I won’t lie. I’ve been daydreaming about this for a while,” He pulled his pants off. “Anything special you want, bro?” She grinned teasingly as she started to grind on him. The wizard groaned, “Don’t call me bro during foreplay.” “Sure, dude,” Valene giggled as she kissed his chest, collar bone, then neck, “You’re pretty good lookin’, you know that?” “You're the first one to say so,” He put his hands on her hips and pulled her down on him. She moaned and giggled gleefully as he was starting to get into it too, “You’re gonna give me whiplash being so physical, babe!” “How the hell do you think I feel?” He scoffed, “You told me that you can’t love me… fluff muffin.” “Fluff muffin!?” She teased again while having a giggle fit, “Is that what you wanna call me?” “M-maybe. So what if I do? You’re fluffy and cute! It's a cute name!” “Whatever, babe. You’re pretty damn cute when you’re flustered,” She got up and removed her panties as her tail swished back and forth. Drips of her love juice glided down her glistening, plump thighs, strings of it still clinging to her panties. Her hands tore through her soon to be husband’s underwear as the pre sex lust nearly all monsters experienced started to take hold. She had expected to get nervous when seeing his stiff member but her lust was only compounded by the mere sight of it. She dropped down onto him, placing her wet pussy against his shaft before vigorously starting to rub against him, “Oh, that's a nice cock, bro!” She moaned loudly. Lance groaned at her and covered his face in embarrassment with one arm. Valene took hold of his hands and interlocked fingers with him lovingly, pulling them away from his face so she could look him in the eyes, “You feel like you’re ready,” She giggled excitedly before rising up and coming back down on the head of his penis. Her body shuddered and her back arched as she merely took the tip to her vulva. “You alright?” Lance questioned with a touch of worry in his voice. She panted, “It’s too late to back out now. I’m not afraid of this, Lance. Now, give me all of YOUR lance,” She looked down at him with an impish smile moments before pushing herself down on his ‘lance.’ Both cried out in one voice as their magical bond enhanced their pleasure several times over. Valene’s senses were all assaulted by the massive amounts of pleasure as she started riding his member. Lance grunted and groaned as he tightly gripped the familiar’s hands. Although he couldn’t focus on it, he could feel their mana mingling and more being created as the two shared in their passionate act of love. Valene’s grip on his hands tightened, she could feel the mana send satisfying shocks throughout her body, building pressure inside her. Unable to hold it in anymore, she shoved herself down on his member. As she hilted him she cried out and the pressure burst like a dam holding back a tidal wave of ecstasy. Lance shuddered as his member throbbed inside of her gleefully quivering pussy. He grit his teeth and moaned as the familiar’s orgasm coaxed out his own climax. All his built up spirit energy released, spraying her insides as he shot his load directly into her womb. Valene collapsed onto her husband’s heaving chest. She felt stronger, energized and probably better than she ever had, “Oh, babe. Your cock is great!” She looked down at the cum dripping from her snatch, “Damn, dude! You been taking zinc supplements!? I hope you saved some for part two!” “More,” Lance grunted as he started to shift. “Huh?” “I need more mana. I can FEEL the power coursing through me!” The wizard shouted with a booming voice. Valene didn’t have time to complain before being hoisted up by the waist and placed face down on the table, “Wow, babe. You’re more into this than I-- AHH!” She was shut up as Lance shoved his member into her, making them both howl in pleasure. He began to rigorously fuck her, firmly grasping her hips for better control. They both could hear the van creak as their rapid and energetic sex rocked the vehicle. Valene grasped his fingers and pulled them from her body. In one, fast motion, she rolled her rear to the side and lifted her leg over his chest so that she was on her back, “Come on, babe, show me what that cock can do!” She gave him an impish grin as his thrusting picked up in speed once more. She was already full of mana, but Lance was still drawing in crazy amounts of it with every thrust. She hugged his chest and wrapped her legs around his hips to the best of her abilities as she felt another orgasm sneaking up on her. As the climax came, her pussy clamped down on her husband’s member, locking it in place as it shuddered. With another howl, Lance cried out as another load came in spurts, completely filling what little space remained in the familiar’s womb while he rocked her back and forth on his hips. She shuddered and hugged him tight as the last of her orgasm subsided, “I didn’t know skinny boys could go at it like that, damn,” She panted as she lounged back on the table in the post sex afterglow. “I didn’t know that either,” He laughed nervously, “I-I didn’t hurt you, did I?” Valene laughed at his nervousness, “Nah, you can beat my pussy like that any time, though, good lookin’~” She giggled before climbing up to him to plant another kiss on his lips. “Haha…” He blushed, “Here, let me clean us up,” He stood back, watching some of his cum drip from her pussy before she could push it back in with a wink. He made a few motions and raised a hand into the air. Valene moaned as she felt the wondrous feeling of his heavenly mana coursing through her body. The entire van was sprayed clean as a thick grey cloud filled the room. It smelled like cherry and vanilla. The sex sweat and all the cum that the familiar couldn’t keep inside of herself as well as every spec of dirt and dust in the van dissipated in the cleaning smog, “There.” “Good job, babe,” She gave him a firm slap on the ass, “Now get dressed and go get the tent and stuff. I’ll get the van set and ready to roll. We gotta get going, right?” “Right,” Lance headed to the side door of the van, “Hey, Valene?” “What’s up, babe?” “I, uh, love you,” He said with a small, sheepish smile. “God, you’re cute. I love you too. Come on, get dressed before I go in for thirds! Put some clothes on before going out there, dummy!” She warned with a menacing grin. He slapped himself on the forehead to try and clear some of the shock he was still feeling. With a chuckle, he did as he was told before going out and gathering up the camp supplies. Valene hopped into the driver’s seat after putting on a new pair of panties and a shirt big enough to hide her legs. Soon, the two were back on the road and on their way to the Oregon coast. After seven or so hours of driving and chatting, Vincent Van Go rolled into Tillamook. Valene struggled to keep her hands on the wheel as her desire to touch and kiss Lance continued to grow. She just wanted to hug and kiss him all day but they had something important to do, the rest would come later, “Should we head straight to that trail?” Lance shook his head, “We have until midnight to do this. Cape Lookout Trail can wait. Plus, we need to eat before we make our way up there. Even if we’re energized from…” He blushed, too embarrassed to say it. “What, sex!? You know, since we had SEX, babe!?” She laughed. He groaned, “Yes! That! We still need food for energy.” “Okay, fine,” The familiar groaned, “Let’s get more burgers.” “You’re gonna get fat eating all that greasy stuff,” Lance shook his head disapprovingly. “It’ll all go to my buns and thighs and then I’ll cordially invite you to fuck my ass!” She laughed as her husband got all flustered again. He growled, “The way your ears flatten down when you orgasm is pretty hot!” He declared. “W-what!? Do I do that!?” “Oh yeah you do. I’ll make those ears flatten next time I give it to you and take a picture!” He threatened playfully. “Is that a threat?” She asked coyly. “Nope! It’s a promise! Come on, pull into the drive through and let's get that food,” Lance ordered, pointing at a convenient burger joint he spotted in the distance. She nodded, “Of course, babe. Anything for you~” The two got their food and started the penultimate trek of their quest. Valene scarfed down two small burgers and started to inhale the fries she had ordered. Lance started to get nervous as they got closer and closer to the Cape Lookout Trail. Everything could just go horribly wrong during the last bit of their journey, but he couldn’t let that happen. Valene was super excited as she daydreamed about what the quest reward was. It was only twenty minutes to the trail from Tillamook. It was getting to be somewhat late in the day at this point, it was around four thirty now. The familiar pulled into a parking spot at the start of the trail and got out. Lance sighed nervously as he grabbed the urn and the cassette tape, “Ready?” Lance queried. He wasn’t sure if he was asking himself or her. “Of course I am! We’re in the final stretch, dude! Let’s go!” Valene waved for him to follow as she had already left the van and started the hike. “You’re going the wrong way!” Lance called, “We want the cliff side hike,” He pointed to another trail entrance that quickly disappeared into the treeline. “I knew that, I was just testin’ ya, bro!” The familiar quickly sped back to the other trail. “Yeah, whatever. Come on you little turd,” Lance made sure the urn was still taped shut before carefully putting it in his bag. The trail hike began. It wasn’t really hard other than a few steep inclines or having to climb over thick exposed roots of old trees. The trail led them through the rustling trees as a gentle sea breeze blew against the cliffside. Bushes billowed in the wind and wildlife all around them chirped and squeaked, “Hey, Lance?” Valene asked when she grabbed his hand due to them walking along an exposed cliff edge. “What’s up?” The wizard responded curtly. She took a moment to clear her throat, “I almost brought this up a while ago, but...do you think your grandpa set all of this up to happen? I mean, we both happened to be in that same tiny mechanic’s shop back in southern New Mexico and we both just happened to be headed to the same place! Don’t you think that’s a little too convenient? Sounds like magic to me.” “Could have just been fate,” Lance shrugged, “Grandpa did talk about that stuff.” “Do ya think he influenced that fate at all with his magic?” “It's definitely possible. He did dabble in clairvoyance and vision magic. I could have been sent on that quest at the just right time and my car could have been tinkered with,” He proposed, “But then you have to question why he picked you or why he, you know, let me get held at gunpoint.” “That’s… fair. But you handled it all great!” Valene pat his hand. “You changed our fates with your magic! What do ya think of that?” “I think that I couldn’t have done it without you, Valene. There’s no way I could have gotten this far on my own. Thank you,” The wizard smiled. She grinned back, “Any time, dude.” The two continued trudging along. They passed a handful of people who were coming back from the top of the trail, but no one that was headed up with them. After a little over an hour, the two stood at the top of the trail. They stared out over the wide blue ocean as the evening sun drifted toward the horizon, turning the blue ocean into a hue of oranges and reds. The sky was turning a deeper shade of blue and the light was starting to dim for the stars to shine through, “Looks like we made it,” Lance noted as he felt the ocean winds calm down. “Yeah,” Valene stood next to him, tightly gripping his hand as they took in the natural beauty. “I guess I should open it now,” The wizard decided, taking the urn from his bag. “Yeah! Do it!” She encouraged him excitedly. He took a deep breath and cut through the duct tape with a pocket knife. He grasped the lid tightly, his heart pounding hard in his chest. As he swallowed nervously, he tore the lid from the urn. He felt the magic in the air shift, the wind changing directions immediately as the ashes were launched from the enchanted urn. The dust flew out over the ocean, carried by the wind as it all twirled and glided through the air before seemingly turning into glittering sparkles that dotted the sky, “Bye, gramps,” Lance whispered as his eyes filled with tears again. “Hey, no need to be sad,” Valene gave him a firm hug as he wiped the water from his eyes. The urn in his hand still felt strangely heavy; he saw a few objects magically placed inside the bottom of it, seemingly untouched by his grandfather’s ashes. He grabbed the first item out carefully. It was a long, smooth staff made of white, polished wood. The top of the shaft was adorned with a red gem with tinier chunks of similarly colored crystal orbiting freely in the air, “Grandpa’s staff,” He gasped. The wood radiated with magical power at just his touch. Valene stared with her star filled eyes, “Ooooh!” She looked at the setting sun, “What was the significance of this place anyways, Lance?” “This is where grandpa and grandma got engaged,” He said as he fished around in the urn, “A note?” Lance hastily scanned the page, “Looks like he’s leaving me a bunch of magical stuff that my grandma is hanging onto,” Carefully, he put the paper in his pocket. Grabbing the last thing in the urn, Lance produced a ring. It glowed softly in the moonlight and radiated with magical energy, “Grandpa…” “What is it?” Restraining her curiosity was difficult as she struggled to see what he had in his palm. “Well,” He smiled at her as he got down on one knee, “Valene, I wasn’t planning on this so soon, but I think you deserve this much after everything we’ve been through,” She gasped and put her hands over her mouth, “Valene, would you make me the happiest man in the world and be my wife?” He offered her the magically glowing ring. “Yes! Of course! Yes!” She laughed and put her hand in his, eagerly awaiting her ring. Thankfully, the ring was magical and resized to fit her small fingers perfectly, “It’s so pretty,” Light danced across the surface of the blueish silver ring while she stared at it. “I think it ups your defences,” Lance chuckled before kissing her on the lips. He put the urn away and grabbed the tape his grandpa had recorded for him. He had planned on throwing it into the ocean after crying over it two nights ago, but now he found himself unable to get rid of it. With a sigh, he shoved it into the coat pocket with the little sheet of parchment, “Now what?” “We do some beach bumming then we go on a road trip back to New Mexico! We gotta check on your cat, remember?” “Aw shit, I forgot about him,” Lance scoffed at himself, “Just one quest after another, huh?” “Yup! Your next quest after that is to have a wedding with me then put some babies in me!” With a laugh, the familiar darted down the trail, “Come on, slow poke!” Lance sighed and gripped the smooth wood of the staff, “Coming!” He called to her as he dashed off after her. The sun beat down on the golden sand, and the calm blue ocean. The soothing sounds of the ocean was contrasted by the shrill shrieking of gulls. Lance sat on a large towel in the shade of a beach umbrella. The van was beside him and was being used to keep the wind from blowing sand in his face. His tome and his new staff both sat next to him as he looked at his phone, “Hey! Lance! Look!” Valene shouted. She ran along the shallow water before throwing her boogie board down and riding it toward one of the small waves. She jumped off of the wave on her light, foam board and spun it under her feet before gracefully landing back on it and riding the water back to the sand, “Pretty cool, huh?” “Good job, honey,” The wizard called, “I didn’t think Oregon got big enough waves for surfing.” “Surfing?” She scoffed at him, “Babe. It’s wakeboarding! Or boogie boarding! Not that I’d expect a land lover like you to know the difference,” She picked up one of the beers from her six pack and sculled it. “Alright, sorry,” He frowned and stared at his phone again. “Hey, come on, babe,” She threw her board aside and knelt next to him, “I’m just teasing you. Still bummed after yesterday?” “A little,” He admitted, “I don’t know how to tell any of my family about this quest. They all think they spread his real ashes two weeks ago.” “Maybe you should wait to tell them in person. It might be easier that way. Plus I’ll be there to help you explain it,” Valene smiled. As a strong wind blew she turned to her discarded boogie board, “My board!” She cried and ran off as the wind started to carry the foam board away. Lance smirked as he watched her frantically run after it. He waved his hand and cast through her to shift the winds and put it back in her hands, “Thanks, babe!” She shouted, “Think you can put that magic to use and kick up some .waves for me?” “Yeah I’ll give it a shot, go grab your surfboard,” He got up and brandished his grandfather’s staff as the familiar ran to the water. She paddled out into the cold, calm water and gave a thumbs up. He raised the powerful staff into the air and watched as the red crystals began to glow brightly. The waves started to churn and the familiar felt mana being drawn from herself as they quickly began to grow in size. She laughed happily as she caught a massive wave, the familiar hopping onto her feet and expertly gliding back and forth along the arch of the wake, a wide, toothy grin on her cute face. Lance sat back down, picked up his phone again and finally worked up the courage to dial his mom. The phone rang only twice before being answered, “Lance? Sweetie, is that you?” His mother purred into the phone, “You never call anymore.” “Sorry, mom. I’ve been a little busy. Hey, could you go over to my place and check on my cat? I left him with enough food for like ten days and I’ve been gone for like eight now,” He explained. “Eight days? That’s a surprise! You hate leaving your little tower. Where on earth are you?” “This wasn’t supposed to take this long, but I’m in Oregon. Grandpa sent me.” “It seems my intuition was right. That box had more for you than just a gift. What was it, a quest?” Lance chuckled, “Yeah. Took a whole week to get here.” “A week!? What happened!?” “Well--” “Lance! Babe! Look!” Valene dashed over to him with a small crab in her hand and the surfboard in the other, “Look how cute this is!” “Babe!?” The wizard’s mother gasped, “Oh, did you finally find someone!?” “Yeah, mom, I did. Valene, put that down,” He sighed at her. “Are you talking to your mom?” Valene did as she was told and got close to him, “Hi, Missus Lance’s Mom! I hope you’re doing well! I’m excited to meet everybody when Lance and I make it back!” “Valene,” The wizard was being embarrassed by both people he was talking to. “She sounds sweet, Lance. I am very happy for you. Come home soon, alright?” His mother chuckled. “We should be headed back tomorrow,” He perked up a little, “Oh, mom? I love you.” “I love you too, honey. Make it home safe.” Lance struggled to put down the phone after his mother hung up, “Babe?” Valene grabbed his arm gently, “Feeling homesick?” “A little. Hopefully the drive home is shorter,” He sighed. “Hey, the van’s home too, isn’t it?” “Anywhere I go with you is home, Valene,” He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. She pushed him away playfully, “You’re so cheesy! Cut that out!” “Never will,” After grabbing his magic staff, he waved it at the familiar, blasting all the water and sand from her body before stretching and laying out. As Valene dove onto his chest, the wind was knocked out of him, “I’ll just have to kiss you until you stop!” She grabbed the umbrella overhead and tilted it down to give them a little privacy as she started to assault his faces with kisses. “...That’s really how it went,” Lance finished retelling his grandmother the story of his quest. He, of course, left out the part about the two of them going at it, “Here,” He produced the tape that was addressed to him, “I don’t think I need this anymore.” The old anubis picked it up in her dark silver colored paw hand and turned it over, “He always was a bit eccentric, hm?” She chuckled and shook her head, “Thank you so much, Lance. I did not understand his wishes at first, but I suppose I do now.” “His motives were always shrouded in mystery,” Lance’s mother chuckled before brushing her snow white hair out of her face, “It is unsurprising he would do something like this. Especially for his favorite grandson.” Valene frowned and put down her now empty cup of tea, “Wish I could have met him.” “He would have loved you for sure, Valene,” Lance’s grandmother grinned, “Here, have some more tea, dear.” “You don’t mind me holding onto grandpa’s staff, do you?” The wizard timidly asked his grandmother. She smiled, “Of course not, dear. He wanted you to have it. Judging by that note, he left you a lot of magical things.” “If you want to keep any of them, you’re more than welcome to, grandma,” Lance offered as the anubis stared at the note sadly. “No, no. I have no use for them. The sentimental value only seems to hurt now,” She sighed and handed the note back, “Besides, I have my own things to remember him by, not to mention my own children and grandkids.” “Thank goodness,” Lance’s mother ran her fingers over his old, destroyed staff, “It’s not like you could cast through this anymore! By the way, I must thank you for taking care of my son, Valene,” She shot the girl a smile. With a nod, the familiar smiled proudly, “Aw, it was nothin’. He’s a good guy and I’m happy to have him around!” “Will I be seeing great grandchildren before I pass?” The anubis joked with a small smirk. “Oh! Totally! We’ve been working on it!” “VALENE!” Lance shouted in shock as his face almost immediately turned red. All three women laughed at him before going back to chatting. “Yeah, I’m thinking later this year, I’m shooting for at least two or three,” The familiar gasped suddenly, “Maybe they’ll be twins, or triplets!” “Uhuh, maybe,” Sliding down his chair into a slouch, Lance blinked at her as he tried to conceal his embarrassment. She gave him a sweet smile before quickly rejoining the conversation with her new in-laws. She quickly started showing off the ring that Lance had given her and the room was filled with swooning and excited women. He couldn’t help but smile as he imagined spending the rest of his life with her.