And here's some more. Glad people are liking it.
It was easier to focus on the magnificent buildings and the wide-eyed people watching from windows, than old friends and heart wrenching memories. He smiled at a little boy, only a few years older than Boots. The boy blinked his wide violet eyes and grinned back, but his mother pulled him away and he disappeared from their sight.
Gregors smile faded slightly.
Of course, they'd be wary of him. With King Gorger's insanity keeping the Underland on the edge of a war and then the sudden appearance of two Overlanders that could easily fulfill a series of prophecies, all of which revolving around the extinction of their own race and possibly all others in the Underland…well, he'd probably be wary too. He ducked his head and stared at his feet. Boots, ignoring the mood, wiggled happily in his arms. Without looking he could tell she was waving at everyone with a wide smile.
"Hi!" She said again and again.
Vikus chuckled beside him. Gregor looked up again, studying the older man's face. His wrinkles weren't as deep, and his eyes seemed brighter than when Gregor last saw him. He was giving Gregor a strange look, he couldn't really decipher. A mix of curiosity, interest, and something else. Gregor was never good at reading expressions, but it sort of looked like concern.
Gregor wondered if his mind was on the Prophecy.
(His stomach churned at the thought. He wondered how long he'd be like this. Would he wake up soon, or would he have to relive everything again? The thought made him shiver. He wasn't sure whether it was from fear or hope. Maybe it was a little of both. He squashed the thought immediately. No point in thinking of the future. Give live in the now.)
He turned to Vikus.
"Tell me about this place."
He knew everything the man would say as they continued their walk to the palace. It was nice, though, to listen to the pride in his voice when he talked about his people. He started to look around again at the spiraling buildings carved with a multitude of images. All of them had a story, Gregor knew. He glances down a side street. There was a market down there if he remembered it properly. Luxa had taken him there during the many times he'd come to visit while his mother was still recovering. Another street led to a park filled with carved animals, slides and hollowed tunnels for children to play. He remembered that street well enough because of the store on the corner. It sold glass trinkets that reflected rainbows when held up to light. The owner put the figurines on display and with some well-placed torches, the colors danced across the street.
He shifted Boots to his other hip. "Look, little girl, aren't those pretty?"
"Pweetty." She replied in awe.
Vikus laughed. "Perhaps, you would like a more thorough escort tomorrow?"
'Wait? How long does he think I'll stay here?' He glanced up towards the palace, revealed by a twist in the road. 'We were only here barely a day before we started on the quest.'
(Then again, didn't he start the whole thing by trying to escape with Boots in the middle of the night? Maybe Vikus had planned on taking longer to prepare for the quest, or wanted to confirm that Gregor was the warrior…)
He shook his head free of stray thoughts and smiled hesitantly. "Yeah, that'd be nice. But, um, when can we go back home? My mom is going to be really worried."
Maybe he was hamming up the worry a little bit, it was hard to fake the sheer panic he had felt the first time around at the thought of his mother coming home alone. Vikus didn't seem to notice, however, as he looked away immediately when Gregor started to ask. He looked down himself. It didn't really bring him any joy to make Vikus guilty. To Gregor, he had been like a grandfather figure. One who made mistakes, but always wanted to do what was right for his home and people.
"Perhaps it is best that we talk of this after you are bathed and fed." He replied smoothly.
They had reached the palace walls down. Gregor looked up at the platform moving towards them and then back towards the city behind him. There was a small crowd watching them. Most of the adults tried to look busy when he looked, but many of the younger teenagers and children stared shamelessly.
"Hi, you!" Boots laughed and waved excitedly. "Hi!"
Several violet-eyed kids smiled and wave back. Gregor smiled down at Boots.
"You making friends, little girl?"
Boots laughed when he poked her stomach. "Ge-go! No! No!"
They got onto the platform once it came to a halt. Gregor watched as they rose above the buildings. He took a step forward and looked down at the dizzying height. The people that had been crowding around quickly became blurred specks.
(He didn't feel the same utter terror that he used to when it came to heights. He wondered vaguely when that fear had left him. It was only sometime after they had moved to Virginia that he had noticed the lack of it. There wasn't a lot of tall buildings in the town they had moved to, but his new school had two stories. He had climbed to the roof one weekend when everyone else was at a game. He didn't remember what game. He just remembered their distant cheers as he stood on the edge, looking down. Without a hint of dread or fear.)
He turned away from the ledge and walked into the building when the platform stopped. Vikus was half a step behind him.
"Good late day," Vikus said calmly, but Gregor noticed he was slightly closer to Gregor than the last time. His hand resting firmly on his shoulder. "Meet you Gregor and Boots, the Overlanders, brother and sister, who have most recently fallen among us. Please bathe them and then proceed to the High Hall."
Vikus hesitated for a moment before he squeezed his shoulder and left the room.
Gregor, blinked in surprised wondering what exactly had changed. He shook his head and turned to his old companions and smiled hesitantly.
"Nice to meet you." He repeated and got Boots to say hi as well.
Like before the stifling formality and awkwardness melted away by their laughter over Boots antics. He allowed himself to laugh as well, though was a pathetic little thing. Dulcet stepped forward to introduce herself and take Boots before also introducing Mareth and Perdita. Gregor smiled at all of them and tried not to stare at Mareth's perfectly healthy leg.
He followed them through the winding hallways towards the bathing rooms making small talk, though this time he tried to include Mareth and Perdita to no avail. They took their guarding job too seriously. Then again, considering what happened last time, perhaps they didn't take it as seriously as they should have. Gregor glanced at the doorways they passed along the way. They must have never expected an eleven-year-old kid to sneak out alone at night and leave the city. For them, that was known to be suicide, but he didn't know better. Back then at least.
He knew now that the Underground held many horrors.
The trembling started as soon as he was left alone. He slowly made it to the bath and sat on the edge, swishing his feet in the warm water as he tried to get his breathing under control. His hands clutched at his chest reflexively and he tried not to dig his nails into his skin again. He had taken the bandages off of his arms and put them with his clothes to be burned and didn't really want to ask someone to treat any other cuts and have to answer the inevitable questions.
Gregor swallowed roughly and curled into himself as he drew his legs up and buried his face in his knees.
He should have just stayed in the apartment, instead of coming down here. Memories be damned. This was too much. He got to see his friends, but they weren't the ones he remembered. They were less...broken and didn't know him.
(That's what hurt the most. Them not knowing him. The only time he got a dream that wasn't blood, pain, and death and the people he wanted to see most didn't know him.)
'Is this some sort of punishment?' He wondered.
He took a breath, then another, and another.
After another minute of simply breathing, he slid into the bath and scrubbed himself as best he could. His skin was red and slightly tender when he got out, but the clothing left for him calm the irritation with its silky texture. He sighed softly.
'Punishment or dream or something else entirely.' He thought. 'It looks like I'm not getting out of it anytime soon. Just have to play along.'
He stepped out of the bathroom to find everyone waiting for him. Dulcet looked over him, lingering slightly on the redness of his skin before smiling and handed Boots over to him. He smiled down at her as she showed him her new sandals.
Dulcet handed him a pack to carry Boots in, once he had finished showing Boots his own sandals. He thanked her softly as he shuffled her into it for their walk to the High Hall. They made their way through the hallways and stairwells in silence. Gregor, honestly, couldn't bring himself to change that.
(As they grew closer to the hall, he couldn't help the sliver of dread at the thought of meeting Solovet again. He was torn on how he would act around her. He still hadn't forgiven her. The thought of experiments with viruses going on right now in some lab made his stomach roll and heart twist.)
He resolved to simply go with the flow. There was no point in trying to oust traitors and war-mongers when he knew it would bring him no true satisfaction nor change much of anything. After all, the Luxa that looked down on him with cool distant eyes was not his Luxa. She would believe her family in a heartbeat over him, a strange Overlander boy.
Gregor glanced at the open roof as he walked in, but didn't comment. He met Solovet with a strained smile, flinching slightly at her touch, though hopefully not enough for anyone to notice. When she reached to pat Boots' cheek he wanted to rip her hand away, but he controlled himself and ducked his head.
This time Vikus did not invite him to the balcony.
Gregor blinked at the obvious change, but moved over to the table when he was gestured to do so. Dulcet helped him sit Boots in the high chair before standing by his own chair to wait for the future queen. Gregor wondered if she was late on purpose or if it was just a coincidence. It could be either when it came to Luxa. He tried not to smile at the thought of her deliberately waiting with Henry to make an entrance for the new Overlanders.
They swept into the room. Gregor's eye lingered in her hair for a moment, admiring the way it reflected the torchlight. It had grown out slightly after their first quest, but not to this length. At least, not as long as he had been there. He wondered if his Luxa's hair was long once more, now that the war was over and peace had been established with the gnawers.
He nearly punched the traitor when he grabbed him to whisper his silly joke. For a second his vision fractured in a familiar way before he pushed it back and laughed with everyone else.
Gregor nodded politely to Euripedes and Aurora when they swept into the room.
(He was grateful, in a twisted self-loathing sort of way that Ares wouldn't be at dinner, though he couldn't help but wonder why. Aurora had shown up, after all.)
'Perhaps they had an argument.' He thought, glancing at Henry. 'Ares didn't talk much about it, but he implied heavily that they got into fights often near the end.'
As they sat down, he asked about the bonding once more but refrained from making light of it by asking what they did outside of ball games. He deliberately did not bring up bonding with crawlers, not wanting the two royals to repeat their nasty rant on the subject. Though he felt compelled to ask something in its place.
"Do you bond with other creatures here?"
(Memories ghosted in front of his eyes. Luxa, chin up and trying desperately to keep everything from falling apart once more with a ragged Ripred doing his best, as he always had, to protect his own people and finally establish peace. It was a bittersweet memory. Better than some. But, still saturated with emotions he didn't want to touch here, among strangers with the faces of his friends.)
He received confused and incredulous looks from Luxa and Henry. Neither could imagine the thought of bonding with other creatures, even their other allies.
"Uh, I guess that's a no?"
Vikus chuckled. "No, out of all the creatures in the Underland, our closest allies are the fliers."
"So, you're not close enough with the others to bond with them?" Gregor translated softly.
The food arrived just in time as his stomach had started making growling noises that he hoped no one else could hear.
"So what are you guys even doing down here anyway?"
He might as well get this conversation over with. He felt kind of like he was playing a video game, engaging with npc dialog he already knew. The rest of dinner seemed to fly by as he repeated words he half-remembered and received answers he already knew. He deliberately didn't bring up going back home, not wanting to discuss such sensitive matters with people like Solovet and Henry in the room. He knew neither would take it well, though Solovet would at least pretend like she cared. It wasn't long before they were excused to bed and Dulcet led them back to the baths in order to wash Boots of the dinner she managed to get all over herself.
Gregor wouldn't pass up a bath either. As he settled in the warm water, he mussed over how this night would go.
He was half afraid that as soon as he went to sleep he'd wake up in Virginia again. But, he also didn't want to repeat that harrowing and ultimately useless escape mission he had taken the first time. As much as the changes scared him, he didn't want to risk people's lives over something he knew would fail.
He sighed and decided against it as he got out of the bathe and got changed.
Keeping things the way they were simply wasn't worth the pain it had brought people he cared about.
'And besides.' He thought ruefully. 'I might end up just waking up from this dream as soon as I close my eyes.'
Dulcet's eyes lingered on his arms when he met her in the hallway, and he glanced down to find a couple of the cuts from this morning had started bleeding again from his rough scrubbing. He laughed it off and told her it was nothing.
(They really weren't anything big. Especially compared to his other injuries. Injuries that left lasting and very visible scars. Those little nail bits were nothing. He didn't even notice their sting till she had caught his attention by looking.)
As he laid in bed, with Boots snuggled into his side he tried to focus on his breathing instead of the worries flickering through his mind. The room was pitch black, and he struggled to keep his eyes open. But, fear was a decent motivator and he lasted for far longer than he had originally thought he would. Possibilities flickered through his mind.
What if he woke up in his room in Virginia?
What would he do?
What if he didn't?
What if…this wasn't really a dream at all?
The last one had him sitting up, droplets of cold sweat dripped down his back making him shiver. Boots shifted in her sleep babbling something about 'bee-bugs'. He smiled down at her and ran his hands through her hair. Slowly, he got up and shifted her to the center of the bed, cocooned by blankets.
He made his way out into the hallway and down familiar passages, ducking into empty rooms when the guards passed by until he reached a wooden door.
"Ah, hello." A whispery voice greeted him as he crept into the room. "I had wondered when you'd come."
I had to pause reading through the Marks of Secrets cause I got mad at Luxa all over again. Though I understand where she's coming from, it's still frustrating. I'll probably finish the series again this weekend though. Dunno if I'll have another chapter up this weekend though, I want to try and get my other stories updated.
Thanks for the reviews!