Chapter 7 Page 66
Posted February 11, 2022 at 07:24 pm

Thanks for waiting! Here you go!



It wasn't long before the booms and howls had drawn Jean and Mina back from their fruitless foray into the forest. Mina was trailing behind, breathless. She'd swapped half the surface of her body for what looked like Patchworm-powered tree bark armor, which she swiftly dismissed with a harried snap of her fingers. Jean sprinted into the clearing at a mad dash, not slowing even after he could see Spender was safe.

Spender smiled at Isabel, whose confusion had by now been mostly tempered by fatigue and quiet awe. Both of them were sitting in the ghost train, legs dangling out the side through one of its dilated doors. 

"I had the thought to take the train to you," Spender called out to his friends as Jean drew closer, "but I don't know how to drive this thing!" He slid down the ten feet from the airborne spirit to the ground along a string of spectral energy, dusted himself off, then turned, holding his arms out wide for Isabel. She gave him a skeptical look, eyeing the distance.

"It's okay," he said. Not because "there's nothing to be scared of," not because "I know you're brave." No... Isabel, Mayview, everyone... they'll be okay because— He grinned despite himself. "I'm here," finished Spender, and Isabel's eyes went just a little wider. She sidled forward, waited for a nod, and let herself drop, stifling a startled squeak. 

Spender caught her even though she kicked him on the way down accidentally. "No, I deserve that," he reassured her, fixing his skewed sunglasses.

Setting her down, he started to look back to Jean and Mina. "The train's still nursing a bit of a grudge, too, Mina. You might want to take a look at—"

The words were knocked out of Spender as Jean threw his arms around him without slowing down. Spender stumbled back, surprised by the sudden embrace.

"Are you okay?!" Jean nearly shouted, pulling back, both hands on Spender's shoulders. His eyes were sparkling with concern, searching him all over, up and down. For bites, Spender realized, though he found himself more focused on the blush filling his own face.

"Y-yeah," he sputtered out, almost sheepish to have worried Jean this much. He was always so aloof that seeing him serious like this was—

A faltering smile of relief danced at the corners of Jean's lips before a grave look overtook him once again. "Those howls... Was it really a—" He stopped himself short, glancing down at Isabel.

"...Yeah," Spender replied. Jean's grip on his shoulders tightened. "It was... it was enormous. I don’t know how it’s hidden this long." 

Spender exchanged looks with Mina, who'd jogged up to them just in time to overhear what had been said. Ever the perceptive co-conspirator, Mina dropped to one knee in front of Isabel despite still being fully out of breath.

"Some... camping trip, wouldn't... you say?" Mina Zarei's most kid-friendly voice sounded like a burglar asking if your parents were home at her best moments, so the forced smile that followed while she was sweaty and panting had the furthest effect possible from the appeasement she'd intended. As a distraction, though, it served its second purpose. "Mind if I, *ahem* check you for nicks? I am a doctor by some standards as of... er, well, several weeks ago, so..."

Spender shot her a grateful look she didn't catch and guided Jean a step or two away. "Jean," he whispered. He felt the pit in his own stomach and wondered how much worse Jean felt, how much worse he would soon feel. "Jean, its fur was white. Pale, just past gold. It had a scar over its eye."

The hands left Spender's shoulders.