Their meeting with Estren didn’t last as long as Nyson imagined. They checked into an inn, and once in the room, Vago quickly claimed a bed for himself, forcing Nyson and Scaevus to share the other. Neither of them were happy about it, expressing it in their own ways. Nyson tried to laugh his discomfort off, while Scaevus fumed as he sat in a chair by the window.

It was quarter past eight. The sun had already gone down and the town’s streets were bathed with the faint glow of lanterns. Nyson was interested in roaming the streets to sightsee, but the thought of Estren plagued him.

“I feel bad for the guy. I really do,” Nyson said. “A shitty dad isn’t fun.”

Vago nodded. “The situation is deplorable, but I’m unsure if we’d be able to bring his mother along.”

“Why not? We’d just have to travel a little longer.” Nyson scoffed. “Y’know how women are.”

“Obvious sexism aside,” Vago sneered, “It’s just… a matter of whether Cella be alright with it.”

“Why wouldn’t she?”

Vago and Scaevus both gave Nyson long stares. Eventually, Scaevus turned to the window and muttered, “You really don’t know her that well, do you?”

He ran his hand over his slicked back hair and shrugged. “Guess not.”

“I’ll find a teleprism and call her to see if it’d be fine. I need to report to her anyway.”

“I’m not ready for bed yet,” Nyson whined. “I’m hungry and I want to look around.”

“Fine. Be back before midnight.”

“Yes, dad,” Nyson said playfully.

Vago poked his head back through the door and said, “Fine, not midnight. Eleven.”

Before Nyson could say anything else, Vago was gone. Scaevus migrated over to their shared bed and laid on his side. He looked tired, but Nyson wasn’t interested in going out by himself.

He craned over Scaevus and asked, “Hey, do you want to go into town? Check out the sights, pick up a couple of cute girls, get drunk?”

Scaevus stared at Nyson for a few moments, then rolled over onto his belly.

“You sure? I could use a wingman.”

Scaevus hissed and huffed before burying his face in the pillow.

“Drinks are on me,” Nyson sung and jingled a few coins in his hand.

Clearly, this line of persuasion was enough to get Scaevus to surrender. He turned over on his back and rested his hands against his chest. He was silent for a while, staring blankly at Nyson before saying, “I’ll go for the booze. Not you.”

Nyson grinned. “I still consider this a victory!”

“What do you want to drink?”

Nyson watched Scaevus stare at the wall of bottles and cups ahead of them. The God was quiet for a while, but then he mumbled, “Doesn’t matter. They don’t look like they have anything amazing.”

There wasn’t anything Nyson could point out as satisfying on the shelves behind the counter. This entire town was painfully vanilla in almost every aspect. On their way to the bar, the ladies they encountered brushed them off with scoffs and dagger-like stares before likely heading home for the evening.

Nyson was disappointed, but even more so when they walked into the bar to see that there were only one or two other customers. The bartender was a young man, inexperienced. When Nyson asked for two mugs of Valdisan ale, the bartender stammered, stumbled, and gracelessly delivered the beverages to them.

He was hoping for a night of excitement, but if this was what he had to settle for, then he figured he’d make the best of it. He knew Scaevus wasn’t going to say much. He never did. “So, I have to wonder. What’s  a God doing working for a human?”

“Here for the beer.” Scaevus sneered. “Not you.”

“Then,” Nyson said as he pulled the mug away from Scaevus. “I guess you’ll have to earn it.”

Scaevus slowly turned his head up at Nyson and puffed a ring of smoke in his face. “What the hell do you want from me? You’re always badgering me. It’s pissing me the hell off.”

“Just want to get to know you.” Nyson waved the smoke away from his face, gagging a bit. “I mean, we’re –cough – co-workers, right?”

“Exactly.” Scaevus huffed, forcing a plume of smoke past his lips. “Co-workers. Not friends.”

“But I’d like to be your friend, if you’d allow it. After all, Gods have been close friends with the Dasir for centuries.”

“Well, I’ve been known to break traditions.”

Nyson inched the mug back over to Scaevus. “Do tell.”

“I wanted to marry someone people didn’t approve of.”

“Was she cute?”

Scaevus drummed his fingers against the mug and stared into it. “Sure.”

It went quiet between them as Scaevus downed his drink in just a few gulps. Nyson didn’t regret asking Scaevus to come with him, but he was beginning to wonder if there was any common ground they could find. After all, Nyson’s social interactions hadn’t expanded beyond politics and financial security. Before joining the group, he was a social butterfly, flocking between groups of people. Even when he lived in Danel, while he was in servitude, he had others that he regarded as friends.

So now, Nyson was limited to Vago and Scaevus. Soon, they’d have Estren with them too.

“What do you think about that kid today? You were awfully quiet when we met him.”

“I don’t do politics. I think Cella has me around to be a pretty face. A poster child to show that she has allegiance with a God.”

“But Estren?”

“If he was smart, he would stay home. I don’t care what his domestic issues are, but it’d be a better fate than joining us.”

Nyson’s lips pursed, eyebrows furrowed. “What are you talking about? We’re rich. We can do pretty much anything. He’d love to join us.”

“You haven’t been around long enough. But I guess since she bought you from the Danelians, you’re stuck with her for good.”

It was strange for him to admit that life in Danel was adequate – perhaps even good. He often wondered if there was some sort of lingering sentiment based on Stockholm Syndrome, but it wasn’t horrible. The Danelians weren’t cruel to those they enslaved, but slavery in and of itself was a horrid concept.

Outside of Danel, Nyson was a slave only in title. He had a lot more freedom and had very few obligations to commit to. But here, Scaevus was a God. He had more than freedom, he had power, and never seemed to take advantage of it. Nyson wasn’t sure if that was a result of apathy and lethargy or humility.

Nyson tried to shrug off Scaevus’s obvious disdain for their boss. Cella had been good to him so far, so he had no complaints. Surely Estren would find a good place among the group.

“Whatever. I mean, well.” Nyson clicked his teeth once and scratched the back of his head. “Fuck it. I just want to get drunk. Do you want another mug?”

“Of course. You said you’re buying after all.”

Nyson half-smiled and beckoned the bartender for another round of drinks. He lost count of how many drinks Scaevus had through the course of the night, but he didn’t have very many himself – at least at first. When he got tired of worrying, he decided to abandon sobriety as well.

They returned at midnight, later than the curfew Vago set for them. Much like an angry parent waiting for their child to come home, Vago was sitting at the edge of his bed, sipping tea from a mug.

He expected to hear a lecture about how he should carry himself, but all Vago said was, “She forbids it.”

“Who forbids what?” Nyson laughed and shoved Scaevus face first onto the floor. He hit the carpet with a loud thud, then just laid there as Nyson stepped over him and sat on their bed.

Vago stared at Scaevus, then to Nyson. “Cella won’t let Estren’s mother come with us.”

Nyson’s laughter faded, as inebriated joy became sobering confusion. “What? Why?”

“She only wants our focus to be on our goals with the nation. Even after explaining to her what’s going on in their household, she’s not relenting.”

Nyson’s eyes narrowed. “But that’s his mother. Does she expect him to drop all of his outside ties?”

Vago put the mug down on the table. “Cella… I love her, but she is selfish.”

He whipped his head over to Scaevus, then back over to Vago, squinting in disbelief. “Don’t tell me that’s what you two had to do.”

“When I met her, I had no family or friends to hold obligations to.”

“Neither did I,” Scaevus added once he’d peeled himself from the floor and clung to the end of the bed.

“But I’ve got a family in Arnau. I haven’t seen them since before I was shipped to Danel, but if I could, I’d go see them.”

“Cella will tell you to cut all ties with them if she finds out,” Scaevus said.

“I will say nothing to her about that, Nyson. You are luckier than Scaevus and I. I won’t strip that fortune from you.”

Nyson looked to Scaevus, hoping the secret was safe with him as well.

Scaevus shrugged and got to his feet. “It’s not my business. My lips are sealed.”

Distressed, Nyson shook his head. “This is horrible. I can’t leave her. She bought me from the Danelians. I’m herslave. Why are you two still here?”

“I said it already. No family. No friends. Just her.”

How could Vago settle for this? Nyson hadn’t known him very long at all, but Vago wasn’t the kind of person who would surrender and settle for second-best situations. He could have been a professor for a shadowscribing institution or a mentor for young mages.

Scaevus, a God, working for a human? He could have had anything he wanted. He could have been in Valdis, sitting among royalty and being pampered and treated as if he was the center of the universe.

Yet here they were, at someone’s beck and call like loyal pets?

Nyson’s logic shined through his drunken state, but he was growing increasingly upset. He wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol making him blubber hopelessly or if he was genuinely stricken with disbelief. “Do you really think that this is how you’re meant to live? You call me lucky, but you—”

“Don’t tell us we could have had other lives. Better lives than this,” Scaevus slurred. “Because I can assure you that any life would be better than what I went through before I met Cella.”

Nyson quietly watched Scaevus storm out of the room and slam the door behind him. After a moment of silence, he heard Vago heave a heavy sigh.

He’d never felt this intense lack of hope, this complete somber mood before. He parted his lips, his mouth just slightly ajar for a few seconds before he whimpered, “Is this… it? Is this really how it is?”

Vago finished off his tea and rolled over onto his bed. “I’m afraid so. Welcome to our lonely, blue world.”

An hour passed since Scaevus left the room and he hadn’t returned. Nyson didn’t bother leaving space for him in the bed, but he tucked his legs against his chest in a fetal position.

He had been so excited to have Estren come with them. He and Vago had spoken about how much they’d love to have him on their team. But now, Nyson wasn’t so sure he wanted Estren to join them. Nyson didn’t have much of a choice in the matter when it came to being part of the group, but at least Estren did.

In his last moments before sleep claimed him, Nyson knew for sure that he didn’t want Estren to join their lonely, blue world.

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