“You’re awfully nosy, you know that?” Chelsea asked.
“I’m just curious is all,” Adelaide said, grinning as she went through Chelsea’s suitcase. “You’ve got all kinds of cool stuff!”
“Just don’t go throwing my clothes all over the place,” Chelsea said with a sigh, looking out the window at the universe speeding by.
“I’ll be neat,” Adelaide said. “Ooh, what’s this?” She pulled out Chelsea’s digital music player and a pair of corded earbuds. She held them up like they were some alien invention, staring at them with her wide blue and green eyes.
“You really don’t know?” Chelsea asked, leaning forward and turning on the small, touchscreen-operated player and plugging in the headphones. “It has a bunch of music, and you can listen to it through these.”
“Wait, really?” Adelaide asked, holding the earbuds awkwardly before timidly sticking them in her ears. She giggled. “They feel funny.”
“Now you just pick a song from the list,” Chelsea said. “Or you can pick a playlist, or just go through everything. Here, we can start with this one.” She tapped on “Never Fall” by Redstring, one of her favorite groups.
Adelaide’s eyes lit up. “It’s making music in my ears!” she said excitedly.
“I told you that’s what it would do,” Chelsea said, nonetheless smiling at the girl’s enthusiasm. “You can adjust the volume with these buttons here — don’t turn it up too loud, you’ll go deaf. And you have these buttons to pause, skip to the next song, go back to a previous song.”
“What about these?” Adelaide asked, indicating several smaller, stranger symbols.
“That’s more complicated, stuff like putting a song on repeat or shuffling the song order so you don’t know what’s coming up next.”
Adelaide stared at Chelsea with a huge smile. “You can do that kind of stuff?” she asked. And then she started bobbing her head. “Oh, this song’s cool. I like it!”
Chelsea laughed. “I thought you might.”
“Caleb, have you heard this song?” Adelaide asked, coming over to squeeze her way in between Chelsea and Caleb, despite Chelsea’s protests.
“Oh yeah, it’s a good one,” Caleb said, laughing.
“But how can we both listen?” Adelaide asked, pursing her lips in thought. “It’s only going to my ears.”
“Like this,” Chelsea said, pulling one earbud out of Adelaide’s left ear and handing it to Caleb, who put it in his ear, leaning closer to Adelaide. The girl was delighted at this, her eyes glittering with wonder at Chelsea’s simple solution.
“You know so much cool stuff!” she said, gazing up at Chelsea.
“I’m just surprised that you don’t,” Chelsea said. “You’re just a kid, all this stuff should’ve been around ever since you were —”
Oh. That’s right.
She was actually born before Caleb or me. It’s only Kaohlad’s disgusting magical imprisonment of her that kept her as a child. She should be a few years older than us, but instead she’s just…
A kid. And she never had any of this stuff growing up.
Not to mention, her home life wasn’t exactly one that allowed her to experience the world…
Adelaide didn’t even seem to notice Chelsea cutting off, she was bobbing her head along with Caleb, smiling.
I can’t believe I was so skeptical when Caleb saved her, and when she wanted to spend every second she could with him. She’s a good kid. And despite all she’s been through, it’s hard to remember all of that when she acts so…
Treated like a monster by her parents, and then her own sister killed their parents, and then she was imprisoned by a real monster for over a decade, and…
She couldn’t help comparing the girl’s tragic, horrific childhood to her own.
Either she’s wearing an incredibly convincing mask that never falters…
Or she’s really freaking strong.
She looked at the way Adelaide and Caleb smiled at each other.
She’s had people around her loving on her from the second she was set free from the shadow world.
And Caleb kept his promise. He was gone for a little while, but he came back, and he’s stuck by her.
Is it really that simple? With the right people and with love, she completely heals just like that?
She was startled when Adelaide slipped her hand into hers, looking up at her with that cheesy little grin of hers.
After all she’s been through, she’s full of so much love of her own. She hasn’t just received a lot of love, she keeps giving it out, endlessly generous.
Chelsea smiled back at the girl, gave her hand a little squeeze. “You’re a good kid,” she said softly.
“What?” Adelaide asked, pulling the lone earbud out of her ear. “What’d you say, you were too quiet and the music was too loud.”
“I told you not to turn it up too much,” Chelsea said, reaching over and turning the volume down two notches.
“But what’d you sayyyyyyy?” Adelaide asked, bumping her shoulder up against Chelsea repeatedly.
“It’s not important,” Chelsea said with a smirk.
She was annoying at first. But she’s grown on me so fast.
Well, that might at least partially have to do with…
She looked from Adelaide to Caleb, and he looked at her, their eyes meeting.
Her heart leapt within her.
It’s kind of weird, but…
Weird in a good way.
“What’s got you all happy all of a sudden?” Adelaide asked, nudging her shoulder against Chelsea some more.
“Guess,” Chelsea said, ruffling the girl’s hair.
“Is it me?” Adelaide asked. “You like sharing cool stuff with me?”
Chelsea snorted. “Something like that,” she said.
A knock sounded at the door to their compartment, and Caleb, closest to the door, slid it open and pulled the earbud out of his ear. There was an elderly lady with a multi-shelved cart filled with food and drinks, many of the plates wafting steam lazily into the air. Even though she was farthest back from the door, Chelsea could smell the cavalcade of amazing aromas, and her stomach suddenly rumbled.
“Care for a meal on the journey, dears?” the lady asked. “It’s complementary.”
“Free food?” Caleb asked. “We’d love some!”
“Oh, hang on a second, wait!” Adelaide cried. She was surprisingly thoughtful in removing her earbud and handing the player and headphones to Chelsea before darting out of the compartment and rushing ahead one, sliding open the next door. “Hey, you guys are hungry, right?”
“Addie!” Chelsea called out, she and Caleb both standing to follow the girl.
“What?” Adelaide asked, leaning halfway out of Mister Midnight’s compartment to look at the two of them. “Food’s best when shared, right? Besides, everyone’s hungry!”
“I never said I was hungry,” came Midnight’s voice.
“We’d love to share a meal together,” Mineria said.
“Come on in!” Ingrid said. “It’s not as cramped as it looks.”
Adelaide cheered, leading the way in, and Caleb and Chelsea, hand-in-hand, followed. Before they made it two more steps, Adelaide poked her head out again. “Bring the music thing, okay?” she asked.
Chelsea held up the player. “Way ahead of you, kid,” she said. Adelaide grinned.
All six of them in the same compartment, they ordered in turns. Midnight went last and was the only one to decline food and just request some kind of tea, the name of which was so strange that Chelsea swiftly forgot it.
“You gotta eat, too!” Adelaide said, frowning at Midnight. “Otherwise you’ll waste away!”
“I’m fine,” Midnight said, waving the cart lady on now that she’d given everyone else their meals.
“Oh, don’t be like that,” Ingrid said, silver eyes narrowing teasingly. “I know you’re not overly fond of visitors, but these are all friends.”
“And friends are the best,” Adelaide said with a grin. She was seated next to Ingrid, and the two girls were hitting it off right away. A silence started to settle in as everyone busied themselves eating. Ingrid and Adelaide frequently shared their meals, and also tried to share with Midnight, teasing him when he refused.
Chelsea smiled at Adelaide. It had been a perfect idea to have them all share a meal together. It was quieter than when Adelaide was constantly chatting, but the quiet was comforting and pleasant in the presence of friends. And the food was quite good, and Chelsea was hungrier than she’d realized.
Naturally, Caleb was the hungriest of all. He’d asked for three times as much as anyone else, and he didn’t say an entire word during the meal, finishing eating before anyone else.
“Still hungry?” Chelsea asked offering Caleb her meal, about half of which was left.
“No, that was great,” Caleb said with a happy sigh. Chelsea finished off her plate and then echoed his sigh.
“But what about him?” Adelaide asked, pointing with her fork at the owl Summon perched on Chelsea’s shoulders. “Shouldn’t you have shared? Or at least ordered something separate for him.” She smirked. “Really, you ought to be nice to your Summon.”
“He doesn’t eat,” Chelsea said, rolling her eyes. “Summons are weird like that.”
“They live off of the life energy of their Summoner,” Midnight said.
“Then make sure you eat enough for two!” Adelaide said, looking around but seeing no more food left. “Ah, but you need to eat more!”
“We’re fine,” Chelsea said with a chuckle, reaching up to pet her owl beneath the chin. He cooed happily.
Good food with good people. It’s a special thing.
“Chelsea, can I have the music thing again?” Adelaide asked, holding out her hand.
“Yeah,” Chelsea said, handing over the player while suppressing a laugh at the girl’s name for it.
“What is it?” Ingrid asked, watching as Adelaide put an earbud in one ear and handed the other bud to her. Once Ingrid had put it in her own ear, Adelaide tapped on a song, and Ingrid’s silver eyes widened in surprise. “It’s making music! I’ve never heard a song like this, either.”
“It’s so cool, right?” Adelaide asked, giggling. She looked over at Chelsea. “What’s your favorite?”
“I have a playlist marked ‘Favorites’,” Chelsea said. Adelaide stared at the screen, tapping and swiping for a bit before seeming to find it.
“Whoa, lots of songs,” the girl said, grinning as she tapped on one. It only took a few seconds for both girls listening to start bobbing their heads with the music, smiling.
“How long do you think it is to our next stop?” Chelsea asked.
“Virtually instantaneous in the outside world,” Midnight said. “We’re traveling through a strange part of the universe now, in places that exist, in a way, frozen in time. But relative to us, it’ll still be almost half an Earth day.”
“Time’s weird,” Adelaide said.
“How’s Chronokon different from Chronoshin?” Caleb asked.
“You don’t want to spoil the surprise, do you?” Midnight asked with a smirk.
“Well, okay, then what’s the Master of that place like?” Caleb asked.
“Better than Chronos,” Midnight said, looking out the window.
“Just a fountain of knowledge, aren’t you?” Chelsea muttered.
“You’re being grumpy again,” Ingrid said, poking Midnight’s knee.
“You’ve got the wrong word,” Midnight said.
“ ‘Grumpy’ isn’t quite right,” Mineria said, seeming to find all of this remarkably amusing. “More along the lines of ‘reticent’, and for no clear reason, as usual.” Midnight glanced her way for a moment, and she chuckled. “Come now, Lance, your patterns are well apparent to those who know you best.”
“As it should be,” Ingrid said with a smile. Her eyes brightened and she looked down at the music player’s screen. “I quite like this one.” Adelaide giggled. “What is it?”
“You speak all formal and stuff sometimes,” Adelaide said, still giggling. “It’s funny.”
Ingrid pursed her lips slightly. “I didn’t think that was formal at all.”
“These things change,” Mineria said. “You two are from completely different eras.”
“Oh, right, you were born like a bunch of hundreds of years before me,” Adelaide said. “That’s so weird.”
“Your situation’s about as weird,” Chelsea admonished.
“Yeah,” Adelaide said. “But wait, you’re gonna be a kid forever, right?” She cocked her head to the side, frowning slightly. “So one day I’ll be an adult, but you’ll still be exactly the same. Isn’t that sad to think about?”
Ingrid had a faraway look in her eyes. “I suppose it is a bit sad,” she said. “But I must learn to make the most of my circumstances.”
Is there a way to undo what the Radiant King did to her and the rest of the Eternals?
She won’t just outlive Addie. She’ll even outlive Mineria and Mister Midnight.
She’ll live… forever. Forever as a child, too.
Chelsea caught a glimpse of Midnight’s expression. He was watching Ingrid as she and Adelaide talked about her situation, and there was a fierce determination in his eyes.
If only he’d come around and talk to people about what he’s thinking.
“Hey, can I try something?” Ingrid asked.
“What?” Adelaide asked.
Ingrid held out her hands. “I can feel emotions by touch,” she said. “Could I hold your hands for a moment? You seem so happy, so I just —” She suddenly cut off as Adelaide plopped her hands into Ingrid’s, smiling at her. Ingrid stared back at her, surprised for a moment, and then her silver eyes gleamed with light. A smile broke out on her face. “Oh, that’s… you’re just as happy as you seem. Even after all you’ve endured, you’re so…” She shook her head, letting go of Adelaide’s hands to wipe at her eyes.
“Why are you crying?” Adelaide asked.
“I’m fine,” Ingrid said, sniffing once. “Just some amounts of joy are so much they make you cry.”
Adelaide’s worry faded. “So they’re good tears.”
Ingrid nodded. “Very good,” she said.
“Oh hey, I can do cool stuff, too,” Adelaide said. She shoved her hand into her pocket, struggling a bit before pulling out a piece of paper that had slight orange stains on it.
“You were supposed to throw that away back in the Arcade,” Chelsea said, raising an eyebrow. It was a napkin she’d used quite extensively. Adelaide just gave her a cheeky grin.
“So I can’t do as much when I’m not at my house,” the girl said, “but I can turn this…” she held out the napkin, “into… this!” The napkin flashed with light, and then instead of a used napkin, Adelaide was holding a pastel blue teddy bear the size of her little hand, with tiny black button eyes and a white stomach. She held the bear out to Ingrid, smiling at the girl’s excitement and surprise.
“But how?” Ingrid asked, turning the small bear over and over in her hands. “It’s nothing like the napkin at all.”
“Because it’s not a napkin, silly,” Adelaide said, giggling. “Not anymore. It’s a teddy bear! And he’s yours.”
“Mine?” Ingrid asked, staring at Adelaide. Adelaide nodded, and Ingrid looked at the bear, then slowly pulled him to her chest. “I’ll cherish him forever. Thank you.”
“Did you say you have your own house?” Mineria asked.
Adelaide nodded. “Yup! And my magic’s way stronger there. I can make anything! But I have some rules.” She looked sheepishly at Caleb, who just grinned. “I can’t make stuff like money, stuff that would upset the economy or make things hard for other people or whatever.” She shrugged.
“Birthright Magic is truly fascinating,” Mineria said. “And you use such powerful magic so responsibly. That’s very impressive.” Adelaide grinned proudly.
“I have good influences,” the girl said, glancing at Caleb and Chelsea. Then her eyes brightened and she looked down at the player’s screen. “I’ve heard you hum this one!”
“You what?” Chelsea asked in a low, flat tone, caught off-guard by that casual revelation. Next to her, Caleb giggled, and she elbowed him in the ribs. “Which one is it?”
“ ‘On the Ropes’,” Adelaide and Ingrid said in unison. Adelaide continued, “What’s the matter? You’re not a bad hummer.”
“Nothing,” Chelsea said, frowning.
“You do have a nice voice,” Caleb said softly, earning another elbow to the ribs, followed by Chelsea slipping her hand into his.
“No need to be embarrassed,” Adelaide said, grinning. “You sound pretty and cool, just like how you look!”
Chelsea looked away, sighing as heat filled her cheeks.
Honestly, do you have to be so innocently sincere? Geez…
“Hey, what’s that thing Lorelei talked about that one time?” Adelaide asked. “Where you go and sing together?”
“Karaoke?” Caleb asked.
“Yeah!” Adelaide said. “We should all go do that when we get back home.”
“Ha, nope,” Chelsea muttered, staring at the ceiling.
“I’ve never been able to get her to go,” Caleb said, shrugging.
“We’ll do it!” Adelaide said. “We’ll get Lorelei, and Gwen, and Will, and Isla, and Delilah, and Alice, and everybody else! And Ingrid, too! It’s fun to sing with friends.”
“That sounds delightful,” Ingrid said. She looked at Midnight. “Would I be able to go?”
“I don’t see why not,” Midnight said with a shrug.
“You guys can tell me all about it,” Chelsea said.
“You’re coming too, of course!” Adelaide said. “And here I thought you were the bravest person in the world. Now you’re chickening out over a little singing?” Chelsea glared at the girl’s teasing smirk, but naturally, Adelaide didn’t so much as flinch.
“Addie, when’s your birthday?” Caleb asked.
Adelaide’s smirk turned into a happy smile. “January first!”
“A New Year’s baby, huh?” Chelsea asked.
“There’s a lot left to do before we can go back home,” Caleb said. “But hopefully we can be back in time for your birthday.”
“And we can go do karaoke for my birthday!” Adelaide said.
Caleb squeezed Chelsea’s hand gently, smiling. “It’s a date,” he said.
The conversation came and went, often fading away into a relaxing silence. Chelsea held Caleb’s hand and leaned against him, dozing off now and then. Once again, her owl Summon served as an excellent travel pillow. Ingrid and Adelaide were the most talkative, but often just listened to songs in silence.
Time went by, and the train rolled on towards their destination.
For a while in the midst of their journey, all of them could relax.