Adaptability Is Useful When a Lot of Things Are Happening at Once
“Can’t believe they’re making us go to a banquet,” Peter grumbled as they left the tailor’s shop.
Isaac nodded his agreement. Anything where he had to go get new clothes made—because the clothes he had weren’t good enough, according to Oliver—was not going to be a good experience in his book. Especially not if wearing them all night was going to be like the five minutes he’d had some on in there. He was barely going to be able to move.
On the upside, he’d been able to get a little handsy with the tailor’s apprentice who’d been taking his measurements, so that was okay.
“I mean, fine,” Peter continued, as Oliver led them onto the street. “They want to meet the chosen one—but now? They can’t wait until there are fewer of us?”
“Maybe they’re worried there’ll be four next time they look.” Isaac wouldn’t have put it past the world to spring a fourth chosen one on them at this point. He wasn’t sure there was anything that would surprise him by now.
“Maybe they were hoping that holding it now would encourage the academy to hurry up and figure out what’s going on,” Oliver suggested, smiling back at them. “Not that it’s going to work.”
“They want us to remember that they’re keeping an eye on us,” Isaac said, looking around at the crowd in a way that he couldn’t help but do every time he was out of the academy. He didn’t see anyone he’d categorize as suspicious, but then, he didn’t really know what suspicious people looked like.
There was an agitated man shouting about the messiah on a corner, but an old knight and his squire were already moving to talk to him before he could do more than shout. “Why do people who want us to know about the messiah always have to shout like crazy people?” he asked, watching. “Why aren’t there normal people who think he’s coming?”
“There are,” Peter said quietly, also watching. “They just don’t shout about it on street corners. They preach about it in sermons where everyone has to listen to them. Both my parents do.”
“Do you think he’s coming?” Oliver asked Peter, who just shrugged.
“If he is, he could do us all a favour and introduce himself.”
Oliver laughed. “Like our chosen one did?” Isaac had wondered how well Peter and Oliver would get along, but they seemed to be doing okay. He’d told Peter about his crush on Oliver, of course. And Oliver knew about how he felt about Peter, but neither of them was weird about it. It was good.
Oliver sighed, stretching a little. “We should head back to the academy, unless you two want lunch first.” He smiled. “Though you’d probably prefer if I wasn’t there, right?”
“Of course not, Oliver.” Peter smiled at Oliver. “I appreciate you taking the time to take us out, and especially for letting me tag along.”
“Isaac was worried you’d have to go to the banquet naked,” Oliver told him with a shrug.
“And he wanted you to help him make sure that didn’t happen?” Peter asked. “That doesn’t sound like Isaac.”
“Hey, I’m right here.” Not that Peter was entirely wrong or anything.
“I know you are.”
Isaac pulled a bit of a face, and Peter laughed at him. “If you went naked to the banquet I’d just be frustrated all night. I’d rather you were naked afterwards…” Isaac trailed off, noticing someone off behind Peter.
It was definitely Jacob, wandering through the crowd. But he was stumbling, looking a little disoriented. He turned into an alley and Isaac stepped in that direction, worried. “Isaac, what’s wrong?”
“Sorry, I see a friend over there. I’ll be right back.”
“A friend?” Oliver asked, peering in that direction. “Who?”
He’d never told Oliver about Jacob, now that Isaac thought of it. “I’ll tell you in a minute. Just, I’ll be right back.”
“You’re not going off on your own,” Peter told him, and the two of them followed Isaac in heading for the alley that Jacob had disappeared into. It was cleaner than Isaac had expected. There were just a few pieces of trash lying about, and what looked like a pile of rotting wood off to one side.
Jacob was just sort of standing there in the alley when Isaac got there, looking lost. “Jacob?”
He turned, blinked. “Isaac? What are you doing out here? This isn’t where I left you.”
“Shopping for clothes—are you okay? You’re walking funny.”
Jacob shook his head, but then nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just, um. I got lost. Do…you know where the ocean is?”
“The ocean?” Isaac had crossed the rest of the distance between them while Peter and Oliver crowded the entrance to the alley behind him. “It’s, uh, west of here, isn’t it?”
The question of why that mattered struck Isaac almost as much as the question of why Jacob didn’t know.
“Right, right.” Jacob turned that way, found a wall. “I’m…I’m going to go there, I think.”
“To the ocean?”
Jacob nodded, raising a hand to touch the wall. He was wearing two heavy rings on his fingers that Isaac had never seen on him before. “Yeah, I need to go there. I’ll come back when I’m done, promise.”
“Why do you need to go to the ocean?” Nothing about this seemed right. Jacob wasn’t acting right, and he wasn’t talking the way he usually did, and all Isaac could think about was that those were both signs of mind control, according to Lee.
“Because I…I just do. I need too…” He trailed off, looking around. “Where is it? I thought it was west, the ocean. Did you lie to me?”
“No, Jacob, I didn’t. It’s far away.”
“He’s being compelled,” Peter said quietly, approaching Isaac. Jacob didn’t seem to notice. Isaac nodded. They hadn’t gotten to the part of Lee’s class where she taught them how to fix that, though, so Isaac looked at Oliver.
Oliver nodded at Isaac, stepping forward. “Jacob, that’s your name, right? I think I can help you.”
“Help me?” Jacob asked, looking up at Oliver. “You can tell me where the ocean is. That’s the only help I need. I’m fine.”
“There’s a river not far from the capital, maybe half a day. It leads to the ocean. That’s the fastest way to get there.”
Jacob nodded, made as if to walk past Oliver. “Okay. Thank you. I’m going to go there.”
“Hold on.” Oliver reached out, grabbed Jacob by the arm. “Something’s wrong with you.”
“No!” Jacob pulled back, one hand covering the other, hiding the two rings from their sight. “Nothing’s wrong with me. I’m fine, I know what I’m doing. Leave me alone!”
“Not until we’ve helped you.”
“I don’t need your help!”
“Hey! What’s going on down here?”
Isaac turned, saw the squire from before standing in the mouth of the alley. He was blonde and thin, limbs a little long for someone of his height.
Jacob was the only one not distracted by the new arrival, and he suddenly grabbed Oliver’s shoulders, using them to pull himself up into the air. Oliver shouted as Jacob put a foot on his shoulder now, leaping from there to the roof of the building on the west side of the alley.
“Jacob!” Isaac reached out, touched Dark and tried to grab Jacob before he could get away, but it was too late. “Damn it.”
“We should go back to the academy,” Oliver said, taking his hand off Light as he spoke. “We can get someone to go after him. He can’t move that fast.”
Isaac wasn’t so sure about that, but he nodded.
“What the hell is going on with you three?”
Isaac looked up at the advancing young knight again, frowned at him. “My friend was in trouble. We were trying to help him. Until you distracted us so he could get away.” He immediately felt a little bad about that—it wasn’t this guy’s fault that Jacob had run.
“Three against one, looked to me like it wasn’t your help he needed.”
“He was being compelled,” Oliver told him. “Controlled by something. We were trying to break the spell.”
“Really?” The squire looked at the three of them. “So you’re mages, then?” He sort of squinted as if he might see them doing something magical.
“Yes, and we need to get back to the academy now before he hurts himself.”
Isaac looked up at Oliver, even more concerned than he had been. “You don’t think he will, do you?”
“Probably not.” Oliver looked up at the rooftops and sighed. “That’s why I told him about the river. If he’s in enough control of himself, he’ll head there rather than walking all the way to the coast.” He smiled now. “There are tricks for dealing with compelled people if you can’t break the spell. We’ll go back to the academy and tell them about what happened—they’ll send someone after him and catch him before he goes too far. Compulsion spells aren’t that hard to break.”
“Especially when it’s obviously because of those rings he was wearing,” Peter added, and Isaac nodded. He wondered where Jacob had gotten them.
“Okay.” Isaac said, taking a breath and trying to convince himself that it was going to be okay. “Let’s get going, then.”
“What’s your name?” Oliver asked the squire.
“Leo, we don’t have time—we have to get back to the academy and get that kid some help.”
“I’m not allowed to just let you go. You have to wait until Sir Dalton gets here and explain to him…”
Leo was cut off by a loud shifting of wood and a little animal yelp. Isaac looked and saw that the little pile of wood had collapsed suddenly. Which was probably what had caused the little guy now growling at it to flee its safety so suddenly.
A puppy, black but for his white paws, and the grey spot over his left eye.
Isaac felt his heart drop out of his chest, and he took a step towards the puppy.
He was too skinny, dirty and matted, probably covered in fleas. He growled at Isaac now as Isaac got closer. “Isaac…” Peter said quietly.
“Shh…” Isaac said, waving at Peter. “He’s scared. Yeah, you’re scared, aren’t you, little guy?”
The dog growled some more, and Isaac held out a hand for him to sniff. “Come here, we’re not going to hurt you.”
“Isaac, be careful,” Oliver warned.
“He’s not going to hurt me, Oliver, he’s just a puppy.”
“He’s going to bite you.”
“Of course he is.” Isaac waved at Oliver now. “Shh.”
The puppy was still growling, but he’d stopped backing away from Isaac, at least. Isaac held out his hand patiently, and a moment later he quieted, gave Isaac a sniff. And bit Isaac on the finger.
Isaac pulled his hand back, gave the puppy a little tap on the nose. “None of that,” he said, reaching out and scooping the puppy up into his arms, standing. The little guy struggled for a moment, but eventually he settled in under the scratches Isaac was giving him behind his ears. “You’re hungry, aren’t you? I’ll find you something to eat. But you’re having a bath too.”
The puppy yapped in his arms, and Isaac couldn’t help but smile down at it, aware that a few tears came to his eyes and not able to help it.
“Isaac, you can’t take him back to the academy,” Oliver said, and Isaac turned and look at him.
“Yes, I can,” Isaac whispered.
Oliver softened, shaking his head. “I just had to say it for posterity. Try not to let any faculty see him.”
Isaac nodded, and smiled at Peter when he leaned in for a closer look. “We’ll have to come up with something to call him,” Peter said, poking the dog on the nose.
Isaac nodded again. “You want to help?”
“Careful. The whole dorm’s going to have ideas if you offer to let people help.”
“That’s fine.” Isaac hugged the puppy tighter, arms shaking a bit. “He needs to eat something, he’s starving.”
He turned to Leo, who was still standing in the alley mouth, looking at them with his mouth open a little. He sighed, shook his head. “Fine, all of you just go. Nobody who gets teary eyed about a puppy could possibly be up to anything bad.”
“Thank you.” Isaac smiled at Leo, who moved aside to let them go. As he passed, he said, “You know, you’re pretty cute.”
Leo blinked, then gave Isaac a toothy smile. “Yeah? So are you, you know.”
“Am I?” Isaac asked, cradling the puppy. “I’m Isaac.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“I’ll see you, maybe.” Isaac hoped so, anyway.
“Maybe.” Leo shifted a little, and led them out back onto the street. “I do have to report this,” he said, looking over to where his old knight was sternly lecturing the crazy messiah man. “Someone will probably come by your academy later to make sure you’re actually doing something about that guy.”
“Okay, thank you,” Oliver said, patting Leo on the shoulder and gesturing for Peter and Isaac to follow him “We should get going.”
They started off that way, and Peter walked a little closer to Isaac than usual. “Really?”
“What, he was cute,” Isaac protested. “I’m in distress, not dead.”
Peter laughed at him, but his expression got a little more serious. “That was your thief friend, right? The one you told me about?” At Isaac’s nod, he glanced at Oliver. “You’re going to have to tell Oliver how you know him.”
“I know.” Isaac sighed, shifting the puppy in his arms. “I hope he’s okay.”
“Do you think those rings came from the academy?”
“Probably,” Isaac sighed. They were obviously dangerous, so they should have been in the Vault, where Jacob had said he wasn’t going to go. But where else would he have gotten them?
“Hey,” Peter said, putting a hand on Isaac’s shoulder. “It’s going to be okay, Isaac. He’ll be fine.”
Isaac nodded, wishing he could be as sure of that. And wishing that there weren’t so many things in the world that he didn’t understand, or at least that the things he didn’t understand would stop happening to the people he cared about.