"It's getting dark," Ringabel commented, his breath fogging up in the frigid air. He immediately tugged his scarf back over his mouth and nose. He stood behind Edea, close, but far enough to give her the space she needed as she wandered between graves.

"I know," Edea confessed. She looked up from the grave she'd been reading and back toward the mountain path. Behind them, the sun was just about to set. "We should get going."

"Going in this weather?"

They both turned to see one of the old men of Gravemark Village, the few who had been left alive when the plague had released its hold on the village. Its keepers. He was bundled up tightly against the cold, and now he stopped to speak to them.

"Well, it is late," Edea pointed out. "We left our friends in Eternia and we need to head back."

Edea had wanted to see more of the village where her parents had grown up. She'd wanted to for a while, but things had been so urgent in the first world, and the second, and the third… now, they were exhausted, mentally and physically. That meant that, despite their fairy's protests, they were taking side-trips and extra time on their regular activities. With that in mind, she had dragged Ringabel along with her to Gravemark for protection and "monster-bait" as she had put it, leaving Agnes behind in Eternia and Tiz to watch over her. The two of them had needed some time alone together, in Edea's opinion, and Agnes disliked travelling in the snow if she could avoid it.

"Yes, I know. But there's a blizzard coming along. You'll get lost in that," the man explained, and they followed his gaze toward approaching dark clouds. "We have extra cabins for visitors to stay in. You're the daughter of the Grand Marshal, yes? Your family's home is still standing. We keep it clean. "

"I… don't know about this," Edea said, looking up at Ringabel.

"We should stay the night," he suggested, smiling at her. "You've stayed here before, haven't you? With the Grand Marshal? I'm sure it'll be like a sleepover this time."

"You would like that, wouldn't you?" she grumbled, ducking her chin into the thick coat she wore. But he had a point. The old man had a point. They were all Eternians; they all knew how much colder it could be at night, and with a blizzard on top of that. Edea would prefer to be stuck in a cabin with Ringabel, than to be stuck in a cave with him while waiting out the storm, or worse.

The cabin the old man showed them was small, but familiar. Had it been the same one she and her father had stayed at that night so long ago? She couldn't quite remember, but it was sombering to think that this was the same place her father had grown up, and perhaps where she would have grown up as well, had the Great Plague never happened.

There were no photos in the old place, no personal items at all. It seemed as though it was rarely looked after, with a thick layer of dust over everything, and bare, a mostly empty room with the minimum of furniture. Edea made a face. At least the ceiling was free of leaks, and the walls were mostly wind proof, though there was a small draft from the back. Old, dirty oil lamps were protected from the draft by their glass covers, and the three of them set a series throughout the entire room, lighting them one by one.

The old man handed them a stack of blankets. "Here you are… the extra blankets we have. The Women's Association in Eternia always sends us new ones every year, bless them. We have enough for an entire army now." He chuckled. "You'll find supplies and other items. It's been some time since we've had visitors over, after all. Still, there's some things here and there."

The wind blew behind him, and brought with it fresh flurries of snow that dusted the worn wooden floor. They all shivered.

"I'd best be off," the old man said, thrusting his hands back into his pockets. "You children can see our cabin from here. If you need the help of these old men, don't hesitate to come fetch us."

"Thank you," Ringabel said, and he closed the door once the man had walked some ways away, though he struggled against the wind. Leaning against the old wood, the blond looked over at Edea, who was unfolding some of the blankets. "Well now. It seems we're all alone, eh?"

"Sure," Edea agreed. "And since we don't have anything to eat, I'm going to cook you up in a stew so I don't starve to death."

"I'm all skin and bones!" he protested, clasping his hands to his face in horror. "I wouldn't make a very good meal." Terrified, he wrapped his arms around himself and backed away from Edea as she approached.

But he was backed up against a wall, and soon enough she was close enough to grab his face and pull on his cheeks. "Your big head will be enough to feed me for a week!" she said with a laugh, and then leaned in to gnaw on one of his arms.

Ringabel found himself laughing as well as she gnawed loudly but lightly, her teeth barely felt through the leather of his jacket. "Is this like that horror story we heard about as children? Feasting on the blood of the beautiful to retain your youth?"

Edea stopped gnawing and stared up at him, her blue eyes narrowing. "Wasn't that supposed to be the blood of virgins, Ringabel? And if there's anyone who needs to retain their youth, it's you, you gray-headed old man."

Ringabel immediately flushed, then pouted, then looked away with a frown. "It's not gray, it's platinum, Edea! There's hints of blonde in it when we're in the sun." He couldn't quite bring himself to look back at her just yet, and only glanced in her direction when she stepped away again. He lifted a hand to wipe her spit off his jacket.

"It looks gray in this light," she pointed out, and they both fell silent as they surveyed the cabin, what little they could see.

It consisted of one large room, and what Ringabel assumed - hoped - was a bathroom through the one of the two doors on the opposite wall. The kitchen, if one could call it that, took up most of the entrance side of the room, with wooden counters that were rough with splitters and age, and a small metal sink that had seen better days. There was a small stove with two small burners, but that seemed secondary to the wooden stove that was facing out toward the rest of the cabin. A small stack of wood was next to it.

He headed over to start a fire. Thankfully, he and Edea both knew fire spells, and wouldn't have to worry about gathering flint or tinder. The sooner he could get a fire going, the better.

He could see additional wood packed into the space underneath a rickety ladder that led to a loft. Edea was now climbing up said ladder, her head nearly reaching the slanted ceiling as she ascended. He watched her movements.

"Huh," she said, her voice breaking the silence as he threw pieces of wood into the stove. "It looks like they were using this place for storage. There's some more blankets up here." She crawled into the small space, and he could hear her rolling around.

"Then we won't need to worry about the cold," he replied. "Ah, and here I was hoping to share a blanket with you tonight, to warm your body with the heat from my heart."

"Your bones can warm my stomach later." Edea popped her head over the ledge of the loft before she shimmied over it, dropping onto the wood floor below with a loud noise.

A bed stood nearby. It was large and old, but had stood the test of time. Excellent craftsmanship. Edea walked over to it, reaching her hand out to feel the thick logs that made up the footboard, fingers tracing over the carvings in the wood. Was this where her parents had slept at one time? Her grandparents?

The mattress looked firm, stuffed with straw or hay that she hoped was fresh. She gingerly pressed down on it, but couldn't feel anything that felt off. The old man had mentioned that they kept some cabins for visitors to stay, but she couldn't imagine that happened often. When was the last time the mattress had been changed? It wasn't like they had many choices, though, and she'd slept on worse.

She laid a thick comforter over the mattress to cover the rough burlap fabric, then sat down. Only a roughly carved out divider separated the sleeping area from the living area. There was also a heavy writing desk and a small eating table with three chairs, and two doors. One led outside, she was sure, based on the way that she could feel the wind through it. The other…

"Oh good, there's a toilet here," she said, and entered, closing the door behind her.

Ringabel finally had the fire going to his satisfaction, and looked up just as the door shut. Yes, that was very good. He stood to his feet, wincing as his joints protested, and stretched as he looked around the room. The room felt familiar; he was sure he'd stayed here with the Grand Marshal at one point himself, but that memory was at the edge of his mind, fuzzy and out of reach, no matter how much he stretched. It was as if only the tips of his fingers could brush it…

"Augh," he grumbled, pushing the heel of his hands into his eyes before dragging them down his entire face. His memories had mostly returned by this point, but holes and frayed edges still plagued him. It was more than annoying… and not something he wanted to think about when he and Edea were alone. He liked spending time with her. He cherished it. There was no point in wasting time on his own problems.

While Edea did her business in the toilet, he looked around the rest of the cabin for supplies. Hopefully they had food of some sort - he was too young to die! Edea and he had some packed some snacks for the trip and for a small picnic - if one could call eating in the middle of a graveyard a picnic - but Edea had long polished those off, and they had only water left. He was familiar with going without food for days, but Edea wasn't, and he would never put her through that if he could help it otherwise.

Looking around some more solved that problem. Ringabel could see a large pile of wooden crates stacked on the other side of the kitchen, almost under the table.

The other cabins were used for storage, after all. The men who stayed behind in the forsaken village were cared for by their remaining family members who had moved to Eternia to escape the memories. Ringabel dragged out one of the crates and to his relief recognized at least some food stuffs. Now to just see what was edible, not that it would matter much to Edea.

"What were you doing?" she asked when she opened the door moments later. He had upended the crate onto the floor, and potatoes had rolled across the room. She stooped now to pick one up, dusting dirt from it.

"Looking for something to feed us with," he replied absently as he sorted the food into piles. Some of it would need to be thrown out. It was old and rotten, though had been kept dry in the cabin. The potatoes were hardy and the soft spots could be cut away. There was a collection of lentils and beans, and a decent supply of spices, though they looked faded. Some flour and a glass container full of smoked, salted meat. It was dry, but nothing a soak in some water couldn't fix. And in the very center, a small paper bag full of coffee beans. He sighed in relief.

"You know I was kidding about eating you, right?" Edea crouched beside him and handed him the potato she'd retrieved from some feet away.

"I know that," he said, offering her a smile. "But if we're to make the hike back to Eternia tomorrow morning, we'll need breakfast even if we don't eat dinner."

"I… suppose you're right." She dragged close a nearby metal pot and threw the potatoes into it.

Hauling the pot over to the sink, she turned the faucet on. Ringabel straightened up in time to see it spew out brownish gray water. His eyes met Edea's.

"I'm going to go get some snow," she suggested. "Then we can melt and boil it!"

"I think that's a good idea," he replied, kneeling back down to finish cleaning up. No doubt the pipes had been unused in months, perhaps even years. Who knew what was in them? A moment later, he felt Edea tugging at his jacket and glanced up at her in surprise. "What are you doing? If you wanted me to strip, you need only ask."

"As if! I need another layer of clothes. I wish we had sugar and maple syrup, though…"

"Sugar and maple syrup?"

"Yeah, for ice cream and maple taffy! I can't believe you haven't tried that before. Now give me your clothes."

He declined to say more as she pulled his jacket off him and wrapped it around herself for extra warmth before she stepped outside, promising to stay within just a few feet of the entrance. In the meantime, he took quick stock of the other crates that had been shoved aside. It was more of the same, just the essentials to ensure the men out here didn't starve. Now, it would be finally put to use to feed the two visitors. Ringabel hoped that it was still edible, at least.

When Edea returned with a pot full of freshly fallen snow, he was starting a fire in the small cooking stove, and took the pot from her to set it over the flames.

"Thanks, Ringabel!"

"No need to mention it," he said cheerfully, then reached his hand out for his jacket. "Give me that, I'm going to go fetch some snow myself."

"Oh fine," she groused, relinquishing it to him. "It is really warm, you know. But be careful, it's starting to come down really hard. We almost got caught in that!"

"That" was a blizzard that bit his face immediately once he'd stepped out of the coziness of their cabin. He sucked in a sharp breath and ducked his face down, stepping over to the snow that was building up alongside the cabin walls, scooping it up into a large bowl he'd brought with him. Snowflakes clung to his eyelashes and nearly obscured his vision as he retraced his steps, finding that his footsteps were already being filled in.

This was not good. This was a bad blizzard, even for Eternia.

The bowl was set aside for now, along with black beans that he poured in so that they could soak in the water once it eventually melted. There were hooks on the side of the door, and Ringabel hung their wet, cold outer clothing on them. Now clad in clothing that was more appropriate to Florem's tropical climate, he decided it would be an opportune time to join Edea as she huddled under a blanket next to the fireplace.

The old couch she was on creaked alarmingly under his added weight, and Edea barely glanced at him before she offered the edge of the blanket to him.

"Keep your hands to yourself," she warned him, but cuddled against him all the same, pressing her side to his.

"I am a gentleman," he reminded her. "I would never even think of such a thing."

"Hmm…" Edea hummed as she tugged her side of the blanket around herself. Ringabel tucked his side of the blanket behind her back, and then carefully laid his cheek against the top of Edea's head. Her bow made that a little difficult, but he nudged it aside. "That's fine, I suppose," she said, looking up at him. "I still have my sword in here. I'll cut your hands off if they wander too close to anything."

"I won't!" he yelped, and tucked his hands down against his own lap.

The room was warmer than outside, but there was still room for improvement. Ringabel closed his eyes and listened to the sound of the blizzard outside, and the fire crackling a few feet away, and the water beginning to boil around their potatoes. And Edea's breathing… there wasn't a sound more sweeter than that, especially the little sighs of contentment she made whenever she stretched out. Their little blanket cave was toasty and he couldn't imagine ever wanting to leave it. His eyelids seemed to grow heavier and heavier with each passing second… maybe he would close his eyes and really get comfortable, just for a few moments.

He awoke some time later, curled up on his side under the blanket. It was still warm, but it lacked the warmth of his friend's body heat, and he looked up with bleary eyes in confusion as Edea called his name again.

"Wake up, Ringabel. It's time for dinner."

"… did you finish cooking all by yourself?" he asked her, rubbing his eyes sleepily as he untangled himself from the blanket and rolled on to the dusty floor with a low noise. Whatever she'd cooked, it smelled delicious, and his stomach growled. He'd let her eat most of their packed food earlier with the assumption that he'd have a big dinner later.

"Of course I did! I know how to cook, after all." She puffed out her cheeks even as she ladled steaming soup into bowls for them both.

He dragged himself over to the table, taking the chair that seemed least rickety. "I know you know, but… it's just…"

Edea slid the bowl over in front of him, and handed him a spoon. "It's just nothing!" Her face was red, likely with the heat of the kitchen. "Someone has to cook dinner if you're just going to laze about all day. I found the meat and spices and added that, so it's not terrible. I ran out, though. Of spices."

He'd already taken some of the stew onto his spoon but now he paused, staring at the seemingly innocent liquid. It looked so inviting.

"You ran out?"

"Yeah! There just wasn't enough."

He knew there'd been only a small amount, but he hadn't thought it that minute - it was supposed to be enough to last a group of grown men for a month! Edea plopped down next to him and looked at him expectantly as she picked up her own spoon. "Go on, Ringabel," she said with a smile. "Don't you want to taste my home-made cooking?"

"Of course I do!" he exclaimed, then shoved the spoon into his mouth before he could think about what he was doing. Immediately he cringed; not because it tasted terrible, but because it was still very hot, and now his tongue was scalded. Edea was laughing, and to deny her the satisfaction of seeing him spit out his food, he carefully swallowed it instead.

At the very least, it left a trail of heat all the way from his mouth to his stomach, and he sighed. That was one way to warm up. Even if the cabin wasn't as cool as it was earlier, there was still a chill, especially now that the cooking fire was low. It had been a very long time since the cabin had been weather protected against drafts.

"It's fine," he told her. It wasn't a lie; he thought perhaps his tastebuds had been burnt before they could actually get a taste of the food. Either way, it was decent and he could at least chew the meat and potatoes. It would be dinner.

Edea seemed pleased, beaming at him before she dug into her large bowl. "Good! I'm so hungry! This took forever to make."

"Did it?" Ringabel went back to eating, at a much slower pace than she, watching her eat as much as he was taking care of his scalded tongue. When he took a moment to glance around, he could see that the windows were covered by thick curtains, and there was no light coming through, not even the stars and moon. He could still hear the blizzard outside - how long had it been raging?

"Yeah, like a full hour." She stuck her tongue out at him. "I'm slaving over a hot stove and you're sleeping like a baby! You like the couch so much, you can sleep on it tonight. As if I'm going to let you share the bed with me."

"Ah, but then who would keep you warm at night?" he asked, stirring around a piece of soggy potato. It had been overcooked.

"Oh, don't worry. I still have my sword, after all."

His sense of taste began to come back as he was finishing up his bowl, surprising him as he tasted a clump of pepper that hadn't dissolved entirely. Edea, meanwhile, went back for seconds. He took the opportunity while her back was turned to hold his nose and gulp down the rest of what was left; while it was mostly just water, it would be enough to fill his stomach for the night.

"We can keep the leftovers in the icebox," he told her as he went to clean up; it was just natural, after all, for him to clean after she cooked. And though the icebox was empty of any ice, Eternia's climate meant that there were shutters in the back that could be opened to the outside. That would be enough to keep things cool. There. Breakfast and possibly lunch as well. He also scrubbed down the surfaces and put the food scraps aside, popping some pieces of meat into his mouth to get the fuzzy feeling off his tongue.

Edea finished up her seconds as he came back to the table, wishing that they'd thought to get snow for drinks. Coffee, tea, hot cocoa, anything. He needed to get the taste of her food out his mouth. When Edea turned her back to him, he snuck a sip out of the bowl where the beans had been soaking.

They sat in silence for a few minutes as Edea scraped her spoon against the edges of the bowl.

"I guess… we could go to bed," she suggested. "There's not a lot to do here. I mean… what do they do in small towns anyway? There's no stores to go shopping at, no restaurants to go to for dinner. And in a blizzard on top of that?" And there was no Tiz around to ask.

"Read books?" he replied, shrugging. "I'm sure the women would be sitting by candlelight and working on their sewing, and they would be reading Crystalist scripture. We were ill-prepared for an overnight stay; the only book we have on us is my journal."

"I've already read that enough."


Edea giggled and left her bowl on the table as she wandered across the space over to the bed, falling back onto it with a laugh. Dust kicked up at her movements, which she ignored. "Well… we could tell each other bedtime stories."

"Would you like that? I'll tuck you in and tell you stories about the strongest knight in all Eternia."

"Mmm, yeah," Edea hummed, rolling over onto her stomach to face him as he approached. "Yeah, that'll be nice." Then she hesitated for a moment before continuing. "You know I was only kidding about making you sleep on the couch, right? It's too cold for that."

He didn't know, and lifted an eyebrow in surprise. "I can stay warm enough witho-"

"I can't," Edea insisted, and he could see her face growing red, even in the dim light of the oil lamps. "I won't be warm without someone next to me, or at least a nice big fire, and this place is too small for that. The bed is made for two people. You'll fit just fine."

"Oh…" Ringabel wasn't quite sure what to say to that. So he decided not to say anything, instead moving across the room to bank the fire. "Let's go to bed, then." After the fire came blowing out almost all of the oil lamps, save one that he carried over to the bed with him.

He saw that Edea had a thick comforter already covering the mattress, and now she laid down three more at the foot of the bed, folding them back so that she and Ringabel could get nice and comfortable before pulling them all over them. The mattress was quite large, almost enough for three adults and she really didn't mind sharing a bed with him, not when Eternia's weather was their common enemy. No one was stupid enough to sleep alone in the middle of a blizzard when they had other options. She wasn't stubborn enough to attempt such a feat. She wasn't cruel enough to leave him on the couch by himself, even if he would be closer to the fire.

They had both kept their shoes on until the very last, and so when Edea tucked her feet under the comforter, she was disappointed to learn that her feet weren't cold enough to touch against his legs to disturb him. She did it anyway, smiling a bit when he whined and moved away from her.

"Stay on your side of the bed," he threatened.

"That's my line," she retorted back, snuggling into the blankets as he pulled them up around them. Though the bed lacked any sort of pillow, she'd folded up an extra blanket for head-cushioning purposes. Then, she placed her sheathed sword between them as a boundary. He pressed a finger to it, and she slapped his hand, causing him to hiss in mock-pain.

"Alright," she said, once they'd got situated. There was plenty of space between them, enough that she could curl her legs up and not touch his, even though her knees went under the sword's edge. "Tell me a bedtime story, Ringabel."

The oil in the lamp he'd set on a small table on his side of the bed would burn out soon, and it was dim enough that he could only just make out her face, mostly through the light reflecting in her eyes. "Very well, dear. How about… the story of the Knight who saved Eternia through her heroic and wise actions?"

"I like the sound of this story." Edea wiggled closer and he nearly forgot what he was about to say as he met her eyes. This was different. This was new. While they had shared a bed before, that had been in different circumstances; with the others. They had never been alone together like this, and so close. Tiz always slept between the girls and Ringabel.

Ringabel swallowed, then found himself stammering. "Well, er… a very long, long time ago, there lived a young Lady Knight in Eternia…" His cheeks were warm enough that he wouldn't need her body heat. "She was the youngest Knight, but was also the strongest, and the kindest, and the most beautiful."

"Go on."

It was getting easier to talk, especially when she smiled at him. "She spent her days protecting Eternia. There were many threats, all of which she thwarted. Such as… an evil empire that sought to use the Earth Crystal for their own needs, who would send armies across the land, destroying villages. There was a Dragon that wanted Eternia's treasure for its own, and so it disguised itself as a human to cause chaos from within. There was a tax collector from another country who would kidnap citizens for ransom. She beat them all, and with one hand tied behind her back."


"There were also threats from within," he countered, glowering at her. "The Lady Knight was just and fair, but there were other Knights who wanted power. And power they sought, when they gathered in a meeting one day."

He continued on with the story, detailing how the other Knights - they were not Dark Knights, just evil ones - hatched a plan to raise taxes and burn orphanages and kick kittens, and lure the Lady Knight out of Eternia so they could conquer the city. And how the Lady Knight went to another country and made it better, before returning to Eternia with enough time to stop the plot and kick some butts.

When the story concluded, Edea yawned and stretched, smile still on her face. "And then she lived happily ever after?"

"Of course. She and Eternia's many subjects, all of whom admired her for her beauty and strength and swordsmanship." Ringabel replied, watching her movements. His eyes had long adjusted to the darkness of the cabin.

"She ruled with a fair but firm hand across the realm, and was loved by not only Eternia's people, but also those across the world!" Edea elaborated, and she reached across the space to press her finger against his nose. He wrinkled it.

"Yes, yes. Though, none loved her more than the Dark Knight of Eternia, who hoped to rule beside her one day."

Edea fell silent, her finger tapping against his nose.

"Is that what you're planning to do? Return to Eternia with me?"

Ringabel went silent as well, breathing out warm air against her hand, frowning as her finger slipped down to press against his mouth. If she'd wanted him to answer him, then she'd have to move that. Truthfully, he hadn't known what he was saying when he spoke. He'd love nothing more than to remain at Edea's side for the rest of their lives, but there was still the matter of the Dark Knight from Edea's world… and what to do with his own world, which he'd left in shatters.

When he pursed his lips against her finger, she withdrew her hand.

"You don't have to -" she started, but he interrupted her, embolden by the sound of her voice. Edea's voice, her very presence, could inspire him to do many things. To be brave.

"Once all is said and done, and my business is finished, I would be delighted to return to Eternia with you," he forced out. When Edea looked at him, her eyes widening, he found himself losing some of his nerve. "I-if that's alright with you, I mean. I want to spend time with… I mean, your home is my home, and… I don't really have much of a world to return to. I can think of nothing more pleasant th-

"It's okay," Edea cut him off, and he watched her snuggle further down into the blankets. "You can stay with us. The basement will work, right?"

He huffed, his breath coming out in a cloud.

Edea laughed and the sheath of the sword made a noise as both it and she inched a little closer to him under the covers. "The fire must be going down. It's getting colder."

Ringabel risked peeking out from over the covers to where he could just see the hint of coals from the fireplace. It would last until morning, but the heat output would be low.

"I've banked it," he explained. "I don't want to have to go through the trouble of relighting it in the morning when it's cold and we're half-asleep."

"Ringabel, we both know Fire magic. Lighting things on fire is a breeze."

"Be that as it may, it'll be warm enough in here. Especially here". He raised an eyebrow at her, grinning widely.

It was Edea's turn to huff, and he watched her roll over onto her stomach, wrapping her arms around the blanket underneath her. "Don't make this any more weird than it already is," she said, puffing her cheeks out.

"Forgive me," he offered, and he too rolled over onto his stomach, kicking his feet slightly against the covers above them. They stayed like that for some time, Ringabel resting his head on his arms and attempting to at least nap.

It was much too early for him to really sleep. He was a night owl, after all, and he'd had a nap just a while ago. As Alternis, he had perfected the art of sleeping on demand, because he was often times up late and waking early, with perhaps a couple of hours of free time in the middle of his day in which to crash. That was one of his skills he had apparently forgotten, and now he struggled to fall asleep, too aware of everything going on.

Edea on the other hand, was a happy hummingbird, full of energy no matter the time of day, and someone he'd rarely seen nap. He closed his eyes and listened to her as she attempted to get comfortable, rolling over onto her back, then again onto her stomach, and then to her side, before she sat up in bed.

He opened one eye at this, rolling slightly to the side so that he could watch her. "What are you doing?"

The oil in the lamp was out, but his eyes had long adjusted the scant light coming in through the loft window, and he could see her. "It's too warm," Edea complained, and he watched wordlessly as she pushed back one of the comforters, helpfully kicking it off his feet so that it piled at the foot of the big bed.

"Do you need another bedtime story?" he offered.

"No," Edea replied. "But thank you, for the offer. It's just…"

They lay in silence for a few moments, as Ringabel waited patiently for her to finish her sentence.

"This cabin… had the Orthodoxy not exiled my father, I would have grown up in here perhaps. Had the Great Plague not happened, I would have been able to visit my grandparents here. This country life would have been mine, and I would have never known otherwise. I would have been like Tiz."

"That's a thought."

"But, it all happened, didn't it? The Great Plague destroyed this town, and my father left the country to gather support for his coup. The cabin was left empty, and years later, I'm trying to fall asleep beside the weirdest person that I know, who can't keep his mouth shut when I'm monologuing."

"I've no idea who you're talking about," Ringabel said, but he reached across the space between them, only to hesitate and place his hand down just on his side of the sword. "It happened, and this cabin was left behind as a memento of those days that your family can't return to. However, perhaps we can look at today as the start of a new era? Once we return home, and our journey is over, you can look into remodeling these cabins. The Lee family may not return here, but another family could make it cozy and homelike."

"Yeah," Edea breathed, and he could see her looking at his hand. "We can spruce it up a little. Maybe a add couple of rooms? Though I think Gravemark could use some nice shopping centers to really boost its appeal." She settled back onto the bed, fluffing up the folded blanket before laying her head on it. "Thanks Ringabel. For listening, I guess."

"You're welcome," he replied graciously, and the two of them lay in silence for a while longer. The wind outside was continuing to howl, rattling across the wood of the cabin and the old shingles above them. He found himself listening to the storm, trying to measure where the snow was hitting and how much could be piling against the walls just based on the sounds it made.

Suddenly, the crossguard of a sword pushed against his chest, followed quickly by a head of hair.

"Edea?" He opened his eyes wide as the girl continued to snuggle against him, getting comfortable. Her legs tangled in his own.

"Now it's too cold," she complained. "Don't worry, my sword is still here to keep things proper."

"Yes, your sword," Ringabel said quietly, nudging it off his chest and against his shoulder, where the crossguard could fit without bruising him by morning. He wasn't sure what to do with his hands now, but slowly let his arm down until one settled behind her waist. The other was trapped as Edea decided his shoulder made a better pillow than an old, musty blanket.

"It's just for tonight," she reminded him when he let out a soft noise. "Be good, Ringabel."

"I am a good boy," he said to her in a whisper. So close, it didn't seem right to speak at a normal volume.

Edea's only response was a laugh that set his heart pounding. It was so quiet in the cabin that he wondered if she could hear it, but if she could, she made no indication of the sort, yawning against his neck before she went quiet and still.

His mind was racing along with his heart, and sleep did not come easily. Even when Edea's breathing became slow and even, and her grip on her sword slackened, he lay there, listening to the blizzard that rattled the windows every now and then. It seemed like hours when he finally found himself drifting off, storm still raging outside. Hopefully it would be over before they woke. After all, how much longer could a blizzard possibly go on?

Much longer than he could ever have expected, it turned out.