Hey people! Sorry for taking a while on this next chapter, was doing the whole, moving into college thing. And I went from east coast to west coast, so that was a bit of a hassle. All my classes have started now and everything's settled down, so it's back to writing for me! I was in a block a while because of everything, but at least the chapter's out now.
Hopefully I'll make up for it by updating on the eighth for the anniversary, that sound good?

Chapter 33- Of Decisions and Dreams

Keane wasn't quite able to hide his disgust as Akule showed him how to prepare the fish, then forcing the redhead to help with the task afterwards. There was a small, nagging voice in the back of his mind insisting that this was actually a pretty good thing.

After all, it wasn't like he or Straton knew anything about how to cook or what in the world was actually edible out in the wilderness, so he should appreciate any sort of advice he could possibly get on the subject. If they could eat fish and things like that, then they didn't have to chance accidently poisoning themselves if they ate the wrong kind of plants or something like that.

Despite all of that, it definitely didn't make the whole situation any more enjoyable. And he was certainly much, much happier when it was all finally over and done with.

"So, how much longer until we can talk to your chief?" Keane asked, washing his hands in the river to get rid of any parts or smell of the fish as best as he could. It actually felt extremely nice to be able to rinse himself in real running water, after being in the desert without any that they could waste for so long.

"It shouldn't be that much longer, relax," Akule insisted. Reluctantly Keane decided that there was no point in trying to argue with the older boy. It definitely wouldn't get him to see their leader any sooner. So far they'd managed to spend most of this time without arguing very much, so it'd probably be better if he tried to keep it that way.

When he actually thought about the meeting though, he found himself getting increasingly more nervous. What if they decided not to help them? He wanted to get to Asteria, but would they really be able to survive the trip by themselves? Truthfully, Keane had absolutely no idea. What would happen if they went back to Sailand though? Straton was right, he could very well be captured by slavers again and end up leaving the younger boy all alone. Neither of those things sounded very appealing at all.

Even though they'd been able to get out of some pretty difficult situations on the way here, he could readily admit that much of that had been due a lot to just some freak luck on their part.

The redhead didn't have very much time to end up thinking all of that over though. A few minutes later he quickly caught sight of Straton out of the corner of his eye, along with Naira. It wasn't particularly hard to spot Straton, with the way his hair color stood out.

Keane instantly found himself getting a bit subconscious of his own looks. Red hair wasn't the most common color in the world. At least back in Sailand Straton didn't have any problem blending in. He never really noticed before that something like that might have made him stand out slightly.

He managed to pull himself out of his thoughts before anyone started speaking. It wasn't like there was anything he could do about it anyway, so what was the point in thinking about it now?

"Father's back, he said we should bring them to talk to him," Naira said, Akule simply nodding and starting off in whatever direction he apparently assumed his father to be in. The other three quickly started to follow him, although something that Naira said had caught his attention.

"Your father's one of leaders?" the redhead asked, Naira nodding in confirmation. Before she was able to explain further though Akule cut in.

"He's the chief," he said, trying to make it sound like he was simply stating a fact, but unable to completely hide the underlying pride in his voice. Keane found himself almost involuntarily nodding, for some reason a lot of how Akule had been acting before now making complete sense with that new information. The next few words ended up tumbling from his mouth before he could stop himself.

"So, you're like a prince," he blurted, instantly regretting it afterwards. It was true though, he really did act a lot like a prince. Specifically, he acted a lot like the other princes Keane used to know. A little bit pompous and arrogant and so completely sure that what they believed was correct and pretty much completely unwilling to change that viewpoint.

He guessed he must have been a lot like that too, at one time.

Thankfully though, the Kim-un-kur boy didn't seem to take his statement as anything different from everything else he'd said. Instead he simply glanced back at Keane with an annoyed look once again on his face as he answered him.

"I guess you would call it something like that," he said, and Keane quickly decided to just let the subject drop. Instead he started to focus on a few of the strange, rounded buildings up ahead. He assumed that's where they were heading to, and tried to quell the nervousness rising inside of him.

It'd be fine. Even if things didn't go well here, he and Straton would find somewhere where they could be safe. It just might take them a while if this didn't turn out very well. So, hopefully it wouldn't be like that.

Keane found that he was right, Akule leading them into one of the buildings just as he thought. The redhead expected it to be dark inside, but looking around it was actually a lot brighter than he'd thought it would be. It took him a moment to realize that was due to an opening in the top of the building.

The next thing that his eyes focused on was three men also inside of the room, one of them he actually recognized from before. The man that had said he'd talk to the chief about them. Keane found he couldn't remember his name though.

The other two were completely unknown to him, but he decided to chance that the man in the middle was probably the chief, the way he held himself and the large number of feathers arranged in his hair. Keane had no idea if they or the strange jewelry he wore meant anything, but he knew leaders tended to be a bit more extravagant, and usually the center of attention.

Even if he didn't know any of that stuff, the fact that the other two men left the room before anyone had a chance to say anything pretty much gave it away. Keane decided to stay quiet, waiting for the chief to speak first.

"So, what is the problem here?" the chief asked, his voice carrying the authority Keane had expected, but somehow he managed to keep himself from sounding very intimidating. The redhead took a quick breath before taking a half step forward to speak.

This was what he was taught to do for the majority of his life, talking to foreign leaders. He should be good at this.

"We didn't mean for there to be any problem. My brother and I are trying to get to Asteria, we didn't know that we were in your territory," he explained. The older man nodded, glancing back to the two Kim-un-kur children behind the brothers.

"Is this true?" he asked them. Keane didn't look behind him to see if either of the two nodded, making sure to keep his focus on the man across from him. He did notice Straton glance back out of the corner of his eye, though.

"That's what they've been telling us," Akule said after a moment. Keane watched the man nod before turning back towards him.

"I understand that you're a +anima and that's why you're trying to travel to Astaria?" Shikoba asked, and once again Keane nodded slightly before glancing over at Straton. Akule had said that it wouldn't matter; hopefully he could trust the older boy on this one fact.

"I'm a mouse +anima, but he's not one," he said, making sure to clear that up in case there was ever any confusion before continuing, "That is why we're attempting to cross the mountain range though, since I'm sure you know what +anima and anyone trying to help them have to go through in Sailand."

"I'm well aware," the chief said, a hint of sympathy in his voice. Keane wondered if things like this happened a lot, with +anima attempting to flee into Asteria in order to escape slavery. He wouldn't be surprised anymore if it did. Despite himself Keane couldn't help but get a little hopeful at that fact. If it happened often, then maybe they had some sort of plan or way to help them make it across.

"Akule, Naira, help them settle for the night and get something to eat. I'll talk to the others to figure out a solution for these two," the chief said, both of his children instantly nodding at his command.

"Thank you for all your help," Keane said politely, bowing his head a bit as he did. Next to him Straton nodded his head, mimicking the older boy slightly. The older man smiled at the two, nodding as well before they were led out by the others.

Once outside of the building Keane couldn't help but sigh in relief. That had gone much better than he'd been worried it would.

"That went well," Straton said quietly next to him, Keane instantly nodding in agreement. It was only once he'd spoke that the redhead realized that he hadn't said much of anything at all since they'd gotten back from being dragged off in separate ways by the Kim-un-kur children. Of course, they hadn't really had much time to talk since they'd been taken to the chief almost immediately afterwards.

In front of them Naira nodded as well, bringing Keane's attention back to her.

"You shouldn't have to worry, I'm sure they'll figure out something to help you," she reassured. To Keane's surprise Akule actually stayed silent, probably because he couldn't really argue with that very much now. Their chief had been pretty nice, and he'd said that he'd talk to other people about what they could do for them.

The rest of the evening was relatively calm. They ended up eating the fish that Keane had seen Akule catch earlier and had reluctantly helped clean, which was just a little bit surreal. That was definitely the first time that he'd ever eaten something that he'd seen when it was still alive.

Afterwards the two led them to a small room in the back of one of the rounded buildings; he assumed the one that they lived in, seeing as there wasn't anyone else here when they came in. Keane wasn't quite sure what to call the little houses. They weren't really huts, but he didn't really know if he should ask what they were called.

"Is it alright for you to stay here for the night?" Naira asked, the two boys quickly nodding. This was certainly nicer than a lot of the places they'd stayed since they left home after all. Akule didn't say anything as he pulled two mats and a couple of blankets into place for them to sleep on, haphazardly kicking a few miscellaneous items out of his way as he did so.

"Of course, this is a lot better than most of the places we've slept," the redhead said, Straton nodding in agreement. The two Kim-un-kur children left the room shortly afterward, leaving the brothers alone for the first time that day. Keane couldn't help but be slightly relieved by that. He wasn't used to having to deal with so many people constantly anymore.

Straton sat down on one of the mats, slouching slightly. Keane quickly sat down as well, trying to keep himself from immediately falling to sleep.

"At least it seems like they're gonna help us," Straton said, the redhead nodding in agreement. It was pretty obvious that he was exhausted after everything that had happened so far today, he could barely even remember what had happened in the morning and what had been yesterday at this point.

"You should get some sleep," the blond suggested, looking him over. Keane smiled sheepishly before nodding and lying down.

"You too, okay? You don't act right when you're sleep deprived," he said, Straton quickly agreeing to. It wasn't very long at all before he could just barely see that the redhead had fallen asleep in the dimly lit room.

Sighing, he laid down as well, pulling the blanket up around him. It was kind of cold up in the mountains, or at least colder than it had been in the desert. They weren't very high up yet either, so he could only imagine it get worse the farther they went.

The blond guessed that it would probably be a good idea to listen to what Keane said and get some sleep. He'd been able to a lot more than those first few days when he'd struggled to stay awake.

He wondered if Keane had nightmares about what had happened. He knew he had that first night, but he hadn't really had many signs of any since then. Of course, he knew that he himself had nightmares, but he was pretty sure that Keane didn't have any idea.

Closing his eyes, the younger boy slowly managed to force himself to fall to sleep. He didn't exactly enjoy it, but Keane was right after all. He didn't act right when he was sleep deprived.

He didn't know where he was going. He and Keane had gotten separated, and now he just didn't know what to do. He kept telling himself he had to get out of the palace before something bad happened.

Of course, lots of terrible things were happening at that exact moment all around him, but that was beside the point.

The blond felt his heart drop when something behind him grabbed around his waist, lifting him up right off the ground. Without even thinking he started thrashing about, attempting to claw out of the grasp, see who it was holding him or just anything.

Immediately the grip started to tighten painfully, scaring the boy even more.

Suddenly the pain was gone, and the scene around him had changed. Straton didn't even knowledge the shift though, immediately getting wrapped up in the new memory.

His body was sore, bruises and cuts already forming from the way that man had grabbed him and forcefully dragged the blond out of the palace. He knew he wasn't dead yet, but for some reason that hadn't quite set in. Even when he thought about that, it didn't seem to matter much, since they were going to kill them all anyway, right?

He was stuffed in some sort of large cart outside of the palace. A lot of the other royal children were trapped here as well, making so that it was nearly impossible to move without bumping into anyone. He couldn't see Keane anywhere though. D-did that mean he was already dead? And what about the queens, he didn't see any of them. Did they kill all of them too?

He was pretty sure he was sobbing, but somehow through that he noticed one of the person's next to him. It actually took him a moment to actually place a name to the face though, his brain not quite working. Maxwell, but he weren't crying, or frozen in shock like everyone else, including himself seemed to be. Instead he was just sitting there, staring ahead and shaking almost violently. It looked like he was angry.

"M-Maxwell?" he forced himself to say quietly, trying to focus on something other than what was actually going on around him. The second the word left his lips though, the black haired boy's entire body went ridged, as if someone had shocked him.

Straton didn't know what was going on. The next thing he felt hands were wrapped around his neck, and he couldn't breathe. Everything got really loud again, like it'd been in the palace, but he could just hear the shouting of men above that. Something pulled him away from whatever, whoever, Maxwell, had been attacking him, carrying him roughly out of the cart.

Straton felt his eyes shoot open, his breath rapid and heart pounding. Staring off into the darkness, he slowly let the area around him sink in, bringing the boy back to reality once again.

The blond forced himself into a sitting position, starting to look around to make sure the room was the same and that everything was still where he remember it was. It was hard when every time he woke up he was in a different place, but so far as long as Keane was there he was able to keep himself calm.

He did not like waking up alone when the redhead had been caught by those slavers.

Slowly, he managed to get his breathing back under control, although his heart was still going a mile a minute in his chest.

The nightmares weren't always the same, but it was pretty much always about that night. Sometimes they were more distorted, just emphasizing the scenes he'd been forced to see in the palace. Other nights like tonight, they followed what actually happened more exactly.

The blond lifted his hand up to his neck, hand still shaking slightly from the memory. He had no idea what had happened, but he didn't really think he could blame Maxwell for freaking out after what had happened. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Or maybe it was the right place at the right time, seeing as if it wasn't for that attack then he wouldn't have been in that lone cart for Keane to find and save him that night.

Sighing softly, Straton slowly forced himself to lie back down and close his eyes again. He didn't want to go back to sleep and risk having another nightmare, but hopefully since he'd already had one tonight he wouldn't get another one. He needed to sleep now, since Keane would get worried and upset if he didn't.

Besides, they weren't really nightmares, if he thought about it. Nightmares weren't real, while these were simply – sometimes distorted, sometimes not - memories.

And finally completed. Once again, sorry about the wait on this one. The next will (hopefully) be up on the 8th, for the anniversary. I'll definitely try my best.
Poor Straton, but I wanted you guys to finally get to know what had happened to him during the palace seize. After all, there had to have been a reason for him to be stuck off alone, right. Well, I hope you all liked the chapter, and as always, please review.