A/N: So this is the mother of all long chapters, and this was after shortening it. (The epic conclusion to the supper will be the next update, which will be relatively short for my average chapter length. My apologies in advance.)
I'd also like to reiterate that this story's concept was created after Queste and before Syren. So some things that occurred in Syren may conflict with certain points in this story. Mainly the fact that I always liked the idea of Nicko and Snorri getting married. Seriously, they cared so much about each other. Feels everywhere, man. I was actually sad when she moved back, I was like, "NO YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO GET MARRIED AND HAVE BEAUTIFUL BABIES DAMMIT." But alas, that's what fanfiction is for.
And holy dickfarts, so many HIMYM references in this chapter. Forgive me. That show is like my gateway drug.
It Continues, continuing on!
Sarah woke up the next morning at noon with a huge yawn.
She had barely gotten out of bed when she shot straight up and screamed, "I'VE GOT IT!"
Two floors down, Queen Jenna glanced upstairs with a raised eyebrow, shook her head in exasperation, and went back to her lunch.
Sarah was three seconds from throwing open her door and running into Nora's room when she decided it would be better if she were to put some real clothes on first.
As soon as she had thrown on a blue t-shirt and jeans over her undergarments and quickly lashed her hair into a sloppy ponytail, she dashed over to Nora's room and banged on the door repeatedly.
"Nora!" Bang bang bang.
"Nora!" Bang bang bang.
"Nora!" Bang bang bang.
"Nora!" Bang bang bang.
"Nora! I have the greatest plan in the history of greatest plans! Except for the Test! Because that plan was pretty damn awesome!"
Nora opened the door with a sleepy look on her face and her hair in a mess. "Okay, what is this great plan?" she asked in a mumbling voice as she rubbed her eyes.
Sarah strode into her cousin's room and sat down on the bed, swinging her legs in excitement.
She beckoned Nora with a finger. With a sigh, Nora walked closer to her.
Sarah cast glances across the room and continued to beckon Nora closer. Nora complied with a 'It's way too early for this," look on her face.
When her face was less than an inch from Sarah's, the brunette whispered her genius plan into her cousin's ear.
Nora's face went from irritated to interested to invigorated. "That sounds..really freaking awesome."
"Doesn't it?! Now, if we want to put it into effect we need to start right away, as we have about 6 hours before the Apprentice Supper, if it starts exactly at 7:00 like Uncle Sep told me once. I don't know how I remember that. I'm going to put a plan together and then we're going to go get all the stuff we need, alright? I'll get Milo, you get the twins, we'll meet you downstairs for breakfast in 5 minutes," ordered Sarah, jabbing her finger into Nora's nose.
Nora pretended to bite Sarah's finger and agreed, "Alright."
Sarah sped out of Nora's room and headed for Milo's.
She decided that knocking was for losers, and instead kicked down the door. Milo shot up from his bed with a shout. "GAH!" He whipped his head around with panic in his eyes, but calmed down when he saw it was only his sister.
"Goddammit, Sarah, there's this thing called a doorknob, it generally works pretty well when you want to get into a room."
She ignored him. "I've got an idea for Operation Supper Sabotage, dear brother, and I'll tell you as soon as you get your ass downstairs and eat breakfast."
"And I will do just that after you get out of my room so I can get changed," he replied, yawning loudly and stretching his arms. "Scram."
Sarah scarpered off to see if Nora had woken the twins.
She walked through the open door into Marcus' room to hear loud snoring. Nora was shaking him rapidly, but he refused to wake up.
Sarah shook her head. "You're going about it all wrong, Nora. When it comes to an emergency such as this, you need to use noise as well as motion," she rattled off in an expert's tone, wagging her finger.
She pulled a whistle out of a pocket and handed it to Nora, who rolled it around in her hand while grinning wickedly.
Sarah gestured. "Proceed."
"HOLY POPSICLE FUDGE NUGGETS IN A BASKET OF TITS!..oh, it's you guys."
Sarah and Nora raised their eyebrows in unison. "Nice use of creative cussing," Sarah remarked. "Anyway, we woke you up because I have a fantastic idea for tonight but we can't discuss it in the house, so after we eat, we're going out to prepare for said idea."
Nora stretched and said with a yawn, "Who wants to wake up Silas?" She waved the whistle around.
Marcus jumped out of bed. "I volunteer as tribute!"
One very loud "tweet" later, both boys were awake, and didn't bother to change out of their boxers and nightshirts before going downstairs.
Nicko was eating oatmeal while jabbering away to someone on his cell phone. "No, no, I want you to cancel my subscription. It's not that I don't like the magazine, it's just that my wife – really? Two for the price of one? Well, let me get back to you."
He took the phone away from his ear and ended the call with a click just as the RRs sat down at the table.
"So what are you guys going to do toda -" "Sorry, Uncle Nicko, that's top secret information," replied Sarah hurriedly before any of the others could open their mouths, "that cannot be released to the general public at a given time in the next 24 hours."
He frowned. "Since when am I 'general public?'"
"General Public!" Sarah said sharply, with a brief salute. Then she almost fell over laughing.
Her brother and cousins glared at her.
"Seriously?" Silas complained. "She's still doing that?"
"Oh come on, it's funny!" insisted the brunette, sitting back up in her chair. "You guys just don't appreciate a good pun."
Nora chuckled. "One day you'll find someone who'll do that with you, Sarah. But until that day, we will continue to be annoyed by it." The three boys laughed while Sarah scowled.
"Whatever. You guys can make your own food." She got up and headed towards the kitchen.
Then she remembered that Nora was the only one who knew how to cook anything beyond the skill level of toast.
"..Norrr-aaaaaaa," she whined, turning back to the rest of her gang.
Nora rolled her eyes. "Fine, I'll cook breakfast."
"YAY!" cheered everyone, including Nicko.
The teens shot looks at him.
"What? I'm still hungry," he replied, pushing his now-empty bowl away from him.
"See, this is why your parents are cooler," remarked Milo. "Uncle Nicko gets up at noon, eats a bowl of oatmeal, and asks his 16-year-old daughter to make breakfast for him."
Nora sighed as she strode into the kitchen. "That's not a good thing, Milo!" she called behind her. "What do you guys want?"
"Pancakes! Why do they call it French toast, anyway? What the hell is 'French?'"
"Oh, it's some country far away. I vote pancakes, but only with blueberries."
"Bacon! I don't care what everything else is, but there needs to be bacon."
"I agree with Milo and Marcus on the pancakes thing, but I could also really go for some hash browns."
This, obviously, led into a huge argument.
"Silas, you are so wrong! Bacon is always better than hash browns!" Milo argued, folding his arms across his chest.
"Then you have never had hash browns because they are really goddamn delicious – sorry, Dad."
"You used it in the proper context, son. Hash browns are the best!" Nicko slammed his fist onto the table, sending his empty bowl into the air with a clatter.
"We need someone to settle this argument! MARCUS!"
The other twin turned from a slap-fest with Sarah over pancakes with chocolate chips or pancakes with bananas and asked, "Yes?" while Sarah continued to smack his arm.
"Bacon or hash browns?" demanded Milo. "It's bacon, right?"
"Bacon," replied Marcus.
"Definitely bacon," agreed Sarah, looking up and nodding.
"HA!" yelled Milo, jumping up on his chair and jabbing his index fingers into his uncle's and cousin's noses."In your FACE!" They just scowled at him.
Nora stuck her head out of the kitchen. "Are you guys done bickering yet? I've made food."
Abandoning their previous squabbles, the four teenagers and one grown man jumped up from their chairs and dashed into the other room.
Nora had made a pile of scrambled eggs and hash browns, with a stack of pancakes on one plate and many slices of bacon on another. It was basically a free-for-all as Nora attempted to 1) get some food for herself and 2) try to keep all of the plates from breaking.
When everyone was full and satisfied (many a person had syrup covering their hands and face), the RRs trampled each other going back upstairs to get their coats, jackets, sweaters, whatever.
Sarah tugged on a hooded, fuzzy jacket. Milo pulled a turtleneck sweater over his head. (How hipster of him.) Marcus threw on his favorite hoodie, while Silas zipped up a winter coat, being one of many who hated cold weather. Nora had donned a long-sleeved shirt, and pulled a down vest over it, shaking out her hair before heading downstairs with the rest of them.
Sarah kicked the door open with a shout, and they all charged outside to stand in the 30-degree weather. All five of them looked up at the overcast sky and hoped for snow.
"Well, what's the first part of your brilliant plan?" Milo asked his big sister. She grinned.
"Okay! First we need to hit up our favorite lil' store, then we can head over to the Wizard Tower to take a food inventory from Uncle Sep. Finally, we should get some target practice in before we go. You all know why. Sound good, everyone?"
"Wait, couldn't we get the first two parts done a lot faster if we split up?" questioned Nora.
Sarah clapped her hands down sharply on her cousin's shoulders. Nora winced.
"That's a brilliant idea! Why didn't I think of that? Nora, you're officially the smart one of the group. Vote?"
Marcus and Silas raised their hands. Milo frowned and snapped, "Objection!"
Sarah booped him in the nose. "Overruled by majority vote! Nora's the smart one, court adjourned."
Yes, this was a common occurrence.
Milo grumbled to himself as Sarah got back to the previous discussion.
"Okay, so one group will go take a food inventory and the other group will go pick up some items from The Rubber Chicken. How do we split?"
"What are our options?" asked Marcus.
"Boys and girls, age mark, siblings, clothing category, hair color, whichever option sounds more fun."
"Well, we went with siblings the other day with the Ice Tunnel Sled Racing Tournament, so I think we should try boys and girls," Nora commented.
Sarah nodded. "Sounds good. Majority vote?"
Because who doesn't love a good old-fashioned democracy?
Marcus, Milo, and Silas all raised their hands.
"Awesome, let's do this. Nora and I will go get the items, are you guys okay with taking food inventory?"
"More than okay!" declared Silas. "As long as there are samples, anyway."
Nora rolled her eyes. "Boys."
"SPLIT!" Sarah shouted, grabbing Nora's wrist and darting left down the street, as the boys strode off to the right.
And so the girls went to the store where Sarah bought all of her fabulous pranking materials.
Nora stood in the February breeze, the loose sleeves of her shirt flapping about. Her eyes, that odd pale blue that made many turn their heads, focused intently on empty space.
She was a thinker. She enjoyed helping her cousins and brothers come up with the plans, but wasn't always that enthusiastic about carrying them out.
She was meant to be the oldest. She may not be the glue that was Sarah's constant enthusiasm, or the walls that were the twins' style of humor and boyish banter, or Milo's columns of cynicism and wit, but she was the roof. She watched them, and, in all of her big-sister-ness, she kept them safe.
They had established their boundaries, rules, and roles years ago when they began. Milo was 8, Sarah was 9, the twins were 9, and she was 10. Some were written in Sarah's spirited scrawl or in Milo's smooth cursive. But others were silent and tacit, agreed upon through glances and nods wherever they happened to be.
Nora noticed. She picked up on the small details and differences. How people reacted around others.
She saw the flame of a challenge in Sarah's eyes the previous night. Oh, how the princess loved conflict. After almost two whole years of a steady and yet precarious schedule, this was new. For all of them, of course.
Speak of the devil and he shall appear. The door to the prank shop burst open with a clatter, and Sarah charged through, holding plastic bags in both of her hands, a wide grin on her face.
"I've got the stuff!" she said cheerfully, shoving the bags at her older cousin. "Here, take a look."
Nora opened the bag in her left hand. A smile lit up her face, sly and eager. "Oh, yeah, this is gonna work out great."
Sarah snickered. "Check the other one."
Nora peered into it and clapped her hands excitedly. "Dang, this is going to be fantastic!"
"Agreed!" Sarah declared, handing one bag to Nora and slinging the other over her shoulder. "Now, the boys may take a little longer. Hang on, let me call them." She went through the struggle of pulling her phone from her tight denim pocket. She pressed her fingers hard on the screen, tapping out speed dial. She brought the phone to her ear.
"Milo! Hey, what are you guys up to?"
"We got a bit sidetracked," came the tinny reply. "We're not exactly at the Wizard Tower yet, but we'll be along in a few minutes."
Nora leaned in close and said, "Don't tell me you let my brothers bully you into stopping for food."
He paused. "Not exactly, but there was food involved. Not in the way you think."
Both of the girls' ears were pressed close to the phone. They could hear faint shouting in the back.
"Listen, can I call you back? We have a slight spaghetti-related situation I'm going to have to talk us out of." Before either of the could reply, he hung up.
Sarah frowned at her phone, and then shrugged. "We'll just meet up with them later, I'm sure they're fine. Alright Nora, you know how you've always wanted 'girl time?'" She made quotation marks with her fingers. "Well, you've got it."
Nora pointed at her. "Wait. Are you telling me.."
Sarah nodded with a frustrated sigh. "I have nothing to do, so let's do all of the girly crap you've wanted to do for ages. Talk about our feelings, discuss hot celebrities, go clothes shopping, whatever the heck you want to do."
The blonde girl clapped her hands, delighted. "Excellent! Alright, first, we're going to the mall. Come on, let's catch a taxi!" And she ran off without a second thought.
Sarah groaned and followed, her bottom lip sticking out with a pout, bundling her jacket around her as she chased after her cousin.
Meanwhile, down a different road..
The twins weren't exactly the brightest crayons in the box,Milo reflected. They sauntered along, bickering as usual, Marcus ruffling his brother's hair, Silas jabbing him in the side, each small annoyance slowly escalating into an oncoming fight.
Their non-physical arguments were solved with simple, almost childish logic. They had inherited their silly grins and brash tendencies from their father. But Milo had seen their deeper sides, and he knew they were more than their outer shells.
But that didn't mean they were smart.
No, he thought with some smugness, he was definitely the smart one, no matter what Sarah said.
"Oi, Milo!" called Silas, from about 15 feet in front of him. "Come on, bro!"
Sighing, Milo shook his head lightly and trotted up to them.
"What is it?"
"We have time, don't we? Let's get some food. Hey, there's a pasta joint over there." Marcus pointed across the street, where one business in a connected plaza had a brightly-colored sign that read, "just noodles." Nope, no capital letters.
"That sounds awesome!" said Silas excitedly, his hands balling into fists. Both boys were about to charge off into the street, but Milo grabbed the backs of their shirts.
"Hold it, guys. A car's coming."
They waited for the decorative little black-and-metallic car to trundle past them before Milo released them and the trio walked across the cobblestone road.
Milo pushed the door open to the restaurant and the twins followed him, casting their heads around to pick up all of the sights and smells.
"Okay, you guys, I'm gonna take a piss. Find us a table, don't order food until I get back," Milo instructed before heading off to the loo.
The twins stood there for a few seconds.
Marcus turned to his brother. "So, you wanna sneak into the kitchens?"
"Dude, hell yeah."
One scalding-hot oven tray, three pots of spaghetti, a gallon of sauce, and four very angry cooks later, Milo walked out of the bathroom, his arms behind his head.
He strode into the main room and stopped. Standing in front of him were Marcus and Silas (covered in noodles and sauce, respectively), the four cooks, and a man in a well-pressed suit. The five adults were either yelling or glaring at the teens, or both.
Milo broke into their conversation, if it could even be called that. "Um, what happened?"
"Do you know these two?" blustered the suited man, jabbing a finger at his cousins, who backed up.
"Yeah, they're my cousins."
"Well, as of now, they are banned from this establishment. Do you two realize the damage you've caused? I'm not exactly sure how you managed to blow up a microwave in not even three minutes.."
And then Milo's phone rang, the whistling intro of a popular alternative rock song blaring from the pocket of his jeans. He whipped it out and pressed the answer call button.
"Milo! Hey, what are you guys up to?" came Sarah's voice from the other end.
"We got a bit sidetracked," he answered, glancing over at the twins, who were still being shouted at. "We're not exactly at the Wizard Tower yet, but we'll be along in a few minutes."
Milo heard Nora, then. "Don't tell me you let my brothers bully you into stopping for food."
He snorted. "Not exactly, but there was food involved. Not in the way you think." Well, at least it would make a funny story later.
"Listen, can I call you back? We have a slight spaghetti-related situation I'm going to have to talk us out of," he said quickly before ending the call and shoving his phone back into his pocket.
He shoved his way between the twins. "Listen, we don't want to cause any more trouble," he said calmly, raising his hands. "Our family can pay for the damages."
"And they'd better!" Who Milo assumed was the manager sneered at the boys. "Who are your parents, anyway?"
"Nickolas Heap and Snorri Snorrelssen," replied Silas nonchalantly.
And now the manager gaped at them soundlessly. The Heap family was known for their royal connections, obviously. You don't take a baby Princess into your home and raise her without her letting you live in the Palace and help her manage the whole damn Castle. The twins exchanged grins.
"Well, since we're banned, I guess we better leave!" said Marcus cheerfully, waving goodbye and clapping his hands on the other boys' shoulders, leading them out of the restaurant.
The door swung behind them as they strode back out onto the street. Milo had slung his sweater over his shoulder and now he pulled it over his head, shaking his head of black curls and attempting to flatten some of them down, to no avail.
At least that was something the twins and Milo had in common: curly hair, and way too much of it.
"Man, we're horrible," sniggered Silas, shoving his hands in his coat pockets. Marcus agreed with a grin. They attracted some stares, seeing as Silas was spattered head to toe with sauce and Marcus had spaghetti draped over his shoulders, his head, dangling over his face, attached to his jacket, and even on his shoes.
"Okay, let's just go to the Wizard Tower and get you guys cleaned up, you look like some mad demon pasta spawn."
As they headed off down the street, not making any more detours, Silas retorted, "Well, I think the sauce really brings out my eyes."
Marcus peered at his brother. "My god, it does! They look so green. Silas, you have never been so handsome."
Silas grinned. "Why thank you, Marcus, you're looking mighty fine as well."
"I agree! The noodles make my clothes and my skin stand out." Marcus propped his hands on his barely-existent hips and struck a diva pose. He then pretended to fend off an invisible attacker. "Ladies, ladies, please! There's enough of me to go around."
Silas and Milo doubled over laughing before hurrying the rest of the way to the Tower.
As they entered the Wizard Tower, the floor swirled and twisted to form their names, as always. However, something was different.
Milo squinted at the floor. "Wait – this looks like a different font than usual."
Marcus frowned, leaning down to inspect the words, stray noodles falling from his shoulders and hair. "Yeah, why is my name surrounded by flowers?" Silas snickered. "Don't laugh, Junior, you've got a girly font too."
"How the hell does this work, anyway?" demanded Milo, standing straight up and scratching the back of his head.
"Blame your sister," came a voice from the stairs. The boys looked up to see their uncle, clad in what he considered casual clothes for the day; a button-down purple shirt with straight-cut gray slacks, and black dress shoes on his feet.
He cast a grin their way, his hands in his pockets. "I'm pretty sure Sarah managed to reprogram it in some way. I don't know how. You'll have to ask her. Now, what are you lot up to?"
"Um, we're supposed to take food inventory. Like, what food is gonna be at the Supper tonight?"
Septimus stroked an imaginary beard (he wasn't one for facial hair, though Nicko sported a small, trimmed beard and mustache) and mused on the topic. "Well, I honestly don't know. Since Koren's the man of the hour, I let him order the food from the kitchens. You'd have to ask him."
Milo raised a finger and opened his mouth to speak, but then decided against it.
He whipped out his phone and entered in a few numbers.
The dial tone sounded twice before the person on the other end picked up.
"Gah! Milo! Thank god, I am so freaking bored. Remind me to never again allow Nora to take me shopping."
"I don't even know why you'd do that in the first place. On a more urgent topic, would you say we would need to go to, erm, extreme lengths to get the food inventory?"
"Well, how extreme?"
"On a scale of 1 to 10? About an 8."
Silas frowned. "Pretty sure the guy hates our guts. Isn't that more like a 9?"
Milo waved a hand at his cousin to shut him up and turned back to his phone. "We have to ask Koren. You wanna come over and back us up?"
"Sorry lil' bro, you're on your own," came her gleeful reply. "Good luck!" And then a dial tone.
Milo scowled and shoved his phone back into his pocket. "Alright, men, let's do this," he growled, smashing his right fist into his left hand.
"Okay! So where is he?" Marcus asked Septimus. He shrugged.
"I honestly don't know. He crashed here last night, then got up and left this morning. He left all of his stuff, but I have no idea where he is or what he's doing."
"Hmm." The boys concentrated for a minute.
"Uncle Sep, do you have a telescope?"
One staircase trek later..
"I haven't used this thing in years," Septimus explained as he struggled to pull an old telescope out of a broom closet. "I'm sure it'll work, but you might have to tinker with it for a bit."
Marcus and Silas gathered it into their arms and managed to move it out on the observation deck with some direction from Milo.
"Turn left. Now right. Watch out for the – okay, good, you dodged the vase, now move forward slowly...alright, now just back it out onto the – there you go."
The twins set the telescope down on the deck, adjusting the tripod to find the right angle.
"So will one of you please explain what you're going to do with this?" asked Septimus, standing at the sliding glass doors.
Milo grinned, bending down to look through the telescope. "We're gonna find your Apprentice. Silas, change the lens, this one's too big."
Silas went back into the rooms to get another lens, and he came back out with an assortment of them. The boys spent the next few minutes figuring out which one to use. Once they settled on the proper one, they crowded around the tiny end to scan the entirety of the Castle.
"I don't see him. Hell, I can hardly even tell if that chick down there is a redhead or a brunette. Or maybe she has black hair. I don't know!" Marcus pushed the other two aside and crammed his eye into the lens.
"Marcus, we're looking for Koren," Milo pointed out. Silas sniggered.
"Well, he's a dude in dire need of a haircut, I'm going to accidentally glance at girls," Marcus retorted, stepping out of the way to give Milo a turn.
Milo frowned as he scanned the city. "Why don't we just use a Seek Spell?"
He heard his uncle heave a sigh. "Somehow he's been able to evade those all day. He knows some odd Magyk, boys. Seek Spells aren't going to work on him."
"This sucks," Silas complained, leaning back against the sliding glass door and almost falling inside the house. He tapped the glass with his index finger. "Uncle Sep, how long have you had this deck?"
Septimus grinned. "I had it put in when you guys were little kids. You and Marcus always ran into it, I remember." Milo snorted. "I did a lot of remodeling after Marcia retired, you guys don't remember?"
"Somewhat," commented Marcus, gazing out across the Castle. "I remember that you used to not have this deck at all."
"Yeah, I had the deck done when you guys were, what, five? Must have been, because that stain" - Septimus jabbed his finger at a dark reddish-brown stain on the stone - "was Sarah's fault at her 6th birthday party."
Milo snickered. "Yeah, didn't she put some Spell on a bottle of Coke to made it permanently stain stuff? How the hell did she know how to do that when she was six?"
"I've given up trying to find out. Silas, any luck?" Septimus added at the twin looking through the telescope.
"No, nothing," came the reply. "I have no idea how to find him." Silas stood up with a frustrated huff.
"Why do you need to find him, anyway?" their uncle asked, a suspicious look crossing his face. "Don't tell me you're already starting that Test of yours."
"No, that can't officially start until he's your Apprentice, as detailed by Article IV, Section 3 in the Royal Ramble Rulebook," said Milo, nodding. Sarah had made them all memorize the RRR a year before, when it was completed. Of course, the book was changed and altered on a monthly basis, so the whole point was moot.
"So what is it?"
"Like Milo said, we're taking food inventory," responded Marcus, folding his arms and staring out at the already-darkening sky. "A part of a top-secret, super indepth, special plan that Sarah developed in five minutes this morning."
Septimus rolled his eyes. "I remember wondering to myself how long I would have to put up with your shenanigans..."
"With all due respect, Uncle Sep, any kid growing up in this family has turned out kind of bent," commented Silas with a grin. "And not in the gay way."
Septimus saw Milo twitch out of the corner of his eye and a slight frown fell across the man's face.
"But if it was in the gay way, I wouldn't care," yawned Marcus.
"Yeah, me either," agreed Silas.
Milo stammered out something that sounded like, "Me either" before falling into a silence. After a few painfully awkward seconds, the black-haired boy strode inside.
Septimus excused himself moments later. "You guys keep scanning. I'll be back in a minute."
He found Milo sitting on the couch, staring into the fire and shoving corn chips in his mouth. His green eyes were filled with conflict, his dark eyebrows arched.
Septimus sat down next to him. "You okay?"
Milo gave a jerky shrug and continued eating.
The wizard turned his gaze to the fire as well. "Milo, if you're -"
"I'm not, and it's none of your business," Milo snapped, almost tearing the bag of chips apart. He shook his head and sighed.
"Sorry, Uncle Sep. But it's not something I like to talk about."
"I understand," Septimus replied quietly. "You don't have to talk about it. I'm just wondering why that bothered you."
"It didn't bother me. I just feel weird when I hear that kind of stuff."
Septimus sat uncomfortably for a minute or so. "No one would care, you know."
Milo stayed silent.
"Jenna doesn't care, Beetle doesn't care, your parents are fantastic. And your aunts and uncles wouldn't care either. Milo, you..."
But the boy remained unresponsive.
The wizard stood up. "Whoever you are, Milo, you'll always be my nephew and my family," he said with finality, before heading back to the boys outside.
Milo wasn't scared. He really wasn't. He was just anxious, like the feeling of slowly walking into water without knowing the temperature. So, like the boy at the beach staring nervously into murky water, Milo waited for himself to adjust and mentally prepared for the next step.
If knowing who he was happened to be a creaky hallway, Milo was tiptoeing his way around, not peeking through cracks or listening at doorknobs, because the conversations inside were ones he did not wish to hear.
Somewhere not too far away..
"Okay, here's an orange. That will be one pound, sir." A tall teenager stooped over to retrieve an orange and thank an old woman before paying, and wave lightly as he tried to walk away without bumping into anything.
It's so damn crowded here, he thought irritably, ducking under low-hanging signs and making sure his cloak didn't catch on anything. I almost miss the Far Lands.
Koren was adjusting. He spoke with proper etiquette and stopped attempting to make his voice sound lower to pass off as a man. (He liked ordering ale at pubs, and he was certainly tall enough to seem the part. Not that he was an alcoholic or anything. He did like his mead a bit too much, though. He chided himself for drinking the stuff and made sure to avoid it now that he was a super-special Apprentice. Or, well, almost a super-special Apprentice.)
He was even learning to smile more. Where he used to scowl and snarl, he now grinned politely and gave that kind of I-don't-actually-think-that's-funny-but-I-don't-want-to-hurt-your-feelings laughter.
Koren was too caught up in his thoughts to notice the man in front of him.
"Oof!" And he walked right into him, almost knocking him over.
"I-I'm so sorry sir!" he apologized quickly, stepping back. "Are you all right?"
"Perfectly fine!" came the cheerful reply. "My fault entirely. I wasn't looking where I was going. I have to get a new tie for tonight, I've got this big dinner to go to. I'm too caught up in what the wife might want me to wear...haha."
Koren looked at the man and saw two of the boys he had met the night before. Curly tawny hair, lightly tanned skin, bright green eyes, and blindingly white teeth.
"Are you one of the Heaps?" he found himself asking.
The man let out a bark of laughter. "You new here, kid? Everybody knows who I am, even the people who don't know who I am." As he said this, he waved to some nearby people, who cautiously waved back. Koren stifled a snicker.
"Yeah, anyway, I'm Nickolas Heap." He offered his hand and grinned widely.
Koren shook and found his fingers practically crushed in Nicko's hand.
"Ah. Pleasure to meet you, sir."
Nicko fingered his small beard. "Sir. I like it. Keep calling me sir."
Koren wasn't sure if he liked Nicko, or if he was slightly weirded out by him. "Er, okay, sir."
"So how old are you? You're like..." Nicko made a box with his fingers. "..one of those guys where it's like, 'You could be 16, but you could also be 24.'"
Koren grinned awkwardly. "I'm, uh, 15, actually."
Nicko stared at him. "No way! Damn, they grow up fast these days! My sons are only 5'6, and they've just turned 15. This is ridiculous! You must have had a really tall dad. Or mom."
Koren shrugged. "Must have. Anyway, I need to be getting along now."
"Oh, of course, of course, I'm sorry for keeping you waiting. What's your name, kid?" Nicko cocked his head at the teenager.
"Koren. Just Koren."
"Koren? Oh, of course, Koren! Yes, Septimus has talked about you, but he never described your appearance, so I had no idea it was you. Well, I guess I'll see you tonight, then!" Nicko waved as he headed off and ran into a woman, apologizing fervently.
Koren shook his head and continued on his merry way, taking a stop by a trash can to peel his orange with his fingers and throw the peels away before setting off again.
He took a contented bite into his orange. At least the fruit is better here. Koren liked his fruit.
Just when he thought that the day might actually not turn out too awful, he recognized two voices in the crowd.
"Nora, I am so bored. Can we go find the guys?"
"I thought you didn't want to help them."
"I don't. But anything is better than shopping with you for three freaking hours straight."
"Oh, come on! I didn't make you buy anything."
"When am I ever going to wear 3-inch heels? They just aren't practical, Nora. Give me a tanktop and some denim shorts, then we're good."
"Sarah, it's February."
"Okay, jeans and a coat! Whatever! You know what I'm saying."
"Sarah, we're royal. We have money. I can buy as many designer brands as I want. You are going to appreciate that."
"All I'm saying is that it's good that I'm the princess and you're not."
"Why, because in 20 years, the Castle will be covered in silly putty instead of every citizen wearing 500-pound suits?"
"...I hate you."
Koren had tried to run out of the way, tried to avoid the two girls, but thanks to his rotten luck, he ended up right in front of them.
Sarah pushed through the crowd and, while jabbering away to her cousin, smacked into Koren. "Oi, move your ass, you -"
It was then that she realized she would be doing a lot of looking up for the next few months.
"Oh," she growled. "Well, if it isn't Mr. Height Difference himself. Shouldn't you be making unhappy faces at a mirror somewhere?"
He rolled his eyes. "Clever, Princess. Where's your silk pillow and bonbons?"
"Okay," Nora got in between the two and pushed them apart before Sarah could destroy the guy. "We're all friends here."
"No we aren't," snarled the two adversaries simultaneously, glaring daggers at each other.
"Well, we're going to pretend that we are for the sake of my sanity," Nora decided quickly. "Koren, is it okay if we get food inventory from you?"
He blinked. "Excuse me?"
Sarah sighed. "Apparently you're the only person who knows what food is going to be at your fancy-schmancy supper tonight."
"Oh, right. Well, I dunno, I just kinda ordered everything," he replied with a shrug. "Except for stuff with carrots." He shuddered. "I hate carrots."
"Uh-huh." Sarah had pulled out a legal pad. "What else do you hate? You know, just for future reference." She looked up at him with puppy-dog eyes.
But he just stared stonily at her. "I hate annoying girls who talk too much."
She folded her arms. "'Hate' is a strong word. How about, 'I am somewhat irritated with people who are just too damn awesome, like Sarah, because wow she is awesome.'"
"Fine. I am very irritated with a teenage girl with a god complex, who thinks she rules the whole damn world just because she has royal lineage." And he crossed his arms right back at her.
"Oh, we're gonna be like that?" she hissed, her hands balling into fists. "Fine. Let's be like that."
He backed up and raised his own fists. "You wanna go, Heap? Wow, your last name sounds funny on its own."
"We're going the name route? Well...well, I don't even know your last name," she blustered, also backing up. "So..."
Nora smacked her forehead. "This is not going to end well," she muttered to herself, before saying in her normal voice, "Guys, if you're going to fight, let's find a nice open space for you to engage in fisticuffs like proper gentlemen, alright?"
"Fine!" both parties shouted, their eyes flaming with anger. Nora grabbed both of them by their wrists and managed to keep them from tearing each other apart, leading them to one of the many fountains in the middle of the Castle.
"Sarah, this is not a good idea," Nora whispered to her cousin, who glared at the stones beneath her feet as she walked.
"Actually, Nora, this is a fantastic idea. We get to find out if he has balls, or if he's a crying little wuss," she replied, raising her voice for the last part.
"Normally I wouldn't fight a girl, but you don't seem to really count as one," Koren shot back.
She raised a bored eyebrow. "Really? You think that's gonna work on me? I know I'm not much of a girl. You suck at trash-talking, pretty boy. Try harder."
He flushed slightly, color in his pale cheeks. "You're not as badass as you think you are."
"No, come on, something that's true." Sarah gave him a shit-eating grin.
Nora removed her hand from Koren's wrist to smack her forehead.
Thankfully, before the two could take more verbal swings at each other, they had reached a relatively empty area. Nora let go of them and scampered over to the fountain to observe. She perched on a raised section and swung her legs, zipping up her jacket all the way and wondering if there were any food carts in the immediate area.
Meanwhile, Koren and Sarah were still yelling insults.
"I bet you've never even played a prank on someone in your life!"
"Yeah, because I have better things to do than interfere in other people's lives! Like, I dunno, Magyk stuff. Stuff that I'm actually good at, that's important."
"Are you saying that pranking isn't important?"
"I'm saying it's ridiculous!"
Sarah drew herself up to her full height, which wasn't even close to Koren's. "Now, listen here, you -"
Suddenly there was a burst of light, and a sudden appearance of rather translucent versions of the boys.
"..rah!" came a yell. Nora hopped off of her outcropping and strode over to the squabble.
Sarah turned, a confused look on her face, to see the images become real people, real people who promptly fell face-first onto the pavement.
"Gah!" gasped Milo, staggering to his feet and dusting himself off. "I freaking hate Teleporting. That is my least favorite thing to do."
"Well, you did a good job for your first time," Silas said cheerfully as he got to his feet, clapping his younger cousin on the shoulder.
Milo tugged Marcus up with an outstretched hand. "I still don't see why one of you couldn't have done it," he commented tartly. "At least you both have done it before."
Marcus grinned. "Well, you should get some experience under your belt." Then he snickered. "Heh. Under your belt."
"Haha, yeah you did. Sexual innuendo five!" The twins slapped a high five.
Nora rolled her eyes. "Guys, that didn't even make any sense. Anyway, now that you've successfully managed to stop Koren and Sarah from tearing each other apart -"
"Oh, hey, Koren is with you!" Milo turned around to see the other black-haired boy, who nodded awkwardly. "Good, that's the whole reason we Teleported here."
"Excellent!" Silas ran up to Koren and whipped out a pad of paper with a pen attached. "What food is going to be at your party?"
Koren sighed. "For the second time, I don't know exactly. I ordered everything that looked good."
"And he hates carrots," Sarah added. He glared at her and she glared back.
Silas paused. "Would pumpkin pie, a chocolate fountain, and whipped cream happen to be on the menu?"
He hit another high five with his brother before writing something down. "Right..right..good...how about anything with melted cheese? And potato salad? And soup?"
"Yes, probably, and yes."
"Awesome.." He scribbled something else. No one noticed the maniacal grin creeping across Sarah's face, probably because it was her default expression. And that no one, minus Nora and Koren, had seen how furious she was minutes ago.
"Potato chips? Whole slabs of butter? Cereal? Fried chicken? Something with eggs? Drinks with ice?"
"Yes, no, no, yes, yes, and definitely."
"Fantastic!" Silas finished his writing and tucked the pad away. "This is going to be a great dinner."
"We're all looking forward to it," added Sarah, smirking once again. She clapped her hands. "Now, come on! We have to get Koren back to the Wizard Tower and make our way back to home to get ready for this crap-fest of a dinner party." Koren glared at her and she glared back.
"Okay!" Milo broke in awkwardly after a few minutes. He grabbed Sarah by the arm and proceeded to drag her in the direction of the Wizard Tower. "I'm just going to keep you two separated. Marcus, Silas, help me out here."
"Right-o, Cap!" they replied cheerfully, each linking an arm with Koren's. He jumped back, startled. "Augh! What the hell are you doing?"
"Following orders!" was the happy answer, and the odd-looking party started their trek to the Wizard Tower in the midst of many an odd look.
Sarah had gone back to her ridiculous self and told Milo and the gang, "This is going to be pretty damn awesome, don't you think?"
"I agree to the fullest," was Milo's response, his hand still locked around her wrist. She tried to wriggle out. "Come on, Mi, you can let go of me."
"Actually, I feel like that would add to my list of constant worries," he deadpanned, only tightening his grip.
Koren furrowed his brow at Sarah, who had turned around to smirk devilishly at the poor, poor sod. "I don't trust you at all," he threatened, not even bothering to resist the twins' clutches.
"No one does, dude," replied Milo. Sarah glared at her brother and attempted to hit him with her free hand. He dodged it. "What? It's true."
Any grammar or spelling errors? Name mix-ups? General tomfoolery when it comes to plot? Let me know!