Chapter 8: Wander and Sylvia
Sylvia had fallen asleep at 8PM and didn't rouse until 12 hours later the next morning. Still, the zbornak felt like she could hide under the blankets from the sun intruding through the curtains and snooze past noon. She might have done exactly that, but in the moment she had her eyes open she realized Wander was missing.
Seeing the other bed in the room empty sent Sylvia into a full-on panic. Any leftover aches from the day before were forgotten as the zbornak leaped from her bed and ran out of the room like it was on fire. A new, horrifying scenario involving Wander being captured by bounty hunters ran through her mind with every step she took through the hallway. She zoomed across the lobby, nearly caused a few groggy guests to spill their coffee, burst out the front door...
...and tripped over herself so she wouldn't run over the little orange star nomad taking in a breath of fresh air right outside the inn.
Wander exhaled dramatically while Sylvia straightened herself out. "Man Syl," Wander said, somehow able to tell it was Sylvia behind him yet completely oblivious to her stress level, "isn't the desert air great? It's like all the toxins just... burn away!"
"Are you nuts?!"
"Don't just go running off like that! If we got separated you-" She froze. Even after everything, even though she had no plans to turn in Wander and he seemed to trust her completely, Sylvia couldn't bring herself to tell him about all the danger he'd been in over the past two days. "Yooooooooouuuuuuu... wouldn't be able to show me that great hole-in-the-wall you told me about when we met! And boy, am I starved! That place wouldn't happen to be open for breakfast, would they?"
Wander grinned. "Why, I seem to recall they are! Hmm..." Wander looked around at the landmarks and street signs. His brow furrowed. "It may be a bit of a walk from this part of town though. That alright with you?"
After two days of travel through the desert, "a bit of a walk" sounded like crossing the street in comparison. "Sure, I mean, if this place is as great as you made it sound before."
"Oh, you bet it is! Coldest drinks in town, remember? Follow me!" Wander started down the road with all the energy he'd had back when the duo had met by the lava lakes. Sylvia followed after him with a grin on her face until she looked around more and realized just how many people were out and about in the city - how easy it'd be for her to lose sight of her companion.
Wander stopped and turned around, letting Sylvia catch up, her face showing a level of concern for Wander she wasn't ready to express. "Syl? You alright?"
"Y-Yeah, I just..." Neither of them spoke for a long moment. Sylvia looked at Wander, one of her hands crunching her hair as she thought. Wander waited patiently for Sylvia to finish her sentence.
Finally, Sylvia smiled at Wander and knelt down so she'd be easier to mount.
The hole-in-the-wall was actually outside, and that was exactly what made it so special. While other businesses didn't dare to ask their customers to sit outside on a boiling Fogo City day, the shack situated in the middle of a small park was so confident in their ice cold drinks that they didn't even have umbrellas shading their glass tables. The cart seemed to have every right to brag, as when Sylvia arrived with Wander on her back most of the tables were already full of morning patrons.
Soon enough, Sylvia and Wander were each sitting at one of the available tables with sandwiches and the biggest cups Sylvia had ever seen. Wander grinned at Sylvia, waiting to hear her thoughts on the food he'd insisted on selecting for her because it he somehow knew it was "the most deeeelish thing" the cart had to offer even though he'd only eaten at the cart once before. Sylvia chuckled a bit at Wander's childlike enthusiasm and started eating. The sandwich was good, but paled in comparison to the drink - every sip felt like it was turning her into ice at a molecular level and she loved it.
Too hungry to respond, Sylvia appeased Wander with a thumbs up as she continued to devour her food with her other hand. Wander's grin grew bigger for a moment before he seemed to remember that he too hadn't eaten since yesterday afternoon. The duo didn't say another word until they'd both inhaled their sandwiches five minutes later.
As Sylvia sat back in her chair and digested, she could finally think again. Her thoughts circled back to where they'd been the night before - how Wander was in danger. How Wander would probably be in danger for a long time to come. How Wander traveled the galaxy alone and slept outside in his little hat every night. How she was finally starting to piece together what she wanted to say to Wander when he spoke up from the other side of the table.
"Hey Syl? I know you have your business to handle while you're in town at all," Sylvia felt her full stomach twist into knots as she remembered what she'd been planning to do to Wander just a day ago, "but if you have time, there's something else I wanted to show you."
"...Sure, but we're bringing another round of these drinks. Otherwise I'm gonna pass out."
Fogo had permanent lakes and rivers that flowed molten rock like most environments flowed water, but Fogo didn't have a traditional "water cycle" for its untraditional resource. There was, thankfully, no such thing as lava rain anywhere on the planet. This meant that without some way to control the lava it'd eventually spill over onto the capital. So Fogo's original settlers figured out a way to stop lava lakes from overflowing and thus make the planet inhabitable for future generations - they drilled holes deep into the planet's core where the rivers of molten rock naturally gathered, creating a geological recycling system. These massive holes became known as simple "The Wells" by residents, and the most decorated of The Wells was right on the edge of Fogo City, opposite the main gates. Lava glistened as it creeped down a backdrop of reinforced, ivory metal before falling into the massive hole and rejoining the planet's core. The entire well glowed so brightly that the plaza around it would no doubt remain bright at all hours.
The site of Fogo Geographical Preservation Act Reverse Well #5 was a city landmark, surrounded by a massive force field that both reflected most of the heat away from spectators and kept anyone from falling in. Wander and Sylvia took the entire spectacle in as they sipped another round of icy drinks. Standing just on the other side of the forcefield, the wall of lava filled Sylvia's entire field of vision. It was beautiful, if intense - she couldn't imagine living in a place with something like this, even with all the safety precautions. Wander, on the other hand, looked as comfortable here as any of the town's residents, who lounged nearby playing with their pets and having picnics like they were next to a regular waterfall. The only thing that separated Wander from them was his level of enthusiasm. He must have already known about The Well from the way he'd described it while traveling on Sylvia's back, but he took everything in like he'd not expected anything like it.
Sylvia was impressed too, but... her thoughts were still on Wander. Her eyes kept shifting between the falls and the star nomad next to her as she finally found the courage to speak.
"...Listen, Wander..." Sylvia said as casually as possible. "You know, I gotta be level with you. You were saying how it's so fun to have a job where to travel the universe but... ehhh... my job is kind of boring." Wander gave Sylvia his full attention. "In fact I kinda sorta... quit. Yesterday, in fact."
"Oh, well, I mean, you gonna be alright without your job and all?"
"Oh yeah, I don't need those clowns. In fact, I was kind of thinking..." Sylvia rubbed the back of her head. "What you do sounds a whole lot more fun, and maybe you... wouldn't mind if I tagged along with you for a bit?"
Wander's expression shifted to surprise and Sylvia shrunk. Had she been wrong in assuming Wander would say yes? He really seemed to enjoy her company, but now... Now Wander was looking at the ground with a serious expression that didn't suit him. He actually looked a little... scared? Had he known all along about her background and was still expecting her to turn on him? Did he not actually like hanging out with her and had just been being polite all along? Sylvia would admit Wander had surprised her with his actions several times already, but this just didn't make sense at all.
"Uh, hey, I didn't mean to force that idea on you or anything. Believe me, I know about being more comfortable by yourself. I just thought-"
"You... sure you wanna come with me?"
Sylvia blinked. "Uh, yeah?"
Wander kept his gaze at the floor for a moment longer. When he looked up at Sylvia again, his signature grin was back on his face. "Well alright then!" Wander jumped up and hugged Sylvia. Sylvia flinched. "This is gonna be great! We'll just have to be the best of pals now, won't we! We'll see sights and camp out and help folks and make tons of amazing memories and have lots of fun!"
As awkward as she felt about Wander's sudden burst of affection, she couldn't bring herself to pull the happy nomad off of her. She awkwardly patted Wander's head and thought to herself that yes, that did sound like a lot of fun.
But grop, she'd have to have a talk with Wander about personal space.
"Yeah, yeah, I remember how we met," Sylvia replied as she stretched as much as she could in the orble bubble. "Uuuuugh my back."
"Well hey, looks like we'll be able to stretch our legs soon! Look!"
Wander pointed outside of the bubble to a planet they were closing in on that looked a lot like a Yin and Yang symbol - one half of the planet was a brightly lit, colorful, fun-looking metropolis. The other half seemed lifeless, flat, and was cloaked in nighttime. Sylvia stood up and started walking the transporter towards the populated sector.
But after all of their time traveling together, Sylvia knew better than to expect anything to go her way.
The duo tumbled and bounced about as a solar gust blasted against the side of the orble transporter. Sylvia screeched and scrambled to regain control of the vehicle, but by the time the solar wind had settled, they were already moving too fast towards the planet to safely change direction before landing, and they were going to land smack dab in the middle of the darkness.
End of Act 1
A/N: The Galaxy will return after a short hiatus.
Also, my apologies to the folks who commented saying they wanted to see more of the client - I was tempted to add more about them just because of the demand but it would have made the flashback needlessly bloated. I purposefully kept the character looking for Wander vague because who they were honestly doesn't matter as much as the fact that Wander was being hunted to begin with. To clarify, the client was not Lord Hater.