It turned out she wasn't fine. At least, if you took Jered's word for it. He didn't want to probe around what could potentially be a can of worms; he was already dealing with many of those thanks to Jasmine and Kenny. The contract was signed, and the relic was delivered. Well, not really 'delivered'. He couldn't take it back home with him. It was a one-time use thing, and then it had to recharge. According to Seline, it would take as long as ten years for it to be usable again. He mentally swore that he'd never go through another random portal again.
Just before they set off, Seline kindly offered them dinner. Quite a pointless gesture in his opinion, but she probably wanted to build a good relationship with him. While the food was great, dinner was a quiet affair, "I'll contact you when the time is right," she had said, and how she'd do that, he didn't know. Perhaps with one of the spells in her grimoire. Evelyn had barely poked her food, seemingly lost in some complex thought. Overall, it was rather awkward.
Now it was time to go back home.
Seline set up the relic on the floor. It was a connected array of blue, purple, and white gems. After she fed some mana into it, a flash of thunder went off before the air was split apart. The suction force was unmistakable, and so was the swirling mana around it. He couldn't see what was inside the portal, only everlasting darkness, but he had no doubt that it was their ride back home, "It's been quite the adventure," he mumbled, a smile on his face. He couldn't say he didn't like it. It was dangerous, yes, but the adrenaline-junkie side of him enjoyed it
"I'm off then," he said, and without a hint of hesitation, let himself be levitated into the pulsing crack.
Evelyn was about to follow him when Seline stopped her, "Wait a minute please," she walked up to the puzzled woman, "I just wanted to say... congratulations. Jered is still very young, but age to a Magician shouldn't matter much—though if I were you, I would have waited a couple of decades more."
"Oh... oooooh, no. You misunderstand. Me and Jered aren't in a relationship," Evelyn chuckled weakly.
Surprise flashed across Seline's eyes. Then a weird expression twisted her face, "That's... interesting... so I assume you already know?"
Evelyn blinked. Something was very wrong, "Know what?"
Seline delicately placed a hand on Evelyn's belly, and closed her eyes. A few tense seconds flew by, "I'm not mistaken," she opened them, her eyelashes fluttering gently, "You're pregnant."
No fucking way.
Evelyn hovered a trembling hand over her mouth, "You must be joking. I used a contraceptive charm! There's no way Jered impregnated me!"
"I'm not lying, Evelyn. I have no reason to. You, better than anyone else, should know what's going on inside you."
A cold, tingling feeling ran over Evelyn's body. She felt her world spin, but held her ground. There was a time when she would have been over the moon about it. She had a daughter before. That motherly instinct had never gone away. It was still there, buried somewhere deep between painful memories. It's been years, and she never thought she'd be a mother again. But it was wrong. It was not the right time for that, not the right person.
Jered was too young.
She was too old.
It shouldn't have happened.
"From your expression, I take it that it is an unwilling baby, and you don't really want it," Seline remarked with a nod. She related to her, "It's a good thing that there's an abortion spell. If you want, I can cast it on you. It's better to do it now that it's still early. You wouldn't want to get rid of it when it has grown a heartbeat."
"No... I..." Evelyn took a step back, her eyes quaking, her thoughts churning, "I... need to think about it."
Seline wasn't going to force her, that was for sure. With a sigh, she nodded, "I understand. Remember, don't abort the poor thing when it's too late. Contrary to what happened between me and my father, your baby is not an abomination, and it has the right to live."
"Yes... I know..."
The woman had retreated until the crack was above her head.
She clenched her teeth, her eyes squeezing shut.
A few tears must have slipped by when she was elevated up in the air, but it was all lost when the portal swallowed her.
Seline watched Evelyn go with a thoughtful frown on her face. She could understand where the woman was coming from. The baby was hers, a miracle that, wanted or unwanted, was slowly growing in her womb. She just hoped that another tragedy would not unfold.
Jered had to wait quite a while before the swirling portal belched out Evelyn.
"Was there a problem? You sure took your sweet time... hmmm..." he trailed off, inching closer to the pale Evelyn, "What's wrong?"
She opened her mouth, but choked back the words. Then she averted her gaze, feeling extremely uncomfortable. Should she tell him?
He could see the swollen redness of her eyes.
"Evelyn?" he started encouragingly, "What happened?"
"I... I'm..." she bit her bottom lip, struggling with the irrational fear that shit would hit the fan if she told him. She didn't think he could handle it, even though their adventure in Archiland showed he could clearly handle way more than that. But fatherhood was a different matter altogether, "I'm..."
"You're what...?" he pressed on.
The sentence 'I'm pregnant' was at the tip of her tongue, so close to rolling out and potentially screwing up whatever relationship they had. Would he think she was a liar? She still didn't know how it was possible. A contraceptive charm didn't just malfunction. It was magic, not some defective pills. She huffed out a sigh, her lips curling up into a weak, bitter smile, "I want to go home..." she said slowly, still not daring to meet his eyes.
Jered was not good at reading such complex emotions, but only a fool would miss the turmoil glistening in her eyes. He wondered if it had to do with Seline. No, it most likely was her fault, "I see..." he didn't pursue the matter. It would have been a bad move. The sun's glares shone through the cracks in the clouds. A soft breeze ruffled his hair, and he knew that they were home. Of course, he didn't know where they were exactly, but it was indeed Earth.
In fact, Evelyn took a deep, soothing breath. She tucked a chock of hair behind her ear, "It's good to be back..." for the first time, a genuine smile lit up her face, making her forget her woes. And Jered had to admit that she looked extremely beautiful. It was crazy how he had yet to see any semi-decent guy come along with a white stallion and sweep her off her feet. If he could offer her something meaningful, he knew he would have simped for her.
"Jered?" she probed when she noticed him staring.
He didn't take his eyes off her, "Nothing," he shook his head free of useless thoughts, "Any idea where we are?"
There was a road in front of them, with expanses of vegetation facing it from both sides.
"I don't know..." she blinked, looking around, "We're certainly not anywhere near Little Spirit Forest."
He agreed with her. The good thing was that his smartphone worked, though the battery was low. He turned his GPS on. Evelyn peeked curiously over his shoulder, "Well, shit..." they both cursed.
They were in Pennsylvania.
"Do you have any money on you?"
She shook her head.
"Any spell that would allow us to fly... or... I don't know, hypnotize people?"
She shook her head.
"We're fucked, aren't we?"
There was no way they would cross through three states by foot.
Jered sighed, "We need money," he scrunched up his face in thought, "Wait..." he dug through the messages on his phone, until he found an old one from Rainey. Inside there was a link to a certain website. 'Arcane Underground Combat'. It was not limited only to Alabama, but to every single fucking state out there. Even the other continents were involved. Evelyn naturally recognized it, and frowned.
"Yes, I guess it would work..."
"You don't seem happy," he chuckled.
"It's a barbaric sport. Can't believe respectable Magicians would throw their lives away for cash. It's absurd."
Jered didn't care about the dignity of a Magician and whatnot, "Whatever their reason is, we just found a way to get money. Besides, I doubt we can stay too long here..."
"Ah, yes... the nearest magical organization has most likely already noticed us."
It was troublesome, but as long as they didn't extend their stay, they wouldn't do anything. It would be even less of a problem if they signed up for the Arcane Underground Combat. At that point, they would have a reason to stay there. After filling up a form on the website with his information, he received a notification with the date and location of his first match. Who he'd be fighting against, he didn't know.
But he was excited.
Jered had been looking forward to that ever since Rainey introduced him to it, and now he finally had the time to broaden his horizons, "Let's go, Evelyn. It's not that far from here. We should get there just in time."
He didn't bother to wait for an answer. He walked past Evelyn, and continued forward at a comfortable stride.
She quickly caught up with him. It was useless to change his mind. He was too stubborn, even more so when he was exhilarated by something, "I'm not concerned about you losing," no Royal Magician would ever participate in such an event—not that they were allowed to, "I'm concerned about the senseless bloodshed that you'd see, and partake in, there."
It would have been wrong to say he was too young for that. In her mind, Jered was a man. Maybe it was just that sappy side of her mourning because such a young man had lost his innocence in the most wicked way conceivable. She didn't want to see him go down a bloody path. But she also knew that she couldn't stop him.
Jered barely spared her a glance, "You're still worked up about my age, huh."
"Umh..." Evelyn thought he would have been angry, but he didn't seem to mind, "It's not... about that..."
"Such a weak lie."
This time he regarded her with a more intense look, "Of course it's about that, Evelyn. Don't worry, I don't blame you for it. So, please, stop sulking and wear a smile for me."
She looked down, lost in her thoughts yet again.
"Do you want... I mean, would you like to have kids in the future?"
It was an off-handed question. And it wasn't supposed to mean anything, but Jered knew she wouldn't have asked that without any purpose in mind.
"I can't believe you're asking me that," he laughed hard, and Evelyn blushed, "Oh gosh, how to answer that. Hmm. I don't know, honestly. It would be a huge responsibility, and I'm not responsible enough to be a father. No child should grow up with a parental figure such as myself. On the contrary, Evelyn, you'd make a great mom. You're sweet, kind, compassionate, and everything else that I lack. That's why we're so perfect yet so wrong for each other. You have your life figured out, a goal to strive for, and the strong mindset to do what's necessary to achieve it."
"As for me? I'm young, foolish, reckless. You have no idea how messed up life currently is," he smiled in a fond way, because, really, he wouldn't have it any other way, "It would be unfair for my child. But you know, maybe one day... when I'll be wise just like my father was."