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we could walk this road together

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Teeheeti is a peaceful place, if you stay on the outskirts.

Oliver doesn't often; typically whenever he comes here, he either casts Travel straight to the Fairyground or beelines for it immediately. But the shore is nice - the sand is soft to sit on, and the creatures around don't dare bother him anymore. He's happy to sit here for a bit. It's not the sunniest day in the world, not by a long shot; clouds paint the blue sky, white and grey splotches covering the light of the sun. Oliver watches the clouds slowly drift across, lets the wind tousle his hair, takes in the almost overwhelming salty scent of seaweed.

He closes his eyes and rocks back slightly, shakily exhaling. He isn't quite sure why he came to Teeheeti in the first place. It's helping, though, in some way - it's certainly better than sitting in a stuffy bedroom, trying to get himself together. He looks down at his hands, fingers clutched around a green shell pendant, thumb smoothing over the tiny scratches and imperfections from being handmade. He swallows thickly, trying to get past the lump in his throat so he can clear his chest. It doesn't work.

It's an odd thing, grief - one moment you think you're over it, and the next you're sitting in your mother's bedroom with your head in your arms. One moment you think you're over it, and the next you're sitting on a beach on an island in the middle of the ocean, trying not to cry. One moment you think you're over it, and the next you realise that you haven't given yourself time to think for the past year, and that you… really miss your mom. Oliver really misses his mom.

That's the thing - Great Sage Alicia has been dead for just over a year now. He had hoped he would be over it by now, almost believed he was after the whole Soulsnare escapade. But he's been told countless times, by people who have experienced death far more than he has (some at the hands of his soul mate), for far longer than he has, that the feeling never truly goes away. That hopeless weight of a loved one being gone for good. That little pit in Oliver's stomach that's been there ever since he had watched the life slowly drain from his mother's eyes. It had been getting smaller, though, especially since the Soulsnare - he had been doing better. He had been doing better.

But it's still there. And he supposes it's chosen today to eat away at him again. Just as well he doesn't have anything planned - or maybe it would've been better if he did. He swallows again, circling his thumb over the stones embedded into the clay of the pendant. The pendant itself is charmed, he knows; a protection ward for whoever wears it. He wonders if giving it away was Lucien's undoing. He wonders if his mother would have got away from Rubicon if she hadn't had it. He wonders a lot of things, really, about his mother; namely, when she was planning on telling him he's the pure-hearted one. He doesn't resent her for it, not at all, and he doubts she was planning on dying any time soon. But a warning would've been nice.

He wonders, not for the first time, how different things would have been if he hadn't snuck out that night. If his mom hadn't died. If she had introduced him to this whole destiny business when he was a little older, smarter, more prepared; if he hadn't had to go through all he did with the weight of saving her life on his shoulders along with the world. If he had her with him, for the whole time. If she had been there to guide him through spells, familiars, alchemy. Of course, he hadn't been alone throughout his journey, far from it, and he appreciates everything his friends managed to teach him - but while he hadn't been alone, per say, that hadn't stopped him from feeling lonely. And he hasn't felt like that in a long time, but…

Sitting here, on Teeheeti's shoreline, trying to keep tears back as he blinks up at the cloudy sky, he somehow feels more lonely than he's ever felt in his life.

He suddenly feels the edge of the shell digging into his palm, and loosens his grip on it, letting it rest in his hand. There's a red line across his skin where the edge was pressing, fading slowly. The lump in his throat presses against the roof of his mouth, making him nauseous. He breathes, slowly, in and out, trying not to let himself panic. He succeeds, mostly, listening to the waves crashing against the shore and breathing with them. The sea is calmer than you'd think it would be, considering the clouds in the sky, rolling in and out as Oliver unfocuses his eyes to think better.

There's a rustle in the bushes behind him, which at first, he pays no attention to. The monsters won't bother him; whatever it is probably just wants to check him out, see what he's doing. He doesn't turn to look until he hears tiny footsteps in the sand, just audible over the wind. He glances over his shoulder to find a yellow fairy in a teal fairy suit, with a familiar lantern jingling on his nose.

"Hey," Drippy says as he approaches, and his voice is ever-so-slightly softer than usual, though the change is almost indistinguishable. "Was told you were down here, looking sorry for yourself." Oliver blinks as Drippy sits himself down next to him. He hadn't realised he was being watched, though he supposes he should've guessed - fairies are nosy people. "What's up, eh?"

Oliver opens his mouth to speak, but upon finding his throat is too clogged to make any sound, closes it again, instead looking down at his lap. He can feel Drippy follow his gaze to the pendant in his hands as another wave crashes down. "Ah," Drippy says, quiet, and Oliver has to stop himself from bursting into sobs right then and there. Drippy shuffles closer to him, and leans against his thigh, offering comfort. Oliver appreciates it. He doesn't particularly want to be alone right now. He sniffles slightly, closing his fingers around the pendant and looking back up at the ocean. He hasn't quite started crying, yet. That's an achievement in his books.

Drippy sighs, the action going through his entire body. "You're a lot like her, y'know," he starts, "Oblivious, distractible, can't lie to save a life," he goes on, voice taking a teasing edge, and Oliver huffs a small, wet laugh. Drippy pauses, his next words quieter. "...Caring," he murmurs, and Oliver takes a wobbly breath. "Too… good for your own good. You both always just… had to save everyone. 'Cause everyone was important, in some way, no matter what they'd done."

Drippy falls silent after that, and Oliver is glad for it, as he tries to get his breathing under control, tries to hold back the tears in his eyes as he pointedly does not look at Drippy, instead keeping his eyes on the water, though the view is blurring more and more. Drippy is right - everyone is important. He can't quite comprehend how someone would think otherwise, how someone could see another person suffering and not approach with kindness, or with an offered hand to help.

"Alicia tried to save Shadar," Drippy murmurs, breaking the quiet, "and it got her killed. Or, we thought it got her killed." He takes a deep breath. "She was so certain she could do it. She came to the Fairyground, you know, all those years ago, and asked Mam for help. And she told me, all us fairies, really, that she was going to bring down the Dark Djinn without fighting him. That she was going to save him, bring him back to light. And all my butties, well, they all scoffed at her, but I thought…" He swallows. "I believed her. "Sounds like a journey and a half, that does," I thought. So I tagged along for a while."

He pauses again, for a moment, before speaking back up. "I never asked why she wanted to save him." Oliver knows why. He doesn't say anything. Drippy looks down at the sand. "If you'd… if given the chance, would you have…"

He goes quiet again, but Oliver knows the rest of the sentence. Would you have saved Shadar? It's not a tough question. He knows how many people were hurt, he knows it well from how many he had to save, how many he had to heal, but… Lucien just wanted to do the right thing, like Oliver does, like Cassiopeia did, like everyone does. Even if they aren't doing the right thing, they're trying to. Even the worst people in history probably thought they were doing the right thing - because why would you try to do the wrong thing? And it's not an excuse for what they do, not by a long shot; they need to be held responsible for their actions, otherwise they won't learn anything, but - they're people. And they can change.

Oliver exhales. Saving Shadar, Lucien, had never really been presented as an option. He hadn't even considered why he had been doing all he'd been doing until after he was already dead. If Oliver had maybe been a bit older, if he had the knowledge his mom did about Lucien - of course. Of course he would have saved him. He thinks if he had been told he might be able to save Shadar, he would have tried.

But considering? Considering what happened to the last person who tried to save Shadar, the last person Drippy travelled with? He doesn't blame him for not telling him that.

He still doesn't speak, doesn't confirm Drippy's suspicions - he doesn't have it in him to talk, not right now. Instead, Oliver listens to the waves, fiddles with the pendant, and takes deep breaths.

Drippy watches Oliver's hands, resting his nose on his leg. "You're too much like her sometimes, you know that?" he mutters. Oliver hums. He's told him this before, sometimes fondly, sometimes not - when they'd gone to the Glittering Grotto for the first time, Oliver had jumped on a stalagmite that had almost immediately broken under his feet. Drippy, after yelling at him for a bit, mentioned that Alicia had done that exact thing as well, and he was "so glad to see that you've inherited her thick skull". It had been scary at the time, but it's a fond memory in Oliver's mind now - even if the thought of his mom makes his heart hurt a little. Drippy looks up from Oliver's lap, staring out at the horizon.

Then, he stands, and Oliver glances down at him. "You still remember the rune for Travel, right, mun?" he says, and Oliver blinks, and nods. "Right. I got something to show you. Take us to Perdida, eh?"

It takes a second for the sentence to process in Oliver's brain before he stands, still clutching the pendant in one hand and brushing sand off of himself with the other. He takes his wand out of its holster, drawing the rune for Travel in the air while Drippy practically clutches his leg. He pictures Perdida - warm spices and sunlight mixed with cool mountain air - and the magic whisks them away at once.

They land just outside the little town, and Oliver is almost blinded by the sun - the clouds over Teeheeti don't stretch over southern Autumnia, it seems. The weight in his chest is still there, but it's less heavy, if only by a little bit - talking to Drippy (or, listening to Drippy) helped, as does the sunlight. Drippy bounces through the entrance of the village, not bothering to wait for Oliver to follow him, so Oliver stumbles to catch up, giving small smiles to people he recognises. They head towards the back of the village, passing Queen Khulan, sitting near the top. She raises an eyebrow as the two of them go through, and Oliver gives her a small wave.

They exit out of the village through the tunnel leading out to what used to be the Miasma Marshes, and Oliver stops for a moment at the top of the path to admire the view. The lake shimmers with iridescence, glittering under the light of the sun as what used to be Nevermore almost glows a bright green at the back. It's like the corruption and darkness that had overtaken the area never came, and it was simply always like this - overgrown and beautiful. He takes a breath in, enjoying the clean air entering his lungs as he gazes out over the marsh.

"Oi!" shouts Drippy, making Oliver startle. He's already halfway down the path. "Get a move on, mun!" Oliver grins sheepishly, hurrying down the mountain to catch up. Once he does, the two of them start walking at a much slower pace than before as the hard rock ground slowly gives way to marshland. Oliver sees Drippy's nose scrunch up as it does so, and bends down to pick him up and put him on his shoulder before his feet get too muddy. He squawks at first, but allows it, leaning on Oliver's head as he walks. Oliver doesn't think he's been here since Shadar was defeated. He had forgotten how pretty it is, how nice the lakes were, how tall the grass was - it reaches all the way past his knee, and part way up his thigh. His shoes and socks are soaked through by the time they get halfway through the usual route through the marshes, but Oliver can't find it in himself to care.

"Wait, mun, stop a sec," Drippy says, and Oliver pauses in his footsteps. Drippy maneuvers himself to stand on Oliver's left shoulder, and proudly points directly across a large section of water. "Thatta way!" he says, and Oliver isn't one to question his choices, but the water does seem to be an issue. He hesitantly walks over to the edge of it, and stops, looking quizzically at Drippy. Drippy glares right back. "Don't look at me like that, mun, there used to be a bridge around here, en't it? Not my fault it's gone and collapsed."

Now that Oliver looks, there does seem to be rotting wood visible through the clear water - though something about this place makes fixing it with something like Rejuvenate… a bad idea, somehow. It would take away from the natural feeling of the lake, at the very least. And he can see the boards, which means it isn't that deep. And the water isn't flowing at all - it's completely still, in fact. He sighs, supposing his shoes are already wet, and carefully steps down into the water, wrinkling his nose at the feeling of his feet sinking into mud, but he keeps going. Thankfully, the land across the water isn't too far, and Oliver reaches it with little to no problem. He doesn't particularly like the way his shoes squelch along the marsh, though. Luckily, the ground starts to get firmer, less muddy as he keeps walking with Drippy's directions, and his shoes start to dry ever so slowly in the sun. Drippy goes quiet as they come over a hill, straining his neck to try and see over it as they walk. When they get to the top, Oliver stops.

It's a town. Or, the remains of one - stone outlines of houses torn down years and years ago, evident by the plants overtaking the area and rubble covered with moss and flowers. Every single house torn down and burned, over an entire civilisation. When travelling Oliver had seen the odd ruin, sure, but never something like this: he can spot a church, once clearly tall and regal, but now with the roof collapsed and windows shattered, vines growing up the sides; a town hall with a broken clock and smashed pillars of stone, taking the front of the building down with them; a giant palace, standing at the back of the town with a once domed ceiling, now entirely rubble and covered in forget-me-nots. Oliver stares over the scene in front of him. Something about it feels familiar, though he's sure he's never been here before in his life.

"Welcome to Rubicon, Ollie-boy," Drippy says quietly, gently, and Oliver feels the lump in his throat grow heavier.

It takes a second for Oliver to move, take a step down the hill toward the ruins. He carefully walks down, through the overgrown grass flattening under his feet, and into the town, passing stone brick half houses and broken wood that used to be fences, now covered in moss. It's almost too peaceful, walking through here on a sunny day, with birds chirping and creatures clearly living here trying to hide as Oliver walks through. The sunlight is too strong to be exploring a place where there's clearly been so much destruction; so many lives lost. Oliver enters the town square to find a broken, dried up fountain, and wonders about the kids playing near it all those years ago, wonders about their parents watching, wonders about the vendors they may have talked to. People lived here. People worked, and played, and lived here, in Rubicon, and yet it sits abandoned now, silent.

Drippy nudges Oliver, silently pointing him down a path that looks to be leading to the former palace. He follows it, slowly looking up at all the moss and vines covering everything, and clutches the pendant, still in his hand, to his chest. He swallows thickly as he realises who must've walked this path, where Drippy must be leading him. He isn't entirely sure if he's ready for it, but he's certainly not going to turn back now.

Drippy stops him in a district near the palace, and points to a large house near the end of the road. Oliver hesitates for a moment, barely even processing the house in front of him. It's stone brick, like the others, but the outline on the ground is clearly larger - fit for a Great Sage. It's one of the few houses still with a doorway, though the door itself is long gone, and a large part of the house has fully collapsed - only half of it left standing. Oliver takes a hesitant step towards it, breathing shakily, before slowly walking further. He reaches the doorframe and, holding the pendant to his chest with one hand, slowly reaches up to touch the frame with the other. It almost feels like something he's not meant to be doing; like he's treading on sacred ground of some kind.

In a way, he is. In his mind, this is only half allowed. He almost shouldn't be here. The almost silence, with only a few birds chirping, only adds to the feeling - yet the bird call calms him, in some way, as well. Despite that, he takes a deep breath, and steps through the door.

The inside of the house is just as overgrown and wrecked as the outside. Only a handful of the walls inside remain even half standing, plants crawling up and over the smashed grey brick. Most of the floorboards once in here have long since rotted, having been overtaken by the grass now covering the floor. Oliver can tell there used to be a second floor, by the way the half collapsed roof is too high, and the broken boards along the edges would have formed a ceiling of some kind. He slowly walks through the house, flattening grass with every footstep, until he gets to the front room.

He stares. Any furniture once here has been destroyed or rotted entirely, he believes, but…

He could imagine a chair here, a couch there. A warm fireplace over where the wall had caved in completely, billowing out smoke from a chimney on the roof. A coffee table; a plant or two. There's stone flooring slowly being covered by moss in the corner; Oliver thinks of Rashaad's similar floor where he keeps his alchemy pot. Maybe toys, plush familiars scattered around the floor. A little girl running to her father for a hug as they both laugh. He takes in a shaky breath, feeling his knees wobble.

Alicia lived here. His mom lived here.

Oliver sinks to the ground, sitting down heavily, as Drippy hops down off his shoulder. He sniffles, twice, then lets himself fall backwards, stretching his legs and one arm out and laying in the grass, limbs splayed out like a starfish, apart from the hand holding the pendant, which he clutches so tightly to his chest his knuckles turn white. For the first time all day, he lets tears fall across his face as he closes his eyes against the light of the sun, quietly sobbing without doing anything to stop it. After a moment, Drippy makes his way over to join him, lying against his side and sniffling as well.

They stay, lying in the sun, in the silent, abandoned Rubicon, grieving the same person, for well over an hour.

(Oliver doesn't feel quite as lonely anymore.)