Chapter 5: North by Southwest

At last! I managed to write a new chapter! The next one will probably be up in May though, maybe April...just joking. Hopefully that doesn't turn out true.
Apologies if anyone acts OOC - please tell me so I can rewrite it. Also, from here it starts to diverge from the published universe as I embroider the world (which, from the translations so far, isn't very embroidered).
Also, NEVER do Les Mis in choir or elsewhere - you will get addicted. "Lovely Ladies" is haunting me at the moment.

“That’s it,” yawned Ceo, his tone silky smooth. “I really can’t go on any more.”
 “I can,” sniffed Neo, “and we will go on, because we don’t have a place to sleep.”
 “Ceo’s right,” said Teppe. “You’re not the only person in the world,’re tired and need to get some shut-eye.”
 Angering Neo was both easy to do and not advisable, especially when he was tired and even more short-tempered than usual, and Chasel had to physically restrain him from beating Teppe into a bloody pulp. Fortunately, Teppe was too tired to notice most of the kicks and punches thrown in his direction.
 “I agree with Teppe,” said Vaign. “Look at us, Neo. None of us can carry the luggage or even walk, not even with Light Balls to help us on our way. We can barely speak!” His voice rose to a shout, then down to a hoarse, scratchy breath.
 “We’ll keep on going!” shouted Neo. “Just...shut...up...” His voice was drowned out by a weary chorus of disapproval, and his own strength was failing him, but still he forced them to push on.
 At last Chasel sat down, Lesus curled up next to him. The Judgement Knight shrugged, an uncharacteristic action done out of tiredness more than anything else. Neo looked at him quizzically.
 “I don’t have the strength to stand,” he said. “For that matter, neither does anyone else. The only reason they’re carrying on is because they fear you.”
 “Let them fear me, as long as they do what I say!”
 “...Neo, I think you’re missing the point. None of us are physically able to carry on, not even you. If we don’t find a place to sleep now, we’ll all be dead of exhaustion.”
 “...I can run for three days with my luggage!”
 “...Then why are you having trouble keeping your eyes open after half a day?”
 “...Well,” Neo sputtered, “we can’t just go to sleep in the middle of the road!”
 “And why not?” asked Chasel, his voice dangerously soft.
 “Because...well,’s just not the done thing!”
 “It may not be the done thing, but right now it’s the necessary thing,” said Chasel. “And if you disagree with me, I will do everything in my power to let them sleep and let you continue on alone.”
 That shut Neo up – well, for about a second anyway. In mere moments he was ordering everyone else about, opening trunks, spreading blankets, avoiding puddles, sorting out who was sleeping next to who, and doing all this while trying not to fall off his legs with exhaustion. The rain was so heavy and the road in such a bad way that it was like trying to sleep in a muddy river, but as boys and men pulled soiled blankets over themselves, they were just glad to be able to lie down and close their eyes.

 Grisia listened to the soft snoring around him, summer warmth beating on his face. Somewhere larks were singing, somewhere horses clip-clopped along the road and people swore in a tongue he couldn’t be bothered to decipher, but meanwhile he listened to his snuffling and felt the rise and fall of his chest against someone else. His body was warm, much, much warmer than the travelling blanket against his shoulderblades, and Grisia put his arms round the other boy’s neck and face...
 “Grisia Sun, what the fuck are you doing?! You pervert!” Grisia was forcibly thrown to one side, jostling two other people, who flinched and moaned. Unsticking his eyes – they were still bleary – he could just about make out blue and pink hair: he’d disturbed Ceo and Demos. Hopefully he wouldn’t suffer Storm’s sudden revenge any time soon, or preferably any time at all...and who was the tall, well-muscled boy glowering at him? “Grisia, I’m going to murder you...”
 ...He’d fallen asleep on top of Georgo, of all people?
 “Hey, you know you can’t do that,” Grisia called. “My teacher’ll be after you like a pack of wolves!”
 “You’re betting on that?” Georgo folded his arms. “He’s asleep!” And indeed Neo was sprawled inelegantly on Chasel’s chest.
 “Actually, you woke me up,” the man said, not even bothering to open his eyes. “Don’t shout so loudly, but since you’re up, you can start packing away and looking for the nearest inn.”
 “So we’re not sleeping in ditches any more, teacher?” Grisia asked hopefully.
 “No...” Neo paused. “You need to go to an inn, need to ask for directions.”
 Grisia couldn’t repress a snort, and he jerked backwards with laughter. Neo’s hand strayed to his sword unusually quickly for someone who was supposed to be asleep, and Grisia quickly apologised. Georgo was the perfect image of the Earth Knight: tall and broad-shouldered, he cut an imposing figure, but he bowed his head low to the ground and blushed. All that spoiled it was his irrepressible tittering.
 “Shut up,” Grisia muttered. Neo was slowly prising himself loose from Chasel, yawning and stretching like a cat.
 “Wake the others up for me, child,” he said, flinging his trunk open and looking for clean clothes. Grumbling, Grisia began to poke at his fellow-students with great reluctance, steeling himself for the complaints and abuse that always fell on the ears of those who had to wake everyone else up.

 With a great deal of swearing, cursing and dirty gossip, everyone managed to get dressed, groomed and reasonably awake in time to travel on. The great, dusty, half-paved road lay before them, dark woodland on either side and a clear blue sky above: in other words, it would have been a wonderful day for a journey if they had known where they were going. Having lost the horses in the woods, they were forced to travel on foot, their clothes soiled and their luggage heavy, and all they could do was continue on and hope they came to a town soon, or any sign of life. The land, which had been quite flat, began to roll up and down in great waves, and the woods gave way to wild grasslands. Nobody travelled the road, and as the sun sank lower in the sky and the road grew narrower and dirtier, some of the teachers started to sweat, their breathing now quick and shallow from fear. The students carried on chatting merrily in their little groups: they were too young to know about the nightmare that would chill a Holy Knight’s heart.
 “You don’t think it could be...” Islé turned to Chasel, beads of sweat forming on his forehead.
 “It’s too far away,” Chasel shrugged, trying to hide his tension. “Neo couldn’t have gotten that lost.”
 “Remember that time he lost his way through a straight corridor?”
 “...You’re quite right,” the Judgement Knight said, “but all the same, I highly doubt we’d end up there. We haven’t nearly covered the distance needed.”
 Now it was Arimell’s turn to shrug his shoulders. “We haven’t seen a human being in days...and let’s just say our leader’s not the best with counting miles. We could be a day away from Seabloom or we could be in the next country-“
 “So how long will the supplies last?” cut in Chasel.
 “We packed enough for a couple of weeks, I think,” answered Islé, “and we can make it last longer if we eat less.”
 “Good enough. And if we’ve ended up there, at least we’ll know by the cathedral on the hill.” Chasel sighed and fixed his eyes on the ground, muttering a prayer under his breath. He was in one of his moods where approaching him was pointless, so Islé and Arimell left him, talking amongst themselves, and Chasel walked alone.
 Neo didn’t quite understand Chasel’s moods, and yet he understood Chasel better than anyone: for when Chasel shut himself away and refused to talk to anyone, Neo would take it as an opportunity to latch onto his friend like a limpet and slowly, surely, he would prise the Judgement Knight out of his shell. In this way he took his chance and fell in stride with Chasel.
 “What do you pray for?” Neo asked, his voice unusually soft and sensitive.
 “For them,” Chasel answered, gesturing at the students. “We don’t know where we’re going and how long it’ll take us to get there. We don’t have enough food, and if we run out and they die...” He took a deep, ragged breath. “...If they die, I made the decision. It’s my fault.”
 Neo put an arm around Chasel awkwardly. He couldn’t say that it didn’t matter or that he wasn’t to blame. “Hey, remember when we first met?” He grinned at the memory.
 “What’s that got to do with anything?” Chasel was too busy self-pitying himself to pick up on Neo’s oddities.
 “You said that I’d die were it not for the grace of the Light God,” Neo said. “Here I am, two decades evidently he looks kindly upon me. Maybe we’ll be saved by his grace too.” Chasel forced out a smile and nodded, but as he looked up even his forced smile melted away. There, silhouetted against the darkening sky, was an immense, half-ruined cathedral. Neo, so chatty a minute ago, could barely force out the name.