Hour three of our six hour train trip to our first destination.

Apparently, our final destination is a great and large metropolis known primarily as Los Angeles. In our trip right now, though, we will be stopping about halfway to our final destination, at a place called Paso Robles.

“I’ve never been there myself,” Francis tells me, “but my parents love it. They went there for their damn honeymoon.”

“Honey… moon? Is there more than just the one?”

He ignores my question. “I don’t really know what’s there, but we got a cheap hotel and I’m sure it’s super beautiful.”

“I don’t know,” I say. “It’s already quite beautiful as it is in here.”

I look out the window to my train and see what can only be described as a visual beauty.

From the window is the ocean itself, with sandy beaches lining almost the entire way. There are few people, few animals, even, but one of the most fantastic views I have ever laid my eyes on.

I have not gained any Destiny Points for it, possibly because of the fact we are moving too quickly for my system to register any of it as a new adventurous discovery. But my own memories are just as important as any real level-gaining discoveries.

Speaking of, because of how long this trip has been, my Life Points are draining slowly, but just as surely as ever:

[13,596/15,000 LP.]

When there is a long passage of time and absolutely no progress, it can feel like the life is practically draining out of you. In my case, that is not simply a feeling—it is quite literal.

The palm trees are magnificent. The occassional beach homes dotting in the distance are lovely. The ocean is an inviting shade of azure. The State of California is clearly something special, and I am glad to have reincarnated in such a pretty part of the planet.

Francis, however, seems pretty antsy about everything going on.

“I just wish it wasn’t taking so damn long…” he mutters.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we were supposed to have a really fast bullet train by now and we’d be in LA by lunchtime. But Governor Newsom gimped the project and all the special interests kept sabotaging it, and it won’t be ready for like, fifteen more years. It’s pretty despicable to me.”

“Francis, don’t worry about that stuff,” Delta says. “Eryk is going to level up plenty before we even get to LA.”

“Yeah, I’m going to level up plenty before we get to LA,” I say. “…What’s LA again?”

“I mean, Paso Robles is a cool place, I’m sure, but…” Francis sighs instead of finishing his sentence. “Well, I should stop worrying all the time. I’m going to go to the little boy’s room. The coffee’s finally getting to me.”

“How did you hold out this long…”

Francis gets up and goes to the nearest bathroom unit, which is at the opposite end of the train car.

Delta and I are alone, left to watch the beautiful scenery by ourselves.

But the moment Francis is out of earshot, Delta kicks herself into motion. “Listen, Eryk,” she says. “You’re a nice guy. An idiot, but a nice guy. But I am going to lay down the law right now.”

“What do you mean?” I ask. “Are you a member of the police?”

“Francis and I are helping you out a lot lately, because we are your friends or whatever. But it is very, very obvious to me that Francis considers you more than just a friend. He’s got one out for you. I can’t even begin to imagine why, but that’s probably because I’m a dyke who’s never even held hands with a guy before. I find all of you a little bit repulsive. No offense.”

“None taken! I do not know if repulsion is the most accurate term, but many members of my family were quite dismissive of the entire female sex.”

“Uh, okay.” Delta clears her thoughts before continuing. “Tell me, do you have anyone in your life? A sweetheart or anything?”

“A… sweetheart?” I ask. “While at this point I am fairly confident this term is not literal and is instead referring to something metaphorically, I cannot quite figure out what it means… I apologize.”

Delta groans. “Why do I ever talk to you… Um, what I mean is, do you have a boyfriend or whatever?”

“Well, Francis is a boy friend, I would guess. Though I am not quite sure he is as much a boy as he is a man. But he certainly is a friend, that much is sure.”

She growls, then groans. “I mean, a lover. Do you have some romance with someone that we don’t know about yet?”

“Ohhhhhhhh…. I finally understand everything. So ‘sweetheart’ means someone who you are emotionally sweet to and you hold dear into your heart, and ‘boyfriend’ is a euphemism for someone who is more than merely a friend?”

“Yes…….. Please tell me……”

“To that I have to say, I am unsure,” I say.

“Unsure…? You’re not one of those incel creeps with obsessive unrequited crushes, are you?”

“I am unsure because, well, I am no longer on Mystix. And a lot of time has passed since our last encounter…” In fact, because of Miss M’s pocketing of my very ghostly form and refusing to tell me exactly how long it had been between each instance, I actually do not know exactly how much time passed on Mystix in my last journey there. I suspect it will end up having been significantly longer than I expect, because my life is nothing if not a series of unfortunate tragedies…

“So you had a lover on Mystix. But since you died, you’ll never see him again, right?”

“Her,” I correct. “Her name is—was Malia. And I know not what the future holds.”

“So you think she might get hit by a carriage and reincarnate on Earth too? So you’re holding out some stupid hope for that, or what?”

“Um…” I don’t wish to divulge the contents of my dreams, so I say merely, “No, but I cannot confirm anything. What Malia and I had is over, for sure. I will never lay my lips on her again.”

“Okay, but see, when you say that, you are obviously lying through your teeth,” Delta says. “I can tell a relationship liar because I’ve been in a lot of crap. And I know you haven’t fallen out of love with this magical fantasy pixie girl.”

“She was an elf, not a pixie.”

“I don’t care.” She clears her throat and begins a spiel: “I want you to know that you better not play with Francis’s heart. I’ve warned you before, but this is the most serious one I’ll ever make for you. Do not let Francis follow you around like a lovesick puppy dog if you’re not going to entertain the thought of reciprocating his obvious crush on you. Besides Julie, Francis is the most important person in my entire life. Making him unhappy makes me unhappy, too. I know you mean well, and you’re just an oblivious idiot, but if you want this adventure not to end in heartbreak and unwanted tears, you have to make things explicit now. If you are interested, whatever. If you are not interested, tell him how you feel. Now. Today. Don’t leave things hanging for three weeks then leave my best friend in the dust like I’m pretty sure you will do regardless of what I say.”

“Tell him how I feel…?” I’m having a little bit of trouble following what she means with ‘crush’ and all of that, but I understand one thing: I need to make my feelings towards Francis explicit, and immediately.

So as soon as he returns from the bathroom, I stand up and bow slightly.

“Uhhhh….” He looks very confused.

“You are a very dear friend to me,” I tell him. “Thank you for always being there for me, Francis Bacall. I wish for you to be my comrade in arms throughout my entire journey here on Earth. Because that is what friendship is for.” I look over to Delta, trying to see if she approves of my statement. She is looking as far away from me as possible.

“Uh, okay,” Francis says. “I am not suspicious at all…”

“Good!” I exclaim. “Now, let me use the lavatory as well. I must relieve myself.”

Considering my expression-of-feelings job to be well tidied up and done, I march on over to the restroom, ready to—

A hand on my shoulder.

My entire body tenses up.

A man and a woman wearing dark sunglasses and black suits appear in front of me suddenly. “Let’s chat,” the man says.