The air in the room was extremely stuffy, yet Ryso refused to rise from the provided bed. He stared up at the blank ceiling, brows furrowed and ears pinned against his head as he mentally looped over the events from just after last round.
Almi, the noctyx he had seen prior to the round, revealed to him that someone from his home town was providing information to the noctyx and left him with the vague warning that he needed to keep an eye on his family. Shortly afterwards, they had disappeared as quickly as they appeared, leaving him to mull the night away and wait anxiously for his ICH robot Sunny to be fixed.
He had called home as soon as it had been in working order. Everything was just like normal life would be if he were still there. -- Azuni and Illia were at home with Elsie looking after them and Als had left for work -- which unfortunately meant he could not pass on Almi's warning until they returned later.
In fact, things were going great. Elsie had said that Als had told them that Morin was getting many, many donations due to the publicity of Xotiathon -- not enough to even remotely pay off the debt but it certainly helped make a dent in it. Ryso sighed in relief -- that was something they desperately needed, even if the explorers found nothing yet ( and much to his dismay -- he had to update Thyla on that as well, and reassure her that they were now on the lookout for ptheron. It was hard for him to see her so disappointed, even if she had tried to keep a cheerful outlook.)
The only thing that he should reasonably be concerned about was that no one had heard from Lepido or Kani since they left but... that was to be expected. According to Elsie, they should be back today, anyways, but he could not help but to worry about his travelling partner and kid.
Why did Lepido decide it was a good to travel at a time like this? It always seemed strange that Lepido always left for trips when he had gone out for work or otherwise, but they always said it was just the right time to visit their family in Aldien which... at the very least could be right. He'd have to talk with them later to make sense of it.
He sighed heavily. A lot of things just didn't make sense nowadays, but he just had to roll with it. He took a deep breath in as he let himself sink further into the bed.
Just as he had settled in, Sunny suddenly rang loudly, making Ryso shoot up with a jolt. He groaned as he fixed his hair, motioning the ICH over to answer the call.
Caster's cheery face popped up on the screen, before he adjusted the ICH robot to show Vivi and Terrence behind him, who were mugging for the camera. Seeing them goof about made Ryso cheer up a bit as he asked, "Hey, what's up?"
"Ryso! Good to see you! We're hanging out at Planetaria for some drinks and food! You want to join us?" Caster asked, hope shining in his eyes.
He was relieved to see that Caster seemed to be doing alright now. He wondered if some time out with friends would help him get his mind off of everything going on. "Sure. I'll be down there in just a bit," he replied with a small smile.
Planetaria was a restaurant situated on the outer wall of Xotiathon's building. It was fairly popular as it featured many large windows broadcasting the beautiful view of the galaxy outside as it was dappled with a myriad of stars and nebulae and overall was space themed. As he peeked inside the busy restaurant, he could see lots of reporters and paparazzi hanging about, as well as a couple previous competitors dining there.
When he walked in, he saw the group laughing and joking with one another, just barely able to be heard over the bustle of the restaurant. It looks like they all had ordered drinks and an appetizer to share. Terence was the one who waved him over this time.
"Ryso! I hope you rested well; how's your arm doing?" Terence called, as the rest of the group turned around and greeted him.
Ryso chuckled, "It's doing better -- thankfully wasn't too deep of a wound. Caster, we should really be asking you about that -- your hands got pretty messed up last round."
"I'll be fine. They've got some good nurses here; I got patched up quickly." He showed off the bandages for extra emphasis as Ryso sat down with the group.
Ryso nodded, although what he truly wanted to follow up with was how he was feeling emotionally. After Caster had run out of the arena crying last round, he had been worried about his friend. He could probably ask more about it later -- he didn't want to bring it up in front of the group.
"Oh yes, there's plenty of fantastic nurses to go around; I got a pretty cute one after Round 1," Vivi smirked, "Too bad I haven't been able to see her since... maybe I can feign an injury to see her sometime."
"What about you, Vivi? How are you doing?" Caster asked, folding his hands together and fiddling with his fingers.
Vivi snorted, "Not great, but I'm surviving. It's better than going back home at least."
"Not regretting staying here yet?" Terence smiled sweetly at the kinjomin.
"Nah," Vivi grinned toothily, "Like I told you, I've got my own agendas."
As Ryso blankly stared out the window into the swirling void beyond, he realized how hard it was to keep up with the conversation. Everyone seemed to be doing just fine, despite Caster having a breakdown at his victory and Vivi being knocked out of the competition (by Terence no less.) Although he didn't want to assume how anyone was feeling -- he couldn't help but to wonder:
Am I the only one who feels this uneasy?
No, he thought as he glanced back at his friends, Maybe I just need a moment to get back into my own skin. Maybe I'm just out of it.
It was all maybes nowadays, wasn't it. That call hadn't helped all the vagueness about the situation at hand. What was going to happen to his home? He had no idea. As he delved deeper and deeper into his thoughts, the conversation going on around him seemed to fade out of existence, and something rose up within him in its place.
It was that same feeling from when he had talked to Als before. He just couldn't shake that something terrible was about to hit them all, and that he wouldn't be able to do anything to stop it, and with what Almi told him... it did nothing to solve his anxieties.
Or was that the point of them telling him that warning: to throw him off guard?
"Psst. Xotiathon to Ryso!" Ryso gasped as Vivi's voice cut through his thoughts as she grabbed his shoulder. He shakily glanced back towards her, as she asked, "What's up, space case? Although I can't blame you, space is pretty cool."
"Oh, uh..." Ryso stammered, having been caught off guard. Had he been quiet for that long? "Nothing much, everything's fine.."
Caster and Terence exchanged a glance of uncertainty, as Vivi narrowed her clear, blue eyes at the mimic shifter.
"Ryso... you've been acting a bit weird today...." Caster murmured, concerned, "You've been really quiet this whole time, and you seemed really bummed out when you first picked up the call."
Terence and Vivi both nodded in unison. Ryso could feel his anxiety building up more as he felt all three gazes on his skin -- Had it really been that obvious?
Terence commented, leaning a bit more towards the mimic shifter, "You know, if there's something that's on your mind, you're welcome to bring it up."
Ryso lowered his ears instinctively, glancing in between all three of them, before mumbling, "No, everything's...."
As he trailed off as his eyes landed on Caster, whose gaze pierced right through him. It was honestly a little intimidating, but it was a look he knew well. Caster could tell he was lying. He sheepishly looked towards Terence, who seemed to be aware as well. He didn't think he'd get away with trying to hide it.
Ryso gritted his teeth and sighed, "I just got a really weird message after the round last night."
Everyone gave him a quizzical look, before Vivi murmured, "Go on?"
Ryso felt his breath quicken as everyone focused on the next words coming out of his mouth. He actually didn't want to talk about it explicitly with the group just yet, but he felt he had pinned himself into a corner by mentioning anything. Maybe if he gave them a little more information, they'd leave it be.
"If... if what I heard was right, then its very bad news for my family at home. I-I don't know anything else about it though," He stammered, clasping his hands together on the table. He desperately hoped no one noticed how much he was shaking.
The group looked between one another, before Terence put a hand on Ryso's shoulder, making the much smaller alien jump, "Do you mind if we ask what the message was? Perhaps we could try to help you out if we knew more."
Ryso looked up at him and opened his mouth before pausing. Why make them worry over something that might not even be true? And if it was true, then it might already be too late and he would not need to mention anything anyways. He looked at the expectant group meekly before shutting his mouth and turning away from their stares.
"I'm not ready to talk about it," he mumbled sharply, refusing to meet everyone's gaze.
As silence gripped the table, it felt like the world had stopped. Ryso saw a couple heads turn from other tables. All the eyes on him made him shrink down into his seat. The only thing that could go worse right now is if a reporter walked up and started hammering them all with questions.
Why didn't I just stay quiet? he thought, mentally hitting himself for even letting himself get to this point.
As Vivi was about to open her mouth, Terence put a hand on her shoulder, "That's your choice then, Ryso. Just know we'll be here for you once you're ready to talk about it." Another saccharine smile spread across the Paridon's face as he gazed at the smaller alien.
Terence's understanding soothed him in a way he hadn't expected. Ryso struggled not to let out a sigh of relief as he gently murmured, "T-thank you."
The table was eerily silent as no one seemed to know where to pick back up. Eventually, Vivi took a sip of her drink before saying, "So, anyone seen the latest 'Xotiathon's Greatest Hits'? I heard it was quite the interesting episode."
The conversation sparked back to life, but Ryso still felt uneasy. He tried to join in here and there, but could not keep up with the jovial pace of jokes and stories being traded back and forth.
After a while, Ryso stood up from the table. Hoping not to worry them anymore, he forced a smile on his face as he said, "Thank you so much for inviting me to a meal but... I don't think I'm feeling too good, and I want to make sure I'm in good shape for the next round. Have fun, I'll see you guys later."
After he spoke, he briskly walked away. He could hear everyone bid him goodbye before returning to chatting. A few people called out to him as he was leaving Planetaria, but he forced himself to ignore it as he kept on pushing forward and did not let himself slow down until he was far, far away from the restaurant.