This is a continuation of a story begun in the post “Chapter 1. Part 1.” If you enjoy it, please like and share it with others!
Pathena was a bit taken aback. “What do you mean?” She asked slowly.
“It’s a simple question. Do you love me?”
“Of course I do! You’re my oldest friend, you’re basically my whole family, and now that I have you back I don’t ever want you to leave again,” she said.
“But do you love me as more than a friend and sort-of-like-a-family member. Do you love me?” I asked, stressing the word love.
She looked deeply in my eyes for a moment. “Of course I do,” she said quietly and more slowly.
My insides began dancing with joy and excitement. I almost felt my heart beating out of my chest at the exhilaration of hearing those words. I kept a cool exterior though. I wanted to mess with her a little, and flirting in the process wouldn’t hurt.
“When exactly did you decide that you love me?” I said in a matter-of-fact, instructor sort of tone.
She just kept staring at me seriously, but smiled to let me know she would play along.
“I suppose it was the day you went off to combat training when we were fifteen,” she said.
“Ah,” I said. “So,” I paused, waiting for her to fill in the rest of the question.
“So, why didn’t I tell you?” she asked.
“That’s a very good question,” I said, still matter-of-factly. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I tapped my finger on my chin like I was thinking hard.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she said.
She caught me off guard. “What?”
“I know you’ve loved me since we were young. You thought I didn’t realize, but I could tell at moments. I saw the way you looked at me out of the corner of your eye. Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
I thought a moment. We weren’t playing games anymore. Now it was serious.
“I guess I was afraid. The only ones I had ever loved, I had lost. I didn’t want to lose you too. I thought it would be better to hide it and keep you than to tell you and lose everything.” I paused. “And I didn’t think you felt the same way.” I said sheepishly.
“You let your fear rob us both Nicholas. We were both orphans. We both needed each other. Of course I felt the same way.”
“Well, why did you go off with that slaver if you loved me?” I said hotly. I was trying to start a fight to divert the blame.
“You went off to be trained and I was left alone! I was confused and afraid, like you. At the time he seemed like the solution. I thought he had a future for me. I was wrong. I see that now. I’m sorry Nicholas. I’m so very sorry I ever went with him. It truly is one of my deepest regrets. Will you forgive me?”
I was silent. I didn’t know what to think. I expected her to return fire, but instead of arguing back she just apologized. It’s hard to have a fight under those circumstances.
“Of course I will. I should be asking you to forgive me. I should have told you. I shouldn’t have kept my feelings a secret. I should have protected you. Will you forgive me?” I said.
“Of course I will,” she said, matching my intonation.
“You realize you still haven’t told me,” I said grinning.
“Told you what?” she said, grinning back.
“That you love me,” I said.
“Yes I did!” she said incredulously.
“No you didn’t. I checked the manuscript. You said, ‘Of course I do.’ You didn’t say, ‘I love you.’ There’s a big difference.”
She smiled much wider at me this time, and rolled her eyes just a little.
“I love you Nicholas,” she said slowly. “There. Are you happy?”
“Very much so,” I said. I kissed her quickly then pulled back and said, “I love you too, I guess.” She laughed and kissed me back.
The second night on the beach was a good one. We played music, sang songs and Brew and Flye made the best meal we had eaten to date. Pathena and I were given the most succulent and juicy grapes I’d ever seen, and we fed them to each other throughout the meal.
I took Plink’s advice and looked at Flye that night at dinner. She did seem distraught. It was as if she had become scared of something. The fearlessness that I had seen for that brief period of time outside The Settlement was gone. She was closed off from the world, and it didn’t make sense to me. I knew Plink must have told her that Skreech would be kept alive, so she shouldn’t seem so troubled. Of course, putting myself in her shoes, having him around at all would be taxing.
That night we sat around the fire once more and talked about what we had left to accomplish.
“We’ve got two more days of travel on the river and then we’ve about three quarters of a sight-length of jungle to walk through before we make it to Mendrax’s realm. After that it’s just a matter of getting in, Nicholas planting the seed, and getting out. It should be smooth sailing to get back to the Syllogy after that. Any questions?” said Chak.
No one responded. We were all in good spirits as we went to bed that night. Since we had two new parties in our crew, and one fewer tent, all the males decided to sleep in one and let the females have two. Thrump and Shishu elected to sleep outside, and since they had the first watch, no one argued with them.
The next morning we packed up the camp. The air was fresh and cool and it was marvelous to have Pathena at my side. We could talk to each other about anything, it didn’t matter what we had to say because it was us. However, I have to admit that having Pathena back at my side caused a problem as well. I was captivated. We were becoming exceptionally annoying to the others with our constant affection, giggling, and flirting. It had gone on for two days and the rest of the group was officially sick of it.
While breaking down the camp, Pathena and I were cuddling on a rock and watching everyone else go about their tasks. Our feet were propped up on the backpack. We were making loud and obnoxious comments about my hands.
“They’re so dainty. I think my hands are actually bigger than yours,” said Pathena.
“Big hands aren’t everything. Good things come in small packages,” I retorted.
“No, look,” she said, holding up her palm toward me and indicating that I should compare my hand to hers. She was wrong; my fingers were slightly longer, but definitely more slender.
“Okay, fine. You may be right,” she said after seeing the size difference.
“Ha. Oh but wait, do you see that?” I said, and looked closely at our touching palms. She leaned in to see what I was talking about, and when she was fully off guard, I half-tickled half pinched her side so she jumped inside her skin and squealed. She hit me playfully and I pretended to take cover, and that’s when I knocked the backpack over.
The Agnoscian Orb tumbled out across the campground and we didn’t even notice. Chak picked it up and put it back in the backpack rather forcefully and gave me a look that said You really need to cut this out.
That particular look was enough for me to realize the effect that our being together again was having on the rest of the group. Our constant flirtation was causing problems. I grabbed Pathena’s hand and pulled her off to the side to talk to her.
“Listen, I love you, and I love that we’re together again, but we need to act more like friends, at least until this journey is over. You have to admit, we’re being a little bit…” I trailed off.
“I know what you mean, I had the same thought just now. Fair enough. We have the rest of our lives to be together, so I guess we can be apart for the next week or so.”
“Thanks,” I whispered and gave her a kiss.
By mid-morning we were on the river again, cutting through the glassy blue water. It was so still and peaceful. While on the river that day I had a chance to inspect the Agnoscian Orb up close. Plink was telling me about the rich history behind the creation of the orbs, but I wasn’t really listening.
From a distance the orb looked like a solid metal green ball, but up close it was a work of art. Ornate words in languages I didn’t understand were scrawled all over the face of the orb. Five slender circles were faintly etched on either side of the orb, to the point that you wouldn’t know they were there unless you were looking for them. There were finely engraved drawings of what looked like a great battle, but they were fluid and organic in their construction so that no real subject could be determined, only an overall appearance and feel of victory in the mural.
I wondered for only a second what would happen if I placed my fingers in line with the faint circles, as Flye had done when we catapulted over the edge of the waterfall. I wondered what it would be like to control another person’s reality. Chak was watching my face intently and he could see the look of temptation come across it.
“Nicholas, that’s a bad idea. I’ve only ever heard of one human operating an Agnoscian Orb, and it didn’t go well,” said Chak.
I looked up abruptly. “What do you mean it didn’t go well?”
“There is power in that orb. Power corrupts. Only someone with no intention to hurt can operate the orb properly. The moment someone uses an Agnoscian Orb specifically to accomplish evil, the orb reacts. It fights back. Its nature is for good.”
“You’re talking about it like it’s a living thing. It can’t fight, can it?”
“What do you think?” asked Chak seriously.
“I don’t know. I guess I was just curious about what it would feel like to have that kind of… control,” I said.
“That’s exactly my point. That is the utterly wrong reason to use an Agnoscian Orb and thus you will have utterly wrong results. But don’t trouble yourself with that. Let Flye and me worry about using the Agnoscian Orb. You worry about getting that seed into Mendrax’s garden.” He paused and added, “Don’t worry about it,” with a smile and a sly wink.
So he did know I was getting tired of that phrase.
Want to keep reading? Go to the next section! >>> “Chapter 20. Part 1.”