Marlee snorted. “Okay, you’re joking now. You know, you’re really bad with jokes.”
I was silent, waiting for her to get that I wasn’t joking.
“Calypso? Come on. There’s no way that’s real. What proof do they even have?”
“Apparently there’s some sort of sleeping gas that they use that those with royal blood are immune to,” I replied, still walking across the rocks. I wasn’t offended because I thought it was as ridiculous as she did.
“That’s some sort of genetic witchcraft if that’s true,” Marlee commented.
I chuckled, deciding to divert the topic a bit. “I agreed to be their icon of sorts for overthrowing their parents, but I don’t want to lead. That’s just not for me.”
“You don’t like leading?” Marlee sounded skeptical.
“Hate it,” I replied easily. “Every time I end up in charge, I go nuts and end up acting like some sort of animal.” I cast an amused look at her, grinning. “You haven’t seen that before, have you?”
“You? Animalistic? Never,” Marlee replied, smirking. She turned solemn. “Seriously, though, what’re they going to do if you’re their icon but you don’t lead?”
I shrugged. “Not my problem. They’re the ones who need me to be their icon in the first place. That’s their job.”
I jumped off the rocks and onto the thin grass on the other side of the river before looking back at Marlee.
She was shaking her head. “The people won’t agree to that. We don’t even have the technology to broadcast it anymore. We used to all have technology, but when we changed the governments, the tech went to the royals.”
I let out a breath. “Are you still trying to convince me that it’s my problem?”
Marlee looked me in the eye. “Callie, we need someone to stop this nonsense and help us live. Being cooped up in a warehouse and half starving every day? That’s not living. The only thing stopping us is the royals.”
I shook my head. “If you think that kicking the royals off their thrones is going to help the famine, it’s not going to. Even the royals are running low on food. What we really need is rain and no one can control that.”
Marlee’s eyes darkened. “Yes, they can.”
I stared at her in surprise. “Seriously?”
She smirked at me. “You sound like you’re tired of being thrown a curveball.”
I cast her an unimpressed look. “Because I am.”
“Well,” she grinned at me, “first of all, I accept your proposal to join you, even though it was horrible and you didn’t even broach the topic of me joining you, and also, I think I can help you with finding out the reason for the drought. There’s just one hitch.”
I ignored her jab at my conversation skills and focused on the last comment. “What is it?”
Marlee smirked at me and I had the brief notion that I wasn’t going to like what she was going to say.
“Why,” she fluttered her eyelashes innocently, “we have to go see the royals, of course.”
The words came out of my mouth with enough vehemence to startle even me.
Marlee narrowed her eyes at me. “Calypso, either you stop being afraid of leading and you help us live, or I’m going up there myself and throwing you under the bus. I’ll be the first one to say that I have no reason to feel bad for it. All the Salindians need to survive, no matter what kingdom they ended up in.” She threw her arm out to the side, almost showing off the thinning grass and the muddy water that was still slowly flowing down the river. “Nobody deserves this, and something as silly as fear isn’t going to stop me from trying to save some people.”
I closed my eyes, knowing a pained expression was making its way across my face. “Marlee, I can’t.” I was struggling against memories that wanted to arise and this time, I didn’t want them to. I didn’t want to remember the little holes that I knew were in my past. I didn’t want to color in the blank spots. If they were blank, they were blank for a reason.
“You can,” she persisted.
I shook my head, my eyes squeezing shut tighter. “Last time I let a group…” I trailed off as a bubble rose in my throat, surprising me. My hands clenched into fists. “It didn’t end well,” I said, still refusing to let my mind replay the whole scene.
I felt something uncurl my fingers and I opened my eyes to see Kase slipping his hand into mine.
“This is not because I’m a kid and I want to hold your hand for security,” Kase said seriously. “This is because I’m trying to be nice and not say outright that I agree with Marlee, but to be entirely honest, I’m trying to get you to stop looking like you’re melting into the ground because it’s not fun to feel like that.”
I stared at him. “Why are you such a little genius?”
Kase beamed at me. “Because I don’t mind being one. The other kids think it’s weird, but I didn’t feel like trying to stop it. I like the information. It keeps me from thinking of other things.” His face shadowed briefly, but when he looked back at me, he brightened again.
“I think you can do it,” he said after there was a pause. I think Marlee and I were both staring at him like he was the smartest person present. I’ll be honest, sometimes it sounded like he was.
“But I don’t think I can do it,” I managed.
“Too bad,” Marlee clapped her hand on my shoulder. I couldn’t help but notice that it was the second time she’d done it in only a short amount of time. “I think you can do it.”
Kase rolled his eyes. “Good thing your opinion is the only one that matters,” he commented smartly.
Despite myself, I laughed.
“Okay,” I said, surprising even myself. “I’ll do it, but only for you two.”
Marlee looked triumphant, so I decided to mess around a bit.
I leaned towards Kase and mock whispered. “It was actually just for you.”
Marlee punched my shoulder. “I heard that,” she drawled as though she hadn’t just left another bruise on my already injured arm.
“I know you did,” I said, already rubbing it. “But seriously, a punch?”
She grinned. “Oh, that? That was just revenge for pinning me to the ground for so long earlier.” She brushed past me, seeming to take the lead. “I’m sure Kai can handle the rest.”
In my head, I cursed, but Kase and I began following her.
We didn’t have much of a choice.