When I woke up, my cheeks were sticky with dried salt. I remembered my dream as though it had actually happened, but that was impossible.
I had fallen asleep.
And yet, as I sat up, I noticed with a start that I felt no pain. Nothing hurt. Not my arms, not my legs, not my head, or my side.
I was normal again.
I stood up, looking around. Most people were still sleeping, but there were a few people walking around. On her own bedroll beside mine, Marlee was still breathing evenly, soft inhales blowing through her nose.
I took in a deep breath, rolling my shoulders. Somewhere further into the teen corner was Amaya, laying on her own bedroll and looking exhausted. Despite my head telling me not to, I felt drawn to her.
I walked over, drawing close enough that I could see the wet tear tracks on her cheeks shining in the dim light. They almost mirrored my own.
“I’m sorry,” I said softly, my hand reaching out almost against my will and touching her cheek. I brushed my hand across her tears, trying to wipe them off, but then I felt something change.
Warmth suddenly flooded up my arm and into the rest of my body. My eyes closed without my trying to close them and I felt like I was being torn in half. For a moment, I understood everything.
Ellia, Ellie, Emma, Mom, Dad, Dr. Neora…
Just as soon as it was there, it was gone, and I was left feeling like I had forgotten something significant. It seemed like something that could potentially be as big as forgetting my own name, but I wouldn’t do something like that. I remembered everything.
And yet, I didn’t remember what I had just realized.
I stood up, realizing that my hand was still on Amaya’s cheek. It didn’t even register in my brain that both the tears tracks on her face and the sticky salt on my own had disappeared.
I looked away, shaking my head roughly as though that would help me with something. It didn’t help with anything. It just made me dizzy.
I crossed quickly back to Marlee and touched her gently.
“Marlee,” I whispered, “wake up.”
Marlee mumbled something, still at least half asleep. It sounded a lot like if you had written something on paper, ripped the paper up, tried to put all the letters back together, and then pronounced them in the garbled order you found them in.
Or, it just sounded like, “Gnh aww. Inha mrnin.”
I guessed it was something about in the morning.
“Marlee,” I prompted again, nudging her slightly, “we should get going.”
Marlee blinked her eyes open, staring at me blankly for a moment.
I reared back, slightly alarmed. Thankfully, I hadn’t made a noise.
“Ready to go?” I asked her.
She blinked one more time, then nodded, pushing herself up.
I moved to the side to let her up and checked my bedroll to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I hadn’t taken my knife belt off last night—which I was realizing might’ve been the culprit of some of my discomfort—so all that was laying there was my rumpled blanket.
I stared at it for a moment, wondering how this day would end. Last time I’d been to the castle, I had nearly been killed by a psycho prince. Walking in there with only two daggers and a tired companion, I might be walking back to my death. One can only have so many near-misses before they end up pulling the shorter stick.
Marlee came to stand beside me. “Why do I get the feeling that we might not be back here tonight?” she asked softly.
I shrugged. “I feel it, too,” I said.
For a moment, we just looked at each other, but then we began moving towards the door. Had we stayed any longer, we might not have been able to start moving.
We slipped out the door, looking up into the clear sky. The stars still twinkled overhead and the moon was watching us; there were no clouds to obscure its vision.
“Wait!” we heard someone call.
We didn’t turn because we were no one. We were moving on and no one was supposed to be following us. We didn’t turn because no one would want to follow us.
“Guys,” the voice was getting closer, despite it all, “why are you leaving without me? I was supposed to come with you.”
That was when Marlee glanced at me in confusion and paused, glancing back. Surprise lit up her features and her lips parted slightly as though she was going to say something, but then didn’t.
I looked back, too.
“Amaya?” I asked in surprise.
Amaya looked at me and something flickered in her eyes that was suspiciously close to respect. “Calypso,” she said, nodding in greeting. She looked back at Marlee. “I told you that I was coming,” she accused.
Marlee blinked. “I thought you were kidding. I told you what we were doing. It’s not a joke.”
Amaya looked annoyed. “Do you think that I would expect you to joke after your friend almost killed herself with a magic needle and then I burst into tears? There is clearly some fault in your thinking.”
I looked between them. “Look, did she tell you that we’re meeting—”
“A psychopath prince along with all the other mostly sane ones?” Amaya cut me off, “yes. I’m still coming, whether you want me to or not.”
I studied her hard for a moment, feeling like it was both a good idea and also a bad idea.
“Plus,” she added, shifting to show the bag on her shoulder, “I brought food.”
Marlee looked aghast. “Amaya! They need those!”
Amaya didn’t look sorry at all. “And we’re trying to save them,” she said stubbornly, “I think we need it just as much, don’t you think?”
I didn’t see a fault in that logic.
“I can’t protect you,” I said seriously.
Amaya’s eyes darkened. “I don’t need protected.”
After a moment, I nodded. “Okay, then,” I said, smiling slightly, “welcome to the squad. Now, shall we be going?” I motioned ahead of us. “We’ve got a long march to our death.”
The girls didn’t move a muscle.
I sighed, “Yeah, I agree. That was a bad joke. Seriously, though, let’s go.” I turned towards the castle. “There are only so many hours in a day.”
“Actually,” Marlee began.
I turned back from a few feet away, only having walked a few steps before having to pause. “If you tell me that there’s some sort of magic person who can control the hours in a day, now is not the time.”
Marlee nodded seriously. “Okay, sorry.”
Amaya was snickering and I shifted my annoyed glance to her.
“Anything you’d like to share, Amaya?” I asked impatiently.
Amaya kept snickering. “Just the fact that you said now is not the time to talk about people who can control time,” she said.
I sighed, glancing up at the moon for a moment, feeling as though it was also smirking at me in this moment. “This is going to be a long journey.” I began walking. “And don’t you dare tell me the exact distance.”
I would probably end up running off without them at that point.
It’s basically what I do.
“Yes, master,” Amaya giggled. “Lead the say.”
I growled and kept stomping, ignoring the snickers behind me.
This was going to be a very long journey.