It was not yet night as the sun attempted to break through the thick canopy which towered half a mile over the tiny growthlings. A calm cool breeze sped between the gargantuan bases of trees, it howled and whispered sweetly. A cacophony of birds could be heard nesting, thousands of them gawking and spitting seed coatings that littered the foliage below. One of these seeds clunked Onyx in his head. He looked in annoyance as he finally undid the last bit of twine.
“That took forever!” Nike, standing to xyr feet clearly irritated, readied a slew of insults.
“Why are you always so silent? Maybe if you spoke up Tulip would’ve listened? She doesn’t like me, you know that!”
“Should have kicked me, told me to ‘shhhh’ anything Onyx. Anything was better than that.”
Onyx looked at Nike with a sad stare. He’d realized that arguing with xyr was fruitless, agreeing might make xyr simmer down a bit, but staying silent was also just as pointless.
He had a plan.
“If it’s any consolation, I found the point where they had to bind you a little unnecessary...” Nike nodded in approval, clearly waiting to hear what more Onyx had to say.
“... But, if you asked me, they should have gagged you, because that mouth is the real trouble.”
Nike was completely taken aback. In fact, xe had not been ready for Onyx’s witty response. Xyr eyes drew a deep purple, and as xe contemplated they turned red with fury. Nike gathered a nearby rock and threw it with all xyr might in Onyx’s direction. It struck him square on his head with a thunk, the force sending him to the ground.
In a place full of wind and the chorus of birds one sound rose above them all: laughter. The pair giggled heartily. Nike walked over and laid next to Onyx and the two, for the first time in their life, had a moment of peace.
“You know, Onyx, all we did from saplings to growthlings is learn. When did we truly have time to do things like this? It is always work, grow, maintain, learn, then rinse and repeat. Sure there is designated ‘free time’ once a cycle, but hell, we know that isn’t enough.”
Onyx pondered the thought as Nike continued.
“You get me? Like, I know because of our education we’re self aware. We don’t sleep. We don’t tire in the way most Humans and Cyclops do. We just grow. Until… until one day we end up like one of those.” Nike pointed at a massive Blackwood tree “Then, the cycle continues and the new batch of Eredeseans pray to you and maintain your growth.”
Onyx nodded his head in a pile of leaves “mhmmm.”
“So what I’m saying is: why do we have to do that? Why can’t we go out and make our own lives. Why can’t we just die?”
Nike nudged Onyx in his side which broke his spell of absentmindedness.
“Are you even listening?”
Onyx, nodded once again then spoke.
“Yea, I mean, it’s complicated. We’re newer people. What did Tulip say? I think, 3,000 years? That isn’t a long time. The gift of life came from the North, but it seems to have coincided with the Cyclops’s decline. There are only a couple thousand of them left, and what they say is to tend to the forest.” Onyx waved his hands motioning to the vegetation around them. “And, that’s what we have done for 3,000 years. The forest protects us, it is us. Without it, we have nothing. With it, we defeated the Easterners and drove them back to the grasslands. I think the reason why your reasoning isn’t that popular is because no one has survived past the forest. Where would we draw power? Leaving and being individuals isn’t something our species was made to do.”
Nike scoffed at Onyx’s explanation.
“You must believe everything they tell us, huh? All I’m saying is we have 6 months. That’s a lot of time, we should go to the Edge.”
Onyx looked at Nike in disbelief.
“Don’t look at me like that! We’ll just take a peek. Some Eredeseans live their whole lives and never see the Edge.”
Onyx kept looking at Nike, this time with desire.
“Save it! I see your eyes. I’m not in the mood, plus I’m still mad at you for not sticking up for me. I saw how they were all nice and cute with you. You were just worried about yourself”
“If I am selfish then why would I share my art with you? I thought I was doing what you wanted? It takes a lot of energy to craft whole appearances.”
“You did, but do I owe you anything for that? You may have others fooled, but not me. I’m a flirt with everyone Onyx and I’m but, sorry sapling, I’m not really feeling you. I got what I wanted. I’m not ungrateful, but if I am being honest, you did this for yourself.” Nike pointed to xyr body and face. “You had a real chance to get to know me when you were sculpting. The only reason why you didn’t is you’d think that that would be enough. You got my parents, but maybe that’s what you really wanted anyway?”
Depression sank Onyx’s eyes. He had always wanted to woo Nike. It was true, he did think that the work he’d done on xyr body would be enough. He also wanted a family and thought the only way to repay the Jules’ for their kindness was to use his talents exclusively for Nike. But Nike made this all feel shallow, every word slicing into him as she spoke. His spirit felt a dip of unease and he grew silent for a while. As the minutes ticked by, both growthlings rode the awkward silence until, eventually, Onyx asked Nike a question.
“Do you ever feel… conflicted?”
“Conflicted how, you have to be more specific?”
Onyx’s eyes went pink with nervousness.
“Umm, like… Like the… the-”
“I’ll stop you there. And no. I don’t. It isn’t conflict or confusion. I feel whole. I always have. Though I see why you’d be curious.”
“You don’t feel, like, one more than the other?”
“Onyx, no, but think about what you are asking. You’re asking if I feel male or female? Well... that’s insane. I am neither. Sure, society would like to say I’m both, but really, I’m neither.”
“I don’t get it.”
Nike looked up at the canopy and sighed.
“You know how if you mix knobberries and blacksap you get burnsoup? Burnsoup isn’t knobberries or blacksap. It’s burnsoup, it’s completely different from either of those and yet, of course there will be similarities. The texture and taste may be different depending on how much knoberry or blacksap you add, but at the end of the day it is burnsoup.”
“I think I know what you mean.”
Nike giggled in a melodic tone.
As the two shared primary school stories and memories of silly past relationships, a pair of dark black eyes stared from behind. It observed the growthlings, creepily whispering to itself . Another figure landed close by on a branch just higher than the first.
“That is them.”
“Follow them. When the time is right, eliminate the objective, I will be close by.”