< Return to Soul of Company Part 1
Keirn turned, summoning what little strength he had left to flee. He was tired of this ravine and its memories. He was tired of seeing the faces of the people which he had stormed away from. But, mostly, he was just tired. The snow grew deeper, clutching at his legs and tripping his feet. More than once he fell, unsure if each stumble would sap the last of his strength. Each time, he lay sprawled in the snow, the pain momentarily vanishing.
But each time, the cold dug further, and he climbed shakily to his feet and pressed on.
The trees parted, and the earth opened up to a shimmering lake surrounded by large rolling hills. The clouds were hidden behind the dance of the multitudinous flakes of snow. The wind whistled gentle across the scattered stones creating long snaking snowdrifts that wiggled across the frozen lake’s surface.
It was elegant and peaceful. There sort of place young couples came to be alone and older couples returned to reminisce. It had strength in its pure beauty and natural tranquility. It was a fine place to rest. A fine place to sleep.
But, of course, she was here.
She sat upon the edge of the lake, watching his broken shuffle ambled towards her. Unlike the others, she didn’t wear her normal cloths. Instead, she wore a simple white gown that seemed to wash over her, blend with the very snow gathered around. She was not some ghost juxtaposed against the winter landscape, but a piece of the very environment, like another icicle or frosty tree.
She looked upon him with eyes rimmed with tears. Like tiny diamonds, they dotted her cheeks, the cold and wind having frozen them to her face. She watched him till he was but a few feet away, the uttered a single word.
Nothing else could have been so powerful. He didn’t know how to answer it. He had plenty of excuses; he had used many when they had parted ways. The rest he had saved for himself as he wandered alone and abandoned but all of them sounded hollow now. He just stared back.
A single tear appeared at the corner of her eye. It trembled there, perched at the edge. When it finally jumped, it streaked down her round face, freezing before it reached the bottom of her chin. There it crystallized, catching what little light broke through the squall and holding the sunlight within like a frozen flame.
“Why did you do it?”
He was going to tell her all the reasons. If there was anyone who he would tell it would be her. He had plucked up the courage and strength to tell her all his fears. He was so tired of hiding it that he just wanted to share everything with her.
Instead, his knees buckled and the ground embraced him.
Is this it… am I dead?
I don’t feel anything.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here. I should be alone.
Why is it so important now? Why can’t you just leave me? Leave me to die.
“I will, once I have your answer.”
Because, Kait! Because… because I…
“You can’t even tell your sister? Do you think so little of me?”
I’m afraid. I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to lose any of you.
Don’t patronize me. I’m the one that is dying.
“We’re all dying, in one way or another.”
Since when did you become philosophical?
“Oh, I’ve had someone tell me a thing or two.”
Well here’s another. Leave me alone.
“Why, so you can die?”
Everyone dies alone.
“Don’t be so dramatic. And stop being so pig headed. You can’t do everything by yourself.”
Yes I can.
“Well, excuse me. But last I checked, you’re the one that’s unconscious by the lake.”
If I can’t do it on my own, then…
Then there’s no guarantee I can do it with you. What if I fail when we’re together? What if I hadn’t stopped that gate and it had landed on Jeremiah? He would have been paralyzed. He wouldn’t be able to practice his healing. How do you think his parents would react? He has brothers and a sister too and do you think any of them are prepared to take care of a cripple?
Or what if I didn’t stop that assassin from killing Derrek during his performance? What would I tell Aliessa? She would be heartbroken. And the kid has talent. He could be some playwright in the big city some day. There isn’t reason for him to be trudging through the mud and dirt of swampy villages in search of a warm meal and a comfy bed. He should be heading to the city, writing the next great performance!
And had I not been there, you guys wouldn’t have been imprisoned. You wouldn’t have been hunted. Had Calandria been more vindictive, she could have killed you. What would I tell mother? We’re all that she has left. You’re all that she has left. She’s always been so worried about you.
“Oh, so you’re pulling the martyr? Don’t you think that’s rather rich coming from you?”
I dragged you guys into this. If I hadn’t you would be…
“Sitting at home being bored out of our minds and dreaming about doing what we are doing now. You didn’t drag us into anything, we choose to come along. Don’t you understand, we’re a team! You aren’t solely responsible for all of our wellbeing. Besides, if you’re so worried about us, who’s going to worry about you?”
I can take care of…
“Don’t you understand? No one is asking for you to take care of yourself. We take care of each other! That’s why you got your friends to come along on this, isn’t it? That’s the reason that Jeremiah and the rest of us get so frustrated. You keep us all at arms length, making all the decisions and never involving us. The stories we heard back home are just that, stories. They aren’t real.”
What do you want from me?
“I want you to be you. Remember when we were kids and we would go running through the woods pretending to be knights? Remember the fun you had with Derrek playing all those tricks at school together? Remember all the nights you spent with Jeremiah beneath the stars talking about your futures? We want to be a part of your life again, stop pushing as away.”
Isn’t it a little late for that?
“It’s never too late.”
“I think he’s coming to.”
He felt strange all over. It was like a thousand needles had been heated in a fire then stabbed into his body. Then, to top it off, he had been bathed in lime juice.
He felt them standing over him before he even saw them. Lazily he opened his right eye, then the left. They were crowded by his bedside, all of them bleary eyed and tired. Kait was still wiping tears from her cheeks. Jeremiah looked indignant and Derrek, oddly, appeared genuinely concerned.
“Move back, move back! Give him some room!” Jeremiah ordered. The other’s shuffled away, though only by a foot.
“That was a close one.”
“You wouldn’t believe the cuts you got!”
“You scared us half to death!”
“What were you thinking anyway?”
The questions came at him in a barrage. Feebly, he scratched for his pillow in an attempt to block them out. However, his arms merely flopped like beached fish.
“Well, what do you have to say for yourself!” Kait demanded.
“Move aside, move aside, oh the poor soul.”
An elderly, grey haired woman brushed his friends aside, carrying a small cup in her hands. It seemed rather clichéd for them to be gathered in some old hag’s home. However, those thoughts were immediately banished when the cup was lifted to his lips and he felt the cool water running down his throat.
“What… are… you… do…ing…here…”
“I’ll explain that,” Jeremiah said. He proudly stepped to the bedside, pulling a thin pendant out from around his neck. “I believe you’ll recognize this.”
Keirn frowned at the piece of jewellery.
“Not really… did your boyfriend give that to you?”
“Funny. It’s actually yours, I forgot I was holding on to it.”
Jeremiah handed the thing to him. Keirn took it, looking the object over. He shook his head.
“I’ve never seen this before in my life.”
Jeremiah turned to Kait who had a weird smile on her face.
“You’re not really good at this, are you?” she accused. She walked over, taking the large center of the pendant in her hands and applied some pressure to its side. There was a small click and the thing opened. Keirn turned it around in his fingers.
It was a picture of the four of them, though the picture wasn’t great quality. Clearly, it had been painted by some amateur that had waylaid the others in the streets. Hopefully they didn’t pay too much for it, but he had a feeling that his friends had once again been swindled by a welcoming smile and useless trinkets. Keirn looked back at his friends, who were all smiling.
“Turn it over,” Kait prompted.
Keirn obeyed. On the back, a message had been etched.
Keirn and Company. Together Forever.
He looked back at them, his face trying its hardest to appear unimpressed.
“You wasted our hard earned coin on this… this… thing?”
“Oh, I think he likes it,” Derrek laughed.
“Remember when you were saying how one day you wanted to look back on these days fondly?” Kait smiled. “Well, now you have something to remember with. And look, it’s been enchanted so that the paint will never fade!”
“I told you that when I had stones digging into my back and I was trying to fall asleep. Don’t you understand sarcasm?”
“Yeah, he definitely likes it,” Jeremiah laughed. “Think of it as an early Birth gift.”
“See, I told you he would thank us!” Kait laughed.
“My, you foreign folk certainly have such strange customs,” the elderly woman muttered, taking the empty cup and shuffling from the room.
Keirn slapped the clasp of the locket shut before shoving the thing under his pillow and rolling over. He felt so tired and so sore that all he wanted to do was sleep. Also, he didn’t want them to see him smiling so goofily. And, somewhere deep down, he felt… was this happiness?
“By the way, Keirn,” Derrek piped up, “where are your clothes?”
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