“This is a familiar situation, is it not?” Caleb changed his position under our makeshift canopy of ferns and tree branches. The rain had steadily been dripping through an opening and had soaked his left arm.
“It is,” I grinned and met his brilliant blues. We were shoulder to shoulder with our backs against a sequoia tree. The bark dug into my shoulder blades. The last time we had been huddled together like this to avoid a storm had been I was 16. It had barely been a year since I started traveling with Caleb and we had been ambushed by bandits. We got out only a little injured, but they had stolen our money, so we hadn’t been able to rent any kind of shelter. Sometimes I missed those simpler days, where I wasn’t infected and I wasn’t uncertain of what I wanted from Fletcher.
“That was eight years ago. You were still a child,” Caleb’s eyes drifted over to the nearby beach cloaked by the night sky which lightning would occasionally light up. Our steel cage with a long rod pointing towards the sky sat several hundred feet away. Fortunately, lightning kept striking the bait, so our lightning orbs would be fully restored once the storm ended. Elemental orbs only retained so much elemental energy. The brighter the glow, the more power it contained. And once it became dim you had to restore it by submerging it in its appropriate element.
Another clap of thunder echoed throughout the terrain as I mulled over his comment. Yes, I was still quite young back then, but I felt my life experience had aged me past the point of a child. “I don’t agree with that,”
He let out a low hum “Hm, I supposed it’s better stated as I still considered you a child. That really didn’t change until we ran into each other on Slothia Island two years ago,”
I looked at him and arched an eyebrow. “It took six years for your viewpoint to change?”
“Yep, I still saw you as my apprentice, so I believe that’s largely why. Once, you were gone for two years and pursuing your own work and goals, I guess I was able to reset it,” His typical smile grew. “My though, how things have changed since that conversation that night,”
I rested my chin on my knees. I stared out into the void of the forest around us. Oh, what a true statement that was.
My hands wrung the half-empty, smooth wineskin in my lap. I bite the inside of my lip, the corners of my eyes stinging. My eyes were trained on the slow lull of the waves just below our dangling feet. The moon was a tiny sliver, its reflection bouncing across the dark waters.
“Evvy,” Caleb’s large, left hand covered my hands, stilling them. His slightly calloused skin warming my cold fingers.
A small smile tugged at my lips at the nickname. Everyone always called me Evelyn and he usually did as well, but in these somber, quiet moments he would address me by Evvy. I didn’t really know why, yet I took it as a gesture of comfort. “Gosh, it has been over a year and I’ve been feeling pretty good these past few months, so I don’t get where this is all coming from,” Freeing my left hand, I vaguely motioned at myself with it.
“Sometimes our emotions build up without us realizing it until we find one of our safe docks, where we can cast down our anchors and allow everything to flow out,” His fingers intertwined with those of my right hand. His grip was firm and it helped ground me in the present along with the steady crashing of the waves against the wooden pier and ships surrounding us.
“I suppose you may be right,” I met his deep-set eyes. They were soft. His fiery hair appeared to faintly glow even in the darkness, adding to the warmth he offered. When I had tracked him down all those years ago, I hadn’t expected us to have this kind of relationship. I figured it would a distant, curt one such as I had with all my teachers growing up as a young noble. But it had never once been like that, even during our first meeting on Amoria Isle. Caleb had never been distant from me.
The wooden planks beneath us squeaked as he shifted his one leg so it rested under the other. “He offered no reasons?”
“No,” My clasp on his hand tightened. A chilled breeze swept through my long hair. “He only said there was no one else,” But who knows if that was even true.
“Do you want to know why?” His longer hair danced on the wind with his bangs occasionally concealing his eyes.
“No, I’ve spent far too much of my life already on him. I just want to be free,” A stray tear slid down my cheek and dropped onto our joined hands. Knowing Caleb, he would still look into it, but I needed to keep pushing it behind me. I needed to discover the future I wanted, not the one fate cruelly led me to.
“You will be and when you are there will be somebody there who will continue to help you soar,” He smiled at me for the first time there on the pier and squeezed my hand. That was also something special between us. He never let anyone else see him without his trademark, closed mouth smile. It wasn’t something reserved for these subdued moments, but reserved for just me it seemed.
“I’m still not sure if I want to be free of him or not. He’s been trying since our reunion at the Mraga Isle to right his actions from the past. And I appreciate that, but I’m still uncertain of it all. Like is he really my idle match?” I heaved a big sigh that a boisterous clap of thunder tuned out. “Also, both of us could die unexpectedly now. It’s just, all so much…” My voice trailed off as my vision blurred. Yes, the infection had a gradual progression and it thus far was advancing slowly, but that could change at any time and my death could come at any moment. Death eventually came for everyone, but I was far from ready for it. I didn’t want to die and though in reality, the possibility of death hung over me in every day, every hour, every second, yet I had been able to live outside of that fear. However, this infection brought this reality and terror into the forefront of my existence and I was beginning to drown in it.
Something lanky, but strong wrapped around my shoulders. I swapped at my eyes with my shaky fingers and could make out the pale grey of Caleb’s shirt while he pressed my head into his chest. He softly stroked my hair. His other arm wrapped around my torso. I clung to his shirt and buried my face into it. My tears gushed out, weak wails tumbling out of my lips while my whole body trembled.
“Evvy…. I’m not going to let you die…I can at least promise you that, so you don’t need to worry about that any longer,” Caleb whispered in a strained voice, his grip on me tightening.
Those words combined with the warmth of his body, his stable heartbeat and his familiar smell of spearmint and oaked anchored me despite the reality that was trying to drag me into its dark, watery depths. I supposed Caleb was right back then, he was one of my safe docks.