We are traveling South, the direction of the tug. Henry had only given us a limited amount of food. Just enough for five days at the most. So, while going in the correct direction we are also trying to walk a path that will take us from village to village so that we can get provisions if need be. Jared holds onto a rare map from our governor in his pack. Most people never get to see maps in their life. It is a very rare and special thing to have one. Henry ended up bribing me with it to get me to do all of this. Now Jared insisted on holding onto it. “It makes more sense for the male to hold onto the important objects and documents,” he had argued. And as much as I hated to, I had to agree.
Jared and I have argued over half of our time together so far. Which has been maybe three hours. We weren’t ever friends before. Acknowledgement of each other was as close as we got to each other. Our current misunderstanding is over which way we are traveling.
“South is that way not this way!” Jared exclaimed pointing to his left and then straight ahead.
I insisted, “No, it is not. South is this way. That way is east! The sun rises over there.” I continue walking forward again to prove my point.
Jared huffs and stomps over to me. “You just think you’re so wise, don’t you?” he asked emphasising the word ‘so’. “‘My wisdom will overcome my stubbornness and help me through life!’” he mocks me, raising his voice so that it is loud and high pitched, not like my voice in any way.
“You are being stubborn right now! Where is this wisdom you say you have?”
I cannot believe this guy! “Oh yeah? Well maybe you’re just being too overconfident!” Great, now I am just as bad as he is.
Neither of us say anything for awhile. We are both tired and hungry. I do not want to take another step, whatever direction it may be in. I would sit down but the ground is too cold and I am already freezing as it is.
“Maybe we should just rest for a minute. We can build a fire, eat, and just sit still for a minute or two.”
Jared doesn’t look at me but nods in agreement. He gathers up some dead branches that are mostly dry and I clear a spot of snow and lay out the one blanket we have for us to sit on.
Ten minutes later we are sitting by a small but cozy fire. Jared is laying on his side asleep. I am still awake. Processing all that has happened in the past two days has taken longer than it should. My Determination was confusing enough but now I’m am on this quest in search of some stolen drink. And if I do not return it in ten days something bad could happen, something worse than the moon disappearing.
The necklace continues to pull away gently. I noticed that the farther away from The Gate the harder it tugs. Another thing, it doesn’t work as well for Jared as it does for me. Earlier when we were fighting over the map he had said that it wasn’t fair that I got both things. So I had let him try on the medallion, keeping the treasured map for myself. My plan hadn’t worked though. Jared couldn’t hardly feel anything from the piece of jewelry and led us around in a circle for fifteen minutes before I gave in and switched him the map for the magic medallion.
I suspect that it works better for me because I am a Zenite. I still cannot imagine what that means and Henry didn’t say much. Zenites are people born on a special day- like the winter solstice- under a full moon, exactly at midnight. There is no way to tell this until your Determination. Other than that Zenites are clouded in mystery.
They are supposedly powerful, possibly even magical. Others say that they are immortal or that they don't actually exist. Henry says that some people worship them, or the idea of them, if they do not actually know one. I am not sure what to believe. But the idea of someone worshipping me like a God seems ridiculous. I might be magical or powerful, but I am not God.
My thoughts wander for another hour or so, worrying about this and that. After that, I fall asleep next to the warm fire in the misty Vertebrae Mountains.
Jared wakes me up the next morning just as the sun rises. We need to get an early start if we really want to find the Elixir as soon as possible. Our previous argument is pointless since we are both wrong. The sun rises behind us, putting south to our right.
Neither of us commented on this. We kept silent, putting out the fire and folding up the blanket. We each ate some bread and dried fruit for breakfast as we walked. I am too tired to speak to him and end up fighting once again. I suspect that he feels the same way because he remains quiet like me.
We walk on for miles until the sun is at it’s zenith in the sky. We don’t stop but do pull out some jerky and water for a small lunch. No words have been uttered all day. For the most part I haven’t even noticed. I busied myself looking around the forest and mountains, taking in all of the beauty sounds of the forest.
Jared it seems, is used to the quiet, because he hasn’t interrupted the silence and acted as if he enjoyed it as well. But a time does come when someone has to say something at least once. This time it is me who breaks the silence.
“So,” I start awkwardly, “do you… like winter, the cold?” I know, I know. A great conversation starter.
He looks at me like he is unsure if I am completely sane. My expression must be serious enough though because he answers. “It is alright. Do you like it?” I nod and wait to see if he will say anything else. He does and I am grateful for the change of topic. The other one was stupid and weird.
“Uh, what do you think of all this?” He spreads his arms out wide to indicate everything. “These past few days have been crazy, huh?”
“Yeah, for sure. It is a lot to process. First the Zenith and then this. It is all happening way too fast!”Jared nods and then looks at me funny. “What?” I demand, but I am smiling.
He grins back and wonders, “Why do you talk like that? You sound so… I don’t know, formal.”
“I cannot imagine what you mean. I speak just like everyone else.” Do I speak funny or differently?
He laughs quietly and I am beginning to think that he is making fun of me. “Regular people don’t say that. We would say, ‘I don’t know what you mean. I talk just like you!’ I don’t think that I have ever heard you say a contraction before.”
“I have to! I say them all the time! Do I not? It is not like I cannot say them, I just…” I trail off as I go over what I just said. I pretty much just proved his point. “Alright, maybe. But at least I do not- I mean don’t- use them all the time. Like you do.”
“I cannot imagine what you mean!” he teases. I laugh with him and it feels nice to talk and laugh with someone. Better than arguing anyway.
We keep walking and joking with each other all night. We didn’t stop for rest like we did the previous night. Instead we kept following the tug and watching the map and talking with each other.
I learned that he has two older brothers, his dad, and his mom. He is the youngest and hates it. Apparently his brothers were all Determined the same thing, more or less. His was the most differed from the others. I can tell that he yearns to be independent and separate from his family. He doesn’t want to be known as Samuel's brother or Robert’s son. He wants to be known for his own work and achievements. But, that is hard when he is supposed to do the same thing as the rest of his family.
Also, his favorite color is blue, like the sky. I told him that mine is red. It is a color that I don’t see a whole lot. Most clothing is expensive to get in red and aside from a few unique flowers, no other thing in nature is red.
The sun has already set and risen again. We arrived in the first town, Look, today. It is bigger than The Gate by a lot. But the chain began pulling harder than ever. I took this as a sign that we might be getting close. Jared was more skeptical but excited, nonetheless.
We wandered through town looking at a new setting for the first time in our lives. People aren’t allowed to leave their hometown until they are fourteen. All of the new people, sights, and even smells are wondrous to me. Baking bread, flowers for sale, and dirty men walking around the squares is all new and exciting. At the same time it makes me notice and miss all of the different things in The Gate.
“That bread sure smells good,” Jared notes. I can tell that his mouth is watering and I smile. Mine is too but I remind him, “We still have food, remember?” Disgust covered his face at the thought of the hardened, wheat bread.
We walk around through town seemingly random. I decide to walk near the edge of town, just a feeling in my gut. After some time though, I realize that I am following something other than my gut. The necklace has been tugging me in certain directions since we arrived in Look. I have gotten so used to the constant pull around my neck that I had not even noticed.
I let Jared in on my discovery. We could be nearing the end of our quest. If he is excited or worried he does not show it. I am worried. Someone that is bold enough to steal the ancient Elixir is probably someone that you should not mess with. In fact most people would avoid him not seek him out.
I stumble and Jared is barely able to stop me from falling on my face. Truthfully I hadn’t tripped, I felt like I had been pulled forward… by the medallion. My heart is racing and my breath comes in quick gasps. Around my neck the necklace is struggling to be free and fly toward the man in front of me.