Slowly, conversation rises in the room again, as the Devias discuss the duel. I take the chance to slip away, and make my way out into the hallway, before anyone else asks me to duel them.
Once I am out in the hallway, I sit down, breathing deeply. What’s wrong with me? I don’t feel eager to duel. I don’t want to drink and laugh with my friends. All I can think of is Kane, alone in the dungeon. He can’t join in this celebration. And… for some reason… neither can I. I can’t stop thinking about him. What’s going on with me?!
“Natalia?” I look up, in time to see Tallima drop down next to me, watching me with those deep eyes of hers. “Are you alright? It’s not like you to get distracted while dueling. You’re normally one of our greatest. What’s happening?”
I wince, not wanting to tell her. But slowly, I look up at her, and see that her face is open and friendly. She trusts me, and wants to help me. I feel a strange pull of friendship from the girl that I’ve avoided for years.
“It’s Kane,” I admit. “I can’t stop thinking about him. I’m worried about him. He’s alone down there, in pain, miserable. And… I hate him, Tallima! I hate him with all my heart and soul for letting those girls die, but at the same time… I don’t. Does that make any sense?”
She smiles as I use her name, then considers my problem. Slowly, her expression turns a little more serious. “I have a diagnosis for you. It’s called love.”
My eyes widen with panic, and I feel my pulse speeding up. “No. No way. I can’t be in love with him. Please, Tallima. I am not in love with him! I don’t love him. I hate him! I can’t be-”
She puts a hand on my shoulder, quieting me down. “Easy, Natalia. Love’s not so bad. It can do amazing things for you.”
I shake my head violently, desperately denying her words. “No! First off, what do you know about love? And second, falling in love with Kane could get me killed!”
“Well then I’ll keep your secret,” she smiles, and it is beautiful. “But you have to do your part too. People are going to notice that you’re being weird. You’ve got to at least pretend. And if you want, you can visit him. But… you have to be careful. The Queen would use that against you. You understand that, right?”
I nod my understanding, and try to even out my breathing.
“And as for your first question,” Tallima continues, “I wasn’t taken at such a young age. I had two older brothers, and they would tell me about love. Love, Tallima, they’d say, is like flying. You float over the sky, over the world, and nothing matters but your love. But be careful- don’t let it carry you away, or when you fall, you’ll fall hard. I might not approve of your choice, but I understand. You don’t choose love. Love chooses you. And if you need me to keep this secret for you, I’ll do it.”
“Why?” I ask. “Why are you so…”
“Nice to you? Because in all my years as a Devia, I’ve never been friends with any of you. But you… you don't push me away like the others do. You… reached out to me. And so I suppose I responded in kind. You can call it desperation, if you like. But… I like you, Natalia. You’re a good, honest person. Kane is lucky that you love him- some of the Devias could be much worse. You worry about him, despite how much you hate him. That takes a lot of goodness in a person.”
I sigh. “I can’t care, Tallima. I can’t. I can’t let this ruin me. Everything was going so well! Why did this have to happen? Why? Why to me?”
“Like I said, you don’t choose love. Love chooses you.”
I sigh, and groan to myself. “Just what I need. I’m going insane. I’m sitting here, thinking about the guy I hate, and I’m being given advice from the girl I’ve always been scared of, but now is my friend because I know what she did wasn’t her fault.”
“Some things can be strange,” Tallima shrugs. “I’ll be around.” Then she stands, and disappears back into the room full of light a noise. I look back, to see her walking, head down, as the crowd parts before her. Utterly and totally alone.