Author's Note: This is not related to the prompt, but I really wanted to post it, so enjoy!
I wake up at dawn, the sky shade of crimson. I stretch and grab an apple from my bag. As I open the flap of the tent, I see that Zayn and Andre are still asleep. I want to wake them up, but I decide against it. As much as I want to get going, I don’t want two cranky idiots to deal with. It’s cold, so I go back into my tent and wrap myself in my royal purple blanket. Soon enough, I doze off again.
I wake up to a sunny sky. I’ve overslept. I notice that Zayn and Andre have left. Typical. I quickly change into a pair of knit blue pants and a white tunic. I tie my hair into a knot at the nape of my neck as I usually do.
I don’t eat much for breakfast as I am trying to conserve my food. I pack up the tent and stuff it in my bag. No one is around, so I decide to stay where I am, hoping Zayn and Andre will come back soon. I wait for about an hour before they finally show up.
“Hey, look who finally decided to wake up!”
“Yeah, next time we’ll just leave you there.”
The two of them walk towards me, smirks on their faces.
“No time for beauty sleep right now ‘kay princess?” Andre laughs. And that’s the end of it. Even though I know I’ll just be wasting time, I still engage in his petty argument.
“Oh, is that so? You know, my fist has only gotten stronger since the last time I punched you!” I retort. Zayn raises his eyebrows and steps back.
“Yeah? Well this time, I won’t let you do it. I’ll fight you right here, right now, and then we’ll see.” he yells. Bile rises in my throat as I realize he’s serious. Very serious. I might be smarter than him but he’s much stronger. And I’m in danger. Zayn looks unaffected by all the drama as he stands by and watches.
Before I can realize it, Andre punches me hard in the gut. I double over, with stars in my vision. But I’m mad now. I won’t let him beat me up. I throw a sidekick as hard as I can and Andre gets pushed backward with a force I didn’t know I was capable of creating. But when he gets back up, I see the fire in his eyes. He won’t let me out of this alive. He lifts me with ease and throws me towards the tent. I land on the ground half-dead, but he still doesn’t stop. He kicks me in the face repeatedly until I taste blood.
I don’t even know what pain is anymore. My entire body is numb. At this moment, I’m willing to let God take me to the heavens. After all, what is left for me here? I feel darkness creep into my eyes and let sleep take me.
I wake up on the cold floor of the tent with a blanket draped over me. I hear voices outside.
“She threatened me, man, did you hear that?”
“You could have killed her! I get that you were frustrated, but you need to know when to stop!”
“You act as if you care about if she lives!”
“I do! She’s the smartest out of the three of us, we can’t lose her. Besides, she’s not all that bad, and the king would publicly hang you if she came home with even a scratch.”
“I’ll kill that nasty little virago if she crosses me one more time, I swear. I don’t care what the hell he does to me.”
“Come on, Andre, she’s a girl!”
“I don’t give a damn if she’s a girl! I hate her!”
“Get used to it, she’s not going anywhere until we finish this!”
I don’t hear the rest of the conversation until Zayn opens the flap of the tent.
“Hey, you up?” he asked.
“So...uh, how are you feeling?” His tone is gentle but I can hear the strain in his voice. He doesn’t know who to side with.
“Well, I can’t move, so...that’s a huge setback,” I respond weakly. Zayn smiles.
“Listen, I’m sorry about that. I should have stepped in earlier. Oh god, I’m such an idiot.” I frown. He thinks it’s his fault. I feel sympathy for him.
“No, it has nothing to do with you. Don’t blame yourself. I should've just kept my mouth shut. We’re supposed to work as a team.”
“I mean, if it were me in your position, I would have done the same thing, We’ve been pretty mean to you throughout this journey. I just want to apologize for that, on behalf of Andre too.” I smile. Zayn isn’t as bad as I thought. Yes, he’s treated me wrongly for a while, but maybe I can learn to forgive.
By the next morning, I feel a bit better. Still not ready to go, but better, at least. Andre still has not apologized. I don’t expect him to, the self-centered jerk he is. I know that our fight will lead to a lot of drama while the three of us are working together.
We stay in the same place for three days. Still, Zayn seems unbothered. He says he wants to make sure I’m okay before we start moving. It’s a sweet thought, but I want to get out of here. I don’t want to be the person that’s holding us back.
Another day later, I can walk. My entire body hurts, but I can walk. That’s all I care about. I tell Zayn I feel completely better (even though I don’t) and we pack up our things and get ready to go.
“So, not much going on in the suburbs, huh?” I say quietly.
“Oh, I don’t know, we haven’t gotten much time to search with you being all injured or whatever.” Andre snaps. I want to hit him again, tell him if he had made better decisions, we wouldn’t be here. But I don’t. I’m smarter than that. Instead, I say,
“Well, what would you like to do now?” We all stay silent for a moment. Andre is the first one to speak.
“Let’s go to Edgehollow.” My muscles tighten. I’ve never been there, but I know that going will bring back too many memories. Yet, I don’t know how to say no. I’ve already held Zayn and Andre back too much. Any more interference would be a mistake on my part.
“Sure. Let’s go,” I agree reluctantly. Zayn shoots me a nervous glance. He can hear the fear in my voice. I don’t return the gesture. I don’t want him to think I’m weak.
We trek towards the city limits with heavy backpacks weighing us down. We know we’re all tired, but no one says anything. They’ll wait for someone else to make the first move. 30 minutes pass. With every step, I feel like I’ll collapse. Finally, I give in.
“Uh, can we take a break?” I gasp. Zayn looks at me with relief on his face. Andre sighs. I know he wants to sit down and take a break, but he doesn’t want to show it.
“I mean, if you insist,” he says grumpily, but I know he’s happy about it. We sit for a few minutes and drink water, and then start moving again. By the time we reach Riverhall Gate, we are all exhausted and the sun is setting. We decide to make camp here and continue our journey the next morning.
Surprisingly, I sleep well. I’m all ready to go when I wake up. I quickly wake Zayn and Andre, and we pack up the tents. For breakfast, we each have an orange and some bread. It isn’t much, but it’s good enough to keep us going.
We show the guards our identification papers and they let us through the gate. Maybe it’s in my head, but I can smell a distinct tinge of ash. It makes me woozy. I do my best to focus and not show that I’m struggling.
We walk towards the town square and try to decide what we’ll do next.
“You know, we never came up with a plan. How are we going to do this? We don’t even know what Blue looks like. He probably has spies listening to us too. We are just wandering around aimlessly.” Zayn says. I realize he is right. We don’t know what to do. The three of us sit down on a bench nearby.
“So, what do we know?” I ask. It isn’t a very good question, but it’s a start.
“Okay, well we know that Blue is a criminal who we’re supposed to find. We know nothing about where he might be.” Andre responds.
“True, but he has spies and people who side with him, right?” Zayn asks
“Yes…” I answer, wondering where he will go with this.
“If we just find the right person, and convince them they can trust us, they’ll lead us right to him,” Zayn suggests
“So you want to find one of his supporters and manipulate them? Nice.” Andre says sarcastically. I look at him.
“Are you siding with Blue?” I ask. His face reddens.
“No, I’m just saying, you shouldn’t manipulate someone!”
“Even the accomplice of a criminal?”
“It just isn’t the right thing to do!”
“You were okay with nearly murdering Azalea, what’s the problem with this?” I stand by and watch Zayn and Andre argue. Andre seems to be at a loss for words.
“Okay. You guys can do what you want. I just don’t want to be a part of something that isn’t right.” he says quietly.
“Wha-what do you mean?” I ask, raising my eyebrows.
“I’m leaving. You two continue the quest. I can’t support this.”
“Can’t support what?
“The horrible place we live in! Riverhall is a huge district with a lot of influence. It’s going to turn other districts just like it. Don’t you understand? Our king is ruining everything! We’re losing our freedom and you two are just focused on this stupid quest! He’s brainwashed you too!” I shake my head in disbelief. How can he not support the king?
“So who do you support then?”
“Those who want to make the world right again.” With that, he picks up his bag and stalks off. I can’t believe it. He’s gone. Zayn has the same expression as me. We stand in silence for a moment, watching Andre leave.
“So, shall we set up camp?” Zayn suggests, finally breaking the silence. I nod and pull my tent out of my bag. We don’t talk much unless necessary. Soon enough, it seems like Zayn is bored with it.
“Look, I know this will be awkward, but we need to talk. With Andre gone now, we have to figure out what to do,” he says. He sounds stressed.
“You’re right,” I admit. “Let’s just go through with the plan, try to find someone who might be working with Blue.” Zayn nods, but there’s something else on his mind.
“What do you think about what Andre said?” he asks. I respond without hesitation.
“I disagree. He’s wrong, our king only wants the best for us.” Zayn doesn’t say anything after that. It’s a controversial topic I guess. I just hope he doesn’t leave like Andre did.
I hear Zayn curse from inside the tent.
“What happened?” I ask
“Andre took the tent. I’ll have to go buy a new one somewhere,” he responds.
“Okay, come back soon,” I say. He nods and heads out into the marketplace. I’m grateful for the time alone. It will give me a chance to think about all of this.
While he’s gone, I notice a strange woman lurking in front of our campsite. Her hair is so black it looks blue. Her eyes are dark grey. To a normal person, it would look like a person passing by. But to me, a trained assassin, she isn’t just an ordinary girl. I decide to do what I’m used to doing. I will catch her by surprise and then interrogate her. I slowly creep out of the tent when her back is turned. I bring a knife with me, just in case.
Swiftly, I grab her from behind and hold my knife to her throat. She almost shrieks, but I slap my hand over her mouth.
“You’re going to follow me over there,” I whisper, pointing to a dark alley. She struggles, but I press the knife harder against her neck. Slowly, I lead her to the alley and pin her against a wall with my knife.
“I’m going to ask you some questions, and you will answer truthfully. Got it?” I say softly. She nods, and I can see the fear in her eyes.
“Okay. Why were you stalking our campsite?” I ask and lessen the pressure on her neck so she can speak.
“I-I wasn’t. I was just walking by.” she cries. I slap her with the flat part of the blade and she shrieks out in pain.
“That is a lie. Tell me why you were there!” I insist.
“I told you! I was just walking by!” she’s in tears now.
“No. You. WEREN’T! TELL ME WHAT YOU WERE DOING THERE!”
“NO!” she screams. I feel rage build up inside of me.
“You do know I can kill you in a heartbeat, right?”
“Go ahead. Kill me. Kill me and know that you will never find out what I was doing. But you know, my family will be safe. HAIL THE OCEAN KING!” she shouts as I shove the blade deep into her heart. She drops to the ground and beckons for me to listen.
“You are Azalea Grey. You have been sent by King Louis of Riverhall. I know about you. You wish to capture our king. You will not succeed. You will never succeed when you do the wrong thing.” And with that, she closes her eyes and lets out her last breath. I pull my knife out of her chest and sit next to her body in silence. How can she know who I am? Who is the Ocean King? I was top of my class in Geography and Social Studies, but I’d never heard of an Ocean King.
I fall asleep thinking about all of this and I’m shaken awake by Zayn.
“AZALEA! GET UP, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” he shouts in a panicked tone. I jerk awake and rub the sleep out of my eyes as I try to register what has happened. I see the girl’s body slumped beside me.
“Did you do this?” Zayn asked softly. I nod and stare at the girl.
“We need to get out of here,” I say, and Zayn agrees. But as we make our way back to the campsite, we see something burning in the distance.
“Zayn,” I start, but I don’t need to say anything else. He sees it too. Bile rises in my throat. No, it can’t be. But as we get closer, the truth sets in. A raging fire has enveloped our campsite, but that isn’t the strange part. The fire isn’t spreading at all, despite the wooden planks that should be helping it spread. It stays only on our campsite. This isn’t a normal fire. I think about the possible ways it could happen, but I can’t think of anything. People around the city have started to notice the flames too. They turn, stare, and whisper to each other. One man runs to the lake to fill up buckets of water and put out the fire. Other people start to follow his lead and help us. I am shocked. In Riverhall, there aren’t usually fires because of the cold temperatures year-round. But if there was a fire, no one would help. You’d be left to fend for yourself. It’s just what the culture is like in Riverhall. It may sound evil, but I’ve grown up in Riverhall. I don’t have another home. The king was so generous offering me a position as an assassin. Without him, I would have most likely been living on the streets right now. I have no relatives or family to take care of me. I’m completely on my own.
The fire is out by dusk, but the campsite is in ruins. All the food and water we had is gone, and we have nowhere to sleep. Zayn and I consider trying to find a bed and breakfast but decide against it. We’re trying to lay as low as possible and not raise any suspicion. If that girl knew who we were, other people might too. We find a bench and settle down for the night. Zayn says he will try to bargain for some sleeping bags in the morning. I don’t know what he’ll bargain with, we have nothing. Still, I don’t stop him. Maybe he has a plan. For now, I drift off into a peaceful sleep on the park bench. I forget where I am, why I’m here, what I must do. I focus on myself. I focus on the song of the nightingales. Nothing else matters now. I can almost feel my sister’s hand in mine, reading me a story as I fall asleep. She will protect me. She will be by my side throughout this journey, even if I can’t see her.