Worlds Apart: Part Four
The weather had cooled somewhat as they made their way along the river into the city of Sakhmet.
They found a little inn out of the way of most passersby, and agreed to spend the rest of the day there before leaving at nightfall. Carrick was not happy about this arrangement, and was ignoring the other two.
While Vin and Carrick slowly drifted into slumber, Jaden crept down to the kitchens and was filling up a bag with food when she was surprised by a gentle tap on her shoulder.
“You going to pay for that?” asked an Orange Ruki, wearing a chef’s cap on his head and an amused smile on his face.
“Of course you were! What’s a lovely Zafara like you doing in my kitchen if not to compliment my cooking or to borrow my food?” he said with a deep chuckle.
Unable to think of anything to say, Jaden put her bag up on the bench and looked coyly at him. He was watching her with an expression of interest on his face, and his eyes twinkled.
“What brings you to the inn?” he asked curiously, leaning against one of the benches.
“Well, me and my friends... we were just stopping by,” she said, wondering just how much trouble she had gotten herself into this time.
“Oh yeah. Where from?”
“Far away. I haven’t really got time for...” she trailed off at the look on his face. “I mean, what’s a few extra minutes when I am here at this lovely inn? It’s so nice... and sandy...”
The Ruki grinned and plucked a Sand Apple from the bowl and tossed it at her. She crushed it in her hand and watched the sand pour through her fingers onto the floor.
“How long are you staying for?”
“We’re leaving tonight. We have somewhere to be.”
“Leaving at night?” the Ruki said with a concerned frown. “I really wouldn’t. There are all sorts here at night, thieves and such. Then again...” he trailed off, looking at her bag on the bench bulging with all sorts of foods from his stores.
Jaden flushed slightly and looked away. When she spoke, her voice was soft and defiant.
“We’ll be fine. Me and my friends, we’re not your average passersby.”
“Oh?” The Ruki raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
A warning flashed through Jaden’s head.
“I have to be going. I’m really sorry about your...” She gestured at her bag. “I won’t─”
“─ but you must stay, a while,” the Ruki interrupted, smiling pleasantly at her. “You have until nightfall, do you not?”
“But we need to get some sleep before heading off; it’s a long journey.”
“Why do you ask so many questions?!” Jaden snapped, irritable and unnerved.
“I haven’t asked the most important question of all, yet.”
“Listen, I’m sorry I tried to steal your food. We’re a bit desperate, okay? But it’s all there, you’ve got it back. We’re leaving now,” she said sharply, her eyes flashing.
“Oh, you can have it. I have plenty. Take it for yourself and your friends.”
Suspiciously, Jaden grabbed the bag off the bench and slung it over her shoulder.
“You’re very kind.”
“What happened to you?”
The Ruki regarded her with intelligent eyes, staring into her guarded ones.
“You look so cold. Like stone. Something must have happened for there to be such hardness to your eyes?”
Taken aback, Jaden narrowed her eyes at him.
“And just passing through, but leaving in the night? There’s something more to you.”
“It’s a long story,” the Zafara said evasively, fiddling with her bag.
“It’s a long time until sundown...”
Jaden took a deep breath and closed her eyes briefly. Of course, there was the music box, slowly turning, and the music like a soft lullaby.
“It’s not like I’ll ever see you again... I’ve never even told Vin, and he’s my best friend. It’s been so long now...”
“I’m sure it has,” the Ruki said sympathetically, leaning in closer as Jaden began to tell her tale.
“I used to live in Shenkuu, with my family. We had this big, grand house. Oh, how grand it was! The floors were polished and the carpet was soft. It sat on top of this hill, amongst all the rolling slopes, looking down on everyone. We were on top of the world. I was on top of the world. I felt invincible, you know? Like no one can touch you. Have you ever felt like that before?”
The Ruki shook his head.
“Then you won’t know what it’s like. It’s like raw power, pulsing through your veins into every part of your body. I used to use that feeling when I danced. I would spin and twirl and for a minute I felt like I was truly flying.”
By this time Jaden had stretched onto her toes and was slowly spinning around, flowing with such elegant grace. The Ruki in the chef’s cap stood watching, captivated.
“I could capture and hold the eyes of everyone. Everyone always loved to watch me dance. So my father bought me this music box. It was so beautiful and played the prettiest song. I would listen to it for hours. Listen, can’t you hear it?” Jaden twirled around effortlessly, her expression that of one who was trying to recall a dream. “But then one day, everything was destroyed. I remember that day as though it was yesterday. I was down the hill with my ─”
Jaden was cut off by Vin bursting through the big double doors into the kitchen.
“Thank Fyora I’ve found you! We need to leave, now! The guards are here, they’ve found us. MOVE, NOW!” The little Green Kyrii grabbed her hand and gave it a hearty tug. Confused, Jaden looked back at the Ruki, who still watching her.
“What was that most important question you never asked yet?” Jaden called as she was pulled through the door by a frantic Vincent.
“What’s your name?” the Orange Ruki yelled after her.
But they were too far away for him to hear her answer. Hand in hand, Jaden and Vin ran out the back door of the inn and onto a deserted street.
“Where’s Carrick?” Jaden asked, suddenly stopping in her tracks. “Are we meeting him somewhere?”
“He... I don’t know where he is, Jae!” Vin said, looking murderous. “He was gone when I woke up, and when I looked out the window there were guards everywhere!”
Apprehension stirred in the pit of Jaden’s stomach.
“You don’t think he... turned us in, do you?”
“I don’t know what to think,” Vin said bitterly. “But he’s not here and the guards are. I say that says enough about the situation. Let’s go.”
The two made their way through the backstreets of Sakhmet, weaving in and out of the eyesight of others.
The absence of Carrick changed them in ways they didn’t even think were possible. Vincent became more aggressive and suspicious of everyone around him. Jaden retreated into the small comfort zone of her head, hearing only the music box instead of Vin’s harsh words. They moved in silence, a strained, unpleasant silence that made the hair on Jaden’s neck stand up and left a distinctly uneasy feeling in her stomach.
“So if we follow this through the ─ Jaden! ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO ME?” Vin bellowed, his face turning an alarming shade of purple in his rage.
“Of course, Vincent. What were you saying?”
“YOU WEREN’T LISTENING!”
“Sorry.” Jaden shrugged nonchalantly.
“WHY AM I EVEN BOTHERING TRYING TO TALK TO YOU?”
“Calm down, Vin. You might pull something.”
With an obvious effort, Vin took a deep breath and tried again.
“I said, we’re nearly out through the other end of Sakhmet, so we’ll pass through Altador. I said before we can make it to Moltara from there, but I think it would be better if we passed through Shenkuu as well. That gives us an extra city to lose the guards in, in case they’re still on our trail.”
“Shenkuu?” Jaden said, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Yes, Shenkuu!” Vin said impatiently, frowning at her. “What’s your problem?”
“Can’t we just go straight to Moltara? We can lose them in Altador.”
“No! Haven’t you been listening to me at all? If Carrick has sold us out to the guards, he’ll have told them where we’re headed. So we need to lead a false trail, or maybe just settle in Shenkuu.”
“NO!” Jaden yelled suddenly, clenching her hands into tight fists, her eyes rolling. She actually looked quite deranged. “I WILL NOT GO BACK THERE!”
“Where? Shenkuu? Have you been there before?”
“I used to live there.”
“Really? You never said. What happened?”
“I... I can’t, Vin. I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
Expecting the usual acceptance of her statement, Jaden was taken aback when Vin lashed out at her.
“Oh, so it’s alright to tell a complete stranger but not me, who has been the only company you’ve had for the last three years?? Yes, I heard you talking to him!” he snarled as she opened her mouth. She closed it with a soft snap, looking up at him with wide eyes.
“Vin, you don’t understand, I─”
“NO MORE LIES, JAE! I thought that after everything we’ve been through, we might make it, together. But now I’m not so sure. Why did you tell him? What could he have possibly have said to make you tell him something that you’ve been keeping from me for three years??” Vin’s eyes were on fire as they glared at her. “No, don’t tell me. I don’t even want to hear it. How can I ever trust you again?”
“Vinny! Don’t talk like that! Of course you can trust me!”
“Yeah, well, how do I know that? Look what happened with Carrick! We trusted him, and now where is he? Snuggling up to the guards with a nice cup of tea, I should think!”
“We don’t know that.”
“We as good as know! We’re in for a life of looking over our shoulders. I for one am not willing to do it with anyone who I thought was my friend as well as my enemies.”
“Shenkuu it is, then.”
To be continued...