As backbreaking as it was, I managed to travel a reasonable distance, after that last argument. Of course, it wasn't as far as last time, but considering the sheer number of blisters on my foot by now it was, indeed worse. However, I figured, Everest was human too – more or less so – and that meant, eventually he'd get tired, as well. So we would have to stop eventually, right? Even if we didn't, we'd run out of forest at some point, and I'd be liberated! Therefore, I kept my complaints quiet, and marched on, ahead of him.
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This time, instead of counting up the seconds, I counted the number of trees we passed, collecting a twig from each one, out of boredom. It seemed beyond stupid, and besides I had to drop half of them, as all two hundred failed to fit in my hands, but, the next thing that happened proved it to be the smartest decision I had ever made.
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So there I was, collecting my two-hundred-and-ninth twig, from my two-hundred-and-ninth tree, when I heard my name being called, from behind me.
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Turning around, I wasn't exactly sure what I was supposed to be looking at. Everything seemed fine. The trees were gently swaying, in response to the light wind; the ground was veiled in leaves, dirt, and detritus; and Everest was standing on that ground.
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That was until I saw him slowly go down as if the ground was pulling...
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It was quicksand. He was stuck in quicksand!
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There was a lot that I could have done at that moment. Pull him out of there, get something to pull him out of there, scream for help (inefficient), or just walk on. But here's what actually happened:
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I laughed. I laughed so hard, I dropped the remaining twigs out of my hands. In fact, I had to hold on to a tree to balance myself.
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"Oh, this is grand!" I approached him, chuckling wickedly.
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"Don't just stand there."
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How calm he managed to be in a situation like this, really, truly utterly amazed me. "No? What do you want me to do, then?" The idea of him asking me for help drew a mischievous smile on my face.
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"Get me out."
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Not that I'd actually expected him to beg, but this wasn't a request, it was an order. Unfortunately for him, I wasn't particularly fond of obeying orders. "What's the magic word?"
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By now, the sand reached his waist.
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I made a buzzer noise. "Those aren't words, Ev. Try again."
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"Stop messing around–"
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"Jeez, it's not that hard. Have you no primary socialisation?" I teased.
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His jaw clenched.
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I smiled. "Suit yourself. I'll be on my way then..."
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"Please," he muttered it in the epitome of reluctance, in the most – understandably – hollow, insincere, and quiet voice, that I almost missed it.
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"What was that? I don't think I quite heard you." Alright, I was evil. But he nearly killed me! And he made me stumble through this place for three hours! And, this was fun, anyway.
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In response, he shot daggers at me. No, that would be an understatement. He shot karambits* at me.
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So, deciding to put him out of his misery, I grabbed a nearby bough and held it out to him. Just then, a genius idea came to mind. It was pure genius.
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I hovered the bough over his head. "Let's make a deal, shall we? I will help you get out of this... sticky situation if you tell me why the Front wants me dead," I offered sweetly.
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Cold, wouldn't be the correct way to describe the next glare he sent me. No, this glare brought about the ice age.
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"You are not serious," he growled.
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"Oh, I'm quite serious." I nodded, batting my eyelashes at him. "So, what's is gonna be, Everest?" I asked, swinging the bough from side to side.
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"You won't walk away," He stated with absolute certainty.
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"Won't I?" Of course, I wasn't going to leave him there. But, he didn't need to know that.
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The sand was inching closer to his torso, by now.
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"Clock's ticking," I pestered. "Tell me, do you like the taste of sand?"
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He did nothing. How adamant, he was! I mean, seriously? Even if it came down to death, he would remain as stubborn as Canadian weather? That had to be one secret.
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"Seriously, this is not a pretty way to go. Anytime now would be nice," I ushered.
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A few more moments passed and he still did nothing. It was when it came to his chest, that I began to think he was actually suicidal. You should probably get him out now, Emerald.
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No! I wasn't going to let him win! Not this time!
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Then, just as the sand was about to swallow his shoulders, he spoke, "alright."
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Hearing the granite speak after that long made think I had dreamt it. "Huh?"
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"I will tell you."
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I raised my eyebrows, both surprised and suspicious. "You will?"
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"That's what you want, don't you."
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"Well, yes." I frowned. Where was he going with this?
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"Then, I will tell you."
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The frown remained on my face. Something didn't feel right about this. It felt too easy. "Go on, then."
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He was about to respond when I finally processed that the sand was now at his shoulders. The sand was now at his shoulders!
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He was going to die!
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That meant I'd never discover why the Front wanted me dead!
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And he was going to die!
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I was many things, but I wasn't a murderer. Or an idiot. And, just standing there doing nothing counted as indirect murder, and plain idiocy.
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Immediately, I handed him the bough and pulled. Gosh, how heavy could one be?
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He was in the center of the brown mess, and I was at the edge of it, so first I had to pull him towards the edge, even if it meant he was still shoulder deep in mud, and then get him out of it. And what hard work it was! I, quite literally, fell on the ground, out of effort.
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Just as he reached the edge, I heard a crack. It came from the bough.
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"Oh, for the love of God!" I huffed, on the brink in giving up.
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There was nothing much I could have done at that point. So instead, I grabbed his hand, which was surprisingly clean, and pulled. Unfortunately, the rest of him wasn't. Even more, unfortunately, I had to touch all parts of that bastard's body in the struggle to save his life.
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After much pulling, and much more cursing (from me in particular), I did it! I got him out! And how easier it would have been if it had just done that a long time ago!
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That's when I realised my something. He hadn't told me anything, yet he got me to get him out.
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I almost gasped.
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He remained silent for a reason! So I would have to help him! Oh, that cunning–
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He landed on top of me.
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It knocked the breath out of me, for reasons other than the weight of his body.
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Sensing his whereabouts, he immediately clamored off.
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I sat up and looked at my dress. "Aw, you got mud all over my next spring's Madam Brodeur dress!"
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He looked at it. "It's not much." Before I could process, he began dabbing at parts of my dress, and parts of my body that made me freeze.
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"Stop," I moved back as if his hands were fire. "I was joking about the dress," I informed him
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"Oh," he got up. "Then, I guess I should say thank you." Despite his words, it was dead obvious that uttering those two words were the last thing he wanted to do.
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Not that I needed him to. "You should say the answers to my questions. Right now." If he thought he was getting away with this one, he had another thing coming.
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He didn't respond.
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As much as I tried to maintain it, my patience rebelliously slipped out of me. "You said you will tell me if I got you out!"
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"So do it, then".
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"Then again, you would have gotten me out, anyway." Oh, that obnoxious son of an iceberg!
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"Tell me!" I said – or rather shouted – the words for what seemed like the tenth time since meeting this guy.
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"You really don't want to know."
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"Yes. I do!" What was he, stupid?
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"It's for your own g—"
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"I don't care! I'm not an idiot. I know that you're just trying to stall!"
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"Are you sure—"
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"—that you're not an idiot?"
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"Hi," he had the nerve to answer back.
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"I will throw you back in there," I warned.
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His eyes pierced into mine. But I held my ground, that was what I did! If he thought I would surrender, he thought wrong! Even though his artic glare stung my eyes, I wouldn't give up! Even though it was visual torture staring directly into them, he'd be daft if he thought that I'd back down–
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No! I can't do this!
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I can shamefully admit that I looked away. I had to. After all, it felt like abuse, forcing myself to continue staring into those deadly things.
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I bet he practiced that every day in front of a mirror.
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"You don't get it, do you?" he suddenly spoke. "Once you hear this, you can't go back on it. No matter what you do, or how much you ever wish that you hadn't asked, you cannot go back on it. If you can't handle it, you cannot go back on it. If you can't forget it, you cannot go back on it," he leaned close, resembling a predator. "If it hurts you, you cannot go back on it."
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"The sand is drying up," I said, sourly. "Get on with it, will you?"
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And that he did...
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Remember when the kind iceberg informed me that I would regret ever asking because I would never be able to go back on?
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It agonises me to concede that, he was right. The conceited mongrel was right. I couldn't handle it. I couldn't forget it – I didn't even bother trying, for that matter. And it hurt. A lot.
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So I ran.
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I didn't know how long for, or why. Perhaps until I could escape the forest. Or perhaps until the air resistance dried the ever-flowing stream of tears that slid down my face. Yeah, what he told me was... bad.
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Yes, I know, I'm evil for leaving you hanging like that. Moving on...
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Spoiler alert (not really): Prepare yourselves, next chapter's going to be interesting.
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