Greenglade: Part Five
"What?" For the first time, Jinny piped up, voicing the shock that Lae felt.
Laerya shook her head several times in disbelief, though she didn't know why she found Lorelei's plans so hard to grasp. Destroying Greenglade seemed like something Lorelei would do, yet Lae was still shocked to hear about it...
"We have to do something!" she exclaimed without a second thought. "We have to stop her!"
"I'm sure the folks of Greenglade are more than capable of handling her," Akorri murmured.
Laerya felt as though she had been punched in the stomach. She wheeled around and grasped Akorri's arm tightly. "How can you say that?" she asked, shaking.
"Since when has it been our duty to stop her?" Akorri replied, his eyes wide at her firm grip. "We've been here for only an hour or two and already you want to defend these people who are efficient and more skilled than you."
"It shouldn't matter how long we've been here. What matters is helping them, or stopping Lorelei ourselves if we have to!" Lae tightened her hold on Akorri's arm, causing the Xweetok to wince.
"Okay, you don't have to get so tense." His ears folded back, daunted by Lae's ferocity. "We'll help out."
Slightly satisfied, Laerya released Akorri. "You shouldn't even need convincing," she murmured darkly. "You should be able to make the right decision without my prompting."
Akorri's red eyes hardened. "How do we know your decision is the right one?"
"Because it feels right." Laerya half-closed her eyes as she looked away from him. "Why...? Doesn't it feel right to you?"
The Xweetok appeared to look uncomfortable, his eyes darting from side to side as he answered. "It's not so easy to act on that decision, whether it's right or not."
Lae turned to him again, confused. "What do you mean?"
"I know I want to help out, but a part of me thinks it's the wrong thing to do because I can't bring myself to actually do it."
Lae still didn't follow. "What?"
"Look... I know you're usually the first to act in times of trouble, but you have to understand that it's not so easy for some people." Akorri cleared his throat.
Laerya was suddenly aware that Alex and Jinny were watching Akorri carefully.
"I'm not prepared to risk my life for people I barely know, Laerya." The Xweetok's red hair fell over his eyes as he stared at the ground.
Lae gaped at him for a good few moments before his words kicked in. She didn't connect the words with a meaning – she didn't want to. As far as she was concerned, Akorri had said something she didn't catch. Her mind felt blank.
Before she could reply, Alex spoke. "That's perfectly understandable, and it's fine. We will defend ourselves against Lorelei without your help."
"No!" Lae shook her head vigorously. "Akorri can do what he likes, but I want to help!" She didn't want to abandon Akorri in her mission, but if he wasn't willing to follow her through, she had no other option. She felt it was vital to fight with the Greengladers, to defend them, to keep their magic community thriving. Without realizing, she had developed an attachment to them even though she'd only been in the village for two hours – looking back, she thought the connection may have started even before she saw the village, back when Fericeus had first described it to her.
"I... I'm not sure that's a good idea." It was Alex's turn to look uncomfortable. "You're too young to be involved in this sort of thing."
"But I want to help!" Lae pressed, clenching her fists in frustration.
"I don't think it's right for you to risk your life for us," Alex said. "We barely know each other."
Akorri looked up, daring to catch Alex's eye. Laerya saw the Xweetok's tension subside as Alex nodded at him.
"How can you agree with him?" Laerya growled at Alex, feeling something inside her snap. "Akorri's a coward who wouldn't risk his life for anyone, regardless of how long he's known them for!"
Immediately after she said this she regretted her words. A deafening silence fell over the group. Lae didn't want to look at Akorri, instead displaying immense interest in a blade of grass down below.
"How..." Akorri's strained voice cut deep into Laerya's heart. "How can you say that?"
She felt her heart freezing – she wanted to melt into the ground, let her sudden tiredness take her – anything so she wouldn't have to listen to what she knew would come next.
"Do my actions mean absolutely nothing to you?" Akorri went on. "Who was it that didn't run away from Vacerus? Who was it that stayed beside you against all the odds of survival?" When Lae didn't answer, his tone grew angrier. "Who was it who was prepared to risk his life to save yours?!"
Lae wanted to curl up into a ball and drape a blanket over herself to hide from Akorri's wrath.
"I'm tired of being called a coward." Akorri's voice took on an eerie quality, similar to Tayheir's. "I've tried long and hard to forget about my past mistakes, to make up for them. I'm not a coward anymore!"
"I'm sorry!" Laerya burst out, unable to listen to Akorri anymore. "I didn't mean it, I was just angry, that's all..."
Akorri leered at her and didn't say anything. His silence tore at her – she looked at him pleadingly, but he did not speak.
"I'm sure Laerya didn't mean it," Alex sighed. He went on as if there had been no interruption, "Don't worry about us. We'll deal with Lorelei ourselves."
"But I feel like I have to help you." Laerya tilted her head to the side, confused that Alex did not want to take up her offer. "I'll be angry with myself if I don't."
Alex shook his head firmly. "I'm sorry, Laerya, but you will let us deal with it on our own." He took off into the air before Lae could retort. Solemnly she watched him fly away, resistance burning inside her. She wouldn't listen to Alex – whatever he said, she had to help.
Taking a deep breath, trying desperately to shelve away the guilt she'd accumulated by insulting Akorri, she turned to look deep into his sharp red eyes. She wanted to look down, but she knew she mustn't. "I know you'd give your life a million times over," she murmured, hoping the red eyes would soften. "I'm sorry."
"Think before you speak," Akorri replied – Laerya was relieved to hear his voice – "Your reckless words could land you in real trouble one day."
"I know." She wanted to hide behind her long ears, but she couldn't pull them over her face. Her cheeks were burning with discomfort. "I'm sorry," she repeated. "I'm sorry."
One glance away from Akorri brought her to Jinny, whose face looked as red as Lae's felt. "Why are you embarrassed?" she asked, a slight irritation in her tone she had not meant to let slip. She immediately chided herself for it.
"I... I felt like I was intruding," Jinny explained quietly. She did not look at Lae, instead choosing to stare up at the sky, as if talking to the clouds would be easier for her. "I feel it's... very private when people fight."
Lae's shoulders sagged. "I didn't mean to cause it," she sighed.
"I know." Akorri's tone was less harsh now. "It's forgiven, don't worry."
"So will you help?" Laerya asked, relief washing away her guilt.
"If you want to help, then I'll be right beside you." Lae caught a flicker of a smile on Akorri's face. "That's what friends do."
Laerya beamed at him, heartened by his words. She felt herself very lucky to have such a loyal friend – even though they had their disputes and had not known each other for very long, they stuck by each other – the loyalty between them warmed and strengthened her heart.
"You know what's at stake, though?" Akorri pressed. "Really think about this, Lae. It's Lorelei and Fyora knows what else that we'll be up against."
Laerya didn't need to think. She knew it in her heart that she wanted to fight and none of Akorri's doubt would affect her. "I know."
"That's the problem with age..." Akorri sighed. "The naivety."
Lae frowned, taken aback. "That was uncalled for," she muttered indignantly. "What's patronizing me got to do with any of this? Besides, you're only a couple of years older than I am."
"Your youth blinds your reason." Akorri blinked slowly. "You may feel it's your duty to help the Greengladers, but remember that you should value your life above anyone else's. It's something you learn as you get older."
Laerya's mouth fell open in disbelief. "Oh, Akorri. That is the biggest load of Kau dung I've ever heard." She grinned at his shocked expression. "Just because I'm so young, you think I'm stupid, right? You think I don't know how life treats others? You think that I'm blindly following my heart without a single thought of the consequences of my decisions?"
"Well..." Akorri blinked again. "Yes."
"I don't know a lot, but I do know that my age has got nothing to do with how I feel. If growing up means I have to think about myself before others, well... maybe I don't want to grow up."
Akorri shook his head.
"I'm not trying to be selfless. It's just easier for me to think about others than it is to think about myself." Lae finally realized that Akorri did not share her views on life, and she was happy to find that she was okay with this. "Someone very special to me taught me that it's important to place others before yourself, and I like that principle, so I'm sticking to it." She stroked the yellow scarf on her neck; it was often unnoticed by others, but she always knew it was there, a reminder of her lesson and morals.
"Isn't that hard, though?" Akorri asked.
"I understand that it might be hard for you." Laerya picked up a blade of grass and twirled it through her fingers in thought. "But I think that if my heart tells me to help, then I should listen to it, even if it means ignoring my own needs."
"How is that even possible?"
"It just is." Laerya shrugged. "I'm as sure of my feelings as you are of yours, and this isn't something that youth affects."
"I wish I was more like you." Akorri's face flushed as he announced this.
Laerya felt the heat rise on her face again, warmed and embarrassed by the Xweetok's words. She didn't know what to do other than to shake her head and cough.
Silence fell over them for several moments. No one spoke – no one could think of anything to say. Akorri looked ahead at the trees and Lae turned her attention to the sky.
Eventually, Jinny broke the hushed stillness. Lae jumped, forgetting the white Kyrii was there. "I wonder how Lorelei is going to go about her destruction."
To be continued...