The first to wake up was Lucy. A flash of light escaped through the branches of the tree that gave her glare and hovered over her eyes. She rubbed them and looked around. The sun spoke timidly, stretching across the lake, shining and reflecting the light. She sat on the seashore, putting her feet in the water, shaking them slowly and watching the whirlwinds that grew. She was so distracted she didn’t even notice Neil approaching her.
"Good morning," he said, his voice drowsy and touching her with a finger on her shoulder.
She jumped, startled, pinning her feet with vines, seconds before she realized it was him.
"Excuse me. I still have not fully recovered from yesterday," She told him, focusing again on the way the water moved whenever she moved her foot.
"I see... the rest of them are still sleeping?" Neil asked, sitting down beside her, legs bent.
"Yes. It's still early, I think. You cannot be sure, but look at the position of the sun, "she said, pointing to the sun still a third of his daily journey.
"I ... I would like to ask you something," Neil said, almost as if he had to tear the question out of his own mouth.
"What do you want to know?"
"You're an important person in your city, are you not?"
She paused. She looked him in the eyes, her face locked, and her hair fluttering. She could hear his heart beating at high speed as he struggled to keep his composure. He wanted to apologize and pretend he had not asked it, but the words didn’t leave his mouth.
Suddenly she laughed. A delicate laugh, one who found the question a joke, but not enough to burst into laughter. Her eyes had gained a greyish color mixed with honey, and whenever the sun shone beneath her face it was possible to see a few freckles around her nose.
"It's not something that makes me particularly excited about revealing, to be honest. But I think I would inevitably have to share it with someone. I am the princess of the kingdom of Lyuna. How did you find out?" She asked, smiling at him. It showed only a little gum, the top of the teeth and little else.
"My father is a guardian in the city where I am from, and I was also forced to learn strange tongues. The only difference between us is that I don’t remember anything," Neil said, laughing to hide his embarrassment and putting his hand on the back of his neck, “But a princess? That’s amazing!”
"I remember that in the first fight class, the teacher ... oh, forget that I said that," she said, before saying the teacher's name.
"It's okay. Yes. They've always been close friends. I think they both expected me to follow in their footsteps, but, surprise, I came out like this," he said. The previous laughter had already dissipated, and only the sense of disappointment, one he could not chase away, remained in the air.
"You will see that one day you will be a ninja that everyone will be proud of, your name will be known in every corner of the earth." She responded, gesturing to show that his name would be in the four corners of the planet.
"For that, I'd have to stop being afraid of dying. Like James, he may have his faults, but he is not lacking in courage." He replied, looking at where James should be, "Shouldn’t James be there? "
Lucy turned and confirmed that he should. They looked around, looking for James, or something that gave them an idea of where he might have gone.
"There," Neil said, pointing to a shadow behind a few bushes.
"Is that him?" Lucy asked, narrowing her eyes so she could see him better.
"I think so, but I don’t know what he's doing there."
The answer to Neil's doubts came seconds later. James opened his pants, and breathed in relief, letting the yellow jet interrupt the bird's song. Lucy's cheeks turned a reddish color, and Neil looked down, putting the subject aside. The intermittent sound kept going longer than they expected, silencing the conversation until James was out of the bushes.
"Uh ... Were you awake for a long time?" Neil asked, biting his cheeks from the inside so they would not turn pink.
"A little while," Lucy replied, acting as if nothing had happened but unable to hide how embarrassed she was.
James approached them and sat down in front of them. He had creases on his face from sleeping with his hands pressed against his cheeks, and still had ruffled clothes. He stiffened, frowning and making a squeaky noise, not caring if he woke up those who were still sleeping.
"Are you ready?" He asked, filled with energy and with a gleam for adventure in his eyes.
Lucy and Neil nodded slightly, they were not prepared, but they had no other choice. They accepted that the fate of the academy was in their hands, even if they wanted to pass it on to others.
The temperature rose with the rising of the day. The birds refreshed their beaks at the edge of the lake, and Lucy grabbed some fruit, washed it and put it in Max's backpack, which also contained the potions. Rest had been worth it, their HP was back to its fullest, though Lucian and James still felt some pain in their bodies. The adventure required not only care but also teamwork. For this, Neil decided to ask James not to have attitudes that put them in danger, as he had previously.
"If you do not get in my way, we won’t have any problems," he replied aggressively, refusing to take orders or advice of any kind.
"Stop. Please," Neil said. His voice shook him to the point that James was unable to stop him, shivering at his words, "This is not a game or a joke. There are consequences. I do not want anyone else to die..." he confessed, tears falling down his chin and mingling with the transparency of the lake.
"Oh sorry. I did not want to... I'll try." James said, tripping over his own words, unable to give a comforting answer.
Neil wiped his tears, apologized, and got up. He extinguished the fire, whose orange flame still glowed with intense heat, and warned Lucy that he would wake the others.
"We have to enjoy the sun. We do not know how it will be once we get out of here." Said Neil, walking toward Alec.
"You're right. After all, you still remember a few things that they taught you," Lucy said, smiling at him.
As soon as he turned, with his chest raised and head in a perfect angle, his face filled with joy, smiling for bonding with Lucy. Awake, Alec stretched his shoulder gently, and Max imitated him. Alec was in charge of waking Lucian, whose light sleep caught everyone by surprise. Alec's hand was halfway onto Lucian and he turned and grabbed Alec, twisting his hand enough to cause him to whine.
"Sorry. You scared me," Lucian said, dropping his hand.
"Don’t worry. I should have expected something like that by now. They're waiting for us," Alec said, extending the other hand to help Lucian get up.
Only Max looked drowsy, with his half-closed eyes and dark bags under them, like a black river, and cracked lips. He was pale and staggering.
"One day without sleeping the recommended hours and I already feel like crawling," he ventured.
They sat in a circle. Alec shared with the rest the sample plan he and Lucian had prepared; to walk until they reached a town and wait for someone to give them viable information.
"Why did you two speak alone? It's not as if this plan needed much effort. The rest of us doesn’t matter, is that it?" James said, offended at being set aside.
"It just happened during the conversation. Do you have a better idea?" Lucian asked, letting his ice-colored eyes stare through the strands of hair that hid a large part of his face.
James got up, tapped his foot on the floor, and walked away, fuming and arguing into the air.
Max sighed before commenting on the situation "It's a good plan, probably our only option. Don’t worry about James, this happens to him. Don’t tell him I told you this, but James's father spent a lot of time away from home when he was young and his mother never had much patience for tantrums so she always let him do whatever he wanted. He's not used to being second at anything." He said looking at James, who had ripped off a pear from a branch and started tearing into it, slowly calming down.
"That explains a lot," Lucy said, glancing at Neil, remembering that she had shared a secret with him too.
The sun had reached its peak. The birds took refuge in the shade of the trees, the water became warm, and the t-shirts were glued to their bodies. The light intensified, falling on the foreheads of the young, whose sweat sharpened their thirst.
"We only have one bottle of water. We must save as much as we can, so just take one sip at a time." Lucy asked everyone.
Max put the suitcase on his back and they regrouped in the formation previously used. The bird that had led them there appeared, breaking through the branches of the nearest tree and waving the little wings in Lucy's face, refreshing her, while at the same time signaling to follow.
He led them to the end of the idyllic space. From there, he turned back and left them alone, looking at where they were. A place where herbs lost their color and became just a mixture of life trying to survive. They had a brownish color, and the rotten scent was matched by the raucous air. Due to the putrid smell, the young people had difficulties breathing, even after covering their noses. The further they got away from the oasis, the more they realized that it would be the last time in a long time that they would have a good night's sleep and the possibility of cooling off.
A rocky and mountainous terrain stretched endlessly, beaten earth flanked by yellow-roasted mountains, high and steep, touching the sky without fearing it, and, from time to time, the annoying singing of the ravens that visited the area looking for dead meat. Without shady sites, there was no shelter from the sun's rays that intensified and caused ill-disposition. They looked ahead and could only see the reflection of the light on the gray stones, and a bluish horizon with orange and red tones, which seemed to move like a waving rope.
"Why us?" Complained Neil, running his hands over his face, removing the excess sweat.
"Don’t speak. It will make you thirsty," Lucy said. She licked her dry lips, refreshing them and giving them a vivacity that had disappeared minutes ago.