“You had the same thought as me,” Glacia said, walking up from behind.
Nathaniel turned slightly. “I couldn’t take another round of Narth.”
Glacia gave a light chuckle and took a seat at the edge, next to Nathaniel. “But it’s Kiin’s favorite.”
“I know. I escaped while I could.”
“It’s not like you, you know,” Glacia said. “You love that game as well.”
“I guess I’m not in the mood. Hey! It looks like it might rain.”
It was a terrible attempt at changing the subject, but Glacia played along willingly, looking out over the ocean. “Sometime after nightfall, I’d guess.”
Nathaniel found breathing easier than he had moments before. She wasn’t going to press the subject and that put him at ease. “It might be nice to go to school in the morning during a rainstorm.”
“If you’re saying that will be nice because Eliot will be staying in bed, then I guess you’re right,” Glacia laughed.
“He needs to work on that.”
“Morning storms are the worst, too. After he goes all night without the sun, he just doesn’t have the energy to deal with morning.”
“At least it’s spring,” Nathaniel said. “He always seems better in warmer weather.” He exhaled and clapped his hands together. The air responded more readily than normal to his nervous energy; he knew for sure the storm was headed their way.
“Better for him,” Glacia added.
Nathaniel nodded, but said nothing. Why was it they always ended up talking about someone else? He cast the question aside. At least talking about Eliot was better than…the alternative.
“What did you think of Professor Earthe’s exam today?”
“School? Let’s talk about…anything else.”
Glacia laughed. “Alright. Like what?”
“Ducks,” he replied, which made her laugh harder. “I don’t know. What are you doing during your work study hours these days?”
“Yeah, but you’re doing something different now, right?”
Glacia nodded slowly, seeming hesitant about answering. “I am…”
“What? You’re not, like, working for a top secret agency you can’t discuss, are you? Do you get a little badge?”
“For the tides…you’re working for the Chancellor, aren’t you?”
“Is he as much of an ass as Master Fyren says he is?”
Glacia held up a hand, stopping Nathaniel’s barrage of questions. “I’m just interning for a private institution, a family crisis center,” she replied. “It’s nothing to get so hyped up about.”
“What are you doing at this private institution?”
“Right now, I’m just studying and observing.”
“But that’s what we do all day already.”
“Well, unlike some of you all, I really enjoy it. And this is different. I’m observing psychologists and counselors, studying social work, family therapy, that kind of thing.”
“A little. But it’s really, really interesting.”
And it’s helping to distract you, Nathaniel thought, against his will. “I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” he managed to say.
“I don’t know about enjoying, necessarily. It’s harder than any work we do at school. I mean, these are real people we’re working with, people with awful problems and things that I’d never even thought about.” She paused and stared out at nothing. Before Nathaniel could say anything, she quickly continued. “Sometimes it’s easy—I mean, with…Baeou...and all—to forget that our world is really big. I mean, it’s huge. We live our lives right here in our tiny bit of the ocean, working in our tiny little corner of Cytee. And that’s just one little dot on the whole world, you know. I mean, have you ever seen how small Cytee is on a map of Coloterra? And there are millions of people living there. Millions, Nathaniel. Think about how complicated my life is, or your life, or Master Fyren’s life…those are each just one life. One. Can you imagine how complicated our entire world is when there are millions of people with complicated lives walking around every day?”
“You’ve been thinking a lot about this.”
“Can you tell?” Even though she said it with a smile, her eyes were teary.
“I don’t mean about work,” Nathaniel replied.
“Damn. I thought it was only Eliot who could see what I was thinking all the time.”
“You’re not very subtle.”
“I miss him, Nathaniel.”
“Yeah.” He nearly said, we all do, but thought better of it. It wasn’t the same for everyone else. He, at least, wasn’t thick enough not to know that. “He’ll be back, though. There’s no need to worry.”
She laughed one loud, snorting laugh. “I can’t help it,” she said. “Stupid jiroo. I can’t help but worry.”
Nathaniel looked the other way, the question that had been nagging him for months suddenly surfacing. He tried to roll over, close his eyes, and sleep it away, but he couldn’t. And the fact that Glacia was still sitting here, with him, in the dusk would not leave him be, either. He bit his tongue as he worked the words up to his mouth. He had to ask.
“You’ve been…different since you came back. Ever since we’ve started going to the academy and everything.”
“Different?” she asked, nonchalantly. “How?”
Nathaniel tried, for a moment, to pick out exactly what about Glacia and her behavior was different, but he found himself coming up short for words. Only one word came to his mind. “Distant.”
Her reaction was absent. She only continued staring forward.
“Remember when we were kids?” Nathaniel began, changing his tone entirely. “We used to have a lot of fun together, back when the world wasn’t so heavy.”
“We still have fun together,” she replied.
“With strings attached.” He felt like he was spitting the words.
Glacia turned to face Nathaniel more fully. “Our knowledge of Baeou has changed. It’s only natural that our life would change with it.”
“Yes. But even your change came more quickly and more…fully, I guess, than Baeou’s ever has. If I wasn’t so oblivious I’d dare to say you know something. Something more than Baeou. Something you haven’t shared with him. Or me.”
The look in her eyes, open and guilty, told Nathaniel he was correct.
“Whatever it is, it’s changed how you treat him. And all of us, but mostly him.”
She sighed and swung her feet over the edge of building, watching them swing. “It was silly,” she said. “I don’t even—want to talk about it.”
“You can tell me.”
Glacia finally turned completely toward Nathaniel and held her legs still. She suddenly looked very deliberate. “I know we don’t sit around and act like Baeou’s this hyper-important savior or whatever. It seems so stupid once you get to know someone to treat them like a hero or something. Especially when they’ve never done anything great, you know?”
“But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t—at least kind of—listened to some of the things people said about him. Calling him the Hope and all that. I mean, back when we were kids, people really believed it. Kokuo was willing to kill him to eradicate the rumors. Even the toshis, who don’t share in our religion at all, saw him as something important. It hasn’t changed so much, even after all this time. Master Fyren, Professor Earthe, all of them, they believe it. And Khaos, he really believes it, too.”
“He’s still Baeou. Why does this change anything?”
“I was reading,” she continued. “I started getting really curious about some of the stuff we’d learned in school. I had been spending a lot of time researching all the stuff that had been written about the Hope. And you know what, Nathaniel?”
“I really started to believe it, too. It sounds crazy! I mean, Baeou! He’s so ridiculous!” Her face changed right then, and Nathaniel felt his stomach flip. It was a strange look to see in Glacia’s eyes…
Nathaniel laughed. “Yes, he is. But everything revolves around him, doesn’t it? Even when you don’t mean for it to. I know what you mean. But he’s our friend. He’s still him. And he needs us here with him. Not just here, like standing beside him, but our minds, our hearts. He can’t face this alone.”
Glacia stopped, and the look left her eyes. With a sudden flood of emotion, her lips pursed and tears filled her eyes.
Nathaniel panicked slightly and he put a hand on her shoulder. “You’re not thinking of…leaving again, are you?”
She looked down at the ground and might have shaken her head, he couldn’t tell.
“Glacia, you can’t. We can’t give up—”
“But that’s just it,” she said, her voice quivering.
“What are you saying?”
“Oh, Nathaniel. It’s so…I can’t imagine what will happen.”
“None of us can. Don’t—”
“I was reading,” she said, cutting him off again. “And I came across a passage. In the old yKym dy Acaethia, and it…oh, tides. It scared me. All this time I’ve thought that we—that Baeou needed us. I thought we were supposed to be there with him.”
She said nothing, only shook her head.
“What is it? What did the passage say?”
“I don’t remember exactly, but it was a passage I read. It went something like:” She paused, gathering some of her countenance. “‘The Hope will bring the End of this world on the weight of his own back. All will turn from him and he will carry Your promise alone. All may fall away from the Hope, but he will carry Your promise through to the end.’” Glacia paused. “I read this passage and was terrified. If I believed that Baeou was the Hope because of the prophesies, that meant I had to believe I would abandon him in the end—me, you, all of us. I couldn’t bear the thought of that.”
“So you were considering abandoning him early?”
Glacia grinned, but it faded quickly. “I know. It’s stupid and childish. It doesn’t make any sense on one hand, but on the other…I don’t know. I don’t want that to happen.”
“It doesn’t have to. If some old words that were written thousands of years ago claim that I’m going to abandon Baeou in the end, then the fates will have to go way out of their way to make it happen, because I will go nowhere. And I doubt you will, either.”
“But if I believe—”
Nathaniel held up a hand just as she opened her mouth and stopped her. “Listen. We control us. We control our fate. We’re mortal and inherited that ability from our fathers. Do you honestly believe that if I leapt off the side of this building and let myself fall to my death, that the hand of fate would intervene and keep me alive?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s find out.”
Glacia’s eyes widened in surprise just as Nathaniel threw himself from the edge of the roof and closed his eyes.
“Nathan!” Glacia screamed. He could hear her over the roar of the air beating against his ears as he plummeted.
A window opened. And before Nathaniel knew what was happening, Eliot was holding him by the waist of his breeches.
“What in hell are you doing, idiot?”
Nathaniel opened his eyes. “Damn it, Eliot! You ruined my demonstration!”
Glacia was peering over the edge of the roof, her tears now rolling from laughter.
“I was going to let some fresh air into the work out room. As luck would have it, one of the only rooms without a broken window. Were you falling off the roof? You know you can fly, right?”
“Let go of my pants. Yes, chauma. I was…proving a point.”
“Point made!” Glacia called down, still laughing the sweet, broken kind of laughter that follows crying.
Nathaniel straighted his clothes in a huff before flying back up to the roof. Eliot curiously followed.
“That wasn’t fate,” Nathaniel explained as he sat back down. “That was Eliot.”
Eliot took a seat on the other side of Glacia. “It’s a common mistake,” he said.
Glacia was still smiling, and it comforted Nathaniel greatly.
“So what did you say, jiroo?” Eliot asked.
Nathaniel looked at him questioningly.
“To make her cry, what did you say?”
“What? I didn't make her cry!”
“It’s fine, Eliot,” Glacia said, squeezing his forearm comfortingly. “I’ve just been worried.”
“Ah, yes,” Eliot said. “Baeou’s mysterious disappearing act gone horribly wrong.” He, surprisingly, did not pull away from Glacia’s touch as he once would have.
“Any sign of his Light?” Nathaniel asked, whispering for some reason. He pulled his glance from Glacia’s hand.
Eliot shook his head.
“Have you thought about what Kiin was talking about?” Glacia asked. “I mean, with the fort’s origins and the various stories of disappearances.”
Eliot answered quickly, “I’ve thought about it some. And the strange feeling I have occasionally is still present. But it’s so vague, so sparse, that I can’t place it.”
“You know what I think?” Nathaniel asked.
Glacia and Eliot looked at him expectantly.
“I think that one day, he’s just going to reappear. Just like his disappeared. One day we’ll wake up, and he’ll be home, and everything will be back to normal.”
Nathaniel jumped in surprise as Glacia’s arms suddenly were around his neck. She had thrown herself over him, embracing him so tightly he could hardly breathe. Eliot was watching with nearly as much surprise as Nathaniel felt. He put his arm around her. “What’s this for?” he asked.
“You precious thing,” she said quietly. “Keeping hoping. Without your optimism, I don’t think I can survive it.”
Eliot smiled, rocking back onto his hands. “She’s right, you know. I’m terminally pessimistic without you around.”
Nathaniel sat forward, grinning. “El. That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said.”
“Oh, stuff it. I take I back.”
Glacia sat back and kept one arm around Nathaniel, quickly throwing the other over Eliot’s shoulders and pulling him close. “What would I do without you two to keep me sane?”
“Kill yourself with worry, probably,” Eliot replied, but he didn’t sound as gruff as normal.
She squeezed them both in a one-way hug. “I love you both.”
Nathaniel smiled. “What a trio we make, huh?”
Eliot pulled away from Glacia. “Enough of the cuddling,” he muttered.
Thunder rumbled out over the darkening sky. Eliot moaned in dread.
“Rain’s coming!” Nathaniel exclaimed. “What a night it’s going to be.”
“I’m going to bed,” Eliot said, but he didn’t move.
“Who knows?” Glacia said softly. “Maybe we’ll wake up tomorrow and Baeou will be home.”
“I’ll keep thinking it, if you will,” Nathaniel said.
“Wishful thinking,” Eliot grumbled,
Nathaniel nodded. “It sure is. It’s my favorite pastime.”
Eliot was silent for a moment before replying, “Then maybe that’s why it’s you that always makes us smile.”
Nathaniel leaned forward and looked down to the ground, five stories below them. “You think if I fell now, that I might die?”
“Oh, for tides’ sake!” Glacia exclaimed.
“Sit down, chau,” Eliot said. “You won’t die from falling from here. It’s not nearly far enough.”
“Let me try!”
“Don’t be stupid!”
Eliot reached over and socked Nathaniel in the thigh. “For a little sense,” he said.
Thunder rumbled in the sky again and it made them all stop and look up.
“You know, I wonder how many more rains we’ll have before Baeou’s here to hide from them,” Nathaniel found himself saying.
“Maybe this will be the last one,” Glacia said.
Eliot chuckled. “I kind of miss having someone around during storms to be miserable with.”
Glacia smiled and linked her arms into each of theirs. She didn’t say anything else, but she looked more hopeful than Nathaniel had seen her look in a long time.