By: Annabelle Stableford & Atahlia Mills
If you haven’t been following the short story, “The Starlight Rose”, you can find the previous chapters in the Archive section of The Blue and Gold’s homepage. Enjoy!
I don’t know why I said it, but I did. That stop echoes against the cold concrete walls of the structure and I cringe at my outburst. Now what, Nightingale?
The boy stops, brushing his fingers through his light brown hair as he shrinks his shoulders in. He’s scared. I can take that to my advantage.
“What’s in the bag?” I demand harshly, trying to make myself seem dangerous.
“I don’t know.” His breathing stays steady, and for some reason, I believe him. “Well then,” I add menacingly, “I guess we’ll have to find out.”
I pull a knife out of my pocket, for no reason other than it was there, and rip open the canvas flap concealing the backpacks insides. Slowly, I lean over and peer inside. Several gallons of water lies below a series of assorted ‘survival snacks’ as I’ve taken to calling them. Every mission provides them, soy sauce packets for sodium, blocks of gummies that taste awful because they are a) too sweet, and b) have a strange aftertaste of some mix of vitamins. The contents are disappointing, but what did I expect? High tech weaponry?
“What’s in it?” The boy asks tentatively as if he’s afraid of my answer.
“Water and survival snack that we’re splitting since my organization forgot to pack my stuff.” Back at the house where I’d been told to find my supplies I’d been disappointed to find that no one gave me anything. My organization has been ever so slowly forgetting about me.
“Survival snacks?” I explain quickly, then toss the food and water into two separate piles, one for me, and one for him.
At the base of the pack lies one folded letter, and before the boy can stop me, I rip it open and scan the document. This is one of the times I thank my photographic memory. Thank goodness the riddle is in my hands. I was afraid I wouldn’t ever find it. I was afraid I would fail. And failing a mission means failing life. I don’t want to die.
Dear Henry, enclosed is the rest of your mission. As soon as you read this, memorize it then burn it. The other agent mustn’t find it. Found the stone Bland as bone Victim of constant search It mustn’t be found Nor buried in ground But placed where life goes on Where no one stops A means for connection A place to run Thank you for your service, Mr.
How did Henry’s organization know about me? I’m not supposed to be known. Ever. Dismissing the riddle to the back of my head, I fold the letter back up and pretend to see it for the first time as I hand it to Henry, if that really is his name.
I watch as he scans it over, and I get the feeling he understands what it means. That makes one of us. Grabbing his stuff and the envelope, Henry jogs out the door.
Once I know he’s gone, I whip around and rip open a package of survival gummies, without even stopping to chew I let them slide down my throat, reveling in the warm feeling that comes with filling one’s stomach.
When I finally feel full and satisfied, I slump against the back wall and allow the image of the riddle to wash over my eyelids. What could it mean? ‘A place to run?’ ‘A means for connection?’ My mind spirals down a drain of confusion as I scan my memory for some connection to the poem. For the first time in my life, there’s nothing. No connection. I blink hard and swallow slowly.
I must have fallen asleep because when I wake up, I’m still utterly alone and still have no clue what the riddle could mean. There’s no way of finding the diamond here, I think, jumping to my feet. Might as well take the road to the other side of the city. If I had to guess, the rock would be hidden in the rubble, the aftereffect of abandonment, that lies outside of this capital.
Hours later my feet ache and my chest squeezes shut and I wipe a hand, caked with dust and sweat, over my burning forehead. The sun is lowering, but it hasn’t yet given up it’s pounding force on my face.
Then it hits me.
I know where the diamond is.
With renewed energy, I whip around and start at a painfully slow jog towards the tall buildings of the city.
By the time my legs have turned to tingly mush and my hands throb with hot pulses of blood, I’ve slowed to a walk. If my hunch is correct, it will be only a matter of hours until the stone is in my hands. Something feels wrong about that, but I ignore my doubts and focus on my slow, dragging steps going forward.
Ouch. I’d let my head droop so far down in exhaustion that I let myself trip and fall on a cracked piece of road. I stand painfully, feeling lightheaded, and then smile. I made it.
The road in front of me is split into two rows of jagged mountains of rubble. Earlier this afternoon, when I’d run past it, I’d thought nothing of it. I’d just skirted around the edge to avoid the crack. But now I know. Instead of avoiding the remains of the earthquake, or whatever happened here, I push myself to the top of the rubble and look down into the crack. A shiver rolls down my spine and I shudder, clapping a hand to my mouth. Stop thinking. Make your mind blank. Thinking like that makes you killed. Stop it, Nightingale, stop it!
I stop running. I don’t know where I am. But I have a feeling. I need to find her. I don’t know what I’m thinking. My thoughts are jumbled together. Scenarios, strategies, and rebellion swirl around in my head. My body is filled with a sudden surge of energy. I need to find her. I run. Again. I’ve gone at least a fourth of a mile when I realize I have no idea where I’m going. It’s like my mind has somehow solved the riddle and forgotten to tell me the answer. I know where I need to go but I don’t know where it is.
I stop for water, quickly gulping it down, even though it’s warm, and then start off at a run again.
Soon I’m out of the city and on the dry, slightly cracked road. I let my head fall down to look at my feet as I run, my breath wheezing in and out of my lungs. My throat feels dry and fragile, and my feet burn like hot embers, but it’s all worth it when I at last pick my head up and see her. She stands at the top of a pile of rubble on the opposite side of a jagged crack in the road, her hand over her mouth.
I edge closer. She doesn’t see me.
I step carefully up the rubble in front of me. She still doesn’t look up.
I stand across from her, a deep, harsh rip in the road between us.
Then she sees. I stare at her, and she stares at me, two enemies at a crossroads between what they think is right and what they know they should do.
She shakes her head, already knowing what I’m going to say.
“We have to,” I shout, dropping my backpack beside me.
“But we can’t. I wish we could but we can’t!” I hope we’re talking about the same thing. “Look down there! We can’t …” Darn it! She’s not thinking what you are! But I do what she says, looking down into the gap.
I gasp, goosebumps rippling down my arms.
There are bodies. Hundreds of them, all reaching towards something in the shadows. The diamond.
“Don’t you see?” The girl interrupts, clutching her hair in her hands. “We’ll die if we go down there!”
“Exactly! Let’s not! Let’s leave this place, we can go together. A rebellion. Forget our organizations, forget the diamond! We don’t have to be puppets anymore! We don’t have to do what people say! We don’t…” I trail off. My words were jumping out of my mouth, there was no time to censor them. She has a reason to hurt you now.
“Where would we go?” I startle at the softness of her voice, and even more at the sight of her blurry eyes.
“We’d just walk until we got somewhere. Then we can figure it out. We can change our names, move our families, we’d be okay. We just have to leave. This diamond has caused too much trouble. Better to leave it here, protected, then expose it to bad people.” She doesn’t respond, but she turns around and walks away from the crack. I’m alone, I think. I sit against a slab of the road that got pushed up and let all the hopelessness seep through my pores until I can’t stand it anymore. I’m about to jump into the crack when she calls to me.
“Wait! Please don’t. I’ll come. But if I’m with you, They will follow us. You won’t be safe with me.” She came back.
“I’ll be better off with you, I promise. Better off without any of this.”
“I know a place we can go. It won’t be easy to get there, but we can do it. Then we’ll be safe.” I don’t know why, but I believe her. I trust her. I see enough pain in her eyes that I know lying would do her no good.
I sling my backpack on my shoulder and jog down the pile of broken slabs to her. She smiles faintly and starts to walk. I follow.
The sun comes pouring out of the clouds, and I take it as a sign that we will be okay.