Disclaimer: LIbba Bray's the genius. I only own the plot. That is all.
"So." Felicity Worthington stood with her arms crossed, glaring at me. To her right was Ann Bradshaw, the two of them looking like snowmen in their white dresses and blue velvet capes. To her right beyond the trees was an icy-gray Spence in the distance. The whole picture looked a bit like a Christmas card, except that one snowman was quite cross looking.
"So, what?" I asked, though I knew the answer already.
Felicity narrowed her eyes at me. "He's late. You said he'd meet us at 3, and it's already half past. I'm cold, wet, and have other things I could be doing rather than stand knee-deep in snow waiting for a completely unreliable boy."
"He said he'd be here, and I know that if he was late, he'd have a good reason I guess." I leaned back against a tree and looked deeper into the forest. Everything was a swirling mess of white; no signs of a black traveling cloak anywhere. I sighed. It really was quite cold.
Felicity huffed and rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Gemma. If he's this unreliable, do you really think we should involve him in this?"
I turned to Ann for some support.
"Well Gemma, it is questionable, don't you think?" Ann said timidly.
"He is only 30 minutes late. This does not reflect on his reliability. I have been in trouble before and he has always pulled through for me. He will prove to be a very useful addition to our cause, and that is the end of it."
"Thank you, Miss Doyle, for saying such kind things about me."
The sudden presence of a male voice had us all looking around for its owner. Kartik walked up to us with a big smile.
"You're late." Felicity said bluntly.
Kartik made a spectacle of examining an imaginary pocket watch and feigning surprise. "By golly, you're right! How could I have been so careless?"
Ann and I giggled at Kartik's bold behavior toward Felicity. She was seething, but didn't say anything else to him. I stepped toward him. "Kartik, may I formally introduce Miss Ann Bradshaw and Miss Felicity Worthington?"
"How do you do?" Ann curtsied. Felicity just glared at him.
Kartik frowned slightly at her, clearly remembering the last time he saw her, the night she tried to kill him with a sharp stick. "It's a pleasure to um, formally meet you both." He said.
The three of them turned to look at me. After all, this meeting was my idea. I had not pictured things to be this awkward. I clasped my hands together and tried to brighten the mood. "I'm sure that all things of the past shall be forgotten and that we'll all be the best of friends!" Right. My optimism hadn't even worked on me. Felicity snorted. Ann and Kartik sort of just smiled nervously. This is not at all how I planned things to go. I never thought Felicity would be so cold to him. After all, he never caused her harm. He just tended to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I looked at Felicity accusingly. She knew exactly what I was thinking.
"Ahem." Felicity said, the first to break the tension. "I am willing to be cordial if Mr. Kartik here is willing to cooperate with me."
Kartik immediately caught my eye, as if I knew what Felicity had in mind. I smiled weakly at him, thinking that whatever she did have in mind probably wasn't very good. Kartik crossed his arms over his chest and stared her straight in the eye.
"What sort of cooperation do you require, Miss Worthington?"
Felicity grinned evilly. "As you may already know, Mr. Kartik, we are English and you are not."
"Fee!" I hissed at her. The last thing I needed was Kartik to be insulted and walk away from my life again.
Felicity ignored me. "And if you wish to be in our company, you must mirror our grace, charm, and beauty so that we needn't be reminded that we are sharing our company with someone of lesser status." She struggled to keep a straight face.
Ann looked over at me. "Grace, charm and beauty?" She mouthed silently at me. I shrugged, just as confused. Kartik had a certain animalistic grace to him, he was charming, and was quite beautiful in a male sort of way, but somehow I didn't think that Felicity had these sorts of traits in mind.
Kartik cocked an eyebrow at her, looking only slightly offended and a little bit confused. "What would this entail?"
"An initiation of sorts."
Ann and I shared a look of panic. We knew what Felicity's initiations were like. However, I doubt Kartik was going to have to raid Reverend Waite's collection of spirits in the middle of the night. Time in the realms has made Felicity bolder and crueler to those she didn't care for. Whatever she thought she had in store for Kartik was probably going to be much worse.
Kartik appeared to be contemplating his limited options – either submit to probable humiliation or leave us forever. Leave me forever. If I know Kartik, which I'm confident I do, I believe he would rather submit to the whimsy of a begrudged schoolgirl than cease his loyalty to me. I cocked my head and looked at him. He sighed. "What must I do, Miss Worthington?"
Felicity smiled, satisfied. "All you need to worry about is meeting us right here, tonight at midnight. And please, Mr. Kartik, do try to be punctual this time." She started walking back to Spence, Ann on her heels. Felicity turned back to where Kartik and I stood. "Come, Gemma, we have much to plan."
"I'll be just a moment, Felicity. I have something I wish to discuss."
She flashed me that knowing grin of hers. "I see. Try not to be too long, Gemma darling. It's getting dark, and there is much to do." She winked at me and they were off.
"Gemma …" Kartik began. I cut him off by throwing my arms around his neck. He gasped, surprised, but returned my embrace.
"Kartik, I've missed you so much!" I said, breaking away. "You risked your life to save mine and I haven't been able to properly thank you or anything!"
"You're in no debt to me, Gemma. I've been unsure of my loyalty to the Rakshana for quite some time now."
This bit of information surprised me. "Really? You've always seemed so proud to be a part of them." I watched as his eyes developed a far away look.
He smiled delicately. "I started questioning my future with the Rakshana once they gave me the task to kill you. I figured I'd rather leave them then kill the only friend I've ever had." A tiny bit of pink crept onto his cheeks.
Wow. I don't think I've ever seen Kartik blush before. This is all quite intriguing to me. "But I always thought that you just thought of me as a bother. I thought you hated me!" I pressed.
To my surprise, he gave me a sad smile. "I never hated you, Gemma. I know that I haven't always been very friendly to you, but I never meant to hurt you."
Yeah, right. Kartik never wished to hurt me? He followed me around with threats and nearly suffocated me once.
He notices my disbelief. "It's true, Gemma. I merely only did what the Rakshana told me to do. I didn't always think their orders were right, but I had no choice in the matter. I was confused." He paused for a moment. "You were right. I was only their lackey." He said quietly.
I'm shocked. I've never seen Kartik so…emotional. I placed my hand on his shoulder. "Well whatever the case may be, we're in this together. It's because of you that I'm still alive. We can make things right, Kartik."
He smiles at me. It's a lovely smile that sends warmth throughout my belly. I find myself blushing despite myself.
"So should I be afraid of what Miss Worthington is planning for me?" He asks, changing the subject.
"Um, well….." I make a face.
"Don't toy with me, Gemma. What is she going to do to me?" He looks uncomfortable. For some reason, this makes me want to laugh.
"Don't worry, Kartik, she won't compromise your virtue, if that's what you mean."
"Gemma! I didn't mean that at all!" He looks mortified.
I burst out laughing. "Whatever it is, I'll make sure to try to talk her out of it. It won't be that bad, I'm sure."
"It better not be. I'd hate to be made a fool of by some sadistic schoolgirl."
"Just let her have her bit of fun, and then you won't have to worry about her gouging your eyes out in your sleep."
Kartik shudders. "You're right. I suppose my eyesight is more important than my dignity."
"Indeed." I say. Dusk has taken over the winter sky. I don't want to leave him, but I can tell by the setting of the sun that it is nearly time to get ready for vespers.
He seems to notice this too. "Well Gemma, I believe you are needed back at the school." There is a hint of something in his eyes. Is it longing? I cannot tell in this light, but whatever it is, it makes me want to throw my arms around him again and never let go.
"I guess I'll head back then." I say, turning to leave. I give him a wave. "See you at midnight!"
"See you at midnight." He echoes.
As always, reviews are very much appreciated! Next chapter should be up soon. Once I write it, of course.