A/N: So, next chapter. :) I hope you all like it, and don't forget to review with what you thought – good, bad, ugly, etc. And a big thanks to everyone who's reviewed so far; it makes my day every time I see an alert email.
Today's classes drag on more painfully than they ever have before, and by the time I am finally free, I'm exhausted. The steps that lead up to my dormitory seem to have grown in height and number since when I last climbed them, and girls flit by me in the stairwell with energy I just don't have right now.
Finally, I make it to the top step and walk down the hall, moving so slowly that I feel like a soldier marching to my death. What's wrong you today, Gemma? I ask myself silently.
When I enter my room, Amelia is already there. "Hello, Gemma," she says brightly as I appear in the doorway, "how was your day?"
"It was tiring," I say tersely, closing the door behind me. Amelia is sitting on her bed running a comb through her hair and I walk past her toward my own bed, trudging along.
"We had a simply fascinating lecture today in Miss Erickson's class, did we not?" Amelia continues in the same cheery tone that I'm beginning to find more and more irritating. What I wouldn't give for some of Ann's well-placed silence at the moment.
"Simply fascinating," I echo, reaching my bed and sitting down on the edge. It's strange; I can't remember feeling this tired since staying at Spence. I know I should continue the conversation between Amelia and I, but I have nothing to say that won't sound stilted and forced.
A few moments pass in silence until Amelia stands up and sets her brush back on the dresser. She turns to me then and says, "Well, a few of the girls and I are going downstairs to take some tea. Would you be interesting in joining us?" Amelia fixes her brown eyes on me and tucks a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. I'm not sure if she's asking just to be nice, or if she'd genuinely like me to come with her.
I teeter on the fence of indecision for a minute. I don't want to alienate myself here, but I am so completely exhausted that moving anywhere at the moment sounds utterly painful. "I'm sorry, Amelia, but I think I'm going to say here this afternoon," I say, hoping my tone seems sincere. I am sorry, too, but her cheeriness would likely get on my nerves if I spend much longer near her. In any case, a nap might be a nice alternative to tea.
"That's fine, Gemma. Maybe another time, then." She smiles and grabs her coat from its spot on her bed and flounces out the door.
"Bye, Amelia," I call belatedly, but she is already out of the room by the time the words escape my lips.
Sighing softly, I pull off my shoes and swing my legs onto my bed. Letting my head back, I lie still for a moment, thinking about nothing and everything at the same time.
There's no reason for me to feel so tired; it's only mid-afternoon, and normally at this time I head to the library to do coursework or to talk with some of the other girls. We have this time to ourselves – as long as we're being proper ladies, mind – and I like to make the most of it.
If I could at least bring myself to do some of the work assigned, I might feel less useless, but I can't even do that. I frown, wishing for the second or third time today that Fee or Ann was here. My eyes roam around the room, looking for nothing in particular, until they come back to rest on my skirt. The red bit of bandanna I tucked there this morning is still firmly in place. I pull it out and run it through my fingers once more, the promise I made earlier still ringing in my ears as it has been all day.
I will find it.
Suddenly, I'm struck with an idea, one that makes my body tingle with the energy I've been missing. The realms.
Immediately, I scold myself. I've told Ann and Fee I won't go back until I'm done with university. Once schooling is over, then I can go back and work out a treaty and settle the government, so to speak. Until then, I wanted this time to enjoy the fragile peace we've formed.
But, a very persuasive voice whispers in my ear, just one visit wouldn't hurt anyone, would it?
The red catches my eye again. I could go, just this once, just to ask a few questions. I can figure out if there's a way to bring Kartik back, to put an end to my lingering question. Then I would come back here and not go again; it would be a quick journey, one that would concern no one but myself.
Amelia won't be back for another hour at least, and my trip should take half that long.
And simply as that, my mind is made up. I know I will hate myself the moment I return; I know I should leave well enough alone and wait until I've graduated university. But somehow, none of that seems as important right now as finding out for sure if he's gone for good.
I sit up, closing my eyes. I concentrate, and for the first time in a while, the door of light appears. The sight is comforting, like seeing an old friend after a long time apart. I open the door and walk into the realms, the brightness overwhelming me as I enter.
Philon was right, I muse. The magic has begun to come back a hundredfold. I want to explore and test out the things I can do, but I know there's no time for this. I make my way towards the garden, where I last found Gorgon, taking in the beautiful flowers and vibrant streaks of color all around. I want to speak with Gorgon first; surely she will have some sort of advice to impart on me. I see her long before I'm in the garden, and hurry along to reach her.
"Most High," she greets me solemnly as I approach, "I was not expecting you to return so soon."
"Neither was I," I say, a dry smile appearing on my face. "I was wondering something; I won't be long here."
"If you do remain long, Philon and the other tribe leaders will wish to speak with you," Gorgon says. "But what would you ask me?"
"Well," I begin slowly, not having thought about how I should phrase this question, "I lost someone in the last battle, and I was wondering if there was…" I stop, unsure of how to continue. "If there was a way to get him back."
"I do not know, Most High," Gorgon says calmly. "It would not be my place to meddle with affairs of that sort."
"Oh." I stand in front of Gorgon silently, shifting from foot to foot. I knew I shouldn't have come back; Kartik would want me to move on, to make the future mine. But still, if there was a chance to bring him back, to hold him in a place that wasn't my dreams…
I open my mouth to thank Gorgon anyway, deciding I won't try anything like this again, but as I do, another voice from behind me cuts me off and I turn to see who it is.
"If you're looking for a way to bring someone back," it calls in a voice that is smooth and compelling, "perhaps I could be of service, Miss Doyle."