Chapter 1 : One
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My hair is flying behind me like red streamers, thrashing wildly in the wind I've created for it. The thud, thud, thud of my feet surge through my body like shock waves each time I touch down to spring back up again, much to the screaming protest of my burning legs. It hurts so much, running this fast when it's this cold, but I love it. I love the fact that James is running with me, each of us making a mad dash down the grassy hill. The lungs in my chest ache with each breath, the cold air stinging their insides. My lower limbs are on fire, pangs of a burn I can't control flooding through them with each heavy step.
James is laughing, something I admire him for doing because his lungs must be suffering just as much as mine. The joy spreading across his face is so evident, it's almost tangible. And, without quite meaning to, I let out a giggle myself, promptly sending spasms through my chest. But I don't regret it. It adds to the burning sensation my whole body feels, but it's a good feeling. You're doing something with your body, it's saying. Look what you can do with these legs, these muscles.
"Faster," he gasps beside me, and quickens his pace. I throw back my head and charge forward, almost wishing I could yell or scream or shout, releasing the excitement that has yet to be unleashed. My feet hit the ground at a faster tempo, which radiates through my body like a drum beat, keeping time while I run along the darkening path.
My breath is coming in short pants as I gulp in the air around me, desperately trying to fill my lungs with the crisp, cool oxygen. My jogging slows as I see James stop ahead of me. "Are we here?" I can barely spit the words out.
He turns to nod at me, not bothering to formulate a response, and I stop my running to stumble toward him. The bottom of the hill is just as green as the path, each individual blade of grass glistening and moist with previous rain. I lean over as I reach him to balance my weight on my knees, gasping for air after my heated run. "It's... b-beautiful," I pant.
And it is. James picked this particular spot perfectly, knowing that it had a wonderful view of the setting sun. Pinks and oranges are splashed against the sky as if splattered there by an unruly painter. The clouds, tinged lightly with blue and yellow, contrast brilliantly against the crimson skies. And reflecting it all is the black lake, positioned conveniently very close to us and making the explosion of color above our heads shimmer and shine in its inky waters.
James says nothing, but I can see his lips curling back in a grin. He's just as happy as I am, and you can see the euphoria spreading over his face. We watch in silence as the sun sets slowly over the rocky mountains and rolling hills, the color gradually fading until the sky is a dull navy blue. "Wow," is all I can say. "Just... wow."
James lets out a snort of laughter and snakes his arm casually around my shoulders. "Come on," he says, looking into my face for the first time this evening.
"What?" I shake my head. "There is nothing more you could give me that would make me happier than you already have."
He chuckles again, squeezing my slight form against thicker one. "Oh, yes there is."
And before I know it, my shoulder is exposed to the crisp night air, and I see his figure dashing down toward the ominous black waters that shimmer near me. "James!" I call after him, rising quickly to my feet. I can hear his shout of laughter in reply. "James!"
My legs are already burning, but I don't care as I take off after him. Thud, thud, thud through the grass, almost tripping over my own feet as I rush faster and faster forward, my hair whipping behind me and the breeze slightly stinging my face. "James!" I shout, just for the hell of it, even though I know he won't reply. I'm not even calling him even more, just shouting his name to the hill, to the lake, to the skies.
My lungs ache and burn like they had previously, my chest heaving with the effort. I can spot James' mop of messy black hair ahead of me, so I stop my jogging and stride forward, still breathing heavily. He turns to beckon me toward him, and I can see he's standing next to the dark waters of the lake. "What are we doing here?" I say, struggling to spit the words out.
He doesn't reply, but starts to shimmy out of his black, red, and golden robes instead. Realizing what he's doing, I start to do the same. An uncontrollable smile spreads across my face as the cool night air caresses my exposed skin, leaving feathery kisses that result in goose-bumps. We're both staring at each other now, running the other's half-naked figure over with our eyes. A breeze comes, whipping my already messy hair up so that it flies around my face.
It's so quiet I can hear his breathing, which is just as ragged as mine. I'm waiting for a movement from him, a sound. But there's nothing. He just stands there, appraising my face and form until I grow tired of his stares. "What now?" I ask softly, stepping forward. The damp grass tickles the soles of my feet as I move towards him.
"Now, we jump." And with that, he turns around and plunges into the water, a deafening crash echoing around us as his form disappears into the blackness. I can feel an uncontrollable grin overtake my face as I dash closer to the water, letting the waves James' movement has created lap up and touch my toes. Come join him, the water is calling in a whisper only I can hear.
And so I do. Without taking the time to think about my next move, I leap into the waves so that my entire body is enveloped in water. The cool liquid slides over my skin easily, relaxing every nerve and muscle without trouble. My hair, almost detached from my body, hovers around my face, weightless and suspended. My legs, gliding effortlessly through the lake's water, are suddenly relieved of their previous burning. And my lungs, full of stale air, are desperately telling my mind to rise to the surface so that they may fill again with breaths of refreshment.
Slowly, I float to where the water meets the sky, gasping for air as I break the surface. James is hovering beside me, laughing as he sees my cheeks fade of the color they once held under the water. It suddenly occurs to me that I've never really noticed just how black the water is, or how many stars were actually in the sky. Everything is so significant now, right down to the reeds by the shore that sway timidly in the breeze, to the bullfrogs that croak like they're singing in a choir.
"We're so far away," he notes in a whisper, swimming a bit closer to me.
I turn to look at him, confused, and beads of water sliding down his shoulders catch my eyes. They shimmer in the pale moonlight, taking graceful dips and turns as they roll their way towards the water. He laughs when he sees my befuddled expression. "Nothing even crosses my mind when I'm in this water."
And I suddenly realize he's right. The war hasn't even entered my psyche since I've been here. All that has mattered since I have run up that hill and stepped foot into this water is James and me, the lake and the frogs and the water, the sunset and sky and the colors once splashed across it. There is no pressing war, as far as I'm concerned, when I'm watching the colors that highlight the clouds fade into black or gliding effortlessly through the deep black lake.
We float there for what seems like ages, being silent enough to hear the soft chorus of ripples kiss the shore. The moon, high above us in the clear night sky, casts light down us so that James' face is highlighted in a pale shadow. Finally, James sighs and starts to swim towards shore, and I follow without really thinking about it. "Come on," he's saying over his shoulder. "Let's go."
My mind is comfortably numb, a sensation that I don't wish to let go of as my wrinkled feet make contact with the sandy lake floor. The breeze bites at my clammy skin as I rise out of the water and sends a chill down my spine. James has reached his robes and is slipping them back on, not bothering to dry off before doing so. Not that he could, even if he wanted to.
I've almost been moving in a trance, and before I know it we are both clothed and heading back up the hill where we came from. When the castle comes into view, it shines against the black of the night sky like a candle in a cellar, contrasting so brilliantly it's hard to keep your eyes off of. The lake is fading from view, bringing back the pressing situation as if someone was yelling in my face. "How could you forget?" it's yelling, and I can imagine the spit flying from the speaker's mouth. "How could you be so careless to not remind yourself that there is a war at hand?"
Because, I answer in my mind, I'm only a girl, and bearing weight on your shoulders with every step can't be good for your spine.
And so we walk, his hand pressed against mine, toward the glowing castle, toward the grief and fear of the war, and leave all swimming colors of the sunset and the feelings it brought behind us.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed. :) Please don't hesitate to leave some feedback.