“How am I supposed to believe something like that?” Celeste demanded. “Are you hearing yourself? Think of it from my perspective. What if I walked up to you and said, ‘oh, by the way, there’s this prophecy by some magical woman that says the fate of Forellia rest in your hands. You’re gonna get some superpower and either save the world or let it be destroyed. It’s up to you, but I just thought I’d let you know.’”
“It’s… hard to believe, I grant you. I know it must be difficult without any proof…,” he looked down, thinking. “But,” he said, a thought occurring to him, “don’t you feel different since touching the Stone?”
As her mouth began to form a retort that other than being incredibly sore, no she did not feel different, she stopped herself. Because she did feel different. She had felt different both last night and as soon as she had woken up that morning. But could that be from touching this Prophecy Stone? She had assumed it was a combination of dying and her mother’s revelation to her. But was that all it was?
Celeste hesitated, thinking over Joshua’s question. Her sore body explained the dying, and her rattled mind explained the revelation. Was there anything else to testify to a change inside her somewhere? She put her hand to her chest, remembering that strange, open feeling she had experienced when she touched the Stone. She hadn’t really thought about it at the time, what with the incredible pain exploding throughout every inch of her body as soon as her finger connected with the Stone…, but now she closed her eyes and focused on her chest, wondering if she could find that feeling again.
It took a moment, but suddenly, there it was, blossoming in her chest like a flower and seeming to open a door in her mind as if Celeste suddenly had found the key to unlock it. It was raw and strange, like nothing she had felt before. It frightened her. With a gasp, she opened her eyes and lost her focus, the feeling disappearing instantly.
Across the table Joshua stared at her. “You do feel something, don’t you?”
Celeste had almost forgotten he was there. Looking away, she bit her lip, not knowing if she wanted to tell him, not knowing if she was willing to try to believe this story of his. And if she did believe it, then what obligations would suddenly be hers? The fate of Forellia and possibly the world? She was just Celeste, just a courier, just a small girl who talked to her horse when she was lonely. She couldn’t do this.
She felt as if she were at crossroads, and whichever path she took would forever change the course of her life. Good? Bad? She didn’t know which path was which, and she wasn’t sure if that even mattered at the moment. All that mattered was that she had to choose, and when she did there would be no going back.
At the crossroads, she looked to the right and felt as if that path looked nicer. There was familiarity and nobody relying on her to do the impossible. She looked to the left and saw a path less traveled, more rough and difficult, and it was strange, nothing like what she’d seen or imagined or believed before. Both paths beckoned, and Celeste stood between them, swaying, unable to decide. Which path? Which path should she take?
She shut her eyes, overwhelmed and suddenly dizzy. The decision before her was greater than anything Celeste had decided before, and she was both afraid of choosing incorrectly and simply afraid of choosing at all. She wished she could just run away with Nutmeg and… and be alone. She felt so lonely. She had a choice of this magnitude, and she had no one with her—no friends, no family. What should I do? She thought.
“Celeste?” Joshua murmured across from her. “It’s ok,” he said, “I know it’s a lot to take in, but you’re not alone. All of Forellia will stand behind you. Not only Forellia, but I’ll be there too— every step of the way if you want me to.” He reached across the table and took her hand, just holding it and connecting her to someone.
She look at Joshua in appreciation. It was as if he had read her mind and said exactly what she needed to hear. At the crossroads, the choice seemed easier now, scary, but easier. Celeste looked at the strange path to the left and thought, you aren’t alone, Celeste, and anyway, you always enjoyed a challenge. She stepped onto the path.
Looking at Joshua, she said, “thank you.” She glanced at their clasped hands, “what you said means a lot. And to your question a moment ago— I do feel different. The Stone did something to me. I don’t know what, but something has changed. You were right.” She raised her hand, “And this doesn’t mean I completely believe all this prophecy stuff, by the way. It will take a bit more time before I can change my complete outlook on life, but I’ll try to—” she paused, looking for the right words. “To work at it.”
The grin spread across his face, and she wondered how he could smile so often and so genuinely. However, his smile quickly spread to her. “Stop it,” she said. “I’m really annoyed at you right now. You’re not allowed to look so triumphant.”
“I do beg your pardon,” he said and just kept grinning.
“So,” Celeste said, trying to change the subject. “What happens now?”
Joshua hesitated, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Good question. I didn’t think this far ahead, to be honest. I was so concerned about convincing you of who you are that I completely forgot to think of what to do after I had managed that.”
“Well, um, what about the Prophecy Stone? Does that still have to be taken back to Forellia?”
“Right. The Stone. The Stone will stay with you now.”
“What?” Celeste asked in an embarrassingly high-pitched voice. “No, I can’t touch that again. You did notice the affect it had on me the first time, right? All the pain and dying?”
“That won’t happen again. It was just awakening whatever power you have in you. I’m sure it won’t happen anymore.”
“How ‘sure’ are you?”
Celeste’s laugh was without humor. “Oh, that seriously inspires confidence in me, Joshua.”
He completely ignored the overflowing sarcasm, and said, “Good. I’m glad I could help. So now the Stone’s been settled I suppose that means I have to pack.”
“Pack?” Celeste said absently, her mind still on the potentially deadly Prophecy Stone.
“Yes, of course pack so that we can head back to Forellia.” He looked at her as she stared into space, a nervous expression on her face. Waving his hand in front of her eyes to get her attention, he said, “you in there, Celeste?”
“Hm? Yes, pack. What now? Forellia? You’re coming with me to Forellia?”
“Of course I am.” He smiled. “You think I’d stay here when Celeste Mariah Teal needs me? And anyway, it’s probably time to go back. There’s not much more I can do here,” he glanced around as if thinking the walls may have ears. “If you know what I mean.”
He was of course referring to his many trips into Korelia to spy. With war nearly upon Celeste’s country, there was really not much use for him here anymore. Agents of espionage would be far more useful somewhere closer to home.
“That’s true.” Celeste replied. “Well I’m very happy to have you along.” She grinned, realizing she was very pleased at the thought of having a traveling companion again. “So we leave at first light?”
“Yes, first light. In the meantime, I’ll be packing and… taking care of a few documents I no longer need. I’ll also have to say goodbye to a few friends,” he murmured, appearing a little sad. “Ah, well, I knew I wouldn’t be here forever. Here,” he pulled a leather bag from his pocket and dropped a couple of shiny gold coins on the table. “That should be enough for supplies for the trip. You can take care of that while I’m packing?” Celeste nodded.
With no more reason to stay at the inn, Joshua half stood before he realized that his and Celeste’s hands were still clasped. He coughed, and Celeste, having noticed it at the same time he had, awkwardly let go. “So,” he said, standing, “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Yes,” she said, for some reason a blush coloring her cheeks. “See you in the morning.”