Previously- Celeste and Joshua had been kidnapped by Korelians. On their seventh day of capture, the leader of the group left, later followed by all but one of the Korelians. Celeste used her magic for the first time and froze the Korelian Cormack and then promptly collapsed, caught just in time by Joshua.
THIS CHAPTER IS DEDICATED TO THE BIRTHDAY GIRL RAVEN! :]
“Celeste? Celeste, are you alright?” Joshua gently shook her, careful to keep the dagger in his hand pointed away from her.
Celeste’s eyes were half closed. She was so tired. More tired than she had ever felt in her entire life, and all she wanted to do was sleep. But this person— what was his name?—kept yelling at her. Whatever he wanted must be important. Celeste forced her eyes open, focusing her mind as much as she could. Joshua’s face peered down at her in the darkness, and she remembered Cormack. She’d frozen him. Celeste’s eyes fluttered. “Joshua?”
“Yeah, it’s me. Are you alright?” Using the dagger, Joshua cut the rope still binding Celeste’s wrists. “I need you to stand.” He went on. “We’ve got to go back to the camp and get out of here before the Korelians come back.”
“The Korelians!” Celeste’s foggy mind recalled the danger they were in. She dreadfully wanted to fade away into blissful unconsciousness, but she knew she couldn’t. With Joshua’s help, she managed to make it to her feet, swaying in small circles and almost falling asleep with each blink.
“Look, I’ll support you, ok?” Joshua encouraged. “But we have to move as quickly as possible.” Celeste nodded and held on to Joshua as they made their way back to the camp. Their progress was slower than she would have liked, but everything was sore, and whatever she had done to Cormack had absolutely drained her. It was an incredible effort to stay upright, put one foot in front of the other, and to just keep going.
When they got back, Joshua gently let Celeste to the ground. She wrapped her arms around herself, suddenly cold without Joshua beside her. “Ok,” he said, “wait here.”
Joshua ran to the horses first. There were only three left: Nutmeg, Amos, and Cormack’s horse. Quickly, Joshua rifled through Cormack’s bag for anything useful. There was a bit of food, but mostly it was alcohol. Joshua took the food, adding to the pack on Nutmeg. He shifted some of the bags, and let Cormack’s horse go, slapping it to get it running off into the woods. He didn’t bother at the moment to go through the other packs. He brought the horses over to Celeste, handing her the reigns while he ran back to the fire. Scooping several handfuls of dirt on the fire to kill it, he glanced around the camp one last time.
“Ok,” he said to Celeste who was happily patting Nutmeg’s snout. “Come on, I’ll help you onto Amos. We’ll both ride him.” She was too tired to argue and didn’t think she’d be able to ride a horse by herself without falling off anyway. With a great amount of help from Joshua, she climbed into the saddle and slid as far forward as she could. Joshua leapt up behind her. He paused a moment, then wrapped his arms around her to reach the reigns. In her ear, he murmured, “You can lean back if you like.” Celeste didn’t even hesitate. She leaned against him, feeling warm and safe and tired.
With Nutmeg tied to them, Joshua gave Amos a kick, and they started off through the jungle. It was hard to see with almost no light, but Joshua seemed to know where he was going. Although the ride was bumpy Celeste could barely keep her eyes open as mind-numbing weariness dragged at her. She struggled to stay conscious. At some point, they splashed into a river and began following it downstream. It got so deep for a time that the water was up to their knees, soaking through their clothes. As Celeste shivered, Joshua automatically tightened his arms around her.
It seemed both as if they were traveling forever and for no time at all. Celeste, falling in and out of consciousness didn’t actually know how many hours had gone by She was vaguely aware of the rocking motion of the horse below her and of Joshua holding her steady. She swam in dreams, coming in and out of them, unaware of what was real and what was imagined.
Cormack came at her in a dream, and she shouted, her hands up to try to keep him away. Then she heard a voice, “It’s ok, Celeste. Shh.” And Cormack faded away. Then her mother was there, and Celeste was sick in bed. Her mother was patting her forehead saying, “Shh. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about your father.” Celeste cried. She turned and muttered in her sleep, barely aware of the world around her.
Eventually, she felt she was sliding off the horse, and she tried weakly to grab something before she realized Joshua had caught her and was carrying her. She nuzzled closer to him, and he held her tightly. “Joshua,” she whispered. He laid her down, and she sighed, quickly falling into a deep sleep.
When Celeste came to, it was sudden. One second she was asleep, the next her eyes were open. She was laying on her side, and she was immediately struck with disorientation. The Korelians—she had been captured. Where was she? She sat up suddenly. Memories hit her like arrows, and she groaned, everything aching. Cormack. She had turned him into a party decoration then shattered him. How was she supposed to feel about that? Strangely, she felt nothing, only apathy. It had happened. She had done what she had to do, and it had felt natural to her.
“So the sleeping beauty finally awakens.” Celeste turned, seeing Joshua crouching in front of a fire in a fire pit. For the first time Celeste looked around her. She and Joshua were in some kind of cave or hut, but there were no windows, and she couldn’t see the entrance.
“Where are we?” She muttered. The only light was from the fire that cast an eerie glow over Joshua. Nutmeg whinnied happily and plodded over the Celeste. “What are you doing in here?” She asked him. “How did you even get in here?”
“We’re in a—what do I call this?—an underground… mmm” Joshua paused, looking for a suitable word. “Burrow I guess? It’s a place I stumbled across a year ago. Literally stumbled across. I was heading for a tree as cover for the rain, and I tripped over the entrance to this. It’s man-made, but I have no idea who made it. I really wish I could thank him though. Unless he’s, you know, evil or something, but that’s probably unlikely. We are in Korelia, though, so there’s no telling…” Joshua paused, trying to get his thought process back on the right track. “Anyway, we can stay here for a little while, lick our wounds so-to-speak, and let the Korelians get tired of searching for us.”
“Ok,” Celeste said, nodding. “So…, I froze Cormack.”
“Yes you did.”
Celeste nodded again.
Joshua looked at her sympathetically, “How about we discuss that another day.”
Celeste sighed, “Ok.” Her raw, bruised wrist brushed against the blanket that was covering her, and she hissed in pain.
“Oh, here,” said Joshua. “I’ve been making something for that.” He stirred something in a pot over the fire. “You can thank the Korelians for the pot.” He lifted it from the fire and crouched next to Celeste. Gently, he took one of her hands and began applying a greenish-brown muck to her wounds. The muck was warm, but not too hot, and it felt soothing. When he finished he lifted her hand in the air and glanced at her as if realizing how close they were. “Should let it dry,” he murmured quietly, his eyes flickering over her face “before you touch it.” For some reason, Celeste’s heart beat a little faster. Abruptly, he let go of her hand and took the other one, dropping his eyes from hers and focusing on her wrist. Clearing his throat, his voice returned to a more normal volume. “Now,” he said, “This paste has crushed mushrooms in it, among other things. There are two different kinds of mushrooms: one is used for healing purposes, but there’s this other kind that looks the exact same and can cause your hand to have to be amputated. I’m pretty sure I picked the right kind, but if you feel a terrible burning sensation—“
“What?” Celeste jerked her hand away from him. Then he looked up at her with a grin on his face, and, shoving him, she yelled, “Joshua!” But he just laughed, refusing to apologize.