He and I walked hand in hand, but the tension in our environment still kept us from looking at one another often. Tobih pushed a strand of hair behind his ear and continued to scour the area for threats. “I don’t know what you mean,” for a moment, as he spoke, his eyes found mine. When they did, he looked down and covered his face with his hand. “No, I can’t,’ Tobih muttered through his palm. “We can’t go back.”
This Tobih seemed different from the one I was used to. The internal conflict was contorting that comforting smile I had come to know from him. I could see his pain. “I want to rest,” was what he said but it sounded more like an admission of defeat. I couldn’t blame him either. The lack of sleep, the weight he was carrying, the sickness in his body, and not having even a moment to legitimately rest- it must have been torture.
I squeezed his hand tighter and looked at the golden-haired norn ahead of us. She was strong, but how far would it last? When would she find her breaking point? Angel couldn’t sleep because of her past but how long would, or could, she hold up without it?
I was naive to think that we could get through this trip with enough planning and willpower alone. There were others with more supplies and more knowledge that had fallen on this battlefield before us. I remembered the charred remains and the smell of them burning. This trip was something we could have done further down the line when the Pact had more control over the area and when we could be better prepared. My goal wasn’t worth all of this and I had finally come to terms with that.
Tobih was right, though. “We can’t go back.” If I never found Ragnvaldr again, it would mean the sacrifice he made by joining us would have no meaning. I wished we would have turned back before I even had the chance of losing him. We were so far into this mission that quitting no longer felt like an option.
I let myself think that Angel was the reason that I couldn’t turn back, that she was the only one pressing me so hard to go on, like she could hurt me if I even attempted to turn around. I didn’t want to admit that I just didn’t want to fail at something we had all tried so hard at. I didn’t want to let anyone’s expectations of me down.
“Angel, we should find a place to rest soon,” I calmly called out to her.
I didn’t want to alarm her and chance that she might become suspicious of Tobih.
All of us had secrets. Angel and her past. Tobih and his sickness. Then there was me: the one keeping them from each other under the impression that it would make me more trustworthy for my friends. When the time came that they were revealed, who would be responsible for not telling the other?
Angel broke her lead position and joined the two of us instead, “Have not seen any spots to rest, not properly defensible anyway. There are some that could work but I would need a strong ally with me to defend them.”
“Well, you have me instead.” I looked at Tobih, who probably didn’t realize that we could tell he was straining to keep that smile on his face, “How much longer can you hold out for?”
Angel looked down at Tobih and pursed her lips for a moment, “So it did finally catch back up to you. Told you so.”
He laughed a little nervously, “Yeah, I guess you did… I hate hearing you say that.”
She slapped her hand across his back again, though somewhat more gently this time, “A tiny human like you needs sleep. If you do not sleep, you become slow. Slow will kill you here.”
“I know,” he sighed, “I can keep going for a little longer, but what about you, Angel?”
“Some battles last for days. When you have seen as many as I have you begin to grow accustomed to staying up for that long,” she told her story well but I knew the truth behind the woman who didn’t sleep. “Now then, we should keep moving.”
Somehow, Angel didn’t seem to notice that anything more was wrong with Tobih. It was so natural, in fact, that I became increasingly curious to know if maybe she actually already knew his secret and didn’t want to draw attention to it. I thought that, in the end, it might have been much easier if she had already known after all.