Chapter 13: Breakfast
I can't sleep, of course. I'm not sure anyone is, really. Merlin is laying down not far from the fire, she may actually be asleep or just staying very very still. On the other side of the fire pit, Image is using a small cot he pulled from some storage area of his wagon. Sigyn was walking around the Oasis perimeter earlier but I lost sight of her in the dark. I'm sure she's still out there. Nikola's been sitting on a stool near the fire for awhile, not moving much. There's no way he's asleep. I'm still not sure how or even if he and Merlin have forgiven me for keeping things from them. The night is cool but not cold. I bundle up in my cloak and rest my back against one of the larger stools some distance from the fire while I look at my phone and type notes on it about what's happened the last day or so. It has half a charge. I can plug it in to my large backup battery when we get to town or something. I'll also update my notes on my laptop then. Maybe I'll set up my solar panel to charge the phone instead.
"Rhys?" Nikola says softly. He got up when I was distracted and is now standing near me. I'm too tired to jump from surprise.
"Yeah?" I ask.
"May I sit?" He asks as he gestures to the crushed gravel next to me.
"Sure," I reply then grab the edge of my cloak and shuffle over to my left a little to give him room.
Nikola sits surprisingly close to me, his back against the large stone stool I've been leaning on. It may actually be a table. It's certainly big enough for both of us to lean against. Maybe I was just thinking of it as a seat because it looked so small compared to Sigyn? She had used this one for a chair, after all.
"The night sounds different here than back home," Nikola finally says. He's right, at least it sounds different than Texas anyway, not that he's been there. Unless he has. I really don't know. Is he referring to the city of New York or back in Hungary?
"Sounds different where I'm from too," I say. "I'm used to nonstop crickets and car noises. The occasional fire truck or police car going off. Dogs barking. Stuff like that."
"I miss the sounds of New York," Nikola says. "The city is always so alive. It has as much difficulty sleeping as I do."
The weight I didn't realize was there gets heavier. Sure, us being here in Heimur isn't my fault, but us being out in the middle of nowhere is. Plus, I made things worse by keeping information from him and Merlin. That's not what a leader should do.
Why am I the leader again?
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you guys about the vampires and dragon," I say. "I wasn't thinking."
He lets out an amused huff. "No, I would argue that you were thinking. Very seriously, in fact. Given the situation, you've been prioritizing what information to share. How long has she been following us?"
"A couple days I think," I reply.
"If you had told me two days ago there was an enormous dragon warrior following us I do believe I would have soiled myself, at best," Nikola says.
I look up at him. He's tall, even sitting down he's not small. He looks tired but at least he's more composed now than he was the other day when he was close to having a nervous breakdown. I wonder if it's an act or not. I wonder if I'm calm right now because I'm acting too.
"I still should have found a way to tell you about her. And the vampires," I hiss. I grab my head then pull my hands down the side of my face. "I kept the info about the vampires from y'all too."
"Merlin and I discussed that as well when you were with, Sigyn was it? Yes, Sigyn. We both agreed that if we had left our room when our party intended to neither she nor I would have ever known about the vampires. Withholding that information was another way for you to keep us, but me in particular, calm. Thank you for that."
I didn't even realize it but I'm tearing up. I wipe my eyes silently with my sleeve before nodding.
"I...uh...yeah. If we hadn't left early the vampires wouldn't have been an issue," I agree. My words are more shaky than I want them to be but it's hard not to have them hitch because, as I now realize, I am just outright crying. "I thought I messed up. I thought y'all hated me or something. I just...you two are the only people I really know and even then we're complete strangers. I...don't know if I can get any of us...hck...home."
He surprises me by wrapping a long arm around my shoulder. I glance at him, my vision blurry from tears.
"You don't have to," he says with a smile. "We will find a way together. Be that a way home or merely a way to survive. You may be the de facto leader, but that does not mean you must bear this burden alone."
I lean into his hug. "Thank you, Nikola."
"Thank you, Rhys," he replies. "You are doing a wonderful job as leader. Please, remember you are not alone and neither are we."
Nikola asks about my phone. I'm pretty sure he's changing the subject to get me to stop crying. I'm also sure it works. After I show him how to use the phone to access the ebooks on it, he spends some time reading a copy of The Wizard of Oz. I downloaded it free one day and actually haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Which, I guess, works out fine since chronologically he would've read it before me anyway. I continue to watch the darkness around our camp, occasionally seeing Sigyn's large figure skulking about. She's not just keeping watch, she's actively patrolling the area. The last thought I have before drifting off to sleep is whether the dragon woman has met an actual wizard before.
Can Sigyn help us find one?
I smell bacon and eggs.
Only I can't possibly be waking up to the smell of bacon and eggs. Image didn't say anything about having bacon. Eggs, sure. He sells dragon eggs so of course he has those. But bacon? Who the hell has bacon? Do pigs even exist in this world?
After rubbing my eyes I squint. Directly in front of me is the camp fire, still lit. Above it sits a metal griddle filled with bacon and scrambled eggs. A large clawed hand pushes the eggs around with a metal spoon. I blink a few times and take in what I'm seeing.
Sigyn is cooking breakfast?
"You're awake," she says while tending to the food.
She's hunched over, squatting on the ground, her large crocodile-like tail laying against the gravel. It's gold with red scale bumps along the top. Bumpies? I want to ask what they're called but hold my tongue.
"Breakfast is almost ready. Your friends went to fill their water skins."
"Where did all this come from?" I ask.
She turns toward me and raises a scaly eyebrow. "My bag."
"I keep forgetting magic exists here," I say as I sit up and stretch. "What else do you have in that thing?"
"Enough," she says with a snort before moving the eggs around again. "Surprised you picked up on it being magic."
"I...don't suppose there's a bathroom around here?" I ask.
"Over there," she says pointing to a rectangular building made of black stone.
I had thought it was another monolith just on its side but now that I actually look at it I can clearly see a couple doors with crystals lighting them softly.
"Toilets are on the right, showers on the left. Every Sanctuary Oasis has them," Sigyn explains.
"Showers? Why didn't you use that to clean up yesterday?" I ask as I stand. "Looks like it's big enough for you and all."
She shakes her head. "I don't like enclosed spaces."
"But you tried to get a room at the inn we were at."
"That was different," Sigyn says quickly. She keeps her eyes on the food and moves the bacon around with her spoon. "I don't want to talk about it."
I nod. "Sorry." I purse my lips. "Thank you for cooking breakfast. I'll be right back."
I check out the shower section first. The door is certainly large enough for Sigyn to use. It appears the building was built for someone even bigger than her, but also with things in place for humans. There's several stalls that range from giant, to human, to even child size, or probably a very small adult human, anyway. Each shower has an engraved stone door that's open at the top and bottom and moves easily on hinges. There's simple looking locking mechanisms to keep them shut once one is inside. A soft glow emanates from crystals housed in sconces around the shower area. It reminds me of gym showers back in college but there are no windows, and no sounds from outside at all. I can't hear any bugs or birds. It's more than a little unsettling and I can see why Sigyn wouldn't want to use the amenities in this building aside from the fact that I'm sure it feels a lot smaller to her than it does to me. I wonder if this soundlessness is why she said she doesn't like enclosed spaces or if she meant something else.
Unsettled by the shower area I head next door to the toilets. Again, there are stalls of a variety of sizes made of the same black stone as the rest of the building. Each is set up similarly to the showers except there's a low built stone toilet in them. I find one that looks human sized and use it without a problem. I'm still getting used to a bidet. I wash my hands in one of the sinks on the wall nearest the door. There's several built into the dark stone. The water comes on when I move my hands in front of a faucet. Again I notice there's no sound from outside. I would think it a good place to weather a hurricane or something if someone needed to sleep if it wasn't so oppressively silent.
"This place is like a sensory deprivation tank," I say to myself. My voice does not echo off the stone like I would expect. It doesn't reverberate at all. Gas station bathrooms have better acoustics. "I'm getting out of here. Ugh."
My unease must show when I leave because Merlin spots me and catches up before I get to our camp. She has her water bottle hanging from a strap around her shoulder.
"You used the creepy bathroom? That place makes my skin crawl," she says.
"Mine too," I say with a shudder. "Uh...Sigyn's making breakfast."
"Yeah, you should see that bag of her's," Merlin says. She puts her hands in the air pantomiming as she explains. "She just kept pulling bigger and bigger things out of it. Here's a spoon! Here's a whole-ass griddle! It was nuts. I think she put her swords in there or something because I have no clue where they went."
Merlin is cheerful. Beaming even. There's no sign that she was upset with me yesterday. I guess she and Nikola really did talk it through and all? Why is it hard for me to move past my mistakes when it's so easy for other people to forgive me? When they understand and say it wasn't a mistake? Nikola and Merlin have more faith in me than I do.
"I wonder where she got that bag," I say to myself as we reach the camp.
Sigyn has plates set on the large table-like seat. She's already filled each dish with food and is presently putting wooden forks next to each one. She looks up like she's just been caught doing something bad instead of making food for everyone.
"This smells amazing," I say.
"Damn right it does," Merlin agrees.
Nikola and Image approach from the other side of the wagon. Image seems like he's just been given some information to think about as he cleans his monocle with a handkerchief. I wonder if Nikola is going to be interested in the food. Sure, historically he became a vegetarian and eventually lived on nothing but milk and crackers, but when he was younger he was known for liking steaks. He ate the stew last night just fine and hasn't exactly shied away from the meat skewers or anything else we've had food-wise. Speaking of Nikola and food he's not seemed all that interested in the cubic volume of anything either, which was another one of his ticks I've read about.
"Are you alright, Rhys?" Nikola asks.
He and everyone else have moved to the table with the food. I'm still standing where I have been for the last few minutes, I guess.
"Sorry," I say. "I was lost in my head again."
I go over to my bag and get my water skin out before sitting at a plate that hasn't been claimed by anyone. I stare at the food for a moment. It smells delicious and somehow hasn't gone cold.
"You're doing it again," Merlin says.
I shake my head. "Sorry, I guess I just...I'm still processing everything." I look up at Nikola. "You're not interested in the volume of what we're eating?"
He glances down at the eggs on his fork before letting out a sigh. "I read that about myself in one of the books on your phone last night. It seems my compulsions eventually became more severely pronounced as I grew older."
"Wait, weren't you reading The Wizard of Oz last night?" I ask.
"I finished that book and started reading others," he says. "I only stopped because your phone had a 'low battery warning.'" He purses his lips before continuing, "If someone were to tell you how your life was supposed to play out and had documentation about it, wouldn't you feel intrigued to learn what could have been?"
In Merlin's world I'm some kind of famous writer. If she had a biography about me I'd be tempted to check it out. But then it could just make me depressed, envious, or some other complex web of emotions I wouldn't want to touch. I'd still do it despite that.
"Yeah," I say. "I see what you mean."
"Eat," Sigyn says before patting me on the back with enough force to nudge me forward but still not knock me over. "It wont stay warm forever."
I'm surprised to see she has a plate, larger than any of ours, full of food in her other hand. I take a bite of the eggs, they're savory, with a hint of bacon flavor. The bacon is also perfectly cooked, not too crunchy and not too soft. It's a filling breakfast that temporarily serves to make my mind stop racing.
"Thank you for this, Sigyn," I say.
She grunts then licks her plate clean.