Making Chicken Salad...

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Nathan has me stumped. I get why he usually does wear his amulet. He's definitely getting weird without it.

"You want to answer my questions?" I say, replying to him in a falsely detached manner. "What do mean? Are you a magic eight-ball or something?" That's just me, when something weird happens, I make dad jokes. Great.

Nathan shakes his head. "We don't have time for this. Your questions need answers, please ask now." If I pay attention, he is sort of sweaty and pale. Domenica has noticed that too.

"OK," she says, "that's exactly why I don't want you to be without the amulet for too long. You're over-exerting yourself, Nat. Please put it back on now." He shakes his head again.

"Please give me half an hour, mom, I need this. You don't know what's coming," he says, rubbing his arms as if he's cold. She wraps him in her jacket without adding a word, visibly worried about him.

I hate when people get all cryptic with their explanations. "So what's coming?" I say.

"Ñox Cayu has probably found a way to the mountain now," says Nathan. "He will find his head if we don't get there in time. Keep asking."

This is weird, but I get the feeling that it is making some kind of sense to him. "OK, so... Isn't there someone more used to handling these kind of things? A wizard living in a cave, a knight wielding a god-killing sword, anyone?"

He looks at me. He seems to be pretty exhausted. "You are the most relevant to the situation right now, along with the rest of us. We will do our best to help you out."

"Wow, wait," I say, not believing what I'm hearing, "you're planning on leaving the fighting to me? I don't know what kind of stuff you see with your little mind powers, but me brawling with a giant made of rotten flesh: that's not happening. I can't do it." No matter how necessary that is, I'm not planning on dying that young.

"Of course you won't fight it," says Nathan, very matter-of-fight. "You'd get flattened. Your talent lies elsewhere." The more he talks, the more tired he seems to be, the less he sounds like a child. He looks at me. "What's important to us right now is the fact that you can't be swayed."

I have a hard time following what he says. "You mean, like, he has a weakness against honest people or something?"

He rolls his eyes. Yeah, I admit that what I said didn't make much sense, but his cryptic talk is not helping. "I mean that you can't be controlled, just like Dave," he says. Yeah, if I remember well he told me about something like that. Good for us, I guess. "That's why you're not like one of the other factory slaves. You probably didn't even feel it's pull, but normal people, like my mom or your parents, they won't be able to resist if it calls them."

"What about you?" I say. "Can you also resist being brainwashed?" If the team assembled to climb being brainwashed can be turned into Ñox Cayu's servants in a heartbeat, this is not going to be an easy feat to pull off.

"Somehow," says Nathan, "but it's really not my strong suit. I can feel the pull, though, and I understand what it does a bit better."

I look around: my parents and Tig are definitely in no shape to fight a giant raw chicken roaming about looking for its head. I can't keep them safe here. Nathan has seemingly thought about the same things. "Don't worry," he says, "we can leave them in the car. We won't be able to reach all the way up with it anyway."

Little know-it-all.

The trees have grown denser and the clear night sky is obscured as we enter the forest that surrounds the mountain. El Pollo usually looks like quite a climb. It's difficult to say from the back of the pickup if it is really that high or steep, but I guess we'll know soon enough. As much as I want to keep our three wounded people out of trouble, I also don't want to climb for several hours in the dark. Also: magical abominations roaming around.

We soon arrive at the end of the road. My ears have started ringing. I feel the change in altitude already. What do you know? It turns out I'm not built for the mountains after all, no matter where I've been raised.

In front of us, a rather impressive fence has been built, sealing off what looks like the original continuation of the road. The other side is fissured, in th process of being overtaken by weed. It must have been a pretty long time since that part of the road hasn't been used. Probably since that shady government agency Domenica was talking about sealed off the place. I get down the truck, Domenica and Nathan coming after me.

As I wonder if we can even pass this obstacle, Nathan gestures to the far left. "There is an opening in the fence over there," e says. Dave and my parents are still in the cabin, with Tig in the back. The old man lowers the driver window and says: "Well, that's where I leave you off. Do you want me to drive the wounded back home, Deb?"

I pause for a moment. "What do you mean, you're leaving us off? Aren't you coming with us?" I look at Domenica and Nathan. No offense, but we could use a hand and some of that special power he says we both have.

Dave shakes his head. "I'm not coming," he says, "I think I told you already how I tend to avoid trouble. It's one thing to lend a hand in a getaway... and I guess I've already been more involved than I usually get. Going head-to-head with an actual god, though, that's another matter entirely. I'm leaving now, before this region goes to literal hell." He's staying composed, but I can see this isn't up for discussion. Shit. I'm the only one left who can do what Nathan said was 'the job'. Did he know already?

At this moment Nathan trips and falls on the ground. Domenica gets him up. He looks exhausted.

"That's enough," she says. "You're gonna put your amulet back on right now!" I understand her worries. No matter what he seems to be able to do without being sealed, the price is too heavy.

"We have to climb the mountain now," he says. "There is a path on the left side of the fence, a hole dug by animals. We need to get up there before it does."

As Domenica is looking through his clothes to find the amulet, I crouch in front of him. "Listen, Nathan," I say, "I can go up this path, but not if I'm here worried sick about you. If you have any leftover instructions, give them to me now and I'll be on my way, I promise, just as long as you put your amulet back on."

"No," he says, and I can see he's struggling to shape the idea he's trying to express. "You need me. You have to catch it but you can't seal it on your own." Damn it. How does so much authority belong to a elementary school kid? You should just not have to carry that kind of weight on your shoulders!

I sigh. "Is there really no other way?" I say, already reading the answer in the way he looks at me. He's weary, but determined. Domenica is pretty upset. I guess she wishes she could just order him around and tell him to go to bed now.

She finally gives up and gives him a big hug. "You do know that if you go I'm going with you, right? And put your amulet back on."

"Mom, I need it to seal Ñox Cayu," he says, ticked off.

"Do you need it to walk?" says Domenica. No answer. He's just being stubborn now. "Put it back on."

Looking upset, he squeezes a fist in the air and the amulet is in it again. He finally puts it back on and hides his relief by moping. It's quite reassuring to see him being a kid again, no matter how visionary and bossy he can get.

I get up and look around. Time to get going. "Dave," I say, "could you bring back my parents and Tig to safety on your way out? It would mean the world to me." He was waiting for this and nods. "You can leave Tig at my parents' place, they know her."

I turn back towards Domenica and Nathan. I try not to think about what we have to do. No matter how much Oracle Nathan seems to know where we're going, this is insane. I smile the best I can.

"Shall we go, then?"


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