Can't Go Back

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Just as the Slow wears off, and the realization of Leviathan's wormhole-of-a-throat sinks in,—as I accept I'm in the Dark World, deep beneath the crusts of the world I knew and barely accepted before—the monster-infested, winding caverns outside of the Land of Summoned Monsters opens into a sprawling, subterranean flatland with a distant, red-hot ocean roiling on the horizon, so I say, "Nope," and pivot around to walk right back into that damn cave.

"Rydiawaitstop," Rob rabbles, yet it's Shiva's gentle and cool hand that grabs my wrist. While my arm shivers and chills, the rest of my lanky body swells with the heat; and I feel softer, despite the ache in my bones.

Shiva's voice is barely above a whisper. "You can't turn back now."

I glance over my shoulder at her. "Why didn't you tell me I was in the Dark World?"

Behind her, the Lava Sea ripples, fiery undulations in the air, as if it's lifting thousands of invisible arms up to the earth—up to the Light Crystals, up to a world beneath a Sun—where I used to be; where I wouldn't be with Shiva.

"You're strong," she says. "You're in shock, though. I didn't want—"

I yank my arm from her hand. "I don't need you to protect me."

"Actually, she cast Protect on all of us!" Ifrit shouts.

Shiva grimaces at Ifrit, chitting him to hush; then her eyes again turn to cool my temper. I can't help wondering what else she's hiding from me. A part of me wants to think she yearns for me, as I yearn for her, yet like the wormhole, like everything important, she's hiding her heart.

It surges on me, in a wave of pure fear—

I don't want to be the only one whose heart blossoms when we look at one another.

I'm frozen in place, stunned more by what churns within me than by the bubbling lava sea, the attack of the echidna, the Dark World.

I know we should continue towards the Cave of Sylphs. I know I should be grateful that Rob, Ifrit, and Shiva are only leaving the Land of Summoned Monster to help me. Despite this, there's only one thing I want right now—

To run away from them.

From all of this.

Where to run, though? What happens if I return to the Land of Summoned Monsters?

Asura tries to fill the vacancy of Mother, and the Village of Mist—that hole left inside of me—but it isn't enough; so I claw-and-scrape up tunnels to Leviathan's mouth, where I force open his teeth, and he belches me into the blue ocean—and at last, I'm liberated!—except I'm too far down to ever swim to the surface;

As Shiva carefully edges closer and closer, I sway under the pressures pushing inside me, and I faint into her arms. 

The darkness soothes me.

Then I wake up.

The Lava Sea still seems as far away as before, yet the winding tunnels that lead to the Land of Summoned Monsters are far behind us. They must have kept traveling, carrying me. I'm irritated and disoriented. All around, the Dark World is flatter than I've seen it before, subterranean brick-red-and-brown earth, with cavernous sky bowling above, dotted with bio-luminescent wildlife. 

I stand up, turn around, and balk at the green tent, pitched up behind a Rob-sized campfire.

Shiva's robes, and Ifrit's shredded loins, are bundled around me in a makeshift bed. 

Why'd they leave me outside with Rob? 

The little Bomb looks up from his stick-poking across the miniature campfire and whispers, "Ifritstheonlyoneinthetent. He'stoohotforevenme."

"Oh," I respond numbly to my little Bomb friend, just as I spot Shiva on the other side of the camp, in the edge of blue-dark shadow. She's sleeping in a fetal position, dressed only in the indigo leotard she wears beneath her silk blue shawls.

"Sleepmore," Rob says. "I'mwatchingformonsters."

"But you're not in the library, Rob," I argue, before I succumb to a yawn. "You can't just... stay up all night, and..."

"Mylifeiseasy," he tells me. "Youneedrest. Getrestnow."

I'd like my life to be easy. It used to feel that way. Does life oscillate from good to bad, or does it just become increasingly more complicated? Because if someone could tell me, It'll be better someday, then I'd power through the tough spots—no problem—but it doesn't feel like it moves up and down anywhere; rather it's a descent, a multiplication of suffering; it exhausts me.

I lay on my side, pull my knees closer in, then lower my hands to my ankles. 

I like Shiva's idea about sleeping this way. 

I like balling up around my center. 

Inside, aren't we all children?—in the dark pits of our stomachs, aren't we all still vulnerable kids? I know I am.

This new adult body of mine is a lie.

♥♥♥

First draft: July 18

Second draft: August 18

Word count: 811

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