Chapter 25: Arkeh:na’s Decision

Cameron knew Avery had reshaped the Grandmoeders’ hearts when Grandmoeder Nai gained a twinkle in her eye. It took a lot to persuade her into doing anything she didn’t want to do, but Cameron saw it, and so did Grandmoeder Geneva. Geneva was the final call, the decision maker, and Avery had sold her on the idea of uprooting their whole world just to heal a common cough.

That morning—Avery’s evening—she left with a short kiss to Cameron’s temple, encouraging them that everything would be alright.

Everything she told them sounded right as rain. They did need to leave, and the quicker they did, the better. For them, for the Grandmoeders, for every single child born from here on after.

But Cameron would’ve rather died here than risk coming out to the world.

Leaks about the Grandmoeders’ decision swept through Arkeh:na like one of Avery’s “viruses.” Misinformation spread about what might happen. They might be forced into igloos, they might live on the streets. The biggest rumor, one Cameron almost believed, said they’d all live with Avery until they built a new mountain for themselves by hand.

Avery promised that her Moeder and Fader would help, but how? 314 Arkeh:nen needed to pack up and leave to someplace unknown. They had trouble believing two Autreans could help with something they weren’t involved with.

Cameron sat awake in bed, thinking all of this over. They knew they shouldn’t have been angry with Avery. She had their best intentions in mind. She wanted them safe, and they wanted her happy.

After the Grandmoeders gave their final verdict, Cameron cried into their bear pelt for days.

Nobody really talked about the move. Everybody just started packing up like mindless drones obeying their queen. One morning, Cameron awoke to their neighbors stacking their belongings outside of their curtain. They later found out this was trash, memories that could be thrown away. Cameron saved what they could.

Soon enough their Moeder stopped working. Dozens of Arkeh:nen craved her advice during this turbulent time, so much so that she exerted herself. Drained of power, she came back one day and stayed for the rest of the week.

She and Cameron slept together for the first time in years, her back pressed against theirs, her gentle snoring bringing Cameron back to infancy. After their Fader left, her snores had been the only way they could get to sleep. Now, knowing she couldn’t work partly because of them kept them awake.

One night, as they tried not to shift the blankets, their Moeder touched their shoulder. “Rest.”

“Sorry.”

“Everything will be alright. Ever since I met Avery, I knew this was going to happen.”

“But where’re we going to go? ‘Hospitals’? ‘Rescue centers’? The Autreans don’t even speak our language. They won’t understand.”

“That’s a very valid criticism that I hope Avery’s put more thought into than she’s led on.”

Cameron bunched up their pelt close to their face. “Moeder, I’m…I’m scared. I don’t want to leave.”

“I know. Emotions are the hardest to deal with at night. That’s why we always want someone close to us before we go to bed.” She continued massaging Cameron’s shoulder.

“Moeder, do you want to leave?”

“Absolutely not.”

The way she said it so bluntly made them smile a bit, a half-smirk they could barely raise from their pillow. “Do you hate Avery?”

“I hate that she’s right, and I’m fearful of how much you’ve grown attached to her. Feelings are something I’ve mastered through my readings, yet they’ve become a burden to me. They’re something I’d rather avoid than confront. You’ve helped me overcome a lot of those fears, especially after your Fader left.”

“I’ve helped you?” They couldn’t believe it. “How?”

“Ever since I met him, we had a falling out that could never be fixed. We were on a bridge that continuously swayed. That swaying only grew once we had you. His desire to leave contrasted my need to stay underground. When he left, the bridge snapped and I was left stranded with you. After that, I closed myself off. It was you who rebuilt my bridge and connected me back to love. When I heard Avery arguing about leaving, I was back on that bridge, but instead of having you in my arms, you were on the other side with her.”

Now their lightheadedness didn’t come from just their sickness. It was like being back in her psychic room as a child, hearing her cry and realizing that she was a complex human with even more complex emotions. “I had a dream about him right before you and Avery argued.”

“Isn’t that the way,” she said. “All dreams connect us to the now, waking up when we ourselves need to be woken up.” Her restless hand found its way into Cameron’s hair. “Get some rest. Avery promised to meet with us tomorrow to discuss how this’ll go. You’ll find peace with her.”

“I’ll try,” they said with a cough, and stayed up for most of the night.

 

──✧──

 

The bustle outside their den woke them up. Arkeh:na had woken up about an hour earlier than usual, too nervous to sleep, too nervous to finalize packing.

They found their Moeder sifting through their gemme collection. Most of what could’ve been brought to the surface was already packed outside. Only the bulkier parts of their gemme collection remained.

Their heart skipped. She’d never touched them before. “I-I’m going to sort through them now,” they said.

“You’ve collected quite a lot here,” she said. “Some of these are quite rare.”

“They are?”

She handed them one of their least favorite gemmes. “This one is quite drawn to you. It holds a lot of positive, healing energy. Have you had it for a while?”

“Yeah, but every time I tried connecting to it, I never felt anything.”

“You feel calmer when you’re around them, don’t you?”

“Yeah. I like collecting them.”

“Then how are they not doing their job?”

Cameron rolled the ruby gemme between their fingers, then pocketed it for later.

“Some of these gemmes might feel better if they were left here,” she then added. “They’re able to live here. We cannot.”

“I know.”

“But they’ll still love you, even if you’re apart from them.”

They bit their lower lip. “I know.”

She wrapped one arm around them. “It’ll be alright.”

Their eyes welled up. Before they could let go against her, the bell within their den, as well as every bell in their tunnle, rang.

“The Grandmoeders said they wanted us to be at the Centrum,” their Moeder said.

Still not quite ready to leave, they double-checked the remainder of their gemmes, making sure they had every last important one. There had to be something more they could do.

They raised their head to Nuvu still hanging on her grate. They cooed for her. “Nuvu, let’s go.”

She clicked her tongue at them.

“We have to go,” they said. “Come on.”

She stared her owner down.

Cameron reached higher. She never listened. “Nuvu.”

“Cameron,” their Moeder whispered. “I think Nuvu has to stay. Bats belong in caves. Arkeh:nen…Humans do not.”

Cameron grit their teeth as they reached higher and higher, waiting for her to fly to their hand like they’d trained her to do, but she didn’t. Chirping softly, she wrapped her wings around herself and got comfortable on her perch.

Cameron dropped their arms. The stubborn blood drained back to their fingertips.

“Don’t hold it against her,” their Moeder said. “She belongs here.”

“We do, too.”

She touched the middle of their back, helping them leave. After giving Nuvu a tearful look, they finally, finally, turned away.

They and their Moeder stood in the curtainless doorway. Their den looked so empty now. The places where Cameron’s gemme boxes had sat open for so many years left imprints in the Earth. Even without blankets, their bed was probably still warm enough to crawl back into.

“Once we move, we can visit here all you want,” their Moeder said. “I’ll take you back on trips.”

Cameron touched the edges of the walls, then erupted into coughing.

“Let’s go,” she said, picking up their belongings. They’d wrapped them in bundles and boxed them in crates. “Fresh air can only help you at this point.”

“So you say,” Cameron said, but followed her down the ladders and bridges regardless.

About 200 Arkeh:nen stood ready at the Centrum with their belongings. Toddlers ran around their parents, who gossiped about the move with their neighbors. The other 100 or so were still packing away their homes. They lined the walls, whispering their reservations.

The ville and artisan huts had been swept clean. All the wood from the shacks had been repurposed as moving boxes. Even the fires meant for cooking food had been doused. What was once a thriving village now looked like a crowded prison cell.

Their Moeder guided them through the sea of whispers to Basil, Maywood, and their Moeder. Their Moeder had found something to argue about with Basil. Basil looked to be holding himself back. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not. Knock it off and let me carry your things.”

When Cameron’s Moeder came into view, Basil’s and Maywood’s Moeder lowered her voice and yanked the box out of Basil’s hand.

“Hello, Exia,” Cameron’s Moeder said. “I’m sorry I haven’t been around to give you your readings. I know this week must’ve been stressful for you.”

She closed herself off with her shawl. “It’s been terrible, knowing I have to do all this moving by myself. Maywood and Basil here, trying to work in the conditions they’re in? Where’re the Grandmoeders, and the Autrean girl?”

Nearby Arkeh:nen turned around to listen for any news they could get.

“She’ll be here soon,” Cameron said. “She usually comes around this time.”

“Do you need to sit down?” Maywood asked them. She was sitting on one of their moving boxes, resting her tired legs.

Cameron didn’t answer. They’d been listening to the talk around them, then the loud cacophony of sound in general. Like piercing through a misty film, the sound grew louder and louder until someone screamed.

Cameron didn’t know where to move first. It sounded like water was rushing in on them from all sides, but they knew it was rock. Tumbling, free-falling rocks aiming to bury them. These cave-ins, these sinful strings of fate breaking off at the seams, you couldn’t prepare for them. Everything happened in seconds and destroyed life even quicker.

The Main Exit Tunnle went first. A cloud of rock, a screech, and then it was gone. Then the ceiling collapsed. It caved in and splashed into the Rivière, burying the artisan district. Bats flew into the air. Babies cried. Arkeh:nen screamed for the Grandmoeders’ safety as they ran from being crushed.

Maybe this was Arkeh:na’s final way at saying goodbye. Knowing its inhabitants were deserting it, it felt only just to bury them all in one shared grave.

Cameron ate their words. Avery had been right. They’d wanted to die in Arkeh:na, but they never wanted Arkeh:na to kill them.

They went for their Moeder’s hand, but she was gone, swept away by the running crowd. Lost, they fell on their back and watched helplessly as Arkeh:na collapsed on top of them.

 

Continue to CHAPTER 26

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