Chapter 10:

Time to Feel and Time to Learn

Telling the Bees

The fatigue of their conversation still loomed heavily in the back of Mitsu’s eyes when he woke up the next morning. As he watched Amber struggle to untangle the knots in her hair with red-rimmed eyes, he knew the feeling was mutual.

While Mitsu felt like he’d done the right thing last night by allowing Amber to grieve in what little privacy he could offer her, today was different. Avoiding conversation after such a vulnerable confession would be dirty cowardice on his part. Thus, when Amber turned at the sound of Mitsu shimmying out of bed and their eyes met, he offered her a smile.

A furious blush bloomed on Amber’s dimpled cheeks, and she quickly turned away. Mitsu’s smile crumbled in defeat. What kind of moron would keep smiling after realizing how embarrassed she felt?

Switching tactics, he decided to reach for conversation instead. Mitsu made a valiant effort to squeeze mundane questions through his teeth; Amber offered nothing but short, punched-out answers in response.

Eventually, Mitsu steered the struggling conversation toward the topic of breakfast, giving Amber her golden ticket to finally escape. Muttering some flimsy excuse about checking if the dining hall was open under her breath, Amber put down the brush and fled the tent with hurried footsteps.

Mitsu poked his head out from behind the tent flaps and watched her as she sped down the row of tents and exited the wing. If it weren’t for the uncertain quiver in her voice or the flush still high on her cheeks when she left, Mitsu would have thought she was angry with him.

Feeling strangely reassured, Mitsu felt the tension bleed from his shoulders as he followed behind her at a more leisurely pace to the dining hall. Amber was painfully shy about what was said between them, but it didn’t seem like she held his rejection against him, which was almost more than he deserved.

When he finally caught up to her, the dining hall was nearly dead. It was too early for most to be up after such a long night of revelry, leaving just them and the sound of pans clanking as the chefs pulled them down from their hooks and set them on the burners. The chefs heaped praise on Mitu’s shoulders for his performance with glib grins as they piled his plate high with honey-baked ham and cornbread. Something about the mouthwatering aroma suddenly reminded him of just how long it had been since he ate with Amber at the lake the day prior.

Carefully balancing their hearty plates of food as they sat down to eat, Mitsu didn’t spare a thought for talk as he inhaled the juicy selections with reverence and gusto. Amber silently snickered at his actions—a there-and-gone response—and Mitsu felt far too pleased to have caused it.

By the time Mitsu’s plate was polished clean of food and he chanced a glance up at the clock hanging on the kitchen wall, a half-hour had passed.

Amber rearranged her plate and silverware neatly before rising from her seat. “Ready to go?”

The answer was a resounding yes, and once again, Mitsu followed where her footsteps took him. Unsurprisingly, they led outside the inn.

It was still cool and dewy as they stepped outside the tent and back into the fields, and the glow of the morning was still hidden behind the hills. Mitsu couldn’t help the goosebumps that rose on his skin at the shift in temperature after leaving the cozy heat of the dining hall.

As if summoned by a god herself, Mercy was there to greet them. Her clothes were simpler, just a loose silhouette, yet her energy was just as captivating as ever. As Finch stood behind her holding the reins to their horses steady, he could see him shaking in reverence—or fear—of her presence.

Mercy smiled at Amber warmly as she grabbed her wrist and pulled her into a hug. “I’ll see you at the capital for your coronation,” Mercy said as she squeezed Amber tight.

Amber smiled as she pulled away, her hands pressed against Mercy’s shoulders. “You better be in the front row.”

Mitsu didn’t how she could pretend so bravely.

Ultimately, it wasn’t a long goodbye, though Mitsu suspected it never was between them. Mercy didn’t seem like she would be a fan of that kind of thing. In contrast, Finch wept as he waved them farewell until the inn looked like something part of a miniature town. Mitsu’s arm ached from waving back, though he honestly didn’t mind it.

On the surface, their journey traveling together wasn’t much different from before. There were flower fields, lakes, and valleys. There was incessant back pain. And there was Amber, at the center of it all.

With each day that passed, he slowly noticed her embarrassment dwindle.

Their conversation undoubtedly still bothered her, but now it was more of an old stain than a fresh wound, allowing banter and idle thoughts to be shared between them in a way that was almost airless. Mitsu felt so selfish for wishing there was more weight behind their words. He knew he should just be content with the fact that they could talk normally at all.

Instead, he was deeply frustrated with himself and his inability to just…give in to her wishes, set all desires and thought aside, and love her as she deserved. In one moment, he fleetingly thought about what a hindrance his love for Sakura was—and then in the next, he was awash with shame.

Sometimes, some nights, he dreamed of her. Sakura and Mitsu shared a wonderful life together, and his subconscious never allowed him to forget it, even if spending time with Amber was almost enough to create a temporary amnesia.

He relived all sorts of memories, from their first fight—one that had ended with 17-year-old Sakura and Mitsu splitting the bill on their crummy fast-food date—to their wedding day, where they both cried tears of joy as Sakura cast her bouquet aside in the aisle and launched herself into his arms at the altar, throwing the entire processional in disarray.

It was upon waking from those dreams, dew dripping onto his toes and tears streaming down his cheeks, that he felt more deeply in the caverns of his heart than ever that he needed to speak to her again.

There were no easy answers to the struggles he was suffering through. It wasn’t something Amber alone could solve, either.

But their journey? It gave him time to feel—and it gave him time to learn.

For the precious little time Mitsu had spent in Ferris, he really didn’t know half as much about it as he should. Luckily, as they started traversing more interesting territories, Amber was all too happy to remedy that.

“Can you see it?” she asked.

Mitsu squinted into the leather-bound binoculars she’d given him. “Is it more to the right or the left?”

“The capital is in between Mt. Hornet and Wallace’s Tree. You can’t miss it.”

Mitsu lowered the binoculars and sighed. “Some more names I haven’t heard before.”

“Well, would you like me to educate you?”

“If you please.”

Apparently, a history nerd, Amber was all too excited to tell him more. “Mt. Hornet is where the gods banished the hornets to live, along with the person who created them, Lord Akuji,” she explained.

Mitsu shivered at the thought of hornets. Sinister. Evil. Easily set off. Overall one of the worst critters to ever exist. He’d been stung by one thrice in his life, and thrice in his life, he’d screamed in shock from the pain. “…Is there any particular reason why he chose to do that?”

Amber fiddled with her own pair of binoculars. She’d originally only had one pair, but she’d been able to use magic to duplicate a set for him with magic.

“He was someone who wanted to sever the connection between our world and the gods. He never liked the influence of the bees, and he was interested in creating his own power. He succeeded, and now he’s…semi-immortal. Also, if you get stung by one of his hornets, you can lose the ability to wield magic ever again.”

“Then why was he banished to a mountain so close to the capital?”

“It’s easier to monitor them that way. Besides…good and bad are never that far apart anyways.”

It was an acceptable answer, although admittedly an uncomfortable one. “…And the tree?”

Amber smiled. “Well, it’s a tree. Nothing special about it besides how big it is.”

“Then what’s so special about Wallace?”

“Wallace is the first person to categorize every species of bee living in Ferris, and also the founder of our country. Wallace’s tree is where he discovered the biggest bees in the world.”

“How big are they?” Mitsu asked curiously.

Amber grinned with glee. “Bigger than you.”

Mitsu laughed nervously. “That’s…a little scary.”

Amber laughed. “No way! They’re so fat and bumbly! And they try so hard! Besides, there's plenty of smaller bees with stronger stings than them.”

Mitsu shrugged. “If you say so.” He raised the binoculars back to his face again, and he felt almost stupid for struggling so much to locate the capital through the lenses earlier. There was the mountain on the left, cloyed in clouds and looming darkly; to the right, a massive tree covered in vines; in the splendid middle, the capital.

Of everything he had seen before in Ferris, the castle of the capital was by far the most otherworldly. He’d not once seen a Japanese castle that looked like this.

The pinnacle of the castle was shaped like a dome, almost like a stereotypical beehive, with golden rings carved into it, and the flanking towers were encased in honeycombs to the extent that the pristine circular pillars underneath looked almost disfigured.

The walls surrounding the castle had cascades of honey flowing down their sides like waterfalls, and despite being the capital, the town resting beneath the castle seemed almost entirely shrouded by brush and trees, almost so much so that it could be called a forest.

Mitsu squinted harder in hopes of making out any more details, but it seemed the binoculars weren’t good enough for that. Even if they were, most of the town was covered by trees anyways. It was mysterious, it was strange, and Mitsu badly wanted to see it for himself.

Mitsu lowered the binoculars slowly. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said, voice hushed.

Amber lowered her own binoculars. “There is nothing else like it,” she said proudly. “Lucid is one-of-a-kind.”

Mitsu rested an arm on his knee as he leaned back further into the soft grass. “I wonder if there are any castles in my world that can beat it.”

Amber plucked a piece of grass as she rested her head on her knees, her eyes more gold than orange in the sun. “Now that I think about it, you haven’t told me much about it.”

“About the castles?”

“No, about your world.”

“Oh.” Mitsu scratched the back of his head. Honestly, he thought the modern world would be too mundane for someone like Amber, so he’d never bothered to discuss it much. “I didn’t think you’d find it very interesting,” he admitted.

“Of course it’s interesting,” she said. “It’s the place you came from.”

Mitsu’s mouth opened slightly, and his cheeks warmed pleasantly. He thought his enthusiasm for learning more about Ferris was because it was all new and unexplored, but maybe that wasn’t quite right. If you asked him if he’d still have half the interest in this world if it wasn’t for Amber, he’d probably say no.

The real reason Amber was asking about Mitsu’s world, and the reason he wanted to know more about hers, was simply because they wanted to learn more about each other.

Just like the night of the performance, even if it wasn’t a conscious effort on either person’s side, they still felt drawn to understand each other in whatever ways they had, and Earth just happened to be one of them.

Mitsu had been craving something deeper—but he still didn’t know if it was right for him to want it. He also didn’t know if Sakura was someone he could forget either, and yet he so desperately wanted Amber to know him.

So, he decided to talk about Earth anyways.

Mitsu told her everything he could think of about his world, from kei car racing to Japanese castles. He even mentioned the different flavors of ice cream offered at the shop down the corner from his apartment, and Amber hung on to every single word with curiosity and delight.

She asked questions with the same coolness and smoothness as a piece of jade, and he answered her by painting a vibrant, bold, joyous picture of his world. By the time the sun had set, Mitsu’s voice had started cracking for the first time since he was thirteen.

From the way Amber continued to smile at him while he spoke, her eyes now a deep orange glow in the sunset, he couldn’t help but think it was worth it.

Pope Evaristus
Steward McOy