You turn your face up into the sun, closing your eyes. It beats down over you, warm and heady. This is absolute bliss.
You blink, turning back to your sister. “What is it, peanut?”
Your sister cocks her hip, pouting slightly. “You aren’t sticking me with the duty of pitching the tent alone!”
“Would I do that?” you ask, fighting the smirk.
“ Yes ,” your sister says emphatically. “That’s what you did last time.”
“But the time before that I took care of the sleeping arrangements,” you argue.
Your sister snorts, crossing her arms. “That was an AirBnB.”
You shrug. “Still counts.”
She blows out her cheeks, leg twitching like she wants to stamp her foot. You bite your lip to keep from grinning, turning away from the absolutely stunning view. “Alright, alright. You win. You’re just too in-tents for me.”
Her lips twitch but she holds onto her scowl valiantly. “I’m not so sure about that, your lackadaisical behavior is just making me tents .”
You snort, ruffling her hair as you pass. “That doesn’t count, peanut; you’re just reusing my material.”
“Hey you laughed!” she replies, fixing her hair. “And besides, your policy is s’more humor the better, right?”
You laugh outright, even as you move back to your backpacks and camping equipment. “Well, you’ve got me pegged. So, how are you enjoying the trip so far?”
“It’s amazing,” she effuses, going to stand on the perch you were on just moments ago. Knowing this is her trip, a celebration of her, you choose not to say anything, just pulling the tent out of storage. “I had no idea that Grandma owned land as beautiful as this; I would’ve visited sooner.”
“Well, to be fair, I doubt she’s ever been up this far herself,” you reply. “Grandma wasn’t much for hiking; one mile versus thirteen, it’s all the same to her.”
You and your sister were taking a road trip together, your last and grandest of all before she goes off to college. In fact, that is the dual purpose of the trip, adventuring together and getting her moved to school. Though it certainly makes the road trip more exciting, you wish she wasn’t moving nearly entirely across the country; it would make it so hard to see each other. Still, you’re making the best of it, taking off a full month from your job in the lab to see this through. You’re near the very beginning of your trip, a few days into the travel and tourism that you can do close to home.
“Maybe she and Grandpa came up here when they were younger,” your sister says optimistically. “Made a romantic getaway of it.”
Your smile softens; your sister’s KINDNESS shines through in everything she says and does. “I’m sure they did.”
She turns to you, jumping when she realizes that you’re already halfway through putting up the tent. “Hey!” she exclaims, scrambling down from the rock. “You should’ve told me you were getting started.”
You sniff piously at her, catching an arm around her neck to draw her close. “There’s just no pleasing you is there, Your Majesty?”
“Well, maybe if you pitched the tent correctly,” she replies, nudging you aside with her elbow.
Your faux protests soon turn to giggles as the two of you set about your task quickly and effectively. You sit back on your heels when it is complete, satisfied in a task well done. Your eyes drift skyward and you purse your lips, filtering through fuzzy memories.
“Want to go on a hike before dinner? If I remember correctly, there’s a small waterfall about two miles from here,” you say, caught up in gossamer strand memories of wandering these forests with cousins without a care in the world.
You pull out the map you brought with you from home. There are a littering of hand-drawn landmarks, added to the map meticulously by your Grandma as she consulted the multiple discoveries written out by you and your cousins so long ago. These are memories that you cherish and you only wish your sister had a chance to form some of them herself.
Well, no time like the present.
“Absolutely!” she replies, hopping to her feet and digging through her pack. “Is there a pool of water? Should I put on my swimsuit? Is it too cold, do you think?”
“Whoa there, slow your roll, kid,” you say, laughing. “I don’t think it’d be the best idea to go full-on swimming; it’s supposed to get pretty cold as the sun sets tonight. Besides, from what I remember, the water isn’t deep here. When I was a kid, it was up to my thighs I think? So shorts and water shoes will be perfect.”
“Give me a moment,” your sister says. “And then we can go.”
You stifle a fond snort, meandering over to the large rock once more. You know your sister all too well; it’ll take her at least ten minutes. If you hadn’t seen her SOUL before, you’d be tempted to guess it to be a bright cyan blue for PATIENCE. She always moves at her own pace.
You shake your head, pulling out your phone and headphones. You have no service out here, but you can still play your downloaded music. You spend the next twelve minutes seated on the warm rock, listening to music as you stare out at the rolling mountains lined in ancient trees.
There is something so peaceful about this place; you feel your anxieties seep away from you. When your sister places a hand on your shoulder, you lay out on the rock, staring up at her with a smile.
“Ready?” you ask.
“Whenever you are,” she replies.
The two of you set out, making sure to carry all of your food items with you. They are vacuum-sealed and placed into a second bag as a precautionary measure, but neither of you wish to tempt fate. Bears are unlikely to attack you, but leaving food at your makeshift campground may be too much temptation for them to ignore.
“You excited to meet your roommate in person?” you ask, trying to make conversation after several minutes go by.
Your sister hums. “I am! We share a lot of interests, though I think she’s more athletic than I am. Did you know that she’s a master at ultimate frisbee? She started a league at her high school and she’s planning on leading a team at the university.”
“Maybe you could join as well,” you say.
“Maybe,” she replies with a nervous smile. “You know I’m not much for sports.”
“Well, maybe Dee-O-Gee can give you some pointers,” you say. “How does she feel about having a human roommate?”
“She’s excited and a bit anxious,” your sister says. “She and I get along so far; her tail is always wagging in our video chats, but I know she’s a little apprehensive about university life in general.”
“Well, it is a long way away from New Home,” you say evenly. It’s been nearly eight years since monsters first surfaced not too far from your own hometown, settling into the sleepy mountains that surround Mt. Ebbot. Their central city, New Home, is just shy of a two hour drive from where you currently are. You find monster naming conventions charming; who else would think to name a city New Home? There’s something...refreshing about that sort of straightforwardness. “Most monsters tend to stick close to New Home; I didn’t know any would venture as far as you’re going.”
“From what Dee-O-Gee says, a lot of the younger monsters are more restless and adventurous; they want to explore the world,” your sister says. “And now that tensions have settled…”
“Well, sounds like you and Dee-O-Gee have that in common too,” you say with a smile, catching your sister around the shoulders for a quick squeeze before continuing on. “It’ll be an adventure for you both.”
Your sister gives you a grateful smile and you lapse into silence as you continue your trek toward the waterfall. Neither of you really mind the quiet, absorbing the nature and ambient noises that surround you on all sides. Something in you demands that you commit this to memory, the sticky humidity, the buzz of cicadas, and your sister walking alongside you with a peaceful if somewhat absentminded expression. Knowing the limited time you have left with her, you do so, wishing this moment could stretch on without end.
Alas, in no time at all you hear the rush of running water and your sister’s expression lights up as she darts off ahead in pursuit of the sound. “C’mon, c’mon!” she says, grinning widely.
You pick up your pace, running after her for a brief time before the waterfall is revealed to you both. Your steps slow as you take it in; it is smaller than you remembered it being, but then again, you were half the height you currently are when last you visited. The waterfall cascades down the surface of a sheer, steep rock face, water from snow melt higher up. Your sister is already merrily splashing through the shallow pool, shrieking both in joy and, you suspect, at the chill of the water.
“C’mon, Y/N!” she says, turning back to you. “It looks like there’s an alcove behind the waterfall.”
“Is there?” you say, amused. From what you remember, the alcove isn’t much, just a dry spot where you and a couple of your cousins could sit and watch the waterfall from the other side. “Well, if you insist--”
Your words cut off abruptly as something rattles through you, nearly throwing you off your feet as it leaves your body keyed up and tingling. It isn’t an earthquake; you’ve been in several of those and they aren’t common to this region. No, you recognize it as something similar to the handful of friendly Encounters you’ve had.
You stumble back, barely keeping your balance as your SOUL throbs, squeezing as it is pulled and tugged. It’s almost like the sensation of being pulled into an Encounter, but so much more forceful and unrelenting. You don’t know what is happening, what is going on, but you can feel the foreign magic coating you and you feel so cold--you can’t breathe --that you do the only thing you can think to do.
The magic subsides just as quickly as it started and you close your eyes, inhaling shakily as you rub a hand over your chest. “Any clue as to what the hell that was, peanut?” you ask, trying to calm your racing heart and doubtless racing SOUL.
You open your eyes, stiffening as you realize that you can no longer see your sister. “Peanut?” you call cautiously, turning around to survey the entire area. “You alright, kid?”
Swallowing against the fear that rises in your throat like bile, you hurriedly splash your way over to where she was standing just moments ago. The only sign that she had been there is the bandana she’d been wearing, now floating in the water. You pick it up, clinging to it tightly.
“Peanut,” you try again, voice rising and edged in panic. You call again and again, nearly screaming at this point, as you search around for any sign of, well, anyone really. “Peanut!”
But nobody came.