It was late in the morning when everybody split up to get some much needed sleep. Everybody except for me.
I stayed there as an unidentified itch troubled my mind.
As I ran through the events of the day again and again, I still couldn’t understand what that itch was telling me.
Frustrated, I began combing through each and every word of our conversation with the trio that had left a few hours ago.
But that didn’t relieve the feeling either.
In fact, it just made it more intense.
Convinced that the answer that I sought lay within those conversations, I sat there pondering all the way until a hand appeared in front of me as it waved back and forth.
Jolting out of my thoughts, I looked up to see Sia, who smiled as she said, “I would say good morning to you, but it looks like you didn’t sleep?”
Shaking my head, I said in frustration, “There’s something bothering me but I can’t understand what it is.”
Sitting beside me, Sia asked thoughtfully, “Is it regarding what happened yesterday? The battle?”
As I shook my head in denial, she probed again, “Reidy?”
Pausing, I thought for a moment before shaking my head again.
Silently, Sia looked at me before she patted me on the shoulder and said, “It’s fine. It’ll come to you soon.”
“I know, I know… It’s just frustrating. It’s also eating away at me because I feel that it’s important now. Like now.”
Frowning, Sia asked, “Describe it?”
“It’s like an itch that is telling me I’m missing something important. It started after the three left,” I added as Sia opened her mouth again.
Falling silent, Sia scrunched her brows as she too thought hard before she shook her head and said, “I can’t think of anything apart from the battle and Reidy.”
Then, getting up, she held out her hand to me and said, “Let’s go. It’s about time.”
About to take her hand, I froze as I said frantically, “Repeat what you just said.”
Puzzled, Sia repeated, “Let’s go. It’s about time.”
Smashing a fist into my palm, I said, “That’s it… time!”
Even more puzzled, Sia looked at me as I excitedly shot off toward the Maidens that were in sight.
She grew even more puzzled as I asked them what their ages were.
Then she began to frown as the answers came one after the other.
Slowly, an inkling of what I was doing spread across her face, and after I had asked every Maiden their ages; I turned to meet her gaze.
“You understand?” I asked.
“How could we have overlooked this?” Sia said, biting her lip.
“Very easily,” I said as I paced around.
“It was a few days after your birthday that they went to the academy, right?”
“Yes. It was when you collapsed, and we were all in your room. They left the day after,” Sia said as she held out a hand.
Stopping, I looked at her as she said, “This changes things completely.”
Agreeing, I said, “It does. We’ll have to rework the entire plan now.”
Shaking her head, Sia said, “Not just the plan… but the Maidens too.”
Wide eyed, I looked at her and spat out, “Bal. Doesn’t that mean?”
Slamming her fist into her palm, she said, “It does mean that.”
Cursing profusely, we both looked at each other before we said in unison, “The timelines!”
Staring at each other, both of us shouted out, “Bal!”
Then, bug eyed, we looked at each other before we doubled over as Sia stuck out her tongue and said, “Jinx!”
Holding my stomach, I grinned at her as I said, “This is better and worse than what I expected.”
Nodding, Sia spoke. “I’ll gather everyone together. We’ll have to make the plan for the exchange market again.”
Shaking my head, I tutted as I said, “Apollo won’t be happy.”
“Why won’t Apollo be happy,” came a sleepy voice as the person in question rounded the corner.
Greeting him, Sia said, “That we have to draft the exchange plan over again.”
Apollo, who was yawning, stopped midway as he sputtered at us, then he cried out in a mournful tone, “Why?”
Motioning him closer, we filled him in on our thoughts about the timelines, and our guesses of what the Academy had planned.
Nodding along, he stared at us as he said, “And you both figured it out...how?”
Jerking her head at me, Sia said, “It was Faustus here who came up with it.”
Looking at me in awe, he said, “Seems like swinging your fists isn’t the only thing you’re good for.”
Cracking my knuckles, I looked at him as I said, “Oh, I don’t know about that. Want to give these fists a try?”
As Apollo hastily declined, I turned to Sia as I said, “That means Marrok and the rest should also be safe… I think.”
Nodding, Sia replied, “They should be. But for now, let’s focus on today.”
Clapping his hands, Apollo leaned forward with an evil smile as he said, “I propose...to ‘fleece the sheep’.”
Wide eyed, we listened as he elaborated on the plan, and mentally; our evaluation of him went in a certain direction.
Blinking innocently at us, he said, “What? Isn’t that perfect?”
Shaking our heads, we muttered underneath our breath, “What a Balakash” and then loudly, we said, “Agreed.”
And plan ‘Fleece the Sheep’ was passed.