Malachai's prediction proved accurate, and Cole hurried himself to the bedchamber of his companion. As swift as he was, the young man strove to avoid the sight of any servant or royal member. He achieved the task, and found himself standing on the other side of the entryway. He turned from side to side, assuring that no one had been alerted to his presence, then he knocked.
"Come in." A soft voice beckoned from the interior of the chamber.
Cole had the intention of entering, regardless of whatever reply would follow his knock, and the door was already half open as the voice spoke. "Aha! What have we here?"
Ruby was straightening out the solitary bed of the chamber, concealing the ancient tome within its usual hiding place. She turned to her accuser, then her face lit up to a degree that seemed to have brighten up the entirety of the room. Her recognition for Cole was instant, and she rushed toward him with her arms slightly stretched out.
The young man did not predict such a reaction from Ruby, and he opened up his own arms to greet her as a nervous blush flooded his cheeks. She stopped suddenly, ceasing her movements, and an awkward tension bloomed between the two, when their gazes beheld one another. Cole conceived the idea to purse his lips, anticipating that perhaps Ruby was about to multiply the amount of affection for his unexpected appearance.
He shouted out, rubbing his arm from what he received in place of a soft kiss or tender embrace, which was a slugging fist into one of his shoulders. Cole had hoped with all of his heart that his companion forgot the petty words spoken during their spar session, but he perceived the wish was in vain.
Ruby's eyes flashed with fury, and their brilliant sapphire glow beamed with anger. Her brow was wrinkled with frustration as she lowered her dainty fist, then her wrath subsided for the moment. "Why the heck did you leave without saying anything to me? I swear Cole, sometimes-"
The door was closed with a slam that interrupted the young woman from any further reprimanding, and Cole placed a finger to his lips, signaling the desire for quieted speech. "It's good seeing you again, too. Have you been recovering from the poison okay?"
Ruby sighed at the revelation of her fiery spirit, then she crossed the room over to the bed and sat upon it. "I'm fine, and glad that you're okay, but you should have said something to me before you left."
"I wanted to, but I didn't have much of a choice. Between Malachai and the Elder, I am being passed around like a ball."
"Don't forget to mention the ever-so-charming princess," Ruby retorted with sarcasm.
Cole was still exhausted from his adventure, so he accompanied his companion, sitting on the bed of the chamber as well. "Right," he sighed, reclining into a relaxed state, "and if I am a ball, I feel like I've been dropped two too many times."
Ruby noticed her friend rubbing at sore muscles. "What happened to you today, anyway?"
When the young man described the quest for the royal symbol, he did not fail to leave out a single detail. The old, crooked trees; the hideous birds, who mocked him with their caws; the strange appearance of the Keeper. All of these outlandish remarks, which Cole swore happened, reminded Ruby of the stories she would read to him in their wooden hideaway. Once the tale arrived nearer to its conclusion, the young man withdrew the golden feather from his garments and presented it to her, greatly astounding Ruby.
She in turn wished to tell her discovery of Aira, but decided first to mention the errand that was near at hand.
"So, Pennelope is meeting us within the castle before tomorrow night, and we have to talk to some tree? I would say this is all very strange, but after today, I am happy it's not dragons or trolls. Do you think she can get us back to West Sparrow?"
"I hope so, Cole. To be honest, I don't care to be here. This bed is too stuffy, Aira is wearing my patience, and I miss home. I can't help but wonder about my siblings, or if I'll have a job when I return, and the fact that I have no idea where I am, are all frightening things to think about. I know we will get through this, but the uncertainty of when and how makes me worry. I want to believe in the idea of talking to a tree; want to read the writings in the tome; want to wake up from this dream, inside of the old tree house."
Her attention strayed toward a vacant wall while she continued speaking of her concerns and cares, which transpired for a lengthier time than was meant to. Then she glanced back at Cole; the young man's eyes were heavy upon his arrival, and gradually they closed completely shut. He was sedated by Ruby's tranquil voice, and slipped into a peaceful sleep by her soft and lulling tones.
Ruby stared on for a moment at Cole, watching him inhale and exhale, and a corner of her mouth curled into a faint smile, then her expression returned to seriousness. She withdrew the magical manuscript from its hiding place, and continued to pour over its pages with curiosity. While the young man delighted in undisturbed sleep, his companion continued her investigation of the undecipherable tome. She was elated to be reunited with Cole, but Ruby's truest desire was to end the nightmare of her new reality.