(After discovering that the truth of the rumor, the Pack settles in the Snow Palace where Echo finds peace in the enormous library, but Cole continues to be unsettled.)
Cole paced through the heaps of books scattered across the library’s oak floor, the sun from the window glinting off his gold pendant. He grunted and scolded himself until Echo peered at him over the book she was reading.
“What purpose do you have interrupting my peace and quiet?” she asked, cocking her head sideways. He shot her a seething glare and continued to pace.
“Personally,” she said louder this time, “I find it unhelpful to our cause and quite distracting.”
His pacing stopped abruptly and walked over to where she was propped up against the book shelves, surrounded by reading material. He pulled a chair over and straddled it backwards, setting his hands beneath his chin. “Well then, Echo, tell me what you are doing that is productive to our cause? Because all I can see is you being lazy, as usual.”
Echo turned back to her story, unphased by his words. “I’m learning,” she said, quite seriously.
“Learning of what? History? Battle strategies? The common dwellings of stone ogres in the winter?” he asked jokingly.
Echo shook her head, still face down in her book. “No, I’m learning of other lives. Well, “ she paused, deep in thought, “it’s more like living than learning. I live a thousand lives through books, and I travel a thousand terrains. I converse with friendly dragons, battle evil king’s in crystal palaces, and I’ve experienced every hardship their is to experience. I know of loss, poverty, friendship, famine, love, even the death of all.”
Cole stared at her, turning her words over in his head while she watched. His skin had darkened since they had first met, probably from their travels through Aemor, and his hair had lightened to a more chocolate brown color instead of mud. His multicolored eyes reflected the light, causing one to appear as living flames, the other a roaring sea. “Why then,” he began, “ would you read those stories? If your life was as hard as you say it was, why read of a life that is the same if not worse?”
Echo propped her head up against the wall, closing her book over her thumb. She let the cold radiating from the mountain through the floor seep into her bones. It was a question she had contemplated before. “Because, the hardships are what make the hope worth fighting for. If a banished knight had never lost his kingdom, there would be no passion in his sword, no fire in his veins to return and serve. And besides, books are an escape. It’s better for me to know I wasn’t the only one in pain. That the characters I lived through had their fair share of pain, but they were able to fight through it and triumph. It’s what made the horrible days a little more bearable.”
He stared into her face with those two startling eyes, searching for a hint of the usual sarcasm or humor, but their was none. This was not a joke to Echo. Books were her only refuge for a long while.
Eventually, Cole smiled and stood up from his perch on the chair. “You still haven’t answered my question on how you were being useful!” he said as he walked towards the doors exiting the library. Echo smirked and set her book down. “Neither have you!” she called at his back.