A Yurble stole my cinnamon roll! Circulation: 124,467,804 Issue: 251 | 4th day of Hiding, Y8
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The Price of Faith: Part Eight


by mutedsanity

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"Radom..." was about all that I could get out as I stared out at the endless sea of heat-rippled golden sand that sprawled out before us. We had been walking for days, and for a while I was just glad that the Haunted Woods were far behind us, but soon trees seemed to be but a memory on the land. We promptly lost all life, it seemed. We had found ourselves walking across cracked, barren ground, sun-baked and lifeless, and now had finally stumbled upon the desert itself, filthy, starving, exhausted, and now overcome with an intense wave of heat.

     The sand stretched out as far as the eye could see, the washed-out blue sky framed in rippling heat waves that blurred and distorted just about everything. The sky looked strikingly pale in contrast to the golden sand and the overwhelming white light that the sun beat mercilessly down on this land. There wasn't a soul in sight, and just about the only signs of life I could see were a few dead shrubs drained of all water and rolling sand dunes all around. Far off on the horizon I thought I could see the city of Sakhmet, but I couldn't be sure. It was but a blurred strip of color off in the distance. It was no wonder this place had been "lost" for so long. Who in their right mind would come looking for it?

     I felt immensely heavy suddenly. My knapsack seemed to be full of bricks, although it had nothing but a few articles of clothing that I wouldn't dream of wearing in this heat, and had on now as little as I could. Though it was still too much. My boots were terrible in this climate, and all I had to wear were black pants and a purple sleeveless shirt, but my black and purple hair had plastered itself to my neck and the dark colors weren't helping my situation at all. I felt like I hadn't had a drink of water in ages, and each step was more effort than I can put words to. I hadn't known real heat until now.

     But, to my dismay, the Crystal had a pale glow to it as we stood in the desert like this. A shard was here, and it must be the Fire Faerie's part of the Crystal. I was drooping considerably as I walked, seeming to go incredibly slow and unable to speed up, breathing heavily and with legs like jelly, threatening to give way at any moment. And that city didn't seem to be getting any closer.

     But what scared me most was Radom. I had never seen him like this before. He had always been strong and the one who could do anything, the one I found myself depending on more than anything else. But now it looked like I could nudge him right over. He was from Terror Mountain and used to brutally cold weather, and with that thick brown coat of fur, how could anybody blame him for taking the heat so poorly? He looked smaller now that he wasn't standing so tall and moving along in that steady lope of his, instead trailing alongside me in the same manner of droop I couldn't seem to stand out of, his ears lowered and tail limp behind him, brown coat shimmering in the high sunshine. His mouth was opened and his tongue hung out to the side as he panted loudly. He looked beyond hot, and I was dreadfully worried that he would pass out or worse. His tawny eyes were half-opened and cast ahead.

     I lifted a hand to shield my eyes from the sun and glanced behind us. I could see our tracks trail off far behind until they walked right out of sight, and still no end to the sand on any side. My footprints and Radom's paw-prints side-by-side were the only things that made the sand any different. My wings were uncovered now, and a single black hair lay shining and glossy in the sunlight where it had been abandoned. There wasn't even a breeze to sweep it away from where it had settled in the sweltering heat.

     "Radom," I rasped, finding my voice a lot softer than it should be and my throat terribly dry. "Are... are you alright?"

     His eyes shifted up to me, but that was the only change I could note in him. And, true to his nature, even in such poor condition he still managed to offer me a tiny smile. "I've been worse." His voice was a little rough. Water was the first thing on my mind right now.

     "Maybe... maybe we should rest."

     "And fry out here? I think I'll pass," he replied, his eyes flicking across the horizon. "We need to find some shade and water." And fast, I knew. But I hadn't the faintest idea where to begin.

     I bit my bottom lip with worry and pulled my hair back over my shoulders as I stared out at the desert around us. "But how? I can't see a thing out here."

     There was no reply. I paused for a moment, waiting for his voice, but just as I was about to say something else, I heard a soft thud beside me. I stopped abruptly and looked down sharply to see Radom lying on his side in the sand, sprawled out and with his mouth slightly opened and eyes closed, as if he had just fallen asleep. If only it were something as welcoming as sleep. But he had just blacked out due to the heat and crumpled right over.

     "RADOM!" I cried, dropping my knapsack and falling to my knees beside him, leaning over his limp frame and shaking him softly with one hand. There was no resistance at my touch. I won't deny it: I panicked. He had always been there to lead me and come to my rescue, and now he needed my help for probably the first time. And there was nothing I could do. I had no idea where water and shade might be, and I couldn't carry him, let alone far enough to get him help. I had nothing to give him. And I couldn't just leave him out here, or he'd just overheat even more.

     I did all I could think of doing in the spur of the moment, desperately trying to gather my thoughts enough to actually think this through and figure something out. I pulled out my coat from my knapsack and spread it on the ground, and then dragged him on top of it and sat at the corner of it right beside him, leaning over him. That was so we could stay on the ground at all, as the sand was burning hot to the touch. Then I spread my wings as I leaned over him so that they covered him completely and blocked out the sunlight. I felt the heat beating harshly on them, but at least he was in some manner of shade for the moment and out of direct sunlight. As we sat together, I fanned him with one of the shirts I had in the bag and tried to put two thoughts together.

     I watched him distressfully with worry etched on my brow. "Radom... please wake up..." I whispered, touching him anxiously and hating how baking his thick fur felt under my hand. My heart was hammering in my chest.

     I must have sat out there for no more than a few minutes, but it felt like ages sitting motionlessly out in that direct sunlight searing my back, and soon I began to feel lightheaded. I was having trouble sitting up, and my breathing was ragged. No. I couldn't flicker out too. I looked out desperately for any sign of life, and to my shock, I could have sworn I saw some color up on a nearby sand dune before my vision closed in. "Help!" I cried, or at least I tried to, but my voice seemed soft and faraway, and I could feel myself slumping over on top of Radom. Then everything went black.

      ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

     "Miss? M-Oh! I think she's coming to!"

     I could hear a voice above me, distantly at first, but then it started to become clearer and I could tell that it was right above me. Such a lovely voice. And gradually my senses returned, and the intoxicatingly sweet smell of herbs and dried plants swam around me, something soft underneath me, and a pleasant coolness all around.

     I opened my eyes. I found myself on my back, staring up into the kind, smiling face that owned the voice. She was a lovely yellow Aisha, small and dainty, and had one little paw on my forehead. "Cooling down," she said softly, smiling at me in a way that was touchingly relieved for somebody that I didn't even know. "You'll be just fine soon, miss."

     "Wh-where am I?" I muttered groggily, trying to sit up. I failed the first time, but managed to hoist up in the next try. I found myself in a small house, or a hut, I should say. It was only one room, stuffed full of what appeared to be things that housed two people, two twin beds with golden blankets, one of which I now sat upon. The few pieces of furniture there was were hand-carved out of wood, and the place was a clutter of clay plates and bowls, fabrics draped here and there, sweet incense burning and dried stalks of plants and fruits hanging from the walls. The whole place seemed to be made of clay and straw, and was peacefully cool inside. There were no windows and just one opened doorway, which let in a single beam of sunlight that bathed the cluttered floor in white.

     "My house," the Aisha replied, smiling kindly and rising to her feet. "If you're feeling alright, you could step outside and get some water."

     I practically flew off that little bed and right out the door without a word. Not the kindest approach, I know, but parched didn't even begin to describe me right now. I was greeted with a blinding light once I stepped outside, and I had to wince and pause to cover my eyes for a moment, but when they adjusted enough I could see where I was. The little hut sat behind me, and was placed right in a small oasis. That was the most beautiful place to me right now. Just a small plot of grass in the middle of the desert, which housed a variety of fruit trees and bushes, and in the middle sat a broad pond full of clear water that shimmered in the light.

     This was too good to be true. All around were sand dunes and heat waves, but this one little spot was perfect. I threw myself on my stomach and scooped water into my mouth from the pond in a haste. I just about choked a few times, and knew that the Faeries back home would have been beside themselves at my ungainly display, but right now that water was all I saw. I drank until I couldn't anymore, and then sprawled out on the grass with a sigh, sheltered under the shade of those wonderful trees.

     "Pandora!"

     I sat bolt upright at that voice I had come to know and love, and grinned ear to ear as I saw the owner. "Radom!" He was running over to me from a grove of trees, and I scrambled onto my knees to throw my arms around him when he was close enough. I just about dragged him down, and clung to him for dear life, my face buried in his neck as I hugged him tightly. "Oh, you're alright!" I couldn't have been more relived.

     He laughed brightly, and I felt him nuzzle his face against mine. I laughed too, out of sheer relief, and sat up straight to grin down into his face. Now there was my dear Radom. That trademark grin of his had returned, his ears were perked up and he sat tall now, his tail flicking behind him and the brightness now returning to its rightful place in his eyes. "I see I can say the same for you!"

     "You scared me half to death! How-how did we get here?" I asked suddenly, looking around in a daze.

     Radom's ears flicked and he looked over my shoulder with a toothy grin. "Our heroes."

     I followed his gaze with my own, and willed my arms away from Radom to turn around and face the two approaching. There was the yellow Aisha I had woken up to, and alongside her walked an equally lovely and kindly smiling human girl with short, shining blonde hair and eyes as blue as the sky. She wore a pale shawl draped around her shoulders and a light yellow dress. She went barefoot in the grass, and currently carried a wooden basket filled with a colorful array of desert fruits, breads, and a cooked fish.

     "You and your friend had collapsed right over those dunes," she explained, clearly having overhead me, and I felt a twinge of irony at that. We were this close to help, and we could have made it if we held out just a little longer. But it seemed the help had come to us. "I thought I heard something, so I went to check, and I found you. Just as I was coming down to help, you passed out too." So I had seen something coming towards us after all. The girl kneeled down beside Radom and I, her eyes sparkling with warmth as she set the basket down. "It's lucky I found you. You two wouldn't have made it much longer without water."

     She had saved our lives. My eyes widened and for a moment I could only stare. "I... th-thank you!" I wished I knew what to say. How to thank her for saving us and bringing us to such a wonderful place, but that was all I could think of. "Thank you so much!" I said again, smiling with sheer gratefulness at the both of them.

     The Aisha smiled shyly and shook her head. "You're the first visitors we've had in a very long time."

     The girl gestured to the food she had set in front of us. "Please, eat! And have all the water you want! Honestly, it's our pleasure. The company is a pleasant surprise. And I insist you stay here as long as you need to."

     My hunger seemed to punch me in the stomach as I saw all that food. I seized whatever I could grab first and found myself devouring one thing after another, and only after I had eaten a few things and caught my breath did I look back up at the girl. "I-I can't thank you enough," I stammered, forgetting my manners for the time being while I chewed on some bread. "You saved our lives."

     She had sat down in the grass near us and her Aisha sat beside her, both of them with the same matching smiles so full of warmth. They both looked delighted at my thanks, and the girl simply said, "My name's Penny. And I call her Mia," she added, smiling down at the Aisha.

     "It's a pleasure to meet you," Mia added, nodding softly.

     "We're the lucky ones here. It's wonderful to meet you," I replied, smiling in return and pausing in my eating to introduce myself. "I'm Pandora. And this---"

     "Radomik, at your service," the brown Lupe interrupted, grinning and wiggling his eyebrows at the two girls. He had been eating some Cheops Plants, but paused when we had started speaking. "But just call me Radom."

     I watched him blankly for a moment. "Radomik? I didn't know that was your full name." I just shook my head at him and smiled softly. Weird fellow. "You're just full of surprises..."

     "Learn something knew every day," he replied simply, grinning at me before returning to his food.

     Penny giggled at the two of us. "What brings you two out here? What with all those clothes and that fur, you look rather out of place." She raised her eyebrows curiously, and her eyes lingered on me. "You two look awfully far from home."

     "Yes, I'm afraid we're in a terrible spot. He's from Terror Mountain, which has to be the opposite of this place, and I'm from Faerieland--" I stopped suddenly. Faerieland. I had let that slip. But wait... I remembered with a start that my wings had been revealed the whole time, and I gasped slightly at this. They couldn't possibly NOT know that I was a Darkness Faerie by now. "You-you know what I am, don't you?" I stammered, in an abrupt and less than graceful way of going about this surprise.

     Penny raised her eyebrows and smiled slightly. "Of course I do. You're a Darkness Faerie. I'm a human. She's an Aisha, he's a Lupe, just so we're all on the same page," she replied, chuckling jokingly.

     I stared in shock for a moment. I had never gotten this reaction from anybody before. "B-but-but aren't you afraid of me?"

     "No. Should I be?"

     "Well-no! Of course not! But..." I smiled weakly at how strange I must sound right now, shaking my head in disbelief. "Well... most people don't like me because of what I am. Most people think Darkness Faeries are evil."

     She smiled softly. "Well, I'm not one of those people. And you seem perfectly nice to me."

     "And what have we got to lose?" Mia added softly, watching me quietly. "He trusts you, anyway."

     I followed her gaze to Radom, who grinned when he saw us looking at him. That was certainly true. From the start Radom had helped me and never once brought up what I was. He didn't even seem to notice. "I-yes, I suppose you're right," I agreed, smiling sheepishly. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm just not used to this." There really were so many wonderful people in the world. I wish I had known about them sooner.

     "I suppose you just expect them to dislike you at this point." Mia was watching me knowingly.

     "I don't really expect anything at this point. Expect the unexpected, you know?" Radom added, shrugging limply. "Hey, when you don't have expectations of others, anything positive they do is a pleasant surprise." He smirked slightly and stooped over once more to take a bite out of some fish.

     I couldn't help but smile a little. "Well, when you look at it that way..." I couldn't believe my luck. How could I be the one to run into such wonderful people like this?

     Penny and Mia just returned the smiles. "Anyway," Penny continued, nudging a Pyramid Bread closer to me. "What are you two doing way out here?"

     Radom and I exchanged a look, but his mouth was full and in a bit of a smirk, so I knew he wasn't going to be any help. I looked back at Penny and decided just to be vague about it. "We're looking for something."

     "Oh yeah?" Her eyebrows arched curiously. "What could be out here that you couldn't find somewhere else? Seems awfully dangerous for you two."

     "We don't have much of a choice," I said softly, tearing of a chunk of the bread to eat. I wished it was that simple. "It's here. We're just not sure exactly where."

     Mia tipped her head to the side curiously. "Well, we know this desert awfully well by now. Maybe we can help."

     I bit my bottom lip uncertainly. "No, really... you've already done so much for us. Besides, I'm sure it's in the city. And we can reach it now, I'm sure." Although I was certain these two could help us more than that. They were giving me a skeptical look, so I shifted my gaze to Radom helplessly.

     He returned my look for a moment, and then smiled a little. "It's a Crystal. A very important one," he said, looking back at the two girls. "And it wouldn't have been here all that long. That ring any bells?" I was a little surprised, but not as much as I thought I'd be. Well, if he trusted them, why shouldn't I? I had learned to at least trust Radom more than that. And what harm could they do? So I looked back at Penny and Mia hopefully, and to my delight a look of recognition flickered across Penny's face.

     "Why yes, as a matter of fact. We went into town the other day, and heard mention of some kind of race. The prize was some rare red gem. The man said something about fire powers." She looked at Mia for a nod of confirmation.

     I just about jumped up. "That sounds like it!" I had to keep myself from grabbing her, but couldn't stop my eyes from widening. "Can you tell us more?"

     Radom had perked up as well, and now watched me out of the corner of his eyes and grinned. Penny nodded in reply, and we learned what this was all about. There was going to be a grand race in the Lost Desert tomorrow, and last-minute players were welcomed. The more people, the more fun, in their eyes. And the most dangerous. This was held by some part of the royal castle, and for the winner they were offering some large sum of Neopoints and what sounded like the Crystal. It must have been found by somebody who didn't know what it was and was just trying to pass it off as some weapon, I could easily guess. To give them fire powers, apparently, and just used to attract contestants. But the race would be very dangerous. It was long and hard, across some of the desert, with obstacles and traps and there would be tons of capable racers famous for their strength and speed and wit and whatnot. High-ranking ones, even, that would no doubt cheat for the prize. And there were virtually no rules. Just make it to the end first, and you won. You weren't allowed to fly or bring weapons or any items. Just your own capable body and will. Other than that, you could do just about anything to get there on your own. It started tomorrow morning and went on until the first person reached the end. There were other prizes too for second and third place winners, but we weren't interested in that. It sounded horrible to me. Far too risky, and although Radom was wonderful for the job, in this heat I was less than happy with sending him out there. It was a scary thought, really. But what other choice did we have? I wasn't near fast enough for a race, and I wasn't allowed to fly, and my magic probably wouldn't be allowed anyway.

     As this was all explained to us, my worry only managed to rise. This was incredibly dangerous. Radom would really be putting himself on the line here. But as I looked down to where he sat at my side, his expression alone silenced my unsaid protests. Nothing I could say would stop him, I knew that by now. And once again I was overcome by an overwhelming gratefulness and an almost stunned feeling at the thought of where I could be now if I hadn't met him.

     "It's very risky," Penny was saying, snapping my attention off of Radom. "What do you need to win for, anyway?"

     I smiled weakly, not sure what it was I meant to tell her. "Well... we need that Crystal. I can't tell you much more than that, just that's it's extremely important. Awful things could happen if we don't get it first."

     "Oh..." She furrowed her eyebrows in an uncertain manner, but didn't press. "Well then, you should stay here tonight. I insist. Get cleaned up and get a good night's sleep, and tomorrow we can feed you and send you on your way. You'll need it, trust me."

     Now how could I say no to that? "Oh, thank you so much!" I may have sounded a little too relieved there, smiling gratefully at her. "We really appreciate that."

     Radom flashed one of those charming grins of his, and I noticed with a tinge of amusement that Mia giggled and looked away. "We owe you two a lot for this." Even he was accepting their hospitality, and I was glad for that, because we would certainly need it.

     So after we had eaten our fill and drank as though water was going out of style, we decided to get cleaned up. Radom and I both got a long-needed washing using water from the pond, and I was able to clean my clothes as best I could too. Though I found them still quite inconvenient for this climate. Penny, again, came to my rescue.

     She gave me some new clothes, saying that they were too big for her and she never wore them anyway and that I needed them more than her. So after I had cleaned up I put on what she had given me, which I found worked nicely. It was a light dress thin enough to keep out the heat while still covering most of my skin from the beating sun. It was a smoky kind of grey, long and flowing, simple with long, baggy sleeves. It covered almost all of my skin, which would also help me be less conspicuous. She didn't have any shoes for me so I was stuck with my lace-up black boots, but that was alright, as they protected my feet from the hot sand. Penny also gave me a light black shawl that I could drape over my shoulders and head, so that it could shield my face from the sun and also fall down my back to help a little with hiding my wings. This would work quite nicely. I couldn't thank her enough.

     Clean, fed, and clothed, I sat down in the grass under the shade of a fruit tree and smiled gently at the lovely oasis. What a wonderful place to live. I wasn't sitting there long, however, when Penny walked up to me. "Your hair is awfully long," she commented abruptly, drawing attention to the black and purple hair that fell down my back. "That'll be awfully hot out here. We should cut it."

     I looked up at her with a frown, a bit startled by this. "Well... if you think it'll help..."

     "It will." She took my hand and helped me to my feet, smiling reassuringly. "Come on. I'll give you a trim."

     Well, I watched a few years worth of hair fall to the floor with Penny's "trim," and suddenly my hair was shorter than it had ever been. I was a bit startled when Penny handed me a mirror. My hair was now less than half a a foot long, in a short, boyish style. It was a bit of a mess, straight but tousled, and a mixture of black and purple where it couldn't seem to make up its mind. It framed my face and bright violet eyes, and although it certainly didn't look bad, it wasn't what I was expecting.

     "You call this a trim?" I smiled in a dazed sort of way as I handed her the mirror.

     "Hey, you'll love it come the high heat of noon tomorrow," Penny replied, smiling slightly at me.

     Well, as long as it would help. My looks were the last things I was concerned with at the moment. So I thanked her, of course, and when I went back outside I was greeted by a sharp bark of laughter.

     "What happened to your head?" Radom was sitting in the grass by the pond, grinning at me and quirking a brow.

     I simply rolled my eyes and took a seat beside him. "Penny did. Thanks for your support," I muttered sarcastically, making a face at him.

     "No, I like it!" With that lovable grin, I couldn't help but believe him. "I mean, honestly, come tomorrow I'm sure I'll wish I'd shaved off all my fur too."

     I laughed, but it was unkindly true. With all that fur he'd be miserable in the heat.

     Penny and Mia joined us again too, and we had a pleasant little chat for the rest of that evening. They were both incredibly wonderful people, that much was obvious. I learned that they had lived out here for many years, just the two of them, stocking food and mainly living off what they had here, rarely going into town. I gathered that they didn't have much money, which made me feel even worse for eating their food. They said they'd come into town with us tomorrow to watch the race, however, and to root for us.

     When the sun had set and left the sky swathed in smothers of orange and red, the desert began to cool off. Penny went to bed first, after leaving us some blankets because there wasn't room in the house for us all (which we were perfectly alright with), and Mia lingered a moment longer.

     She watched Radom and I for a moment as I gathered the blankets. "You two be careful tomorrow," she said softly. "I know I can't tell you anything you don't already know. You must be crazy to do this. But..." Her eyes lingered on Radom and a strikingly understanding smile touched her lips. "I know how you feel. Sometimes protecting someone isn't as simple as it seems."

     And with that she swept off into their little hut and left us in the darkening night. We both stared after her in silence for a moment. She was right. It wasn't simple at all. And yet it was so very important. I looked to my side at Radom and found my gaze returned. He sat still, tail limp off to one side, ears perked and amber eyes seeming to glow in the darkness. He was smiling very gently.

     "What?" I broke the silence with my curiosity.

     His eyebrows arched briefly. "Hm?"

     "You're smiling."

     "I was just thinking about you."

     Now was my turn to grin. I couldn't explain the fluttering in my chest or why that simple statement meant so much to me. "Radom..." I leaned toward him and wrapped my arms around him, resting my head on the side of his neck as I hugged him. He was just too amazing.

     He rested his head on my shoulder and leaned his weight forward on his front paws. "Pandora... You're..." I loosened my grip on him enough to let us both lean back and see each other's faces. "You're my best friend."

     "You're... my best friend too..." Probably my only friend. Nobody had ever been so selfless and kind to me before. I owed him my life. "Thank you, Radom."

     "Nah." He grinned and I was caught grinning too at that overwhelming brightness behind his eyes. "What are friends for?"

     I could feel myself smiling and laughed a little. I don't know why I laughed. Just... for the sake of laughing, I guess. "Winning me a nice shiny Crystal tomorrow, that's what," I replied teasingly, ruffling the fur on his head.

     He flattened his ears under my hand and grinned. "You bet." He didn't appear worried at all, the lunatic.

     "It'll be incredibly difficult... but I know you can do it." I was depending on him. And I was positive he wouldn't let me down. He never had before, so why start now? "We're never giving up."

     "Not if I have any say it. Now let's get some sleep. We're going to need it come tomorrow."

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» The Price of Faith: Part One
» The Price of Faith: Part Two
» The Price of Faith: Part Three
» The Price of Faith: Part Four
» The Price of Faith: Part Five
» The Price of Faith: Part Six
» The Price of Faith: Part Seven
» The Price of Faith



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