The Far Side: Part Two
Felda held Rednah close as she thought of a way to free
the captured pets from the fate the superstitious humans had forced them into.
That Uni! It was all his fault! His fevered dream had infected the minds of
the desperate. He deserved the fate of the fire! But they would have to rescue
him with all of the others, for how would it look to the humans who hated them
if they left one of their own to die?
Rednah asked in a shaking voice, "Are we going
"I think we have to."
Rednah only whimpered and closed her eyes. "Why
do I have to be a hero?"
"Heroes never choose to be heroes. Sometimes
circumstances require it, otherwise they perish."
"Who told you that?"
Felda remembered, long ago, sitting in an orphanage,
alone on her bed. An old man had walked into the room, and walked over to her.
He'd sat on the bed next to her. After a few moments of silence, he'd told her,
"Heroes never choose to be heroes. Sometimes circumstances require it, otherwise
they perish. You'd do well to remember that." He'd gotten off the bed and left
the room, but when she'd gone into the hallway to yell at him, he was nowhere
to be found.
"A strange old man."
Rednah ceased shaking for a moment. "You know,
when I was little, I always had the dream in my head that the situation I was
in, all the troubles I had, they were just temporary. Everything, the coldness,
the hunger, the loneliness, it would all go away. I was just waiting, waiting
to be saved. I always thought, 'some stranger is going to walk in that door,
any minute now, and paint me Faerie so I can fly away.' I thought that everything
would just magically fix itself, the way it does in fairy tales. Someone, somehow,
would swoop in and pluck me up and carry me away into the sunset, and I would
live happily ever after. Now, now I guess I've figured out nothing comes that
easy. You have to work for things to change. And now, all those pets in there,
I bet they're thinking, 'I should give up, but I won't, because I just KNOW
that someone is going to leap out of those bushes over there and save us all'.
I guess it's my turn to be the rescuer instead of the rescued."
After her little speech, she withdrew into herself
for a moment, and her shivering started again, but the set of her jaw said that
she was determined to stop shaking and take action. Felda patted her back, and
decided to take the initiative. "Okay, we need a plan. Did you hear ANYTHING
in the village about when ...it.... is going to happen?"
Rednah nodded. "A woman was gossiping with another,
and she said something about the burning happening at sunrise, something about
purification, a new beginning."
"Then we have until tonight." She thought for
a few moments, then said, "Okay, here's what we'll do..."
The sun was setting, lengthening the shadows
and painting the sky red. The beige-colored grass was turned the deepest gold,
as if the land itself was a living treasure. The already deep yellow leaves
were turned the color of mint coins, the trees spilling forth unimaginable riches
ready for plucking.
They waited until the sun had truly set, and
the grim reality of this place was revealed by the night. The children had long
since gone back into the village, to sit around the fire, rattling sticks across
the bars of the cages, or just staring at their occupants. But soon their mothers
beckoned them into their respective huts. Soon the fires in the hearths were
extinguished, and the lone sentry dozed off as the ceremonial fire burned down.
The only sounds were those of the wind, and some particularly loud snoring from
one of the huts.
Felda silently signaled for Rednah to proceed
with her part of the plan. She nodded and headed off into the forest. The Kyrii
silently padded down the hill, pulling her recently retrieved jacket around
her. She tried to be silent among the leaves, but she was no Xweetok. Soon she
was among the huts, feeling confined in the closeness of the space. The embers
of the ceremonial fire cast a flickering light on the walls, and the pets were
asleep, all except for the blue Uni. He had withdrawn into himself, staring
up at the sky, as if the stars would offer an answer. Though she was doing her
best to be quiet, he snapped his head around, locking eyes with her as a pebble
skittered out from under her paw.
A flare of recognition lit in his eyes, before
it died. In his eyes, those innocent, brown eyes, she saw the beginnings of
despair. They shouted one word, and one word only. Help. She fought the urge
to open all the cages except his, but went to the Uni's first. Using the crude
knife she had salvaged from the wreckage, she cut the plant-fiber rope holding
the door shut, and he stepped out of the cage. He seemed to revel in fully stretching
out his wings, cramped from being constantly folded after who knew how many
days in his prison.
Felda pointed to the point in the brush where
Rednah was waiting, but before he went, he opened his mouth to say something,
perhaps a thank you for rescuing him, or an apology for sending her here. Felda
just cut him off with a chop of her hand and pointed urgently to the forest.
He nodded and silently half staggered, half fluttered his way over to the trees.
She set to cutting the bonds that held the other
cage door shut, and silently woke the occupants. They all seemed to expel an
almost physical aura of relief, and a few eyes glinted with tears in the dying
light. Now that phase one was complete, it was time for Felda to do her part.
Rednah was leading them to the place they had agreed upon, and Felda had to
lead the humans in the opposite direction. She scampered off into the bush,
leaving an obvious a trail as possible. Soon she was far into the forest, leaving
in her wake a path of broken branches, paw prints in the dirt, and the occasional
tuft of fur artfully draped over a branch. She had to make a long a trail as
possible, to keep them occupied long enough for the others to get away.
Soon the sky was starting to light with the gray
of false-dawn. The undergrowth was wet with dew, and soon her coat was damp.
But still she kept on. Sheer determination to keep a terrible fate from befalling
the one she loved. Sometimes, those amazing bonds you only hear about in tall
tales are formed in real life, and in such a short amount of time. In less than
two days, a complete stranger she had met in the wilds had become the closest
thing to family she had ever known. She had to protect the one she thought of
as her little sister. But even all of her newly discovered willpower could only
move an exhausted body so far. She had been running for hours, and she stumbled
off into the brush, exhausted, and climbed a tree where she was reasonably sure
she wouldn't be spotted, and dozed off.
* * *
Rednah waited in the trees for the prisoners
to make their way to her. The first to make his way over was the blue Uni. Why
had Felda released HIM first? Or better yet, why had she released him at all?
He was the reason they were going to such great lengths to save the Humans'
prisoners. Well, if Felda had released him first, she had her reasons, and Rednah
would just have to trust her. But trust was something she was in rather short
supply of at the moment. When the Uni drew close, he stopped, recognizing her
face. She just looked him coldly in the eye. "Hather."
"Rednah." He shifted uncomfortably from hoof
to hoof. He stared at the ground intensely for a few moments, before seeming
to work up the courage to look her in the face. "I know you probably won't think
it's enough, but I'm sorry. When I first saw this place, I was working for the
ferries. When I saw the golden land, the sun was high and I was ...unwell. They
made me go below decks early that night, and I never saw the true horror of
this place. The noontime beauty of this place and my fever made me mad for a
time. I quit my job and began preaching of the Far Side to the only ones who
would listen, the poor and the impoverished. I never intended for any of you
to end up like this. And when I came to this place for myself, I saw the lies
in my preachings." He looked at the ground, and repeated, "I'm sorry."
By then three other pets had joined them, the
Moehog, the Tuskaninny, and the Shoyru. When they came to a halt, they eyed
the Uni with suspicion, then seemed to sense that a temporary, unspoken truce
of sorts had been reached, and relaxed visibly. Upon introducing themselves,
Rednah found that the yellow Tuskaninny was named Oquis, and the blue Moehog
was called Sepher, both male. The Shoyru was painted shadow, and was a strange,
quiet one, who only called herself Tu.
The last of the pets had stumbled their way up
the path, and had begun to tell her their names. More formal introductions would
have to wait until later, until a time was reached when they weren't in such
danger. The red Kougra was named Esper, female, and the green Wocky had named
himself Ickir. The yellow Eyrie, being to shy to speak for herself, was introduced
by the Wocky as Gathi. The blue Pteri was called Naid, female, and the red Draik
was named Scifa, female. The last was the yellow Lutari, who only said he was
After this quick, informal exchange was completed,
there was a moment of silence, and in that moment, Rednah heard Felda crashing
wildly away through the underbrush, and knew it was time. She looked at the
motley group, and said, "We have to go."
She led them down a path forged by some wild
petpet, stamping its way to a grazing meadow or some waterhole. She led them
at a pace that Rednah thought would make Felda proud. That such a group could
move at such a pace in such a state was evidence of their obvious will to survive.
They accepted her as temporary leader, a permanent leader was a matter to be
decided later. She thought of Felda, running, alone, and probably cold. How
could she go to such great lengths for them? She was risking everything, leaving
behind such an obvious trail. And it would have to be a long one, to provide
the chance they needed for escape.
Well, whatever her reasons, she would have to
do her best to make the one she thought of as her older sister proud. The forest
was a severe strain on their wits. It was dark and foreboding, and every tree
seemed identical to the one before it, making it seem as if they were making
no progress at all. But this dark, melancholy forest would not stop them. The
passage of time was marked by the steady, slow turning of the stars, just visible
through the bare upper branches of the trees.
The sky was turning from black to deepest blue,
and the slightest hint of gray was becoming visible on the eastern horizon.
Soon the sun would raise, the large red disk, hopefully not stained that way
by blood. Hather had begun to lag behind the group, keeping to the back. Rednah
thought nothing of it, for although he maintained his position near the rear,
he kept pace, so there was no reason to worry.
As they broke out of the forest, into the rolling
plains where she and Felda had agreed to meet, she knew something was wrong.
Felda should have been there, and when she looked around, she saw that Hather
To be continued...