A Haunted Path: Part Four
Bella led them to a small, dark clearing in the Woods. She seemed very familiar with the location, as if she had sought refuge here many times before. She went to a large, smooth rock and seated herself upon it. Telos, Apt, and Jeran waited dutifully in silence as she smoothed out her skirts and fought down something only she knew about.
“Okay,” she breathed out. “It’s not really that long of a story.”
She stopped, and, when she didn’t appear to have plans to go on, Jeran cleared his throat meaningfully.
“I enjoyed living with the gypsies for some time. They have a spirit similar to mine, but I had something they don’t. I have a connection to other people. I began to miss my brother and family dearly. I wanted to return home.” Bella took a deep breath. She’d forced out the words in one gulp, desperate to get them out before she could stop. “The gypsies made it clear that they have no intent to leave. I had to find my own way home. I wandered around looking for help. I found help in the wrong person.”
Telos stiffened a little. “Who?”
“A Lenny witch. Her name is Bryna. Not many know of her. She lives very deep in the woods. She offered me help if I could get her supplies. I got her the supplies, but then--” Bella choked. “Then she needed someone to experiment on. I thought she was simply being generous and giving me a meal. My drink was laced with a potion.”
“A potion?” Jeran prodded, because Telos had found himself speechless.
“I didn’t know anything had happened until--” Bella paused again and looked up through the twisted branches that loomed above them. “Well, I guess you will see.”
The three others looked up. The moon was almost fully risen now. As it reached its peak in the sky, Telos’s eyes were drawn back to his sister, who had suddenly seemed different.
“My word...” Apt whispered, but Telos hardy hard.
His sister’s image had seemed to become surreally blurry, as if she was going out of focus. She was staring at him with tear-stained eyes, but those eyes changed as well. They seemed to fuse into one and exactly the same time that the rest of her body shifted strangely. Telos hard little tearing sounds as his sister outgrew her dress, and her body changed oddly to blue. Floppy pink spikes sprouted from her back, and her antenna grew mouths. Jeran gasped.
Telos felt numb all over, as if his emotions, so enormous and raging all at once, had canceled each other out. He stared at his sister, unable to believe, unable to comprehend. She’d just transformed before his eyes into a mutant, a far distorted form of the red Aisha he knew her as.
“You see,” the mutant choked, sounding strangely like his sister, but also different, “her potion transformed me into a mutant by night. She said that if I ever wanted to be myself again, I would do whatever she asked. She wanted me to steal.”
Jeran looked down at the golden statue in his arms.
“Bella...” Telos gaped.
“Don’t look at me, brother. I am hideous. Please, just go back to Terror Mountain and forget about me.”
“No.” Telos shook his head dumbly.
“Bryna,” Jeran mused aloud. “I have heard of her before. I thought the stories were made up to get the guilty out of trouble, but I can see this is no lie. Can you lead me to her?”
Bella looked confused. “But, if I lead you to her, she will never cure me.”
Jeran frowned. “My dear, I don’t think she ever would have anyway.”
Bella sobbed harder. “You’re right! Oh, I know you are. I’ve known it all along.”
She fell to the ground, and finally Telos found that he could react. He rushed to his sister and threw his arms around her.
“It’s okay, Bella. You are still beautiful to me.”
The Aisha clung to the Bori with all of her might and didn’t notice when Jeran crouched beside them.
“If you could just tell me how to find her, I’ll bring her to justice at least.”
“I guess it will have to be enough,” Bella sniffled, and she told Jeran how to find her.
The Lupe knight stood and looked down at the brother and sister. “I am very sorry for your predicament. Thank you for your help. You’re free to go.”
“Thank you,” Telos mumbled.
Apt moved to his owner and rested his head on Bella’s leg. The three embraced each other, and hoped that that would be enough.
Once the crying, the apologies, and the reassurances were over, Telos led the way back. Bella remained silent and morbid at his side, several times voicing her worries about what their family would say when they found out. Telos assured her that it didn’t matter. He would defend her and love her no matter what.
Feeling useless, Apt allowed Bella to carry him, and he snuggled against her, trying to be a measure of comfort to her. Telos watched his sister, and his heart tore.
Halfway back to Brightvale, he’d had enough. In a wide open clearing he stopped walking. It took Bella several seconds to realize he had done so. She turned back to him, her true form in the present daylight.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
He couldn’t stand the way her voice was coated with sadness.
“We’re here,” he told her.
She looked around, confused. “Here where?”
“Our new home.”
Bella’s brows raised. “What are you talking about?”
“You don’t want to go home, and, truth be told, neither do I. I’m going to build us a house right here. I think we’ll be happy.”
Bella gaped at him for several seconds, her face blank. Then, suddenly, it came back to life joyously. She ran for her brother and flung herself at him. Telos caught her, and they twirled around laughing.
“Excuse me,” a voice complained.
“Oh,” Telos said, pushing his sister away. “We’re squishing Apt.”
Bella laughed, she’d forgotten she was still holding him. She set the Dofrey down and looked around. “Let’s get started right away. I’ll help build the house!”
“Deal,” Telos agreed.
Nothing made him happier than seeing his sister smile.
The temperature and weather were, thankfully, suitable enough for Telos, Bella, and Apt to make camp outside. They built their house during the day, and at night they crowded together under blankets they had bought in Brightvale and slept away the weariness so that they could begin again the next day. Within a month, the house was complete.
Telos smiled at the delicious smell that wafted over him as he came inside from cutting wood. He dropped the chunks of wood beside the fireplace and fed the low fire two logs to keep it going. He patted Apt’s head absently as he passed by the chair where the Dofrey was sleeping. Apt mumbled in his sleep.
Telos swung into the kitchen he had built and supplied for his sister to find her hard at work preparing dinner. He watched her silently for a moment. She had handled the change pretty well. He knew it was a comfort to her to have him and Apt during the times when she changed, knowing that they would not judge her, but he also knew that it still upset her. She would never be completely herself again.
“That smells delicious,” Telos commented, forcing a grin for her sake.
Bella glanced over her shoulder with a smile. “It’s extra special. We have a dinner guest tonight.”
“Jeran,” she supplied easily, working some dough with her paws. “They caught Bryna, and he’s coming over to celebrate.”
A lump formed in Telos’s throat as he thought of the witch that had cursed his sister. Bella was no longer the care-free, wild spirit she had once been. She was very much reserved now.
“That’s great,” he mumbled.
As if aware that he was being spoken of, a knock sounded on the door.
“That’ll be him,” Telos said.
“Ah! I’m not done with the bread yet!”
“It’s okay. We’ll wait.”
Seated around a small table the Bori, Lupe, Aisha, and Dofrey helped themselves to a hot, delicious meal. Jeran chatted cheerfully about the pursuit of Bryna the witch and the ultimate capture of her. He threw in that he was the one that had caught her, and he puffed out his chest a bit at that.
Bella heroically held a small smile on her face the entire time while Telos’s stomach churned angrily. Finally, he could stand no more.
“Why don’t we talk of something else? The witch has paid for her crime, and that’s good, but we’d rather not discuss it further.”
Bella seemed relieved when her brother broke in.
Jeran nodded. “Certainly, but there’s one other thing.”
“What?” Telos snapped.
Jeran produced a corked vial of purple liquid, and he set it on the table in front of Bella.
“What is that?” Telos demanded, angrily, thinking it must be a joke.
Bella eyed it with a mix of wonder and horror as she remembered another potion.
“It’s a gift,” Jeran told him calmly. “It’s a present from Kayla, our potions master in Meridell.”
Telos’s eyes narrowed. “Explain yourself.”
“I wanted to show Bella that I appreciate her help in capturing a wanted and sinister villain. Kayla found her a cure.”
Bella gasped, her eyes widening and filling with tears that rapidly leaked down her cheeks. She grabbed the vial hastily and clutched it to her chest.
“It will really fix me?” she asked.
Jeran nodded. “Take it tonight when you transform, and you will never transform again.”
Bella broke into tearful laughter. “Thank you. Thank you so much!”
After the meal was over, Telos followed Jeran outside. He closed the door quietly behind him.
“I’ll never be able to thank you enough,” he said.
Jeran waved him off. “It’s okay. I understand. I have a sister too. Take care of her, Telos.”
Telos watched him go, and he knew that he’d seen the greatest hero he’d ever met.
“Next to me,” Apt corrected, appearing suddenly in the doorway.
Telos grinned. “Yeah, next to you, Dofrey.”