Falling Rain: Part Six
Arrihaz didn’t know he could move so fast or strike so hard. In the blink of an eye, he was upon her, and had ripped Aradour away from Brai with his talons. He threw her on the ground and swiped twice as many slashes, kicks, and bites across her than the stunned Kougra could get in.
“I am nothing like you!” he snarled.
In a flurry of rage, he dug his claws in and held fast, leaping off the ground with a pounding of his wings. He carried Aradour several yards off the ground, flying only as high as he could under her frantically struggling weight. Then he let go.
She dropped back down to earth with a resounding thud, and was still.
Arrihaz landed and looked her over. She was breathing. She would be alright when she woke up. And, hopefully, wouldn’t bother them anymore.
He turned toward Brai, who was frozen against the tree, her eyes like saucers. Her mouth dropped open as she stared at him. For a moment, he thought he saw fear in her eyes when they met his. His heart dropped.
Suddenly, her eyes swelled with warmth and a huge grin broke across her face. “Arrihaz!” she shouted. “That was amazing!”
She leapt into a run, clearing the distance between them in a moment and throwing her arms around him. She buried her face in his mane and laughed with joy. “We did it! We beat Aradour!”
He went rigid, his eyes growing wide. Was she actually... hugging him?
“Um. Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “Are you alright?”
“All thanks to you,” she replied, pulling back to grin at him. “Oh, I knew you could do it! I’m so proud of you!” She danced in place and hugged him again.
He couldn’t help it; he smiled. “You too,” he said softly, patting her back with one paw. “Now maybe we should get out of here before Kass himself comes down here.”
She giggled. “Oh, right.” Brai let go of him, putting her hands on her hips and beaming. “I think I know where we’ll be safe for a while.”
Arrihaz raised his eyebrows.
She winked. “You’re not the only one with people to look out for.”
| | | | | |
“You live in Meridell?” Arrihaz stared in disbelief at the two-story house in front of them.
“Hey, I didn’t want to be re-assigned either,” Brai said. “We liked Darigan, not psycho-feathers Kass.”
She led him up to the door and knocked in a strange pattern. A code of some sort. “We can at least wait out the night here,” she murmured.
The door creaked open a sliver, and a pair of earthy brown eyes peered out at them.
“I’m home!” Brai announced with a grin.
The door flew open and the Gold Mynci behind it shrieked at the top of her lungs, “BRAAAAIII!!” She jumped on her sister and clung on.
Brai giggled, returning the tight hug. “I missed you too!”
| | | | | |
She explained everything to her family. Arrihaz was introduced to them all-- a Starry Uni, a Purple Aisha, and the Gold Mynci who had answered the door. And, of course, their human, a young woman with curly brown hair. They all had petpets, a beautiful house, and equally warm smiles. No wonder Brai wanted to defend this.
They had been her family all her life. Two sisters-- the Mynci named Yut and the Uni named Rose, and one brother, the Aisha named Fiero. Brai, like Arrihaz, had joined Darigan because she thought his cause was just. She never disliked Meridell. She lived there, after all. But she had a cause and a purpose, just like he had. Clearly she had never supported Kass; that was obvious from the first day he met her. But did any of them really have a choice at that point? He was just lucky she had been there in his moment of craziness, as far as he was concerned. He couldn't have made it out alone.
Her story was different than the way Arrihaz would have told it. She made him sound like a hero. Words like rescue, sacrifice, and saved my life crossed her lips. Did he really do all that?
Brai’s family looked at him like he was a celebrity right here in their living room.
He was buried in a downpour of heartfelt thanks and grateful tears. Brai meant so much to all of them.
“I can see why,” he muttered, turning his smirk on her.
Brai grinned back.
“Thank you for bringing her home safe,” the human said, her voice thick with tears. “You can stay as long as you need to.”
“Actually,” he drawled, glancing across the room, “that couch is looking pretty good right now.”
The Aisha laughed. “All yours,” he announced.
| | | | | |
When they had all given him their final loving words of gratitude and gone upstairs to let him get some rest, Arrihaz collapsed on the couch. He curled up to sleep.
That had to have been the longest day in history.
Just as he was dozing off, he heard footsteps on the stairs. He opened one eye. Brai was peeking in through the doorway, a bright smile lighting up her face.
“Hey, Arrihaz,” she whispered loudly, “are you awake?”
“I am now,” he mumbled.
“I just wanted to say... well... I hope you know that Aradour was wrong.”
He opened both eyes.
“You’re nothing like any of them,” she said softly. “And you are definitely no failure.”
Slowly, he lifted his head.
“I’ve met a lot of great people in my life... but you are by far the greatest. Just... well... thanks, Arrihaz.” Her smile softened. “I’m glad we’re friends.”
And with that, she vanished. He heard her footsteps climb the stairs.
He laid his head back down on his front paws and smiled. “Me too,” he said softly, “my sister.”
The footsteps paused. He could almost see her radiant grin in his head. He heard her walking again, and could have sworn he heard her whisper, “Good night, Arri,” and then she was gone.
| | | | | |
The next morning, a cleansing rain swept across all of Meridell. It drummed on the roof and carried the good news to their door in the form of a neighbor. He ran by yelling it at the top of his lungs for all to hear:
Brave Meridell soldiers had ambushed the fortress and, nobody could believe it-- Darigan had returned. It was over. Kass was overthrown. Corrupt leaders were stripped of their power. The troops had surrendered. The fighting had stopped.
It was over.
They had won. They had all won.
Brai’s family screamed and leapt with joy. They ran outside, twirling and clinging to each other in the falling rain.
Arrihaz stood in front of their house, staring out at the larger cluster of Meridell homes and farms sprawling below them in the valley. Everywhere, people were celebrating. The war was over. They could finally live in peace. No more fear, no more running, and no more hatred.
All thanks to a few brave soldiers. It was what Brai and Arrihaz had believed all along. Their leader may be bad, but they never were. Likewise, Skarl may be a grumpy old man, but he had brave young heroes of his own. Arrihaz almost wanted to give this Jeran fellow a high-five himself. Hah, now THAT had to be against the rules.
The rain was lightly pocking a stream that ran by the house. Brai grabbed one of Arrihaz’s wings and danced with him all the way to the water. For the first time in who knows how long, he laughed.
They jumped and splashed like children in a giant puddle.
“Everything’s alright now!” she sang. “We can go wherever we want, do whatever we want! We’re safe!
"But you're already home."
He knew she would stay here. But Arrihaz couldn’t. He had to see this whole world through these new eyes. He had no grounded home: all of this was his home.
Brai seemed to understand. She smiled reassuringly.
“I’ll visit you,” Arrihaz promised.
He sat on his haunches right there in the middle of the stream. He held up his front paws, and Brai took them in both of her own paws.
“Thank you, Brai,” he said. “For everything.”
She touched her cheek to his paws and smiled.
When she released them, Arrihaz stood and padded out of the water. He walked across the grass, passed dancing bodies shouting with relief, and faced the Meridell valley that spread out before him like a new world.
If he had counted, as Brai did now, he would have known that in sixty-three steps he had accomplished what he had been too afraid to do for all his life.
He stepped out of the safety of her property into the unknown. He looked back at her, his eyes shining like blood red gems through the drizzle. She stuck out her tongue and saluted. He smirked.
He forgave himself.
And he was free.