Hot Herb Tea and a Happy Ending: Part One
Author’s Note: This is the first installment of the Shadow of the Xweetoks saga.
“You’re a monster. Get out of my sight.”
“There is a reason they keep coming to you, I’m sure of it...”
“Do you realize you just saved us all from the greatest menace we have ever known?”
I awoke with a start. My body felt energized from a very long sleep; at least I thought it must have been long. That energy was all I had for myself. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know where I was. All I knew how to do was communicate.
I lifted my paw to take a step, an action which I felt I hadn’t done in so long. When I looked outside, however, I quickly drew it back. The only place I could see in that section of the forest that was sheltered from the rain was the bend of the tree where I was currently nestled, protected by the lower foliage. The inside was dry dirt, not muddy in the slightest. There was a tiny gap with which I could see the rainfall in a large fern that covered up most of the nook.
I had what I needed at the time: safety. Safety from the downpour. I could wait it out and come out later. But somehow, I felt the need for something more. What I needed was safety, but I wanted something more. Something like...
Security. That’s it, security. I would have no home once the rain gave way and I emerged. So, I decided my only option was to run into the rain.
And run I did.
It was a flurry of icy water pummeling my back, but I kept going. The trees blurred. A cold mist arose from the ground, causing me to occasionally stumble on a root. No shelter, let alone the woods’ end, was in sight, other than cover the plants provided.
Finally, I was exhausted. I spied a small berry bush, and took shelter under it. This nook was a lot like the first one. Maybe the trees provided solid turf for the other plants.
My fur was wet, although I wasn’t soaked. For the first time, I noticed a door in the side of the tree. The knob was actually all that was visible, because (if this makes sense) the wood leftover from the entry hole must have been the door. I knocked.
A red Hissi, slightly larger than I was, answered the door. Her eyes were calm and composed, but that wasn’t the remarkable thing about her. From her neck to the tip of her tail, her entire underbelly had gems deeply embedded in it. They were in no particular order. The random jewels left no spot showing. At first, her face had a pleasant expression on it. But then, she scowled.
“A Xweetok. I have no idea how you got to our size, but you aren’t finding what you’re looking for here. You’re a monster. Get out of my sight.”
I looked at myself. I was a brown, furry woodland creature with a sapphire band running down my back and tail. What was wrong with me?
“What’s so bad about me?” I inquired, to receive another glare and have the door be slammed in my face.
After taking a moment to rub the sore bridge of my nose, I knocked again. She answered.
“Get off my doorstep.”
She stared at me as she slowly closed the door. Right before it shut, she gave me one last glance that may have had just a hint of longing in it. The door clicked and she was gone.
I plunged into the furious rainfall again. It stung even more this time. As it did the next, and the next, and the next. But I had no choice. The rain was anything but sympathetic, and didn’t seem ready to halt. The ground was littered with giant leaves from those giant oaks which surrounded me. I was completely and utterly hopeless.
Hopeless, until I saw it.
An Ogrin, first I thought it was a leaf because it was so small and brown. It didn’t hesitate to emerge from the shadows, pointing off in another direction and whispering to me, “Don’t change direction. Just keep running that way.” I did as it told me to, not questioning it. I was on unsure ground in this woodland.
Soon, I had exhausted myself of my stamina. Struggling on because I didn’t know what else to do, I felt ready to collapse when I took one final step. The final step changed it all.
The ground caved in when my paw hit it, revealing a huge funnel of quicksand. It pulled me inside, the nearly-fluid mixture thickening around me. I opened my mouth to cry for help, when it flooded down my throat. I tried to cough it up, but more entered my mouth. I felt a sad fate enclose around my life...
But the unthinkable happened. My hand reached out for something to hold onto. A wing enclosed around it, and the swirling sands vanished from beneath my body. My eyes hurt from getting the sand in them and I was coughing rapidly, but I was alive. My savior set me down on a nearby tree stump.
“I’m sorry for rejecting you earlier. Someday soon, you’ll understand. A long time ago, something bad happened in this spot right here, so let’s get out of here and let me take you back to my home.” The Hissi scooped me up in her wings and carried me off.
Even though I couldn’t see or talk (I was still coughing and hacking), I could tell by the feel that I was being carried along a twisting path. Her touch was kind and gentle. The rain was still cascading, but it was just a little bit kinder this time. When she opened the door, the warmth from inside her house didn’t seem to be mocking that time. That time, it was welcoming.
Another door squeaked open. The sound of water sloshing could be heard and I was laid down inside a hot bath. When I felt the tub, I discovered it was wooden.
“My house, like most, is under the tree. The roots are huge, so when you remove part of one, you have a nice little stump to use for some kind of furniture, like the bathtub.”
The sopping quicksand combined with the pouring rain had chilled me to the bone, so with the sauna, I could feel the recovery. The Hissi pointed out that some blobs of sand that had gotten in my fur, but had now floated to the top of the water.
“Better swallow some of that hot water, too. Thin the sand that got down your throat,” I started to lap at the water. “My name is Rubia. Who are you, and where did you come from?”
I paused my licking up the drops of hot water to look up at her.
“Oh, that’s right. You can’t talk. Do you at least know where you came from?”
I shook my head.
“You came from the Distance. The Distance is where all of you Xweetoks come from, and go when they’re not chasing us around on our own planet.”
I shook my head again, more rapidly this time.
“Don’t tell me that you just found yourself in one of the forest’s little nooks and crannies.”
This time, I nodded.
“But that just doesn’t make any sense... Why would the Creator want a Xweetok?” Rubia muttered to herself. She was interrupted by my wheezing.
“Have some more water, that’ll help. I’ll be right back.” The door creaked again. A moment later, she re-entered.
“Here, drink some of this.” She pressed a wooden cup to my lips, and I sucked up some sort of syrup. “It’s just some heated jam, made with common berries. I never dealt with a survivor of the sand trap before, but lots of this will probably help clear your throat over time.”
There was a moment of silence as I drank the rest of the syrup, and then Rubia engaged into the first of those many tales she would tell me again and again.
“Long, long ago, a very powerful Neopet emerged from a distant planet. Nobody knows how, or why, but she did come. She made this forest planet. She was known as simply the Creator. She made us all. The Ogrins came first, and then she made all sorts of other creatures: the Bori, Lupes, Cybunnies, and, last of all, the Xweetoks.”
She was interrupted by a knock at the door, but pushed it to the back of her mind.
“The Creator made sure things were always as they should be. She was the one who justified the arguments between species, she was the one who made sure food was never short, and she was the one who came to the needy. She loved her creatures, and the creatures loved her back. Somebody’s at the door, so I’ll leave you to your rest now.”
Now she answered the knock, which was gradually getting faster and louder. The room I was in was apparently at the back of the house, as I couldn’t make out any voices. Rubia’s slithering came through the washroom a few times. I didn’t remember anything else, as I drifted off to sleep.
“You need to recover. Have some more of this.” The cup touched my lips again, and I slurped up the hot drink. I still couldn’t see or speak. But I tried to say something anyway to thank Rubia. All that happened was a wheeze.
“Trying to talk will probably make it worse. Do you want another story now?” In response, I curled my paw around Rubia’s wing, which she had been gently stroking me with, and inched closer to her.
“The Creator did all she could to help her creatures. Whenever one was hurt, she would use her magic to heal it. When one was lonely, she would give it a companion. This companion would awaken and not remember anything, and fate would bring him or her to the pet wishing for company. They were called Creator’s Children.
“As I was alone and wishing for someone to care for permanently before you came, I’m assuming that you’re one of the Creator’s Children. But why would she want a Xweetok?”
Now I made another attempt to say something and, although it was a deep, hideous tone, it worked.
“B-but what’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing is wrong with you. You aren’t like the others. The others tower over you and would never fit in one of our houses. They are spiteful and mean. You are like a Xweetok from the Age of the Creator. For now, I will only say that it was one of your kindred that did this to you.”
Every day, Rubia would visit my room several times. First she would feed me jelly by the cupful and give me cold water to drink. Then she would drain the bathwater and replace it with a few buckets of fresh, hot water. And then, she got to the part I’d been waiting for. Each time, she launched into a different tale that had come from her ancestors, she told of great heroes rescuing others from the Xweetoks, many of whom were Creator’s Children.
But she never said anything about the Xweetoks themselves.
I felt stronger and hurt less each day, thanks to Rubia nurturing me. Then one day...
To be continued...