Hot Herb Tea and a Happy Ending: Part Eight
Callie’s hyperactivity stopped out of shock. Bronco seemed disappointed. Hill twanged his jaw harp in a way that sounded like, ‘Why?’ Rubia stormed into the room.
“Cerulean, that’s rude! They kindly invited you! You’re going; I’m deciding for you.”
Determining I was without a choice, I nodded and followed them out of doors. Rubia opened the door after us and called out.
“Bring me back some good gems, okay?”
“I’ll take up the front, Bronco stay at back, Cerulean make sure Hill okay,” Callie excitedly said. The rest of us fell into positions. Her brain’s grammar function clearly wasn’t working.
The morning was fine; it was a shame to realize it could be my last one. Many times, I tried to choke my dream out to the others, but I failed, attempt after attempt. It was even worse, knowing that because of the mist that rose in the early hours, we wouldn’t be able to see the hunter coming.
“We almost there. Thirty bounds,” the striped Kacheek chimed. Bronco continued his leisurely pace, Callie jumped about at the head of the line. I was in between: making sure Hill wasn’t being left behind like she told me to. I could never catch him without his jaw harp: the fact that he only had one foot to walk with made him slow. For a few seconds, I stared up at the fog.
When I looked next to myself again, Hill was gone. Callie’s jumping and stomping couldn’t be heard anymore. Bronco’s loud, thumping steps were out of the ear’s range, too.
I had strayed from the path.
Frantically, I tried relocating my partners, to no avail. My paw prints scribbled in the mud as I dashed in wide circles looking for them. Then the all-too-familiar giant, steady pace began, eliminating the option of calling out, for I could reveal myself.
It was a feeling that would never be changed. The feeling of rhythmic tump-tumps behind me. I’d never be able to stop it from triggering nervousness and fear.
Noting that the Huntress had gotten close enough to sight me, I bolted. I ran. I didn’t stop running. I would never stop running. Never slow down.
The friends I had known for such a short time deserved a warning.
“HUNTRESS! CHIX IS OUT LOOSE!”
The air rattled from the cry. I knew what would happen. Chix would catch me and the others would roam free forever more as long as they were careful. The Creator had made up her mind: the forest would be rid of me, but I wouldn’t leave without leaving behind a legacy. She had been that kind.
For a lack of worse words, it was impending destiny.
Not fate. Destiny.
When my eyes fell upon Hill as they did in my dream, I dug my teeth into his scruff, heaved him up and continued my flight, or should I say, plight. My paws collided with the ground at a steady rate. Not a single tear came from my eyes, I knew that I was to lead Chix after myself and allow my ordinary companions to save themselves. I braced myself for the scream.
When it came, I didn’t flinch and drop Hill. I listened well and followed the sound. Callie was pressed up against a rowan tree; the Huntress preparing to shoot. As I expected, Bronco broke her aim, and in her panic, she instead chose me as a prize. With a flick of my head, the baby JubJub fell at Kacheek feet, my last words to Callie being, “Take care of him. He’s too young; she’ll capture me instead.”
Carefully, I changed direction. I took a deep breath. A minute or so passed by as I put off what would become of me: a Xweetok in a net, at the disposal of one of his own kind.
It made me sick.
Still, I ran on. I turned to the power of my heart and soul as my body gradually failed. Suddenly, I looked to my right to see a certain Mutant Kyrii that had been running by my side the whole time. I had been oblivious to him. We stared for a minute I hoped would never end. I took in a deep breath.
“Roam free.” The words spilled out of my mouth. My eyes closed in a silent pleasure as I enjoyed my last moments. A net entangled around me, and then another, just as Bronco caught on what I had meant and turned off.
When I tripped and got back up, my right hind leg failed me. The lower half scrambled uselessly. Still, for a few long moments more, I ran. Tears refused to fall from my eyes. A feeling of inner peace filled my body.
It was that thought that shook and sent waves of it through me. I longed for nothing more. I knew what I had been, but not what I would be. What was the reason we were hunted? Would I be doomed under the Xweetoks’ hold, or would I be spared?
I didn’t get my hopes up. But silently, I resolved something.
If I were left alive, then maybe someday, I’d come back.
Both of you especially had been so kind to me.
All at once, my four legs collapsed. My head collided with the ground and my side was stained by the mud. I remembered nothing beyond two last thoughts.
Please. Spare me.
I felt the vibrations of footsteps outside and eagerly went to the door. They were home! Not only was I hoping for some good gems from Cerulean, I wanted to know how he’d like regular exploring sessions with them, too. I ditched the book I was reading onto the floor and slithered to the door. When I opened it, I wasn’t greeted by the beaming Cerulean I had expected, followed by a smiling trio of foresters. Bruno stood there, solemn-faced, Callie and Hill behind him.
Two words were all that were needed to emphasize the story that was never told. Cerulean was missing, and Bronco had apologized for something. My head automatically lowered.
“He did it to save us,” Callie answered me. Still, I said nothing. He was gone...
From the moment I first saw a pitiful being on my porch, I knew that the Creator had finally sent me what I’d been waiting for. Of course, I shooed him off, but I had to know more about him. I had to follow him.
From the moment I rescued him, I knew I had a friend for life. He never meant anything to me. He meant everything to me. When he was accepted as another forester, I had cheered inside of myself. He’d been like an actual child.
Coming to a consciousness, I rubbed my eyes and rose, only to fall again, collapsing on my broken leg. What were these cruel Hunters doing to me? I had felt that when I woke up (IF I woke up), at least my leg’s pangs would be gone.
My eyes darted around, focusing on my surroundings. It was astonishing to find that I was still in a forest, although the new one was hardly reminiscent of the old one. The trees were literally colossal: tall beyond the imagination’s eyes. They were healthy trees, too: thick, full trunks rising towards the sky, which was sheathed by their amber leaves.
Amber leaves? They were accompanied by ones of brown, yellow and orange. They were, ironically, miniscule compared to the ones in the original forest. Each individual was as large as one of your toes. I stared in awe at the great ash trees looming before me.
Most astonishing of all, there was a strange feeling. Or rather, there was a lack of one. I wasn’t used to being in a forest AND being dry. I looked up and no rainfall made me blink.
To be honest, I had expected something else, entirely different from forests or homes. Was this their world? Was this where they lived?
Or was this the place they ditched their prey, to store until they were ready to deal with them?
My head ached with confusion and worry. I was the sole inhabitant, as far as I could tell. It might only have been a storage unit. Great, I thought. I won’t be coming out. At least, I won’t come out to anywhere that’s good for me.
Deciding to find a way out, I tried walking, only to once more stumble down on my still-broken leg. Instincts told me to make an attempt at dragging myself along with my forelegs, but it once more failed. Crushed efforts at limping along on three legs soon followed. Giving up, I sat back down, when my thoughts were interrupted by a figure dropping out of a tree.
“I would seriously stop trying to walk on that thing.”
The rogue-looking Ogrin standing before me sheathed the short sword. It was the first Ogrin I had seen that wasn’t a dust pixie. Her fur sported a hot pink color and she wore a pale blue tunic, complete with a sheath at the hem. She flipped her long blonde hair out of her face, bent over, and held out her hand.
When she got that close to me, I could make out her navy blue eyes, shifting around in alertness. At the same time, they also boasted a foolish expression. She stood alone with me in the clearing. I inserted my paw into hers and shook.
“Well, looks like our prodigy Xweetok Cerulean has finally arrived. Name’s Evre,” she said and tugged me after her without another word.
“It seems you apparently know me already for some reason. Wait a second! A sword, you’re alone, and you aren’t angry at me for being what I am? You must be a rogue from the Creator and dust pixies! I don’t trust you,” I spat.
“Not a rogue!”
“Well, rogue or not, can you at least stop dragging me like this? My leg still hurts, you know.”
She responded to this by wordlessly heaving me up into the air and over one shoulder. I once more objected, only to be draped across her neck.
“You don’t get it,” I sighed.
“As if I didn’t get your screams when Chix was after you,” she bragged.
“I didn’t scream then- Wait, what? You were there?”
“Yup. I was the dust pixy you saw each of those times. When you collapsed, I grew to my normal form, whipped out my blade and BAM! Off with that stupid huntress’s head,” she further boasted.
“No, not really, but I knocked her over real good with the flat of my sword! She literally didn’t know what hit her: I wish you’d seen the way she got her arm stuck in the mud!”
“Is she hurt?”
“Is she hurt? She probably won’t be fit to hunt for another few months!” At that point, Evre slapped her knee laughing and heaved me off of herself. “Here’s your stop. Don’t bother asking me what the heck I’m talking about; just go into that cave.” She took a few cautious steps away, and then bolted off.
Completely unsure of what to expect, I halted at the entrance. I squinted into the total darkness. Nothing except for that cold obsidian greeted me. Well, if she’s a normal dust pixy, then she’ll want me alive, right? And she wouldn’t send me in knowing I wouldn’t come back out. Wait a second...
I sighed and went in anyway, with the knowledge that perhaps the Creator didn’t want me after all.
From the roof of the cavern, dew fell onto my pelt, which had been scarred from my struggle with Rachroth. A curiosity I held when I had first awakened in my new world had been replaced with a divine fearlessness; perhaps the transition took place during that final chase.
How long had it been? As far as I was concerned, it was probably hours ago that I was being pursued by the otherworldly huntress. But deep inside, I knew that it could range from minutes to months. How long could I have been in a stasis? Then again, it must have been fairly recently, since Evre had discussed the situation as if it had just happened.
One step out of place had been all it took. Head first; I tumbled my way ungracefully down the tunnel. My broken leg started to become twisted in every place possible. It would surely be broken beyond repair.
At last, my dazed head hit the floor at the bottom of the slope. Why did I always have to be falling unconscious so easily?
To be continued...?