Torch in the Darkness: Part Six
Art by ellbot1998
My paws clasped the cell bars as I gazed outside. There were, at the time, a Red Korbat and Shadow Bruce pacing the halls, fulfilling their guard duty. I sighed hopelessly.
They weren’t on our side. They were evil. And yet they were free.
Then there was me, and look where I ended up.
A series of curses escaped my mouth, causing the guards to turn around and gape in horror. I shot them a spiteful glare. Their eyes widened slightly, and they went back to walking up and down the passageway.
Why does it have to come to this?
Then and there, it happened. Something clicked inside of me.
You will return home through trust only.
Faith can be another word for trust.
You will return home through Faith only?
No, she would never bother tracking me down. It’s a coincidence.
For the first time since my stay with Monty and Whitney, I had slept well. Everything had been made right. Not even I had paid much attention to the place when I was a hunter. No foresters were in sight, either. I smiled from where I stood on the beach to the ocean, which glimmered back in shades of yellow and orange because of the sunrise. Had a soul ever laid eyes upon the beauty of those waters or the plants which they spawned?
My thoughts were interrupted by a raspy “Help... me...” from behind me.
I lashed around to see a rather peculiar creature lying helplessly on the shore. Even when I went by the name of Chix, I had never seen anything like him. He was sea foam green and had the torso and forelegs of a Uni, only he ended in a long, elegant tail. I strolled up to it to further examine him.
“The water... I’m stranded, put me back...”
“Put you where?”
“The water!” the creature rasped. I was about to say that I had never heard of a creature that could survive in water, but I figured that he knew what he was doing and I rolled him into the ocean anyways.
Through the crystalline surface of the water, I could see him splash and swim. After a few seconds, its head came above the surface again. When he spoke, he no longer acted desperate, and was rather upbeat.
“Thank you. Now I know what they mean when they tell you not to get too close to the ‘land’. My name’s Sparky!”
“Hello, Sparky. I’m Faith. I didn’t know that there were creatures that could survive water.”
“I had no idea that creatures could survive above water!”
“Well, now we have learned something new, haven’t we?”
Sparky nodded. Realization suddenly hit me. I knew how I would cross the ocean!
Moments later, I was feeling the ocean mist dampen my matted, tangled fur slightly. I smiled to myself as I clutched the Peophin’s withers tightly. My goal was closer-we were nearing a jungle island.
Although anybody who could have seen me then would have thought that my world was perfect, I was the one who knew the truth. I was there for a reason. As Sparky reached the shore and I dismounted him, I had my second stunning realization of the day.
Now that I had made it to the island, what would I do? Was it even my actual destination?
My heart sank, but I ignored the feeling and started exploring. After all, there had to be a keyhole somewhere, and I still had the single key on a string.
When the sandy yellow shoreline ended, the island was nearly the same all the way through. Palm trees reached up and waved their leafy hands in the wind. When you progressed, you saw more of them. That was all that there were asides from the short grass. The palm forests were much more repetitive than the ones on the continent, and I couldn’t shake the feeling I was walking in circles.
Soon, though, I heard something other than the rustle of palm leaves in the breeze. Was it music? It seemed slightly awkward that I had made a journey across miles of forest and found a way to cross the sea to single-handedly bring a significant opponent back to a woodland deity, and when I got to my destination, I heard music. I came closer to it.
The tune was an airy march, played swiftly on some sort of woodwind instrument. It made me want to dance (or fly, if I had wings) as if I was free from my guilt of being a former Huntress. By then, I really was feeling bad about it.
Shaking aside my thoughts, I chose to follow the source of the light melody. The tune, combined with the crisp energy hanging in the air, put me in such a good mood that I pretty much skipped all the way there. It took a few more minutes of hiking, but I found the musician.
In a tiny clearing in the palm trees, a red Shoyru sat on a large rock. He appeared to be heavily concentrating on playing a thin wooden flute. I stood in awe at his skill for several seconds more until his piece was finished. When it was, I couldn’t help but stand on my hind legs and applaud him from where I stood under the shade of the palms.
He put the flute down and glared at me, noticing me for the first time.
“What do you want?”
“Erm, nothing, really, I was just... Um...” I didn’t know what to say. After all, I had no idea what I was looking for, other than a keyhole.
“I can’t get out, because we’re not inside.”
“Then go away.”
The Shoyru clearly didn’t want me there. His rude responses and cold stare were a stark contrast to his beautiful tune.
“I would like to play my music in peace, thank you very much.”
“I never said I would disturb you! Can’t I just watch?”
“Fine, just come closer.”
I began to step into the clearing, but suspicion stopped me. A thin, sharp gleam at the clearing’s edge captured my eye. I picked up a coconut from the ground and threw it at the shimmer.
The Shoyru scowled and stared in wonder at the same time as the net closed around the coconut. Then I grabbed every coconut I saw and I threw them all around the clearing. All of the ones that I threw around the edges of the clearing came up in nets.
“What’s your problem, anyways?” I said to the Shoyru. His mouth was still agape. “Anybody could come here, trying to find the source of your flute music, but they would be netted as soon as they stepped into the clearing!”
“Being a former Huntress, I am rather surprised you have a problem with the whole net thing,” he smugly quipped as he turned away slightly, as if it wasn’t worth looking at me.
My last idea of security was shaken and smashed to bits the moment he had said that. I had hardly said a word about myself, but he knew my origin. Doing my best to shake off my fear, I parodied his phrase.
“Being such a fatheaded jerk, I am rather surprised I haven’t clawed you to death by now!” I snapped as I started charging towards him. He sneered and ascended into the sky, out of sight.
“What a coward,” I said to myself as I approached his stone and began inspecting it. It seemed as though he had been guarding it. A smile spread across my face as I found what he’d been hiding.
On the side of the base, there was a switch. If I had been looking for anything other than a keyhole, it was that. A sense of accomplishment filled my body as I flipped the wooden lever and the false rock flipped open, revealing a hole.
“As if I have anything left to lose now,” I confessed to myself as I squeezed into the hollow.
Who had I not disappointed?
For the first time I could remember, tears filled my eyes. My stomach whimpered and growled, but unless I wanted to eat myself, it would have to make due with what it had: nothing. My body was skinny, and I had no energy to call my own. Looking at me was too unbearable, so I shut my eyes as hard as they would go.
I have never faced a hardship this bad. Not even when Rubia was captured, or when I was alone in the rain on my first day ever. Hunters are nothing compared to this.
Speaking of Hunters, Faith--I mean, Chix--is probably back at the Distance or captured by now. She never deserved to live...
There was no way out. There was no way I could fulfill the Creator’s task for me.
I tried to think comforting thoughts. I remembered the Creator’s sweet, flowing voice, and how she had lent me her magic, so my twisted leg would recover. I remembered Tor and how the old Lupe and I, the only brother he ever knew, would exchange jokes and stories. I remembered Callie’s logic, and Bronco’s natural strength. I remembered Hill, that sweet JubJub, and the sound of his jaw harp still echoed in my head.
But most of all, I remembered Rubia.
She had open kindness to me, despite her normal iciness around others. Those warm meals, she would sometimes spend hours preparing them for the two of us. The times we spent together in the beginning: Her gentle touch on my weak, injured body and the way she would bring her legends to life in the words she used; how she sowed the seeds of love despite being unsure of who I was.
Would I, one day, be among those legends? Would Rubia pass on my tale, and would I live on in the pages of a book? Or had lived in vain?
I gave myself one final duty. I would determine for myself the answer to that last question. To different people, I had meant very different things.
To Chix I had been a coveted being, one that she desired as a collectable more than anything else. From Rachroth’s vision, I was a rival. In a certain Usul’s world I had been misinterpreted as a liar and scoundrel.
But I had been all Rubia ever wanted. She was one of the only ones who had accepted me despite my species from the start, and in return, I gave her myself as someone to love. I settled on an answer to my question.
My life had not been in vain.
I stood on my hind legs in silence as I observed the chamber. It was clear that there was a tunnel, but it disappeared from sight within a few feet. The only light source was the sun’s dwindling glow, which was darkening every minute due to the day's end. Even that couldn’t reach very far into the cavern.
I had two options: Go forward in the name of Cerulean, the lost one; or turn around, and all my traveling would have been for nothing. But I didn’t go so far only to go back. My eyes were unaccustomed to the dark, but I forced myself to make the blind walk into the shadows.
The shadows felt strange, as though they were sentient beings. It seemed as though they flickered and darkened. I felt as though they were watching me and scrutinizing me carefully. After all, I had no idea how often a living creature wandered among them.
Being on my back legs felt insecure, so I dropped down to the more stable position Cerulean used. When I shrugged off my fears of what lay ahead, they ceased to bother me and the shade felt less and less cold until I was fairly comfortable among them. I wasn’t afraid anymore. Was this how Cerulean sometimes felt, like he could resist anything thrown at him?
Soon enough, the darkness stopped short. Soft circles of illumination fell onto the stone floors of the caves from multiple torches carved into the wall. A wrought iron gate, like the wall of a cage, prevented further exploration into the tunnels.
In addition, two Eyrie guards stood in front of it. Each had a staff and tabard. One leaned against a bare spot of the wall, the other on his staff. Not wanting to be noticed immediately, I ceased to step into the light. But they had already heard me.
“Who goes there?” The one who had been leaning on his stick took two steps forward and banged it on the floor, causing a loud ‘clack’ which echoed a few times. He received no response.
“I said; who goes there?”
Really, I didn’t know what to do.
“I said; WHO GOES THERE?” The gold pet firmly pressed on.
“Tochino, stop,” the other guard, a shadow Eyrie, said in a silky voice as she stepped between him and where I lay in the shadows. She was just in time to stop him from raising his staff. “Whoever is there may have just stumbled across Sunset’s Shadow.”
To be continued...