Torch in the Darkness: Part Eight
Art by ellbot1998
“Why, you little...” I began approaching Valence, my eyes burning with a longing for revenge on the Creator’s part.
“Go ahead.” He beckoned, allowing me to make the first move. I charged and aimed for Val’s left leg, my right foreleg extending sharply. My claws were unsheathed. With my left foreleg, I used it to grab his other leg, and I raked my claws down his first leg with my other forepaw. All the while, I kept my wings pressed against my back as much as possible so that they wouldn’t get in the way.
I swung slightly on his right ankle, gaining access to his other side. A quick handstand allowed me to kick him sharply. He finally flinched and I used the chance to charge toward another foot and leap into the air. I would have flown into his back on purpose and maybe knock him over, had he not sidestepped.
He grabbed my scruff and held me hanging above ground. I tried scratching, struggling and desperately flapping. Nothing worked. Val chuckled.
“Now, I would like for my niece to try; that is, if you don’t mind, Cerulean.”
No, not Faith... She had been my savior! She had been the only torch in the darkness! She didn’t deserve to die at the hands of the most infamous creature known to any forester!
“Let her live!”
“Oh, pish-posh. Go ahead, Chix- Try your Uncle Valence!”
“My name’s not Chix anymore,” she snapped and took a few steps towards him on her hind legs. She still had her key around her neck.
She ignored my warning, running towards him, shrieking a scream that made my ear drums pound. Val hardly cringed. Faith clawed at his arm that held me up, and I could tell that she was struggling to hoist herself onto it. She barely succeeded, and Val could have shaken her off whenever he to.
“How cute. Baby Faith wants her friend,” Val teased. In response, Faith firmly clamped her jaw onto his arm. He showed no signs of pain. He snatched the scruff of her neck with his free arm and laughed heartily.
“Look what it’s come to. This is what happens when you’re up against me. I escaped the clutches of the Creator... you really thought from the beginning that I would let myself be defeated by the likes of you?”
Both of us squirmed, but our efforts only succeeded in giving him more to snort at.
“Tell us what you’ll do with us now,” I demanded, although I bet I looked pretty pathetic.
“I’ll answer for Val- he’ll deal with me!”
The one person I expected least vaulted over a Christmas Wocky who was blocking the chamber’s entrance and unsheathed her sword. The Pink Ogrin’s deep blue eyes glittered in the torchlight. She wore the same tunic as she did the last time I saw her.
“You should have expected a third member of our little party here- If you were as smart as you thought you were, you would have known that Cerulean’s guardian would follow him,” Evre smartly remarked as she leaned slightly on her blade.
“Take the blue one, Rauner,” Val hissed to a Darigan Acara that had approached his side in defense. Rauner reached under the bed, took out a pair of handcuffs and walked in front of where I was dangling. Before I had time to realize what he was doing, both of my forepaws were bound, and a Skeith grabbed the chain of the cuffs tightly as if he read the Acara’s mind. Val merely tossed Faith over his shoulder. A small yelp came from her as he did so.
“Bring it, pixy.”
Evre launched into a feminine war cry and slapped the mutated Xweetok between the eyes using the flat of her sword. For once, he stumbled backwards in pain. But soon enough, he lunged towards Evre, bent down low and swept her with his arm. She jumped over it and slashed his sides several times.
I suddenly bolted from the grasp of the Acara and jumped, ramming my head into Val’s stomach. He gagged as he fell backwards. I pounced on top of his chest and jammed my forepaw into a place between his eyes.
In the same spot that Rachroth had drilled his beak into me.
“Well, after what we just did to him... Any of you servants want to deal with me?”
They all backed away. The Acara removed my handcuffs, which Evre bound Val’s wrists in. I helped her begin to drag him back to the forests.
Cerulean and the strange Ogrin walked side by side, pulling along the defeated enemy. Cerulean couldn’t talk because he had the chain of Val’s handcuffs in his mouth, but he occasionally gave me a kind, sincere smile. I took it that my past crimes were forgiven. It felt good to be pardoned after I was honest about my origin, even better than it felt to get a decent meal and sleep after being out in the rain. And if I had both...?
None of us talked until we reached the island’s edge. As we looked at the crashing sea, more moments of silence passed. Cerulean released his chain to talk.
“How did you two cross the sea, Evre? Faith?”
“I swam. It wasn’t that far, and it’s one of the skills Ogrins must learn. And don’t let your guard down; he could wake up any time.”
Cerulean put the chain in his mouth again and tilted his head to one side as he looked at me. I smiled.
Suddenly, a green head popped out of the ocean and a tail began bobbing in and out of the water as it made progress. Somebody was swimming towards the island. Sparky reached the shore and waved.
“This is Sparky. I helped him into the water when I found him stranded, so he helped me, and I’m sure he’ll do it again.”
“Okay, Sparky. Let’s make this quick,” Evre said as she looped Val’s chain around Sparky’s neck after Cerulean had let the chain go.
“Wait- I have some friends who can help.”
He ducked from the chain, disappeared beneath the waves and returned with two more aquatic creatures. They both looked a little like each other, but not much. They both had smooth bodies and long tails. Also, they both had flippers.
One was a blackish-brown, with red on the edges of his tail and his four flippers. His head had some reddish markings on it like fire, as did the duo of fins on his back. While a deep auburn adorned ridges around his eyes, his underbelly was a creamy tan. His tail ended in a two-pronged fork which had two inner points.
The other was different. Her features were crisper and more sophisticated, and she only had one pair of flippers and a single back fin. A pale blue, paler than the sky, filled her body; complimented by a set of four pastel pink stripes. Three were on the back while one was between the back and the blunt horn which protruded from her forehead.
“My name is Cheshire,” the blue one said with a huge, goofy grin on her face.
“Uh, I’m Fuse,” the other said.
“Okay, Fuse. You and Sparky are the same size, and you’re both pretty big, so I’ll spread the load across the two of you.” Evre talked as she draped the Xweetok-mountain across the aquatic pets. “Cheshire, can you carry Faith to shore? I can swim, and Cerulean will fly.”
“Don’t I get a say in this?” Fuse questioned as the Ogrin prepared Val.
“No, no, you don’t.”
Once Evre saw Sparky and Fuse off, Cerulean spoke again.
“We can only fly to save each other from the Xweetoks, how will I fly?”
“Val counts as a Xweetok, and we don’t want him to wake up before we get into the Creator’s neck of the woods again. Otherwise would mean disaster,” Evre said over her shoulder as she began wading into the waters. She then began doggy-paddling. Cerulean took several steps backwards before he launched into flight.
Wordlessly, I mounted Cheshire. She began slapping her tail back and forth while paddling with her flippers. Since she didn’t have Sparky’s muscular neck to hold onto, I used her horn. As we moved through the water, I noticed something.
Cerulean was soaring ten feet in the air. Evre was partially underwater. I, however, was skimming along the surface. I had met the balance.
Could I meet a bigger balance in life, though? Could somebody who still had Huntress instincts, with time, become an ordinary forester?
My thoughts were interrupted, however, when we reached the shore. The Ogrin carefully removed Val’s unconscious body from the aquatic pets and gestured to Cerulean, seeking help with carrying him on land. They once more began dragging him along as I strolled close to Cerulean’s side. His gaze was ever changing: he was fascinated by the lack of rain and the vast array of plants provided him with more to be surprised at. Soon enough, we reached the cliffs.
“Urf,” Evre grunted as she planted her feet in the steep side of a cliff. My fellow Xweetok was struggling, too. No matter how guilty I was that I didn’t share in their heavy load, there was nothing I could do. I did not have the strength of either of them. We walked around the side and found a less steep spot to ascend.
We gave the sunny, never-changing landscape a final look until we turned around. The rivers endlessly poured out over the cliffs and the plants bloomed on. It seemed like it thought that there were no Hunters, and that there was no such thing as doing wrong. Life would be perfect if only its thoughts were true.
The trees were sparse at first when we walked beyond the cliffs. However, they got thicker and thicker, until we reached the point that a fine mist of rain accompanied it, which turned into heavy splashes of water. We were back in the woods.
Evre quickly took in breath and unsheathed her sword, getting ready to probably slap the awakening Val’s head with the flat of it.
“Don’t bother; I’m turning myself in. You’ve done good to defeat me, so I won’t ruin things for you now.”
She looked at him for a second before putting her blade in its sheath.
“We aren’t letting our guards down.” She glanced at Cerulean. He nodded.
For several more minutes, we strolled through the woods in silence. And then, the world changed.
The larger-than-life trees surrounded us in a way that made you feel how permanent they were. The tiny leaves that fell from them glittered like the shades of the sunset as though each had a life of its own. The gentlest of breezes rustled the boughs of the leaves slightly, although it carried no rain.
The chain which bound Val, the traitor, jingled with every step. He held his head low, like he had given up. Every time Cerulean or Faith stumbled on the huge roots, he did not use it as a chance to flee, although I did keep one hand on my sword’s hilt at all times.
A small clearing opened up before us. Fluffy white clouds rolled across the open sky that was visible. The mouth of a wide cave gaped open. It was the only cave I had ever seen that was large enough for the Creator to fit through.
I noticed Faith lingering closer to Cerulean’s side, and he raised his wing so she could do so. It seemed to be her equivalent of trembling. I, however, was unfazed; and apparently, so was Val.
My eyes were wide as we slowly walked down the tunnel. Maybe Cerulean had been there before, but I was about to experience what all foresters could only dream of. It was something I could feel; on the inside, I didn’t believe. Maybe I had wanted to believe, but still didn’t.
All of that was about to change.
“Holy Kau,” I uttered as we reached the end of the slope.
“Yes, Faith.” Cerulean warmly smiled down at me. “She is the Creator.”
My past as a Huntress had been wrapped around my heart like a cage. It had kept me at the bottom of the staircase, too heavy to let me up. But the binding chains of hurt, loneliness, frustration and loss fell from my body all at once, and I felt free again.
Because I believed.
To be continued...