Possessed: Part Three
"Is it really you, Cerulean? How do I know you aren't who I think you are, and that Rubia isn't a substitute, either?"
I gave myself a jitter and woke up. What did I just hear? Rubia was still asleep in the bed beside mine. I knew that voice.
That's right, I recalled. I dream the future. It's been so long that I forgot.
But still, the words went through my head again and I flinched. Someone was going to think that I wasn't Cerulean, and Rubia wasn't herself.
"Cerulean? Are you alright?"
I didn't notice that Rubia had gotten up.
"Yeah... Just a bit of a bad dream."
"What was it? I know a couple of remedies for nightmares."
"It was nothing, trust me."
"Bad dreams, especially about Hunters, usually come back if they aren't cured. And if you have a nightmare, well, you've predicted future events before in your sleep."
"It wasn't a complete dream, I just heard a voice. It asked me if it was 'really me'. Then it asked if you weren't 'a substitute, either'."
"Whose voice was it?"
Rubia wrapped her wing around me as she stroked her chin thoughtfully.
"That's disturbing. But let's forage first and eat; I'm too asleep to still think."
"Wise advice," I mentioned as we walked outside into a crisp chill. I snorted as my legs sank into the snow.
"My father always said things like that to me. Now, let's see... Holly berries are edible, and so are mountain blueberries. We'll need to take them back to the house by the handful, though, because there aren't any leaves up here to use as baskets and we don't have anything else to use. If you see any nuts, get those, too."
Several times, we went in and out of the house. Every edible within a certain radius was taken inside; we foraged closer to the lodge before we went to greater lengths. Rubia soon told me that was enough, and we went inside for more rest. Because, as she put it:
"This place is said to be close to the Creator. It makes you want to sleep."
I was restless that night as I lay in a small hollow, hugging my legs close to my body.
Something didn't seem right inside of me. To try calming myself, I removed my ocarina from its bag loosely tied around my neck. The notes which came out of it didn't seem right as I played it.
What was bothering me?
It had taken a while, but I had finally toughened up on the outside again. No matter how many dirty looks were shot at me, I managed to ignore them instead of grimace. That couldn't be a problem.
I had someone to talk to who vaguely respected my feelings, and he wouldn't blurt a single one of them to the whole world. He had exiled himself from it. Raiyj was trustworthy enough. I had a faint idea of company.
I already had mastered the technique of slinking low to the ground with my feet wide apart so that they wouldn't fall into the snow. Whenever I didn't feel like it, I could just unsheathe my claws on thick slabs of bark so that they stayed on as makeshift snowshoes. Even if I hadn't found a way around the annoyance of sinking in, it wouldn't be enough to psychologically disturb me anyways.
Rubia and Cerulean were far away enough from me so that thinking about them was hard to do. I still missed them, but their absence from my life wasn't constantly haunting me. It almost felt good to just get away and be a loner.
Maybe it was my lack of real food, an actual place to sleep, or the familiar surroundings of the woods. I sighed. Perhaps it was something among the lines of discomfort...
Whatever it was, it was soon interrupted. I felt as though someone was about to throw a water balloon at me, like I was being targeted. I flinched.
The flinch that I had... I knew it. The reason I knew it wasn't because I had experienced it all my life. I had seen foresters do it. A lot.
They always did it right at the moment...
That single, sudden moment that meant something had just started...
A struggle, perhaps...
It was the twitch a forester had as soon as they vaguely suspected that a Hunter or Huntress might, by the slightest chance, be watching them.
I yelped and jumped three feet out of the way. It was just in time, too: A net was now hanging from the needles of the tree I had been sitting in the hollow of. Then it began.
I hardly had a chance to see the Hunter before I started running. He was hot on my tail; not quite literally, as getting hot isn't something that's easy to do at Cloudpoint. He was fast, too: thank the Creator that I was accustomed to running on all fours then. I soon began to sweat, though, as I ducked and jumped everywhere.
He was a furious Hunter. If I tried losing him by weaving around trees, he didn't let that faze him. When he shot nets, it was impossible to dodge them unless you did the old zigzag trick.
Needless to say, he was much better at hunting than I ever was. That I almost regretted. If I slowed down any, he'd probably step on me.
One net got a hold on me and then another as he pushed himself just a little more. They were both on my hind legs. I mentally screamed to myself as they tightened, I couldn't feel those legs and I stumbled onto the ground, staring into his face.
He had me cornered. Our eyes met, and I saw him at last. Fear, pure fear, echoed throughout me. I knew how to get the nets off; but I couldn't take my gaze off of his. I couldn't focus. How I hope I'll never have to go through a feeling like that again.
His fur was a parched white. I could barely tell, though, because he was well-covered. A deep brown spread throughout his armor suit. He wore no helmet; instead, the hood of a parka was over his head. A coarse cloth was over his mouth and nose, tied at the back, to keep the area warm and keep snow out. Thick goggles with perfectly-clear lenses were over his eyes. The rhythm of his heavy breath terrified me.
Engar introduced him to me in passing. I think his name might be Pyke, I recalled.
His hand reached out to me. I almost felt like I could trust him, like I could put my paw into his; but alas, I would never be able to trust a Hunter again. His hand took one of the nets around me and picked it up by the corners. As he wrapped it around my body, the unthinkable happened.
"If you so much as lay another of your Creator-forsaken fingers on her, I'm going to THROW YOU OFF THE MOUNTAIN!!" Raiyj roared. The Darigan Gelert was standing there, straight and tall, with his arms crossed. Oh, thank Creator...
Pyke wordlessly began to focus his arm cannon on Raiyj, but he grabbed it and thrust it out of the way.
"If you think I am going to tolerate any of your fancy-schmancy Hunter techs, you are WRONG! Let's end it, here and now, the old-fashioned way!" He smacked his fist into the palm of his hand.
Pyke staggered a few steps back before he ran off.
"Thanks back there, Raiyj."
"No prob. Hey, somethin' wrong?"
"I was just wondering... Where do you sleep?"
"I sleep wherever I am," he said. "Why are you still cringing?"
"It brought back memories that were too painful... The nets are on too tight..."
Raiyj was about to try removing the net from me, but I stopped him.
"Hang on one second; I know how these work..."
I had finally been released from the fear which stopped me from saving myself. Reaching over to a barely-noticeable, tiny clear button on a segment of the net, I unsheathed a claw and pressed it. The net's grip completely loosened and I unwrapped myself. Then, I did the same for the other net.
"Pretty nifty trick you have there. Not that I'll ever use it, I could just throw a Hunter off of Cloudpoint if I faced one," he stated as we began to walk. We stopped by a huge frozen pond.
"No offense, but how strong are you, anyways?" I inquired as I followed him.
"I'm so strong, I could pick THIS up!" He grabbed a nearby fallen tree with both hands and heaved it up high into the air. Then, he hugged it to his side with one foreleg. "Now, what can I pick up with my other arm?"
We stood in silence. Then, he grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and held me up. I yelped.
"Jeeze, sorry..." He dropped me. I was on the ground for a couple of seconds, and then I staggered up again.
"I was meaning to ask you, what do Hunters do with their victims?"
"Do you really want to know? Will you tell anyone?"
"I DO want to know. That's why I asked, you moron. I'm not associated with anyone to tell."
"This sounds awkward, but Hunters stun and collect their prey. It's why they catch them."
Raiyj looked at me, and his mouth opened wide several seconds before he spoke.
"I live for freedom, and that goes against all I live for."
He suddenly grabbed my shoulders, picked me up, and threw me against a tree. I sat up, dazed. He was approaching me again. My heart was pounding.
'I can't fight. That's out of the question. I can't run, because he's faster. Rubia, Cerulean, I'm sorry. I failed you. I said I would come back. I won't.'
And then the voice came. A new wave of realization and fear rushed through me. I would have done anything to get out of that situation, anything at all...
'Let me handle this, Faith. You are as important to me as your life is to yourself.'
I clenched my head in fear. Raiyj laughed, noticing my pain.
'No, not you. Never you. Please, don't possess me, don't possess me, just don't...'
He took two steps towards me.
'I am your only option. Faith, give in to my command. I want to help you.'
"No time for headaches now, Chix," Raiyj chuckled, dragging things out as I faced my inner struggle.
"What is it with your eyes? They're glowing." His own eyes widened and he stepped back. Sure enough, I focused on the icy ground before me, and noticed that a soft gold haze was reflected in the ice.
'Faith. Give in. I can save you. Ignoring me spells personal destruction.'
I finally let go. I had doubt heavy in my heart. Please, live up to your word... My entire body went numb, but it took in a fighting stance.
"Raaaaaaaaa!" I suddenly felt my body run and jump towards Raiyj, shrieking. None of the actions were my own. The jump was so high that my master managed to grab the top of his wing and hang on to it. I shook it.
"Wh-what are you doing? I thought you weren't one for fighting!!" He screamed, clamping his eyes shut in pain as I attacked him. The fight was vicious; my controller was having me run and jump everywhere. Raiyj couldn't hit me.
Oh, and how I fought... That was even more impressive. My teeth and my claws at every possible moment. However poor that grammar is, it's all I need to say.
Personal victory comforted me. I couldn't believe it. But in reality, I was doing nothing; I was just along for the ride.
He tried shaking me off several times. However, the magician always managed to make me zip around on my target, clawing and chomping whenever possible. Soon enough, he was crouching over, weak.
"Chix, wh-why?" He fell to the ground.
I stared at him.
"You started it."
His head thumped against the solid ice that we had fought on, and I realized I had full control over myself again. My legs were rather sore, and so I noted that I couldn't walk on them. I didn't have much time to do anything, though, so it was a moot point; I found the world around me darkening and then I was out cold. Two words to my controller went unspoken before I could even think them, yet I think that she knew, deep inside of herself.
Those two words were thank and you.
It was morning. Rubia and I were talking on the doorstep.
"It's been so long, I wonder how much Latchet's changed. Cerulean, as much as I want you to meet her, I think I need to catch up with her, just the two of us. You can explore Cloudpoint a little if you like. Just keep your eyes peeled. The hunting is heavier here than it was in Deepwood."
"You be careful, too. I hope that you have a peaceful reunion with your sister. I'll forage while you're gone."
"Thank you. If you feel like someone's watching you, run as soon as you think so. Don't slip on any ice, either. And I'll see if I can talk Latchet into letting me borrow some baskets and things while we're staying at the lodge. Let's meet back here in several hours."
I watched her slither off. When she was out of sight, I decided to start lurking around the pine forests. Something inside of me told me that I was in for a shock, sooner or later. For the moment, however, I focused on the cold pain that my legs stepping through the snow caused. Rubia was fortunate enough to be capable of slithering on top of it, but I had it tough.
I walked through the woods, looking around as I did so. Wherever there was something, anything at all, I had to look closer at it. The new woods were so fundamentally same, yet so different. When I took a step, it left a footprint. I crossed several lines of footprints as I pressed on; although the others were barely noticeable.
Soon I found myself walking uphill, and then on top of a cliff. The ledge was overlooking a long-frozen pond, about half of a bound long, scenically framed by trees. The pines began as soon as the frozen water ended, and there was a thick layer of snow over everything.
Two dark-colored things that were next to each other caught my eye, though. I squinted. They were unconscious bodies. A huge one was red with black wings. The other was much smaller and brown, with a red stripe and a red mane.
What?! It couldn't be!
I jumped from the cliff and dashed to the second creature. My heart was pounding. Was it really her?
When I got closer, I saw that it was who I thought it was. It was proven further when I fingered the object around her neck. She wore a golden key that had been strung on a piece of twine. I took a single look at the handle and all of my suspicion was confirmed.
Thou of the Creator, it read. Faith had told me once that it said that on it, although I was certain that I'd given her a silver key when we had met a few months ago.
"Faith, wake up! Wake up!!" I violently shook her body. "You can't be dead!"
She wasn't dead. She wasn't conscious, either. I felt her side. It rose and fell. Faith was sleeping. My heart pounded faster.
I shook her back and forth even more. Even she, a particularly heavy sleeper, would have come to her senses.
"Please, wake up..."
Then, I looked at the body next to her. It was a Darigan Gelert, brawny and easily three times Faith's length. He was unconscious. My eyes widened at the damage done to him. Three questions instantly came to mind.
How did she defeat that Gelert? Why did she defeat that Gelert? And, of course:
Why did she choose to sleep right then and there?
I gently bit the scruff of her neck and flipped my head with much force. When I felt her shape touch my back, I let go. Then, I began the hike back to the lodge. I didn't want her to be out in the open all day.
I hesitated a little, and then knocked.
"Holy Kau, Rubia! It's really you!" The Pink Hissi squealed with joy. "I missed you!"
"I missed you, too! It feels good to see each other again after all these years. I finally mustered up the courage to come back for awhile."
"Please, come in. Help yourself to some sap cocoa, I just made a new pot of it. Where did you go? Was the gem-embedding business successful?"
"I went to a place called Deepwood. It's real, well, woodsy, obviously. My business was wildly successful and on most days I had at least one customer."
"Wow, you must have had fun! I never get very many customers nowadays; hence the various wood-carved things all over the place. Nobody's interested in buying this stuff anymore! I'm the only hinge maker for entire counties; you'd think people would travel just to get new hinges for their doors. Now, I'm dependant on selling pots and pans."
"There's probably someone else, and people figure that going to them is easier than climbing Cloudpoint."
"You're probably right," Latchet sighed. "I'll be right back."
While she left through a door at the back of the room, I took a moment to examine things. There were probably two or three tables beneath those mounds of random wooden objects, large and small, which were scattered about and made the whole place look like a dragon's lair. My sister reentered and handed me a wooden goblet. I gently lifted it to my mouth, but changed my mind when I got a muggy mouthful of steam first.
"Oh, where are my manners? Have a seat." She swept a pile of wooden figures off of a chair and gestured for me to sit. I coiled up on it as she cleared off another for her to sit on. "Don't worry about those carvings; they're rejects."
"I guess we could use some hinges back home, although I didn't bring anything to turn in for some," I said as I took a sip of the cocoa which had miraculously and rapidly cooled.
"You can just take some, they're piling up everywhere."
"You always made the best cocoa, Latchet. We could use some hinges back home."
"Yeah, Cloudpoint is the only place where you find the ingre- Wait, what do you mean by we could use some hinges?"
"Er, I have to admit that I made a mistake. I got lonely without you and Pyrus and mother and father, and was too ashamed to come back. Everybody took a long time to warm up to me, and... Oh, Latchet. I was given a Creator's Child."
She gasped and spilled her cocoa.
"His name is Cerulean. I wanted to talk to you alone since it's been a while, but I'll take him here next time."
"What does he look like?"
"Latchet, listen. The Creator wanted us to be a little less, well, judgmental... He's a Creator's Age Xweetok."
"No way!" Her eyes widened. "Say, that reminds me... Have you heard of any other Creator's Age Xweetoks around?"
"Well, one named Faith joined us a little while ago, but she recently went on a journey alone for private reasons. We don't know where she went."
"Rubia," Latchet, ever one for gossip, leaned close to me and whispered. "Faith is somewhere on Cloudpoint right now."
"Pyrus told me she tried to give him a map of the distance between Deepwood and Cloudpoint to be published. He didn't look up as he looked it over and wrote her name and species on it, but when she said her species was 'Xweetok', he threw her out."
"I'm going to talk to Pyrus later, but not before I tell Cerulean," I said over my shoulder as I reached for the door.
"I just wanted to tell you," Latchet slithered closer to me. "About two years ago, Father was captured, and Mother not long after."
"Oh," I said. I was sad, just not mourning; and certainly not enough to show it. I had detached from my parents after a few months in Deepwood—I hadn't had very close relationships with them both in the first place. It suddenly came to me that I had missed a former loner (Faith) more than I did my own parents.
I kneeled by the bath/bed that I had put Faith in. It was full to the brim with water that had been hot once but cooled; it had been one of my numerous attempts to wake her up. I had tried rousing her more, but I was only answered by her steady breathing and maybe some water sloshing out of the tub.
"Faith, open your eyes," I said as I pushed a bowl of hot soup to her lips and tilted. Then, another idea came to me. I pushed the door open, went outside, got a handful of snow and threw it at Faith's head.
"Zzzmm..." she mumbled. It was normal for her to do that in her sleep, though, so I inwardly cursed.
"FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIITH!!!!!!!!!!!" I screamed.
"Ehhhh..." she 'replied'. I heard a knock on the door and it was hastily thrown open by Rubia, who was brandishing several bags of what I assumed to be household items. She dropped them by the door and turned her head to me.
"CERULEAN. FAITH. IS. ON. CLOUDPOINT. RIGHT. NOW."
"I can see that," I said, gesturing to the sleeping Faith with my arms.
"Holy Kau! Where was she?"
"I found her asleep next to a rogue. Well, he looked like one, anyways; although the last time I thought someone was a rogue I was wrong. He was strong, but so... so... beaten up. I just can't describe how much he was damaged."
"...What about Faith?"
"She's unhurt. And I can't wake her up. I've tried."
"It probably means she's under some kind of magic."
My heart pounded with sudden fear. She's had enough of magic...
"Can you take me to where you found her?" Rubia asked.
"I... I think I remember the way, but... I might not."
We headed out into the snow when it hit me. Footprints. I gestured to the gorges in the sleet. Not speaking, she understood, and we followed them until we came to the frozen pond.
"Is the red body him?"
"Yes. Let's jump it."
Rubia slithered back, but then soared forward with her wings outstretched. After she elegantly glided down, I leapt from the cliff to land beside her, skidding. We approached the Gelert's body, which was covered with snow. Her eyes widened.
"Good grief, he'll live, but I wouldn't want to be him." Rubia wiped some snow off of him and hissed, "I can't believe that only Faith was next to him... This guy is bigger than a Hunter, and probably was strong enough to uproot a decent-sized tree from the ground! How in the Creator's name did Faith, of all people, even do this to him?"
"She hasn't been much of a fighter at all, but I'm concerned about why she did it. I can only guess that he challenged her first."
"That leads us to the conclusion that he challenged her and Faith displayed hidden ability she would have mentioned to us."
"If she could have defended herself at the Val incident, then she would have, Rubia."
"There's the possibility she became furious, like the myths where someone gets caught and a witness is driven to bringing out the hidden potential that they didn't know they had, and they save whoever was caught. But I doubt Faith would have that, and if she did, she'd probably only use it for us; not a total stranger she met at Cloudpoint."
"Wait! I know! We should've realized this earlier! Oh man, oh man, oh MAN, I can't believe how stupid we were!"
"Rubia! She was possessed!"
"You're right! That explains her falling asleep!"
"But why has she been asleep for so long?"
"Well, according to all my research... She was only sleeping for a few minutes that first time because she only said a few sentences. The more energy is exerted through the magical vessel, the more it will need to recover from it. And assuming Faith really did defeat the Gelert and it wasn't someone else who did it, that's much more energy than what's required to talk for several seconds. Depending on the efficiency of her performance, she could be out for a few days or a few weeks."
"OKAY. That was too technical for me to understand half of it, but I got the important bit. Faith is recovering. She's not under some twisted spell that keeps her asleep for all eternity."
"...You're half wrong."
"She's still under a twisted spell."
To be continued...