Possessed: Part Four
"I need to have a talk with Pyrus, my brother. I already told you that he kicked Faith out of his home. Can you stay here, just in case she wakes up?"
"I will. She would probably be scared if she did wake up in an empty house."
I flipped the door open and went outside. Brisk, stinging winds carrying tidings of chilly flakes blew around me. Hugging my wings tight to my body, I slithered. The return to the land of my childhood was bringing out the person that I had left behind along with it; the person used to ice and snow. Slush and sleet.
Hail and hot cocoa.
It was a strange place, really; but still another place where you would always be alone outside and together inside. Cloudpoint was so complex in details, yet so simple in nature. It was a place that was full of things you never knew before, nooks and crannies you had never seen, and secrets that went untold.
One day, I thought that I comprehended it. I knew it back and front. Every cavern, every path, every secret... I deeply understood every citizen. They had taught me their trades, which I mastered. I had excelled in all of them.
That was how my years were spent. I would focus for hours at a time on unraveling their tricks and using them to my advantage. Absolutely nothing eluded me in medical and gem-embedding knowledge especially.
And then that one, fateful day had arrived; I finally knew everything. I had nowhere else to go... Except for anywhere.
I needed new mystery and a new world, with new people and new arts. There was no way that I would settle for the old life any more. There was a world out there that Cloudpoint merely overlooked, a world with noise and interesting characters and for gosh sake, without snow.
That had been the biggest mistake of my life, I realized too late. But my pride wouldn't let me resolve it. I couldn't face my family again. I couldn't admit that I was wrong, and the trip to Cloudpoint would be daunting anyways.
After fifteen years of raw loneliness, the Creator solved it herself. She gave me someone. And that someone eventually brought home someone else.
Cerulean and Faith were my children, my new family. I knew that when Faith had left, the time was right. The Creator was inside of us all. She made me go. She knew where Faith went, and that we'd also end up helping her.
Of all the people who would mock me after they heard my story, Pyrus would probably be laughing in my face every time I visited him.
I soon arrived at his doorstep. His name and trade were etched into the door in crude capital letters, which I had seen him do with a knife many years back. For him, the pen was far mightier than the sword, thus the sloppiness. I pondered this for several moments before knocking.
"Well, look who finally comes running back home," the blue Hissi snorted as he opened the door. "Did you learn there's a world out there, or did you come back due to the lack of one?"
"Shut up, Pyrus," I growled as I entered; at least, as much as a Hissi can growl. "I learned more important things down there than you have probably ever known."
"Oh? Like what, that the reason people keep running from you is because you're scary?"
"I'm not! Sure, they took a while to warm up to me, but I can tell you this: you know nothing until you have seen other places. Then, you will have obtained a sense of what's truly important."
"Yeah, as though I'll plunge into unfamiliar territory sometime soon. Which I'm not."
"Well, you know what? Good for you. You've effectively proved yourself incapable of setting foot off of this mound of snow, for reasons other than that you don't have feet. Well, I don't either, but that's beside the point."
He glowered at me before responding.
"Rubia, you idiot."
"They really were scared of you, weren't they? Admit it; anyone from Cloudpoint would have looked strange in forest land, especially you! You had tackily coated your stomach with random gems, mastered the usual, cold look of yours; and most of all, you knew you were a Hissi! You couldn't help it!"
"Down there, we had been overhunted so much that there weren't enough people left for there to even be a 'normal'. Each one of us is different. Many have commented on my jewels, and I don't have that stare anymore, do I?"
"It doesn't make sense... How can you look so warm when you were living alone?"
"I wasn't living alone, not after the Creator made things right."
"Y-y-you mean, you had a Creator's Child?"
"Correction, I still do. He insisted on coming here with me. And he brought home Faith to live with us, whom I believe you have already met."
"You should be ashamed! You're in debt to the Creator and you live with a Xweetok!"
"Is it wrong for the Creator to help me? Is it wrong for me to let her? And debt? Really; when the Creator helps me you call it a debt? It was a gift, not a loan. She expects nothing of us. And I actually live with two Xweetoks, one of whom is the Creator's son."
"Forgiveness, learning to make inseparable friends and lack of judgment combined have made me a better person. That's all I think anyone needs to know."
"Rubia, I'm sorry... What do you need?"
"Nothing at all, because I already know everything that makes me happy."
He let me inside without saying anything.
"Tell me more about your meeting with Faith."
"She gave me a map of the terrain, trying to get free food and lodging off of me, but I kicked her out."
"I still have the map."
I waited by the stairwell while Pyrus fetched something from the back of the room. He had expanded while I was gone; there were only two bookcases last I saw, but I didn't bother counting that time.
"See, it's very good," He unrolled a relatively new piece of parchment with a couple of nicks in it. That was good; he was switching from angry-old-hick mode to brother-who-likes-showing-his-little-sister-neat-things mode.
"It is. I'll be leaving now."
"How did your meeting with Pyrus go?" I asked Rubia as she returned home.
"I'll tell you later. How's Faith? Has she stirred?"
"No. It's been two days now, wouldn't she have started to wake up?"
"I thought that she would have, but it really might have taken something to down that Gelert. Just give her another day and maybe one after that."
I put my paw on the red Xweetok's gently-heaving side again. She was breathing so calmly, and her tongue poked out of the corner of her mouth just the way it always did when she slept. Being able to just touch her again made me relieved that she seemed healthy and I was excited for when she woke up; resulting in a mixed sort of emotions that ended up making me truly happy, like someone reunited with their long-lost twin.
I probably had a true sister out there somewhere. When the Creator is your mother, you never know how many siblings you have. Yet I'd never met one besides Tor.
In many ways, Faith just felt like a sister to me. What she had sometimes told me was probably true: we bonded when the Creator gave us magic together. The memory of that was cherished to me; sharing such a great feeling with such a great person really breathes life into you.
Sometimes I wonder why the Creator did it. Faith only needed some rest and a good feeding; I was the only one who needed to be healed, and even then, I could probably make it home alright. I didn't know my own mother well, but I knew she wasn't one for taking chances, which was probably the main reason for healing me.
As for Faith, I have my suspicions. Maybe the Creator was showing approval of her or thanking her for her deeds. Maybe she was more generous than I thought she was. Perhaps it would have been too awkward for her to sleep in a corner while I was healed by a woodland deity... Wait. The room was round.
All of those specifics aside, I knew the two prominent notions for it. For one thing, she did it just because she liked Faith.
And for another, she wanted us to be the friends whom we ended up finding in each other.
It was another crisp morning on Cloudpoint.
"The funny thing about traveling is that the food changes when the climate does, because different ingredients are found in different places," Rubia said as she put half of a loaf of bread and a small bowl of holly soup in front of me. "Latchet wants to meet you, but Pyrus probably doesn't care. I think that Faith might take a while to come to, so I'll take you to meet Latchet after breakfast."
"Mmm-hmm," I mumbled around a mouthful of bread. Rubia poured herself some soup and began to chew on her piece of pine bark bread. She had told me that the exact recipe for pine bread was different from that of the woodland variety, because the fir bark had a different consistency. I would miss it when we got back to Deepwood.
Once I finished the roll, I sipped on the thick holly broth. It was dense and flavorful, inheriting its solid taste from the mountain berries. Rubia and I finished eating within a few seconds of each other, and headed outside.
Snow crunched beneath my feet and hissed under her slithering as we went on in silence for several minutes. All of a sudden, she grabbed my wing and surged ahead. I didn't know what was happening until I felt it, too. There was a pair of eyes on us.
We split up to dodge a few nets. I dashed between the pines while she rushed directly ahead. A net hit her and she panicked, as within a few seconds it had tightened and was strangling her head. It tightened even more, and her eyes were bulging. She gasped for air.
Just as a purple Huntress in green armor and a brown parka underneath it kneeled down to reach for the struggling Rubia, I ran right in front of her face and deeply scratched her cheek. She yelped and drew back. As I prepared to jump at her, she got up and ran.
"She was easier than most every Hunter I've ever faced. Let's see here." I tugged at the net. Frustrated, I yanked harshly. Rubia winced as I managed to rip it off. She panted for several seconds, doubled over.
"Latchet lives there," she managed to say, and then continued panting as she pointed to a thick fir tree. I knocked on the door.
"Rubia, you're back!" a pink Hissi answered. We entered.
Inside, it was very simple. There were four doors on the walls of the circular room. Needless to say, Rubia was much tidier than her little sister. I had never seen a room, not even Rhubarb's house, with so many mountains of trinkets. The only organized part was a shadowbox sitting on a shelf, which, I noticed, displayed a collection of carving knives as though they were the only possessions worth keeping safe from possibly stepping on.
"Ohh, you must be Cerulean!" Latchet held my head in her wing and examined my face. She touched my features softly as I basked in the attention. My mind wandered away from the sloppiness of the place as I considered the possibility of tenderness running in the family.
"He always has been this healthy, except maybe for when I first took him in. He had just fallen in a pit-sand trap, and I just barely saved him. Some sand had gotten in his lungs, and it weakened his limbs, too. It took him one month to recover and get his voice back," Rubia replied as I started remembering the days I spent curled up in the bed I'd use the rest of my life. She told me stories to entertain me before she left me so I could sleep some more, and when I recovered she finally-
"Wow," Latchet said, examining my wings. "How'd he get these?"
"It's a long story. I came to tell you that we found Faith."
"Cerulean found her sleeping in the open next to a pulverized Gelert. He tried waking her up, but she wouldn't. In fact, that was a few days ago... and she's still asleep."
As the two continued with concerned chatter, it felt like something was pulling me, only I felt it inside of myself. It was coming from the direction of the lodge.
"Rubia, I'm going back to the house!"
Before she could say anything, I opened the door and nearly slammed it on my paw as I left. As I bounded through the snow, eager to return back to the traveler's lodge, I knew what it was. Someone needed me as a Pteri needs its wings.
Probably Faith. Then again...
Not probably. Definitely.
My eyes snapped open. I looked around, and all my thoughts had washed away. Was I dreaming? It was like I never left home to find the truth, or like I hadn't been controlled by a currently-anonymous sorcerer, or like I never put a paw on Raiyj. I adjusted my paws to get out of bed and remembered-
I'd slashed him a few dozen times and blacked out on the frozen pond. I never went back home. In fact, I wasn't home. This is somewhere else, I suddenly realized.
A chill ran up my spine. The thought that I hadn't been in a special state of consciousness before I awakened briefly flashed through my mind. I would have been a sitting duck for any Hunter or Huntress who came by, if some kind soul who was willing to pardon my species hadn't taken me to their earthy home. Although I couldn't tell the time at that moment; by then, Raiyj probably had been taken away by a Hunter; unless he had woken up and moved, likely before I'd been taken to the house, as nobody would let me in if I'd been found by an injured body. I was very lucky to have all that I did, but especially after I managed to make it out alright once I had skirmished with him like that.
I sat up and looked around. The bed that I was in was halfway-full with water that had probably been lukewarm once, but had cooled down somewhat to room temperature. A few dirty wooden dishes were in a small stack on the table in the center of the room and they looked like it hadn't been long since they were eaten from. I considered maybe checking the other rooms to see if anyone was home, but decided against it. I didn't want to scare anybody out of their wits.
So then, I chose to listen for voices. My ears pricked up as I patiently waited for a noise to reach them, but I heard nothing but my own breathing. I felt my heart drop with disappointment.
All of a sudden, I felt lonelier than ever. Two times I had risked my freedom or life: Pyke nearly capturing me, and of course; Raiyj. Cerulean and Rubia hadn't been there for me when those had happened, because I had left them behind. I inwardly cursed myself. I knew that I needed them, and I ran away from them! I had been so fortunate to make it out alright. Cerulean would've gotten me out of both of the incidents.
My self-hatred began to blend with my feelings of isolation. Tears fell one-by-one from my eyes, the world feeling like it was fading away. I wanted so much to run back down Cloudpoint and back through all the wastelands that I had crossed, right back to Deepwood where they were still waiting for me. I wanted so much to tell them I was sorry, and throw my arms around them, and promise to never leave them again; possessed by an anonymous mage or not.
A headache came over me, and I put my paws over my ears as I heard a door creak open. It's ironic how that happened after I stopped listening.
"Faith, you're finally awake!"
As soon as I made out my name being spoken, I put my paws down. Faith? Really? But I hadn't told my name to more than a few, and one of them probably didn't want to have anything me anymore. The voice which spoke it was deep, but wasn't too scratchy like Raiyj's. I still recognized it, though. I dared to look up, and saw the very Xweetok who I least expected to see right then... Yet the one soul I had brooded for the most.
"Am I dead, or am I dreaming?"
As he spoke my name for the second time in a long while, I could nearly feel a few delicate pieces of my heart find each other again and melt together. Cerulean smiled down at me as he walked over to the bed and put his wing over my back. I instantly loosened with relief at the familiar touch of his feathers. Inside, I hadn't forgotten how soft they felt.
"But... How?" I asked him as he playfully ruffled them, his signature grin spreading. I wouldn't have been more surprised if hot coals poured from the sky instead of hail at the prospect of more time alone with him.
"...I found you asleep two days ago next to that Gelert," he explained, his face quickly taking on a solemn expression.
"It's not what it looks like! Raiyj was threatening me—"
"Ah, so his name is Raiyj. You'll have to pronounce it for me again, but let me get things straight—he threatened you, that enigmatic person took over your body, and she defeated him through you. You were asleep for two full days so you could recover from the magic, end of story. Rubia and I came to Cloudpoint to visit her family while you were gone; we had no idea that you had rambled over here."
Okay. By that point, I really wouldn't be shocked in the slightest if the mountain spontaneously caved in.
"How did you know? Wait, I was asleep for two days?"
"Rubia and I paced over the evidence for a little while, and combined it with her knowledge of magical nature. It was really the only thing that seemed likely."
"You really are scatterbrained. I said that we came to see her family. Of course she came."
In the torchlight, I noted the glint of his teeth showing some more in his kind yet teasing grin. And his eyes—those amber pools which I had been deprived of for too long—which could probably pull off the smile by themselves, but it wouldn't quite be the same.
"...I took someone's bed, didn't I?"
"I couldn't use one anyways; I tried before we found you, and my wings just wouldn't fit."
"Oh... Can I have something to eat?"
"Of course. Come with me."
Cerulean led me through the room's leftmost door as he ruffled his feathers again. The room we entered was a furnace, with wooden pots hanging from the ceiling and flaming leaves on the floor. As was his habit when entering a furnace, he folded his wings up against his side. I couldn't help but wonder if he had an incident in the past.
He took one decent sized, rounded pot off of its chain, poured some of its contents into a large cup which had been set against the wall, and handed it to me. A bold smell wafted off of the soup, but I barely noticed as I didn't hesitate to drink it. After all, the last time I had eaten was two days ago.
"Faith? Can I ask you something?" He questioned me, shifting his feet nervously.
"Cerulean, you know you can ask me anything," I said after swallowing a mouthful of soup, giving him an eye contact which he returned firmly.
"Well, you said originally that you had a feeling that the answers would come to you if you were alone, and I was wondering... In that case... Should we keep our distance?" He almost pleaded, lowered his voice and shuffling half an inch closer.
We looked into each other's eyes for several deep moments more. I felt like I had been falling, but Cerulean had caught me. His eyes seemed to understand mine, and it was almost like mine were falling—into them. The first time I thought about the way our eyes communicated, it had been before we were friendly. We had changed so much...
"I... I think I want to stay here with you and Rubia, if that's okay."
He smiled once more, not another whisper escaping his lips. There was nothing for him to say besides simply "atta girl". Thankfully, he either didn't notice that I was blushing beneath my dark fur, or he chose not to acknowledge it. He merely opened the door to the furnace, led me out, set his wing over my back again and ruffled his feathers enough for me to giggle audibly. I could have sworn that his grin twitched just a little bit wider.
Everything changed at that moment. I knew that problems were still out there, but we could make it through. All it took was the other two out of the trio. Rubia, Cerulean and I were the best of friends. The fact that they forgave me for being the Huntress proved the strength of our bonds.
It seemed like nothing else mattered except for the perfections of our relationship. The mage was still lying in wait inside of me. But she seemed a little bit weaker than before.
Probably because I was stronger this time.
"I should be going. I don't know what made Cerulean just take off like that, and I should check on Faith again."
"Bye, Rubia. Here are some baskets you can use while you're here, and some hinges to take home."
A snowstorm had stirred. I hugged my wings close to my body as I held on tight to the basket. At the surface of my mind, I wondered about Cerulean.
What made him just run off the way he did? He's not afraid of Latchet... He wasn't getting nervous, either. Could the Creator have tugged on him magically?
Magical tugs? Wait...
Faith had left on a whim. Either the situation just messed with her or maybe the nature of her control spell had led her to Cloudpoint. And in her note, she did mention that it was 'calling her'. That makes sense.
A few minutes later, I arrived at the lodge. I flicked the door open to a most welcome surprise. A grin made its way across my face as I saw Cerulean hugging Faith deep into his chest fur.
"Well, look who's awake."
Cerulean released Faith, and she ran up to me. I put one wing around her and stroked her neck with my other one. She appeared simultaneously happy and relieved. I could tell that she seemed relaxed for reasons other than her neck being rubbed. As we were the kind of people who never had to use much words with each other, a few moments passed before one of us said anything.
"Cerulean already explained... You're not mad at me, are you?" she whimpered.
"Why would I be?" I asked, raising the ridges over my eyes.
"Because, well, I just ran away one day on impulse."
"Not entirely so. I think that the spell, the one that's been used for controlling you, might have nudged you in the direction of its master. Spells are curious things, they are made to be used, yet have personalities and behaviors all their own. Even if its master didn't want to be found and the connection risk being severed, spells can do what they want and although they usually choose to obey their owners, I wouldn't be surprised if one wanted to cause a little mischief. Well, 'a little' being a relative term..."
Faith blinked and thought things over for a moment. My inner knowledge sometimes caused me to burst into lengthy paragraphs.
"Did you just say that if we were to find the master of the spell, we could break the connection?" Cerulean asked, beating Faith to it.
"Actually, the master would have to remove the spell herself. The only other way for the connection to break would be if one of you, well, died," I elaborated.
Faith cringed noticeably.
"Rubia, that gruesome note reminds me," Cerulean's ears twitched slightly. "It turns out that our hypothesis about Faith and that Gelert was correct. He did threaten her and force the mage to make Faith defend herself."
I nodded. "But why did he threaten you?"
"Eh... He forced info out of me. He didn't get mad when I told him, uh, what I used to be; but then he made me tell him what we did with the... Victims."
Tears became somewhat visible within her eyes. She sniffed and I started affectionately rubbing her neck again. Cerulean paced up to her and pressed his side against hers.
"I c-can't believe... That I hurt another f-forester like that..." She sobbed. Faith could have a fragile soul.
"It was in self defense, and it was only done through your body," I reminded her.
"But it was just so scary..."
"Don't worry any longer, Faith. It's over and you're alright," Cerulean comforted. It interested me how he always knew what to say to her.
"Faith. I think we may be getting close to your problem's solution," I interrupted.
"Wha...? You mean...?" she stuttered.
"We don't know who it is. But from what I know about control spells, the voice you have when possessed is the same voice of the one who controls you. Since you never pass out completely and instead fall asleep or need to rest, then it has to be light magic. And..." I stopped for a moment. "The caster of the spell must have had physical contact with you already. At any point in time, have you felt magic after being touched, Faith?"
"I don't think I've encountered much magic at all."
"Are you sure?"
"It has to have been sometime before you left for Cloudpoint. When you were on your own in the, erm, Val ordeal; are you sure you never met any wizards?"
"I'm sure. And I have such a gut feeling that the magician is here, and I never even went here before I was Faith."
"Odd... It could be that the magician has a magical keyhole here. It's sort of like a portal, only it's for communicating."
"So, while he or she may not be here, there could be a keyhole somewhere?"
"Exactly. However, I have something to remind you of."
"What is it?"
"If we want the connection broken, it may be impossible, assuming that this mage has an iron will and elite magic to protect herself. It really takes something to actually possess someone from a distance like that, let alone fight another person from a distance."
"A compromise," Cerulean joined in. "This wizard has already saved your life once when Raiyj threatened you. Her messages are positive, and she obviously has a delicate touch with her magic. Faith, do you think you might be mistaking a blessing for a curse?"
"Not to mention, this type of magic generally goes over better when you cooperate with it, so it'd get better," I added.
"I see your points... But I'm expecting the magician to be kind of tricky. I mean, you need wits to use magic, don't you? What if she's trying to trick us into trusting her, and then she does something terribly unthinkably bad?"
That night, a medley of thoughts churned around in my mind, mainly centered on my conversation with Rubia and Cerulean earlier about my control spell. After weeks of going on my own, it felt a little strange to be with them again, but the attention felt good. I considered every possibility as to who the magician was, but nothing fit. A strange thought stayed at the depths of my mind in a way that disturbed me, although I couldn't figure out what it was.
And then something hit me, but I didn't like it.
The magician had hurt Raiyj via my own body. She could do that to someone, provided that I was around them at least a little bit. What would happen if she disliked a certain two people who were incredibly close best friends to me?
She made me attack Raiyj only to keep our connection sound... Did she?
Even if Cerulean and Rubia did not pose a direct threat to the magical link, I still knew that she could harm one of them. As I thought, she could be considering it. I was immediately terrified.
'Don't worry. I wouldn't, I love them just as much as you do,' her voice rang in my mind.
'Get out of my head!'
'Alright, I'll leave you alone for now.'
I wasn't going to be listening to a possible foe anytime soon. Recalling my fight with Raiyj, I knew that I could be stronger and swifter than a ninja when I was possessed. Neither of my allies would stand a chance against my possessed self. I realized that I was the only one who could do anything to stop the result of a possible skirmish with one.
And the best time to stop it was then and there, in the dead of the night.
I listened closely to the breathing of my companions. Their breaths were the slow and steady rhythms of sleeping foresters; a calm hiss combined with low, deep exhalations. Quietly, I stepped out of bed and walked over to the door, silently cracking it open and slipping outside.
The gentle snowfall was my only comfort. I walked on my hind legs and gazed at the falling flakes, remembering why I had come to Cloudpoint. There was a magician in mystery, waiting to be discovered. She already had a firm grip on my mind, soul and heart.
Faith, maybe this works multiple ways. There is magic inside of you, too. Why not try to trace it to its origin? I considered. It sounded like my best shot anyways. I figured that I would go ahead and get started on my search; nobody was out other than me, so there wasn't anyone to stop me. And I wasn't tired... I had already been sleeping for two days, with but a few hours of wakefulness.
I stopped watching snowflakes and focused. Where was my soul pointing? I closed my eyes one good time, and started walking. My walk became a run, which became a gallop. Something was pulling me towards it.
Eventually, I came to a halt. Whatever had been dragging me wasn't there anymore, as its hold had completely loosened. I looked up, and saw a full moon gracing the sky, just barely visible through the pines. While I gazed at it, gentle voices barely touched my ears.
From that distance, I couldn't make any words out; they made as much sense as a river's endless babbling. I followed the sound, and eventually saw a cluster of four woodlanders sitting on two logs next to a campfire. A murky green Kau with wispy emerald flames coming off of him had one foreleg wrapped around a purple Bori girl. A few inches from where they were huddled on the fallen tree, the other two foresters sat. One was an elaborately-cloaked tall, brown Lutari whose tail was somewhat longer than typical. His companion was a dappled ruby Ixi who stopped to blow a wisp of long fur out of her face every few seconds. It seemed somewhat unusual for so many foresters to be together in the same place at night.
"A-are you sure there aren't any X-Xwee-Xweetoks out a-at this t-time of n-n-n-night?" The swamp gas Kau held the Bori closer to her, trembling. "I-th-th-thought I h-h-h-h-heard something."
"Morris, you're letting the power of suggestion affect you too much. Let us continue with our normal spooky legend night, and remember that not every gust of wind is a fierce beast. In fact, very few are."
The Lutari's advice didn't help Morris much.
"Besides, scary stories are fun!" the happy-go-lucky Bori chimed.
"Right. Now, let's see here... The Monster of Cloudpoint, anyone?" The Ixi chuckled as she straightened her collar slightly.
"Yay, I love this one!" The Bori cheered.
"I d-d-dunno... I-isn't it s-scary?"
"The Monster is always a classic, Jantra. Morris, it's supposed to be scary," the Lutari said to the Ixi and Kau, respectively.
Jantra took in a breath.
"They say that, at the very top of Cloudpoint, where it's too barren for a green thing to grow, a single monster thrives, a creature mutated by who-knows-what. Some believe this is a coincidence, but it was first sighted a little after a local Acara disappeared. After the county folk were devastated by its fire abilities, they managed to drive it away, to the top of the mountain. Ever since then, no one who has reached the peak has ever returned."
"But why would they want to go to the top of the mountain, if the monster's up there?" the Bori inquired.
"Because it guards a priceless treasure. Nobody knows what it is, Fenae," Jantra finished.
"Wait," the Lutari quipped. "I heard that also, anyone who reaches the top is high enough to ask the Creator a single question."
"Woooowww..." Fenae marveled.
"The Creator herself...?" Jantra's eyes widened.
Things hit me all at once. The mystery of the magician who possessed me, how I could stop things once and for all, and how I could make it all out alive were all clear to me. She (whoever she was) would have to keep me living, only for me to bring myself to discovering her. It would be the time for it all to end. The broken heart she had wrought onto me, all of the pain I went through and the cost I had paid when she first drove me away from Cerulean and Rubia...
With this little legend, it would all fade away.
"Maxwell. I see something over there... Or should I say someone?" the Ixi mused.
"I'll get a closer look." Maxwell the Lutari rose from his seat on the log and trudged through the trees in my direction. He seemed nice enough, but I hadn't sensed his feelings for Xweetoks yet, and I didn't want to be potentially knocked down a few rungs on the theoretical ladder. However, I had gotten cold from being still in the snow. I prayed to the Creator to let me move as I tried to lift my paws and flee, but I may as well been frozen to the ground.
"Okay. Please tell me that I'm just seeing some sort of discolored Wocky?" Maxwell squinted at me. I just couldn't move; I was too paralyzed...
"I'mnotdiscolored!!" A familiarly-childish shout, enthusiastic out of sheer habit, rang through the air as the snow-white Wocky jumped out of a bush on the opposite end of the clearing from where I was. Jantra, both scared and disgusted by Snowball, jerked back a bit from where she sat. Morris was surprised so much by him that he shot up from his seat and galloped, full speed, away from the site. Maxwell gave an exclamation of "AH!", but he wasn't anything but startled. Fenae just looked at him without changing her constantly-happy expression.
Creator knows what Snowball was doing out at night, but I was so grateful for him that I didn't care. I used the distraction to scamper off through the pines (my legs had thawed) while the storytellers dealt with him. After several bounds into the woods, I found myself in another clearing.
The snowfall had stopped. The silver full moon seemed to be shining brighter than ever, and an ivory plain of snow gloriously dazzled before my eyes. The cold seemed to be comforting, not menacing. I strode into the center and gazed into the distance.
I could see the rising peak of the mountain, which jutted into the clouds.
My new-found destination.
To be continued...