Possessed: Part Seven
Cerulean. I already told you. Why did you go after me?
The morning's events were giving me a headache. I was slowly eating an edible root while sitting in a fir tree's hollow log. Every tough and chewy bite of the ginger was steadily chewed and swallowed as though it were my last, as I was too swamped in my own thoughts to go any quicker.
Pyke and Engar wanted me for different reasons. One insisted on dragging me back to the undesirable depths of my home world, while the other looked at me with a greedy glint in his eye. Intao was probably still whining and crying to Pyke about how "mean and awful" he was.
And then there was my family.
Not my family as a Huntress; but the family that fate allowed to take me in. Cerulean and Rubia were my family. I loved them both more than I had loved anyone else in my entire life. But the light mage's curse had driven me away from them, away from home and away from society. Everyone I interacted with, I put at risk. The only person I had left was myself.
'And me,' the persistent voice inside my head asked. Yet again, tears flooded to my eyes and I banged my head on the side of the hollow.
'Why won't you get out of my head? You've been so mean to me! I return from some epic journey which saved the fate of the forests, all I wanted was to keep on living in peace with Cerulean and Rubia, and then you ruined everything!'
'My dearest Faith, I am the one who saved you in the beginning.'
'Please, Faith, know who I am. When you do so and trust me, your life will knit itself together again. I see the future, and I see you under Cerulean's wing, partially shielded from the rain.'
'...I don't know if that's supposed to mean anything or not...'
'It means exactly what I said. Now, Faith. I believe it will do you good to rest now.'
'Why? Why do you keep on making me sleep? And I couldn't have been awake for more than an hour now!'
'It does a soul good to rest after magic, and I find that a creature under stress sometimes merely needs sleep, regardless of what time of day it is. Your case is a little different, but some rest will still help.'
'No! I'm wide awake! I don't need rest. That's right... I... Don't...'
'Good night, Faith.'
That was the last thing that I heard the mage speak before I dazed off into a state of slumber. The way she said it was kind and endearing, as with the rest of her words. I wanted everything to believe what she told to me and to trust her.
But I couldn't let her ruin my new world, even if by saving it meant I couldn't enjoy it myself.
"Well, there's another long day of Faith-chasing ahead of us."
"I wouldn't say long, Cerulean. We did encounter her earlier, after all. We just have to sniff her out again."
I stretched and rose from where I had been situated on the ground, a difficult thing to do since a frigid snowstorm was rising. Rubia had been keeping her wings by her body for warmth, and I let my own limply hang over my back.
"Well, it's not like we'll be able to see her if she's a bound or further away..." I pointed out. "This might become a minor blizzard."
"I would say that she may also be hard to spot due to her natural coloring and smaller-than-average size, but that would just be pessimistic. Let's not split up this time, we could get separated. And at least Hunters will be less apt to see us, let alone hunt in the first place."
Rubia had made a startling success at actually deploying an entire paragraph of speech, considering the world tends to be absolutely silent in such weather.
"Let's be fast, and find her before this snow covers any tracks she could leave," I said.
My advice was answered to by a curt nod from the Hissi. She appeared to be in deep thought for a moment.
"This is the ledge below the cliff that she fell from, and she ran off through that stand of pine trees. I don't think that she would have any reason to backtrack down the mountain, so we should start looking there. Watch your path; the ledge is slim and if you can't see where you're going, walk against the cliff side."
We started on the path, going fast at first, but slowed in fear of missing her. The minutes seemed like hours; while lurking pointlessly was one thing, another was to actually be in focus for something, which could be stressing. I constantly brushed against the wall of the cliff when the ledge really narrowed, and I was forced to the side after a few close calls.
Suddenly, I felt a chill as I touched a surface of ice I hadn't seen. My paws slipped from under me and I fell on one of my legs.
"Ouch!" I yelped.
"What is it, Cerul--oh no! Are you alright?" Rubia questioned, her eyes widening.
"Urgh, I'm fine. My left foreleg feels sort of sore, but I can keep going," I confessed.
Finally, the ledge opened out into one of Cloudpoint's many ivory-sheeted fields. The snowstorm let up. Having seen similar sights many times over already, I merely breathed a barely-noticeable sigh of relief rather than revel in the white glory. As Rubia and I passed by a thick fallen log in silence, something inside of me told me to look at it closer.
Not a word escaped my lips as I stopped by it. I brushed aside an overgrown holly bush near one end of it and peered inside. Was there any way that I could have avoided smiling to myself as I squinted at the occupant?
"Yes." I grinned as I folded my wings tight against my back and took steps closer to Faith inside of the gargantuan fallen tree. Why didn't she notice me? She was, well, asleep. My grin faded at that.
"Faith, what did she make you do?" I uttered as Rubia followed me. There was no question as to who 'she' referred to.
"I'm hoping that she just didn't get much rest last night, because otherwise, we know what this means," the Hissi lamented, gently raising the Xweetok's head in her wing. All I could do was hope that she would wake up as I put my forepaws on her side and gently shook her back and forth.
"Who's there?" Faith hissed as her eyes flickered open. I let out a breath which I didn't remember taking in; and then Faith adjusted to the dim light and recognized me. She looked like she was about to flee, but I grabbed her shoulders first. For once, she was actually struggling against me, wrenching back and forth to try and escape my grip. It hurt me a little to see her like that. Rubia stood back as Faith got on her hind legs, as she often did when physically challenged.
"The mage doesn't want us dead!" I shouted. She ceased her fighting, and dropped onto all fours again. I warmly rested my wing on her and lowered my head as sort of an unspoken apology.
"Is it true? Who is she?" she whispered. I withdrew my wing as Rubia gently began to run her own over Faith's body, searching for any harm that could have been done.
"We don't know who it is. The Creator told Cerulean in a dream that the mage wanted both of us alive, but that's all that she said," Rubia explained as she merely hugged the Xweetok, satisfied that she was fine. Either it was the dim light, or Faith's eyes were glimmering with tears of joy. She was suddenly by my side, pressed up against me in a way that told me so little, yet I knew so much about what she was feeling. In response, I slightly curled my wing around her.
"You guys don't understand... I can actually interact with someone besides the mage now that I know I can talk to you both... And I'd rather it be both of you than anyone else in the world." She sniffed as my hypothesis about tears in her eyes was confirmed.
"Want to come back to the lodge with us?" Rubia offered to her. All her relief seemed to fade away.
Rubia and I were simultaneously stuttering for words, until she (as usual) managed to weave together a paragraph.
"What you can't do is lurk around in the cold all the time with only the voice inside your head as company, enduring the stress of Hunters alone, sleeping outside and never getting a single bite of real food when you have a choice! Faith, come to the lodge with us, because you can. I thought you wanted to not be a loner anymore when Cerulean first brought you home!"
"I'm sorry," she croaked after a sudden moment of shock by the last sentence. "But it will only be you two who I know will be safe around me, and until I can figure things out, it'll stay that way. Trust me, I will return. First, I just need to find the truth."
"I'm not letting you go to Cloudpoint's summit to be killed by a monster," I stated, putting my paws on her shoulders again and speaking for the first time since I shouted to her about the mage not wanting us dead.
"How did you-"
"The Creator told me that you're going to the summit, and Rubia knew about the monster."
"But I can force the mage into possessing me, because she'll have to save my life and fight it out through me, right?"
Rubia muttered something about "foolish reasoning" before I spoke.
"If she did anything and luck was on your side, the mage would make you flee. You think she would much value a magical vessel that tries to force her to possess you, or would she just decide on getting another? She might leave you to perish in front of the monster!" I scolded. Faith balled her forepaws into fists, getting on her hind legs again.
"Don't you know what's up there?" she snapped as Rubia slithered back a little.
"...Besides the monster?" I raised my eyebrows.
"A single piece of invaluable treasure!"
"And it is worth risking your life because...?"
"Look. I heard that anyone who reaches the top, and kills the beast, gets to ask the Creator a question AND HAVE IT ANSWERED, too."
"I'm pretty sure I've asked the Creator quite a few questions and had them answered."
"Faith, I know you're not going to fight me."
All of her anger evaporated as she realized what she'd been doing.
I fluffed up my wing and rested it over her back as she spoke again.
"By forcing the magician to possess me, she will annihilate the Cloudpoint Monster, and I'll ask the Creator who the mage is. The monster could manage to take out either of you, since you can't be possessed by the mage. That's why I'm going alone," she reasoned.
"Faith..." I whimpered.
"The mage could ask the Creator her own question while you're possessed, the mage might not be able to defend you, or she could make you run," Rubia pointed out. Faith sighed.
"I'm sorry, guys, but..." she began but stopped, as though she doubted in herself, and picked up when she found some courage. "The mage does seem to actually care about my feelings. She's comforted me, and I'm pretty sure that she made me sleep before you found me just so you could find me before I could go any -"
Faith's words stopped short. I looked behind myself to see nothing unusual. When I turned my gaze back at her, however...
Her eyes were a bright yellow, almost glowing. Even in the faint lighting, I could see that she stood a little more upright (although still on all fours), a stance that wasn't really hers at all. Sure enough, she spoke in a silky and dark voice that reverberated within the hollow log.
"I can fight the monster through Faith. I want the three of you to know who I am, so I will allow Faith to ask the Creator what I know she will."
"It could be a trap," I pointed out, particularly to Faith (who was in her body and could see what was happening, although not control herself).
"Ah, Cerulean. To prove you can trust me..." The mage stopped speaking for a moment, and put Faith's forepaw on my still-aching leg. I took a step back, withdrawing my arm, but she gently clenched it with both paws the next time with too much tenderness for me to take it away. At first I felt nothing; and then, the hurt muscles were refreshed and felt normal again.
"Did that not feel familiar in the slightest? Your suspicions may just be accurate, Cerulean."
Faith blinked for the first time since she was possessed, and her eyes were their normal citrus green. She wobbled for a moment, and collapsed.
We left Faith that day the same way we had found her. She slept inside a hollow log on that snowy day, as though we never woke her up at all.
I churned things over inside my head as I made my way up Cloudpoint. Cerulean and Rubia had almost definitely managed to make it home before this raging blizzard had roared up. I saw nothing but sheer white, and my only guide was the upward slope of the plain I was trying to clear. Tears stained the path behind me as I forced myself to be strong, but I would have given anything just to be home in Deepwood as the person I had been, like I had never been possessed on that one crisp morning which seemed so long ago.
No, I thought. It is wrong to forget the past. I don't want to rewind things; I want to correct them. It's what I do because of all my past has taught me.
Of all the parts of my body aching from the long trek so far, my heart hurt the most. I knew that I shouldn't have feared the beast ahead of me, but I did. I worried that I would end up hurting myself, and that I was a total moron. Every time I tried turning back, my feet wouldn't let me. My spirits were barely lifted as I recited a proverb out loud that I had heard before I left for Cloudpoint.
"At the end of every prison, there is freedom." I stopped for the moment and closed my eyes, trying to comfort myself. As I was riddling my brain for the next line of it, someone else said it.
"Every torture ends with rest," the male voice recalled, louder than I had spoken.
"There is no endless road, nor lightless path..." I responded slowly.
"If a creature is thirsty, it finds the water that it seeks," the clear voice said yet again.
We were both silent, and then we remembered the last line, saying it in unison.
"Every struggle leads to the Creator."
I squinted at the distance in silence. Through winds of stark white snow, I could barely see a green figure clutching something in one hand. Another minute passed as we looked at each other, with the howling storm of sleet being the only sound.
"Is you tha' brown speck in the distance?" he shouted.
"Yes, I am," I replied.
"Well 'en, come clos'ah!"
"You won't like what I am..."
The stranger was by no means obliged to pardon my species.
"I like all dat I see, for the Creator med 'em all."
I sighed. It wasn't that the man's accent irked me, nor the strange fact that he had recited the proverb in a voice other than his usual. I decided that I had to enter my fear, and allow him to see me. No running like I did from Maxwell. I had plenty enough of running.
He began to trudge towards me. The howl of the ivory-powdered wind was louder than ever, and I found myself with a headache as I bounded across the snow-coated ground, approaching him.
He was a green Techo brandishing a walking stick, who followed the jabbing his staff into the snow with taking long strides towards me. The reptile did so somewhat slowly, it was clear that he was willing to take his time with things. There are many aspects about a person that become clear by the way that they walk; those who take jagged steps may be more hardcore than those who take smoother ones. That was one of the few times that many of a person's attributes hit me immediately.
"'Ay! A Xweetok!" He scowled and began whacking me with his staff when he got closer.
"Get away from me!" I snarled and leapt away from him. He turned his back to me and ran. After waiting for the vast gales of snow to cloak him once more, I started reaching my goal one step at a time once more. Weakling. At least no Hunter in their right mind would hunt out here in this weather. It makes sense to travel while they're away, no matter how little you have to guide your own path.
Cerulean, I'm coming for you, as soon as I have faced the monster. And yet, I still have immeasurable doubt; I don't know why, mage, but you could be lying.
'Why would I want to do that?'
'You sound too innocent.'
'Faith... FAITH, BEHIND YOU!'
I whirled around and ducked as the stomach fur of a well-built electric Kougra brushed the top of my head and he landed a few feet away.
"I don't even know you!" I shouted.
"I came as soon as I heard that other guy say 'a Xweetok'," he growled in a manly voice that surpassed that of Valence's in terms of depth. "My name is Oukse. I do my job of fighting Hunters, doing my best to injure them and drive them away so they no longer plague us."
"I'm not a Hunter. I'm a Creator's Age Xweetok, leave me alone."
"No. I know you're up to something."
He growled and began to approach me.
Great. This guy is stronger than I am, faster than I am, and he has lightning powers. All I have is the voice inside my head.
"I wouldn't get any closer if I were you. After all, not only am I a Xweetok." I paused for effect. "But... I consider myself much more dangerous than any Hunter."
He guffawed heartily.
"You aren't serious."
"And yet I am," I said as I felt a magical grip on me tighten as I was possessed willingly. I felt the hold seal on my legs and not my mouth, an indicator of what I was about to do. 'Please, don't make me hurt him like I did Raiyj... He's just misguided. Please, don't... He doesn't seem as bad as Raiyj...'
Before I even finished thinking my wish, it was granted by my body being turned away from Oukse and dashing at a speed probably as fast as the winds themselves. What surprised me was that I actually felt myself going up the mountain slope, like the mage was truthful when she said she wanted for me to find out who she was. You're helping me?
Finally, she made me stop by a large crack in the ice and she let me go. I quickly slipped inside of it, panting, and curled up in a sleeping position. As usual, I drifted off to slumber.
"What is it, Cerulean?"
"I forgot something. The Creator also told me to not head back once we have found Faith!"
"Ohh... Well, it could be worse. It's been what, an hour?"
"Right. Let's go find her again."
It seemed like a wild goose chase. Going up and down Cloudpoint and having to track down Faith multiple times while still avoiding the ever-present Hunters was an annoying task, and frankly, I was starting to get tired of it. It wasn't that I just wanted to sleep in the lodge all day instead, oh no; I wanted to do what I had to and get it over with.
We turned around right away and headed up the mountainside yet again. After thirty minutes, we stopped to eat some wild holly, and then continued on the trek. Another daunting two hours passed until we were passing over a completely frozen-over lake. I happened to notice a broad crevasse a little ways in front of us.
"I see someone lying still inside of a giant crack." I raised my eyebrows at Rubia. She gasped. As a brown and red shape developed in my range of vision, I found out why.
"Faith, please be alive!" she pleaded, slithering faster. I tore off in Faith's direction, passing the Hissi in two seconds flat. I halted at the entrance to the chasm, folded up my wings, and couldn't dare to enter. My heart pounded in fear as I questioned whether to check if she was alright. I heard Rubia slither up behind me; she probably thought I'd been waiting for her. As I took up the space to the entrance, I went ahead and took her arrival as my cue to go ahead and step inside.
I was hungry, miserable and cold. But seeing the red Xweetok tightly curled into a ball in the widest part of the small cavern made me happier than I'd been in a long while.
It would have been a very big coincidence if she had just decided to stop and sleep, but perhaps she was simply tired. I jostled her to no avail. Her breathing remained steady, and her tongue was still poking out of her mouth.
"Rubia, she's asleep and won't wake up!"
"We know what this means."
The Hissi followed me inside.
"Yes, I'm afraid so... What did she make her do?" she hissed, just realizing the problem. "She's not injured..."
I gently squeezed her forepaw to make her claws unsheathe. They were perfectly clean, except for faint traces of dirt from her fight with Raiyj. It seemed like that was so long ago...
"Should we wait for her to wake up...?" I tentatively asked.
Dazed, my eyelids fluttered open. I was still in the glacial crack. A quick recap of what had happened with Oukse flashed through my mind, and then I realized that there was something warm against my back. I turned my head to see Rubia there, her wing hugging my side to hers.
"I was worried that you would freeze in your sleep, Faith," she said softly.
I was about to respond, but I had no words. Rubia and I never needed words with each other. As she rubbed me with my head hung over her shoulder, I saw Cerulean grinning behind her.
"I had forgotten that the Creator told me to not turn back once we found you, no matter what. We're coming with you. The monster is our fight. All three of us."
Cerulean's sentences echoed in my head once or twice. My eyes wandered as I processed what he just said. Of course I completely understood the words and what he meant; but I still took the moment to have a feeling of revelation and ascension. Our fight...
A smile played across my face. It was to be a time of glory for all of us. It felt so good to think 'we' instead of 'I' after being alone for so long, after facing so many hardships without another soul by my side, after isolating myself. My former reunions with Cerulean (and Rubia, when they found me sleeping in the fallen log) could not compare to the joy I felt now, just knowing that they were both with me and they were coming to help me fight.
It was good enough to push my concern for them out of my mind.
"Let's go," I said as Rubia released me. Cerulean led the way out of the chasm as the Hissi and I walked side by side. From there, we hiked up Cloudpoint. At first, it seemed like we were going awfully slow. Yet I started thinking about how less painful it was when I had companions, and then we made our way up higher.
And ever higher.
Every slushy slope and rocky plain was easier to climb than it would have been. The three of us believed in each other. I realized that we were confident that we could fight the Cloudpoint Monster.
The snow gradually gave way to the more barren patches of Cloudpoint. The air gradually got damper as we reached the part of it that jutted above the clouds. Finally, we were cloaked in mist entirely.
"We're almost there. We just need to get above the clouds," Rubia encouraged.
"Above the clouds, eh? You three looking for a one-way ticket to the Creator?" A familiarly-suave voice purred as its owner emerged from a deep path of mist. Oukse grinned with a dark malevolence.
"You," I hissed.
"Now, now. No hard feelings. I want you and that other Xweetok to know that, if you really want to sleep with the Creator, I'm right here," he crooned in my general direction. He had a perfect chance now; two Xweetoks were right in front of him. The electric Kougra was good and yet evil as he had twisted his good intentions into a vile pleasure.
"Faith, who is he?" Cerulean whispered to me, panicked. He had obviously picked up that the meaning of 'sleeping with the Creator' was something other than actually sleeping with her.
"He says he's Oukse. Earlier, he tried murdering me because I'm a Xweetok, but the mage had me flee. That's why I was sleeping," I explained in a hushed voice as fast as I could.
"You, Hissi. Back off, I don't harm innocents." Oukse raised his eyebrows at Rubia.
"What do you want with them? They ARE innocents!!" she snapped.
"There is no such thing as an innocent Xweetok. Let me deal with them."
"They're my friends!"
"Look. Redefine 'friends'."
He sharply kicked Rubia's midsection, causing her to stagger a yard away. Well, that's if a Hissi can stagger.
"Faith. Let me handle this, I can fight." Cerulean stepped closer to him. I ducked out from under his wing and cautiously walked away from the two.
Of course, I had to watch; not out of entertainment, but because of who was at stake.
I listened, not to the misty winds swirling around them and almost cloaking them from my sight, but inside my mind. The mage had to help me. She had to make me fight him.
"Look. No one's making you fight me. I'm sorry, but I don't want to hurt anyone, whether I'm defending someone or not," I advised Oukse.
He cackled in a manly way.
"Your little friend outran me last time, but that was a meager miracle. I do believe that you are oblivious to my strength."
"Bring it," I solemnly requested.
He ran towards me and pounced high into the air, claws unsheathed. I rolled onto the ground and bucked him with my hind legs before he landed. Not seeming to feel any pain (possibly from years of street fights), he recovered and charged at me again. This time, I sidestepped and then head butted his side. He stumbled back.
"I haven't used my claws yet because I really don't want to hurt you. We can stop fighting now, or I can use them," I offered between breaths.
"As if surrender isn't weak enough... You think I'd surrender to the likes of you?"
He had blinded himself to danger.
"I am a Creator's Age Xweetok, not a Hunter. Faith isn't one, either. We've both done good deeds. For you this is becoming a matter of your own pride, not justice."
"I shouldn't listen to you!"
He wanted to fight; all he needed was a reason. Once more, he ran at me; this time, however, I had to squint. He was enveloping himself in his own light, using his electric powers at last.
There was no time for me to dodge. Instead, my forelegs flew up into the air to face his blow. His front paws met mine, and as he was lightweight when using lightning, I was actually holding him up. The imperfect balance of the situation didn't matter when he was as light as air.
For several seconds, Oukse began to glow brighter and brighter. As much as being close to him seared my fur, I had no choice but to resist the pain. I shut my eyes tight, but the immense light penetrated my eyelids anyways. Everything was at a standstill. The only sound was a combined slithering and stepping, muffled by the snow; undoubtedly Rubia and Faith moving away from the scene.
And then it all stopped. The brilliant, pure light completely halted as I felt Oukse's paws move away from mine. I opened my eyes to see him on the ground, unconscious. Blurry spots were obscuring my vision, and every part of my body felt hot.
"He overexerted himself. If someone with elemental ability uses too much at once, they end up hurting themselves, and sometimes fainting," Rubia explained, relieved. And then she was examining my skin. "Are you alright?"
"My eyes have never hurt so much in my entire life, but they're recovering. Other than that, it feels like I'm on fire..."
She looked horrified.
"Let's get as far away from him as possible, and then we can rest. I expect that he'll be out for awhile, but better safe than sorry," She advised.
I grinned as she hugged me around the neck. Despite the pain I was in, I felt relaxed due to being able to walk away from the fight unharmed. What was more, I didn't have to hurt Oukse.
"Thank you, Cerulean. You know I couldn't have fought him." Faith slightly bowed her head out of gratitude and possibly deep respect. And possibly—just possibly—something else. Instead of saying anything, I outstretched one of my wings. She fell into her usual position under it as I ruffled my feathers even more than I had the last time I'd done so, and I began to lead her at a hurried pace to get away from the unconscious Kougra. None of us said anything until we reaching an area that had patches of sleet and was undeniably very near to the tip of Cloudpoint.
"Roll in the snow a little. Your skin will burn less."
I took Rubia's advice. Faith stood by her as I thrashed in the cold, leaving odd patterns behind. Although it initially stung, my raging skin calmed within seconds. Her medical advice, as usual, ceased to fail.
The final slopes and fields which rolled beneath the soft fog seemed to last for mere seconds from that point forward. The only border was the mist, which gradually thinned. Finally, it was merely a white tint to the atmosphere. I couldn't help but notice how miserably, hopelessly grey the stone beneath my feet was.
We were at the top. I looked, but saw nothing higher. For all anyone cared, we were on top of the world. No clouds were in the sky, as we'd already passed the mists which looked like clouds from a distance.
I held my breath without realizing it.
And then, something appeared to jump into view from the horizon. It landed and roared a deafening, shrieking cry. The Beast of Cloudpoint was so terrifying in its soul-piercing way...
...That the very sight of it made me fearless. Inspired. Different than I ever had before.
The monster was twice my size. Its body looked like sentient, dusty, brown, rocky turf; it was almost some sort of hideous form of an Acara. Wickedly curled, tusk-like horns started from behind its floppy ears and twisted so much that they jutted way out in the front. Long stone spikes of death protruded from all along its back and ended in points so sharp that I swear, to this day, I get cut by just thinking about them.
And yet, they were by far the least dangerous-looking of its features...
Columns of pitch-black flames rose from its face in a blitz of shade. They seemed to give off no smoke and the monster did not burn itself; it was like a fire that gave darkness rather than light. Through the flames, vibrant red slits of eyes shone an apocalyptic shade of crimson, like they were the true firestorm.
Its coal-black pupils anxiously darted back and forth between the three of us for a minute. Finally, it lunged for Faith with its mouth wide open, revealing two rows of fangs. She swatted at it with her claws unsheathed. Her paws cut its cheeks where there was no flame. It weakly cried out in pain and stumbled back a little, and then the fight was on.
To be continued...