Stooping Low: Part Two
"I don't understand..." Rubia murmured.
"Understand what?" I questioned. Faith was in the other room.
"Anything at all."
"Who is Faith?" She lowered her voice. "I mean, it's unusual. She has to be a Creator's Age Xweetok for some reason, right? I have a bad feeling about her. Sometimes, it's not enough to know someone's name. You only understand who they are when you know where they're from."
"Rubia. You're in for a shock."
She blinked. I had had a short talk with Faith, and she said she'd appreciate it if I found a way to safely break it to her.
"...Could she be a Creator's Child like you?"
"Not quite. Please, listen. She has saved the fate of the entire forests... And my own life as well. Would you rather I be rotting in a dungeon?"
"Well, here it goes... Understand. She is changed. She is one of us. The Creator herself was the first to give her a second chance, and I know she will be given many more. She is approved of by my Mother. If she hasn't been redeemed already, she never will be."
She leaned in to me.
"Faith was Chix."
Rubia's eyes nearly bulged out of her head. Hissing immediately out of anger, she threw a door open and burst into the bedroom, where Faith happened to be napping peacefully.
Faith's tongue was poking out of the corner of her mouth, the way it always did when she slept; but she promptly bit down on it when Rubia suddenly heaved her into the air by the scruff of the neck. Faith clenched her collar fur and began to struggle, but Rubia's wing remained clamped down hard.
Even when Rubia had been unsure that I was truly a Creator's Child, I had never seen this side of her.
"You monster," she hissed in Faith's ear. "You are the very vile, wretched, hideous dregs of life. Of all the petty creatures in this world that is riddled with thieves and assassins... Don't you realize what you did?"
With one final Hissi shriek, Rubia grabbed Faith's shoulders and lunged towards her, mouth wide open, fangs glistening threateningly in the soft glow of the torches. Fear ranked through my body, seeking out every corner, going from the pointed ends of the feathers on my wings down to the tip of my tail. Rubia was about to bite Faith...
But merely received a mouthful of downy feathers. I had casually extended my wing between the two of them. Faith jumped out of the spare bed and backed herself against the wall. I stood next to her and gently put one foreleg around her, not just to comfort Faith, but to show Rubia that I cared about the ex-Huntress.
Rubia had pure horror written onto her very face.
Not because I appeared to be siding with "Chix".
A tiny area, at the base of my wing, was puffed up. As I felt somewhat faint, I realized what was happening. The unbelievable; what it would have seemed would never happen just played through.
Rubia's own potent venom was taking effect on her Creator's Child.
Faith burst from my arm's hold, flung open the door to the foyer, and then the slamming of the front door could be heard as she fled. She had braved the discomfort of traveling alone, one ocean and the traitor of time, so Valence was often called. But she was afraid of Rubia, the closest friend of the hero she had saved.
Not to mention, she undoubtedly did not want to see what happened to me.
"Cerulean!" Rubia cried as I felt my head hit the ground, and the world faded out.
I ran as fast as I could. Tears rapidly dripped from my eyes as my legs carried me far, far away from the scene as they could. Cerulean is dying. He is dying for me. He trusted me enough to save me. Rubia hates me. I had caught her, and now I'm the reason Cerulean is dying.
I hardly recognized the land. Either everything looked so different from the eyes of a forester, or I was lost. As I walked through a meadow of brambles, I began to hear heavy, steady footsteps.
What now? I hardly even feel like it. Ugh, I'll just hide.
I stilled myself and slipped beneath a bush of thorny vines. They hurt somewhat, but it didn't matter. I endured it.
An annoyingly-familiar Hunter in camouflage stalked past. It was Engar.
Something tugged at my heart. A forgotten part of me longed to reach out to him, but the rest of me made me stay there. Something hit me; I felt calm without him there by my side. Everything seemed so much more real when he wasn't around. It felt... good.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how blurry the world had been with him. It was like everything used to be a happy haze where all traumas were immediately quashed. I was constantly spinning. Things went out of focus. It felt too strange.
Fake friends, fake tears, fake everything.
A fake life.
The Creator gave me glasses. At first, I hated them, but then I realized that my thoughts were clear. And then Cerulean showed me how to love them.
Can I go back to the Distance? Do I really want to? No. After all, I'm calling it what foresters do. Even if I end up despising my glasses again, I still need them. Besides, I'll probably like them again. Maybe. One day.
But then my thoughts flashed back to the events of when I was in the Creator's forest. I remembered him telling me the truth when I panicked within her grasp--she was healing me. I remembered her incomparable voice; deep and resounding and in a tone that made you know she was telling you the truth.
But there was one moment I remembered most of all.
That one brief instance when my glasses made my surroundings one hundred and one percent accurate and showed me what I really, really wanted to see; and I still remember the sight to this very day. When Cerulean and I were walking out, alone, and I said there was so much to fight for here. That moment wasn't the one I'm talking about.
It was when he hugged me.
There was no way he could've realized how amazing that felt. For the person who used to possess a ruthless hate of me to forgive me for everything just out of the blue is one thing. Cerulean going as far as hugging me was another.
He was a little conservative with it; he gave it the necessary few seconds of length for me to realize what he was doing and then let me go. Then I received several more lengthy seconds of heartfelt eye contact which supplemented for an everlasting embrace. Engar had never hugged me before. But even if he had, it wouldn't compare to all that I experienced then.
Life with him seemed to be a dream to me; a dream which had drifted near enough for me to touch. There's nothing like the time you know everything will be alright in just a few minutes. And there is also nothing like when everything goes completely wrong instead of that. I knew that he probably loved Rubia dearly, but she had chased the dream away.
Her image haunted me. Cerulean had forgotten something—Rubia had been my last catch. She was honestly rather eerie, or maybe it was how I thought of her. Another thing was that I wanted some more time alone with him, but another person around us would make things difficult.
Now, as Engar walked off after (thankfully) finding nobody to chase, I emerged from my spot. I glanced around anxiously, and then realized that I had no reason whatsoever to have left. There was nowhere worth going and nowhere worth not going; no loved ones to have long, tender talks with or frenemies to argue with endlessly; no home to leave or return to as though the actions were akin to one another.
I had no appetite or thirst left in me, physical or metaphorical. There was no need to do anything at all anymore. All my feelings had been washed out of me, and probably wouldn't be replaced until someone new entered my life.
And so, that is why I did what I did right then. I curled up under that same thorny bush and tried to sleep, without caring if I did or not. The pain of the thorns was hardly noticeable.
The pressure of being alone again hurt enough on its own.
The next few hours were likely spent by Rubia vigorously flipping through medical books and disturbing her storages of long-since dried berries. All was dark to me, however, and I couldn't hear anything, so I'd never know. I felt little; maybe something was tugging at part of my right wing, but that was about it.
There was no way I was scared. My inner self felt absolutely nothing except for the overwhelming, all-powering command to just lie there. That demand pushed everything else out of my mind; my concerns for Faith, the need to speak to Rubia, and of course my own well-being.
Finally, I felt my own skin again. I heaved myself out of the bed I was in, stumbled awkwardly, bumped into a chair, fell into an upright position on the floor and finally remembered to open my eyes.
"Uhh... Rubia... Is that you?"
"Oh, Cerulean, thank goodness!"
The next thing I knew, for I could know now, was Rubia putting her wings loosely around my neck.
"Cerulean! I'm so sorry! I really meant to bite Chix instead—" she started, but I interrupted.
"Her name is Faith, not Chix."
"You knew this the entire time?" she asked me.
"Ever since she told me so during the mission, which was right before we were separated. The next time I saw her, I was a little too busy processing the fact that she was saving my life to be angry at her."
"She... saved you?"
"I already told you that. And she's personally told me that she wants to be different now. I offered her to come and live with us and she said yes."
"Cerulean. You told someone she could live with us without consulting me first."
By now, the world was clear enough for me to see the expression on her face. She was absolutely furious.
"I'm older now, Rubia. I get a say in this too," I pointed out.
"A say in this isn't making an entire life-changing decision without me!"
"Well then, I confess. Maybe I wasn't thinking straight."
"You make a practical argument and then say you weren't thinking straight," she alluded.
"I wasn't thinking straight when I offered, but the conditions were right," I continued. "And I saw a really great friend in Faith. I think she deserves it."
"No Hunter deserves a place next to a Creator's Child."
"There's a first for everything."
"No, no, there isn't."
"Yes, there is. You don't know Faith. She saved my life, and... And..."
I felt a little less bold right then.
"Rubia, it's just... that..."
"I've never felt this way about anyone before."
That did it; she realized something. I've never seen her look so shocked.
"They say that Huntresses are sometimes hypnotizing to male foresters they wish to own," she gently assured me, feeling sympathy for what she thought had happened. "She wouldn't let you die because then she couldn't own you. She mesmerized you."
"Rubia. If that had been Chix and not Faith, she wouldn't have done it."
"She wouldn't have risked herself for nothing but another addition to her collection. I'm not that to her anymore."
She stood gawking at what I said; and indeed, I had never realized any of it before myself. When I saw the silhouette of that one brave Xweetok jam her key into a keyhole and let me go, I knew she did it because she was changed. Yet I was too blinded by my thankfulness to ever consider the consequences of what would have come to pass if she remained Chix at heart.
"She can be our friend, but I'm not letting a stranger live with us," Rubia flat-out stated.
"But she isn't a stranger to me, and she wouldn't be one to you for long."
"Give me five good reasons for her to live with us."
The first came quickly to me.
"One; you know I sometimes spend entire days tackling Hunters. It'd do you good to have her around."
"Uhh... You told me you need an apprentice one day, right?"
"Well, I have you."
"NO! Well, I, uh, you know what happened the last time I tried to do something requiring patience, besides play chess."
"...Yeah, I remember what happened the last time. You tried to put in a new chain in the furnace to hang pots by, which reminds me that she'd be another mouth to feed."
"Let's not refer back to that unfortunate event, alright?"
"Sure, Mister Wing-catches-on-fire-when-you're-not-looking-at-it. I can't believe how long the burnt smell was in there!"
"Okay, right, anyways, she'd probably be willing to help out with more than her share."
"I'm pretty sure that's three."
"She's really, really nice..."
"Interesting, but I'm not sure I'll count that."
"I'm willing to track her down and bring her back here."
I stopped and clenched my eyes shut. This last reason—I knew it'd have to be good. Something weak wouldn't make my argument push hers off the edge. Rubia was inching towards my way of view (the whole save-my-life thing did it), but a good, solid plea was what it'd take. Think. Just think. Why do you want Faith here?
Well, she's sweet, and honest. She's admitted that she's done wrong and apologized for it. And she's all brave and tough when she needs to be, like when she came and got me.
No, no, no. That's what I like about her, not what Rubia needs to hear. What's the one thing that really, really gives you sympathy for her? Why does she need to be here?
"Rubia... She just has nowhere else to go. I first met her like this when she was trying to get some food. That was all she ever did! She just ate, walked around and tried to sleep. She had nothing else to do! And... And she had no one there for her. She couldn't talk to a single person. I can't imagine how awful that was; living alone with her name and her past."
She changed then and there. A once-stony expression that had changed to mildly sympathetic now showed that she was entirely on my side. "You know, Cerulean, I might be insane for doing this, but go out and find her. I hate being alone nowadays, and I'm not about to cage you up in here when you need to be out saving people."
I grinned and reached for the door. Everything was going to be alright now.
"But Cerulean? One last thing?" she asked me before I could be out.
"Yes?" I turned my head to her, one hand already on the knob.
"Isn't it... I don't know, after all she's done to you... stooping kind of low?"
"Sometimes, you need to stoop low to help someone up."
To be continued...