Cinnamon and Vinegar: Part Two
I shielded my face with one wrist. It was true that he was hard to look at, but I also had a desire to put something between the two of us.
He scowled, one of his hands suddenly acquiring a slight purple glow. He flicked his fingers, and I gasped as my own paw hit the ground.
"What a horrid thing to say to your kidnapper, dearest..." he sneered, staring into my startled face.
"Yes, yes, my dearest. You are the absolute perfect gear in my machine, and you shall eliminate the necessity for several others, I do believe..."
"No! Let me go, I don't want anything to do with you!"
The bright orange Blumaroo clapped his hands together with a grim, amused smirk. He was at two feet taller than me, and the bedraggled raven wings sprouting from his back only gave him the illusion of more height. He wore plain trousers with his tattered, faded crimson admiral's jacket complete with a pair of lazily-ripped wing holes in the back. Of course, I didn't find that out until I saw him turn around later. There was a slight bulge in one part of the lower front of the garment — I guessed that he kept something in an internal pocket.
I'd seen a few Blumaroos in my time, and I came to know them for their springy ears... But this man had ones which completely flopped over backwards, limp. He kept them tied back with two locks of his incredibly overgrown, oily dark hair. I would have taken a step away from him, but I was paralyzed with that I thought was simply fear.
He couldn't have been older than fifteen or sixteen... Way too young to kidnap someone.
"Why should I release you? True, it was simple enough to pick you like any fruit, but I do wish to break the rule of easy come, easy go."
"Who are you?! Why do you have wings?!?"
He examined me with scrutiny.
"I do so despise the sound of your voice... Perhaps I should take it out on you by leaving you ignorant, even more helpless than you already are..."
"Let me go! Why can't I run? Why can't I run??" I howled.
My adversary moved his right arm up. I limply began floating, levitating two feet above the ground. It felt horrible, like a corrupt magic was coiled around my soul. It wasn't ordinary pain, but a gritty feeling. I clenched Rubia's shawl tighter: it was the only thing I had to hold on to.
"Put me down!"
"Very well, dearest. You will walk."
"The place I'm taking you, where else?"
"Let me go, you freak!"
All of a sudden, he jerked his open palm towards his mouth. I was violently thrown through the air and hovered to a stop right in front of his face. His eyes stared into mine, like they could pierce my spirit and hear my thoughts. I felt insignificant, helpless, and altogether reduced to rubble.
"If it keeps you from referring to me as a freak, and if you value the ability to live, then you WILL call me His Arcaneness or merely Master Amadeus, or you WILL suffer greatly," he hissed and let his clenched hand open. I tumbled onto the ground unceremoniously, panting from fear and shock.
"Please just let me go home." I cowered and spilled out truth to an absolute stranger. "I just want to go home to my family; I just want to see C—"
Before I finished speaking, he brought me in front of his face again, dropped me onto the ground (I only staggered slightly, but still landed upright) and physically put his forepaws on my shoulders. I was on my hind legs, and he still towered above me. My head swam with dizziness as I looked up at him.
"Do not say that name."
"BECAUSE I SAID SO!" he shouted as he thrust his fist into empty air, sending me hurtling at an oak. Bark embedded in my back, he brought me close to him again, only to slam me into the tree again. He began swinging his hand to and fro, causing me to crash through undergrowth and bang my head on tree trunks. My left shoulder took a nasty blow from one birch... If only Cerulean were there to stop him, and Rubia to cleanse my wounds...
"You are getting on my nerves, Faith."
He flicked his paw to the side and I crashed against solid turf. The world faded to black before I could wonder how he knew my name.
I returned from my search, fruitless.
Not a word was spoken to Rubia except about Tor. She saw me enter the house, alone, and recognized the empty bag I placed on the table. As I tossed and turned in my bed that night (no easy feat, I assure you, with forester beds carved from root stubs and all), I longed for the comforting mumbles of Faith coming from my right.
All I could do was try to walk out from under the clouds – clouds which I thought wouldn't end for a very long time.
All the next morning, Rubia and I were totally silent until I confirmed to her that I was going out in search of my fellow Xweetok.
"Cerulean, it's been almost two days..."
"If she's stuck hiding in a cave and she has broken bones and can't even walk without hurting herself more, I'm not leaving her to die."
I fastened the pin of my cape tighter than I had before. I was out all day, desperately hoping that I would spy her taking refuge within a forest nook, or gloomily wandering around the County outskirts – lands she barely knew but had somehow ended up at. I searched all over Deepwood, every house of everyone I ever knew within the county (and the occasional stranger, whom I would ask if they had seen a red Xweetok rather than Faith), every leg of every cavern and I even scoured the treetops with my climbing skills. Hours passed... I took no time out of that day to even eat.
I came home without her.
I awoke, dazed. Rubbing my forehead, I groaned, and wondered why I was in the open forest instead of the bedroom. Then I spied the Blumaroo sleeping against a tree.
Of course, I thought. Him. As of today, I officially hate him. It must be nighttime if he's asleep, and I don't even recognize this place. He must have taken me here. Hey, I recognize this place... Sort of...
That bright, toxic shade of orange that was his short fur was the ugliest thing I'd ever seen. Well, maybe his pelt got second place to a moldy, three-year-old tangerine Rubia had once discovered near the back of the pantry. I knew that it was probably just my bias, though...
He snored like a muddy tractor was being started up.
I sighed, walked in a circle a few times and stopped short. What had I just done...? I had walked. He had let go of me when he went to sleep! Eager to leave him behind, I carefully trotted a bound away. He didn't come after me.
I walked more and more, far away from him, and then started running. I wanted to go home. After awhile, I reached the Blank. I had never been so relieved in my life. It was as though the weight of the sky had just been removed from my shoulders. Not even the sight of my Huntress ship depressed me then.
Just a few more grottos and groves to pass... I told myself. And sure enough, I reached a thick oak coated in vines, with a lopsided rafflesia on one side. Home. I had escaped from the nightmare.
I put a forepaw on the doorknob and was about to twist it open to (ideally) see Rubia poring over a spellbook as she often did in the late hours – and she'd glance up and see me standing there in her now-muddy shawl, and her jaw would pop open and she'd scold me, "Where in the Creator's name have you been?!"
And those eight words would sound so relieving to me that I would barely realize that I was being rebuked.
All that went on inside my head, though.
Before my hand could twist the knob, my worst nightmare was revived.
I turned around and saw him standing there – His Arcaneness, Master Amadeus, whatever he wanted me to call him. I lashed around to open the door and get help. Cerulean could fight him. But the moment I touched the doorknob, I felt myself being lifted into the air and back towards the man. I grappled aimlessly towards the door, trying to get a hold on it again, but I failed.
"Imagine my utter surprise when a wild Gikerot scurried across my face and woke me up. The poor thing; I chose to leave it dangling from a branch by its tail for having disturbed me. I happened to notice that you had vanished, so naturally, I came looking in the first place you'd run off to."
He knew where to find me.
I opened my mouth to scream at the thought of it, but then he touched his thumb to his second finger. I knew why; a cry for help could stir one or both of my friends. My mouth clamped shut as the man (I began to think of him as Master Amadeus, the very name he'd ordered me to call him) brought me towards him, dropped me and turned around to walk off. I hung my head in failure and followed. If I had just been a second quicker...
Then I would have dragged Rubia and Cerulean into this as well. Either that, or they'd have dragged themselves in for my sake, I realized. Maybe this was meant to be. It's fine if I'm the only one who suffers, as long as they're safe. They're the ones who don't deserve to go through this. After all, what goes around comes around, and I'm... me.
But... Cerulean told me something once when I was a little upset about what I couldn't change. He said that I'd done all I could to make up for it, and I was still doing so every day just by being another forester... I kind of liked the sound of it. I only wish I could still believe his words. Why do I remember all this right now? Why do I have to be so far away from him even though he's right behind me?
"Master Amadeus?" I managed to whisper once the Blumaroo had taken me truly far away from home. "What will become of me?"
He stopped, turned to me and grinned malevolently.
I mentally gulped as I wrung my fingers.
"But why are you doing this? What can I do?"
"Not much, really, you pathetic mortal. I don't care if you can play the ocarina or you're the Creator's Messenger, those will never do anything for you in the worst of situations. In fact, that's what I really despise about you; Rubia does every craft which she ever heard of and your other little friend — don't say his name — is well known as a defender of you innocents. I rather admired you as a Huntress, really; such a shame that you decided to throw it away for a simple life, Chix Lyra Jahri."
My stomach felt like it was full of ice when he said those final words.
"How do you know tha—"
"I can know everything I want to, dearest Faith... Or should I say—"
"NO! SSH! DON'T SAY THAT NAME! PLEASE!"
My own dear friends-turned-family had no idea that I even had a complete name — I never told them. They never asked me for it. Maybe the Creator knew it. Maybe. But that was about it.
Inwardly, it made me feel a little out of place. I was a commoner who wasn't supposed to be called anything complex... I was just Faith now. I'm still not sure why I asked the Creator for a new name. But I didn't regret it.
And I was the Creator's messenger. That was one more thing no normal person could tell by looking. In fact, my key (my only characteristic which could possibly point to me being the Messenger) had been covered up the entire time by Rubia's shawl.
"And I can also do this."
My heart lurched in fear as he closed his eyes and folded his hands together in concentration. I expected to see him transform into a hideous beast, but merely received something which startled me out of my wits instead.
'Surprised much, or are you even noticing that my lips aren't moving?'
'No! Get out of my mind! Is that why I haven't been hearing anything from the Creator? Just who are you?!?'
'Ah, yes. It appears my presence and magic have conveniently suppressed her...'
How could anyone suppress the Creator?
I tried to speak again, but was silenced by him pinching his thumb and forefinger together again. He laughed as I tried in vain to open my sealed lips. "And don't worry; I believe you have yet to realize that we are hidden to anyone except each other, just so I can keep an eye on you. No Hunter will be disturbing our little journey... And certainly not Cerulean."
I noticed that he laced my brother's name with much more spite than the rest of his words. And then I realized that I had just thought of Cerulean as my brother.
I tried, I really did. All I wanted to see was a flicker of Faith's soul. When we had a strong connection and I concentrated hard enough, I could sometimes see her soul in its entirety — a pine-green candle. A puddle of wax from long ago had dripped down and surrounded her base, but now, she never became any shorter. Although her flame was small, I knew that she would never go out.
I sat up, paced in a tight circle, and settled down again. Who or what was clouding our link? Was Faith alright? I couldn't even tell if she was happy or not...
I growled to myself, giving my tail a few angry flicks back and forth. It swept across the broad cavern and brushed against a few feet of wall. A few strands of my long, feathery tail hairs caught fire from one of the torches.
I glared at the flames on my fur. They died.
Then I rolled onto my back with a deep breath. My eyelids closed again. And then I decided to check in on a few of my children to make sure at least they were faring alright.
Over in Shinedune, Yuandi appeared to be fine. The young rainbow Kau was walking in the desert alongside her caretaker, a Buzz nomad. Down there, it was in the middle of the day.
Way north, Snowball was seeing if it was possible to climb up a pine tree, hind legs first.
In Deepwood, Tor was... Oh... Oh.. I would've noticed that sooner if I hadn't been so focused on my Messenger, or lack thereof.
Then I felt something mentally grabbing at me — my magic had its own life force. I clenched my paws into fists as I concentrated on where it was directing me. Cerulean came into view, curled up in a troubled sleep. And then I realized that I had to give him a dream.
I focused, waiting for snippets of the future to come to me. Insignificant salutations... No, I wouldn't waste my son's time with them. Or with mumbled "g'mornings" or "what will we do today?"
And then something came from an unexpected source — Faith.
I don't know how I got to sleep.
Typical nightmares haunted me. Hunters were chasing Faith all across Creation through them, and there were several frightening scenes of Valence, Rachroth and Oukse facing her in struggles she couldn't possibly win.
Yet a single vision stood out. As my sight was blurry, at first I didn't recognize the blurs in front of me. But then the muffled shouts followed. They increased in clarity slowly, and I noticed Faith in front of me, outside. She was drenched and scarred, and flying.
But she seemed to have no desire to fly. In fact, she wasn't doing it on her own. She hurtled through the air, colliding with trees, screaming at the top of her lungs. Then, she was thrown onto a large stone. Her back scraped against it — a painful moment to watch — and amber splinters were left behind.
Shards from her gemstones.
That scene dissolved. Then I heard her voice.
"...Where are you taking me?" she squealed.
"South," someone answered.
"Cerulean... Cerulean, you're the one person he'll never hurt... You're my friend, please, help me somehow..."
I woke up on the floor again. Rubia was still sleeping. My limbs were sore.
And my back ached like it almost always did after I dreamed the future.
"Rubia. We need to go. Which way is south?"
The world was tinted grey.
The trees were spaced farther apart, and I happened to notice fewer and fewer doors in their trunks. I saw no fruit growing over my head. There was so little foliage that I could actually see the sky above: a sky concealed behind a colorless dome of clouds, rotating as though they were a progressing army. They would bring no rain yet, and were being blown westwards anyways.
The dry air pinched my ankles and bare feet; the temperature had cooled drastically. This wasn't Cloudpoint's friendly chilliness, however. This was bone-rattling, viciously-stinging, thought-ebbing frigidity. My hope began to die off bit by bit... I couldn't shake the feeling that it would all go extinct the very moment I looked away.
"Master Amadeus?" I whimpered once he stretched in the morning. "What do you have to do with my friend?"
"Ah, I see that I have made you even more pathetic than you already were. As for your question... Later."
Master Amadeus raised his arms and sent me hurtling into the air. That feeling of my very core shaking was back again. I had no inner serenity. Not anymore. All I had was the clothes on my back: my dirty pine-green dress, my key and Rubia's shawl. I silently resolved to keep the shawl intact and not ripped. It wasn't mine; it was Rubia's. She used it often and I felt obligated to return it to her. But I wouldn't see her again, would I?
And then he walked over to a bare spot of rocky ground, and sent me flying down into it. Amber shards chipped off of the teardrop gems on my tail. When he raised me up again, I noticed the splinters of the jewels on the ground: the jewels Rubia had embedded within me. But that was alright. They had been a gift. The shawl was a loan. It was not mine and I had no right to lose it.
Shocks wracked my body as he repeatedly slammed me into trees and dragged me up their trunks. I closed my eyes, silent tears escaping. I focused on trying to be brave, managing to not scream.
"Where are you taking me?" I wailed, trying to distract myself.
"South. You don't feel anything? No pain? Oh, of course. I should have known you'd cry about it," He sneered, setting me on all fours steadily.
I sighed as I turned away from him. And then I felt his smirk — I didn't see it. I felt it.
"...You're cold beneath that skinny little shawl, aren't you?"
He was baiting me and I knew it. At first, I intended not to give him a reply.
But then he went, "Go on. Answer me."
"Of course I'm, oh, just a little bit chilly. A complete stranger came out of nowhere and is dragging me down to somewhere really cold, he's reducing my already-slightly-threadbare dress to tatters along the way, forcing me through—"
"In other words, you're cold."
"If it makes you happy, then y—"
"Vong lua!" he shouted in his spell-casting voice. For a moment, I felt nothing. And then I fell over, my skin burning with heat.
"Is this really necessary?" I cried.
That laugh seeped with absolute schadenfreude as I saw his face from where I lay. I felt like I was falling, spiraling into despair.
As he lifted the spell, I dizzily stumbled to my feet and followed after him.
We traveled all day long — I slogged along behind him, my bruised shoulder setting me back a little. When I tried getting on my hind legs, I found that it hurt me even more. I felt like something was missing when we stopped to rest every now and then.
I expected an enjoyment he'd have to give to me. Well, he needed a captive, didn't he? I didn't figure out what the pleasure was, though. Only later did I discover that I had never gotten hungry at all.
"Come on, hurry up. I want to get to my spellbooks quicker... Come on, the sooner I get this done, the sooner I can proceed in my plans..."
The landscape gradually changed — the trees thinned out even more and turned to snowy deserts. But it wasn't like Cloudpoint.
These lands — and this situation — did not make me think of when the Creator started possessing me.
There was no solace, nobody to lean on, and almost certainly no light at the end of the tunnel.
To be continued...