Cinnamon and Vinegar: Part Nine
The shard flew at Faith's face, and she fell over at its impact, completely limp. That didn't even make sense. She wasn't moving — it had drained her strength away. She was barely breathing if breathing at all. Her only visible wound was a long, lopsided cut on the bridge of her nose. That didn't even make sense...
"Oh, Creator," Rubia breathily moaned, putting a single wingtip over where Faith's heart was. "Oh, Creator, this girl doesn't have long... This sort of thing isn't supposed to happen in real life..."
"If I can't have power or at least freedom, I'll have revenge!" Amadeus screamed as handcuffs were forcefully slapped around his wrists. I thought that such a tiny piece of the Crystal Boomerang could do no harm to an entire home or person. I was so wrong.
A section of that one rafflesia — our rafflesia — burst into flame, the fire quickly spreading along the side of the tree.
"There's nothing I can do," Evre solemnly apologized and lowered her head, beginning to usher the fallen villain away. But then, she stopped short. "What's in that canteen?"
"What do you mean, what's in that canteen? She's seriously hurt, my house is on fire and you dare to question me about the contents of a cheap leather canteen?"
She and Rubia both ignored me.
"I don't know, some kind of sap, I think," the Hissi choked out through some sudden tears as a shock coursed through her body.
"May I see it?" my guardian questioned, to be promptly handed the cheap leather canteen in mention. Working with one hand because she held the chain of Amadeus' handcuffs with the other, she unscrewed the cap with her teeth, inserted a finger, removed it and tasted a sticky substance on the tip of it. "Sap of the Creator's Breath tree. Heals any physical wound. Can revive those who recently died. I'm pretty sure you know what to do with this stuff."
"I'll take it," I interjected as Evre was about to return it to Rubia. The pink Ogrin gave it to me. Kneeling, I gently pried open Faith's lips and fitted the mouthpiece between them. I slapped one paw on the side of the canteen to loosen up the sap, helped her sit up, and hoped for the best.
I felt limp. So very, very limp. The scene of the crystal splinter flying towards me relayed in my mind over and over and over again. My brain was numb. I couldn't think. And then I heard a faint call of "Faith?"
My eyes drifted open. The dreadful flashback was replaced with a blurry reality. I could feel an arm around my back. "Ce... ru... le... an?"
Every part of my body felt weak. But my soul... It was stronger than it ever had been. The Xweetok in question was kneeling over me, holding a canteen up to my mouth with one hand. I felt a trace of something on my tongue — sticky drops of something that tasted like cinnamon and vinegar. And it was the best thing that ever went down my throat.
I felt no less bruised and beaten than before. My body was sore, my arms weakly dangling by my side, my eyes weary. But my spirit had been born again, stronger than ever.
"Ce... ru... le... an?" I repeated.
I literally did not believe all that had happened.
"Yes, Faith?" he whispered, throwing the canteen aside and holding me closer to him. I noted that Evre, Rubia and Amadeus were all standing a good distance away from us.
...The raven-winged Blumaroo was only doing it because Evre held his handcuffs, and was kept there.
"How... How did you know to go find me?" I mumbled.
Not until now did I wonder that... Now that I have my memory — and my life — back.
"I had a dream. You gave me that message, and Amadeus said something about taking you south."
I chuckled under my breath. In my mind's eye, I saw pansies; little black and yellow blooms dotting a hillside, their petals fluttering in the breeze.
The hill had a windmill on it.
"It worked... Oh, Cerulean... Oh, great Creator, it worked!"
'Did you call me?' The voice of Cerulean's mother rang inside my head. I gasped audibly.
'Creator!' I mentally cried out. She smiled; I couldn't see her face, but I felt it well enough. 'Creator! I'm so sorry about earlier! I wasn't myself, please, please forgive me!
'Oh, Faith. Of course I forgive you.'
"Oh, Creator..." I said out loud. "Oh, Creator..."
"Well, that's good news to me if you're responding to her," Rubia said, crossing her wings. "Looks like we've got our Faith back for good this time, Cerulean."
I realized that they must have been referring to something that passed between them earlier. My cheeks burned hot with the recognition that we'd all suffered.
"The Boomerang's destroyed... And you seem to be weaker?" Cerulean asked, tilting his head.
"Amadeus... He made me depend on it. As much as I hate to say it, I leaned on its magic the entire time, except for when you and Rubia found me and fed me... And I'm clean now. That darkness is gone. Nonexistent. Forever and ever. And don't worry; I don't intend on randomly disappearing to anymore snowy places anytime soon."
'Faith... I've waited too long to hear those words. Thank you, and my son too, but I'm unsure that I want to possess you now to tell him that.'
Evre interjected from the sidelines, "Why did he need sap from the Creator's Breath tree?"
I weakly smiled. "He... hurt himself... by accident. His magic-using abilities were cut... He made me get the sap for him..."
Evre said, "It wouldn't have healed whatever he hurt. People who do things like kidnap people almost always have a torn soul – and Al here sure seems to have one. The sap only heals someone's single worst injury, so his soul would probably have been healed instead."
I looked at Amadeus: he was too stunned at her words to even be offended at getting called "Al."
"And you thought you knew everything about magic!" I mocked.
I wearily laughed as he turned his face away. There was no egotistic comment coming from him now. He was finally feeling embarrassed for the first time! My mirth caused me to have a coughing fit and Cerulean hastily stuttered, "A-are you alright?"
After a few moments, I calmed down and said, "Yes. I'm going to live. I've never been better in my entire life. Can you do something for me?"
"Help me stand up so I can slap that evil twin of yours."
He lifted me to my feet, and I summoned every meager ounce of strength I had left as I ran at Amadeus.
He stepped back a bit, startled, and then pulled the chain of his handcuffs out of Evre's grasp and bolted off at a decent speed. The Ogrin gasped and grabbed at the metal links as he began to dash, but it was futile. Her hands came around nothing, and seconds after she started to chase him, she spilled onto the ground with a cry of, "Oof!" I unsteadily jogged after him for a few seconds, too, but then faltered, leaning against a tree for support.
"Aah... aah... ehh..." I panted, clutching my stomach, my knees wobbling.
"Faith, dear, I give you some credit for trying, and I would have loved so much to see it happen," Rubia said as she approached me, "but I doubt you'll have the strength to hit someone or run well for a few weeks."
I looked at Rubia and blinked. And then I exclaimed, "Oh! Here's your shawl back!"
I took off the patched garment and handed it to her. She looked surprised, but quickly wrung the rainwater from it with a smile, and wrapped it around her shoulders.
"I was too shy to ask you to have it back earlier," the Hissi mused as she patted me on the forehead. "I was afraid I'd startle you..."
I felt elated – I'd made it. I'd just given her back the shawl... The shawl I would never look at the same way again.
Evre stared at Amadeus' footprints left in the mud. "He's out of sight... And for the record, my reaction isn't usually this delayed."
"So," Cerulean said fearfully, "This crazy guy is on the loose. Just great."
"And it's kinda my fault," I added, looking to the ground a little bit. "I tried to slap him, after all."
"And he can survive anywhere so long as you're fine," Rubia continued, glancing at Cerulean.
"He doesn't have any magic left, he's not that physically threatening on his own, and he's handcuffed," Evre assured. "Hopefully he won't be a problem, but I'm going after him for as long as it takes for me to find him. I take it you all can fend for yourselves for awhile?"
Cerulean rolled his eyes.
I didn't find a rainbow that day; the rainfall was still coming down hard on us all. But under this roof, it all seemed so meager. I knew that all the colors were up there somewhere above us, somewhere above the clouds, somewhere above the world we knew. Maybe we'd see it someday.
And with that, Evre began to follow Amadeus' footprints, only for us to find another unexpected arrival.
"Tor!" I yelled, running to him.
Every inch of the Lupe's skin was shining in a beautiful golden shade. I could see through him — just barely — and I knew he was a spirit. But what amazed me most was the handsomely-bejeweled crown atop his head.
"Ghosts appear to people they knew in the way they were seen in their hearts, not in their vision. Do not be shocked by what you see, whatever it is you do see."
"Tor, thank you so much for everything..."
"That song was in my voice. Did you not recognize me?"
"N-no. Tor, I'm sorry, I should've! I can't believe th—"
I didn't know that spirits can clamp their hands over people's mouths, and successfully mute the person. His paw felt relieving and warm on my face; my eyelid twitched in astonishment. He chuckled.
"I come now to tell you that there is an abandoned household over there. Goodbye, my brother... And Faith, you can have my old walking-stick!"
He vanished in multiple wisps of smoke, his pointing finger being the last part of him to collapse.
"You know what?" Faith said, her calm demeanor returning, "I don't care if our house is on fire, that's the least horrible thing that's happened to me for a long while. And I'm ready to go uphill again. But if all those tiny shards didn't do anything to the ground, then why did the one that was thrown start a fire? And another..." she paused to anxiously scratch the back of her neck, "...Yeah."
"Spite. The Boomerang is said to be useless without spite or some form of hatred," Rubia answered and turned to me, "...And I think that the reason you could destroy it was because you really meant it."
The invisible and unheard was willpower, which I could have an indescribable amount of. I gently nodded after some thought. The Hissi always did understand magic better than me. I turned to Faith. "What was it like being almost dead?"
"...What do you mean?" she responded, confused.
"The shard at least nearly killed you, didn't it?"
"I... I thought I fainted! Wait, what do you mean, at least nearly?"
Maybe Faith was back. Maybe I got to see Tor one last time. Maybe we would probably never have to see Amadeus again. But now, as we watched our house burn down, we were out of miracles.
Faith yelped from besides me and I realized she was losing her balance, but I grabbed her shoulders just one moment before she fell flat on her face. Rubia and I each put an arm around her back to hold her up as she started panting heavily.
"What is it, dear?" the Hissi asked, taking note of Faith's now-worsened condition. "Wait, I think the last traces of the Boomerang must be fading out. Goodness, it's nothing a month of rest can't fix, but you've been through a lot. You'll need that walking-stick."
The flames leapt and danced along the side of our home, surely to proceed with burning to the core of the tree and then down the roots, devouring our possessions. But I felt detached from it all now that I was with Rubia and Faith.
It didn't matter if we didn't get another miracle.
Maybe I would miss my throne and my companions surely had items they'd wish they still had as well. Really, though, every object we truly liked was only because of the memories we had with them – memories never truly burn down.
Our home, the place I had been raised... We couldn't live there anymore. I didn't feel a single twinge of sadness — I had Rubia and Faith. My home... was them.
A gargantuan crash came as the flaming stump caved into the ground, along with some of the thinner parts of the turf. I glanced at Rubia to see that her jaw was agape. I didn't need to look at Faith to know her reaction — she was suddenly clinging to my arm so tightly that it could've fallen off.
The three of us were alone now. No evil twin, helpful guardian, or brotherly spirit was lurking. We had each other, and as much time as we needed to recover.
The blaze leapt up higher, coming out of the newly-made hole. We watched that for so long. We saw nothing vanish, but knew that everything we owned was being burnt. Just as I hadn't known to say goodbye to Faith not too long ago, I hadn't been able to knowingly turn the page of one of Rubia's old novels, rest in my throne, or listen to my fellow Xweetok piping at her ocarina for the last time.
The three of us ended up sitting down, leaning against a tree that was a safe distance away from it all.
That's how the whole thing ended, with the three of us watching a campfire (more or less) in the middle of the night, finally pausing to give our weary souls a minute of solace, resting against a great old birch. Rubia was partially coiled, cozy beneath her shawl; Faith's eyes were drifting shut; I had my hands folded behind my head in a resting position. It was definitely later than any of us had ever stayed up, with the possible exception of Rubia, whom I seldom saw go to bed.
I thought of Valence the Traitor, and how he ruined so much when his universe was perfect for anyone but him. We, the Child, Messenger and healer, knew how to be happy with nothing but each other. We were happy just to be alive.
The world was round. No matter how many times we walked around it, we always ended up at the same spot: wherever we considered home to be. And since I just then realized that my home truly was not a place, but two separate people, I sighed happily.
"Well," the Hissi mused softly, "I guess that we don't need new hinges anymore."
A few seconds passed as I realized what she said. The words stung a little, but they were coming from Rubia, so I didn't get upset.
"Rain'll probably move in pretty soon. I guess it's a good thing that the ground caved in there, because if we don't get some rain, the fire would've been high enough to spread to other trees," I figured, smiling.
"That'd be bad," the Hissi replied. I glanced over at Faith.
"You wanna keep this?" I asked my fellow Xweetok as I noticed her canteen lying on the ground.
"Nah," she sleepily mumbled. "It's made of dark magic anyways, and I'm kinda surprised that it didn't go away with the Boomerang."
I shrugged, picked it up, and tossed it into the fire.
Folding my hands behind my head once more, I stared at the giant blitz. A night wind whistled by us, ruffling my fur, but I didn't really care. I glanced back at Faith after a few moments.
She was curled up in a still, silent slumber.