We All Fall Down: Part Two
"Mortal, prepare to face my wrath," the black-winged orange Blumaroo before me commanded. I tried to step backwards, but my feet slipped on the ice and I fell. Amadeus raised his fist, opening his mouth to cast a spell--
"Faith," a voice called as I felt a hand loosely shaking my shoulder. I turned around to see nobody, though. "Faaiiiith..."
I snapped into reality. The dreamy numbness was replaced with the feel of dirt around me as I opened my eyes. I was staring into the face of a winged forester: just the one I wanted to see.
"Oh, hi, Cerulean," I mumbled and then yawned.
It had been about a week since Cerulean had saved me from his twin brother, and life had eased back to the way I knew it. His and Rubia's love for me had fixed my frazzled nerves. Every morning began with him nudging my shoulder and calling my name again. And every morning was a perfect morning.
I followed him as we went to the kitchen. The house had an odd layout. All the rooms were arranged in a straight line. It was the dead-end hallway, bedroom, foyer, all-purpose area and furnace in that order.
"Good morning, you two," Rubia said from where she was coiled in a chair, a book open on her lap. She smiled. "Breakfast's on the table. Eat quickly, now, Callie and Bronco shouldn't take too long to get here."
The part-kitchen-part-storage-with-a-bed-in-one-corner was large. Rubia had hung multiple quilts from the ceiling to divide it and conceal the messy storage area, and the faded blankets just made it feel like home. What was left over was still enough space for a kitchen. There was a large table in the center and one wall had a wooden counter all along it. She found the bed unusual, but it was convenient for her line of work. The Hissi had immediately used it to embed a ruby in each of my shoulders.
I remembered her telling me that I truly deserved that little gift.
It took some larger torches to light the place up, and one of us always had to clean out the smoke vents a little more often, but I was always willing to volunteer. Anything to give those two a break. I can't forget all that they've forgiven me for.
We ate breakfast, and then a muffled knocking was heard from the other room. Cerulean tugged the hood of his cloak over his face as we rose to answer it.
"Hey, nice cape," Bronco, a mutant Kyrii, commented. "Hill's parents let him come with us."
I heard a familiar twang. The pale-blue JubJub hadn't changed at all, other than the fact that he was now bearing a simple crown of emeralds, and a belt with a leather jaw harp holster on it.
"I haven't seen you in forever!" I exclaimed. He lifted his wooden jaw harp to his mouth and buzzed it twice.
"Hi, Cerulean! Who's your friend?" Callie the striped Kacheek piped in.
After a few introductions, we split into two groups and didn't talk. We all knew better than to attract Hunters with our words.
I paced through the undergrowth right behind Faith. Then we heard commotion from our right. We jumped to face it, but as I noticed a tall figure enter our range of vision, we were sent tearing in the other direction.
Okay... This one's fast... Faith's doing fine...
Those thoughts and no more passed through my head. When you're running for your freedom, it's hard to think too much. Just when I knew we'd both be fine, I heard a strangled shout from far behind us.
"You keep running!" I ordered my companion as I turned back. Faith's ears twitched towards me; I knew she heard it. I stretched out my wings as I ran to the side of where the Hunter was and then peered out from behind a tree. Callie was trembling behind a bush, Bronco's hand on her shoulder. I paid neither any heed as I observed the Hunter.
Cross that. Huntress. I hadn't faced a Huntress in Deepwood County since... Since Chix.
The first thing I saw was her inky black armor, sleeker in design than any suit I'd ever seen. Her fur was a dark shade of slate blue. A huge set of webbed indigo wings protruded from her back, but her armor half-encased them. She had two dark horns jutting from her head: one was crooked, but they were both too twisted for you to tell which was which.
I'd never seen one with black armor before. Or horns. Or bat wings. Or wings at all.
I couldn't see her face, just her head of straight, slate-blue hair. Then I noticed that Hill was in a net slung over her shoulder. Fury roared to life inside of me. This was the first time I'd seen him in months: I wouldn't let him get caught now. I felt my muscles tighten with my will (and my hood flopped over) as I ran towards the Huntress.
I was the only winged Xweetok in Deepwood.
She hissed and lashed around as I took flight. I flew up to her and clawed her face, making her stumble back. She stepped away from me as I landed, but she didn't fall. Not a single second later, her arm cannon was poised at me. Dang. She's good. But her focus was broken as went airborne again. This time, I pounded my wings hard to gain altitude.
She looked up just as I dive-bombed her.
Clawing and beating and biting and scratching on both parts took place as she struggled to get me off from where I stood on her shoulders. She couldn't even get a point blank shot at me. Her left hand was then thrust in my face, meaning that she must have let go of Hill.
She had let go of Hill!
Sure enough, the JubJub was on the ground, although his net was too tight for him to move. As if to rub it in the Huntress's face, two oversized paws grabbed her shoulders and pulled her back. Bronco had jumped up to pull her down. She squealed in fright as she rolled out from under him, got up and ran off. The mutant Kyrii looked like he'd take chase, but I held up my hand for him to stop. Hunters are always cowards on the inside.
"Hill's fine," I pointed out as Callie stepped out from the bush. "Where's Faith?"
As if on cue, I spotted the red Xweetok dashing towards us. "What happened?" Her gaze flickered to me. "You're alright, aren't you?"
"Not a scratch on me," I said, grinning. Then I noticed that everyone else was staring at me. Pulling my hood over my face, I answered her first question. "She caught Hill, but Bronco and I managed to get him back."
"I just scared her off," Bronco admitted with a shrug. "You saved Hill."
"That was amazing!" Callie said.
I felt a sudden shower of glory as Bronco murmured agreement and Hill twanged his jaw harp a couple of times. I noticed Faith just smile meekly at me.
That smile was priceless to me.
That day, sure enough, we all eventually found ourselves sending each other waves and grins and casual farewells near the mouth of the cavern where we'd looked for gemstones. I'd barely remembered to pull my hood over my head again as Faith and I stepped out into the grey forest light.
Callie, Bronco and Hill would shortcut through the tunnels to get back to their own house. I unfurled one of my wings over Faith's back, and she smiled at me again. When I returned it with a sincere grin, wind flipped my over my cloak. Faith didn't stare. We lumbered along home together like two convicts who were bound to each other by a chain, only we were bound to each other by our own will.
Faith was the only sister I knew.
As always, Rubia greeted us when we got back. She wrapped us both in blankets, put a hot cup of tea in our grasps, and sent us to do as we pleased. This was usually chess if anything at all. We'd discovered a gorgeous and complete chess set within the depths of our new storage room, complete with full rules written inside the box. That day, though, we loafed in front of the firepit and spoke to each other about inconsequential things, and then nothing.
The rest of that evening was a blur: I don't know what we ate for dinner. I recall a full stomach, but not much more.
But I remember, clear as light, what I was thinking as I lay in bed. I remembered the feel of dirt beneath my stomach and the faint mumbling and soft hissing coming from the other parts of the room. But my mind was churning and boiling with inner puzzlement.
The Huntress disturbed me.
I really, really hoped the almost-no-flight rule applied to her. The last thing we needed was a flying Huntress. Of course, I suppose it would have been impractical for her to take flight: I knew I could fly, but I never did completely tame my stomach.
But if she could fly, we'd all have to face a whole new level of impossibility.
I had a dream that night. Dream-pain seared through one of my wings, and I felt my mind screaming in fury. I saw a Doglefox. Rubia said something to me, but her words were laced with disappointment.
I glanced at Faith and felt crushed.
To be continued...