We All Fall Down: Part Three
Changes for You, Changes for Me
Something about Cerulean that day seemed... off.
The morning routine was no different than usual. We ate quickly, and then Rubia and Cerulean were reading while I played my ocarina. It was raining heavily, so Rubia decided we'd have a slow, quiet day.
An aged melody streamed from my ocarina and ended on a long, low mark. Then I played a peppier song. Whenever I played that tune, I usually noted that Cerulean's ear twitched in my direction. But today, he didn't react at all. I stopped my music as I realized he hadn't flipped the page of his novel for an awfully long time. Rubia glanced up from her own history book, but I guised the break in music with some visibly-deep breaths, as I often did for a few seconds between pieces. She returned to her reading.
I played an air I knew very well, using the easy piece as a chance to pace things over. When I thought about it, I realized that Cerulean hadn't really talked much that day.
Rubia was her same old self, which relieved me. I'm not sure I should say same old self; ever since the Amadeus incident, she had been treating me differently. Her tone of voice was temperate, and I kept noticing a motherly shimmer in her face. She didn't have a single harsh word to give me, just assurance and clean advice.
Cerulean suddenly snapped his book shut. "I have to go!" He dashed out the door. I stared at his empty seat for several seconds due to the sudden outbreak. Rubia was silent, too, but only for a moment.
"Don't worry about him; this always happens on days when it's raining like Angelpi and Doglefoxes. We get to spend the day not having to worry about Hunters, and he goes out and gets drenched and usually doesn't accomplish anything in particular. At least he's completely impervious to colds. If he weren't, then I wouldn't let him go out like that."
I looked up and nodded. "...And he's not exactly the person we have to worry about being caught."
She smiled. "Neither are you, but you're a caring person, Faith."
I blushed. "I honestly don't know what I'd do if you were caught... Sometimes I have nightmares, wake up staring into Cerulean's face, and then I really know that it was just a nightmare. So please don't get caught. Ever."
"Oh, I'm not an old lady yet," Rubia pointed out, grinning.
"I didn't mean to imply you were slow," I said. "And I bet you'll live as long as Cerulean. You're still young... If you don't mind me asking, how old are you?"
"I turned twenty-five not too long ago. I'm not really one to make a fuss about my own birthday. I've actually been wondering for awhile how old you are, Faith."
"Y-you sure you want to know?" I stuttered, feeling a little bit pale at a realization. "The Creator gave me an awful lot of youth..."
"Haven't we all received youth from her?"
"Well, it's just that she really did give me a lot of it..."
"My birthday's in the month of Running..."
"Isn't every month is the month of Running around here?"
But then I blanked.
"I... don't... know. I don't remember." Then I laughed. "I don't remember how old I am! I'm twelve again!"
"Okay, that's it. Are you in your twenties?"
"I don't know."
She looked at me.
"Are you older than me?"
"Great. I think I'm going to lie awake at night thinking about this. My only daughter, possibly older than me..."
My muscles were bunched with tension as my mind churned with emotion. I felt homesick, and I didn't recognize where I was. An alien feeling came over me. Fear.
I cautiously slipped through the undergrowth, taking the usual discreet paths and ravines. My intent for leaving home had been to track down the winged Huntress, but now I just wanted to be safe with a certain two people. In fact, I'd begun to dread the Huntress finding me. Just because I could save a little JubJub from her didn't mean I could fend for myself. I would be willing to confess my trip's pointlessness to Rubia and Faith when I got home.
Every time my cloak snagged on a plant or a leaf fell on me, I wrenched around and kicked the air, only to realize I was alone.
My wings were folded tightly against my back, but I would have given them both up just to be safe, preferably sitting in my throne and sipping tea. But Litehart letting me into her family's tree until the Huntress left would have done just fine. Even Tor's empty household or a cavern would have done, but I had reached unfamiliar flatlands where grottos were rare and the inhabitants were strangers. People I didn't trust.
I heard the leaf litter crackle a few yards behind me.
Calm down for once. It's probably just one of the locals going out to peel some bark for bread. Or something.
My eyes flashed wide open as I heard the rising sound of a Hunter arm cannon preparing to fire. I snapped into a sudden, panicked gallop away from the area. And here I'll admit a few things.
First off, I let my cloak fly down in public. That is the least of my shames. Now my real shame, my second one, is this next paragraph, and this isn't really quite my exact words, because I can't remember them all.
"AAH!! HOLY KAU OH MY PEOPHIN SQUARE ROOTS OF KUMQUAT GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY! SWEET STEWED MARBLUK EYEBALLS! ZAFARA JANITOR! SHE'S CATCHING UP TO ME! OH NO!! GOOD NIGHT, MISTER—"
"What do you mean, she?"
And there's my third shame right there.
I stopped dead in my tracks, turned around, and found myself looking at a male Hunter with spotted fur and green armor.
"Can we both agree to never mention this situation ever again to our respective acquaintances?" I blurted out, and then dashed off twice as fast as I'd been going before.
Twenty minutes found me almost home. I'd decided something. I was going to admit that I did something stupid (although maybe not that I'd done something really stupid), and then give up chasing down Hunters, at least in my own territory.
That's right... I was to give up... If I was careful, I'd never have to run again...
And then I realized, except maybe this one last time.
I pushed my gallop, frenzied to make it the rest of the way. Ten bounds. A Hunter took after me when I was ten bounds from home. From the noise of the footsteps, I judged the Hunter to be half a bound behind me.
I was almost there when I realized I was being caught up to. I ducked behind a bush as discreetly as I could. The Darigan Huntress careened into view only to stop short and look around, as if I had disappeared. I got the chance to see again that one of her smooth horns was crooked, but I couldn't even tell which one. Her eyes were narrowed in determination. Five blue-gray braids tossed in the air as she looked from one side to another. Then she noticed me. I gasped and broke into a second mad dash.
This time, so I noticed as I risked a look behind me, she ran forth with an aura that said I'm not going to fail. I lashed my head around to keep my eye on the path. There was a patch of mud ahead of me, and I was going to jump it. And I'm not going to fail, either.
My jump fell short, and I winced as my foot landed and slipped in the silt. Everything went wrong. My wings struck out and flapped futilely as my head struck the ground. I groaned but didn't lose consciousness. I've fallen and I can't get up!
I panicked silently. The weapon's ascending of the rang through the air. I realized she'd already caught someone, because she held the bunched edges of a net with her free hand.
The arm cannon spluttered briefly. She squinted at it, sharply tapped it on a large root a few times, and it weakly spat out a net on the tree trunk. I actually allowed myself a sliver of a smile through my sorrowed headache. She hissed and continued banging it, taking her eyes off of me. Quietly, I tried getting to my feet.
But instead I got her arm cannon pointed at my nose.
"Don't move," she breathed. I looked into her eyes for the first time, and found myself gazing into a rough hazel. She didn't fire. I didn't move. If I stared at anything besides her face, she would know. The standstill was broken by someone else.
"Get me the heck out of here!!"
Callie. The Kacheek I'd known pretty much my entire life.
I found the will to move. I spun onto my feet and quickly ran a circle around the area, putting the Huntress into a brief state of confusion. Where was Bronco? Callie didn't do much without him. I found the answer to that first question slung over her shoulder with his sister.
Something hit me.
Both of them. I can't go back now. I'd hate myself for the rest of my life.
Spark unto the kindling. My paws beat against the marshy ground as thunder rippled through my muscles. And then I spread my wings, kicked against a tree for takeoff and took flight upside down.
I turned a quick spiral around her and sharply kicked her in the cheek. She shrieked, tumbling to the ground. Bronco fell in the mire, but the Huntress hung tight to Callie. I growled at the Huntress as I landed, four small gorges dug in the muck by my landing.
"Let her go and leave."
She took a small step back, and then broke into a panicked run. I followed, hoping against hope that she wouldn't try to fly. If that happened, I'd hate myself.
She didn't spread her wings.
I leaped into the air. My own wings brought me a few seconds as I careened headlong into her back, below where Callie was. And then the Huntress began to tumble in my direction. The wrong way. Like when you fake-slap someone who's joking around and they turn their face in the opposite direction of your hand.
I snatched a segment of Callie's net in my jaws, tore her from the Xweetok's clutches and barely managed to push off and take flight. The Huntress fell where we had been a split moment ago. Bronco roared from where he stood on her, pinning her head down with one oversized paw. He had ripped his net: the only part left was strangling his head.
She shoved him off of her and madly dashed away from us.
The three of us had a brief, half-hearted celebration after we managed to get the nets off. I received a little praise from the twins, just like the first time I'd seen that Huntress. Only this time, it seemed... duller. Like everyone was just dragging on something hopeless. And it was more than just the fact that Faith was absent.
"How'd she get both of you?" I asked them. "I mean, two at once is pretty unlikely."
Callie and Bronco looked at each other.
"Well, it was just Callie at first," The mutant Kyrii admitted, "But I tried saving her, and just ended up nearly caught. She's just too much for me. I can hardly keep up with her... You're the only one who can get someone away from her, Cerulean. You're the champ here."
I realized that my hood was down, but neither of them was gawking at my burnt skin. At least that was a good thing. I grinned at the Kacheek and Kyrii, but it was forced. We said our farewells and I departed.
I stopped and looked around from behind an oak's nook, and realized that the Huntress had chased me quite a ways past home. My concerns were brief before I realized that I was walking in her footsteps to get back where I belonged, and she actually had been going away from the Blank. Did she use a different landing site...?
Wonder if she'll give up hunting here. Maybe I've managed to scare her off by now. Maybe.
And then I realized that she hadn't left.
Not two minutes after I was finally heading back to where I knew some tea and a novel were waiting for me, I found myself running for my own freedom. Alone. I pushed my strained muscles, jumping and darting and stampeding forth. I couldn't use my wings this time, as there was no one to save
Finally, I leapt through a large hole in a mop of herbs growing on the doorstep of what I recognized as home. I flung the door open and slammed it behind me.
She was good, and had gotten better.
She scared me. Fear was a foreign language to me, at least ever since I grew wings. When I'd first been healed by my mother, I'd become a new person. Stronger. Braver. Confident. Not only had gotten stronger, but I finally knew who I was, and Rubia didn't need to feel guilty about keeping me. To think we'd doubted that I was a Creator's Child...
I'd been at my peak of my game in those days, but now I headed downhill. Would I start needing excuses to go outside and let out my energy?
I realized something more. Maybe I couldn't hold up against her, but there were people who needed me to do so. As Bronco put it... I was the champ here. I was needed beyond my limits.
I was pressed against the door for several long moments, panting heavily. No Hunter was small enough to get through the door. I knew that. But I didn't just feel like I was keeping the Huntress out by pressing myself against the entrance. I was shutting myself in.
Would I stay there forever, or would my conscience coax me out?
To be continued...