We All Fall Down: Part Six
"I... remember..." I murmured, remembering my past. "I've... met her..."
Cerulean clenched his teeth, his face full of awe and anger. "You?! Her?!"
"We were never really friends."
His eyes blazed at me in silence for a moment. Then he shook his head, and the hate died.
I continued, "I think we were just introduced once... Oh, but I can't remember her name..."
"Asking this of you is probably greedy, but are you sure you don't remember?"
I looked at him, then nodded and closed my eyes. He has every right to more info. Then my subconscious added, Cerulean has the right to ask me for anything.
"Alright, hang on... It begins with S... I think..."
"Si... Si... Siana!"
Not a single second after I said the name, I felt him hug me. "Thank you! Thank you thank you thank you thank you!"
His squeeze tightened. He'd searched obsessively to find Siana, but found little more than a broken wing. I understood if he was ready to care about his friends again.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rubia enter the room and smile.
That night, I felt at ease again. Cerulean always calmed my nerves, but only when I knew he forgave me for my past. It hadn't been too obvious for the past week.
Dinner was quiet. Peace was enough for us.
At bedtime, Rubia carefully escorted Cerulean to the bedroom. She had him lie down in bed with his bandaged wing propped up on several blankets. I could barely hear his deep breathing from my bed, but it was still music to my ears. Now I feel like I did the right thing for going out to look for him... But if I'd stayed inside, then his wing wouldn't be like this...
The Creator said, 'Always value the healing of the spirit over bodily condition, Faith. You have done him good.'
'...Creator! I didn't notice you...'
'Not all of my messengers have been capable of noticing me at all until I speak.'
The Creator wasn't always direct in her compliments. I buried my head in my mane. My body was growing weary, but getting to talk with the Creator was enough to keep me awake.
'Oh, thank you for saying that... You surprise me sometimes. That's all.'
I smiled compassionately, but felt traces of disappointment. 'Rubia and Cerulean... It's just not like them to fight.'
'I understand. You may not be aware of this, but you are the reason that they are together again. Finding Cerulean isn't all that you did.'
'What do you mean?'
And then the edges of my mind slowly petered out into idleness. I could feel her kind smile expand, even though I didn't see her.
The next thing I knew, it was another day.
"There's a meeting tonight. Now, I want both of you to stay at home. Faith, you're still weary from yesterday."
Faith and Cerulean glanced up from their chess game. The broken-winged Xweetok was lying down by the table with his injured limb propped up on it. Faith was sitting cross-legged by him.
"Supper's in the furnace; it'll be ready in half an hour. Don't fret if I'm not back soon. This is the first meeting since Tor's death, and I expect there is a deal of planning to be done."
I put an arm around each of them and gently squeezed.
"Be safe," Faith said as I released them. I plucked my shawl off of one of the chairs, and pulled it around my shoulders. "And look out for that Huntress. Please."
"Yes!" Cerulean quickly sat up at the mention of Siana. "Please!"
Faith gave him what could be either a pitying glance or a "that's what I said" look. Probably both.
I patted Cerulean on the shoulder. "I'll be fine."
"If you're sure..." he mumbled.
"Don't fret. They have these meetings at night for a reason, you know. Bye."
I slipped into the foyer and out the door. The icy drizzle soaked my shawl in minutes, but I had adapted to the rain ten years ago. As I slithered to Tor's home, I kept telling myself over and over again that I would be safe, and that my Xweetoks wouldn't need to worry about me.
Of course, they'd probably be nervous anyways until I got home.
I sighed again, breathing in the evening mist. The meeting should still be at Tor's, I presumed, especially if not everyone knows that he's dead.
I slid into a tight, muddy ravine for cover as I continued towards the most famous home in Deepwood. Several minutes passed while I felt my way along the deepening chasm, the hazy forest light not reaching the ravine floor. A choir of a few Spyvens croaked somewhere off in the distance. The chill air stung my face as I inhaled the scent of moss and fungus.
I felt footsteps.
I did not hear them. I felt footsteps through the ground, through my wingtip. I stopped. They were typical strong, steady footsteps, but completely silent. Most Hunters made at least some noise, but this was different.
This was Siana.
I heard a small yelp, the rustle of leaves, and the charging of a Hunter arm cannon. My heart began racing, but I held my ground. Clouds of guilt pressed at my sides. Someone else had been spotted, and there was nothing I could do.
But this chase ended sooner than it should've.
A shout. A shadow from above falling and then hanging over me. Two hazel eyes staring at me.
I met those flashes with my own stern yellow gaze for several moments of silence. And then Siana swore, grappling up at the foot that kept her hanging. She howled in pain. I winced. More cries rang through the air as she thrashed back and forth like a trapped bird.
All I could do was duck and edge away, but she heard me.
"Is... someone... there?! Can... you... help... me?!?"
"No. Of course nobody's here."
"Can... you... help... me?!?"
"Really, I'm smart enough to give you a decent comeback. You can stop talking so—"
"Can... you... help... me?!?"
"You're a Huntress. Stop assuming that woodlanders are a dense lot—"
"CAN YOU HELP ME???!"
"That's a little better. You know what? Yes. Yes I can help you. Probably."
"Get me out of here!"
"I said that I can help you... Not that I will."
She screamed. I began to go on my way.
"Because you broke my son's wing on purpose, blackheart."
There was no explaining the idea of a Creator's Child to her; I might as well just call Cerulean my son.
I could very well have nursed her twisted foot to health again in a single week, but healing was something I'd do for Faith or Cerulean or one of my siblings or a total stranger. Not this vixen.
I slithered under her in silence, ducking to avoid her hand grappling out at me. She cried, "No! Come back! Get me outta here!"
I turned and said, "You broke my son's wing. I've already told you that."
"Can't you forgive me? Wounds heal!"
Something hit me.
Faith knows her mistakes and I know it. But she's never asked much of me, or bothered me, or refused to lend me a hand. Faith never asked me for forgiveness. If she had ever needed to, she would literally end up on her hands and knees.
"That's not a request. That's a demand." I made my voice firm, and prepared to continue my route.
"No!" she shrieked as I carried on my way.
"Wounds heal. You said it yourself. You can try to drag me down with as much guilt as you want, but I'll forget every single one of your words with time."
I've been helping Faith recover from her past. A past that this creep is still living in. A past I rarely think about. A past we've almost never spoken of to each other. A past I've forgotten, and thus healed her wounds a little bit more.
"Help me outta here and I'll leave you alone for life..."
"Ha. Yeah. Like that's gonna happen. The way I see it, if you do manage to get out of here, you won't be hunting anyone for a good two months. I have a soul... I find a public leisure preferable to a promise you can't keep."
"Haven't you ever forgiven anyone for anything?" she cried.
You don't forgive someone until you're sure they won't repeat their crimes. Faith loves me. We have each other's backs. Her wrongdoing was so huge, but it's all as light as air to me... Because I forgave her.
"You'd be surprised."
I've given so much to Faith, because she has asked me for nothing but to let her enter my life, nothing more than to offer me a candle without being faced with rejection, and to allow me hold her hand all the way down this long, long tunnel. This doorknob-licker would not present me with a cup of tea.
"As far as anyone else is concerned, I'm a Huntress foot sticking out of the ground! Nobody's gonna notice me! I didn't notice this crack in the ground — there's bushes and stuff up there!"
I chuckled mockingly, but she continued.
"I'm going to starve here unless you get me out, and you will be a murderer!"
This swathed around my spirit like an icy, sodden serpent strangling my core.
"What did you just say?"
I knew very well what she had said.
"You will be a murderer!"
No one else is here... I took a glance at where I knew the dark wall was. Scaling the slick features would be pretty impossible for me, and the quickest way out of the gorge would take ten minutes of backtracking. No! Don't do it! Think of all the foresters that won't get caught if you leave now! But I silenced my inner voice. Guilt ruling my body all the way, I coiled and jumped at her.
She yelped as I draped some of my length around her arms, but I silently slithered up and over her folded wings. My stomach shuddered. I was helping a Huntress. I had never been this close to a Hunter since... Since... Since Faith (no, Chix) caught me and was bringing me back to her shuttle. But Chix didn't even exist now. And here I was helping a Huntress who did exist.
I heaved myself out of the ravine and glanced at her inky black boot — all that was visible from the surface. I narrowed my eyes and sharply lashed out at it with my tail.
The pain got through her shoe. She yelped again, her foot twitched with surprise, and she fell into the blackness of the gulch with a thud and another scream. My head throbbed with shame.
If Pansaru had been at the meeting that night, he would have told me, "You're late."
I was submerged beneath a pile of quilts when Rubia came home.
Faith was almost certainly asleep in the bedroom by then. She had offered to sleep in a chair, but I told her to get in a proper bed. I appreciated that she brought me some blankets first, though. Thunder rolled and banged and crashed far above us all night long, jolting me awake at intervals, although my fellow Xweetok may have very well slept through it all.
My wing didn't hurt.
I barely cracked an eyelid open as I heard the creak of the door and a quiet slither.
Thunder boomed outside, but Rubia didn't flinch. I watched as she took off her wet shawl, folded it, and placed it by her throne. She approached me in silence and gently patted me on the nose.
"Rubia?" I whispered.
She jumped a little, but got over it quickly. "Yes?"
"What happened at the meeting?"
"Tor's funeral will be held at his house next month. To honor him, we'll continue to hold the meetings there. Good night."
She smiled, and went into the other room.
I normally hated sleeping by myself, but somehow, it wasn't so bad that night.
Solitude was my greatest and maybe only fear. I spent practically all day with Rubia and Faith. Come night, if I were to wake up at an early hour, disturbed by a nightmare that couldn't possibly be true, I knew that they would be glad to offer me comfort, and wouldn't mind being woken up.
That fact always sent me back to sleep before I disturbed either of them.
I always wondered what would happen if one was caught, but I didn't want to find out.
I remembered just two times I had to sleep alone. When Rubia was caught, I had been left behind in a home that had been turned into an empty house of cards. I remembered staring at the ceiling all... night... long. Probably one of the biggest reliefs of having her back was to just be able to lay there and listen to her soft, slumbering hiss again.
But then there was the time I thought that I'd be the one not to be coming back.
One week on cold hard stone with nobody but the guards and my old rival to keep me company. My soul: encaged within that little cell while I longed to be free. No comfort but a little pool of water. And then a miracle at the end of it all: a flicker of light in the form of a redeemed enemy, a guardian angel who wore a little thing around her neck called a key.
I was sleeping with a whole room to myself again. What made it any better now? The feel of Rubia's wingtips still lingered on my nose, and Faith's quilts kept the night chill away from me. It was like they were both still there.
As I fell asleep for the final time that night, I could have sworn I heard slow, light footsteps pattering into the room...
To be continued...