One Way: Part Four
Enter If You Dare
He had little trouble with the first wave.
Cerulean fought with perfect rhythm. He stalled, ducked and swerved until his enemies let their guards down. Then, he would swipe his claws in just the right places with flawless timing. The screams and shouts for mercy didn't faze him.
After three club-wielding Myncies, an Acara with a flatsword, and a fist-fighting Gnorbu, the servants who'd fled brought more reinforcements, Cerulean was ready.
The long banquet hall was perfect for combat. It was elaborately decorated, but for all Cerulean cared, the vast table was just an obstacle to jump on or duck behind as he needed. The blue Xweetok folded his wings as he dodged an arrow, and then he rammed his head into the archer. The white Kyrii stumbled, so Cerulean brought a fist down on his head. The archer fell to the ground.
Cerulean saw his chance after he defeated wave two. He pulled himself into a side passage, following his body's cry for fullness. He was so close, he could just hone in on the rest of him. Vast piles of coins rose up on either side of him, and he couldn't see the back of the vast room. But it didn't matter to him. He walked forward a few feet, and then veered to the left to bury his face in a mound of treasure. His paws scrabbled at the coins as he pulled himself up to breathe. After a few gulps of air, he submerged himself in the depths again.
His hand grappled around in vain for a few seconds, and then he had it. His eyes sparked with satisfaction as he stood up, cradling something precious in his hands.
He gazed down at his heart and soul for a moment. It looked to be a ball of raw gold, soft and warm in his grasp. Souls are invisible, so he was likely just seeing his heart. But it was all there. His mouth curled into a grin as he turned it over in his palms.
And then it had me.
I gasped, my body shuddering. The gold was flowing up my arm and into my shoulder. I felt tidal waves of pain, sorrow, weakness, hope, strength, loyalty, and love all flow back into me. Faces flickered by: friends, brothers, two mothers, and the only sister I knew. Then it was over.
I sat there, alone, with my memories sizzling back one by one.
I stared up at the wall, frustration welling up inside of me.
How come they keep getting away from me, but they still have each other? I knew it wasn't their fault, though.
I felt painful sympathy for Faith. She had been torn between Cerulean and me, and, out of panic, chose him.
But I also felt guilty. I could've flown up after them. I glanced over at Amadeus, who was staring at the wall with a hopeless expression on his face.
Maybe it was better that I stayed.
"Well, Cerulean wasn't hindered by flying for himself, so there's no reason for me to be," I commented, wondering if he'd care. "Should we go over, or do you want to stay behind?"
"Why would I stay here?" Amadeus asked distantly. "A wall can't hurt anyone."
"Well, if Cerulean's leg hurts from Faith clinging to it, then yes, it technically did hurt someone," I said, repeatedly fanning my wings out and folding them up again. "Are you coming, or are you afraid you'll fall?"
He narrowed his eyes at me. "I'm not afraid of anything. I won't fall."
"Well, of course you won't fall. You can't fly."
He lashed around at me, his teeth gritted. "How'd you know?!"
"I notice things. Like how you never even move your wings. It's kind of obvious they're screwed up."
"Well, you're the medic! Fix them!"
"Oh, come now. I have nothing to work with, it looks like a permanent injury, and I wouldn't exactly do anything for you." I shrugged. "Nobody ever asked you to come, anyways..."
"Fine!" he snapped. "I'll find my way through. There has to be a gate or something!"
"Go ahead and try. Decent people always get the easy way out."
Amadeus clenched his fists. I sprang into the air, unfurling my wings and pounding them against the air. My heart began to pound, but I quickly calmed myself as I gained altitude. Finally, I angled my wings into a glide. I was over the wall.
I knew we'd meet again.
It took four seconds for one of the guards to rip me off of the Chomby.
I winced as the yellow Grarrl held my arms behind me and his mistress bent low to meet my gaze. And then the Chomby barked, "Take her to the kitchens. The rest of you, shoo."
The small crowd dissolved and began to trickle out through the open doors. But as one speckled Zafara put a hand on a closed door's handle to slide it open, someone on the other end threw it open hard enough to smash her hand against the doorframe. She cried out, dropping the broom she was holding in her other hand.
It was Cerulean.
My eyes widened. He looked enraged, pushy like he had been, but I immediately picked something else up.
His brow was furrowed ever so slightly.
He clubbed another servant on the head and dodged around two more. The Grarrl raised his foot to kick him, but Cerulean slipped behind the dim-witted reptile.
My eyes met his. His face illuminated. Just barely, but it still happened.
Sparing me a tiny nod, he swung back around to the Grarrl and raked his claws down his side. "Faith! Go!" he spat over his shoulder.
I hesitated for a split moment. But he didn't need to push me this time. Ducking around the legs of the still-stuck Zafara, I made it through and ran for it.
My feet raced over the gold tiles, the chill of precious metal running up from the bottoms of my feet all the way up to my coward's heart. I rounded a square bend and glanced over my shoulder, but I wasn't being tailed.
Cerulean was far behind.
You know what your name is. You have to have faith that he can handle the guards.
I reached the end of the hall, and, with no other option, thrust the plain gold double doors open.
Several chefs and maids in cobalt uniforms glanced up from the food they were preparing, and stared at me. My knees began to shake. What had I just walked into? A skunk Flotsam was glaring at me so hard I thought I'd die. The room was absolutely silent, save the one dedicated cook's rhythmic chopping.
And then one camouflage Grundo asked, "Are you the new maid?"
Unthinkingly, I replied, "Yes."
There was supposed to be a new maid? They knew I was here?
"Good. You can start by dicing those tomatoes."
She gestured to a clueless young Gnorbu who had just brought in a small, unlabeled crate. How'd she even know what was in that?
"All of them?" I asked, cringing.
"Yes, all of them."
"No buts. Ever."
I gulped. They didn't know what they were telling me to do.
One tomato-related incident had been enough for Rubia.
I found a gap.
It was a large pipe protruding from the wall. Muddy grey swill dripped from it, forming a puddle.
I folded my fingers together, closed my eyes, and cracked my knuckles. I knew what I had to do. I didn't know what the sludge was, but no matter. I had to do what I had to do. I don't know whether I'd be relieved or frustrated if this pipe was too small for me.
I paced backwards, and then leaped up. My fingers grabbed the rim of the pipe, yellowing as I gripped the edges. I heaved myself up into it, and kept to the side as best I could. The metal pipe felt icy beneath the pads of my feet. I briefly wished I'd managed to get my hands on a pair of shoes sometime, but I disregarded it. I was antisocial.
I grimaced. There was a certain sanity in human interaction. I wondered why the thought hit me, until I remembered talking with Rubia.
I shook my head. She liked Cerulean and Faith, the ones who couldn't stand my face, enough to make things awkward. Why didn't Rubia hate me so much?
She probably did.
After a few seconds of walking through darkness, I heard voices echoing down the pipe.
This is a way through after all.
The Chomby had a glare in the back of her eyes, but she quickly smiled, suppressing hate.
My head suddenly sparkled with pain. Memories were still drifting back to me, but they all came in snippets – muffled words, sympathetic glances and Amadeus. I didn't know why, but he was there.
"Why... We don't get visitors too often here. Wouldn't you like to eat dinner with us?"
Wasn't I just beating up her servants? Wait, what?
I glanced around the room: at the numerous servants crowded around the doors, at the guards who could break my legs in three easy steps, and the huge, blubbery Chomby who was offering me a kindness. The servants seemed to have suddenly perked up. They were nodding along.
She gushed warmly, "I can tell you are not of... average blood. Perhaps you would like to join my house as a noble?"
Confusion and rejection rose to the top of my throat. "No thank you," I rasped. My head blared with pain.
I glanced down at my hands. The brown fur on them was matted from sweat and tangled from being unwashed. I don't remember letting this happen. It's like I just woke up hungry, hurt, and... suddenly lonely. But I have to find my friends again, and show them who I am again.
"I'll think about it," I finally muttered. Some of the servants began to slouch, but a couple of others narrowed their eyes.
"Good! I'll have a couple of servants escort you right away; we can't have people coming to dinner dressed like you, now, can we? Egbert, Vario, please show him to a dressing room."
I bit my lip as two Pteris took my arms and led me away.
I'll find you soon, Faith. And then you can tell me where Rubia is.
I was answered by a young Lenny in a maid dress. Putting my wings on my hips, I demanded,
"Alright, have you seen a couple of Xweetoks pass through?"
She blinked. "No ma'am."
"Then let me in. I have to look for them."
She stood to one side and curtsied as I entered the golden fort. "Are you from around here?" she asked.
"Who wants to know?" I snapped, wanting to get things over with already.
She flinched. "Don't hurt me!"
"So, looks like all the Hissi stereotyping haunts my acidic soul even in alternate dimensions. Lovely." I rubbed my temples with one hand.
The Lenny slid the door shut, staring at me. I calmly glared back at her. She took in a bitter breath and said, "Allow me to show you to my master."
To be continued...