The Far Side: Part Three
The noon sun shone bright in her eyes, and above her she
saw branches in unnaturally straight lines, crisscrossing each other at perpendicular
angles. Above that, there were more branches, but in a more natural array. Those
branches were farther off, and when she sat up, Felda immediately realized what
must have happened.
The branches above her were not alive. They'd
been stripped from their respective trees to fashion the cage she was now captive
in. While she'd been asleep, something she'd done must have alerted the villagers
to her presence. Judging from the sour aftertaste of something in her mouth,
she deduced that the villagers must have given her something to keep her unconscious.
Looking through the bars of the cage, she saw
that there were various people coming and going, but a few elders were gathered
around the central fire, all eyes on the oldest of all, the man with the cackling
voice. He seemed to be in some kind of trance. When she turned around, she saw
several children a short distance away, staring. The lack of space between them
and her made her feel crowded. They probably only dared to come so close because
she was a Kyrii. They took her lack of fangs and claws as a sign of harmlessness.
She knew, that, if anything else, she looked positively fluffy under her layer
of filth. When her eyes went back to the old ones, she found the cackling man's
eyes wide open, and staring into hers.
He got up with a slow, creaking motion that spoke
of severe arthritis. He walked so close to her cage that if she had extended
her arm all the way through the bars, she would have been able to grab the front
of his coarsely woven shirt. His eyes were like muddy brown pools, holding infinite
and terrible knowledge in those suffocating depths. "What be you, beast? Where
be you from?"
Felda wasn't in a good mood. She decided to throw
this old geezer off balance. "I'm a Kyrii from Neopia Central. Not the most
scenic place if you ask me. Though I personally spent most of my time dumpster
diving, so I wouldn't have had a chance to see all of it."
This caused the old man to hesitate for a minute.
It was clear he had no idea what a 'Kyrii', 'Neopia Central', or a 'dumpster'
was. He regained his composure momentarily and said, "You speak of places and
things I do not know of. Though from the Old Stories of before the Beast War,
the ancient tales tell of a specific race of beasts called 'Kyrii'." He was
wearing a proud expression, as if everyone should be in envy of his genius.
To throw him off balance even more, Felda yawned,
and said, "Don't get too cocky. Where I come from, everyone knows what a Kyrii
is. Nothing to gloat about."
The man grew enraged at her calm demeanor. "You
set free your demon siblings from the fate of the cleansing fire, dooming our
lands to eternal darkness! Only the Fire can save us now! We must offer you
as a sacrifice to call his mightiness! Now, answer me, and we may spare you.
Where do you come from? What is this 'Neopia Central'? The Center of all Neopia?
Is this where you demon spawn assimilate to destroy all that is light and good?"
"Whoa, hold up there my righteous brother. Neopia
Central is a city. No 'demon spawn' there. Just pets and a few human masters."
His face lit in triumph. Not good. "Then I will
journey to this place, and with my human comrades we shall destroy the scourge
Felda laughed out loud. "Not likely. They'd probably
side with their pets and take you head on. That'd be funny: Jungle Man charging
the city in a loincloth and getting fried by a fire mote."
He ignored her words and her hysterical laughter.
He spoke with absolute resolution. "Then it is you who must go to the Fire,
and call our sacred element to us!"
She frowned, then said sarcastically, "You want
fire and I could call up a Fire Faerie, just like that." She snapped her fingers,
and recoiled at the noise. He clearly didn't know what she was talking about.
"Faeries? Your 'Winged Ones', I believe." This made several of the children
gasp, but the man had had enough of talk.
"To the Fire with her! Call our sacred Power,
our cleansing element!" The rope holding the cage door shut was cut by a sturdy
looking man, who then reached in and grabbed her shoulder, then roughly held
her arms together in a crushing fist. He propelled her toward the fire, and
then halted as the eldest one spoke. "Come to us, oh Power of Fire, and cleanse
our land of this scourge! Be summoned by this one's soul in the flames, our
call to you in your Flaming Palace. Bringer of New, Cleanser of the Dead, Destroyer
of Evil, we sacrifice so you will live!"
Felda felt a hand on her back, about to exert
the pressure that would send her head-first into the flames. Just as the pressure
was making her take a step forward, she heard a screaming from above. Looking
up, tears came to her eyes.
* * *
Hather wasn't stupid, and he certainly wasn't
brave. He was just angry. The villagers were going to throw a life away to the
fire for some crazy belief. It should not have been Felda going to the flames.
She had been a mere innocent bystander. If anyone should be in that fire, it
should be him. He was the one who had caused so much suffering and pain. It
was him who'd gotten everyone into this situation. It was time to set things
right. Which is why he did what he did.
Diving steeply down to the village, he screamed.
That turned all eyes away from Felda, and on him. He saw tears in her eyes,
but those faded seconds after they appeared, and she understood this was her
only chance. The villagers were stunned for a moment, but only a moment. Soon
there was a call ringing out, and women carrying bows and arrows lined in neat
rows, drawing back the strings.
Hather swooped low to the ground, and in that
small window of one second, Felda managed to grab a hold of his mane and swing
herself onto his back. His breath came in puffs as he tried to keep their combined
weight in the air. Geez, he was out of shape! But he would manage. He was jolted
from his mild reverie on his physical condition when an arrow clipped his wing.
He cursed and headed for the trees, flying low.
Soon he could not see the village from beyond
the treetops, as was likewise for the villagers. They were safe, for now. One
stray arrow fired by a stubborn archer landed twenty feet to their left, then
all was still. Felda only smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck, laying
her head on his mane, but he knew she was not asleep. The sun was behind them
now, ready to set in a few hours, lighting the plains below them in a golden
light. The gently rolling hills of waving yellow grass enticed them, and right
where the trees ended abruptly to meet the prairie, they spied the gathering.
Slowly Hather began his decent.
* * *
Rednah spied the shape above them, and was immensely
relieved when she saw it was Felda and Hather. One look in her eyes, and she
could see tremendous relief, but also pain at knowing how close she had come
to the fate of the fire. Felda would tell her what had happened later, but there
were more pressing problems for now.
When they landed, there was a soft thump of hooves
impacting the grass, and the Kyrii swung off Hather's back. The Uni headed to
the back of the group, where he was accepted as a comrade, if not totally forgiven
for his misdeed of guiding them here. Well, he would be forgiven. In time. She
turned her gaze back to Felda, who was busily conferring with Esper, using erratic
hand gestures. Her gaze was drawn to the plains, the rolling hills like waves
in a sea, forever marching to a distant shore. The original plan had been to
seek shelter in the plains, as far from the forest and its inhabitants as possible,
but now she saw that was impossible. The golden ripples in the grass was the
only movement, and all was silent and still, except for the whisper of the wind.
Something was wrong with this place. No, she corrected herself, something was
right. They couldn't violate the sanctity of the plains; for some reason, it
Felda drew her attention back from her pondering
with a slight shake of her shoulder. Looking around, she saw in the others'
eyes that they had reached the same conclusion as her: they couldn't venture
out onto the prairie. They were going back into the forest.
"Winter is going to be coming soon," Felda said
quietly. "We're going to be heading south, hopefully toward warmer pastures."
She pointed to the green mountains that marched away to the south and north,
parallel to the path they'd be traveling. She snapped her fingers together to
call the attention of the group. In her strongest voice, she said, "We can't
stay here. Winter is coming soon, and we couldn't survive in this forest. The
other motive for leaving, as I'm sure you're all aware of, is the village."
There was some murmuring amongst he crowd as she said this, but it quieted.
"We will be heading south, to find a place where we can wait out the winter."
There was some shuffling in the group, and it
eventually pushed forth Path. He seemed to gather himself before saying, "Felda,
we know that our first priority should be survival, but... shouldn't we be trying
to find a way out of this place?"
She raised her eyebrows at him. "Like how?"
"Well... we could find the sea, perhaps wait
for a ferry to take us home."
Rednah watched the passing of words with great
interest, enraptured like the others. "Well," Felda said, "what would we be
returning to? Dumpster diving, little food, and cold nights alone? Being the
scourge of society?"
"Then what do you suggest?"
"Perhaps we could find a new place, a place to
start over. Maybe Altador, or Shenkuu." There was a murmur of assent to this,
and Rednah stood by as Felda took charge of the group, and slowly led them south.
* * *
The sun shown through the naked branches of the
trees, filtering bars of light onto the golden carpet of fallen leaves below.
It had been many days since their group had set out, and the forest seemed to
be changing. The farther south they traveled, the more benevolent the forest
seemed: the nights were no longer eerily silent, nor so oppressing. It was merely
the absence of light, a time to sleep. The evil seemed to have been left behind
with the fire-worshiping village.
Now, with Felda at the head of the group, they
made their way to where the trees stopped abruptly, and cliffs descended almost
vertically to the grey-blue waves below. No one had challenged Felda's rights
to lead, so it seemed she would be doing so for a long time. The crash and roar
of the surf below spoke of countless miles of water, stretching from horizon
They stood for a while, and watched as the waves
propelled forward a speck on the very limits of their vision, which grew to
become a gleaming white ship. It halted a little ways from the cliffs, and holiday-goers
could be seen staring in wonder or snapping pictures.
This could be their chance. All they had to
do was call out, wave, draw attention to themselves, and they would be taken
back to Neopia Central. They could return to... what exactly? No one would ever
believe nor wish to hear their fantastic tale, and they would be forced back
into society's hindsight. Cold, alone, and hungry. The ship bobbed in the sea,
and the oohing and ahhing crowd insisted the captain lay anchor so they could
soak up the beauty of this mysterious land.
Everyone turned to Felda, who raised her hand.
They all nodded, and they headed back into the forest, to a place where they
could make a space for themselves to belong.