Cinnamon and Vinegar: Part Four
All of it irked me.
Faith was in danger. I had realized that she had been kidnapped, but maybe I had yet to estimate her conditions. I felt sorrier for the poor girl than I had ever been in my life.
Faith and I had a strange history. When Cerulean brought her home, I was curious and then angry, but he had his way of persuading people. After finally accepting her, I learned to treat her as though she had never done what she did.
She didn't object to me being motherly on her. In fact, she really seemed to appreciate every ounce of affection. I never pried into her past, but I had my suspicions that there was a reason for her eager compliance. Ever since she had come, life seemed a little bit more cheerful. It was nice having her in the household, and whenever Cerulean was tackling Hunters, I wasn't left alone.
Even if she seemed slightly more attached to her fellow Xweetok, she still had the tendency to cling to me when she was upset. I was never bothered by it, and would reassure her however I could. The three of us were a family: we seldom got impatient with each other. Melded together by the occasional hardship, we had no need for family squabbles.
I really hoped she wasn't in poor health...
"PUT ME DOWN! YOU'RE GOING TO BREAK MY BACK OR SOMETHING!"
"Sort of the idea, although not really my exact intentions," I silkily purred as I turned one of my fingers in a circle repeatedly. Undoubtedly, Faith could barely see my motion. She was too busy wildly skidding across the cold, smooth ice of the glacier. "I suppose that's enough; I've got better things to do, although this has been entertaining."
As I finished speaking, I snapped my fingers. The red Xweetok's shackles opened. She floated into them by her ankles and stared at me as the cuffs clamped tightly around her. I smirked at her, arms crossed, as I jiggled one hand a little. She pitifully squeaked as she swung from left to right. I laughed.
And then I snorted with a smile as I strolled off, still waving my hand behind me mockingly. As I put it back down at my side, however, something unbelievable happened. I heard a crash, a pop, and felt something careen into my back and knock me onto the ice. I groaned from where I lay. The weight on me was most uncomfortable...
"Aargh..." I muttered as I failed to get up. My legs were twisted strangely — and one of them hurt maniacally. As I turned my head, bearing a snarl, I saw Faith's paw fly to her mouth from where she was sprawled on top of me.
"Please don't blame me... Please don't blame me... Please don't-"
"I don't, if it makes you shut up. This is my entire stupid freaking fault; I forgot to undo that spell I do with my hands before I did that. I can't walk like this! I don't think I can even stand!"
She backed off and away from me.
"Gah... Get closer to me, you stupid innocent forest creature whose legs actually work," I hissed.
"Why should I? What have you done for me?" she quipped, realizing her chance.
"I kept you alive with my magic. Have you noticed yet that, despite your ribs showing with starvation, you have actually survived without eating anything?" I explained through gritted teeth, hoping that any words I had to say would keep her there longer. Still, she turned around, starting to stride to the edge of the iceberg.
"I would've lived, not survived, if you hadn't dragged me around like this in the first place," she countered over her shoulder as she paused for a second.
A certain spell came to my mind. One that would not only get Faith to do what I needed, but get her to do it as soon as possible. The conditions are pretty much right, I realized. This is seriously my chance. Faith just needs to be a little closer.
"Get back here before..." I faltered.
"Before what?" She finally turned back to me completely, a smirk on her face. "Before your conscience catches up to you?"
I finally thrust my hand towards her, focused, and slowly brought it back to where I lay. She futilely scrabbled at the ice as she floated towards me. My legs suddenly erupted in pain, but I ignored it.
"Ikestama ja erapoolikus!" I shouted just as I dropped her.
Her eyes literally went blank as she fell onto her back, and her eyelids drifted shut. After a few seconds, they opened. She lay there, staring at the sky. As I always did before and after spellcasting, I mentally ran through the spell's criteria.
This requires each of its two members to have a magical object rightfully belonging to the other, of similar material but opposite natures, to be on their personage at all times.
The key around her neck weakly floated off from beneath her shawl, and I put it on. I took a few seconds to mutter a basic warp spell, too. It would be triggered when the time was right.
"Where am I? Who am I?" she mumbled, sitting up and rubbing the back of her head. "...Master? Is that you?"
I grimly smiled.
"Yes, my servant. I desperately need a flask of sap from the Creator's Breath tree. The closest one is a little ways north, in the forests. The woodlanders should have left it alone. It is one of their unspoken laws that they only use it when absolutely necessary, so there should be plenty of sap. It can cure anything, and should you fail to return from your mission, I shall be rendered helpless here. I believe my legs are broken, which cuts my magic, as well as having obvious inconveniences."
It was a bit of a long shot, but it could work.
"With my magic weakened like this, I can do little. But this is for the sap," I continued as an empty, thin leather canteen with a sash attached to it materialized in her right hand.
"Yes, master. I shall not fail."
I knew that my magic was intact; after all, it wasn't really my own, but the Boomerang's. The truth... I didn't know how to heal a broken leg. I would never admit it to even my servant/captive...
"Pardon my request, but my success may be hindered without adequate knowledge of the Creator's Breath tree's appearance."
She still harbored a bit of insolence towards me — so I thought until I realized that she was right.
"It looks like it's made of gold — you can't miss it. Remember, now: the foresters are very hostile, and do not risk interaction with them. Hissis in are a particular phobia of yours after you were bit by one as a small child. Remember; Xweetoks are your dire enemy. Avoid the tall ones at all costs. Do not let one see you. And the smaller one who you have never seen... HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM. AT. ALL. I will do my best to land you on the mainland safely and keep you living until you find food, but those are the most I can do with this limited power."
Creator knows what would happen if Cerulean found her...
She turned to the mainland. I heard her gulp. Her skin still prickled with tension as she was delicately bathed in the subtle white glow of the Boomerang's will. She drew a breath as I slowly moved my hand – and her – off the edge.
She became less stiff when she started going down. She started walking in air as though she was heading down a staircase, and it was not only dramatic, but would have been very convincing that she was doing magic. It wouldn't fool me that she was doing such a thing, however: I was the one controlling her fall.¬
She slowly became smaller and smaller as I carefully maintained her height. But then something snapped – I had remembered something too crucial too late. She started falling with a shrill scream.
I had forgotten that all magic controlled by substantial movement had a definite range.
I groaned and sat up. I felt very hungry, tired and I-don't-want-to-be-here. And my skull hurt a lot.
It was nighttime. The sky was a sea of dark violet hung impossibly far above me, randomly pierced by white sparks. I felt something around my arm – a canteen, I realized, as I hastily screwed it open in hopes of water.
It was empty.
I screwed it shut again and assessed my belongings: the canteen, the worn green dress I was wearing, and a patched shawl. Well, they were better than nothing. I got to my feet, only to realize that something was on them.
I gave the air a swift kick to discover the shackles were heavy enough to be annoying. I fell onto my knees, staring up at the sky. What was I?
I wasn't bad. Or was I? I didn't want to be bad.
The moment I stood up again, an impulse hit me. I broke into a run, starting to pant in the crisp night. My shackles barely hindered me as I dragged them through the snow. I had to run. I had to keep on running. I had to do it for... For someone. I felt like I was obliged to run because of a person besides myself. Almost like I was running... from... someone.
It all hit me. I was escaping from a prison because somehow I'd gotten arrested. I pinned my age at twelve or so years old, but I'd done something so awful that the law overlooked that. And because of the way my head hurt, I'd probably hit it on something in the middle of nowhere and forgot everything.
I was torn between turning myself in and escaping – I barely knew where the jail was, though. I didn't feel like I'd done anything wrong until I figured that it was the best explanation for all this. And I wanted to be free: I could easily just run away from the jail's direction. I could start a new life.
I kept on running, wishing that I had a name.
We'd see Faith that day... I knew it.
My Hissi tail flicked back and forth as I busied myself that morning. I was picking some berries from a small bush: something I'd been fortunate to find. Cerulean was still asleep, sprawled across an area where we'd pushed some snow away.
I dropped another berry into the pile I had made. Just as I was reaching for another, I saw a dark speck on the horizon. My wing stopped. Someone was actually in this barren wasteland. I must have been noticed by him or her, because the point was slowly moving closer.
"Cerulean," I said as I touched his side. He instantly jerked into consciousness.
"GIVE ME MY TEA BACK, YOU LITTLE RUNT OF A — oh, hey, I'm awake. I had a weird dream, I was being chased around by a janitor; I think he was a Zafara—"
"Over there," I pointed to the speck in the distance, bluntly changing the subject.
"Hey, someone's actually... Is that Faith?"
My eyes widened. "I think it is..."
He said nothing, but immediately began gallivanting towards her, thinking our journey was over this soon.
My heart leapt with joy as I slithered behind him as fast as I could in the snow — it was a miracle. But then my spirits dropped slightly. Why did Faith appear to be moving away from us?
"FAITH! IT'S ME, RUBIA! CERULEAN IS WITH ME!"
She was running away.
"I just don't get it," Cerulean stopped and moaned.
"Don't stop; I bet you can catch her..."
I charged with all my might. There had to be a reason for one of my best friends to be afraid of me, but I couldn't imagine what it was. Faith. Please, come home. You're the one who wanted me to come here. Don't back out on me.
"Why are you running?!" I called.
She didn't reply, but kept running – running weakly. I briefly wondered why Rubia decided not to come with me. She could reach Faith like... like this. And then I realized: this cold has sapped strength from both of them. They're too slow to catch each other, and I guess it's my duty to get Faith back.
I could feel it. Due to me being the one who tackled Hunters regularly and had the Creator as my parent, I was stronger and faster than Faith. I had caught up enough to see that she looked very battered, and a leather object was bouncing around her waist on a sash. She seemed to be losing stamina quickly and was struggling to press on. I was stunned to see her exact condition when I got even closer; she was smudged with dried mud and flecked with bruises.
And a pair of chains was dragging in the snow behind her.
"Faith, what happened to you?"
Finally, I got in front of my good friend, and turned to face her. She jumped away, frightened, but no number of changes in direction could get her very far away from me. I noticed that her paws in particular were shaky and callused, and then she stumbled and nearly fell before she regained her footing.
"Why did you do that? I wouldn't dream of bringing harm to you," I questioned, noting that one of her shoulders was bruised. "Seriously, Faith. Calm down."
"You have the wrong person!" she cried. "Let me go, I've never heard that name before!"
"I... oh, I guess I should stop trying to get away."
She bent her head low to the ground. I knew that asking if everything were alright would only make her feel worse. Instead, I asked, "What happened?"
"Uh... who are you?"
"Who are you? What did you call me again?"
My jaw fell open.
"Faith?" Rubia asked after having caught up, poking her head into our conversation. "Dear, are y—"
She gasped and jumped away, shielding her face with one wrist. "Hissi!... please... don't bite me..."
"You know I wouldn't."
The Xweetok whimpered.
"What's wrong?" I asked, gently nudging her good shoulder with one paw. She winced.
"Nothing. Just let me go. Who am I?"
"We'd like some explanations first. Why did you leave without as much as a note? Could you help it?" Rubia asked.
"Please. I don't know what you're talking about. I don't remember anything. Do you know who I am?"
"You're one of us," I affirmed. "We missed you. What happened? Don't you know who you are?"
"No. What's my name again?"
"Faith. Your name is Faith. What's the earliest thing you remember?"
"A few hours ago."
"I... woke... up." She saw my confused look and added, "I just started walking."
Rubia leaned closer to me as Faith took a couple of steps back.
"She clearly has amnesia," Rubia whispered in my ear. "Faith wouldn't fake this. We'll have to bring her home so that I can have access to my magic books. And for good grief's sake, we need to get those horrible chains off of her." She raised her voice and turned her head. "Are you coming?"
"Yes, ma'am," she whimpered a moment later after she sized me up, as though I would be angry if she didn't show the Hissi respect. Her distrust had doubled after she saw my full figure and thick muscle. I'm sure she knew how small and scrawny she was.
She didn't trust me enough to tell me her real opinion. She didn't trust me enough to seek me for support. She didn't even completely trust me not to hurt her.
"We'll go eat some of those berries and then we'll head home," Rubia said.
Her eyes widened as I sidestepped closer to her, as though she was expecting to feel pain. I spread my wing and completely rested it across her back. I was hoping that she'd remember something — anything — at the touch of my feathers.
Only maybe I rested it on her a little too much.
She slipped and fell onto the cold ground, and she didn't take the hand that I presented to help her up.
At least we had something to eat that day – berries.
Solid fear was instilled in me.
I couldn't get away. It was one thing for me to be on a so-far successful mission (well, I felt like I was on a mission somehow), but another to be suddenly thrown out of control. I had a silent and stingy poise now; my strides were long and slow and my words few and somewhat spiteful.
We had been traveling all day. I had not expected that I would be found by two people who seemed to be neither former partners in crime or current officials looking to put me under lock and key. Or maybe this "home" they kept referring to was confinement, and they really were turnkeys? By the way they talked about it I started to doubt the possibility, however. And neither of them looked like a jailbird or a jailer.
The winged Xweetok said to call him Cerulean. I felt backed into a corner, though, and hoped that respect would get me out of it if I continued to call him "Sir."
I barely recognized his face from... well, from somewhere. I just wished I had the strength to ask who he was. I felt sort of like he was my friend, but enough of an enemy to keep me distant from him. Almost like I'd been taught to befriend and fear him by different people.
I felt caught in an invisible war.
"What happened to you?"
I didn't respond willingly. He wasn't worth it. He was as much of a monster on the inside as he was on the outside, I figured. The enemy instinct had overpowered me – I think someone told me to keep away from him. I think. He was a threatening figure, and I didn't dare defy him, but he was relatively satisfied with an "I don't know" from me for an answer. Well, he was satisfied enough to not put me into pain.
I was fed, but a little reluctant to take food from him and his accomplice. The Hissi was to me ugly and beautiful at the same time. I treated her the same way I did Cerulean, albeit I kept away from her even more so than I did him. Her personality and gaze probably had more venom than her fangs, but I wasn't going to try finding out how much the latter was. And for some reason I thought of her every time I glanced at my shawl.
That evening, we rested in the open. The cape of the Xweetok disturbed me. I had no idea what his face looked like, asides from the occasional glint of his eyes. What was he hiding, and why? Cloaks were typically worn by people trying to be secretive, right? Maybe he wore the cloak just to establish fear. I was scared enough without it.
While they slept, I was wide awake. I was lying between Cerulean and Rubia. It would be hard to walk in one direction without stirring one or the other. The clouds had parted to give way to a silver disc of moon. The light was well, and I could tell they were asleep. My chance had come.
Cautiously so as to not disturb either, I crawled from where he was and quietly padded away from them. The snow had gotten pretty thick. It was like a very thick rug which your feet sank into if you were not careful, only this made your toes cold instead of warm. My mind was still telling me to get away from anyone who could possibly keep me prisoner. When I walked, my footprints were too shallow to see. How had I gotten that subconscious ability to walk almost on top of snow? But my chains were heavy enough to leave marks. I got far away enough to sprint without being heard by Cerulean and Rubia, so I broke into a run.
For the longest time, the world was just me and the moon. The canteen bounced around my waist as I galloped across the silver fields of snow, running for myself as well as... Master. The name popped into my head all of a sudden. I was doing something for a Master. But who was this Master?
Finally, I was tired just as I reached a rare set of cliffs. I stood atop the highest, resting, and gazing out at the stars. Everything looked so serene... I could finally think straight. I was far away enough from Cerulean for his intimidating presence to leave my mind, and I could focus on the task at hand. Master was in trouble. It suddenly occurred to me that I had to continue on my quest to receive sap from a... a Creator's Breath tree. Was I a prisoner, or a servant?
Just as I wondered that, I jumped at the sound of sudden footsteps. Cerulean was approaching me. After a moment of awkwardness, he said, "The moon's nice tonight."
"Wh-when did you get here?!" I exclaimed, stepping away from him.
"I followed you," he clarified.
"Please, don't hurt me! I won't run off again!" I pleaded, jamming my eyes shut before I felt anything.
I opened my eyes and glanced up slightly. His claws were sheathed, his hand gently resting on my shoulder. It felt good for... for some reason. I thought I was supposed to fear him, but I realized something right then. His presence soothed me when I allowed it to.
The wind stirred, flipped the hood of his cape over, and I saw him smiling sympathetically. But that wasn't all that I saw.
I did not scream. I did not gasp. I just stared at his charred fur.
"Oh!" he exclaimed all of a sudden, readjusted his cape, and anxiously rubbed the back of his neck. "...Yeah."
"When'd that happen?" I asked, befuddled at his scorched hair.
"You don't remember Cloudpoint?"
We're... the same species... I couldn't see much besides his wings earlier.
"No... I'm not even sure who I am..."
"Then why didn't you object to what I called you a few seconds ago?"
"...What did you call me a few seconds ago?"
I broke our eye contact. Cerulean said, "Are you faking this amnesia?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Do you remember me, but pretend that you don't?"
"I don't have any idea who you are!"
"Listen, I've been deprived of one of my best friends for a week. I want you back. Isn't my name vaguely familiar?"
I stared at him in silence.
"Maybe... I just wanna know who I am..."
I walked away from him, but he was in front of me in an instant.
"Honestly, I don't-"
"Faith, please, listen to me. Consider the fact that maybe you're this girl I'm talking about."
"Maybe I am. But I feel like I'm being pulled in two different directions, maybe three when I think about it... It's just so confusing... Am I a convict?"
"A week ago you weren't."
He walked up to me and briefly placed his hands on my shoulders again. I didn't shy away. He brought me closer to him in a short embrace, and then he led me back to Rubia.
I did not protest.
The next day passed rather slowly.
I realized that I was beginning to think of Cerulean as generous, even though I kept trying to shake him off and refuse all support he offered. He seemed a little less dangerous. The cold didn't bite and scratch at me so much now. The sun kept me safe.
I began to warm up to Rubia. She cared about how to her my right shoulder had been hurt, although I knew I had been born that way. I was fed a third of whatever little edible things we found almost entirely by her insistence. But there was something that filled me up so much more than food did: the fact that I was fed even though I'd insisted I wasn't hungry.
But there was some small part of me I thought cumbersome. That small part wanted a smidge of heroics for Master — however much it took to satisfy him. But I didn't want Master. I didn't want to do what he wanted.
The two of them would let me walk beside them the way they did with each other. I was willing to share their warmth, and it seemed like they were relieved to have me there. But I didn't know quite why...
"Where are we going?" I questioned as we settled down to sleep that night.
"Deepwood County. More precisely, home," Rubia answered with a smile as she gently coiled up next to where I lay.
"You know, a little south of the Blank," Cerulean reminded me as he rested one wing on me.
"It's the historical, universally-known clearing left over from the original betrayal, currently used as a Hunter craft landing spot," The Hissi accurately defined.
They both seemed to change then and there. An awkward air of silence enveloped them.
"Of all the things which I can't believe you forgot..." Cerulean shook his head.
"Faith... The story. Legend, I mean. I'm not sure if either of us would exist without it." He turned to Rubia. "...Rubia, do you think you might tell her? I'm not good with storytelling."
"Of course. When all was created by our mother, the Creator, they say peace reined more than she did. One hundred or so foresters lived peacefully in the open, thriving on the wild fruits and berries. No one had any more or less than the person next to them. If someone hurt him or herself, then the Creator did not hesitate to use her magic to heal them. Everything was happy. Peaceful. Perfect."
A hundred people all being equal made me think of how I was treated kindly by my newfound companions. The healing part really grabbed my attention. Was it really possible for me to be healed? Could I ascend from being such a lowly servant? No, that would be wrong.
"But then, a very terrible thing happened..."
To be continued...