Cinnamon and Vinegar: Part Seven
Out of Character
"RUBIA!" I shouted as I burst into the foyer. "Faith — she's gone!"
The red Hissi's jaw dropped pretty much to the floor. "What?"
"She's... just... gone."
My lip quivered. "I have no idea what happened... I'm sorry, Rubia... I just wish I could explain things..."
She slithered out of her throne and tightly wrapped her arms around me as I continued to bawl.
"You're right! It doesn't make sense! It doesn't make sense why I can't have more than four weeks at a time of a quiet life with you and Faith before she just vanishes and she can't help it and she just wants to lie low with us! It doesn't make sense why I can't have it easy for awhile! And she can't either! She's gone and Tor's gone and... and..."
I realized that I had started choking on tears in Rubia's firm embrace.
She said, "There's no such thing as life without suffering."
I sobbed, "Rubiaaaa!" and could have crushed a frail person with the strength I used to hug her then. But Rubia was not frail.
She was my headstrong caretaker. Headstrong when I faced defeat. Headstrong when I didn't think I could go one more day. Headstrong in words of encouragement, her need to nurture others, and her daily confidence. Confidence which I sometimes felt was a shield keeping me from belittling taunts behind my back. Headstrong, so that just during my own unusually-weak actions, she still came through with something that was so out-of-character that it was completely, absolutely, perfectly in character.
"Things will be alright someday," she murmured. And then I looked at her and noticed that she was devastated. Her eyes showed it, even in the torch-light. "Someday, even if it's not today or tomorrow or a year from right now or even when you're grown and you have a son, it'll still be alright eventually."
Even when she was mourning, she still needed to feed someone.
For awhile, we clung to each other, trying in vain to net us both sacred beads of comfort. I felt like all my emotions were crumbling away. We both had lost someone precious — maybe for good this time.
We eventually slogged back through the corridor together, and finally embarked on our individual efforts to get some shut-eye. The shock at the loss of Faith haunted me so much that I could hardly think.
Now I was an empty shell. Why hadn't I felt like this before she came into my life? Why did so much bad stuff happen to her so that we could hardly spend a month in lazy peace?
Why did life think she deserved it?
It wasn't just the fact that she was missing — I had a twin out there, too. Maybe she just meant we were born on the same day a year ago. Yeah, she did. Maybe we shared the Creator as a mother, but we still weren't quite twins. Yeah.
I would have woken up a year ago to see another Creator's Child curled up against me if I had a real, biological twin, or maybe he'd have woken up to see me curled up against him. My memory couldn't have been blurry: I still remember that day perfectly. Rubia was the first living being I laid eyes on, not a brother.
Maybe that 'twin' lied to Faith. Maybe he wanted to scare her. Maybe he was just a mean, all-knowing person who was unrelated to me.
I was sleepless.
I was the first to suggest going to bed every night. I seldom woke up on my own before Cerulean began shaking my shoulder and calling my name. It usually took me about ten minutes to fall asleep.
It had taken the entire night for my migraine to wear off completely, and now the sun was blaring through the clouds and a certain ugly Blumaroo would be up any moment, ready to torment me again with his presence alone.
I'd had trouble sleeping every night since he kidnapped me, but frankly, the shock and discomfort hardly factored into the equation anymore. I missed Rubia and Cerulean more than was healthy.
I had a gut feeling Amadeus was going to use me soon.
It was so cold I could hardly move. I felt like all my spiritual energy was drained from me in its entirety. I was disappointed in myself. If only I'd made it away from Amadeus when I could have.
No, I realized, don't hate yourself. He was coming for you.
A flash of blaring orange appeared from a wooden stairwell. I growled at him, regaining courage in my crabbiness. My offense didn't go unnoticed.
"Quiet, you, I didn't sleep well," He snapped half-heartedly, his attitude dulled by his own insomnia. I would have laughed if I hadn't forgotten how.
"Why? Did your conscience finally catch up to you?" I mocked. When he didn't reply, I said, "Cerulean never told me he had a twin."
"I thought I told you earlier that he didn't know I existed," he bluntly moaned, situating himself against a chunky part in the ice.
"How's that possible? You were born together, correct?" I felt a little happier at his minor suffering, and spoke my words in a taunting manner.
"No. See, I'm not quite what you'd call an exact twin..."
"Well, I, uh... Cerulean was born as one of the strong Creator's Children. When any being like him is generated, enough energy is sometimes made to actually create another creature elsewhere. The double tends to be a reverse, however. Sometimes the reverse connection is hardly there and the twins can be as alike or opposite as they wish, and sometimes the second creature has almost no control over his actions and must do and think the exact opposite of the host. I'm in-between the two scenarios."
His words came out in that one burst: later, I couldn't recall the exact phrasing, but forever remembered the gist of it.
"How in-between?" I questioned, daring to take a few steps towards him.
"Well, I guess we're opposite in terms of personality, we were just born that way; and I have natural hatreds of people like you... But I usually have free will over my actions. Usually." He looked a little nervous.
"Did you kidnap me because you were forced to because I'm important to Cerulean? Were you forced to do any of this? Could you have settled down with a few strangers when you were born a year ago?"
"You're name's just Amadeus, isn't it? No Master or fancy titles or anything?"
Our half-established eye contact broke completely as his gaze flickered away from mine. His mouth, dropped into a weak frown, didn't open to say anything. He got up, turned his back to me, and actually walked to the other side of the solid wooden stairwell so I saw nothing more of him than the tip of his tail.
"Do you think you have to do all this when you don't?"
Nothing. Not a word came from him. I expanded my unanswered question.
"If you were really Cerulean's exact opposite, then you'd be almost incapable of doing anything vaguely kind. But you aren't. I know you have some control over yourself."
Why wasn't he talking?
"Amadeus, answer me. Are you incapable of letting me go? Why have you done all of this?"
"You have a nice laugh, and it's probably better when it isn't so mean. You'd fit into a family perfectly."
More silence, asides from a quiet sniff.
"Amadeus, just say something! Do you not know what to say, despite the fact that I've asked you like half a dozen questions?"
I forgot about all my weariness from the previous night and rose to my feet. The atmosphere had an aura of loose fragility in the air as I busily trotted over to where my adversary (?) was slouching.
"Were you forced to do this to me?"
He looked up, rapidly blinking his eyes. "No," he murmured, his voice cracking notably.
"Amadeus, are you... Are you, of all people, actually... Crying?"
"No!" he snapped, banging his fists on the ground, dark magic visible around them. "I have never cried, and I never will!"
I stepped back a bit from a small crack which had formed in the iceberg. I snorted with an amused smile. "Now that I know you aren't actually a perfect opposite of Cerulean, I can tell you that you don't have to be angry at me. I told you that you'd fit into a family nice. I could help you find someplace to stay. And something I've learned a little while back — when your life is broken and an open hand is right in front of you, then take it every time."
"I don't know what that's a metaphor for," he said, regaining his pompousness slightly and turning his body away from me. However, in that movement, his back lost alignment with the ice chunk he leant against. He yelped as he wobbled and then spilled forward onto his stomach, limbs splaying apart.
"It isn't always a metaphor."
He looked up at my open hand, which had been offered in front of him.
I firmly stared into his eyes: he didn't look away. He was spread-eagled on his belly, head at ground level. The determination he must have seen in me with a flash of kindness did it. He hesitated, then, cautiously, insecurely, wordlessly began to move his paw into mine.
Is this what Cerulean felt like when he first hugged me so long ago? I remember... I remember that I didn't really react to it... Just let my arms hang limp... But I liked it. And when he let me go, I smiled.
"Mind you, I'm only doing this because I haven't exactly been a straight arrow either," I added as I realized it myself. "Generosity and forgiveness are two things Cerulean taught me without realizing it."
He didn't reply to my words or show any sign at all that he heard them, asides from a single glance into my face. His hand trembled in the air for a moment when it was an inch away from mine.
And then it stopped shaking completely, and smacked my paw away two seconds later. He got up — on his own — and dusted himself off. My gaze was met with a glare.
"I do not want or need any of your help."
"You're half right."
"Amadeus," I pried, taking a step away from him, "You don't know what it feels like to be someone's friend. It's better than the life you've been looking forward to, trust me. Nobody's hugged you in your entire life. You have no idea what you're missing."
He opened his mouth to speak, but it took a moment for him to find the words. "...How do you know that?"
"Isn't it obvious? Who would? Who named you? Have you interacted with anyone besides me? ...Ever?"
"...I named myself. And I don't want to answer that last question."
"Is it because you know that the answer is no?"
"Look. Let's just say that it's no, alright?"
"They say it's better to have loved and have lost than never have loved at all."
"Okay, first, what they say is that wise men make proverbs and fools repeat them. Second, that's not quite it. I never loved anyone."
"...Then why don't you like thinking about it?"
"Because he attacked me!"
Amadeus looked so... Driven. Free. His inner self at last.
"I... went to Cloudpoint... to get the Crystal Boomerang... and I got mauled by a Kougra. He said it was because I had a dark look in my eyes. He ruined my wings. If I weren't linked to Cerulean... I would have died."
"You mean Oukse? You kidnapped me, but lost to that idiot?"
"I... I said I went there to get the Crystal Boomerang! I didn't kidnap you until after I had it, and... and he attacked me before!"
"Are you implying that you don't have the strength on your own to spirit away a harmless, helpless little forest girl like me? That the almighty arcane Amadeus, twin brother of great hero Cerulean, couldn't smuggle me out of Deepwood without help from the very same artifact that aforementioned woodland child made available to you?"
He glared at me.
"I'm not turning back now. Not when everything is perfect, and I'll be able to do whatever I want before too much long. I told you I have a natural hate for everyone my twin cares about, and although it can be reversed over time, I'd rather live with all his friends as prisoners. It's in my nature. After all, I have as much magic as I need now, and the perfect piece of bait."
"I need to capture him and put him in a magical sleep in a safe place, thus preserving him for possibly centuries. Win-win for me; I don't need to be afraid of him getting in my way, and as long as I can guard him, I can live forever. But the Crystal Boomerang can't always do much to a light magic creature, unless that creature agrees to the Boomerang in some shape or form..."
"But what's the bait?"
"You really haven't realized? You think I've just been dragging you along for the fun of it? You think I can give a direct threat to conveniently-bighearted Cerulean, the one person I can't bring harm to?"
The missing links fell into my grasp as my eyes widened.
"What? What? You mean that... That... You're using me as a footstool against Cerulean?"
"Ah, don't worry... If you didn't exist, I'd just find some random helpless forest girl to threaten to dispose of. I merely used you just in case he needed that extra push."
I opened my mouth to reply, changed my mind and closed it, and then came up with a comeback.
"If I didn't exist, you'd likely not even be here. I've saved Cerulean's life, you know. Why kill me now?" I crossed my arms. He ignored my statement.
"This iceberg... I could make it into a beautiful ice kingdom for you."
"What?!" I exclaimed. "Okay. I've spent too much of my time here suffering. I'll never like it."
"Oh, come now. That has been, what, a few days in mild discomfort?"
"No matter how brilliant and vast a kingdom you make for me, it will never be my home, as it won't have enough room for a single grain of happiness... At least, not when you're inside."
His jaw fell a full inch to the ground. "Wha... What in the Creator's name did you just say?!"
"I just realized this... Are you sure you couldn't have just kidnapped Cerulean to begin with?"
He snapped back to reality somewhat and, with a considerably calmer voice, said:
"Even the Crystal Boomerang has its limits."
To me, those seven words sounded more like, "Even darkness and evil have their limits."
"Well, would you rather I had kidnapped him?"
"Better me than him..."
"Y-you're a person, too! You don't need to say that!"
I glared at him.
"Don't try to wear a halo in front of me."
He had nothing to reply to that with, at least not at first, something I personally could have sympathized with – but I didn't. His fists were clenched for several moments as he faced some sort of internal conflict. And then he shook it off, regretting that he showed weakness.
"Well, I've not only had plenty of time to find just the right spell, but I actually did find it. So let's get going."
He grabbed my forearm and ran off the glacier with me without giving me a choice. For the first time in that long, long week, I felt sorry for someone besides myself, Rubia, Amadeus' planned victims, or even Amadeus himself.
Cerulean didn't know what was ahead of him.
"Ah, my brother, you should have believed Faith. I am your twin."
It was terrible. I was asleep, but I could actually understand that. I felt nothing and I saw nothing, but heard a voice dripping with venom, and could be afraid of it.
"I have her. It is the middle of the night. Get up and go outside, and I'll free her if you come with me. Bring anyone else or don't come at all, and I will get rid of her immediately."
I snapped awake, panting in bed. Faith. Danger. Still alright. I had a brother. Well, there were probably a hundred siblings who I didn't know about, plus any who had passed on, but I had a twin brother.
I have her.
My twin had Faith. She hadn't been caught by a Hunter.
It is the middle of the night. Get up and go outside.
My twin had the nerve to tell me to get up in the middle of the night.
I'll free her if you come with me. Bring anyone else and I will get rid of her immediately.
Faith was being held for ransom... And my twin was willing to "get rid of" her.
I had to be brave. I confirmed that Rubia had her calm, sleeping hiss going strong, and then I headed out.
"You told Cerulean what?!?"
"That I'd kill you if he ignored my message. Of course I wouldn't kill him, so I needed to frighten him into coming here somehow. Don't worry, I was just scaring him. You're a bit pleasant to be around."
I stared blankly at Amadeus. He had taken me flying with him all the way to Deepwood. I'd hated the entire feeling of it. We'd been going so fast that he had to hold on to me: if I was disconnected from the magic, it would be bad. His iron clamp on my forearm had hurt, but I knew that he was keeping us floating, and I figured it was somehow necessary. But that wasn't the worst part.
I could feel the Crystal Boomerang coiled around my soul the entire time, constantly readjusting itself and making my inner self afraid. It was predatory: I could tell that I was starting to get on its nerves. I had never been nearly that spiritually close to it before, and I felt as though the moment Amadeus stopped telling it to be merciful to me, it'd take control over my body and do something horrible.
As soon as we landed, its grip loosened. But it didn't leave. It was "there" enough to keep me from running.
And of course we landed in the meadow where it all began.
Hit Me was charred to nothing but a scorched trunk with a few measly branches that ended in sharp, blackened points. The storm charm lay abandoned in the mud... I only noticed it because its string was sticking out of the muck like a despairing hand hopelessly reaching out.
Few Hunters chose to come out at night. It seemed like we were the only people in the entire world, a feeling which greatly disturbed me. We had just been sitting by the ground as he concentrated on infiltrating a dream to Cerulean, but first he had cast a spell on me so I couldn't move. Yet this new spell didn't make me feel pressured and encaged like the last one, just helplessly-lethargic in a comfortable way. I now realized that he probably chose the cramped spell on purpose before, but I still said nothing. He had finally opened his eyes, lifted my spell, and relayed to me exactly what he had told his twin.
"And we're in Deepwood now, right?"
Amadeus rested a hand on my shoulder and pointed to a tree half a bound away. I observed it for a second before I recognized my home. My mind had been somewhat fuzzy the last time I'd seen the exterior. Now, everything was clear, and as soon as Cerulean came out of the door, the fate of everyone he had ever loved (maybe besides me) would be sealed.
And then I saw him.
I had never, ever felt so terrible to see my closest companion. He was willing to offer himself — his life — to disappear forever with an absolute stranger for my sake. Mine! I'd been his worst enemy once!
My heart rose in my throat, trembling, pounding in my ears, making me feel more miserable than any of my previous feelings had.
I was always able to tell when one of my loved ones was in danger.
I usually thought of it as my Cerulean alarm, for he usually set it off. Faith had been setting it off all week, although I hadn't been able to do anything about it. Now, I sat up in bed, and realized Cerulean wasn't in his. My alarm had gone off, and now I was awake.
Awake for him. My present from the Creator. He wasn't there, but in danger.
I got up and entered the foyer. Faith's canteen was lying on the table — I'd been trying to identify the contents earlier, but didn't get very far. Instinctively, I picked it up and slung it over my own shoulder. I went outside and began to follow Cerulean's footsteps.
Maybe I was crazy, but then again, maybe I was his mother.
To be continued...