The Cross-Painted Curse: Part Five
Part 5: The Double-Barrelled Sneak Attack
As fighting for War For The Obelisk raged on, our family fell apart. I had thought Lorelai growling and stomping around the neolodge was bad, but that was nothing to how she was after screaming at me in the kitchen. The day after that happened, the leaders fell. Commander Flint took his fury out on his own troops, and my darling girl came home limping, with snow missing from her legs. There were scratches on her horns. It broke my heart to see her looking like that. But she wouldn't let me near her. If I walked into a room, she walked out. If I asked her something, she wouldn't reply. The boys didn't understand what had gone wrong. I hadn't the heart to tell them that she was leaving. I didn't know what to do.
The day Commander Flint was defeated was the first day I thought maybe I had made a mistake. Our platoon was in tatters. We were disheartened, most of our lot were just lying around outside the tents, trying to regain some enthusiasm or energy or... I don't know what. I sat in the mouth of the tent, and stared out across the Battleground. Our set up wasn't anything unusual. The Seekers were flagging, the Awakened looked ever more dead than usual, and the smug, supercilious, gloating grins that normally adorned the faces of even the newest Sway member had slid off in the heat of battle.
I looked instead at the Obelisk. The mysterious block that had caused so much fighting. I found I no longer cared what was inside it, or even if my side won. Instead, I realised, I wanted some peace. I was tired of being angry with Kai, with the world. I was tired of being angry with myself. I didn't want to feel sad anymore, I wanted to laugh again. I wanted to see my friends. I wanted to go swimming, oh, so much.
As I sat there, in the scorching heat, I realised something. I didn't have a friend left in the world, and it was all Kai's fault. I glared at the Obelisk as a huge wave of anger rolled over me. I didn't often like my stupid paws, but they were good for clenching into fists when I was angry. As I stared blindly ahead of me, I felt angrier than I had ever felt in my life.
Screams penetrated my fog of fury. I shake my head, force myself to release my fists, and focus on the source of the screams. The Obelisk is shuddering, something is coming from it, no, not from it, from the base of it, several things, what are they? They race out, they're aiming for our tents, quick, QUICK, WHERE'S MY AXE?
"Arm. Arm! ARM!" I yell, scrambling to my feet. I squint through the dust, the misty, ethereal things are separating, there are one, two, three... six of them, they're heading for a separate faction, what are they?
Then they're on us, and it has so many arms, and faces, what is it? I've never fought anything like this, how strong is it, WHAT is it?
It beats me. It wins. What is happening here?
"What ARE you?" I scream, desperately trying to gather my equipment and scramble away.
Somehow I know the answer, even though I know it doesn't speak.
I am Wrath.
I am wrath? What does that even mean?
The ambivalence of this answer infuriates me, and the rage gives me strength. With a wordless scream of fury, I launch myself at this ethereal irritant again, but three moves and I'm back on my backside panting. I need to heal, so I hurry back to the lodge.
I burst into the kitchen, gasping for water. The boys jump up, stunned, and hurry to help me to the table. Kai grabs some ice and shoves it onto my paw. Lafayett starts bandaging my wounds, Cardenio straps up my broken horn and Calvin tenderly tips a Super Strength Healing Potion down my throat. Slowly, I come back to myself. My family is around me, angry on my behalf. Maybe I can beat this thing.
"What did this to you?" asks Calvin, his tail swishing in anger. He's burning the table cloth.
"Wrath. That's what it says it was. Wrath." I sound so weary.
"Wrath? That's not what the Seekers down the hall said they were fighting," Lafayett says, as he tips a bottle of water over the smoking table cloth.
"Well, I guess not. I saw six things leaving the Obelisk and targeting a different faction. Who've they got, did you hear?" I'm starting to feel normal again.
"Apathy, one of them was screeching. No one paid any attention to him, thought he was just dehydrated. But maybe, maybe they really are fighting Apathy." Cardenio sounds thoughtful, I've not heard that in so long.
"But what are they?" whispers Lafayett.
"Traits." Kai announces this firmly. "They're the worst traits of each faction. Think about it. The Seekers are about tirelessly seeking out more knowledge, so they have to fight Apathy. The Order are so smug and rude, thinking they're better than everyone else, so they have to fight Pride. And the Brute Squad is furious all the time, so they're fighting Wrath."
Silence falls as we all consider this. Eventually, I find the words to ask the most important question.
"How do I beat it?"
The mood instantly changes. The rest of my family stares at me. They're not on my side anymore, they are on the other side of a schism again. I don't know how to get them back.
"Well, Lorelai, I think you have to beat the wrath inside yourself before you can defeat the Wrath on the battlefield," says Calvin coolly.
"That sounds about right," adds Cardenio. There's no warmth in his voice now. "Lose your anger, and you'll win the war. If you don't, the battle is theirs and the war will never end. I have to go. Laf?" The boys leave, Calvin following along behind.
Kai and I are left alone in this wretched kitchen again. And again, we're divided by a huge space. But this time, I want it gone. Tentatively, I reach my paw out towards her. Kai looks at it, then turns to gather up the debris of my healing session. As she goes to leave, she pauses in the doorway and speaks over her shoulder.
"You should think about it, Lorelai. Anger only hurts you." And she's gone.
The anger rises in me again.
"Anger didn't hurt me in the first place, YOU DID!" I scream at the empty doorway. I run out of the lodge and plunge straight back into the never-ending fight against the traits.
I don't know how much longer I was fighting. I don't know whether it was a day or ten. I never won. Wrath kept beating me. Every time I limped away from the battlefield to find some shade, I was angry. Tired, bruised, but still angry.
After Fyora only knows how long, I found myself slumped behind a huge boulder, panting in the shade of the wretched obelisk. I heard someone moving towards me, but I was too tired to bother looking to see if I should defend myself. Someone slid down the boulder next to me, and sighed heavily. I figured they weren't going to attack any time soon. I realised I didn't much care either way. The newcomer didn't say a thing, and we sat there, in companionable silence as the battle raged on.
With another small sigh, I felt the stranger next to me stretch, and sit up straighter. I sensed them turn to look at me.
"What are you fighting?"
"Wrath, apparently. You?"
"Fyora only knows what I'm fighting."
"What are they?"
The silence stretched between us again, comfortably. I couldn't remember the last time I had felt this safe. Although perhaps, in the middle of a battlefield isn't the best place to feel safe, I reminded myself. Trying not to advertise it, I reached for my hammer and sword.
"Don't worry. I won't hurt you."
Strangely enough, I believed them. I guess, when you've fought as much as I have, and had as much vitriol flung at me as I have, you get to be good at anticipating when someone is going to try and hurt you. I didn't get that from this mysterious stranger. I believed them. And I trusted them, stranger than ever.
"Who are you?" Maybe I should have asked this earlier.
"What do you think you have to do to beat Wrath?" Why didn't they answer my question?
"Umm... someone suggested that I get rid of the anger within myself before I could beat Wrath. The Wrath? Wrath? I don't know how to refer to it."
"Do you think that would work?"
"I don't know. I don't think so. I mean, if I'm not angry, how can I fight?"
"Fighting doesn't come from anger. It comes from strength."
"Well, clearly I'm not strong enough then!"
"Or maybe, your strength is trapped by your anger."
Something about that sentence hits me hard. The lump in my throat is back. I speak softly, making sure I don't start crying.
"I don't want to be angry anymore."
I don't know what I was going to say, but that is what came out. I don't know where that came from, but I'm struck by how true it is. I don't want to be angry anymore, I'm tired of always feeling this way. I want to cry, but I don't let myself.
The mysterious stranger rises, and moves around in front of me. My eyes are screwed shut to hold the tears back, I still don't know who I've been talking to. I feel a warmth on my head, a warmth that spreads through my snowy body. I haven't felt like this since I was magma, and I was always warm. I miss it. My eyes still closed, I breathe in, and feel something in me relax.
"You're not Snow. But you aren't Magma, either. You will find your colour soon, and it will surprise you when you do. Be patient."
I don't understand this at all. I'm sure this shows on my face, but I still don't open my eyes.
"Look at me." I shake my head. Somehow, I don't want to see who this mysterious stranger is, who sees through me.
"Open your eyes."
Carefully, I crack my eyelids a tiny bit, then more, until I can see the being in front of me.
"Be at peace." And they are gone. I'm left on my own, blinking in the harsh sunlight. Why can't I remember what they looked like?
"CHARGE!" I hear the yell far off, and recognise the voice. That's Commander Flint, is he fighting again? I jump to my feet and follow the yell.
"Commander!" I gasp, drawing my sword and positioning myself in front of him to protect him. "You aren't fit to fight, go back to the tents!"
"NEVER!" he bellows, hefting his shield a little higher. "The Sway have beaten Pride, they are making a break for the Obelisk, we MUST STOP THEM!" His roar energises the platoon, and around me I hear battle cries echoing back at us.
I feel Flint spinning on the spot behind me. Suddenly, we're under attack from all sides. Back to back with my leader, we slash and parry at Wrath, who is really living up to its name. It seems furious, it's all I can do to keep on my feet. Finally, I manage to find my reflective items, and blind it with my Lens Flare. I know I have less than a minute before I'm attacked again, so I have to use the time wisely.
Out of nowhere, the mysterious stranger's voice reverberates within me.
"Be at peace."
I take a deep breath, grab a stone muffin that's just landed next to me, grip my hammer and prepare for the next assault. Weirdly, I feel like I'm focusing harder and clearer than I have done in months. I feel ready for the next attack. I can do this.
Wrath starts to move towards me again, looking wrath-ier than ever, and I launch myself at it with everything I have.
And I win.
I beat Wrath, I won. I can't believe it!
My eye is drawn to the Obelisk, it's open, finally, and something has come out of it, but from this distance I can't see what. I can see the Sway, rejoicing in their victory though. I turn to face Commander Flint. He's panting, and there's blood on his limbs, but I don't think he's very badly hurt.
"Commander?" I don't like how tentative that sounded, but oh well. Maybe he'll just put it down to the stress of the battle.
"We've won. Go get some rest, come back tomorrow and we'll have our share of the prizes. If the Sway think they're keeping it all, they've got another think coming." His voice rumbles through me, but I don't hear anything after 'won'.
I make my way wearily back to the neolodge, and slip into our kitchen. There's a jug of milk in the fridge and I swallow half straight from the jug, before pouring the rest over my smarting body. The milk manages to solidify my softening snow, and gives me a boost inside and out. It also lets me avoid thinking about my family. I don't know what I'm going to do when I see them again. I'm not angry anymore. I'm not angry but I am hurt. Can I still go home with them? Or do I go to the Pound like I said I would?
It's Kai. I stare at her. What do I say?
To be continued...