Hot Herb Tea and a Happy Ending: Part Five
It started when I opened my eyes at the sound of Hill’s jaw harp. Having done his job, he stumbled off, only having one foot to do so because the other was holding the instrument. Refreshed, I saw Rubia slither up to me.
“Ah, so you’re awake. It’s morning. Go ask Torich for trail food; he’s handing it out. We can have a larger meal when we get home,” my caretaker suggested.
“Okay,” I sleepily responded.
“Cerulean! How about some tender leaves? They’ll tide you over,” Tor greeted me. So he tends to act slightly more normal during the daytime... I thought. After taking the large leaf with the several small ones in it, I thanked him.
“We should probably go back now. Thank you, Torich.” Rubia gestured me outside. The air felt crisp. A thin fog was rising from the ground. Occasionally I would get a foot stuck in a marshy spot, because the mist was preventing me from seeing them. Whenever I felt the need, I ate a shoot from the leaf satchel.
“It’s STILL raining?”
“I told you, it never stops.”
“How is it even possible to tell time here?”
“The mornings are always like this: Fresh, hazy air, mushy ground. Later on, the ground slightly hardens, the fog lifts up and the rain thickens. In the evening, the ground is hard but the rain keeps going strong.”
“But that doesn’t make sense...”
“Not very many things here do.”
“This purple berry in the thick, leafy bunch? Never even touch it. It will swell to your paws immediately if you have any, as well as your stomach. You’ll be rendered helpless if a hunter sees you.”
“What if you eat it?”
“You will be rendered helpless, period.” Half of the day had been spent taking lessons from my caretaker. We had been eating on the field, and hadn’t stopped at Rubia’s house since before the meeting. Exhausted, I slowed to a halt.
“Poor thing, maybe we should go home. I’ve been so inconsiderate about your thick fur. It seems to get soggy fast. Almost there, try not to stop or Chix will find an easy target.”
The forest floor was stiff under my feet. My dripping fur clung close to me. Rubia pointed out our house a few bounds in front of us, but to me, it didn’t look any different from the other trees.
“You’ll be able to identify it in a few days. Let’s get some real food,” she noted as she pushed the door open. I slipped inside immediately. Rubia shortly followed, closing the door after her.
“I think we’ll spend the rest of today’s lessons inside. Let me show you the furnace.” She directed me to the hall door and followed me into the passage. The door that followed must have been the furnace. Her words soon proved that.
Dry leaves lined the floor, some of which were set ablaze. Wooden canisters hung from vine chains on the roof. When you looked up, you could see a combination of steam and smoke hanging above you. The water that had soaked me for so long was rising off of me in the form of mist.
“Feels good, doesn’t it?” I turned my head. “To me, it’s like an oven you can walk into. Only there isn’t hot metal under your feet, and you weren’t put in there with the intention of being cooked alive.”
“It is kind of like one, I guess. But how come those pots aren’t catching on fire?”
“Well, I rubbed them with leaves of the oric plant, which prevents things from heating to the point of catching on fire. I generally use the pots for cooking and heating water.”
“You know what every plant does! Can you tell me how you learned?”
“Well, I... far away, long ago, my parents and sister taught me. They taught me the plants, the forests, the street smarts necessary for staying away from the hunters...”
“You talk as if something happened to them.”
“Nothing happened to them; something happened to me... One day, I thought I knew enough and I left. Technically, I did. If I didn’t know it, it was something we hadn’t discovered. The reason I left was because I wanted to see new lands and live alone, in a quieter house. I could have company whenever I wanted to, right? It was something I could turn on and off, or so I thought.
“I went to where my knowledge was needed. They would travel, just to see me! Me! My neighbors visited, but I was a newcomer. The way people always flock into groups? I was new: I wasn’t included in any of them. They showed affection towards me, and I don’t think they were lying about it, but they were closer to each other. When I got company, it was usually just customers.
“Over time, they DID get used to me. I sank in with them as another woodlander. But over time, I also grew lonelier at home. I pitied myself. One reason why I came here was to live alone, but I never thought I’d miss being with a family. For years, I have lived by myself for myself. Eventually, I opened my doors. Ill or injured ones came to me, they were temporary family. The Creator, she knew how foolish I was. But when I kept on using my knowledge to help and my resources to heal others, she felt that I had made up for it. So she sent me you.”
“But you hated me when I first came.”
“Because I didn’t know she sent you! I’m certain she has her reasons for sending me a Xweetok. Now, let’s feed you. I always keep loaves cooking. They take a long time to bake, but I’m sure there’s one ready right now.” She took a pot off its hook and handed it to me. I dumped the roll in my forepaws.
“There’s probably some jam heating in another one of those, drizzle it over that bread, eat it and take a nap. Knowing you, by now you probably require one. Eat up, now,” she said as I satisfied my hunger. While I ate, she left to another room. I finished my bread and sat down with a yawn.
“I got you a cup of cold rainwater, I always... Oh, okay. That’s perfectly fine, Cerulean.” She laughed as she picked me up, carrying my sleeping body to the bedroom.
There she left me for a few minutes as I silently waited for my fatigue to heal. My predictions that hadn’t come true yet came to me again. I saw them: clear as daytime. They were interrupted when Rubia decided sleeping could wait until nighttime.
“I still haven’t taught you how to make bread yet! The ingredients are already prepared.” I yawned and hopped out, following her back to the entry room.
“The first thing you do is tear up the bark into pieces as tiny as possible. That’s right, keep tearing. You’d better get used to doing this, as a day can’t pass without getting a craving for a loaf.” Noticing I had my pieces strewn across the counter, I centered them all into one pile.
“Next part is hard--believe me, it takes some time to mix in just the right amount of water to the bark flour. You pour more in, and a spoonful too much and you need to squeeze it out...”
“Rubia, there’s something that scares me.”
“When we spent the night at Torich’s, I had these illusions, and they were exactly what happened today.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I didn’t make out what any of the voices were saying, but I saw myself doing just what we did this afternoon. We baked, you taught, we ate some more.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t a coincidence?”
“I’m sure. Is it... normal?”
“No, Cerulean. It isn’t normal, and neither are you. The Creator would never make another Xweetok again. Ever. You can’t be her creation. It surely means you are unwanted here.”
“From the moment I came to this home for the first time, I knew that.”
“That’s right. You’re unique. I’m starting to even doubt you’re a Creator’s child; you have to come from THERE. The foresters miraculously accepted you, but... when the time comes, I doubt the Creator will.”
“Is there really anything she can do about it, though?”
“Yes. I have no doubt she will send something here in an attempt to destroy you. She wants the Xweetoks to remain banished from here.”
“No, not the Distance... I’m not from there... am I?”
As I paced through the undergrowth, picking up the good berries and kicking aside any bruised or smashed ones, I brushed a fallen leaf off my side. According to my ‘mother’, due to the Creator not wanting to accidentally harm any of her Neopets, she didn’t make any poisonous berries. They could still be damaged and no longer suitable for eating, however.
One brown berry I tried to pick up scattered away: it wasn’t a berry. A few fuzzy flakes of dust came off instead, and their source took the form of a miniature Ogrin. It tossed its ears into the air, reared up and settled down, pointing back to the house. Unsure of what it was, I gathered the berries and headed back inside. Apparently, I was just in time, as running footsteps pounded the ground outside.
Footsteps too big to come from a forester.
As soon as I closed the door behind me, I found myself in my bath/bed.
I had woken up.
After half of an hour or so of sleeping while Rubia worked on embedding gems in me, I admired her work. On each of my legs, just above the knee, there was a tiny, diamond-shaped sapphire that glimmered in the light of the torches. The fur on my stripe was reflected in those sapphires. Two emeralds were on my underbelly, just peering out enough to be seen.
“It looks fine,” I commented.
“One is slightly off-centered, but I can’t fix it until it falls off. It won’t stand out very much, but it’s sufficient to still say how you are, well, one of us now.” She inspected me.
“I remember what you told me yesterday. I’ll never be like the rest. I’m a Xweetok, how can I be?” Moments passed before I received a response.
“You have a home, you’re marked with embedded gems, and you’re learning survival. It’s as close as you can get.”
“The Creator doesn’t want me here, but you took me in. If she is supposed to be so kind and loving, then would she really go after me?”
“For a lack of better words, the Creator’s hate for Xweetoks is bigger than her kindness. Well, maybe you’d feel better after getting outside for a few minutes. Gather some berries for me, will you?”
Following her commands, I left and took a small trail (actually, a path that had been made over time from several sets of paws) and headed past a few trees. After several bounds, it led into a depression lined with bushes. A vague memory of passing by it when I had first arrived clung to me. I gasped, astonished at the selection of berries.
A treasure trove of it all... this would have surely been one of the things she’d pointed out to me twenty-four hours ago. The head of the path was close to her house: it couldn’t be that it was unknown to her. While collecting berries, I decided to forget about it.
After several minutes, out of the corner of my eye I saw the exact Ogrin that appeared in my dream the previous night. With curiosity I inched closer. After making a few movements to further get my attention, it pointed off in another direction, back to the trail. Not remembering what was supposed to happen next, in my mouth I picked up the large leaf holding my berries and herbs and headed back.
The short trek had been fairly easy going one way, but uphill and back was harder. Not only was it steep, but the rainwater pouring down the way was slippery. Going into the grove I could have carefully slid down the fall, but up was a different story. One third of my steps sent me the wrong way, but when I hurried it wasn’t long until I reached the house again. Several of my berries were lost.
Before I entered, I caught a glimpse of a tall red Xweetok running by in a purple suit that looked like armor (only it didn’t cover her head). Red hair tumbled down off of her shoulders. A large bazooka-type weapon that was the same purple covered the lower segment of an arm. After stepping into the entry room and shaking some water off, I realized what had happened.
Once more, my dreams had come true.
To be continued...