Chapter 22 = Farewell to the ferals
Disclaimer: Although all characters here are of my own invention, the original idea of Yoshies, Birdos, etcetera, are copyright of Nintendo, and I make no money from writing this.
Marcus slipped out of his dreams and back into the real world, but kept his eyes closed and lay where he was on a set of cushions, enjoying the fuzzy feeling they had against his skin. For a moment he thought he had a blanket over him, but soon realised that it was in fact Shiala lying almost on top of him while he had slept on his front. He flexed his toes experimentally and found that he wasn’t wearing any boots, and decided to open his eyes and look around despite the probability that he’d sorely regret it.
A pair of white shoes was in front of him, and his eyes travelled up the legs that were with them and eventually settled on Xenly’s disapproving face. Next to her was a sorry-looking Manny with a large bandage on his chest and a cast on the lower part of his left leg, but he had a far more jovial expression than the white Yoshi did.
“Enjoying yourself there?” She said, folding her arms.
“Oh, give me a break, we didn’t do anything.” Marcus muttered. “If it was Manny lying here underneath a girl, something probably happened, but it’s not Manny on his front here, it’s me.”
“Actually,” Manny corrected, “If it was me I’d be on top of the girl, not the other way around.”
“Whatever.” Marcus said with a resigned sigh. He reached up and gently shook Shiala, and she rolled off of him groggily, falling onto another cushion beside the one Marcus was lying on. She gave a low groan and looked up, blinking a few times as the light hit her, before burying her head in one of the cushions and giving a much louder groan.
“We didn’t do anything…” She mumbled, almost incoherently. “Me and Ma… Ma…” she paused for a moment to yawn loudly, then continued, “…Marcus just fell asleep together…”
“Again.” Xenly interjected.
“Yeah… again…” She muttered, before her head slumped forward and she began snoring once more. Marcus blushed and scratched the back of his head under the questioning gaze of Manny, saying, “Hey, I don’t know why she’s so tired either. Seriously… stop looking at me like that…”
Manny gave a little smirk, and Marcus got to his feet, albeit a little unsteadily. “Come on, Manny, you know me. I don’t like kids. I’ve never wanted any children and I definitely don’t want any now or in the future, especially not by accident. I wouldn’t do anything with Shiala for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones is that I wouldn’t want to inadvertently have any baby Yoshies.”
The blue Yoshi folded his arms and gave an exasperated sigh. “Well, if you’re going to be all reasoning and logical about it, then I’ll let it slide… but I can tell that you won’t hold out for long.”
“Oh, give me a break. Shiala is just a friend… a close friend, sure, but… you know, even though she’s not my girlfriend, I still want a little female companionship, you know? Like you and Karin.”
Manny nodded. “Yeah, I see what you mean… alright, whatever, I’ve seen enough of this place, now let’s get out of here. We’ve been here long enough and I could do with getting back on the road… we’ll never reach Sansata if we don’t keep walking.”
“Are you okay, though?”
“Yeah… I think so… I can’t fight but I can still walk, so we may as well push onwards, right? Anyway, we’ll be just outside if you need us.”
He hobbled out of the tent, followed by Xenly, and Marcus gently pushed the feral with his foot. “Come on, get up, or I’ll leave you behind…”
“I don’t know why, but it just irks me for some reason…”
Xenly and Manny were sitting on the ground outside Shiala’s tent, waiting for their companions to join them. Xenly clenched her fists and continued, “It’s just… I don’t think that Marcus knows just what he might be getting into… I don’t know too much about ferals or their culture, but Shiala might not quite understand what Marcus may or may not want…”
Manny gave a noncommittal shrug. “I know Marcus a little better than you do. All jokes aside, I think he might just be using her for some kind of emotional support. He seems a lot more cheerful now that he was before; it’s almost like she’s healing some deep emotional scar of his.”
“Well… maybe…” Xenly mused, “But I can’t really see this ending well. She’s a feral, he’s one of us, and she’s what, maybe fifteen? He’s sixteen…”
“Seventeen.” Manny corrected.
“Seventeen, then. They’re just too different for it to work out well…”
The sound of the wind in the leaves around them was all that could be heard as Xenly went silent, then Manny gently put a hand on her shoulder and inquired, “How’s the wound healing?”
“Not bad, not bad… I don’t think it’s as deep as Karin thought it was, so maybe it will heal eventually… I can use my arm as normal now, but it hurts if I try to move it too much… how’s the… uh… whatever it was you injured?”
“Practically everything. It hurts a fair amount, and if I try to do anything strenuous it’s just agony…”
They heard footsteps behind them and turned around to see Marcus and Shiala walking out of the tent, though the latter seemed somewhat groggy and reluctant to be up and moving around when she could be lying on a cushion asleep. They could also see that around her waist she was wearing Laen’s poison pouches, the quiver was around her right shoulder, and had the elven bow strapped firmly to the quiver itself, in addition to the jewellery she was wearing. Manny got to his feet and Xenly followed suit as they prepared to leave, but a small group of ferals waylaid them just as they started off.
“Miss Shiala,” one of the started, “Are you leaving us already?”
“Yes…” she replied, “I’m going to go with Marcus and his friends now…”
The feral near the front, a dark grey one, dipped his head sadly. “We understand… we eagerly await your return, miss Shiala, so please don’t disappoint us.”
“I’ll try not to.” She said with a smile and a little wave. “I’m sure you can decide amongst yourselves who will be the new leader, but I’ll try to come back one day.”
“Thank you, miss Shiala.” He muttered, then looked up again. “We have a few things for you to take with you… we hope they’ll be of some use.”
The ferals behind him stepped forward, each holding something different out for them to take. The grey feral picked up the object from the feral next to him, and stepped forward to Manny, handing it over to him cautiously.
“It’s a shield made from the skin of that dragon that was slain a couple of days ago… it’s very tough, and is remarkably heat resistant…”
Manny looked at it for a moment, admiring the shining brown scales that covered the framework they were stretched across. It seemed that the dragon’s green skin had lost its colour and darkened, otherwise he would have recognised it immediately. He strapped it around his left arm and held it out experimentally, nodding at the feral as he did so to express his thanks.
“For you, Marcus, we have a small gift… it’s not much, but please take it anyway…”
The feral picked up a red watermelon from a feral’s hands behind him, and gave it to Marcus, who took it curiously. “Aren’t watermelons normally green?”
In reply, the feral said, “Normally, yes, but this one is special… red watermelons have traces of some strange material in them that we do not know of, but it catches fire on contact with water… when you eat it, you will be able to breathe fire for a little bit, but if you don’t do it quickly you’ll burn the inside of your mouth.”
Marcus nodded and put it in the saddlebag he had previously had the egg in. The feral then took a large backpack and gave it to Shiala, saying, “In here is plenty of food to last you in your journey over the mountains… I assume that’s the way you’re headed?”
“I think so, yes.” She replied. “That’s the general direction we’re headed in anyways.”
She took off Laen’s quiver to put the backpack on, before strapping the quiver around the backpack with help from Marcus. The feral then took something from the arms of the final waiting feral, and handed it to Xenly.
She looked at what it was he had given her, before looking up. “Spiked shoes?” she inquired, half-closing one eye questioningly. The grey feral nodded and said, “A traveller left them here long ago… we thought they may prove useful to you.”
Xenly muttered her thanks and put the shoes in her saddlebag, and Shiala waved to the group of ferals. “Thank you very much for the gifts… we will leave now, but I shall try to return as fast as I can. Goodbye!”
“Farewell!” They chorused, and the group headed off away from them into the forest. Shiala spared another glance over her shoulder as she left her home, waving again to the ferals as they became smaller, before the trees completely blocked them out. With a sigh, she moved closer to Marcus as the group moved on…
They walked for the rest of the day until the sun began to set and darkness spread across the lands, making it impossible for them to advance any further that day. Manny was cursing from the pain every so often, and they had to walk slowly to accommodate for his broken leg, so as soon as it got dark they found a small clearing and decided to stay there for a night, lighting a campfire on which to cook some of the food from Shiala’s pack.
It turned out that the ferals had given her some dragon meat that they had cut from the fallen beast, and they roasted a slab of it over the fire before dividing it up between them. It was tough and chewy, but being Yoshies they simply swallowed it whole once it was cool enough to do so.
Silence filled the air for a few moments afterwards, until Shiala got up from where she was to sit next to Marcus and put an arm around him, a gesture that he returned. Manny took another branch and threw it on the fire, before looking around and asking, “Anyone got any campfire stories?”
“No, not really.” Marcus muttered. “Most of this journey could be a good one, though, but I doubt I’d tell people about half of it.”
Manny nodded and added, “Yeah, some of what’s happened to us I’d rather not recall either… something that I’ll just have to hide, I suppose.”
“Ah, don’t feel so bad about it. Everyone has dark secrets they don’t tell anyone about; they keep them inside where nobody can learn of them. Sometimes it’s a good thing, but sometimes it’s not so good… people can help if you a lot of the time if you tell them what’s wrong.” Xenly said.
“And what about you, o master of the shadows?” Manny inquired with a facetious tone in his voice. “Have you got some horrible nasty secret locked in your heart that you never let escape?”
Xenly looked off to one side and closed her eyes. “Well, yes… but I’d rather not talk about it, if it’s all the same to you.”
“Ah, go on, how bad can it be?”
“Very… it’s kinda upsetting…”
“Well, okay,” Manny replied, a little disappointed, “If you don’t want to tell us about it, it’s your decision…”
She looked back up and opened her eyes again, then sighed. “Never mind, I might as well… it was a long time ago before I got exiled…”
“At the time I was a sixth-level assassin, still in the employ of the assassin’s guild in Dhalsa… Dhalsa’s a freezing cold city in the south of Chyrus in the middle of the Ailena wastes, which is a huge snow-coated mountain range in itself. I was twenty at the time…”
“Wait,” Marcus interrupted, “How old are you now?”
“Twenty-four.” Xenly replied. “You would’ve only been about twelve or thirteen back then. Anyway… I was striving to be a better assassin and all the rest of it… but, even though it was against my teachings, I found a lover. I thought that a little weakness in the house of someone I knew wouldn’t hurt me or kill anyone…”
She sighed and stared into the fire for a moment before continuing. “His name was Vick Lestan, and he was a light grey Yoshi with this big house and lots of rooms… wealthy businessman type… twenty-two, I think he was… we met in a back street as I fled the scene of one of my jobs, and he offered me a room in his house because he hated the police force. It’s run by humans there, you see, so he felt gratified to thwart them if he could, and I got a nice, soft bed that night. In the morning he told me I was welcome back any time, and gave me a key to his door, which I told him was a bit controversial, since I’m an assassin… or at least, I was then. All he said in reply was, ‘I trust you’.”
Xenly gave a little smirk, then pressed on. “Needless to say I went back… and I got to spend time with him, and it grew from there, in a way. He was very nice to me… he gave me food and a place to sleep, and over time he got me loyal to him… a little plan of his, I suppose, to get cheaper assassinations. Eventually he asked me to employ my skills for him in return for everything he’d given me, and I accepted and did the job he wanted without question or payment. When I came back he was waiting for me, and he thanked me profusely and all the rest of it… then he kissed me for the first time, and I always took that to be the moment that we’d become lovers.”
Shiala smiled and said, “Aww… that’s so sweet…”
Xenly nodded at her, smiling back. “I know… after that, I spent a lot of time with Vick… I only went to the guild when I needed the money for something, or they called me in for one of their own assignments; at the guild there’re two kinds of jobs, ones paid for by customers, and guild-assigned ones to silence rogue informants, traitors, defectors, moles, people who want assassins dead, and that sort of thing. So anyway, I got to know Vick better, but he never let me in the west wing of his house, for some reason that I didn’t find out for some time. Then, one day, he told me that he had a confession to make; that he was married and had a kid, but it had been a forced marriage and he had never wanted the child, though he looked after them regardless. It seemed that he got drunk one night when he was twelve and when he woke up the next morning, he was in bed with a green Yoshi, and she had laid a Yoshi egg, so their parents forced them to marry… or something like that, anyway. He and his wife were always arguing, and that’s why he had wanted to look for someone else… and he kept them in the west wing, which is why I wasn’t allowed in there… I felt pity for him and forgave him, and our relationship went on…”
She closed her eyes and smiled, then continued, “And, of course, eventually it happened… he took me to bed with him one day when I was twenty-one, and I thought that my life was perfect… he told me that one day, when the time was right, he’d ask me to get rid of his wife if he couldn’t divorce her, and then we could get married and I’d be his son’s stepmother… I never did catch the name of his son, but I found out he was an orange Yoshi about fifteen years old at the time when, unfortunately, he found us kissing one day and ran to tell his mother. I hid in the east wing while Vick went to sort it out, but when he didn’t come back I drew my swords and headed for the west wing… I followed the sounds of his voice to the master bedroom and found the three of them in there, arguing. He was trying to explain things to her, but she was screaming and shouting, and the kid was crying for them to stop… I couldn’t just stand and watch; I stepped in and intervened… big mistake.”
“Why?” Shiala asked. “What happened?”
Xenly kept her eyes closed and didn’t reply for a moment, and Shiala looked intently at her. “Xenly… are you crying?”
The white Yoshi brushed away the tears and shook her head, forcing herself to continue. “I told her what Vick had told me, and gave my version of the story, but it didn’t help… the kid ran off crying and she started screaming louder, before she told him to choose… either me, or her and his kid.”
“He was crestfallen and asked me to leave and come back the next day… I didn’t have anywhere to sleep, so I simply went to the guild and did a job for them while I was waiting… but when I came back, I looked at the board again, and… I…”
Xenly swallowed heavily, trying to hold back her tears. “I… I could see two new jobs… one was a high-paid request to kill me, from Vick’s wife… and the other was a guild job to eliminate both Vick and Vick’s wife, her for asking me to be killed, since the guild doesn’t like losing higher ranks, and him for ‘corrupting an assassin’… which they thought he’d done to me with his soft treatment. I took both of the job slips up to the tenth’s office… uh, tenth-level assassin’s, that is… and asked about them. He said that he’d shred the first one if I took the second job… and if I did it, they’d promote me to seventh-level. I didn’t know what to do… if I didn’t do the job, someone would kill me, but if I did it, then I’d have to kill Vick… I went to Vick’s house anyways, and…”
She fell silent again, and brushed tears from her eyes before continuing, determined to finish. “I went to the master bedroom… they were both there arguing, and I showed them the job slips… I think I may have been crying, but I don’t know… I… I took some needles out of my saddlebags and they both just looked at me, sort of stunned, and I threw the needles… one to induce temporary paralysis, one to kill. The first aimed for my Vick… and the other for his wife. I meant to knock him out so I could claim him as dead, then escape the city with him or something… but because I was so upset, I wasn’t concentrating, and…”
“…And?” Marcus asked.
“I… I…” Xenly choked on her tears, but finally managed to force out, “I… mixed up… the needles…”
She looked like she was on the verge of a breakdown, but somehow was managing to keep her emotions under control. “I… I killed him… I killed Vick… as soon as I realised, my heart tore in two, and I could barely stay upright, I was so distraught… I’d killed the only man I’d ever loved, accidentally on top of it all, and she, his wife that had caused him so much grief, was only paralysed… but I’d realised my mistake too late, and I could only see her breathing as they lay on the floor, and not him…” Xenly clenched her fists. “I couldn’t believe what had happened… I drew my swords and killed her with a single stroke, then painted the guild’s mark on her chest with her own blood. But… I forgot about their kid, and left in tears without getting rid of him… he wasn’t on the guild’s death list, but I don’t like leaving loose ends… and when I remembered the next day, he had escaped the city and was officially missing. I got the promotion to seventh-level and the money for the job, but no reward they could have given me could have made up for what I lost in the process… and it wasn’t any good anyway; I was so upset by Vick’s death that I botched on my next job and got caught and exiled… the worst part is that I never heard his answer… whether he chose me or his existing family…”
Marcus’s throat was dry and he couldn’t speak as she finished and held her head in her hands. He felt Shiala’s arm tighten around his shoulders, and Manny only managed to whisper, “I’m so sorry…”
“It… it’s okay…” she murmured. “I… I feel better for telling you about it… I… I’ll be fine…”
She sat back against a tree and closed her eyes, and Manny got up to put the fire out quietly before taking off his saddlebags and using them as a makeshift pillow, putting his dragon skin shield off to one side. Shiala hugged Marcus tightly and whispered to him, “Please stay close to me… I’m upset and I don’t want to be alone… I feel sorry for her but I… my throat is all dry and I can’t…”
Marcus hugged her back and whispered, “It’s okay… it’s not going to happen to you… now just get some sleep for tomorrow…”
“I know, but I’m sad…”
“It’s alright… we’ll help her in the morning if she needs it… goodness knows, I would, if something like that happened to me…”
To be continued…