Chapter 8 = Flashback in the Black Forest
Disclaimer: Although all characters here are of my own invention, the original Yoshi is copyright of Nintendo, and I make no money from writing this.
Manny awoke just as the morning light began to stream through the dense forest canopy and into the small clearing where he and his companions had taken shelter. He sat up and looked around; Laen was dozing with her back propped up against a tree, Marcus was lying on his front mumbling delusively to himself, and Karin was nowhere to be seen.
Manny scratched the back of his head. Where had she got to? She couldn’t have gone very far, or she would have woken someone up to tell them. Manny got to his feet and stretched sleepily, put his saddlebags back on his saddle, and prepared to look for Karin.
He spotted a set of conspicuous footprints leading away from the clearing, and followed them. Sure enough, they led straight to the blue medic Yoshi, who was hunched over at the edge of a stream, sipping water from the clear, silvery river.
“Hey.” Manny said in greeting, and she looked over her shoulder. “Hello.” She replied, getting to her feet and brushing mud off her knees. “I was really thirsty when I woke up, so…”
Manny nodded and made his way to the stream, taking a few handfuls of water and drinking them. He stood up again afterwards and wiped his mouth with the back of his arm, before turning back to Karin, took her hand, and began to lead her back to the clearing.
He engaged her in conversation as they walked, but she seemed reluctant to move very quickly. Eventually Manny stopped and let go of her hand and said, “Hey, hurry up, would you?”
She dipped her head and tried to look pitiful. “Sorry, sorry…” she murmured. “I just wanted to spend some time with you.”
“Oh.” Manny replied. “Okay… I was just wondering why you were walking so slowly.”
She stepped up to him and ran a hand over the healed scars on his chest. “You’re taking quite a few injuries, aren’t you?”
“Yeah…” he replied, “But it’s nothing. They’re healed anyway.”
She shivered, and put her hands around Manny’s waist, just above his saddle. “It’s cold out here… I wish it wasn’t so late in the year…”
“What are you talking about?” Manny said. “It’s not that cold, you know.”
Karin mentally cursed Manny for being so dense. “Well, I find it cold. I guess you’re just warmer under all that muscle.” She said, nodding her head towards one of his arms.
“Nah, you’re just imagining things.” He said, putting his arms around her. “Besides, there’s not much point in me trying to warm you. Being a cold-blooded dinosaur doesn’t really help.”
“Yeah, but it’s the gesture that counts…” she said, pulling him closer to her.
Manny finally got the message and hugged her tightly. “Well then, how much does this count for?” He said slyly.
“A bit…” she said, “But not as much as this would.”
She put her arms around his shoulders, and pulled him as close to her as possible. The two of them began to kiss, unaware that they were being watched from the trees to Manny’s left.
Marcus, having woken to find himself alone with Laen, had also followed the footprints leading out of the clearing, and had just found the pair of blue Yoshies in each other’s arms. He watched them for a minute, and then dejectedly walked back towards the clearing. Once there, he sat down on the ground and buried his head in his hands.
This is so unfair…he thought, Alziana is dead, Manny’s my only living friend… and he isn’t burdened with grief. He’s got Karin now, and I’ve got nobody. Why does it have to be this way? Manny’s always had better luck than I have…
He shook his head as he took his hands away. I want this all to be a horrible nightmare; I want to wake up back in the shoreside village, with Manny eager to do something fun and Alziana at my side… but this isn’t a dream; it’s reality, and what I choose to do with myself, if anything, is permanent…
Marcus closed his eyes and lay flat on his back. Delving into the depths of his memory, he tried to remember the happier times he had spent with Alziana… his fondest memories of her, times long passed…
* * *
“Hey, Marcus… get up, I’ve got something for you…”
Marcus struggled to rouse himself from his slumber; he was tired from the previous day’s excursion with Manny, and he wanted to recuperate his strength. “Just a few more minutes, Alziana… just a few more minutes…”
He heard the door open and close, and a few moments later a pair of gentle hands shook him where he lay. “Come on, it’s afternoon already. Get up, this is important.”
Marcus groaned and stirred a little, but didn’t get up. “Get up, lazy. You can sleep later.” She said as she shook him again.
Marcus opened his eyes a bit and rolled over onto his back. As his vision became less and less blurry, he could make out a large pink form in front of him. The fourteen-year-old female Yoshi was standing patiently next to the bed, holding something in her arms.
“Surely you haven’t forgotten what day it is today, Marcus?”
“Huh? I don’t remember anything right now…”
“Marcus, it’s your fourteenth birthday! Come on, I’ve got something special planned…”
Marcus sat up in his bed before getting out of it and standing next to Alziana. He quickly slipped his shoes on and, with Alziana’s help, strapped his saddle to his back, and quickly took his saddlebags and placed them on top of it. Alziana then handed him the package in her arms, and said, “This is Manny’s gift, by the way. He wanted me to give it to you since he’s busy today.”
“Ah, yes,” Marcus said, “He’s trying to repair the hole in his roof. I knew he’d climb up onto it one too many times eventually, and sure enough…”
“Perhaps it will discourage him from trying to spy on us with his binoculars.” She replied. “Anyway, aren’t you going to open that?”
Marcus tore the wrapping off the present and found a new set of shoes inside. “Hey, these are good, the soles are wearing off mine…”
Marcus switched his boots for his new set, and discarded the empty box and torn wrapping. “What about you?”
“You ought to know me better… I’ve got something very special to give you, but not here. Just take me a little bit into the forest, would you?”
“Okay, okay, but just a little bit.”
She wrapped her arms around him and gave him a quick kiss before letting go of him and stepping outside. Marcus followed her and, after readying his flail, the two of them set off into the forest.
As soon as they found a clearing approximately ten minutes later, Alziana put a hand on Marcus’s shoulder to indicate he should stop. “Now then, close your eyes…” Marcus did as she told him, anticipating the surprise gift. “Okay, just wait a moment…”
He heard shuffling sounds and a few light metal clinks, and then Alziana’s soft voice came to him, saying, “Okay, turn around, but don’t open your eyes just yet…”
He did so, then heard the sound of her boots plodding towards him, and felt Alziana’s hands on his back. The weight on his spine was lifted, and he said, “Hey, did you just take me saddle off?”
“Only for a moment, Marcus, only for a moment…” she said as she put his saddle into his hands, and he resisted the urge to look and see what she was doing. He heard more shuffling, and then Alziana said, “Okay, you can open your eyes now.”
Marcus eagerly opened them and looked around. Alziana was standing right in front of him, holding her saddle in one hand, and she had something tightly clasped in her other. She gave him a sheepish smile, then opened her hand and showed him what she had.
It was a small item of jewellery. It was a large gem partially surrounded by wrought gold, and the gem itself was a deep, dark blue. Alziana put her saddle under her arm and used her free hand to reach over to it, and pry it apart before Marcus’s eyes. It split neatly into two halves, and she offered one to him.
“We’ve been going out for about six months now… this is really working well, and I’m glad we’re still together… so, I got this for you.”
He gratefully took it but wondered what it was. Almost reading his mind, she said, “I bought it from a merchant; I think it’s called an ‘Orihalca’. It’s made from a gemstone taken from one of the mines in the southern lands. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? They make them into little things like these. There’s a legend that if a loving couple each takes one half of the same gem, they will love each other forever.”
Marcus gave a sly smile as he looked back up at Alziana. “Aw, I love you already anyway…”
She gave a giggle and turned hers around to reveal a small pin on the back of her half. “Pin it to the underside of your saddle, Marcus…” She said, demonstrating herself. Yoshi saddles were designed so that small objects could fit under them, but for larger objects or large amounts of possessions saddlebags were necessary.
Marcus quickly did as she showed him, and the two of them put their saddles back on, enlisting the help of the other. They kissed for a little while, then Alziana asked him to take her back to the village.
But on the way back, they found a wolf cub on the path to the village. Marcus put his arm out to stop Alziana, and held his flail ready; it was smaller than a regular wolf but it still could be dangerous if it attacked. Marcus saw its ears prick up, and it gave a low growl.
“Step back slowly, Alziana.” Marcus said quietly, and he looked the wolf cub in the eyes. He could take it on and probably win, but what if it got past him and attacked his girlfriend?
The cub took a step forwards, but Marcus held his ground. He heard Alziana’s voice come from behind him, saying, “Marcus, please don’t do anything stupid… I’ll be okay, just don’t get yourself hurt…”
Marcus took a step forward, and the cub stopped. Without moving his head, Marcus told Alziana, “I’ll keep it busy, get back to the village. I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me…”
He heard undergrowth being parted as Alziana obligingly walked off in one direction. Marcus breathed a sigh of relief, but then Alziana stepped on a dry branch and the wolf turned its head towards the sound. It turned away from Marcus and began to head for the pink Yoshi, and his mind raced. He had to protect her! Without a further moment’s hesitation, he leapt forward and swung his flail at the wolf cub.
He got a good hit in, but the wolf leapt back with a yelp and turned back towards him. It bared its teeth for a moment before making a lunge for Marcus’s throat.
It was more powerful than it looked; even though Marcus brought his flail up to protect him, he was still brought down by the force of the lunge and he heard Alziana cry out as he hit the ground. He struggled furiously and tried to fling the wolf cub off of his body before he got hurt.
He felt a sudden pain in his side, but managed to throw the wolf off of him. He leapt to his feet and saw blood dripping from one of the wolf’s paws, and braced himself as the wolf bared its teeth again.
But then, there was a cry of anger, and before Marcus could blink the wolf cub was bleeding from a massive wound on its side. Marcus quickly looked up and saw his friend holding his sword out in front of him, preparing to make another strike, but the cub ran off defeated, yelping with pain.
“Better late than never, eh?” Marcus said as Manny wiped his blade on a nearby plant leaf.
“Shut up. You should be glad that I’ve got such bad habits as spying on you a lot of the time.” He replied, before looking up. He gasped as he looked at his friend, and Marcus said, “What?”
Alziana came running over. “Marcus, you’re bleeding!” She cried, and Marcus looked down to see a large claw slash on his side, oozing blood down his leg. He became conscious of the injury and gripped the wound with his right hand, dropping his flail in pain.
Manny picked up Marcus’s flail and glanced at the injury. “Can you walk?” he asked, sheathing his sword.
“Yes, yes, I can walk, I’m fine…”
Alziana leapt at him and hugged him tightly, knocking him back a few steps. “Oh, Marcus, I thought you wouldn’t make it… I was so helpless, I’m sorry, I should’ve done something…”
He patted her on the back with his unbloodied hand. “No, no, you couldn’t have done anything anyway, don’t worry about it…”
She sniffled, and Marcus saw Manny roll his eyes as tears streamed down Alziana’s cheeks. She let go of him, and they made their way back to the village.
As they got close, Manny said, “I’ll run ahead and get Karin…she should be able to patch you up.” before sprinting forward and away from them. Alziana put an arm around Marcus, and said, “Marcus… if anything ever happens to you, I don’t know what I’ll do…”
“You’ll be fine, ‘cause nothing is going to happen to me.”
“What if something happens to me? I…”
“Nothing is going to happen to you, either, Alziana. We’ll be together for a long time yet. Nothing is going to take us away from each other, nothing at all… just so long as you stay in the village, where it’s safe…”
* * *
What bitter irony, Marcus thought as he came back to the real world, that she would be in the village when she died, and not somewhere I’d normally consider dangerous.
He removed his saddle and flipped it over to reveal his half of the orihalca. The other half he’d left on Alziana when he’d buried her in the village after her untimely death. He rubbed it gently and held it in the light, where it sparkled slightly. He spotted the ring on his finger as he did so, and took the string of pearls out of his saddlebags and laid it on the saddle underside, next to the gem.
A ring, a necklace, half a gemstone, and memories; that was all he had left now to remind him that Alziana had ever been. He quickly returned the necklace to his saddlebags, struggled for a moment to put his saddle on, and put his saddlebags back on.
He waited for Manny to show up before rousing Laen and preparing to leave. He didn’t ask Manny anything; he knew already, and didn’t feel any need to press the matter, and walked in front of them so he wouldn’t have to see them holding hands as they finally broke through the far side of the black forest, and out onto open land once more…
To be continued…