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The Far Side: Part Two


by redcod323

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Felda held Rednah close as she thought of a way to free the captured pets from the fate the superstitious humans had forced them into. That Uni! It was all his fault! His fevered dream had infected the minds of the desperate. He deserved the fate of the fire! But they would have to rescue him with all of the others, for how would it look to the humans who hated them if they left one of their own to die?

     Rednah asked in a shaking voice, "Are we going in there?"

     "I think we have to."

     Rednah only whimpered and closed her eyes. "Why do I have to be a hero?"

     "Heroes never choose to be heroes. Sometimes circumstances require it, otherwise they perish."

     "Who told you that?"

     Felda remembered, long ago, sitting in an orphanage, alone on her bed. An old man had walked into the room, and walked over to her. He'd sat on the bed next to her. After a few moments of silence, he'd told her, "Heroes never choose to be heroes. Sometimes circumstances require it, otherwise they perish. You'd do well to remember that." He'd gotten off the bed and left the room, but when she'd gone into the hallway to yell at him, he was nowhere to be found.

     "A strange old man."

     Rednah ceased shaking for a moment. "You know, when I was little, I always had the dream in my head that the situation I was in, all the troubles I had, they were just temporary. Everything, the coldness, the hunger, the loneliness, it would all go away. I was just waiting, waiting to be saved. I always thought, 'some stranger is going to walk in that door, any minute now, and paint me Faerie so I can fly away.' I thought that everything would just magically fix itself, the way it does in fairy tales. Someone, somehow, would swoop in and pluck me up and carry me away into the sunset, and I would live happily ever after. Now, now I guess I've figured out nothing comes that easy. You have to work for things to change. And now, all those pets in there, I bet they're thinking, 'I should give up, but I won't, because I just KNOW that someone is going to leap out of those bushes over there and save us all'. I guess it's my turn to be the rescuer instead of the rescued."

     After her little speech, she withdrew into herself for a moment, and her shivering started again, but the set of her jaw said that she was determined to stop shaking and take action. Felda patted her back, and decided to take the initiative. "Okay, we need a plan. Did you hear ANYTHING in the village about when ...it.... is going to happen?"

     Rednah nodded. "A woman was gossiping with another, and she said something about the burning happening at sunrise, something about purification, a new beginning."

     "Then we have until tonight." She thought for a few moments, then said, "Okay, here's what we'll do..."

     The sun was setting, lengthening the shadows and painting the sky red. The beige-colored grass was turned the deepest gold, as if the land itself was a living treasure. The already deep yellow leaves were turned the color of mint coins, the trees spilling forth unimaginable riches ready for plucking.

     They waited until the sun had truly set, and the grim reality of this place was revealed by the night. The children had long since gone back into the village, to sit around the fire, rattling sticks across the bars of the cages, or just staring at their occupants. But soon their mothers beckoned them into their respective huts. Soon the fires in the hearths were extinguished, and the lone sentry dozed off as the ceremonial fire burned down. The only sounds were those of the wind, and some particularly loud snoring from one of the huts.

     Felda silently signaled for Rednah to proceed with her part of the plan. She nodded and headed off into the forest. The Kyrii silently padded down the hill, pulling her recently retrieved jacket around her. She tried to be silent among the leaves, but she was no Xweetok. Soon she was among the huts, feeling confined in the closeness of the space. The embers of the ceremonial fire cast a flickering light on the walls, and the pets were asleep, all except for the blue Uni. He had withdrawn into himself, staring up at the sky, as if the stars would offer an answer. Though she was doing her best to be quiet, he snapped his head around, locking eyes with her as a pebble skittered out from under her paw.

     A flare of recognition lit in his eyes, before it died. In his eyes, those innocent, brown eyes, she saw the beginnings of despair. They shouted one word, and one word only. Help. She fought the urge to open all the cages except his, but went to the Uni's first. Using the crude knife she had salvaged from the wreckage, she cut the plant-fiber rope holding the door shut, and he stepped out of the cage. He seemed to revel in fully stretching out his wings, cramped from being constantly folded after who knew how many days in his prison.

     Felda pointed to the point in the brush where Rednah was waiting, but before he went, he opened his mouth to say something, perhaps a thank you for rescuing him, or an apology for sending her here. Felda just cut him off with a chop of her hand and pointed urgently to the forest. He nodded and silently half staggered, half fluttered his way over to the trees.

     She set to cutting the bonds that held the other cage door shut, and silently woke the occupants. They all seemed to expel an almost physical aura of relief, and a few eyes glinted with tears in the dying light. Now that phase one was complete, it was time for Felda to do her part. Rednah was leading them to the place they had agreed upon, and Felda had to lead the humans in the opposite direction. She scampered off into the bush, leaving an obvious a trail as possible. Soon she was far into the forest, leaving in her wake a path of broken branches, paw prints in the dirt, and the occasional tuft of fur artfully draped over a branch. She had to make a long a trail as possible, to keep them occupied long enough for the others to get away.

     Soon the sky was starting to light with the gray of false-dawn. The undergrowth was wet with dew, and soon her coat was damp. But still she kept on. Sheer determination to keep a terrible fate from befalling the one she loved. Sometimes, those amazing bonds you only hear about in tall tales are formed in real life, and in such a short amount of time. In less than two days, a complete stranger she had met in the wilds had become the closest thing to family she had ever known. She had to protect the one she thought of as her little sister. But even all of her newly discovered willpower could only move an exhausted body so far. She had been running for hours, and she stumbled off into the brush, exhausted, and climbed a tree where she was reasonably sure she wouldn't be spotted, and dozed off.

    * * *

     Rednah waited in the trees for the prisoners to make their way to her. The first to make his way over was the blue Uni. Why had Felda released HIM first? Or better yet, why had she released him at all? He was the reason they were going to such great lengths to save the Humans' prisoners. Well, if Felda had released him first, she had her reasons, and Rednah would just have to trust her. But trust was something she was in rather short supply of at the moment. When the Uni drew close, he stopped, recognizing her face. She just looked him coldly in the eye. "Hather."

     "Rednah." He shifted uncomfortably from hoof to hoof. He stared at the ground intensely for a few moments, before seeming to work up the courage to look her in the face. "I know you probably won't think it's enough, but I'm sorry. When I first saw this place, I was working for the ferries. When I saw the golden land, the sun was high and I was ...unwell. They made me go below decks early that night, and I never saw the true horror of this place. The noontime beauty of this place and my fever made me mad for a time. I quit my job and began preaching of the Far Side to the only ones who would listen, the poor and the impoverished. I never intended for any of you to end up like this. And when I came to this place for myself, I saw the lies in my preachings." He looked at the ground, and repeated, "I'm sorry."

     By then three other pets had joined them, the Moehog, the Tuskaninny, and the Shoyru. When they came to a halt, they eyed the Uni with suspicion, then seemed to sense that a temporary, unspoken truce of sorts had been reached, and relaxed visibly. Upon introducing themselves, Rednah found that the yellow Tuskaninny was named Oquis, and the blue Moehog was called Sepher, both male. The Shoyru was painted shadow, and was a strange, quiet one, who only called herself Tu.

     The last of the pets had stumbled their way up the path, and had begun to tell her their names. More formal introductions would have to wait until later, until a time was reached when they weren't in such danger. The red Kougra was named Esper, female, and the green Wocky had named himself Ickir. The yellow Eyrie, being to shy to speak for herself, was introduced by the Wocky as Gathi. The blue Pteri was called Naid, female, and the red Draik was named Scifa, female. The last was the yellow Lutari, who only said he was called Aray.

     After this quick, informal exchange was completed, there was a moment of silence, and in that moment, Rednah heard Felda crashing wildly away through the underbrush, and knew it was time. She looked at the motley group, and said, "We have to go."

     She led them down a path forged by some wild petpet, stamping its way to a grazing meadow or some waterhole. She led them at a pace that Rednah thought would make Felda proud. That such a group could move at such a pace in such a state was evidence of their obvious will to survive. They accepted her as temporary leader, a permanent leader was a matter to be decided later. She thought of Felda, running, alone, and probably cold. How could she go to such great lengths for them? She was risking everything, leaving behind such an obvious trail. And it would have to be a long one, to provide the chance they needed for escape.

     Well, whatever her reasons, she would have to do her best to make the one she thought of as her older sister proud. The forest was a severe strain on their wits. It was dark and foreboding, and every tree seemed identical to the one before it, making it seem as if they were making no progress at all. But this dark, melancholy forest would not stop them. The passage of time was marked by the steady, slow turning of the stars, just visible through the bare upper branches of the trees.

     The sky was turning from black to deepest blue, and the slightest hint of gray was becoming visible on the eastern horizon. Soon the sun would raise, the large red disk, hopefully not stained that way by blood. Hather had begun to lag behind the group, keeping to the back. Rednah thought nothing of it, for although he maintained his position near the rear, he kept pace, so there was no reason to worry.

     As they broke out of the forest, into the rolling plains where she and Felda had agreed to meet, she knew something was wrong. Felda should have been there, and when she looked around, she saw that Hather was gone.

To be continued...

 
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» The Far Side: Part One
» The Far Side: Part Three



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