Monday, July 11, 2011

Ch11: Schoolyard Heroes

I knew it.  He’s a demon. ~More like the Devil.~
    <I am not!> Azzen complains in my mind.
    <You so are,> I think back.  <You were totally gonna kill that girl.  And you had horns before.>
    <I told you, they were trying to turn me into a demon, but I was too strong and broke away.  And that was recent, going berserk was in another lifetime,> he whines.
    <Yeah yeah.  I think they made you a demon and then released you on me.  You’re probably leading me to some ancient Mayan sacrificial alter right now,> I say.
    <I’m not whining.  And that was the Aztecs.>
    <Whatever.  So do you still go Berserk anymore?>
    <No.  I’m not even sure if I can.  Not the way I am now.  I guess I could probably wipe out some of my own memories and do it.  But I doubt even that would work.  I just know too much,> he says, being vague again.
    <You know nothing,> I mindsay.  <What do you know?>
    <I can’t tell you that.  It‘s confidential between me and Fel,> He says.
    <What?> I exclaim.  <I‘m Fel!>
    <Not yet,> he says.
    That kinda freaks me out.  <What are you saying??  Is this really my past life?  Am I her or are you turning me into her or something?!”
    <Noh noh.  Nothing like that.  I didn’t mean it that way.>
    <Well what did you mean?>
    <I guess I am changing you by helping you remember, but it was still you,> He says.
    <I’m not following.>
    <Well basically, a person is the sum of their experiences.  So if they don’t remember an experience, it kind of changes who they are.>
    <Not completely,> I say.
    <Yeah.  People can have an experience that creates a phobia, and they might forget that experience, but they’ll still have the phobia.>
    <I guess,> Azzen replies.  <But the you I knew would kiss me after not seeing me for so long.  But when I first seen you, you didn’t even hug me.>
    <I didn’t know you.>
    <Exactly,> He says.
    <So you think that when you tell me everything, I’m going to be the girl you were in love with.  Is that the point?  You think I‘ll sprout cat ears and a tail?>
    Azzen sighs audibly.
    <It’s more than that, Fel.  You’ll understand at the end of the story.>
    <I want to understand now,> I say.
    <Our souls follow each other,> He says, surprising me that he’s actually obliging my demand.  <We’re always together.  It’s like fate, or destiny, but not even.  Because it’s our choice.  We love each other, and in every life that we choose, we meet.  And it’s not by coincidence.>
    <We choose our lives?>
    <We choose which ones to focus on.  And that focus breeds infinite other focuses.  Actually, I just choose the ones with you in it.  To be honest, I have no idea what you do with your reality.  But I always hope you spend it with me.>
    <Okay, you lost me.>
    <I know.  That’s why I told you to wait until the end of the story,> he says.
    <You hope I spend my reality with you?> I ask, prying for clearer information.
    <Yes,> He responds simply.  It’s infuriating.  I wish I could read his mind back.
    Azzen looks back at me and smiles.  What a bastard.
    <And do I?> I ask, quite certain that I do.  After all, this is real…  Right?
    <You seem to,> He says happily, confirming my obvious suspicion that the world is real.
    But there’s something he’s not telling me.  I felt a rush of happiness and love come from him that doesn’t fit with his previous statement of doubt.
    <How do you know?> I ask.
    <Oh we show it in little ways, usually.  Enjoying the illusion of life while admitting to each other that we both know there’s more beyond it.>
    <Hmmm,> I ponder in my mind.  <Have I done that?> I ask.
    <Not yet,> he says.  <But I’m sure you will.>
    It worries me.  Because I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.  And now I feel like I’m under pressure to figure out some answer, but I’m not even sure what the question is.  It’s like trying to figure out where God came from.
    I decide to change the subject.  The first thing that pops into my mind is what brought this whole conversation up.
    <So you can’t go Berserk anymore?>
    That’s too bad, I think to myself.  I bet it would be a riot in bed.
    <Now there’s something worth using dark magic for,> Azzen states and grins back at me.
    <What?> I ask a moment before I realize he’s still hearing all my thoughts, and not just the worded ones, like what he sends me.  <DAMNIT!  Stop that!> I say.  <No more mind reading.>
    “Fine,” he says out loud.
    I’m not sure if I believe he‘s really stopped, so I punch him hard in the back of the head.
    “Ow!” He exclaims.  “What was that for?”
    “Two things,” I say.  “One.  If you were reading my mind, you would have dodged.  And Two.  If you were reading my mind and not dodging on purpose to deceive me, then you deserve it.”
    “Well what about Three?  I wasn’t reading your mind and I really didn’t deserve it?” he whines.
    “Then hopefully you’ll have brain damage and can’t use your mind powers anymore.”
    “Nice,” he says.  “Very nice Fel.  Now we’re stuck in the jungle.”
    “No,” I say.  “Your teleport power’s in a different spot.  I didn’t hit you there.”
    “Oh is that so?” he says with a smirk.  “So where do I get my Super-make-you-horny power?”
    I punch him in the back of the head again.  “Right there.  You don’t get that one either anymore.”
    Azzen laughs and calls me a punk.  Then he tells me to be quiet because we’re being followed.
    That puts me on edge.
    “Who’s following us,” I whisper.
    “An evil spirit,” he says in a low tone.  “Shh… no talking…”
    I need to know more, so I tap him on the shoulder and then tap on my head, giving him a signal to read my mind.
    <What kind of evil spirit?> I ask.
    <The kind that possesses you.> He responds wordlessly.
    <Possesses you??> I ask worriedly.  If Azzen gets possessed…
    <Yes,> his words fill my mind, cutting off my own thoughts.  <It possesses you and turns you into an incredible Bitch.>
    Whap!  I punch Azzen in the head again.
    “Are you sure it’s not the kind that turns your boyfriend into an ASSHOLE?!” I shout.
    Azzen turns around and grabs me pulling me close.  He snakes his arms around me and says in a seductive tone, “Would you kiss an asshole?”
    “No,” I reply.  I am so not in the mood.
    “Did you just call me your boyfriend?” He asks, unrelenting.
    “No,” I lie.  “I did not.”  It’d hot and I’m sweaty.  Not really the best time to be intimate.  But even as I try not to think about it, his body pressed against mine is making me flush from more than just body heat.  He looks into my eyes in that passionate way that says it all, and my mind wanders back to our kisses on the couch.
    Azzen just waits, as though content with just holding me.  I realize he’s leaving it up to me, if I want to make a move.  And then I realize I sort of want to.  But this is so not the place.  The rainforest is exotic and all, but seriously impractical.  But maybe a quick kiss wouldn’t hurt, especially since I just experimented with the “BF” word on him and he seemed to like it…
    I bounce up to bring my lips to his leave them with a quick peck.  Then, I push him away.  He accepts it with casual grace and lets me go, but his hand slides down my arm and wraps around mine, interlacing with my fingers.  It’s a little harder to walk through the jungle holding hands, but I don’t entirely mind.  It’s actually kinda nice…
    We don’t say anything else for a while until I break the silence.
    “More story,” I say.
    “Okay,” he responds.

    The High Priest led Azzen, Fel, and Celeste through several hallways and spacious rooms, into the Temple’s Central chamber.  There was a large baptismal fountain in the center of eight pillars.  Each pillar was a totem; a figurine of an individual god surrounded in their element.  And each God trickled water down their statue.  The water was colored to match their element and ran down the pillars into troughs that drained into the center bastion.  In the fountain, all the colors mixed and swirled together into a murky brown.
    Luvalla, the Violet Goddess of Love was trussed up prettily in an airy dress swirled in clouds and hearts and praised by cherubs.  Deep violet water ran down her body, adding a pretty tint where it passed, but never staining the white marble.
    Honarabel, the steady flowing Triton King was surrounded by sculpted waves of his element.  Crabs pinched at the surface floor where mermaids sang.  The Neptune-like God was fully clad in proud armor, with spiky edges that would threaten the barnacles on even the crustiest of sea creatures.  He roared up out in of stony water, the incredible size of his mass accentuated by the dolphins that chased after sea dragons in his wake.
    Azzen was surprised to see a familiar face.  Pria stood proud in full defiance, surrounded by rages of fire spirits that were so devilish that they would burn a black scar into the very pits of hell.  The burning was so lifelike that Azzen unconsciously took a step back from the heat.  But the heat didn’t come from the fire, it came from the look in Pria’s eyes.
    Not crazy, not mad.  Not Angry, or insane, or fierce, or even pissed off.  There were no words for it.  The look could be described in volume of texts.  Her eyes were simply death.  The malice behind them was so subtle that you couldn’t be sure if she was about to cry for you or kill you.  But there was nothing weak about her.  If you took a second look, you would see the rage.  So hidden, so contained.  Perfect hatred.  Focused.  Utterly, complacent, miserable contempt for everything before her in a haughty manner that conveyed a complete confidence in herself and her determination to overcome any obstacle.
    Azzen pulled his eyes away and focused on another totem.  Pyureival.  She was gone.
    Her pillar remained, but no image of her.  Azzen could see it, how it looked as though where her body had been was ripped out.  No.  Had ripped itself out of it’s stony hold.
    Clouds of dark mist and the denizens of evil still remained, but the statue had refused to stay.  It’s master was free.  And it would no longer be bound.  Not in this place.  Not in this disgusting house of White.  And without Black, there could be no White.
    KaresNah relaxed in his clouds with his hands behind his head.  Lightening striking mindlessly down over open planes.  Randomly in a beautiful patternless depiction of a battlefield.  Soldiers on the floor clashed in waves against each other until the bodies stacked into mountains.  The passion on their faces was real, and their anguish could be felt.  But not by KaresNah.  The only one in the whole scene who seemed at peace was the careless Air God, KaresNah.  Fully relaxed.  Stretched out on the clouds, above it all.  Under a lazy sun.  While his lightening struck down on both sides below.
    The High Priest interrupted Azzen’s thoughts before he could examine the remaining statues.
    “This is the White Water,” he said waving his arm at the murky pool.  “All colors combine.  You can see how it’s kind of a muddy poop color.  It’s supposed to be white.  But with Pyureival missing, it doesn’t mix right.”
    “How come taking away Black makes it brown?” Azzen asked.  “If anything, shouldn’t it make it more white?”
    “Yeh… I’m not really sure,” the priest admitted.  “It has something to do with balance or some shit like that.”
    Fel snorted a contemptuous laugh.
    “I don’t ask questions,” Mathews said.  “This has never happened before, so I’m just going with it.”
    The priest stared into the water, cross-armed, consternating some unknown thought.  For a while, they all just stared, waiting for him to continue or give any sort of explanation.
    “So…” Celeste broke the silence, “when we seal Pyureival, it will be white again?”
    “I hope so,” said the priest.  “We use the White Waters for all sorts of stuff.  Stuff we can’t do any other way.  But right now we can’t use it.  It’s all garbage.  Even smells like crap.”
    Azzen agreed.  The whole chamber smelled stagnant and musky.
    Fel wandered over to the pillar or Red Water, closer than Azzen had been able to endure.  She dipped her hand under the trickling water.
    “Be careful with that!” the priest warned.  “It will burn you.”
    Fel took a sharp breath as the water poured over her hand.
    “It doesn’t hurt me,” she said.
    “Yeah,” said Azzen.  “Fel doesn’t burn.”
    Mathews looked at him curiously.  “Everybody burns,” he said, then turning to Fel, “Can’t you feel it?”
    Celeste wandered over to the Violet pillar.
    “I feel it,” said Fel.  “The Anger.  Rage.  It feels like a fire inside me.”  The girl’s veins began to glow like they did when she was fighting.  “It’s focused, but in no direction.  Pure, but with no purpose.  Just Hate.
    “No,” the priest said.  “Hate is closer to Black.”
    “I can feel hate,” Fel said.  “You’re wrong.”
    She placed her palm against the pillar and rode it up slowly.
    “Be careful,” the priest cautioned, but he appeared to be watching with a sense of awe.
    The Red Water ran down her arm and trickled onto her body.  Her veins grew bright; so bright that her whole body seemed to glow.
    “I’ve never…” the priest muttered.
    Fel removed her hand and slowly brought her wet fingertips towards her lips.
    “No.  Don’t!” the priest shouted, rushing forward before she could taste the Red.  He lunged out and grabbed her arm.
    “DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” Fel snarled, whirling on Mathews.
    A burst of flame erupted from her body.
    Celeste dodged behind the Violet pillar.  Azzen was blown off his feet.  And the High Priest was completely engulfed in a torrent of fire.
    Azzen looked up through the heat waves.  “Fel!” he shouted.
    Her expression matched that of Pria’s statue, but with a curled mix of satisfaction.  The anger continued to pour out of her for a moment until her face suddenly changed to a startled look of fright.
    “I’m sorry!” she exclaimed and the flames ceased.
    Her veins began to dim and the fire dissipated into the air.  The High Priest stood calmly, unscathed.  His body was encompassed in a shimmering orange egg.  At first, Azzen thought the priest was on fire, but when the egg disappeared, he realized it must have been some sort of barrier.
    “I’m sorry,” Fel said.  “I don’t know what…”
    “It’s okay,” the priest said, “you’re fine.  Most people are overwhelmed before they even touch the water.  The emotions of a god are intense.”
    “Yah…” Fel muttered sullenly.
    “But you absorb it, don’t you?” the priest eagerly asked.  “That’s most impressive.”
    The catgirl cracked a smile.  “It doesn’t last though.”
    “Still, that’s not something just anyone can do.”
    Fel ignored the compliment and gazed up at the statue of Pria.  Azzen still thought the two catwomen looked like they could be sisters.
    “It made a fire inside me,” Fel said.  “I couldn’t contain it.  Couldn’t control it…”
    “Anger is particularly hard to contain,” the priest condoned.  “I’ve seen people touch their colors before, but never a Red.  There’s no telling what would have happened if you drank it.”
    Fel muttered an agreeance and turned away.
    “Touching a color is an impressive feat,” the priest assured.
    “What color are you?” Azzen asked out of curiosity.
    “AIIEYAUUHH!!” Celeste exclaimed.
    Azzen had never heard such a sound before.  It was a mix of pain and pleasure.  Both joyous and startling.  He looked over to see Celeste rolling on the floor, clutching at her chest and body, moaning in drunken ecstasy.  Her hands were wet with Violet liquid and she caressed herself, rubbing up to her neck and down to her…
    “Oh!” Azzen exclaimed in surprise, quickly turning away.
    The High Priest chuckled and averted his gaze as well.
    Fel burst out laughing.  “Nice one, Princess!”
    Celeste continued to writhe on the ground, completely enthralled in her own fantasy.
    “Ahem,” the priest coughed, “Yes, uh…  Luvalla can make your insides burn as well…”
    The catgirl roared with laughter.  Azzen started chuckling as well.
    “In a different way…” Mathews continued, valiantly trying hide his own mirth. “…but equally as powerful.”
    Fel doubled over, laughing even harder.  Azzen busted out laughing too.  Even the priest chuckled a bit.  But when they were all done, Celeste was the only one left giggling uncontrollably and drooling a little bit out of her mouth.
    In the end, some acolytes had to be called in to carry the young Elf girl to the infirmary, where she could rest until the effects of the water wore off.  They said if her condition lasted for more than four hours, she might need medical attention.
    While they gathered her up, Fel quietly asked Azzen if he was done with his Goblin Juice.  She wanted his bottle for some reason, saying that hers got smashed by the tree.  The young boy obliged her without thinking much about it.  Then, the High Priest ushered them out of the central chamber and gave them a tour of the temple grounds.
    As they walked, they talked.
    “So where do we start looking for these shards of the seal?” Azzen asked, referring to the quest they had been tasked with.
    “Well that’s why I showed you the White Waters.  That’s typically the place we would start with any question,” the High Priest said.  “White magic can do anything.  It’s every magic combined, and if you know how to use it, you can theoretically do anything you want.  Unfortunately, the White Water is just pure magic.  Like Fel said earlier, ‘Pure but no purpose.’  It would take a White Mage to make full use of it.  However, we’ve been able to figure out enough to do some basic things.  Scrying, Teleportation, Alchemy.  Things that take more than one color to perfect.”
    “But now you can’t,” stated Fel.  “Cuz now it’s just poop water.”
    “Yes,” said the High Priest.
    “Well can’t you still use it to do things that don’t include Black?”
    “You would think that, but like I said, the balance is all messed up now.  Nothing works.  It’s all just shit.”
    “Will you stop saying that?” Azzen cringed.
    “What?  Shit?”
    “I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem right.”
    “Why not?  Don’t people curse where you come from?”
    “Yeah, but you’re a High Priest!”
    “So?!  A priest can’t curse?  Are you a priest?  I didn’t know that was against the rules.  I‘ll have to make a note in my High Priest handbook.”
    “Well, you should be an example for people.”
    “Okay fine, but what’s wrong with saying ‘Shit’?”
    “It’s a bad word!”
    “What makes it bad?  Who gets to decide what word is bad and what word is good?  That’s bullshit.”
    “Stop it!” Azzen exclaimed.
    Fel laughed.  “You so stolly Azzay.  What matter ‘ow people talk.  It’s jussa word.  Jussa communication.  You no understand whashit mean?”
    “I know what it means,” Azzen said.  “And it offends people.”
    “Does it offend you?” the High Priest asked.
    “Yes, I guess,” Azzen said.
    “Why?” Fel asked.
    “Because…” Azzen began.  “Well…”
    Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t think of a single reason why the word “Shit” would offend him.
    “Well it’s crude,” he concluded.
    “True, but so is ‘poop‘,” said the priest.  “And ‘crap.’  What distinguishes those words from curse words?”
    “I don’t know!  They’re just different.”
    Fel laughed.  “Azzo dun stoopah doonkah dah.”
    Azzen looked at her blankly.  The High Priest smiled.
    “Now that,” he said, “should offend you.”
    “I don’t even know what she said.”
    “It was an insult,” Fel assured.  “I’m sure you got the gist of it.”
    “Here,” the High Priest began diplomatically, “let me break it down for you.  The word ‘Shit’ has a negative stigma attached to it.  It reminds you of all the bad things associated with ‘Shit.’  The same can be said for words like ‘Piss’ or ‘Slut.’  But it shouldn’t be the word that offends you, it should be the context.  For instance, saying that the White Water has turned to shit has nothing to do with you.  It shouldn’t offend you.  Now if I were to say, ‘you’re an idiotic piece of shit,’ that would be offensive.”
    Azzen agreed that that made sense.  “But that’s not all there is to it,” he said, finally figuring out a valid argument.  “Regardless of whether it makes sense or not, if a certain word offends somebody, you shouldn’t say it around them.  It’s just polite.  It’s common courtesy.  And certain words are more apt to offend people than others, so in social situations, it’s simply polite not to say them.”
    Fel snorted and started to tell Azzen off, but the priest stopped her.
    “No, he’s right,” Mathews said.  “Certain words are more commonly said in intensely negative situations, so repeating them casually can cause a person to relapse into those memories.  For instance, if I were to say Merca, it would probably bother you.”
    Fel gave him a dangerous eye, but held her tongue.
    “What does Merca mean?” Azzen asked.
    “Shut up shithead,” Fel spat.
    The High Priest laughed.  “Case and point.”
    Fel glared at Azzen.  The boy decided not to ask.
    “Very well, Azzen,” the priest said.  “I’ll refrain from cursing around you if you admit that in a perfect world, it’s the context that should matter, not the word.”
    “Deal,” Azzen said.  “But I actually don’t care if you curse around me.”
    The priest laughed.  Fel rolled her eyes.
    “Anywayyysss,” the catgirl said.  “So where to find Shard?”
    “Oh.  Yah.  I don’t know,” the priest said.
    “Ungh,” Fel moaned.  Azzen felt the same way.
    “You High Priess.  You donno nawthing?”
    “Well I know the prophecy. Andddd I know that Pyureival is breaking free,” the priest said  matter-of-factly.
    “So you know nothing.”
    “Yeh, pretty much.”
    “What good are you??” Fel asked.
    “Not much, I’m afraid,” the priest admitted.
    “Well…” Azzen wasn’t even sure what to ask.  And he realized that was the problem.  “How about… Well how will we know when a shard shows up?”
    “Oh, yes,” the priest said.  “Those shards are bound to cause all sorts of trouble.  Whoever gets the first one will probably go crazy.”
    “What?  Why?” Azzen asked.
    “And it will probably be a Red,” the priest continued.
    “What’s that supposed to mean?” Fel said indignantly.
    “Well the Shards don’t just form the seal.  They’re pure magic.  Kind of like that water, but crystallized.  Even more intense.  You saw what the water did to you.  Imagine that times a million.”
    “A million?!”
    “Well, maybe I’m exaggerating.”
    “But why a Red?” Fel insisted.
    “Well I imagine Pyureival is pretty pissed… er… Upset…”
    “I told you I don’t care,” said Azzen.
    “Well, she’s probably slightly miffed about being sealed.  That emotion would be the easiest for her to focus on.”
    “Why not Black?”
    “Well we know that Drake set up the seal so that Black was the last barrier she’d have to break.  It will definitely be the easiest for her.  And I’m pretty sure she’ll save Violet for right before that.  As for the rest of the order, I’m not sure.”
    “What does it matter?” Fel asked.
    “Well it’s good to know what we’re up against,” Azzen said.
    “And more than that,” Mathews added.  “The Red Shard will materialize in a Red heart.”
    “What’s that mean?”
    “I mean literally,”  the priest said.  “When Pyureival expels it, it will rematerialize in  the heart of a Red.”
    “Won’t that kill them?” Azzen asked.
    “Don’t be stupid,” Fel scolded.
    “So whoever the Red is, he’ll suddenly gain a lot of unexpected power and not know why.  Shouldn’t be too hard to find.  In fact, I think the King already has a scheme set up to capture whoever it is…  But I have my doubts.”
    “What’s the scheme?” Azzen asked.
    “Well, say you woke up one day and you were suddenly super powerful.  What would you do?” the priest asked hypothetically.
    Azzen considered it.  He was actually in a somewhat similar situation, though it happened over a few months, not overnight.  Plus he was in a foreign fantasy land.  Plus he had no idea how to get home.  Plus he could barely speak the language.  Plus he was just happy to be alive after everything that had happened.  Plus he mostly just wanted to follow Fel around.  He wondered what it would be like if their situations were switched, and she were in his world, instead of he in hers.  He thought it would be nice to take her out on a date.  Would people make a big deal about her cat ears?  He could just say she liked to dress up.  What about the tail?  He wondered what kind of food she would like.  Fish?  What she would think of a movie theater?
    “Wait, what were you saying?”
    Fel rolled her eyes.  “I would get rich.”
    “Exactly.  The King set up a tournament.  Winner gets some ungodly sum of money and also knighted, to become a Noble.  Instant wealth and prestige.  Instant satisfaction.  An alluring temptation for someone who came into instant power.”
    “Well, what if whoever has the Shard doesn’t win?”
    “Then we just pick it up.  But anybody powerful enough to beat them is already a wealthy noble, or else doesn’t care.  Whoever has the Shard would win,” the priest assured.
    “Okeh,” Fel said.  “So what are doubts?”
    “Well I just don’t underestimate the forces of darkness.  We’ve already received reports of Black gatherings.  They know their God is breaking free.  They’ll be looking for the shards as well.  This is such an obvious ploy.  Not only will they seek to disrupt it, but they’ll be able to snag the Shard if it’s out in the open.  And that’s if they haven’t already found the carrier to begin with.  There’s just too much that could go wrong.  We need a back-up plan.”
    “Yeah.  So what’s the plan?” Azzen asked.
    “I don’t have one,” said the priest.  “That’s just the situation.”
    “You’re no help,” said Fel.
    “Yeah, at least the King has a plan.  Maybe we should talk to him.”
    “Don’t bother,” said the High Priest.
    “But aren’t we part of the prophecy?” Azzen asked.
    Fel snorted laughter.
    “What’s so funny?” the boy asked.
    “How you think the world work?” she asked back.
    Mathews smiled.  “Your friend’s pretty sharp,” he said.  “Ever since the prophecy came out, hundreds of people have been claiming they are the chosen ones.  The King’s already publicly disregarded any legitimacy to these claims.”
    “That sucks,” Azzen said.
    “Please don’t use that word around me,” the priest chided.
    Azzen ignored the jest.  “But we ARE the chosen ones right?  I mean, it was a right before a full moon and Fel’s Red and Celeste’s Violet.  And I’m from another dimension, if that means anything.”
    “What?” the priest asked puzzled.
    “Ignore him.  Too many branch hit head.  You need tame tree guard.  Make berserk, no good for brain.”
    “Uh… Right.”
    “Azzo you be stupah.  High Priest sending everybody that fit bill on crazy quest.  THAT hizz plan,” she said with a jerk of the thumb.
    “Guilty,” Mathews admitted with a smile.
    “Let’s go.  No mo crazy talk.  We free now,” she said.  Then eyeing the priest dangerously, she added, “Free to go, yah?”
    “Yes, yes.  Of course.  Whenever you like.  And I admit, I’ve told the same story to many folks.  But the way I see it, it can’t hurt.”
    “Yah, like tree don’t hurt when it crush me.  Come on Azzo, let go.”
    Fel began to walk away, but Azzen lingered.
    “Wait,” he said.  “What about Celeste?” the boy asked in a concerned tone.
    “What about Celeste?” Fel asked back in a careless tone.
    “She’ll be fine,” the priest assured.  “You can go.”
    Azzen didn’t want to just leave her here.  He felt like they came together and they should leave together.
    “Can we at least see her before we go?”
    “Sure thing, no problem,” the priest obliged and began leading them back to the infirmary.
    Fel groaned, but followed along with them.  Azzen cared about Fel and would leave with her in an instant if she insisted, but he was glad she wasn’t being pushy right now.  In fact, he didn’t see any reason to leave.  The day was getting late and they had no money and no place to go.  He murmured these thoughts to Fel as they trailed behind the priest.
    “We can stay night,” she replied.  “But stay ready to go.  I no trust.”
    The group got to the infirmary, where Celeste was sleeping.
    “She’s out,” a female acolyte said quietly.  “We put her to sleep for her own health.  Too much pleasure can drive a person insane.”
    Azzen wondered if that was true or just something clever the woman was saying.
    Not much was said.  There wasn’t much to say.  The clerics assured Azzen that she would be fine in the morning.  Then Azzen and Fel expressed their desire to stay for the night.
    “Of course you can.  Anything you’d like, Chosen Ones,” the High Priest smiled with a wink.
    Fel rolled her eyes.  Azzen chuckled and the two of them followed the High Priest to their rooms.
    “There’s one other thing,” Mathews said.  “I must warn you.  In fact, I warned all of the would-be… Er never mind.  Anyways.  Don’t fall in love.”
    Fel laughed.
    “What?” Azzen asked, not sure if he’d heard right.
    “The two of you can’t fall in love.  It will end up the same way it did for Drake and Pria.”
    “That’s stupid,” Fel said.
    “Yeah, uh… I’m not too familiar with the story, remind me what happened again.”
    The priest sighed.  “Look, the reason Pyureival was only sealed instead of completely banished is because at the last moment, she pulled her dirtiest trick.  She used their love against them and forced them into a deal.”
    “How did she do that?” Azzen asked.
    “Well, the specifics aren’t known, but that was how Pyureival was able to gain leverage on Drake and Pria, they fell in love and cared about each other more than the world.  Do NOT fall in love.”
    “I don’t understand,” Azzen said.
    Fel rolled her eyes.
    “Look, just don’t fall in love.  Okay?”
    “Yeah…” Azzen said.  “I can’t promise that.”
    “Don’t,” the priest warned.
    “That’s just stupid,” Fel said.
    “It really is,” agreed Azzen.
    The two youngsters looked at each other at the same time, then embarrassedly snapped their gaze back forward.
    Fel turned red and spouted off, “It’s not like I like dis doonka doofa nayways.  Why would you even worry about that?  Who could ever love anyone that dumb?”
    “Yeah!” Azzen agreed.  “See?  I’m an idiot.  No worries.”
    The High Priest looked troubled.

It was dark when Fel snuck into Azzen’s private temple room; the Priest said, “private,”  Fel said, “isolated,” Azzen didn’t bother to argue.  The girl climbed up to his room and paused in the frame of the windowsill for just a moment.  The full moon was out and the girls cattish features silhouetted against it’s beams, then, all trace of her vanished.
    In the span of a blink, she popped up next to Azzen‘s bed.  She reached out and her fingertip touched his cheek, tracing a line down his face, carefully and delicate.
    Azzen stirred.
    Fel quickly turned her hand over and caressed the side of his face.
    “shhh…..” she cooed.
    Azzen’s eyes opened and he was alert, but his body did not move.  If anything, it grew rigid.  “Fel,” he said in a hushed but sharp tone.  “What are you doing?”
    “Calm down,” she whispered.  “It’s the easiest way to wake a guy up without him being loud.”
    Azzen was silent for a minute.  “Wait what…?  No noh.  Not that.  I mean: What are you doing here?  You‘re not allowed in my room.”
    “Oh, shut up.  Let’s go.”
    “Yah,” said Fel.  “Let’s get out of here.”
    “Fine.  But don’t you want to go to magic school?”
    “I donno…” the girl said quietly.  Then she added in an even more subtle tone, “just sounds like more ‘rules’ to me…”
    Azzen was already putting a shirt on and getting up out of bed.
    “Alright, cool,” he said.  “Whatever you like.”
    Fel smiled at him in the dark as he stood up.
    “AiieeYaa!” she hissed.  “Put some pants on!”
    “Shut up!” Azzen whispered back.  “The guards will hear you.”
    “I don’t care!” said Fel louder.  “Don’t tell me what to do!”
    “I was just sleeping!  And I’m wearing boxers.  I need to pee, give me a break, I’m a guy.  You‘re already packed right?”  Azzen had given up on being quiet now, the magical hallway lanterns had been ignited.  The Guards were already coming. ~I didn’t know what boxers were at the time.  I just knew he was pitchin a tent big enough to field the Captain~
    “What are you talking about?” asked Fel.  “I have nothing to pack.  Do you?”
    “Oh yeah,” said Azzen zipping up his pants and buckling his belt.  “Not really.  Let me grab my hoodie.”
    Fel grinned, happy that Azzen wasn‘t making a fuss.  She headed to the window and hopped up on the sill.  Waiting there for Azzen to finish getting ready.
    Azzen could hear the guard‘s footsteps and picked up the pace.  The catgirl waited patiently on the windowsill.  Azzen admired the way her form looked against the night sky as he approached.
    The doors opened behind him.  And it wasn’t just a guard, it was High Priest Mathews himself.
    “Is something wrong, Lord Azz-” he began as he entered the room, then he saw the scene.
    Fel smiled wickedly as she looked him in the eye.  Then she smiled more affectionately down at Azzen.  She wrapped her arms around his shoulders pulling him close.  She reached up to touch his cheek and moved her hand around to the back of his head, drawing him in.  Pulling him in.  Guiding his lips towards hers.
    “What are you doing?!  Stop!” the priest demanded.
    Azzen didn’t stop.  Fel didn’t stop.  They kissed.  Simple.  Long.  And Deep.  Perfectly laid against the moonlight with their eyes closed and hearts beating.
    “Stop right now!” the Priest shouted.
    Azzen could feel Fel’s lips turn into a broad smile.  Azzen smiled too, breaking the kiss.  Then Fel burst out laughing, looked up at the stars.  She sighed and put the back of her hand on her forehead, still grinning foolishly.  She leaned back dramatically until she fell out the window.
    Azzen knew she would be fine.
    He looked back one time at the Priest, gave him a sheepish grin and a wink, then hopped out the window after her.
    The two kids ran off into the night, feeling excited and happy together.  They felt invincible.  They felt like they couldn’t be touched.  And when they were together, they felt freer than they ever had alone.

“That was just a joke, you know,” Fel said when the two finally stopped running.
    At first they were running to put distance between them and the temple.  Then they reached the gates of the city and kept on running out.  Then they just chased after each other for a while down the road, Azzen would try to catch Fel’s tail, and the catgirl would tease him by letting him get close and then dancing just out of reach.  He finally caught her once by sprinting as soon as she turned her back to him.  The boy held the girl around the waist and they just stared and smiled for a moment.
    “What was?” Azzen asked.
    “The kiss,” Fel said, pulling away.
    Azzen let her go.
    “I was teasing the priest.  It was fake.”
    Azzen smiled endearingly.  “Felt pretty real to me.”
    “Well it wasn’t!” Fel insisted.  “You’re so stupid.  Don’t get any dumb ideas.”
    Azzen didn’t push the subject.  “Whatever.  What was all that stuff about not falling in love anyways?  How could love be a bad thing?  Don’t the good gods look out for stuff like that?”
    “I don’t know.  It’s stupid,” Fel said.  “Don’t matter nayways.”
    “Yeah…” Azzen agreed.
    The two kids began to walk.
    “So where are we going?” Azzen asked.
    “I don’t know.  Hey.  Let’s make a deal,” Fel said.
    “Just in case…  Let’s agree that if it ever comes down to it…  In some sort of crazy situation…  If we ever have to choose between each other and the world, we’ll choose the world.  Okay?”
    Azzen stared at the catgirl as he walked, but she refused to meet his gaze.
    “Noh,” he said.
    “What?” she asked, turning a curious gaze towards him.
    “I’ve got a better idea,” he said.
    “What then.”
    “If we ever get into that situation.  Let’s agree to choose each other, instead of the world.”
    Fel didn’t laugh or call him stupid, like Azzen expected her to.  She looked up and smiled at him brightly.
    “I like that,” she said.
    “Deal?” Azzen asked, holding out his hand.
    “Deal,” Fel replied, taking his hand and shaking on it.
    Azzen gripped her hand and pulled her in close, stealing a quick kiss before she knew what he was doing.
    “Hey!  What do you think you’re doing?!  I just told you it wasn’t like that!”  She shouted at him, genuinely upset.
    Azzen just laughed it off.  “Well with a deal like that, we had to seal it with a kiss.
    “You’re such an idiot,” Fel said.  “I just told you…  Get away from me.”
    The catgirl pushed Azzen aside and looked away.
    “Oh come on.  You kissed me, now I kissed you.  We’re even.
    “Fine whatever, just don’t do it again.”
    “No promises.  So where are we going?”
    “Ugh,” Fel groaned.  “I already told you, I don’t know.  We’re going to the next town.”
    “How far away is it?”
    “I don’t know!  Mierda.  Why I bring you along?”
    “Because you can’t stand being apart from me.”
    “Yah,” Fel said sarcastically.  “Right.”
    “It’s true.  They tried to separate us for one night and look what happened.  You snuck into my room.”
    “Doonkasa no stupidah!  Temple was no good.  That priess crazy.  I save yoh life.”
    “See?” Azzen said.  “You DO care.”
    “Aiya.  No talking now.”
    Azzen laughed.  “Fine.  Let’s run.  I’m hungry.  It’s almost breakfast.”
    The sun was just barely rising over the horizon, and the two took off again, into the morning light.

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bleed by E.A. Skanchy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.