“It’s getting easier to breathe,” Ruby said as she smelled the air. Va’il nodded lightly beside her. He could smell it too. There was a breeze running through the tunnel. The smell of the forest and lake was gradually becoming stronger. Ruby picked up the pace.
A short while later they arrived at the end of the tunnel. At the end was a hole in the ground. Looking down, they saw that the hole dropped into another cave. The cave was bright and appeared to lead right out into the sun.
“Va’il, we’re almost out! Finally!” Ruby said with excitement as she pushed Va’il off her. He stood by himself, slightly dazed. Upon seeing the sunlight that was stretched upon the cave’s floor, his eyes opened wider. He also became excited at the prospect of leaving, though he was still unable to move as well as Ruby.
“Yep! We just need to jump down, and then find everyone, and then eat, and eat, and then drink. Let’s go, Shiroi.” With that, Va’il crouched down, and was about to jump.
“Wait, wait, wait. Jump? I was so excited I didn’t notice. That’s a large drop. I can’t drop that far. Can you?” she asked.
“It’s only about the drop off a rooftop, sure. I won’t break any bones as long as someone doesn’t land on me,” he said with much sarcasm. “You sure you can’t jump? I thought you were just as tough as me?”
“Why you!” Ruby put her hands on her hips in the same manner her mother did, much to her later chagrin. “I’m not some ruffian who has spent her life jumping off rooftops. Though I wouldn’t mind that from time to time, if I could. Um, well I mean I just can’t. But you can. So help me down, and then you should jump when I’m safe.”
“How do you expect me to help you much more than I have?” Va’il said while holding up his broken arm.
“You still have one good arm. Lay down with me holding it. I think it’s not too far for me to drop if you lower me a bit.”
Va’il considered objecting, but he just wanted to leave, so he did what Ruby asked. She wasn’t very heavy, so although Va’il thought his arm was going to be pulled off, it didn’t happen. She was very fast, and jumped down quickly. Va’il stood up and shook his arm out a bit. He looked below as Ruby waved him down.
“It’s the forest! Quickly Va’il, we’re really out!”
Va’il crouched down, ready to jump, but at that moment the ground started shaking. He stood straight again and looked back. Coming from behind him was the sound of rocks falling. The rumbling became more violent, and Va’il heard more rocks fall. He turned around and looked down at Ruby. Suddenly, a portion of the ceiling fell right behind him. Va’il, shocked at this, jumped without thinking.
He landed on his feet, but right behind Ruby. He fell forward and both of them tumbled to the ground. Yet Ruby ended up on top of Va’il, sitting on his stomach. Other than being shocked, she wasn’t harmed, something which Va’il couldn’t claim. With no time to see if his stomach was bruised, he quickly got up and grabbed the stunned Ruby’s hand. They managed to run out while the ceiling fell behind them. Though they didn’t realize it, the reason they made it out unscathed was due to the unnaturally slow way the ceiling fell.
“That was frightening. Are you all right?” Va’il asked the girl who had just fallen to her knees again. She looked up, dumbfounded, but quickly regained her composure.
“We’re out. We’re out!” She jumped suddenly, with a large smile on her face. In the natural sunlight, Ruby looked much different than from inside the cave. Even the room with the golden luminous stones wasn’t enough to illuminate all of Ruby’s features, Va’il now discovered. There was something foreign about her. Her green eyes were much brighter than before. She was obviously human, but she seemed to have clearer skin, a more girlish face, and different hair than all the girls he knew. Her hair wasn’t simply blond; it appeared golden. It must have been a long time ago that her hair dried, but only now did Va’il notice how wavy it was. Everything about her screamed to him that she belonged somewhere else, in a place he didn’t know.
“Did you come from another country? Did you move to Rising?” Va’il, in his ignorance, asked.
“What? No. I’ve always lived in Rising. Why?” she asked.
“Oh, nothing. Let’s go back.” Va’il walked forward a few steps. Ruby didn’t follow. He turned around to see why. Ruby was looking back at the cave they had come out of. More specifically, she was looking at what the cave had been carved in.
Va’il slowly started tilting his head back farther and farther until he was looking straight up. He looked to the left and to the right while looking as high as he could. But he couldn’t see the top or the ends of the giant grey rock mountain known as Tuni. He had seen it every time he looked west earlier, but this was his first time being at it. The sides were smooth, flat, and even. It didn’t seem as though the mountain had any curves in it whatsoever. Yet, this giant solid structure had a cave in it that led to a large underground cavern near the lake.
“The lake! We can go east to get back to the lake. We won’t have to walk very long to get back to the camp from there!” Va’il said in sudden realization.
“No.” Ruby replied curtly. She was done admiring Tuni, and had walked over to Va’il.
“What? Why? I need to get back!” Va’il said while beginning to panic.
“So do I. So we walk this way, south through the forest. We stay in the forest, and we will be fine,” she said.
“Just do it,” Ruby said, ending the dispute.
Va’il tried objecting, but Ruby wasn’t going to let him have his way. He knew he couldn’t object either, because he wouldn’t be able to walk alone for long. Relying on his arrogant partner, Va’il traveled south.
After a while, Ruby started looking around at the trees. She smiled a few times, and changed directions through the forest a few times. Va’il soon realized that she knew exactly where she was going, because after a while they came across a camp in the middle of the forest. It was in the middle of the trees; there wasn’t even a clearing. A small orange tent with a few small items around it was Ruby’s camp.
A small tree that had long ago fallen over was next to the tent. There was a small circle of stones around the ashes of a recently extinguished fire. There were sticks and leaves piled neatly next to the fireplace.
Ruby walked Va’il over to the fallen tree, and he sat quietly on it.
“Have you been staying here?” he asked.
“Yeah. Sit there, don’t move.”
Ruby took Va’il’s left arm and started undoing the bandages. The skin was white from being compressed. Once the bandages were removed, blood flowed into the area and started increasing the size of his arm. Ruby was moving quickly enough to keep Va’il’s arm from swelling too much. In just a few moments, she had taken a few sticks and set them against his arm as a splint. The bandages were back on again, and were just as tight as ever. With the sticks in place, Va’il felt like his arm was firmer than before.
“Thank you,” he said with a smile that showed his teeth. Ruby stopped and stared. “What’s wrong?”
“Smile again, open your mouth,” she said. Va’il opened his mouth again. Ruby, looking like a curious cat, investigated his teeth, ears, and tail again. She took a finger and touched the tip of one of his teeth. “Wow! It’s sharp! You really are interesting!”
“Hah. Just try putting your finger in my mouth again. I’m getting really hungry. At this point, I could eat just about anything,” Va’il said in a threatening yet casual matter. Ruby just laughed.
“Oh! Food! Water! Life!” Ruby got up, walked over to the tent, and pulled out a small box from inside. She took out a few packages, as well as two goatskins filled with water. She gave one of the packages to the now-troubled Va’il. It had familiar markings on top of it.