“This is?” Va’il asked, though he knew the answer.
“It’s food, it’s… oh.” Ruby went silent; she realized her mistake.
“It’s not just any food! This is from our school! This is ours! You, you’re the thief!”
“So what? Are you going to turn me in right now? Shouldn’t you eat before that?” She showed no care for Va’il’s concerns, and started eating from the package she had already opened. Va’il, his stomach churning at the sight of food, ended his dilemma.
The cold bread and meat seemed to be the greatest meal in the world at that moment. They both finished what they had quickly, so Ruby pulled another package out, which they split. Va’il wondered while eating, what would have happened to this girl if she hadn’t taken food from his class. He decided not to ask. A beautiful girl, who lived in a small tent in the middle of the forest, wearing a dress that looked like it used to be expensive, was a mystery that Va’il didn’t have the desire to question while hungry. But she doesn’t seem like a horrible person, overall, Va’il finally thought.
“Wonderful,” Va’il said when he finished eating. He folded the papers that the food had been wrapped in, and placed them in his pockets. He smiled at Ruby, as if to say he didn’t care where the food came from anymore. She realized its meaning, and smiled back.
“Good. Now then. Wait here while I go in the tent for a while,” she said.
“For how long? Just let me in, I want to see.” Va’il meant that he wanted to see the inside of the tent. Ruby though meant something different. Her face went a little red.
“No! Just stay out here. I need to be alone.” She walked into the tent, and pulled the entrance shut. Va’il sat while waiting. He heard Ruby move around a lot inside the small tent.
Va’il didn’t notice the approaching figure. The person didn’t notice Va’il either. Va’il, under normal circumstances, would hear the steps approaching from far away. Here in the middle of the forest, the cracking twigs and crushed leaves should have warned Va’il long ago that someone was just a few meters from him. But the person didn’t notice either; the trees were large and blocked their field of vision.
The hair on Va’il’s neck suddenly stood up, and his tail straightened. He jumped, turned, and then squatted on the log. Unconsciously, he had bared his fangs. When he finally realized what he was looking at, it was too late.
A white-feathered avian girl walked around a tree and saw a lupus boy sitting on the log near the tent. He suddenly jumped and turned around. He was younger than the girl, but he was extremely frightening with his exposed fangs and vicious face. She dropped the bundle of sticks she was holding, turned around, and ran as fast as she could.
“What was that?” Ruby was already outside of the tent, now in a new dress. It was a red dress with white frills. “Someone is running… Va’il, who is that? Is that her? Va’il?”
“White avian. She ran off, scared. It was an accident,” Va’il said hastily.
“Run. Go. Get her. Now. Run!” Ruby yelled.
“Why?” Va’il, though guilty, asked flatly.
“Because it’s your fault she ran off! That’s mine, go get it!”
“That? What’s yours?”
“That girl! Hurry!”
Va’il felt a bit strange at the way Ruby was speaking; nevertheless, he was going to chase the avian. He tightened the splint on his left arm again, and took off running. Surprisingly, it was easy to run. He was sure that it would hurt, but neither his arm nor his body ached. The splint was well done, and the food had nourished him. It was as if the only exhaustion remaining from the journey through the tunnels was the desire to sleep.
Avians were known as quick runners because they had light bodies. But quick running doesn’t hold a candle to great running, which lupus were known for. Even exhausted, Va’il was a fast runner with a lot of endurance. He quickly caught up to the girl, who had already stopped running. When Va’il saw her, she was bent over with her hands on her legs, and breathing heavily. In Va’il’s opinion, it seemed like this person didn’t get much exercise. He was a few meters away from her when she tried running away again, but she could only take a couple steps before Va’il yelled out to her.
“Ah! No!” she screamed. Va’il stopped running. He stood in place a few meters from her. Now close enough to speak, he talked calmly.
“Wait! I’m with Shiroi. She wants you to come back. So please, stop running,” Va’il said.
“What? Shiroi?” The girl looked at Va’il, thoroughly puzzled and confused.
“Yes. You know her, Shiroi?” He held out his good arm to the avian girl. “She was in the tent when you arrived. I’m sorry for scaring you. You surprised me earlier. Can you come?”
“Oh, was in the tent,” she said quietly. She blushed in embarrassment at her haste.
Still somewhat frightened, she put her hand in Va’il’s. She was taller than him, like Ruby was. She is probably just a little older than Shiroi, Va’il thought. Together they walked back to where Ruby awaited.
“So long! It’s been too long!” Shiroi said. The girl, upon seeing Ruby, ran and hugged her.
“Ah! Let me stand up first!” Ruby had been sitting on the log while waiting for them to get back. When the avian girl hugged her, she nearly fell backwards off the log.
Shiroi was crying, and only made small sounds of acknowledgment. She and Ruby stood up, still in an embrace. Va’il looked on while feeling awkward and out of place. Then the avian girl let go, and dropped to one knee in a servant’s bow.
“Forgive my presumptive action. I was just so very happy,” Shiroi said. Ruby put her hand on the girl’s head.
“Thank you, really. You’re my friend out here; you should act more like it. I needed that comfort. I’ve been lonely for so long without you.” Ruby was smiling in a way Va’il hadn’t yet seen. It was soft and comforting, unlike the simple friendliness she had shown a few times before. It made him think of home. Shiroi looked up while still on one knee. She glanced back once at Va’il.
“About him, you weren’t entirely alone. He is?” Shiroi asked quietly. Va’il could only overhear that much. He wanted to ask yet again who these girls were, but past experience had made a strong impression on him. They weren’t going to answer, he knew. The rest of the girls’ conversation was in whispers. Ruby leaned down and spoke very quietly.
“That’s Va’il, a student of that school, the one having the field trip that we, you know, took from. He saved me, that’s why his arm is broken,” Ruby said.
“I see. He should be properly thanked,” Shiroi said.
“No! He doesn’t know who I am, and he shouldn’t find out either,” Ruby said.
“You’re right, a commoner cannot know. It would just make the situation worse. Apologies for even mentioning it. But he’s really confused me with his words,” Shiroi said.
“Oh, that’s because I’m using your name. It was the only thing I could think of when he asked. Sorry, it’s for our safety. If mother found out, I’d never hear the end of it,” Ruby said.
“You’ve already made a mess. Madam will not let you off easily,” Shiroi said in a slightly angry tone. She was also a bit too loud. Va’il heard the last words Shiroi spoke.
“Anyways! Hey Va’il, what are you standing around for? Don’t you have people waiting for you?” Ruby asked loudly.
Va’il, who had only a moment ago had a whirlpool of confusing thoughts in his head, realized that he should return to the campsite. He still had a burning desire to know who those two girls really were. Why they were out there, why one of them was swimming in a dress, and what relationship they had, exactly.
“Yes. But what about you two?” He didn’t know how to address his own questions, and the thought of everyone worrying about him was starting to weigh in his young mind.
“We’ll be fine! We’re going to leave soon. We need to go back to Rising,” Ruby said while standing up. She walked into the tent for a couple seconds and emerged with a bag. “We only have to pack a couple bags worth, and we will be off quickly enough. You should go back. They probably think you’re… well… just go!”
“Thank you,” Va’il said. “I won’t forget you.”
He turned towards the east and started walking. The two girls were silent until Va’il could no longer be seen. The trees quickly hid him from view, and his steps faded into the background music of the forest. Shiroi started taking down the tent.
“You were cold to him,” Shiroi said quietly. Ruby looked down at the ground; a sad look was on her face.
“It couldn’t be helped.”