The Introduction of Ruby and Shiroi in the Tershi Arc

It’s nearing the end of this section of the story. And for reasons that will eventually be clearer, and some not as clear, this introduction to the mysterious girls has set up many, many things.

And as much as I’d like to talk about them, for now I’ll keep my commentary about this section short. To me, it’s quite important. To the characters surrounding our main characters, this was of great importance. To Va’il as well, though his questions about why and who and what and how will all have to wait. But he’s had an adventure, and that’s what he’ll think of regarding this.

To the first of many. And to the mysteries and resolutions yet to be revealed.

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The Lupine Saga 22

“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.

“Wait!”

“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.”

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The Lupine Saga 21

“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.

“Why?”

“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.

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The Lupine Saga 20

Fidel looked tired. Sitting on his throne, with Aoi to his right and Diren to his left, he watched as Darius and Jane Melonscone argued in front of him.

“You must mobilize the entire force, I demand it,” Jane said.

“Madam, understand that we are not your servants!” Darius said.

“You might as well be!”

“With the land and privilege your house has, your army is several times larger than the royal guard, why don’t you mobilize them?”

“You know as well as I that summoning even a portion of that force is a long process that is reserved for times of war, to serve the nation in that capacity only. That force isn’t really appropriate for non-military uses, anyways.” Jane didn’t appear to realize just how ridiculous her request was in the face of her own refusal.

“Fidel, can you please tell her that although we can help, there is no way we can accommodate her demands?” Darius asked.

Fidel frowned silently. He placed his elbow on the armrest, and placed his head on his fist. He glanced at Diren and made a small motion with his eyes.

“Ms. Melonscone, the royal guard is required to have, at all times, at least half of the force in the direct vicinity of the king. No exceptions are to be made. Furthermore, the guards are constantly rotated. Those who are not on duty are resting peacefully in preparation for their shift,” Diren said with authority.

Jane stared with disdain, and muttered something under her breath. Her scowl grew larger, to the point where it wasn’t humanly possible to scowl any more. Then she stopped and smiled.

“I understand, advisor. I’ll just walk home, bury my head in a pillow, and cry till my daughter is home. That is so much more effective than actually doing something,” she said with a smile and a nod. “But, whatever shall I do if she turns up dead, abused, beaten by someone else’s hand, or is in any other way unfit? Why, I think I’ll just have to make use of my own resources at that point. Certainly I’ll have to call back every loan I’ve given. Oh, and I won’t want to eat, so I should purchase all the productive land I can and rid it of its fields, so the land can mourn with me. Oh, but I already own most of them. Maybe I should run to my relatives, my brothers, my fellow aristocracy for comfort.” Jane smiled happily as her threats bounded through the room.

“Enough. Dear, I know your status. I know your wealth. I know that your child is the bearer of your family name. I also happen to know you only care for her because of her name. And, I know your disapproval can ruin our country,” Fidel said.

“Then, my lord, Fidel, you mean?” Jane ignored the truth in Fidel’s words as she put on an expectant face.

“I remember our times; I’ll honor them yet again. A quarter of the force. No more. The commander will head north, and you will have a few small groups of scouts. The forests and the lake to the north, the fields in the west, and halfway to the mountains in the east. South will be ignored. I hope you’re right that your child went north,” Fidel said.

“I still have the Right, I still have it Fidel! I can still use it! Will you not help more?” she asked. Murmurs in the hall abounded at the mention of the Right. Fidel simply smiled.

“Dear, I know you wouldn’t waste that precious gift just yet, not when this is sufficient. Your aspirations are much higher, aren’t they? But if you demand it, then I must concede. Decide then, what is sufficient,” Fidel said.

Jane bowed and left the room without a word.

#

Va’il spat out the dirty water.

“None of it is good, it’s all disgusting.”

“I need water; we need to hurry out of here,” Ruby said while panting.

After walking for hours, Ruby and Va’il realized they hadn’t ate or drank for a long time. Neither was sure how much time had passed. There was water everywhere, but not a drop of it was good enough to drink. They were both feeling very sick. Because of his arm, Va’il was especially feeling the effects of thirst and hunger.

“Can’t do it,” Va’il said as he stumbled and fell. Ruby, a few feet ahead of him, turned and looked.

“You can’t fall before me, Va’il! Get up, we need to go, and you need to help me out of here.” Va’il didn’t respond. “Fine, then you’re coming with me one way or another.”

Ruby put Va’il’s right arm around her neck, supporting half his weight. With Va’il walking in step with her, they kept going in the darkness. The tunnels curved and elevated. At times, it felt like they were walking in a giant circle, and at others they felt like they were walking up a hill. Va’il longed for the hill leading up to the schoolhouse. At least that hill had sunlight surrounding it.

Va’il thought of that, and a smile came to his face at the thought of the bright school. He imagined the hill, the school, the light, and the big tree. In fact, he could see it now, in front of his eyes. Ruby dropped him and he fell to the ground.

“What is this?” she asked with an awed tone.

Va’il rubbed his chin, but he stopped when he realized that he was in a room full of light. It was bright everywhere. Instead of a school, there was a golden pavilion. Instead of sunlight, there were walls of golden luminous stones. Instead of a hill, there were steps leading up to the pavilion. Instead of a tree, there were hundreds of statues. They were faceless and had ambiguous bodies.

Realizing she had dropped Va’il, Ruby picked him up again. As both of them stared at their mysterious surroundings, they walked towards the steps leading up the pavilion. After much effort, they reached the top. The pavilion was fifteen meters wide and square. It had steps going down each edge. In the middle was a single pedestal with a cushion on top. Resting there was a clear orb.

Va’il looked out of the pavilion, over everything else. The giant luminous cavern only had hundreds of statues. There was nothing else of importance other than the pavilion and the things in it. To the left and right there were other paths out of the cavern; the path they came from was behind Va’il. He saw this and walked over to Ruby, who was standing near the pedestal.

“What do you think it is?” she asked.

“Just a crystal ball. Do you like things like that, Shiroi?” Va’il asked.

“Me? No, no, I just was thinking. It’s clear, but it reflects colors like a rainbow. I feel like I’m looking at a soap bubble,” she said while stretching out her hand.

“Don’t touch that!” Va’il said. Ruby stopped with her hand a few inches from the orb.

“What? Why not?” she asked indignantly.

“Respect for old things. It would be wrong. And it’s not ours. Maybe the owner put it here so no one would touch it,” Va’il said with a serious look on his face. Ruby couldn’t help but laugh at Va’il.

“Va’il, you’re interesting. Okay, you’re probably right in some way. Though I think whoever owns this has to be long dead. It doesn’t look like anyone has been here for ages, even though it’s pretty.” Va’il nodded happily when Ruby pulled her hand back. “Since I mentioned that taboo thing again, I think it’s time to go.”

Va’il couldn’t agree more. The small bit of energy he had gained upon seeing the amazing surroundings had started to fade. He turned around and started walking down the steps on the left side, towards a path that they had yet to explore. He got to the bottom of the steps quickly. He turned around and sighed as he saw Ruby at the top of the pavilion still. She was just taking the first step down.

“Thirty,” Ruby said as she stepped onto the ground. She smiled at Va’il and willingly put his arm around her neck. “I’m still stronger.”

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The Lupine Saga 19

Through the dark corridor a single silhouette briskly moved. Arriving at the entrance to the great hall of the royal barracks was Jane Melonscone, thoroughly displeased at the lack of lighting in the hallway leading to the entrance. The great hall was filled with hundreds of people who were enjoying food, drink, songs, and friendship.

Jane put her hands on her hips and looked at the rowdy bunch, indignant that no one had yet noticed her. Then, with more force than a human should be able to muster, she stomped her foot. The wooden floor resounded with the force, and the entire hall went silent. Every person turned to see the woman. One of the men quickly got up and ran to the side of the entrance. He was a herald.

“Announcing the entrance of Madam Jane Lucrene Melonscone! All respects are due!” The herald’s announcement reinforced what every person in the hall but Jane had feared. Everyone immediately stood up from the tables and bowed slightly in the direction of the high-noble woman.

On the other side of the room was another corridor, which a middle-aged man had just walked out of. He was dressed in long green robes and wore an olive-green cape. He had black hair and olive skin. He saw Jane on the other side of the room, and walked over to her with a smile.

“Ah, Madam Jane, how lovely it is of you to visit such a lowly place. Please, do tell what you are here for,” the man said.

“My daughter is missing, and you’re going to find her, Darius.” Jane didn’t mince words.

“Excuse me?” Darius, the commander of the royal guard, was taken aback by the sudden command.

“Ruby, my daughter, is missing. Find her.”

“Madam, please, let’s discuss this in my chambers.” The troops had all heard every word that Jane spoke. Her commanding voice resonated throughout the hall.

“No, right here is fine. After all, everyone here is to help.” Darius couldn’t help but sigh. Jane was going to ignore anything she didn’t like, and Darius knew nothing could change her way of seeing things. Such was the temperament of Madam Jane Lucrene Melonscone.

“But what about the king’s permission? We cannot move without his consent.”

“Nonsense. It’s nothing to get his approval. You start moving, I will get authorization. Do you still contest me?” she asked with a huff.

“Then please explain exactly what’s going on. What’s going on with your daughter? How should we find her?” Jane contemplated his request, and realizing it was reasonable, answered.

“Ruby Louise Melonscone is missing, Darius. The rest of these beasts will have to rely on you to know what she looks like. As much as I love her, the child can be rebellious. A few nights ago, she escaped secretly. Well, she thought she had. Her servant girl managed to spot her and informed me immediately. I sent the servant after her. They have not returned. They headed north. Find them.”

“I see. But, though I want to help, that doesn’t require the use of the royal guard.” Darius soon regretted his words. Jane was a shocking sight at all times, whether it was due to her beauty or her expression. And the look she gave demanded an apology from Darius.

“You dare to say Ruby, the only descendant of two of the greatest noble families that Rising, no, Fervi, has ever known, is not important? The girl who shares the same blood as me, her loss doesn’t require the use of the most prestigious force in Rising? Shall I leave this matter to the city guard, when in fact she is no longer in the city? Shall I, Darius?” Jane trembled and shook as she spoke. “I tell you now, find her or the nation shall find out my wrath.”

“I understand, we shall move to your order once the king is informed,” Darius said with the smallest ounce of bravery he could muster. “Do you know anything else other than the direction the two headed?”

“Nothing of use. Ruby is too valuable; I had no choice but to send the bird alone as quick as possible.”

“Bird?”

“Yes, that servant avian.”

“Dear Madam, can you please describe this avian? It will be much easier to search for an avian paired with a human. Even more so if it is unique.” Upon hearing this, Jane looked up in thought. She seemed to be thinking quite hard, as though she was trying to remember something long forgotten. Finally, she stopped and smiled. A pleasant look, as warm as the sun itself, appeared on Jane’s face.

“Yes, very unique, actually. I don’t often remember my servants, much less the filthy birds. But this one I know quite well. I remember finding her many years ago. She is the same age as Ruby. She is very obedient and quiet. She might be smart. But, as rare as that is, she has another trait that will assist you in finding her. She has white feathers. Pristine, white, elegant feathers. Always clean, that one. She has spent many years with Ruby. Find her, and you find Ruby. Her name is Shiroi.”

#

Va’il and Ruby sat silently in the tunnel. They had been walking for hours. They went up and down, passed tunnels leading further down into the darkness, and rested when tired. Va’il’s arm had begun swelling, but the pain had diminished. Ruby was holding luminous rocks in both hands, and Va’il held one in his right hand.

“Do you think we will ever get out of here?” Ruby asked.

“Do you?” Va’il asked back.

“Hey, didn’t you come here with a group of others? Won’t they try finding us?” Ruby ignored Va’il’s question. “Your friends, right, they will come, right? Tell me they will come.” Ruby started breathing hard. She was panicking at her own thoughts.

“Do you know what happens when we die?” Va’il carelessly asked. Ruby stood up at the words, walked over to Va’il, and slapped him as hard as she could across the side of his face.

“Don’t you dare speak of that again!” Ruby had stopped panicking; anger had taken its place.

Va’il rubbed his cheek, but he didn’t speak again for a while. He was at a loss for thought or emotion. The broken arm had a larger effect on Va’il than either child realized.

“Sorry. I started it.” Ruby apologized after a period of silence.

“My group, they won’t come. They’ve given up. We were seen drowning. No one would come after us either. We were not allowed to swim even a tenth of the way out, where the water level suddenly drops. The teacher warned us that anything past the shallow area was dangerous. He’s concerned for everyone’s safety, so he won’t let anyone even try and come after us. Even if he did, no one would come. Where would they start? And who other than my two friends would risk themselves for a half?”

Va’il went quiet again, and for the next half hour, neither of them spoke. To the surprise of Ruby, Va’il was the first to speak again.

“Shiroi, who are you?”

“This again. I’ve told you enough, haven’t I?”

“I don’t believe anything you told me anymore. I’ve thought about it. I would know you if you’re a student. You’re not. You might not be in my grade, but I’d have at least seen you.”

“Um, well I’m not in your grade, so how would you know? How old are you?” she asked offensively.

“Eight. I’m a fourth year.”

“What? You’re really two years younger than me? I just thought you were short. That really proves it. We don’t know each other, see? And besides, why would I know a beast?” Va’il’s hair stood on end at Ruby’s last comment.

“A beast?” he asked quietly.

“You may be a half, but you’re not a human. Closer than a real lupus I guess, so I guess I won’t be punished for talking to you. Out of need, now. Jane won’t know anyways. What am I talking about?” Ruby smiled a bit and looked at the defensive Va’il. He was torn between being angry and being hurt. Ruby kept smiling, so Va’il calmed down a bit. He thought her smile matched the sweetness of her voice, even when the words were cruel or commanding. Va’il then remembered what he was going to say. He got closer to Ruby and put his right hand on her shoulder.

“Wait, what are you doing?” Ruby asked in surprise. But Va’il had already leaned into her. His face came close to her neck, and then he breathed in deeply through his nose. He then moved away from her. He had a puzzled look on his face.

“I thought so. You’re not a student. You’re not part of my class. You’re not on this trip. I’ve never smelled you before, you’re new to me. You don’t have the scent of the school either. Who are you?”

“I have my reasons. Can you just accept that for now?” Ruby said with a hint of defeat in her voice. She didn’t have the chance to be angry with Va’il for his sudden and very personal action.

“Oh, okay,” Va’il replied cheerfully. He wasn’t going to push Ruby to reveal the truth; he just wanted her to give him a real answer. Being unwilling to divulge information was still a truthful answer. “Well then, let’s keep walking; we don’t want to stay in one spot forever.”

Ruby, surprised and relieved, stood up and started walking with Va’il. In the partial darkness, she wore a smile that Va’il couldn’t see.

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