Trial by Fire

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Who We Are

At dawn, Nike and Onyx broke from meditation to the smell of burnsoup coming from Tootsie’s room. Crusty overgrown bark gently shattered when the pair released their embrace. While they moved their joints around Tootsie heard their movement and said “Come get some soup! It will be ready soon.”

Standing in the doorway, Nike turned to Onyx. Xe was blocking his way and had a mischievous look on xyr face. Onyx’s green eyes swirled as he attempted to push past Nike. Instead, xe thrusted a leg behind Onyx and pushed him, sending the towering Erodesean crashing to the floor.

Onyx gathered himself quickly fully expecting Nike to continue xyr onslaught of petty blows. Only that, when he got on one knee and starred in the direction xe was, xe was gone. Onyx frantically looked left, then right, then with much hesitation he decided to get off his knee. When he did, Nike appeared behind him and jumped onto his dark barked back causing him to lurch forward. Xe attempted to wrangle Onyx to the floor, succeeding in frustrating her quarry rather than doing anything significant. Finally, Onyx stopped trying to buck xyr off and asked, “Are you done? Because I’m hungry.”

Nike quickly released xyr grip then, with all xyr might pushed Onyx to the side and ran for Tootsie’s room while yelling “Can’t catch me!”

Onyx shook his head as he thought about Nike. A low rumbling laugh escaped his mouth. Their relationship over the course of a month had gone from friendly to really friendly. But, they weren’t romantic. Onyx was too hesitant to try to make a move and what use would it be anyway? Xe could read all of his motives, xe was the one controlling some of his dreams after all. He figured that Nike already knows how he felt. Before his untimely death, his father used to say “don’t rush the process.” To Onyx, this meant to be patient. In reality, it was a mix of patience and fear. He’d had romances before with other growthlings, but nothing ever materialized. Nike was the first Erodesean to want more than his abilities. Xe was also the first to outright reject him.

As Onyx pondered all of this Nike screamed from the other room, “Hurry up! The soup is going to get cold!”

Onyx lumbered into the dining room, his head only a couple feet from the ceiling. Tootsie was setting portions of soup out while Nike sat in a chair, xyr legs playfully swinging back and forth.

“So” Tootsie said as he finished pouring a portion, “Nike tells me xe got the best of you today. Maybe you’re eating too many squirrels Onyx, could be affecting your figure.”

Tootsie and Nike laughed, then Nike gave Onyx an awkward stare. “Sit down, I-uh, I saved you a seat.”

Onyx chuckled. It wasn’t the joke, he didn’t notice the awkwardness either. It was xyr giggle. He’d always liked it when he could make xyr laugh.

As Onyx took his seat, Tootsie tossed two massive portions of soup in their direction then jumped in his own seat as they all scarfed down the delicious concoction. Finishing xyr bowl first, Nike spoke with a mouth still full, “Tootsie, wi-” xe paused as xe gulped down xyr last portion, “will we find anybody who wants to join our House?”

Tootsie’s tiny body seemed to light up with anxiety as he answered the question. “Um. Well. The thing is, Houses are limited to five members, as you know. Most people are looking for Senior Houses, or ones that have lost a member due to unforeseen circumstances.”

Nike’s blue eyes briefly looked at Onyx then back to Tootsie, “Unforeseen?”

Tootsie continued “Yes. Every now and then some of the soldiers come down and take, mmm, usually one to three Houses out for a mission. It’s an honor, really, because you get some field work in. That looks great to the training division in Corinth. But, sometimes, rarely, bad things happen.”

Nike rolled xyr eyes, “Like, die?”

Tootsie nodded his head several times, “Yes, um, die.”

Having just finished his soup, Onyx’s eyes flicked from Nike back to Tootsie.

Nike prodded Tootsie further, “So, what does that have to do with us not finding members? We don’t have seniority, I understand that, but what is keeping everyone else from even considering to join? Even the weaklings shy away from us when we try to talk to them.”

As Onyx consumed his wooden bowl he said through munches, “I think- there’s something that you- you aren’t telling us.”

Nike agreed with Onyx, “Yea, come on, you know you can tell us.”

Tootsie’s eyes went pink, then the color slowly faded away until they were barely recognizable from white.

“It’s because, well, our House was full at one time.”

Nike nodded xyr head, “Okay, and?”

Tootsie continued, “And, um. Well-”

Onyx interrupted, “Your previous house died.”

Tootsie’s eyes went from white to grey. The little dwarf Erodesean sunk his head as he sat in his chair.

“It’s my greatest failure. I was a part of a House, this House. They took me in when I first got here. For two years we lived together. We’d train in gore grounds, travel all over the marketplace, go to meetings in the town hall, and after the day was done we’d retire to our House or even attend a party if we were invited. Our house was moderately popular and Logham, our House Leader, liked it that way.”

Onyx said, “Seems you all got along really well. What happened?”

Tootsie nodded his head as his metalled fingernails clinked together.

“We did. When it was our turn to be chosen for a mission, we were happy to leave the confines of Glyph and get some real practice in. Seyl was especially happy, unlike us she was born in Glyph and had never seen the outside before.”

Nike stated, “We’ve been there, and it’s terrible.”

Tootsie gave a shallow smile and chuckled, “You couldn’t have convinced Seyl of that, trust me. Anyway, a scout patrol picked us up at dusk. We had our things ready, Logham was always particular about readiness. At night, the forest felt impossibly dense. It wasn’t just the vegetation, it was the darkness. It felt as if the Lunu themselves had wrapped their arms around you, squeezing whatever courage you had at the beginning of the journey right out of you. We were in a patrol of about thirty, plus us, so around thirty-five. Back to back we walked through the brush, only the scout commander knew where we were going.”

Tootsie paused before continuing, his eyes moving from grey to a dark red.

“I remember this feeling. I can’t quite explain it, but it felt as if someone was watching us. Then, moments later I spotted fiery eyes from above. There was a huge crash as Logham and another scout, two paces in front of me, were crushed underneath the weight of an enormous Erodesean. It had to have been twelve feet at the very least. I was so tiny, it didn’t even notice me. Many more red eyes appeared in the darkness and I could see in the distance red eyes on both sides fighting each other now.”

Tootsie choked up as he continued the story.

“Then, there was us. Our eyes- they were white. The Lunu, I presume, saw the fright in our spirits and sought us out. Logham was oozing sap in every direction. His eyes flickered white, then slowly faded away into nothingness. The shock on his face- I-”

Tootsie gathered himself.

“I had no idea who was winning. Trees and vegetation were spun up and thrown in every direction. There were screams and crashes as Erodeseans were tossed in the air either by force or manipulation. That’s when I was finally spotted. My arm shook as I held my puny sword against this- demon in front of me. Grer, another from our House mustered the courage to lunge in it’s direction. Caught by surprise the Lunu was stabbed in its neck from the side, the sap spraying out of one of its arteries. Grer said something, I couldn’t make it out, then he too was slain as an axe split his skull mid sentence. His eyes went dull immediately. Though, what will haunt me forever was what came next.”

Nike and Onyx were on the edge of their seat as Tootsie finished his story.

“As I ran away, unable to muster the courage to fight I heard screams. It was Seyl. I decided to go in the direction of the screams to see if I could do something, anything. I sprinted to a clearing and in the middle was Seyl. She had been wounded by an arrow, sap was slowly oozing out of her abdomen as she crawled across the floor trying to get away. Then, she turned in my direction, noticing me. She cried out for help, but as she did, Lunu came out of the bushes, walking towards her. Seyl’s face. She- she was so scared. The Lunu laughed as she sobbed, her white eyes staring away from me now. She kept screaming out names from our house to help her, everybody but me. Soon, they all surrounded her, poking her with their weapons, torturing her while she begged for them to not kill her. Then the big one, the one that killed Logham, came into the clearing. He picked Seyl up by the neck and crushed her like a pile of sticks, sap sprayed in every direction, the other Lunu screeched and yelled in celebration. Then, he looked at me, his wild red eyes seared into my spirit. Then I ran and ran and ran. I didn’t stop running until another patrol, who had been alerted of a disturbance in the woods, picked me up.”

Tootsie looked at his hands.

“The Grand Tree has cursed me with cowardice.”

Nike put xyr hand on Tootsie’s back.

“You would have died just like the rest. It was out of your control Tootsie, you can’t blame yourself for that.”

Onyx nodded his head in agreement, then Tootsie spoke again.

“That is not how everyone in Glyph sees it. I am the puny coward who should have died with his fellows. I survived with nothing but roughed up bark. I was almost sentenced to death for treason for fleeing, but the courts had pity on me. Following the ruling, I was stripped of our House’s possessions and land and ostracized by society. You see where we currently live? This is the fringe of society. So despite the glorious renovations we’ve made, we’re nothing but scum in the eyes of anyone with real potential. Or, at least I am and anyone else who lives in this “House.”

Onyx was silent, clearly trying to process all the information.

Nike kept consoling Tootsie with xyr energy, the green and blue orbs calming his nerves.

After a few minutes, Onyx spoke.

“We all carry things differently. For a long time, I blamed myself for not being old enough to remember my parents properly. I felt I dishonored their names. When your peers know more about your parents than you do, it stings. The truth… it burns.”

Onyx revealed burn marks on his forearm. They were etchings of his family. In the drawing, Onyx, his mother and father were meditating together. Their heads nudged together as everything burned around them. Nike looked over, xyr eyes a dark blue.

“Onyx what did you-. Nevermind, I feel your pain.” Quite literally, Nike did. While xe suspected it, xe didn’t know how close their energy was bonded. It had to have been at the very least a bond of some sort, because the feelings of anger, despair, and malice filled her spirit as if it were her own.

“My parents weren’t the holiest of people. They were just as shallow as anyone else. They coveted material wealth and used my birth-right, and yours for their benefit. But, they were never cruel. To see your sap-kin killed is something no one should have to suffer from. If we fight back, which we will inevitably have to, we will be stripping others of mothers and fathers.”

Onyx scoffed.

“Sap for sap. Humans treated us the same. Except they don’t lie about it. All the things we were taught were lies. Now we’re here, but all I can think about is getting them back. The Lunu.”

Nike nodded xyr head as xe continued to rub Tootsie’s back with energy.

“We’ll figure something out. We made it out alive and Tulip gave us a second chance. We’d do well with channeling this anger in the right direction.”

Onyx’s eyes went orange with inquisition.

“What should we do then?”

Nike smiled and said “We’ll hone our abilities. We’ll train.”

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