Paradise at Last
Nike and Onyx awoke finding themselves face to face with a tiny male Erodesean with large bug eyes, light bark, and little sharp metal claws on each finger.
“Hi! I am Tootsie! Welcome to Glyph!”
Nike groggily stood up curiously looking at the impish character. Xe took stock of her surroundings as xe helped Onyx up.
“I can’t quite pick you up fatty.” Xe jested as Onyx rose.
“Blame my father…” Onyx joked back. He quickly remembered why they were here and turned to Tootsie.
“Wh-” he shook his head shaking off Tulip’s trance, “where is Tulip?”
Tootsie looked at the pair and shrugged.
“I have no idea where Princess Tulip would be.”
Nike laughed at the title he gave Tulip.
“Princess? Is that what guys call her?”
Tootsie did not understand the humor.
“Princess, your Highness, or commander is all anyone calls her. You’re probably still shaken from sleep, I’ll go ahead and make some burnsoup.”
“Double please” Nike said. Onyx glared in Nike’s direction.
“So I’m the fatty huh?”
Nike’s green eyes bobbed and rolled. The pair decided to take a look around as Tootsie was busy preparing the burnsoup in the same room. It was actually the only room. There was a spot for cooking, five meditation mats, a wash sink, no windows, and a weapon rack with a myriad of different tools of war. The door, much like the ceiling was loosely made of gathered twine and looked ready at any moment to fly away in the wind. It was a tattered structure and a sorry excuse for any defense against inclimate weather.
Both of their eyes blue, Onyx turned to Nike. His body took up nearly a third of the available space, but that wasn’t what he was worried about.
“What do we do?”
“We’ll go ahead and figure out a way to get to Tulip and ask her what happened I guess. She said we were special, well…” Nike pointed to xyr surroundings “this isn’t exactly ‘royal’ treatment.”
Tootsie waved vigorously towards the stove top then turned around with two full bowls of burnsoup.
“I only had enough for two, I hope that is okay.”
Nike shook xyr head “Don’t worry about it!” and started to scarf down the heavenly mixture.
Although Erodeseans are not known to consume food through their mouths, burnsoup is the notable exception. As the pair did, Tootsie looked on in fascination. His stare was so intense that Onyx subconsciously turned his back to eat and Nike motioned to xyr bowl to ask if Tootsie wanted any. He shook his head no.
After eating xyr fill Nike met Tootsie’s dull green eyes.
“So, Tootsie right?” Tootsie shook his head up and down.
“Okay. Do you know where we are? Even better, why are we here?”
Tootsie smiled kindly, though his smile would be a little better received had it not extended twice the length of a normal one.
“Wenshe, the whole nation is located in Wenshe. This is Glyph, or the proving grounds. Wenshe is where us vampires call home: a place hidden in the deep forest away from the Lunu. We’re safe here… from Lunu that is.” Tootsie opened a window through the vines to reveal a sprawling city made almost entirely of vines. One ascending central road led what looked to be at least fifty miles to an imposing castle. Along the road where communities separated by large walls that acted as checkpoints. Many growthlings trained nearby hitting rusted metal targets or training in unarmed combat with each other.
“Beyond that wall is Corinth, or the training grounds, but you have to get approval from a trainee before you can go. Further from Corinth is Asora, the civilian portion of Wenshe and of course beyond that is castle Kilo. We aren’t allowed in the city unless we get permission from a royal or if you’re born a citizen. You can’t get to Kilo unless you are a royal. Each section of our nation is self sufficient and has their own council. I’ve been trying for years to get on the council here in Glyph… but they say I’m too small.”
Onyx and Nike listened intently. Their years of studying growth management may not have made them warriors, but they were excellent students. While they took in what Tootsie was saying he continued.
“But now I have you two! Oh, I forgot. This is our team. I couldn’t recruit anyone for years, but now that it’s us three we can recruit two others!” Tootsie bounced up and down with excitement while he laid on his mat.
“And don’t worry! I may not be too great in a fight, but I can read and write. Many of us in Glyph haven’t had any formal education, so the final process to get in Corinth becomes a pain. I can help there. I was a librarian in Eromosa before I was captured. What about you two?”
The pair told Tootsie about their childhood, growing up in school and heading to Osk University, their expulsion, then the encounter with Tulip. They left out their hidden powers and capture but Tootsie couldn’t be fooled.
“So, what you’re not telling me is why you got captured. Come on, let it out, you’re in good company here!”
Nike went ahead and spilled the story as Onyx sat in visible frustration. Tootsie could see how uncomfortable Onyx was and reassured him.
“Hey, it’s okay. I know the first time you find out you’re a vampire isn’t necessarily the best. I ended up killing someone… someone I actually liked. It was an accident and I couldn’t control myself, so I understand why you would feel like this. A little advice: forgive yourself now. No sense in dwelling on what you couldn’t control. Don’t worry though! What you two went through will only happen once. It’s a vampire’s coming of age. Definitely not something we learned in school, am I right?”
Tootsie chuckled, but soon quieted down as he saw the sullen faces of his company.
“Hey, uh… I know this isn’t ideal or anything and I know you may be feeling a bit betrayed, but trust me. This is home. If you train hard and keep your head up you’ll be fine.”
Nike looked up from xyr mat.
“And how long have you told yourself that? How many seasons have you been in Glyph? What do we do, go from nerds to warriors? We don’t know the first thing about combat. We don’t know anyone here.”
Onyx moaned in the background.
“What’s up big guy?” Tootsie said warmly.
“I haven’t said much. Honestly, I haven’t said much my whole life.” He turned to Nike this time.
“We don’t have a choice here. If we escape, what would we do in the wilderness? If we give up here it will likely just make things worse. If we have to survive then that’s what we have to do.” Onyx put a hefty hand on Nike’s shoulder.
“I go where you go. In the last three days we’ve been through so much, but you were the one who saved my life, you were the one who comforted me during my night terrors, you were the one who gave me the idea to use my shaping abilities on the cage, and…” Onyx smiled before he said “You were the one who got us in this mess.”
Nike, with all xyr might, threw off Onyx’s hand and punched his chest, both of them laughing the whole time.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid!” Xe said with every punch. Little flakings of Onyx’s deep brown bark littered the floor as the two wrestled. Realizing that if Onyx rolls too hard into the wall that the whole structure may collapse Tootsie yelled “Hey! Hold on! Stop!”
It was too late and the shaky shack ended up crumbling in dramatic fashion, Tootsie ducked undeneathe the stove and Onyx and Nike were buried beneath twine and dust. As the three emerged largely unscathed from the disaster, Tootsie looked at the pair in despair, shedding tiny tears. The little Erodesean was covered in soot from the stove, his tongue full of ash as he held his arms out clearly defeated.
Around twenty Erodeseans came to see what happened and burst in laughter once they saw the most pathetic house in the city with its primary caretaker in shambles. Seeing this, Onyx and Nike rushed to Tootsie’s defense. Onyx picked him up and hugged him and Nike berated the bullies who came to laugh at his misfortune.
“Get the fuck out of here! You want something to laugh at? Look at your partner! She’s disgusting.” A male Erodesean yelled back at Nike clearly angry. Nike only got louder and screamed back.
“Oh yea! Then do it you sap-slob! I’ll slap the bark off your face clown!”
The male Erodesean stepped forward with a few of his friends until they saw the massive figure of Onyx turn around and glare towards them. After a few minutes, the disgruntled residents dispersed and all that was left was the trio.
“I promise we are going to rebuild your house Tootsie. We’ll work day and night to do it.”
Tootsie shook his head several times.
“No! We will rebuild our house!”
The forest around Glyph was littered with Tere trees. Those small ten foot dicot trees produced some of the toughest hardwood in Eromosa. It would take an apprentice shaper to use them properly.
They were in luck.
Onyx, who was not only strong enough to lift tougher materials, but also possessed the rare ability to shape without tools set to work immediately. He refused to talk or do anything else but work. His concentration only ever broke when he could not manipulate the spirit in the wood. Nike, who’s energy abilities allowed them to work night and day continuously stepped in where Onyx was deficient. An untrained eye would see Tootsie as a liability. In truth, his constant banter and excellent burnsoup kept morale high. Each leaned on each other for motivation and together they accomplished in a week what ten trained saps would do in a month.
After a memorable week of diligence, laughter, and camaraderie, they made a proper structure. It was sturdy and beautiful. In the front of the residence hung many adornments made by Onyx and energized by Nike. They glowed an assortment of colors in the night and gave energy to those who passed over them during the day. A wooden path made of local Tere trees was laid in an intricate pattern with stones on each side of the path. The home was made entirely of Tere tree. There were four rooms, a door that even Onyx could walk through freely, and proper living space for five Erodeseans.
Standing outside their masterpiece, with their work complete, Onyx, Tootsie, and Nike each celebrated the occasion with large portions of burnsoup. Sitting in the living room which had a large dark wooden table, six chairs, and an elegantly carved wooden figurine, Tootsie discussed what their next moves should be.
“Well, friends, we did it. It wasn’t easy that’s for sure but you two are amazing! People would kill for your talents… literally. That’s what I want to talk about with you two.”
Onyx and Nike relaxed in their chairs as they listened to Tootsie speak.
“It’s not all flowers and honey in Glyph. When people see this home and hear of your abilities, they’ll be jealous. They will be clamouring to take you from this place and-” Tootsie choked up and started tearing. Nike grabbed his hand and caressed it, a pink glow emanating from xyr palm.
Onyx understood what Tootsie meant.
“We won’t leave. This is our home, remember? We’re a team. If anyone thinks they can take that from us they have another thing coming.”
Tootsie looked at both of his newfound friends and trembled with tears.
“After f-four years I lived like garbage, everyone laughed as I scraped by a meagre living. I have no skills, no power, and no charm. I am ugly, small, and insignificant. I feel as if I don’t deserve the kindness you have given me, but only the Great Cycle could explain how this has happened. Bless the Great Tree, I cannot look at you two without crying at the moment. We’ll meditate and think about what we will do in the morning. Thank you both eternally.”
They all hugged then retired to their freshly made rooms. Onyx and Nike had decided they would live together and constructed a special meditation mat that fit both of them. As they laid on their dual meditation mat and prepared to enter a trance, Nike whispered in Onyx’s ear.
“I have made it possible so that no one can hear my whispers. There are those that seek to harm Tootsie. We need to be cautious. There are others that covet what we have, I have sensed the energy. We must protect ourselves at all cost. We have to learn to fight, use our gifts to manipulate others into helping us. Tomorrow, we keep Tootsie here and find two others. We will need all the help we can get.”
Onyx’s eye went dormant as he said “You lead and I will follow.”
Night settled on Glyph as the wind howled raking leaves and stirring dust. Two darkly barked Erodeseans crouched on the outskirts of a palisade wall. Pointing to a wonderfully built home next to many others one said “There, we can kill them while they medit-.”
In a split second the sound of a slice lopped the heads off of both Erodeseans, their heads rolling down the hill they spied from.
“Nice cut Xilo, but we’ll have to find their heads now.” Poppy said.
“Fucking zombies.” Xilo said as she spit on their dead bodies. The two worked long hours in the night making sure Glyph stayed assassin free. For Xilo and Poppy however, it was just another day.