Chapter 21 – The Illusion of Safety
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“Are you sure you’ll be okay without him?”

When I opened my eyes, I found myself back in Colette’s house. Sunlight streamed in through the window, beaming down onto the couch where a… somewhat familiar woman sat, her hands softly rubbing her rounded stomach.

“I can take care of myself,” the familiar woman replied, smiling up at her conversation partner. “He’s taking little Alvin out to watch the mercenaries, and I’m… not exactly in much of a state to be accompanying them.”

“I’m just worried about you, Fenne,” Colette said, glancing over from her sewing towards the dark-haired woman sitting on her couch — my mother. “You’re due any day now, so what if he’s not there to help?”

“Well, I was hoping…” my mother’s eyes darted around nervously, “maybe you could help me.”

“And let your husband miss the birth of his child?” Colette shook her head. “Dear, you know how happy he was when Alvin was born. Do you really want to leave him out of that?”

“I know, but…” The younger woman turned away, shifting uncomfortably on the couch. She scratched the top of her head. “I guess I should, but…”

She looked down at her stomach, her expression turning pale under the older woman’s gaze. 

“I still haven’t told him that I’m…” she said meekly, her voice barely audible.

“Sorry, could you repeat that?” Colette asked.

“No… nevermind.” My mother slowly stood upright. “I’ll… just be a moment.”

“Do you need any help?”

“No… I’m okay…”

What was that all about? I followed behind as my mother made her way to Colette’s bathroom, her face still pale. Was she not feeling well? And… what hadn’t she told my father about?

What was she… hiding?

As she closed the door, she paused for a moment, resting the side of her head against it. Her eyes narrowed for a moment as if she was concentrating before she shook her head, nervously walking in front of the mirror.

“Oh, what have I gotten myself into?” My mother’s voice echoed in my mind as she stared at her reflection, her dark green eyes misting a little. “I had so many chances to tell him, and yet… I’m a terrible wife. Frozen in fear of her own husband’s reaction. It’s not as if he ever gave any clear signs that he was unsafe to tell… I should have trusted him. I wanted to trust him.”

She glanced down at her stomach, softly running her hand across it. 

“I wanted to at least say something before… the birth of our second child, but I don't think I'll get a chance to.” 

This was… from just before I was born, wasn't it? Just a few days before I was born, and a few days before my mother left the village. 

“They should still be born in time, if we’re lucky, so I'll get a second chance before their awakening, at least.” She went silent for a moment. “I wish I didn’t have to tell him, though. I wish he knew…”

Reaching up, my mother pulled her necklace out of her shirt, revealing an oval-shaped, silvery locket. She wrapped her fingers around it, and as she did she took a deep breath, her eyes closed. Then, pinching two fingers together, she looked as though she was pulling something from the locket… but there was nothing there. What was… she doing?

After a moment, she yanked her fingers outwards, and suddenly, golden threads appeared in the air. They seemed to hang there for a moment, just… floating, before they finally began to fall away and disintegrate into nothingness. W-was that magic?!

A soft, subtle glow began to envelop my mother’s body, starting from her outstretched hand and slowly spreading across her skin, her clothes, and then her hair. Small flecks of light stayed behind in the wake of the glow, collecting together into bright, sparkling shapes. Eventually, atop her head, two triangles formed, two triangles made up entirely of those tiny spots of light.

And as soon as they did, the flecks of light began to fall away, raining down like grains of sand, soundlessly bouncing on the floor below before fading into nothingness. When the glow had finally, completely disappeared, two reddish-orange fox ears were protruding up from my mother’s vivid orange hair, and, in the corner of my vision, the white tip of a tail peeked out from underneath her dress. 

“…that I was a dissonant,” she whispered, giving her reflection a sad smile.

Wait, my mother was… like me?! She also had fox ears and a tail? I had always thought that it was the monster liquid that gave me this… body, and yet… here she was, with the same kind of ears and tail that I now had, after my visit to the crypt.

What did that mean? And what was… a dissonant?

Had I… inherited my dissonance from her? Did that mean that I had always been like this, and just… hadn’t known? Had I always just been waiting for the strange black liquid or an encounter with the monster to… reveal me? 

And if that was the case… Alvin had been exposed, too. Why didn’t he end up with the same ears and tail as me? Was it just that he took more after our father?

I… felt lost. The knowledge that my mother was like me threw so many of my previous theories out the window… That I had become a foxgirl by chance, that I had become this way only by my exposure to the monster, or the liquid… 

But on the other hand, this had also cleared a few things up, as well. Suddenly all her talk of keeping things from my father made more sense, and I was starting to have a clearer picture of what had happened around my birth. 

I did also have a lot more questions as well, though… For instance, did she have an encounter with a monster too? Was that why she had ended up with her own fox ears and tail? 

But she also said something about an… awakening. What did she mean by that? Was that just being exposed to the black liquid, or… was there some other way to go through a transformation, separate from that? 

And what did she mean when she said that I would still be “born in time?”

As my mind worked to comprehend the new information I’d been given, my mother had her eyes closed, and was breathing deeply. It seemed as if she was… collecting herself? 

But then there was a loud bang, one that startled both of us.

We flinched as the sound reverberated through the walls of Colette’s home — my train of thought lost, and a look of panic on my mother’s face. 

What was that? What would make such a loud… Wait. No, I knew that sound, I’d heard it twice before. That was… the sound of the machine, the one that the mercenaries set off!

My mother’s face was pale, her ears still folded back flat against her head. Her voice echoed in my mind. “What, why?! They’ve only been here for a day and they’ve called the fog already?!”

So it was the mercenaries that called the fog to the village, then! It was their fault every time the fog showed up… 

My mother reached out once more towards the mirror, taking a deep, shaky breath. She then made a series of strange movements with her hands, her fingers seeming to trace strange shapes in the air, a slight sparkling trail following in their wake. What was she…

As her hand slowed to a halt, the trail of sparkling lights suddenly flashed, before it rushed towards her arm. The same glow that I had seen before began to cover her body once more, little dots of light clumping together on her hair, her ears, and her tail.

As the sparkling lights fell away again, her ears and tail were gone, and her hair had turned a much less bright red colour… the same colour that she had in the first dream where I had seen her.

Finally, my mother pinched her fingers together again, bringing them back to the locket, which she then tucked once more into her shirt.

So she hid her ears and tail with magic, then? Did that mean that was… something I could do? Suddenly I found myself wishing I’d had more of a chance to watch what she’d been doing with her hands, to try to understand what she was doing and how I could attempt to replicate it.

It would make things so much easier…

Once my mother had checked herself in the mirror, spinning around to look at her head from multiple angles, she rushed out of the bathroom. I hurried to follow her as she quickly walked towards the front door, pulling it open and peering outside.

In the distance towards the centre of the village, high in the sky, a flowering pattern — one that I had seen twice before, and now was witnessing for the third time — was spiralling its way through the air.

And this would’ve been… just days before I was born.

The scene of the village in front of me began to fade as my mind raced. I had so many new things to consider, so many new things on top of what I already knew. 

Colette’s words from a few days ago ran through my head once more — she’d said that Fenne left the village while the fog was here, just after I was born. And if my mother was like me, then she’d have been just as scared of the fog as I was.

And… she hadn’t told my father that she had fox ears and a tail, that she was… a Dissonant

And if she was a Dissonant, didn’t that also mean that everything that I’d heard from the researcher in my previous dream applied to her, too? What had he said… something about the things that Dissonants go through? And something… finalising? Was that equivalent to what she had mentioned… awakening? 

Previously, I had thought that because I’d gotten that strange, viscous black fluid on me, I was going through exactly what the researcher had been referring to with my transformations. Most likely that was still correct. Afterwards, with the words of the researcher, I’d theorised that if my transformations were to finalise, this form would become permanent.

If my mother was a Dissonant, did that mean that she’d gone through all of the same things? And at some point her form had finalised? Was that what she called ‘awakening,’ or was that something else?

Anyway, I was fairly certain that I remembered the researcher saying that not even the fog could take away a Dissonant’s form once it had finalised, which meant that even if I wasn’t safe from the fog, my mother would be. Or at least, that was the theory. Unless the fog was doing something besides just taking away someone’s Dissonant form… 

At that point… what exactly was the fog doing? Why was it taking away a Dissonant’s form? And on that note, what even caused a Dissonant’s form in the first place? Clearly it was something to do with monster fluid, or the monster fluid could affect it, but… 

Assuming that the monster fluid had… given me something, something which had grown inside of me as the week had progressed… what it gave me must have been the same thing that the fog had taken from me, given that they had the exact opposite effect. But what was it?

Some kind of strange energy, or power, or…

It felt like a bit of a stretch, even with all the proof I had seen, but… what if it was just… magic?

What if monster fluid gave people the ability to use magic, and then the fog took that magic away? When the fog had touched me, it felt like it was pulling at me, sucking something out from… inside my very being. What else could that be but magic?

That would explain why nearly immediately after being exposed to the monster fluid, I’d somehow managed to create that ball of flame. Maybe it was just something that I could do, like Alvin could do his healing… Something that was inherent to being a Dissonant and having magic.

Thinking back, there really were a lot of examples of magical things that only happened since I’d been exposed to the monster fluid. My transformations for one thing, but also the fireball, Alvin’s healing, seeing that explosion the mercenaries had caused the other night, seeing the pink streaks in the fog… 

Plus, the monster fluid itself could apparently be used to do magical things as well, since both the researcher and I had drawn a symbol to light a sheet of paper ablaze. And I’d just seen my mother use magic as well — that illusion she’d been using the entire time!

Wait. 

If the monster fluid gave people the ability to use magic, and the fog took that magic away…

What would it have done to my mother’s illusion?

I knew that my mother had left the village, she’d ran off and left us alone… If she hadn’t told my father about her being a Dissonant… When the fog had arrived, had it taken her magic, and stripped away her illusion, and outed her secret to my father?

My eyes flickered open, and I sat upright, rubbing at them. That must’ve been why she had to leave the village. The fog… exposed her, revealing her ears and tail to everyone at a time she couldn’t hide.

And now I had those same fox ears and tail, and had to hide them from the village. Only, I didn’t know the magic she used to hide them, so the only way I had to stay hidden was to wear the cloak. I glanced around my bed, trying to find it.

…This wasn’t Colette’s house.

That’s right, I was in the underground laboratory, hiding from the fog… and the monster. I leapt out of bed, grabbing the flask of liquid that sat on a nearby desk. Where was the monster? I ran out of the bedroom, making for the giant wall that I had raised before I went to sleep.

To my relief, the wall was still there, and the room was silent. Neither the monster nor the fog had managed to get through to me. And now… it was safe for me to leave now, right? The fog wouldn’t be waiting for me on the other side of the wall? Or… the giant beast?

As quickly as the fog rolled in, it always left just as fast. But on the other hand, I was deep within a network of tunnels. The researcher had hidden in here from the fog though, so it was fine… right?

As I looked closer at the wall, however, I noticed something different about it. While the compartment in the middle of the wall was completely filled with the black liquid last night, now the level had dropped nearly to the bottom of the container.

As a result, there was a neat little gap for me to peer through to the other side.

The fog really had gone… right? I looked through the glass, peering around the stains from droplets of the black liquid.

On the other side of the room, the white glow of the fog that I was dreading seeing was… absent. The fog wasn’t waiting for me to lower the wall. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. The barrier had kept me safe, and for that I was so very thankful.

Now, the only thing I had left to worry about was the monster.

But the fog was meant to drive off the monster, according to what my father had said. Was it still in the crypt? Or… had it left? I hesitated as I stood in front of the lever that controlled the wall. 

Whatever the case, I had to leave the crypt. I hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning, and my stomach was starting to hurt. I threw the lever down, bracing myself for whatever was waiting for me on the other side.

The wall came down very suddenly with a crash, sending dust flying up through the gaps in the floor. I flinched back at the noise, stumbling back as the panels of light on the ceiling flickered, sending the room into pitch darkness for a moment before they lit up again.

I coughed, choking on the dust as I made my way past the fallen wall.

I needed to get out of here.

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