Chapter 26 – The Truth (Part 1)
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“What am I supposed to do now?!”

I opened my eyes as a loud voice resounded through my head. Where was I? The last thing I could remember was fighting the monster, and then… my father. I glanced around, finding dark wooden walls surrounding a large bed, large enough for two people.

And lying on the bed, half-propped-upright by numerous pillows, was my mother. Was this another dream? What a terrible time to have a dream… I was trying to get away, to get to my freedom, but… now I was stuck in a dream. Was there some way to force myself back awake?

“This isn’t going to be enough, is it?” My mother scratched anxiously at the base of one of her fox ears, both of them folded back against her head like a scared animal. “I need…”

She was holding something in her arms, something wrapped inside a bundle of fabric. A damp cloth was draped over it, droplets of water dripping down onto her clothes. I stepped closer, trying to get a better look at the bundle. What was it?

“I need medicine…” She gently rocked the bundle back and forth, and I caught a glimpse of the small face of a baby.

Wait... was that… me?

My mother’s breathing was ragged as she set aside the damp cloth, lifting another one up and draping it across the same place. Medicine… a damp cloth… did I have a fever back then? 

I watched her for a moment, I watched as she rocked the bundle, as her folded ears twitched anxiously. Then she glanced aside towards the closed window, and… a few tendrils of pink were worming their way inside through the gaps. The fog!

Or… no, had I misinterpreted what I was seeing? Were the tendrils trying to get out? It was only then that I noticed the very slight haze that covered the room, settling towards the floor. So then… the fog was already here. And, as strange as it was to think about… if this child in my mother’s arms was really… me, then… this would’ve been when I was first exposed to the fog.

“I can’t…” Carefully laying the bundle down, my mother slid herself off of the bed. “I can’t do this alone, I need… I need the doctor.”

Her legs trembled as she stood upright, shakily walking to a box that sat at the edge of the room. She knelt down, lifting up the lid and rummaging around inside. “Where is it…” 

A moment later, she pulled out a long cloak, hastily wrapping it around herself and tying the string around her shoulders. Hurrying back to the bed, she picked up the bundle and held it close, tucking it inside her cloak.

I followed her as she rushed outside the bedroom, and towards the front door of our house. But right as she reached that door, she halted, her free hand hovering just next to the doorknob.

“Is this… really okay?” She flinched back from the door as the sounds of commotion filtered through. “Everyone’s out there celebrating the fog, and I… don’t have my illusions.”

So then I’d been correct, the fog did remove my mother’s illusions. And she was about to go outside, wasn’t she? I already felt a sinking feeling in my gut. I knew just enough about what had happened back then that I was fairly sure that… I was about to watch the event that caused my mother to leave the village.

I was about to watch her be exposed, just as I had been.

Oh no.

My mother reached inside her hood, scratching again at the base of her ears.

“I’m not used to wearing this cloak — I don’t even know the last time I had to wear it.” She pulled the cloak in question tighter around herself, taking a deep, shaky breath. “It’s nowhere near as effective as an illusion. It’s a risk, but… If I don’t… little Matty could die. I…”

She placed her hand on the doorknob once more.

“I can’t hesitate now.”

With another deep breath, she opened the door.

White mist rushed through the open space and into the house, sending my mother reeling backwards a few steps. She shivered, a shiver that wracked her whole body, and I winced. It must be… terrifying. I knew just how scary the fog was. Just how scary even the threat of the fog was. And she was braving it… for me.

Then she coughed, pulling her cloak further over her head and trudging forward into the mist.

As I followed her, I realised just how thankful I was that this was a dream, and that… at least this time, the fog didn’t affect me. Now that I had seen it before, that I had seen its effect, felt its effect… the sickly pink tendrils still set me on edge, even if they couldn’t affect me.

On the other hand, my mother was struggling to stay upright. With each step forward, her body shook, and her shoes scraped along the dirt. Her breathing was even more ragged than before, and the corners of her cloak that rested on her shoulders trembled.

As I caught a glimpse of her face, I saw tears streaming down her cheeks.

After a bit more walking, some blurry figures began to fade into view behind the thick fog. The commotion we’d heard… it was people celebrating the arrival of the fog, wasn’t it? 

Would this crowd be how my mother was exposed as a Dissonant? 

The moment she noticed them, my mother halted, changing direction to give them a wide berth.

Passing by the group, I listened to the sounds of the celebration. Were they having a feast? It seemed like everyone was huddled fairly close together, eating and drinking and chatting away. They were completely oblivious to the struggle my mother was going through. My mother was crying, terrified, but… they had no idea. And as terrible as it was… that was probably for the best.

Was this just part of being a Dissonant?

We soon came up to a nondescript house, situated just a short distance away from the clearing in the centre of the village. This wasn’t… a house that I remembered seeing. Did it get torn down when I was young? The wood seemed old, and the door creaked and shook as my mother pounded on it.

“H-Hello?” my mother called out, her voice quivering. “Is… Is anyone there?”

No response. Even as I listened, I couldn’t hear any signs of movement from inside the house.

My mother knocked once more, her arm trembling as she held it out. “He’s not here, is he?” her voice resounded in my head. “I’ll have to… search for him in the crowd.”

I could only imagine how terrified the idea of that made her.

Where was my father in all this? Did he… really leave my mother to fend for herself so soon after I was born? I clenched a fist in irritation. How could he do that? Didn’t he love her? Didn’t he care at all? 

As we slowly wandered closer to the crowd, I turned over in my head the things he had said about my mother.

That my mother hadn’t told anyone that she was a Dissonant, not even him… That she’d always had her illusions up… That she’d actively brushed aside conversation about it…

And he’d said he hadn’t ever talked about it either, since she wouldn’t.

But if that was the case… when the fog was here… what did the two of them do? Did my mother hide? Did my father stay out of the house until the fog passed, maybe? Was that why he wasn’t there?

If he was going to that length to… help her keep it hidden, she could probably guess that he knew. Couldn’t she? Or was she just deluding herself into thinking he didn’t?

And then, even for as long as she’d kept it hidden, my mother was exposed as a Dissonant… around the time I was born. All alone in the fog, the secrets she’d kept hidden exposed for everyone to see. That had to be today, didn’t it?

“Elias!” my mother shouted, hurrying forward in a shambling run towards a figure just visible through the mist. I rushed to follow her, catching up as she grabbed onto my father’s hand and clung to his side. “I’m so glad I found you, I…”

“F-Fenne?” he asked, a hint of surprise in his voice? “What’s goin’ on? Why are you out here?”

My mother rubbed her tear-stained face against his sleeve, sniffling loudly as she tried to speak. “It’s our… our baby has a terrible fever and I–I can’t find the doctor and—”

“Hey… hey,” my father said with a soft expression on his face, one that I had never seen from him before. “It’ll be okay…” 

He reached out, but drew his hand back as his eyes flicked up and down her cloak. 

“Oh, thank goodness,” my mother’s voice echoed in my head relievedly. “He can… find the doctor, and get some medicine.”

She wobbled as she leant against him, her breathing still ragged and heavy. My father held his hand out to steady her as she almost fell, and as her cloak opened, he reached out with his other hand and took the bundle from her.

“So hot…” he mumbled as he held the bundle… held me close to his chest. “I’ll find the doctor, and get some medicine. It’ll be okay.”

My father spun around, looking into the fog, looking into the crowd. “Can’t see anyone…” he said to himself, “and he’s really burning up, damn!” He took a deep breath, then shouted, “Doctor! Is the doctor around?!” 

Some people nearby quieted down, one of them giving him a shrug, the rest vague nonanswer mumbles. He grumbled, looking back around at my exhausted mother for just a moment, before furrowing his brows and taking a deep breath.

Time slowed down, then, just enough for it to hit me what was about to happen, but not quite enough for me to react to it. 

This was going to be extremely loud.

“I NEED A DOCTOR!” he shouted, his voice booming louder than I’d ever heard him yell before. Loud enough that even in a dream my ears were pierced, loud enough that even in a dream I nearly fell backwards at the sound. 

My mother had also recoiled, her hands rushing to her head at the loud yell. Reaching inside her hood, she pressed her fox ears down flat, gritting her teeth. And as the rest of the crowd turned to look at the noise, her hood slipped off of her head.

All the previous commotion was gone as everyone wordlessly stared, not making a single movement. The silence in the wake of my father’s shout stretched on and on, until it was broken by the quiet words of a single person, standing closest to my parents.

“…Fenne? Is everything okay?”

My mother lifted her hands off of her ears, and they flipped upright on full display for everyone to see.

…And there it was. I winced.

A whisper sprung up from the surrounding crowd, a soft whisper of, “What’s that on her head?”

That single question sparked a frenzy amongst the crowd, everyone staring and chattering away. “Are those ears?

My mother hurriedly yanked her hood back over her head, stumbling back behind my father’s back. 

“What’s going on?” a gruff voice asked, and someone new stepped out of the fog. An older man with only a bit of hair left on his head, who had a limp and a cane to make up for it. It was… this man was the doctor, wasn’t he? A man who, even back then, was very old. He’d died when I was young, so I didn’t remember much about him…

He’d come at the perfect time, though, distracting the crowd from my mother. 

“Did somebody call for me?” the doctor barked.

“Uhh… yeah, our baby has a fever…” my father started, only to be interrupted by a grunt as the doctor stepped aside him, putting his thumb towards the bundle.

“Hmm. Is it just the fever?” he asked. 

“I… I don’t know,” my father responded, looking over his shoulder. “Fenne…?”

“Y-yes, just a fever,” she said, her voice muffled.

The doctor poked his head around behind my father. “Are you hiding? I know I’m old, but I’m not scary, too, am I?” he chuckled. “Are you sick as well, Fenne?”

“N-no, sir,” she said, but he reached forward to feel her forehead anyway, and… her hood slid backwards.

For the second time, my mother was exposed. But this time…

“A Dissonant!” the doctor cried, stumbling backwards. He fell back onto the ground, his cane forgotten. “Monster!” he said, pointing towards her.

There it was. There was the panic. And it was from the doctor… someone that everyone looked up to, someone they respected.

The puzzle pieces of my mother’s departure were starting to come together, and it made me feel sick to my stomach.

It was exactly what I’d experienced, but during the fog, and while she was already worried about me being sick.

I couldn’t even imagine the pressure she was under.

But I didn’t need to. Tears were in her eyes again. Rolling down her cheeks, her eyes red and puffy. She looked… she looked so scared. Just like I must have looked when I was exposed.

“Monster?!” someone in the crowd shouted. And all around, people gasped.

“I…” As the whispers around us grew louder, my mother’s frantic thoughts resounded in my head. She desperately tried to press her ears down flat, backing away from Elias, and from the rest of the crowd. “I can’t do this, I can’t…”

Cries of “Monster!” kept echoing around the crowd, everyone staring at my mother’s frightened form with pale faces. One of the closer ones pointed towards her head, exclaiming, “I was right, those are ears! She’s a Dissonant!”

As the chatter from the crowd grew louder and louder, reaching the point of being deafening, my mother threw one last terrified look towards my father.

“I can’t… I can’t let them go after you because of me. I’m… I’m so sorry.”

As my father held his hand out towards her, she turned, sprinting off into the fog.

“Please stay safe.”

*     *     *     *     *

I woke up with a jolt, overheating and dripping with sweat. That dream… that had… I felt nauseous. Part of me wished I’d never had to see it. That I’d never had to see faces like that again.

It took me a moment for my heart to slow, before I finally remembered what had happened before the dream and my heart sped right back up again. The fight with the monster… my exhaustion… collapsing… my father

Where was I? I tried to look around, but my vision was still blurry. 

Where did my father take me?

The moment I tried to lift my legs off of where I laid, sharp muscle pain jolted throughout my lower body like bolts of electricity. I needed to… push through it… I reached for the daggers at my belt, trying to arm myself, only to find that they weren’t there. Did my father take them from me? Was it because they were my mother’s blades?

I struggled to lift myself up, the muscle pain spreading through any part of me that I tried to move. I had to figure out what had happened while I was unconscious. Movement caught my attention from the side, as a blurry figure started to approach me. I recoiled, trying to kick my legs into gear so I could move, when… a pair of warm arms embraced me in a soft hug.

“Triss…” a worried, kindly voice said from just next to me. “It’s okay. Everything’s okay…”

It was… Colette. I was back in Colette’s house, wasn’t I? I breathed out, a long, relieved breath that took with it all of the tension that had been building over the past few days. I was safe now… I was… home.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Colette murmured, her arms trembling. “When Elias carried you here, I didn’t know what… You’ve been asleep for a whole day.”

A… whole day? Peering over Colette’s shoulder, I saw the warm glow of the midday sun creeping in through the open window. If it had really been a whole day since I fell unconscious, since I… killed the monster… 

My hands began to tremble as memories of fighting the monster jumped back into my mind. The pain of being hit, the heat of fire coming out of my palms… the feeling of my blade stabbing into the monster’s throat. I coughed, my throat completely dry as nausea bubbled up from within my stomach.

“Oh, water…” Colette mumbled, letting go of me and turning towards the small table sitting in the centre of the room. Picking up the pouch of water that was sitting there, she handed it towards me, the same concerned expression on her face that I was used to. The same expression that I was relieved to see once more. It… it would have been sad if I’d left Colette without saying goodbye.

I took the pouch she offered to me and uncorked the lid, gulping down mouthfuls of water despite Colette’s warnings to “take it slow, don’t overload yourself.” The more water I drank, the more the spark in my core burned brighter, and… the more I felt like I was alive again. 

I coughed, choking for a moment after accidentally inhaling some water.

“Take it easy, dear,” Colette said, watching me drain the leather waterskin. “You’ve been out for so long, and… you were in such a bad way. You looked like you were having a nightmare, too. Just… it’ll be okay. Relax. Take it slow.”

“I…” I cleared my throat, “What… happened after I fainted?”

She sighed, giving me a long look. “Let me make you some food,” she finally replied. “We’ll talk about what happened after you’ve had something to eat.”

With nary a word more, Colette left for the kitchen, leaving me alone in the main room with nothing but my thoughts.

What was I supposed to do now? As I drank the last few drops of water from the waterskin, I went over in my mind the sequence of events that had led to… everything. The events that had led up to my attempted escape from the village and… that fight with the monster. 

Things I’d never have expected to happen. 

I’d found an ancient, abandoned structure underground, with Alvin. We’d found a monster within it. Gained the ability to use magic. I’d become a… fox… girl?

I’d learned so much about my own past… about my mother, about my own birth… about the mercenaries… about that researcher, too.

And then there were… all the things that had happened over the past day… no, two days. 

My brother had left, for one thing.

I’d had to run from the fog, and then from the monster. 

I’d been exposed to the village. Just like my mother had… sixteen years before.

And then, not only had I driven the monster away… I’d fought it. I’d battled a monster head-on, without help, and… I’d won. 

But again… it didn’t matter. I’d ended up back in the village anyway. And I wasn’t safe here. I had been exposed as a Dissonant to… pretty much everyone. They all knew about me, about who I really was, and… they were scared of me. Scared that I would bring more monsters to the village, or scared that I was somehow… dangerous to be around, like I would burn down a house with my fire powers or something.

And if they were scared of me, witnessing the moment I killed the monster probably wasn’t going to help in alleviating that fear.

As I glanced around the room, my gaze caught on the two daggers that I’d used in my battle, sitting in their scabbards on the low table in front of me. In the end, did it even matter if everyone in the village was scared of me? I had no plans to stay anyway. I was fighting for my right to leave, to go exploring and… to find my mother.

Those daggers served as a reminder of that.

As much as I did feel at home in Colette’s house, I needed to leave. And I would. But for now… Colette was worried about me, so I would make sure I ate whatever food she gave me, and thank her for… taking care of me. I really was thankful for that. Without her, I wouldn’t have had any place to stay the past few days… ever since I started spending more time in my Dissonant form.

I really was glad that I wasn’t changing back anymore. I’d been so uncomfortable the last time I had, how much it had felt like things were… missing. But now I knew I would never change back again. It was so obvious, too… I could feel it, that spark in my core, that fire that had lit inside of me that I’d only noticed very recently. 

In the past, if I’d overexerted myself, that spark had gone out, and I had transformed back. But that wasn’t happening anymore. 

Even as I used up so much energy that I couldn’t launch any more fireballs towards the monster, the spark didn’t go out, and I didn’t change back. My transformation had… finalised. It had finalised at last, and now I was a Dissonant for good.

But with that final change came the loss of my place in the village. 

So why was I back in it?

The sound of footsteps from just outside the room pulled my attention away from my thoughts, and I turned to watch Colette walk into the room, carrying a large wooden bowl with a spoon sticking out of it. A pleasant savory smell wafted in just ahead of her, and my stomach began to gurgle. 

“I made some stew,” she said. “Or… I was in the middle of making it when you finally stirred. You woke up at a good time. Here,” Colette held the steaming bowl out towards me.

I gratefully took it, the end of my tail wiggling as it draped off the couch.

“Th… thank you so much,” I said, carefully setting the warm bowl down in my lap, so that I wouldn’t drop it with my shaking hands.

“Now, when you’re done with that… we can talk about what happened. Okay?”

 

Here's the third chapter of the day~

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