Chapter 27 – The Truth (Part 2)
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I felt… alive again — or… more alive, at least — thanks to the water. The stew was warming me up from the inside, and the more I ate, the more my strength seemed to return.

After finishing my second serving, and setting my bowl down on the table next to my daggers, Colette set down her own just across from mine. We had been eating in silence for the most part, since… I was wolfing down the stew very quickly, so quickly that I’d burnt the roof of my mouth.

Now that we were finished, though, Colette took a deep breath, glancing towards the window for a moment before she spoke.

“Elias…” She paused for a moment, before starting again, “He filled me in on what happened after you left yesterday. You… saved the village, when you killed that monster.”

“I…” I looked away, flinching at the memories of my fight.

“He carried you back here, after you fell unconscious. And for the rest of the day he was watching over you, worried out of his mind. He’s… trying to do better, I think… Maybe he realised that what he did was unforgivable.”

“It was,” I grumbled, feeling the fire inside me swirl with frustration. He… My father had refused to accept me, refused to look at who I really was. Instead, he’d dragged me in front of everyone, trying to make a promise in my place, one that I could never fulfil. A promise to stay the way I used to be, and to hide the fact that I was a Dissonant forevermore.

I could never fulfil a promise like that. That… wasn’t me. These ears, this tail… this was me. And… I couldn’t live like that anymore, I couldn’t live burying down anything about myself that he didn’t like, I couldn’t spend my whole life hiding away and hoping nobody saw me.

And even if I could live like that… I didn’t have the illusion magic that my mother used. Maybe someday I would, but… it wasn’t as if I had anyone to teach me.

But then again, it didn’t matter whether I actually had the illusions, because he’d just assumed I did when he’d seen me, the last time I had transformed back — the last time I would ever transform back. He’d made those promises of his based solely on that. 

I shook the irritable thoughts from my head, trying to cool down. I was frustrated with him, yes, but I’d already made my decision, and I’d be out of the village soon, wouldn’t I? I didn’t need to forgive him. I could just… move on.

“Once the monster was dead, and Elias had brought you back here,” Colette then continued, “the men came asking what was going on. He… Elias and I argued with them, trying to get them to understand, to accept you. I think we…”

Her voice trailed off as the front door creaked open. Who was it? I reached for the two daggers sitting on the table, grasping the handles as my heart began to pound.

“Colette?” my father’s voice floated in from the front corridor. Instantly, whatever was left of my frustration had dissipated, and all that was left was worry stabbing and churning in my gut.

“How’s Triss? Awake yet?”

As relieved as I was to finally hear him call me Triss, I still couldn’t stop myself from flinching as he rounded the corner into the front room.

“Oh, you are, thank–” His face lit up as he looked at me, before falling to a pained expression, one that… It reminded me of his expression in my dream… sixteen years ago — the day my mother had been exposed. “Thank goodness you’re alright…” he breathed.

I… Realising that my ears were folded back against my head, I laid the daggers down next to me, trying the best I could to loosen up. It was okay, he was… my father wasn’t going to try anything bad anymore. Not after what had happened yesterday.

I was safe here. Probably.

My father sat down in an empty chair, just to the side of Colette. We stared at each other for a little while… or rather, he stared at me while I struggled to meet his eyes. Why was that so hard? I was the one leaving. He couldn’t stop me. So why couldn’t I look him in the eye?

“I… Triss…” he finally started, his voice meek as it trailed off again and again. It was strange to hear him that way — I hadn’t heard him talk like that before. But… it didn’t make my heartbeat go any slower. 

“I… I’m sorry, Triss. For… everythin’.”

He… apologised. I was surprised… had he ever apologised to me for… anything before? I found myself doubting it… maybe because of that, maybe because he’d done so much by now… Could I even trust an apology like that? Could I even trust that he was actually remorseful for everything he’d done?

But… did it even matter? I had said that his actions were unforgivable…

In the end I didn’t offer him any response, too busy trying to calm myself down and not look… scared of him. As he looked at me, seeing me clutch my arm where he’d grabbed me just yesterday, his face seemed to fall even further. And as he let out a long, defeated sigh, he sounded almost… helpless. 

“I… I have somethin’ that…” he looked away, staring at the wall as he pulled something out of his pocket. “Somethin’ I need to give to you.”

I shifted uncomfortably. “Something… to give to me?”

“Yeah, it’s…” He held his hand out, something small resting in his palm. It glinted in the light from the nearby lamp. “Fenne… she… she left this for you, when she…”

My… mother left this for me? Gingerly, I took it from him. It was… a small necklace? Wait! This was the locket that I had seen my mother with, in one of my dreams… An oval-shaped locket, with a silvery chain threaded through it. She’d left it behind… for me. I fidgeted with it, rubbing my thumb along its smooth surface.

“I just… found it on the bench,” he explained. “Just it, a hastily-written note, and… she was gone. I should have given it to you a long time ago. Just another selfish mistake I made… always so damn sentimental…”

I never got to know anything about my mother, other than what Alvin and my father had told me, and now what I’d seen in my dreams. For most of my life, all I’d known was that she’d left the village just after I was born. But… we were both similar, we were both… Dissonants. And from the very start… she’d left something for me. Maybe… maybe we weren’t completely disconnected from each other after all.

I held the locket tight in my hand, a few tears running down my cheeks. It didn’t have to just be Colette that cared for me, that saw me for who I truly was. My father did care about me, in the end, even if… he’d made so many mistakes that I couldn’t truly forgive him. And maybe… despite what had happened, despite the fact that she’d never truly been a part of my life… maybe my mother cared about me too.

The locket was warm.

With a gentle, barely-audible click, the clasp of the locket opened. How did it… Opening my hand, I realised that my palms were a little hot, just like when I’d made fireballs. Did it unlock with… my magic? And… wait, something had… fallen out of the locket and onto my lap. 

A small, folded-up piece of paper.

What was this? Setting the locket aside, I unfolded the piece of paper, finding…

“A letter,” my father murmured. “I… had no idea.”

Written in small, neat handwriting, the letter addressed itself to “My dear child.” A letter from my mother, to… me? I quickly scanned through the writing, my eyes beginning to mist.

My dearest child,

If you’re reading this letter, then… you’re all grown up now. You’ve already found your Truth, haven’t you? What you really are, what we really are?

My… Truth. That word stood out to me. That was what the researcher had said in my dream, when… he was dying. He said that the world might not ever regain its… Truth.

And I had found my Truth. I had found out that I wasn’t really meant to be a… normal boy. I was a girl, with two fluffy fox ears on the top of my head, and a long, furry tail. That was my Truth.

I was a Dissonant.

From my perspective, still carrying you… that’s so far away. I haven’t even had the chance to see your face! But yet… I know you. I already know that… you’re a Dissonant, like me. Foxkin. I can feel it in the seeds of magic, the seeds that reside inside your heart.

Foxkin… I was… foxkin. That name felt a lot better to me than “Dissonant,” and I caught a smile forming on my face. Sure, I was a Dissonant, but I was also foxkin!

I only hope that magic has stayed. That the fog didn’t take it from you, as it has for so many others. Otherwise… you would have had to face a monster before finding yourself, and… so many more years of dissonance than you deserve. You didn’t go through that, did you?

With all of my heart, I hope… I hope that you have the chance to live a normal life. That your seeds of magic take root. That you find your Truth without having to fight for it. 

My heart felt tight, reading that. I… I had faced a monster, I wanted to tell her. But it was okay — I had won. I was strong. I survived, and I found my Truth, and… I still had yet to find my normal life, but… I would. I knew that I would.

The letter went on, but the handwriting seemed to change. Whereas the first part of the letter was very neatly written, the rest of it seemed to be hastily scribbled on, with letters crossed out here and there.

I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry that I’m leaving you alone in this village. I wish it could’ve been different. I wish the village would’ve accepted us. 

I wish that I could’ve seen the kind of person you were going to grow into.

This was written right as my mother was running away from the village, wasn’t it? My blood ran cold for a moment as I recalled the sight from my dream, the sight of everyone staring at my mother, scared of her.

She didn’t have a choice but to leave, did she? With how afraid she was of being seen, how afraid she was of the way everyone would react to her being a Dissonant, and her fear of them going after my father, or after… Alvin and I.

And now that the village knew that I was a Dissonant too, they were scared of me, just like they were of her.

The letter ended with just a few more lines.

I’ll try to come back for you, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to. My only hope is that Elias will raise you well, and that, someday, if you manage to awaken, the village won’t be so hostile.

For now, I’ll be hiding in the next town over, beyond the mountain pass and the dark forest. If I’m not back by the time you read this letter, and you don’t have anywhere to go, try to find the Marigold inn. Friends are there, and… that’s where I’ll be staying for a while.

I’m so sorry I can’t be there for you.

Your Mother,
Fenne.

I rubbed my eyes, wiping away the tears as I read the letter. That was all she had time for, wasn’t it? As she was running away from the village, or… being forced out by everyone else. Aside from a small, strange-looking symbol in the corner of the page, a symbol that seemed slightly reminiscent of the fire symbol I had drawn… that was all that the letter had.

I folded it up again, setting it aside to look back at the locket.

There was one other compartment inside the locket, other than where the letter had been sitting. A small space in one of the rounded sides, closed off by a piece of pristine, clear glass.

And inside that compartment were a few tufts of orange fur, the same colour as the fur on my tail. And… the same colour as the fur on my mother’s tail, that I had seen in my dream. Proof that we were alike.

I hugged the locket close to my chest, tears streaming down my cheeks.

After a few moments of silence, my father finally spoke up. “Are… are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I replied, wiping the tears from my eyes once more. Placing the letter back inside the locket, I closed it up, hanging the chain around my neck.

“I–um…” my father started again, the hesitation clear in his voice. “I know it won’t… make up for what I’ve done, and how I treated you when you were growin’ up, but… Colette and I spoke to everyone yesterday, after you killed the monster.”

“I know,” I interjected. “She told me.”

“We tried to explain…” He gestured towards me, to my ears and tail. “We told them that you weren’t a scary monster, you were just… my daughter, just a kid.”

“How’d that go?”

“I… think we got them to understand.” My father nervously ran a hand through his hair. “Once they understood that you fought for… for the sake of the village…”

He halted, taking a deep breath. 

“You… You can stay here, without those illusions you were usin’ yesterday.”

“Those weren’t illusions,” I retorted. “I don’t know how to use illusions, like my mother could.”

“You… don’t?” The blood visibly drained from my father’s face as he spoke.

“I don’t. Ever since Alvin and I went to the crypt, my body’s been changing back and forth. It’s… it’s done now, though.”

“I thought it was only a single…” my father gasped, his expression turning more and more worried. “I’m so sorry.” 

I looked away, gripping my upper arm. “I… I was afraid to talk to you about it, because of how you treated me as a child. You always said you wanted me to grow up into a strong… young man, and… I couldn’t.” 

He winced. “I… I know it won’t make up for the past, but… I’m… I’m tryin’ to do better…”

“You are,” I agreed. “Thank you for… calling me Triss.” I let go of my arm, placing my trembling hands into my lap. “Thank you for… accepting me as a girl.”

“You said it was your name, and…” he rubbed the back of his head, looking the most apologetic I had ever seen him. “I’ve… done enough hurt by now. After everythin’ that’s happened, I don’t want to make you feel even more unsafe.”

My father lowered his head towards me, no longer meeting my eyes.

“I really am… I’m really sorry about… the way I raised you.” His voice shook a little as he stumbled over his words. “If I’d known you were… a Dissonant… No, if I’d known you were a girl… I–I think I’d have… done better by you. I know now, though, so—” 

“Dad, it’s…” I interjected, bracing myself. “It’s too late now. I’m really thankful that you’ve accepted me, but… i–it’s too late. It was already too late when you dragged me out in front of everyone else, and tried to make me promise to… never be myself again.”  

“Triss…” he faltered.

Taking a deep breath, I pushed aside the fear I felt so that I could face my father head-on. “I’m not going to stay in the village. Even if everyone else said they’d accept me, I saw how they looked at me yesterday. That… fear, and disgust. And I don’t think something like that would have gone away already. I just… I can’t trust them. And… I don’t want to live in a place where everyone looks at me like that.”

I paused for a moment, trying to stop my hands from shaking.

“And I don’t want to throw away who I am, just so people will accept me. I’m… a Dissonant.” I sat up straight, taking a deep breath. “My name is Triss, and I am a Dissonant. I’m not going to go back to how I used to be.”

My father sighed, giving me a bitter smile. “Well, one thing’s for certain, you inherited a bit of your mother’s stubbornness.”

I looked away.

“To be frank… I figured that’d happen too. I’m…” he closed his eyes and breathed for a moment. “It hurts, to see my whole family leave me, but…”

“It had to happen someday.”

“It did,” he agreed. “Especially with how much you and Alvin would talk about goin’ out and explorin’ the world when you were younger. I didn’t really expect it to go like this, though.” He paused for a moment. “Anyway, even if you’re set on goin’… I guess you’ll be spending a while gettin’ ready for that. When will you go? Next merchant caravan? A while longer?”

I winced. “I… I don’t plan on staying even one more night.”

“…What?” he blinked. “Are you playin’ me? You expect to go out into the forest on yo— Well, no, I guess you might be able to handle that, you did take down a monster by yourself… But still… you’re just a kid… I…”

“I’ll be fine,” I said.

“What if I came with you? I could watch your back! Then—”

“I… Dad, no. I’m sorry. I appreciate your apology, and that you’re trying to be better, but I can’t forgive you. Not now. Maybe someday. B-but for right now, I need to make my own way in the world. Just like Alvin did.”

“You’re leaving, Triss?” Colette asked, having just come back in the room.

“Y-yeah…” I said, looking down. “I’m sorry, Colette, I…”

“It’s okay, dear,” she said, giving me a sad smile. “I had a feeling you would.”

“You did?”

“Do you remember yesterday when I was giving you your mother’s daggers, and your cloak? There was… more that I wanted to give to you.” She slowly walked over to a corner of the room, behind the couch where I sat. “I had meant to at the time, but we were interrupted by all that commotion.”

The commotion of… my father showing up, along with everyone else. I shivered for a moment, remembering what had happened. I really couldn’t stay here, not even for one more day.

“Here, this is…” Colette placed a large bag down in front of me. “This is for you, to… take with you on your journey.”

A… backpack? Picking it up by one of the straps, I sat the bag on my lap, opening the top and looking inside it.

“I put a few sets of your mother’s old clothes in there,” Colette said, “along with some water, and… some of the things you left behind yesterday.”

Digging through the contents of the bag, I found the flask that I’d hidden a few days ago, along with the researcher’s journal. I’d… stashed those in the box of my mother’s old clothes. Colette must’ve found them when she was packing this bag.

“Your cloak is in there too. I also have…” Colette handed me another, much smaller bag. “This has a bit of food for you to take. Some… preserved meat that I traded for.”

“I… thank you,” I murmured. “This is so much, Colette… I…”

My eyes misted as I spoke, and as my vision started to blur, I felt Colette’s arms wrap around me in a tight hug. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t do more… your birthday should have been more than just this… gear, and food, and…”

My father interjected, voice hoarse. “Damn, it was your birthday yesterday… I was so caught up in the past that I didn’t even… What an awful thing to go through, and to go through it on your birthday…”

“It’s okay…” I mumbled. “I… haven’t exactly had a history of liking my birthdays.”

“You… I’m sorry…” he said, rubbing his forehead. “We should celebrate today, at least. Well… if you want to, that is. You know, make the day a little brighter? And leave on a better note, if you’re sure about leaving soon. You… you deserve a better day than yesterday, Triss.”

“I…”

It was a good minute or so that I looked back and forth between Colette and my father, unsure of whether I should say yes. Part of me felt antsy, anxious to get out of the village, but… the other half just wanted to stay with Colette where it was safe. Especially because my father seemed less scary as time went on.

I didn’t want to get comfortable, but… as long as I could get the courage to leave that evening, it would be okay.

Then I sighed and nodded.

Colette smiled, standing up to pat my shoulder. “Sounds like my cue to bake something sweet.”

*     *     *     *     *

“You know how to hunt, right?” my father spoke up. “And which berries and fruits are safe to eat?”

“I’ll be fine, Dad.” 

As I slipped back onto my belt the scabbards that held my mother’s– my blades, my eyes began to water again. This… really was it, wasn’t it? Pulling the cloak out of the backpack, I slipped it over myself. I wouldn’t be able to wrap it all the way around my body like I had been, thanks to the pack I’d have on my back, but… wearing the cloak again was comforting.

My cloak on, I then slid my arms through the backpack’s straps, lifting it up onto my back. It was heavy, but… I could handle it. 

“Are you two really coming with for a ways?” I asked, my eyes settling on Colette’s cane, which I hadn’t seen her pull out in a long while. She really was intending to come along… even in her old age.

“I’d like to see you off, Triss,” she smiled.

“I’ll help her, don’t worry…” my father assured. “We’ll come with you, just to the mountain pass.”

I opened the front door, stepping out into the night. The sun had completely set by now, and the village was illuminated by the moonlight coming down from above. 

Behind me, my father carried a lantern, lighting the way for us.

The village was silent. As I glanced around, looking at the lights from within all of the nearby houses, I didn’t see a single soul outside… There was no one except for the three of us. Nor could I hear anything, save for the sound of our footsteps and the quiet creaking of the lantern as it swayed.

The village was… peaceful.

That might’ve been ironic, given everything that had happened recently. As we passed the shed full of practice weapons, I thought back to the time Alvin took me there, picking out the wooden daggers I’d learned to fight with.

Before then, I didn’t think I’d ever learn to fight. 

Now though, I had taken out a monster. I’d learned to defend myself, how to anticipate attacks from monsters, and… from people, too. All thanks to the training that both Karla and Alvin gave to me.

And just past the weapons shed was the clearing in the centre of the village, where the mercenaries held the sparring tournament. They’d held it numerous times in the past, every time they’d visited, but… this was the first time I had participated.

And I’d almost been exposed during it.

The only reason I’d actually joined in was because Karla pushed me into the ring. In fact… she pushed me around a lot, while she was teaching me to fight. The first time we sparred was when she just attacked me out of nowhere.

But as much as she’d pushed me around like that… it was nice, talking to her. She had accepted me, even as I transformed back and forth in front of her. And she’d called me Triss, without question.

I missed her.

Just a bit further than the clearing was the mountain pass, the beginning of a path that led outside, the source of merchants, and mercenaries, the rare exposure to people and things not from my own, isolated village.

And beyond that, the wider world.

As the grassy hills, the few trees, and the dirt path came to an end, giving way to boulders and stone, I hesitated. This marked the end of the village and the start of the mountain pass, and… 

I glanced around the cliffs, seeing a patch of black soot surrounding the spot that I’d drawn the fire spell yesterday. This was the spot where it had all happened… my fight with the monster. And just a little further out was its corpse, the lifeless body of a deer.

“What are monsters, anyway?” I asked, staring at the brown-furred lump on the ground. “It just looks like a regular deer now.”

My father walked up to it, the warm glow of his lantern casting a long, distorted shadow behind it. “I… don’t really know. No one really knows, honestly. And usually the carcasses that get left behind are mangled, so nobody smart enough to figure it out has the chance.”

“Are they all… animals?”

“Think so, yeah,” he said. “Never heard of anything else.”

“Well, they’re certainly not Dissonants,” Colette remarked, standing a bit of a distance away. Was she uncomfortable with seeing the corpse?

“So Dissonants aren’t…?” I trailed off.

“That nonsense everyone was giving you was just that, nonsense,” Colette huffed. “You are not a monster, Triss. Don’t ever let someone tell you that you are.”

I gave her a smile. Her words were reassuring, even if… it wasn’t as if she knew what monsters really were any more than the rest of us.

I turned back to the brown lump. “…Should we just leave it here?”

“Yeah, it’s probably far enough out of the village.” My father tapped the corpse with his foot. “If anyone’s bothered by it, I’ll move it further away. Leave it for somethin’ in the forest to eat.”

Standing back upright, he looked towards the dark forest in question, holding up his lantern and causing strange, broken shadows to be cast through the dense trees. 

“Speakin’ of the forest… are you sure you’ll be okay?” he asked. “It’s so dark I can’t see a thing in there.”

“I’ll be fine. I’m a Dissonant, remember?” I turned around, gesturing to the two furry ears on the top of my head, then to my eyes. “I’ll be able to see in the dark.”

The three of us stood in silence for a while, listening to the rustling of the trees behind me.

“This… really is it, isn’t it?” my father finally said. “You’re really goin’?”

“I am.” I lifted the backpack higher onto my back, making sure it wasn’t pushing on the base of my tail.

“I guess… this is goodbye, then?” Colette asked. “What are you planning to do, once you’re past the forest?”

Once I was past the forest… I had no idea what I’d even find. How long was the path through the forest? And how far after that would the path go before I finally arrived at the next town? What would the town even be like? I knew… nothing. “Well… I know I’m going to the next town. But beyond that… I don’t know much. That’s… part of the reason why I need to go. I want to learn what the outside world is like, beyond this place. And at some point… I want to try to meet up with Alvin and Karla, and… with Mum.”

“I…” Colette wrapped her arms around me, hugging me tighter than she ever had before. “I’m sorry that I… couldn’t do more for you, more to… help you feel safe, and… welcome, here in the village.”

I returned her hug, burying my tear-stained face in her front. I was going to miss Colette. She was practically… she had practically raised me. 

“You’ve already done so much for me,” I said, hugging her tighter. “You… gave me a place to stay, when I didn’t feel safe. Both recently and… for my whole childhood. You taught me what my father didn’t… You helped me pick a name, and you… accepted me, without question.”

Only now was I realising what I was really leaving behind. Sure, there was a chance I would find my mother, but… my mother hadn’t raised me, not like Colette had. “Thank you, Colette. For everything.”

“Of… course, Triss,” she murmured, rubbing my back. “I love you, dear.”

I buried my head deeper into her shoulder, practically choking on my tears. “I love you too, Colette,” I sobbed.

I didn’t want that moment to end. I didn’t want to leave. My home was back in the village, it wasn’t out here. 

But I knew I needed to. I needed to find a new home, I needed to find my own way.

And unfortunately, even though I didn’t want it to, that moment did eventually end. I had to pull away. I had to wipe my tears. I had to take a deep, but shaky breath, and work up the motivation once more to leave, this time with the understanding of just how much I was walking away from.

“I’m going to go,” I finally stated.

“Triss…” Colette started, her voice quivering. “Be… careful out there, okay dear?”

“Stick to the path, alright?” my father added awkwardly. “As long as you don’t stray too far, you’ll make it to the next town.”

“I’ll be fine,” I said, turning around to face the forest beyond the mountain pass.

“I wish you all the best,” Colette said. “Goodbye…”

“Good luck out there… Triss.” I heard my father sniff.

I glanced back one last time to see Colette wave and my father wipe his eyes. “Goodbye, you two.”

I swallowed. Then, lifting the hood of my cloak onto my head, I spun around, facing the forest beyond the mountain pass. 

I took a step. This was what I had been working for. This was what I had fought for. This freedom that lay in front of me. The freedom to explore the world. The freedom to be myself. And maybe, just maybe, I’d find my mother as well.

I took another step, hesitating one last time… 

Behind me was what I knew. A world that I understood, a world that I had conquered. I had the strength to stand up for myself in the village. I had the strength to survive, now.

But outside… that was different. I understood nothing out there. It was likely that I could find something better, but… taking that step, taking those risks… Really leaving behind everything I knew… It was… hard.

I took a deep breath.

I could do this. 

And then I stepped forward, into the forest — away from my past, and towards my future. 

 

And that wraps up this chapter in Triss's story! Her journey is far from over, but now... she's free. Free to explore the outside world. And there's a lot of outside world for her to discover!

Thank you so, so much for reading, and sticking through this story until the end <3

Follow my Author Profile to keep updated on when the next book in this series is announced! Also, go follow my partner, ChiriVulpes! She helped a tonne with the editing and outlining! Without her, this story wouldn't have been possible <3

Additionally, if you'd like to support me, and get early access to anything I release, check out my Patreon! At the same time that this chapter releases, I have a teaser going up there for my next project, a rewrite of a certain old, Leaky story of mine that ended far too abruptly. It'll have the same characters and concept, but a new, much better story. And while I work on that, I'll be planning out the next book in this series, Resonant, so look forward to those!

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