Chapter 8:

Ugly Mascots and the Fall Path

To Know You

Shane stared up at the braquean in a bit of awe. It was definitely…not pretty. It had two large, fuzzy ears and a row of large spikes sticking out of its back. It was also about the same height as Maya, if he had to guess, though it was crouched over in a way that made it a little hard to tell. Its fingers came together in a single point when held together, and he also had little starfish-like tube feet sticking out of its nose like nose hairs. All in all, it was a bizarre looking creature. Bookmark here

Maybe that was why he didn’t react much when Brine came practically skipping down the road before launching himself in Maya’s arms. “I missed you so much!” he continued in a voice that sounded like it echoed off of cave walls.Bookmark here

Maya seemed happy though, laughing as she brushed his ears back with her hand. “I missed you too! How are the little ones?”Bookmark here

“Wela sent me word that their doing well! Even thought they’re still unhatched, I can’t help but be relieved, you know?”Bookmark here

“You have to let me meet them once they’re born, yeah?”Bookmark here

“Brine…the same Brine that created the kaleidoscope in the catacombs?” Shane asked.Bookmark here

Brine pulled off of Maya and titled his head. “Mhm! I make traps, and I like art. So, I combined them together! The kaleidoscope I created in the catacombs is pretty cool, isn’t it?” Bookmark here

Shane remembered how the bindings of the trap Brine created clung to him, and said, “It’s not very cool for the one caught in the trap, so no.”Bookmark here

Brine laughed, spouts of water shooting out of his nose. “You actually got caught in it…!”Bookmark here

“Isn’t that the purpose of having traps?”Bookmark here

“Maybe, but they rarely get used. What did you do to have it used on you?”Bookmark here

Shane turned away, a pout on his lips. “Nothing.”Bookmark here

“Who is this guy, Maya? He’s funny.”Bookmark here

Shane watched her carefully. He still didn’t know if she remembered the extent of their relationship, and this would be an indirect confirmation of that.Bookmark here

“He’s someone I grew up with! We’ve always been close since we were kids.”Bookmark here

Shane felt like he was being buried under piles of dirt. He could barely move a finger, and a heavy pressure settled over his chest, restricting his and making it hard to breathe under the weight of it. Bookmark here

She didn’t remember. Bookmark here

Everything Maya had done, like call him cute while they were out hunting, or crying on his shoulder in the cathedral, that had all been done under the pretense of being… childhood friends.Bookmark here

Shane used to kiss her every day, in the past. He would thumb at her waist, and she would wrap her arms around his neck, and they’d kiss in a way that could be only described as dramatic and wonderful. Maya insisted that they kiss each other as the sun rose every morning, the light dancing off of her gold eyes, and every sunset, when red rays of light made her skin glow. When he first asked why she wanted to do this, Maya said she was concerned about keeping the romance alive. Shane was too serious, and they had to keep things lively so they didn’t get bored of each other. Shane didn’t see how he would ever get bored of her, even if they didn’t kiss under the morning sun, but he did it to make her happy. If she wanted the romance, then he would do his best to meet that need. Bookmark here

He would often negotiate with the baker over fish in exchange for Maya’s favorite sweets, and he’d find precious stones in the riverbeds he fished in and make jewelry out of them for her. When he couldn’t do that, he would bring her flowers he picked on the way back from his fishing escapades. All those gestures and moments of joy that Maya expressed had engraved themselves on Shane’s heart over time, and he finally started to see why Maya loved romance so much.Bookmark here

Not that any of that mattered now. All those romantic gestures and moments…it’s not like Maya remembered them anyways. Bookmark here

“Right,” Shane said, afraid of what would happen to his fragile mental state if he said anything more.Bookmark here

Brine didn’t seem to notice any change in the mood, laughing obliviously despite Shane’s internal agony at Maya’s answer. “Ah, a childhood friend? I have one too. Wela has always been a great friend to me. I can’t imagine life without her. “Bookmark here

Brine snapped his fingers. “That reminds me, have you guys heard of the Longest Conversation in the World?”Bookmark here

Shane shook his head and Maya shrugged. “Not really, but it sounds interesting.”Bookmark here

Brine smiled and put it his hands on his hips. “Well, while don’t you stay the night with me, and I’ll show you? I think you’ll find it especially interesting, Maya. “Bookmark here

“We’re in kind of a hurry so—”Bookmark here

“Sure!” Maya said, taking Brines hands in hers. Bookmark here

Shane wished that conversations Maya had with others didn’t end in yes so often. She was so open to experiencing new things, but it also quickly derailed them form what they were originally trying to do. He resigned himself to it and sighed. “Sure,” Shane said.Bookmark here

Brine flicked his ears in delight. “Then follow me!”Bookmark here

They continued on the road they were on, Shane choosing to walk while he held the reigns for Maya as she rode the horse. He didn’t think he could bear another moment on the horse, and the road didn’t have too many rocks that threatened his feet. Bookmark here

As Brine continued to hop along delightedly on the trail, they reached the entrance of a forest. It was impenetrable looking from the outside, but Brine merely whispered something, and the thicket opened. “You’re really lucky I’m here,” he said. As they entered the forest, the thicket closed behind them. “If you had entered this place on your own there would have been a bunch of traps to get in your way. You might not have made it out alive. “Bookmark here

“If the forest was a threat to us, I’d just burn it down,” Shane said simply, brushing a branch to the side.Bookmark here

“You could try, but this forest is a bit special. “Bookmark here

“Special how?” Maya asked excitedly.Bookmark here

Brine chuckled, making a noise that made it sound like he was hacking up a frog. “Just follow me and you’ll see.”Bookmark here

Shane observed his surroundings carefully. The leaves crunched underneath his feet normally, and he heard the chittering of different bird calls in the trees. He caught a glimpse of a wicker bear tumbling around, but quickly moved along to avoid confrontation. Wicker bears were the children of the forest god, and if they were attacked, Shane would be inviting the wrath of a god to this place before he was ready to handle them. Bookmark here

The forest smelled ripe with berries, and he watched as Brine walked by some bushes and swept berries into his mouth without missing a step. He had never heard of a braquean eating berries, and pondered how unusual Brine was to even be here. They lived exclusively in Lumiere most of the time, and if they ventured out, they still largely subsisted off of plankton and other microscopic lifeforms. Shane guessed that berries wouldn’t hurt Brine though if he was so unconcerned with eating them. Bookmark here

Maya, thankfully, also seemed quite alert. Her eyes drifted around the forest, and her steps were careful and measured. Bookmark here

Nothing was unusual for the time being. That was, until they reached a crossroads deeper within the forest. There were four paths, and Brine didn’t even pause when he went down the one straight down the middle. Bookmark here

Maya and Shane both looked at each before slowly stepping onto the path with him. As soon as Shane and Maya stepped onto the new road, the trees, the bird calls, and even the temperature changed. Bookmark here

Shane looked around wide-eyed. “What…”Bookmark here

Maya ran over to a pile of dead fall leaves and jumped in it. “Look, Shane! It’s fall!” she said, delighted. Bookmark here

Brine looked pretty pleased with himself and his surprise all things considered. “Welcome to the fall path! This is the part of the forest I live in. Depending on which path you choose you’ll get a different season. This is the forest where the god of the forest dwells, so all the seasons of the forest are ruled over and controlled simultaneously. “Bookmark here

Well, so much for avoiding the god of the forest. They were already right here. Shane would have to make sure that they didn’t get on their bad side. If they had full dominion over the forest, that meant that every living being was at its beck and call, and would bend to their will. Bookmark here

“The forest god, huh?” Maya said, lying on top of the pile of leaves and looking up into the canopy. Bookmark here

Shane eyed her wearily but still offered her a hand to get up. “We didn’t plan on taking on the forest god, so we should leave them alone.”Bookmark here

Maya took his hand and yanked him into the piles of leaves, sending a flurry of them scattering into the air. Shane spit out a leaf and tried to right himself as Maya laughed. She placed a hand on his cheek, silencing him just before he could say something. “You’ve been looking stiff ever since we left. Lighten up a little. I’m not going to cause trouble here. “Bookmark here

“Phew, that’s good~!” Brine said. “I’m friends with the forest god, you see. I don’t think she’ll appreciate it if I brought in god slayers here. We usually eat dinner together though if you’d like to meet her.”Bookmark here

Maya’s eyes glittered as she looked up at him, her eyes matching the yellow leaves in the pile. Shane couldn’t resist giving into that look and tried to relax a bit, even if the idea of meeting the forest god seemed like a strange and frankly dangerous thing to do. “Alright,” he said, smiling down at her. “Let’s meet her. I’m curious.”Bookmark here

Maya cheered. “Alright!”Bookmark here

After deciding to meet with the forest god later in the evening, Brine took them back to his home, which Shane truthfully thought was quite impressive. It was large and fit into the fall look surrounding them, a large log cabin that looked cozy and well lived in.Bookmark here

He ushered them in, and without thinking, Shane didn’t look at his feet and immediately fell into a pool of large, cold water. He came up for air and coughed, the water managing to get up his nose. He wiped his face and blinked up at Brine, who was once again laughing. “Do you just hate me for some reason? Is that it?”Bookmark here

“No, no! I live in the pool, but I also like to trick and trap people. Doesn’t it keep you on your toes?”Bookmark here

Shane climbed out of the pool, a gush of water spilling on the floor from his armor. “A word of advice. If you don’t want to find yourself tricked, you shouldn’t mess with other people. I’ll make you regret it. Capiche?”Bookmark here

Brine looked delighted. “That would be wonderful! I have been looking for someone to play with. I need someone that can challenge me to create more creative traps.”Bookmark here

“Please, keep it to a minimum. I don’t want to live my time here dodging traps.”Bookmark here

“You shouldn’t tease him too much Brine,” Maya said, surprisingly coming to his rescue. “His fire magic could burn the forest down if you’re not careful.”Bookmark here

Brine pouted. “Then at least help me with my own traps?”Bookmark here

Shane sighed. “As long as I’m not the one falling into them.”Bookmark here

If Shane and Brine got into a tricking and trapping feud, neither of them would give in, Shane too petty not to retaliate and Brine increasingly delighted by his need to come up with new and unique traps to get him back. Maya’s interference had just allowed them to avert a tedious crisis.Bookmark here

Shane shivered. As Maya stepped around the pull, entering the nearby kitchen. “Do you have any towels, Brine?”Bookmark here

“Towels? Ah, I think so. The forest god visits sometimes and falls into the pool, so I keep some at her insistence.”Bookmark here

So she falls into them too, Shane thought. At least he wasn’t the only one suffering. Bookmark here

Maya pulled out the towels from the cupboard as Shane sat down at the kitchen table and tried to take off his armor. Only this time, it wouldn’t budge. He tried over and over, but the armor glowed in protest, and he quickly gave up and sighed. At least it was warm in here. If he was outside facing the elements in this cold, wet armor, he’d probably die.Bookmark here

Maya handed him a towel and he dried off his face. “Th-Thanks,” he mumbled.Bookmark here

“Can you not take your armor off?” Maya asked.Bookmark here

“No, it’s living armor, and it’s being stubborn.”Bookmark here

“Maybe it’s shaken up because you fell into the water so quickly. It might be trying to protect you,” Maya reasoned. “Try to calm it down and see if that helps.”Bookmark here

Not really having anything to lose by taking her advice, Shane knocked on the armor. “Hey, I’m fine now. Let go of me or I really will die.”Bookmark here

Strangely enough, this worked, and the armor let him go, allowing Shane to slip the armor off, breathing a sigh of relief as he stripped off his shirt and dried himself off. Bookmark here

Maya was staring down at his chest, and he looked back up at her, a drop of water from his fringe landing on his abs and trailing down. “Something the matter?”Bookmark here

“Huh? Ah, nono!” she said, waving her hands frantically. “Everything is all good! Great, even.”Bookmark here

Shane leaned down in her face. “Then why won’t you look me in the eye?”Bookmark here

Brine threw a towel at Shane’s face, preventing him from getting a proper response. “Ah, sorry. Thought you might need another one.”Bookmark here

Shane pulled away from Maya and bundled up the towel in his hand before throwing it back at Brine. As the braquean screeched Shane descended on him and began roughly giving him a noogie. “Ah, stop, stop!”Bookmark here

“No, I really think you need to get some sense knocked into your brain,” Shane said, not paying attention to the way Brine tried to pry his arms off of him.Bookmark here

“I’m glad you guys are getting along,” Maya said, sitting down at the kitchen table and watching them in amusement. Bookmark here

“That’s one word for it,” Shane mumbled under his breath. Bookmark here

Eventually Shane stopped his assault on Brine and walked back to sit down with Maya in the kitchen. “Food, our gracious host?”Bookmark here

Surprisingly, Brine didn’t get angry and just said, “Give me one second.” Brine dived back into the large pool of water with little hesitation. While he was completely submersed, Maya and Shane sat with each other in silent companionship.Bookmark here

“I’m glad we came here,” Maya said after not more than a few blessed seconds of silence. “I didn’t want to rush you into something I knew you weren’t ready for, so this is a perfect opportunity to reflect a bit.”Bookmark here

“You mean you made me go through that nauseating horse ride on purpose?”Bookmark here

Maya reached over and pinched his cheek. “Gods works in mysterious ways, and I’m no exception.”Bookmark here

Shane never expected her to do such a thing for him. She must have been really concerned about his feelings concerning the direction they were going after the meeting. Shane felt a little ashamed that even after she asked him to trust her, he still couldn’t do it. Was it because she wasn’t the same person? Bookmark here

“Mysterious indeed,” he said, not able to offer much of a response.Bookmark here

“There are also times when gods are very straightforward too, though. So I wanted to ask you something.”Bookmark here

Shane straightened, heart racing. “Name it.”Bookmark here

“I think Master Terra might have told you, but I don’t actually have all of my memories.”Bookmark here

Shane was surprised she chose to bring that up, especially now.Bookmark here

“Yeah, she did.”Bookmark here

Maya twirled her braids in her hands before catching herself and stilling. “She mentioned you were a soldier and I…don’t remember that. I want to understand where you’re coming from, when you say you don’t want to fight, or you don’t want to slay the gods.”Bookmark here

Shane managed to put it into words with Master Terra pretty well, but when it came to Maya he felt almost lost. How did he explain what she meant to him, especially when she didn’t remember how she became such a precious person to him?Bookmark here

He was glad, at the very least, that she was interested in answers though, so he wanted to respond to her the best he could. Bookmark here

“I don’t like talking about it very much but…this involves you too, so you should know.”Bookmark here

So, Shane told her. Everything he had to go through, from his kidnapping to the violence he committed, and then finally his reunion with Maya. He told her everything, in as much detail as he remembered. He poured his heart out when sharing their history, but he didn’t look her in the eye until he was finished, afraid he would lose his nerve if he did.Bookmark here

When he finally made eye contact with her again, Maya was stunned. She looked as if she’d been bonked on the back of the head and robbed blind. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner,” she whispered. “How could you not tell me we’re engaged?”Bookmark here

“You’re not the same person you were, Maya. Your feelings for me…I’m sure they’ve changed too…and that’s painful for me.”Bookmark here

They sat there in silence, the distance between them longer than the veil Maya would have worn on their wedding day. Bookmark here

It was in the wake of this devastating and reality bending conversation that Brine popped back up from under the water, a massive load of fish in each hand. “Dinner is served!”Bookmark here

Brine looked at both of them, waiting for a reaction. When he didn’t get more than solemn faces in return, he tilted his head. “Hm? Do you guys not like fish?”Bookmark here

Real Aire
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