Chapter 2:

The Holy Bathing-Tree

Short & Short

Edelgard spent the next day following each bridge... the trees extended for all eternity, always splitting into more bridges. There were a thousand, a million, a billion treehouses, every one of them harboring many people who would look down on her, ridicule her, laugh at her for not making it up on top.Bookmark here

Finally, she found a ladder, but when she stepped foot on it the people on top cut it off, laughing as she fell and cried...Bookmark here

Bookmark here

She awoke with a start.Bookmark here

Sweat covered her naked body, mud, and foliage sticking to her like resin on trees.Bookmark here

Like when she awoke the day before, she raised her hand to her face, finding a worm squirming around in her palm.Bookmark here

Edelgard gently plucked it off and returned it to the earth.Bookmark here

She frowned, trying to see more clearly. Her vision was blurry with sleep, trying to find a point of focus.Bookmark here

Little beings crawled all over Edelgard, but surprisingly, they didn't bother her. What bothered her was far bigger, wore clothes, and had dozens of eyes. It cast a shadow over her, and she trembled from the cold as the wind blew by.Bookmark here

Slowly, her vision returned, and the dozen-eyed beast transformed into a group of people like her, only strikingly clean and graceful.Bookmark here

They were different from her pitiable self, sleeping in the dirt and shamelessly walking around without covering herself.Bookmark here

As she scanned the group, her cheeks turned red with a blush, and she lowered her head. For some reason, the sight made her self-aware of her nakedness.Bookmark here

To answer their silent stares, Edelgard rose, hiding her breasts and vagina with her dirt-covered hands.Bookmark here

The only thing she felt free of earthly remains was her hair, majestically flowing with the wind.Bookmark here

Edelgard was too nervous to speak.Bookmark here

They remained like that for a long time, the people around her quietly observing her behavior, and Edelgard standing as their opposite, unmoving and stiff as a tree.Bookmark here

"Where are you from?" one of the men asked.Bookmark here

There were both men and women with the onlookers, a few dozen in numbers. With a look above Edelgard noticed many more, standing on the bridges and staring out the windows in the treehouses. She felt like they were drilling holes into her with their stares.Bookmark here

Most of all, though, she was just glad to hear them speak the same language.Bookmark here

"I don't know," she truthfully answered.Bookmark here

"What do you mean with 'you don't know'?" the man asked, stepping closer.Bookmark here

Edelgard trembled as her imagination ran wild. What would happen to her if they found out that she just woke up around here?Bookmark here

Would they call her a freak?Bookmark here

Would they dispose of her?Bookmark here

"I woke up in this forest, but I don't know how I came here," Edelgard repeated.Bookmark here

She wanted to leave it at that because the whole truth was even more depressing. Not only didn't she know where she was, but she also had no idea where she came from.Bookmark here

Edelgard didn't know anything that happened to her before waking up in this forest.Bookmark here

It felt strange for her to believe, how could she hope for these strangers to trust her words?Bookmark here

There was no movement in the ranks of the people around her as the man told her his decision.Bookmark here

"I feel that you speak the truth. Your words shall be believed." A sigh of relief escaped her lips, and Edelgard's legs gave way. She sunk down to the ground. The man stepped closer, looking worried. He placed a hand on her shoulder, caressing her arm. "You are cold... and dirty. You poor thing. Will you come with us?"Bookmark here

He didn't even need to ask.Bookmark here

"Yes!"Bookmark here

Tears of joy streamed down her face as the man helped her up, seemingly unperturbed by the skin she showed.Bookmark here

"Hold on," he advised her as he climbed up a ladder, just like the one in her dream. It dangled from a treehouse, and he ascended with only one hand, the other keeping Edelgard in place. After the forest ground was emptied, the ladder was pulled up, and Edelgard understood why she found no way to reach this place yesterday. "We're going to a bathhouse now," the man explained, heading over the next bridge, then another, then another...Bookmark here

It was the same as yesterday, only that she was on the bridges now.Bookmark here

Her footing was awkward as the hanging planks, secured only by spanned ropes, swung left and right. The man patiently helped her take one step at a time.Bookmark here

This gave her plenty of time to study his features more closely.Bookmark here

For one, she noticed his long ears, emerging from his fair head like branches from a tree. His eyes were a burning blue, the flames of grace burning behind them. His body was slender, and he was tall... about a head taller than Edelgard.Bookmark here

The women seemed to be closer to her height, though.Bookmark here

Before she could grow self-aware of her situation again, they reached the bathhouse... which was just another treehouse. The trunk of the tree was thicker than the rest, and Edelgard heard the familiar sound of water flowing...Bookmark here

From above?Bookmark here

A droplet teased her nose, and through the half-translucent leaves, she saw the glint of the sun reflecting from the water.Bookmark here

"Where is all this water coming from?" she asked.Bookmark here

"It is one of the many mysteries of our world," the man explained, letting go. "The women shall help you from here... I will call for you when it is done."Bookmark here

He bowed his head just a bit, then retreated.Bookmark here

Edelgard tilted her head.Bookmark here

The men were joining the man in his journey, but the women stayed. They scurried around her, examining her body.Bookmark here

One of them was staring hard at her ears, so she chose her to answer a question that was bugging her, as her thoughts hadn't left the man.Bookmark here

"Is he some big shot around here?"Bookmark here

The woman she asked blinked a few times, then answered her gaze. She lightly tilted her head, a curious expression on her face.Bookmark here

"He is the most abled male around," she said, leaving it at that.Bookmark here

That didn't exactly explain anything, but Edelgard didn't want to seem like a nuisance, so she kept quiet.Bookmark here

She was soon shoved into the bath-treehouse.Bookmark here

The inside was as much wooden in nature as the outside, only smoother. There was no imperfection to be seen.Bookmark here

"Is this your first time?" another woman asked gently.Bookmark here

"Yes," Edelgard confirmed, caressing the walls.Bookmark here

She didn't know wood could feel so soft, almost like skin. Her fingers brushed against what felt like living energy, residing in the building, the tree, and herself.Bookmark here

"Prepare adequate clothing for her," the first woman commanded, touching Edelgard's back. Her fingers sunk deep into the mud, but she didn't care. Only when she watched the path they had just taken did she scowl. "And return the earth to its rightful place!"Bookmark here

The others bowed, asserting.Bookmark here

The group was quickly dispersed.Bookmark here

Edelgard was led through a doorway with a simple cloth hanging from the frame, acting as a door. Behind it were several baskets, hand-woven, as it seemed.Bookmark here

Edelgard took one in her hands, looking it over.Bookmark here

The woman continued staring at her, so she directed a question her way.Bookmark here

"Are you royalty or something?" Edelgard couldn't help asking.Bookmark here

"Hmm..." the woman sunk deep into thought, considering the request. "You sure use a strange language," she finally said, unclothing.Bookmark here

Did she?Bookmark here

Edelgard wasn't sure.Bookmark here

The words just came to her, as if they didn't belong to her. She wondered why that was... the only real difference she felt between her and these people was their grace.Bookmark here

Every movement, every action, even every word carried a dignity she didn't fathom possible.Bookmark here

Why was she here?Bookmark here

When the woman finished undressing, they went through another, similar, door. The woman held it open for her, and she saw something incredible...Bookmark here

"Whoa!"Bookmark here

"Whoa...?" The woman scowled, considering Edelgard once more, but her mind was elsewhere. The bathing room was gigantic, carved into the tree, it seemed. Another door like the one they just came through granted entrance some ten feet away. Water streamed in from several holes, long leaves teaching through, carrying gallons of water. Where was it all coming from? Where did the excess water go? Why was it so clean? Many questions filled her mind as she continued to stand there like a mute, frozen in place. "Is this really your first time?"Bookmark here

Her voice was concerned, even sad.Bookmark here

"I don't remember ever being in one such building," Edelgard confessed, taking the scenery in once more. "Not only this building but everything you showed me. The bridges, the huts, this place... it all seems familiar yet I can't remember why... what is this place?"Bookmark here

The woman had no answer.Bookmark here

"You must return the earth you borrowed to the ground, so that life may thrive once more," she explained, pointing at the mud all over Edelgard's body. Some of it had hardened, forming itchy crusts. Nonetheless, Edelgard understood not a word of what she was saying. "You merely borrowed these goods, and the earth is generous. If you cleanse your body with this holy water, you shall be forgiven by nature!"Bookmark here

"I have to be forgiven?"Bookmark here

A shrill shriek escaped her lips. The woman's long ears twitched, an expression of pain washing over her.Bookmark here

Her lips quivered.Bookmark here

"Please refrain from such noises in the future," she pleaded.Bookmark here

"... Yes." Edelgard guiltily hung her head. That wasn't her intention. "Are you alright?"Bookmark here

"I hear strange sounds, like the noise you made lingers on in my head," she confessed, rubbing the tips of her ears. "Is this the sound of the abyss?"Bookmark here

"I highly doubt that." These people seemed to be horribly behind on some things, Edelgard suspected. How could they be so advanced yet so oblivious? Where was their drive for answers? "Look, let's cleanse your bodies, ok? The abyss wouldn't dare make noises for someone who was bathed in holy water, right?"Bookmark here

"You may be right..."Bookmark here

Nodding to herself and advancing unsteadily, the woman headed for the closest tub. Edelgard followed, hoping that the woman would make a full recovery.Bookmark here

She softly dipped her toe in the water, feeling a gentle chill against her warm skin. Not hesitating any longer, Edelgard submerged.Bookmark here

"This feels great," she said, looking at the woman.Bookmark here

Her lips were curled just a bit upwards, a doting expression on her face. Edelgard blushed and seated herself next to her.Bookmark here

"The men often stand in the streams," she suggested, pointing at the falling water from a leaf high above. "It's some sort of ritual for them, though I don't really get it."Bookmark here

"The men can do it, but I'd rather keep my body intact..."Bookmark here

The water crashed into the tub with searing intensity, and no matter how holy it was, Edelgard feared it ripping her skin open.Bookmark here

The woman shrugged.Bookmark here

"You may also have some fun. It's your first time and all..."Bookmark here

As much as she wanted to enjoy herself, she felt it wouldn't be adequate. She didn't know anything about these saviors of hers, after all.Bookmark here

"Say, why do you live in the trees?" Edelgard asked.Bookmark here

The woman answered her gaze, a scowl slowly forming on her face. Edelgard had noticed it previously, but was she that difficult to deal with?Bookmark here

"It is said that our kind should be kept swift and nimble," she explained, playing with the water. "While the world would change and our lives would change forever, the trees would always be ours... that's what the prophecy said."Bookmark here

"The prophecy?"Bookmark here

"Yes. It predicts our whole future," she said, trailing off as she intensely stared at Edelgard. "Why are you asking? Because you couldn't scale the trees?"Bookmark here

"Is that what I should've done?" she asked with a dry chuckle.Bookmark here

That would've been impossible!Bookmark here

The woman shook her head.Bookmark here

"There is no 'should' or 'shouldn't' about it," she said. "Our kind just does it... I suspect it's because of these." She pointed at Edelgard's breasts. "You can't scale a tree with so much meat attached to your chest."Bookmark here

"How come?"Bookmark here

"Men are always better at it than women are, and women with the smallest breasts are faster than those with larger breasts... though your size is something else. I doubt it's possible for you at all," she judged, placing a soothing hand on her head. "Don't let it bother you."Bookmark here

"But it does bother me!" Edelgard complained.Bookmark here

Before the woman had mentioned it, she had never thought about her breasts as too large... she weighed them with her hands. They didn't fit in her hands, but it wasn't like they hung down like meat sacks. They were firm, and a point of pride for her... but where did she get these values from?Bookmark here

Her thoughts were interrupted by the woman's words.Bookmark here

"That wasn't my intention," she said, hanging her head. "Really, all that this tells us is that you're different from me!"Bookmark here

"..."Bookmark here

That really wasn't what she wanted to hear!Bookmark here

Before she could give another retort, though, the curtains opened and the man who carried her emerged. Only now did Edelgard pot muddy stains on his body, definitely from when he carried her up the ladder.Bookmark here

The feeling of guilt was washed away by a wave of embarrassment as she realized that men and women bathed together.Bookmark here

He had come from the second door she noticed earlier.Bookmark here

Why even separate changing rooms of they led to the same bath?Bookmark here

"How is she?" the man asked the woman, joining them.Bookmark here

There was nothing to hide his private parts, and Edelgard blushed at the sight. He was quite impressive...Bookmark here

"She's... amusing," the woman judged, leaning against the man's shoulder.Bookmark here

"Is it so hard to describe me positively?" Edelgard sulked, pouting.Bookmark here

"I didn't mean it like that."Bookmark here

She closed her eyes as the man hugged her close.Bookmark here

So that was their relationship, huh?Bookmark here

It was a shame.Bookmark here

"I didn't introduce myself yet, didn't I?" the man said matter-of-factly. "My name is Starkus, and this is my wife."Bookmark here

"Claudia," she mumbled, snuggling against her husband.Bookmark here

"I'm Edelgard."Bookmark here

"So you remember your name, at least? I'm glad."Bookmark here

The woman smiled her way, separating from Starkus for a moment. They closely observed her.Bookmark here

"You're still dirty," Starkus noted. Claudio nodded her assent, and Edelgard inspected her body. It was true. Mud and foliage still stuck to her all over... she'd have to rub it off. "Claudia, would you help her?"Bookmark here

"Of course. Come here, Edelgard."Bookmark here

She did as she was told, positioning herself in front of Claudia, who began moving her hand along Edelgard's back. Every swipe separated another piece of mud from her until there was nothing left. It swam on the water, washed away, and disappearing behind the crashing stream.Bookmark here

"She's good," Starkus put in, boasting about his wife.Bookmark here

"Yeah," Edelgard said, unsure of what to say to that. "Very good!"Bookmark here

"Well, thanks. Now for the front..."Bookmark here

She did the same to her front. Her hands moved everywhere, from her shoulders to her arms and hands, to her belly and breasts. Claudia was so adept that Edelgard had to hold back the hot feeling that surged to her breasts when she was cleaned there.Bookmark here

She also wiped her legs and bottom clean, until...Bookmark here

"I can do that place myself," she protested, but Claudia was faster.Bookmark here

"Don't worry, I won't hurt you."Bookmark here

Neither was that what Edelgard worried about, nor was it the reason for the moans that followed. After her breasts had been aroused, fighting the pleasure was a losing battle. In record time, Edelgard added her own holy water to the tub.Bookmark here

Panting in shame and exhaustion, she leaned back.Bookmark here

Claudia caught her, caressing her hair.Bookmark here

"Aren't you glad?" the man asked. "A woman's body is holy. Only another woman may touch it. You can't get much better than Claudia in treating it with honor."Bookmark here

She was too weak for a retort but hearing that made Edelgard wonder...Bookmark here

How's a man ever supposed to touch his wife, then?Bookmark here

Ana Fowl
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