"(Definitely for at least part of the celebration, depending on how long it lasts. I do not plan on staying up for too late, as I have to be somewhere early tomorrow.)" I say to them. They cock their head at me, looking confused.
"(Where would you have to be tomorrow? We all have plenty of food, thanks largely to you. Is this about whatever is causing those loud sounds from inside your hill?)" they ask me curiously.
"(You can hear that?)" I ask briefly, but realize it's a dumb question. Everyone in this world has better hearing than me and construction with stone isn't exactly quiet. Even when you're using your fists. "(Never mind. No, I do not really need anything for construction inside right now. I met someone while I was foraging today in a new area. A female elephant who looks like she is having a rough time lately. I have offered to help her with something to carry her supplies in while she travels. I may ask if she would like to come here.)"
"(An elephant, you say?)" the tribe leader asks, obviously rhetorically. "(I have never met one, but my grandmother once did. She told me that elephants roam from place to place instead of finding a home. I have never heard of one travelling by themselves though. That could be due to a lack of knowledge.)"
"(Well, that is more than I knew.)" I say plainly after taking in what little they had to offer. "(Well, I need to go spend some time with my mates before the festivities start. I will see you all around.)"
"(May the grass underneath you be soft, Max.)" the tribe leader says to me with a bow. I smile and politely bow back before walking away. My mind starts wandering as I make my way back towards the side of my hill with the cave entrance, reflecting on what they told me. If elephants typically travel in tribes, then why was this one all alone? More importantly, why did she look so defeated? Was she like Siren, losing her people tragically? Maybe she just ran away from home for some reason, or just got lost and separated from her people.
Frankly, I don't understand why I can't stop thinking about it. About her. Something about her is just...sticking with me. I mean I connect with that pain she was putting out quite a lot, but I don't even know if I'm right about her circumstances or not. I could have been just a bad day for all I know, but that smile...and how terrible it was to see that smile rip itself away from her face so easily. No, something or someone hurt her. I'm sure of it. I'm just not sure why I care so much...
"Max!" Siren shouts loudly right before I feel her peck my head. I yelp in pain, grabbing the side of my head and stepping away from her when I realize that I've walked all the way into her room. Way past the cave entrance I was shooting for. Fuck, I guess I was really out of it there.
"Sorry, Siren." I say bashfully. She looks at me, more concerned than angry, and draws close.
"I have not seen you that lost in thought in a long time. Not since before we rescued the antelopes. What is wrong?" she asks me, coming up and wrapping those silky wings of hers around my torso. I revel in their softness and warmth a moment, hugging her back as I try to figure out how to put what I've been feeling into words.
"I ran into someone today while I was foraging. An elephant. She seemed...devastated." I explain softly.
"Devastated how?" she asked.
"Like...like how you were after you finally accepted the terrible truth about the eggs...or like I was when I realized I was never going to see home again..." I admit, shaking a bit as I dredge up old wounds.
"(Oh.)" she says simply, switching back to Yoto as she shakes a little bit in my arms. I can tell she's thinking about that day again now. I hate having to bring that up. She still cries about it sometimes, when she thinks no one is around to see her pain. I've walked in on her a few times and just laid with her in bed until she either decided she needed to be alone or fell asleep.
"I feel like I need to help her, Siren, but I'm not sure how or if she would even want my help." I confess. "I'm not sure she'll be like you, able to accept the help I can give her. If she's really all alone, I want to invite her here. At least she would have neighbors. Maybe even friends one day..."
Siren presses her forehead to mine, silencing me with her presence as she coos softly to let me know she needs me to stop talking for a bit. I let myself just enjoy her being there, comforting me for a bit as she brings her head to my chest and starts nuzzling me affectionately. I gently pet the feathers of her back and place a soft kiss on top of her head before she finally starts speaking again.
"When I first woke up here, I was so frightened." she starts telling me, "All I had was my purpose...my obsession. When I had learned the eggs...well, you know. I felt like I was all alone. I just wanted to take the eggs and leave, to deny the truth. Anything was better than that pain. But you..."
Siren pulls back from me slightly to hold her gaze to mine. I see sorrow and determination in equal measure in her eyes as she speaks again.
"You were so determined to help. I did not believe it at first, even with Annette telling me how good you were. Nobody helps another for no reason in this world. They help because they are tribe, or because they will get something out of it." she continues, never breaking her gaze away from my own. "But you are not of our world. You help others simply because it is what you do. You need no reason. It is a way of thinking...of life that I would have never considered before I met you. It is why I wanted you so as my mate so badly."
"So it wasn't because you found me attractive?" I tease her with a grin. She pokes my chest painfully, causing me to hiss in pain but I see the amused smile as she pulls her face back to look at me again.
"I find you attractive now, Max. That is what is important." she tells me lovingly, her eyes drooping ever so slightly. "I trust you, my mate. If you feel that this woman needs your help, then she does and you...must do whatever it takes to help her. Because nobody else will and because that is who you are."
I take her words in along with the sheer determination she says them in, finding myself at a loss for words for a moment. I decide words can wait a minute and lean down to kiss her beak tenderly. She can't kiss me back, sadly, but her tongue licks my cheek and she nuzzles herself into my chest again. I can't believe how lucky I've been in this world, to find someone so amazing to fall in love with.
"Thank you Siren." I say tenderly, finally letting her go. She doesn't seem to want to separate from me, but soon enough does. Her wings go back to their natural place at her sides as she smiles at me.
"You should go. Annette and I will celebrate with the antelopes and wait for you to come home. If this elephant needs your help so much, you should not delay any more. Take what you need from home and go help her. We will see you when you get back." She says to me sternly. I smile and nod, giving her one last hug before I run back to my room. I'll need a couple of things, and a little luck...
Thank my lucky stars it's a full moon out tonight. Plenty of light to see where I'm going as long as I can keep jumping high enough. Fuck my legs are starting to hurt though and it's tough keeping this basket tucked underneath my arm as I'm whooshing through the air at frickin' car speeds. Hopefully, it won't take me too much longer to recognize something familiar again...bingo.
Earlier, I pushed a tree over so I'd be able to recognize that this was the same forest I was exploring earlier today. It's still right where I left it, so I make my way over to it and relax my body. That terrible tingling in my legs almost turns them to jelly and I quickly sit down to start rubbing them. I have no idea if this will actually do anything, but it makes me feel better to try. I'm trying to remember exactly what path I took through the woods earlier today while I rub, but I know that's not really gonna help. I'm gonna have to start jumping again and look from the air.
With a little luck, I'll be able to spot that big old berry stain on the ground before too long and then it's just a matter of retracing her steps. I groan as I rub my legs, feeling a bit stalker-y with how much I'm obsessing over finding this woman again. Siren said that it's just because that's who I am but I'm not sure that I agree. This just feels...different somehow. This isn't the guilt that I had with Annette or the sympathy I had with Siren. It's something... I can't really think of how to put this in words.
An image of her eyes flashes in my head as I absently rub at my legs. She was scared, yeah, but more than that there was that deadness. I know that deadness. It's the look you get in your eyes when you've just...given up. Like I had when I realized there was no going home for me. At least in my case, I had Annette and later Siren to help me get through it. I don't think this woman has anybody. And the way she spoke...
I growl and shake my head hard to snap myself out of my own head. Sitting here thinking about it isn't going to accomplish jack shit. I stand up slowly and let power fill my body again. I hope I don't get a cramp as I launch myself into the air to get an aerial view of the area. I was going pretty slow earlier today so I probably won't have to go too far to find where I need to be.
As I get above everything, an unfortunate truth dawns on me. This forest is a lot thicker above than it looked like from ground level. I'm never going to be able to find that stupid spot through all of these leaves! I land on the ground, fretting about what I'm gonna do when I hear a very wet squish beneath my feet. I look down and can't help but laugh. I stepped in some of the squashed berries. What are the odds?
I dig through my memory to remember the route I took and let my power leave my body. I won't need to stick to the trees this time around, just follow the footprints she left behind. They're a little hard to see in the dark, but that just means I need to carefully pay attention. I follow the trail like I'm Inspector Gadget, nose nearly touching the ground while I keep the basket I brought along securely tucked under my arm. I probably look pretty ridiculous. Good thing nobody's around to watch me play amateur hunter/detective.
I keep following these tracks one after the other until I notice the sound of running water. I must be pretty close to a river. Now if I were a betting man, I'd say that these tracks are probably going to lead me to said river. If they do, then she probably hopped into the river to clean up and I'm not going to be able to follow this trail any longer. Crap.
I decide to power up again and take to the trees. If she did end up washing in the river, then following the trail isn't really going to help me anymore anyway. I'm better off just looking from higher up. Just stick to the branches so the leaves can't block your view. It's slower, but it's my best shot since I was too impatient to wait until morning. Well, maybe not impatient. I just felt like I needed to do it now.
A sudden, loud splash makes me snap my head up immediately. That couldn't possibly be her, could it? Well, I won't know unless I check it out at any rate. I hop from tree to tree, making my way towards the sound of the running water and find the river in no time. The moon reflects brightly off of the running waters, letting my eyes wander around to find the source of the splash with less difficulty than I thought I was gonna have.
Then I spot the body, coming up out of the water. It's still dark but given how difficult the body is to see right now, whoever that is has got to have very dark skin or fur. I hold my breath a bit and move closer, sticking to the trees. I may need to help her, but I doubt freaking her out with an alien species is going to do any real good. Hopefully I can just guide her to the basket and get her talking. I just need to make sure this is her first.
I leap along the tree line, getting myself closer and closer as quietly as I can. I keep hoping that each new couple of feet is going to be enough to get a clear enough look to figure out who this person bathing in the river is but I keep get thwarted by the damn darkness. Soon enough, I run out of trees that are close enough for me to be to make out details and I have to make a choice. Either stick around in the trees, or go to ground and try to stick in cover to remain unseen. I go with option two, landing on the ground as softly as I can and quickly making my way into a bush. The bush rustles as I make the mistake of entering it a bit too quickly and the bathing figure turns their head in my direction, finally giving me a clear view of their face and taking my breath away.
It's her. I can see her face and gray eyes clearly now, along with the rest of her body. She was apparently a lot dirtier than I thought she was earlier. With all the dirt and dust and squashed berries scrubbed off of her body, her skin shined in the full moon's light as water slowly cascaded down her body. Her newly-clean skin was as black as a starless night sky, with not a single hair on any part of her body to distract from that skin. The areolas and nipples he had earlier thought were darker than the rest of her were now a shade or two lighter. Her hand were still as a human's, with five fingers and nails on the very end of them that neatly blended in if you didn't think to look for them. She is amazing, and I have to remind my lungs to keep breathing before I pass out.
Her ears perk slightly as she watches in my direction, her nose covering up just enough of her mouth that I can't quite make out what expression she's wearing. I'm honestly not sure if I should just call out to her and hope she's fine or if I should give her some time to relax a little. I mean, I do have the basket. I guess I could use that as an icebreaker. Better let her know I'm here first.
"(Hello again.)" I call out softly from my hiding spot, "(I apologize for coming upon you bathing, if that offends.)"
"(Oh no.)" she says in a whine, panic evident in her voice. "(No, the voice is back! I am losing my mind!)" I watch as she grabs and tugs at her ears as her eyes grow wide and fearful.
"Woah, woah!" I yell out, hoping I can calm her down if I act fast enough. "(I promise you I am not just a voice. Oh look, I brought you a basket!)" I hold the basket above the bushes, just enough so that my arms can't really be seen. She doesn't even see it. She's pacing back and forth now, muttering something to herself that I can't make out over the sound of the running water she's bathing in.
"(They were right. They were all right. I am an omen...a curse. Even to myself!)" she shouts to herself hysterically. "(Mother was right. I should just give myself to the hyenas. Let my curse become their problem...)" My gut tightened as I heard her words. I don't know what she means by give herself to the hyenas, but considering how they want to go savage enough to fucking eat other Anthros...
"(Wait, look at me!)" I say, deciding to fuck it and just come on out. I wave my arms around, barely holding onto the basket with the fingers of my right hand while I try to get her attention. It still takes a few minutes to actually get her to look my way instead of devoting her attention entirely to...whatever it was that she was suffering from a moment ago. The sight of me freezes her entirely and it takes my brain a second to get me to stop staring at her wet, naked body and hold out the basket. "(I brought this for you. To help make carrying things easier...)"
She barely blinks as she continues staring at me, not even reacting to my words or the offered gift. I swallow softly, feeling oddly nervous as I slowly inch my way closer to the water's edge. At least she doesn't seem scared...at least not yet. Maybe it will when the shock wears off. I hope not, but I'm not gonna hold my breath. I should keep talking, try to get her to at least respond first.
"(Hello again. I am Max.)" I say nervously, not moving from the edge of the water. "(I guess now you understand why I was hiding the way I looked.)"
"(I...Are you real?)" she asks disbelievingly. I don't move a muscle as she wades through the water to get closer to me.
"(Yes, I am real.)" I reply to her, glad she's at least talking now...and not about giving herself to god damned hyenas. "(I have been worried about you all day. You seemed very...)" My words hang in the air as I bite down on my tongue. I can't push. Not now. I know how she felt...how she probably still feels. People can help, but ultimately it's up to you to fight against your pain.
"(Broken?)" she offers sadly, stopping dead in her tracks. "(Like I am wrong? Like I should not exist at all?)"
I hear more than see the tears that start to come out of her eyes as her sorrow overwhelms her. She's going back to the dark place, all on her own. She starts to turn around and I can tell she's going to run, probably to convince herself again that I'm not real. I can't let that happen, so I drop the basket and jump into the water after her. Right as she takes her first steps, I manage to catch up to her and grab hold of her wrist. The sudden contact causes her to freeze again and her head whips back towards me. The look in her eyes tells me I've finally broken her disbelief. She knows I'm real now.
"(I cannot speak to whether or not you feel broken, but I do know that you are not wrong. Nobody is wrong and everybody deserves to exist. To live and love and find happiness.)" I tell her, still holding tightly onto her wrist. "(I know it is hard, especially when you are all by yourself. When you feel lost, and unloved. Like maybe the world itself just...hates you for reasons you don't understand.)"
"(How could you possibly know that? What even are you?)" she asks. I smile a bit as I see her whole body language change. Her fear and sorrow has been replaced with curiosity. Good.
"(I am human. A creature that, as far as I know, did not exist on your world before I was brought here by some unknown force.)" I tell her, subtly guiding her back towards the water's edge where I had left the basket present. Thankfully, she seems a bit too preoccupied with me and my words to realize what I'm doing. "(Everything and everyone I have ever known or loved is on another world. One I doubt I will ever get to see again. I was completely alone when I came here. I grew cold and hungry and lonely very quickly. I barely survived..)"
"(So what happened then? How did you survive?)" she asks me, enraptured as I gently pull us both out of the water and onto the river's shore.
"(Believe it or not, I went savage.)" I say. Her eyes go wide as I tell her this and she becomes suddenly aware of my hand on her wrist. She quickly pulls herself away and begins to back off. "(Wait, it is okay! I am not savage anymore. Apparently humans are able to return to normal as long as we can fulfill our needs, even if we go savage. Or at least I can. It is not like there are other humans to test that with.)"
"(That is impossible.)" she says. Her tone of voice is concerned but at least she has stopped backing away from me. That makes me feel a little better and gives me enough confidence to give her a big, goofy smile.