Flowered Metal | 23

As the sun began to descend in the north-east, Syfa watched as the white clouds slowly turned lilac; rimmed in pink. The brilliant sky blue was chased by the purple, followed by the night sky as the moon became visible. Several stars had begun to poke out from their hiding as if joyous the sun would rest over another part of the world. And as twilight came, Opal’s strange home – “Omega Ark” – threw a deep, cold shadow over the new village. 

Lights illuminated the underside of her home, “Flashlights” Opal called them. And there, the villagers now basked in those cones of light and continued to paint the under section. All around them, piles of cleared vines and thicket sat. The now painted Spider-Drones had cleared it all away, at Haiafe’s request, so they could paint Opal’s home too. Oddly enough, she’d noticed that Opal had been quite taken to Haiafe and over the course of this week, had been quite accommodating to his requests. 

Evy, jealousy, and guilt fought against each other in her heart. Jealous that Opal had shot down quite a few of her requests. Envious that Opal listened to Haiafe more than her, and guilty that she felt all of this. While they both loved their father, they both knew he never gave a second thought to Haiafe’s opinion. Most of his “leniency”, had been because there was no real way to stop Haiafe from being himself. Just like his sister, Syfa, he could be as stubborn as a dragon. 

And so, Syfa watched from the top of Opal’s behemoth, the “IFV”. The behemoth of a metal spider remained within the Village square, but it was tall enough to easily see over the newly built wooden homes. 

Large flowers, little flowers, mountains, and deer; the villagers painted whatever they wanted. A few of them painted memorials of their loved ones, others painted their hopes. The children painted a better tomorrow, and the elderly painted their past. Syfa, as the new Chieftain, hoped each of them found peace in their paintings. The young leader would not allow herself to be at peace though. 

She thought about everything that needed to be done. Food, shelter, security, and longevity. Syfa didn’t kid herself into thinking she could solve them all. As of the current moment, adventurers had been slowly delving deeper into the valley. Meat was slowly becoming hard to acquire as the deer and other animals were slowly disappearing. Either being scared off, or their populations being hunted down. 

As of the current season, they could still eat well enough by substituting most of the meat with the local vegetables and fruits. However, the previous shamans had already experienced what would happen if they had to cut meat out of their diets. Malnutrition. They say meat is blessed and gives them the power to live. Syfa had seen and learned enough beyond the valley to know that there were reasons for it, just not enough to find a solution. 

As such, they would have to deal with less meat – for now.

Shelter, at the moment, was well enough. More than well, actually. The dirt huts they had previously had worked, for the most part. They were more because the Hikari had never picked up the skills of woodworking. Often relying upon the old saying of “It has been done like this forever”. They say she was stubborn, but the beastfolk were notorious for their pride and stubbornness. Tradition had been the excuse for never evolving. Maybe that would change now, but Syfa didn’t place her hope on that. 

Security and Longevity were one and the same and could encompass everything before them. Right now, Opal was their guardian and sole protector. The men had been relieved of that duty so they could recover and train. Longevity would fall into sustaining their people. Syfa hoped they would take up farming and animal husbandry.

With the humans encroaching the valley, food would become harder to find. She was just happy that they were upriver, rather than down. Otherwise, they would be sick from the town’s waste polluting the water. She had seen enough people become sick from drinking that filth. 

“You’re fretting,” Oki’s voice pulled her back to reality.

She had to blink a few times to catch her bearings. She found the topless man sitting on her right, his muscular chest glistened from having freshly bathed. Syfa blushed slightly and turned her attention back to the people in the distance.

“No, I’m not,” Syfa said. 

In response, Oki nudged her with his shoulder affectionately. His warm shoulder burned against her cold, but it was a welcoming burn. The touch of another person made her realize just how far down the rabbit hole she’d gone in her heart. It felt heavy and cold. Her throat felt dry, and her spine prickled with a sense of failure.

“You are,” Oki said, his deep voice rumbled. “Want to know how I know?” Syfa shot him a sidelong glance that was half “Back off” and half “Do tell”. 

“When you fret,” Oki continued as a confident smirk bloomed on his short beard framed lips. He reached out towards her with his left hand, cupping Syfa’s chin to her surprise; then rimmed the bottom of her lower lip. “You bout like a child with those lips. Your nose furrows like a little rabbit, twitching and all.” 

Syfa stiffened at his touch, her breath stilled as the sensation. She felt her mind go blank as his thumb rimmed her lip. Her wide-eyes locked on his softened ones, and the smirk slowly slipped away.

“You don’t have to keep doing this,” Oki said, in a much sadder tone. “You don’t have to try and shoulder everything again. Haven’t you done enough for us all?” That had been enough to pull Syfa from her state. 

“I’m the chief now, by all rights and traditions,” Syfa protested. “And even before that, someone how to look after these stubborn people. Even if I can’t use mid-tier or higher magic anymore, I still know enough alchemy to make healing potions. I know how to use the common script and tongue. I know how to trade and I know how to deal with nobles. I can help them merge into society.”

And she planned to do it, to make her people join the world at large. The other option was far, far more unacceptable. If there had been an option, she would have hidden them all away – keep them from the ugly world she had found beyond the valley mountains. 

“Until Haiafe becomes of age in a year,” Oki said. “And what happens when the others come back? By tradition, any of the Hikari males of age can challenge him for the right of leading the tribe. Since you are the Shaman, by your father’s decree, you are leading in his death. What happens after?” 

As right as Oki was, she didn’t want to accept that. She knew better than all of them, and if they had tried that before she… Injured her soul… Syfa would have shown them how sorry they would be if they did. Then she noticed Oki’s face was much closer than it was a moment ago.

“You’re doing it again,” Oki said. “Your lips, your nose, and even the welcomed appearance of your brows.” Syfa blushed before slowly pulling away. 

“Now you’re trying to put moves on me?” Syfa huffed through her nose. “If I didn’t know better, I would think you were trying to usurp the title of Chieftain from me.” That wasn’t an accurate statement. Shamans would only lead the tribe if a chieftain died. If they had a child, they would take up the mantle, but if they weren’t of age, it became a little more complex. However, becoming one with the Shaman if they were currently leading the Tribe meant nothing. 

“I’ve never stopped trying to earn your love,” Oki said. “Even when we were young.” There was a hint of yearning, followed by a hint of sadness in his voice. 

“Then you should have left the village with me,” Syfa said, her voice filled with hurt. She didn’t like that it took two massacres for him to finally do this. Oki may have been a good warrior, but Syfa also knew he wasn’t very good at expressing his feelings. “I begged you to leave with me.” 

“And I have regretted not saying yes ever since,” Oki leaned back, his hand dropping listlessly. “Since the day you left, I’ve been alone. I’ve never laid with another woman other than you since that time. Even when you left for the world beyond, I told myself you would come back. I just never thought you would come back…” He trailed off, flashing a look at her. 

“I came back, but I came back damaged goods,” Syfa sneered, more at herself than him. It still made him flinch, and she felt her heart grow cold. The shaman silently beat herself up for not controlling her tongue more. 

“Hurt,” Oki said after a few moments. “Hurt was the word I wanted to say. I blame myself for that. I used to think that if I had just gone with you, I could have prevented what happened. Maybe then we wouldn’t have been put in this position, maybe then, we wouldn’t be grieving here.”

“No, we wouldn’t be here grieving,” Syfa muttered as she slid her hand onto his. “It would be me that would be grieving. Out there in the Southern lands. That dragon killed everyone but me and the Duke! And that was because I had damaged my soul casting the forbidden spell to stop its Dragon Fire! I was naive and reckless!”

“Reckless, yes,” Oki said as he looked up to the now starry sky as his voice wavered.”But you came back to the tribe. To me. I’m sorry about how I acted before. I had thought that, if I had just waited a little longer, maybe you would forgive me. It took me seven years, and another massacre, for me to find the will to tell you all this.” 

“And what if you’re too late for that?” Syfa whispered, her ears flattened. “What if the time for me and you left when I left the valley?” 

“Then so be it,” Oki sighed, “But I don’t want another year, another season or moment to go by with me holding all this in. I want you to know that I love you, and I’ve always loved you. I’m not that scared little boy anymore.”

The resolution in his voice made Syfa’s heart yearn for him. She didn’t want to admit it, but even she still loved Oki – as much as she tried to deny it. She was still angry that he never left with her. Maybe if he had, she would have never had to fight off a dragon. Maybe they would have escaped into the unknown only to start their own tribe. There were a lot of maybes, but what had scared Syfa the most when she returned to the Hikari was that maybe it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. 

Maybe Oki would have burned out there on that road. Died violently and scared. Or, maybe he wouldn’t have. And the Duke did. The seven years of peace that had come at the peace of protecting the Duke would have never come. Maybe the Hikari would have long ceased to exist. 

“You still love me, even though I’m not that innocent and headstrong girl from before?” Syfa asked, her eyes welling with tears. “Even with this broken soul of mine?” 

“I love you more now than I never did before,” Oki smiled. “The thought of losing you taught me that, something I wished I knew before you left on that stupid quest of vengeance.” He chuckled, his whole body shaking as a big smile blosomed on his inviting lips.

“I think you’re just trying to seduce me, ” Syfa chuckled too. She had it with grief and mourning. So much had happened to her in the last ten years. Syfa had never really been happy aside from learning about the world and experimenting. And with each new grievance that’d been tacked onto her list, even that had begun to ebb. 

“That I am, “Oki leaned in and kissed her. “But unlike before, I have aspirations to go further than that. I want to become your mate. I want to be the father of your child. I want to grow old with you, or at least, die having been yours. And eventually, I want to journey through the Eternal Plains with you.” 

The villagers grew noisy in the distance, and both of them looked to see what was happening – both cursing at the interruption. Syfa saw the villagers pointing up, and she followed suit. Above was a sea of purples, lilacs and white dots with rivers of vanilla snaking through it as a faint orange lined the east. Several moments went by and nothing happened. 

Then the children began to cry out in delight and the two lovers searched for the reason. A few moments later, they saw it. A star danced across the sky, a thin white line that cut across from the north-west to the south-west. A few heartbeats later, more and more began to skim the sky. The villagers began to sit and watch the shooting stars. 

Syfa and Oki smiled at each other and embraced each other as they rolled back onto the top of the IFV’s turret. 

 

 

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