Author Topic: Part 46: What a Real Friend Would Do  (Read 1724 times)

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Online Daen

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Part 46: What a Real Friend Would Do
« on: April 28, 2023, 08:09:54 PM »
"What do you mean, you're leaving?" His father demanded sharply. Unusually, there was no anger or disappointment in his aura. Just curiosity and fear.

Moss let out some annoyance. "I thought the sentence was self-explanatory," he jibbed.

"Don't make light of this, Moss! You've done what you needed to. You've served the Union well, and you've done it without taking lives! Despite our disagreements in the past, I've always respected your regard for the lives of others. Are you suddenly willing to just throw that away and join up with the military?"

Only long experience kept Moss' self-loathing hidden. Without taking lives. There were a bunch of blackened corpses back in Sharpcrag who would disagree with that assessment. "I'm not going with the military, father. I have my own task to complete."

"But why? Haven't you done enough for them already? You're home, finally, when many of us thought you would die far away from your own grove! Let others carry on this task, whatever it is. Stay with us, son."

That was the last layer of snow, which caused the branches to break. Moss felt a surge of anger overcome his shame. "Son? Since when have you treated me like a son, sahta'shk'oss? Why are you bothering to care now, after decades of having a political prop instead of a child? Why should I believe you've suddenly grown a soul, after so long without one? We've been strangers since I was a seedling! Why do you think I lived apart from the others, and only connected roots when it was absolutely necessary??"

He expected anger, even rage from the older treqar, but got nothing but sorrow and regret. "I'm sorry, Moss. I really am."

Moss let out a burst of sardonic humor. "Sorry isn't enough. One apology can't make up for a lifetime of neglect."

"But I offer it all the same," his father went on. Implacably, but sincerely as best Moss could tell. "You're right. I was obsessed with my status; with being the next Grovekeeper, or even a representative to Grove Heirach. I put you aside in favor of my own ambitions, and I was wrong. I know that now. When we saw those juns coming at us, I knew I was about to die. I thought back on what I'd done, and what I'd failed to do. I thought of your mother, and how we haven't spoken in such a long time. How much happier you would have been under her care than mine!"

It was like a flash flood, as the words kept coming. A rainbow of emotions poured out with the words, as if his father was coming apart at his very core. "Then the thunderers changed position and started firing at the juns, and I knew it was you. Somehow, wherever you were, you were protecting us. Despite my selfishness, and my arrogance, you were still there for us. I know, you were probably doing it for Rane's sake, and for the others, but you still did it. Thank you for saving my life."

Moss felt his own anger fade a little. The exact identities of the people controlling the thunderers that day were supposed to be a secret, but apparently his father had figured it out. "I don't want your thanks," he said bluntly.

"But you have it all the same." There was a long silence, contrasted by his father's open emotions, like bark stripped away and bare to the whole world. For his part, Moss was keeping his guard tightly up. Just because he hadn't expected this response, didn't mean it was genuine. He'd been fooled before, and by the same person.

Finally, his father spoke again. "If you felt this way, then why did you bring that here?" He indicated the object now resting between the two of them.

"Where else could I take it?" Moss let out angrily. "I wasn't about to leave it in the Desolation, and I couldn't exactly bring it into a war zone! You were the best of a bunch of really bad options. I knew you'd look after it, if only to maintain your own image."

"I've changed. I'm more than just that person, now. Facing your own death will do that, as I'm sure you know."

Moss' disbelief must have leaked out, because his father finally put out some indignation of his own. "I'll prove it. When you come back to claim this, it'll be safe and sound at my side. I swear it."

"We'll see," Moss answered with a little confusion. He was sounding a little more like the hard, distant father he'd always been, but he also seemed sincere. "I should get ready for my trip."

That was satisfying: dismissing his father like that. Still, it didn't feel as good as he'd thought it would.

His father made his excuses and disconnected his roots, thankfully. Moss didn't have time to relax though, because Rane had apparently been waiting on him. He showed up just afterwards, and Moss braced himself at what his younger friend might say. Selfishly, Moss did sort of hope that Rane was about to announce he was joining the military after all. No, that was an unworthy thought. Whatever he had to say, Moss would take it like an adult. Like his father would have, if only for his public image.

"Hey, Moss," Rane started out hesitantly. "I've… been thinking a lot about what you said. I didn't send off my application to join up just yet. I couldn't really focus on anything else for the better part of a day. I couldn't even go into dormancy last night."

"I know," Moss answered sympathetically. "I could sense you being awake, but I didn't want to bother you. Still, there are some things I need to tell—”

"No, let me say this," he interrupted, and his sense grew sharper. More confident. "When those Union qars took you away the first time, I didn't know if I'd ever see you again. I didn't even know why you were leaving at first. I thought it was something I'd done! But when the war started and we got news of all the burning and deaths, I knew you were thinking of ways to stop it. You've always been the smart one. I felt comforted because I knew you were out there, protecting us in your own way.

"But the thing is, I was also angry! So mad, all the time! Hearing about my pen pals and distant friends dying one after another, and all I could do to help was donate my qars to the war effort! I felt so helpless, and it was true. None of us could do anything."

He let out a stream of anger and frustration. "You said you liked who I am. Your kind, gentle, passive friend in this tiny grove on the edge of nowhere. You've definitely changed since you've been away. You're harder now, more closed off. Before you were quiet, but you were always attentive. Now… you're something different.

"But I've changed, too! I don't want to be kind anymore. I don't think being gentle is what we need. And being passive nearly killed all of us! I want to experience the world outside this tiny spot on the map. If you say that joining the military isn't a good way to do that, then I'm inclined to trust you. So, yes. I want that cart you promised me. I want to go with you, out into the world. We'll find some other way to help the Union, other than killing people, I mean."

Moss felt all twisted up inside. This was it. "The thing is, Rane, my plans have changed. I'm leaving, as soon as I can build a cart, and I probably won't be coming back." That was true in many ways. For all he knew, even if he did make it all the way out to Trejuna, the trejuns would just kill him or take him hostage. Not that it would do them any good, but a lot of people didn't let a little thing like objective reality stop them from doing what they wanted to. "Don't worry, though. I'll make sure you get that cart you wanted. If I can't build it myself before I leave, I'll insist that the sandkin donate one of theirs. You'll be free to go wherever you choose."

"Where are you—” Rane cut off, his sense one of anger now. He tamped it down quickly, though. "I take it you can't tell me where you're going?"

"No. Only that it'll be dangerous. It's something I have to do, though. I, well, it would take too long to explain."

"Then I have to come with you," he responded resolutely. "I don't care where you're going. If you're going to be in danger, then I'll be there to watch out for you this time around."

In some corner in the back of his mind, Moss had considered that possibility. That Rane might let his seedhood hero worship make him do something stupid. Like traveling to an enemy nation during a time of war. Still, actually hearing the request felt unreal to him. "You did get the part about probably not coming back, right?"

"You got the part where I don't care, right? Hey, Moss. It's largely on your word that I don't trust the military anymore. If you're going to risk your life to help your people, and we both know that you are, then I get to risk the same thing for the same reason. You don't have the right to leave me behind. And if you try, I'll stop you."

That caught him by surprise. Not just Rane refusing to back down, but also threatening him! And he could stop Moss if he wanted to. Just the rumor that the hero of the Union wasn't joining up with the Union's military after his rest in his home grove, would be enough to put him under scrutiny. All Rane had to do was send a single enzyme message to the right person, and Moss wouldn't get anywhere near the coast, much less the ocean itself. It seemed Rane had done some growing up while Moss had been away.

He examined Rane's sense briefly. Determination was there in full force, but it was laced with tension as well. He wasn't sure what Moss would decide. Come to think of it, Moss wasn't either.

But then, it wasn't his decision, was it? Rane was an adult as well. Moss wasn't sure how useful he'd be in this expedition across the sea, but he would be glad for the company. Who was he to tell a fully-grown treqar that he didn't have the right to do as he pleased?

"All right," he said finally, and Rane let out a burst of excitement. "Shush! Do you want everyone to know? We have to keep this under roots for now, understood? As far as anyone else is concerned, we're preparing to join in the war effort. No one can know where we're really going until after we're gone. Preferably not even then. Got that?"

"Got it. Now, how can I help with our building two carts?"

Bemused, Moss gave him some basic instructions, and they got to work. There was always the option of ditching him somewhere safe, once they were underway. Rane didn't know a thing about mechanical design, so Moss could easily strand him somewhere that Union forces would find him. Still, the Core had given Moss a place of importance in this nation's destiny. Who was to say it hadn't done the same for Rane as well?
« Last Edit: May 09, 2023, 05:22:53 AM by Daen »