By: Suspicious Panda
“You’re human, right?” Ianto sat next to me. That was a strange question.
“That’s what I’ve been told,” I replied. That earned me a smile. I couldn’t stop myself from asking the question that had been burning in the back of my mind. “So what’s the difference between a human and an Arrow Branded?”
“To be completely honest with you; I have no idea,” Ianto said. I giggled.
“Really? You don’t know?”
“The only difference I see is the eyes and the branding.” Ianto pushed up his sleeve to reveal an arrow shaped brand on the back of his wrist. The same one I had seen on Xavier and Soleil.
“What’s with those, by the way? Are they like actually branded into your skin?” I hoped not. I imagine that would be painful.
“Yeah, they are. When you turn thirteen there’s a whole ceremony. They sing songs. Then they take a hot piece of metal to your skin.” Ianto seemed so calm about it. I grimaced at the thought. “Warlock puts a spell that makes it hurt less though.”
“That’s good,” I said with a sigh. “Did Dash do your ceremony?”
“No but he knows the warlock do did. Her name is Malajest, she lives close by,” Ianto said. I nodded, looking away. I played our journey over and over in my mind. The shapeshifter. The sirens. That elven boy. Playing over my actions, comparing them to the actions of the other three. I am not a warrior, I thought.
“Hey, it’s almost dinner. What do you guys want?” Dash addressed the whole group
“Pizza!” Rumour called out. Dash consulted the rest of us. Each person nodded.
“I don’t eat meat!” Ianto hollered from my side, which startling Dash. I snorted with laughter, bringing Ianto’s eyes to be briefly. I decided to loudly put in my sugestion of cheese pizza. Nobody else had an opinion so Dash said he would get whatever else they had.
“Ianto, you’re coming with me to get it. Up, now. I’m leaving,” Dash called as he walked to the door. Ianto rushed to put on a pair of snow boots that were by the door. He stopped to grab a jacket, but Dash grabbed his hand and pulled him along. He almost tripped on the way out.
I stood and began to wander. Looking in books, touching small wooden and metal figures, and inspecting jars. I picked up a piece of paper. I read it silently to myself, Can you stop singing that? An answer was written at the bottom; No. I smiled, these two were obviously very close. I picked up a small wooden elephant. The words happy birthday were carved on the bottom. Xavier spoke quietly with Rumour and Soleil while the elven boy read a book with an eagle on the front. The title read: Loud.
After about half an hour, Ianto and Dash returned. I heard a key in the lock and Ianto kicked the door open. He and dash were carrying three pizza boxes each. I didn’t realize how absolutely starving I was until I smelled that meal. Xavier and Soleil helped clear a table and the other two set the food down. I glanced to the side and saw that the elven boy was staring at them in anticipation. Walked over and helped him up off his chair. Then we walked to the table with the six pizzas. When I helped him sit on a stool next to Xavier, I couldn’t help but notice he was significantly taller than the other boy. Then I walked around the other side of the table and sat down.
The six of us tore through those pizzas. I had never been so desperate for food in my life. Not even when I was denied dinner at Lil’ Angel’s Orphanage for getting in a fight. All that remained was pieces of different pizzas. Put together, the pieces formed roughly a quarter of a pizza.
Dash walked around the room, assigning beds to people and making sure they had someone else nearby incase they needed help. I was assigned a bed right next to the elven boy.
“Hey,” Rumour called from his cot. Ianto turned around to face him. “Uh, not to be rude or anything, but do you think I could get a shower?” Rumour pointed at the blood that he still hadn’t gotten a chance to wash off.
“Oh. Oh, yeah. Gosh, I forgot. There’s a bathroom down the hall over there. It’s the second room on the left.” Ianto said this all so quickly I could barely follow. He helped Rumour up.
“Thanks, I can take it from here,” Rumour told him with a smile.
“I can give you an outfit. Y’know, since your clothes are bloodsoaked and ripped.” Ianto ran off to get it before Rumour could even reply. At the door he paused and said, “Just leave your clothes outside the bathroom, I’ll pick them up and replace them. Oh, maybe I’ll put them in the dryer to warm up!” Then rushed off.
“Alright,” Rumour said. More to himself than to Ianto. With some struggle, he made his way down the hallway. I heard a door close, then running water. I imagined how nice it would be to have a shower now.
“Y’know, you guys can shower too.” Dash appeared at my side. He seemed to have read my mind.
“That’d be nice,” I replied.
“I could even put your clothes in to wash so they’re nice and warm when you get out,” he said with a sly smile. That got enthusiastic agreements from everybody. “Alright, alright. Just leave them outside the door, I’ll give you something in the meantime.” Dash said with a smile. Ianto entered the room with an armful of clothes then walked into the hallway. I assumed he was going to replace Rumour’s clothes.
“So, who will shower next?” Soleil asked. Everybody looked over at the elven boy.
“I guess I’ll go,” he said shyly, a green blush rising in his cheeks. Elves blush green. Strange. His eyes flicked to Xavier and again I got the feeling that they knew each other. I suddenly realized that that was the first thing he’d said since we left Morrow Inn. his voice was not strained, or weak. His strength was returning, but he was still fragile.
“I’ll go next,” I suggested. I waited for any objections, but there were none.
“I’ll go after,” Soleil declared. That left Xavier last. He didn’t even say it because we all knew already.
“Hey, Dash,” I called.
“Hmm?” Dash didn’t look up from whatever he was looking at on the table, but I knew he was listening.
“Why is Ianto here instead of being a warrior or whatever it is Arrow Brandeds do after childhood?” I asked. Dash turned around and walked over to me. He sat down.
“When he was branded, he thought he would do that.” he began. “But time passed, and he decided he didn’t want to. He moved around, never really stayed in one place too long. He didn’t have a home. Until he came to me. I gave him a bed and a roof over his head as long as he worked as my assistant. We quickly became friends and he decided he would stay here. Of course there was the concern of my immortality and him being mortal–”
“You’re immortal?” I interrupted. He laughed at my surprise.
“I keep forgetting that you don’t know all this,” he said. “Anyways, I was immortal and he wasn’t. That made this arrangement complicated. We considered the options. It took a few years to decide anything for real. But after a while, we came to a conclusion. He went through the procedure for immortality.”
“You can give immortality?” I exclaimed. Dash sighed. “Sorry, sorry. Continue,” I said.
“Well, that happened, and now I don’t have to worry about losing him to the icy jaws of death.” Dash pulled his legs up onto the seat. I stared at him in awe. Immortality. I thought that must be amazing, then I thought it must be so lonely. Every mortal person you ever love would die one day. And you would have to watch that over, and over again. But Ianto gave up mortality to stay with Dash forever.
“That’s an amazing story. Not to be rude but… how old are you?” I asked.
“To be completely honest, I haven’t been counting,” he replied simply.
“When did Ianto come looking for shelter?” I just had so many questions swirling in my head.
“I met him about fifty years ago. Back then, people didn’t have much of a choice what they did. He was shunned by his community for wanting something else. But when I befriended him, he was free to come and go as he pleased. He did that for a while, then he settled down here.”
I nodded, wondering what it would be like to live with your best friend. Of course I lived in an orphanage, so I did. But I wondered what it would be like to choose who you want to live with.
“I’m back, guys,” Rumour said cheerily when he returned. He wore a black and white striped t shirt with grey jeans. He held a baby blue towel and was drying his golden hair. The elven boy stood and walked to the bathroom, trying not to draw too many eyes to him. I heard the bathroom door close and eventually the water turned on. I picked up a book and began reading, just to pass the time.
“Lake, it’s your turn,” Rumour said softly, tapping me on the shoulder. i hadn’t noticed how much time had passed. I put the book to the side and head to the bathroom, passing the elven boy on the way. He looked a lot better when he wasn’t covered in blood and his hair wasn’t all knotted. He was wearing a bubblegum pink sweatshirt.
I closed the door to the bathroom quietly. The shower had a frosted glass wall separating it from the rest of the bathroom. I caught my reflection in the mirror. Tired, scared, and out of place. Just a few words I would use to describe myself at that moment. I sighed. As I was undressing, I shook dirt and leaves out of my clothes. Most of the blood stayed, but some dry blood flaked off of the fabric. I set my clothes outside the door and looked in the mirror again, turning to look at my back. I noticed an unfamiliar mark. Obvious streaks that looked like fingerprints. I remembered the feeling of icy fingers on my back. That must have been it. They painted the expanse from one shoulder blade to the other. Across my back where that ice being, I guess, tried to freeze me to death. The fingerprints reminded me of jellyfish tentacles. Gentle touches, but harsh repercussions. Then I remembered that I was supposed to shower.
“Oh, right,” I muttered to myself. The water felt softer than anything on my worn skin. It felt like the soap was cleansing my soul. I watched the dirt and blood go down the drain. Remarkable that such few days on this quest could cause such devastation to my body. I turned off the shower and watched the remaining water drain, along with the wear of our travel.
When I checked outside the door, Ianto was just returning my clothes, clean and brand new. I thanked him and brought them into the bathroom. I put them on, burying my face in my shirt before putting it on. It was warm, and it smelled nice. The warmth made me feel secure where I was. The fragrance of cleanliness was a welcomed change from that haven’t-showered-in-days smell. I exited the bathroom and informed Soleil it was her turn.
Everyone showered quickly. Then we got blankets and climbed into our assigned beds. Although he was given a bed, Xavier insisted on staying in a chair next to Rumour until he fell asleep. He refused to leave his best friend. I lay awake, listening to the breathing of the others. Eventually, their breath slowed and became steady. I sat up and glanced around. I smiled when I saw that Xavier had fallen asleep, his head buried in his arms on the cot next to his best friend.
All was calm. I was bathed and fed. All I needed was sleep. And eventually I got some.