The medley of the summer wind sang a tune of good fortune. Though this day was like any other for me and my daughters, Yena and Frost, it would be like a dream day for anyone who lived outside of our bubble, my family’s slice of paradise, untouched by the scourge of the outside world. I admit, though, I sometimes had fun with Humans that strayed too far from their lumbersome lodgings. Humans and Quasis (half animals) mix like oil and water, as the former like to say. The more worlds collided. the more tragedy was invited to each other’s doorstep. I had not had encounters with humans at any great length, and I can’t say I was planning on doing so either.
Our plan for the day was simple: walk the same route, pick the same berries, and soak in the same sunlight we had for years. In these hours gone by, we felt blessed by the Quasi Dei, often asking ourselves how the hours we spent in this Garden of Eden could be so happy. Of course, Kitsune, the Quasi Goddess of Misfortune, must have heard these thoughts and taken them to be a challenge of sorts. Perhaps she saw our happy lives and was maddened by her memory of Sultu, the brave warrior who she loved until she saw him laying by another woman’s side. And so, she cursed her unrequited lover with a child and the woman with death, a fate that would befall her as soon as she brought new life into the world. The ironic thing is, with what I found in the forest, I was going to be the one who ended up dying.
A strange sound pierced the peaceful forest, the Eden of our own making. Albeit, it wasn’t unfamiliar to me, as I was well acquainted with it in the raising of two young daughters. My question remained, though: what was a baby doing in the middle of the woods?
“Yena, Frost, stay close to me.” I whispered. As I got closer, my mind looped around itself trying to justify what would lead to hearing this. Was it hidden by two lost souls trying to fight a beast? Is it the sound of a siren leading me into a carnivorous plant? Ja’Nai* forbid, was it taken here and abandoned by some uncaring parents? An even better question, could I take it home knowing how my poor wife Elena would react? How could I not take the risk? *Ja’Nai: Quasi Goddess of Birth.
Baby in hands, I broke down the magic barrier and let the little troublemakers into our protected bubble. They placed their berries down on the front porch and gleefully bounded up the branches of their home aloft the leaves. It was akin to what Humans would call a ‘treehouse.’ It had all the freedoms that one might want for a species with boundless energy. We do have certain commonalities with Humans, however, and that’s we hold a mix of great reverence and fear for our female mates. While I don’t have a crystal ball, I had a decent idea of how my wife was going to react when I introduced the new member of the family to her. While my children ran around with great freedom, I felt like I had an anchor in my heart weighing down my every step. I was hoping if I properly explained what happened, she’d understand, even if a little bit.
“And who are you, little one?” Elena asked, catching me off guard.
“He… doesn’t have a name yet. I’m still working on that part, but I found him in the forest and I knew I couldn’t leave him alone.” I said, my voice frantically shaking to explain how we got where we are.
“Well, I’m sure we can find a place for the poor thing to stay.” Elena said, her tone of voice a veiled threat. Please excuse her, she’s a tad bit racist.
“I was hoping that it could stay here with us. We don’t even know if humans would accept him even if they did see him. He was outside for a reason, right?”
Elena was intent on making this a short conversation, so she pulled her trump card: the look. No matter the species, any man who’s married knows this look when they see it, the one that says, ‘do what I say, this conversation is over.’ The look can make a man’s entire throat feel like it’s being squeezed by a Gallapos (snake-like creature that crushes bones before devouring their prey whole). She didn’t even need to say another word.
“I’ll take care of it right now!” I said, filling in the space she said with her eyes. Verbally, I was compliant, but underneath my breath, I cursed myself.
“Damn my terminal sense of empathy.”
Damn my terminal sense of empathy, indeed, If I wasn’t so bent on keeping this damn baby alive, I’d have thrown it to a Fleshroot (a really big Venus Flytrap) instead of hiding it in a cradle of twigs. The literal only redeeming thing about today was that I put off picking berries until dusk, so I could return the baby pretty soon under the cloak of nightfall. Night is when Quasis do their best work, going from despised/feared beasts to urban myths that protect travelers from harm. So, for Kitsune to get in one last hit of misfortune, she would have to work fast (and work fast she did).
Imagine already being on thin ice with your wife, then imagine a scantily clad stranger in a red robe shows up out of nowhere. In the middle of the woods. UNINVITED.
"Can I help you with something?" I asked as calmly as I could.
"Why, you don't remember me?" the strange woman asked.
“Listen, I am really not in the mood for games today.” I said, my ears vibrating. Worse yet, I could feel my wife staring daggers into my back as I talked to the stranger. Poor Elena had a long day. She already thought I was sneaking out to meet up with some strumpet in the dead of the night, I did NOT need her thinking I invited this woman to our house for some raunchy rendezvous.
“Games. Judging by the woman behind you, it seems all you’re good for is playing games.” she said. Feeling the entire weight of my family in my stomach, I had had enough. Her breath warmly tickled my neck, but sent chills down my spine. As the man of the house, I had to drive the demons of flesh out from our home. With a strong palm, I pushed her through the doors into the sherbert twilight.
"My, pushing me to ravish me in the brush?! How romantic!"
Her words didn't pierce me. If anything, she drew anger from my breath. Each heave of my churning legs was worth the effort. (I didn't mean to make it sound like that, but c'est la vie).
As I attempted to walk away, she latched herself onto me, begging me to not leave her alone in the cold. She also warned that if I didn't mind my strength, the other strap of her robe might accidentally slip.
I summoned the arcane to push this wicked wench out from my home. With a twist of my palm, the grass rose and flung her skyward. If she was some strange shapeshifter, then she’d be fine. If she was some bizarre forest walker who didn’t know who she was messing with, I’d probably never see her again. I didn’t care if the beasts got her, either. If anything, they’d be doing me a favor.
At this point, I’m pretty sure Elena was ready to kill me. No doubt, she needed a break from me just as much as I needed a break from the bad luck that Kitsune seemed obsessed with burdening me with (at least today). Though shame blistered my heart, I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer. This human child didn’t belong with us Quasis. Every time my wife looked at him, she’d be reminded of the fear of me being unfaithful, despite the impossibility of such ever occurring. I almost understood her, though, for this child sparked thoughts in me, as well. He made me ponder the misfortune of bringing him into our home. Looking into its wide, innocent eyes, however, I could not stand the thought of putting the blame on him. He was so young and innocent, hardly capable of causing trouble intentionally. And so, though he wasn’t mine, I had grown strangely attached to him. What a shame that we’re divided by two worlds.
Thinking of him as I bound through the verdure of Eden kept me company. It was a miracle I found the Human village as fast as I did. If I didn’t have the strength to bound through the trees, I’d probably have been searching all night. While I’m here alone with my thoughts, I can say it’d probably be the quietest night I had in a while. To have spent it with one of the Quasi Dei’s purest creations would have been an absolute honor, but there’s a fine line between desire and duty, and my duty is to the stability of my household.
Standing on the line between the forest and the clearing felt like stepping into a different world. One where I wasn’t welcomed, despite it being a bite taken out of where my people have lived for countless generations. I didn’t want to leave it in the forest, even on the edge, as I was afraid the Guardians of Eden would get to him. So, with a deep breath, I crossed No Man’s Land and entered the Human encampment.
Nobody even looked at me as I walked into the middle of the road, maybe because they all had their own business to concern themselves with and didn’t have the time to worry about what I was doing. The cloth hood I had probably had something to do with that, though. They probably saw me as someone that shouldn’t be messed with. Most sober people, anyways.
“Hey,” someone called out, “you got a problem with me or something? Walking around like you’re hot shit! Well lemme tell ya buddy, you’re not!”
His breath smelled like barley. He probably mixed them with a hallucinogenic and ate some bad berries, nothing worth getting too tripped up over. Besides, he was irrelevant to my quest, so I paid him no mind and progressed. Pulling my hood over my head, I bumped his shoulder, which in the Human world is apparently taken as a sign of aggression. Since words were too much for this barbaric neanderthal, he resorted to using his fists. To put it in perspective, fighting a Quasi is like boxing a lion. We’re faster, stronger, and apparently smarter, despite being mostly docile. And so, with a single duck and jab, I knocked that brute’s head sideways. Not literally, but he wasn’t getting up any time soon.
Alas! It was a Pyrrhic victory. On his way to the ground, he grabbed my hood and exposed my ears to the rest of the world, and I learned the hard way that we like them about as much as they like us. As they grabbed their guns and pitchforks, they gave me cute nicknames like ‘maneater’ and ‘Hellspawn,’ though, so that was nice of them. Thankfully, I could tell when I wasn’t wanted. With the entire village mobilized, I knew I wasn’t long for this wretched place, so all I could do was offer the poor child a one-word goodbye: “Farewell.”
I knew they'd never catch me. I knew I was too agile, too elusive. What caught my eye, however, was that looking back, the child I had left behind was no longer there. In the arms of one of the hunters, I bizarrely caught a glimpse of a fox-like creature, something that seemed as though it belonged in the forest with me instead of in the realm of humans.
As if by the snap of my fingers, my empathy had vanished and been replaced with a strange mix of bemusement and anger. The child's transformation into a beast, however, managed to help me think of a different set of words to use as a goodbye. With all the good humor I could gather, I spoke with bitterness, with anger over the realization that it was both the baby I’d cared for and the homewrecker that almost destroyed my family: "that little bastard."