Which is about unexpected things and how they feel

It was an ordinary summer morning at the orphanage. The air was peacefully still, the sky hung no more than a few bright white clouds overhead, and there remained an entire month left for the children to do anything they pleased—within reason, of course.

As Yona, now a bright girl of eleven years old last June, trailed down the stairs with a paw extended to rattle the banister, the sound of quiet sobs could be heard from the kitchen.

“…He was one of the kindest children I ever met, Lonissa. His smile…he illuminated every room he was in.”

Yona stopped in her tracks, lifting an ear to hear clearer, but not especially wanting to know what was taking place. She never did well with difficult emotions such as these, nor was she exactly skilled in offering condolences in times of distress. She hoped she could listen unnoticed.

Lonissa set something down on the table, though Yona could not see what. “They’re thinking of doing a burial at sea, but a date hasn’t been decided yet,” Lonissa sighed. Yona had never heard her sounding so grim before. It almost sounded like someone else’s voice. “Kimmy said she’ll sing at the service. The two of them always did love singing together. It’s…it’s difficult thinking she’ll have to do it alone from now on.”

This only made Pamela wail in grief, a sound so foreign it made Yona’s entire body tense terribly. And Kimmy, one of the adopted orphan children was involved? Could it be… The need to understand what was happening overcame any of her previous reservations, and Yona bolted down the rest of the stairs to confront the headmasters.

“What happened? Whose funeral?” she asked.

Lonissa stood from her chair to put a paw on Yona’s shoulder somberly. “Piko’s, I’m afraid. You might not remember him, since it’s been some years since he was adopted, but…”

Pamela stopped blowing her nose. “He had a beautiful singing voice. He and Kimmy loved singing together so much, we knew we couldn’t separate them.” Yona shifted uncomfortably. She knew who these people were, but held no personal memories of either of them—recalling them as vague figures in some dark recesses of her memories, little more.

She stared at her feet. “How did he, um…”

“It was a heart defect,” Pamela said miserably. “Something he had had all his life. How it went undetected all those years, I don’t know. We always did our best for him, as we do with every child, but…”

“Sometimes it isn’t enough,” Lonissa frowned. “I should have sensed it. If I’d listened a little more carefully…”

“You never did master Healing magic,” Pamela interjected. “You needn’t trouble yourself with it now, Lonissa. We gave Piko a good life while we could. And I’m certain his parents did the same.”

Sensing that her capacity to be useful in this situation had long escaped her, Yona awkwardly skulked off to the attic to be alone. She knew in her head that she was sad, so how come the feeling eluded her heart? It was disturbing, not experiencing the correct emotions. She hadn’t shed so much as a single tear upon hearing the news, meanwhile both headmasters continued bawling in the dining room as they exchanged remembrances of the dearly departed child. Yona could still hear their sobs from upstairs, and they made her shudder.

Though it was an otherwise bright and youthful morning, Yona dozed off in the middle of drawing a picture, finding some comfort in the stark emptiness of the attic. Pamela had recently cleared away many of the boxes that were stored away there, finding them to be full of things that might be useful to somebody else, or repurposing them in her study. The new sparseness of the room cleared the stage for Yona’s mind to transport her to somewhere far away once more, to another layer, somewhere in the heart of the distant past.

She awoke inside a shabby home made from bricks and paste, a musky odor penetrating her nostrils and reminding her that this was very much reality—simply a long-gone reality. A bed of golden straw adorned one corner of the room where her old friend, Ceris, lay nursing a bloody knee.

“Yea, verily; thou hast returned to me once more, my layer-traveling companion, albeit receiving my company at a most unbecoming time,” Ceris smiled weakly, upon attempting to stand and finding it too cumbersome in her current state.

Yona rushed to her side in alarm. “Ceris, you’re hurt! It’s bleeding all over the place,” she gasped. A faint trail of blood indeed led from the haystack to the front door: this was the pungent smell she first noticed. Her eyes scanned their surroundings, panic-stricken. “Is there nothing I can use to bandage you?”

“Nay, afraid not, my small companion; I’ve searched round and found not a thing. I’ve been told elevating the wound should help, and so I stay here. It’s a funny thing it is, my knee injury. Thou art tremendously lucky, never layer traveling when I am on the battlefield. Such would be a wretched thing! This morning I had climbed past enemy territory over the fence. It was still terribly early and my eyes aren’t the best they could be, never letting in as much light as I would like them to. Once I thought I was in the clear, I felt my leg snag on the bramble which decorated the other side of the fence. Bastards!”

Yona nodded attentively, taking care not to reveal her secret glee at Ceris cursing. “So you’ve been bleeding this entire time?” she asked, crinkling her nose from the thought. This look made Ceris laugh jovially.

“It’s not all bad,” she said, gesturing toward the door. “Yea, one of my comrades left shortly before thine arrival to find puddings for us. There is nothing in the world which I would rather taste. Fair child, pudding is a food which exists in thine era, correct?”

Yona didn’t know what year it may have been in this layer. She dearly wished she could have paid better attention in History class when they discussed the Remnant Wars, but Mr. Kivel couldn’t make a class interesting to save his life; all the same, there remained something surreal about hearing a food as mundane as pudding being named by her ancient friend, as though cable television and telephones were also not far from her lips. “Yes, we do. It’s pretty good, too, but not my favorite.” Ceris shifted positions, elevating her knee higher upon the haystack.

“Thou hast heard my comrades giving me trouble for my love of sweets, but yea, sweet food is one of the few joys in this cruel world,” she said thoughtfully, still grinning. “Between the death and despair, there are times it is my only comfort on the battlefield.”

The mentioning of death brought Yona in sync with herself back in the current layer, recalling her situation before coming here. “That’s right…so you have to watch your friends die when you fight, right?”

“Yea, many more than I wish to mention,” Ceris grimaced. “I’ll tell thee, one of my most cherished friends hadst been torn viciously from me toward the beginning of the war. He was an Odol, and one thing about Odol folks is their tremendous modesty in all things, which masquerades as shyness. It hast been said that an Odol won’t allow you as close to his heart, but the ones who choose to will show you they have two, for they love twice as compassionately. Early on, none of us terribly understood what was taking place, besides that we need take a side and fight as our lives depended upon it. Now, Odols are not commonly believed to be natural-born fighters and my companion was no exception. Verily, he was timid as a mouse and I fought desperately for him to have a role outside of combat, such as in the ward; but already our side lacked fighters, and so he was enlisted. He did not last so much as three days on the field before I received the call that he was unrecognizable, beyond all hope. My heart simply bled for him; I wept bitterly day in and day out, feeling my purpose in all this somewhat restored by his merciless loss. My fights on the battlefield became as blood and fire. A nurse bequeathed to me a tattered shred of his hood, and I hast kept it with me inside a locket in the years since.”

At this, Yona was speechless, finding her own predicament undeserving of being mentioned after such a poignant tale. It made her uncomfortable, so she quickly came up with a question: “Do you think about your friend a lot?”

“Once a day, sometimes more,” Ceris said with a twinkle in her eye. “I apologize, fair child, for burdening thou with my woeful tales of the past. Tell me, is something troubling thou? Thine countenance hast appeared more stiff and uneasy than normal, and I do notice these matters.”

“We-e-e-ll,” Yona began, unsteadily. She both liked and disliked that Ceris could read her as if she were an open book. “At home, at the orphanage. Pamela—“ “The one whom does not believe in me,” Ceris wittily interjected. “Yeah. The crankier one who doesn’t think I really know you. She and Lonissa were crying this morning because one of the kids who’d been adopted, well, he died. He had a heart problem I think. And they were both just so sad and I knew it was an awful thing, ‘cause death is always awful, and yet I didn’t cry one bit. I couldn’t make myself sad even though I wanted to. Am I bad for it?”

Ceris paused, tracing Yona’s words, though it didn’t seem she especially needed to think them over. “Fair child, didst thou notice I mentioned many of my comrades hadst been taken from me in battle, yet I described only one?” Yona nodded slowly. “After the loss of my dear Odol friend—my heart felt as though it had grown thorns around it. It did not remove the sting of subsequent losses, but I would be remiss to tell thee I shed the same tears, or even any tears in some instances, for each fallen brother and sister. Death is now a commonality of my life, as regular as eating a meal or washing my paws, and though I fear it, I accept its presence.” Ceris had fixed her gaze somewhere outside the open window, where chilling air wafted inside the ramshackle hut. “Perhaps thou hast learned to accept its presence as well, and so thou art not beleaguered by its hand upon thine orphanage.”

“Oh, but I am afraid of death,” Yona reluctantly admitted, not wanting Ceris to carry a misconception of her. “I really am. It’s just…when it hasn’t happened to someone I know, it doesn’t seem real.”

Ceris, not knowing what more to advise, heartily placed a paw on Yona’s small shoulder. “Yea, thou art tremendously lucky,” she said sweetly. “Thou hast maintained thy innocence, a naivety to this vicious world which seeks to rob thou of it. Yea, Yona, do take care to retain thine spirit; it is rare to see one so bright persist, and it must be nurtured as a most beautiful rose bush.”

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