Walkabout Chapter 3
It took nearly an hour of stumbling after Gau in the dark to finally arrive at his home, and by the end of the side-trek Relm was pretty sure the next threat to the worlds peace would come not from insane magic-infused generals, but from mosquitoes. They swarmed up in clouds every time Gau pushed through a particularly dense stand of reeds, biting any exposed patch of flesh they could jab their pointy little suckers into. It was bad enough for Relm; she couldnt begin to imagine what the insects were doing to Gau, bare-legged and topless as always. He didnt seem to notice, and continued to drag Relm onwards without taking so much as a swipe at them. The moon was just beginning to rise above the horizon when at last they came out of the sedges and trailed up a little hill to the abandoned cabin Gau had made into his den.
It wasnt much bigger than the chocobo-herders shed Relm and Interceptor had taken refuge in during the monsoon, a small, one-roomed shack with a fire-pit in the floor and a smoke hole in the roof that probably made things slightly uncomfortable whenever it rained. That wasnt a problem tonight, though; the evening was clear and the only thing pouring in through the opening was moonlight, silvery and so luminous it threw long shadows across the dark little room. Gau soon had a bright blaze going Relm got the feeling he didnt bother with fire much but was making an effort for his guests anyway and was spitting a fat leafer over the flames before she even had time to blink.
Strips of dried meat hung from the rafters, and every square inch of floorspace was covered in hides, mostly from leafers and the occasional deer or lobo. Gau loved his animal friends and had lived among the herds almost since birth, but he still took what he needed from them when it was necessary. He was a carnivore, a hunter, and in nature there was no sentimentality when it came to food.
The wild boy caught Relm studying her surroundings and grinned at her from across the fire, obviously proud of his little habitation. He waved his hands expansively.
Its little, but its all I need, he said finally, turning several times before settling back on his haunches to watch Relm carefully. It was a little unnerving, the way he never seemed to take his eyes off her. There was some deeper emotion in them that Relm couldnt quite pinpoint - one she didnt really want to pinpoint - and so after avoiding his gaze through yet another awkward moment of silence, she buried her hand in Interceptors ruff for moral support and tried to think of something interesting to say.
So uh whyd you run away? she said lamely, knowing the answer full well already. He pulled a horrendous face she was pretty sure Edgar had taught him and rolled his eyes in response.
Have you ever been to one of those whats word schools? Theyre horrible. Made me put on clothes in summer. The shaggy head shook sadly as if this was the greatest travesty in all the world, an unexplained horror to rival anything Kefka or the Empire had ever pulled. I took the clothes off, but they made me put them back on. Not even the animals wear their coats during summer. Stupid. So I ran away.
Well like I said, Cyan and Sabin are pissed. You really hurt old man Cyans feelings running off like that, you know. Maybe if youd told him what was going on he wouldve pulled you out?
Gau just shook his head again. He wouldnt understand. No-one understands. I dont want to live in their cities. This - and here he made a sweeping gesture with his arm to indicate the cabin, the Veldt, and everything on it - is where I am happy, and this is where I belong, by myself. For now, he added quickly, giving Relm that same wistful look again. She pretended to be deeply engrossed in watching the leafer carcass drip fat into the fire, and Gau, sensing the sudden tension, changed the subject as best he knew how.
What bout you, Relmie? Why are you out here, anyways? he asked, a sly look passing over his features. You run away too, maybe? You can stay here with me, if you like. Good company, he added with a smile, leaning over to turn the rabbit-creature on its spit. You dont turn me in to Mr. Thou and I wont turn you back in to Strago, yes?
The silence deepened without warning. Outside crickets chirped; somewhere far away a lobo howled mournfully, causing Interceptor to shift uneasily.
A log in the fire popped and exploded in a shower of sparks. Relm sighed.
Stragos dead, Gau. The stupid old man decided to die not long after you ran off. I took care of him for three years, but I couldnt help him in the end, the dumbass. Her voice wavered but very quickly pulled itself back together, strong as mended steel. Theres nothing left in Thamasa for me; its full of fishermen and strangers and they all stink. So I left. Simple as that.
There was another long pause. Gau was looking at her so sadly she wanted to stand up and yell at him, or maybe slap him hard across the mouth. Anything to make that hangdog expression disappear, even if it was replaced by anger. Relm didnt need anyones pity, especially not Gaus. Something about the idea of a young man dumped by his batshit dad in the middle of nowhere to be raised by monsters pitying her rubbed the girl entirely the wrong way, and she scowled at him darkly, which just led to him looking even more hurt and confused. He opened his mouth to speak and then shut it several times before anything managed to come out.
I-I-I sorry, he finally stammered, ineloquent with fear and shame at having brought up such an obviously painful memory to Relm. All he had wanted to do was make her comfortable and now the girl looked like she had swallowed a bad chocobo egg. Strago was a good man. Gave me lots of meat back during our travelling. After a few moments of contemplation he timidly added, But are you just going to wander around forever now? You can still stay with me, if you like. Its nice out here, away from the settlers...
For the first time since she had arrived Relm raised her eyes and stared directly at Gau. It was a look of fierce determination, but determination towards what end he couldnt even begin to figure out. Animals were so much easier to decipher; it was part of why he preferred their company to humans most of the time.
Gau, do you have any idea where Shadow is?
Worry gave way to confusion. Shadow? I No, I havent seen him since we left Kefkas Tower. Edgar might know; he always seems to know where everyones gone to. But why do you want to find Shadow? Do you have dealings with him?
Relm had already switched her gaze back to the fire, chewing on her bottom lip thoughtfully. You might say that. Youve got a point about Edgar though, he knows everything about everyone. How long would it take me to get there by foot?
The boys forehead wrinkled in concentration. Relm could almost see the wheels turning inside that shaggy head of his. Two months maybe, if youre fast on your feet. But youll have to cross Doma Channel before too long, or the blizzards will catch you. Winter is coming; this is what the birds and the beasts and the air tell me. Go west, and dont stop until you see the water.
His face darkened, and he added, And dont stop around Doma Castle. Thats a bad place. Very bad. Haunted, you know. A shudder ran through him and he licked his lips involuntarily, like a cat confronted with something distasteful. Then Relm deigned to smile at him it was a small smile, little more than a quick flash of teeth, but a smile none the less and every other thought in Gaus head fluttered away somewhere towards the distant stars.
Thanks, Gau. That really does help me a lot. Now can we please eat this leafer? The smell is driving me nuts.
His blinding grin returned with a vengeance. Thought youd never ask.
The carcass was very quickly divvied up, Gau taking the ears and stomach (according to him the best parts) while Relm grabbed a drumstick in each hand, one for her and one for Interceptor. The dog fell to gnawing on his at an impossible rate such a little scrap of meat wouldnt last long with Interceptor - but Relm couldnt seem to keep her eyes open to take more than one or two bites. The meat tasted really good, if she could just focus on lifting it to her mouth
Gau looked up to smile at Relm, his mouth full of crispy leafer-ear, only to find her sitting bolt upright with a drumstick still poised in her hand, fast asleep. He quietly finished his portion and, still smiling slightly, rose to his feet. Within moments the leafer-leg was gently removed from her grasp and the girl was covered snugly with a deerskin; she mumbled something incoherent that sounded like murffin mumbly-peg plurubus as he tucked it around her, but very quickly drifted back into unconsciousness. Soon she was curled up in a tight little ball on the floor with her back pressed up to Interceptor, a peaceful smile on her lips. The wolf-dog had watched Gau carefully but made no move to stop him, satisfied with keeping a mindful eye on this strange boy for the time being.
He stood looking down at the sleeping girl for some time, a fierce longing in his eyes.
The warm noonday sun streaming down through the smoke-hole and directly into her face was the first indication Relm had that shed slept entirely too late. She had no memory whatsoever of falling asleep the night before, but she mustve done so, because one minute she had been eating leafer-legs and the next she was waking up on the hide-covered floor of Gaus hut with a deerskin draped over her body. Interceptor sat sphinxlike nearby, briefly wagging his tail in greeting when he saw Relm was finally awake. She lay watching smoke drift in languid curly-cues towards the ceiling for a few more moments before finally forcing herself to get up and venture outside.
Gau was nowhere to be seen. The entire prairie seemed deserted, vast and endless under a bright fall sky. It was that deep shade of blue that hurt your eyes and made you feel lost if you stared into it for too long; Relm had been trying to perfect the colour in her paints for ages to no avail. Some things, like the hue of the sky on a fall afternoon, were just too damned tricky to pin down in a single lifetime.
Relm shouldered her pack, took one last look around for Gau, and set off in what she hoped was a westerly direction. Interceptor frisked around her in the grass, happy to be up and moving once more.
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