“So what all have you been up to?” Emily asked quietly. She was attempting to keep it down, because after all, that’s what people did in libraries. And despite the fact that it was louder than most others, and contained the original item of the Great Hunt, the IDM, the Tree was still a library. Even if half of it only contained plagiarized works from the outside world and stories written by Cal.
Abigail looked at her with a small smile. Emily wasn’t worried; no matter how long it took for the calico cat to answer her, at some point she would. She too, had been a victim of the gangbangers, and while it hadn’t been as bad for her as the others, it was just as bad in other ways.
“Just…living life, I guess,” the cat answered slowly. “I can barely stand the sight of anyone these days. I think Surana and Jen had the right idea, to just leave the city to the others,” she said quietly. As the grey fox form of Emily tilted her head, Abigail continued, “Kevin and Emma couldn’t figure out how to help Surana, remember the horse that you rescued? That was her. They couldn’t figure out how to help her, how to clean up her mind. So instead they asked if Jen, the arctic wolf that rarely shows up and if so only does with George and Mia, could take her in at their place well outside of Alenkas’ walls.”
“I didn’t think there was anything out there. I mean, I tried to cross that bridge and the system just rebukes me, saying that it’s outside of Alenkas proper. I mean, I saw the warehouses but I just thought that those were placeholders. Things to tide the populace over.”
“They are and they aren’t. The rebuke is there because only-” Abigail paused for a moment, hoping her friend wouldn’t take this the wrong way, “only so that Alenkans can pass.”
Emily blinked, before nodding slowly. “So no Influxxers then. Makes sense, I guess. It probably was never something intended for the Influxxers to see anyways, or even the Alenkans. I guess,” she answered.
The two paused, long enough for Abigail to take a drink from a small cup that was at her side. Emily hadn’t paused to even look at her doing it. The cat had found, with no small thanks in part to Jen and Surana, a small plant that could essentially become a tea leaf. It took them a while to come back, but when they did they had brought enough of the plant to make many, many cups of tea if necessary. Abigail had found that it personally calmed her down.
“Seen any sign of those guys again yet?” Emily asked hesitantly.
Abigail shook her head. “No, there hasn’t been any sign of them. Simon’s asked Kara to try to see if the police arrested them. Or even if she did it herself. She hasn’t answered back yet. She’s due back within a week or two.”
Emily nodded slowly. “What about you? It’s been nearly two weeks. What’s changed for you?” Abigail asked. She relaxed a little, looking far more like the person she used to be, the person that Emily had barely known for a few hours before being captured.
“Oh, not much. Signed up for some self-defense classes,” Emily answered. Abigail’s eyes widened. “I was…frustrated, so to speak. About how I couldn’t do anything. In the big brawl, I had to use a lead pipe, and even that broke. So here, I figured…it wouldn’t hurt to learn.”
“What did your parents say?”
“They didn’t ask about it. They just said they were glad I was taking an interest in defending myself.”
“And your brother?”
“He bugged me enough about it that eventually I spilled the beans of what happened. His eyes widened, and suddenly I got the feeling he was more afraid for me than of me. Like…what if what happened to you happened to me? Would he be able to deal with it? How would…how would everyone take it? He’s been nicer to me since, I think. I think he’s trying to make up for everything he did.”
Abigail nodded slowly. “That protective brother instinct. Think he’d try to go into Alenkas?”
Emily shook her head. “No, our parents have pretty good control over what we do. I can get away with it because I’m 18 and a senior in high school; they figure if anyone knows what they’re doing, it’d be someone with a hint of a direction in life.”
Abigail snorted. “That’s bullshit. I was a college student and I guarantee you almost no one had any idea what we were doing in life. If so, what are you doing after you graduate?”
Emily blanked. “Uh…heading to nearby university. Studying sociology and…criminal intent. Psychology, I guess.”
The cat tilted her head towards the fox. “That’s…surprising. I would’ve figured you would’ve gone into more computer engineering or something.”
“That’s what my original plan was. And then…this happened. I want to make sure it can never happen again. Or if it does, that we saw the signs ahead of time.”
“No one can see all of those signs, Em. Don’t hold it against yourself. You did the best you could with what you had.”
“Everyone tells me that. But…I don’t believe it. There’s too many ways for me to have been able to do something.”
“And you did!” Abigail said, standing up suddenly. Her face had a hint of a growl to it, but it wasn’t focused towards Emily, but rather towards everything in general. Emily blinked; she hadn’t thought she’d actually riled Abigail up that much, “you were one of the only ones that did! Most of them didn’t care, the Influxxers! They thought it would’ve been fun! But you, you sacrificed yourself, not just once, not twice, but three times for us! Nobody could ask you for more than you’ve done!”
“And yet I feel like I did nothing!”
“And now you know how we feel,” Simon’s voice rang out above the two. The two looked up suddenly to see the squirrel leaning against the railing of the third floor, his head peeking out just barely. He looked amused. He gave a quick hop, and with a silent fall landed just before them. “And now you know how we feel, and we felt.”
Emily and Abigail blinked in surprise. They both motioned for him to continue. “We did all that we could, and yet we feel that it’s never enough. There are always more problems, always more things to fix. And it’s never enough. Never.”
“Will it ever be?” Emily asked quietly after a long moment. Simon blinked, before slowly shaking his head. “Why?”
“Because it’s human nature. In our core, no matter what we look like, we’re all humans. And it’s our nature to want more, to want to do better. No force in the world can take that away from us.”
“So how do we live with it? With the guilt that comes from it?” Emily asked. Abigail gasped slightly. She hadn’t realized that Emily suffered from, of all things, survivor’s guilt.
Simon smiled sadly, barely reaching his eyes. It was an intrinsic look that they realized was far too common, a soft reassuring smile that he gave to everyone, to all problems that came his way. “We take each day as it comes. We honor those that we lost, while promising to do better. Sounds to me like you’re well on your way. Now if you excuse me, I left the IDM to update but I figure it’s done about now,” Simon said as he took off up the Tree’s bookcases. In only a few seconds, the squirrel had squirreled his way up onto the third floor, hidden out of sight.
“That was…enlightening,” Emily said blankly. Abigail gave a soft chuckle, attracting the grey fox’s eyes again, before they both started laughing. It wasn’t even all that funny, but they knew they had to get it out of their system.
For minutes the two just laughed. Finally Abigail got up and sauntered over to Emily, sitting down in front of the grey fox, and started straight into her eyes, a small smile still plastered onto its face with shocking efficiency. Emily stopped, wondering where her friend was going to go with this.
The cat slowly moved down, capturing Emily’s lips with her own. Time slowed down for the two as Emily tried to push herself away, only for Abigail to hold on tighter. The reasoning was clear, at least to the calico cat; she wanted this. By the time Emily relaxed and let the kiss take her own breath away, the cat was starting to pull back.
“What…was that?” Emily said suddenly, breathlessly.
Abigail gave a smile. “That…was a thank you kiss. Doesn’t the damsel always kiss the Knight after being rescued?” she turned sad a moment, before tilting her head questioningly. Emily blinked. She had almost forgotten about the whole Knight persona.
“Call me Abby,” Abigail said. “Alenkas was always the land of new beginnings. The land of being remade, and of changing yourself. I’m still fundamentally the same but maybe…maybe we can heal. Don’t worry about us, Em. You take care of yourself,” she stated quietly.
Emily could do nothing but nod quietly. She would treasure that memory for the rest of her life, she hoped.