126 A Mother“s Farewell
When Zoey's emerald eyes locked with the boy's grey ones, Zoey saw the same empty gaze she had seen before. But there seemed to be something else in those grey depths, something Zoey could not put her finger on. For a moment, they just stared at each other without speaking. Then the boy slowly sat up, then froze when he saw the panther-dragon hybrid nearly four times his size sitting there watching him.
Viridi and the boy stared at each other for a moment, then Viridi leaned in and sniffed the still frozen boy. She then turned to Zoey and wrinkled her nose as she relayed through their connection that the small human needed a bath. Zoey laughed out loud at the big cat's thoughts, and the bright sound of her laugh echoed in the tunnel and seemed to release some of the tension in the boy.
Viridi was right, the boy was a little smelly, but this was not the place and time to fix that. The boy got to his feet and looked around for a bit, then looked blankly at Zoey. He was probably wondering what had happened to the beast that had knocked him out.
"Did you kill it?" asked the boy. His voice was quiet, soft, almost imperceptible.
Zoey nodded, then said, "I came here hunting corrupted creatures like it."
The boy nodded, then went silent as he stared into the depths of the tunnel. Zoey wanted to question him, to learn about who he was, but this did not seem like the correct time. She sensed the boy was troubled about something, and she would get nothing out of him this way. For now, she should probably leave him to be alone. Zoey quietly motioned to Viridi and turned to leave, not wanting to invade the boy's space if he wanted to be alone.
But before she took more than a few steps she felt a slight tug on her clothing. Zoey stopped and turned to find the boy holding on to the hem of her poncho and looking up at her.
"Take me with you," he said in that same quiet voice.
In that moment, looking down at the boy's face, Zoey finally realized what she saw in his eyes where there had nothing but emptiness before. It was faint, making one think that it was only your imagination at first, but now Zoey was certain about what she saw.
She saw hope.
Zoey was no saint and she had never planned on taking the boy with her, but that emptiness she had seen in the boy had struck home with her. She was intimately familiar with that hopeless feeling, that feeling when all life lost its meaning. But now that she had seen hope, no matter how faint, still shining somewhere in the empty void behind those grey eyes, she could not abandon the boy.
There was a moment of quiet as Zoey and the boy looked at each other, then Zoey held out her hand to him and spoke.
"What's your name?"
"My name is Max," replied the boy as he took her hand.
Zoey gave him a smile. "Nice to meet you Max, I'm Zoey, and this is my friend Viridi."
Max nodded to both of them, then lowered his eyes. It seemed like he was a little shy after all, Zoey noted to herself with a grin.
Zoey had not expected to end up with a new party member, but she didn't mind it. She didn't know the boy's story yet, but maybe she could get him to open up after they get more familiar with each other. For now, it was time for them to go back to town and clean up.
Before they headed back, Zoey sent Viridi back into her inner world, earning a jump of surprise from Max when the panther-dragon vanished like smoke in the wind. Zoey briefly explained to Max that Viridi was a unique companion that had some special abilities. He seemed to take it in stride, so Zoey started to lead the way back to Brumau.
Once they made their way back through the tunnel and out into the canyon, they blended in with the crowd of defenders that was making their way back. Max stuck to Zoey's side like glue, holding on to her hand and never straying more than a step behind. Zoey thought that he was being a little too trusting of a stranger he just met, but it didn't really bother her. She assumed that it was because he didn't have parents and he was always on his own, orphaned at a young age life she had been… It was unlikely that he even had a guardian of any kind, so now that Zoey had appeared, the boy could only hold on to the only thing that resembled hope.
On their way back, Zoey overheard some conversations in the crowd about two loud peals of thunder that everyone heard near the end of the beast wave. The sounds had spooked everyone as the night sky was clear, and no one had a clue where it had originated from. Zoey knew what the source was… it had been her DAAC firing underground. Even so, she had not expected that the sound would be loud enough to be heard on the surface. Once again she had to remind herself to be more aware of things like that in the future.
As they made their way back to Brumau, Zoey payed attention to the boy, Max. She was curious what was going through his mind, but he was expressionless as usual. The only difference was the slight twinkle of hope that showed from time to time in his eyes.
When Max had opened his eyes after being knocked unconscious, he had found himself looking at someone that could only be an Angel. Never in his short life had he seen beauty like what he saw in that moment.
The words his mother had left behind rang through his mind... She was the key. He was supposed to follow this girl and help her...
His mother had been gifted with the Sight, an ability that allowed her to see bits and pieces of the the future. It was no doubt what brought him to this exact moment, and also what had led to his mother's death.
She had foreseen this meeting between Max and this strange girl wearing outlandish clothing, and had steered him to this moment.
Max had very little left in this world, but the words of his mother had sparked hope inside him once again. He could trust in her judgement and follow this woman that appeared out of nowhere. Remembering the foul beast that he had encountered, Max tried to sit up, only to find himself face to face with a huge panther that was staring at him. Well it wasn't quite a panther, but it made him freeze when they locked eyes. He could not sense the thoughts of this particular beast.
He almost jumped up to defend himself when it leaned towards him, but the big feline only sniffed at him, then looked at the girl while wrinkling its nose.
That was when Max learned that the girl's laugh was beautiful as well. Despite the tunnel's sour atmosphere of death and poison, the lively sound of her laughter seemed to brighten the place up.
Once the moment passed though, Max felt like he should see if the creature he had encountered before was really dead, so he focused his thoughts and got to his feet. When he looked around however, he could not find a trace of the beast. Had the woman and the cat taken care of it?
He asked her, and she confirmed his thoughts. Apparently she was quite strong and knew how to handle herself if she could take down that corrupted creature and walk away unharmed.
Max was still uneasy about that thing. It had been incredibly strong, and somehow he felt that it was connected to the pain being inflicted on the other beasts driving them mad. Now that his mother's wish had been fulfilled, he had planned on going into the wasteland and seeking the source of the beast's pain, hopefully to put an end to it for good. But now his mother had directly asked him to help this girl that appeared suddenly. He was conflicted, but in the end, he trusted his mother's words the most and made his decision.
When he had turned, he saw that the girl was leaving with her pet beast by her side, and before he realized it he had reached out to stop her. When she turned to face him a myriad of emotions flashed through his mind, emotions that he had thought lost with his mother's death.
He had felt anxious, afraid, and just a little hope. He did not know who this person was, but his mother must have directed him to her for a reason, so for now he would trust in the future that she had seen.
When he had taken the girl's hand, seen her smile, and heard her name for the first time, Max felt his mother's light inside him bloom one last time.
"My son. Know that everything that I have done was to give you the best opportunity for a happy life. I could not be there with you, but know that I will always love you, now and for eternity...