Solas, Kingdom of Avalon Space, Central Sector 3, Planet Enith, The Cursed Lands, Dungeon Maw
Lydia didn't know how long they had been shuffling down the spiraled ramp, nor exactly when her overwhelming terror faded to an anxious boredom. Her bare feet were caked in filth and dried mud and had begun to ache ages ago. Now every step agitated the soft heels and balls of her feet. Considering that she couldn't see her hand waving inches from her nose it was no small blessing that the unnaturally smooth ramp was void of any pebbles and other debris for her toes to find. This was not the place to cry over stubbing a pinky toe.
The Wolf-girl felt a fuzzy apendage snake up her leg and wrap around the base of her tail. She yelped in surprise and made to snatch the offending intruder, but when her fingers closed over her fuzzy assailant she heard a delicate feminine voice to her right sharply gasp in pain. Lydia released Arleen's tail.
"Sorry!" The wolf-girl murmured blindly in the direction she felt her friend tug her tail back.
"It's okay. I Like, can't see shit down here. How come we don't bring any torches?"
"They are called the Night Ravens for a reason, young'un." Rufus's scratchy voice bumped and rippled off the unnaturally smooth walls. The old man sounded awfully small in the pitch black expanse. "Every Night Raven had a Guild Mark. It's a symbol of membership. The Night Raven's guild mark is enchanted with [Dark Vision]. They don't need torches down here."
"So that means we are like, blind as deaf bats down here while for those Poachers this is just a walk in the park?" Arleen hissed in an uneasy voice. Lydia heard the Calico stumble beside her and curse. "Fuck!" Her voice hitched, startling a few of the Nameless behind her. "I don't like this. Why are we down here?"
"Newborn Dungeons are unpredictable." Rufus explained in an eerily calm cadence as he marched dutifully down the spiral. "Best case scenerio this is truly a young Dungeon with weak monsters and defenses."
"A-and worse case?" Lydia asked.
"Keep your pretty ears peeled Darlin', and stay close." The old man whispered with a tone of finality.
The little Wolf-girl felt it best not to press for an answer and strained her ears while feverishly praying she wouldn't hear anything but her own shambling footfalls and the rustle of ragged clothes. She had been on edge since being marched down here like cattle to the slaughter and had been almost solely dependent of her hearing. The crown of her head and ears ached, but without her eyes this was all she could do.
As her mind clouded with wistful thoughts of sunshine and greenery the ambient temperature dropped vicously quick, It was as if a bucket of freezing water had been dunked atop the little Wolf-girl. Lydia reached out blindly for Arleen and snagged her friend around the arm and pulled her shivering body in close. The Calico Cat-girl's ribs felt like sharp ice cubes digging into her scarred flank. Despite the acutely painful frigid sensations bleeding through her skin Lydia refused to release her freezing friend. Just as she was about to call out to Rufus she blundered straight into his back.
"Hold," He hissed, his arms stretched wide. "I see something."
"I though you said you needed to have one of those guild mark thingies to see?"
"Shhh." Lydia felt the old man's warmth vanish into the cold, dark embrace. Fear and panic flailed around her chest like a parasite eating at her insides. Arleen was silent but Lydia could practically smell the frail Calico's anxiety coming off of her in waves.
"Hey! What's the fuckin' hold up!" A Poacher way in the back whined. "Let's go trash! we ain't got all day!"
"CRUAAAAAAWWRR!" An earsplitting screech clawed at Lydia's wolf ears like curled talons on a chalkboard several Nameless yelped in terror and tried to scramble in vain back up the ramp. The Poachers all responded by drawing weapons. the ring of steel leaving sheaths sang in the chilling shadows of the Dungeon.
"FORWARD!" Don's voice took on an ethereal sort of echo and Lydia felt those now familiar fingers clench around her heart like vice, forcing her to mechanically crept closer to whatever made that horrible sound.
"KRUEEEEAUURR!" A second screech echoed from the abyss, as if answering the first creature's cry, then another joined it's concealed brethren, and another until the whole dungeon was drowned in unearthly screeches and tortured howls.
Lydia was hunched over in agony, her hands pressing her flattened ears into her pounding skull. She may have been screaming, she couldn't remember, she couldn't even think. All she could do was curl into a ball and beg for the screeching to stop and finally, it did, collowed by an obsurdly strong hand pulling her to her feet. She felt hot breath blowing into her ringing ears but all she could make out was muffled snippets.
She widened her eyes in a vain attempt to see whow as talking to her but all she saw was black. A yelp jumped from her throat as the hand jerked her to her feet and practically threw Arleen into her shaking arms. The Wolf-girl swallowed through her desert dry throat and felt her ears pop. Her hearing cleared, as if someone had switch off the mute button. She regretting it immediately.
"-ed to go NOW." Rufus bellowed right into Lydia's ear. Rufus yanked on the little Wolf-girl's arm as the empty darkness around them filled with panicked shouts and terrified screams. A gunshot roared somewhere in the back row of Poachers.
'There are guns here?' Lydia thought numbly.
"What's going on?!" She shouted over the deafening racket as she did her best to hold onto Alreen's sagging shoulders. "W-what's happening!"
"Get down!" Rufus tossed the pair away from him and grunted as if hit by something heavy. Lydia tightened her arms around Arleen's bony torso threw herself back first to find her shoulder hitting dusty and level ground. The Wolf-girl heard scrapping and scaly rustling just a few feet from her. She awkwardly scrambled away from the noise with a tight hold on her Calico friend. She did not want to lose her in the dark with these things.
Rufus was still alive from whatever hit him. Lydia could still hear her old companion's bare feet sliding and skipping across the dusty floor with a grace unnatural for such an old man.
"Let's go you unholy freak!" The old Ranger laughed. "No chance in hell a sloppy fleshbag like you could take an old Hell Walker down! Not even with both hands tied behind me back!"
Well, at least someone was having fun.
A hollowed thunk clapped above the clammering din and the scrapping noises intensified as the creature fighting the stubborn old man was knocked off its feet. The clatter of chainmail wrapped around a meaty torso was accompanied by an off-key squawk.
"I still got it!" Rufus's adrenaline fueled voice boomed. He slid to the prone beast-girls and hauled Lydia to her feet as she struggled to keep Arleen's sagging figure aloft. "Come on! Let's beat feet while we still can!"
"D-did you k-kill it?" Lydia gasped as she clutched desperately to Rufus's shirt as he shot off into the dark like a bat out of hell.
"Nah," Came the hasty reply from over his shoudler. "I aint got a good weapon to use against an undead like that. I just knocked it down, did grab it's broke sword though, just in case."
"B-but what if it follows us!"
"Then I kill it. Now keep quiet Darlin', no more questions 'til I say so."
Twenty Minutes Later
Lydia leaned the top of her head to the cold dungeon wall and moaned as her empty stomach twisted like a dry towel trying to wring out water. She pressed a sweaty hand against the wall with the other braced against a shaking knee as scalding bile splashed up her dry throat. She retched again and again, her body throwing a fit from being worked so hard for so long. Between gagging she gulped in lungfuls of stale air and did her best to control her throbbing legs and sore back.
"What- ugh- what tha' FUCK was that?" Lydia burped.
Rufus was leaning against the uneven dungeon wall next to her breathing like a winded rhinoceros. Arleen had woken from her stupor and was currently curled in a ball with her tail wrapped around Rufus's leg. Rufus felt the Cat-girl squirm uncomfortably at the mention of what happened at the ramp. When those creatures started to scream she just straight up passed out. The old man felt pity for the young girl burning with shame and gently scratched her behind her drooping ears.
"I......" He trailed off hesitantly. "That was not normal." He said grimly. Arleen pressed her filthy mop of hair further into Rufus's palm so he could run his stiff fingers down the back of her head. He welcomed the distraction as he thought of a reply.
"I....I have never heard somethin' like that before. Those.... screeches. This is.... This may be-"
"The worse case scenerio?" Lydia whispered.
Lydia steadied her breathing, wiped the spittle from her cracked lips and shuffled around her meager puddle of vomit to press herself against the smelly old man. The trio fell silent to collect themselves. Lydia did her best to choke down her fear, Alreen wrestled with waves of guilt and thoughts of uselessness, and Rufus steeled himself for what was to come.
The old man swallowed to pop his ears and filtered out his companion's breathing to listen for anything trying to sneak up on them. He thought back to when he felt the temperature drop back on the ramp. He figured that the drop in temperature meant an offshoot from the ramp. What he found was the maze of tunnels he had dragged the beast-girls into, he was just turning around to try to sneak his young companions away when the screeching started. Those Things were no normal undead. Just the thought of hearing those tortured screams sent his shaking hand to the frayed hilt of the ancient weapon slipped into the rope he tied around his waist.
It had been decades since he had handled a weapon so his confidence in properly using the broken tool of war was shaky at best, but he didn't really have any other choice, not if he wanted to find a way out of this nightmare pit. His thoughts went out to the Nameless he had abandoned out on the ramp but he couldn't save everyone. He could only take care of him and his own, and they were simply strangers in the same boat.
He owed them nothing.
The old man pushed those unhelpful thoughts of regret down with the rest of the long list of "what if's" that seemed intent of following him to the grave. The gears in his head whirred to life as he plotted how he could get himself and two defenseless Beast-girls through a horde of unknown monsters and other undead, not to mention the small army of Night Raven Poachers. He breathed out a weary sigh.
The situation was grim indeed.
He contemplated back tracking to the Dungeon maw and risking the climb up but quickly nixed the idea. They would be recaptured immediately. So now there were only two options, backtrack to the Maw and continue further down the ramp and hope those screeching monsters don't find them, or explore this floor and pray there was another surface entrance. The third option seemed almost as far fetched as the other two options, but was their best chance at escaping. But, first thing's first- the girls.
Rufus took a deep breath and pushed himself from the wall to address his companions.
"Aight, so here's the deal." He said with as much confidence as he could muster. "We are goin' to stay on this floor and try to find another way to the surface other then the way we came in."
"What about those dead things?" Lydia asked through a tight chest.
"Those undead aren't much of a problem by themselves, as long as there are only one or two I can at least knock them around long enough for us to escape."
"But what if-"
"-There are more then two of them?" Rufus interrupted. "You let me worry about that darlin'. This ain't the first time I tangled with these eggheaded meat-sticks." He patted the broken sword at his hip, more to reassure himself rather then the anxious Wolf-girl.
"Okay." Lydia's nervous reply floated through the dark like a meager breeze. she felt frozen with terror at the mere thought of bumping into one of those things in the dark. she still hadn't seen exactly what Rufus was talking about so her imagination filled in for her. Images of Rufus being ripped apart by shadowy people with half a face flashed before her unseeing eyes.
Arleen remained quiet and numbly bobbed her head during the whole conversation. Rufus looked through the swimming dark at the Cat-girl, knobby knees drawn under her chin. He could barely make out her outline but even from here he could see her trembling. The lack of food, cold and dark were doing her no favors. A cold sweat poured down his sticky forehead, the salty droplets pooled in the creases and folds of his wrinkled face. In the chaos he had forgotten the fragile condition the Calico was in.
She may not last more then a couple days without something to eat. If he wasn't already under enough stress before, now he was truly under the gun.
'Fuck. The harder I push them the faster Arleen will fade away.' He thought grimly. 'I just don't have enough time!'
"Let's git goin' before somethin' catches up with us." He gently guided Arleen to her feet and felt Lydia curl her fist around the hem of his shirt.
"Are we going to have to follow you around without being able to see our hand in front of our nose?" The little Wolf-girl muttered irritably.
"Geez, someone's needy today." Rufus sighed. "If we find a way to get some light in here then we'll figure it out, but until then just hold onto me."
"Stubborn gravestone." Lydia huffed when they started down the corridor.
"Spoiled little princess." Came the snappy counter.
"Yappin' ankle biter."
"S-smelly old man."
"You ain't no bed o' roses yourself Darlin'." Rufus pointed out.
"Shut up." The defeated Wolf-girl laughed blindly. Arleen snorted with laughter and wrapped herself around Rufus's left arm tight as a limpet. The short exchange did wonders to improve the trio's mood, Arleen's footfalls became sure and straight as hope blazed against fear in Lydia's heart, even Rufus's grouchy face had a small grin turn the edge of his lips. Lydia got her wish for light sooner than she had expected.
"I see somethin," Rufus narrowed his tired eyes through the cloudy gloom. "I think there's some kinda room up ahead. Follow my lead."
Alreen silently slid to Lydia's side as Rufus took the front and drew his humble blade. He gave the cracked weapon a skeptical glance and sighed. It was better then nothing, now time to face the music.
Rufus's rushed steps slowed to a crawl as the tiny pinpoint of light turned to an ominous blue glow. Lydia peeked over Rufus's hunched shoulder and drated back behind him, blinking rapidly as her eyes watered from the aqua glare. The light was pouring into the corridor like a spotlight, Rufus looked down at the border where blue light bordered shadows and hesitated. He glanced once more at the corridor opening and took a deep breath, steeling himself. The old man gripped the broken sword tighter and marched across the threshold with the beast-girls in tow. His bare feet smacked across the dusty stone floor, the sound carrying for what seemed like ages. When he looked up he found out why, he had just led them into a massive cavern.
When Lydia's eyes adjusted to the light her breath caught somewhere between her throat and lungs, her wide brown gaze trying and failing to take in everything at once.
The cavern was bathed in a blue ambient light that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere all at once, almost as if it were underwater. The glow pulsed and swam as if dancing with the Dungeon's shadows in some silent dance. Tiny plips echoed through the Cavern's acoustic embrace as drops of water gathered bravely at the tips of moist stalagtites before plummeting into shimmering pools below. The longer she stared at the glistening ceiling the stronger the feeling as if she was missing something, where was all that water coming from? Why was the ceiling dancing like that?
"Is that.... water up there?" She asked, pointing beyond the towering stalagtites stabbing down like teeth.
"By the gods," Rufus's normally stoic expression widened with child-like excitement. "that's a fuckin' river just hangin' up there!"
"Like, what?" Alreen narrowed her sunken eyes and gasped. "Wow....."
"But that's not possible!" Lydia exclaimed. "S-so how-?"
"Magic." Rufus tore his eyes from the enrapturing specticle. It's poor form to let your guard down like that, even for a few seconds to gap at a pretty ceiling.
"But, but-!" Lydia stomped her foot in confounded frustration. "That doesn't make sense!"
"Life don't make much sense Darlin'." Rufus chuckled, his gravelly voice whispering back at them like a chorus of cranky ghosts. "Don't think about it too much, it'll give you a headache."
"But-! Uuugh, Rufuuuus!" Lydia whined as she scrambled after the old man and the distracted Cat-girl.
The old man skirted a pond sized pool of shining water and found a humungous pillar surrounded by tiny stalagmites defiently sticking from the slick stone floor. The pillar's surface rippled and rolled, a result of a mammoth stalagmite and stalagtite meeting in the middle. The air was moist here, with a cold sort of acidic tang to it.
Arleen slumped against the pillar and deflated with a sigh, it felt great to get off her swollen feet for a few minutes. She was still cold but for now her burning limbs savored the cool stone. Hunger gnawed at her shriveled stomach, biting hard enough to make her squirm. The Calico cast her eyes around in hopes of finding an underground apple tree or a convenient bushel of biscuits laying around, hell even a juicy beetle sounded tempting, instead all she saw was a football field sized pond stretching out before her.
"Hey, can I get a drink?" She asked pleadingly.
"Do you know how to check it?" Rufus asked as he slid to his butt beside her, Lydia joined on Arleen's other side her wide brown eyes throwing suspicous glances at the gravity-defying river above her head.
"Don't you just like, you know..... taste it?" The Calico tilted her head in confusion.
"Hmmm." Rufus tapped his dark red chin and cast the water an appraising look. "What's your Perception honey?" He asked.
"My Perception? Like, last I checked it was a six." Arleen rubbed her concave stomach to calm its unruly grumbling. "Why?"
"A six? Good, you have enough for this then." The old man snapped his fingers at the Wolf-girl frowning at the ceiling. "Lydia," Her wide brown eyes snapped around to meet his gaze."what's your Perception?"
"My wha-? Oh, you mean on my Personal Archive thingy. Yeah, hold on." She turned her wrist and willed her Archive to life.
|Lydia Anne Fenri||Race:Wolf-Folk||Age:17||Lvl:2||Class:N/A|
"Soooo, my Perception is a four?" She said in an unsure voice, flicking her Archive off.
"Good, you are just at the threshold for this Skill." Rufus grinned.
"Skill?" Lydia echoed. Her brunette wolf ears swiveled sideways as she blinked in confusion. "What skill? Like juggling?"
"Well Darlin', I guess juggling is a kind of Skill, but I'm talkin' about somethin' a bit more practical. It's called [Observation]."
"Why did your voice get all deep and important-like when you said that?"
Rufus ignored the Wolf-girl's jab. "[Observation] is the single most important Skill I can teach you. Only a fool would skip learnin' this Skill."
"So like, what does it do?" Arleen asked impatiently. She hurried along Rufus's lecture, she was too hungry to sit in for one of his long winded lectures, she just wanted have a drink.
"[Observation] reveals details and statuses of items and people. It's the most vital skill I have." The old man declared.
"So basically you can see if water is good to drink or not?" Lydia snorted. Rufus frowned.
"Yes, [Observation] lets me see if water is good to drink or not-"
"So I can drink now?" Arleen interrupted, beaming her best kitten eyes in the crusty old man's direction.
"First," He continued through grinding teeth, he was getting tired of the interruptions. "Look at whatever you want to use [Observation] on, and will the item or target to give up it's information."
"That doesn't make any sense." Lydia declared in an irritated voice."Why would you see information on something just by staring at it."
"Good stars above, you are so hopeless." Rufus groaned. "Look Darlin', it just does. Welcome to Solas, now stare at my sword and will it to give up its deepest, darkest secrets."
Lydia rolled her eyes and peered around Alreen to stare dumbly at the broken sword the old man held aloft. After several seconds Lydia threw in the towel and opened her mouth to complain when she heard Arleen squeal, her calico tail dancing behind her excitedly.
"I did it!" She threw up her skinny arms. "This is so cool!"
"Good job!" Rufus's grouchy face split into a bright grin. He reached over and scritch scratched the bouncing Cat-girl behind her ears.
Lydia grumbled and redoubled her efforts. She narrowed her eyes at the broken sword and thought,'Show me everything you got!' as hard as she could. Just as she was losing hope she felt a sort of resistance push against her mind. It felt like an invisible fabric around the broken sword was bending and thrashing against her mental onslaught. Lydia let out a tiny growl and furrowed her brows, she tried to invision her mental strength like a needle pushing through the broken sword's barrier.
To her surprise it worked. A transparent box flittered into existance over the ancient weapon and Lydia pumped her filthy hands into the air with bark of triumph.
[Skill acquired: Observation][Lvl:1]
[Ancient Broken Sword][(?)][Requirements- (?)][Condition-3/10 (Shattered)]
"Yeah!" The little Wolf-girl cheered. "This is kind of cool!" She grinned and met Rufus's smiling eyes. "This can work on anything, on anyone?"
"Yes, within reason of course. The more you know about the person and the item in question the more information you see."
"So that explains the question marks...." Lydia sighed. "Still, this is pretty cool. But why does it have a level like me?"
"The higher a Skill's level the faster, better, and stronger it becomes." Rufus tucked the broken sword onto his lap. "[Observation] is an easy skill to level up, so use it often."
"So, can I get a drink now?" Alreen asked, emphasizing the end of her question.
Rufus glanced over at the water and nodded. "Go ahead Honey, it's safe to drink."
"Finally." The cat-girl crawled over to the water on all fours, cupped her hands and broke the water's surface, scattering tiny ripples across the massive pond. She put her palms to her cracked lips to drink.
"Shit! GET BACK!" Rufus roared, he tossed the startled Cat-girl from the water's edge just as a rusted axe cleaved through the space her bony neck had just occupied. Fatigue and aching limbs forgotten Arleen scrambled away with a quickness as a gurgling moan shook her ribs like a set of windchimes. She heard Lydia scream and looked up and froze in terror.
A desiccated corpse with half s face missing let out another drowned gurgle and tugged its axe from the stone shore as it rose from its watery resting place. Water rushed off the undead's ruined chainmail vest revealing skin colored a nauseous spattering of greens and toxic blacks with bleach white bone glared through the ragged rotten flesh. A single white orb rolled around its fleshy eyesocket as the other half of its face was a grinning skull with scraps of moss and mold hanging from it.
The Corpse turned its grinning dead to the horror-stricken Cat-girl and lurched from the water like a puppet on a string. Arleen felt as if she was watching from outside her body as the undead shambled over with an unnatural quickness its rusted axe careening toward her head. She couldn't scream, she just watched wide eyed as death beared down on her.
She was too busy being scared to death to register when a broken blade exploded from the corpse's neck and the rusted axe spun harmlessly over her ears.
"Fuck!" Rufus went down with the undead as it collapsed just inches from Arleen's swollen feet. He planted a foot between the undead's squishy rotting back and yanked the broken sword free from the re-slain creature's severed spine. "Lydia! Check on her!" He cried before he spun around and stalked the pond's shore, weapon at the ready.
Lydia eyed the face down corpse as she shuffled over to her friend. Lydia grabbed Arleen's shaking shoulders and pulled her away from the rotting body.
"Come on." She urged gently, tugging the Cat-girl over to the pillar.
Arleen was hyperventilating, her bony chest rising and falling rapidly as darkness closed in on Lydia's panicked face. Cold sweat poured down the terrified Wolf-girl's forehead.
"R-rufus! Something is wrong!" She shouted in a shaky voice. "She- she's-!"
Rufus shot a quick glance over his shoulder and let out a small sigh of relief.
"She's just freakin' out, Get her to breathe slower an' deeper."
"Talk to her! Rub her back! Shit woman, use your imagination! I got enough to deal with!" He turned his attention back to the pond, his tired eyes scowering the water's surface for anymore angry dead people.
"Breathe, just breathe." Lydia cradled Arleen and cooed desperately as the Cat-girl's green eyes rolled back into her skull. "Come on, stay with me!" Lydia sniffled, she awkwardly rubbed circles around her friend's back.
It truly scared Lydia when her fingers bounced over Alreen's sharp ribs, she could even feel every bump along her's spine. The Calico was little more than a tiny skeleton with paper-thin skin stretched over it.
"Come on, breathe."
Arleen's rising chest slowed then jerked violently as she coughed. "Yeah! Yeah, that's it. Breathe, come back to us." Lydia wiped snot on her arm and blinked away tears as her friend's breathing calmed and her eyelids fluttered open, revealing the beautiful dirty green irises underneath.
"Don't scare me like that!" Lydia muttered.
"Mhm. S-sorry." Arleen murmured groggily. "I don't want to do that again. What happened?"
"You started to hyperventilate." Rufus replied. He kept his eyes on the pond as he backed up to his companions. "You were makin' yourself pass out." He glanced down at the woozy Cat-girl and grinned. "You did catch yourself though. Good job Honey. Let's get away from these large pools, you can drink from a small one instead."
"M'kay." Alreen leaned heavily on Lydia's shoulders to get to her feet and followed Rufus away from the pond that nearly claimed her life.
"I got her." Rufus pulled his arm underneath Alreen's armpit and threw his chin behind him. "You grab that axe that undead dropped."
"Okay." Lydia shuffled away without complaint and found the axe against a cluster of ankle high stalagmites. She grunted from the waterlogged weight and heaved it over her shoulder. She narrowed her eyes at the debilitated weapon and found it much easier to piece through its "Fabric" this time.
[Ancient Axe(?)][One-Handed Axe(?)][Requirements-STR:6 (?)][Condition-4/20(Waterlogged)]
'It worked.' She felt a flash of pride and hurried over to join her companions.
Rufus spotted a stalagmite in a small clearing void of pillars and pools. The lone stalagmite stood to level with Arleen's chest and had a bowl shape instead of a spike top filled with water. Throwing manners to the wind Arleen braced her shaking hands against the moist rock formation and plunged face first into the bowl, slurping water greedily.
"Slow down there. Don't want to get sick down here." Rufus rubbed the Calico's trembling back as she drank in deep. He frowned as his fingers found her tiny frame stretching her skin taut.
"I got it." Lydia grunted as she hefted the heavy axe around to show the frowning old man. Rufus glanced at the axe and held out his broken sword.
"Here, I'll get the axe, you carry this." He hefted the axe as if it was light as a feather as Lydia nervously took the broken sword from him with shaking hands.
"B-but I don't know how to use it." She said. The Wolf-girl had never even heard of swords before being snatched into Solas, let alone seen anyone actually use one.
"If I do my job Darlin', you won't have to use it." Rufus tucked the axe's soggy handle into the rope belt around his thin waist and brushed Arleen's hair back.
"Leave some for the rest of us." He said into the Calico's erect ears. Arleen pulled her soaked face from the bowl, a shameful expression in her tired eyes.
"Sorry." She mumbled. "I'm sorry I'm so useless."
"Hush," Rufus tilted the young girl's chin until her green eyes met his serious gaze. "You are not useless. Don't go puttin' yourself down like that. Not when freedom is so close." Rufus slid over to the water bowl to drink leaving Arleen staring off at nothing. The Calico's ears sprang to attention and her eyes clouded over as she sank deep in thought.
"Freedom?" She whispered. The word tasted weird on her tongue. It was a foreign concept for her. In fact, she had never even thought of it before. "Freedom...."
A small smile spread across her scarred face, a tiny glow seemed to cling to her like a halo as she felt something she had never felt before wiggle around her chest like a scampering puppy.
"....I think I'd like that."