Chapter 12 - A New Alliance
Rain was pouring over the jungle that day, soaking any creature standing outside to the bones.
Stella was already wet and felt heavier after each beats of her wings, but she needed to find him.
She tried again to go to the flower where they first met, but this time it revealed to be no success. She kept flying around, in hope to find the young Vampyrum anywhere. Her body was starting to shiver, the temperature strangely dropping with that storm.
The Silverwing needed to stop, finding refuge under large leaves. She shook some water off of her, trying to heat herself by folding her wings tightly around her body.
Oh what was she thinking? Of course she wouldn’t find him in this weather. Barely any bats were flying at this moment, knowing the rain could only slow them down.
She suddenly heard some branches bristle, same for vegetation.
Her ears perked up, twisting around to catch any suspect sounds. … She felt observed, which was not a good thing at all.
A Vampyrum? She didn’t think so. Maybe another predator she had no knowledge of….
”LIE DOWN!” screamed a voice.
Stella didn’t think twice, collapsing to the ground in fear. A figure lunged over her, going behind her with a growl. The female rapidly looked, discovering Axel trying to push away one of the most gigantic spider she had ever seen. The young Vampyrum was baring his fangs, opening his wings to make himself look bigger. He glanced at Stella with a frown.
”Fly away! I’ll be right behind you!” he commanded.
The Silverwing jumped into the air, getting the higher she could. Axel soon came to her side, slightly panting from the previous action. They landed to a branch, the male laughing:
”I told you I’d protect you, little lady!” His voice was still trying to catch its breath. ”You should never let your guard down around here. Bad things always happen fast.”
”That spider was a monster!” blurted out Stella, still amazed and in fear. ”Is that a normal size? It was trying to eat me?”
Axel sighed, finally calmed down. He was still showing a large smile, proud of his heroic act, no doubts.
”That was a tarantula. Yes, they can be pretty big, it probably wanted to have a little taste of you! I don’t know about your northern forests, but here everything is big and there’s always something trying to eat you.”
”We sure don’t have those taranthing back where I’m from! We wouldn’t last long, I can assure you.”
The Vampyrum chuckled, amused by the difference.
Silence then awkwardly fell between the two, looking at eachothers for a brief instant. Stella soon moved her gaze away, rubbing the back of her neck in a timid way.
”… Thank you,” she began. ”Without you I’d be dead, that’s for sure.”
”Nah, don’t worry. I’m just keeping my promise, that’s all,” he answered, playfully nudging the other’s shoulder.
”Yeah, about that…,” her tone was now unsure, ”I heard things about how I shouldn’t be seeing you. … Goth told me you’re a banished and that I must avoid you. Also I’m not allowed to tell you anything else about where I’m from.”
”Oh, oh, and also that I would probably curse you or something, right?” added Axel in a mocking voice. ”I looooove putting curses. My favorite is turning bats to stone. They all like that one.”
Stella was now glaring at him with an unamused look, knowing he was fooling her.
The male became serious, letting out a brief sigh before explaining himself:
”Look … Goth is right. I’m a banished. We don’t have the greatest reputation around here, but I can assure you I don’t want to put you in any trouble. I know the risks we’re taking by meeting … but I just can’t stop myself from wanting to see you. I’m curious by nature, there’s things I need to know and I won’t be able to sleep until I have the answers I’m seeking….”
”… Well, that makes us two,” replied Stella with a half-smile.
Axel quirked an eyebrow.
”Oh? And what is it you’re seeking, little lady?”
Stella shrugged. She never really thought about what to ask, but she sure was confused about one thing.
”What really makes the difference between a banished and a ‘normal’ Vampyrum? As I may know, both are of the same specie. Goth told me about something someone did, I’m not so sure.”
The male smirked.
”He was probably talking about my great-grand-father, Tlacelel. He tried to bring the king down by making a pact with the vultures. Many Vampyrums want to live away from the ancient ways of living; out of the past. The monthly sacrifices are one of the reasons why, mostly.”
”Still, why? Why the hate? Why the reclusion? Aren’t you all from the same specie?”
Stella couldn’t grasp the concept the young was explaining to her, but at the same time she knew how alone they probably felt, experiencing the same in her colony before.
Axel’s smile faded, being more serious this time.
”…Find me right after dawn around the pyramid. I’ll show you something that does differenciate us from the others. It’s the only way you can understand…”
When the Silverwing nodded, the young Vampyrum went on his way, the female soon noticing the infamous scar on his neck Goth told her about; the Eye of Zotz.
She knew she made the right decision by finding him again. She strangely felt close to the young male by his social status and that was why she wanted to find out more…
The night was worse, the winds getting stronger and the rain falling with renewed force. A thunderstorm even began to show up, plunging the jungle into darkness and brief flashes of light.
Stella was at one of the Hole’s corners, trembling in fear. She hated lightnings. Ever since her first migration all that weather could bring to her were bad memories, reviewing the time she almost got struck by one of them.
Hearing sounds near the entrance, she bombarded the whole place with echolocation, soon distinguishing the form of a Vampyrum; Goth without a doubt.
As he just entered the place, a loud boom echoed in the air, making the Silverwing jump, rushing to the prince and hiding in his wings. He was wet from his trip outside, but she didn’t care. He was her protection, her shelter.
The male slightly opened his wings, looking at the young one with confusion.
”What is that all about, señorita?”
”I hate rain, I hate thunder, I hate EVERYTHING!” she answered in a startled voice, bringing back his arms right over her.
Another growl rose from the sky, making the female yelp another time. Goth began to laugh, finally understanding the situation.
”You’re afraid of lightnings? That is ridiculous!”
”Not when you’re almost hit by one,” answered Stella’s muffled voice, still hidden.
The prince moved his wings away, revealing the Silverwing once again.
”I agree,” he added, ”but you’re safe here. … And I need you to stay hidden here tonight.”
Stella’s mind suddenly shifted, going from fear to concern. She slightly frowned when looking at the Vampyrum.
”Please, trust me, muchacha. You have to stay in the Hole for the whole night. It’s for your safety.”
”… Are you going somewhere?”
The female could sense something wrong in the Vampyrum’s voice.
Goth put a hand on her shoulder, gently squeezing it. He tried to smile, but Stella knew it was forced.
”Don’t worry, girl, it’s only something I need to look out with my father. I’ll be back near dawn. … Everything’s alright.”
She wanted to retain him when he moved back to the entrance, but deep inside she was beginning to understand.
The monthly sacrifice.
It has to be that…
The prince was already far away that Stella knew she had to go find Axel.
A lightning bolt stopped her tracks for some seconds, almost regretting her decision as she spread her wings and flew out in turn.
The rain was hitting her, almost destabilizing her flight. She quickly went to a tree, sheltering herself. She began to scout the area with her sonar, bringing up the environement in bright hues of silver and white. She distinguished a form a few wing beats away. She knew it was the young male.
Stella rushed to him, getting to his side when a loud thunder exploded. She hugged the other one on instinct, burying her face in his neck.
Axel got a hold of her, backing her up a little. He let out a small awkward laugh: ”Uh, hola?”
Stella instantly felt embarassed, trying to hide her face in her hands, but still leaving enough space for her eyes to look at the male.
”I’m so sorry,” she replied nervously. ”I’m just scared to death by this stupid thunderstorm. I don’t even know how I was able to fly out to you.”
The Vampyrum showed a pouty look, probably joking as he added: ”Aw, I thought you were just really happy to see me. I felt loved for an instant.”
”Stop joking around. Now tell me what you want to show me,” demanded Stella with a frown.
Axel gestured to the scene before them, directly to the pyramid. They had an excellent view of the inside of the royal chamber, all of the Vampyrums regrouped there.
”… The monthly sacrifice,” murmured the female. ”I knew it! Goth asked me earlier to stay back at the Hole probably because he didn’t want me to see this.”
”You guessed right. But he surely asked you to stay hidden because he either didn’t want you to get caught by a Vampyrum or maybe he’s hiding something from you.”
Stella looked concerned, glancing back at the male.
”What could he be hiding?”
Axel shrugged: ”Maybe he doesn’t want you to know about the sacrifices because he wants to sacrifice you one day.”
”You’re kidding, right?” laughed the Silverwing. ”Why would he do that? That’s so stupid.”
”I don’t know, little lady. His family has a reputation to be kind of loco sometimes. I’d stay on my guards if I were you.”
Stella brushed his comment away, choosing not to believe what he had said. … But she couldn’t hide the fact that she did thought about it at some point and now that Axel was approving her concern, she only felt nervous.
A rumble sound echoed in the air, the female lowering her ears. She couldn’t stay silent long enough, trying hard to mute the bad memories that were crawling back into her mind.
”Now tell me what’s happening here? What are all those Vampyrums doing over there?”
”I do not have the full details about this ceremony, but from what I’ve heard and observed, this sacrifice is supposed to ensure the Vampyrums’ prosperity in both life and hunting. Most of the time a bat’s heart is offered, may it be a captive one or even one from the colony – if there’s no captive available -. They want to appease Zotz and gain his favors by either giving him the heart or other organs.”
”That’s revolting! … Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to mock your religion.”
”No offense taken. I’m not part of this monstrous cult and no one in my colony either is. This is why we are banished; we refuse to accomplish such acts. Zotz may be a powerful god, but he can’t truly have a real hold on our lives. We are all gods, Stella, we have power over our own life. … Why let an invisible spirit dictate and tell us what to do?”
”What does the Eye of Zotz mean then?”
Axel lift a hand to the back of his neck when his scar was mentionned, lightly rubbing it.
”It’s only a bad joke. Tlacelel got that mark because the king who banished him wanted him to know that Zotz was watching over him; that his soul was still under the god’s control. It was a stupid way to mock my great-grand-father, but soon the Vampyrums saw the Eye pop out on many other bats’ necks like some sort of symbol, a newborn resistance. Today, all banished wears it to tell who they are. I got mine when I was born, my father scarring me himself.”
Stella wanted to speak back, but her voice was cut out by the loud plea of a bat.
Both youngs’ gaze turned back to the pyramid, discovering a Vampyrum being forcefully dragged on the stone table. His fur was soaked in blood, feathers and bones put around his neck as some ceremonial attributes.
The bat was probably a prisoner, his thin and malnourished frame telling so about him. He was laid down, soon retained by vines, his wings wide open.
Stella was horrified, looking intensly at the scene. She finally was able to distinguish Goth and Jarod, a bit apart from the crowd. How could the prince take part of such a barbaric ritual? … The female scolded herself for her ignorance, knowing he was surely used to it, being raised in this environement.
A new presence soon appeared, an old Vampyrum making his way to the table. He was ugly and strange; his eyes almost too big for his head and his form all hunched over, fur missing at some spots.
A deafening silence was now over the crowd, except for the rain and thundering going on around.
The priest was now over the victim who was pleading for his life, begging to be spared. The old one didn’t care, soon beginning to speak in a strange tongue, probably ancient. Low chants rose, darkening the atmosphere.
Stella’s fur was starting to spike up, strangely attracted by all the energy the ceremony was creating. Her mind strangely focused on Goth, knowing he was probably feeling the same.
Everything suddenly shut down when the old Vampyrum plunged his hand into the sacrifice’s thorax, soon taking out a still beating heart, slowly dying as its owner was breathing harshly until no more sound could be heard from him again.
A strong wind rose, freezing the Silverwing in shock. Her eyes were wide open, glued to the bloody organ still in the priest’s hand.
A loud boom cracked in the sky, sounds of joy and celebration coming up from amongst the crowd.
Stella’s face was harshly turned around, facing Axel who was now holding her firmly. She had difficulties to hear him speaking to her, still troubled by what she just witnessed.
”Come with me, Stella. Hurry, don’t look back at them. You don’t need to see what comes next.”
The female knew she nodded, but it seemed like a distant memory, still out of this world.
She followed him for a long time, going far into the jungle. They entered a hollow tree, roosting inside it to shelter themselves from the rain.
Stella began to cry, but she never knew why. Of course she was disgusted by that sacrifice, but it also scared her. How could bats serve such a cruel god?
She felt Axel’s wings envelopp her, apologizing for showing her all this nonsense.
”No, I needed to know,” cut Stella, trying to stabilize her emotions. ”One day or another I would have discovered it, and I’m glad it was with you.”
”You undertand now what’s the difference between my people and them. Things need to change, Stella, and one they it will.”
The female lift her gaze on the young Vampyrum.
”…What do you mean?”
”I won’t say much for now, but know that winds are slowly shifting in the jungle. One day all those brutish ceremonies will be nothing more than distant memories…”
Stella stayed silent, resting her head on the young male’s chest, her gaze now glued to the horizon. … It all seemed like a bad dream.
”If you want to see how things are on our side, come find me here in two days,” added Axel.
”What’s in two days?” questionned the Silverwing in a monotone voice, her head still on the male.
The Vampyrum was slowly petting her head, trying to calm down her tense body.
”We have a celebration coming I’m sure you’d like. It’s full of life and fun. Maybe it could show you that not all things are related to death here in this jungle…”
Stella accepted, still clinging on the other’s fur.
She knew too much already, all she could do now was to learn more.
Axel flew back to the pyramid’s borders with Stella when morning came. He remembered her to come find him in two days before saying goodbye, which seemed harder this time.
The Silverwing then went to the Hole, tensing up at the idea to face Goth. She was slightly relieved when she arrived to see that no one was there. But it was soon dying as a large frame landed behind her, a voice booming:
”Where in hell where you last night?!”
Stella jumped, looking behind her to discover the prince with a scolding look on his face. She backed up as he was moving towards her.
”I told you to stay here. What was so hard to understand?”
”STOP! Don’t come near me, don’t touch me!” squeaked Stella, her whole form collapsing on herself, trying to protect herself with her wings.
Goth stopped, his hands becoming fists.
”… Don’t tell me…”
”Yes I saw everything,” confessed the Silverwing, shaking. ”I saw how that bat was brought to the table and how that old one ripped out the heart. I felt all that power in the air and it sickened me! Your people are barbaric and stupid to believe that killing others will bring you the favors of a god. It doesn’t change a thing, it’s all stupid!”
Stella was harshly brought off ground, lifted up by the Vampyrum who was now grasping her mane fur.
”Pendeja! Those sacrifices ensures our survival, don’t you understand?” he snarled. ”Zotz gives us strength and many powers you wouldn’t even comprehend. My people are proud to gain the favors of such a benevolent god.”
”No gods should be asking for deaths!” answered Stella, lightly struggling. ”Nocturna never asked for one. She prones life and knows only good can come from alive subjects than dead ones.”
The male began a cruel laugh.
”Oh, girl, you know NOTHING. Zotz is the god of death and renewal to my people. All those sacrifices help to form his underworld into the strongest army possible so he could soon take over this pathetic world. Only his faithful servants will live under his glory. … The more sacrifices he gets, the stronger he becomes and so does his believers. This is why northern bats are so weak, they cannot grasps the full benefits a god can offer.”
Stella was glaring at him. She then remembered Axel’s speech.
”… Only us can have a true hold on our lives, no gods can.”
Goth frowned, looking at her as if trying to read her.
”… Why didn’t you stay in the Hole? Don’t lie to me!”
The young one wanted to avoid the question, but she knew she couldn’t hide it for long.
”Axel wanted me to meet him around the pyramid so we could see this ritual. He wanted to show me how horrible it is and I’m glad he did!”
The prince pushed her away, rubbing his temples as he muttered some words under his breath. He stopped, studying the female who was getting back up, her stance soon becoming defiant.
A false smile appeared on his lips, slowly approaching her again.
”You are lucky, muchacha, that I dare give a damn about your miserable self. As I prince I could easily just kill you this instant for pursued meetings with a banished when I CLEARLY told you not to.”
”He’s not a bad person! I’m sure you hate him only because his ancestor wanted to kill the king, probably YOUR ancestor.”
”Well that’s an excellent reason!”
”It’s stupid!” replied Stella. ”That’s all part of the past, why can’t you let it go?”
His voice had been loud, silencing the young female right away. He was now over her, his frame menacingly towering the Silverwing. Both bared their fangs, growling.
”You will stop seeing him now and do as I say!” raged the prince. ”If I have to follow you everywhere now, by Zotz, I will do so!”
”I hate you!” snarled Stella
Spending her whole days with the Vampyrum was one of the most boring thing Stella had done in her life so far. She had to follow him everywhere as he did the same for her. From boring meetings with other Vampyrums to hunting, Stella knew he was probably doing simple things in order to always keep an eye on her. Maybe he was equally bored, but if that’s what he had to do, he would never stop.
Goth had taken the chance to finally teach her about the jungle and its many creatures, even showing her the constellations during the night. The Silverwing was a fast learner and that couldn’t make the prince any more proud.
The infamous day came and Stella knew she had to meet with Axel once more. How to lure Goth away was proving to be a challenge, any plans the Silverwing kept thinking failing.
She was half listening to him as they had landed on a branch, the prince pursuing his lessons about the jungle.
”The first law of the jungle is to never trust anyone.”
Stella’s ears perked up, catching that sentence. She looked straight at Goth, trying to retain her laughter.
”So, that means I can’t trust you, right?”
The Vampyrum stopped, soon frowning a little: ”No! … Well, yes in a sense, but you can trust me! Stop twisting my words!”
The female shrugged: ”Heh, I was just applying your first rule here.”
And if you could truly trust no one, that could also mean she couldn’t be trusted; and that thought alone gave the female an idea.
”I need to go.”
”Go where?” questionned the prince.
”I don’t think you’ll want to come.”
Goth looked concern: ”What’s that all about? You know I won’t leave you alone.”
”I need to pee, you big moron!”
The Vampyrum instantly looked disgusted, gesturing her to leave: ”You may go, make it fast.”
Stella rapidly flew away, hiding from the giant. She laughed internally as she continued her way, not believing how easy it was to fool him after all.
She got to the hollow tree in no time, spotting Axel already waiting for her. The female couldn’t hide her smile, both hugging when they were next to eachothers, relieved in some sort.
”I’m glad you came!” began Axel with glee. ”You won’t regret it, I’m sure of it.”
”Well what are we waiting for?”
Both bats were laughing, taking flight. During the travel Stella told about her argument with Goth and how he was keeping an eye on her constantly. When she declared that the only way she could go out of sight was by claiming she had to pee, Axel couldn’t stop laughing, calling Stella a genius.
They soon arrived near a large waterfall, the young Vampyrum pressing the female to enter it. Stella was unsure at first, but she next plunged with her friend, discovering then a tunnel right before them. The place was dark and humid, long enough for the bats to use their echolocation in order to see where they were going next.
After a long turn daylight suddenly appeared, blinding the Silverwing for some seconds. She was now facing a new part of the jungle, reclusive as it was surrounded by rocks and large trees.
Stella could already hear chants coming to her ears, all filled with joy and laughters. Axel couldn’t stop smiling, the Fools’ Mascarade being one of his favorite holidays. He didn’t really tell the Silverwing what the celebration was about as he would prefer to discover her reaction himself, right on the spot.
They hid on a high branch, right over a large assembly of bats singing and partying around what seemed a strange handcrafted idol of a bat. People sometimes kicked it, threw fruits or various items at it, which confused the young female.
”Axel, what’s happening?” she finally asked.
The Vampyrum laughed softly.
”The Fools’ Mascarade is a celebration we have each years. We celebrate Tlacelel who brought us out of the king’s reign, giving us our freedom. Right now my people are mocking a replica of Jarod, the present king.”
”You must be kidding me….”
”No, señorita! It’s the truth! See, we even tried to replicate his stupid hair,” added Axel, pointing the dummy, revealing black feathers on top of its head.
Stella snickered, ”This is amazing!”
”But that’s not all,” added the young male. ”We also mock all the bats living in the pyramid.”
The female stopped.
”So that means you’re laughing at me and Goth, am I right?”
The cannibal gulped, trying to find the right words.
”Well, uh…, yes and no. I’m not mocking you, but Goth yes. He’s the prince, it’s only normal.”
”And what about when he’ll become king?”
”All of that depends if he will turn good or not. Most banished suspect he will turn like his father, but that remains to be seen….”
Nobody could add a word as suddenly a cheerful sound rose above every others, attracting everyone’s attention. Stella could now see a male standing near the idol, laughing with the others. He had orange-red fur, shinning like a bright fire. His ears were missing a lot of parts, battle trophies without a doubt, and a large scar could be seen on his left eye.
”Come everyone!” he began. ”Come and meet the foul king!”
”Who is that?” asked Stella to her friend, impressed by that character.
Axel sighed: ”That’s Hell, my father. He’s the chief.”
The Silverwing smiled, looking back at the young male.
”He looks fun!”
”Yeah, but also very annoying…,” he added, a bored look on his face.
The chief, Hell, continued to speak to the crowd:
”Mi amigos and amigas, let’s all celebrate our dear king and his cursed blood line who loved to make us slaves! Let’s all celebrate how stupid he is to think he will one day take us back to his cursed pyramid! We are the free bats of the jungle, none shall bring us back on our knees!”
Cheers rose from the crowd, all agreeing with him.
Axel began to spread his wings, ready to fly away.
”What are you doing?” asked Stella in a panicked tone.
”Relax, little lady, I’m just going to join my father, I’ll be right back! Stay hidden here, nothing will happen to you, I promise.”
He began to glide down to the scene, Hell welcoming his son.
”And here comes the little prince,” he joked, attracting the young one to his side as soon as he landed. ”What does the youth of our glorious dynasty has to say?”
A huge smile appeared on Axel’s face: ”One day we’ll bring them down! I’ve been spying the pyramid and I know one day we’ll be able to drive Jarod away.”
Hell’s look became severe, his face coming near his son’s, talking fast in a hushed tone: ”Madre de dios, Axel! I told you not to do that anymore, stupid monkey. -UH yeah, sure, that’s my boy,” he finished, his tone rising again, pushing the kid away.
He gave him one last look that could kill, probably meaning that they would need to talk about that later.
He next got around the dummy, examining it with some faint pride.
”Ah yes, he was gracefully disfigured, I like that. … But what about this?!”
He suddenly ripped off one of the ears, next going for the hair and other body parts. He threw the limbs into the crowd, claiming: ”Let’s all be kings and queens! Let’s all have a part of him to hate and despise!”
Stella was speechless, still looking at the scene from her hidding place. She knew the Vampyrums could be violent, and this was another prime example.
She then heard a faint sound behind her. Believing it was Axel,she turned around with a smile, but it soon faded when her gaze fell on something else.
A large snake head was looking at her, flicking its tongue in the air, ready to jump at any moment. The Silverwing didn’t wait any longer, flying out of her hiding place and crashing amongst the crowd. All the Vampyrums became silent, observing the small bat getting back on her feet, ears lowering in fear. She shyly pointed the position she was hiding before, blabbering: ”Th-there’s a sna-snake over there…”
They were still looking at her, some soon licking their lips at the sight of that easy prey.
Stella began to scream Axel’s name, surprising everyone.
The young one soon came to her side, folding his wings around her for protection. He snarled at some bats, backing them away.
”I’m here Stella, calm down!” he then told the Silverwing who was still crying.
The female opened her eyes, looking straight at the young male. She stick close to him, grabbing his fur in fear.
”I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” she kept repeating.
”Why didn’t you stay where I left you?” scolded Axel.
”Why is she here anyway?” added Hell’s voice, landing near them. ”Who is she?”
”Isn’t she the bat Goth brought back from his trip up north?” questionned a bat.
”Yeah! She has the same band as him, it must be her!”
”I saw them flying together in the jungle.”
Many voices added their opinion until the chief all calmed them with a single move of his hand. He looked angry, his eyes glued on the two young ones.
”Son, you disappoint me,” he began. ”By bringing this Silverwing here you just showed her our clan’s position.”
”So?” cut the young male in a dry tone.
”She lives with Goth, for Zotz’s sake!” growled Hell. ”She’s in direct contact with the royal family. What were you thinking, pendejo! She could reveal our place to the king and get us all killed. … I can’t let her escape, I’ll need to end her life right here, right now.”
Axel’s wings tightened around the female’s body.
”Never!” he spat. ”You touch a single hair of her body and soon you’ll have a new scar to show to everyone.”
”Do not make this harder, boy. You know our rules!”
”Stop!” boomed a strong female voice.
A new presence soon landed between the chief and his son. This one, a female, was taller than Hell, her frame much more imposant.
”Flora, you don’t need to get involved into this,” sighed the orange one.
”Yes I will. I was once part of the royal family, Hell, you know better than everyone else that a bat’s status can’t really shape its personality…. I want to talk with the Silverwing.”
”Mi amor, please…”
”I will not ask twice.”
The female turned to Axel, Stella then shocked at how she had similarities with the young Vampyrum.
”Follow me, son. Bring your friend too.”
They landed to a place higher than where the celebration was. Stella couldn’t stop looking at this Flora, her wings much more larger than any Vampyrum.
Hell was following them, a look of annoyance on his face, but the larger female didn’t give a damn about him, mostly smiling at the young Silverwing.
”Unlike my husband,” she began, ”I do not wish your death. Speak, dear, and tell me how you met Goth.”
Stella was unsure at first, but a small glance at Axel who was smiling at her too was enough for the female to start talking.
”It all began when I got captured by humans back in my forest. They brought me to this strange building where they gave me this band. I was able to escape, meeting Goth and Throbb on my way. He asked for me to show them the way south-”
”Can’t that doofus read the stars?” commented Hell.
”-since the northern stars are different from yours,” continued Stella with a slight frown. ”I discovered he’s a meat eater when he saved me from an owl that time we looked at the sun. Also he killed Throbb before me when he tried to eat me. … I seriously don’t know why I kept following him, but we both know something is keeping us together. I have a lot of respect for him, actually.”
The chief began a fake laugh: ”Wait, respect for Goth? Are we talking about the same bat or did he suddenly grow a conscience or something?”
”Goth is a good person, I know it!” replied Stella with a renewed frown.
”He’s the king of liars and deception. Soon he’ll deceive you.”
”Hell, stop,” cut Flora. ”She spoke her mind, respect her views…. Personally I’d like to believe my cousin got better. They say travelling makes you wiser.”
”You’re his cousin?” asked the Silverwing with surprise.
The taller bat grinned: ”Indeed! But I hardly was by his side ever since my mother died and Jarod got my father and I banished.”
Stella couldn’t retain her questions, truly mesmerized by this incredible bat.
”He was a stranger, like you. My father was a fruit bat, which is why I look much bigger than any Vampyrums.”
”Flora, we’re not here to talk about your past,” commented Hell. ”You wanted to hear her part of the story? Good. Now let’s kill her before it’s too late.”
”We will not kill her.”
”Perfect I’ll start with the hear- … what?”
”Father, please, hear me out,” finally added Axel. ”I know our rules, I remember everything you told me, but I trust her. Stella is a good friend and I know she hates Jarod as much as everyone here. She’s from another world, she knows nothing about the jungle and our people. If I suspected her to be bad I wouldn’t have brought her here.”
”Her ignorance could let words slip out of her mouth, boy. I know that very well…”
Stella couldn’t stay silent anymore: ”I know how it feels to be rejected by its own colony. I was a freak in mine and I trusted no one. Now that I see the same situation here, I don’t see why I would perturb all this peace. … I want to help you all. I’ll keep my mouth shut, if that means something to you.”
Hell seemed to think for a moment, judging if the female was telling the truth.
His face suddenly gleamed with joy as a plan came to his mind.
”Si … I may have something you could do to prove your worthyness. If you want to help us, you will sneak into the pyramid’s catacombs and free the future sacrifices.”
”Hell!” scolded Flora.
”Tsk, tsk, let me finish. Once you will do so, these bats will surely give you the map to their hidden refuge here in the jungle. … I want you to give it to me so I can form an alliance with them.”
”There are bats kept as prisonners?” asked the Silverwing, confused.
”Yes. Most of them are northerners, like you. They were dropped in this jungle by humans in their flying machines. Some got eaten or exploded by the help of some strange disks attached to their bellies, but those who survived were captured by Jarod’s spies and brought in the catacombs to either serve as future meals or sacrifices in the name of Zotz.”
Stella seemed to turn pale, her mind getting dizzy.
”If you don’t succeed or get caught by Jarod, I’ll find you and kill you. Simple as that!”
”Hell, stop with all this nonsense,” snarled the large female. ”You can’t ask that from a child!”
”I’ll do it.”
Stella’s answer surprised everyone.
”Are you sure…,” asked Axel, getting near his friend.
”I need to. I’m small, I’ll hardly be noticed.”
Hell’s smile was huge: ”Ay! Talk about a strong spirit! … I can’t wait to see if I misjudged you, muchacha.”
And Stella truly hoped she would indeed succeed…
The sun was ready to lie down when the Silverwing finally got out of the banished’s lair.
She was still wondering if accepting that plan was a good idea, but she knew at the same time that she couldn’t back up now. If really there were northern bats held up at the pyramid, she had to help them.
Still deep in her thoughts, she didn’t realise a shadow was soon hovering her, talons suddenly grasping her shoulders, making the Silverwing cry out in fear.
She was finally able to see who her captor was when she was harshly released into a tree cavity, turning around to finally meet Goth’s glare. He was dangerously close to her, holding her arms in place so she wouldn’t escape.
”Where did you go?” he snarled, his fur rising.
Stella showed a mocking smile: ”Wow, you’re not a good hunter after all, you couldn’t find me.”
”You think I’m a fool?” he was now slowly twisting his hold. ”I lost your trace at some point. I could also smell that bastard child, Axel. Why did you-”
He stopped his speech, soon noticing a new scent on the young bat. He came closer, smelling her fur intensly. His eyes widened as he finally recognized a certain odor.
”… You met Flora…”
”Your cousin, yes,” replied Stella, unsure about his reaction.
The prince seemed absent. He now knew where the Silverwing went and suddenly his rage changed for caution. His tone was now hushed as he held the female’s face in place, looking intensely in her eyes.
”You met with Axel once again, okay; I’m angry, but now I know you won’t back up. Now you must promise me to NEVER tell anyone, not even me, what you discovered today. Some bats could kill to know the location of the place you found, Jarod being the first. … I can’t always keep an eye on you, I’m well aware of that, but please stay vigilant on now on.”
”Why would my safety matter to you, anyway?” added Stella. ”I’m just a miserable bat. You probably want to sacrifice me anyway.”
Goth looked confused.
”Wh-what? Why do you say that? I wouldn’t want to kill you or let anyone try. … I don’t want to lose you, that’s what scares me the most right now.”
Stella eyes became big and wet.
”… A-are you serious?” she said with a trembling tone. ”Then why were you hiding me things? Why did you never tell me what the sacrifices really were?”
”Because I want to protect you, muchacha.”
The prince sighed, closing his eyes. His forehead soon touched the female’s, making her close her gaze in turn.
”…I’m sorry if I hurt you with my words or anything,” he added in a soft tone. ”I got that from my father. … When things don’t go the way I want I just lose it. I want to be there for you and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if anything ever happened to you…”
Stella let out a small laugh, tears slowly trailing their way down her cheeks.
”You’re better than Jarod. A bit scary sometimes, but also very easy to fool.”
Goth grinned: ”Next time you have to pee I won’t believe you.”
They looked back at eachothers, many thoughts going through their minds. Stella soon looked hesitant, trying to hold back something.
She stopped herself, looking away in shame. Why was she about to say that?
The Vampyrum encouraged her to speak, bringing her attention back to him. The female rubbed her band, mumbling her words:
”You can stop me if you think I’m stupid … but I’m so glad I met you. It may not look like it, but I do have respect for you. And I think it’s only normal that after a while you became something I always asked for…. A family.”
The prince was silent, which brought Stella to lower her ears, ashamed.
”I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,” she rapidly added.
The male was now smiling, pride showing on his face.
”No, Stella, please, I am honored. You have no idea how happy I am to hear this. … I’m not the best bat to look up to, but if you’re happy with that thought then so am I.”
The Silverwing suddenly jumped to his neck, hugging him the hardest she could. She felt like the happiest bat in the world, showering the other with ‘thank yous’. Goth hugged her back, amused by her reaction.
They stayed hidden for many hours, still in eachothers wings.
It was all she ever asked for. It was all they ever asked for…