Act XIV: The Fool
"A new phase of life begins, a risk must be taken, a need to abandon the old and start something new. The Fool often depicts a person who takes risks in life, and often struggles with his ego. He is sometimes seen as a 'dreamer'. The Fool has the desire to achieve goals, but must be careful to make the right choices.
On a lower level, the Fool often displays a great deal of moral blindness. He has a tendency to live in a world of materialism, leaving the spiritual essence behind.The task of the Fool is to help others (as well as himself) build a strong foundation.The Fool stands for each of us, as we embark on a new stage in our lives."
–Tarot, Major Arcana
Crabbit covered his long rabbit ears, stepping away from the caged baby. The music had stopped only seconds ago, and it was then that Flanella began to cry as loudly as ever. The confused hybrid couldn't tell what had suddenly gone wrong with her. They had been actually enjoying their time together, even if it hurt him admitting so. Desperate, Crabbit lunged over the small cage and opened it, yanking the child out of it. Flanella's whining could only grow louder. He clumsily began to shake her in the air while ordering her to stop crying.
It took him quite a while to realize that babies weren't reasonable creatures. She couldn't understand his commands, and jerking her hysterically around the room wasn't being of much help either. Thus, after making things worse for himself and the little girl, he came to the conclusion that something bad might have happened to her.
"She must be broken or something," he pondered, holding Flanella upside-down by her leg. "Just like when my radio stopped working!"
Crabbit raised the baby higher to examine her body, which caused her loose white dress to slip down and cover her face as her dippers came into view. He checked her short legs and her chubby tummy before flipping her back to a more comfortable position. Nothing seemed wrong, but just to be sure, the crow-rabbit laid Flanella on top of a werehog's cage to scan her better. She responded to the contact against the cold rusty metal with more high-pitched whimpers, which disturbed both the fierce animal inside the cage and Crabbit himself.
"I don't know what do you want of me!" he cried as well, "And I'm still hungry!"
Still feeling uncomfortable, Flanella stretched her arms upwards, begging the black creature before her to pick her up. Crabbit's dense brain took a couple of minutes to process the baby's plea, and as he bent over to relocate her, the hybrid finally noticed the cause of the child's distress. Small wounds, piercing the delicate flesh of the palm and back of her hands had been mysteriously formed. The same happened on her chest as a small drop of blood oozed through her dress.
"Oh… I see. You've been hurt!" With that exclamation he took her in his arms and then plopped onto the floor in a cross-legged position. "I know, this was Maja's doing!" Crabbit looked down at Flanella, not really offering her much comfort as he held her on one of his claws. "Don't worry, baby. Maja has hurt me a lot too… the pain never lasts long, though…"
Flanella ceased her sobs momentarily, distracted by the movements of his lengthy beak. Crabbit discerned the change in her behavior and came up with an idea. He morphed his humanoid form into the shape of a round, fluffy bunny-like animal. "Caw! I'm a Crabbit!" he announced energetically. His long black ears danced above Flanella as his now less frightening body figure bounced around the room. "Caw! Caw! This is the fancy butt dance!"
It took several rides, but the little girl's tears soon faded away. Crabbit's ears turned out to be an interesting toy to tug and play with. Not that their owner was pleased with having a child pulling on his hearing lugs, but at least, it was better than having to stand her crying. Eventually he grew tired of dragging his rear end along the dusty floor, and decided that it was time to take a nap.
"Caw! Caw! The Crabbit train needs a break!" he said, abruptly dropping Flanella onto the ground.
She didn't seem bothered by his rude manners anymore. All the seven month-old Flanella cared about now, was grasping the hybrid's elongated ears once again. Unaware of the girl's determined resolve, Crabbit turned his back at her as he searched for his unstitched pillow and his tattered blanket. His sudden spin caused Flanella to miss her aim and fall flat on her stomach. She gave it no importance. She had found a better and easier toy to reach. Crabbit's cotton-like tail lay in front of her blue eyes. With some effort, Flanella crawled closer to it and sitting up, she claimed her prize.
"Caw!" he shrieked, shooting himself away from the unwanted intruder with the help of his wings. By the time Crabbit had perched onto a higher shelf, Flanella had already been pushed back to the floor. Seeing that her only companion was out of her reach, the little girl puffed her cheeks in irritation, her eyes flooding with new tears to shed.
"Oh no, not again…" Crabbit sighed.
He descended near the baby with a gentle glide. His bunny form then stood before her, only a little bit taller than her, his front paws being held against his chest. Flanella, intrigued by this, quit her weeping, her teary blue eyes observing him with growing curiosity. Crabbit tilted his head, prompting Flanella to do the same. He proceeded to clap his paws and the girl repeated the action, more playfully than before. Crabbit drew what appeared to be a satisfied grin along his beak. His plan to calm her down was a complete success. Next, he stretched his arms open, expecting the child to do the same.
To his surprise, Flanella balanced her body forward, falling into him. Her short arms surrounded his neck as she laid her head on his shoulder. Crabbit remained static, his arms still outstretched in opposite directions. He didn't know how to react at this. One thing was to deal with ear tugging and tail yanking, but this was something completely different, never felt by him before: Crabbit's first hug.
"Oh…" he breathed, still overwhelmed by the new sensation of happiness spreading through his body. "This doesn't hurt…not at all…" Experimenting further, Crabbit placed his knobby paws on Flanella's back, pulling her closer. "Babies are so soft and nice…! Why didn't anyone care to tell me that before?"
Flanella giggled softly, apparently having missed how being embraced, comforted and protected felt. She cuddled on Crabbit's fluffy black feathers while this one pondered on what to do with her now. He couldn't have enough of that tender expression of affection, unknown to him until that day. It was even better than dancing, one of the few things that brought joy to his miserable existence.
"This is so weird!" he chuckled, "Is this what being loved feels like?"
Crabbit's long life dream was to one day be loved by millions, by people who would admire him by his amazing dancing skills. Perhaps, deep inside, what he truly wanted was some attention. To be respected and wanted by who he was, simple things Maja had forbidden him from having. He had lived a lonely life for centuries, always abused by his evil mistress, always hiding in the shadows. No wonder he had no friends.
"That's it!" Crabbit gasped in excitement, letting go of the baby. "I know what you are now! You are my first… fan!"
Flanella waved her hands as she joyfully slid back to the floor. She landed on her back as Kokko's golden feather drifted off her person and floated in front of Crabbit's face. The hybrid caught it in his grip, analyzing its golden glimmer with a serious glance.
"That bird…" he growled resentfully. "I mean, look at this! Imagine if I was born with beautiful, eye-catching feathers like this! Maybe people would think I'm attractive, maybe they wouldn't confuse me with the dark. After all, an artist needs to stand out from the rest somehow!"
Crabbit stared at Flanella, noticing that she was struggling to get Kokko's feather back from him. She couldn't do much, however. Her feeble feet were still not strong enough to support her, and she didn't seem to want to crawl on her stomach anymore. She babbled a frustrated baby speech, outstretching her hands towards her golden feather. Crabbit arched an eyebrow.
"Little baby, won't you give it to me? C'mon!" he begged.
Flanella whined, frowning.
"I-I know, let's trade!"
With that, Crabbit plucked a black feather from his shoulder and offered it to the child. Flanella's eyes were still focused on Kokko's feather, which prevented her from noticing the hybrid's proposal. Crabbit began to tickle her stomach with his feather then, leading the little girl to forget about her stolen belonging as she excitedly tried to catch the tickling feather. Crabbit let her get it, closing the deal to his convenience.
"There!" he exclaimed, placing the shimmering plume on top of his head. "I feel like a star already! What do you think of me now, baby? Aren't I a handsome guy or what?"
Flanella paid no attention to his question. Instead, she devoted herself to play with the black feather, presumably wondering why it had stopped tickling her. Soon, little Flanella grew bored of her fruitless research and did what any infant of her age would do in a similar situation; get the strange object into her toothless mouth. Crabbit noticed this immediately, cawing in indignation.
"No, don't suck it!" he corrected, grasping the dark plume rather forcefully. He carefully slid it behind Flanella's ear in a Robin Hood style. "See? Now you look like a real Crabbit fan!"
The child blinked in confusion.
"Crabbit fan!" the hybrid repeated, "Repeat after me: I'm Crabbit's greatest fan."
Flanella could only utter baby nonsense, followed by a joyful giggle.
Crabbit scratched his head, somewhat amused by his new friend's inability to speak. "Alright, just try to say Crabbit then! See if that's easier."
However, before Flanella could try again, a strenuous bang boomed throughout the antique mansion. A violent quake was felt, the lamp hanging above them shook wildly as the caged animals roared and cried in response, increasing the impact of the turmoil on the little girl. She grew uneasy soon enough, a terrified whine coming out of her quivering lips. Distraught by the commotion and the swelling tears in Flanella's eyes, Crabbit transformed back into his humanoid form.
Yet, the muscled being towering before her, no longer seemed threatening or scary to her. He gently picked the child up from the ground, wrapping her in his arms. It felt good to be able to carry out his newly discovered skill to hug, and how easy it was to cease Flanella's crying just by performing it.
"Hush now, little girl…" Crabbit whispered as he leaned against the wall and opened the door stealthy. "I'll make sure everything's fine."
He peeked through the small gap, gazing at the source of the recent explosion. At the end of the hallway a fireball had erupted. The wild flames burning the charred wallpaper were then fused together, materializing a fire elemental into the spot. Crabbit placed a hand on the back of Flanella's head, pushing her against his chest in an attempt to muffle any whimper that might come from her.
He was certain the baby girl could sense something dreadful and he knew the reason why. That fire elemental was the one who had been making vicious deals with Maja, Furnius the banished prince. It could be that he had come to claim Flanella as Maja had mentioned earlier. Crabbit gulped his nerves down, his features tensing. As Furnius made his way down the hall, the hybrid tightened his embrace on the child, as if stating that she now belonged to him and Furnius was invading his territory.
The fire elemental took no notice of the shadow peering at him, and continued to advance towards the witch's quarters. Once some distance had been made between them, Crabbit proceeded to follow him in the hopes of finding out what was Maja scheming now. As expected, Furnius stepped in the cauldron chamber. Crabbit sidled against the outer wall and spied the scene in silence.
Maja's eyes were focused on her crystal ball, while her Tarot deck laid carelessly spread by her feet. Her features were thoughtful, her breathing deep and solemn. Furnius didn't bother in knocking and simply walked in her direction, proud as the king he now was.
"Well, here I am!" he snickered, "Your magic has served me well, for that I'll gladly pay you for your services! What is it that you want? Jewels? Gold? I'll give you whatever you want! The whole land is practically mine now, so…"
Furnius waited for the witch to react or at least say something, but Maja remained frozen on her chair, giving him her back as if she didn't care about his presence. How dare she, a simple peasant, ignore him? This of course, irritated him. Her offense was unforgivable.
"It all has been set in motion…" she hissed delightfully, much to his surprise. "I thought you'd like to know that the child is here."
Furnius shrunk back the fireball that he had formed in his fist and frowned. "The child? Do you mean my cousin's petty mongrel?" he suppressed a cackle. "Fine. Give her to me, then!"
Crabbit shifted in the shadows, alarmed.
"Not so fast, Mr.!" Maja stood up and faced him with a mocking smirk. "I'm afraid, I have changed my mind." she laughed.
The fire elemental gritted his teeth, growling. "And what's that supposed to mean? Is she what you want as payment? Fine! You can have that scamp, for all I care! Better for me, yet."
Furnius swung the cape on his shoulders sullenly as he turned back to the exit. Maja, stoical, flicked her wrist, forcing the door to shut before him. Both Crabbit and Flanella flinched, drowning a sudden gasp. The fire elemental gripped his fists, his anger raising.
"What's the meaning of this?!" he hissed, his eyes blazing with contained fury.
"The child is not enough," Maja declared. "I know you captured the mother and I want you to bring her to me."
"No way! Flame Princess' worth exceeds that of our deal! You can keep the child, but the mother will stay with me!"
"Why, so that you can keep extorting the will of your subjects with her misery?" Maja folded her arms, amused. "Some king we have here! You still depend on her to fully manipulate your people? My, how pathetic! To think that you only managed to achieve the position you're in now because of me, and yet you dare to feel proud of yourself! You fire elementals are all the same, so pitiful, so weak!"
That was the last straw. Furnius wouldn't take it anymore. An aura of wild flames engulfed him, his massive body ready to charge against the mocking witch. "I'll show you who's weak!" his mighty roar boomed in the chamber. Maja's smirk remained unperturbed on her composed features. She raised a single hand, and did nothing else to counterattack her enemy.
It wasn't necessary. When she set her eyes back on Furnius, the fire elemental was hovering several feet above the ground, his body twitching and twisting. Furnius had lost all control on his body. He couldn't even speak at will. Frustrated grunts and groans were the only sign that conveyed his undying rage.
"So, this bozo thinks he has a say in the matter?" Maja sneered, "That's cute. Tell me now, your majesty, how does it feel to be deprived of all control? I believe this is what you did to Flame Princess, right? Is it as painful on your own skin as it looked on hers?"
"You thought I was just some gypsy beggar, another pawn in your game. But the truth is," she confessed, "You never had any control at all. It was always me! I am the one controlling your fate! I am your master! Now, if you want to keep that useless crown on top of your head, I suggest you do as I say, and bring me the mother! Now!"
She swiped the air, sending Furnius against the locked door. His body crashed through it, warning Crabbit and forcing him to take cover. Humiliated, once the prince had hit the ground, he slithered away from Maja for dear life. Furnius had no choice but to obey, and he cursed his luck as he opened a new portal. He vanished within it seconds later, much to Crabbit's relief.
Maja's maniacal laughter put an end to his brief moment of peace. Furnius' despair was too comical for her. It had been so easy; it was almost a blessing that the world was full of self-centered idiots for her to control. Having enjoyed herself, Maja walked up to her cauldron and clinging onto it with her trembling fingers, she sighed.
"It's been fun, I can't deny that, but this joke turned out to be pretty expensive." She glanced at her hand agitatedly. It had withered. "Oh, that shirt kept my powers at its best all these years! It was such a crucial ingredient in the recipe of my vengeance, and now! Now it's worth nothing!"
Staring at the bottom of her cauldron, it was now obvious that she was running out of soul sap. Her strength was decreasing, and her time was short. That damned curse that kept her heartless powers at bay was draining her. Just a few more drops of emotional juice, that was all she needed for her energy to last until the preparations for her ultimate spell were complete.
"Crabbit!" she suddenly yelled, letting go of her cauldron. "Crabbit, you weenus! Can't you hear that I'm calling you!? Bring me the child, Crabbit! I need more power!"
Her familiar felt his entire body shut down, fear crawling up his spine. Maja continued to call out for him, her anger boiling in contempt. Mustering the little courage he had, Crabbit got on his feet, and carrying Flanella in his arms, he stepped inside the chamber.
"It was about time. Now give me that baby!" his mistress demanded, almost desperately.
Crabbit was ready to obey. What else could he do? He cared more for his own life than anything or anyone else. And as he approached the witch, the little girl in his arms, thinking the hybrid could keep her safe, buried her frightened face in his chest. Her tiny arms surrounded him. It was another hug. One that asked for protection, for love… Crabbit's feet stopped their pace sharply. Maja glanced at him impatiently, a glare in her dark eyes. Crabbit however, couldn't move an inch father, not when Flanella was staring at him with those big saddened eyes of hers.
"Humph! Crabbit, have you finally bunked up your brains? What are you waiting for, a written invitation?" Maja shouted, "Give me that child, now!"
"N-n…" he weakly stuttered. Crabbit shook his head and inhaled deeply. "What I meant to say was… No, Maja."
The witch's eyes widened as her angered features melted into a complete state of perplexity. "Excuse me?"
The crow-rabbit met her eyes, full of determination. "I said no, Maja! No more! I told you; I can't be part of this anymore! I'm a dancer now! A true dancer!" he lowered his head to smile at the baby in his arms. "Because, I just got my first fan…"
Maja snorted in amusement, soon blurting out in laughter. Her hands held her aching stomach as she contorted frantically to one side and the other, guffawing at her pathetic servant and his ridiculous words. Crabbit furrowed his brow, he knew Maja well enough to foresee the actions that would shortly follow her mocks.
He retreated slowly and laid Flanella on a corner, behind a wooden crate filled with unknown witchcraft-related goods. "Stay here." Crabbit advised, ready to face his mistress in battle.
"Ca–!" she whined, grasping the soft puff of black hair that his tail was.
"We play later, alright?" he assured, "I must go and do important grown-up stuff. Things I should have done a long time ago. Listen, baby…" the hybrid rubbed the back of his neck, uncertain of what to say next or if Flanella could even understand his words. "Before, I wanted to kill you because you were much of a nuisance to me. But then I realized that, in the little time we shared, you changed something in me… And I think that was good because, for the first time in my life, I feel happy!"
He patted her small head and walked away.
"Ca–!" she cried again, stretching her hands towards him in vain.
"You know what's the punishment for disobeying my orders, don't you Crabbit?" Maja smirked as her feet took off from the ground. "Such treason can only be paid with death!"
"Come at me, Maja!" Crabbit challenged, "I'm not afraid of you anymore!"
She wasted no time in shooting her blue zaps at him. Crabbit jumped away from them, losing some feathers in the process. The truth was that he had never been able to outrun Maja's attacks. Her powers, however weakened by the curse cast upon them, were far greater than his. Why was he rebelling against her then? The battle couldn't be won and he knew that perfectly. He was practically dead, and yet, he was willing to fight. Why?
Before he could escape again, Maja paralyzed his body just like she had done it with Furnius before. Crabbit shivered in fear, sensing how the witch approached him. This would be his end and he had wanted it that way; because he didn't want his greatest and only fan to think that he was a coward, because he couldn't just hand Flanella over that easily. If Maja wanted her so badly, she would have to stomp over his dead body first.
"I pity you, Crabbit." Maja commented, "You were my loyal familiar for uncountable centuries, and now you just want to bring that down? Every evil plan we schemed together, even if you ruined them all, meant something to me!" she brought her index finger to her lips, slightly embarrassed. "Wait, no! My bad. What I was trying to say was that, I'm glad I finally have an excuse to get rid of you!"
"Is that all?" he wearily muttered.
"You are such a fool, Crabbit." She sentenced, pressing a glowing hand on his abdomen. "And no one mourns a fool."
Before Flanella could realize what had happened, a blinding light engulfed the chamber. The sound of an electric explosion filled her ears, sending constant pricks of pain through her nerves. Maja's evil laughter followed soon after, and as the baby recovered to seek for her hybrid friend, the only sign of him that she could glimpse was Kokko's golden feather. It drifted gently through the giant hole left in the wall and landed at Maja's feet. Flanella couldn't understand why, when the witch picked up the golden feather, she suddenly felt compelled to scream her lungs out and storm out of the half destroyed room.
Terrified, confused, and most of all, lonely. That was how little Flanella was left behind in that accursed floating mansion. Her eyes were filled with tears, and still she couldn't find the strength to cry. She peeked at the hole left by Crabbit's blasted body, feeling the cold breeze in her hair before uttering, what was perhaps, her first word ever spoken.
Someone sent me a PM asking why I don't reply to reviews at the end of each chapter like many author's here usually do. Well, I'm not really sure of why I don't do that. However, if you guys want me to do it, I'll gladly will. So, do you want me to do it?
Besides that, hope you have enjoyed this chapter. And as always, thank you for any reviews/critics that you might want to leave!