Author's Note: An angsty little one shot, because the idea wouldn't get out of my head.
I asked her once, you know.
Why a Yuke never shows her true face. Ever.
She was startled; I didn't need to see her face to know that. We had been companions for nearly five years. We had eaten together, traveled together, bled together, and emerged victorious together, time and again. I knew her, as much as much as she'd let me, that is. I could tell from the way the fur – or feathers? I've never been completely sure, but it's soft and silky when it isn't matted with blood– on her arms stood up. She tensed, as if a horde of goblins had appeared and she was trying to charge a spell before we were all slaughtered. Heck, even her little white wings twitched.
She was nervous.
Suu Mi leaned in from across the fire, her interest piqued. She would eagerly listen to the answer, if it ever came, glad that she would benefit from someone else mustering up the courage to speak up. It was the question that everyone from every other tribe wondered, but never got the courage to ask. It was the hidden taboo, an unspoken law.
I broke it. I had never been very good about social etiquette, especially when it didn't make any sense. I was curious, and it didn't seem like a weird question at the time. After all, it wasn't something anyone ever talked about.
There were old stories that say Yukes are merely spirits from another realm, tied to this one through magic, and what we see as clothing is merely the shell they wear to give them physical form. When I first joined the Caravan I wondered if it was true. The truth was made obvious during the very first battle, when a goblin nicked her arm as she was trying to cast. Spirits don't bleed.
I was morbidly fascinated by the fact that her blood looked hardly different than mine or Suu Mi's. Looking back, I'm ashamed of how many preconceived notions of other tribes I held, none more so that hers. She was always patient with everyone, though, never seeming to take offense at anything, until that day. Nothing ever seemed to upset her except that one question, and I've regretted it ever since.
My only defense is that I am a Lilty, born and raised. My parents moved to the little coastal town from Alfitaria. On the surface, the culture and people of Alfitaria have changed quite a lot, become more accepting of others. Underneath...well, we are a people quick to anger and slow to forgive. A Lilty's blood runs hot and fierce, making us an emotional and aggressive tribe.
In that way, I guess it only makes sense that there's always been so much bad blood between us and the Yukes. They're our polar opposites in that sense, they almost always take a matter slowly and think it through. It's easy for an outsider to confuse that for them being distant and aloof and without emotions. They think, we act. It doesn't make sense to most Lilties, and we tend to be suspicious of what doesn't make sense to us. That, plus the fact that they are literally always hiding something makes them seem...less than trustworthy. How can you possibly trust someone that is always hiding from you? Someone that doesn't trust you enough to even show her face?
I look back on that conversation and I wonder if that was the heart of the matter all along. Nearly five years of friendship, and yet somewhere deep inside of me I didn't fully trust her.
When she finally spoke, after moments of that awkward, fragile silence, her words were hesitant, pained.
I miss the sound of her voice, mature and reasonable and smooth, a little deeper than most females, probably because of her height. The way it didn't quite echo out of her helmet, nor was it muffled, but sort of...bell like. She always knew what she was talking about, and if she didn't have something useful to say she preferred to keep silent. Somehow that made her words more precious, more worthwhile than the average person's, because she didn't waste them. That made her answer all the more troubling.
"B-because," I had never heard her stutter before. It wasn't pleasant to know how deeply one innocent question affected her. "Because...we...I...I can't...explain it. Please. I-I'm sorry."
She quietly rose and left the fire, tucking herself into her tent for the night.
Suu Mi stared after her, looking worried.
In the morning we pretended that nothing happened. I pretended I didn't feel guilty and she pretended she didn't feel embarrassed.
The truth was so much simpler than I could have imagined then. All this time I had still been expecting something grand and mystical as befitting the ancient Yuke tribe. Such a petty, silly little reason it seemed, and still seems, to me when she finally told us the truth. Why she would rather die than remove her helmet. Why she would rather let us watch her slowly fade then show us her face, the people who she had traveled with and joked with for years. Why we were too stupid to do anything, to know what to do, to help her.
Why we didn't trust her, or she didn't trust us, enough to save her life.
It was dark and gloomy, and every flickering shadow was an orc. The Mine of Cathirges had never been my favorite place to visit, and not just because of the historical shame. The place was stressful; the half-light provided by jumping flames and lantern-caged bombs was worse for the imagination than pure darkness, and the many passages made it far too easy to believe that every corner meant death, that every sound was a group of monsters sneaking up behind you.
There was also the fact that Suu Mi was a back up healer, and she was slightly claustrophobic. The Mine was her worst nightmare, but it had the only available Myrrh tree on the way back home, and so our trio relied heavily on our calm and quiet mage that day.
We were so busy fighting the small army of orcs that we didn't even notice it when the ogre flanked us.
Just as Suu Mi and I finished up the last orc, the ogre bellowed and raised its giant hammer.
She turned, trying to move, or duck, or cast a spell. I don't know. I never had a chance to know. It happened so quickly, too quickly. Some people say that horrific events appear in slow motion, but if anything time sped up as the beast swung. If it had been in slow motion I would have had time to do something, to save her, to push her out of the way and gut the horrific, tusked giant.
I had little time to do anything but yell.
The cavernous hall echoed, 'Yaeliathra!'
The hammer connected to the metallic mask with a discordant clang. The force of the blow to her head practically sent her flying, and after hitting the wall she crumpled.
She didn't rise, but she was breathing. That was enough. Suu Mi and I took care of the creature quickly.
Yaelia was...a mess. Her helmet had a huge dent in it, and I could tell right away that that dent was pressing into her head. Blood was dripping out of the sallet, and she was breathing slowly.
I knew little of healing magic, but I knew first aid as well as any caravanner. Head wounds were dangerous. They bled a lot if not wrapped quickly. I knew that. Plus, with the way the metal folded in to press at her skull could only be a bad thing.
"Oh my god," Suu Mi said, panicking.
I ignored her.
I remember little of the specific words I said. It was blurry and fast and I could feel the blood pumping through every part of my body as we rushed over.
"You've got to stay down," I remember saying, trying to take control of the situation. "Don't move; you'll hurt yourself worse."
Her helmet was slick with blood. I knew the wound was bad, but I couldn't tell how bad. Suu Mi couldn't get to it to try and heal it.
We had to remove the helmet.
"Damn, how do you remove this thing?" I snarled, shakily trying to find some sort of latch or hinge. I frankly didn't even remember our conversation from the previous night at that point; her face didn't even matter. She was dying, and knowing how the brain reacts to being hit so hard she might have already been beyond our help, but I had to do something.
She was still semi conscious. I could tell that the weak swipes of her arms were meant to be pushing me away, but half the time she was reaching into thin air, and those hits that actually connected were as powerful as a newborn's.
I wondered if she even recognized me, or if she was completely delirious from blood loss and concussion.
I would have tried to cut the damn thing off if I wasn't so terrified of doing her more damage. As it was, every attempt at removing the helmet seemed to cause her pain – physical or emotional, I couldn't tell and didn't care. We were desperate.
"I c-can't d-do it!" Suu Mi sobbed. "It's not w-working; why won't the blood stop?" She kept trying to cast the healing spell, with limited success as the wound couldn't be reached.
"No...nooo," Yaelia groaned, still trying to stop my efforts at removing her mask
"Why won't you help?! You need to let me take it off!" I yelled, trying to make her see reason.
"Don...Don't. Please," she said, struggling to sit up.
"What's your problem? Do you want to die? Your stupid magic mystery deal isn't worth it! I don't care! The other Yukes won't kick you out of the club, dammit, now stop fighting me!" I was currently trying to remove her visor, with slightly more success. I wasn't sure if we could cure and wrap the wound this way, but perhaps we could at least use some cloths to stop the bleeding.
I didn't realize that there was more than just blood wetting my fingers at that point. I didn't realize that I was crying.
"Come on...you're going to be fine, damnit. Please! I can't...we can't lose you now! You need to be fine!" My voice was harsh and rasping, as if I were the one in pain. Maybe I was. At any rate, she finally seemed to realize where she was, and who I was, because she relaxed a little. Suu Mi choked out something, I couldn't quite tell what.
"You...asked why," she replied, before stopping and gathering her strength. I thought she was just rambling, until she continued. "Why...we hide. I...shame. Ancients...looked different. Normal. Changed. Magic...appearance like this. Can't...beauty. Remember vanity. All these years...afraid. Still ashamed of faces. Never...show world. Not...but...you. Trust. Sorry...should've...sooner. Should've...said...love you.'' She fumbled with the blood stained metal for a moment, before a click was heard.
Suu Mi looked away.
I knew it was too late as I wrapped the still bleeding gash on the side of her head, but I cleaned it up as much as I could, even wiping off her helmet till it shone. She said
We returned one person short that year. Her grave is by the side of the road, far from the caverns and the darkness.
We buried her wearing her sallet, though she didn't need it. She never needed it, not to me.
I thought she was fine just the way she was.
Author's Note II: Why don't Yukes ever remove their masks? I'm taking liberties on their culture and society based on a statement made in Ring of Fate. Alhanalem, the second funniest Yuke after my man Amidatty, says something to the effect of, 'Or take off your mask and show your face real!' to another Yuke. Vague enough to not be a spoiler, but basically anyone who was going to play the game has probably beaten it by now, I'd think...
Basically, I took that to mean that to a Yuke, showing your true face is the worst shame imaginable, so utterly humiliating that it's a punishment less preferable than pain or death.
The narrator doesn't have a name, but he really grew on me...I feel guilty...