This was it. She was going to do it.
Floros took the deepest breath she ever took in her sixteen years of life and let it out agonizingly slowly. She raised her violet eyes to look at the enormous gnarled tree looming over her like the shadow of a malicious, spindly ghost. Dear God, it looked even scarier at night… Floros gulped and was overcome with an immense urge to turn back.
Floros smacked herself in the cheek and winced with pain. Ow, that was hard… She rubbed the sore spot and scowled to herself. You deserved it, Floros. You didn't come this far to turn back now!
Floros raised a fist and gave the side of the dead tree four quick knocks. She clenched her eyes shut, as if expecting a hard blow in the head.
Floros realized she had been holding her breath and exhaled. Guess she's not home, oh well, I tried!
Floros turned around and began to hum a jaunty tune. She was about to head back when she heard a voice from inside the house.
Floros froze, one foot in the air, and looked over her shoulder just in time to see Vilos stick her masked face out of her curtains.
Vilos looked surprised for a moment and mouthed 'Floros?' before shaking her head and giving Floros a bone-chilling glare.
"What do you want? I thought we established that we never wanted to see each other again," Despite her cold tone, Vilos floated out of the tree and folded her skeletal arms. "People are going to spread some ugly rumors if they see you talking to me. Do you really want more ugly rumors about you floating around, kiddo?"
"Uh, yeah, about the whole 'never speaking to you' thing…" Floros looked down at her feet and traced a line in the dirt with her big toe. "I, uh, I want to…" Floros made eye contact with her soured sister and blurted: "Iwanttobefriendsagain!"
"What?" Vilos wasn't sure she heard Floros correctly. She tilted one of the brows of her mask and Floros immediately turned a shade of red to match it.
"I. Want. To. Be. Friends. With. You. Again," Floros said slowly, as if Vilos was an inattentive three year old.
Vilos got very quiet for a few moments and then retreated back into her tree.
Floros flopped over in disappointment until Vilos stuck her arm through a curtain and beckoned Floros inside with a finger.
The younger girl lit up and scampered into the tree as fast as she could.
Vilos was sitting on a raggedy couch tailor style, an odd expression on her mask. Floros couldn't tell if she was baffled, irritated, or…happy. A mix of the three?
Vilos patted the spot next to her on the couch and Floros stumbled over to her. Floros was feeling really weird herself…was this a dream? She felt like she was sleepwalking…she would never have the guts to do this. Never. She'd wake up in a minute and this wouldn't have happened. She had dreams about making up with her sister before. They would hug and bawl in each other's arms, so happy to be reunited after years of being apart…and then Floros would wake up, alone and disappointed, her arms around one of her cheap, hard pillows.
Floros discreetly pinched her own arm. Ow…not a dream, I guess…
Vilos made a quiet noise of annoyance and Floros figured she better cut to the chase…hopefully this night wouldn't end with her skull split on the ground and her brains splattered all over the walls of this poor dead tree.
"Stell-er, Vilos…I'm sorry…" Floros fiddled with her hands, refusing to make eye contact with her partially-deceased sister. "I…never wanted to be estranged from you, even if you're ostracized from society…" Floros huffed under her breath. She was talking to Vilos like she was an authority figure of some kind. Not her friend. Not her sister. She couldn't even look her in the eye…
"Floros…" Was Vilos chuckling? "You were always a silly kid. You never changed, huh?"
Floros felt two bony fingers grab her chin and her face was whirled to look at her sister. Vilos was smiling. Half-smiling, but still!
Floros couldn't help a smile from overtaking her own face.
"Ten years of cold silence, and the best you can do is waltz up to my house and ask to be friends again?" Vilos let go of Floros' chin and her smile became smirkier. "You're crazy. Absolutely insane."
"Yeah…I've been told that…" Floros started fiddling with her hands again, but she stopped when Vilos placed her skeletal hand over Floros' knotted-up fingers.
"About time, you dummy," Vilos grinned at her sister and pulled her into a quick, awkward embrace. Hugging Vilos felt…odd. Like hugging someone who was barely there. Floros could feel the bones in Vilos' body, but it was a vague sensation. The hug left Floros feeling cold, but she felt completely fulfilled inside.
"I'm glad we buried the hatchet!" Floros was back to her cheery self, tilting her head to the side, her curls bouncing as she grinned at her sister. "Don't worry, sis, I'll keep it a secret. Can I ask you something, though?"
"Depends on what it is," Vilos withdrew her hand and used it to keep a lock of hair from floating too far upwards. Back to her cold self already? Dang.
Floros didn't let her smile falter. "Is Maggie still around?"
Neither of the sisters had noticed or cared that quite a few hours had passed. Maggie was asleep and purring in Floros' lap, and she and Vilos were talking about all that had happened in the last ten years. They had a lot of catching up to do, after all.
Floros felt nostalgic and happy whenever she looked at her sister. Back in the day, Floros had seen her older sister as a beautiful, intelligent, strong girl who she was so lucky to be related to. Stellos would praise Floros whenever one of her plants would successfully grow, whenever one of her Shellybeans got sent off to a party, whenever she succeeded in fulfilling the romance requirements of two piñatas…Stellos' pale blue eyes would light up, she would ruffle Floros' hair, and say "Good job, kiddo. I'm proud of you."
The woman in front of Floros barely resembled the older sister she used to know. Stellos had kept her long, blue-black hair in a braid, while Vilos' silver hair flowed loose in every direction, tresses floating in midair like they were Syrupents. Vilos' eyes were mismatched and cold, while Stellos' were full of warmth, no matter what mood she was in. Vilos was a skeleton, a ghost, barely resembling her former life that was yanked against her far too soon. Still, Floros felt a familiarity whenever she looked at what remained of her older sister. Floating skeleton or not, Stellos was still in there somewhere. Floros could tell by how Vilos smiled at her, just like she used to back when they were kids. A smile meant only for her little sister.
"Patrice always talks about you…" Floros scratched Maggie behind the ears. "She's obsessed. I think she has a little crush." Floros poked her tongue out at her sister and Vilos gave her a shove in the shoulder.
"Don't even joke about that," Vilos scowled, but her tone wasn't full of coldness like it usually was; it was good natured. Floros could have sworn she heard a trace of an Irish accent, which Vilos had done her best to hide the past few years. Floros quietly smiled to herself for noticing that, but felt it was best not to bring it up.
Floros opened her mouth to say something else when the ground started to shake. It lasted all of ten seconds, but that was long enough for Floros to shriek and throw her arms around her sister, accidentally sending poor Maggie tumbling to the dirt floor. Not even that tumble managed to wake up the sleeping Macaraccoon, who continued to snooze on her back with her stubby little paws up in the air.
"What was that?" Vilos said once the tremors stopped. She gently pushed Floros away and began to look around, as if the source was in her own house. Floros was still shaky. Nothing like that had ever happened on Piñata Island! Despite the volcano Mistress Mayhem lived in and the occasional tropical storm, natural disasters were scarce. Floros had no idea how Vilos could keep a cool head after the ground had shaken!
Another tremor hit, this one longer than the last one. Floros curled up into a ball on Vilos' couch as if that would somehow protect her.
Vilos gritted her teeth and flew over to her curtains, parting them to look outside. The sun had begun to peek over the horizon, but the Village was already very much awake. Vilos could hear screams in the distance, not to mention an entirely unmanly one coming from the residence of Dedos and Jardiniera. The sideways tree that they called home was swinging back and forth dangerously.
"This looks like it could shape up to be really bad…" Vilos said under her breath. She turned around to face her cowering sister. "Floros, are you-" Vilos stopped dead in her sentence when she saw a bright green light swelling up from a crack in the walls of her dead tree. "What is that?" Vilos breathed, floating backwards several paces as the light increased in size.
Floros whimpered. What the hell could have Vilos so spooked? Did she dare raise her head and witness the horror? The ground was still tremoring…
Against her better judgment, Floros looked up just in time to see herself get engulfed by a bright green light as the earthquake became even more intense. She screamed as loudly as her lungs could muster, sending Vilos into a state of panic.
"FLOROS!" Vilos exclaimed, flying into the light and instantly becoming blinded by the brightness. The Island shook like it had never shook before and soon, the light had engulfed everything.
As quickly as it came, though, the light disappeared. Floros was fine, just visibly frightened and practically hyperventilating. Vilos placed a hand on Floros' shaking shoulder and squeezed it in an attempt to reassure her.
"What was that all about…?" Vilos clicked her tongue. "Well, my house is still standing, and you're safe…guess that's what matters…" Vilos turned her head towards the curtains. "Wonder if the Village is still standing…"
Floros whimpered and Vilos shrugged. Figured she'd better look outside and assess the damage…
Vilos parted her curtains and stuck her head out, her jaw dropping instantly. Vilos was never usually one to get startled, but looking outside and seeing that the Village had doubled in size was more than a bit disconcerting.
She floated outside, her brow furrowed and her index finger in her mouth, and her eyes darted around rapidly, taking in all of her surroundings. She almost stopped floating from sheer shock when she saw what was right next to her home.
Another dead, gnarled tree that looked exactly the same as hers.