The Hartwood tree sheltered the bellacostans from the snowfall. Dots of picnic blankets sprinkled all over and in between the feet of the gigantuan arbor, lining it with festive colors. For an old tree, it retained a lot of color and flourish, and even appeared to be blushing-- though one could attribute that to the flocks of floating candle light. Underneath these candles, families and friends gathered merrily for the Equinox. In one of the ancient nooks of the roots, the oddest group of friends sat. And there, a slightly worried ursuki nervously set the table.
Klein, the hulking mass of brown fur, delicately placed down the plates carefully. This was a festive time, one of the few times he, Seren and Aiza got to celebrate the coming of Spring together. They gathered here every year without fail, and it was always filled with laughter and good vibes. And though they still came together…
It was this year that Klein felt awful. Normally, he was joyful to see his friend and adoptive niece. However. This year was rough. A world wide catastrophe of monster attacks ravaged cities, and a rampant dark virus called the corruption marred many.
He himself had succumbed to the corruption, and became a rampaging monster. His home was destroyed, and even worse…
His tired eyes gazed up at Aiza's corrupt scar.
He had done harm to his found family.
The suki sulked. His ears and mustache drooped. This year was not meant to be celebrated, not when so many were wounded.
Seren caught Klein's eyes and shuffled over. Though she was busy grinding some koffberries, she seemed to have sensed his unease.
"Rare to see you frowning." She mused. "Hate table setting?"
"No… It's nothing."
Klein gave a smile, attempting to shrug it off. But Seren was an old friend who had a near psychic instinct of his thoughts. Not surprising, after all, they had once been travelling buddies.
Klein let the act loose. No use hiding from her keen sense. He sighed and sat back, gently laying down the last of the dinnerplates on the picnic blanket.
"I am… It's been a long year ya know…" He stared at the snow. "I feel bad. Couldn't fight against tha corruption."
His eyes glossed over at Aiza, who was cheerily cutting up fruit. Her corrupted scar met his eye. A wave of guilt made him hunch over. "And I hurt her. How can I celebrate the Equinox knowin' that?"
Seren sat beside him, slowing her coffee grinding. "It's not your fault." She stated.
"Aye, but it doesn't change tha fact Aiza now has that awful wound."
"Well, it hasn't killed her… yet." Seren said, a little too calmly. Again, she wasn't good with these emotional situations. Klein imagined the worst after her words, and he shuddered.
"Oi… What if it does… Oh saints, I would never forgive myself."
His eyes stared a thousand yards into his adoptive niece's gnarly scar.
Seren felt her friend begin to succumb into a dark state, and she scratched her head, mind racing to find something to bring him back. They watched Aiza and her newfound friend Mithril begin to arrange a plate of sandwiches. Smiles and teasing banter crossed between the two. Klein frowned, a coldness creeping on him. The ursuki felt like it was the last time Aiza would be this happy-- this alive. He looked as if he saw a reaper right behind her. And behind the reaper was the memory of himself as a corrupted monster. A monster that loomed over Aiza.
"You're jumping to conclusions." Seren grumbled.
Klein raised his head. The black vespire looked especially grouchy at him, possibly even annoyed. "Do you have that little faith in us?"
She eyed the carriage, her claws gripping tightly on the grinder. "She won't go down that easily. Besides, I've been looking into it."
Seren looked Klein in the eyes. "What's important now is that we're alive and here. To see another year."
Seren glanced up at the other two, and Klein's eyes followed. He finally felt a bit of the warmth of the scene-- Aiza and Mithril were now arguing about what to serve. Seren was still grinding the koffberries, and he could hear her kettle boil in the back. The ambient sound of joyful talk from other groups surrounded them. Others, who also endured the year of catastrophe just like them.
Klein's eyes softened. Seren was right. They were lucky to live another year.
"You got a point there… That is a reason to celebrate." Klein's mustache curled into a smile.
"Yes. And don't blame yourself for the unknown." Seren said sternly, as she recounted her own sense of guilt regarding anomalies. She too, had felt bad for horrific events unfolding from dealing with the strange. Guilt never solved anything.
"We'll get to the bottom of it."
Klein bowed his head, looking vulnerable. In his heart he wanted to do something to help Aiza's case as well. He got up and peeled off a part of the Hartwood tree. The ursuki presented the bark to Seren, with hope and seriousness in his eyes.
"Take this… It's a good luck charm. Please help her."
Seren nodded and tucked the wood piece away with utmost care.
The ursuki gave a face of utter relief. "Thank you."
Klein looked much more of himself now. Brimming with a smile, he pointed to the other two. "Oi, Why don't we go start the party?"
A tiny smile cracked on Seren as she looked onto her old friend.
"Let's. I'm starving."
They joined the other two at the picnic blanket. Their voices raised loud as they cheered and toasted, arms raised high towards the mountainous tree above them. Though they all shared doubts of the future, it was forgotten in the colorful conversations of that night. For now, it was a big celebration for the end of a troublesome year. And the uncertain future can wait.
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