~~Installment Twenty-Two~~ Her Name Is Dekreel
Some are immediately seeking a place to hide; others are pointing guns and knives at Nelly; everyone is either screaming or shouting commands or warnings.
“STOP!” I yell, shaking myself out of my shock. I run between Nelly and the Resistors who are brandishing weapons and hold out my arms. “QUIET! PLEASE DON’T HURT HER!” Behind me, Nelly is roaring. She’s scared.
“Korey, mind the wolf! It could pounce on you easily!” yells Jacoby, training his pistols past me.
“She’s mine!” I respond, my voice cracking with fear, “She’s my wolf, do you understand! Her name is Nelly! Please, don’t hurt her!! And stop screaming; you’re scaring her!”
“Listen to Korey!” says Leina in a sharp tone.
Jacoby and the other armed Resistors lower their weapons, but dubiousness is still written on their faces. When the yelling peters, a tense silence replaces it, broken only by Nelly’s nervous low growling.
Slowly, I turn my back on the Resistors and lock eyes with my creature. “Nelly girl, it’s me. It’s Korey. I’m here for you. Shhhhhhh, it’s all right. You’re safe. They won’t hurt you. . .” By now my hands are clamped around her shivering head. Her lips are still peeled back, and her eyes are dancing with terror. . . and something else. . . urgency.
“Wait, wait, that’s--”
“Shhh, let her calm down,” I hush Aislinn, who has hidden under a table.
“Shhhhhhh. . .”
Aislinn furrows her brow and puffs a little, but obeys.
I turn to look at the Resistors who had drawn weapons. “Put those away please,” I say with a level voice, “She’s terrified and needs to calm down. The last thing she needs is a reason to be afraid of you.”
One by one the weapons are sheathed, Jacoby’s pistols being the last.
I continue to stroke and soothe Nelly until she’s no longer growling and her hackles are flat against her neck. I slowly stand back up to face the Resistors, a hand still on her furry head. “You see? She won’t hurt you if she isn’t scared. Just don’t get too close to her, and don’t make any loud noises or sudden movements.”
“Wow. . .” breathes Emily. She had drawn an icy-looking sword, but it is now back in her scabbard.
“Fascinating,” Gloria remarks as she emerges from behind a pillar, “That may be the very wolf creature from the rumors!”
“It seems we may have found your slave girl, Iliara,” says Hanna.
“That can’t be her,” answers Iliara quietly, never taking her eyes off Nelly, “She was totally different.”
“Yeah, I’d assume the slave girl wasn’t covered in fur,” remarks Missy with a nervous smirk.
Christopher -- who is obviously very intrigued -- asks, “What did you say her name was?”
“Nelly,” I reply with a smile, “She’s beautiful isn’t she?”
“That’s not her name!” Aislinn has emerged from the table, but her brow still signifies that she is troubled.
“What do you mean?”
“Nelly isn’t her name! I should know; I know her!”
I raise my eyebrows, conflicting emotions exploding in me. “Does she belong to you?”
“No.” It’s Iliara who answers this time.
Taking a step closer to us, Ariella chimes in, “She doesn’t belong to anyone. At least she didn’t. She used to be intelligent -- almost human. She could stand on two paws and talk just like any person could talk. She could draw and write too, and she had a full head of brown hair. She was very kind!”
I meet eyes with Leina. Her brow is furrowed with confusion.
Aislinn crosses her arms; a different look is on her face now. “What did you do to her?”
“I didn’t do anything! She was like this when I found her! Really!” Aislinn’s accusation, though false, feels like an arrow to my heart.
Nelly makes a sound I’ve never heard before: a strange high-pitched trilling sound. Her eyes are on the three girls who had spoken up against her name. When I dig into her mind, I find a feeling I didn’t expect to find: longing. Like how someone longs to go back home when they’re on a long trip, or to see an old friend they hadn’t seen in years.
She’s met the girls. . . and she remembers them.
Aislinn leans forward. “Dekreel, it’s me, Ace Mollisong! Remember me?”
“Dekreel. . .” I echo the foreign name, and Nelly’s ear closest to me swivels toward me. She doesn’t take her eyes off the girls. Her strange trilling is intensifying.
She’s found her friends; she’s found people she can trust more than me. My heart swells with happiness for her, but the joy is promptly muted by heartbreak. Could this possibly mean I’m about to lose my dear Nelly?
When I was eight, Estel, a catwing -- one of my dearest of animal friends back in Enfranya -- died of sickness. After a small burial service, I ran upstairs to Master Lans’ office and wept into the old mentor’s robe. It was the hardest I’ve ever cried as far as I remember. He placed me into his lap and comforted me until I finally stopped crying after an hour. When my well of tears had nearly dried up, he looked down at me with those soft green eyes and said, “She will always be in your heart, young Korey. Memories live on.”
My mind flashes back to those words now as I look at down at Nelly. . . Dekreel. She was once practically human. She wasn’t a wild animal. She was intelligent and had talents. And she had friends. Looking into her mind, I realize that the madness, the animal inside her, isn’t natural. Something has let the beast come in, and now we have to find a way to get it back out. It may mean losing the Nelly I once knew, but it also means that Ariella, Aislinn and Iliara could find the Dekreel they once knew.
I turn to the girls. “Is there a way to restore her intelligence?”
“I don’t know,” replies Iliara, “I’m not even sure how she lost her intelligence.”
“Could we try aether?” suggests Scarlett.
“That’s not a bad idea. . .” says Alexander, nodding.
“I don’t see why not!” Missy tosses me a few drops of aether, and it falls into my aethermeter. Other Resistors follow suit.
“Korey, you’re really doing this?” exclaims Leina.
“Yes, I am!” I answer.
“You do realize that once Nelly is intelligent, she won't be in your care anymore, right? She won't be your ‘dear Nelly’!”
“Yes, I know. But she isn't meant to be an animal. She isn’t how she’s supposed to be. Even her name is false. And because I love her, I’m helping her. Besides, memories live on.” I smile at my sister and hope she understands. She nods once and averts her gaze to the floor.
I look down at my aethermeter and grin to find that it’s full, the purple fluid swirling and sparkling. I lay a hand on the beast’s shoulder, and she looks at me. Her eyes are clearer and calmer than I’ve ever seen them before. “Dekreel, I need you to hold still. We’ll get you back to normal soon. If aether doesn’t work, we’ll find another way. I promise, dear girl.”
She seems to understand me. She doesn’t struggle or cringe away when I open the aethermeter and let the aether spill freely into my hand. “Good-bye, my Nelly,” I whisper. And I release the aether.
Dekreel absorbs the mist, and almost immediately, her eyes droop. She collapses onto one side and lies still.
“Nelly??” Leina cries and runs forward. I hold up a hand to stop my sister and inspect the motionless creature. After a moment, I exhale in relief. “She’s fine; she’s in a deep sleep. I don’t know when she’ll wake up, but I think she’ll be all right when she does.”
“Aether always helps and never hinders,” says Iliara, “Even if she doesn’t have her intelligence back, she will definitely have improved. Especially since you gave her a full meter.”
“Thank you.” I smile at Iliara, and then gaze at the rest of the Resistors. “Thank you all. Thank you so much for your help. Leina and I are so grateful, and I know Dekreel will be too when she wakes up.”
“Our pleasure, Korey,” Alexander says with a grin, “Would you two like to stay here to look after her? You may stay as long as you like!”
“Oh, Alexander, thank you! I would like to stay if you don’t mind.” I feel the stress that has built up over the days since I found Dekreel melt away like the spring thaw. Not having to worry about how to get her home without stirring her is a huge relief.
~~Six Hours Later~~
Leina left to deliver more goods to the Business District, but I have never left Dekreel’s side. The Resistors have been kind enough to bring me dinner and snacks, keep me company, etcetera. Now most of them have gone home to bed. I’m lying on a rug, reading a book of Aethasian history and munching on flavorful wedges of potato Ariella calls “Pringles”.
Dekreel is lying on a nearby couch, a blanket pulled up to her chin. She’s still sleeping peacefully. Every once in a while she will stir and move around -- probably dreaming. She’s looking more human by the hour. It’s hard not to miss her rough, restless “Nellyness”, everything from the challenge of taming her to the mystery of what is buried inside her mind. I feel like a father who has just succeeded in raising his daughter to a healthy, happy adult. Whether or not I’m actually finished taking care of her is still yet to be found, but even if I’m not finished, I have the feeling that it will be a bit more manageable than before. If the aether is as powerful and good as the Resistors say it is, then I have the Great Engineer to thank for everything he’s done for her, and for me and Leina.
~ ~ ~
“So you’re my caretaker, eh?”
I don’t realize I have fallen asleep until the unknown voice jolts me awake. I look around to see if anyone had entered the room. Nobody. I look over to Dekreel and I gasp a little to find her awake. She’s still lying on her back, but she’s propping herself up with her elbows. She’s looking right at me, smirking. Her eyes are now crystal clear and teeming with human-like intelligence.
I open my mouth, but no words come. My eyes cloud with tears. A sob escapes from my chest. My heart overflows with astonishment and joy.
Thank the Great Engineer; she’s back.