The words seemed to echo in Ashoka’s head as he watched some of the Mariposa’s left with their mates, other’s with their friends while same hung back to offer words to Creem. Ashoka slowly looked around at everyone, even catching sight of En and his birdlike friend among the crowd. Who did he have? Everyone either pitied him or else just didn’t like him so that left him without friends and having been one of the Walker’s who went into the war he didn’t know who his parents were. It wasn’t from lack of trying either but the only way how Mariposa could tell who their brothers were or who was family was by a set pattern on their wings. Of course the pattern changed just slightly from parent to child but not enough for him to not be able to match it. So far, he hadn’t come across a pattern that matched his, a simple set of small dots along the top corner of his wings, and by this point he had stopped looking.
Shaking his head to clear away the wondering thoughts Ashoka stayed where he was as he watched everyone else leave. He didn’t feel like returning to his nest, trying to sleep in the small space while knowing what had just happened. Ashoka almost worried about being attacked himself but the idea seemed far out of it, he was a flightless butterfly with one arm. If he was killed…
If he was killed…
Ashoka’s train of thought was lost to him as he lifted his head to look up at the stars, his hand reaching up to press itself over his heart as he felt the pain of his lift tearing into it. His eyes were starting to burn but he blinked it back, Mariposa weren’t able to cry but there eyes were able to burn and water.
A small, dragonlike creature crawled through the crowd as it dispersed. It approached the lone, one-armed Mariposa and stood in front of him. Mo looked Ashoka up and down, sizing him up and scrutinizing him. "Now child, there's no need to be sad. I've talked with my honey and we've agreed to let you stay with us. We have food aplenty, even with our wee ones. You'll be safe with us." Mo told Ashoka, a warrior's glint in his eyes even though he was smaller than the average mate to a Mariposa. He was about two heads shorter than Ashoka, but he had an ego and pride that had him feeling like he towered even the tallest of the trees in Floresta.
"Our home is humble, but we make do like everyone else. Do not feel like an intruder or unwelcome. We all have our shortcomings." His forked tongue stuck out a moment as he nodded. "Mine is a bit more obvious than others."
Ashoka jumped when he heard the voice, his head jerking down to stare at the odd looking lizard in front of him. His first thought was that he wanted to gather Mo into his arm and just cuddle him up close but at the same time Ashoka had the feeling that Mo would most likely bite him for such a thing. Ashoka blinking slowly down at Mo before shaking his head quickly, a small frown on his face. “I can’t do something like that. It is your home, and your mates. I don’t want to take up space from your children.” Ashoka said before he spotted that his hand was still over his heart, quickly jerking his hand down to place it on the ground.
But somewhere in the back of Ashoka’s mind he really wanted to go with the little dragon, although he kind of wanted to see the babies. If the father was small then how small would the babies be? “But,” Ashoka looked up slightly at the hole in the wall that lead to the underground. Faintly he thought he heard the cries of Peach finding out about what had happened, the sound sending a chill through Ashoka. “Maybe just for the night?”He asked rather quickly as he tore his eyes away from the hole, trying to block out the sound.
Mo nodded firmly and jerked his head to the right, indicating which way they'd go. "Don't you know that once you're with us, we won't let you go until we see fit? Mother hens we are." He nudged Ashoka forward and kept behind him to make sure the boy was safe. If there was an attacker out there, they'd be ready for him. Mo would guard Ashoka's back until they were in the safety of his tunnel. His wee ones would like Ashoka, he knew that, for they loved to have guests around. Guests were few since everyone was too afraid to get near his children for fear of trampling on them. They were the tiniest creatures ever produced, he believed.
En stood by with Pria, Pria's mate, and a few other members of his family as they quietly supported Peach and Creem. He, along with the others, listened to the anguished cries of the Mariposa, who would have been a mother in months' time but now had lost that chance. Vik bid him a goodnight and left with a few of the single male aliens of the crocodile species, just to keep safe. If there was another attack, En didn't want one of his closest friends to get hurt. Looking around tall Ferus, he could see Peach shaking in his mate's arms, completely overcome by his grief.
Finally, En stepped back, but he wasn't allowed to leave by himself. He'd rather go, no matter what, but no one wanted to take any chances. Pria himself decided to take him home, along with his mate Zakai. He found them good company.
Ashoka wasn’t fully sure how he should feel about the little dragon and his mate refusing to let him go afterword, he didn’t really know them all too well. For all he knew he could be leaving with the killer right now. That sent a small bout of panic through Ashoka but he forced himself to fully think about it as he kept moving slowly along, trying his best not to seem slower than he was. This dragon like alien couldn’t be the killer, how could something as small as him do things like that in the first place? He was smaller than Ashoka was and Ashoka was already a runt among Mariposa as it was. The longer they walked the more unsure Ashoka started to become though until finally they reached a small area that was hidden from view to most people who weren’t looking for it.
Ashoka blinked as he looked at the large fallen tree that had become caught on another, the hole that it left was barely enough for a normal sized Mariposa to get into. The tree seemed to be hollowed out slightly as there were these odd holes along it, not even big enough for Ashoka to fit his hand into. He looked down in time to see Mo slipping under the hole with ease, Ashoka quickly following after him before he was left behind. Ducking under the log Ashoka saw that behind the log the area was covered in twisted vines and sticks with leaves on top of them acting like a roof, thorny vines resting on the outside to keep something from trying to get in the back way. The area was fairly small but held a warm and welcoming invite to it; Ashoka really enjoyed the small hanging glowing stones that hung down from the ceiling. Turning his head Ashoka find a large store of fruit by the wall but also a twisted and thick stick that hung down from the back of the log, the stick entering a large hole. At once Ashoka understood that the holes outside were like small windows and that the log itself was a sort of play area but he couldn’t understand how that could be so since surely nothing could be that small.
Looking forward Ashoka jumped when he found himself staring at a dark green butterfly that he could of sworn hadn’t been there before, the other butterfly blinking slowly at him as he laid out on what seemed the be a small nest. Ashoka started to open his mouth to greet the other Mariposa but he was left speechless when a tiny head suddenly poked out from under the butterfly’s stomach. The head was so tiny that it wasn’t even the length of Ashoka’s pinky. The head looked just like Mo’s, a small dragon like face with large eyes that stared at Ashoka before turning to his father, giving a loud squeak when he saw him. Without warning nineteen more heads seemed to explode from under the green butterfly, each one looking just like the next, running along the length of the butterfly. One by one the little babies wiggled out from under their mother to rush toward their father, squeaking loudly as they tried to attack the dragon. They could fit into Ashoka’s palm! Ashoka suddenly felt like some higher power was testing him as he watched the little dragon like babies attack their father, one pulling on his tail while another jumped on the man’s back squeaking over and over. They were so tiny but they seemed to be trying so hard to take the other down. On looking closer to them Ashoka could tell that the bodies of the babies seemed to be harder than the rest, like a Walker’s was meaning that at some point they would turn into Mariposa as well.
Mo kept looking back during the journey to make sure nothing followed them. But he soon relaxed when he made it home. His children were, as usual, full of energy and hadn't grown a bit since the day they hatched from their eggs. He let all of them crawl on him, though they could never take him down. The ones that didn't try to push him over he picked up in his arms. He could fit all his children in both arms if he wished to, but some of them preferred to climb all over him rather than snuggle against his chest. At night a few did that, but they normally stayed under their mother to keep warm. He looked back at Ashoka, seeing the surprised expression on the Mariposa's face. "These are the wee ones. A score of them. Bunch of saucy rascals that give me no peace. No peace at all." His sons squeaked at him again, and he nipped at their small bodies.
"Make yourself at home, child. We have soft moss and grass here for use if you need a bed. Don't mind my boys if they try to jump on you. They like guests." Mo explained as he kissed his sons while making his way over to his mate. Mo leaned up and kissed Gizmo quickly, greeting him. "Peach is alright, but he lost his eggs." Mo whispered to him, expression solemn.
“His first eggs too.” Gizmo said softly as their sons suddenly turned to begin their riot on Ashoka, much to the other’s dismay as he had no idea how to handle them. “That monster has shown everyone that he isn’t afraid to attack the hearts of our leaders with this. The panic and fear this will cause, if it wasn’t bad enough. I’m afraid too Mo but not about myself, about our children. If this thing can do this to Peach who was with eggs then what does that say on how he sees our children?”
Ashoka listened closely to what the other two were saying even as he played with the children, a small frown on his face. “What if they leave?”He suddenly said as the thought came to his mind.
“What?” Gizmo asked as he turned to look at Ashoka.
“The mates of the Mariposa. So far this person is only attacking our kind, with or without eggs doesn’t seem to matter to him. What if the mates start to think that if the Mariposa’s children are being targeted so they leave them?”
“I doubt that something like that would happen though.”
“It happened in the war, when the eggs were being taken away to be used in it.”
“That was different though. This isn’t about trying to keep the world alive, it’s about a single madman going around mindlessly killing us. Not our mates, just our kind. Which leads to the question, why us?”
Mo picked his sons up off of Ashoka and shook his head. "If their mates left them, there would be widespread panic. There would be no one to protect the Mariposa, and that would give the killer more incentive and better opportunity to kill. Whoever it is seems hellbent on taking out as many Mariposa as possible. We can't abandon our mates; that would just show how little hope there is left. I'm not afraid to give my life for the sake of this family." Mo said in a warrior's voice, his head held high, a determined glint in his eyes. He looked down at his children, saw himself and their future in their eyes. He would not lose his children, nor his mate. Mo turned that hard stare on Ashoka.
"Every Mariposa here matters, mated or not. I don't want to see another death when I know I can prevent it. Please accept our hospitality until this madman is caught. You will not be a burden." Mo smiled at his mate. "I can gather more food, no problem."
Ashoka didn’t want to be a burden on the family but a warm feeling building in his heart kept him from talking. He almost felt a part of a family for the first time since coming back to the nest. Lowering his head Ashoka said in a small voice a small ‘Thank you,’ before Gizmo came to his aid by holding up a piece of fruit in front of his face to eat there by covering his watering eyes. They moved on to another topic, Ashoka asking about how the two of them had become mates which Gizmo had been more than happy to tell starting with his months of stalking Mo around. Somewhere in the back of his mind Ashoka had to wonder just how Mo felt about being stalked for so long. After a while though the children’s energy faded and Ashoka helped the two parents place all of the still twitching babies into the nest, Gizmo easing himself down painfully slow as though he feared doing it any other way would crush his children. Ashoka made himself a small bed next to the nest before curling up on it.
“Ashoka, do you mind if I ask you something terribly rude?” Gizmo said after some time, softly as to not wake the children.
“What is it?”
“How did you lose your arm and the tears in your wing?” Ashoka opened his eyes slightly as he placed his hand over the area but he didn’t say anything. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked such a thing.” “It’s fine, really. It’s just that no one has ever asked me about it before really. It isn’t really a nice story after all, people don’t want to hear it.”
Mo slept right next to the nest on his own bed that was raised up by a few stones so he and Gizmo could somewhat nuzzle up against one another. He helped Gizmo lower himself, and gave the okay for his mate to relax after checking on each baby. Every one of the snored softly, completely at peace. When Gizmo opened his mouth, his tone familiar, Mo got ready to stop him, but it was too late. He frowned, knowing that Gizmo didn't have a filter, and that sometimes it was best if Mo spoke for the both of them when it came to personal matters. "Well, since it's out in the open, I for one would like to hear it. If I may." He nodded, trying to be a little more sensitive about it than his mate. He took Gizmo's hand and squeezed it before he looked back at Ashoka. "I've heard all kinds of stories, most of them from older Mariposas and their mates about the long war. There's nothing I haven't heard of."
Mo got himself comfortable next to his mate.
"Go ahead, child."
The words seemed to flow so easily off of Ashoka’s tongue, as though they had been there for the longest time just waiting to be spoken a loud. The blue butterfly found that once he started he couldn’t stop himself, that maybe he didn’t want to stop at all.
“It was near the end of the war, maybe the last raid before the great battle but I’m not sure. It was a small group of us, I didn’t have a name then and I didn’t even care about what we were looking for at that point. I was just afraid and wanted to go home but of course we couldn’t, not allowed too and by coming back anyway we were banished from the nest.
“Things were fine at first, the trip to get to the Ferus’ tunnels went well and by the time we were deep underground we didn’t have any problems. Of course it had to end though, it was war after all. We got attacked by a group of Ferus from the front; we couldn’t go back so we had to fight. It was nothing less than a nightmare.” Ashoka’s voice trailed off for a moment as the memories of that day shot through his mind, the howls of the Ferus ringing in his ears and the sight of their claws and eyes as they bore down on him. “Maybe it was because of the battle or maybe it was just a weak tunnel to start with but there was a cave in, I got pushed into a different tunnel by myself. When I woke up it was dark and I couldn’t breathe, I kept fighting and fighting but everything hurt. When I was ready to give up I ended up breaking through my shell but when I did so I could finally see that my Walker body had been pinned to its side, a boulder had landed on it pinning my arm within the dead form. I tried everything I could to get free but nothing worked. Everything just became a blur after that, I would wake up, struggle to get free then pass out again. I thought for sure that I was going to die in that tunnel, fresh from having died already.”
Ashoka’s eyes were watering again but he didn’t seem to know, his nails digging into the skin where his other arm should have been. “I closed my eyes again, ready to just lie there and die when I thought I saw something down the tunnel. It… It was something bright red, I remember that and it was moving too. I wasn’t sure what it was but I started calling out for it, wanting help of any kind by that point. I didn’t even care if it was a Ferus just so long as I could end my time trapped there. But this thing didn’t come toward me, it just floated further down by the tunnel and for some reason that really ticked me off. I really wanted to see this thing.” Ashoka’s watering eyes soon dried up as they narrowed, as though that little red thing was in front of him now and he still couldn’t see it. “It just came to me then, there was no way how I could make it out of there with my arm. It wasn’t an easy thing for me to do but that red thing was just right there, like it was edging me on. It stayed there when I picked up the rock, it stayed when I started swinging it and it stayed when my arm finally snapped off. I hadn’t even known about my wings until I tried to fly and found that I couldn’t, I just stopped trying and crawled toward that stupid little thing as fast as I could. No matter how far I went it stayed ahead of me, turning around corners but always waiting for me to catch up. It lead me to a tunnel that took me outside but even then it didn’t disappear. It just kept going and going and I just kept following it until I finally passed out from the blood loss. The next time I opened my eyes I was on a Walker’s back, then I was lying down with other Mariposa around me until finally I woke up to find the rest of my arm gone. By then the war was over and the Walkers were turning into Mariposa left and right while others were outside the nest tying to rebuild the world. It felt like I had missed everything, that my time in the tunnel had been nothing but a nightmare. It got worse once I was strong enough to leave the underground nest, no one wants to play with a butterfly with one arm and who can’t play and no one wants a mate like this. Maybe they thing I’ll just be a bad mother or something, I don’t know.
“Sometimes I just wish I hadn’t made it out of the tunnel.”
"There are many things that make good and bad mates. Having one arm and a hurt wing does not make you good or bad. You just have to work a little harder for your family. Well, your mate would, and you'd be smart to make him work his arse off." Mo nodded, speaking matter of factly. The story was definitely dark and terrifying. He couldn't imagine being trapped. He was small already, and the thought of losing an appendage just made his skin crawl. It had been difficult enough to find Gizmo. What would have happened if he'd been without an arm or a leg? Others had already thought that he'd be a terrible father with his size, that he'd be a lousy protector and provider. He'd shown Gizmo that he was both protecter and provider, and then much, much more. "You were brave to make the decision to lose a limb instead of your life. And you're still brave now, child, for going on as you do. You see how small I am; I'm not something to be desired normally. But I kept it up until this beautiful fool next to me finally stalked me enough to the point that he made it irritatingly obvious." Mo growled playfully at his mate.
"You are here for a reason. You are a survivor, boy. And I know that you'll find happiness and a family. You can practice on us in the meantime. I think my boys like you already."
“Hush you, you had no idea I was even there.” Gizmo said with a sideways smirk toward his mate before looking back at Ashoka with a smile. “But he’s right Ashoka, sooner or later that person will come to sweep you off your feet – not that we have them anyway – and all of this will be like a faded memory.”
“What makes you think that someone is ever going to want me? I’m not all that sweet like the others; I’m bossy and pushy at times. I don’t have anyone really close to me.”
“I didn’t either. In fact I was more of an outcast than you when I think about it.” The filter came flying off then as Gizmo smiled brightly at Ashoka, paying no mind to the look on his mate’s face. “I used to use my power to watch other couple’s mate you know, just so that I could learn what to when I finally caught Mo. And look, Rubi is another oddball too. He can’t sit down without causing a panic among the other butterflies.”
“One of the sons of Pria and Zakai. He should come over here tomorrow come to think about it, the children love using him as their chew toy and of course he’s too afraid to touch them least he causes them to burst into flame.”
Somehow Ashoka felt like his time with Mo and Gizmo was going to be a mixed blessing.
En sat at the top of his favorite fruit tree. It wasn't in bloom, not in the right season, but a few flowers bloomed here and there. No fruit was yieled by them, of course. He still found it a good spot to see everything, yet go unnoticed for the most part. It was one of the relatively shorter trees in Floresta, as everything was tall, gigantic to cater to the ranging sizes of breeds that flourished on the lands. He turned his head to the left, then frowned. In the distance he saw Vik standing near none other than Pria and Zakai's most misfit child, Rubi. And his friend was actually being decent instead of intimidating as he had a habit of doing to get all the other Mariposas away so he might have some peace. He watched the small exchange, watched the half-butterfly, half-Ferus flutter away looking like he'd just received the sweetest of fruits on their planet. Vik turned, but didn't see En.
So En dropped from the tree and circled around to meet his friend in a nonchalant manner. It had been a week since the last murder, no more bodies having turned up so far. It made sleeping easier at night, but there was still the wariness. Vik looked at him with the same impassive expression while En gave his most charming smile. "Should I call you lover boy now?"
Vik actually seemed taken aback by that and frowned slightly.
"Yeah, your little sweetheart over there."
Vik glanced over his shoulder before snorting. "Hardly."
En caught the movement of Vik's hand and noticed that his hand seemed to be clutching something. That something glittered in the sunlight that caught it. "What's that?" He grinned, reaching for it. Vik pulled back and held it up for him to see, but not to touch. A ruby in the shape of a bird in flight.
"There, are you satisfied?"
"For now. What are you going to do with it?" En crossed his arms over his chest.
"Not a clue. Most likely chuck it-"
"Then I'll take it off your hands-"
"Like hell you will." Vik squeezed his fingers around it and walked around En, who only snickered. "I just don't have anywhere to put it."
"I'm sure you'll think of something."
Vik was silent as they walked, though En could feel a glare thrown his way every now and then as they went about their business for the day.
“Someone’s got a crush!” Gizmo suddenly popped out of the ground in front of Rubi, his special gift of being able to blend into the grass to the point that no one had been able to see him so far.
Rubi screamed bloody murder as he jerked back in the middle of his flight, landing painfully onto his behind before he glared at Gizmo for having dared scared him. “That isn’t funny you know! Why can’t you just fly up to people like normal butterflies do?” “Cause that’s boring. Right Ashoka?” Gizmo said as he looked back at Ashoka who was trying to lead all twenty of Gizmo’s children forward as best he could but he wasn’t really used to crawling backward.
“You’re leading this far out of the nest? Are you sure that is a good idea Gizmo?”
“No murders for a while and I didn’t want to put it off for too long. Look how happy they are!” That was a large understatement as all of the babies were pressed together in a tight group while following Ashoka, staring up at the large world for the first time with large eyes. They were just barely bigger than the grass itself. “But back to that handsome birdy you were just talking about. How come I haven’t seen him around before? Hiding him from me are you?”
“That’s a surprise.” Ashoka muttered softly but Gizmo didn’t seem to hear.
“He’s name is Vik, I’ve only started talking to him last week.”
“Vik? Like, best friend to the nest heartthrob the red hot moth En, Vik?” Ashoka said as he suddenly looked up, a lot more into this talk now.
“Yeah that’s him. Do you know him or something?” Rubi asked as Gizmo turned his head with a smirk.
“Not really, I just know that Vik is usually the one who’s throwing the butterflies off of En left and right.”
“After Ashoka throws them on in the first place.” Gizmo muttered with a soft laugh having already learned Ashoka’s short temper with En just the other day. Ashoka snorted and turned to watch the babies again but heart dropped when he found that they were one short. Panicking Ashoka turned every which way until he caught sight of a small tail walking through the grass a few feet away, Ashoka quickly fluttering forward to try and catch the baby before it got too far. Gizmo turned his head to look at Ashoka a moment but he trusted his friend to catch his little son before they got too far, turning to tuck the rest of his sons in around him and make a small play pin for them with Rubi’s help.
“Come here you little lizard.” Ashoka said as he landed right behind the fearless baby, quickly scooping him into his hand as the baby squeaked.