Butterfly Girl

Chapter 5: I, in trouble

If someone were to take apart an object, one piece at a time, how long would it take them before they weren't able to tell what it had been before being dismantled? Say, you draw a cat and show it to a person, who is immediately able to recognize your feline creation for what it is. You go to another room, erase the whiskers, and then show it to them again. Their opinion? Still a cat. You get rid of its tail, nose, eyes, and mouth, but their answer doesn't change. Just from their silhouette, they know it's a cat, which prompts you to erase the ears.

It's not a cat, they say when you come to them a final time. Not a cat, but a chunky, although somewhat malformed, four-legged lizard.

At this point, you may ask yourself how badly you'd fucked up the rest of the body for them to reach that conclusion. Most importantly, you've already decided on a verdict of your own:

A cat is defined by its ears. A cat, with no ears, isn't a cat at all.

"And thus, I can almost hear Diogenes rolling in his fucking grave."*

Exasperated, I shook my head along with the thoughts, focusing once more on the task at hand.

"Alright, but this would be a problem only to the observer. As the creator, I'd still know it's a cat, even if it has no ears, right?"

It should've been logical. Then again, it had become increasingly obvious that this world didn't operate by my peasant definition of logic.

And thus, I found myself glaring at the objects before me: Three white pinecones, two tennis balls, an assortment of different kinds of fruits, and shredded paper. Lots and lots of shredded paper. Perhaps, this is what I found to be the most infuriating part of the entire situation. Getting my dirty paws on actual drawing implements hadn't been easy. And now, it had all been all for nothing.

In a manner of speaking.

"Pinecones without stems aren't pinecones. Tennis balls without their white, curved lines aren't tennis balls, apparently."

I owed this disaster to my demotivated brain, which, in an absence of inspiration to make proper drawings, had suggested the following idea: How abstract could I go before the poofing magic stopped working?

The following hypothesis had developed as thus: If magic worked mostly through will, which I had somewhat confirmed, then creating an object with a very simplistic drawing could be achievable.

The results had then made apparent that I still didn't know shit about magic. After removing an infuriatingly inconsistent amount of elements, the objects simply didn't manifest anymore, which clearly meant that the number of parts omitted didn't matter and that sucked. It opened the doors to more obscure possibilities. Possibilities that I, in no way, was capable of deciphering on my own.

"There has to be something else that I'm missing."

I took a pinecone in my hand; one of the odder-looking ones. It had been the last functional model. The ones that came after were flops. This one, in particular, did have scales, although I hadn't bothered to draw them in detail. They looked chunky as a result ―Unorganized. And strangely enough, a bit blurry as well. Inspecting it once more, I couldn't help but think it was as if it'd been taken from a dream. The kind of dream in whereas one looked down at their hand to see only four fingers, figuring something was askew, but couldn't point out why exactly this was the case.

Maybe that's why it felt so wrong.

I didn't really know how to explain it to myself. In a way, even if I knew that many events in this world were impossible on my own, they still made sense in the context of his universe. Here they were feasible, fit in. This couldn't be said about the pinecone and the other objects that managed to manifest through the more simplified drawings. Almost like they were more intangible, ephemeral. When some of them started to disappear after the hour passed, I discovered that this was because they were.

And I still didn't understand it.

The rules, if there were any, seemed to be utter arbitrary nonsense.

"Nah," I scoffed, fiddling with my bracelet. "even this place has to have some semblance of order. I'm definitely not taking something into account."

Sighing, I massaged my head in irritation. Time was almost up, which meant I needed to return to the temple soon. Bai had mostly gotten off my case since my chat with Lu―as to why, I didn't know.

But it was convenient for sure, and I had no desire to give that extra freedom up. Especially because, as it turned out, the apple didn't fall far from the tree. My younger friend could be just as much of a nosy dumbass as his master. He, too, had begun asking questions about my newfound love of meditation; in that naïve but pointed way of his that made me wonder whether the kid did lack social awareness, or if he simply liked to give himself plausible deniability for future occasions.

I was beginning to think it was the latter. Perhaps it was time for me to lay low.

"But if I stop going to the forest now, wouldn't it actually be more suspicious?" I thought carefully about my next move as I made my way back to the temple. Classical villains had it hard. Credit where credit was due, insidious thinking required work.

An unpleasant, painful sensation at the sole of my left foot made me grimace. Stopping for a minute to shake off a pebble in my sandal, I caught an unfamiliar sight in the nick of time; just from the corner of my eye. My shoulders tensed, believing the elongated figure to be a snake at first glance. Upon further inspection, though, I recognized it to be a rope.

A rope that, that, for some reason, hung from one of the smaller trees as part of a bigger snare. I regarded the trap in confusion. Something prickled at the back of my mind.

That hadn't been there before.

"Weird" I thought. The monks didn't hunt, and most people who lived at the temple were vegetarian anyway. "Maybe it was used from some sort of training thing?" I considered the net on the floor again, just barely hidden beneath the dry leaves, then scoffed at the idea. Student or not, I couldn't really imagine a human that could be dumb enough to fall for such a visible trap, cartoon physics be dammed. Even these people should've known better than that.

"No use to dwell on it." I could ask once I returned just as well.

I had begun sliding my feet to the right, sidestepping the snare, when a masculine voice emerged from behind. Jumping at the suddenness of it, my body froze mid-movement.

"I should've known that my Dark Lady would never fall for the machinations of us mortals."

I turned around, staring at the intruder, stunned out of any words to say. Brain stuttering to keep up with what I was seeing, I didn't immediately place his face. "Still, this will make our situation quite difficult. I apologize in advance."

It had been a while, but I recognized him; pale, orange skin, small horns that barely protruded from his head, earthy yet bright, brown eyes. A series of names went through my head before the right one matched: Yurk.

He was dressed in a bird costume. With the acknowledgment of this fact, I came out of my bewilderment.

"What the hell." I breathed out. The goblin grimaced, his mouth forming a silent apology, and I saw his eyes darting somewhere behind me.

He screamed "Now!" Something rustled in the bushes. Before my brain could register what had happened, a small shape that darted from the foliage collided against my back, sending me to the floor.

I fell on the net.

The world turned and so did my stomach as I was hoisted into the air. Too stunned to do anything else, I gawked at the forest floor. Something popped somewhere in my back. God, I cursed, that would hurt like a bitch tomorrow.

Breath still knocked out of my lungs, my screams came out as wheezes. Somewhere behind the buzzing static in my mind, I wondered if it was even worth shouting for help. Afraid of running into someone again, I had wandered deeper inside the forest this time, enough to potentially not be heard. It occurred to me that this had to be no coincidence.

How had the goblins known where and when to find me? "They must've been watching for some time." If that was the case, the monks would've noticed, but they hadn't.

Just how―?

Yurk's face came into my field of vision, his expression as remorseful as it had been before. "Not remorseful enough, for sure." The green, long feathers of his dress brushed against the dirt.

Wait a minute. Green?

'I thought I felt something looking at us. A green shadow. It was just a bird.'

The words echoed through my mind. They did so thrice, before their implications sank in; I was going to murder Bai.

"OH, COME ON NOW!" My throat felt raw as I screamed. In the distance, a flock of birds took flight.


Green has calming effects on the mind, or so I heard once. I looked at the tree crowns from below, marveling at the strange lack of panic that, since my arrival in this world, had never once been truly absent. It was weird that this would be the case now, considering the circumstances. Maybe I was just tired. Maybe, it was just the absurdness of everything and all: A cat without its ears wasn't a cat. A goblin, dressed in feathers, could be a bird if so he wished.

Goblins. For people who claimed to be my followers, they sure showed a surprising amount of disrespect. This is what I thought as I was carried away by a group of three goblins. They heaved me in the air, hands on my back and legs, while they dutifully followed behind Yurk like aesthetically unappealing ducklings. My legs shifted inside their ropes, looking for a more agreeable position. I felt like a human burrito. It was uncomfortable as hell, too.

"Watch your hands!" I bit out; protest deadened by the duct tape on my mouth. Although probably not on purpose, some fingers were beginning to wander. One of the goblins flinched and retreated his slipping limb back to its original place.

"I apologize, your Darkness!" The creature squeaked. "My, um, hands. They're sweating."

I counted to three before releasing my breath. "Sure, why not?" That'd been exactly what I wanted to know.

"Mind your actions, vermin!" Yurk shouted, his eyes in literal flames. "Disrespect towards our goddess will not be tolerated." The priest added, yet his serious countenance wavered at the weight of my glare.

I hoped that my face looked as murderous as I felt. Judging by the dropping of his pointy ears, it probably did.

Raising his hand in a placating gesture, the goblin explained. "You must understand, Dark Lady." The smile he offered me wobbled a bit. "While we know that capriciousness is a fundamental part of the nature of higher beings such as yourself, we, the Goblin Folk, are in dire need of your assistance."

"Fuck is he talking about? Capriciousness?" Even if it served as a coping mechanism, such an assumption still felt a bit insulting to me. "Is this why they think I didn't help them that time at the meadow?" The rest of his sentence finished processing, and I narrowed my eyes in suspicion. This sounded like the beginning of another monologue.

"You see, My Liege, it has been 1510 years since tragedy struck our mighty kingdom―" Feeling my body deflate, I let out a deep, raspy sigh. One of the goblins yelped, struggling to keep my neck straight as I threw back my head. "―We, the Goblin Folk, had it all: Riches, magic… power!"

A hum, one that consisted more of derision than air, escaped through my nose. "And then what? The Fire Nation attacked?"

"I don't know of this 'Fire Nation' that you speak of, my lady." He explained in an apologetic tone. I, personally, was more impressed by the fact that he'd been able to understand that muffled nonsense at all. "The person who attacked us back then was no other than Monk Dashi."

What?

I blinked owlishly at him. That. I sure as hell hadn't expected that.

Seeing my confusion for what it was, the goblin priest continued, "We believe you were still dormant at that time, so it's no wonder you wouldn't know. But the events were as such―"

"Yeah, it is a monologue, alright."

Internally, I wished for Bai to hurry up. He probably soon would. Too much time had already passed for no one to not figure out that I wasn't coming back. The previous scuffle hadn't left the scene intact, either. A seasoned monk would take one look at it and understand that something violent had taken place there. A damsel in distress, in any children's story, could only always be rescued.

Unless my author-god felt like subverting expectations.

I narrowed my eyes at the sky, challenging. "Listen here, deific prick. You better not think of it!"

Yurk was still talking. He had also become aware of the fact that I was very much not listening.

"My lady…" He whined, and admittedly, it did thug at my heartstrings a bit.

I took notice that the group had stopped, halting the same way Yurk just had. Observing what currently took place before me, my cheek spasmed.

The goblin priest, in the middle of his narration, had forgotten about the fact that we ―they― were still escaping in the first place. It took me a significant amount of self-control not to point this out.

Don't, I told myself. Don't make your kidnapping easier for them. Even if they were so fucking incompetent it hurt. "They are just doing their best, okay?". Their best sucked. That suited me just fine.

An idea then took root in my brain, shoving the previously somewhat empathetic thought in a mental broom closet, padlocking the door.

"Could you start from the beginning, then?" I asked. The priest, although with a resentful expression, obliged.

It's not like he had another choice.


The Goblin Folk used to be mighty, he repeated. It had not always been that way. Around three thousand years ago, on the brink of their eradication, a goddess clawed her way out of the soil. She had heard their prayers from the depths of a much darker place, what remained of her heart moved with compassion. She'd seen the potential of the goblin people, whose true strength laid in their spirit, and whose passion burned like a thousand suns―

I told Yurk to please get to the point.

The goddess― That was me, I supposed ― guided the creatures to an era of prosperity, teaching them science, letters, and magic that would lead them to various victories. A staff, designed to store all the knowledge they'd been imparted with, was created and passed onto the priests for generations to follow.

I pointed out how this was an incredibly stupid idea.

"We did have other references; books, scrolls." Yurk squeaked in defense. "Dashi destroyed them all! Only the staff remained without harm, but he hid it, and we don't know where it is."

"Why did he do it?"

"We were a menace to the world, my lady! A menace I tell you!" He hit his chest with a fist in a sign of misplaced pride. "Your teachings were never in vain! But now that you're back, you'll lead us back to glory."

Briefly, I wondered if he could read by my expression how absolutely done with this shit I was. The duct tape, which by this point had already been ruined by good old condensation, fell to the ground in a glob of saliva. I rolled my eyes at their horrified expressions.

Sodding amateurs should've used a gag.

"And how do you propose I do that, Yurk?"

His grin faltered.

He waved his arms like an inflatable tube man, and I briefly wondered if he was full of air, too. "Details, details. All of those can be discussed later! Your Darkness, with her infinite wisdom, should help us in that regard, right?" I pretended not to notice how he'd slipped in that last part. This whole situation resembled too much a high school group project to my liking.

"Yurk―" I interrupted myself, my brow furrowing as I realized something. "Hold on. If that staff held all your magical knowledge, how did you know the way to bring me here?"

"Some spells were passed down orally, including our prayer to you, but parts of them were lost to time. We had to make a few tweaks until it worked properly, but at last, you're here!"

The world paused around me, almost dragging the surroundings along, the way an old VHS tape did. I asked him to repeat that part again and paraphrased it myself ―just to be sure― after he did. Hearing it multiple times didn't make me feel better. Mouth snapping shut, I cradled my face in my bound arms.

I'd been transported here not only by pure accident― but via shitty reverse engineering.

"Uh. Your Darkness?" One of my carriers chimed in, sounding distinctively close to pissing themselves. "Are you― are you all right? You look very purple."

Ignoring the comment in favor of breathing, I looked at Yurk pointedly in the eye.

"Hypothetically speaking, would you be able to send me back?"

His worried face morphed into one of panic.

"I understand this may have been sudden, but we the Gobl―"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." I growled, my patience wearing thin. "Goblin Folk needs help. That's fine. I'm talking hypotheticals. Could I count on you to send me back once your… problem was to be solved, yes?"

"With the staff in my hands, your Darkness, of course―!"

I couldn't help it. For the first time in weeks, my heart throbbed almost painfully at the distinctive feeling of hope this confirmation provided. I paused, blinking back tears, only to shake my head when I further thought about what he proposed.

"No". That was a bad idea. If the equivalent of a Kung Fu god had deigned it necessary to take the staff off of their hands, then it was probably for the better to keep it that way. There had to be alternatives.

"―But what if there's not?"

I found myself startled at this line of thought. I couldn't be considering this, yet―

Would it really be that bad? A kid's cartoon world, wherein the good guys were written to win no matter in which situation they found themselves in, was sure to be ultimately safe from the forces of evil regardless of how powerful these became. The goblins weren't the brightest bulbs in the box, either.

So what if I made things a bit harder for them?

"'Cuz the ones who will be cleaning after my mess are kids. Kids like Lu. Like Samuel." Another voice joined the first. "None of them are like Samuel, for fuck's sakes."

Suddenly startled, a shiver ran down my spine. It'd been very long since the last time I'd felt this much disgust towards myself.

"My lady?" Yurk began, the words filled with what sounded like worry. Maybe I'd taken too long to answer. Maybe he'd seen the shift on my face, changing from contemplative to distressed. "What do you say?"

I opened my mouth with hesitation, not quite sure what to say. Either way, I didn't get to make a choice.

He came out of nowhere. It became obvious from my captors' surprise, that they hadn't expected him either. The man fell off the trees, creating a small crater upon impact that launched chunks of soil and leaves in all directions, forcing me to close my eyes. Yurk screamed. "Don't let him have her, fools!" But the hands under me had already disappeared. I yelped as I hit the ground. Several exclamations followed mine "Look what you made them do, monk!". I didn't pay mind to any of them.

Monk.

The uncertainty of the last hour, the headache, my back pain; none of those things mattered as relief flooded my system. I'd put my trust in them and been rewarded for it. They'd come for me in the end.

The mayhem didn't last for long. It was pretty, funny in a pathetic sort of way: Days of planning, stalking, and cheating had all gone to waste in the course of one monologue. My head remained tucked inside my arms, knees close to my chest. I only dared to peek over my shoulder once the sound of combat died out. His familiar, yet unfamiliar dark eyes met mine, and only after seconds of staring did I finally realize that I'd been looking at Guan.

The harshness of his haze looked wrong on him. My heart stuttered inside my chest. It was then I realized I didn't know how long he'd been following us. How much he'd listened to. How much of what he'd listened to he truly understood.

I called out to him. Softly, insecure, like a kid whispering in the darkness for her parents. His name broke and fell off my tongue.

His expression softened at the helpless whimper, yet the growing feeling of trepidation didn't leave me. The monk dropped his head with a sigh.

"Let us go back, Eliza." He said, extending a hand. "I believe there is something we need to talk about this evening." My bound hands froze in his, still waiting to be grasped.

Faced with the audacity of that statement, I couldn't help it. I snorted.

The sheer fucking insolence of what he'd said. Of leaving someone to the wolves, to fester in their own uncertainty, only to then demand information in the most passive-aggressive of ways―

Some air made its way down the wrong pipe, making me cough out of sudden. It was here when I realized that there wasn't anything funny to be found in this particular situation.

"There kind of is, though." But I shook that stray thought away. Guan's fingers felt like the wind's caress on the back of my head.

"Yeah." I whispered. It was just loud enough for him to hear. "Yes, there is."


A/N: Divided the chapter. It was a lot less to edit, so voila!

Oop. Also, Liz needs glasses ASAP. I know this has been a slowish start, but things should start picking up from here.

*Uh, this is a reference to the philosopher Diogenes of Sinope. The story goes that Plato was once tasked to define what a human was in the simplest terms possible. His answer was that a human is a featherless biped. So Diogenes plucked the feathers from a chicken, went to Plato's school, and showed it to the public as he said: "Behold Plato's man!"

He was kind of a jerk to everyone and lived inside of a barrel on the streets. Very interesting fellow.

Thanks to DragonxGalX56 and Fantasia-Mania31 for reviewing the last chapter! Glad ya liked it.