“You’re limping!” Oboe said. “Let me help you!”
Zither pulled away from her. “I’m not dead yet,” he said. “I can walk on my own.”
“You’re both too slow!” Thistle shouted from farther up the valley trail. “Hurry up before the humans change their mind!”
Oboe dawdled just enough to stay close to Zither as he hobbled along. As grumpy as he was, Oboe tried not to take it personally. He was weak, and angry about it. Pretty soon they’d get him to the city, and Theo’s plan would save him. He’d have a long happy life after that.
“We have a long way to the capital,” Oboe said. “It’s okay to count on other creatures.”
Ignoring her, Zither tried to push on by himself uphill. He stopped halfway, out of breath and clutching his chest. “…Alright. Fine.”
He leaned on her, arm around her shoulders. His fur had a smoky scent. Oboe felt a rush to be this close to another faun, but tried to stay calm. Just because she picked Zither as the fairy to help in Theo’s experiment didn’t mean he would want anything to do with her after this. That was okay. Still, there was a part of her that hoped. It would be so nice to have someone other than Thistle to spend time with.
“What’ll you do once you’re better?” Oboe said.
“One dream isn’t going to do much,” Zither said. “I need Fates to live. If the humans here keep on like this, maybe it’s time I packed up and moved somewhere else.”
“You don’t have to go!” Oboe said, worried. “We’re doing this so the humans will lift the ban. You’re gonna get your license back!”
“It’s not going to make any difference,” he said. “The humans don’t care about us. They’ll find a way to get what they want and then forget about us. That’s how it is.”
His hoof slipped in some loose dirt. Oboe caught him before he fell.
“That’s not true,” she said, putting him back on his feet. “Theo is a human, and he set this up for us.”
Zither scoffed. “It’s just his job. He’s not our friend.”
Oboe slowed to a stop, and wondered how true that was. She forced herself to keep moving.
“You gotta look out for yourself in this world,” Zither said. “Counting on other creatures is just going to get you killed.”
“I don’t like that,” Oboe said, righting him on her shoulder. “If we can help each other, we should try. That would make things would be better.”
“Wanting something doesn’t make it true,” he said. “This is how things are in this world. You have to take whatever you can get.”
The trees thinned and the walls of the capital loomed high over them on the rim of the valley. There was a long way left to go to get there, and it seemed so much less friendly now. She didn’t like Zither’s attitude. She wished he were nicer, like Theo, but maybe he was right. Maybe she needed to take what she could get to be happy.
They caught up with Thistle at the gate. “More of you?” The guard said, sword half drawn. “Visas, or clear off!” They were so much kinder when Theo was with her.
“Show them the permit, kid,” Thistle said.
Oboe unfolded her visa and the exemption paperwork Theo prepared for Zither. The knight snatched the documents and scowled when he saw they were valid. He made them wait while he went to speak to a superior to make double sure. Watchmen scanned them with adder stones before finally signaling for the gate to open.
“Official business, huh,” the guard said. “Don’t cause any trouble.”
“We won’t,” Oboe said.
The watchman grunted and let them through.