One-Eighty - by Ratte
<"I do ask that you turn around for a moment, however.">
<"Do not think I did not see the tail you so quickly hid.">
<"Ah, that, well, I can explain...">
<"There is no need. I know what it means.">
A fast pang of panic led to a sheepish cower.
<"I require you turn around so I may better examine the break.">
I quickly spun around without a second thought, now facing away from her. I freely admit I was terrified to show my back to one so imposing, but surely this was better than the possible alternatives.
The familiar sound of one tearing fabric and the strange sensation of someone carefully grasping my tail soon followed. I sat there as still as I could, braced for all the terrible things that could happen.
But none did.
<"Pardon me for doubting you could have done anything to warrant such a symbol.">
A broken stinger was a symbol of treason widely recognized across colonies. If caught with one, the chance of finding another home was slim to none until the material regenerated, and even then your previous home would never take you back. With the state of the world at large, it was the loss of possibly our most valued means of defense minus weaponry...even then, the venom is not produced until adulthood. Breaking mine was performed solely out of spite, an unnecessary stretch given my venom glands are not yet functional.
This kind of encounter was among the last I could have expected. Trusting a stranger in this condition, especially a queen, would be a fitting end indeed.
Shallow breaths, tight muscles, fast pulse. A minute felt like an hour.
<"That is all. This should at least help alleviate some of your anxiety.">
I felt the gentle release of my tail and the quiet shuffle of the queen coming back to her feet. By impulse I brought my tail into view to see what had been done.
The stinger was wrapped in a shred of soft purple cloth, covering the damage.
<"Like skin, it regenerates best when kept clean.">
I turned to face her, but could not find any words. My eyes jumped to the new tear in her shawl, undoubtedly where this piece once resided. She had bent down to scoop two huge handfuls of soil and top my fire with it, effectively snuffing it out.
<"Wait, what are you doing?">
<"I cannot allow you to remain out here, alone, and in your condition. Even then, you dropped your food in the fire and it is...no longer edible.">
A quick glance down agreed with her words, as my long-sought dinner was now just black remains. The hole in my stomach protested, confusion and panic came with it.
<"I do not understand. Who are you? Why are you helping me?">
<"I wonder about you as well when basic acts of kindness are such a novelty.">
I froze. 'Basic acts of kindness'?
<"To answer your questions, I am but a citizen of this world. I help you because you are, too.">
My look of confusion seemed to reassure her previous statement.
<"Do you think people find themselves in your situation by accident?">
<"What may be unclear now will make itself known and understood in due time. You just have to see it to that time. Should you allow me to, I will help.">
An outstretched hand made its way toward me.
Well...I guess this was it. I reached up with mine and nested it in hers, hers closing gently but tightly around mine as I lifted myself off the log. I think that only then had I realized just how tired and sore I was.
<"We go north from here, over to those stone trees,"> nodding to some not far from the grove.
I nodded, but could not help but feel some hesitation.
<"You are free to tell me about your life and experiences whenever you feel most comfortable, in private. I would like to know-- what is your name?">
The more I can get per month, the more time I can dedicate to making work like this.
Thank you for your kindness.