Once upon a time, in a small farming town tucked comfortably by the foot of a vast range of protective mountains, a decorated young couple were married in the main square of their simple village and witnessed by the entire delighted populace.
The pair had made as fast childhood friends from the first day they’d met – he was a kind-hearted, hard-working lad that never gave up; she was a shying beauty, born with a bright mind and nurturing spirit that refused to relent – they were destined to be together, yet neither knew it until surreptitiously united by a tragedy that threatened the lives of everyone they loved, becoming legendary heroes the land over for their success and irrefutable bravery.
After saving both their town and potentially the world from utter destruction, they were pressed to eventually wed for the ruckus that'd ensue - as was their tendency, despite themselves, even though they had to begrudgingly admit that their love for each other was undeniable: minding the manners of everyone else first.
The wedding was made a properly grandiose event without their consent, celebrated in raucous earnest – prayers and gifts rained down upon the blessed newlyweds from all parts of the land, the reception party lasting for several joyous days afterwards, becoming nearly as famous at the wedded pair themselves.
Everything was perfect, and deservedly so.
Following a brief honeymoon, the newlyweds retired to their new banal lifestyle – they bought a modest amount of land and livestock, built a house there, then committed to starting a less dangerous life together.
In no short time afterwards, news spread that the couple were expecting their first child, which became the most important topic of interest amongst the local municipality gossips; it remained a matter of good news regardless of the pessimistic tends of those who preferred to share new news, surprisingly.
Everything had been so perfect.
About twelve weeks into her pregnancy, the wife was stricken with a terrible illness. After several thorough tests, the town's physician reluctantly issued the couple his grim prognosis - the pair refused to relent, remaining as faithful and resolute as ever despite the fateful news as they'd been when battling the accursed world-ending boss monsters they'd faced - yet it was hard to argue, given the glowering facts.
Everything became very difficult.
One day, whilst clearing some brush at the furthest point of the fields, the young man came across a warren of wounded rabbits. Moved to help as best he might, he collected the lone sickly doe and her clutch of skinny kits, bringing the ailing family back home with him for aid; moved to leave her bed for the commotion upon arrival, caring none for her own plight, the wife was heartbroken by the sight of the poor creatures saved by her beleaguered husband and worked to assist as best she might.
Wasting no time in making the injured animals as comfortable as possible in their humble abode, tending their wounds, feeding their empty bellies, making a soft bed for them to share, the rabbit family recovered quickly for her thorough nursing and were returned to the forest within a week.
Nothing was perfect anymore.
Sadly, despite the diligent devotion and attentions bestowed by both her husband and doctor, the expectant woman's condition had worsened. Fever wracked her poorly body, the illness having garnered a deathly grip upon both expectant mother and unborn child, leaving the girl delirious and belligerent.
During a particularly awful nightmare one evening, the declining young wife heard a distinct and prominent male voice beckon to her, cutting through the thick mire that'd crowded the remnants of her working mind.
“Wake up, my dear.”
She wondered at the voice for a time, her previously dark world suddenly brightening and rippling, soon left spying about the shifting landscape whilst it reformed into a lush, brilliant forest before her eyes.
“I bring you good tidings, kind lass,” the voice continued.
“… to whom am I speaking?” she finally asked, stepping out from the trees surrounding her, peering out upon a field of endless waving grasses and wildflowers. She blinked at the bright sunshine, feeling its warmth against her skin, a myriad of floral perfumes playing in her nostrils. It all seemed impossibly real.
A thick smokey ichor stepped out from the grass, appearing as some giant hare, and it bowed deeply before her.
“I am Louis,” the shadow spoke in a soft, low introduction, moving in the manners of a man. “I have come to thank you and your husband for saving my woodland children from the ravenous foxes. You are both very kind, very loving souls.”
She smiled at him, hiding her blush, then shook her head dismissively.
“You’re welcome, of course! Mind, neither of us would have left them to suffer and die there, mm? We did what any reasonable people would, given the circumstances.”
“Yes, yes you did,” Louis grimaced, bidding the girl to sit with him on the grass. “Save that people aren’t anything akin to reasonable. I’m here to talk to you about your… condition, yes?”
“Condition? Whatever do you mean, sir?”
“I’m referring to the obvious, dear. You’re… you’re very sick,” the dark hare sighed, turning his head away. “You and your unborn daughter are both deathly ill. In fact, it is likely that neither of you will last another night at this rate.”
The young wife nodded slowly, turning her gaze absently towards the immense azure sky.
“I know," she sighed, collecting her head in her hands. "I wish I could pretend it wasn't true, Louis. My child, my poor husband… they deserve better than this! I feel like I’ve let them down somehow, and I can’t help but be ashamed for it! It's eating at me at every moment, and I can't find the will to fight anymore!”
The black rabbit growled angrily, then recalled his initial composure.
“… that’s rubbish, poor child. You represent the most resilient, most outstanding brave traits that any of my brethren have had fortune to witness! You haven’t let anyone down, neither you nor your gentleman husband. Nonsense, utter nonsense. You saved your town from destruction, yet have heart enough to spare the barest common animals from death? You're more than outstanding! The entire world owes you a debt of gratitude!”
“I don’t… I don't know if that's necessary. Th-thank you though, Louis,” she sobbed, her heart so thick with woe that it barely managed to beat against her ribs. “I appreciate your kind words so very much. I've only ever wanted to help others... and now, as this, I can't help the ones I love the most. It's so unfair.”
Without further mention, the dark lapine stood up from the poor girl and paced in thought, eventually addressing her with a grimly pensive expression.
“We, who are the remnants of the spiritual world, representatives each of everything and all that is natural and living, have accumulated the sum of our powers in order to spare your lives. We have deemed that you and your unborn daughter shall be saved from this wasting disease, as is rightful reward for your selfless acts of generosity and charity.”
The young girl wiped her eyes, finding a sad smile pulling at her lips, then chuckled despite.
“… well, if there was any way to save my daughter and husband from this tragedy, I’d happily accept an offered miracle. However, since this is all a dream… well. I wish it could be true. So much.”
Louis folded his arms, regarding her with large, piercing eyes. He appeared very concerned, though she sensed something unspoken lingered between them, leaving her mindful and unsure.
“… this is not a dream, dear. We are granting you leniency, as you’ll soon discover. There is a price you’ll need to pay, however. As is with all things.”
“Well. No price is too great to save my family, good sir. I’ll pay it gladly.”
He nodded despite her relaxed candor, clicking his long fingernails idly.
“Your daughter is nearly beyond our abilities to save, being so frail. Her soul will require a powerful bind to the unnatural world that I inhabit, and that will leave a decidedly specific mark upon her. How do you feel about that?”
“What choice do I have, Louis? I must give her a chance to live, no matter the cost; she may hate us for it, but she will always be cherished and loved. I promise you that much. If I can… just hold her in my arms, hear her cry, stare into her eyes and let her know that she’s safe and loved… the most important thing in the world to us…”
The shadow watched after the young girl closely – sitting plainly in the grasses, tears spilling down her ivory cheeks, emitting a sincerity that pulled sideways at his immortal mettle – he eventually relented.
“It has already been decided, dear. You will wake up in the morning, miraculously cured of all that has ailed you, and your healthy daughter shall greet the world for our blessings soon afterwards.”
“… in the morning? But… but I’m still months away from being due.”
Louis’ form collapsed, becoming as an inky blotted cloud, then fell against the wind into the tall grasses behind him.
“There is a price you’ll need to pay, dear. As with all things,” he recounted, his voice trailing off into the distance.
No kindness ever goes unpunished. Perfect.
- (None of the artwork is mine, except for the rabbit-face edits - transformative interpretation strictly for comedic purposes.)