Joined: 16 Feb 2005
|Posted: Fri Jul 22, 2005 7:51 am Post subject: Finite Cosmos Chapters 7-11
|Warning: Some chapters contain violent and potentially disturbing descriptions.
Chapter 7.1 Gifts of the Pack
The pack restlessly prepares for the upcoming challenge. Tonight we rest, but tomorrow we must battle before we leave the pack. I spy Suza-del-Nordes conspiring with her mate, her strong body typical of the Mainland females. I dread the announcement of my opponent, and secretly hope for someone old and frail. I do not want my companions to realize my fear. I duck behind a gnarled bush to be alone with my unease. Feeling sorry for myself, I do not hear Suza-del-Nordes slip behind me. She grabs me from behind, silencing my scream with a hairy paw.
“Be silent, weakling,” she hisses into my ear. “I will talk to you.”
She slowly slides her hand from my mouth, her other gripping me tightly around the midriff. Her immense toned body dwarfs my small frame. She paws at my hair and softly touches my smooth face. I flinch. She holds me tightly against her, her lithe body spooning my trembling one, and our bodies pulse with her every breath. My nostrils take in her clean, woodsy scent as she nuzzles the back of my neck with her long muzzle.
“You are so soft and tiny,” she whispers. “Honros has shared with us your weakness. You hide with the old one while your companions battle the serpents. Your magic is weak, soft like your skin.” She runs her hand along my shoulders then splays her slender, clawed fingers across my breasts.
“I will arm you, teach you the art of my weapon, if you prove the heart in this chest brave.”
She releases her grip and brusquely shoves a long braided whip in my hand. Her smiling eyes challenge me. “The people of the Mainland do not practice the magics,” Suza begins as she circles me. “We learn to defend our homelands with weapons. With honor we craft and wield the whip. You will learn honor, too.”
I clumsily hold the whip in front of me. Suza strikes savagely with an open paw then dances easily out of my reach. I stumble backwards and fall ungracefully on my bottom.
“Come, tiny Chakra,” she mocks me. “Focus on your opponent.”
Embarrassed and angry, I scramble to my feet. I swing ineffectively, lashing at the air. Suza moves fluidly, never at the tip of the whip in my hands. Her harsh words continually sting, goading my injured pride. Mixed with her stinging insults, she offers advice for using the whip, pointing out my many mistakes and instructing me on how to correct them. She strikes again with her open paw. A small cry of pain escapes me as Suza’s claws graze my forearm. Blood wells in the newly opened skin.
“Why do you yelp like a virgin in the embrace of a rude lover?” Suza snarls. “Fight!”
I pull back my arm and crack the whip again, the whistling tip nicking her retreating leg. She laughs heartily at the small, bleeding wound.
“Good, there is a fire beneath the snow.”
We continue this battle of hunter and quarry until my arms ache. I feel no more accomplished at wielding the braided leather than when my torture began. With a throaty growl Suza pounces on me, knocking me to the parched earth once more. From my sitting position I dash the whip to the ground, my bruised ego and bruised bottom smarting as I behave like a petulant child. The chorded grip rolls a short distance atop the dirt before stopping, the knobby crown staring at me accusingly. Hot tears of frustration and humiliation sting my eyes, and my chest heaves as I choke back a sob.
I look up to see Suza’s outstretched paw. My mind begins to whirl, and I try to suppress the vision that I sensed coming. Instead of seeing an image, I hear a voice, pounding like a frothy, foaming wave unleashed from the MotherSea, welling up from my head and crashing into my abdomen. Don’t let her beat you the voice said. Moments before I had been ready to give up, but this voice sounded so compelling. I gruffly push her paw aside and with what little remaining energy I have left, stand to my feet, taking up the whip with me. Pleased, Suza backs away and releases a long, low howl.
“You do have pride, courageous little Thinker. Make sure that your pride does not prevent you from seeking the help of others. Keep that whip in your hand. Whether you win or lose tomorrow, you have earned my gift to you.”
With a bow, she backed silently into the trees, leaving me alone to wonder why she had called me Thinker.
The pack ushers in the morning with howls and snarls, the young pups chasing each other through the camps in the first weak light. My stomach flutters with fear and anticipation. The camps gather around a dusty clearing, forming a loose circle at the edges of the trees. Our chosen opponents gather on the opposite side of the clearing from us, adorned in ceremonial feathers and beads. Honros stands above the crowd on a large rock.
Honros calls Knute first into the arena. The large Mainlander entering opposite Knute appeared bulking and intimidating, even next to Knute’s impressive size. Both in their element, the two face off with good-natured grins. The Mainlander carried a short axe, which he savagely swung at Knute with lightening-fast speed. Knute recovered from the brutal blows, and unleashed a Strike against the large furred head of his opponent. As the massive Mainlander reeled from the attack, Knute knocked him to the ground with a laugh and a Pounce. The Mainlander snarled as he stood to his feet and prepared a counter attack. I hid my face in my hands, peeking through my fingers when I dared. The battle waged brief but vicious, with Knute the eventual victor. Honros stepped forward and branded the Warrior Mark on Knute’s shoulder, and presented him with a sturdy shield.
“Well fought. You have won the Shield of the Warrior. Call upon its hidden strength when the battle seems lost.”
Knute returned to our little group, sitting heavily on the ground beside me. A daft smile graced his face along with a nasty gash. His head bobbled up and down as he looked at me and tried to offer an encouraging nod. I shudder and my stomach knots in anticipation of my round. I wonder which of the two strong females standing opposite of us across the field, I would have to face. Aanira dabs a creamy potion onto Knute’s broken skin. Health spells require energy and strength, and would have to wait until after all the matches.
Ordoc steps onto the field after Knute, facing an opponent slightly younger than himself. While their strength seemed well matched, Ordoc's Turnings of experience favored him. He earned the Warrior Mark and received the Staff of the Earth, a valuable compass.
Sice-del-Nordes stepped in to face Asher. Both combatants show skill and strength, anticipating the strategies of the other. After a tiring battle and much loss of blood, Asher kneels to the eartrh in defeat. Honros brands Asher with the Warrior Mark, commenting on the wisdom of knowing when to concede and admiring that as a leadership trait. He withholds any other gift.
Seani steps onto the field, remaining at the outskirts of the trodden soil to give herself time to concentrate. Her female opponent carries a thick shield, successfully repelling Seani’s Water magic and advancing on her position. Seani spends much of the battle engaged in defensive maneuvering, unable to concentrate long enough for a full Water spell. She pushes her dripping hair from her forehead, and I sense a change in the energy gathering around her. She stops and concentrates while the Mainlander stalks closer to her with a snarl. Pebbles begin to dance atop the dirt at the Mainlander’s feet. With a groan and a quiver the earth parts beneath Seani’s skulking opponent, who scrabbles at the crumbling walls before disappearing into the ground’s gaping wound with a yelp.
Honros applauds, laughing as Suza assists Seani’s opponent from the rift. He brands the smooth skin on Seani’s shoulder and presents her with the Staff of the Rains, an aid in locating water sources. Holden then enters the arena.
Ordoc creased his brow and quietly offered Holden a reminder as he entered the field, “This is only a sporting battle, for fun.”
Holden didn’t acknowledge Ordoc. He had seemed preoccupied since last night, as if mentally focusing for this moment. He had spent much time meditating in our tent. Holden’s eyes closed as his opponent stepped onto the field. The wiry Mainlander growled and rushed toward Holden. Holden still stood quietly, eyes closed and head lifted slightly upwards. I felt the negative energy coming from him and gathering around him, much like that night in the bowels of the Great Hall of Elders. The Mainlander lowered his shoulder and rammed Holden to the ground, turning a short distance from him to face him again. Holden lifted himself up into a squatting position, and his red eyes sprang open. As his opponent growled and stalked him, preparing another strike, I could hear Holden’s voice in my mind. His raspy voice uttered an unintelligible name for his intended target. Chills ran up my spine as I remembered that voice speaking my name from that dark room in the Great Hall. Holden’s hair stood on end, rippling like leafy water-grass in a current. The Mainlander rushed again toward Holden with a loud yell, which suddenly cut off as he fell to his knees.
Holden’s opponent then lay on his side against the rough earth, curling into a fetal position and whimpering like a whipped pup. Holden closed his eyes once more and dropped his head. A definite chill lingered in the air, and cold puffs of breath formed at both Holden’s and the whimpering Mainlander’s muzzles. A light frost sparkled on the tips of Holden’s fur. The entire camp grew quiet and still, and two small whelps started crying behind their mother’s tail. Honros walked onto the field, and motioned for Suza to come assist the defeated. Holden’s opponent stood on shaky legs, and Suza helped him into the trees.
“Well fought,” Honros said as he branded the Warrior Mark on Holden’s shoulder. “Powerful magic for one so young, and very dark.” He then presented the Staff of the Winds, a reliable weather predictor, to Holden.
Now I hear Honros call my name, and my friends nudge me onto the field. A woman twice my height enters as well, and I suppress the urge to flee. I carry the whip Suza gave me, and try to remember her advice for using it. Lashing, running, and choking back cries, I can hear laughter coming from the gathered crowd. I skin my knee as I trip and fall to the ground.
I tune out the sounds of my surroundings, and concentrate on my opponent. My vision narrows onto only her, and I focus on her smell, her movements, her steady breaths. I hear my whip crack the air, and a small bleeding gash opens on the woman’s cheek. She lunges for me and I remotely feel her claws rend my side. I maneuver out of her reach. Then I hear the voice from my visions, much fainter than when I fought Suza. I strain to listen to the voice, and realize that the words warn me of my opponent’s next attack. I move in time to avoid a blow.
I am not sure how long the battle lasted, although I felt very tired afterwards. I found I could not concentrate long enough for even a feeble Light spell, and my inexperience with the whip hampered my efforts to win. I could also not clearly hear the voice, and needed practice in both listening to the guidance of the voice and coordinating my movements with the knowledge provided to me. I eventually kneel to the ground in defeat, and see Honros approach me as if walking through a fog. As he branded the Warrior Mark on my shoulder, the painful blistering cleared my head.
“You fought well, little one. You surprised this old warrior, and earned the Warrior Mark,” Honros said.
We load our wooden cart and take our leave of the pack, refreshed from the good night’s sleep and energized from the battles of this morning. I think of the voice as we walk through the muggy forest.
Chapter 7.2 Gift from the Wise White Witch
We left the camps of Honros-del-Nordes after a brief recovery from our battles, and traveled through the muggy forest while the sun pushed strong rays past the cover of trees to the forest floor. Before the final light of day passes from the sky we make our own camp. The men sit around the fire, reliving the battles of this morning and exchanging bawdy jokes to pass the time. Seani and Aanira spy a large herd of terradons, reptilian grazers foraging in a nearby wilting meadow. They quietly discuss the creatures while making their way to the edge of the meadow for closer observation.
I sit next to the White Witch, my feet sore despite the moccasins acquired through trading with the pack. My shoulders ache from my turn at pulling our wooden cart of supplies, but I refused to complain aloud. I rub soothing oil onto the White Witch’s tender feet. Once again my mind wanders to my own inner turmoil, as it did on those first few days of the CalmSea. I glance at the White Witch and her single spiraled horn, and remember the way Veronici and Seani had teased me. I resist shouldering a burden of so much wisdom that might render me incapable of caring for myself. I also feel the five seasons turning by too quickly, and recall the promise I made to myself. I thought I might slip to the edge of the meadow and practice my Light magic. Instead I swallowed my pride and sought answers from the Wise White Witch.
“Wise One,” I ask. “How do you know where we should go?”
She looks about, unsure if I’m addressing her or the trees, before she finally concludes that she needs to respond.
“I follow the instructions of the Keeper. She sends me visions of where we should go.”
I do not understand. The Thinkers of Diasis seldom share the secrets of their talents, only the Knowledge beneficial to our people. The Elders tell tales of great revelations brought to the Peoples by the most feeble of mind. Yet generally the Thinkers on Diasis practice a little magic and lead common lives, occasionally solving vexing conundrums or creating marvelous new gadgets. Then there are those like the Wise White Witch, who hear voices and dream dreams, and eventually go mad with so much painful wisdom that they cannot bear share. The White Witch smiles enigmatically but elaborates no further, so I ask another question.
“Why can I hear your horn speak, but no one else can?”
The White Witch answers with her horn. “Because you know how to listen. You hear the voice of the Keeper, too. She says you do not always hear her, but you will understand more if you continue listening...” Her horn-voice trails off as she spots a starflier, its tiny insect body flashing in the twilight.
“Perhaps then I am destined to travel the Path of the Thinker,” I wonder aloud, disappointment clearly in my voice. “Wise One, what should I do?”
I desperately hoped to hear her say to stop listening to that inner voice, and become the most gifted Finer Magician in Diasis. We both sit silently, the sounds of night creatures soothing us. Laughter erupts from the group at the fireside, and Seani and Aanira disappear into the meadow with a small basket of charms. The White Witch abruptly cups my chin in her cold, aged hands and brings her old face close to mine.
“I once had a proper name,” she whispers, the strains of many Turnings creasing her visage. “But I cannot remember it now. The visions of the Keeper wax brilliant and full, demanding and disturbing. The Knowledge from the Keeper is a heavy yoke to bear.” She utters a mournful sigh, pulling my face even closer to hers.
“I am sorry that she chose you Chakra, but perhaps you are stronger than me.”
She touched the tip of her single, spiraled horn to my forehead, and I felt a jolt of energy surge through me. A sea of stars swam before my eyes, and I could hear my mother’s laughter as I did when I was a baby in her arms. The face of the wise one contorted with an unimaginable agony, her gaping mouth frozen in a silent scream. I glimpsed visions of births and deaths, strange cities and foreign Peoples. The world flashed before me in a brilliant montage of colors and a cacophony of sounds. At the edge of this intense landscape, a desolate wasteland emerged. The Unknown Realm plunged hateful fingers of blight into the brightness of life, feeding and growing as it consumed the earth. The last of her energy drained, the White Witch drew in a choking breath. With that she let her hands drop limply to her lap and resumed watching the starfliers. Her moment of lucidity had passed, and she started humming an eclectic tune.
A loud bellow signaled the approach of some large animal, and we all scramble to our feet. With the crashing of scrub brush two terradons emerge from the direction of the meadow, Seani and Aanira perching triumphantly on their backs. Seani dismounts with a laugh.
“These gentle beasts can pull the cart. Aanira convinced them to be our friends, with the help of a little charm.”
Aanira blushes at the praise, and Asher rubs his hand along the scaly side of one of the beasts. The terradons begin grazing around the edges of the campsite.
“They will not wander far,” Aanira assures us. “They are quite tame now.”
We ready for sleep, easing onto our woven mats. Above my temples I feel an intense itching, although I do not have any insect bites. Restless and uncomfortable, I seek out Knute for solace. He smiles as I crawl onto the mat next to him. His familiar strong arms embrace me and I breathe in his scent. He runs his hand beneath the tunic I slipped on to protect me from the lashing vines of the forest. I gratefully respond to his touch, returning his passionate caresses with an increasing heat of my own. For the moments I share entwined with Knute, I forget all but for our mutual pleasure. As he holds me and dozes contentedly in the aftermath of our communion, my mind again races with the events of the past few days. Feeling secure next to Knute’s slumbering strength, I finally manage to fall asleep.
“It has been done,” thinks the Wise White Witch, watching Chakra move across the dim campsite to Knute’s side. She senses someone listening to her thoughts, unbidden but powerful enough to invade her mind. A doleful loneliness creeps in her heart.
“You chose your path, Black Mage,” she sends silently into the night air, “And do not turn from me now, because I know you eavesdrop on my thoughts.” She casts seeking eyes in the direction of Holden, who turned sullenly toward her, putting the tender and painful scene of Chakra and Knute to his back.
“Yes,” he husked. “I did choose my path. I think also that my path chose me. Life is less of what you make of it, and more of what it makes of you.”
The White Witch snorted in amusement. “You wish you followed a different path?”
“If I could find myself in her embrace,” Holden snapped.
Again the White Witch snorted. “And why do you invade my thoughts tonight?”
Holden fidgeted uneasily. “Because you can hear the Voice of the One that I cannot. The One that sees all and understands the future.”
“And what do you wish to know of the future?” the White Witch queried.
Holden closed his fiery eyes and laid his head on his arm. “If the remainder of my life will be as bleak and cold as the magic I attempt to master.”
I awake early, before my companions stir from their sleep. The intense itching above my temples has subsided, and a dull throbbing has taken its place. I slip my hands up to massage the areas. My loud squealing wakes the camp.
“Look! Oh my, I can’t believe it,” I excitedly shriek.
Seani rubs her eyes sleepily, and then her exuberant shouts join mine. “Oh, Chakra,” she gushes while giving me a hug. “You’re growing horns.”
Everyone smiles as they gather round and look at the small velvety nubs pushing up through my skin. Aanira pulls my hands away for a better look.
“Our little Chakra is finally growing up,” Asher teases.
“Hmmmm,” Knute rumbles. “I thought she was filling out quite nicely even before this.” Ordoc shuts him up with an elbow to the ribs.
I rummage through my backpack for my small mirror, and then admire my budding horns. Their small velvety tips peek shyly from my hairline, and a diminutive swirl graces the top of each one. I touch the softness of my new growths frequently while we breakfast and break camp. Hitching one terradon to our cart and lifting the White Witch onto a makeshift saddle atop the other, we continue our journey.
We travel non-stop the entire morning, determinedly marching in the direction that the Staff of the Earth called north. Heading in a straight line, we cut through the territory of the del-Duces pack without fear of confrontation, protected by the del-Nordes Warrior Mark. The camps of the del-Duces most likely lay eastward, further into the forest, and even with the Warriors Mark we would not be welcomed there. The sweltering heat and humidity of the forest saps our strength, and the White Witch grows peaked atop the beast she rides. Asher halts our progress for the midday meal.
“I wonder if the scorching dry winds of the forest edge should be much worse than the sweltering humidity here,” Ordoc grumbles as he sits heavily on a lichen-covered boulder.
“I believe we should cut straight through the territory of the del-Duces pack,” Asher simply stated. We ate in silence for a while. Aanira rubbed a foul-smelling potion on our skin to ward off biting insects. I could hear a faint voice in my budding horns, the same voice as that in my previous visions, and a swirling mist beckoned me into a dream. I resisted the call of the mist and stared at the White Witch, clearly lost in her own vision and chewing absently on a sweet fruit. She swallowed with effort and spoke.
“A great canyon lies two days journey straight ahead. We shall have to go around it, until the Wyld River, which carves the jagged walls, proves passable. East the river narrows as it races into the forest, and west the river widens but grows shallow.”
Asher released a weary sigh. Continuing straight ahead seemed futile, since we would be forced to alter course in the end. He mulled over his options in silence as he finished his meal.
Chapter 8 Edge of the Canyon
We continue north on our original path until we reach the lip of the canyon. The steep, craggy walls dropped precariously to the floor, where the Wyld River rushed past on her way to the MotherSea. We turn west and follow the canyon’s rim towards the edge of the Mainland. None of us particularly mind the extra travel, perhaps because we could not be certain how many footsteps that journeying to the rim of the canyon had added to our quest. As we come upon a sinister bone-yard of massive land beasts, our thoughts began to change, and even Asher rethinks his decision to continue straight ahead to the canyon.
“I wonder if we should have cut across the forest to the Mainland’s edge,” Asher puffed, looking over the canyon’s rim at the pocketed walls.
Aanira gazed up at the massive, sun washed skeletons. “What could have killed such large animals?” A faint scent of death lingered in the air, although the carcasses were old and picked clean by predators and carrion feeders.
Ordoc wrinkled his forehead as he peered down at the tunneled walls with Asher. “Bendaswatch colony,” he humphed. “A rather large one from the looks of it. We can hope that the colony moved upstream, further into forest.” Seani looked decidedly concerned.
Bendaswatch live in large colonies, often hundreds of the diminutive creatures attacking together to overwhelm large prey. The colony remains quiet, sending out scouts to watch for the next meal. The scouts await a large animal, typically one that suffers from illness or injury, passing close enough to the colony to be easily swarmed. The bendaswatch then converge on the hapless victim, often beginning their meal before the creature has fully expired.
I thought we should trek back into the forest, away from the canyon’s edge, but did not voice my opinion. We continued along the rim of the canyon for many days, without any sign of the bendaswatch or the edge of the Mainland. The Wyld River slowed on her race to the MotherSea, and the canyon walls grew less steep, the floor more shallow. I began to think that perhaps my unease might prove unfounded. I walk alongside the terradon transporting the White Witch.
I find speaking to the White Witch much easier through my newly budding horns, and as we travel I engage her attention from atop the terradon. “Why must we travel to the Great Knowledge, if the Keeper can send it to you in a vision?”
She answers through her horn. “The visions from the Keeper are often disturbing. Before my horn grew, I listened to her directives, and molded the substance from my dreams into useful inventions. She tried to send me the Great Knowledge one night. But the terrible truth of the Great Knowledge forced this horn up through my skin, and I think might have driven me a little mad in the process.”
I silently mull over this confession from the White Witch. I ache for her, and for her perception of her own altered reason. She interrupted my pitying thoughts and continued her explanation.
“The Keeper sent a vision, to me and to many other Thinkers and People. She beckons us to the source of this knowledge, located in the Unknown Realm, to see its terrible reality with our own eyes. I alone was brave enough, or insane enough to answer her summons. Many fear it is the vision of the end of our world. I hope to see it, understand it, and teach the People a way to stop it.”
The eerie chuckling of a bendaswatch interrupts our enlightening conversation. The terradons grumble with unease, and Asher picks up our pace with concern. We hear the lone creature rustling through the undergrowth, tracking our progress, judging our value and ease as a meal. The single chuckle of the nearby creature poses little threat; however, the terradons bellow and thrash in a desperate effort to escape once the lone bendaswatch utters its ululating trill to summon the swarm.
The White Witch is thrown from the terradon’s back, and Seani unhooks the other beast from the cart. The terradons flee with fright, and we listen as the horde of hunting monsters rustles through the trees. We all prepare to battle the approaching swarm.
A wave of hungry mouths erupts over the top of the canyon’s rim, the front line falling under magically enhanced blows, dark curse magic, or violent water spells. I retrieve my whip and focus on nicking out their beady eyes. The bendaswatch quickly consume the fallen, as more pour above the edge of the cliff and from the cover of the trees. Despite our combined efforts, the swarm of little monsters appeared inexhaustible, and many reached our fighting bodies to bite. Knute sets the Warrior Shield in front of him, its humming power preventing most of the monsters from getting through to his position. He squeezes and tramples the tiny monsters, with their entrails oozing between his thick fingers and clawed toes.
I lash with the whip, the barbed slivers of bones tied at the ends of the braided leather nicking deep plugs of flesh from the creatures surrounding me. A large wave crashes down beside me as Seani releases an unspecified-target Water spell, washing several of the monsters away with a flood. More of the creatures enter the fray, a seemingly endless swarm of sharp teeth and scratching claws. I spy Holden standing in the middle of this chaos, eyes closed and completely stationary, two monstrous little devils gnawing at his skin. I wonder why he is not doing anything, why he ceased casting his Curse magic, and realize he must be preparing for Oblivion.
A loosely organized group of the petite hellions knock me to the ground and begin feasting on my flesh, biting chunks away while others push them aside to sink their teeth in. I cry out in pain and horror. Without my noticing his approach, Holden suddenly appears by my side. I wrap my arms around his leg and hope for the end of this assault.
“Assist me,” I hear Holden command inside my mind. Intuitively I place the fuzzy tip of one horn to the side of his leg.
We both gasp as our spirits meld into one, the inner turmoil more painful than the horrid creatures tearing at our skins. I close my eyes in a seemingly unending agony, and slowly my vision reforms as the shrieking in my head subsides. I see the environment through Holden’s vision. His eyes remain closed, but an image of the world around us takes shape. The bright amber forms of our companions solidify in my view, and I achingly cry out their names in my mind as I watch them struggle.
“Yes, I see our friends’ peril,” Holden calmly speaks into our shared thoughts, “But do not call out the names of our companions. Focus on our enemies instead.”
I turn my inner gaze to the multitude of savage beasts, still pouring into the battlefield in waves of violent hunger. Their shapes pulse a sinister blue. I despise these evil imps and wish them all dead.
“Yes,” Holden sighs, “I have them. Now give me that which I’ve been lacking.”
An involuntary scream rips from my chest as Holden pulls energy from me and into him, the frigid blackness burning my raw flesh more painfully than even the rabid consumption of the bendaswatch. The negative energy gathers around us, comes from inside us, and swallows us both. With the force of our combined power, Holden attains mastery of this dark magic. First one blue devil scampers in our shared view, then more as Holden expands the scope of his spell. Our view ripples outward in a circular fashion, targeting hundreds of hungry blue glows. An ominous void hovers above the battleground, absorbing energy and finally becoming speckled with powerful stars. These points of light coalesce into a large, demonic eye.
My sustained wail abruptly ends as Holden’s eyelids spring open. We clearly witness the massacre around us, and Holden’s raspy voice speaks the name for that pulsing cruel eye to unleash its black magic upon. Bendaswatch Imps.
As Holden uttered those words, all struggling ceased. The frozen blackness descended around us, enveloping the entire scene. Horrific cries spewed from the gaping mouths of the creatures, and one by one they all began to shiver violently. Beginning with the beasts closest to us, an unusual effect shook the creatures and swept outward in an orbital arc. Our numerous foes dissolved into gross suspended globules, which eventually dissipated upwards through the air with a sucking noise. Utter annihilation.
A chilling silence follows the destruction of the bendaswatch colony. I pull my head away from Holden’s leg, the tip of my horn stuck and requiring that I jerk away with some effort. An angry red burn pulses on his calf, creating a circular image of my horn complete with the tiny swirl in the center. Ice crystals cover my skin and small icicles dangle from Holden’s fur. Our companions stir, slightly confused and still defensive. My head spins and the edges of my vision blur. I feel as if I might faint.
Aanira weakly gathers some charms from her basket, placing one around her neck to slow the bleeding from her many bite wounds. Knute assists her as she stumbles about the carnage and loops a charm around Asher’s neck, as Asher attempts to summon energy for a Health spell. She makes her way to our next fallen comrade, and her horrified scream draws all attention that way.
Chapter 9 Death of the Wise White Witch
I struggle to rise to my feet and join Aanira, but find my bitten and bleeding legs strangely uncooperative. I finally manage to stand, an unreal action that feels as if I pulled my inner self from my body and left it behind. I seem to float to Aanira’s side. Knute and Asher already stand beside her, and we all stare at the lifeless form of the Wise White Witch.
The opportunistic bendaswatch had especially targeted the White Witch, intensifying their attack on what they perceived as an easy meal. Her legs dangle, bloody and shredded, as well as her forearms where she had attempted to fend off the hungrily gnawing teeth. Her bowel gaped open revealing an oozing, emptied cavity.
Knowing no defensive magic, and wielding no weapon, the White Witch had truly relied on us to protect her. Her lifeless hand still grasped the charm Aanira had given her to use for conjuring a shield, but inexplicably the once glowing crystal now looked murky.
“I taught her how to use it,” Aanira sputtered, backing away and shaking her head in denial. She turned and vomited violently.
Knute rubbed his hand along Aanira’s shoulders in an attempt to comfort her, a despairing look pulling at his face. Asher begins a futile Health spell, but Ordoc staggers to the forlorn group and stops Asher with a heavy hand to his forearm.
“Save your strength for those of us who still live. There is no longer any value to this flesh, for the Wise One has fled to the Beyond.”
I remain speechless, looking down at the fragile broken body of the White Witch while the rest move on to tend to each others wounds. So quickly had her journey ended. How quiet my mind without her ever-present thoughts. With a growing panic I realize how very quiet my world had become, as if I peered through clear, still waters at a lively but muffled scene below the surface. I hear the voices of my companions and see them moving painfully about, but nothing sounds appropriate.
Seani has joined the group now, and they all gather in a circle where Holden sits moaning. Asher peers grim-faced at the scene that I couldn’t see through the circle of bodies. Knute’s jaw sets in a harsh line, and then suddenly crumples with grief. I try to push Seani aside, but my hands pass through her as if I spawned from mist. I finally manage to glimpse what everyone had gathered to see.
Holden sits slumped on the ground, large areas of skin shredded and dangling loosely from his body where he had ignored the onslaught of feeding mouths in his effort to conjure Oblivion. He cradles my limp form in his arms, holding my head against his bloody chest. An odd keening spills from his lips as he rocks slightly.
I stare at myself, bloodied and mangled flesh not nearly as gruesome as Holden’s or the White Witch’s. My mouth hangs rudely open and my arms splay limply to the side. In a moment of incredulity I wonder why I had died.
Ordoc casts Health on my limp form. I watch as the flesh mends, the wounds fading without even leaving scars. My body most certainly still lived, but I was not in it. Asher healed Holden as Aanira smoothed a potion into his wounds, but the deeply gnawed, stripped flesh left puckered scars on his thigh and shoulder.
I drifted around the scene, watching as my friends regained strength and regrouped. Seani coaxed the terradons back from the cover of the trees, and Asher wrapped the body of the White Witch in gauze. Since we usually give our dead to the MotherSea, Asher solemnly pushed the swaddled form over the rim of the cliff into the river below. The remainder of the day played out in this surreal fashion, with Holden finally relinquishing my comatose form to Aanira’s care. As night fell, Asher led us from this scene of carnage and grief, away a short distance into the forest, where the group made camp.
My tired friends sat subdued around the campfire, while the calmed terradons grazed silently just outside the flickering light cast by the flames. Asher cleared his throat and addressed the weary gathering.
“The Wise One has passed into the Beyond, and our fledgling Thinker sleeps an unnatural sleep. We have traveled many days towards our destination, but I am unsure of how to proceed at this point.”
No one spoke for a great while. I knew what I wanted to say, to encourage my friends to continue to the Unknown Realm, because I would be back to guide them. I had already found out that I could neither be seen nor heard, however, and so I listened helplessly while my friends spoke of their grief and indecision.
I cannot explain how I knew that I could complete this mission that the White Witch had accepted from the Keeper. I just knew that I could not return to Diasis without even trying. Not while the memory of the lifeless eyes of the Wise One continued to stare up at me blankly from the half-eaten face lying beside the canyon rim.
The morning breaks on this troubled crew, awakening them from restless slumber. Although strength rapidly returns to my companions, I remain unable to reenter my body. In fact I am not certain where to even begin. I was lost in this very train of thought, when Knute’s raised voice commanded my attention.
“Stay away from her,” Knute growled, pushing Holden away from my comatose form. “I don’t know what you did to her, but I do know that this is all your fault.”
Holden peered back at Knute, shoulders stooped and defeated. He ignored Knute’s directive and reached for my hand. With an angry roar Knute shoved him to the ground. Holden then stood and faced him, shoulders back and muscles tense. A manic, cold gleam sparkled from his scarlet eyes.
“Yes, it is my fault,” he spat. “Did you think I didn’t know what price must be paid to summon Oblivion? Did you think I struggled at mastering this magic because I was too weak to accomplish the task? I’ve known from the very first time I witnessed that cruel eye above me, exactly what it needed and wanted.”
He circled Knute warily, as Knute’s face became more contorted with rage, and continued his vehement diatribe. “I warred with my own dark magic, unable to give in to its harshest demand. I opened myself to it, and offered myself to it, and pleaded with it to change its mind. I confined it in a tight box and tried to master it myself. But some dark magics actually master the magician.”
His voice grew even colder, if possible, so cold that puffs of frosty air physically slipped out. “As I felt the life of the White Witch leaving us, I knew that I could resist no longer. I needed to summon Oblivion, and I wanted to summon Oblivion. I asked it of her, and Chakra willingly gave to me that which I had to have.”
At this cold-hearted admission, Knute lunged for Holden and a savage fight ensued. I remained dumbstruck, vaguely horrified by their brutal brawl, but mostly numbed by what Holden had said. He had known. He had known that the White Witch was dying, and he had known that this would happen to me. But he had not summoned Oblivion to save any of us; he had summoned Oblivion because it was in him, and it wanted him to.
Perhaps that is why I feared him. Perhaps that is why I gave in to his demand to assist him. He thought he had asked something of me that I understood the consequences of? I doubted that he truly thought that. He had demanded my life and didn’t care whether I approved or not.
I tear myself away from these thoughts and watch the fight unfold. Ordoc pulls aggressively at his brother’s arms, while Seani and Asher grasp Holden by the shoulders. Aanira screams for them to stop. The two combatants ignore all these actions and continue their battle, both obviously drawing magical energy and intending to take this fight to another, more violent level. It had to stop.
Chapter 10 Revelations
Shrugging off Ordoc’s constraining hands, Knute lunges at Holden. Holden smoothly slips from Asher and Seani’s grip, and a dark Curse swells between his outstretched arms.
“What?” Knute scoffs, shrugging his shoulders and clenching his fists. “You’d use Curse against me?”
He grabs Seani’s arm, although he keeps her out to his side, offering himself as an open target to Holden. “Here, why don’t you simply suck the life out of another, and set your Oblivion on me?”
Seani wrenches free of Knute’s grasp, and sobs as she clings to Aanira. “Please stop, both of you. Just stop.”
Knute flinched at the terror he had put in her voice, but never took his eyes from Holden’s. An ill smile pulled at Holden’s lips, tugging one corner snidely to the side. He released his Curse, which flew towards Knute at blinding speed, before abruptly stopping to hover at eye level, pulsing and writhing in a cruel taunt. Knute winced, while stretching his hand open, intending to weather the force of the dark magic and then follow with a savage Strike to wipe the smirk from Holden’s face.
I remained maddeningly mute, separated from contact as my form lay sleeping. In a moment of inspiration, I touched my insubstantial horn tips to those velvety nubs pushing up through the skin on my forehead, much as I’d placed the one against Holden’s leg before he pulled my spirit into himself. With a screeching tug I felt a myriad of sensations, some painful and familiar, others euphoric and fading with a distinct sense of loss. Swirling rainbows of light flashed in succession with pitch blackness and blinding white glows, and I experienced the unnerving sensation of falling from a great height. I opened my eyes again, seeing the world almost as a newborn babe.
Although the journey back into my body had seemed to take a long time, I soon realized how irrelevant that time really was. I sat up just as Holden released his Curse magic, to taunt and hover in front of Knute’s face. Knute closed his eyes and readied a Strike. With remarkable control, Holden held the pulsing vile ball at eye level, and Knute cautiously let one eye slip open.
I targeted the Curse with a Light magic, something I had never attempted, nor ever heard of anyone else attempting, but it seemed like a rational choice at that moment. The sputtering black magic disappeared in a brilliant cloth of white. Holden recoiled from this external attack, and I felt his focus shift from taunting Knute, to crushing whoever wielded that sparkling swatch of Light. Following the trail of energy back towards the source, his magic turned upon me.
I struggled to maintain my concentration, the pain traveling up my arm and into my head. Black fingers ripped through my imperfect Light spell, powerful and strong with the force of Holden’s mastery. With frightening clarity I beheld feathered streaks of darkness fluttering past the folds of brightness, and slithering up my arm in angry charred tunnels beneath the skin. Holden’s mind proved much more powerful than mine.
My feeble Light spell dissipated like a vapor, and the scattered fragments of the Curse floated together in the clearing air, reforming into a throbbing menace pulsing at my very fingertips. My aching mind reached out to Holden in my fear, begging him to recall his magic.
A moment of doubt flashed across Holden’s face, and his magic faltered. As Knute followed through with the Strike he had readied against Holden’s head, the black orb sank to the ground with an audible groan. In mere fractions of time, my companions gathered around me. The fight was clearly abandoned.
I answered a barrage of questions, as Holden shook his head in an effort to clear the fog of pain. He skulked away into the wood line alone, as I stood on shaky feet and attempted to explain my odd adventure. My burned arm throbbed with a latticework of seared flesh, pulsing in angry red glows at the very edges of the ruined skin. The skin would scar, leaving a hateful reminder of my weakness. We rested only briefly after my unexpected return, and then decided to continue our quest for the Great Knowledge, honoring the legacy of the Wise White Witch.
None of us cared to discuss the death of the Wise One, as much had already been said while I was only allowed to witness from outside my body. Likewise the ugly events of the morning’s fight seemed best left behind us, and an uneasy truce silenced Holden and Knute as we continued on our journey. I feel the rift in our unity as a stabbing pain, with one party member standing isolated from the rest of the group.
I allow my mind to drift back in time, memories flooding my thoughts with poignant clarity. Barely creeping out of childhood, I moved across the Grand Room from my usual sleeping place as the night stole in. Feeling special since I had grown old enough to sleep away from my mother’s side, although still supervised by many watchful eyes, I settled on my sleeping mat amidst the circle of my friends. I laughed easily as I sat next to Seani and Veronici, while Asher regaled us with a tale from his trip to the Mainland.
I glanced about the Grand Room for Holden, my closest companion at that time. The new season had ushered in privileges for him as well, and I expected him to soon join us. I spied him at the back of the room, near the corridor that leads through moistened underground tunnels and into the dusky interiors of the Great Hall. A younger Ordoc stood beside him, and with solemn faces they both listen intently as an Elder spoke to them. I noticed many of the Elders speaking quietly amongst themselves while peering that way, but the subtle nuances of the moment had escaped my immature mind.
Reflecting on that moment now, I realize that the hateful changes that rendered Holden a stranger to me began on that very night. Instead of joining the youth in our happy circle, Holden had turned and followed Ordoc down those dank corridors to the Great Hall. We saw little of each other from that time, as he pursued a black magic that should have been left buried in the moldy archives. The next four Turnings had twisted Holden into a monstrous stranger. With little effort I recall the final frightened look that Holden cast across the Grand Room, his eyes seeking mine at my mother’s side although I wasn’t there, before turning away with resolute purpose and striding into the darkness.
I leave behind my reflections, allowing my memories to drift away and my thoughts to return to the present. As we solemnly trek through the increasingly sparse trees, I grow aware of Holden nudging at my mind, now opened more freely to him as my physical and mental attributes as a Thinker blossomed. “Stop,” I send out to him. “I don’t want to hear anything you have to say.”
He continues to press into my thoughts, stronger and more determined than I am capable of resisting. I grab my head and scream aloud, “Stay out of my head!”
“What’s wrong?” Asher asks with concern.
“Nothing,” I lie, casting a furtive look at Holden. Knute grumbles unhappily as he catches my glance. Holden doesn’t want knowledge of his secret, dark eavesdropping ability to slip, so he leaves me alone.
We reach the edge of the Mainland by the time the sun begins its descent beneath the horizon, and rest at the windswept tree line. I feel the calling of the Keeper, that familiar swirling mist which beckons me into a dream. I opened myself up to the vision, and saw a landscape similar to the edge of the Mainland. I saw a narrow stream winding its way from the large, shallow body of the Wyld River, and an unfamiliar people inhabiting a small village built in stout trees. The area looked restful and inviting.
My vision snaps back to the wide mouth of the Wyld River, moving away from the narrow winding stream and along a dusty trail running along the opposite side of the canyon. The trail backtracked eastward for a ways, and then plunged into a craggy landscape of weathered sandstone. These were my choices, apparently, where the Keeper felt that we should travel. I wondered which way we should go. I decided to follow the example of the White Witch, and allow Asher and the rest of my companions to choose. My vision did little but show me directions, and the Keeper did not speak any words of warning or wisdom to me. I spoke of my vision that night as we ate, and then we all settled for what we hoped would prove a restful sleep. I lay on the woven mat next to Knute, trying not to think at all.
Again I feel Holden nudging at my mind. “Please,” he begs. “Don’t turn me away. I only want to talk.”
“What could you possibly have to say that matters?” I spit through the air, thought-words filled with malicious venom. I could feel the heaviness of his heart pressing upon mine as he entangled our spirits with his dark gift.
“I would like to explain.”
“Explain what? How you tried to kill me? Next time will you force yourself into my soul, suck it completely out of me, and finish my life off altogether?” I shriek into our shared thoughts.
I feel his sigh and my wrath pauses. I should listen to what he has to say. But was this my own feeling, or something he had put into me? I wasn’t certain of my own heart.
“The White Witch knew this would happen,” he began. “She told me while we waited for the balloon, in the chamber in Oekarakos.”
His sardonic laughter echoed harshly in my chest, sarcastic although not cruel. “I didn’t believe her, because she was humming and rocking to and fro on her feet, like a child. But she told me I would finally give in, that necessity would force me to cede my will to my magic.”
I didn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. Did the White Witch know that in order for Holden to master Oblivion, he would have to take my life? I also wondered why me, and not someone else? Why did I have to die, and how come I was still living although the dark magic had clearly been mastered?
Holden hears my thoughts. “Our people abandoned Oblivion long ago, because its burden was too heavy to bear. I thought I could coax the magic some way, bend it to my will and master its power without paying the price. I was wrong.”
An uneasy pause crackled in between us before he continued. “Oblivion demands your heart. It enslaves your very being and commands your affection, before it gives its power to you. There’s only one who owned my heart, only one who stood between it and me. It asked me for you, Chakra, and I couldn’t...”
His thoughts slip for a moment, too painful for him to even think. He then continues, “The White Witch said she was dying when the bendaswatch attacked us, and that I should save everyone else. She said it would be all right, because she had a plan. I wanted to believe her, and it wanted me to believe her.”
“She said she would use the crystal that Aanira gave her, to put what was left of her life into your body. She told me that I should pull you into myself, and offer you up as required. Oblivion would take you from me, and then you could find your way back, because your body was still living.”
I didn’t know how to respond at first. The Wise One had given her life in place of mine?
“No, no,” Holden interrupted. “She was already fated to slip into the Beyond. She gave the last of herself to your body.”
Why was I in his heart? I knew the answer, and felt dense for forming the thoughts into words. I also wondered what would happen next time he summoned Oblivion.
“I own Oblivion now. I have mastered the magic, because Oblivion now owns me as well...” his thoughts spill out, and it almost seems as if he’s forgotten my presence. “I held you inside myself for a few fantastic moments, our two spirits combining into one, and then I let it take you from me,” he flatly said. “I paid the price, so Oblivion is now mine, as much as I am its.”
He looks at me, and I can see my own image floating in his vision. “I thought you were all right at first. You moved and looked around. Then you fainted. I didn’t know what to do or how to help you,” he said, but I pushed him away from my thoughts. This was more than I could bear at once. He left me then, without further question. I looked his way, only to find him lost in his own thoughts, alone again.
Chapter 11 The Grassy Field
I awoke before the break of day, and listened to Knute’s steady breathing. Propped on my elbow, I watched his chest rise and fall in the rhythmic patterns of sleep. Restless, I contemplated waking him to seek comfort in our pleasure, but Holden’s invasive presence still lingered from the evening. Although Holden slept, I couldn’t shake my false perception that he would be there with Knute and me, and I remained unwilling to form any associations between Holden and an act of intimacy.
I turned my thoughts instead to the journey ahead. Asher had not settled on a clear direction before we slept, and I considered once again whether I should follow the example of the White Witch, and allow him to choose where to lead us. I also questioned whether the vision I saw really came from the Keeper. The White Witch had indicated that her visions were disturbing, pressing grievous revelations into her mind. I didn’t have any experience close to that. While my vision of the destruction of Diasis troubled me, it seemed more like a bad dream than anything else.
I wanted to visit that village in the trees, if such a place existed. With a few days travel we could reach the place, if the vision I had proved accurate. Asher stirred from slumber and disrupted my musings. He stood and stretched away the cramps of sleep, his arms lifted above his head and his wings outstretched. I sat up as well, thinking that this early time, before the others awoke, presented perfect opportunity to discuss the changing nature of my role as guide for this quest.
I hesitated as I continued to watch him, my uncharacteristic desire to adopt a bolder approach to guiding the group warring with my meek nature. Asher’s as yet unfastened breeches hung low around his pelvis, revealing a flat, muscled stomach that broadened smoothly into his chest along a V-line. Composed and charismatic, his judgment almost always sound, I trusted him. A wave of indecision washed over me, momentarily drowning my resolve to shoulder greater responsibility. Exactly why had the Wise White Witch chosen me as the first member of her escort?
“Who should join us? Who should lead us and who should protect us on our fantastic journey? The responsibility is yours to decide. Choose well.”
Her words spoke to me once again. She hadn’t behaved as if she had decided to include me, but more like destiny dictated that I was a part of the effort from its initial inception. With the pressing weight of shame I recalled how little I really benefited the group. I felt undeniably melancholy, isolated and perverse, an outcast from the whole of the Peoples. I briefly considered the past days of our journey, and they all blended together in one seamless, never-ending stream of futility.
I suppressed the urge to walk away right then, and abandon this pretense at life to dwell in obscurity far away from civilization. I wanted freedom from this responsibility that I felt ill-equipped to handle. I wanted freedom from the expectations of my people and my friends. Alone I could simply exist, and for a while that would be enough.
“Do you really think that your simple existence would be enough?” Holden interrupted into my thoughts.
I chastised myself for not noticing his intrusion in my thoughts sooner, and refused to look his way. I weakly tried to push him out, but he wouldn’t go. Expanding my own consciousness towards him, I tried to invade his mind, only to meet with a staunch blank wall. Abruptly this barrier fell away, but not in response to anything I did, and I found myself swimming in a colorful sea of images. I struggled to gain bearing in the turbulent flow of Holden’s thoughts, and in panic I felt myself drowning. Holden pushed me out.
“It takes practice,” he said. “Practice, and a certain will.”
His warm breath caressed the back of my neck, and with a jerk I turned to face him. He had slipped silently up behind me. I cast an anxious glance at Knute, still sleeping only a hands breadth from where I sat, before looking up into Holden’s eyes. His face close to mine, I leaned forward without conscious thought, until our foreheads almost touched. My hair brushed softly against his fur, and the tips of my horns slightly contacted his skin.
“Teach me Oblivion,” I perversely sent into our thoughts. My mind raced with the weight of my weakness and an overwhelming sense of inadequacy, and I wanted to stamp out those helpless feelings with the same darkness that had consumed the bendaswatch. Holden moved away as our closeness suddenly became uncomfortable for him. He looked momentarily taken aback, a flicker of surprise brightening his eyes before he smiled.
“Perfect your Light skills, master that magic. Maybe then I’ll show you.” He stood and quietly walked away, departing with one final thought, “Go speak with Asher. Your abilities make you suitable to guide us much more actively than the Wise White Witch.”
Looking again towards Asher, I swallowed my melancholy and stood to confront him. I tried to disguise my anxiety as I walked to him and stood by his side. I nervously met his eyes, but he spoke before I summoned enough nerve to introduce my intent.
“Is Holden bothering you?” he asked, his jaw set in a grim and disapproving line.
“No, well maybe, but it is of little importance. I have something else I’d rather discuss.”
Asher waited expectantly, his eyes studying my face and sweeping over my nervous form. I didn’t fear his rejection, but rather I feared appearing a fool. “I want to go to the tree village. I think we should take that path.”
He sighed and knelt to lace his moccasins. “Are you so sure there is a tree village? And if there is, would it be a good idea to make contact with those people?”
I wasn’t sure of the answer to either question. I was only sure of my own desire, and even with that my certainty wavered. Shaking off another wave of depression and indecision, I met Asher’s eyes once again.
“I want to be more than a recorded voice, more than an information relay for the visions of the Keeper. We’ll find out how true my visions are if we travel the winding stream and reach the tree village. We’ll find out if it’s a good idea to make contact with those people. That is the path I wish to take.” My steady speech and calm resolve surprised me.
Asher only nodded assent. For him it was as simple as that. As the remainder awoke and the day’s activities started, Asher announced to the group our destination, and we headed for the shallow mouth of the Wyld River to cross.
We reached the mouth of the river before the sun had traversed half the sky, and the flow of water slowed and parted into broad and shallow streams before pooling together some unknown distance beneath the rock and joining with the MotherSea. We crossed easily and located the narrow winding stream from my vision, cutting through a cropping of stone, which opened onto a field of grasses.
We rested briefly, shedding our clothing in the open field and soaking up the rays of the sun, finally free of the oppressive humidity of the forest. After several moments of abandon and comparative bliss, we shrugged our clothing back over warmed and reddened skin, and ate.
Aanira approached me as we enjoyed this break from travel. She ran her fingers self-consciously through the dark, tight curls of her hair, and her troubled emerald eyes captured my attention from the subdued mint skin of her face. She sat beside me, and the sunlight reflected from her scaly legs in brilliant patterns of color.
“Did you see the people of that tree village?” she asked.
I dropped my gaze from those saddened eyes, and watched the blues reflect from her scales. “Yes.”
“Were they like the packs of the Mainland?” she persisted. “Or were they more like the Diasinians?”
I ran my hands across her calf, mesmerized by the beauty of the faceted rays of captured light, and murmured a reply, “Much like the Diasinians, I think. I saw little difference.”
She startled me by jerking away, curling into a ball and putting her back to me.
“I don’t want to go there,” she whispered.
I didn’t know how to respond. I wasn’t certain I understood her problem, and didn’t know where to begin a discussion. I remained silent and waited for Aanira to continue.
“I’ll be a problem for the group,” she finally continued. “We’ll meet these new people, and they’ll think I’m a freak. They won’t have anything to do with you, because they’ll despise the way I look.”
Even knowing her problem, I still did not know how to respond. The Diasinians were isolated on our isle, and the people we came into contact with were always different from us. This had never been a problem. I said as much.
“You don’t understand, Chakra. There are other cities in the MotherSea, and other sea people that are different from the Oekarakonians. There are clear dividers between the people, based on their physical differences, no matter how slight. Sometimes people can be very judgmental about those that are different than they are.”
“Judgmental? Why?” I struggled with the concept of prejudice, and naively wondered how anyone could not accept my friend, based solely on her appearance.
“Sometimes others are uncomfortable with differences, especially differences that they can’t understand. I think I should stay away, when we reach the village, and wait for you somewhere outside.”
I puzzled over my response.
Images retrieved online and may be altered from the artists’ original works.