The old crones never worried about being gentle when they fussed over her appearance and they were always fussing. Lamais tugged at her hair hurriedly with a jagged comb, never satisfied until her hair fell like silk around her shoulders. Tishe had buried herself in the corner, measuring the last adjustments to her robe. Every now and then she would return to Meera’s side to roughly measure an arm before returning to her material. Zeika was busy applying dye to Meera’s face, hissing whenever Meera moved.
When Meera had been little, Zeika would shout at Meera not to move, but over time the shout had turned into a sharp hiss, framed by stern eyebrows and wispy grey hair. Meera tried her best to remain as still as possible, but Lamais’ and Tishe’s sharp tugs were making it difficult. Meera made due by sticking her tongue out at Zeika every time the woman moved to dip her brush in a new dye.
She felt a sharp jab in her side as Lamais jabbed the brush into her. “Keep your tongue in your mouth or I’ll cut it out, Seer or no.”
She was a seer she reminded herself, at least she would be. It was hard to keep her patience around the crones, but a true seer would show her patience.
“My apologies Suicha.” Meera said roughly, averting her eyes to hide her frustration.
Zeika scoffed as she drew a curling blue streak on Meera’s forehead, “No need to hide your hatred of me child. After tonight, you will call me what you really wish.”
Lamais tugged her head sideways, pulling wisps of silver hair from the brush, “Curse this moon hair child. It may be pretty but you shed. Soon there will be more hair on the floor than on your head.”
Meera doubted that. Her silver hair fell well past her shoulders contrasting sharply with her olive skin. Her hair was by far her most defining feature. Lamais could pull hair out all day and Meera’s hair would still come back in full force, straight and lustrous as ever. There was no reason to focus on her clothing, but the crones would hear nothing of it.
“No one looks at a bird with dull feathers,” Tishe was fond of saying. So each time she stepped out into public, they brushed her hair, and prepared her clothing and covered her face in beautiful dye. Luckily, her public appearances were rare. Sarro kept her away from the public eye as often as possible for her training.
Sarro sat across from the crones at the far end of the tent, the way he always did when the crones set themselves on Meera. He was old and bent slightly at the waist, with creased features and dull skin. His eyes were heavily lidded from old age and from across the room Meera couldn’t tell if he was sleeping or watching closely. There had been a time when the crones would have prepared him for the public eye as well, but those days had long passed since Meera had been chosen to succeed Sarro as a Seer.
A seer was responsible for bridging the gap between human and God. Ordinary humans were not strong enough to bear witness to the Gods. Only through a seer could the Gods converse with their creations. The seers communicated the Gods’ wishes through visions and relayed them to the people.
“Are you nervous Lama?”
A seer cannot show weakness. They must be vigilant and immovable. “No Lami, I am ready for the challenge ahead.”
“Your voice shakes.”
Meera was not surprised by his bluntness. The old man had never been shy about giving his opinion to Meera.
“I am worried that you are mistaken. All seers have been men. Perhaps you chose incorrectly.”
He nodded and sternly reminded her, as he had every time she brought up this concern. “I did not choose you Lama, The Gods choose the seer.”
She looked down at her feet and mumbled, “I am a girl.”
“The Gods saw fit to change their mind.” He spoke and his eyebrows lifted momentarily so that Meera could see a soft twinkle in his kind eyes. “I was told through dreams that you would arrive soon. I did not know your face but I was told that I would be able to feel when you entered this world. I knew I had found the next seer before I even stepped into the room and saw you.”
“I have had no visions.” She started.
“And no cause to have one.” Sarro smiled
The crones continued their work hurriedly while the two conversed. Meera studied him from across the room, fighting the shaking in her feet.
“What if I never have one?” She trembled. “I am expected to fail. They will exile me. You will have to begin again.”
“Meera,” Sarro sighed. Meera’s eyes widened. It was rare for Sarro to use her given name, instead of her apprentice title. Usually it meant that she was in trouble.
“Do not make the mistake of believing that you are the first Seer to feel scared and alone. I made no mistake. I stood, just as you did on my 10th passing and fretted about what I would say. Truthfully, I do not remember my vision, but I had one just the same.”
Meera felt frozen by his eyes. Tishe raised her arms and slid a length of cloth over her shoulders, while Zeika placed sandals on her feet.
Sarro continued, “I have prepared you in every way that I could. You have learned to speak, in the old tongue and the new. You have learned to read and write in the old and the new. You hold yourself properly in public, and act the correct ways. You listen properly and study all you can,” he paused and smiled lifting his eyelids again to show them smiling, “with a little push when necessary. I have taught you all I can, the Gods will give you a vision when the time is right.”
For a while, Meera stood while Lamais brushed out the final strokes of her hair and the butterflies rested in Meera’s stomach. She looked down at her dress. They had died it pale blue to match the paint on her face. It hung off of one shoulder, leaving the left side of her chest down to her waist exposed. Her waist was tied with an ivory sash and the bottom flowed until just past her knees. The sandals were ivory as well and were so thin that she might as well be standing in the dirt. Lamais had twisted thin strands of her hair into braids at either end, framing her face.
Sarro rose from the far end and glanced at her admiringly. He began to step toward her, stooped and cautious with each step. Meera stepped off her small pedestal to greet him in the middle, much to the dismay of Zeika, who wasn’t content with her final appearance. “It will have to do” Meera thought.
She met him with her arms outstretched, grasping him by the forearms. He brought his eyes up to meet her and grinned, although Meera noticed that he was wheezing from the strain of standing. He had taken to sitting so much lately. She felt the trembling, but she couldn’t be sure if it was her or him.
“Do I look the part Lami?” She asked, supporting him by the wrists.
He hardly looked at her, turning his head to the side where the steps led to the world outside. When he looked back to her and met her gaze, she saw a tear flowing at the corner of his eye.
She laughed and wiped it away with her finger. “A seer is vigilant and immovable Lami”
He smiled and nodded toward the steps. “I am no longer a Seer my Meera. People will not care how I look.”
She slid to his side and took his arm. They interlocked elbows and waited at the threshold below the steps. Lamais, Tishe, and Zeika collected their supplies and stepped out before them, leaving the pair alone in the shadows of the tent. There were no words between them, just the nervous trembling between the old man and his apprentice. Without a glance between them, they stepped forward into the moonlight.
The crowd had gathered in a crescent moon shape around the tent, giving Meera plenty of space as she ascended the steps with Sarro in tow. She kept her neck stiff, back straight, and expression stoic as Sarro had told her, looking as imperious as possible. The crowd gasped as they appeared and Meera could see why the crones had chosen to outfit her with blue garb. The drifting moonlight reflected well off the blue fabric and her silver hair. She floated like a wraith before them, illuminating her own path as she walked with Sarro at her side.
When they reached the center, between the steps and the crescent moon, they stopped and faced each other. Here Sarro bowed slowly and kissed her hands. When he painfully reset himself, she did the same, kissing his loving hands. He smiled at her one last time and stepped away, turning his back to her. She watched as he stepped away from her, toward the waiting crowd in the crescent moon shape. He took his seat, cross-legged in the front and waiting on her, just like the rest of them.
Suddenly she was alone. She held her arms at her side, fighting the urge to clench her fists nervously. Her feet were sweating, but she kept her back rigid and head forward. For a long time, they stared at her while the wind blew the leaves in the canopy above them. She willed herself to step forward.
Meera’s feet barely left the earth as she stepped carefully. With each step, she kicked up dust that writhed around her sandals like snakes. She kept her neck rigid, staring above their faces at the dimming tree line. Staring away from them was the only thing stopping her from sprinting back to her hovel, or maybe even farther into the wilderness. She wondered how far she would make it, if she sprinted into the forest and never came back.
She gasped as her toe struck the bowl sitting in the dirt, spilling liquid onto the ground and over her toes. She stiffened even tighter, if that were possible. She scanned the crowd but only received dead eyes in return, until her gaze met Sarro. His lips were taut, but the creases in his eyes were smiling warmly at her. She brought a hand to brush away a small grin and finally allowed her body to exhale.
She lowered herself towards the ground, tucking her legs beneath herself. She folded both hands and rested them lightly against her thighs. The liquid in the bowl shined a pale purple beneath the light of the moon flies. She reached forward for it gently. The water shivered in the bowl, as if moving away from her touch. Her hands tightened around the rim of the bowl. She brought it to her face slowly and held it inches from her face. The concoction had been prepared by the crones. Sarro told her that it would make it easier for the Gods to communicate with her.
“Will it hurt?” She had asked.
“A seer cannot show weakness, they must be vigilant…”
“…and immovable.” She had finished for Sarro.
She closed her eyes and tipped the bowl toward her lips. It was cool and thick. It ran like iced honey down her throat. Chills shot through every limb in her body and made every hair stand on end. She shivered as she lowered the bowl away from her face and set it hastily on the ground. For a moment, the night air hung thick around them, with only the moonflies moving. She sat, with hands folded and eyes wide, but nothing happened.
This is it, she thought. Sarro was wrong. I was never meant to be a Seer.
Her breath quickened as a single tear formed in the corner of her eye.
“A seer is…” she whispered to herself, unable to finish. Her throat choked as her breathing increased. Her heart pounded against her ribcage and her hands trembled against her thighs. She closed her eyes to steady herself, unable to control the shaking. She inhaled deeply. Don’t cry. Seers don’t cry.
She opened her eyes and gasped. The jungle that had shined a pearl blue moments before had now been tinted a nightmarish crimson. The wind picked up above her as the thick tree leaves began to shake violently. She leapt to her feet, mouth agape as the trees bent sideways and snapped back again. She scanned the faces of the people gathered before her, but where they once had faces, they now only had black spots that stretched into nowhere.
The tears that she had been holding back flowed freely now, her posture and demeanor forgotten as she screamed and cried before them. Her limbs felt like she had lost her bones. They seemed to wave and twist as she brought them to her face. She seemed like she was falling, shrinking away from the tree tops. The ground rose rapidly to meet her. When they finally collided, the earth rumbled and all of the shaking stopped.
The light from the moonflies brightened suddenly, shedding light on the jungle floor, creeping toward two shadows in the distance. As the light hit, the shadows melted away to reveal two pale figures standing before her. They reached out and took her by the hands. They had no faces, just intense light radiating off of them, but Meera could tell they were smiling. She smiled back, just as an intense crack made her jump.
The onlookers gasped in front of her and Meera opened her eyes. She was still on her knees on the jungle floor. She was still breathing rapidly, but the jungle had returned to normal. The crowd in front of her had all turned their attention away from her and was instead gazing upward at bright orange ring in the night sky. A second crack filled the sky and the ring expanded rapidly. Meera sat frozen on the ground, feeling the heat radiating from so far away. The ring fell apart, sending orange streaks falling away down. The onlookers watched in wonder as the fire in the sky smoldered away. A few more cracks thundered from off in the distance but each crack softened until all that was left were orange faded streaks across the sky.
When it was done, and the only light cast came from the glow of the moonflies, the crowd turned back towards her. Their cheers erupted suddenly as they continued to shout her name. Meera! Meera!
She fought back a smile as her eyes turned to find Sarro. She found him with his eyes closed, his head leaning against the base of a tree. Her breath caught in her throat. The transfer from one seer to another was complete.
“A seer is immovable.” She told herself, struggling to hold back tears.
Caleb stood next to the small prop jet watching Gabrielle hug her mother. He shoved his hands farther into his pockets and buried his face into his jacket as the wind whipped around the tarmac. Brie would be travelling alone, without her mother, which was a surprise to Caleb. His father’s friends had offered to fly both of them to England, but she had declined.
At long last, Gabrielle let go of her mother and turned solemnly to face the plane. She grabbed her suitcase and began walking forward, struggling with the weight.
Caleb nudged the large man standing next to him. “Help her with her luggage please.”
Milo strode forward instantly, meeting Gabrielle half-way. Caleb watched as he gingerly offered to help her, but Gabrielle wrenched her hand away and stubbornly dragged the suitcase on the opposite side of Milo. Flummoxed, he walked behind her awkwardly as she made her way for the stairs.
She stopped short of Caleb and for the first he time, he got to see her face to face. She had auburn hair that the wind kept blowing across her green eyes. She had fair skin and small features. Her lips and eyebrows curved wickedly on her face, although Caleb couldn’t tell if they were always that way, or made that way because she was angry.
“Hello Gabby,” he said.
Her lips curled even more into a more pronounced frown. “I prefer Brie.” She responded.
“Oh,” he laughed nervously, “Sorry. In my head I imagined that people called you Gabby.” He shifted his feet nervously. “You should let Milo take your bags. It’s what he gets paid for.”
“I can carry my own bags,” she said, making to move past him, but Caleb stood firm between her and the stairs to the plane.
“I have to insist. Please let him take your bags.” He stated again.
She glared at him, but heaved her shoulders and handed her bags to Milo behind him. Caleb stepped aside to let her go. He followed her up the steps as they stepped into their Father’s plane together.
For Caleb, he had lost count of how many times he had stepped into his Father’s jet, but for Brie it was the first time. Caleb watched as her face reluctantly switched from anger to awe as she scanned the plane.
The carpeting was scarlet red with golden lights decked out along the edges. Two sets of chairs sat facing each other on the side of the plane closest to the door. A small island countertop sat on the opposite side, with a few cabinets holding snacks and drinks, including some long unused celebratory liquor. Milo emerged from the back of the plane, where the luggage was kept.
Caleb watched her carefully as she admired the cabin, but he couldn’t make out her expression in the dim light. Was she experiencing jealousy? Anger? Caleb couldn’t help but wonder how many times she would have ridden in this plane if their parents had stuck together. Suddenly, her jaw tightened and the familiar angry face returned.
She slid unceremoniously into a chair close to the window. Caleb reached upward into the overhead bin above her and dug out a blanket. Behind him, Milo closed the hatch to the plane shutting them in.
He clapped his hands expressively, “We should be ready for takeoff in 15 minutes or so. I’ll let you know before we leave sir.”
Caleb nodded, “Thank you Milo.”
Milo bowed his head curtly before strolling up the aisle to the cockpit and shutting the door between them. Caleb turned his attention back to Brie, only to find that she was resting her head against the window, eyes closed and arms crossed over her lap.
He slid his coat from his shoulders and draped it delicately over the back of his chair. He fumbled with the buttons on his sleeves, loosening them before slumping down in the chair. He fought to keep his eyes open and kept glancing over at Brie, strongly suspecting that she was feigning sleep so that she wouldn’t have to talk to him. He didn’t blame her. Truth be told, he was a little mad himself.
The intercom twitched and Milo’s unpleasant voice sounded over the room. “We will be taking off shortly Sir. Radio me if you need anything.”
“We’ll be fine Milo. Just focus on getting us home safely,” said Caleb, releasing his hold on the intercom button on the armrest. He glanced at back at Brie, who was shifting uncomfortably, burying herself farther into the seat.
The plane lurched forward abruptly and Caleb gripped the armrest tighter. He had flown dozens of times but the thought of flying still made him uncomfortable. Take-off was the worst. When the plane finally pulled away from the ground, his stomach dropped to his feet. He swallowed hard and didn’t breathe again until the plane leveled in the air. When he could no longer feel the plane floating in the air, he felt comfortable enough to talk to Brie again.
“Can I get you anything to eat or drink?” he asked.
Her eyes fluttered open. “London is not my home.” She said with venom.
“I never said it was.” Caleb said, narrowing his eyebrows.
“You did,” she insisted. “Before the plane took off, you told the Pilot to focus on getting “us” home.”
“Milo” Caleb reminded her.
“Fine,” Brie snapped, “You told Milo to focus on getting us home. It might be your home but it isn’t mine. Just know that I am counting the seconds until I can return to my home.”
Caleb shifted nervously in his seat. The plane rocked lazily beneath them. “You aren’t excited to meet me at all? We only have 3 days together.”
She didn’t respond to him but her face spelled out her answer plainly. She stared out into the darkness. Raindrops began to hit the window.
Caleb continued, “We’ll just so you know, I’m very excited to meet you.” Brie snorted and Caleb frowned. He had tried to be patient with her, but she was starting to irritate him. “Did I say something funny?”
“You’ve had 14 years to meet me, you and Eric both.” Caleb cringed when she said their Dad’s name out loud. He didn’t know why he was surprised. Of course she wouldn’t call him Father. She had probably only heard stories about him. He had never tried to meet her face to face so far as Caleb knew.
“I can’t tell you why Father never tried to contact you,” he began, “but I can tell you why I’ve never tried reached out to you.” He tried to stop himself from smiling when she twisted her head away from the window and met his eyes, curiosity getting the best of her.
“Brie…” she hissed.
“Brie, I’ve only known that you even existed for 9 days.” Caleb could see her fierce eyes soften. That might have gotten to her.
“You’re lying.” She whispered like she didn’t believe herself.
“The lawyers read me the names of all the people that Father named in his will. He named my mother, my stepmother, his 3 sisters, various friends of the family, me…and you.”
Brie turned herself slightly in the chair to face him better. She bit her lip softly contemplating what he had said. He didn’t give her the chance to convince herself that he was lying.
“How much has your mom told you?” he asked. “My Father’s advisors have told me what they could, but I don’t know everything yet.” A low rumble of thunder outside shook the cabin.
Brie shrugged, “I don’t know. Mom just said that she worked for him while Dad was campaigning. When she told him about me, he started avoiding and she was fired from his team with some shush money.”
“I think they call it a severance package.” Caleb said. He had meant it as a joke but Brie’s eyes turned hard again and he felt it best to quiet himself.
“She didn’t hear from him again. When his term was over he took you and left for London. That’s as much as I know.”
Asking her to retell the story had been a mistake Caleb realized. She was angry again. Lightning flashed outside and Brie jumped but regained her composure quickly.
The intercom crackled, “Sir and Ms. we might be heading into some rough weather. Make sure your seatbelts are on.” It died away abruptly.
“You have a stepmother?” Brie asked
Caleb nodded, “7 years ago my mother left father suddenly and without warning. I didn’t know why at the time but now…” he gestured towards her, “I think I can safely assume that she found out about you. Anyways, Dad remarried fairly quickly.” Brie was staring at him intently and Caleb smiled, “My stepmother is really stupid.”
She grinned and laughed once before stopping and composing herself. Caleb held his gaze on her and when she finally met his again, he smiled. She returned it reluctantly and for a moment he felt like they understood each other.
The plane jolted violently and dropped quickly before it righted itself. Caleb craned his neck toward the cockpit. He could make out an alarm blaring faintly behind the door. He turned back to Brie. “Do you hear that?”
The lightning crashed again and the plane shook moments later when the thunder hit. Brie screamed as the plane blew sideways violently. Caleb’s tensed hands found the intercom.
“Milo, is everything okay up there?”
The intercom gave no response, but instead the cockpit door burst open and Milo came panting out of it.
“Seatbelts off” He stammered. He blew past them towards the back of the plane and threw open the closet in the back rifling through the supplies.
Caleb’s fingers fidgeted with his seatbelt. When he finally pried them apart he stood up. “Milo, what’s happening?”
Milo ruffled his fingers across his forehead and through his greasy hair. “The engine has failed on our left side and has caught fire.”
“We need to jump,” Milo continued. “If the flames find the gas compartment, the whole plane will blow.” He stood up, having found what he was looking for. He produced two parachutes from the closet. He dropped one to the floor before strapping the other around his shoulders.
“Milo…” Caleb started but Milo had already made for the door. He opened it swiftly and the wind swept through the cabin as Brie screamed again. Caleb’s throat tightened and his hands flexed at his sides.
Milo turned back, his voice shaking. “Good luck.”
And with that, he jumped and disappeared into the darkness.
Caleb turned to Brie. She was heaving and staring out the window. A halo of orange light framed her.
“Brie! We have to get going!” Caleb tried to shout above the wind. The plane shifted again forcefully and that sparked Brie into moving. She scrambled to stand while Caleb raced toward the closet.
Brie called out behind him, “You aren’t going to find another one. That’s why he jumped. He didn’t want to fight over the last one.”
Caleb searched frantically even though he knew she was right. A loud snapping screamed from outside as the fire grew. The plane groaned and shifted sideways and downward.
“There’s no time.” Brie said behind him and Caleb rose immediately. He picked up the parachute sack and crossed the cabin coming face to face with Brie. He shoved it into her chest. “Put it on then.”
“I…” she began but Caleb pushed it again forcefully. “Now Brie. There’s no time to argue.
She flipped it around quickly and fastened it about her shoulders. He embraced her quickly, wrapping his arms around her back. He whispered in her ear. “We jump together. Pull the string when I tell you to.”
He didn’t give her time to answer. He leaned out the doorframe clutching her and together they fell out into the air.
They fell together with the wind whistling through them. They tumbled in rotation and every now and then Caleb caught a glimpse of the plane, almost completely engulfed in flames. When it finally exploded, Brie clutched him tighter and Caleb bellowed into her shoulder feeling the heat at their backs.
He had never fallen from a plane before, but he screamed at her to pull when the time felt right and the parachute opened, jerking them upward sharply. Caleb felt his grip around her back loosen.
He couldn’t see her face but he called for her. “Brie. How close are we to the ground?”
He could feel her shaking but it showed in her voice anyways, “I don’t know. I can’t see anything.”
He shifted lower and instead of gripping her around the chest he had control of her around the waist.
“I’m slipping…” he managed to say before his fingers loosed and he fell away.
“Noooo!” Brie shrieked as a sharp gust of wind took the parachute and she curled away from him.
Her voice trailed away until her heard nothing but the sound of his own screams and the waves rolling beneath him. In an instant he dropped below the ocean, swallowing him sound and body.
Brie woke up to a shaft of sunlight peeking through the trees. The parachute was tangled above her, stretched and rippling with the wind in the branches. She sat up quickly and winced, feeling a sudden rush of pain fill her head. She opened her eyes again to take in her surroundings. She was sitting in the middle of a lush canopy, surrounded by trees that stretched forever into the sky. The loose dirt felt cool beneath her fingers.
“Caleb” she spoke to no one, stepping gingerly to her feet. The jungle swirled around her as she turned in circles. Every direction darker than the last.
She called louder, “Caleb!”
The sound seemed to die off as the words left her mouth. She listened for a reply but only the sounds of the jungle answered her. She couldn’t be alone here. This wasn’t happening. She would wake up soon, safe at home with her Mother.
“Caleb!” she called again louder as beads of sweat trickled down into the corners of her eyes. A branch cracked behind her and she spun quickly, catching a flash of color darting behind some brush on the ground.
“Caleb?” She screamed, racing forward toward the brush, but when she came upon it, she found no one in hiding. She felt stupid. If Caleb had seen her, why would he run from her? But she had seen something, she was sure of it.
Then she saw it again, farther on this time, a flash of olive in the shadows.
“Hey!” she called after it and started running towards the shadow. She kept catching glimpses of skin moving away and every now and then she would hear the shaking of leaves, but she never saw anything step out from the shadows and she couldn’t be sure that the sounds of leaves shaking wasn’t her own heavy feet as she crashed through the jungle.
She chased her own fantasy until she ran out of breath and collapsed to her knees. She stared off into the jungle, hoping to catch sight of what she had been chasing. Her eyes settled on a burlap sack, swinging on a low hanging branch. It was still swaying as if someone had nicked it running by, but maybe the wind was toying with it.
She stepped over to it slowly, wresting it from the branch. She undid the string and released its contents onto the ground.
“The med kit from the plane!” she breathed, letting a quick smile show. She fell to the floor and combed through the contents. Adhesive tape, gauze, cotton balls, cold packs, scissors and other supplies, but her breath caught in her chest when she saw a gun lying in the dirt. It was a simple pistol and an older model by the looks of it.
She picked it up slowly, careful to avoid the trigger. She had never held a gun before. It felt heavy in her hands. She let her finger slide around the trigger and her hand caress the grip. She liked the way it felt in her hand. Another rustling noise behind her and she wheeled in place to find the source of it.
The brush in front of her shook again but this time she watched slowly as a man stepped out from beneath the shadows of the trees. He was smaller than she was, but thicker than some of the trees around them. He had deeply tanned skin and black hair falling about his shoulders, braided on one side. He was covered in loose sand colored fabric that only covered half his frame, stopping at the knees and shoulders. His nose and neck were broad but his arms and legs were sinewy and taut.
Brie's breath caught in her throat. His eyes flitted over and lingered on her red hair, setting fire to the jungle floor as the sunlight coursed through it. He shifted his weight, dragging his spear through the dirt in a circle in front of him. His gaze shifted downward and Brie stepped back, uncomfortable while he studied her. He took a cautious step forward and instinctively Brie pulled the gun shoulder height and pointed it directly at him.
"That's far enough!" she screamed.
He retreated, sharply arching his eyebrows and turning his attention to the gun. Brie tried to keep herself from shaking uncontrollably and hoped she didn't look as ridiculous as she felt. The native had both hands on his spear now, raising it a foot off the ground, keeping his posture low. His eyes never left the gun, but it wasn't fear in his eyes, Brie noticed. Of course he doesn't fear my gun, Brie fumed, he's never seen one.
She kept it held high though as his gaze finally left the weapon and returned back to her face. He stepped forward again, his spear held at the ready. She regripped the pistol and waved it at him again.
"Not another step!" She said, feeling more imposing than she looked. He stopped again, but only for a moment before he continued to creep forward. Her finger found the trigger and slowly starting to squeeze it tight.
But he stopped abruptly when he heard the sharp trill of a horn from off in the distance. Three sharp blasts. He turned on heels and stared in the direction of the noise, far off into the trees. He turned back towards Brie and now there was fear in his face. He brought a finger up to his lips and Brie understood. The horn blew again and suddenly he rushed forward, grabbing her around the waist and dragging her towards a thick brush. He pushed her beneath the leaves and collapsed on top of her, pinning her to the ground beneath the bush.
The horn sounded again, much closer this time. Brie coughed dirt and groaned with the weight of the Native on top of her. He rolled off of her and pinned his chest to the ground, pressing a hand into the flat of her back to keep her still. She looked over to him and he brought his finger to his mouth again
"No sound" he whispered, heavy with an accent and Brie's eyes widened in surprise. She opened her mouth to question him, but stopped when she heard the sound of the leaves shaking in the trees. Leaves shaking and the sounds of hoots and cackles, like monkeys. She chanced a glance upward in time to see shadows shaped like men racing through the branches. Her eyes caught on one, as he took one, two, three steps along a branch, running at a full sprint, before leaping off into nothing. He hovered for a moment, before spreading his arms and Brie couldn't stop herself from screaming.
Wings, Brie couldn't believe it. He has wings.
The native's hands clamped over her mouth quickly but the damage was done. Before she could blink, a leathery shape descended from the trees and landed in the dirt several feet from their hiding spot. He was short, and had no weight to him. He wore leather as well, but only enough to cover his mid-riff. His fingers and toes were bare, ending in short, curved talons and scraped at the dirt impatiently. But Brie couldn't stop staring at his wings. The tucked underneath his arms like a bat as he stood, starting from above his hip and stopped just past his elbows on either side. They were almost translucent and tinted purple.
She stifled a gasp as a second one landed just beside him, dropping as if from no where. This one had wings with a green tint but looked otherwise identical to the first. The first one made a sound like a hiss and Brie noticed that his front teeth were carved into fangs. The second snapped at him and chittered at him rapidly and pointed upward. The first hissed again and scanned the ground near us, his gaze almost settling on our hiding spot.
The second let out a low growl before and the first rolled his eyes, but dashed off quickly for the nearest tree trunk. He stuck a hand into the bark using the talons at the end of his hands to pull himself up. He raced up the tree in a flash, making it halfway up the trunk before shooting off of it backwards, extending his wings and gliding across the jungle. He passed through a shaft of sunlight, which lit up his colored wings, before he was off, gliding out of sight.
Brie returned her gaze to the second one with the green tinted wings. It scanned the area slowly and for a brief moment, Brie found herself making eye contact with it. But just when she thought it might see her, the horn sounded again and the man with wings gazed off in its direction. He cast one last curious glance at the bush before the horn called him again and like a flash he was climbing the nearest tree before jumping off and gliding out of sight.
Caleb woke up on the beach, spitting surf and sand from his mouth. It seemed as if half the beach had found its way down his lungs. He spent several minutes on his hands and knees hacking and coughing in an attempt to return the beach to its original state. When he had finally cleared enough of the sand from his body, he allowed himself to glance up and examine his surroundings.
The sun had come up to reveal a vast stretch of empty beach as far at the eye could see down either side of him. Before him, the sand blended into jungle grass, giving way to a mesh of trees and foliage. When he rolled over to sit, he saw nothing but ocean water in front of him. The ocean was rolling back and forth gently, showing no signs of the storm from the previous night. His clothes were damp, but not soaked and he realized dully that he had been laying on the beach long enough for the sun to begin drying his clothing. It was inching close to noon based on the sun.
He sat in a dull stupor, slowly realizing that he was lucky to be alive. He remembered hitting the water and being pulled under. He had always been a good swimmer, but the waves had been high and the rain had lashed at his face everytime his head broke above the service. He had kept his legs churning but struggled to become horizontal and ride the waves across the water. Every now and again a large piece of flaming debris from the plane would land near him. He remembered catching sight of land, illuminated by the glow of a distant fire before the tempest took him under again. From that time to now he recalled nothing more, leaving himself to marvel that he had managed to drift toward the beach. It was an incredibly lucky thing that they had crashed so close to an island in the middle of an expansive ocean.
And suddenly he remembered his sister curling away from him in the night sky, reaching her hands out as he fell. He stood up instantly and scanned the ocean looking for a sign of the parachute floating in the surf but he spied nothing. He felt his heart rate begin to quicken as he looked down the beach but saw nothing there either. He turned fully to face the jungle and took off at a full run. Something was calling to him from the jungle, telling him that he would find Brie there. She had floated away from him in the direction of the island he knew, or at least hoped.
The jungle swallowed up the sunlight and him in an instant. He ran without a purpose, making a straight line through the jungle, running past goliath trees and jagged rocks. He looked down briefly and realized that he had lost a shoe somewhere along the way, either in the ocean or on the beach. Everytime his bare foot hit pounded earth a twinge of pain shot through his leg. His foot snagged on an exposed tree root, sending him rolling into the ground, but he jumped up quickly and kept sprinting. He flitted his head left and right, searching for any sign of her, but all he saw was trees and darkness. He stopped suddenly when his lungs seized and he was unable to run anymore. He doubled over and put his hands to his knees. He started to shake as tears welled in his eyes.
She can't be gone. I just found her.
When he stood up straighter again, he wiped the tears from his eyes and began to shout her name.
He turned rapidly in a circle and continued to shout her name to the emptiness. He was lost, he realized suddenly. Running into the jungle had been a stupid and careless mistake. The smart solution would have been to stick to the beach and wait for a rescue, assuming that they were on an uninhabited island and of course assuming that Brie had made it to the island with him. It hurt him to much to think about. He wouldn't accept that she was gone.
"Brie!" He called out again and the cry echoed and died away in the jungle. He stood panting, listening for any sign of Brie. He turned in place, glancing back in the direction that he came or at least the direction that he thought he had come from. He would need to head back. If Brie had any sense, she would find the beach too, but he stayed rooted in place, listening for any sound of her. And then, when he finally put a foot forward to make his way back to the beach, he heard a call. He feet began moving in the direction of the voice before he could process the sound. He had moved several hundred feet without hearing the sound again so he stopped and listened. Had he misheard the cry or even heard his own echo?
But then he heard it again.
The voice was crystal clear now and much closer than before. Caleb sped off quickly in the direction of the noise dodging low hanging branches and crashing through the underbrush. The voice had been male, Caleb realized to his disappointment. Maybe this voice had seen Brie. Either way, he was glad that he wasn't alone. He stopped suddenly when he found the source of the voice.
Milo sat with his back against a large tree. Even sitting, Caleb could tell that Milo was favoring his right leg, holding it out at an awkward angle away from him. His eyes were red and swollen, evidence that he had been sobbing. His shirt was dirty and torn and he had managed to take his shoes off.
Upon see Caleb, Milo began to sob all over again. He began to laugh, obviously relieved to see him. All Caleb could think of was the image of Milo illuminated by lightning and abandoning them by jumping out of the burning plane.
"I am so glad to see you." Milo exclaimed. He raised his hands, palms upward toward Caleb. "I thought I was alone. I thought I was going to die here."
Caleb didn't move or speak. He could only stare at the man who had left he and his sister to die. He noticed a flicker of doubt pass over Milo's face and began to stammer. "Y-you can't be mad at me Sir."
The old habit only made Caleb even more upset. "You're an adult, you're supposed to protect me. My Father pays you to look after me!"
Milo began to sob uncontrollably, guilt and tears streaming down his face. "I panicked. I wasn't thinking about all that." He gestured uselessly toward his leg. "I think it's broken. You can't leave me like this." He stopped crying abruptly and Milo looked up. Caleb caught a hint of fear pass over his face.
"If you leave me, it's going to get me! It's going to come back and it's going to take me. I just know it will. You have to help me."
Caleb shook his head. He had hardly heard Milo through all of his stammering. "What are you talking about? Have you seen Brie?"
Milo cursed, "She's probably dead man, I don't know. I haven't seen anyone but the man in the trees."
He looked up again frantically, searching for something in the heights of the treetops. He was delirious Caleb realized. The pain was making him see things. Caleb didn't blame him. Standing still in the clearing, he realized just how alone they were. The air was still and muggy and the only sound he could hear was the sound of Milo sobbing and Caleb's breathing. But the canopy above them had holes where fingers of sunlight could poke through. The result was several moving shadows that made Caleb constantly double take to make sure nothing was nearby.
He knew he shouldn't, but he found himself stepping forward and crossing the clearing. He knelt by Milo's leg and ran a hand along the bone. "You're imagining things, Milo. There's nobody here with us."
Milo's hand moved like lightning, and gripped him around the wrist. Caleb met his gaze and found that Milo's eyes were as wide as saucers. "I know what I saw." The look on his face left no doubt that he firmly believed it.
"It chased me and I ran from it. It's feet never touched the ground." He glanced up, "It moved through the trees moving through the air and screeching at me."
"A bird maybe," Caleb suggested, but Milo shook his head
"No, it moved like a man." he insisted and stared off into the distance. "Wings," was all he said.
He's delirious, Caleb thought again but now isn't the time to argue with him. He glanced down at Milo's leg and gripped his leg around the ankle feeling for the break. He found it at last and Milo confirmed it by wincing and squeezing Caleb's arm.
"How did you break it?" Caleb asked.
"Running." Milo said. "I feel over there," He pointed toward a small earthen wall. "The ground just gave way suddenly and I didn't notice in time."
He looked ashamed. The drop could have only been 4 feet in height. "I've never been very athletic. I landed awkwardly." He paused to gesture over to a grove of bushes at the base of the wall. "I crawled over and hid there until the man in the trees went away."
Caleb ignored him and squeezed his ankle none too delicately. Milo stifled a moan and dug his head against the back of the tree.
"I'm not an expert, but I think we need to reset the bone." Caleb declared.
"We'll need to reset the bone back into place. If we don't, it won't heal properly. The doctors did the same thing when I broke my wrist in grade school."
"How do we do that? Milo asked, fearful.
"I have to push it back into place. It's going to hurt."
Milo clinched his eyes shut for a moment and fresh tears sprang to his eyes. "Fine, just do it, but be quick about it before he comes back."
Caleb nodded and pressed his palms on opposite sides of Milo's leg. Using one hand to brace and the other to push, he shoved as hard as he could on the skewed bone. With a sudden pop and a grunt from Milo it was done.
"Hopefully that's right." Caleb said.
The stranger made no effort to slow down for her. Every so often he would turn his rippled shoulders back to Brie to see if she was still following him but his feet never stopped moving forward. He kept his face forward but every so often he would glance up into the branches warily. He had spoken English, Brie was sure of it but he made no effort to respond to her.
“Hey, what was that?” Brie called after him but he paid her no mind. He was moving at a brisk pace, just short of running. She struggled to keep up with him, tripping over the exposed roots that he avoided deftly. Suddenly, she remembered Caleb and wondered whether the native was leading her in the right direction.
“Stop!” She called and this time he stopped. She came face to face with him but he refused to meet her gaze. His almond eyes were still scanning the trees looking for signs of danger. She reached up to grab him by the arms but he jerked back violently and for a brief moment his passive face showed signs of fear or was it repulsion?
“I need to go find my brother” Brie said, trailing off at the last word. It was the first time she had ever said it out loud and the word felt odd coming out of her mouth. The native stared at her blankly. Had she imagined him speaking English earlier?
“Bro-ther.” She repeated, gesturing next to her in the air, pointing first to herself and then to the empty space next to her. He cocked his head slightly, but then returned his eyes back into the canopy above them. Brie sighed and dropped her shoulders.
“I know you don’t understand me, but I have to go.” She pointed off in the opposite direction. “I don’t even know if he’s that way, but that’s where I came from…I think.” Her voice trailed away. “I came from that direction, so he should be back where we came from.” She turned back to him and sighed. “I have to go now.”
Brie turned to go, but winced when she felt a tapping on her arm. She looked down to find the butt-end of the native’s spear pressing down forcefully on her arm. She followed it up to meet his gaze. He shook his head from side to side slowly, just once.
He doesn’t understand. “I have to go” she said, brushing him off and turning away from him.
She fought the urge to look back. If she turned around she might stay with him. It was foolish to leave him, even if he didn’t understand her. He was her best chance of survival, but if she went with him, she might never find Caleb again. It was just another reason to hate her brother. Hopefully she would live long enough to find him and yell at him for it.
It only took Brie a few moments to realize that she had no idea what she was doing. The sun rises in the East, and sets in the West, she thought, but when she looked up it was difficult to tell exactly where the sun was due to the thick umbrella of leaves above her. Even if she knew exactly where the sun was, she had no idea which direction she needed to go. She hadn’t paid attention when she was following the native, or even if he was moving in a single direction. In the end, she decided that she would head East, or what she thought was East, hoping she would find a source of water.
She walked for hours or at least what passed for hours with every tree and rock looking the same as the one before it. But even though she had been walking in the humid wood all day, she didn’t feel any worse for wear. Her breaths came fresh, her footsteps were light and she hardly felt the sweat.
She placed one foot in front of the other absent-mindedly, contemplating her next move. She tried to ignore the nagging feeling that she might never find Caleb. If it came to that, she would need to start thinking of getting off the island alone. It was that thought that put a black pit in her stomach. What if no one ever found her? She glanced back casually over her shoulder. Maybe it wasn’t so wise to leave her only friend after all, especially if those things came back. The men with the wings.
Her hand drifted suddenly to the gun tucked in her waistband. She pulled it out and examined it. It was a great form of protection she realized at once, but for how long? It took her a few moments of fumbling, but she popped open the chamber and counted the bullets. There were six bullets in the chamber. She would need to spend them wisely. If she was going to survive, then she needed to find another way to defend herself.
It took a while of searching, but she finally settled on a branch that had fallen around that was straight-ish, thin at the handle and fat on the end.
This will have to serve, she brooded. The gun weighed heavily in her waistband, but she tried to push it away in her mind. It would only be used for emergencies she decided. Hopefully she would remember it was there when the time came.
She used her new stick for walking for a short time, but tired of it quickly. It was too short to reach the ground without leaning her shoulder down, which was more of an inconvenience than she had expected. She elected to carry it like a caveman would carry a club, barely long enough to drag the ground behind her. It was more cumbersome than she had anticipated and she began to wonder if it was even worth dragging around.
The sun began to fall from the sky at the same time as Brie reached the end of the tree line. She found herself on a cliff, overlooking even more timber below her. She walked closer to the edge and sat down, throwing her legs over the side and leaned out over the edge while the sun set. The land went on for as far as she could see with a singular mountain jutting out from a body of water in the middle of the forest.
How big is this island?
The sun melted away beyond the trees faster than she expected and the bright jungle dimmed to the color of a bruise. But to Brie’s surprise, the wood below her seemed to be glowing. She rubbed her eyes, just in case she was fatigued, but the more she looked the brighter the lights seemed to get. They were simple orbs, casting a sapphire light, like the stars in the night sky were reflected in the earth even though the stars hadn’t come out yet. The lights weren’t steady, but pulsating as if they were alive. She turned around and gasped. She same sapphire orbs hung behind her and she saw that they were moving. She ran close to the nearest one and froze.
It was a small box, like a birdhouse, dangling from a thin thread from a thick branch. The lights were bugs, giving off the blue lights periodically but there were hundreds of them hovering around the box. They gave off a low humming sound, like they were vibrating with electricity. What is this place?
A grunt from behind startled her and she turned to find a jungle cat, with white fur and smoked stripes cascading down its back. It was short and squat, muscled and thick. It’s lanky tail switched angrily behind it as it rooted at the trunk of a nearby tree. It rubbed its nose against the bark roughly. The bark split instantly and fell to the earth like dead flies. Water spewed from the wound in the tree and leaked to the ground where it pooled around the roots. The cat knelt instantly to lap at it.
Brie gulped, suddenly craving for nothing but the taste of water. The cat’s ears perked and it froze mid drink. It turned to look at her and Brie gasped. Two small horns protruded from the cat’s onyx nose and Brie could see why the bark on the tree had ripped apart so easily. The cat crept forward, turning it’s full attention to Brie. Her finger’s flexed instinctively for her club, but she realized too late that she had left it near the edge of the cliff. Instead her hands found the gun in her waistband, just as the cat pounced.
Her hands fumbled and the cat landed on her chest, scratching at her arms and biting at her throat. She brought her knee up to head-butt it but the cat was too strong. It’s jaws finally wrapped their way around her throat just as she went to scream. Just before they closed, the cat groaned as two massive arms wrapped their way around its belly and heaved it off of her.
Brie scrambled up coughing and hacking just in time to find the native charging the cat, spear held at the ready. The cat lunged and the native brought the spear up, driving the end into the cat’s belly. It shrieked and collapsed in the dirt.
The native ran toward her, and Brie attempted a smile but she couldn’t catch her breath and the world was getting dimmer. She staggered a few steps and fell face first in the dirt and darkness took her.
“This is absurd,” Milo complained, not for the first time. He had been loud and whining since they had been captured. Their captors had bound their wrists in front of them and latched the two of them together around the waist before marching them through the forest. They had marched a short distance before they came across more captives, sitting on the ground in a line. He and Milo were joined with the rest of the train there. Caleb had been taken aback by the natives but seeing more inhabitants paled in comparison to their winged captors. Caleb had taken their capture in silence, trying to make sense of their situation. Milo had taken a different approach.
“Is this actually happening?” He cried loudly. Caleb found it hard to ignore Milo, even though Milo was at the tail end of the line right behind him.
“Caleb, am I the only person seeing this?” Milo called again a little louder than Caleb would have liked. “We have crash landed on an island where we have been captured and hitched together with a host of villagers under the watchful eye of men with bat wings.”
“Don’t forget your leg.” Caleb noted
“Oh yes, and my leg is broken.” Milo sighed. His broken gait had become noticeable, and was slowing down the entire line. From time to time, their captors would cast him a dirty look and mutter to one another.
“You have to keep up. I don’t think they like dead weight.”
Milo’s voice was flushed with panic. “What will they do if I can’t keep up?”
Caleb kept his voice low, “I honestly don’t know, but we’ll both find out of you don’t keep up.” He cast a nervous look up into the trees. Their captors neglected to walk on the ground with them. Instead, they moved like shadows high above them, barely noticeable at all. Every now and then, one of them would drop to inspect the rope that tied them together before shooting back up the nearest tree. They movedquickly with everything they did, each movement a quick twitch or jerk.
Caleb found himself wondering what stopped one of them from attempting to escape with their captors so high up, but a few hours into their trek, he got his answer. A woman, slender and olive-browned found some way to lose her rope and ran sprinting off through the woods. The horn shrilled immediately and their captors began to chatter to each other like monkeys. A host of them immediately dropped and surrounded the rest of them, daggers at the ready, baring their crooked teeth. After several moments of silence, the woman shrieked somewhere off in the distance and a short time later a trio of them drug her back into the camp strung up by her feet. In no time at all she had been roped up again, tighter this time.
There were 6 of them total. He and Milo occupied the end of the line. Just in front of Caleb was a short, stocky man with slicked back ebon hair. The failed escape artist was in front of him. In front of her were two older natives with wispy grey hair and wrinkled skin. Caleb had seen pictures of brightly adorned Indians before in various magazines but these natives were plain, clad only in browned animal hide. From time to time, when one of them would turn their head to look at him and Milo, Caleb would catch a glimpse of a tattoo but little else. During their march all of them had taken chances to look back and analyze him and Milo, but none of them said a word. Milo filled the silence for them.
“Your brace keeps digging into my thigh.” he moaned.
The heat made it hard for Caleb to keep his patience, “Maybe next time I’ll just leave it alone, that way it will grow back crooked.”
“I have to stop,” he stated and immediately collapsed his back against a tree, sinking to the ground. They halted suddenly as the natives looked back in confusion.
“Milo, get up. I don’t think we can stop.”
But he had already started to pick at the side of his brace, trying to clip the side of the brace that was digging into his thigh.
Above them, the horn sounded and the chattering began again, this time accompanied by the sound of claws raking against tree bark. They dropped like crows, 4 of them ringing the tree where Milo was stooped. One of them strode forward, with rose-hued wings, and began to squeak and chitter at Milo.
“I don’t know what you want!” Milo yelled, still clawing at his brace. “Just give me a few minutes and I’ll get up.”
Rose-wings turned to one with lilac wings and swirling tattoos on his forehead. They were arguing animatedly, but neither one of them rushed forward to grab Milo.
Are they afraid?
They turned suddenly as a big one ascended quickly with crimson wings. They scattered as he landed and ascended the trees as quickly as they had come. Crimson-wing strode forward and produced a coiled whip from the hide belt on his hip. Without a word he unloosed it and let the coil fall to the earth.
Milo met his gaze, fidgeting with his brace absentmindedly. The crimson-winged one sneered and with a crack lashed out at the elderly native man at the front of the line. The whip connected and he screamed and fell to a knee. Caleb made eye-contact with crimson-wing and understood.
“Milo, get up. He’s not going to stop until you get up!”
But instead of stopping, Milo continued albeit panicked and hurried. “Just give me a few more seconds, I’ve almost got it.”
The whip cracked again and the elderly native screamed again. The elderly woman next to him shrieked and moved to cover him for the next blow.
“Milo! Get up now!” Caleb screamed.
The brace snapped and Milo scrambled up breathing a sigh of relief, “I got it! I’m up.” He took one look at the huddled couple on the floor with crimson-wing hovering over them and it seemed to just hit him what had happened.
“Oh,” he whimpered. The crimson-winged one hissed slowly and cracked the whip once more, connecting with the elderly woman. She cried and Caleb dashed forward.
“Hey, he’s up. That’s enough.”
There was no fear from their attacker, but maybe a hint of surprise. Instead crimson-wing coiled the whip slowly and latched it back onto his belt. He brushed past the couple at a run, making for the nearest tree. He was up and away before they could blink and the march continued as the sun fell in the sky.
Caleb turned back and glared at Milo.
“No more stops. Understand?”
Milo nodded solemnly and they marched on.
Brie woke up to the sound of snapping twigs and the warmth of a fire. She was flat on her back, staring up at an earthen ceiling. Instinctively she brought her hands up to her throat where the cat had almost closed its teeth and found a damp cloth there. She made to take it off but froze when a voice from across the room stopped her.
"No" was all he said.
She turned on her side and found the native sitting on the other side of the room with his back against the wall. THe light from the fire allowed her time to adjust her vision in the darkness. They were in a small room no bigger than a closet with earthen walls all around them. When she spotted the entryway, she suddenly realized that they were below ground with a path leading to a small entryway above them. The native had placed a black cloth across the opening, so that the fire's glow wouldn't be spotted.
She made to sit up but the native stopped her again with a single "no". She glanced back at him and froze when she saw what was in his hand. He held the gun delicately, studying it.
He's never seen one before, she realized. His finger coiled around the trigger slowly, finding the natural fit and it was Brie's turn to tell him no.
She shouted the word sharply and he jumped, flinging the weapon from his hand across the floor of the cave. She jumped instinctively, expecting the gun to fire but it clattered harmlessly on the ground. She sat up quickly to retrieve it. The native made a move to protest but Brie ignored him. She crawled over and brought the gun back with her, placing it behind her as she sat on her side of the cave again.
She expected him to speak to her or say something, but instead he just sat at his end of the alcove. Most of the time he watched her. Every few minutes or so he would look back toward the entrance of the alcove with a slight tilt of his head as if listening for motion, but he would always return to her and stare. It wasn't a particularly curious or intrusive gaze. Instead it was an empty stare, as if he were waiting for her to do something, anything.
"Why do you speak English?" she finally asked, unable to stand the silence any longer. The native raised his eyebrows propped himself up against the cave wall. He made no motion to answer her, staring at the cave wall opposite him. Finally, when Brie was almost too impatient to stay quiet any longer, he spoke again.
"English?" he said just the one word. He spoke it quietly, rolling the word around as if saying it for the first time. He glanced at the ceiling and pursed his lips together carefully, keeping a hard expression on his face. At last he looked back down at her and spoke.
"What are you called?" he asked and Brie smiled involuntarily. It took her a few moments to collect herself and answer the question.
"Brie," she said, finding it hard to contain her smile. "What is your name?"
The native did not smile back but after a long ponderous moment he spoke to her. "I am called Horus."
"Horus," Brie grinned, savoring the name. "Horus, I have so many questions to ask you! Who taught you English? What language do you speak normally?"
She found herself accustomed to his calm demeanor and the length of time in between his responses, but she found it hard to be patient. His face was frozen with a look that she couldn't quite place. He seemed concerned and always deep in thought but there was another emotion to his face that she couldn't put a finger on.
"Brie," he said at last, seeming disappointed in the name.
"Brie," she repeated again to him.
"You are weak," he said suddenly.
"Excuse me?" Brie sputtered.
"You are a child," he continued. Brie opened her mouth to yell at him but Horus switched abruptly and spoke in a foreign tongue.
"Ralaka me joukin shama" He said, a phrase of obvious distaste.
"What does that mean?" Brie made to stand up and approach him, but Horus stepped back apruptly, keeping his distance from her. "Tell me what that means!" Brie repeated, raising her voice.
Horus shook his head, mometarily betraying his countenance. He's disappointed in me for something, Brie realized.
"You are not what was promised." Horus said.
Brie felt the color flush to her cheeks. She had done nothing wrong and her only friend in this world was quickly becoming annoyed with her.
"I didn't do anything!" Brie screamed. Horus flinched and checked the opening to the cave, putting a worried finger to his lips.
"You are simple." Horus said quickly.
"Stop insulting me!" Brie stammered, "I am not simple." She kept her voice low and checked back toward the opening to their tiny hovel. "I am not simple." She repeated, clenching her fists.
Horus touched the palm of his hand to his cheek and cradled it there for a brief moment, fixing his eyes straight ahead at the floor. He looked concerned and hesitant to even look in Brie's direction. She reached up absentmindedly to the bandage wrapped around her throat, but that was a big enough movement to draw Horus's attention. He didn't move a muscle, but Brie could tell by the look on his face that he didn't want her to remove the bandage, so she placed her hands restlessly back at her sides.
"You speak an old language," he said at last and for the first time since Brie woke up, Horus really looked at her. He had been avoiding her gaze forever and upon seeing his face fully for the first time, Brie realized what the emotion was that she had been trying to place on his face the entire time. It was fear. He looked frightened, but of what Brie couldn't say.
"An old language?" She asked him.
He nodded solemnly, "It is hard to explain. I don't speak the old language much."
She nodded and waited for him to elaborate.
"There is a time in our history meaning The Coming and it is a very proud time for us. Tall and radiant creatures that we have always called Mori. The Mori told us that we should not be frightened of them. The stories tell us that they taught us the new ways."
"New ways?" Brie asked, but he didn't stop to elaborate. He fixed her with a short stare and the continued.
"They spoke their own language." He paused and cocked his head at Brie, "English?" He stopped again to sample the word. "We call it Moril. It has become lost exactly how many of the Mori there were, but one of them wrote a diction for us so that we could learn Moril. It is an old group of papers and I have seen the words written myself." At this his eyes widened slightly before they lidded back over heavily. "It is a list of words, with a translation so that we could learn and our children could learn Moril and their children could learn Moril. So we have been taught, but over the eras, the pages have been lost and now only the heads of our people may learn and the rest of them are forced to learn what they can. We speak our own language, but some can still speak the old language."
Brie clutched her knees to her chest and leaned her head forward when he finished. "What happened to the Mori?"
"Gone." was all he managed to say.
"How long ago?"
He shrugged. "It has been too long to tell. Many children have lived and died since then."
"Is there anyone living now who was alive when the Mori visited?" Brie asked him and she was surprised when he smiled for the first time since she met him.
"No." he said and the smile disappeared quickly as it had appeared and she could tell from the look on his face that she had asked an absurd question.
"A long time then?" She asked, looking for his confirmation and he nodded. He gazed down at her from the end of his nose across the hovel and spoke to her warily. "You speak an old language Brie."
And with that he stopped talking abruptly, folded his arms and glanced back at the entrance to their hovel. Brie's head was swimming. She could understand why he was upset because she shared in his confusion. Who were these Mori that visited these people so many years ago and why did they know English?
"What ever happened to the Mori?" she asked him.
"Vanished." He whispered, not bothering to look back at her.
"They just left?" Brie managed to sputter. His answer was an unsatisfying one for her.
He shrugged, "I know that they left, but I don't know the manner of their leaving." He regarded her with a look that suggested an apology. "I admit that I do not know the story well."
He clutched at a stick in the dirt and drew a crude line on the cave floor in the dirt. "This spot is where I find you." He pointed. "This is where we are now," and setting the stick down once more he traced an x in the dirt. "This is my home and where we must go."
"Caleb!" Brie thought suddenly. She stuck a foot out and erased his crude map with a sweep of her foot. "I need to find my brother." She pressed, ashamed she had forgotten him momentarily. "He is all alone out there! I have you, but he has no one."
Horus shook his head stubbornly, "No. Meera must see you. She will know what to do. We leave for home tomorrow."
Brie folded her arms against her chest, "We will find my brother or I will leave you again."
"I must protect you," Horus said, almost whining. "I must bring you back home."
"If you insist on protecting me, then you have to go where I say and I demand that you lead me to my brother." She tried her best to look determined and unafraid.
Horus frowned. "That is an unwise decision. He is with the Aegeli most likely."
"Aegeli?" Brie echoed. "Do you mean those men with wings?"
Horus didn't nod, but she could tell from his reaction that she was right. She fought to keep her lip from quivering and held her ground. "Well, that is where I'm going. Besides, you don't know for sure that they've found him. We will look for him until we are the ones to find him."
He thought about her proposal for a length of time, his expression never wavering. "Very well. We will look in the morning. We should sleep soon."
Brie nodded and shifted onto her side, clasping her hands together and using them for a makeshift pillow. Her eyes were closed only for a few moments. She opened them again when she realized that Horus had not shifted at all. He remained upright, close to the entrance of the hovel.
"Won't you fall asleep?" she asked.
"In time." he answered.
Suddenly, she felt guilty, realizing that she had been acting selfish since he had found her. "You haven't asked anything about me. Is there anything you want to know?"
He shook his head, ever vigilant on his watch. "I know all that I need to know."
Brie frowned. "Don't you want to know where I came from?"
"I know where you come from." He didn't sound nearly as sure though.
"Where do I come from then?" she asked.
He broke his concentration on the entrance to the cave to focus on her face in the dimly lit hovel. With one finger, he pointed directly up into the air. "Where all Mori come from."
She sat upright suddenly realizing what the word Mori meant. "You think I'm a god? I'm no God."
If Horus was disappointed he didn't show it. He turned back to his hovel and simply stated, "You speak an old language."
Brie huffed and collapsed back into the dirt. The makeshift bandage was beginning to bother her again and she was growing tired of the itching. She reached up and clawed the bandage away. The noise attracted Horus's attention and he raised a hand to stop her from across the cave but it was too late. The bandage fell to the dirt and Brie reached hand up to feel the wounds on her neck.
Horus gasped and inhaled sharply drawing Brie's attention. His face was truly fearful and it was the truest emotion he had shown from the first time he had met her. Her fingertips traced over rough skin, but not wet, deep, gashes like she had been expecting. Instead, her wounds were dry to the touch, like the left over remnants of a scab dissolving into a scar. Almost all traces of the gouges to her throat had vanished.
She glanced back at Horus in disbelief, bringing her hands away from her throat.
"Are you so sure of who you are." Horus asked her, never taking his eyes from her.
Brie could only shake her head and lay back in the dirt, tracing her fingers along her throat one last time before falling asleep.
By the time Brie woke up, Horus had already left the cave. When she stepped out to meet him, she found him with his back to a tree, his spear laid across his lap. He greeted her with a small nod and beckoned her forward with a wave of his hand. He looked tired, the deep pockets of his eyes looked heavier than normal.
"Did you sleep?" She asked him.
"Yes," was all he replied, although Brie doubted that he had slept much at all. He was up quickly enough however and already strapping his modest backpack around his chest and back. He motioned to her.
"If you are ready." he motioned toward her, "Then I would like to leave quickly."
So they left, but not before Brie reminded him of their destination. "We're leaving to find my Brother, right?"
He declined his head slightly at almost a bow. "Of course, Brie Mori."
Brie frowned, recognizing the word from the previous night. "You may call me Brie, Horus."
Horus nodded and with a twist of his head, he gestured in the direction of a dense patch of forest. "This is the way we came yesterday. We will find your brother there."
They marched at a rapid pace, with Horus leading the way several steps in front of Brie. She did her best to keep up with him but found it hard considering she had lost sleep the night before. Her fingers absentmindedly found their way to her throat again where the scar had all but disappeared. Skin like fresh linen had sprouted up in the same area that the wound had been the night before. It made little sense and Brie had racked her brain trying to come up with a reason for why a wound would heal so quickly. At first, she tried to convince herself that the cat's giant fangs hadn't cut her nearly as deep as she thought, but then she remembered the blood that had caked her hands. She had only to look down to see that her hands were still caked with faded blood mixed with dirt from the cave floor.
Her mind drifted next to the bandage that Horus had placed around her throat. She was in a foreign land and that meant that there were new herbs and plants to help with healing. Surely Horus had placed a salve on the bandage which helped the healing process along rapidly. She questioned him about it and he laughed abruptly.
"The paste only helps a wound from turning black or yellow," he told her. "A wound like that would still take a long time to heal."
Frustrated, she even considered the notion that she had been unconscious for many days, with Horus keeping a close guard over her but when she confronted Horus about this, he only grunted and kept them marching on. After a time she stopped dwelling on how quickly her injury had healed. Even though she hadn't been able to come up with an answer, the beauty of the forest made it easier to pry her thoughts away. She had been too busy tearing through the forest the day before to really take in the alien beauty. The trees grew thick around the base and towered above her so far that it hurt her neck to view the top. At one point, she had stopped abruptly to embrace a nearby tree, amazed to find that her arms didn't make it even halfway around. Horus had doubled back quickly when he noticed that she wasn't behind anymore. He crested the nearest hill, his face showing shades of worry, but when he saw her measuring the tree, it quickly turned into a look of annoyance. She could only giggle before relinquishing the tree and moving on.
The forest stretched on forever in front of them as the sun passed overhead. Each patch of land in front of her looked the same as the next althought that wasn't to say that the landscape was dull. Brie was lost among the bright array of tropical flowers blossoming on the vines and along the floor bed. Birds of all colors flittered and chirped high up above them, but they were too swift for Brie to even attempt to identify them. The jungle had been dead when Brie had arrived but now it was alive with insects and animals lurking in every shadow. She did her best to keep up with Horus, but it was hard with the distraction of the jungle. Brie found herself amazed and annoyed by his stamina. He moved relentless through the jungle floor, only pausing to check on her for brief moments before pressing on. It was only when the sun had passed its highest point that he stopped and sat down on the nearest rock he could find.
"Hungry?" He gestured toward her when she finally plopped down in the dirt around him.
She hadn't considered hunger all day. And now that she sat down, she didn't feel the familar pangs of hunger. They had been travelling at a brisk pace for at least several hours. She stared up at the sun and tried to guage the time. Was it 1 o' clock, 3 o'clock by now?
"Mom made me sign up for Girl Scouts when I was little," She told him. He looked back at her blankly.
"It's a group of girls who bake cookies and go hiking in the woods. She attempted to explain but he only continued to stare back at her.
"You don't understand anything that I say do you?" She said, unable to supress her laughter. "All I'm trying to say is that I should have paid more attention. I have no idea where I am. I've forgotten everything that would be useful."
Horus snorted and pulled a length of rope from his bag. "I will protect. Follow me. Do what I do." Brie watched him wind the rope deftly around his hands and produce a snare. "You eat. We use this" He said.
"Can you untie that?" Brie asked. Horus looked confused but did as she asked, loosing the snare and producing the rope again.
"Tie it again." She ordered again and the look of annoyance again returned to Horus face. For a moment, he looked as if he would put the rope away or chide her, but instead his hands moved again. The knot he wound was intricate, but Brie followed every movement with surprising ease. Time slowed down and she saw every movement of his fingers and every pull of the rope. When suddenly it was over, she reached a hand out and grabbed the rope from his hands, already beginning to pull it apart as she pulled it away. She spread her hands wide when it was untangled, stretching the rope as taut as it would go.
And then she was tying it, twisting twine around each other, creating loops and pulling ends through and after many unfamiliar moves she reproduced the snare. She glanced up to look at Horus, surprised to find that he looked impressed.
"Needs bigger. You know the knot?" He asked.
Brie shook her head. "No, I've never done that before. It needs to be bigger?" She questioned him and he nodded.
She untied it again and then retied it, faster this time, but it still didn't suit Horus's needs. It took two more times untying and retying before the snare was big enough to be satisfy him.
He took it from her hands and laughed. "It's good. Very good. You learn fast."
He was up quickly, tying the thin rope around a small sapling to the ground. He snapped sturdy stick in half and set about carving interlocking notches at opposite ends of the stick. With one end, he fashioned a stake and stuck it into the ground. He tied the other stick along the rope of the noose and rejoined the sticks together like a puzzle. The sapling bowed beneath the pressure but remained strong, waiting to snap at the slightest provocation. He arranged the noose on the ground securing it in place with loose twigs along the ground, careful not to rebreak the sticks and send the noose flying.
"Is that all?" Brie asked when he had finally finished, seemingly satisfied with his work.
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 13.12.2013
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