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Chapter 7

 

 

 

 

The crowd murmurs in unsteady, fearful voices as Drew enters the medic building.  A sound that is highly similar to that of thunder booms overhead and Ricardo calls off any more sparring matches.  People rush out of the deserted grounds and I find myself standing there, gazing upon the health clinic.  Many of the trainees have entered there.  I want to go in, I decide.

Without any control, I scuffle through the sand towards the clinic.  The symbol with the leaf in the palm confuses me once again.  I hesitate at the doors, wondering if I should be going in without a reason.  But something tells me to go in, anyways.  

I step inside the cool, little establishment and find a wooden counter where one older man stands.  He smiles and waves me the rest of the way in.  I attempt to smile back, but it comes out disfigured.  

“Do you need to be tended to, as well?” the man asks.  

“No,” I reply.  “I just.... wanted a look around, honestly.”

“Oh,” the man says.  “Feel free to.  We have water in the back if you’re thirsty.”  A door in one of the halls on either side of the counter opens and closes.  From the right side comes Geoffrey and Shane.  Both are bandaged up, but are grinning like a bunch of goons.  

“I’m guessing...,” I begin.  “That you guys are okay?”

“Never been better,” Geoffrey says.  

“Yup,” Shane agrees.  A small smile tugs at the corner of my lips, but I force it away.  Even when he is hurt, he is still somehow attractive.  His hair is messy, and has a small cut along his scalp that still has dried blood on it, but I don’t mind.  His arms are bandaged and Along side his forearms are a few gashes and cuts, but he holds a smile that shows he is proud of his match.  And why wouldn’t he be?

Above us, the booming noise shakes the building.  I shoot a glance upwards and the guys merely smile.  

“You never heard of a realm disturbance?” Geoffrey asks.  I study his amused expression.

“A what?” I say.  Geoffrey chuckles.  “Seriously, a what?”

“Realm disturbance,” Shane says.  “It’s when something on the other side -- meaning, the world of the living -- is somehow interfering with this realm.”  I pause and repeat his explanation in my head, but somehow can’t fathom what exactly he could mean.  

“For example,” Geoffrey cuts in, “if someone is trying to communicate with the deceased, it usually makes the realm, in a way, malfunction...  Wait, that’s not a good word for it.  Umm... freak out?  No...”

“What I think Geo is trying to say,” Shane says, “is that the realm is bothered when someone on the other side tries to penetrate into this world.  It’s like trying to open a safe, so that when someone does happen to break through, the spirit realm does give out an alarm, which is that sound that keeps happening.”  

As if on cue, the booming sound occurs and the building trembles as if it is encountering an earthquake.  This one is worse than the previous ones.  Geoffrey whistles in that surprised kind of way and Shane studies the grounds outside.  My eyes drift to the direction where Shane looks and I see that the sand, dirt, and rocks also dance with the nauseating tremor.  Then suddenly the shaking ceases.  

“.... We should get going,” Shane says.  “Before the realm switches to its night form.”  He walks out of the building, and I stare at Geoffrey.  He shrugs and follows suit.  I do the same.  

 

X X X X 

 

By the time I enter the temple, the realm had just started to become dark.  I hear a ruckus to my right, in the main room that I had stumbled in yesterday.  Everything is dark in the temple, but, then again, it only uses candles and natural light.  I carefully walk towards the closed sliding door and open it slightly.  Inside, a few of the students are gathered around someone, listening intently to that person.  I step an inch closer, but my foot causes a sound which picks up one boy’s attention.  

Drew.

“Please, child...,” a weary, old voice says.  “Step inside.  I’ve been waiting for you.”  Drew watches me as I slide the door open and the circle around the unknown person breaks so that I may enter.  Candles leave an orange-gold hew on everyone’s faces as I come even closer to the group.  Drew’s eyes seem unnaturally dark, even with the candle’s light shining.  I attempt to study him more, but he turns away with a faint scowl on his face.

As I take the empty space up in the circle, I see that the person speaking was a petite, elderly woman.  She wears a blue shawl and a brown hood under that which covers her face, stopping at her nose.  Noisy bangles decorate her wrists, and her shawl is so long that it’s similar to that of a blue dress.  

“You must be...,” she says with a slight creak in her voice, “... Riff Foster.”  She clasps her withered hands together in a casual manner.  Her mouth is in a relaxed-yet-firm line.  Her wrinkles make her cheeks sag, almost as if gravity has a permanent tug on them.  But something about this woman is strong.  Wise.  Almost dangerous.  “Well?” 

“Yes,” I say.  “I’m Riff.” 

“Good, good...,” the elder speaks.  She turns towards Drew and it appears for one moment that she frowns.  But with a flicker of a nearby candle, the expression disappears.  Drew shows no emotion as she stares at him, only watching her in return.  The boys around us bow and leave the room, except for Drew.  

“... You must take her,” the old woman begins, “to the Land of Savages.  You know this, don’t you?”

“Yes, elder,” Drew replies with, surprisingly, a respectful tone in his voice.  “I know.  But we can’t take her yet.  She... isn’t dead.”

“What do you take me for, child?” the woman says to him.  “I can tell, clear as day.”  Her body turns back to me as she ganders up at me.  Even though her eyes are shielded, I can feel her gaze.  “Now, go prepare.  You leave tonight.”

“Wait,” I say.  “What’s going on?  I’ve only just arrived at this temple, I don’t even know why I’m here.”

“But I do,” the elder speaks.  “And to figure all of this out, you must travel to the Land of Savages.  It will show you why you’re here, why this has happened to you, and how you can return to the world of the living.”

“But I thought all I had to do was find the spirit realm version of the chrysalis!” I exclaim.  “Why can’t you just tell me what’s going on?  Or why in specific detail that I have to go to the Land of Savages?”

“Riff,” Drew speaks, breaking my interrogation.  “It’s best if you listen to her.  Go pack up a bag, there’s some bags and pouches we’ve put in your bed, stashed under the sheets.  No one else will be accompanying us, so it’s best if we do this quickly.”  He walks towards the old woman and nods to her.  “Go, Riff.  I’ll wait for you here in one hour.  When everyone’s asleep.”

I frown and let my head sink down.  But I nod in understanding.  So, it’ll be Drew and me going to the Land of Savages tonight.  I begin to wonder how far it is.  

“Do you have fear?” the elder says.  I shake my head.  “Good.  Now, be wary of the ones who walk the halls tonight.  They guard the outside and the inside.  Go to your room and pack as fast as you can.  You have thirty minutes.” 

 

X X X X 

 

After packing my old clothes and extra uniforms in the satchel I found under my sheets just as Drew had informed, I throw it over both shoulders and treat it like a backpack, even if I’m not holding it right.  A while ago, all the candles nearby were blown out, meaning it’s my cue to start my way back to the main room of the temple.  I cautiously open my door, take a silent step out, and slide the door shut.  I check both ways of the halls, but thankfully no one is walking this part of the temple yet.  But it means I may run into some on my way.

Making sure not to cause Yulla to wake, I tip-toe gracefully and swiftly enough to get past all the rooms in this wing of the temple.  After I turn the corner, I slightly sprint, trying to only allow my toes to hit the wood floor and be as silent as possible.  The satchel on my back collides with my back numerous times as I hop-slash-sprint through the halls, almost feeling like a gazelle as I scurry.  

Ahead of me, a dim light -- probably from a candle or lantern -- lights the corner and I know it’s a guard checking the halls.  With no other hallways on the sides, I pause, quickly searching for a place to hide.  I’d rather avoid confrontation and possible interrogation.  A little to my left, about seven feet away, is a room.  Watching the light approach closer to this end of the hall, I dash as fast as possible towards the room.  I reach for the sliding handle and crash inside, landing on the right side of my body just as the corner of the hall begins to glow with the candle light.

I raise myself up just in time to close the little bit of door open and duck for the corner of the wall.  I sneak a peak through the paper-like covering of the wall and see the shadow of the guard.  It is obvious he heard me, but cannot apparently tell which way I had gone.  After a slow, painstaking moment, he’s passed the door, and I can finally breathe with relief.  I carefully slide the door open, an inch at a time, and slowly peek my crimson haired head out.  I glance towards each side before slipping through the doorway and swiftly closing it shut.

This time, I stay close to the walls, my back tightly pressed up against it as I shuffle ever-so-carefully along, keeping a wary eye and ear out for any more temple guards.  Each step reminds me of the the nerve-wracking tick tock of the clock, and I know I must hurry if Drew and I will make it out, towards the Land of Savages.

 

X X X X 

 

Once I enter the main room, it’s pitch black and I can barely see in front of my face.  But somehow, I know Drew is in here, ready to go.  I make my way to what I believe is the middle of the room and bump into someone, and I already had a hunch at who it is.

“About time,” Drew mutters.  “It isn’t that hard to get here, you know.”

“It is,” I say, “when you’ve got tons of people patrolling the halls.”

Drew scoffs and pushes my shoulder out of the way and walks towards the door that will take us outside.  I follow him and side-step through the barely opened door.  I shut it after us and outside it’s clearer, I can see more.  Drew stands a few feet in front of me, not looking at me, but his shoulders are tense.  He’s on full alert.  He pulls his satchel tighter on his right shoulder and starts walking.

“Hey!” I say.  “Wait!”  I run after him as he heads for the depths of the woods that are a little to the right of the temple.  I stop by his left side and keep up with his pace.  “What’s your problem?” I ask.

“I have no problem,” Drew replies in a not-so-polite tone.  “You just irritate me.”  I let out an inaudible growl, and resist the urge to punch his arm.  

“Gee,” I hiss.  “Guess that makes two of us.”

“Shut up,” he snarls.  “Before I say something I wont regret.”  This time, I do release my growl, pulling on my crimson hair.  Drew merely snorts and moves a piece of hair away from his eyes.  “You’re lucky I’m actually going through with this.  I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t the Great Elder who told me to do this.  Otherwise--”

“Okay!  I get it!” I yell.  We’re both silent as we walk, right into the depths of the dark forest.  I’m stomping now, my feet sinking slightly in the moist ground.  Drew is somehow calm, at least on the outside, as he swiftly travels through the bushes and avoids branches.  How does this happen?  I barely know someone and there’s already conflict between us?  How?

Something is odd about Drew as we twist and turn our way through the forest.  As I stumble and make noise with every step, he is almost completely dead silent, almost as if he isn’t touching the ground at all.  As if he’s floating, or walking on his toes so well that no sound being made, even after stepping on dead, spirit world leaves.  Maybe he’s done this many times, weaved through forests constantly and knows how to be silent.  

And deadly, a small voice whispers in my head.  I furiously shake my head.  Where did THAT come from?

“Hey,” Drew says from in front of me.  “Would you hurry up?  Who knows if Stealers have claimed this place as their territory.  Stay close and don’t get behind.  If you do, I won’t come back for you.”  His dark eyes somehow seem to glitter with the shine of the moon, which must be able to come through from the living world.  He gives me the cold shoulder as he watches me with his predatory eyes.  “You know that, right?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I mutter, walking over and ahead of him, “Mister Serious.”  Only then as I reach a big tree do I hear, very faintly, the sound of beating drums and whoops and cries.  It frightens me.  I pause mid-step and listen attentively.  

“It’s them,” Drew explains, grabbing my shoulder none-too-gently and pulling me after him.  “Now hurry up.”  Somehow, it’s as if time changes quickly as we find the border line of the forest and the Land of Savages ahead.  

“Dawn already?” I say. 

“Yes, moron.”

“Well, sorry, braniac.”  The realm’s artificial sky above us swarms with colors of yellow, pink, orange, blue as it changes from night into early morning.  The forest flowers bloom and the grass is covered in dew.  By now, Drew is almost sprinting through the woods, and I’m stumbling to keep even close to his pace.  “Drew,” I say.  He doesn’t respond.  “Drew!” I exclaim.  He glances over his shoulder, so I at least know I got his attention that time.  

His eyes go wide for the briefest millisecond, and he comes to a halt, making me bump into his back.  He crouches low, seemingly into a fighting position, and eases his way to the edge of the trees.  I try to mimic him, but end up merely bending over and rushing after him as he takes long, silent steps.  The cries and bellows from the distance seem powerful as it travels to my ears in haunting notes.  Drew seems unfazed by the chanting as he waits at the border of the trees.  I stand behind him, trying to stay completely out of view.

“Quit breathing on me so hard,” Drew growls over his shoulder in a fluent, clear command.  

“I’m not breathing on you,” I say.  I withdrew my urge to smack him on the back of his head.  He scoffs and takes a knee, watching the top of the hill that was ahead of us.  I do the same, stepping to his left to see what could be ahead.  The distant song and chants slowly dies down, and it becomes eerily quiet, with only the sound of a breeze whispering through the branches.

“... They’re walking up,” Drew says in a low rumble.  He stands and takes a baby step closer, out of the protection of the forest.  I stay behind, afraid of who could be beyond the hill.  As Drew steps slightly closer, a prick of black starts rising from the hill, and I realize it’s someone’s hair.  A copper-skinned individual walks confidently up the grass hill.  His gaze is intimidating as he looks to Drew, then me.  As if he’s prepared to gut one of us. 

A tomahawk peeks from behind him, and there is a single dagger on either side of him.  On his right shoulder all the way down to his elbow is a red tattoo of what appears to be branches with thorns.  The single strip of hair on his head is pulled into a short ponytail.  Then there’s movement behind him and four more people, all with tan skin, glide into view.  Drew smoothly advances towards them, shoulders back, and chest slightly high.

The man in the center of the five natives begins speaking to Drew in a tongue I don’t recognize.  I assume it must be a tribal language.  Drew pauses as he listens to the man’s words, then speaks in the same speech back towards him, his tone is softer, almost as if he has to speak even more clearly to pronounce the words.  The man looks towards me and says something to Drew.  Drew merely nods and turns to a grown woman that is on the right of the first man to appear.  

With a quick flick of his hand, Drew beckons me that it’s okay to step out of the shelter of the woods.  I carefully, cautiously make my way out as the woman and the man next to her begin speaking.  It’s odd, for somehow I begin catching snit-bits of words.  

“Girl...  Lost...” 

“Yes.... From.... World...”

And suddenly, all of what they’re saying becomes crystal clear, and I can understand everything they’re saying.  

“This is her?” the woman asks Drew in the native tongue.  

“Yes, this is her.  The troublesome one that we must watch over,” he replies.  

“I’m not troublesome!” I say, but cover my mouth in surprise as I suddenly speak fluently in their language.  “What is this?  How come I can talk like this?”  The woman’s eyes glance over me and takes a feather from a pouch tied around her waist.

“You speak like us,” she says, “when you enter our land.”  She places a white and gray feather in my hair.  I touch the thin material and check to see if it’s secure.  “It is common in this world.  This world that is so different from the land that we used to live on...”

“You mean the living world?” I ask her.  She nods. 

“Now isn’t the time for irrelevant questions,” Drew cuts in.  He turns to the man.  “Will you take us to your village, Dark Wood?”

“I will,” Dark Wood replies, “for you, Shadow Bird.  You haven’t visited us in a while.”

“I am aware,” says Drew, “and I deeply apologize.  But now we don’t have time to merely visit and exchange good times with each other.  We are here to find the synthesis.”

“The synthesis?” I repeat.  Dark Wood looks to me and nods curtly.  The woman takes my hand and begins descending down the hill.  Ahead of us, down the hill and quite close to a flat section of land was a village, decorated with teepees, horses, and other members of the tribe.  I can hear fragments of conversation from people young and old.  All seems peaceful in the tribe of people.  

“You will be safe with us,” the woman says, patting my hand softly with her slightly wrinkled one.  I smile.

“Thank you,” I reply in the tribal speech.  Her brown eyes shine with kindness and wisdom as she smiles in return and we enter the tribe.  A few kids with dark skin and black hair play around us.  Some tug on the temple uniform that I borrowed and reach for my hand.  I’m a little hesitant, gently patting one boy’s head just before he takes off with the other two boys with fake tomahawks in hand.

Then a hand places itself firmly on my shoulder and the woman beside me stops.  I turn and find a boy about three inches taller than me, probably around my age, with dark, tan skin and warm hazel eyes.  His black hair is lengthy in the front, and a short ponytail holds leftover hair off his neck.  He wears moccasin shoes and a cloth vest, but no shirt is under the vest.  His pants are worn out as they hold weapons practically all around his waist.  

“You have returned quickly, Mother,” the boy says.  “And you have brought an intruder?”

“No, my son,” the woman replies.  “This is the one who entered this world without passing away.”  The son’s eyes widen ever so slightly, and he slowly releases my shoulder.  “I have told Dark Wood that you will help watch her.”

“Of course,” the son says.  “I will, Mother.  There is no need to tell Dark Wood.”  He holds out his hand towards me and a small smile tugs on his face.  “Your name is Riff.  It is nice to meet you.  I’m Blue Sparrow.”  I put my hand in his, and a spark goes through me.  He’s warm, as if he’s actually alive.

“How do you know my name?” I ask.  His smile grows a tiny bit.

“Almost every spirit knows who you are.”  We shake hands and his mother leaves us.  We walk towards an early (fake)morning fire as its smoke wisps upwards.  The flames appear real.  The teepees around us look so real.  The grass is so real.  The people are so real.  It’s as if everything is not... deceased.  And we’re not in a realm full of dead spirits.  It’s almost all.... too real.


Submitted: March 07, 2014

© Copyright 2023 R Anonymous. All rights reserved.

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