This is a continuation of a story begun in the post “Chapter 1. Part 1.” If you enjoy it, please like and share it with others!
CHAPTER 11: STIRRING WORDS
The fire crackled on the beach and we sat around it staring at each other solemnly. Shishu, now released from the Agnoscian Orb, hovered outside the circle; Thrump prodded at the fire with a long stick, and the rest of the group merely exchanged meaningful glances. Everyone was obviously wondering the same thing: “What are we going to do now?”
“It seems to me that the group has no choice but to pursue their planned course,” said Doctor Lee. “You all knew that opposition from Mendrax would occur.”
“Yeah, but doc, we didn’t know how much he was gonna throw at us. If this is what we’ve had to deal with on day three, what else does Mendrax have waiting for us down the road?” said Brew.
“Are you saying you didn’t realize that death was a possibility? Are you saying the Higher-ups did not warn you that this quest would be the most dangerous, the most heroic, the most legendary that any Umbili had ever undertaken? Are you saying you thought this trip was going to be a stroll through the blue goo a pop down The Falling Water River and straight back home to be snuggled in your cozy warm beds? No! May it never be said that the Journey of Nicholas Alexander was led by a group of cowardly Umbili! You will be marked in history as the bravest of your kind. You will be remembered as the Eight Great Warriors of the Syllogy. Your story will be told until the end of time itself.
“You will persevere! You will strive on! You will fight! You will succeed! You will reach the outcast realm of Mendrax the Malevolent, and you will show Nicholas the way into the garden of time! You will not stop! You will not give up! You will not doubt because you are the handpicked dudes and dades of the Higher-ups, and you will exceed their expectations! Do you hear? You are the chosen!” Doctor Lee buzzed around from face to face as he delivered this overly theatrical speech. It had little effect on anyone in the group, except for Fwish and Fwik who were on their feet applauding. I couldn’t tell if they were actually excited or if they were just trying to see how far the beetle would go with this slightly ridiculous encouragement. It seemed as though Dr. Lee thought he was campaigning for election.
“While I think the beetle has a loose screw somewhere, he’s essentially right. We all knew what we were signing on for when the Higher-ups requested us. We all had the chance to say no. Realize the weight of this my friends. Never are Umbili given the chance to refuse a request from the Higher-ups! We all got that chance and we all turned it down. We knew that death was almost a certainty. Even if Mendrax has more waiting down the road, we’ll be ready. So straighten up, set your mind, and let’s all get some rest. We still have a long journey ahead of us.” Chak sounded confident and authoritative, and evidently authoritative is what the group needed, because they all murmured their agreement and retired to their tents.
It was a quiet night as the group dispersed. The crackle of the fire was comforting and warm. I could hear crickets in the jungle singing their songs to the night, and an owl sat perched on the edge of the tree line, watching us. After a while, Brew, Plink, and Flye were the only ones left with me sitting around the fire. We shared the silence for a long time until I couldn’t bear it anymore.
“What was that all about?” I asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” they all replied. That was the wrong thing to say to me.
“Why does everyone keep telling me not to worry about it? What if I want to know? What if I want to try to learn about Umbili?” I said.
They just looked at me, clearly unpersuaded.
“Can you at least answer me this question: Why does a human have to be the one to plant the seed in Mendrax’s time garden? Why can’t an Umbili do it? I know that I can disobey Higher-ups and we can be ignorant, or some stupid reason like that, but why can’t a Higher-up just order an Umbili to take this thing to Mendrax’s realm?” I asked.
Plink, and Brew looked at each other, but they didn’t speak.
“Umbili can’t touch time,” said Flye.
Plink and Brew looked at her sternly.
“He has to be given some answers! You can’t expect him to comply in blind faith forever,” Flye said to the two of them, and then she turned back to me. “You understand a little about why Umbili have trouble making choices right?”
“Yeah, Chak said it was because Mendrax is poisoning linear time and linear choices. I don’t really understand what it means; I mean, we’re in linear time right now aren’t we?”
“No, we’re not quite in time at all right now. You haven’t really been in time since you set foot in the Syllogy. Time here exists in our minds more than anything else. All Umbili live outside of time, but make choices, create ideas, and think inside of time. The forbidden garden governs our time here, and Umbili can’t touch the time that grows there because it is linked to their own minds. It causes a paradox that short-circuits the Umbili mind. Understand?”
“So Umbili only experience time in their minds,” I said.
“And that’s why all of the things that were affected in the Syllogy by Mendrax poisoning linear time are issues of choice and thought for Umbili.”
“And that’s why the Umbili world is starting to unravel and… go crazy… because it’s all happening inside their heads.”
“So this garden that Mendrax has is connected with the mind of every Umbili.”
“And Umbra,” said Plink.
“And Umbra,” I added, “and no Umbili or Umbra can touch time, or this seed, so you had to get a human to carry the seed and to put it into the garden,” I said.
“So why couldn’t you just wear gloves or something? Why does a human have to physically carry it?”
There was a pause where all three looked at each other. They seemed to be straining to say something, but couldn’t get the words out.
“It would still be too risky. A single slip would end the quest. We needed something or someone else to carry it so that we increase our chances of actually making it to Mendrax’s realm,” said Flye at last.
“You sound like we have no hope of getting it there even with me carrying it,” I said.
There was a solemn silence after I said this. I could tell they were all thinking the same thing. I started to think through everything they had just told me. It made sense. That’s when I started to get angry.
“Was that so hard?” I asked.
“What?” they all said together.
“I think I pretty well understand it now. Why was it such a big deal to explain some stuff to me?” I said, getting louder and more frustrated. “I’m not stupid you know! I can think for myself!”
All three of them had a worried look on their face. They were backing up as I rose from the fireside.
“Nicholas,” said Plink.
“No! This is getting ridiculous! All I ever hear is ‘Don’t worry about it.’”
“Nick!” said Brew loudly.
“You guys just don’t get it. You don’t understand how hard this is for me to deal with. You don’t understand how much I’m taking on faith here!”
“Nicholas! Look at your hands!” shouted Flye.
I looked down at my hands. Both were shaking rapidly and I realized that I was holding two things. In one hand was my sword, drawn and pointed at the three dades sitting across the fire. In the other I was brandishing the time seed much like a sword itself. It was extremely cold to touch. Flye’s shout had broken my rant long enough to realize that it was so cold it burned my hand to hold it. I dropped the seed and the sword on the ground, and all three Umbili inhaled sharply as the seed fell. The cushioned landing of the soft sand kept any damage from coming to it or the sword. I staggered backwards and dropped to the ground. I was suddenly exhausted. Plink was the first one by my side. Brew was close behind her, but Flye was backing away.
“Nicholas are you alright?” said Plink.
“I’ll go get him some water,” said Brew.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” I said. “I’m- I’m sorry. I didn’t realize what I was doing. It’s just… It’s been hard to cope with this, this whole… this whole thing. I just don’t know how to… how to…” I lost my dinner. Another long pause ensued as I regained my composure and sat back upright, wiping my mouth.
“You’ve actually been coping remarkably well Nicholas. A human of lesser character would have snapped long before now,” Plink said in a motherly tone, rubbing my back as she did. “You just need to get some rest.”
Brew returned with a cup of water and I took three big gulps. That’s when we all noticed Flye’s face. It was exactly like it had been back in the cabin in the City of Falling Water. She had an undeniable look of fear on her face, and her eyes were locked on the seed that had fallen to the ground.
“Plink! Get the seed away from her!” said Brew.
Plink started toward it, drew her knife and used it to knock the seed back to where I was sitting. I dove on the seed, grabbed it, and clumsily scrambled away from Flye to the other side of the fire, watching as she returned to her usual self. That’s when it dawned on me.
“It’s the seed,” I said. “When you get too close to this seed you get that look on your face. You freeze up.”
“Yes,” said Flye in the same matter-of-fact tone she had used this morning. “I didn’t want to worry you about keeping it away from me this morning, but I suppose you should know that too. You remember how I told you I can see farther than most? Well that seed sort of messes with my foresight. It makes me go a little haywire if I get too close. Other Umbili only experience that if they touch it, but because of my… gift… it affects me a little more strongly.”
“Oh. Okay…” I said hesitantly.
“It’s not something you should be worried about. I just don’t mix very well with time seeds,” she said.
“Gotcha. I’ll keep that in mind from now on.”
“Right. Well, I think it’s about time we got some rest,” said Flye.
“Agreed,” said Plink.
“I’ve got first watch, so I’ll see you in the morning,” said Brew.
We retired to our respective tents and I crept into my hammock being careful not to wake Chak or Fwik.
The next morning I woke to the smell of food. The tent was empty, so I clambered out of my hammock and found a fresh stack of clean folded clothes waiting for me. Brew had put them there this morning along with a note to leave the dirty clothing on the floor of the tent; she would get them later. I dressed and exited the tent into the cool morning air. Examining the group I could tell we would be traveling by boat down the river today. Fwik and Fwish were huddled together working on something quietly. Thrump and Shishu were readying the boat for the trip, securing oars to the side and cleaning out the sand that caked the inside floor. Plink, Chak, and Flye were nowhere to be seen, and Brew was finishing the breakfast preparation and packing up the kitchen.
Brew sounded the alarm for breakfast, and Plink, Chak and Flye emerged from the woods that lined the beach. We couldn’t count on being in an area with firewood or animal life for a while, so they had been hunting and gathering wood. Chak had two small animals I didn’t recognize, a medium sized wildcat, and a few squirrel like animals. Plink had a similar load and Flye had rigged a rope to drag wood around behind herself. Thrump immediately helped her when he saw the load and she thanked him and sat down to eat. Eventually we all gathered around and dug into the meal together. Brew had prepared me something she had deemed the best breakfast of the twentieth century that consisted of pancakes with maple syrup, two fried eggs, and large flat slices of fried pig meat. I had to agree that it was quite delicious, if a little sweet, and she mentioned cooking up something way ahead of my time for dinner. With that in mind, I made sure to have seconds of breakfast incase I would soon be missing a meal.
At the end of the meal Chak came over and sat next to me. “Hey Nicholas, how… are you feeling today?” He stuttered halfway through this sentence.
“I feel pretty good,” I said. “But did you hear about what happened last night?”
“Yeah Brew filled me in. It’s okay; don’t feel bad about it. You’ve been doing well so far.” We sat silently for a moment. “How… was your breakfast?” Another stutter.
“It was great,” I said. The awkward chitchat wasn’t natural for Chak. I could tell he was having trouble coming up with subjects that didn’t have to do with battles or missions or journeys.
“Alright,” he said, he sounded almost disappointed, and then he stood up and started speaking to the group. “We best be off. We have to make it to the river spire by noon if we want to get back on track from our little misstep yesterday,” said Chak.
“Is that how we’re gonna refer to being hurled offa the largest waterfall in the universe from now on? A ‘misstep’?” said Brew.
“Yes I think that sums it up quite nicely,” said Chak with a grin.
With that, we tossed the tents into the backpack, did a quick sweep of the campgrounds and loaded up the boat. As we pushed away from the shore I could hear the sound of the waterfall in the distance getting quieter and quieter.
Want to keep reading? Go to the next section! >>> “Chapter 12. Part 1.”