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 20: WHAT’S THAT SMELL?
The next two days were rather uneventful. We talked, ate, and floated down the river quite peacefully. An unnatural calmness came over the group. We all knew exactly what the plan was, and no one was worried about it. I suppose we all wanted to take advantage of the relaxing time as much as we could. The only real agent of mischief was Skreech. He was tied in the middle of the boat, forced to wear the complicated restraints at all hours. He was beginning to regain self-awareness and, while he never said anything to get himself truly pummeled, he found it necessary to slip snide sarcastic comments into conversations at every available opportunity.
One good example of his annoying interactions took place just before lunch one day when we had stopped on a secluded little shore to eat. Chak and Plink were discussing Umbra and what sort of adjustments Plink had to make when Shishu had become one.
“They’re really the same as their former selves, just veiled. Shishu put it well the other day. It’s as if a cushion of air, a buffer zone, has been placed all around them. That means everything that they are: around their minds, which is why Flye has such trouble reading Umbra future, around their bodies, which is why they sort of glide instead of walk, and even their personalities, which is why Brew seems like her old self, but not as much as she used to be. Her twang isn’t as twangy, her wit isn’t as witty, and her spunk isn’t as spunky. She’s still the same being deep down, but it isn’t as visible as before,” Plink explained.
“So what should I do to counteract that?” asked Chak.
“How about you run a vacuum over her at night?” interjected Skreech.
“Well, it will take time for you to develop the same connection you used to have with her. Her light still complements yours but it too has a veil over it,” said Plink.
“Looks more like a smoke screen to me,” said Skreech with a disgusting chuckle. They continued to ignore him.
“Do you and Shishu ever talk like you used to?” asked Chak.
“All the time! You don’t need to worry about this so much Chak. I know Brew well. She’s still your dade. Not even her death could change that,” Plink said, smiling.
“I know I need to not be so in my head about this. I need to just relax and let it happen,” said Chak nervously.
“Don’t worry. It will happen,” said Plink.
“Yeah, she’ll definitely be sending you signals to let you know! Ha! Get it, ‘cause of smoke signals,” said Skreech. That was all Chak could take and he whipped his elbow sharply into Skreech’s nose, which kept him quiet for the rest of the meal.
We were back on the river again that afternoon, and it was that evening that the plan began to change again.
Everything had been moving along smoothly. We were floating downstream at a nice brisk pace when a loud bang alerted us to something unusual in the trees ahead of us to our right. A thick orange smoke was rising out of the colorful jungle canopy and with it a strange smell.
The best way I can describe this smell is to say that it was the worst thing imaginable. As a soldier in the Athenian army at the Trojan War I had experienced my fair share of repulsive smells. To put it in perspective, the smell of bodies rotting on a beach mixed with dead fish, burning incense, and open holes for relieving ourselves ranks as the second most horrible thing to ever hit my nostrils, coming in just after this orange smoke.
I slowly started to realize that the smell was repulsive to the Umbili in the boat, and when I say repulsive, I mean literally. As we neared the source of the smoke, the boat naturally floated away from it. It was a little like when you put two magnets together and they circle around each other but never touch. The same thing was happening to the Umbili in the boat. I could see an invisible force act on all of them as we approached the smell. They all leaned left slightly, and the boat compensated for this force by floating away.
I asked Chak what was going on.
“I don’t know for sure,” he said shortly, “Flye, the Orb.”
Flye rummaged around in the backpack at Thrump’s feet for a moment and then extracted the Agnoscian Orb. She sank her fingers into the sides of the green ball and suddenly the force stopped. I could see all the Umbili in the boat relax and Shishu picked up one of the oars. I also noticed that the smell had become much less pungent. It was still terrible, but it wasn’t as pugnacious about its nature anymore.
Shishu rowed us over to the right bank of the river; everyone exited the boat, and I followed suit. Thrump slipped the boat easily into the backpack and slung it over his shoulder. Chak marched off into the woods, a look of wonder and excitement on his face. We all fell in behind him.
As we walked, Pathena quietly asked me, “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” I replied.
She shook her head slowly, “Nothing I guess.”
The jungle was dense, much denser than the forests we had begun our journey in. Everyone was quiet except Skreech who was moaning in pain and complaining loudly as we made our way closer and closer to the source of the orange smoke.
The trees got thicker in some places, to the point that we would have to squeeze between closely growing plants single file, and then they would thin in places so that we could walk two or three in a row. We walked for about twenty minutes, before I could see the smoke hanging lightly in the trees.
As we drew near, I could tell that the repulsive force was beginning to gain strength on the Umbili again. They struggled more and more as we walked. Movement was difficult for them.
After a few more minutes we arrived at the source of the smoke. A little red box sat on the jungle floor. The Umbili all gathered around and Chak spoke to me. He talked as if it was hard to speak, and he was concentrating on not being thrown backwards.
“Nicholas. Pathena. Find. Stop. Button!”
I nodded and darted toward the box; Pathena followed me. We grabbed the little red box and lifted it off the jungle floor. The smoke continued to pour upward in a pillar and it was difficult to see what we were doing with so much smoke around us that smelled so terrible. Eventually we found a circular button on the bottom of the box and pressed it.
Instantly, the smoke stopped flowing from the box, and a few of the Umbili collapsed on the floor, their fight to remain standing where they were had ceased and they were all breathing heavily, clearly exhausted.
Chak was the first to regain his composure.
“Thank you Nicholas. I don’t know how long we would have been able to resist that. Umbili are notoriously weak-willed, as you know.”
“What is this thing?” I asked.
“This? This is a box,” said Chak, nonchalantly, as he took the little red box from my hands and tossed it to Thrump who placed it in the backpack.
“Oh really? I couldn’t tell. But what kind of a box?” I asked sarcastically.
“A little red box. You’re not as observant as I thought you were Nicholas,” said Chak with a small smirk on his face, and he turned to walk back in the direction we had just come from.
“Hold it!” shouted a female voice. It was Pathena. She was suddenly quite fierce.
Chak stopped walking and turned around. “Yes?” he asked.
“You have to tell him. Do you understand me? He’s going to Mendrax’s realm. You have to tell him what’s coming,” she said with enough intensity in her voice to scare even Thrump into obeying. Her fists were clenched and turning white with pressure.
“Tell me what?” I asked.
“You could… hear it?” asked Chak incredulously.
“You’d better believe it buster. Now tell him.”
“Tell me what?” I said.
“But we need time sort it out,” said Chak.
“Tell him now!” She was legitimately frightening.
“Will somebody please tell me what you’re talking about?” I shouted.
“Alright,” said Chak. “You want the truth? I don’t know what that box is, or what it does, but it was whispering in an Umbili language just now and I guess your darling little woman there speaks the language. It’s no big deal. Mendrax is just trying to scare us since we’re getting close.”
“Tell him what it said, or I will,” said Pathena, still furious.
“You will what?” asked Chak, a little bit scared a little bit sarcastic, taunting her to try something with him.
There was a pause.
“I will tell him,” said Pathena with the words you idiot plastered across her face.
“Oh right,” said Chak, understanding his mistake. “Right, well fine. I’ll tell him. You have to remember Nicholas, this doesn’t mean anything, we’re here to combat this very thing and you shouldn’t be upset by it because it really isn’t –”
“You lost your chance!” shouted Pathena. “I’m telling him. This is what the box was saying:
‘With blood the time was took by me
And blood must be repaid
The blood of man will grow the tree
And all his blood be weighed
For in my garden there must be
A line of time arrayed
And there, just one man’s sacrifice
Will see my reign unmade.’”
“What was that? A poem?” I asked.
“An instruction. That’s what this box was whispering while it let out the smoke. It’s been chanting that since the bang we heard earlier on the river,” said Chak.
“What does it mean?” I asked.
“Well,” he said. A long pause followed this word. “It means…”
“It means you’re gonna die before the end of this,” said Skreech with a gleam in his eye.
I had known this from the moment Pathena told me the poem. The line and all his blood be weighed left little room for error. I couldn’t feel my stomach. It had lodged itself in my throat.
I sank to my knees and stayed there for what felt like an eternity. I wanted tears to fill my eyes, but my whole body felt dry. There was an odd ringing in my ears and I looked up at Chak. He was talking, but I couldn’t hear him. After a few seconds the sound came back and I stood up. I was angry.
“How dare you,” I said staring straight at Chak.
“I didn’t lie to you Nicholas, let me explain.”
“You lied before and you’re lying now! How dare you drag me into this, promising me life! You said I would change my purpose! You said my purpose was death and if I wanted to change it I should come here with you. You said right from the beginning that death is where I was headed if I didn’t come with you. You said you brought me here to keep me from dying, but it turns out you just wanted to keep me from dying until it was convenient for you!”
Plink tried to interject, “Nicholas—”
“Don’t you dare get into this Plink. You knew too didn’t you? You all knew all along I was just a piece of meat. You all knew I was going to be the payment. Didn’t you? Didn’t you!” I was practically screaming.
The looks on their faces told me that I was right. None of the Umbili tried to change the subject or convince me otherwise. They all frowned knowingly, doing their best not to make eye contact, all except Skreech who was grinning from ear to ear, obviously giddy with this deceit.
I couldn’t bear there to be silence in the air when I was so angry, so I continued to yell to fill the void.
“I don’t need this. You’re the ones who need me… need me to die. To give up on living. I’m not going to! You hear? I’m not going to do it! I refuse! I won’t. I refuse!”
I wrenched off the pouch that dangled from my neck and threw it hard into the ground. The Umbili all flinched when I did, but the soft jungle dirt protected it from harm. None of them moved an inch.
“See how you get along without me,” I said and walked resolutely back the way we had come.
Want to keep reading? Go to the next section! >>> “Chapter 20. Part 2.”