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 7: THE MORNING STAR HAS RISEN
I woke up and it was still dark. I looked around in my tent, and saw Chak, swinging slightly in his hammock. The light that emanated from his body was much dimmer when he was asleep, and most of it was covered with a blanket. Fwik was in a ball on the floor next to his hammock, which was twisted up into a knot. It was obvious that he had fallen out of it from violent movements while sleeping. I blinked my eyes a few times and sat up. It was no use trying to fall back asleep now, so I donned my armor and oriented myself, trying to find the door of the tent. Outside the fire was just as full as it had been when I went to sleep, and Thrump was sitting next to it, staring into the red embers intently. Shishu sat next to him. I coughed and they both looked up, obviously startled at my presence. Thrump smiled comfortingly, but Shishu’s face remained stern.
“You must sleep Nicholas,” said Shishu.
“He’s fine. There will be plenty of time for him to rest. What woke you up Nick?” Thrump spoke slowly and specifically. He didn’t ever say a word he didn’t mean to say, and I could tell that what I had previously mistaken for stupidity was actually clarity of speech and forethought.
“I – uh – I don’t know… Just couldn’t sleep I guess,” I said.
“Oooo. Maybe Teleon is haunting his dreams,” said Thrump in a spooky voice, smiling wide and nudging Shishu.
“I’m unsure Teleon has such abilities,” said Shishu dispassionately.
“It’s a joke Shish! Come and join us by the fire Nicholas,” said Thrump.
I walked over and sat down.
“What do you really think about that Teleon guy?” I said casually to Thrump, hoping he’d give me more answers.
“Oh, I don’t really know. He’s an enigma among Umbili. We just hear gossip and rumors about a crazy guy in the desert. A few take him seriously though, like Flye. We talk about him like he’s the boogie man sometimes, and a raving lunatic others.” Thrump shrugged as he finished. I looked at Shishu hoping he would add something.
“I am undecided about the man,” he said simply.
“We were discussing the plan for tomorrow,” said Thrump.
“Really? What is the plan? How long is it supposed to take to get to Mendrax’s realm?” I suddenly felt awake with questions.
“The journey should take seven days,” said Shishu.
“Of course, that’s only if we aren’t hindered at all, which I doubt will be the case. Mendrax will not be kept abroad for long,” Thrump added.
“I thought he was trapped in his realm.”
“He is, but his followers can travel into the Wilderness of the Syllogy and beyond. When I say Mendrax will not be kept abroad, I mean his will against us will not be kept abroad. His followers will execute his will out here.” Thrump seemed worried about Mendrax’s followers.
“But they’re just Umbili right? I mean we’ll be able to take them on, what with the group of Umbili we’ve got.”
“Our group is sufficient. But not overly so.” Shishu’s sentences never lasted longer than two seconds.
There was a silence, fragmented only by the crackle of the fire.
“So… what’s that spike for?” I asked, gesturing to the base of the spire where we had set up camp.
“This is one of the communication towers for the Higher-ups,” said Thrump, “They leave messages for us here, and we send messages to them. Each tower is supposed to have an Umbili operating it at all time. They act as intermediaries between us and the Higher-ups. They’re never really there, but that’s okay. We can send messages ourselves if we want to, and there are fewer miscommunications that way. The towers we have planned stops at are expecting us at certain times. If we miss a stop or are more than a day late, they will communicate this to the Higher-ups so that they are aware of our progress.”
“So that’s how you always talk to them? When Chak says that the Higher-ups told him something, he meant they left him a message… like in writing?”
“Yep, but the written Umbili language is quite vivid. They get their point across,” said Thrump.
“And you said we’re updating them on our progress. You mean they can’t just see us? I figured they were always watching sort of like a mystical power. From the way Chak describes them, they are everywhere at every time.”
“I suppose some Umbili think of them that way, and they might be right. I can’t speak about the Higher-ups’ true natures; I just know that they told us to talk to them through the towers. If they preferred a different method, I suppose we would comply, but this is the one they currently require of us. Of course, until you fix this world with that seed, our methods of communication are limited.”
“Right,” I said considering the weight of this revelation. I knew I was helping change the whole world; it just hadn’t sunk in until that moment. What if I failed? Was I the world’s only hope? From the way these Umbili talked about it, we had only one shot. I stared into the fire thinking hard.
“Nicholas, what did your life consist of on earth? From what did we extract you?” It was the first time Shishu had started a conversation instead of ending one. I looked up at him. His face was just as hard as it had always been, but his eyes were searching me.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“What did you leave behind?”
“Nothing,” I said.
“I do not believe you. No matter how empty your life, you must have left something.” Shishu was searching for something specific. I thought of my life back in Athens. My vineyard, my life as a soldier, my boat, it was nothing to me. I thought of Pathena, and looked at Shishu. He could see it in my eyes. This was what he was looking for. Whom had I loved on earth? That was the question he was actually asking.
“Why don’t you tell me something about yourself first? Right now you know more about me than I know about you,” I said.
“Shishu doesn’t talk about his life, or his afterlife as it were,” said Thrump, grinning and nudging Shishu in the side again. Amazingly, Shishu smiled.
“I find the details of my existence unnecessary. Those who know have reason to know, those who do not, have not,” said Shishu.
“What if I would like to know? Is that reason enough to learn? I’m curious about you. I hope that’s ok.”
“I have not encountered this before.” He paused, considering if my curiosity was a good enough reason to share about himself. “As a human you will never fully understand what I will tell you, but since you ask so politely, I will answer questions. Of what would you like to know?”
“How did you die?” I asked quickly, hoping that if I asked it fast and casually enough he would start answering. It didn’t work.
“That question I will not answer. What else might you like to know?”
I sighed. “Well, how about your life? What did your life look like before you became an Umbra?”
“It looked much like Chak’s life I suppose. I believe that might be why he resents me. He fears the possibility of the same fate befalling him. I had a partner. We lived in joyous complement. I rose and slept to do the work of the Higher-ups. I was a normal Umbili.”
“A partner? Joyous complement?” I asked.
“I’d rather not attempt to explain partnerships to you,” said Shishu.
“Please? It will drive me mad if you don’t explain it now,” I said.
He searched my face. “Very well. Partnerships look somewhat like – what do you call them on earth – marriages. It’s easiest to explain partnerships by showing the similarities and differences between Partnerships and marriage.”
He began to loosen up as he spoke, almost like he was preparing to give a lecture. His speech became less formal and I started to get a hint of the true personality waiting behind the stony exterior.
“You see, we do not have marriage in the Syllogy the way you should on earth. Partnerships are more similar to what some humans call ‘soul mates,’ though humans don’t actually have any such thing. You see, humans sometimes confuse the emotions that often accompany marriage, with marriage itself. That’s not what marriage is at all. Marriage is supposed to be a much more mysterious union and a firm, volitional commitment. Unfortunately, marriages on earth actually do end up being thought of like partnerships much of the time.
“Partnerships are for two Umbili to share for all eternity, but a marriage on earth ends at death. Marriage is a choice and commitment, a covenant, meant to teach about The Higher-ups relations with humanity, while partners are established by our very nature. They are precisely determined by the Higher-ups’ choosing. Partnerships are more rare here, and much less dependent on the will of the Umbili in question. Marriages take work to maintain, but partnerships do not.
“Also, partnerships are much less essential to our society’s structure than marriages are on earth. It is normal to have a partner, and normal not to. Marriage should be more highly revered, respected, important, and life-changing than partnerships. Chak and Brew are partners as determined by the Higher-ups, but I don’t suppose you realized that because it does not define their daily lives the way a marriage should on earth.”
“Chak and Brew are married?” I asked.
“No. They are partners. Have you not been listening?”
“Sorry,” I said.
Thrump chimed in, “Partnered Umbili are just as common as non-partnered Umbili. There are only three Umbili in our group who have partners: Chak, Brew, and Plink.”
“Where is Plink’s partner?” I asked.
“He is on a mission for the Higher-ups,” said Shishu.
“Well shouldn’t he be here? If Plink has a husband, shouldn’t they be together?” I asked.
“This is why Shishu didn’t want to get into this Nicholas. You cannot think of partnerships in the Syllogy as the same thing as marriages on earth. They were designed entirely differently, even though they look similar in certain eras, they shouldn’t. Marriage is a man’s willful, intentional devotion to a woman in the face of any opposition, and a woman’s equal devotion back. They take work! Partnerships are not volitional, they simply flow from an Umbili’s being. Marriages teach about the Higher-ups relationship to humanity, partnerships do no such thing. Trying to equate them will result in confusion. Plink’s partner has work to do for the Higher-ups. It’s that simple. The Higher-ups made the partnership, so that’s completely reasonable,” said Thrump.
“Ok. Ok,” I said. “Well, what do you do now Shishu? I mean, now that you’re an Umbra?”
“I still do what the Higher-ups request, but the duties they give me have changed because my skill set has changed,” Shishu said holding up his spindly fingers to illustrate his changed skills.
“Huh,” I murmured thoughtfully. Shishu was good at giving non-answers and I decided to abandon my line of questioning. I turned to Thrump. “So, where are we headed tomorrow? You mentioned a plan.”
“We’re hoping to make it to the waterfall on Canyon Ridge tomorrow. There’s a small city there that will give us provisions and shelter. Too bad it’s not later in the journey when we will truly yearn for a soft bed, but it’s better than none at all,” said Thrump.
“So it’s just a sight-length away?” I asked.
“Yes, about. We should be getting there right around sun down tomorrow if we stay on-” He stopped speaking suddenly.
“I heard it as well,” whispered Shishu.
“Heard what?” I asked.
“Shh.” Thrump picked up a log from the fire and held it in front of himself like a torch.
Want to keep reading? Go to the next section! >>> “Chapter 7. Part 2.”