Author’s note: Hey everyone, I always read the comments and I’d like to take a moment to ask everyone to please try and keep it civil. There’s no need to argue with one another. We’re all here to have some fun.
I’ve no problems with hearing about your dissatisfaction, and I ask that everyone else be okay with it too. It’s not a crime to be displeased by something, and if everyone only ever says good things, then how will I know what is popular and what isn’t? Criticism and complaints, pile them on, lay it on me. I won’t crumble to dust or stop writing because my feelings were hurt. I’m a big boy, I’ve got thick skin, I can take it. I’ll only cry a little, I promise.
Enough of me now, enjoy the chapter 🙂
Holy shit, this is boring.
Sitting alone in the void, I watch the whirlpool of Spectres float by, a twinkling object in a universe of unending darkness. Reaching out to grasp it, I ask, “Wanna build a snowman? Or how about we sing a song?” Without waiting for answer, I start my melody. “I am slowly going crazy, one two three four five six, switch. Crazy going slowly am I, six five four three two one, switch. Okay, now your turn, you start first, and I’ll start when you’re halfway through. It’s called a round song, it’ll be fun.” Silence is my only answer, and in response I channel my chi and torment them. “Don’t be a bunch of party-poopers. If you don’t wanna sing, then how about a trip on ‘Crazy Rayne’s Wild Ride’? 32,000 kilometres of roller coaster fun. Don’t forget, you’re here forever! I am slowly going crazy, one two three four five six, switch.”
What can I say? Misery loves company.
Their chorus of wails sets a good harmony for my singing, perfect in pitch and tone. It helps that there are no vocal chords involved, I’m just imagining myself singing. It’s harder to imagine myself out of tune, oddly enough. Maybe it has something to do with self-perception. I can even do a barber shop quartet by myself, but it gets boring fast. I only know a few children’s songs and I’m neither imaginative nor musically inclined enough to compose my own.
Why is it called a barber shop quartet? What does getting your hair cut have to do with singing?
My brain, just chock full of useful information. I wish I could go back in time and punch past-me in the nuts for being a dumb, worthless bastard. Go read a damn physics book or something, do something useful for once. If I sing the song once, I’ve sung it a thousand times, so my interest quickly wanes. That, and it’s boring singing to myself. No, calm yourself. Boredom is when everything feels like a waste of time while serenity is when nothing does. Well, I’d like one serenity please. Serenity Now!
Nope, nothing, just boring boredom here.
Hmm… Where was I?
Crazy slowly going am I. One two three four five six… Switch?
C’mon Baledagh, how long are you gonna keep me here? Months? Years? I don’t think I can handle this any longer, I need to see the sun, breathe fresh air, talk to someone who isn’t me or me pretending to be someone else talking to me. Is this what it was like for Baledagh when I sent him away? He said it was unpleasant, but man, was that an understatement or what? I can’t fall asleep and for all I know, I am asleep and this is all just a dream.
For the umpteenth time, I go through my time-wasting exercises. I practice the Forms and chi manipulation, meditate, heal my body’s injuries, review my studies, and test new theories. Then, bored of working, I attempt to create something to entertain myself, fail, cry, and mope. It’s happened countless times before and will happen countless times after. Everything moves at the speed of thought, time flying by and at a standstill. Without fatigue, hunger, stiffness, or bodily functions to go by, I don’t know if I’ve been here for days or weeks, it’s driving me nuts.
Time is a weird concept, isn’t it? What is time exactly? Time is precious, time is fleeting, time is endless, but when it comes right down to it, time is what keeps everything from happening all at once. Seconds to minutes to hours to days, it is forever moving forward at an immutable pace, with only our perception of time altering things. You can give time and take time, spend time and lose time, but no matter how much you’d like, you can’t slow, hurry, stop or reverse it.
That’s one theory.
What if it’s wrong?
Using a clock, we measure the numerical order of material change in time, but time itself has no physical existence. I can’t see, touch, taste, smell, or hear time, I can only perceive the effects of time passing. What’s interesting is that everyone’s perception of time is different, and you’ll never empirically understand how someone else observes time. Even your own awareness of time changes; time flies when you’re having fun, but it slows to a crawl when you’re bored. When you’re young, every day is forever, an hour, an eternity away. Then, as you age, time speeds up, days passing in the blink of an eye, and before you know it, you’re another year older and, if lucky, another year wiser.
Where did all the time go?
Knowing our sole method of discerning time, by perceiving it pass, not only differs from person to person, but is also in constant flux for every individual, how can we say time itself is constant? Time simply is, but who’s to say it isn’t all at once? The past, present and future, all equally real and without delineation, a lifetime spent in a single instant, a million heartbeats transpiring in concert, and our frail minds, unable to comprehend the enormity of it all, structures all that information in an orderly, successive fashion to interpret it.
Imagine a river. You want to pick exactly one point in the river and say ‘this is the river now’, but you can’t. By the time you’ve picked it, the river has changed. Whether you go upriver or down river, to the source or the end, it’s the same. It changes so often that you’ll never set foot in the same river twice. Banks erode, animals drink, water evaporates, and so on and so forth. So who’s to say which point is truly the river at any given time? The entire thing is the river, a whole, there is no single point which makes up the river, just as there is no point in time that makes up now. Because once you see now, it’s already in the past.
Reality, meaning the past, present and future, isn’t timeless and unchanging, but instead a river, a constantly changing flow, dynamic and transitory, fleeting and eternal. Time is not a line to travel upon one step at a time, but an infinite stream of possibilities happening all at once, like flowing water. Only our perception of time is linear, like watching a leaf be carried away by the current. All this means that even as I sit here, I am within the void and outside the void, living my tortured days in the mines alongside my joyful days in the village, all my past and future bliss and hardships within in the short span of a lifetime.
So when you think of it like that, it’s not so bad being stuck here. Not too shabby. I should get back to work, busy busy busy.
“Hello brother. What are you doing?”
Baledagh’s voice fills me with joy as I abandon my butterfly stroke and float down to greet him. “Baledagh, thank the Mother, you’re back. I was just swimming, there’s not much to do in here.” At least he didn’t catch me jerking it. “Please, never do this again, we share our burdens, understand? You look…” Beaten down and broken, but saying so would be rude. “Terrible. Is everything okay?” Okay, my social skills may be a little rusty, but it’s not my fault. I’ve been alone for so long…
Back slouched and head down, Baledagh stands timidly before me, unable to look me in the eyes. Odd to be on this end of it. “I’m fine.” Liar. “You can go out now. With Ravil’s help, we cleared as many villages as we could, but we’ve run out of time. I had to send them away before the army arrives, lest they catch wind of our efforts. We’re waiting at the side of the road, the army outposts might not be safe. I’ve done all I can, brother. Ask your questions and then I’ll leave to rest.”
Seeing him like this, I can’t even muster up any anger, only pity and sorrow. “How long have I been in here?” Bracing myself for the answer, I hold my breath. Weeks? Months?
“Today is the fifth day since I sent you away.”
Five days? That’s it? I almost went batshit crazy in five days? How does he handle the crippling loneliness for years at a time? The more I learn about him, the more I sympathize. He really got a raw deal, it’d be tough to chose between solitary isolation and going back to the mines. Swallowing the lump of guilt wedged in my throat, I approach and ask despite my better judgment. “How many?”
Cringing away, he whispers in answer. “Twenty seven, all dead by my hand. I couldn’t leave it to the others, just had them bound and gagged while they waited. Like killing livestock.” His shoulders shake as I embrace him, my idiot little brother. “I made my intentions clear and waited for them to turn, see their true colours. Most turned feral, the taint growing before my eyes, but not all. The little girl… screaming and crying for her mother… didn’t want to do it, wanted to set her free… but the taint, the Spectres, circling her, whispering to her… I knew what lay in her future, I couldn’t leave her be. I had to kill her before they turned her, tell me you understand.”
Taking a deep breath, I hug him tighter and lie. “You did what you had to.” Not entirely untrue. He did what he believed needed to be done, and I can’t hate him for it. He’s not a mindless killer, but it’s all he knows. “Better to focus on how many you saved.”
“A few hundred ungrateful villagers, angry and resentful. Ravil had to enlist more Militiamen and force the villagers north, else they’d just circle around back to their homes. Given a choice, I’d have left them there to die, but Ravil is kinder than he lets on.” He’s not making this easy, so filled with hate and self-loathing, I don’t know how to get through to him. I’m not even sure if a way exists, aside from time and support. After a long embrace, he pushes me away and shakes his head. “You should go now, I just received a sending from Gerel, they’re close by.”
“Let me make you some things before I go.” I’m not sure he realizes how much power he holds now, but I should be able to create things with his permission, albeit obtained subconsciously. With a mental effort, I will a bed, three cats, two bear cubs, and a rabbit into existence. Walls, lighting, and other objects to keep him grounded and occupied soon follow, but without a glance, he crawls into bed and pulls the covers over himself, hiding away from the world. Patting him on the head, I hesitate to leave, wondering if I should say anything else. “Take as much time as you need, I’ll be back to check on you.” The animals amble into the bed on their own, not my work but his, instinctively seeking comfort. “Thank you, brother.”
Opening my eyes to the beautiful sunlight, I basked in the warm, summer afternoon. For the first time in an eternity, I stretch my body and really feel the pleasant strain, the pull of my muscles and skin, smelling the fresh air and fragrant trees, alive once again. Watching the bears amble about next to the road, while two horses with braided manes graze beneath the trees, I realize that I can’t deny any of this to Baledagh. To do so would be cruel and inhumane. Eventually, he’ll bounce back from this, he’s stronger than me in many ways. Hey, who knows, maybe I’ll figure out a way to separate us and we can both live happy, fulfilling lives.
“Hubby!” The forest’s tranquility is broken by the steady footfalls of a massive quin, rapidly rising in tempo and volume. A cloud of dust trails behind Lin’s unmistakable approaching figure, riding atop my chubby little Mafu. Squealing at the sight of me, Mafu accelerates in my direction, his happy cries easily heard over his thunderous charge.
Err… they’re not slowing down.
The world slows as I realize we’re about to collide, both rider and quin too eager to reunite. Sidestepping onto the road, I barely avoid the massive quin as Lin leaps from his back, the air rushing by at the narrow miss. Sailing through the air with a smile on her face and tears in her eyes, Lin’s moving too quickly, about to crash into me like a tiny, adorable missile. Unwilling to see her hurt, my body moves faster than ever, my days of mental practice come to fruition. Catching her with both hands, I spin in a large circle with arms extended, twirling in place with Lin to disperse her momentum. Coming to a stop, I pull her in close, careful not to crush her in my arms.
Breathless and dizzied, she nuzzles against me. “I missed you so much, hubby.”
“I missed you too.” Nothing more needs to be said as we hold each other, happy and content.
Our private reunion ends as abruptly as it began, Mafu bowling into us with a series of chittering squeaks. Rubbing his head against me, his little hands pat and grasp at my clothes, making sure I can’t get away. If this was a happy charge, I never want to be on the receiving end of an angry one.
Lin alternates between smiling and crying as she rests her head against me, her arms clamped tightly around my chest. Her frowning guards arrive with the rest of the Sentinels close behind, Mila in the lead. Before I can say anything, round two of my over-enthusiastic greetings begin as Aurie bolts from his travel wagon. Turning to shield Lin, I cringe and giggle as a quarter-tonne of affectionate feline latches onto my shoulders, his rumbling purrs reverberating down to my bones. Suffering in silence, I shake Aurie off me and placate him with hugs and kisses. A few bruises and cuts are well worth it in return for unconditional love.
Thankfully, Jimjam and his sister are far more restrained in their greetings, happy to pad over slowly with Mila and Li Song. “Hello Li Song. Did you miss me?” Her frown deepens, ignoring the question as I greet the other cats, Aurie growling in discontent. “Hello Jimjam, hello princess floofykins. Did you miss daddy? I bet you didn’t, you big meanies.”
“That is not her name.” Li Song interjects, snorting while the cats tolerate my affection. “With Master’s approval, this one has named her ‘Sarankho’.”
“Moonlight Talon, a lovely choice.” It’s about time. Ha, meet my cats, Aurie, Jim and Sara. It’s nice to see Li Song meet my eyes, even if she doesn’t like me very much. Leaving Jimjam and Sarankho, I finally turn to Mila with a teasing smile. She’s ready to explode over being ignored yet too prideful to make the first move. I can’t help needling her, she’s too cute when she’s angry, her pouting lips and furrowed brow making my heart skip a beat. With Lin still clinging tight, I stretch my hand and wave for Mila to join us. “Hello my princess. Don’t be jealous and come greet your betrothed.”
Her anger visibly melts as she moves in for a hug, sniffling and hiding her face. “Idiot. What did you think you were doing, standing in front of their boats like that? And losing your Token? Were you trying to aggravate me? Leaving me to do all your busywork, you’re lucky I’m so understanding and tolerant. I swear if you ever do this again…”
Smiling as I embrace my two little brides-to-be, I send a message to Baledagh. “Come out for hugs?”
“Leave me alone.”
“Mafu found the bear cubs. They’re snuggling. He thinks they’re baby quins.”
“Jimjam grabbed one to groom, and the little bear loves it. Come out and see.”
Baledagh’s presence wells up from within, sharing my senses without taking over. Hugging Lin and Mila tighter, I try to convey the warmth and love to him while watching the bears, cat, and quins all get along. Gerel and the Sentinels watch warmly, the People never ones for privacy, while my retinue grins at my return. “Remember, this is your life too.”
A wistful sorrow echoes in my chest. “No brother. This is your life, it has nothing to do with me.”
“Don’t be silly, what’s mine is yours.” We’ll make this work.
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