Chapter 15 – The Long Journey

Twelfth of Birth 1122 – Twenty Years Ago

A gentle breeze blew over the Fellowship on a day that seemed to say that all was right in the world. The branches in the trees rustled, and their chorus was reassuring. The wind sent tiny ripples across the lake, and the sun glinted off the top of it, making the surface of the water sparkle like gold. The grass, emerald green under the radiant sun, shimmered as the morning dew slowly evaporated. And then the screams began, cutting through the scene like a scythe, reaping the crop of serenity and replacing it with something darker.

The sound came from a small house set perfectly on a rise to prevent flooding; a quaint dwelling in good repair, brightly painted, perfectly matching the tableau. The setting inside the house, however, was quite different.

Gallery

Four gray-robed figures were present inside, all crowded into the bedroom, where a woman struggled to give birth. 

The small room was cluttered with books, various rocks of different sizes and shapes, articles of clothing strewn about haphazardly, some clean, others already worn. A small collection of masks adorned the wall beside the bed, the only thing in sight that seemed ordered, as if those masks held a place of honor all their own.

The onlookers stood side by side at the foot of the bed, matching robes forming a wall of gray. Expressions of concern etched their faces. The oldest was a thin man of about seventy, with wrinkles woven into his weathered face. His bald head displayed no facial hair and his eyes were silver, clouded as they were by the cataracts that covered them. Any normal human would have been unable to see the woman on the bed, but the man saw her perfectly, using skills that most people would not only never possess, but would not have ever heard of.

The woman beside him was about sixty. Her short, curly hair was completely gray, but it seemed to suit her. The wrinkles about her mouth spread throughout her face like a series of hair-line cracks forming on an icy lake. The whiteness of her skin added to the effect. She was set apart from the others by her black belt. The other two wore belts of dark gray.

The final woman had sharp features, like a hawk, brown skin completely unwrinkled in spite of her advanced years. But determining how old she was would have been difficult. Many thought her to be in her thirties, but no, she was older than that. No matter what age you might have first assumed her, something belied it. Her hair had once been auburn but was now streaked with gray. Her steel-blue eyes were as clear as the man’s were cloudy. Her nose was hooked like the beak of a bird of prey and her thin lips frowned in sympathy at the woman on the bed, who lay prone, writhing in pain.

She had kicked off the covers and they lay forgotten on the floor. The formerly white sheets were stained with sweat and blood. That the woman would die was a given. None of the three standing at the foot of the bed doubted it. It had been foreordained and would happen as surely as the sun would set.

They tried to comfort the screaming woman, but even she knew she was dying, so the only comfort to be had was to live long enough to make sure the child survived. That much she could do.

They stood silently throughout the vigil, or at least, it would have appeared that way to any outsider, but they were talking telepathically to each other, as was their way when there were no outsiders about. They were kindred, who the world at large called the Fellowship. Today would be a day of celebration and mourning.

The babe arrived at the appointed hour, a girl, as they had known it would be. At the moment of birth, a gentle breeze blew through the window, cooling and comforting the sweating mother, who gratefully acknowledged the breeze and honored it by naming the child after it—Zephyr. She never spoke the name aloud, but they had all heard it in their minds and that was enough.

Only when she was sure that the child had lived and was healthy, did she release her hold on life, fading away joyfully. She left behind three kindred to mourn her passing in whatever way they chose, for this too was the way of her people.

The screams of pain were replaced with the sound of a newborn crying. There was death and there was birth, as always, and Zephyr would be with them. But Zephyr was special, and they all knew it. They had been waiting for her for a long time.

For Zephyr, named for a gentle breeze on a perfect day, was the sign that the kindred were to once again find themselves returned to the larger world. It marked a momentous moment in history, even if none of them understood it. The first Undead War was still five years away and when it arrived, they would refuse to honor their alliance with the Undead King, because that was what the way required of them. He would be angry, but even he could not afford to offend the kindred.

But in twenty years time, there would be a second war, and the kindred would rally to the aid of the Undead King, because it was meant to be. The other races of Thysandrika had been scared of the kindred from the beginning. In twenty years they would have their reason.

I will take Zephyr and raise her as my own.

No one questioned Lady Fury’s authority. She was the greatest of them. The one who saw most clearly. Her reading of the way was flawless, and they all knew it.

They took the newborn with them and left the corpse to be consumed by nature, as was their way. But the essence of the woman who had lived inside that corpse was still with them in a very tangible way. In the scheme of things, losing a body was as much a promotion as a loss… a right of passage.

The woman would never be mentioned again, and Zephyr would never hear her name spoken, but she would always feel her mother’s presence when the way finally called her home.

*

Second of Approaching 1136 – Six Years Ago

In spite of the prophecy surrounding her, and the expectations placed upon her, Zephyr was an ordinary girl. Like all kindred, she waited for her calling. For some, the calling came very young, for others, it came when they were much older. Most people thought Zephyr would be called sooner, but it didn’t happen. And though no one ever said anything about it, the idea that she wasn’t all she was supposed to be was an undercurrent in her life. The pressure of being a person of importance without actually being important was always in the background, as if she were waiting for something, and it had passed her by. As she grew older without being called, she began to wonder if perhaps the prophecy about her was wrong after all. But no one spoke about it, so she didn’t either. If she were good at anything, she’d have turned her attention to it, but as fate would have it, Zephyr was average in every way.

She wasn’t particularly smart. She could lay no claim to an exceptional athletic ability, being neither agile nor strong. She wasn’t good at any craft. She was simply there, a mediocrity in a world of competency. It would have been fine if she hadn’t been one of the chosen, but she was and could never escape the weight of expectation.

She’d begun to feel that pressure even before she’d overheard a conversation between two of the council and Lady Fury. She had been outside their cottage. She was supposed to be meditating but, as often happened, she got distracted and never made it to her chosen spot. Instead, she became absorbed watching a beehive. So many individuals all working together, constantly communicating with each other, much like the kindred themselves. When she heard voices coming from the house, curiosity drove her to eavesdrop.

This is normally impossible for kindred, as they were aware of each other and those inside would have noticed her had she already been called. But she hadn’t and that connection was missing. She didn’t know Lady Fury’s guests by name, but she had some idea that they were important within the larger scheme of things. One of them was talking.

“…your ward, but it’s been fourteen years now. The child is unexceptional. Are you certain she is the one?”

Zephyr wondered why they were talking instead of using telepathy as they normally would.

“I am.”

Lady Fury’s voice was calm, confident, relaxed. It was entirely possible she had expected this visit. But Zephyr knew they were talking about her, and her heart sank as she listened.

“She hasn’t been called yet, and many her age have. I would never challenge your prophecy, but…”

“And yet you are here to question the veracity of it. Hypocrisy is a bad look for you, Sapphire. Many of our number are called when they’re older, and some of them have become powerful within the community. Should we hold her to a different standard than others?”

“That’s not what we’re saying,” said another voice, clearly trying to steer the conversation away from conflict. “We are just here to ask if you’re certain, and since you said you are, that’s good enough for us.”

There was a long silence, and Zephyr could almost picture the other woman, Sapphire, holding back what she really wanted to say. Still, no kindred would openly challenge Lady Fury. She was right too often to risk it.

“Lady Fury, forgive our intrusion. I’m certain you have more important things to do than to allay our fears. Of course we believe you. You haven’t been wrong so often that we have reason to doubt.”

“And I’m not wrong now. We must have patience, as the world won’t turn more quickly if we don’t. Thysandrika is changing, of that I have no doubt, but such change takes time. All the pieces must be in position before the child is called.”

“Is that a prophecy?”

“It is not. It is common sense. Sometimes I think common sense is a greater gift than prophecy. It seems fewer people possess it.”

Zephyr almost gasped. Lady Fury was directly slighting two council members. But the women did not rise to the bait. Regardless, Zephyr had heard enough. The council was disappointed with her, and Lady Fury’s reputation was suffering because of it. She felt horribly guilty, considering how much Lady Fury had done for her. She would have to try harder. Anything less would be a betrayal.

The decision made, the beehive forgotten, she walked from the small cottage to the place she meditated every day, beneath the tree overlooking the pond. Perhaps, she thought, today would be the day, but of course, it wasn’t. Whatever she was waiting for, it better happen soon. The weight of failure was beginning to crush her.

*

Twenty-eighth of Harvest 1139 – 3 Years Ago

Zephyr thought of her calling a lot. The few outsiders who knew of it likened being called to their own transitions, but it was nothing like that. There was no outside power here, only inside power. A breaking of the internal barrier that kept you separated from the rest of the kindred. When that barrier faded, you could touch the way. She had been waiting to be called for as long as she could remember. It was all she waited for.

She had been taught that meditation was vastly important to taking down internal walls, so you could hear the calling when it came. For this reason, she meditated often. As with everything else, she wasn’t particularly good at it. She was always distracted by a nearby butterfly, or the wind ruffling her hair, or the sound of a fish jumping out of the water in the pond, but it didn’t stop her from trying. She spent hours practicing her meditation with, she had to admit, extremely limited progress. Still, she had to keep trying. Her people depended on her, so she never gave up.

Other children her age had experienced something of childhood, but Zephyr had not. She was the ward of Lady Fury, who everyone looked up to. Lady Fury schooled her personally in her own areas of expertise and brought in tutors to see to the areas she wasn’t as strong in. Zephyr was taught by the best of the best, which only highlighted her inferiority. So many of the other children could have benefited from this sort of personal instruction, but it was always an uphill battle for her. She really did try her best. She was desperate to prove herself, but each passing year made it harder and harder to believe.

Then, one day when she was seventeen, she went to the pond to meditate. Zephyr enjoyed meditating, she just wished she was better at it.

She sat with her eyes closed, breathing deeply, releasing her breath slowly, focusing on it, forgetting the distractions. It had taken a long time, but she felt she was finally getting the hang of it. Today in particular, it seemed like nothing penetrated the veil, and she was alone in the cosmos. She had no sense of time, so she didn’t have any idea of how long she had been sitting there when she heard the shout. Lady Fury was trying to warn her. She opened her eyes and right in front of her, only a few feet away, was a fraylian. She had seen the large, carnivorous cats at a distance, but they tended to shy away from people, unless they were hungry. The beast, green with yellow stripes, stared at her, perhaps wondering why she didn’t attempt to flee. But she was too close to get away so she just sat there, staring back.

Not that fighting was a better option. She wasn’t much good at it and didn’t have a weapon, thus she had no chance against the creature if it attacked. It was both too large and strong for her…but it just stood there, first looking at her, than looking around as if puzzled, sniffing the air uncertainly.

Zephyr wasn’t afraid. Perhaps the calm of her meditative state had followed her back to the real world. She continued her breathing and stared at the creature. After a few minutes, it turned and loped off across the grass, away from the kindred settlement.

Lady Fury was on her in a moment.

“Are you all right? That was amazing! Congratulations.”

Zephyr, still sitting, looked up at her, puzzled. “I didn’t do anything.”

Lady Fury looked frustrated for only a moment before breaking into laughter.

“I don’t understand,” said Zephyr, searching her mentor’s face for some clue as to what she had found funny.

“You turned yourself invisible, girl. That’s a very rare talent, even among kindred.”

Zephyr laughed with her. “I think I’d know if I turned myself invisible.”

“I’d think that too. We’d both be wrong. You’ve touched the ineffable, my girl. You should be able to hear us.”

“But I can’t…”

But even as she said it, Zephyr realized there was a humming in the background that almost blended in with the sound of the wind rustling through nearby bushes. Voices. There were voices. And then one voice emerged from the others, louder than the rest.

Congratulations child. I knew you could do it.

Lady Fury?

Of course. It will be interesting to see where your talents lie, but I think we have a pretty good idea of where to start. Because invisibility is such a rare talent, we don’t have a lot of information about what might accompany it, but we can make a few educated guesses. I don’t think anyone would have guessed that you would be a stealth specialist.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of one.

Very few kindred have such specializations. Well, I assume there are. There could be a lot and I just can’t see them.

They both laughed and, just like that, the tension of the long wait faded. Zephyr had been called. Her childhood, such as it was, was at an end, and it was time to focus on her progression. They called it the long journey, and it lasted a lifetime. From where she sat now, it was an open road that could lead anywhere. The thought of it thrilled her.

What happens now?

Nothing yet, but it won’t be long before the others start to notice your presence. There’ll be a lot of congratulations and well wishes, and until that’s done you won’t be able to focus on anything. But tomorrow, you’ll start the long journey. I strongly suspect yours will take you were no kindred has ever gone.

*

1119-1122 – Three Years Ago to the Present

Zephyr learned more quickly than she ever had before. She found becoming invisible was easy for her, even though others assured her that it was one of the harder talents. People had to train for years to master the ability, and even those that did, didn’t have her talent with it. Zephyr could become invisible at will and stay that way indefinitely, or at least, she had never reached her personal limit. Lady Fury theorized that her desire to be unseen due to her inferiority complex helped her, because she craved that anonymity so greatly. She had grown up burdened by unfair expectation, and when she couldn’t meet those challenges, all she wanted to do was hide. So perhaps it was no coincidence that invisibility was her first skill. It was not her last.

Over the years she learned how to move fast, to give herself crystal skin that would shield her from damage and cut anyone who tried to grapple with her. She learned how to move silently, and even consciously mask her scent, which she had apparently managed that first day when she had been stalked by the fraylian. Where she had never been good at anything before, she excelled at hiding and movement. No one alive could remember ever seeing her equal. Yet even this attention made her want to hide.

What she really wanted was to be free of the expectations and obligations that had cast a shadow on Zephyr for her entire life. She wanted to be like others and not have to shoulder a burden that she felt would be difficult even for a fully trained adult. But the burden was hers to bear, and so shoulder it she would. She owed Lady Fury at least that much.

She worked hard and honed her skills. She poured every bit of effort into learning, practicing every skill she could develop, even some that others thought she shouldn’t have. Her divination skills were rudimentary, but her abilities to detect various specific things like magic were quite strong.

The one thing she knew was that the skills she had were relatively useless on the island. Which led her to believe she would eventually have to leave, and that terrified her.

For almost three years, she pushed herself to the limit, impressing people that had all but given up on her. They should have trusted the prophecy more. They should have believed Lady Fury. But they had not, not really, and now, she would show them. Lady Fury had taken her in and taught her, had been patient with her, and Zephyr would not let her down…even if she didn’t know where her path would lead. To Zephyr, making Lady Fury proud was the most important thing.

One day, Lady Fury telepathically called her into her study, and Zephyr, who was in her meditation spot, stood and walked toward the house. It was, strangely enough, a day almost exactly like the day she was born, and she knew it, because others had been there.

Inside, she found Lady Fury sitting at her desk.

“Come Zephyr, sit with me.”

“Why are you talking?”

“Because it is too easy to eavesdrop on telepathic conversations.”

“Truly?” That didn’t make sense to Zephyr. How could you overhear conversations that only occurred in someone’s head?

“In any other place, this would not be true, but here on the island, with everyone having some sort of innate mental ability, it is. People won’t be able to hear us unless they’re close enough. A person adept at telepathy could hear us from the other end of the island.

“I didn’t know that was possible.”

“There is much you don’t know yet, but that is the journey, is it not? It never ends. Even I am learning every day. Some days, I think I know less than I did when I was younger.”

“Do you think that is true?”

Lady Fury chuckled. “No, of course not. But as I’ve gotten older, I realize how much I don’t know, which I didn’t always realize when I was younger. The gap of what I know compared to what I don’t know is always growing, even though I am always gaining knowledge. That is to say, knowledge comes into existence faster than I can acquire it, so the deficit of my ignorance increases always.”

“That sounds unpleasant.”

“And yet it is true for all of us. Do not be quick to be sure of yourself, because in this life you will be wrong as often as you are right.”

“But your prophecies always come true. Everyone says so.”

“My prophecies are always true when I interpret them correctly. In your case, however, I am relatively sure I have done so. You’ve already started your journey, but now your journey must take you away from this place. Away from the island. Away from your people. You must seek out Prince Eric and Prince Dahr of Twyl, and you must travel with them and serve them as you would serve me.”

“But who are they? And why should I serve these outsiders?”

“I don’t know. Prophecy doesn’t say why, only what must be. And you must serve these princes, for what needs to happen to occur. It is vitally important. They might ask you to do things you wouldn’t normally do, but you must be willing to do them.”

“Anything they ask?”

“Anything.”

“What if one of them wishes to have sex with me?”

Lady Fury chuckled again. “Anything really does mean anything, but I strongly suspect that won’t be what they ask of you. The princes are embroiled in a cosmic happening that transcends physical needs and desires. I do not know what they are going to go through, but in these matters, there is always a price, and I fear one of them will have to pay that price.”

Zephyr dropped her head. She did not want to leave Lady Fury, the only family she had ever known, but she was only here because of the prophecy and she would, of course, obey the calling.

“Lady Fury, how will I know how to find them?”

“You won’t. Just follow the way, and it will take you to where you need to be. You’ve been taught to see the signposts. You know how to read the psychic wind. You will find your way to them. Just let yourself go. Fate will guide you, as always.”

“Does everyone have Fate?”

“No. Only those so chosen. The special ones like you.”

“I don’t feel special.”

“So many of the special ones do not. I don’t feel special either, but I am honored above all other kindred for my prophecies. But now, it is time for you to eat and get some rest. Tomorrow morning, you will be gone.”

“Tomorrow? So soon.”

“It has been too long already. Get some food and get some rest. I will be there to see you off.”

And just like that, Zephyr was dismissed. She walked from the room, head buzzing, hardly able to focus on anything, but suddenly, she felt the urge to go to her room. To be alone. She sat on her sleeping mat, cross-legged and tried to meditate. It was hard at first. She had never meditated here before, though she felt that if she were to travel away from here, she would have to learn to meditate wherever her path led her. She might as well start now.

As the minutes past, the breathing helped her relax and she felt a presence. She opened her eyes and a woman she had never seen before stood in front of her.

Hello, Zephyr.

She studied the woman, who looked familiar. The long brown hair, the brown eyes, the shape of her nose she looked like…like Zephyr herself.

Mom?

More or less. I’m here with the kindred. I’ve always been here.

They say that, but I had always assumed it was a metaphor.

In some ways it is. All that I was, all that I knew passed into the collective consciousness. This is the essence of who I was.

Why have you waited so long to visit me?

Because you hadn’t asked for me, and now you have.

I did?

Your fear of leaving is holding you back. I’m here to allay your fears. No matter where you go, I will be with you, as I have been for all your life.

Zephyr felt a tear roll down her cheek. Her mother had been there, and she hadn’t known. So much wasted time. And yet not, for she would be there now when Zephyr needed her most.

You won’t leave me again?

I never left you in the first place. You were just unable to sense me. I am here now because you need me. Whenever you need me, I will be here.

Oh, mom.

The thought comforted her. Her mother would be there. And suddenly, Zephyr wasn’t quite as scared of leaving. But where would she go? Well, the first step was getting off the island, which meant the ferry to the mainland. Then she would see what clues the way would provide her. There would be some indication of where she was to go, of that she was certain.

And for the first time, she felt a tinge of excitement. Tomorrow she and her mother would make their way to the mainland, and she would start walking. Somewhere out there in the greater world were two princes that she was destined to serve. She wondered what they would be like. They, like her, had destiny. She hoped she’d like them. It would be awful to serve a prince she didn’t like, but she’d do it if that was the way.

As kindred, it was quite literally what she lived for.

*

Seventeenth of Learning 1142 – Present Day

“My name is Zephyr, and I am kindred. There are those who would say that we are not human, but they are wrong. We are simply humans that have rejected the gods. There is a lot the people of Thysandrika don’t understand about us, and so they fear us. Ignorance often stokes the flames of fear. We believe that we can be our own gods, find our own talents by following a path we call the way.

“It is not easy to explain the way to outsiders. In some manner, the way is our god, but it is not sentient. It has no desires. It has no agenda. Yet it gives us direction and purpose. We choose to follow the way, for the way protects us, or rather, we protect ourselves by following it. The way places us where we need to be. I have followed the way since I have been called, not because I have to, but because when I do, I benefit. When I don’t, I pay the price.”

“That sounds very much like a god to me,” said Chari.

“Perhaps. I know less about the gods than I should. Regardless, the way has led me from The Fellowship into a world I do not know much about. But I know everything every kindred knows, and so that information is always available to me. This makes me powerful. And that power makes others fear me. Fortunately my skill set protects me.

“I can become invisible at will, I can move quickly and silently, I can blur myself to make myself hard to hit, I can draw the attention of foes and then lose it just as easily. I can detect intent, class, level, magic, and danger. I can speak any language anyone of the other kindred knows, so I can converse with virtually anyone on Thysandrika. And even with all that, following the way is the most powerful of all my skills.

“The way has led me here, across a hostile landscape, through this dungeon, avoiding traps and creatures alike. It has led me to you, Princess Chari, and you, eventually, will lead me to Prince Eric and Prince Dahr. I know this with certainty, because the way has led me to you and this place at just the right time to help you defeat the pasdara. It would not have led me here if you could not help me fulfill my destiny.”

“I still don’t understand,” said Chari. “What are your intentions toward the princes?”

“I am here to help them in whatever way they need help. I will give my life to protect them, if that becomes necessary.”

“Why would a kindred want to protect them? Why do you care? How do you even know about them?”

“Our tasks are given to us by the council who rule the kindred. Lady Fury is my… I don’t think there is a word in your language. I am her ward, but also her student.”

“Like an apprentice?”

“Just so. That is as close as any description I have heard, though a master passes down their skills to an apprentice and in my case, that didn’t happen. My skills are my own and have nothing to do with Lady Fury’s skills. Her skills have to do with divination and prophecy.”

“Why is she called Lady Fury?” asked Kalutu.

“Our names are personal. I have never asked her, but I have never seen Lady Fury lose her temper.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Chari.

“My name is Zephyr, because a gentle breeze was blowing when I was born. My name does not mean that I am a breeze. Regardless, I have helped you and will continue to help if you will have me.”

“And if I won’t have you?”

“Then I will follow you until you lead me to Prince Eric and Prince Dahr, and I will offer my services to them directly.”

“And if I decide that you will not follow us?”

“Then I will vanish and follow you without your knowledge, though I would prefer not to do that.”

“And if I were to kill you now, so you couldn’t do that?”

“Then I would be dead. You will have thwarted the way, and what harm might befall the two princes will be on your head.”

“I only have your word on all of this.”

“That is true. But I did help you. You can not deny that.”

Chari sighed. She stared into Zephyr’s eyes as if there was some chance she could read what was written in them. For a long time, she didn’t say anything. When she spoke, her voice was somehow both resolute and resigned at the same time.

“Fine. You can come with us… but I’ll be watching you.”

“I would expect no less from you, Princess Chari. You are Sheba’s sword, after all.”

“And how do you know that?”

“I told you. I know everything that every kindred knows.”

“Are you saying there was a kindred in the throne room when Sheba said that to me?”

“Either that, or someone in the throne room gave the story to a kindred.”

“You people are scary.”

“We are misunderstood. You being afraid of us does not make us monsters.”

“That’s true,” said Chari, “but it doesn’t make you not monsters either.” 

 

 

The Book of Lost Wisdom continues with Chapter 16 – Divine Theater, coming soon