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The Lost Jewel
Chapter 1 – Disappearance
“There,” said Keira. “Come and take a look.” She was a tall, willowy blond of about 22 with a comely face and golden flecks in her light green eyes.
“Well,” said Wade as he eyed the large, dark red jewel in the well-secured glass case without too much interest, “it’s big. I'll grant you that.” He was a head taller than his companion and a few years older. His dark brown hair had red highlights and his eyes were dark blue. Together, they made a handsome couple. That is, if they ever were one.
“Not that big,” Keira retorted, laughing. “Some known jewels are twice as large, but they are not half that interesting. It’s the carving on it that makes it really peculiar.”
“Yea? And what about this carving?” he asked with half an interest waking.
“Well, they are signs that look like letters but in no language that anyone has yet managed to read, or even identify. Here, you see this magnifying glass? You can look at the carving through it! The signs may look Chinese, or perhaps like some ancient language in a kind of cuneiform. Actually, they are nothing like anything anyone had ever seen, nothing like any known language, neither modern nor ancient.”
“So, is anyone trying to find out what they are?”
“Well,” she hesitated a little, “I thought perhaps you could find something about this jewel on the computer, being the sort of expert you are...”
Wade transferred his gaze from the jewel to the girl, as if trying to decode her way of talking. They had only met a couple of months before, were attracted enough to each other to have become lovers, and still knew very little about each other.
The man shrugged. “I’m not that sort of an expert,” he said with a disinterest that dampened her spirit as a kind of rejection. This was dispersed the next moment with, “Can we discuss it over lunch?” It was, indeed, long after noon, and he had a class in an hour. Wade taught math at the College to which the Museum was attached and where she worked.
Keira nodded and led the way out of the Museum toward the cafeteria, which was situated between it and the main College building. Her part-time job at the Museum of Antiquities included sorting out some ancient manuscripts while she was writing her postgraduate thesis in social studies. Wade, whom she met at one of the College's parties, was working on his post-doctoral research on the philosophy of mathematics while teaching it to beginners.
The meal was quiet, Keira talking less than her usual habit. At its end, she handed Wade a note upon which the Jewel’s lettering had been copied, and he had agreed to check them on the computer at his leisure. They parted to go their separate ways, he to his class and she back to the Museum to do her job.
Dr. Green was both the founder and the present curator of the College Museum, having formerly been the head of the Department of Antiquities. The Museum was an unassuming building that stood at the edge of Campus. Inside, besides a number of small rooms for offices and other functions, there was just the one spacious Exhibition Hall where various artifacts of the Museum's collection were presented in a proper and impressive way, interchanging from time to time with other articles kept in store. Most artifacts showed the curator's special interest in magic or had some other magical usage. There was, for instance, a silver wand which had belonged to a Hindu wizard with a grand emerald at its top, carved with just one letter in Sanskrit; there was a golden hand – Hamsa – from Morocco, with Hebrew letters on it against the evil eye; there was a head of a monkey from the Amazon area with pictorial markings rather than letters; there was also an ancient Mesopotamian parchment with astrological signs in pictures and cuneiform. The garnet jewel, the origin of which no one was certain of, was the latest acquisition of this kind. Even the very knowledgeable Dr. Green was unable to decode the script carved on its surface.
Keira’s present job was to look through copies of some Mesopotamian manuscripts in order to put them in a certain order. She could not read the cuneiform text, but had been shown certain significant signs according to which she was to sort them out. The work was absorbing and she always tried hard not to make a mistake. The assumption was that the garnet’s carving could still have been based on some obscure Mesopotamian origin and he did not want to miss an opportunity to solve it. Although Keira’s official studies were in modern sociology, she had always been interested in what seemed to be exotic and obscure in ancient times. In her off moments, she thought that perhaps she should have majored in the comparison of living conditions in different periods of history rather than just one period. In the meantime, the work at the Museum allowed her the chance to absorb some of its magical atmosphere as a temporary emotional relief from her factual study.
It was late afternoon when Keira, having forgotten herself in her search, was aroused by the very unusual sound of the alarm which she had never heard before. She put down the manuscripts and went to inquire, thinking that perhaps one of the workers had just tripped the alarm by accident.
Walking along the corridor that led from the offices toward the Exhibition Hall, Keira ran into Dr. Green coming out of it. He was a portly man in his fifties who liked to keep his emotions in check. Now, in contrast to his usual calm and dignified behavior, he seemed to be all afluster, rushing about with his scant hair disheveled, his face red and his arms flailing about, speaking in unusually loud tones.
“It’s unbelievable! Where is Security? They are never there when needed! This is unheard of! Theft in broad daylight, and of such a precious item? Here, man, where are you going? What are you going to do about it?”
Hurrying toward the security chief who must have reacted to the alarm, Dr. Green almost collided with Keira. “What is it?” she cried out. “What has been stolen?”
The security man looked confused and alarmed, perhaps thinking about his own particular position as responsible for the Museum’s precious items on show.
“You wouldn’t believe it!” exclaimed Dr. Green. “It was so well-guarded in its sealed case with fortified glass and the alarm attached to it everywhere!”
“But what is it?” Keira insisted, as the three of them rushed into the Exhibition Hall.
“Aren’t I telling you? The garnet jewel!”
“But where is the man on guard?” asked the security chief. “What’s happened to him?”
“Blast the guard!” shouted Dr. Green. “I want to know how it could have happened!”
All three of them turned back into the Hall and stood before the jewel’s glass case, where the mystery seemed even greater. There was the guard, more confused and bewildered than hurt in any way. There was also the glass case, empty but without one crack in the glass.
“That’s impossible!" Dr. Green exclaimed. "The alarm went off! We all heard it, so the case must have been opened! How is it your man did not see anything, Chief? Was he off his duty somewhere?"
"Charly? Tell us what happened," the security chief asked the guard, who was standing a little apart from the group, visibly shaking.
"I was there, Chief; I didn't go nowhere. I tell you how it was. There was a mist, full of colors and a storm-like with thunder and lightning right inside the Hall. It felt as if it was inside my head. Then it cleared, and when I looked around, I noticed that the jewel was gone. That is when I pressed the button for the alarm, and that is all I know!"
A momentary silence fell on the group. "Storm? Mist? Do you mean to say that the alarm did not go off when the jewel was taken?”
The guard shook his head and said, "You haven't been drinking, have you, Charly?"
"Never! You know I don't take a drop when working."
"I hope you're telling us the truth, Charly, though it's not easy to take in. None of us have seen that mist or storm, but the fact is, the jewel is gone and there’s no explanation for it."
"Well, Chief, you take your men and make a good search in the whole of the Museum. I'll be in my office, thinking about it and what can be done."
A couple of hours later, when nothing had been found, Dr. Green decided to call the police. "Although, I'm damned if I know what to tell them!” he added.
By then, it was time for Keira to quit work. Having put her papers in good order, she thought for a moment, then picked up the phone and dialed a number. “Aunt Ofara? How are you? Look, I’d like to talk to you. Can I come to your flat this evening? Good. Also, can I bring someone to meet you? No, I haven’t taken him yet to my parents. I thought that perhaps you should meet him first. Yes, you know I appreciate your advice. Yes, all right. We’ll be there then. Bye.”
She paused again as she put the phone down and turned to the computer on her desk. The day before, she had copied a photograph of the garnet jewel’s carving, trying to find a match through the Internet. She made another printed copy which she put in her bag, shut the computer off, and left the museum without seeing Dr. Green again.
“This is Wade, Auntie,” Keira presented her friend, “and Wade, this is Ofara. You must be nice to her because she’s a Witch!”
Wade and Ofara shook hands, looking with interest at each other. Called a Witch by people who knew her, was a small, Ofara was a rounded, middle-aged woman with dark hair and eyes. She habitually wore clothes in equally dark colors. She invited her guests to sit in any of the chairs that stood around the living room, but Wade first turned to look at some of the mystical items that lay on some shelves around the room.
Keira dropped on the couch and asked, “Have you done any search for the garnet jewel as I asked you, Wade?”
“I barely had time for any serious search, but a superficial got me nowhere,” said the man as he turned away from the artifacts and sat in an armchair next to the couch.
“Auntie,” Keira turned to the Witch, “have you heard about, or seen, the mysterious garnet jewel at the Museum?” When the woman shook her head, Keira said, “Something happened to it today which is no less mysterious than the stone itself.”
“What do you mean?” Wade asked. He was a level headed man whom did not expect mysteries to exist outside, perhaps, detective novels.
“There is a garnet, Auntie,” she told the Witch, “which is carved with signs that no one, not even Dr. Green, can understand or decipher. At noon today, I gave Wade a copy of the script to see if he can get a match on the Net. Here, I have another copy here. Do you think you can read it?”
Wade looked at the girl, as if wondering about her question. Why should this woman, who did not even look like a scholar, be able to do something that educated people had not succeeded in doing? Keira shook her head as if she understood his doubts and asked him for patience.
Ofara glanced at the note and said, “Didn’t you say something happened to it today? Why don’t you tell us what it was, and then we can talk about the rest of it together?”
Her words could have sounded severe to the untrained ear, but knowing her aunt, Keira nodded, leaned back, and said, “It vanished.”
“You mean it just vanished into thin air?” Wade protested. “I’d just seen it there in its glass case! Have there been burglars? I should think the whole campus would hear about that!”
“But that’s the whole point!” Keira exclaimed. “There was no one! It just vanished from the case, which remained whole, and no one knows what happened!”
“I thought that something considered to be such a treasure would be guarded better!” Wade continued in disbelief.
Keira was silent for a while, not being able to answer Wade’s words or attitude. Then she said, turning more to Ofara than Wade, “You see, there is so much mystery around this thing, I can’t make head or tale about it. That’s why I’ve brought it to you, Auntie.”
“All right, then,” Ofara said. “I once heard about a magical garnet with a script carved on it. It’s not a story that you would easily believe in, but that’s all I know. I came across that information in the library at that witchcraft camp on the mountain that I once told you about...”
As she paused, Wade asked, “What's that story, then?”
“It's rather complex and not always very clear; there are a few different versions of it," the Witch remarked, "but the gist of it is that a stone like that was found a few thousand years ago in the jungles of Burma. A local magician acquired it and presented it as a gift to a powerful Witch. The Witch had it inscribed in a language that no one had spoken for a long time, so it’s impossible to read the inscription or understand what it meant. No one besides the magician and the Witch could tell what the gem’s power was; since such a long time has passed, it’s become nothing but a legend to speculate about. Now, you say a jewel similar to that one has been acquired by the College Museum? This sounds like such a remote possibility to me that I can hardly believe it. Have you heard about how our local Museum was able to get such a treasure?” Ofara asked Keira.
“I know nothing about its acquisition," Keira impatiently replied, “but I did think that you might be able to understand the mysterious writing, so I brought you a copy.” With that, she took it out of her bag and gave it to her aunt. “I have also given a copy to Wade,” she added. “Being the computer wizard that he is, I was hoping that he might be able to help me with this.”
“And you tried but found nothing, I understand?” Ofara asked the young man.
He shrugged. “I didn’t have much time to do it properly, just a cursory search, but are you telling me you can understand this script by some divination or something?”
His gaze was innocent, though his words were a little too sharp for comfort, but the Witch calmly responded, “We’ll see, but Keira, are you telling us the jewel just vanished? How did that happen?”
Ofara looked closely at her niece. Keira was the daughter of Ofara’s elder brother, a physicist whom insistently rejected the idea of having spiritual powers. Ofara suspected that Sven had similar talents of his own, but he denied their existence and refused to develop them. That was the reason why the relations between them were remote, but his daughter had been drawn to the company of her aunt from a young age. Ofara had sensed that her niece might have some latent talents and adopted her spiritually as her own possible disciple. This behavior might have caused trouble if the Witch, whose specialty was people, had not been able to manipulate these conflicts in a way that would allow such development. Still, for the time being, she kept any knowledge of Keira’s potential talents to herself because as though there was still plenty of time left before she had start the girl on her way of learning.
“It happened in such an incredible way, I can hardly believe it,” the girl said, and proceeded to tell the guard’s story to her companions.
“Did they call the police?” asked Wade, always practical.
“Eventually, they did, but I don’t think that would be any good. I didn’t wait to hear what they had to say; I just hope they don't arrest Charley. He’s definitely innocent.”
Ofara reflected for a while, then said, “I haven’t been to the Museum for some time, now, but it used to be run by Dr. Green. Is he still there?” When Keira nodded, she added, “I think I’d better go and talk to him. You’re right, Keira. That does not sound like an ordinary theft.”
“Do you think you might know something about it?” asked the girl.
“Not about the theft, or the vanishing, but if it’s the same garnet jewel I told you about, then it used to be famous for causing trouble and if possible, I would like to hear more about. For instance, how did Dr. Green happen to have it in his possession?”
“I have no idea,” Keira said, “but he can’t have had it for more than a short time because he put it in the glass case only a few days ago. He seemed very proud to show it to me. I don’t think he had any idea of its troublesome history.”
Wade had been listening quietly to Ofara’s story when burst out at last. “All these stories of magic!” he cried out. “Do you really believe in it?”
Keira looked at her friend, slightly offended, as if saying, ‘Do you see, Aunty, what I’m up against?’ Ofara smiled at him kindly.
“I won’t interfere in your relationships,” she remarked. “You’ll have to find your own level ground. As with magic, you don’t have to believe anything as long as you accept what you see and experience.”
“That can sometimes be a tall order,” said the mathematician. “I suppose you have heard of stage magicians and slight of hand?”
“I will not be offended by your approach,” Ofara firmly replied, “but being Keira’s friend, you must expect some happenings that you would not encounter otherwise.”
Wade fell quiet for a bit, then asked, “You see things, don’t you? Is that why they call you a Witch?”
Ofara laughed a young girl’s laughter. “You’ll find out for yourself. In the meantime,” she became serious again, “we’ll have to deal with the problem before us. Can you let me see that script, Keira?”
When she had the piece of paper in her hand, Ofara examined it very closely before closing her eyes. At last, she opened them and announced, “I’ll keep this note away from any accident. Tomorrow, we’ll go to the Museum together, both of you and I, and talk to Dr. Green.”
“Is it necessary?” asked Wade. “I have a class at noontime and much work to do besides.”
“It is necessary,” she answered. “We’ll have to be prepared for any eventuality, so you should be there with us. You are not Keira’s friend for nothing,” she added mysteriously.
When the young couple left Ofara’s flat a half an hour later, things seemed awkward for a moment between them. “Shall we go to your place or mine?” he asked at last.
“I’d like to be on neutral ground for a bit, if you don’t mind. Anyway, I’m hungry. Let’s go let’s go and have some dinner. I didn’t have much to eat today, with all that excitement.”
Over their food, though, Wade would not let the subject go away. “So, who is that Aunt Ofara,” he asked. “Is she really your aunt?” He did not look at Keira, and she was not quite certain that it was because he was too hungry to remove his eyes from his food.
“Oh yes!” she answered, filling her mouth and chewing happily, “She’s my father’s younger sister. They don’t have much in common, him being a dedicated physicist and she a Witch.”
“You say it so seriously! Does she do magic, or is she just evil enough to be called that?”
“Neither, not much – magic, I mean, because she’s certainly not evil. Actually, she the kindest person in the world. But she does see things, sort of; I’m not quite sure how she does it, not being a Witch myself, but people come to consult her. In her youth, I heard, she made astrological charts, but now, all she needs to do is concentrate, and she finds the answer, or goes places and such..." She obviously was unsure of her ground and Wade did not try to force her.
“Goes places...” he murmured, but did not press the issue. “What now, then?” he asked as they finished their meal and left the place. “Are we going to your place or mine?”
“Let’s go to yours; it’s closer. Tomorrow morning, I'll call her and we’ll arrange when to meet at the Museum.”
“The best time would be early afternoon if both you and Wade are able to be there; I assume that you’re both busy in the morning,” said Ofara when Keira called her the next day.
“I can be there after my class around two,” Keira said. “That’s my usual time for going to work from there, but Wade might be a little late.”
Ofara, however, came to the Museum much earlier. “Well, Sam, you’ve come some way since we knew each other at college,” she said to Dr. Green as she entered his office.
“Ofara! I haven’t seen you in ages! What are you doing here? Do any of our new acquisitions interest you?” He rose from his desk and came up to her, stretching both his arms and smiling down at her. They were lovers for a short time at college, but that was a long time ago.
The Witch allowed herself to be hugged, then said, “Is there any place to eat here? We can talk over lunch.”
“I prefer to have lunch brought to me at the office at this time. What will you have?”
As they sat comfortably on both sides of his desk, choosing their food, Dr. Green said again, “So, if you’re not interested in our items, what did bring you here?”
“My niece, Keira. I heard she works here.”
“Keira is your niece? I didn't know that. She works part time and seems a very talented and hard working girl. She’ll be here in about an hour.”
“I know, I’m meeting her, but first, I’d like to talk to you about that disappearing jewel.”
“Oh!” his face clouded. “So you've heard about that, have you? Do you know anything about that gem that can help us?”
“I know some of its early history. Well, if what I heard is true and if it’s the same stone. How did it come into your hands? It didn’t seem like an easy thing to acquire.”
“Tell me what you know and I’ll tell you how I got it,” the curator said, a spark shining in his plain gray eyes.
“I know some tales from a remote time, about its finding and handling. I know that it was first owned by a magician and then by a Witch. I also know a little bit about the carving done on its surface. I heard it was very powerful, both by itself and because of the signs on it, but the story got lost some hundred years later. So, how did you find it?”
“Hmmm,” the curator uttered, “I didn’t quite find it; rather, it found me...”
“Now, what do you mean by that?”
“I mean that it appeared one day on my desk without my doing anything about it, without my knowing anything about it. It was just there and I immediately sensed its importance – what, with its size and beauty, and then with that carving that I was unable to read. So, I put it in the well-armored glass case for everyone to see, and it vanished in the same mysterious way that it appeared, and I can’t tell why or how. All I know is that I hate to lose it after having it in my possession for such a short time.”
“Yes, I see...” Ofara muttered. “Well, I think if I concentrate hard enough, I'll be able to get the essence of what it says even though I can't actually read it; it feels like these marks carry a powerful message.”
“What? What?!” Dr. Green cried, getting agitated again.
“I tell you what, I prefer to wait for my niece and her friend to arrive before I dare utter the words aloud. I have a feeling we can do nothing in their absence.”
“I don’t know what you mean by that, but I’m willing to wait a couple of hours if it will help get the jewel back.”
“As for that, I can’t promise you,” Ofara said.
“You can’t? So what are we talking about?”
But that was all the Witch was ready to say for the time being. They continued to talk in a friendly way, mentioning old times and people they had known, and telling each other about their present occupation. At last, when the semi-ancient clock on the wall chimed two o’clock, they heard a slight noise from outside the office. Dr. Green went to the door and opened it, greeting, “Hi, Keira. Will you come to my office for a minute?”
She came in and was surprised to see her aunt settled down there. “Dr. Green and I are old friends,” the Witch said as an explanation. “Now,” she continued, reverting to the more important subject, “Keira and I will do anything we can to help you find that garnet jewel if it’s destined to be in the possession of this Museum. If not, we’ll try to return it to its proper place,” Ofara said to the curator in a serious manner.
“And how are you proposing to go about it?” He asked, staring at her in doubt and shaking his head as if he did not understand the meaning of her words.
“We still have to wait for Wade to arrive. I have an idea that we must have him here to help us in this search,” Ofara answered. “Can you call him on your cell phone, Keira, to find out where he is? In the mean time, let’s go into the Exhibition Hall and wait there. I want to see where it all happened.”
The girl did as she was bid, then, putting away her phone as she said, “He’s coming in a few minutes.”
The young man showed up pretty soon, joining the others in the Exhibition Hall, just opposite the empty glass case.
“Alright,” the Witch said. “Let the three of us get close together. There. Something may happen and I want us to be able to help each other.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Keira with some apprehension, at the same time that Wade asked with interest, “What do you expect to happen?”
"I have no idea. First, I have to concentrate and try to read the script aloud in the proper way; otherwise, nothing will happen at all. Now, be quiet, all of you."
Ofara closed her eyes and concentrated. "Can she really read this mysterious writing?" Wade whispered in Keira's ear.
"No," the Witch answered instead, "but I can divine its meaning. Now, be quiet." As she continued to concentrate, she started murmuring undecipherable sounds, then said softly, "This jewel has a name, you know. There it goes, Fo-l-ku-nd – Folkund. It has to be expressed aloud for the jewel to work. Then it says, 'Show-us-the-way.' That's it. 'Show us the way,' which is what you say after pronouncing its name."
"What happens then, Auntie?" Keira asked.
"Then we shall see. Are you ready to try it out?"
Keira nodded and turned to her friend, "Wade? Will you come with us?"
The young man shrugged. "Then, let us get closer together. Sam, stand away from us; you should stay behind.”
She looked at the note again, concentrated, then slowly and deliberately pronounced the words, "Folkund, show us the way!"
There was a flash of lightning and a roll of thunder as a heavy, colorful mist swirled around them, filling up the room. It got thicker and thicker until no one could see anything; then another flash of lightning and another roll of thunder...
Chapter 2 – Conceptions
They were standing inside of a twirling rainbow, the colors of which they found difficult to determine. After a while, time did not seem to have a meaning in this amorphous world, some of the colors began to dissipate, leaving behind others that became stronger and stronger. In the end, only various tints of green were left, giving the travelers the impression that they were in a vast forest.
They could see very well they were not in a real forest, as they could discern no definite shapes of trees or leaves. Vague figures that looked like trees grew tall around them, but they all seem to be one body with no clear lines separating individual trees; they were actually transparent, overlapping each other. Among those virtual trees, different sorts of life forms roamed here and there, moving not between the trees, but right through them and through any others that came in their ways. This whole world was one mixture of shapes and forms intermingling in a very chaotic way.
“This is very confusing,” Keira said as soon as she recovered from the initial shock of the swift transfer. “Can you distinguish any creatures you recognized?” she asked Ofara and Wade.
“If I’m not mistaken, these creatures, together with those trees, seem to be changing their shapes all the time. Look at that animal, passing through that tree – what is it? It looked like an oak just a moment ago, as far as I know what that is, and now it already looks like a pine tree, which is very different from oak; and that animal definitely looked like a bear, but now it has grown antlers and is almost a perfect deer... What is going on here, Ofara? Have you any idea?”
“And they are all green...” the Witch said. “I have an idea that all this is a kind of primal state of things, not finalized in any way. That’s why they are transparent and transforming.”
“This is a very strange idea,” stated Wade.
“As strange as this place is,” added Keira.
“It’s not a real place,” concluded Ofara, “more like a virtual one. I can almost call it a world of concepts, or conceptions, before they clarify and set into formal, permanent shapes...”
For a while, the three of them stood in their place, ruminating on Ofara’s idea and what they were seeing with their own eyes. Then Keira said, “Look, these green tints are getting brighter by the minute. Have you noticed?”
Indeed, the longer they stood looking, the brighter the green colors around them became, tending toward light, brilliant yellows. In just a short while, a strong sunny atmosphere infused the whole world, and even the vague lines between forms had disappeared. Instead of the virtual trees and roaming animal shapes among them, the travelers were now surrounded by stretching ground, blinding in its luminous hue. It was also full of rounded, shifting hills of sand-dunes, gleaming yellow in the light of an invisible sun.
The place was still silent, as was the green forest before, and in it roamed different kinds of creatures. They were monstrous in shape, crawling on the ground, digging in the sand, flying in various insects forms in the air which looked as yellow as the land. Keira, who hated bugs of any kind, cried out, “Auntie, can you do something about those?” Her voice, however, was not heard above that of the high sounding buzz around her head; and the reptiles crawling on the yellow sand hurried to hide themselves in holes they dug underground.
“With all that light, I don't see the sun at all,” Wade commented, and Keira was impressed by how cool he sounded. “What’d you think about that, Ofara?”
“I hate the desert!” Keira cried out. “Please, Ofara, do something!”
There was no need, though – and perhaps no use – for the Witch’s intervention; the desert scene, just as the forest before it, soon began to change as well. As if that yellow was not bright enough, it was gradually getting even brighter, finally turning into a gleaming white. The desert was soon gone, and together with its color, the forms belonging to it disappeared as well. The white glow shone on a completely empty space on the background of total darkness, creating an atmosphere similar to that of a full moon in a black sky at night. However, there was nothing that looked like a sky or a moon, but rather, an abstract environment of white glow and black frame.
There was also movement between them. Frightening, weird, mythological creatures seemed to have been created by the darkness and moved into light, their forms looking like silhouettes on the bright background. These strange forms were like those known only from legends, myths, and fairy tales. They moved about slowly and heavily like the night that created them, gradually changing their shapes and sometimes seemed to be attacking each other. One of them was getting very close to the three humans. Suddenly, it went right through Keira.
The girl screamed, clinging tightly to Wade who stood by her side. He hugged her, saying, "Don't worry, they don't seem to do anything to us. Let's wait and see what happens."
Gradually, however, these creatures caused the breaking of the clear lines between white and black. Each time one of them moved between black and white, strands of blackness would seep into the white, blurring the shape of the creatures, intermixing the two worlds; slowly, very slowly, in front of Keira's fascinating eyes, the two contrasting hues mixed together, creating one gray, shapeless, lifeless world.
For a while again, everything was just dull and barren, with no content at all. "This is so depressing," Keira whispered, momentarily preferring the danger of the mythological animals to this emptiness.
"I don't suppose it will stay like that forever," Wade remarked with a hint of sarcasm, "bearing in mind what's been happening in this world of conception before. What'd you think will happen next, Ofara?"
"I can only guess," the woman said, "and my guess is that this gray color is getting very much like blue…"
"I think you're right," Keira said slowly, sounding more cheerful.
"I agree that blue is a nicer color than gray," Wade said, "but what does it signify?"
"Well, usually blue in our world signifies water, doesn't it?" Ofara retorted.
"Water!" Keira cried out when, as if in answer either to her cry or Ofara's comment, rain started dropping on them from nowhere, as they had been unable to see the sky since they have been brought into this strange world.
Chapter 3 – Reflections
Very soon the rain became a heavy, pelting downpour that hit the travelers hard. Within a short time, they were surrounded by this new watery stuff with no escape. It fell from the invisible sky in sheets, creating a wet screen that didn’t just hide the world behind it – it was the world itself, covering the ground on which the travelers stood, streaming and flowing everywhere and in all directions. The three companions stood in the midst of the watery world, finding themselves rooted to the ground and unable to move away. However, in some mysterious way, they remained dry and untouched by all that wetness.
Gradually, there was a change again, heralded by Keira's crying out, “How wonderful!”
"What is it?" Wade asked, a little confused by the quick changes in their surroundings.
"Look at that! They're jewels! It's raining jewels!"
Indeed, some of the drops seemed to be made not of water but of precious and semiprecious stones.
"Such a rainbow of colors…" Keira murmured.
"Only half a rainbow," Ofara corrected. "If you notice, there are no red or any derivatives of red, only blue, yellow, and green drops."
"You're right," Wade agreed. "How do you explain it?"
"It's started already at the world of conceptions – missing out on the reds; these jewel-drops reflect this particular world, or the way we see it."
"So, having had our conceptions, we are now to reflect on them?" Ofara knew that Wade was only half-joking and answered only with half a smile.
In the meantime, Keira tried to catch the watery jewels with no success at all. Although they her body hard anywhere they landed, as soon as she stretched her palm to take hold of one, it directly dissolved and turned back into water.
"This blue world is a very disappointing one," she said at last. "I wish we can get out of it. It's very depressing without any kind of red tint in it."
"Be careful what you wish for!" Wade exclaimed. "You might even get it and be sorry!"
"I don't think I'd be sorry for anything just now," the girl replied with a spark she had not yet shown toward Wade.
Whether in answer to her wish, or as the nature of that world was, a change soon occurred again. The rain, which was falling on their heads from all directions, had gathered into one, creating a growing flow that soon acted to undermine their foothold. In a few moments, they were swept into a growing stream of water that ran with a great force, quickly becoming a strong river.
"Ohhh!" Keira cried out.
"Keira, try to hold on!" Wade shouted. "I'm coming after you!"
But there was nothing to hold on to for any of them. Ofara cried out, "Better let go and go with the flow, it's less dangerous." She did as she said, and the other two came after her. Keira relaxed, making no effort to swim as Wade did the same. Soon, they even felt the pleasantness of being carried by the stream as though they were on a cushion, not knowing or even thinking about where it might take them.
For a time, it was pleasant. Although the stream was strong, it did not feel violent, as if it had no intention of overpowering the wanderers, preferring instead to carry them along with its current. The streaming river kept its variety of reflected colors, the blues and yellows and greens that filled the world, granting it an atmosphere of calm and playfulness. There were also other creatures on the river being swept by the water together with the three humans. Fish of different sizes but the same hues jumped and skipped with the waves, dolphins danced around the companions, and otters popped their heads above and below the surface, their dark faces dotted the bright sheet of water.
Gradually, conditions changed. Waves began rising and frothing, the water no longer reflecting the world around it. Gradually, the waves rose higher and higher, even without any wind to move it. Some kind of upheaval seemed to be pushing from the abyss below, disturbing the previously calm surface. Keira felt as if an unseen enormous creature that lay on the bottom of the river was breathing hard in its sleep, heaving the water above. 'And what, would happen to us,' she reflected, 'if it woke up suddenly?'
With a desperate effort she swam against the flow, managing to get closer to her friend. “Wade?” she gurgled with her mouth full of water.
He swam toward her and stretched a hand, trying desperately to get hold of her. "I know. Ofara!" he called out to the Witch who had been carried on before them.
Ofara shook her head above the water. "There’s nothing we can do," he barely heard her say. "We have to surrender to the current and hope for the best.” There was nowhere to go, anyway - no ground to land on, even if they were able to swim against the current. They continued as they were for an immeasurable amount of time, Wade trying to support Keira mentally, as he was unable to do it physically.
Gradually, the current grew stronger and the animals were vanishing one by one. The river was gathering force, soon reaching a state of rage. The froth on top of the waves churned and seethed, the water sprinkling all over. A new threat appeared: Keira's imaginary monster from the abyss loomed on the surface, hideous and full of dread.
At first, they saw nothing but its hump, appearing like a big smooth mountain over the water. Keira shrieked, and Wade cried out to her. Ofara raised her arms above the water, as if trying either to call out to them or to drive the monster away by her power as a Witch. Then the beast's head loomed out, indescribable in its ugliness, and the three companions freaked out as if all was lost. For some long moments, chaos ruled as the monster churned the water into turmoil. No longer were there up and down, sky and water. Now, all was in a state of confusion as air and water mixed up into one medley. The noise that rose around them, both the monster's roaring and the elements shaking, was deafening.
Separately, the travelers were pushed up and down, one moment completely covered with water, unable to breath, and thrown up in the air the next with not even water to hold onto, to be bumped hard next into the water, sinking again. All three almost lost their consciousness, oblivious to how long it all took or lasted. Suddenly, the random muddle was gone, together with all traces of the monster, though not the force that drove the water. It all flew now in one direction, sweeping the travelers up with it faster and faster. The monster was gone, there was again only sky and water around them, but the force they were carried with now left them powerless and unable to do anything against it.
Soon, another fright overcame them. The direction the flow of water took now was down, and they realized it was going in a circle. 'As if we are going down one big funnel,' Wade thought, too breathless to utter his thought aloud. 'Can there be a hole in the ground into which we are being taken?' he asked himself, unable to give himself an answer. There was nothing he could do about it except continue to reflect, “Poor Keira for not having even lived yet…” It was perhaps the first time he was thinking of his friend apart from himself
This time, they lost consciousness, sinking into a blissful ignorance at last while being carried into the bottomless abyss.
Chapter 4 – Delusions
When they stirred from their oblivion, the water was gone. Down and down they fell, eons inside the black hole. Having been swept down the huge funnel, they seemed to have fallen into a dry hole and landed on the ground of an immeasurable dark cavern.
"Wade? Ofara? Are you there?” Keira was the first to groan out these questions, showing her concern both for her companions and herself.
"Here," she heard Wade rather shaking voice, then he added, "Ofara, have you any idea?"
"Are you alright, Auntie?" his friend added.
"I'm here," they heard the Witch's soft and calm voice, "though where ‘here’ is, I can't say, but at least we are dry, and it's quiet for a change.”
"Let's get together so we don't get lost," Wade suggested. "The water seems to have landed us at a distance from each other. Say something, Keira, so I can find you." His voice came from above their heads, as if he had stood up before talking.
“Do you think it’s safe here? This darkness is terrible,” said Keira as she also stood up, getting closer to where Wade’s voice had come from. Since being in the water and falling down into the abyss, they had not been able to touch one another, a comfort she had missed. They found each other at last in the heavy darkness, something to touch in this empty void with no walls to lean on.
“What do you make of this place, Ofara?” he asked, holding Keira tight to his body. “Have you any idea about where we are?”
“Under ground, I should say, and I should imagine quite deep at that. The main idea I have is that we have to get away from here. It doesn't feel healthy," Ofara stated with a deep sigh in her voice.
“I wonder why,” Wade said, and Keira wondered why he said that.
“You think there’s any meaning to this place, like those of conceptions and reflections?" Keira asked.
"I think we are in deep trouble, much like the depth of this place, that we don't know of yet," Ofara said.
"But how can we do it in this darkness?" Keira asked. "We can't even see where to go!"
She had not quite lost her faith in Ofara’s ability. In the secret depths of her own heart, she hoped she would never have the occasion for it.
“Let me see,” the Witch replied, falling into deep concentration. “I sense that there are caves dug out all around us, and I think there are people in them. If we can't find our own way out to the surface, at least we can ask someone."
“Do you mean to say that this place has been dug out on purpose? By human hand?” Wade asked.
“Yes, indeed,” she answered. “I’m not sure what the purpose was, but the usual one is looking for treasure.”
“What kind of treasure?” asked Keira, her heart in a flutter. She was not a greedy person, but the word 'treasure' held a romantic nuance of mystery and pleasure from her childhood, one from which she had not completely grown up yet.
The situation was difficult. The darkness was heavy and thick with a tinge of the moisture that is typical for underground places. Wade felt Ofara starting to move away from where they stood together. She moved carefully, and he could imagine her arms stretched in front of her so she could touch any obstacle before she fell over it. After a time that seemed eternal, he heard a faint sound and she said, “It’s mainly dirt, heavy soil-like clay which holds together, with rock chips imbedded in it. I'll see if I can find a direction in which to go in order to reach a way out of here.”
There was silence again, then the Witch said, “I think I know where we should go. Now, follow my voice and come over so that we can all walk together in the same direction.”
As she was talking, the other two carefully approached the place where she was standing. Keira held fast to Wade’s arm until he touched Ofara’s, whom then led him to the wall. They got into a line with the Witch leading, Keira following and Wade closely behind, walking in the direction Ofara had divined with the concentration of her mind.
In a short time, they found themselves in a much narrower corridor through which they slowly and carefully moved. They were now able to touch the walls on both sides which felt slightly moist and clammy; Keira would have preferred not to touch them at all, but did not dare take off her hand. With her vivid imagination, she saw all kinds of dangers waiting to attack them. Her heart pounded fast as she made a great effort to stay calm and not express her fears in any way.
They for a long time until Ofara stopped and said, “There!”
"I can spot a faint light!" Wade added.
They had a clear direction now, and though the darkness was not yet alleviated, they expected to reach a more illuminated area in a short time. At last, they were there. The corridor led them into another enormous cavern. The light in it came from many tiny fireflies that had been imprisoned in little cages which were scattered all around. There were, indeed, people in the cavern, as Ofara had assumed. They were laboring at the walls and paid no attention to the newcomers who stopped to gaze at those avid workers. These were digging at the cave’s walls with all kinds of primitive tools. The dirt that came out of it had been spread around to prevent it from accumulating and becoming an obstacle. In the center of the cavern, a heap of stones was piling up, evidently the same pieces of rock the worker had dug out of the walls.
“What do you think they are looking for?” asked Wade. “They seem already to have a great quantity of it, anyway.” He had released his arm from Keira’s hand as she stood beside him, looking with astonishment at the oblivious diggers, as he continued, "What do you think these stones are?”
“Well, they do look like some kind of gems, but I can’t see their color in this semi-darkness. You don’t think they are searching for our lost jewel, Ofara?”
“We can ask them,” Ofara said, showing no intention of doing that. Perhaps she thought it would be better if Wade spoke to these strangers, but he did could not tell why she was reluctant to approach them. Keira noticed that the workers were not talking to each other, too absorbed in their own doings.
Wade approached one of the diggers. As he touched the man on the shoulder, he turned to Wade in great surprise. “Oh!” He cried out, evidently not having noticed the young man before.
“Can you explain to me what you are searching for here?” Wade asked with great civility.
“Well," the digger said, obviously reluctant to stop his work even for a moment, “if you don’t know that, you must really be ignorant. We are searching for the missing garnet with the mysterious carving on it.”
“You know about that, then,” Ofara said.”
“The whole world knows about it!” the man replied, shaking his head. “It’s a great misfortune. We are doing our best to prevent any further disaster that may come on humanity as a result of this loss.”
At that time, Keira came up to the pile of gems and looked closely at them, picking up a stone and calling out, “Look! They are all garnets here!”
“So,” Wade said to the man, “if you already have all these garnets, then...”
“But none of them have any carving on it, as you can see!” the man exclaimed.
“But why do you think that carving is so important to the existence of the world?” asked Wade.
The man looked at him piteously, shook his head once more, and silently continued his silent work.
“Well!” Wade said, turning to his companions with an utter bewilderment on his face.
Ofara said, “I don’t think they know any more than that man said to you, you know. These people are obsessed with an idea. They are sunk deep in their delusions.”
“But can’t we ask them the way out of here?” Keira demanded.
“I should think,” her aunt answered, “that they know nothing outside their very narrow sphere of occupation. No, we’ll have to help ourselves in this.”
“You don’t think, then, that they have any chance of finding the carved garnet here, then, do you?” said Wade.
“Definitely not!” she replied. “Our particular garnet is one of a kind, not to be found in a mass of stones similar to it. We’ll have to look for it somewhere else, but first, we have to get up to the surface. Now, the question is, can how we go about it?”
“We need light,” Wade commented. “I don’t think we can continue without it, until we find a place which is illuminated from outside.”
“Yes,” Keira agreed with him, looking around her with concern. The place was oppressive. She immensely disliked being underground and unable to breath the free air of the surface. On the other hand, she was still attracted by that pile of gems, and garnet was indeed one of her favorite jewels…
The Witch sensed her dilemma and knew they had to push forward before it was too late, though she could not see for a moment what the danger was. “Let’s take a couple of these cages of fireflies to help us finding our way,” suggested Ofara. “I don’t think the diggers would feel their loss, and we can get away from here before they notice.”
“But where are we going?” Keira asked as Wade picked up two cages from the outskirts of the circle of light. Ofara kept silent until he came back and gave one of the cages to Keira. “Do you have any idea, Auntie?”
“We’ll find the way,” the Witch said. “Don’t worry, dear.” Her endearments were usually scarce, and Keira found a great comfort in this one. She fell silent and joined her companions as they started walking, soon leaving the diggers far behind.
As faint as the light of the caged fireflies was, the darkness was not so oppressive now, and the wanderers could pick up their way much more easily. However, the young couple had no idea where they were going, and the older woman was not talking. Again, they wandered for a long time, passing through many tunnels that not only twisted and turned but also branched sideways in all directions. Ofara was the only one who was able to pick a way through, and the others had no choice but to follow her, not being able to question or criticize, only to hope she was leading them in the right direction. The place was quite intimidating, forbidding any kind of normal conversation. They could see nothing of each other but shadows, and the faint light was barely enough to prevent stumbling if one did not look where one was going.
At last, and they could not say after how long, another faint light appeared at some distance ahead of them. However, it did not take them long to reach the place it had come from. It was a different kind of place from the digging area - quite spacious, strewn with small, rounded mounds, evidently made up of the same heavy soil mixed up with rock chips. A few people were walking aimlessly among the mounds, looking old and weak in their way of moving around.
Ofara said to her companions, “I have an idea that this is where the diggers come to when they grow too old to go on digging.”
“What do you mean? For what purpose?” asked Wade.
"I should say they come here to rest,” said Keira, “with all these houses here, though they do look rather small, as if a person can only sit or lie in it but not stand upright.”
“I don’t think they have a rest in our sense of the word,” Ofara said, darkly. “I have a hunch they don’t stay here very long”
“You think they go up to the surface somehow?" Wade asked. "In that case we can do the same."
“Not really, no.”
“What then, Auntie? You're frightening me."
The Witch made no answer, just motioned them to look around. A few people were sitting in front of the mounds, which Keira assumed were their houses. Ofara approached one of them and said, "Good day. Can you help us?”
“Is it a day, then?” the man asked in a hoarse whisper. He did not look so old as much as completely worn out, and his gaze never met the person that was talking to him.
“I think he’s blind,” Wade whispered to Keira, then saw the man turning his face in his direction.
“Yes,” he said in the same weak, rasping voice that seemed to fade into the heavy earth. “When you stop digging, you don’t need your eyes any more...”
“And what happens then?” asked Keira with a tinge of sympathy mixed with her curiosity.
“We are looking for a way out of this place,” Ofara said decisively, not wanting to get into a discussion of these people's future which she could well have imagined.
“There is no way out of here, this place is forever...” His voice was so weak they could barely hear him now. For a few moments, the travelers looked in silence at the former digger and gradually, he seemed to be fading away like his voice.
“Hey!” Cried Wade, “What is happening to him?” At the same time Keira uttered a whimper, saying, “Auntie, do something about it!”
“There’s nothing anyone can do. He’s going back, joining the earth he’s been digging all his life. I expect his flesh will turn into the heavy soil and his bones into the chips of rock inside it...”
“But that’s horrible!” exclaimed Keira.
“It’s one kind of death, like any other...” the Witch said.
“I knew we were inside a kind of fantasy book, but I hadn’t realized what kind,” Keira murmured, more to herself than to the others.
“Yes,” Wade agreed with a short, hard laugh, “the kind where your delusions die when you stop dreaming them up... So, Witch, what do we do now?”
“Now,” Ofara explained as calmly as possible, “we get out of here the same way we have arrived. Let’s get as close together as possible and hold our hands, as we have done before. All right, now!” She closed her eyes and concentrated, then uttered the words of the script on the garnet jewel: “Folkund, show us the way!”
Chapter 5 – Aspirations
In a flash of lightning, a roar of thunder and under the cover of a colorful mist, they were there.
“Ahhhh!” Keira emitted a long sigh. “What is this place?”
“It seems,” Ofara remarked, “we’ve really got ourselves on high ground this time. Perhaps you could yet fulfill your aspirations, Wade?”
“I’m not sure what kind of aspirations you’re talking about, Ofara,” Wade said doubtfully, looking around him with growing curiosity.
They were, indeed, much higher than they had been a moment before; not just above ground, but actually at a certain elevation from ground level on the slope of a mountain. From where they stood, they could barely see the ground level far below because of the mist that lay everywhere.
Now that, Keira thought, is a real miracle, but at least we’re out in the open!
Perhaps too much in the open, as the weather here was not pleasant at all but rather violent. Strong winds and drizzle mixed with snow fell harshly on their light clothing and touched their skins with stinging fingers. They were completely exposed, as no shelter could be seen anywhere.
“What are we supposed to do now?” Wade demanded.
“I don’t think anything we are going to do is going to be easy,” said Ofara as she wiped her face and tightened her clothes around her body.
“I suggest we start on our way down as soon as possible; we must be able to find shelter at the foot of this mountain,” Wade commented.
“I don’t believe that’s what we are meant to do,” the Witch answered, searching around with a gaze that seemed to be looking inward as opposed to her surroundings. “I think we should go up this mountain, not down.”
All three looked around them. The rain was not as heavy as in the water world, and through it, they could see other people on the slope. All of them were going up it rather than down.
A woman not far from them saw their confusion and talked to them as if she was trying to cheer them up. She was a solid looking person who did not seem to mind either the rough weather nor the place she was at. “You must put all your efforts in climbing,” she said in a rough voice. “Otherwise, you will be done for.”
“Done for? What does that mean?” Keira asked, clinging to Wade’s arm and holding it fast.
“It means,” explained the woman calmly, “that whoever tries to get out of climbing up is in for a few surprises.”
“What kind of surprises?” Keira asked, adding in a whisper to Wade, "She frightens me, that woman."
“But what is the purpose of climbing this mountain?" Ofara asked. "Are all these people looking for the carved garnet stone?”
“Ah,” said a man on their other side, “you know about that also, do you?” He had obvious difficulties keeping his hold onto a rock in the attempt not to slide down, as the wet ground was getting more and more slippery. He had much more difficulty in climbing than the woman; his feet continued to slip off from under him. At last, he stopped struggling and sat down for a moment on a wet rock protruding from the mountain’s surface.
“What do you know about the missing garnet, then?” asked Ofara, looking at him closely. Although his dreamy eyes made him seem like a likely soul to go after such a treasure, his body did not look hardy enough to withstand many hardships.
“I heard it is best to search for it on heights, the place where a man’s aspirations usually yearn for, but I’m really not used to this kind of physical exertion. I wish I could fly directly to the top of the mountain instead of slaving upward in this way.” He lifted his arms as a gesture. At once, they turned into a pair of bird’s wings which carried him upward. His feet rose from the ground, changing into talons as his body shrank to the size of an eagle. In a flash, he soared up into the sky and vanished from their sight.
The three travelers stood looking after him with their mouths open.
“Well, I never!” gasped Keira. “May be that’s what we should also do?”
“Not on your life!” Wade replied, holding her arm tight. “What do you think, Ofara?”
Before the Witch could answer, they saw a little old woman. She was visibly frightened and crouching under another rock when she said in a soft whisper, “I’ve had enough of that. I’m going down.” As she let herself slip down the slope, her body shrunk and she quickly assumed the shape of a lizard to slide among the boulders down the mountain.
“I think,” Ofara said, belatedly answering Wade’s question, “if we want to stay in human shape, we should make the effort and climb this mountain the way that other woman suggested.”
So they did, and as Keira remembered it later, it was the greatest physical effort she had ever gone through in her life.
It was a very hard climb, but not a forbidding one. The slope was a regular mountainside, not a cliff, which would have required ropes and experience. The main hazards were slipping on a rock or an avalanche of stones rolling down the slope, mainly those turned loose by climbers up above them. The three travelers lacked experience in any kind of climbing, and they had been living the physically idle life of the city and at college, so it was a new kind of experience for them. They had to learn this new skill while working at it, paying great attention to where they put their feet so it does not slip on a rock or get caught between two jutting points. They were forced to use their hands for support and not to be afraid of getting them dirty or scratched, and to forget about the nasty weather that was getting into their faces, on their bodies, and through their light clothing so as to not loosen their grip on the task before them. The higher they climbed the worse this weather became, becoming heavy and overcast, the wind getting stronger and stronger, and the rain thicker and penetrating. This time, in contrast to what happened in the water world, their bodies and clothes did get soaking wet while the soil they were treading had turned muddier and stickier by the minute.
As happened before, here too the world around them seemed to be standing still, only their climbing effort was real and unrelenting. They grew more and more tired, their breath came faster and shallower, and the air seemed to be getting thinner and thinner. They were going through a living hell, without knowing when and how to put an end to it. Once, they have caught up with the same solid woman that had passed them before, and Ofara turned and asked her, “What is up there, at the top of this mountain, that is such an important goal for people’s aspirations?”
The woman gave her a mystified look. “You don’t even know why you’re going up there?”
“We’ve been brought here by some force beyond our control. So, do you know the answer?”
“Of course I know and that’s why I’m going up there,” the woman said with a tinge of contempt. “It’s the Realm of the Gods!”
“The Realm of the Gods!” Ofara exclaimed. “Indeed! Did you hear that, children?”
“The Realm of the Gods!” Wade echoed. “I think, Keira, our fantasy world is getting better and better! Don't you think so?”
“I don’t have enough energy to think,” his friend sighed.
“But what do we have to look for at the Realm of the Gods in which I, myself, don’t even believe?” he demanded.
“One must have a goal!” Ofara admonished. “Anyway, as things are I don’t see that we have much choice one way or another, so we’d better go and find out, and the sooner the better.
The three friends continued on their laborious climb, hoping to arrive at their unwished-for goal before their strength runs out. In a short while, they were taken over by a group of youngsters who seemed full of energy and paid no attention to the hardship. They were making much noise singing and calling out to each other, incapable of answering any question that might be put toward them. As soon as they seemed to have vanished in the heavy weather, the three travelers noticed a flock of birds rising from among the rocks and flying into the clouds above. These youngsters would never, then, reach the Realm of the Gods, was the thought passed through their minds.
They then passed an old man who seemed to be in great difficulty, and wondered how he had got as far up the slope as he had. Wade felt he must ask him about this effort he was making and said, “Do you have any idea why you are taking this task on yourself?”
The man did not even look at him. As they passed him, they heard him say to himself over and over again, as if encouraging himself, “Up, up, and away! Up, up, and away...” But his voice was getting weaker and weaker as his paces grew slower and slower. In the end, as they had left him a short distance behind them, Keira looked back and saw him stop altogether. A minute later, a little mouse took the space where the man had been standing, running and skipping down the slope before vanishing among the rocks.
It was at that moment that the worst of all happened. A largish stone came rolling down, probably having gotten loose underneath a climber's foot. It hit a rock, jumped up in the air, and came down on Wade’s head. Before realizing what happened, the young man was outstretched on the ground. In her alarm, Keira shrieked and came up to him, Ofara joining her at once.
"Quick, quick!" Ofara cried out. "Get him up, before he turns into a mouse as well for stopping the climb!”
Keira, full of confusion and fright, took hold of Wade's head shouting at him, "Wade! Wade! Get up! Come, wake up! We must continue! Oh, Auntie, what shall we do? I can't wake him up. He's all lost! Oh, Wade! Wade, I love you so, please wake up. I don't want to live without you!"
"Here," the Witch said, as calm as could be, "you hold his head up and I'll try something." She just stretched her hand and touched the man, murmuring a few words. Suddenly, he shook himself and opened his eyes. "What? What? What's going on?"
Ofara gave him her hand and, with Keira's help, made him stand up. "You have to continue. You can't even have a short rest. I'll help you as much as I can."
It was their luck that they had almost reached the top of the mountain. The slope had eased somewhat, becoming smoother and less steep. Helped by the two women, together with Keira's love and Ofara's magic, Wade managed to drag his feet forward and upward until at last they reached a flat ground covered with such a thick mist, they were unable to see their way anymore.
"I think we must have arrived and can rest now, and let Wade recover his strength."
She let go, though Keira kept her arms around the young man's body, wishing that her aunt was right and they were not going to slide down the mountain.
Chapter 6 – Visions
When they were fully rested, and Wade's face that had turned white after the accident had resumed its normal color, they decided to go on walking. After all, there was nothing for them where they were. They took a chance direction, as they were unable to see anything in that heavy mist. Then they noticed that its naturally light gray hue was gradually turning gold. At the same time, it was also becoming less thick, so instead of hiding everything, it revealed the sights around them as if covered with a transparent film of gold, making everything look gloriously regal.
"Ahhh," Keira uttered as a sigh of pleasure.
Wade laughed. "It does look like the abode of the gods," he said, softly, giving Keira a strong hug,"and, you know, you fit right in."
Keira gave him a wondering look but said nothing. "I wonder what we can find here," Ofara remarked. "I can already see plenty of red jewels about, just like in the Land of Delusions."
Looking more closely, everything looked chaotic in the Realm of the Gods; various figures walked about, all dressed up in gorgeous attires, covered from head to foot in a large quantity of jewels of all kinds and tints. These people looked haughty and difficult to approach, paying no attention to the new strangers among them.
“I don’t see any of our fellow climbers here,” Wade commented.
The Witch said, “I think it’s because, though people may share many aspirations, their achievements are always individual.”
“Look at all these jewels, Auntie!” Keira exclaimed. “I’ve never seen such a colorful, shiny medley of stones on people!”
“Yes,” Ofara said, slowly, “and many of them wear red in particular, as if it were the color of divinity.”
"How can we find out, then, which red jewel is the one we are looking for?" asked Wade.
"I agree it's not easy to approach these personalities," Ofara said. "We'll have to find one that would not be so difficult. As a matter of fact –"
"You have an idea," Keira completed her words.
"I have someone in mind, yes. The problem would only be to find him in this crowd. Let's walk about and look around, as we may meet him on the way."
"But who are you looking for?"
"I'll tell you when we find him. I'll try to get him through my mind. It will be easier."
Ofara closed her eyes, while the others looked around and whispered to each other. The hostile environment made them get closer together, and Keira felt grateful for Wade's company. Somehow, she was gradually getting more sure of his friendship toward her, causing her heart to open more to what always seemed like his dry and rational attitude, not only toward the world at large, but even toward herself.
A faint sound of music interrupted their thoughts. "That's lovely!" Keira commented.
"Let's go in that direction,” instructed Ofara
A picture rose before their eyes: the vision of green woods interspersed with dots of red flowers. Different kinds of creatures moved among the trees and shrubs, not god-like but half-animals. They were swift and agile, dancing to the music, hugging and kissing each other. One larger figure loomed among them, brown and furry, unclothed and obviously male. He was crowned with motley of jewels, all green and blue and yellow, with one large red gem between the horns that sprouted from his high brow.
"Pan...” Ofara whispered.
"Is he the person you meant, Auntie?" asked Wade, unconsciously slipping into that title.
"We should get closer and try to attract his attention. He is the one god with whom, at least at first, we can try to talk safely."
As they were getting near the wood and its inhabitants, Pan suddenly noticed their existence. "Ha, strangers!" he cried out in a strange, animal-like voice. "Have you come to take part in our revels? Welcome!"
"I'm afraid we have no leisure for that, Honorable Pan," Ofara said with her voice full of reverence. "We are on a search and we thought that perhaps you could help us. I can see the great red jewel on your head, and perhaps you know something about such kind of jewels."
"Why, yes," he replied, looking at them with curious eyes below his heavy brows, "I wear this red jewel to signify the pleasure I appreciate in my life. Is that what you are looking for?"
"No. We are looking for a special garnet jewel with some inscription on it. I don't suppose yours has any inscription, does it?"
"What should I do with inscriptions? The red color of pleasure is enough for me. You'll have to search for it somewhere else."
"Would you by any chance know of other red jewels belonging to deities?"
"You can ask Amaterasu, the Sun goddess. She also wears a red jewel and she sees everything from her high place, while we are rather secluded here in this forest."
With these words, the forest vision with its trees, shrubs, red flowers and dancing creatures started to fade. Only Pan was left behind, covered with the golden mist of the Realm of the Gods.
"I suppose, in this land of visions, eyes are not good enough and I must find people with the aid of my mind," Ofara murmured as she again closed her eyes in attempt to locate Amaterasu.
"Who is she?" Keira asked. "I've never heard of such a Sun goddess."
"As I understand it," the Witch told her companions. "She is the all-powerful Japanese Sun goddess. I understand that she controls all life and is very beneficent, but also very strong and even cruel on occasions, like many suns are, for that matter."
Ofara kept her eyes closed as she concentrated on the intention of finding Amaterasu. After a while, the golden mist intensified and spread until it covered everything. A red spot soon appeared in its center. Gradually, it clarified until it looked like a fantastic cloak worn by a feminine figure that had no clear limits. It flashed and sparkled in all colors, blinding the watcher's eyes. As the picture slowly cleared, they saw was a very tall figure, dressed in the red, pink, and orange colors of sunrise and sunset. She was wrapped in glowing rainbow colors that emerged from her inner core while wearing a giant ruby set in gold on her shiny black hair. Her face was stern, and her golden eyes were so blinding that it was impossible to look at them.
Keira felt intimidated, and even Wade felt his heart getting a little unsteady in front of such glamorous royalty.
"I think," they heard Ofara whisper, "I will try to speak in my mind rather than talk aloud to such exalted figure. Keira," she added, looking at the girl in a strange way, "I think if you make an effort, you may be able to follow our mental connection. Try it." Without giving her niece a chance to object, she closed her eyes and concentrated. For a second, Keira looked at her, then closed her eyes as well. At first, there was nothing in her mind but rumbling, but then she began to discern words, the meaning of which she tried to decipher.
At first, there was nothing but expressions of worship that were concluded with Ofara's words, "Your glory, would you kindly help us in our need?"
The Goddess's reply rang in Keira's mind as a burst of multiple sound, accompanied by a multiplicity of colors. With an effort, all that she managed to unravel was, "I always help those in need. What is it?"
"We can see that red is an important hue for you. We have lost a red jewel that is important to us. Could you have an idea where it can be found?"
"Red is my color of pride. There won't be any sign of royalty without my red cloak. I don't go in for jewels, for they are base and superfluous. You’ll have to look somewhere else."
With these words, the vision began to fade. Ofara cried out, "But do you have any idea where we should look for it?"
"Try that bloodstained entity, Mars. He certainly has some idea of the redness of things." Then the figure vanished, leaving behind a tint of redness over the golden mist.
"Well!" Ofara exclaimed, then looked at Keira. "Well?"
The girl blushed, then looked at Wade. "You mean to tell me you heard their mental conversation?" Keira nodded. "Well!" he said in astonishment, then added, "Well, I don't care. What did that blasted goddess have to say?"
"She was good enough to tell us to ask Mars," Keira told him.
"Mars, the War god?"
Both women nodded. Ofara barely closed her eyes to concentrate as a terrible sound of explosion tore the air. Fragments of redness invaded the golden mist and Keira screamed. Wade, shaking in spite of his calm façade, took hold of her and said in a strangled voice, "Ofara, it looks like blood…"
With eyes wide open, the Witch shakily responded, "Don’t forget that it's just a vision. Nothing we've seen up till now was real except the figures themselves, and I'm not sure about those, either, since they were all visions of the gods as we fancy them."
At that moment, an enormous figure appeared from the mist in a motley of various shades of red, making up a shiny armor that covered it from head to toe. It stood before the wanderers, gazing at them from its tall frame as it rumbled a rolling, unclear sound. Keira clung even tighter to Wade as he wrapped her in his arms. Ofara tried her best to overcome her natural alarm and address the intimidating figure.
"Honorable Mars," she said, trying hard to control the trembling of her voice, "we can see your mark is mainly red. We are looking for a lost red jewel, but you are not wearing any jewels. Can you help us?"
"Jewel?” the giant roared. “What have I to do with ornaments? My business is blood, red blood, and the fury and rage which are naturally red. Who is the fool who sent you to me? Let me know so I can squash him like the bug he is!"
The rumble of his voice continued to roll long after he stopped talking. Ofara just waited for it to soften before saying, "Forgive us, mortals, for not knowing any better. We are leaving." She signed to the young couple who then let go of each other as all three of them left as quickly as possible away from Mars without noting their direction. To their relief, as soon as they showed their intention of leaving his company, the furious god himself vanished, trailing a mixture of redness behind him.
"I can't say that I wish for any more of this kind of experience," Keira whispered, her voice still quavering. Wade caressed her shoulder in encouragement.
"It won't be necessary," Ofara replied. "I should have known not to call him."
"But who shall we see now?" Wade asked. "This one didn't even try to be helpful as the others were."
"I think we'll try the antidote," Ofara suggested.
"What'd you mean?" Keira asked, recovering.
"I am thinking of a Moon goddess, one whose energy contrasts to the Sun goddess. We've had two burning deities, so perhaps we should try a cool one for a change."
"Which Moon goddess would you call?" asked Keira. “As far as I know there're quite a few of them from all over the world."
"You're right. I think I'll just send a general call and see who is the nearest to us, or perhaps whoever is most interested in answering our need. They are all quite kind so it may not make any difference."
"The moon is magic, you know," Keira whispered to Wade. "I'd love to meet such a goddess and see what she can do."
"I told you about being careful of what you –" Before finishing his words, the young man stopped and stared. The golden mist around them was gradually turning silver as a chill hung in the air. Goosebumps formed all over Keira’s skin. As she touched Wade's arm, she could feel his teeth chattering, as if his unspoken thoughts were, I don't think this is a very pleasant magic.
Following Ofara's concentration, a figure appeared out of the silver mist, barely visible as it was all silvery itself aside from her face, rounded and red like the full moon when rising over the horizon.
Ofara made a low bow full of reverence and said, "Honorable Hathor, or Hecate, or Astarte, or Nikkal, or whatever name you call yourself by - would you be willing to help us, your humble worshippers?"
I suppose I do worship the Moon, Keira thought, but I would never know how to express it.
Wade, on the other hand, stood dumb. He had never worshipped anything or anyone in his life, but even he was able to feel the power of the Moon goddess's magic and kept silent.
After a while, which lasted forever in their imaginations, the goddess spoke in a voice that was stranger than anything anyone had heard before. It contained all the sounds of rippling water, the howl of a wolf, the rustle of leaves in the forest, and the scream of a wounded animal.
"I like to help my worshippers," she said, "as long as they are true and faithful. What is your request?"
"We can see that your face is the red of the rising moon, but you wear no jewels. We are looking for a red jewel that we have lost, and we thought that since you are such a powerful and all-knowing goddess, you might have knowledge of its location."
"This garnet jewel with its peculiar script – indeed, I know all about it except its present location. I can see that the jewel itself has a reason for attaching itself to you, but I do not know this reason. There is only one deity that can help you in that, and she sometimes finds herself in my position, but on the whole, she spreads herself much more than I care to do."
The multi-named Moon goddess stopped talking, but the strange sound of her voice continued to flow everywhere.
"Who might be that all-powerful goddess who is more than a Moon goddess, Your Highness?" Ofara asked in a humble voice.
"She is Isis. I'm sure you must know her well, Witch, as she is your own goddess." With these words, the figure of the Moon goddess did not wait for a reply before she dissolved and disappeared into the silver mist that wrapped the realm in her presence. At the same time, the mist reassumed its golden hue and the wanderers, who had held their breath while she was there, could breathe freely again.
"Isis! I should have known!" Ofara sounded as if she was chiding herself.
"Will she be easy to approach?" Wade asked.
"I don't know. She is the greatest, but also the kindest of all the gods. She is the most powerful, a killer and a reviver, and I'm sure she knows everything there is to know. Perhaps that is why I haven't tried to approach her first, attempting to talk to the lower ones first. Well, we got that answer and we have to turn to Isis now; but first, let's have a break before we do that. I need a rest from our previous experiences."
"Do you think we can get something to eat or drink in this place?" Keira timidly inquired.
Wade laughed, suddenly planting a kiss on the girl's cheek. "I wouldn't mind that, either. Still, I doubt it."
"We'll have to be satisfied with a rest until we get to a more natural place," Ofara agreed. "Let's sit down for a while and do nothing."
Wade stretched himself on the ground and Keira sat down close to his middle. He took her hand and played with her fingers until she said, "Wade –"
A brief moment of silence followed.
"I don't know. I just like to say your name."
"Do you like this adventure?"
"I wasn't sure at first, but I feel better now," she paused, then added, "I think it's because you're here with me."
"Yes –" he agreed, eventually adding, "me too."
"Shhhh!" she hissed as she collected her hand. "Look, Auntie is concentrated again."
The Witch had risen, and thus, so did her companions watching. "I wonder what the new one looks like," Keira whispered but her friend shushed her. Silence fell, and for the first time since they reached the Realm of the Gods, the girl felt no fear, alarm, or apprehension, but a sense of awe, even before any sign of the expected appearance.
The atmosphere changed. The golden mist assumed other colors before it started dancing around the visitors. Gradually, this dance got wilder and wilder in its pattern, getting here and there and flying in every direction. After a while, a clear pattern was achieved; it was in the ambiguous shape of a person, still with undefined borders. It could’ve been a woman or a man, a strange kind of animal or a plant, or any abstract shape. It was made of many colors instead of any kind of garment, but the very essence of that person until, at last, the goddess stood before them in all her glory.
"Honorable Isis," Ofara said as she opened her eyes. The figure, which had been rising to a height well above the humans' heads, soon shrank to their own level. A face appeared on its top with features that seemed to be made out of jewels. One eye was a green emerald, the other a blue sapphire; the cheeks were pink coral, the hair strands were made of gold, and the ears peeping underneath it were soft, white pearls. The mouth was a red garnet that sparkled when the figure spoke.
"Ofara the Witch, I know you," she said in the sound of the blowing wind, "but I've never expected you to appear in the Realm of the Gods. Who are your companions and what is your request?"
"The queen of all deities, Isis, this is my niece, Keira, and her friend, Wade. They are helping me in searching for a lost garnet jewel with an inscription on it. Do you know anything about that jewel and where it might be? It vanished without explanation from its place at the museum and we would like find it, or at least understand the meaning of it all."
"This garnet jewel, Folkund by name, is a sister to my own," the garnet mouth said. Keira looked on, fascinated at its movements. No jewel she had ever seen had this kind of flexibility. "I know its intention and the meaning of its script. You should know it, too. Its mission is to help people who have good intentions, but not enough mental power to fulfill and realize those intentions, so it does not get lost in the void."
"Are you saying that about Keira and Wade?"
"You know the answer to that question better than I do."
"But why was the jewel lost? How did it disappear?"
"Its loss has made you come after it, going through great hardships for the purpose of finding it. That was the purpose of its vanishing, which has now been complete. It's time for you to go back home."
"Go back home?! Without the jewel?!" Keira exclaimed. "But we haven't achieved anything! We don't know where the garnet is and how to get it back!"
The goddess turned to the girl, who cringed before the fierce gaze of the jewel eyes, "If you keep your doubts, young woman, then you'll never find neither the jewel nor your purpose in life."
"Come on, Keira, we've done as much as we could. I also think it's time for us to go back home. What'd you think, Ofara?"
The Witch looked at the young man with an inscrutable gaze, then turned to the goddess. She continued to hover above them with her multicolored figure that filled up the world. "Thank you, Isis. You've been very helpful and we are extremely grateful to you."
They waited until no trace of color was left to tint the golden mist that returned to clothe the Realm of the Gods. Ofara then closed her eyes and pronounced the words inscribed on the garnet jewel, "Folkund, show us the way!"
Amidst the flashing lightning, rolling thunder, and colorful mist, the three wanderers were back in the Exhibition Hall at the Museum of Antiquities. They found themselves standing next to Dr. Green, who looked at them in wonder. One look at the sealed glass case showed the magnificent garnet jewel lying at its center, sparkling in its dark red hue.
"What's happened?" the curator cried out. "Where have you been?"
"We went to look for the garnet jewel," Keira said, amazed, "and here it is, as if it was never lost!"
"What are you talking about? There was that strange storm and mist, and for two minutes, we were unable to see anything while I was showing you the jewel. It was never lost – What brought that into your mind?"
"No," Ofara responded in a strange voice as she spotted the two young people clinging to each other in a way that they had not at the beginning of their adventure, "it was never lost, was it? In our adventure, we solved the problem - the tension and discord between you two. Now, you may continue with your relationship in a more proper way. Come on, Sam. Let's leave these two to their own devices so we can have a nice chat and a good cup of tea or coffee. I am starving."
"Wade," Keira turned to her friend when they were left alone, "I'm also starving and I'm sure you are as well. Let's go have something to eat and discuss what just happened. I do need to clear my mind"
"Right you are! Lead the way, Love."
It was the first time he had used that endearment, and Keira blushed with happiness. She took Wade's arm, feeling much more comfortable with him than she had ever felt before their adventure.
"I don't think I could ever forget that adventure," she said on the way. "You seem to look at things in a different way now."
"I look at you and see you.”
“I can still see you wrapped in Astarte's silver light," she said, “and you do have something of Pan about you now, though you had too much of Mars in you earlier."
They hugged each other, and for one whole minute, the whole world was wrapped in the golden mist that filled the Realm of the Gods.
#Imaginative #Otherworldly #Fantasy #IsraeliAuthor #CreativeWriting #Fiction #AKindaLongShortStory #Novella