I found them after wandering the wilderness alone. I woke up at the Peak in the heat not knowing who I was or why I was there. I was sitting in red dust and the sharp rocks all around me were burning hot. I got up and started walking downhill the path at my feet. It was leading me closer to water, I knew that much. I walked down the Red Mountain for days through the hot rocks and sharp edges. I could see vague forms of oranges, greens, yellows and pale grays in the distance. After the sun had set on the third day, I found a sand desert laying before me. Just as hot, just as dry as the path I had just left. I gave up and fell unconscious like the night falls on the Earth wondering why go so far. I woke up again laying on a comfortable fur with a humid herbal smell in the air. I opened my eyes and saw a roof made of a dried dark green leaves like thin blades of grass. Everything else seemed made of the same green material. There was a jug of a fine design, made for one portion of water, I guessed. I reached out to it, poured it in my palm. Water. A drank then poured the rest in my face. Water is Life. I saw a round cup at me feet, reminding me I was among civilized people. A Fresh Flat Bread was served on a tray made of wood evidently old but not dried out. Time and use had polished its surface beautifully. I noticed to my surprise a golden bracelet on my left wrist. It was a thick lace forming a snake with two heads. I turned in my fingers and concluded it was shut on my arms and surely tight enough not to fall or be taken. This puzzled me. The curtain separating me from the outside opened. I jumped out of my daze. A serious looking woman armed with finely carved silver blades strapped to her chest came in. She was covered green leather by large straps Her wrists were covered, her ankles, her waist, her stomach. Her heart through two straps across her shoulder. And her fists. Each knuckle. She kept her fists closed tight on her stomach. Surely she has earned a nickname for such deadly weapons.
– Nickel Punch. That is what They call me. Get up, she said, you seem awakened and refreshed. You are to meet the Queen next.
She looked at the tray at my side. Do you need something else?
I cleansed my thoughts while I took a breath.
– I have many questions.
– Do you need anything in relation to your physical being? Your questions can wait.
– I want water. Hot water. Enough to bathe in it.
– This way.
She turned her back and exited the tent. I took the bread and smelled it, tasted it and finished it in a few bites. It was good to eat. Fun to chew. I jumped up, took a deep breath. I stepped forward, pushed the curtain to join the community I was hearing chatting outside. I was among the Elders. A dozen of white haired crones dressed in gray cloth and silver chains turned to stare at me. They all sat in front of their tents, covered in trickets, bells and whistles.
you cannot go back
That thought was followed by a loud bang! My whole body shook. I fell to my knee. I thought I could walk no more in that moment. The children ran before me at the nearest crossroad in a regular wave of cheers and screams. I stood up, turned to gaze at the colors, the faces around me. I walked toward the three-way crossroad down this hill. Marked with yellow fences was a wooden house mounted on wheels parked at the crossroad. It was colored in bright yellow and red flaky paint. I stood in the middle of the way when the bead curtains suddenly opened and a woman wearing paint on her face, in her hair and on her body stepped down one step. She approached and stood right in front of my face.
– Is it true you came down from the Mountain? she said.
– Yes. Did you?
It is so odd to meet new people.
– No! Only you can do that! It is our oldest tradition that we ought to welcome the one who walks down from the Red Summit. And to bestow gold upon them. You are actually the One described in our oldest tradition. I am Cikita, this is my home in this moment. I move around a lot. It is offered by the woman with the bells. She makes them, see?
She shows me her underskirt skirts where tiny cups of metal are attached to weaved strings of oranges and greens.
– We all wear them. She is very prosper. My bells are tucked away today but somedays I wear them out. She jumped where she stood. Oh I can’t wait for the next celebration so I can impress you with our crafts but I am on duty. I should behave of course. I am at your service, Golden One, and I will show you to the Queen. My mother is the Queen. But I am no princess and this is a story for another time. My escort, you just met in the tent. Her name is Miriam. And she has been here a long time. She is a sister to me.
– Here she comes. I said, looking at the straight road where she approached. I was relieved immensely when this Cikita stepped aside a few steps.
The massive square of muscle did appear facing us from the path looking right through our eyes.
–We are ready. Let s go. She spoke loudly.
They led me through the village. It was so peaceful. The houses are build with blocks of dark ciment. What is that glassy material? Women and their children go about their business in the streets while we make our way down the Main Road to the Fire Pit downhill. There, it was crowded. I could see the hustle from where I stepped. The Youth represented certainly half of the population. The rest were Warriors and Guards, at every corner, every crossroad. The rest of their duties revolved around business. Finally, the warriors cluster on one side of the village, guarding the way to the desert. The Red Southern Mountain on the horizon. At the core of the community are elites visibly treated differently than the others. They are guarded in restricted areas through which I was led straight by my escort, away from all the children, the food, the playful and the colourful to something like a crowded pit of lizards. Guards everywhere slapped in green leather staring at me. At the center of it all, there was a mount where the pit of ashes burned dark red in what seemed to me like mid day sun. Pregnant mothers and their little crawlers were busy around the fire drying the pottery, the leathers and the foods.
We marched on to the other side of the community to the fields of blades, all the way around the village from the outer path. It looks like the day is nearing its end now and all we have done is walk. The passer-bys looked like they have come back from the market and expecting home a few crossroads away. Further north, the desert turns into a humid marsh leading up to a Dark and Dense Forest. How strange. This City is quite large and it is sitting where this Forest and that desert meet. The humid air is breathable but a long way from fresh. The smells are strong and bitter. The women here are grower of this green blade a grass growing in a marsh. Their houses are made from the same material dried like straws held in a bunch. The herbalists cultivate the green blade, cut it or smash it or dry it to use to make everything. I saw a cluster of young girls sitting by the field, braiding the beautiful weaved strings they wore around their necks. It seemed they valued work well done and were competing among themselves for quality. That place is so quiet.
We stopped by a fat mud house compared that can host eight persons. The owner opened the wooden door, invited us in without looking up. With her head bowed down, she pointed at the fuming bath sitting in her back yard. On the main room’s table, there were jewelries made of battered metals, coloured wooden beads and bells, weaved with a dark, green durable tread. Pieces of leather and woven cloth were aligned with silver pins, silver blades and woven belts. I headed for the bath without looking at anything more on my way but the house seemed full of treasures like those. But the water called me.
It was beyond delicious. Thank you Father for hot water. The Mountain Summit seems now so distant. A vague memory. If I could just…
-Rest. Cikita said.
Miriam and Cikata stayed the whole time talking with the Welcoming Lady. That is what they call her. They drank a hot cup of fuming tea with our hostess and talked about the troubles I caused. They said it explained why so many children had not slept the night before. They said the dogs hauled ceaselessly until the Elders sent a scouting party. They found me far from any roads, my body covered it dust and lying facing down.
It all made me very uneasy. Listening to them, I realised the water was cold and so was I. I focused on the birds singing in the tree branches above my head and hanging over the yard. I stepped out of the bath observing what I could use from the Kitchen Table’s Bounty. The birds songs were complex. It sang of a place deep in the branches where the ground was open and the roots were exposed. The melodies were rich in complexity, sounds, tonalities and rhythms. I sang with them with pleasure while I made my way to the table to grab a long rectangular piece of organic, sticky leather. I wrapped it around my waist. I do the same with my chest. I balance a belt on my hips and stare a moment at two thin silver blades. I shook my head and took a good look at other garments. I put on all the necklaces there are while my escort and my hostess observed me silently. I smiled.
-I think this is wonderful craftsmanship. This is much. I should give you something back.
The Welcoming Lady stood up from her seat and put her cup down on the table, grabbed the two silver blades. She walked over slowly, looking into my eyes, slid the blades in the belt hanging on my right hip. She said.
-I am Maria. This is my Home. My children built it for me with a foreign knowledge they gathered on their travels. They even travel to the Heart of the Forest. That is where they learned most of what they know. The other part is from me. I am so proud of them. Please, make them happy and accept the Queen’s offer. This is what I ask in return for my generosity.
-OK. I said without a thought. Your children are blessed to have you as their mother. What a beautiful place this is. Madame, I have seen here thick plants and marshes and hot water yet they talk of the desert like it is here. I remember the desert now. It is nothing lile this place.
I closed some leather straps around my wrists and ankles with decorated pins. I imagined my self having to fight for my self. And I felt ready. I turned to Miriam and Cikita and confirmed I was ready with a node. I bowed before my host to show my gratitude.
-Well. There is somewhere I should be. I said before leaving. To the Queen, Right?
The sun was only showing red glares and fires were lit. Hundreds of fires burning with groups enjoying conversations and foods. I was hungry myself, I thought. After passing the field and exiting the village’s inhabited area, my escort took me on a path down stairs in the ground bordering the Forest lit by torches. We walked through tall corridors, a person wide, dug inside the earth. Then, we reached a guarded camp, two meters square occupied by four guards under a tent. Those guards were in thick cloth armor and helmets, broad sword in hand. They all exchanged salutations as we took a hard turn left into the Dense Forest. The way dug among the roots of Centennial trees above. The smell is divine. There is such a freshness in the air. The way opens suddenly into a vast space where a majestic purple crystal formation sits in a wide hole of dirt under the Forest’s floor exposed to the night sky. Guards were aligned around the edges and in the path behind me. All stood still. I walked straight for the Giant Amethyst with the clear intention of touching it. That is exactly why I walked down this mountain in the first place. But was interrupted by the Queen herself her hand covered it silver rings on my heart. It had to be her. It could be no one else. I forced myself to look up fearing what I would see. She had the most intriguing eyes under a black shimmering veil. Her skin was dark and her eyes were dark bright. It seemed her skin itself was shimmering in the dancing shadows of the torches. Her skin seemed like green leather. She had silver strings hanging from her long black hair.
– Before communing with our crystalline SistAr, you must present yourself to her keeper. She said. I was focusing on her tongue moving, her head waving.
-Our Sister? She is not your sister.
She turned away suddenly to head toward the Giant Amethyst and I followed her gaze right into the infinite facets of the crystal. I walked toward it with my fingers extended. I could hear it ring in my ears. How beautiful. I stepped forward. Does anyone else hear that? How could I ever look away? Father? Is that you? I found her. She looks great! I was about to touch the rough surface when I was struck still. I saw I was being carried from the cove to a huge pyre while the stars where flying by in the night sky. I let myself be carried through the passages back to the village. There was one that was growing in brightness and size. It was shinning green more and more and heading straight for me! Then the white light blinded me.
I woke up at the Hill’s Fire Pit. Tents everywhere. The hill was different this morning. I was alone. No children and no cooking by the ashes. The sky was grey and the air was oddly heavy. I saw Miriam discussing with other warriors under a tent near by at the foot of the Hill. I made my way to her eager for some fresh water to drink from the mud jar on the table.
-Did I sleep through the Celebration? I reached for the water
-What Celebration? Golden One. We are on Full Alert. Miriam chuckled. What party were you at?
She was standing among a group of soldiers who laughed with her. All heroes of Her Majesty the Queen, I am sure. They visibly know strength. I was impressed and wanted to be like them.
-The sky opened over your head. A Green ball of fire came raining down skimming the tree tops and crashing into the Golden Fields to the North. It has become somewhat of a landing platform over there. But, we have business to attend to. Please soldiers, resume your duties. Give us a moment.
They turned their backs to the table and headed in all directions at their own pace.
-The Queen offers you a piece of her kingdom. You can sleep in your own land tonight. If you accept her offer, you will care for this land She has given. She considers you to be the best to bare its fruit.
– Ok. I have nowhere else to go. I would like to rest and catch my breath. Where is the Queen? I have so many questions?
-She has many duties and endlessly moves. She left this document for you. It is a valuable proof that the land is yours.
She handed me a scroll sealed with a yellow wax band and a silver ring.
The tent echoed the rain drops now falling from the dark clouds gathered overhead.
-There is so much I do not know, Miriam. I want to know more about the crystal, tell me more about it.
Miriam seemed unsettled for a moment. She said.
-The Heart of the Forest is among the oldest story my people tell. When my people was comprised of our Mother, our Father and their first children, they lived in the Southern Peak looking down at the desert. But one night came a Violet Beam of Light that flashed passed the peak and crashed right at the edge of the World. Then, a catastrophic explosion overturned the land and left no stone unturned. Our ancestors where safe at the Peak. They resumed life as it was known then and watched through generations the desert becoming marshes under the constant and heavy rains, the trees grew and a densed Forest expanded until its arms covered the Horizon in green. So, when my uncle decided to leave the peak with his brothers to explore the new land, the forest had become a force of nature. Countless are those who disappear in the Forest. The crystal was discovered by the Father of all himself on one of his missions through the forest with his sons. He was the first one to disappear. The story says that he saw the Stone laying at the bottom of a crater below the roots where no animal dared go. He turned to his sons, amazed were they to behold such a sight and said: I will light a fire by the stone. Make camp here. The men turned away after watching the old man safely light a fire down by the crystal. The brothers, they talked, they sang, they ate and when they thought of their Father again he was gone and the fire had gone out. Shocked, they decided to send the best of them, Tarsis, to find their Father’s trace and to light the fire anew. No man shall let the fire die. When the flame rose again, it was in the traits of our Father whose face grew big enough to fill the crater with his smile. He spoke like this: Children, I am now residing with the Fire to transform this world. The stars are within reach for you all. I say Protect the Heart of the Forest for no one shall touch it before it is bathed in Green Light.
I stayed silent. Why did Father sent me here? A crystal. A green light. It feels familiar. I am missing.
-Understand this is the foundation of my culture. Miriam said. Now, there is more to this story. We believe the green flash happened yesterday, after a sister walked down the Southern Peak, was rescued in the marshes and almost touched the crystal with the Queen watching. It seems all our stories lead us here.
-There are a stories about me. I said finally.
-Yes. You are the Golden One. The story is told that a sister would walk down the Dry Peak from her being born from the summit. She would be found burnt, unconscious and parched in the marshes. She would be cared for and fed until delivered to our Queen. Gold would be put on her and she would be called the Golden One.
-Really? “born from the summit”?…
-Yes, Golden One. We do not fully understand our own prophesies. The Truth is hiding in plain sight. This place, this village is called the Oasis. It is the last marsh of the thousands left by the Rains of so long ago. The Forest has taken her waters back from the marshes and the desert has claimed the bones they left behind. Generations before me disregarded the term “Marshes” in the prophecy since it could have meant anywhere. Now that Oasis is the last “marsh” the prophesy is fulfilled. It is a great, historical moment we all share in.
-Where has the Great Green ball of fire landed? The charm of her story did not affect me. I felt uninterested.
Miriam whistled swiftly and a dozen guards joined us under the tent like they had been simply two steps away all along.
-This is Hodj. He is the Leader of the Northern Scouts. He can answer your questions.
He was identical in his dress to all other soldiers around us, yet he had something different in his eyes. He was of average height, had brown hair and brown skin. His brows and his eyes fascinated me the most. He had stranger’s eyes. He was not from around here.
-I am honored to meet you, Golden One. I take great pride in you asking questions. I have discovered much about him already.
-Him? I said
-Yes, M’am. The Ball of flames is a man. He landed in the Golden Fields, as mentioned previously. He was welcomed by Michael, Leader of Union, and escorted by four riders to the Red Streets near by.
-There is much I do not understand in what you just said. I want to see those places and People you are taking about. Here I thought I had reached the end of the world.
Hodj and all others turned to Miriam. She spoke.
-You need to learn about the Dark Forest. You will join me tomorrow after noon and I will teach you what I know. You will join me in my travel to the Northern Edge of the Forest. It will take three days there and back. Are you interested in this opportunity?
-Oh yes! Thank you. I said. But what about this Green Star Man, Hodj? He can’t be from this world? Can he?
-No, Golden One, he is most certainly not. And He is not the first to land on this world in this way. Michael that greeted him, the Leader of the Red Town and its people, also landed in these fields after splitting the skies in a ball of fire. We are assuming they are family. One greeting the other in the Golden Fields would confirm that for us.
-Mr. Green has family here? I thought of the crystal and wondered if they too felt it calling? Let’s find out what he knows about the crystal.
-Golden one, Miriam, said, this is my duty. After reaching the Northern Edge with my escort tomorrow, I will embark on a diplomatic mission to Union for a Council Session with the Elders, the Governor and Michael. Hopefully, we can get answers to our questions. But remember this, Golden One; The Desert People protect the crystal. It has been our duty for countless generations. It is the last will of the Father of Us All. We are its guardians. Whatever happens in that Council, we will remain bound to the Crystal’s fate. Who knows what will come next. Miriam said. These are mystical times.
-I consider the Crystal my family. I will discover its secret and reveal them to my Father.
Miriam pulled something from her vest. A purple shard, a hand full. She showed it around then put it my hand.
– The crystal shattered during the passage of the Green Flash. This shard dropped at your feet as you were reaching out for it.
All turned to me. I said nothing. Miriam continued.
-You keep it. It is the Queen’s Order. She added it may bare fruit in you hand.
-The Queen has gone to the Elders deep in the Desert. They called their children home.
Silence followed. It was pleasing at first. The rain beautifully supported the bugs chirp in the distance. But then even them became quiet. An ominous feeling overcame us. Miriam waved her hand and the soldiers left the tent and went on their way this time out of my sight.
-My daughter Clorissa will guide you to your land. Miriam said. Time for you to go Home while we get ready for the travel ahead. Clorissa will teach you how we live and trade a little at a time. Feel free to explore your new surroundings.
She noded to a young women with glistening black skin and black braided hair who smiled at me with her whole face.
-Follow me, she said.
She wore light pastel and flowy fabrics on her body that moved with the soft wind.
I am Clorissa. Daughter of Diotime, mother of all. Dion, first Lieutenant. Her daughters; Ammon, Laminni and Adam. Ammon’s daughter; Abaanadi. Laminni’s daughters; Nilala et Arima. Adam’s daughter; Seti. Abaanadi’s daughter; Lagrima. Nilala’s daughter Arica. Arima’s daughter; Séfane. Seti’s daughters; Inaya, Alvi, Lilith. Arica’s daughter Jezabel. Séfane’s daughter Mirima. Inaya’s daughter Serkaya. Alvi’s daughter Sra. Lilith is without daughter. Jezabel’s daughter; Méran. Mirima’s daughter Anesala. Serkaya’s daughters; Helene, Cirène, Massala. Sra’s daughter; Ali. Méran’s daughter Sadi. Mirima’s daughter Kose. Anesala’s daughter; Mari. Helene’s daughter; Sara. Cirène is without daughter. Massala’s daughter; Rosar. Ali’s daughter; Rose. Sadi’s daughter; Miriam. Kose’s daughter; Lila. Mari’s daughters; Anna, Alice, Deb, Bri, Serena. Sara’s daughter; Briana. Rosar’s daughter Loreta. Rose’s daughter; Essa. Miriam’s daughter; Clorissa.
– Wow. Impressive. My family is a mystery to me.
She guided me away from the main areas and into the mud of the paths and the crossroads.
-Does everyone here knows there lineage like you know yours?
-Not every one here has lineage like mine.
We walked side by side to the limits of the inhabited areas, right by the Forest’s edge. People were picking their things up and packing to go home. The tents were coming down and so were the vendor’s stalls. Crossroads became empty under the rain. When we stopped walking, there was a square plot of dried weeds and stones in front of us at the most remote of crossroads. Away from everything. The land near by was swamped where reeds and thorn vines prospered. Behind it was the Forest’s shadow. The tall trunks blocked the way to the North. An eerie atmosphere was emanating from the Dark Forest.
– No one comes here. I said. Am I right?
-No one. Clorissa answered with a smile. People are scared of what is beneath the ground.
She pointed at a black stone sticking from the ground among the weeds. It was smooth and had square angles.
-So, at the edge of the road here, Clorissa said, there is a post where you will receive your daily portion of bread and water and anything else you require from the Market. This basket here contains essential tools, rope, flaps, and some dried rations.
She opened the lid of the weaved basket and pulled out the flap and the rope to tie them to trees and make a roof for them in just a few movements. She then took a metal clamp, two logs and some straw.
-Here. Let me light a fire for us before night falls. I will stay here to make sure you have a warm meal tonight.
She worked while I gazed at the Forest. I remembered the shard of crystal in my hand. I raised at the level of my eyes and stared within. Clorissa’s voice snapped my out of my dream.
-These clouds are the result of the star falling, I am sure. We don’t see that much rain here. The Elders all saw stars falling from the sky before but it is my first time. It is quite a rush. Isn’t it?
I lacked the will to discuss any subject. But I was happy and relieved when the flames warmed my hands and she handed my a bowl of soup.
– There is a black stone underneath, here where the land is dryer and rocky. That is why the Queen offered you this land. You seem to have a thing for Stones and Crystals. Like the Father of All. The stone here is said to light up the ground above it sometimes. The vine only grew recently, it is a few seasons old. Nothing grew before that. Certainly not our dear green blade. We are wary of this stone and its effects on the land. It seems foreign…like you. Another reason the Queen led you here. Well, there is a chest here with provisions for seven days. She got up.
– Well. I think you are all set. My work here is done.
She started running by the Forest’s Edge away from the paths and the crossroad.
I closed my eyes and felt the stone under me. It was most likely a cube. I could feel its mass below somehow. I walked to the corner sticking out of the ground. There were fine lines carved on the surface.
Well, now what? I would like to sleep now, away from the world for a while. I moved my fingers on the line that made its way over the corner and activated a movement of the stone. The ground started shaking and the mud wiggling. Heat exhaled from under the soil, the mud, the water turned solid and brown-red than became grey dust even under the pouring rain. I stepped away to see the stone reveal it self in part. The light moved from the corner to other carvings on the surface until it formed a tall rectangle that lower it self to open up a cave of sorts a few feet from the surface. I felt called to go hide from the rain in there and that is what I did. I lowered my self down as the roof closed over my head. Some carvings lit up in a pale blue light pushing the darkness away. I lied down on my back and fell immediately asleep.