Stranger

Maral was covered in a sticky sand which could not be brushed off. After her tumble from the firm path, she had imagined- with exposure to a few days in the relentless wind as well as her own attempts at brushing the sand off her person- that she would be clean. She was wrong. What did happen was that her skin became raw and terribly sensitive.

Nevertheless, though she was physically in a sad state, her mental condition was much improved. What accounted for this was her habit of straining to hear the words of Wisdom. They didn’t come easily as before this season of wasteland wandering but she worked tirelessly to hear and clung to whatever reached her. With her mind absorbed with this work it left little room for contemplating her uncomfortable environment.

After many days and night of traveling in this manner, she suddenly had the eerie sensation she was not alone. Looking up from her dusty feet she saw a stranger. He was an amazingly odd-looking individual with ragged clothes and a rope. She froze.

She was sure he was as aware of her presence as she was of his, but he did not look at her. His intense gaze was locked on the horizon. Fearfully, she crept past him as quickly and silently as she could manage. However, he never once transferred his attention.

Still, she made good time to get as much distance from him as she could before she returned to her normal pace. She pressed the weird encounter from her mind and returned to her former pattern of listening to Wisdom’s voice.

Though it required all her concentration, Wisdom’s voice was clear and unmistakable. Maral froze as she received Wisdom’s instructions to return and speak with the odd unknown one. Her fear propelled her forward, unwilling to follow the instructions, but no matter how far away she walked from the stranger, she was called to return. Wisdom, it seemed was unyielding on this point.

With a deep sigh, she turned. As she retraced her steps her logic argued with her- this was unwise and dangerous. This mental battle distracted her from the weary acknowledgement that much ground was being retraced. She had lost large amounts of energy and time by delaying her response to Wisdom’s instructions.

It still seemed that all too soon she was near the stranger. Cautiously, she approached him. He was tall and terribly thin, but didn’t have the air of someone hungry or demented. Now that she was really looking at him, she noticed his stature was one of strength and dignity regardless of his unkempt appearance and clothes that spoke of poverty. She was dazzled by the contradictions surrounding this stranger. She was much closer now and her fear had evaporated. She saw his eyes, still locked on the horizon, had intelligence and kindness, though his face looked rough and weather beaten.

She wondered if perhaps she had judged him too harshly. Maybe he was not as unwelcoming as a first glance might suggest, but then he spoke. Remaining motionless he said matter-of-factly , “I see that you fell.”

Shifting Sand

Maral stood mesmerized before the vast Shifting Sand wasteland. She had been warned that if she were not constantly vigilant, she could slip off the raised, firm path to be swept away in the current of the sea of sand.

Her heart sank at the magnitude of what lay before her while her mind cried out, Wisdom are you still with me?

I am here. It will not be easy but you can get through this.

Though the body of sand was reported to be constantly moving, it appeared motionless. Maral picked up a small red pebble and tossed it out into the never-ending expanse. Instantly the pebble was carried 100 yards toward the horizon. Then, as if identifying the rock as an inanimate object, it was hurled back in Maral’s direction.

With extreme caution and good dose of trepidation, Maral began her journey. Miserable and lonely, she talked to Wisdom about everything she was experiencing, but found she had to strain to hear Wisdom’s voice.

Nagging thoughts and questions buzzed around her mind- You have lost your way. Why are you doing this? There is no end to this hell. Wisdom has abandoned you.

The voice of Wisdom was with her, but the attention Maral spent on these thoughts- even in getting rid of them- was distracting her from Wisdom’s voice. It faded until it was almost silent while the nagging thoughts grew louder as the days passed.

When she felt she could go no farther, she saw something in the distance. Rippling in the waves of heat was a paradise complete with shade trees and a large pond. Desperate for relief, Maral ran toward it.

It appeared, at first, to be directly in front of her, then shifted slightly to her right. Thinking of nothing but diving into the water, she stepped off the risen path.

As she fell the mirage vanished. She threw herself toward the risen path but her feet landed in the sea of sand. The current yanked at them to drag her away from the path. She scrabbled and clawed at the burning sand forming the side of the path. Terrified her heart and mind focused upon Wisdom and cried for help.

The voice of Wisdom was clear and gave her exact instructions. It was miserable and arduous work, but she followed all of Wisdom’s words without question or hesitation. Finally, she reached the top of the risen path.

After some of her adrenaline ebbed and her breathing returned to normal, she took stock of her situation. Up to this point she had exercised her best efforts to remain as sand free as possible, now she was covered in grime and grit.

Focus on my voice especially when it is not easy to hear, Wisdom said. You can make it through this difficult place. There is still some distance ahead, but it will not last forever. Speak with me, lean upon my strength, and you will not become distracted and fall again.

Blight Part Two

The WOM, sniffing the air, led Bello all that day. They soon met another field worker. The WOM explained that there were seeds in the field that would be detrimental to the land if not immediately tended to. The demonstration of Bello, as he wrestled to pull up a found seed, was enough to quickly spread concern to the entire town.

The WOM visited the Gnomish village in the neighboring forest and found as expected the same blight in the forest. The Gnomes could smell the scent, but were unable to uproot the blight.

The WOM arranged to combine- and then divide- the force of Gnomes and Giants to work effectively in both the fields and the forest. 

Deep in the night, the WOM gathered everyone from their work, “That was very good work you have done today. The same should be applied tomorrow and for a week or more. This nameless blight’s purpose is to kill all living things in the soil. They are always growing and spreading. You must be vigilant in uprooting and burning all of them in a pit far from town.” The WOM looked steadily at the Giants and Gnomes present to allow this news to sink in.

“The wind has sown this. Though you have done nothing to bring this trouble upon yourselves, you will reap the consequence if not handled immediately and thoroughtly.  This blight was once removed from Truth, but, clearly, it has been released. I must leave at once to seek the source. What is before you will take determination and a tremendous amount of work, but I know, together you can do this. Goodnight and goodbye.”

The WOM would not listen to any offers of a bed for the night or concerns about the lateness of the hour or the darkness of the night. He was friendly but firm as he set off at a quick pace.

The WOM was correct; the work to clear the fields and the forests was very difficult. The worst part was that there appeared to be no end of the blight. Soon the quality of work began to grow sloppy. Gnomes found only the most pungent of the seeds, and the Giants began to yank up those with such force the entire root was not excavated. This continued all throughout the planting, tending and growing seasons.

Crops did not grow. The forest began to thin. This should have caused immediate alarm and action but their weariness made them careless. What could have been saved was lost.

Escape Part Two

Itch was astonished; she had never experienced a ghost, missing so much of himself, turning away from her. She had assumed her power over him was absolute. She threw stones and taunted him. Not taking the rebellion threat seriously, she shrieked his name and laughed at him.

She was following, always following, waiting for him to exhaust his meager supply of energy. When he dropped, she would make him pay for this impotent escape attempt. He would soon know that she had a legal right of ownership over him as he had chosen her after being made fully aware of her character.  

But he did not stop, though the stones hurt his body and her taunts chilled his blood, he continued walking away. He felt exhausted and panic rose with the awareness that he could go not much farther.

He knew when he fell he would be recaptured by the Witch, but he suddenly heard the sound of a swift flowing river. The violent water crashed upon bodies of the protruding rocks; the strong current easily carried huge branches down the river. Though the river was dangerous, the churning water looked fresh and clean.

The weeks of grime, filth, crusty blood and rancid saliva that covered his body propelled him toward the water. The promise of being clean, even a moment before he would drown, gave him an unexpected burst of energy; he ran.

Once the Witch saw his destination she jumped upon his back and dug her nails deeply into his flesh. She threw all her weight backwards but, in that moment, his will was stronger than hers. He lunged into the river. His knees hit the hard rocks and splashed Itch with tiny droplets of water. She released her hold and jumped back to the shore.

Efren collapsed, allowing the strong current to pull him down deep into the belly of the river. All the filth and stench he had worn for so long slowly washed away layer after layer.

He had assumed, in his weakened state, that this would be his burial place, but the water was restoring him. It was clearing the fog from his mind and inexplicably strengthening his atrophied muscles.

He found he could swim to the surface for air. Alert, and with remarkable speed, he managed somehow to make it to the other side of the river.

He saw Itch far upstream. He knew she would not get into the water. Clean, pure water would torture her. It was his shield for the moment. Now, was his chance, he fled. He heard her words coming to him on the back of the wind, “You cannot escape. You belong to me. I am coming for you.”

He ran faster.

 

Escape Part One

The temptation witch, Itch, was glad for the interference of the meddlesome Gnomish girl. Though it has been touch-and-go for a few moments, the unforeseen result was that she was able to expedite the process of entrapment. When Efren had chosen her after seeing her true form, it afforded Itch the luxury of ending her energy-draining pretense of being a good thing. Addiction is a fine thing indeed.

Almost immediately, Itch began to feast upon his character. She stripped him of things he had previously enjoyed and isolated him. She was insatiable as she drained his personality and priorities. Her breath encompassed him in a fog of tormenting wormwood and acid.

As the horrible days blended together, Efren could feel his identity slipping away as he became a ghost of his former self.

Bitterness, grief, and regret were his constant mental companions. He occasionally remembered the haunting sound of a Gnomish girl calling to him to stop. But he could recall only faintly details of his life before the Witch had been exposed; the one exception was the strange fire… he could clearly remember that.

The only thing pleasant in his life was the memory of the fire. If Itch could have seen his thoughts she would certainly have taken that from him, but she couldn’t. As he dwelt upon the memory, it changed from a memory into something more. The fire spinning around in his head would sometimes speak to him. Efren couldn’t say what the voice sounded like or the exact wording, but he could understand it.

He was losing his strength as he felt himself nearing the edge of a bottomless pit. He was certain the Witch planned to completely devour him, leaving him only a tormented consciousness. He would be thrown into the pit alive, or, if not alive, at least aware. He would forever be falling and never reaching the end.

Efren wasn’t sure how he knew this. Perhaps he just sensed it, maybe Itch had told him, or it could have been the fire in his mental wanderings warning him of what was to come.  

The fire told him to escape, but it was too hard. He had missed his opportunity that day long ago. He had no strength left to run or to fight, he was in too deeply. All he could do was stumble on towards his destiny.  

The fire knew his hopeless thoughts. It showed him an image of what his life could be. The seemingly impossible possibility finally gave him hope. The hope gave him determination, which led to resolve. He released the Witch’s hand and reversed his direction.

To be continued…

War

Maral clung to the monument. As the hands of the mob clutched at her dangling feet, she heard an urgent whisper, Sing! She knew it was Wisdom. Wisdom had been there giving her instructions the entire time, but Maral hadn’t been listening. Quickly she sang as loudly as she could in the eternal language. The strange fire exploded from her lungs and swirled around.

The instant the strange fire appeared, the mob scattered. Maral climbed down from the arms of the monument. The powerful fire was consuming the city. She stared amazed, the strange fire had only ever destroyed dark things like Despair. Now as it licked the white buildings, they crumbled to the ground.

The next moment, echoing down from the treetops, the sound of a marching army could be heard. The east wind arrived. It raged through the streets of the city, rushing toward Maral with terrible speed. The fire became a solid wall protecting her.

The battle between these extraordinary elements began. Buildings were crumbling and debris were being thrown like large bullets by the wild wind.

Maral heard a call which woke her from her dumbfounded state. Wisdom was calling her out of the city, away from the supernatural war. She ran blindly toward the voice. As she ran, she heard Wisdom calling out the Scribes. The entire city was fleeing the destruction.

Maral ran into the safety of Wisdom’s arms. “You did it,” Wisdom whispered and kissed Maral on the cheek.

“I did?” Maral asked confused. But froze when she looked around and saw hundreds of Scribes staring, slack-jawed at Wisdom. Maral stepped back, unsure of what was going to happen, but confident she was safe with Wisdom.

Wisdom called out each Scribe by name.

On many, the expression of shock turned to joyful smiles. Maral watched astonished as the age and wrinkles of those Scribes melted. The years, ravaged by the locust of artificial-intellectual-bondage, were being restored. These ran into Wisdom’s open arms, as if they were children seeing their mother for the first time in years. The reunion was beautiful.

Only a few near the rear of the group looked upon Wisdom with skepticism. These longed for their laws and places of power which had just been destroyed. Their names spoken by Wisdom, sounded to them as harsh grinding noises that clawed at their hardened hearts. They gave the slightest nod they could manage to Wisdom, limiting their respect to almost nothing at all, and turned away.

Maral turned to the city. From this perspective, she could see the fire was attempting to burn the city while the east wind was defending it. It was no use. The fire had the advantage and soon the wind retreated, defeated.

Maral knew it was not logical, but, before the east wind left, she felt that it looked at her. She felt a shiver go through her entire body. Wisdom placed her hand upon Maral’s shoulder. She immediately felt strong and safe.