Come Along With Me – # 10

Summer’s leaves slowly turned to Autumn’s grace.  Riotous color littered the forest floor as the trees shed their leaves, and they danced delicately through the breezes that now chilled the air.  And the sun’s glow turned everything to a burnished, softly-lit scene of golds, rusts, coppers, scarlets and deepest plum.

And Anku waited.

Waited for the signal that he knew so well meant another was coming to cross the veil of death.  Another soul bound for eternity, he always felt the gathering emotion that preceded the arrival of his next visitor.  And this one, this one was special.

Turning his face toward the path that lead to his small cottage in the forest, he felt the approaching one clearly.  Fear, sadness, and… deeper within, a sense of anticipation.  It was time.

From the shadows that lingered, first a face peered forward, then the rest of the person’s form came into view.

Elder Cate.

Her measured gait was slow, but sure, as she approached the home before which Anku now stood, and looking up, she lifted her hand in a small gesture of greeting.  Anku returned it with his own gesture of welcome, opening the gate to his garden to allow her entrance.

“Elder Cate, I am honored by your visit, even though I know it brings the rest of your village much grief.  Please, enter, and take your rest,”  Anku led the gently smiling woman to a nearby bench, and helped her lower herself to it.

“Anku, I knew you would be waiting for me, and I am glad for it,”  the village elder sighed softly, “Others can take my place in the village, but only I can accomplish this journey.”  She looked up at the dark-haired man, and a quick flash of mischief crossed her face, just as quickly erased in the anticipation of what was to come.

“Ah, Elder, you speak truly,” Anku chuckled a little, knowing that the woman had made a small joke at her own expense, and that it was not disrespectful to acknowledge it, and even play along a little to relieve her fears. “This journey is best taken for oneself, for it is not one others can tell you about… you quite literally… have to be there yourself, to understand.”

A raspy laugh came from Elder Cate as she let go of her tension over the next part of the trip she was about to make.  “Yes, I do, don’t I,”  she mused, and nodded her greyed head.  “And, I imagine that it will not be like unto any other journey I’ve ever taken, now, will it?”

“No, Elder, this will be more than you could ever have dreamed,” another voice, low and slightly musical came from behind Cate, causing her to turn on her seat to see.  Although she knew, already, that whom she was to see.

Kora.  Walking softly, almost without seeming to touch the ground, she glided forward to greet the woman she’d known her whole life.  And taking the Elder’s hands into her own, lifted her easily from the bench and pulled her into a gentle embrace.

“Oh, Elder, I am sorry for the village to lose you, for I know that they love you well… but I am glad that I may be here for you, now.  That I may be the one to help you through this gate.”

Elder Cate lifted her hands, taking Kora’s face into her palms, and smiled at the gifted child she’d helped Erinas raise.  This beautiful woman, whom she’d watched grow, was now in full possession of her power, and it sat well with her.

“Child, and yes, I know that you are grown, but you will always be ‘Child’ to me, as I helped bring you into this world, and have watched you all your years… I am ready.  For all my years, I’ve served the village and those who’ve lived and died there, and I am ready to lay my burden to rest at the foot of the Great Tree.  Let us not tarry here, but be about our business, shall we?”  And the Elder pulled Kora’s head down to hers to place a loving kiss on her forehead, smoothing what few lines had gathered in concern for her aged frame.

“Yes, Elder, I shall lead you home.  Come along with me.”

And Anku stood at the gate, and watched his beloved lead the woman to the far end of the garden, and into the shadows beyond.  As they faded in vision beyond the gate, he caught one last glimpse of the 2 of them, heads together, hand in hand, and he heard laughter, soft and lovely, rise on the air, to float up and out.

The End

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Command Decisions – Pt 1

In the fuzzy grayness that is every-day life, Fear made sure that she kept everything even and smooth. None of the others understood her, and chastised her for her iron-fisted ways, but she knew that she was the one that kept the Vessel safe.  She was the one that made sure the Vessel kept going. She was the driving force behind the Vessel’s ability to keep breathing after the Incident. Fear had used everything in her arsenal to make sure all were focused on the most important things: the survival of the Vessel and The Children.  She believed she was the guardian of the Vessel and, by association, responsible for the actions of her counterparts who inhabited the Children. Sometimes Fear spoke to them through the Vessel, subtly, just to make sure everyone was on the same page and that things kept running smoothly, calmly…quietly.  It was a lot of responsibility, but she could handle it.

Of all the entities who inhabited the Vessel, Fear was the one to step up and take charge the day everything fell apart. Most of the others couldn’t have done what she did to pull the Vessel and all she contained back together when everything was complete Bedlam. While Anger, Fortitude and Righteous Indignation did a lot of the heavy lifting in those first days and weeks, Fear came out on top as the one who could foresee disaster and create endless plans for damage control. Everyone began to consult her on what they should do next…everyone that was still lucid, that is. Now she was the de facto leader, and she liked it that way.

Hope had been one of the biggest casualties.  Not only was she physically debilitated, but she’d actually gone around the bend a little after the shock of it all. For quite a while after the Incident, she’d had to be restrained after having picked a fight with Despair and got her ass handed to her. She wasn’t one to lie down and just take it, so Fear had her kept half sedated, just to keep the peace. Hope was needed to keep things moving forward, but keeping her doped up helped to make sure she didn’t get a foothold in leadership. They all knew what happened when Hope roamed free, and nobody wanted that to happen again.

Faith and Romantic Love were right up there on the damage meter, and both had fallen instantly catatonic so didn’t present much of a security issue. Now they were just in an endless sleep. They spoke sometimes, but mostly in just incomprehensible mumbles. Reports said that they were now moving their limbs around a little too, which was something to look into. Perhaps a little anesthesia might be called for, just so they didn’t wake up and disturb the peace Fear had worked so hard to achieve.

Mirth had her uses…she’d been a big help to bring everyone back to center, so Fear put a lot of time and effort into making sure she recovered fully. She’d ended up being Fear’s best balancing tool and, quite frankly, had become quite a good ally and friend. The rest of them had their uses too, though most of them had to be kept semi-sedated. It was just easier that way.

In the last few years, there’d been a lot of highs and lows, but she’d managed to keep the damage to a minimum and do her part to keep things going. Fear was the enforcer, the guardian, the strong-arm that kept the others from getting out of control.

That is, until Hope busted Want and Need out of Containment. Damn her…she was more trouble than she was worth.

~To be continued~

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Come Along With Me #9

Kora stared at Anku, mouth agape and disbelieving.  Words escaped her, and she simply sat, blinking slowly at the dark-haired man seated before her.

Erinas was not so stunned as all that, however.  Gasping, she stood abruptly and spun to face the fireplace.  Her voice, even though spoken in a tone close to a whisper, filled the room as she spoke. 

“I cannot bear to lose my daughter, young man.  She is all that I have in this world, since her father’s death, and I cannot see her walk beyond this ‘veil’ that you speak of.  I have seen so many go before, through sickness and accident.  But what is this other choice you give us ?  That she would be… not living, and yet not dead.  How can this be?  Is it not blasphemy to deny the will of the gods?  To hold back a soul that they have claimed as their own?”

Anku watched Kora’s eyes slide to her mother, fear written plainly in them, and reached over and grasped her hand gently in his own.  Kora’s eyes dropped quickly to their joined hands, and he knew that she’d felt that same “spark” of heat that he’d felt when their skin had met.  Like calls to like, he knew, and Kora blinked quickly and looked into Anku’s face, catching her breath slightly.  Giving her hand a slight squeeze, he patted it once and laid it back on her lap, reassuring her.

“Madam Healer, those who have tasted of the fruits of Death, are chosen by the gods to act as their Guardians.  They leave us with the choice to partake of the fruits, or not, of our own free will.  But once the path has been chosen, it must be seen through to the finish.  Either you pass through the gates, to the Beyond, or you stay on this side, and help those who have no choice.  The unfortunate others who come to my gate must pass through, and it is my job to set them at ease for their passage.  I endeavor to help them find the peace they need to move on, to whatever is beyond that veil.  It is not always an easy task, but one I take pride in, as it is the will of the gods that I be there, and help the dead to cross over.”

“And yet, now my daughter must be either as you are, and be apart from the living… or pass through the gate of death, and leave me forever.  How can I choose, Anku?  Either way, she is lost to me, for all time.”  Erinas turned slowly, tears trailing down her cheeks, and arms held out in entreaty to her daughter.

Kora reached out, wanting to take her mother’s hands, and yet not wanting to hurt her mother further with the painful contact that leads to goodbye.  For she realized that, either way, this would be her last evening in her mother’s home.

Her mother’s home.  Already, Kora was thinking of this as not her home, but as her mother’s.  And knowing she’d made her choice, Kora stood.

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Come Along With Me #8

Erinas was fuming, but sat back once again in her chair to hear the rest of the tale.  Eyes on Anku, her glare was almost as bright as the fire that lay in the hearth behind her, and Anku flushed a little under her gaze.

“Madam Healer, I am about to tell you something, that not many know.  Obviously, the Elder does, although I know not how, or who she learned it from, but the only others that know of my work, are those that must partake of my services.  For you see…. I am a Guardian at the Gate of Death, and I am one of those who see the departed across the barrier to the Other Side.”

Raising his hand slightly, to forestall Erinas’ and Kora’s obvious gasping questions, he bade them to hold until he had finished his explanation. 

“The Great Grey Oak has long been a site where the veil between the worlds is very thin, the roots go so deeply into the ground, and the branches stretch right to the very heavens themselves, that it is the perfect place to ferry the souls that must cross through the Gate.  I am one that guides them, that shows them where they must go once they have passed from this realm of life.  I am neither of this life, nor past the veil myself, but stand between.  Apart from the living, and not allowed to pass through the Gate myself, I have endeavored to dwell as solitary as possibly as I can, to protect others from this fate.  For you see… once you have tasted of the fruits of Death, you then become like myself.  Not living, not of the dead, simply apart, outside of time and aging.

I too, was once as you were, a young man, going about my business, when I became lost in a wood, far from here.  I wandered for days, and finally came upon an old hut, seemingly abandoned, and raided what seemed to be a wild garden for something to eat.  I did not realize what I was doing, until an old man called to me from within the hut.  When I entered, he told me what I am about to tell you now.

Once you taste the fruits of Death, on Death’s own ground, you cease to age.  You leave the world of the living, but do not gain access to the underworld unless you pass through the Gate, to the other side.  There are some that choose to stay on this side, and assist those that must pass over, and I was given this choice.  I chose to be a guide, a Guardian.”

Tears welling in her eyes, Erinas looked from Anku to Kora, and back again.  “Does this mean that my daughter must pass through the Gates of Death, or does she have the same choice that you were given?”

Anku spoke softly, and shifted his gaze to Kora, his eyes darkening with something more than just sympathy. 

“There is always a choice, for those that wish it.”

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Come Along With Me #7

“No, Kora,” Anku spoke softly, “I am not angry with you.  But, we do need to speak now, about many things.”  He looked up at Erinas and Elder Cate, and with a small nod, included them in the conversation as he continued, “And I think this would be best discussed… indoors, and away from prying eyes and ears.”

Elder Cate nodded firmly in agreement and pulled Erinas back into the house so that the two younger people could enter as well.  “Yes, Healer, let us discuss this inside.  That would be best now.”

Erinas looked at the Elder in confusion, and back at her daughter and the young man with just a little anger.  “I’m still not pleased that this young man comes from nowhere, and seeks to make a claim upon my child, Elder.  Who is this man, and why should I allow him within my home?”

“Healer, all questions will be answered – inside.”

Kora’s heart was pounding as they walked into the little house.  What was going on?  Why had Anku followed her here?  And why was he not furious with her?  Eyes darting all around the room, she attempted to calm her racing pulse, with little success.  Taking a deep breath, she pulled her hand from Anku’s grip, noticing that his hand was shaking slightly, as well, and she glanced up at his eyes, to see that same flicker, the tiny dark light, that had flashed in his eyes the first time she saw him in the woods.

What she didn’t see, is that everyone was looking at her, and they saw another flicker of that same dark light flash in her eyes, as she watched Anku.  Elder Cate gasped slightly, and Erinas turned sharply to look at the Elder with questions in her eyes.

Once they were all seated, with Kora taking a chair as close to Anku as she could, without actually touching, Erinas turned to him and spoke firmly.

“Now.  You will speak, and you will tell me, exactly who you are, and what your intentions toward my daughter are.  And you will not lie to me, for I will have only truth in my home.”

Nodding, Anku placed his staff to one side of his chair, and took a deep breath.

“Madam Healer, my name is Anku, and I am the resident that lives beneath the Great Grey Oak.  I first met your daughter one day as she came upon my home in the woods, and was admiring my garden.  I am a solitary type, and my work does not allow for others to be present, and I denied her access to my home.  I did this not out of anger, or out of meanness, but to protect her.  However, your child is a persistent young woman, and I was not able to resist her hand outstretched in friendship for long.  And now, I’m afraid that it is too late for either one of us to return to the way things were before we met.”

“What mean you by this?” Erinas rose sharply, her face flushing with consternation, “Kora, what have you done, and why does this stranger speak so?”

“Mother, I…”  Kora’s voice quavered in fear, as she had not seen her mother this upset in many a year, not since learning of her father’s death in the big storm 5 years ago.  Elder Cate rose as well, laying a hand on her mother’s arm, and guiding her to sit again.

Anku raised his hand, to interrupt, “Healer Erinas, please, this is not Kora’s fault alone, and she does not even know the whole truth of this tale, so I beg of you, to please bear with me, as I tell the rest of it.”

“Listen to him, Healer,” the Elder spoke.

“Elder Cate, you know of what he speaks, do you not?  Why did you not warn me of what was happening with my own child?”  Erinas’ words were heated, verging on condemnation.

“This must be his story, and I was not aware that things had moved to this point, anyway.  Erinas, listen to the young ones, and then, you will know the whole of it.”  The Elder then sat back in her chair, crossed her arms, and closed her mouth, refusing to speak further.

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Come Along With Me #6

As she raced for home, Kora’s heart felt as though it was breaking into a million tiny pieces, only to lay shattered on the forest path behind her.  There was no way Anku would ever forgive her for trespassing, for stealing from his garden!  For watching him, no, Kora shook her head in self-hatred – for spying on him.  She had snuck into his garden, had violated his privacy, and had stolen from and spied on him.  He would hate her forever.

Great wracking sobs wrenched from Kora as she tripped among the roots on the path, stumbling and running through the forest.  She’d have to hide herself away, run from all she’d known and disappear.  She couldn’t face the awful feelings welling up in her heart, fear, desperation, disgust for herself and her actions, remorse for hurting her friend… and oh, gods, the shame on her mother’s face when she found out!  She’d never be able to live with that!

Reaching the edge of her village, Kora stopped, just behind a tree, to catch her breath and to smooth out her hair and clothes.  She knew that she had to appear to be in control of herself.  Her mother would pick up on anything out of the ordinary.  And as shaken as she was, Kora could not be certain that she’d be able to pull off a deception anyway.  Maybe it would simply be better to feign illness, and go straight to bed?  Slip away in the night, and no one would be the wiser.  Kora nodded to herself, and turned to make her way to the cottage.

“Kora!”

A voice called out, deep and hoarse, behind her, and Kora spun in alarm.  Anku had followed her!  No!  Hand flying to her mouth, Kora backed up toward the house, flicking her eyes from side to side, looking for a way to escape the horror of this moment.  How did he follow her so fast? 

Kora almost tripped when she hit the door’s sill on her house with the back of her heel.  Throwing her hands out, she caught herself before falling, only to have the door pulled open behind her.  By her mother.  And standing behind her was Elder Cate.

“Daughter!  What is going on here?  Elder has just been by to tell me a wild tale of a man in the woods, and..” just then, Erinas noticed Anku walking up to the house, holding his walking staff and watching her daughter intently. 

“Who are you, Sir?  And what mean you by following my daughter home?  What is going on?  Kora!  Come inside and speak to me!”  Erinas threw the door open wide, grabbing her daughter’s arm and pulling her toward the doorway.  Elder Cate moved back, away from the light, and into the shadowy interior of the house, gazing at Anku with a mixture of fear and pity.

Kora stumbled, trying to catch the doorframe, and tumbled into the house, falling to her knees, just as Anku reached her and held out his hand for her.  Dismay and… concern?  Was he actually worried about her?  Kora reached up and placed her free hand in his outstretched one, eyes locked on his, and slipped from her mother’s grasp. 

“Anku?  You’re…. not angry?”  Kora pleaded, not quite believing that it could be true, but fervently hoping.

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Come Along With Me #5

Kora shrank back from the emotions crossing Anku’s face.  Disbelief, anger, despair, it was hard to imagine so many emotions all crowding in one person at the same time, but there they were. 

“Anku, please,” Kora trembled, not in fear of Anku, or his anger, but in fear of what she’d done, how shamefully she’d acted.  “I am sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude, or to spy, not really!  You just, I mean, I like you… and then, that woman…and I, well,”  Kora hung her head, tears beginning to flow softly and silently down her face.  “I was jealous.”

Anku stared in disbelief at the young woman with her hair hanging limply in her face.  No.  No, this couldn’t be, he thought to himself.  But when he reached out and cupped her chin, she raised her eyes to his, and he saw it.  The glint in her eye.  The spark.

“You ate one of the vegetables, didn’t you?”  Anku whispered.  “Oh, Gods, you ate one of them.”  And thinking back, he suddenly remembered something out of the ordinary.  “You left the berries on my doorstep.  That’s what they were for, weren’t they?  Kora?”

In a small, breathless voice, Kora replied, “Yes.” 

Anku dropped Kora’s chin from his hand and staggered back, just two steps, but enough to reach out and steady himself against the tree that stood there.  Emotions stunned into numbness, the rough texture of the bark was a comfort to Anku, proving to him that at least he could still feel something other than shock.  He dug his fingers hard into the skin of the tree and he turned away from the young woman, trying to regain his composure.

Kora, terrified that she had ruined her chances, and that Anku now hated her, immediately spun on her heel and ran for the front gate.  Dropping her basket, she grabbed the gate handle and twisting it, flung the gate open, and tore off in the direction of her village and home.  Anku, stunned, barely realized she had turned, much less fled, and before he could yell for her to stop, she had disappeared down the path, leaving only her basket behind as evidence that she had been there at all.

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