Topaz Bond – The Turning, continued (11)

This story begins with Topaz Bond – The Call (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

“I’ve never seen the vortex myself,” he explained, “but Yuki talked about it a few times. She said it’s the focal point of Aum. It keeps things in balance somehow, and connects the minds and spirits present in Aum with Earth. It can send your consciousness back to Earth as yourself – or wipe your memories and turn you into a different person.”

Opele cocked her head, intrigued. “Someone like who?”

“I don’t know, a baby? Or maybe your consciousness gets added to that of someone else? Yuki didn’t say, but she did say she wanted a new life. She’d had enough of herself, and wanted to start over.”

“So if she wanted to go back to Earth as someone else, how are we going to find her to stop the truce-breaker?”

“Time’s relative here. What might feel like a few hundred breaths to us could feel like thousands to someone else. And vice versa. We just have to look for her. Maybe we’ll find her, maybe we won’t. But we have to look!”

Opele shrugged and began walking forward again. After a few steps, she turned to face Abelard, who hadn’t moved. “I’ll make a deal with you.”

“Oh?”

“I’ll tell you what it’s like to hear voices if you’ll let me ride on your back. I’ve never ridden a real live animal before, let alone… what did you call yourself? A half-and-half?”

Abelard flared his nostrils and snorted. “No deal. I’m not that curious.” He paused. “Well, maybe later. Ask me again sometime.”

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Opele gets frustrated – just in time for SOMETHING to happen.

Previous Aum stories include “Globe Without Goodbye” and “Masked“.

If you are enjoying “Topaz Bond”, please support my writing on Patreon.

Topaz Bond – The Turning (10)

This story begins with Topaz Bond – The Call (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

After they buried the kola nut, Abelard and Opele left the oasis behind and walked for quite some time. Opele listened with interest to the chime voice and cello voice; sometimes they interacted with each other, sometimes they addressed her directly, sometimes they made other observations. The cello voice liked to quote lyrics. When it said “The tolling on the iron bell calls the faithful to their knees to hear the softly spoken magic spell,” Abelard responded.

“Hey, I know that one.”

Opele stopped walking. Abelard kept on for a few steps, then noticed her pause and wheeled to face her. She stooped, picked up a handful of blue sand, and threw it in his face. “You were in my head again!”

Abelard reared up on his hind legs. This looked impossible for his hippo side to accomplish. He shook his head, trying to blow the sand from his eyes by puffing a curled lower lip. “Hey! I can’t help it, Opele! You’re totally projecting those voices!” He dropped back down.

I’m not doing anything with them, except maybe talking back once in a while. They do their own thing.”

“Well apparently ‘they’ like to broadcast. You might want to teach ‘them’ to contain ‘themselves,’ or you’re going to find it very hard to move stealthily in Aum.”

“I heard your singing from a mile away!”

“Yeah, well, I wanted to be found.” He shook his head again and blinked his watering eyes furiously. “What’s it like, anyway?”

“What’s what like?”

“Hearing voices.”

“What do you think it’s like? It’s not my job to educate you.” She rattled off her stock response. “Go read a book or take a class or something. There are plenty of voice hearers out there who have wanted to share their experience. Leave me alone.”

Abelard sounded plaintive. “I don’t want to go back to Earth! Not yet.” He continued to blink.

“There’s a way to get back?”

“With practice, powerful athletes can go back and forth, and can even bring people or objects with them. Us beasts generally can’t do it without help, like from the vortex. But why would anyone want to go back to sickness, old age, and death?”

“That’s the second time you’ve mentioned ‘the vortex.’ What is it?”

“Could you rub my eyes???”

Opele sighed. After Abelard closed his eyelids, she pushed from the bridge of his wide nose out to the corners of his eyes and down, a few times. The deer lid and the hippo lid felt surprisingly similar to each other beneath her fingers.

When she had squeezed out most of his tears, Abelard said “Thanks” quietly, and opened his eyes.

Opele felt unprepared for the intensity of his animal gaze, and backed away.

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Abelard shares some hearsay about the vortex.

Previous Aum stories include “Globe Without Goodbye” and “Masked“.

If you are enjoying “Topaz Bond”, please support my writing on Patreon.

Topaz Bond – The Danger, continued (9)

This story begins with Topaz Bond – The Call (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

“Listen, Yuki told me that somewhere in Aum there was a war once. A war of magic. The athletes fought the beasts. The athletes had talent but pride as individuals. The beasts had numbers, and they moved in packs and herds. It got ugly. The vortex brokered a truce. The athletes got the coast, which is where ambitious fuckheads usually show up, and the beasts got everything on the other side of the mountains, which is where nice people usually show up. You know, people like you. The vortex has been hanging around the coast ever since, keeping the athletes’ numbers low.”

“Vortex?”

Abelard seemed to speak to himself now. “So it’s not just an athlete’s swimming pool – it’s the swimming pool of an athlete who has broken the truce. Just bloody wonderful.”

“Abelard.” She touched his hippo haunch. “Nobody’s there.

“Athletes can totally teleport, Opele. It’s no good; we’ll have to come back with numbers.”

“How can we find a way to any specific place in this desert if the regions get all jumbled, like you said they do? These dunes all look alike!”

“Don’t know,” he grunted, “but I do know Yuki can teleport. She’s really powerful for a half-and-half like me. She’s held her own against an athlete before. Or so she said. We leave something here, something to link to. We find her, we find her herd, we come back. We talk big. Maybe we fight. We can’t let this bastard get away with breaking the truce. No fuckin’ way. This is our space!”

“You sound like you’re convincing yourself.”

“Maybe… but it surely won’t help to stand by the pool waiting for the swimmer to come back. C’mon, let’s get moving.”

“You said we should leave something?”

“Yeah. Tricky, that. Anything big enough for Yuki to sense could be detected by the athlete – wait, what are you –“

She held up a green-brown, two-inch kola nut, relishing the feel of its wrinkled pod against her hand. Her Iyanifa had shown her dried seeds. She’d only seen fresh, unbroken pods like this one in Internet images, but felt confident that holding one would feel just like this.

Abelard’s deer eye looked suspicious as he examined the nut; then, he spoke with approval. “Nice choice. The cultural associations will swamp your personal resonance. If the athlete finds it, he might destroy it or relocate it, but he probably won’t trace it. You’re a natural, Opele. Let’s bury it.”

The chime voice and the cello voice together sang praise to Ọlọrun the Creator. Opele found the song beautiful, but wished for the voices to sing in a language older than English.

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Abelard gets curious.

Previous Aum stories include “Globe Without Goodbye” and “Masked“.

If you are enjoying “Topaz Bond”, please support my writing on Patreon.

Topaz Bond – The Danger (8)

This story begins with Topaz Bond – The Call (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

Opele didn’t know how to tell how long they had walked together before either spoke again. Abelard had asked her before how many breaths she had taken, but counting breaths didn’t appeal to her as a method for telling time. She started counting the dunes they passed instead; she knew her natural walking speed, so if she were to figure out distance, she could work backwards to time. She estimated they had walked more than a mile together (so at least twenty minutes) before Abelard asked her a question. “What does the Little Desert look like to you, Opele?”

She furrowed her brow. “Like two colored ribbons that were twirled around each other until they got tangled. Why?”

“You see colors?”

“You don’t?”

“I see…” Abelard swung his head from side to side as they continued to move. “Bones. Huge piles of animal bones. Bird bones, canine bones, human skulls. Old and bleached. The sky is white…”

“The sky here is maroon, and it glows. It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed.

“To you… I’ve never understood – Hold up!” As they rounded a curve, Abelard stilled, then backed up a few steps.

Opele saw the oasis too, but didn’t understand why it should alarm him. Clear water pooled no more than two feet deep at the small pond’s center. Its edges of purple mud grew sparse, lavender shrubs replete with fat leaves. Like elsewhere in the desert, nothing moved. She felt grateful for the change of scenery. “What’s wrong?”

Abelard headed back to the other side of the dune.

Opele persisted with her query. “I don’t see anything that could hurt us?”

“Get back here!” he rumbled.

She joined him.

“There’s only one thing to fear in Aum. No need for food, drink, sleep. We breathe because the habit goes too deep, not because we need to. The part of you that does the magic will protect you on reflex. Will stop your falls. Moderate the temperature. Nullify toxins. You can damage yourself consciously if you choose to, but you shouldn’t feel pain and the damage won’t last. No, only one thing to fear.”

“Which would be?”

“Athletes.”

Opele frowned and rolled her eyes.

“The people who have refined conscious control of the magic. They can overcome your reflexes and make you feel things you don’t want to feel – like pain. Imprison you. Hollow out your mind. Turn you into a slave. I’ve heard tell there are even a few who can kill – and since this is where minds go to escape death, I have no idea what happens when you die here. I don’t want to find out!”

“But I didn’t see anyone there, just bushes?”

Abelard twitched. “I’ve heard tell they like to change the landscape. Alter the terrain.”

“So… what, we’ve stumbled into someone’s back yard?”

He stepped forward cautiously and peered at the pond from around the dune. “Maybe somebody’s… swimming pool? They still had swimming pools in 2017, right?”

Opele wasn’t sure of what to make of this question.

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Abelard tells Opele a little of the history of Aum society (such as it is).

Previous Aum stories include “Globe Without Goodbye” and “Masked“.

If you are enjoying “Topaz Bond”, please support my writing on Patreon.

Topaz Bond – The Creature, continued (7)

This story begins with Topaz Bond – The Call (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

Abelard looked down, heaved a sigh, and spoke with his mouth again. “Sorry. But how…?”

“Why do you keep switching the side of your head that you use to look at me?”

He gave a full-body twitch. “The left side receives, the right side projects.”

Unsure of how to interpret this answer but not wanting to display ignorance, she answered his repeated question. “I hear voices that no one else hears.”

“Ah. I think they used to call that schizophrenia, right?”

“What do you mean, ‘used to’?”

He didn’t answer at first. Instead, he ambled in a circle around her, keeping his head down, trying to decide something. She rotated to face him as he walked. When he had circled twice, he asked, “What year did you come from?”

“2017. Why?”

“Common Era? I wasn’t even born then.”

“You mean… you’re from the future?”

“We’re outside of space and time, remember? Aum touches all of human history.”

“Only humans?” Eileen felt weak. “What about… aliens?”

“Haven’t run into any of those yet. Maybe they’re across the ocean. Nobody makes it across the ocean, I’ve heard.”

“What happens when you try to cross the ocean?”

“You get bored and turn around. It’s easy to get bored in Aum. We don’t even have weather here.”

“Yeah, it was pretty quiet before you showed up.” Eileen considered her options. Send him away and explore alone? As a general principle, safety in solitude, but Abelard seemed friendly enough and maybe the next being she would come across would have worse intentions. She still didn’t know too much about Aum. Abelard seemed willing show her the ropes. And she could always part ways with him later if he got on her nerves. So, safety in numbers then. “Okay, I’ll walk with you.”

His animal face twisted into some kind of smile. “All right, Opele, let’s walk.” He fell in beside her.

For a moment, she wasn’t sure whom he was talking to. Then, she remembered giving him her alias. She decided on the spot to start thinking of herself as ‘Opele,’ rather than ‘Eileen.’ “Hey, weren’t you going…” Opele peered in the direction of his previous amble, wondering what he might want to avoid.

“Well, like I was saying when we kicked off this little tutorial, Aum’s geography isn’t fixed. The coasts are fairly stable, but they’re hemmed by a set of mountain ranges, and once you get inland of those, the regions just phase in and out as you travel, with no order I’ve been able to grasp. It’s a right mess. A couple of the beasts I’ve come across tried making maps when they first started out, and it drove them batshit until they stopped.”

Opele furrowed her brow and rubbed her forehead. “So that means…”

“If you were walking this way, I can walk forward with you, and for all we know, we’ll still end up in the Feathered Forest, where I came from. It’s a very peaceful place. Beautiful trees.”

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Opele and Abelard discover an unwelcome surprise.

Previous Aum stories include “Globe Without Goodbye” and “Masked.

If you are enjoying “Topaz Bond,” please support my writing on Patreon.

Topaz Bond – The Creature, continued (6)

This story begins with Topaz Bond – The Call (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

“How did I get here?”

“As far as I know, there are only two ways. People bring themselves here to escape extreme stress, like they feel when they are about to die; or someone who is already here, who knows the ropes, brings them through. It takes a real athlete to do that. I couldn’t do that.”

“Extreme stress? Like finding out someone has died?”

Abelard considered this. “I’ve never heard of someone coming to Aum because of what happened to another person. I guess it might bring a person through if the other person’s death was truly considered a threat to the person’s own survival.”

“How’d you get here?”

“Got caught in a brush fire. One moment I was burning alive, the next I was standing in the Trembling Swamp.”

Eileen felt knocked over by the tidal wave of information presented by Abelard. “This is too much to take in!”

Abelard turned his head to look at her with his deer eye again. “Yeah, it’s a lot at once, I know. Let’s keep this simple. What’s your name?”

She didn’t want to tell him her name given the circumstances. She didn’t really know him. But he had given his first. To refuse the request might alienate him, and she badly needed a friend. What could he call her? She thought of what the Iyanifa had shown her on the night she had learned of Ifá.   “Opele,” she mumbled, banking on Australia’s racist history; the reference should go unnoticed.

“Want to walk with me, Opele?”

She rubbed the back of her head with her palm. “I don’t know. Where are you going?”

Abelard stamped his hippo hindquarter. “I’m looking for someone.”

“Who?”

Abelard looked down to the sand. “Someone who will walk with me.” His voice sounded dark, like molasses.

“You lonely?”

He stamped again.

The cello voice in Eileen’s mind, which had been silent for some time, spoke melodically: “Tales of suffering and greed! Pride will tear us both apart!”

Abelard whipped his head up and to the side, staring wide with his deer eye at Eileen. “How’d you do that?”

“Do what? I’m just standing here.”

“Your mind. You thought with a different voice! I mean, I’ve been getting double murmurs from you this whole time, I figured my perception was just off, but that was clear. How’d you do it?”

“You can read my mind?”

Abelard swung his head so that his hippo eye could view her. The eye twinkled, and Eileen heard a male, Australian voice in her mind: “When I choose to.” His animal mouth did not move.

Eileen furrowed her brow and thought as hard as she could. “Read this: GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HEAD!”

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Eileen and Abelard decide to travel together.

Previous Aum stories include “Globe Without Goodbye” and “Masked.

If you are enjoying “Topaz Bond,” please support my writing on Patreon.

Topaz Bond – The Creature, continued (5)

This story begins with Topaz Bond – The Call (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

Abelard combined a shuffle and a slide to move down the dune toward Eileen. He compensated for the contrast between his lumbering hippo side and graceful deer legs with practiced ease. Eileen wondered why no longer had a human body. “This is the Little Desert.”

“ ‘Little’? Is there a Big Desert somewhere else?”

“I’ve only heard it called the Great Desert.”

“Do you know how I ended up in the Little Desert?”

“Well, not really. Usually the Little Desert is next to the Stone Meadow or the Torn Crags, but I just came from the Feathered Forest, so I guess it depends. How many breaths have you taken?”

Eileen narrowed her eyes.

“Oh. You must be just starting out! You wanted to know how you ended up in Aum, period.”

“Aum?”

“Yeah.” Abelard closed his hippo eye and turned the deer side of his head toward her. “This realm is called Aum.”

“How did I get here?”

“You’re uncomfortable in that position. Are you unwilling to make a garment, or do you not realize that you’re able to do so?”

“What?” Eileen’s flesh tingled unpleasantly, as if exposed to very mild electric current, and she felt a pull toward Abelard. She raised her arms in defense, but the tingling and pull ended almost immediately. She looked over her forearms at him; he had turned his head back to face her square on. A pale, translucent fedora now perched at an angle on the hippo side of his head. He winked at her with his deer eye; she felt the tingling again and a push away from him. She watched this time as the fedora melted into what she could now only assume to be the air around it.

“People show up here in the clothes that suit them best. I’ve never heard of anyone showing up naked, but we’re all so spread out, someone else probably did.”

“How did you do that? Make that hat?”

He hunched his animal shoulders in an approximation of a shrug. “How do you move your muscles? There’s a scientific explanation involving nerves and impulses, but a person needs education to explain that. No one’s given me an education on the magic here, but that doesn’t stop me from doing it.”

“Do you… think about it?”

“Do you think about moving your muscles when you want to do something physically? I man, you can think about lifting your arm, but do you? Usually?”

“No.”

“Right. Once a person gets past early childhood, that sort of thought generally isn’t necessary unless he or she is attempting something truly challenging or has experienced brain damage. The same holds true for magic in Aum. The weird part is that none of the humans who come here have to go through infancy. We can all just do what we need to… Some people choose to develop their skills to perform feats that others can’t. They’re like athletes. But we all come here with an intuitive sense of how the basics get done. Apparently, some part of you does not need clothes.”

“Well, yeah. Not when I’m alone.” As soon as she began to really think about the difference between solitude and socializing, she felt pressure against her skin. She looked down and saw that an opaque, sleeveless leotard had filmed over her torso. Amazing. She stood. “I just made that? Out of what, air?”

“I don’t think what’s around us is air, even though we still feel like we’re breathing. It’s some other medium. Best just to think of it as magic. Aum isn’t a physical place. It’s outside of space and time.”

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Eileen and Abelard continue to get acquainted.

Previous Aum stories include “Globe Without Goodbye” and “Masked.

If you are enjoying “Topaz Bond,” please support my writing on Patreon.