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?”
“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?”
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).
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