Chapter 4: Rejected Village of Stories
So there we were, somewhere in the forest of mushrooms. The sun had set and everything was started to get really dark. To make matters worse we hadn’t eaten since the left over chicken that Bix had cook which must have been more then twelve hours ago. From that point we were planning to return to a city whose location from where we currently were was unknown and face a monster and return it to being normal. All in all a very bad way to start an evening.
Lucky for me I had the ever reliable Tina. She might get me into more trouble then I care to deal with but even that part of her is reliable. However this time I was trusting in her unerring ability to find something to eat. It wasn’t long after I had returned from the tower that she starting complaining about being hungry. She returns to normal so easily that sometimes I am envious.
So I wasn’t surprised when Tina suddenly stopped and yelled, “Smoke! I smell smoke.” And began dashing off into what I assumed must have been the direction the smoke was coming from. Like usual I chased after her doing my best to catch up. However it wasn’t very long before before I could also smell the smoke and see the lights of fires. There were more fires then I had initially thought, no wonder Tina had been able to smell it. There were a whole host of tents and impromptu dwelling scattered among the mushrooms. It was like a whole village was living here.
I head shouts coming from the camp as Tina rushed in, not really surprising. The shouts seemed to mostly consist of “Stop!”, “Come back here!”, and “What are you doing!” But it is no small feat to step between Tina and a meal. So I decided to rush in and try and stop Tina, or at least calm everybody else. I found Tina crouched on the ground holding a half-cooked ham in one hand. Her back was arched and she was hissing at a dozen people who had surrounded her, not the worse situation I had pulled Tina out of but it was getting up there.
“Tina, give that back right now.” I shouted, mainly so that everyone was able to hear me. The men surrounding Tina turned to look at me. Most of them were Zoomorphs of some sort but that wasn’t very surprising. Even in the Old World a good fifty percent or more of people were Zoomorphs. They were probably more surprised that I was normal then I was that they weren’t... though I suppose it has been ten years since you could call what I am normal.
“But Ema, I’m hungry.” Whined Tina in a pitiful sounding voice. However I wasn’t just going to let her get away with this again.
“Tina that is no excuse to steal, give them that back and then try and ask nicely. If they are nice they might give you some bread, even after all you have done.” I approached Tina and snatched the ham out of her hands. I then quickly handed it off to one of the men nearby before Tina could take it back from me. I then turned back to the men and apologized, “I’m sorry about my friend’s behavior. She tends to act first and think later, especially when her stomach is involved.”
The men looked back and forth at each other before one of the stepped forward and approached me and Tina. He was older, maybe in his fourties and he was tall with green hair and dark brown skin. I thought I saw buds growing in his hair. As he got nearer he spread his hands and smiled at use. “Welcome to our camp travelers. Don’t worry about what happened. We were just surprised when your friend burst in on us, that’s all. We didn’t expect to encounter someone way out here.”
Relieved I broke into a smile too, “Us too, we weren’t expecting to meet people out here either. Though I am I glad that you were here. I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t found you.” I glanced at Tina who had stood up and was now looking eagerly at the ham which had been put back over the fire. “Even if she might look it, my friend and me don’t have any experience surviving in the woods, or whatever you call a forest of mushrooms, alone. We can only beg to share your meal tonight.”
The man continued smiling, “Of course, how could we turn away two young girls to fend for themselves in the middle of the night. But...” The man paused for a second as if for effect, “You owe us a story about what brought you to us here in the middle of nowhere at night.”
I had worried for that one second but now I was certain this camp was a safe place, “Well, if that is all you are asking for then I will tell all the stories you desire. But I first think that my friend should be fed, if not she will likely cause another racket.”
The man laughed before motioning us farther into the camp, “Then come, eat with me. I was about to side down and eat with my wife before you interrupted us. I’m sure she would be happy to have some company during dinner. Heavens knows we haven’t had any younglings eat with us since our son moved out.”
I followed the man through the camp and saw it was larger then I had first thought. There must have been at least a hundred people camping here, though I was at a loss as to why. However I could tell that the camp had been here for a while because it was starting to look more like a village then a camp. I saw a string of electric lights on polls which were connected to a small generator. There were a couple huts that seemed to have been made out of large dried mushrooms. However it seemed like everyone was content to live here. Most of them were eating, smiling, and talking with each-other. However I did find it strange that almost everyone seemed to be older. Most of the men and women seemed to be about the man’s ago maybe in their forties or fifties. I wondered why that was.
Eventually the man lead us to a small fire which had a smiling woman at it. “Oh, you brought guests dear. Where did these two come from. Dear me, it seems like forever since we have had guests. I just hope we have enough for them.” She seemed truly worried that there wouldn’t be enough, though with Tina here it wasn’t a groundless worry. However I did find the woman a little unusual. She had the same green hair and brown skin as her husband. It was strange to have two people change into the same type of being after the Great Change. However my doubts were dispelled when the man sat down beside her. They looked like two trees which had grown together, it would have been inappropriate if they had become different types of people.
It felt nice to sit down and truly take a break from everything that had happened. While it had only been a day since we had left the church surrounded by the upside down waterfall it had felt like an eternity. Would I really be able to do something like that again tomorrow, I was uncertain. Yet tonight at least we got to enjoy some peace and comfort provided by this friendly camp and the nice couple. At that moment I didn’t think I could ask for anything else except for a way home.
We were quickly served some stew by the couple, which was a good thing because I wasn’t certain if Tina could have held out much longer. I tried pondering what had happened today as I ate but I kept getting distracted. I eventually put those thoughts to rest, at least for now, and decided to ask a question that had been in my mind since I had arrived at this camp. “Why are all of you out here? It seems unusual to find this many people camping out in a forest.”
“I suppose it does look kind of strange doesn’t it. It seems that you aren’t the only ones with a story to tell.” The man scratched his head for a second before continuing, “Well we didn’t always live out here in the mushroom forest. Up until a couple of months ago we had a place that we could call home. You see, ten years ago during the Great Change most of us lost our homes. Not literally, but after everything happened the places we used to call home no longer felt like home. While the whole story is different for everyone here we eventually all ended up in the same place.” The man paused to take a sip of what seemed to be tea.
“Well we all ended up with a guy named Malcolm Fillmore. He was a great speaker and through him many of us realized that we needed to find a new place to call our home. He too had lost his home, though more literally then many of us. Before the Change he used to live happily in a small town with his two children. However after the Change, well he was forced to leave, driven out of the town by those he used to call neighbor. Have you heard of the Abandoned Ones?”
I shook my head, I couldn’t remember hearing about the Abandoned Ones before.
“No surprising, most people don’t like talking about them. When the Change happened the Abandoned Ones are whose who drew the short end of the straw. They are like the genetic defects of the Change. They are... deformed.” He grimaced as he spoke as if remembering painful things.
“Well Malcolm Fillmore’s daughter was an Abandoned One. So his town drove him out, claiming the child was a bad omen. You’d think it was a very backward way a thinking after everything that happened but... Well that doesn’t change what happened.”
“Malcolm suggested that we all move to the New World an make a life for ourselves there. He said it would be hard but that we would find a place for ourselves there. He was right, on both counts. It was a hard journey into mostly unexplored territory. But eventually we had found the perfect place to call our home. Not only was it a place that we had found ourselves but it was a town that we had built with our own hands. I must say at that time we were quite proud of ourselves. It was an accomplishment I had never thought was possible. That place, more then any place before had become our home.... Still is our home. Even now we can’t completely abandon it, even though we can no longer live there.”
As I was listening I began to realize the truth as all the pieces slowly fell into place. These were the villagers of the abandoned town. No wonder that place had seemed new, these people had created it with their own hands. But if that was true then that must mean that the two children of Malcolm Fillmore where the two who were still in the town. Jamel and the silver-clothed boy. It must have been Jamel that was the Abandoned One.
But one thing still felt strange. Jamel had said that the people of the village had betrayed her but I didn’t feel like these people would be the kind of people who would do something like that. Something as still missing from the story and I was going to find out what that was. I felt it was the key to following the instructions that Zero had left with me.
“What happen?” I asked in the most innocent tone possible. I didn’t yet want to reveal what I knew about the story in case I missed something important.
“Well, it was about a year ago that Malcolm Fillmore died. It wasn’t very unexpected, his health had been declining for years. I think he kept pressing himself too hard, never leaving a moment to rest. His body just wasn’t able to last. It was a very sad day when he died, after all he had been are leader for nearly ten years and it was hard to see him go. However, his children took it much harder then we did, understandably so. His son managed all right, but he seemed to take everything onto himself trying to fill his father’s shoes without help. He did a wonderful job but he always blamed himself whenever anything went wrong.”
“His sister had it worse. It was like her father’s death caused her to become even more withdrawn then she already was. We tried to help her, comfort her, but she never accepted us. The only one she allowed to get close to her was her brother. Goodness knows were tried to get close to her but she shunned us, maybe she was too self-conscious, but eventually we stopped trying.”
The man sighed as if in regret, “Maybe if we had kept trying to help those two this tragedy never would have happened. But the son was too proud and the daughter too sad, it was a tragedy waiting to happen. However the tragedy that did happen was not the one that we had expected. The daughter began to change... I don’t quite no how to describe it. It was like her sadness was building up inside her and causing her body to change. She had always an Abandoned One, but now she was becoming something different. She seemed to be lashing out at people, it caused a lot of people to become upset. A lot of people began leaving our home. It was a sad time. As the months passed it got worse. Not only did she become more unpredictable every day but her became more of a... monster. It pains me to say that.”
“It became worse when the son suddenly said he was leaving. He said it was to go find a cure for his sister, to return her to how she used to be... but he never came back.” Tears were in the man’s eyes, “I don’t even know if he is alright, he is probably still out there searching for a cure. However after he left it got worse. We tried to help the daughter as best as we could but she wouldn’t accepted it. Finally most of the rest of us just left, we couldn’t deal with it anymore. Yet... we didn’t have anywhere to go. So we have been staying here, waiting for the son’s return, hoping to one day return to our homes.”
The man finally ended his sad story and whipped the tears from his eyes. He sat in silence for a couple of minutes before saying, “But, that is enough about our plight. Tell us your story, I want to know what brought you here to us at these strange times.”
“Well, after hearing your story I find it a strange coincidence that we have met like this. For our story coincides some with your own and you helped explain much of what I felt was strange. Maybe my story will help enlighten you too.” I cleared my throat and began, “It was in the afternoon after school and I was walking home with my best Eglantina...”
When I finally stopped it felt like I had been talking for hours. I told them most of the story, I had left out the parts about the Destiny Clock and what really happened inside the floating tower but I said the rest of it as it happened. From my meeting with Bix in the Buried Sea to my meeting with the silver-clothed boy and what happened in the town they had lived it. It was a long story, longer then I expected given that it had only be yesterday that I had left school with Tina. When it was over I felt exhausted, my tiredness had begun to catch up with me and I noticed that Tina had already fallen asleep.
The couple however had listened intently as if hanging on every word I said. After I had finished they sat there as if contemplating everything I had said. I was expecting them to ask me more about my meeting the Jamel and her brother but when they finally spoke they caught me off-guard. “So, you met Bix did you.” It was really one of the last things I was expecting them to say.
“How do you know Bix?” I questioned. It seemed strange that these two knew about Bix. Maybe he used to be one of the people who lived in the city, but somehow that seemed unlikely.
“I haven’t met him personally but I have heard a lot about him. If you met him then your journey has a lot more importance then either you or I know.” The man spoke softly almost as if trying not to be heard.
I gripped the Destiny Clock in my pocket before responding, “What do you mean? Who is Bix?”
“I’m not really sure myself, but I can tell you what I have heard. They say that Bix is a wizard but others say that he is a Dragon in human form however nobody really knows the truth. But that isn’t all it is said that Bix was the first one to discover the New World or maybe it was Bix that caused the Great Change. I somehow doubt the last one but I am certain that Bix is someone important who knows much more then I do about this world. It might have been chance that let you meet Bix but I doubt he is the kind of person who listens to chance. I’m sure you will eventually find out the reason that you met him.”
“But enough about Bix, your other parts of your story interest me too. You said that the silver-clothed person you met was probably Malcolm’s son and that you met his sister in the city we used to live in. It is good news that you have seen him, I was beginning to wonder if he would ever return. But it sounds as if he hasn’t found the cure for his sister that he sought when the left, it that why he hasn’t come to see us. Even if we still can’t return it is good to here that the two of them are all right.”
“The boy,” I spoke, there was a question that had been bugging me for a long time, “What is his name?”
The man raised an eyebrow before smiling, “Oh, his name, you want to know his name do you?” I shot the man a piercing look to show him that what he was thinking was absolutely wrong.
“Of course not, the very thought of him makes me angry. I hope I never see him again.” I shot my nose into the air in defiance.
The man laughed, “Don’t worry, I’m only teasing you. Don’t take it so seriously. His name is Arlan, Arlan Fillmore.”
I relaxed somewhat. The man had just been teasing me, but why did I get so upset. I disliked Arlan for what happened with the beetle. It must be because of what Zero had told me that Arlan was the Silver Hand, someone whose destiny was bound to mine. Maybe I was uncomfortable with that fact. I gripped the Destiny Watch in my pocket, I guess if I didn’t like the future I would just have to change it myself.
“Thank you for your story, for listening to mine, and for answering some of the questions I had.” I spoke, now that everything was over I was feeling really sleepy. “But it is getting really late and it feels like it has been ages since I last slept.”
The couple nodded understandably and brought out a blanket and a mat for me, “We are sorry that this is all we can offer you, but it is better then sleeping on the ground.”
I thanked the two and before I knew it I was fast asleep. Now I usually don’t remember my dreams, I guess I don’t put much stock in them. But that night was an exception. Maybe it was everything that had happened recently, maybe it was my meeting with Zero and Bix but that night I dreamed. I heard clicking sounds exactly like those that the Destiny Watch made. I could see the seven hands of the watch as if they were glued to my eyes, as if all I could see where those seven hands.
However there was something wrong with this one. It seemed that all of the hands were stopped, all but one. The Red Hand was still moving... no it was the Red Hand that had stopped and all the other hands were moving. All I could do was stare at that Red Hand, crooked and carved with roses. As I stared I began to realize something, it was that the Red Hand wasn’t a hand at all it was simply a stained glass window which the other hands were moving around. I could make things out beyond the glass of the Red Hand. It was a room, a small room without windows or doors and there was someone kneeling on the floor inside. It was a young girl stuck inside the room. She looked strikingly beautify through the red glass, yet she was all alone inside that room.
I could hear something. It was coming from inside the room. It was a very soft sound that I had almost missed. It was the sobs of the girl who was stuck inside that room and couldn’t escape. Then she lifted her head and stared out through the glass of the hand and whispered something so soft that I almost missed it, “Save Me.”
I woke with tears in my eyes. At that moment I knew exactly what I wanted to do. To hell with Destiny and Dreams. To hell with Fate, at that moment I didn’t care about any of that. The only thing I wanted to do was save that poor crying girl who couldn’t do anything but beg for help.