Vrin Ten Mortal Gods(11)

By: John Michael Hileman


A hand touched my shoulder. Quickly I willed the threads to vanish and blinked up at the two figures standing above me. Slowly I got to my feet, gathering myself on the way up. “That was fast,” I said, brushing the dirt from my pants.

“I did not mean to startle you.” Sajin looked at my hands and down to where I had been crouching. “What were you looking at?”

“Nothing.” I offered no further explanation. Apparently he could not see the web. “You must be Thana,” I said, offering my hand to the young woman at Sajin's side.

It was refused.

She was obviously not interested in sharing pleasantries. “Right then! Where do we start?”

“Thana has agreed to be your guide as long as you agree not to use your powers.” Sajin’s expression was one of apology.

“If that’s what it takes then I agree.” I smiled at Thana.

The smile was not returned.

“You will be traveling on horseback. Humphrey’s is about a day’s journey from here.”

An entire day on horseback did not sound like my idea of a good time. I would have to tell the others my mission was going to take longer than expected. “Would you excuse me for a moment? I must use my power one last time before we begin our trip.”

It was impossible to miss the annoyance on Thana’s face as Sajin turned her toward the street.

I brought Kitaya’s image into my mind.

“Hello, Jason.” Her thoughts where warm.

“How are you faring?” I asked.

“Tiko does not stay in one place for long. That makes it difficult.”

“I’m experiencing some complications as well. I don’t have time to explain but it looks like I’ll have to finish my journey without using my powers, so it's going to take awhile.”

“Oh that does not sound good.”

“I know. If things get too hairy, I’ll use them but only as a last resort. --Well, I guess I have to go. --I look forward to seeing you again. I... It's nicer when you’re around.”

I felt her giggle. “I miss you too.” Her words were so light and innocent. “Take care.”

“Thanks. I’ll do my best. You take it easy on Tiko. Okay?”

“Alright.”

As much as I hated to, I pushed her from my mind. I stood for a moment, letting her words wash over me. She missed me. I felt like a little kid.

Now to check on Corel. “Corel?”

“Yes, Jason?”

“This is going to take more than a day to finish up. How are you and Armadon faring?”

“Not sure. Armadon is very meticulous. Could take hours before we depart from here. Do the best you can, Jason. I will try to inform you if things change.”

“Good luck then.” I broke the link.

While Thana was out of sight, I took the opportunity to consider my situation. It was difficult enough trying to combat Gaza’s minions using the power of the web. Without it, it would be much more difficult-- if not impossible.

I needed a weapon.

I remembered my discussion with Armadon. I had asked him why his troops used primitive weapons such as bows and arrows and swords. He had replied that he didn’t know how to make a firing mechanism. He knew what a gun looked like and how to use one, but he didn't know how they functioned.

Fortunately for me, I did. It was odd how my memory was fragmented. I could remember intimate details of pistol firing mechanisms, but I had no idea who had taught me, or where I was when I’d learned it. I brought up the web and created the items I would need for my trip including a pistol and a holster, which I neatly hid under my shirt. Last of all I made a backpack in which to carry everything.

“Well, I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” I said, emerging from the alleyway. “Thank you for your help, Sajin.”

“My pleasure, sir. Good luck.” He backed away as we moved past him and mounted the horses waiting patiently nearby.

I looked at my quiet partner. “Lead the way,” I said, trying to sound cheerful.

Silence.

Oh yeah, this was going to be fun.



CHAPTER 6



EXPELLING A DISTORTED MASK

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Traveling by horseback would probably be on the bottom of my list of preferred transportation, if I had such a list. Horses simply lacked the speed and comfort of an automobile. By now I would have had the air conditioner on and the radio blaring. But instead, the sun was burning a hole through the back of my neck, and my inner thighs were becoming sufficiently tenderized.

Thana was doing an excellent job of ignoring me. I made several attempts to pull up beside her but each time she spurred her horse ahead. It was clear she wanted nothing to do with me, so I rode quietly behind her for several hours.

Finally I could stand it no longer and with difficulty managed to pull my horse up next to hers and keep pace. “Where’s the fire?” I joked.

Silence.

Somehow I had to get through to her. I wasn’t such a bad guy. If she could just take two seconds away from her grumpy schedule, she would see that. “Listen, what do you have against me anyway? You know, if we’re going to work together we are going to have to communicate. Our lives may depend on it.”

I felt the chill from her shoulder.

“Look, Thana, I feel greatly for your loss but I’ve done nothing to you.”

I must have touched a nerve because without warning the floodgates crashed open. “What! You think you’ve done nothing? All you people do is meddle! You have no respect for what we’ve worked for. You come here sticking your noses into everything without asking us what we think. We’ve been here for centuries. This planet is our home! We’ve put our sweat, tears, and memories into its construction, but that doesn’t seem to matter to your kind! You snap your fingers and a mountain is a valley. You wiggle your fanny and a lake is a dessert. Well it’s wrong! And thousands of my people have died senselessly in the faithful service of the gods. But their deaths have no meaning because the cause is worthless. Peace? Hope? You don’t seem to understand the meanings of the words that come from the very book that spoke of your intervention. You don’t know us! This isn’t your planet and...”

“Now wait a minute! You don’t know me!”

She glared at me. “I know your kind, gods indeed!” Her voice dripped with sarcasm. “It’s amazing that the fabric of the universe should choose you as its supreme beings. You can scarcely see beyond your own noses. Life is not something you bend to suit your fancy. It’s hard and it’s rewarding, and it’s the journey that makes us who we are! But to the so-called gods nothing is sacred. There’s a quick fix for everything!”

“That’s enough!” I clenched my hand into a fist. “You have no right to judge me!”

“What are you going to do, destroy me? Silence me for the things I’ve said? That is how your kind deals with their problems isn’t it? If you don’t like it, change it. Well, go ahead! Snap your fingers and make me disappear. I don’t want to live if I have to live under the whim of juveniles!”

I stopped my horse and enunciated through clenched teeth. “Listen closely, Thana for I swear to you on all that is precious if it were in my heart to do so I would destroy you where you sit for your ignorance. But I am not the monster you think I am. If anyone is short sighted it is you. I am working toward peace yet you don’t see that. You superimpose on me the sins of others. I am not them, and if you took a moment to get to know me, you would see that. I will be the first to admit, I’m not perfect, but I’m doing the best I can! So save your little attitude for someone who deserves it!” I pulled on the reins and turned away from her. She wasn’t worth the aggravation. There had to be another way to find Humphrey!

I was about to spur my horse when her voice interrupted me. “I’m sorry,” was all she said, and it sounded like the words tasted bad in her mouth. I still had my back turned when I heard her horse start back up along the path. I sat grumbling to myself for a few moments, then grudgingly followed.

She was so stubborn and angry. --But I guess I couldn’t blame her; she’d lost her entire family. That was a lot of pain for a young woman to carry. But she didn’t have to take it out on me! I had my own problems. At least she still had a home. The home I remembered was nothing more than a fragmented collection of jumbled images without a single personal memory to build from. I was lost in a strange world. Everyone I had ever known was gone. At least she had the memories to hold on to. But-- then again, maybe that wasn’t such a good thing.

We traveled on in silence. The river we were following was beautiful, but I could barely appreciate it with everything filtering through my mind. The shadows were growing longer. I pulled up next to Thana. “Would you mind if we stop in that clearing up ahead? We don’t have much daylight left and I’d like to stretch my legs, if you don’t mind.”

She gave me an examining look.

She probably thought my suggestion was made out of selfishness so I added with annoyance, “I don’t require rest or sustenance but you’ve gone quite awhile without eating or drinking. Stopping will do us both some good. Then maybe we can start fresh, okay?”

She slowed her horse, and gave me a nod.

The clearing was surrounded by large maples and evergreens. Leaves rustled in the breeze and the sweet smell of pine filled my nostrils. I climbed down and looked about. The road behind us trailed off into the hills and the road ahead disappeared into a stand of pines. This was definitely a good place to stop. It was open and grassy and the river looked inviting.