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The quest for hope, p.11
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       The Quest for Hope, p.11

           A. S. King
 
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  Aliatta eyed the tunnel skeptically. “I may not know much,” she yelled over the noise of the roaring water, “but I do know you can’t walk on water!”

  “You’re right,” shouted Levi with a teasing smile. “You don’t know much! Come on!”

  Aliatta and her parents looked at each other, shrugged, and jumped in. With every forward step, they took, the water closed back over the place they had just been, leaving them in an astounding cocoon of water, surrounded on all sides by aquatic life.

  Aliatta gazed in awe at the new view. Fish of every shape and size peered curiously in at them. When she looked down, she could see to the depths of the river, and when she looked up, she saw birds soaring in the sky. Aliatta reached out a tentative hand and touched the sides of the water walls. Her hand made ripples, just as it would have if she had touched the calm waters of a lake. The water itself felt no different than the cold, clean feel of the river. Mist from the walls filled the air. It’s like I’m standing behind a waterfall, Aliatta thought.

  Out of curiosity, Aliatta looked back one final time to the bank she had left behind. Much to her amazement, she saw the calm and collected Mêkar throwing a wild tantrum while the Hellions howled with rage.

  22

  The Livids

  Aliatta arrived at the south bank of the Teman River exhausted and dazed, for even with a tunnel providing them an unobstructed path, it had been a long distance to walk. They had begun this leg of the journey when the afternoon sun was still high overhead, and now the moon shone down in its place. Granted, they had not walked the entire time, for Levi’s wound, had made it necessary to stop and rest at frequent intervals. In these moments of rest, the water had provided a nice, though relatively discomfiting cushion. I can’t say that any of them were completely at ease with the idea of sitting or leaning against such a clear, flimsy looking wall. It was unnerving to gaze through the walls and see such a wide variety of river creatures, all looking as though they could plunge their mouths, or even their whole bodies, right into the little tunnel. Of course, none of the creatures even tried to penetrate the enforced barrier. All the same, even though it was the means to their salvation, the river tunnel had not been an easy or comfortable means.

  So when someone on the opposite bank offered Aliatta a fist-sized branch to grasp onto, she gratefully accepted it and climbed out, not caring who it was that was extending the offering. Once her feet were firmly on the bank, she sank down and wearily looked up, expecting to see flesh at the end of the branch. What she saw, however, was more branch leading up to a solemn wooden face, above which was a head full of leaves and branches. The branch hadn’t been the means of someone helping her; the branch had been part of the someone who was helping her—a Livid, who stood a few feet taller than a tall man (measured up to the face, for that is how the height of a Livid is gauged by Adamas). And this Livid wasn’t alone. Aliatta and the others were surrounded by what seemed to be a small family group—a grove of Livids.

  In her groggy state, Aliatta absent-mindedly observed that her parents seemed just as dazed as herself. Then she looked for Levi. A small gasp of alarm escaped her lips as she saw him passed out on the ground nearby. Several Livids swayed and bent their branches round about him. Aliatta couldn’t see what they were doing and this also concerned her.

  “What’s going on?” she asked of the Livid, who had helped her up from the river.

  The Livid looked at her with a calm, sympathetic expression. “Your friend is tired and wounded, but with the help of our herbs and a good amount of rest, he will be okay. I suspect that some rest would be good for you as well.”

  Aliatta nodded, her eyes heavy.

  “My name is Bridgit Nightfall,” offered the Livid pleasantly, bowing and rustling her leaves by way of introduction.

  “I’m—”

  “Lady Aliatta. We know. We have been watching for you. Our brothers in the North Badali forest—those few who are still secretly loyal—alerted us to your coming.”

  “How do I know I can trust you?” mumbled Aliatta. Mention of the North Bank had brought to Aliatta’s exhausted mind a vivid remembrance of all they had just escaped from. Her safe, mundane world of Earlington Castle had exploded, and she didn’t know who or what she could trust anymore.

  “Do you have the strength not to?” Bridgit’s answer was soft, almost like a lullaby.

  “Not right now,” the weary girl groaned.

  “Then come with us. You will be safe, for a little while at least.” At a nod from Aliatta, Bridgit gathered the girl in her branches and followed the other Livids into the heart of the forest.

  ***

  Aliatta opened her eyes to a dusky light filtering in through the leaves and branches of the bush where she and the others and been taken to rest. As her eyes adjusted and her senses started to awaken, she yawned, stretched, and slowly sat up. How long had she slept? A nearby rustling alerted her to the fact that others were stirring as well. Aliatta’s progressing consciousness soon brought another observation. She could see her father and mother, but not Levi.

  Levi was nowhere to be seen.

  Her eyes shot open in fear. Where was he? Had the Livids failed to heal him? Had he been in worse shape than they’d supposed? Had she chosen the wrong plants for healing?

  Mercifully, she wasn’t given much time to fret over the worst possible scenarios, for the next moment, Levi appeared. He cheerfully maneuvered into the hideaway, looking as fit as ever, though his shirt was slightly bulkier around the right shoulder. He casually handed each of them a bowl-shaped piece of bark filled with a variety of berries and other plants before sitting down with his own bowl.

  “How long did we sleep?” asked Aliatta, still trying to shake the last vestiges of slumber from her body.

  “Through the day at least,” replied Levi. “Night is already approaching, and I think I heard the Livids talking about moving on once it gets dark.”

  Aliatta nodded without further questions—for the time at least—and the four of them ate in silence. Immediately upon finishing, the questions began in earnest.

  “What exactly happened back there?” asked Elior.

  “How did you know to touch the water?” inquired Grace.

  “Where was the High King in all of this?” questioned Aliatta.

  Levi looked to his right and seemed to be engaged in some kind of unseen conversation. Then he turned back to address them.

  “The High King never left us,” he stated simply. “He was there the whole time, and his servant Melhem was journeying with us that entire time as well.”

  “Then how come we couldn’t see him?” asked Aliatta, a little upset that apparently she had not been deemed worthy enough to look upon the mighty messenger of the High King.

  Levi shrugged. “Sometimes the physical situation demands all of our attention. For reasons of survival, we cannot always see both the physical and the spiritual simultaneously. To survive, we must sometimes focus solely on the physically present. Ultimately, though, it is the High King who decides when it is good for us to be able to see his messengers and when it isn’t. So, in regards to what happened with the water, well, I was already physically tired and was finding it very hard to concentrate on physical things. So, I focused more on the spiritual things you couldn’t see. Eventually, I couldn’t see Mêkar, but I could see the Erela, Melhem. I simply followed him into the water.

  “There are also other reasons I know the High King was with us. Melhem was the one urging Dahara on across the plains. Aliatta, you thought that because I wouldn’t help you make the change to Adama form, you were alone. You weren’t. Melhem was right there with you, working with the High King to give you the thoughts and focus you needed. When we were crossing the river, I was tired, and my body would have given out much sooner had not the High King given me the strength I needed to make it to the other side.”

  As Levi had been speaking, Elior’s eyes had taken on a faraway look, as though recalling some dista
nt memory. “It has been many years since I have looked upon an Erela,” he said softly, almost to himself. “Could I see him now?” he asked in a hesitant voice.

  In answer, an iridescent, translucent form began to materialize. In a matter of seconds, Melhem was visible.

  Elior gazed at him in wonder. In an almost apologetic tone, he said, “Now, perhaps you can answer a question I’ve had for years. I have always wondered: if the Dark One was created by the High King and was once the servant of the High King, how could he have gone so wrong? What happened?”

  Melhem sighed in sadness at the memory. He seemed to be listening. Then he nodded and began the story.

  23

  He Did Not Create Him to be Evil

  “The change didn’t occur all at once and, no, the High King did not create him to be evil. The High King created him to be what we are all meant to be—messengers of His word and a reflection of who He is. We were not created to be things that automatically obey without question. We were made with the ability to choose whether or not to obey the One, who made us.

  “I can still remember the first moments of my own awareness. As a newly formed being, I had looked around until my gaze settled on the glorious figure standing in the midst of us. As his radiance filled and reflected through me, I had slowly bowed my head in reverent awe to my great High King.

  “With us now created, the High King turned his attention to the next items of his creation. Wisdom, joy, freedom flowed through him as the land was formed—solid ground, dirt, and grass. Rushing rivers cut through the land and pooled together creating a large body of water. Hills and mountains thrust their way through the earth to tower above the rolling plains. Luscious trees and flowering plants colored the land in an artistic array.

  “All the while, I had watched in expectant awe, catching the ever-growing joy and excitement which was radiating through my maker with each new creation. Occasionally, we would shout with glee as some new plant would spring up, and a bud would open to reveal a new wonder.

  “This process continued for a long period. At some point, I decided to wander and explore the space we were in. Riding upon ribbons of light, I gradually worked my way towards another figure in the vast expanse of the heavens.

  “‘Hail, Commander Zohar,’ I communicated.

  “‘Hail, Melhem,’ he had replied without emotion, without excitement.

  “I didn’t understand his lack of enthusiasm for what was happening. ‘Are there words, Zohar,’ I said, ‘to describe such wonders as the King is creating?’

  “‘No, Melhem,’ Zohar had replied with a slight smile, ‘but do you not agree, that as lovely as it all is, it pales in comparison to our own beauty.’

  “I was stunned at this response of his, and Zohar could tell.

  “‘Come now,’ he said with conviction, ‘do not look so shocked. You know we are by far the most beautiful of his creations. But, yes, this land is very lovely and will do very well as a place for us to rule. I do wonder what my subjects shall look like.’

  “As Zohar spoke, his light, very slowly, very subtly, dimmed.

  “At this point, I noticed the High King had paused and was gazing in satisfaction at all he had created. It was good. I turned away from Zohar and joined my voice with the flowers, the trees, the hills, the mountains, the valleys, the rivers, the great water, and the other Erela. We lifted up our voices and sang.

  “As glorious as everything was, there was more still to come. Excitement radiated through the High King as He explained to us the love He had for us and for those whom He was about to create. They would be given leadership and authority over the land, serving as He directed, for it was by serving him that they would best be able to serve each other and the land over which they were being made the caretakers.

  “Zohar, however, seemed not to be listening as the High King laid out his designs. ‘And now for my subjects,’ he quietly hissed.

  “I looked at him curiously. His eyes had taken on a dark expectancy.

  “‘Just watch, Melhem,’ he said. ‘These slaves will do my every bidding.’

  “I glanced askance at Zohar. ‘Didn’t you hear the High King, just now?’ I asked. ‘His next creations are to be his subjects, not yours, and they are the ones who will be given charge of this land.’

  At this point, I noticed something very disturbing about the light within my commander. With every passing minute, it seemed to grow more and more dim. ‘Zohar!’ I exclaimed in dismay. Perhaps he was unaware of what was happening. ‘Zohar, your light— ’

  “‘My light, Melhem,’ he said, ‘is my own.’

  “I realized then that my Chief Commander was fully aware of what was happening. In the pride and arrogance of his own importance, he was more and more ceasing to reflect the light and goodness of the One, who had made him. I turned away, not knowing what to do and not wanting to watch his descent into darkness.

  “I turned my attention again to the workings of the High King. It was a wonder to watch as He created such an astounding assortment of creatures. When He finished, He spoke with select members of each group, teaching and instructing them.

  “Then the High King spoke to the Erela and gave us our assigned task.

  “‘You know how much I love you,’ He said, ‘Never doubt my love. I have a very important role for you. You are strong, of body and of spirit. These other races are not so naturally strong. They will have great need of your services. To you, I am giving the task of protecting and serving these other races, especially the Adamas.’

  “‘Were we not good enough?’ growled Zohar through his teeth.

  “I had nearly forgotten Zohar’s presence, but his voice reminded me that he was still there. ‘Commander,’ I said desperately, ‘surely you heard the King. He loves us.’

  “‘So he says,’ was Zohar’s bitter reply. ‘But how do we know he is telling the truth. If he loves us so much, why isn’t he making us the kings? Why does he subject us to be the slaves of such weak creatures?’ Zohar’s anger rose with every syllable and with every syllable, his light faded.

  “Then, suddenly, his expression softened. He looked at me kindly. ‘Don’t you see, Melhem, he doesn’t really love us. He loves those weaklings. Look at me. Look at us! Do you really believe such strength was created for nothing? Do you really believe our magnificent forms are meant for nothing more than to be that of errand boys? No, Melhem, we were made to be rulers!’ By now the voice of my Commanding Erela had a soothing, melodic tone. ‘You see, Melhem, the High King, is tired. He has been working very hard and was confused when he spoke to us. That’s all, just confused. He meant to say that the Adamas will serve everyone and that we will be the rulers.’

  “I hesitated. The words sounded so true, so logical. Zohar was strong, and he was beautiful. I began to doubt and to think that maybe the High King had made a mistake. Maybe he had gotten confused and meant for things to be the other way around.

  “Then I heard another voice speaking to me. ‘Melhem,’ it said, ‘never doubt my love. Hold tightly to what you know is true.’

  “‘My King?’ I asked.

  “‘Yes, my loved one, it is I,’ spoke the High King.

  “The light and life of the High King pulsated through my body. There was no doubt now to whom my spirit was aligned.

  “‘I believe,’ I said softly, but loudly enough for my darkened companion to hear.

  “‘What?’ yelled Zohar.

  “‘I believe the words of the High King.’ This time, I spoke with confidence. I looked again at the one whom I had considered to be my commander and noticed something more strange than anything I had yet seen. ‘Zohar,’ I said, ‘your light is hidden from me.’

  “All pretense suddenly disappeared from the mighty Erela. He was, in fact, shining forth darkness—a darkness which appeared as a sharp stain in the heavens. Eyes glowed fiercely, and he moved as though to strike me. At the moment of the assumed impact, however, my light shot out from all directions, momentari
ly blinding my now darkened Commander.

  “Cursing, the Dark One fell back and shot off into the distance, screaming as he did, ‘I am not finished. Just you wait! I was made to rule, and I will rule!’”

  ***

  “What happened then?” Aliatta’s voice broke into Melhem’s memories.

  Melhem didn’t answer. He had stopped for a reason, though he wasn’t sure yet what that reason is. And then he knew. I’m afraid story time is over, he said. Look, the Livids have arrived to guide you on to the next phase of your journey.

  Sure enough, a young sapling was climbing into the bush. “It is time for us to escort you to the edge of the forest,” he announced loudly and with some importance. His eyes shone with excitement, and it was obvious he was quite delighted with the role which had been assigned to him. “My family and I will take you to the edge of the forest where you will be met by a specially chosen family of Pronghorns. We must travel very quietly,” here his voice dropped low, “through the woods, for not all the Livids, even in this area, are on our side.”

  The group nodded, gathered their things, and silently followed the young, important Livid.

  24

  The Pronghorn

  The night had arrived with a thick blanket of clouds which stretched across the heavens, hiding the light of the moon and stars and wrapping the forest in a protective darkness. With the darkness now serving as their ally, the company of Livids and Adamas traveled swiftly and undetected through the South Badali Forest.

  Had it been light, and had they not been on the run, Aliatta may have enjoyed walking through this dense northern forest. She may have noticed the lush green leaves of sugar maple trees. She may have gazed in awe at the contrast provided by the white trunks of the birch trees and the silver-gray bark of the beech trees. Unfortunately, all she could see were the dark outlines of numerous trees, passing by one after another.

 
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