For once in her life

For once in her life, Komae was glad she wasn’t with mind talkers. All her life was an open book among her own kind, but now she needed to be alone, figure things out. The trees, growing taller as they climbed from the foothills into the mountains, felt comforting. Here there was life, not ancient like in the northern forests, but still rooted down into the ground, as it should be.

Damian walked in front of her, leading their small group forward. His strong shoulders, under his tunic, had carried such an immense weight for so long. She imagined both of them had carried the opposite ends of a single burden without knowing it. Though hers had been difficult, she couldn’t imagine how he must have suffered. She wondered if she could have been as strong.

It mattered that he had forgiven her. She wasn’t sure if she could have done the same to him. He had gone first, that took real strength. She admired that.

She had been in the forest too long, too close to the trees, unable to see beyond them. Damian’s revelation, his raw honesty, lifted her abruptly out of the familiar placing her above it all, letting her see the true lay of the land. Breathtaking.

Though physically strong, she now felt weak inside. Her desire to be sheltered, laying dormant these many years, bubbled up like a sudden spring of water in the desert. She wanted to slap herself, catching the way she looked at him the last few days, horrified at her need.

He hadn’t treated her differently. He was the same sure-of-himself leader who wanted things done his way. She obeyed more quickly, though, and without complaining. She hoped he noticed.

As she passed a leafy tree, she held one of it’s green leaves, rubbing across her cheek for comfort.

***

Micron neither complain nor lagged behind.

Brenzel looked at the way he sat and fiddled with the small machine when they made camp. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear he showed it genuine love. Never once had Brenzel seen him happy, but…there it was.

Komae, do you sense anything? Brenzel reached out in her mind. Several times in the last few days she’d tried to speak to her friend, but her mind was shut, giving the distinct impression that she wanted to be alone. What’s wrong with her? Brenzel thought.

The feeling of danger grew day by day. Brenzel found herself constantly alert, looking here and there, checking on people. She told herself, “of course, you’re getting closer to the Tech Wizard.” But it was something else, something unexpected, hidden.

As she trudged along, she wished Wichapi could give her news on Iris. There was no time nor a place to open her trunk, either. To top it off, she felt a few raindrops. Ugh.

No, nothing, came the tardy reply from the crazy elf lady.

You alright Komae? You‘re quiet.

If a mind could sigh, the Halan’s did when she said, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.

The conversation dangled.

About what? Then Brenzel felt her open a little, making her add… or about who?

Hesitation, confusion, regret.

Komae? “Oh my God!” Brenzel said under her breath as she saw into Komae’s thoughts.

Her feet kept moving, but the revelation stopped her cold, as she said in her mind, I don’t know what to say.

Komae answered nothing.

Sensing how vulnerable her forest friend was, Brenzel said, But…I’m proud of you and Damian, not many people can change like that…or forgive.

I’ll never be the same, Komae replied in her mind. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

As Brenzel picked her way around rocks in a stream, trying not to slip on the moss as she crossed, she heard Komae think, I guess we both have secrets now.

***

“The Tech Wizard’s lair is not far,” Micron said as they paused to rest on the far side of the brook. He raised his good hand, fingers pointing to snow covered mountains in the distance.

Brenzel eyed the turbaned man as he adjusted his spectacles. Then she asked, “How do you know that?”

“The automaton, he told me.”

“How?” she asked, looking down at the hunk of metal man.

“I speak machine language, you wouldn’t understand it,” Micron retorted.

Brenzel looked back at the others, making camp in the twilight. Turning again to Micron, she asked, “Why do you think there’s been no more resistance? The Tech Wizard tried to blow us up, then sent hellions after us, but now, nothing.”

The crow’s feet around his eyes looked up as she studied him.

You have beady eyes, she thought.

“You don’t trust me,” the small man said.

Brenzel just cocked an eyebrow, waiting.

Frowning, he whined, “I’m in danger too! Don’t you think I would say something if I knew anything useful?”

That made a certain amount of slimy sense.

Brenzel’s eyes narrowed, “Fair enough, but if you do anything to hurt any of my friends, I’ll shoot you like I did that hellion.”

The small man gulped.

***

“Commander Damian,” Brenzel said as she approached him, “can we talk?”

Nodding, he scooted over on the fallen tree trunk, making room for her to sit. “What’s on your mind, you feel something?”

“Yes, the last few days. It’s hard to explain. . . I just feel like we are in danger.”

He turned to look at her, his eyebrows furrowed, “Anything more specific? Should we go another way?”

Throwing up her hands, she shook her head in frustration. “I don’t know. The feeling that I have is like watching a big black spider crawl up someone’s arm when they’re asleep.”

Rubbing his semi bald head, Damian said, “Interesting way to put it.” He looked over at Micron, sitting with the small metal man. “Do you think it has anything to do with him?”

“Yes, I talked with him yesterday. He told me that he wouldn’t do anything to endanger us, because it would be his skin, too.”

“Makes sense,: he replied, rubbing his beard. “Could ask Komae could have a look.”

Brenzel nodded, “I think you should, I don’t trust him.”

Can’t Help Falling In Love – cover by Casey Abrams

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