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Flying high

In the darkness, eyes moving beneath her lids, Brenzel flew in the heavens with Wichapi, hand in hand, wind in both their wings – hers snow white, Wichapi’s jet black. Below, the world moved past them as they disappeared into a cloud, then reappeared, the cool dew upon both their skin. Brenzel alternately smiled, then laughed, as Wichapi did somersaults in the air.

Everything felt so crisp and clear above the earth. They could go anywhere, anytime, just the two of them. Brenzel felt her friend’s heart beating in time with hers. All the doubt was gone – she felt strong with Wichapi near her, whole.

Her eyes fluttered open in the darkness and Brenzel put her fingers to her lips, remembering kissing her friend. The bed she lay on held her body, but Brenzel felt her spirit reaching out to find her Lakota friend, who stood holding a young furry animal in a meadow under a vast orange sky. There was nothing between them. Looking into her dark eyes, Brenzel knew that Wichapi understood, too.

“I love you,” Brenzel said to the darkness.

***

“Ouch!” Brenzel said, as Fallon and Meha both worked their fingers through her hair to de-tangle it. She wondered when she’d be able to wash it. Last time she was able to take proper bath was the day before she’d left Nilfheim.

“Sorry,” Meha said softly.

It was cute how Meha seemed joined at the hip with her young friend. Brenzel knew it was because Fallon was so accepting of everyone. She really tended to bring out the best in those around her.

“Meha, are these your people?” Brenzel asked as she sat on the chair, the girls picking it apart, combing it with a bristled brush.

“No,” Meha said, “these are the Half Clan. I come from another clan in the far south, Clan of the Hammer.” Silent for a moment, she continued, tentatively, “I’ve never seen such beautiful hair, it is golden. All our hair is black.”

“How many clans are there?” Brenzel quizzed.

“Ten,” Meha replied.

Sensing her Hadite friend’s resistance to speak of such things, Brenzel changed the topic, asking Fallon how Derek was.

“I think he’s fine,” Fallon answered, “but he’s even more quiet than usual. I think being bound by the soldiers brought up some bad memories. From when he was a slave, you know?”

“Yeah, that makes sense. I didn’t like it either.”

“Meha, do you know where we can eat something?” Fallon asked, “I’m starving!”

***

After a simple breakfast of flat bread and some type of thick cream, Brenzel was brought to Tane, Komae sitting across from him.

Komae was a hard person to follow, always a storm of contradictions, fiery one moment, calm the next. Always a lot going on inside, away from prying eyes.

Brenzel sat next to Komae and looked at their captain, still wearing the white patch on his forehead. His eyes looked less weary, though, less strained.

Looking at them both, Tane began, “Okay, I know I owe you both an explanation.”

Brenzel said nothing. Komae was equally nonverbal. Both women stared, waiting.

Smugglers

“We are cutters. Me and my crew that is. We cut wood – pitch wood if we can find it – and smuggle it to the south.”

Brenzel looked over at Komae, who made no indication of her feelings. Then Brenzel asked, “So you sell the wood to the Haders? For a profit? From what I hear, that is very bad form.”

“No, we don’t Brenzel, we give it away.”

Brenzel, surprised looked at Komae again. This time she nodded.

“Okay? To who and why?” Brenzel asked, “I thought everyone despised Haders?”

Komae uncrossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. “Yes, we all do, but Alethea is trying to change that. I was shocked when, um….Tane…told me, but it makes sense now.”

Alethea? Remembering the last time they’d spoken, Brenzel wondered how any of this had to do with the Seraph of Hala.

Tane looked at Komae, as if she should be the one to explain.

Haders are dying

Sighing, looking away, as if there was something to be ashamed of, Komae said, “Brenzel, all the Hadites are dying. In less than 500 years, everyone in the south of the Burnt Sea will be dead.”

Putting her hand to her mouth in surprise, Brenzel said, “Why? I thought everyone was immortal here? Haders aren’t?”

Komae would neither meet her eyes nor answer.

After a moment, Tane explained, “Everyone can be immortal if they eat of the Tree of Life at least once every 1000 years. But if you don’t, you begin to die, slowly, over a long time.”

Brenzel remembered tasting the fruit at the Last Great Day of the festival in Elysia. She thought for a moment, then it hit her. Looking at Komae hoping she misunderstood, she exclaimed, “You’re purposely letting them die?”

Tane interjected again, “It’s complicated, Brenzel, but essentially, that’s right, the Halans are letting time solve their Hader problem. They believe it serves their enemies right.”

“How many are there?” Brenzel asked, without thinking.

“Several hundred thousand,” Komae said, now looking at the floor.

How much is that? Brenzel asked.

A punch in the gut

The magnitude of the Halans’ hatred, masked by righteous indifference, hit Brenzel full force, like a punch in the gut. She felt her face flush with anger, “So, you’re just going to sit back and watch all these people die of old age while you could help? You’re monsters!”

Komae quickly looked up, fury in her yes, “Don’t judge what you don’t know, child!” She sat up straight, turning toward Brenzel. “You weren’t there, you have no idea of what they did to us!”

Tane stood, placing his arm in between the two women, “Please, calm down, the last thing we need to do is fight amongst ourselves, right?”

Komae sat back, folding her arms and looking away again, as Brenzel still stared hard at her. Killing was killing as far as she was concerned. The Halans had seemed so perfect, so loving at the City of Fey, were they even capable of such indifference? That awful thought staggered through her mind like a drunken man, bumping into her precious sensibilities, moral certitudes and basic human decency, knocking them to the floor.

Sitting back down, the big Kumite captain went on. “My crew and I are wood cutters in the dead forests, but by Alethea’s permission. We fill our hold with wood and then smuggle it to the south where we give it to the poor, or sell it and use the money to help those most in need. Many Hadites are in pretty bad shape, Brenzel, and there is little mercy from their own people. Alethea is reaching out to them through us.”

Brenzel paused, thinking for a moment, as everything started to come into focus. “And the fruit of the tree of life? What about that?” She looked from Tane to Komae, then back to Tane.

How can I help?

Reaching into a pouch on his side, Tane held up a clear glass tube containing a light amber liquid. “For those who are most sick, we dilute some of this nectar of the fruit with local water and give it to them as medicine. No one knows we do this, but it heals them enough.”

“If my countrymen and women knew this of their seraph, they would revolt,” Komae said, shaking her head. “I could not believe it myself, until I saw the truth in his mind,” she said, gesturing toward Tane.

So Alethea is trying to reach out to them – to save them after all! Brenzel thought Then realizing what it all meant she exclaimed to Komae, “You’re a missionary! Alethea has sent you to help the Haders!”

Komae nodded, “It’s time the hatred stop, Brenzel, it has to, it’s killing both our peoples.”

Brenzel felt new admiration for both her friends welling up in her heart and overflowing as she understood the intent of their sacrifice, “Well, I’m definitely with you on that…how can I help?”

Birds of a Feather by Erutan

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