Mrs. Kirkeby was a culinary perfectionist. Andre looked forward to every invitation he received from the Kirkeby household to share a meal. She could create a fine smoked cod, which she served with canned vegetables, goat cheese, fresh rolls, and a mint-infused lemonade on ice. It was a warm, June afternoon with the sun on their backs as they ate in the garden beside the Kirkeby cottage. The meal was late because of the ferry departure at the pier, and the family discussed the event while they ate.
“Does anyone know where they’re headed first?” Svana asked.
“Denmark,” Kylan told her before sipping his lemonade. “That is always the first place they go. From there they’ll catch a plane south, I heard Australia. There was flooding there in the spring and there is still a great need for cleanup. We would have gone there had we not gotten sick in Germany.”
“I’ll have to tell Davi,” Andre said. “He wants to go to Australia to see the kangaroos.”
Jora laughed, “Of course he does.”
“And the dingos.”
“Dingos?” Mr. Kirkeby snorted. “I have a dog he can have if he’s that inclined toward canines.”
Andre shook his head. “It’s got to be a dingo.”
“There has been enough talk of travels in this house,” Mrs. Kirkeby interrupted. “I want to talk about Sunesis. Mr. Dietrich, eat more fish.” She always addressed Andre as Mr. Dietrich or Mr. Agabus. She insisted on that particular formality but simultaneously had no qualms about bossing him around as if he were her own.
Andre gladly took a second helping of everything with many thanks and a hearty appetite. It was easy to relax and forget the events of yesterday in the company of the Kirkebys in their comfortable home.
“You have your first assignments, yes?” Mrs. Kirkeby asked, including both twins and Andre in the question.
“Ja, momma,” Svana replied. “We start in Commerce tomorrow. We’re all supposed to report to Metoche at sunrise.” She looked disgusted at the thought. Not even for school had they been required to arrive so early.
“Ja,bra,” Mrs. Kirkeby approved. “It’s about time for you to learn hard work.”
“About time?” Svana screeched indignantly. “We work!”
“She said hard work,” Mr. Kirkeby teased his daughter with a wink. “Just wait until you join me on the sea. Then you will see what real work looks like. Under conditions you’ve never dreamed of.”
“Can’t wait,” Svana grumbled into her drinking glass.
The sun began to descend before the family ventured to move from the outdoor table. The used dishes were removed and replaced with dessert and mugs of tea. The stars began to appear, and Mr. Kirkeby reached for his guitar. Jora loved to listen to her father play, and she curled up on the bench seat beside him with her knees tucked under her chin and lost herself within the rhythmic melody. Svana begged her father for a lesson on the instrument, and Mr. Kirkeby patiently led her through a few cords with ease, singing the words of the simple song in a rich, deep baritone.
“Levende vannet i havet, bli med meg—bli med meg.
Herren føre meg hjem for å hvile hodet mitt.
Veilede meg i denne stormen, bli med meg—bli med meg.
Bære meg hjem…”
“Walk with me, Agabus,” Kylan slapped Andre on the back and led the way across the garden to a side gate leading into the alley behind the cottage. Andre followed, closing the gate behind them. A neighboring dog barked at their presence, alarming a rooster somewhere in the growing gloom. Soft voices of villagers out in their gardens drifted over fences and groves.
“There’s nothing I missed more than the quiet,” Kylan spoke. “Nowhere I’ve been in the world is as quiet as it is here. There was always this buzzing,” he waved his hands before his head in an irritated fashion. “Like an electric current that never ceases. I think it’s all the caffeine the world consumes.”
Andre waited for Kirkeby to get to the point, “What happened?” he asked.
It was Kylan’s idea to meet, but he took his time responding to the question. His attention was on the sky and the black wall of mountain to the north. He stopped along a low garden wall with his hands thrust deep into his pockets and considered how to word what he needed to say. “Everything happened,” he finally responded vaguely. Eventually he caught the prophet’s eye and chuckled, shaking his head. “Sorry. It’s hard to explain. The Acclimation staff didn’t know what to think either. They tried, but they didn’t know.
“It wasn’t like the whole trip was a disaster.” He switched gears and sat against the wall to get more comfortable. “We did some good work and met some amazing people. The cultures and the sights…” Kylan shook his head like it was just too hard to describe to someone who hadn’t seen it. “We met this elderly man in Guam, a military lifer type with some amazing stories. He told me how he survived being held hostage by pirates while working as a civilian on a cargo ship.” Kylan ran a hand through his dirty blonde hair. It felt like he was stalling, and Andre just wanted him to get on with it.
“Our next stop was Mexico,” Kirkeby told him finally, “and we weren’t prepared. Our work in Guam was very physical so we were already worn out. While we were traveling through Guerrero we came up against some…resistance. Everything started going wrong, from transportation problems to sickness, everything.
“One night while staying at a church mission in Metlatonoc, we heard screaming from the girls’ quarters down the hall. When we got there, May Beth George was on the floor in the middle of the bunks having a fit. The girls were crying and huddled at the far side of the room convinced May Beth was possessed. She was talking in this voice that wasn’t hers. None of us understood what she said. It was some unknown language, at least no language I’ve ever heard.” Kylan shook his head. “I don’t know, but it was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. Her eyes were all rolled back and white. She was spitting and gagging on her tongue like in some epileptic fit.
“Simon pinned her down and demanded that the Daimon leave. After about five minutes of this, she passed out. The girls didn’t want to stay with her, so Simon moved her to another room and kept watch ‘til morning. The rest of us sat up all night. There was no way we were getting any sleep after that.”
Sighing and shaking off the distaste of the memory, Kylan tried to explain it. “She had been fine all day, just tired. We all were. We were late coming to the mission because of problems on the road. No one talked much, but I hadn’t noticed anything different about May Beth compared to the rest of us.
“A sort of heavy feeling stayed with us all the while we were in Mexico. May Beth woke up the morning after and seemed fine. She said she didn’t have any memory of the fit so we just tried to forget about it too. I wished you had been there.” He looked up at Andre. “We could have used your Understanding right then. Maybe it would have given us a clue as to what to expect from the rest of the trip.
“Anyway, we were more than ready to jump on a plane and leave that place. We thought that the cloud that seemed to follow us all the time we were in Mexico would lift and we would feel better once we left. But it didn’t. More than one of us had headaches on the long flight to South Africa. When we landed, we were so oppressed that we spent three days in a cheap hotel just trying to shake things off. I’ve never been that sick,” Kylan sounded as if the memory was uncomfortable to even think about. “All of us had fevers, some vomiting, and many migraines. We missed our appointment to help out with an orphanage reconstruction and might as well have skipped out on a park project in Johannesburg for all the good we were there.
“We knew we were being followed when the oppression remained with us in Germany. Therapon was almost over, but we felt like it had all been a waste. Every one of us was sick, we couldn’t do anything we had planned to do, and any hope to see the world was completely shot. We couldn’t get out of bed much less help at soup kitchens or visit museums.
“I don’t know if the shadow found us in Mexico, or if it had been with us from the beginning and we just hadn’t noticed. We never heard from it again, but we knew it was there. Once we recovered from sickness Simon was able to find us some help. We went to a sanctuary in the Swiss mountains where we rested and were given spiritual counseling. After that we returned to Kaluma and began preparing for re-admittance.” He paused a moment, and Andre almost thought he was finished.
“We knew why the Oppression was so intent on keeping us from our work,” Kylan continued eventually. “But we still don’t understand where we picked it up. Even with our preparation and training, we somehow let it in. They taught us to expect these things.” Kylan shook his head. “Why did it affect us more than others? We got the same training as everyone else. Why weren’t we able to stand up against it?”
Andre had an answer to this, and he spoke it without hesitating. “It was stronger,” he met Kylan’s eye. “You weren’t weaker,” he clarified. “The oppression was stronger. The world…it’s darker now.” He thought of Abaddon and his desperate desire to break down Koinonia’s Hupsoma, the invisible barrier around the island. Evil knew better than anyone that the world was dying. His appetite was growing and the actively resistant were his favorite prey to pursue.
Kylan nodded slowly, “Well, we were more than ready to get home,” he reminded Andre. “Even on Kaluma we felt smothered by shadow. It never really left us until we crossed into Koinonia. May Beth was the most desperate to get home. She, obviously, was the most affected by our trip and, when they almost didn’t let us in, she just broke down bawling.” He chuckled slightly without much humor. “I know you don’t agree but we couldn’t wait anymore. Crossing back into Koinonia’s protection was like being able to breathe again. I knew without you having to tell us that the Oppression had not followed us in. All of us knew, we could feel it.”
Andre studied him carefully, searching the depth of Kirkeby’s eyes under the dim light.
“I’m glad it’s gone, but the Kaluma staff wanted me to tell you just so you were aware, you know…in case Abaddon brings it up.”
The prophet nodded as Kylan moved off of the garden wall and gave Andre his characteristic slap on the shoulder. “Thanks, Agabus. Now maybe I can try and forget it all and get on with my life.” He began to walk back to the Kirkeby cottage. “Be sure and give your goodbyes to Jora. She’ll be waiting.”
Andre watched him go, standing in the middle of the darkened street without moving. After Kylan disappeared through his family’s garden gate, the prophet spoke without turning around. “You heard all that?” he asked Lavi standing behind him.
“Alert the others.”
Lavi shot into the air and flew north with great speed the instant the command was given. Andre stood there alone for a prolonged moment and considered everything he had been told. Glancing up at the scattered clouds reflecting the color of the village lights, he made his way back to the cottage where Jora waited.