“Life is for accumulating grief in the pursuit of happiness.”
Leman’s voice woke her from a deep sleep. They were in the topmost cave, and Leman was in the opening, speaking to the crowd of people below, as the sun rose slowly.
“Life is for leaning and supporting while growing.”
The people were murmuring along with her.
“Life is for knowing and forgetting as we learn.”
And then came some words in their own language, and everyone sang a single clear note.
Why, it’s like church, Tracy thought. Just like church. She got up slowly and approached the mouth of the cave, where Leman had sat down.
“Ah, you’re awake. I hope we can get quite a bit of practice in today, so that you can master your skills in this land before returning home.”
“I’m going home?”
“Yes, it came to me in the night from the world beyond the living. You must go home and then return here, for the battles. There are things you need from that world, things that will have great power here.”
Tracy felt herself torn – on the one hand, going home would be great, even if only to reassure herself that her mom was OK, and that she still had a life there, on the other hand, there was the looming spectre of being on the floor of the maze, with those hands clamped over her mouth and nose, not being able to breathe – and so could not focus on what Leman said next. Somewhere in there was a question, and so she said yes.
“I asked you if you could pass me that lump of rock, so since you agree that you could, maybe you could actually do it?” Leman had her hand stretched out.
“Oh, sorry. Here.”
“Now, please focus. Do you see the veins of blue in the rock?”
“Think of them, try to feel them in your mind, and then change their color to red.”
The rock was a typical specimen, grey and black, with the blue veins indeed running through it. As obediently as a little child, Tracy took it and looked at it.
Right, she thought, try to feel the blue veins in my head. How do you feel a thing in your head? I suppose it’s like dreaming, really, dreaming of the veins being like water, like a little stream in the rock. So they have to change to red. What can I think of that is like red in rock? How about lava? Yes, not streams of water in the rock, but streams of lava pouring in and through the rock, warmer than anything. The rock lay on the palm of her hand, and she stared at it, trying to feel the blue change to the glowing red of lava. It felt as if she had stood like that for hours when it suddenly burst into flames.
She dropped it in surprise.
“Did it hurt you?” Leman inquired.
And that was the strange thing, she had instinctively dropped it when she saw the flames, and expected to feel burnt, but now that she thought of it, it hadn’t burned her at all. And now it lay on the floor of the cave, once again a grey and black rock with streaks of blue. Was it smaller?
“No, it didn’t.”
“Then try again, and this time keep it in your hand.”
It was easier the second time, now that she knew what she was aiming for. Within moments the flames licked up, and apart from a slight tingle, she felt nothing.
“Now drop it on the dry canija I laid ready.”
Tracy did so, and the dry leaves caught and blazed up.
“Wow, so I can set the canija on fire in two ways. Being close to it, and dropping burning rocks on it.”
“Indeed. But you can do something more with the rocks. This time, try to change the blue to lightness, so that it can float.”
“But rocks can’t float!”
Leman smiled. “I saw a picture that a servant had smuggled out of the DarkLord’s castle, that showed something they call aircraft, floating above the land. What are those made of?”
Tracy blazed up: “OK, so they are metal, but they fly because moving forward generates lift as the air flows over the wing, not because someone thinks them lighter.”
“How did elves fly when they were in your world?” Leman asked.
How did they fly in fairy stories? Witches used broomsticks, which had always seemed a bit silly to Tracy, why suppose that a broom could fly? And if you could magic a broom into flying, why not something like a house, or a chair, or a bed, where you’d be comfortable? But elves, how had they flown?
“Well, fairies always had wings, so they could fly that way. And witches flew on broomsticks. But I never heard of elves flying.”
“Witches, fairies, elves were all the people from here. So they flew on sticks. That is because in your world, the trees responded most strongly to us, and could be changed as you can change the rocks, here. If some from your realm called some with wings and some with sticks, that did not mean all used the same.”
“So you’re saying that the stories of witches and fairies are stories about you?”
“Yes. But come, we need to practice, because by the time you return you must be ready to lead the army against the DarkLord.”
Tracy took the rock again. The blue had to change to something light, something that would rise. She remembered helium filled balloons. She tried to feel the lightness of the helium balloon tugging at her wrist as it tried to escape the bright red ribbon her mom had used to tie it there. She wondered, how would helium look? As far as she remembered it was a colorless gas. No help there, then.
Think of the balloon – silver and red and yellow and green, bobbing at the end of its red string. Silver. The color of airplanes, now she came to think of it. Yes, a light silver, lightness in the silver. Slowly the veins of blue in the rock started to pulse, change and the rock lifted a scant centimeter or so before she lost it.
“Good, you are faster than I thought you’d be. We will have breakfast now, and you will practice some more, then we will talk about what you will be looking for when you get back to the other world.”
Tracy thought that she had never worked so hard before, not even when she first started movement classes. Every bone ached, every muscle protested, and her head felt as if she had been banging it against the walls non-stop. What was strange was that this was the result of staring and straining to get the rocks and the vegetation to lift, fall, catch fire or pour water from them using her mind, not her body. When the twilight descended, Leman finally pronounced herself satisfied.
“You have the shape of it of now. More time will make it easier, but now you know what it is like. Now, gather your things, and let us go to the soft place.”
“You mean I’m going back now? But what about the..“, the word murder stuck in her throat.
“I know I said we can return to the time and place when and where we crossed, but we can also change the place. Especially if we cross to a familiar place. What you need to do is see the place where you want to be, and then fall through.”
“But how do I ‘fall through’? Do I just step through, or what?”
“Come with me, and we’ll see.”
They left the cave and walked along the path, higher up along the side of the peak. Finally there was a wide space, and they stopped.
Leman sat down on a stone, and asked her to look carefully around her. Tracy looked around. There were solid rock walls on two sides, and the path continued along one side going higher up, while there were sheer drops on the other sides. Very little vegetation anywhere. She could not see anything that looked like a door or a passage or a ‘soft place’. She moved to the rock and started running her hands over it.
“No, if you can’t see it you won’t feel it.”
“What am I looking for?”
Leman shook her head. “You’ll see it when you see it.”
Why did grown-ups always do that to you? They had an answer, but they make you puzzle over it and agonize about whether it is the right answer or not. Just tell me, already. My head hurts, my body hurts, we’re up on a mountain where there’s nothing to see except rocks and sheer cliffs and…what was that?
Tracy turned her head again. A flash of something, almost light, but not quite, caught the corner of her eye. Slowly she turned in that direction and..
“Ah, you caught it, did you?”
“I’m not sure. It was out of the corner of my eye, just a flash, and then when I look at where I think it was, nothing.”
Leman nodded. “Point it out.” Tracy pointed at where she thought she had seen it. “Good. Now look at it carefully.”
Tracy stared. She was pointing at a part of the rockface just left of the widening of the path, a part that looked just the same as the rest. And then it was like one of those 3D-puzzle pictures – she suddenly saw the lightness of it, the way it just barely covered whatever lay beyond.
“What do I do? Do I just walk through, like Harry Potter for the Hogwarts Express?”
“Forget it. What I mean is, how do I go through? Do I just push through it?” As she spoke she tentatively pressed a finger against the place. It felt and behaved like rock.
“No, that’s not the way. You have to see past the rock, past this place into the place you want to go to.”
Tracy tried to picture the park in her mind. The outside of the funhouse, the brick paths, the smell of candy corn and hot dogs. With her eyes still closed she reached forward again and felt her finger penetrate something, something like poking your finger into bubblegum.
“Good. Now pull back. We still have to talk about your mission there.”
Tracy pulled back, and stepped to Leman’s side.
“The color red is your color, your special gift. It lives in you, in your hair, and in your blood. But you need to find white power as well. The DarkLord uses black for his power, and white will help you to defeat him. There is, in your world, a flower called jamein.”
“Jamein? I’ve never heard of it.”
Leman leaned forward and sketched a blossom shape in the ground. The six petals were thin and pointed.
“It has a strong smell, I believe.”
“Wait, are you talking about jasmine?”
Leman nodded. “That could be it. You would have to bring a branch of it to me for me to check. You will also need to find a mineral, called kwartz.”
Tracy smiled, “I think you mean quartz. A clear crystal?”
“Yes. Find a crystal of it, as big as your thumb, and clear or pure white. The crystal and a branch of the jasmein, jashmin…”
“Yes, jasmine, will be tied together and will help you to use white energy.”
“It almost sounds as if we will be making a wand.”
Leman smiled in turn.
“What do you think works magic better? And you will need to find a sword, a sword with a white hilt.”
“I’m not sure I’ll be able to do that, but I’ll try.”
“When you have these things, think of this place. Go to the same place you were when you first came here, and look for the softness, then think of this world, think of us waiting for you. I know we will not wait for long, but every moment you are gone I will be wishing for the red lady to return.”
“Now go to your world. Think clearly of where you want to be, not where you don’t want to be.”
Tracy gulped, and touched her throat and mouth, then closed her eyes again. Think of the outside of the funhouse, of the hot dog stand, of the brick path. She could almost smell the hot dogs. She pushed again, and felt the same yielding, then her hand suddenly broke through and she fell forward, into bright sunshine and excited yells and the hot dog cart.