Good Reef!

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Chapter 8

Throughout the night strange noises kept drifting in from the nearby forest and sea. Magicians in the camp, feeling the overwhelming magic from all over, gathered together and cast protective spells over the village of Blumenport against all the various Ancient creatures they could think of. Some creatures seemed clearly menacing, and so, without actually consulting anyone (for fear of worrying people of course and NOT because they felt so superior they didn’t have to explain themselves) the magicians did their thing. Very soon afterwards some unhappy grunting and even screaming was heard, and they went to sleep with a feeling of fulfilment that comes from a job well done. If anything got through, they would surely find out. Some creatures did indeed get past the protective spells, but only because they weren’t the ones that people needed protection from. They were mostly harmless or friendly ones, like Skriteks (often mistaken for Gnomes, which was something they really didn’t appreciate) and Dobrochots. Both of them helped households with their mundane chores in exchange for some appreciation and a bowl of leftovers or grain from time to time. Most of these quickly found places to live in the villagers’ homes. Others just wandered around the town searching for a decent dwelling to grace with their presence for now or forever, depending on how things worked out in the near future. After all, any magical creature worth its magic was aware of what was about to happen, and right now they just wanted to witness it. Who knew – maybe the whole of the land would soon be theirs again? And the closer they were to the Wall, the better the view when the entire thing kicked off.

By morning the village was teeming with supernatural creatures. The original non-magical inhabitants were getting suspicious, but the number of new arrivals wasn’t even a fraction of what was gathering in the forests and fields. And then there was the sea… The sea Ancients had never really gone to sleep and so never took to hiding. They just stayed away from the Wall and lived in relative harmony with the Sea People (the other Ancients thought they’d had it easy). All this magical commotion continued throughout the morning and early afternoon, when another creature showed up and scaled the coral wall. Eeliah disregarded both Bee’s words and the concerns of the Oorcheen, because he could clearly feel the girl’s pain. The two were connected somehow and he could not simply move away from the coral to stop hearing her thoughts like the others did. His whole settlement stayed underwater and didn’t dare get close to the Wall. In any case only Eeliah had seemed able to do that until now. At present it was possible for anyone on both sides to climb it, even go over it, but they knew better than that. Bee had been quite clear about everything. Yet Eeliah kept hearing her pain and calls for help. The moment he stuck his head over the Wall, he saw the Land People, or Yavians as they called themselves according to Bee (she insisted that Eeliah was also a Yavian, every creature in the world was, but he didn’t really like that. Everyone deserved to chose their own name) and started hearing their thoughts soon after. Not all of them, like poor Bee did. Eeliah heard only the thoughts of people who were awake and consciously thinking or overcome by emotion, and some of those whose dreams were particularly vivid. What a strange noise. His people’s thoughts and emotions were in sync because they thought as one most of the time. This was different. He knew that for Bee it was blinding and deafening, but for him it was merely unpleasant. He could easily duck behind the wall and make it all stop, but he didn’t. He searched the crowds for any thoughts of his pale, little friend and sure enough found them concentrated mostly in one area of the village. He would hide behind the coral from time to time and re-emerge listening intently as the day wore on. His people continued calling to him, but there was no way he could leave now. Eeliah kept sending Bee calming thoughts of support, but apart from that he didn’t think there was anything else he could do. Just like the rest of her kind, he waited.

The first group of Yavians touched the coral wall in the late morning, and the first two people climbed it in the afternoon. Nobody dared cross it just yet. They merely looked around and their names were never remembered. But one of those two was the first Yavian in a very, very long time (apart from Bee, of course) to lay his eyes upon an Oorcheen. And had he been a slightly educated person, a mage or at the very least open minded, his reaction might have been different to screaming ‘Monster! Monster!’ at the top of his voice and looking for something close by with which he could kill the creature. As it was, he proved to be a true representative of his people: mostly decent yet ignorant, selfish and completely secure in the belief that his kind was the centre of all creation. Simply put, he was good, and everything which was not like him was bad. The man’s name was actually Kretyn and he was a cobbler’s apprentice, but all of that information disappeared in the annals of history. It was always assumed, however, that he was not the brightest of men but nobody remembered why. In the end it didn’t really matter.

Eeliah, who had been concentrating on trying to hear something from Bee, ignored everything else and was surprised by the excruciating pain of hatred aimed right at him. He fell off the Wall and half running, half crawling, got in the water and tried to swim away as quickly as he could. The pure violence of the thoughts behind him kept jabbing at his very core, until he completely disappeared from view. The stones thrown after him missed, but they wouldn’t have hurt as much as the hatred and evil intentions aimed at him first by one, and then by two people. Eeliah’s folk came to his aid, helping him swim back to the shelter of their town, as he was still in pain and shaken. The Yavians’ thoughts couldn’t reach him anymore, but he was, for all intents and purposes, wounded. Maybe not physically; none of his bones were broken and he wasn’t bleeding, but he was hurt. His elders did their best to soothe his pain and help him, but it took Eeliah a while to recover. Such violence was unheard of. Misunderstandings or fights between the Oorcheen were not that intense. Understandably, they could be hurt by their own negative thoughts and emotions as soon as they got back to the collective mind. This way they always knew exactly how it felt to wound others, because it grieved them just as much. But this was far more than a misunderstanding. This was pure anger, hatred even—for no reason at all.

Back on land the two men were already surrounded by others and told anyone who listened about what they’d seen. The monster got bigger with each retelling, his teeth got longer and his eyes became blazing red. He had been close to attacking them (despite being fifty feet away) but noticed there were two of them and so it ran. Good. It may have been a monster but it wouldn’t live long after they were done with it. More people climbed the Wall searching the waters for any sign of the creature but saw nothing. Some believed them, others were doubtful, and a few thought it was not worth listening to a cobbler’s apprentice named Kretyn (some sort of prejudice). As usual, the magicians and witches kept their opinions to themselves. But nevertheless, people were now preparing for something more real than all their previous guesses. They were gathering weapons, just in case, and arranging for regular patrols to circle the village and the ever growing camp. Volunteers were now to climb the Wall and keep their eye on the sea. Everybody wanted to see the monster themselves and wished to be the one who alerted their companions of the impending attack.

The Oorcheen settlement was bursting with confusion, sadness and anger directed at the Yavians. They swam around from home to home, lost and puzzled, unsure of what to do. Eeliah was in the house furthest from the Wall. He was feeling much better but was still a little ‘bruised’. At present, he was staring at the ceiling above him and thinking how much he hoped to be able to show his town to Bee one day, even if only in his mind, since she would never be able to dive this deep. The girl was fascinated with the idea of homes underwater. They didn’t need to hide from the rain or snow. They liked it cold. Why would they need houses? And how did they build them? When they told her that the buildings were grown from coral, her mouth stayed open for a while and the Oorcheen around her laughed, which to her, was a strange and endearing sound. They built homes because, even though they were happy and comfortable constantly sharing their thoughts with each other, everyone needed some moments alone from time to time, and the coral helped. It somehow blocked the sounds in their head and gave them a little peace. Being connected to the collective mind was a wonderful and safe feeling, but silence was sometimes also required. Straight away Bee asked if they’d also grown the Wall but they shook their heads. The Oorcheen had the knowledge and the means to do it, but it had been done so long ago that nobody remembered how the Wall came to be. Although, now that the Oorcheen knew the purpose of its construction, it seemed logical that they’d built it as a charitable gesture. However, they wouldn’t have been able to make it sing the way it did and repel both Yavians and Oorcheen at the same time. Bee was fascinated and, if she could, she would probably stay with them for a very long time, if not forever. They were after all, never conceited and plainly incapable of it. What’s more, the Oorcheen found it hard to comprehend the meaning of that idea. How could there be a race that did not share their thoughts with everyone else? What would be the purpose of hiding them? When she explained that it was usually used to get what you wanted, they simply replied: why not ask for what you want? She tightly hugged Eeliah then, and he had immediately felt her great burden and wished he could help. They all did.

And now she was not even capable of conscious thought. He couldn’t get to her at all. Not with his mind anyway. But he had to help.

Eeliah kept staring at the ceiling.

The village of Blumenport had always been small and closely knit. Despite the usual feuds and fights, it was a friendly place to live. And everyone loved Bee. She may have been confused by the contradictory thoughts and feelings coming from everyone all the time, but in general she was well liked. They all had a fondness for her constant interest in things and general busyness, which rarely led to anything. She knew people were mostly good and decent, but the constant distraction of conflicting thoughts and sometimes just pure evil feelings confused her a lot. It would be so much better to judge people by their actions and not by their thoughts. She didn’t have that option however. And right now she wouldn’t even know how many people cared because she hadn’t regained consciousness in a few hours. Lara was frantic. As Bee’s mother she should be able to do something. Anything. That’s what parents are for. They’re supposed to help you reach adulthood safely (more or less, since it’s in a child’s job description to get into trouble and fall off things from time to time) until you can look after yourself and then look after them when they get old. She felt useless and wanted to be able to help in some manner. No matter how small.

June also felt rather defeated. She did what she could, yet nothing seemed to remedy a great deal apart from visibly making it all less painful and uncomfortable for Bee. She kept checking her pulse and eyes, but now only the whites were visible.

At present, there were strange things happening in the village. The most recent news was that a monster had emerged from behind the Wall and was bravely repelled by some men in the camp. People were arming and preparing for something. They weren’t sure exactly what for, but one was always prepared with a weapon at hand. Lara couldn’t care less - and June wasn’t that interested either. They just wanted Bee to get better. If only Maya were here. Perhaps they should try finding one of the magicians or witches in the camps under the Wall? One of them might be able to help. Knowing that there wasn’t much more she could do, June got up from the cold floor on which she was kneeling next to Lara and wiped her wet hands. They were still trying to cool Bee down, but the water kept getting warm. She left Lara holding her daughter’s hand and went outside. There was a small gathering of people sitting and standing around, waiting for the news. Bee’s father and two brothers looked up with fear, but she only shook her head and ignoring everyone else, started walking among the houses. When the healer got to the road, she had the forest full of strange sounds in front of her. To the left, the road continued along the village, the coast and the forest towards Blumenstye a day away. To the right a path split off of it. The road continued inland, and the path went uphill towards the cliff on which stood the house of Bronek and Maya. June didn’t want to search the crowds on the beach, and there was no guarantee she’d find any magicians by the Wall. But she could be sure that there would always be at least one on the cliff. They were attracted to its solitary position and, obviously, the protective magic Maya must’ve placed on it. Or maybe they were just nosy.

The truth was that they were nosy. After Thesius discovered Maya, the news of her spread like wildfire through the magical ranks. She was the most powerful witch in the Four Kingdoms, and she was self-taught no less! Witches and wizards who stayed hidden from the Academy never managed to develop their talents beyond very rudimentary magic, or perhaps trained as healers. They never became that powerful, which made visiting her cliff akin to celebrity sightseeing. There were places you just had to see.

By now, June was nearing the fork in the road, and she was so deep in thought that she completely ignored the strange noises coming from the forest to her left. And then a familiar sound woke her from her daze. A song she loudly disapproved of but quietly found very amusing, could be heard from behind a bend in the road. She stopped and listened more intently. A few voices sang in unison with an accompaniment of a lute. They would sometimes burst into laughter with only one voice continuing to sing.

June waited at the fork with her hands tightly clasped together, hoping it was who she thought it was. And soon enough, the group emerged from behind the bend. An old wizard of the traditional look appeared first, obviously enjoying himself and singing along with the others, who followed him closely. Then there was Bronek, singing loudly and playing his lute, his wife (praise the gods!) walking next to him and laughing away with a pair of warriors closing the ranks. They looked mean and dangerous, but at the moment they were singing happily as well, a little off key, but nobody has all the talents.

They noticed her standing on the road, and Maya waved happily only to freeze with her arm raised and a worried look on her face. June ran up to them and didn’t bother with introductions.

‘You’re needed in the village,’ she said to Maya.

‘Bee?’

‘I did all I could but she’s getting worse.’

‘She’s ill?’ asked Maya with surprise. ‘Well, let’s go then,’ she started walking hurriedly towards the village and the rest followed quickly.

‘What happened?’ asked Bronek putting his lute away (the time for happy, inappropriate songs was clearly over).

‘She just suddenly got sick. Her temperature is like nothing I’ve seen before, and she’s been unconscious for a while now.’

‘Ahem,’ Mateya cleared her throat pointedly and Bronek looked at her in surprise.

‘Ah, yes, sorry, June, this is Mateya and her brother Mathias. They’re from Blumenstye. Thesius, the king’s mage. And this is June, she’s our healer.’

‘Pleased to meet you,’ said the siblings in unison.

‘Pleasure,’ said Thesius.

‘Pleased, I’m sure,’ answered June distractedly. ‘Wait. Mateya? And Mathias? From Blumenstye?’

‘Yes,’ said the girl. Did they suddenly get famous?

‘Oooooh, you’re in trouble, you two.’

‘Pardon?’ asked Mathias.

‘I know your grandmother, kids. I often go to Blumenstye, and I can tell you: she is not happy. You haven’t visited or written to her in ages.’

The pair mumbled something in reply to which June smiled.

‘You don’t need to explain yourselves to me. But you will have to explain yourselves to her.’

The warriors said nothing and remained very silent until the group reached the village. In addition, Maya was looking very worried, Thesius was being a magician, and so Bronek felt it was his responsibility to try and continue with some manner of idle chat to break the mood. He was never good at it though and gave up rather quickly. But it was great to see his village again after such a long time away. Obviously it would’ve been far nicer to go straight home but such was life, eh? And Maya was good with herbs. When they arrived in the central square, his neighbours and friends greeted them with excitement and were obviously happy for his safe return. And even though their welcome was genuine, their eyes still followed Maya and June with worry to Lara and Bill’s home, where Bee was apparently dying. Nobody said anything. It was strange how, even in crisis, some weird rules of politeness kept people from implying that Maya was a witch. It was an open secret. Everybody knew. She was friends with the king’s mage, she healed people, but she never admitted it and her husband was still, as far as they knew, completely unaware and just thought she was good with herbs. At this point it would be almost rude to say anything.

Thesius followed her into the house. Who could tell if he wanted to help or just see the girl with the gift of Sight?

Bronek, Mathias and Mateya stayed behind. They’d be more than useless with a sick child after all.

The Wall was right there, facing hundreds of people and sparkling from far away. Without even thinking about it, they walked towards it. The makeshift camps were well organised and there were obvious storage areas for food and dry wood for fires. A lot of people looked armed however, and Mathias and Mateya noticed the patrols straight away.

‘Do you think it’s for protection against the Ancients?’ asked Bronek when the siblings pointed them out to him.

‘I doubt it. There must be some people here, who could easily explain to them that this is not a way of protecting against magic. There must be something else happening,’ answered Mathias.

They reached the Wall and stopped for a moment. It certainly was impressive, no, breathtaking. The three of them just stood there gaping, taking it all in. Everyone else appeared more or less used to the Wall being there, even if they were still treating it with reverence and maybe a touch of fear. Bronek took a step forward and reached out a hand. The coral was white, with some pink and red hues to it, and surprisingly smooth. Despite the fact that there were bits sticking out all over, it was obviously designed to be a mostly smooth, straight wall. He touched it again, felt a bit silly and looked around. Some skinny boy nearby with a mop of greasy hair was climbing it in a hurry and soon got to the top. After taking a good, long survey around, he called ‘All clear’ to a group of people below. They seemed happy and disappointed at the same time and the boy shimmied back down. Mateya considered the Wall with a furrowed brow and then looked at the people surrounding it. Mathias scratched his head and glanced at his sister.

‘What do you think?’ Bronek asked them.

‘Well… it’s a wall,’ said Mateya and Mathias sniggered and asked:

‘Really?

‘You know exactly what I mean,’ she answered ‘You only laugh because it makes you uncomfortable.’

‘But what do you think?’ insisted Bronek ‘It is a wall, yes, but don’t you have any other thoughts about it?’

‘Isn’t ‘it’s a wall’ enough? Walls are not built to invite people over for tea,’ said Mathias ‘They’re built to say ‘This is far enough’. But now we’re climbing all over it and whoever’s on the other side can probably do the same. All I want to know is: which side was trying to protect themselves with this?’

‘And all this nervousness in the air is making me itch,’ added Mateya grabbing a little running boy by his clothes and standing him squarely in front of the group.

‘Tell me, lad,’ she said ‘Why is everyone so twitchy? Why all the patrols and weapons?’

The child stared at Mathias wordlessly, his mouth hanging open, obviously impressed. If he had to look higher than the warrior’s head, he’d topple over. Mathias was clearly happy with his first impression but kept a straight face and crossed his arms.

‘You were asked a question, boy,’ he growled.

‘Monsters, sir!’ the boy blurted out and glanced around, only now noticing Mateya in her whole not-too-covered-up warrior glory and swallowed. ‘Kretyn saw a monster today. ‘E climbed the wall right ‘ere where you stand an’ saw the monster there,’ he pointed some way away ‘It was big, ‘orrible, with long, pointy teeth and red eyes. An’ it attacked ‘im an’ it woulda killed ‘im only it got scared.’

‘Scared of what?’ asked Mateya encouragingly.

‘Kretyn wasn’t alone, miss. The monster musta known it wouldn’ stand a chance against two men, so it ran. But we’re sure it’s goin’ to come back with its friends. That’s what monsters do.’

‘You say it attacked him?’ said Bronek and the boy nodded unsure whether to keep staring at Mateya or her brother, completely ignoring the bard who was beginning to feel rather insignificant (and musicians hate that). ‘How could it have attacked him if it was, what, at least fifty feet away? You pointed there, didn’t you?’

‘Well…,’ the boy started ‘It was gonna attack ‘im. Or maybe it was jumpin’. A monster can jump like nutin’, sir.’

‘Riiight,’ said Bronek.

‘Thank you for this enlightening chat,’ said Mateya with a smile ‘Now run along.’

Reluctantly the boy left, looking behind from time to time until he reached his friends.

‘What do you think?’ asked Bronek.

‘I wouldn’t trust a child,’ said Mathias. ‘And I wouldn’t trust an idiot saying he saw a monster.’

‘Nobody said he was an idiot,’ Bronek pointed out.

‘No? Somehow I got that impression…’

‘Well, it didn’t attack anyone, did it?’ said Mateya ‘And ‘monster’ is such an ambiguous word. Personally I’ve met a lot of monsters in my life and they all looked like you and me.’

‘Maybe it was an Ancient?’ suggested Bronek.

The siblings shrugged in unison.

‘We’ll probably find out soon anyway,’ said Mathias. ‘Did Maya say you had some food at your house? Or should we go hunt?’

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