When I woke it was to darkness. I do not know how many hours had passed, only that I was hungry. I fumbled in the dark for my pack and found it near me. There was only stale bread left, but it was something.
Child of Man, you are awake.
The voice was not that of Tsitsi. It was softer than the other voices, and did not hurt my head. I felt something hard, cold, and slightly sharp press against my cheek. I closed my eyes, shivering with fear. Was this one of his children who had come to eat me? Had he changed his mind and found I was not useful to him?
Do not fear me. I bring you food.
Several heavy, round objects fell into my lap and I jerked back slightly, sending them rolling. I hoped it was not one of the sacrifices from the wall.
Father says your kind eats things that come from trees and is sweet. Eat. You need your strength.
I could hear the spider leaving, and I thanked it as I felt for the fruit I had spilled. Using my fingers and nose I realized it had brought me apples. I ate them slowly. I closed my eyes, imagining that I was in my home, enjoying a snack with Trigri. He would beg me to eat them faster, because we had many chores to do that day. The floor vibrated beneath me as Tsitsi entered, and Trigri's smiling face disappeared. though I could not see him, I knew that the God Tsitsi was very close to me.
Has your hunger been filled, Bright One?
Yes, God Tsitsi. Thank you for your kindness.
He did not acknowledge my thanks, only began to speak. I knew he wanted me to remember his words. I sat for many hours, I think, listening. He spoke of his ancestors, of how he was not their only leader. He had brothers and sisters all over the world who ruled their own families. It made my mind spin, and sickened me. All of them ate us. All of them required sacrifices. The apples began to feel putrid it my stomach and I pressed a hand to my belly.
Why do you feel sickened, Bright One?
God Tsitsi...I try to understand you. My ancestors were cruel and greedy. But surely we have changed enough that you do not need sacrifices any longer?
For many long minutes Tsitsi did no speak. When he did, I heard a sadness so deep, it brought tears to my eyes.
It is in your race's very nature to be cruel and greedy. If we do not keep you in check then you will simply multiply and destroy all of us once more. And I do not believe the world would survive it again.
He left me alone then for what felt like days. Perhaps it was less. Perhaps more. In the darkness there was no way to tell time, only feel it. The same spider that had brought me apples continued to bring me food, speaking to me sometimes, but never for very long. I had nothing to do but think. I did not like that humans were used as food. The sacrifices were family to someone. They were someone's wife, husband, sister or brother. But I was beginning to understand.
The more I thought of the stories the God Tsitsi told me, the more I came to realize that for him, this was the only way. I hated my ancestors for destroying their world. They had created such gifts that we could never get back. God Tsitsi and his family kept our race from harming ourselves. From harming our world. But they were also keeping us from our potential. Was there not a way we could work together? To stop the sacrifices but keep our world in balance?
These thoughts and many more new ones came into my mind in the dark home of the God Tsitsi. Thoughts and feelings that I had not felt before. My skin tingled sometimes, like the night of my Awakening. As if I was once more shedding my skin to make way for a new one. I was changing, becoming different than who I once was. But I was not sure who I was changing into.
Marlia, it is time.
God Tsitsi's voice was strong in my mind. It did not hurt as it used to, but I could still feel a dull throb of pain in the back of my head. He approached me from behind, I knew because I could feel the shift of air, and smell him. My eyes were no good in the dark, but my other senses were beginning to make up for it.
Time, God Tsitsi?
It is time to hear your thoughts. Speak to me of what you have been thinking.
I told him everything. I told him of how I understood why his ancestors did what they did, that they were right to. I spoke of my sadness in knowing that the sacrifices were humans, that perhaps we could come up with a different way to keep our kind in check.
What do you suggest we do, Bright One?
I...am still trying to think of something. I do not know what the rest of this world you speak of is like. Only my village and the few that lie beyond our forest. But we are proud and respectful of our home. Our trees, our grounds, the very weather, is sacred to all of us. We do not wish to destroy it.
The God Tsitsi was silent, thoughtful. I closed my eyes, thinking quickly. My Aunt Reya would know what to say in this moment. Memories of my aunt reminded me that one day I was to take her place. I was worried only about my village, my family. I was looking at leaves instead of the whole forest. Opening my eyes I knew what I must do.
I pressed my body to the floor, my forehead hot against the cold stone and my arms out stretched. It was the pose used only when begging to spare lives. It was the most respectful pose I knew.
God Tsitsi, I am young, and do know how to show you that we have changed. But in my village, and in the others, we have wise elders. My aunt is such a person. I am sure that they would be able to create a plan that would satisfy you and not require sacrifices. Let us prove to you that we have changed. Please....please do not ask us to sacrifice our families any longer.
I lay there for a long time. My body began to shake with cold, my bones ached as I kept from moving. More than once I heard the whispers of his children in my mind. Many of them sounded angry. After what felt a lifetime, Tsitsi spoke.
It took effort to do so. My legs had fallen asleep, and my feet felt as if I were standing on thousands of thorns. My body still trembled with cold.
We have spoken, and considered your words. I feel that now is a time for change...or at least the beginning of it. The very fact there are two Bright Ones born in one life time...it gives me hope that perhaps your kind is becoming wiser than they once were. Perhaps you are becoming...more.
My heart beat quickly, made me light headed. I calmed my excitement. Now was not a time to celebrate. He had not agreed to anything yet. Even now one of his children could sway his decision.
You will go back to your village Bright One. Tell only your elders what I have told you. Tell them of their ancestors, of the evils they have done. And then tell them they will have until the third full moon to find a solution they believe will work. If they can do so it will be you, Bright One, that must go forth and tell my brothers and sisters of this change.
I fell to my knees in relief. I did not mind the stinging of the floor, I barely felt it. I was to go home. I was to live. I would see my father and aunts. I would hold Trigri in my arms. I would be with Daegan until the end of my days, however many there were.
That one word was laced in power so strong that had I not already been on my knees, it would have brought me to them. I gripped my head as the God Tsitsi's voice echoed in my mind. In that moment I realized that if he so wished, he could have killed me simply with his thoughts alone long ago.
Should they fail to come up with a solution that would not be useful to all of your kind, then the sacrifices will continue and there will be no more talk of change. Do you understand?
Good. Tsitsi tapped one of his large legs against the side of a wall, and caused the whole house to shake. It was silent for a moment, and then I heard the skittering sounds of a spider rushing. A cold, smooth leg brushed against my body.
As a show of goodwill, and to prove that my words are true, I will send with you my only daughter, Naravi. She is my eldest, and will one day rule this nest. She will be my eyes and let me know all that passes. Now go, Bright One.
I was not given time to give proper thanks, or to even speak aloud. The spider beside me, Naravi, ushered me away. When she spoke into my mind I recognized the gentle tone as the spider that had served me food all of this time. She led me down corridors, and I was grateful for the darkness so that I could not see the sacrifices. A tiny white light came into view and it was rapidly growing larger. As I stepped outside of the home of the God Tsitsi I gave a cry of pain and my eyes slammed shut against the bright light. It felt as if a hot stick had been thrust into my eyes and I covered them with my hands. Beside me I could feel Naravi.
Your eyes are not used to the light. This is normal. You must open them slowly.
It took several minutes to open my eyes with my hands cupped over them, and when I tried to uncover them searing heat burned them. I slapped my hands to my eyes.
Come, I will help you. Take hold of my leg and I will lead you to shade. We will travel in the dark, it will be easier.
She led me to a large rock, and I pressed my hand against the warm stone. Tears fell down my cheeks. I was free. I was alive. Naravi stayed close by, murmuring words of encouragement, like my Aunt Asai would do when I was a child. I fell asleep with tears still flowing. When I awoke it took me several minutes to realize that I was not staring up into blackness, but to the twinkling stars and a sliver of the moon. I scrambled up and looked around. Naravi was lying next to me, her legs curled up under her. It was the first time I had seen her clearly.
She was black, sleek and shinning dully in the light. And very large. She was perhaps half the height of our trees, and when she opened her eight eyes to look at me I saw fear. I edged closer to her.
Why do you look afraid?
I have never left my home farther than this.
She was me. It was a strange realization. She was the child of the God Tsitsi, a creature so unlike me in all ways, yet in her I recognized myself. I looked up to the stars. The Great Star-Maker was surely at work again. For the first time in many days I smiled. Aunt Reya said that the gods often disguised goodness in ugly things to show that one should always look beneath the surface. Gently I placed a hand upon her leg.
I had never left my home before I came to yours. I will be with you.
Naravi made a strange clicking sound with her mouth and then uncurled her legs. When she stood I could easily have passed under her without needing to duck.
I think father was wise in trusting you Bright One. I think he will not regret his decision. If your elders are like you, perhaps you can make the changes you wish to see.
We followed the path that had led me to my certain death but was now leading me to my future. I did not wish to stop. We walked even when the sun began to rise up, and this time my eyes did not hurt so very much. I walked under Naravi when the sun became too hot, and we spoke of many things. I wanted to find our similarities, and we had many. She even had a favored younger brother who was curious and talkative like my Trigri. When the sun began to set in the sky and turn it orange and pink I saw the edge of my forest. The branches waved, welcoming me home.
There are people in the trees.
Trigri's voice screamed into my mind, and when I squinted I saw him waving his arms frantically from the platform on the edge of the forest. Beside him stood Daegan. My heart felt ready to burst from my chest, and my feet were carrying me across the fields faster than I had ever run, uncaring of the stones that cut my feet. Behind me I could hear Naravi following after me. Soon I would be in Daegan's arms. Soon I would hold Trigri.
Tomorrow I would look at the whole forest. But today, right now, I only wanted to look at the leaves.