As the gwalflings seek to learn who Amnesia really is, they become caught up in a dangerous scandal.
There were few moments in life that were so truly perfect as to warrant an elated sigh from Jendra, but finally she had found such a moment. The expanse was so vast, so full of stars, she found herself easily lost in an aura of tranquility. She felt a chill cavorting down her spine. She wished this moment would last forever.
The campfire crackled, little tiny speckles of light emerging from the flame, fluttering about like fireflies. And Leon watched the dancing flames for a while until he became lost in thought. There was plenty to think about now that they were stuck in this world. He’d never imagined he might leave home. Sure he’d done plenty of exploring, but generally, he did so knowing that he would have a comfortable bed to return to at night. His life had all but been planned for him, and this was quite a detour from the expectations heaped upon him.
Toby was not prone to worrying about such things. He contented himself with rolling the logs around the fire pit with a stick he had found in the nearby brush, whilst snacking on something delicious called a S’more. He wasn’t certain how many he could eat, but he’d keep going until Zora ran out of marshmallows.
Zora and Amnesia talked amongst themselves. Zora had given up trying to talk to any of the gwalflings, who were all too distracted to say much of anything.
“We should probably head inside soon,” Zora suggested.
That snapped Jendra out of her trance, and she simply glared at Zora in a very disenchanted sort of way. How could Zora even think of such a thing? “But why? I mean how? How could I ever leave this spot?”
To Jendra, it was almost as if asking her to leave paradise behind and never return. Perhaps she was overly dramatic, but she had never felt this way before, so calm, so at peace, so happy, and she couldn’t imagine forfeiting that feeling so brusquely.
“My dear child, Ress Janoa is a very dangerous place at night,” Zora warned.
“Dangerous? I thought that was why we left the plains,” Jendra retorted. Hadn’t they already remedied the problem?
“Yes, but other dangers exist, little gwalf, and what lurks in this forest would shake the tusks off a chargon’s face!”
“Whoa!” Toby said, “I’d like to see that.”
“Isn’t there some other way?” Jendra pleaded.
“Trust me, you don’t want to be out here too much later,” Zora warned. “The fire will draw the curious creatures out for sure.”
“Then we’ll put out the fire,” Leon suggested.
Toby’s stomach grumbled in protest. The conversation had taken a horrible turn for the worse. Without fire, there were no S’mores. And the gooey melt-in-your-mouth sandwiches were simply too irresistible to stop eating so soon. Well, they were not quite as explosively flavorful as his gemfish waffle sandwiches. But they were a close second. And that was saying a lot.
“I don’t think it’s simply a matter of fire,” Amnesia replied. She couldn’t identify it, but something tickled the back of her mind. “Perhaps we’d best listen to our host. After all, she knows a whole lot more about this world than any of us.”
Jendra felt disheartened as she slowly, begrudgingly followed the others up the gangplank and into the hill runner. She felt about to cry though that really would have been childish. With a deep sigh of a very different nature, plagued with regrets, she simply curled up and attempted to fall asleep in her chair. But it wasn’t easy. By the time her regrets had faded enough for her to sleep, Leon was snoring beside her. And Toby was talking about s’mores in his sleep. She caught a glimpse of him salivating. Yuck! It was a wonder he didn’t drown.
She peered out the window at the few remaining twinkles of light she could see as she slowly nodded off to sleep.
Jendra slept very lightly, contorted uncomfortably in her chair. So the slightest movement roused her from sleep. She saw Amnesia leaving in a hurry and curiously decided to follow her. As she stepped outside the hill runner, she became momentarily lost gazing into the starry sky. Then she thought about the supposed dangers of this forest, and she began to wonder why Amnesia had departed from the hill runner all alone.
Jendra followed her. She imagined that perhaps Amnesia had come outside to warm herself by the fire. Jendra supposed she may have been chilly. Humans were probably more sensitive to the cold. After all, Amnesia wasn’t covered with a thick pelt of fur like Jendra’s. But the night felt rather warm to her.
Amnesia stood with her back to the fire, seeming to stare at her. She shrieked in wide-eyed terror. Jendra turned around, but there was nothing behind her. Amnesia hadn’t suddenly grown afraid of gwalflings, had she?
“Who am I?” Amnesia shouted.
“I wish we knew,” Jendra replied, thoughtfully.
Amnesia seemed to just have noticed Jendra standing there. Who had she thought Jendra was? Was the poor human’s mind slipping?
“Jendra, I’m terribly sorry,” Amnesia said. Jendra noticed a tear running down her cheek.
“If it makes you feel any better, I ask myself the same thing several times a day. Who am I? All of my memories are intact, but they still can’t answer why I am who I am, why I sometimes feel imprisoned in my own life. I often wish I didn’t have so many memories, that I could start from scratch and simply be me. Sometimes, life is just funny that way.”
“But to not remember anything,” Amnesia said, with a profound sadness in her voice. How could Jendra possibly understand? “I feel so alone.”
“But you don’t have to,” Jendra replied. “Look, since we passed through that mirror, everything we’ve seen, everything we’ve done, it’s all new to me too. I’ve always wondered what it was like to be out here, to see a real night sky for the very first time. I never imagined it could be unsafe in this world. I still can hardly believe it, that a world capable of such beauty could also be dangerous. We have the same memories of Ress Janoa, of where we are right now. So you’re really not that different after all. And as for the new experiences, well, we’ll simply have to share them and learn from them together.”
Amnesia considered Jendra’s words for a moment; she was absolutely right. She supposed it was crazy to want to know everything. No one could possibly know all there was to know. She pulled Jendra close; she couldn’t help but embrace her after such kind words. Her anxieties subsided in the awareness that she wasn’t alone. Just one thing bothered her now. “How did I get out here?”
“You walked of course. Well, you ran, actually. I followed you. Don’t you remember?”
“I was—dreaming, I guess.”
“Somnambulism? Weird! Has that ever happened to you before?” It occurred to Jendra what a horrible, silly question that had been. How could Amnesia have known? But she didn’t seem to notice, just simply shrugged.
“It was such a vivid dream,” Amnesia said. “I’m still a little shaken up.”
“Well, I’m wide awake now, and I’m definitely curious enough to listen, provided you’re willing to share.”
Amnesia told Jendra all she could remember in vibrant detail. She had been running through a dark forest, fearing for her life, being pursued relentlessly by a raging beast she couldn’t see. But its footsteps had shaken the ground, and it had growled loud enough to make the leaves quiver. She’d fled to the edge of a cliff. When she could no longer run, the beast had appeared: a tornado of black smoke that dwindled down to Amnesia’s size. In fact, it had taken her form. The beast had been Amnesia herself.
“Don’t run from your destiny,” the doppelganger had said to her. It’d had such a crafty voice. “Embrace it. You will shake the galaxy.”
The next moment, she’d felt herself catching fire internally. She’d exploded, engulfed and destroyed an entire world. Everything had fallen into desolation and darkness. That was when she’d screamed.
“And that was when I woke up. I felt very disconcerted.”
“Well, naturally, anyone would have been,” Jendra assured her. “But it was just a dream.”
“I just guess the thought keeps echoing in my mind what every gwalf in Tranoudor said to me—every gwalf but you three, that is—that I could be a very dangerous person. I could have—I don’t know—destroyed entire worlds, and I wouldn’t even remember it. You three have worked so hard to save my life, repeatedly, and you could simply have set the countdown on a devastating time bomb.”
“You’re not a danger to us,” Jendra affirmed, crossing her arms. No, that didn’t quite feel right to her. She hadn’t meant to seem so distant. She took Jendra’s hand in her own. “Never think that, okay? In fact, I think you’re more or less the catalyst I’ve been searching for my whole life.”
“Catalyst? What does that mean?” Amnesia asked.
“It’s sort of like the spark that makes the whole thing go boom,” Jendra replied. “Poor analogy, I suppose, given the situation, but I’ve always wanted to leave that no good, rotten city behind. I just needed an excuse, and you were a really good one. So stop worrying about what everyone else in Tranoudor thinks. I’ve lived there my whole life, surrounded by a bunch of gutless worrywarts, mere moments away from a panic attack. They were always looking for something to fear anyway. I guess you were their catalyst too. But that’s not how I see you.”
Jendra paused contemplatively.
“And, after all, I know you as well as you know yourself right now, and everyone in that cave barely took the time to meet you. So who do you think knows you better? Me or—?” Her thoughts went elsewhere, her voice trailing off.
Her eyes caught a glimpse of something moving beside the fire. It was difficult to distinguish the movements in the tall grass, but there was definitely something there: a nocturnal creature of some sort, foraging for food. The creature was so focused on tracking, it rammed headlong into Jendra’s shin. It was a chubby little lizard, sandy colored with roseate spots. She noticed as it peered up, with wide, terror-filled eyes. Suddenly, the creature let out a deafening shriek.
Instinctively, Amnesia covered her ears, but she winced at the high-pitched shriek anyhow. Though all else fell to silence, a painful tinnitus continued in her ears. She searched the ground for the creature. It had disappeared. But mere inches from the fire pit, Jendra lie outstretched on the ground.
“Jendra!” Amnesia shouted, lifting the poor girl and trying to wake her up. “Jendra, are you okay?”
Jendra opened her eyes, Amnesia was shaking her spiritedly. Her mouth was moving inaudibly.
“What is it?” Jendra tried to say, but she couldn’t hear the sound of her own voice. Jendra’s world had fallen silent.
If you enjoyed this preview, you can continue the adventure with a copy of Deception, on sale now at Amazon.com and select retailers.
Thanks for reading,
Iffix Y Santaph