Artwork by Nici Bueckert 2013
The sun, a molten ball of heat, hung high in a cloudless sky. Sinner plopped down on the grassy bank of a small creek, wiping away the perspiration from his forehead with his sleeve. He tugged off his boots with a grunt and rolled up his trousers. The sound of crystal clear water rushing over a bed of smooth stones soothed Sinner’s frazzled nerves. He plunged his feet into the cool water with a splash. The ripples he created were quickly caught up and swept along the flow of water around his dangling feet.
Sinner closed his eyes and took a deep breath filling his lungs with fresh mountain air. He had thought that he was fully recovered from his injuries when he and Kara had left their little hidden oasis. But after they had to cut short their first day of travel, it had become obvious that his stamina was not what he had thought. He pushed himself hard, too embarrassed to admit to Kara that he could not keep pace. Somehow, she still noticed and would gently suggest that perhaps it was time for a rest or maybe they should make camp early; they probably wouldn’t find another spot so ideal. Sinner hated being the weak link, but he was getting stronger each day. Plus, he had found a way to make things a little easier.
He absentmindedly fingered the pouch of orbs at his side. He had found them on a dead man’s body, a man who had been killed trying to flee the village where they had first encountered the Tier’n. He had later discovered that the dead man was Kara’s uncle. He had never told anyone about the orbs. Not that he was trying to keep secrets; it had just never come up.
He untied the pouch at his belt and rolled one of the orbs into his palm. The size of a large marble, the orb was cold to the touch, at least at first. It was a dull, metallic silver colour.
His pulse quickened even as he rolled it between his fingers. This would not be the first time. He had learned the secret of the orbs.
He lifted the orb closer to his face and peered at it. At first, nothing happened. But Sinner knew that would change. Soon, a faint red line, like a misty swirl, flitted across the surface of the orb and vanished just as suddenly as it had appeared. In fact, if Sinner didn’t know better from experience, he would have thought that he had imagined it.
Sweat trickled down his face now. His heart beat faster in anticipation. The red swirls multiplied, darting across the surface of the orb in a chaotic dance; no longer faint, but vivid and bold.
Sinner clutched the orb as if in the grip of ecstasy. Then the dancing red swirls combined and vanished into the center of the orb taking Sinner’s mind with it.
He found himself standing on a beach. Clean, white sand stretched in either direction as far as the eye could see. He wriggled his bare toes in the warm sand. He lifted his hand. The orb had disappeared. He looked over a vast ocean. The sound of waves gently lapping onto the shore soothed Sinner’s mind. There was no sun, yet it was not dark.
A sudden urge to run and dive into the ocean gripped Sinner, but he hesitated as he neared the water. What had at first looked like clean water was actually polluted. A foul smelling froth bubbled up on the surface of the water as it rolled onto the shore. Aghast, Sinner recoiled somewhat, but not nearly as much as he should have.
There appeared to be some kind of slick tainting the surface of the water near the shore, but when he looked a little further in, the water sparkled a crystal blue. Perhaps he just needed to wade through the muck to the good water. He nearly gagged at the thought of wading through the dirty water, but he felt the pull of the deeper water beyond tugging at his spirit.
When the first slimy waters rolled over his feet as he waded into the ocean, he nearly heaved. It was every bit as bad as he had feared…even more so really. There was a foulness that seeped into his spirit, something far beyond the physical touch of the unclean water.
The foul slick pooled around his ankles, then his shins as he waded deeper. Despite the vile corruption that oozed all around him, despite his own inner revulsion, Sinner gritted his teeth and moved deeper. He would not turn back now; He knew that.
When the water reached his waist, Sinner had reached the outer boundary of the unclean slick. From here on the water was clean and invigorating. Sinner dove in. When he surfaced, he started swimming; each stroke stronger than the next, washing away the unpleasantness of the taint. He truly felt alive and strong again. With an exhilarating whoop and a powerful kick, Sinner plunged into the depths. He dove deep, soaking in the energy he felt all around him. It was as if the water was charged with life and he was absorbing it through his skin. A sudden urge to open his mouth and allow the life giving water to rush in seized him, but his reflexes resisted; one doesn’t breathe water. Yet, the desire remained even as Sinner realized that he was diving deeper than ever before. His lungs were starting to feel the strain. He would have to surface. Or, was he actually considering drinking in the water? Surely that would mean death, or would it? Perhaps it would mean life like he had never experienced before. The energy, the life he felt caressing his skin, surely that would multiply a thousand fold if he just gave in and took a gulp. He almost did.
But, then a sudden and powerful fear seized him. It was not pleasant at all, nothing like the euphoria he had been experiencing till now. The fear promised him that if he drank, he would never reach the surface again. He would be lost. It was enough to put all thoughts of drinking the water aside. Instinctively, he kicked for the surface. His lungs were beginning to ache, the euphoria gone. Only a sheer desperation not to be lost down here forever remained. He felt the water tightening around him, as if he were in a vice. He needed to breathe! The water did not want to release him. It had not been like this the last time. He had not dived so deep. Desperately, He kicked harder. His lungs burned now, but the water would not release him. Light! His mind cried out to the Creator in sheer panic.
His head broke the surface. Gritty sand bit into his palms and knees. Sinner gulped huge amounts of air into his lungs. When his mind could think again, Sinner found himself on all fours in a foot of water near the shore, completely covered in the vile slick that coated the surface of the water. He scrambled out of the water and retched onto the clean white sand, time and time again. Until there was nothing left but dry heaves.
He curled up right there on the beach, a twitching bundle of raw nerves and misery.
Slowly, Sinner opened his eyes, and Kara came into focus. She did not look pleased.
“What are you doing?” she asked. It seemed as if Kara were speaking to him from a great distance.
Sinner opened his hand to reveal a blackened orb. He hadn’t meant to open his hand, really. It just kind of fell open.
Kara clasped her hand to her mouth.
To be continued…
©Peter Wiebe 2013