36. Wood and Stone

June 4th, 2017 § 0 comments

Chapter thirty-six of Unknown North, a novel that will be published chapter-by-chapter until it’s done. All chapters so far: Unknown North.


Hiram sat on the moss-covered rock, hunched over with his head on his arms. He had done this hundreds of times before, always following the same trail of crescent moons he had carved into the trees, placed in a manner and way he had created so he was sure he fully understood. But the portal wasn’t there.

“Should we try a crystal prism?” Howard offered meekly, sharing a sympathetic look with Admiral Thomas. Howard now fully believed the military man when he said he’d had an epiphany: His demeanor had indeed changed; his face had softened; his voice held more emotion.

“It’s not your fault, Hiram,” the admiral said, crouching before the hunched man. “There has to be a way…”

He trailed off, his eyes trained on something over Hiram’s right shoulder. As he stood, his eyes never leaving the spot, Howard moved closer to see if he could see what had taken his attention. The change in the air stirred Hiram. He looked up to learn what was going on, turning around to see for himself what the admiral was watching.

“There’s a girl waving at me over there,” the admiral whispered. “But she doesn’t look real. She looks like a … ghost.”

Hiram leapt to his feet and stood in front of the admiral so he could match his angle and sight lines through the bushes and trees. Almost instantly, his face broke into a wide smile.

“Sophie!” he exclaimed and dashed straight ahead, his robe flapping around his feet. “It’s Sophie!” he called again, to no one in particular.

The other men quickly followed him. When they reached him, he was talking to her, only she looked, as the admiral had said, unreal. Her image wavered slightly, as if rippling in a breeze, and she seemed to be more light than body.

“It’s here,” she was saying as they joined Hiram. “You’ll have to meet us at a place called Lithari.”

“Then will the doorway reopen?” Hiram asked.

She shrugged. “I don’t know—but she said we have to go there before they can open the doorway again.”

“I understand,” Hiram replied.

“Is she real?” the admiral whispered to Hiram, eying the girl suspiciously.

“Yes, but what you’re seeing is her astral body,” Hiram said, his voice full of pride and joy. Though he hadn’t said so, he’d expected it to be the children who saved them.

“Come on!” Sophie said with urgency, waving into the shadows between two large boulders. “I have to get back.”

Her image quivered like a mirage, then faded altogether. The boulders, which stood three times as high as a man, rested against each other at the top, like a pair of conspirators standing forehead to forehead. Hiram wasted no time and stepped toward the arch the boulders formed. They seemed to exuded a sense of intelligence. Hiram knew that feeling; he knew that Sophie was right.

“Come on,” he ordered softly, glancing at the men behind him.

Both of them looked equally unsure, as they, like anyone, could clearly see through to the other side of the rocks, and could see that it was nothing but a continuation of the forest they were in, with Green Lake sparkling softly in the distance. Hiram stepped through. As his black robes merged with the shadows, he appeared to disappear.

So in the end, it was not a lack of belief that held the two men back, it was fear.

“Well, we have to go now,” Howard said, as if a sense of obligation was all that could get him to step through the portal.

Admiral Thomas nodded and sighed heavily, then stepped firmly between the boulders.

* * *

“I like Hiram,” Sophie said with uncertainty. She glanced over at Henry and watched him scribe designs in the dust with his finger. “Dr. Fobell’s sort of an idiot, but I don’t think it’s his fault.”

Henry shrugged. “They moved the portals for a reason, Soph.”

“But Axlow told me where it was, didn’t he?”

Henry looked around quickly, then glowered at Sophie. “Keep your voice down! Do you want them to hear?”

He motioned with his head toward the rest of the PISA team, who were having their own conference. The thing that offended Henry most was that they’d been told to “play over there,” as if they didn’t have anything important to add. So if they didn’t want to hear what he and Sophie had learned, Henry decided he could very easily go along with that.

“What about Carlos?” Sophie asked. “I think he’s the one who really caused this, because he helped them in.”

“Who?”

“The soldiers.”

Henry sighed and looked up at a tree stump behind Sophie. It looked to have fallen at some point, though the rest of the tree wasn’t anywhere nearby. It had been weather worn into a vaguely human shape.

“What do you think?” he said, and the tree stump moved in response.

“The soldiers won’t understand,” a high voice said, like wind through chimes gurgling over rocks in a stream. “But Hiram and his friends will, and Hiram can help you, that’s why Axlow allowed it. This illusion belongs to the light.”

“What do we look like to you?” Sophie asked.

“The Golgantry see things in our way,” the creature replied. “The light sees things in theirs. And you—you can see both. So you already know the answer to that question.”

The sentry suddenly froze again, back into the twisted and malformed shape of a fallen tree, and Luci appeared before the children, smiling warmly.

“They’ve agreed to go through the waterfall or lightfall or whatever it is,” she said, crouching down. She glanced nervously at the tree stump behind Sophie, but thought nothing more of it. “What do you guys think of that idea?”

Sophie looked to Henry to let him answer, but as he opened his mouth to protest, Sophie interrupted him: “I think that’s fine. I think that’s what they want.”

Luci smiled and stood up. “Come on, then.”

Sophie didn’t look at Henry as they walked off. She didn’t want to know if his face showed betrayal or anger—or both.


35. Light Conversation | 37. Langer in the Air  ⇒

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