by William King
That evening I talked with Jabez, I told him that I didn't want to follow whatever El Cuervo de Plata had planned, and I tried to explain how I felt. I had started a journey from somewhere before Aramberri, I'd met and fallen in love with him, Jabez, the boy they called John. I had travelled across the desert to the ocean and into the mountains, things had happened that I couldn't understand, but now I didn't want to continue.
He listened, we didn't argue, he cooked up a nice meal from the supplies El Cuervo de Plata had left behind, and we spent sometime just sitting in silence watching the clouds forming over the tops of the mountain. When Jabez did finally speak, he told me that he felt the same fears as me, although his last experience with the magic cactus was nothing like my own. He persuaded me to eat the cactus, one last time, because, he said El Cuervo de Plata had left one important instruction before leaving, and that was to open the sack at dusk.
I didn't want to do it, but how could I refuse him. It was a long time ago that are roles had inversed, and I had happily accepted that it was now me following Jabez and not the other way around, not like when I first met him.
As the sun disappeared from view we sat together by the tent and Jabez brought out the sack. I was still watching the clouds which were rolling over the mountains like huge fluffy boulders. They seemed like they were forming rain clouds, getting darker, blacker and heavier. I remembered being caught in a storm once before, and it looked to me like tonight promised another one.
"It's empty!" Jabez exclaimed looking over at me, startling me out of my cloud watching.
"What?" I asked, not really following what was happening.
"The sack," he replied, "there's nothing in it... it's empty."
It was then I realised there would be no magic trip tonight and somehow that seemed perfectly right. I didn't say anything, I thought I would let him take account of the situation himself, I didn't want him to turn things against me. It wasn't me who left an empty sack behind.
We sat a while without speaking, until I thought I should try to set things in order. "He never told you to eat the cactus tonight," I said. "He just said to open the sack at nightfall. So perhaps something else happens tonight."
The sky lit up with an electric lightening bolt zig zagging out from the clouds and disappearing behind the mountains. About ten seconds later it was followed by a loud rumble.
"Better put the flap down and secure the tent," I told him.
So the empty sack was forgotten as we tidied up the little encampment, put things away, secured the tent in place. Then we sat inside the tent, peering out through the flap, watching the lightning and listening to the thunder.
It was getting closer, the gap between lightning and thunder was becoming shorter, the wind was picking up. I retreated to the back of the tent to lie down. Jabez stayed a moment longer looking out, until the rain started. Heavy droplets of water thudded into the baked earth, one or two at first, but quickly more where falling, hitting the tent. Jabez closed the flap and we were both still inside as the rain poured down in a torrent.
As quickly as it arrived the storm moved off, the rain became much lighter, it was going westward. I settled down, stretched out and must have fallen asleep.
I was high up in the mountains, roaming around the boulders, alert to anything that might be coming my way. I carefully placed a heavy black paw on the damp ground, then another, finding a passage over the rough terrain. The sky was dark with a black swirling mist rising up over the mountain tops.
El Ojo Negro was approaching, I was ready. The swirling blackness became thousands of flying, swooping bats, their wings spread out, their claws hanging below. The mass of creatures blocked out the moonlight. I looked up and growled, raised a massive front leg and swiped two, three, four, from the sky. They went crashing into the rocks. I was safe, protected between huge boulders from this aerial assault. They swept past overhead, turning in unison to swing around for a second pass. Once more, at just the right moment I hit, one, two of them. The first crashed down into the ground, the second veered to the right and collided with others, they tumbled from the sky in a small group.
The wave passed over once more and was gone behind the mountains. A screech broke the silence of the night and suddenly I was in close combat with a giant eagle that had silently dropped on me from above. Claws and beak scratched and tore, flesh and feathers were ripped and slashed. We rolled and tumbled in a struggle that kept us locked together.
I felt my strength fading, I knew this was a battle I would not win. I fell, forced backwards, and tumbled down over the rocks and boulders. I came to a rest on my back, too injured to move, I could only watch as the giant bird glided down towards me, it's huge talons stretched out in front.
But before ripping me apart it rested on a boulder just above and it's eyes gloated over the victory. A mistake, I heard the rattle and saw the head of the viper shoot up from behind the rock, it's tongue darted out and it's fangs sank into the neck of the eagle from above and behind. A screech tore through the silence and it was gone.
I was standing in the room of the ruined building where we had pitched our tent, only it was no longer a ruin, but a magnificent white marble room, with tall ceiling, and a huge oblong table in the centre. A table so solid I could not imagine how it could have been moved into place, I thought it must have been built on the very spot where it stood.
On the far side of the table I saw a figure, an elderly man, dressed in a white robe, he had silver grey hair and was smiling. "Where am I," I asked, wondering how I was suddenly here when a moment earlier I was fighting for my life high up in the mountains.
"You are in the Palace," he replied, and I looked around at the thinly veined white marble walls, it was indeed familiar. "Where you have always been," he added, looking across the table directly at me.
"Where I have always been?" I repeated as a question.
"Perhaps your view is a little distorted, you don't see the reality, but yes... where you have always been," he confirmed.
"And the journey across the desert, to the ocean and up into the mountains?" I needed some answers and it appeared that he might just be the person to enlighten me.
"Who is to say what is a dream and what is real. Even what is real we might not see as it is."
I wasn't looking for enigmatic answers, I wanted the facts, mine was a search for the truth.
On the table were laid out the pieces of a huge, a gigantesque puzzle. There must have been ten thousand pieces or more. It was not complete, in each corner were a pile of pieces that had not yet found their place.
He watched me looking at the puzzle, the puzzle that was incomplete.
"There are two sides to each piece, two different pieces in one, making two different puzzles," He watched my reaction, but I was still trying to understand what it was I was looking at in the puzzle.
"But it's more complex than you might imagine," he paused allowing his words to have effect. "Many of the pieces are symmetrical, you might fit two pieces together with either side being right. You might make a whole section of the puzzle, perfectly locked together, but you wouldn't know if it was the right side facing up."
I was trying to imagine just what that meant, how was it significant, it meant perhaps that you could never solve the puzzle.
"So you see," he continued. "You could walk out of the palace and arrive at the ocean. Two sections of the puzzle that fit together, but they are not the same picture."
It was hard to take in, but there was a certain logic to what he was explaining.
"But anyway," I interrupted him, "it's not complete, however you put it together."
He gently raised a hand as if to indicate 'be patient, I'm coming to that.'
"People pick up pieces of the puzzle as they go through life. Some people completely ignore them, throw them away. Others try to fit the pieces together, maybe they make one part of the picture, then sometimes they try filling in the missing pieces, or even force pieces together that don't fit. It would take more than a life time to find all the pieces and then who knows if you would fit them together the right way up, or if there might not be a piece or two missing."
"So you can't give me all the answers to my questions?" I asked him.
"Nobody can do that," he replied, "only you, yourself alone, have all the answers."
"But if it takes more than a life time?" I posed the obvious question.
"That is nothing to worry about, you will see, although you already know the answer to that question."
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