Hello lovely readers! I work hard to make all stories stand on their own, but you will enjoy this one much better if you have read Today I am Yawn and/or Today I am Atonement before hand. Thank you :)
Of course there was a freaking tree. How could we possibly go on a quest without a freaking tree getting in the way of everything?
“Aw yes, as the prophecy foretold- ”
“Shut UP, Fendoialin! The captain is NOT here to make sure I don’t decapitate you so SHUT your GODS FORSAKEN mouth!”
McKoi stared at me, but smartly did his questioning of my outburst in silence. He knew that I’d been done with the Prophecy Keeper for decades and it was only a test of my patience that the Captain had made him part of my squad.
Private Genile quietly offered me water, then handed the flask to Fendoialin and McKoi before taking a swig herself. She had this way of making each water break a communion that forced us back under one banner. It’s just who Genile is. Her presence was the salve to Fendoialin’s.
“Thank you, Private. Alright does anyone have an idea-” I shot a withering glance at Fendoialin “-a USEFUL idea, that will get us to the other side of this tree portal thing?”
It was the first time my gem had hummed in over 60 years, and while these things normally led us to a glistening pool or grassy pathway, or even once a trip through quicksand that tumbled us into the correct timeline, mine just happily chirped in front of big damn pine.
The last time it had been my gem that called, I’d traveled with a few of the Called through an icy waterfall, and brought back a beautiful red head. Her name was Tara. God how I’d loved her. I’d fought it at first, thinking those rosy feelings in my stomach were just a combination of her being a Chosen One and those long pale legs she walked on so gracefully. But after the weeks of traveling and training, I knew it was really her- that I would never live as greatly as I did when those lightning blue eyes looked at me.
Of course, then she strolled in front of the Door and turned to stone. So. The heart may know what it wants, but it certainly doesn’t know what’s best for everybody. That’s for damn freaking sure.
I think about Tara a lot. The waterfall had landed us in the timeline of Australia, around June 1914. It was right before their first world war, and I was surprised to find a red head there. It wasn’t for another several decades that the country’s race profile got diverse, so I didn’t know how she’d gotten there. But after a few shots of whiskey, she told me about her Irish grandfather who had gotten jailed in Britain, sent there, then made a few sons and so on. I drunkenly made a comment about recessive genes that she didn’t get, but laughed anyway.
Her laugh was gorgeous. It pearled up to a quick high note before barreling down into a wheezy chuckle when she was happiest. I knew then that in all my lifetimes, I would never hear a happier sound.
Her trip through our homey little realm had not been easy. As a female of the early 1900s, she did not exactly have a lot of fight training. However, she’d lived in rough country, brought several calfs into the world and tangled with her share of cowboys so she didn’t shy from hard work either. She took her bruises and scrapes as well, though more often, as the rest of us.
But then the Door, and stone. Captain said they could bury the sculpture as they had with the remains of the others in our sad little cemetery, but I couldn’t bare the thought of putting her in the dark. So she stood, still smiling and gorgeous, among the dirt mounds signaling our sacrificial failures, like the angel markers I’ve seen in regular cemeteries. Her head is turned slightly as if she was about to call back to me. I will always wonder what she was going to say.
When my gem went off again, warming for the first time in 64 years, I didn’t care. I’d had so many nightmares of it leading me to Tara’s cold granite body that I was numb to the stupid necklace. It was Private Genile who noticed the glowing beneath my shirt- who urged me to follow its lead. If she hadn’t just lost her position of Champion to a lightening strike, I would have told her to shut up and join the night watch.
But now she too had been tossed to the lower levels of guilt-hell where I’d been dwelling for decades, so I obliged if only to give her hope. The next morning when I told Captain, she’d sent me on my way saying I could take two privates if I took freaking Fendoialin. I knew McKoi would make a good balance to my skills, and I needed to take Genile, so off the four of us went.
And now here we four legendary heroes are, ageless and powerful, stuck in front of a frick fracking tree.
We’d circled the thing several times each, and run our hands over the bark searching for some sort of clue or lever. There wasn’t even a squirrel hole or wood pecker scar for us to try to squeeze into. Climbing it had made us all feel better because Fendoialin got to do his chanting meditation on the ground and we got to be several stories above said meditation. It was a reprieve, but when we jumped from the tallest branches, nothing happened.
I kicked the trunk, “I should make TIMBER out of you, you USELESS, overgrown SHRUB!”
“Technically,” McKoi offered, “trees and shrubs are different in both genetic makeup and growth style, as well as-”
“McKOI.” I reeled back on him, and I knew my eyes were fire above my gritted teeth, “You know how much I absolute LOVE your little fun facts but right now is just not the time.”
He pressed his lips into a line, and then stepped back from me and damned tree. Fendoialin opened his mouth to speak, but McKoi grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him back into the shade of the other pines.
I felt guilt rumbling in my stomach. Our predicament was none of their faults. It was mine. Mine and my stupid gem that was going to take me somewhere I didn’t want to go. But I was the highest ranking officer in this small party and that meant I either had to be right or utter an apology which might demean my entire authority so…
“Look, I know I’m right about this.”
Genile made a small, but confident, step forward (note to self, I must remember to tell Captain how well she is doing recovering), “Sergeant Teak, if you are sure about this tree,” her eyes widened at my glare, “which I am sure you are, we need to start thinking of symbols that may need to be drawn on it, or hooks needed to be pulled, or other ways we have had to navigate hidden portals before.”
I pressed my lips together so it would look like I was thinking but really, I was completely lost. Sure, we had found before that little portals could be opened with pretty symbols or dramatic words. I thought about trying some of the versions the Called had used before, but we had also learned that no successful path for the Chosen One worked twice.
Fendoialin readjusted his robe around his shoulders, and I became aware we were losing the light of the day. No matter how much I didn’t like the guy, I couldn’t have an old man without a fire to warm him at nightfall.
“Lets make camp and maybe when we feel more sorted, something will occur to us.”
He ruffled his cloak again, and I thought he was thankful we would be settling in. But of course not, he was just puffing himself up.
I rolled my shoulders, trying to release the tension that had tucked itself into my back.
The wrinkled wizard turned to me. I could see how in his youth his glittering silver eyes may have been attractive, but after years of his badgering, they seemed to just be cold steal. The eyebrows above them were bushy and grand. They were often the punch-line to the privates’ jokes on his possible flight abilities.
“Your gem warmed through your Called skin, basking in the light of your tasked charged to bring you the Chosen One. It shone so bright that even Private Genile could not deny the shimmer of your calling! We must treat this rare gift with respect and honor it with our vigilance!”
I stepped up to him, “I was thinking of you when I called camp! And no matter how many wrinkles you’ve got on that hawk nose of yours, I am still highest ranking in this party.”
He lifted his chin to defy me. Oh sweet heavens. Whatever lords may exist grant me whatever patience is left in this universe, I need every last DROP.
“There is no ranking in the eyes of fate, my dear.”
Do not punch the old man. Do not punch the old man. Do NOT punch the old man.
McKoi rolled his eyes. “Did you always talk like this, Fendoialin? Or only after you were brought into the whole prophecy telling shindig?”
I’m sure my eyes were wide, it was the first time I’d seen McKoi have an emotion stronger than mildly amused.
“My young ward, you do not know how the great mystery is passed on.”
McKoi gave me a wink and turned back to the old man, “No, do tell.”
“Well first, a wise and grand one must be picked, not someone from a muddy bloodline like-”
And that’s when I shoved him.
Right into the tree.
There was a short burst of light and he was gone. Damn wizard fell right through.
I froze, my hands still in the air. Wind whistled passed McKoi and Genile’s similarly still bodies. Somewhere far off, an owl cried its evening warning and yet none of us moved a hair.
“So…” Gentle whispered, “Are we going to…?”
I bit my tongue, shook my head. Nodded. Shit. Ugh. Shitfreakingugh.
“Yeah. Yeah frick it, someone throw me against the damn tree.”
Remora (noun): 1. Any of several fishes of the family Echeneididae, having on the top of the head a sucking disk by which they can attach themselves to sharks, turtles, ships, and other moving objects. 2. (Archaic) An obstacle, hindrance, or obstruction.
Obstacles are no one’s favorite. But without them we wouldn’t grow, we wouldn’t learn.
The hardest obstacles are unfortunately the ones we overthink. This is my particular skill. I have a Ph.D.* in overthinking problems. But, I am learning they wouldn’t be called obstacles if they weren’t in the way of where we needed to go. They’d just be… things. Random boulders and walls and stuff. So if it’s an obstacle, you must be meant to conquer it. And that’s almost a relief, right?
Hitting an obstacle and knowing it’s there to be conquered is a nice way of saying “it just hasn’t been conquered yet.” It’s not something permanently in your way, it’s a CHALLENGE. (oh? Not as unhealthily competitive as me? YES YOU ARE GET OUT THERE SOLDIER.)
I believe in you, Obstacle Champion. You got this!