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Vision Quest


by laurelinden

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Koledei pressed his paws together and submerged them in the stream. Eagerly he lifted the clear water up to his lips and lapped it, swishing it in his mouth a moment before swallowing it down to relieve the dryness of his throat. The tattooed blue Lupe, assured that the water tasted pure, bent his head down to drink straight from the source.

    It had been due to both fortune and skill that he’d discovered the water – and the sign boded well that he was prepared to pass from childhood and become a true Tribe Member. When a villager of Geraptiku learned the arts of tracking, hunting, and survival, and was ready to have a voice among the worthy, he or she must prove that their knowledge was well-ingrained.

    And he or she must have a Vision.

    Koledei was on his Vision-Quest now, searching for how his life would serve the village as a whole. Some saw the white light of Healing and became Medicine-pets for the sick or wounded. Some saw flashes of the signs of the hunter. Some would be builders, some cookers, some potters, some weavers… each pet, to become a Tribe Member, must know what role he or she would go on to fulfill.

    The Lupe’s mission on the quest was to use skills of survival to remain alive and alone until his Vision came to him. He must travel farther from Geraptiku than he’d ever been before, to prove that Fate wished him to find the necessary food and water and means for making shelter without relying on previous experience. He had done so, leaving the familiar twisting paths behind him and following thin trails, overgrown with lack of use, to the deepest jungle.

    Three days he’d traveled through the wild, and had used the last precious water from his single allowed leather waterskin, knowing he must either find a stream soon or turn back in defeat. A wiser pet might have turned back even sooner, for three friendless days without water on the return journey could have easily proven too many. Yet, as he’d hesitated, preparing to turn back, the music of the tumbling water had echoed in his ears, filling him with confidence that he was indeed ready for his Quest.

    His thirst now sated, Koledei dipped the empty waterskin into the stream and filled it, smiling to himself. He could have given up, yes, but the timid did not go far in life. It was the brave who took more dangers, but also the brave who reaped the most rewards.

    And now, the first step of his Quest was completed, and he was sure that he would find his Vision at the end of it.

    The Lupe searched the lush foliage surrounding the stream, scanning the layers of green leaves and vines for the bright colors of fruits. The ground was littered with fallen leaves, turning brown with decay, but also with the tender shoots of new growth. He leaned down, tracing a paw over the earth, brushing away the layers, and finally he noticed a delicate sprig of green growing in a hooked shape. Giving it a firm but gentle tug, he lifted the attached root free – a pale Grondik root, mottled with orange spots indicating its ripeness. He noticed also the spiked shaft of the Nurako bulb, and saw tiny blue Blobbule fruits growing from a nearby tree, thriving with the water of the stream.

    Pleased, he began to gather them. Yes, the signs thus far had been good omens indeed.

    As the day waned, Koledei did not waste a minute of sunlight. With a neat pile of various edible roots and fruits gathered for his disposal, and a source of water within easy reach, he set to work constructing a makeshift shelter. Using sharp rocks in the riverbed, he whittled the edges of long stones to ragged points, and cut along the bases of branches to soften their resistance to his pulls. Then he bent them at their weak point, snapping piles of slender boughs of uniform length. Last of all he sawed away at a long, sturdy branch, breaking through his pointed stone before finally freeing it. This he suspended between two forked trees, and laid the smaller branches along it in a sort of lean-to. The long, generous leaves of blackened banana trees spread neatly over the top, sealed with the ample mud of the jungle floor, to make his shelter resistant to water and wind. He needed no fire; the nights and days of Mystery Island were warm, and the food he collected did not require roasting.

    As he smoothed the last bit of mud over his shelter, and rinsed his paws clean in the stream, the sky was already dim and darkening with the end of the day. Little sunlight pierced the thick jungle canopy even in the brightest noon, and now that the sun had vanished out of the orb of the sky, his surroundings grew increasingly darker. The Lupe crawled into his shelter, bunching piles of leaves beneath him for a bed, and closed his eyes, swept off to sleep by the rhythmic chirping of the insects and by the pleasant promises of tomorrow.

    * * * * *

    Three weeks, it had been. Having eaten all of the edible plants within the area, Koledei now spent the greater part of his days traveling out and coming back, carrying piles of food in banana-tree leaves. Though they prevented his starvation, the Lupe knew that his coat was dull and patchy from lack of nutrients, and he could feel his ribs a lot more easily through his fur. The fruits were enough to keep him alive, but could not be relied on for great durations of time.

    The Vision would come soon, he knew. Each day he grew more distant from reality, closer to the state of mind that the Elders used to speak of. The sounds of the insects, once clear and sharp, now droned in a fuzzy, indistinct buzz. His mind felt dim and it was difficult to think with clarity. Sometimes he had to concentrate much more carefully than usual to return to his shelter and avoid getting lost, and had taken to tying bright scraps of his clothes to the bushes around the site, to be seen and identified from a distance.

    Sighing wearily, Koledei sat outside his lean-to, staring at the rushing water as it swirled in foam around the rocks. Show me my Vision, he asked the stream, the air, the sun. Show me what I am meant to see.

    The sound of the water seemed to mingle with the chirps of the insects, combining and intensifying. He heard a creature stir far off… heard the snap as one of its feet broke a twig. The wind gave a gentle breath, rustling the trees, each leaf rubbing against another, blending together to make the whole jungle sigh…

    Home, it was his home. He knew the pattern of circled huts like the certainty of a dream, and saw the tall grey form of the stone Tomb looming behind them, watching over his village – the guardian. Something was not right. Not one voice disturbed the eerie silence of his town; not one shape could be seen flitting between the houses. Deserted… it was his home, abandoned. Lost.

    Gasping for breath, Koledei opened his eyes. Sweat ran down his fur as he snatched up his waterskin and one leaf filled with fruit for the journey. Only one thought raced through his mind, sharp through the haze. It filled his weary muscles with the fire of determination, and shook the fog from his eyes. I must get back. I must warn them. I must stop this from happening.

    Leaving everything without so much as a glance back, the blue Lupe began a desperate half-run back home.

    * * * * *

    He was near. He had slowed, eventually, realizing that a steady but brisk pace would be more effective than a series of sprints. Forsaking sleep, and eating only what he needed, the journey home had taken only two days.

    There might still be time.

    The thought gave Koledei a burst of energy, and he tossed the banana leaf down with the last of its feeble contents as he quickened his steps. He could see them now: the wizened faces of the Elders greeting his return, and the Tribe’s children screaming and running with delight. The Tribe Members would prepare a celebration – a long feast to fill him with the nutrients he’d lost – and at the end he would tell them all what he had seen, gathered around a great bonfire whose smoke would reach hundreds of feet into the sky.

    There might still be time.

    There must still be time.

    Koledei’s mouth felt dry as he bounded up the familiar paths to the city’s edge, but he knew it was not from lack of water. Shaking, he sprinted the last few feet, and rushed headlong into the heart of his village.

    As he looked around, his eyes seemed unable to comprehend what they saw. Pale tendrils of smoke rose from a still-smoldering fire, the sole movement in his sight. He pushed aside the flaps of one of the homes, and saw the possessions almost untouched within, almost as if the resident had merely stepped outside.

    In numb bewilderment, the Lupe went to every single hut, only to find the same abandonment. As he wandered around the meeting place in the village center, searching for a message they might have left him, or any sign of their location, all of the energy his hope had given him melted away, leaving utter weakness and despair. Through a haze of disbelief he sat without realizing it, and felt a wave of hot, sick tears rise to his throat, his eyes. Too late, too late. Geraptiku was empty.

    Bending into a crumpled form, like a child he wept for all things lost.

The End

 
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