Mother was not pleased. What else was new?
Even though I was one of the fastest in the camp, Bash could teleport at will, the tattletale. When I made it to the heart of the camp, not far from where the river ran beneath the bridge, she was waiting. She’d never been tall, and had the perpetual appearance of a sixteen year-old. Street kids were wary of full-grown adults. Mother looked old enough to hold authority over the littles, but not so old as to be a threat.
Her high low skirt and matching sleeveless top were a faded mauve, and wrinkled, while the leggings beneath were the color of wheat. She had freedom of movement, but it also gave the toddlers a skirt to clutch as she cooked or did chores. Her bare feet were slender and tanned, and moved quiet and nimble from sleeping children and between toys.
Where my golden eyes were molten, hers were flecks layered one over the other, like rose petals. Not to mention scowling like a cat who’d had its tail stepped on.
“How could you do something so stupid?” she demanded.
The activity in the camp had slowed as I approached. They knew something was up because Mother was pacing in her usual spot on the ground. Normally it was for the kids who were out, yet hadn’t come back in a timely fashion. Not this time. Now everyone hushed, and watched with unabashed curiosity as Mother began her tirade.
“If you die, we all die, Jolly,” she said, as though I didn’t know that already.
I mumbled as much under my breath, and her delicate nostrils flared. “What did you say?”
“Nothing,” I replied, sullen. She took a breath to continue her verbal lashing, but I interrupted. “Did Bash tell you what happened?”
“Yes. He told me you met a Devourer while out trying to find some silly new game. That you were lucky to get away alive,” she said from between clenched teeth. Trying as best she could to find patience.
I fumed. Typical Bash, only telling her what he thought was important, and not what was really important. Trying to get out of sharing what I saw. He was also conspicuously absent. Jerk.
“Did he tell you someone was controlling the Devourer?”
“No one controls Devourers,” she said, brushing me off. In a roundabout way she called me a liar at worst, and foolish and mistaken at the least.
“Well, this guy was.” I exhaled slow, ready for a fight at my next words. “I want to meld to show you what happened.”
“Absolutely not! Dinner is cooking–”
“Dinner isn’t important right now!”
A low muttering went up in the camp. Food and meals were close to the divine to these kids. What I’d said was near sacrilege. Some were angry, mostly the younger kids. Others were thoughtful and concerned. They recognized the gravity of what I said, in light of my knowledge of their lives.
“I can handle dinner until you finish,” an older, quieter girl offered, her voice soft. Coye has been with us since she was three. It’d taken her three years to utter a single word, even though she knew how to talk. Mother sensed something terrible had happened to her, but Coye never spoke of it. To this day, she hid behind her black, long curtain of hair, and slouched to hide the fact she was taller than average for a girl.
Mother frowned. We tread carefully with Coye, because she was fragile as spun glass. Any little negative comment or action could send her cowering for days. Refusing to eat or speak with us. Mother was backed into a corner, and she knew it. I could have cheered, but that was a little too smug. Though by the look Mother shot me that could scald like boiled water, I didn’t need to say anything. She could sense my triumph.
Mother tossed her golden blond plait over her shoulder, and gave a disdainful sniff. It was her sign that she was going to try and be a bigger god than me, even though she thought I was being ridiculous.
“Spud is still out, and Dare is nearby but hiding,” she said, as though she had a bad taste in her mouth saying the latter’s name.
“I’m here,” Dare piped up, sitting on top of one of the tents with his legs crossed. Though no human could sit up there, he could. He was only a bit more substantial than me, but could alter his density to be feather light. It came in handy when you were trying to hide and spook the kids.
Dare was the other end of the fun spectrum from me. Where my smile was full of joy, his was roguish. Where I teased, he taunted. Physically we were a match, except for our hair. His was blacker than the tar they used on the ships in the bay.
“Do you know where Spud is?” Mother asked, hands on her hips.
“Like I keep up with potato head.” He scoffed, and reclined back, hands laced behind his head.
Mother ground her teeth. She did that when Dare got obstinate.
“I’m here,” Spud said, raising a hand in greeting as he made his way between the tents. He had several other kids in tow, all carrying dirty flour sacks of varying size. They were his scavenger crew. They went out with him to forage, work, or beg for food. We called him Spud, because more often than not we ended up with potatoes.
“Jolly wants to meld,” Mother said, letting the scorching tone in her voice convey just how pleased she was at the prospect.
Spud shrugged. His wide, pleasant face, covered in freckles, showed no concern for the idea. If you went by size, Spud looked around the same age as Mother, maybe a little older. I’d seen mountains less solid than his sturdy frame, and shorter than his towering height. I always expected kids to be intimidated. I mean, who wouldn’t be a little scared of a guy whose hands were larger than most kid’s faces? They never were. In fact, the littles climbed all over him, or begged for rides on his shoulders and back. He complied, amiable about it all.
After a long moment, he spoke. “If that’s what Jolly wants, I don’t see why not.”
Mother huffed out an exacerbated sigh, and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Because we are vulnerable to attack when we do that,” she reminded him.
Spud shrugged again. It wasn’t as though Spud was slow in the mind. He took his time with his thoughts almost more than he did with his physical actions. A snail could beat the guy in a race.
With three out of five for the meld, I’d won. It was a risk, but I needed them to see I wasn’t making things up, and if I was right to worry about the situation.
Mother closed her eyes, her mouth pressed in a thin, annoyed line, and mentally called Bash.
He popped in. Pissed enough at the situation that he didn’t control the displaced air, and it sent a whoosh of dust in all directions away from him.
“I asked you not to do that in camp. I don’t want the children to get dirt in their eyes,” Mother scolded. At least it wasn’t aimed at me this time.
Bash ignored her, which he was wont to do with each of us at one time or another. “Let’s just get this over with.”
Bash put his staff on the ground, not worried about the kids messing with because it was too heavy for them. Spud ambled forward. Dare dropped from the top of the tent, light as a cat. I stepped forward and held out a hand to Mother. I kept it flat, palm down. She put hers under mine, leaving space for Spud to put his right above hers, and resting on it, and Bash’s above his. My hand went on top of Bash’s, and his irritation sizzled along my skin like bacon in a hot pan. Dare put his over mine, and the link deepened.
The order of our hands represented the foundation of our construction. Parent, unconditional love, forgiving, strength of soul: Mother. Provider, dependable, gentle, strength of body: Spud. Protector, determined, watchful, strength of mind: Bash. Play, happy, free, strength of heart: Me. Prank, mischievous, brave, strength of personality: Dare.
The P five of Haven, as the stranger said.
Once the deeper link established itself, we ‘pushed’ our energies out to our connected hands. A golden light, like the tendril of a vine, moved from each of us like a snake moving slow through grass. I closed my eyes against the brightness of Mother’s, Spud’s, and Bash’s. Their lights were always stronger than Dare’s and mine. It was one reason why they were as substantial as any human.
It was also why they thought they were far more important.
When the energy met over our hands, it combined into a little ball. My sense of self shifted from within me, to a spherical chamber. It was bright, as though made from sunbeams. Created from a melding of all five of our minds, it allowed us to see and experience things the others had gone through. Our normal link gave us a sense of what was going on, but this was profound. We were as close to one another as any beings–human or divine–could get.
“Show us,” Mother said, her voice echoing and impatient.
I moved to the center of the sphere, not exactly walking since we didn’t have a physical body to move. It was more like gliding. The others gathered around. There was a pool of swirling, opaque white liquid in a shallow basin on a pedestal. Almost like watered down milk, but more pearlescent. You could never see father than an inch in, but I was never tempted to put my hand to the bottom.
Instead, I touched a single finger into the water, no farther than the first knuckle and right near the rim. I closed my non-existent eyes, and recalled the incident with the man. I played through the entire encounter. When I finished, I almost opened my eyes.
“Once more,” Bash demanded.
When I got to a point where I faced the man, full on, Mother spoke up.
“Hold it there,” she said. Her voice was close, as though she leaned over the pool to get a better view.
I kept the image of the man firm in my mind’s eye, never wavering from the cold eyes and emotionless face.
“Enough,” she said, after what seemed like forever.
I let go of vision, and it scattered like marbles dropped on the ground. I opened my eyes, taking in the hovering visions of my fellow gods. Spud’s usually unconcerned demeanor was worried, his thick sandy brown eyebrows drawn down in concern. Mother and Bash were grim as look passed between to the two. When I turned to Dare, he just shrugged.
“Do you see what I mean?” I asked.
Mother turned to face me, her expression not changing.
“We need to get back to the camp,” she said, without answering my question.
I went to protest, but Spud held up a hand. “She’s not dismissing your concern, Jolly. We just need to get back to the kids. The barriers are down with Bash in here, and the littles are getting hungry. Coye has never been good at keeping them at bay, and you know how we have to ration,” he said, his voice slow and steady as the march of time.
I huffed out a sigh, but nodded. We started the process of going back to our physical forms. It was much like trying to untangle a ball of knotted twine. Time-consuming and tedious.
Once back in our bodies, we dropped our hands. Bash gave one, hard look at Mother, then popped back to reconnect with the boundaries. Spud ambled over to where Coye was, almost hyperventilating from all the children’s loud complaining. When he took over stirring the soup, Coye scampered off to her tent. Only Dare, Mother, and I remained.
“What is going on?” I asked. It was odd. I should have most of the same base knowledge as the others. There are certain things we don’t share, because the others don’t care to know. I don’t care about how to plant and harvest food. Bash doesn’t care about knowing how to play checkers. Spud doesn’t care about the best places in the camp to surprise a kid, and so on.
“I don’t know exactly,” she admitted.
I scoffed. “You three have to know something, or you wouldn’t look so distressed,” I accused.
“I’m not lying. I don’t know exactly. It just seems as though I should,” she said, frustrated, and almost to herself. “When I saw his eyes, something squirmed at the back of my brain. Something telling me it’s important.”
If she didn’t look so confused and bothered by her statement, I would have said, ‘I told you so’. I also didn’t point out that we technically didn’t have brains, since we were flesh and blood.
“What do you think we should do?” Dare asked. He wasn’t precisely concerned, but he wasn’t his usual joking self, either. The gravity of the man with the silver eyes was affecting us all.
“I think,” she started, her words slow, “that you and Jolly need to go see Kairon.”
Dare made a rude noise, and my eyebrows rose in surprise.
“Why do we need to go see him?” I asked. At the same time, Dare muttered, “Pretentious twat.”
“Because I think we were made to forget whatever this is. If anyone knows who, or what, that man is, and why our memories are gone, he would,” she said.
“Why do both of us need to go?” Dare whined. All concern for the situation, gone, in light of who we were visiting.
“Because it’s too dangerous for Jolly to go alone,” she said, and made a shooing motion at us.
I shrugged, and turned to leave the camp, and Dare dragged his feet through the dirt. As we passed, Spud was still stirring the soup so slow, you’d think it was made of molasses.
When we came up even with him, he said, “Don’t be gone too long. You know how Mother worries.”