Weather: Giant downpour. I’m not sure I will ever be dry.
Encounters: One angry mob and a medical faction of the government.
We watched as smoke billowed up into the late evening sky. The ominous column reached into space like a hand grasping at stars. We sailed unswervingly on, straight toward the source. We were close enough that we could see the warm pulsing fire licking up the side of a broken down pillar of a shield wall outside of town.
I looked to The Healer for guidance. He threw his arm around Beta and chuckled, “No time like the present.”
“Is that the site of the hysterical outbreak?” I asked. We had been talking plans, but I didn’t imagine this.
The Healer gave me a look that said, Well, yeah.
“It’s just the port.” Bullet offered. “The hysterical outbreak is inland, at the village named Purl. Actually, Purl was the village closest to the first built shield wall. That very shield wall is what we see burning.”
Shield walls were built when Juniper Vale was first inhabited by our people, long metallic columns stood around the villages and cities emitting frequencies to keep the wilderness at bay. Now, the wilderness crept in wherever it wanted...the shield walls hadn’t functioned in many years.
The Healer nodded toward the shoreline, “Whatever it is, it looks like its burning.”
I felt the first drop of rain as we huddled around the edge of the boat formulating plans of action in our minds. The rain started slow, then built up into pounding howling sheets. The Healer passed out umbrellas. I lifted my hood and stretched out over the edge of the boat to better see the fire.
Jasper pulled out his retractable telescope and hoisted himself up onto the railing of the boat. He was incredibly agile. The telescope whirred and clicked when it locked onto a target. I had begun to realize it was more than an ordinary telescope. My experience with the Rogue Healers had revealed a telescope is more than a telescope, and a fish is more than a fish.
“What is that thing doing?” I asked him, standing by his legs. We were all gathered, watching and sailing toward the port.
Jasper barked, “Tell ya later, Janey. It’s a real trick, though.”
“What do you see, Jasper?” Bullet asked and lifted her tablet to him. She was recording him through the tiny microphone, a little wave on the screen bounced as it collected the sound. She shielded it from the rain under her umbrella.
The boat fell under the hush of tension as we waited for Jasper’s answer. I could see groups of people on the port, flickering silhouettes beside the huge fire.
“There’s fighting, there is. Villagers and gov’t.” He swept the telescope back and forth across the scene. “Sail on. Fast now.”
“Wait, let me look.” The Healer looked onward with his eyebrows furled. He nodded, “Let’s move.”
I wanted to ask questions, but the boat became a flurry of preparation as we quickly sailed toward the dock. Jasper tossed me bags of supplies, loaded up Senelala with the box of Nightrays, and stuffed rolled maps into canvas bags. The Healer and Beta stood under an umbrella and scribbled in the Heliodex (his leather bound book that contained all his notes from every case and every study. It was an Alpha Healer’s tradition and he always kept it close at hand). The Healer’s lips moved silently along with the words he was writing.
We docked soon after and ran full speed toward the mass of people gathered around the pulsing fire. The sound of our feet pounding the wooden dock rang out like firecrackers. Senelala ambled after us with Beta by his side. I think he was being careful not to slosh the Nightrays on his back.
The rain was loud, but the cries of the villagers were deafening. My heart thumped as my eyes scanned the scene. Fire had spread up the ancient machinery that stood around the shoreside edge of Purl. Flames crept up way above our heads, but the rain was starting to subdue them. A mass of village people screamed at the government officials. Smoke pooled around us, so I cupped a hand over my mouth and nose to breathe a few clear breaths.
A woman cried out above the noise. Her face was hauntingly lit by the fire, “They’re taking our people! My sister is in there! Who will she be when she returns?” A man grabbed her waist as she charged at the suited officials.
She stabbed a finger in the direction of the government aid, “We didn’t ask for their help! We wanted you. We want healing.” She wiped her eyes as if she was crying, but it was impossible to differentiate the tears from the rain. People shouted in agreement.
White med tents buckled under the storm, medical officials darted around moving technology out of the rain and into the abandoned shore market. This was the place where all hysterical outbreak victims were brought. The Healer told me there would be a med center, a hub for the government to monitor the sick. The officials stood guard in front of the center while the village people of Purl rallied across from them.
The villagers must have started the fire...whether it was accident or not I did not know. The desperation in their eyes flickered like electricity. They were trapped: they couldn’t storm the med center...their family members and townspeople were within. I thought of my own family.
I moved to huddle with the Rogue Healers.
“We have to get this under control!” The Healer shouted at us.
Bullet nodded, reached into her bag and pulled out a black metallic object that looked like a gun. She motioned to us to put our hands over our ears. Jasper and The Healer crouched to the ground as Bullet pulled the trigger. I dropped to my knees as a resounding crack emitted from the muzzle. I surprised the sound alone didn’t knock everyone over.
Bullet stood like a statue with the gun over her head as government and villagers alike grew silent in shock. The rain and the crackle of the fire were like static in the background.
“Alright!” The Healer shouted with hands cupped around his mouth, “Enough of this! I want one representative from each side to meet me in the market over there. I don’t care who it is, just figure it out!” He winked at us and strode off in the direction of the abandoned building.
Jasper rubbed his ears and cast a glance at me. My ears were ringing. “Should we go?” I asked. A stern man from each group followed the Healer at a distance. They crossed their arms over their chests and let the rain pour down their faces as they walked.
The Villagers started to disperse, most mumbling and crying. An older man with a creased face lifted one hand as a slow salute to whoever he cared about in the medical center.
One woman looked at me as she turned to leave, “I just wanted to bring him home. He’s not dangerous.” She turned and disappeared within the mass of villagers.
Home. She said home.
“Wait!” I shouted after her and ran into the crowd. I darted between people, but I couldn’t find her. The crowd dissipated around me as I spun around looking for her face.
Jasper grabbed my arm, “Janey, whatcha doin’?”
Bullet’s eyes searched my face.
“I thought I heard something,” I said and glanced behind my shoulder one last time. Jasper lifted his telescope and scanned the crowd as they made their trek back to Purl.
She said home. There’s a reason I’m here. I have to talk to Beta.