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When entering a dark place from a very light place, as all Veritas learned at an early age, prudence demanded using caution. The current situation of Tu-Swift and Shadow Walker demanded still more caution. Both had been injured; though not seriously; both felt limited mobility. Beyond that, the three women and one man that Tu-Swift had recounted as the occupants the cellar were all members of the tribe of People Who Steal Children! 

All of these factors and more weighed on the mind of Shadow Walker. He glanced around what was left of the ancient armory. He spied no more swords but there were a few useful spears and clubs which could prove useful. Though they would be heavy to carry far, even had they both been whole-bodied. Still, there is enough weight here that I could prevent them from ever leaving this cellar, if indeed, they are even still in there. Tu-Swift thinks they’re safe, but he is really still a child. 

Shadow Walker leaned close to Tu-Swift. “How sure are you that they are still in there? This could be a trap.” 

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“I am certain that they are still in there.” 

Shadow Walker chewed his lip thoughtfully. “How can you be so sure?”

Tu-Swift smiled, “This twig tells me so.” 

Shadow Walker frowned, “What? What do you mean, the twig…ah.” Shadow Walker’s broad smile now supplanted the frown. “You put an inconspicuous twig on the edge so that if this door were moved you would know because the twig would be moved. Ingenious!” 

Tu-Swift smiled too. It really warmed his heart to see Shadow Walker. “My tribe, especially including you and Many Paths, has taught me well, and for that I am grateful. As to the motives of Those Who Steal Children — of that I am less sure. But these three seemed very … frightened. The man never struck me as personally cruel in the first place. And now, he’s in serious pain and has been for some time. Whatever his motives in the long term, I don’t think he’s likely to attack us.” 

Tu-Swift continued, “There is something else. These people … are … odd. I mean, they never laugh or sing or dance. I think they … follow orders. And, now they have no leader. I think if their leader were here, and he told them to attack us, they would! But without their leader encouraging them to do it … I don’t think so. Their leader though … even though I never saw him … I could feel a kind of cold wind of evil ever blowing outward from him. Or, as though he were a river of evil from another world, flowing into and poisoning our own.” 

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At last, after a long shared look, they creaked open the heavy trap-door — just a crack. The cellar didn’t just seem dark; it appeared to have sucked all the light out of the area. At least they could see that no-one crouched at the top of the stairs ready to ambush them. After some moments, their eyes began to adjust and they could see that the stairway was clear. They could hear the moaning of Jaccim Nohan, and Tu-Swift noted that it seemed somewhat weaker than when he had left.

Tu-Swift descended first. He used his sword now as a bit of a crutch. He greeted the people with a combination of sign language, Veritas (though he thought none of them knew it), and a few words of greeting he had overheard. He tried to explain that his friend, Shadow Walker, was of his tribe and had come with medicine to help Jaccim Nohan. 

{Translator’s Note}: It was indeed a few words — one to be exact. The closest modern American equivalent might be a flat-toned: “Hey.” It seems, so far as we can calculate, by far the most common form of greeting. The ROI rarely went beyond this. But I will render it into the more common polite Veritas expression: ‘How does it go with you?.’ 

Shadow Walker took a quick look around to ensure no-one else was nearby and descended after Tu-Swift. He patted his chest and said, “Shadow Walker.” He held up the leaves and pointed to them. “Medicine. Heal you.” He pointed to Jaccim. 

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Shadow Walker’s eyes had now adjusted completely to the dim and flickering torchlight in the cellar. As he approached these odd people, he began to further appreciate Tu-Swift’s assessment: these folks hardly had the demeanor of warriors. They exuded fear, bewilderment, and confusion; he felt no anger or hatred whatsoever. That, of course, did not mean that there was no danger; not at all. A confused and fearful animal might attack even when the odds were stacked against it. Shadow Walker would continue to be wary, but he definitely wanted to reassure these people, not dominate them. 

Although the Veritas language and that of the ROI were very distinct, there were some similarities. Using a combination of speech and sign language, Shadow Walker gained their confidence enough to approach closely. First, he pointed to his ankle, still visibly swollen. He hopped and grimaced. He applied a small portion of the herb to his knee. Then, he hopped without grimacing.

Eventually, he “convinced” them to try the medicine. He prepared the leaves in boiling water and spun them about to cool them down before applying them. These “burns” were not of fire but moving across too long and too hard which also causes “burns.” Only as Shadow Walker gently lay the leaves did he realize the strangest sensation — as though he were laying these leaves here and now but also there and then. Not only that: he had the distinct impression that he was not himself but a different person. A woman. One that he knew. But the image flickered out before he could place her. How could he…? 

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Shadow Walker returned his attention to the task at hand, the here and now. The more he looked in the eyes of this man, the less danger he felt. Suddenly, he spun around as one of the women spoke from right beside his ear. 

“Thank you for helping Jaccim Nohan. I am called “The Cat-Eyed One,” for clear reasons.” 

Shadow Walker looked at her wide-eyed and simply shook his head from side to side. “If you speak Veritas, why didn’t you say so, Cat-Eyed One?” And now, Shadow Walker could see that indeed, her pupils were as those of a cat. 

“I had to learn whether or not it was safe to trust you. Once I was sure you meant us no malice, I thought I should let you know.” 

Shadow Walker frowned, “But how? How do you know Veritas?”

“I was brought up in a branch of the Veritas over the snow mountains,” began Cat Eyes. 

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“There is no such tribe! Not of Veritas! No-one has survived going over the snow mountains! There is legend of a band trying, but they all perished and never returned!” 

Cat Eyes smiled. “And, if no-one else crossed the mountains and no-one returned, how do you know they all perished?” 

Shadow Walker replied quickly, “Because they would have let us know! That is our way. To share knowledge!” 

Cat Eyes smiled still more widely, “Indeed it is. And that is why I am sharing this knowledge with you. Though you seem rather an ungracious recipient. No, no. Patience, please. I will explain why no-one returned. On our ancestor’s journey, they crossed the mountains and some of that was on a sheet of solid ice. Once we had settled in a fertile valley, far beyond the snow mountains, and were sure that we were secure and not beset by enemies or disease and would survive, we sent a party up to re-cross and re-connect with our center place. But they came back saddened to tell us that the solid ice sheet was no longer solid at all. It was too treacherous to cross. The leader of their band stepped on ice and it broke, he begin to slip through a crack. His hands grabbed frantically at the edge as he slid down.  His friends could hear his screams — which thankfully only lasted a few long minutes — and that scream arose from a place far, far below. 

“After that, people were very cautious and tested the ice and walked with long poles, but the ice never improved. In fact, it got worse every year. I suppose some day, the ice may be totally melted and then we could make our way on dirt or, more likely, mud.”

Shadow Walker listened and began to take seriously this notion that he had close cousins he had not been known about. “But then, Eyes of Cat, how did you get here?”

Cat Eyes nodded and her face grew grim; her voice, quiet. “I was stolen. I was a child. They came on their horses and took me. I don’t really know whether anyone cared enough to try to track me… or… “ Her voice trailed off.

Shadow Walker still didn’t understand why someone would steal children. “But why did they steal you from your own family? I don’t — that’s what happened to Tu-Swift as well. Why?”

Cat Eyes replied, “I recognize Tu-Swift. I knew he was Veritas and that he too had been stolen. But I never had an opportunity — the freedom — to contact him. You see, the ROI stole me to be a slave.”

Shadow Walker sighed. “I still don’t see why they would bother to go to all the trouble to steal someone else’s child. It makes no sense. Can’t they just use their own children? They are called the ‘ROI’?” 

Cat Eyes sighed as well. “Yes. That’s what they call themselves The ROI. Don’t you see? They use us for things they never want their own children to experience. They did things to me that they would never do to their own children.” 

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The Myths of the Veritas: Book One.

The Myths of the Veritas: Book Two.

How Social Media Might Exaggerate Division. 

City Living vs. Country Living. 

Author Page on Amazon