Tu-Swift’s eyes darted immediately to what he most wanted to see. There she was, her back turned away, with only a tress of hair across the back of her ear, but he recognizer her. Cat Eyes poured over more of the writings she had discovered. “Books” — that was they word they had learned for such large sheaves of knowledge marked down. Six of her “students” nearly encircled her. As he neared, he noticed his heart beating fast and hard, though he only caught momentary glimpses of her. At a distance of a medium-sized fallen tree, he stopped and gulped hard. Cat Eyes was still turned away from him when suddenly, she turned her head and looked him straight in the eye. What happened next seemed inexplicable to Tu-Swift. She turned, saw him, smiled and then — she flew to him — or perhaps floated to him — or ran to him. After a very long time and a very short time, she wrapped her arms around him tightly and he responded in kind. He loved the smell of her, though now, he noticed a slight tinge of spicy mint. If anything, that made her smell even better!
After far too short a time, they drew apart slightly, still holding on and they began exchanging news. After a few moments of over-talking each other, they both laughed and promised that they would take turns, just as any civilized Veritas knows how to do. They played a game they called “make five” and thus, it was determined that Tu-Swift would begin. He described how the red death had spread through the tribe and how the solution had appeared in a dream of She Who Saves Many Lives. Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker had gone to reconnoiter the giant stone encampment of the Z-Lotz and they had been captured. At this point in the story, he backed off enough to look into her face. He saw that her eyes already brimmed with a score of urgent questions. He smiled at her; spoke gently; put a hand on each side of her face as he said, “Cat Eyes. There is no hurry. I am here for as long as it pleases you. I will answer any question from you. Ever.” Then, he kissed her on the lips.
Instead of resuming his narrative uninterrupted (as was common practice among the Veritas), he smiled and asked, “What is your most pressing question?”
Cat Eyes said, “I have so many, but are they okay? I mean, if they were captured, in a large city, they must have died! Is that what happened?”
Tu-Swift shook his head and answered, “No, they are both okay. More than okay. Shadow Walker killed NUT-PI and became king of the Z-LOTZ!”
Cat Eyes’s eyes widened. “But how is that possible?!”
Tu-Swift shrugged. “That’s the thing. We do not yet know. We’ve only sent a few messages back and forth on eagles. They say that Shadow Walker is King & both are fine, but they haven’t gotten to the how part yet.”
Cat Eyes shook her head. “What? What!? What could be more important to tell than to tell how they escaped?”
Tu-Swift smiled. “I’ll tell you, given half a chance. Cat Eyes, your parents are alive! They will likely arrive here themselves in a half moon’s time. They will be among a larger party of visitors. Many Paths has an idea that she wants to discuss among all the Veritas.”
“My parents are alive!? What? How? How? What? Tell me!”
“I’m really sorry, Cat Eyes. Believe me, I’m curious too. We have been sitting around a campfire speculating about so many things. But soon, we will know. A small party is coming from the Z-Lotz city and that includes your parents. We will absorb their story and send them on, if they are able, along with a few others. You and I will find out at the same time, if I may stay here, of course.” Tu-Swift lifted his eyebrows.
“You’d better! Or, I swear, I’ll break both your knees!”
“You wouldn’t be the first to try that.”
Tu-Swift meant it as a joke, but Cat Eyes felt she had been insensitive. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it, of course. I forgot about your knee. But you were strong enough to make the journey here so, I guess it’s better?”
“Yes, thanks. I’m not back to full speed quite yet, but I’m getting there. I meant it as a joke, though. I’m not bothered. Even if I am never the fastest one in the tribe, what of that? I’m alive; I’m well. So many died. Do many of us.” He paused and looked at Cat Eyes.
She bit her lip and asked the question that Tu-Swift willed her to ask, “Tu-Swift, how is Suze? Why isn’t she here with you?”
Tears welled up in the eyes of Tu-Swift, soon echoed by those Cat Eyes.
Cat Eyes gently said, “I’m so sorry, Tu-Swift. I loved her too. Without her help, and yours, of course, we would still not know how to decode these messages. But, that aside, she was so … alive. So much, herself.”
“I know. I know.”
“Who else? Who else is gone, Tu-Swift?”
So Tu-Swift told of Stone Chipper and his son Horse Viewer and of so many others. And, he could see each time that he told of a person, Cat Eyes felt sorrow. In her relatively short time at the Center Place of the Veritas, she had come to know every one of the people there as an individual. She understood as well that each death was also a blow to the whole village and a special blow to those closest to the person who had just died.
Tu-Swift himself felt a great heaviness. The recitation of every single name on the list felt like another tree trunk had fallen on his drooping shoulders. At the end, at last, he spoke of Many Paths and She Who Saves Many Lives.
“Many Paths grew very sick, Cat Eyes. She Who Saves Many Lives and I took care of her. Many Paths is fine now, but She Who Saves Many Lives herself became quite ill. She was still alive when I left to see you, but — but quite ill — and talking a lot about the Tree of Life and how we were all just parts of it. It makes me think that she thinks she’s dying. But I don’t really know. But the last piece of my news is about the nature of Many Path’s dream.
“The dream of She Who Saves Many Lives,” he continued, “allowed us to save many lives in the Center Place of the Veritas. Now, none are any longer sick. It may be that the dream of Many Paths that will end up saving even more lives, not just now, but for the future as well. She was much taken by the notion that all these — books — that you study — that they came from another time when there was more — so much more — but also less — so much less. And, she is — she wants to prevent that from happening again. She wants to bring all the tribes together. But she wants to know first, whether the Veritas here could agree to such a plan. And she would like to know what more you have learned from all these books. And, I do want to hear your news, but … I want you to know that I am so happy to see you. I missed you, Cat Eyes.”
They embraced again, each feeling the pain and comfort of the other.