At the grinding growling noise, the entire group jumped back from the door. Jaccim flinched — not at the slow movement of the door, but at the reaction of everyone else. He then reminded himself that they had never seen such a tunnel before.
He stepped in front of Cat Eyes and said earnestly, “Such noise is normal. Louder than I remember but all right.”
Cat Eyes nodded and translated the reassurance.
The group squinted as the shaft of yellow sunlight began to trace across their faces.
Cat Eyes turned back to Jaccim with a frown and a flash of anger in her eyes, “How did you open it though? How?!”
Jaccim tilted his head and looked at her puzzled. “It — I just asked it to be opened. Surely, this magic is not new to you. Didn’t you see such things in the Z-Lotz village?”
Trunk of Tree was jumping up and down and waving his hands. “What is he saying?! It could be a trap! I did it! I opened it!”
Cat Eyes glanced over at Salah Hudah and caught her eye. They smiled knowingly at each other while they shook their heads about Trunk of Tree. But to his credit, he was peering around the corner of the ever-widening entryway, looking for the trap that didn’t come. Once his eyes had adjusted a bit to the sunlight he scanned the nearby surroundings. As he did so, he looked up to orient to the twin peaks, but they were nowhere to be seen.
“All clear!” he shouted back at the cave door. Soon, they were all outside. Trunk of Tree looked at Jaccim. “How did you open that?!”
Jaccim looked at Cat Eyes and awaited her translation for a moment and then realized, he understood what Trunk of Tree must have said so answered her again in ROI. “I just asked it to open. It’s always worked that way.”
Cat Eyes sighed. She realized that no-one in the group would accept her translation, but she went ahead anyway, “He says that he just asked it to open — in ROI — and it did. That it always works like that.”
Salah Hudah frowned and said, “Why did we work so hard to open the first door then?”
Cat Eyes nodded and replied, “Good question.” She translated for Jaccim, who shrugged “I don’t know why they make it such. Buttons to go in. Commands to leave. Wasn’t it this way among the Z-Lotz, Cat Eyes?”
Cat Eyes reacted to him first with a simple “NO!” and then translated his answer to the group. Jaccim could see that his answer just caused more confusion. Cat Eyes began to suspect that maybe this was a trap after all. Jaccim’s face seemed stoical but honest. Still…
Trunk of Tree looked around. “All right. Well, I got us out. That’s the main thing, but where are the twin peaks?”
Fleet of foot had walked back some ways from the entrance. He pointed up behind them. “Come over here. The peaks are back that way.” Lion Slayer went to join him and soon saw what appeared to be the twin peaks just visible over the edge of the cliff behind them. “There they are.”
Cat Eyes walked over as well and soon everyone was pointing to them. Trunk of Tree was the last to join the group. He nodded. “Now,” he began, “we need to determine which way to go next.” The voice of Trunk of Tree was strong and echoed off the cliff. Halfway through his pronouncement, however, Jaccim began speaking in broken Veritas. “Close Door one first. Second two, visit Veritas. Three third, this way,” and he gestured toward a broad path that led up a steep, but walkable grade to the right. Then, he himself walked a bit off to the left, following a much more overgrown path.
“Wait!” yelled Trunk of Tree. “Where are you going?!”
Cat Eyes began, “He asks —- “
Jaccim, put up a hand, “Yes. I know. To close first one door one. To walk path second two To find Veritas third three.”
Cat Eyes watched Jaccim as he walked over to a rock wall, and jab his hand downward several times. Then, the door began to close.
“Wait! What are you doing! Keep it open! We want to come back this way.”
Cat Eyes saw Jaccim shrug and quickly translated.
Jaccim tilted his head at Trunk of Tree, looking at him with curiosity. “Do you always leave the door to your house open to the rats?” he queried in ROI for Cat Eyes to translate.
Cat Eyes decided to add a bit on her own: “Besides, since you are always concerned with traps, do you see how each it would be to have a large force inside ready to pounce on a small party?”
As she guessed, that seemed to hit home and Trunk of Tree grunted his assent. “Come on!” he said and began to stride up the hill.
Fleet of Foot put out a hand as Trunk of Tree strode past, “Trunk! Hey! Do you know where you’re going?”
Trunk of Tree stopped and turned. “There’s only one path. This is the one to take.”
Fleet of Foot smiled, “True enough. But there may be choice points ahead, or hidden dangers that Jaccim knows about because he’s been here before. And, if we are really getting close, Cat Eyes may begin to recognize something as well. Besides, it’s easier if they’re together in case she needs to translate.
Trunk of Tree added, “All right. I still don’t see why he doesn’t learn Veritas though. ‘To find Veritas third three.’ What is that? Gibberish! And I don’t like to be behind the horses.”
“Nor I,” replied Fleet of Foot. “You and I should lead the animals at the back. That way we can apply the most force where it is needed most in case of battle, rather than being ambushed and rendered useless.”
“What?!” yelled Trunk of Tree, “I hate those things! Those beasts are powerful! Let Jaccim risk his life!”
Fleet of Foot clapped his friend on the shoulder. “Come on! Dah-Nah isn’t as scared of them as you are. They’re not dangerous if you know what you’re doing. I’ll show you. l would have sooner. I just learned myself though. Here. Let’s go back now.”
Once the order of the group was settled, Cat Eyes began to converse with Jaccim in ROI. “I still do not understand how these doors work.”
“Nor I,” Cat Eyes. “I have no idea really. I was just told exactly what to do.”
They walked on in silence for a time. The anger rose in Cat Eyes, but she breathed steadily and calmed herself.
“You just do what you are told without even understanding it? How can you live like that?”
Jaccim looked at her. “Do you know how your legs work? Or how we see?”
Cat Eyes clicked her tongue. “Of course. I use things all the time because I know how to use them. I don’t know everything about how they work. But if someone says put these ten large rocks in this tiny basket, I wouldn’t just try to do it, because it would ruin the basket and nothing would be accomplished.”
Jaccim nodded. “I am beginning to understand that about the Veritas.” After a pause, he added, “I never thought much about any other tribes, really. Just us and the Z-Lotz. The Z-Lotz are the ones that usually told us what to do. And, we, the ROI; we’re good at finding the clearest shortest path to doing those things.”
Cat Eyes walked on a few more miles. At last she turned her head to Jaccim and said, “I told you I never saw such things but now I am not so sure. When I was very young, I learned how things were. Then, later, when I was a slave to the Z-Lotz, I … I saw things in those terms. But maybe I sometimes assumed that they opened doors the way I had always seen them being opened because….”
Jaccim put up his hand as they came to a fork in the road. He looked up to the right and down to the left and chose the gently descending path.
Cat Eyes rolled her foot on a round stone and nearly lost her footing. Instinctively, Jaccim shot out his hand and she took it. She regained her balance and began speaking again, “Speaking of knowing how to do things, can you please tell me how to open those doors from the inside and the outside.”
“Why? I’ll be there.”
“Jaccim,” began Cat Eyes, “has it never occurred to you that these people might realize from your speech and your manner that you are one of the people who steals children?”
“No, no,” said Jaccim. “I’m Veritas now. I’m not ROI. I am friends with Dah-Nah. I am Veritas.” After a moment, he added, “but I can easily tell you how to make the doors work.”
“What is that smell? I recognize it! Spicebush! Someone is brewing spicebush tea. Just as my mother used to do!”
Jaccim nodded and smiled. “Yes, I smell it too. I was just going to tell you — we are nearly there! Do you recognize …?” His voice trailed off. He could see that Cat Eyes no longer listened. She walked over to what seemed to be a cleft in the rock wall and began to go through. Jaccim said in a loud voice, “She here is! We here is!”
“Wait.” said Fleet of Foot. “What is our strategy here? No-one there knows us and we know no-one there. I thought we agreed to let Cat Eyes in and that I, along with both Trunk of Tree, would accompany her. We will be more likely recognized as Veritas. We will be safer.”
Fleet of Foot didn’t wait for a response. He sprinted up to Cat Eyes, and put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Wait a moment. Let’s go in together with Trunk of Tree. He’ll catch up in just a moment. Are you feeling all right? Why are you crying?”