Lost in Translation
By the time I’m outside, the sun is no longer at its highest point in the sky, but it feels like it’s beating down on me directly. Our clothing should keep us somewhat comfortable, as long as the temperature regulating chips keep working, but the heat on my face feels stronger than usual.
“Where’s the truck?” I ask, putting my backpack in an old yellow wagon that Tirigan and I used to fight over. John has already filled it with the duffle bags and our camping gear.
“There was no time,” John replies, turning away and beginning to walk in the direction of the jungle. He pulls the wagon behind him and doesn’t look back at our trailer. “Calla used a stone to send me here right before they overpowered us.”
Following my father away from our home, I take measured glances back as we walk away. It is nearly impossible to leave the place I have called home all of my life. Despite how desperate I’ve been to get out and experience something new, I never expected this is how I’d leave my home. For Tirigan, I expect it to be worse. That trailer was as much a warm security blanket as the actual blanket he wrapped himself in every night.
“Who are they?” I also want to ask how my mother managed to send John several bêrus away using a rock, but I’m not sure I’m ready to hear the answer. “Where did they take her? Why did they take her?”
Tirigan allows me to hear him agreeing with my line of questioning as he skips a little to catch up and walk beside me.
“I don’t know where,” John answers, his voice shaking. He keeps walking briskly towards the jungle, and I pretend not to know our destination. I can already feel Zoúnkla coaxing me in, and I don’t like it much. “The Negral took her because she isn’t supposed to be here, on this side of the world. She shouldn’t have even been able to get here.”
How were they able to keep this from us?
“Why wasn’t she supposed to be here?” I ask instead of interpreting for Tirigan. I know his question comes more from a bruised ego than anything else.
It’s sure to trouble him that our parents were able to keep such a big secret from him. Where his mind was once a jumble of confused chaos, now there is an intricate simplicity to his thoughts, which keeps his mind clear of unnecessary debris. With his exceptional deductive skills, I know Tirigan must feel like he should have had all of this figured out.
“It’s just always been this way,” John answers me. “I don’t know why or how neither species is aware of the other. Calla only told me what she knew, which was very little. Her grandfather was on the Téssera’s version of the Negral and she overheard a conversation that she shouldn’t have.” He is walking ahead of me, but I can see the lift in my father’s cheeks as he recounts the story. “Being the brave girl she was, Calla travelled into the jungle the very next day. That is where we met.” His smile grows wider, as I move closer to his side. There are tears in my father’s eyes. I forcefully look away.
I don’t want to do this.
I don’t want to recount tales about a mother I never knew and listen to all the different ways my parents have lied to me.
They told us they met at a seminar on wildlife photography. They told us Calla’s parents were both dead, having had my mother very late in their extremely long lives. They told us there were plenty of other Anunnaki that heal as slowly as our mother does.
They lied. They lied to us over and over again.
Worst of all, I don’t want to listen to this when it seems likely that I will never see my mother again. I don’t want to be angry with her right now.
“She would sneak out often after we met and explore the jungle with me.” John continues to walk steadily, the jungle looming in the distance. Despite the regulated temperature of my clothing, sweat is collecting at the nape of my neck and trickling down my back, dampening my shirt. It only stays that way for a moment though, before the sensors in my shirt absorb the moisture, effectively drying the material.
“So, what happened? She just.... left?”
“It was a little more involved than that, but yes. She ran away, and we have been on our own ever since.” One of the wheels hits a rock and the wagon jumps, threatening to topple, but John steadies it easily and we continue.” After we had you, Calla transferred your powers into casting stones, and then we fled the area as quickly as we could. We knew her cast could be tracked by the Negral. We’ve kept moving ever since.”
I take this information and mull it over, doing my best to understand an entire life I didn’t know I was leading. After a moment of processing, I look over to check on Tirigan.
His expression is blank, but Tirigan rarely allows his thoughts to affect his expressions. He only looks ahead towards the jungle, a very tiny furrow to his brow. It makes me wonder if he feels it too, the strange magnetism Zoúnkla seems to possess.
We will have to camp inside the jungle.
Probably. Do you feel... strange about it?
Strange is not the word I would use.
Do you feel like it’s, I don’t know, talking to you? Or something?
Not particularly, no. But I do... Tirigan looks to me and then off to the jungle again, tilting his head slightly to the side as he inspects it. I do feel something. Something powerful.
My attention is drawn to our father, who is giving us the soft look he uses when he knows Tirigan and I are speaking telepathically. That familiar expression, at a time like this, makes me want to jump in his arms and nuzzle into his neck like a toddler. John has always been incredibly patient when Tirigan and I have our private conversations, trusting that I will interpret anything that he needs to know and respectful enough not to ask what we’re talking about. Except, right now, his deep brown eyes are wet and bloodshot, and it makes me ache for my mother too.
I take a deep breath and reach out to him, placing my hand on his arm. “It’s going to be alright. The Negral won’t hurt her. Will they?”
My mind flashes to the state in which John appeared to Tirigan less than an hour ago. There was definitely some sort of fight, and my father said as much when he mentioned that the people who came for her overpowered them.
Giving me a noncommittal shrug, John turns his eyes back in the direction of the jungle. “We need to keep moving.”
Tirigan and I exchange fearful glances.
How did they find her?
If she isn’t using her powers, how did they find her?
I give Tirigan an anxious look and then voice his concern. There is so much we don’t know, I can imagine there are even more questions we should be asking, but I can’t seem to think of anything other than what our mother is doing and if she is okay.
It takes John a moment to answer Tirigan’s question and when he does, his voice is far deeper than it was before.
“I don’t know. They can trace elemental power on Anunnaki land. That’s one of the ways they make sure the Téssera stick to their side of the world. She wasn’t invoking, though, at least I wasn’t aware that she was.”
John stops suddenly and looks behind us. Tirigan looks back as well and my gaze follows theirs, but I see nothing out of the ordinary. There are a few birds circling above us and a gentle breeze that makes the tall grass around us sway, but nothing else catches my attention. There aren’t even any drones flying through the sky today. I can still make out our trailer, the flat land around the jungle making it easy to spot in the distance. I gauge the distance from the jungle’s entrance and assume we should be there in about an hour if we keep up the pace.
I’m just about to ask what the problem is and why we stopped walking, when John spins around and moves towards Zoúnkla again. His pace is noticeably quicker, making it difficult for Tirigan and I to keep up at first.
His voice is gruff when my father continues, “We can talk more once we are through. Right now we should just concentrate on getting there.”
A shiver runs down my body at the poorly concealed warning. I don’t argue, and neither does Tirigan. John continues to look over his shoulder every few paces as we move closer to the jungle. I concentrate only on moving one foot in front of the other, trying to ignore the steady hum of terror prickling my skin.
By the time we get to the jungle’s edge, we’re all panting and drenched in sweat, despite our temperature regulating and self-drying clothing. Tirigan is fairing worse than John and I due to his preference for form-fitting slacks and long-sleeve button-down shirts, but he doesn’t complain. Today, he went with suspenders too, so he looks even more ridiculous for our present activity.
We stop for water not too far from Zoúnkla’s intimidating precipice. If I stretched myself far enough, my fingers might graze the leaves jutting out from the entrance.
“If we keep to this pace, we should make it to the clearing before nightfall. We can camp inside before crossing over the border in the morning,” John tells us.
“What about the trackers?” I say through sips of water. “What about Calla? Shouldn’t we be trying to figure out a way to-?”
“No,” John interrupts. “I know this is a lot to take in, too much for...” He shakes his head and makes a face that tells me how sorry he is that any of this is happening. “But your mother wants me to get you to Mitéra and there isn’t anything we can do for her now. Trust me.”
There can’t be ‘nothing’ we can do. There is always something to be done. Ask him to be truthful. Tirigan looks at me expectantly, like I should be relaying his thought, but I decide against it. I don’t want to be combative with John right now, not with everything else he’s going through. I look away pointedly.
My father hands me his water bottle and I replace it in my backpack. I hold out my hand for Tirigan’s water, but he only stares back at me traitorously.
It isn’t often that I refuse to interpret for him. Even if I disagree with him, I’ll always voice his opinion. But right now, I just can’t do it. I step closer to him as John begins to walk towards the jungle.
“You want to know that one, you’re going to have to ask him yourself, Tirigan.”
He scowls at me. I know I’m not being fair, but I take his water bottle out of his hand and replace it in my bag and shrug.
I don’t know about you, but I’d like to go on thinking we will be seeing Calla again. Even if it isn’t true, I’m not ready to hear him say it.
Tirigan jerks his head in annoyance. I would prefer not to live in a fantasy. I’d prefer to have all of the facts.
Well, like I said, if that’s what you want-
“Ask him yourself.”
Before I can think much of it, I take a step forward and follow my father into the jungle
I felt Zoúnkla under my skin, itching and crawling its way through my bloodstream as we approached. Her call steadily became less of a vague magnetism and more of a song. She was singing to me, beckoning me with whispering rasps of seductive music. Tirigan confirmed he heard it too, but his interpretation was not the same as my own. Tirigan described it as ringing bells and a soft percussion of melodies, but I heard a creeping bass that lurked and enticed at the same time. It was a perfect cacophony of foreboding and curiosity, and it was absolutely beautiful. Despite its splendor, I moved my feet in an opposite rhythm, so as not to give in to the jungle’s chorus so easily.
The first trees to greet us were extremely tall and so very green; I had the distinct feeling of being inside a magazine layout. The leaves, broad and decorated in water droplets, seemed to sway and dance despite the lack of wind inside. They surrounded us, pushing at my arms, and brushing the top of my pulled back hair as I took careful steps along the moss-soaked jungle floor. The air was cooler inside the jungle, the cover from the trees and the moisture made it far more pleasant to walk through than the open land before it.
Now, John continues to lead us through, dipping below low-hanging branches and long palms that tickle our cheeks. Tirigan walks beside me, his hand brushing mine occasionally. It’s enough to keep us comforted, but provides distance too, so we can each claim bravery.
The jungle’s magnetism doesn’t wear off the farther we get inside; it transitions. The feeling that haunted me changes into a sense of quiet anticipation.
It’s all very odd.
I know I shouldn’t actually be feeling these things as I pass by flowering plants and step over broken branches that are scattered across our path. It’s not normal to feel like you’re physically and emotionally drawn towards something. But, despite this knowledge, I am not afraid. The feeling, whatever power the jungle seems to hold over me, it’s oddly familiar. It doesn’t give me the comfort of watching the sun set next to my mother on the roof of our trailer, or the warmth of listening to John successfully make Tirigan laugh for the first time, but there is nostalgia tucked away in the nooks and crannies of this jungle. It’s in the squish of wet dirt under my boots. It’s in the way the branches seem to lean away from me as I pass. My body seems to know exactly how to walk here; it knows exactly its place.
The sky is darkening above me, but the greens of the jungle are so bright they make me forget the aging day.
“How deep is it?” I ask slowly, passing my father as he holds back a low-hanging branch for us. My eyes sweep over the trees constantly, staying on high alert despite my father’s insistence about there not being horrible creatures dwelling nearby.
“About five bêrus,” John replies back softly. “We will stop at the edge and camp for the night.”
“Why do we have to sleep in the jungle?” I question. “Can’t we just make camp on the other side?”
“No,” John says solemnly. He doesn’t elaborate. “I’ll explain once we are settled. We need to keep moving until then.”
I almost start to protest, but realize there wouldn’t be a point. My father has defeat written all over his face. If he doesn’t want to talk about what all of this means right now, I’m not going to force the issue, even if I wish I knew more. Calla has been captured by people who probably don’t have her wellbeing at the top of their priority list, and she is most definitely in danger. It’s even possible that…
We are unlikely to see her again. Tirigan’s disturbing thought interrupts my own. I sneak a look at him to gauge his current emotional state, but his face is very hard to read. The right corner of his mouth is turned down slightly, which at least gives me a clue. I must have opened my mind to him unintentionally, which happens to me far more often than it does to Tirigan.
Don’t think that way.
He nods slightly and presses his lips flat together, like he is holding in words he has no intention of speaking.
We walk briskly through the jungle, taking breaks for water and to rest for a few moments before trekking forward once more. It’s eerily quiet inside, only the echoes of birds chirping in the distance and the ruffling of leaves can be heard as we move through them. It still feels like Zoúnkla is communicating with me.
My mind begins to wander, thinking over the tales of magnificent beasts who supposedly dwell among these very trees, when, without warning, the entirety of my surroundings feel like they fall into a void. The world around me begins to pulse. I close my eyes when I’m hit with vertigo, stumbling into Tirigan. It all happens so quickly, I don’t have time to react before a surge of something powerful thrusts its way inside of me.
I am seized with the sounds of everything that had been silent moments ago. It feels like I can hear absolutely every noise on Earth. The auditory rush blurs my vision and causes the pressure in my head to increase exponentially.
“John!” I call out. My strangled cry is muffled as I close in on my own chest and collapse to the ground. I’m vaguely aware of Tirigan falling beside me. My body feels like it is burning white-hot, like a shiver that runs down your body and causes your senses to muddle before growing sharper. I can still feel the earth beneath me, the moisture from the dirt seeping through my pants, as I hold my head in my hands and cry out for my father again.
I hear him come towards me and feel his hand on my shoulder as he dips down, but it doesn’t do a thing to stop whatever it is that’s happening to me. The only thing his presence does is help keep me calm as I wait for the pain to stop.
Is this what death feels like for Téssera? Is this what happened to my mother?
Images flash behind my eyes, things I don’t understand and colors so vivid and bright I worry about permanent retinal damage. My chest feels like it’s on fire. It takes me a moment to realize it’s because I’m not breathing. I let out a harsh gust of air and suck in another between assaults. The pain slowly begins to dissipate, growing less sharp, and the images behind my eyes slow enough for me to actually see them. A colorless light that binds together a quickly developing image overwhelms my mind.
The first thing I can make out is water. At least, that’s what it looks like. A quiet steady river surrounded by darkness, flowing up steadily, until it begins to branch away from the middle into smaller channels. The channels break apart too, until the entire scene is engraved into my mind and no longer seems like just a steady stream of water. The river and channels have created something else.
The tree is so large and so wide it looks like it could be a combination of all the trees in Zoúnkla. It transitions, losing its watery shimmer and taking on a deeper luster. The cool colors become warm. The roots actively grow and burrow deep into rich soil. I watch as the tree seems to twist as it gains even more height. There is a knot near the bottom that has carvings in it, but I don’t understand what they mean. Five different symbols.
The branches of the tree are thin but infinite. They seem to stretch and weave together, and the leaves look like they could be floating above the branches. It’s majestic in a way that makes me think it impossible, but I know in an instant that this tree is real.
Then, the tree is ablaze.
Furious and violent flames engulf the tree so quickly, I gasp in shock. I can almost smell the smoke and feel the sting of my own tears from the heat of the fire, even though it’s only in my mind. The tree is now unrecognizable, turning into nothing but a huge ball of red and orange.
The image transitions once more, this time going from roaring flames to billowing smoke that produces ash that floats around in the darkness of my mind. The ash almost shimmers as it falls, like confetti in a parade. A gust of wind takes it, pushing the ash away until almost nothing is left. What remains is the soft glowing light that had been wrapped around the tree before. The color is close to indigo, but brighter. It shudders a little, and then begins to dim until it is a deep lilac that fades into black.
It takes me a second to realize that I have regained control of my body and that whatever just happened to me is now over.
I open my eyes and immediately look for Tirigan. He’s lying beside me. He was there with me, experiencing everything I just did. My first instinct is to make sure he is alright. But when our eyes meet, I choke on a gasp, and Tirigan very nearly jumps out of his skin.
Instead of the deep burnt umber irises that we were both born with, Tirigan’s eyes are shining the same shade of brilliant indigo that was wrapped around the tree in my vision. I can see a few other hues as well, blue and pink and even some green, closer to the iris as the light hits them. It’s easily the most breathtakingly beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Yours too. Tirigan’s response shouldn’t be unexpected, but somehow it is.
“Does this mean...?” I whisper.
John nods his head when I look at him for confirmation. My stomach feels like it drops to my feet.
“Yes. Your powers have been returned.”