“Attack of the White Clouds” Chapter Six Part Two

As we climbed lower and lower down the grassy knoll, Ch- began to speak. “I understood you,” she said softly. “You wanted to investigate this village, and especially the deer. For signs of the White Clouds. Am I correct?”

I nodded hastily, my teeth clattering in my haste. She nodded curtly to herself in satisfaction. A sneaky smile flitted across her features, then vanished. She lowered her voice. “I trust you to tell you this: that I do not trust that seer, and I do not trust the others for trusting her. They are fool-hearted for doing so.” I startled at her divisive thoughts, and suddenly realized that she was seperating me from them for a reason. Her head dipped closer to me. “And I also know you could not tell them of this, even if you wanted to. So listen to me.”

I gaped, my legs slowing. Her hand gripped my shoulder and dragged me along. “Someone must have sacrificed that deer. It is no animal or beast who places things in such ways, or who does rituals of the kind. Do you follow? That means there is someone alive who did it- in the wake of the White Clouds, in the wake of our people’s disappearance. Look at it! It is not that old! A week at most. That is plenty of time for that seer to have found her way to where we met her.” At that Ch-‘s eyes drew narrow and her jaw set. She released my shoulder as we began to wade into the murky and filthy waters towards the body of the deer.

I fixed my eyes upon the deer. True, all the trappings of ritual lay about it. A hasty sacred cord, the throat slit the proper way. Yet how could one person have conducted it alone? A ritual such as this required three: a hunter, a butcher, and the prophet. I shook my head as we neared the animals’ hoofs. The beads in my head rattled and I touched Ch-‘s shoulder gently with the tips of my fingers. Her scales were warmed by the sun. Immediately, as if i had branded her with fire, she whipped around ready to defend herself. I held her gaze and shook my head purposefully. Then, slowly miming the speech she had taught me, I told her that we should not cross the sacred cord. Illness would befall us. Then, I lifted up the three fingers and pointed to the sacrifice. “Th-th-three,” I blurted.

“Three what?” she asked harshly.

“Th-three,” I insisted. But I did not know how to mime these words. I did not know how to force them out right now either, or how to convince Ch- that it could not have been the seer, and that the poor seer probably never came here because her robes were neither soaked in mud nor blood. And that meant that we were not alone. There was at least three out there- leaving sacrifices to spirits which were not eating. And what did that mean of our gods? Had they too been eated by the White Clouds?

I wrung my hands over my trident at that. Could it have eaten the gods as well? Were we truly that alone?

Ch- scowled. “I wish you could speak,” she snapped before wading away. Over her shoulder she said snarkily. “Gurgle or moan if you find something, you fish!”

The insult bounced off my careless scales and left me unmarked. Instead I wrung my hands and watched the floating and bloated body before me. What if… My mind scurried to conclusions and possibilities. What if the sacrifice was not done to our gods but to some other spirit? There was only one way to find out.

Wading around the corpse I stepped onto the jutt of earth it was perched upon. Someone had scraped up this earth so that the body would appear to float above the waters. Certainly not the work of one person. It would have taken a single person days to set up this alone!

Ch- would not have known this, but in these sorts of ceremonies the symbol of the deity to which the animal was sacrifice was inscribed upon a leaf. That leaf was then stuffed into the wound in order to summon the deity to their feast. That leaf, right now, was poking out of the deer still.

I bit my tongue. There was no crossing the sacred barrier. However, the leaf looked loose. With a sweep of my leg I sent a wave of water crashing over the body. The leaf trembled, wobbling in its spot. Again i swept my legs. On the third try the leaf came loose and swept away from me. I scrambled around the sacred circle and sloshed after it. It skirted away as if hoping not to be seen, but I caught it in the prongs of my trident as it rode the current away. Scooping it towards me, I could finally see it.

A deep green still, it was covered over its entirety in wax that protected it from the elements. Even the blood of the offering had not clung to it too tightly. Yet the symbol that was inscribed into it remained, burned magically so as to never be erased. It was one that was foreign to me.

Carefully, I scooped it up. Perhaps the seer would know, I thought. Perhaps Ch- would comfort me and scoffingly say it was one of the desert’s benevolent gods. Anything would be nice, I supposed. Because if it was not one of the gods of a tribe, then this cloud with an eye inscribed in its center could only mean one thing.

After that i did not go far. I could easily see Ch- angrily battling against the knee-deep waters and exhausting her fury against them. By the time she returned her legs dragged against the water’s hold and her shoulders slumped. “I did not find anything,” she called out. “But thanks for not looking.”

I held up the leaf I held carefully in both hands. “I looked. I found.”

Ch-‘s jaw dropped. She sloshed forward in a hiss of angry splashes and curses. I held the leaf aside as she floundered towards me, then offered it as she stood before me with water dripping down her face. Ruefully she wiped her face with a hand and snorted aside before looking at what I held.

“What is that?” she asked, but there was no anger to her voice. Only the cold tinge of fear could be heard.

I pointed to the deer. “Sacrifice.” I had had time to calm myself, to rehearse and choose my words. “In the deer,” and I pointed again urgently.

“Attack of the White Clouds” Chapter Six, Part One

The next day we rose as well to continue our travels. We trekked in silence, a thing that did not disturb me save for the scowling tension it bore. Usually silence was my friend. It was when my thoughts ran freely and my mind felt at peace. Not so when it was an angry silence like this. Ale was fearful, and watched all about her with tension, like a mouse about to dart away for a hovel within the trees. D- reminded me strangely of a mother watching over a rabble of children that were not their own, and so displeasure and silent scolding marred their features. Ch- led the way in an extravagant display of boldness and bravery, leaving H- in a huff at everything she did. I followed all, senses attuned to every speech their bodies gave. Their slightest angers could easily be heard from the tension in their gait. It was all dreadfully loud to my eyes.

We reached the village by nightfall. The moment we set eyes on the gouged out space I wished we hadn’t.

The scent of blood lingered in the air. Ale suddenly refused to stop walking. Crows flew high above in the sky. The wind was still, and crickets sang despite our arrival. What had once been a peaceful field turning into a marsh was now nothing but mud. Puddles oozed with freshly forming algae. The forest had long since stopped its trees and now we stood atop a grassy knoll- and looked.

“Well,” Ch- said.

“It is there,” h- said.

“What is there?” D- asked sharply, eyes squinting.

“Nothing,” ale whispered frightfully. Her hands clutched at her robe and she began retreating. “Nothing.” D- caught her gently by the shoulder and pulled her behind themselves. Ale cowered in their shadow but no longer tried to move.

But there was something and I knew that if we were all quite honest that we could see it. It was not the marks of the gouging white teeth that had sucked up even the houses and churned the trimmed land into despair. No, it was instead – quite plainly so – the dead sacrifice of a deer that floated amidst the wreckage. It’s corpse was not eaten, though the birds vied for it. It was a sacrifice, set aside for a purpose that had not yet been fulfilled. And so, as the spirits had refused to touch it, so would all else.

I pointed to it, words bubbling up within me. They churned and spouted out in an excited gurgle. Ch- raised her eyebrows at me. “Very interesting,” she mocked.

D- made a sharp snapping sound. “What is it? My eyes cannot see that far. What is she seeing?”

“There is a dead deer, floating amidst the muddy waters. Had you a nose you could tell it by scent as well,” Ch- bragged.

H- jutted in “It must have been a sacrifice, yet the spirit has not yet come to gather it. So nothing else dares to eat it.”

Ch- smirked ruefully. “Have you come by this way, seer? Did you leave a deer behind you?”

Ale shook her head in D-‘s back. D- gently looped an arm behind themselves to hold Ale tenderly. “Do you see what is in the waters?” D- asked softly.

“Are you blind as well?” Ch- asked with scorn.

“I do not see,” Ale whispered hoarsely. “I do not see,” but it was an unending sentence, a sentence like my own that was not ending itself. “I do not see-”

“What? Just a few days ago you said you did,” Ch- sneered, even though D- hushed her. The seer’s voice lifted in a wail and she bunched her hands up to hold onto D’s clothes.

“I do not see! I do not see! I do not see the man in the waters! I do not see him!” And Ale began shaking D- with all her strength, which was considerable when she was frightened.

Ch-‘s faces softened in pity, fleetingly. “It is but a deer,” she mumbled yet the seer would not listen. Now her wailings grew into screams and she shook herself more than she shook D-. D- turned round and wrapped their arms around Ale, holding her tightly to their chest. Shushing her, they threw an angry glare at Ch-. Ch- looked away proudly as if blameless.

H- cleared his throat softly. “Perhaps we will walk around the vil- the valley,”

My throat glued shut at how he’d replaced the word ‘valley’ for ‘village’. This was still a village, was it not? But as I looked over the muddy patch that spread before us I was forced to agree. This was a village no longer. Yet I shook my head. If we were to investigate anything, we must certainly investigate here. Questions arose within me, bubbling and too difficult to find words to. The best I could do was point and moan, urging us to look to the deer, to search out clues.

Ch- tapped at my wrist. “use your hands. Speak!” and she signed language to me. I mimed her motions, then tried to make my own. How could I describe this? Investigate! Search!

Ch- smiled ruefully. “We’ll try again, for now let’s go search out the deer- you two stay here and watch the seer.” And she nodded sharply to H- and D-. “make sure she does not run away.”

“Oh get on!” D- snapped harshly while stroking Ale’s head. The seer was breathing heavily and still whimpering. Ch- snatched at my elbow and pulled me after her.

“Attack of the White Clouds” Chapter Five, Part Two

D- stepped to her side. Her arm passed around the seer’s trembling shoulders and drew her in for a tight embrace. In a low murmur she spoke of how it was the season of the marsh’s red colouring. That in the desert, it was the season for travelling and crossing. How in the plains, it was the season for the first growth. “And it has been nine months since the White Clouds arrival,” she added softly. Her hands now rubbed up and down the seers’ shaking arms. “When do you last remember?”

“Nothing,” the seer said in a hollow voice. “Nothing.”

“You remember something,” CH- said sharply.

“Nothing, nothing. Nothing! No-”

D- shushed her, leaning back to hold eye contact. “We are the season of the marsh now. That is all that matters.”

The seer shook like a leaf in the wind. “Nine months,” she whispered brokenly.

I began stepped back from the seer. In a sidelong glance I gestured to Ch- to come with me. D- stayed, comforting her and keeping her mind in the moment. Ch- followed me, grumpy as she stamped over twigs and underbrush. Her hackles were raised, her fangs bared.

“That seer knows something!” she hissed as we drew to a halt in the clearing of the White cloud. “She must!”

“But what?” the words slipped from me. It took me by surprise. It had seemed so effortless. Now, of a sudden, it felt impossible to speak a sound more. I wrung my hands. I gulped and tried to form the stories, the words to frame every picture and thought. It was hopeless. I shrugged and lifted my hands in the gesture of not knowing.

Ch- scowled. “If I knew, I would tell you! She would have told us! But all we know is that something is not right! She has been missing- how could she not know that the tribes have united? Has she been in league with the White Clouds?”

Or she was one who was taken and now she’d returned. A shiver of excitement ran through me. COuld it be that we had met our first survivor? Wondering this I stared away from Ch-. I took in the trees with their red trunks. Took in the whisperings of the wind and H- stalkign towards us. “Here they come,” he murmured under his breath. we stiffened and turned. Indeed, D- was approaching. Their arm was around the seer, walking her as one would walk a frail or sickly person. As they approached D- beamed with pride and the order for us to echo their happiness. I put on a large grin in hopes that I would be right. Let this be our first revenant. Let this be a surivivor with some clues.

“Welcome the new member of our party, Ale,” D- said proudly, patting the seer on the shoulder.

“Welcome,” Ch- said most unwelcomingly.

“We-w-w-w-,” I nodded and gestured wildly in greeting. H- chuckled and greeted her.

“Welcome. As you can tell, our bravest and best can not talk very well.”

“Hm! I speak just fine,” Ch- muttered savagely under her breath. Somehow, that made me smile. Ch-‘s comment, albeit insulting, felt harmless and boisterous. Charming, even.

“Ale will be travelling with us,” D- said cheerily. “I wish us all to get along.”

“We will,” H- said solemly.

I nodded, once again stuttering through the words. My sweaty palms wrung over my trident as if squeezing the words out for me. “W-w-wwe will!”

“Hnh,” was all that Ch- said. “We shall see.”

D- drew in an exasperated breath at this breach of politeness, but what was to be done? The seer turned pale beneath her scales, but did nothing. if anything she drew closer against D- for comfort.

And so, Ale was added to our group. Little was known of her. She walked huddled in her robes as if cold or frightened. That first day, we left the tracks of the White Cloud and continued onwards into the forest. Our pace was much slower than the frenzied rush our tribe had fled with. Now, we’d not even left the reaches of the mountains and trees by nightfall. As before during the day, we drew camp hastily but not in the marks of the Clouds. This time we nestled the tent in shadowy safety and made sure to light no fire.

The seer was put in the tent to rest wholly through the night. Us others took turns in watches of two to dwell awake. It would have been a relaxing time if somehow it hadn’t been so fearful. The air seemed tinged with danger. The birds refused to sing, and the crickets wouldn’t play. H- was crouching a few feet from me while I stood and looked around for any signs.

“I can’t sleep,” Ch- said as she threw her blankets off her and rose ingratefully. Beside her, d- was sleepign fitfully. With a scowl and huff Ch- rose and walked soundlessly to H-‘s side. There she crouched next to his hulking form. “What’s the matter with this place? THere is no sounds, no breeze, no bugs.”

Indeed, I realized with alarm, even the bugs seemed to have fled in fear. Whatever was wrong?

“We are walking into a trap.” Ch- said. Then, pointing to the tent, she lowered her voice. “It is all since she has arrived. The birds flee our arrival. The animals of four legs turn away at the sight of her. Even the trees don’t want to touch her. Something is wrong, and it is her.”

I tilted my head to the side, but did not know what to think.

“Attack of the White Clouds”; Chapter Four, Part One

Ch- stayed behind, chattering with the others. “Wasn’t that easy?”

“Only for you,” H- grumbled.

“She can talk now! Now all we have to do is understand what she says-”

“It’s about the same as before, it’s just that now you are listening,” D- said sweetly, like a knife no one saw. Ch- silenced suddenly. The plodding sound of their feet caught up with me. H- and D- came to stride at my sides as if protecting me while Ch- sulked beside H-, then lagged behind. She no longer seemed bursting full of ability.

When we reached the forest’s edge she turned her back to me and began looking away in her own directions. This track of the cloud was large, a wide chasm of nothing that had been torn up from the earth. Bedrock had been bared, and torn apart sections of roots jutted up from its crevices like arms searching for their loved ones.

The damage we stood in was thirty feet wide, the edges cut and jagged like they’d been sawed with a dull knife. There, sometimes several feet deep, the topsoil could be seen from the side. Roots had been shorn clean. Stones had been cut in half. Up above, the canopy had similarly been sliced away. Not even a twig extended beyond the edge of the carnage. Not one splinter littered the ground we now stood in.

It was an aching emptiness. A void unlike any of us had ever seen.

“What can we hope to find here?” H- murmured. “There is nothing.”

Exactly, I thought to myself, crouching to scour the earth. These cuttings, this sharpness- it was the work of those sharp sand-like particles that had blasted us when we braved its attack. And yet- hadn’t it been pushing, not drawing up?

I straightened, the question suddenly strange. If it had blown its attack, where did everything go to? As I looked around, it seemed strange. All this work- it was the work of cutting, of a vicious blade plunging forth- then how had it drank everything up? How had it taken away even the dust of the earth, even the last splintered twig and torn leaf?

Worse, how could i ask this question to my friends? Hesitantly I turned to Ch-. She was busily ignoring me, her back showing her picking at the cut edge of the earth. Her fingers caressed a stone sheared in half. Gripping my trident and wringing my nervousness into it, I called to her. The guttural sound of her name was difficult but short, so it was manageable.

“Ch-!” and it was out. She turned, eyebrows mocking me in their disinterest. I bit my lip, then waved her over. She came, painfully slow and uncaring. Half-way she made a show of looking at the earth and scuffing her foot as if she’d found something. Then she stepped to me with a nod acknowledging me. “What is it?” she asked bitterly.

I began swiftly gesturing. We, earth, white cloud, it all came in a flurried burst that, by the look on her face, wasn’t making much sense.

“Wait, wait,” and she gestured gently. Slower, she signed, slower.

I bit my lip, jittering. They had to know this! I tried again. Ch- watched my every move fixedly, a gaze she certainly watched her prey with. Still, at the end she was not certain. “Try again,” she murmured. “Your hands are all over. Present? Or past?”

I did not know! Biting my lip I tried again. This time Ch- mouthed my words silently, assuring me that she had understood. “White cloud, attacks, earth, takes…. all this,”

I nodded, then took a deep breath. Calmed myself. Then, I set my hands before myself.

But the words evaded me. How could I explain all this? This overwhelming question that seemed so strange and confused- but I tried.

Ch- worded, but already it was not right. “Cloud, attack, takes all?”

I shook my head. No, it took! Took! Again, I tried.

“Everything, to the sky?”

Alright, that was a good start. I nodded, and signed to her that-

“So why?”

No, where! Where! Biting my lip, I stamped a foot. The crawling irritation I’d so long ago chased from myself was returning. I wanted so bad to have them understand- I needed their help- and yet they could not understand! Everything was a simmering mess, locked into my own body.

To avoid screaming in sudden frustration and giving in to the roiling mess, I flopped myself to the earth. Crossing my legs beneath me, I cradled my head in my hands and pressed my eyes shut.

When I opened them, Ch- was crouching before me. Watching me with frowning concern.

“Do you want to try again?” she asked softly. I shook my head. Then nodded. what else was there to do but try?

“Okay, so,” she held up a hand. “Why don’t I try?” and she repeated my gestures, guessing at the meaning. “The clouds come and take all. All, to the sky.”

I nodded. So far, so good. A glow of eagerness came over CH-. “Okay,” she breathed, then held up her hands in the gesture of non-knowing. “So… why?”

I shook my head.

“How come?”

Oh, nearly! The first half! I nodded, then shook my head. Ch- tried. “No? Yes? How-” I stopped her with a hand, nodding furiously.

“How? How.” Ch- nodded proudly. “How.” As if it was a great accomplishment.

Bravely, I continued. Speech felt closer now and I ventured a word forth. Then another, with more gestures. Finally, a sort of conversation was flowing. It was spattered with my occasional words and filled with wild gestures that made Ch- smile and even laugh. What felt like hours later (though it really must have been a short time) Ch – slapped her thigh and stood. “I’ve got it!”

D- and H- were far away, picking at the roots jutting from the wall. They did not turn until Ch- called again. “She has spoken!” then she left me to run towards them, chattering about my question.

All that for one question. Exhausted and tired in some bone-aching way, I rose to my feet. It had taken so long, It made me envy them as they chattered away so swiftly. As they gestured, not to make themselves understood but merely to emphasize. How they could communicate so easily. Their thoughts were hardly trapped within them.

Ch- was still explaining. “The cloud attacks, sending out what seems to be white sand, correct? Yet where is that sand? Not a trace? And look- it has taken away everything. But how? How does it blow out, and that is all we’ve felt when we were attacked by it- and then everything is gone? Where do these things go to?”

D- and H- were interested, throwing approving glances my way as I approached. Gliding into their tiny knot of presence I stood by Ch- and D-‘s side. Hastily, I gestured for us to search. Gloating like a hen displaying her chicks, Ch- translated my words.

“She says we must search. She believes that if we can learn where it takes these things, we may learn the crux of its power.”

“It’s stronghold,” D- said in surprise.

“But it,” H- hesitated, shaking his head. “It has magic and powers beyond our comprehension. We have been searching and it has left no tracks. What can we possibly find? We need to learn how to defeat them.”

“We will find out how,” Ch- said firmly before turning to me. “If your plan does not work, we shall try mine.” Though her words may have been meant to comfort, they did not. Rather, they seemed to be saying that once my leadership failed, she would gladly take over again. I shrugged. The jug came to me. I was certain that whatever I was meant to do, I would succeed.

And so we walked on, I leading the way and choosing whenever we would pause to search for the minutest detail that may hold the key. In this way we stopped often, as I wanted us to investigate the slightest difference in the cuttings. Anything may hold the key- and yet one came running straight at us. Hardly a subtle sign.

It began at first as a cawing of birds, strange and hoarse. D- rose from a pattern she’d been investigating upon the rock. We’d been finding signs of these all over, in broken ways. It was as if a seal was stamped, but only parts of it remained. And now this strange bird-

“That is no bird!” H- said as it grew louder. Instantly we lifted out weapons, stepping together for safety. The sound rose, hoarse and shrill. Warbling, even. It came from the south, and a staggering sound akin to the loping of a wounded animal came with it.

A black figure appeared, stumbling through the woods- and it fell into the carnage. Straight upon its face. The wailing, now discernible as that, continued. We struck our fighting poses- only to see the figure of a seer rise before us. It was one from the drier planes, clothed entirely in black with metal bracelets- and it wailed as it ran.

“A vision! A vision!” she screamed, plunging towards us. “I see them!” Half-way towards us the poor fool tripped and fell on her face. Sobbing, she cradled her head and did not move. I lowered my trident and stepped towards her carefully. As I reached her side I cleared my throat.

“Hello,” I managed with surprising ease.

The figure scrambled up. Her face was delicate and pointed, blue scales shimmering over her hued with red- a half breed. I recoiled in shock. Where were her wings then? Any born of the red hue had wings, yet hers were gone.

Her slate blue eyes were huge, the pupils tiny and slitted as she shrieked at me. “A vision! A vision!” and in a flash she drew a blade and plunged towards me. Easily I deflected her and tossed her aside, flinching as she collapsed again.

“A seer?” Ch- said as she stepped on the poor woman’s hand to stop her slicing anyone. “Left behind?”

I shook my head. “Survivor,” I whispered.

40,000 words so far! Yay!

Yes! “Attack of the White Clouds” has reached 40,000 words! As of today, critical events have happened and (I think) the White Clouds are nearing their defeat! But who knows, really?

I have to say that writing the “Attack of the White Clouds” has been quite something. It’s not a story in the way I usually write them. Usually I feel like my stories are pushed forward by outlandish characters, humor, and even more outlandish happenings. This story – not so much. The main character (who I just realized recently, 30,000 words later, is nameless) is calm, pensive, and not at all over-the-top. There is no exaggeration to her character. She is very sensible. Plus I hit the first battle scene only recently, around the 38,000 mark. What?! How can that be? It’s all just – suspense. Mystery. At least I like to think so. It’s a very calm yet grim story.

I tend to like this story. It really compelled me when I first wrote it years ago and again now, I find myself getting all caught up in the characters again. The story feels more ‘mature’ and less ‘foolish’. There is a seriousness to it all, a heaviness to the story.

What does this mean? It means it really doesn’t feel like something I’d come up with. I am rather mystified by this story some days. It feels like a gift, like someone else’s story that I’m being asked to write. I feel very much like I’m part of the audience in this story, except I happen to be the transcriber. Usually I feel like I know so much behind a story but in this case, it feels like the story is behind a veil, like it is reaching out to me but that it doesn’t quite belong. I’m not sure how to describe it, really, but it’s strange. I know so little of this story yet it is deep and built up in its own way. The characters feel more profound than mine usually are (I think).

Oh, and let’s take a minute to discuss the naming of these characters. For the life of me, when naming them, I just couldn’t give them actual names. I think Ch- was the first one I actually ‘named’, and was like ‘that’s not a name, its a sound’. Well. The name hath stuck and I don’t know what to do with it. I mean, after learning a bit about ancient languages and how sounds were guttural sounds were used, I guess it’s not the most outlandish names ever used. But still. It irks me.

But hey, I’ll survive. Another thing for the editing board to take care of (as in, I’ll deal with it later!). How is everyone finding the story so far? What do you think of our main character? What do you think of the villainous Ch-? Tell me all!

“Attack of the White Clouds”; Chapter Three, Part Two

It would take us a week of steady and swift marching to retrace our steps back to my tribe’s lands. Another week’s walk to maneuver the marshes and find the way to Mara’s hut. There, I was certain we would find something.

For now we retraced our people’s fleeing tracks. They were dispersed, scattered through the rocky plains. Yet as we crested a tall hill, we saw what had become of the forest.

I let out a cry of surprise. H- sucked in his breath in horror. D- cursed. Ch- remained silent, but her skin turned a hue paler, then flushed with anger.

When we had left, the tall forest had been plunged through by the one cloud that had attacked us. Now, it had been ravaged. The great trunks were snapped all throughout and great holes pockmarked what had once been a great canopy.

“They were searching for us,” Ch- said bitterly. “They knew we had rested there, and they hoped to find stragglers.”

I nodded. That meant they may return to find us. Stragglers. Good. If we could pick them off in scouts, or even learn how to defeat them one at a time, that would be a great boon. To learn more of them, we would have to scour these tracks. As horrific as this wreckage was, it was a treasure trove of information waiting to be read.

Now how could I say that to those around me so they understood? I tried with words as we walked. Pictures of discovery came to mind, ideas and stories of what we may discover and how- but none of this was easy to express. The more I tried to speak, the more they grew confused. Even D- was getting frustrated. Ch- peered at my mouth as I sighed.

“Her tongue is normal, why can’t she speak?”

I twirled my staff and grunted in irritation. They couldn’t say I wasn’t trying!

“Look, we just do not understand,” D- said patiently. “How can you say this is good? Look at the carnage-”

“Tracks!” I protested, monosyllables being all I could manage. “Good! Food-” no, no, not food! I’d meant forage! Cursing inwardly, I pressed a hand to my forehead and smacked my palm there lightly. We were nearing the forest and now they needed to understand. In a final desperate attempt, I waved them over to a mud puddle. Ushering them all to stand around, I tried to draw my plan.


“Cloud?” Ch- suggested as I drew one. Nodding, I tried for the forest. They understood that. Then I tried to do spots of things, clues! Clues was the word I’d been searching for.

“Clue!” It burst from me. “Clue, clue-” and now I had a hard time stopping it. I did by biting my lip and pointing to all of us, then the forest. “S-s-sea-earch,”

“Search for clues? You want to search the forest?” H- said eagerly.

“Clues for what?” Ch- said excitedly.

I faltered at the monumentous task before me. There was just so much to be said. I sat down in defeat, cradling my head. So much to be said.

“Listen, no, look here,” and Ch- crouched before me. Scowling, I dropped my arms to my sides so they trailed in the dirt listlessly. She held up her hands between us as if in preparation for battle. Or to demand I focus. “There is a language that my people use, used,” and she faltered, biting her lip. “If you could use it, maybe it would help.”

“The problem is not with her tongue,” H- snapped. “Leave her alone.”

Ch- waved at him in dismissal. To me, she continued. “It is used in hunts, for silence. You speak with your hands.” And she motioned hers around her chest. “Here, for the present. There,” a little farther away “for the future. Near for the past.”

I blinked, mind whirling with possibilities. Slowly, i nodded for her to continue. With a face that said she wasn’t sure she ought to be doing this, she began miming gestures. “I,” pointing to herself with one hand, “think,” a flurry beside her head “that you think,” pointing to me before resuming that flurry, “that we,” pointing to all of us in a circular motion “can catch,” she made a snatch and hauling motion akin to hauling in a net from the sea “the white cloud.” and she gestured as if forming a soft fluff above her head.

I nodded, but that didn’t satisfy her. She flopped a hand towards me, all energy gone into dull disenchantment. “Try it now.”

Hesitant, I puffed my hands above my head. White cloud! Catch! I snatched with my hands, then pretended to search the earth.

A huge grin split Ch-‘s face. “The white cloud catches the earth?” Then she turned that grin to the others. “She is talking! Look! She can talk now!”

It was not talking, and she had not understood me at all, but her good humor was contagious in a way. I chuckled, plopping the twigs down that I’d picked up. Ch- held up her hands again, excited. “I’ll teach you some more! More words!”

I nodded, certain that this still would result in me stuttering. It would just be with my hands. I’d look like a bird flapping its wings.

Yet I tried. It made Ch- smile. Finally, in a stutter, I asked her “C-clue?”

Proud as could be, Ch- mimed picking something up and holding it in a revelatory motion. I copied it and she beamed approval.

dusting off my hands, I prepared a sentence. “White cloud,” Ch- read aloud as I signed. “Caught… clue.”

I nodded eagerly, then pointed at all of us. “We,” she added testily.

A sigh erupted from D-, who was sitting nearby with H-. The pair were watching, chins resting on their palms dismally. “She can’t do it,” H- said as if this was tiring for them too. “Can we just move on? We have to gain ground today-”

i shook my head. Words felt nearer now, yet this was easier. I didn’t need to struggle with sounds, and anything that made speech easier was a huge weight off my shoulders. Again, i tried.

“We,” Ch- said, raising her eyebrows. “Catch, clue, of the cloud?”

I nodded, beaming. That was it! Didn’t it make sense? It was so much easier!

And yet they did not think so. They pursed their lips, and Ch- looked defeated. “I don’t understand,” she said while dropping her arms into her lap. As if to make sure I understood she shook her head and listlessly signed that she did not know what I meant.

I tried. Clue! Catch! Clue! Cloud! Clue! We!

No amount of combination seemed to succeed. It seemed beyond their minds that we could find a clue on how to catch the cloud. Ch- guessed everything else under the sun. Until finally-

“We are looking for clues on how to catch the cloud!”

I nearly danced with joy, nodding and holding out my arms in approval. Ch- laughed and jumped up. “I got it I got it! Hey! You two! We are looking for clues on how to catch the clouds!”

The two were impressed, but not exactly happy either. “That only took about two hours,” H- said dryly. “Why didn’t you just let her speak?”

“Are you sure that’s what she means?” D- asked.

I nodded eagerly. D- pursed their lips. “And what would these clues look like?”

Who knew? I held up my arms in the gesture of not knowing that Ch- had taught me.

Ch- translated that too, eager as ever. “She doesn’t know!”

D- heaved a sigh. “So all this, to know that she does not know what she wants us to search for.”

Clues! Clues!

“We are looking for clues,” Ch- said, and that seemed good enough for her. She was puffing in pride, so much that her armor couldn’t seem to stretch any more.

H- and D- smiled pitiably. “Alright,” H- said. “We are looking for clues.”

In the tracks! I motioned for tracks, scooping towards the earth. Ch- gasped. “In the tracks! That’s it! The clues will be in the tracks! That’s why she was so happy about the forest! We have tracks to find clues of it in!”

Yes, yes, yes! I jumped to my feet, urging them to come. That had been surprisingly effortless. Yes it had been long but my mind was not tired. I did not feel like curling up and crying from exhaustion. Rather, I was sparkling with the burst of victory. Urging them up again, I began to walk first towards the forest.

“The Attack of the White Clouds”; Chapter Two Part Two

It was mid-day, when the sun was at its hottest and we all felt the most exhausted we had been in days, when the ocean was spotted. The sight of it pushed many to tears in fright. The ocean! Many of us had never even known such a thing possible. And yet here we were, set to flee across it.

It sent chills over me. That strange tugging within resumed and I could not understand it. The jug came to mind, relentlessly within an image of Mara pouring bounty forth for her guests. I sought out the seer. Hopefully, in her power, by now she would have understood it.

“J-j-j-,” I said to the seer as I walked by her side. The metal implants across her face glinted under the black scarf she had covered herself with. She gazed at me with exhausted confusion.

“She wants the jug,” the red one said sharply from behind me. “Just let her see it, then maybe she’ll leave you alone.”

“Oh, here,” and the seer drew her flimsy bag off her back. To my shock the jug was shoved within, hardly carefully padded or stored. It had already been scratched by her cooking implements! I clutched it to my chest, tears threatening. Mara would be so upset to see her pride treated in this way.

“They’ve gotten her all riled up about it,” the red one said, easily stepping between me and the seer in more ways than one. “They’ve been trying to get her to talk about it. As if she knows something about it.”

The seer sighed in misery. “But she can’t talk. When will they understand?”

I can so! I spoke last night! I’d spoken many times with Mara and even amongst my tribe- but in my protest the words no longer were words. I babbled, sounds repeated. Both looked at me. The pity in them stung and made me more angry than ever.

“She’s pitiable, isn’t she?” the red one said as if I was deaf too.

The seer sighed, and began mournfully talking about how I’d been so well cared for, yet now she was not sure what would become of me-

I drew slower and let the flow of bodies seperate me from them. The jug was safe in my arms now. They could be ignorant and talk all they liked- I had known Mara the best. H- and D- knew it. Mara had confided more in me than in a thousand others. In a burst of confidence I knew they had been right to attempt an interrogation of me. If anyone knew what this jug’s sudden return meant, it was me. I would find the meaning.

Newfound pride filling me, I walked amongst the others with determination. As the ocean approached beyond cresting hills and rocky outbursts, a plan began building within me. I was not sure what it was. But the urge to do something was growing greater and greater. An unfolding sense of direction was coming over me. The jug was the key.

Boats awaited us. They were rumored to have long ago been built by some ancient beings. They floated in their stone majesty, ethereal and impossible. Yet there they were. Stone that would carry us to supposed safety.

I could not convince myself to set foot upon them. Neither was i alone. Many were bursting into tears. The desert folk nervously fidgeted. Their few wandering travelers had often seen these ships, yet never had they dared to claim them as their own. Never had anyone tried to sail them.

Yet the last remaining cheiftain had made his choice. Standing tall before us and so broad of shoulders, he claimed this as our last chance. With sails, we could ride the winds ahead of the white clouds! Just like the kite-flyers used to, before they were snatched away and eaten up by the white eyes.

“Yet we will be in stone!” he proclaimed with a feverish need bordering on joy. “What is left when the wind passes? Always the earth and stone! We shall be safe, even if it captures us.”

Sobs were heard and once again I found myself stifled as the group clustered together. Yet this time I slipped towards the back. No one had come to reclaim the jug from me.

A single file was formed, siphoning us towards the boats.

“This is madness!” a familiar voice called out. It spoke in anger. In vitriolic pride and disgust. It stepped aside, red armour gleaming in criss-crossings. A hand planted on her hip, the red one dared all. “I am not getting on a boat! Is nothing sacred anymore? Are we so cowardly that we will break all our people’s rules? Damnation comes to all who step on there! We of the desert and sand know this to be true! How can you- who did not live in the deepest of the hottest sands, ask us to betray that?”

“We have no choice!” The cheiftain called desperately. “What else would you have us do?”

“We go north.” SHe proclaimed proudly. “We go to the lands of ice. This cloud came from the south. Beasts from the heat die in the cold white that lays in the land of the north. We will lure it there, trap it, and defeat it.”

“It is a cloud!” “It is a spirit!” “It can not be defeated!” The people cried out to her in fear.

“I will go fight this beast!” She called out with pride. “Who will come with me?” and she held up a fist. Whispers carressed my skin, the crowd moving away from her more and more. I let it draw away, and began walking against me.

“Me!” I called out suddenly, the sound surprising me. Thrusting the jug aloft for all to see, I went to her side. THere I turned around. “I will go!”

“I don’t want you!” she hissed under her breath.

“Me neither,” I snapped back. Then, once more I felt the vices of silence clamp over me. The crowd was watching.

Two more stepped forward. H- and D-. “We will come as well,” D- said, their bodies approaching lithely. Turning around, they faced the crowd as they reached my side.

“Go and seek shelter,” H- said. “We will not hold it against you. We will fight, and if ever you return, hopefully we will have grown older and the lands will be safe once more.” And he bowed to the crowd.

“Wish us well,” D- said in that melodious voice, bowing as well.

I nodded politely, dipping into the slightest bow, the jug now held tightly to my chest.

The cheiftain implored us to come with them. THey needed us to help turn away the eye! But we remained fast. I shook my head as stubbornly as I could, and in the end none of us could be swayed. Our people boarded the boats, and we watched them sail away as the sun lowered.

Once the boats were specks on the horizon, H- cleared his throat. D- nodded in silent agreement. The red one puffed in pride. “Let us go-”

D- held up a hand. “We did not come to follow you. We are following her.” And they turned to me. “Where are we going?” The special one asked me gently.

the red one gasped. “She is following me!”

I pointed south. “Ma-a-ra,” I struggled to say.

“See?” D- said pointedly to the red one. “She has a better idea than you.”

“A-A!” the red one shrieked, stamping a foot. “She doesn’t know a thing! Up north-”

“South,” I insisted, pointing to the jug. “South.” We had been left with a bread crumb. Wasn’t the winds driving us north? If it was afraid of the cold, why did it chase us heedlessly towards what it ought to fear most? No. South.

“We go south,” H- said with confidence. The red one deflated. Her pride no longer held her together. I nodded thankfully to D. They returned the gesure with a smile.

Then, I hesitated. I turned to face the red one, who was now significantly redder in the face. She looked me over with such hatred, such vile continuation of all the troubles our tribes had suffered at each other’s hands- so I held mine out.

She looked at it incredulously. Glared up at me.

I offered myhand again. “N-n-n-”

“No,” the red one said, just before I blurted.

“Name? You-your name? What’s-”

She crossed her arms and scowled. Snorting, she looked aside. “How embarrassing. Why do you follow someone who can’t even ask properly-”

D- slid to my side, graceful as ever. “Her name is CH-{?} and she is a pain in the ass of anyone who knew her. That was before her entire tribe was eaten up. She survived because she was out on a hunt. Proud as ever, and alone.” D- added with a sneer towards Ch-.

And probably blaming herself every minute for not having been there. I had heard great tales of her before the white enemy came. Since, her tales had grown. So she was the one who had saved three lost bands from the clouds? I offered my hand again.

This time when she looked at it she faltered. Heaving a sigh and muttering “so disgraceful,” she took my hand. Looking away she shook it as if it was too much to bear. After half a shake, she dropped my hand and crossed her arms. “Ew,” she might have said, so softly i wasn’t sure she actually had said it.

I turned around, pleased as could be. Peace was made as far as I was concerned. A fresh slate was begun. Cheered, i pointed south. Now, we went to face this wind. We had no one to protect but ourselves. If we failed, nothing more was lost. It was freeing, in it’s own strange way.

“The Attack of the White Clouds”; Chapter Two, Part One

Once the sun was low we camped, folks sitting with new-found friends around tiny campfires. Already a rock had been chosen for a resting place. new guards had been chosen for the night’s watch.

I wandered amongst the fires. Those I used to eat with had been of a different camp. One that had been destroyed a few days ago. Now, I found myself gravitating towards the fire where fellow guards of my tribe sat. They were shuffling to make space for me as I approached. Yet before I could reach them, I saw H-‘s fire beyond. He was watching me. at his side sat a red one, but not the red one.

I gave in to the tug of the string within. Waving good night to my friends, I walked on to H-‘s fire. My fellow tribe warriors waved back, so obviously relieved that it stung.

I marched on, refusing to let it show. Be determined, be determined, Mara’s words repeated in me and I was quite determined when I reached H-‘s fire. So determined that he smiled in relief at the sight of me. It must have shown that I was ready to speak now.

A spot had been saved for me, so no one had to shuffle aside as I sat down.

“We are so glad you could make it,” H- said in his deep gravelly voice as I crossed my feet under me. I nodded, watching the fire. From the edge of my vision I saw those who were here. The red one was that tribe’s magician. Not seer. This one was jealous of our seer in unknown ways. Then there was one from H-‘s tribe. One who was neither woman or man, thin and willowy with its braids falling down with beads and stones over their shoulders. Their lips were tinged purple, the special tattoo accorded to them by their seer- who had long ago passed away.

It was this one who spoke first, introducing themselves while holding up a hand. “I am D-, glad to finally meet you.”

“Xira,” said the jealous magician, offering a hand that I did not even look at. It was far easier to watch the flames. The hand waited a moment, then withdrew sourly to rest on its owners knees.

“Can you tell us about the jug?” H- asked cautiously. I nodded, my own braids rattling softly on the back of my neck.

And I tried to speak. “Th-th, the jug, the jug,”

“It was a jug!” a sneering voice crowed from behind me. I startled, yelping as I spun my trident around. It whooshed through the air and sent me off balance as it struck nothing. Laughing, Ch- straightened from the duck she’d dodged my trident with. I regained my balance, scowling.

H- sighed loudly. “What are you doing here? I told you to stay away. We are trying to get her to talk.”

“Well I want to hear it too. They say she sounds like a crow and a frog all at once when she does make a sound, so how could I miss out on that?” Forcing her way between the special one and the magician, she sat into our circle. I flinched as the magician slid closer to me. Now I just wanted to be alone. I could go hungry – but the string inside pulled me along. What I knew needed to be said. I wrung my hands over the leather grip on the trident as the hated one tossed a nod my way. “So tell us. What about this fated jug?”

I wanted to tell them. So I stared into the fire. No words would come. I couldn’t even open my mouth.

“Here, perhaps we should all eat,” H- said gently, stirring the coals around the fire. Little nuggets of desert food were being baked there in all their dryness. The smell of it turned my stomach.

I would leave, I told myself as slow conversation began around me and the food was shared. What good was it to stay in the hated one’s presence?

Yet I stayed. The food was hot, burning my sensitive fingers as I tried to pry it apart. The conversation spiraled on around me, vapid and useless. Every few sentences hopeful hints were dropped in invitation for me to speak. After I had finished the last of the food I waited for the next pause. Having gathered my courage, I tried again.

“Jug,” I blurted as the special one had hardly finished contemplating the moon softly. Instant silence fell- enough to hear the hated one snigger. I gulped and wrung at my trident. “The jug- belonged to Mara-”

There was a snort of laughter- and a yelp as she was flung out from her shoulders by the special one. “Go on,” the purple lips said surely as the body shifted aside to keep that red one out of our circle.

This time I did not miss a beat. Like rhythm, the words were flowing now. They came as pictures to my mind, and I did my best to speak them.

The jug was a beautiful thing. Mara made it so. Mara made it so it held her wisdom, and she served it to her guests. Mara- and the words ran out.

I stared into the fire.

The urge to speak had gone. My mind whirled on, remembering scenes of Mara laughing, serving bountiful food and leading prayers. But the meaning of the jug was no longer lost on me. It was her last gift. To me.

Around the fire, everyone was expecting more. But how could words describe all that I knew? It was simply not enough.

“What does the jug mean? Why is it with us now?” the one that was neither man or woman asked, leaning forward on their knees.

I shook my head. It was a gift, but gifts had many meanings. Spite, rudeness, a beg for forgiveness, Mara had given many gifts.

“Do you know?” H- asked. I shook my head again.

The jealous magician heaved a sigh. “I don’t think she does.”

“But she knows it’s a j-j-jug!” a voice called out from behind me. I whirled, and this time my trident struck true. In the stomach. I laughed, a stuttering giggle as the red one doubled over, gasping for air. She stumbled back, then straightened with a wince.

“Serves you right,” the special one called towards her. “Leave her alone. She’s done her best. That much can’t be said of you.”

Ch- hissed at all of us. her fang-like horns rose around her ears, the pointed fangs showed clear amongst her teeth. “She is a disgrace! She ought to have died by now, the weakest ought not to outlive the brave and the strong.”

“She’s as brave a fighter as you! She’s turned away the white cloud several times!” H- called, but already the red one was no longer listening. Her back spun to us and she marched away.

“Don’t listen to her,” D- said. “You are very powerful. As worthy as anyone to live.”

Xira huffed and adjusted her scarf around herself. “You are just odd. That is all.” But that did not sound like a good thing. Had she expected me to be some seer? Some person bearing extraordinary gifts? I was just a cripple of the mind. That did not give gifts, surely.

Rising, I turned shape into the golden orb we all called home of the skin, and flew away to rest. The next day would be grueling, though I did not yet know how much.

Writing Rant about Autism

Hey everyone! I just wanted to say hi and to let everyone know that I am slowly recuperating from my low. I am no longer bed-confined, but I am still not able to summon the mental strength to exercise. However -> I’m still able to write and draw!

Now first things first, I wanted to say a big thank you to this lovely blogger  who went above and beyond answering my questions about autism. You see, I have very limited experience of autism. When I was young and in my little family/cult time, I heard of autistic relatives who had married into my mothers family as being horrible, incapacitated, and just not trying hard enough. Of their autistic children as being babied. Then, coincidentally, other autistic relatives were given private tutors and taught how to train their minds and won major university scholarships. Either way, they were vilified.

When I was in college, my mother bought me the book ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’. This book amazed me and I remember wishing that I could write something that unique, something that really opened up a world – in someone’s mind. It was a fun thought, but I never actually thought I’d have an autistic character one day. It just seemed too difficult and beyond my reach.

But then, about two or three years ago, I had this dream. After waking up, I drew the characters, knowing that if I did draw them out, it was a sort of pact with the characters in my dream that I would tell their story. Well, I did begin writing it, but the project was laid aside at exactly 30,000 words. I just didn’t feel inspired to write it any more. Years have passed, and it now has a shoddy title, but ‘The Attack of the White Clouds’ is now my central working piece! Yay me for keeping my promises to otherworldly beings!

Now, again, I’d like to bring the topic back to autism. I didn’t set out to make the main character autistic. She just was… showing strong symptoms? Seemingly incapable of speech no matter how I tried? The point here being -> the character is the way that she is, and I’m no expert in portraying autism. I’ve done pitifully little research and know practically nothing about it. So I really hope that I portray the character well, all while not screwing up a representation of autism.

I would also like to point out that, yes, there will be characters  (I’m looking at you, Ch-) who mistreat the main character due to her condition. This isn’t meant to be upsetting, but rather to make a point about how people can discriminate and vilify those who are autistic.

That being said, I hope you all enjoy the story! Do let me know what you think of it!

“The Attack of the White Clouds” Chapter One, Part Two

When the seer awoke and everyone was roused and leaving the rock, little golden orbs floating out to form buzzing clouds that watched in wonder, I was still clutching the jug to my chest. Only when the Seer reached for it would I let it go.

“This jug,” she gasped as she recognized it, turning it over in her hands. “Where did you find it?”

I pointed, but she did not understand. The red one had to talk, her hand on her hip and speaking as if I could not be expected to. “It appeared by her feet after the white cloud attacked. It was not there before, but we felt no trap in it so we let her keep it. I think it ought to be destroyed.”

The seer was puzzled. Looking from me to the jug she turned it over in her palms. To the red one she spoke, again as if I could not understand. “This was the jug of their chieftain, Mara. She was amongst the first taken,”

“I know that,” the red one said sharply. “I had visited her home on a treaty. And so I heard of her demise and celebrated it. Now, destroy that thing.”

I growled, my fingers curling around my trident. She hissed at me in spite. The Seer stepped between us hastily. “No, no- do not fight! Look around you, how few of us are left. Can you not just get along? See- look- I shall keep this jug, this way it shall be safe.”

I opened my mouth to say that no, it was for me! I had been mulling it over all this time while the others slept and I knew it to be true. Some inner calling had been tugging at me since the very start of all this devastation. Since the first cloud’s arrival I had felt it like a string withing, drawing me along into greater and greater strength. More responsibility. More power to protect those around me. That jug was a sign for me, inextricably linked and-

“J-j-j-j,” was all I managed to say as I tried to express all that. “Ju-”

“Yes, it’s a jug,” the red one sneered.

“Ju–” I tried, then humiliation choked me again. Biting my lip, I turned away. The seer sighed miserably as she followed me.

“Do not worry, I will do all I can to keep it safe.”

I shrugged her off and wished again for Mara, who had always been patient and willing to let me talk. No matter how long, she would let me try and try to form the words clumsily. She would draw pictures in the sand, and taught me how to do them as well so others could understand me easily. When my words did come out she had valued them. Praised me for my opinions. Now I couldn’t seem to speak a single word. No one had patience for me, or time to let me try and speak.

“We are going to continue bearing east,” the leader of the desert tribe was announcing as i stood with my back to the assembly. “We thank those who watched over us in our sleep, and who turned away the eye of the white clouds. But it has seen us, and if we are to continue surviving we must persevere! We must reach the boats before the end of this week!”

i hugged myself. The boats would carry us far, far away. Out into the ocean, where dangerous tides could sweep us away.

It seemed I was thinking this just for a moment, but then Ara {name?], a fellow warrior from my tribe, was tugging at my arm. “It is time to go,” she said gently. “Come, you are sleeping on your feet.”

No, I would have said if I could. I was just thinking for a moment- yet they never understood. Turning, I followed her with growing misery. The day’s treck had begun.

It was a dangerous one. Today we left the covering canopy of the forest and began across rocky plains. If the white caught us here, we would have nowhere to hide. Our glistening fabric and scale-covered skins were easy to spot in every of the colors we came in. For many, this made them cluster together. Red, black, and blue, the crowd became stifling and closely pressed. I elbowed my way sharply out, feeling the skin closing in around me with growing fear. The guards on the outer edge urged me to go back inside.

“You are no longer on watch, you must rest,”

“Yes, be safe within,” they urged, obviously wanting to go back into the safety of the crowd again.

I shook my head and stubbornly stayed outside the edges.

The sun rose, beating hard upon us. The tribe of the desert passed around advice to all others. Many held up their scarves over the heads of those beside them so all could be shielded from the sun. The guards paired off in two’s, helping each other. H- came to stand by my side. His hulking mass along could have shielded me. The end of his scarf was almost enough to wrap as a shirt as he placed it around his head.

We walked on in silence, our steps mismatched as his were so long and mine short by comparison. As the sun began its descent of mid-afternoon, he spoke. “You do not speak much, do you?”

I shook my head swiftly. Why would I?

Adjusting the scarf, he stooped. But the scarf was a ploy so others would not hear. “Come sit with me tonight as we camp. You knew Mara, and you certainly know more about the jug than the seer does. Am I right?”

I eyed him suspiciously, pressing my lips tightly together. Perhaps. But would I tell him? We were all in this together- but I still did not feel like being ridiculed.

He saw the refusal on my face, and straightened with a sigh. “It would be greatly appreciated,” he murmured under his breath. And that was all. No more words passed between us for the rest of the day.