She sat dozing against a large stone, and a small stream trickled down beside them, gurgling in concert with Gaia’s deep breathing. He looked into the stream, watching white water bounce back off the rocks, and staring at the tiny minnows swimming to and fro like they were small seafood platters.
Kain caught his reflection in the starlit water and for the second time since waking his eyes widened in surprise. As he sat on the sandy bank, he realized it was a little boy looking back at him from his rippled reflection, instead of his fierce draconic features.
She must have force converted me back, he thought. He had heard of force conversions taking place before, but never understood how they could work. The decision to change from one form to another was an entirely conscious, and sometimes unconscious, decision. It took an act of personal will power to do or stop at anytime. Any person who could start a forced conversion must be able to reach into the mind of the person they are trying to transform.
Kain decided he would keep his mental guard up at all times, especially around Gaia. He didn’t want her to be able to pluck any thought out of his head at any moment.
Kain looked back toward Gaia, and found there was now a fire burning between the two of them. Just a small fire for camping and roasting a little bit of meat and fruit, nothing like the fires he had seen roaring in the palace’s kitchens, and equally dwarfed by the fires he had once seen burning in the Dwarven forges. His father had taken him down there once, but Kain couldn’t remember what for, or even what the dwarves themselves looked like. All he remembered of it now was the blazing towering inferno and the molten metals poured into them.
No, this fire was nothing like that.
A wiff of something sweet with a light pinch of cinnamon jerked Kain’s attention from the fire itself to what was cooking overtop of it. The smell was that of roasting meat, and he found there were two spits with oddly shaped, skinned animals jammed down onto them.
His stomach groaned at the sight and smell of food so near, but his mind whirled in a detached fashion. Just a moment ago, when he had noticed the fire, there had been nothing roasting overtop of it, and before that, when he woke up, there had been no fire between him and Gaia.
“Yes, little boy,” Gaia said, her eyes still closed. “I made the fire and the food appear. Eat your fill.”
“I thought I couldn’t have everything I wanted?” Kain asked, not trusting his supposed tutor.
“It would not serve my purposes to have you starve to death out here in the woods, now would it?” Gaia answered with a question of her own. “And, besides, you seemed to function well enough to attack me on only one meal in the last five days. So, until you learn how to hunt for yourself, I will feed you once every five days.”
“Why’re you doing this?” Kain asked.
“Because you are to be my student,” Gaia said. “We have already started on lesson number one. Eat your fill and we will continue.”
Kain looked back out into the starry night sky that hung over them like an elaborate tapestry.
The moon was out tonight, a waxing gibbous, the phase next to the full moon, the three nights of his mother’s greatest powers here on the planet. Kain wondered if Celita was concentrating enough on her physical aspect to see through it, he wondered if she would be able to look down at him and see he needed her and father. Kain doubted it.
The sunset haired boy turned back to Gaia, and moved to sit down by the fire. He plucked one of the spits up from the rock it leaned against and dug in.
Right now, he didn’t care what type of meat it was; his mouth would have watered for it the same had Gaia told him it was rat (somewhere deep inside his mind he figured it was anyway). She didn’t tell him that though. Instead, she came to sit beside the fire.
She manifested a cup, had it fill itself in the spring, and set itself down in front of Kain. Between mouthfuls of meat he would take a drink, but the level of the cup never seemed to change. The same thing went for the food.
When Gaia said “eat your fill,” she obviously understood he would need more than two scrawny little animals to fill him up. Instead, every time he set the spit down, he found there were still two critters happily roasting over the fire, just waiting for him to bite into them.
“So,” Kain said, his voice unsure of whether he really wanted to know the answer to the question he was about to ask. “Why did you take me from my mom and dad?”
“It’s complicated, little one,” Gaia said. Her tone of voice had been the same silk like tone she used before. “But, I’m going to try to explain it to you as simply as I can. And, don’t think I’m telling you because you asked. I’m going to tell you because I think you have a right to know even though you’re just as bound by the situation as I am.
“Eons ago, long before you were born, maybe it was before Atlantis was founded, but I’m not sure about that. Anyway, a man called The Writer called the Four Aspects of Life together; when we all came to him, he told us our powers would wane as we existed, and that, eventually, we would no longer be able to fulfill the duties we were to perform as Aspects. In short, our powers as the Aspects would run dry, and we would be forced to retire to life as gods and goddesses of the things we once represented. Though, even as deities we would remain tremendously powerful, but not able to continue doing as we had since time immemorial. So, The Writer had come up with a solution…”
“Who’s the writer?” Kain asked.
“Kain please don’t interrupt me again.” She didn’t look at him as she said it, but Kain could tell his interruption had angered her, though only slightly. “But, The Writer is a very powerful and ancient being. There is even some debate that he, and those of his kind, are even older than the Two Pillars of Existence, but that is not pertinent to what we’re talking about right now.
“So, where was I…? Right, The Writer had come up with a solution. What he decided was that since we would eventually become incapable of performing our duties as the Aspects and if we were incapable of performing those duties, the world as we know it would cease to exist. It would be necessary for someone to replace us. He decided the best people to train our replacements would be us, and then he set about deciding who would be our apprentices.”
Kain fidgeted as Gaia talked. Part of him wanted to try to escape while she sat reminiscing about times long past. The rest of him, though, was held enraptured both by the story and by her voice. Most of him also wanted to know: Why him?
“We were given no part of this decision,” Gaia said, continuing without showing any sign of irritation at Kain’s fidgeting. “It was a cruel and odd thing for him to do to us. Most of us had been in existence for millennia, and even though he was incalculably older than us, we didn’t like it when anybody decided what we should do, or how we should go about doing it.
“He sat there in his chair, turning pages in his book, barely breathing, and making all of us want to strike out at him. Believe it or not, none of us had much patience at that time, and now only Celita and Sola have essentially the same amount of patience we had then. Finally, he spoke eight names out of his aged tome. Four of them were ours, and four of them our successors. He said our names one at a time, and in between each of us, he inserted the name of our successors. When he said my name, he told me you were my successor, and out of all of those chosen to succeed us, he told me you would be the most important, and the most difficult.”
Gaia smiled as she finished. It was a playful smile, and Kain smiled right back at her, his mouth full of half chewed meat.
“Now, do you understand why I had to take you from Celita and Ouranus?” Gaia asked.
“No,” Kain said swallowing his last bite, and setting down the spit. “Why did you let a crusty old guy like the writer tell you what to do, and why did you listen?”
Gaia broke into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. It went on for several minutes. She managed to bring herself under control enough to look at Kain, and give him a half-sneer, half-genuine smile. “Your parents have obviously taught you absolutely nothing about the way our world works, have they?”
Kain gave her an odd look, he wondered if she meant to ask him such an absurd question. Of course, they had taught him how the world they lived in worked. Atlantis was at the top, and those who ruled Atlantis could do whatever they wanted. There was nothing and no one who could tell any Atlantean ruler what to do, and they certainly couldn’t tell his father it was necessary for Gaia to take him away from his family.
One other thing bugged Kain, though; it was something the he had caught while eavesdropping on his mother and Gaia a year or two before.
“What did my mother mean when she said your last student died during training?” Kain asked.
“You heard that?” Gaia said. She sighed, and didn’t let Kain answer. “My last student made a mistake, and I made even more. He went up against a foe that was far beyond him, and that foe destroyed what he was. He didn’t die per say, but he was no longer my student, and no longer the person he was when I began training him.”
“Well, little one,” Gaia said, stopping Kain from asking any further questions. “You are going to need to get some sleep, you’ve got a big day ahead of you, and I hope you ate your fill. What I said earlier stands, you won’t eat for five more days until you learn to hunt for yourself.”
“But, I’m not sleepy.” Kain managed to say before Gaia brushed her hand across the small boy’s temple. As soon as she removed her hand a heavy drowsy feeling overcame Kain, and it was just a few short seconds before he fell into the vast abyss of sleep.
Copyright Ryan M. Smith 2014