On the other side of the portal they found themselves in a dense jungle. Greff turned and looked behind them at the portal. He took a few tentative steps toward it, but as he neared it, it vanished. He backed up and it appeared again. He sighed and turned to face the others.
“Can you get back through?” he asked Addis. Addis shook his head.
“Well,” he said considering a minute, “I couldn’t when I tried the first time.” And he walked toward the portal. But just like the others, when he neared it, it vanished. Dante saw Greff’s face fall when he realized there was no going back.
“O.k., then,” Addis said, “onward, shall we?”
“Does it seem hot here to anyone, or is it just me?” Seeya was fanning himself with a large leaf he had taken from one of the trees.
“Now that you mention it,” Dante said, “it does seem hot.”
Addid opened his bag, took out a pair of sunglasses and a Batik print shirt and put them on. He replaced his sneakers with a pair of sandals that, to Dante, looked suspiciously like Birkenstocks. He put his sneakers in the bag, snapped it shut, and then said, “Right. On we go.”
The others didn’t say anything, but just followed Addis. They began to have trouble with the thick growth, and Dante’s backpack began catching on branches and vines, making her trip and stumble. Addis took a machete out of his bag and began cutting a path for them. He stopped and wiped his forehead.
“Dante,” he said, pointing to her backpack, “why don’t you let me carry that in my bag?”
“Uh, well, o.k.,” she said, taking it off and handing it to him. She looked worried as he dropped it into his bag.
“Don’t look so worried, it’s not like it’s going to disappear.”
“I know, it’s just that your bag is, well, for me it’s kind of odd.”
“What’s that?” Greff asked. They all stopped and listened. They could hear the faint sound of music floating to them through the jungle.
Addis shrugged. “Guess we’d better head toward it.”
They followed the sound through the jungle, and the music began to sound like a multitude of pipes being played, low and soft. It was quite exotic, and between it and the dense jungle, Dante began to relax. She wasn’t sure why, but just like her special place at home this place was making her feel at peace. She was glad the portal had appeared, and hoped that Greff wasn’t feeling too sad.
Addis stopped walking suddenly, and Dante almost bumped into him.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he answered, “I think we’re here.”
She looked around, and noticed that the sound of the pipes had stopped. They waited a moment and suddenly a dark shape dropped from a tree behind them. Dante gasped and spun around. Then there were several more thuds, as more creatures dropped to the ground around them. Seeya’s wings shot out sideways, and he bolted off through the trees. Greff straightened up as tall as he could and looked at the creature in front of him steadily.
One of the creatures walked forward. She was somewhat tall, and walked gracefully. She went first to Dante.
“I am Orthia,” she said. “And we are the Bastahl.”
“I’m Dante. It is nice to meet you.”
The creature simply inclined her head. She then introduced herself to Addis and Greff, inclining her head in the same manner.
Addis turned to look into the trees and called out, “Seeya, come on over.” Seeya zipped back to where they were standing.
“Well!” he said, “you’re a big girl, aren’t you?” Orthia simply raised her eyebrows.
“I mean, it looks good on you of course, but, well…” he looked helplessly at the others. Orthia inclined her head and then turned and began walking back to the tree from which she had dropped. When she reached the trunk she gathered her body and leapt up into the branches. The other creatures inclined their heads toward Dante and Addis and then followed.
“Wow,” Dante said softly.
“Come on,” Addis said. “I think they want us to follow them.”
“You mean we’re going up into the trees?” Dante asked. “How? I can’t jump like that.”
Addis just smiled, and pulled a large ladder out his bag, which he maneuvered through the branches and propped against the tree. He disappeared up the ladder. Seeya, who obviously wasn’t earth-bound simply zipped up the trunk. Greff sighed and motioned to the ladder.
“After you,” he said.
Dante looked around quickly, realized she and Greff were now alone on the ground, and followed Addis up the ladder. When she reached to top she turned to see if Greff needed any help, but despite his seeming rigidity, he had made it up the ladder with ease.
They were in a canopy in the upper branches of the tree. There was a large group of Bastahl sitting around on a kind of floor that had been constructed in the treetops, with pipes in their hands, and one of them had a kind of drum. They were all looking up as Dante’s head poked through the leaves, Greff just behind her. Addis was sitting down cross-legged with the group, and Seeya had actually perched on the shoulder of the drummer.
Orthia said, “Welcome Dante and Greff. This is our dwelling. You are all welcome here.”
Without a word Addis reached into his bag and pulled out what looked like an oboe. Dante sensed she shouldn’t say anything, and for once Seeya was silent, so she just sat and waited. Greff looked around. He wasn’t build for sitting on the ground, but there were no chairs. Silently, Addis reached into his bag and pulled out a rock chair that looked just like the one Greff used in the Hollow. He stared at in wonder, then put it on the floor and sat down.
It was starting to get dark in the dwelling. The Bastahl picked up their instruments and began playing. Addis joined them. The sound was a beautiful, haunting melody and Addis’ part rose to melancholy heights. Dante found herself thinking about home, and feeling sad. She wasn’t sure if she would ever get back, and was sure her parents were worried about her. She thought about Greff and Turra saying goodbye, and felt a lump growing in her throat. She didn’t want to start crying so she tried to think of something to distract herself.
Addis’ bag was sitting right next to her. She looked around, but the in the dusky light she didn’t think anyone could see her. Surreptitiously she reached into Addis’ bag. She could feel her backpack, but nothing else. She opened the bag a little wider and peered in. Although she couldn’t see much in the gloom she could tell that, with the exception of her backpack, the bag was empty. She pulled out her journal, but it had gotten dark and she couldn’t see well enough to write or draw.
As the music continued, Dante noticed a small glow in the leaves. She wasn’t sure what it was, but soon there was another small glow, and another. The small glowing spots began to gather together, and light started shining in on the dwelling. Dante picked up her book and pencil and began writing down everything that had happened. When she was finished she sketched the Bastahl and Addis in the margins.
Eventually the music began to wind down, but the glow stayed. When the last Bastahl had stopped playing, Addis brought the music to a close with a lilting coda. Orthia nodded her head slowly, acknowledging Addis’ contribution. They all waited a moment, sitting with their heads bowed in the soft glow. Finally Orthia spoke.
“They are Illuminates,” she said, and Dante looked at her, confused. Orthia nodded her head toward the glow all around them. “They are small bugs, and they are attracted to the music. We play, and they come and give us light.”
“They have a very short life cycle,” another Bastahl said. “They reproduce quickly, so we never have to worry about running out of light.”
“Wow.” Dante looked around at the glow surrounding them, and wasn’t sure if she liked the idea that she was surrounded by a bunch of bugs. Orthia smiled and turned to Addis.
“So, a portal has opened?” Addis nodded.
Orthia looked at Seeya. “And we have an Oralian.” She then turned to Greff. “And a Brox.”
Then she looked at Addis and Dante. “But I’m afraid I don’t know either of your tribes.”
Addis said simply, “I don’t know where I come from, or who I am. I can’t remember. I only know that this,” and he indicated the pendant around his neck, “is important, and signifies that I am important.”
Orthia looked straight into his eyes, and he held her gaze. “Sometimes,” she said, “what we hold as most important, is what keeps us bound to what is least important.”
The other Bastahl nodded in agreement. Addis folded his hands over his tummy, Greff looked solemnly at Orthia, Seeya was busy trying to see his reflection in one of the Bastahl’s pipes, and Dante wondered exactly what Orthia meant.
Was she saying that Addis’ pendant wasn’t important? That he wasn’t important? Or that because he thought the pendant was important he wasn’t paying attention to something else that was more important? She felt confused, but there seemed to be something in what the Bastahl had said that made sense.
While they sat, thinking about what she had said, Orthia reached up and put her hand into the glow around them. She pulled out one of the bugs, examined it for a moment, and then popped it into her mouth and ate it.
At Dante’s astonished expression she explained, “They provide us with light, and also with food. They are quite tasty, and as we pointed out earlier they reproduce quickly so we need not worry about depleting the supply.”
The other Bastahl began pulling bugs out of the glow, and the light began to diminish. Dante hadn’t eaten since breakfast and she was hungry. One of the Bastahl handed her an Illuminate and she took it. It was a small glow in her hand. Before she could think about it too much, she popped it into her mouth. It was sweet and slightly crunchy. She looked up and smiled. “I never thought I’d like a bug. Thank you.”
The Bastahl nodded. “I am Ori,” he said.
“Thank you, Ori,” Dante nodded to him the way the Bastahl had been nodding. He continued to hand her the bugs, and gave her some kind of drink they called tree wine. She noticed that it hadn’t taken Greff long to begin eating the Illuminates, but Seeya seemed a bit uncertain.
“Well,” he said, “I’m just not sure, really.”
“Oh don’t mind him,” Addis said, “he just doesn’t want anyone to find out he’s eaten a bug.”
“Really!” Seeya said, and flew off.
“Seeya!” Dante called.
“Don’t bother,” Addis said. “He’s just gone off so he can stuff his face without anyone seeing. His pockets were glowing when he left. Trust me, he’ll be fine.”
And when Dante looked through the trees, she could indeed see a faint glow that winked out, followed by another. It was Seeya eating his Illuminates in solitude. Satisfied that he was o.k., she ate and drank until she felt quite satisfied. After they had all eaten, Orthia turned to Addis who had been waiting patiently for her to continue.
“We will wait,” she said, “for the one you call Seeya to return.” As she spoke his name, he zipped back into the dwelling.
“I’m back,” he said, looking pointedly at Addis, who for once, just sat quietly.
“I imagine you’re interested in knowing about our lost Council member?” she asked.
“How did you know that?” Dante asked, amazed. The Oralians hadn’t even seemed to realize the implications of Dante’s presence, the Brox had merely been concerned about work, but the Bastahl seemed to already know everything. The only thing they didn’t seem to know about was her and Addis. She understood why no one knew anything about her, but she wondered why no one knew anything about Addis.
“Well,” Orthia began, “you are obviously not Bastahl, and we do recognize some of the members of other tribes,” and she nodded toward Seeya and Greff. “You must have come through a portal, which could only mean that the Lost Council had returned, a new council is forming, or there is something else happening of which we are unaware.”
“You are obviously not the Lost Council. I doubt you’re seeking a new Council member from us, or you would have followed the proper protocols and asking ceremony, which you did not. That leads me to conclude that there must be something else happening surrounding the portals, but that somehow the Lost Council must tie into it.”
Addis nodded and said, “We would like to understand everything you know.”
Orthia nodded and said, “We are happy to share our knowledge with you, but it will keep until morning. Now it is the time to rest.”
She stood. “Do not worry, Addis, we will reveal everything we know to your group. Now, let us get you all taken care of for the night.”
They were led off to leafy chambers containing simple pallets made out of some kind of material Dante had never seen. Addis pulled four blankets out of his bag, and silently handed one to her, Greff and Seeya.
“I doubt we’ll need these,” he said, as it was still warm and steamy, “but you might want it underneath you.”
Seeya shook his head at the blanket. “Thanks Addis, but I’m going to just zip off and see if I can find a place to sleep on my own.”
Greff just stood there, blanket in hand, looking completely bereft. Dante walked over to him.
“Are you o.k.?” she asked.
“I don’t think I can sleep alone,” he answered, looking at her. “I’ve never slept alone before.”
Dante just smiled at him. “I have something that might help,” she said.
She went to her backpack and pulled out the basket that Turra had given to him. She handed it to Greff but he just looked at it sadly. “I’m not sure how this will help,” he said.
Dante reached into her backpack and pulled out a piece of paper. Greff took and she heard a sharp intake of breath. “Turra!”
It was a drawing Dante had made of Turra during one of the long days they had been at the Hollow. She was busy tying – Dante could never have gotten her to just sit still – and the basket she was working on in the drawing was the very one Greff now held in his hand.
He looked at her and smiled. “Thank you Dante,” he said, “this will help me a great deal.”
He went over to his pallet and lay down, putting the basket next to him, and placing one of his hands tenderly on the picture of Turra.
“You’re welcome,” Dante said. She lay down on her pallet, pushing the blanket over so it was next to her. She had so many thoughts racing through her head she didn’t feel sleepy, but before she knew it, she was dreaming of steaming showers and mugs of hot chocolate.
In the morning, Dante awoke to find Greff gone, but Addis still sleeping. She didn’t want to disturb anyone, so she went back out to the place they had been the night before, and sat down next to Orthia who was there alone. She smiled at Dante.
“I saw you doing something last night with a paper and a stick. What was it?”
“A paper and stick?” Dante was confused. “Oh, you must mean my journal. I was just writing down what happened and making some sketches.”
“May I see?”
Dante showed her journal to Orthia who appeared delighted. She pointed to the writing and asked, “What are these marks?”
Dante explained that they were words. Since Orthia didn’t seem to understand, she explained that it was her language written down.
“So these represent the words you speak?” Orthia seemed incredulous.
“Well, not exactly,” Dante said. “They’re just words that are things I feel, or that happen to me.”
She read to Orthia from the journal; it happened to be about the afternoon at the softball field. As she read, her voice got shaky and she fought back tears.
“Why does this upset you?” Orthia asked, reaching out and taking Dante’s journal for a closer look. She seemed unmoved by Dante’s apparent distress.
“Well,” Dante said, “it’s just that they don’t seem to understand that I’m trying, but that I’m just not good at those things. It’s just so hard that they’re so mean.” She wiped her eyes and looked at Orthia, who didn’t seem to understand.
“But why does it matter what they think? Why don’t you just show them your words and your sketches? That would help them to understand who you are.”
“No, no it wouldn’t. They’d probably just laugh. Besides, I can’t show anyone my journal, it’s private.”
“But if you won’t share yourself with anyone, how are they supposed to know you?”
Dante began to feel frustrated. How could Orthia understand? It was obvious that the Bastahl valued everyone.
“Never mind,” she said, holding out her hand. “It doesn’t matter.”
Orthia didn’t hand back the journal. Instead, she called Ori over to where they were sitting. She showed him the journal and spoke some words Dante couldn’t understand. The two of them exchanged a knowing glance.
Ori spoke, “I am sure everyone where you come from must admire your work.”
“No, they don’t. I was just trying to tell Orthia, I don’t show it to anyone.”
She realized she sounded petulant and tried to explain again. “You know,” she said, studying her feet, “it’s private, and the drawings aren’t really that good, and, well, I don’t really fit in that well, and I just don’t think anyone. . . .” She looked up and shrugged.
“This is a special part of you Dante,” Orthia said, handing back the journal. “You need to be sure and share it. If you keep the special parts of yourself hidden from others, you are doing your world and everyone in it a disservice. Sometimes the things that we think are least important keep us from knowing the things that are most important.”
“That’s kind of like what you said to Addis last night,” Dante replied. Then she looked down and said, “I’ve never thought of anything about me as special.”
“Of course, there is something special about everyone. They just do not always know it. That is why when you see something special in someone, you should be sure to tell him or her. Come now,” she said, “it’s time for breakfast.”
When they got back to the large area of the dwelling, Addis, Greff and Seeya were already waiting.
Seeya zipped over to Dante. “Can I get that mirror from you?” he asked.
She looked him up and down and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t have it with me. You’ll have to wait until after we eat.”
He sighed and sat next to her. “I’m not sure why I even bother anyway,” he said dejectedly. “No one notices, no one cares how I look or how hard I try to be pleasant. I’m only trying to spare all of you the sight of ugliness. It’s not like anyone else does the same for me.” He looked at her pointedly. She just smiled at him.
“Sorry Seeya, what you see is what you get. At least there are never any surprises.”
“Why yes, that’s true,” the small creature replied thoughtfully. But then he said brightly, “But surprises can be fun!”
“Well,” Dante said, “only the good ones. You were pretty surprised when Addis pushed you through that first portal.”
“Well, that’s true,” he replied. “That was rather nasty.”
The rest of the Bastahl joined them, along with Addis and Greff, and they ate breakfast. After the meal was over Orthia began to speak.
“In all the times of our people, there was always a Council and we were always a part,” she said. “We held the choosing ceremony, and whoever was picked would go.”
She paused and looked around. “But the last time we sent a member to the Council, something went wrong.”
Dante was pretty sure that by now she could guess what went wrong. She was pretty sure that the others knew as well, but no one interrupted Orthia.
“Our brother came back to us, but he was changed. Instead of peace and inner wisdom, he was excitable, emotional. He was given to spontaneous physical contact, and fits of laughter. It was very disruptive. When we asked about our interactions with the other tribes, he simply told us that we didn’t need to worry about them. We knew something had gone wrong, but we didn’t know what.”
“The portals had vanished at that point, so we didn’t know how to help him. We also didn’t know how to reach out to the other tribes to see if they had suffered the same fate, or if it had just been the Bastahl.” She looked around. “Since you’re seeking the members of that Council I have to assume that they were all lost.” The visitors all nodded.
“Very well. The answer will lie with the Khee.”
“Who?” Addis asked.
“The Khee. They are a very old, very mysterious tribe, and no one knows much about them. We believe they live in a mountainous region, and teach the Council members the wisdom they need to keep the tribes functioning. The Khee would know why the portals have vanished, and they would know why we are suffering this steam.”
“Well, at least you’re not having sudden downpours of rain!” Seeya exclaimed.
“Or fog so thick you can’t see or work.”
Orthia looked thoughtful. “No,” she said, “we simply have this suffocating steam, which it makes it hard to keep your patience, your temper, your peace of mind. It makes it difficult for us to think clearly.”
“Well, there are some positive effects,” said Seeya, fluffing his curls. Unlike his reaction to the friz he encountered in the fog, he had allowed the steam to curl his hair, and was working it around his fingers into ringlets.
Orthia smiled. “Yes, we know that the Oralians are very concerned with how things appear, as are the Brox with hard work. There are other tribes as well, the Wumpus, the Roazicans, perhaps more.”
She turned to Dante and Addis, “I know nothing of your tribes.”
“Well, I’ve never even heard of those other tribes,” Seeya said, “although I guess I knew there were other tribes, but we never knew the names.”
“Nor did we,” said Greff. “And this unknown tribe called Khee, what more do you know of them?”
“Nothing,” said Orthia. “Just that they are the teachers. Without them, the portals would be useless. Of course now there are no portals. Perhaps the Khee believe that we no longer merit their teachings.”
“No, I don’t think that’s it,” Addis said, fingering his pendant. “Maybe they’ve just died out. If there’s no more portals, maybe they’re just not around?”
“But the portals are here now,” Dante said. “And somehow I got here. I don’t think there’s ever been portals in my world before.”
She thought about the stories of the Bermuda Triangle, alien abductions, even the rumor about the boy who had disappeared from her special place in the park.
“Gosh,” she said slowly, “then again, maybe there have been. Have you ever seen anyone like me before?”
“No, I’m afraid not,” said Orthia. Everyone shook their heads, including Addis.
“But that doesn’t mean anything. We have no idea, really, how many tribes may exist in Endolye. We only interact with those our Council member introduces us to. Like the Oralians.”
“Us?” Seeya asked. “I’m sorry, but I do think we’d remember if we’d met you before. You’re so, well, uh, not to be rude or anything….”
“Large,” Addis finished.
“Well, yes,” Seeya agreed.
Orthia just smiled. She left the dwelling for a moment, and then came back. In her had she had a small ivory brush, a hair comb, and a hand mirror similar to the one Seeya had given Dante.
“Do these look familiar?” she asked. She carefully brushed her hair, put the comb in it, and looked at herself in the mirror. She smiled at Seeya.
“Well, that just makes a world of difference!” he cried. “That must have come from us!”
“Indeed. It did. And the pallets you slept on last night are replicas of the originals which were made for us by the Brox.”
“Hmmm.” Greff didn’t seem convinced. “Well, they’d have to be replicas, because that wasn’t our work.”
“No, it wasn’t. It’s been too long.”
“And what did you provide to these tribes?” Addis asked her.
“Logic, order, mediation with difficulties, meditation and music.” She spoke quietly but with pride.
“We believe that while the other tribes possess talents with the physical world, our contribution to the mental realm was critical.”
Seeya hovered next to Dante’s ear. “Is she saying we’re stupid?” he whispered.
“Oh no, I’m sure not,” Dante whispered back, but she wasn’t so sure. Suddenly she remember Greff’ pipe.
“The pipe,” she said, turning to Greff, “it must have come from the Bastahl.”
Then another thought occurred to her and she turned to Seeya. “The tapestries! You said you couldn’t remember where they came from, but it was probably the Brox.”
“But they’re pretty,” Seeya said, confused.
“A long time ago,” Dante said in exasperation,
“Yes,” Addis said, nodding, “when the tribes were in communication with each other.”
He looked up at them. “We must find the Lost Council. I believe it holds all our answers.”
“Well, not really,” Orthia said. “The Khee hold the answers. But I believe if you find the Lost Council, you’ll also find the Khee.”
Orthia stood, stretching her body. “It’s time,” she said.
“Time for what?” Seeya asked.
“Time to go. Another portal has appeared.”
“What?” Addis jumped up. “Why did you wait to tell us?”
“Didn’t you want to hear our story?”
“Oh. Well, yes.”
The Bastahl all jumped lightly to the ground, Seeya flew, and the other three clambered down Addis’ ladder. They followed Orthia through the thick steam until they reached a small clearing. There, in the middle, was the arch. Orthia turned to them and said, “We wish you luck on your journey.”
“Aren’t you going with us?” Dante asked.
“No, I don’t see any reason for any of the Bastahl to make the journey. There is nothing out there that we can’t find here for ourselves.”
“What about the steam?”
“It will stay or it will go. We can manage either way.”
“Come on,” Addis said, and headed toward the portal. He positioned Seeya in front of it, hovering, took Dante’s hand, and had Dante hold Greff’ hand. He pushed Seeya through, jumped in, and pulled the other two behind him.
They came out on the other side of the arch in the steamy jungle.
“It didn’t work!” Greff sounded slightly panicked.
“Calm down,” Addis said. “Let me try something.” nd he headed for the portal.
“Addis, no!” Dante called, but he walked through it. And came around the other side.
“It’s not working,” Dante said.
Addis walked over to where Orthia stood. “One of you has to come with us,” he said. “There’s no point trying to keep us here, that doesn’t make sense. We need one of you to come.”
The Bastahl spoke in low tones for a moment, and then Ori stepped forward.
“I will go,” he said. Dante was glad, because Ori had been so kind to her.
He turned to Orthia. “I wish you well. I hope I don’t lose my way, and that I make it back to you.”
“Farewell,” Orthia said, “remember, you are never lost if you are following your own path.”
They returned to the portal. Seeya hovering in front, Addis holding Dante’s hand, Dante holding Greff’ hand, and Greff now took Ori’s hand. With a push Seeya went through the portal, followed by Dante, Greff and Ori. As Ori went through he took a quick look back. The Bastahl were already leaving, and didn’t even see it when the portal vanished.