When they got on the other side of the portal, they looked around in wonder. They were in a lush, green valley, and a stream ran close by them on their left. In the distance in front of them, they could see the beginning of a line of trees. And far above the trees were the majestic peaks of the mountains. There was one mountain, slightly to the right, raised higher than the others. The group stood for a minute, unsure what to do.
“Well,” Dante said, “what now?”
“I don’t know,” Addis answered, looking around him. He turned to face the portal; no one bothered trying to go back through and it quickly vanished.
“I think we should go this way,” he said, pointing in front of him. He turned to look at the others, “I have a very strong feeling about it.”
“I don’t know,” Dante said doubtfully. “It seems to me that every time we’ve gone through a portal, we walk straight ahead from where we came out. If we went that way, we’d be going backward.”
“But without the portal, there is no forward or backward.” Ori seemed calm and unperturbed by the situation.
“What it is we’re trying to do?” asked Greff.
“Well I suppose we need to find these Khee people,” Seeya responded. “Wasn’t that the whole point of this? Khee, Lost Council, answers to questions, etc., etc.”
“Exactly,” the Brox said. “Which means we have to head toward the mountains, like the Council would have, right?”
“That makes sense,” Ori said grudgingly.
“So you’re suggesting we head that way?” and he pointed in the opposite direction that Addis had pointed. As Dante had suggested, it was “forward” from where they had come through the portal.
“Yes,” Greff said, “I think we need to go in that direction.”
“Well,” Ori said, “that’s fine, except it looks rather far and we don’t know where we’re going to get food and water. I would say that we don’t want to wander far from this stream. We have the basket, and we can use that to gather food but we don’t have a way to carry enough water.”
“That basket was made by Turra!” Greff said, “it will hold anything – including water.”
Ori said gently, “I didn’t mean it couldn’t carry water, I meant it couldn’t carry enough water for all of us.”
“Oh, well, right then.” There was a moment of awkward silence.
“Yes, water is going to be vital,” Seeya said suddenly. They all looked at him.
“Well, really,” he said, “we’re going to have to bathe and all. You can’t just expect us to go about dirty.”
“This is silly,” Greff said, his voice rising, “if you’re not afraid of a little hard work we can find food and water and build ourselves shelters. What we can’t do is stand here arguing about everything.”
“What you should be doing is listening to me,” Addis said, fingering his pendant. “I’ve just got a feeling we need to head away from the mountains, despite everything we’ve heard.”
There was a pause, and then he continued, “We need a leader, and I propose that it be me.”
“You would,” muttered Greff under his breath.
“I’m not sure about that Addis,” said Ori. “I think being the leader takes a certain amount of intellectual acumen, you know, the ability to integrate what’s happening, take into account the strengths and weaknesses of….”
“You’re calling us stupid again!” Seeya went and hovered in front of Ori’s face. The little Oralian put his hands on his hips and looked the Bastahl in the eye.
“I may not have any mental ocu-whatever, but I’m not stupid. I at least know how to comb my hair!” and he zipped over to where Dante was standing and hovered next to her, examining his fingernails.
“Stop it,” Dante said crossly. They all looked at her. She was standing facing the mountains. She turned to look at them.
“If we’re going to do this, we have to do it together. We know that the Council members all head to the mountains, and they’re given instruction by the Khee. So, fine, we should probably head to the mountains. But let’s do it as a team, o.k.?
They looked at her blankly. “A team?” Seeya asked. “What’s that?”
“It’s a group of people that work together for a common goal,” she said. They just stared at her. She was starting to get impatient with them.
“You know,” she said, “everyone does the thing they’re best at doing, and then the whole group reaches their goal.”
They continued to look at her blankly. “Oh come on!” she said, “the other Council members must have worked together or they’d never have gotten anywhere!”
“You know Dante,” Ori said slowly, “maybe you should be our leader. You seem to understand this concept of working together, even when we can’t agree on things. I must admit, some of your ideas seem a bit strange, but one way or another we can’t just stand here arguing.”
“I agree with that,” Greff said stoutly. “I’d be willing to agree to what Dante decides. We can be one of these team things, if she thinks we can.”
“Fine with me,” Seeya said breezily.
Addis just stood looking at all of them. Dante walked over to him and spoke quietly.
“Listen Addis,” she said, “I know you’ve got good instincts, and I’m going to need to rely on them if we do this. But let’s just try heading for the mountains, o.k.? If we’re wrong we can come back this way, but I think the best way for all of us to work together is to head in that direction.”
“Fine,” he said, folding his hands over his tummy. “It’s wrong, it’s a disaster if you ask me, but I can’t very well let you all just go off on your own.”
“Good!” She turned to the others and smiled. “We’re heading to the mountains, to that high one on the right, and we’ll follow this stream for as long as possible.”
She stood a moment considering the group in front of her. “Seeya, you be our scout.”
At the Oralian’s puzzled expression she said, “You fly ahead of us and come back and give us a report of what you see. Bring back anything that looks like food, or reports of what you think looks dangerous. Ori, you’ll be Seeya’s main point of contact. You listen to what he tells you, and look at what he brings you. We’ll follow your advice about where we should go when we’re looking for food.”
Seeya saluted and Ori merely inclined his head.
Dante turned to Greff. “You’ll need to tell us how to build shelters when we need to rest,” she said, “and I know you’ll be really good at making them!”
Greff folded his four arms across his chest and said, “Agreed.”
“O.k.,” Dante looked at the little group and smiled. “Let’s go.”
“Wait,” Seeya said. He hovered next to Ori with his hands on his hips. “What about Addis?”
“Oh!” Dante turned, looking at Addis. He stood behind her, slightly apart from the group. She felt a sudden pang that he was the last one she had chosen for a task, the last one picked for her team. She just wasn’t sure what Addis was best at doing, and it took a moment to think about his contribution.
“Addis is going to help us with his bag,” she said. “There’s no telling what we’ll need, and he’s the only one that get things from the bag.”
“That’s not really work,” Greff said. Seeya chimed in, “Well, being helpful really isn’t his strong suit.”
Dante crossed her arms and looked at the group. “Oh really?” she said. “Ori, you’re right about water – we’re going to need a way to make sure we don’t run out, and we won’t always be right next to this stream.”
“Addis,” she turned to him, “what can you do about something to carry the water in as we head up the mountain?”
For a moment she was worried he wasn’t going to cooperate. But he opened his bag, and pulled five canteens out of it. He silently handed one each member of the group.
Ori inclined his head. “Thank you Addis,” he said. “This may be one of the most important contributions to the trip.”
Dante took a deep breath and smiled. “O.k.,” she said, “time for the Non-Council to head to the Khee.”
She started off in the direction of the mountains, Seeya zipping ahead into the distance, the others following her lead.
The arrangement worked out well. Seeya would zip back and confer with Ori about what he had seen, and the Bastahl would tell him to look for certain signs of water, food or shelter. A few times he came back with strange looking fruits or berries, and Ori would examine them carefully, smelling and tasting them. If they appeared to be good, he would put them it the basket that Turra had given Greff.
When the sun started getting low, Dante asked Seeya to try and find a good place for them to stay the night. They had walked a great distance into the valley, but the trees were at least another day’s walk. Greff told Seeya to see if he could find any rocks, the larger the better. Seeya zipped out of sight, and the group took the chance to rest.
Seeya was soon back with reports of an area to their left, not too far, that had a large boulder, and some smaller rocks. The group headed toward that. When they arrived, Greff began digging and moving rocks. He instructed everyone on how to help – even Seeya was able to move a few small rocks and Addis resolutely moved dirt out of the way; Ori was able to get a small fire going. Dante began putting together a meal out of the food Seeya and Ori had gathered.
When the shelter was finished they ate the fruits and berries Dante had prepared. Then they each took turns going to the stream to bathe and drink. When Dante got back, she asked Addis if there were any blankets in his bag. He pulled out five pallets and blankets, and handed them out. As they moved into the shallow shelter Greff created under the boulder, he began to chant. Lying on her blanket watching the fire die down, Dante closed her eyes and thought, this was a great day.
In the morning they broke camp and headed toward the line of trees. By the time the sun was high overhead they were inside the woods. They found more berries to eat, and some nuts. Dante found it odd that there were no animals here. She never heard any birds, and none of the others seemed to be familiar with squirrels, raccoon, possums or any of the other animals she asked about.
They found a clearing where they could stay for the night, and with Greff’s help were able to construct a shelter. Addis again supplied the pallets and blankets. They decided against a fire, since the trees were close together, so they put their pallets in a circle. Greff had constructed a separate, tiny shelter for Seeya with walls on three sides, and the open side facing away from the others. Seeya had been surprised and grateful.
When they woke up the next morning there was some discussion about which way to go. The stream had veered off to the left shortly before they reached the trees, and Dante had insisted they head into the woods. They were still close enough in the morning to get water, but even with the canteens she knew they would need to find another water source soon. She was also worried about finding the way up the side of the mountain, since they had to wind their way between the trees. She would have to rely on Seeya to help them.
Mid-way through the day they began climbing, and soon were out of the trees and on the rocky side of the mountain. It was hardest on Dante, and the others often stopped to help her. Addis had pulled a walking stick from his bag, Seeya flew, Ori was able to jump to high outcroppings, and with his four arms Greff was a natural at getting up the rocks. They had gone a short way when Dante needed to rest.
“I’m not sure I can make it,” she said, looking above them at all the mountain they had left to climb. “I don’t know, maybe you should just go on without me, and I’ll try to make it back down to the edge of the valley.”
“Don’t be silly,” Greff said immediately, “we’re a team remember?”
“That’s right,” Ori said, placing his arm on Dante’s shoulder, “and we can help you.”
Between them they helped pull, push and lift Dante up the side of the mountain. At first she was embarrassed and tried to resist their help, but then she realized she really did need it, and let them help her. They all talked excitedly about seeing the Khee at the top of the mountain, or perhaps finding the Lost Council. They began feeling so optimistic, at one point Seeya said, “We’ll get there and the council members will all be there, and they’ll look wonderful!” No one knew what to expect.
They were about three quarters of the way up when they had to stop for the night. There was an outcropping of rock that led into a small cave in the side of the mountain, and a waterfall close by. It was their best chance for shelter that night and water for the following day. They were settling in, eating the rest of their food, when Addis pulled three pallets and four blankets out of his bag.
“That’s odd,” he muttered, reaching in again. He pulled out Dante’s backpack and handed it to her, but nothing else came out. He opened the bag wide and looked in.
“Nothing,” he said. He looked up at the others. “There’s nothing in my bag,” he said. They all looked at each other.
“Well, that’s o.k. Addis,” Dante said, “we can figure out a way to share.” She didn’t say it, but she was extremely grateful her backpack had still been in there.
“I don’t need a pallet,” Greff said, “my back is pretty tough.”
“And I’ll share my blanket with Dante,” said Ori. Dante nodded and smiled.
“I don’t need a pallet,” Seeyan began, “I’ll, uh, just…” There was nowhere for him to have any privacy, and it was too cold for him to sleep outside.
“It’s o.k.,” Dante said, “at some point you’re just going to have to stop worrying so much about how you look. Honestly, the rest of us don’t care.”
Seeya looked around uncomfortably, and then nodded.
“Can I at least have the mirror and brush?” he asked. Dante pulled them out of her backpack and handed them to him, and then he took the remaining blanket and retreated as far into the cave as possible, rolling himself up and out of sight.
“Good night,” Seeya’s muffled voice came from under a blanket.
In the morning, Seeya emerged from under the blanket and handed the brush and mirror back to Dante.
“Thank you,” he said stiffly.
“Could you see under there?” she asked, guessing at the answer by his appearance.
“No,” he replied in as dignified a voice as possible, looking away.
“Well,” she said, “it’s o.k., you look fine. And I’m proud of you for just handing back the brush and mirror without spending a lot of time worrying about how you look.”
The Oralian looked at her with what she thought was suspicion, but she gave him a warm smile. “Hmph!” he said, but seemed less stiff.
They started up the mountain again. When they realized they were going to reach the top, they all got very quiet. No one knew what to expect. Seeya was the first to fly over the summit. He didn’t come back and the others pushed on as quickly as they could. Ori jumped from a rock up to the summit and walked out of sight. Addis and Greff continued to help Dante.
When they finally reach the top, the mountain had flattened out a bit and there was a plateau that looked over all the mountains and the valleys. Dante walked to the other side of the summit, where Ori and Seeya sat facing them. She looked around at the vista of mountains surrounding them, and then at valleys below. The Non-Council team of five sat and stood silently, looking at each other. There was no sign or sound of anyone, no structures, no caves, no message, nothing. They were completely alone with no sign of the Lost Council or the Khee anywhere.