Dante was standing on the shore of a beautiful island. The turquoise water made a soothing sound as it rolled up the soft, white sand of the shore. She stood looking around in wonder. There were large, leafy trees further up the shore and a soft, sweet smelling breeze ruffled her hair.
She thought she must have passed through a portal, but was confused by the fact she hadn’t seen an arch and that Addis wasn’t with her. She sat down facing the water and ran the soft sand through her fingers while she tried to figure things out. She was also hoping that Addis and others would suddenly appear, and was fighting off her fear at being alone. It felt good to be on the warm beach, but she was worried about what was happening to the others, and that Lyria had found Addis. She hoped they were all o.k. After a few minutes of sifting the sand, she accepted the fact that no one else was coming. She stood up, brushed the sand off her hands and decided to look around. It seemed like a better idea than sitting and doing nothing.
She looked back toward the trees and saw a path leading into the forest; she didn’t remember seeing it before. There was something about it that made her want to head into the trees. She started walking and after a few steps turned and looked back toward the water. She wanted to stay and wait for the others, but she also wanted to know where the path led. She finally decided that if the others hadn’t come by now there was no point in waiting.
The path led away from the shore and into the trees, which were very much like the trees in the forest where she had first met Seeya and Addis. The path twisted around the trunk of a very large tree and through two large rocks. On the other side of the rocks the landscape changed suddenly to a series of large boulders like those surrounding the pod where the Brox lived. She walked through the rocks until the path turned around a large boulder and she found herself surrounded by Bulu bushes. The path led through the Bulus and soon twas barely visible through the thick trees and undergrowth. The damp smell and feel of the jungle reminded her of the Bastahl, and she felt a little sad remembering everything that had happened and that she was alone without her friends.
As she walked, a gentle breeze began blowing across the path. It lifted her hair and as it blew, she could hear a sound, almost like a voice whispering. Suddenly, the path ended. She stood, not knowing what to do, staring at the thick growth in front of her.
She felt the hairs on her arms raise, and stood completely still. Again the breeze blew and she heard the faint whisper of her name. “Dante.”
She looked all around and said softly, “Who are you?”
The breeze blew and she heard, “We are the Khee.”
She drew in a sharp breath. It couldn’t be! She didn’t trust this; it was too easy. Maybe it was really Lyria trying to trap her.
“Where are you?” She kept looking into the forest, but couldn’t see anything. There was no answer. She waited and then tried again.
“How did I get here?”
“You found the way.”
“But I don’t know what I did to get here.”
“It’s not uncommon to reach ProGress without knowing how you’ve done it, and without being ready to arrive.”
“Yes, the Khee live on ProGress.”
She stood a moment, wondering what to do next. She turned, thinking she would walk back to the shore, but the path behind her had disappeared. She felt a moment of panic and said, “What do I do now?”
“You must follow your path.”
“But,” she began, and then saw off to her right a path leading through the growth. She was sure it hadn’t been there before. As she looked down the path she could see it led to a small clearing. She could hear the soft sound of water splashing, and walked slowly toward the sound.
When she reached the clearing she could see a small pool in the center, into which a gentle waterfall spilled. It was round and surrounded by smooth, round stones. The ground around the pool was clear as though it had been swept. She walked slowly toward the pool, and when she reached the edge of it she could see a small slate walkway heading out over the water. She felt drawn toward it and was walking toward the edge of the walkway when a movement from the other side caught her eye.
It was Cory. She couldn’t believe her eyes – it didn’t make any sense. How did Cory get here?
He smiled at her and walked toward her.
“How did you get here?”
He didn’t answer, but took her by the hand and started to lead her away from the clearing.
“Wait. What is this place?”
He just shook his head and tried to lead her away. But there was something about the pool, something she felt she needed to do. She pulled her hand away from his and walked into the clearing. She stepped on the walkway that went over the water. Cory quickly followed her, and before she could take a step he put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. He bent forward as if to kiss her. Dante was so confused by what was happening, and so nervous at being close to Cory, she ducked her head so he couldn’t see her face.
She looked down into the pool and saw her reflection in the water. And froze in horror. Because it wasn’t Cory’s reflection she saw next to her in the pool, it was the monster from her nightmare. With a cry she pulled away from its grip and tried to run.
The monster reached out and grabbed her, and with a terrible voice it said, “No, no, you mustn’t go, I want to visit with you awhile.”
She kicked and screamed, but just like her dreams she was no match for the monster. It carried her easily into the woods, until they came to a cave. Dante kept hoping this was another nightmare and she would wake up, but when the monster set her down in the cave she knew it was all too real.
The cave was lit from the inside by a small fire, and the monster rolled a stone across the opening. Dante cowered on the far side of the fire, sure she was going to be killed. But once the monster had rolled the stone over the opening, it turned to face her and she saw that it was really Lyria.
“Dante, don’t be frightened, I don’t want to hurt you. I’m just so disappointed that you ran away. Didn’t you like my house?”
Dante just stared at her. “What are you, really? Why did you look like that outside, but now you look the way you did when we were with the Wumpus?”
“Well,” Lyria said, “it’s the Khee. They’ve put a curse on me, and whenever I’m on ProGress I appear like a horrible monster. But I’m not! This is who I really am, truly.” She took a step toward Dante, smiling, her arms open.
Dante scrambled backward, “I don’t believe you. Why would the Khee do that?”
“Dante, why would I lie?”
“You’re lying to everyone. I heard you talking to Pirrin. I know what you plan to do with Endolye.”
“Ah,” Lyria smiled as she realized that Dante knew the truth. “Well, you just don’t understand. You see, the Khee kept helping the tribes govern themselves. But they made so many mistakes! Think how much easier it will be for the them when they just have one leader guiding them, making decisions on how things needs to run.”
“Maybe they’d rather decide what to do on their own.”
“How would they know? You see what’s been happening – they can’t solve their own problems. They can’t even really exist completely without each other. I’m just going to help them become whole.”
“The Khee already do that.”
“The Khee do nothing!” her voice rose to a shout. Dante shrank back into the corner. Lyria smiled, but she was no longer beautiful.
“Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Soon the tribes will all be in my control, and they will all do my bidding. And if they don’t, they’ll suffer for it. Besides, I’m going to show up and save them all. I’ll stop the rain, the fog, the steam.”
“They’ll find out the truth. The others will tell them.”
“What others? You mean that silly Non-Council of yours? No, I’ll be making sure they’re out of the way.” She smiled at Dante, and suddenly Dante was more afraid for her friends than she was for herself.
“You can’t destroy the truth,” she whispered.
“I don’t have to, I’ll simply make up my own truth.”
Dante thought about her friends, and realized suddenly how much she cared about them. No matter what, she cared about them. Without knowing why, she said, “Well, then, you can’t destroy love.”
At that Lyria gave her a strange look. “Love? They’ll all love me. That’s who they’ll love,” and with that she vanished. Dante was alone in the dim cave, with an impossibly heavy stone blocking the only way out.