Chapter 42 – June 22-24 – Reflections at Lakeside
Grace and D-Stract sat on the edge of the water, about 300 yards apart. Their bare feet were actually in the water, and through them, they maintained an awareness of what went on in the dark depths below. But, it was dull work, keeping watch, and so they gossiped via their magical mental channel, as they stirred the waters with their toes.
Parrot circled lazily overhead.
D-Stract: It was a lovely pair of weddings, wasn’t it?
Grace: I liked the flowers and all; they really made the church pop, you know? Nice of them to share the space like that with twin weddings.
D-Stract: Well, they are going to be neighbors, after all. Eastwood and Dorothy are moving into the Rouge place, while Woody has been practically living with Joan Autumn the last couple weeks.
Grace: They’ll make good families, I’m sure. And they should thrive there – with the surrounding threats gone, that is fertile farmland. Without their kids, Mr. and Mrs. Rouge were showing their age.
D-Stract: I can’t believe they revived Mrs. Autumn for the wedding, though.
Grace: Why not?
D-Stract: Really? She was green and moldy, and she stank. Every time she touched something, she left a gooey smear.
Grace: Be fair, she missed Sienna’s wedding to Shelly. You couldn’t deny her the chance to be at her daughter’s wedding, even if she was sick?
D-Stract: Sick? You mean gross! She tried to kiss me, you know? Right on the lips! I barely turned away in time, and got a huge smear across my cheek.
Grace giggled: She must have been very grateful for rescuing her. Me, I think Mr. Autumn’s behavior was worse, what a disgrace!
D-Stract: Why? He wasn’t even there, was he?
Grace: Exactly. They revived him for the wedding, but he sat in the back and went straight for the booze as soon as no one was looking — couldn’t care less about his kids.
D-Stract: I’ll give you that. What puzzles me though is – where did Dorothy get that little black dog? I thought Toto got left behind when she was ‘summoned’.
Grace: I think that’s one of Fetch’s new litter of puppies. She’s calling it Toto 2.
D-Stract: Really? I thought Fetch was a boy. No wonder he seemed a little fat.
Grace: Never can tell, can you?
Animus was standing over Grace. “Ladies, please keep your attention on the water. I can’t shoot what I can’t see.”
D-Stract laughed. “Oh poo! There’s no danger — we’re not really even in the water, much. And here we have two elven bowmen protecting us. What could go wrong? Is that the right word — ‘bowmen’? What do you call yourself, Cleo? ‘Shield maiden’ doesn’t work – wrong equipment. Is it ‘bow-woman’? ‘Lady Shooter’?”
Cleo looked cross and cleared her throat. “Archer. I am an elven archer.”
D-Stract: So which of you is the better archer, you or Animus?”
Cleo shrugged. I have more power, he’s a better shot. Depends on what you need. In hindsight, I probably should have been with Grace, out by the point where we might need range.
Animus: It makes sense if you think about it, D-Stract. Cleo’s first home was an army, that rained down a sheet of arrows on other armies – preferably from as far away as possible. My school, on the other hand, taught that if you can’t hit it, you can’t eat it.
As they spoke, Beowolf rumbled by Grace with a wheelbarrow full of sand. “I seem to be getting awfully close to that water wall you’re holding – shouldn’t you move it further out? Oops, sorry, maybe I shouldn’t be breaking your concentration.”
Grace shook her head. “No, that’s all right. The elemental is doing all the work, we three water adepts are just monitoring it, and watching out for Crabs.”
“Still, we’re working right near the edge. It’s a bit unnerving.”
“Well, none of the sand turned the corner and went round the peninsula. It all dropped right at that turn, or earlier.”
“Right. Okay, thanks then. We’re closer to being finished than I expected. I’ll pass the word.” Beowolf tried to adjust his wet gloves, then, with a sigh, lifted up the handles of his wheelbarrow and pushed on.
Grace: I wish all the performers were as cautious as him.
D-Stract: What, you didn’t like that dwarf, Pratt, juggling shells? True, he almost put out Socrates’s eye, but it was pretty cool up to that point. And then Sunny was watching them so intently she goes and trips over Napoleon and tumbles into Garcia’s lap. Priceless.
Grace: I thought watching the Vikings worry about getting mud on their costumes was funnier. Nearly as good as watching Moonbeam wander around picking up pretty rocks and bits of trash people had dropped in the water.
D-Stract: The best was Blaze and Silky having a mud fight.
Grace: I wish I had seen that one. I was worried about that crab-man coming up the coast just then, though.
D-Stract: Hey, you warned Flash in plenty of time to catch it up. That amulet let him work underwater so well – it was sweet!
Grace: Speaking of which… Hey, Sapphire, has anybody seen Flash recently? I hope he’s watching those crabs pretty close. Don’t want to lose a guitarist or a juggler or anything.
Sapphire: I think he’s herded all the crabs out to the deep center of the lake. This is pretty boring duty, except for when Flash took down that crab.
Cleo: Yeah, that was pretty funny to watch — the way he tried and tried and couldn’t get through their back-armor plate, so after a million tries he just stunned it with a shock and then chewed its face off. Bizarre.
Grace: Well, we’re still watching the edges in case one skirts along the shore, like they do. Don’t complain, Sapphire, we tried to give you the easiest job. I mean, you deserve a rest after doing that dive into Spamwich’s garbage heap. Gross.
Sapphire gave mental shrug: Well, the old shells from that first accidental kill of yours could have still been there. Who knew Duncan had time to dump it all in the river, what with Trixie and him moving stone and all that?
D-Stract: Busy kid, that boy. I’m glad it worked out, though. I wasn’t real clear on the idea of using razor dogs from the air dimensions to go underwater and kill crabs. This magic stuff is wild.
Sapphire: You have no idea. You should see some of the swamp monsters the hedge witches summoned when I was a kid. But what do you mean, the easiest job? I’ve had to keep talking with that water elemental the whole time to keep him on point. His range of conversational topics is… limited, to say the least. He goes on and on about how he wants this space, and that space. I’m pretty sure he’ll cooperate at least until we get the mine drained. I repeat – boring!
Maude gave a mental giggle: Better you girls than me. I’ve been watching the brawny men flex their muscles. Who knew that actors were in such good shape?
Grace: I thought you were keeping an eye on Rufus and Flummox!
Maude: They’re doing fine, once they decided to dump the sand on the peninsula for now, and not try to drag it all the way ‘round to the beach today. This operation really will finish up before evening, and the dwarves can get the sand from here at their leisure.
D-Stract: Let’s give him a poke. Hey Rufus, what is it I’m doing here?
Rufus: Watching for crabs, I hope.
D-Stract: No, I mean extending myself into the water like this. How does it work?
Cleo: Oh Bog, now you’ve done it! You’ve pushed his buttons and the Professor will now give such a dry, academic lecture that we’ll forget we’re sitting in water.
Rufus: Quiet in the peanut gallery! Some people want to learn. Now then D-Stract, you understand that we are spiritual beings, just come here to this Earth to interact with the material world for a short time. We choose to come to this particular place, because it is a special crossroads, if you like. Here, we are at the boundary, or iso-energetic point, between Fire and Water, but also the power boundary between Earth and Air. There is a constant battle going on, with both sets of energies tugging this way and that. Life flourishes here, because it feeds on that energy, that tension, allowing us spiritual growth.
D-Stract: Uhh, so, seems to me, three elements are real common around here, but Fire – it looks to have gotten the short end of the stick. Not so common.
Rufus: Of course what you think of as fire pops up here and there, as the boundary fluctuates or vibrates. What you are missing though is chemical energy. All the reactions you see, the digestion of food, the energy of action – all of those are manifestations of Fire.
D-Stract: So back to the question – what is it that I’m doing here?
Rufus: You have learned to detach your self from this optimal crossroads, and with a little bit of effort to shift along the Water-Fire axis away from the most nutritious sweet spot. The orthogonal to that is of course the Earth-Air axis. Although, some prefer to measure the same things using the alternative choice of axes, those being Wet-Dry and Hot-Cold. Mathematically, they are identical in that they form a complete basis set, but are a bit harder for the average mind to grasp.
D-Stract: So there are 3 regular dimensions, and 2 more dimensions through the worlds of energy?
Rufus: Yes, that suffices to describe the physical world, though some consider time a dimension as well. Then of course there are more sophisticated ways to measure the state of things, acid/base, oxidation/reduction state, temperature, chaos or entropy, stability, harmonics…
Cleo mentally groaned as loud as she could: I told you you’d be sorry. But no, you asked for it.
D-Stract: So, what is it that Grace and Maude do? Where did those Angels come from?
Rufus: Well, I speak only of the hard sciences. What I have described are demonstrable principles, describing the physical world. If you want to delve into the soft sciences, I suggest you ask Grace; she’s the expert.
Grace blinked repeatedly: Are you sure you want to hear this stuff, D-Stract? It’s so beautiful out here on the water’s edge today. Maybe we should just enjoy it.
D-Stract: Nah, go ahead. I can still enjoy the scenery, and the breeze, while you talk.
Sapphire: Hold it down, please, I’ve got a water elemental to babysit.
Grace: Okay, softly then, what Rufus is calling an axis or dimension is called more generally a ‘dichotomy’ – any two things that are opposite in nature, and hold a tension between them. Dichotomies include good vs. evil, feminine vs. masculine, black vs. white, meat vs. veggies, family vs. chastity, excitement vs. calm, cats vs. dogs, boxers vs. briefs – anything you can imagine by which your spiritual mind makes a distinction about the world is a dichotomy, just as valid as the two that Rufus was talking about. This is the basis of Taoist philosophy. Easterners try to minimize dichotomies to attain peace, Westerners try to exaggerate them for personal strengthening and gain.
Rufus: Tripe. Soft-headed wishy-washy nonsense. No way to measure it – no way to control it. I was being generous when I called it ‘soft science’. It’s not science at all.
Grace: Ah, but still they exist, in limitless numbers, in fact. However, I agree; there is no way to measure where you are on such an axis, as it is totally subjective.
D-Stract: I don’t understand how making distinctions moves you from one world to the next. I understand how changing a mark’s point of view, and shifting their worldview, makes them off balance and open to suggestion, and so helps you close a con on them. But… move between worlds?
Grace: Changing point of view is the first step. As you grow more and more determined, more mindful and deliberate in your beliefs, reality will actually change – though the trick is to not lose hold on your body in the process. And it’s a spectrum. You could be anywhere along the line, depending on the strength of your beliefs.
D-Stract: So everybody is off drifting in a limbo of their own making? How do we ever find each other to interact?
Grace: Well, it can be like that, for lost or confused souls. But in general, a collection of commonly held principles and beliefs is called a ‘culture’. People accepting the same culture then cluster in the same spiritual world. Stories, traditions, legends, history — they all build up, and the reality of that particular shared worldview becomes more solid. Like congealed beads on a string, there are stable combinations of values, family and monogamy for instance, that reinforce one another, and so the spirit world is an unimaginably huge collection of cultural norms, each combination of dichotomies different from the others.
Rufus: And with no principles, there is no understanding, no control.
Grace: Oh, there are principles all right. You just have to learn to embrace concepts that you do not hold yourself. It is a matter of flexibility, which you must develop.
Rufus: I see where this is going. It would not be the first time I was accused of being rigid. Grace, if you have more questions about the science, you know where to find me. I have some wheelbarrow traffic to attend to.
There was mental silence for some time.
D-Stact: Maude, is that how you see things now?
Maude: I don’t know about all that, girl. I’m still here, now, though I have no body. The angels told me they would help me when I’m ready to move on, to another, better place.
D-Stract: So if I embrace this world as right and proper, my soul will reincarnate here, but if I think this world is vile and corrupt, lacking moral fiber by my standards, or lacking in some other way, I will progress to a world more aligned with my own values next time around?
Maude: That’s how I understand it, yes.
Animus: Of course that is all just the human view. We elves have a special place, ‘Elvenhome’ some call it in human tongue, that we go back to. Periodically we come to this Earth to embrace nature, to delight in flowers, trees, life. That’s the theory at least. What I’ve actually found here is hunger, bitterness, and decay – I may as well be a Trog, living in a hole in the ground. I do not fear death, because I know where I will be when I leave this body. I will be returning to my people.
Rufus: And you called me mentally rigid.
Cleo: Yes, we elves are rigid in our spirituality. It is a sort of security, I think, like the military life I grew up in – safe but not free. I’m coming to find we lose out on much by rejecting the more fluid human ways.
Sapphire: Animus, I didn’t think you were racist. What do you have against Trogs?
Animus: I’m not racist – Trogs are not a race. Just as they are a patchwork quilt of races, they hold a patchwork quilt of ideas, of cultures, to the point that they have no culture of their own. Where elves embrace one single heritage, one set of values, Trogs embrace all, to the point that they, in the end, embrace none. They stand for nothing, they hold no moral ground as sacred, and so they are, in my mind, no better than animals. Though, of course I like actual animals; they are more simple. They have no place in their world for this sort of sophistry.
Again, there was a long mental silence, broken by Grace. So an interesting point there you might not have caught, D-Stract, is that when moving through the elemental dimensions, your body actually changes and goes with you. Moving through the other, spiritual, worlds, your body gets left behind. Need to be very careful about that, or you get lost and lose track of it, never to find your way back. Hung up in Limbo, with no idea where to go.
Rufus: As I said, the energy dimensions are real, physical, measurable events. The spiritual, metaphysical stuff… well, it’s just not demonstrable, measurable science.
Maude blew a mental raspberry. So you say. Meaning I’m a hallucination, am I?
Rufus: Well, no, of course not.
Grace: Goodness, we were talking puppies before, and about families, weren’t we D-Stract? Did you ever think about settling down and raising kids?
D-Stract: Can’t say. You?
Grace: Well, I did not have a good model growing up. My parents were abusive – nothing I did was right in their holier-than-thou eyes, and they made sure I knew it. Not a good model for raising a family! I bugged out the first chance I could get and joined the pagans, who agreed with me about what a cruel place the world could be. They took me in, gave me protection, but that was no place to raise kids – why bring one into this mess of a world?
D-Stract: Well, let me tell you. I never had a father, and mom died young, so I had no family growing up. I was raised in a brothel, and of course some of the ladies got pregnant. But, you know? I’ve never seen a stronger, fiercer love than what those single moms held for their babies. They’d do anything for them. Makes you think, you know? Their determination to make a better life for their kids really impressed me. I can sort of get what drove them.
Grace: Well, maybe some day you’ll have a chance.
D-Stract sat up and raised a hand. “Whoa, what’s that sound?”
A dark shape was making its way, not too gracefully, through the rushes and bracken on the peninsula. It came up behind a largish tree branch that had been tossed up on land during the storm. It fussed and moved dirt along its base for awhile, as Cleo held a an arrow at the ready on her bow.
A green head with a goofy mouth full of teeth popped up over the driftwood and noticed them. It looked awfully familiar, except it was now sporting a shaggy brown wig made of leather strips.
Cleo lowered her bow. “GG? Is that you?”
The figure got up off all fours, and put its hands on its hips, throwing back its shoulders. It was wearing a skirt of the same rough brown leather. “Do I look like GG? I don’t think so! Can’t you tell I’m a girl? You’ve hurt my feelings!”
D-Stract and Cleo exchanged glances. D-Stract stood up. “So you know GG, I take it?”
“Of course I do; he’s my brother! I’m GGG – Goofy Green Girl if you want to be formal.”
Cleo put away her arrow. “He didn’t mention having a… sister when we met.”
“I was away off East until yesterday. Came back because I needed to find a wet area for hiding my… well, it’s personal. What are you humans doing here? Aren’t you supposed to stay on your side of the road?”
Cleo coughed. “You mean the road you crossed a couple hundred yards back?”
GGG looked back over her shoulder. “Really? I must have missed it. Sorry about that.” She turned to leave.
D-Stract held up a hand. “Wait! How is GG doing? He’s not in trouble after helping us with the Nessies, is he?”
GGG shook her head. “Nah, my brother gets away with murder sometimes, he’s so innocent-acting. He was telling me about that adventure just last night. Hey, you! You’re an elf! Are you Cleo, or Animus?”
Cleo blinked. “I’m Cleo; this is D-Stract.”
“Well, pleased to meet you both. I’ll have a story to tell GG now. I guess we won’t be seeing each other around, though. I’d better get back across the road right away, before somebody sees me. Bye!” GGG turned and crushed noisily through the brush back towards the swamp.
Cleo shook her head. “Well, that was weird. Is that lizard lady trying to look human, with the wig and all?”
D-Stract moved toward the driftwood branch. “I wonder what she was hiding?” She poked around in the freshly turned earth and uncovered a smooth white egg, about the size of a grapefruit. “Well, look at this! She was burying an egg.”
Cleo shook her head. “Not going to hatch if it doesn’t stay warm. Goofy critter. But you better get back to watching the water, hadn’t you?”
“Oh, right.” D-Stract slid the egg into her blouse, between her breasts. “I’ll just keep it warm here until GGG comes back.”
Cleo pursed her lips. “I go the impression that she was never planning to come back for it.”
The excavation finished up that afternoon, with no further sign of GGG. The sand was now all high and drying, and the elemental released its hold on the water, which rushed back to the shoreline with the sound of gleeful chuckling.
Everyone dragged back into town, muddy and tired, but feeling like they had accomplished a great deal.
Back at the inn, Flummox slumped down at a table. “I wasn’t sure I could hold out a full day, but it looks like I’m pretty well healed.”
D-Stract flopped in a chair across from him and took her shoes off. “That water didn’t do me any good. I think my toes will be wrinkled for a week.”
Flummox’s eyes focused on her. “What the devil? Did you grow a third tit today? You’ve got to be careful with that magic stuff!”
D-Stract laughed and unlaced the front of her blouse. “What, this?” She extracted the egg and explained about GGG. “Anyway, I couldn’t just leave it out there, so I guess I have to keep hold of it for awhile. Any idea how long it takes an lizard egg to hatch?”
Flummox paled. “I don’t know. Higher level, intelligent creatures are probably like humans. Nine months?”
“But this is GG’s sister we’re talking about. She just buried the egg and left it.”
“Okay, five months then? Maybe six?”
D-Stract laughed. “Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt – she seemed smarter than GG. Let’s say seven.”
Flummox shook his head and stared at the table, imagining the trouble to come.