Edward was right. The others did not believe Yavin as he retold their close encounter with the female vex Yavin called Narbe. But when Pitney and Ottelo looked to Benjamin and the look on his face said he was genuinely dumb-founded, they were forced to believe there was no lie in Yavin’s tale.
For Edward’s part in the story, he kept a straight face except when Yavin commented on his feigned injury; a scowl quickly faded into a smile. Later, as they packed up their horses and refilled their waters, Benjamin felt an odd sense of pride surrounding Edward and his newfound ability. He could understand it, himself having felt quite accomplished when he broke softly but deftly through Yavin’s block, but it gave him a slight cause for concern and he determined he would ask Edward about it when they started off on their journey once again.
Yavin wove them far around some tunnels and quickly through others with the promise that the last turn and tunnel they came to would offer no threat of vex, but put them well on their way.
Now, they found themselves wandering far from Yavin’s hidden home, the impending pressure of finding Belda in the Chimera Forest weighing heavily upon them, perhaps more so on Pitney with the idea of meeting his long lost mother. None of them offered conversation. Even the horses seemed to trudge through the sands at a slower pace than before their rest at Yavin’s. Occasionally, Ottelo’s horse seemed to even swerve.
As they left, Yavin gave each of them a small piece of advice, a last bit of encouragement and warning, but he whispered it to each one so the others could not hear and this was what seemed to occupy them most of all.
“When we first met I said that not all is as it appears to be. Trust your instincts. Even with those you walk beside. Everything on your journey comes at a price.” Benjamin replayed Yavin’s words, trying to ignore all the subtleties and nuances held within them. They took him to places his heart did not wish to go and so eventually, he started silently practicing on any creature they came across, even if it were a bird, to see if he could understand their intentions. One thought was on every creatures mind in this wasted desert: finding water. Of this, he grew quickly bored.
After a time, the sun, lower in the Paaschar sky, cast long shadows and blazed against him. He lowered his head, letting his brimmed hat fall low to cast a shadow over his face and he settled into a steady rhythm.
Apprehension. Fury. Aggravation. Dishonesty.
Benjamin shook his head against the emotions. They were not his own. He had been unintentionally reading someone. He fought the desire to continue, hating the idea of invading someone’s thoughts without proper provocation. Yet, he could not help but wonder to whom those emotions belonged. Curiosity was just beginning to get the better of him when Pitney spoke.
“Did we not figure on at least another day’s journey?” Softly painted against the twilight horizon line there appeared a shadow of trees.
Everyone nodded and shrugged their shoulders, as had been their habit in regards to Yavin while they had been with him. “Perhaps Yavin knew something of his tunnels that we did not know? He must have led us closer to Havarth through them.”
“Yes,” Edward said, “Remember that he kept telling us nothing is as it seems.” Benjamin shot Edward a curious glance at the familiar quote but Edward was fixated on the horizon line.
“My guess is we will be on the edge of Harvarth by the morning light if we continue on,” Ottelo said. “But will it benefit us to remain in the desert another night and travel by morning? What of the vex, Edward?”
“I think we are doomed to encounter them whether we remain here for the night or not. Either way, we should veer off the known trail and make camp where no travelers may happen upon us so easily. The Harvarth peoples trying to escape may not take kindly to those whom they think may be wanting to stop them.”
“But we wouldn’t try to stop them, would we?” Benjamin asked.
“That all depends on them now, does it not?” Pitney mused.
Benjamin noticed Edward remained silent and Ottelo did not offer anything to the contrary. He could feel his gifting want to sway into the direction of reading their thoughts. The pull was so strong that he busted out into song to rid himself of the temptation.
“What has gotten into you, brother?” Edward laughed. But soon, all were singing the familiar celebration song of Providence that filled the streets on the Day of the Provider, when all of the kingdoms under the treaty celebrate their good fortune and give honor to him.
They set up camp when they happened upon an old abandoned caravan of wagons. They were close enough that Edward could keep a watch on the road, far enough that they had plenty of warning for unwanted visitors. Rather than choose the safety of the wagons for the night, they went to the opposite side of the road and made camp there. They aligned beds into a circle and opted out of a fire, though the desert winds had kicked up sending their teeth chattering and grinding sand. Pitney settled down quickly, but Ottelo tossed and turned until he finally whispered, “Are either of you having a hard time with your gifting today? Please tell me I am not the only one.”
“I am.” Benjamin answered quickly, as he was on first watch and had been having a hard time just getting comfortable enough to sit still.
Benjamin heard Edward roll over to face them, “Me, too. It’s as if I want to fall into using it…it pulls me to search out darkness during the day, though there is none; I still find I search subconsciously for it and my body is overly tired. I wrestle even now with exhausting myself searching out creatures in the night. I cannot sleep, for the dark sky looks like midday and the stars look like lanterns in trees instead of an unfathomable distance away.”
“I was throwing mirages all day, without realizing it. As if there was no effort on my part. Inexplicably, I would duck or dodge a vex flying right at me, knowing it had to be a mirage when none of you were expressing the sight of one. When it faded, I knew it was my own because I could feel the small renewal of strength. But it took me some time during our journey today for me to recognize it at all.”
“I fought all day with not reading your thoughts or intentions. I thought the gifts were harder, more work for us once we left the Spirit of Blessing? Why does it seem so easy to fall into them?”
But no one had the answer for that.
Eventually, they all fell into a fitful sleep, awakening the next morning to the sound of Pitney humming the celebration song once more.
“Feeling joyous today, Pit?” Ottelo swung his pack back over his horse’s haunches and tightened the leather strap slowly.
“What? Oh…no, not particularly. I do not quite know what has gotten into me.”
“There is no reason to be feeling joyous, to be sure. Look over there.” Edward gestured to their destination as he stretched his back from a night on hard earth.
The other three followed Edwards gaze. The trees that had seemed small and nonthreatening the previous evening now were larger, dense, and from their vantage point, they could see that a thick mist settled around and through them. To their right, the forest gave way to a smaller trickling of trees. The edge of the forest. Clouds covered the land…not thunderous or even particularly stormy, but enough to cast the whole land in shadow. A vast difference from the blistering sun of the desert.
“Well, I’ll be glad to be out of this heat, at least. Do you think we could enter Havarth from over there, instead?” Benjamin pointed where the trees gave way to flatter land.
“We could, Ben, except this is the Chimera Forest that we seek. Unless you have reason to believe we are better received out in the open?”
Benjamin shook his head. “No, I’m just not sure what we will encounter in there. That is all.”
“Illusions, brother. We must remember what is real. We will need you and your gift more than ever to remind us that what we see is not always what is true. How are you feeling today? The need to use my gifting has seemed to slow with the morning light. Fitting, I suppose, in the daylight. What about you, Ot?”
“I am afraid I have already thrown one this morning.” He nodded out towards the forest and the rest of them saw the trickling of trees and flat land swallowed up with more dense trees that spanned the whole of the horizon. “Sorry. I don’t know what would have possessed me to do that.”
“Perhaps Yavin’s training did you all more harm than good,” said Pitney.
Everyone else remained silent as they mounted their horses and went on their way, unsure of what to make of the fact that Ottelo seemed to have tried to confuse them on purpose. Even Pitney glanced at him from time to time with a look that left no need for Benjamin to use his gift. He was growing suspicious of his best friend.
They rode in the welcomed silence. Each one knowing that their gifting was gnawing at them, begging them to use it. But to what end, none of them knew. Until Benjamin thought of something Yavin had said in a new light. Everything on your journey comes at a price. He clicked his tongue and dug in his heels just a bit to catch up to Ottelo who had ridden up ahead of everyone else.
“Ottelo…I think I know why you did that,” Benjamin said. “Something…or someone was forcing you to use your gift to create a ruse to get us to go around the forest. Something has been tempting us with our gifts, leaving us unable to resist using them. It is not how the Provider would have it. Perhaps this is what makes using the gifting outside of Providence harder. Once you use them…you have a hard time stopping. Think of it…what is the first lesson each of us learned?”
“Control and order…” Edward said. He had ridden up alongside Benjamin, leaving Pitney to bring up the rear.
“That’s right. Control and order. We were taught to use the gifts in an orderly way. Not haphazardly, not chaotically. And yet, we have used them without hindrance. Even to our current company’s detriment.”
Ottelo acknowledged Benjamin’s insight with relief. “That makes me feel better. Thank you. I thought I was going crazy.”
“Me, too, Ot. I thought I accidentally read someone’s emotions yesterday and what I felt from them was not favorable of our group, and it caused me to doubt our comradery.”
“Well, that will never do,” said Pitney as he rode up alongside them. “Especially when we are so near to trouble.”
And there it was. The edge of the forest had crept up on them. The hot desert had given way to a smattering of grass poking up from the sands that were now mixed with soil. The horses reared up in protest, begging their riders to reconsider. Mist swirled up around them from the forest edge almost taunting them to tempt their fate inside its walls of foliage.
“If what Benjamin said is right, then we go this way.” Edward steered his horse into the thickest part of the misty Chimera Forest and disappeared into it.