Chapter 5. Travel (Part 1)

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"We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far." —H. P. Lovecraft

The woods were loud at night, almost deafening. Hundreds of unaffiliated creatures hummed, croaked, whistled, and screamed their disparate melodies. The overall effect was something like a collection of wind chimes at the foot of a waterfall.

A hungry, lavender-gray cat lurked in the shadows, its keen eyes scanning for anything that moved. The animal was usually more discerning, but it had gone too long without eating. Its vessel was wearing out. Finally, a rat scurried through the grass ahead. It would have to do.

The cat prepared itself, lowering its head slightly, hunching its back and shifting from side to side in anticipation, never taking its eyes off its prey. When the moment was right, it lunged forward all at once. Two hops and it had the rat pinned, both forepaws pressing it to the ground. The pitiful thing squirmed, trying to come to grips with its fate, and then...

The rat changed. It was no longer the same hapless scavenger that it had been moments ago. It was Ada, the perpetual traveler. She'd managed to leave her hungry cat at least a month or so of good health before its inevitable unwinding. As soon as the shock wore off, the abused animal would go find some food. And by that time, of course, Ada would be long gone, on the hunt for yet another vessel.

It never stopped. One after another, she switched vessels as rapidly as she could manage. Truth be told, she couldn't even remember why anymore. The reason belonged to an Ada that no longer existed. That Ada had long since stretched to the point of disintegration, dissolving into an ever-widening pool of metanoiac atavisticism.

Her sense of self had extended to each and every animal she occupied until her mind began generalizing to reduce the clutter. Instead of this cat and that cat and fifty others, she was cats—all cats and every cat. Then she was birds. Then rabbits, then primates, then rodents, and finally animals. She was even beginning to feel that she extended beyond the Dome of Ozghard, out into the Void...

She was still Adelaide; that much was certain. And Adelaide was beyond the Dome, so maybe there was truth to Ada's fancy. She was also Isala, and through Isala, she was the boy Peyr. And Peyr, she now realized, was actually Pierre Batiste, the Wizard, the man she'd once called "Da."

Ada pictured this grown version of Peyr now. There he stood on the tentacled side of an enormous crimson voidray, beside the sleeping form of her sister Adelaide. Ada could see them, feel them, even think right along with them. Pierre seemed to be in a trance, and he'd begun to lose strength. His knees buckled, and he fell to the slimy surface of the leviathan. As his body landed, his mind escaped into the Dream.

Now he was his childhood self again, making his way through the southwestern Highlands of Ozghard in search of the Mountain King's stronghold. And of course, Ada was right there with him. The idea of meeting her Yili father in this way—using her old Da as a vessel... It was too fascinating a proposition to pass up.

Peyr's journey southward through the piney woods was by no means quick or effortless, as you might imagine dream travel to be. This collective Dream was not mere fancy or memory, but reality. At least, it was as real as anything in Ada's waking life, which she was beginning to suspect didn't mean all that much.

Each crunchy step through the melting snow let a little more moisture into Peyr's thin boots. His toes were painfully cold, but what's worse, the pain was beginning to recede into numbness. Ada recognized the danger of frostbite, but her vessel still thought himself invincible. Exerting a subtle pressure on his ventral striatum, Ada pushed Peyr along through the snow as quickly as he could go. She didn't want to find out what would happen if they died in the Dream.

As soon as Ada spotted a suitable cave, Peyr cleared the snow away from its entrance and set up camp for the night. The boy had a rudimentary grasp of Yili magic, but he was sorely lacking in practical experience. Were it not for Ada's guidance and manipulation, he'd never have survived the journey.

What really irritated Ada about this younger version of her Da was that each time she provided assistance—with a bit of knowledge here or a steadying of the hands there—he failed to recognize his own luck. Of course he could start a fire. Of course he could snare a rabbit. He'd never done such things before, but why not? He was Peyr, after all. Ada hated to encourage this sentiment, but this boy would grow up to be Pierre Batiste, a man who would eventually rescue her own sleeping vessel from the Void. She'd have to help him along now to reap the benefits later.

When Peyr eventually made it to the Mountain King's fortress, it was the dead of night and bitterly cold. After a good while of shuffling around in the shadows, Ada was able to find an unguarded entrance, a root cellar attached to the kitchen. Peyr took a large knife from a chopping block and began creeping from room to room, hoping to find the King unguarded and asleep.

He would never have admitted to it, but Ada knew the boy was terrified. He had no idea what he'd do with the knife if he ran into trouble or how he intended to make the Mountain King pay for abandoning his adopted mother. Now passing through the shadowy expanse of the Great Hall, Peyr's faith in his own abilities was finally beginning to falter. Ada too was beginning to worry how this confrontation would play out.

And then Peyr opened a door that made everything clear. There lay a young child asleep on a small bedmat, her Yili features lending her the appearance of an infant. Peyr dropped the knife. This was Vanon's daughter, not with Isala but with that harlot sorceress Thlowdyn. At the edge of feeling a familiar bond with the helpless little girl, Peyr pushed back and hardened his heart. This was not his sister. He was meant to be Vanon's child, his adopted son, heir to the Kingdom of the North. And this girl was the reason that would never happen.

In retrospect, Ada would remember this moment as the perfect time to intervene and draw Peyr's attention to something else, anything else. But it was just so fascinating to look at herself through a different set of eyes. She failed to recognize the significance of the situation until it was too late.

Peyr grabbed young Azama from her bedmat, planning to bring her back to his mother as a sign of his conquest, a trophy. If that didn't get the Mountain King's attention, nothing would. But as soon as Peyr's hands made contact with the child, Ada felt herself losing her grip on the boy and sliding back into the vessel of her younger self. It was a much better fit, and the pull was irresistible.

When Ada found herself on the other side of this abduction, panic took hold, and she began thrashing about as violently as she could manage. She bit Peyr's wrist with her sharp Yili teeth, so he hastily set the little goblin down on the floor, hoping to find a safer way to carry her. In this underdeveloped body, Ada couldn't move fast or far, and her young headmate was so intent on crying that speech was impossible.

As Peyr went for a pillowcase, Ada spotted her childhood pet hiding under a chair. It was a small, orange cat with faint stripes like a baby tiger. What was its name? Koko? She crawled over to it, grasped it by the tail, and swam into its body, a much more suitable vessel for escape. Unfortunately, she seemed to be stuck to her younger self. When she moved into the cat, young Azama was carried along with her. Now completely panicked, the child made Koko dart around the room, not pursuing any single path for long, hissing and jumping at random. Azama's empty body lay silent on the floor, unresponsive.

Just as Peyr was beginning to understand what had happened, a swarm of rats pushed through the bedroom door, followed immediately by a flying flashbeetle. The thing made a couple of quick laps around the room and then flew directly at Peyr's forehead, latching on with its tiny pincers. Ada tried to get her unwieldy vessel past the rats, but before she could reach the door, Peyr caught up with her, and the pillowcase came down.

Of course, it wasn't really Peyr at this point; it was Isala. But that was hardly a comfort. Inside the pillowcase, Ada could feel herself being carried away from the Mountain King's castle. She knew what came next. There was no reason to relive this part. And so she moved on once again, out of the Dream and back to the hunt for her next vessel. Maybe a dog this time.

Adelaide in Ozghard, Book 2: Over the Rainbow 🐇Where stories live. Discover now