The Logn Road Home, Ch 16: Off the Beaten Trail

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Chapter 16: Off the Beaten Trail

JPOV:

Now, by that point we had become fairly comfortable with the People of the Long Life...or People of the Teeth. Both were quite appropriate names, it seemed. But when Ebele looked at us so very seriously, and I felt Alice's surge of fear and dread beside me, my comfort with them dissolved and I felt my own fear prickle like a cold knife blade tracing an icy path down my spine. I surreptitiously tightened my hold on Alice, my body reacting automatically to protect her.

Ebele smiled. "Peace, Jasper Whitlock." She held her hand out to emphasize her words. "This shall be a cooperative process, not a forceful one. However, you must understand, we cannot allow you to retain your memories of our people." She grimaced ruefully. "There will be a time when we shall be revealed to our own kind beyond the borders of this continent, but that will be a time of our own choosing, and in our own manner."

Alice nodded, biting her lip in consternation. "Will it...will it...hurt?" she finally asked, her hands twisting in her lap nervously. I was surprised: I'd never seen her nervous, except upon our first meeting, and that had been a very different kind of "nervousness." Her vulnerability was almost endearing, as was her concern about pain, because both were so unusual for her. She'd never exhibited the least fear of physical pain before, not when she'd kicked Maria's ass or when she'd had to drag me off of a human while I was in the grips of bloodlust, nor when she'd helped me fight an entire pride of lions. Her body was nearly indestructible and she knew it, and she relished her strength and speed. But her mind...that was something different. She knew her mind was vulnerable as her body was not: it had been blanked out before. Alice cared for her mind like a treasured plant, nourishing and feeding it with knowledge and protecting it with her visions. Now that she'd recovered her memories, even those she hated having, she was all-too aware of that vulnerability, and she didn't want to be hurt anymore.

"No, Alice dear, it will not hurt. And I shall put whatever memories you wish, pleasant and lovely memories, in their place. Never fear." Ebele projected nothing but sincerity and concern, no vestige of dissembling, so I squeezed Alice reassuringly. She leaned into my body, and I felt the blossom of her love for me, and her appreciation for mine in return. I'm glad you're here, she seemed to be saying.

Miali sat down next to us and leaned across me to place her hands atop Alice's. Her complete and utter disregard for my presence was bemusing: she knew she had nothing to fear from me, so she touched us without hesitation, something any other immortal would never have done. "Alice, Jasper," she murmured comfortingly, "we have some time, though. It does not have to be today. Perhaps you would like to take some time and see more of our lands, experience your...vacation." Her full lips twitched with amusement as she shot a glance at Ebele. "I see no harm in it, Sister-Wife. They have a few weeks to enjoy Africa, I see them heading back north by the end of September. Happy and clueless."

Ebele considered for a moment, looking to Masudi for his input; the huge man rolled his eyes and shook his head in exasperation before turning and walking away, muttering something about women never being able to make up their minds. I had to suppress a chuckle: he had obviously never spent any time with Alice, who was a woman who always seemed to know what she wanted...and what others wanted as well.

"Well, I see that's settled," Ebele said placidly. "You may freely roam, but you must return to this place in mid-September to pass the Equinox with us. The Council of the Elders will be convening and will want to meet and send you on your way at that time."

I swallowed vainly against the lump that had suddenly formed in my throat. I remembered them mentioning the continent-wide meetings their people had at the equinoxes and solstices, and the idea of being presented before such a huge audience of immortals was intimidating. Then something else she'd said struck me.

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