Phoebe's Journey Part 3

Chapter 8: Travails of the Spirits

That night, Lady Miyara took out the two notes she had supposedly from Niban, and compared them carefully. In the end, she said couldn't tell for sure if the same hand wrote them or not. There were differences, but not great ones, and they might easily have been caused by the second note being written under stress or just fast. I asked if I could see them, to ask what the spirits knew about the writer of the notes. She handed them to me, and I tried.

I held the first note, the one we were certain had been written by Niban, and closed my eyes. I felt it, thought about it, fixed it into my mind, and then moved myself across the veil. When I had as firm a picture as I could get for that one, I emerged from my trance and did the whole thing again with the second note, the one Lady Miyara felt might might have been written by someone else.

I don't think I found out anything more than she did, really. The first note I could tell had been written over ten days ago. The note held only small vestiges of emotion, and they weren't strong to begin with. The writer, Niban we could assume, had written the note with a sense of duty and urgency, with concern, and even with a some sense of hope.

The second note had supposedly been written in haste during the kidnapping early this morning. Yet I could tell the note had really been written more than a day earlier, before the kidnapping took place. Which implied that whatever differences between the writing of the two notes wasn't caused by rushed writing. The emotions attached to this note were stronger. This writer, perhaps Niban and perhaps not, wrote the second note with a strong sense of deception and even a tinge of exasperation.

Grieg and Mehli came up with a plan to use his ability to travel instantly through the veil and her ability to see clearly in the dark to scout around the general area and see if they could find the kidnappers, either on their way to the village or already there. They vanished into the brush shortly after dinner.

Tony and Lady Miyara were busy trying to impose some semblance of order in the camp, and I felt particularly useless. The night is impenetrable to me: I could see little beyond the circles of light from the campfires and lanterns and candles. Tony manages to fit into this hierarchical and martial society very well. Mehli does, too, in her way. Grieg is very much an outsider, but I don't think he cares much, and he can be so very useful with his strange abilities.

I have no real talents of my own. Just my connection to the spirits, who may or may not be helpful at any particular time. I wondered ... the spirits of the dead are wholly in that other world, unconnected to their bodies. Yet the living also have their spirits. I could project my own into the spirit world. From there, could I find the spirit of a man still alive and on this side? Could I find Niban? Discover if he has the Princess and where he and she might be? If I found him, and the Princess wasn't with him, could I then find where she was?

Perhaps I had a use tonight after all. This would be long and difficult, so I sat down with my back to the saddle I'd ridden in all day. I took time to set myself up very carefully, anchor my body very firmly where it was, and give my spirit a very strong sense of here. Then I crossed the veil.

I wasn't sure how to go about finding a spirit not here, but then, aren't all spirits connected in some way to the other side? I cast all thoughts out of my head, and simply was, feeling the eddies around me, feeling the spirits slide by, feeling the places where one world touches another.

Then I let the feeling of Niban in. I remembered what he looked like, how he spoke, how he moved, how he felt. And there it was: I could feel more or less where he was.

He was a long way off on this side, much farther than I've ever gone from my body before. But I had a solid connection to myself, and I let my spirit float along that slight pathway to him. I sent a quick thought of Mehli out, hoping that she might feel it and come find me if I got lost, before my body died.

For an interminable, unmeasurable time, I traveled through the spirit world, getting closer to Niban and farther from myself. I was losing myself, although I didn't realize it, of course. My spirit was losing its connection to my body, fogetting that it had a body, forgetting everything but the delights of floating freely through the spirit world.

Then something reminded me of who I was. The sense of my body, so far away, came back to me, and I could hear my name being called. If someone was calling me back, it had to be Mehli, and she must need something. What had happened back there? Was she injured? There was almost a physical snap, and my spirit raced back to my body, and the two halves were made whole again.

I opened my eyes, and Peter was shaking me, calling my name. I was so weary, I almost couldn't speak. I asked why he brought me back in a whisper. The separation from the spirit world felt a sudden tragedy to me, and my eyes teared up at the sheer sense of loss.

Peter explained that he'd sat down to watch me, since Mehli wasn't here. He said I'd been gone for hours, and that I wasn't quite comatose, but getting closer all the time. My heartrate and breathing had slowed to almost nothing, and he was afraid I was near death.

That's possible, I admitted. Usually it takes at least a few days of the separation of the spirit and body to cause the body to die, and it happens slowly. But I'd gone very far away, and the sudden return to this world left me reeling. I couldn't help feeling that I didn't belong here, I belonged there.

I was very tired, and it was late at night. Tony was on watch, Lady Miyara was asleep, and Peter went to sleep when I told him I'd stay here. Grieg and Mehli weren't back yet, and that worried me. Could Grieg and Mehli get lost in the spirit world when they were traveling that way? Where does the body go? There's no place for it over there.

I desperately wanted to provide them with a good, steady beat on my drum, to help them find their way back here. But that didn't seem at all advisable with well-armed samurai trying to sleep all around me. So I just remained awake, watching and waiting for them to return, getting more and more worried as the night wore into day.

I sat on the hard ground, the chill seeping into me. My back still pressed against the saddle, and my eyes stared out into the blackness. I wrapped my blanket around me and huddled there in the cold, my breath steaming.

I wanted so badly to go back into the spirit world, to go and find Mehli. Was it only my spirit that told me I could do that, just so it could cross the veil and leave my body behind forever? Would it be so bad if it did? Mehli is a spirit, perhaps if I were wholly a spirit, too...

Near dawn, Tony woke up, and Lady Miyara told him her watch had been quiet. And finally, Mehli and Grieg staggered back into camp from the brush. They were scratched, bruised and bloodied, filthy, and clearly on the brink of exhaustion. I sprang forward and supported Mehli towards Donku's wagon, and Peter helped Grieg.

Mehli murmured, "Seven chaos beasts. Three arrows. Three eye shots. A hell of a lot of jungle. I'm going to sleep on the wagon." Arati healed her, and then Grieg. Grieg had a nasty fever, and both Peter and Arati tried to do something for him. Perhaps we were too tired. Perhaps tonight or tomorrow morning we'd be more successful. I wanted to ride in the wagon with Mehli, to keep an eye on her, but there was no room with the rations and the two of them in the back. So I rode, exhausted, all the next day.