“This is becoming a familiar scenario,” Emnlo grouched. “You, the bed, me tending your wounds..
“Sure, this time you have your pet wooly mammoth to keep your face clean — and, well, I must admit I could hardly ask for more beautiful environs.”
The gnome gestured at the hovering orbs of blue light scattered at random throughout the small stone room currently occupied by Dogbear and himself. Erald lay before him on a raised stone slab, the room’s only irregularity. The orbs ranged in size from microscopic to watermelon. Periodically, a visible orb would teach one of the three and be instantly absorbed by his body. Emnlo had explained that the microscopic ones were constantly being breathed in.
“It’s also nice to stand here, for the second time in my considerable existence, in a locus of healing power. Even if the price of arriving was nearly your existence.
“Not that that would have been such a terrible price to pay. Except, you know, the prophecies. And that Georgie would be upset if you disappeared.”
Erald lay with his eyes closed, focused on the sound of his own breathing. It felt miraculously solid. From time to time, his skin would tingle … simply with the sensation of being skin. Despite the drivel Emnlo was saying, every syllable he spoke seemed to vibrate with a distinct grouchy-old-gnomish nature. The smell of Dogbear (and this was, alas, unavoidable) repeatedly carried Erald’s mind away into lucid memories of his boyhood exploits in the woods in the company of his own two small dogs. Even the stone he felt beneath his back spoke to him. He found himself drawn to considering the unfathomable scale of it: stone stretching from the plinth beneath his back down to the floor of the room, then deep to the roots of the mountain and further for miles until it reached what? Erald wondered if there was magma beneath, as in his home world.
“But you’re here, really here,” said the gnome. “So I suppose this vigil is worth it.” After making sure the lad’s eyes were closed, Emnlo allowed himself to smile.
“Emnlo,” Erald spoke. The gnome started and stared. “I think I’m really back now.” Erald sat up. The sense of increased altitude suggested thoughts of clouds and shooting stars and stars gliding in loftiness.
“Wow. What is this place?”
“I told you. Energies that facilitate healing. You’re breathing them and absorbing them. I’ve finally fixed your cracked pate. Not,” Emnlo muttered, “that it’s done any good for the function of the organ underneath the cracks.”
Erald laughed, full-throated with hilarity.
“I’m so alive,” he said. “Is it because of the healing?”
Emnlo glanced down. “I don’t believe so. I think it’s because you’re back. You had . . well, have you ever seen a page of writing after water splashed it? The letters smear out? Looking at you — trying to think of you — it was like that. After you got us past those infernal mushrooms. You’d become a smear in the air, you weighed hardly nothing, and I found it difficult to focus on you at all.”
“Huh,” said Erald, impressed by the profoundness of mystery — not just this particular one, buy mysterious in general. “What did you do?” His mind fairly throbbed with curiosity.
“I just got myself angry! I told this old gnome, ‘Don’t you dare forget that blighter! He owes you for cracking your door! And now he’s going to get himself annihilated, just to spite you. No no no!’ And, then, ah, well, I’m afraid I started slapping you.”
Erald roared in laughter. Dogbear whuffed.
“Well, yes,” the gnome continued, “it helped me focus on you, and actually I was mad enough that it felt good. And it maaay –” he drawled it out “– or so I thought, force you to continue to feel at least some connection to this reality. Dogbear licked you a lot, and I used up all our chalcedar, too.”
Erald could still feel the lingering scent in the room.
“So I’m healed up and I exist again. Well!” And with this, Erald leaned back and then quickly then quickly performed a sit up which turned into a standing leap from the stone plinth. He flipped in the air once and landed on his feet. “That means it time for more adventure!”
It was also time to be tackled by a dogbear, who wagged his tail furiously all the while.
“Come on, you old gnome. Or is there more to do in this chamber? Anything to explain here?” Erald said distinctly as laughed uproariously and wrestled with Dogbear. (The match-up seemed pretty even.)
“Finally! And yes! It’s, uh, what we’d call ‘kissed by the gods.’ I don’t know why it was. But it’s where I finished my three years of meditation to become a proper healer.”
“No wonder your butt is so hard! You must have sat on that stone seat for three full years!”
“What! That’s your immediate reaction to knowing I spent three whole years meditating!”
“No, seriously, I can tell your bony bottom bothers Dogbear when you ride him.”
“That is not the point of — Aaack!” Emnlo exclaimed, as he reached into his pockets and began to hurl small objects at Erald.
“Thanks for healing my scalp. Maybe if we stay here long enough, the magic will start to do something for your appearance.”
“You shut up!” shouted the gnome, as Dogbear whuffed happily.
“So seriously,” Erald wondered aloud as he scratched Dogbear’s neck (after weathering the rain of projectiles, “the best I can guess is that I and this world were both losing their reality relative to each other. I remember when I first woke up, I thought everything happening in this room — you, George, the orbs — was just a dream. I suppose I had overextended my power. What’s most promising, though, is that now that I’m back, I feel more solid — more, well, sensitively aware of the impact of each detail — than ever before. I think the only sane conclusion to draw is that I function like a Saiyan.”
“You have those in your world, I take it?” asked the gnome.
“Nope, but it’s cool that you know what they are now just cuz I used a word from them. I guess Dogbear does, too, now. And that means that I need to keep using my powers almost to the point of vamoosing myself into nothing, so I keep coming back with more and more power to use.”
Emnlo froze in momentary shock.
“No no NO!” he shouted, leaping on the stone plinth so he could stare down at the insane being he was somehow supposed to mentor. “By earth and sky, no! Is there a crack in your brain? What you did down here means the complete opposite! It means that when you overstrain your, ah, suggestive abilities, you ran the risk of ceasing to exist!”
“Which isn’t good! The prophecy . . .”
Erald tilted his head.
“Ehhh..” Emnlo deflated. “Look, I can tell you things incrementally, ok? It’s been two weeks since our last real talk about this — yes, you slept a long while. (Actually, lay there looking like a diffuse fog for most of that time, but we’ll call it ‘sleeping.’) Yes, anyway, the point is: the prophecy is a thing of the realm. It has power over things of the realm.”
“Yes, yes, I get it.”
“You do? Just from that?”
“Yup. I’m not from here so it doesn’t hold so even though you’d imagine that destiny would be at work doing whatever it has to do in order to keep me from doing whatever I might do to keep the prophecy from being fulfilled, the truth is that it doesn’t have total control over whatever I do myself since I’m not from here and since not part of this ‘Realm’ and therefore it’s possible that by my own initiative I might actually take actions that make the prophecy fail, e.g., by vaguing myself out of existence.”
“Uhh… yes,” said Emnlo. “Ah. Erald. I think you broke George.”
The dogbear had pressed his nose into the far corner of the room with his paws covering his ears.
“That was, ah, too much syntax for a dogbear brain.”
“Sorry, Dogbear!” Erald ran over and began scratching his pet vigorously. “Who’s a smart giant cuddly-wuddly? Hoosagoodboy? Hooisit?”
Such ministrations, with their simplified vocabulary, did indeed have the effect of comforting his friend. Showing that he was in distress led to backscratches? Dogbear filed this information away for future exploitation.
“So the point is . .” said Emnlo.
“The point is I still have free will, thank you kindly sir, and that there are real dangers and risks; and that therefore, when I get my super powerups from overusing my powers, I’ve gotten there by paying a real cost. This all prolly has something to do with why I can make a difference here in the first place.”
Emnlo sighed. “The last part is right. But seriously,” he continued, “that three-hundred years thing? I’ve waited a long time. Pleeease don’t not-exist yourself.”
“I’ll consider it. Okay, ‘nough talking. Let’s walllk . . . that way.” Erald pointed through a low archway to the only egress from the room. He’d have to crawl on hands noise to fit through. George would have to squeeze.
“Yes. That way. Onwards and upwards.”
“Meraaa!” howled Dobear.
And with that they exited the room.