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Steff, Angie & A Log Named Sue
By Thomas Valentine

Part One

62528 words (about 6 pages)

Steff sat in front of an open window enjoying the night air. She found the steady hum of vehicles on the street below to be soothing, like a baby falling asleep to a TV set on white noise.

She gave up on working any more for the day and took her glass to the kitchen for more go juice. What she found there was shocking. It was a little under two meters in height and wore faded jeans and a t-shirt with what looked to be handmade moccasins. Its color was a deep brown and showed no hair at all. Steff’s hand refused to grip her glass and it fell to the floor, shattering upon impact with a sharp crack.

Whatever it was she was looking at spoke, “Good evening, Steff. I have a surprise for you.” It said. Steff wasn’t sure, but from the tone of its voice and its body language she surmised that it was female. Her accent seemed to originate from French Canada, perhaps Quebec.

“A surprise?” was all Steff could say. The shock was still building within her.

The brown thing smiled a frightful mouth of pointed teeth and said, “Today is graduation day. You’ve passed all of my tests and learned all of my skills.”

“What are you talking about?” Steff said, incredulously. “Graduation?”

“That’s right.” The brown thing said. “We’ve been studying an hour a day for 6 years. That’s 2190 hours, 2190 lessens. Today you won’t forget your lessons. Today you merge the hours of study into one thread of thought. You are a Maja now.” It had slowly moved closer to Steff as it spoke, and with one fluid caress, touched Steff’s forehead with a clawed finger. It was a feather-light touch that caused old repressed memories to crash through to her conscious self.

Steff’s world began to whirl and her knees turned to rubber. She steadied herself on the nearest counter top and was breathing heavily by the time her head cleared. After a few moments she found herself smiling at the thing, which she now knew was indeed female and named Angie.

“Graduated?” she said, incredulously. “No more lessons?”

“No more lessons,” Ange said. “We’re going to see the head of our order. You won’t be back for some time.”

“What should I bring?” Steff asked.

“Just yourself. We’ll get clothed when we get there. I wonder what they’re wearing there now? I haven’t been to the Third Ring for centuries.” Angie said. “Do you remember how to travel to the Third Ring?”

“I do.” Steff affirmed, “I’m a little nervous, though. I don’t want to get caught in Limbo.”

“Just take a deep breath and hold it until we’re out. Should only be minutes. Just follow my glyph and you’ll be ok.” Ange said.

Angie made a circular sweep of her arm and spoke curiously sounding words. Steff stepped closer to her and took a deep breath, also moving her arms in a circular motion. Reality twisted and was replaced with a bright, cold fog. With a whoosh her flesh was disintegrated, leaving behind her essence, her glyph. It shone bright and clear as she followed Angie’s glyph toward a yellow fog in the distance. Steff began to feel the cold that is Limbo in her consciousness. The fog waned as they moved and a landscape started to appear before them.

It was a mountainous region where they walked out of the fog, somehow their glyphs had been rearranged while moving from the Fourth, called Earth, to the Third, called Aerner in the old tongue. Steff felt a wash of warm air on her cheek and took a breath. The air was heavy with the scent of green growing things and black earth. It took a moment to realize she was in a manicured boreal forest.

People in bright robes walked to and fro in front of them on well-worn paths. The people seemed calm and orderly and all of them looked like Angie. Angie stopped one of them.

“Excuse me, but could you tell me what city this is? It’s been centuries since I’ve been here. I’d like to know what you call your fine city.” She asked of a round mother of the two children she carried on her back.

“We call it Enz. It’s been here for quite some time, probably centuries, as you said. It started as a university many centuries ago.” She looked Angie up and down,” It just grew from there. Are you a Maja? By the curious clothes you wear you aren’t from this ring.”

Angie nodded the affirmative, “Yes, we’re both Maja from the Fifth. Is Sinclair still in charge?”

The round mother shook her head a negative. “He’s been dead many years now. A decade, perhaps. His disciple poisoned him and took over. His name is Tasko. He lives in the palace in the next city.” She said, “Just follow this road and you’ll be there in a couple of days.”

They both thanked the mother and began to walk on the path they were told to. It took perhaps an hour to walk through the small city, and left it behind as day waned into night. They had almost decided to stop for the night when they spied a bright light a few kilometers down the road. They conversed and decided to beg for a meal, a bed and some conversation.

It took perhaps 40 minutes to walk to the source of the light. It came from a ball of fire hanging above the head of what looked like a human male. He seemed to be sitting atop a sizeable boulder. His clothes were threadbare and torn. He wore no shoes. They approached and said hello.

“I am Angie, this is Steff. May we share your fire for the night, with a little food and maybe some drink?” She asked.

The man, who identified himself as Raska, produced a kebab for each of them. They seemed to materialize out of the center of the ball of fire. “I hope you like palska. It’s all I can offer at the moment.” He said with a grin. “As for drink, I like my spirits strong. I hope you feel the same.”

Angie picked up a beefy jug and drank a few gulps down. She hissed from the burn indicative of a high alcohol content beverage. Steff did the same but coughed uncontrollably for almost a minute, “I’m not used to that. I guess there’s only one way to get used to it.” And she drank a few more swallows. They seemed to go down smoother than the first drought.

“I can smell the Fifth on you. Did you only just arrive?” Raska asked. “I’ve been here for some 3 decades, last time I counted.”

Angie cleared her throat and affirmed that that was indeed the case. “Are you a Maja, too?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Raska. “I’ve been waiting some time for my Master to come collect me. I was told to wait here for his return. Have you heard of the doings of my Master, Welch Leary?”

Angie slowly nodded. “He was slain in Limbo by a Maja named Chant. He’s either dead and rotting in limbo or living slow time waiting for someone to pull him out. Since it’s been decades I’d say the chances of him still being alive are slim at best.”

“Dead.” Raska said slowly, under his breath. He took a moment to accept his master’s death, said, “Well. That’s it, then. I’m free to do whatever I choose. Waiting all this time has given me a mind to be an arbiter. I’ll solve people’s problems, for a fee.”

“We’re going to see Chant and induct my disciple into the hall of records.” Ange said, “You’re free to come.” She looked him up and down at the rags he was wearing. “But first let’s get you some presentable clothes and a haircut. The beard also has to go.”

They ate their palska kabobs under the warm glow that still hung over his head, conversing. Stories of the centuries past flowed, along with the stiff drink from a flask that never seemed to be empty.

Raska seemed particularly interested in the concept of cellular telephones and computers. Both Steff and Angie took turns telling him what the great engineers of the Fifth were accomplishing. They told tales of instant communication, space flight and television. He was enthralled and declared, “You must take me to the Fifth. I think I’ll like it there.”

“After we see Chant we’re going back. Come with us. We’ll show you around. It really is a magical place.” Steff said. “I’m a little nervous about meeting this Chant fellow. Is he from this ring?”

“Yes,” Answered Raska. “I hear he can be difficult, but is fair more times than not. Let’s get some sleep. Big day tomorrow.”

Raska dimmed the glowing orb until its warmth could only just be felt and they all slept in the shelter of the boulder, awaking in the morning groggy and ravenously hungry. After they ate their fill of more palska they set out along the road to a smudge of smoke on the horizon.

After idly chatting along the way, the travellers got to know and like each other. Raska explained that Welch Leary had told him to not budge from the boulder until his return. He was a little bitter, but explained that Maja’s live very long lives. Three decades didn’t seem like an inordinately long period of time to one that will live centuries.

“Hey! Hey you over there?,” came a smooth velvety female voice, calling out. It seemed to come from a stand of a tree Steff had never seen before. “That’s right! Closer, would you?” came the voice again.

They all looked around for a person. Raska was bending way back to see the upper branches but could spot no one. “Could you please step out of hiding?”, Raska said.

“Look to your left…more…more…stop. I’ll flutter my eye lashes.” Came the voice, much closer.

Steff was the first to see the two oddly placed eyes that the tree wore. A moment of study and Steff could make out a nose and a mouth and even a chin. The face in the tree looked harmless enough, so they began to converse. The tree’s name was Sue and she’d been growing for 1200 years, in this one spot.

“I’m so sick of looking at this valley it makes my sap congeal. I need a new locale. I’ve heard tell that there’s an ocean just over those mountains. I’d very much like to see that.” Sue said. “In fact, I have a proposition for you: cut me down and plant me on a ridge of mountain that overlooks the sea. I’ll reward you handsomely.”

Steff was the first to address logistics. “How are we going to carry you that far? You must weigh thousands of pounds. You’re not exactly a small thing, Sue.”

“Well, you wouldn’t want to take the whole tree that is me. Just my face. There’s a wood saw in the shack a little down the road. Use that.” Said Sue.

“How much of a reward?” asked Raska. “Are we talking treasure or something other than riches?”

“Both,” said Sue. “I’ve heard people talking about many different and strange things over the centuries. I have knowledge that will lead you to a huge tomb full of riches and knowledge. It is the workspace of a powerful Maja who lived tens of thousands of years ago. Old knowledge. It’s yours for planting me with a view of the sea.”

“Deal.” Said all three. In minutes they had the saw and were cutting out a log with Sue’s face on it.
The new destination was a bit off the original path, but only by a day or two. They soon had a spot picked out and planted Sue with a wonderful view. Sue told them where to find a door in the mountains they’d just came from.

They debated what to do first and came upon the plan that they would take Steff to Chant for indoctrination and from there backtrack into the mountains, looking for an oak door ten feet tall on the peak of the second range. It was shaping up to be quite an adventure. They arrived in the city and immediately went before Chant. Raska discovered a pastry vendor and had stayed on the street below.

“State your name, Acolyte.” Chant demanded. He was sitting on a large, wide wooden throne.

“Steffanie, called Steff.” She replied. They were standing before Chant’s court; There were a few beings Steff couldn’t identify. She was about to start asking Angie questions when Chant spoke up.

“You seek to join The Order of Maja’s? What makes you worthy?” Chant asked.

“I’ve learned everything my Master, Angie has to teach me. I am a Maja.” She said.

“You’re a Maja when I say you’re a Maja.” Said Chant. “I have a task for you to complete before joining the order. You will find a god horn and present it to me. Only then will you be a Maja. I have spoken.”

Angie led Steff out of the immense building they’d just navigated through. They joined Raska just as he was finishing a plate of pastries. “How’d it go? he asked.

Steff and Angie were just finishing up a conversation. “We’ve been sent on an errand for Chant.” Steff said to Raska. ”We are to procure a god horn.”

“Oh, is that all? I think I can help with that. Come on.” He led them to a narrow, dimly lit back lane...

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