When last we left, Farwalk was going to try to enter the Forest.
Zie spent most of the rest of the day in meditation and rest, preparing mentally and physically for the journey to come. Zie had learned the dangers of journeying in full sunlight the hard way on hir past journeys. The broad patches of agony on hir back had taken days to heal. Darkness had dangers of its own, but that was why zie had waited so long, for a night when both moons would be full.
After second moonrise, zie finally set out. The gradual slope up onto the beach was easy enough, but then there was the hill up from the beach to the fern-covered slopes between it and the Forest. That was more of a struggle. The steepness of it–a full claw up every claw and a half forward!–was difficult enough, but it was also tall enough to noticeably loom over hir. Hir legs twitched as zie approached it, wanting to run back into the nice safe sea, but zie pushed on.
Once at the top, Farwalk studied the Forest with two of hir eyes while the other four regarded the ocean. Zie loved this view, which so few of hir people had seen: the ocean went on seemingly forever, far far past the Great Cliff from which no Vimwar had ever returned. It was by walking along that cliff–at a respectful distance, of course, since it was quite a dizzying drop–that Farwalk had found hir way to the tiny village of the Others. Zie had lived among them for nearly a year, learning their language, their strange customs, their stories, and teaching them hir own people’s way with scampies, greatly increasing the yield of their middens.
Farwalk had returned home full of excitement, to a jubilant village that had presumed hir dead. But then Slowspin and Fiveclaw had suggested accompanying Farwalk on another journey to see the Others, and maybe bring some volunteers from the Other Village back with them. Waykeeper’s reaction was as unexpected as it was firm: no Others were to enter the village. The Others did not live in the village, which was where all people lived, so they must be some other kind of thing. Bringing them among people might be dangerous, for them and for the Ivimwi.
“At best they would be like New Ones, ignorant of how to be people and full of mistakes,” Waykeeper said. “But New Ones with command of speech and the strength and surety of adults. They might insist on ways of their own, in their ignorance, and disrupt out peace and prosperity. I will not allow it–only Ivimwi may live in our village.”
“They are Ivimwi!” Farwalk insisted. “They learned from me, and I from them, and much about them is strange. But they think like us, feel like us. Their New Ones from the Forest like ours, not out of eggs like fliers or the seabed like scampies! They are as much people as we.”
“Do they?” challenged Waykeeper. “Did you see their New Ones?”
“I did! They were just like ours–half-starved, frightened, but quick to grow and learn. Just like us, they could remember the Forest, the looming trees, the terror that drives all to the sea.”
“Hmph,” said Waykeeper. “But if there is more than one village, there may be more than one Forest. They who live in a different place came from a different place, it stands to reason.”
That was when Farwalk knew what zie must do: zie must prove that the Forest of the Ivimwi and the Forest of the Others were one and the same, that there was one Forest and one people. Zie couldn’t quite say why it was so important; zie liked the Others, wanted hir people to meet and know them, that was certainly part of it–but if zie was being honest, mostly it was just that Waykeeper had always annoyed hir.
Either way, the plan was simple: get as close to the Forest as zie dared, then turn left and follow it until zie either reached the marker zie’d placed on the shore near the Other village in her last visit, or, well, didn’t.
And zie was avoiding starting, seeing the Forest but purposefully not looking at it. Zie rotated slightly and forced hirself to study it with four eyes. In the moonlight it loomed menacingly, a study in black and gray, impossibly tall trees mounting unimaginably far into the sky, higher than anyone could ever even conceive of going. Above them hung the even more menacing shapes of the moons, floating unsupported in the sky like a pair of great round swimmers, just waiting for the unwary to pass beneath it and then–well, who knew? No one had ever seen a moon fall out of the sky and crush unwary Ivimwi beneath it, but there were many nights that nobody looked at either moon. Perhaps they only refrained from it when they weren’t being watched.
Zie’d better hurry. Zie had plenty of time to reach the Other village before the moons reached the peak of the sky, or so zie hoped–underwater, one could go from one village to the other in about half a day, but it might take longer on land. Zie settled down between hir legs and began to walk quickly, spinning hir way over land toward the Forest.
Which kept reaching upward as zie approached, stretching its leafy claws into the sky. Was it curving toward hir? No, that was hir imagination, but still hir pace slowed. Zie sagged between hir legs, staring up at the immense mass of it, the vast black shadow reaching up and up. Any moment now it would curl over, crash down on hir, drag hir screaming upward into the maws of the dread beasts that filled its branches.
A strange hooting cry echoed from the Forest, and was taken up by a multitude of other voices. Farwalk’s legs stiffened, and zie froze in place, fighting the urge to run back into the safety of water and hir home village. No one would ever have to know that zie had tried and failed.
Except hir. Zie would know. The mocking claw-waves of Waykeeper appeared before hir eyes, momentarily blocking even the horror-vision of the Forest. No. Zie would not, could not go any closer to the Forest, but zie would not go home, either. It was time to turn toward where, zie believed, the Others awaited.