Thursday, July 25, 2013

Two Pages a Day: Eighty-Four

            Getting quite a head for herself, that one.
            “What are they like, Ki? What are we dealing with?”
            “They are large, nearly as tall as you or I, and aggressive. Their chests and arms are much more densely muscled. The males particularly are very strong, only weaker than an armored suit. They’re territorial. They use strategy. They prefer to divide and isolate the weak. They use simple tools: rocks, logs, clubs. And of course you cannot see them until they are standing directly beside you.”
            “Yeah,” I said. “What’s with that?”
            “We never figured it out. Many Historians believed that they have adapted to the swamp, perhaps by forming a relationship with a chameleonic parasite. We know of lizards like that. But others argue that since these are mammals they must carry Profusionist machines in their hair, that the ability was given to them artificially.”
            I sighed. Sleeping had not improved my mood. In fact, it had only seemed to worsen. I wanted to lie back down, or perhaps wander away into the swamp.
            “Right,” I said. “Thank you. Nogillian, double the size of the foraging parties, make sure everyone is armored and armed. That goes for the search work, too. Ki, I want multiple patrols and sentries all around these islands. Ash, we’re on the buddy system. From now on, the discipline is you take a shit, you take a friend. Anything else? Thank you all. I’m going back to bed.”  
            Everyone paused. “I’m fine,” I said. I may have let my exasperation slip. “Go.” I put a little something extra in my glare. Everybody went. I slipped inside the flap.
            I do not think my head hit the clothing I used as a pillow before all the lights went out. When Ash woke me it was dawn. Ki had come back, too. Their faces blurred. I reflected, internally, on the fact that there is much misery in life.
            “What’s going on?’ I asked. “What’s wrong?”
            Ash moved his hand from my shoulder to my forehand. “She has a fever.”
            “How do you feel?” Ki asked.
            “Apparently I’m running a temp,” I said. “No aches or anything. I’m thirsty.”
            Ki shook her head, brown locks tumbling. “No. How do you feel?”
            I thought about it. “Like I’m an already rotting corpse. That nothing is worthwhile. That none of us should even bother.”
            Ash glanced at her, and she nodded. “Blackbrain,” she said. “Good catch.”
            I must have looked confused. “Blackbrain,” she said again. “An infection sometimes carried by the bloodfish. You got it when they slashed you. The fever will not last. But it alters basic human mood. You will feel great sadness. Soon, you will want, very much want, to throw yourself in water, to drown. Of course that is the entire point of the disease.”
            I kept my poker face.
            “This is no joke, Guardian. Though we may treat it, this illness has no cure. The despair will pass but recur in times of fatigue and stress. Omeh Ital, the Guardian of this land, was said to have carried it from boyhood. Only the strongest can resist the urges for so long. I am sorry, Guardian Cassan Vala. You have blackbrain. And you’re going to have it for the rest of your life.” 

             So long as that may be. 

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