Jo-Laina watched, through the eyes of her meerkin, as Greegus finished off the last of the meal he was making out of the shriek bengoi. The greasy meat had left his red whiskers with a sloppy wet appearance and his eyes were focused with intense concentration on the bone he held in his hands as he cleaned off the last of the meat from it.
As much of a hard time as Jo-Laina gave Greegus, it was he; more than any of the others, that she respected. For a human he was humongous. He stood like a gringus tree above the others. His arms and legs were like stanchions that supported the legendary great hall in the castle of Messolina (at least that’s what Jo-Laina thought of when she thought of his strength) and his chest was as prominent as the drawbridge that led into the huge castle.
Yes, Jo-Laina gave Greegus a hard time, but no, it wasn’t out of disrespect. It was just the opposite. Greegus was the only one of the group (of the humans) that she felt could even come close to watching her back if she needed it. Of course Jo-Vanna could, but Jo-Vanna’s heart wasn’t nearly as into fighting as hers or Greegus’ was. Jo-Vanna fought out of necessity only, drawing her sword was a last resort, and not a first approach.
“You eat like it’s your last day to live, Greegus,” Jo-Laina commented.
Greegus stopped with his hands inches away from his mouth, a piece of meat hanging loosely from the bone, threatening to drop away and land amongst the leaves in front of him. “I eat as if I may not git to eat tomorrow,” he said with his eyebrows raised. “Because I might not! And I thank you for bein’ able to kill such a beast!”
“Ah,” Jo-Laina said. “So your mind doesn’t always find me so creepy then? hmmm?” She added a sly smile to her comment, knowing that she had cornered him playfully. Seeing the huge man blush was one of Jo-Laina’s all-time favorite things to see.
Greegus’ cheeks turned to the color of his hair and his gaze drifted downward and away from Jo-Laina.
“I think you forget sometimes, Greegus; that just because my ears don’t work doesn’t mean that I am always deaf,” Jo-Laina said as she stroked the fur of her meerkin.
“Sorry, sis,” Greegus said. He often referred to each of the girls as sis. It was the way he was brought up. Every man was his brother and every girl was to be considered his sister; unless he chose to marry, which was rare in those times because there was way too much running to have time to court. “I don’t mean nothin’ by that ya know.”
“It’s okay, Greegus. Think nothing of it. Of course it is creepy to you to see a girl my size and age do the things that I do, and it is creepy to know that a girl so small can pile up bodies faster than you.”
Panpar stood up and began removing his breast plate. His long graying hair, tied into a single tail hung down his back like the weight in a grandfather clock, thinning at the top until it reached the balding crown of his scalp. His eyes were vibrant and alive, but his body was scarred and tired. His plate was made of correllium and he and Greegus were the only two in the group that had the impenetrable protection. He laid the plate on the ground and began filling it with leaves, intending to use it for a soft place to lie his head. “I suggest we retire for the night,” he said. “Long day tomorrow. Tomorrow we begin our ascent into the dead mountains.”
The mountains that Messolina were cut into were called the dead mountains because the mountains themselves were made of correllium and nothing could grow on them. There wasn’t a single tree, blade of grass, or flower on any part of the mountains. Yet the mountains were not completely dead because there were things along the path that they would be taking that could add to the collection of bones that the mountains had begun to collect.
“I think we are wasting our time, Pan,” Jo-Laina told him. “If your stories of the Prim pockets were true then Jo-Vanna and I would sense them by now.”
“Would you?” Panpar asked. “Would the ancients have made finding the Prim Pockets so easy? I don’t think so, little one. There was too much at stake at the time. They hid them and they hid them well so that only the right Prim would find them.”
“And you really think that we are the ‘right’ Prim? What makes us so special?” Jo-Laina asked, sounding as annoyed as she was.
Panpar turned his head back to skyward and smiled to himself. “Because, my dear,” he said. “You two were born of a human mother--something that hasn’t been done in thousands of years.”
“Because it is forbidden!” Jo-Vanna interjected. She had been sitting quietly enjoying her full stomach and not adding much to the conversation, but she spoke at that point. “That’s why we spend our lives in hiding. That is why we spend our lives running and that is why so many of your friends and families have been killed trying to protect us and our secret.”
“And they were all deaths worthy of the ribbon,” Panpar said. He crossed his hands on his chest as he continued to stare at the stars in the sky. “The Gods created the humans on this planet to serve as the slaves to the other more powerful beings on Bolimar, while the Gods sat back and watched the wars between those beings as if it were some kind of giant game board. We served them in chains for thousands of years while the wars waged on. Then, after the Prim won out and the Messalonian ‘utopian society’ reigned we served the Prim. There were no chains, because the Moog wore them, but our bondage was just as complete. When Isolem Molek convinced the Tso Tsa Min to join them and they overthrew the Prim, we still ended up as slaves under their tyrannical rule. Since the fall of the Moog and the factional split of the land we run, we hide, and we fight for our lives, but we do so as free men and women. You have nothing to feel guilty about. Neither of you.”
“So I shouldn’t feel guilty about Fang? Is that what you’re saying,” Jo-Vanna rebutted. “He didn’t just die protecting himself, or just trying to survive, and he wasn’t enjoying his freedom. He was trying to protect me. He died helping us get Scratch and Picket,” she added petting her meerkin. “Don’t get me wrong, I love having my own bolainin, but was it really worth it? Was it worth his life to have them?”
“Mmm,” Greegus said. He said it with an air of bravado. “Fang! His death was a death to be proud of—a death worthy of deion on the ribbon. He faced two Prim at the same time and held them off long enough for you to escape. His death was a death that I would be proud to have!”
The ribbon was the basis of all of the legends and beliefs of all of the people of Bolimar. The ribbon was a cloth that hung in the great hall in the castle of Messolina. According to legend it was found by the ancients and not created by them. Upon its discovery it already had names listed on it. It was discovered, afterward, that names could be added to it by the listeners, when the listeners mourned the deaths of those that they cared about. The listeners could hear things from beyond the veil, both the veil that lead to other worlds, and the veil that separated the present from the future. As names were added to the ribbon the ribbon grew in length. It started as a small, red, cloth; no bigger than a hanky and over the millennia it has grown. It has grown to the point that it drapes along the outer edge of the great hall like a curtain wall. It is filled with names of the dead, and in some cases, with the tails of how great and respected people have died.
“And yes, Jo-Laina … Fang’s death was necessary. Your bolainin are necessary. Without them we cannot talk to you at all. We can hear what you have to say, but you cannot hear what we have to say. And you have to admit that having some sight has come in handy.”
“I love Picket, and I’m glad for him,” Jo-Vanna said. “All I’m saying is that I agree with Jo-Laina on this. We are Prim. There’s no denying that, but I don’t see how we are worth dying for. The Prim are heartless. The Prim are ruthless and only care about serving themselves. And now that we have invaded one of their camps and taken our meerkins from them, they will be coming for us. Now we endanger everyone.”
“But now the danger we face has a purpose,” Panpar said. “Let them come and if they catch us they get the fight of their lives!”
“And we die!” Jo-Laina added. “I don’t know if that part sinks through that damn thick skull of yours, Pan! We cannot match two Prim. Fang lasted as long as he did because they were overconfident and toyed with him. They won’t make that mistake again. They know our shadows now. If they get close enough to sense us there will be no running. We will all die on this quest.”