Hey, everyone! As said in the title, Omaya, Chapter 2 is out. You can read Chapter 1 here.

Quick Recap: Two cats are mourning the loss of another, and hoping she’s still alive. A girl has fallen into the middle of a forest with no memory of her past. She destroyed a boulder threatening to crush a camp of people living in a huge stone dip in the ground. She defeats the fire girl inside of the boulder just before she faints. She learns that she is immune to fire.

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Chapter 2: I attend the storytelling of total humiliation

When I woke up, I surveyed my surroundings. I was in a cave, and leaves were piled up on rock shelves on the wall opposite me. A dim light filtered in through the cave entrance, faintly outlining stalactites and stalagmites sticking up from the floor and hanging from the ceiling. I remembered learning the difference between them (stalac-‘tites’ hold tight to the ceiling), but I couldn’t recall who taught me, where I was at the time, or when it was. I couldn’t even recognize the voice.

A slightly familiar girl bustled around at a long rock shelf in the back. She had long brown hair, blue eyes, and she was wearing some sort of green cape. A huge rock with a flat top, like a table, sat next to her, bearing flowers on its surface. I was so disoriented that it took me a while to process that she was trying to murder the flowers with a sharp rock. With a jolt, I realized that it was the same rock I had picked up earlier, before the giant boulder came into my life.

What was that all about, anyhow? I asked myself. Where does a giant boulder fit in with whatever’s going on here?

I shifted, realizing that I was lying on a soft, feather-filled mattress on the floor. The girl must have heard the creaking bedsprings, and she turned around. “Ah, you’re awake.”

Until she asked me if I was hungry, I had ignored my growling stomach. The pain suddenly gnawed at my stomach, and I realized I was famished.

The girl left the cave, but soon returned with a roasted chicken leg. I was halfway through wolfing it down before I remembered to breathe.

As I started to eat slower, the girl started talking. “My name is Poppy, and I’m the healer in the Omaya tribe. Here, we have many members, like trainers, trainees, kids, babies, elders, elementalists, fighters, hunters, nursing girls, a leader, and an herb elementalist, like me. We live in a large area of the forest, or we used to, but a large group, similar to ours, the Porex, arrived shortly after Omaya and insisted on using most of the land. We still have battles with them over rights and hunting space, but we have established a truce for now. Still, everyone here must keep a lookout for them, as they still cause trouble; that’s our number one rule here. Rashia, our leader, hates their leader, Alledh, a lot, because Alledh tried to kill someone she loved. The Porex can be very vicious, so stay away from any fallen trees until you know which one marks the border. Once you recover, we can learn your story, train you if you want to stay with us, and you could be accepted into Omaya.”

My brain almost exploded, and it probably would have if half my attention wasn’t focused on the chicken leg. “How long was I knocked out?”

“Three days. That was a lot of magic; I’m surprised you knew how to do it, and that you survived long enough to hold back that nasty flame fairy until we got there.”

It hit me instantly: this girl looked so familiar because she was one of the girls that came to help me.

I finished devouring the chicken leg, my stomach comfortably full. I tried to get up.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Poppy warned, coming over to push me back down.

“Why?” I used my right arm to push myself up, and pain streaked up and down my arm. I flopped down, gasping for breath, cradling my bandaged arm in my left hand.

Alarm flashed in Poppy’s eyes. “Because you broke your right arm and twisted your left ankle!”

She hurried to the rock shelves and grabbed a handful of white gauzy strips, then turned back to start re-wrapping my arm. She gently unwrapped the dirty bandages and laid the new ones on top, tucking a few medicinal herbs into it to help it heal.

“What’s that?” she asked, noticing a thin line of red of my forearm. She grasped my arm as firmly as she could without hurting me and examined it. As I looked at the drawing that had mysteriously appeared on my arm, a bell went off in my head, but I didn’t know what it tried to tell me. The picture was a realistic cat head, with stars shining around it. A swirling peppermint-design was right underneath it, so it looked as if it were a picture story. Poppy clearly knew what it meant, and she was becoming more worried the more she looked at it.

Finally, she looked up at me, her eyes blazing with intensity. “You cannot show this to anyone. They will panic, sending fear and discord throughout the camp. Even if they ask to see it, refuse and make up some excuse. You cannot let anyone see it; for now, the bandages will keep it covered, but it will not stay like this forever.”

I got the message, hiding it from the guards that stood outside the den.

I stayed in the cave for a long time. Poppy brought me food and water, and she changed my bandages, tying different herbs in every time.

Poppy often went out looking for herbs, promising to keep someone outside the cave if I needed anything. I hated being a drag on everyone there, taking up their time, food, and medicine, so I never called upon the guard. One day, as Poppy scavenged for herbs outside, another girl came in to the cave. She looked around, spotting me playing with a rabbit bone I had found near the pool (freshly washed, of course). I tossed it into the air with my left hand and caught it again.

I glanced over at the new girl. She resembled Poppy somewhat, in the long, straight brown hair and bluish eyes. She, too, wore a cape, but it was a dark, reddish-brown color instead of green. Her hands fingered with her hair, curling it around her long, pale fingers. I knew that well enough; Poppy did it when she ran low on herbs of a certain type, especially one that was commonly used. As the cold season approached, the worry that caused her to curl her hair visited more often. My guess was that they were related somehow. Looking back on it, I wondered how I was able to take in all this and notice these details in a second.

The girl warily walked over to me, as though scared I would do something to her. “Don’t worry, I won’t bite,” I joked. She ignored the comment, but her body relaxed, all tension gone.

“I’m Rashia,” the girl introduced herself. “Poppy must have told you about me. Where is she, anyway?” Rashia turned her head to look with her piercing eyes around the cave.

“She went looking for herbs.”

“Ah, okay. I presume she told you about the Omayans, and a little about the Porex?”

I nodded. “She told me some history, and about what happens in the camp. She also said something about…a falling border?”

Rashia smiled. “Close. One of the fallen trees marks the border of our territory and Porex.

There is a better way to find it, however; two trees, so tall they touch the sky, tower up on either side of the fallen tree. They have pale white trunks, stripped of all bark. They are the only trees like this in the entire forest, even Porex’s part.”

Just then, Poppy arrived, holding a bundle of leaves, flowers, and plant roots in her arms. A considerable amount of dirt caked most of them, and she dropped them beside the pool for wash.

“Rashia! Didn’t I tell you to wait until I got back?”

“Too late,” Rashia grinned. “I just couldn’t help it.”

“Well, you go and talk with her while I wash the dirt off these plants. I have to soak some too, they need to be ready for morning.” Poppy turned back to Rashia. “Do NOT let her get up.” She started dipping leaves into the water, holding it there as dirt particles fell off into the swirling current of the water.

“Poppy told me you don’t remember your name, eh?” Rashia mused. “Let’s give you one.”

She thought for a while, until Poppy suggested something from the back. “How about Millais?”

Millais. Mil- means Mint. –lais means Stripe.

“Mint Stripe,” I blurted out. “Millais means Mint Stripe.”

Rashia stared at me, wide-eyed. “How did you know that?”

I shrugged my shoulders, but I instinctively looked to the side of my right leg, not knowing why. A dark green stripe glowed faintly, as though I had rubbed my leg repeatedly with juicy mint leaves. I didn’t know how it got there, nor did I care.

Rashia pressed on the subject of my understanding. “How did you know what name I was thinking of, and how do you know the Ancient Omayan translation?”

“You were thinking of that?” I asked, puzzled. “Poppy said it from beside the pool, and I heard it!”

“I didn’t say anything,” Poppy declared defiantly. “I only—”

“She only thought about the name, and we were probably sharing a thought,” Rashia cut her off as she and Poppy exchanged dark looks.

“As to the translation, how did you understand?”

“I don’t know. It just seemed to come to me,” I replied.

The girls didn’t discuss the matter anymore, although it was clearly on their minds. I quickly cast around for a new topic, desperate to distract them. My eyes lighted up on my ankle. “Poppy, when will I be well enough to walk?”

Poppy looked up from her wet root. “I was thinking we could take you out today, have you meet everyone else.”

Silently, I cheered in triumph as she came over. She helped me get up from the mattress, steadying me as I tilted dangerously towards the wall. She took her hands out from around my waist, but stood poised, in case I fell again. I managed to stand, and I limped to the cave entrance.

I squinted at the bright midday light. I was used to the dim light of the Healing Den, and I hadn’t braced myself for the blinding light. I blinked as I got accustomed to the light.

I was facing a line of dark openings, one next to the other, the outside lined with brambles. More brambles sat on a cleft in the wall above each den. Probably to drop down if any danger comes to protect the people inside the dens. I marveled at their strategy.

I was standing on dry, dusty ground at the bottom of a large pit-like structure. It was a slightly conical shape, but the top was cut off and it stood upside-down. Steep, rocky cliffs rose up around me, but the camp space was fairly large. A fallen tree branch about the size of a big bed took up some space at the far end of the camp, but some campers were clipping off as many sharp tips as they could reach.

A small boy, about 7 years old, waddled out of the nursery to watch me. His mother came out, ready to herd him in, when she saw me and stopped. “Is it that weird girl?” the boy asked loudly to his mother.

“Hush, Billy, dear, that’s rude. Go inside and play with Clarabelle until I come back.”

Rashia and Poppy came up behind me silently. Rashia pointed out the nursery on my left, where Billy and his mother had come out. She showed me the training den, where trainers and trainees slept; the leader’s den; the elements den, for elementalists; the combat and hunting den, for front-line, non-elementalist fighters and the hunters; and the learning den, where those with no element, fighting, or hunting talent slept, and during the day they learned the subjects by will of mind.

I did a test walk around the clearing, but as we were almost back to the den, my left ankle gave way. I would have fallen flat on my face if Rashia hadn’t caught my left shoulder and heaved me upright again. I thanked her and limped back to the Healing Den. As I dropped onto the mattress, exhausted, I heard Rashia summon the Omayans to tell them about me. I drifted off to sleep, comforted by the cheers of those outside, the cheers for me.

My confusing dream worried me later, when I looked back on it. I was an invisible person in a clearing of flat grass. Four kittens were play-wrestling on the ground: one with soft gray fluff, one with sleek golden fur, one with ruffled long orange-brown fur, and one with short white fur. They apparently were fighting over the best piece of a rabbit their father had caught. The parents sat to the side: a pale, peach-colored cat and a tough-looking golden-furred cat with a lion’s brown mane (although somewhat shorter).

What unnerved me was that I could understand them, but when they said a name or place, the speech became slurred, as if it was cut off. I moved around the clearing, invisible to everyone except myself. The cats all looked extremely familiar. It was on the tip of my tongue, but I just couldn’t place it.

Suddenly, a shadow engulfed us, threatening to smother us in darkness. A single voice boomed out loudly. “You have left them powerless. The prophecy cannot exist without a fourth sister. Never again shall you return to your homeland!”

The wave crashed down, but it was not like any other water. Mud swirled in the vile current, and oil darkened the water even more. I looked closer at a piece of garbage floating alongside me. With a prick of fear, I realized it was the broken body of the white kitten. Trailing behind it was a small orb, about the size of a golf ball. I reached out a hand to touch it.

It whisked me away into a whirl of memories, hopes, and dreams. I saw glimpses of each picture before it was replaced: a beach trip where a teenage girl sat with the boy of her dreams; a little boy talking with his mother (dead mother, I assumed); a woman holding the hand of a small girl and teaching her how to do her homework problems.

I wrenched my hand from the orb with difficulty. Peering around in the dirty water (which was very hard to do, because of all the dirt), I noticed several other glowing whitish orbs casting its eerie glow around everything within half a foot of it.

My exhaustion caught up with me and I sank to the ground, suddenly unable to resist the evil force that was pushing me down. No, I thought groggily. I mustn’t give up. I thrashed and flailed around, energy surging through me. The pressure on my gut lifted, and I breathed in properly again.

I was standing at the edge of a large cliff, with the bottom (if there was one, which I doubted) shrouded in mist. There was no opposite side, just blank, empty space. The cats and the clearing had vanished, along with the black murky water. A man rose in front of me from the long shadows of dusk, cloaked in darkness. He raised his arms, as if commanding something to rise, and I heard an odd scratching noise. Small rodent creatures crawled out from behind the trees that bordered the dense forest opposite me. The man spoke in a high, cold voice, not at all like the harsh, deep voice I encountered in the clearing. “I shall track you down, Millais, and bring you the downfall that you deserve, and what your sisters will receive when I reach them. Already my forces gather on the East Coast of the Mystic Sea, awaiting the return of your precious Misveri and your other foolish sister Sun. My army will ambush and destroy them before they can regain their strength at their home, and you can do nothing to stop it. As for your third sister, Corlais, well, she’ll get what she deserves when we are able to find her. However, you shall perish, just as everything you ever stood for and loved will crumble to dust. But for now,” he smiled cruelly. “Goodbye.”

He took his two left fingers and placed them on his forehead, then pushed outward towards me. I felt myself toppling backwards, and no handholds were present to help me regain balance. I fell backwards into free fall, feeling cold dread trickle down my back, temporarily immobilizing me. I was falling, forever falling….

I woke up abruptly, as though someone had splashed ice-cold water on my face. I realized I was sweating. I tried to recall the events of my dream, but it was like holding water in your cupped hands; it always found a way to escape.

There were kittens, and a huge wave. The cliff definitely woke me up, I was sure of it. There was also a disembodied voice….

I amused myself for a moment, thinking of a head without a body, speaking in a deep, unconvincing voice, a voice like a child trying to get coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts and sending the store clerk calling for the police. I fought a bubble of laughter that was threatening to burst in my throat.

I noticed Poppy and Rashia having a soft but pressing argument in the corner of the den, which snapped me out of my funk. I strained my ears, but I could hardly hear them; all I could hear was a murmured whispering around me. All of a sudden, the girls’ voices resonated clearly in my head.

I’m not sure if her ankle will hold up. That was Poppy. Others could give her a hard time about…things.

Rashia spoke calmly, oblivious to the worried and slightly frustrated tone Poppy used. She’ll be fine. She’ll be sitting with us, so they won’t be able to question her and she won’t hurt her arm or ankle. Besides, what will there be to ask about?

I was about to interrupt and say, hmm, let me think. Oh, how about that mysterious tattoo on my arm? But inside, I knew that Poppy’s warning was not just for the sake of saying it. Instead, I chimed in with something else. Later, I didn’t understand how I did it, butting into their little mind conversation. I guess I just focused on their voices and thought the thought that I just thought.

I answered Rashia’s question almost immediately. My memory, for instance?

I saw both girls start in the corner and knew I hit something that would amaze them even more than my previous ‘stunts’ had. They stared at me. “How—how—”

Rashia completed Poppy’s sentence (or stutter, whatever you want to call it, as it’s not a proper sentence) in a shaky voice. “How did you hear that conversation? And respond?”

I shrugged. Another thing to add to my I-don’t-know-about-this-but-I-will-find-out list of things. I was a strange, telepathic, clueless girl who had no idea what was going on and really didn’t care.

“Anyway, Poppy and I,”—Poppy shot Rashia a furious glance—“we decided to let you come to the storytelling tonight.”

Seeing the confused look on my face, Poppy jumped in and explained. “Every Thursday, we have Hethana, our best storyteller, tell a captivating story at the bonfire. She’s very good at it, and we would have let you go sooner, but….” She trailed off, glancing at my arm.

I nodded to show that I understood. “Thanks.”

“It’s no problem,” Rashia answered.

“But why are you showing so much kindness to me, as a stranger and a possible enemy?”

Rashia and Poppy exchanged dark looks. “For two reasons: you saved all of our lives, keeping the boulder from crushing the camp, and kept people from lying in my den with you with wounds from the flame fairy. An enemy wouldn’t do that.”

“And the other reason?” I pressed.

Rashia bit her lip anxiously. “You’ll know that, in time. Secrets can be uncovered and travel around the camp faster than you can tell the one who unearthed it to be quiet about it.”

Despite that positively cheerful answer, I still looked forward to that afternoon, when the storytelling would begin. When sunset finally arrived, Poppy helped me up and brought me over to my place in the circle. A pile of sticks sat in the center; the bonfire wouldn’t be lit until nightfall. I sat next to Poppy and Rashia. “Remember, not a word about the mark,” Poppy hissed out of the corner of her mouth.

I focused my attention to the bonfire; something about it struck me as odd. For one thing, the logs had strange pictures carved into it. I could barely make them out: a tiger, a palm tree, a star. When Rashia stood up to light the fire, the tongues of flame casted an eerie glow around the camp. I glimpsed the log carvings again. The tiger appeared to be dancing, the palm trees swayed, and the stars blazed, shooting around the branch. I blinked, thinking I had imagined it.

A girl with long auburn hair, tied back in a ponytail, wearing a dark shirt and pants (which had some kind of weird aura around the fabric), got up from where she was sitting, and instantly another kid took her place. The ones who hadn’t gotten a seat had to stand outside the circle. I knew this girl had to be Hethana, because who else would have stood up in the middle of the circle like that? Then she did something rash: she stepped into the fire.

A couple people gasped in surprise, but I realized that the glow in the fabric must have been some kind of fire-repelling magic. I had to admit that it was pretty cool. She must have been a fire elementalist, to have accomplished that advanced magic. I still didn’t know how I knew these things; it was getting on my nerves.

She began the story with a presentation called The Golden Age.

There was once a man, searching for a home,

When, the poor soul, he stumbled upon the angels’ place to roam.

A miracle shined upon him, however, and he was blessed.

He was granted the thing he most desired,

Which was to have peace between the forest groups.

Ureliah was successful for many years.

He had a great family, with two kids and a mate

And a tribe that respected him

As a leader to date.

But one day, what would we find

An empty bed where Ureliah once lied.

He and his mate,

His kids and his fate,

Fled to homes beyond.

I clapped along with everyone else as she ended the story with a flare of blue tinting the fire flickering around her. My bandages rolled up a bit. Hethana must have had eyes like a hawk, because she swooped down on me to ask me about the mark.

“What is that?” she asked, her eyes sparkling.

“Nothing,” I lied. “What would there be to see on my arm?”

“I know I saw something.”

“You probably didn’t.”

We argued back and forth. By now, everyone had realized that we were arguing, and they fell silent. Poppy tried in vain to distract her. “Hethana, her right arm is broken and you shouldn’t mess around with it.”

Hethana was insistent. “If it hurts so much on her wrist, why isn’t it very properly bandaged?”

Poppy could find no answer to that, and she left me to fend for myself as she consulted with Rashia.

“Show me your arm, please,” Hethana requested.

“No.”

“Surely you don’t have anything to hide, now do you?”

“Of course not!” I replied, frustrated.

“So, if you don’t have anything to hide, there’s no danger in showing me your arm. If you refuse, that makes us think you do have something to hide.” Without waiting for an answer, she grabbed my wrist and turned it over to examine the drawings.

Hethana gasped loudly. All sound was deadened, so it was like even the camp held its breath. Her face paled, and her eyes were almost too big for her eyeballs.

“What is it?” someone finally called out.

“It’s—it’s—it’s Ureliah’s symbol!” she cried. “A cat with stars, and underneath, a swirling hole! And worst of all,” she continued in a mysterious whisper. “It’s all drawn in blood red ink.”

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