“Yim, what was that you were saying about your parents being healers?” Chroma prompted as they continued walking through the darkness. By now, Chroma’s movements were comfortable, reassured by the steadiness of the wall beside her and the clicking of Fem up ahead.
“What about it?” Yim asked after a pause.
“You said that your parents were healers? What happened?”
“Did their herbs run out?” Klyra suggested.
There was a long, long pause.
“The Greens killed them.”
Chroma stared ahead, wide-eyed, mouth closed tight in concern.
“What!” Klyra exclaimed. “When? Are you on your own?”
“I have Fem,” Yim answered. The Skyblind chirped in agreement.
“Don’t you have someone to look after you?”
“I know how to get my own food. And avoid the Greens.”
“There’s a bit more to life than eating,” Chroma said. “Won’t anyone in Klima take you in?”
“They would…” Yim said. “It’s…complicated. And we’re here,” she added.
“How can you tell?”
“I can see my own feet now.”
Chroma glanced down to see that her blue-tinted sandals were just barely emerging as gray blurs from the pitch black. Her eyes slowly began to squint as the end of the tunnel grew lighter and lighter.
Emerging one by one from the large mouth of the cave, they stood on the inward side of the mountain. As Klyra and Chroma blinked repeatedly, desperately, the scene unfolded in front of them. Like a rolling sea, a homogenous sea of treetops stretched just below them. The clouds spilling over the lower mountain pass to their right were letting a curtain of rain fall even as they watched, making it look like the gray bodies were smearing downwards. A few rainbows caught the yellowing light of the afternoon from behind the tips of the mountains, forming colorful bridges down into the treetops. A flock of birds took flight from just beyond the storm, and the girls watched as they began making their way around the gigantic bowl as large as their entire home island.
“The bridge is down there,” Yim said, starting her trek down a steep, grass-coated path towards a decrepit, fallen tree that was connecting the middle of the canopy to their mountainside.
“I kind of wish Flor was here to see this,” Klyra breathed.
“Yeah, if she was here we’d have time to stop and see it,” Chroma agreed, beginning to follow Yim down the less-dense path that was evidently too steep for anything to grow.
“I — I can’t believe my eyes,” Klyra said, not budging from where she was.
Chroma glanced behind her, and then back at the view of the entire inner island of Klima. “Yes, it’s far better than the sketches my uncle used to bring me. Our journey’s going to be full of sights like this.”
“Aren’t you the least bit impressed?” Klyra demanded, half-laughing. There were tears in her eyes.
Chroma glanced away. “Like I said, I’ve seen sketches before. Being a princess has its perks. Now come on, we’ve got a teammate to save, and we’ve got plenty of time to come back here. You need to watch where you put your feet.”
Within a few minutes, they came to the fallen tree, whose bark had turned a lighter brown in the intense sun, and whose various bare branches were keeping it firmly planted in the mountainside.
“This is how the merchants used to reach the beach before the Greens took over the cave system,” Yim informed them. Fem was safely back on her shoulder, and hardly moved as the young girl scampered confidently across the wide trunk, the drop below her becoming sheerer and sheerer.
“So which one of us is going to go first and prove to the other that it’s perfectly safe?” Chroma wondered.
“The one who just said it’s perfectly safe?” Klyra suggested, waving a hand invitingly toward the ragged, peeling bark of the trunk. It was wider than the hulls of their boat. but at least the hulls always had water directly beneath them.
“Thought you might say that,” Chroma responded. “Just be careful with your Thelt, ok?”
As the two Cambians began walking across the log bridge with few issues and many complaints, Yim watched from the other end of the bridge. The tree’s roots were caught among the branches of another tree, about a hundred feet above the forest floor below. Yim was casually leaning against a knot in a large branch of the receiving tree, and Fem was already climbing across the rope handles of a bridge that extended off into the canopy. The ropes connected with the bridge planks in a triangular pattern, each knot additionally secured with a black substance smeared across.
As Yim stood there, monitoring the Cambian’s progress, Fem leapt away from where he clung to the rope rail and flew over to the branch Yim was leaning against. The girl gasped, glancing at the other end of the bridge, and then at the two girls now about halfway across the fallen trunk. Her brow creased, and she glanced behind herself again.
“You know, I bet Yim walks across this bridge even in the rain,” Chroma commented after they had a quick celebration of passing the halfway point. “And this is a rain forest.”
“I think I could make it across in the rain,” Klyra panted behind her. “After all, my sweat from this humidity’s probably simulating it pretty well.”
“Ha!” Chroma exclaimed as the log beneath her feet began to grow a bit wider. She confidently pushed onwards with a relieved expression as her hands now grabbed at the twisted, dead roots of the tree. She briefly waited for Klyra to catch up and helped her over onto a platform made out of the live crook of another tree. Several huge branches extended away from the crook in every direction, though their leaves didn’t start until a dozen feet overhead.
Chroma glanced around as Klyra allowed herself to sit down. “Yim?” There was no response. “Yiiim!”
“I swear, if she sneaks up on us, I’m going to fall out of this tree,” Klyra said.
“Where could she…?” She stopped as there was a rustling across the other end of the rope bridge. A few unfamiliar, adult faces appeared from behind the tangle of branches on the other end, and she quickly crouched down, lightly placing a hand on Klyra’s shoulder. The two gasped as the people at the other end pointed across the rope bridge and began crossing.
“Well, the way I see it, Yim’s not here and there’s no way for us to head backwards,” Klyra whispered. “So I’m going to talk to them.”
“What? No! They might still turn back.”
“Or we could see if they run to attack us while they’re still on the other end of a rope bridge we can cut,” Klyra responded, standing up and stepping out into view. “Hello!” she shouted across the other end of the bridge.
Chroma held her breath as a few of the people began moving towards them more quickly, but relaxed when a person stepped forward and placed a calming hand on the excited ones’ shoulders. The five people began moving across the bridge as a group.
Chroma sighed and stood up as the people reached them. Four men and a women, the men wearing bright orange, knee-length skirts, the woman wearing additional wrappings around her chests. The skirts were laced with spotted, mottled patterns of black and brown. The fourth man also wore a lose-fitting orange vest, and a laurel of red bird feathers stuck into the braids of his long, dark hair.
“Who are you and why do you speak?” the man with the laurel demanded of them, crossing his arms defiantly.
“Yero, please,” the woman said. Her long, dark hair was tied back in one long braid. “We’re here to bring them back to town, not interrogate them. I’m sure they’ll tell us if we ask nicely.”
Yero grunted. “We can’t waste time out here in the open with Greens running around freely.”
Ignoring him, the woman turned back to the Cambian girls. “My name is councilwoman Zerfa, this is my colleague, Miefe, these are our guards, and this is our captain of the guard, Yero. Are you Cambians?”
“Yes,” Chroma answered, stepping forward. “My name is Princess Chroma Sona, and this is my translator, K — um — Klyr…”
“It’s pronounced ‘Klyra,’” Klyra interjected.
“Klyra…?” Miefe tried. His shoulder-length hair was too long to signal him out as a guard, but too short for the elaborate braids of Yero and Zerfa. Instead, it was tied back in a simple bun.
“’Klyra’?” one of the nearly-bald guards tried.
“Close enough,” Klyra conceded.
Zerfa straightened her back a bit and took a step forward, ending the digression. “Excuse me, but what is a translator?”
“Um, it’s complicated,” Chroma admitted. “She’s the reason I can speak to you. I also have a navigator and consultant on my team, but she was taken by the Greens when we first arrived.”
The group of Klimans exchanged light gasps, mutters, and glances. “This is serious,” Zerfa said. “We’ll head back to town at once. Come.”
Yero began leading the way across the bridge, with the councilmen and the Cambians between him and the guards bringing up the rear. The bridge itself was a mesh net of rope, twigs, and plant debris that formed a spongy walkway that swung beneath their feet. Klyra focused her eyes on her feet and hands and exactly where she put them; Chroma suppressed a grin as she marveled at the greenish forest floor below them. Birds occasionally crossed beneath and above them in the canopy, going just slowly enough to reveal feathers of every color. They had left the waterfall’s rainbows behind, but the jungle had its own rainbows to display.
“Wait,” Chroma said suddenly. “There was a little girl who saved us from the Greens earlier. She said her name was Yim. Her parents were healers?”
The group kept walking because the guards were, but the council members exchanged a glance.
“Yim Del?” Miefe asked. “She’s alive? We thought she was killed along with her parents.”
“No, she’s alive and well. Living off the land, but she says she doesn’t want to come back to Klima.”
“Did she mentioned why?” Zerfa inquired quickly.
Chroma hesitated. “No.”
Klyra glanced at her. “Wait, I thought she said…?” She stopped when Chroma shook her head ever so slightly. “Oh, yeah no, you’re right.”
“Yes, she was just saying that she could go back if she wanted to, but that wasn’t stating a reason why,” Chroma finished.
“Well, we’ll have to send out search parties for her,” Zerfa proclaimed. “Yero, can we spare men for it?”
“The Greens haven’t been attacking lately, but if they went after one Cambian, they’ll go after the others. We’ll need men guarding Klima and others out getting the hostage.”
“We’ll discuss it with the council first, then,” Miefe finished. “But I can’t imagine why she wouldn’t want to come back on her own, though…”
“I have a theory,” Zerfa said. “But I suppose we’ll have to find out.”
α α α
Featured image from Denniz Futalan at Pexels.com