I must not be with it today because I can't think of anything else to tell you. Who knows if I'll keep this beginning to the story. I try not to get too attached until after the 30k mark. It's around there where I know if the story is going to work as is or if it needs to be scrapped. I had planned for the story to be light and fun, sort of like Salvaging Toby's Heart. But as you will see, the beginning is rather bleak for Navinder.
Copyright © Lexi Ander
Chapter One: Part Two
"My concern is for you," Saga replied, more silver tears cascading down his amaranthine cheeks. "There are more qualified people taking care of our pod." Frustratingly, Saga stood blocking Navinder's sight of the devastation. But Navinder didn't need to see it for dread to spread through him at what Saga didn't say.
He was rushed onto a craft and Navinder belated realized the ship was the guru's. The fastest airship that took the guru on emergency flights to where the guru was direly needed.
"Let me go." Navinder pleaded, even as he sensed the ship taking off. If his pod was gone, he didn't want to survive.
"You still have me," Saga said before his face crumpled, an agonized sob escaping him.
But he didn't, Navinder wanted to argue. Saga belonged to the people. Navinder was alone. He'd never been alone before and the knowledge scratched at him, adding to the pain of his wounds. Jugals weren't meant to be solitary. They needed their podmates or else they waisted away slowly, painfully, leaving a mere husk of the person they'd once been behind. If death didn't find them quickly, they turned dangerous and deranged.
"Please," he begged Saga. All Saga needed to do was remove the stasis field. It was the only thing keeping Navinder alive. He doubted he'd survive a minute with the barrier gone. Then it would be over. He could join his family in the afterlife and not have to endure the hollow feeling where their life forces should have been. He wouldn't have to suffer the sorrow of their death.
"That is not a decision I can make," Saga finally replied, his blue eyes red-rimmed and his expression filled with heartbreak. "The Sacred Tree had requested I bring you to her."
The Sacred Tree… Why had she quested him? Yes, he was the last of his chosen pod, but she and the people could select a replacement to fulfill the Quest the Life. He was broken, his pod gone. There was nothing he could do for her. Surely she would see that and let him go.
Navinder thought he passed out because Saga was issuing orders when he opened his eyes again. They'd landed and Navinder remembered nothing of the flight. He gazed at Saga, memorizing every stretch of his features. How beautifully wide Saga's nose was. He remembered when the pod had gone to have the red band tattooed from temple to temple across their eyes. Their chosen color matching Saga's red hair. He would take this picture with him into the next life, thankful Saga would be by his side when the Sacred Tree allowed him to push through the veil. He prayed that Mahi, Atam, and Mond had been there for each other, that they went quickly and didn't suffer in the crash.
"We are almost there, Navinder. Stay with me a little longer," Saga begged, his voice hoarse and broken.
Navinder blinked at the slender boughs stretch overhead. They were in the Sacred Grove.
"No, don't close your eyes," Saga snapped. Navinder smiled at the bossy tone, or thought he did.
When he opened his eyes, hopefully for the last time, he met Saga's crazed gaze, the panic there for Navinder to see. Above them shimmered the yellow-gold leaves of the Sacred Tree as Saga stopped before the old gnarled trunk that was bigger around than most shuttles.
Sacred Tree, the One Tree, the Tree of Life, she was called many names, but only the gurus knew her true name for she spoke to them alone. Navinder thought he heard soft whispering as the leaves fluttered in the nonexistent breeze. He would've thought his mind was gone if not for how Saga tilted his head as if listening intently, his reply caught up before Navinder heard Saga's words. Saga wept and Navinder wanted to sooth him, tell him everything would be fine, but he was so very weary. All Navinder wanted was to rest.
"Let me see him, young one."
Saga nodded and tapped on the screen next to Navinder's shoulder. The stasis field collapsed and Navinder's hold on Saga's hand loosened as Saga shifted away. Sighing with relief, Navinder let his eyelids slide closed.
"I see you, saint-soldier. I see your line. From the beginning to the very end. This, my child, is not where your story stops. There is much for you to do yet."
The feathery texture of leaves surrounded Navinder. When curiosity got the best of him, he peeked, startled to see he floated above what was left of his body. He'd thought his injuries were terrible, crushed by the panel as he was, but he hadn't realized he'd been cleaved in two. His hips separated from his torso and his abdomen a right mess. There was no way he could survive such nor would he want to, especially knowing his pod had already passed into the fade.
The yellow-gold leaves wrapped around his body, swaddling him. Navinder's remaining life's blood staining their golden hue, pooling around him on the black earth. Saga wept with great wracking sobs that tore at Navinder's heart. He floated closer to the male he'd grown up with, shared all his meals with… made love to. Tentatively, he wrapped ethereal arms around Saga, attempting to give what little comfort he could before he too passed onto the the next plane.
The Sacred Tree began to hum counter to Saga's crying, until Saga gasped and hiccupped to hum along with the spirit of the tree. A blinding light formed in the boughs and Navinder was relieved. He wanted to be on his way, joining his family on the next journey. But before he released Saga, the light moved down the trunk. He sensed a weight, a presence cloaked in the brilliant depths. He wasn't sure what to do, hesitant to approach this strange being.
"You called for me?" The disembodied voice startled Navinder. The warmth of the odd presence flowed over him, shedding Navinder's residual fear and panic, tempering the sorrow of knowing his pod waited for him.
"I have need of this one who is ready to go with you," replied the Sacred Tree, her wispy voice accompanied by the rattle of her leaves. "It is not his time."
Navinder felt the heavy weight of a stare, instinctually knowing the presence in the light regarded him. The urge to prostrate himself before the entity alarmed Navinder. The only being he would ever show such reverence for would be the Immortal One, the Timeless One who welcomed all who crossed the veil. Even as he thought it, a chill raced through him. It couldn't be! The exhilaration of being in the presence of the Immortal One was tempered by what the Sacred Tree asked. How could they want him to stay when he'd lost all that mattered, all that was worth living for?
"Please." Saga's begging sob caught Navinder off guard. "He's all I have left."
"Young one," Came the soothing tone from the Immortal One. "You have barely put on the mantle of Guru Granneth. Soon you will feel connect to all Jugals."
"And does that mean he's any less important to me?" Saga argued. Navinder wanted to console Saga, beg him to understand that leaving was for the best, but he passed through Saga and the words caught in his throat, snagged by the clawing fingers of his own sorrow.
"In time, he will be only of many, equally loved. You would forget his significance to you and disappear among the masses you are charged with guiding," chided the Timeless One.
Though the words hurt Navinder, he knew them to be true. He'd sensed his familial bond with Saga severing when Saga accepted the mantle of Guru Granneth. The same could not be said of Saga. He hadn't endured the loss because he was now connected to all Jugals.
Saga's shoulders sagged, his posture telegraphing his defeat.
"But that is not the reason why I will allow him to remain," added the Immortal One. Navinder's gaze snapped to the brilliant light, his eyes stinging from the blinding presence. He once more sensed the pressing stare. "The Golden One is correct, saint-soldier. Your time here on this plane is not finished. There is much yet left for you to accomplish before you cross over into the next life."
"No," Navinder begged. He would be empty, incomplete. Doomed to the barren loneliness of being without a pod. How could they curse him to such an existence?
"Do what needs to be done, Golden One. You have my blessing."
Navinder snarled with immediate fury, fire curling in his gut like a black cloud. He shot up, heading for the Immortal One, sure that if he touched the light he would pass through the veil. But instead of going up, Navinder floated towards his body.
"I don't want to stay!" Navinder bellowed. "I want to be with my pod!"
The Sacred Tree hummed louder, the yellow-gold leaves brightening like a million stars shining overhead. Instead of being marveled at the sight, panic welled and Navinder fought. The light of the Immortal One lifted higher into the boughs, adding their brilliance to the Sacred Tree's golden glow.
Saga stared with awe as Navinder's spirit passed by him, joy lighting his expression. "Have no worries, Navinder. I will make sure all is taken care of. You won't be alone, I promise."
All Navinder felt was betrayed. By the Immortal One, but the Sacred Tree, and even by Saga. Nothing would ever be the same again. No matter what Saga said, he would live, cursed with loneliness.
His spirit slid back into his physical body, broken and wounded beyond imagining. He absorbed the pain into his soul even as the Sacred Tree poured life into him.
The Sacred Tree could give life, if she so chose, seven times in her three thousand years. Usually, she gave one life to the Guru Granneth who would be the caretaker of not only the Jugal but the next seed generation. Rarely did she grant life to others despite the direness of the many requests over the centuries. Some Jugals didn't fare well over the many years, even when they kept taking on pod new members. Many so gifted with long life gave up their spirit long before their body gave out.
That wasn't the fate Navinder wanted. He couldn’t imagine bonding to pod after pod, suffering through the dark agony each time he outlived them. But from every direction, his wishes were overruled, discard like trash, to keep him on this plane. The knowledge burned like a hot ember in his chest, inflaming his rage at the injustice done to him.
"It is all right to be angry," the Sacred Tree's voice flitted like butterfly wings across his mind. "Once it runs its course, you will be able to see we were correct. You have a destiny to embrace, but you are not yet ready to see it."
The glowing golden vines burrowed into Navinder's wounds. He should've felt pain but he only sensed their presence before he was pulled into the bosom of the tree. The Immortal One sat there, expectant, waiting. Before he fell unconscious, he attempted to look upon the being of the Immortal One, only to be thwarted by the flare of light that encompassed him.
"Sleep, child, tomorrow dawns a new day. You will be made whole before you face it."
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