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Chapter 25
5 Sp'mo' (Penul'day)

The next morning, the guests were all given fresh clothes to wear while their own were laundered, and they all enjoyed a good breakfast. After breakfast, Adam went into town with Tom, Alecstar, Ginger, and Jasp. Adam, it turned out, had a permanent glamour mask, which he'd obtained sometime prior to the Battle of Triscot, to facilitate his adoption of the alias 'Evan Wayfarer.' They travelled underground in one of Adam's wagons, emerging to the surface in a secluded location, roughly halfway between the noble estates district and the more populous area of Triscot. Once they arrived in town, Jasp went off on his own, to get in touch with LandOrder's Triscot branch. After he made contact, a couple of thieves were sent out to retrieve the Chaos's wagon from its hiding place outside the village, and transport it to the gang's headquarters, for repairs and restocking of some of its special customizations. Meanwhile, Adam took the others to meet with a few of his contacts in town, to make plans.

Once the morning's chores had been completed by those who remained at the Lonewander estate, Joss suggested a little expedition for Darius and some of the others. Joining Joss and Darius were Tiejo, Tino, Cameron, Darius's sister Nelly, and cousins Lia, Luni, Kar, and Tor. Emma was torn about whether to go with them, but ultimately decided to stay behind, to get to know some of Darius's other relatives better. Darius wondered if Tor, who was only six, was old enough to accompany them, or if it wouldn't be better for him to stay at home with his little brother, Matz, who would be four in a few weeks. But Tor and his older brothers insisted that he often went with them, even if they weren't accompanied by older cousins like Joss or Nelly. The walk took only about fifteen centhours, during which time everyone chatted idly about various things.

The path they followed seemed to be sloping slightly downward, Darius noticed. He wondered just how deep all these caverns and tunnels went, and how far they extended in various directions. If he had more time, he'd love to explore all the different rooms and passageways, but he supposed it would take longer than he was willing to spend before moving on once again toward Near Port. Finally, the tunnel they were traveling through opened up into what must have been a very wide cavern; at first glance, it was hard to see the limits of it. But what was most surprising was how bright it was, and that the light was apparently provided by the sun itself. Darius and his friends couldn't help but look up and wonder at the fact that there seemed to be no ceiling to this cave, just open sky.

However, that wasn't the only surprising thing they all noticed, nor the first. Slightly before anyone noticed the sunlight, they had been surprised to see the cave filled with a large grove of trees. Darius recognized the trees at once, and was about to ask about their presence here, until a moment later he noticed the sunlight, and looked up. But after just a few moments of sky-gazing, he looked back down toward the trees, and then turned to Joss. "This... how is all this possible?" he asked.

Joss smiled, and said, "Your parents knew how much you loved spending time in the threenut grove, so, they moved it underground, in the hopes that you might return someday, and enjoy it again. Well, to be honest, it wasn't just for you. We still make money selling threenuts in town. But the time and effort it took to move the grove underground, after going into hiding... the way I hear it, they might not have bothered if they hadn't been thinking of you."

"What I want to know," interjected Cameron, "is how you can keep this hidden? Is... is this really just a big hole in the ground? No... looking around, it just... the way the tunnel's ceiling ends, it isn't.... I mean, it seems as if.... But it's impossible!"

"Without magic, you mean? Well, you're right. It's not just a hole, it really is a cavern, with a ceiling. As Adam may have mentioned, the dampening spell isn't as strong underground. Spells that don't require much energy can be made workable, down here. So... we have a spell that tricks the senses into seeing the outside as it actually appears, directly above this spot. We can even feel the warmth of the sun, or the chill of the wind, or... well, the irrigation system is set to mimic the rains, when they come. Of course, if there isn't enough rain, we can still water the grove on sunny days. We can also provide extra warmth, when there's not enough of that. But the trees themselves certainly don't know the difference; they might as well truly be growing out in the open. The real beauty of the whole system is that it's one-way; no one standing on the ground above can see anything but ground, beneath their feet."

"That's amazing," marvelled the ex-Sorreter. "It seems like something that would require a stronger spell than should work here."

"Actually, if I understand correctly- and I have to say, I only understand in a rudimentary way, not being a Sorreter or anything- it actually does require a sort of strong spell. But somehow... Well, it's like the dampening effect works in a positive way on this particular spell. I mean, the original spell has to be strong, but the end product of the spell works even when weakened. I think it needs to be weak, in the end, so if there were no dampening spell, it'd be tricky to get it to work at all.... I'm afraid it doesn't really make much sense to me. Sorry."

But Cameron nodded, satisfied with the explanation. "Ah, yes, I understand. I've heard of that type of situation in other kinds of spells. I've never seen it in practice, though. Anyway, it doesn't sound like it makes sense, but really it does. It would take half a semester to properly explain it, though," he said with a grin.

"But, regardless of all that," said Darius, "wouldn't the magic have to be recharged at some point?"

"Ah," said Joss, "the thing about that is, the spell is powered by the generator. There's a sort of device attached to it which converts electrical energy into magical energy... mana, it's called. Not as specific as the mana which is directly generated by Sorreters, but a kind of universal mana that can be applied to any type of spell device. We use that to recharge any spells or spell devices we use, such as Adam's glamour."

"I'm hungry!" exclaimed Tor, all of a sudden.

Joss smiled once again, himself. He set down the basket he'd been carrying, removed a folded picnic blanket, and spread it out on the ground, in the midst of a small clearing in the grove. A few of the others had also been carrying baskets which Joss had given them back at the estate, and now they set them down and took out some plates, cups, knives, loaves of bread, a jug of water, and a few pineanas.

At this point, Darius grinned. "Ah, this takes me back." Instead of elaborating, he suddenly started climbing the nearest tree, and gathering threenuts in one of the emptied baskets. Tiejo excitedly did likewise.

While the others waited, Cameron made Joss promise to show him the generator and energy-conversion device at his earliest convenience, which Joss said he'd be happy to do. Soon, the nut-gatherers had returned, and everyone started slicing up the pineanas and opening the nuts. They put the nuts and the fruit in a bowl, and Darius mashed them together. Then everyone spread the mixture on slices of bread, to make sandwiches. Tor accepted the first sandwich happily, and soon everyone was eating.

"I always liked to come out here and make sandwiches like this when I was a kid," said Darius between mouthfuls. "Mush up some threenuts and pineanas, or sometimes threenuts and berries. It was also a nice place just to sit and read, or write, or hang out with friends, or just... whatever. Of course, it was above ground back then; the sunlight and weather were real. But anyway... it was my favorite spot, usually alone, but as I said, sometimes with friends. Or family. My parents came out a few times, but mostly they left me to my own devices." Looking at his cousin, he said, "Joss, you came out here with me once, didn't you?"

Joss nodded. "Yeah. It was sometime in that last summer before everything changed. There was a war on, but I didn't know much about it, being just seven, at the time. Still, I already was a fan of adventure stories, and you lent me one of your books. I'm afraid I didn't finish it til after you'd left, but I can return it to you, when we get back home, later."

"I don't even remember what it was, but you're welcome to keep it, if you like. At least until I return from my current adventure. It's sad to think my old collection of books is gone, destroyed in the battle nine years ago, along with the old estate. But if even one of my books survives, I'm happy about that."

"Actually, the clan did bring a number of books underground, when they were originally stocking the tunnels. Not sure how many of them might've been yours, though. No, wait... now that I think about it, I remember specifically packing some books from your old room. That kind of thing is something they let us kids help with, even though we were only about Tor's age, at the time."

The mention of age really struck Darius. "Man, it's hard to believe how much time has passed since I left. How much of my family I've never gotten to know. You were a little kid back then, and now you're older than I was when I left. It really would've been nice to get to know you better, and I hope we can do so in the future."

"I look forward to it."

"And Tor hadn't even been born yet. Nor had Matz. Kar had just been born a couple weeks earlier, so I'd practically forgotten he existed, before yesterday. Lumi wasn't quite two, when I left, and Lia had just turned one."

Cameron asked, "Did you just say 'Lumi'? I thought your mother called him 'Luni'."

"Did she? That's funny, I didn't notice. I know we were calling him Lumi, when his parents moved here from Kurok, earlier that year."

Luni and Kar both grinned at this, and Luni clarified the situation. "I had almost forgotten anyone ever called me 'Lumi', but it makes sense. My full name is actually 'Luminari'. 'Luni' is something Kar started calling me when he was like two or three, and the name just stuck. Soon, everyone was calling me that."

"Well, I like it," said Tino. "So, do you all have longer names than have been mentioned yet?"

"Kar's full name is 'Karamazov', named after some old Earth book our parents liked. 'Tor' is short for 'Toreador', though I don't really know where that came from. 'Matz' is short for 'Mattelius', which I think they just made up or something. I dunno." He shrugged.

"Anyway," said Darius, "I think Nelly was eleven, when I left, and now here she is, what, twenty? It's especially weird to see her fully grown; but somehow, I feel like no time has really passed, with her." He shook his head. "No, that's not quite true. Sis, even if I'm sure we'll still disagree on almost everything, you seem to present your case more logically, now." Nelly smiled at this, and Darius turned back to Joss, saying, "Anyway, your brother was probably about six, and now he's an adventurer. Same with Cara and Doog, who were just a bit older than that back then, and now they're adventuring, as well." With a grin, he added, "A pirate, is she now? Seriously, that I have got to see."

Tiejo suddenly got a troubled look on his face. "Um, excusing me, but nasty thought has wriggled into Tiejo's head. Please to be helping me get it out, someone!" They all looked at him expectantly, and he continued. "Um, so... how come is it being, I mean, if Darius and all the world were thinking his whole clan were killed in battle, all those years ago... how could that to be including little childrens? Teenagers surely did engage in fightings, in war then as now they may do in adventuring, if they are choosing not to go to the new schools. But surely not children such as ages you all say you were being. You didn't fight, yes? And even if knowing I am that the enemy did evil things, not thinking am I that they would have killed innocent children."

"That's a damn good question," said Darius. "Why the hell did that never occur to me? Never mind, I know why. It's because my brain doesn't work right." He sighed. "Damn, I could use a drink."

Nelly said, "Drinking is not an acceptable way of dealing with problems. Especially trivial ones like that."

"Having a defective brain is a trivial problem?"

"I may not agree with you about everything, but I know you're smart."

"'Smart' has nothing to do with what I'm talking about."

"Whatever, I wasn't even talking about your brain. I meant it was trivial that something didn't occur to you. You shouldn't get so depressed over that kind of thing. Anyway, Tiejo's waiting for an answer to his question. And the answer is that Aunt Lucia and Uncle Kuris helped Mom and Dad set up false evidence that made it seem our clan's children had been secreted away somewhere before the final battle, possibly to various foster parents, so the Order couldn't find them. Which of course they didn't, because even if they looked for us, we weren't out there. We were right here, all along. We were sent to wait underground during the battle, to be joined later by any survivors. Of course, the adults were still hoping our side might win the battle, so we wouldn't have to go into hiding for good, but we all know how that turned out. But the important thing is, they didn't want it to seem suspicious when the Order's army didn't find any children on the estate. Since the Order already thought we were gone, they wouldn't do too thorough a search of the grounds, which might have led them to discover the tunnels."

"Whew!" exclaimed Tiejo, "That is being a relief!"

"Yeah," said Darius. "Clever. I wish I was capable of such foresight. But I'm working on it. Anyway, I suppose even if it had occurred to me to wonder about the kids, I would've had no more chance of finding any of you than the Order did. Even if you really were out there somewhere. And I probably wouldn't have tried, anyway... mainly for fear that I was being watched, and I could potentially lead our enemies to you all. Oh well. Kind of strange, though, that it never seemed to occur to West to wonder... or maybe he knew, and just assumed I knew, too. Or... I dunno." He shook his head.

Another thought struck Darius just then, and he said, "But you know, it occurs to me that if all the adults in our clan are supposed to be dead, then I suppose I'm the only one here with an adult license. Even our parents couldn't have them, so technically... aside from West- and I would imagine Brynne, who I haven't met yet- I'm the only legal adult in the entire family!"

Nelly rolled her eyes at that, while everyone else grinned. "Guess so," agreed Joss. "I mean, the adults who leave the estate have licenses with aliases, which means they aren't exactly legal. I'm sure they also had old licenses before they supposedly died in the war; but as you say, they can't exactly use those, either. Besides which, they would have been invalidated and required reissue after the surname law was passed, which of course happened the year after we all died. And by the way, all this talk about ages reminds me of something I was thinking about last night. When Adam mentioned that you're twenty-one, it reminded me that on Earth, so many things are determined by age, like adulthood, for example. It differs from place to place, but a lot of places considered people automatically adults around eighteen years of age. And twenty-one was the age, in some places, when people were allowed to drink alcohol."

"Pff," scoffed Darius, once again shaking his head. "I've always thought Earth was weird, that way. So arbitrary. I was talking to Emma once about their rules for marriage, for example. Which, come to think of it, is a lot like alcohol consumption, here on the Land: for both, you're required to have obtained physical and emotional stamps. You don't even have to be full-fledged adults, really. Anyway, I've been drinking for years, now."

"Exactly," said Joss, nodding. "I mean, I've had very little to drink, not enough to get drunk or even much of a buzz, but... it doesn't really appeal to me."

"I've always sort of thought, though," Darius mused with a wry grin, "that it might make more sense to require a spiritual stamp, for the drinking of spirits. Eh?"

Joss groaned at the pun, and replied, "Just, try to avoid making any jokes about spirit-talkers drinking spirits, okay?"

Darius's grin widened at that thought, but he said nothing. Then Luni asked, "So, if these licenses and all the stamps were invented during the Coming, how did people decide when they should start drinking, for the first nine centuries of the Land's existence?"

"Hmmm," said Darius. "That's a good question. I don't think there was ever any hard-and-fast rule about it, before; but I suppose it was, again, a lot like marriage. I mean, when the whole concept of licenses and the four stamps was introduced, no one really objected to that aspect of it. It just made sense that people should be physically and emotionally mature before getting married, and everyone had always been reasonably good at judging their own maturity levels, without the need for official recognition of such, from professionals like physicians or psychotherapists. In a way, getting those stamps actually seems to make people more comfortable, more assured that they're right in their self-estimation. And it's the same with alcohol. People have just always been responsible enough to know when they're ready. I mean, for the most part. There's always been a certain amount of curiosity in people who are too young, but usually if they do try it, they realize soon afterward that they're not ready.

"You know, it'd be interesting to really do a study of how different or similar things are now with adult licenses, versus how they were in the past. Like with voting, for which you need all four stamps. Before the Coming, anyone who was at least thirteen could vote. And that seems to bear the kind of arbitrariness of which I frequently accuse Earth." Darius shrugged. "But, hey, even if everyone matures at their own pace in all four areas: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual; thirteen is just a cool number. I've often wondered if there's some significance to it being the first number to include the word 'teen' in its name. It's kind of odd for a base-ten numbering system. But maybe it's not as random as it seems. Maybe it really does have something to do with the average age at which people enter puberty, or something...."

Tino offered, "I think, actually, that it's not necessarily the case for all languages. You know, Star and Emma are the ones who seem most familiar with the concept of alien languages, but I've talked with them about it, sometimes. I'm pretty sure the language we speak on the Land is most similar to the one called 'English' on Earth, though I have no idea why that should be. Anyway, there are other Earth languages in which the number thirteen, or any of the 'teen' numbers, aren't different in form from ten, eleven, and twelve, really. In fact I think English is fairly uncommon in this respect, but I could be mistaken. I'm sure there are at least a few other languages where this phenomenon occurs. Like Yiddish, perhaps, which is interesting, because...." But at this point, he simply trailed off, apparently thinking he may have already said too much. Darius had become used to that behavior in him, by now, and didn't bother to question it.

After a few moments, Luni spoke up again. "Interesting. Anyway, I know I'm looking forward to turning thirteen, but that's still not for like two and a half years. It's annoying how long it takes to grow up. And even then, it'll be another few years probably before I'm allowed to leave home and do what I want."

"And what's that?" asked Darius.

"Maybe be a pirate, like Cara. Or an adventurer, like Doog or Thew."

"Or like me, don't forget me. I'm an adventurer too, y'know."

"It's true!" agreed Joss, cheerfully.

"Okay, sorry," said Luni. "I just don't really know you, so much. I forgot."

"Just saying, I'm sitting right here. Where the heck are they, that you thought of them first?"

"Uh, off adventuring?" suggested Luni.

"This is also true," said Joss with a grin.

Darius rolled his eyes, but couldn't help snickering a moment later.

Then Kar said, "But anyway, that's years away. There's plenty of fun stuff to do while we're still kids. Like, oh! Darius, you need to let us take you to Fort Staguar. It's a little further into the grove. We've got some Kaiju Cards stashed there, you've gotta play it with us."

"Staguar? Kaiju Cards? I don't know what either of those things are, but they sound cool."

"They are!" exclaimed Tor. "We built this little fort ourselves, and sometimes we sleep out there! We can even sometimes get music bubbles to play, when the magic damper doesn't mess them up too bad. But mostly we pretend adventure, or play cards, and stuff. And have picnics."

Luni glanced at Kar, and both thought of mentioning that it was the two of them, with a little help from their parents, who had built the fort; Tor had been too young to take much of an active role in the endeavor. But neither saw much benefit in pointing that out, as it only would have put their little brother in an argumentative mood. Instead, Luni simply opted to share some more practical information with the newcomers. "And if anyone feels the need, we also have an outhouse near the fort, but just far enough away not to smell it. Though you have to remember to sprinkle ash from a bucket when you're done."

"Anyway," said Kar, "Kaiju Cards are this game where you get packs of trading cards, which are like regular playing cards except they have like pictures of different monsters and things. I think 'kaiju' is from some other language on Earth..."

"Sounds like some of the words I've read in the Oni graphic novels," suggested Darius. After a few moments' thought he said, "Yes, now I remember. Definitely Nihongo."

"If you say so," replied Kar. "Anyway, like I was saying, I guess 'kaiju' means 'monsters.' And there are other kinds of cards, like spells and things. It's kind of complicated, but you use the cards to have battles. It's gotten really popular lately. Some of the adults who go into town sometimes buy packs of cards for us, and we got a magazine about the game once. But it's just the three of us who get to play together, and sometimes Lia. None of the adults take much interest, though we did get Grandma to play with us, once. I don't think she really got it, though, and she hasn't played it with us again. She plays other games with us, though. Nelly won't play, 'cause she says the game is evil. But I'm sure you'd like it, Darius."

"Yeah, I'd love to try it. So let's go to this fort whatever-you-called-it." He stood up, and said, "Lead the way. ...I'd also like to make a stop at that outhouse."

Luni, Kar, and Tor all leapt to their feet and shouted, "Staguar!" and started running off together. Darius and the others followed, though not as quickly.

As they walked, Tiejo asked, "What is being a 'staguar'?"

Joss replied, "It's a hybrid creature the boys made up, a cross between a stag and a jaguar."

"Oh. What's a jaguar?"

"Some kind of large wildcat. I think they used to live in the forests in parts of First Land, but they were hunted to near-extinction hundreds of years ago. But I've heard there are still a few kept in zoos. That's another reason you guys need to change the world; so the kids can see some of the animals they've only read about in picture books. It really is sad that none of them have ever been into town in their lives. And I haven't been since I was their age. There's a lot I miss about the outside world, myself. But it's even worse for them, never having seen the world at all."

Darius wanted to say he'd try his best, but he was pretty sure he'd said that last night, and didn't want to repeat himself. So he walked on in silence. He was grateful that it didn't take long to reach the fort.

The young boys, along with Lia, had fun teaching Darius, Tino, and Cameron to play their trading card game, while Tiejo scurried around the circle in which they sat as they played. He watched everything with great interest. Meanwhile, Nelly and Joss wandered off somewhere to talk privately. They weren't just cousins, but also good friends, who often liked to walk and talk together. In the end, Kar won the game, with Luni lasting the second-longest of the players. But Darius quite enjoyed it, and hoped to get a chance to play again sometime, and improve his skills. Neither Tino nor Cameron seemed greatly interested in playing again, though Cameron at least commented that the magical aspects of the game were interesting, and he wondered if it might be popular in Sorret.

Later, as the afternoon wore on, everyone (including Nelly and Joss) lay on the ground staring up at the sky. They looked for shapes in the clouds, and Tino remarked that he'd heard people did the same thing on almost every world. After awhile, Nelly said, "Those clouds are moving too fast to hold a shape for long. By the time you point a shape out, it's too late for anyone to see it."

In a tone simultaneously wistful and dreamy, Darius said, "Yeah... clouds are about as ephemeral as it gets, alright."

Tor, meanwhile, took Nelly's statement as a challenge, and presently he exclaimed, "Hey, that cloud looks like the Moon! Quick, look!"

They all looked where he was pointing, and Darius replied, "Actually, I think that Moon looks like a cloud. It must be getting late, but it's still not getting dark yet. I always think it's weird when that happens. I mean, seeing the Moon in broad daylight, like that." He wondered exactly what time it was, and wished that Tom had had a chance to make a pocket watch for him already.

"Ooh, flutterbies!" exclaimed Tor, all of a sudden. He leapt up, and started running after the insects. Tiejo joined him in his pursuit, while Luni got up and went into the fort, returning with a net their uncle Lance had given them the previous summer. Lia also joined them.

"You know," commented Darius, "I've actually heard that on Earth, the same insects are called 'butterflies'. But, that people there sometimes call them 'flutterbies' as a kind of humorous jumbling of the word. Kind of sounds like something Tiejo would do. But honestly, I can't quite understand why their proper word for the things is butterflies. They don't look anything like butter, to me. Makes much more sense to call them flutterbies, since, you know... they flutter by. At the same time, if such insects exist on Earth, and our default language is one of theirs, and most of our words for the same things are the same, why would people here have changed it? Even if our word makes more sense than theirs...."

"Dunno," said Tino, "but you're right, our word is better. It makes more sense, and it's more fun... even if it's not a joke when we say it, like it would be on Earth."

Kar said, "All very interesting, but talk gets boring after a while." He jumped up and joined his brothers and Lia and Tiejo in chasing the flutterbies and fighting over who got to hold the net, while the others sat and watched the kids play.

Suddenly, a thought struck Darius. "You know, since we've come far enough into the grove for the trees to obscure the walls, I actually forgot we're underground. I wonder how the flutterbies found this place?"

Joss shrugged and said, "Insects are good at finding places of interest. You can't blame them for wanting to be around trees and flowers. I'm sure there are others around, though there are weak spells in place to keep out some of the kinds that you'd call 'pests'."

This prompted Darius to muse, "I think Earth has lots of kinds of insects we don't have on the Land. Like ants. I read a book once about Earth insects, written by some spirit-talker who was also an entomologist. Lance loaned me the book when I was a kid. Some of the insects seemed cool, but I am incredibly glad we don't have ants here. Looking at the pictures of the different types, reading about their colonies and stuff, it just gave me the creeps. Then again, it's not like we don't have some things Earth doesn't have, which I feel we'd be better off without. Like stags, for example."

"It's funny," said Tino, "I thought about that earlier when your cousins first mentioned their fort. Because from what I understand, there are stags on Earth, just not like the kind we have here. Theirs aren't giant beetles, though I do think they have stag beetles which are, you know, beetle-sized."

"Yeah, I read all that in the book. Maybe you read the same one?" Rather than replying, Tino just grinned and shrugged. So Darius continued, "Anyway, I feel like Terran stags would make a better hybrid with jaguars than Landian stags. I'm glad there aren't any stags too close to any villages these days, and none at all that I know of on Near Land. Bug-sized bugs may be creepy, but a bug that's up to three feet long? That's just horrific."

"I can't argue with that," said Joss, "and I'm sure glad I've never seen a stag in person. Although, when I explained earlier what the boys meant by 'staguar,' I should have been clearer. They actually read the word 'stag' in some books retelling old stories from Earth, and that's the kind of animal they were imagining. I'm not sure if they've even heard of the stags we have on the Land. Though I suppose they might; I think there are stags on First Isle, where their father is from, and Luni was born. But you know, regardless of what we think of stags or any other insects, not everything God creates has to be about how they can be used or appreciated by intelligent beings. Everything has its purpose, whether we see it or not. It all supports some aspect of the ecosystem, and ultimately, we will gain some benefit, even if it's indirect. For example, I've often heard your father complain about mosquitoes-"

"Can't stand the things, myself," Darius cut in.

Joss grinned and continued, "I admit they can be quite annoying, but think of the things that eat them. Without mosquitoes, there might be no dragonflies, which I personally think are pretty cool."

"Oh yeah. I like them. I guess."

"Cool! Cool! Cool!" exclaimed Tiejo excitedly, taking a sudden break from chasing the flutterbies. "Liking dragonflies I am, yes, muchly, but still hopings to see real dragonses someday!"

"Well, we'll be passing just west of Dragon Wood, on our way to Near Port," said Darius. "Maybe we will see a few."

"And talk to them, too?"

"Well, I'm afraid they're the non-intelligent kind, around there. To find a talking dragon, you'd have to go to Sorret, or maybe Valley Forest, on the other side of First River from First Village. Actually, I'm a bit surprised you didn't meet any when you went to Sorret; you said you were there once with your master, didn't you?"

"Um... yes. But not there for sightseeing or such. It was a business trip, and no business of dragonses." With that, he shrugged and rejoined Darius's young cousins in their pursuit of the elegant and colorful insects, the existence of which no one seemed inclined to complain about.

"Anyway," said Joss, "getting back to what I was saying, even if there are some insects or other things that have no benefit to us, even indirectly, that doesn't mean such things don't have a right to exist. If God created it, we shouldn't question it. He had His reasons, I'm sure."

Nelly added, "There's one point we can agree on. While I may not believe everything in the O'Gas, I definitely believe God is not to be questioned. Even if I do hate some of the things He created, and I'm glad, like my brother, that He chose not to create some things on the Land that he did on other worlds. Like bees; I read about them in that same book Darius mentioned, and I'm so glad that instead of making bees on the Land, God just made honeytrees instead. I love honey, but I'm not sure it's worth depending on flying stinging things to make it for us."

“Agreed," said Darius. He went back to staring at clouds for a bit, then closed his eyes, enjoying the sunshine, the light spring breeze (which came from nowhere), and the laughter of his frolicking cousins (and Tiejo).

Eventually, even the children collapsed, and everyone sat looking around, or lay back down, all of them thinking their own thoughts, in silence. After awhile, Darius sighed, sat back up, looked once again at the Moon. "Actually, it is getting a bit dimmer, now. I suppose we'd best get back to the picnic site, pack up, and head back home." And so they did.

chapter 26

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