Mr. Zallus, I cannot… continue… running this speed, Zackley panted,
Zallus is… too fast!
Zallus looked back at the eighty-or-so feet between him and his friend. He slowed down a small bit, but not enough to let Zackley get anywhere near him. He turned, jogging backwards, to make strange faces at Zackley, then noticed a sudden change in terrain under his feet—soft and mossy, and no longer springy like the colorful sand. He stopped and let Zackley catch up.
Thank… you, Zackley said, panting violently,
I need… to rest. City is close. There, eating and sleeping is able.
From here, there is …west, he said, pointing towards the horizon on their right.
Zallus started off again, noticeably slower. Zackley, now able to keep up, ran alongside him. The pair continued in this way until they came over what seemed to be a slight hill, but was actually the lip to a sharp drop in the profile of the land, giving them a majestic view of the world of Equus. Coming from the hill, there was a lush, green forest, followed by miles of rich grass plain. A lake was visible further away. Then was another sharp seam in the land, this one very distant, giving way to a short burst of sand, then a different landscape altogether. The sun-line shone down from directly above them; in a normal world, it would be noon.
Is the town—is it a town—in here somewhere? Zallus gestured downward at the miles of green encircling the bottom of the outcropping.
Yes, place we go is inside here, Zackley said distractedly while eyeing several paths into the wilderness,
but not town.
Zackley picked a path down the rocky slope and silently gestured to Zallus to follow. They reached the bottom and were enveloped by the forest canopy quite suddenly. The leaves above them, lush with what looked like the years of continuous growth without wintering, spread thick enough across the sky to seal Zallus and Zackley strictly into the dark of the forest, and completely hide the now-high sun-line.
From a presumably Zackley-ward direction emanated a relaxed tone.
To come now was a good idea,
it said; after my eyes and your eyes rest from the light, we will be able to see. If it wasn't noon, we would be lost.
Zallus, last night you did a strange something, or a strange coincidence did itself. Do you know what subject I am… aiming at?
Zallus nodded, then replied after realizing Zackley's silence remained inquisitive,
the candle. At first I thought it was something else you had made and I had just accidentally activated it, but then I noticed the curious expression you were giving it. I honestly don't know—was it me? Could it have been? Or-
It isn't a normal thing to happen, no. If you can do it again, Zallus… Zackley sat down with a soft rustle of long grass, and crossed his legs.
That would be a… um… most cultures have a dark, early part of their history where people believed others could do amazing things—usually the people, too, that were old healers using plant medicines. What is your word for the thing that others said that they did?
That, Zackley, would be
magic. And I, therefore, would be a magician, or a shaman—as you were saying—or a demon, or angel, or whatever else cultures called foreigners with different technology. You're an inventor, Zackley; you should know that you can trick almost anyone into thinking something ingenious is really supernatural with enough showmanship, at least while it isn't well-known. I'm thinking, at this point, that something is either watching me from far away, or from inside me, and triggered that fire because it thought I wanted it to. It would make sense if I was some sort of test subject….
Zallus, I understood about half of that. I don't really use this kind of… philosophical language, when Pearl and I speak. Zackley got back up.
Still, I can tell you: you may think that, because something strange happened to you, strange things will continue to happen to you. I thought that; I was looking forward to it. It didn't happen, Zallus. I wasn't special, or destined for anything; I just got unlucky once. That was it.
Zackley put his hand on Zallus' shoulder.
No one's watching you. Despite appearances, the universe is a pretty normal, boring place once you get used to it. It's also not nearly as technologically advanced as you would expect; I don't know why, but there don't seem to be very many people around with my particular profession. So, putting those two things together, I can say this almost definitively: if that flame wasn't some natural, inherent ability of yours, then it was a hallucination. Whether we both saw it or not.
Zackley took his hand back and held it upward instead.
Can you see yet, Zallus? Zallus was distracted for a moment, but then nodded again, this time to better effect. The two wandered slowly into the quiet underbrush.