A Dreamer's Inner Jungle
It was a long hard day for Viridia. She was finally learning how to stealth at will, but it drained her. She knew that only through practicing would she be able build her stamina. Some days, though, it seemed nothing but an unobtainable goal – something others could reach, those who had undying energy. It was no longer so challenging for her to lift shiny objects off people. Delivering stolen things to Booth wasn’t as fun as it used to be. She’d dared to punch him in the arm for telling her she was getting lazy. His response was a slap across the face. It had not hurt so much as it stunned her. But to give him the satisfaction of knowing the internal sting was simply not going to happen.
When in a funk like this as a child Viridia had often climbed up trees to sit and merge into one. Her leafy skin would emerge and she could sometimes hug a trunk comfortably for hours on end. She searched high and low around Ratchet and finally found a great oak with wide branches. There was the perfect limb, wide and curved as if meant to cradle her form. She lay on her back in the tree, feet placed up on the trunk, a view of the sky through layers of leaves without sun causing glare. She placed one of her softer packs behind her neck as a pillow. It was here that Viridia drifted into a bizarre nap filled with intensity in the vivid dream that was about to change her entire outlook.
At first it was a mere voice. “Get up,” it commanded. The voice was neither mean nor harsh. It simply expected compliance. Never having been obedient as a child, Viridia rolled over in her mind, her back to the voice and grunted softly, her nostrils flaring. “Are you afraid of yourself?” It asked. Viridia sighed and then sat up slowly. She saw a lean form wearing a hat that effectively covered his facial features. All she could see were his ears, long and pointed and some blue hair trailing down his back. From her perch up in the tree, Viridia had not expected to be bothered. Somewhere in the back recesses of her mind, Viridia knew this was a dream because the creature before her was an ancient man elf, and she actually understood his tongue. Plopping down to the ground like a tree frog, Viridia stood her full height and still could see nothing but shadows for a face. Not being able to see his eyes was disconcerting. It placed her at a disadvantage.
When Viridia spoke she was startled to find her voice was mental and not so much spoken out loud. He must be some kind of magic ancient elf to be communicating with her in her own mind. “M’kay, I be up. Wats it to ya, huh?” The elf replied, “I asked you a question, young one.” Viridia searched her mind for what he had asked and then replied in her typically smart aleck way, “Ain’t ‘fraid of much. Not even elfs.” The voice laughed, low and resonant. He was not here to harm her, but… what was he doing in her dream?
“It’s not me you need to be afraid of; it’s your own mind.” The elf took her hand and led her to a rock overlooking the small town of Ratchet. His hand felt like soft parchment paper in her leafy one. It was comforting somehow, and she allowed him to lead her. “Who you, huh?”
“My name is Edwin Von Nacht.” He walked with the grace of someone in youth, but his mind was enormous in scope. Viridia realized then that she had some portal into his immense knowledge, the mental connection being that strong. She saw eons of an active life in his being, wars and battles - long generations of family. She saw his penchant for travel to vast lands and a genuine love for exploring. She saw him with family and with his wife, a different creature, but loving, tolerant and immensely caring. “How come you no kids?” He smiled at her then, knowing she was seeing what he was thinking of. His mind handed her the gift then. “You are a child of mine, in a sense.” This greatly puzzled her. She knew no parents. In her mind, the parents who had left her were heartless weak souls, incapable of dealing with defects and social ostracization. They had abandoned their own kin to be free from the shackles of shame. All her young life, she had hated their weakness.
Korttie had been the first to see potential in Viridia, taking her under her wing and giving her instant family with the Tigers. Booth was a slave driver on the outside, but under his pile of bones lay a heart of gold. Still, he had an entire Company to run and they needed him more that she did. Convincing him of that was never going to happen but she had to try. Showing him she was a big girl and fully capable was always foremost in her mind, always. Keldu had nurtured her some, but he was a busy business man and out in the field out of necessity. The big oafs, Stormstrike, Nerrok and Nargesh, were worldly cows and charming in their own right, and yet intersection with them was uncommon. The newer undead folks were a mysterious bunch. Sannia was educated and smelled of exotic spices. Deggar had some uncanny skill with those tiny blades of his, but when Viridia got too close, he nearly bit her head off. He did not realize all she wanted was to borrow his shiny blades. Someday she hoped beyond hope the meet the legendary Tiger Master Zolrin, though she’d long ago resigned herself to the fact he was far far away. These people were a family to her, yet…. she was alone in her own heart. She faced her trials alone and was slowly withdrawing into herself, building a thick barrier between herself and the rest of the world.
The elf who referred to himself as Von squeezed her hand then and told her they were going on an adventure. His mind told her she was only as alone as she allowed herself to be. It began to feel like an argument in her own head. She showed him her pains, her past, the tortures she had endured for being different – a freak and outcast. Patiently and with compassion he agreed with her that her pain was strong. Still, he nudged her forward towards anger. While this mental debate was occurring, he plopped her up on his epic steed and away they rode towards a deep jungle.
“Why I gots to be anger’d, huh?” She did not feel the impetus to do much but wallow in her own sadness. His answer was calm and kind. “Because once you get mad, you begin to respect yourself.”
She thought about this for a long silent ride. He took a few hits from passing wild cats, but not a scratch was visible. She hovered behind him, safe from all danger as his very presence protected her thoroughly. The path they were on opened up to some ruins, even more ancient than her new friend. The trees and vines gave way to a wide set of stairs leading up endlessly it seemed. They dismounted and ran up the stairs together, plunging into a narrow opening at the top just prior to Viridia’s ankles being nibbled at.
Coming through the other side, Viridia stared in wonder. Never before had she seen such beauty. The air was tropical but not oppressive. The sun was warm and more orange than she had seen before. The sky was tall and endless, a deeper blue than she was accustomed to. The ruins around her were still sporting the richness of both age and wealth. Instead of smelling rancid or rotting, this place smelled ALIVE and full of fertility and celebration for all that lived and loved. Von showed her a history of this place called Zul’Gurub. She saw him laughingly sporting a belt of shrunken heads, wondering if it looked good, since it was not all that powerful compared to other trinkets found in the belly of this jungle.
Looking around, Viridia had a sense of depth she had never felt before. Waterfalls plunged for miles, it seemed, and trees added extra levels of structure. Ferns cushioned the jungle floor, with many colorful and venomous spiders hiding underneath. Normally this would have spooked her, but with Von close, she felt no fear at all. Vines wove like endless snakes. Perhaps some of them were. She could barely tell.
He led her to a ledge overlooking a clear and deep pool of aquamarine water. It was here he lifted her hand, back in his own gentle one and told her, “Yell with me, Viridia. Let the anger swell. Say it now: MY PARENTS ABANDONED ME!”
Viridia blinked at him and watched him swell to a height even more than her own. This ancient elf was growing in anger and it made her eyes wide. Tentatively her voice joined his. He grinned as she began to pull the emotion from deep within. “DEY ARE CRAP, ALL OF DEM DAT TEASED ME!” Finding the core of her pain, she belted out finally, his voice aligned with hers and echoing across the jungle, “I DESERVE BETTER!”
The elf let his voice dim so that hers was alone and strong. “Do you believe that, Viridia?” he asked with shining eyes. Looking at him now, fierce and indignant, she stomped her foot hard for emphasis and said, “Yuh huh, I do!”
“Good,” he replied quietly, pulling her into his lap. She sat huddled up against him like that, noticing he had no qualms about her leafy skin. His acceptance was absolute; her heart open to someone other than herself for the first time ever. Back to the internal debate they went. She showed him in her mind how much, if she admitted it, she wanted someone to save her, to rescue her from her pains. He patiently drew for her the picture that this was not up to someone else, but up to her to fill that aching place. He showed her his own wife and how the cycle worked of love, the ever flowing circular give and take, but that it had to start with someone who loved himself first. He showed her how he’d failed to truly love others in the past, due to his own failure to love himself. But how, she countered, could someone love themselves when all they felt was despair and agony?
His words came into her mind like a neon banner of truth. “You can choose not to be a victim, you know.”
She bolted out of his lap then, both scared and excited, unsure which emotion to embrace. He saw her struggle with this and let her work herself into a frenzy, knowing that through her actions now, finally, her self-imposed prison would break open and free her. Viridia did not yet see it as cathartic, but as a swell of the almost unbearable. She jumped up because sitting still was no longer an option. Avoidance had been her choice; inactivity her revenge for all her pain. “Does it matter what I do?” she asked wildly. “Nope,” he replied with a small smile. “Anything at all will start the wheel turning.” She danced in agitation, wishing this fire under her feet would leave her alone. The only escape from herself was to jump off the ledge! Oh, the sting of knowing that the courage it took to jump was truly her only valid fear! If she could face that, she could face anything at all. His calm voice permeated her dance of indecision, “You’re only limited by what you think.”
With the slam of his meaning, she leaped off the ledge, hurling herself through the humid air, willing the water to cleanse her. She landed into a pool of muted noise. Under the surface the sound of the waterfall was dull and bubbles from her nose floated around her weightless. She saw the large crocs with white jaws of death swarm towards her. Von was there, his blades flying in a whirlwind of choreographed skill. He tore the reptiles to shreds around her and she bobbed in the water grinning.
“I kin do anyting I wan’ and you save me, huh?” He splashed her then, and she kicked her wide feet in his direction, creating a wave that dunked him under. She reached the shore, shook the wetness from her ears and plopped down on a warm rock, allowing her skin to dry off. Von sat next to her then and showed her in his mind, worlds previously unattainable by her. “See where you can venture, little one?” he nudged her. “These places are limited to those afraid to reach their potential. Hope is within your grasp.” Von laid out the images for her, of adventures and instances deep and danger-filled. “Dey look excitin’ to me, not so dangerous, huh?”
Viridia began to comb her fingers through Von’s hair, getting the tangles out and braiding it with flowers. He was amused by her adoration, but in this magical realm, it was only the two of them, no one else to notice her beautifications. A man secure enough in himself to allow a girl to dress him in flowers – yes, Von was ancient indeed, his wisdom unsurpassed.
As she braided and hummed a song of serene joy, she realized he had been right. She faced a fear, and now she felt accomplished. It gave her the impetus to take more action, one step at a time. Maybe the cure for her own aching aloneness really was in her own hands. Maybe it was as simple as deciding she deserved better.
“Yer muh guardian angel, huh?” Viridia asked him with a natural grin.
His response echoed into wavering words of awakening as her eyelids fluttered open to the oak tree branches above her.
“I exist only in your mind, dear Viridia. You can save yourself, if you wish. Do you indeed deserve better?” The pause before his next words hammered his lessons home as she sat up, embracing wakefulness and reality. “Live like you believe it, and the rest will follow.”