The night sky was deep black above the jungle, dotted with myriads of small stars, which sent their bright light towards Atys. The picture that Sian Gai-Lua was presented with when he opened his eyes was simply incredible. For some minutes he enjoyed the sight Ma-Duk gave him, and remained lying on his back listening silently to the sounds around him.
Everything meshed together in a harmonious vision of peace.
When he tore himself away from the sight it felt like waking up from a pleasant dream to the harsh demands of reality. Every attempt to move his body was punished by immediate and relentless pain, so he abandoned the attempt for the moment to look around a bit. Where was he? The jungle looked the same wherever he looked.
He tried to remember how he had come here but it was a waste of time. Except for a few single pictures which emerged incoherently from his mind there was nothing. He took a couple of deep breaths and tried to concentrate.
For a long time his thoughts circled around one burning question: “How did I get here?” But no matter how hard he tried to concentrate, he didn’t find the answer.
- “Ok then” He tried to calm himself down. “Slowly but surely and one after the other.”
In his thoughts he returned to the moment when he had left Hoi-Cho with his companions to hunt. He was still able to remember how they had roamed the dense jungle, always being on guard against wild animals and always searching for some worthwhile prey. It was after that his recollection faltered and became incomplete. The more he tried to sum up what had happened, the more the incoherent pictures in his head found their place in the shattered mosaic of his memory.
They had been on their way for some hours when it stated to drizzle. Then the rain had fallen in torrents, as if Ma-Duk had decided to drown the world. And with the rain the fog had come. First it didn’t really surprise them, sudden changes in weather like this was nothing new after all, so they had continued their hunt. Gradually, however, the fog got thicker and thicker. In the end it had been so thick, that they were unable to see more than a few steps ahead and they had decided to stop hunting for now and return to the village.
Now that Sian stopped to think things over, he understood how they had been wandering aimlessly through the fog as it had become thicker and thicker. Soon they had not even been able to see their hands in front of their faces, and thus it was not a complete surprise to end up in a totally unfamiliar region of the jungle. They could discern not one landmark or reference point that would indicate the way home. No fork or junction in this confusing jungle was recognisable to them, but still they had kept on walking. After all, this was Zorai and the jungle their home. They would find their way back. At least that was the assumption…
After only a short while, which actually felt like hours, Miu, the youngest member of the group, suddenly and without any previous symptoms began coughing her heart out. Sian noticed that he was also having more trouble breathing than normal, but he had presumed that it was the combination of the exhausting hike and the appalling weather. All too soon however, his other companions had started to suffer from the first aches and pains.
Losai developed all the symptoms of a bad cold; sneezing hard and obviously shivering, despite the humid warmth of the air.
It was Kia who started scratching her whole body relentlessly, desperately trying to assuage the feeling that she was covered in some disgusting rash.
Sian himself was not spared. Initially his legs started to ache and with every step he had a harder time walking. Endlessly they had struggled on until the moment when Miu had collapsed with a final racking cough.
Sian felt the tears well in his eyes when he thought back to that moment. How could they have been so very ignorant and miss the obvious signs?
A shiver ran down his spine as he relived again the horrific scene when Kia had bent down anxiously to the prostrate Miu, only to jump up the next second, screaming in fear and horror as she waved a misshaped lump in her hand.
The next instant she threw it wildly into the jungle undergrowth and took off in blind panic through the fog.
- “Kia” he had heard Losai’s desperate shout, “Kia Stay! What in Ma-Duks name is wrong with you!?”
There was no reply, as becoming muffled by fog and distance; the only sounds were desperate screams and the babbling of terror. Leaving Losai to deal with Kia; Sian had kneeled down on the wet ground to look after the motionless Miu. When he got close enough to actually see the body of a homin instead of a shadowy something in the fog, he finally recognized what had affected Kia so badly.
The ground on which Miu was sprawled was a darkish purple colour. As he gazed down, he felt himself going rigid with terror as he suddenly realised what was happening. His mouth went dry and he had to swallow a few times before he was able to utter the one word churning in his mind - “Goo!”
Although Sian’s voice was the merest whisper, Losai had still heard him.
- “What?” He asked, frightened.
Then it happened. As if something had taken control of Sian and he no longer was able to act of his own volition, it was as if he was a spectator to his own life that he saw himself rise up straight, grab Losai by the arm and run as if their lives depended on it. “We have to leave this place at once!” shouted someone who sounded remarkably like him. It was at this point that his coherent memories ceased and chaos took over.
Everything that happened after this split second of duality was a mixture of wild pictures and cascading impressions in his mind, and it was impossible for him to put them into any sense of order. Here, he was pulling Losai with him through the fog; there, he remembered the fog getting thinner but clearly a poisonous violet in colour. In another fragment he felt that his companion had managed to break free of his grip, or maybe had even fallen, yet he had carried on regardless. He couldn’t grasp it all, just as he was unable to tell how he had managed to leave the Goo and reach this place. All his certainties were focused on one fact, he was alive!
He had been in the middle of the Goo infected region, far beyond any place any Homin had gone before and he had survived. Now, though, he was lying on the ground, helpless, waiting for the next Torbak to choose him as breakfast? No, he would fight for life.
Using the power of this thought he tried to stand up again, and finally he managed with great pain, to struggle into an upright position. Paralyzed with shock, he remained rigid in this pose as he saw his legs for the first time.
What was that?
The skin of his legs, once clean blue in colour, was mottled with dark spots from the feet to the thighs, here and there crossed by a violet vein.
- “What is that?” he mumbled to himself.
- “A souvenir…” Came the unexpected reply in Miu’s voice…
He looked around surprised, but couldn’t see anyone.
- “Miu” he asked aloud. “Is it really you?”
- “Oh yes, I am here” The familiar voice was almost shocking.
- “But…where are you?”
- “Here and here and here……Beside you…..around you…..within you….”
- “We are all here.” It was Losai this time.
- “All of us - with you for ever…” added Kia.
- “But how?” asked Sian, searching the area around him with frantic eyes in the hope of finding his fellows. This time the response was clear, and sounded within his own head.
- “You bought us with you. Together in the goo…“
— anonymous author.