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“Eyelight” by Mark Penny

“Look, Brother Kayabtaguslen, I appreciate that you were once the local Dream Watcher, but I am now the appointed authority for this community, and any revelation about relocating would come through me in a vision or dream, through a still, small voice, or as a prompting, impression or stream of pure intelligence. I’ve had no such stirrings of the Spirit, so I must assume your impressions are false.

“Thank you for coming to me. I will pray about it. I’ll even fast. No, I won’t go up to the Dream House or use any of your herbs. Fasting should open the channels soon enough.

“Yes, the branch might follow you. But think of your soul. You’d be defying the Lord’s anointed. I’m no Moses or Lehi, but I have been called of God by authority and the laying on of hands. I am the head of this unit of the Church, so important revelations should come through me. The Lord’s house is a house of order. We’re a church of appointed officers, not talented shamans.”

***

Kayabtaguslen left the Brandts’ cave in disgust and dismay. Ever since the Two-legs came panting up the rock trails with their alphabets and books and message of healing from the bites of the Dead-Leaf Crawler, a rope of inaction seemed to wind itself around the tribe. The Dream House was rotting on the Peak, its collection of honored pipes was filling with leaf fibers and dustwrigglers, and its herb gardens were feeding the dreams of treeswingers and skyflappers.

And now all those creatures were leaving the mountain. And coming back. And leaving. And coming back—so many times in the previous moon cycle that not a person in the tribe could ignore it. Something was happening on the Peak and it ought to be investigated. Except that everyone feared the place. Before the Two-legs, it had been sacred, off-limits to all but the Dream Watchers. Now it was unholy, the nest of the Dead-Leaf Crawler, the eternal trap for souls who broke the laws of the Two-legs. This was the lore that had grown up like rootchokers in the truthgarden planted by the Two-legs.

Kayabtaguslen did not fear the Dream House. The Dead-Leaf Crawler did not live in that place of memory—the memory of dreams, including Kayabtaguslen’s Big Dream, the one of two strange creatures struggling over the rocks of the dry stream, their backs heavy with food and books in cunning pouches that closed like stickbulbs and mating dead-leaf crawlers.

But should he go to the Peak to see what troubled the tree and sky people there? In the Big Dream, the Two-legs wore crowns of sunlight, beautiful wreathes that shone golden like the Eye of the Gardener—wreathes of dreamleaf. The meaning was clear: the Gardener had sent the Two-legs. When the pair reached the tribe, smelling of the water that dripped from their hairless foreheads and drenched their woven skins, Kayabtaguslen crowned them with dreamleaf wreathes and settled them in the cave he had prepared for them.

When the male had rested, Kayabtaguslen led him up to the Peak and into the Dream House, and offered him the Great Pipe. The Two-legs declined, a sign of humility—declined all five pipes in turn. Kayabtaguslen brewed strong tea, which the Two-legs sniffed and accepted—until his first sip. Then he widened his eyes and fled—and gradually impressed upon the people that the Peak was a place of the darkness and ignorance the Gardener had sent His messengers to dispel.

The Dream had been clear. The male and female Two-legs, were to be heard and obeyed. Kayabtaguslen, who had dreamed the Last Great Dream, would shun both house and leaf.

The people fasted and prayed as the Two-legs taught them, but no dreams followed. Like dead leaves, the people had lost color and suppleness. They had only their shape. The light of the Gardener came only through the Two-legs now. It fell around the people but did not fall on them, did not glow inside them.

So Kayabtaguslen broke his streamvow and went up to the Dream House, to see what the Peak dwellers feared. He saw that the Peak dwellers ate the dreamleaf, which before had been guarded day and night. If they ate the leaf, they must be having dreams. And the dreams must be scaring them from the Peak. But why did they return? Because they forgot their dreams? Because too long without the leaf, they ceased to dream, and without the dreams they lost their fear?

What should he do now? Tell the Two-legs that the animals dreamed because of the leaf, and that the dreams were of some evil on the mountain? The people would say that the animals were fleeing the Venomous One. That eating the leaf opened their eyes to the evil, but not eating the leaf closed their eyes, and so they saw and fled, but forgot and returned over and over.

The Two-legs did not believe the Dead-Leaf Crawler dwelt on the Peak. But he did believe the dreamleaf was venom.

Kayabtaguslen needed more understanding of the threat the animals sensed. He needed to dream. He needed the leaf.

As he climbed to the Dream House, Kayabtaguslen felt his skin burn and his innards freeze. He felt like dancefruit with a green rind and rotten flesh. (It had been long since he’d eaten dancefruit and truly danced.)

Part of him yearned for the dreamleaf—for the dreams. Part of him felt like a thief, sneaking off to raid a garden of forbidden fruit. The Two-legs would not be pleased, would regard him with watery eyes. The people would exclude him from their councils and make him a proverb to their broods. His past-wives and their broods would look on him with shame. The tribe would cease to call him the Last Dream Watcher and begin to call him the First Vow Breaker. His place in the lore of the tribe would be as confused as the feelings in his flesh.

But the Peak dwellers fear came from a dream, which came from the leaf, which came from the Gardener. Fasting and praying were slow openings to the Stoneplacer. The danger might fall before the Two-legs dreamed of it. Kayabtaguslen would know the danger in a single glance of the Eye.

The Two-legs had refused all the pipes but accepted the tea. As tea, the leaf would be less sinful.

And quicker. Smoke took preparation. No leaves had been prepared in three years. Preparation would take days.

With fresh leaves, the dream might be weak and clouded. Kayabtaguslen rubbed up a small, smokeless fire to dry a rack of leaves over. Again, not best, but the First Fire that parched inevitably…also parched slowly. He put out a rack for the Skyfire in case there was time and the dream was deep or misty, but he wasted no eyelight waiting on the Eye.

The tea was weak and tasted of green. The Two-legs said the green was given by the suneaters in the leaves. Maybe. But the sun was faint when the leaves had not been dried to crack out the light. And other leaves were also green, but did not give dreams. Kayabtaguslen did not think greenness gave the dreams.

A shadow struck the mountain, engulfed the Peak. He brewed more leaves. The mountain shook. But what shadow could shake the mountain? A mighty storm? Such storms were rare, and even the mightiest had never stirred the great stones.

The Eye was passing into its descent. After dark, the tribe would seek Kayabtaguslen near the caves and lean-tos. Then they would divide into the woods. Finally, they would think of the Peak. He must complete the dream before then.

The leaves on the rack were not fully dry, but he rolled one into a wad, tapped the Small Pipe free of fibers and wrigglers, and worked the wad into the pipe. It would not burn cleanly, but it would burn and he would dream more clearly. He lit the wad in the fire and breathed deeply in.

The mountain was ablaze. How could a shadow bring flame? Was it stormfire? But the forest was wet, the trees were green, the rivers were full, and the skyrivers were misting as they fell. No stormfire ever told could set the mountain ablaze.

This was a many-layered dream. He might need the Great Pipe. But the Eye would soon reach its bed and if Kayabtaguslen did not return to his cave soon after, the search might turn to the Peak. And he had dreamsmoke to slough—within and without.

He hung up the pipes and slunk from the Peak to the Vowstream. He emerged from the water dripping and heavy and unscented by dreamleaf, throat and cheeks raw from gargling and swishing. On the way home, he chewed stingberries to purge whatever wisps of dreamsmoke might remain in his mouth. Then he chewed sweetberry to cover the smell of purging.

Fires glowed in the caves of his neighbors. Kayabtaguslen hooted his name as he passed each one. At the mouth of his own cave, he beat the shoutstick in the pattern of his name for all the forest to hear. He did this thrice, pausing six breaths between statements. Then he entered his cave.

“You’ve been to the Dream House,” his year-wife signed. All four of the brood were suckling at her teats. One looked up at him. The others were half asleep, lips puckering in weakening bursts. Kayabtaguslen touched all their heads and pressed his snout against his year-wife’s brow. She smelled of cave smoke.

“What did you see?” she signed when he pulled away.

“Danger,” he signed back. “Shadow and fire. I must learn more.”

“Will you use the pipes?”

“I have already smoked the Smallest.”

“Maybe you will dream tonight.”

“Maybe. But the leaves are weak. The water clouds the Eye. I may need the Great Pipe in the end.”

“Well, go to sleep and see what the Gardener tells you if you dream.”

Kayabtaguslen lay by the fire and slept, but all dreams had washed off in the Stream.

***

With the Second Pipe, something burned through the sky. With the Middle Pipe, fire surrounded the Dream House and through the smoke and flames he saw the tribe with torches, watching the Dream House burn.

He woke and heard them coming, loping  through the grass, holding up torches, hooting his name: “Same-father son! Kayabtaguslen! Come out of the Poisoner’s Nest! Remember the Washing in the Stream!”

There were still two pipes to smoke, but there was time for only one. If he smoked only the Fourth, he might not see the end of the dream. If he smoked only the Great Pipe, he might overshoot the dream or miss some crucial layer. He lit the Great Pipe.

A massive object, round and hard as a skipstone, struck the Peak but did not skip. It gushed arcing streams of fire that did not choke on their own smoke. The stump of the mountain burned and burned, and only the skyflappers escaped.

By the stars and the moons, he knew it would come in the next three nights. He hoped not that night.

***

He sat up by his cave fire. His year-wife was suckling their brood.

“What did you see?” she signed.

“I saw a skystone strike the Peak. It smashed half the mountain. The other half it burned. We must leave at once. I will tell the Two-legs and the tribe. Gather our food and the firestones, then flee the mountain. Do not wait for me. Go to the valley and around the Middle Peak. Rocks will fly. Did they burn the Dream House?”

“Almost, but the Two-legs stopped them. Now they are glad. The Poisoner must have his house or he will come into ours.”

“The Gardener will burn it,” the Dream Watcher signed, then raced on all fours to the Two-legs’ cave.

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