21. The Pale Stranger

“What are you doing here?”

I had never heard Mut-Bity’s voice so strong, so… threatening before. She rose to her feet and positioned herself behind me, between me and the stranger, a man. All her movements were calm and steady. So steady and deliberate that I knew she was prepared for anything.

“I heard one of my kind might be here and came to claim her. Is this she?”

“Your kind do not walk in the open, under the sun,” Mut-Bity said and only a slight tremor in her voice told me she was shocked. And that she hated and feared him, whoever this man was.

“But we do, when the necessity arises,” the man said pleasantly, and inhaled deeply, “now, let me see…”

I felt an odd sensation. All the hairs on my skin seemed to be standing up, as though my body was readying itself for escape. A strong tingling sensation ran up my spine. The sizzling numbness felt similar to the feeling of knocking an elbow against something sharp.

“Mmmm…” he breathed in again as if savoring an appetizing fragrance. I heard a slap. I knew that sound. The last time I had heard it was when my sister dipped her finger into a honey jar when Mut-Bity had turned her back for a moment.

Then it suddenly went very quiet. I felt as though the linen cloth over my head was rising into the air where my hair was standing up on end.

“You of all people should have more wisdom than to touch our kind…” the man murmured, but oddly enough he sounded amused at being hit by Mut-Bity.

“I know exactly who you are, and what your kind do,” Mut-Bity hissed. “This girl does not belong to you. And I warn you, if you ever come to the same village as I, I shall be ready…”

“And what, exactly, do you think you could do to me? Are you not afraid, woman?” The man’s voice sounded suddenly threatening. This, I thought, was how the demons that haunted the desert sounded – it was like the desert winds howling, blowing sand clouds towards the River. “We could kill you whenever we wish. Or worse… make you our servant whenever we wish.”

A strong pair of male legs appeared from behind me and stopped in front. Before I could even think what was so odd about them, the linen that was wrapped around my head had been swept from my face and I looked into the most extraordinary eyes imaginable, staring into mine from under the shadow of a hood.

They were golden. Not brown but golden like the sun. Shining, and surrounded by bluish shadows. And the man himself had the oddest skin… pure white, like alabaster, but with a golden tint… I could see bluish veins in his neck, as though his skin was transparent. I could not tear my eyes away from his pale golden complexion.

He looked just like me. Except that I had sky blue eyes.

“I wonder… Where do you come from, my child?” he murmured with a voice that seemed to draw my mind out through my chest. I opened my mouth to answer, not able to resist. And suddenly they were all there.

The whispers. They were usually quiet during the day, or in the bright light, but now they suddenly filled my mind, as though they were whispering in my heart. I could not hear the words, they made a constant, heavy, loud buzzing sound that cut off the voice of the man, as a knife cuts through fruit, so its soft echo did not touch me anymore. And then the whispers reached outwards from inside me, pushing him off my chest, and out of my mind, forming a wall of buzzing protection around my heart.

The man jerked backwards. His mouth opened and a loud hiss escaped his surprisingly wide lips. He sounded like a furious snake. I, hidden somewhere inside the buzzing voices, calmly wondered why he reacted like that. Then I realized the whispers of my mind had taken the form of bees… all the bees from Mut-Bity’s beehives had suddenly appeared from somewhere, and were swarming in the air around me. More appeared as I observed their dance in the air. I was sitting inside a bubble of bees. My eyes were still on the blue, dark vein on the man’s neck, and I watched as a bee, a strange bee, lighter in color and bigger than the others, followed my gaze and landed on his neck.

“No!” Mut-Bity said with a sharp voice, and I knew she spoke to the bee. But the bee had already stung. Right into that vein.

The man yelled and slapped his neck. He stood back and pressed his neck with agony in his eyes. They had lost all interest in me and seemed to turn darker. His whole skin was growing ashen, grey. It started from the spot where the bee had stung him and slowly spread across his skin. Like a rotting fruit…The sweet smell of overripe fruit that enveloped him grew even stronger when he moved, trying to wipe away the pain.

Mut-Bity quickly positioned herself between me and the pale stranger, pushing me backwards.

“You witch!” he groaned and bent forward, grabbing his throat with both hands, sliding his fingers across the bee sting, over and over again, as if he was trying to stroke the pain away. His mouth opened and I found myself admiring his perfect long white teeth. Saliva started to drip from the wide open mouth and fell at Mut-Bity’s feet. She quickly moved away from it, pushing me even further back, so that none of it came anywhere near her toes.

And then he was gone. I did not see him take any steps. There was only something shadow-like moving very fast, like a fading swirl of dust, or as though he was sinking underwater, and then he disappeared. Mut-Bity reached for my hand, to stop me, but I had already reached forward and scooped the small bee from the ground by my side, where it had fallen.

It had broken into two, I could still see its feelers moving slightly, but it was as good as dead. Its sting was missing together with a piece of its body.

“No…” I felt sudden sadness.

The voices in my mind hummed in unison, grieving, and I could feel a small spot in the midst of them that was fading. I had never paid attention to it before, but now that it was going, I realized I had felt it all along and would miss it when it was gone. I suddenly realized I had felt this happening before. Tiny bits of my mind closing, fading, disappearing. And new ones appearing in their place. Had I felt the death of Mut-Bity’s bees?

Another hand reached out and placed itself over my palm. The dark brown hand of Mut-Bity.

“Go in peace, beautiful soul,” Mut-Bity mumbled in a half-singing tone that broke with sadness. “You did well, you saved her soul, and you shall now live as a spirit for ever more.”

I felt that small part of the hum in my mind disappear, and it was as if a speck of light disappeared with it. The light only lasted for a short moment, and with it a sensation of … joy, and then it was gone. When Mut-Bity raised her hand, the bee was dead.

I bent to look closer. I had never seen the like of this bee before. It was white. And it had oddly purplish wings. The bees I had seen had two pairs of wings, but this one had three. They glistened in the sunlight.

I had seen two creatures that were like me, creatures without color. Creatures that I never knew existed – I had believed I was the only one.

 

Previous Chapter 20 Shadow Council

Next Chapter 22: A Gift for Mr. Donnelly

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