An Understanding

Written by Ourali

This work was last updated February 1, 2018

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Important information: during this time in Crystansia's history, a whole section of Litaria, a peaceful city nestled in a lush jungle valley, has been converted into an area where humans who are dropped out of portals from Earth can learn the Crystansian culture, one or more of their languages and skills to survive in this alien world. This district, however, is walled and guarded to protect its inhabitants, both from the citizens of the city and to protect the citizens from the humans.

Gwen, a young woman from 2030s Earth, has arrived and been there for a few weeks. Within a few days, it becomes obvious that she knew much more than she ever thought about Crystansia than most humans. Somehow, she knew part of its history and two of the main languages. No one knows why or how, least of all her. It didn't take her long to realize that if she wished, she knew how to escape the district and explore on her own. Eventually, though, she escaped because she wanted to be alone, because getting plucked from your world and getting dropped on another by a weird stellar phenomenon isn't something you can easily process.

This is an excerpt.

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The wind was a little chilly up where Gwen was, but she didn’t mind. She wrapped the blanket she’d brought with her tighter around her sitting body, protecting it from the biting wind from the north. Or, at least she told herself she didn’t mind as she ground her teeth together in frustration, wiping away the tears that were forming in her eyes from the moving air.

“You seem to have a knack of getting to difficult places,” came a voice from behind her. Looking back, she saw the man that seemed to have been posted as her permanent guard. Rolling her eyes, she turned back towards the scene before her, of the snaking river far below from her position up on the southern wall. At that moment, she spotted a small flock of birds in the distance, flying away from the tall tree they’d been sheltering in and off down the valley away from the city.

“And you seem like someone who’s not an idiot,” she replied grumpily. The man appeared beside her and sat down, looking out at the forest across the river the same way she was. Gwen huffed in frustration when he finally turned his head to peer down at her curled up form.

“If I’m not mistaken, that almost sounds like a compliment.”

“It wasn’t meant to be one.”

He made a show of looking offended, leaning back with a hand over his heart with his mouth open in shock. When he realized that all Gwen was going to do was stare at him, he shifted back into place, pushing his long hair out of his face.

“So it’s not a good thing that I’m actually good at my job and that you can’t manage to escape me?”

Gwen didn’t answer for a moment. Eventually, she sighed as her shoulders drooped.

“No, Takarr,” she said quietly, the words almost lost to the wind. “It’s a good thing that you’re good at your job. It’s just that once in a while, I’d like to be somewhere alone that’s not in the Compound.”

He did her the courtesy of flinching at the word she used to describe the walled district behind them.

“This place isn’t a prison, you know.”

She rounded on him, the blanket falling from her shoulders. “Well, it definitely feels like one! The ‘Human Rehabilitation’ district?” More like the Human Assimilation district, she thought. “You know, that district that’s completely walled off from the rest of the city, has round the clock posted guards patrolling everywhere and guards blocking off every exit. Totally doesn’t sound like a prison, totally doesn’t.”

“Niyani…” Takarr began before trailing off, the Crystansian name they’d given her still strange in her ears.

“You know I’m right.”

Her words hung in the air between them. Gwen shook her head once and turned back to the valley, hugging her legs closer to her chest. She watched absentmindedly as some of the little jellyfish-like beings floated past them on the breeze, bobbing once in a while but seemingly allowing the wind to take them wherever they were going.

“So why don’t you escape?” Takarr asked finally. Gwen turned her head to look at him again. She blinked when she saw the emotion on his face, an emotion she could almost call sadness. “You’re able to get away from me long enough to escape, if you wanted to. You clearly know the way out of the city, and you speak Illithi’enn and Priveri. You’d be undetectable, and you could survive.”

Gwen looked away again, thinking. Eventually, she replied, “Have you ever considered the fact that I might not actually want to leave, even if I can?”

“You called this place a prison. Why wouldn’t you want to leave?”

“Because, Takarr,” she began, flipping around to face him fully. “I understand that I need these skills to actually thrive. I can survive, yeah, but thrive? That’s a whole other ball game.”

She watched him as he digested her words. Eventually he nodded, but with a slightly puzzled expression. “What… What do you mean by, ‘a whole other ball game’?”

“Oh!” Gwen giggled. “It just means that it’s much more challenging than just the basic strategy.”

“Ah. That’s a strange expression.”

“Trust me, in the context of Earth, it makes a hell of a lot of sense.”

He grinned, visibly relaxing. Gwen relaxed as well, allowing her shoulders to droop.

“So you’re not trying to escape?”

“What did I just spend five minutes explaining to you.”

He had the decency to look sheepish. “Yes yes, I’m just making sure.” Takarr looked at her thoughtfully, his fingers fidgeting in his lap. Gwen’s eyes flicked down to the movement involuntarily, and he immediately stopped moving. Her eyes rose back up to his face as he said, “Did you want to be alone?”

Gwen’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Well, yeah, I’d prefer it for a little bit, b-”

The rest of her sentence died on her tongue as Takarr nodded and stood up, patting away the dust on the back of his legs. He smiled at her.

“I’ll leave you to it, then.”

She watched, speechless, as he climbed back down the very steep cliffside that had allowed them to get to that isolated spot. Gwen turned back around, her mouth hanging open and her eyebrows scrunched together, and looked back out at the mountains before her. It took a while for her thoughts to start their whirlwind again, but until that happened, she sat there with the first clear head she’d had since she’d arrived on that strange planet.

Tags: fiction, fantasy, understanding

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