The training seemed easy enough. The languages came quickly to Katie, but they never left the hut, the fog never abated.
One night, as the fire grew dim and the pages grew dark, the lettering faded away, and she look up from studying. "What more is there? The pages are blank."
"That is all you can learn from here. But until you can part the fog and make a path, we will stay." He sat in the darkness of his corner, and she was not certain whether he spoke with his mouth or with his mind.
"I don't know how."
"Remember what you have read. Explore your mind. There you must find the answer."
"What about you? Can't you help me?"
"It is not my fog. You brought us here. This is a place of your choosing. A place where you felt safe. I have no power here except to advise."
She paused. "Then what of Kris?"
"Just passing through, like all the others that have, as you study."
"No one of significance. Just minds that wish to influence your growth. But you are safe here. Put it out of your mind."
"Is that why you can no longer teach me? Because we are safe?"
"All that is left in your training is experience. Otherwise, you are the equal of any other." But put it out of your mind. Focus on your own path.
The band started to itch. An irritating, constant itch. Kris tried to tear it off, he tried everything.
This is how you must suffer for abandoning your training. Your mind is unkempt.
"What said that!?" But there was no one around. he rolled over in his cot and tried to return to sleep.
"Lazing about won't solve anything."
Katie jumped and glared into the dark corner. "Sorry, I thought you were asleep."
"Don't apologize to me."
The itching grew worse, though no rash materialized to shout proof. If his company realized his discomfort and the reason for it, it may be the end for him.
One night, his accomplices caught him packing.
"Where're you off to?"
"I must find a keeper of Bands."
"Them's distrustful folk. Why'd you want to do that for?"
"If you haven't forgotten, we're not the most trustful either." His voice was on edge.
"Continue on without me. Take the horses. Leave in the morning. The trail is growing cold. You must find them."
"But without your guidance--"
"You should be just fine. I've pointed you in the right direction, and their path is a true as the flight of my arrows. You just need to follow it."
"And if we catch up?"
"When you catch up. But I should rejoin you before that happens."
Kris strode out of the inn, and fired one of his arrows into the air. "Where you find that arrow, you will find their destination. Here," he passed them a thread. "Tie this to the pack horse, and you will not get lost." He turned on heel, and headed out into the wilderness, alone and on foot. His band started to give off a sickly glow.
Relax. We're almost there.
Almost where? He paused for a moment, and the landscape solidified around him. They kept walking. What's going on?
Kris awoke with a start. Sweat dappled his forehead, and he brushed it away. The dream was old; he knew that particular memory well.
You left me behind. I promised I would never forgive you. But I need you now. I need you to- "Gah!" He screamed as the band on his wrist tightened, glowing white hot, and choking the blood from his hand.
Hurry up! Don't get left behind.
Left behind? I only paused for a moment.
His hand was throbbing again, as the dream faded. The band had reduced to its soft glow,
but still held its grip. The itching was worse, and Kris tried to abstain from touching it. The night sky was still dark above him, no hint of day on the horizon. He closed his eyes once more.
Welcome back, Kris. Enjoy yourself?
I was better off there than here.
"Noooo!" He bolted upright, knocking his head on the branches sheltering him. "Come back," he whispered, "come back."
He didn't see anyone as he wandered, following the sickly glow of his band. The itching lessened when he headed in the right direction, and resumed choking his wrist when not.
Late one evening, Kris stumbled into a small hut, the band driving him inside. After going too long without food or water, he fell and could not rise.
When he woke in the morning, an old man was sitting beside Kris, doing his best to stay awake.
Kris sat up, startling the old man.
"Can you help me?" He exposed his right wrist, and the band that bound itself to him. "Sir?"
The old man pointed at the door, his hand shaking and eyes wide, shouting in his hoarse voice, "Get out of here. We don't want your kind. Leave us be."
Kris stood unsteadily, and staggered outside.
Two days later, while the band was leading him down a wide trail, a stream of hoofbeats pounded hastily behind him. Without thought, Kris dove off the path, wincing as the band tightened abruptly and flared up.
The hut grew dark while Katie slept, and Paul sunk deeper into the corner's shadows. She shifted fitfully in her sleep, tossing in her cot on the stones before the fireplace.
Kris screamed, bolting upright, as the wagon jolted beneath him. The band's itching had diminished, but it still glowed brightly, searing a ring of light through his sleeve. He glanced cautiously around him. Alone. Beside him lay an overturned bowl and a quickly spreading puddle beneath it. He dipped his fingers in the stew, and brought them to his lips. Kris's stomach grumbled, and he eagerly cleaned up the rest of it. As he finished, the wagon rattled to a halt and the doors behind him opened.
Paul saw her dream, and that which troubled her, and did exactly what he knew he needed to do. He watched and listened, and did not interfere.
A beam of light fought momentarily with the brightness of his band, and slunk behind a cloud. Two faces peered in at Kris, lit by the sickly orange glow.
Moonlight shone into the window, stabbing him in the face. Paul opened his eyes and smiled, glanced over at Katie, who lay still on her cot, and returned to his thoughts.
"I know he's awake."
"Took long enough."
"He did seem to be in a lot of pain."
"But he wears a Band."
"Doesn't he know anything?"
"Maybe he wasn't trained."
"Then how'd he get one?"
"Dunno. Found it somewhere?"
"Would have rejected him."
"Excuse me." The two faces took a startled step back. Kris stood carefully, and took a step forward. Then another. They took another step back. "What do you know about this?" He thrust his right arm forward, pulling back the sleeve.
They looked at each other. "He doesn't know." "No, he doesn't."
They stared at him.
Katie woke, smiling. I just knew.
I know. I felt it.
Are we back?
Yes, the fog has cleared. We're back.
She stood, stretched, and opened the door.
"Hold on just a second. Let us introduce ourselves before you try and push any of your problems on to us. This is Don, and I'm Nol."
They looked at each other, their faces mirrored.
"Brothers? Nah." "Where'd he get that idea?" "We look nothing alike." They looked back at Kris and laughed at his bewildered face.
His band flashed again, abruptly tightening. Kris saw responding flashes of red and blue before he blacked out again.
Wherever you found in your dream, Katie.