Kingdom of Spirits
By/(c) Rosanna P. Brost
The next day I wake up and its raining really hard. The damp soaks into the barn and I run to the house to tell Brinna. She immediately comes and looks and then sends me to find the cows. I gallop off, hoping Ill find them as fast as possible, because I hate getting wet. Big fat wet clods of muddy field are slashed up by my sharp hooves as I run and I wish it was sunny again, like it has been for so long. I cant find the dumb cows though. I canter along, finally coming to a splashy halt finally in a low section of field, where the water comes up to my fetlocks. Ive never been this far away from the farm, nor from the road.
I set out again, calling for the silly cows and splattering muck all over myself with every move I make. Then, ahead of me I come to a place where theres a flat stretch of water, as though its really deep there. Everything is grey, brown and green as the grass is soaked in the mud here, which pulls at my feet. My poor tail has gone all ratty and I feel positively miserable. I walk out further, the water deepening like I feared.
Reginald? Reginald? I yell into the sheeting water.
No silly answering moo. Reginald always moos at me.
REG-IN-ALD! I screech.
Im starting to get really worried. I pace about, yelling the funny old bulls name, but I cant see him anywhere. I look at the water and decide that perhaps he crossed it. I step in and start walking and the water comes up to my hocks nearly. Im almost there -
You dont want to be doing that. says a soft voice. I spin about and fall on my rump. Standing behind me in greyish-blue sort of robes trimmed with white is a man. I cant see his face. Youll drown. Thats a river.
Are you Reginald? I ask hopefully, though privately I think if Reginald was a human hed have a beer belly and be the sort of dude who spends his days watching womens figure skating or something like that while sitting on the coach. This guy looks thin, but I cant really tell, because his feet and the end of his robe are in the water.
Reginald? asks the man, who has his head bowed, so I cant see his face under the cowl of his hood.
I guess not. Have you seen a bunch of cows? Reginald is my bull. Hes rather friendly actually. He likes carrots. I say conversationally.
Uh, no. Havent seen any cows. says the man. You should leave.
Cant until Ive found my cows. I say and I start walking out into the water again. Abruptly the man is standing in front of me, blocking my path.
I told you, if you go this way youll drown. says the figure.
Heh. Its just a field. says I.
No. Its a river. says the man. Itll kill you.
The idea of a river way out here in the middle of nowhere-zodiac-province is ludicrous of course. I try to walk around the man but he reaches out and grabs me around the neck, then starts half dragging me away from the water I was going to walk into. I come along, but I fight and I try to step on his feet as much as possible.
Go back. says the man, seeming as though he didnt feel my efforts to make him let go of me at all. Ill find your stupid cows for you. Go to your barn where its safe.
This stops me in my tracks.
How do you know I live nearby in a barn? I demand.
You just told me. says the man. You shouldnt speak to strangers, ki-rin. They might not always be friendly.
I decide that he does look decidedly sinister wearing that dumb cloak. I pin back my ears and paw the water. Maybe now is the time to find out what sort of damage my horn can actually do!
I mean, other people might not always be friendly. says the figure swiftly. Im nice though. I promise Ill find your cows. You live near the road right?
I dont know, do I? I say, glaring angrily at him.
Very well. Just go home. says the man. Ill bring your cows and Reginald was it? - home safe.
I still dont trust him, but I am wet, so I wheel around and gallop off at an angle to where I know the farm to be, waiting until hes out of sight before I charge straight for home. As soon as Im home, I report to Brinna and Harl.
I couldnt find them! I met a neighbour though I think. says I.
Brinna looks up sharply. We dont have any. Not for miles.
Then whos the weird guy by the river? I ask.
River? asks Harl.
Yeah, thats what the weird guy said it was. I say. Personally, I didnt really believe him, because he looked kind of like a creeper, but -
We dont have any rivers nearby. The closest real one is right by the mountains and yeh couldnt of ran that far. says Brinna. This rain is being caused by Captain Blunt and is wife Private Rexy. Its them exacting revenge on the town.
This tastes bad somehow, and Im confused. Then where did the river come from?
Its probably just flooding, well go check it tomorrow. says Harl. Well need to hunt down the cows anyway, but for now its best to batten down the hatches as the sea serpents say. The cowsll be okay. Just go hole up in the barn.
This has to be one of the most miserable days of my existence. I sit on my haunches in the doorway, watching the grey rain and missing the internet. On a rainy day at home Id just spend all day chatting with Nancy usually, or reading. But I have no books, nor do I have a computer. All I have is myself and the rickety old barn, which squeaks in the wind. I think back to times I used to spend making cookies and Im reminded of how mom used to spend time with me sometimes on boring days like this. We used to watch interior design shows and dream of what we could make the apartment look like if only we could pry some cash out of Attilas filthy rich paws.
As I lay down in the darkness, listening to the rain beating on the roof that night and not feeling at all tired, I hear soft plodding hoof beats in the yard, as well as the soft, barely audible sounds of something growling.
In the morning, the funny old cows are all standing soaked in the yard as the sun comes back out, Reginald standing guard in front of the barn door. I walk out into the rain and I gasp, because in the reflection of the water pooled in the yard I realize that Im somehow a human again. My kimono isnt even dirty or anything, which probably shocks me more than anything else. Im also still wearing my mothers tiara thing, which I hastily hide in my shirt and then forget about. Reginald lows at me plaintively as I look myself over. Howd that happen?
So thats what you look like. says Brinna, a human as well. Nice er, dress.
Kimono. I correct immediately and I notice that the chain around my neck feels strangely light. Wheres my ring?! Then I remember that I have it on my finger and I relax a bit, hiding my fist against my side so Brinna wont see it.
Yeeeeahhh that. says Brinna. Not the greatest thing to wear on a walkabout, but anyway.
Neither are my high heels. I shuck them and Brinna borrows me some old sandals of hers. Harl is an ox again and we set out across the fields, the cows following along curiously. We walk for a long time, but I see no man standing anywhere, nor do I see a river. The puddles are rather deep in places, but otherwise the world is quite normal. I look around, trying to see where the man and his river were, but nothing is left of that strange place of the day before. How odd. It was as though, looking back, Id entered another world or something temporarily.
We walk back, just in time to meet a man who comes riding on a black horse. I sort of hide behind Harl, watching the horse nervously. The man is cloaked, but theres a clear ki-rin insignia on his horses saddle pad, done in silver. The horse paws anxiously, as if it desperately wants to run off again. The man steers it towards us and I shrink back, hoping to merge with the ground.
Kind farmers, have you seen any ki-rin? Were looking for a young one. says the man.
Sorry, we havent. Your kind doesnt come around here. says Brinna and Im thankful.
You sure? says the man, looking at the mud, where some of my tracks are.
Quite. says Brinna.
The man sighs, as he obviously cant see me hiding behind Harl.
Well, thank you for your time. says the rider, turning the horse out of the farmyard, onto the road. Fly, flash of night!
The horse is off like a bullet, no more than a blur.
Why do the horses here run so fast? I ask.
Why are so many people after a rogue ki-rin? counters Brinna.
I dont know. I didnt even know I was one until a few months ago. says I. But what about the horses?
That was a ki-rin rider. says Harl. Theyre agents of the king of the province of Ki-rin, where your kind is supposed to live quite exclusively. Your kind; you bring luck and youre considered very valuable. Ive never heard of a mean ki-rin. The riders basically serve as messengers and cavalry for the king of your kind. Horses are the fastest creatures in the world; never think theyre ordinary just because they dont shape shift to look like humans. They can outrun the wind, even dragons. Nothing is faster than a horse. In battle they assist the ki-rin, who cast a spell so they can temporarily become light infantry soldiers. Your kind is powerful.
But I dont even know how to transform. I say. How can that be true?
Transforming takes a few years to master. says Brinna wisely. You probably did it by accident.
Maybe. I say. But theres something in me that doubts that.
Back in the barn that night, I wish to be a ki-rin again, but nothing happens. When I fall asleep shivering from the damp, I dream of the man in grey, who kneels down beside me, touching my face with a few fingers. In the background, Reginalds lonely moo is sombre. Then the man leaves and I know nothing but rain.
As the days go by, I get used to being human and almost forget being a ki-rin, though I certainly dont forget the man in grey. I dream of him a lot, and always hes standing in the rain, beside that blasted make-believe river as if hes waiting for me to meet him there. I go to town with Harl and Brinna, where I see Arthur, meet his wife and visit Wolf again as Harl indulges Brinnas obsession with shiny objects at the otters jewellery booth. Wolf is laying down this time and he rolls over as he sees me, grinning and demanding with his lovely eyes for me to pet him. It reminds me of a dog, though somehow I know hes only doing it because he knows how lonely I am and that I miss Vancouver, where things are normal.
I betcha dont know about computers, eh? I say, patting his thick ruff now that he has rolled over and hes sniffing my face. He is one bear of a wolf; hes easily as large as a small pony! But unlike a dog hes all thin and he has this manner of holding his forelimbs really close together. We horse around a bit, me and him, which makes the otter glare, but one flash of a fang from Wolf and she looks away. Hes just reminded her that he could easily eat her for dinner if shes not careful. I chatter with my friend, who replies with silent notions from his great eyes. Im pretty good at reading his body language.
Such as the fact that he disdains the otter and that I believe he actually does know what a computer is, despite being a wolf and all. In fact, I swear he knows everything. Unlike the otter, he recognised me right off, even though Im a human. If only him and me could chat everyday. He may just be a canine, but I find him fairly soothing to be around. Im still not sure if he can talk or not.
Time to go Jane. says Brinna and I kiss Wolf on the nose, then I skip off after Harl and Brinna. Wolf stands up and whines, looking sad with one paw raised and his ears all droopy. Ill miss him too.
Winter is here now, though theres no snow and I miss Christmas. We harvest the precious hay, people like Arthur and his wife coming out from town to help. The cows stand forlornly in the yard, watching as we take away their fodder. The hay is shipped off, then the grass starts growing again. Thats the second time weve sold some now. We havent seen Captain Blunt or Rexy since that first time I went to town, but we know theyre around, because occasionally we see tracks on the way to town and it rains quite often. Eventually, I do learn how to become a ki-rin again, which is bliss.
In my dreams, Nancy is going to the University of British Columbia, studying advanced forensics. She wants to find me. I hope that maybe she dreams of a ki-rin, galloping through her dreams. I try to tell her Im alright. But I dont think she hears. What are dreams anyway?
That bloody pair of dragon soldiers has caused it to rain bad again and a cow is missing who we think might be pregnant by good ol Reginald. We spread out across the fields, all calling out for the cow and hoping to find her. I find myself going in the direction of the mythical river, thinking for sure that she must of gone that way. Im a ki-rin, because I want to be fast, just as Harl and Brinna are in their animal forms right now too. I splash through the water, which seems to be oddly deep. At least it isnt as dark this time. Onwards I hike, the swampy field making it hard going. Then theres the cow.
Its standing on the other side of a stretch of water that looks vaguely familiar, mooing anxiously, because somehow I know that the poor thing is in labour and that it cant find any dry land. If I dont help it, the calf will fall in the water and drown. Instinct I cant comprehend drives me towards the stricken cow who Ive grown to really care about and I dont care that the water is getting deeper all around me. It gets so deep I start to swim and Im sure that all anyone can see of me is my poor wet head and my horn. I try to keep my head above water, breathing hard and coughing, but the stretch of water between me and the cow seems to be widening.
Come on! This isnt fair! I shriek at the river in torment as the poor cow lows sadly at me. I need to help her!
Do you now? Shes just a cow. says the soft whisper of the voice that is the man in grey, but I cant see where he is.
Her baby will die! Shes my friend! I whimper, wondering if the man is the spirit of the river itself.
You might call me that. breathes the voice. You could call me a lot of things
Oddly, I have the impression that the man is controlling the river and that hes doing something to me, so that the other side never looks any closer.
I did tell you to stay out of the river. I warned you fair. says the man. Perhaps if you swim back
No! I have to save her! I yell, furious.
Then I feel the strangest thing, as though something is coiling around me or something.
Who are you?! Let go of me?
Cant ki-rin walk on water? asks the voice.
How should I know?! I shriek. I havent been one that long!
Youre wrong. Youve been a ki-rin your entire life, you just didnt know it. Your father is one and so is your mother, though she started out life as a unicorn. Just as youre not going to be a ki-rin for much longer. I suggest you get out of the water fast if you want to stay as you are. Ill bring your cow and its calf.
No, she needs me now! Im sure of it.
Suddenly the presence doesnt seem quite so threatening, as if the man has changed somehow.
Get out. Just get out
says the man. But Im drowning trying to get to the cow; my legs are getting tired and its getting harder to keep my head above the surface. I feel like Im on a treadmill as the shore looks no closer and Im getting tired. I kick hard with my legs, but Im sinking, deeper and deeper and now my eyes slip under. Now Im breathing just through my nose, and struggling to keep just that up. My fur streams in the current and Im sinking, falling backwards towards the bottom, where water forms into something long and dark blue, something that circles me as I fall, pawing desperately, suffocating.
Its too late. I touch the sandy bottom, staring at the rippling surface of the water high above me. The river is at least thirty feet deep, too deep for me to escape, but with my weakening muscles I try to push towards the surface, but I never get there. Im starving for oxygen and as the world darkens, I let go of who I am.