Chapter 9 A Day in Chiniak
There is no comfort anywhere for anyone who dreads to go home. – Laura Ingalls Wilder
The next morning, dawn never really broke. They day got warmer but the sun never managed to make it through the gray haze being produced by Mt. Phaestus. Nico was reminded of the smudgy map they had looked at in Benefix’s office. At times the ground seemed to tremble, not like the earthquakes in Validian but more like a feeling of unstableness, as if you were walking on pudding. The anticipation of doom hanging in the air was almost unbearable, and Nico could well understand why people had chosen to evacuate the towns at the foothills of the sleeping giant.
Even the animals seemed to sense that something was wrong. The air was unnaturally still. No bird called, no squirrel rustled in the trees. Even the bee hives, stacked in and among the fields of flowers, seemed unnaturally still.
The three started off toward the mountain, all the while keeping the great river Flumen on their right. Jian kept a watchful eye out as they walked along but they did not encounter anyone on the road this time.
Nico had asked Serah about the farmer’s story. “Have you ever heard of the frozen cottage?”
“Yes, actually, I was thinking about that last night. I had never heard the story of Chrysalis before, but I had heard of the frozen cottage.”
“Do you believe something like that actually happened?” Nico asked.
Serah was silent a moment. “You have to understand something about Marcadians. They still follow the old ways. In Marcadia, daughters are thought of as property. When a father agrees to marry off his daughter he expects something in return. After all, he is giving up a worker in his house. The woman always goes and joins the husband’s home. She always takes the husband’s name. His family is gaining a worker, see? So it’s only fair that they should give something to the family that is losing the daughter.”
“But still,” Nico protested, “Chrysalis was miserable. Wouldn’t the father want her to be happy? He’s her father!”
Serah nodded her head. “Yes, that’s the sad part of the story. The father put his own happiness ahead of Chrysalis. That’s unusual; we’re not monsters. Most fathers want their daughters to be happy and most of the time we choose our own husbands. In some of the small towns in the outskirts there might be arranged marriages still.” After a pause she said sadly, “The story the farmer told us was probably true.”
“Serah, why don’t the people of Marcadia give nemos names?” he asked suddenly.
Serah was quiet for such a long time, Nico wondered if she had heard him. “Well, I guess the girls can always marry and get names,” she said after a bit. “But boy nemos, well, they don’t really belong anywhere, do they?” She wrinkled her nose, “I mean they don’t have any land to work on and they don’t have anything to do, so what would you name them?” Her tone was very reasonable. Nico was reminded of the nurse healer at the House of Healing. “No one has come to claim you. What more can we do?” the words echoed in his mind.
“So what do the nemos do?” Nico asked.
Serah shrugged. “I don’t really know, wander around, beg maybe?”
“It all seems so obvious to her,” Nico thought to himself. “But it doesn’t make any sense to me. Maybe that’s because I’m a nemo, too.” But he didn’t say anything out loud and tried to bury the angry feeling he had about Serah’s attitude. After all, she hadn’t minded when Benefix had given him a name or had she? Nico realized he didn’t really know how she felt about him being a nemo. But she had said that they were best friends, even before she knew about him and that she thought she was meant to go with him on this mission. So maybe she didn’t mind.
In the meanwhile they had been walking through some thick trees. Jian was asking Serah when she thought they might need to cross the Flumen.
“I know there’s a bridge just through these trees,” Serah was saying pointing out to where they could just see the ground begin to slope downward. “We should cross there, and then it shouldn’t be much further.”
Jian nodded “What is that black thing over there?” she was asking Jian.
Quicker than thought Jian had pushed Serah and Nico into some trees beside the road. “Climb!” he said tersely.
“What is it? What is it?” Serah asked. Nico had seen it was some kind of large animal. It was waving its large brown head back and forth and swiping at its nose with paws that had long claws.
“Climb,” Nico repeated and started pushing her up the tree. He had no idea what the animal was called, but he could tell it was angry. He quickly climbed up after her.
Jian moved away from the trunk of the tree. He pulled out his sword and was moving closer to the animal. The animal smelling their presence, put it’s head down and began to charge. Nico thought he could feel the ground shaking as it came, it was so large.
“It’s a bogbear,” Serah whispered in his ear. “It must have been trying to get at some of the honey.”
“It’s probably scared,” Nico replied. “It might have lost its home due to the volcano and it doesn’t know what is happening.”
Jian in the meantime had approached the animal and was stamping his feet and yelling, “Ha! Ha!” in an attempt to divert its attention from the tree Serah and Nico were in. He swung his massive sword back and forth.
“What is Jian doing?” Serah asked nervously.
The bogbear gave one look at Jian and disappeared in a burst accompanied by a sucking sound. Nico was so astonished his mouth dropped, and then he saw the beast was halfway up the tree they were hiding in. His eyes popped as he looked at Serah. “H-h-how?”
Serah gulped, “It can teleport,” she whispered hoarsely.
Just then the volcano sent up an explosive burst causing a loud boom and ear-splitting cracklings. The bogbear dropped to the ground and turned. Somehow, Jian was there, brandishing his sword. “Ha! Ha!” Jian yelled again. Jian made an intimidating looking enemy. The bogbear must have sensed that because there was another sucking noise and it disappeared again.
Nico looked around wildly. He could hear Serah shouting, “Where is it? Where is it?”
Jian knelt down for a moment on the ground, and then stood up and re-sheathed his sword. “It’s gone.”
“Whew!” said Serah. “I’m glad that’s over!” She and Nico began to shinny down the tree. Jian walked over and helped them down the last bit of the way. “Do you think it will come back?”
“No,” Jian replied in a way that seemed to make it final. He gave a worried look at the volcano, “We need to hurry.”
“Wait, Jian,” said Nico. Jian stopped and turned to look at him. “Thank you, you saved our lives.”
Jian looked at him for a moment without saying anything and then nodded his head. “We need to hurry,” he repeated.
“This next bend should be the place,” said Serah pointing ahead a bit. “There should be a wooden bridge where we can cross and then the cottage.” They could just see a rickety covered wooden bridge in the distance.
As they walked, Nico began to feel like he was on familiar ground. He was pretty sure he had never been to Marcadia before, but it felt like every turn or bend they took, he knew what was coming. At one point he seemed to be in a waking day dream. The sky no longer looked black, the bridge they crossed smelled of freshly cut wood and gleamed brightly in the sun, the ground he walked on seemed to be covered in springy green grass and the Flumen glinted and sparkled as happy as a summer’s day. He came out of the reverie in a start when Serah said something and he realized that he had been reliving the episode of the tapestry all those days ago in the Museum in Validian.
“I think we are almost there,” she was saying.
“Yes,” Nico said in a low voice, “We are close.” Serah gave him a strange look but said nothing. They quickened their pace and marched round the bend in the river to find themselves facing a cottage that was in an advanced state of disrepair. The roof looked like it was about to slide off but in some fantastic act of disrespect to gravity maintained its position. As Nico walked closer the cottage appeared to be encased in ice, but when he put his hand out to touch it, he felt nothing, only a force that repelled his touch. They walked around the entire cottage twice, not able to penetrate the icy force that kept them at bay.
“Frozen in time’s icy glaze,” murmured Jian as they all eyed each other. It looked like they had found the sanctuary, now how to free it.
“If this really is the cottage in the story,” said Nico, “Then Chrysalis must be within. She is the one that was doomed. Maybe if we free Chrysalis, we can free the sanctuary too.”
“But how do we get inside?” asked Serah.
“When I put on the ring, earlier, I felt angry. Maybe this ring belonged to Chrysalis. Maybe it is her anger I feel. Let me have the ring, Serah. I’m going to put it on again.”
Reluctantly Serah got out the box and was about to hand the ring to Nico.
“Wait!” said Jian. “I don’t like this. Let’s walk around the house again and look for another way in.”
Nico shook his head. “We’ve looked, Jian. There’s no other way. Remember the scroll says there are tapestries and there are objects. They both have an effect on me that they don’t have on anyone else.” He swallowed hard, “It’s not that I’m being very brave or anything, but I think that this is it. I believe that this is the only way in, and I feel that it has to be me,” he finished softly. He looked at both Serah and Jian, waiting to see if anyone was going to suggest anything different.
“I still don’t like this,” Jian said gloomily. “Listen, if things start to get out of control, take the ring off. Do you hear me? Take off the ring.”
“We’ll be right here, too,” said Serah. “That’s the good thing, so we can help you if you need it.”
Nico nodded his head, “Right,” he said, but inside he knew that this was his part in the task and he had to do it alone. “Ok, here goes.” He slowly took the ring from Serah and slipped it on his finger.
Instantly the gloomy day vanished. Nico was standing inside the vision in the tapestry. The icy force around the cottage was gone and it was not so run down and falling apart. He checked himself, he didn’t feel especially angry. He looked around. Jian and Serah were nowhere to be seen. Looking ahead he could see the door of the cottage was open, so Nico cautiously walked inside.
To Serah and Jian outside the cottage it seemed that Nico had disappeared the instant he put the ring on. Serah had called out his name and began waving her arms around in a lunatic fashion as if Nico could be found by touch. Jian reached out an arm to calm her, “He went inside,” he said pointing with his chin in the direction of the cottage.
“W-what?” Serah wailed.
“It’s what he came here to do,” Jian said gently pulling her away from the cottage.
“How do you know that?” Serah asked starting to cry. “He’s just gone; he’s all alone and he may never come back again. Remember what happened when he put on the ring before? What if he is in trouble?”
Jian gently patted her back. “I know, I’m worried too. But he’s right. It has to be him. Benefix believes he’s the one in the prophecy so that must mean he’s doing what he was meant to do. We just have to hope he can figure it out.”
Serah gave Jian a watery smile and blew her nose, “I think he can do it,” she sniffed.
“So do I,” Jian said reassuringly. “In the meantime, we just have to wait.”
“I hate waiting,” muttered Serah as she sat down to wait. Jian however, continued to walk around and around the cottage trying to see inside.
Inside it was cool and dark, and not very clean. Dishes were piled up in the sink and one chair was falling apart at the table. An unmade bed was shoved into the corner and no curtains hung in the windows. Standing at the table was a beautiful Marcadian woman. She was slender and dark, with thick ringlets falling down to her waist. She was simply but elegantly dressed, holding a piece of paper close to her face with both hands, intently reading.
Nico could just hear her voice, “You have been nothing but a disappointment to me all your life; no better than your mother. A source of constant misery and the cause of my death is all you shall be remembered for. Therefore I do not leave you anything under my will and instead deed all my possessions to your husband. May he keep you in bondage forever.”
At these last words the woman threw the paper on the table and ripped a gold ring from her finger and threw it out the window. “Noooo!” she screamed as she threw back her head and sobbed. She snatched up a box of matches and lit the paper and table on fire, jumping to the top of it as if making her own funeral pyre.
Just then the image froze. Nico continued to stare in horror wondering what was going to happen next. “Are you here for me?” he heard a voice behind him ask. He spun around. A ghost-like image of the same woman was standing behind him.
“A-are you Chrysalis?” Nico asked in a whisper.
“Yes,” she responded.
“And that’s Chrysalis too?” he asked, pointing to the woman frozen on the table.
The image walked around the table. “Yes, that’s me too. That day when I read that letter, I didn’t need a match to light a fire. I was the fire. I was so angry, I didn’t care if I lived or died. I didn’t care if the rest of the world burned in fire.” She spoke very calmly in a detached voice.
Nico continued to watch Chrysalis as she circled the table. “And then it all stopped, just like that. And it’s been that way ever since. Have you ever felt that angry before?” she asked suddenly focusing her attention on Nico.
Nico was staring at Chrysalis. He was afraid to take his eyes of her. “Can you imagine how it feels, being sold by your father?” she was asking him, her voice growing stronger. “Fathers are supposed to protect their children!” Nico nodded his head and looked away. Yes, he could imagine how that felt. “Can you imagine having to endure, day after day, the abuse and neglect of a bully of a husband, all the while thinking it was to help your father? Only to find out it still wasn’t good enough?” Nico could hear the anger in her voice building and began to feel afraid. Round and round the table she walked, faster and faster. Nico nodded again. He knew what it was like to be bullied.
“Yes,” he said in a weak voice, but he didn’t think she was listening.
“And then when a simple act of deeding me this cottage would have freed me! It wouldn’t have hurt him in any way to do that one simple thing! Instead, he chooses to doom me forever!” Now Chrysalis was shouting. Her rage leaving her body like the black smoke that was even now pouring out of Mt. Phaestus.
Nico didn’t know what to say. Chrysalis had every right to be angry. Her life had been terrible. He so understood how she was feeling; he had felt that anger too. She must have been here, frozen like that for a very long time. Nico realized that it was her anger that was anchoring the sanctuary, her anger that was causing the volcano to build. The only way the sanctuary could be freed is if he could get her to let go. How was he supposed to do that, he wondered.
Outside Jian stopped next to Serah. “I can’t see anything,” he muttered.
“What do you think is happening in there?” Serah asked.
“I don’t know,” sighed Jian. There has to be something we can do,” he looked back at the volcano. The ground was really beginning to shake now.
Inside the cottage Nico’s frustration began to grow. If he couldn’t find a way to help Chrysalis, bad things were going to happen. Maybe he should take off the ring and ask Jian what to do. He tried to pull the ring off, but it was stuck. And now Nico began to feel the rage inside himself too. Anger at parents that hadn’t wanted him; a father who had not only not protected him, but had never bothered to know him. Anger that he was trapped in a nemo’s life; one he did not want, and there was no way out for him; all because of something someone else had done. Anger at the unfair things that happened to all people; like the nemo on the road and Jochim at the halfway house; how was it fair that he had to suffer just because his family had died in an accident? It wasn’t fair! He hated that too! The image of Chrysalis began to waver like the air around a hot fire place. “If we keep going like this,” Nico thought, “We will be the volcano.”
Chrysalis was shouting now, her voice actually made the objects in the room vibrate. Or maybe that was the volcano outside. Tragic stories and sad incidents of broken dreams, broken promises and eventually her broken heart. “I don’t care! I don’t care,” screamed Chrysalis. “I hate them, I hate them all! They deserve to burn! What did they ever do to help me? Let the volcano blow!” And she threw her hands in the air and white hot rage surrounded her and began to fill the room. She vented out a lifetime of anger as if finally being given the chance to say all the things that had been bottled up inside of her. As her anger was released, Nico’s anger began to slip away too.
Finally she collapsed, sobbing, with her head cradled in her arms on the floor. Nico didn’t know what to do. He walked over to her, and sat down on the floor beside her. He tentatively put his hand on her arm. As he looked at her huddled figure, all of Nico’s anger washed out of him like water washing down a bathtub drain. In their place were new feelings, ones worth holding onto. Like the happiness he felt knowing that people liked him; liked him even after they knew he was a nemo. The pride he felt when he recalled Benefix’s words that night in the Cathedral; Benefix who believed him to be special. The gratitude he had felt when he had received Jian’s gift. And in that moment Nico realized that anger is a momentary feeling and that all one had to do was let it go. Filled with these memories, Nico felt a change come over him. As if in that moment he had grown.
As she raised her head, he smiled into her eyes. “Yes,” he said, “I’ve known anger. But it never lasts, you know. Every day gets a new beginning. And even people who don’t have amnesia can learn to forget the things that hold them back.”
“Let go, Chrysalis,” Nico said reaching out to take her hand. “It’s time.” He helped her to her feet. Somehow she seemed smaller now.
“I-I-I’m afraid. All I’ve had is my anger. If I let it go, what will happen to me?”
“I’m not sure,” admitted Nico. And he wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen. But somehow this felt right. “Maybe you will get to go home.”
Chrysalis shook her head. “I’ve never had a home,” she said. “No place has ever seemed like home to me.”
Nico nodded, he knew what that was like too. “Everyone’s home is going to be destroyed, Chrysalis,” Nico said sadly, “Unless we fix this. You are the key. It’s your choice. You can make all this go away, or you can hold on to your anger and destroy the country. But if you choose to save us, I think it will save you too.” He took the ring off his finger; surprisingly it slid right off this time and put it in Chrysalis’ hand. “How do I free the cottage?” Nico asked. “It’s all frozen in some kind of shell. How do we melt the shell so that time can move forward again?”
Chrysalis was standing before the table, looking at her own image standing with her head flung back a look of agony on her face, her arms wide open to receive the pain the fire would bring and end her life. “If you melt the shell, time will flow again and I’ll die,” she said simply. “I’ll burn in this fire, and the cottage will burn, too. All of my family is dead many years ago. There is no one to remember me.”
The ground began to shake and Nico was reminded that they were at the foothill of a volcano about to erupt. “I will remember you, Chrysalis. I will remember your life and the sacrifice you are making and how your sacrifice will save us all. I will remember and I will make sure people know.”
Finally Chrysalis nodded her head, “Okay,” she whispered, “I’m ready. It’s time to end this.”
“But how, Chrysalis, how do I unfreeze you?” Nico asked.
“It all began with this ring,” she said as she spun it slowly in her fingers. “This ring started it all when my father gave it to my mother. He took it from her, you know, when she died. And then he gave it to my husband. It wasn’t a ring, it was handcuffs. It held me in eternal bondage. While I wore this ring, there was no escape. When I threw it away, time froze. And I still am not free,” she sobbed.
Filled with strength and purpose coming from he knew not where, Nico said, “So we should break this ring. Destroy the ring and you will be free.” He began to look around the cottage for something he could use to smash the ring, finally locating a heavy hammer under the bed. “Here, put the ring on the table and hit it with this hammer.”
Chrysalis reached out to the hand of her image on the table. “I will be free,” she repeated. She turned to Nico and said, “You should go now,” Nico nodded again and began to walk away.
“Thank you, Chrysalis,” he said. “I will remember, I promise.”
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