See guidance notes please.
A flicker of brightness caught her eye as Gian ran along the game trail through the forest. The day was warm, and the canopy provided relief from the heat of the sun, while enhancing the forest’s magical aura. Gian was a tall girl who was as much at home in the forest as she was in the town. The forest was her sanctuary. It was also where she found the plants that she and her mother used for making medicines. She wore nothing when she was in the forest except sandals laced at the ankle and her pack, which rode high on her hips. Gian was slim, with broad shoulders and only moderate hips; with her short-cropped blond hair and small breasts, some girls in the baths had called her Gio. It was only in fun, but as with most girls at 16, she was still not comfortable in her own skin. When Gian had mentioned the episode to her mother, she had said, ‘A woman with large breasts can’t run in the forest. In fact, it’s rather difficult for them to run at all! Be glad that God made you able to do what you love for all your life.” Gian had recognized her mother’s wisdom, and revelled privately in the sensations of running through the forest. The feeling of God’s touch upon her skin in the form of leaves stroking her as she passed, or the wind and rain caressing her, the scents in the air, the heady rush of running long and far.
Gian was a simple girl. She loved dancing; working with her mother to make medicines and treat the ill; playing with her friends; studying at the College and contributing to the great work of the Church. She would probably follow her mother’s path and become an apothecary. It would allow her to continue to spend time in her forest.
While it is true that many would call Gian a “slight” girl, she was, in fact, quite strong. Since her 8th name day, she had come to the forest to search for the wild plants that her mother used to make medicines. In the beginning, of course, her mother had been with her. First, she showed her the ways through the forest, and how to find her way, even if she seemed lost. Then, she taught her how to find each type of plant that could be used to make medicines as well as those that could safely be eaten. Finally, she taught her how to move silently through the densest parts of the forest; either to avoid the dangerous animals or to track those she might hunt for food.
Her pack contained only the bare necessities for her foray. A knife and flint, a length of twine, several small sacs and vials for the various plants and other items she would need to bring back with her, her frock, some bread and cheese, a small bottle of alcohol, and a sewing kit with some bandage cloth in case she was injured.
When she was 12, her mother began having races through the forest with her; challenging her to grow stronger and faster while making it a game that usually ended with both of them laughing themselves to tears. At 14, her mother took her deep into the forest. They spent almost the entire day running deeper and deeper. Gian had never been this far before and did not recognize any landmarks. Then Gian’s mother told her to make herself a camp and to spend the night in the forest. She was to find her own way home in the morning. Her mother told her to remove all her clothes except her sandals, which she took and then gave Gian the hip pack that she still carried to this day. Except that on that day, it had only had the knife, flint, twine, and the medical supplies.
She made it through the night, eating berries and roots for dinner, and sleeping high up in the cleft of a tree. The next morning, she used her woodcraft to run all the way back to the edge of the forest. Her mother hadn’t actually taken her very far into the woods at all. She had simply taken a very roundabout way to try and confuse Gian. Gian sat down in the sun at the edge of the forest and waited for her mother to return. Half way through her run, she had realized that her mother was probably watching her through the entire ordeal, just in case she had gotten into trouble. Sure enough, her mother arrived a few moments later, beaming with pride and holding Gian’s clothes out to her. Gian had proven herself and could go on foraging trips alone, now.
Ever since that day, Gian had gone to the forest alone. Her mother still came along on the rare occasion, but it was just for the joy of running and playing with her daughter in the forest. While nudity was not strange to the people, the Church required that the people be clothed modestly when they were outside their homes. The only places where nudity was allowed outside the home were at the baths and the Hareem. While Gian’s mother’s test was a worthy one for Gian, the Patriarch would have frowned upon it. It was the only time Gian had been naked in a place where it wasn’t expected. She had decided that she liked it enough to risk the Church’s displeasure. Especially since it wasn’t likely to be a problem, no one ever visited the forest other than to gather wood from its edges. As long as she stayed in the woods, she was safe.
There was something magical about becoming one with the nature that surrounded her; the forest was as naked as she was. Now that Gian could gather the needed plants, barks and mosses, her mother could stay in town and care for more people, as well as making more medicines from the plants that Gian gathered. Her mother was always very impressed with how clean Gian kept her clothes when she went foraging.
Dear mother, if you only knew! Gian smiled to herself.
As Gian looked around the sun dappled forest, she felt the breeze tickling the fine hairs on her body and revelled in the feeling that she could only describe as a oneness with nature and God. Then her eye caught the flicker of brightness again. She turned toward it and saw that it was a plant growing on a fallen tree. It seemed to glow slightly, even though it was in the shade of a nearby tree. As she got close enough to study it, she realized she had never seen this plant before. She took out her knife, cut one of the lesser branches from the plant, and placed it gently into one of her small sacs to show to her mother. Even once severed from the plant, the glow continued. It wasn’t a glow that was actually casting any light. She could tell that from how it looked in the small sac. It cast no light on the inside of the sac. She had never seen anything like it.
She tucked the sac into her pack and looked around. It was only just past midday and she had gathered all the items her mother needed. She decided to have a snack and then run back to town and see what her mother thought of this plant. She could be home well before nightfall. She sat on the fallen tree, opened her pack and extracted the bread and cheese. She ate sparingly because she didn’t want to hamper her running. Her lunch finished, she ran the few hundred yards to a clear pool formed by a creek rushing over a three-metre high shelf. She dropped her pack and sandals near the bank and stepped in. The water wasn’t as frigid as the river water usually was, but it was cold enough to make her skin tighten as she stood under the sheet of water for a moment to refresh herself. Two quick sips of water, and she stepped back out of the pool feeling refreshed and ready to race herself back to town.
“This is my favourite waterfall, too.” Said a voice from above her.
Gian dashed for her pack and pulled her frock up to cover herself. She looked back where the voice had been, but there was no one there.
“Did I scare you, little one?”
Gian turned to her right to see a woman standing at the base of the shelf 20 metres away from her. A barely disguised smile on her face. The woman looked to be in her 20s, mature but not showing any signs of age. She wore nothing but a knife belt with a few small pouches hanging from it. Her body spoke of long days spent outdoors and not just lounging. She was slightly taller than Gian and wore her curly dark brown hair in a long stream down her back, held in place by some kind of rope. Her eyes were grey and stood out from her darkened skin and hair. Her face was delicate in form, with modest lips, but the overall effect was one of depth and mystery. Gian couldn’t decide if this woman was much older, or much younger than she looked. Gian did notice that her body, just like her own, was the body of an athlete.
“I suppose I did mean to scare you, but I was only having a little fun. My name is Xia, what’s yours?” she walked slowly forward as she spoke and Gian’s fear seemed to evaporate.
Gian pulled her frock down over her head, still unsure of who this women was. “My name is Gian. I haven’t seen you before, do you live in the town, or in one of the nearby villages?”
“Actually, I live in the forest; I don’t like towns; too many strangers, or worse, too many friends. I take it that you do live in the town?” she stopped a few metres from Gian. Eyeing the frock she now wore.
“You live in the forest? I didn’t know anyone lived here. Are your kin nearby?” Gian had always assumed she was alone in the forest. What if someone had seen her naked and went to the Church? She would be shamed as would her family.
“My kin are in the forest too; we only gather together for special occasions. Births, deaths, and once in a long while, just for fun. We don’t gather permanently or in any one spot, so that we can avoid leaving a mark upon the forest.”
“I can’t wait to tell my mother! A whole other people that live in the woods. Would you like to come to town to meet her? Where are your clothes?”
Stop gushing! You sound like a child! She said to herself.
Xia tensed slightly at the barrage, “Actually, I would like it very much if you would not mention me to anyone. One of the reasons my kin and I enjoy the peace of the forest is because the people of the town don’t know we’re here.” Xia was serious and Gian was confused.
“Then why did you show yourself to me?”
Maybe there are rules in the forest that I don’t know about. She thought.
Xia dropped her knife belt, moved closer to where her bag awaited. “May I?” she asked, indicating the bag.
“Please,” said Gian.
I’ve done something bad, or taken something that I wasn’t supposed to . . . Gian’s mind was racing.
Xia rummaged in the pack and extracted the pouch containing the new plant that Gian had found earlier. “Do you know what this is?”
“No. I was taking it back to my mother to ask her if she knew what it was. I’ve never seen anything like it before; it seems to glow from within.”
Xia looked back in the pouch and then looked a Gian again, something between shock and disbelief in her eyes. “This plant glows from within when you look at it?”
“Yes. Don’t you see it? Maybe it’s stopped now that it’s been in the sac for a while.” Gian took the pouch and looked inside. The place where the stem had been cut no longer glowed, but the rest of the stem and leaf still shone subtly from within. “You can’t see that?”
Xia frowned and looked again in the sac. “It is a leaf from the Kwary plant. It is very rare and it doesn’t glow. Not normally, anyway.”
“So it’s called the Kwary plant? What can you tell me about it? My mother is an apothecary in the town. She’ll be so proud of me if I’ve discovered a new medicine.”
“It is a sacred plant to me and my kin. It is not really a medicine. When I saw you taking a cutting, I nearly intervened to stop you from destroying the plant. We never harm the forest, and especially not the Kwary plant. Chewing on the leaf of the Kwary plant allows you to sense the world around you with more . . . I guess depth would be the right word. We take no more than one leaf each year and it is a ritual we all cherish because the Kwary leaf lets us become one with all life in the forest including each other.” Xia’s expression became distant as if she were remembering a wondrous moment in her life.
Xia’s expression refocused on Gian. “When I saw you were only taking a cutting, I grew curious. I saw you running through the forest, and I have never seen anyone do that besides my kin. We do not wear clothes either, ever; we wish to be as close to the life around us as possible. Those of the town and the villages are always clothed, and treat the forest as something separate from themselves. I decided to find out if you were maybe a member of another family like mine.”
“There are more families like yours?” Gian asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve never heard of any. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. The forest is very big. So tell me why a girl from the town runs naked through the forest cutting Kwary leaves.”
“I gather herbs and barks for my mother. She uses them to make medicines for the people of the town. I wear clothes, normally - but I prefer to be naked when I am in the forest. I too like to feel close to the life it holds.” She was starting to feel self-conscious since she was the only clothed person in the glade.
“So you are a kindred spirit, born into the town, but come home to the forest. You are indeed a strange one, young Gian.”
“I thought so, too, until I met you! My life is simple. I do the work of God with my mother. I play with my friends, spend time relaxing in the baths or worshipping in the Hareem, and I celebrate the gifts of God every Sabbath in the square. My only sin is that I indulge myself in the forest. Now I find out that there is a people who live secretly in the forest. And you never wear clothes!” Gian realized her modesty was silly in the face of the circumstances, and she pulled her frock back over her head and folded it neatly into her pack.
Xia watched her appreciatively, as if regarding a potential lover. “You are a very attractive woman, young Gian.”
Gian nearly pulled the frock back out of her pack, until she caught the smile on Xia’s face. Instead she flushed with embarrassment. Unfortunately, this involved her skin blushing from her cheeks all the way down past her breasts.
Xia barked a hearty laugh. “You are a treasure, young Gian.”
Gian, blushing even more furiously, stepped over to the waterfall and allowed the cold cascade to cool her skin.
“I don’t see why you have to tease me! I’m not teasing you.” She said, as her embarrassment and anger began to fade. There was something about Xia that made it hard not like her.
Xia was looking at her again, like a lover, and Gian pointedly ignored it. “Now about this Kwary leaf; how long does it last once cut? Can it be dried and saved for a long time, or do you need to cut it and use it right away?”
Xia dropped the game with a nod of respect to Gian; “We only ever cut the leaf from the plant just before we are about to use it; so I can’t honestly say. You must not share this knowledge with anyone. The Kwary is a rare and fragile plant. If too many leaves are taken in a year, the plant dies, and if too many plants die, they may cease to exist altogether and that would be a great loss indeed. I know of only two other plants in the forest. The one you discovered is new to me.” Xia was anxious again, and Gian could understand. If this plant proved to be a medicine as well as a sense enhancer and the people knew of it, it would be very difficult to keep the plants safe from over harvesting. Not to mention that the forest would become a place crowded with foragers and no longer a sanctuary for Xia and her kin, let alone Gian.
“I understand, Xia. I promise I will not tell anyone about our meeting or about this plant.” She thought she might be able to grow a plant from a cutting. If so, she could create a garden of them first, then share the secret with her mother without risking the forest, or the wild Kwary.
“Thank you, young Gian. I think I might like to call you friend; there is much wisdom in you for one so young.”
That makes my case right there, she’s definitely older than she looks. She thought to herself.
“I would like to be your friend, Xia. But I have to go home soon; And if I can’t find you in the forest, how can we be friends?”
“Stay with me just a little longer today. I will show you something that will help you find me when you return to the forest. It will also allow me to seek you out in the forest from time to time.”
Xia picked up her knife belt and strapped it on, and Gian repacked her bag, strapped it to her hips and tied on her sandals.
Xia said, “Follow me!” and took off at a loping pace that was both fast and incredibly graceful. As she scrambled to follow, Gian had a flash of envy; wishing that she could move with that much grace.
They ran for about half a bell before Xia suddenly stopped and turned to wait for Gian.
“Remind me next time we’re together to teach you how to run!” She laughed. “You waste a lot of effort flailing your arms and legs, and you make a terrible racket as you pass.” Xia was smiling at her with a good natured glint in her eyes.
Gian was learning, and didn’t fall into the trap. “It’s true. I’ve never seen anyone run as gracefully as you.”
Xia smiled again, impressed that Gian hadn’t taken the bait. “In the forest, when one lacks a skill that another can impart, a duty is forged that can only be discharged through the gift of the skill.”
“Then you have a ‘duty to discharge,’ Xia” Gian laughed.
“Then it is a pact. We shall start today, and I will continue when next we meet” Xia positively shone with pride.
Xia is very strange, one minute we’re sisters, then we’re mother and daughter, now we’re master and student. “So where to, now?”
“We are here. Remove your pack and sandals and leave them here, but take the Kwary leaf you cut.” Xia dropped her belt.
Gian took out the leaf and left the rest of her belongings in the glade. The grass was warm and spongy underfoot, and the blades tickled her toes. It had been a very long time since she had walked barefoot in the grass. Xia strode over a small rise and beckoned Gian to follow. Gian did so, still marvelling at the grace Xia had when she moved.
As she crossed the crest of the hill, she felt a shiver. It was as if her skin had been lightly slapped everywhere at once. When she recovered and looked down the hill, she saw Xia slipping into a pool of water that was steaming, even in the heat of the day. She turned back and stepped back and forth across the crest. She felt the shiver each time, but her skin showed no sign.
Xia called to her, “Come young Gian, the day does not wait for you.”
As she walked down the slope and across the small glade she noticed the large clearing was completely surrounded by trees. A small stream wended it’s way east, probably connecting to the creek she had just left. That would explain why the water wasn’t as frigid as the river. The pool seemed to have no obvious source. It must be a natural hot spring. How had her mother not known of this place? There was a tang of sulphur in the air, but it was easily ignored for the incredible scents that made her head swim. Orchids grew everywhere around the glade, and the grasses were mixed with heather and clover.
She arrived at the pool having completely forgotten the oddness at the crest of the hill. Xia was waiting for her in the middle of the pool, which must be fairly shallow, since she must have been standing on the bottom, the water only covered half her breasts. The water was hot, but comfortably so. She slipped in and swam out to Xia, still holding the leaf. The water felt especially thick and silky, and Gian noticed that she was floating higher in the water than she usually did. When she arrived near Xia, she tried to find her footing, but only found water. Xia was floating high enough that her breasts were almost out of the water.
This must be a mineral spring like Mother told me about. I thought they were always near mountains.
“I love this pool, it’s so much better than the baths! So why did I need to bring the leaf?” Gian asked.
“Look at it now. Does it still glow?”
Gian looked and saw that almost the whole stem was now plain, only the leaf glowed dimly.
“Yes, but the stem isn’t glowing anymore. I guess they don’t last long once they’ve been cut.” Gian filed that away. If she was going to cultivate a cutting, she would need to act quickly.
“I suspected as much. That is why I brought you here. Firstly, since you have cut the leaf, you are duty bound to make use of it. Secondly, because I have experience and some skill with it, I am also duty bound to guide you. And finally, without the benefits of the Kwary leaf, it would be very hard for me to teach you how to run like I do. I would not recommend that you eat the whole leaf, since this is your first time. I will share it with you, if you will allow it.” Xia was being very solemn.
Gian thought this was all a bit more formal than necessary, “Okay, let’s share it. Will it be safe in the pool? Shouldn’t we go back to the bank?”
“In this, I am the teacher, you are the student. Do you understand, Gian?”
Gian realized that the prankster Xia was not going to show up anytime soon. “Yes, Xia. I’m sorry.”
Gian tore the leave in half and gave one half to Xia. “What now?”
“You chew it twelve times and then tuck it under your tongue. When you notice your senses expanding you can spit it out, it is finished. It will not affect your ability to think or move, it only expands your senses. That said, it can be disorienting the first time, which is why I will ask you to place yourself in my care until you have adapted to the experience.”
“How do I do that?” Gian asked, nervous but also eager to experience this.
“First, chew your leaf.” Xia also placed her leaf in her mouth.
They both chewed slowly twelve times as they bobbed in the pool.
“Now tuck it under your tongue, and lie back in the water.”
As Gian stretched out on her back, she floated up and Xia held her with one hand under her neck, and the other under the base of her spine.
“Now you simply need to relax your body completely, and let me hold you still in the water. I will guide you as needed, young Gian. You are safe.”
I feel safe; and this water is so soothing. Strange how the leaf doesn’t really have a taste, just an bitter earthiness.
Gian realized that she was holding herself stiffly, and forced herself to relax and let Xia have control of her floating body. Xia was barely holding her up at all, if the pressure of her hands was any indication. As she relaxed her muscles and steadied her breathing, her legs floated apart, and her arms drifted out. Her right arm brushing against Xia’s breast.
“Close your eyes and feel the world around you through your other senses.” Xia said softly.
Her ears were just above the water, and she listened to the sounds of the breeze through the trees and the birds with their distant chatter. She felt the surface of the water gently licking her legs and arms and tickling her ribs; the warmth welling up from underneath her and the tiny bubbles striking her skin and rolling along it to find their way to the surface; the breeze tickling her skin and the feel of the water evaporating, tightening in places where the salts were drying.
I should show this to Kel and Grif; well, maybe not Grif, he never takes anything seriously. This is way better than the baths in the town.
Gian didn’t remember dozing off; she had felt so warm and safe in the pool; she must have just drifted off.
“You should spit it out now, young Gian, but don’t open your eyes, just yet.” Xia said softly.
Gian turned her head and let the paste slip out of her mouth under the water. She could feel the pulse in Xia’s hands, slow and strong. She could actually feel the slight movement of her palm’s prints across the skin at the back of her neck. Then she noticed the smells, orchids, trees, honey, heather, a hint of sulphur, and something richer, closer . . .
“Allow yourself to sense everything around you. Don’t fight it. It will diminish the experience, which is a waste of the gift of the Kwary plant.” Xia whispered softly.
She’s whispering, but I can hear her as if she were speaking right next to my ear. I can hear the bubbles popping as they reach the surface of the water too. This is amazing! And that perfume . . . It’s close by, but it isn’t the plants or the water . . .
“Xia, is that your scent, I smell? Rich and peppery with some kind of flower mixed in?”
“All but the flower is my scent. The flower is the scent of the Kwary leaf. It is now part of your scent too. You smell of sweet butter and fresh grass after a rain, and Kwary.” Xia murmured.
Every inch of Gian’s body felt alive with myriad sensations. Her ears could pick out the sound of Xia’s heart, the fluttering wings of birds, the individual collisions of leaf with leaf or branch in the breeze, the blades of grass rubbing together, the beat of an insects wings. Her nose picked out each flower in the glade, and the grasses and trees, the deer that must be nearby, silently watching.
I’m so connected to everything! I can feel the pulse of the forest and the life all around me. I don’t ever want to lose this!
“This moment is sacred and unburdened from mundane concerns, young Gian. You will feel things that may cause you dismay, do not allow your judgement to interfere. The Kwary is the gift of . . . God, and there is no shame in allowing the gift to be fully given.” There was a hint of a chuckle in Xia’s soft voice, along with love, a little loneliness, hope and a few other emotions that Gian had no words for, but understood in her core all the same. Xia was the best kind of friend.
Why would I be dismayed by this? I almost feel like I’m listening to His voice, feeling His touch!
“May I open my eyes, now?” Gian asked with a depth of calm she had never heard in her voice before.
“Of course, but do not be dismayed at what you see, allow yourself to adapt and appreciate.”
She slowly opened her eyes and was dumbstruck.
The world around her glowed with light; not sunlight, although she could see that too, bathing everything. This was a light from within everything; and everything was connected to everything else by tiny thin filaments of light. It was an orchestra of beauty that was breathtaking in its complexity, scope and beauty. She closed her eyes again, but the image was blazing in her mind.
“We are connected, all of us, everything. But most especially, you and I right now are connected because we have both taken the Kwary leaf, and we are touching. I can feel much of what you are experiencing, and I can also feel your stronger feelings as you experience them. This is why we always have someone close to us when we take the Kwary for the first time. It helps them move past the strangeness and fears, so that they can fully experience the gift.” Xia spoke softly as she continued, “Can you feel what I am feeling, young Gian?”
Gian tried to sense Xia’s feelings, but only sensed her presence, intoxicating as it was with her heightened senses.
“That’s not how it is done. You must calm your mind and pull the sensations from me through our connection.”
Gian looked at Xia. She was blazingly bright, brighter than anything else around them.
Is that what I look like to her?
“Yes, Gian the Kwary plant makes us appear much brighter than the rest of the life in the forest. It shows us our true selves.”
Gian saw the filament connecting Xia and herself. It went from Xia’s heart to her own.
She felt a welling of joy at this wonderful gift God had bestowed upon her.
Gian closed her eyes again, relaxed and focused on the connection at her heart. Pulling Xia’s sensations and feelings into her.
She was disoriented for a moment as she suddenly felt not only her own sensations, but those of Xia too. She could feel herself in her arms; Xia’s arms. She was almost weightless. Silky, smooth skin. Beautiful in Xia’s eyes. She could smell herself through Xia’s nose. Sweet butter and fresh grass after a rain . . . And Kwary - so that’s what the scent of Kwary is. Xia was completely focused on her. Sensing her feelings and sensations . . . Waiting for something to begin. There was a reverence to her feelings, like love, but more.
“I can feel you Xia! Is this how you feel me, too?” Gian whispered, her voice a mix of awe and love.
“So long as we are touching, we can pull each other’s sensations and feelings, even some thoughts, through that connection.”
She is so proud of me. She thinks I am an adept at this. Xia was still waiting for something to begin.
“What are you waiting for, Xia? What’s going to happen?” Gian whispered
“Do not anticipate, young Gian. Surrender to the experience and allow it to happen.” Xia chided gently.
“Does the filament go away when we stop touching? Will I lose this connection, Xia?” Gian tried to stomp on the welling sadness she felt. She didn’t want to burden Xia with it.
I can’t lose this connection. It is the most perfect thing I’ve ever experienced.
“This connection is through our touch, young Gian, not the filament. Once the Kwary wears off, we will no longer be able to share like this. Although we will always be bonded by this memory.”
This saddens her too, but she also feels joy. She loves me so deeply; part like a mother, part big sister, part teacher, part lover?! I don’t like women! I like boys! Gian tensed as these thoughts caused her to remember how vulnerable she was lying in Xia’s arms and helpless in the grip of the Kwary leaf.
“Little Gian, do not search for meanings in what you sense and feel. Do not judge me or my feelings, as I do not judge you or yours. You must allow what happens to happen, and drink it in fully. The time for thinking is after.” Xia murmured.
Gian felt the emotions behind Xia’s words. She realized that her fears were unjustified, and judging Xia had been a betrayal of the trust that Xia had placed in her. She relaxed, opened her eyes again and allowed the torrent of sensations both from the world and Xia to flow through her.
She felt a rush of archly sweet energy pulse in Xia’s loins.
What was that? It felt like a lover’s hand was softly teasing me/her, but her hands are holding me and there’s no one else here. She could feel Xia’s anticipation quicken and then dissipate as she relaxed herself. She sensed that this was what Xia had been waiting for.
“We are not in the town, little Gian; It is just you, me, the forest and . . . God’s gift of the Kwary. Allow this gift to find you unresisting. The method may seem strange, but it is the only way to open the doors that are still closed to you. It’s also quite enjoyable!” Xia said this with a breathy voice that dripped with knowledge of the pleasure to come, but there was a slight undercurrent to it that rang false.
What is she hiding from me? Maybe I need to experience this first, before I can understand.
As she finished that thought, another pulse warmed Xia’s loins, and her breath quickened slightly. Gian was becoming aroused herself, she felt warmth building in her loins and her skin began to flush. Sharing these sensations made her feel even more vulnerable and at the same time deeply honoured, that Xia would allow her to share these most personal moments in an extremely intimate way. This was so much more than pleasuring herself, or sharing herself with a Brother at the Hareem.
Why would God keep this from the people? Why is He sharing it with me?
The next pulse through their connection resonated with Gian’s loins which pulsed in time with Xia’s. She felt her body quiver in the pool, but Xia’s hands gently held her in place. She began to move her legs farther apart wanting to hasten things, and bringing her hand in to caress herself.
“Do not interfere with this, little Gian,” Xia breathed, “Let it happen as it was meant to happen, surrender to it.”
Gian didn’t know what she meant. Surrender? She had always been eager to experience the pleasure of her body. The Sisters taught her how to pleasure herself at the age of 10. In her 15th year, she had been taken to the Hareem, where a Brother had taught her all the ways that a man and a woman could pleasure each other. When she had satisfied the Brother that she had understood her lessons completely, she had been allowed to visit the Hareem whenever she wished. It was the will of God that the people enjoy the gifts of their bodies. She had always been eager to pleasure and be pleasured, it was the best form of worship she knew, until now. She had been taught that the ecstasy was a form of communion with God, and should be sought, not awaited.
She forced herself to relax her body again and she was painfully aware as her legs returned to their relaxed state, compressing her now engorged lips. Another pulse rocked both their bodies. Her right arm drifted relaxed and brushed Xia’s breast again. Gian barely noticed the sensation on her arm, as she felt Xia’s breast react to the touch and send a spike of energy to both their loins. She opened her eyes to the splendour of the world around her and saw several deer standing at the edge of the forest, watching them; filaments stretching between them and all things around them. Each had one filament stretching directly to her heart.
Can I feel their feelings through the filament? She pulled on the filament of the stag standing proudly in front of the others.
‘Alertness, sharp and visceral. Reverence for Xia and Gian mixed with the Kwary scent. He has an erection! A thousand scents on the wind, none of them predators. Vigilance. He could see the glow around them, although the rest of the world did not glow in his eyes. Oh! So much lust in him; why does he stand watching us? There are so many females around him.’
Gian released the stag. The animal’s sexual abandon might be natural for him, but it was overwhelming to her. Xia pulsed with her again. She felt Xia releasing her own tension, letting go of anticipation and Gian tried to do the same. There was an aching need for release that filled her loins and was climbing up her body. It throbbed in time with their heartbeats, which now seemed to beat as one.
Dear God, what a magical world You have wrought. Thank You for sharing this with me. She prayed.
She felt what could only be called a tolerant smile through the connection to Xia. What am I missing? What’s so funny?
The next pulse made the ache fill her completely, and she could feel Xia was the same. She forced herself to stretch out her involuntarily tensing limbs, to float in the pool, drink in the world around her, and allow what would happen to happen.
I surrender. Teach me. She thought to Xia.
And Xia responded, ‘Your lesson begins now.’
Xia?! You can hear my thoughts?
She was about to ask her about what had just happened, when the world exploded through her. The aching broke and a cascade of pleasure ripped through her body. Not the usual kind that she knew well enough from the Brothers at the Hareem or her own fingers. This was through her entire body, toes to fingers, head to loins. Every bit of her was engulfed. Her vision detonated with colour. The filaments of light were no longer just white, they spun away in myriad colours. She felt every current in the water, every flex of Xia’s muscles as she too lost herself; pitching backward to float like Gian.
Gian watched Xia glow even more brightly as the crescendo of pleasure unbelievably grew even more intense - she felt her body react as if it weren’t her own, legs arching downward, arms spreading wide and her perception collapsed into the filament connecting her to Xia. In that instant she was truly naked for the first time in her life and Xia was just as exposed to her.
She has so much depth! I’m truly a child compared to her. She thought as she trembled from the onslaught of sensations built by the blending of both of their storms of bliss.
Gian heard Xia’s thoughts, ‘You are young, Gian, but you have strength I admire. Now, we are friends.’
The torrent of pleasure continued growing, and Gian was paralysed with the breadth and depth of the sensations. She was weightless floating in a sea of life. Every sound, smell, taste, sight and sensation became a climax unto itself; This on top of the torrent of pleasures and sensations flooding her from Xia brought her to peak after new peak of ecstasy that redefined the word entirely each time. And every sensation was shared in a manner so much more intimate than mundane physical touch.
There was a final crescendo of pleasure during which she felt the waves from the pond as Xia’s whole body shuddered in time with her own and she felt both her own and Xia’s cries; voiceless thunder; as they both arched and then flopped back into the pool again; their bodies spent, their senses numbed, their minds utterly at peace, each cradling the other through their connection.
Gian woke suddenly from a sense of falling, and rolled over face down into the water. She realized she was still floating in the pool and wondered that she had dozed off while floating. She righted herself, floating upright now and wiped the water, and she suspected, remnants of tears, slowly from her face with shaking hands; her fingers were very wrinkled. She felt Xia nearby, calm in the water, her body completely at rest; sleeping! She looked up at the sky above her. The light blue of day had deepened to a rich violet.
How long have we been here? She wondered.
It had been only two bells past noon when they had begun. It was nearing twilight, now. She felt Xia awakening, and revelled in the shared sense of glorious satisfaction. She felt more whole, more filled than she had in her entire life. Gian felt Xia right herself in the water and look at her.
‘I have a friend.’ Xia thought and there was a very strong emotion attached to it. A relief after a long wait, a joy after much hardship. Gian was completely unfamiliar with with the concept but felt its implication all the same.
They both swam to the bank and climbed out onto the grassy glade.
Xia? Can you hear my thoughts? Xia? She thought.
“Xia?” she asked aloud.
“Yes, Gian?” she smiled brightly at Gian. The emotion accompanying that response nearly overwhelmed Gian. Such love! She thought.
“Did you hear my thoughts when we were nearing the . . .”
‘Rapture’ Gian heard Xia’s thought before she spoke it. And now she understood the look she had seen on her face earlier. She would likely have the same look if she ever reminisced about this afternoon.
“We call it the Rapture. Yes, that is possible only at that time, when the connection is strongest. It is a wondrous thing to know the mind of another so intimately, even for a moment. Our meeting today was truly a . . . Blessing”
‘An act of incredible luck’ Gian heard. Why would she call it luck but say Blessing?
“But you can’t hear them now?” she asked
“Only if you let them pass your lips, little Gian.”
Why can I still hear her thoughts? Gian thought.
‘This little one is the most wondrous gift! I will cherish her, always.’ Gian nearly blushed at the raw love that poured through her on the heels of Xia’s private thought. Gian blushed again, brow to stomach and halfway down her arms.
Oh Lord help me! Not now!! Gian thought. Her shame at her blushing just making it worse.
Xia’s face cracked and she began to laugh the sweetest unrestrained laugh that Gian had ever heard. “Come here little Giant, I want to hug my new friend, now that she can see the world as clearly as I!”
Gian fell into her arms and they hugged each other fiercely, each wrapping the other in arms and legs. Gian joined Xia’s laughter and soon they were both howling in tears. Xia for her strange/wonderful new friend’s timidity and naivete, and Gian because she could see the joke through Xia’s eyes and it was funny!
I don’t think the Hareem will ever be the same, now. She thought, smiling to herself as both she and Xia caught their breaths between spontaneous laughing fits. It was hard to count the number of ways she had been intoxicated today.
By the time they separated, the sun had gone down and the stars were blazing in the sky.
As the wanderings of Xia’s mind drifted haphazardly across Gian’s awareness, she pondered her new situation.
This is going to take some getting used to. I can feel her inside me - or am I inside her? her love for me, her playfulness, her reverence for the forest and all life, and her age, she feels so old!! How old is she? She will probably save that question for another time. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer just yet.
“It’s too late for me to go home now; where should we camp?”
“I know a lovely glade not far from here where I met my new friend while she was bathing. Shall we go?” Gian could hear the bait, even without the connection as Xia waited for her to take it.
“That would be lovely! But what about the animals, aren’t they dangerous at night?”
“Not to you or I, not anymore.” Again, the knowing smile from Xia. Gian sidestepped the bait once again.
She can play mysterious if she wants to; I’m not going to be a fool twice! “What about getting there? Won’t it be dangerous in the dark?” she asked.
‘Ah, little one, so wise, and yet so naive.’ Xia thought.
I definitely won’t be getting used to those kinds of thoughts anytime soon! It seemed that Xia could bait her with her thoughts too!
“I suppose I should have mentioned this before, but the Kwary leaf’s major effects wear off completely in half a day or so. However, there are certain permanent changes that have been given to you by the leaf. One is that animals can sense that you have experienced the oneness of the universe. They will no longer trouble you, so long as you don’t trouble them. I believe you know the scent, you smelled it on me earlier. It is now a part of your scent too.” Xia had a mischievous grin.
“Animals won’t attack me ever again? What else?!”
I can roam the forest without fear! I can sleep in a glade, under the stars too! Thank you God, I have been truly Blessed.
“Kwary is like a medicine. It makes changes in the people who take it. Some medicines cure sickness, some prevent it; this one makes animals treat you nicely, among other things. Kwary is God’s creation.” Xia said “God” with a wry twist that Gian thought might be almost heretical, but she couldn’t believe that of her friend. Maybe she had missed the humour.
They passed over the rise, and Gian felt that slapping sensation again. “What was that?” She asked. Then she realized that Xia hadn’t felt it. At least, it hadn’t come through the connection.
“What was what?”
“When I passed the crest of the hill, both times, it felt like something lightly slapped all of my skin at once.”
Xia walked back to the crest and then crossed back and forth several times. “I don’t feel anything at all. Very strange. You feel slaps where no one else does. You see the glow on a plant without having eaten the Kwary leaf. You are definitely an interesting friend Little Giant!” Gian saw that same wry grin again.
“Are you going to call me Little Giant, now?” She was starting to like this game with Xia.
“Only when I want to poke you a little!” Xia laughed. “Gather your things, but don’t wear your sandals - keep them in your pack. In the forest, you should allow your soles to enjoy the same things the rest of your body does. It’s time for your first lesson in running.”
“Now?” It was almost pitch black. She could barely see Xia and she was only a couple of metres away.
“Quiet your mind, Gian. Just relax as you did in the pool.”
“Okay.” Gian let herself relax again.
“Good, now soften your eyes and look, softly mind you, around us.”
Gian did this and was shocked to see the filaments were back. They weren’t as bright or colourful, but they were there, as was the glow around plants and trees and even the stones on the ground had a subtle glow.
“I can see the glow everywhere and the filaments too!” Gian said, very excited. “But how come the stones are glowing?”
“Life is everywhere Gian, even on stones. It’s just too small to see. You’ll be able to do this for the rest of your life, thanks to the Kwary leaf. Now, can you see a path toward the north?”
“Is that the dimmer area heading into the forest?” Gian guessed
“That’s it! It leads pretty much straight to the glade.”
Gian packed her sandals and put on her pack. “But what about sharp stones or roots?”
Xia strapped on her belt and headed toward the path. “Don’t step on them.” She said over her shoulder, grinning.
“But won’t it take bells to get there? We ran here and it took at least half a bell”
“Then we’d better run back, hadn’t we?” Xia laughed as she dashed down the path into the forest and vanished in the pitch-blackness.
‘Come along, little Giant. Let’s see what you’ve learned!’ Gian heard Xia thinking to herself. All right then, big sister, here I come! And Gian focused on the path Xia had taken and followed.
Gian followed tentatively at first, until she realized that she could see almost as well as she could during the day; it was just a different kind of vision. Once she figured it out, she wasn’t just able to run down the forest path at night, she could see where Xia had stepped and was able to follow her steps perfectly. She even saw a few sharp stones that Xia had just missed. She almost caught up to her before they reached the glade where they had met.
As she entered the glade, Xia was sitting down beside the pool, dangling her feet into the cold water. Gian didn’t slow at all, but dropped her belt pack on the run and ran straight into the pool.
This is wondrous! Running through the forest at night! No fear of animals! And I’m connected to everything! I’m connected to my new best friend. Gia’s heart was soaring as she plunged into the pool.
She revelled in the cold water on her skin, and was amazed as she saw tiny glowing fish swimming all around her, darting between her legs and arms as she glided into the middle of the pond. She swam to the rocks and stepped under the waterfall for the second time today. She was a completely new person. She felt nature within her, not just a thing she loved from the outside, but a thing as much a part of her as her arms and legs. She pulled deeply on the world around her; pulled in all the sights, scents, sounds and sensations; and she suddenly found herself with the throbbing pulse in her loins building once more.
Again? But Xia isn’t with me! I don’t want to do this alone. She stepped out of the waterfall and found Xia watching her from the bank a few metres away. Watching her with that lecherous look again.
Always teasing! Gian smiled inwardly. If I can pull Xia into me through the filament, why can’t I push myself into her?
Even as the thought formed, the pace of the throbbing caught up to her heart, and she knew this time would not be as painfully slow as the last time.
Gian pushed her sensations down the filament to Xia and was rewarded by a gasp from Xia as the building Rapture flooded her body, knocking her onto her back.
Gian opened herself to everything around her. The sensations flooded in, and Xia’s legs were suddenly drenched. Gian felt Xia catch up to her quickly. The pulsing filled them both more and more and swept up their spines in seconds. Gian slid onto her back and into the shallows of the pool as her legs lost their will to hold her up.
The Rapture slammed into them.
She rested on her back held in the chilling embrace of the smooth stones just under the surface of the pond as wave after wave of the Rapture washed over her. Suddenly, she saw Xia again lying on her back in the grass next to the glade; but Gian was watching her from above this time, as if she floated in the air. Xia was writhing in ecstasy but her eyes were closed and she couldn’t see Gian above her. The next wave of pleasure brought another vision. This time, a young man floating in the bathhouse in town;
Is that Kel?
As she looked at him, his eyes opened and focused on hers. The shock was plain on his face and Gian probably would have felt the same way if she wasn’t in the middle of the most exquisite pleasure. He was saying something, but she couldn’t hear him. Another wave rocked her body and she was looking over another clearing in the forest, this one had a man and a woman in simple clothes talking to each other. It was very dark and Gian was wondering how they could see each other at all when they both looked up at her. Their eyes were solid black. They both smiled at her; their smiles that were warm and inviting, but the eyes made Gian afraid. The Mothers had told stories of the Ancient evil that had been banished and how their eyes had been as black as night. As if they could sense her thoughts, both of them vanished from the clearing. Before she could react to this, another wave of pleasure ripped through her. She found herself watching a young man sitting at a table in the town square. He had an ale in his hand. As she looked closer, she recognized him. It was Grif. He was watching something intently at another table.
He’s probably in the middle of one of his pranks and waiting to see it play out.
She smiled fondly as she recognized the feeling she had always held for Grif, but never admitted to herself. He was the mischievous little brother who always frustrated her with his antics, but never seemed to be able to break the love she felt for him, no matter how often he seemed to try.
‘How is this possible? There is never a second Rapture.’ Xia is worried about me, and surprised. I may keep this trick to myself for a while longer. It’s fun to have the upper hand for once, with her.
The next wave didn’t come; the rhythm began to build again. This time it didn’t break over her instantly, but built to a monumental force.
‘What in the world?! . . .’ Xia was obviously still sharing their bliss.
She felt an excruciating need for release and forced herself to surrender to it. When it came, she felt her body hum and the world exploded around her in light.
Then her vision went completely dark. She felt her body shivering on the surface of the pond as it was swept away by the massive waves of pleasure rolling continuously over her. Xia’s body and mind were at the mercy of whatever this was. It seemed to be much more than the first Rapture they had shared.
Gian’s mind was still clear, though, and she noticed that the darkness wasn’t absolute. She could see stars slowly turning above her. Then the world passed below her into view; the entire world; half in night, half in day. She was directly above a land mass that was covered in desert. A large range of mountains ran north to south; they must be the mountains behind the forest, because to the east of them was a great forest, and then fields;
That must be the town!
Next to the river was a smudge of subtle light and tiny dark rectangular structures. They were minuscule from this height, but she could still see them. The river flowed on past the town and the green fields gave way to a desert many kilometres to the east and then into the sea many kilometres beyond that. The green fields and the forest were like an island in the middle of desolation. The Mothers had never spoken much about what existed in the world outside of the world the people inhabited.
What an odd way for God to make the world! Why are we so isolated?
The seas around the land mass were vast and deep, but there was another large landmass slowly coming over the horizon, and this one was verdant green and lush. Before she could look more closely at this new part of her world, her vision snapped back to the stars above her head, and she lay spent, lying in the pool at the base of the waterfall. She could feel little waves of pleasure playing through her and Xia ever smaller and slower. Her head seemed to hum like a hive of bees, but it was a pleasant sensation.
When the sensations finally subsided, she slipped out into the pond and floated on her back gazing up through the gap in the trees at all the filaments. Even the stars were connected to her, to each other and to Xia. She turned to see Xia watching her from the bank. The filament between them was thicker than it had been before, and it seemed to pulse with the beat of her heart. As she looked closer at it, she saw little shimmers passing along it that matched the tiny wavelets of pleasure still tickling her body. She swam over and flopped on the grassy bank beside Xia.
“I will never forget you, or this night, for the rest of my life. I have been completely remade.” She said, and knew it was true. She pushed her love for Xia down the filament. It seemed so much more honest than any words she could say.
“I love you as well, Little Giant. You have just shown me something I did not think possible. My body is still quaking from what we shared. Normally, the Kwary leaf gives the Rapture once, each time you take it, and only at the beginning. You have just had a second Rapture, the strongest I have ever felt, and bells later. And even more disturbing, you brought me into it, while I was metres away from you. You are more than just a town girl who likes to run naked in the forest. We have become connected in a way I do not understand. Do you see the filament between us?”
“Of course. It’s thick and pulsing to the rhythm of my heart. Isn’t that normal?”
“The connection is normal, the strength of it is not. Filaments are usually fine wispy things connecting us with the life around us. This one is more like a rope and it is pulsing with the beat of our hearts, not just yours. I have never hear of this happening before. I must remind you not to speak of this in the town, to anyone. Not even your parents.”
Gian thought about this. It was true; the Church probably wouldn’t understand this. They probably wouldn’t want to. Her mother was not likely to understand it either. She couldn’t really say anything to anyone without bringing up Xia, which she would not do.
“You’re right, Xia. I can’t tell anyone about any of this. Luckily, I have a friend I can share this with, and I can find her anytime I want!” Gian smiled, knowing she would see her friend again, and likely soon.
‘Yes, and more easily than I would have expected.’ Xia’s thought came. Gian wasn’t sure what that meant. She isn’t sure this is a good thing. She likes her privacy and freedom to be alone with the forest. Well, she’ll still have that. I can’t move to the forest!
“I intended to show you how to find me using the filaments, but not to make it quite so easy! I will be unmistakable to you, no matter where we are” Xia’s smile was rueful rather than playful.
I won’t mention the fact that I can sense what you sense and hear your thoughts sometimes. Gian thought.
“I feel like I’ve just discovered a long lost sister, and I don’t want to lose her.” Was what she said out loud.
“As have I, friend Gian. Our hearts beat as one, it is both a joyous and disturbing thing. We will need each other if we are to survive the storms that are coming.”
“What storms? What are you talking about?” Gian was baffled
“All newness that is born into the world brings conflict as its afterbirth. We have a gift here worthy of . . . God, Little Giant, it will not come without a price, and likely a large one. It is the way of all things.”
They both plunged once more into the pool to wash away their sombre mood and lay afterwards in the soft grass eating the last of Gian’s bread and cheese. Neither was very hungry and both were very tired.
‘The universe has handed me a true handful with this one! She has captured my heart and holds it firmly in her grasp. And I don’t want her to let go. What is she?’ Came across to Gian, from Xia.
What am I, indeed! Don’t worry sister, I won’t betray your love, or the trust you have placed in me. Feel my love for you and be happy.
“You hold my heart in your hand as well, dear Xia.” She said aloud as she pushed her feeling of contentment and love for Xia through the filament connecting them.
‘Oh my, she has laid me bare,’ and with that thought, they both surrendered.
Xia pulled Gian into an embrace and they drifted off to sleep, together under the stars.