Leenah awakens the next day to the sounds of birds singing and the feeling of the sun beating down on her. Negasi is sleeping sprawled out on the wooden base of the hollow, his mouth open. The mark on his shoulder is clearly visible in the light, but to Leenah, it looks slightly faded, the four rings look almost blurred. She eats another of the strange indigo fruits and looks around. The canopy looks to be only a few dozen feet above her head, reachable within only about a quarter of an hour. She nudges Negasi in the side.
“Ah, Xandra, don’t leave me,” he hollers, his eyes springing open with distinct fear in them. “Don’t, don’t, do – “
Then he sees Leenah and sheepishly lowers his hands. “Sorry, Leenah. Just a dream.”
“Well…are you ready to continue up the tree?”
“Up the tree?”
“Yes, to the phenocrysts that hopefully will lead us up to The Lands Above?”
“The Lands Above? Phenocrysts? Oh yeah. I remember. I’m ready,” Negasi says, standing up shakily and stretching in a very catlike way. He picks up the glowing crystal from the hollow’s floor and gathers up some of the leftover fruits, handing some to Leenah, who pockets them. “In case you get hungry on the way. Well, I’ll go up first, you follow. Just in case there’s a large bird or jungle beast up there waiting for us that needs confrontation.”
“Okay. Lead the way.”
Negasi digs his claws into the trunk and climbs out of the small hollow. Leenah grabs a vine and slowly follows him up and up, into the glowing green of the canopy.
“Who was that Xandra you were talking to when you woke up?” asks Leenah.
“Oh her…she’s a real beauty. Real sexy. Long, blonde hair, big brown eyes, soft fur…kinda like you…in a way.”
“Someone from Earth, I presume?”
“Yeah. One of my dad’s friend’s kids. She’s so pretty, she loves computer games, just like I do, she’s smart, snappy and talk about seductive, but…”
“She’s a different species.”
“Yes. She’s a cheetah felinoid and I’m a lion felinoid. What more can one say? And not only that, but the only guy she’s got eyes for is a janitor in another computer game series, can you imagine!”
“But you still have dreams about her?”
“Yeah. Sometimes I do.”
“And you like her a lot?”
“Yep. Sure do. Sometimes I…hey! Have you two met before?”
“No. It’s just that your situation sounds so much like the one with me and Torin. We’re from different worlds, different societies, different everything. But I think I love him. Why else would we be seeking his world like this?”
“Well, like I said last night, you’re lucky to fall in love with someone as handsome as him. Just do what you think is right and you can’t say you’re doing wrong.”
“Yes, but choosing to be with Torin would mean leaving my homeland, Escarpa. How would the monarchy survive with my parents heirless and their only daughter in another world?”
“Like I said, I don’t know. Perhaps we’ll find an answer somewhere in our travels.”
Negasi and Leenah climb for several more minutes in silence. Then, as incapable of being quiet as Negasi is, he starts talking again.
“Leenah, did you know that there’s a character with your name in one of my favorite audio adventures?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Well, there is. It’s called Saratoga Springs, and Lena is one of the main characters.”
“That’s interesting, Neg.”
“There’s even a song about Lena, too.”
“Wanna hear it, Leenah?”
“Well, I don’t really…”
“Lena is the queen of Sarratoooo-ga…Even though she doesn’t wear a toooo-ga…” sings Negasi, still climbing as he does.
“That’s enough, Negasi.”
“She runs a small café…It’s down the street a way…”
“That’s terrible, Negasi…”
“Where singers sing and swaaay…And how they love it, want more of it…”
“Negasi, please shut up!”
“Sheee had a husband named Bill….Sheeeee really loved him untilllll…”
“Negasi of Earth, I’m warning you…”
“Billy-Boy, he took a fancy to a college girl named Nancy…”
“I order you to shut up before I get any angrier, Negasi!”
“Down old Saratoga Waaaaaaaay…”
“All right, you asked for it,” yells Leenah, grabbing one of the fruits from her pocket. Just as Negasi is starting the second verse, Leenah throws a fruit at him, hitting him right in the back of his head. He falls over backwards, loses his grip on the trunk and falls down through the leaves, hitting a branch several yards below. Leenah is immediately afraid that she has hurt the cat, and she carefully climbs down to see if he is all right. I’ll tell you now that Negasi doesn’t die. It’s too early in the story for that to happen. In fact, he never dies in the course of this tale, so don’t panic. Negasi’s safety is absolutely assured.
Anyways, Leenah waves her hand over Negasi’s closed eyes and tells him to wake up. She gets no response until she finally says:
“All right, Negasi, I’m sorry I insulted your singing, now would you please wake up? I can’t go on without you.”
At this, the rascally cat opens his eyes and sings:
“Then she met another fella, he told Lena she was bella, played it on real thick…”
“All right, if singing that song is what I have to put up with to keep you going,” says Leenah as Negasi gets up and starts climbing the tree again. “You’re not hurt, are you, Neg?”
“But although he called her honey…yes, I am, I’ve got a lump on my skull the size of a nut…All he wanted was her money…”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” says Leenah. “I hope you feel better soon.”
“No problem…That made Lena sick…” here he turns his head and spits, obviously an action that’s part of the song.
“Well, I think we’ll reach the top soon,” Leenah says while Negasi continues singing. “From there, there should be a phenocryst leading up. We’d better use a couple handfuls of erresdy powder so that we don’t wind up back in Escarpa.”
“Folks from Boston to Rolenas, they all love her Café Lena, down old Saratoga Way, da-da-da-da-DA-da-DAH!”
After Negasi has sung “Lena is the Queen of Saratoga” two more times without interruption, the two adventurers finally reach the top of the tree. From where they are, it resembles a meadow of green hills, with a greenish sky above. Negasi remembers this scene all too well from playing Torin’s Passage about seven times, but to Leenah it’s a whole new world.
“It’s beautiful, Negasi.”
“Yeah. It was worth hearing me sing for a few minutes, right?”
“But it’s different then I remembered it.”
“When Torin first came here from Escarpa, the sky was full of broken shards. But now look. Some of them are still broken, but some of them extend down, through the trees.”
“I remember seeing some through the branches while we were climbing,” says Leenah. “But I didn’t want to disturb your song.”
“That’s very kind of you, Leenah. But now we’d better get over to one of those phenocrysts and hope that…woah, woah, Leenah, don’t!” Negasi yells, as Leenah stands up and starts walking towards one of the phenocrysts. He grabs her ankle firmly. Leenah turns and looks at him irritably.
“Don’t walk anywhere! The tops of the trees aren’t as solid as they look! You could fall right back down to the forest floor, and maybe kill yourself!”
Leenah’s eyes grow wide and she stands still, fearing to move.
“Just get down on your stomach, like me,” commands Negasi. “That spreads your body out more and disperses your weight so that you don’t press down the leaves so much. If we just crawl over the tops like this, we should be safe.”
“Have you done this before?”
“No…but half of me is lion, the other half is human, so crawling like this is not only an instinct, but for me it’s also a science.”
“Let’s aim for that pheno over there. It looks like it leads up.”
“How do you know?” asks Leenah.
“Well, there’s this thing called guessing, and this thing called logical deduction, and…”
“And I don’t know which one I’m using to tell if that shard is right, but let’s try it out anyway. What have we got to lose?”
“Oh, come on, Leenah. You’ve survived me singing “Lena is the Queen of Saratoga” three times, what could happen that could be worse?”
“Stop talking and start stalking,” grumbles Negasi. “We’ll just sneak up to that phenocryst before the leaves know there’s a princess and a felinoid on top of them, then we’ll be off to The Lands Above before you know it!”
And so the two begin crawling towards the phenocryst Negasi has singled out, slowly but surely. Finally they’re lying right beside the great green shard which extends from the sky above and though the dense canopy. As Negasi slowly starts standing up, there’s a loud rip. Leenah looks at him, startled.
“I think a branch caught one of my pockets,” says Negasi, trying to find the offending branch in question.
“Which one? The one with the fruits and buckets and the VidCryst-whatever in it?”
“No, the other one!”
“You mean the one with the erresdy powder in it?”
“Yes,” snarls Negasi. As he yanks his pocket free finally, some of the crystalline powder spills out and shimmers on the leaves.
“Be careful!” Leenah screams. “You could lose all of that powder and leave us stranded here!”
“I won’t!” yells Negasi, getting to his feet and trying to stop the powder from spilling out of his pocket. Leenah also stands up, but just as she does, she loses her balance and falls backwards.
The series of events that follow happen very quickly and suddenly. First, Leenah falls backwards, and, as fate would have it, right behind her is a jagged crystal jutting up through the leaves. Negasi sees this and leaps forward to stop her from impaling herself. He grabs her shoulder and manages to change the direction of her fall, but just as he does, a rouge gust of wind comes out of nowhere and picks up the grains of spilled erresdy powder, blowing them towards the jagged shard. Before Negasi and Leenah fall forward into the leaves and down to the distant forest floor, the erresdy powder swirls in the air and passes through their bodies, which immediately dissolve into a fine dust and vanish…down the shard.
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