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The Seventh One

by John Anker

You have been wearing the Captain’s ancient flight suit for so long now that it’s easy to forget that the name tag on the left breast doesn’t refer to you. When your pursuers on the distant ridge call out after you, pleading for you to come back to safety — to return for their safety — they mean you, regardless of whatever name they use. Sometimes their shouts address you by the name that prompted your desperate exodus:

The Sixth One.

You veer left and follow the trickling stream toward the rumbling, hypnotic roar of the waterfall that, almost two moons ago, served as the catalyst for your current fate. Experience taught you that you will slip and break your leg if you again attempt to scale the mossy limestone slopes that line either side of the waterfall. You stop only long enough to scoop some gritty water from the turbulent cascade pool, hoping to ease your burning throat.

You spy the silhouette of a coterie of pursuers awaiting you atop the ridge next to the water chute. They know you sprouted, in all your fated broken-limb imperfection, from this water, and they knew you would return here.

You know that you did not spring forth from this churning foam, rather that The Spirit Who Lights Our Way called you here so that you would tumble down the rocky embankment and be guided by Him, limping and lurching for days across draws, spurs, rivers, and ridges toward the celebrity that awaited you.

When you collapsed before the bamboo gates of their encampment they rushed to you, calling for the elders to come at once. She has arrived.

You awoke on a thick mattress of fern leaves, the table beside you overloaded with gigantic jugs of clean water and bottomless bowls of ripened fruit. The Eldest kissed your forehead, tapped the name tag on your breast. “You are finally here,” he said, and intoned a prayer to the Spirit.

You had waited for him to finish the invocation before pressing him further. He waved off your questions. “You are The Sixth One,” he told you. “The Green Mother, tagged with the Mark of the Spirit so the world will recognize you. You will reveal to us The Seventh One, who, in turn, will lead us to our salvation.”

You insisted that your clothes were not your own, that you stole them from the belly of a long-forgotten crafted dragon you discovered along your travels. The skeleton from whom you pulled your wardrobe, the one who had ridden the dragon, she must have been The Sixth One.

He smiled and poured a thick salve from a clay pitcher onto your splinted leg. You smelled sulfur as he spread it smooth before tracing mystical shapes into it. “No,” he said. “I am The Fifth One. We do not know our own fate until it is unveiled by the Spirit. You are The Sixth. It is prophesy. You are the penultimate link in the chain binding us to our Final Fate.”

You know firsthand the result of prophesy and final fate. Your own elders taught of the First Apocalypse when, generations ago, the Spirit punished Man for soaring past Heaven Itself, for wanting to learn what the Spirit was not yet willing to reveal. Those worthy enough to survive struggled against the Plague of Dust and the Years of Cold, but trusted the Spirit to disclose the Truth and the Way.

Your tribe fulfilled its prophesy while enslaved by the Cahnahut, during your Blossoming Years. They had discovered the crafted dragon you have now used as shelter most of your life. They wrenched free one of the polyps affixed beneath the wings and unleashed it upon the village after nightfall as their masters slept.

You did not tell any of this to the man who was tending you.

The Eldest peeled and sectioned a fruit to feed to you, ignoring the protests about your nausea. “We will mend you. You will await with us the arrival of the Seventh One, the Silver Father, and reveal him to us.”

They mended you, as the Spirit intended. And just as the Spirit had instructed you to run away through the darkness just before your own people intertwined their Final Fate with that of the Cahnahut, the Spirit showed you this morning that today is the day for your escape.

You expect the squad on the ridge to descend upon you, but they’ll not enter such a sacred place as your spawn-pool. Hearing the tribal voices draw closer from the path behind you, you crawl through the underbrush bordering the thickening canopy. It tears at you, ensnares you, tangles with the hair they had brushed and braided with devotion. You pull loose from the brambles, ignoring the pain issuing forth from your mending leg. You repeat a whispered prayer that the Spirit might reveal your way once more.

Too panicked to listen for His response, you lose sight of The Way and find that you have carved a wide circle which threatens to deliver you to the tribe that has now spread out to search. You stop and listen for Him. You again hear the roar of the waterfall in the distance and cut a straight path away from it. The voices calling you never dissipate.

Finally you recognize familiar territory — a ridge that had marked the boundary you had not been willing to pass until two moons ago when the Spirit called you to your next step of fate at the waterfall. Your home, the shelter of your metal dragon draws closer.

You find a thick piece of lumber and lurch toward the craft to wait for them to close in. When they do, you will bang on every nub and protrusion on one of those wing polyps, just as your elders did.

They will meet their Silver Father. You will reveal to them The Seventh One, the Final Link in their Fate.

Copyright © 2009 by John Anker

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