The man we were, more or less, loosely traveling with told us about the purple and gold temple hidden in the sycamore forest where we came to find the benevolent Reverend 2-2 who gave us advice on staying hidden and safe as well as shelter for a few nights. Access to the narrow space he tucked us in was through what could only be explained as an unintended gap in the structure, this gap evidently having been created by termites so that it was uniquely shaped, like the opening to a womb, and delicate or soft at the edges from the unfinished work of their mouths. There were five of us remaining, at this point, and the first one through the passage, either coming or going, had to clear the spider webs that grew as thick as cotton candy in the hours or moments between our movements. The tricky part of this not small task, as we had no tools or gloves, was to move the proteinaceous coppe matter without agitating its creators, since the ones we could see were not only large and fast, but appeared to be deadly as evidenced by the remaining wasting husks of things caught and gone before us. As far as we could tell, no one came by to look for us during our brief stay but, if they did and we didn’t see them, it was the awful and inhospitable condition of our dwelling that kept them from finding us; no human in their right mind would have bedded down in there. For the darkness, the webs, and the smell we were thankful.
The Reverend appeared to live alone for if he had a staff or community in support of his efforts we never noticed their presence. In addition to shelter and advice, he gave food and beverage and allowed us the time to rest and heal before moving on. He never asked where we came from or where we were headed or what our purpose was but he knew that we lived in danger and it was understood that he knew the man who sent us to him. It was in the very early hours of the third morning that we parted from the temple and now, much later, his kindness remains as a faint memory of what might have only been imagined were it not for the threads of silver silk impossibly clinging to our hair and clothing.
As I said, there were only five of us left, at this point. We’d lost The Q to her own, separate path. In the course of the journey, she’d pealed off her human attachments and was now left to herself to bear the full weight of her ordeal. This pealing wasn’t something that she was conscious of intending; it was her innate wisdom that caused the severing. She had things to attend to that couldn’t be helped by staying with us.
Within a few days, the route we were on brought us to a steep road traveling up through some houses on the outskirts of a town. I was in the lead and the terrain was so steep that I found it easiest to lean forward and use my hands, in addition to my feet, to move me up the hill. This angle brought my head and face to within a couple of feet of the earth and, as I rounded a turn where my vision had been obstructed by some plants and stones, I came face to face with two snarling canines who shared more in common with snakes than dogs; they were racing downhill straight for me, scattering stones and dirt before them with their claws, black and red forked tongues pulsing in and out, splattering spit from those tongues and snot from their nostrils, fur stiff and hard like scales but, at the same time, oily and heated like a rack where meat had been cooked and the juices had dripped and remained too long.