Mind Mender

"We've tried all the available doctors and still no one can heal Lyrrin," Mother said sadly, shaking her head.

I looked down at my twin brother, sleeping beside me on the couch, his thick, dark curls fanning out across the velvety pillow. Except for our genders, we were almost identical in appearance: we had the same hair, olive skin, and light yellow-green eyes. Father's hair and Mother's eyes, although Lyrrin's now held a vacant stare. Several years ago, when we were small, we were racing our speeders with a group of friends. Lyrrin lost control of his and collided with an oncoming vehicle. After several months of recovery, he was left with the mind of a child, a mind that would never mature. Guilt still tugged at me. If only we had played something else that day, he still would have been normal. If only . . .

"So, we've decided to take him to Anima for healing."

"Anima?" Shock and fear jolted through me. "The magic planet? I thought only the astronauts could go there." I turned my head toward the window. Anima, the twin planet of our own world Animus, hovered low in the western sky, a gibbous, brilliant blue sphere swirled with cloud patterns, patched with small continents. Its cerulean glow spilled over the twinkling city and brightened the night sky, blotting out many of the stars. Our world was ruled by science and technology while the people of Anima relied on magic.

"We managed to obtain this at quite a high price." Mother produced a small, misshapen stone. It was crystalline and held a soft, gold incandescence that gently pulsed. "This is a magical stone that can transport us instantly to Anima."

I gasped. It took our astronauts a few days to reach Anima and days to return. "But how? It's impossible."

"Nothing on Anima is impossible, Orana," said Father, patting my knee. "This is why we believe we can find a cure for Lyrrin's mind. We will leave tonight. You can watch over the house. I know that you are old enough and responsible enough to do that. And we don't have to remind you not to neglect your studies." He broke off a tiny piece of the magic stone and handed it me. "You can use this in case of an emergency. It will transport you directly to us."

A sick, creeping feeling crawled through my stomach as they dashed about, gathering up belongings and food before awakening Lyrrin. He blinked and grinned at me.

"Come, Lyrrin," Mother said gently, gathering him into her arms. "We are going to Anima to find a way to heal you." She pointed at it through the window.

"The pretty ball in the sky?" His eyes widened. He looked from it to me. "Sister come to?"

"No, dear. She will stay here to watch over everything."

Tears touched my eyes as Lyrrin dashed toward me and gave me a firm hug. I gasped, struggling to draw in breath. We may be twins and look alike but he was bigger and stronger . . . yet so childlike; a child unaware of his strength.

Our parents had to pry him from me.

I could feel the magic transporter rock biting into my hand as my parents and Lyrrin gradually faded. Lyrrin waved at me one last time. I waved back as I fought the tears and a dull ache that gnawed at my chest. Why did I feel as if I might never see them again?

I kept in touch with my parents through messages on our palm computers, the only technical devices they took with them. They had located a Healing Temple where the priests and priestesses, who used magic to cure various ailments, attempted different spells. Nothing worked, until one of them suggested that he join with a Companion, a tiny, magical creature that attached itself to the back of a person's neck. Such a being could heal its human host of any mental or physical disabilities.

As the days stretched into weeks, I struggled to remain occupied with my studies, keeping the house clean, and running errands in the city. I kept my parents' secret hidden from my friends, merely claiming that they went away to find a cure for Lyrrin when anyone asked. At night I would lie awake for hours, staring at Anima. It changed shape during this time, becoming a slim crescent, vanishing, then gradually reappearing, growing thicker each night until it climaxed into an enormous sphere.

After Anima became a slightly shaded orb, marking two months since their departure, I received a disturbing message. "Something is very wrong with Lyrrin's Companion. We don't want you to worry but this treatment may take longer than we initially thought."

Don't worry? What exactly was wrong? Why was the message so cryptic? A sickening feeling gnawed at my stomach. Lyrrin needed me. I couldn't just wait. They'd been gone long enough.

After packing some clothes, food, and toiletries, I grabbed the piece of the transportation stone that Father had given me. He had said to only use it in an emergency but this could be one, couldn't it? I held the stone in front of me and whispered, "Take me to my parents," as I closed my eyes and focused on their faces.

Warm wind swirled around me. I began to spin and continued to spin faster, faster, faster until my stomach felt as if it was oozing from my body. I clenched my teeth and prayed for it to be over.

Just when I thought that I couldn't stand it any longer, the motion stopped, the wind vanished.

I opened my eyes.

Then I screamed and dropped the stone.

My parents lay on a pallet, draped by blood-soaked blankets. Their eyes were open, staring, lifeless.

I raced outside and retched. Then I just lay there on the ground, trembling and sobbing. I didn't know how much time had passed, hours or minutes. I didn't care. This wasn't real. It was a terrible dream.

When my eyes ached from crying and my stomach emptied of everything I must have eaten in the last few days, I sat back and looked around. I was in a vast forest, surrounded by trees with long, flexible branches. Their round leaves were a silvery green that sparkled like water as a breeze rippled through them. Colorful flowers and lush ferns covered the forest floor. The warm air was fragrant with the unfamiliar, spicy-sweet scents of the flora. A sudden, unexpected pang struck me as I realized how little natural beauty was left on Animus. Most of my planet consisted of traffic-clogged streets and countless buildings that competed in height.

A lone hut stood at my back. That was where I had found myself, found . . . my parents. My stomach heaved again but had nothing left to release and fresh tears dashed into my eyes.

Gathering my courage, I pulled myself to my feet and, on shaky legs, stumbled back into the cottage. I swallowed. Already the stench of death stifled the air. I forced myself to pull back the blankets. Knife wounds slashed both their throats. The blood was clotted; whoever killed them had done so hours ago.

I fought the rising rage that clutched me as I gingerly closed their eyes and said a silent prayer to Animus' God and Anima's Goddess.

Then I vowed to find their killer and avenge their deaths. But how?

Panic jabbed my mind as I left the cottage, replacing my rage and grief. Lyrrin! Where was Lyrrin? He wasn't killed as well, was he?

I breathed deeply, struggling to calm myself. Perhaps he was still at the Healing Temple. But where was that? It probably wasn't too far from the hut where my parents were staying.

Just which direction was it? I looked around and jumped when I saw a pair of eyes staring at me. They glowed against the shade, a rich garnet with oval pupils. I gasped as their owner stepped out into the dappled sunlight. It was a large feline that almost came to my waist. Its thick, downy fur was the shade of melted butter and a pair of delicate wings was folded along its back.

I froze, fear numbing me. My parents were dead, Lyrrin was missing, and now I was going to be eaten by a large, winged cat. An incongruous laugh locked in my throat.

"You look distressed," said a deep yet velvety voice . . . a voice coming from the feline. Was he speaking aloud or within my mind? His mouth barely moved, yet the words reverberated in my ears.

"I . . . yes. I-I came from Animus, only to find my parents dead and my brother missing." The pain of the situation tore at me but I forced myself to remain strong.

The feline bowed his head. "I am sorry for your loss. I have lost many of my kin to poachers who kill us for our coats, the skin from our wings, and even our eyes."

"Your eyes?" I blinked. My own eyes felt hot and dry from my crying.

"Our eyes, when unattached and left in the sun, harden into gems that have become valuable commodities among certain humans. There is a popular superstition that one of our eyes, worn on a pendant with the pupil facing outward, can grant the wearer an extremely long life." I shuddered.

"But don't fret. I will help you find your brother. My name is Purdaa."

"I'm Orana," I said, forcing a smile. "He was taken to the Healing Temple. At least that is what I believe."

Purdaa spread his translucent, finely boned wings that glittered with a faint golden down and leaped gracefully into the air. He tucked his paws beneath his belly and curled his tail. "I know where that is. Follow me."

I struggled to keep up with him as he nimbly dodged trees. Before long we came to a clearing overlooking a vivid blue sea. Purdaa landed gracefully beside me. A faint mottled sliver hovered over that ocean, low on the horizon. I stopped, momentarily stunned. That was Animus. Even from the little I could see, I noticed the continents were different from the view of Anima in the sky I was used to; the visible part matched the globe we had at home of that planet. But viewing the real thing for the first time filled me with awe.

A pyramid-shaped structure made of silver-white marble stood near the edge of the cliff.

My heart was beating so fast I feared I'd pass out as I crept toward it. Only the soft warmth of Purdaa's fur beneath my hand brought comfort.

The door was open. I crept inside. Purdaa's paws clicked softly against the smooth, glossy floor.

I gasped as I looked around. We were standing in a vast chamber that was triangular in shape, the walls rising to a dizzying height to form a pointed ceiling. They glowed with a subtle flickering light that reminded me of the transportation device that had brought me here.

A jab of panic stabbed my mind. What had I done with that? I must have dropped it when I saw my parents' bodies. How were Lyrrin and I going to get home? Once I found him, that is.

Then I remembered I was on Anima, the world that created magical transportation devices. My biggest concern now was finding Lyrrin and—

"Welcome back, Purdaa," said a whispery voice at my back. "I see you found her."

So, Purdaa had known all along. No wonder he was helping me. I turned. A tiny woman glided toward me with graceful steps. Her skin was pale, her hair white and fine; it swirled in cloudlike wisps with her movement. She appeared thin in spite of her loose, billowing robes. She stared up at me with eyes that were almost as red as Purdaa's. "You look like the boy that was brought here. You must be his sister Orana."

"You've seen Lyrrin?" My excited voice vibrated through the entire room. "Where is he?"

The albino woman lowered her head. "I am Alyssum, the Head Priestess. I have some sad news about your brother."

I sank to my knees at her words, unable to take this. Purdaa brushed against me in an effort to offer comfort. First my parents, now Lyrrin . . .

"He's not dead." Alyssum touched my shoulder. I looked up at her; her pale, ageless face wavered, watery through my tears. "We—the other priests and priestesses—believed we could heal his mind by joining him with a Companion."

"Companion," I whispered, remembering my parents' last message.

"A spirit of Anima, drawn from that—which many call the Great Mother Goddess—which makes all life grow. Through our magic we are able to transform bits of this energy into small, ethereal beings that can attach themselves to a selected human and provide whatever healing is needed. This Companion stays with the human for the human's entire life. If it becomes detached, the human's ailment will return."

I nodded, struggling to see where this was headed.

"Evil Companions are very rare but once in a while they do appear. I'm afraid . . . I'm so sorry . . ."

My stomach tightened with nausea as I thought of my parents' bloody bodies. Could Lyrrin have . . .? No. It was impossible. Was it?

I clutched Alyssum's tiny hands. Her fingers felt like fragile fish bones that I momentarily feared my firm grip might crush. "I-I found the bodies of my parents in the hut where they must have been staying." Alyssum's ruby eyes widened. "Could Lyrrin have—" I couldn't finish the sentence. It was too terrible to think or utter.

"He left here in a rage, before we could stop him to remove the Companion. He muttered something about his parents stifling him and claimed he was going to join a band of poachers." She glanced apologetically at Purdaa. "Still, none of us believed he would harm his own parents."

I stood. "I'll find him and remove the Companion," I said with more confidence than I felt. "Do you know where he could be?"

"The poacher's camp is a three-day hike through the woods to the base of Nevermore Mountain," said Purdaa, his rich fur rippling with shivers. "I'll take you in that direction, but should he try to kill either one of us, I may be forced to rip the boy to shreds." He splayed his paw, displaying an impressive set of sharp, silvery claws. His furry face broke into a grin revealing teeth that resembled keen white thorns. I promised myself that I'd remove the Companion before Purdaa could inflict any damage.

"May the Goddess watch over you," said Alyssum. "And I promise that we will give your parents a proper burial."

I thanked Alyssum before Purdaa and I departed the Temple. The journey was long and exhausting, much of it scrambling uphill over rocks. I envied Purdaa's ability to fly. My rations from home were gone by the end of the first day but Purdaa hunted treehens, which I cooked over smoky, low burning fires that I managed to start after hours of effort. I washed in and drank from forest streams and slept on the bumpy ground, using Purdaa's side as a pillow. I slept deeply in spite of the discomfort, intermingled with disturbing dreams involving Lyrrin and our parents.

By twilight of the third day of travel we reached the clearing at the base of a craggy, misty mountain. Tents created from the hides of unfamiliar creatures cluttered the area and the air was thick with the overpowering scent of wood smoke.

"I'm going to look for Lyrrin," I said to Purdaa. "You stay hidden from the poachers. I didn't intend to bring you into danger."

"Don't worry," he said, rising into the air. "I'll keep hidden in the tree branches while I watch over you."

I ignored the rude comments and catcalls some of the men made at me and wished I had brought a weapon, even if I wasn't sure how to use one. At least I was comforted knowing that Purdaa was nearby, keeping watch over me. Still, would he be able to defend himself against several poachers?

I found Lyrrin sitting next to a fire, gnawing on a piece of gristly meat. My stomach tightened. Incongruous emotions of affection and hate filled me. He was my brother, my twin, but what he had done to our parents . . .

Still, that wasn't his fault, was it?

I pushed the image of their dead, staring eyes from my mind and approached him.

"Lyrrin?" I froze as he looked up at me. His eyes were no longer vapid and staring, but flashed with cruelty and, yes, intelligence.

"Orana?" He strode toward me. I swallowed my rising nausea as I spotted a feline eye pendant dangling on a thin silver chain around his neck. This one shifted from the pale yellow-green of his eyes to cerulean to deep purple with his movement. His tunic was made from vermilion fur. I could tell from its downy texture that it had to be from one of Purdaa's kin. I could almost feel the gaze of my feline friend boring into Lyrrin. "Have you come to take care of me just like our useless parents?" His tone was icy mockery. He tossed his head and laughed. "They were weak and overprotective. You should have heard how they pleaded for their lives just before I sliced their throats."

Rage and despair sat like chunks of ice within my stomach. This wasn't Lyrrin, the twin brother whom I could share everything with before the accident that stole his mind. How we used to pretend that we could fly to Anima. Now we were here together, and he had become a monster . . .

"What? Are those tears I see?" he mocked. "You are as weak as they and will die the same."

His hand crept to his belt. He pulled out a knife that flashed against the milky sunset. "I shall enjoy watching you die as well."

Before I could react, a large yellow blur flew at him. Lyrrin yelled in pain and dropped his knife as Purdaa raked his claws across his face. Beneath his curling hair, I could see something dark yet transparent, like a jellyfish against murky water, clinging to the base of his neck. The Companion? I grabbed the knife he had dropped, the knife meant for me, and cut the thing away.

It turned to smoke and dissipated as if drifted away.

Lyrrin's eyes filled with tears as he collapsed onto the ground. He covered his face with his hands and sobbed. "I hurt, sister. I hurt."

Swallowing the sob that was swelling in my own throat, I took him into my arms and rocked him, just as I used to after his accident, when he had awakened from a bad dream. I helped him to stand and followed Purdaa's darting form back into the woods; he wanted to escape before the other poachers noticed him.

Once we were safely away, I cleaned Lyrrin's cuts in a forest stream and removed the eye pendant, which was disturbing for Purdaa. Lyrrin fell asleep in my arms with a faint smile on his face. I remained awake for a long time, thinking. Did he remember anything that he had done? Did he remember slaying our parents and winged felines like Purdaa? How many of those creatures had he killed?

By the time we arrived back at the Temple, Lyrrin's wounds had healed into five long scars that trailed his left cheek. "Pretty. Very pretty," he murmured, studying the chamber with wide eyes that reflected the light. Purdaa padded silently beside us.

"I see that you have successfully removed his evil Companion," said Alyssum with a sad smile rippling across her face. "We can replace the Companion with one that is good," she continued. A tremor of hope mixed with trepidation stirred within me. Would that be a wise chance to take considering the error that had occurred? What were the odds that he'd be joined with another evil one? "His mind would be mended, but he would retain the memories of what he has done."

Despair replaced my faint hope. I watched Lyrrin for several moments as he touched the walls and gaped upward in wonder. No. I couldn't do that to him.

Still, perhaps someday I could find a way to create a Companion that would mend his mind, but also help him to forget. I looked at Purdaa and Alyssum. With my parents gone, I no longer belonged to Animus. Might I make a new home here on Anima?

"We can always use another Priestess if you'd be willing to live here at the Temple and study with us," said Alyssum, as if reading my mind. "Perhaps together we can find a more effective way to heal your brother."

"Did you hear that, Lyrrin? This is our new home."

He whooped with joy, a sound that echoed the feeling that was gradually starting to develop within me.

The End