Keira woke up slowly. It was morning, the sunshine glowed through the partially closed curtains and she felt well-rested. There was something wrong with this picture. She felt gentle fingers brushing stray strands of her hair away from her face. Those fingers belonged to the handsome blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy she lived with, loved and had known her entire life. He was leaning on one elbow and looked relaxed. He stopped fiddling with her hair when she looked at him directly.
"You never woke me up," he stated. He did not seem too angry about that.
Keira shook her head. "I slept all the way through." She smiled. "So how did you sleep?"
He shrugged. "OK, I guess." He let out a breath. "I'm sorry, Keira."
The mechanic blinked in confusion. "For what?"
"Just..." Jak waved a hand, gesturing aimlessly at his surroundings. He let out another breath, trying to steady his thoughts. "Your father was half-right. I worried I could end up in a padded cell. I was more worried that admitting...this...to someone meant I would have to leave you." He scoffed. "And now I'm being made to leave you anyway. I really liked just...living, you know?"
Keira nodded. "I know." She sat up. "But this really isn't like any other time we got separated. I mean, you'll have a communicator with you so we can talk. And I can come out and visit?"
He stared at her. "You'd do that?" he asked, a delighted smile growing on his face.
She laughed. "Of course! In fact, since it's your last night here tonight, how about we make your favourite?"
Jak could not prevent his trademark lop-sided grin appearing on his face. "Stew with butternut squash? And hot paprika?" She nodded. "With apricot pie after?" She nodded more eagerly, her grin matching his. "Have I told you I love you?"
She made a mock-show of considering his answer and pining slightly. "Not recently."
"I really love you." She giggled as he leaned in and kissed her.
"The services you offer are...er, a great deal," stammered a surprised council member. "Very beneficial to our city. You must be demanding a high price in return."
"I assure you, no," responded the representative. "All we ask is for accommodation during our stay, food, as well as other key essentials such as clothing, stationary, perhaps a bit of maintenance here and there of our vehicles. We promise you, we will keep a very strict inventory of our needs and requests to make sure your supplies are not carelessly exploited."
All the usual members of the Haven City Council were seated at their usual positions. At one end of the chamber was a raised podium where guest speakers could address the observers. On this raised podium stood the representative of the convoy of foreigners that had arrived in Haven City the previous evening. He was flanked by a small group of people, one of them taking notes. The representative himself had a very kind face, with his long hair kept back and his green eyes exposed. He was somewhat tall but not towering, his physique could not be discerned due to the layers of robes he chose to wear.
Another council member chose to speak. "I think we can all agree, that to reject your offer, considering what has affected this city in recent years, would be foolish." Various other members in the room nodded in agreement, so she continued. "We can provide you the former barracks. It is abandoned but still contains the basic facilities needed for standard accommodation. You can also use that as the location for your practice."
"It's not big enough," stated Jak.
Several people in the chamber - Ashelin included - looked at him in surprise. This was the first time he had spoken the entire meeting.
The female member who had offered the barracks appeared somewhat appalled. "Would you care to elaborate, your Highness?"
Jak stared at her unwaveringly. "I saw the group last night. I saw a lotta kids. They need room to run around in. Putting them, their families and everyone else into the barracks, where they have to work too? It'll just get too crowded."
"Could you manage in just the barracks?" Ashelin asked the representative.
"I will be honest when I say that we have fully lived and worked in little more than our tents. But I must also honestly say that we would prefer a little more room, not because of the day-to-day living and working, but because of the initial public interest and own establishment. We will need to learn where and how to best place our resources."
"Public interest?" asked another council member. "How many people do you expect to show up after you make your broadcast?" As if on-queue, a group of people carrying recording and broadcast equipment entered the chamber as quietly as possible, heading for a corner so they could prepare.
"Previous experiences of visiting areas recently affected by war show us that once told of our services, and where to go, a great number of people will come to us. We have a well-practiced system of identifying the needs and wants of the visitor and assigning them to the relevant practitioner. The remaining appointment for the first session is arranged between practitioner and visitor."
"When you say 'a great number', what's the number in practical terms?" scrutinised Ashelin.
The representative considered his answer. The facial reaction of one of the members in his party suggested a high amount. "I would estimate, in a city of this size, at least 300 will visit within the first hour."
The baroness wasted no time in activating her communicator. "We'll need a security detail."
The next 10 minutes were spent deciding on which other building could be provided for the foreign visitors, where the money in the budget could be found to provide for them, as well as nominating one of the council clerks to supervise the activities of the convoy members. Debating over funding was particularly heated and focused; while it was agreed that a certain portion of the funds set aside for the city’s education be redirected to the training and research that the visitors offered, it was uncertain where the city could find the funding for their other needs. Jak brought the argument to a close when he announced the funding for that year’s racing championships will be slashed and that any plans for the building of the palace be delayed. One of the people accompanying the visitors’ representative left the proceedings once a map of the offered accommodation had been provided.
no other points for discussion were produced, Jak -
with some evident relief -
ended proceedings. Everyone visibly relaxed and the atmosphere in
the chamber was suddenly less formal. People stretched, the
broadcast crew adjusted their equipment, a few council members
refilled their drinks. Ashelin
spent some time communicating with Torn, only relaxing once being
informed he had arrived at the scene and would
supervise the orderly conduct.
She faced Jak, who stood behind
his usual chair, keeping
his arms crossed as he watched the broadcast
crew set up.
"You're not gonna call Samos and tell him the journey's cancelled?" she asked.
He looked at her somewhat uncertainly. "I don't even know how to go about...this."
"You could just walk up to one of them. Say briefly what happened, what's affecting you. Go from there."
He frowned. "Not here, too public."
The baroness considered this. "Should I talk for you?" she asked quietly. "See if they can think of anyone in their group that can help you?"
A plan formed in Jak's mind. He nodded slightly. "Yeah. Yeah, do that. But Ash, don't say it's me."
She shrugged and gave a small smile. "I just know someone, I'm really concerned."
A grin threatened to curl his lips on one side. He let it drop. "If they know someone, take them to our office." With that, he slowly departed the chamber.
Keira slammed the hood of the vehicle, happy to have completed a repair. She turned up the volume on her TV, enjoying the music playing on the broadcast as it was a re-airing of a concert from some months ago. She sat down at a table, filling out a receipt. While this was happening, various other TVs around the city were switched on to different broadcasts and channels. Some had the TVs on as background noise, others idly watched them while killing time, other TVs were switched on in various bars and eateries, with almost no one paying attention. Everyone was struck by surprise when the broadcasts were all interrupted by the static image of Haven City's symbol, accompanied by a vocal announcement that a live broadcast from the Meeting Chamber of the Haven City Council would follow.
The broadcast featured the representative of the foreign visitors standing in front of the Meeting Chamber's podium, with another member of his people on either side of him. "Citizens of Haven City, allow us to introduce ourselves. We are the roaming practitioners, who originally hail from the township of Skydown Fountains, located to the West of what you call the Purple Mountains. For the last 167 years, our group has been travelling around this world, in order to aid, teach and support other peoples and communities in our unique practice and skill set. And that, is the treating and healing of the mind.
"Many of you hearing these words must be confused. You are all aware of what a damaged body looks like and how it can be healed. But the mind cannot be seen and it is difficult to understand. Perhaps you might be feeling irrationally frightened? Maybe you have a good life, but no matter how hard you try you cannot enjoy it? Maybe you are losing control of your emotions and senses and you cannot understand why? Perhaps there is a terrible event in your life that you cannot move on from? It is also possible that all the scenarios I gave you might not apply to you at all, but matches someone you know, someone you care about, someone you want to help but have no idea how. We have helped many people in these situations, and many more besides. Even if you are unsure whether our kind of assistance is suitable, know that we will listen to all concerns and you can come see us, even to simply ask a few questions. My people are setting up in the abandoned barracks of the old military quarter as I speak. You may find us there."
An enraptured Keira switched off the TV just before he finished. As fast as possible, she switched off everything else in the garage - tripping over a few things and bumping into something once or twice while doing so - and grabbed only the barest essentials before dashing out. As she locked up her workplace, she found it would not close itself fast enough.
Jak leaned against the desk in the office. The windows behind the desk were more like glass doors that opened out into the balcony. He had them open, idly listening to the sounds of traffic surrounding the building. The office itself was used by both Jak and Ashelin when carrying out their roles as rulers in different degrees. Ashelin tended to sit at the desk more than he did, as he preferred to lounge on the couch that lined a wall and discuss matters rather than fill out paperwork. Other chairs were in a semi-circle arrangement, surrounding a small coffee table. These were used by guests when smaller, private meetings concerning matters of the city took place. In a corner of the office was a beverage set: a water dispenser, a kettle for preparing tea, a few alcoholic beverages, even a packet of biscuits. Apart from the velvet curtains and the grand portrait of the late Damas, there was little in the office to suggest this room was utilised by royalty.
Jak stared through the open doors, looking beyond the balcony outside. He was very tense, very uncertain. He had no idea what to do in this situation. Would they be able to find someone as quickly as today? He both hoped and feared they would, also hoping and fearing the opposite at the same time. He also tried to think of a time he was in a situation like this: needing help, but not knowing what to do about it, having to try something completely new. Nothing. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before. And what if Ashelin does bring one of the practitioners to the office? What would he ask them? What would he want to know? Only 2 key concerns stuck out in his mind: what the treatment would look like and what would solve his problem. Or was it problems? He once again fought his frustration at not knowing. And what to tell Keira? He mentally pushed away all the nagging worries that suddenly rushed his brain when he thought of her; lately, his biggest worry was what could happen were he to lose control and attack her.
Knocking on the door jolted him from his thoughts. Only two people would ever knock on the door and Torn was not here. "It isn't locked, Ashelin!" he called.
The young baroness walked in with an elderly woman, clearly one of the practitioners but her hair was only grey, with bright, hazel eyes to match her smile. Her loose-fitting dress was a dark green, but the accompanying silk sash around her waist was a bright lavender. "Hello Jak," greeted the wise-sounding woman, "my name is Yerran. It is a pleasure to meet you."
Jak caught himself staring at her. Quickly he faced his friend. "Tell the guards outside no disruptions."
With a small smile, the red-head nodded. "I'll be with Torn at the barracks if you need anything." She closed the door behind her on her way out.
The blonde was unsure what to do with himself. Now that he was faced with his healer, he was uncertain how to proceed. He then remembered his aunt's old advice from many years ago: if in doubt, use your manners. "Um, wanna seat? Yerran?"
Her smile grew. "Thank you." She picked a chair at random.
"Something to drink?"
"No, thank you." She giggled at the sight of him hunching over as he sat down, resting his left elbow on his knee. "Uncomfortable with formality, are we?"
He shifted. "Yeah." He watched her a moment. "Did someone have to get you, or..?"
"I was downstairs actually. While the group you saw presented themselves at your council meeting, others of us got a tour around the Keris Institute while I and a few others watched the civilians here carry out their normal routines. It's to give us an idea of the mood of the city."
"Not too great, is it?"
Her perpetual smile finally faded. "We have heard a little about the previous regime and the war that followed, that has certainly affected the city's mood. At the same time there are a lot of optimists."
Jak smiled slightly. "So our minds aren't too sick then. Glad to hear it." He sighed. "How do these...sessions work exactly? I listened to your representative explain what you do and how, but there is no way people are healed just by talking."
Yerran's eyebrows raised slightly, as if impressed by the insight. "They're not." Jak was inwardly relieved at this revelation. "Treatment - if you wish to call it that - has 2 key phases: the first is where the practitioner gets to know the visitor, the second is where the treatment is provided. How the visitor communicates, what affects him or her and how their issues are treated is always different."
"So the visitor has to talk about themselves and what their problem is?"
"If they know what their problem is."
Jak stared at her agape. "There are people with problems and they don't know what caused them?!"
"That happens far more often than you realise."
He considered this answer. "OK, so I talk to you. Do we go meet someplace specific? At an agreed time?"
"What is most important in our work is that our visitors are comfortable. If you choose to remain my visitor, you specify where you wish to have our sessions, how frequent you wish our visits to be and we arrange the time from there. Yes Jak, you are allowed to change the practitioner you visit, I may have been the first practitioner you talked to but that does not oblige you to stick with me." Her clever smile grew in understanding.
Jak was somewhat bemused by this. "I didn't realise I'd have to like you."
"Like? Trust is the more important element. We ask our visitors to share with us their vulnerabilities, their deepest secrets, which we will accept without question nor judgement."
He smirked. "I only want to know if I can trust you to not say anything to anyone, no matter what I tell you."
Yerran nodded, laughter shining in her eyes. "I can guarantee that, I assure you. My people have no idea I'm even talking to you."
At that moment, Jak was thinking he actually did like her. Irritatingly, he had to excuse himself when his personal communicator sounded off. He was surprised to hear Keira's voice come through.
"Jak! The guards outside your door won't let me in."
"You're here? Outside the office?"
"Yes, you moron. I saw that broadcast from the Meeting Chamber and I rushed over here as fast as I could! I mean, I stopped by my Dad's on the way to tell him the trip was cancelled and stuff but then I came over."
"Yeah, OK, I get the picture. Guys, let her in."
Keira bounded through the door. "And why are you still here anyway? Oh-" She saw the smiling Yerran sitting on one of the chairs. "Sorry, I-"
"My dear, if he let you in, then you are not disturbing anything. No need to apologise."
Jak gave his sweetheart a smile. "Keira, this is Yerran." The two women smiled as they shook hands and exchanged warm pleasantries. "Keira, as you're here, we should talk about something." He faced Yerran and gestured with his thumb towards the open balcony. "Mind if we-"
"Go right ahead."
He thanked her and led Keira out onto the balcony, aware that the mechanic was watching him in confusion. "Yeah, she's gonna be my healer, practitioner. She said I could ask for someone else if I want, but I like her."
Keira smiled and nodded. "OK."
"She also said we can meet anywhere I want, she just wants me comfortable. So, I was thinking, maybe we could invite her for dinner?"
This suggestion delighted the mechanic. "Jak! That's a great idea."
couple eagerly re-entered the office, inviting Yerran to their
apartment for dinner. She graciously accepted and was told where
to find their residence and what time to come. She stood up to
leave but paused a moment, her perpetual small smile waning.
"Jak, I do have one further request, but I stress that like all other conditions this is completely your choice. I'm training my granddaughter in these skills and I was hoping she could sit in on our sessions as an observer. She will not direct the treatment, that will be my responsibility."
Jak shrugged. "Well how about you take her with you tonight and I'll decide then?"
Yerran's perpetual smile reappeared. "I look forward to it."
Previous<< Home Story Main >>Next
by Ruth Hüneke 2013
© Naughty Dog and Sony