The shovel witch had watched her go. At no point did the Xibalban look behind herself in paranoia or to check for a lingering reaction, as she vanished into the Louisianan-Australian swamp lands surrounding Adelaide's unmarked borders. Karolina knew she would have done so in the woman's place. Perhaps subconsciously or out of lack of familiarity in dealing with others. Or the paranoid bias her family filled her mind with. But she was sure she would have certainly done so. whatever the reason. Watching her back had come naturally after being alone for so long. So what would her parents think of her now, essentially inviting a stranger, let alone a Xibalban, to a sleep over?
Something about the woman's voice, she kept telling herself, was the reason to make the leap of faith. It felt warm and friendly. It lacked beguilement or the self amusement she sometimes heard from the village's lowlifes, back when they still walked the dusty earth. And her voice, even when not singing, was somehow musical.
Like a chime... or small distant bells.
Bali-la, the Bell Flower. Did Xibalbans have their own language somehow? Her parents told her long ago, that it was quite normal for many people to speak different languages. But since the Herald came and went, it seemed that anyone could speak to each other, if they were capable of language. Karolina couldn't even conceive of what a different language would sound like. It just seemed like some obsolete concept when her folks spoke of it.
Part of Karolina had lingering regrets about extending the hand of peace to Bali-la. The shovel witch had no idea what this woman was capable of. It was said that Xibalbans had their own sub-species and tribes, usually with animalistic features. But, Bali-la wasn't completely obvious in this regard. She wasn't human, but her appearance wasn't unlike one either. A good shape-shifting disguise, perhaps. Yet, a small detail about her threw Karolina off entirely.
The eyes. Maybe it was another quirk of that tribal shape-shifting, but Bali's eyes were orange, like some bright pumpkin. Xibalban eyes were said to be usually red or a vacant white. And even then, some of those barbarians seemed to see just fine without any visible eyes at all! So, what did it mean? Mom and dad left her no information about the significance of orange eyed people. Maybe Bali-la wasn't a Xibalban after all? Or just not in the sense that Karolina knew them to be. It was a question that she thought she might ask later.
Part of her truly wanted to know things from an apparent Xibalban's viewpoint. Information shared inside the village had been one sided. While it was thoroughly indoctrinated within her, she knew all the stories told to her were laced with the opinions of others. Some were surely rumors, imaginings, and regurgitated bits of gossip with important details lost or warped in the exchange of conversation.
As for the final reason to invite Bali-la in, there were real dangers outside. And Karolina didn't feel comfortable with turning away someone who was seemingly trying to avoid that exact situation. Back in the day, absolutely no one in Adelaide stayed outside under the cover of darkness unless they had to or the perimeter lighting was strong. The Xibalban world did not mess around when it came to the topic of 'shadows'. It was not enough to play with the imaginations of the beholder, no, not at all. For reasons often unknown or only guessed at, the land had 'living' shadow beings within it.
Shadowmen were ghostly paper thin apparitions, it was said, who could steal the souls of the living by a mere touch. But they were known more in the past. Nowadays, there were other strange entities made of the darkness. They possessed flesh that reflected no light, yet walked as men did, only with free floating teeth and vacant eyes. Geists, they were called. Alien minded things of incredible terror and a lust for the flesh of mankind. It was believed they rose from the dissatisfied dead, which was one of the reasons why the Bailey family was important in their hey day, and a solid reason why Karolina still felt quite compelled to give honorable burials. Anything, to stop the geists from rising.
Reminded of her self imposed duty, she went back to grave digging. There was some light yet left and a moment wasted served no one, as far as she knew. Bali-la would come back in time or not at all. She did not know how Xibalbans could live outside of protective walls like her home. But then again, maybe they had just that, somewhere in the great beyond of endless marshes and bayous.
True to her promise, Bali-la did return. She sported a seamless bag filled with bright juicy fruits. "Karolina! I hope you like apples and pomegranates. They're both quite delicious."
Karolina smiled at the idea of fresh fruit. The occasional berry was a treat, but these pieces of fruit were rather sizable. She had enjoyed a few apples in her time, brought in from gatherers sent afield, and the thought of having a few more for dinner only made her smile in nostalgia. "That looks like quite a bit, Bali. You surely didn't need to bring so much."
The Xibalban smiled humbly and bowed her head slightly. "Perhaps. Of whatever is left from my visit, you are welcome to keep. It's going to rain tonight, I believe, and I am quite thankful to be out of the downpour set to come."
Karolina glanced skyward briefly to the smoky clouds in a growing dark sky, as the day's orangey glow was quickly fading into evening's stark blackness. "Rain, huh? Well, let's head home, eh? I've done enough digging for the day."
"See that tower over there?" Karolina inquired casually. "That's where we'll be staying tonight."
"Oh yes," replied Bali. "That tower was actually how I knew there was a settlement here. It was the only thing I could see above the cypress tree line."
Karolina sheepishly nodded. Maybe this place was more obvious on the outside than she originally believed. Who else knew Adelaide was here?
Without so much else of a word, Karolina led Bali-la to the tower itself, all covered with creeper vines and ivy. It was a pipe shaped structure, almost featureless, save for two crudely painted stripes and a circular landing up top. It was roughly the tallest sight in the immediate area, save for a certain few trees.
After several moments of navigating their way through the improvised tombstones, Bali-la spoke up again. "Mind if I ask you something?"
"It's a curious question I had even before I came to town. So, what exactly is a tower doing in the middle of a graveyard?"
"Oh. Well, this is going to sound funny, but it's not just any tower. It's a light house."
"A light house?"
"Yeah. It's hard to see it from down below, but there's a beacon on top. We sometimes get some bad things around here after dark. And until we discovered that light repulses them, my town's ancestors didn't do so well. So they built the light house atop the ruins of an old chimney, expanded it a bit, and my family would run the thing as part of our civic duties. Of course, it only runs on firewood and it doesn't have much range. But we found shining it in the vicinity of the graves would keep the worst of things away."
"Hmm..." pondered Bali aloud. "Is that so?"
"Er... do you know the sort of creatures I'm talking about?" asked the shovel witch.
"Geists, right? I know of them. Maybe shadowmen? They're not as common as they used to be, from what I've heard. Seems like one replaced the other."
"Ah, yes... well... here we are." Karolina's expression seemed uneasy. Did Xibalbans sleep next to tall bonfires? How did they survive the nights? She started to wonder if Bali was indeed more concerned about sleeping away from a rainstorm than dealing with the shadow people that walked the land. She fumbled with the outer door's handle and the two entered, as Bali looked straight up, marveling at the light house tower.
Jeez this is creeping me out. The suspense is killin' me!!!! They do become comrades in arms I foretell. Even against Bali's own people. Eh?