Chapter 1 - Meeting Nafs
once upon a time, on the outskirts of a vibrant hive of teenage drama and dreams, there sprouted a quiet wallflower named Emily. In the fierce jungle of high school, Emily found herself an unwilling pawn in Rachel’s games. Her days were full of hurtful whispers, cruel pranks that turned her locker into Pandora's box, and the perpetual vanishing act of her lunch. Emily was a survivor in a war she never chose to fight, living under the oppressive rule of the queen bee and her hive.
On a day that seemed no different than the rest, Emily reluctantly tip-toed into the classroom, mentally bracing herself for the relentless onslaught of another day. Emily took her usual seat, blissfully unaware of the master plan being hatched behind her.
“Hey, guys,” Rachel declared with all the gravity of a general addressing her troops, “I have a fantastic idea. One of you should dare me to snip a lock of Emily’s hair.”
Her friends exchanged puzzled glances, and then Sarah replied, "Why don't you dare one of us to do it instead?"
Rachel frowned. "No, no, I want to be the one to do it. It's more fun that way."
Another friend Aaron chimed in, "But if you want to do it, why do we need to dare you? Can't you just do it?"
Rachel waved the comment away, rolling her eyes. “You’re missing the point. It’s about…dramatic effect! It’s so much more thrilling when it’s a dare.”
Aaron shrugged. "Alright, Rachel, I dare you to cut off a lock of Emily's hair. Happy now?"
Rachel's eyes sparkled with delight. "Much better! Now it feels like we're really in this together."
Her friends exchanged amused glances, shaking their heads as they agreed.
Emily remained oblivious to the dare that Rachel had volunteered to her friends. With a smug grin, Rachel brandished the scissors, preparing to snip a lock of Emily's hair as her friends watched with bated breath.
Just as Emily began to sense the stares of her classmates on her back, the door swung open and a substitute teacher strode in.
“LISTEN,” boomed Mr. Nafs, his voice authoritative yet imbued with warmth. “I am Mr. Nafs, your substitute teacher for today.” His profound presence immediately grabbed everyone's attention.
Caught off guard by Nafs' sudden entrance, Rachel's grip on the scissors faltered, and they clattered to the floor, exposing her wicked intentions.
Nafs carried on, seemingly unfazed by the disruption. Emily let out a quiet sigh of relief as the room settled down, her heart still pounding from what she realized would have happened, had he not entered the class.
After the students had all but trickled out of the classroom, Emily found herself standing tentatively near the front of the room. She was drawn in by an inexplicable pull towards the calm aura emanating from Nafs.
"Nafs," she began tentatively, biting her lower lip, " The popular girls... Like Rachel… Why do they pay so much attention to me?"
He stopped wiping down the board and met her gaze with an almost amused smile. "They aren't," he responded simply, leaving her looking perplexed.
Seeing her confusion, Nafs chuckled softly and decided to elaborate, "What you perceive as them focusing on you is, in fact, just a reflection of their own insecurities. They aren't really paying attention to you at all, but rather projecting their internal struggles onto you."
Emily furrowed her brows, still wrestling with his words. “So, they’re dealing with their own issues, and I just happen to be their… target?”
Nafs nodded, “In a way, yes.”
“I see…” Emily said slowly, her eyes darting to the side as she processed Nafs’ words. The notion of projection was not alien to her. She had read about it, heard about it, but never really applied it to her own life. It was a different thing altogether to consider it as a reason for her classmates’ behavior.
“I think I understand what you’re saying about projection,” she continued, a faint hint of resolution in her tone. “It’s just… it’s hard to distinguish, you know? When it’s their own struggles coming out and when it’s really about me.”
She paused, looking at Nafs with an earnest gaze. “I want to understand better. I want to know how to tell the difference… to not take things so personally if it’s not really about me.”
Nafs paused, studying her earnest face. Then, as if reaching a decision, he leaned back in his chair. "Ever heard of 'Reading Minds', Emily?" he asked, an enigmatic smile playing on his lips.
Emily blinked in surprise. "You mean... like telepathy?"
Nafs chuckled again, shaking his head. "Not quite. I'm referring to an ability everyone has, but most forget to do. It's more about observing, understanding, and empathizing. It's about 'Just Listening'."
He proceeded to explain, "The true essence of 'Reading Minds' is not about telepathy or having supernatural powers, but about really listening and noticing. Noticing the said and the unsaid, understanding the context, the emotions, the circumstances that shape the words and actions of others."
Emily absorbed his words, her mind a whirlpool of new insights. Slowly, she turned to look out of the window, her gaze focusing on her classmates laughing and chattering.
Taking a deep breath, she tried to see them, not as tormentors or popular kids, but as fellow human beings, each dealing with their unique set of insecurities and experiences. She noticed Rachel's confident posture that wavered slightly when she thought no one was looking. She also caught a fleeting undercurrent in Aaron's laughter — a hollow echo that rang out when he joined others in mocking a classmate's stutter, his merriment tinged with an unseen, inner disquiet.
She didn't just see them; she started to understand them. Yes, there were flashes of insecurity and anxiety, but they were not alone. Amidst these threads, she also saw laughter that stemmed from true joy, camaraderie that was born from shared experiences, and resilience that shone brightly in moments of challenge.
It was a profound revelation. Even those who seemed the most confident, the most untouchable, were human, just like her. In that moment, Emily felt a sense of connection, a sense of shared humanity that she had never experienced before.
As Emily immersed herself in her contemplations, Nafs broke in, "Emily," he said, interrupting her train of thought, "the bell is about to ring. Best not be late for your next class."
Pulled from her reflection, Emily turned towards Nafs, but before she could utter a word, the shrill sound of the school bell rang out, surprising her.
"How did you...?" She started, but trailed off. She offered a small, appreciative smile. "Thank you, Mr. Nafs."
Nafs returned the smile, "Happy to help, Emily.” And with that, he turned abruptly and strode towards the door. In a blink, he was gone, the door swinging slightly in his wake. Emily was left standing in the middle of the now-empty classroom. Her mind buzzed with the revelations of the day, and despite the abrupt end of their conversation, a small chuckle escaped her lips. Life, it seemed, had a sense of humor after all.
Chapter 2 - Meeting Progenia
Emily walked into school the next day with a newfound understanding. She practiced Reading Minds as she moved through the bustling hallways, trying to see her classmates not as enemies, but as fellow humans.
When she saw Sarah approach her with a smug smile, she prepared herself. Sarah was popular, but her influence was heavily dependent on Rachel's favor. Emily remembered Nafs's words and tried to read Sarah's mind.
"Hey Emily, nice shoes. Did you get them from the trash?" Sarah sneered, her cronies giggling behind her.
Reading Sarah's mind, Emily could see the smug facade masked a deep insecurity. Sarah was scared that if she didn't pick on Emily, she herself could become the target of her group's derision. Emboldened, Emily decided to retort.
"Sarah," Emily said, with a chilling edge, "I'm sure when you're so used to masking your insecurities with designer labels and daddy's credit card, anything modest must seem like trash. You try so hard to be someone else, don't you? Is the real Sarah that scary? Without all your expensive distractions, would anyone see more than a superficial girl using cruelty as a mask, desperate to be liked? It’s almost pitiful, really."
A hush fell over the hallway, the echoes of Sarah's cronies' laughter replaced by a deafening silence. Sarah's face flushed a deep crimson, and for a moment, she seemed small, helpless... and hurt.
Emily looked into Sarah's eyes, not with triumph, but with a deep-seated understanding of the pain she'd inflicted. The victory she'd imagined felt less like triumph and more like defeat.
Suddenly, the shrill sound of the school bell ripped through the silence, jolting the bystanders from their stupor. On cue, everyone started moving again, the hallway bustling as students rushed to their classes.
Sarah, her face still a mask of shock and humiliation, turned on her heel and hurried away with her cronies, leaving Emily standing alone.
But Emily made no move to join the throng of students making their way to class. She was struck by an overwhelming sense of guilt and regret. She made a decision that was unlike her — she decided to skip class. Seeking solace, Emily found a rarely used back stairway, and sat on its cold steps, trying to process her feelings.
As she sat there, her head buried in her arms, she didn't notice the footsteps approaching until a familiar voice broke her solitude.
"Emily, are you alright?" It was Nafs, his voice gentle, yet firm.
Startled, Emily looked up to see Nafs standing there, his gaze filled with understanding. "Mr. Nafs," she stammered, wiping at her eyes. "I didn't see you there."
He gave a small chuckle, "Indeed, Emily, it seems I have a knack for showing up when least expected but most needed."
"I... I confronted Sarah today," Emily confessed, her voice trembling slightly. "I used my ability to Read Minds, and I defended myself.”
Nafs gave her a soft, understanding smile. “Emily, do you know why you feel guilty?”
“I…I don’t know,” Emily replied, her gaze dropping to her shoes.
“Think, Emily,” pressed Nafs, “you used your ability to Read Minds, right? Tell me, how do you see Sarah now?”
Emily hesitated, then said, “I see her as…as an insecure brat hiding behind a facade!”
Nafs nodded, “Good, you’re seeing beneath the surface. And then, what did you do?”
“I… I used it against her.” Emily said reluctantly.
“Exactly. Do you remember why I taught you to Read Minds, Emily?” Questioned Nafs.
“To…to understand people?” Asked Emily with less certainty than she felt.
“And today, when you saw Sarah’s insecurities, did you sympathize or did you attack?”
“I…I attacked,” Emily admitted, her voice breaking. “But I only told her the truth, Mr. Nafs!”
“But didn’t you just say she was insecure? Like you?” Nafs pointed out gently. “Did pointing out her flaws in public help her with her insecurity or did it deepen it?”
Emily blinked, startled. “I… I don’t know. I guess…I just wanted her to feel what I feel.”
Nafs nodded sympathetically. “Yes, Emily. The impulse for retaliation is strong, especially when we’re hurt. But consider this, both you and Sarah are dealing with your own insecurities. The goal isn’t to inflict pain, but to foster understanding. That’s why you feel guilty.”
Emily was quiet for a moment, then finally said, "How do I speak honestly and stand up for myself without becoming a brutally honest bully?"
Nafs nodded thoughtfully, understanding her genuine desire for fundamental change, and decided to help her in a way that was beyond ordinary.
"Well then, Emily," he said, a mysterious twinkle in his eye, "I know someone who might be able to help you." With that, he pulled an egg out of his pocket, causing a thunderous applause of colors in Emily's mind, and gently placed it into Emily's hands.
“What am I suppos-“ Emily was cut off as Nafs suddenly pulled out an air horn and blasted it.
The stairway froze... then faded away as the sound of the horn became more rectangular (in an annoyingly fragrant way).
At first, Emily was startled, as anyone would be, but as the stench of the horn began to harmonize, and the abstract fractal that had been passing for an environment since the stairway’s disappearance gave way to a smoother Gaussian curve, Emily felt her stomach settle down a bit, wherever it happened to be.
“What are we doing here, and where have my feet gone?” Asked Emily, who wasn’t much sure of where anything else was either, but she figured she would work from the ground up.
“Meet my sister Progenia,” said Nafs. “She is the goddess of Emergence, and she can teach you how to Speak for God.”
“Alright, but I can’t tell if I'm breathing or not,” said Emily, who was beginning to question how much she was liking all of this.
Progenia decided it was time to take her part as her voice flowed into their minds with the insistence of a waterfall:
"Dear Emily, I'm Progenia, you see,
A goddess of Emergence, that's me.
To teach you the art of Speaking for God,
I'll guide you with wisdom,
both gentle and broad."
Emily, intrigued by Progenia's rhyming speech, asked, "How can I use this power without becoming like Rachel, a bully who preys on the weak?"
Progenia, pleased by this question, purred in response:
"Use words that are honest,
and kind, and sincere,
To convey your thoughts without causing fear.
Speak your truth, but with humility,
Acknowledge that others may not agree."
Emily was beginning to smell the importance of remaining open to other perspectives. "But Progenia, isn't claiming something as my truth rather presumptuous? I mean, people can be wrong sometimes."
Emily's question evoked a peculiar tight clenching from Progenia. At that moment, Nafs seeped in, a playful melody gracing his features.
"It's important to recognize that even our understanding of Progenia herself is a relative truth,” Nafs said, “which is to say not 'The Truth' at all. The only one that holds 'The Truth' is Aether, the God of Unity, and IT transcends our limited perspectives. However, we all have our own viewpoints, and we all have our own stories to share."
The tension of Progenia relaxed as she said:
"To err is human, as you will find,
But sharing your thoughts
opens hearts and minds.
‘Your truth’ may change as you grow and learn,
But in speaking, you'll spark the fire of discern."
Nafs, observing their exchange, added, "What Progenia means, Emily, is that while it's important to be genuine in expressing your opinions, it's also crucial to recognize the limitations of human knowledge. By sharing your thoughts openly and honestly, you demonstrate humility and a willingness to learn."
Emily considered their words and nodded. "Then I should just share my thoughts openly and honestly, without a care for the fact that I still could be mistaken?"
Progenia smiled and said:
"Speak with conviction but also with grace,
For understanding, we all must embrace.
Your voice has power, and with it, you'll find,
The courage to lead and to leave fear behind."
“Thank yo-“ Emily started as she was then cut off by an egg breaking against the ceiling as Nafs let off his horn for a second and 3rd blast, synchronized with the class bell.
“You’ll need to clean that up before you go.”
With newfound wisdom and a touch of humility, Emily felt invigorated and prepared to face her high school once more.
Chapter 3 - Meeting Rachel
In the days following her encounter with Progenia and Nafs, Emily's newfound confidence began to shine through. This inner change was not lost on her peers, who observed her with a sense of curiosity and a newfound respect.
As the days passed, the energy in the school took a noticeable shift. On one such day, during lunch break, the usual chatter and clatter of trays that often filled the cafeteria had morphed into an unusually fervent commotion. The student body was abuzz, their attention riveted on two figures - Jenny and Aaron, the popular kids running for class president.
Jenny, flashing her all too familiar charismatic smile, declared, “Longer lunch hours, that’s what we need! More time to chill!"
Aaron, not to be outdone, countered, “And more pep rallies! Especially during Math class!”
Emily observed from the sidelines. Their promises echoed through the air, hollow and superficial. Spotting Tom, she noticed his thoughtful expression, the gears in his mind clearly turning.
“Tom,” Emily began, nudging him lightly, “You look like you’ve got some president-worthy ideas yourself.”
Tom blinked, startled. “Me? No, I… I just…”
Emily shook her head, her smile widening. “Don’t keep them to yourself, Tom. Speak up.”
“Well,” he began hesitantly, “Instead of more lunch time, how about a system where we can get our food faster? Less waiting in line, more time eating and socializing.”
He paused, but noticing the curious faces around him, he continued. “And what if we initiate a student mentorship program? It’ll help underclassmen adjust, and upperclassmen develop leadership skills.”
His innovative suggestions sparked excitement among the students. Aaron, feeling threatened, retorted, “Are you trying to run for president too, Tom?”
“Just sharing my thoughts,” Tom replied, “Not everything’s a competition, Aaron.”
Aaron was taken aback. Jenny, however, chimed in, “He’s got a point. We could use some fresh ideas.”
In the midst of the crowd’s shifting attention, Emily felt a piercing gaze from the corner of the room. Turning, she met Rachel’s icy stare, the intensity of which sent a chill down her spine.
Rachel, with venom in her voice, announced, “Looks like Emily’s found herself a pet project.”
This caught the attention of the students still lingering nearby, their curiosity piqued by the unexpected shift in hive dynamics. The usual laughter and chatter died down, replaced by an electric silence as all eyes followed Rachel, who was now flying towards Emily with her stinger out.
Emily, keeping her cool, responded, “It’s not a pet project, but a community project, Rachel. I’m just listening to everyone’s stories.”
Rachel snorted, “And what’s your story? ‘I’m a delicate flower, please don’t step on me?’”
Emily shot back, smiling, “Isn’t it interesting? Even a Queen Bee like you knows that she needs flowers. It’s not about stepping on others, but realizing how we’re all part of the same garden.”
Rachel, visibly rattled, protested, "You think life is some kind of fairy tale?"
Emily retorted, “Isn’t it you who has the fairy tale persona? Acting like the villain is your defensive shield. But its not about being better than anyone; it's about becoming fully integrated human beings, and helping each other grow."
Rachel was taken aback, "I...I’m not putting on an act!"
Emily shook her head, "Social life is ALL about acting Rachel, Integrity is just acting Well, and NEVER breaking character. But unlike a fairytale, there are no villains. Everyone has a backstory, even if they try to pretend otherwise.”
The room went silent.
"Hiding behind cruelty is no less damaging than cowering in silence.” Emily went on undeterred. “We all have things we’re insecure about. But it’s up to us how we handle them. We can let them push us around and hurt others, or we can use them to help us grow and understand each other better.”
Rachel's face turned red, and she hesitated before speaking, "You really believe that? That we can just share our feelings, and everything will magically improve?"
"Not ‘magically’ but Practically, it's not a one-day magic potion, or a fairy godmother’s spell," Emily continued, "But it could be the beginning of a better story than the one we're living right now."
Rachel scoffed, "Please, like I'd ever share my thoughts with losers like you."
Emily countered, "Our thoughts are already on display, Rachel, for those willing to listen. To understand others, we need first to understand our own."
"Emily...," Rachel began, uncertainty tinting her words, "You think you've figured it all out, don't you? But you don't know me."
Emily, with a sense of understanding in her eyes asked “Alright, then, enlighten me. Who are you?”
Caught off guard, Rachel frowned. After a pause, she retorted, “I’m the captain of the cheerleading squad. Isn’t that obvious?”
Emily shook her head. “That’s what you do, Rachel. I didn’t ask about your hobbies or your roles. I asked who you are?”
Rachel’s frown deepened, then she shot back, “I’m the most popular girl in school. Everybody wants to be me.”
Again, Emily gently dismissed her response. “That’s your social status, not who you are. Try again, Rachel. Who are you?”
Rachel’s smirk wavered, and she replied, almost defiantly, “I am Rachel. Isn’t that enough?”
Emily shook her head, a gentle but determined look in her eyes. “No, Rachel, it’s not. ‘Rachel’ is just a name given to you at birth. I’m asking about the person behind the name. So, I’ll ask again: Who are you?”
Rachel stared at Emily, her bravado melting away. She faltered, her voice barely audible as she finally admitted, “I don’t know. I… I guess I’m just… me.”
Emily offered her a comforting smile, her voice a soft murmur in the suddenly quiet room. “Just ‘me’ is enough. Everyone is ‘me,’ speaking through a different ego, including both you and I. It’s about acknowledging that ‘Me’ and embracing it fully.”
Rachel was silent for a moment before she finally whispered, “But what if ‘me’ isn’t enough?”
Emily leaned forward, the sincerity in her eyes reflecting the genuine warmth in her voice. “Rachel,” she began, her tone steady, “Humility is the only way to become immune to humiliation. And that starts by understanding that ‘me’ is enough. It’s about acknowledging your worth, even if others fail to see it. It’s about accepting our imperfections and working on them instead of pretending they don’t exist.”
Rachel looked taken aback, her cold exterior cracking. “Humility? But I thought that’s weakness…”
Emily smiled gently, “having humility doesn’t mean belittling yourself or viewing yourself as insignificant. It’s about shifting our mindset away from the constant ‘I, I, I’ and more towards the ‘Me’ that is a part of IT. It’s about seeing our place in the vast network of connections that makes up our world, and understanding that we’re ultimately neither above nor below anyone else. It’s about embracing wisdom from others rather than measuring ourselves against them.”
Rachel frowned, pondering Emily’s words, before murmuring, “But… I’ve always been taught that I need to be the best, the most admired… that’s what makes me enough.”
Emily nodded, understanding in her eyes. “I know, Rachel. Many of us have been taught the same. But it’s a false lesson. Being ‘the best’ or ‘the most’ is a never-ending race because there’s always someone better, more popular or more talented. The only true way to become ‘enough’ is by being true to yourself, about being integrated. The moment you accept yourself, you won’t need validation from anyone else.”
Rachel, quiet for a moment, finally nodded, “Fine, Emily. I’ll… think about what you said.”
Then Emily, acknowledging Rachel’s admission, said, “That’s all anyone can do, Rachel. We live, we learn, we grow. Nobody’s asking for perfection.”
In the following days, the dynamics in the school noticeably shifted. Rachel took a step back from her role as the grandmaster of mischief, reflecting on Emily’s words. The atmosphere became less tense, more welcoming.
To say that they all lived happily ever after would be an overstatement. Life, as Emily came to realize, was not a fairy tale. There were ups and downs, trials and triumphs. But armed with the knowledge she gained, Emily and her classmates were better equipped to navigate the labyrinth of life.