It’s not too late to read part 1 of “Bloodlines of Epheria!” Catch up here, then read on!
They turned away from one another to face that world they loved. It was particularly vivid this time for their having jointly accessed it, and Sifani soaked in the sight like water after a drought. She had often described the epheria to Jatan and the other researchers as life distilled – though Lorin called that an exaggeration, it was simple truth to her.
As always, Sifani noted the objects that stood out most bright against the blue-tinted palette. The trees and grass burned with a white light that paled the other objects, though Sifani knew if she could see the Pipers and custodians from this vantage point, their comparative brightness would be like the sun next to a candle.
“We could easily go through the wall. What do you think?” Lorin’s voice penetrated Sifani’s thoughts, sounding as though it were coming from all around her, though softly, as it did when they canvassed.
She nodded concisely. “I was thinking the same.” The wall wouldn’t be a risk – not like reconstituting something that was alive, anyway.
Together, with their surroundings flowing past them, dreamlike, she and Lorin knelt before the nearest corner of the courtyard wall. Lorin arched a questioning eyebrow at her. He relished reconstitution as much as Sifani did, but he often deferred to her, especially in more difficult tasks.
She gestured for him to go. He was a decent enough partner, after all.
Smiling to himself, Lorin touched the uneven surface of one of the foundation stones twice as large as his head. It softened, crumbling into particles as fine as sand, and blew away.
Having seen the goal accomplished, Sifani willed herself out of the epheria. She would’ve liked to stay longer, but Jatan would verbally flay her if he discovered she had been dawdling again.
Wondrously, willing herself out was all it took – she had always thought transitioning easy. Sifani found herself back under the stark morning sun, staring at a hole in the bottom of the wall where the stone used to be.
She glanced over at Lorin long enough to check his eyes. They were there – grey as rain, with that slightly arrogant cast as always. She had to admit she was glad of that. She did understand a little of why people feared Reehlers, as she had never gotten used to seeing others’ eyes become blank and white when canvassing.
If they were both out of the epheria, though, it was time to get down to business. Sifani stretched out on her back, head at the entrance of the gaping hole. “My turn.”
She began to wriggle along the ground, not stopping until her head was all the way through. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the figures in the courtyard. Perhaps she could scoot just a little bit further…
To her horror, she heard Lorin call wryly from the other side of the wall. “Let me help you!”
Before Sifani could protest Lorin’s help with a sound kick – her legs were strong for other tasks besides walking, and standing on Lorin’s grotesquely powerful shoulders – he pushed hard on her feet, shoving her forward without warning. She resisted crying out as her arms and shoulders wedged into the tight space.
Sifani glowered at the sky above her as she tried in vain to wiggle free. She was going to have to ask Lorin to get her out, wasn’t she? Sifani decided that if she were capable of killing the man with only her feet just then, she would have.
Instead, she settled for rolling her eyes, though it was much less gratifying. Then, she tilted back her head to glimpse the Pipers’ courtyard upside-down. The flamboyant blue circles were even more stomach-churning from this viewpoint! Sifani clenched her eyes and teeth shut to fight down the nausea. Amidst the custodians’ whistled commands to their birds, she finally managed to ignore her agitated stomach and insert a high-pitched whistle of her own.
Once again, it proved easy to find Ileniel. He had never been very subtle, despite his own beliefs about himself. The man’s black-tufted head – he now had a tuft where a long, glossy mane once grew – perked up suddenly at the sound of Sifani’s signal. His eyes swept back and forth across the courtyard, then fell on Sifani’s face with a wide-eyed and slightly hunted look.
Perhaps he should feel a bit hunted, but Sifani refused to pity him. It wasn’t her decision to come here. It might have everything to do with her, but Jatan was the one who gave the orders.
Ileniel stepped out of formation, and was swiftly followed by a fellow bright-cloaked figure that appeared to be his superior. Head bowed toward the other man, Ileniel moved his hands in expository fashion. He offered a few acquiescent nods as they conversed, then at last handed the man his Piper’s leash. Ileniel carefully watched his colleague jog back into a circle before his gaze swung back to Sifani, lips turned down into a decided scowl.
Thinking himself the paragon of sneakiness, Ileniel tugged a long handkerchief from a hip pocket and dabbed at his forehead as if tired from the exercise. He smiled ingratiatingly at several of the custodians he passed as he approached the wall where Sifani lay.
She sighed. She wouldn’t be surprised if he brought the whole lot of them, birds and all, down on her and Lorin’s head with his ridiculous attempts at artfulness.
Ileniel arrived at the wall and leaned against it, facing outward.
The handkerchief passed over his face again as he spoke from the corner of his mouth. “I hoped I would never see your face again, Sifani a-vinna Leyone.”
“It’s good to see you, too, Len.” Sifani shifted, trying to reposition her shoulders comfortably. “How’s life on the bird farm?”
“Convent,” Ileniel growled. “It’s peaceful. Serene. Undisturbed.” She saw him grimace from behind a fold of the sweat-soaked cloth. “Need I go on?”
“Maybe later.” Sifani flashed him her most dazzling and ingenuous smile as he peered down at her. “You do know how much I love hearing you run your mouth.”
Ileniel’s annoyance remained a low rumble in his throat. “So tell me why you’ve tracked me down, and then get out of here, oh destroyer of kingdoms.”
Sifani sighed again. So melodramatic. “I have a message for you, from Jatan.”
He reached down and tried to snatch the paper she held up from out of her hand.
Sifani swiftly retracted her hand. “Oh, no you don’t!” she admonished. “Jatan said you had to read it with me present. No running off into your dark scholarly corners, denying me the pleasure of seeing your reaction.”
The scowl had never left Ileniel’s face, but it became chagrin for a fleeting moment. Ileniel would clean Jatan’s boots with his tears if the man let him. He probably wondered what he had done to deserve such a punishment from Jatan, having to read this message in front of the woman who so repulsed him.