It came to my attention – via a reader – that the last installment of “Bloodlines of Epheria” was a touch confusing. It was unclear whether or not Sifani was going to talk to Ileniel right then and there, or if she was going to wait, and why she would even choose to wait in that case. Therefore, I’ve composed a second version in which Sifani converses with Ileniel immediately after he arrives. This is a taste of what the writing process looks like for me – lots of small yet very significant adjustments, often made according to the feedback of a reader I trust.
If you didn’t read the original version in the first place, go back and read that one first, as it contains the first half of the following scene, which is integral to the story.
That said, here is “Bloodlines” part 11, version 2.
“Whatever you say, Len.” Immediately, Sifani was seized by the impulse to put her father’s old friend to the question, right then and there. She warded it off – it took more willpower than she expected. “Has Jatan seen you, yet?”
Ileniel wagged his dark head irritably, sparing a sidelong glare for Lorin. “No. This brute decided to waylay me before I could even dismount Rush – the heavens alone know why.”
Lorin met Sifani’s eyes significantly. She raised her brows, suddenly understanding. He wanted to give me the chance to talk to Ileniel before anyone else got to him! A warm smile overtook her expression of surprise. Deities bless you, Lorin!
Lorin, abruptly seeming embarrassed, took Rush’s reins in hand and let the mare nuzzle him as he walked her back to the stable. “Whatever my reasons for ‘waylaying’ you,” he told Ileniel, “the moment I saw you I remembered you weren’t worth the trouble.”
Ileniel sniffed disdainfully, glancing between Lorin and Sifani. In the awkward silence, he brushed at the stiff sleeves of his tunic, lips twisted in distaste, as if Sifani’s hug had soiled them beyond cleaning. “You’re in a fine mood today, Sifani a-vinna Leyone. What’s put the extra sprig of mint in your tea?”
She stood still, staring at him ingenuously, her hands folded in front of her.
Abruptly, Ileniel narrowed his eyes. “You want something from me, don’t you?”
“I need to talk to you. Now.”
“Bah, the dust that Rush kicked up hasn’t even settled! Can’t this wait?”
“Lorin and I have been doing some thinking, Len.”
“Well, now, that’s something n—“
She cut him off. “I need to know: why did you run?”
For a moment, Ileniel looked genuinely confused, so she elaborated. “After I tore down the Head Counselor’s home, why did you leave the band, Len? And don’t try to tell me you were tired of it. Our work was only becoming more involved, and we were just getting a true grasp on the nature of the epheria. Yet, you ran scared.”
At this point, Len’s eyes darted back and forth. “That’s ridiculous,” he asserted, but he looked a cornered animal, deciding whether or not to bolt, or whether or not he could. He never had been good at hiding his feelings.
Sifani opened her mouth to ask about her pa and mother, but found that the words caught in her throat. She had imagined this conversation many times in the past days – she was always speaking with confidence and force, wresting the truth from Ileniel with the skill of a veteran soldier. Now, however, such an approach seemed…inappropriate. This was, after all, her family.
There must have been a shift in Sifani’s demeanor, for when she asked Ileniel to sit down with her on the water barrels nearby, he did so without protest, though caution and suspicion remained wavering on his brow. Lorin had chosen to stand several paces away after stabling Ileniel’s mare, but Sifani waved him over.
“I don’t suppose you know – Jatan would’ve waited until you arrived to inform you.” Sifani began. “A Deity tried to kill me.”
Ileniel made a strangled sound. His hand went to his chest involuntarily. “What—?”
Sifani just nodded. “At least, that’s the best explanation we have. Lorin and I were in the epheria, and these creatures, monsters the likes of which don’t – er, didn’t – exist, just manifested there.”
Sifani proceeded to explain what had happened from beginning to end. It was a different experience, recounting the story to one who hadn’t been there when it happened. She had expected it to take on a tinge of the ridiculous in her telling of it, but instead it became more tangible and weighty as she watched Ileniel’s expression melt into slow horror.
“Gods above,” he whispered when she had finished.
“Perhaps you can guess why I’ve been waiting to talk to you, then,” Sifani said, heart beating rapidly. “I need to know why a Deity might want me dead. It could be because I’m a Reehler, though Lorin is, as well, and wasn’t specifically targeted. When I look at all the facts…well, my pa once told me that my mother was one of the most powerful Reehlers who ever lived. I know so little about her that it’s more likely something to do with her than with me.”
Her voice quieted. “You knew my father so well, Ileniel. I remember how closely he kept your company – how you would talk by the fireside late into the evenings. Friendly arguments, philosophical musings.” She could see Pa’s face, laughing, the pleasant grey pepper of stubble covering his strong neck and square jaw. She missed him – how long had it been she had last visited him? “You must’ve known more about my mother than I ever did. I only know that she was dangerous, and my guess is that when you witnessed my breakdown at the Head Counselor’s home, you thought I might pose the same danger my mother did.”
Sifani leaned forward. “What?”
“The same danger she still does, Sifani.” Ileniel would not meet her eyes, but kept them on his folded hands. “Your mother lives.”
Sifani suddenly felt as if she couldn’t breathe. Silence stretched for long moments.
“Deities,” she finally murmured, running her hands through the top of her hair. “I thought…I always guessed… Tell me.”