Chris has already done a read-through of this installment for me. His comment was that Sifani knows too much from her one conversation with Nume, and needs to figure it out another way. I’ll probably change this in the second draft. Read on and see what you think.
If you need a refresher (since it’s been awhile since the last post), glance over part 15 again.
Not long afterward, Sifani was clean and her wounds dressed. She desperately wanted to stretch, longing to rid herself of that tightly-pulled feeling the stitches gave her. It made her feel all too restricted, like she might not be able to act quickly enough if someone or something decided to attack.
Fortunately, there were no enemies present now. Only the naked truth, which felt more threatening in some ways. She sat at the long table, next to the spot where she had ripped a chunk of the wood away for reconstitution. Though that kept her in the present, there was a small comfort in the fact that, as in the past, all the chairs at the table were filled.
She drummed her fingers on the table a few times, thinking of what to tell her friends first. Her eyes flicked up to Lorin. If he was feeling anything, he just managed to conceal it. Maybe if she addressed the issue concerning him, first, no one would question her about it further.
She cleared her throat. “Lorin, Nume knows that you are a weakness to me.”
Strands of Nume’s gold hair fell around her cheeks as she stood over Sifani, her lips appearing barely to move.“If you are to join us, you must not make the same mistake as I did. You must not allow even the smallest part of you to be tied down by the love of a mortal.” Those eyes seemed to search the depths of her.“So, Sifani? Do you love him, that boy who has twice thrown himself into the path of my creatures on your behalf?” She turned on her heel, stalking away. “I won’t have it! I won’t allow this folly again.”
“…You are a weakness to me,” Sifani continued, “and Deities cannot have weaknesses, especially not for mortals. Nume wants me to join her, to become a Deity. That is the only way she will let me live – I must become her ally to increase her power, and you must die.”
Lorin’s eyebrows climbed, and his lips parted in the beginning of speech. A horrified murmur washed over the crowd at the table. Sifani was about to continue, but Lorin chose that moment to flippantly interject, “By Donis, I know we have our differences, but I didn’t know you disliked me enough to lead me to the headsman’s block!”
“I’m not going to turn you over, you big lummox,” Sifani answered testily, rolling her eyes at him. “Obviously, I’m not going to join the Deities, either. We can go along with Nume’s plan until she lets her guard down – and the moment she does, we’ll strike, and end this for good.”
At that, hell broke loose. Everyone began speaking at once. The loudest demand was for Sifani to explain how – how – was it possible for her to join the Deities? And just how did she expect to defeat Nume with only herself and Lorin? There were a few cries of protest to her fighting at all, what with the beating she had just taken, and only one voice – Sifani never identified who it belonged to – wondering aloud why Lorin, not Namiss or Jatan, had been pegged as Sifani’s primary “weakness.”
Finally, Jatan held up his hand, and in a few long moments, they all fell respectfully – though perhaps grudgingly – silent. “Becoming a Deity. Explain.”
Sifani nodded, detecting severity in Jatan’s tone. “It’s difficult to explain to someone who isn’t a Reehler, but I’ll try. As I’ve explained in detail to Antian,” she gestured to the tawny-headed man, “entering into the epheria, canvassing, is like shifting your mind from focused thought into a daydream state. In the daydream state of mind, a Reehler can see things in terms of their pieces. The harder a Reehler focuses in the epheria, the deeper she settles into the epheria, and the deeper she can see into different objects.”
“You know how I’ve told you that objects in the epheria burn with a kind of white light, and people are the brightest? It has to do with the amount of life, and the complexity of life, in them. That’s why a stone is dull, a tree is brighter, and an animal or person, brightest.” Sifani took a deep breath. “Well, the less bright something is, the easier it is to break down. Of course, that makes the same true for the ease of creation. It was definitely easier for me to create dust and rain than it was to make the birds I used to summon Nume.”
Sifani glanced down unconsciously at the ripped spot on the table. “Well, the point of saying any of that is that a Reehler who is strong enough can manipulate her own pieces. The process requires a simultaenous breaking down and building of matter. It’s…” How much should she reveal of her own unsurity, Sifani wondered? “It’s hazardously abstract at best. It will put me in a state of flux that allows me to interact with the epheria at a level of complexity none of us could’ve imagined. Creation on a whim, and destruction just the same.” Sifani let that hang, to make sure they all understood. “And that, just that, is what it takes to be a ‘Deity’: a Reehler bloodline strong enough to remake yourself.” The weight of the admission prompted her to follow that, in a quiet voice, with, “I’m sorry.”
There was a long silence, and then Jatan stood up, avoiding all eye contact. “Just like that, the religion of the Deities dies. And shall it be born again?” he asked, quietly.
Lorin shoved a dark curl from his forehead irritably. “We can ask the philosophical questions later. I think the more pressing matter is, if I may opine,” he gestured with exaggerated civility, “how we are planning to defeat one of the most powerful Reehlers who’s ever lived who also happens to be in an ambiguous state of existence, as well as haul my rump out of the cookfire?”
The tension that had clearly been building in Namiss – who sat hunched over the table opposite Sifani – snapped, along with her patience. “Oh, Lorin, for the gods-cursed love of—!”
“No, he’s right,” Sifani interejected swiftly. Whatever the next few days brought, she wasn’t going to spend them with Namiss and Lorin at each others’ throats. “We need to focus on what we can change now. Don’t worry – this time, I have a plan.”
Sifani didn’t favor him with a reaction. “Nume has had the advantage thus far – she’s always picked the battleground. But if we can force her off of whatever territory she chooses, we can throw her off – gauge her weakenesses.”
“What exactly do you mean?” Lorin asked. He narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously.
Jatan put his fingers under his chin, scratching it thoughtfully. “I think I may know where you’re going with this, Sifani. Can a Deity transition out her state of flux?”
Sifani pictured Nume appearing to her father for the first time, fully human, at least, as far as he could tell. She saw her mother standing before her only a little while earlier, a beautiful form invisible to those in the real world; therefore, Sifani guessed, a woman fully in the epheria.
“She can. Only for a little while, though,” Sifani answered. “That’s the price a Deity has to pay. Once you join their ranks, you must stay a Deity until the end – a sort of un-being, unable to be anything for true. I think that if Nume stays in a definite state for too long, she’ll collapse. ”
Lorin’s smile was tight and mirthless. “You think .” He wagged his head. “Conjecture is not good enough to win this, Sifani.”
“As if I don’t know that!” It came out wildly, desperately. Her hair swung as she looked at him squarely. “Lest you believe it’s my life I care most about preserving, here—“ The words died on her lips. The flash of emotion died as well, leaving her shoulders slumped over wearily.
“Though I’m not entirely sure of any of this, you have to admit that my guess is better than any of yours. I know the epheria most intimately. Our best chance is to keep Nume in a non-Deity state as long as possible. Long enough, and she will likely die.”
Jatan replied gravely, “Then it’s my turn to tell you I’m sorry.”
Sifani tossed her head. “Tell me your sorry after Nume’s been defeated.” Looking away, she ran her hand over her face tiredly. “That alone is more than enough worry for all of us, now.”