Haven’t read part 2 of “The Shaking of Epheria” yet? Catch up here.
He smiled, white teeth flashing, and inclined his head to her. “Sifani a-vinna Leyone.”
Sifani’s opened her mouth in a stupid, wordless greeting. It turned out not to be much of a greeting. “Uh, which one are you?”
The man’s mouth, fat and pink, released an incongruously high-pitched laugh that made him suddenly seem much more human than god-like. “Which one do you think?”
Was this some kind of a bizarre test? “Ah…” Taken aback, Sifani began spouting the names of the gods that had been so familiar to her. “Edra? Cabbion? Gods above…” she muttered, the humor of her statement nearly lost on her. “That is, damn.” She was being toyed with. “Please, just tell me. I have no desire to antagonize you. I only came to get a few answers, and then I’ll leave, I promise.”
The small man chuckled bitterly, turning from Sifani to gaze through one of the windows. “Well, now we know who hasn’t been worshipping properly lately! My name is…well, I’m Donis! Ask me your questions, then, girl.” He waved his hand at her, turning a dismissive shoulder. “The sooner we’re finished meeting together, the better.”
The revelation staggered her. This diminutive, petty thing, was Donis? The Deities’ de facto leader? Except for his dress, this man might’ve been the local grocer, not to mention the fool that peopled gossiped about in the privacy of their own home. She almost literally had to hold her tongue to keep it from wagging like a fool herself.
Sifani cleared her throat. “Thank you for meeting me,” she said lamely. “I guess I should say…if you’re the one who saved me in that battle with Nume, my mother…thank you for that, as well. Was that you?”
The man – Donis – leaned back against one of the thin glass walls and crossed his arms, drawing a deep, tired sigh. “I was the instigator, yes. It took more than just my power to overcome your mother, though. She always has been at her strongest when angry.”
Letting the information sink in, Sifani nodded slowly. “Why did you instigate it?”
Donis straightened from his position against the wall and slapped his hands together for emphasis, making Sifani jump. “Now, that is the most important question.” Pacing past her, he clasped his hands behind his richly-robed back. “Officially, the answer is this: the other Deities and I did not want to draw negative attention to ourselves by slaying a mortal. The last thing we want it more of you researching types to start poking around the epheria, trying to find out if there’s more to their religion than they’ve grown up believing.”
Sifani narrowed her eyes. “But unofficially…?”
Donis spread his hands toward her with an avuncular demeanor. “Thus we come to why I decided to meet with you today, girl. And you’re lucky I got to you first! I always have been the most skilled at detecting changes in the flux landscape.” A troubled look passed over his eyes, of a sudden. “The true reason I preserved you is that…I knew I might need your help. And now, it seems that the time has come. You’re here, and simply put, you owe me your life. I could turn you over to Nume in a heartbeat, but instead, I only require one simple favor.” He took slow steps toward Sifani until their noses were only inches from each other. Sifani refused to flinch as his breath puffed onto her face. “I want you to help me disappear into the real world. I want to live as a normal person again.”
Even if Sifani had had time to conjecture, she knew this eventuality would never have crossed her mind. “You’re kidding.”
Donis shrugged his shoulders. “It’s that simple.” He paused. “Plus, gods don’t kid.”
“Whatever,” she answered unthinkingly, making an irritated brushing-away motion that a Deity would probably consider less-than-reverent. “Even if you’re not lying to me, and this is what you really want, you’re not going to be happy living a human life. Even in my limited experience, I know – transposition, all the Reehler powers, are addictive. As long as you’ve been steeped in them, you’ll jump right back in the first time temptation seizes you. Uh, with all due respect. Which means – if I know anything about them – your fellow Deities aren’t going to let you off easy the first time they find you after your desertion.”
The dismissive way Donis snorted at her was decidedly unbecoming for a god, not that her own manners had warranted better. “Exactly. That’s why it’ll be you and your friends’ job – if you choose to include that mongrel pack of yours – to actively protect me from my compatriots.” The way her eyes must’ve widened made him show his teeth again. “Come, come. It’s a small price to pay for my rescuing you from ultimate annihilation, don’t you think?”
Sifani’s jaw had dropped and remained open. Offense and disbelief surged within her, and of all the things she thought to say, the one that came out was, “Who do you think you are?”
Donis folded his hands primly, pink lips pursed and hanging gold tassles on his sleeves swinging. “Why, king of the Deities, of course.”
Their meeting ended up lasting longer than either had hoped, but there was no way Sifani was going to leave without asking all her questions, this time. Why her and her friends? According to Donis, they were the only serious researchers of the epheria in existence now, which didn’t surprise Sifani. Moreover, the band had her. She and Lorin were the only two humans venturing into the epheria intentionally, and Sifani was by far the more powerful. Who better to ask for protection, as far as puny mortals went?
That was a drop in the bucket compared to what she learned next, though.
“Donis,” the name still did not come easily to her, “don’t think it hasn’t occured to me that you never told me why you want to become a mortal. After all you’ve seen and been through, why would you want to go back?”
She and the god were sitting on a bench that Donis had constructed, looking out over a section of the real world Sifani had never visited before. It hung over a tree-ringed glade with a small pool at one end. A rivulet of crystal blue water tumbled down a few worn boulders until it spilled at last into the pool, and through the thin glass, which Donis had manipulated to be all but invisible, Sifani could hear the high, clear sound of water hitting water.
Donis stared ahead, not speaking. After a moment, he said lightly, “I don’t suppose you’d believe me if I told you I miss the simple life.”
She glanced again at his resplendent clothing, considered the personality of the man she was speaking with. She had never been one to analyze others, at least, not with any success – that was more Lorin and Jatan’s specialty. However, she had gleaned enough from her conversation with Donis to know that he was, understandably, proud – the kind of proud that goes to one’s head and makes one, well, intolerable. He delighted in special attention and probably adoration – something Sifani had not been affording him much of. No, the simple life wasn’t something he would just opt for.
All she said was, “You’re right. I definitely wouldn’t believe you.”
Donis glanced at her, his expression a mixture of wryness and irritation. “As annoying as your mother,” he mumbled, then abruptly closed the gap in which Sifani could’ve reacted. “Try believing this, then, girl. You’ve seen the power of transposition – at the very least, what your mother was capable of. She was actually the best of us at creating things straight from her imagination.” He lifted one palm, attempting to illustrate his words. “So it’s possible that creation – our tampering with a medium we don’t fully understand – is what caused it. The other possibility,” he lifted his other palm, “is that is was already there, hidden in flux, where we were, perhaps, never meant to go in the first place.”
Sifani rubbed her arms, feeling suddenly and inexplicably nervous. “Um. What is it?”
Donis rubbed his hands together nervously, eyes darting involuntarily. “We, ah, found something…in flux.” His voice dropped to a ludicrous whisper, but Sifani only leaned forward hungrily to hear all that was said. “As I was saying, we don’t know the hows and whys of its existence, but… Perhaps I alone can sense the danger. All I can say is, I don’t want anywhere near it, and the further away I get from it, the happier I’ll be.”
Clutching her knees, Sifani fixed her stare on him, nervous in earnest now though she did her best to at least hide it. “You’ve told me a whole lot of nothing, Donis. Let me tell you something about myself and the band: you’ll have to do a lot better than that to get us to help you.” Of all things, a new mystery was not what she expected, or even particularly wanted. In the background, her mind kept buzzing with that new phrase it had picked up since she and her partner had finally acknowledged their regard for one another – “I have to get back and tell Lorin.”
Shaking his head vigorously, Donis stood. “That’s all I want to say about it, not to mention there’s not much more I can say. One thing you’ll learn about me, girl, is that I know when to keep investigating, and when to bow out. This time, I bowed out, so before I decide throw you out again, you best tell me whether or not you’re going to help me.”
“Throw me out again and you know what the answer will be,” Sifani growled, despite her sudden realization of the danger of being alone with a being so much more powerful than her. “Though, really, I don’t see that I have much of a choice, given your threat to turn me over to Nume otherwise.” Not to mention this new information about flux and the epheria piqued her interest terribly, but she tried to quash that thought behind the more immediate concerns.
“That’s the spirit, girl!” Donis released his idiot laugh and clapped her on the shoulder, making Sifani flinch. “Now get out of here, before I give into the temptation to throw you out just for the sheer fun of it!”
Swearing to herself she’d figure out how to do the same before the month was out, Sifani, in that strange and immediate “blowing” motion unique to flux, returned to the place where the glass wall overlooked her bedroom and the waiting Lorin, without so much as a goodbye wave to Donis. It had been awhile since someone had so thoroughly irritated her. She put one foot through the glass – a token gesture, for as soon as she willed it, her body and mind returned with nothing short of a crash back into the light, sense and color of reality.
Blinking, Sifani sat up. Lorin was at her side in a split second, his bright eyes peering into hers in keen anticipation. “Boy am I glad to see you.” She put her hand on his and couldn’t help but smile at the question on his face, or maybe just his face in general. “So, I met someone today. Short, not at all handsome, with the lowest amount of social charm and the highest bloody rank of anyone I know. And with what he had to say, you definitely won’t be disappointed with my story.”