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Antian and Jatan had their cloaked and hooded heads pressed together, conversing, the whole time they led Sifani, Namiss and Lorin out of the tower and into the weed-ridden park Sifani knew well. Huddled in its shadowed corner of Hashiram, the park was one of the group’s only safe havens in the city. Between its state of disrepair and the cluster of old gravestones in one of its corners near the gate, the place was remembered only for being “cursed by the Deities.”
If the Deities cared about the group’s trespassing, though, they had never expressed it. Feeling the thrill of anticipation in her veins, Sifani jogged ahead of Antian and Jatan and pushed the bent park gate open. She felt a slight jolt of surprise, then, not at the metallic screech that followed, but at Lorin’s suddenly appearing at her shoulder, matching her stride for stride.
Antian followed after both of them, lips pressed into a smile of merry satisfaction. “That’s what I like about you, Sifani,” he said, folding his hands as he stepped inside the gate and surveyed the crumbling walls and overgrown paths within. He chose a narrow section of wall devoid of creepers and settled back against it. “You are enthusiastic, and no one can learn anything well without enthusiasm to fuel her learning. Start canvassing when you wish – that is, of course, if Jatan has no objections…?”
Jatan, steady eyes seeming to focus on Sifani and yet see everything else as well, nodded serenely as he joined Antian at the wall.
Namiss entered a few seconds behind Jatan. She was just in time to cough loudly and shove her hand in her pocket when Sifani looked at her, reminding Sifani of her gift.
With the slightest roll of her eyes, Sifani turned her back to her watching companions and reached into her pocket for Namiss’s sphere of Lightleaf. Though Lorin looked at her questioningly when the plant was already halfway between her lips, Sifani just shrugged at him and popped it the rest of the way in. Drug or not, it would make both their jobs easier.
Only moments later, Sifani felt a surge of intense feeling – anticipation, ecstasy, even the sharp tang of fear – as Lightleaf entered her system. She reached out to grip Lorin’s arm, and together, they canvassed.
The world became awash with ethereal blue, and the objects around her lit up like candles. More than candles – they were flames of white, flames of life, burning comfortingly and dimly in stones and earth, and yet fiercely, almost threateningly in grass, trees and flesh. Sifani had to turn away when she glanced over her shoulder at Namiss – the light emanating from the girl might well haved seared Sifani’s eyes to blindness.
A hand, hard and thick, took Sifani’s arm firmly and turned her about. She found herself staring at a stone-faced Lorin, the only thing in this reborn world that the light and color did not touch.
“Time to remember, Sifani.” Lorin’s lips barely moved – he was whispering so that the others could not hear, Sifani knew, but his voice resounded loudly in the epheria. “Let’s talk about Jans, the man you worked with in the Head Counselor’s home.”
The Head Counselor’s home. That alone was enough to make Sifani’s blood heat to an angry simmer. It had not been her fault. If there was any justice in the world, the Deities had not granted it to her that day. She had stood against a traitor, defied him like a heroine of her childhood stories, and was rewarded with madness she could not control, destruction she could not stop, fear, and finally, banishment.
The anger and the Lightleaf made her tremble from toes to fingertips, but as long as she deferred from reconstituting, Lorin would go on.
“Jans was winsome, wasn’t he. Clever. And he used you and your trust. He used you, Sifani. He used his familiar voice and soothing smile to make you let in the killer. You were almost responsible for the Head Counselor’s assassination, and all because money meant more to Jans than duty or loyalty ever did.”
Or than I ever did. The unbidden thought made Sifani writhe with pain and frustration. Such sentiments were the only thing Lorin didn’t know about herself and Jans, yet would that he knew nothing at all!
Sifani realized her hands were clutching at her stomach, but she did not stop them. She was angry, so angry at that dung-heap of a coward. Jans was the epitome of what she hated – a person who would twist words, promises, knives, anything to serve himself and his own dishonorable goals. And the worst of it was, she thought she might have loved him once.
Her emotions were all anger, now, a tangled mess building pressure in her head she couldn’t withstand much longer. Gods, but this stuff from Namiss works.
Doubled over her own clenched fists, Sifani raised her head to look at one of the pitiful trees in front of her. Once, she had made “every leaf of a tree into fibrous strands,” as Antian had put it. She had been able to see those strands at the time, somehow, with her eyes or some other sense.
Only now, she would swear that she could see the strands of those strands she saw the first time. Her mind was stretched out over a canvass of a million paint-like dots that she knew without a doubt she could arrange at will.
She knew she had never felt this, before. She had never gone this deep – didn’t know she was able to – so deep that she knew she could build, even destroy, with the tools lying before her.
Sifani reached down into those millions of dots as if dipping brush into paint, and knew what she wanted the leaves to become…
I’ll make them into rain, as it was raining that day… The paintbrush of Sifani’s thoughts whirled into action, breaking down, rearranging, casting aside.
What of the leaves she could turn into water, she did. Droplets formed, large and looming and all around her, in her mind’s eye. Everything else…everything else she made dust. Water and dust. Fitting, the only two things that Jans had left behind in his wake.
The voices, even cries, of those outside the epheria were faint and echoing as always. For a moment Sifani thought the noises were wails, but then she made out delighted timbre that marked them instead as shouts of excitement. Wanting to view the aftermath of her work, Sifani pushed her manic thoughts of Jans and the Head Counselor into the background, though the Lightleaf made doing so a visceral struggle.
She was still fighting to get her anger under complete control when fear knocked it aside completely. One moment, Lorin was moving toward her with a slight smile, the next his eyes were fixed on something just beyond her, wide with fear.
“SIFANI, LOOK OUT!” His sudden yell had a strangled sound.
Sifani tried to turn around, but something large and heavy barreled straight into her stomach. It knocked her to the ground, and all the air fled from out her lungs.