Okay! I finally got so tired of not posting anything, I decided I’m going to post EVERYTHING. Well, maybe not everything, but I’ll at least give you part of a short story I’ve written. Maybe you can help me get some traction on it. Read and enjoy, and let me know what you liked, disliked, etc. about it. The ending has yet to be written.
Also, disregard the (Name) markers I left throughout the story, and feel free to suggest names. 😉
Secondary Color Draft 2
When I first got the letter from my young disciple at the Priory, I was happy.
What a fool I was. What a complete and utter fool. I knew the inner workings of that place — the Priors at Rivest were unable to touch anything without trying to rope it in, make it belong to them. That included me, but I had been down that road before, three years ago when I — well, abdicated – my position as Sixth Executive Prior, however politely it had been given me.
Feiruse, my letter-writer, my once-savior, said she was getting married, but that was a lie, too. Nothing was ever simple with the girl, and the fact that she was writing to me at all indicated she needed something badly enough to take advantage of my debt to her. I reminded myself of that over and over as I packed my bags – she was there when I swore I’d never set foot in Rivest again, and she though she seemed fond of trying my patience, she never tried it lightly.
The journey there was uneventful, as resulted only in the roilingly nauseous experience of seasickness and acute boredom with the way the captain, a leather-thick woman with hair a few shades shy of true magenta, bent and scraped after I showed her one lock of my cyan hair to avoid paying the boarding fee.
By the time we docked I was about ready to forsake my own values and destroy one of the knots on the woman’s ship to make her leave me alone – I had stared at the walls of it long enough, seasickness pushing me in and out of color-sight, to know its palette as acutely as I remembered the churning in my stomach. The sight of Feiruse dancing from foot to foot on the shore was therefore a mercy. She had put on some bulk around the waist since we had last met, but her face, peering from out her magenta strands of hair, looked decidedly drawn.
I disembarked with a less-than-lovely demeanor. Feiruse hugged my neck, and I suppose that helped, but I was tossed back into my dark mood when I looked in her eyes, noticed she hadn’t assaulted me with words as she was wont to do, and knew the reason I was here was worse than I originally suspected.
I grasped her by the shoulders and stopped walking. Plain-haired passers-by gave us a wide berth. “I’m not sure what you’re about to tell me or ask me to do, Feiruse, but remember that the Priors don’t know where I’ve gone, and I’d prefer to keep it that way.”
She nodded, then glanced over her shoulder. Rivest was a big city, but that was little comfort.
“You’re not getting married, are you?”
“No,” she managed.
“Not a man involved, then. Good.”
Her cheeks abruptly flushed to the vivid shade of her hair. “Well. I wouldn’t say that.”
My brows pinched down over my eyes. It took a moment, but a phantom fear I’d long harbored concerning the girl took form. “No. You didn’t.”
She looked away.
“A baby?” I hissed, and was given affirmation by Feiruse’s silence. “A Secondary baby?” I had to clarify as much as I feared to.
“(Name),” she looked at me suddenly, desperately, “He has black hair and black eyes.”
I made sure I used all my worst curses for the situation, and hustled us out of the thoroughfare.
We sat at the table in Feiruse’s house, nursing bone-white porcelain cups of tea.
“You want me to what,” I said flatly.
“It’s not like it was a secret to me, what you did,” Feiruse muttered poutily. “When you accepted the position as Sixth Executive Prior and asked me to help you disappear so soon afterward. I had plenty of time to think about it. Even I know that there’s some kind of mutual knot that the Priors share with one another. You saw something you didn’t like – big surprise – and untied the knot, and everyone was shocked.” Her hands waved about as if she were swatting flies. “You aren’t supposed to be able to do that. So. I figure if you can untie a palette knot, you can do something to prevent an outside knot from being tied against one’s will.”
I hated her when she made sense. “You think the Priors will try to control your son.”
“He can untie knots. If you were a Prior, wouldn’t you?” Feiruse played with her teacup. “These were my favorite color blue not two hours ago,” she commented innocently.
I blanched. Black. The absorber of color. The color of teacups was the most minor of the palette knots the baby might accidentally untie.
“Well.” I cleared my throat. “Minor correction. I didn’t technically untie the Prior’s knot, I broke it.”
Feiruse threw her hands up. “Okay, that’s it. Nothing about you will surprise me anymore, I swear it. And before I set about interrogating you on your insane methods, can you help my son, or not?
Or _knot, _I thought, mentally chuckling to myself. All nerves now, I told myself I had a choice, whether or not to help the stupid girl. I told myself that she and her son would be fine without me, might even do better for themselves. Then when I opened my mouth, all that came out was, “Damn you, I suppose I can.”
The days following were spent in taking care of a helpless human being, something on the bottom of my list of enjoyable activities. In order to effectively protect him from the Priors, I had to be around him long enough, steeped in color-sight, to learn just what the palette of this Secondary baby looked like.
I had no idea what to expect. A black-haired and black-eyed child – one parented by two Priory-trained Casters – had never before been born. Anyone with both Colorcasting and significant skill in it was, upon discovery, hustled away to the Priory as a matter of course. There were few enough of those as it was, and even fewer with the gall – or was it apathy? – to throw away honor, status, and livelihood to risk procreating with another Primary Caster.
Then there was Feiruse. The girl who, unlike myself, never seemed to use her inconoclast bent to do something useful. I sighed, shook my head. Hands on hips, I faced down her child as he lay squirming in a makeshift bassinet. “Okay, rat. Do your worst.”
With each passing emotion, something within the baby’s line of sight changed color, sometimes texture, and on rare occasion, shape. His palette was so complex I was reduced to a heap of profanity-jabbering helplessness on the floor following my attempts to touch it, and finding myself repelled over and over and over.
There were weeks of this.
Finally, the baby and I found ourselves at something of a stalemate. I caved and began to swaddle him, change his soiled wrappings, and generally take care of him, something which the ever-devious Feiruse never warned me I’d have to do when she left him with me. These things done, he stayed calm enough to let me peer at his palette undisturbed for longer than a few seconds. Feiruse often appeared and consulted me on what I was doing, even practiced lacing the color strands in a more or less accurate reproduction of my attempts.
I had a smile in my mind the day it all fell apart. I had been making progress with the babe. Feiruse was at the Priory again, pretending that she didn’t have a child and that everything was as normal as it had always been, and I was in charge of the baby when he decided to foil my plans and pitch the grandest fit I’d yet seen. I told him I wasn’t a milk cow; I couldn’t help him, but his vociferous retort finally sent me into town, with a ache throbbing in the front of my skull, in search of some goat’s milk.
Hair covered, eyes darting every which way, I picked my way through hauntingly familiar streets feeling as if I were dreaming. I felt stabs of fear, whispers of pain from long-faded bruises. I hated being here, and suddenly, more than ever, longed to jump aboard a ship and sail back home. My breath picked up, my vision swam, my head still pounded from the baby’s screaming. I should’ve rested before leaving, after so much Colorcasting, I told myself, and promptly stumbled face-first into a grocer’s stall.
When I opened my eyes a few minutes later, my headscarf had been removed and the plain-haired, blunt-faced grocer was explaining to (Name), Second Executive Prior, “I’m glad you were here…she just fell, and when I saw that hair, your Honor, I’m just glad you were here…”
I lurched to my feet and would’ve tried to run if it weren’t already too late. (Name) held my arm in a show of beneficence that only I knew was actually imprisonment. “Thank you. We do guard our own very jealously,” (Name) told the grocer, but I knew his words were actually for me.
We walked along the road toward the Priory on the west side of Rivest, the only sound to my ears the slap of our feet against the dust of the ground. I glanced down at the now-sore spot on my arm where (Name) gripped me. “You’ve always had such a way with women, (Name).”
He jerked his hand away as if just now realizing he had foiled all attempts at seeming amicable. “You were bound to come back here, you know. Your type always does.”
Was I not the first one to run away? Had others tried and failed before? The Priors had said the system was meant to break the students, and for the first time in three years I believed it could happen to me. “And what is my reason for coming back, oh omniscient one?”
His mouth turned down sourly. “Don’t pretend you don’t remember the power you held as a Prior. And, don’t assume you’ll get to hold that power again – it’s the First Executive who will judge you for breaking your original contract.”
I chewed on that for the remainder of the walk, from the moment we stepped into one of the Priory’s surreys and were whisked away to what had been both home and holding cell from childhood.
I reverted back to a mental state I hadn’t really ever left in Rivest, just let lie dormant until I needed it: repeatedly blessing my board-stiff will, the personality traits that made me as unpredictable as, well, a Secondary baby’s color palette. My mental conditioning didn’t cease until I felt (Name’s) arms enfolding me in a paternal embrace, as we stood before the steps leading up and into the slate-gray Priory building, flooding me with a feeling that could only be called the line between loathing and need.
“Welcome home,” he said.
I forced my walk into the Priory to be one of dignity rather than defeat. They were going to force me to play their games, and the only way to win was to quit as soon as possible. And anyway, there was a baby waiting for me.
So, when (Name) took me through a hallways of arches, down shallow steps into an open double-doorway that led into a jarringly spartan chamber where the First Executive Prior was waiting, I made my move.
I had been rehashing the Priory’s color palette in my head; this room, in particular. Such a simple way to prepare, and yet one they couldn’t have prevented me from doing even if they had known what I was about. The First saw the distant look pass over my face that meant I was entering color-sight, and he jumped from his seat. After that, all I saw was the rainbow skeins that made up the beams on the ceiling.
I did the most efficient splice I could manage – after my earlier blackout, I lacked the energy required to pull the skeins completely apart – and heard the crack of wood as pieces that made up the beams rearranged into a shape that could not hold. I was able to watch them fall before having to come back to myself, dive from (Name’s) loosened hold and scramble for cover before the First could reach me at the dead run he was now effecting.
Even as I immersed myself back into color-sight one thought kept echoing through my mind: I couldn’t let any of this come back to Feiruse and the baby.
I made a gutsy dive underneath a table pushed against the wall, and scooped up one side, toppling it over and interrupting the First’s frightening speed. I fell back into wild color-sight. I had seen the First’s eyes and knew he was doing the same. It instilled cold, hard terror in my gut.
The skeins of the table were right before my eyes, a glowing spectrum of colors. My panic made me revert back to the novice practice of grabbing at the skeins as if I could physically hold them, but I still had enough presence of mind to splice one long braid so that, when my sight returned to reality, I saw a corner of the table peel away and wrap around the First’s waist, trapping him.
That, however, didn’t last long. I was conscious long enough to look up and see one of the ceiling beams barreling toward me, sweeping back like a hand preparing a blow. I spun on my heel and tried to make it to a sconce in the corner of the room, but the speed of the First’s magic was incredible, and the beam took me on the back of the head with a sound crack that reminded me of the particular hardness of my skull before I went under.
When I awoke, I was in a cell. The smell of chicken wafted toward me, and my stomach growled loudly.
(Name) turned his head. He was sitting at a small table laden with food, tapping his foot on the floor, smiling at me. I wondered how long he had been sitting there – the fact he had been watching me sleep made me shiver.
“Your timing is impeccable, (Name),” he said.
I didn’t favor him with a response, but I wondered what he was plotting, for plotting he most certainly was. I didn’t have to wonder long. Only a few minutes passed before I heard the sussuruss of fabric across the floor.
(Name) picked at the chicken on his plate and pointedly failed to invite the dark-haired girl whose voice belonged to Feiruse to sit in the empty chair across from him.
At his silence, Feiruse plowed forward impatiently. I could almost hear her thoughts, wanting to finish with the day of lessons and practicums, get back home to see how the babe and I had fared.
“Why am I here, if you don’t terribly mind? I was working on a project for (Prior) and I know she won’t be happy if I don’t finish soon…”
“Have you ever thought about becoming Sixth Executive Prior?”
There was a long and pregnant silence. Feiruse may have been dense at times, but the girl knew when she was being mocked, even if she didn’t know why.
I could almost see her opening mouth, working to form an answer.
The chair shifted on the floor as (Name) moved. “Come here. I want you to see something.”
Feiruse steps tapped forward hesitantly. I sympathized with her discomfort in being in such close proximity with the snake of a man. “This way,” (Name) directed, and I winced at the soft footfall making its way toward my cell.
When Feiruse came around the corner, dressed in the slate blue of the Priory’s elder students, face washed and hair neatly pinned, I must admit I felt a momentary pang that had nothing to do with my current situation. I was transported to some years ago, when I still believed in the purpose of my life at the Priory, tutoring Feiruse with a mixture of pride and dismay. A lifetime ago, a world away.
To her credit, Feiruse’s only reaction was the slight widening of her eyes and a sudden tightness across the brow. She even had enough presence of mind to say something not completely moronic. “I—what’s her Honor the Sixth Prior doing here, (Name)?” Her obligatory curtsy to me came a few seconds too late.
“Perhaps,” his voice, so calm and courteous, made me shudder like an unwanted caress, “you can tell me.”
It was Ileniel’s birthday, and despite the persnickity scholar’s wishes, both Namiss and Antian had insisted on trying to prepare a grand meal for him. Namiss because she was Namiss, and she did such things, and Antian because against all odds, he and Ileniel had become something like friends in the preceding month. When Lorin and Sifani walked in to the nook – little bigger than a closet – that served as the tower’s kitchen, Namiss and Antian were arguing over the presence of onions in the stew they were concocting.
Lorin solved the problem by picking up the entire onion in question and throwing it into the pot without preface. Namiss’ short black hair swung as she turned round, outraged, and Antian scratched his wispy beard in confusion, the dim lantern in the corner illumining the crest of his bald head like a stand lamp.
Sifani placed her hand on Namiss’ arm before the girl could release the string of curses she reserved just for Lorin, for special occasions. “Sorry. That’s his way of calling an important meeting.”
Namiss huffed under her breath. “Great. Now what have you two gone and done? We were actually having a bit of peace and quiet around here, if you choose to ignore Lorin’s flapping tongue every day, like I do.” However she complained, she hurriedly cleaned her hands and gestured for Antian – who was still staring disconsolately at the whole onion bobbing in the stew – to follow.
Both Jatan and Ileniel were reading books in their respective rooms when the others fetched and assembled them around the long table in the central chamber, the circular, all-purpose space that resembed a dungeon on its best days where the band had spent so much of its time. Once they were all seated, looking none too enthused about the idea of a meeting in the sleepiest part of the afternoon, Sifani stood and clapped her hands together by way of introduction.
“Looks like we have a decision to make, everyone.”
Jatan gazed at her thoughtfully, his chin resting on folded hands. Sifani paused, wondering if she had offended the band’s leader by calling a meeting he knew nothing about. However, he simply nodded his head as if to ease her mind. She held his tired eyes a moment longer – he looked tireder than usual, these days – and proceeded with her speech.
The biggest challenge was fumbling through an explanation of what had happened that very morning. It would certainly seem as if she had made a rash decision, but Sifani had thought about it long and hard. If the action was sudden, it was only sudden to those who weren’t her closest confidantes – which, it was true, meant everyone but Lorin…
Upon Sifani’s recounting her meeting with Donis, the response was about what she expected.
Ileniel, who appeared to be growing out his ponytail again, snorted derisively. “A young fool, that’s what you are! I feel as if ‘it’s a wonder you’re not dead!’ is all I ever say to you!”
“That’s because that is all you ever say to me, Len,” Sifani flashed him a smile fit to make a candymonger sick.
Namiss had her small hands to her face in disbelief. “Donis? By the gods, Sif! You should have at least told us what you were going to do!”
“Lorin had my back. I wasn’t worried.”
“Like you ever are!”
“In any case,” Sifani plowed ahead, “I’m sure you’re curious as to what he told me. This, my friends, is where our decision comes in.” She paused for effect, too late realizing she had picked up some of Lorin’s flair for the theatrical. “Brace yourselves.”
She told them of Donis’ true reason for rescuing her from Nume a month earlier – of his desire to leave flux and live as a regular mortal under the band’s protection.
Her friends’ reaction was immediate and vociferous.
“It’s official – she’s lost her mind. We should all back away from this mess while we still can!”
“Quiet!” Lorin stood up, his voice a thunderclap in the chamber. Silence fell as the echo died. His expression shifted from stern to grinning in an eyeblink. “Thank you, kind sirs and ladies. Before you throw this chance aside, how about we listen to the rest of Sifani’s story? You might find that the research opportunity that goes along with Donis’ flight is too good to pass up.”
Sifani nodded her agreement as eyes turned back onto her. “That’s right. Research opportunity.” Unsurprising, that this would be her trump card. “I haven’t yet told you the reason Donis wants to leave – it’s not because of his fellow Deities at all. He claims there is something new in flux, a presence that presents too much of a risk for him to stay. He hasn’t investigated the origin or nature of the presence, but claims he knows it is dangerous. It could be something that our great and not-so-wise Creators created…or it could be something else.” She inhaled deeply as the nervousness tickled her consciousness again. “Anyhow, we’ll never find out for sure unless we investigate ourselves.”
Antian’s eye practially twitched at that. Sifani watched as he scanned each face around the table, stopping at Jatan’s. Then, he wholly surprised her.
“That…doesn’t sound like enough information to build any kind of decent investigation on.”
Lorin raised his eyebrows at the man. “I must’ve misheard you, Antian. You’re turning down an opportunity to learn something new?” He looked to the sky, interrogating the heavens. “What are we coming to?”
Ileniel, of course, spoke harsh truth without hesitation. “Maybe you two reprobates hadn’t noticed, but the last time we stepped in over our heads, people almost died.” He eyes shifted to Namiss involuntarily. “Not all of us feel the same way you do about life-threatening situations. That is, we don’t get our highs from them!”
The implication made the blood flame in Sifani’s cheeks. She swallowed her initial outburst, but let it burn down to a steady fire in her chest before approaching Ileniel slowly.
“How dare you,” she growled. “How dare you imply that I put friends in danger just to get my share of excitement out of life! By your friendship with my father, you should be ashamed of your own disloyal thoughts! I would never, as long I draw breath, level such an accusation at you, Ileniel, though some might say you warrant worse!” Trying to keep her voice level, Sifani turned away, quivering treacherously. She had learned the price of letting her anger get out of control. “We are the only ones – the only ones – who are gathering the information that our ancestors left behind about the power of the Reehlers. The world they lived in might as well have been an entirely different one from ours. Reehlers walked from day to day beside non-Reehlers, and weren’t feared or deified. They knew things about the world, wonderful things, I’ll wager, that we will never again know if we curtail our research just because of opposition. I don’t know about you, but this is my life’s work. I will always hold that life spent recovering this knowledge is a worthy one! And I refuse to come to the end of my days and wish that I had done more!”
Lorin began a slow clap. Sifani wanted to punch him.
Jatan cleared his throat. “I think you all may be missing the most salient point. What was one of the first principles we established when we began our research?” He jabbed a finger into the air for emphasis. “Anything we do in the epheria has an effect on the real world, whether we can see it or not. We started our research with humility, knowing it would be folly to assume we knew every nuance of the power we were dealing with. If the epheria affects the world any time it’s manipulated, I imagine that flux does even more so. If whatever it is that Donis is afraid of exists, then chances are it’s only a matter of time before it becomes our concern, too.”
Sifani nodded. That, too. she thought, a bit chagrined. That point was an easy one to forget, she had to admit, in the midst of her own noble, self-declared goals of recovering her ancestors’ knowledge…and sating her own curiosity.
Namiss had listened attentively to Jatan – he was the only person she ever really listened to. “So you think we should take advantage of this early opportunity,” she repeated, “Find out what we’re up against before it begins to cause problems for us, and all that.”
Jatan nodded. “And it will be dangerous.” He kept his eyes from Ileniel so intentionally that it was obvious the man was the addressee. “That is, and always has been, the nature of our work.”
Ileniel grunted something under his breath.
Antian had removed a notebook from his coat and his already-moving pen scritched in the proceeding silence. “Well, then, the first order of business is to get more information from Donis.” The last word was spoken uncomfortably – the straight-laced man had never grown comfortable with the Deities’ un-deification. “Do you think you could summon him again, Sifani?”
“Summon” wasn’t really the word – Donis had attempted to make that, if nothing else, abundantly clear – but she overlooked the mistake. “I know I can. If he wants to make a deal with all of us, he’ll have to deal directly with all of us.”
“Wonderful! That’s all settled then.” Lorin drummed his hands on the table in the carefree manner that was all his. “Tomorrow, we meet with the king of the gods, make a decision about whether or not to act as his protectors, then hunt down a threat we know pretty much nothing about in the deadly netherworld of flux. My kind of a day!”
Sifani moved down the hallway that evening, eyes on the floor, when a familiar voice startled her from her reverie.
“Watch yourself, lady.”
She looked up, stopping herself just in time from barreling straight into Lorin. She made a noise of mock scoffing. “For such a big lummox, you move surprisingly quietly.” She made to move past him, but he stepped in the same direction she did, blocking her path.
“Lorin,” she quirked her lips at him, “what are you doing?”
His grin was all mischief. “Since we’ve been talking about the things that happened a month ago, I was just thinking…” He put his face enticingly close to hers, forcing her to look him in the eye. “That ‘conversation’ we had before you entered flux for the first time? I’m thinking it’s long past time we rehashed that ‘conversation,’ Sifani.”
“Lorin!” To her dismay, she felt her cheeks heat. After their passionate kiss that day, Sifani had kept the topic of them at arms length. There were just too many other things to deal with and think about – plus, the thrill of battle led people to do things that made a lot less sense in retrospect.
“We haven’t really gotten much privacy lately,” Lorin said, continuing to block Sifani’s attempts at moving as if it were accidental. Noticing her resistance, though, he abruptly straightened both body and face. “Are you okay?”
“I…just thinking. You know me.”
As quickly as he had initiated his flirtation, he grew serious and moved from in front of her to beside her, matching her step as she resumed walking. “Okay, tell me what’s going on.”
His thoughtfulness warmed her, and on a whim she took his arm, like she might a close friend. Well, maybe a bit tighter than that. “I’m trying to work out what might be the origin of an object in flux, based on what I know about the epheria, Deities, and transposition.”
“Tsk. Same petty topics as usual. You disappoint me, Sifani.” He flinched, blocking Sifani’s feigned punch. “So what have you concluded so far?”
“Concluded? Nothing at all, though I’ve guessed at a great deal. When I was in flux with Donis, he was able to create objects there, like a bench, for example. Except, the bench wasn’t permanent – it was just a reflection, a figment of our imagination, just like our bodies while we were in that state.”
“Therefore, I don’t think that anything the Deities could’ve created would pose a serious threat. If, for example, they created something like the dog-creatures in flux rather than in the epheria, they creatures couldn’t last, because they would only be imagined things. They would need the solid ground of either the real world or the epheria to survive in.”
“You don’t think this ‘thing’ that Donis spoke of was created, then.”
Lorin always had been good at following her reasoning. Sifani shook her head appreciatively. “Exactly. I think it was already in flux. Though that state is nothing like our world, it’s still composed of something. And within that something might be life that we can’t conceive of in our limited paradigms.”
Lorin considered that, at the same time grasping for an explanation that was a little less abstract. “Well, couldn’t it be something or someone besides the Deities that managed to enter flux, or something that the Deities created outside of flux that found a way to get inside?”
“It could be another human, I suppose, though it seems unlikely Donis would be so scared and reticent about just another mortal. As for a some-thing rather than a some-one getting in, keep in mind that the only way humans can get into flux is by re-making themselves, and there is no other conscious being that has a complex enough mind to do that. So if it were a beast of some sort, it would have to be a mighty intelligent one. Possible, I suppose. Possible and terrifying.”
Lorin laughed at that, drawing a glare from Sifani. “Don’t pretend you’re afraid, Sifani. It doesn’t suit you.”
Her pleasure at the compliment turned into snark, as it often did. “I’m never afraid for myself, Lorin. I’m always concerned, on the other hand, that your own flimsy and easily-botched plans will get us into deeper trouble than we’re already in.” As if he didn’t go along with what she wanted most of the time, extricating her from danger as often as not. Not that she would ever admit that.
He shrugged ingenuously, and Sifani slipped her hand from off his arm as he did. “Well, I’m off to learn a new board-and-pieces game from Jatan – something he picked up during his time off from the band. Also, Namiss may or may not have promised me a new pipe to smoke, since she bartered my last one.” He rolled his eyes playfully and moved to leave, then glanced over his shoulder, expression softening ever so slightly. “Care to join us?”
“I’d never give up the chance to irritate Ileniel with you, partner,” she winked, and followed him out of the corridor.
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.”
As soon as that new scene came into being on the canvass of reality, thought and memory and consciousness funneled back into place at alarming speed. Sifani caught her breath – at least, she would have, if she had had anything but an imagined body in that otherworldly place – and gazed about the familiar smooth, white-floored hallway. On either side of her soared what appeared to be glass walls. They were even taller than she remembered, flying upward into the sky beyond sight, and made her feel like she had stepped into a dream she hadn’t been sure had really happened until she found herself dreaming it again.
She glanced to her left, and saw a bird’s-eye view of her room, Lorin sitting on a chair in the corner and watching over her motionless body. The sudden reconnection to reality made her stomach lurch, and she quickly turned her head to the right, where she was met instead with a mirror image of what she had just seen, except all awash with blue. The epheria.
It would’ve been easy to stand and stare, and the wild blood in her – the same blood that had always drawn her to the epheria despite all reason and risk of danger – longed to test her power here, to see how she could affect reality as she looked down on the world like a goddess. And yet, if she was going to try to find a Deity, it would be well to get started. It wasn’t as if she had ever done this before.
To be honest, her only clue as to how to go about this was tenuous, derived from that disastrous encounter with Nume a month before. At that time, she had been able to track her mother because she had sensed her presence. Though at the time her frantic mind had registered the sense completely abstract, Sifani’s memory now attested that it had been more substantial – an actual smell, a true feeling of movement and disturbance.
Sifani figured if that if Nume had left behind that kind of trail, she must be leaving a trail of her own, as well.
Her first attempts to detect her own trail were fruitless, as she expected, much like trying to describe the scent of one’s own room, where the smells are so familiar one can no longer detect them. But she certainly wasn’t going to go through the trouble of entering flux without exhausting her resources.
That, of course, involved a good amount of pacing and thinking. Time seemed nonexistent, or at the very least, warped and less urgent here than in the real world, so Sifani did not know how long she spent in this state, though she occasionally reminded herself that Lorin was watching and waiting for her. If she stayed too long, she wouldn’t put it past him to come charging in here after her, provided he survived the transition. Not that Lorin worried about that sort of thing.
She finally paused in her pacing and sighed, imaginary shoulders heaving with the motion. “The last the Deities could do is provide some seating in this world of theirs,” she commented.
A chair appeared.
Sifani blinked. There had been no preamble to the object’s appearance, and no smoke or blinking lights to highlight the magical nature of it. It had simply not been, and then it simply was.
It occurred to her so abruptly that she had to laugh. If she could imagine a body for herself in this place, one that could interact with things around it, then why couldn’t she imagine the things to interact with, as well? Grinning, Sifani spoke aloud that it might be nice to put her feet up, and a matching footstool appeared in front of the chair. She hastened to it and sat down, feeling giddy at the discovery, and a bit foolish for it.
She propped her feet on the stool. Yet another mystery of flux. As much as that state of being depended on what was going on in a person’s mind, flux had to be composed of something. Of this, Sifani was certain. If she wasn’t using that something to create imaginary chairs, she was certainly disturbing it with her actions.
And then she began to wonder, as she had in the days between her visits here, if she might be able to train her mind to “see” differently within flux, just as she did when entering the daydream state used to transition into either flux or the epheria.
Drawing an anticipatory breath, Sifani let her mind go free – it did not drift, but settled back into an inward-looking state that yet maintained its view out into the landscape around her. Truly, she expected to see nothing, and that was the first thing she saw. All was the same, with nothing new to detect. And yet, she could not help but keep trying, on a hunch. Both she and Lorin had learned to trust their hunches, particularly when they related to the epheria.
She honed her mental “vision” tighter, and something came into view.
It was a trailing line – sort of a smudge or cloud, really – of blue, the kind of glowing, ephemeral blue that characterized vision within the epheria. It hovered thickly around Sifani’s body, but just barely washed the spot where she had created her imaginary chair and footrest, almost fading altogether. Intrigued, Sifani turned toward the spot where the chair had been, and then saw the blue flair up anew around her, echoing her motion.
Sifani experimentally swiped her hand before her. Bright blue trailed after her hand like a flame, marking her presence and motion. Though her body was only imaginary, the pieces of herself that floated about in flux were apparently real enough to leave these marks.
The satisfaction of discovery made Sifani’s head buzz. Wait until the band hears about this. Continuing to watch the blue glow swish after her moving limbs with childlike pleasure, she mused about the encounter with her mother. If she had tracked Nume by both sense of movement and scent, why couldn’t she see any scent trail here?
After a moment, she tried to adjust her vision, but to no avail. The amount of unknowns here in flux…maddening. She could spend the rest of her life standing in this same spot and not learn all there was to know about it.
The novelty of her discovery wore off enough for Sifani to remember what she was doing there in the first place, but she was the better for it. Now, finding her Deity would be nearly as easy as tracing a line.
Sifani wandered about for awhile, admiring the strange and stark world around her as much as looking for a sign of another presence nearby. “Wandering” wasn’t even the word, she knew, for space was as odd and bent as time, here. Though she maintained constant motion as she moved forward, it was difficult to say how far she had gone. Sometimes, it seemed as if she hadn’t moved at all.
Yet, eventually, Sifani saw a hue of ultramarine in the distance, and having a definite mark to move toward, she used the “blowing” motion that was particular to flux to approach.
The trail was fresh! Pulse rising, Sifani followed the smudged blue line even as it began to dissipate before her eyes, her muscles tensing for the possible confrontation that a meeting with a Deity might easily bring about. She prayed – to whom, she had no idea – that Nume didn’t show her face around here these days…
And then, she started. Without warning, a figure came into view from around an unseen bend – a man, short, yet compact and powerful, the thin wisps of grey hair on his head and above his lip blowing slightly with some undetectable breeze. His tasseled robe, green trimmed with gold, brought to mind those grave, ghostly figures that had stood by to witness the last battle between Sifani and her mother, and she trembled inside at the realization that she had found her Deity at last.
This is the first installment of the second book of the “Bloodlines” trilogy, by yours truly. I will post the entire draft of the book here in serialized form before I collate and publish it for Amazon Kindle. The Shaking of Epheria is a working title.
He fled. He could not even remember the last time he had fled.
He also couldn’t remember the last time he had felt less like a Deity than he did at this moment. Whatever it was that he had just seen, though, he wanted nothing to do with it. A man like him didn’t get far without being able to anticipate danger early on, and this was danger, indeed.
Glancing behind him, and saw the fading glow of the trail his fellow Deity left behind when she ran. He had only caught a glimpse of her, a glint of gold hair against high, proud shoulders, yet that was all he needed. She was certainly involved with this, somehow.
That thing. It felt like it had reached out for him as surely as if he had seen the grasping fingers. In that moment, flux expanded into a world much too large for them to be lording over like self-entitled children playing explorers.
His dignity rebelled at that. Stupid. Of course, a Deity would naturally hate such a feeling, but his hatred was less pressing than the warning buzzing in the front of his mind.
If there were ever a good time to get out of the world of the Reehlers, it was now.
“Lorin, can I talk to you? It’s about something serious.”
“Anything, you know that.”
Sifani crossed her arms skeptically as they walked beneath the cool shadow of their tower. “Let me qualify – can I talk to you and you just listen? No advice, no easy solutions, just you listening to me.”
“Well, now that’s a little bit harder to promise. You do wax long and boring sometimes…”
Sifani punched him in arm. In addition to the so-very-Lorin-like comment, she had caught his eyes straying again as she tried to keep hold of his gaze. True, it wasn’t very often he saw her in a dress – she wasn’t usually inside as much as she had been of late – but this was serious business!
He twisted his lips boyishly. “Ow.”
“Eyes up.” She smothered a smile, and beckoned him follow her to the nearby bench where they sometimes stole a few moments alone. Positioned just behind the tower on a square of struggling grass under a wizened tree, it was the closest thing to a garden view the band would ever have.
They sat down. Lorin smiled quickly at her. “So? Talk to me.”
Sifani drew in a deep breath. “Does the silence ever bother you?”
“No,” he answered, a touch too confidently. He pulled a knife from his boot and began trimming his nails.
She narrowed her eyes at him. Lying had never been high on his list of skills.
Keeping silent, he started on a thumbnail, whistling quietly between his teeth.
“Well,” she continued, “it bothers me. After all that happened with my mother, this calm is unnatural. It’s like…like prison, almost,” she struggled to articulate. “If I keep my head down, chances are, I’ll stay alive and untouched to a ripe old age. But if I don’t take action, if I don’t make some noise eventually, well, there’s no chance of escape, or of living free for the rest of my life.” A pause. “I think that living free is worth the risk.”
The knife in his hand stopped moving. He looked up, met her eyes with a look that strengthened her resolve. “You know I agree with that.”
They sat quietly for a minute, considering.
“It was only a month ago, Sifani,” Lorin finally proffered, examining his left hand. “Not long. The silence can’t last long, anyway, not after, you know, you went on a little crusade to take down one of the Deities and all.”
Sifani snorted. “Maybe. Ah, Lorin. I just wish I knew why the other Deities kicked me out of the epheria like they did. I have a feeling it’s not because they took a fancy to me.”
Lorin pushed a black curl off his forehead irritably. Sifani watched his pointedly blank expression. He was holding his tongue.
“I see that look! You think I should break the silence myself, and just go to flux and ask them!”
The young sunlight flashed off his teeth as he grinned. “I’m sorry, Sifani. Much as I’d love to, I can’t confirm that. You told me not to give you any advice.”
One month ago – the first and last time Sifani had used the powers particular to her Reehler bloodline – seemed part of a different lifetime. Then, she had been mired in the chaos of finding out things about her past she should’ve always known, and entering the epheria had been something of a comfort to her.
That comfort ended when she opted to follow her mother into flux. There was nothing safe or agreeable about the process of ripping apart the pieces of her own being to become an un-being. All Sifani knew is that while she didn’t want to do it again, she also did.
In the secure familiarity of her own room, she sat on the edge of her bed and calmed her buzzing nerves. It helped to have Lorin standing nearby, watching over her, though his presence was more of a token than a necessity. She took long, slow breaths to the shuffling rhythm of his footsteps, until her mind could sink back into the daydream state that was the threshold to both flux and the epheria. That, at least, was as easy and thoughtless as walking.
Forcing herself to focus on the pieces of her own being, on the other hand, was like trying to walk a straight line on the deck of a ship heaving on the high seas. It was less terrifying and yet no less terrific than that first time she had done it, now knowing what to expect. She felt as if she floated an infinitesimal distance from her mind and self. She was unreal, a mere echo off the wall of reality.
Despite her previous experience here, that sense of unreality threw her. How could a person grow used to it? For a moment, thought and intention were nearly lost, so faint that not even the emotion of panic could touch Sifani. In weak muscle-memory of her actions a month ago, Sifani willed herself to reach past the nothingness and grabbed hold of the pieces of herself before it was too late.
She clutched to the metaphor that had kept her together before: she was paint and paintbrush, paintbrush and artist, and she dipped brush into paint and mixed the colors into something strange, beautiful, and altogether beyond her.