In case you’re wondering if you’re in the right place: Yes, this is still my blog. It just has a new layout! What do you think? Snazzy? Ghastly? Shocking? Glorious? Another adjective starting with S or G? Let me know in the comments!
To go along with the new layout, I’m also introducing new chapter cards. I hope you like them!
Find links to previous chapters (except like the past 15, because I’m terrible about updating my Table of Contents) here.
Guards usher us into the shaded depths of the palace, where the sultan and royals huddle far from windows. Perfumed rags cover their noses and green pallor tinges their faces. Even here, the stench of the dead river fouls the air.
One of the royals–the one with the pouffy pants–says, “We relent. It was wrong for us to pollute the rivers with the corpses of your infants, and the divinities are correcting us. You no longer have to cast them into the river. Only please ask your Aia to cleanse our streams.”
This feels more like a victory than their last concession. I try to rein in my smile while I look up at the sky. “Father, Aia, please let the rivers run clean.”
Just as before, the sultan orders a servant to go check the water fountain. While we wait, the royals whisper together, casting glances at Savi and me. We shift on our feet and hold our heads high.
The slave bows low when he returns and reports, “The death has gone from the water.”
The Izyphorns look at each other. Some raise their eyebrows, some frown, all look disturbed. The sultan gives a curt nod. “Someone summon the magicians. They shall duplicate this feat.” He takes off toward the palace’s entrance. We follow after the royals.
Outside, the Feasters congregate in the courtyard, as close to the palace as the guards will allow. They call out questions when their rulers appear. “What is happening?” “Why has Havil struck us?” “Is Api displeased with our Feast?”
The sultan and royals stop a safe distance from the mass. As the sultan stretches out his hands, palms up, the crowd quiets. “My people, be assured the divinities are not displeased with us. We are witnessing the evil witchcraft of these two Maraian slaves, who speak ill of our divinities and claim sponsorship from an imaginary god. Do not let yourselves be frightened.”
The magicians stagger out, bearing the sloshing bath again. While they clunk it down and prepare, the sultan points at them. “See? Our magicians will prove that these two insurgents are nothing more than heretic slaves.”
At that introduction, the magicians bow. “O our sultan and O our royals, we will again surpass the sign that the false divinity gave. It is easy to change flowing water, where one may affect the water’s source and consequently affect all that flows from it. We shall change standing water.”
As before, the magicians begin circling the water and chanting in the tongue of the aivenkaites. A hot breeze shoots by and plunges into the water. The liquid contorts, but does not change color. Still, the magicians chant on.
I find myself praying against them, silently begging Aia to thwart the aivenkaite in the water and prove the magicians to be charlatans. It’s that thought which turns my eyes from the water to the magicians themselves. One of their eyes darts around the courtyard. Then his fingers curl into his long sleeve and powder floats down to dust the surface of the water.
Immediately, clear transforms into turbid taupe, and sulfuric fumes swirl up from its surface. Everyone cheers.
My mouth is open to protest when Savi’s fingers curl around my wrist. I jerk my head to look at him. He looks at me out of the corner of his eyes, shakes his head just a little, and whispers, “Don’t. They won’t believe you, and it won’t change their minds about Aia.”
I lean closer and hiss, “But it’s wrong! The magician is tricking them!”
“And Aia can take care of that,” Savi insists. “Discrediting the magician the way you want to will only land us in more trouble.”
He’s right, but I’m not happy about it. I bite my tongue and glower. As soon as the magicians drag the bath away, I step boldly into their place. “Your sultan tells you not to be afraid,” I say. “He tells you that Aia is imaginary. He is mistaken. What have your divinities done for you? It is Aia who formed Orrock, Aia who created life, Aia who guides the stars, Aia who sends rain, Aia who makes plants grow, Aia who sustains you in every way–and it is Aia who can cause you suffering beyond your imagination, Aia who can cut your life short with impunity.
“You should be very afraid.”
I’m growing very aware of my voice now, so I feel the change instantly. It thrills and frightens me in equal measures. “You oppressed my people, forcing them to sleep among rodents and insects. So that you may know that I am greater than Tivan Firebringer, Api of the Harvest, and Zyphor Groundshaper, your beds will crawl with the same.”
As before, my voice returns to normal as soon as I finish pronouncing the sign. I look back at the rulers of Izpyhor. “We will be down the mesa when you need us,” I say.
Savi falls in beside me as I stride into the crowd. They flinch away from us.
Shrieks burst from the houses before we even reach the residential quarter. A woman runs out into the street, stamping her feet and shaking her whole body. “Beetles!” she screams. “Mice and maggots!”
“Ew, ew, it’s a worm—a worm!” shouts a child.
“Scorpions!” The newest call echoes up and down the street, accompanied by wails. “Tivan Firebringer is angry again!”
I shudder. Savi murmurs to me, “They made these beds themselves.”
I still don’t know what to think, whether to call for justice or mercy. But I don’t feel sorry for the Izyphorns.
Drigo greets us back at camp. His arms are crossed, and a wry look twists his lips. “Well, Champions, it looks like you’re legitimate. I think it’s time for me to know a little more about this Aia, don’t you?”
A slow smile spreads over my face. “I thought you’d never ask,” I say. “Let’s get comfortable.”
Savi waves over everyone else as Drigo and I sit against the mesa’s side. “We should all hear this,” he says.
I didn’t realize how much I miss telling the histories until now. The words roll from my tongue in an easy flow. “In the beginning, there was One, and that was all. Time did not exist. Nothing existed but the One who always existed, still exists, and always will exist. This One was before all time and is separate from time. This One has no cause, for the One Is. The One is the cause of all things.
“The One decided to create…”
As I tell the story, the others ask questions, especially Drigo and Liwin. We talk until the sun has sunk below the distant hills, till Hoenna passes around our replenished stock of food and the indree are once more visible in the expanse of the sky. Then Nihae says, “I knew a girl who used to tell these same stories. Ah, poor Rai. May she walk again.”
That puts a quick end to the cheerfulness I felt sharing the histories. I blink and spin away, struggling to maintain my composure. She seemed like she was alert while we were talking about the stories just now. How can she not remember that I’m here?
“Mama,” Savi says, voice shaking, “don’t you remember⎼”
Hoenna interrupts in a low voice. “Play along. For her sake.”
Savi fumbles for words, and ends up with, “Yes. May she walk again. Would you…would you like to lie down for the night?”
“If you would like. Thank you, my Savi,” Nihae agrees. He leads her away to a sheltered hollow. “You take such good care of me.”
Their footsteps fade, and I risk a glance back. I find Nhardah staring unblinkingly at me, a frown etching ancient lines into his face.
“It’s fine,” I hasten to assure him. “I’m fine. Nihae just⎼” My voice catches. I swallow around a lump.
“Child,” is all he says. That one word sets my chin trembling.
Drigo, Forziel, Liwin, and Hoenna slip away, leaving me with Nhardah. The night wraps around us, silent and thick. When Nihae’s settled and Savi shuffles back to us, Nhardah looks between us and away from the capital. We follow him silently out into the open desert.
I apologize for this chapter being unusually short. I hope you enjoyed it despite that! Have a wonderful week 🙂