I debated for a while whether or not to post the first chapter of Arrow of Entropy on here. It's only a loose sequel to the other two books in the Emergence Trilogy, but it can still start off as a spoiler considering the narrator's familial relationships with the other characters. Zella's story begins with her as a child, but she is an adult for the majority of the book.
You can find Arrow of Entropy in both e-book and paperback on Amazon.
When I was a little girl, I often crept out of my bed late at night to walk along the shore of Ara. I never ventured to the beach during the day because I hated being surrounded by an endless mass of swimmers and sunbathers, but at night it was perfection. The stars and moon reflected off the water and the cool, white sand embraced my toes as I meandered along the shore. I breathed in the rhapsody of the ocean, the salty mist and churning foam thrown by endless and chaotic waves. No one knew about my midnight walks, not even my twin. We looked the same when we were young, but we never fully trusted each other with our secrets, even before the Aulors came into our lives.
I share kinships with water through my Mero grandmother and with fire because my father is the Thulan, the only Thulan in all of time and in all the universe to survive his own transcendence. However, above fire and water, I am tied to light. I can manipulate it, control it, make sunlight my own and force it to surrender to darkness. I used to prefer darkness to light because it kept my own flaws from becoming illuminated, but not anymore. Not since Oblivion awoke. Now I choose to remain bright.
I suppose I ought to start over from the beginning.
∞ ∞ ∞
I was peeling shrimp the first time the universe trembled. We only had shrimp when Dad wasn't home. He was raised Efi, and the western forest guardian Efi were obligate vegetarians so we never ate meat around him out of respect. He was touring the east coast of Melor with his band, Lyrebird, when the tremor hit, so we were eating shrimp without him.
I helped Mom in the kitchen while Sora and Azri, my twin and my aunt respectively, played a board game in the adjoining room. Azri was twenty-two, just a few months younger than Sora and me, but she was Efi-Mero so she aged slower than we did. Sora and I had a human mother, so we were more like the equivalent of human eleven year olds to Azri's seven. We had no idea what our aging process or ultimate lifespan would be since all half-bloods aged a little differently, and that uncertainty was sometimes daunting.
My little brother Ellis was busy scrawling nonsense physics on the dining room walls. He was twenty and about the physical maturity of a human ten year old, but his mind lived in another realm entirely. He alternated between coherent and brilliantly delirious, sometimes in the span of a single sentence.
I heard a shrill giggle and looked away from the kitchen counter. Azri twirled her wheaten curls and grinned. She chirped, “I win!”
“You cheated!” Sora protested.
“You did. I saw you drop the dice instead of rolling them.”
I returned my attention to the shrimp. Beady eyes glared at me from the severed heads in the discard bowl as I stripped the bodies of their veins and exoskeletons.
“Why don't you let me finish this and go join them for the next round?” Mom asked. Safora Nightwolf-Thula was forty-seven years old and her chestnut hair was painted with silver. The crinkles at the corners of her eyes and mouth were just beginning to give her age away, but she could still pass for ten years younger. She attributed that to being married to my father. At ninety-one, Tesji Thula was still a young man, maybe in his early twenties by human standards. Age was the curse of falling in love with someone of another race. My Efi-Mero father would outlive my mother by centuries, and he was likely to outlive his half-human children, as well.
“You know I don't talk to people,” I said. Shrimp juice squirted on my neck and I paused to wipe it away.
“Azri isn't people. She's your family,” Mom protested. “You don't even have to talk to them. Just go sit by them and play the game.”
“Zella, you can't hide from the world forever.”
“I'm going to try,” I said. I would have liked to play the game, but every time I thought about interacting with someone outside my immediate family, my heart raced and sweat coated my skin in a disgusting sheen. I'd been shy my entire life and it didn't seem to be just a phase I'd outgrow. The subject was a continuous battle between my mom and me and I didn't want to discuss it. “Do you want me to juice the lemons?”
“Why will you talk to your grandmother but not to Azri?” Mom asked.
“I don't know. I don't want to talk about it today,” I said.
“When, Zella? I don't want you to end up alone and regretful because you wouldn't let anyone help you.”
“I'll talk when I'm ready to talk,” I said. I picked up another handful of shrimp and dropped them on the cutting board. “I'm not gonna be lonely because I like being alone. People are awful and not worth bothering with.”
“I wish you wouldn't lie to yourself like this,” Mom said. She dumped a bowl of shrimp shells in a pot of boiling water to prepare them for composting. My cousin Faron was a botany Emergent and insisted we compost everything we could, even when the cleaning process was inconvenient.
An earthquake rattled the cabinets open and spilled their contents onto the tile floor. Porcelain and glass danced about our bare feet. I'd felt minor earthquakes before, since Vanora wasn't far from an offshore fault, but this was different. This felt like it was coming from everywhere at once instead of from beneath. The air itself trembled. The temblor lasted four, maybe five seconds before stopping.
“Mom!” Ellis screamed as he ran into the kitchen. He waltzed around the broken tableware until he reached our mother. He pushed his chestnut hair away from his midnight blue eyes and said, “Mom! That wasn't the ground. The whole universe just did that.”
“Honey, that was an earthquake. We've had them before,” Mom said. She hugged Ellis and ruffled his hair. Out of her three living children, Ellis resembled her the most. Sora and I took after Dad. “Zella, slip on your shoes and grab the broom. Carefully. I've already got glass in my feet and I don't want you to get hurt.”
“I don't have glass. I have time in a jar,” Ellis said. He held up his left hand and silently counted down his fingers. “The earthquake wasn't an earthquake. It was Oblivion yawning, but you couldn't feel that because you're not like me. The air moved for me.”
“Oh, Ellis,” Mom said with a sigh.
“I felt the air move, too,” I whispered. I didn't want Azri to hear me and think that I was just as crazy as Ellis.
“That's 'cause you're a mage,” Ellis said cheerfully. “It's an Emergent thing.”
“We're not Emergents,” I said. I tiptoed to the pantry and pulled out the broom and dustpan.
“Not yet. We will be. We're like Dad except we don't have to die and come back because we're Thulas and not the Thulan.”
“Okay, Ellis. Enough,” Mom said. “Zel, see if you can sweep up the glass pieces separately from the ceramic. Glass goes in the bin for Arden and ceramic goes in the one for Infrastructure.”
Vanora's recycling policies were extensive as a result of the measures Magistrate Arden Masiona enacted in the years following Seris's siege of the city and the subsequent Battle of Kirad Pass. Anything that could be reused was recycled. Glass was remelted and turned into everything from windows to drinking vessels. The broken plates would become aggregate for concrete. The older generations found Arden's conservation laws tiresome, but for the younger generations they were just a normal part of daily life.
“Do you think Arden will let me be a glassmaking apprentice when I'm older?” Ellis asked. Arden Masiona and his sons Faron and Muza were close friends of my family. The sons were also my father's cousins through their mothers. Like everyone else, the Masionas terrified me and I hid in my room with a book in my face when any of them came to visit.
“I'm sure he will,” Mom murmured. I crouched to pick the shards away from her feet. “Ouch! Careful! Are Sora and Azri okay in there?”
I tilted my head toward the dining room. “They're fine. Oblivious as usual.” I returned my attention to the floor. “Mom, you have a big piece of glass in the side of your foot. Should I take it out?”
“Oh? I didn't feel it. Right foot?” she asked.
“Yeah. Kind of halfway between the arch and little toe.”
“Figures,” Mom said. She leaned over to examine her foot. “I broke that ankle when I was pregnant with Ellis and it hasn't been right since. Nerve damage all down the outer edge of my foot. Can you toss the shrimp on the skillet for a couple minutes? When they start to brown you can add the lemon sauce and pull it off the heat. I'm going to call Muza and see if he can come over and heal this up. I don't want to take out the glass myself and have it bleed all over the place.”
I cooked the shrimp while Mom sat at the table with the charaven in her hand. The communication device had only come into use the year before I was born and hadn't yet spread beyond the city-state of Vanora. It was a small glass disk that allowed users to telepathically communicate with each other. My parents used them all the time to talk while my father was touring with Lyrebird. I'd never used one. I didn't have anyone to talk to.
I transferred the sizzling shrimp to a bowl and set it on a trivet on the table. I brought over the rice and salad, then sat down next to my mother.
“He can't come over until after his shift. Hospital's busy tonight so I'm stuck with glass in my foot for at least another hour. He told me not to take it out before he gets here.” Mom sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. “You three have such beautiful abilities but sometimes I wish one of you had ended up a healer.”
“Muza doesn't mind,” Ellis said. He sat down and scooped an enormous portion of rice onto his plate. “He likes us.”
“You can't just eat rice,” Mom said. “Sora and Azri. Dinner. Sit down and eat.”
“I don't like shrimp,” Ellis said. He wrinkled his nose and gritted his teeth. “They look too much like the Velador that patrol the left side of the universe.”
Azri helped herself to a plateful of shrimp. She was half-Efi but was raised with Mero eating customs since her father, my grandfather Azfadel Thula, died in the Battle of Kirad Pass before she was born. Azri looked Efi so her Mero mannerisms often shocked people outside of our family. She grinned and said, “I'll eat your shrimps, Ellis.”
I nibbled at my dinner in silence while Sora prattled away about boys and music. Our faces were identical, but we were two completely different people on the inside. I envied the ease with which she communicated with others. I could barely bring myself to speak to my own family.
The air trembled again, gentler this time and for a shorter duration.
“Damnable aftershocks,” Mom muttered.
“Swear jar!” Sora yelped.
Mom grumbled as she dug in her pocket for a loose coin. She tossed it into a half-full glass jar sitting on the buffet counter.
Ellis closed his eyes. With a serene smile on his face, he stretched his arms above his head. “We're safe for now. Oblivion went back to sleep.”
“Weirdo,” Sora said. She raked her fingers through her chin-length red hair. “Hey, can you take me for a haircut this weekend? I don't want it to get any longer or I'll start to look like her.” She motioned toward me and frowned.
I stared at my salad. I couldn't say anything to my sister, not while Azri was there. I might say something stupid and they'd make fun of me about it forever. My heart accelerated to a gallop. I hoped the temblors were over, but more than that, I hoped I'd one day find my voice.
∞ ∞ ∞
“You know what my brother-in-law is like, Saf. Abrupt and crass. I still don't know what Faron sees in him.” Muza's voice carried down the hall. I huddled on the stairs and watched as he examined my mother's foot. They sat at the dining room table. My siblings were asleep and Azri had gone home, but I was torturously alert. I couldn't sleep while someone was in my house.
“I like Vutan,” Mom said. She winced and sipped from her wine glass. “He still doesn't speak Common very well, so I have to give him some leeway on the abrupt crassness. I think he's funny.”
“He reminds me of Bralt. I can't figure out how, but he does.” Muza's back was to me. Even in lamplight his red hair glowed. Healer Emergents were always radiant enough to light a dark room, and Muza Masiona was no exception.
“That's why you don't like him,” Mom said. She shuddered, but then smiled and reached out a hand to stroke Muza's hair. “Faron has a type, and Vutan fits his pattern. They've been together for what, fifteen years now? Maybe longer, I can't remember. Vutan isn't going anywhere.”
Muza grunted and yanked the glass from my mother's foot. He set the shard on a towel on the table, then clamped his hands over Mom's bleeding injury. “I'm glad you didn't try to take it out yourself. It was in deep. Sorry I can't fix the nerves, but at least you don't have to feel as much of it as you would otherwise.”
“That should do it,” Muza said. He let go of my mother's foot. There was a thin white line where the glass had been embedded, and Muza's hands were covered in blood, but there was no other evidence of the injury. “I take it this happened when the air quaked?”
“I only felt the earthquake,” Mom said. “The kids said they felt the air itself move. Ellis told me it was a mage thing to feel that.”
“Listen to him. He's usually right about things even through the delirium. Smart kid. That was such a strange event tonight. Feels like either the start of something or the end. Maybe both.”
My mother held her hand toward me and beckoned. “Zella, come here. You've known Muza your entire life. Come talk to us.”
I shoved the light away and shrank into the shadows.
“I'm harmless, Zel. Really,” Muza said. He turned toward me and smiled. His hazel eyes sparkled. He was such a familiar fixture in my world, but I'd never been able to bring myself to speak to him. My fear was totally irrational and I recognized that. Muza was a genuinely kind person, but that didn't exempt him from my anxiety.
“Do you have to get back to the hospital?” Mom asked. She yawned and rubbed her temple.
Muza returned his attention to her. “This Dr. Masiona is off-duty for the next two days. The other one is on tonight.”
“Asaina or Kiva?” Mom asked. Two of Muza's paternal cousins were also healer Emergents, so the hospital employed three Dr. Masionas.
“Doesn't matter as long as it's not me.”
Mom held out her arm. I dragged the shadows with me as I hesitantly stepped toward her. She put her arm around my waist and I leaned against her side. She squeezed me and said, “You wouldn't know to look at him now, Zella, but Muza was nothing but a mess when he was a teenager. Twenty-three years ago, your father and I were confronting him in a Baku jail cell and now all he does is help people.”
“Why was he in jail?” I whispered. I stared at the side seams of my mother's pants. A flush rose into my face and left my neck hot and sweaty.
“Ah, so you do have a voice!” Muza said. “It's a nasty story that I'll tell you about when you're older. To paraphrase my father, the past doesn't matter when the present is begging for attention and the future is staring you in the face.”
“Zella, let's try this,” Mom said. She held a hand under my chin and gently nudged me to look at her. “Look at me and only at me. Let's see if you can talk to Muza while looking at me.”
“What are you learning about at school, Zel?” Muza asked gently.
My hands trembled and went cold. I stared into my mother's blue eyes. My throat was so tight that I could barely swallow. When I finally summoned a voice, my words were shaky and pinched. “Heat transfer, the Drey treaties.”
“Together or in separate classes? Those would be odd subjects to merge, wouldn't they?”
“Separate. Science and History.” Sweat trickled down my back and pooled at the waistband of my pajama pants.
“What's your favorite subject?” Muza asked.
“Oh, good. I love to read. It's about all I did when I was your age. Do you have a favorite book?”
Mom stroked my jaw. She tried to nudge me to turn my head, but my neck was rigid. “Good girl. Now let's try the next step. Turn toward him and pretend you're seeing my face instead of his.”
I slowly turned around. My stomach dropped. I couldn't do this. I didn't even know why, I just couldn't.
“No!” I gasped. I ran up the stairs. I drew a shadow over myself before sitting on the landing. I needed to catch my breath before I returned to my room, where I was likely to be harassed by Sora.
“It's amazing how different they are,” Muza said. I could still see him in profile. The freckles dotting his young face contrasted with the radiance of his pale skin. “Hey, Safora, I have a suggestion for later. Much later. When she comes of age, consider sending her to Rassa instead of Bethel for her Emergent training. Bethel is far more experienced, but he's also a lot more intimidating and if she doesn't get past her shyness by then he will stomp all over her. Rassa's method is gentler and Zella's going to need that. I think their personalities are a lot more compatible, too.”
I hugged my knees to my chest and rocked as the anxiety slowly ebbed. I'd met both Bethel and Rassa once when I was very young. Bethel was Muza's grandfather. His quiet confidence, continuously color-shifting complexion, and youthful appearance unnerved me. His life's work was coaxing the strongest of mages into becoming pure forms of their talents, a physical and psychological transformation called Emergence. Rassa was Bethel's slightly older brother, a quiet man I remembered more for his icy eyes than anything else. The brothers were Aulors, immortal Time Children who were born something like eight thousand years ago, back when Melor was called Malora and the many races had not yet split from human.
“Rassa's sweet, but he's not exactly sane,” Mom said.
“Neither of them are,” Muza replied. “I know you're not fond of Rassa and nearly all Emergents are trained by my grandfather, but I just don't think Bethel is a good fit for her. I certainly wasn't, which was why he sent me to Rassa. He didn't really know what he was doing since I was his first student, but he's had two more since me and he got them sorted out easily enough. I'd say you've got eighteen years or so before she hits adulthood, so there is plenty of time for her to outgrow this shyness. Still, talk to Tesji about it when he gets home.”
“He loves Rassa, but I don't think he'll be willing to send either of our daughters to him. Tesji is too loyal to Bethel,” Mom said.
“Eh, they're not competing so it's not as if anyone would be betrayed. Anyway, I need to go home and get some sleep. I've been awake for two days.” The chair scratched against the tile as Muza stood. “Just... just be patient with her. She's just as stubborn as I was and patience was the only thing that ended up working for me.”
“Good night, Muza.”
The front door clicked and I scurried back to the bedroom I shared with Sora while my mother turned off the lights. I couldn't let her catch me eavesdropping or I'd never be able to calm myself down.