Evergreen and Indigo
My first memory is of evergreen. Not the tree, but the color. It embraces me, caresses me, envelopes me in a furious glow. It is comfort. It is home, my home, our first home in Lusifal in the days before we knew who we really were. I still dream of it, but you are no longer part of those viriscent dreams, my dear sister. Our vines have been severed and now I can only dwell in the evergreen alone. There are so many things I choose not to remember, but so many more I am unable to forget.
Dia, I remember you telling me your own dreams were not green, but indigo, an overwhelming blue twilight illuminated by stars from within. It is your own realm, and I can't even imagine it. It is only one more thing that makes us different. I can not experience your twilight, and you can not feel my evergreen. These are always the realms we experience alone, though we often dream of each other within them. We reinvent our childhoods in deep colors, but are forced to face reality the moment we open our eyes. You always handled it better than I did. You were always stronger than me. I envied you, still envy you, for that. Maybe that is why my dreams are still evergreen.
We were born in the northeast of the world, or at least what I thought was the entire world when I was young. Life was simplistic, pastoral then. Roads were no more than flattened wagons trails, and forests rose as boughed sentinels everywhere there was both soil and rain. There was a certain pride to be found in working in the rich, dark soil, with only one's hands and simple tools. It wasn't until much later machines were invented to ravage the forests and the land in the name of convenience. I hated it when that finally happened, but I think Dia did more. She always loved the green places of the world, but thanks to Ganebra and the man I once loved, those places are nearly gone, vanquished under the false banner of progress.
Our parents did not know we were different, at least not at first. Rural people were aware of creatures like us, but they always thought innate magic was more the realm of the cities. Geophorian talents were easily recognized, but very rare in most parts of the world. They were often hereditary in nature, though spontaneous occurrences were known. We were not Geophorian, though. Dia and I were something entirely different.
Dia was born first and I followed thirty minutes later. Dia and Lani, they called us, simple names meaning “light” and “cloud.” I always knew she was the one who was wanted. I was just the extra, another hand to till the soil, but she was their only daughter and that made her infinitely precious to them. We were the youngest of eleven, but she was their daylight, their Dia, and I was another mouth to feed. I think they loved me, but she was their favorite of all of us. She was always my favorite, too.
We were six years younger than our next brother, Vali, so we were quite a surprise to our parents. Our second-oldest brother, Dega, told me when I was fourteen that when Mother found out she was pregnant again, she chased Father around the garden with a broom for half an hour before the morning sickness forced her to stop. I don't know if it was really true, but it wouldn't have surprised me if it was.
Our father Beral grew wheat. He cared for a great amber pasture just south of the forest. We were not supposed to go into the forest, or into the fields, or off anywhere by ourselves, but sometimes I did anyways. Dia never did. She was so obedient, so demure. When I went into the fields, I ventured alone. I liked to feel the sheaths and grains brushing against my face. The rushing of wind through wheat temporarily drowned out the ticking.
Some people have ringing in their ears, but my affliction is different. I've always felt ticking, tapping seconds pulsing at the edges of my mind and soul. I can hear it now, a measured tempo, a metronome, one tick per second, every second of my life. It has always been there, and I have always tried to drown it out. Wind and water dampen the internal clock of my soul, but I always feel it, even when I can't hear it over the din. I feel every second, every hour, every century. Dia never understood. Time was fluid for her, speeding up and slowing down and sometimes escapable entirely. Never the constant it was for me. She was the lucky one. My time was torture, and my memory does not allow me to forget so easily.
“Where are you going, Blue-Eyes?” my brother Masi asked as he grabbed my arm.
“I saw a deer,” I replied. I was six years old and thought I was old enough not to be told what to do. I saw a deer in the woods, I was certain of it, and I wanted to follow it.
“No you don't, Blue,” Masi said. He was seventh out of my brothers, and one of the few still living at home. The older brothers all had wives and farms and families of their own, so that just left five of us at home – Masi, Arda, Vali, Dia, and me.
“Lani,” Masi said sternly. “You know you can't go in the forest. The Kiraksgard will eat you or the Tenjeri will trade you to slavers, or worse, both!”
“We aren't scared of your stories,” Dia said from behind me. Masi startled, but I didn't. I could always feel her coming. I always knew exactly where she hid. We were never lost from each other.
“Not scared,” I echoed. Dia stood to my side and laid her head against my shoulder.
“I don't care. Mother will kill you if she finds out you were in the forest. Come on, you two. I'm supposed to take you into town to meet them for a fitting with the cobbler. Not for you, Blue. You have Vali's old shoes. We don't have any girl shoes for Dia, though.” Dia always got new things. I got my brothers' raddled leftovers. Masi held Dia's hand and Dia grabbed mine. We moved away from the evergreens. Reluctantly, for me.
“What's a Kira-gourd and a Ten-jury?” I asked. Dia was more knowledgeable than I was at that age, since I was more inclined to let the ticking in my head lull me into a stupor than pay attention to lessons and stories. Our brothers yelled at me and sometimes called me stupid, but Dia never did. She was always so patient with me. I'm afraid all she got in return were fidgeting and the occasional blank stare.
“Big nasty bears and little fox-people,” Dia said with a giggle. Her eyes were gray and deep like the ocean before a hurricane. Mine were brilliant blue and neither of us matched any of our brothers in appearance. They all had ash-brown hair and brown eyes, but the two of us were fairer and my hair was auburn to Dia's flame-red. Our mother sometimes joked that she wouldn't think we were hers if she did not remember the pain we put her through at birth.
“Will they eat us?” I asked nervously. I looked over my shoulder toward the forest. Thankfully, no glowing eyes looked back.
“No, I think they just want us humans to leave them alone,” Dia replied. She tugged at my hand. “Come on, Lani. Mommy and Daddy are waiting.”
The woman stared at me with grass-green eyes, which were partially hidden behind green-tinted half-moon spectacles. I'd never seen someone wearing spectacles before, and they alone were enough to draw my attention. I knew it was not polite to stare at people even at that young age, so I wondered why she was being so rude. She stared at me and I stared right back at her. Dia was off at the cobbler with our mother and I was in the vegetable market, sitting at our family's cart with Father. Our parents liked to tell us we were helping when we sat with them at the market, but really, they were just trying to keep us in sight and out of trouble.
I sat on the hard wooden stool and kicked my legs at the underside of the cart. I could smell the turnips and freshly baked bread, but none of it was for me. The donkeys tapped at the trampled ground behind us. I dropped my gaze from the spectacled woman and turned around to look at the donkeys, but my father tapped my arm.
I think Father felt himself too old to have to watch over such small and irritating children again. Our eldest brother, Bela, was twenty-five years older than we were, so I'm sure Father thought himself well-past his small child days when Dia and I came along. We were years younger than some of our own nieces and nephews.
“Father, the lady is looking at me,” I whispered. I reached for a radish, but Father slapped my hand away.
“Don't be paranoid, Lani,” Father mumbled. He scratched at his beard and rearranged the radishes.
“What is paraloid?” I asked.
“Not paraloid. Paranoid,” Father said with a sigh. “Means you think things is happening that isn't.”
I chewed on my thumbnail and looked at the woman again. She wore a scarf over her hair, but a few honey-gold strands escaped to tease her rosy face. Her green eyes fascinated me, even half-hidden behind the shaded glasses. Brown eyes were the norm in the Lusifal region of Malora, so brown was about all I had seen besides my own and Dia's. The stranger was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen at the time, and I couldn't help but giggle when she smiled at me. I saw many extraordinary women over my lifetime, and she was not anything truly special comparatively, but to a small farm boy, she was glorious.
My father nodded at her as she approached our cart. I could feel Dia and knew she was coming back with her new shoes. I wondered what new shoes were like. I never had anything new or anything entirely my own when I was a child. Being the youngest of eleven afforded me no luxuries or privileges.
“G'day, lady,” my father said politely. The spectacled woman continued to smile at me as she ran her elegant fingers over the stacks of turnips. Her expression did not change until Dia ran to my side and wrapped her arms around my chest. The woman's eyes brightened significantly at the sight of the two of us together.
“Good day, farmer,” the woman said. Her voice was melodic and she spoke with a strange accent I had not heard before. “Hello there, little ones.”
“May I help you?” Father asked. He was beginning to notice her interest in us and it made him uneasy.
“Your son is extraordinary,” the woman said and my father snorted.
Still laughing, he replied, “Nah, he's just a snotty-nosed urchin. Same as all tykes his age.”
Mother had made her way to the cart by then. She surveyed the spectacled woman suspiciously. She wrinkled her nose and said, “Well, he's got a knack for getting into trouble, but he isn't nothing special.”
Dia squeezed me tightly. I was not intentionally a troublemaker and she knew I didn't like being called out as such. I was merely curious and distracted. Dia stared up at the woman and said, “He can make time slower.”
“Dia!” I exclaimed. Time changing was our secret and she wasn't supposed to tell. Sometimes when we were having a lot of fun and didn't want it to end, I would concentrate really hard and make time slower for the rest of the world so we could have longer to play.
“Don't lie, Dia,” Father cautioned.
“I don't think she is lying, sir,” the woman said gently.
“What would you know 'bout them?” Father asked harshly.
The woman smiled and lowered her gaze to the ground for a moment. “My name is Marigold and I am a priest of Faloway from Moonhaven. The Elders of my temple sent me to find children with the Geophorian talents and I believe I have found what we are looking for in your son.”
“You're not taking him anywhere!” Mother protested. Father flinched and wobbled slightly on his booted feet. Even then, I knew what he was thinking – one less hungry boy.
“Don't take him from me! We are twins! We are supposed to be together!” Dia cried, clutching me tightly. Father sighed loudly and Dia started to cry. “Take me, too! I'm special, too!”
“Dia, you're normal. You both is,” Father said. He was becoming irritated.
Marigold was beginning to look nervous. Magic users, Geophorians, were well respected, but my father did not care for such things as magic and temples and the great, far-away cities which the Geophorians called home. He was stubbornly practical and believed working the land held more reward and respect than any higher education could.
“Dia sees the truth in her dreams. She sees paths and possibilities. She hides in time and knows how old anything she touches is,” I said. I had no idea what I was saying. It was almost as if the words were being channeled through me, and now I believe they probably were. I quickly added, “I feel every second.”
I held my out my hands over the vegetable cart and the world slowed to a crawl. Inside the little sphere around the cart where the five of us stood, time progressed normally, but outside, people and animals and even the wind moved in slow motion. I held the disparity for several seconds before I let it return to normal. I dropped my hands to my sides and panted. I was exposing my well-kept secret and it wore me out physically to be so bold.
“Lani,” Mother whispered with significant unease. I wonder how much it hurt her that her youngest, her disobedient baby, was an anomaly. I'm not sure she ever knew how much of a singularity I really was.
“If he hadn't done that, you would never let us leave,” Dia stated. She wanted to leave, explore, but this was the first time she verbalized it. She surprised me with her longing to get away from the farm.
“Time manipulators, both of them,” Marigold commented in awe. “With your permission, I would like to take them to the temple of Aucra in Meridian. The priests and Elders there would train them. Without proper training, Geophorian children cannot typically control their abilities and can become very dangerous to those around them.”
“No!” Mother protested. “I will not let you take them.”
“They don't belong here. Give 'em their opportunity, Marga,” Father said grimly.
“They will get to come back for summers and you can visit them any time,” said Marigold apologetically.
“I can't do all those things you said,” Dia whispered into my ear.
“Not yet,” I replied. The seconds droned like angry bees in my head.
“Take 'em. Teach 'em,” Father said. Two fewer mouths to feed. Two fewer children for sore joints and old bones to chase around and chastize. I'm sure he didn't want to lose Dia, but if it meant I would get out of his way, the loss was worthwhile.
“Beral,” Mother whimpered.
Marigold nodded and smiled widely. “I will be back here in one week. You can still change your minds, but I honestly believe they ought to be trained. Your children are Geophorian. You ought to be proud of them.”
It was long after Marigold departed that our mother leaned to our father and whispered, “I don't think they are our children. Not really. I think they belong to Aucra. You saw what he did.”
“Marga, they are still ours,” Father replied quietly.
I felt every second as a pounding drum over the next week. I tasted the falling sand of the hourglass in the back of my throat and dreamed of nothing but evergreen and Dia's laughter and the inexplicable stench of burning pine pitch. No matter what my brothers said, I was special, and now everyone else saw it as well. My dreams were time and evergreen, and my reality was quickly expanding into something more than fields of wheat and radish carts.
Dia, I still remember the wonder in your sparkling gridelin eyes when we first saw the mountains. The gray stone and amethyst lichen matched your irises perfectly. You always looked with wonder upon the mountains, even when we became ancient and otherwise jaded. I always saw them as a cage. Safe and secure from within the crags and canyons, but a cage nonetheless, where the sky is half-shielded by jagged teeth. You've caged yourself now, haven't you? Halfway between the mountains and the forest, you chose your own fate. We both chose the cage, only our cages were not safe, but instead unsolvable labyrinths with creatures waiting to tear our fragile human forms to shreds. Lady of the light, find the key and be free!