If you're not into little spoilers, I recommend not reading this if you haven't read the Echoes of Oblivion trilogy, specifically Shards of Chaos. It concerns a familial relationship between several characters from the trilogy, but if you don't mind that it still should be understandable even without a prior introduction to these characters. Mirazen's story will be included in my work-in-progress, a short story collection titled Rain Falls on Malora. I'm using this project as a way to explore the lives of minor characters (and at least one major, non-narrator character), and there are interesting surprises to be found within their narratives.
Mirazen Retta Keltau
Reedwater, Anor, Ganebran Year 2018
The Abyssal Night Era
© Courtney M. Privett 2015
© Courtney M. Privett 2015
The world frightens me. Too many sounds, too many colors, too much of everything. I can't absorb all the cacophony and my eyes no longer focus well enough to render sharp the blurred edges of my surroundings. I can't speak to people. I can't even look them in the eye, can't bring myself to study the intricate patterns of their irises. Everywhere, there is too much of everything. Everything touches me and I am left smothered and gasping for breath.
If I hide, it becomes tolerable. If I avoid the world, I am not so overwhelmed by my own senses. The colors become dimmer and the sounds become muffled. I will be content if I only ever need to interact with one person. Ember. I need her fire to warm the northern wind of my soul. She is my best and only friend, and I suspect she is my soulmate. Someday I think I will marry her, but we are too young to contemplate such things yet. We must first survive our teenage years if we are to spend our adulthoods together.
“Moth.” The word flutters over me, a misting cloud in the gloaming darkness. “Moth. Wake up.”
No. Not a word. A name. My name. I've carried this name for over thirteen years, but I still can't seem to respond to it in a timely manner. It was given to me by the elders when I was left here as a toddler, but it has never felt right. My birth name feels even more foreign. Mirazen. What is that? Those syllables are nothing but a brand, a scar upon my ephemeral soul. I am more Moth than Mirazen, but even after all these years, Moth still makes me feel as if I'll be floating through my life with no real sense of who I am.
A hand touches my shoulder. I roll away from it and mumble, “Hate mornings. Go away.”
“You have visitors. Wake up and get dressed.”
I never have visitors. Just one visitor. Only one person ever bothers to come to Reedwater to see me. I roll toward the source of the voice and open my eyes. Cypress stands over me. He is one of my teachers, a large man with sable hair and green eyes. He frightens me. I close my eyes and try to escape back into a dream.
“Now, Moth,” Cypress barks.
I sit upright and rub my eyes. The cabin is empty except for Cypress and me. Why is everyone awake so early? Why do the other teenage boys insist upon being morning people? It's too dark, too early. No, maybe it isn't. Maybe the darkness is due to gloom and not the absence of sun. Maybe clouds obscure the light as they should. Mornings should be dark, not bright.
“They're in the gazebo by the lily pond. Get dressed, brush out that nest on your head, and go greet them,” Cypress says. He drops a clean linen shirt and khaki pants on my knees before walking away.
I hang my feet over the edge of my bunk and run a comb through my hair. The teeth snag frequently and I have to pull the silver-white strands forward to untangle them. My hair is long now, almost to my shoulders. I prefer it like this. I can use the length to shield my peripheral vision and that makes the world a little less overwhelming.
I slip out of my pajamas and into my clothes. They don't fit right, but nothing does right now. I've grown three inches in three months, so my sleeves and pants are too short, but I'm too thin to fill out the bulk. I've always been too skinny, and my growth spurt has rendered me gaunt instead of wiry. I hope that evens out soon. I hate the concerned commentary about my weight. It's not as if I can do anything about it. I've yet to meet a wind elementalist who is anything but slender. We are sylphs, and even if we become gluttonous, we remain sylphs.
I drop from the bunk to the floor. My right ankle pops and I rotate it a few times to restore its balance. I grab my glasses off the shelf by my bunk and clean the lenses with the edge of my shirt before putting them on. My vision has deteriorated to the point that corrective lenses can no longer fully restore the sight that I'm losing. They give me a fierce headache sometimes, so I may need to give up wearing them within the next couple years. My doctor thinks I will be blind by the time I reach thirty.
The morning mist clings to my skin as soon as I leave the shelter of my cabin. It is overcast, but I doubt it will rain today unless one of the weather priests is in the mood for a little self-expression. The platform my cabin sits upon sways under my feet. Reedwater is a network of platforms and bridges tethered to trees and anchors. The marsh water is always under our feet and moss sprouts from our rooftops. It is damp, always damp, and the damp creeps into my joints and leaves me breathless when I'm forced to exercise. I'll never be strong. I'll never be fast. I don't need to be either while the wind flows like blood through my veins.
I traverse the bridges and platforms until I reach the temple to Sepitira, the Wetlands Element. There aren't many people on the paths today, a rare occurrence that I thank Sepitira for as I pass her sanctuary. I assume my bunkmates are eating breakfast in the common hall, and the rest of the population must be similarly avoiding the dreariness. I hope this meeting doesn't take long. I'm hungry and the greasy aroma of fried potatoes and bacon calls to me.
Two men stand in the gazebo, two lean men with short, black hair. Their clothing is simple and light-colored, but impeccably clean. I don't see the mousy hair of the person I expected, the only person who has ever visited me before. My mother is not here. My heart falls from my chest and lands with a sodden plop in the morass. I don't know these people. How can I be expected to speak with strangers?
“Mirazen.” The word hovers on the air for a moment, then embraces me like a cloak of thorns. I shake it off my shoulders and allow the breeze to carry it away.
I take off my glasses and wipe the mist from them as I step into the shelter of the gazebo. When I return them to my nose, the men are staring at me. One is middle-aged, with dark eyes and a nervous tic pulsing at the left side of his neck. The other is not much older than me, a young man with pale green eyes, the same pale green as the wings of a luna moth. I have the same rare eyes.
They stare at me in silence while I let my gaze wander toward the swamp. I know who they are. I've seen their faces in the photographs my mother has shared with me. The younger man is one of my three older brothers, but I can't remember which one. They all look similar to me. Darzian. It has to be Darzian. Mom told me he is the only one with eyes like me. The older man is my father, Tordian Keltau. His is a face I never expected to see in Reedwater. He is risking his career just by meeting with me.
Tordian sits on a bench and looks up at me with his hand to his mouth. He shakes his head and says, “I didn't want to believe your mother when she said you'd never pass as normal. Now I see she was right. Your status is too obvious, even beyond the hair. Unless the new king makes some drastic changes, you can never come home.”
“Ganebra is not home, General Tordian. This is my home,” I say. My voice is soft and rough, so I slip it into a wind stream and carry it to his ears.
“Commander. I'm High Commander now. I inherited the position from my father five years ago,” Tordian says. His nose twitches and he shifts his dark eyes from me to my brother. “Darzian, will you give us some privacy? The elder we spoke to when we arrived said we're welcome to use the dining hall, so go get yourself some breakfast.”
Darzian's eyes narrow into a glare. His attention has not strayed from my face since I arrived. “Mess hall is full of Geophorians.”
“Darzian, this is a Geophorian city. Be polite. If you continue your foolish behavior, I will shift heir status from you to one of your older brothers. Would you like it if Radizan was slated to lead the Ganebran military? How about Sadrian?”
“They're idiots, Dad. My intellect score was a full fifty points higher than either of theirs,” Darzian grumbles. He sighs and shakes his head. “Fine. I'll go eat.”
Tordian waits until Darzian disappears around the corner of the temple platform before he pats the bench to his side. “Come sit with me, Mirazen.”
I slink to the bench and ease myself down. I try to position myself as far from him as I can get, but he leans toward me and rests his hand against my knee. I jolt away from him.
“Don't touch me,” I say. I cross my arms over my chest and stare toward the lily pond. “You called me abomination the last time you saw me. That's my earliest memory, you know?”
Tordian presses his hands to his face and rubs his eyes. “Early memories can be so faulty. I called the Ganebran laws an abomination, not you. I'm sorry you thought I was referring to you in such a crude manner.”
“I don't believe you. I'm fifteen years old and I've been in Reedwater for thirteen years of that. This is the first time you've come to see me. I'm not good enough, acceptable enough, normal enough to be in your life so don't lie to me and pretend things could ever be anything but venomous between us.”
I feel nothing for this man. I can turn my words to poison for him, but I don't hate him. He is a stranger, just a stranger from a country that turned me into an exile before I could even speak a complete sentence. No, that's not right. I do feel something. Subtle loathing creeps across my nerves. He is not an ordinary man. He is High Commander. His authority could have made a difference for people like me, but instead he continues to ignore the plight of Geophorians in favor of clinging to his heritage.
Tordian rubs the back of his neck as he stares up at the ceiling. He shakes his head and a single tear trickles down his pale face. “I'm sorry, Mirazen. I'm sorry we had to abandon you to this festering swamp and these people who are determined to render you bitter. The moment you were born I knew you were different. I wanted to be proud of you, but instead the traditions of my own country forced me to be ashamed. We hid you away in our own home and anyone who inquired about you was told you were too ill for visitors. That was no way for you to live. It was unfair to you and we knew we couldn't keep you. Sandria... your mother brought you here when I was reassigned from Slatorn to Lunamar. I was hoping to keep you with us for a couple more years, but it was too dangerous to take you to Lunamar. I'm sorry. I had hoped you would understand by now that we only did what was best for you.”
“I do understand, but that doesn't explain why you completely abandoned me. Mom loves me. She visits me at least twice a year, usually more. You pretend that I never existed at all,” I say. A frog croaks and hops from one lily pad to another. I wish I could hop away from my father. Maybe I should. He doesn't deserve my attention.
Tordian leans forward until his lips are next to my ear. He kisses my temple before whispering, “I love you. No matter what I have to do for my country, never doubt that I love you. I will always love you.”
“Liar,” I say. I stand and leave him lurching on the bench. I stretch my arms behind my head and my jaw clenches. “You just told me you're ashamed of me. I'm an embarrassment to you, the little family secret who will never be good enough for you. Why are you here, Tordian?”
He stares past me into the cypresses. “Your mother died.”
“What?” My knees give way and I collapse into a cross-legged crouch.
“I'm sorry, Mirazen. She died. Three days ago. Cancer. It took her so fast, just a month after she was diagnosed, so she was only in pain for a little while. I came here to bring you home for her funeral, but now that I see you, I can't take you to Lunamar. I could dye your hair to a more normal color, but that still can't hide what you are. You won't be attending her funeral.”
I drape myself over my knees so my forehead touches the ground. She's gone. The only person who ever loved me is gone and I'm hearing the words from the mouth of a monster. That's all my father is, a monster. My breath catches in my lungs. I squeeze my eyelids shut and slap the ground with my right hand.
The air shifts as Tordian sits down next to me. His left hand rests between my shoulder blades and his right strokes my hair. I don't want him touching me, but I can't breathe, I can't move. My mother is gone, dead. I saw her last just two months ago and she was fine. No warning, no warning at all and she is gone forever. Can't go to her funeral, can't mourn her properly. Can't allow the abomination to disgrace the family by making an appearance.
“She loved you, Mirazen,” Tordian says as he continues to stroke my hair. “She hoped for the day that you could come home, but I'm not certain that day will ever come. Ganebra is not safe for you. Rastaban may change that, but he is still figuring out what to do with his newly acquired kingdom, so nothing has changed yet. He's only seventeen. I don't know what his rule will bring yet. I hope he changes the laws. I want you to be able to come home.”
“I'm not going back to Ganebra. Ever,” I whimper.
“You are a Keltau, Mirazen. You belong to Ganebra.”
“My name is Moth. I belong to the wind,” I say. My tears mingle with the dirt and stain the cuffs of my shirt gray.
Tordian slips something into my hand. I run my thumb along its smooth surface. It is flat, a piece of paper. No, that isn't right, too silky. A photograph, two photographs.
I knock his hand off my back and sit upright. The photograph on top is black and white, and fairly old. My mother squints in the bright sunlight, a shy smile on her thin lips. A lake shines in the background and a mountain range rises behind the water. She is a teenager, no older than I am now, and her bare shoulders are heavily freckled. She is not a pretty young woman, but my love for her makes her beautiful. I flip it over. The scrawl on her back reveals her name. Sandria Retta, age 14. I tuck the picture into my pocket, just to the left of my heart.
A dagger plunges into my heart at the sight of the second photograph. The faded colors reveal Tordian, a younger Tordian than the cold man sitting next to me. He holds something in his arms, a silver-haired child riding the cusp between infancy and toddlerhood. Me. The child is me. I am smiling at him and he is smiling right back at me. Tordian's face holds not shame, but instead joy, pride, everything the face of a good parent should hold. He loved me once. I won't let him love me now.
I shred the photograph and channel the wind to carry it away from my palm. I release the current and the torn fragments fall into the lily pond. Tordian stands and looks down at me with tears in his eyes.
“That's it, then?” Tordian says, his voice barely a whisper. “I'm sorry I was never there for you. You obviously needed me and I failed you. I'm sorry I wasn't the father you deserved. I'll leave you to your bitterness and rage now.”
Tordian walks away from me, but I won't allow myself to give him any more attention by following him with my eyes. I watch the remnants of my early childhood float between the lilies. I was damned from the start. Upper-class Ganebran Geophorians are paradoxes, rare anathemas with deep history and no future. My past is gone now, as dead as my mother. I can't return to my origin. I can only drift on the wind and pretend not to care.
I don't know how long I sit on my knees with the mist soaking my bones. I don't know how long the tension twists and writhes in my heart while my tears congeal the dust. My mourning is timeless, limitless, remorseless. Reality is the worst of all nightmares, and my status as a Ganebran only serves to remind me of my misfortune.
“Moth?” Ember's voice reaches me as a warm crackle. She sits on her knees next to me and I lean against her side. “What's wrong?”
“Dreadful reminder that I have no place in this world,” I say.
“Do you want to talk about it? You know you can tell me anything,” Ember says. She slips her arm around my back and rests her head on my shoulder. Her flame-red hair smells of cinnamon.
“You'll always have a place in my world,” she says. She shifts so she is in front of me instead of along my side. Her amber eyes bore into me like smoldering coals. I love her. She's only fourteen and I'm only fifteen, but I already know I love her. She calms me. The only happiness I ever feel is with her.
I hesitate only a moment before I kiss her. I've never kissed anyone before, and even though the motion is awkward, the touch of her lips ignites my soul and sends warmth along my perpetually chilled nerves. We are ice and fire. We belong together. She embraces me and our kiss becomes more confident, more comfortable. My hands travel across her back and settle on the new curves of her hips. I want to feel her skin against mine. I want to claim her as my own as she claims me. I can't. We are young, much too young. We must wait. No matter how we feel, we must wait.
“Moth and Ember. Inappropriate. Back away from each other immediately,” Cypress says behind me. His hand brushes my shoulder and I jolt.
I don't want to let her go, I never want to let her go, but I must. I release my embrace and stand away from her. She rises and smiles at me. We know, we both know. We are soulmates.
Cypress puts his arm around me and leads me away from Ember. I wish he wouldn't touch me, but I am too grieved to resist. As we pass the temple, he says, “I am very sorry for your loss, Moth. May you find comfort in knowing you will meet her again in the afterlife.”
“Will I?” I ask. I do not mean for my my voice to escape. My words are an affront to my adopted culture. Questioning the nature of the afterlife is taboo for students, a privilege reserved only for full priests and elders.
“Yes, I believe you will,” Cypress says. His tone is gentle. He is allowing me my insult as a mechanism of my grief instead of acknowledging it as the sincere question I meant it to be. “Moth, allow yourself to mourn. I can hear your stomach growling, so go eat your breakfast before you lose yourself to the tears. Your father and brother have returned to the rail station for their journey home.”
“I have no father or brother. I am alone,” I say. The kitchen smells hanging on the mist make me nauseated instead of hungry.
“You have me. You will never be alone as long as you have me,” Ember says as she slips her fingers between mine.
Cypress lets me go and I allow my soulmate to lead me to the dining hall.