The Graces – Part I

7

Anava followed the drysmus line to the small, cobbled dormitory where she lived while studying at the temple. She was distracted and disjointed from her encounters with Ren and Rana. Her skin prickled with confusion.

Why not give guidance to your own son?

Why me?

The questions were plaguing and stung with betrayal. Ren was the entire reason she knew Rana. How gleefully they played as youngsters, imagining this and that and chasing each other about the main courtyard; how Rana would come out in her colored robes and talk to them, enchanting them with stories as they played amongst the fragrant blooms and shrubbery.

How she envied those robes as a girl, how she dreamed of wearing them one day. The robes she never thought she would ever have. They made a strong, gallant impression. They signified respect. They signified knowledge. They signified the Graces.

And now, thanks to Rana herself, she had them within grasp. But without Ren as an equal, it felt like a hollow victory. A chasm had appeared, and although she continually tried to brush her errant, betrayed thoughts aside, they would not leave.

Anava felt herself stray from the narrow path within the tall grass now and again, and focused on letting the magnetic currents push her back. They were especially strong at the drysmus line, and this soft, light push was comforting. Consoling. When she walked the lines she felt a closeness to the world that nothing could compare to.

As she saw the onyx precipice of the dormitory tower come into view through the top of the grass, Anava decided to go to the pavilion and explore her misaligned thoughts further rather than study for ceremonies.

She deviated left and up the hill to a small grove of trees. Within them was a small outcropping of rock with stone pillars to surround it. Bells and other chimes were hung around in the tree branches, marking this as a holy place. A sanctuary.

She entered the circle of pillars and seated herself. The rock was mossy in spots, but still firm. There was an older gentleman bowed in prayer at the other side, so she made pains to hush any noises of her arrival.

She held her fingers together, and moved them through the courses that now came second nature through her many years of study. She focused on breath: in and out, in and out, in and out. She let her emotions come through with no judgement. She observed each one, looked for attachments, and let them fall in the dark, swirling space of her mind. It was a familiar, dancing rhythm. Rise and fall, rise and fall.

Finally, smooth and unfiltered thoughts started to flow. Flowers; small pushes from the drysmus; Rana’s wide and warm smile; cool breezes and the exhilaration of her dreamtime forest.

Anava’s temple was calling her. The forest was waiting.

This time she did not have to find dreamtime and create her temple – it had found her. All she had to do was slide into the space, and it opened for her as if by request. She was keenly aware of the silence and opening drift of reality that was both crystal clear and murky. She was amazed, but quite shaken, at the relative ease and effortlessness of the action.

With a small thrill, and her heart racing, she smiled, and felt the moment blossom.

*

She walked along the same moss and glittering tree canopy as she had before. She stroked the ferns and felt the warm sunlight welcoming her, and she them. She greeted the wind and listened to the chirping chorus of the birds flittering faraway.

As she walked, a stone path appeared through the undergrowth and rotting logs. The ease of this place – responding to her, calling to her – expunged any hesitancy she might have hidden within. She knew she would seek her questions here. This was the place, the only place that mattered. A devout warmth filled her chest, and suddenly every question she had at the forefront of her mind rushed forward in a flurry, simultaneous and all-encompassing:

Why would Rana do this to her son?

She is not that kind of person… Is she?

Am I more talented then Ren?

I didn’t think I was.

Rana loves her son, she would never do anything to hurt him.

Why train me alone, and not others?

Were there others?

Why am I so distraught?

What should I do?

I do not wish to do initiations without Ren by my side.

Should I discuss with Rana?

Should I drop it?

I don’t want to cause a rift – their familial relationship is theirs, and not mine.

But they are family to me.

Why doesn’t this feel right?

 

Her stream of thoughts started to slow, and Anava felt her questions come to a nexus:

 

Please.

Show me what I need to do for healing.

For me. For them.

For Us.

I request Your love and Graces.

 

She continued walking in relative silence. The rocks and trees more familiar now, but still the same forest. There was no destination in her sight, other than the questions. She stayed open and confidant and kept walking.

Nothing different appeared. No new shapes or sounds.

Anava listened and closed her eyes, imagining the drysmus line guiding her and comforting her. In time with her footsteps, she repeated and repeated:

 

Show me what I need to do for healing.

For me. For them.

For Us.

I request Your love and Graces.

 

Please.

 

 

Please.

 

 

Please.

 

 

Please…

 

 

And suddenly in her reverie, a scream reverberated through the trees, and the birds and trees grew silent.

Her heart jolted. She swiveled herself to the origin of the sound, and the forest moved around her in a blur of color and sound and feeling.

She was transported to a small clearing, and before her was a man, slumped in the dewy plants. He appeared to be distraught, but his arms obscured his face. He radiated agitation, infuriation… and Anava felt the deepest wave of sadness. A wall of grief overcame her.

She gaped for a moment, not sure how to proceed. Maybe he would reveal something to her. Clues, information. The graces were answering her!  She reigned in the triumph and reinstated her stoic front. She approached him slowly. He seemed to be asleep.

He was wearing nothing of note from which she could discern his identity – no robes from the temple, no marks of the graces, no clarions. But he had a pearly auric shimmer about him that gave her pause. It was beautiful, but jagged.

Anava kneeled beside him. Sweat had gathered along his shoulders, and he was breathing rapidly in his so-called sleep. She thought of a breeze to help cool him down, and the wind obeyed, ruffling his light linen overcoat. He was not enjoying his slumber, and she wished to see his face… do I know him? Is he a clue to my questions?

Abruptly, he lifted his head in a gasp and made eye contact. They stared for an endless moment.

He could see her.

She froze.

 

….

Continue on to Part 8 – The Graces – Part II

 

If you wish to read this ongoing story project in order, use the following links to go back to previous posts:

Part 1 – Downed with Despair
Part 2 – Z+B I
Part 3 – Z+B II
Part 4 – Anava
Part 5 – The Promise
Part 6 – The Readers

The Readers

6

“Who is this young cadfly? Shoo! You are shutting out the light!!”

As soon as he entered the threshold of the small and cramped gallery space, an old woman seated near the entry started yelling at him.

“Out, I say! Out!” She was the oldest woman Zerian had ever seen, and he gave pause – her eyes were almost non-existent, swallowed with leathery tanned skin.

“Oh stop, Jahsha, stop!” Another not-quite-as-old woman came out to meet Zerian as he stood on the rug, gaping at the elderly heckler. “Sorry, Sir, don’t mind Jahsha. She is waiting for her escort.”

This other not-as-old woman was tall and on eye-level with Zerian. She had black hair striped with silver, braided carefully down her back, and wore a deep blue robe with black stitching – one of the many colors and styles of robes that were representative of the disciplines studied at the Temple of the Graces.

Zerian knew that the Body Readers were well educated on the nuances of health and how this translated to your field and other bodily systems. Beyond that, nothing else – except that his mother distrusted their practice and did not want him to engage with it. He knew she was somewhat of a traditionalist, and that she had once forayed into discipleship at the temple, but he had never pressed her for more stories. She never seemed to enjoy discussing it.

But suddenly, standing here now in a small dusty gallery with a Body Reader before him, Zerian felt the curiosity of his mother’s past start to rise.

“What is the occasion today, young Sir?”

“I – I came for some consult on my sleep. If you might be able to help and advise?” Zerian kept his voice low as he did not wish to have the unruly elder woman seated nearby hear his personal business.

“Ah yes, sleep diagnostics – you have come to the right place!” She lit up in a warm smile and shook his hand with both of hers. “I can see you right away, if you’d like? Jahsha was my last appointment. What is your name, young Sir?”

“Zerian Ref-Vera. And you, Sira?”

“Please, you can call me Tulla.” Her omittance of her last names immediately made him regret revealing his own.

“Ref-Vera, did you say? You are certainly not from around here! I am not sure I have met anyone from Vera. Do you like Atuva?”

“Yeah, I do. It’s a change of pace, but lots to see for someone like me, I guess.” Zerian managed an awkward smile as Tulla gestured for him to follow her through a back hallway. He hated to give his full name, disclosing his origins and taking him off the table of regular citizen talk. From here on out, everything discussed would be compared in reference to his country roots and Atuva-centric topics avoided.

“Please stand here, on the round rug.” Tulla pointed to the small black and white round rug at the center of the side room she had just led him to. The room was dark, with only two small, narrow windows, shrouded in gauzy midnight-blue curtains that filtered the sunlight. She pulled out a small metal object from a tall stand of drawers once they entered.

“Sorry – I’ve never been to any Reader before. Don’t mind me if I make a mess of it.” Zerian stood on the small rug and made excuses.

“Oh, no issue at all. I’ll talk you through it. We see many levels here – those who have been coming for years, and many more who come only when they need to, when met with dire circumstances,” she glanced up at him with a wink, as she fiddled with the small cylinder in the palm of her hands. She held it up for him to see.

“This is a spinner. It will read your field and take some measurements – then I’ll run the program and get some answers for you – no need to be nervous. With sleep diagnostics, readings usually manifest inside the field itself – no need for direct body readings.” She looked up at Zerian again, who was listening intently. She surveyed his face and space around it. “Your aura appears to be fairly consistent – no visible marks of weakness that I see. What is the sleep issue you are having trouble with specifically? Trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep? Sleep walking?”

“Dreams.” Zerian almost didn’t say it. He almost made up a story about exhaustion and anxiety and working too much, but he blurted it out too quickly.

“Ah – and these are bad dreams I take it?” Tulla didn’t seem fazed.

“Yes, but not really the subject of them.”

“So it’s not about bad dreams?” Tulla paused with adjusting the spinner contraption and searched Zerian with confusion.

“It is. It’s just that – there are none. It’s like…. Nothing. Nothing is there.”

Tulla looked concerned, and furrowed her brow the same as Bess had done earlier that day. “Nothing?” she repeated back.

“Nothing. But it feels like I’m getting pulled around. Or shuffled around. I don’t know how to describe it… I can’t seem to get any rest. I always wake feeling tired. Never rested. But grateful that I’m not sleeping anymore. Does that make sense?”

“Hrmmmmm…” Tulla made a long and low murmur, with no official recognition that she knew what was happening. “How long has this ‘restless’ sleep been occurring?”

“For maybe half of a year. Since coming to the city, actually. At first it was just annoying – every few days. But now it’s every night for the last month. I’m at my wits end.” Zerian gave a half-hearted laugh, as if it was a joke. But it wasn’t.

“And you dreamed plenty back home, in Vera? Did you ever have the same bad dreams there?”

“Yes. Well, no. I mean, I’ve never really dreamed vividly. If I did, I never remembered them fully. They’ve always been vague. But it was never an issue before now. Never like this, where I wake up exhausted.” Zerian recalled Bess telling him about a dream that she had recently during the full moon. He couldn’t believe the monsters she could conjure in her sleep – he had never had such an experience. That he could remember, anyway.

“Well this should set us right,” Tulla said assuredly. “Now, stand straight and hold still.” She adjusted his shoulders a bit, pushing down on one and then the other, and Zerian straightened his neck and looked forward at the masonry wall in front of him, strewn with manuscript shelves and hung with odd instruments. Tulla stood a small distance away, just inside his outer periphery.

“Yes. Just like that. You might sense some uncomfortable buzzing while the spinner takes measurements. It will only take a few seconds.” Tulla clicked the small cylinder in her palm, and threw it up in the air towards Zerian. He winced, but the small device spun to life in a blue glow, and started darting around his auric field like it was connected to it – this way and that, almost too fast for him to track with his eyes.

There was a buzzing he could sense – but very faint. Or maybe it was just the sound vibrations of the machine he was sensing?

Just as the small spinner dashed past his head, it zipped up the crown and flew towards Tulla again. She held out a small metal plate, and the spinner returned to it like a cocoon. She then inserted it upright into the reader on her desk, and a screen of data was projected out from it.

“All done – simple and painless, right?” She smiled and ushered him away from the black and white rug. “Take a seat, I’ll look this over for you.” She motioned to a wooden chair near her small desk and immediately started tilting dials and information on the holographic screen that was waiting for her there. Zerian uneasily sat down.

“Well… the readings look very normal. Robust, actually. And from what I’ve observed, your field isn’t showing the weaknesses that a field would regularly display with the lack of sleep that you’re describing. Usually sleep problems like yours can be seen visually – it is very obvious to the eye, but yours is not… Is this making your everyday routine difficult? Are you falling asleep in the middle of the day?”

“Yes. Well, I am grateful to not be sleeping, really. But I am not feeling myself. I am happy to be awake, though. I feel intoxicated sometimes, or not myself lately – clumsier, not as sharp. But mostly I am just happy to not be asleep.”

Tulla looked quizzical. The data screen in front of her whirred and moved around, apparently betraying the real issue at hand. Zerian didn’t know what else to say. Just make it go away. Please?

“Well, young Zerian Ref-Vera, I think I recommend heading home for a bit. To Vera, in the countryside. See if this episodic dream variance resolves itself. Here,” she collapsed the screen onto a piece of paper and handed it to Zerian. “Take this with you when you go. If there is another Reader in Vera, you can re-test your results and compare. I would be very interested in seeing a comparison.”

Zerian’s heart sank with all his hopes. Running back home was not what he had in mind. He wouldn’t be able to tell his mother about any of this, and especially not this meticulous sheet of magnetic resonance statistics.

“Nothing else?” He managed to request as he stood. “You can’t think of anything else?”

She sighed heavily. “Sorry, no. All the readings looked absolutely normal. Not a strand out of place. Amazing, really. I see a healthy young man before me.” She patted his shoulder and guided him back out to the gallery.

Zerian was in a daze. He was sure this was the solution, he knew it. But nothing. A dead end.

“Is this paid for with your shares then?” Tulla tapped into a holographic screen again when they were in the main gallery.

“Yes, sorry. 0945T,” he recited almost absent-mindedly, and pushed his fingerprint into the screen she presented, which made a blip of recognition.

Tulla seemed to sense his brewing frustration. “You could always try the famous ‘Atuva-tera Tonic.’ Take with honey – you’ll need it! Right before bed. It’s known for it’s soothing properties. Might knock down whatever’s bothering you. You could also try the Luli Chants. I have a dear friend who swears by them, but I’ve never needed to try, you know.”

Zerian sensed her attempt at sympathy. “Thanks. That helps. I’ll try to see about the tonic. Thank you for the recommendation.” He bowed deeply, and she in return.

As he made his way back to the shop, he picked up some of the famous tonic from the apothecary by the canal where it was known to be the best. He walked slowly. He thought of his mother’s promise and wondered what the fuss was all about. A bunch of sophisticated little machines and data lists that were of no help whatsoever.

Maybe this was what she wished to spare him.

Continue to Part 7…

Go back to previous:

Part 1 – Downed with Despair
Part 2 – Z+B I
Part 3 – Z+B II
Part 4 – Anava
Part 5 – The Promise

The Promise

5

Zerian slipped out the back alley and into the throngs of mercantile shoppers and shopkeeps, many of whom were milling about during midday meals. He was nervous, but it didn’t deter him. It needed to be done, no matter what his mother had warned him.

Stay away from the Body Readers. They will not help you, only confuse you. They discarded the old ways in favor of the new. They will misdirect and mislead, and plant ideas that will not bear fruit. This is my only wish.  Promise me, Zerian? Please?

Zerian kept walking, playing their conversation over and over again in his mind. With a determined frown he justified himself to her.

“Mom, don’t worry. I know what I’m doing. They can’t pull the lights out of my eyes. I will be vigilant – please trust me. I need help, I need second opinions…. and you’re not here.”

He shook off the last phrase. It wasn’t her fault she wasn’t here. He was here in Atuva-tera of his own accord.

She was the one who didn’t want him to leave.

*

“I need to do this, Mom, I know this is right.” They were on the side terrace of the small farm house where they lived. Zerian had been apprenticing with Sol for almost five years and had mastered everything he needed to know about the terrain, soil conditions, horticultural varieties and breeding the fruit varietals that enjoyed the sloping hills of Verasco. He needed another challenge – and Sol had presented him with a job opportunity.

It was sunset, and late summer. The air was thick and jeweled, and the sunlight held a deeper resonance than it did in springtime. A weightier glow.

A presence of possibility.

“Sol wants me to open a shop in Atuva-tera.” His smile and enthusiasm were not returned, and her eyes had widened.

He would continue on: “He knows someone who excels at sales, who has worked with him before. We can run it ourselves and stock with Sol’s goods. Isn’t this amazing?! This is just what I was talking to you about the other night! A new challenge – taking things up a notch. This isn’t what I was thinking it would be – but I’m going to do it.”

His mother had worn no expression. She had looked shocked and belied, for whatever reason. He remembers feeling disbelief. What mother would not want her son to be an enterprising business owner? To make a name for himself in a great city-state like Atuva-tera? Was it fear of his wellbeing? Fear of loneliness if he went away?

Sure, they lived alone on the small farm, but she wouldn’t be lonely – she had Peri and Dorvi nearby, and not to mention Lufan from the neighboring farm. Oh, how he would miss Lufan.

The minutes had marched by. She wasn’t responding. She had sat down at the garden knee wall, staring at the distant tree line. He remembered the sunlight haloing her shoulders, her green and gold aura swirling and catching its glimmer.

He remembers coming up behind her and giving her a warm embrace, and how she sobbed into his arms as soon as he did.

“I’m not dying Mom – please don’t act like I am.”  She sighed and laughed lightly, and set her hand on the side of his face.

“Right you are, dear Zerian. I’m just surprised. The day has come. I always knew you would never be happy staying here. I think I had convinced myself that this decision was not expedient.” She sniffled and laughed, hugged him tightly, and sobbed quietly into his arm again.

“Just promise me one thing. Please?”

“Anything Mom, anything.”

*

The canal and adjacent thoroughfares leading to the city center were bright and bustling with activity. He smelled the sting of salt water and sweat in the air as he walked. His shop was in the main shopping veranda – the market place proper, with the most competitive prices and best products from around the known world. A very desirable site, indeed – Sol had an excellent relationship with the city proprietor.

Out of the main business district, here by the sunny canal and green grasses full of horses grazing, there were smaller carts and merchants; restaurant stands were numerous, and offered soups and terrines and skewers of meat and greens galore. All of them competing for the mid-day shopper’s attention, kicking up a lot of noise and selling as hard as they could.

Zerian slipped by them without making eye contact. He walked along the canal for a bit before turning into an older and tighter part of the city, closer to the city center and closer to the temple and citadel. Here were the richer residents of the city, many of them a part of the governing body overseeing day to day operations of the city-state, and many of them also disciples, initiates, and students of the temple on high, the Temple of the Graces.

Zerian wasn’t in the mood to ruminate or sightsee in this part of the city that he had rarely ventured. He turned down a smaller alley, only wide enough for pedestrian traffic, and looked for the small gallery with red marble pillars and the distinctive banner on the outside. He had seen it once before, when delivering goods to one of Sol’s smaller subsidiaries.

The noonday sun was hot and heavy, and tugged his eyelids down. He was growing weary when he caught a glimpse of it: a white cloth with a sun, superimposed on the four cardinal directions and surrounded with an aura. The sign and banner symbol of the Readers.

His heart quickened as he started up the steps, drew a sharp breath, and silenced the promise to his mother.

Continue to Part 6 

Go back to:

Part 1 – Downed with Despair
Part 2 – Z+B I
Part 3 – Z+B II
Part 4 – Anava

Downed with Despair

1

He strung through the vines. Lost in time and thought. Not really connected to the moment anymore. One step on top of the other, but not in reality.

He was beyond.

A heartache with grief for the life he might have known, for the brother and world that might have opened up to him if they hadn’t given him away.

Or lost him? Or abandoned him? Or…?

His thoughts swirled.

No, they were my parents. There had to be a legitimate reason to give their child away.

He wondered if he was older than him, or younger. He never mentioned his age.

Then a sinister thought struck him.

What if I was stolen?

He stopped moving and stood still. A bird faraway called out to its kin – and he lifted his eyes to find sunlight trickling down through the canopy above. Glittering, but filtered.

Kidnapping could be plausible, but his mother was kind, generous and thoughtful. He felt a nagging conviction that she would never be capable of such a thing. To strip a new mother from her newborn babe for her own selfish gain. Never.

But she lied to you. The dark thoughts crept in again.

She did admit that he was not kin by blood – she never hid that fact. If he was indeed stolen, then she would have covered that bit up. Swept it under the rug to excuse any prying questions.

So why did she tell you your parents were dead when they are surely alive??

Perhaps she wanted to suggest he was not kin – trying hard to be truthful – but still intending to obscure. It seems she wanted to hide any thought or hope that he would go looking for them.

Or, that perhaps they did not want to be found?

Zerian was finding more questions than answers. He suddenly lost ambition to keep going, and instead sat down beneath the nearest tree. He felt anger, rage, sadness and frustration wrapped up and intertwined together. A giant knot. But also… a tiny tinge of love? A small thread of connection to them, his lost parents. The people he thought he would never know, but who now were suddenly …there.

But they went on without you! They have another child, a wonderful life! It is obvious they didn’t want you. They gave you up for a reason!

He suppressed a sob, and doubled over in anger. He gave in and screamed so loud the forest hushed.

A worthless castaway? Is that all he was?

A small voice whispered: No! Of course not!

But it was small, and easily subdued by the rage and sadness. There is no room for hope or love in the face of such fiery revelations. Zerian tensed.

Confrontation is the only way to know. 

But another thought seized him – the most powerful one of all: A hopeless despair.

As quickly as he was angry, all he wanted now was to wallow away. He wanted to forget them all, everyone and everything. He relaxed his head into his knees, and rolled onto his side. The uneven undergrowth cushioning him and cradling his broken-ness. He closed his eyes and started to drift. He had been walking for hours, no food, no water. His limbs were weary, worn down by the adrenaline. His thoughts became less definitive, more soft and diminutive.

He dreamed of them. He called to them. But there was no answer.

Only blackness.

*

It was a horrible dream. A tangle of indecipherable things. It felt sharp and disingenuous. He was alone and exhausted and the floor was pulled out from under him. He was fighting something that wasn’t there. He was arguing with someone who wasn’t there.

He felt a kick to the kidneys and was flung out into a ditch. He waited and waited, but the ditch never came. He was falling into it, but endlessly – forever expecting the thud of the ground. Endless expanse and endless stars engulfing him. He couldn’t move, and his panic grew ever so slowly, like a beloved rose, rising to the morning sun.

Suddenly he started – he had found the ground and awoke with a jolt. He exhaled, out of breath. Then he saw her.

Anava was kneeling beside him.

She was staring at him, eyes strong but glassy, concerned and still. Her lips tightened when he locked eyes with her. First he was baffled that she would be able to find him way out here. Then he felt immense and deeper than imaginable gratitude. Honored that she would even consider chasing after him.

“H- How did you find me out here?” His throat was hoarse. He remembered screaming and turned red.

“Oh, it wasn’t any trouble. I just found you a moment ago.”

“Oh.” Zerian cleared his throat. At least she wasn’t watching him sleep while twisted up in a nightmare. Then he remembered his current real life nightmare and grimaced. He wondered how much she knew. Then he felt a pang of anger at her. Jealousy for living a life oblivious – a life he was not a part of but should have been.

“Z, I’m worried about you. Why did you run off?”

Then Anava tilted her head slightly to one side just like Dusti used to do. Zerian nearly lost it, but kept his mouth shut. He knew if he spoke it would all come crashing in.

Her eyes searched him as he sat upright. He stretched his stiff neck and felt a drop of sweat fall from his forehead. Time seemed to slow down. He cracked a few knuckles. “I’m fine,“ he mumbled. “I’m – It’s just – I’m not – You didn’t have to. Really, I’m just – “

Zerian rubbed his eyes, which were probably bloodshot, and looked at her again. His thoughts disorganized, like he was spread all over the place. Spread across everything.

“This is not how the story begins,” she said abruptly, “and it is not how it ends, either.”

Zerian blinked, and then ever so slightly she leaned forward and placed her hand on his heart.

Keep going to Part 2