The Importance of the Impossible
Header image

Chapter 13 of Gravity’s Revenge

Posted by A.E. Marling in Uncategorized

Chapter 13

Enchantress Parlor

When the Bright Palms found the glass door locked, Sheamab smote it with her staff. The stained-glass door vibrated, then cracked, and on the third blow the plates exploded in red and green shards. The Bright Palms crunched their way into the parlor. Two of them held Hiresha with hands that she could see even through closed eyes.

They should be called Bright Veins.

She worried when the fennec fox trotted over the broken glass, though he seemed unhurt. None of the Bright Palms gave the fox a second glance even as he yipped and raced between their legs.

Sheamab stopped to gaze at a display case containing a sphere of azurite and malachite, the patterning of blue and green gemstone reminiscent of the continents of the Lands of Loam. A moonstone orbited it. Farther out, sapphires and rubies traveled in lazy loops around a central diamond.

The Bright Palm said, “This is a model of moving stars?”

“Nearly.” A hope kindled in Hiresha that if she could interest the Bright Palm in the research and works of enchantment, better terms might be negotiated for the Academy. “The Minister of Orbiting Bodies grumbled all the while about practicalities impinging on accuracy during the year she spent enchanting the display, but as you can see—”

The Bright Palm smashed it to smithereens in three seconds. She pressed her staff against it then hurled the display against the wall. Hiresha was aghast, not only at the ruined gemstones but also because the Bright Palm’s face and pose had given no clue to her intent. Seeing the destruction surprised Hiresha as much as a statue reaching down from its pedestal to strangle someone.

Hiresha said, “There didn’t seem to be any Feasters hiding in that globe.”

“A distraction is never harmless. Dangerous are wealth, sweetened wine, and puzzles of the mind.” Sheamab nodded to the white grid of a game board, lined with vials of colored sands. She brushed flecks of gemstone from her tunic.

“Better to create than to pulverize, I’m certain.”

The fennec investigated the wrecked display with his whiskered nose then ran around the Bright Palm, tail brushing her knees. Hiresha worried that Sheamab might see the fox as a distraction fit to be crushed, but the small creature might as well have been invisible to her.

The Bright Palm said, “Living is what is important.”

“Do you live?” Hiresha asked. “Or do you merely subsist?”

“Bright Palms are not of the innocent. But neither are they less than innocent. Eighteenth tenet, stanza ten.” Sheamab lifted a vial full of pink sand, letting grains tip into the glass nozzle corresponding to what was allowable to place onto the Sands board on one turn. “The innocent cannot live when Feasters are free to prey.”

Hiresha blinked at the vial in the Bright Palm’s fingers. “You’ve played Sands before.”

“Long ago.” Sheamab stacked the vials onto the white board. “Often, I could tell that I would win from my competitor’s first throw of sand.”

The dark pupils of her eyes flashed into dots of white. That unnatural gaze locked with Hiresha as Sheamab hurled the game board into the wall. Hiresha started at the crash, and the fennec dug himself into the tasseled cushions to hide. A rainbow of sands leaked over the rug.

“It was the same with you,” Sheamab said. “Once the Provost of Applied Enchantment opened the Academy to me, I knew our purposes here would all succeed.”

“I find your arrogance most reassuring.”

“Not arrogance,” Sheamab said, staring at Hiresha. “Evaluation.”

Hiresha gathered her composure while rubbing the heels of her hands against her sleepy eyes. She saw few auspicious possibilities for herself, but she thought if she could keep Sheamab talking instead of wrecking things and friends, it would be all to the good. The enchantress reasoned she might even learn something of value.

She said, “Sands is not a common game. Were you raised a nobleman’s daughter? Was becoming a Bright Palm a petty rebellion for you?”

Sheamab gazed past the enchantress as if she had not spoken.

Two more Bright Palms entered the room, a wispy-bearded youth moving behind a man who boasted more than his fair share of jaw. That hulk of a chin chomped up and down as he spoke.

“Mavin shot the Lord of the Feast, but we’re not sure he’ll die of it. He sealed himself in a building that turns on its side.”

The Grindstone. Hiresha felt dizzy from relief and worry. He’s escaped into the Grindstone. But did they hurt him? Or only his illusion?

Sheamab spread a blank papyrus scroll across a knee-high table. She opened an ivory box containing an enchanted quill and pots of ink. “He must have hidden himself in the College of Manifest Enchantment. See if the enchantresses can open it for you. Also, obtain amulets for us.”

The thick jaw asked, “Twelve amulets?”

“Ten,” Sheamab said. “One for each of us.”

Hiresha sensed the difference in number was significant. She was too tired to think of how.

She attempted to keep her face neutral, knowing that only the diamond between her breasts could unlock the Grindstone workshop. Hiresha had added a second layer of magical locks, not wanting any pesky chancellors to interrupt her work.

Sheamab was gazing at Hiresha, the Bright Palm’s irises dark around the edges and veined with light. The enchantress had a sense those eyes missed nothing. Her own cheeks quirked, her lips quivered, but she covered herself by sneering at the Bright Palm.

The Bright Palm’s expression resembled the serenity in a master’s painting of a woman reflecting on life’s deeper meanings. She had a strong nose and a prominent lower lip. Her lashes spread like shards of onyx, her eye structure reminding Hiresha of uncut diamonds, with the Bright Palm’s arched brows and the triangular shadow they cast on her cheeks. Sheamab had the appearance of a woman just grown to her full height.

One Bright Palm beside her looked even younger. His eyes were a startling aquamarine, his black hair short-cropped. Hiresha could tell he had once ridden the dunes as a nomad from the blue dye stains on his face, though no veil covered his delicate features now.

Their faces are forever preserved in youth, so a Bright Palm’s magic is akin to pickling vegetables.

“Why, you both look barely old enough to be married,” Hiresha said. “Clearly, Bright Palms don’t turn away conscripts because they’re too young and vulnerable.”

“All people are vulnerable. Bright Palms sacrifice so they may be less so.” Sheamab swept an ostrich quill toward the older-looking man, balding and with his crag for a chin. “He came to the Order of the Innocent because pain thundered over half his face. He lost his sleep, lost his wife, lost his living, lost his future. Through sacrifice, he regained a purpose.”

Despite herself, Hiresha was curious. She had encountered a few people with an infestation of agony on a single side of the face. She asked the Bright Palm, “Did the pain cease?”

Sheamab motioned for him to answer.

“Every breeze, every touch, the pain is still there.” He pressed a finger into his thick jaw, leaving an indentation in his stubble, and it was Hiresha who winced. “But it no longer matters.”

“And he,” Sheamab said and pointed her quill to the younger once-nomad, “suffered the pain of betrayal from a loved one. He could have killed himself, but he chose instead to serve the innocent.”

Or he could have grown up. Learned to master his feelings rather than extinguish them. Hiresha said, “And what of yourself? Did you catch the boy you fancied kissing another girl, so you became a Bright Palm to spite him?”

Sheamab arranged the ink wells under the mesh surface of the writing table. All the visitors had to be instructed how to use the modified quill, but this Bright Palm seemed to deduce the method. She drew the words she wanted, pressing the gold tip of the quill against the papyrus, and an Attraction spell then pulled the ink through the paper, embedding it within the fibers to prevent smearing.

Sheamab wrote, and when she began speaking as well she surprised Hiresha. The enchantress had not expected an answer. It came in cool, lifeless words that sent tremors down her spine.

“One night when I was sixteen years of age, I awoke to feel plaster sprinkling onto my face. I wondered if a quake was shaking the manor. Then a hole was torn through the ceiling by giant segmented legs reaching inside, bristling with needle hairs, spindly, clawed and hooked, and with a red spot above each knobby joint. A waking nightmare cast by a Feaster.”

Sheamab’s voice had less emotion in it than the scratch of the enchanted quill across the papyrus.

“The Feaster peered inside with six red eyes, soon to tear its way through the ceiling and devour myself and my family. I knew that, and knew also my only chance lay in reaching into the hearth and throwing up the embers to set fire to our own roof. Either the Feaster would roast or Bright Palms would see the blaze and come help.”

Hiresha found her hands clenched over the embroidered gown above her knees. She tried to release the tension in her fingers.

“I knew what had to be done, yet fear paralyzed me.” Sheamab set the gold-tipped quill onto a clean stretch of paper. “The Feaster descended through the hole broken in the ceiling. I would have died along with the rest, had my mother not pushed me out the window. On that night I dedicated my life to removing the weakness in myself and those in this world who would prey upon it.”

Hiresha reached out for the fennec and held him. She forced moisture into her mouth. “That cannot have happened. Feasters don’t force their way into homes uninvited.”

“They did before Lord Tethiel’s time.”

So she is far older than I.

Sheamab snapped off the plume of the ostrich quill, leaving only the writing end. “I told you how it was I became a Bright Palm. Now, Enchantress Hiresha, you will tell me why you became a Feaster.”

Gowns spread to either side of Hiresha as she lurched to her feet. “I am most certainly not a Feaster. I have never partaken in that degenerate magic.”

“You sound as if you have answered that question before,” Sheamab said. “If you are not a Feaster, then explain the manner of your pact with the Lord of the Feast.”

“I don’t pretend to know what you’re insinuating.” The pain of uncertainty ground through Hiresha. She knew she was terrible at lying. “Lord Tethiel is my client. Many nobles purchase my talents for healing purposes.”

“Elder Enchantress Hiresha, you were sighted in the city of Morimound, three years, four months ago, the same night the Lord of the Feast fled down the streets on his basilisk steed. The innocents claimed you drove him off, but that would have been beyond your power. The task of abolishing Feasters is the Bright Palm’s purpose. Fifth tenet.”

Hiresha could feel her brows lifting in surprise. She tried to keep the traitorous things under control, not wishing to give any sign that she had in truth worked alongside the Lord of the Feast to destroy a common adversary. Tethiel had merely insisted on taking credit for the infamy.

Sheamab watched the last of her scrawled words soak through the papyrus. “One year, five months ago, you were present in Oasis City, at a battle between Bright Palms and Feaster knights. You did nothing to aid the side of innocence. Further, you were seen in conference with the Lord of the Feast and the vizier. Within a week, the vizier issued an edict that banned Bright Palms from entering towns.”

Hiresha did not know whether to deny the truth, or point out that her actions in that city had saved the lives of women innocents.

Sheamab dabbed ink over her palm and fingers then pressed them to the bottom of the papyrus for some manner of seal. It left on the page what looked like a charred hand, close to skeletal. “Bright Palms must now build their sanctums outside the city walls. Bandits and mercenaries attack us, hired by the Lord of the Feast.”

“Tethiel restrains the Feasters from their natural savagery,” Hiresha said. She had decided little point remained in dissembling.

“A strategy so the innocents forget why they need Bright Palms. We have few converts and many losses. Soon we would have been too few to resist the Lord of the Feast when he begins his conquest of the Lands of Loam.”

“So you followed him here. To murder him, when you don’t understand him, when your family wouldn’t have died with him as lord.” Hiresha wanted to know how the Bright Palms had known when Tethiel would have arrived. A chill ran through her at the next thought. Sheamab must have planned for months. Perhaps years.

Sheamab flicked her chin toward Hiresha, and the two other Bright Palms seized her. The light from their hands seeped into her skin. Hiresha could see it flow upward along the veins of her arm, toward her heart, bringing with it a numbness that eased the tension wracking her insides. She felt violated, inflicted with an inner peace she did not want. Not with the Academy invaded, its enchantments fraying.

She tried to hold onto her feelings but felt them drain away, and she struggled to care, to remember her outrage at the Bright Palm who now spoke.

“Elder Enchantress, I will only ask this of you once.” Sheamab lifted one of Hiresha’s skirts and wiped her ink-stained hand on it. “Unlock the door protecting the Lord of the Feast. Once he is dead by impaling, the Order of the Innocent will overlook whatever pact you had with him.”

Hiresha found herself considering the treachery. She evaluated it as she might any uncut diamond, for flaws, for efficient carving designs. Part of her wanted to protect the Academy, to save Janny from grief, and Alyla and Minna, too, though Hiresha could no longer recall why.

She asked, “And you and your Bright Palms will leave thereafter?”

“Once the vizier agrees to these terms, we will go.” Sheamab rolled the scroll into an oilskin case and closed it with care. “The Bright Palms must be allowed within town walls. Given building rights for our sanctums. Men and women encouraged to join the order through tax mercies for their families.”

“A month will pass before that message even reaches the vizier. You mean to hold the Academy hostage all winter?”

Hiresha rebelled against the peace that eroded her mind’s desires with each beat of her heart. Her arms twisted in the grips of the Bright Palms. Willing away the soothing light caused her to ache, tremble, be filled with a filth of worry and hurt. Her thoughts returned to Spellsword Fos, lying atop the Blade, bleeding and perhaps with his ribs and legs shattered.

“I will not deal with any woman who lobs my friends off cliffs,” Hiresha said. “You may as well tumble down the Skyway with that letter yourself, for all the help I’ll give you.”

“You are wrong on one point. An enchantress will carry the message down the Skyway. One of your choosing.” Sheamab seized Hiresha’s hands and folded her fingers over the scroll case. “The leather is strong. The message can outlive the messenger.”

 

Note from the author: I hope you enjoyed the first act of Gravity’s Revenge. You can glean the rest of Hiresha’s story soon enough. Become a patron of the novel and be one of the first to read it to its epic conclusion.

Typos are common at the advanced-reader-copy stage of all forms of publishing, and I’m still polishing Gravity’s Revenge. If you saw any errors, message me, and I’ll add an award for you in the acknowledgments: Grammar Conqueror.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response

no