The Importance of the Impossible
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Chapter 7 of Gravity’s Revenge

Posted by A.E. Marling in Uncategorized

Chapter 7

The Crystal Ballroom

Hiresha’s breath frosted a glittering blue. The night was too cold for snow, but the powder that had already fallen crackled under her feet. The Waterfly River will freeze tonight. Yet she did not feel the pain of the chill. A tingling numbness flowed up her arm where she touched the Lord of the Feast.

His eyes glowed with starlight, and constellations rearranged themselves above his head to form the glittering spokes of a crown. To the right of where he walked, red ghostflames sprang up from the snow. On Hiresha’s side, purple flames sprouted, forming a pathway leading to a building with a dome of glass.

On the way, Hiresha spotted Spellsword Fos jogging across the Academy Plateau. He leapt and was carried into the air by a gust. Hiresha guessed he had missed the timing on his jump, had Lightened himself too long, and a trill of fear passed through her that he would blow off a cliff.

He thumped down into the snow, his natural weight restored. He ran closer to Hiresha and the Lord of the Feast, and Hiresha worried Fos would see them. As an Academy guard he was charged to kill Feasters without trial, and seeing her arm and arm with one would lead to exponential awkwardness.

I won’t let one hurt the other, she thought.

The purple and red flames smoldered, but the spellsword gave no sign of seeing them or their smoke. He trudged on. Hiresha was relieved then recalled that she had promised to bring Fos the extra cloak, but she must have dropped it while shoving the Feaster away from his sister. She admired Fos for running on a night like this and hoped he would continue and keep himself warm.

Her skin burned with relief when they entered the shelter of an entrance hall. Hiresha slipped into a darkened parlor and returned with a crystal key. It opened a transparent door of quartz leading into the Academy Ballroom, a domed space of echoes and stars. If not for the sheen on the clear stone and the lack of chillsome wind, Hiresha might believe herself outside. The floor tiles curved upward to meet the glassy walls and ceiling in a sphere.

“At last we may enjoy the room in privacy,” The Lord of the Feast said. “The yearly Starstorm Balls have far too many people to be sociable. Crowds make you feel so alone.”

Even though they walked at arm’s length, he seemed so near that Hiresha felt it as a painfully invigorating pressure. They circled up the polished slope and onto the crystal so that their feet pointed toward the crags capped with glowing snow. They ascended to the crest of the Ballroom, and enchantments made Hiresha feel upright and on level ground. Stars glittered below the hem of her dress as if she levitated above shimmering ice.

The enchantress said, “I would have invited you to the Academy if you’d asked. On—”

“I never go where I’m invited.”

“On the condition that you behave as a guest should.”

“So far I’m the best mannered Feaster in the Mindvault. I do apologize for Minara. It’s my place to discipline my children, but I have far too many. And my children have entirely too many mothers.”

Hiresha knew Lord Tethiel was not Minna’s true father, but the girl’s forbidden magic now bound her to him. Did the girl start Feasting to hide her birthmark? A tragedy. And whatever shall I tell Janny? More to the point, what must I do with a Feaster in the novice registry?

“You may punish Minara as you see fit.” Tethiel answered her unspoken question. Each time his boot lifted, a filigree of red bloomed through the crystal floor, or ceiling, rather. The branching patterns twined and twisted after them in a multihued wake. “I consider you the master of the Mindvault.”

“The Chancellor of Precious—”

“Is the block of wood that keeps the door open,” he said.

Hiresha’s gowns trailed an essence of purple into the crystal, and the light rippled and seeped through the Ballroom. This spread of color did not come from her enchantments. Hiresha thought Tethiel considerate to give her footfalls an equal measure of his magic.

She asked, “What would you have done if she had disobeyed you outside the Academy?”

“Been most severe. My children know not to attack you, my heart.”

Pleasant and painful sensations of wading through a steam bath as well as being scalded warred in Hiresha’s tension-petrified stomach. She tended to think Tethiel wanted to leave the Feaster novice here as a spy, and that he would kill her if Hiresha expelled her. Neither could she think of keeping the Feaster in her sanctuary.

“I ask only one thing,” Tethiel said. “You not give her over to the Bright Palms. Better for her to be thrown off a cliff. The rocks below would kill her faster and with more mercy.”

The muscles between Hiresha’s shoulder blades tightened at the mention of falling to death. He denied involvement, but does he know about the enchantress’s fall? Was it an illusion after all?

With a shudder, she imagined dragging Minna down to the Bright Palms’ sanctum. They would nail the girl to the door of Janny’s house in warning against those protecting Feasters. Janny would never forgive me. Hiresha doubted the maid would ever surrender to the belief her daughter was a Feaster. A girl driven by her magic to murder. What mother could conceive of that?

“There may be a future for Minara without need for killing.” Once again he answered her unspoken worry. “Beneath a warehouse in Oasis City is a shrine of thorns to the Shrike Heart. The devout worship by seeking pleasure through unusual—”

“A cult of a forbidden god?”

“Forbidden is what you make of it, my heart. As I was saying, the disciples have a pact with me. Feasters fill their shrine with waking nightmares. The worshipers cower, scream, and plead for more. My children are satisfied, no Bright Palms are summoned, and no one has to die.”

“I am skeptical. You think Minna could live her life hidden in a warehouse?”

“Her and her brothers and sisters. And not just one warehouse, but a shrine in every town.” In a mock display of the grandiose, he lofted an arm to the horizon, which happened to be upside down in relation them. “Villages may one day take pride in the expertise of their Feaster.”

Hiresha said, “I doubt so many would enjoy a Feaster preying upon them with visions of crawling spiders.”

“You might be surprised. Man would be miserable without his ordeals. Besides, there’s more to Feasting than frights.”

The trails and designs of light they had left behind them mixed in the crystal, sprouting into saplings with magenta bark and leaves that smoldered with darkness and orange heat.

“I wish to see the day we will not be hunted, not be shunned,” he said. “Maybe a little shunned. I’d feel wretched if too many thought well of me.”

“You think the Bright Palms would allow it?”

“Those marble hearts? Never.” His face and voice gave no hint of anger, but the leaves on the illusionary trees around them shivered. Flecks of green and blue sparks rained upon them, and where the motes of color touched the skin they caused a sharp sensation of mint. “With Bright Palms there is no reason, only rule.”

Hiresha refrained from asking the obvious question. Tethiel either had to know his vision could never be, or he had to think he could extinguish all the Bright Palms in the Lands of Loam. Hiresha thought the latter less than likely since the Bright Palms sacrificed their own emotions for healing magic and immunity to Feasting horrors.

She said, “The Bright Palms have no respect for the higher study of magic.”

“Was that why they were banned from the Mindvault? I thought it was their poor taste in clothes. No matter. The absence of Bright Palms is my favorite part of visiting here. Or should that be my second favorite?” One corner of his lips bent upward.

Tethiel caught hold of both her hands. He was close. His breath smelled of roasted coffee beans and autumn.

“Have you ever watched a hawk fly, my heart? Free in the sky, cutting through clouds, diving like an arrow.”

“I indulge in jewel carving, not ornithology.”

“And the gems suit you.” He touched the diamonds of her earring, and his hand grazed her chin. “With you, I am the hawk.”

He coaxed her to step onto a circle etched into the crystal, and with an uplifting sensation, Hiresha was pulled by enchantment in a well of gravity into the center of the room. She held onto him, and he onto her. They spun about each other in the air.

Triangles unfolded in geometric cascades from his back into faceted wings. They beat once as the couple swung around each other midair, and with a clattering flutter the two drifted toward the far wall.

In the light of her earrings, his eyes shone like pale sapphires. This close, the air that slid from between his lips warmed her brow, but she could not help but wonder. A hawk he may be, yet does he see me as another bird, or a mouse in his talons?

Their feet touched down at the same time. The trees had grown into a jungle around them, with curtains of fuchsia ivy, a haze of blue mist, and vines that parted for their footsteps. Roots also burrowed out of their way.

Again she wondered at his purpose in the Academy. Merely to see me? He may think my regenerative spellcraft could keep him young. Tethiel intruded on her life rarely, less often than she would wish, and usually when he needed her expertise. She worried he only cared for her magic.

“No, my heart. I respect you, and for that I come. Though sometimes I think if I respected you even more, I should stay away.” Jungle vines sprouted a ring of thorns around the Lord of the Feast to frame him with jagged points. He reached out to her. “Feasting magic is not improving to one’s health. The same is true for those who keep my company.”

She stared at his outstretched hand. “And you said you were confident in my abilities.”

“To defend yourself from Bright Palms, others who might hunt me, yes.” He sounded as if he might say more but did not. His fingers clicked together, and for a moment they seemed to make not a fist but a mouth of snaggleteeth. He let the arm fall.

The jungle and bright plants faded to nothing. Only Hiresha and Tethiel remained in the Ballroom. His pose slipped from kingly to slumped.

“I want you to know,” he said, “I never wanted my magic between us. If I could wish for one thing, it’d be that we neither had power.”

“Speak for your own magic. I have no need to give up enchantment. Or wish to.”

“Ah, my heart, but we must always give up the thing we cannot do without.”

The only light now came from Hiresha’s earrings, which cast the room in icy tones. “It is late. I already will sleep through half my duties tomorrow, and you doubtless will want to be gone with the dawn.”

Hiresha hated to leave Tethiel’s company. As awake as Hiresha felt around him and his magic, her fatigue would return with vigor when he left. The following stupor would last much of the next days.

“Goodnight, Tethiel.”

Before she could leave the Ballroom, he called after her.

“She fell.”

Tension sprang through Hiresha, stiffening her limbs. “What did you say?”

“You were worrying about an enchantress, before. I scented her surprise as she fell. And her terror didn’t taste of someone who’d wanted to end her own life.”

An image of a dress spinning downward flashed through Hiresha’s mind. “Are you suggesting an enchantress stumbled off a cliff?”

“Or the Mindvault dropped her.”

Hiresha’s heart beat once with a shock of coldness. The memory of the falling woman streaked through her mind. Is the Skyway safe? She dismissed the worry as being close to sacrilegious. The Academy’s enchantments had not once dropped a person in recorded history.

“Impossible,” she said.

“Is it?”

The enchantress wondered, Is it indeed?

Next chapter…

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