Chapter 3 of Gravity’s RevengePosted by in Uncategorized
Hiresha locked eyes with the woman dropping to her death. Her brows arched up a narrow forehead, pale lips puckered in a circle, eyes popping, the tip of her nose nipped red. She looked surprised but also questioning, as if begging Hiresha to know why, for what reason she had come to be flying against her will, how Hiresha could walk safely up a cliff while she plummeted.
The shock of the moment burned the image into Hiresha’s memory. All sound of wind dropped away, and the rest of the world vanished, leaving the two enchantresses isolated in silence. Numb and disbelieving, Hiresha felt detached as if trapped in a childhood dream. The lack of noise most jarred the enchantress. If the falling figure would only scream, Hiresha felt she could believe her eyes. The doomed woman never did, only whisked past in a streak of bright fabrics.
Hiresha cracked open her own mouth. Chill air pushed into her throat, but she forced out a few words.
“Minna, did…did you see someone….”
The girl opened one eye, took a cautious glance, then squeezed it shut again. “What’s frightened you?”
She saw nothing. She heard nothing. Was there anything to see and hear? Hiresha wondered if she could have imagined the falling woman. Hiresha was afflicted with drowsiness, not delusions, but just then she found it in herself to doubt. A sense of sickness curdled within her from toes to eyes. I am unwell.
Looking over her shoulder, Hiresha wanted to see if she could spot the falling woman again. Green frills from her own headdress blew into her eyes. With one hand clutching the fox, the other the girl, Hiresha could not push away the cloth tendrils to clear her vision.
No matter, she thought. I had to have imagined her anyway. No enchantress would dawdle close enough to a precipice to fall.
Even so, Hiresha found herself stopping. Her knees wobbled as she turned to gaze down at the valley floor. From her perspective the horizon was of foothills, a clutter of town homes, wisps of smoke from chimneys and furnaces, a blue strip of river, and a puzzle of stone walls dividing farm plots. She saw no trace of a falling woman.
“Are we there?” Minna opened her eyes, saw the drop, and cringed.
Hiresha could not help but again ask. “Do you see someone?”
“Ugh! Why’d they build the Academy so far up?” She buried her face in the multicolored drifts of Hiresha’s clothing.
“Why, for protection. And the Mindvault architecture is designed to inspire.”
The enchantress guided Minna back toward the summit, mind roiling with what she had or had not seen. Buildings of the Academy poked out from the clifftop, a glassy dome and a thin tower that appeared bent in half like a folded stalk of a rice reed. By the time Hiresha heard the whistling that would be the wind scraping over the summit, she was mulling over a theory.
If a woman truly had fallen—if she was real—then she had jumped. She had wanted an end. It happened sometimes in the Academy, Hiresha knew. The stress could mount, the sleepless hours build, the family expectations soar, the tuition debts escalate until there seemed no way but to leap.
At least Minna had not been fated to see it. Hiresha was sorry she had. The shivering unease had not left her, and another thought nibbled at the back of her mind. The woman didn’t look like she wanted to be falling.
Hiresha shook her head, feeling foggy with fatigue and not trusting herself to know what a woman who desired death should look like. Soon Hiresha would sleep and put her thoughts straight.
The Skyway curved onto the lip of the cliff. The sun slid behind them as the enchantress and the girl stepped onto the mountain ledge on which perched the Academy. Hiresha expected to see enchantresses flocked close to the cliff side and murmuring about the woman who had jumped.
She saw the Academy at peace. Enchantresses dressed in medleys of color took their exercise together in last night’s snow. One novice in plainer garb threw a baton straight up, and, thanks to anticipating the wind, the wooden instrument fell into the waiting arms of another girl. Laughter tinkled over the Academy grounds. The lack of rampant distress made Hiresha tend to think she had imagined the falling woman. It was cold comfort.
Minna had stopped, and her intake of breath tugged her veil into the hole of her gaping mouth. Hiresha could relate to what she had to be feeling, the exploding sense of wonder. A dreamland of buildings confronted them, all painted with bright colors. One structure turned on a wheel, a procession of windows. A spire spun in flashes of prismatic glass. One tower twisted about itself. Another building seemed to claw at the sky with pink tentacles, and the girl shrank away from it.
“You are right to be leery of the Somnarium.” Hiresha guided Minna farther from the cliff ledge and toward a stone arch crowned by snow. “The enchantresses who study there waste their time with pointless questions rather than seeking practical applications for their magic. Now, this is the—”
“Mind’s Gate.” Minna finished for her, her voice a whisper.
The blue-marble path led them under a sweeping arch with the word “Imagination” emblazoned with gold in the stone in every conceivable language and a few Hiresha suspected had been made up to fill the last stretches of stone.
“I’ve never seen a fountain like that.” Minna was staring beneath the arch. “Wait, is it the goddess?”
“You are right on both counts. It is a water statue of the Opal Mind.”
The figure of a woman rippled, and with a cloudy hand she beckoned them toward the Academy. Chunks of ice floated within the liquid likeness of the goddess. The water statue’s head contained floating stones that sparkled with orange, pink, and blue.
“Opals, of course.” Admiration rang in Hiresha’s voice. Not only had the Opal Mind’s magic kept her namesake jewels from cracking in the cold or whitening in the sun, but she had also coordinated hundreds of Attraction enchantments within the arch and surrounding flagstone to maintain the water statue. Hiresha hoped Minna would ask so the enchantress could talk about their precision and selectivity.
The girl reached toward the statue’s misty knee but stopped herself. “It looks like a ghost.”
“It looks like genius.”
Hiresha knelt and touched the goddess’ feet. The finger pads of her glove came away wet and dark. Seeing the falling enchantress had touched Hiresha with the hand of mortality. She did not ask her goddess for understanding, or relief from the ache inside her. Rather, the enchantress renewed her promise to use her own life to the fullest in pursuit of knowledge and innovation.
“Uh.” Minna pushed some stray snow with her quilted boot. She glanced around the colorful buildings and enchantresses and licked her lips. “I…that is, thank you for bringing me here, Elder Enchantress.”
“‘Hiresha’ will do. You can call me ‘elder’ in a decade or three.”
As soon as they left the statue, a woman in a grey dress and turban crept out from behind the arch and assaulted the girl with a hug.
“Mother!” Minna pushed at Maid Janny, trying to free herself from the crush of bosom.
“Look at you! The first Barrows apprenticed to a higher trade,” Janny said. “When you’re lousy with jewels, remember your hardworking mother. In her old age she’ll have her needs. Warmth, a warmer drink, and lots of young, strapping men to distract her from her backache.”
Hiresha spotted a tall novice cloaked in teal and with strips of dyed cotton crisscrossing her arms and legs against the temperature. The woman had a broad chin but timid eyes, and she flickered a smile at the sight of Hiresha.
“Minna,” Hiresha said over her shoulder, “I should like you to meet Novice Alyla.”
Janny’s daughter did not seem to hear her, was in fact shouting with her mother. “Why didn’t you tell me the Skyway was so windy?”
The maid said, “Now will you forgive me for not walking home most days after work?”
Novice Alyla shuffled forward, her hands crossed and held stiff over her abdomen. She peeked at the new girl then dropped her gaze. Hiresha expected Alyla would approach Minna as soon as the taller novice gathered her courage. Hiresha considered Alyla about as outgoing as a three-legged mouse, but the enchantress cared for her, had brought her to the Academy from their homeland and hoped to see her soon wear an enchantress’s dress of color. Amid the teal of her robes and wrappings, Alyla’s face and hands stood out with a skin tone of dark amber.
A man ran toward Alyla. Even taller than she, he had a greatsword strapped to his back, and wore a purple jacket over a broad chest, with silver greaves covering his legs like ornate ankle-shields. Grinning, he leaped toward Alyla and spread his arms.
“Catch me, Aly!”
He had thrown himself forward with such force that Hiresha had to worry he would injure his sister. Alyla turned in time to see the big man falling toward her wearing no gentle amount of arms and armor.
He slowed in midair, and Hiresha sensed him using his spellsword powers to activate an enchantment in his greaves. He was Lightened. He landed in his sister’s arms with about the weight of a hound, pushing her back but not flooring her.
His full weight returned the next second, and he dropped from Alyla’s hands. His laughter boomed. Alyla stayed silent but beamed, looking up at him with an expression Hiresha most often saw in enchantresses kneeling to the Opal Mind’s statue in devotion.
Hiresha had to wonder if her own face betrayed a hint of the same toward him. What Fos Chandur lacked in experience as a spellsword he made up for with confidence and vigor. She was more than relieved that her own innovations in jewel enchantments had once saved his life. Sometimes she thought of that as her greatest accomplishment.
The smile he cast Hiresha over his sister’s shoulder made the enchantress believe he felt something of the same toward her. Spellswords were tasked with protecting enchantresses, and he had risked his life for her sake.
The mountain air seemed at once warm, a soothing breeze on her cheek.
A voice of command yanked her from the reverie. “Provost Hiresha, do you condone this negligence?”
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