Peering through a reflection, Maerlyn pushes aside the curtains to see behind the stage and into another world.
What she sees shakes and disturbs her unlike anything she’s seen before.
“Teacher, you look ashen,” says Sylvan, the young apprentice looking up from her lessons.
“Run quickly child. Fetch Mandrake at once. He must see this.”
Sylvan traces her dark hair behind her ears, away from her emerald-ringed orbs and stands up. “May I stop at the gardens on the way back, Teacher?”
Her courage has always been a blessing, thinks Maerlyn. “Of course. But don’t dawdle on the run there.”
Sylvan bows to honor her Teacher, turning to run from the candle-lit chamber. Pushing out the heavy door she sees the black dog with a wide head jump to his feet, nails clicking on the white marble floor.
“Come on Chaos, let’s go find King Mandrake,” she says, scratching ears as high as her naval.
Chaos barks once, following Sylvan down the hallway. Without thinking twice, the apprentice conjures an image of wings on her ankles. The floor recedes as she races Chaos out of the abode.
The two crash through the front doors into the bright sunlight. Gold sparkles of water nymphs alight from the emerald fountain at the center, startled and upset. A few clouds streak wisps high overhead. .
“Sorry!” she calls to the sparkles. “I have to find Mandrake!”
Her bare feet touch just a moment on the sandy earth before her mind attunes to the new material. She looks at the dog and giggles. “Hope you can keep up, Chaos.”
Clear and warm like a loving touch, the air rushes around her smooth face and curls through her hair. The dog beside her kicks up dust, while her running legs dance just above the ground. Sprinting out to the end of the walk, she darts to the right and up the path to the palace.
Only the surrounding gardens set the palace off from other dwellings. She runs through the gate, waving to the Gardner.
“Good afternoon, sir,” she says with a warm smile. “I come seeking the King.”
“Good Lord Mandrake is in the vestry I believe,” says a thin, ancient man. Shaded by a droopy brown hat, golden eyes shine bright with spirit. He snips a flower with dark blue tips at the petals edge and a binary star system in the center. “Take this, my dear. I’m sure Mandrake will appreciate it.” He watches the black dog at Sylvan’s side with caution.
“Thank you sir,” she says with a small bow. She then stands on her tip-toes to kiss the old man’s wrinkled cheeks before heading for the door. Her eyes glance at the rainbows glistening in the mist, electric wonder filling her heart like a fountain. She has to force herself into the dwelling.
Sylvan looks into the flower, its beauty captivating her. She takes a sniff and golden dust lights up from the petals. The sound of singing voices hearkens in the distance, vanishing like the dust that dissipates into the air.
The vestry is on the second floor. Humming echoes down the hall, the door opens. Redro, the King’s big white dog lies on the floor, his tail swishing as the two approach.
“Alas, who goes there?” says a deep rumble from around the doorframe.
“Milord, it is I, Sylvan with a message from Maerlyn,” she says, kneeling at the doorjamb, flower held low in both hands.
Footsteps bring him closer and Sylvan looks up into bright, indigo-colored eyes. The King is dressed in a modest kimono. Battle-scars trace an ancient history over a royal face that lights up when he looks upon her eyes. A giant of a man, he has fought battles both abroad and within, many with Maerlyn at his back.
“Sylvan! Welcome! Your presence is always a pleasure. What have you here?”
“This is for you, milord,” says Sylvan, holding up the flower to him.
Mandrake casts the flower a strange look, smiles and lifts it, but does not smell. “What brings you here today?”
“Teacher said to run quick and fetch you, for she has something to show you.”
“Hmm. Highly unusual. Thank you Sylvan for your hurry. I shall leave at once.” Mandrake gives her a grave look. “Last night I had a dream where the Calendar’s End was shown to me by a girl who bore a celestial lotus like this. Things will change quickly, very soon now.”
A sad look crosses her face. “What will happen to the gardens if everything changes? Is it a good change?”
“Everything has its place in the orders to come, but I see you brought Chaos with you.”
Sylvan bites her lips and looks down at the silver veins in the white floor. “I’m sorry…”
“Nothing to apologize for,” he says, reaching out to turn her chin upwards.
She looks into his eyes and sees an old fire that she hasn’t seen before.
“Things happen as they Will,” he says. “But all will know your love before long, Child.” He looks down at the flower in his left hand and then back into her eyes. “Thank you for coming, Sylvan.” He gently hands the flower back. “Please keep the lotus as a token of my appreciation. Take care, milady.”
He walks past and hurries down the hall, his footsteps reverberating away. Redro stands, ears twitching between the parting King and the visitors.
Confused by Mandrake, Sylvan returns to the gardens. Chaos darts ahead, running towards the nearest plants.
“Get out of here, you stupid dog!” calls the Gardener, shooing Chaos away.
Sylvan whistles and Chaos looks at her. “Go home to Maerlyn.”
The big dog lopes away, returning home.
She steps into the mists between the vineyards. A smile fills her heart as she hears the laughter of children echoing and circling the rainbow around her. Giddy, she laughs along. She looks closer at a cluster of grapes nearby where the reflections of galaxies twinkles like glistening dew in the morning light. Fascination overwhelms her and she can’t help but hold her hands around the fruit and watch the healing color glow from her fingers.
“Maerlyn’s trained you well in her medicine,” says the Gardener.
“Thank you,” she says, glancing over her shoulder. “I hope these will be okay whatever happens.”
“As long as the gardens are tended, I’m sure everything will be fine.”
Sylvan sighs deeply. “I should be off. Thank you sir,” she says, giving the Gardener a kiss on the cheek.
“May the light shine upon you, Child,” says the old voice.
Sylvan runs home to find Mandrake exiting the door and climbing onto his mount.
“Milord, what happens now?” She looks at the flower in her hand, deciding to slip it into her hair above her right ear.
“I must rush to the City and announce the new Missions to the people. There is no time to lose.”
Three water nymphs leave the fountain to orbit the King and his horse. One dips under the white stallion to trace a golden spiral around a leg. A fourth darts and swirls it’s way to her and dances around the flower in her hair, sending warmth into her crown.
Another horse appears from the stable, her Teacher seated high.
“I must accompany Mandrake to the City…”
“May I come with?” asks Sylvan.
Maerlyn gives her a long, sad look. “I suppose. It won’t be a good last memory of the City. Change comes quick now and all of us will have to reshape our perceptions.”
Sylvan is confused. “Last memory?”
“We must be off,” says Mandrake, his horse anxious to run.
Maerlyn reaches down to pull Sylvan up behind.
“Did you want to give Mandrake’s ride feathers?” asks Maerlyn, giving the higher honor to her apprentice. “I can take care of ours.”
The hoof-beats dim and fade with the medicine. Mandrake looks over to the Midewiwins. Sylvan smiles, but he doesn’t smile back. She looks towards the sky where the ringed planet begins to rise.
Normally a day’s ride, the City is reached in one long-hand rotation of the clock. As the party nears the high walls, Sylvan lets dust kick up from Mandrake’s ride. The two towers at the gate flash with the reflecting pinpoints of suntalk, trumpets announcing the arrival of the King.
They charge through the gates where Sylvan looks up at the giant inscriptions. She is always entranced by the powerful, ancient glyphs. Maerlyn hasn’t explained them to her yet.
To the center of the City they ride on the wide, smooth streets. People peer out of abodes carved out of the rock walls. Those nearer kneel before the passing trio. Many make signs of respect to Maerlyn as well.
At the center stands a temple with columns that seem to reach to the sky. It is here they dismount. Mandrake heads up the steps, Maerlyn and Sylvan behind.
Sylvan has never been inside the temple before. The ceiling curves and arcs from column to column, painted with elves, hobbits, water nymphs, mermaids and other fantastical creatures in their natural environments. In the center a raised platform looks upwards to the audience circling around. Recessed in the platform is a reflecting pool. Opposite the pool stands a speaking podium.
People rush in with concerned looks on their faces and find seats. An idle chatter echoes, but stays quiet and nervous.
“I will accompany the King at the podium,” whispers Maerlyn. “I must start the water growth. Did you want to help me?”
Sylvan looks at all the people rapidly filling the temple. “Uh.”
“It’s okay.” Maerlyn gives her a sad look. “You can take any seat.”
Sylvan turns to see a boy wander in from the front door. A little older than her, his eyes are crystal blue.
“Hello,” she says to him. “I’m Sylvan. What’s your name?”
He gives her a nervous smile. “I’m Anthem. Is that a celestial lotus from the King’s gardens?”
Sylvan nods and sighs.
Anthem changes the subject as they sit near the front. “My Dad says that whenever the Summer King rides to the City, that’s when the cycle comes to a closing.”
Sylvan swallows hard. “Cycles have an opening and closing?”
The boy raises an eyebrow. “Seasons have openings and closings. They’re cycles.”
“That’s true. Cycles rise and…”
“Good people of Summer,” calls Mandrake from the podium. “I welcome you on this beautiful day. It is with great chagrin that I come to you, for the situation could be better.”
Maerlyn sprinkles a dust mixture into the pool. Smoke begins to froth and curl from the surface.
“The Good Mother Aerth has called for help during her birthing process. Her people are entering a spiritual abyss of unprecedented proportion.”
In the smoke above the pool, an image appears of a planet soiled by dark, sick clouds moving too fast, bristling with angry lightning. The oceans don’t look natural, and trash sails past the image in space.
The audience gasps, thunderstruck with the deteriorating state the once pristine planet is now in. Clouds grow larger and more violent as the image zooms down to a farmhouse with a family inside.
Instead of the green presence inside the home the people of Summer are used to seeing, the spaces between the family are all dark. As the crowd watches in horror, an elder male becomes violent with a young child.
Sylvan stands up, crying “That’s not right! At all! What has driven the people of Aerth to such anger?” Her heart seems to stop in her chest. She gasps and sits down, her head in her hands. Anthem wraps his arms around her in a friendly bear-hug.
Through blurred eyes she sees her Teacher tap the water, changing the ripple.
Mandrake says “Through denial of their inherent perfection, they have come to believe they are inherently flawed.”
Displayed in the undulating mists a strange, new monster takes form. Framed like a painting, the picture keeps changing. Entrained in the screen, the crowd goes slack-jawed.
“Ow!” says Anthem, rubbing his eyes after a moment. “That hurts my attention!”
“What black magic is this blasphemy?” A muscular, bald man stands and looks at the rippling image, arms up and defensive.
“An evil magic that displays ever greener pastures,” says Maerlyn. “It confuses and disorients. It alone can make souls forget they are divine and lets a dozen control billions.”
The crowd goes silent.
“The challenges of this Mission are great,” says Mandrake. “But it is our calling. Not many will survive the birthing process, but those who do may find the New Aerth a place they wish to stay for a while.”
For another moment the temple is silent as a tomb. Then it takes a breath.
“So when do we go?” asks a mother of two.
“The waters are ready now,” says Maerlyn, making the picture clouds vanish.
Sylvan’s stomach seizes when she sees the portal waters.
“As with all Missions, be wary. Remember to hold onto that which is within, for that can never be taken away,” reminds Mandrake.
Those nearest to the podium begin to walk forwards, others following hence.
“Milord,” asks the first. “What shall be come of you?”
Mandrake gives the young man a compassionate look of respect. “This mission requires all resources.”
The young man nods, clasps his hands and bows his head. “Thank you, milord for this opportunity to set things right. Mother Aerth needs us.”
The King of Summer bows to the people and then turns to Maerlyn. “I hope I find you on the other side, old friend.” Then to the crowd, “Perchance we may all meet again, but let it be with joy, not sorrow. Let us enter this land of Winter with open hearts. For it will be through our Missions that the Great Mother Aerth awakens to a new tomorrow.”
Sylvan watches the temple empty, its occupants leaving through the waters.
“Good-bye,” she says to Anthem who squeezes her hand as he leaves.
“Who knows, maybe we’ll find each other,” he says with a smile before stepping into the water and vanishing.
She sees the Gardener in the crowd as well.
“Sir, who will tend the gardens?”
“I trust the rainbows shall be fine,” he says with a wink before stepping through.
“Teacher?” she says, wandering close in an empty temple.
“Yes, my student?” Maerlyn dilutes the water until the portal almost disappears.
“What happens now?”
“What happens through Will. We shall return in the twinkling of an eye. It is not your time to incarnate on Aerth just yet. But what Mandrake says is truth. You will be on Aerth in one form or another.”
Two emerald orbs fill with rain, but she holds them in her clouds. “Please make it quick,” she says, giving Maerlyn a tight hug and kiss on the cheek.
“Remember your gifts,” says Maerlyn who cups her student’s chin as she descends into the waters. “You will be fine.”
This short story contains characters with Soul Lineages that span more than one story.
Please see the Concordance.