The Forgotten Gemstone
SHADOWS EXPANDED INTO distorted shapes, elongating as the folk they belonged to woke from their slumber. Yawning and stretching, those who had slept on Elishevera during the night rose to their feet. A gathering crowd below began to climb and crawl over the petals. They reminded Ule of ants until they stopped to blink at the new dawn and utter morning salutations.
Shielding her eyes, she noticed how the sun’s cool light obscured the pale skin of her raised arm, a contrast to those around her whose deeply bronzed faces reflected a myriad of hues.
“That’s a nutmeg,” she muttered to herself. “And he’s a peppercorn.” Other spices came to mind quickly: paprikas, turmerics, cumins, mustards. There were even folk pale as herself—a sprinkle of salt. If not for the low rumble in her stomach, she wondered if she might have described their complexions another way.
Good morn’s rose from the maze of tents and shanties which wound around Elishevera—a spiral of chaotic sprawl which looked unkempt and very wrong. Ule remembered a circle of pillars had once surrounded the flower. Pink marble walls marked the inner sanctum of a temple, where libations were set upon altars, and Priests and Mystics conspired against one another.
Nearby an older man ambled toward her.
“Who are you?” she asked him.
He grinned, nodded, and walked on.
She asked others the same question, adjusting her language to what she heard around her. At first she thought they did not understand but they did. They murmured among themselves instead of answering, and Ule felt the curious sensation of being on display. Some examined her, gaping with wonder, while others shuddered and hastily wandered to the far side of the flower beast.
“I am Ule,” she finally declared to a woman bound tightly in white linen.
The woman nodded, said her own name in return but nothing more.
“Do you recognize me?”
The woman shook her head and, after an awkward silence, shouted at two children striking the flower beast with stones.
Ule’s stomach lurched at the stippled dents left behind in the shell of her friend. Elishevera deserved better than that, even during death. The sooner Ule made everyone aware of her, the sooner they would stop their desecration.
She told others her name, waited for them to recognize her.
“I’m Ule. Surely you must remember me.”
They muttered her name, shook their heads, frowned or patted her on the shoulder. The smoothness of their flesh simultaneously comforted and repulsed her.
Suddenly she recalled a culture lesson from her youth: No being in any world created would remember its creator once enough time had passed. The collective memory of the original inhabitants would fade, her Master assured her.
Determined to prove him wrong, to ensure her memory did endure, she had suggested repeatedly that statues be cast in her image and stories sung in her honor. Yet no matter how well she had tried to influence the ancient people, her efforts must have failed. No memory of her had survived to the present. She was a stranger, and she imagined her Master all smug and satisfied by the confirmation of his wisdom.
Searing anger shuddered throughout her body. She needed Elishevera to be alive, to feel the caress of a petal, to entangle their minds in an effortless exchange of ideas, moods, and emotions, and laugh about the humans and the funny rules of conduct they made for themselves.
“I created all of you,” Ule seethed.
If anyone heard her, they said nothing.
The swell of her emotions peaked and ebbed, dipping into sadness. Sagging, she called out to the flower beast again. “You were my last friend.”
“Be you well child?”
Coldness crept along her flesh as she looked toward an older man, who stood craning a wrinkled neck toward her.
“Elishevera, what’s happened to her?” she asked him.
“What do you say?” The man’s voice warbled. He shuffled toward her. “Here? Do you mean this statue, child? Why, it be here a very long time.” A deep, rattling sigh escaped his lips. “Perhaps it be here much longer than any of us will ever know.”
They were pilgrims, Ule learned from the old man. Royalty, clergy, soldiers, merchants, farmers. All kinds of folk traveled to this place year round for the same purpose—to contemplate the mystery of the flower in the desert.
Sometime long ago, they must have plucked the tiny sunstones from the fine lattice of veins on each petal until they were gone. Now, they climbed the plundered beast, struck it, and listened to hollow tones resonate and diminish somewhere deep beneath the ground. Some people tapped rhythmic codes representing sacred notions and waited for a response. Some carved images and symbols into the stone, hoping to manifest a dream or desire.
Children dug into the ground near petals partially buried by sand. They tunneled as far as their tiny arms could reach, fingers wriggling along thick roots which snaked beneath the earth. Ule wondered why they bothered. Come morning, their dug holes and tracks would be wiped clean by the night wind. They would only have to dig again.
The old man stayed by her side, rambling on. In any season, on any day of the year, hundreds of people milled about the flower, he explained. They told stories. The kind of stories which sought to explain the existence of the object. What it had once been. How it had come into existence.
Ule knew Elishevera’s origin. She had created the beast, long, long ago; in the beginning. Part octopod, part lily, and part sunstone, Elishevera loved unconditionally and she loved everyone. Regardless of how enlightening, silly, and untrue the pilgrim’s stories sounded, at least they agreed the flower had to be sacred. How else could anything endure the storms of the dry, abrasive desert?
Hard, cold stone began warming beneath Ule’s feet as the sun rose. She imagined Elishevera coming back to life and wished the gentle beast as something vengeful, shucking the humans from her petal limbs and flinging them into the wasteland. She saddened at the thought that her fantasy would never happen; Elishevera was too kind. And never again would Ule feel her friend’s strong, supple embrace.
This was the nature of death. Creations evolved in ways their creators couldn’t control, and sometimes they died. Ule knew this from first hand experience.
As a child, she had designed a world of lava populated with creatures, one race of gypsum and another of granite. Both races fought over who revered her the most, and she admired the rapid development of war strategy among the Granites yet loved the Gypsums for letting their spines evolve into long, arcing, powerful third legs.
Growing bored by the escalation in battle between the two races, she eventually shoved them into lava pits or knocked them together until they surrendered. At her Master’s command, she put aside the world and let it be despite her insistence that the two races needed proper attending.
“Guidance neither manipulates nor usurps,” her Master explained.
She tried to understand.
“It nudges,” he continued, “toward a course of action—a prodding of free will, an offer of suggestion. Nothing more.”
Eventually she allowed the lava world to flourish on its own. Yet, upon her return, the rock races had ground each other into dust. Lava rivers had hardened into thick, black veins; seas had dried into cracked plateaus of clay. Mossy green creatures slithered over a desolate planet pocked with shadowy lakes.
She felt her Master had tricked her into letting the world become some ugly, creepy thing. Had she not felt so betrayed by him, so angry at herself for listening to him, she might not have done what she did—an act worthy of severe punishment.
Spite possessed her. Ule trembled at the memory. She had struck her Master with both fists. Then she wrenched the lava world from its dais in the Vault. Racing through hallways, she dove into the Laboratory, let out a wild shriek, and smashed the planet against a wall of rock samples.
The planet’s atmosphere ignited on impact. Whips of energy lacerated everything in the room, including her. Laboratory tables and shelves buckled from the force of the planet’s iron core exploding. Nearby, two other worlds, both with emerging new life forms, were knocked from their pedestals. They spun briefly before erupting into flame.
“Destruction is forbidden,” her Master had taught her. Of all their laws, this one remained absolute. “It’s a delicate matter. There is protocol. Done incorrectly, destruction will diminish the An Energy within our realm and every world we’ve constructed.”
The resulting inquiry had been a lengthy process of being mentally poked and prodded by the Council and her Master. The calm temperament of her Master faltered twice during the process. At the start of the inquiry, he admonished her glib remarks in a burst of fury.
“Wipe that smirk from your face!”
Near the end, an unnerving despair shuddered through him when the Council announced its disciplinary action. She remembered their steely tones and grim appearances as they explained the punishment.
“You will have your memories temporarily blocked. You will be detained in a holding cell in The Void, where invisible walls will confine you in quarantine.” Their voices droned on. “There will be no supervision. You will be alone. You will be expected to tap into and remember the joy of creating, without influence.”
She understood, but the chorus of contempt continued.
“You will be denied the comfort of belonging until you can prove to respect our ways. You must learn to understand your failing toward us.”
Within her prison cell, after her memories had returned, she had felt remorse for destroying the world of lava and granite people. Yet persistent Isolation only urged her to interact with Elish, the new world she had created, making reintegration back into society difficult.
No one had recognized her at first glance. She had left a vivacious, expressive child yet returned a subdued and deeply introverted adult. Though her Master did well to coax what little remained of her personality from a guarded, internal place, his effort failed to bridge their divide. Those who remembered her, kept their distance. Friends from her youth had developed close bonds with one another of which Ule was no longer a part.
She walked in the realm yet did not belong. Her distrust for everyone grew, no matter how hard she tried to fit in. No amount of effort changed their opinion of her. At times she wanted to knock their heads together, pull down the Laboratory and the Vault stone by stone so she could rebuild their realm into a place where she belonged.
“It’s the lava world all over again,” Ule moaned, peering across the desert. A strong urge to destroy everything pulsed within her mind.
A young man stopped to ask if she was well.
She shook her head. “There used to be rolling fields and gardens.” She gestured to the desert, nearly shouting. “Green, green, and more green everywhere. And there!” She pointed to the east of her. “Where’s the grove of oranges gone? They had the sweetest nectar. And here!” She indicated the area about the flower. “There was a wondrous temple with Priests and Mystics. They documented rituals, squabbled, and argued. Wow, could they bicker! Where has it all gone?”
According to the young man, there had always been desert.
She stamped her foot with a huff. Another wave of mourning swelled inside. She swiped at tears dampening her cheek and shouted at no one in particular, hoping to gain everyone’s attention.
“This is Elishevera and I’m Ule!”
Sharp pain jabbed within her temples.
A woman clucked and shook her head. She squeezed Ule’s shoulder and spoke the true name of the place—Lishev. She reeked of old sweat and fresh ale, and her fingers felt like bark as she explained the sanctity of the place.
Ule squirmed from the woman’s grip. She knew better than anyone what Elishevera meant.
She heard their mutterings: Hid in the flower, did she? Fell asleep there and na remember? Na right in the head, she be.
“I’m Ule!” Her words echoed through the air and into the flower. She felt the gentle vibration through her toes.
Her grief diminished again. “The name Lishev has no meaning,” she ranted to everyone nearby. “Eh-lish means ‘love’ and ever-ah means ‘eternal’. I should know, I made your language. I made this being and all of you.” She waved her hand across the crowd.
As a Student, she was limited to using her power within the Laboratory and within any of her created worlds; those were the rules. In the early phase of a world’s evolution, using power in the presence of other life forms was often necessary, but once the Root Dimension stabilized and the An Energy diffused, demonstration of magic in front of other life forms was prohibited.
Tired of all the rules, she didn’t care if punishment awaited her when she returned home.
“How dare this world forget me! You all loved me once. I will make you love me again.”
She arched toward the sun. She envisioned multicolored fireballs streaking toward the horizon. Sharpening her focus and intent, she summoned her will and stretched her arms skyward.
Not even sparks flew from her fingertips. She shook her hands and tried again, extending both arms, wriggling every finger, holding her breath, yet the dawn sky remained a constant blue.
The An Energy resisted.
It hummed in her ear, faint and distant. No matter how much she pushed her will, bright lights failed to shower down from the sky. The An Energy flowed around her instead of through her as it should, denying any access.
She fell into a heap on the flower struggling for air. Searching for any possible reason to explain the An Energy’s defiance, she finally let out a long sigh. “It’s this awful desert!”
Puzzled and rejected, she found herself surrounded by folk attending to more pressing concerns—discussion of their dreams. Strange tales from the sleep realm pervaded while they nibbled on figs and cheese.
Their attempts to comfort Ule with a pat on the shoulder only added a layer of irritability to her frustration, grief, and anger. Beneath these feelings, fear pervaded in an ever-swelling chill.
She forced a deep breath, marveled at the expansion of her lungs and her heartbeat returning to a solid, even thump-thump in her chest. A soft breeze tickled the fine blond hair along her arms. The sun stung her eyes. Silently she cursed at the degree of sensitivity she felt being in this form.
“Enough of this dreariness,” she muttered.
She had come to the world to bathe in the remnants of her youth and remember what she liked best about herself, to commune with a friend, to soothe away her disappointments. Now that Elishevera had died and all that was familiar about the world had vanished, she much preferred to return to her realm.
Ule’s gaze turned inward and upward, toward the middle of her forehead. After a slight push of will, she felt the molecules of her body shimmy and prepared to ascend back to her realm, not caring if anyone saw or if she was reprimanded by her Master for being careless.
With eyes closed, she perceived the desert vividly in her mind. Perspective shifted, Elishevera flattened, and the horizon arced a degree or two before she slammed back into human form.
A tremor wracked her body.
Her eyes fluttered open. She glanced at the people squatting nearby but they were preoccupied with drawing symbols on Elishevera with stumps of charred wood. Perhaps the old man who first spoke to her might have seen something, yet when she saw that he sucked at a leather bound flask, studying her from a safe distance, she doubted his rum-skewed perception could offer any help.
Hitching her dress above her knees, she considered another position and sat cross-legged, toes pointing downward, pelvis tilted, head slightly bowed, neck straight. The alignment was challenging, but after she adjusted her hips and legs, she found ease in the posture and attempted ascending again.
Familiar warmth engulfed the length of her spine. She clung to the rising energy and with one last fierce push of will and bated breath, she collapsed, slumping slightly backward and to the side.
Beneath the mid day sun, darkness overcame Ule.
Copyright by Kit Daven, 2013.