ULE AWOKE TO discover her legs sprawled in the sand, her head and shoulders cradled in the stiff curl of a petal. She imagined herself having slid down the side of the flower during her unconsciousness and thought it strange no one tried to revive her, until she saw others curled up in nearby shadows softly snoring.
Lying there, she felt like a new born being presented to a swelled, radiant father. She winced at the bright sun, at the tightness of her swaddling dress twisted about her thighs and hips, at the sting in her skin after brushing sand from her warm, sticky cheeks. With a sigh, she crawled deeper into the cool shadow within the petal.
Trailing her fingers over eroded ridges of ancient veins and pockmarks where sunstones were once fixed, she admired what remained of her work. Creating a being that was a mix of animal, vegetable, and mineral had been an interesting exercise, one she had only tried once, and she mentally chastised herself for not checking in on the beast. Now, without her notebooks, she would have to guess at the number of generations since she last descended into the world.
“You must have died shortly after my last departure.” She clicked the tip of her thumbnail against her teeth, staring at nothing in particular. Worry threatened to cloud her thoughts.
“There aren’t any new volcanoes I can see.” Self talk had always helped her stay focused and calm. “No indication of a massive flood, that’s obvious, even though all of this area, in the very beginning, was a salt lake.”
Her foot began to jerk and twitch. “Don’t suppose someone might come look for me since I didn’t bother to tell anyone I was descending.” A wavering breath slipped between down-turned lips. She hoped someone would notice her missing and look for her. She flicked the sand with her toes. “Stupid!”
She scanned her mind for details.
“When was I here last, Elishevera?” And she imagined Elishevera responding.
“Shortly after the First Age, little monkey. Shall I tell you a story now?”
“Tell me the one about the An Energy.”
In Ule’s mind, Elishevera cooed to mark the start of a tale. “In the beginning, the An Energy was abundant. It concentrated wherever most of your world building happened, making that place very magical.”
A pang of grief saddened Ule. “You’re magical.”
“Yes, once, long ago,” Elishevera agreed. “Would you like to hear more?”
Ule nodded at the imaginary voice in her mind.
“During the First Age, every human could speak with me, and you, little monkey, inspired their devotion toward me.”
She remembered now. “The An Energy diminished, shortly after I caused that teeny little earthquake to reveal a quarry of pink marble-”
Someone in a nearby shadow sleepily shushed her.
Reluctantly, she lowered her voice to a whisper. “Marble holds such pretty architectural details, I just had to unearth it somehow so someone could find it.”
She rolled onto her side, propping her head up on an arm. Setting Elishevera’s story aside, she began reviewing old studies.
“Everything seemed fine. The An Energy diminished beyond human perception; normal.” She drew an imaginary check mark on the petal next to her. “Your psychic voice grew faint; also normal.” Another imaginary check mark. “When devotees couldn’t hear you anymore, they began cultivating a belief system centered on your sacrificial libations. An Energy or not, you still needed nourishment.” Another check mark.
Narrowing her eyes, she frowned. “That’s when it turned strange. Some of the devotees still communicated with you. I didn’t think it possible without concentrated An Energy. And they wanted nothing to do with the rituals being developed.”
The disparity between two types of worship began to widen. Some insisted the act of ritual was the only way to honor Elishevera while others—the passionate ones—insisted on direct communication. Like the Gypsum and Granite rock races Ule had once created, worshipers fought one another until finally the group split into two separate factions. Those who chose ritual called themselves Priests, and those who desired direct communication with Elishevera were called Mystics.
Hot tears suddenly stung Ule’s eyes as she wondered which of the factions had turned on the flower beast, the Priests or the Mystics.
Deep breaths helped ease some of the tension in her neck and the ache at the base of her skull. She kept a constant focus on clenching cool sand between her toes until the ruddy hues of day’s end marbled the horizon. Relaxed again, she crawled from the petal onto the cooling sand and lay on her back.
Sprays of fine dots freckled the darkening sky.
“So many of them,” she murmured.
The stars were an illusion, of course. The cosmic glitter consisted neither of stars nor suns, she reminded herself. It was a boundary separating this world from her realm. She imagined this planet floating on its pedestal in the Vault, where projects cluttered the vast chamber.
Supported by hundreds of simple white pillars and plinths, the expansive room archived living worlds worthy of study. There they remained, evolving and aging until they winked out of existence and were replaced with newer models.
Some worlds spun on daises, others hung suspended from the ceiling, and the older ones, those which had flourished for generations, were tucked away in niches or alcoves.
For an eon, she had longed to return to studying in the Vault, where the vastness suggested no end to satisfying her curiosity. Yet, all it took to make her want to leave, to descend into Elish, was a brief encounter with Ibe.
She had waited for him, hoping to explain that her dancing wasn’t intended for his friend’s laughter or the reprimand of their Master. She hoped to soothe Ibe yet when he arrived, he wasn’t alone.
Disappointed, she slipped into the shadow of an alcove and watched as he and one of his Students approached a dais. Speaking quietly to one another, a deep, resonating laughter suddenly burst from Ibe. He nudged the young man playfully, who smiled in return.
Yearning to bask in Ibe’s laughter, Ule emerged from the shadow, joined them at the dais where a binary system whorled, and broke the silence. “Will you be descending?”
The Student wrinkled his nose at her.
She knew immediately her presence was unwanted. “It looks beautiful,” she cooed, hoping to be invited along.
Ibe winced. The expression was slight but noticeable. The brilliance in his eyes hadn’t lessened any, so she knew he couldn’t be angry with her. Something she said had annoyed him, however, and she remembered her Master’s note about how she made Ibe uncomfortable.
She stared at the binary system, waiting for Ibe to respond. Life was more evident in the world than in him during the moments that followed. Deflected by his blank look, the world drew her into a swirling dance of colors looping in a figure eight around two tiny stars.
Ibe and the Student diminished. The stars began swelling in size and intensity. Unconsciously she had begun to descend, and just as she dipped into the world, a fierce unbridled thrum of energy blasted her.
“Ule,” Ibe warned. “Stop!”
She shook her head, felt her body snap back to the Vault. Orange and cinnamon overwhelmed her nostrils, and she knew from the magic scent that the binary system belonged to Ibe, not the Student. Any invitation would need to be granted by her Mentor.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean—”
He chuckled and shook his head. “You know the rules, Smashcrow.”
The Student smirked at the nickname Ibe had given her, and she shuddered at the reference he made to her past transgression.
“Do you want to be punished again?”
The rules of conduct among her kind were numerous: Students could explore another Student’s creation by invitation only. Mentors required invitations from everyone except the Students assigned to them. Yet Masters could descend into any world of their choosing, for any reason, at any time.
The rules were always heeded and the breaking of the rules seldom ignored. Ule knew this from experience.
“Can I join you?” she asked Ibe.
He always appreciated candor in his other students, and she hoped he warmed to her forwardness.
He shook his head. “A world can be more than a single planet, yet that’s all you could envision during Isolation.”
“I had to relearn everything.” The words felt heavy in her mouth.
“The An Energy responds to what’s in our minds, doesn’t it?”
Ibe’s Student nodded.
“And out of your infinite potential, from a clean slate,” Ibe pointed to his head, referring to her memory loss, “you create a rudimentary world. How can you appreciate the sophistication of my work or anyone else’s for that matter?”
She wanted to run from Ibe’s beautiful face. A trembling came over her. Since her release from Isolation, opening herself up to express her feelings—to trust anyone—had been difficult. And she wondered if reaching out to anyone had been worth the effort since she only seemed to be causing more trouble.
Try as she did to resist the feeling, love for Ibe still coursed through her that day in the Vault, for he had taken an interest in her when no one else had. Unusual phenomena occurring in Elish had prompted more advanced instruction. Consequently, they spent more time together in the Laboratory, where he showed her fixes, as he liked to call them.
During each conference, conversation flowed easily between them, although she remained aloof. Eventually, she began returning to her room directly after each encounter, where she sat and buried her nose in the folds of the dress she wore. His magic scent clung to the fabric, and she inhaled citrus and cinnamon till her nostrils stung.
Interaction between them became more synchronous. He started touching her—a pat on the hand, a squeeze of the shoulder. Whenever he skirted the table to acquire a book or scan the world, his palm rested in the gentle arch of her lower back. Often he uttered short, humorous comments close to her ear and his breath warmed her neck. And she always leaned into him.
It seemed only natural that the need for entanglement began to blossom. Yet, for all his strength—his preference for being forward and direct—he complained to friends, Students, and eventually their Master, about how Ule’s flirting made him uncomfortable.
Fierceness and intensity blazed from every molecule of Ibe as he stood next to his Student, admiring the binary star system—two tiny orbs swirling about one another in a beautiful exchange of pink, white, and red dust tendrils.
“Stay here.” His voice became more ethereal in tone as he and the Student dissolved during the start of Descension. “I deny you permission.”
Ule reeled from a child-like tantrum thrashing about within.
“It’ll be no fun,” he said, his voice fading, “if you can’t keep up with us.”
Laughter diminished into a whisper as they transformed into dust-like creatures, each creating a tendril of color—pale shades of blue and purple. She realized each swirling mass of pink, white, and red was a living creature, rushing about each star in an unending race.
Ibe and his Student re-formed into new colored tendrils many times as they progressed through several generations while interacting with the world, which surprised her. Ibe seldom transformed into something inhuman. He preferred the shape of his thick bowed arms and legs to any form less than humanoid. Although, one time he grew extra legs to see if they might make him stronger but only found them humorous instead.
Most of her kind usually kept to their true form, which is the first shape they embrace within inception. While some chose animals, feline and canine species being popular, others chose hybrid creatures: a lion’s head on a reptile’s body or a serpent with webbed spider arms. Most, however, preferred the form of their ancestral species—humanoid.
Confident and assured, Ibe’s profound masculinity was constant and magnetic. He was older than her by hundreds of generations at least, and for that she expected more maturity from him.
Age mattered little among their kind. Once they became adults, experience defined their stage of maturity. Childhood and adolescence evolved quickly, usually the length of an eon. After that, they could live hundreds of eons if they managed their generations well enough.
The longer they lived, the better their chances of transcending. After the Quietus, their final death, their forms unraveled into black fine threads from which worlds were woven, and their spirits evolved into a species who, instead of manipulating already existing energies and dimensions, created them.
Transcendence seemed unlikely for Ule. The numerous errors uncovered in Elish and her inability to seduce Ibe reflected flawed reasoning and judgment, yet she still tried.
She gazed at Ibe every chance she could. She stood close to him, sometimes accidentally bumping into him. She learned which corridors he walked the most and made sure to walk there too. None of this, however, seemed to pry him away from his Mentor duties or the need to test the limits of his own virility. Her compliments only incurred a snort or a laugh, which was a better reaction than none at all.
That day in the Vault, Ibe’s words spun her. She wished she could extract her love and display it on a dais to show everyone its flawed and unfortunate design, to warn everyone. Instead, she had descended into Elish, where she now lifted herself from the sand, stood tall, and patted dust from her dress.
Unexpected indigos and strange warm grays smudged the moonlit sky. Unrecognizable eerie sounds and haunting wails floated through the air. This desert certainly held no beauty the way Elishevera’s gardens had.
She imagined the land the way it once was.
Wild flowers speckled fields of moss and heather, marked by patches of quack grass and purple clover. Copses of thin tall trees with angular canopies of brown and gold needles dotted the veld, home to a relentless chorus of chirrups, tweets, and buzzings. Leathery purple vines crept over tree and ground, and occasionally tried to bridge the many streams and rivers meandering in and around the great temple at Elishevera.
A sprawling temple, constructed with faintly colored granite, clay, and egg stone circumscribed the flower beast. Within these walls, an inner sanctum of pink marble glowed beneath the sun. Over the generations, additional rooms created a second floor and then a third. When the foundation could no longer support the weight of a forth level, they dug down into the ground, carving out subterranean caverns which became vast libraries and treasuries.
Ule smiled at the memory of splashing in warm water within the temple’s inner courtyard, marveling at how it soothed her body. Elishevera had always offered a fleshy petal as either a diving platform or a slide. Now, that joy and vitality had vanished.
A pang shot through her heart. She missed Elishevera’s calmness and grace, the soft murmur of the creature’s thoughts. She hadn’t thought anything had gone wrong with it while she created the world—her power and sensitivity had still been developing during adolescence. Had there been errors, her Master was certain to have discovered them while scanning her mind upon her release from Isolation. He would have detected her experiences interacting with devotees and realized they maintained a psychic link with Elishevera.
His examination of the world was lengthy and thorough as well. Afterward, he told her to let the Mystics be, that perhaps with a little more time their connection with the flower beast would eventually cease.
Again, her Master proved him self correct. No evidence remained of Priests or Mystics residing at a temple in the desert. Centuries of wind and sand storms had either buried or worn away the ancient place into a fine dust.
Dull sand littered with chiseled gray rocks and boulders offered little inspiration, even less so beneath the shadow of night. Even with its strange, dark green prickly plants, the wasteland depressed her.
“How long has this rudeness endured?” She glared at the horizon and reflected on the shift in her mood. At the beginning of the day, she had gone from yearning to be in this world to wishing she were home again. Any further attempts at ascending proved futile, and she suddenly felt trapped.
Understanding the elusive An Energy seemed the only way to return home, she thought, and then she tried to recall all the adjustments she had made to the world.
She had destroyed a chasm that had torn through the Root Dimension and threatened to breach her realm. She had added additional veins of iron to the world’s core to increase the magnetic field and prevent the atmosphere from leaking into their realm. And finally, she infused a barrier into the planet as a safeguard.
She shivered at the thought that she might have misunderstood or misinterpreted Ibe’s instructions, which might explain the An Energy’s odd behavior.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” she muttered to herself. “I did ascend… but just a little bit.”
Beneath the dark of night, a thought became illuminated. She needed to locate someone to help her figure out what stopped her from ascending, someone who sensed certain energies the way the Mystics had long ago.
This excerpt is from The Forgotten Gemstone and is copyright protected by Kit Daven, 2013. This excerpt is for your enjoyment only and is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.