20 juin 2015

Chapter 20

Sam whispers a few words in their language to Chloë, and the little one shoots out of the hall, as if on a mission. 

“I think you’re ready,” she then says to me encouragingly. “Listen… I’m a friend of Peter’s and would never give him or you away. But others out there would not be as understanding; especially that everyone’s been expecting him to slip one day. You’d think he’d be immune to it after such a long Heraldry…”

“Immune to what?”

“The Garden appeal,” she winks. “Just bear in mind that you’re supposed to be a Newborn, so act like one. Emulate Chloë. She’s only been around for a few Raedes.”

“… Raids?!”

“Yes… Isn’t that how you measure time too?”

“Um… no. I don’t think so. What’s a Raede?”   

“Huh... How do I explain this?… Every once in a while, the Energy changes course. We feel it very subtly, in the movement of the ground, the smell of the air, and the warmth of the light. The Gold acquires new patterns and it’s then that we know a new Raede has begun. We hold very memorable celebrations at Pi’s every time…” Her mind seems to wander off and a tiny, amused smile curls the corner of her lips.

“We also read time based on the changes of nature I guess. But our Time tends to come in regular cycles. How long is…erm… Do you know what the Garden equivalent of this is?” I’m starting to sound like an Elf. 

“I'm not sure there is one... So far Heralds have had a few surprises with this. Sometimes with the passing of a Raede, Peter would find himself propelled into older Garden times, while at others, he would make a huge leap forward. This is why he insists on finishing all specific missions within one Raede. Or else he’s never sure he would find the same Humans at his return.”

You know this moment in movies, where someone falls in slow motion, say from the tenth floor, and you see them mimicking a scream of terror, but all you hear is the heavy silence before the crash? That’s the state my brain is in right now. 

So far I’ve allowed myself to grow more relaxed around Sam, but something tells me I shouldn’t show my sudden frantic distress to her. A deep, painful, sinking feeling brings my heart down to my feet. If I understand this right, I need to get out of here now or else, if the current Raede ends, I might not land in the same period of time?! And my parents, my friends, everyone I know would either be dead, or worse, not even born yet?  Oh my God, oh my God… I can’t breathe!!!

Like an echo to my paranoia, the ground suddenly seems to vibrate differently against my soles, and I feel a very slight push forward; not from a person, but from the actual air in the hall, as if it needed to make room for a new presence. I twist around, and a fraction of a second later, Peter and the other two, along with Chloë, walk back in. 

Not a Raede change then, obviously… But I could swear I felt them coming!

 Can all Elves do that? 

It reminds me of Peter’s small rippling ground game, where I also managed to feel the energy around so distinctly. For some reason, this is the second time being under pressure has suddenly boosted my senses, times a hundred. Two minutes ago, I wouldn’t have felt a bull if it had come a-roaring through the Space.  

The three look at me in delighted awe, but Peter’s only lasts a second. The sight of my troubled face registers very quickly with him, and his first reflex is to abruptly lash out at Sam. “What have you told her?!” he growls. Sam frowns, clearly not understanding where any of this came from. I quickly jump in, with one of my most brilliant fake smiles on, “Nothing!! Don’t be rude to her Peter, she was really nice to me. I’m okay; I’m just… very hungry, and it’s giving me one bad headache, that’s all!!”

With that, I slowly realize how on edge he is, and that he might have been trying to put on a serene face around me all along, to keep me calm. Geez, how many faces of his must I uncover?!...

My excuse gradually appears to be working on him. He unclenches his jaw, and a deep breath later, says, “You’re right. My apologies, Sam. She looks… stunning. Thank you.”

Sam smiles silently, still a bit taken aback by the previous adversity.  

Peter takes two steps towards me. I’m sure it was two, even though I didn’t count. The ground quivered under me so distinctly that it gave me the exact number of times it was trodden, along with a creepily accurate intuition about these steps coming from a male Elf; just like when you’re a child hiding from your parents, and you know by the sound of their steps whether it’s your mom or dad approaching. Except that in this case, it’s more a feeling than a sound. If I’d closed my eyes, I would have been able to perceive all of this just as clearly. I wonder if I could have guessed it was Peter, or someone else… 

Oblivious to what’s going through my mind, and eager to lighten the atmosphere, he allows himself to take a long, appreciative, top-to-bottom look at me. He spends a few minutes on the face, then glides down to the outfit and seems to linger on the trousers, for some reason. Yet, as soon as he notices what type of shoes I’m wearing, he raises both eyebrows. “….Really? Sneakers?” he mutters, shaking his head. “Could you be more conspicuous?!”  

“What, I’ll tell them you drew those too,” I challenge him, while barely containing the urge to stick out my tongue. 

He narrows his eyes for a second then rolls them dramatically. “Sam? Help me out here?…” He turns and faces her, while slightly lifting a foot. Sam gets the message, and in less time than it took her to make mine, she gives him the same model sneakers, in green. My Elf the Hipster. And even before the task is done, Chloë runs to Peter’s side, and lifts her tiny little foot too. 

I giggle as Peter scolds me, though less harshly than before. “Happy now? What a great influence you are!”

Chloë stares relentlessly at the platinum-haired Elf, determined to get her way. Sam surrenders after a pretend two-second fight, and offers her an adorable pair of tiny, silver Vans. 

I feel a pinch in my chest when I notice how similar we look to an actual family… “Family”, a notion that is lost on this species. I force myself to think of something else, and suddenly realize that the distractions of the last few minutes have managed to calm me down. What is surprising about this is that the super-senses I had are now barely even there. It’s like a near-past memory that I can’t really bring back to the surface. What is the meaning of all this?... First I find out I can heal my own wounds – I shudder at how painful that was – and now it seems that every time I get nervous, I automatically become more… more what? Perceptive? 

Huh… It seems I’m never escaping the skin thing after all! Even here, it makes me feel... alien.

"Are you ready?" I hear Peter say, as Chloë's little hand in mine brings me out of my reverie. She's coming with us then? I glance at the others: none of them looks surprised. My eyes slide back to the tiny Elf, and I worry about her. I worry about her taking part in this already crazy journey, but mostly, about there being no one else worrying about her! Then again, this is the child I saw standing in the middle of a wasteland of scorching fumes, like it was her own private playground.

"Let's go..." I mumble with little conviction. This is it: once we get to the next Space, it's back to being in mortal danger if discovered. I look at my latest and last ally, Sam, and mean to thank her as warmly as I can, but she spares me the effort by winking and nodding, as if perfectly aware of my intentions. I smile and tighten my fingers around Chloë's, while the others say a very solemn goodbye: they each take Sam's hands in theirs and softly lay their foreheads against hers, eyes closed. I suddenly feel I'm intruding on an intimate moment; but that doesn't exist here, does it?

No one seems to expect the same show of affection from my part, so I just follow the group, and soon enough, we are back on our way through the maze...

I observe Chloë all the way, barely catching the remaining origami sights around me, while perfectly aware they would be as strange as the ones I'd caught going in. But a behavioral study seems much, much more urgent. The little one looks confident and positively thrilled to be walking with us 'adult Elves'. She unabashedly stares at me, at the others, at the colours, at the path ahead... at everything really, with a smile of happy wonder. Hmm... Looking happy might be the tricky part for me, come to think of it. A lot more fake smiling ahead then.

A while later, the golden hue gradually increases inside the maze, which could only mean we are close to the exit. I swallow and prepare for whatever new Space is out there, and stretch my dried up lips over the tight, frozen smirk. 

I'm not able to keep it up though, since the first thing I see when we step out into the open is... Nothing? 

As far as my eyes can see, there's a gentle yet very vacant stretch of land with an endless horizon. Is this a hallucination? When we were up on Vlad's hill, I couldn't see such a large, empty spot on the silk-scarf-like infinity of these Spaces. Where did this come from?

I turn to Peter for answers, and all I get is an excited grin. 

"You look too happy there, Alberic!" I say with half-serious frustration.

"Well, I am actually; we're almost there!" he teases. There where?? There's absolutely nothing ahead! "Wait, Vlad, don't send out a Lume yet... Let's have Lily do it!!" he adds, and I freeze. No, what? Wait, no! What?!

Vlad looks just as reluctant to the idea as I am, but Peter insists. "Come now Lily, you're going to have to learn this sooner or later."

"I choose later! Please, Peter... There's already too much at stake, starting this Space..."

"No, there isn't! You're about to meet two of my closest, most cherished friends, so... please, trust me; and breathe," he winks. "They can't see you now, can they?" How on earth would I know? I still don't see anything out there. "Now... All Aelfrics can do this instinctively, so you'll have to find it inside you. Close your eyes, please..." 

He can be so unnervingly stubborn! I close my eyes, with my heart starting to race. And, just like that, my nervousness propels me back into this eerie state of super-perception. In a second, Peter’s voice becomes secondary, and I start sensing a very unusual breeze; one which brushes against my arms, and flows forward before suddenly being stunted, just a few meters ahead, by a massive, wide surface. My mouth pops open. There is something out there! I can't see it but I sure can feel it.

"So? Did you try?" I hear Peter ask me through my sensitive haze. 


"Please, focus Lily... You seem absorbed by something else... Again, you should picture me standing across a river or some sort of obstacle between us, with so much noise that shouting out would not be an option. Try to keep your lips tightly shut, and resist the urge to speak, but still feel very strongly about getting your message through..."

"You do realize that doesn't make much sense, don't you?" I tease, more as a distraction, while I continue mentally sounding the distance between us and the invisible wall ahead. But instead, I hear Peter take a few steps towards me. This feeling is one of the most familiar. "Remember the train, Lily?" he whispers. 

I hold my breath.

"Remember when I stood outside, looking in? Watching you leave? Do you have any idea how many things I wanted to tell you then and there? I'm curious... What would you have liked to say to me?"


"Ssshh... Don't say it. Just feel it burn, deep inside of you. Feel the frustration, like I did".  

Pffft... I doubt he felt any frustration that day. He was too busy leaving the drawing behind, and looking all expressionless and driving me crazy. He pretends he left the portrait so as to spare me from "getting involved in the very different circles he lives in". And now they are mine too... If I'd been able to speak directly to him through the train window, I would've wished he'd never done that drawing. That he had never ripped me out of my own circles and forced me into his, indefinitely. This is all that's burning inside of me right now, and I don't think he'd want to hear it!

I open my eyes, and try to contain this bitterness that keeps bubbling up to the surface. "See? It doesn't come naturally to me. My instincts must not be..." My sentence is cut short by Peter's wide, incredulous smile. A few inches from his face, a tiny, almost translucent hourglass-shaped Lume bobs gently and shyly in mid-air. It faithfully reflects the Gold, and its silhouette is drawn in white against it, like a cartoon object. Did I make this?! 

               If I did, then it’s more than official now… I am Aelfric.

"It's one of the most beautiful I've ever seen," he whispers, and before I could even think of stopping him, he ushers it into his ear. Oh no! What will he hear? How much of what I thought is actually on it?

Gradually, his face falls, and his eyes center on mine, scorching. I have my answer. Shit... 

He stands there, staring at me, and I can see he's trying not to react. This is neither the time nor the company for such a discussion, and knowing him, I reckon he will swallow it and pull it back out later, if we ever get a moment alone.

"Good," he says formally, with his all-too-familiar neutral expression, "most of us normally generate a Lume first, then actually speak our message out loud to it. Yours came out of your very thoughts, and it was perfectly audible... I got it loud and clear." He gives that last remark slowly, with obvious reproach, and eyes never leaving mine. "This means you could also send a Lume to our next host, Demetrius. It's harder when you don't know whom you're addressing, but try anyway. Please ask him if he would be so kind to show us in straight away." Man, he's angry.   

   I nervously glance at Vlad, who seems as uncomfortable as I am, but would clearly not come to my aid. Maybe Nirav? One begging glance his way seems enough. The tall Elf nods curtly, then swiftly generates one of his beautiful orange Lumes, without even looking at Peter. What strikes me more though, is Peter's reaction: he twirls furiously towards him then, very abruptly, inhales and composes himself, almost apologetically. Is he intimidated by Nirav? I mean he's scary-looking, there's no denying it. But from what I've seen so far, he also seems like a gentle soul. Yet, Peter has just shown him a sort of reverence which goes beyond mere friendship. Weird.

With a tight-lipped smile I thank Nirav, as he softly sends out his Lume. It floats forward like a firefly, then suddenly disappears into thin air. My eyebrows almost reach my hairline, although I shouldn't be surprised. Whatever's only a few meters ahead is like a mirage, an invisible wall, camouflaging what should be an entire Space! There are no sounds coming from there either. The perfect concealment.

I turn to Peter and inhale sharply. His eyes are sounding me, but they're no longer angry. Now all I see in them is pain. He clearly wants me to see how much my thoughts hurt him, and I want him to know that he doesn't understand me as well as he thinks, and that the hurting is way stronger on my side.   

Our moment is interrupted by a lozenge-shaped Lume that appears out of nowhere and speeds hectically past me, stopping right in front of Nirav. It's lovely, very mirror-like, with a rainbow-coloured reflection. I know it's our ticket in, and I try to brace myself for... 


I can't help the scream that comes out when the invisibility wall is lifted in the blink of an eye, submerging us in an enormous multitude of sights and sounds. I blink uncontrollably, as what looks like a titanic, futuristic city spreads endlessly before us, all the way into the golden horizon. It's nothing short of a major, very densely populated metropolis stemming straight out of an architect's twisted dreams: irregular-shaped, breathtaking edifices - what are they? Buildings? Giant sculptures? Megaliths? Tim Burton's heaven? - fill most of the landscape, and no two are alike. My eyes try to take them all in, but it's simply impossible! I manage to pick out an entire area of intertwined, smaller sculptures; another where the earth itself seems to have been molded, twisted, stretched and shaped, like putty, into intentionally structured elements; and a third that looks like an experimental architecture area, where every piece seems to defy gravity somehow: a huge, black, half-sphere-shaped fortress with a million thin, horizontal windows seems to be standing, in perfect equilibrium, on nothing but its lower pointy angle, while another one looks like a series of narrow, white, rectangular blocks, floating vertically, two by two, forming what looks like a huge needle-like building, aiming for the heavens. I look closely and notice that the entire structure is levitating very much above ground. An overwhelmingly massive number of equally imposing mega constructions, all built above, around, within and along the most whimsically-shaped terrain. If anything in this world qualified as outright proof that I'm in the presence of divine creatures and otherworldly skills, it's this Space.    
"I... I thought you lived alone in your Spaces," I say, then quickly bite my tongue. Is this something I'm not supposed to say? I'll have to ask myself this question every time I mean to speak. This statement seems harmless enough though.

"We do." I'm not surprised to hear Vlad answering. Peter really doesn't feel like talking to me right now. "Only Demetrius lives here."

"Who are all these people then?"

"Students!" I hear a voice behind us say, and turn around just in time to see the grandest entrance anyone has made so far: that of a silver-haired angel, who's barely just landed. Literally, since I could still see his deployed, glass wings. Or more like carved pieces of mirror, forming every long feather in the pair of wings whose width is almost twice his height. His black attire clashes so beautifully with the hair and the feathers - and the silvery hazel eyes! What the...? - that he looks like a starry night. My jaw drops, and I have absolutely no trouble gawking like a Newborn then.

The majestic Elf folds his wings and I see them disappear slowly into his back. 

"This is a school," he says while distractedly nodding to the trio and keeping his eyes on me. "Everything starts here. This is where you will learn how to create your Space and, if we're lucky enough, where you'll manifest your Talent."

"My talent?" I ask, and imitate Chloë's inquisitive glance. 

"Yes, and I'm sure you have one. Demetrius," he introduces himself, and suddenly overshadows me as he approaches, in all his imposing tallness, takes my hands in his and puts his forehead against mine. I freeze, with eyes balling out. I do recognize this from Sam's Space, but I'm not sure there's anything I'm supposed to do in return. I close my eyes and give in to it, like I would to a hug. 

Demetrius steps back, but keeps hold of my hands. The prude in me wakes up and gives him an apprehensive look. And much to my surprise, he counters it with a smile that's halfway between awe and affection. "Peter, you've really created an authentic one! Her eyes are both candid and ancient, and her soul spills right out of them!" he winks, as I quickly look away. Peter seems teased but smiles back, unsurprised by the assessment. "Would you like a tour of the school?" the silver landlord addresses me. I nod repeatedly like a child, and pull Chloë to my side. I'll need her for inspiration. "Then by all means, follow me".

He turns, and my first reflex is to check his back for wings, but they're nowhere to be seen. I take a few steps to follow, when a violent wave of dizziness stops me dead in my tracks. I close my eyes and wait for it to pass, as my heart races. This feels a lot like an effect of the unbelievable hunger I've been trying to fight since I got here. So far I've only been a little lightheaded and tired, but this is new. 

Ah, and here comes the headache... I feel Peter's hand on my shoulder, and turn to see his worried face, but I just can't tell him I'm hungry, can I? That's too human a term not to raise suspicion. 

I shake my head to reassure him and pull myself together. It's nothing, don't think of food, don't think of how famished you feel. Just put one foot in front the other, and soon there will be something to eat, I think.

"This here is the Aptitude Level," our host explains as we slowly approach the area with the sculptures. In this forest of intricate shapes and structures, I can see at least a few dozen students, all beautiful and teenage-looking, deep at work. Each one is standing on a round pedestal, and all are slowly moving their arms in graceful synchrony. All around them, a wide selection of different objects are gradually changing shape before our very eyes. Huh... I could have gone on thinking these were modern art sculptures which I didn't really understand yet admired, when they're really nothing but the students' draft attempts at creation. One of them falls and shatters to pieces, and I hear what is surely cussing in Elvish. Demetrius addresses the culprit sternly, and the student quickly bows. "Please excuse Akaär, he has a few problems with balancing Energy and his creative ambition. You and I will certainly discuss this during your Learning."

"You will teach me this?" I say in disbelief.

"Why wouldn't I?" he asks, and I'm suddenly reassured. Not only am I accepted, but I'm also perceived as a normal Newborn, who will follow the same path as all the others. My wide, happy grin makes him smile, while he leads us through the workshop, for lack of a better term.  

Beyond the Aptitude level, we arrive to what he calls the Landscape Laboratory, where the earth itself looks as light as a feather and as flexible as dough. Or that's just the impression I get from how it's twisted, wrought and shaped in a million different ways! From small hills to giant beanstalk-like twirled thingies, to elegant curves which rise, paper thin, and playfully intersect. But this looks so hazardous that I wonder how we're going to cross it, before Demetrius provides an obvious yet very, very impressive answer: he stands straight as an arrow, and with palms turned outwards, he spreads his arms wide and stretches his chest forward, and just like that, sends out a narrow but endless liquid scarf over the grounds, like a cream-coloured textile bridge for us to have an air view of the colossal workshop. Our own flying carpet. He then turns to check out my reaction, and I make sure he sees the honest stars in my eyes. 

We all follow him, treading slowly although there's no need: the scarf is rock-solid. At that moment, I guess I'm the only one unaware of the splendor of what I'm about to witness underneath the bridge. From above, the workshop reveals designs that rival by far any crop circles, colours that look like they belong more in an Impressionist painting than in the very texture of the grounds, and sinkholes so horrible that I can't help but feel like I'm about to fall and be swallowed by this world. 

With every step, the feeling worsens to the point where I sense Peter's hand pulling at my arm. How did it get there? I seem to have had a moment of absence or something, and can't remember the last second, or how I was still standing. It's like falling asleep for an instant while still on your feet. Peter gives me his grave, extremely worried glance, but I don't know how to explain to him that I'm running on fumes here! I've never been so damn starved! I make sure no one is looking, and very swiftly touch my belly. He tightens his jaw and desperately looks around, totally helpless. At this point I'm even willing to taste dirt. Just...anything, please!

Oblivious to what's going on, the silver Elf gives details on how every student needs to begin with the smallest particle and know every tiny speck that makes up this world, in order to reach such a level of proficiency as to mold the earth itself, and transcend the ideas of weight, solidity, and most of all, Impossibility. 

"Indya will teach you the Art of Matter. Only she could spark your ability to create the smallest elements. I will only help you bend Matter once created."       

"Indya?" My curiosity draws some more energy from the thin stock I have left.

"I'll introduce you of course. She's right there!" He lifts up a finger, and points at the very top of the sky-scraping white needle structure, still floating in the too-big-to-look at mega-structure district. Goodness... I can't wait to see how he'll get us up there!

"Would you like to go now?" he offers, and my huge smile is enough of an answer. He throws a sly, sideway glance at the rest of the group, and despite Peter's stepping forward to protest, Demetrius suddenly grabs my waist, and too quickly, deploys his startlingly majestic mirror wings, and... Up we go!!!

I scream the whole way as we twist and turn like an arrow shot up to the heavens, but more of a thrilled than upset scream, while the others grow as small as ants in a matter of milliseconds. Woohooo!!! My shouting is only interrupted by Demetrius's loud laughter. He's loving this more than I am!

One moment later, a sudden peace falls on us, and I realize we're bathing in the most wonderful of golden lights, as we get closer and closer to their strange, luminescent, swirling ether. It's so surreal it feels like staring straight at the sun, although the only source of light here is the sky itself! I forget everything, including the fact that we're soaring so high no one could see us anymore, and stare, with the tinge of sadness I'd get when watching a beautiful sunset. 

I dreamily wonder if we're not getting too close, and if Icarus's wings would melt at some point. But no, his wings would not falter, I would.

I guess I should have expected this, and Peter had every reason to worry. My exhausted, weak body suddenly just... gives out. Of course, Demetrius has no way of knowing or expecting this, so the moment I faint and my limp body pulls at his arms, I slip out of them. Or at least that's what I realize a fraction of a second later, when my eyes open and I see myself falling further and further away from him, while he frantically flaps his fully deployed wings, in an attempt to catch me. In my haze, he looks every bit like an angel; the first and last one I would see before my death.

My panic rises from zero to a million in a second. No! Stop! Stop!!
And with panic comes that now familiar surge of powerful senses. I can suddenly feel everything: the friction of the wind against every hair, every cell. The ground far, far underneath, and the distance separating me from it. Demetrius's body heat, although he is still very high above me. The twirls his wings are making in the invisible Matter as he flies to save me. 

Stop!!! My very insides scream.

I'm too weak to move, but lucid enough to realize that he is now approaching much, much faster, as if the speed of my fall has decreased. A second later, he's a few inches above me, with wings no longer moving. He's just floating there, and by the absence of wind against my skin, it seems I suddenly am too. We're not touching the ground. Actually, I can still feel it a long way beneath me. We’re just suspended, like two leaves in contradicting winds.

Demetrius frowns deeply and his shocked eyes grow wider and wider by the second. He looks baffled, intrigued, even scared, but most of all, he seems somehow thrilled, like he's just found another Elf like him. 

An Elf who can fly.       


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