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Back Doors short fantasy story

#1 User is offline   uberlutra 

  • lontahn (discoverer)
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Posted 09 May 2010 - 12:10 PM

Woot, just finished this. Started it in Argentina, finished it a few days ago because for some reason it took me forever. Yeah stories

The priestess had brought the novitiates to Chell several days ago, and they were late. The priestess was supposed to perform three rituals for the king and queen in order for her to be considered for high priestess, and she had missed all three. The novitiates were just there for the experience, and Luri’s group hadn’t had the chance to visit Chell yet. Luri had doubts about whether or not their priestess would get her marks, and these doubts grew when the priestess informed the novitiates that for the rest of the day, their job was to go through the pLurice and see whatever they could. Meaning, of course, that it was almost certain they’d never see Chell again.
Luri didn’t care either way. She liked Chell just as she liked every city and her homeland of Frindin, but places and people and buildings didn’t mean much to her. Luri knew she was going to be a priestess, like the other novitiates, and maybe even high priestess, but even that didn’t matter. She never much paid attention to the physical world. There was no point, really, because it was so fleeting, and someday she would die and join the goddess Shraiva in a proper afterlife, and that’s what mattered. What she saw along the way here was small compared to what Shraiva’s palace would be like, because that was a true palace and a true place to live.
However, when she knocked into a huge, hideous piece of pottery with toothy whales on it, the crash it made as it fell to the floor and shattered was very real indeed.
Luri backed away slowly and then froze when she heard footsteps. The guards of the palace here were not reputed to be any nicer than the rest of Chell’s citizens, and if they saw her standing over broken pottery, it was likely she’d be either beheaded in the square, stripped of her skin while she was still alive, or…well, Chell people were creative, there was no doubt that they could come up with something. They always did, like when the king of two generations ago boiled the feet of Bhami prisoners and then forced them to walk all the way back to their islands, which happened to be across the ocean.
“I heard the noise, I think it was around here.”
“In Queen Travis VI’s wing?”
“Yes, that one.”
She heard the footsteps and the voices getting closer, and did the only thing an eight year old novitiate of Frindin’s priestess class would do…she turned and ran as fast as she could.
Luri found a door, but it was locked. There was another one nearby with a fancier handle, but that one was locked too. Then there was one…here it was, with a silver filigreed handle, and…she heard the guards and their voices and a shout of alarm as the pottery was discovered, and then she opened the door, flung herself inside, and shut it as quietly as she could.
She pressed herself against the back wall of this room. It was cold stone and the room was completely dark, and she muffled a sneeze with her sleeve as the dust tickled her nose. The guards were talking outside, though she couldn’t make out their words with the door shut. She could wait here, though, all day if she had to…then she could meditate and say a few prayers, both for the people of Chell and for herself in hopes they didn’t mind the pottery after all…and the other novitiates wouldn’t leave until she was there, so it was safe, it was all safe. She just had to wait until it got to that point.
Luri scooted to the left a bit, and then a bit more when she heard the voices getting closer, and then sat on someone’s hand.
“Hey!” a voice hissed near her ear. “Get off my hand! And get out of my closet, you’ll draw attention and then they’ll find me!” the voice sounded like it belonged to a girl about her age, only the girl’s voice was clipped and harshly accented and interspersed with words Luri didn’t understand. The girl was speaking pure Chell, the language of the center city, unchanged for at least ten thousand years. Out in Frindin, the first language had evolved to so many dialects and subtongues that one could go to a nearby state and have to relearn some language.
“Sorry,” Luri responded. “I am in a lot of trouble and am hiding to keep from dying,” she said, trying to imitate the girl’s speech and failing.
“You are from Frindin,” the girl replied. “I can tell because you speak horribly and everyone from Frindin does. But you are not as bad as the Bhami, because they don’t even believe in Shraiva.” She finished with a sniff. “But you should still get out of my closet.”
“I’m studying to be a priestess of Shraiva,” Luri said, hopeful that the girl would let her go just for that.
“So? Lots of people are. Half of Frindin is. What are you doing here? You haven’t told me yet, and I order you to tell me, and now you have to tell me.”
“Because you ordered me to? What does that have to do with anything?”
“Just tell me.”
“I broke a vase.”
“That’s it?”
“I broke a vase that had horrible toothy whales on it, and it was big and expensive and old and important, and now the guards are after me and they’ll get me and kill me because it was old and important. They’ll behead me and my priestess can’t stop it because Chell law rules over any other law.”
“Oh,” the girl stopped talking for a moment. “The one with the whales? Really? Big things with fins and teeth and roar coming to get you?” she asked.
“That one,”
“Oh! Well then you can stay in my closet, at least for a little bit, because no one likes that pot anyway. It gave Tesse nightmares when she was little, and mom says it gave me nightmares but I don’t believe her because I am queen of the whole world and will never have nightmares. But it is an awful pot and I’m glad you broke it. I wanted to, lots of times, to get Tesse to stop crying.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Because then there’d…”
Another voice interrupted them, this one older and speaking in the same tongue the girl did.
“Aris!” the new voice called. “Aris, there is no reason for hiding, if that’s what you’re doing. There’s no use doing any spells either because the palace magicians disabled any use of magic for the next ten hours, so you can’t disappear on me. This is the third time in the past two weeks that you’ve snuck away from your history lesson, and if the queen finds out you’ve been doing it, she’ll have me killed for certain. Aris!”
The girl froze and jerked her hand away from where it was resting near Luri. “Shh!” she then gripped Luri’s arm so hard her fingers cut into Luri’s skin. “If you tell them I am here, I will order your execution!”
“I won’t,” Luri replied instantly. “Never will I mention it to a living soul.” She said this so many times to other novitiates when they had done something dreadful that it was no different speaking to this girl. But this girl…they called her Aris. Empress Aris, the oldest daughter of the king and queen of Chell. Luri was hiding in a closet with the third most important person in the world.
“Good,” Aris replied, and relaxed slightly. “You have to try and not listen to him at all. That is my history tutor and he is dreadful boring, and I fall asleep when he teaches and he yells at me. I am eight years old and I don’t want to learn history.” She finished with a sigh of exasperation.
“What do you want to do, then?”
“I want to go outside in the courtyard and look at the spells in the stones.” Aris traced a pattern on the back of Luri’s hand that made her flinch. “I want to trace them all, just like that, and then be able to trace them anywhere.”
“Why won’t they let you?”
“Because I am going to be queen of the whole world and have to learn history instead.”
“History is important if you’re that important.”
“Well sure, but I can learn history later.” Aris huffed. “I don’t want to learn it now.”
“It is boring,” Luri agreed. “I don’t much like it either.”
“It s boring,” Aris sighed. “Mother makes me recite family names every week, so I know everyone in the line, down to…to…”
“Empress Aris!” called the tutor, louder and closer this time. “I order you to come out this instant and return to your lesson! I simply will not stand for it, and if you don’t get back soon, I will be forced to use extreme measures.”
“This way! Maybe the vandal went this way!” shouted the guards, and Luri stiffened with fear. She picked at the loose skin at the base of her fingernail and winced when she tore it off.
“Are those the guards who are after you?” Aris whispered.
“Yes. They’re going to kill me.” She squeezed her eyes shut even though it was too dark in the closet to see anything. “I am too young and inexperienced to be executed.”
“Empress!” the tutor shouted. “Empress, come out this instant! This sort of behavior is unbecoming and insulting, and impudent for anyone, empress or not…skipping out on lessons is never tolerated in any class!” When Aris didn’t respond, the tutor’s voice changed slightly, now sounding equally afraid and threatening. “I will report this to your parents after I’ve gotten you back.”
This time it was Aris’ turn to stiffen. “If he tells my parents, they will be very unhappy with me,” she whispered. “They do not like that I run away from history all the time. They will lecture me for days and forbid me from leaving my room…and my room is just one room, not like their room which is five…and I will be bored and trapped and not able to even look out the window because they will block it. They are displeased at me and Tesse often because we run away from things we don’t like.”
“Well, eventually everyone has to face the things they don’t like…” Luri said hesitantly.
There was another long pause. “You’re right,” Aris admitted. “I guess because you are going to be a priestess and say things that are right. I will tell them not to execute you.” Aris touched the back of Luri’s hand. “But I am not going back to history. I refuse. If I agree and go now, it will be showing that they can tell me what to do! And no one can tell me what to do because someday I will be queen of the whole world.”
“Right,” Luri agreed, figuring it was best to agree with anything Aris said. It was safer that way.
“Aris! That is it, I have had enough!” The tutor’s voice rose in intensity and was tinged with anger. “You’ll have to come out now. Right now.” Then the tutor began speaking, loud and clear, and the words were in pure Chell and rang in Luri’s ears.
Aris jerked and fell against Luri, pinning Luri’s hand under her. Aris’ hand bumped against her shoulder and lolled to the side, and Luri felt the tickle of the other girl’s hair in her nose. Then Aris straightened and started towards the door, her hands waving to find the doorknob.
“What are you doing?” Luri whispered fiercely. “If you open that door I will be executed and you will be found!”
“Have to go,” Aris replied dreamily. “Have to. Told me to. Told me.” Her voice was far off and quavered with uncertainty, but still her hands searched for the doorknob. “Must go. Really must go.” Her voice grew fainter with each word, and then there was a faint click as she found the knob.
The guards were right outside and maybe it wouldn’t matter what this empress said, because clearly she was under some sort of spell and would likely forget her promise to save Luri’s life. The thought of imminent death made Luri’s palms sweat and her heart race, and she flung herself onto Aris before the girl could open the door. They both landed with a muted thump, and Luri skittered away immediately to the back of the closet in case the door opened. Her heavy, panicked breathing had to be loud enough for the guards to hear.
A moment later, she felt the warm body heat of the empress next to her. “You did that?” Aris asked, and her voice had returned to normal. “You really did! I will definitely spare your life now.”
“Are you okay?”
“I am fine! How were you able to tell he was weaving an enchantment?”
Luri had no idea he was, but she guessed something was wrong by the sound of Aris’ voice and the funny words the man was speaking. It was not that difficult to guess there had to be magic involved.
“Guessed,” Luri replied.
“Good guess. You saved me from terrors unknown that tutors can inflict. I’m too young and don’t know enough to deflect enchantment like that. He could have made me prostrate myself in front of my parents…my language tutor did that once…in front of the entire council! They will never forget that. I will be a hundred years old and the greatest and most renowned empress of the world and they will never forget me lying on the floor in front of the council. It is a lesson for us, my sister and I, to make sure we learn what we are supposed to for the future. But I am empress and if I don’t want to learn then I won’t, and that’s what they do to make me! That is what he would have done, I know it! But you saved me from certain doom.” Aris’ voice dropped from storytelling to quite serious. “And I will make sure you don’t die.”
“Well, thank you,” Luri replied politely.
Unfortunately, their noise attracted the attention of the people outside.
“Hah! I knew it! I heard you nearby, empress, and there are not that many doors in this hall…”
“The vandal went this way…ah, Tutor Sentora, what are you doing here?”
“I am searching for Empress Aris, who is skipping out on her lessons. And you, guardsmen?”
“A vandal in Queen Travis IV’s wing destroyed one of her old pieces of pottery and we have to find them.”
“Well, there are not that many places to hide, and I’ve heard noise here…perhaps we should look together.”
“An excellent idea, Tutor.” There was a knock and the sound of a door nearby opening.
“That’s it. We can’t just stay here. Maybe there’s another way out.” Aris said. There were a few whispered words of magic, and then Luri could finally see.
Aris sat there with her hands cradling a ball of dim white light. It cast strange shadows in the small closet, which was filled with brooms and a dustbin. If Luri had any doubt of Aris’ origins before they were completely allayed now…her high cheekbones, almond shaped eyes, and dark hair were all characteristic of Chell physiology. That, and Luri had seen pictures of the king and queen all over Frindin, and she looked almost exactly like a miniature version of them. There was dust in the girl’s hair and a smudge on her cheek, and Luri put a hand to her own short, curly hair and didn’t even want to know how much dust was in that.
“What are you doing?” Luri whispered, trying to cover the light with her hands. “They’ll definitely see you with all that light!”
“I’m trying to find another way out.” Aris dropped the light on her head, and it hovered in a small ball above her. “There are secret doors all over the palace and maybe, maybe, there is one in this room. I’m going to look for it. You should look too.” Aris went to work, feeling around the walls, poking her fingers into cracks between the rocks. “Well? Go do something!” She ordered.
Luri didn’t think it would work. It was utterly foolish to expect secret doors, and she’d never seen any in her life. Everything in Frindin was too shiny and new to have secret doors, and she expected that by now, everyone in the Chell palace would know where their doors were, having lived here for thousands of years. But she searched anyway, tapping futilely against the floor.
A door opened outside at the same time as Aris exclaimed, “Over here! I found one, I knew it!”
“Do you know where it goes?”
“No, but it has to be better than here!” Aris replied. She traced something on the wall, and a small door slid open. It was too small for an adult to fit through, and almost too small for the girls. Aris was already halfway through despite Luri’s protests, and Luri wasn’t going to go through at all until the closet door swung open.
The tutor and the guards stood there, openmouthed, seeing the two girls covered in dust and Aris trying to stuff herself down a secret passageway. The guards had their swords in one hand and short, forked wands in the other, and it was clear they meant even more business than Luri originally thought. The tutor looked both relieved and triumphant, and a corner of his mouth twitched in a half smirk while he held his hand out to Aris.
“That’s it! No choice! Come on, priestess!”
Luri didn’t have time to say that she wasn’t a priestess yet, because Aris forced herself down the hole and disappeared into the secret passage. Luri saw the guards raise their forked wands and knew it was her turn next, unless she did something, and that something meant following the empress into unknown and mysterious lands, into hidden bowels of this palace that people long ago built over and forgot, that was filled with all things horrific and terrible, and…well, that’s what was told to them in Frindin, and they wouldn’t lie, would they?
Still, at least she’d have company.
She turned her head away so the guards couldn’t see all of her face, and shimmied herself in the hole after Aris.
She was stuck for a moment and felt her legs dangling in open air beneath her. The rock squeezed her shoulders tight and she kicked and wiggled and barely moved. “Aris?” she called, and her voice was muffled from the trap door, slamming shut the moment she fit herself in. “Are you down there? Are you alive?” No response.
She took a moment to accustom herself to the thought of sudden death, and then held her breath and wiggled all the way out of the opening and into the blank space below.
Thump.
Smack.
Blip.
Ka-pow!
Her flailing descent was slowed by Aris, and she and the other girl smacked hard into cold, mossy stone. She rolled off Aris and touched her nose, pain shooting up into her forehead. Her arms and shoulders were scraped, and she felt blood sticky on her leg.
“I didn’t know it would be that open of a fall either,” Aris stated. “I mean, obviously, but I thought it was going to be a tunnel rather than…well, here’s another door.” Tap, tap, tap. “Hear it? That’s all that’s here is this door. Hiy, are you alive?”
“I am,” Luri replied. “But I can’t tell if my nose is broken.” She was fine with the scrapes and cuts, especially since the cuts she knew weren’t in vital places. “Can you check?”
“Sure,” Aris reached out and touched Luri’s nose. It hurt even worse, and her eyes watered in pain. “Yes, it is broken. Let me fix it.”
Luri jerked away and then winced. She didn’t want someone her age using magic on her face even if it was the future empress of Chell. She didn’t even like it when normal adults used magic on her face, because working with the face was such a delicate endeavor, and many people who had face magic go wrong on them ended up in Frindin’s basilica where the healers could reverse it. She didn’t know how much training Aris had, and if history was any example, this girl did not like her studies.
Before she could say anything, there was a hideous grinding noise and she bit back a scream as the nerves moved and blood vessels knit back together.
“Fixed,” Aris said practically, rubbing her bloodied hands on Luri’s shirt. “Sorry, I just don’t want priestess blood on my clothes.”
“That’s fine,” Luri touched her nose and was surprised to find the pain gone. She wiped the blood off her upper lip. “You did it!”
“’Course I did,” Aris answered. “Why, are there people who can’t do it?”
“Magicians in Frindin,” explained Luri. “They’ll mess up and people will grow extra ears and stuff.”
“They’re silly. If they trained here, they’d know better.”
“I thought you hated lessons.”
“Not those lessons. I only hate history, and it is because he cannot teach very well. Mother says that of course, he is the best, he is the most knowledgeable. But that means nothing when it comes to teaching, yes? Has that happened to you?”
“It has,” Luri replied. “There are two teachers that tell us about cooking and they are not very good. They always cook and never show us what to do, and when we have to do it, none of us know…we can’t watch and figure it out, and we are all equally bad at it.”
“You have a class?” Aris sounded incredulous. “You study with others?”
“Yes, many others. There are classes of ten, and twenty, and once fifty. You don’t?”
“No, it’s just me. It used to be me and Tesse when we studied the same things but I’m too old for her now.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“I am four years older than her.” There was a clank as Aris’ hand found the handle of the trap door. She jiggled it and let out an exclamation of disgust as bits of rust flaked off onto her hand. “That means we don’t see each other that much anymore,” she explained. “We don’t like each other either, but that’s because our teachers told us we shouldn’t. Only one of us can become empress, you see, when we are older. And I want to be, for I can do it the best, and I know many people and will find resources in the mountains far to the north, past Ornit. Tesse can’t do that. She really can’t do anything except ride the meerks, and that won’t get you that far at all.”
“I’m sorry. Was she nice?”
“Tesse?”
“Yes.”
There was a long period of hesitation, in which the globe of light reappeared, and Aris stuck her eye in front of the trap door handle. She followed one of the runes with her finger, and snapped in irritation as her long hair kept falling in her face. Finally Luri scooted over and pulled her hair back for her, holding it up so she could see. Aris traced the pattern faster then, and the handle glowed with a dim red light. She huffed in satisfaction and pulled the door open.
Aris sat back on her heels, and Luri let go of her hair.
“She was nice,” Aris replied finally. “She was very nice, and we would have fun, playing outside in the pool by executioner’s square. They kept the water warm there all the time, so even in the middle of winter you could swim there. And they had a shield up so the warmth never got out. We’d go there all the time and play, and then chase each other and hide behind the statues and King Moravis’ statue. But I don’t know where she is now and I don’t think she knows I’m here, so it doesn’t matter anyway.”
“That’s sad. If I had a sister, I’d want to stay friends with her.”
“Well, you don’t, and none of us can, so it doesn’t matter, does it?” Aris snapped, slapping away Luri’s hand. “I’m going through the door.”
“Okay.”
“You’re coming too.”
“But I don’t…”
“I order you to come!” Aris grabbed Luri by the shoulders and shoved her through the door, and then she followed.
This fall was shorter but just as painful, because the floor was covered in hard objects that poked into her side. Luri moved her leg and the things clattered against each other, and the one she picked up was smooth to the touch. It was completely dark, and even Aris’ voice was muffled.
“Can you put the light back on?”
“It’s cold,” Aris said, and a moment later the girl’s teeth started chattering. “Oh, it is very, very cold. Can you make it warmer?”
It wasn’t cold at all to Luri, so she reached out and felt around for Aris. “Can’t find you,” Luri said. “Say something again.”
“I’m cold. Oh, Shraiva, I am so cold, please do something!” her accent was more familiar to Luri when she spoke to the goddess, and when Luri finally did find Aris, the other girl’s arms were covered in goosebumps, and her fingers were ice cold and made Luri shiver too.
“You are cold…here, take my…” all Luri was wearing was a robe, and she couldn’t take that off. “I don’t have anything you can take, and it would be impolite to take my robe off…”
“Are you wearing anything under it?” Aris managed to say between the loud chattering of her teeth.
“Just a shift.”
“Give me your robe, then.”
“But…”
“I don’t care if it’s inappropriate, just give it to me!” Aris’ voice rose and then something else tinged it, a command that snuck into Luri’s brain and made her hands move and unbutton the robe, and an itch behind her eyes that didn’t stop until the garment was in Aris’ hand.
“I didn’t know you could use words of Power,” Luri whispered.
Aris fumbled on the robe in the dark. “Me neither,” she replied, sounding almost afraid. “I never tried before.” A moment later Aris called for the light, but when it showed up in her hands it was dim and flickering. Aris’ hands were shaking, her teeth still chattering, and the robe was too big for her and came down over her wrists and almost covering her hands. The ball of light didn’t want to stay and went on and off, on and off…
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know!” Aris replied, near tears. “I’m still cold even with the robe! How is it so cold in here?”
“It’s not, it must be something else.” Luri grabbed Aris’ hand and laced their fingers together, and then pressed her shoulder to Aris’, but the girl still shivered. “I’m not cold at all, I don’t know what’s wrong. Maybe it’s ‘cause your light isn’t working.”
“The magic is all wrong down here, that’s why I can’t light it.”
“What does that even mean?”
The light gave a few more feeble attempts at glowing and then settled into a dim flickering. Aris sniffled back tears of frustration, and then shivered even more. She blinked frantically and then whimpered a little as the light turned a dim blue, and then started to go out altogether.
“You’re right. This is not right. But I do not know what is right!” Luri pulled Aris to the crunchy ground and put her arms around her, hoping the body heat would warm her up. Aris shivered and chattered and the light went out altogether. “I’d help you but I don’t know how!”
Aris held the ball in one hand and dug her fist into her eyes with another. “I am going to be queen of the whole world someday,” she whispered angrily. “I should be able to make a light ball hold up!”
“Not when you’re this cold. It’s hard to think.” It was warm in Frindin but travelers told her of otherwise, and once she had to share her room with a female Windteller from Ornit, and while the woman wore beautiful flowing clothes under her jacket, the jacket in question was thicker than almost all of Luri’s bedsheets and blankets. “That’s what I’ve heard at least.” She touched the light ball and her hands went straight through it. “I can’t do Chell magic,”
The ball floated out of Aris’ hands and landed on the floor, illuminating the hundreds of bones they were sitting on.
Luri looked down and froze, and when Aris saw where she was looking, she screamed and the light ball went out entirely. A moment later Luri felt a painfully tight and frigid grip on her hand.
“They’re bones. Don’t worry, empress, they’re just bones.”
“I know!” Aris’ voice came out as a high pitched, barely controlled shriek. “I see them, all over! That is why I can’t do anything, of course!”
“What’s wrong?”
“Can we feel the wall?”
“I don’t know where the wall is. Why?”
“I need to feel it!” she nearly screamed that, and then she shot to her feet and dragged Luri with her. They stumbled across the room, shuffling their feet through the bones. The bones scraped Luri’s bare ankles and she really wanted her robe back, because it was chilly down here, and the shift was thin.
Aris crashed into the wall and cried out as she fell down. Luri ran into it second, scraping her shoulder against the rough stone. She hauled Aris to her feet, and they both leaned against the wall for bLurince.
“Tell me,” Luri insisted. “What is wrong with the bones.”
Aris whimpered and shifted her feet. “It means that this is a dungeon, because the only people whose bones are left behind are prisoners and the dissidents. They don’t do this anymore, put people in dungeons…everyone just executes them in the square because it is far more useful and entertaining, you know? But there used to be hundreds of dungeons with thousands of prisoners and the old kings and queens just…left them here and forgot. That means…” she stiffened. “That means that the spirits of the dead are wandering and seeking revenge and want to take all my power and kill me because I am a descendant of the people who threw them down here!” her voice rose to a terrified shriek. “Almost-priestess, they are going to kill me!”
“I don’t think…” Luri’s voice trailed off when she felt the wall behind them growing warm. Spirits never stayed after death in Chell or any of its nearby cities. She had seen enough people die to know where the spirits went, and half the time she was in the hall where they sung the spirits away, and saw their shimmering forms bow and slowly vanish with the music. She hummed a few bars of the normal sending song just to see, but nothing appeared and she didn’t feel the usual itch in the back of her mind. There was something odd here, but whatever it was, it wasn’t spirits.
“There aren’t any,” Luri stated. “See? I just checked, and I see spirits all the time. We’re not in danger of that.”
“They want my soul,” whispered Aris. “They want to suck the life out of me and use it for revenge on the people of Chell. They will take me and then kill my parents and Tesse! No one in my family will be safe!”
“There aren’t spirits here,” Luri repeated.
“And then they will burn the countryside and call the souls of their dead to steal those of the living, and they will have revenge on all of Chell because my ancestors were fools who threw people in dungeons,” Aris was starting to shake, and Luri jerked her hand out of Aris’ grip when she felt frost forming on Aris’ hand. “That’s what spirits do. That’s why we closed the dungeons.”
“Empress, there is not a single spirit in this room. I do not know what it is, but there’s…”
“Millions will die because I’m here and they’ll kill me first.” The frost crept up Aris’ arm. “I will not let you take me, spirits! I will fight despite your cold and chilling and…and…they’re not letting me go, almost-priestess,”
“There aren’t…” but by now the frost was thick on Aris’ hand, and Luri didn’t understand why, and bit her lip, trying to figure out what exactly could cause this…delusional thinking, and frost…manipulation of magic…
“There aren’t any spirits here, and I promise you that,”
“You promise?” Aris stopped shouting and turned to Luri, her eyes bright in the dim light. “Absolutely promise?”
“Well, yes,” Luri replied. She reached down and picked up a bone, turning it over and over. It was an arm bone, and when she held it near the wall, it hummed. “Because the people here worked a bone spell, see?”
Aris shook her head.
“Well, we learned about this in Frindin because people do that all the time…or did, before it was…was…” she couldn’t remember the word the other priestesses used, something starting with an O that meant no one did it anymore because there wasn’t a point, a useless practice, a…something…
Aris touched Luri’s recently healed nose. “Ob…so…lete,” she said, stumbling over the unusual word.
“That,” Luri nodded vigorously. “People used to use these spells where they’d scrape off their skin and put their arms with the bone pressing against a wall or something, and then they’d be able to do big and bad and long lasting spells. But no one does that anymore because now you can…do that thing where you take the blood and the insides of bones and test it and use the smallest parts to do magic,” she forgot what that was called, too, and she forgot it so much that Aris couldn’t find it.
“Oh,” Aris replied. “Oh…” she took the bone and held it to the wall, and icicles started to grow on her hand. “Does that mean I’m going to die?”
“No, of course not,” Luri said as convincingly as she could. She had no idea, really, having never seen this sort of magic in action. But if Aris wasn’t dead by now, then…well, then she wouldn’t be, because.
“Do you promise me that, too, along with the no spirits?” Aris inquired.
“I…” don’t want to lie. Lying is unforgiveable. “I don’t know. I just know about the spirits.” That was honest, but Aris didn’t like it. “But I mean, maybe there’s something we can do? I just know prayers, but…what?”
Aris was looking at her intensely, and then tossed the bone to the floor. “You’re from Frindin and your blood is Frindin and has everything to do with that place, and that temple, and being an almost-priestess,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, why?”
“’Cause there’s this…” she picked at the frost, shuddering as it ran up her fingers. “There’s this…this thing, I saw it in a play last week…where these two people were trapped in an avalanche…you should have seen the way they did the snow, there was this illusion charm that made the entire room filled with snow!...and one of them was from Chell and the other from Ornit, and in Ornit they’re all Windtellers, right? And they had been traveling together for a long time, so the man from Chell cut his palm like this…” she pantomimed slicing a line diagonally across her hand. “And the woman from Ornit did the same, and then they put their hands together and swore they would be bonded forever, in friendship or something…because it wasn’t a love story but they do that too…and it worked, and the lady was able to read the wind and find the way out and because they were bonded it was stronger, and they both found their way out.”
Luri had never heard anything like this, and knew very little of the ceremonies performed in Chell, and felt a bit ashamed of that now. “Does everyone in Chell do that? The hand blood thing?”
“No, just people making vows, obviously!” Aris stopped shivering long enough to give her a look of knowing far more than her. “Everyone does that here, the hand thing, because it says, I trust you enough to make sure we’re blood-sworn and after that neither of us can ever break our vows without hideous pain and death! My father does it a lot, and that’s why there’s scars all over his left hand.”
Luri pulled a loose strand of hair nervously. She had never seen anyone do this ceremony, and could see where Aris was going with this. The last thing she wanted was her hand cut open by another girl in the dark of a dungeon filled with bones.
But then the walls groaned, and one of the stones howled, and both of them could hear that.
“What was that?” Aris demanded. “What? Tell me now,”
“It doesn’t care that I’m here,” Luri replied, looking all around her. “The spell’s willing to get us both, not just you.”
“Then let’s do it,” Aris grabbed Luri’s hand. “Right now.”
“No!” Luri jerked her hand away. “I don’t know this ceremony and I don’t want to, and I don’t even know…”
Aris wasn’t listening, or didn’t care. “We’ll swear everlasting friendship, and that should be enough to make it work just like in the play. Luri, you will be my best friend for the rest of our lives, okay?”
“Empress, this is not a good idea, and I don’t even know you.”
“Well, it won’t matter in a few minutes, will it?” Aris plucked a bone off the ground and broke it against the wall so she could have a piece with a sharp enough side. It was obvious that this was not easy for her, as her hand momentarily was covered in icicles after touching both the bone and the wall, and tears sprang to her eyes in an effort to keep from yelling. “Come on, give me your hand, your left one.”
“Empress, please,”
“Give it to me now,” Aris’ voice rang with Power, again, and the empress blinked in bewilderment. “That’s the second time today I did that,” she whispered.
“Why do you think that is?” asked Luri, hoping delay Aris’ ceremony thing long enough to think of a way to discuss the spell out of itself.
“I don’t know. Happens when I’m talking to you. Maybe the gods mean us to be best friends forever and get out of this ourselves after all! I knew I was right.” With that, she sliced Luri’s hand diagonally, and Luri turned white at the sight of the blood on her hand. In another swift movement, Aris cut her own palm, and pressed their hands together, blood touching and mingling.
Luri’s entire arm tickled, then tingled, though not altogether in a bad way. Her eyelids twitched and she shook her head nervously, and then her entire body went pins and needles. She yelped when she moved, and the needles yelped too, and a moment later she realized the needles in question were Aris, and Luri was needles too. Luri blinked through the sparks and lances of light in her vision long enough to see that the spots of blood that fell to the floor were flickering, and then flared for a moment before going out and turning back into a stain of blood on the bones. A moment later it all went out, and the blood rushed back into Luri’s head and she sat down on the floor, almost fainting. Aris did too, in a loud clatter of bones.
Luri looked back down at her hand, and there was a long scar where the cut had been made.
“I didn’t think…” Aris sounded faint for a moment, and then her eyes met Luri’s. Luri shivered and felt cold, but not freezing, and the icicles and frost vanished from Aris’ body.
“I think that worked,” Luri said, and she wasn’t afraid anymore. Maybe that was Aris’ lack of fear she was feeling, or maybe this spell just made her brave because it worked.
“It did,” Aris nodded. “Oh, it did!” She pressed herself to Luri, and the frost vanished from her body, and Luri could feel Aris’ body heat returning. “I don’t think I need your robe anymore.” She took it off and handed it to Luri, who felt much better once she was wearing it again. “I’m not cold anymore. Look! I’m not cold!” Aris held out her arm, and the goosebumps had gone down, maybe gone away with the frost. “This was such a good idea! I have good ideas, don’t I?” she looked expectantly at Luri, who nodded. “But now we have to get out of here.”
“Yes,” Luri agreed. “We do, but…” Luri rubbed her palm, feeling the raised flesh where the scar was. She’d never heard of a ritual like this, but…she felt Aris’ anxious desire to get out of here, and Aris, who had been moving incessantly for the past few minutes, started slowing down and finally stopped, running her fingers through her hair. Already they were picking up traces of each other’s feelings. “Just let me sit a minute,” Luri said, sitting down among the bones. She closed her eyes and held her scarred palm to her cheek, and hummed, low and certain, like she heard the priestesses do. She meditated and hummed, and her hand grew warm and when she opened her eyes, a few scattered, pale purple sparks danced around her fingertips. They vanished as soon as they came, and it left her more at ease with herself than she was when she broke the pottery.
“What’s wrong?” Aris asked, and though Luri didn’t know this, it was the first time in over a year that Aris asked anyone else how they were.
“Did you see my sparks? I’ve never been able to do that before. Only the priestesses can.”
“But you’re a priestess.”
“Not yet, I’m too young.”
“Oh.” Aris looked up, then glared at the bones, then smirked at the wall behind her. Take that, she was thinking. “So how do we get out?”
“Well, we can try and go back the way we came but that requires levitation, and…”
Clank.
Both girls froze.
“What was that?” Aris whispered.
“I don’t know,” Luri stood up and balanced against the wall. The clank came again, closer this time. Then there was the scraping sound of metal against stone, and the dim roar of an old door opening somewhere near them.
“You said there were no ghosts!” Aris demanded.
“There aren’t!”
“Then what’s that?”
On the far side of the dungeon, the stones slid apart, grating against each other and filling the room with a hideous noise that made both girls flinch, and Aris covered her ears with her hands. Then a figure stepped through, thin and gaunt, with a hammer in one hand and a short staff in the other. It had to be a man, eyes sunken but glowing in his sockets, and no teeth in his mouth when he smiled. Draped across him was a dirty old robe with the Chell royal family insignia stitched on the front in frayed thread.
Aris screamed, and Luri stepped instinctively in front of her.
The man looked right at them, and his eyes were too bright for the false light of the dungeon.
“Is that an evil spirit?” Aris asked.
Luri couldn’t feel anything, but right now that didn’t matter, since the man thing was coming towards them with his glowing eyes and now a glowing short staff. Whatever it was, it was definitely bent on destruction of the two girls present.
“I don’t think it matters,” Luri whispered. “But I think we can get away from it.”
“Because of the door.” Aris agreed. “But we have to get to it first.”
“Then…well, then let’s,”
The two girls looked at each other, and Luri felt Aris’ absurd courage and arrogance, and Aris felt Luri’s calculating hesitancy and determination to look at everything practically. And both of them felt each other’s desire to escape, and definitely desire to live.
The man took another step towards them, and Aris stumbled forward and held her hands out in front of her. Luri reached up and gripped her medallion in her hand, feeling the familiar etchings on its surface, knowing that those symbols came from the goddess herself. And Luri was going to be a priestess someday, a great one, to bring the message of Shraiva to everyone, and she couldn’t do that here in a dungeon, pursued by a demon man. And Chell believed in Shraiva, and this was the future Empress, and it would do no good to have her die as well. Live. Life. The fire of life, the fire of death, death to save lives, searing over the bones and breaking them, shattering the walls, white hot and strong. Luri closed her eyes and trembled, feeling her bones warm, and then her eyes pressed hard against her eyelids. This is what priestesses did. She was too young to be a priestess, but Aris’ confidence said otherwise, and Aris’ power said, no, I have great power, and when I am older I will have greater, and you can use some of that to reach Shraiva’s star.
Aris gritted her teeth against Luri’s humming, which made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, and her hands tingle with unused power. Then use it, Aris, you idiot. Now!
Aris drew one hand back and made a flicking motion, and she felt the power leave her hand in a rush and turn into a stone, and it struck the man’s short staff and broke it in two. She did the same thing again, only this time it was water, and the water swirled around his feet…and when she concentrated, it hardened into ice and kept him in place. He shouted something but she didn’t hear it, keeping the ice frozen, and then making the same ice bind his hands. She cupped her hands together and there was fire, blinding fire that illuminated the entire room and its bones.
Then Luri screamed and the room was filled with an intolerable white light. It touched Aris’ skin and was hot and great and wonderful, and Aris screamed too, and then they reached out and touched each other’s fingers and the fire turned all the bones to ash, and it struck Aris’ ice block and both fire and ice raced up the man’s body. It touched his spine and he fell paralyzed to the ground, and he howled unnaturally against the ash. The two girls opened their eyes and saw the door just beyond him.
The man made a strangled noise as they ran past, and reached for them, one of his hands grasping Luri’s ankle. It was cold and wrinkled, like he spent too much time in water, and old, brittle, hard. Luri stumbled and almost hit the burning ground, but Aris was there, wrapping her arms around Luri’s waist and dragging her away from the man, through the door, and into the cool darkness beyond. The door shut behind them and they ran, Aris tripping over her dress and Luri tripping over Aris. Minutes went by and finally they came to another door and pushed it open. The wind struck their faces as they emerged onto a high terrace, overlooking the entire city of Chell. Aris slumped against the balcony and slid to the ground, and Luri sat next to her, exhausted, her hands burned and stinging.
“We,” Aris said when her breath came back. “Are the greatest people this city has ever seen.”
“I think you’re exaggerating,” Luri replied.
“I never exaggerate,” Aris sniffed. “I only tell the truth, and the truth is we are the greatest people in the city.”
“And the most alive,”
“Yes.”
They both sat there and Luri was tired from the magic, and more than a little cold, and pressed herself against Aris for warmth. The other girl made a small fire in her hands and blew it at Luri, and Luri felt the warmth encase her body and make the goosebumps go away.
Luri then realized that it was late afternoon, and if the priestess and the other novitiates hadn’t left yet, they were just about to. Panic set in, and Aris leaped up in response, striking the same fighting stance she had in the dungeon.
“What’s wrong?” Aris demanded.
“They’ve left without me!” Luri said, struggling to her feet. “The people that I’m with!”
“Well, we should get there, then!” Aris agreed. “Here, I’ll show you the way, I know this palace better than anyone. But you might know it a little, too,” she conceded. Luri followed Aris through the maze of hallways and open rooms, and marveled at the construction of this place. How many hundreds of years did it take, she wondered? She promised herself to read about it when she got home, if she got home at all. Finally they reached the base of the castle, and out into the city itself.
The cab that Luri and the others arrived in was gone. There wasn’t a single novitiate left behind, and even the high priestess had gone, leaving no notes.
“They left without me,” Luri said, suddenly close to tears. She wiped her eyes on the back of her sleeve, and Aris mimicked the movement despite not being sad at all. “They completely left! Is what I did that bad that they’d just…go?”
“I see we’ve found the perpetrator,” said a voice behind them. Luri whirled around to see one of the palace guards, holding a piece of the broken vase.
“And her accomplice,” Said the tutor, looking at Aris with a raised eyebrow.
Luri grabbed Aris’ arm. “How’d they find us?” she whispered, her voice rising in panic.
“They must have put a tracer on,” Aris said, and she would have sworn, if she knew the words. “I don’t know how to put those on…or take them off…or recognize them at all! Oh, Luri, your hand!”
Luri’s left hand was stinging again, and when she looked down, she saw a rune burning bright on her palm. “Is that a tracer?”
“Yes,” said the guard. He took Luri’s hand and matched it to the broken piece of vase, and the vase glowed a rune in response. “Well.”
“Well, what?” asked Luri, trying her best to cringe away and hide against Aris.
“Well, we were not expecting the perpetrator to be…how old are you?”
“Eight,” Luri replied.
“That young,” The guard said. “The normal punishment for vandals in the palace is death, but…” he looked genuinely bewildered for a moment, and Aris grinned. “But you’re just a child. What was a child doing in that wing of the palace, by herself?”
“I was exploring,” Luri answered. “I was with the high priestess from Frindin, and the other novitiates…”
“They just left,” The tutor said.
“Obviously,” replied Aris, but then cringed slightly at the glare shot at her by the tutor.
“So what do we do with her?” one guard asked the other. “We can’t execute a child.”
“I know what I can do with this one, at least,” the tutor said, and he grabbed Aris’ arm before she could move away. “Shirking her studies again? Escaping and injuring the dungeon master?”
“That’s who that man was?” Aris exclaimed.
“The one we just fought away?” Luri added, and then turned bright red when she realized she admitted it. But Aris didn’t seem to care, Aris still looked proud. Maybe Luri ought to take a lesson from that, and try to be as proud as the future empress of Chell. Luri stood up straighter.
“Yes, that was the dungeon master,” the tutor replied. “He came staggering up the stairs to Magli…”
“He’s one of the palace magicians,” Aris whispered to Luri.
“…stunned and half frozen, dripping water and icicles all over the floor. He managed to say it was terrible spells, apparently, from two girls in the dungeon, and Aris, you have a very recognizable face, even to the dungeon master who hardly goes upstairs.”
“We thought he was an evil spirit!” Aris protested. “He came among the bones in the bones room and…”
“The bones room?” The tutor said disbelievingly. “Girl, what the hell were you doing there? You could have been killed!” His voice rose and he grabbed Aris by the shoulder and looked right into her eyes. Aris tried to squirm away, but the tutor held firm. “Do you have any idea what the bones are like down there? We haven’t been able to get rid of them because every time a Chell magician comes in to get rid of them, they end up being drained of all their power by the vengeance and hatred in the bones! Girl, you could have been killed!” The tutor almost shouted, and Aris moved her face away from the intensity of his eyes. “This is far more serious than shirking lessons, girl. Come with me.”
“To where?” Aris jerked her shoulder out of the tutor’s grasp, but he had a hand on her other wrist, and no matter how hard she pulled, he was physically stronger than her. “Where? Where are you taking me?”
“I won’t leave her!” Luri threw herself at Aris and wrapped her arms around the girl’s shoulders. “If you’re taking her anywhere terrible, I’m coming too, because…”
“She’s my best friend in the entire city, and maybe the whole world, too.” Aris said, finalizing the statement by showing the tutor her palm. He saw the scar, and then saw the same one on Luri’s, and swore.
“This whole thing is turning into the greatest mess of the year,” he said. “Guards?”
The guards looked at him, eager to be given orders instead of waiting around.
“I think we have to take this matter to the royal family. Magicking dungeon masters, escaping lessons, eight year olds breaking pottery, even stupider eight year olds making vows like that…” he glared at both of them, and Aris sneered, and Luri backed away. “And you, stupid, stupid girl, falling into that room of bones. Come on, now.”
“Don’t take me to my parents!” Aris shrieked. “They will do all sorts of horrible and embarrassing things to me and then I’ll never be taken seriously as queen of the entire world!”
But the tutor said a few words, weaved elaborate patterns in the air over their heads, and both Luri and Aris felt as if they were wearing hats, heavy spelled hats that forced them to stumble along behind the tutor as he led them through the castle. They tried escaping, even holding hands and escaping, but Aris didn’t know enough spells and this was the most Luri had ever seen of Chell magic. Finally they reached the throne room, where it was known that the king and queen would be all day, processing peasant requests that they would probably deny.
The tutor pushed the door open, and the king and queen looked up from their work, startled.
“We have a problem,” the tutor said, bringing the two children forward. The king’s brow furrowed, and the queen frowned when she saw Aris.
“Did Aris skip her class again?” she said, sighing.
“A bit more than that, this time.” The guards came in behind him, looking slightly bewildered.
“Aris skipped the class, oh yes, and I couldn’t find her anywhere. It turns out she had somehow found her way to the bones dungeon…”
Both the king and queen flinched at that.
“…and attacked the dungeon master, and, for whatever reason is beyond me, made a friendship vow with this Frindin novitiate.”
“The novitiate,” the guards interrupted just as the queen was about to say something. “Broke a piece of pottery in Queen Travis IV’s wing, the one with the ancient spartacs swimming. We were prepared to apprehend the vandal and execute her, but…well, she’s a child, you can’t execute a child. What do we do with her?”
“No, you can’t execute her,” the queen replied almost immediately. “One, because yes, she is a child. The second is that she is a novitiate from Frindin, and how do you think executing one of their priestesses in training would do to our relations with them? It was disastrous enough with the high priestess who came, who had little idea what she was doing. Tutor, please, let go of them both.”
He sighed and made the hand motions above their head, and the spell vanished. The two girls leaned against each other in relief.
“Novitiate, let me see your hand.” The queen ordered. Luri showed the queen her scarred palm, and the queen sighed and rubbed her temple. “Aris, was this your idea?”
“Um. Yes.” Aris admitted. “But we were in the room of bones and I was going to die and there were evil spirits, and...and…things,” Aris finished, looking down and scratching her ear.
“Aris, that was a very, very foolish idea. Vows like this last forever, and they are impossible to break save for death. You hardly knew this girl, and the trouble you were in…would have been allayed, soon, as the dungeon master knew someone had gotten into the room of bones and was coming to remove them from it. Instead, you overreacted, and swore yourself to this…novitiate…whom none of us knows. You can’t rid yourself of a vow like that.”
“Well, I don’t care,” Aris replied, sticking her chin up, then withering under the queen’s glare.
“I do,” The queen replied. “This is an extremely serious vow. We will have to figure out now what to do about this, since it means you both can’t be separated for a long time, or it will be quite painful for the both of you. Novitiate…novitiate, look at me.”
Luri did, reluctantly.
“I would normally be upset about the pottery, but it was an unfortunate piece anyway, and frightened my children when they were young. You are free of charges of vandalism, child, and will not be executed. Do not quaver in fear, as you are, you have done nothing wrong but a small, foolish accident. And I apologize for my daughter’s impulsiveness.”
“It’s okay,” Luri said in a small voice. “I mean, it’s not that bad, Aris is really nice, and…she is.”
“Thanks,” Aris whispered.
“Aris, you are in more trouble than you can possibly imagine.”
Aris looked at the floor and scratched behind her ear again.
“Your punishment, daughter, will be quite lengthy and arduous. But I would rather not discuss that in front of company.” She glared at the guards and the tutor. “As it is business for the royal family alone, and our ears alone. Novitiate, I will arrange for your transport back to Frindin immediately, and you will take with you a letter to your superiors stating all I’ve said.”
“But I can come back, can’t I?” Maybe it was the vows, maybe it was the adventure, maybe it was the fact that she was standing in front of the queen of the entire world and wasn’t afraid, but the idea of never coming back to Chell was terrible.
“You’ll have to,” replied the king dryly. “This vow exists until you die.”
She and Aris looked at each other, and Aris shrugged.
“Guards,” the queen said. “Take the novitiate to her transport back home.”
The guards came up beside Luri, and Aris grabbed Luri’s arm.
“What?” Luri asked.
“I think,” Aris whispered. “That we would have been best friends anyway.”
The guards led Luri back through the castle and to the transport, and she fell asleep on her way home to Frindin, dreaming of bones and castles and dark corridors, and of the day she’d come back and, maybe someday, do it all again.
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#2 User is offline   luna 

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Posted 09 May 2010 - 12:50 PM

great!
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#3 User is offline   Allatwan 

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Posted 09 May 2010 - 01:19 PM

Lovely! I just wish you had spaced it out a little bit more, though. It kind of made my eyes hurt, but it was still great! :P
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#4 User is offline   Narayani Girl 

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Posted 12 May 2010 - 10:40 AM

Awesome! Totally awesome! I loved it!
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#5 User is offline   Capella 

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Posted 12 May 2010 - 12:36 PM

I really liked it! I think you have very clear voices for both girls, and I really enjoyed that.
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#6 User is offline   uberlutra 

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Posted 13 May 2010 - 10:56 AM

Oh thanks! I started this story on a whim when I was on tour with my orchestra in Argentina, and when we were wandering through Cordoba I got the image of two girls hiding in a closet, and so I started writing this in Cordoba but then was stuck for a really, really long time. I wonder if it was just the awesomeness of Argentina that made me get on a roll with this story. I'm glad they had good voices :P
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#7 User is offline   Allatwan 

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Posted 13 May 2010 - 01:43 PM

They were awesome :P
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#8 User is offline   300happy 

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Posted 16 May 2010 - 06:26 PM

That was a brillant read. Thanks so much for both writing it and sharing it. :)
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