Under a Starless Sky by Ion Light - HTML preview

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Chapter 1


To hear the child speak, you would believe he was from the other world, and that the stories of his adventures started before his birth. I can neither confirm nor deny his visions. I can only assure you that he is my son. Lanore


Light blazed to life like a thousand suns simultaneously going nova. The shadowy places and dark corners melded into one; there were no shadows to contend with. Mundane objects looked surreal, fake even. The people looked fake. He didn’t have to sort this, as he was instantly transported elsewhere. Memories assaulted him from all directions at once. Every thought, every dream, every nuanced reflection of word flavored with a thousand emotions came at him as he relived his entire life. Backwards. It was unpacked backwards and it bothered him going the other way. He had a thought outside of thoughts, ‘this is not how it’s supposed to be.’ 

There was no turning the light off. It was full on. It wasn’t painful. It felt cold, clinical. It was just there. The sun isn’t just there. It can be pleasant and unpleasant, but this light was present. It was as if it were alive, an entity in itself. The only option was to a retreat to a safe place. It was place of his own creation, a memory that defied the present law of physics. He established a forward going continuity that allowed him to make sense of the world line going backwards. He built walls and windows. Sometimes he would look out a window and see a younger version of him. It didn’t make sense. There were things he didn’t remember. It was hard to watch, the same way listening to a tape of your own voice is hard to listen to.

This unwinding did not happen in real time. It was accelerated time. He eventually came to a place of darkness. Darkness outside the room. There was nothing. His room became a sleeping bag. He curled up in it, completely zipped up, as if fighting a long winter’s night. His own breath bothered him at first, too warm, but the cold outside the bag turned this into a welcome friend. He slept.




Lanore felt suddenly very odd. Her daughter, Candace, noticed. She looked at her expectantly. Candace was practicing her letters on a tablet at a small table next to the window facing the cliffs and the Tower Of Light. It was an overcast sky, and the light from the top of the tower gave the cloud a strange glow, as it often did at night.

“L’Ma?” Candace asked politely.

 “Go fetch a-Ceolla, and have her guard the Light,” Lanore instructed. “I’m going to see N’Ma.”

Candace obeyed without hesitation. Lanore felt comfortable leaving her post to her apprentice guardian. After all, there was little wind, and the flame was constant. They had refueled only last week, and so there was not likely to be any emergencies. Lanore gathered her cloak, gripped her trusted staff, and headed out of her home. Each house was a dome, connected to each other and laid out in a circle, and under the Light, it strangely looked like an inch worm doubled back to investigate its tail end. There was the Central fire, and as always, several people gathered around it for warmth.   One of the fire guards was going to approach, but changed her mind as Ceolla arrived, urgent.

“L-Ma, what’s wrong?”

“Why must there be something wrong?” Lanore asked.

“Because your cloak is on?” Ceolla asked. “If you’re leaving me in charge,  shouldn’t I know what is driving you out at this time of night?”

“I am going to see N’Ma,” Lanore said. 

“It can’t wait till tomorrow?” Ceolla said. “For day light.”

“I trust my heart to guide me,” Lanore said. Before Ceolla could protest further, Lanore raised her hand. “Go inside, A. Continue with Candace’s lessons. Expect me back in two days, maybe three. I might linger.”

“You will take a guard,” Ceolla said.

“It isn’t necessary…”

Ceolla motioned towards the fire guard and one came running. She bowed. Lanore gave Ceolla a severe look.

“I could compel you to remain until morning,” Ceolla said. “Rule of three.”

Lanore turned the fire guard and bowed. “Tesh. You and Keila may join my walk.  I am leaving to see N’Ma.”

Lanore turned and departed. Tesh looked to Ceolla but got nothing, and hurried after Lanore, whistling for Keila to join her. They caught up to Lanore quickly enough. She walked at a reasonable pace. Too reasonable for the dark. Just beyond the last tangible pooling of Village Light, they paused and adjusted to their second sense. Looking back they would see the flame of their village on the tower. Looking forwards, there was only blackness. On a clear night, one could sometimes see the flickering of N’Ma’s light. One would not see it at all tonight, with the clouds this low, not until they were practically on it or, not at all. They trusted their heart and the path.

 An hour into the walk, their eyes began to play tricks on them. They saw things that weren’t there. Talking made the apparitions go away, but talking slowed their progress.

“Children,” Lanore said. “Please tell me you’re not afraid of the ghosts that come?”

“No, L’Ma,” they answered. Tesh sounded more believable than Keila. They didn’t see Lanore’s amused look. Lanore suspected Tesh was actually more afraid due to the fierceness of her response.

They proceeded only after the echoes of their voices faded. A sharp noise like a tree limb breaking sounded in the distance. Tesh invoked a spell. The tip of her staff illuminated. She held the staff forwards in the direction of the noise.

Lanore frowned at her. “Seriously, child. If there is something there, your staff light won’t reveal it.”

“I would rather see the bear I am fighting,” Tesh said.

“You will never see the bear you’re fighting,” Lanore said. “Not with your eyes.”

The brightness of the staff limited their vision to the circle around them. It made the shadows more ominous. Nothing came out of the shadows to attack. Tesh grudgingly relaxed, but only because she felt compelled by Lanore’s calmness.

“Extinguish the light, please,” Lanore said.

“Can’t we walk with our lights, please?” Keila asked.

“It will slow us down,” Lanore said.

“I am okay with slower,” Tesh said.

“Do I need to make you recite your lessons?” Lanore asked.

Tesh tapped her staff. The light extinguished. It went from a solid, bright blue, to a cool glowing orange that etched out patterns in the staff, luminescent veins that ran to where her hand gripped. Eventually even this was gone. They did not move into all the echoes of light had left their eyes. They did not speak. Lanore didn’t say come. Lanore moved when her heart painted the path, and they followed. As they walked, they had to sort their own inner voice, and quiet the demons. Too much inner chatter interrupted the heart path. A person lost in their inner voice could wander off the path and be lost forever. After so many quiet foot falls and heartbeats, they lost track of time. They eventually saw the glow of the cloud above N’Ma’s village. To maintain speed, they closed their eyes. They navigated paths as quickly and easily as if they were walking in broad daylight. They climbed hills, moved around obstacles, stones and tree trunks.

N’Ma’s village, Midelay, was built into the side of a cliff, with one narrowing path up, followed by an S shaped bridge that led to the main entrance. The bridge had no walls or barricade. Those who didn’t follow the heart would not arrive at the gate. Anyone who used a torch or a staff light would likely be shot the moment the touched the bridge. Three guards emerged and came out onto the bridge. One came silently forwards. Lanore stepped forwards. Lanore brought her hands together and bowed.

“Forgive my intrusion at this time of night, but I wish to see N’Ma,” Lanore said.

“Lanore,” the guard said. “I hear your voice, and my heart recognizes you. Come in out of the dark.”

They followed the guard in, and only after the doors were closed did the lights come up. Wall torches fueled by gas. The guards measured the travelers under the light and found the information consistent with their hearts. Eirwen was a strange bird. She was ghost white, thick muscles, tall, and blond, and considered one of the ugliest women to ever show up this side of Tamor. Her continued existence was due to N’ma’s mercy. She was found and raised into the light of the Heart Path clan, and though she would likely never rise higher than village guard, she was esteemed for her courage. Her courage made up for her ugliness. Compared to the others, she was an alien.

“Your attendants seem too old to be in training,” Eirwen said.

“We’re not training,” Tesh said.

“Forgive me. I see no injuries, and I assumed an explanation,” Eirwen said. “Shey  will escort you to N’Ma. Toli will escort your attendants to a room.”

“You assume we will be separated,” Tesh said.

“She assumed right. I will speak with N’Ma alone,” Lanore said. “Go, rest. Thank you for accompanying me.”

“It is our duty,” Tesh said.

Lanore bowed. She followed Shey down a corridor, up a corridor, up a winding stairs, over to a room where she was offered a place to bathe, fresh linen, and then brought to another room where she was left to herself. There was a fireplace. A table with fruits and cheese. She warmed herself by the fire.

N’Ma entered. She did so without knocking. Her face was old, but her eyes seemed much younger than her face. If asked, she would explain if you use your heart to peer into the darkness, your eyes will stay young. She measured the room with her heart before entering in further. She avoided eye contact, going past Lanore to the fire to warm her hands.

“What’s the matter, child,” Neri asked.

“I’m concerned. I felt movement, and distress. Surely it’s too soon for such activity,” Lanore said.

“Have you been thinking about re-absorption?” Neri asked.

“No, N’Ma! I plan to bring it to full term, and share life,” Lanore affirmed.

“Tian!” N’Ma called out.

 Tian, her apprentice, was suddenly in the door way. “Yes, N’Ma. How may I serve you?”

“Fetch me a lavender candle, two of the sandal wood scent sticks, lilac mint drops, and the rose oil,” N’Ma said.

Tian bowed, withdrawing. Neri asked Lanore to follow her to her office. The office contained a stone table, several chairs, a wooden desk that stretched the length of the wall, and above the desk book cases. She opened a valve and fresh water flowed into a basin, down a path, and dropped into a hole that took it out. Neri washed her hands to the elbows in a ritualistic manner, chanting a few sacred words her own teacher use to chant, shook her hands in the air and then dried it with a white towel. When her hands were dry, she turned off the water with the towel. She turned to find Tian with a tray containing the things she had asked for. They lit candles and placed it on thin pillars that stood higher than the stone table. Tian withdrew, but remained in the room.

Lanore had taken a seat on the table. She didn’t need to be asked to sit. It was part of the ritual. She was once as Tian was now.

“May I touch you?” Neri asked.

In many cultures, the doctor or Shaman wouldn’t have even asked the patient or client for permission, but would have just assumed the right from their role in society.  

“Of course, N’Ma,” Lanore said.

The first thing Neri did was put her left hand upon Lanore’s forehead, closed her eyes, and leaned in close to her. She inhaled slowly, observing the smell of Lanore’s breath, her hair, and then her ear. With her eyes still closed, both hands came up to examine the head, manipulating it ever so carefully through angles of articulation. She continued this down to the neck. She pulled the string and allowed her dress to fall to her waist. She extended arms, and moved the limb through its points of articulation, even the fingers, and came back to feel under the armpits. She examined the breast. She moved her to lay down. The cold stone caused her back to arch. N’Ma reached in and felt the small of her back, traced up to the stomach, feeling, tapping. He held her hand over the stomach for a moment, as if trying to discern something. She followed the sternum up to the heart and placed her hand over the heart. She came up again to her mouth, smelling, and pushed on her cheeks, drawing down on her chin, and opened her mouth. 

N’Ma leaned in and kissed Lanore. She held this kiss for a moment, breathing in, tasting. She came up and away. Neri opened her eyes, and examined Lanore’s mouth, inserting her fingers in, scrutinizing the teeth and the gums. Neri went to her desk and unwrapped a thin piece of amber, which had the strange property of self illumination.  She asked Lanore to open her mouth wide and used the amber to push down on the tongue, examined the back of the throat. She cleaned the amber and returned it to the cloth, leaned against the desk and studied her patient.

She motioned Lanore to bring her dress up and had a seat at her desk. She closed her eyes and thought for a long time.

“Have you changed any of your routines, your diet?”

“No, Nean,” Lanore said.

“Did the mating occur indoors or out?” N’Ma asked.

“Outdoors,” Lanore said.  “In the ocean, actually. The father is Nevin, one of the sailors who works on my sister’s ship. We were playing in the waves...”

Neri waved off, not wanting more information. She mumbled something about ‘water babies’ being difficult. Still, babies conceived in play were healthier than the other kind, and water-born children seemed to have an easier transition. She continued to shift past her inner dialogue into Heart, seeking truth.

“Is something bothering you?” Neri asked.

“Everything is fine, N’Ma,” Lanore said.

 Neri frowned.  “Are you certain? No troubles with your new apprentice? Clan drama you are not wanting to speak about?”

“My apprentice is an intelligent young woman. She will make a fine replacement for me, or perhaps even run her own Light in the near future,” Lanore said, neither boasting nor bragging.

“I taste fear in you, more than just being concerned for the safety of your child can account for…” Neri said.  “Would you lay down again, please?”

Lanore laid back on the table, and Neri probe her stomach, abdomen, and again asked permission to probe further. She laid an ear on the stomach and listened. She went and retrieved a wand with a crystal embedded in it. She lit it and examined between Lanore’s legs. When Neri finished, she again washed her hands, and asked Lanore to sit up. She took several herbs from her shelf and asked Lanore to hold them in her right hand, while she performed a muscle strength test. She sighed, replaced the herbs with a crystal, executed the muscle test again, and did this, exchanging the crystal for a mineral, and doing this a dozen times.

“I don’t detect an infection,” N’Ma said.

“I could have told you that. I feel fine. My heart is telling me something is different,” Lanore said.

 “I can find neither a physical abnormality, nor an emotional cause for this imbalance…”

Lanore quivered.

(Light flared, and the only thing that prevented an onslaught of memories was a fixation on one particular item. A book he had read, how long ago, in that other place… “Johnny Get Your Gun…” Now why would I be fixating on that? Oh my god! No Eyes. My Eyes! No Ears, no sounds. I can’t hear and I can’t even hear my own voice… No voice! A silent, nightmare type screamed echoed through the far reaches of his mind. He felt weighted down, told himself it was sleep paralysis, couple with fever dream. There was warmth. He gave into the warmth. He slept.)

“Oh my god!” Lanore said. “Tell me you felt that?”

Neri nodded. She laid her back on the bed and again put her ears against Lanore’s stomach.

“Are you certain of your conception date?” Neri asked.

“I’ve only had one encounter, N’Ma.”

Neri nodded. She went and sat down by the fire, inviting Lanore to do the same. Lanore came to the chair by the fire and sat, adjusting her dress, pulling the shoulder back up. Neri took up a stick and prodded the fire.

“Is it bad?” Lanore said.

Neri came out of the fire and stared at Neri. “It is neither good nor bad. It is what it is.”

“What is it?” Lanore asked.

“I tasted fear,” Neri said.

“I am not afraid,” Lanore said.

Neri laughed. “You came rushing to me just after night fall, and you claim you weren’t motivated such?”

“I was concerned,” Lanore said.

Neri smirked. “Fear is fear. Love is love. That is all. There is a great deal of fear in you. I didn’t say it was yours, but it has influenced you. Heart Path Clan or no, you could have waited till morning. This is not something that will be cured with an herbal  tea and a talk,” Neri said. “I have taught you better patience than this.”

Lanore nodded. “Not my fear? The baby?”

Neri studied her eyes. “The way I figure it is, either you are bringing in a soul so new to this domain, he is afraid of the light. Or, he is so old a soul, he is refusing to give up his past life.”

“What can I do?”

“Not rush out after night,” Neri said. “Never make a big decision when you’re experiencing emotions. Time will sort this.”

“How much time?”

“Time enough for birth,” Neri said.

Lanore chewed on a nail, contemplating. “You said boy. I know I am having a girl.”

“You’re having both,” Neri said.

“Twins?!” Lanore said. “That can’t be…”

“Measure again,” Neri said.

Lanore became serious, taking inventory of herself, closing her eyes, and tapping into her Heart. A vision began to arrive, a map of the room. The fire crackle washed it out, startling her. She redoubled her focus. There was the room. The fireplace looked strange, painted with the Heart Light. She could make out the difference in temperature gradients. There was movement, maybe smoke rising. She focused on her body. There they were, two babies. Way too young to discern gender. Way too young to discern anything other than her Heart told her they were there. She came out of her Light.

“How did miss this?”

“I don’t know,” Neri said.

“How do you know one is male?”

“Flavor,” Neri said.

“When will I be as discerning as you?” Lanore said.

“When you have lived so long that no one remembers your real name, and you become L’Ma for the remainder of your life,” Neri said.

“What was your birth name?” Lanore said.

“Child, that person is no longer with us. There is only N’Ma,” Neri said.