Zoa was working with me to learn the language. She was nice about it, and started to inquire about Togan words. Something about exchanging linguistic knowledge made me feel better than simply being taught it. Zoa didn’t treat me with the cool disregard I was coming to accept from the Priestesses and other girls.
I also couldn’t help but notice that pale, slender and wide-eyed Zoa had no friends other than me. I didn’t know if there was something wrong with me, her, or if she had been assigned this duty.
It didn’t matter, I suppose. Not really.
When we sat there, on the stools in a wide circle, tilting our heads just so to see the Priestess enter and speak, there grew a tense silence. Perhaps I imagined it, but the sudden switch from incessant jabbering in the sleeping area contrasted markedly with the quiet that fell upon entering the classroom.
This morning, after a week of waiting, the Priestess entered and said nothing. She raised her hand and said one word: “Baidone!” and a gray-green light appeared in the center of the room.
“This is your magic. Pure. Simple. Energy.” Daimosk translated for me. “Chia is the energy of the Gods Before. It is more powerful than the newer magics, but also rarer. You are the entire Chianic apprenticeship of Lartiene, Kwenda and Togan. Videsse and Sanara have their own ways. But here, you girls--you are all there is.”
“What about boys?” I whispered to Daimosk, “Aren’t they Chianic too?”
“In Videsse and Sanara, yes,” he replied in a whisper. “Here? I don’t know.”
“Elessa!” called the Priestess. “Would you like to share your question?”
“What about boys?” I asked looking to Daimosk to answer.
“In Lartien! If you are going to speak and interrupt me, you should use the language of the place that took you in.”
Daimosk had to translate that. Sheer panic sent my heart racing. I felt sweat gather on my brow. “UnTaga.” Taga was girls, Zoa had taught me that. I didn’t know the word for boys. “Not girl” was the best I could think of off the top of my head.
“Taga,” I pointed at myself, “UnTaga” I pointed at Daimosk. Who was doing a lousy job of hiding just how funny he found this.
“Dairo,” said the Priestess.
I nodded. “Un dairo chianic?”
“Few,” was the priestesses reply. She gave no indication that she knew just how hard that little exchange had been for me. “That is how fickle the magic is. It chooses some and not others, and we can see it in the color of your eyes. Chia is the force we call on. The breath of the Old Gods. So it is important that we know our history, because we must know that human wars and the conflicts of the gods are like a reflection in the pond. Humans are the reflection, the fuzzy and insubstantial image. The gods are what are casting us here.
“They are so much more real, than are we. but like the reflection, our substance only appears similar. We are not. We are the water. They can splash at us, and send us into a million tiny pieces, and we would have the awareness of the stream: nothing. When we go to war, we are like the extensions of the gods. They fight in the heavens, and we on the plains--imitating their movement as oafish and flickering as a shadow. Likewise, is their intensity greater.”
“I’ve never seen a God,” said Zoa.
“Does your reflection see you?” returned the priestess.
Zoa pursed her lips. “If my reflection doesn’t see me, and I cannot see a God, how can I know the Gods exist?”
The Priestess grinned. I thought, perhaps she waited for just this question. She commanded her magic to grow. It swallowed the room.
“Aryndia speak to me!” she cried.
Aryndia. The Queen of the Old Gods. She who birthed the land and the people and the animals. She who Sighed and gave humans souls.
An eye appeared amid the gray-green light.
“Who calls?” boomed a deep, but feminine voice.
“Doesina of Lartien, Your Priestess.”
“What do you want, kuftana?”
“I want you to meet your new disciples,” and the Priestess Doesina gestured at us.
The large Green eye was set in gray skin, flecked with red-gold. It rolled over us and paused on me. “You are different, kuftana.”
“KaTogan,” I informed her though my heart sought a way out of my chest and my feet wanted so much to carry me away, “Not Lartien.”
“There are other lands in your kufti-world?”
“Yes,” I replied, speaking my tongue, not theirs. “And mine is far away.”
The one eye widened, as if in genuine surprise. I surprised the Queen of the Gods?
“Oh! I know that tongue!” she replied in Togani, “It is the language of change! Of the ones who escaped!”
“Escaped what?” I returned.
“The war, the war. The war that made your world--your people, Togani, they got away. They would not take sides. They would not fight the Gods. They would not fight for the Gods. But you are here, child? You are here with the ones who think I ask them to fight for me?”
“There are no Chianic in Togan, Aryndia, to collect your breath.”
“I thought of your people, five minutes ago. I am tired, little one, I am tired of hearing these kuftana talk about fighting for us. We are not at war. We quible, they kill. I must have given you breath, child, when I thought of your kin.”
“And now I am here, to learn.”
“Ah...change them, little one. and lead your people to greatness. They are great, the Togan.”
“We are not perfect,” I returned.
“Nor are your gods,” replied the Queen of the Gods.
“You charge me with much,” I returned against all better judgement.
The bottom of the eye crinkled, as if she were smiling. “Learn fast, little one, I am arguing with my son. The kufttana will go to war, and you child, are better than that.”
“If you say so, Great Lady.”
“I do say so. What, child, is your name?”
“Go forth Elessa,” and the Queen of the gods drew up, out of the range, till only the curve of her red-orange lips could be seen, and breath, just a touch fell forth, circling through to me. It hit me like a strong wind and felt like lightning. “You shall be stronger than the rest.”
Somebody held me, someone else grabbed my arm, in small hands. Two people were saying my name. Daimosk and Zoa.
I did not know what happened next. I woke three days later in bed, with Zoa sitting at my side, and her skin was even more pale than normal. We said nothing at first as she gave me water and sat there.
“You’re my only friend,” she said, in Togan.
Thirsty as I was, water spurted from my lips.
Zoa smiled. “The goddess gave us gifts, because we cared for you--Daimosk and me. I know Togani and I think I can learn Sanara and Videssa and Kwendai...easy! It’s just about the most amazing ability I could think of! A blessing.”
“Language? Not magic?” I asked.
Zoa shrugged. “I didn’t ask to be Chianic. I’m not sure I even want to use my magics much. Language always fascinated me more. did you know Lartiene has three languages spoken within its borders? And five dialects of one, two of the second, and eight of the third? My father was merchant, and we traveled a lot. I loved the way people spoke. When my parents told my that I was getting an education, I was thrilled, but for all of the things I could have wanted--ending up learning magic wasn’t even on the list.”
“Learning Chia--shaping the goddess’ breath, that wasn’t on my list either. but I knew i was different.”
“And now,b most likely, you are even more so. My blessing isn’t without a condition, Elessa. The Goddess charged me to help Daimosk keep you safe.”
“Because she chose you...for something...and that is going to alter how the Priestesses deal with you here. They already are leery of foreigners. I’m scared that they will start thinking of you as something they can and should control.”
“So what now?”
“Get better,” she nudged me, “and then, if you want out of here? There’s got to be somewhere else for you and me to learn magic. I don’t like this place.”
“It’s a plan then.”