Authors: K. P. Ambroziak
© 2015 K.
by K. P. Ambroziak
characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
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EL AND ONINE
Two billion thó ago …
I stole across the trail, as I followed the elegant
being through the maze of tinselly cypress. Minosh told me the trees were once
alive with thick green leaflets and cuneiform rind and I tried to imagine the
color, as I struggled to keep up with the alien. I admired him from the back, as
he floated through the white gold trees like an apparition. When he stopped, we
were somewhere in the middle of the forest, shaded by the overhang of the great
“Keeper?” I said.
I thought he whispered my name but wasn’t certain. With
his back to me, he gently tapped his stick on the forest floor and then turned.
I dropped my head to avoid his gaze. Quick to lead, he placed the point of his
stick beneath my chin and forced me to look at him. I held my breath, as he
examined the silk of my veil. He drew the tip of his stick along its trim and lifted
it slightly before he motioned for me to take it off.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “You’d like me to
My stomach tightened. I knew this was the end, the keeper
would touch me, burn me down to a pile of ash. If I’d remembered he’d also burn,
I’d have been more at ease.
“Show me.” His command was feeble but I obeyed.
I reached up with clumsy hands and slipped the hooks
out of the eyelets at the back of my veil. Once loose, I pulled it off my face
and let it fall around my neck. I tugged my tangled locks up and out from the
back of my frock, letting them hang around my shoulders. He didn’t move or
speak or reach for me, but stared, his eyes rummaging every cranny of my exposed
skin. My voice was small, barely a whisper through the golden trees.
“Onine?” When his name slipped from my lips, he
gripped his stick more tightly and the tension ran up his arm into his
beautiful Venusian shoulder. He bared his neck, as he tilted his head slightly,
and I saw the smallest bead of gold on his skin. I didn’t know the Kyprian
could perspire, and certainly not gold. With the hand that held his stick, he
reached over and pulled the protective glove from the other. The linen slipped
from his fingers and I recalled my dream. I’d never seen his hands before but
I’d dreamed them perfectly.
Steadied by the oncoming terror, I fidgeted and
swayed, my knees drawn together beneath my frock. I didn’t think Onine would
destroy me—us—but my dream … the rows of lavender, the fire, the
pain, his touch. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t scream. I was seduced, locked in
place by his violet stare. The air kissed and cooled the pearls of sweat on my
forehead and my tongue tasted the bitterness of fear.
“Please—” I could barely make out the word.
Unmoved, he continued to gaze at my naked face. My
cheeks burned with shame and I brought my hands up to hide them. He reached out
with his stick and coaxed my fingers away. I wanted to plead for him not to
turn me to ash, just as I’d wanted to in the dream, but my voice fell flat. I
recognized my failure as the part of me that longed for his touch—an
ecstasy I couldn’t deny.
The keeper contemplated his next move in the
stillness. He’d only removed one glove and I anticipated his stripping off the
other. “El,” I thought he said.
I waited for the end, praying silently for Minosh to
protect me from incineration.
don’t let him turn me to ash. Please don’t let him turn me to ash. Please don’t
let him turn me to ash.
He drew his head back and glanced up at the sky. I
heard the sigh after it escaped his lips and then, in one motion, he slipped
the glove back on his left hand, tapped the stick against the side of his boot
and backed away. He turned and headed into the forest, soon out of sight and lost
among the flaxen sycamores.
They came before I was born. Minosh never spoke of
how her world was then—before they came. She told me the Kyprian simply dropped
from the sky and the landscape was changed forever. They brought their magic
with them, their celestial forms engulfing the material world and turning
everything solid into gold. Only a handful of sapients survived their arrival, but
they were younglings selected by the goddess. Minosh was chosen but doesn’t recall
her early thó. She’d been a slave for as long as she could remember.
“You make me proud, my little Pchi.” Minosh called me
her little Pchi though she never told me what it meant and it was too late to
ask. “You will finish your life well,” she often said. “I have seen it in the
She was a water reader—a seer of secrets—and
when she saw her first image in the gold sediment left in the bath, she thought
the steam had made her dream it. “The Kyprian wrapped himself around the sapient
and his fire consumed her. The sapient burst into flames, absorbed into his
body.” She said his skin lit up like the coals that burned red in the fire
Minosh’s primal image always frightened me—the
scene depicted malice so vile, so against Kypria, it was forbidden. To touch,
even if by accident, meant death to both species. Rumors about a sapient who
stoked the fires had spread since I first learned to speak. It was believed he
was knocked over by another and fell at the feet of his keeper, touching the
Kyprian’s boot with his hair—his hair! Both were turned to ash—the sapient
a pile of soot, the Kyprian a mound of golden cinders.
“I will be lost without you,” I said to Minosh, as
we cuddled for the last time. She had
marked her ninth thó, and during my sleep, before the moonbugs ceased chirring
and the eye lit our world anew, she’d be taken to the outer sands where I’d
never look on her face again. I was curled up beside her on the bedding she’d
woven from worn veils. She ran her fingers through my long hair. “Strands of wheat,”
she said, as she always did when I removed my shroud and prepared for bed.
We lived in our shanty amidst the stalks of wheat far
from the realm of the beautiful ones. Night was ours, the stellar plane our
backdrop, its dark boroughs our landscape. Only in darkness were we free to unveil
and go for walks beneath the satellite, the one for which we secretly longed—Luna.
She was our goddess, the great reflector, and we worshipped her in our private
sphere of sapience. Minosh loved to traipse barefoot along the peat moss and
bury her toes deep in the muddy soil, chanting to our mistress of the sky. She
said it made her feel alive to touch the ground with her skin, to feel Luna’s coldness
on her face.
“Remember, my little Pchi,” she often said.
“Remember where you come from.”
“You, Minosh. I come from you.”
“You are a creature of the soil. This is where you
belong. Never forget that, especially when they try to take you.”
“Who’s going to take me?”
“Those who come.”
“But why would they take me?”
“You are like no other.”
I thought creators were supposed to tell their younglings
they were special. I didn’t know mine meant something more when she told me. I
could’ve never known what she’d seen in the water. My future was a secret she kept
bound up inside her.
She smiled at me and hugged me as tightly as she
could. She kissed the crown of my head and ran her fingers across the tops of
my shoulders. I loved when she touched me, when she let her fingertips dance over
my bones. It sent pricks down my spine. Sometimes she’d gently blow on my skin,
as I lay beside her in bed, just to help me fall asleep. When she did it for
the last time, I couldn’t hold in my tears. I’d never feel her touch again, I’d
never feel the softness of her breath on my cool skin and the sadness crushed
“Be strong, my little Pchi,” she said. “I will always
be with you and you will always be with me.”
I will always be with you
and you will always be with me
—that was the last thing she said to me, the
last thing I heard before I dropped away to roam my dreamy meadows. I didn’t
hear her go. She wouldn’t let me. She got up from our bed and slipped out of
the shanty as soon as I drifted off. She waited barefoot beneath the great
reflector for the Kyprian to come and take her to the outer sands. She didn’t
scream when they came, she didn’t cry, she simply faded away in silence.
I woke to the eye shining through the lattice of my
shanty. I could hear Bendo gnawing on the blades of grass outside. Minosh had told
me she was sure many more species existed before the Kyprian arrived but only a
few survived the induction of gold. The goat was one such genus, and Bendo was our
miracle. She fed us with her milk, and made plenty of manure for our cabbages.
I was to guard Bendo with my life, for she was my greatest source of food.
I thanked her for her sacrifice as I did every
renewal and milked a bowl from her udders. I added a few grains and broke my
fast before I put on the veil. The eye was so lovely I couldn’t resist sitting on
the moss a few moments longer. I needed to feel its rays on my skin now that
Minosh was gone. I needed to know its heat even if it was for a brief moment. I
was caught up in my reverie when I heard Tiro’s step on the path. He was early,
or I was late, and I tossed my bowl to the ground to rush into the darkness of the
shanty. I hurried to the veil draped across Minosh’s stool and tossed it over
my head before he shrieked.
“El!” He yelled my name so I’d know he thought me insolent.
I was supposed to be waiting for him at the end of the lane. I rushed to tie up
the veil at the back of my head but my fingers turned in useless circles. I
couldn’t get the clips into their skinny eyelets and the veil kept slipping off
and around my neck. I fumbled, as he continued to squeal for me. “El!”
Named for my rank, I served the tubs in the Bathing
Temple. I was Minosh’s apprentice and would work the baths until my egress. But
I couldn’t deny my joy at knowing I’d stay under the watchful gaze of the only keeper
I’d ever have—Onine.
When I finally hooked the veil, I ran out to meet Tiro
on the peat moss. He stood by the shanty watching Bendo eat the grass.
“Pitiful thing,” he said. “Are you late because your
maker is gone?”
He laughed in his usual way. He’d become rather
gifted at chiding me and poked me with the end of his stick, telling me to hurry.
I followed him along the lane, out onto the yellow stone road, and into the cart
that would take me to the Bathing Temple. Bee and Em were in the back sitting quietly,
neither of them daring to speak until Tiro jumped on his zephyr and set us
moving again. As the wheels of the cart flew across the cobblestones with a
clang-clang, they drowned out the sound of our voices.
“I’m sorry,” Bee said.
“Me too,” Em said.
They knew Minosh was gone.
“Is that why you’re late?” Bee said.
“I suppose,” I said. “I just wanted to sit and watch
the eye a little longer.”
“She was there, wasn’t she?” Em said.
“Your creator,” she said.
“In the eye.”
“What a horrible thought,” I said. “Minosh is with—she’s
in the outer sands.”
“El,” Bee said gently. “You know what that means.”
I did my best to keep my tears from wetting the trim
of my veil but when my shoulders began to heave, I was lost. I put my hand up to
stifle the cries with the silk but Bee and Em didn’t try to comfort me. Besides,
any comfort they could offer would’ve only reminded me their touch was nothing
It wasn’t long before I was alone in the cart. The
Bathing Temple was Tiro’s last stop and where he got off as well. Usually he
jumped from his zephyr as soon as we pulled through the gate, but today he rode
with me all the way to the water room. When the cart stopped, he came around to
“Come,” he said.
I got up from the bench and turned to look for Minosh.
We’d always stepped off together, her hand resting secretly on my back. My
bottom lip quivered when I saw the empty seat and I tucked it beneath my top
teeth, biting down hard to conjure up a calm that was stubborn to come. I
couldn’t cry in front of Tiro. He wouldn’t hesitate to punish me. He reviled
our aptitude for expressing emotion even more than our appearance. The Kyprian didn’t
show emotion like we did—whether it was because they didn’t feel pain or
suffering or joy, we didn’t know—but Tiro bore his sour temper with flair.
Minosh said his exposure to sapience made him that way but I didn’t believe it.
Venusian were creatures of beauty and I couldn’t imagine sapience would corrupt
their nature. If Kypria knew of Tiro’s cruelty, I was certain she wouldn’t stand
Tiro tapped me on the head with his stick. “Time to
clean,” he said.
His voice masked his cruelty, but I could detect its
harshness. He seemed exceptionally playful and I wondered if it had anything to
do with the nude bathers floating about in their shimmering skin and delicate
bodies. Their beauty was quite something to look at. Sometimes when I stirred
the water, I glanced over at Tiro and caught him leering at the bathers. It was
natural to want to stare at them, though it was forbidden.
I started the faucets like always, pulling the gargantuan
chains with the entire strength of my body. Minosh had trained me well, letting
me pull the chains on my own from the beginning. “I want you to be ready,” she’d
said. “We need to strengthen you up.” She’d wink at me in lieu of placing a
hand on my cheek or tousling my hair.