Chapter 3 of 3
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The storm gradually subsided. The lights flowing across the shield dome faded to a steady scintillation, then to an occasional flicker, and were gone. Far beneath the shield, Donvin sat beside Terlyn, lost in conversation while the party disappeared to somewhere else. The glow of the drink hummed through him. He sank into Terlyn’s shy smile, the swirling effervescence whenever their bodies touched.
A small drone studded with tiny gemstones flitted by to whisk away their empty glasses. Another drone unobtrusively slid fresh drinks in their place. Donvin and Terlyn sipped their replenished drinks as they talked for long hours, each entranced by the other. The horizon glowed with the promise of dawn when Kalaian appeared at Donvin’s shoulder. She perched gracefully on the arm of the sofa, fingers running through Donvin’s hair. The gem at her throat glowed a steady red. “There you are! I wondered where you’d got off to. I seem to recall we have an unfinished conversation to attend to.”
Donvin shook himself, realizing for the first time that the park had somehow emptied of nearly all the guests. Drones darted about carrying off furniture. The luminous flowers on the low hedge wall had already faded in the light of the approaching morning. Softly glowing petals fell in mounds at the feet of the hedges. The statues, too, had lost some of their glow with the oncoming sun.
“I, um, wow, I—” Donvin stammered.
Kalaian’s necklace burned brighter. She grinned impishly at him. “Preoccupied with your new friend?” She turned to Terlyn. “Terlyn, yes? I’ve seen you around in the Garden a few times, but I don’t think we’ve ever been introduced. Seems a bit strange that we should only meet after I leave the Quickener to start my service to the Lady.”
Terlyn inclined her head. “You host a lovely party.”
“Thank you. You seem to be enjoying Donvin’s hospitality.”
Heat touched Terlyn’s face. “I suppose I wasn’t very present, was I? I was supposed to mingle. I didn’t realize how late it had gotten…” Her voice trailed off.
Kalaian chuckled. “I understand completely. Donvin can be quite charming. Distracting, even.” She slid her hands over his shoulders.
“Um, if you two have things to talk about—”
The light at Kalaian’s throat blazed. “Oh, I’m sure Donvin won’t mind if our…conversation waits a bit longer.” She gave him a coquettish wink. “These sorts of conversations can be so much more satisfying when they’re given plenty of time and patience, isn’t that right?” She placed a small kiss on Donvin’s cheek. “Besides, I wouldn’t want to intrude on your conversation, unless perhaps you care to join ours?”
Terlyn blinked rapidly. “I, um, thank you, but I think we were just wrapping up. I didn’t realize we’d talked so long.”
Kalaian slipped onto Donvin’s lap. The butterflies fluttered around her head for a moment before dissolving into sprays of speckled light. “Donvin is lovely that way. His conversations can extend for hours. He does enjoy a nice leisurely…talk.” She draped an arm across her shoulder. Flowers bloomed along her side, the petals breaking free to flutter away as butterflies.
“Yes, well, if you’re finished teasing us,” Donvin said, sliding an arm about her waist.
“Is that what I’m doing?” Kalaian assumed an expression of pious innocence. “That doesn’t sound like me.” She leaned forward with a mischievous grin. “I thought I was doing the opposite of teasing. A three-way conversation sounds like fun!” The gem flared bright.
“Oh!” Terlyn said. “Oh, I, no, that, um…” She looked around. “It’s much later than I realized! I should be off. To bed. Um. Alone, I mean.” She bolted upright. Kalaian rose gracefully from Donvin’s lap. “Thank you for your hospitality,” Terlyn said.
“You’re welcome,” Kalaian said. “I’m pleased you attended, and I hope to see you again in the future.” They both bowed. Terlyn fled down the path between the rows of graceful statues, now completely quiescent, their luminous radiance faded to nothing.
Kalaian slipped into the space Terlyn had just vacated. “Did I come at a bad time? You seemed like you might be ready for a deeper conversation with her.”
“Hmm? No! I…we were just talking. Nothing impetuous at all.”
“Really?” Kalaian leaned back. “Who are you, and why do you look like Donvin?”
Donvin chuckled. “Not every conversation needs to end with—”
“Ecstasy?” Kalaian interjected, face once more a study of devout innocence. “I’ve heard that. I seem to recall we need to conclude our conversation on just that very subject.” Her fingers brushed Donvin’s lips. “So, what do you have to say?”
“Come here and let me tell you.” Their lips met. The kiss endured, extending for a timeless eternity.
When at last it ended, Kalaian chuckled, a low, throaty sound. Her necklace burned with fiery radiance. “You make a compelling argument.” She slipped her hands into his robe, spreading her palms across his chest. “Allow me to retort.”
They kissed again, longer this time. Kalaian’s tongue fluttered against Donvin’s lips, light as a feather. Donvin caressed her shoulders. The butterflies scrambled away from his hands, a burst of colour swirling across her back. She purred and pressed herself against him.
Presently, she stood and offered Donvin her hand. “Perhaps we should continue this conversation somewhere more suitable?”
Hand in hand, they walked down the pathway toward the nearest pod terminal. Butterflies fluttered in her wake. Behind them, a swarm of tiny glittering things poured from the Provider. The statues collapsed and dissolved into the waving grass.
Two weeks later, Donvin sat at a small table in an open courtyard, basking in the warmth of the afternoon sun, mug of tea in hand. A noisy, laughing crowd of people in the red and black kilts of worshippers of the Wild flowed around him, chasing and teasing one another as they played a rowdy game of Capture the Turtle. Donvin caught a quick glimpse from the corner of his eye of a short figure, bronze skin, green hair. In a blink, the group was gone.
He smiled to himself as a momentary memory floated through his mind. Then, with a shrug, he reached out to Terlyn.
Her voice materialized in his head. Hi! I wasn’t expecting to hear from you again.
I just happened to be thinking of you, he sent back. Am I intruding?
No! Not at all! I, um…I enjoyed meeting you.
So did I, he sent. I’d love to continue our conversation. Not that way! he added hastily.
No? Am I not your type?
It’s not that! Donvin’s fingers curled around his mug and he brought it to his lips for a bracing sip. I didn’t mean—I just—hey! You’re getting me flustered on purpose, aren’t you?
If I say I am, would you like that?
Donvin snorted aloud. I was just thinking, I’d love to spend some time with you again, whenever you’re available.
I’m not doing anything right now. What are you doing?
Meeting you, I hope.
Terminal station by the Garden?
I’ll be there!
Less than half an hour later, Donvin stood at the base of a float tube. Above him, an ornate marble temple hovered silently in the air, the grand banquet painted across the base flowing and moving as he watched.
Terlyn drifted weightlessly down the tube, angelic in the draped folds of the long dress that floated around her. The impressionistic leaves and vines decorating the dress glowed in the sunlight. Two large, translucent panels attached at her wrists billowed in the float field, giving Donvin an impression of wings. She alighted gently at the base of the tube. “Hi!”
Donvin bowed low. “Good afternoon, Terlyn of the Quickener.”
She returned his bow. “Good afternoon, Donvin of the Lady.” She straightened, laughing. “I’m glad you called.”
“Whew!” Donvin said. “That’s a relief. This might be rather awkward otherwise.” He grinned impishly.
“What would you like to do?”
“Get to know you a little better. We’re near the Garden. You could show me around if you like.”
Terlyn sighed and shook her head. “I’d rather not. Two of my mothers are there right now.”
“Is that bad?”
“No, it’s not bad, it’s just…it’s complicated. People in my family group are kind of, well…it’s more or less assumed we’ll worship the Quickener.”
“And that doesn’t appeal to you?”
“It’s not that! It’s just…I want it to be real, you know? Something I truly want to do. When you’re from the Everessa family group, it can be hard to separate what you want to do from what the name expects of you.” She blinked. “Never mind. Anyway.”
“I suppose I was the one to reach out to you, so…” He thought for a moment. “A friend of mine is doing a performance at the Temple of the Lady. Interested?”
“Sure! Why not?”
They walked across the Temple District toward the fantastical, surreal Temple of the Lady, with its grand arches and swooping curves that seemed to defy geometry. Paths tiled in stone radiated out from the entrance through a large park in front of the Temple like spokes on a wheel, lined with a mixture of still and shifting, transforming sculptures. Small streams filled with glittering fish threaded through the park, their edges lined with carefully designed flowers in a glorious variety of colors. Three people in gauzy purple clothes assembled sections of an enormous contraption of some sort made of a frame of tubular steel stretched with colorful taut fabric, while a fourth sat in a small rounded depression atop it. As Donvin and Terlyn watched, it caught the breeze and catapulted into the sky on long silvery cords. The people on the ground whooped and cheered.
They passed through the high, arched entryway, its stones covered in engraved calligraphy inlaid with platinum, into the dizzying space beyond. Vast columns of light gray marble supported an elaborate ceiling decorated with vivid frescoes in an array of colors showing dancing figures trailing long ribbons, faces suffused with joy.
“Have you worshipped the Lady long?” Terlyn said.
Donvin shrugged. “Maybe a hundred and twenty years, I guess? Perhaps a bit longer. This way!”
He led her down the hallway into a large circular chamber with a domed roof, where a handful of people gathered with eager expressions. Light streamed from curved windows at the base of the dome. Brilliant designs spiraled up the walls, elaborate calligraphy telling the story of the first Avatar of the Lady designing this very temple. Drones flitted here and there, arranging soft cushions around a ring of small float-field generators beneath the dome. A long, curved frame hung from the ceiling, strung with a dense bundle of fine threads that spooled from reels around the dome’s edge. “What’s going on?” Terlyn said.
Donvin grinned. “You’ll see.” He seated himself and gestured for her to sit beside him.
The drones finished setting out the cushions. More people filtered in, claiming clusters of cushions around the room. A delta-winged drone decorated with bands of gleaming colored glass swooped down to offer them drinks. Donvin and Terlyn each plucked a glass from the tray it carried.
Slowly, the windows grew more opaque. As the room dimmed, the bundle of threads began to glow, each individual strand radiating rainbow light into the chamber. A murmur ran through the audience.
A door opened in the far wall to admit a small, lissome woman standing barely as tall as Donvin’s shoulder. She wore no clothing. Fine fur covered her body, rippling with brilliant iridescent patterns in vivid colors: orange, yellow, blue, violet, and green. Four long, slender, jointed appendages extended from her back, each covered with a hard shell of glossy black, faint iridescence playing across them like a thin film of oil on water. Each was tipped with a small, bright red hook.
The room grew quiet. She looked gravely at the audience through large eyes of luminous violet. “I am Avatar Arashnäi of the Lady,” she said in a soft, euphonic voice, “and I thank you for witnessing my art.”
Terlyn leaned in close. “You didn’t tell me your friend was Avatar!”
“I knew her before her Dance of Sacrifice.”
Arashnäi leaped gracefully into the float field. The dense skein of threads began to move through the frame. One of the appendages on her back whipped out to hook a thin strand of scarlet thread. It vibrated with a soft chime that filled the chamber.
Silently, the loom came to life. The threads fed down from the ceiling through the top of the frame. A mechanical puck shuttled back and forth near its base. Avatar Arashnäi looped and soared, lifting and plucking the glowing strands with hands, feet, and hooks. Every thread she touched sang out with its own bright, clear sound. Poignant music filled the air, drawn from the threads as Arashnäi flitted about. A colorful patterned tapestry emerged from the loom as Arashnäi played her haunting music.
Donvin and Terlyn sat in breathless wonder, captivated by Arashnäi’s dance. The dance blended seamlessly with the music she drew from the glowing lines and the tapestry they created, until it became impossible to tell which was the more expressive: Arashnäi’s form twisting gracefully through the air, the iridescent colors that flowed like a living thing over her body as she moved, the rich, beautiful music she called forth from the glowing strands, or the luxurious designs woven into the long tapestry that coiled from her giant loom. Terlyn leaned against Donvin, spellbound.
The music and the dance went on and on, each an indivisible part of the other, until with a few final deft twists the thread ran out. The glow faded from the long tapestry. The float field gently lowered Arashnäi to the ground. She bowed and, without a word, left through the door she’d come in through. A utility drone rolled the tapestry up and followed behind.
The spell gradually lifted. The audience stirred. Voices filled the space. Terlyn took a breath for the first time in what seemed like an age. “That was extraordinary!”
“Yes. I can’t wait to see Avatar Arashnäi’s masterwork.”
“You mean that wasn’t it?” Terlyn said.
“Oh, no. That was just one voice. The fabric she wove contains an impression of the music she just created. What we saw is a single voice in a symphony she is assembling. When she’s finished with each voice, she will take all the pieces she’s woven and play them all together the evening before the next Dance of Sacrifice.”
“Wow.” Terlyn slipped her hand in Donvin’s. Hand in hand, they left the Temple of the Lady and emerged blinking into the sun. “Thank you.”
“Showing me some small part of why you worship the Lady. That was exquisite.”
They wandered the Temple District for a time, still holding hands, until at last their meandering path took them to a pod terminal. Terlyn stopped at the edge of the float tube. “I have to go. This has been a wonderful day.”
“Can I see you again?”
“Yes.” Terlyn squeezed his hand. Her eyes shone. “I look forward to learning more about you, Donvin of the Lady.”