Wednesday, September 21st
Is the divine so far?
Are the secrets so kept?
Evil, the heart to mar,
Holiness, the soul enrapt'.
Who are you, maiden in white,
Angel without wings?
Speaking secrets, sowing spite,
Playing the chess of kings.
“Where’s my brother?” she asked, worry plastered on her face, her regularly bound blonde hair had locks falling tumbling about, emphasising her stress.
Evan rose and embraced her, hoping to both comfort her and secretly calm his own nerves. Feeling her stiffen from the contact, he replied in a low voice, “He asleep upstairs. From what the doctors can tell, there is no permanent damage, but he lost a lot of blood and has not regained consciousness.”
Mashka breathed a heavy sigh of relief and lightly returned the hug. “Oh thank God,” she sobbed. After collecting herself she asked, “can I go see him?”
“Yes, come on.” Evan placed his arm across her shoulder as he led her to the elevator. Mashka gently flicked his hand off and gave him an appreciative smile. The thought was sweet, but she was not fond of the contact and he had well surpassed his quota.
Once they reached the room, Mashka hurried to Aleksei’s side. She bent over him, running her hands through his brown hair above the bandages around his forehead. “I’m back brother…” her eyes watered up as she thought about how terrified she had been, hearing he had fallen. The thought of losing him frightened her so much.
Under his closed eyelids, Aleksei’s eyes twitched repeatedly.
Mashka gasped, “Is he waking up?” she smiled.
Evan leaned over, and watched for a moment. “No, he’s dreaming. That’s a good sign though, he‘s going to wake up. For now we should let him rest.”
“I would like to stay for a while,” Mashka replied, eyes never leaving her brother’s face, her hand clasping his. “How did this all happen? You didn’t tell me much over the phone.”
“Well,” Evan said, dragging a chair next to her and sitting down. “It’s a story, that’s for sure, and I only know part of it, but from what I understand, your brother here got to be a bit of a hero.”
“He single-handedly took down a child-trafficking operation.”
“What?! You jest.” Mashka’s eyes seemed almost as wide as her mouth.
“I’m not jesting,” Even confirmed. “The Royal Coast Guard is still flabbergasted how a sixty-one centimetre, eighy kilo teen overpowerd a score of sailors. The crew is claiming everything from demon to some kind of serpent god.”
“So his powers came back?” Mashka assumed.
“That or he has been letting me win when we spar.”
Aleksei made a quick intake of breath then went calm. Mashka leaned towards her brother and said, “So hero, what are you dreaming about?”
“AAAHH!” Aleksei screamed as he tumbled through the fog. After what felt like a good thirty seconds he fell out the bottom of the cloud to murky, brown water a dozen metres below him. He smacked into the water's surface which felt like a wall of bricks, knocking the air out of him, making it impossible to even cry out in pain as briny, silt filled water filled his throat. He wondered for the second time why he was not dead after such a high fall.
He sank below the water but forced himself to turn and swim again to the surface. He did not want to test whether he could survive drowning as well. Breaking the surface, he looked around but all he saw was endless white fog and murky, brown water. Then the fog swirled out from around him revealing the distant blue sky above. He saw a black speck appear in the middle of the circular tunnel to the sky. It was a second later that he realised it was the woman who had thrown him out in the first place. She was diving face first towards him.
'She’s going to collide into me!' “Wai-!” he yelled but was cut off as she made impact atop him. The water erupted like a volcano and Aleksei was hurdled into the depths, again in great pain, but suspiciously still alive. He felt his caved in chest pop back out and his flattened heart resume beating.
He was tugged by the collar and felt water rush around him as he was pulled. Suddenly he found himself hurling through the air, at least until his chest came in contact with a pale brown tree limb causing him to flip head over heels and smack down on a giant root, the wood splinters sprayed around from the impact.
He coughed painfully then sat up. He saw the woman standing on another root about thirty metres away from him.
“What’s going on?!” Aleksei demanded.
“We’ll tell us…” she shouted, snapping her knuckles into a fist, “…as soon as we pound ourselves a few more times!”
She ran along the root and hopped to another as fast as an Olympic sprinter. Aleksei knew she would reach him in just a few moments, he had to move quick. Just as he got up she was atop him.
'Impossible!' he exclaimed inwardly.
She raised her leg to smack him sideways in the head. However Aleksei surprised himself and was able to dodge in time, leaning back. He would have lost balance but he switched to performing a back flip, completely uncertain as to where he was going to land. However, before he was going to find out the woman grabbed his leg and swung him in a half circle arc, then released, letting him spin in the air like a Frisbee. He smashed into one of the colossal tree trunks, indenting himself into the bark, about a hundred metres up.
He coughed and thought, 'Again, impossible! I should be dead! Did the basic laws of physics—no, I’m dreaming! This is not real!'
The woman crouched down, shifting her legs like a tiger preparing to pounce.
'She’s going to jump all the way up here!' Aleksei thought in panic.
She proved him wrong by jumping to another of the leafless tree limbs, then to another, making her way in a semicircle towards him.
As she made her final leap Aleksei timed himself. Just as she was about to smash her fist into his face he dropped down, so instead her hand slammed into the tree, spraying splinters.
Flipping in the air Aleksei faced upwards at the woman who was now charging down the trunk at him. He brought in his outstretched arms and clapped his hands together. Then he leaned back as he fell, revealing to her a large stream of vapour charging at her. She dodged it with ease so instead she was hit full force in the face by a hidden, second stream, causing her to let out a scream of pain and surprise. The force of the blow made her cease her falling pursuit and fly back upwards several metres.
Meanwhile Aleksei completed his back flip so he would land feet first in the murky body below. To cushion his landing he evaporated the top few metres of the water beneath him and had it explode upwards, slowing his descent for the last several metres. When he did enter the water it hurt immensely, but he knew it was not as bad as it could have been. Under the cover of the vapour he swam to the nearest root and climbed up.
“Not bad,” the woman said, appearing out of nowhere and sitting down next to him.
He yelped in surprise and backed away.
“Relax, we are done knocking us around.” she reassured him. “But we are impressed; we dodged, struck back, and then avoided severe injury. However in the Outverse we would have broken both of our legs.”
“What’s with the sudden change?” Aleksei asked warily.
“Because we used our ability correctly.” she said, smiling, “As we are our power, we can’t help but feel glad that we appreciate us. So we couldn’t be angry anymore.”
“That’s it?!?!” Aleksei shouted, “All you would have had to do was ask me! You didn’t have to scare me half to death!”
“Yes, but we needed us to suffer in order to console our wounded feelings.” She lilted in an over-exaggerated swoon.
“Uhuh…” Aleksei replied, noting that her pupils were no longer shaped like snowflakes as he settled down on the root. He took in his surroundings. As far as the eye could see there were pale, sickly brown tree trunks, some of which were hundreds of metres in width, forests of colossal roots weaving in and out of the murky waters like great leviathans, and then the world disappeared into the mists beyond. Only one spot of the place was not illuminated by grey, diffused light; the shrinking hole in the clouds through which the woman had made in her dive where a warm, white beam shown, evaporating water from the surface of the murky deep.
“What is this place?” Aleksei asked as he glanced at his reflection in the water, his hair its natural golden blond, different from his dyed brown hair outside this realm.
“The Inverse, we have been here once before, during our confrontation with that... lizard thing?”
“You mean, The Messenger? Yeah, I vaguely remember him finding me in the boathouse, but I don’t remember much of anything after he knocked me down.”
She looked closely at Aleksei, as if she was searching for a hint of deception in his voice. She sighed heavily. “Well, we suppose it was our fault. We forcefully took over our body and pulled us into our world. It’s been known to happen that the human half suffers amnesia after such a shock.”
“Ok, wait a moment.” Aleksei said. “I don’t understand what you are saying. What is all this about taking over “our” body and why are you talking like ‘it’s been known to happen’? Are there other people you are giving powers to? And what’s with the fist person plural?”
She rolled her eyes, adjusting her speech, “I guess I have to go over this all again. I am a Repha, bestowed upon certain children of ash, Jinn. In short, I am the image of that part of your soul that grants you your powers.”
'That raised more questions than it answered.' Aleksei thought in irritation.
“And” she continued. “all this ‘our body’ talk is that it is our body, though you are the primary owner, I am a part of you, so we, us, ourselves, and so on. And finally, no, I am not involved in anyone else’s life except yours.”
“Ok, but still, if you are just in my mind, how do you know that it ‘has been known to happen?’ Are you somehow in contact with... other Jinn or Repha?”
She bit her lip thoughtfully then replied. “We-- I think it is too early for us to tread on that ground, perhaps later. In the meantime, I must help you learn to use your powers. Oh, and I suppose I have to reintroduce ourselves; my name is Nida Ixela, or just Nida. Our body is sleeping right now, so I wish to teach us--you how to use our power properly.”
Images of Aleksei’s confrontation with the ship’s crew, and how he relished it, caused shame to bubble up in his chest, drowning him as he looked down. “I don’t think you should. I don’t have the right to have powers.”
“Idiot!” she snapped.
Aleksei looked up at her cross face.
“You lost control is because you have not tempered yourself.”
“You have always said how you believed there was a purpose behind your power, well there is, and walking away from your gift is no less than blaspheming the God that gave it.”
Aleksei looked at her directly, “But I don’t deserve it!”
“Do you deserve to breathe more than any other?” she asked angrily, “We deserve nothing, that’s why they are called gifts, and you are obligated to master it.”
“But what for?” Aleksei asked impatiently. “All my power did was take control!”
Nida set her jaw.
“You know something, don’t you?” Aleksei demanded. “What is it? Is something going to happen.”
“At the moment, that is not important, as you can do nothing until your body recovers. So in the meantime, just trust me, and learn your power, you will need to be at your best.”
Aleksei considered for a moment, and then answered, “Well, that‘s fine, I’m not doing anything else, but how long do I have to learn?”
“The Apparition told you to go to Edinburg. You should leave tomorrow.”
“That’s not going to be much time.” Aleksei replied.
“You forget where we are,” Nida continued in a teacher-like tone, “this is the Inverse, for every moment that passes in the Outverse, a thousand here. We have all the time in the world.
“Now,” she smiled broadly as four wailing columns of vapour rose around her. “I will show you our potential.”
Aleksei nodded nervously in agreement.