Saturday, June 21, 2008

The plant gathering expedition

I sat by the fire in the Library, picking brambles from my stockings while Lyra waited impatiently by the stairs. Rellis strolled in greeting us and asked, “Anything of interest happening?"

“We’ve been out collecting plants,” Lyra replied. She tapped her foot with impatience, “Joah, can you help me unload these? I need to get them out of the sack and ready to press. There are some samples for Rellis to analyze, too.”

"I'm just taking a bit of a rest," I replied, plucking a bit of grass from the lacings in my boot. "Hold on a second, Lyra. I want to pull this off."

“I can't believe you even wore that to collect plants.” Lyra rolled her eyes at my black silk dress, my torn stockings, and my heeled boots. “Not very practical.”

I continued plucking grass and weeds from my stockings and the top of my boots. "I know . . . rather foolish of me, I think."

Rellis’s ears began twitching at the word “plant.” “Any I can look at now?” he asked.

Lyra opened her pack and started to show Rellis what we had found. But when I finished tossing the weeds in my hand into the fire, I looked up and saw a new woman in the Library. She had wandered over to the desk with a large pile of books and appeared to be asleep. “Just a moment, Lyra,” I said as I walked toward the woman.

Lyra continued showing plants to Rellis. “We will have to use a few references to identify some of these I think. I'll leave it to you to study them and determine their properties, if any.”

Rellis furrowed his brow in concentration. "I already have my note book. I’ve never seen some of these before.” He began pulling out a few rather more cautiously than usual.

“Hopefully, none of them are poisonous,” Lyra grinned. “I guess we'll find out.”

Thinking of some of Rellis’s earlier mishaps in the lab, I glanced back at him and Lyra. "Let's not take anything out until we get to the lab, please." Both nodded a silent yes and began putting plants back into the pack. Lyra pulled out the extra bottle of water she’d brought for me and laughed about my being unused to hiking around, while Rellis murmured an apology about being a bit to eager to delve in.

I then turned my attention to the woman, who indeed was sleeping face down in a handwritten book. I tapped her on the shoulder and she raised her head groggily, ink stains on her cheeks. Her name was Ares Mizin and she was looking for books on protective magicks. I pointed her to the far right corner of the stacks, then returned to Rellis and Lyra and headed upstairs.

Lyra walked straight to the crates at the back of the lab, asking Rellis if he’d found an identification guide yet. She slipped off her pack and muttered something about needing a few more tables upstairs, as she lifted two plant presses from one of the boxes and hauled out a drying oven from another. She set everything the floor. “Would you like to do the honors, Joah?” she asked.

I nodded and pulled the plastic bag out of Lyra’s backpack as she arranged the presses. "Perhaps we should have used individual bags," I said, looking and the snarled mass of greenery within. Meanwhile, Rellis wandered over to the stacks upstairs and began combing the shelves for plant references.

Lyra shrugged, “This is the way I've always done it. Let’s get these pressed and into the drying oven before they mold.” Lyra took off her backpack and laid it next to the wall. “Ready, Joah?”

I nodded. We certainly didn’t want the plants to mold in the Toxian air; we wouldn’t be able to preserve their morphological integrity if they did. I opened the bag and pulled out a dark green vine with small clusters of individual purplish-black berries. I laid the vine upon the table and glanced at the presses, “How many plants do we have room for, Lyra?”

“We can stack several plants in each press, I think," she replied. As I reached in the bag to grab another plant, an odd thing happened: a puff of what appeared to be tiny pink achenes attached to tufts of fine hairs wafted from it. Then Lyra reached in the bag and pulled out a tangle of samples all at once. Pink flew everywhere. “What’s that?” I coughed. We hadn’t collected anything with pink buds or flowers or clocks.

Lyra choked a little, waving the floating particles away. “I’m not sure, probably pollen,” she said. "Have you ever done this before Joah?”

“I have,” I replied, “But the traditional way: either bundling and hanging the plants upside down to dry or using blotter paper and books.” I glanced at wooden frames of the plant pressed, wondering how to tighten their woven straps. “Well, let’s separate the samples and give some of each to Rellis.”

Rellis had begun sneezing as the pink cloud drifted through the room. "What is that?" he muttered, trying to clear his nose of pink particles.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Lyra said as she ran over to get a stack of newspapers from the small desk in the corner. She began untangling and placing plants between two sheets of newsprint, then laying the package between two blotters.

Rellis sneezed again as he started grabbing books from the shelves and setting them down on the lab table. He took a small glass phial and stirring rod from the lab table drawer, knelt down on the floor and began to push the pink particles into it.

Lyra continued placing plants, while I assisted. “We’ll stack them all, put the press on either side of the stack and tighten it,” she explained. “Then they’ll need to go into the drying oven.”

I wondered aloud whether we should use the drying oven or let the plants dry more slowly, when Lyra suddenly dropped an entire assemblage to the floor. “What *is* this pink stuff?” she mused, tracing her fingers in the air, then catching a tiny achene and rolling it between her thumb and index finger.

Rellis sneezed again and growled, "Joah, please get this stuff out of the air. It’s really starting to bother me for some reason."

“This wasn't there before was it?” Lyra drifted her hand upward, pointing at something behind her that didn’t appear to be there. She breathed deeply and sighed, as though her sense of smell had just grown keener.

I coughed again, trying to clear my throat. Lyra walked toward me, a sleepy smile on her face, plants forgotten on the floor. Stopping just inches away, she began caressing my arm, “That is such a pretty dress, Joah.”

I looked down at my dress and brushed a few of the pink achenes away. "That stuff's all over me," I sighed, but the particles felt silky and I found I was longing to smell their scent.

Lyra touched my face and ran the back of her hand down my cheek, “Yes, it is all over you,” she murmured, stroking softly. I tilted my cheek towards Lyra’s hand as she began twirling the fingers of her other hand around my hair, purring. Her tail swished back and forth.

I began to feel very warm. I’d quite forgotten about the plants, breathing in the wonderful aroma. My lips brushed Lyra’s, "Thank you for the compliment,” I said in a low voice as I began stroking the soft fur on her face.

Still playing with my hair, Lyra glanced over at Rellis, whose eyes had begun to widen as he muttered something about a releaser pheromone. “Have you found that book, handsome?" she said dreamily.

Rellis appeared to be trying to gain some composure "Please try to control yourself, Lyra." Clearly, he was trying hard to do the same.

“Control myself?” Lyra asked with a sparkly laugh. “What is there to control? I feel . . . good.”

I stretched and ran my hands down my sides, "Mmm . . . I do, too," I sighed contentedly.

“Maybe we can just press these plants later,” Lyra purred as she began running her fingers through her own hair, enjoying the sensation. I nodded, thinking of tail snugs by the fire.

“Try to keep sane here, Lyra,” Rellis interjected. "It’s something about the plants . . . making you. . . . “ He stopped suddenly and grinned. “Umm . . . you don't look bad," he said, making an odd grunting noise.

Lyra laughed again. “I don't know what you are talking about, Rellis. You fuddy dud!” Lyra walked over to the chairs in the seating area, plopped down in one and began running her hands over the fabric. “Mmm, this chair is soft,” she murmured.

I walked over to Rellis, put my arms around him and began stroking his ruff. "Must find," he began, and then almost purring to himself he relaxed. "Well . . . maybe later," he trailed off.

Lyra rested her head against the chair rubbing her face against it. I smiled warmly at Rellis. “Calm down. Everything is just fine." I leaned over and kissed him on the snout. "See, I told you so."

Rellis chuckled as he nodded. "Guess so—I don't even remember what I was stressing about. Let’s head down."

And we did.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Speaker for the dead

Lorne asked me where I had been.

How to describe it? I’d been out of the city. Ferried away to a place where ruin walks more strongly than in Toxia, as hard as that is to imagine. I speak for the dead. When I am summoned, I must go. I cannot refuse the call, nor can my presence be refused once I am sent. They call me from their dreams.

But there were so many dead this time. So much loss. So much chaos. Over and over I researched, I talked to the survivors, I spoke trying to describe each life and give meaning to the way it was lived. I neither justify nor judge. I try to give meaning to the flaws, the misdeeds, and the intentions gone awry.

Some think me a priestess, though I am not. I mark the span. I tell their lives. I cannot help but reveal their secrets, the mysteries of each intricately woven together with the others by deception, guilt, and love. Thirty-two stones. Thirty-two tolls of the bell. I traced the Tree of Sephiroth around my neck, with the tips of my fingers, marking the Path for each one, Malcuth to Kaether Elyson.

The heat rippled off of the crumbling houses as the people left quietly and the cicadas buzzed in the trees, an electric hum permeating the air.

I speak for the dead.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rellis's box

I was sitting in the Haven, talking with Nicholette and Regg when I heard someone shout, “I don’t see any Omegans here.” Looking toward the door, I realized that it was Gomi Graves, with Frew and a Cyber woman I did not recognize. He sought consultation with the Institute over the T.A.R.D. sentry in the South City. We met in the Library to discuss the matter, and as the Cybers were leaving, Rellis arrived.

He seemed distracted. I wondered what new potion he’d been working on. I knew that Rellis had recently moved from the Library’s lab to his own little one hoping to cause less damage to the Library itself, and perhaps hoping to spend less coin on broken equipment and glassware. He sighed and sat down, then asked for an update, gesturing toward where the Cybers had been.

I looked up from my perch by the fire, finished my notes and tucked my notepad and pencil back into my skirt. "The Cybers? They were trying to find out whether anyone Library had been working on upgrading the T.A.R.D. sentry in south Toxia. It's the robot sentry designed to fight the monsters down there. I don't know if can fight the new beasts, though."

Rellis nodded. "I was down there when the wild tree attacked. I was eager to study it, but I thought it better to stay away.”

I smoothed my skirt, plucking at a stray thread. "Could you tell me what happened, Rellis? I've been out of the city a while, speaking for the dead." I felt weary with the weight of it. "Much seems to have occurred while I was away. Since when do trees in Toxia attack?

Rellis sighed deeply again. Wild trees seemed to be the furthest thing from his mind. “Well, Zillinger is dead. Executed. He killed Aurelia.” He folded his hands in his lap. “New monsters have appeared in South Toxia. . . .”

I knew that Rellis had had a troubling relationship with the slaver. “I heard about Zillinger.”

Rellis shrugged. "Well, he is dead now, no need to worry about him anymore." Pulling out a note card from his robe, Rellis suddenly changed the topic. "I have a few more potions that I made . . . but I am not sure if I should hand them out. Please look at this if you will."

I took the report and began to read it as I meditated. I wondered why Rellis was so eager to turn the talk away from Zillinger. But my thoughts were quickly diverted as I glanced over the Rellis’s notes for a highly unstable, explosive potion. "Unstable?" I frowned. "Rellis, have you made any of this up?"

Rellis shifted uneasily in his chair. "Most of the potions I make I keep in a box upstairs. This box is magical. It holds an infinite amount. I make most of these failed potions by accident. There are only a few of them now but more can be made if needed. There are a few others, although they are not much better." Both of his ears folded back as he turned his head to hide his shame about making such things.

"Even a magic box might not be able to hold an unstable explosive, Rellis.” I shook my head in consternation. “What if it reacts with other potions in the box? I think we need Mirah's help to ward it. "

Rellis nodded a bit as he sighed. "This is true and I agree. I set some wards myself already but I can only do so much."

“Wards to protect the box from someone getting into it are good, Rellis. But this potion is unstable. Someone could cause an explosion here by merely trying to take the box. Or it might go off on its own. I'll try to contact Mirah. You should too, I think.”

I suddenly stopped meditating and stood. "Please show me where you have hidden it."

Rellis shook his head yes, stood and headed for the stairs. I followed him to the bookcase by the wall, in back of the laboratory equipment. "In here?" I asked.

I watched as Rellis moved behind the bookshelf, pulling a seemingly small and almost book-sized box from behind it. "Here it is," he replied.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I examined the box. "I'd rather you hold it since you are familiar with the wards you've placed on it. Please turn it slowly so that I may see it."

"This box has all but a few of my potions inside of it, ranging in the thousands," Rellis explained, softly setting the box down on a nearby stack of crates. He slid his claw across the top of the box and lifted the lid a slightly. Only four phials were visible.

"It must be larger on the inside than on the outside.” Seeing only four phials confused me. “How did you make this box, Rellis? Or was it made for you?””

"It’s not exactly larger," he smiled. “The holds are magic. Call the name of the potion, specify the slot it is in and it will appear."

I peered into the box, wondering about the potentially unstable potions contained within. “Rellis, if I have need of the box, what must I do to use it?”

Rellis ran his claw around the top of the lid. "That is the tricky part. First, you must know the language only shamans know. For our luck you are one, so that part is okay. Second, you must know the potions that are inside the box. After that getting them is no problem."

I began hoping that Rellis’s description of "thousands" of potions was a figurative, not literal, statement on his part. "Tell me the words, please. For safety, Rellis, someone other than you needs to be able to access that box. If anything happened to you. . . .”

Rellis’s ears began twitching. "Ma’am, this is my life’s work. There are literally thousands of potions in this box. But I know a way to make this a little easier. I’ll need time to work with the box to fix it."

"Then fix it, Rellis," I said curtly, worried about the unstable, explosive potion inside. "Are there other failed potions in there?”

Rellis nodded. “"There are a number of failed phials, ranging from explosives to poisons." He continued, “I can change the command to go with the effect of the potion dose. That way if you need a healing potion you can say ‘healing potion’ and it will appear. The only problem is strength and such. I will need to work with it." He scratched the back of his head as he studied the box.

"I see." I pursed my lips. "Then I'll need a list from you of the 'failed' potions-what they do, why they are dangerous." I studied Rellis carefully. “But there may be another way if you are willing.”

Ears continuing to twitch, Rellis looked thoughtful. "And that is?"

I said nothing, but began to push toward Rellis, fingering the cross at my neck. Black beads of sweat began to form at my fingertips. Rellis flinched a bit, his eyes widening as he murmured, “Oh.” He whispered, “Well . . . it would make my life easier." He gulped a bit as he tried to smile.

“I can take that memory, Rellis, leaving a copy as it were. I won't touch anything else. Not any of your other memories, though I will see them.” Something had happened to me after taking the Holy Water Mirah brought from Notre Dame des Eaux Sanctifiees My palm had burned with the bit of Eden’s earth, till the bright fire spread up my arm and throughout my body. I felt stronger; I could reach farther, and hear more. I could see others’ memories, hold them, and take them away.

I increased the push, spreading warmth toward Rellis. "I would feed, too. It should only make you feel . . . relaxed. I won't still you."

Rellis nodded slowly. He sighed, "Well, this would be the easy way. I am sad to say that some of the information I have you will not like. But it is the only way." He breathed deeply and began relaxing from the touch. "Do as you will."

I nodded and began reaching deep into Rellis, sorting through the dreams and memories in his mind. My eyes closed as the droplets fell from my fingers. I could see him working over beakers and phials, plants and animals cut and splayed before him. "Crippling acids . . . more explosives," I whispered, then stopped, my eyes flying open. "A soul stealer?" I frowned, wondering to what good purpose such a potion could be brought.

"Was working with demon blood," Rellis muttered.

My eyes narrowed as I resumed my probe, drinking in Rellis's vitae quietly. "Potions for blindness, paralysis . . . you have more in common with me than you know. " I pushed inward a bit more.

Rellis flinched, then chuckled weakly, "Really, I did not know that. . . .” He began to relax as I filled his mind and spirit with my being, drawing gently.

Memories, friends, his life, my life. His thoughts one with mine. I stopped short and suddenly pulled away, withdrawing from Rellis with a cold snap as I sawing him handing a potion to one thought dead. "He's alive,” I said, shocked. "You're helping him." I spat at the floor. "The slaver. I do not believe this.”

Rellis staggered beneath the cold slap in his spirit and began growling. "If you look again you will see why I help him."

I crossed my arms over my chest. "Seal the box and replace it. Then I will look," I ordered.

"Very well." Rellis closed the box. "Just to say I am not happy at the moment." He moved to the bookshelf again. I watched him steadily, my arms folded, as he put away the box. Smiling slyly to himself, he pulled out a small phial the size of his paw and clenched his hand around it so it seemed that he was balling his fist. "There. It is put back."

Without warning, I pushed in again. “You believe him to be demon possessed.” I withdrew, a bit more gently this time. “"Your compassion is misplaced, Rellis."

Rellis still flinched and growled. "Yes, he is possessed. I have seen the demon himself. So has Aurelia. Her spirit still wanders these lands and helps us both."

“I trusted Aurelia,” I replied after a moment. “I will trust you. But I caution you, be very careful. Some are possessed and some invite.”

Rellis nodded, loosening his paw to show the small phial inside. "Guess I will not need this, then." He slipped it into his robe.

I smiled without mirth as I eyed the phial in Rellis's hand. "A blinding potion?" I had taken a bit of his thoughts with me.

Rellis nodded as he smiled. "Was not planning to stand here defenseless.”

I took a step backward and appraised him. “You have nothing to fear from me, Rellis. But I should warn you: whether I see with my eyes or not is of no consequence.”

Straightening, Rellis asked, “Are you going to inform the rest of Omegans? Get me banned?" Both ears folded back and as he looked at me with a strong face.

“I will not say anything at present to anyone but Omega.” I paused. "Do you agree to this, Rellis?”

Tilting his head he sighed, "So it is up to her. Very well. I will still get my research to you, but know this: even if banned I will continue my research."

“I will do my utmost to ensure that you are not banned, Rellis,” I replied. “I understand your reasons.”

Rellis spoke softly, "Let’s hope that it helps." His ears lay flat, as he sighed and walked away from both the box and me. He sat down in chair by the corner windows and began to write. “I will have those potions to you by the end of tonight."

Nodding, I returned downstairs.