NOTE: The original rough draft of the as-yet-untitled fourth book in the Mendaihu Universe was started in the spring of 2015, written longhand right about the same time I was readying A Division of Souls for self-publishing. The original version of this chapter (then as chapter four) was started 10 April of that year and went through multiple versions over the next seven years. Since then it’s moved to the beginning of the novel where it serves to set up the MU seventy years after the events that take place in The Balance of Light.
What it sets up is this: when Denni/Denysia gave the world the gift of spiritual awareness and a connection to Trisanda, and her intentions were to set humanity on a course of higher maturity and a connection to a larger universe. But in the world of spirituality and religion…things don’t always go to plan.
Eikianassia Oktanis stirred from slumber and stared at the ceiling in a dazed attempt to remember where the hells she was. It was too quiet, the air too clean and cool, and the shadows didn’t look like those from her own bedroom. She let it come to her slowly…the faded blue shapes of light against the ceiling on the far end of the room…the lack of any traffic noise…the lack of any art or shelves adorning the left wall…one nondescript alarm pod, no vidmats tacked to the wall, no communications devices on the desk. A humbling, deafening silence.
“Wilderlands,” she said in a defeated whisper, all too aware that her words had just come from the only human voice for miles.
The Trial of the Blessed One.
Eika had been brought out here by her mother and father, after she had been thrown out of her twelfth and last spirit circle. This was her last chance at becoming a devout member of the Blessed Ones, and if she failed this trial as well, she would be excommunicated and ostracized by everyone she’d ever known and forced to fend for herself in the Bridgetown Sprawl. Taking this trial had not been a mutual decision, and she felt that all too keenly. Her family’s chapter had forced it upon her parents, who had then forced it upon her without bothering to think about how it might affect her already weakening self-confidence. She grumbled and stirred again, fighting the growing irritation now that she remembered where she was and why she was there. If she let this negative energy get the best of her, she would be up for the rest of the night and she’d be cranky the next morning. And that would be misconstrued as an imbalance or an act of reckless rebellion. And her parents, and the Blessed Ones, wouldn’t have that.
She rolled over in frustration, most of it aimed at herself. Why had she chosen to act up that day, anyway? It was all ritual, to be sure. There was nothing wrong, not a thing that could have harmed her in any way, and the Goddess of All That Is would be watching over her throughout.
But somehow, it felt wrong. Not distressingly, harmfully wrong. More like…? She huffed again, stopping this train of thought once more. She couldn’t think about this, not now. She needed to sleep, damn it all!
This was just like before…
“Eika?” she’d heard from behind her bedroom door, two days ago, followed by the rattle of the handle. “Eika, are you all right?” Another rattle. “Eika, why is the door locked?”
Her mother had sensed her frustration and, as usual, had completely misread the reason behind it.
“Hmm…” she’d mumbled in a pathetic attempt at sounding half awake. “M’okay,” she’d said. “Just an odd dream is all.”
She’d sensed her mother’s presence behind that door for what felt like at list five minutes before she’d turned and headed back to her own bedroom. She’d waited a few minutes more, at least until she’d heard the distant sound of a door closing.
Eika had let out a slow breath and glanced at the clock on her side table. It was nearing three in the morning, much too late for her to be awake, and much too early for her to decide to stay up.
They don’t understand, she’d thought. How hard was it for them to realize she needed privacy every now and again? Was it really that hard for them to understand? She certainly understood more of the Blessed Ones than they did of her, that was for sure.
…this was exactly like two days ago. Except now, there was no one else here in this house. There was no one in this neighborhood, this town. She was alone.
Completely, desperately alone.
She turned onto her left side, hear arm resting next to her head on the pillow. She flexed her fingers for a few moments, watching their blurry shapes in the semi-darkness. There, on the soft flesh just between her thumb and forefinger and stretching just short of her ring finger, she could feel the stretching of skin where she’d received the scar of the first spirit circle ejection.
Devoted Eichi Maysa had done that, the Goddess curse her.
Eika hadn’t warranted such an injury, at least not in her eyes. She’d merely been a little too reckless with her lightwork ability, still learning and practicing but not quite yet a master at it. A stray spark of energy had slipped out after a nearly perfect healing, which had caused the willing practice participant to twitch and yelp as if Eika had stabbed her with a dagger to her chest. The absolutely livid Devoted Maysa had responded to the innocent mistake by forcibly pulling her away from the healed, pulling her arm backwards and dragging her to the front of the class – she had just enough time to see that otherwise she’d done a perfect job, and her partner had started to respond that they were not in fact harmed at all, only startled – and held Eika’s hand up to the other devout.
Devoted Maysa’s eyes burned into her as if she’d forcibly and gleefully ripped the girl’s soul from her body.
“This is the imbalance you must purge!” she screeched, spittle hitting her face, and before she could respond or react, Devoted Maysa had taken a glowing index finger and jabbed it into Eika’s palm, shooting a small but intensely strong tear of Light through her hand. Such was her expertise that only skin and a few strands of muscle had been injured, but it was enough to make her shriek in agony, in front of everyone.
She’d immediately been branded a failure.
Eika had quit that spirit circle within the hour and, after stopping at a medical center in Branden Hill to have the tear properly healed, she returned home.
She was not in the least bit surprised that, between her leaving the shrine and getting home, Devoted Maysa had already contacted her parents and had painted the absolute worst picture anyone could have made. She didn’t even bother to argue because she knew her parents wouldn’t have believed her. They wouldn’t have accepted failure, even accidental.
“Whatever she said, she lies,” she’d said, more out of exhaustion than defiance.
“Despite the Light within?” her mother had ventured.
“Especially despite that,” she said, and walked dejectedly into her bedroom, locking the door, and not leaving it for a day and a half.
Eika must have dozed off at some point. When she next opened her eyes, the sun was shining through the windows on the far wall. Her eyes were dry and stinging and she rubbed at them, forcing herself awake. A small digital clock next to the bed read a little after nine. She yawned and stretched, rolling onto her back, surprised by her laziness. Blessed Ones were usually early risers who worked on little sleep, and she had slept an extra five hours at least. It was needed, though…she hadn’t felt this relaxed, this rejuvenated in quite some time.
She reeled out three small threads of spirit energy, looking for her parents and her younger brother, or anyone at all that might be nearby. This was normal for a Blessed One; they liked to keep constant tabs on each other.
But she sensed no one, just as she’d feared. She avoided the fear by thinking about her family and what they might be doing right now: were they visiting one of the outpost chapels today? Would they be chanting and protesting outside one of the countless cathedrals and Elder compounds in the Sprawl? Would they be making their way across Swope Heights in their monthly neighborhood sweep of gathering new followers? The Blessed Ones made it a point to be a highly visible presence wherever they were. Would her parents have woken her up to join? Did they still want her to be a part of the flock? Or had they given up on her? She winced, finding herself sliding back in that gloom again. Surely, they wouldn’t have abandoned her…? Not when they’d been keeping such close tabs on her over the past year and a half?
How many spirit circles had she quit or been forced out of? She’d not bothered to count, but she knew it had been at least a dozen. She’d tried…Goddess knew she’d tried to fit into one of the circles and make her family proud, but every single time she had broken away. None had been as painful and traumatic as Devoted Eichi Maysa and that first circle…but many of them had been just as psychologically and spiritually taxing, each and every one. They asked so much of her. So much that she could not always provide. She could bring herself to heightened levels of Light energy just like every other acolyte, but it was never enough, or its signature too obscure, or its leaders too demanding.
She was awakened, but she was lost.
Eika washed, dressed, and entered the main living area of the house. The den was wide and spacious, yet inviting and comfortable. She kneeled across the back of the couch that sat in front of a wide bank of windows, and watched the day unfold outside. Not a cloud in the sky, and the trees at the far end of the rear yard remained still. It felt too still, which always made her nervous. The less energy there was around her, the more she felt the need to expend her own to make up for it. The Wilderlands had to be the worst place for her to be if they were to expect her to learn how to control her random bursts of Light.
But it was the perfect place for a Trial of a Blessed One. If the acolyte was successful and ascended to a true Blessed One, then there was nothing to worry about. But if they were not successful…
Well – Eika decided not to think about that for now.
She reeled out a few more threads, thicker and stronger this time, and tried to find her family again. They had to be nearby, somewhere in the area. They couldn’t have gone far. Families of those on Trial would be put up at a compound nearby. But when she still could not sense them, she started to worry. And her reach was pretty damn far, much farther than most acolytes her age. She could sense clear across town without breaking a sweat, not that she ever dared to do so in the jumble of the Bridgetown Sprawl. But when she did exactly that here in this deserted town, she reeled it all back and shut it tight within herself. She stood up and started pacing the house, looking for any sign of them. Any notes, letters, memory puddles…surely they’d have told her where they’d gone and when they’d return?
She found nothing. A few scant memory patches, sights of them having walked through the house at some point, but that was it. They’d just…left.
She was tempted to reel her spirit sensing out further, more than she’d ever done before, but knew that would have caused more trouble than anything else. Instead she threw on her jacket and began walking into the outpost town center. Perhaps she would find them there.
The town center, the entire village, was deserted. She was completely alone.
She’d gone to the center green and thrown out a cursory sensing thread of the area, just a passive sweep just to find anyone at all, whether they were Mendaihu, Shenaihu or cho-nyhndah, but had come up with nothing. Even an unenlightened would have come to her attention, but she sensed no one. And she was unusually strong when it came to spiritsensing; that had been another irritation of some of the Devoted Eichi and she’d always held back to avoid their anger and punishment.
Could her sensing ability be that off kilter? She didn’t want to ramp it up, not just yet.
But after two hours of walking through the outpost town center, she saw and sensed no one.
They’d arrived late last night, and she’d been half asleep, so she hadn’t bothered or expected to look for anyone, figuring they were all in their homes, or at least in some cabin on the outskirts of town, at a safe monitoring distance and away from her prodding senses. Now that she was fully and completely awake, however, the emptiness and abandonment felt more complete and heartrending.
Her parents had left her here. Alone.
“Pashyo,” she said, her voice without any echo.
Her Trial of the Blessed One had started.
Curiously, past the throbbing pain of abandonment, past the simmering resentment and the directionless anger rippling somewhere in the background, she felt determination. She felt the searing pain of her family giving up on her and abandoning her in this weirdly vacant town in the middle of nowhere…she felt a keen, almost kiralla-level wave of naked anger, her spirit so forcibly pulled out of a society of similar souls against her will…
…and yet, Goddess bless it, she felt a clear and immensely strong will, a refusal to give up despite it all.
Goddess bless it, she would persevere.
She would prove them wrong.