MU4: Chapter One (part ii)

Dubai once again, sitting in for Bridgetown.

NOTE: This chapter was indeed a thrill to write — creating an extended solo scene where the conflict is not between people or even the self, but between Eika and everyone’s expectations of her. But she won’t be alone for too much longer…stay tuned!

*

Eika found the letter from her parents on the third day of her enforced solace, and she swore it hadn’t been there two days earlier. She’d found the envelope and the letter within sitting on the dining table, with just her first name and nothing else. It hadn’t been there that morning, but it had been there when she’d come back from her walk. She’d been so bored waiting something to happen or someone to contact her that she’d gone to investigate the neighborhood. An hour later it was sitting there, dead center. And she had not sensed anyone’s presence. They must have stepped through Light to drop it off, but she would have at least sensed the change, as she hadn’t gone all that far, maybe a few blocks at most. It must have been a Devoted Eichi…they seemed to love torturing her like this.

The letter explained exactly what she’d feared – she’d failed in the eyes of the Council of the Blessed Ones. She’d failed so many of the spirit circles. She’d failed her parents. They’d exhausted every avenue trying to awaken her as a Blessed One, to no avail. They’d been forced to make the decision for her, to take the route no spirit should ever have to go through. She was to awaken completely on her own, with no assistance, away from outside distraction and influence, and away from possible injuries to herself or someone else. If she were to succeed here, she would be accepted as a Blessed One.

If she were to fail…?

Her parents were too cowardly to mention that possibility in their letter.

Extreme measures to say the least, but it did not surprise her at all.

They’d left her in this empty town, this outpost nowhere, to figure herself out. She was apparently sufficient in whatever she needed – electricity was working, the few storefronts in the center of town were consistently restocked when she was not around, and water was always plentiful. This was a highly spiritual testing ground, and she’d just been dropped into it without preamble.

She wanted to be angry at her family, and for a little while she was. They’d taken extreme measures to push her towards some indefinite, undefined goal. To be Awakened. No explanation or context as to how, or why. It was a goal expected of her, not to be questioned. That was how her family, how her family’s belief system worked, and she’d failed all other attempts to follow in step.

She wanted to be angry, but instead, she only felt relief, of all things. A heavy burden that had been weighing her down her entire life had been lifted, one she hadn’t even realized was there until it had disappeared completely. No Devoted Eichi drilling their spite and disgust at her failings. No spirit circles avoiding her as an abomination. No family viewing her with disappointment and shame. She was a complete failure, and yet she had never felt freer! Perhaps her family had understood this, and in their own messed up way, dropping her here was the only way they could release her onto her own road.

She remembered a few things from her training that she could most likely utilize here, but strangely the first thought that came to mind was the parable of Nehalé Usarai, the man that Awakened the One of All Sacred. That was one of the first stories her teachers taught the young initiates, and it was the first one that stuck with her all this time.

Nehalé Usarai was considered a brilliant tactician, who had not only brought the Ninth Embodiment of the One into this Gharné world but had known how to ensure her safety and keep the extremist Shenaihu and the overzealous Mendaihu from poisoning the Word of the One. He too had been left alone in an outpost town like this when he was a young boy, to train himself of the Ways of the One in his own style. Never mind the fact that the real story, the one that the Blessed Ones always omitted, was that he wasn’t alone in this trial but had been brought here with several other young acolytes and awakened souls, and they’d all worked together to create a peaceful commune.

She laughed out loud when the thought struck her: Dare I question the Blessed Ones? Dare I compare myself to the revered edha Usarai? But he was Gharné, just like her, just like anyone else here on this planet. If he could find his own spirituality in these parts, why couldn’t she?

*

Easier said than done, of course.

On Day Four, she chose to practice her Lightwalking. That had been her weakest ability, as she found that she could not always keep a steady focus on her destination. The first time she’d tried it here, she’d gotten the destination completely wrong and ended up somewhere on the outskirts of town, and it had taken her three hours not only to get her bearings but find the house she’d been staying in. Later that day she tried again and made it to her planned landing point near the library green down the road…but had misjudged the altitude and fell ten feet to the ground, twisting her ankle in the process. She cried out, more in frustration than pain, but she was too damned stubborn to give up just yet. She hobbled back to the house and thought about what she was doing wrong.

The walk did her good because it forced her to clear her head. She was obviously still holding a grudge against her family, regardless of their intentions, and despite her stubborn will to prove them wrong. Perhaps that was it…did she really need to prove anything to begin with? Who was she trying to impress, anyway?

“No one but yourself,” she said aloud. She’d decided to speak aloud whenever it was warranted – to give voice to her thoughts meant vindication, even if just to herself, even if her thoughts proved to be wrong. If she spoke aloud, it made her thoughts and actions real.

And yet…she had to concede, she was lonely.

Had her parents even thought of that? Had anyone?

She needed no one for the moment, and she was fine with that; she didn’t need the constant distraction of others during her Trial. She was not desperate for human interaction, just the occasional reminder that she was not completely alone in this world. Only three days in and she was fine, but she needed more stimulation than the local birds and the occasional flight or shuttle passing over. And she wasn’t about to waste her time poking around on a vidmat. Not that they’d left any here.

Just…someone to talk to. To learn from. To work with. To connect with.

Annoyed with herself, she pushed those thoughts away and set about making tomorrow’s plans. Twisted ankle or no, she was going to get this self-training done one way or another. She had a lot of ground she wanted to cover during the time she had here.

By day six, she’d managed not to kill herself when practicing her Lightwalking, though she still hadn’t quite gotten the knack of adjusting for changes in geography. Thankfully it was impossible to step out of the Light and into something solid – the soul’s connection to the planet ensured that would not happen – but she still reappeared too high and hadn’t quite figured out how to adjust for it.

The stores of food and other wares miraculously replenished themselves not only at the small store down the block, but in her own refrigerator as well. She figured someone was restocking while she was away and chose not to question it or scan for their whereabouts. The temptation to reel out a thread of sensing energy was high – Goddess, it was high! – but she held back. Reaching out right now was a sign of weakness, that she’d given up already, and she didn’t want that.

She’d also expanded her regimen to include the more mundane but equally necessary things in training…she took care of what she ate and drank, what exercises she did, how long she practiced. She’d long known one of her worst habits was her lack of organization, so she chose to face that head on. She worked out a schedule and focused on everything she needed to do to adjust her focus.

By day ten she already saw the changes. She’d been meditating twice a day. She’d been going out for runs around the neighborhood, going slightly further with every circuit. She became exhausted less often, she had lost the excess weight from unhealthy eating, and to her own surprise, she found herself focusing on more details of her day-to-day life.

She changed her appearance as well, choosing to wear more form-fitting clothes to help her move more fluidly (this was, in her mind, a brilliant bit of clarity…she now understood why the Elders’ uniforms were also form-fitting, and it did in fact help her during ritual practices). She’d chosen to cut her long hair after finding that binding it back during practice only served as another distraction. It was now quite short, well above the nape of her neck, just shy of a buzz cut.

She felt more centered than she’d ever been in her life, and she was immensely proud of that fact. She continued to speak aloud, letting herself burst into song or work out a problem by talking through it. She felt oddly comforted by all of this. She could do this.

She would awaken as a Blessed One on her own.

Day fourteen was tough.

She promised herself she’d get through it, even if it ended up setting her back. She’d been in this funk ever since she found the second letter from her parents. She had no idea how it had gotten there, or if they’d left it days ago and she’d only just found it. She had a feeling it had been delivered, just like the phantom food and parcel deliveries, with someone stepping in and out of Light without her noticing and leaving no memory puddles in their wake.

The letter, at first glance, had been expected. A concerned but distanced connection, wishing her good health, hoping her training was improving. A brief mention of other extended family members forwarding positive thoughts and prayers…but otherwise it was mostly her mother’s hand and words. Words that felt shallow and forced. Words she’d said to her many times before, meaning well but ultimately meaning little at all, holding no true empathy.

But upon reading again, the reality of her isolation truly started to sink in. She’d put on a brave front all this time, refusing to feel the pain. Refusing to give up. Refusing to give in and let the Devoted Eichi win. Her mother’s letter, though well meant, had only served to bring that pain back to the forefront.

They’d already given up on her, days ago.

“Goddess…!” she blurted, crumpling the letter into a ball and throwing it across the room. Even talking aloud felt shallow and stupid now, just an immature action to trick herself into thinking all wasn’t as bad as she thought. She let the tears come this time, even knowing how stupid and pathetic she felt. She finally let herself accept the fact that she’d put on a brave front to please everyone else, to the detriment of her own spirit’s pleasure. She’d set out to prove…what? Nothing. She’d proven nothing to them, because they’d refused to listen at all. They were only biding their time until she gave up and they came to pick her up, spiritually broken.

Somehow, this clarity felt so much worse.