More creative writing.
“What is this?” Stein sniffed his drink.
“House special.” Susan answered vaguely.
“Why am I scared?”
“Because you’re you,” said Sypher.
Stein raised an eyebrow.
Froth met his lips and went down smooth. Whip cream floated like a creamy island. Beyond the sweetness of sugar lay a hint of almond. He was drinking liquefied fruit; warming him inside, it coursed through like a tidal wave, washing away any problems he carried with him. Not quite music, but he’d take it.
“How is it?” he asked. “Enjoying yourself?”
“Amazing!” Nell’s appreciation made him happy.
“Cidered apples,” Sypher replied to her unasked question. “Stewed over an open fire, aided by a touch of cinnamon and almonds with just a hint of orange.”
“They don’t have apples on my island,” said Stein.
“Or mine,” said Nell. “They used to though, from what I’m told. Supposedly, they still exist on a small island, in the garden of an old castle, by the river that leads to the eastern ocean.”
“I’m concerned,” said Stein, taking another sip.
“How so?” Susan asked. She took a sip of her frothing pumpkin fizzer.
“Sneaking out of a military institution should be harder, don’t you figure?”
Susan smiled endearingly.
“The E.F. isn’t a military institution. It’s an academy. For a world peace force.”
“Semantics,” Nell muttered. Clearly, she agreed with Stein.
“The trick,” said Sypher, trying to explain something he innately knew, “lies in attention. Proceed normally and no one questions you, exposing weaknesses in the system: a blind spot here, a gap there. Nothing has a completely open field of view. All of us and every system have things they’ll overlook. So long as you look like you’re part of the system, you’ll never be caught.”
“That, and a good moon helps,” said Susan.
“That wasn’t the point.” Stein turned back to Sypher. “You want to know what really troubles me?”
“Do tell.” Sypher said, sure he already knew. “That they’ll find out?”
“No. That they already know. You can’t train the best without being better. What concerns me is they haven’t done anything about it yet. We’ve been gone, what?” He checked his watch. “An hour.” Exactly how long has everyone let him play? “That should be plenty of time to come after us.”
“It’s just our first time,” said Nell, perplexed.
“Not hers.” Stein sighed as Susan sat back down. “She’s been coming here all term. And, no, I don’t think it’s because they’re Hawq’s.”
Sypher smiled, knowing his friend couldn’t see it. Stein’s intuition was very, very strong. He didn’t have the imagination, yet, to make the leap completely but he could see the other side of the chasm, even if he didn’t know what he was looking at.
Leaning back, Sypher stared at Stein’s face intently. Something, he couldn’t quite put his paw on it, seemed off. Pale skin, well-defined jaw. Behind his glasses twin, milky eyes. He could feel Susan observing him. Then he had it.
“Stein,” said Sypher. Across the table, Susan was grinned.
“So, I’ve been wondering this for a while now…”
“You wear glasses.”
“You know, there’s a thesaurus behind that bar,” said Susan, all too happily. “Yes is under ‘Y’. Go ahead, we’ll wait.”
“A thesaurus? Behind the bar? Why is there a thesaurus at the bar?” asked Stein.
“I don’t know,” said Susan, “But the library’s in the swimming pool and this you find the strangest thing?”
“All he’s saying,” said Nell, “is ye didn’t answer his question.”
Stein shot her a look as close to indignant as Sypher had ever seen. Of course, he knew that, the look said.
“I needed them in the time before.” Stein self-consciously pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I just… never got out of the habit of putting them on in the morning.”
“Well,” said Sypher.
“That is…” said Susan.
“Odd,” Nell finished.
“You weren’t always blind?” asked Susan.
“When I was thirteen—”
“What’s thirteen?” Susan looked at Sypher.
“Eight and five,” said Sypher.
“How old are you now?” asked Susan.
Susan counted on her paws. “That’s…”
“Two eights and one.” Stein filled in the gap.
“Excellent,” Nell groused. She didn’t seem pleased by the friendly banter between Susan and Stein.
“There…” Stein paused. “Let’s call it an accident. A computer I attempted to modify blew up in my face. The dermal damage doctors repaired but they couldn’t fix my sight.”
“Why not?” asked Nell.
Susan grimaced. Sypher didn’t like where the answer was going either.
“The Sovereign,” said Stein. Either he remained oblivious to where the answer was headed or he didn’t care. “Their law forbids magic from repairing any injuries not produced by magic. And forbid the use of genetic technology, the one line of research that might allow me my sight back.”
Nell’s features grew darker and darker. In a way, Sypher admired her. She despised the Sovereign world and, despite her assimilation, she would continue for the rest of her life to shout at the top of her lungs against those Sovereign who would shout against her at the top of theirs. Her quiet, subtle rage only enhanced her stark blonde hair and pale skin.
“Do you hate us?” He knew the answer before he asked.
Stein, ever the optimist, sputtered out his drink. “Sypher, how can you ask that?”
Nell ignored Stein. “Do I hate ye?” She seemed to consider the question. “Yeah, probably I do. It’s not ye, Sypher. Not really. It’s just—ye have to understand—every time I look at ye, all I can see is a prison.”
“I had nothing to do with it.” Her words bit, despite expecting the answer. The particular thing was, he believed her.
“Sure, ye didn’t. Except you’re a Hawq and everyone knows what that means: the second most famous family in the entirety of the Sovereign. Your family has stood by the Matriarchs as their second and council since the damned War, ensuring poverty and diseases Islanders could cure five thousand years ago, run rampant and deadly.”
She growled indignantly. He kept an appropriately severe look. Her grudge made a lot of sense. Really, it did.
“What is it with you two? You only ever bicker,” said Susan. “Don’t you get along?”
“We get along just fine,” said Nell.
“It’s true,” admitted Sypher.
“I would describe it,” said Nell, “as a friendship based on fighting.”
People misunderstood friendship, Sypher decided. It wasn’t just about respect. Or loyalty over time. As with any social setting, friends were those you considered your equals. But your best friends, your closest friends, the ones you’d die for, those were the ones you considered your betters.
Staring at Stein, he understood that now. A quality slumbered within his roommate, so deeply even Stein himself remained unaware. Still, something grew; an unimaginable presence that could command the attention of the world. Sypher understood. Understood and feared because he saw those same qualities within himself. Like his dreams, they scared him. Yet, Stein held more. That same force, when you weren’t looking for it, drew your admiration and love. But it remained buried. Instead, no matter what he called to himself, the accolades or miracles, many would only ever see Stein as an Islander. Those handful that could see beyond that, Sypher grinned to himself, would see something else entirely. But this quality would take another to truly show him.
“Nell,” Sypher interjected himself quietly into his friends conversation, “Are you having a good time?”
“Yes, sure.” She took a drink. “Thanks for inviting me.”
“Okay.” Sypher shot her a sidelong glance, not quite satisfied.
“Sypher,” Susan punched her twin, “Must you insist of asking her repeatedly?”
“It’s fine, really. I appreciate it.” He wondered if she really did. She looked around. “Ye think these people in here know I’m an Islander?”
“Beside the accent?” Sypher drank deeply, enjoying the scarlet Nell’s cheeks turned.
“Stein’s an Islander.” Susan objected, bumping Stein with her shoulder. Snow white fur flurried through the air. “Most Sovereign doesn’t ever travel far enough, or care enough, to know. Plus, you’re training as Elite.”
“They don’t know that.”
“No Islander has anyone but the gods permission to stand here unless they’re Elite,” said Sypher.
“Yeah, but I’m still an Islander.”
“You sure you’re having a good time?” Sypher tilted his head, his brow furrowing.
“Will you cut that out?” Susan punched him again. “Come on,” she tagged Stein’s shoulder, “Let’s go grab another round.”
Watching Stein follow after Susan, Sypher felt Nell watching him.
“Ye don’t really believe in your gods, do ye?” she asked, after several moments of awkward silence. The intensity of her blue eyes caught him off guard.
He looked into his empty mug. How interesting.
“You clearly do,” he said.
“I believe in the one true God, who sits above all.”
Yes, she certainly did. Where was this going?
“One of those things the Islanders raised you to believe.” He was not asking.
The heavy wooden beams supporting the ceiling creaked as the wind billowed snow against resistant windows.
“I believe in God and I believe in the gods.”
Nell slammed her mug down. “That’s like choosing to believe in heaven and angels but not the devil and demons.”
“Every Myst Islander believes in God?” Sypher raised an eyebrow.
“And all of them—every one of the million or so left, believes in the exact same God?”
“Yes!” Her frustration was cute.
“The same rules and codes.”
She paused. “Well, no. I suppose Caledonian’s don’t believe in the predestination of who is saved and who isn’t. That’s more of a Priteni thing. They like ceremony. And the Cymru believe that everyone is inherently damned. That our work in this life Saves us.”
“There’s the point. At the height of Islander civilization, you numbered seven billion. Probably, five billion believed in God, in some form or another. Am I right?” Nell nodded but didn’t speak, so he continued. “But you didn’t have a core belief. Too many factions all thinking theirs the only way. What kind of benevolent Being choses three million of all Her subjects to give the One True Way?”
“The kind that survive.” He barely heard her whisper.
“Yet, you just admitted even those of you left can’t agree. All the other Sovereign—Zhi Huei, Gong Zhen, Shuang Xizhue Gul, and Hun Xue’Er—we all believe in the Seven; that they guard and protect us. That they gave us Choice.”
“Except ye.” Nell peered at him, dissecting him. Brilliant. And intuitive.
“Except me. All the dreams of the world. All gods are One and the One is all gods. Your interpretation doesn’t matter. Simple representations of larger forces that control our world.” He finished the remnants of Stein’s drink. “By definition, right, we can’t understand the gods plan. Our minds aren’t built to comprehend. So why should we definitively say one believe stands above the other? We’re all Sovereign. We all exist. We all came from the same place.”
Nell shifted in her seat.
“Isn’t it true that the Islanders used to believe in the gods?”
“Then we grew up.” Nell smiled wistfully.
“Your lives grew more complex, as did your world.”
“While the Hun Xue’Er stayed simple?”
“That’s an entirely different conversation.”
“You’ll have to tell me sometime. But—” Nell’s eye twitched. He knew that look, the same one she had when she fought Oberon.
An unpleasant sight unfolded at the bar. Stein and Susan stared down two Gong Zhen. He had just wanted to get away. The scene, however, had already spurred Nell to her feet. Sypher tried not to sigh. He had not intended their night out to turn into a tussle. Out of the corner of his eye, he sensed Lou paying attention to their situation. His force lance felt heavy in his pocket.
“Hey,” Nell placed herself squarely between Stein and the Gong Zhen. “Back off.”
“Who’s going to make me? You? An Unforgiven?”
Sypher’s eyes narrowed. Unforgiven. The derogatory term for Islanders Oberon insisted on using. Lou had no patience for it; after this afternoon, his own wore thin.
Stein glared sideways though his empty, white eyes. Susan’s paw on his shoulder seemed to keep him in check.
“Oh good,” said Nell. No fear in her eyes. “This, from a walking lighter?”
The Gong Zhen hefted Nell into the air by her shirt. She barely managed to look bored.
“Don’t do this,” said Stein. Sypher couldn’t tell if he spoke to Nell or the Gong Zhen. “If you do, things will become too troublesome.” Susan’s grip on Stein’s shoulder tightened.
“Should have considered that before causing trouble.”
“If ye hadn’t burned too many oxygen molecules,” said Laynie, the fire in her eyes not just a reflection, “you’d recall ye approached my friend here, not the reverse.”
“What’s going on here?” asked Sypher, though he already knew.
“These Unforgiven won’t stop causing trouble.”
His fingers itched to shove his force lance through the back of the Gong Zhen’s fiery skull, pouring ice from its tip. Except, he wasn’t really sure which Gong Zhen spoke and which instigated the trouble. Again, he felt regret for Ash. All their fiery forms, masses of ever shifting fire and metal, looked the same to him. Well, they could tell themselves apart. That was something. Not that it mattered in this particular case.
Sypher tilted his head. “What did they do?”
Lou’s eyes darkened. He would abide many things, but threats against the existence of another Sovereign did not make the list. In hand, he flourished a force lance. Why did Lou have a force lance? He wasn’t Elite. The weapon of the Elite Lancer, a force lance symbolized allegiance and power. They channeled magic in the most efficient manner possible.
Sypher smiled thinly. “You don’t realize it yet, but you’re having a pretty bad night.”
“Yeah? And who’s gonna give it to me? You?”
Despite her posturing, the Gong Zhen seemed uneasy. Stein’s knuckles tightened. The glare in Nell’s eyes would have frozen lava. Sypher placed a paw on Nell’s shoulder. She didn’t even bristle. In this moment, he realized how terrifying Islanders as enemies could be. The power emanating from these two in tandem terrified him.
“No,” said a booming voice, “That would be me.” Strong hands slammed the Gong Zhen into the bar. Lou had come to their aid. “You know the rules. All Sovereign sit equal here.”
Quicker than Sypher could follow, Lou bound the two Gong Zhen, preparing to toss them.
“I ain’t done with you, Unforgiven,” the Gong Zhen growled.
“I am a Myst Islander,'” murmured Nell softly. She leaned in close. “My name is Laynie Zhetner Nell, scrap metal. Challenge me again and you’re spending your white cold rebuilding in a furnace.”
As Lou tossed the Gong Zhen out, he shot Sypher a look and growled. Sypher looked unabashed.
Nell wrapped her arms around Sypher, smiling brilliantly. “Thanks.”
Sypher returned the grin.
“Now,” Nell announced, turning around, “I’m having a good time.”
She turned and walked off to their table.
“Well,” Sypher grinned, “My work is done here.”
Thoughts: Not really much here. Just one of my favorite scenes from the first book. This scene is completely edited and won’t be reviewed any more. Chronologically, it takes place in the beginning, chapter 3 of The Tears of the Phoenix.
This is one of my favorite scenes. Part of that’s because it’s just a quiet moment between friends, but it’s also a fairly in-depth exploration of the characters, how they view the world, and how that view point directly effects their interactions with the said world.
Next time, something less polished. Maybe it’ll involved the Dark Masters names but not anything else. Not sure.