TBOTSG-Chapter 5

March 28, 2024

I got out of the car slowly, like a cat just awakened from her sleep. When I looked up, I saw the sky, with all its complexities, was waiting for me like a good friend would. The clouds were dense in shades of lilac, with a touch of orange where a sunbeam managed to pierce through them. Memories from another world, from another life, made my heart skip a beat as I looked up. Memories I knew I had lost with my reincarnation, yet refused to be forgotten. Would I ever regain them?

Filip closed the door and then looked up himself, curious to see what I was looking at. A normal sky on a normal summer day. Nothing extraordinary, he thought, but he continued to look. In his eyes, I was a daydreamer taken out of a dream herself. And, ultimately, maybe it wasn’t so far from the truth. I had been a goddess with a thousand faces. A goddess who had held the secrets of the universe in her palm and had lost them in front of simple mortals, just like in a classic epic. Like in a fairy tale. Or like in a game.

‘Filip!’

Ofelia was at the window, waving for us to come in. I lowered my head, resigned. As if I had given up something important. And, in a way, I had. I had given up everything in a last effort to save something, and now I wondered if it had been worth it. I felt like a pale shadow, kept alive by an ugly feeling that others called hope. Then I remembered my brothers, vaguely remembered my endless journeys in the darkness of space, and then the sky of the Second House, and I felt a lump in my throat. An unbearable sensation that only made me angry: I hadn’t become human, even though I was trapped in this body.

‘What’s wrong?’ Ofelia asked more to herself.

‘Probably had time to chew over the situation,’ M replied. ‘Did she say anything on the way, Filip?’

‘No, she seemed pretty relaxed. She even fell asleep at one point.’

M’s eyebrows shot up, but he didn’t add any comment and instinctively reached for his pendant.

We all sat down at the table. I could feel the others trying to figure out what I was thinking, studying the features of a face they couldn’t read, but which sent shivers down their spines. In their eyes, I seemed worried, sad, angry, resentful, and ready to explode, but also convinced that their plan would succeed, all at once and more. In a way, I found amusing the diversity of their thoughts. In another, I wondered if maybe those were, in fact, feelings I shared: a mix of emotions completely unclear even to myself superimposed with the emotions of others.

M served me some salad on my plate, along with the drumsticks and fried potatoes that someone had put out before we sat down. It seemed to him the most unreal thing in the world: to serve his absolute goddess. He smiled unintentionally, which made me give him a reproachful look. One I didn’t even realize until I noticed it through his filter. I hadn’t eaten much since I materialized here two days before, and that worried him.

‘Did they say anything about the incident,¬†at the station ?’ Filip asked Ofelia, who, as usual, was curious and often felt excluded from truly interesting conversations.

‘They didn’t say anything more. I even asked around a bit, but everyone says pretty much the same thing… that they can’t figure out what happened. However, it reminds them of a case from a few years ago…’

‘The burned apartment building?’ Filip asked happily, finally knowing something.

‘The burned apartment building, yes.’ Ofelia replied, then reminded M of the incident he knew all too well but preferred to listen and ask questions, just to avoid silence. That’s because they all had a sense of unease that they could barely tolerate. Filip, thought M with envy, seemed the most at ease with me.

‘But if, in the end, no one reached any conclusion back then, maybe they won’t reach one now… so why worry?’ Filip asked, then redirected his attention to the food. ‘I’m so glad you made fried chicken drumsticks! They’re my favorite.’

‘I know. I can tell,’ Ofelia said with a slight smile. ‘But I didn’t make them, I asked the lady across the street to help us with food for the next few days. If you have any other preferences, let me know.’

‘Sure,’ Filip replied with his mouth full, trying to stuff in another potato, which made M smile.

Their plates were getting more and more messy, and I felt sick. It was a combination of acid in the stomach with trembling fingertips and a whirlwind sensation.

‘Reeza, you need to eat something…’ M felt strange because he had never imagined in his life that he would call me by name. Again, I couldn’t help but smile.

‘Hmm, here, you can have some of mine,’ Filip said and unwrapped some meat from the drumstick, putting it on my plate. ‘When I first moved in with grandma, I didn’t feel like eating much, but if she made crispy drumsticks with french fries and unwrapped the meat from the bones for me, I just couldn’t resist… it was so good and effortless.’

M wanted to tell him that I had a few more years behind me than he did when his grandma fed him, but he stopped when he saw the fork in my hand. M and Ofelia looked at me tensely. My movements seemed so slow to them that they felt like they were watching a slow-motion movie and worried that it might stop at any moment. Filip, on the other hand, put another piece of meat on my plate and chatted about how he liked drumsticks to be fried in general.

‘You know what I was thinking?’ Filip asked as he put another piece of meat on my plate.

And Ofelia found Filip’s casual behavior strange.

‘What if I take Reeza to the mall? Let’s get her some clothes.’

‘Clothes?’

‘Well… this shirt seems too big for her… and it doesn’t fit her well.’

‘Filip… honestly, I wouldn’t trust you with this and we don’t have time for such things…’

‘I can take a friend with me if you think I’m not good at choosing girls’ clothes.’

M laughed and choked on his food. He coughed a little, continuing to laugh until he looked directly at me and suddenly became serious. That made me smile again.

‘I didn’t mean that I don’t trust your taste, obviously. I’m just afraid you might cause some mischief.’

I slowly shifted my gaze from M to Ofelia in a way that made them both feel cornered.

‘I don’t want to offend you,’ Ofelia began, trying not to be intimidated by my cold stare. ‘But after all, Filip is a teenager who causes problems… that’s his style. And you… I don’t think you have enough experience to be out on the street unsupervised.’

M adjusted his voice to continue the argument, but I cut him off by raising the hand holding the fork. It seemed strange to me, so I paused to look at the fork, then put it back on the table.

‘In the past… Or, better said, somewhere in this time, there’s a version of me who’s shopping at… what was it called?… a mall? Filip is right, these clothes are kind of… boring, and, as he said rightly, they’re too big for me.’

‘They’re my clothes…’ Ofelia said, slightly irritated by my comment.

‘In the last few thousand years, I’ve had the habit of wearing dresses made from entire galaxies,’ I said, feeling completely ridiculous. A sensation that came from them because to me, nothing seemed strange.

‘I don’t think they have that kind at the mall…’ Filip chuckled.

‘I don’t think so either,’ I said, ‘but at least something more… suitable.’

‘I can’t wait! I already have some ideas.’

‘M, you’re going with them. I’ve seen what Filip plays, I don’t want to walk down the street with Xena.’

A wave of laughter filled the room, Ofelia and M feeling that it wasn’t as bad as it seemed, and I started eating again and focusing on the taste, the texture, trying to block out the thoughts and sensations of the others this time. And then the food truly started to taste delicious to me. It was like rediscovering the pleasure of eating, and my inner smile, my satisfaction, was reflected in the others.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw M reach for the pendant.

‘Are you thinking about Fiiuea?’

I thought he was going to choke from the shock, but he held it together. He realized why I had asked him the question and gently lifted the pendant as if to answer the curious gazes of Ofelia and Filip.

‘Since you came, I’ve felt the pendant. It’s like it’s alive. Vibrating, resonating. Subtle, sure, but enough to give me the feeling that something’s happening. That it’s communicating… Do you think it’s possible to be communicating with her?’

‘Maybe it resonates with Reeza,’ Filip speculated with his mouth full.

‘That’s what I initially thought too. And I believe Reeza is the source, but my intuition tells me there’s a destination. And I can only think of Fiiuea. She has the other half…’

‘Who’s Fiiuea? Ofelia asked,’ suddenly much more interested in the conversation.

‘A priestess from the Second House.’

‘From Reeza’s temple?’ Filip’s eyes sparkled with enthusiasm.

‘From one of my brothers’s temples… which in the future I come from no longer exists.

I saw their expressions start to morph into reflections of what I was feeling and I was disgusted by what I was doing to them. My feelings should belong to me alone. I tried to change the subject:

‘M knew Fiiuea more intimately than anyone.’

He looked at me first, then at Ofelia, before stammering that they met at the Academy.

‘M is a legend on the Second House. He was the only man who became a priest.’

‘And the only servant you’ve ever had, he added.’

‘Servant?’ Filip asked, puzzled.

‘That’s what priestesses are… servants of the god whose temple they serve. Each of the other thirteen gods had at least 100 priestesses.’

‘And Reeza had one priest? That’s so cool!’

‘She did it to save me, in a way. One day, I was on the domain of a beast of a man, who hunted… I did something stupid, honestly, I don’t even remember what, some child’s play, and the punishment for virtually any mistake anyone did was to participate in the next hunting party.

I felt M overwhelmed by emotions, but nothing showed on his face. He seemed as composed as before when he resumed his explanation.

‘You see, there are no animals there, but the instinct to hunt persisted. So we, ordinary people, became the prey. My sister had been on three such hunts for various stupid things she had done. For me, it was the first time, and, small as I was, I didn’t know how to hide or run. So I was pierced by an arrow almost immediately after the hunt began.’

‘Arrows? I thought you were advanced in technology,’ Filip said, and M suppressed an outburst.

‘It’s regulated as one of the three hunting weapons. We have our laws too. Plus, it has to be exciting… to give the pray a chance to escape; if you slaughter them, what’s the point? The other two are the whip and the spear,’ he said, anticipating Filip’s question. ‘Anyway, my sister hid well. So did the others. They kept spotting me; I would hide just beyond a bush until they found me again and again. My luck was that the scoundrel of a nobleman wasn’t a good shot. He missed me narrowly a couple of times. But the third time, he hit me in the ribs. Not badly, but I was bleeding and it hurt like hell. I felt a fear like I’ve never felt before. Then another arrow came and hit me in the leg. But I kept running. I kept trying to flee. When he got close and I thought he was going to aim the arrow straight at my throat, my sister pushed me. I don’t know where she came from. She took the arrow straight to the chest.’

A wave of sadness washed over us all, but no one said anything. We waited for M to continue.

‘The bastard rejoiced. He was happy he hit two of us. I was screaming like a banshee. My sister was breathless, fallen over me, her warm blood trickling down my chest. The arrow that was stuck in my ribs broke and I felt a dull pain. Laughing, the nobleman approached me, shouting to his friends that he was going to shoot me straight in the eye because he couldn’t wait to try that method. And then I saw how his face changed. How it became silent and how he fell to his knees.’

‘Did someone hit him?’

‘Just the shock of seeing Reeza before his eyes.’

‘She doesn’t seem that scary,’ Filip said, looking directly at me as if trying to find something frightening in my complexion.

‘Not now. It was different then. She had a different form… the other avatar, so to speak, was as if only the face and bust were made of translucent skin, the rest was a mass of darkness, of black void, enveloping the world like a storm cloud, but almost tangible. I only remember a fragment, when she came above me, but it was as if the world disappeared completely. I think I fainted from fear.’

‘From fear? I can’t imagine you being that scared!’ Filip was amazed, but I felt the sensation I had provoked in M, the memory of the moment, and I was in a way proud, but in another I was confused. Why did I feel the need to take on that terrible form? All my brothers took completely human forms, why didn’t I do the same? No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t come up with an answer.

‘And what happened then?’

‘I later found out that Reeza wasn’t a supporter of the custom of hunting people, but she promised the nobleman that she would become one just to show him how it feels to be hunted. In the end, she left him alone, after telling him that if he wanted to escape with his life, he had to pay somehow. Apparently that somehow was to officially adopt me and send me to school to become her priest. That was how he rewarded her mercy: by giving her a servant. As for myself, I rewarded her by dedicating her the life she had saved,’ M said bitterly, then continued, surprising himself ‘If he hadn’t proposed that, I would never have met Fiiuea. Or you.’

When he said those words, I felt the pendant vibrating, as if it resonated with us both. Then I got up from my chair and went to M, reached out to the pendant, but hesitated for a second before touching it. When, finally, the white skin of my fingers touched the smooth surface of the stone, I was pulled into another world.