The eighth of my many entries for this year's Pod and Planet. The first eight are all very short fictions, entered in the 'Eight Thousand Suns in New Eden' category. This one is 750 words.
To the Dread Pirate Scarlet, who killed my first battleship, a gift.
She hadn’t seen the wadge of ChromIts coming, and that’s when her parents realised. The clumsiness could be excused; after all, she was shooting up. Little girls could be clumsy, especially Brutor ones, but lacking peripheral vision? They called in the Doctor.
The Doctor arrived, and confirmed what they both feared and accepted. Poor Little Red was a Defiant, too much like her Father, in too many ways. How could they tell her she was going blind, when she was only 4?
Eventually, they brought her home, bought her her favourite sweets, and told her. She didn’t understand, initially, and as it dawned on her, she surprised them. “So, I’ll just be blind like Daddy?” she pondered. “That’s perfectly fine!”
“Oh, Anire, Little Red, exactly!”
Her daddy, clan chief, knew exactly what to do. “Tradition”, he repeated sagely, whenever outsiders had encroached. “All of us, this is what we do.” They journeyed around Old Mother, from the Mioar archipelago in the south, to the Tronhadar valley, up through the great plains of Eyniletti, where the Starkmanir once lived.
As time passed, her vision diminished. The genetic curse stole it from the outside inwards. At last, when she could see almost nothing outside the centre of her vision, the last days of her sight, they returned home, and stood together before themselves, as images within her Mother’s mirror. “I see us together,” she reaffirmed tremulously, hugging her family close, pale eyes staring at her fiery mane: the final image she saw.
She grew older and taller. Though she could not see, she could think. Father, no longer Daddy, inducted her to the myths and traditions of the Defiants, and of the sacrifices of her race; free, then enslaved, then free again. Of the H.E.P, he told enough, enough to understand their monstrous inheritance.
All the while, she sat at their knees, attending councils and meetings, conferences and conclaves. She learned how Father led: slow, stoic, yet passionate, and how he talked: oft taciturn, but never silent. Mother too, guided. Nudges, match-making, whispers and murmurs. She turned aside misfortune, and misdirected adversity. All this, she learned from them. In the fastness of the Caravanserai, she watched them wheel-and-deal for prosperity. She learned, as planned.
She grew taller than her mother, and stronger. Though her mother taught her Ruhste, their traditional dance, she remained clumsy. The ever-shifting sands twirled around the clan, and her parents manoeuvred atop them, guiding her in their footsteps. Finally, it became time for the Voluval, her Test of Destiny.
They traveled far, gathering before the sacred grounds where they had arrived on this planet, and waited. In the dusky evening, she stood apart from the other initiates, eyes focused on the Essence Instructor she could not see. She knew the lessons by heart, but was still nervous. At last, as the music swirled, she was called.
“Anire, go forwards”, the Instructor whispered. She gulped, then trudged forwards, heart pounding and hands shaking. The Vherekior Spirit Conductor begun to chant loudly, and Anire inwardly thanked him. To advance across the crystalized rock, unguided, was the hardest thing she’d ever done. “Kneel, child, and be calm,” the Conductor whispered.
“I’m trying,” she whispered back. The Conductor guided her down, and then squeezed her arm once. She heard him move, then felt him sprinkle the mixture upon her head. Her heart thundered. Now came the — Ah! — first needle, through her heart. Did she make a sound? All around her, the chanting, the drumming. Then, — Ah! — the second. A whispered prompt, “Speak now, Child, your clan attends”. She spoke.
“Even the blind know the Crimson Dawn, cool water’s touch, Old Mother’s song.
Let all Matari gather, to know the truth of Home”
A whispered “Rise,” and the mantle was upon her. Swaying within its warm embrace, darkness was her friend: she had lived in it for a decade, and it held no fears. The minutes passed, and the mantle was lifted.
For a moment, there was silence, then it was abruptly shattered by a half-screeched “No!” Was that her Mothe — The crowd roared, and the drumming died. “What mark?” Anire asked plaintively, “What mark?!” Surely it couldn’t —
“The Pale Eye, child. I am sorry.” The voice was colder now, and more distant.
— The Eye?! No! She was good, she knew. She judged justly and mercifully. She didn’t deserve this! She was goo —”
The Conductor shook her, commanding “Run!”
And Inire Scarlet ran.
And Inire Scarlet ran.