Saturday, 23 May 2020

Bless the Light Eternal (words: 1870)

The heretic spat at Brother Baskara, spittle flecking the corners of his mouth as his eyes blazed with contempt.

“Bless the light eternal, Brother Confessor,” he said through gritted teeth. Confined to a chair by hempen rope, sweat smearing his round bearded face, he looked like a beast being denied his prey in the dancing torch light of the small stone room.

Baskara pulled a kerchief from his side pouch and swabbed the saliva from his surcoat and brooch. He lingered on the silver circle wreathing a candle and flame.

“Blasphemy without end,” he said, depositing the kerchief back into the pouch. “But the Light Giver’s mercy can still be yours, Ignus.”

The man puffed out his lips and nodded in mock repentance. “You serve such a benevolent god,” he said. “Such fine quarters he provides for his guests.” The heretic looked around the oppressive square room - the wall sconces flanking his left and right, the clay bowl of oatmeal remains sitting in the corner. “Is he as kind to rats as he is to people?”

Baskara was used to men, and sometimes women, rebuking the Light Giver, but not all heretics were as brazen as this man.

“Sarcasm is the last refuge of the lost,” he replied.

“And platitudes are the eternal refuge of witless imbeciles,” Ignus shot back, eyes as big and hot as the sun. Baskara narrowed his gaze and pursed his lips. He knew better than to be baited by a wretch.

“Do you know the charges against you?” he asked, folding his arms across his chest, his back stiffening. Ignus chuckled while shaking his head.

“The pursuit of justice, though you would call it heresy. Or perhaps sowing sedition amongst your precious Candle Bearers. Is that it, Brother?”

“Indeed,” Baskara said, nodding gravely. “With but one amendment: Treason. In sowing the seeds of discord in public, and in attempting to organize a cadre of non-believers to hunt down the Brothers of this priory, you have challenged and insulted the rightful god and threatened the stability of everyone on the Jenaian peninsula. Life outside the walls of this priory and below this mountain must follow the precepts of the Light Giver. Without them, order cannot stand.” A flash memory of fire and steel erupted in his mind.

“Your order, you mean,” Ignus said with a snarl, then leaned his head forward. “Tell me, Brother. How did you come to serve this priory?”

The clash of steel against steel echoed in Baskara’s ear, the remembrance causing his jaw to clench.

“I am asking the questions, brother Ignus.” Ignus barked with laughter at the honorific.

“‘Brother’ now? Blood of my blood, how gracious to call me so,” he said. “Cut me loose and pour the wine for kith and kin.” His lip curled in arrogant insolence.

“All men are brothers in the eyes of the Light Giver,” Baskara declared. “Whether pure of heart or blasphemers.” His tone tapered to a point on the final word, but it did not faze the scabrous soul before him.

“And you, Brother?” he said. “Are you pure of heart?” His eyes held a dangerous invitation, like flames gleaming behind dirty glass. Baskara’s chest rose and fell. He measured his words, thinking back to his rhetoric classes on the east side of the cloister.

“I am a Candle Bearer and the Head Confessor of this priory. Like all Candle Bearers, my calling is clear: To overcome my mistakes and agitations. To advance spiritually so that my heart is cleansed and relaxed. To become an unblemished wick for the Light Giver’s flame.”

“You are evading the question, Brother,” Ignus said. He appraised Baskara, from his close-shaved head to his leather sandals. “And were you wound any tighter, I fear you would coil up and disappear within yourself.” Baskara caught himself glowering. Ignus chuckled deeply from his chest, the air escaping his nostrils before laughter fled his throat and resounded off the stone walls. The light flared in his eyes.

Baskara stepped to the right side of the room and leaned against the wall, arms still crossed, his gaze dwelling a moment on the torchlight in its sconce. He closed his eyes, feeling the dappling warmth of the flame on his lids, then took a measured breath, loosening the tension in his neck and shoulders, the smell of ancient stone filling his nostrils.

He would not allow this wastrel to rattle him.

When he opened his eyes once more, he avoided Ignus’ gaze, instead looking past him into a world only he could behold.

“I understand you, brother Ignus,” he said, his voice deep and distant. “You question the Light Giver because you detest his subjects. You see Candle Bearers as weak-minded fools, incapable of governing themselves. And now you have come to this priory and judged the same of its Brothers. Of me.” He lifted a hand to his chin, cupping it between thumb and forefinger.

“Perhaps there is some merit to your judgment. No man walks the path of light without stepping into the shadows from time to time.” He paused and moistened his lips, drunk on the swirling of his own logic. “But it is the returning to the path which is important. It is the admission of imperfection that opens us up for continued spiritual growth. And that growth requires guidance: Priories. Churches. Places of prayer and refocusing.”

“Even if the belief itself is grounded in baseless superstition?” Ignus interjected. Baskara blinked rapidly, returning from the mists of his mental sojourn and turning his attention back to the heretic.

“So you say, but I will entertain your misguided perspective, brother Ignus." He held his hand out before him as if he were holding a flower petal between his thumb and forefinger while he spoke, occasionally covering his lips with the hand between thoughts. "It is the spiritual substance and practical consequences of the belief that are important. For the sake of argument, let us imagine that I am entertaining your lack of belief, to which I shall say this: Whether the sacred texts are historically true, or whether there is a Light Giver or not is irrelevant in the end. It is the belief and the value they add to human life which gives it worth. We provide a light for the lost.”

Ignus ground his jaw. Were it not for his bonds, he would lunge.

“A light for the lost? Old words, old arguments, Brother,” he said. “You and your ilk are dispensers of lies and destroyers of lives. You value love of a non-existent candle maker over love of one’s family.” He nodded towards the brooch on Baskara’s surcoat. “You wear that piece of silver and sell its false promises to people with the only price being obedience and a loss of will. There is no good in that, and I am beginning to wonder if there is good in you. Tell me, Brother, were you always a hypocrite, or did this priory turn you into one?”

Baskara strode back to the centre of the room in a storm and glared at Ignus. The heretic had lit the wick and sat gaping at the Candle Bearer smoldering like a far-off forest fire suddenly closing around a deer.

“Very well,” Baskara said, his eyes narrowing. “I will tell you how I came to be here.” Ignus shut his mouth, his expression stolid. Brother Baskara paced slowly, his sandals like petals on a pond.

“I grew up just below this mountain. This priory was always in the background of my life, looking down on all of Jenai. I knew little of it but what I had been told by my parents and teachers. ‘It is a place for monks and spiritual learning,’ they said. ‘The spiritual examples of all Candle Bearers.’ That was all.

“Life moved as it always does. It was a peaceful existence, but history would not see it continue as such. Perhaps you recall the day the usurpers came to the shores of Jenai over thirty years ago.” Baskara sized up Ignus, but could not divine his age. He could only say that he looked older than Baskara himself.

“I know my history, Brother,” Ignus said slowly.

“Then you know the Brothers of this priory took up arms to fight the invading heathens. They broke their vows of non-violence in service of protecting their land and their people. They fought alongside farmers, tailors, woodworkers, and fishmongers. Brother Von, the Head Confessor at the time, led a force of twenty five monks. Over half of them perished, but enough survived to ward off the invaders.

“I watched from my window as the Brothers took up spear and sword to preserve the blood of this land. And the people were grateful. From that day forth, this priory has been a beacon of hope and stability for all of Jenai."

Baskara held his arms out as his sides, his palms open towards Ignus.

"I became a dedicated Candle Bearer then, and eventually moved up this mountain to pursue a deeper connection with the Light Giver. I believed and still believe that the Light Giver is essential to Jenai. Which is why, brother Ignus,” he lowered his arms, quenching the wildfire of the past. “I cannot have men like you trying to crack its foundation.”

Ignus nodded, his eyes cast to the ground. “And what of the foundation of family?” he said. “As I said, I know my history, Brother.” He closed his hands into limp fists at his sides, lifting his head to meet Baskara’s gaze. “My father was one of the men who died that day.”

Baskara felt a prickling on the back of his neck and his breath caught in his throat.

“But he was not a hero. He was an abandoner. He was a good father and husband until the religious fever ignited in him, and he abandoned my mother and I for this bloody mountain to pursue Brotherhood. And then was slain for the glory of the invisible Light Giver.” He looked through Baskara with eyes of a different flame. “Your foundation is built on broken families, Brother. And it has been nourished with blood.”

“Only the blood of those who would shed it first,” Baskara managed to say. Ignus shook his head.

“Philosophically moral but hypocritical. Does not the Light Giver teach mercy?”

“You shall have the opportunity to ask him yourself,” Brother Baskara replied, duty-bound and far away.

Ignus chuckled, sapped of energy.

“I like you, Brother. You are at least open with your contradictions. I almost feel bad for wanting to put you in the dirt below this mountain.”

“Your pity is heard,” Baskara said. “Do you wish to repent for your crimes?”

“My conscience is clear, Brother. I pray yours is also.” He paused. “Though I doubt it is so.”

“Bless the light eternal,” Baskara replied. “May the Light Giver be ever clement.” He made the sign of the candle. “Goodbye, brother Ignus.” Baskara turned and pulled open the wood door.

The next morning, with the entire priory looking on, Ignus burned from a pyre atop the mountain, screaming to an empty sky, Brother Baskara standing at the edges of the flame.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

You’re doing okay

I wrote the first 350 words of a short story today. I feel pretty good about it despite there being tons of people who regularly crank out several thousand words per day. I figure that as long as I’m doing something to further my writing practice, I’m doing okay. 350 is better than zero.

That said, whether you’re doing more or doing less during this pandemic, you’re okay.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

A fantasy poem

An article on fantasy poetry inspired me to write this short piece today.

Ravens feast beyond the gate
Tearing flesh from bone
Ravenous for spoils of
A warrior alone

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Don’t fall in love with every idea

“There’s no such thing as a bad idea.” This maxim is repeated time and again by writers and writing coaches, and it’s mostly true. Most stories come down to execution. However, I’d like to add a slight wrinkle to this claim: Not every idea you have for a story will be good for you. That is, it might not ever be good for you, or it just might not be the right time for that idea to be explored.

How does that work?

Sometimes, we simply don’t have the knowledge, passion, or time to bring an idea to life. We might adore the basic premise of it, or a singular image of it, but once we realize that we are low on energy, or that we lack the historical, biological, environmental, and/or geographical knowledge to turn the idea into a fully-realized story, we have a choice to make: We can either try to acquire the missing knowledge (the eco systems of marshes for our marsh creature story, for example,) try to fake our way through the story and (probably) have it ultimately suffer when we get tripped up by the details, or we can file it away in our ideas folder for future use and just move on.

The point isn’t to only write about things you know, but to be realistic with your time and to realize that sometimes a cool image in your head is just a cool image in your head, and it might never be anything more, or it won’t become anything more just yet.

And that’s OKAY.

Ideas are like babies in the womb that need time to gestate. Not every idea will speak to you in a substantial way or be feasible depending on your level of motivation and inspiration, or on the amount of perspiration you’re willing to put into it then and there. That last sentence probably doesn’t totally fit with the womb and gestation analogy, but you get the idea.

All that said, here are some unused ideas that anyone can turn into a story if they wish because I haven’t been able to do anything with them:

-Someone has always wanted to have dragon’s scales instead of human skin. They think their chance to turn this wish into reality has finally come.
-A scribe writes about their experience of historicizing a famous war.
-A self-conscious mermaid is reluctant to take her place as queen of her realm.
-A bard wants to learn the dark arts from a necromancer.
-A programmer describes the challenges of teaching and deciding which linguistic characteristics to give an AI.

Happy writing. Or not. It’s up to you.

I’m going to move on to the next one and see what happens.


Saturday, 9 May 2020

Venom Sucker (words: 771)

I tried to suck out the venom on my own. Sinking my teeth into the flesh of my forearm, I had to beat the heat spreading beneath my skin. My heart pounded in my chest, sweat moistened my brow, and it was all I could do to keep anxious thoughts of death out of my head. The cobra had slithered away after the strike, leaving me to die alone in the Vegas desert sun.

I had always made fun of tourists taking selfies in dangerous places and situations, but I was different - I was a professional nature photographer just doing my job. I was destined for the pages of National Geographic, God damn it. Surely, I didn't deserve this. On the other hand, leaving the tent in the early morning on my own probably wasn't the brightest idea. How far had I gone from the camp?

Shit, shit, shit, I couldn't die! I had to focus!

I had seen the venom sucking trick in a movie once. I hoped there was a kernel of truth to it, unlike spies being able to crawl through metal vents undetected, or visible laser security systems. Being able to draw out snake venom seemed more plausible. Time disappeared and I started feeling light-headed as I sucked at the spot again and again.

I felt stupider than that Into the Wild guy. At least his family got a book deal and a movie out of his idiocy. Hell, Eddie goddamn Vedder did the soundtrack for the film. All for a stupid spoiled rich kid who thought it would be a good idea to challenge nature with zero survival skills. Just another idiot who came to an idiotic end. And yet, idealistic tweens saw him as some kind of hero. Amazing what a bit of editorializing can do for someone’s personal narrative.

But there would be no romanticizing my story. I could already see the headline:

Nature photographer killed on job by venomous cobra

Best I could hope for would be a minor mention in National Geographic. The irony was more bitter than the venom coursing through my veins.

"Darren!" I heard a voice call in the distance. "Are you all right?" My vision swam as I saw the lanky gait and tan cargo shorts and polo shirt of my nature guide - my savior.

“Todd,” I managed to say with a weak smile, the corners of my mouth spattered with spittle. “You’ve come to rescue me.”

“It’s Sandeep,” he seemed to say. Was sandeep a type of poison? “But nevermind. What happened?”

I made a fist and showed him my masticated forearm. “I got bit by a cobra. Been trying to suck out the venom. Not sure if I’ll make it.”

Todd knelt down beside me and took my arm in his calloused desert hands. His palms had the texture of an aardvark’s shell. He was born for this. There was a reason the tour company had assigned him to me; he was my tan-coloured angel.

“Is it bad?” I croaked. Todd inclined his head - clinically, I thought - and gave his prognosis.

“It’s nothing serious,” he said. I swear he added a malevolent hiss to the word serious. “Looks like a couple of pinpricks. Can you stand?”

Could I stand? If only it were so simple. He may as well have asked me to throw myself off the highest cliff in the desert.

Jesus had Satan. I had Todd.

“I told you it was a cobra,” I insisted, pulling my arm away from his traitor’s grasp.

“There are no cobras in Nevada,” he said, his mouth turning into a serpentine line. “They’re only in Asia and Africa.”

I blinked. Twice.

“What’d you say?” I said, narrowing my eyes and rising to my feet, not knowing where I got the strength.

“There are no cobras in Nevada,” he repeated. “Looks like you got bitten by a gopher snake or a desert night snake. They’re common around here.”

A desert night snake. That’s what it must have been. The name was as sinister as its poisonous forked tongue.

“They’re not venomous,” Todd said. I looked at my arm. I looked at Todd.

“Oh,” I said and broke down into tears. I hugged my cargo-shorts-wearing hero. If Jesus could forgive, so could I.

As we walked back to the camp, arms around one another like old friends, I realized that I had it worse than the Into the Wild guy: He never had to live down his idiocy. As I share this story with you and with everyone else I come across in my travels, I have no such luxury.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Flight of Shadows (words: 2032)

Neesha didn’t know what to expect from the afterlife, but it wasn’t this. The red robes adorning her body. The bald, bearded man with the same dark complexion as herself guiding her over cool grass. The way he had introduced himself after she had stepped through the tunnel of light: Cofa, Keeper of Shadows for this region of The Infinite. St. Peter he was not, but she hoped he could still provide a permanent reprieve from the harsh womb of the world.

Before Neesha could collect her thoughts and take in the full breadth of her pastoral surroundings, the travelers came upon a wood cabin. Cofa opened the door and motioned for Neesha to enter.

Inside, a large rectangular window stretched end to end on the opposite wall. The floor was laden with wood except for a large circular patch in the centre, which had been cut out and filled with pebbles. Two chairs faced each other across the ring. Cofa sat in the chair on the right. Neesha sat in the one on the left.

“You have carried much here with you,” Cofa said, glancing at the floor beside her. “A full life.” Neesha listened hesitantly, nodding. “But each life must come to an end. The separation from who we were in the world is always difficult, but necessary.”

“I am ready,” Neesha said, her voice shaky. “Everything here is so serene. Will I be able to see my family soon?” The words fell out before she could stop herself. “My parents? And…”

“No,” Cofa said. There was no malice in his words. Just information. “I’m afraid the ideas you might hold about the afterlife are different from the reality of The Infinite.”

“Oh,” Neesha said, the word dripping with disappointment. “Then what happens here?”

“Here is a place of separation from who you were, and of rebirth into your next life.”

“Reincarnation?” Neesha had followed the cross for the majority of her forty-four years. The idea of being reborn as a tree or a fly was not appealing.

“Of a kind.” Cofa rose to his feet and stepped into the pebbled ring between them. It was then that Neesha came to a realization: Cofa cast no shadow. Even as light streamed in through the giant window, the Keeper of Shadows shed nothing onto the ground.

“This is the first step in your separation from your past,” he said, sweeping a hand over the pebbles. “You must cast off your shadow to take it.”

“My shadow?” Neesha said, and looked to her side at her own shade. A faint glimmer of purple disturbed the dark.

“All your years are carried in it: memories; emotions; all that ties your mind to your former self. It is a heavy weight to carry. As Keeper, I see yours is full. You have lived, Neesha Sur.” He dropped his eyes to her side once more. “Joy. Grief. Disappointment. Love. Passion. Loss. You have lived the near-full range of human experience.” He frowned, his milky-blue pupils lingering on something in the dark pool. Neesha felt her cheeks warm.

“Why can’t I see anything?” she said.

“You may yet,” he said cryptically, then continued. “It is your choice, of course. You can decide to stay here and wander The Precipice for all eternity. While not a poor existence, an unremarkable and unpopular one for someone from the world. The other option is to burn your shadow away from your body and walk it to The Precipice to set it free and start anew.”

Neesha stood and walked to the window. In the distance, she could make out the edge of a cliff. To the left were rolling hills and winding paths. To the right, the distant eaves of a forest. The Infinite was vast and empty, yet beautiful. She turned and looked down at her shadow, squinting her eyes, wanting to see what Cofa had. Once more, she only grasped a dark purple glimmer amidst the dark. Her mind quested and lingered briefly on a memory, causing sudden tears to well up behind stalwart lids. She feared he had seen her weakness, and shame washed over her.

“Once separated and reborn, will I remember anything from my old life?” Her brows furrowed.

“A sliver of your old shadow may survive, but it is rare.”

Neesha clenched her eyes shut and flitted the memory away - it was better to forget and start anew. She turned and stepped into the ring with resolve.

“I am ready,” she said facing Cofa, then turned towards the window. “Burn it away.”

The milky-eyed man nodded and knelt on one knee behind and beside Neesha. He pressed his middle and index fingers against the centre of her shadow and whispered an indecipherable incantation. A red glow emanated from his fingertips, as a circle of red flame rippled out from the shadow’s centre and crested around its edges.

Neesha stared straight ahead, a knot forming in her stomach. Cofa rose to his feet. He watched the flames burn at the edges of Neesha’s shadow, the majority of the blaze concentrated at her heels. The shade burned and tore itself away from Neesha, then peeled itself from the pebbles and stood, as Cofa closed a fist, causing the fire to dissipate.

Neesha turned to stare at the ghost of someone she once knew.

“Come,” Cofa said, then made for the front door. Neesha’s shadow stretched its flimsy hand towards its former keeper, and laced its fingers with hers; black silk slid across Neesha’s skin. Clasping their hands together, they followed Cofa around the cabin and made for the horizon.

When they reached the edge of the cliff, there was only yawning blue sky. A gentle breeze kissed Neesha’s face.

“You have but one step more,” Cofa said. He reached into the folds of his robes and produced a needle and bundle of thread, offering them to Neesha. She released her shade’s hand and accepted the gifts in confusion. Looking down, she inhaled sharply; lying at her feet were a pair of black cherub’s wings.

“Affix them to your shadow and free it into The Infinite to become part of the fabric of all that is and ever will be,” Cofa said.

Neesha threaded the needle and picked up one of the wings, running a hand down the feathers. They were soft and fragile against her palm. She pierced the top end which she imagined sewing into the shoulder blades and turned to face her shadow. The dark form lifted a hand to Neesha’s cheek and ran its paper-thin fingers down to her chin. Gooseflesh rose on Neesha’s arms. Returning its hand to its side, the shadow turned to face the cliff’s edge.

Neesha’s lower lip quivered as she raised the black wing and placed it against her shadow’s back. Raising the needle with her other hand, her lips caved in, turning her mouth into a tight line as a tear rolled down her cheek. She looked to Cofa for instruction.

“You will not hurt her,” he said, then nodded slightly to encourage his charge. Neesha wondered how many times Cofa had done this.

With the needle between her thumb and forefinger, she pressed it into the area where she imagined the left shoulder blade would be. Neesha discovered that she could push her hand into her shadow and thread the needle back out towards herself. The piercing instrument did not go through the chest of the paperthin form, but was swallowed into its back while still fixing itself to the exterior surface. It was like phasing your hand through a wall, except you still had to find a way to get objects through in some other way.

“You are part of your shadow. The thread and needle are not,” Cofa said, answering her unspoken question.

Neesha continued, her thoughts straying to her life in the world with each journey of the needle. She found a rhythm, and fell deeper into her own mind, stroking the surfaces of memories, feeling a growing tightness in her chest. She finished the first wing and picked up the second, pressing it against the right side of the shadow’s back and plunging in with the needle once more, then harpooning back out. Her eyes grew unfocused, but she remained in perfect control of her hands and in awareness of her task.

Halfway through her stitching, she became suddenly aware of the quickened thrumming of her heart. She stopped a moment and rested her forehead against the back of her shadow. She could feel the familiar memory wanting to become manifest on the very tip of her mind. More tears squeezed from the corners of her eyes.

Looking down, the space between the wings seemed to swirl in a whirlpool that burrowed down into the shadow’s back. She pulled her head away with a shake and took a tremulous breath, then returned to her task with renewed vigor, finishing quickly and tying off the end, sweat moistening her brow.

She turned to Cofa and returned the needle and thread before facing her shadow, who was craning its neck to glance at its new appendages. It flapped them thrice then turned to face its former keeper. It seemed to dance before clapping its hands and jumping up and down with joy. Neesha allowed herself a burst of tight teary-eyed laughter.

“It is time,” Cofa said, raising his chin.

At his words, Neesha’s shadow placed its hands on its chest, its fingers digging into the black and prying open its centre. A whirlpool void met Neesha’s eyes.

“One last look,” Cofa said behind her.

The whirlpool turned into a series of vivid moving memories. A mother and father doting over a newborn. A toddler walking into her mother’s arms. A younger sister. School. Successes. Failures. Fights. Tears. Friends. First kiss. First girlfriend. Dancing. Work. Music. Marriage. A daughter. Hugs. Kisses. Tears. Car accident. Funeral. Depression. Divorce. Funeral. A sister’s hug. Funeral. Pills in a hotel room.

Neesha’s shadow closed its chest and opened its arms. Neesha’s dam broke. She collapsed and sobbed into her shadow’s centre, the tears seeping into infinite skin.

“I’m sorry,” she said between heaving sobs. “I’m so sorry.” Her shadow wrapped its arms around Neesha and pressed against her, enfolding her in warmth and acceptance. After a time, her shadow released her.

Neesha felt Cofa’s hand rest on her shoulder.

“The final forgiveness is reserved for ourselves,” he said. Neesha placed her hand on his and turned to face him.

“Thank you,” she said.

The milky-eyed keeper smiled, then faced the abyss beyond the cliff. He raised his right arm towards the endless blue and splayed out his fingers. The sky folded in a million places like the vertical blinds of an endless window. The blue was gone, replaced by the vast starry expanse of the infinite.

Neesha’s eyes widened and her breath caught in her throat. Meanwhile, her shadow jumped up and down and ran to the edge of the cliff, its black cherub’s wings flapping on its back. Cofa lowered his arm.

“You asked me whether you would see your parents here,” he said. “I answered truthfully. You will not. Your shadow, however, will be reunited with their shadows at the edges of the universe, contributing to its ever-expanding state. They, as all of existence, shall be together for eternity.”

Neesha looked at her shadow. It was jumping and pointing at the mawing starfield beyond the cliff, unable to contain its excitement. It kept turning expectantly to Neesha and Cofa.

“It is yours to free,” Cofa said.

Neesha nodded and walked to face her past. She took its hand once more, smiled, and leaned her forehead against its own.

“I forgive you and love you,” she said, stepping back and releasing the hand. She nodded and gave a single wave goodbye. The shadow bowed then ran towards the edge, leaping into nothingness before rising and soaring towards the distant stars.

When Neesha turned back to Cofa, he stood next to a radiant oval portal. Neesha felt lighter as she walked towards it, ready for rebirth in the womb of the world.

Bless the Light Eternal (words: 1870)

The heretic spat at Brother Baskara, spittle flecking the corners of his mouth as his eyes blazed with contempt. “Bless the light eternal,...