Stories of Imaginary Places

Issue 1: Lairë (Summer) 2003


 In this issue:

The Mighty Quill

by Melissa Mead

It seemed I walked through a cold fog, until at last I found myself in a land of red sand and broken white pillars. The light had no source, and the air had no scent. As I walked, memory returned.

Scrivi was gone. My home. Only two people had survived the massacre I was not one of them. One was hawk-nosed Daro, who struck down my father in his own hall. The other was Erana, his wife, who killed my mother as she sat nursing my brother, and then dashed the babe against our hearth.

I was the last to die. I saw it all from where I crouched in the chimney corner, until Erana dragged me out by my hair, and slit my throat. When I woke to myself, I felt as though I had been walking in the red land forever.

"Alas, alas for Scrivi," a voice chanted. "Alas, for all are slain and the land is burned."

I turned around, quickly. I had thought myself alone. But behind me, on the empty sand, loomed a figure robed in blue and purple. Though his hair was white and his face lined, he stood straight, face lifted to the pale sky. In his hands he held a large book.

"Alas for Scrivi," he chanted again. "Her tale is told, her chapter ended."

With that, he shut the book and stood in silence, with his head bowed. I knew who he was now, unbelievable though it seemed.

"Muro, god of Justice!" I called. He did not move. I came closer. Though I am tall for a woman, I barely came up to his knees. I called again, but he never moved. Greatly daring, I tugged his robe, as a child might. His eyes opened, and he looked down at me.

"Why are you here, daughter of Scrivi?" he said kindly. "Go with the rest of your village, to the High City." He pointed through what seemed to be an empty space between two pillars.

"But what of Scrivi, Lord Justice?" I pleaded. "If all of us were killed, then everyone who lived there and all we did will be forgotten! Worse yet, who knows what lies Daro and Erana will spread?" I was shaking with fury, and even in the presence of a god, I could not stop my tears of rage. "Why should the usurpers live, when you know they murdered us all?"

I have heard it said, in this land, that justice is blind. Let me tell you now that he is not blind, but deaf.

"Why are you crying, my dear?" Muro asked. "It's all right. You have earned your place in the High City. Go on, there is nothing to be afraid of."

With nothing else to do, I turned to walk through the pillars. As I neared them, a wall of flame roared up, fierce and crackling. I leapt back from the heat, and glared back at Muro. He seemed to be sleeping, with his head sunk on his chest. From off to the side I heard a cackling laugh.

I turned, and blinked. I wasn't sure I'd seen anything at first. Then a shape resolved itself out of the air, transparent. A figure of glass, in a cloak of feathers. Strong and slender, with a mocking smile.

"Burn yourself, did you?" he said.

I've since heard that in other lands the Lord of Deception often takes dog-forms: coyotes, jackals, and foxes. Scrivi knew him best in his bird-forms —those that haunt the battlefields, those that leave their own eggs in other nests. I knew better than to trust him in any guise.

"Raxi, Lord of Deception." I greeted him coldly. My fear must have been left behind with my body. I never would have been so cool to a god, alive. "Is this one of your jokes?"

The transparent figure quirked an eyebrow at me. "Joke? You're dead, your home is a drift of ash. Do you find this funny?"

"Of course not! But you might. I know the tales. You're always laughing when mortals hurt."

"Am I laughing? And who has been hurt?"

"All of Scrivi! Or have even the gods forgotten us already?"

"Hardly! Everyone from your village is in the High City, just like Muro said. Having a wonderful time. Endless feasts, glorious music, eternal bliss. You know."

"No, I DON'T know! I'm certainly not going to believe it because you tell me. And there's nothing between those pillars but fire. You saw it!"

"That's your hot temper talking. Of course, you've just been murdered, so I can't really blame you. "

"Not just me—all of us! And He—I jabbed a finger toward the slumbering Lord Muro—didn't do a thing! I thought he was supposed to be the Lord of Justice!"

"Oh, he is." Raxi chuckled. "And from his point of view justice was done centuries ago. While we've been -chatting- hundreds of years have gone by. Your killers—and a few generations of their descendants—are long gone. The land they killed to rule is empty. The people of Scrivi have gone to their eternal reward, and Justice can rest." Raxi pointed to Muro. "Except you, of course. That's why he's snoring. You're disturbing his sleep, you ungrateful girl."

The hot anger was draining out of me, leaving a cold hollowness. No, I wouldn't cry. "But that's not justice. That's just forgetting. Now no one will remember that old Pandrin always rang the Temple bells at Midsummer, or how someone put snuff in the priest's incense, or..."

Raxi laughed heartily. I jumped.

"I remember the snuff. All fourteen acolytes were sneezing too, I believe. And during a baptism oh dear. I believe "someone" deserves a token of my gratitude for that wonderful bit of mischief."

I didn't have time to speak. Raxi crouched, flung up his cloak.and suddenly he was a white raven, bigger than a horse. The downdraft from his wings flung me to the sand. His talons gripped what would have been my shoulders, if I'd had a body. Though if I had, those talons surely would have drawn blood. The Lord of Deception beat his wings, and we hung in midair while the world spun around us in a storm of white and red.

The red turned to gray, and the whirling slowed to a halt. My feet hit the ground with a very solid thump, and the ground was stone hard. Noise beat against my ears, and I felt an answering pulse within.

Raxi still towered behind me. We stood on a hard flat path, and stone cliffs no, buildings towered all around us. Faces stared from windows, from all around us, even from wheeled boxes that whizzed past in an eyeblink. So many people, and so much noise!

"They'll notice us in a minute." Raxi croaked. "Well, they'll notice you. They won't see me. A thirty foot white raven attracts too much attention, even in this city."

"I'm alive!" That was as much as I could grasp at the moment. "But this isn't Scrivi."

"I told you, Scrivi is long gone." If ravens could laugh, he was doing it. "Welcome to America, my girl. Twentieth, maybe twenty-first century, by their calendar. One of their big cities. Don't ask me which. They're all just crowded and smelly to me."

"Is this one of your jokes?"

"The best yet! But I did promise you a token. Here."

He plucked one of his smaller wing feathers (only about a foot long), dropped it at my feet, and vanished.

The new world roared past me, uncaring. I stood alone on that strange hard ground with nothing but a feather, its tip sharp as a blade.

I'm sure Raxi thought I would despair, and use his quill to escape this terrifying second life. But I'd been given a chance, and I wouldn't throw it away to amuse the Deceiver.

I've turned the joke on him. I sold my jewelry to an antiques dealer for enough to live on while I learned the language and ways of this new world. I've found work cataloguing items for a small museum. The visitors are impressed by how much I know about what they call "ancient artifacts." To myself, I call them Pandrin's favorite cap, my brother's cradle.

Some days I dare to wonder if Muro put these things here for me to find. Other days I scorn such foolishness.

Each night, I use Raxi's quill to write the stories of Scrivi. Even if it has no special power about it, there's satisfaction in using the Lord of Deception's feather to keep Scrivi alive. Someday others will read my tales. Most won't believe they are true, but at least we won't be forgotten.

I have been here for many, many years now. Soon I will stand before Muro, on the red sand, for the second and last time. I have no doubt that Raxi will come to watch.

Who will be laughing then, I wonder?

Melissa Mead lives in New York. Her fiction has appeared in The First Line and The Eggplant Library