Pride, Prose, and Princes: Part Three
I dressed and took Rane upstairs, where the petpet nursery is, to give him a bath.
“Truth,” I told him, as I filled the petpet bath tub. “Or is that too vague? After all, every good thing holds truth...” I plopped my petpet in the tub; he thrashed, but I held him down. “...in some way. So perhaps a more specific perspective, like the pursuit of truth, or the loss—Raney-boy, why are you so much trouble today?—the loss of truth. Or I could focus on lies, but that’s going back to deception, isn’t it? And I know”—
Rane was looking at me with cold, disbelieving eyes, as if I’d betrayed him. It took me a minute to register that the water I’d put in was ice cold.
“Oh. Sorry.” I took him out and toweled him off. “So, how about betrayal, then? Between friends.” I cranked the “HOT” water nozzle. “Unless that would be dreadfully cliché. And it wouldn’t be as potent if they ended up reconciling in the end—happy endings aren’t very poetic. But I don’t like sad endings. Well, I do, but I don’t like writing them. But it’s too predictable to just”—
Rane barked at me... and suddenly my knees were wet where I’d been kneeling on the floor.
“Sweet Jhudora’s Cupcakes!” I switched off the water on the overflowing tub and mopped up the cobblestone. “Raney-boy,” I cooed apologetically, “You know how I can be when I’m ‘storming.”
Rane, in response, stared at me as though I was quite possibly the biggest idiot he’d ever seen.
I laughed out loud; he looked a bit like Prince Stor—
Then it came to me. Pride. Passionate, self-destructive pride. My mind tingled, just plump with ideas. But I couldn’t work here, at home. I needed an atmosphere.
“You don’t need a bath today,” I told my puppyblew firmly, setting him down to play near a springy mootix toy. I went back to my room, changed into loose linen clothes and a thin cotton scarf, and then ran across the hall to my brother’s room.
“Taren?” I rapped on his door. “Taren, will you go to the Lost Desert with me?”
He groaned and mumbled something, his voice muffled.
“Man, Linz, it’s too early... man.”
Oh, yeah. I’d forgotten how early it was; he probably hadn’t got out of bed yet.
“But it’ll be too hot to go later...”
I abandoned him and tried Hasarah’s door. Actually, I didn’t want company at all, but Jordy has this rule about going places—we always have to visit the more “dangerous places” (like the Haunted Woods, Terror Mountain, or the Lost Desert) with someone else. Like a buddy system, or something. Not that I and one of my siblings would be any kind of a match for something truly frightening, but it makes Jordy feel better. It’s a little ironic, considering how many sticky spots she’s got us in while she does “research” for one of her stories. Like that time with the Geraptiku warrior....
“Lili?” The door pushed open when I knocked on it, and all at once I was overwhelmed by the sharp smell of turpentine. My little sister stood in a sea of paper, paint, and clay, and was in front of an easel twice her size. She worked fervently by no light but her nightstand lamp; I don’t think she even saw me come in.
“Sloth, HasarahLiam! Are you trying to kill yourself?” I crossed the room, and threw open one of her tree pattern stained glass windows. The room flooded with morning light. “You could suffocate in those fumes! And it was far too dark; you’ll put your eyes out, working in that light.”
“I like dark,” HasarahLiam said cheerfully, “because there isn’t any color in it.”
“You’re an artist. You’re supposed to like color.”
“I only like the colors I’m supposed to see. The others are distracting.”
“Gotcha.” Actually I didn’t “get her” at all—I don’t understand half of what my little sister, a Christmas Ixi, says. It figures—HasarahLiam is a genius.
I don’t mean that in just a nice, general sense, either. I mean, a genius. Little Lili will look at a rose petal and see orange, brown, purple, and blue where others would only see red. Her sketches have won professional awards, and one of her landscapes is hanging in Queen Fyora’s collection. Ironically, she’s still very much the baby of the family. The only difference between Lili—that’s our nickname for her—and other kids is that her blocks and toybox have scenes from Neovia and Shenkuu painted on them, in oils and charcoal.
“Anyway, I’m going to the Lost Desert”—
“Take me with you!”
She clapped her hands and squealed, taking off her smock. She was wearing pajamas underneath.
“Hasarah, you’re not even dressed! How early did you get up?”
“I had to paint it before the shadows ran away.”
“You mean, before the sun came up?”
“No.” She shook her head vigorously. “Come see.”
I stepped around the debris to where she stood. “Oh—oh wow. Lili, it’s beautiful.”
She had painted us—my family. We were all standing in front of the house, amongst the bluebells and mordongos. AnnaWillow looked lovely in the sunlight, her gold and white fur shining. She still looked slightly haughty, but Hasarah had captured her softer side, too. TarenIvy, a red Eyrie, looked on with a confident, laid back expression, like the dashing surfer-dude that he was. Jordy had her arms around Taren and Annie, her smile goofy but her eyes serious. And I was embracing Hasarah, whose mouth was open in laughter.
“You see? When I was asleep, I dreamed of where to put the shadowing.” Hasarah pointed to various places on the canvas. “I had to paint it before I forgot.”
“Beautiful,” I repeated, my voice catching in my throat. Then I giggled. “You’ve made me much prettier than I really am, though.”
“No, I didn’t,” she said, plainly. I tried to hug her then, but she pushed me away, protesting that she’d get paint on me.
“I’ll meet you downstairs, then.” I left the room, marveling at the kind of people I had the privilege of calling family. Tightriver district or not, our little house held wonders.
The heat arose in red waves, caressing her, tickling her, covering her in sweat. It took hold of her ears and whispered sweet, forbidden things. Somewhere, dim in the well of her mind, a child’s voice cried, “Resist!” Yet the heat hissed, “You’re better than them—than everyone. They’re jealous, but you will always, always be more. Like a star suspended, you will look down and laugh! For you are eternally brighter than they...” It poked and squeezed her; she liked the heat, she wanted it. “Yes,” she said, finally, “I am brighter!” The heat enveloped her, and she became ashes.
A gust of hot, dry wind whipped my face, and I stopped writing to tighten my head scarf. We had left Sakhmet City about a half hour ago, and were now traveling via litter.
“Lindseeey, how long ‘til we get to the Pyramids?”
“I don’t know, Lili.”
I reached down and tapped one of the men who carried us. And by “carried” I don’t mean piggyback, or anything like that. A Lost Desert litter is composed of a large cushioned pad, which rests on a wooden frame and is covered by a canopy. The travelers sit on the pad and strong men pick up the frame, carrying the travelers to anywhere within the litter system’s borders. Litters are much more comfortable than rented Unis, and used to be available only to the wealthy. But Princess Amira recently installed a public litter service, and I’ve traveled that way ever since.
The man, a buff Elephante, ignored me until I tapped him again. “Excuse me, sir, but how long until we reach the pyramids?”
“Twenty minutes. Exactly two minutes less than when you last asked me.”
“Thank you. It’s twenty minutes, Lili.”
“But I’m sooo hooooot...”
“Of course you are. I told you not to wear black.” HasarahLiam had insisted on wearing her favorite T-shirt, a black long-sleeved top with a stenciled white smiley-face on it, and black-and-white polka dotted trousers.
“But I didn’t wanna wear other colors. Black doesn’t”—
“Sure, Hasarah,” I sighed, “but you’re going to melt in those.”
She pouted and began to draw sand dunes in her sketchbook. I turned back to my own notebook so I could outline, and by the time we reached our destination, I’d finished the plot and started on the introduction.
I bought HasarahLiam and me some water pouches from a vendor, and we walked from the litter station to the maze of tents that surrounded the soaring pyramids. In each tent was a desert pet equipped with a few decks of cards—the tent we came to was kept by an old Blumaroo, who smiled sagely at us as we lifted the tent flap.
“Ah, welcome,” she greeted, in a hoarse, scratchy voice, “what a pleasure. It is not every day that I see young ones with exceptional talent.”
But she ignored me and looked at HasarahLiam. “Tell me, child, what colors do you see in the sand?” She pointed to the ground beneath us.
“Green,” replied my sister, immediately. “An’ red, brown, of course yellow, an’...” She squinted. “Maybe blue, but that might just be the shade.”
The Blumaroo chuckled. “You will work wonders, little one.”
“Yes,” I said, suspiciously. “She’s really good at art, and creative things. But how did you know?”
“Knowledge can be read on the fingers, young one. How goes your literary work?”
I’ve never trusted mystics. I frowned at the old woman, and then, curious, looked at HasarahLiam’s fingers, then mine. “Oh. I see,” I said, with a small smile. The fur on my hands was stained with ink from my pen, and Hasarah’s with dust from her charcoals.
“The little skeptic is quick,” the Blumaroo muttered sarcastically, to no one in particular. “So,” she shuffled a thick deck of cards, “what’ll it be today?”
To be continued...