Daughters of Tith
November 1, 2022
A splash of colour lit the darkness in Tchardin’s mind. Green was easy to bring up because everything around her was green. The grass that touched her. The moss on the tree trunks that led to the leaves high above. The colour in the centre of her vision slipped to blue as her concentration wavered. She forced it back, watched it spin.
From green she could go to blue or yellow easily. Red and its variants were the most difficult because they were rare in the world around her. She willed the patch of green into yellow and from there attempted orange. She chose not to form the colours into images, instead enjoying their fluid nature.
‘Jaydin’s looking for you.’
Tchardin struggled for a moment to block out the collective mind but with one thought came many. All the mindvoices of the kandar rushed into her head, buzzing. The colours she’d been cultivating dispersed and were replaced by the image of a tree. She opened herself fully to the collective and sent her mind up the trunk and over the branches–brilliant with light–to find and focus on the leaf of the one who had breached her concentration. Kadailin.
‘Jaydin’s always looking for me,’ Tchardin directed towards her sister in answer. ‘She wants to be with me when it happens.’
Physical sensation returned as her mind emerged from the darkness. Grass pricked her cheek. Tchardin opened her eyes and flipped onto her back. There didn’t seem to be much point in trying to hide from Jaydin. The light of pandinzori swirled brightly against Tchardin’s skin, pulled to her body by the colours she’d been creating. If that wasn’t enough to draw attention to her place, the collective would show her position to any kandar who looked. Kadailin’s leaf grew brighter in the collective as she drew closer.
Tchardin had chosen a place near Tith’s trunk, the enormous tree unfolding above her. She looked up into her father’s shadowy canopy and those of his two brothers as she waited. They were kandaran trees. Giants. Five times at least the height of the trees in the forest that ringed the island. Their branches seemed to span the entire sky, interlacing to cover the clearing, silhouetted against the pale blue.
Kadailin’s grey aura appeared over the tall grass as she approached, followed by the top of her head and her shoulders. She parted the grass and sat beside Tchardin, far enough away that their auras didn’t touch but close enough for Tchardin to clearly trace the patterns on her dark dappled skin.
“Do you think it’ll happen soon?” Kadailin spoke aloud now that they were next to each other. Their conversation would be contained and would not clutter the collective, her voice heard by ears instead of minds.
“I think so,” Tchardin said, relaxing back into the grass. “I can feel it.”
“Quarter life,” Kadailin said solemnly. “You’re finally going to be queen.”
“If things were right I’d be assigned to an Earth.”
“I’d already be on one.”
Kadailin lay down beside her and they stared into the canopy together in silence. The thought hung in Tchardin’s mind. If only it were possible to be assigned to one of the nine Earths now. To go to the humans and fulfill the Purpose as all kandar were meant to. Tchardin sighed.
Her body began to thrum softly, just as it did whenever she thought of the change that was nearing. Jaydin had been a nuisance ever since Tchardin started to feel quarter life coming on. The fluttering of her muscles wasn’t visible as far as Tchardin knew–Kadailin hadn’t noticed it until Tchardin told her–but it was just like Jaydin to notice. Their oldest sister had been waiting for Tchardin’s acknowledgement as queen since she was born with the golden aura. A queen could bring the kandar back to the Purpose–back to humans–or so Jaydin said. But the kandar had been exiled to their homeworld, Derkra, for almost four generations. Tchardin didn’t see how her acknowledgement alone could change that, despite what Jaydin expected from her.
Jaydin’s leaf blazed in Tchardin’s mind and she felt her sister’s presence somewhere just beyond the high grass. Kadailin’s eyes were closed and her thoughts hummed. Tchardin reached a hand out to her slowly and stopped when a jolt ran through her at the collision of their auras. Kadailin’s eyes shot open.
“You should leave now if you don’t want to be here when Jaydin finds me,” Tchardin said.
Kadailin smiled lazily, her mind still somewhere else despite the shock Tchardin had subjected her to. She gave Tchardin a sympathetic glance as she got up and quickly disappeared behind a wall of grass. Tchardin stood to watch her go. Her sister ran through the clearing–displacing the ubiquitous light of pandinzori as she went, leaving it swirling in her wake–and faded into Cens, the forest enveloping her in its shadows.
The collective gave Tchardin warning and she turned to see Jaydin similarly watching Kadailin. The oldest of Tith’s daughters could be imposing when she stood completely straight and she almost always did. Of the five sisters only Damarin was close to matching her in height. Jaydin turned her dark grey eyes down on Tchardin.
“We should be talking about the Earths,” she said.
Tchardin scanned the clearing for Sandin–the two were always together–and found their second oldest sister neatly shrouded in shadows a few steps away, her dark brown aura barely visible. Sandin had always been the best at physically hiding herself. That ability coupled with the fact that she didn’t have a leaf in the collective made her difficult to find. Tchardin smiled at Sandin with genuine humour. She had a special connection with their flawed sister. Sandin had been present at her birth.
“More history?” Tchardin asked, not expecting an answer. It was always history.
“We can speak in Tith’s canopy,” Jaydin replied.
Tchardin nodded and Sandin led the way towards the colossal trunk, cutting through pandinzori she couldn’t see as she parted the grass.
“I know you’ve been avoiding me,” Jaydin said. “The information I’m trying to impart to you is extremely important and you’re running out of time to learn it.”
“I still don’t see how this will help me rediscover the Purpose.”
“You will help us return to the Purpose once acknowledged as queen. This is what you need to know before the ceremony.”
Sandin leapt onto Tith’s trunk and started to climb. Jaydin followed with Tchardin behind her. The climb was immense, but easy. Tith’s trunk was covered in moss and his bark was thicker than Tchardin’s body and full of handholds. Tchardin moved without thinking, gripping the rugged bark and leaping up from one hold to the next. She had no fear of falling, no need to hold pandinzori close to her in case of disaster. The great tree invited them to ascend his incredible height.
At first they were surrounded only by open space and a dizzying view down to the clearing. Kandar walked through the grass below, made small by distance, and Tchardin saw them by their auras, as smudges of earthy colour. Then the branches started. Like Tith’s trunk they were massive, and kandar walked them easily with room to spare on both sides.
Tchardin passed a pair of dodenzinn on a smaller branch. The tevadra and devoshai stood close to each other, their auras joined and blended together. Tchardin resisted the urge to cringe away from the sight. If she came that close to another kandar she would be shocked mercilessly until she moved away. But soon things would be different. She would be able to find her own dodenzinn once she hit quarter life. Kandar didn’t feel the missing half of their selves until they were ready to go to the Earths.
Above her Sandin had stopped at a branch large enough to seat the three of them in a circle. She moved gracefully across it, away from Tith’s trunk. The branch was unoccupied and Jaydin’s notebook lay there, its green cover blending into the moss.
Jaydin mostly carried her notebook with her–held up by pandinzori in the shadows that wrapped her body–but it wasn’t uncommon to find it lying somewhere in the great tree, waiting for the tevadra to pick it up again. The two sisters must have been sitting there before Jaydin noticed Tchardin in the grass below. Just looking at it reminded Tchardin of the scale of her future responsibilities. The notebook was a thing of the humans. There was nothing else like it on Derkra.
Jaydin picked it up and opened it.
“We should talk about World Seven,” she said, glancing at Sandin who nodded. “I believe I was finished with World Six.”
Tchardin nodded as well, her mind already wandering. She wondered absently if World Seven would be any more interesting than World Six. Jaydin had told her World Six was constantly warring, and had been since as far back as Tith could remember. Her sister indicated that was rare for the humans but Tchardin didn’t really understand. The only reference for war she had was the kandaran war, and as with all things in the kandar’s past, Jaydin was the only one who knew anything about it. Tchardin had asked about rendinzori on World Six, as she always did, and at least that had been interesting.
“You’ll want to know about rendinzori on World Seven, of course,” Jaydin said.
She looked down at the pages of her notebook but Tchardin knew she didn’t need to read them to answer. She must be trying to think of something to say. That probably meant World Seven was lacking in the human power.
“It was lacking, generally,” Jaydin said, picking up on her thoughts in the collective. “The humans on World Seven didn’t use it directly as those on World Six did. No ‘magic’. No enchantments. No bolts of lightning. It’s not as interesting if you’re looking for rendinzori, but in other ways it’s the most interesting of them all. World Seven was restarted just before the kandaran war.”
“One of the worlds was restarted?” The option was something the trees told all the kandar about before they were born, but it was never taken seriously. To restart a world was to destroy everything that had been built there, dismiss everything that had been done. To restart a world was to kill all the humans on it. “How could they have justified that?”
“The World Seed was found. There’s not much choice at that point. The Earth was burning. There was basically nothing left. Rai–the World Tree–was the last tree standing.” Jaydin scanned her notebook and shook her head. “A tevadra called Siltadon was sent to give the Seed to the guardian, Leksten, but I don’t know the outcome of the restart.”
Tchardin made note of the names of the World Tree and guardian. Rai and Leksten. Jaydin always asked her to repeat them later. “Why don’t you know?”
“The kandaran war.” Jaydin shrugged. “We were exiled shortly after it ended and there was no way to learn the fate of Siltadon and World Seven then.”
Tchardin realised she was straining forward and slumped back. Jaydin would never leave her alone now that she’d shown some interest in human history. But a world had been restarted. It was unbelievable.
“And the rendinzori?” Tchardin asked.
“Lacking in its direct application, as I said. Nothing like World Four or Six. If the humans used it we couldn’t see the results. The only thing especially unique about the world before its restart was that it lasted as long as it did. Most of the civilisations on the later worlds would never have survived so much heat.”
Tchardin lost interest at the mention of heat and human survival. She didn’t understand it, and Jaydin would talk on and on as if she did. She looked over the collective instead. The branches of the tree in her mind were thick and dark but the leaves that coated them glowed with a soft light. Some were dimmer than others–those were kandar she didn’t know well–but a few lit up the space of her mind. One of them drew her to it as it blazed. Ryten must be particularly close by, his leaf brighter than it normally was for proximity.
She looked into Tith’s branches above. Maybe she could catch a glimpse of him.
“Tchardin,” Jaydin said.
A wave of revulsion ran through Tchardin and she looked down to find Jaydin’s hand hovering over her arm, their auras passing through each other. Jaydin flinched back before Tchardin could pull herself away.
“It’s better if you listen,” Jaydin said. “I want you to understand what I’m telling you and to be able to repeat it. If I show you it may be hard for you to explain it to others.”
“I can show them in turn.”
Jaydin pursed her lips in a way that told Tchardin she was skeptical, but then her leaf flared bright and her thoughts grew loud. Tchardin focused on her sister’s blinding leaf in the collective and an image began to form in her mind. Jaydin didn’t do this often and it was difficult to receive properly, but it was Tchardin’s favourite part of her sister’s lectures. The image burst into red and yellow and orange, brilliant with fire. The image was familiar somewhere deep in Tchardin’s mind but the word was not one she had ever used herself. The image swept over this fire–this burning earth–and came upon a great tree. He was straight and tall and dark against the light of the fire, the only thing in the image that could be said to be alive. As quickly as it appeared the image faded. Tchardin was left looking into her sister’s eyes.
“That was Rai,” Jaydin said. “The World Tree of World Seven. He should look the same even now on the restarted Earth, though I hope the fire would be gone.”
Tchardin resisted the urge to ask for more detail on the fire as she knew that would get Jaydin started on another topic she wouldn’t be able to stop talking about.
“I didn’t see any humans,” she said instead.
“There weren’t many left at the end.” Jaydin flipped a page in her notebook. “Those that remained had moved underground as the surface of their planet grew hot. More important is how the fires began.”
Jaydin looked up at her. “You do know what fire is, don’t you?”
Tchardin frowned. She’d have to be extra careful about keeping her thoughts quiet while listening to her sister speak.
“The image was familiar,” she admitted, “but I don’t know why I know it.”
“You should know it from Tith from before you were born. It’s one of the few true dangers to us. Fire and the glass that can grow from it.”
Jaydin started to say something complicated but Tchardin was distracted by the sudden vibration in her muscles. Quarter life was approaching, and with it would come her ultimate confrontation with the High Seat of the council. She knew she could use more information but she had so much trouble understanding Jaydin and the human worlds she spoke of.
Like all kandar of the past, Tchardin was meant to be assigned to one of the nine Earths at quarter life and to go to it with no previous knowledge. She was supposed to see the humans herself and learn from the generation of kandar that had been assigned there before her. Those who had lived with the humans already and learned from the kandar before them. Of course, no kandar had gone to the Earths since they were exiled. Jaydin might have been taught their history while she rested in Tith’s trunk, but she’d never been there. She’d never met a human herself. Perhaps that was the reason her words failed to convey meaning to Tchardin.
The thrumming that overtook Tchardin’s body was physical, but a yearning entered her mind along with the feeling. The water at the edge of the island called to her. She studied Jaydin’s face as her sister spoke. Jaydin said she didn’t feel it. No other kandar did, as far as Tchardin knew. The longing for something beyond had come to her early in life, but it had been easy to ignore until lately. Now the feeling pressured her almost constantly.
She got up and walked towards the edge of the branch. Jaydin stopped talking and stared after her. Sandin stirred and watched her too. Tchardin felt their eyes on her back.
“You know it’s close,” Jaydin said from behind her. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
“Every other kandaran queen began her reign with the simple knowledge of the trees.” Tchardin kept her gaze on the branches below as she responded. “The knowledge provided to each kandar–including myself–before their birth. I shouldn’t need an education to be acknowledged.”
“You barely remember what Tith told you,” Jaydin countered, plainly disappointed. “This is the history of humanity. You have the opportunity to learn the true nature of the Purpose before you’re acknowledged. None of those queens had that. More importantly, none of them were exiled to Derkra.”
“You know all of this and nothing has changed.”
“I am only kandar.” Jaydin frowned. “I have no authority. You will be our queen.”
The queen commanded the kandar. Those who sat in the trees or lay about in the clearing and did nothing would be compelled to obey her. But what should she have them do? Even Jaydin didn’t know why they were exiled or how to end it. All their oldest sister could do was repeat the past at Tchardin and hope to find something new in it.
Tchardin shrugged. She walked farther down the branch and Jaydin called after her.
“There has never been a High Seat so opposed to an acknowledgment, and she knows all of this too. What I’m offering you is not an unfair advantage. It’s what you’ll need to match her.”
She. Her. The High Seat was tevadra.
No one but the council itself was supposed to know the identity of its members, but it had been obvious to Tchardin for a long time that Jaydin was among their number. Their oldest sister knew too much about them and wasn’t careful about letting it slip. She probably would have been dropped from the council a long time ago if she wasn’t one of Tith’s daughters.
Now she had revealed the High Seat to be tevadra. That eliminated half the population of Calendrai. It wasn’t enough alone to figure out who the secret leader of the council was, but if Jaydin would go that far, what else would she say?
“I’m off to the water,” Tchardin said instead of highlighting the mistake. “If you need me you can find me at the shore.”
“Staring out at nothing again?” There was an edge to Jaydin’s voice that Tchardin had never heard before. “Land Side is too far away to see and there’s nothing else on Water Side to look at.”
Tchardin was about to respond when the tree of the collective mind rippled. A new kandar would soon be born. That would delay her trip to the water, but for a good reason. Jaydin’s lips formed into a firm line.
“You should come with me,” Tchardin said. “I still don’t think one is enough.”
“Kandar are born.” Jaydin settled herself back on the branch. “It’s a fact of Derkra and has nothing to do with me. I don’t know everyone here and I don’t need to.”
“You almost didn’t know me.”
“I always would have known you.”
Tchardin found a clear path to the ground through the tangle below, just about the width of her shoulders. ‘Only because of what I am.’
She stepped off the branch. Sandin jumped up to watch her as she dropped into nothing.
Jaydin reached out to her, her mindvoice fading as Tchardin fell. ‘You can’t hold it against me that I didn’t know what you would be.’
The lower branches whistled past Tchardin as she rushed towards the ground. She passed out of them and her view to the grass became clear. The pandinzori she’d amassed in the clearing earlier still floated around below. Tchardin closed her eyes and faced towards it. It lit up the dark in shimmering bursts. She felt for it with her mind and pulled it towards her. As she approached the ground she moulded the pandinzori tightly against her body and began to harden it. The cushion of solidifying light absorbed the shock of her fall. She landed softly on her feet just outside Tith’s base.
‘Yes, I can,’ Tchardin thought mostly to herself, though it was likely Jaydin would still hear. ‘I’m only what you expected each of us to be.’
She looked up at her great father. Sandin’s face showed over the edge of the branch high above, visible as a tiny dot of darkness through the green. Sandin couldn’t sense or touch pandinzori, just like she couldn’t bring up the collective in her mind or hear the voices of the other kandar as they all could. If Sandin leapt from Tith she would only fall.
Tchardin turned away from her father's trunk and crossed the clearing. The collective told her the new kandar would be born in Cens–the forest that encircled the great trees, beginning at the edge of Tith’s canopy and those of his two brothers.
She entered the darkness of the trees and was immediately enveloped in the living forest. As soon as she stepped into its shadows it was as if she stood at the heart of it. Tall, dark trunks framed her path. Thick, dark leaves lined it above and below her. The physical scale of the forest could be seen from the great trees that hung above it, but once a kandar entered it those limits no longer seemed to apply. No one knew how deep Cens really was. Presently Tchardin could see only the trees in front of her, with no glimpse of light that indicated an exit. It would be the same if she looked back, even though she had just walked in.
The downside to being born of a great tree in the clearing was that Tchardin lacked the ability to easily navigate the living forest. Kandar born in Cens knew its quirks and could find what they wanted within it. Tchardin had wandered aimlessly many times when trying to get to the water. Luckily the signal the bearing tree gave off led her towards it.
On her way she tried to collect kandar. Calendrai was sparsely populated and Cens even more so given its undefined size. Tchardin only saw a few others on her way to the tree. Most of those ignored her. Her golden aura would tell them that eventually she would be queen, but for now, no matter how close she was, she was only kandar just like they were.
When she reached the bearing tree she had persuaded just two to join her–one tevadra and one devoshai. Ocien and Torshe. She knew Ocien–having attended the tevadra’s birth shortly after her own–and Torshe was Ocien’s dodenzinn. Tchardin was happy they’d found each other so quickly after quarter life.
The pandinzori that flowed from the bearing tree pulsated up and down his trunk. The result was an undulating beam of light that reached high into the canopy and spread through a burst of foliage. Pandinzori was made by the trees, and never so much as just before a kandar was born.
The three kandar waited while the collective in Tchardin’s mind swayed in imitation of the tree before them. Finally a riveting crack cut through the air and the trunk of the tree split. The wood creaked as it opened wider, wide enough for shoulders and hips to squeeze through. A tevadra walked onto the forest floor and the collective mind grew a leaf. That leaf would stay in the collective until the tevadra went to rest in her father again.
At the same time that leaf came into existence, it grew in Tchardin’s mind and in the minds of the two other kandar who bore witness. Tchardin examined its newly formed brilliance. The tevadra’s name was Kor.
Kor came forward to meet those who had gathered to greet her. Tchardin smiled. Kor would be happy to see that three had come for her birth. Even happier to see that one of those three had the golden aura.
There had only been one kandar at Tchardin’s birth, one tevadra to witness the creation of her leaf. When she had stepped from the great trunk–the sliver that opened for her dwarfed by the thickness of Tith’s base–Tchardin had expected the entire population of Calendrai to be waiting. Tith hadn’t told her of her aura, but he had told her of his greatness. The kandar were supposed to appreciate that.
When she stepped into the world she’d seen one solitary kandar waiting to witness her birth, the birth of a daughter with the golden aura, she who would be queen. It had been Sandin. Sandin–who hadn’t even heard the call of birth go out through the collective, who would never have her leaf. Tchardin had appreciated her sister’s presence but she had deserved more. Every kandar did. It was the reason Tchardin went to all the new births.
Ocien and Torshe stayed close to Kor, so the living forest wouldn’t separate them from each other before she could be welcomed. Tchardin would have waited to speak with the new kandar but the longing returned, irresistible, compelling her to go to the water.
She backed away from the three kandar until Cens hid them. Then she turned towards the feeling. It guided her through the labyrinthine paths of the forest, allowing her to pass out of the trees with less difficulty than she was used to.
When she broke into the light the sand of the shore spread out before her and her throbbing mind was placated. The longing drew her eyes to a certain point on the horizon as it always did. She scarcely noticed the tevadra beside her until the other spoke.
“What are you looking at?” Damarin asked.
Tchardin was mesmerised by the infinity of Water Side. There was nothing out there to break a kandar’s gaze. It seemed to continue forever, and if they were by chance on the side of the island that looked away from Land Side, then it did in fact continue forever. Both Land Side and Water Side were infinite planes. Black Valley–the old city of the kandar–was the only anomaly in the endless dunes of Land Side and their new home–the island of Calendrai–was the only break in the mirror-smooth surface of Water Side.
Damarin followed her eyes. The two stood unmoving for some time.
“I don’t know what I’m looking at,” Tchardin finally answered.
Half sky, half water, the two halves of the horizon seemed to reflect each other. The view was of one nearly solid sheet of blue permeated by bursts of light from pandinzori. It was the furthest thing from the forest. There was something about one spot out there–Tchardin could actually point to it in the sea of sameness–that called to her.
“What are you looking at?” she returned the question.
Damarin didn’t answer. Tchardin ripped her gaze away from the water and looked at Tith’s third daughter, their middle sister. As usual, the uncanny resemblance to Kadailin confused her eyes for a moment. The two looked like human sisters were said to look, as if they had some common inheritance. But the name of ‘sisters’ given to the daughters of Tith by the kandar was only a way of dealing with their strangeness. Kandar weren’t meant to have siblings. Tith was the only tree who had ever borne more than one child in the same generation–Jaydin swore to it. Physically Damarin and Kadailin could have been the same kandar. Only their height and auras were different.
Damarin was still, but her eyes were hungry. No kandar had admitted to sharing Tchardin’s longing, but recently she'd wondered if she and Damarin were looking at the same thing.
“You’re meant to be acknowledged soon,” Damarin said, still watching the horizon. “Will you be a great queen to the kandar?”
“I will be a queen,” Tchardin answered, not exactly sure what Damarin wanted her to say. “How would you define great?”
“Will you change things?”
Tchardin was reminded of all of Jaydin’s expectations. Lead the kandar. Free them from exile. Bring them back to the humans. Fulfill the Purpose. “I hope to.”
“Good,” Damarin responded. “So do I.”
Tchardin looked at the horizon again. So much pressure to change their situation. To return them to the Earths. Yet no one knew how she could do it. Was that all that could make her great? Did she really know what that meant?
She turned away and entered Cens. Maybe she could find Kadailin or Ryten in the trees to take her mind off her impending responsibility.
End of Chapter 1
Release date: May 1, 2023