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Daughters of Tith

February 1, 2023
Chapter 4

Jaydin walked a wide circle around Tith’s base, searching the grass for Tchardin. She kept the pulsing collective in the back of her mind so she would feel if her sister approached the tree. Sandin was behind her somewhere, similarly searching, but the tevadra was undetectable.

“I want to find her before she goes to the meeting,” Jaydin said, assuming Sandin was close enough to hear. “I think we should talk one more time before she puts herself in front of the council.”

She looked up into Tith’s branches to where the kandar would be gathering. From this vantage point, mere steps from his base, it looked as if her father was leaning over her, on the edge of falling onto her. He stretched so far into the sky, his canopy so vast, that it seemed as if he was the sky.

Kandar were supposed to come into Derkra with nothing but their names and the Purpose, yet the tree above Jaydin had told her the entire story of existence. She knew more than any kandar had ever known. All because of him.

‘I taught her as much as I could before the council called,’ she said to her father. Kandaran trees could answer when the kandar spoke to them if they chose to, but it was rare they did. Tith hadn’t spoken to Jaydin since she was born. ‘I hope she’ll listen better when she’s queen.’

The great tree didn’t respond.

Sandin walked up behind Jaydin. “I’ll find her. You should go to the council. If you sense Tchardin approaching, just meet her before she arrives.”

Jaydin nodded and watched as Sandin ran towards Cens, likely headed to the place on the shore where Tchardin could often be found. Then she vaulted up Tith as quickly as she could. The council members were probably already talking.

 

There were two shaded figures waiting when Jaydin entered the council shadow. Her body assumed a similar state automatically. The two were clearly having a private conversation as she heard nothing and yet their facial features and body language buzzed with change. They seemed disinclined to include her so she turned her back on them. Things hadn’t been the same with the council since Damarin joined.

Jaydin rested against an upright branch and waited in silence as the members assembled. A few of the twenty-nine others acknowledged her as they arrived. Of particular note were Anatoly and Nox, the sons of Ahron and Sirrhon respectively. They had attended her birth expecting greatness and now they supported her place in the council. But they were ageing. Most who thought to notice her were old and would be called soon. The council would suffer a revolution.

Jaydin told herself it didn’t matter. If they could gain access to the Earths again the council would need that revolution, and Jaydin was sure Tchardin could bring the Purpose back to the kandar. Then her importance in the council would mean much less. That would be the ultimate victory.

Marr–the council’s Voice–arrived. Jaydin followed him through the shadow with her eyes but didn’t move her head. She had no interest in speaking to him. He appeared to be searching the crowd. He caught her eye and walked across the branch towards her.

“Do you know where Damarin is?” he asked when he was close enough to speak quietly.

“She must be at the shore,” Jaydin responded, making no effort to match his volume. “I haven’t seen her since the last meeting.”

Some of the other council members turned towards the two at Jaydin’s words. Marr glared at them.

“She’s missing.” There was worry in his usually expressionless voice. “Can you sense her place on Calendrai?”

Jaydin pursed her lips. Of course she could. Everyone knew they’d been close once and that closeness remained in the collective. The council shadow obscured the locations of kandar when they were near, but it only obscured them to non-council members. Jaydin would meet no such obstacle. She closed her eyes and reached out to the tree in her mind, searching along the branches for one of her brightest leaves. She slid over it. Her eyes snapped open.

“I’ve never seen a leaf like that,” Marr said.

“It’s dark,” Jaydin responded. She looked away from the Voice, holding her thoughts close. If Marr was asking Jaydin to find Damarin despite the state of her leaf he must not know what it meant. Jaydin turned back to him when she had herself under control. Her anger at Damarin for disrupting Tchardin’s acknowledgement should obscure her other thoughts. “Send the council to look for her. We can’t recognise the queen without the High Seat.”

The Voice nodded. He backed away to the rest of the council. A few of them held a quiet conference before kandar left the branch in all directions, some higher into Sirrhon’s canopy and some to the ground. Once they were far enough away that they couldn’t be recognised they would drop the heightened council shadows that masked them. Jaydin turned to look at the kandar who were massing on Tith’s branch.

The Voice rejoined her. A worrisome thought had begun to tickle the back of her mind. She opened herself to the collective again and searched its branches.

“Tchardin’s leaf is dark too.” A shiver of dread crept down Jaydin’s spine. “You should help the others. If you find either of them call us back here. Let the rest of the council know the same.” He nodded. ‘And Marr,’ she added for his mind alone, ‘if we don’t find Damarin, if she is lost to us forever, this council is mine.’

He met her eyes, his thoughts indecipherable, then he turned abruptly and vanished into the leaves below. Jaydin looked towards the waiting kandar again and steadied the collective. The pulsing stopped. The council no longer called. The kandar dispersed in confusion.

Jaydin stood for a while after they left and wondered. It couldn’t be what she dreaded. It wasn’t fair. Not now. Not when the council called to acknowledge a queen. Damarin might do it–to delay the ceremony–but Tchardin? Even under the pressure of their imposing middle sister Jaydin felt it was a stretch to believe it. Yet it seemed to be the only possibility.

As if in a trance she descended to one of Tith’s lowest branches to find Sandin. Her sister must be hidden somewhere in the grass below. Jaydin waited, and Sandin came to her.

“Damarin’s leaf is dark again,” Jaydin said.

“Now?” Sandin rolled her eyes. “She must be trying to ruin the ceremony.”

“Tchardin’s is dark too.”

“You don’t think…”

“Tchardin asked about the old city,” Jaydin said. “I knew Damarin would do it for real eventually. She’s been talking about a raft. I should have known she would take Tchardin with her. If only to spite me.”

“They’ll come back.”

Jaydin looked over the collective again, hoping to find their leaves bright, hoping at least to find Tchardin’s restored, but found them the same. “I don’t know if they will. It’s different this time, even for Damarin. To take Tchardin just before the ceremony, while the council called…”

“Damarin always comes back.”

Jaydin frowned. “If they're on a raft and they get too far out I don’t think even Damarin would be capable of returning.”

Jaydin felt numb. All that time and effort with Tchardin, wasted. Even her time with Damarin, though it had amounted to nothing. The two could never make it across the water let alone back. Not if they were trying for real. Not if they went too far. The only thing that might help them return from the infinity of Water Side would be Tith’s call, and there wouldn’t be enough life left to accomplish anything by the time he asked for one of them. They had to return soon or they might not return at all.

“If there was anything in Black Valley Tith would know, right?” Jaydin asked.

Sandin shrugged. “Tith said nothing to me. You’re the one who should know that.”

“I should have known this would happen when Tchardin asked about our birthplace. Deep down I must have known, but I never thought she’d actually do it!”

Jaydin had felt the same way when Damarin approached her with the idea just after Tchardin’s birth. Initially she had thought their middle sister was looking for attention. Damarin had been important once, before their fifth and final sister came into Derkra with the golden aura. Then her obsession with the water began. Her leaf had gone dark for the first time shortly after that.

Jaydin had been alarmed–at the time she’d never seen anything like it–but Damarin’s leaf quickly returned to brilliance. When confronted, their middle sister admitted to attempting to leave the island. She said the water called her. It was ridiculous. Her leaf had grown dark on occasion since then but Jaydin never paid it much attention. It always came back eventually.

Jaydin became increasingly certain Damarin would leave the island for good as Tchardin moved closer to quarter life, to becoming queen. She also became increasingly less worried about it. So what if Damarin lost herself to the infinity of Water Side? As soon as Tchardin was born with the golden aura there was no need of a once promising High Seat who now only sowed dissent.

Jaydin had still attempted to dissuade Damarin. There was nothing to be gained by leaving the island and everything to be lost. All kandar were part of the nine hundred–bodies promised first to their dodenzinn and then to the future generations of kandar who would inhabit them–and the nine hundred were supposed to be eternal. The kandaran war had done away with that truth once and for all, but what was left must be preserved. Dying on the water would mean a kandar could never be reborn. One of Tith’s daughters–one of Jaydin’s sisters–lost forever. Now it might be two.

“Kadailin’s here,” Sandin whispered, looking up.

Jaydin followed her gaze. Kadailin moved silently across the closest branch above them.

‘Come down,’ Jaydin said to her.

Kadailin looked at them in surprise, as if just noticing they were there. She appeared reluctant, hugging her body close to the branch, but eventually made her way towards Tith’s trunk and descended.

“Do you know where Tchardin is?” Jaydin asked.

“I haven’t seen her since I left her at the water with Damarin.”

“What were they doing?”

Kadailin’s gaze swept the branches below as if she were contemplating flight. Jaydin placed herself firmly in front of her sister.

“I didn’t stay for long,” Kadailin finally answered. “Why don’t you ask Tchardin?”

“You haven’t noticed yet?” Sandin asked from over Jaydin’s shoulder.

Kadailin looked confused for a moment, then partly closed her eyes. Jaydin heard the buzz of her thoughts as she looked over the collective.

Kadailin opened her eyes in shock. “She’s barely there!”

“So this is a surprise to you?”

Kadailin’s expression became determined. She raised her eyes to meet Jaydin’s. “I have no idea where she is.”

“Not the water? Land Side?” Jaydin asked. Kadailin cringed. “She mentioned it to you?”

“Yes,” Kadailin started, “but you don’t think she would actually try–”

“Damarin’s tried it before,” Sandin said.

Jaydin nodded. “This time she took Tchardin.”

Kadailin looked terrified. “They’ll be lost!”

“They probably will be,” Jaydin responded. “If they aren’t already.”

She turned her back on Kadailin. The worst thing about the situation was being unsure of whether or not to hope. Their leaves could grow bright at any moment or they could stay dark, never to be lit again. Even if their leaves never returned to brightness there wouldn’t be proof of their deaths unless one of them fell from the collective in someone’s mind. The problem was, as the distance grew, the likelihood of any kandar noticing the loss was diminishing. They could remain as ghosts in the collective, just a memory of what they had been, until all the kandar who had known them had gone to rest.

Or they could come back. Jaydin looked away from Tith’s trunk, hoping to catch a glimpse of Water Side through the leaves. A raft, of all things. She wondered if it could possibly work.

***

They were surrounded by water now. The three great trees had faded into the distance some time ago and everything was flat. There was no shimmer of pandinzori in the air. Everywhere was the same hue of pale blue. Nothing ever changed.

Tchardin struggled to keep her eyes on the horizon. The feeling of need, of longing, had diminished to nearly invisible behind the horrible pulsing emptiness in her mind. Stronger was the feel of Tith and of the fading pandinzori behind her. She used it as a guide, the opposite of where they hoped to go.

The lack of pandinzori was bad, but Tchardin couldn’t decide whether it was worse than the absence of the collective. Full branches of the tree in her mind hung empty of lights. If she focused she could just make out the blackened leaves, but it became harder and harder to do so with her mind in constant pain. Damarin’s leaf remained bright–a tiny point in the darkness–and that helped her, but it was little consolation. The silence was oppressive.

Damarin lay still on the raft, her eyes closed and her expression serene. Tchardin didn’t know how she managed it. When they started the trip Damarin had seemed just as bothered by the pain as Tchardin was. Now she seemed unaffected by it. Tchardin watched the thick pandinzori that made up her sister’s aura with envy.

“Form the colours,” Damarin said, obviously overhearing Tchardin’s thoughts. “It helps.”

Tchardin had been too worried about their situation to think about anything other than the silence and emptiness. She closed her eyes and tried to slip into darkness but gave up immediately. She looked at the horizon instead.

“Can you still feel the longing?” she asked.

Damarin sat up and looked in the direction Tchardin had last felt the pull. “Sometimes.”

“What if we’re going the wrong way?” Dread crept into Tchardin. “What if we float forever?”

Damarin snorted as if what Tchardin had said was ridiculous. But Water Side was infinite. Tchardin felt it was a legitimate concern.

“We’re going the same way we were when we started,” Damarin said. “And no matter what happens we won’t float forever.”

Tchardin looked down into the water. The pain persisted. If they floated for too long, could she endure it?

“How does this raft even work?” she asked instead of alerting Damarin to her thoughts. If her sister had heard them she chose to feign ignorance. “What do we do if we have to turn around?”

“Don’t worry so much.” Damarin studied the water around the raft. “The raft works because I say it does, and I can get us back if I need to.”

Tchardin lay down on the branches, trying to conceal her unease. She thought again about throwing herself into the water. To die, not to rest. To lose her body.

After Tchar and Dani and the nine guardians there were only nine hundred kandar made in the beginning. None had been made since. Their fathers took the bodies back when they needed to rest and re-made them into the new generation. Tchardin had been many kandar and she was supposed to be many more. If she lost herself to the water there would be one fewer kandar on Derkra for the rest of existence. Could she do that to her people?

Of course, there were no longer nine hundred of them. They’d lost a great number in the kandaran war and the events that led up to it. Jaydin estimated Calendrai currently had about three hundred kandar awake and walking around, with maybe another hundred resting in their trees.

One out of four hundred seemed insignificant, but Tchardin owed herself first to her dodenzinn, even before her father or her people. She frowned, thinking of Ryten, or whomever he turned out to be. The kandar believed dodenzinn pairings carried across the generations, though that had never been proven. Jaydin said Tith hadn’t confirmed the theory for her, but no kandar had died until the war and Jaydin always seemed reluctant to discuss the recent history of the kandar. Perhaps Tith had been as well.

If Tchardin succumbed to the water her dodenzinn would likely lose the will to live, even though they didn’t know each other yet. It was a physical imperative for most kandar, something they couldn’t deny when they felt it. If he managed to persevere, empty and weak, he would only do so until he realised he was alone. Then he would destroy himself in turn.

If he didn’t realise he was alone–if he somehow made it to his father at the end of his life–he would be reborn, and his new self would be even less likely to know his dodenzinn was lost. What kandar would destroy themselves when they didn’t know for sure that their dodenzinn was already dead? At that point, he could be left without his other half for eternity, left weaker than the rest of them, emptier. It was a horrifying thought. Perhaps the kandar continued to believe the pairings persisted just in case it was true.

Tchardin shuddered. She should have considered her future dodenzinn before she decided to leave with Damarin. She had thought only of her own fate on the water, not what it could do to her other half if things went badly. Damarin hadn’t seemed to consider it either.

The longing returned with force. Tchardin sat up and locked onto it with her eyes, trying to confirm the raft moved in the right direction.

“I think we’re still going the right way,” she said.

Damarin nodded. Her eyes slowly sunk shut and she lay down on the raft again and didn’t move. Tchardin remained focused on the horizon. How much farther could it be?

***

Ryten adjusted his position on the branch, trying to keep his eyes closed, but softly, not shut tight. He held no colours behind them, only blackness.

‘So she isn’t dead yet,’ a voice said in his mind.

“I’m sleeping,” he mumbled aloud.

“Kandar don’t sleep,” came the terse reply.

He opened his eyes to find Jaydin’s face hovering over his, just far enough away to keep their auras apart.

“Some of us do.” He indicated the silent kandar surrounding them, draped haphazardly over and throughout the branches.

“Faking it. Just like you were.”

Ryten looked at them. They didn’t move. Their bodies were limp and their eyes closed in imitation of the human act. An act the kandar remembered vaguely through stories passed down from their time on the Earths. Maybe they were faking it. He’d never been able to actually do it. At least he didn’t think he had. He wasn’t sure exactly what sleep was. Jaydin frowned.

“Sleeping is like being in the belly of the trees,” she said. “It’s a necessary resetting, but a waste of the time it takes. Be glad you got all of yours over with at once and don’t envy the humans.”

Envy? Ryten focused on Jaydin’s leaf in the collective and found a sense of the word, of what it meant. That happened a lot with her, as she often used words the kandar had no reason to know. Ryten considered the feeling as he came to understand it. Did he envy Creator’s children? Did he envy anyone? He was just looking for something to do. They all were.

There were kandar who slept, and kandar who ate, and kandar who shunned the collective mind and spoke only aloud. Leftover actions that belonged with the humans. Ryten only slept. Or tried to. Jaydin often chose to single him out but there were many like him and worse. Most of them hid in Cens and only came out when summoned by the council. Some ignored the call altogether and lay about in Ahron’s canopy, shielded from Sirrhon–where the meetings took place–by Tith’s great branches.

They had to do something. They weren’t supposed to be bored on Derkra, but what was this new sensation if not boredom? Ryten had learned that word from Jaydin as well. Boredom. Sometimes he wondered if he’d been so bored before he knew it but he couldn’t remember. He did know he had spent almost half a life now looking for things to do.

‘Just leave me alone,’ he thought privately to Jaydin, realising the disturbance they must be creating for the other sleeping kandar. He closed his eyes again, pushing the light of pandinzori away and descending into blackness.

‘I can’t do that.’ She hadn’t moved away. He felt her aura beside his. ‘I have to know when she dies. I know she hasn’t acknowledged you yet, but as her dodenzinn you’ll be the first to feel it.’

He flinched at that, holding his silent thoughts close. He was an abomination. Jaydin had clearly made note of his recent attentions, but in truth he didn’t know who his dodenzinn was. Nearly at half life and he only guessed. The others didn’t understand what that meant. What it felt like. He’d even been wrong before. Luckily no one talked about that anymore.

Jaydin’s quick buzz of thought–cut off abruptly–indicated she remembered, even if she wouldn’t mention it.

‘You are her dodenzinn,’ she repeated, clearly determined to move past his discomfort. ‘You might be the only one who feels her death.’

It wasn’t worth Tchardin’s death to confirm it. Or Damarin’s, for that matter. He had been so sure about Tith’s middle daughter once, but she hadn’t been sure of him. Unfortunately that hadn’t made his own certainty go away. At least until he’d met Tchardin. He sat up. He could never achieve sleep with Jaydin hovering over him like she was.

“You don’t have to follow me around,” he said, looking down through Ahron’s branches and contemplating the drop. “If you leave me alone I’ll find you when it happens.”

Jaydin stood beside him, ready to follow if he chose to descend.

“You’ll find me first?” she asked. “The instant it happens?”

“As soon as I feel it. Once I can walk.”

“You would be weak,” she said, nodding. “It could take a while to regain your strength. Maybe it’s better if I just stay with you, in that case.”

He regretted his answer. He already felt weak from the distance between them. Both Damarin and Tchardin’s leaves were dark in the collective. He had felt the absence of one of those leaves before, but never both. If Tchardin was his dodenzinn–if either of them were–and they died on the water it was more likely he throw himself in after them than search out their older sister. Jaydin knew that.

But would he feel it? Dodenzinn had been said to feel the passing of their counterparts across worlds. He should easily feel it from just across Water Side. Of course, an unnatural death was rare for kandar–none of the nine hundred had actually died until shortly before the war. When a proper end came, dodenzinn were called to rest together, so they didn’t have to live long without one another. If an unnatural act ended a kandar’s life it was expected to be very painful for the other half of their whole. Would he walk through that pain to find Jaydin? Or would he choose to end it quickly?

The pain wouldn’t even be the worst of it. Ryten already knew he could live the rest of his life feeling as he had for a short time after quarter life. Feeling incomplete. What he couldn’t do was wait to be called when he knew he was dooming his myriad future selves to empty life after empty life. And worse, they wouldn’t know.

“You’ll be allowed to go,” Jaydin said, picking up on his thoughts. “There is precedent for that. I won’t stop you despite our dwindling numbers. No kandar would.”

“I know.”

He remembered an instance where he’d been able to sit with Tchardin while Jaydin spoke of the kandaran war. She’d said the kandar who lost dodenzinn during the war had destroyed themselves similarly to ensure they wouldn’t be given back to the trees. He remembered as well a thought that came into his mind at her words. Had they really all done it? There could be some kandar out there, of this generation, who passed quarter life and half life and waited still, not knowing if their dodenzinn would ever come to them. You could feel weak, you could feel empty, but would you end it all and risk forcing the same onto your yet undiscovered partner for the rest of existence?

Jaydin sighed beside him. He quieted his thoughts as much as he could. The reason that possibility had occurred to him must be kept silent. He’d wondered ever since if that was the cause of his confusion. Tchardin could be his dodenzinn and things could work out, but he also knew she might not be, and that knowledge in itself made him strange amongst the kandar. They were supposed to know. Once he thought he had. Now he knew he didn’t. Maybe his dodenzinn was already dead.

“Damarin will come back,” he said. “She always does.”

Jaydin frowned. “She’s never taken Tchardin before.”

Ryten recoiled at her words. He got up and slid along the branch, scanning the tree below him for the best way down. Then he dropped off the edge onto another branch, one after another until he saw nothing below him and he headed towards the trunk. He sensed Jaydin following him, only a branch behind. When he reached Tith’s trunk he began the climb down but felt it was too slow. He jumped.

Air rushed past him and dark spots in the grass below resolved into the heads of kandar as he approached the ground. The light of pandinzori floated in the clearing. He pulled on it with his mind and the layer that obscured his skin grew thicker. He amassed the brilliance at his feet.

As the green approached, pandinzori billowed below him and his speed decreased until his feet came to rest just above the tips of the tall grass. He felt the solidity of the pandinzori around his lower half, and his feet lay flat as if on the ground. The area below him shone with condensed light.

He let it go. It didn’t rush away, but clung to him in wisps as he dropped into the stalks in a crouch. Tith’s immense trunk stood in front of him and blocked his view of the clearing. He turned away from the bark and felt an aura enter his space. Sandin confronted him.

He was startled. She could come out of nowhere in a way no other kandar could. Her dark eyes blazed. He felt the subtle pull of her. Sandin had always drawn him, almost as much as two of her younger sisters, but less sharply. Less clearly. He tried to ignore it.

“Is Jaydin following you?” she asked.

Ryten nodded. He avoided her eyes.

“You should go to Del then.” She stepped out of the way.

He passed her quickly, grateful to be spared the awkwardness inherent in looking at her for too long. He could lose Jaydin in Cens. Sandin’s suggestion of finding his father, Del, was a good one. The tevadra of Tith were slow when it came to the forest and Del was well hidden.

When he broke into the trees he felt relief. He had been born in Cens and he knew the forest better than any of Tith’s daughters.

End of Chapter 4

***

Add DAUGHTERS OF TITH on Goodreads if you're interested in reading when it comes out!

Expected release date: May 1, 2023

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