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Daughters of Tith

March 1, 2023
Chapter 5

Sandin watched Ryten slide between the trees and disappear. Jaydin walked up behind her. Their oldest sister had opted to climb down Tith rather than jump. That was typical. It was rare for Jaydin to use pandinzori. A habit she had acquired by spending so much time with Sandin.

“Help me follow him?” Jaydin asked.

Sandin shook her head. “You need to let him be.”

“How else will we know when the water claims the future queen?”

“Even if he is her dodenzinn, which you’ve never been sure of before,” Sandin started, “what good will it do you to know?”

Jaydin stared after the devoshai dejectedly. Sandin had never seen her so frazzled.

“He is her dodenzinn,” Jaydin said. “He must be.”

“But ever since Damarin–”

“I know,” Jaydin cut her off. “I know that, but he must be sure now.”

Sandin refrained from beginning the argument that had plagued their relationship since Jaydin first started teaching her Tith’s history. Their father may have birthed five tevadra but they only knew of one he had taken to rest. Sandin was well past quarter life and she had never experienced anything with a devoshai she could possibly liken to a dodenzinn connection. As far as she knew, neither had Jaydin. She also didn’t feel empty or lacking in any way. Maybe dodenzinn were no longer so simple. Maybe a tree could make one kandar into five, and maybe the father of that kandar’s dodenzinn wouldn’t know to do the same. Even if the pairings didn’t persist across the generations, one tevadra becoming five would throw off the balance. But Jaydin knew what she knew. Derkra would never change. Nor would the kandar. There was no convincing her.

Jaydin glared at her. No one could hear Sandin’s thoughts but Jaydin must know them just for knowing Sandin.

“Regardless,” Jaydin said, “Damarin is with Tchardin.”

“What good will it do to know?” Sandin repeated.

“I just need to know.”

Sandin sat down in the grass. After a moment of reluctant pacing, Jaydin joined her.

“Tchardin could live on the water for the rest of your life without being called, you know,” Sandin said, knowing that Jaydin did in fact know this. Jaydin knew everything. “She’s a lot younger than both of us. Even if they don’t come back soon, it doesn’t mean they’re dead.”

“They’d still be gone. I need her, Sandin. The kandar need their queen.” Jaydin shook her head. “Maybe Tith will call Damarin first. She isn’t much younger than you are and kandar aren’t called to rest solely based on age. There are more complex factors. She could be called before me. I trust Damarin to find her way back from the infinity of Water Side if it means answering Tith’s call. I assume she would bring Tchardin with her.”

“Maybe.” Sandin was doubtful of Damarin’s virtue. “Or she could shove her into the water and leave her to drown.”

Jaydin tensed. Sandin reminded herself that drowning was a sore spot for the rest of the kandar. It was one of their greatest fears. To die in the water meant a kandar would never again hear the trees. Never be brought back into Derkra. But Sandin had never heard the trees, and that was her likely end anyway. How could her father call her to rest when she couldn’t hear him?

“I don’t believe she’d go that far,” Jaydin said. “Tchardin has never really threatened her, despite the natural order of things forcing her to take what Damarin wants.”

Sandin wasn’t as confident. Damarin was ambitious in a way she shouldn’t be. She’d always been like that. Jaydin had been ignorant of it for a long time after Damarin was born and might still be, but Sandin had recognised it immediately. The one with the golden aura would be their queen. It had been true since Tchar gave them hierarchy. All the kandar knew that, but Sandin wasn’t so sure Damarin accepted it.

Jaydin accepted it so completely she couldn’t understand anyone who didn’t.

“We’ll see,” Sandin finally said. Jaydin stood. “I said, we’ll see,” Sandin repeated. “There’s nothing we can do about it. We just have to wait.”

Jaydin turned back towards the edge of Cens and Sandin was sad.

“It’s not worth worrying about,” she pleaded with her sister.

Jaydin walked away. Sandin got up and followed. Just as Jaydin was about to enter the trees Sandin reached out and touched her shoulder. Jaydin turned.

An uncomfortable pulse ran through Sandin’s fingers at the contact. It was difficult to maintain. Jaydin twitched but didn’t break away.

“There are more productive things we could do,” Sandin said, looking into Jaydin’s eyes.

“Like what? There’s nothing for the kandar here.”

“Try the shift yourself. Reach out to Coralynth.”

Jaydin shook her head. She turned back towards the treeline.

“Just wait–” Sandin tried one more time.

“I’ve waited too long already.”

Jaydin pulled away from her touch and disappeared into the trees. Sandin sighed and lay down in the grass and shadows, hiding from the world. It was ridiculous to obsessively pursue confirmation of their sisters’ deaths. No good could come of it.

Sandin believed Jaydin had just as much chance of bringing the kandar back to the Earths if she was willing to continue to make her own attempts. They had failed in the past but she had to keep trying. It was just as likely she was chosen as Tchardin. Tith had given her something arguably better than the golden aura, but Jaydin had never been able to see that.

***

Tchardin’s head ached. She didn’t dare close her eyes for fear of losing the point they were aiming for. The longing had ceased to be consistent, pushed out of her mind by the endless pain. Behind her, Tith beckoned her back to his strength, his pandinzori. She could still feel that, and she held the feeling tightly, as it was her only real point of reference. One thing had begun to worry her though, more than the water itself.

“What do you feel in this direction?” she asked.

Damarin sat up and looked past Tchardin’s shoulder in the way they were going.

“Nothing,” she said.

“Exactly.” Tchardin looked back at her sister. “Sometimes I feel the longing, sometimes I feel the pull of the horizon, but between those moments I feel nothing.”

Damarin squinted at her. Tchardin could almost see the pain behind her eyes, clouding her thoughts. Damarin had spent most of her time concentrating on the colours in her mind in order to avoid the emptiness. Now she was forced to confront it.

“There’s no pandinzori ahead of us,” Tchardin said with grim conviction. “None at all.”

She watched the words sink into Damarin’s mind. Her sister looked behind them then, and Tchardin knew she was looking at Tith, though the horizon had been empty of definition for a long time now.

“I don’t know if we can truly feel the pandinzori in Calendrai,” Damarin said. “I think it’s only Tith. Ever since we left the island behind I’ve seen none but the layer that wraps us.”

“But towards Calendrai–”

“You’re feeling Tith, Tchardin. We aren’t close enough to Land Side yet to feel the pandinzori from Ovaeron’s branches. I’m sure we’ll see it once we see the sand.”

Tchardin held an arm out in front of her and studied the pandinzori that coated it. She was sure it was thinner. “Can this kill us? The lack of pandinzori?”

Damarin looked ahead again. “Losing our pandinzori is what would have caused Tith to call us eventually, had we not left Calendrai.”

“But if we lose it and don’t go to rest, can it kill us?”

“Yes,” her sister said.

“So we’re going to die?”

“No.” Damarin closed her eyes and settled down onto her back on the raft. “We’ll be fine.”

Tchardin looked forward again. How much longer would she have to do this? They had half a chance Land Side was even in the direction they were going. Tchardin thought that was improved upon by the fact that both she and Damarin felt the strange longing, but still. Beyond the few paths that would give them the shortest possible journey from the island to Land Side, the trip would get exponentially longer. How quickly could a vessel of the water cross it? And how did that amount of time measure up to the length of a kandar’s life?

Was this an impossible journey? Would they travel on and on until they died and never know if they were going in the right direction? That was the worst possible outcome. Tchardin wanted to see something other than the water before she left Derkra in death. Ideally that thing would be Tith. Then she could be reborn.

The longing returned, quietly. It wasn’t the rush of intensity it had been on Calendrai. In no way did it equal the feeling of need to return to Tith. There was nothing to do now but continue to endure.

 

Had she been conscious this entire time? Or had the horizon faded once, to be replaced by its exact image again, ages later? It was impossible to tell when nothing around them changed.

Out on the water Tchardin could only measure reality by two things. By the intermittent periods of longing she felt–both for Tith and for their goal far in front of them–and by the tiny, ludicrous ripples that spread out behind the raft. She’d been watching them. They were always the same.

She’d begun to worry they weren’t moving at all. When everything looked the same and the water beyond the ripples remained smooth, and the movement of the raft made no impression on her senses and never had, was there anything to say they went forward? What if the raft had stopped once they were out of sight of Calendrai and rested there? There was nothing she could see to stop it, but similarly no reason for it to continue that she could think of. Other than that it had moved before.

“I don’t understand,” Tchardin said.

“What don’t you understand?” Damarin asked quietly.

“Are we even moving? Nothing around us is changing.”

“We’re moving.” Damarin looked to be thinking hard on something, despite that Tchardin couldn’t hear the buzz of her thoughts. She stood up.

“What are you doing?” Tchardin asked, alarmed.

If her sister decided she wanted to drown herself, Tchardin didn’t think she could hold on much longer alone. Damarin turned full-circle and examined each direction carefully.

“Does it look the same to you?” she asked.

Tchardin rose to her feet slowly, wary of the instability of the raft when both of them were standing. As she turned herself she noticed a change that hadn’t been evident before. Damarin’s thoughts told her they had seen the same thing. The horizon cycled through light, to dark, to light again. It was a faint change, but it was there.

“It’s Land Side,” said Damarin.

Tchardin began to worry again immediately. “If it’s Land Side, where’s the pandinzori?”

“Black Valley will have pandinzori, but Land Side is infinite, just as Water Side is. We still have to find the city.”

They sat down again to wait. This time Damarin stayed alert. New strength grew in Tchardin as the lightness on the horizon became a line of pale yellow sand and clear blue sky. But pandinzori failed to materialise and Tchardin’s relief slipped away.

“Where are the trees?” she asked as they floated closer and closer.

Damarin remained silent, the grim line re-appearing across her lips.

“There are no trees,” Tchardin repeated. She saw the line of the shore clearly now, and that was all it was. A slightly sinuous line, unbroken by the trunks of trees.

“No pandinzori and no trees,” Tchardin continued, a hysterical laugh escaping her lips. “Black Valley is dead and we’re going to die too.”

Damarin said nothing.

The shore loomed. Tchardin watched it inch closer. When she couldn’t take it anymore she launched herself into the water and was only slightly relieved to find it didn’t swallow her up. Damarin gasped and reached for her as she dragged the raft onto the sand. Tchardin collapsed as soon as she felt the raft catch.

When she could finally muster the strength to rise, she looked around her. Damarin had taken a place kneeling beside her, looking back over the water, but Tchardin looked forward over the sand. They were on a soft slope and there rose in front of them a mound of sand so wide and so tall it blocked her view of the desert.

“Do you want to climb it?” Damarin asked.

“I think we have to.”

Damarin walked up the slope. Tchardin followed, dragging herself through the sand. Her strength faded quickly. The sand slid beneath her feet and every step took the effort of a hundred on Calendrai. She felt the longing for something in front of her again–strongly–but the sensation was bittersweet. She couldn’t guess how far away it was and she was starting to doubt their ability to make it there. How long could they last with the press of nothing on their minds and bodies? She looked down at the pandinzori that encircled her thighs as she walked. It was pathetically thin now. Would Tith call her back to rest if she lost it? Or would he try and be too late?

“Now I wish I’d paid more attention to Jaydin,” she said as she struggled to keep up with Damarin. “I don’t remember enough about the location of Black Valley in the dunes.”

“I know it wasn’t supposed to be right along the shore,” provided Damarin. “There will be trees farther in.”

“I really feel it now. The thing that calls us.”

“So do I.” Damarin stopped and looked back. “I told you we would make it. Now we’re almost there.”

There was something about Damarin–an assuredness, a certainty to everything she said–that made kandar believe her, trust her. The longing was getting stronger. Perhaps Black Valley was just over the rise in front of them. Maybe the dune was somehow blocking the pandinzori that would sooth them back to their former strength. Tchardin missed the collective, and hearing the voices of kandar would go a long way in healing her, but pandinzori was paramount now. Black Valley had to have some.

Tchardin stumbled and fell to her knees in the sand. The slope might be gradual but it was longer than it had appeared. Tchardin could climb Tith and still run through his branches, hoist herself up higher and higher into his canopy then rush back down and sprint to the shore, all without any trouble. The sand sapped her strength, and the absence of pandinzori evidently had a huge effect on her. Damarin was soon far ahead. For some reason the pandinzori that surrounded her sister hadn’t appeared to diminish with their journey. It almost looked like it had grown.

Tchardin pushed forward, sinking into the sand with each step. She knew she couldn’t go much farther without rest. She was just about to look up and judge her distance to the crest when she ran into Damarin’s feet in front of her. She’d been looking down at the sand for some time now, willing step after step to happen, refusing to be confronted with the vast distance left to cover, but Damarin wasn’t continuing. They’d reached the top. Tchardin looked up.

In an instant all hope vanished. She folded in on herself, surrendering her body to the sand that had tried to pull her in, and buried her face in her hands.

“What do we do now?” she asked through her fingers.

Damarin looked lost, shocked, as if she had truly known her plan would work and couldn’t comprehend the scene that greeted their eyes. The weariness that had eaten at Tchardin across the water and on the climb up the slope finally appeared to touch her sister.

“Give me a moment,” Damarin said. “I’m thinking.”

Tchardin turned her eyes towards the desert and looked out with Damarin over the endless dunes, the air flat without pandinzori. The sand before them was infinite, melding with the sky in one continuous line, forever.

End of Chapter 5

***

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Expected release date: May 1, 2023

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