This is not flash fiction. I mention this because it was supposed to be. Someone in my writing group posted a picture prompt (saving me from having to) and it sparked an idea. The picture was of a woman made of smoke. It almost looked like an X-ray. Actually it was hard to decide if she was made of smoke or if the smoke was just rising from her body. Either way, it was beautiful and brought my muse out of hiding.
This is the roughest of rough drafts. I’m posting it now because I could spend days either fixing it or expanding it and my fantasy novel needs my attention.
Laeryn’s time was short. She lost more of herself every day and wouldn’t be able to hold her form for much longer. Soon she would become one with the Aethyr, but she held herself back. Before she left the ordinary world she had much to accomplish.
She thought back to the day the priestess came to her. Laeryn sat in front of the fire pit in her family’s common room. In shock she watched as her very essence rose like smoke from her lifted arm. Comparing her disappearing aura to smoke was unfair. Her personal colors were not a dull gray but ranged from the blush of pink to a fiery red, a sure indication she was Aethyr bound.
Her surprise was complete. She’d always thought of herself as ordinary, certainly not worthy of this honor. A good seamstress, but at only nineteen summers of age she had little experience. Her mother claimed she was Goddess gifted but Laeryn never believed it.
Now as she lost a little more of herself each night she acknowledged her mother was correct but not in the way she had assumed.
Laeryn pushed her thoughts aside and got back to work. She carefully sorted everything in her wedding chest, then mended anything requiring it. By tomorrow she would no longer be in her home so she needed to finish her tasks. She worked until dawn. When she was done she went to her sister’s room and dragged the other girl’s chest back into her own room. Lanae would switch rooms once Laeryn was gone.
Her sister came in and sat on the bed. “Will you watch over me once you’re … up there?”
“You mean part of the Aethyr? Of course,” Laeryn replied. “Don’t be sad,” she added when she saw tears forming in Lanae’s eyes. She moved to hug the girl and let her cry herself out.
“I’ll miss you.”
“In a way I’ll always be with you. It will be in a different form but still me. Besides, your life is going to improve now. As First Daughter you’ll be able to marry higher, maybe even the lad Iain if he ever gets his head on straight!”
They laughed together until their parents awoke. Lanae left the room quickly. Laeryn wasn’t surprised. Both girls knew what their mother was going to do and she didn’t blame her sister for escaping when she could.
As expected her father stood stiffly in the doorway as her mother questioned her. It started with an examination of her wedding chest and ended with her tearfully begging Laeryn to change her mind and stay with them. Mother knew there was no going back but she couldn’t seem to help herself.
Laeryn let her work her way through it all before wrapping her arms around the grieving woman. “I can’t stay but I’ve made sure you will be taken care of and I’ll be as an unseen guardian. Always know you’ll be under my protection.
“I know, and I’m sorry. I’m so proud you are one of the chosen, but I’m sad to see you go. If I’ve judged how much of your essence you’ve lost, after tonight we’ll never see you again.”
“Yes, mother, tonight.”
A twinge of guilt struck Laeryn. She didn’t want to upset her family but she had little choice. When the priestess entered her home a week ago to explain what was happening she could have decided against becoming one with the Aethyr. Once the need was explained to her things changed. Without the Aethyr and the joined souls, the people of this land could perish.
Until that night she hadn’t known the Aethyr was weakening. No one knew. You couldn’t tell with the bare eye, but the priestesses could. Then the old woman gave her the information that convinced her. Laeryn was the youngest person with the potential to join the Aethyr in centuries. Sure very ill children with the wasting sickness became a part of the land’s protection but they weren’t born to become Aethyr like Laeryn was. For her to be called, the need must be great indeed. So she made up her mind.
Now as she hugged her mother, she felt more resolved than ever, despite the guilt. Without her sacrifice all her people, including her family could die and she had it in her power to keep it from happening.
“I love you mother.”
“I love you too,” the woman said as she moved away to allow her husband to embrace their daughter.
He said nothing, just held Laeryn tight for a while before nodding at her and taking her mother away. She silently thanked him.
After lunch the priestess came for her. There was one more tearful but silent goodbye. The moment was the last they had together and no one wanted to spoil it with more words.
The two women started the long walk through the city and up the hill to the temple. As they walked by the familiar old buildings Laeryn let the sadness wash over her. It was the last time she would see this place. Many of her neighbors stood at their door and nodded to her as she passed them.
They eventually reached the part of the town she had never seen. The strong class divide had kept her from entering the more prosperous areas. Now, all the noble and rich had respect in their eyes and perhaps a little pity. She thought they suspected how much she was needed.
When they reached the temple she was led straight to the main altar. The priestess left her there, having already given her instructions. Laeryn spent the rest of the afternoon in prayer and deep thought. She prayed to the Goddess, then to the people now part of the Aethyr. She figured the Goddess didn’t mind since she created the Aethyr.
As night fell acolytes entered the room and lit several torches. They did little to light the room but it was enough Laeryn could see her essence leaving her body. After a few minutes the old priestess entered with a very old woman holding onto her arm for assistance. They went to the altar and she helped the elderly woman onto it before signaling Laeryn to approach. She left the two alone.
Once she reached the top of the steps her eyes met the other woman’s.
“Are you frightened?” the woman asked her.
“Yes.” Laeryn whispered.
“I was too when it was my turn. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt but a warning. You seem determined but once you join the others will try to overwhelm you. It’s a bit of a test, but if you’re strong they will stop. Otherwise your mind gets stamped down. If you want that then don’t fight. You understand?
“I think so.”
The old woman laughed. “You don’t, but you will. Lay here beside me, I can see it’s almost your time. Your aura is solid red now, it will be only minutes.”
Laeryn climbed onto the altar and lie down. She was shaking. The other woman grabbed her hand and immediately her nerves calmed. She turned her head and smiled.
Only moments later her final transformation began. Red streams of light and smoke rose from her and her body dissipated. The cloud of her essence hovered in the air above the ancient woman before entering her body. When the process was complete she was much younger and looked a bit like the woman who’d sacrificed herself.
Laeryn sensed the others’ thoughts. Not only the current ruler’s but all the previous Aethyrs’ as well. Before she could make sense of it all her consciousness was embroiled in a debate for who would control the body. The current ruler absolutely refused on the grounds she had ruled for 300 years and deserved a rest.
Most of the others expressed the same lack of desire and a few indicated they would be willing, as long as it wasn’t for too long. The most recent Aethyr suggested letting the new girl do it, focusing all the attention on Laeryn.
She didn’t want to lose herself but she damn sure didn’t want to BE the Aethyr. She assumed she would become part of the whole, not the one in control! There was no way she was ready for the responsibility. As the Aethyr had warned her, the other minds began overwhelming her as they bickered back and forth listened to nothing she said. Laeryn was their best chance to avoid being the leader of the people again.
Finally, in frustration, she agreed to rule, as long as they helped her learn how. She could feel the smug satisfaction from each.
She opened her eyes and sat up. Looking to her side she saw the other body was gone. She left the altar and walked down the steps. The head priestess entered and knelt before her.
“I am Aethyr,” she said. The priestess nodded and led her to her rooms. Laeryn Aethyr was forced to rule her land for almost five hundred years, through six sacrifices, until she finally refused another term when her body failed again and got to rest for a time.
I know there are many flaws. I used the word ‘woman’ a whopping eleven times for example. However, as previously mentioned, I have other work I need to concentrate on. This story just kept growing. The plan was a few hundred words. I quickly realized that wouldn’t be enough so planned for 500. I ended up with 1,533. This was before I could go in and add description!
When trying to get the thoughts on paper I ignore details like setting, description, etc, and put it in later. If I do it with this story I have no doubt it will keep growing. Hair color and what the building look like won’t be enough. I’ll want to describe the previous Aethyr’s wrinkles and go into great detail on how large the altar is and how far apart the torches are spaced. If you’ve ever read a post from me then you know I am wordy.
This story had the potential to become a much longer story, maybe even a novel. So I’m reining in my muse. She likes new projects but it’s time to finish the old one. The conversation between me and my muse is a lot like the debate the Aethyrs have every time they need a new body. Except I want to be in charge, and will be!
Any comments or suggestions are welcome and appreciated since I will eventually revisit it. Be gentle, I don’t want my muse to get scared off again. Writer’s block truly sucks.