Chapter Six -- Fire From a Burning Sky

Raynelle always closed her eyes to paint, and let the world speak through her. Let the images bubble from within and leap from her brush onto a yearning canvas. The colors and images therein told a story. She felt them in flashes, gone from her mind as soon as they came, from potential to reality in the blink of an eye. She closed her eyes, and she felt:

-Light, burning light, an amber fire in a pool of blue. Beaming down into a woman transfixed by flames. She took it all in. She was the center, and all around her lay poor players. Prone and silently screaming.

“Let it end, let it end,” Their open, frozen mouths seemed to plead.

LET IT BEGIN, AND END, AND BEGIN AGAIN. Was her only reply, this mortal beacon who called down the inferno, the cleansing blaze of Androgiin.

This was the end, and in it, reflected the beginning. She opened her eyes, full of pulsing incandescence, piercing the curtain of the world to see the fabric underneath. She pulled, and it unraveled, and it became-

A crashing knock shook Raynelle from her reverie.

“Open up! In the name of the Suzerain!” Came the harsh demand.

And then echoed a soft rebuke. “Oh for ‘Giin’s sake, calm down! This isn’t a raid. Raynie? I know you’re in there.”

The painter stopped. It was Corinda, the consummate politician and leader of the seaside kingdom of A’al in all but name. Even before she went to the door, the defacto ruler’s desperation crushed over her in dark, blue waves. Cor had come to ask her a favor, Raynelle knew, and it must be a mighty big one to bring her to her door, after all that transpired between them.

Raynelle threw a shawl around her bare shoulders. She always painted as close to nude as the wind that whistled through her rooms would allow. And her windows were always open, all the better to let the world’s color, her muse, in.

Empath. Raynie’s title, gift and curse, the whole emotional course of the world was her oyster, a torrent that poured constantly through her. She was no dreamweaver, she could merely sense, perceive, and interpret the tides of the Dreamscape, and not alter or use to destroy as those mythic men and women of old were rumored to have done, but it had its advantages and considerable disadvantages nonetheless. The suppurating wound at her doorstep was a powerful reminder of both.

She padded down the steps, cold to her lavish, if petite, domicile. Its walls painted a passionate dark crimson and adorned with her own artwork—ranging from the abstract to the ominously clear, and threw open the door to her past, as she worried what its presence before her augured for her future. Corinda had the gall to be wearing a smile, and even more to her discredit, had not seemed to age a day in the ten years since they last spoke.

“Raynie-” She said, then halted, unsure of how to proceed. A rare occurrence for her, the empath knew. The imperious guard whose bellows announced their presence stood before her, like a block carved from flesh, possessed of all straight lines and, she could tell, with an intellect denser than iron.

“Would you like to come in?” An empty gesture, offered to be refused.

“No, I-haven’t the time. I-”

“What do you need, Cor?” Their exchange of pet-names felt hollow, the hurt behind them as palpable as if no time had passed. She could feel the words they had never said to each other, hanging in the air, the unstruck blows of parting.

How could you leave me?

How could I? You are the one who left, became this… painter. This crass thing. We were destined for greatness.

This life you built, amongst royalty, amongst politicians and duplicity. It was never what I wanted. You knew that when you chose to pursue it.

When you chose-

-Power

-Freedom

-The pulpit.

-The brush.

Over me…

No, they said none of these things. And the fruit they shared was left to wither on the vine and now, face to face, they felt the poison of that silence still. Of words unuttered, too late now to say. And yet, Raynie knew, she felt with the force of an explosion, the desperate need that drove Corinda to her door, to ask of her a task fit for only her skills. She sensed doom down the path of acceptance, but felt also a rekindled longing.

Corinda sensed her unasked question. Why are you here? Why now?

“Not here,” She replied to the unspoken sentiment, then smiled again. “Come by the palace tonight? The Taj and I would welcome you as an honored guest.”

With that, she turned and left and spoke no more. Her solitary guard, who probably had no clue how unnecessary her was, fixed her with a glare.

“I’m sure I don’t need to say it-” He began in a tone she assumed he thought menacing.

“Yet you seem to think you must.” She jibed, though why she antagonized this brute more than she must escaped her. Her own raw emotion she supposed.

She felt the anger in him flare brilliantly, a burst of bright red he suppressed with great difficulty. After a minute, he composed himself: “It would not be wise to refuse her interpretation… Raynie.” He sneered while using her pet name, thinking it would wound her. Thinking that he understood it was a dirty thing that transpired between her and his mistress, her former love.

She could feel his devotion to Cor, and how he blithely misinterpreted it as love. He would die for her gladly. Poor fool. To think you grasp the essence of life, but to understand so little—the tragedy of the stupid. And yet, Raynelle couldn’t help but envy the man. Ignorance brings such clarity to one’s world.

She returned upstairs, to her painting. She would have to finish it later, having lost the thread, or not at all. Who knows if that particular dream would ever return to her? What other direction might she pick up on that night? Still, she studied it for a while, regarding a particular prone figure, struck by the sense of familiarity it inspired. The face was little more than a blur of abject terror and despair, and yet…

She shook and head, turned from the painting to an open window, where bright yellow chased burnt orange chased crimson and the purpled dark from the sky. The sun was rising and the world woke with it. Where the people of A’al rose, and the quiet bustle began. The sliding doors of opening shops, the distant call of early morning merchants. The laughter of children and the loving chiding of their mothers carried to her by the wind. A brilliant kaleidoscope of feeling, as diverse and beautiful as the sunrise above. Behind her, a man stirred.

She turned, and as he woke, let him, Markus, see her face.

Even as he yawned, his first words were as astute as always:

“It was her.” No question, no need to clarify which ‘her’. Markus was no empath, but he remained an astute judge of her emotional state nonetheless. No doubt her thoughts were as plain as day because of it.

“She needs me, for-I don’t know what. But she’s desperate. She wouldn’t come to me unless there were no other options.”

He remained silent. He always knew when there was more for her to say, and when only time would coax it out.

“That tells me… this is dangerous, her task. This path might lead to the end.”

“They all do, eventually.” The hard look on his face told her he knew of her secret longing for death’s respite. How many times had she woken beside him, weeping, someone else’s tragedy crashing over her, overwhelming her, mixing with her own loss? How many times did she wish that her mind, and soul, could be entirely her own?

She yawned, and turned back from Markus to watch the lightening sky.

“I’m tired Markus.”

He moved, and in moments, his hands were on his shoulders. “Too tired for…” He left the question dangling, and a sudden tumescence asked the rest.

She smiled, and turned to him. Her shawl drifted to the ground, and her hands descended to his fifth limb.

Once there, she let her actions do the talking.