It is possible Dimah had some presentiment of his rise. How else would he have known to experiment, to test his theories? Maybe that is why he grinned now as he gripped the limestone railing and surveyed Growing Room One. Under crimson earthlights wedged in larger stones, workers moved about between the plants creeping out of the room’s crevices. The glow lit Dimah’s grey cloak and wry smile. To watch the workers he’d trained filled his heart with anticipation. He had done well in his first season.
From the hallway that led to this overlook came a shuffling, and with it a vaguely hooded figure, arms folded beneath inarticulate black robes which shifted as though streams of air roiled within. The closer Dimah looked, the more the shape seemed only a shadow. Disoriented, Dimah wanted to look away, but for now he couldn’t.
The director had only seen one Rahz before, from a distance. It was ten cycles ago; as a youth, from the chasm bridge, he had watched the robing of a new Rahz high on the Great Spire. I’m fortunate to have seen it. Many descended without witnessing such an event. The Rahz lived long.
Growing uncomfortable, the director used a bow as an excuse to divert his eyes.
He tried to hide his grimace when he came up. The shadowy shape seemed to nod. The red luminescence suggested facial features like his own, but only subtly. Dimah was thrown for a beat into a memory: blasphemously, one of the older directors claimed the Rahz were merely human. But becoming a Rahz transformed you. This was one of many things Dimah had learned once being woken up from the workers' sleep.
Dimah returned to the present. “Perhaps you’d like to hear how things are going?” He gestured to the cave of flora and stone.
When the Rahz spoke it made Dimah shiver. “Is the crop on schedule?” His voice was like the rustle of air through a narrow tunnel.
“We are ahead of schedule.”
“And the workers?”
“They have taken to my training. They still complete their work well before the first toll.” The director stole a glance at the Rahz’s face, but the hood still aimed outward to where workers whispered words to the small light-giving stones; cleaned critters from the vines, stalks, and bulbs; and brought clay pots of water to let the plants drink.
“Your crop is proceeding faster than Director Leber’s,” said the raspy voice. “The Rahz Circle will receive a positive report from me.”
Relief overtook Dimah but he remained upright. In hopes of revitalizing the crop midseason, he had taken a chance.
As if reading his thoughts, the Rahz added, “Experimentation can be dangerous. When you set your thoughts on the unknown, it can swallow you whole.”
The director noted the Rahz’s reference to the Abyss, the blackness stretching into nothing below the chasm bridge. It was where the descended went on their journey to the Source.
“And yet,” said the Rahz, “I am familiar with experimentation—deliberate exploration is what we Rahz commit our lives to doing…in search of the Source.”
What Dimah said next was a learned response. “That’s why we are here.”
“There is one other thing I’d like you to watch for,” said the Rahz.
“Anything at all.”
“There are some workers who may exhibit strange behavior—perhaps you have noticed it already?”
A trap? Better speak truthfully. “Not yet.”
“The Rahz Circle has often looked Back seeking the Source. But there is talk about looking Forward now.”
“The workers are key to this…experiment?”
“You will do well,” said a voice inside his head. It had a trace of the Rahz’s rasp, but it was clear, strong, younger, healthier.
Through a slit in the stone wall, Kaydin watched the secret meeting. If only I could hear them. After the pair entered the balcony, he had downed a vial which contained a solution of water and turma. He moved the turma from his chest into his head to light Heighten. A moment later each of his five major senses improved. The room’s red glow brightened. The resinous scent of the turma plants strengthened. But even with enhanced hearing, only an indistinguishable murmur met his ears. Judging by the director’s grin, his first meeting with the Rahz was proceeding well. He was rather confident for a new director just woken from the workers' sleep. Then again, his arms held the railing like someone climbing for the first time grips the stones.
As the amorphous shape of the Rahz disappeared through the darkened exit, Kaydin heard Dimah sigh. The prior disturbance to his own hearing departed with the Rahz. Director Dimah’s grasp on the stone loosened; his first test was over. Red light from the Growing Room lit his smile once more before he too left the room.
Kaydin regarded the toiling workers, minds dulled by the enforced diet, hearts tamed by relentless ritual, fears stoked with mythology of the Abyss. The workers, dressed in plain smocks matching their skin, completed their last duties. Water was poured from clay pots into the crevices of stone. The plants twisted in delight.
The precision of their training saw each worker complete his or her duties in near unison. The last one filed out and the only noise remaining was the click of a lizard’s tongue and the buzz of a glowfly nestling into the folds of a leaf.
Kaydin felt for the pulley system hidden in the stone and a crawl space was revealed. Moments later he was inside Growing Room One.
He stepped up onto the railing, touched the ceiling for balance, then leaped onto the tallest nearby stone. He crawled down, avoided the snapping of a symbiotic pitcher plant, and disembarked clear of the turma plants near the stone’s base. He landed expertly. Hands on hips, he smiled. It was always fun making the jump.
With a dagger Kaydin dislodged a glowing earthlight. The resinous scent of turma crept into his nostrils. The powder from the bulbs of the very plants these stones gave light to were needed to bring out their light. Kaydin replaced the earthlight with a dimmer one from his satchel. When the workers returned, they would alert their director to the failing stones and he would have the light-giving stones replaced. Kaydin's teacher Ry was eager to keep the scale of their nuisances to the city small; if Haven’s activities grew to harm the directors or the Rahz, then they might align more concerted efforts to find and eliminate the escapees.
The workers, on the other hand, would soon forget they had even noticed the dying earthlights. Their diets of turma root would make them forget it all.
The same plants that keep them alive keep them asleep. Memories were perception. Ry had even argued memories were life itself. But if these workers had no memories beyond their duties, then did they even have a life? Am I one of the few among the living? Perhaps he was. The living few were the escapees calling themselves Haven, the Rahz, and the directors. And yet…no. If Ry was right about the Above, there were many, many more.
Kaydin moved to the next group of plants ringing a tall stone. He started and swung back behind the previous stone. There was someone else there, kneeling next to a plant, turma bulb in hand.
Kaydin closed his eyes and considered the darkness on the inside of his eyelids. It was a space crowded with floating colored shapes from his just-viewed vantage of Growing Room One. The clusters of plants lit by crimson earthlights were the centerpiece to a shadow-cornered cave.
With turma brought from his chest to his head, he lit Retain. The shadow images behind his eyelids sharpened. It was the only way Kaydin knew to ensure the ability was working. Now he would be able to Reflect on his upcoming conversation with the worker. Every sensory detail of it. Even some of his own thoughts. When combined with Heighten it was quite useful.
Kaydin poked his head around the corner. The worker appeared like any other. About his age. Small nose, almond eyes like his own. But hairless. Plain smock matching his skin. Trousers down to his ankles, unlike Kaydin’s, which cut loosely at the shins and was colored slate to blend with the darkness. A belt of lizard skin. Weak arms, active fingers.
What are you doing here so late? Maybe he was curious how the bulbs had made their big turnaround since Director Dimah took over from his predecessor. Kaydin frowned; Haven still didn’t know why Director Leber was so suddenly sent to his death in the Abyss.
“Growing fast, aren’t they?” said Kaydin, approaching the worker.
The worker started, but turned the attention back on Kaydin. “Why are you still here?”
Of course, Kaydin should have assumed he would be taken for a worker. “I’m new, so I was a little slower today.”
“Wasn’t your training sufficient?” He kept glancing down at the leafy folds of the turma plant at their feet.
Kaydin tried to calm him. If nothing else, he imagined the worker might find his stubbled beard intimidating. “I think I’ll learn fast. But maybe they will give me a new uniform tomorrow?” Kaydin laughed to diffuse the tension.
“Perhaps Director Dimah will provide you another back at quarters.”
“Sure,” said Kaydin. “So, what was it you were looking at?”
“I think I should be going.”
“It’s okay,” said Kaydin quickly, “I’m not a director in disguise. I’m curious, too.”
The worker turned back to face Kaydin. “Quickly. The toll will ring soon.” He lifted a leaf to reveal the bulbs huddled around the stalk. “Normally the turma plants have five bulbs. But this one has six.”
“Interesting,” said Kaydin casually. But this was fascinating. With his knife he cut the entire bulb from the plant.
The worker gasped. “You can’t do that, it’s not ready for harvest!”
“You mean I wasn’t supposed to do that?” He flashed a sly grin.
The worker was distracted, felt his nose, sniffed, and looked down as he wiggled his toes. Kaydin knew he'd caught a whiff of the turma powder. He was going to make a comment about it, but he was interrupted.
A low tone echoed through the walls around them: the first toll.
“We should go,” said the worker urgently. “You’re new aren't you? Do you know the way back?”
“I’ll be alright,” said Kaydin, smiling again, brushing his hair from his eyes. The worker grimaced, confused.
“But you should probably go now,” said Kaydin. As the worker continued to stare at him, Kaydin raised his eyebrows. “If I were you, I wouldn’t want to be out past the second toll.”
“Well…then, goodbye, and," the worker searched for word, "may you descend in peace.”
Kaydin watched as the adolescent strode quickly to the front of the small cavern, only making noise as he replaced his tools in the alcoves lining the entrance wall. Kaydin shook his head. The poor boy thought I couldn’t handle himself when the sentinels came out to play.
Join my mailing list
Writing Life and Novel Releases
I normally share once every few months or when there is something important.