Triumvirate

Justin Lo (7295-7297)

 

Chapter 1

 

“Why do I have to come along?!” shouted Sonya, grabbing the arm of the couch indignantly.  “It’s your project, and I think you can very well take care of it yourself!”

Patrick seemed to shut out his sister’s complaints.  He was under enough stress trying to plan out the whole trip that he really didn’t need any more sudden changes to deal with.

“Mom says you should come, so you’re coming!” he said as if his line of reasoning made perfect sense.

The young princess just scowled and left the room.  She had better things to do than live in a temple on another planet for a week to do her brother’s summer assignment for school.  Patrick continued packing his clothes, but he was eventually overtaken by guilt and went over to knock on Sonya’s door, which was closed at the moment but apparently not locked.

“Is that you, Pat?” Sonya asked from within her room.  Her voice was more or less neutral, perhaps with a hint of annoyance mixed in.

“Yeah,” the older brother replied.  “I wanted to apologize for making you tag along on this.  Tell you what, why don’t we go get ice cream on me?  You at least deserve that.”

“Let me think about it,” replied Sonya, whose voice was slightly muffled by the door.  After a pause, she relented.  “Fine, but only if you let me get cherry flavor!”

Patrick smiled.  For a little sister, Sonya really wasn’t so bad after all.

 

 

            Sonya slurped up her cherry ice cream, smiling radiantly.

            “So you’ll come?” Pat asked.

            “Yeah, yeah,” said Sonya like a sleepy parent – the type who, when asked a question by his or her child, invariably answers “yeah,” regardless of how ridiculous the request may be.  Sonya was far too absorbed in her amusing oversized ice cream cone to really think about Pat’s question.

            Patrick eagerly accepted Sonya’s concession and began on his own pistachio cone, which was beginning to drip down the sides.  He anxiously lapped up the melting stream of green-tinted goodness before it could reach the paper wrapper around the bottom of the cone.

            After finishing their cones, the two headed back home.  They only had one more day before the flight left for Xishebelle, which wasn’t altogether bad if they closed their eyes when they got home and carefully hopped over all of the things laying around that were curiously far from the luggage in which they were supposed to be.  For about ten seconds, they succeeded in diverting their eyes from the mess and looking out the windows.  After those ten seconds, Pat tripped over a bag of toiletry and planted his face into a pile of Sonya’s underwear, which prompted a scream followed by a swift kick in his rear end.

            In silence, the two proceeded to pack up all their belongings while the shadows stretched out.  Night was falling, and the evening showers began again for the fifth night in a row.

            “Pat,” said Sonya quietly after finishing packing.  She sat on top of her bag of stuff, swinging her legs, which barely missed the ground.

            “Yeah?” asked Pat.

            “When was the last time you went outside in the rain at night?”

            “Uh, I’ve never done that – it’s silly!  You get soaked and it’s cold enough that you catch a cold,” answered the prince.

            Sonya hopped off her luggage and ran down the stairs in the dark.  Pat couldn’t see a thing, but he heard the resonant shudder of the front door closing.  The foyer had a habit of making any sound monstrous, and with the grandfather clock downstairs, silence never lasted longer than the moment between “tick” and “tock.”

            “Stupid sister,” muttered Pat, walking down the stairs.

            Outside, Sonya dipped her bare feet into the puddles by the side of the brick pathways, sliding them in the sandy mud at the bottom.  She had taken an umbrella but had long since left it behind. 

Patrick faintly saw her face outside.  Her short black hair clung to her neck and cheeks, plastered on by the onslought of torrential showers.  For an instant, Patrick thought he saw Mom standing out there, so many years ago when he was not even born.  Mom was the rain – she had always drifted and fallen, hiding under the clouds.

“Mom won’t even be here to see us off at the airport since she’s so busy,” Patrick thought to himself.  Sonya – annoying, impatient, immature Sonya – she was all he had.  Patrick stared out the window for a little longer, then he moved back upstairs and brushed his teeth.

Long after he had collapsed onto his bed, he heard the door open and close again, followed by a short melody in a light, cheerful whistle – that was Grandma’s song.  Sonya always wanted to go over to Grandma and Grandpa’s castle to play on all her special musical instruments, even though the little princess was never really that good at it.  The only instrument for her was her voice – she had a clear, beautiful voice, even at such a young age.  Patrick rolled over in his bed and drifted off to sleep.

Sonya poured some lemonade for herself.  Her shirt and shorts were completely soaked, and she tried very hard to not get all the chairs and floors wet.

“It’s really rainy out,” she said mindlessly while still pouring the carton.  The juice spilled over the sides of the glass and joined the dripping water on the ground.

“Ack!” she cried, stomping around frantically for a few moments, causing a brief shower of water onto the ground.  “It’s a real mess now.”

Right after she mopped up the ground, she laid down on the couch and fell asleep, her wet hair falling over her face so that no one could see her smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

            “Son-ya!!” shouted Patrick right into his sister’s ear.  He gave her a light push.

            “Bug offff stupid brother,” grumbled Sonya, pulling Patrick’s hand off of her shoulder.

            “We have to be at the airport in thirty minutes or we’ll never get onto the ship on time.”

            “But we had an hour just two minutes ago!!”

            “Well, it’s your fault if we don’t get to the airport in fifteen minutes and we miss our flight!  There’s only one every two days cuz only merchants want to go to Xishebelle, trying to scour out cool things!  So let’s go!”

            Sonya looked at the clock.

            “Brother dear, we have five stupid hours before our flight!  For the dead Sun’s sake, take a chill pill,” said Sonya.  “I need to sleep.”

            “Your hair is messed up,” observed Patrick.

            “It’s – it’s what?” yelped Sonya in disbelief.

            “Messed up!!  You didn’t dry your hair before you fell asleep last night and now it’s a mess!”

            Sonya jumped up in a jolt and ran into the bathroom.  One hour later, she walked out with an annoyed look on her face.  “Now look, Pat!  I wasted an hour I could have spent sleeping and,” she said while pointing to the top of her hair, “My hair is still messed up!  Geez, poopie ….”

            “Oh just wear a hat and get over it,” said Patrick, chugging down a glass of milk.  With an evil smile, Sonya jumped at Patrick and tickled him, causing the milk to splatter everywhere.  Sonya laughed heartily while Patrick gave her the glare of death.

            “Evil!” cried Patrick.  “You clean up this mess.”

            “But, Patrick, if we don’t go in five minutes, we’ll miss our flight!” she wailed, flailing her arms and making a cute face.

            “Oh, please …,” said Patrick.

            Sonya reluctantly grabbed some paper towels and cleaned up the milk, giggling the whole time.  It was well worth the punishment, she concluded.

            After breakfast, Sonya grabbed Small Bag and Not Small Bag (as she had named them) and hurried out.  Patrick took a few minutes to check the stove and all the lights (deciding which to leave on and which to leave off) before locking all the doors and lugging out his large baggage and slinging his backpack over his shoulders.

            They waited at the bus stop for five minutes before the bus came and took them to the airport.  The entrance building was enormous, fashioned mostly out of gold-bordered sea-green glass and solar panels.  Behind the check-in building was the formidable space-tower, which handled all the interplanetary travel.   It looked somewhat like a blooming flower, with each petal being the spacious landing zone for a commercial spacecraft.  Below the tower’s arms were the airline terminals, whose support beams extended upwards to ensure that nothing collapsed, and around those terminals were the traditional airplanes, with their runways radiating outwards from the central hub.

            Pat and Sonya stepped into one set of the front doors, breathing in the frigid air inside.  They checked in their luggage and passed through the scanning security into the tower.

            “Sonya, do you have everything?” asked Pat.

            Sonya checked Small Bag, flipping through the piles of stuff inside.

            “I think so,” said Sonya.

            “Good,” said Pat, and the two began scaling the escalators.

            “Patrick,” began Sonya when they reached the third floor, “Can I go take a look at the stores on this floor?”

            “It depends … what time is it?”

            “Oh, it’s around 8:20, I think,” replied Sonya without hesitation.

            Pat gave Sonya a look of suspicion.  “Sonya, you didn’t even look at a clock.  How did you know the time?”

            “But,” protested Sonya, “You see, I looked at the clock beforehand.  I cleverly anticipated your question.”

            “Ah, I see.”  There was a short pause, followed by Pat interrogating: “And how long beforehand did you check the clock?”

            “I wouldn’t know until I saw a clock now!”

            Pat showed her his wrist, and Sonya looked at the watch face for a bit before settling on a time.

            “It’s 9 o’clock,” read Sonya with confidence.  “So, that means I looked at the clock forty minutes ago.  Are you satisfied now?”

            “No, I’m absolutely not satisfied.  You tried to trick me.  You said it was 8:20 and it was clearly not 8:20 because forty minutes had passed since it was 8:20 in the first place!”

            “But Pat, it was 8:20 at some point, exactly as you said.  It was certainly 8:20.”

            “No no no Sonya, you don’t get it.  I meant that it was 8:20, meaning that it is 8:20, or at least, at that time, you said that it is 8:20 and it is really 9:00.”

            “But Big Brother, it’s 9:01 now,” observed Sonya, “not 8:20.  Or 9:00 for that matter.”

            “Not that it is 8:20 now!  That it is 8:20 then!”

            “And I thought you knew proper English,” said Sonya, shaking her head in disappointment.

            By the time Pat figured out how to word what he was thinking, Sonya was already inside the little gift shop.

            “That brat!!” cried Pat, running after his sister.

            “Ooh, this is pretty!” cried Sonya inside the store, picking up a small stuffed rabbit.  “I love bunnies!”  She gently rubbed her nose against the rabbit’s ears and then giggled with her mouth in a wide, open, smile.

            Suddenly, a large man passed through the aisle and knocked into Sonya, causing the rabbit’s ears to go into her mouth.

            “Yarf!” she screamed.

            A mother turned around and was completely horrified.

            “H-h-how dare you try to eat that rabbit!  Bad girl, bad girl!”  The mother hit Sonya on the head with the nearest object, which was a larger version of the rabbit.  The efforts were unsuccessful on getting the rabbit out of Sonya’s mouth, and in fact jammed the ears even farther in so that they touched her throat.

            “Gaallk,” gagged Sonya, who struck back by launching a nearby rabbit at the mother, whose six-year-old son watched the incident with fascination.

            Patrick chose that opportune moment to enter the store and froze for a moment.

            “What the hell …,” he whispered to himself before approaching Sonya, warding off the very large rabbit, and pulling the small rabbit out of Sonya’s mouth.

            “Huuh,” gasped Sonya as she gratefully breathed in the air.

            “Oh goodness, I got a bit carried away there,” said the mother, blushing in embarrassment.  “Is she your girlfriend?”

            “No!” shouted Patrick, blushing bright red at the thought.  “She’s my sister!”  He then turned to Sonya, who was staring at the rabbit.  “Sonya, are you alright?”

            “Yes, big brother.”

            “What were you doing-”

            “- with a rabbit in my mouth?” finished Sonya.

            “Yeah, that.”

            “That fat guy pushed me and it just went in!  I didn’t want to put it in my mouth.  Now look at it, it’s all spitty and yucky and stuff.”  Sonya casually set the rabbit back on the shelf.

            “Sonya, I don’t think you can do that.”

            “Do what?”

            “Put the rabbit back on the shelf.  It’s covered in your saliva, for crying out loud!”

            “It’ll dry out,” offered Sonya, looking around.  Many customers were staring at her.  “Well, it would, wouldn’t it?”

            “But the essence of your spit would still be there.”

            “True,” admitted Sonya.  “I guess that’s the downside of shopping at airports.  You never know whose spit could be on your rabbits.”

            “Sonya!!  You have to buy that rabbit!  Now go buy it right now, go, go,” said Pat, putting the rabbit into Sonya’s hands.  “You mess it up, you buy it.  That’s how it always is”

            “Awww,” said Sonya, reaching into her pants pocket to find some money.

            She brought the rabbit up to the cashiers desk.  Having been sorting out the money in his drawer the whole time, the cashier hadn’t noticed that all the customers were staring at the plush rabbit department.

            “Okay, let me scan that for you,” he said, reaching out towards the bunny.

            In consideration of his well-being, Sonya started, “Don’t touch the –”

            But it was too late and the cashier had already grabbed the ears, which were the only part of the rabbit in his reach since Sonya was so short.

            “-ears,” trailed off Sonya hopelessly.

            “These ears are kinda wet,” said the cashier, blissfully scanning the UPC code tied to the rabbit’s foot.  “Did you spill something on it?”

            Sonya frantically tried to find a good explanation, but then she remembered the lessons of Grandfather and his bedtime story about George Washington and the cherry tree.  “I cannot tell a lie,” said Sonya.  “I put those ears in my mouth.”

            “Yaah!” shouted the cashier, throwing the rabbit back at Sonya.  “That will be eight thousand.”

            “For that rabbit?” asked Sonya in disbelief.

            “Yeah, eight thousand,” confirmed the cashier.

            Sonya stretched out her hands with the rabbit in her palms.  “Can you rescan it to see if that’s really the price?  I think I only have seven thousand dollars.”

            “It’s really eight thousand.  And you’re really holding a ten thousand dollar bill right there in your right hand.”

            “Awww, phooie,” said Sonya, handing the cashier the ten thousand dollar bill and taking back the rabbit with her left hand, which she hugged between her elbow and her chest.

            She got her change and tried to find Pat, who was standing there talking to the mother of earlier fame.

            “That traitor!” thought Sonya.  In defiance, she ran on ahead to the gate with her Small Bag and without Pat.  “I can take care of myself,” she said.

            She went up the escalator to the fourth floor and looked at her boarding pass, then up at the departure screen.  “Gate F12,” she read.

            With youthful energy, she bounded over to gate F12 with her rabbit in hand and her Small Bag in tow.  She sat down next to a middle-aged couple, who had a daughter who seemed to be in elementary school.

            “Hi,” said Sonya to the little girl.  “What grade are you in?”

            “I’m going into fifth grade!” chirped the little girl excitedly.  “How ‘bout you?”

            “Same!” cried Sonya.

            “Wow, that rabbit is really cute!” said the little girl.  “Can I pet it?”

            “Umm, not really,” said Sonya.

            “Why are you so mean?!” shouted the little girl, who began to pout and cry.

            “What a crybaby!” thought Sonya.  Out loud, she said, “Trust me, you don’t want to touch it.  I dropped it on the ground and it got dirty.”

            “Oh, it’s dirty?  Oh, that’s a good thing you didn’t let me touch it, then.  I don’t want to get dirty germs all over me.  Mom always tells me germs are bad,” said the little girl, who stopped crying.

            “Haha, you’re right about that,” said Sonya.  “Say, where did you get that dress?” she asked, trying to change the subject.

            “My mom bought it for me when we went shopping!  At the big mall!  It’s all pink and pretty; it looks just like a princess’s dress!”

            “Do you dress up as a princess for Halloween?” asked Sonya.

            “Yep, every year!  And I get lots of candy for it, too.  Do you like dressing up like a princess?” asked the little girl.

            Sonya laughed a little and said, “I dress up like a princess every day!”

            “You do?” asked the little girl, wide-eyed.

            “Well, how could I not,” mused Sonya out loud.  “I am a princess after all.”

            “Too many make-believe stories for you,” chastised the little girl.

            Sonya couldn’t resist and reached down into her small bag to pull out her crown.  The large glass windows let in a large stream of light that made the jewels sparkle and shine all over the place.  She fit it snugly over her head and pointed at it.

            “See, I am a princess,” Sonya said happily.

            “Woooow,” said the little girl in awe.  “That’s really pretty.  I want to have one just like it!  Mom!” she shouted.

            “Yes, honey?” answered her mom, who turned away from her husband to look at her daughter.

            “Can I have a crown just like that one that girl has?  For my costume?”

            The mom looked over at Sonya’s crown and blinked for awhile.

            “Um, honey, Mommy isn’t rich enough to buy you a crown like that,” she said, giving a little laugh.  “That’s a real crown.”

            “Real crown?” asked the daughter.

            “That girl’s the daughter of Crown Princess Jessica, you see?  She’s the only one who can have that crown.  It would cost me billions of dollars to have a crown made just like that one.”

            “How come she isn’t wearing a pretty dress, then?!” questioned the little girl.

            Sonya replied, “Cuz I don’t feel like wearing one.”  She carefully removed the crown and put it back into her bag.

            “You’re weird,” said the little girl.

            “Allie, that’s not a nice thing to say to a princess!” said her mom.

            “It’s okay,” said Sonya with a smile.  She turned to address Allie.  “You’re weird, too.”

            “Mom!!” wailed Allie.

            The mom and dad just gave a little laugh.  “All little kids are the same, aren’t they,” said the dad.  “Even little princesses.”

            “Sonyaaaaa!!” came a shout from the open pathway just outside the gate.

            “Pat?” said Sonya.  “Patrick, is that you?”

            “Sonya!” cried Pat, who rushed over to Sonya’s seat.  “Sonya Sonya, are you okay?”

            Sonya blinked a bit and said, “Um, yeah, I’m doing quite good.”

            “Quite well,” corrrected her brother.

            “Same difference,” said Sonya.

            “Oh goodness, Sonya, you had me really worried.  What possessed you to run off like that?  You did pay for that rabbit, didn’t you?”

            “Of course I did!” shouted Sonya.  “Who do you think I am?”

            “Oh, whatever, as long as you’re safe.” 

Patrick gave Sonya a hug and then sat down next to her, waiting for the ship to start boarding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

            “Pat, could you move your arm a little bit?  It’s in my way,” said Sonya, pouting.

            Pat scowled and, without turning his head, replied, “Oh quit it, will you?  You barely take up a quarter of that seat and you’re complaining about not having enough room?  I’m much bigger than you, so I deserve more space!”

            “Pat,” said Sonya, annoyed, “By that reasoning, one elephant has the right to take up this whole plane!”

            “And your point is?”

            “You’re admitting you’re fat, aren’t you!” shouted Sonya.

            “Uh-uh!” said Pat.

            “Yeah, too!” cried Sonya.

            “Nuh-uh!” shouted Pat.

            “Yeah, too!” cried Sonya again, pinching Pat’s arm.

            “Owwwwww …,” yelped Pat, retracting his arm.

            Satisfied, Sonya proudly spread herself out in her seat and looked at the chair in front of her.  All of a sudden, the object of her attention jerked backwards and ended up just centimeters from Sonya’s nose.  Her eyes sprung open as if they were a trap activated by a bear.

            “Pat, the chair fell down!”

            Patrick looked over at the chair and said, “Oh, Sonya, all he did was just lay the chair back.  It’s pretty easy to do.  See that button on the armrest?  Just press that and you can do the same thing.”

            Sonya gave it a press and tumbled backwards.

            “Ahhh, brother, help me!  Save me!”  Sonya moved the chair back up and shook her head to reorient herself.  “Wow, this is so cool,” she remarked.  “It’s better than roller coasters!”

            She proceeded to repeat the action several more times until the person behind her couldn’t stand it anymore and said, politely, “Could you please stop doing that, miss?”

            Patrick relayed the message to Sonya, who just humphed and sat up straight again.

            “You’re no fun,” she said.  “And plus, now I have no room since the guy in front of me did the same thing.  Tell him to put his seat back up, or else I won’t stop!”

            “Sonya, you can’t tell people that sort of thing.”

            “Why not?” asked Sonya.  “It seems perfectly reasonable to me.  Negotiations, you know.”

            “This is going to be … such a long trip …,” grumbled Pat to himself.

 

 

            Eleven hours and two hundred fifty-three chair-flips later, the ship began its descent into Xishebelle’s atmosphere.

            Patrick stared out the window at the planet ahead, which appeared violet and blue.  It was not a very large planet, and it wasn’t really all that alluring.  Nevertheless, it had a certain rustic quality to its appearance.  Pat figured it must have been terraformed many thousand years ago by the old empire, since its inhabitants looked so humanoid.  Of course, he’d only seen one inhabitant so far – a flight attendant who was from the area.  She spoke with a thick accent, but it was still possible to understand her in English.

            The ship descended through thick cloud cover onto the ground.  The oxygen content of the air was lower than on Katliya, but it wasn’t enough to pose a threat to humans.

            But even though the atmosphere was normal, Patrick was still shocked when he stepped outside.  No longer was he in the enormous, bustling metropolis – he entered a very quiet and untamed landscape.  The landing site was covered simply in dusty tan-gray gravel, and a small tower stood nearby to guide spaceships in and out.  Besides that, the place was completely deserted.

            Violet-colored plants covered the ground in a thick mat.  They probably used a photosynthetic pigment similar to the red kelp at home, Pat reasoned with his limited knowledge of biology.  Overall, Pat didn’t feel displaced spatially, but rather temporally – the environment emanated a definite pre-Renaissance feel.

            Sonya got off right after Patrick and looked around in amazement.  She started to run around in a few circles.  Most of the passengers just stood around the ship, waiting for the bus to come and take them to town.

            It came as a surprise to a few of the passengers when the bus finally arrived, drawn by veritable animals.  Few planets had not caught up technologically, but maybe Xishebelle didn’t want to transform itself.  Pat and Sonya settled into the large carriage and watched the scenery roll past.

            “It’s so slow,” said Sonya.

            “Oh, enjoy the nostalgic ride already,” said Patrick.

            Sonya just laid her head down and slept while Patrick watched the flowing river adjacent to the road.  Fish were swimming upstream, probably from the sea.  Pat couldn’t take his eyes off their majestic twirls through the water, the water that glistened so purely in the sunlight.  If there was one difference between here and home, it was that there weren’t many people here.  There were fish back home – yes, and there were landscapes back home, but there wasn’t such a place that had no people.  People lived everywhere.  In the cities, people lived hundreds of stories about the ground; the so-called countryside was cluttered with houses and forests.

            Patrick felt alone in the rolling prairies and the valleys that had never been exploited for agriculture or residential development.  The hours flew by and before he knew it, the bus had drawn up in front of the temple in the center of town.  Patrick woke up Sonya, who gladly bounced out of the carriage to land on the mosaic at the foot of the temple.

            The temple was a humble, semi-modern piece of architecture, painted a flat shade of terracotta.  Sonya and Patrick climbed up the steps excitedly, their bags whipping about and occasionally nicking their thighs.

            “Hey!” cried Sonya, “There’s someone up there looking at us!”

            Sure enough, a short figure stood at the entrance to the temple, dressed in an odd sort of robe and wearing a tall, wide hat of sorts.  The two kids arrived just feet away from the figure before it actually moved.

            “Heya,” said the figure, which more or less looked like a humanoid girl.  In any case, she did not look different enough to have been a true alien, and at the very least, her voice systems were capable of speaking English.

            “Oh, we’re lucky!” said Sonya.  “She can understand us!”

            Then, to the girl, she said, “Hi, I’m Sonya and he’s Ugly.”

            The girl smiled and nodded.  “Nice to meet you, Sonya and Ugly.  I take it that you’re his little sister?”

            “Yep,” said Sonya.  “How’d you guess?”

            “Oh!” replied the girl, “You two look an awful lot alike.”

            Sonya was silent for a moment, considering the hidden meanings of the statement.  If she looked like him and he was Ugly, then ….

            “Meanie!” shouted Sonya upon discovering the transitive property.

            The girl giggled, as if to say, “You had it coming.”  But as it was, the girl looked and acted far too innocently, and if she had not giggled, Sonya perhaps would have acquitted the diminutive being on grounds of ignorance.

            “Anyways,” said the girl, “My name is Beyadana, and I’m a junior priestess of sorts here at this temple of Aitoziel.  My elders told me that you had to do some kind of research project on our religion, right?”

            “Yeah,” said Patrick.

            “It’s Patrick’s project,” emphasized Sonya, looking somewhat displeased.

            “Yes, alright.  We’re happy to have you here.  We haven’t had foreign visitors for ages.  Which figures, anyway.  It’s not particularly interesting in here ….”

            Patrick took pity to that last sentence and tried to reassure Beya, who looked a little crestfallen as she trailed off.  “Aw, I’m sure there’s plenty of cool stuff that you do here.”

            “Like?” asked Beya, challenging Patrick to prove his point.

            “Like … like … how should I know?!  I haven’t been inside yet!”

            Beya snorted cutely and said, “Hmph, so you see?  You can’t even name a single thing about this temple that’s cool!”

            Patrick just rolled his eyes and the three of them had a brief laugh before they entered the temple.

            “Wow!  This hall is magnificent!” shouted Pat, whose words echoed throughout the rotunda.

            “Glad you like,” said Beya cheerfully.  She briefly diverged from the group to dust off a small statue of what appeared to be a six-armed dragon.

            Upon her return, Pat asked, “What’s that a statue of?”

            “Oh, him?” Beya asked, gesturing at the statuette.  “That’s Aitozes.  At least, that’s what we hear he looks like.  He’s the great god of goodwill.”

            “Ah, interesting,” said Pat.  Beya nodded, and led them onwards.

            “I’ll take you guys to your room, alright?  It’ll actually be adjoined to mine.  It’s a guest room of sorts,” said Beya.  “After that, you guys can hang out and stuff.  I have to go and practice for tomorrow’s Li-diela-Aitozes ceremony, which celebrates the day he granted forgiveness to the first creature, who he permitted to grow and multiply.  Oh, I’m assuming that you guys don’t know much about Nuehel -  that’s why I’m telling you all this.  Am I repeating what you already know?”

            “Oh, not at all.  You’re being very helpful,” said Pat, who was quickly jotting down notes onto his small MAT-PC.  “This is exactly the kind of stuff we need,” he said with a reassuring tone of voice.  “There isn’t much on the internet, anyway.”

            “Alright,” Beya said, always smiling.  “What’s that you got there?”

            “Hmm?” asked Pat, not sure what Beya was talking about.

            “That thing,” Beya said, pointing at the MAT-PC.

            “Oh, it’s a MAT-PC,” said Pat.  “It’s a satellite computer to the one I have at home.”

            “Ah, that sounds interesting.  Show it to me when I get back from the rehearsal?” Beya asked.  “We don’t have much spiffy technology around these places.  Just a comp-database to keep track of people and their health and such.  That’s our responsibility in addition to running the daily services.”

            “Oh, I’d be glad to show it to  you,” said Pat.

            “Thanks!  Alrighty, here we are,” said Beya, unlocking an old wodden door with her key.  “We don’t have A/C, so grab a fan from the closet at the end of this hall, alright?  There should be enough open plugs if you look hard enough for them.  Ta-ta!”

            With that, Beya left, running into the hallway, her dress rippling in the air.  “Sooo late,” she muttered to herself, using her hands to try to salvage her hair.

            Sonya sat down on one of the two beds, looking aroudn the room.  There were two doors out of the room: one that exited to the hallway and another one that led to Beya’s room.  Mos tof the walls were plain, painted the same terracotta color as the exterior of the temple.  however, a few wooden beams stood halfway-embedded into the walls.  They had a pale yellow color, looking freshly cut and untreated.

            Exhausted, Sonya collapsed onto the soft mattress and was soon fast asleep.  Patrick, on the other hand, was far more interested in the statuette of Aitozes that was on the mantle to the right of the door to Beya’s room.  It was made of gray-green stone and was very cool to the touch.  Patrick touched it gently.  Its arms were like the legs of an insect and had very sharp tips.  Overall, the creature looked very cruel and forbidding, and Patrick felt relived that it more or less wasn’t real.  Would Beya be mad to find out that he didn’t believe in Nuehel, which was probably the dearest thing to her heart and spirit?  Beya seemed to be a very friendly, open-minded girl, so maybe she wouldn’t mind so much.  But then again, she was a priestess,a nd she did have a lot of faith in the truth of the Nuehel.  Maybe it was best not to take up the subject with her, he decided.

            Patrick retired to his bed, and though he wanted to unpack before napping, he was soon snoring as loudly as Sonya.  He dreamed of rolling rivers and prancing unicorns, but for better or for worse, the dreams weren’t foreshadowing.  Honest.

            Sonya also had dreams of her won: she dreamed of eating cherry ice cream at a restaurant.  Her dream, incidentally, was in fact a bit of foreshadowing, but unfortunately wasn’t of any consequence, anyway.

ˉ

 

 
            While the two siblings were fast asleep, Beyadana returned with her friend, Mahelsa.  Beya briefly checked on her two snoring neighbors before gently closing their door and welcoming Mahelsa into her room.

ˉ

 

 
            Yená Pάtrik èn Sonya,” explained Beya to her friend.  Yenábei Toristen di Kâtliya.

ˉ

 

 
            Anà!  Nei kamej?!” exclaimed Mahelsa in disbelief.  Ponάg yenábei nei kamej at-emol?

            Hihi, Yensá asel yu Homework Assignment ôr suma Nuehel dahen.  Dowei sases a-Yen?

            Em …Libalga sases Inglish.

            Doga sien!  Esases – He – llo.”

            “Hi.”

            “How are you?”

            “I am fine.”

            Mάlases?  Doga dei!  Come on.”

            Beya led Mahelsa into the other room.  “They shouldn’t sleep now or else they’ll  never get rid of their jet lag!” she said to herself with emphasis.  She woke Pat first since he was older.

            “Ahn?” he said, eyes barely able to open.

            “It’s me!” chirped Beya with a sparkle in her eye.  “This is my best buddy, Mahelsa!”

            Pat turned to the curly-haired, red-headed priestess.

            “Nice to meet you,” said Mahelsa softly.  She blushed in embarrassment.

            “Nice to meetcha, too,” replied Pat, reaching out his hand.  Mahelsa didn’t know what to make of it.

            Pom Lifas?” whispered Mahelsa to Beya urgently.

            With an impatient tone of voice, Beya cried, “Hakases an-io!

ˉ

 

 
            Mahelsa took Pat’s hand and gave it a very pecular motion that nearly ripped it off.  Beya giggled and showed Mahelsa how to shake hands civilly.

            Anà …,” said Mahelsa guiltily before laughing.  O, iotas buko!  Come eat.”

            Mahelsa led Beya and Pat out into the hallway.

            “Wait,” said Pat, “Sonya’s still in there sleeping.”

            “Then go get her,” answered Beya matter-of-factly.

            Patrick reentered the room and poked his younger sister lightly on the shoulder.

            “Wake up, sleepy-head!”

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

            On the one hand, saying that Patrick and Sonya stood out a little from the crowd of priests and priestesses was a painful understatement.  Patrick was practically begging Beya for a more appropriate robe, but Beya shook her head and said that they had to be custom-made.  Yet, on the other hand, they were all children in the dining hall – all the elders ventured to more refined sanctuaries to dine.  The cafeteria where Beya ate was quite rowdy, just like back home.  Everyone was talking at the same time and dealt with the problem of hearing each other by shouting with more passion.

            Whenever Patrick closed his eyes, he could almost feel like he was back at his junior high school all over again.  The food here was so different, though.  The purple plants tasted as different as they looked.  They were a little bitter, but they weren’t repulsive to the palate.

            “Beya,” said Patrick after taking a sip of water.

            “Yeah?” asked the junior priestess.

            “What does Nuehel mean to you?”

            Beya closed her eyes for a few moments, and Patrick noticed her long, nearly transparent eyelashes.

            “Well –,” began Beya, making sure that Pat knew that she intended to respond.  “It’s hard to put into words, but it’s something that’s really, really – well it’s actually all around my heart.  Kinda wrapped all up inside there, you know?  It’s powerful but sweet at the same time, something like a parent, I guess.

            “Aitozes, Amalahes, Suehales … they are like flowers I guess.  Flowers that are always in bloom.  You see, there are butterflies, and if the flower chooses, they can drink from the flower, right?  And when the flowers go away, so do the butterflies.  But when the butterflies taste that nectar, they know something is right about it.  That’s what it’s like, I guess.  You’re asking a fourteen-year-old here, so don’t look at me like I’m crazy!  I know I am ….  I’m just a puny Xishebellan here.  Just a student.”

            “Beya,” said Pat, “What you said was really mature and special.  You shouldn’t believe that you’re inferior.”

            “I guess not …,” said Beya.  “Well, hey, I never said that I was!  Don’t trick people into thinking that they said things that they didn’t!”

            “Haha,” laughed Pat.  “I guess you didn’t really say it.”

            “Dang right I didn’t!” said Beya.  “How’s the food, anyway?”

            “Uh, purplish ….”

            Beya blinked for awhile.  “What other color would it be?”

            “Green!” blurted Patrick.

            “Green?” asked Beya.  “That’s an odd color ….”

            “If ya say so,” said Pat.  Silence reigned for a brief moment before Beya opened her mouth again.

            “Hey, Pat, you said you’d show me your computer gadget thingy,” said Beya.

            Patrick pulled it out of his pocket.  “Oh, it’s really easy to use.  Just start by waving your fingers above it.”

            Beya did as instructed, waving her fingers above the small display at the head of the handheld device.  The screen left its screensaver and transformed into a menu.

            “Ah, I see,” said Beya, who began inspecting all the sorts of programs that were on the MAT-PC.  “Can you communicate with people on your own planet using this?”

            “Yeah,” said Pat, “But it’s gonna be really slow.  Only e-mail is worth using at this distance.”

            “Haha, yeah, I can imagine,” agreed Beya, a youthful spark in her eyes.  Sonya watched the two as they chatted happily, not wanting to eat the food.  It really tasted awful to her, and she was much more engrossed by the weird designs on the silverware.  The utensils must have been ancient!  Most of the articles had embossed words written in characters she couldn’t comprehend.

            “Bro,” said Sonya, pulling her brother’s sleeve.

            Pat continued talking to Beya, who was marvelling at the photos Pat had of Katliya.

            “Bro!” said Sonya again, tugging with more force.

            “Aw, what now, Sonya?” said Pat.

            Sonya picked up her spoon and showed its handle to Pat, inquiring, “What does this say?”

            “How should I know?”

            “Oh, you should ask me,” interjected Beya.  “Mmm, these were made a long, long time ago when the people here spoke a different language.  I guess it’s talking about mountains or something.”

            “Ah, you’re so smart, Beya!” shouted Sonya gleefully.  Then, with a glare at her brother, she added, “Unlike some other people here.”

            “Eheh,” said Beya, blushing at the compliment.

            A loud bell sounded in the dining hall, and the children scurried to return their meal trays and sort out the silverwares.

            Mahelsa seemed particularly in a hurry, and on her way out of the hall, she yelled to Beya, “I’ll see you in fifteen minutes, k?  My appointment’s now.”

            Beya nodded and waved goodbye.  Mahelsa took a right out of the dining hall and ran down the corridor, which grew progressively darker so that Mahelsa eventually vanished to any undiscerning eye.

            “Alright,” said Beya.  “You guys should probably come back to your room now.  We have curfew pretty early and you really don’t want to be caught by the hall monitors.  They tend to be really big jerks.  Even the small ones.”

            “Small ones?”

            “Yeah, you know.  The short ones.  Really, really annoying,” said Beya, rolling her eyes.

            “I’ll take your word for it,” said Pat.

            “Uh-huh,” agreed Sonya.

            The three entered Beya’s room.  The weak twilight streamed through the window before Beya turned on a lamp on her desk to illuminate the room with a warm goldenrod glow.

            “Is everything alright so far?” asked Beya.

            The two siblings nodded in affirmation.

            “I’m glad,” said Beya.  Her eyes glimmered faintly, her irises seemingly churning slowly, peacefully.  Pat couldn’t tell if it was from sorrow or joy.  Her mouth was a tight smile, lips pressed together deliberately.  He had never noticed before how pink her lips were.  They reminded him of the salmon back home, so rich and grand.

            Beya turned around suddenly to face Patrick, who was holding Sonya’s hand while the younger sister started dozing off.  “Patrick, I need to do some work now, okay?”

            “Uh-huh,” said Patrick, who retreated into his room.  “Goodnight, Beya.”

            “Goodnight, Patrick.  Goodnight, Sonya,” answered Beya, who closed the door to the guest room with a gentle push.  The bracelets on her wrist caught the light for one moment before the door shut with a soft patting noise, perfectly fitting into the doorframe.

Chapter 5

            It was the middle of the night, but Sonya was wide awake.  She didn’t feel sleepy at all because it would’ve been morning back home.  She put on her slippers and stood up.  Everything was quiet, and it scared her.  However, she wasn’t about to turn on the lamp for fear of waking her brother.

            Soundlessly, she edged towards the door out to the corridor, but she suddenly remembered how Beya had told her not to go outside.  The scary hall monitors were waiting out there to catch her!  But what if she had to go to the bathroom?  That had to be a valid excuse, because everyone had to pee once in awhile!

            So Sonya slipped out into the hallway.  No one was there, and the corridor was only faintly lighted by imitation candles that jutted out of the walls.  Sonya crept to the left until she couldn’t go any farther.  The corridor made a bend to the right and then intersected the main corridor.  Sonya recalled how, if she turned right, she’d be at the dining hall again, whereas if she turned left, that’d be where Mahelsa had gone for her appointment.

            Where had Mahelsa gone anyway?  Sonya tried to remember if Mahelsa had ever come back in fifteen minutes as she had promised, but Sonya realized that she’d fallen asleep before Mahelsa was due to return.  The princess shrugged the thought off and decided to check out the left branch of the corridor just to see what was around.

            The temple didn’t seem too spooky after all.  It was clean and well-kept, and pretty well-lighted as well.  Sonya advanced down the hallway.  It grew monotonous, since each segment was identical to the previous one, barring any doors, which she assumed led to other quarters and storage rooms.

            A light draft caught her left cheek, and she wondered what such a current of air was doing in the temple.  However, she just let it go and continued down the corridor until she heard faint footsteps behind her.  She paused to make sure she wasn’t just hearing the echoes of her own movements.

            Indeed, somebody was moving behind her, but very slowly, almost menacingly.  Sonya spotted an open closet a few meters away and took a dive for it.  Her soft slippers minimized the sound, and she hid behind the door, peeking from behind the narrow strip between the door and the doorframe to which it was hinged.

            Sonya was aware of her current position as the prey.  It was an unsettling feeling, and she felt weak and disempowered.  But she didn’t let it get to her head.  She had to prove that she was a big girl now!

            The footsteps grew erratic, and they no longer carried the sound of a predator.  Each moment of silence was only increasing the fear in Sonya’s pursuer.  Sonya watched as a shadow on the ground edged ever closer to her position, gliding slowly and pausing to listen.  Then an arm appeared, then a leg, then a face.  Judging from the dress, it was just another priestess in training, about sixteen or so years of age.  She had a stern, long face with tightly braided blonde hair.

            Sonya stood motionless for a minute.  That minute seemed to last forever, for her racing heartbeat seemed to slow down to a dragging pace.  At the end of those sixty seconds, a soft and low-pitched moaning sound swept through the corridor, scaring both Sonya and the hall monitor.

“What was that?!” thought Sonya frantically.  She considered coming out of her hiding place to ally with the hall monitor against the perceived common foe.  But she decided against it: too risky.

She heard rapid footsteps on the cold stone floor, tapping rhythmically like a drum, only the sound was more like the resounding pop of bubble gum.  The hall monitor had cowered out after all, Sonya decided.  If she were going to make a break for it back to her room, now would be the most opportune time: just after the hall monitor lost her better judgment, and just before whatever produced that sound decided to make its own run. 

Sonya deftly swung around the door and took off into the dim corridor.  Her shoes didn't have a good grip on the polished stones and she slipped, crashing into the ground.

Automatically, she let out a high-pitched yelp. She immediately regretted it, realizing that if she had kept quiet or growled instead, she could masquerade as the monster and keep the hall monitor away.  As it was, the hall monitor turned around, perhaps in goodwill or perhaps simply out of curiosity. The monitor noticed Sonya on the ground and helped the short princess to her feet. 

"Doas moel?" asked the hall monitor, a hint of fear and concern draped over her voice.

ˉ

 

 
Sonya nodded slowly, cautiously.  She had no idea what she was agreeing to, though she had a vague conception simply judging by the hall monitor’s tone of voice.

ˉ

 

 
The concern fell out of the monitor’s expression as she demanded, “Lakel, ponάg Doas at-Emol?

Sonya couldn’t understand, but she could tell she was in trouble.  Naturally, she reacted as her evolutionarily-advanced instincts dictated: she leapt up and tried to run past the guard.  Unfortunately, the hall monitor coldly stuck out a staff and tripped Sonya, causing her to come crashing to the ground once again.

“Poo,” muttered Sonya in defeat.  “This bites … like a Tyrannosaurus Rex!”

Torist,” grumbled the hall monitor, who swiftly moved her arm in a wide, sweeping arc to grab Sonya and drag her back into the living quarters.  After a brief and, overall, incomprehensible interrogation, Sonya was allowed back into her room.  The pleasant hall monitor decided, out of her own good will, to stand right next to the door.  Sonya was most displeased at her apparent house arrest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

            “Beya,” asked Patrick after he returned from his very long trek to the men’s restroom on the other side of the building, “I never got a chance to say bye to Mahelsa last night since I fell asleep so soon.  Would you please tell her I’m sorry?”

            “Uh-huh,” said Beya, not really looking at Patrick.

            “Is something the matter?” asked Patrick, not missing a beat; something was definitely up, and Patrick did not intend to let an innocent person like Beya be tormented by misfortune.

            “… .”  Beya was silent, though her lips twitched enough for Patrick to see that she had something to say – and something to hide.

            “Where’s Mahelsa now, anyway?”

            “I don’t know,” said Beya.  “She’s probably busy, but I guess we’ll see her at lunch.”  No one was convinced by Beya’s optimism, least of all Beya herself.

            “Whatever,” conceded Patrick.  He started walking towards the dining hall for breakfast, making sure Sonya was right behind him.  “Say, Beya.”

            “Yeah?”

            “When’s the ceremony today?”

            “It’s not til fourteen.  Just hang out til then.  If you wanna come, you’re very welcome to come, but I’ll understand if you don’t want to.”

            “Nono, of course I’d like to come!” reassured Patrick.

            Beya smiled.  It was one heck of a beautiful smile, Patrick decided.

            The dining hall was sparsely populated by youngsters in a myriad of PJs and robes.  Patrick and Sonya ate together without Beya for the first time; the priestess-in-training had to make final preparations for her presentation.  For breakfast, everyone had a glass of water, an egg, and what appeared to be some sort of pea.

            On the subject of peas, Sonya commented, “They’re purple.”

            “Naww,” replied Patrick.

            “Do you think they’re cancernogens?” she asked.

            Patrick stared at her, then burst out laughing.  “Do you mean carcinogens?”

            “Oh shut up,” said Sonya.  “Are they?  They’re all purple and weird and stuff.”

            “I’m sure they’re quite fit to eat,” answered Patrick.  “The people here are just like the ones back home, and they don’t seem to be bursting at their seams with tumors.”

            “Well, I’m glad of that,” said Sonya, unconvinced.

            After Patrick had finished his meal, he looked over at Sonya’s plate.  The purple peas remained untouched.

            “Eat your peas,” he ordered.

            “You’re not Mom,” countered Sonya.
            “They’re good for you no matter who tells you to eat them.”

            “I don’t like peas,” said Sonya.  Triumphantly, she dumped the peas into the trash can.

            “You’re such a brat, did you know that?” Patrick said.  Sonya just stepped on his foot and giggled.

 

 

            Lunch was a frantic affair – all the young priests and priestesses-in-training were making sure they were wearing the right clothes and practicing the lines that they had to recite by memory.  Beya was next to Patrick and Sonya, as usual, and she looked just as flustered as everyone else around her.  Nevertheless, it was apparent that her mind was wandering somewhere far away – far from the lunchroom and far from the ritual that would take place in scarcely two hours.

            “Mahelsa isn’t here,” announced Sonya to her elder brother.

            Patrick surveyed the dining hall and confirmed the discovery.  He asked Beya, “Where’s Mahelsa?  Shouldn’t she be getting ready, too?”

            “Do you guys like fruit juice?” asked Beya.  “I think there’s some fresh-squeezed juice at the stand over there.”  She pointed at a wooden cart that had gathered a moderately-sized line.

            “Uh, yeah,” said Patrick.

            “I’ll go and get some for you guys.  Just stay here, k?” Beya said.

            Patrick and Sonya nodded, and when they looked at each other, they found tacit agreement that Beya didn’t have a clue where Mahelsa was, and morever, that it was really bothering Beya.

            Beya fidgeted uncomfortably while she stood in line, sometimes even losing her balance.  How could this be the same carefree girl they’d met yesterday?

            “Where do you think Mahelsa is, anyway?” asked Patrick.

            “Um, maybe she got stuck in the toilet?” offered Sonya.

            Patrick frowned: “This is no time to be joking around, Sonya.”

            “Well, there was this monstrous sound last night …,” said Sonya, trailing off at the end with a conflict of interests.  She certainly wanted to encourage Patrick to ask for more information, yet she didn’t want him to know that she had been snooping around at night.

            “What?!” shouted Patrick.

            “Shh, shh, not so loud,” said Sonya in an insistent whisper.

            “Go on, Sonya.”

            Sonya cleared her throat and continued, “Yesterday, I decided to see what was around here, anyway, I went down that corridor where Mahelsa went, you know?”

            Patrick nodded in affirmation.

            “Well,” said Sonya, “The hall monitor caught up with me and I had to hide in a closet.  But while I was in the closet, there was this strange roaring noise that scared the crap out of me and the hall monitor.”

            “Don’t curse,” warned Patrick.
            “Why do you care so much if I curse or not?  I can do whatever I want,” snapped Sonya defiantly.  “So you see, there’s something going on over there.  I mean, Mahelsa went there and never came back.  It all makes sense, doesn’t it?”

            Patrick considered Sonya’s conclusion and decided that it was simple enough.  The question was how simple the thing at the end of the corridor actually was: could it really be just a monster?  No, not even an idiot in a blue flamingo suit would voluntarily go to a room with a hungry, vicious monster in it.

            Beya made a gesture to Patrick and Sonya, who promptly walked over to the cart to take their glasses of juice back to the dining table.

            “Are you guys alright?” asked Beya, noticing the two siblings looking more sullen than usual.

            “Yeah, yeah, we’re fine,” said Patrick.

            Beya smiled and took a small sip of the juice, and suddenly her face was contorted into a very peculiar expression.

            “Woah, what did they add to this thing?!” she exclaimed.

            Sonya and Patrick eyed their glasses suspiciously.  The glasses seemed to cower away from the glare as quickly as they could without tipping over.

            Cautiously, Sonya took a sip.

            “It’s delicious!” she exclaimed.  “It’s so sweet.  It’s nice to have a change from all this salty stuff.”

            “This is what ‘sweet’ tastes like?” asked Beya.  “I always thought it’d taste good … .”

            “It does!” countered Sonya.  “I guess the fruits here are so sour that you guys have gotten used to terrible juice … do you guys not have sugar here?”

            Beya shrugged and glanced at her watch.

            “I think I must be going to get dressed, alright?” she said.

            “Mmhmm,” said Sonya.

            The priestess-in-training stood up and left for her room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7

            ‘La Diela Aitozes is a ritual ceremony performed once a year to honor his justice with traditional dance and the redecoration of the enormous statue of Aitozes that watches over the entire prayer chamber.  The old paint is stripped off the statue and replaced, or rather renewed, by a new layer of paint, applied by the official priests and priestesses.  The redecoration is a vow of sorts, of continuing loyalty and purity.’

            Patrick took a break from recording what Beya had told him about the ceremony.  Time was almost up, anyway.  He hopped out of his bed and told Sonya to follow him to the prayer chamber.

            It was crowded and the heat was excruciating.  One could nearly hear the sweat bathing the impersonal stone ground.  Patrick and Sonya stared in awe when they saw the dancers arrive on the stage.  Their robes were a shiny, mystical shade of violet with tendrils of blue intertwined; they were long enough that they dribbled onto the ground, but they were so light and tender that they seemed to almost fly over the stone rather than actually touching it.

            When they finally caught sight of Beya, they were completely shocked.  She looked more gorgeous than even Mom in her royal dress, maybe because Beya retained that youthful charm.  Her face was simple and round, her ears long and tapered, her eyes large and unadorned.  She moved slowly and gracefully, and even if she thought the dance was silly, she definitely did not display any sort of embarrassment at what she was doing: her thoughts were focused solely on the spirituality of the moment.

            The event only lasted around two hours, though, and after the prayers, it was time to return to business.  The redecorated statue glistened as the rich afternoon sunlight poured in from the glass dome above.  In the room lit yellow and orange, the dust floated carelessly by and every movement of the clouds above was tracked on the statue’s facets.

            “Beya,” thought Patrick solemnly.

            Beya returned to her room wordlessly, undressing herself without realizing that she had left the door to the guest room open.  Patrick blushed when he saw her disrobe, but quickly turned away, not wanting to close the door, which would only make Beya conscious of her embarrassingly absentminded state.

            “Oh, it’s about time,” she mumbled softly, just loud enough for Patrick to hear.

            Maybe she didn’t intend it to be so, but Pat definitely took it as a cue for to follow.  After Beya left her room, Patrick signaled to Sonya to come quietly, and the two of them tiptoed behind her.  Unexpectedly, Beya about-faced to shut the door of her room, first scaring the two siblings, who remained silent lest they give away themselves.  Subsequently, she shut the door in their startled faces, which elicited a shriek from both as the wood collided with their skulls.

            “Oh, my!!” cried Beya, snapping out of her reverie and quickly opening the door again, revealing her two guests, who looked quite dazed.  “Are you guys okay?”

            “Yeah,” grunted Sonya, who tried to push some of her hair out of her eyes.

            “Alright you guys, I really have to be going, but I’ll be right back and I promise I won’t be weird anymore.”

            Beya took off into the corridor, hands firmly on her hat to keep it in place.  Patrick and Sonya followed in silence, ducking into other corridors when they thought they might be heard.  It wasn’t long before they knew that the destination was none other than the strange room at the end of the hall.

            Beya stood in front of the door, stiffly as if she were a day-old loaf of French baguette.  She seemed to gather herself together in the moments that followed, straightening out her clothes, adjusting her socks to be equal in height, pushing her braids so that they fell just over her shoulderblades.

            In a slow, controlled action, she lifted her arm to knock on the reddish-brown door three times.  The foreboding sound coursed through the corridor, striking Patrick and Sonya a split-second after the actual event.

            Beya opened the door, putting a lot of effort into making it budge.  Patrick and Sonya took their first glimpse of what was behind the door: a large chamber made of that same reddish-brown wood as the door.  All was very poorly lit except a central region, occupied mostly by a sharp, aggressive obelisk adorned with carvings in what appeared to be the same ancient language.

            Fortunately for Pat and Sonya, Beya more or less left the door wide open, knowing that it would gradually shut itself.  In the darkness, the two stumbled in and hid behind one of the tall pillars.  If Beya noticed, she decided not to do anything about it.

            Instead, the priestess-in-training advanced slowly towards the obelisk, taking very calculated paces.  Her eyes stayed completely fixed on what appeared to be a hole midway up the tall structure – but it wasn’t out of reverence, but clearly fear.  The absolute blackness of the hole even seemed to draw Pat and Sonya in every time they dared to peek out from behind the wide, tapered cylindrical pillar.

            Beya stopped in front of a cloaked figure that stood on a pedestal in front of the obelisk.  Most of her body vanished in the shadow of the towering obelisk in front of her, and her face resembled gray clay.

            She held out her hands and the cloaked figure dropped a powdery crystalline salt onto the back of her palms.  It tumbled down the gentle slopes of her smooth skin, dripping off the edges of her hand and landing with a soft “tick” onto the hard floor beneath.  Then, the figure touched the salt to Beya’s forehead; she closed her eyes so that the salt wouldn’t irritate her eyes.  The figure gave a small but authoritative nod.

            Beya looked ready to turn around and leave when suddenly she asked a question in a near-whisper.

            Ponseo Mahelsa eyaas?

            Patrick and Sonya immediately realized that she was inquiring about Mahelsa’s whereabouts.  They straightened up, fully alert and watching only the cloaked figure, awaiting a response.

            Sotases.”

            Beya bowed and then pivoted, leaving the chamber without ever diverting her eyes from the exit door.  Patrick and Sonya slipped out as the door was about to shut and quickly hid in the storage closet that Sonya had been in just the previous evening.

 

 

            That evening, Sonya fell asleep quickly but Patrick remained vigilant, pretending to have fallen into dreamland so that Beya wouldn’t catch on to his plans to spy on her this evening.  Beya didn’t even bother to close the door out of innocent trust.  []

 

 

 

 

 

 

            Beya was dusty; her body had a soft layer of gray-brown powder that clung to her skin without directly clasping on – in a way so that it almost just floated around her body, outlining her.  Patrick looked at her big eyes and felt his heart shudder; his body trembled.

            Suddenly, Beya was looking at him.  She blinked a few times without betraying whatever inner emotions she felt.  The two stood there for at least a minute, just staring at each other’s eyes.

            And then slowly, they leaned towards each other, clasped their bodies together with soft but deliberate arms, and with the dust freeing itself from their bodies into the meadow air, they closed their eyes.  They were surrounded by happiness and filled with anticipation when abruptly, the two let out small exclamations of shock.

            “Y-y-y-” the two stuttered, “You missed!!!”

            “It’s not my fault you’re so short that the lowest I can reach is the tip of your nose!” cried Patrick.

            “Well, it’s surely not my fault that you don’t even know where a girl’s lips are located on her face, scatterbrain!” retaliated Beya.

            And then the two laughed heartily, hugging each other freely.  First kisses were supposed to be beautiful and exhilarating and so perfect – which of course was why they most certainly didn’t turn out that way.

            “Are you even allowed to … you know … have a relationship … kiss and all that?” asked Patrick when they reluctantly concluded their embrace.

            “Well, it’s always been okay for priests and priestesses to be married, but I’d normally not be allowed to kiss before the wedding ceremony,” said Beya.  “But you know, after all this, it’s really time for all of us to think about what really matters to us and what doesn’t.”

            “Yeah,” agreed Patrick.

            “Are you guys done yet?!” screamed Sonya impatiently. 

            []

 

            The next day was breezy and cool, just like when the two had arrived just two weeks beforehand.  Many of the priests and priestesses and their apprentices were gathered around the spaceship to say farewell to the young heroes.

            “Sonya, do you have everything with you?” Patrick asked for the thousandth time.

            “Yeaaaah,” confirmed his sister with annoyance.  “I have it all here!”  She raised her arms to shake the bags in Patrick’s face.

            They walked farther along the path until they stood at the foot of the steps that led up to the spaceship passenger cabin.

            “Sonya, do you really have everything with you?”

            Sonya practically exploded, chucking her smaller bag at her brother.  A loud smacking sound resulted, knocking Patrick onto the floor.

            Patrick sat there, dazed.  “What the hell do you have in that tiny old thing that is so freaking heavy?!”

            Sonya looked equally surprised.  “I … I don’t think my panties are that um metallic.  I meant, they aren’t metallic at all!”

            “Are you sure?” asked Patrick.

            “Of course I’m sure!!” retorted Sonya hotly, kicking her brother in the kneecap.

            Patrick took the small bag and unzipped it, first revealing underwear, which made Sonya blush and kick him again.  Then a solid metal cat tumbled out.

            “You brought … a metal cat … on this trip?!” cried Patrick.

            Sonya considered it for awhile and decided it wasn’t hers.  “It ain’t mine,” she said.

            “Whatever,” said Patrick.  “Just leave it here I guess.”

            They turned around to see lots of smiling faces.  Patrick’s eyes wandered about, searching for Beya out of all of them.  He didn’t have to try that hard, though, since Beya stepped out and walked towards them – or him specifically, if his perceptions were to be trusted.

            “I guess it’s time for us to say our goodbyes,” Beya said, a twinge of sadness mixed into her usual vivacity.  “But I have to confess something first.  I smuggled my metal cat into one of your bags.”

            “Er, a gift?” asked Sonya innocently, cupping the kitten in her hands.  “It’s really cute!  Thank you very much!”

            “No!” shouted Beya.

            Sonya froze in shock, hands trembling.  “… No?”

            “It’s mine!” Beya answered.

            “Then what’s the big idea of putting it into my bag, huh?  Are you trying to be a punk?  Huh?  Huh?  Come and get some, then!!” shouted Sonya, raising her fists.

            “Oh, cut it out,” said Beya, smothering Sonya’s hair with her hand.  “What I mean is, I couldn’t fit into my bag, but I really wanted to have it around while I was away.”

            Your bag?  Away?

            “Goodbye, everyone!” shouted Beya, waving.  She slipped her dress off over her head, revealing one of Sonya’s outfits, which fit her rather snugly but still with style.

            Mahelsa tossed her a small bag and with that, Beya grabbed Patrick and Sonya by their wrists.

            “Let’s go already!” she shouted as Sonya struggled to repack her small bag.  “I arranged to study abroad for a year.  I’m gonna be at Coast City, so come and visit me often, okay?”

            Patrick’s heart pounded so hard it could have hammered down a railroad track across the world.  It was too much for him to take and he embraced Beya with so much passion that the two toppled down the steps onto the ground.

            “OOF!” shouted Patrick who suddenly became aware that Beya wasn’t as light as he had expected.  “Geez, are you carrying more metal cats on ya or something?” he groaned.

            Beya elbowed him lightly for the comment and got up, dusting off her pants.

            “You’re smooth as silk, aren’t you,” she said sarcastically.

            And they scaled the stairs, turning back to wave at everyone.

 

 

            “Bro, I’m sitting in the middle.”

            Beya looked at the three-seat row and eyed the window seat with desire.

            “Ohh, Pat,” she said.

            “Yeah?”

            “Which seat do you want?” asked Beya politely, still secretly coveting the window seat.

            “I’d prefer the –”

            “- aisle seat!” chirped Beya happily.  “I’m so glad you let me have the window seat,” she said, smiling.

            Patrick rolled his eyes.  “Whatever.”

            The three sat down, with Sonya smirking triumphantly after successfully keeping Beya and Patrick apart.  There wouldn’t be any fooling around going on in this spaceship.

            In her self-congratulatory reverie, Sonya had stopped paying attention to her surroundings, and when she opened her eyes, she was appalled at what she saw: two faces leaned in across her seat!

            “You guys!!” protested Sonya.

            Obviously clear-minded enough to hear Sonya, Patrick and Beya locked lips and shared a perfect kiss, a perfect beginning – and a very painful pinch in the arm from the adorable princess.  And the spaceship hurtled out away from the lavender-glazed planet, carrying three children towards the ever-changing horizon.

 

The End