• Seth Singleton - Editor

Rising Shadows: Homecoming

The ship glides through downy clouds. It emerges in a brilliant, clear sky. Nia’s eyes brighten in the lush light that streams through her viewscreen window port. Viridisia is a welcome pattern laid out before her. Suffusing green swaths that stretch to the horizon.

Every place is a memory.

   Lush forests she camped in on a group trip with her sister. The crystalline green rivers where she learned to dive for relics with her mother. Her heart swells with each sight. She feels as though her very soul, withered for two dry years on Marabadden, is drinking in these memories like a cactus.

They soar lower until she can see the tops of dwellings.

The homes fortified by laced root foundations and walls threaded with vines. Smaller trees blend sprouted limbs and trunks anchored in the soil in the center and at the corners of each home.

   People come out of the buildings in threes and fives to look up and offer a waving hand or sometimes two. A white-haired elder offers a formal salute and then smiles. Nia

happily waves back at them and only pauses when she questions if they can see her.

   The ship slows and hovers over a break in the canopy before descending slowly, the surrounding trees rising up around it. A soft shift signals the ship’s magnetic docking.

It sits like a large moss-covered hillock in a tree clearing.

   They emerge from the ship into lush humid air buzzing with insects, animal calls, and the caress of an almost imperceptible breeze. Nia takes a slow deep breath that closes her eyes and shapes her mouth into a grateful smile.

   The shadows of the forest extend and recede to reveal seven figures in robes. The High Priestess, Aja, wears the darkest robe and the three attendants trail her on either side. One day they will lead the council, and one may become the next Aja.

   Commander Artana steps forward with her palms held down. She places them in the outstretched palms of the Aja and bows her head.  

The High Priestess makes eye contact with an attendant who approaches bearing a large gourd of polished old wood. The Aja holds the gourd aloft.

   She speaks three words in reverence before tilting it to let a gentle stream of green water spill out and wash down the commander’s bowed head and shoulders. She signals another attendant to bring over a small lacquered green saucer in the shape of a leaf.

   Filling the saucer to the brim with green water the kneeling attendant offers it to Teza, who sprinkles four drops in offering to the soil, tilts back her head and drinks until it is empty.

   The Aja smiles and extends arms layered with twisted vines bearing small flowers. She pulls Teza up into a warm embrace. Her forehead touches Teza’s shoulder and Teza touches hers. Aja places one hand on the back of Teza’s head and speaks one word, before turning with her head down and walking with her attendants into the forest.

   Teza turns to her soldiers and they rotate one turn to the right and advance. The entire ceremony taking place with only the interruption of a Flickerwind’s cry overhead and the rustle of leaves in the wind echoing the sounds of falling water.

   The host sets out, walking deeper and farther into the forest until the dense canopy begins blocking most of the sunlight. An almost wintry chill stings cheeks, ears, and noses. The sweet smell of rich decay thickens the air.

   When the path ahead grows too dark to see their next footsteps, Teza stops abruptly and the march halts. The iridescent glow of the Order’s green armor glowing is a faint light. She clenches a fist to her chest and closes her eyes.

Her armor pulses gently. Then brightly and brilliantly.

When Teza releases her fist, the armor changes shape. It becomes more ornate. Intricate symbols and patterns begin to adorn it. She reaches out with her right index finger and draws a vivid green leaf symbol on the surface of the

darkness itself and it ripples like water. When she finishes, the shadows part and bright light and distant drums flood their senses.

   Near the bottom of the approaching valley, the sound of the drums intensifies. A chorus of earthen reeds join in. Soft horns and trilling woodwinds join them. The Order

enters the forest to exuberant cheers in a chorus that sounds all around them.

   Nia looks around her. Massive structures of wood and mineral-veined stone twist their way up from the ground. Beautiful bridges of ruddy red woods smoothed over

millennia by feet and time span the great river. Ornate

gondolas teem with hopeful spectators.

   Directly ahead, atop a flight of pristine stone steps stands the Viridisian council of elders. At their center are the High Priestess and the Chief Gardener, Marvin Maderassa carrying the fossil staff.

To be continued...

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