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I heard a call of a bird. It sounded desperately free. A hoarse shout to the air, spontaneous and thrown to the ear with abandon. It sounds like the kind of bird that has black feathers, I guessed. But I’m sure its beak shines with rainbows in the light. Like a pearl.
The citrus sky of paradise shone through my window, the pale sheen of the china dress reflected unimaginable color off Lady’s face. Such is the dawn here. Colors nearly missed, nearly written off, until one realizes that the light is bending in marvelous, cunning ways. Lady’s skin was white as paper, showing the light’s stain like watercolor. I could tell by the very shape of her eyes that something was wrong. Something was amiss.
“Something is amiss,” I stated.
Layers of porcelain clinked together as Lady adjusted the waistline of the dress. “You are correct.” Her lips pursed together and she stared hard at her handiwork. I waited patiently enough for elaboration, but soon I sighed at her. She snapped back to reality. “I don’t believe we’ll have enough material to make the shoes.” Her voice was a chirp.
I couldn’t tell if she was avoiding my true meaning or if she was genuinely that concentrated on her task. Lady had always been a meticulous woman, a micromanager to the very last. This dress, one of millions she has pinned to me, was getting just as careful attention as any of them. If not more. Much more attention, in fact.
“Is this dress for a special occasion…?” I asked her loudly, so she could not daze off into her calculations again.
She smiled up at me, an act that suited her thin, soft face. “I must agree it is odd that they requested such an unusual material for it. Of all things, china? I’ll never understand them.”
I cut her off before she could ramble further. “‘Them,’ as in the Itineris?”
Her head moved, almost imperceptibly. I couldn’t tell if she meant it as a nod or not. I could tell, however, that this certainly wasn’t her intense concentration at fault here. She knew something.
I stepped back from her prodding fingers, crossing my arms. I’m sure you could hang a bucket on my bottom lip, which protruded forth in an exaggerated pout. Outside, the dawn rainbows clouded and grayed. I would have held my breath. I was being childish, for certain, but I knew that the act worked on Lady. When she bit her own lip and looked up at me, I knew I had succeeded.
“Please forgive, Miss Cinibea. I do not mean to deceive you,” she murmured, her head hanging low.
I relaxed my arms. My brow crinkled worriedly. “I know, Lady. It’s just… I’ve never seen you like this, in all the eons I’ve known you. Won’t you please just tell me what is happening?”
She inhaled, raising her eyes to meet mine, when the door opened. No, it was less like it opened, and more like it went from fully shut to being pressed against the wall in an instant. Lady scrambled to her feet only to immediately bend her body double in a severe bow. I wanted to pout again.
A nameless-looking Itineris member stepped forward. In deep purple robes he towered, black trim indicating his relatively lowly status in the chain of command. He wore the tall, rectangular hat that all the Itineris did. Anyone else would look ridiculous in the wardrobe of an Itineris member. I wondered if the harsh lines around his eyes and the mechanical way his fingers moved were prerequisite of the Itineris. His sharp, almost geometric silhouette made everything in my room look childish, soft, and superfluous. I hated that.
“Cinibea Aurora.” It was a statement, not a question. He looked directly at me, but didn’t seem to really see me. It was like His eyes were only painted glass, just for show. I hated that.
“That is I,” I answered, though he wasn’t truly asking. My voice felt soft and unassuming in comparison to his demanding baritone. He was in full control, and I absolutely, positively hated that.
He turned and strode out of the room, and I knew I was to follow. My porcelain dress tinkled like bells as I moved. I wanted so badly to look back and smile at Lady, but for whatever reason… I couldn’t. I felt her sad gaze on my neck. I wish I knew what had made such a joyous woman so solemn.
The impossibly tall figure glided ahead of me, leading me to the Itineris’s Court. It was as if the world simply moved beneath him as he stood, and he only had to wait until his destination arrived before him, contrite and convivial at his presence. The regality of all the Itineris oozed into the air like that, making the very walls bow just a little for them, imperceptible acknowledgements of the power they held over the entirety of the Everworld. All who dwelled here, new and old souls alike, obeyed the laws the Itineris wrote. The Itineris hid under their shadows and cold unbiased decisions. They were the physics of the Everworld. They were the facts. They were the law.
An Itineris with deep red trim was waiting in the Court to receive me. He nodded to the black-trimmed one, who left without another word. I looked up at the new Itineris. He looked almost exactly the same: sunken, lined hollows in the cheeks, dark eyes… chilling.
I nodded my head stupidly. Again, not a question. Never a question. Were they ever unsure of anything?
He turned and walked from me. I trailed after. I cursed the insipid tinkling of my china dress; how was it that it had sounded so melodic in my chambers, but so childish now? The room was black, the darkness oppressive. We walked on. I could not tell up from down. It was like walking in a void. It reminded me of death; even after experiencing it countless times, I never got used to the thick dark embrace of dying. Each time, I would return from the blackness to the Everworld, all of my memories returned to me, able to remember all the lives I’d led that I had been blind to in mortal life— a whole, celestial being once more. Every waking moment I lived among the magic of what mortals call the afterlife, I hated and feared the mortal world. The dirt and pain and cruelty… terrifying.
The footsteps in front of me thudded rhythmically onward.
I was glad I had been appointed to goddesshood. I loved controlling the dawn, sweeping away the soot of night to reveal the colored light, bit by bit, until the sun shone over both worlds and began a new day. It was my art. In one of my mortal lives I had been a painter. I’d sat in my drawing room and would dip my brush and blend and love the world to death as I created. The feeling was almost as fantastic as when I unveiled the sunrise each morning. Beauty, soul, and promise were my mediums. It was exactly what I’d craved in my lifetimes: art without the pain.
The Itineris halted, and I barely stopped in time to avoid running into his back. Blinding floodlights from above cracked on. I squinted and saw a wall of mahogany. Tilting my gaze up, and up, and up, I found it was a massive desk, curving in a broad U shape with me in the dead center. Ten Itineris members sat at the desk. I couldn’t make out their faces from the height and blinding lamps, but even from where I stood I saw the white-and-gold patterned trim that marked them as the elite of all the Itineris. I shuddered. If anyone could rule the infinity of the Everworld, it would be these people before me.
This time I made no response.
“Deity of Dawn, Subdeity of rebirth and art.”
I said nothing. They did not need any confirmation from me. I already knew all this. I’d had this status for eons. Centuries had passed in the mortal world. I was good at my job, too.
Suddenly I realized the stiffness in the silence around me. The Itineris had not spoken for some time. I felt the air buzz in my ears. This was weird. Why had they brought me here? My teeth were clenched. My hands balled into fists. I braced myself.