The bird-like trilarna know when they hit puberty. The eye in the middle of their foreheads open and they pull their souls into the real world, causing them to manifest in physical bodies of monste...
Shining towers glowed peach in the sunrise. White seagulls whirled around the floating monoliths and dove under the interconnecting arches that floated over the sea. The vast complex of interlocking towers flew majestically, seemingly unaware that the laws of physics were being flouted. The gargoyles that clustered on the marvel of impracticality watched the seagulls wheel from their fixed positions on the various towers.
The floating vision was somewhat marred by the scars of cannon fire, and the occasional sooty patches, which shone blackly in the rising light. The light also picked up the long barrels of the turret cannons poking out between the complexes of towers. Yet strangely, the crenellated stone tops of the towers, although scored and pockmarked, were clear of any weapons.
Banners of green bound by silver fluttered sluggishly with the movement of the floating tower ship. They were the only mark of distinction to differentiate this flying barge from the others that roamed the seas, and told anyone with knowledge of such things that this was the ship /The Midnight Leaf/. On the tallest tower, another smaller banner flew, black edged with silver. It was this banner that was up for discussion in the lowest tower of the architectural nest.
. . .
"No, Larni Aceve, a black banner does not mean that a dragon mothos is on board. Perhaps, after you manage to practically demonstrate that you do know something/, someone who was /listening last class can enlighten the larni. Now, stand, and deliver the answer to each of these questions, Larni Aceve. Hmm, something simple to start off with. Even a dunce like you should be able to do this. What does the title larni mean, as distinguished from the title larna?"
Aceve Koltoi gulped in embarrassment. This was so humiliating. Why did the teacher force the stupid old fashioned three question rule? She hated Social Customs. The dry, dull, boring larna that they had been assigned as a teacher for this dry, dull, boring subject wasn't exactly the incentive that Aceve needed to listen, anyway. However, getting something as basic as the meaning of banners wrong was pathetic, even for this early in the day. The contemptuous expression on the shriveled woman was enough to tell her that, even if Aceve's conscience wasn't already beating her up for drawing a total blank on the meaning of black banners.
"Larni is a title to indicate that the trilarna being talked about is a child. Larna means that the trilarna has manifested their soul in the physical world, and is therefore considered an adult," she repeated the lesson she had known since she could talk to the teacher in a dull monotone.
"Very good," the teacher said sarcastically. "While we are on the subject of manifestation could you cudgel your brains into remember what that manifestation is called?"
"The physical body which one's soul resides in is known as a mothos. There are three classes of mothos. A demon class, containing the most anthropoidian bodies. The faerie class, which covered everything from hybridized mothos to elementals. Finally the monster class, and most powerful, are the beast-like mothos. They are capable of much more magic than the other two classes, and are only manifested by the most noble souls."
"Correct, despite your newly invented word. Anthropoidian, hmm. Perhaps we should use it more," the teacher graced Aceve with a thin smile. "Finally, and do please get this right, what is the sign of manifestation?"
Aceve sighed. "Manifestation is signaled by the opening of our third eyes, which remain shut until adulthood."
She sat down, her front quillions standing straight up on her scalp in embarrassment. Social Customs was her least favorite class, and this season it was being held at day break. Admittedly, it was better than breaking bricks with her face first thing in the morning, although, as the defense instructor repeatedly told her, the point of the exercises was not to get hit.
The expression remained long enough to make the point, and then the trilarna teacher glanced at the hands that had risen into the air to answer the question. On her desk the wrinkled turtle of a vampire that was this teacher's mothos swung its skinny legs, and gazed blankly at Aceve. The young girl glared back at the mute, unintelligent mothos. The vampire seemed unphased.
Larni Coltav, her short quillions properly restrained under a light pink headband, raised her hand in the air. She stood up as the larna in charge nodded at her. Coltav took a deep breath. She always took a deep breath before she answered, as if enough air in her lungs would dispel her nerves. One of the boys with black quillions tight to his head, protecting his short brown hair, inhaled in mockery of the girl, and made faces like a dieing parrot fish. Coltav turned her head away from him with her jaw set and answered the teacher.
"A black banner means that we have monster mothos capabilities. But Larni Aceve was correct," another gasp of courage, "because the silver edging around our banner means that we have a dragon mothos on board."
She sat down, fiddling absently with her fingers. Aceve glared resentfully at the back of Coltav's head. She was always oh so nice, and honest, and /fair/. Aceve wished that her fellow student's quillions would light on fire.
There was a small gasp, and flames leapt into the air of the classroom, almost gratifying Aceve's wish. Coltav turned into a living pyre as bright embers coated her. She stumbled from her chair, her mouth opened, and a shrill bubbling noise erupted from it, as the flames licked over her lips.
Fire slithered over her skin and clothes like friendly birds swirling around her. The flickering feathers of heat and light wrapped the young trilarna in a cocoon of flame. The desk and stone floor blackened and charred as the fiery cyclone surrounded Coltav.
Her quillions broke from the restraining headband as they rose in agitation, even as the third eye opened in the center of her forehead. The iris whirled with flame, a symbolic embodiment of her connection to her newly appearing mothos.
All the flame left Coltav's body, pulling itself into the flaming iris of her third eye. She fell to her knees, closing all her eyes, and then slowly opening the top one for the second time. Her iris glowed with fire, and a phoenix burst in glory into the classroom. It opened its hooked beak and let out the same shrill warble that Coltav had uttered only a few moments ago before the seagull sized apparition flapped awkwardly up to Coltav's shoulder.
She looked around dazedly, and the students flinched from her adult three eyed gaze. Coltav Iasan was no longer a lowly larni, but now a full adult larna, one with a monster class mothos. Aceve swallowed jealously as she averted her gaze from Coltav's blue eyes surmounted by the single burning one. It wasn't fair.
"Larna Coltav," the teacher cleared her throat, her dull eyes looking even more jealous than the students, filled with near hate that Coltav's soul should be so magnificent, "will you please stay here? I must notify military command that you have matured. They shall lead you to your new quarters in the cadet towers. As for the rest of you, you are dismissed."
The teacher sucked in her breath and stalked behind the desk. Pressing a button on her control panel made a telescreen fold out from the desk top, and she began to type a message.
The class, on the other hand, left, grinning and joking, trying not to remember the fact that one of there own had just succeeded in maturing and calling forth such a spectacular soul. Aceve made it to the door, trailing her friend Siran Litell and bumped into Amikann, the boy who had made fun of Coltav earlier. In the resulting scuffle Aceve was turned around to see Coltav sitting by the desk playing with her fingers unhappily. For a moment Aceve wanted to go back and talk to the lonely looking girl, but then Coltav's mothos butted its head against her cheek, and crooned softly.
Aceve swung around, and stomped toward the stone corridor, only to wham into Amikann /again/. This time she just stormed past him. She knew it was rude, but that was the last thought clamoring for a place in her mind. Another monster mothos meant a great deal to /The Midnight Leaf/, but for the other hatchings it just spelled disappointment and high expectations.
She dashed down the carpeted corridor of the learning tower, and yanked on the scarf that Siran was wearing. At least with her friend she could complain, and no one was going to look down on her for possibly tarnishing her fledgling soul.
"Why did she have to be a phoenix?" Aceve asked pitifully as Siran turned around.
The taller trilarna shrugged, sighing. "My parents are convinced that I "deserve" nothing less than to be in possession of a Faerie grade soul, considering what the rest of our fellow hatchings have been getting. After this, they'll upgrade me to monster class in their dreams. Think about it. Coltav's the third monster class mothos out of five manifestations! At least the first one of the hatching happened last year. But still-most of us will never hear the end of it if we don't manage to match Coltav. Never mind the fact that she's really nice, and strong willed, and ignores it when we make fun of her, and it's not really a surprise that she's a monster class."
"You never made fun of her," Aceve pointed out broodily. "You have a decent personality, and probably soul to match. You're kind, thoughtful, and never cross with anyone but your parents, and you don't act rudely to them, even when they do get on your nerves. Then there's mean-spirited, stupid, me. When I manifest I'll be lucky to end up with a vampire," she grimaced. "I keep trying to act better, but these thoughts and feelings just slip out."
"Aceve, you're a wonderful person," Siran shook her head smiling. "Anyway, it could be worse. You could turn out to be a homunculus grade soul, like that girl from the hatching above ours-Messa. Wasn't her name Messa?" Siran tried to encourage her friend, but winced even as the words fell flat, leaving her mouth.
"Don't tempt fate. I could be homunculus grade, after all," Aceve replied, thinking that only Siran could sound so sorry for Larna Messa when the girl's mothos proved her to be duplicitous and underhanded. "At least," Aceve tried to brighten up, "I won't have to worry about my parents being disappointed if I get a low class mothos. My mother doesn't want me to spend my life in the military, and monster class would guarantee that."
Siran sighed. "Poor Coltav. She wanted to be a chronicler, you know."
"Yeah, well, the training will sort her out," Aceve replied. "Full-time military life must be great. There's the camaraderie, and respect. If you want to stay longer than your eighteenth birthday-,"
"Or four years," Siran interrupted. Her sister had been a "late bloomer," not having manifested a mothos until she was sixteen. As a result Siran was a little sensitive about people who made assumptions about how long was "normal" to be in the army.
"Yeah," Aceve pressed on, certain she could never survive the embarrassment of manifesting late, and not wanting to think about the possibility. "Anyway, you get a whole lot of privileges, don't you? Especially the higher you go in ranks."
"Well, yes. But speaking of privileges, are your parents coming to dinner?" Siran asked, switching topics with the grace of someone who wasn't particularly interested in the current conversation.
"Yeah. I don't know why they bother. Or manage to stay sane. When I become an adult you'll never catch me in the children's dining area. Why would anyone want to spend time with a bunch of noisy kids, and the newest hatchings always throw things. No one but our teachers and crazies like my parents eat down there, so there's no conversation, or anything interesting. I bet the army mess will have better food, too."
"But it's the only time they have to see you since you started having morning classes," Siran protested. "I think it's wonderful of your parents to continue coming down to see how you're doing."
"Pfft. They're just child starved. My mother wants another larni once I manifest and leave the family suite. If it wasn't peace time I'd probably have to put up with another brother or sister. Can you imagine how cramped and annoying that would be?"
"I think it would be nice if we didn't have to worry about the carrying capacity of the ship," Siran replied gently. "And Aceve, your parents will miss you. Not many adults care as much about their children as much as your parents do. Why don't you accept the gift for what it is?"
Aceve sighed, and this time she was the one who changed the topic, as they headed to their family suites to get on their combat clothes.
The darkness of night enclosed on the ship of towers, but was held firmly at bay by the electric lights that shone from all the windows. Trilarna were all but blind at night, and darkness had a soporific effect on the avian-anthropoids. When lights went off, they fell asleep.
In the Family Tower, Aceve shut the door to her room still hearing her mother's happy wishes for a good night through the stone wall and steel door. She sighed as her bare feet sunk into the thick carpeting, her pointed toenails piercing the shag. If only her mother wasn't so /enthusiastic/. It was embarrassing.
The dinner she had enjoyed with her mother and father and the rest of the non-manifested trilarna sat too heavily on her bruised stomach for her to just plunk directly into bed, and begin to study for Social Customs, and the less dreaded History. The seed cake had probably been her mistake, Aceve decided. Her mother always warned her not to eat too much of the delicacy, and that it was vastly heavier than the seafood dishes she was used to. Predictably, Aceve ignored the advice.
She walked past the two personal notepads that lay on the steel desk by her bed. The mattress was real a real feather filled thing, made when the Midnight Leaf had made a rare land stop to collect what was not readily available on the open ocean. She wasn't lucky enough to have a wooden desk, however.
Going into the small bathroom off her room she checked her teeth in the mirror. Black seeds stared back at Aceve from the tiny crevasses between her teeth. Lovely look. Aceve picked up her toothbrush, squirted on the white paste, and began to attack the remains of her dessert with gusto.
As her mouth began to fill with foam, Aceve slipped into the zen-like state of tooth brushing. It helped her relax, and put her day in perspective. She was now feeling guilty about not going back to talk to Coltav when the larna had looked so alone this morning. Oh well, when she was manifested she would make that up to Coltav as soon as she saw the former history enthusiast.
One overly forceful pass at her teeth made her sore shoulder complain, and Aceve carefully relented. Combat class that afternoon had been another disaster, as she had been paired with Amikann. The rambunctious larni was far too enthusiastic with his punches, and she had slammed into the ground more than once from the strength of them. Still, she looked on the bright side, she had managed not only to stay in the combat ring this time, but knock him to the ground with a leg sweep.
Still, the day certainly could have been better. She was still a larni, and she didn't feel as if she was growing up any more quickly, and so it was unlikely that she would manifest any time soon.
Next on the list of things that wouldn't seem to improve: Her parents were clingy, and made her feel smothered.
As for her appearance, she was still brown all over. From the row of stiff, dark brown quillions that delineated her hairline around over her forehead, to her brown hair itself, and finally the dull pale brown of her skin. Her eyes were even more boring, being the typical yellow that all hatchings were born with. As for the third eye, that was nestled comfortably above her eyebrows, the lid firmly closed, and the dull (brown, /again/) lashes brushing her skin.
There wasn't even a war on to make life exciting. The Midnight/ Leaf/ hadn't even sighted another tower ship in years, much less engaged one. The year that she had been born had been the final year of the most recent war, which the Leaf had won.
By the sky above, she was as dull and boring as her tooth brush. Aceve took out her tooth brush, and made a face at herself in the mirror. She wished that she was someone else, anyone else. She blinked, and her wish was granted.
Gloom descended upon her senses. This was the dusk of twilight, almost a world away, as the sun sank behind the hills of firm land. But the child of the well lit, constantly floating towers, didn't find the sensation strange in the slightest. Her vision was a sharp-eyed monochrome, filling the lush meadow world in distinct shades of gray. This world was also filled with hunger, despite her heavy meal of only hours before.
Plants rustled, and the steady beat of a heartbeat hammered in her ears. The blood of the animal rushed around its body, and the shape called up a thought and memory that she had never had. /Rabbit/. In response to the rush of information she stilled, letting her heartbeat fade and die, as she pin-pointed the tiny creature's location through the steady throb of blood.
The grey creature loped into the moonlight after a few moments, large and fuzzy. She struck. Her fist snapped out, slamming the creature to the ground, breaking its spine instantly. She crouched to grab her meal triumphantly. The bundle of meat and fur was raised to her mouth, and she bit down savagely. Her teeth sunk in, and suddenly a rush of blood flooded her starving body, the coppery taste so unlike the seed cake-
Seed what? Someone asked her, sounding as if he was only keeping fear under control through a great effort. What are you? What's going on? Why can't I control myself?
Aceve had no idea where the voice was coming from. It wasn't even a voice, more like thoughts and images cobbled together inside her mind to communicate the idea. She had no clue how to respond, or even what to say. However, it seemed as if whatever this was, the communication happened through direct thought.
A flood of images erupted at his first question of seeds, and seed cake, and the sweetness in her mouth, and the smell, and the bubbly soft texture of the cake. Information piled towards whoever owned the invisible voice, and then a second flood of information spouted at the second question, resolving itself in the most simple of terms.
Oh no! the other person pulled at Aceve, as if somehow physically trying to drag her backwards. Instinctively the young trilarna yanked away, tugging on the invisible mental grasp.
/Nonononon/onononononono!" A solid voice was yelling in her ears, and Aceve's first thought was that her parents would hear and investigate, even through solid closed doors.
Aceve leapt across the intervening space. Her hand clamped over his mouth, and her palm pressed against enormous incisors that jutted beyond the lower lip. She looked into dead gray eyes and hissed: "Do you want my parents to go crazy from worry?!"
The gray eyes, for their part, were darting around the tiny bathroom. Finally, however, the person shook his head, and Aceve let go with a sigh of relief.
Not a person, the trilarna realized as she looked him over, although he was probably male. He was weedy with long legs and arms, meant for speed and striking in combat. If he wasn't in possession of more strength than his frame pretended to, then he at least knew how to use momentum to his advantage. Aceve remembered the rabbit vividly.
Over all, he resembled a sick seagull. His skin was a pale white, unlike Aceve's beautifully brown tones, and seemed to be stretched over his bones, barely allowing room for the muscles. His hair was as white as his skin, and sticking up at odd angles without quillions to tamp it down and flatten it. His gray eyes added to the total impression of colorlessness, while his clothing was the basic shade of whatever it had been woven out of, grey greens, grey, and brown. The only hint of real color about him was the slight pinkness in his cheeks, and the redness of his mouth, but even that was receding, slowly but surely.
But it wasn't his mouth that riveted Aceve's gaze to his face. It was the teeth, the long protruding teeth of a vampire mothos. An extension of someone's soul into the physical world. A tangible representation of the power inherent in someone's spirit.
Her head swung to look at the mirror, as if magnetized. A single grey eye stared at her from above her two yellow eyes in the center of her forehead.
She had manifested. She had manifested! She had /manifested/!
Aceve turned back to the-/her/-vampire mothos, and felt her jubilation decline slightly. Her inner being turned out to be demon class. Vampires were ranking among the lowliest demon class at that. They had wonderful speed and often could be very strong, despite their slim, underfed appearance, and their self healing abilities were top notch among the demon class. However, outside of the army, vampire class trilarna were a sneaky bunch, fairly amoral, and bitter. Everyone knew that. You couldn't trust important jobs to trilarna that had vampire mothos. Aceve had known (and been repeatedly told) that she wasn't a good person, and this vampiric representation of her soul only proved that point.
"Aceve? Aceve? Are you all right in there?" Aceve jumped, hearing her mother's voice through the door.
Something about the concerned voice of her mother brought her back to reality. Just wait until Momma saw that she had manifested! Even if it was a vampire, she was still a full larna now, and she would have a promising career, if only in the army.
She rushed past her mothos, as dumb and mute as all mothos were. The larna flung open the door to the bathroom, and hugged her tall mother enthusiastically, nearly squashing mother's little ice fairy mothos in her exuberance.
"I'm fine! I manifested, I manifested!" she grinned.
Her mother's eyes widened, and the larna swung her daughter around, happiness beaming from her two yellow eyes and the single blue orb of her third. "Oh, Aceve, that's wonderful! When you get out of the army I have a friend who is planning on taking on an assistant in her shop. You could apply. Or continue your education. Or get married even! I'd love grand-hatchings, you know."
"Momma," Aceve breathed pitifully, and her mother let go. "I might not go out of the army. I possess a vampire mothos."
Aceve's mother held her daughter at arm's length, and looked at her child, with frown lines appearing around her third eye to match the crow's feet at the corners of her birth eyes. She spared a glance toward the mothos in the bathroom, which was edging toward the shower stall, fear written plainly on his features. Seeing his fear, and guessing that it must be a reflection of her daughter's own (although she had no idea how wrong she was), she sighed gently.
"Oh, dear, that is a blow, I won't lie. But come, let's sit down. There are a lot of jobs open to vampire mothos trilarna in the private sector these days. They make very good navigators, for example. I'm sure that your father could get you an acceptance into the school, and there is always teaching. Yes, teaching would do very well, I think. Oh don't make that face."
She steered Aceve toward the bed, and sat her down. "Don't worry, we'll keep discussing it. Just because you've finally matured doesn't mean that we'll stop talking. I'll notify military command and registration first thing tomorrow, and give you a nice breakfast before you're sent off to the Recruit Tower. But let's get one thing straight, you had better come down for a family meal every other free day, at least. I served, I know how hard they push the recruits to shape up and be ready, even in peace time, so you'll be tired, but that's no excuse not to eat right, and if you're not careful, you'll begin to believe that you're like your mothos and only need psychic energy to survive on, I tried that for two weeks, and it was not the best decision I ever made."
"Yes, Momma," Aceve sighed. "I'll remember I'm not immortal. But what I am right now is tired," and she was at that. Now that the initial flush of jubilation was wearing off she felt immensely tired. No wonder Coltav had looked so forlorn that morning. It was probably half from the flattened feeling that manifesting left you with, as much feeling lonely in the face of classmate desertion.
The large woman smiled, and kissed her daughter on both cheeks. "All right. Get a good night's rest. And get your moths to come out of the shower."
Aceve nodded, and waited until her mother was gone from the room, before jumping up and running to the bathroom, to make certain that her mothos was there, and she hadn't dreamed him up.
"E-excuse me," Aceve jumped back in alarm at the sound of the same voice that had been screaming at her, and in her mind. "But, but if you're going to eat my soul, please do it quickly, and get it over with! All this waiting is making me nervous."
"Wha?" Aceve stared at her vampire, goggle-eyed. His mouth had moved. Words had formed on his lips, but mothos didn't talk. They couldn't talk. You soul couldn't go around talking to all in sundry, after all.
The palid creature breathed out, and straightened from his crouched position on the white tiles. He looked frightened, but he swallowed with the grim determination of someone about to plunge into shark infested waters. "Look, you've kidnapped me, teleported me to this, this, this place full of odd noises, and no blood, and entered my mind. Couldn't you make this as quick and painless as possible, please?!"
"What do you mean kidnapped? You're my soul. I can't kidnap my own soul!" Aceve exclaimed. "I'm not going to do anything that needs to be quick or painless, and anyway, why should it matter? You're just the same person as me!"
"I am a vam-pi-er," the mothos said very slowly, in case Aceve was particularly dense. "This is different from a soul. A soul is what makes you who you are. It is not another person of flesh and blood, who was innocently enjoying his first hunt a few minutes ago. Understand? We've got stories about you people. Trilarna mind-eater, that's what you are, no matter what your delusions say otherwise. N-now eat me, and get it over with."
"I am not a mind eater!" the young larna growled fervently. "And what do you mean '/we/?'"
"Everyone, of course. All vampires at least. Possibly the werewolves, too, but they're just beasts really, and don't count. My mother told me the stories. Trilarna come when they sense a mind of power, and then spirit them away and eat them. Sometimes they keep the bodies alive, but the rest is dead," the dead gray eyes raked over Aceve, and some of the fear appeared to be replaced by disappointment. "You know, you should be bigger, like your mother. And scarier."
"I am a full larna, I'll have you know, even if I haven't reached my growth," Aceve bristled, her quillions standing up in agitated annoyance. "The fact that I manifested you is proof enough of that!"
However, she was worried. Mothos were supposed to be an extension of a trilarna's mind and spirit. What did it say about her when her soul was clearly hallucinating? Was she insane inside, and just covering it up well? She didn't think so, but anyone who heard this mothos could only assume the worst.
"What's a larna?" the vampire shrugged, looking at her, as if to make it plain that he was the one who believed her to be delusional.
"It's a title. It means that I'm an adult," Aceve answered her mouth running on auto pilot while her mind grappled with the horrible reality that it was confronting. "I become an adult as soon as I manifest my soul. Really, the physical representation of my soul, which is usually based upon monsters from myths and tales - which can't talk, because a person's soul just can't go around talking to whomever. But the point is that I am an adult, with a fully manifested soul. Which is you!" she added forcefully, as if making the point again would somehow make it true.
"It really isn't," the pallid creature sighed. He breathed out, stretching, moving away from Aceve, but not with the same level of fear apparent in his eyes. "I am not going to stop talking just because you say I shouldn't be. I am a free person with the right to decide whether I talk or not. Put that in your pipe and smoke it."
"What?" Aceve looked at her mothos blankly. "How am I supposed to put a refusal to stop being defective in a pipe? And how can you turn a noun into a verb, much less smoke a pipe." She bent quickly and tapped the pipe that led from the wall to her sink, in case her mothos didn't know what a pipe was, and was confusing something else. Oh why, oh why was her soul so crazy? She would be immediately placed in the sanatorium tower if this got out. It would kill her mother.
"Never mind," white hair waved as the vampire shook his head in exasperation. "It's an expression, like-,"Aceve's head tingled violently, as if she was standing out on the top of the towers in a cold shower of rain. "-like when you say "try to grasp hold of a flying fish in a thunderstorm." Look, my point is that I'm not your soul, or whatever. I'm my own person with thoughts and feelings, don't try to take that from me."
Aceve was taken aback by the forcefulness with which he said those last words. She crossed her arms in defensive retaliation, trying to think of something that could prove him wrong. "Oh yeah?" Not exactly a stunning verbal parlay, but the real answer to her problems came to her in a flash. "What's your name, then?"
She smirked. Mothos didn't have names. Names were bound up intrinsically with their trilarna. As soon as her mothos realized that his name was the same as hers everything would snap into place, she was sure of it.
"It's Phinneas," the vampire replied simply. "Finny, for short, I guess. If we have to stay together for a while. I'm sorry, I should have asked for your formal introduction, or something. I've never been good at meeting people-especially mythical body snatchers," he was grinning at his own joke, but as he watched Aceve's expression slip from smug to shocked the grin grew wide enough to see the sharp points of his teeth.
"I-thi-why?" Aceve whimpered at last, turning around. Her third eye closed as she fought not to cry. She was insane. Se must be. This wouldn't be happening to her if she was normal and stable. Her mothos, her soul lead a separate existence from her own. How could this be real? How could it be happening?
Her broad shoulders shook as she held in the tremors that raced up and down her spine. She was going to be locked up. She was going to disgrace her family. Everything was going to come undone.
"Aceve?" Phinneas asked. "Um. Larna. Whatever you're called. What's-why are you making me feel like this?"
Aceve looked over her shoulder, to see that the vampire was sweating and weaving to and fro as if being pushed in a breeze.
"I'm going crazy," she muttered, watching him. He said that he had a life of his own, but he was still affected by her. His lies about having a life couldn't be true, then. He must be the incarnation of her soul, and he was as crazy as a seagull.
She felt betrayed. For a moment, she would have given anything for his stories to have been the truth. Oh sea and sky, she was insane. What could she do? Pretend that everything was normal until Phinneas slipped up and revealed how abnormal she was to everyone?
"I'm going to bed," Aceve sniffed, at last.
She stalked out of the bathroom, and crawled under the covers of her bed, not bothering to change her clothes. Life was just too strange at the moment. As she turned out her lights she heard Phineas move across the room and sit on the floor at the foot of her bed. Aceve closed her eyes, the darkness overtaking her. That night she dreamed of villages of pallid people, who slept during the day when the bright sun hurt their delicate skin, and hunted animals in the fields and forests when the sun went down.
The lesson plan for new recruits was fairly simple. Everyone had to have two years of basic training, before they could experience field training. Once there were enough manifested trilarna they could be formed into a squad which would participate in all activities and classes together.
Until enough manifested, however, the down time could be spent learning the basics of mothos use (all explained in grater detail when the squads went to real classes), and history. The history classes were taught on a rotating cycle, so someone just had to stay with it until they reached the point of history which they had entered the class at-at least, that was how Aceve's cadet tour guide has explained it wile she was being shown around. Aceve wasn't quite certain that she had fully understood everything.
Those would be the morning classes for those not fully squaded up. The afternoon classes were defense training. The first half devoted to personal combat, and the second (since they had no squad yet) would be given over to watching older squads work.
Aceve doubted that she would be allowed to see the afternoon. Finny walked along beside her. He didn't talk, he didn't act abnormally. The entirety of last night might not as well have happened. Worse, it probably was a hallucination on Aceve's part. Someone would surely discover it in one of the two morning classes and then she would be taken away. She wished that she had hidden under her bed when her mother had come to get her that morning.
She turned her attention back to the Commander in charge of the class, a sinking feeling in her stomach.
"Your mothos is an extension of yourself," the instructor told the small group. He was totally calm, his passive demeanor at odds with the darting fairy mothos flitting around his head.
Aceve glanced apprehensively at Phinneas again, before snapping her attention back to the front of the room, hoping that her movement wasn't suspicious. At least Phinneas wasn't talking, she reminded herself. Perhaps he wouldn't ever again. Perhaps last night had been a hallucination. Luckily for her, as she turned back to the instructor she saw a few other classmates do so as well. Perhaps she wasn't the only one with doubts. Okay, they probably hadn't looked at their mothos for the same reasons as Aceve, but it didn't really matter, as long as she didn't look suspicious.
"Today you trainees shall be learning how to enter the body of your mothos and use its senses. Remember, your mothos is merely a physical projection of your soul. It has no mind of its own. Believe it or not, you have all done this activity before. The few seconds of manifestation when you psychically pull your mothos out of your mind is spent inside the body that your soul creates for itself. You are literally seeing your mental landscape through their eyes."
Really? Aceve wondered, remembering Phinneas' claims and the realism of the rabbit that she had killed. If that was her mental landscape, what had she been eating? And this brought her back to the troubling question of why her soul had such a distinct and vivid life. Had anyone else gotten into a mental tug of war just before their manifestation?
"Trainees, at ease. You'll have to be able to do this in your sleep. Close your primary eyes."
Aceve did as she was told, and the world became black. But then she blinked her third eye, and the blackness light up with lines of color. Finny was a mass of grey. Behind Aceve Coltav was a flaming red, the outline of her mothos blending and merging with her own.
Funny, Phinneas commented, sounding confused, there is no difference between the girl and the phoenix, but you're a much darker gray than I am. In fact, almost everyone here is a different color from the trilarna that they're paired with. Minus the firebird, of course.
I have no idea what is going on, Aceve shrugged, feeling light and floaty. Phinneas talking to her this way didn't disturb her at all.
"Good," the instructor's voice was far off. "You are now accessing your third eye sight. At first you need to close your eyes to cut down on visual distractions, but eventually you will be able to see it constantly. Now-Yes, Cadet Koltoi?"
Aceve was barely conscious of having raised her hand. However, Phinneas's question waited on her tongue. "Sir, why is Cadet Coltav the same color as her mothos, while the rest of us are different tints of color in comparison?"
"Ah, I was wondering when someone would notice. The closer the shade you share with your mothos the closer you are to total binding. Cadet Coltav is almost always using the senses of her mothos. She knows almost everything she needs to know for the basics course. All possessors of monster mothos are like that from manifestation. The mothos just is who they are, while those of us who are less fortunate must lean the hard way how to be in two places at once. Well noticed, Cadet. It is uncommon for someone to have such command of third eye sight within a few days of manifestation."
Aceve felt pleased by the praise. She was almost never told that she had done a good job in her classes.
And you weren't told that, this time, Phinneas cut in. I noticed it, and anyway, I don't like the look that guy gave you when he said "uncommon." It was too thoughtful.
"All right," the instructor continued, "now, with your third sight, concentrate on your mothos and think about going /in/."
Aceve concentrated on Phinneas' light gray
And she was someone else.
She blinked, and noticed that even in the light everything was monochrome, although it was stronger and sharper than she was used to seeing. Also, she could definitely feel Phinneas, as if he was looking over her shoulder.
You don't feel so miserable, Aceve noticed, for some reason feeling happier because of this fact.
I've been discovering color, Phinneas admitted, sounding ashamed for some reason. We can't see in color. Your eye sight is intoxicating.
You've been looking into my mind? Aceve asked, feeling ill at ease.
Only when I'm scared./ I've been using your memories to help me understand this place, Phinneas admitted. /Please don't be annoyed.
Well, Aceve searched about for a better topic. Do you still feel as though you've been kidnapped?
/Oh/, the admission suddenly blocked Aceve, as if the affirmative thought had thrown up a wall between her and Finny, one which couldn't be climbed.
Can I make something perfectly clear, Aceve? Phinneas asked, as Aceve slipped out of his senses.
I suppose so.
Well, at the risk of repeating myself, I am my own person. We won't be merging like your friend and the phoenix. I can't do anything about this situation but I /will stay who I am./
But, Aceve began, angry that Phinneas was trying to hold her back and insisting on this deranged view of the world when it obviously wasn't real. He was her soul by sea and sky!
If you don't let me be, I will destroy you, Phinneas thought coldly. I know my way around your mind better than you know mine.
Aceve jerked back as she felt Finny change. He became a vicious pool of darkness, growing and stretching, while his fangs became spears of white fire. She opened her eyes in shock. Phinneas was standing next to her, a blank expression on his face. The gray eyes flickered over to her, and one eyelid danced in a wink.
Aceve eyed him uncertainly, and waited for the next exercise with a terrified prayer.
Aceve limped to the observation gallery with the other five cadets. Out of the six only she and Coltav were showing the strain of the grueling physical practice session that they had endured. The phoenix trailed limply after Coltav, just ahead of Aceve. Phinneas, just behind, was bright and bouncy in comparison. The instructor (Aceve was too tired to wonder what the sadist's name was at the moment) had chastised Aceve, saying that her mothos' good condition while she was so tired was a sign of the fact that she was not well bonded with her mothos, and that she should practice.
The six young larna took their seats, and looked over the stone balcony to the large practice arena below.
"This is a second year squad," their instructor told them, some how sounding as if he alone was responsible for this. "The squad is currently undergoing a battle to test strategy. Specifically the strategic thinking abilities of their core member, Enaon. It is the entire squad against him, now watch."
Aceve leaned over to look down at cadets in the same dark green uniforms as everyone else. Then she saw the gout of flame, and someone screamed. A twinkling blue light fell to the floor, as over in a far corner someone dropped to the ground.
"Barenn's fairy is down," someone called, as a creature in black darted out of the way. "Odiaga!"
A racing ball of flame darted under the balcony, and there was a loud roar. The fireball-Aceve thought that it might be a fire elemental mothos- shot back out, and slammed into the opposite wall. Another green clad trilarna screamed, and collapsed. The ground shook, and then Enaon's mothos emerged from its hiding spot. Aceve sucked in her breath. A dragon.
It was massive, a deep green scaled creature that reminded Aceve of a whale traveling through kelp. Beside this beast was a calm, young trilarna, with black hair, and deep red quillions. He looked up and his dragon snapped out its wings, the huge structures of skin and bone filling the arena.
"Scatter!" someone yelled, as the dragon lifted from the ground.
The mass of green hovered in the air, for a moment, and Enaon looked around. "Fire!"
Pillars of flame spewed from the mothos' mouth, blasting one mothos down after another, even as the trilarna that they belonged to hid. Finally, however, eight mothos lay around on the arena. The wings snapped as the dragon continued to hover.
"Messa, I know you're being tricky with your little homunculus, but it won't work. As soon as I see it you're going down. Why don't you just giv-upper left, fire!"
Aceve watched as a ripple in the air became anthropoid shaped for a moment, and then the fire met it-and exploded.
To Enaon's right a green dressed trilarna dashed from behind a pillar. She punched him viciously in the kidneys, her knee coming up to meet his nose, as his dragon fell to the ground.
Enaon dropped to his knees, blood streaming from his nose, before he slipped sideways and crashed to the ground. The short trilarna stood over him, her arms loose and ready.
The conflagration behind her died down, as something slipped out of the air to land next to her. It was taller than she, although this wasn't hard, considering how slight the larna was. With the pale form, and the red eyes Aceve knew that it had to be a homunculus mothos, despite the fact that the skin was charred, and the black artificial clothing that it wore was almost beyond repair. But whatever it had done had defeated a dragon. The lowest form of mothos had defeated the highest. How?
Why didn't Messa feel the pain when the dragon hit her mothos? A suspicious little voice asked in the back of her mind.
"Very good, Cadet. You may help your squad back to the infirmary," the instructor called from above, his voice tight. "You should inform Enaon of that maneuver you used when he awakens. He will need to be prepared, next time."
Aceve leaned back, only just realizing how tense her muscles were. Infirmary? They couldn't actually be hurt, could they? None of the trilarna had been hit. Just their mothos.
If you fully bond with someone I assume that you feel their pain, Phinneas pointed out. Any damage done to a mothos would be felt by their trilarna, and consequently there'd be the psychosomatic reaction, I would guess. Er, did you find something odd about that homunculus?
Aceve looked at Phinneas. The other cadets were rising from their seats, and the instructor was telling them to go to their rooms. She edged back towards one end of the balcony, looking down into the pillared arena. It was empty, only a few unconscious cadets still scattered around. She looked back to the door, but the instructor had disappeared.
Phinneas walked over to her corner, and leaned against the wall.
"What was that?" he asked, whistling through his teeth. "I could swear that homunculus was moving on its own. You should have taken a look at it in that third sight thing when you had the chance. No one else was fighting the way it did."
"Well, homunculi are fairly low ranked mothos," Aceve said quietly. "They don't have half of the abilities that the other souls do. They can control the elements composing their bodies to a certain extent, which gives them a sort of invisibility and healing, but after that they can't do much of anything. They aren't strong, or all that fast."
"But we're oh so cute," Aceve and Phinneas jumped and whirled to look back at the balcony edge. The pale black and red apparition of Messa's mothos grinned at them, balanced on the thick stone railing.
"You were watching us!" Phinneas exclaimed as Aceve went round eyed. "You can talk!"
"Hush," the black haired creature shook his head, looking around nervously. "Don't tell. They'd merge me with Messa if they knew, and neither of us wants that."
He slid off the rail to stand before Aceve and Phinneas. Close up, despite his charred appearance, the mothos looked like a porcelain doll, all big eyes and fine features.
"They?" Aceve questioned.
"The people in charge, I think. Messa figures that if someone finds out about the fact that we can talk and that we can think for ourselves before we can prove that it's useful they'll force Messa to bond with me to totally remove the "mental problems" that we obviously must have," the homunculus shrugged.
"What?" Aceve looked askance. Phinneas just looked thoughtful.
The homunculus scratched the back of his head. "Look, I'm not the right person to talk to. Messa's the girl with the ideas. But if you are separate from your vampire, perhaps those ideas are correct. Who knows? Come over to our room tomorrow when you're let off. We can talk."
However, before Aceve could stop him, the homunculus jumped back over the balcony. He flashed silver for a moment as he hit the ground, but then he was trotting over to the next unconscious body, and hauling the trilarna to its feet.
Aceve looked over at Phinneas, breathing heavily. The shock of what was going on was just settling over Aceve. What if that homunculus wasn't Messa's soul? What if it really was something separate from her? Then that might mean that Finny was telling the truth. She may not be insane.
"We're going to see them?" the vampire asked curiously.
"Yes," Aceve nodded emphatically. "Oh yes."
Aceve traced the square stone flag of the hall floor with one sharp toe nail. Unlike in the Family Tower, the Cadet Towers were not carpeted. Besides being allowed a room to themselves, cadets were not encouraged to live a soft life. Phinneas continued to play the blank dumb body acting as a vessel for Aceve's soul. Several second years had already passed by, giving Aceve disapproving looks, as if recognizing that she was only newly manifested.
Finally A flash of brown and black caught Aceve's eyes, and she jerked her head up right. Messa was walking down the corridor, her homunculus at her side, mirroring Finny's vacant look. The short trilarna in her cadet's green waved, and jogged the last few steps.
"Hey. You're Aceve, right? Mark said that you were watching the mock up yesterday," the larna smiled, as if there was nothing more wonderful in her world. Aceve couldn't help feeling confused, until she saw the black and red mothos wink quickly. Oh. He must be "Mark." So he had a name, as well.
"Come on inside," Messa guestured at the door, which Mark opened with a flourish. The four people entered the spare room as Messa asked: "Have you figured out how I did it yet?"
"No. I mean, I wasn't really thinking about it," Aceve stammered.
"Hygrogen," Messa replied confidentially. "Enaon is way too fond of using his dragon as a flamethrower. I just told Mark to turn most of his atoms to hydrogen, and then attack the dragon. I could deal with Enaon while he was distracted by having told his mothos to detonate a bomb," she looked inordinately pleased.
"Er, yes?" Aceve asked politely, wondering where this was going.
Messa sighed. "Sit," she gestured at the camp bed. "You probably didn't want to hear that. But I just want to say-well, maybe not. Look, I don't know where to start really. I suppose-When you manifested did your vampire talk to you?"
"Yes," Phinneas said emphatically.
"Told her that you were a person yourself, right?" Messa questioned.
"She did kidnap me," Finny said darkly.
"You might have," Messa looked at Aceve seriously, the cheer gone from her face. "I don't know if you believe him, although I'm guessing that you do, since you haven't tried to bond any more closely with him."
"I-I don't know," Aceve muttered. "I-His story can't be real. He has to be my soul. But if he is lying, or doesn't know, then I must be crazy right?"
Messa looked at Aceve as if she had grown two heads. "Wow. I never even thought that. Hear that Mark? I could actually be crazy and hallucinating everything that you've told me."
Mark perched precariously on the bed post, and smiled with Messa's carefree smile. "True. But why should you and this girl both go crazy in the exact same way?"
"Hmm, good point. Well, that's one theory pretty much shot down," Messa said, watching Aceve's expression as comprehension dawned. "Question is what's the implication of this?"
"Implication of what?" Aceve asked, not really caring. She wasn't crazy!
"If we're not mad, and let's work on this basis, as it keeps things in a much easier perspective, then what about our mothos? If Mark isn't my soul, and your vampire-,"
"Phinneas," the white haired demon inserted helpfully.
"Phinneas," Messa nodded at Finny, "isn't your soul what does that mean?"
"Exactly what I've been trying to tell you!" Phinneas glared at Aceve. "I'm real. Mark is real. So is every other mothos on this ship. You've kidnapped us."
"But, what?" Aceve looked from Messa to Phinneas blankly. "That can't be possible. We know what mothos are. We've always known. Mark and Phinny are just abnormal. Something special."
"Maybe," Messa shrugged. "But I don't think so. What if--What if when we manifest our minds seek--compatible minds? You know the basis of a mothos is our "psychic ability to pull them from inside ourselves," right? That's what they teach you in basic training. What if we don't pull them from inside ourselves? What if we pull them from elsewhere? We're creatures of immense psychic power when we mature. What if all that power goes into the mind of another creature? It would wipe them clean, blank, even as we ripped them from their homes. Only weak talents like us wouldn't destroy the minds that we first discover on manifestation," Messa breathed out.
"But, but, that's horrible!" Aceve exclaimed, horrified. "We couldn't do that. Ever! If someone found out-other people would have to. You can't be saying that we're the only two mentally weak trilarna in the world. If we found out-anyone could. They would tell the world."
"Aceve-think about it for a moment," Messa said. "What do we need mothos for?"
"To fight in wars so that our towers reign supreme," Aceve quoted from the earliest lessons back in the Learning Tower. "Mothos also tell us who is to be trusted, and who isn't. If we didn't have mothos classes we would have anarchy."
"And what would happen if we somehow stopped taking mothos? If we figured out a way to stop manifestation?" Messa prompted.
"No more mothos," Aceve breathed. "We'd all die in the next war."
"That's assuming that you figured out how not to manifest. If you stopped taking us monsters from our homes-well, supposedly you're strong enough to totally break people's minds," Phinneas said looking grim. "You might destroy one another. Not that I'd cry terribly hard at the idea of demons self imploding as they grew up, but I'm sure you'd have something to say about it."
"What do you think we should do about it, then," Messa said, and Aceve looked wildly at her.
"What? We're just kids--,"
"You've manifested. I've manifested," Messa told her seriously. "We're adults now."
"But--We can't make a decision like this!" Aceve wailed.
"I have," Messa replied. "I'm going to keep quiet about it--,"
"But that's wrong!" Aceve protested.
"Let me finish, will you?" Messa asked. "I'm going to keep quiet about it. But I'm going to be on the look out for other people who aren't as strong as the others."
"Yeah," Mark put in, smirking. "You and us, we'll be totally different. And that means that we fight differently, too. You saw Messa yesterday. We're not your traditional soldiers, and that means that we can get formed into a unit of our own--if there are enough of us."
"If we stay in the army," Messa nodded. "Once you complete training you're placed into units depending on your abilities. I'm going to try to apply to make a unit of irregulars. We could do this. A unit of free mothos and trilarna. And once we prove how good we are we could start changing things. Slowly but surely."
"The first thing that has got to be changed is the training lessons on mothos," Mark nodded. "They are all geared towards wiping away any vestiges of a mind that Phinneas might have left."
"What? But why?" Aceve asked.
"More importantly how do you stop it?!" Phinneas exclaimed, his paranoid face slipping on again.
"I faked my way through it," Messa shrugged. "It's not that hard to make them think that you're a little slow. Try not to display an inordinate amount of intelligence. It's easy to slip up and reveal that two minds are working on a problem instead of one. But what I want to know is if you think this will work, Aceve. You're my first recruit."
Aceve was quiet for a while. Finally she sighed. "I don't know. I don't think this could work. There's just so many variables. But there's nothing else is there? If Phinneas really is who he claims then, we can't fail. And if he really is my soul, it can't hurt to try. Right?"
"Certainly not," the vampire said fervently.
"So, I guess we'll try, and see what happens," Aceve said nervously. "I guess that's our responsibility."
"Hey, growing up isn't all bad," Messa grinned. "I'll see you later."
Aceve nodded and left, feeling as if her stomach was in knots. But that wasn't necessarily a bad feeling.