Kedi and Suka walked side-by-side, their escorts walking sedately behind them. The hallways were mostly empty, since most of the passengers were still at lunch, or up on the decks of the ship.
“My mother is visiting this afternoon, and will probably not return until after dinner,” Kedi said, unlocking the door to her quarters. “I would love it if you would like to stay with me for awhile! We have not had much time together since we set out, and I miss seeing you!”
Suka laughed, “Yes, of course I’ll come!” She looked over her shoulder at the escort, and informed him of her plans. He bowed, and headed back down the hall with Kedi’s escort. The two girls entered the suite, and made their way into the sitting room.
“Kedi, can I see that book that you were telling Mr. Luser about? I don’t think I’ve ever seen any Astaldi poetry before, at least, not a whole book of it. That story you told sounded…well, almost familiar. I’m trying to figure out where I might have heard it before.” Suka settled herself gracefully on the couch, wishing she could loosen her corset.
Kedi nodded, going to a low bookshelf that sat in a corner. “I thought so, too. I keep trying to think of something that would give me a clue as to why it seems familiar, but no luck so far. Once I get back home, I’m going to go through all of the storybooks that my nurse read to me; it might be mentioned in there somewhere.” She pulled a thick blue volume from the shelf, and handed it to Suka. “Here it is. There’s lots of things in there: poetry, stories, even a book of religious writings. The book itself is about a hundred years old, I think it was published when the Astaldi ended their isolation, and let traders and explorers through again. I think anything Astaldi was selling then, so they just shoved a random collection of literature in a book.”
The young woman paged through the book; the pages were brightly illustrated, and the text was rather ornate. “No, none of these sound familiar…wait. The Life of the Blessed Sulan, by Mei Nevrekti? The Book of Sulan? I can’t think where I’ve heard of them…” She flipped through the pages until she found the first entry. “The Life of the Blessed Sulan, recorded by her loyal follower Mei Nevrekti, in the year of Ersada -------, under the light of the great god Su. The blessed Sulan began her life in this cycle under a different name. She was born to parents who lived on the island of Mei, and grew as many young women did.” She fell into reading silently, eyes scanning the page rapidly. Kedi watched from the adjoining sofa; her friend’s face grew very pale, and her breath began to come in short gasps. After a moment, her hands began to shake, and the book fell unnoticed to the floor.
Wisps of ginger hair blowing with the sand
Blood running across paving stones
Colored lights play across temple walls
Stars spin slowly overhead
“Suka! What’s wrong?” Her friends voice sounded far away, almost as though it were underwater. As Kedi’s hand closed on hers, she looked up into those blue eyes: it was as if Kedi was out of focus. The eyes were the same, but sometimes she had the bronze skin of the Kedonese, and at another instant her color was as pale as the Ersans. Suka looked down at her own hands; they seemed to shift between her own pale skin, the broze of the traditional Kedonese, and the dark brown of the Astaldi.
The moment passed, and Suka sank back into the cushions of the couch. Kedi shrieked, and dashed to her friend’s side. “Suka! Suka, what happened! Are you alright?”
Suka’s eyes fluttered open, and she slowly sat up. “Oh my…”
Kedi slipped her arm around her friend’s shoulder, and helped her sit up. “Here, let me loosen your corset, you need to breathe.” The metal slid back, and Suka felt the air fill her lungs. “Oh, yes, that’s better.”
“What happened? Why did you faint?”
“I…that book…I started remembering it…and remembering more things, more details than it gave. I knew names and places before it mentioned them. I…” She shook her head. “No, it’s insane. This can’t be happening.”
The younger girl fidgeted on the couch. “It’s alright, you can tell me. Even if it’s crazy, who would I tell it to?”
Suka laughed quietly, and nodded. “Fair enough. Kedi…I think I lived through these things. I think I was one of these people. That sounds so mad, doesn’t it? It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that would happen in this day and age.”
Kedi shrugged slightly. “I don’t know. Maybe your imagination just got a little overactive today? I think maybe you had best lie down and rest for a while. Here, you can lie down on the sofa; my mother won’t be back until later, and she wouldn’t mind anyway. We can turn the lights down, and you can just rest for awhile.” She carefully turned down the lights, and settled herself back down on the sofa.
Suka let herself relax, and tried not to think about the images that had flowed through her mind. As she drifted off into sleep, the last thing she saw was a pair of green eyes, floating above an open sea.
The ship Perzelsis pulled into the dock four days later, and the passengers began to disembark. They were chatting gaily amongst themselves, skin and eyes bright from the fresh air and sunshine.
Suka and Gehne arranged for their luggage to be sent to the house, and Suka made her way through the crowd towards Kedi and her mother.
“Kedi!” Suka waved above the crowd, and saw an answering hand a few yards away. After a moment, the two girls stood together, trying not to be jostled apart by the mass of travelers.
“Suka, can you come over to my house sometime this week? I found something that I think you should see!” Kedi had to shout to make herself heard over the babble of cheerful voices, and Suka nodded. “Yes, just send me a note, and let me know when to come. My mother will want me at home for the first few days, but I should be able to come for a few hours later in the week.”
“Alright, I will send you a message as soon as I can. I really enjoyed the trip!”
Suka nodded, as she began edging her way through the crowd again. “Yes, I enjoyed it as well! I will come see you soon!”
When Suka arrived back at the cart which was now laden with luggage, Gehne signed to the porter to load their baggage onto a mechanical carriage. “Come along, Suka, your parents will be waiting. I’m sure they’re very eager to hear about the trip; they were so excited to be able to send you.”
“Miss Loedi, a moment please!” a shout boomed out over the dun, and Suka looked up. Mariok Luser was making his way across the plaza, and waved to her. “Miss Loedi, thank you for waiting, I was afraid that I might not catch up with you. I just wanted to extend my thanks to you. I very much enjoyed meeting you, and your young friend. I am going to be staying in Kedon for some time, I believe, and I hope to see you again soon.” He bowed formally, and Suka returned the gesture.
“Thank you for your kindness, Mr. Luser! Kedi and I both greatly enjoyed the dinner, and I know that we will both be quite happy to see you in the society circles here in Perzelsis.”
Mariok boomed out a laugh, “I am afraid that I do not often go to society events, since I find it rather difficult to remember all the rules. However, since I now know that you and Miss Makti will be present, perhaps I shall find the courage!” He gave a final wave as Gehne and Suka stepped into the mechanical carriage, then turned and disappeared into the crowd.
As the carriage jolted along, Suka peered out of the window; the crowds walked past on the sidewalks, as traffic wove through the streets. As they entered one of the residential sections, the streets were quieter, and trees grew from the yards, providing a welcome shade to the street below.
The carriage pulled up in front of a large house; a wide green lawn spread out in front of the building, and a garden lay off to one side. The house itself was almost regal, with a columned porch and many windows. As the clattering of the machine died down, the front door of the house opened, and a large man came rushing out. His skin was the bronze of the Kedonese, and he wore a thick curling beard, black as coal.
“Suka! You have returned! And without the slightest hint of a tan, yet again! Ah well, perhaps your mother is right, the paleness fo your skin suits you.” He embraced his daughter warmly, then held her at arm’s length to exmine her. “Now, most importantly, did you have a good time on the trip? I stillm wish your mother and I could have joined you, but I just arrived back into Perzelsis the day before yesterday, and your mother didn’t care to go without me. Was it a pleasant voyage?”
Suka laughed, and nodded. “I do swear, father, sometimes you talk even more than I do! Yes, I enjoyed the trip, but I do wish you and mother could have come with me. The ship was as lovely as everyone says, and I met some very wonderful people.” She linked her arm through her father’s, and walked slowly with him into the house. Gehne summoned a servant to unload the bags and bring them into the house.
“So, you made some new friends on the trip. Anyone that I should know about? You didn’t secretly marry a dashing young explorer, did you?” Mukti Loedi’s voice rumbled through the halls, echoing slightly.
“No, father, I didn’t get married secretly, so you don’t get out of saving up for a dowry. I met several very nice ladies my own age, and an airship captain twice my age. Do you know Mariok Luser, Father?” She looked up at him, trying to read his face, but it was inscrutable behind the beard. “Gehne warned me that he might be a little…odd, by normal definitions, and that he was, but he seemed nice enough.”
After a moment, Mukti nodded. “Yes, I do know him, and I was never wuite sure what to make of him. He strikes me as a man without a home, a man who can never settle down and live on the ground. He’ll always be sailing away somewhere on that ship of his.” He looked intently at his daughter, his black eyes bright and serious. “I trust that there is no special affection between you? I do want to see you happily married, but not to someone like that. “
Suka smiled, and squeezed her father’s arm. “No, nothing of the kind. I enjoyed talking to him very much, and I hope to see him at some of the events while he is here, but I do not think that we could ever feel that way about each other. I do not think that he is exactly in the market for a family.”
Mukti seemed relieved, and quickened his pace a bit. “Well, I am glad of that, then! Now, I understand that your friend Kedi Maktsi was on the trip as well. Did the two of you get to spend any time together?”
Kedi ran her fingers over the worn spines of the books on her bookcases, eyes skimming the titles. Finally, she found the titles she wanted, and pulled them off the shelf with a quick gesture. “Fairy Tales and Far Away Places,” she muttered, “A Child’s Book of Stories, and A Collection of Tales. If it’s anywhere, it’s in here. “ She sat down on her bed, and began reading.