The Mirror of Aethos

Long ago, there lived two Veroxian brothers, Ziraeel and Vronrei. They were rare because they had been born on the same day, which all people know is highly uncommon. Those who knew them said they were one soul split into two bodies, and so it seemed, for from the day they were born, they never left one another’s side for long. They sat next to one another in their classes, slept in beds set side by side, and where one went, the other followed.

They lived in a town that was well known for its temple to Aethos. People from all around came to ask the Aethan priests to send their loved ones to the next world. Ziraeel and Vronrei’s mother was one of the workers who kept the temple clean, and so the boys spent much of their time in the temple after their classes had ended and on days their father was busy at the green houses. Ziraeel in particular was fascinated with the ways of the funeral rites, the runes, and the goddess of death, and he and Vronrei learned more about Aethos than most enorians ever would.

So when they had grown and finished their studies and Ziraeel, the older by mere minutes, joined the Aethan priests, Vronrei wasn’t far behind. No one was surprised. The two brothers worked hard and were happy in their service to Aethos. They spent many hours perfecting their co-run funerals, taking extra care to learn all the ways in which they would best please Aethos.

With the help of his brother, Ziraeel even learned how to save lost souls from the realm of Kezerien and send them to their rightful afterlife in the Aether, which had thus far never been done as far as anyone knew. Even at the temple, the brothers were never far from one another. They even slept in the same room in the temple housing, though it wasn’t necessary. And everyone was certain they would pass together in their sleep long in the future, when their wings drooped and their dark hair was streaked with grey and their eyes had turned the color of the moon.

But then tragedy struck, and Vronrei was killed.

Ziraeel felt like he’d been torn in half, his heart ripped to pieces. He didn’t know how he could possibly survive this. He wept for days, begging the gods to take him, too, for he could not live without the other half of his soul. But the gods did not take him. It wasn’t his time.

In a moment of respite from his weeping, Ziraeel remembered a tale his mother had told the two of them during their many hours in the temple. She’d told them of the mirror of Aethos, an item so special it allowed the griever a chance to see their loved one again. But only the most special and loyal were given the gift of the mirror. He sat up from where he’d been lying on his bed, thinking for sure he would be given that chance. After all, he was an Aethan priest, was he not? He had been loyal and faithful in his task, in his worshipping of their goddess. He had loved her all his life. He thought surely he, of all people, would receive her blessing.

He told no one of his plans, for he knew what the other priests would think. The dead were meant to stay that way. They should be left at peace, his mother would tell him even in her grief, but Ziraeel needed to see his brother. Just once more.

And so the day after Vronrei had been sent to the Aether, in the most intimate and beautiful ceremony Ziraeel had ever performed, Ziraeel went into the temple after everyone had gone to sleep and threw himself at the feet of the statue, the beautifully carved likeness of Aethos. There, with the moonlight streaming in through the windows above, he begged her to let him see his beloved brother again.

Aethos, in her realm, surrounded by her flowers and the dead she watched over, heard his pleas. She felt his pain, had seen the pain Vronrei felt even still, despite the peace he should feel in the Aether. And both brothers had been nothing but the best of her worshippers. She had been impressed when Ziraeel had managed to save a number of souls from Kezerien’s realm, for she knew her nephew did not give up his fire spirits easily.

And so she bestowed upon him the blessing. She sent him her mirror to find when he returned to his room in the house where all Aethan priests lived.

Ziraeel stared in shock at the sight of the ornate mirror when he walked into his room. It stood taller than him and seemed to glow with an inner light. He’d been so certain Aethos had ignored his pleas, but here stood this mirror. And who else could have sent it to him?

His eyes welled with grateful tears as he stepped toward it. He told himself he just needed to say goodbye, because he’d been unable to. And saying goodbye would somehow make the loss bearable, though he knew he would never be whole again. He spoke his brother’s name, calling to him.

When Vronrei appeared in the mirror he looked the same as he’d always been with his shining green eyes and his milky skin, with his looping horns and moth-like wings. He smiled his familiar smile, and Ziraeel wept with joy at seeing his brother again. He reached out to touch Vronrei, but his fingers met only the cold surface of the mirror. If only he could hug his brother one last time, but this would have to do.

They talked as if nothing had changed. For hours and hours, well into the night, and Ziraeel barely felt his hunger or thirst, too wrapped up in seeing the other half of his soul again. Ziraeel asked Vronrei how the Aether was, and Vronrei asked about their parents and the woman he’d fallen in love with, though only Ziraeel knew about her, for Aethan priests were meant to only hold Aethos in their heart.

This went on for days. Ziraeel shirked his duties. He barely slept, barely ate. On the rare occasion he had to leave the mirror, Vronrei swore he’d still be there when Ziraeel came back. And upon Ziraeel’s return, his brother was always there, smiling at him. For even in the Aether, Vronrei’s soul cried out for Ziraeel.

Their mother questioned him, and Ziraeel claimed to be sick with grief, which wasn’t entirely untrue. And so she let him be, though she spoke to the priests and her husband about her concerns.

Only when Ziraeel’s vision started doing strange things, when the edges began to dim and lights danced before his eyes, did he remember the warning. His mother had warned the boys that those who stared too long within the depths of the mirror would lose not only their sight, forever, but also be no longer able to even hear their lost loved one.

But he hadn’t had enough time. He wasn’t ready to give up his brother yet. There had to be a way for him to prolong this, to spend just a little more time with Vronrei. Surely Aethos would understand. She was the goddess of death. She understood the grief associated with it, he assured himself. He didn’t tell Vronrei what was happening, not wanting to worry his brother. Nor did he tell him what he planned, for he feared Vronrei would try to deny him.

Once he had hatched a plan, Ziraeel went in search of all the mirrors he could find, and he set them up around his room to allow the image of Vronrei to bounce around to the other mirrors. He hoped it would minimize the effect and slow the blinding, and he was right. When he gazed into the other mirrors, his vision stopped dimming and dancing.

And Ziraeel was thrilled he’d outwitted Aethos and her mirror tricks. Once he may have worried it would anger her. Once he would never have done a thing to upset the goddess he had loved all his life, but all he cared about anymore was extending the time with his brother, and now he had it.

But this made Aethos angry, angrier than he could have imagined. Those who were dead were meant to stay that way. It was the way of things, and she, on rare occasions, gave her blessing for certain special people to say goodbye. She had given a man she thought to be a loyal, faithful servant one such rare blessing, and now Ziraeel was taking advantage of her kindness by deceiving her and thinking himself smarter than a god.

And so she punished them. She split Vronrei’s soul between all the mirrors, fragmenting it, tearing it apart, and causing Vronrei to howl and scream at the torment. Vronrei became angry and violent, banging on the insides of the mirrors, causing them to crumble and crack, which only caused him more pain.

Ziraeel dropped to his knees, covering his ears and weeping. He begged Aethos to stop, telling her he was sorry for the deception. He begged her to release Vronrei from his torture, swearing he would never try to do anything to upset her again.

But it was too late. Aethos would not stand for such insolence, and so she left Vronrei split between the mirrors and took Ziraeel’s sight, and though he could no longer see his brother, Ziraeel was forced to listen to his tormented screams for the rest of time.

Mario & Captain Thunderpants

We weren’t intending to get a cat as soon as we did. In fact, Josh and I were still working on painting the spare room at his dad’s house, where we lived at the time, and getting it ready for all the bookshelves that would soon end up in there and turning it into an actual spare bedroom. We’d decided once that was done, we’d get a cat. But then one day I went to Petco, and there was this shy little tuxedo kitten named Mario. And he was just so adorable.

The next day, I went back again. And the next day and the next for six days straight. On the seventh day, I dragged Josh along and made a comment about how I’d be so sad when Mario was gone. With a knowing “Oookayyy,” Josh went to get an adoption form. Though we had to wait a few days to pick him up once we were approved, because he was a bit sick, we ended up with the sweetest seven-month-old angel kitten (light of my life, my reason for being – as Josh says) in all the land.

He was pretty terrified for a while after we got him, hiding under the bed and such. He was even afraid of the TV for the first couple days. And even after he got used to us, anytime a new person came around, he was nowhere to be seen. In the six years since we got him, he’s become much braver, going so far as to walk up to new people and let them pet him.

I felt bad leaving the sweetest angel kitten alone while we were at work and thought he needed a friend. We’d been letting Josh’s brother’s cat, Simba, come upstairs on occasion and Mario always tried to play with him, but Simba wasn’t really about it. So a few months later, after going to the local animal shelter, Josh picked out a scraggly-looking former stray that the shelter had dubbed Scootsy-Toots after telling him, “You’re kind of funny looking.” Which, he was. He was skinny with a massive head. Also, can we just talk about that name? Scootsy-Toots? What? Nope. He was immediately dubbed Captain Thunderpants.

For the first few days, he was a bit sickly and sniffly and wanted nothing to do with Mario, but eventually he accepted Mario’s attempts to play. He’s grown from not really being super affectionate and spending a lot of time meowing loudly in the hallway to ensure Simba knew he was the boss to coming to lay on my pillow before bed and demanding attention by coming to sit in front of my computer. Though he’s still not a lap cat, and most definitely not when there’s blankets involved. Captain weirdly hates blankets.

While they did at first, they’re no longer the kind of cats that cuddle or groom each other (much to my dismay), but they coexist happily. Multiple times a day they chase each other around – you can always hear them scrabbling along the wood floor – and have Wrestle-Mania sessions where they body slam each other into the ground, but otherwise they generally ignore one another.

Mario is the sweetest, cuddliest, most demanding cat who will make it known he needs attention with aggressive headbutts, and when he wants treats, he’ll make sure to let me know. And Captain is the biggest whiner I’ve possibly ever seen, but he’s so loving and adorable I’m not really mad about it (most of the time). They have both made it clear to me that any future cats I own will be boys, because they’ve been nothing but the sweetest, least aggressive cats I’ve ever had. And I love them so much that I actually can’t even.

What I wrote over the last week

Enorians Book 2 – Draft 2 Chapters twenty-seven through thirty-four

What I read this week

A Phoneix First Must Burn by Patricia Caldwell

Traces by Sophie Johannis

The Artful Edit by Susan P. Bell

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Merse’s Lute

It has been a very long week. I’m sure we all have those days/weeks where everything is too much effort. So, in place of a regular blog post this week, have one of the Enorian myths I wrote during my thesis project:

Merse’s Lute

Long ago lived one of Merse’s Cherished Mersians. Zoh was as beautiful as any Mersian, blessed as they were to take after their goddess. Zoh lived near the coast of Merien with their parents and siblings in a town full of other Mersians. This town hosted the largest music festival in all of Enoralori every year, and people came all the way from the northeastern corner of Lirona and the northwestern corner of Ensori, to partake and enjoy in the music and frivolity.

Zoh had been to the festival every year since their birth, watching with joy and dancing along to their parents’ playing and singing. And one by one, their siblings joined in, growing their talent and becoming better and better at singing and playing their flutes and lutes and mandolins. One of Zoh’s sisters played the harp more beautifully than anyone else they’d ever heard. And Zoh wished to partake in their family’s music playing.

But somehow, despite their family’s talent, Zoh was a terrible musician. They didn’t understand why Merse had neglected to bless them with the ability to play or sing. And Zoh loved music. They loved music so much it tore at their soul to be unable to express the beauty they knew to be inside them. And so every year they continued to practice, hoping perhaps the talent filling their family was just late in appearing. Zoh worked harder than anyone they knew. Their parents, being some of the most well-known musicians in town, sent Zoh to all the best teachers, hoping their child just needed to find the right person to teach them, the right instrument to play. Zoh tried out every instrument their parents and teachers could think of. But nothing seemed to work. Zoh continued to be just as terrible as always.

Still, every year at the festival, Zoh tried to perform anyway, hoping maybe all this effort would show Merse how serious they were, hoping maybe she would bless them. And every year, Zoh was laughed off the stage.

One year, after a particularly rough rendition of an old bard’s song where Zoh had plucked all the wrong notes on the harp they’d attempted to learn over the last couple of years, and where they had sung in their usual off-key tone, someone from the crowd shouted at them to just give up already. It was a voice Zoh recognized, one they’d heard many times before. Zoh fled the stage in tears, running to the temple of Merse, where they threw themselves onto the stone floor in front of the towering statue. There, Zoh wept and begged Merse for understanding.

“It’s all right, love,” Zoh’s mother said, having followed them. She knelt beside her child and stroked their long, shining hair. “You have many other talents.”

“I just want to show people the beauty inside me.”

“There are other ways to show your beauty, my love. We’ll find a way.”

Zoh shook their head. It had to be music. They could feel it deep within. Music was the only way to bring out the song their soul cried out to share. But how when their body seemed unable or unwilling to play or sing in such a way that would allow that song to come out?

Zoh’s mother left them to continue their prayer. Barely leaving the temple, Zoh prayed day and night for near a week, begging Merse to grant them the ability to play or sing so they could share with the world that which they so desperately needed to.

And Merse, within her realm, surrounded by beautiful Mersians playing beautiful music, where the sky was always the color of a brilliant sunrise, heard Zoh’s pleas. She had seen how hard Zoh had worked all these years. She saw the purity of their intentions, knew they wanted to play and sing not for fame or glory or riches, but simply to share something wonderful. And Merse appreciated that desire. So she sent Zoh a lute she had blessed long ago. It gave any who held it the ability to play the most glorious music no matter their level of talent. Along with the lute, Merse sent Zoh a message. She appeared to them in their dreams and warned them that playing for prolonged periods could cause madness in the listeners.

When Zoh found the lute beside their bed the next morning, they couldn’t believe their eyes. They had been sure the dream was just that, a dream, but here lay the lute as Merse had promised. And it was the most beautiful instrument Zoh had ever seen. They picked it up gingerly and plucked at the strings, wincing in preparation for the usual mess of sounds. But instead, no matter where Zoh’s fingers moved to, a gentle melody drifted from the lute.

Grinning, Zoh spent the rest of the day playing. And that night they ran to their favorite pub, which always had live music, to test out their new song. When Zoh stepped onto the stage, they were met with a round of groans. Everyone, naturally, assumed they would play and sing just as terribly as they always had. But Zoh didn’t let their bad attitudes bother them. They sat on the stool, closed their eyes to block out the crowd, and started playing.

Everyone’s grumbling and groaning ceased nearly the moment the music started flowing from the lute. It was the most magnificent music anyone there had ever heard before. They listened with rapt attention, gazing in awe at the equally beautiful Mersian sitting on the stool on stage. Zoh swayed with the sound, smiling, lost in the wonder of it.

When the song ended, the pub erupted into cheers and applause and demands for Zoh to play more. Beaming with pride and elation, Zoh agreed. Just one more. And after they finished that song, the people begged for another, but Zoh remembered Merse’s warning, and so they smiled and bowed their head to the crowd and promised to come back in a week’s time to play again. Over the next week, Zoh made sure to be careful with the amount they played, waiting until there was no one in the house to practice more songs.

The next time Zoh came to the pub with the lute, the crowd was much bigger than it had been before. Equally thrilled and nervous, Zoh stepped onto the stage. The people in the pub clapped and cheered, ready for another round of splendid music. And Zoh gave it to them, the whoops and shouts and applause filling them with the greatest joy they’d ever known. For once, people loved them as much, if not more than, the rest of their family.

Week after week, Zoh came to the pub to play for the people of the town. And week after week, the crowd grew until the pub was so full of people that everyone was forced to go outside. People started coming up to Zoh in the streets, begging them to play, but they always left the lute at home. And so people started showing up at their house, outside their window, pleading, wanting to hear more of the beautiful music. Men and women threw themselves at Zoh, wanting to go to bed with them and have them play after. And Zoh loved all the attention.

It became easier and easier to forget Merse’s warning. The weekly performances became every few days, then every other, and then every night. And each time Zoh played longer and longer, reveling in the devotion of the people who so desperately loved their music.

And then one day, as Merse had warned, it all became too much. The crowd, now taking up the entire town square, was driven to madness with the love they felt for Zoh and their music. They wanted to crawl inside Zoh, to understand where such beauty came from, to get a little piece of that themselves. And in their frenzy, their desire to show their love and devotion, they tore Zoh apart, grabbing and shredding their clothes, snatching and tearing out their hair. Zoh screamed for help, for them to stop, but the rabid crowd were deaf to Zoh’s cries, even as the screams pitched, followed by the sickening sound of flesh tearing. By the time the chaos ended, the lute had vanished, sent back to Merse, who hoped the next player would hear of this tragedy and better heed her warning.

Belinda McCauley

Writer. Reader. Creator.

Daan Katz

Where Magic Meets Reality

Writing about...Writing

Some coffee, a keyboard and my soul! My first true friends!