Taste of Russian Fantastica -- The Green Flame's Confession, Prologue
From The Green Flame's Confession, by Nataliya Mazova.
SOMETHING LIKE A PROLOGUE...
...She came to herself already in the corridor. Even the very same, very young nurse with an expression of professional boredom on her painted face pecked her on the cheek.
"Well, it's all still nothing, nothing," she sentenced her, not even trying to pretend sympathy. "And how would you have a baby? It'd be even sicker...."
She tried to sit down. She managed it with difficulty.
"Not your business," she enunciated right in the medsister's face. "If I will... You don't have any kind of problem with this thing -- how many can you have, two or three?"
"Really, how can you laugh!...You little chick, you snotnose...."
The door creaked, as somehow her mother slid out of the office sideways. Her correct face's features looked as if she'd powdered it with hopelessness.
"Get dressed, my grief," was all she said to her daughter, and she understood at once: no chance. Her last hope had melted away, and in a year she could expect the inevitable Operation.
The whole way home, her mother was silent. She was silent, too. The slashing pain between her legs was unbearable, but she already was used to the fact that she didn't deserve pity. She very much wanted to cry; she herself did not understand what was forcing her to stay in control.
Still in the elevator, her mother turned to her and threw, in a voice chiming with tears, "Just try not to end school with a medal now! You won't get into the institute -- your father can't begin to feed you, you can believe me!"
She's home, waiting until after Mother is hidden in the kitchen and her sisters have taken their seats in front of the television to watch a serial. Then very quietly from the table, from under heaps of old letters and pre-prepared postcards, she extracted the old photograph.
On a snow-powdered parapet of the ancient Pleskavskoy fortress, he stood, turning toward her, a young man with tightly curled hair the color of honey, with an elusive smile in his squinting golden eyes. A blue sports jacket, on his neck a colored handkerchief -- so they'd dressed, fifteen years ago... Mother hid this photograph from Father -- and not without reason.
Father... Who are you and where are you, Lazor Ugnelis, MY real father? This giddy romance of her mother had lasted less than a month -- exactly as long as the passage to Gintar. But in eight months exactly, to the day, of her appearance in the world, came the telegram: "AVE MARILLIYA CALL GIRL LINDA"
How had he known that this would be a she, and not a son? How did he guess the exact day --- the day of St. Eleanor, Gintar's Keeper?
At any rate, Papochka, whoever you might have been, even a Qua demon from a Koguriskan fairy tale -- the absence of your genotype from the local polyclinic has broken your daughter's whole life. And so to her, like the daughters of a father unknown -- no more than one child. But in addition, there was her body's build -- born a month premature, her whole life now she'd been ten percent under the minimum weight standard -- and on top of that, her pain threshold was too low...
No one will ever take her to wife. Who needs a woman who's not able to give children life?!
From the room reached the friendly laughter of her little sisters. Here were snakes who would never have similar problems -- all three excellent Rugian bodies, athletic, with good family trees and nice-sounding nicknames, all taken from the same serial: Maestina, Dzidra, Aldona... Leopold Kovensky did everything magnificently well, not excluding daughters.
Another business -- she, the eldest. Her last name was Ugnela, which means Oppressed. Neither skis nor a bicycle nor even dance classes... And who now needs her Qualen beauty, her only inheritance besides her name? Beauty, already for a year growing beyond doubt, and promising to unfurl into something more...
But it was known, however, to whom it belonged. A beautiful woman, with whom love would leave no consequences...
It grew dark beyond the window. She took from the table a green candle shaped like a squirrel, the symbol of this year. Looking over at the door, she touched her fingers to the wick -- and here, over the candle, flared a small trembling flame.
Ugnela! She was proud of this name, and of the fact that by her looks, she took after her incomprehensible father. And on no account would she ever trade her name for the respectable-sounding surname Kovenska.
She climbed onto the chair, wishing to put the light up higher -- and again felt the sharp pain between her legs.
"I hate it!" she exclaimed in a frenzy, standing on the chair and holding the light in her outstretched hand. "I hate this gucking Rugiland! And I hate President Vitoriy, with his cursed program of genepool retention! And I hate this whole happy Kovensky family, too! And your box with its idiotic serial, and the institute, and the chemistry of our heredity, and this whole world!!! Lord, if you really exist, tell me -- is there really nowhere in the universe where I could live this way, like myself, and not as they need to?! I want that place! I want it!"
(She then still threw that word around very lightly -- 'hate' -- since she wasn't yet seventeen. It was desirable to all of us at this happy age to die as beautiful as possible, and to watch as our nearest and dearest cry over our coffin...)
She abruptly pulled down her hand with the light -- and suddenly froze with astonishment, looking with widened eyes at what hung before her in the air... hard to say what this was. As if the room, sinking into half-dusk, was only an image on linen, but that someone had slashed onto the linen with a knife, and through the cuts peeked the sky, the radiance of day....
"What's this?" she pronounced confusedly. And as if replying to this question, before her mental gaze was drawn a picture: a forest, a clearing by a stream, above which leaned rowans with berries barely beginning to turn yellow... and on the grass by the stream sits a small girl with an eyes-on-the-floor face, and she plays a sad song on her flute.
She put the light on the table. Once more, she glanced at the door. "Deceitful, insidious snake! Know, however -- he is mine and mine alone!" came the hysterical female howl from the television set. The bright area trembled as if frightened, but it didn't go anywhere -- on the contrary, it was as if it became wider still. It seemed to her that she might squeeze through...
She extended her hand to the shelf, and took from there her cherished notebook, on the cover of which was scratched in rough letters, MY VERSES. HEE HEE! She pulled out the last clean sheet and hurriedly wrote on it, "Mom, I went to take a walk. I'll try to get back for supper." She lingered another second, then pushed the notebook under the belt of her pants, squinted... and stepped off the chair.
She didn't know that NEVERMORE would she return to this room, in which nothing was changed after her going. Here was only a light that at once went out, as just after her going, according to the law of the Source, the breach in the fabric of the universe repaired itself.
The guards on the stairs leading into the Tower of Shadows nervously glanced to the east -- from there a raincloud was moving toward the City, but over the stairs was neither awning nor magic shield. Not all that fun to stand sentry when cold streams of rain come down at you which drain your body heat in two minutes....
A gust of wind twisted on the asphalt the dried scales of poplar leaves and lashed sand taken from who-knew-where onto Delv's cheek.
"What if we went inside," he flung at Giar. "In the very end, we aren't an honor guard, but Guards meeting guests. But what kind of guests could there be in this rain...."
"Let's wait a little yet," answered Giar. "When it pours, then we'll hide. For all you know, maybe, someone of theirs might be coming here after their Name." He pointed with fascination in the direction of several passersby hurrying themselves somewhere. Her, for example."
Giar, as always, was not mistaken. A girl of eighteen years, who on her way bit alternately from two servings of different sorts of ice cream, stopped at the lower stairway, looking at the guards in challenge. The wind tugged from her arms a rust-colored raincoat which very much wanted to be called a curtain.
"Do you need to come in this for the True Name?" she awkwardly stated to Delva. Before this, her appearance had been cocksure.
"Here," he answered darkly. They irritated him, the pink drops of melting ice cream which the girl had dripped onto the steps of the stair and onto her shoes; they irritated him, these shoes of hers, probably not cleaned since the moment of purchase. "Only, for all the saints, eat first, and then enter!"
With that same surprising mixture of awkwardness and impudence, she sat down on the steps of the stairs and started hastily licking up her ice cream.
"What, did they drive you out of your regular den?" inquired Giar venomously, looking at her.
"Hih o hem?" she answered, her mouth full.
"Well, your refuge of free wanderers not wanting to register themselves in the Circle of Light," explained Giar. "For a newbie, you stick out too much."
"I don't understand what you're talking about." The girl at long last was able to swallow what had prevented her from speaking. "I'm from the witch school; our Peggy chased me over here with kicks. However, I didn't fight her, either. Must means must."
"Well, this is still nothing," sighed Giar. "Fine, a clear Purpose, count Names up till now as nothing, and now name your Essence."
"It calls itself in appearance the world from which you came."
"One of the City Essences. You call it Quiet Dock."
"Sign of the Blood Cell." Delv strung it out pensively. "Then it's understandable where you got so...unkempt. Not all that often we get people from there..."
"The rare bird will fly up to the middle of the River, if she flies from the source." The girl finished her ice creams and took to licking her slender fingers.
"If she flies according to the Source's Law," specified Delv. "Go, get registered, witch," and already to her back running up the stairs, "By the way, silver pomade doesn't suit you at all. Your hair really needs gold...."
Turning, the girl stuck out her tongue.
The hall was drowned in half-dusk. Only in the corner gleamed yellow a small lamp over a table, at which sat a small plain woman in a severe violet garment. On the table lay a huge open book bound in wood with golden hinges. Next to it, from an inkpot projected a feather of some unidentified, but judging by this, very beautiful, bird.
But on the floor in the center of the hall lay the Circle of Light, falling from who knew where -- no matter how much you strain your brain, you won't see its source; there is no projector there nor skylight.
Mystic... Like everything here.
The girl in the rust-colored raincoat stopped at the very edge of light and shadow, looking over the hall space with silent admiration. It seemed that any minute now she would take off beneath the ceiling, there, where restlessly her inexperienced glance turned.
"Come over here," the voice of the woman in violet sounded behind her back. The girl hurriedly obeyed.
"They call me Udarda; I'm the Keeper of the Circle," the small woman introduced herself importantly. "And what do they call you?"
"They call me Elend," answered the girl quietly. "Passport name -- Linda-Eleanor Ugnela, but the passport's not from this Essence."
"An understandable thing. Where born?"
"Quiet Dock Essence, a version of the City named Dveris -- the capital of Rugiland."
"The precise period which you've already dashed about through the worlds?"
"Eleven months. After this time, I didn't return home again."
"Too long, let's say right off, for autonomous wandering... Do you have any patron in the Essences?"
"Yes, Margarita, Princess Eskharskaya, the head of the so-called Welsh school of witches... But why do you ask all this? You're not writing anything in the book!"
"Your arrival is noted in the skies," answered Udarda incomprehensibly. "Before you enter the Circle, I advise you to leave outside those things which you would be sorry to lose, since the Circle will remake you according to the Original Concept, and nothing will survive in the mirror whirlpool."
"I don't have anything like that -- maybe that money belt..." The girl undid the thing she'd mentioned and carefully laid it on the book. "Nothing to me if it stays here; so far, I...."
"Let it lay. Go."
For an instant she froze by the boundary of the luminescent spot, touching it with the nose of her shoe. Nothing happened, but she got the strange feeling of bright light and high wind beating into her face. She put out her hand -- her fingers looked as if poured from silver -- and only then she laughed to step onto the illuminated space. Her thin figure, lit from all sides, flared clearly in the beam, but the black pupil of shadow did not pierce the iris of the circle of light. At this moment, she seemed to Udarda to be standing on the palm of the One Who created light and all the universe, as if they might have called him (or her?). Slowly, as on a strange stage, she went down onto one elbow in the center of the Circle....
She raised her head. The hall wasn't there. Instead of this, around her danced a stream of some kind of strange images, as if she'd appeared in a mirrored revolving well. Something was carried elusively in the mirror bent around her, and it seemed to her that she saw and understood all, but there just -- what bad luck! -- were not in human language such words and concepts as would be adequate to describe this. Strange images birthed in her brain but here they disappeared, as if waves had washed them away from the edge of the surf.
By chance lowering her eyes, she saw that she stood on a carpet of fallen autumn leaves. From where, indeed? It was May now. She lowered her hands, longing to touch these strange leaves and be sure that they were no illusions, no trick of the light. For some reason, this was very important.
And then the mirrored delirium-dance ceased as suddenly as it began. She saw her own reflection... Hers?
The young woman in the mirror was at minimum six, seven years older than the one standing in the Circle, if you could generally talk about her age. The dark hair flowing onto her arms poured off gold and copper at once, and her emerald eyes were brighter than the stones in her headband. She was dressed in a dark green dress of whimsical cut, embroidered in autumn leaves of all colors on the edges of her hem and around her decolletage. Her thin, sharp beauty was like autumn bitterness, the smell of chrysanthemums, the taste of exquisite wine... And she who stood and looked at this vision understood that she saw her very own face, but far more elegantly finished -- all her life she had subconsciously wanted to be just like that, but she didn't know how. She smiled timidly -- and the one in the mirror smiled fervidly and slyly in answer.
Growing bolder, she raised her hands in a wave, drew in her shoulders, bent her body in a dancing movement -- and the lovely reflection repeated the same with readiness, eyes sparkling joyfully. Then she put her hands forward -- and realized that she did not see them. Her invisible hands touched the mirror...passed through it...and now already her hands were...my hands were in green sleeves, bound about the wrists with thin gold chains.
*Who are you?*
*I -- this is you.*
*But who am I? What am I called? What am I like?*
*Elend!* swept between the mirrors with the sound of a ringing chime.
*Elend...Elen-dis, Elen-dis Ar-ginol...* My Name is -- Elendis Arginol, Elend Nettle.
A smile from the mirror -- a golden reflection of sunset in August. In her there was unusual, madly merry, fearless power: well, now!...
YES -- THIS IS I....
And She stepped into me... I stepped straight into the glass, into my own completion, longing to find her from now on and for never, and now this copper and green was no longer a reflection, but I, I myself, with little tongues of green flame which for a moment flared up above my eyebrows....
*Not now," loudly said a voice somewhere within me. *You will become her, but until then you still need to live. Only life experience will crown you with this flaming crown, and until then....*
But until then I stand beyond the limits of the Circle of Light, the same as I'd come here with my uneaten ice creams; and infinitely different, as if I'd stepped into the circle a painting on the wall, and left it three-dimensional and come to life. And what's more, I am wearing quite different clothing -- pale green, glowing....
I turn to the table with the book and see Udarda coming from behind it, whose eyes blaze strangely somehow in the half-dusk. Now it's obvious that she limps strongly to the left side, as if one foot were shorter than the other. And I guess by her face that she now sees on my head that crown of green flame.
"Wait." With a bow, she gives me my old money belt. "Now you may tell me your Name."
"My Name is -- Elendis Arginol," I say, and hear how my voice has changed, how pure and free it sounds....
When I go out to the street, the first drops of rain are just kissing the excited asphalt. Those Guards who'd teased me upon entering, had already had time to move to the upper stairs, under the roof, but they stand all in that same solemn stance. As soon as I just come between them, both throw up their swords, saluting me. But I am so overflowing with celebration -- I did it! -- that I assume this is as must be.
My Name -- Elendis Arginol!