This week's Fiction Friday features world building and an amphibian princeling borrowed from my child, Parker Dumas. This is an excerpt from our novel in progress, The Boy Who Painted Stars.
by Celeste Hollister
Word Count: 1,150
by Celeste Hollister
Word Count: 1,150
Y-Chien wound the parchment strip into a tight cylinder and tucked it into his belt. He went to the edge of the marble steps. He stood beneath the great pillars and beheld his city. The scent of winter-frost crept along roads and in between crop-rows, withering tender vines and snuffing blossoms like candle-flames. Soon the Lower Batracians would line their warrens with silk-leaves. They would plug their vents with silt. They would wrap their younglings in tenebrous grass, and they would burrow for the Year's End sleep.
He sighed, letting the melancholic ache of envy radiate through him.
A lilting voice came from the temple's recess. “It's as if I can read your thoughts, Chien-ai.”
Y-Chien's inner-eyelid narrowed. “And what are my thoughts, then?” he snapped.
Yun-Hye moved in the temple like a capricious breeze. She said, “You wish for the simple peace of the Lowers, for the bliss that is their ignorance.”
“Anyo,” Y-Chien said. “You're wrong.”
She drifted to his side. Her long braid-skirts pooled and swayed around her lithe, lean legs. “Good, Chien-ai, for the Lowers lose half their lives to hibernation, whereas we have evolved to only need sleep—”
“—when our bodies require rest,” Y-Chien finished. “Deh, deh, I know it. Just like the humans.”
Yun-Hye cupped his face with her hands. She caressed his jaw with her wide cheek-plate. “So we have risen from the slime to calculate, to travel to the stars, to play music, and to dance.”
“I hate dancing,” he sulked.
She arabesqued away in a tempest of skirt-braids. “Don't I know it,” she pouted. “You hate many human things.” She reclined on the stone pillar opposite him and trailed her thin arms above her head. The action drew attention to her new implants, which bounced unnaturally beneath the fabric of her robes.
Y-Chien refused to look at them. “I don't hate the humans,” he said. “I merely think we shouldn't try so hard to look like them.”
Yun-Hye chortled with delight. “You?” she sang. “This, from you?”
Y-Chien leaned his back on his pillar and folded his arms across his chest. “I realize the contradiction,” he said. “But you know I did not choose this. It's the prophecy...”
Yun-Hye straightened. “It's your destiny,” she hissed. “Your birthright. You would do well to remember that.”
“I know it's my destiny—”
“—And soon it will be fulfilled,” Yun-Hye said. She glided along the polished marble, watching her reflection in the glossy stone, catching glimpses of her blue freckled legs beneath the swirling weight of her skirts. “You will save us all, Chien-ai, you will kill the Diminished One, and you will have your greatest wish.”
She looped her arms around his neck, and he did not resist as she pulled him close. “What is your greatest wish, Y-Chien? What is it you hope for?”
Nothing. The whisper of his heart. He wanted nothing. He hoped for nothing. In his whole life, he had never needed to strive for anything. What he desired, the Batracians gave, from the smallest toy to the grandest palace.
Soon there would be a ceremony. They would set him at the control panel of the finest ship in the galaxy. They would send him to the stars where he would seek out the Derelict God. And then Y-Chien would defeat him.
But what if the prophecy was wrong? What if Y-Chien was not the Designate? Yes, he was the most human-looking Batracian ever decanted (so far). And yes, he matched the description in the prophecy, a boy with dark eyes and dark hair.
But Y-Chien had seen countless vidscreens of humans. The race had reached homogeneity centuries ago. All of the ones still hovering around their homeworld matched that description: Dark eyes, dark hair.
The thing was, Y-Chien possessed no secret, hidden longings. He was, to use ancient human slang, Wysiwyg – what you see is what you get.
“Oh, Chien-ai,” Yun-Hye mused, releasing him. He breathed in her scent, as familiar to him as his own skin – nectarus blooms and quill ink. “You've gone all pensive again. Can it be you will miss this place?”
Y-Chien looked out of the temple, really looked this time. First Sun was setting, lighting the scale-ways to gleaming bronze. The city pools fell away in broad terraces of green and gold, with slender, spindling arches nimbly perched between state buildings and storefronts and reading-nodes. Ubie children splashed from the pool's edges, cutting the sunlit pools into rippling rings as they swam. Adult Ubies streamed from the buildings, heading home for the short span between First and Second Sun.
The Ubie adults ambled along the arches, their monochromatic skins concealed beneath vibrant robes and weighted skirts. Brightly-freckled Lowbies flanked their Ubie counterparts, trundling behind them with crates and parcels in their three-wheel carts.
Above all this, sky-skiffs sailed, threading the scarlet clouds with amberglow. And further, in the distance, heavy thunderheads pulsed with pink twists of lightning. But that was beyond the city-grid, out in the uptake land where the Ubies let the weather rage.
Did Y-Chien love any of it? Would he miss it at all?
He said, “What does it say if I have to think so long about my feelings?”
Yun-Hye frowned. “Love should be immediate,” she said. “It should have nothing to do with thought.”
“Then I will not miss it,” Y-Chien said. “Because I do not love it.”
Yun-Hye's freckled skin blushed a pale crimson. If she could have seen herself, she would have been overjoyed at how human she looked. “You are spoiled, Chien-ai,” she said. “You always have been. A spoiled, selfish bur-rim-bun-ai.”
“Hey!” he shouted. “It's not my fault. You all have made me this way. You and Mother and Father and the Elders. I don't want anything, and I never have!”
He began to storm away, but it soon became plain that Yun-Hye did not intend to follow. He stopped and turned to see her standing at the edge of the steps, her long webbed fingers flexing.
“You will learn,” Yun-Hye said. “Oh yes, you will learn what you have and what may be lost, Chien-ai. You will learn it, whether you want to or not.”
Y-Chien hated when she spoke like this, in some kind of vague riddle that could be applied to any lesson and any person. Y-Chien whirled again, striking off into the cloisters, where he would pull up his vidscreens and fill up his emptiness with songs.
No one understood. And how could they? Everyone thought he was something special. And they were so very, completely wrong.