all things grow, all things grow

POSTED: Thu May 21, 2020 11:56 pm

[--WC] Ambiguously forward dated!



"Wait!" She cried, waving at the waning sliver of the temple doors. "Don't close the door! My grandma's in there!"

To her relief, the movement stopped. A small head poked through the crack. "Wait!" Serafina sped up the steps. If there were any petals left on the flowers by the end, it would be a miracle.

The other girl, an acolyte by the looks of her, made a sound like a squeak, and then the door began to close again. Arriving just in time, Serafina stuck her arm through and heard a gasp on the other side.

"What are you doing?" the acolyte whispered frantically. "Stop it! We have to close the temple."

"Let me in!" Serafina yelped as the girl gave her arm a good thwack. "That's my grandma in there! I need to see her."

"Your grandma?" Their struggle halted. "Oh..." The acolyte's tall ears folded back.

"Yes," Serafina panted. She began to slide her shoulder through the crack of the door. "If...if I don't see her now, then I won't..."

The acolyte resisted, although she was starting to give. "Why weren't you here earlier? With the rest of the family?"

"I wanted to bring her favorite flowers and it just, it took a while. Please?"

The girl looked down and then over her shoulder at the dimly lit hall. They would be done with another service soon, and then they would be back to prepare the body for its final rest. Serafina could see that the acolyte was considering it in her silvery eyes, and she shouldered her way closer. "Please. What's your name? I'm Serafina. Amaranthe. Please."

The acolyte huffed. "Fine. But you have to be quick."

"Oh, thank you!" She lunged forward to grab the girl in a hug, but the acolyte was nimble. She sidestepped her movement and grabbed her wrist. Holding a finger to her lips to signal quiet, the acolyte led them in the passageway behind large stone pillars. A procession of darkly dressed figures melted into the back of the hall, and there at the center, she could almost make out the figure of her grandmother laid in the blooms of what must have been hundreds of flowers.

As they drew closer, the acolyte tucked Serafina into a concavity in one of the pillars. She stood in front of her, arms raised in prayer. Serafina sucked in a breath as a figure of a Portadore passed behind the acolyte, dressed all in white and leaving a trail of fragrant smoke.

When the footsteps of the Portadore finally faded into silence, the acolyte dropped her arms with a heavy sigh. "I could get in real trouble, you know." She whispered. "Not even family's allowed to see this part."

"Thank you," Serafina reached for her hand and smiled. "I'm already going to be in trouble when I get home, so if they catch us, just blame me, ok?"

A sad smile wavered at the acolyte's lips. Now that Serafina was close enough, she could see that the girl was not much older than herself. "Don't be foolish," the girl said, "Just stay quiet."

Serafina giggled. They were off quickly after this, hand in hand, until they reached the end of the hall. The acolyte bid her to stay put and keep quiet while she checked to make sure there was no one else around. Serafina hunched amid the flowers left at the foot of the altar and listened to her quick, resounding footfalls. Finally, she returned.

"Ok," She said, "Go make peace with her."

Serafina nodded. She rose from the flowers and ascended the steps to the altar, careful not to move too forcefully on the creaky wood. In the flickering light of the candles, her grandmother had a haunting resplendence. Her long red hair, which had turned half gray from the roots, spilled over the altar and her arms like a gleaming river.

"Grandma..." she murmured. With her eyes closed and her hands so stiff, her grandmother hardly looked the same. Serafina was too young to know that she hadn't looked like herself for much longer than this.

Her mother did not cry the day the former Alta Baronesa was found. Serafina did not understand this. She knew her grandmother as the pretty old woman in the gardens, who gave names to flowers and let her dig holes. When Serafina finally shifted, her grandmother had been too sickly to do much besides sit in the sunlight. She would ask Serafina to bring her little things, anything she found, so that she could tell her what they were and what they meant.

Serafina carefully tucked the amaryllis between her fingers. "I miss you."

"Were you close?" The acolyte came beside her and laid a carnation among the other countless flowers.

She nodded. It was strange to come so late, she knew. When she thought of it, she didn't think her grandmother had anyone else. Servants, cousins, other families, even her own daughters all kept their distance. Once, Serafina saw her mother staring at them from a window above the garden. She had a disapproving look in her eye, but she never mentioned it.

"They all came but..."

"It was because they had to." The acolyte finished for her, seeming to understand. "My family is like that too. Duty before all else."

"Are you a Moreno?"

"Of course." She snorted. Serafina smiled. "Isabel Moreno."

"That's pretty. Just like you." The acolyte blinked and then looked down at her feet, a gentle smile at her lips.

A sound echoed behind them and the girls flinched. The acolyte, now Isabel, took her hand again and began to tug her away. Serafina looked back as they fled down the steps and watched as the image of her grandmother sank beneath the piles of flowers. They made it to the end of the hall just as the procession returned. She was grateful that they were too focused on removing the flowers to notice the girls fleeing toward the door.

They crossed through another hallway and finally returned to the temple's entrance. As soon as she could pry open the large heavy door, Isabel released her.

"Go, now," she said, "Quickly. I need to go—"

"Wait—" Serafina grabbed her hand. "Please, come to our autumnal. I'll tell my aunt, the Alta Baronesa. She'll send for you."

Isabel froze. "I don't..."

"Please. As a token of my gratitude."

She looked down at her feet. "I'm an acolyte. That's not...what we do."

"Please—"

A voice called behind them and Isabel shoved her through, slamming the door behind her. Flowers that she had dropped earlier now rolled in the wind, their leaves and petals whirling at her feet.

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San

POSTED: Mon May 25, 2020 4:09 am

[---WC] I stood out in the night, in an empty field and I called your name

The world moved on after her grandmother’s funeral, and only Serafina seemed to notice the absence in the garden.

It wasn't long before her parents arranged for her to have a mentor, a great uncle, who continued to show her the way of plants and flowers. He wasn't as attentive as her grandmother had been, and he talked at such length about everything that Serafina often found her young mind wandering, returning to the dark hall and the young acolyte. He gave her books at least, and their endless passages kept her occupied late into the night. She would fall asleep to the sounds of Siolene toiling away over her latest creation.

The Autumnal came and went. Serafina couldn't recall much of what happened. She spent most of the evening running to the windows of the estate and gazing out into the night.

On one of those occasions, her mother was waiting for her at the windowsill. Dressed in her sea clothes, she looked as out of place as Serafina felt. In spite of this, she never looked uncomfortable. Semini had a way of making it feel like the world was exactly what she wanted it to be. "You know," her mother said, "I used to look out just like this, to see if your father was coming home." Her voice was wistful and her gaze faraway, as if she could see the snowy mountain and the cabin again.

She beckoned her to come closer, and Serafina tucked into her mother's arms without a worry to her dress or her ribbons. Semini always straightened these things for her. "I still do sometimes, only now I hope to see your older siblings." She gave her forehead a gentle kiss. "Who are you looking for, mija?"

"No one." Serafina sighed.

"Oh?" her mother noised, unconvinced. "Ok. You don't have to tell me. They must be someone very special to make you wait like this."

She didn't know why, but she couldn't let go of the girl in the Temple. "They are."

"Hm, I knew it was someone." Serafina pulled away, her mouth open with playful dismay. Chuckling, her mother reached for her hair and tucked it away from her eyes. "Well, just because you're waiting doesn't mean you can't have fun. Let's go back."

"Ok," she agreed. While the smell of roasted pumpkin had been slowly draining her willpower, she couldn’t help but turn to the window again, "I'll be there in a moment."

She felt her mother looking at her. Glancing back, Serafina recognized that there was another emotion in her mother’s eyes, a pain that she did not yet understand. “Alright. We'll be waiting." Semini said, and squeezed her shoulder as she passed. Serafina turned to watch her disappear into candlelight and music.

***


It was in the market that Serafina saw the acolyte next. Isabel Moreno had changed, albeit in small ways; she was taller now, and her faded orange robe had been swapped for a black one. Serafina had grown too, but not as much as her brother, who seemed to shoot up from the ground like a stalk of onion and looked more and more like their father each day. For all her parents' lamentations, this was the way of things, and they would plunge into their growth with all the reckless assurance of youth.

Once more Serafina carried flowers, only this time they were for the living and not the dead. She held these in front of her face and spied Isabel through the stalks and petals. To her luck, the acolyte seemed occupied.

Portadores and their procession emptied into the courtyard from the nearby Church. As they parted in different directions, some of the acolytes began to remove their veils and talk animatedly with one another. She surmised a service or lesson had finished, leaving them some free time until sunset when the Fire would be lit.

Her pulse quickened when she saw Isabel begin to drift away from her group and into her direction, alone.

The voice of a merchant ambushed her from behind. “Miss, you mind moving out of the way? You’re blocking my table.” Serafina jumped, fumbling the flowers. They scattered across the ground. In her periphery, she saw the merchant shake his head.

“O-oh, shoot!” She complained, hastily gathering what she could before the wind picked them up. She bumbled around the legs of passerby until another dreadfully familiar voice caught her.

“You dropped this.”

Her vision swam with hues of yellow and pink. Serafina looked up and felt every single ray of sunlight congregate on her cheeks. She took the flowers gingerly into her hands. “Thank you,” she replied.

Isabel Moreno stood with the sun in her hair and the whole of the sky at her back. She had been a shadow of Serafina’s thoughts for so long that seeing her now, so close and so real, made her forget the disappointment she had felt at the window and every day since.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. She didn’t know what was supposed to happen, but she felt like she had been wronged, somehow; that she ought to be angry and that Isabel should be avoiding her. Instead, the acolyte peered kindly at her face, and it was then that Serafina understood something even worse: she didn’t remember her.

Shaking to stand, Serafina opened her mouth and then closed it when the words wouldn’t come out. Isabel lingered politely. Around them, the traders called and bartered, and Serafina wished one would lend her their strength. At least let her haggle one syllable out of her stingy mind! When it became clear that there was nothing to be said, Isabel bowed her head and left.

The moment was leaving her. Serafina panicked. “H-hey! Wait!” She ran after the acolyte, graceless as a puppy. "I didn't see you at the Autumnal."

She didn’t seem to hear her. Serafina tried not to puff her cheeks and pout, because she wasn’t a child anymore and her siblings made it clear that it was opposite of threatening, but she felt herself puff anyway. She picked up the pace until they were walking side by side. “I waited for you!"

Isabel looked surprised to see her. As the acolyte’s gaze wandered her own, clearly searching for a familiar sign, Serafina felt deflated in both her person and soul.

To make matters worse, Isabel shook her head and began to hasten her stride. Serafina pursued her, flowers jostling in her arms. “It’s me! Serafina,” she insisted helplessly. “Serafina Amaranthe!” A few faces turned at the sound of her voice, which only made the acolyte move faster.

“I know you know who I am!”

"No, no I don’t." Isabel continued, breathless and nearly running by this point.

“I just told you!”

“So what?”

Isabel turned a corner, and Serafina hustled after her. Keeping pace with her long legs was hard enough, but she certainly wasn’t making it easy. She gave a tiny yelp when Isabel whirled around suddenly and grabbed her wrist, halting her. “Are you mad?” she hissed.

“Yes—no, are you?” Serafina wrinkled her nose, and then her expression brightened. “You do remember me, don’t you!”

Isabel released her with a huff. She smoothed her veil and looked around. Above them, a woman hummed and strung up her wash on a line, and down the road a pair of old men were arguing loudly about the weather. The street was otherwise empty.

The acolyte sighed. She shook her head and said, “I beg you. Leave me alone. Please.”

Serafina's heart fell into her stomach. What was so wrong with her, with her siblings, that people treated them this way? She felt something rise within her, a great wave of emotion that lapped at the corners of her vision. “Why?” She demanded, as forcefully as if it were everyone and not just the acolyte. Realizing this, she then softly repeated, “Why, Isabel?”

The acolyte tried not to meet her eyes, but when she did, Serafina glimpsed something familiar in them. “It’s better if we pretend we never met. I’m not like you.” She said, turning to leave. “I don’t do what you do.”

Serafina paced after her, "And what do I do?"

Isabel scoffed dismissively. "Prance around and throw flowers into the air. Distract others." She spoke with real scorn, "I am not a courtier."

She was a distraction? Serafina’s eyes glimmered full of hope. Smiling wryly, she said, "Hm. That doesn't sound like me." She understood now that Isabel was trying to be callous, but unlike everyone else, she had revealed a kindness to Serafina that she would not soon forget.

"Fine. I don't care. Whatever you do, I can't have anything to do with it if I want to be a Portadore."

"I won’t get in the way," Serafina reassured. "You're going to be a guiding light, right? You can practice on me, the 'foreigner's daughter!'"

Isabel paused and turned abruptly. They were almost to the other end of the street, and the old men had moved on to arguing about something else. It didn’t matter now. The acolyte appraised her again with disbelief. "You? You're one of them?"

It was clear she had heard, like most of Onuba, that it was Semini's foreign born daughter who had wrought destruction on the Arena family. When she returned with her foreign lover, everyone had been rightfully wary. It was said he was not the father of the Butcher, but whether anyone believed that depended on how much they trusted the Amaranthe family.

The truth didn't matter anyway. Serafina felt the coldness from others, no matter how much she tried. In some ways, it was this shunning that led her to connect with her grandmother. “Yes.”

Isabel looked at her pointed ears with greater scrutiny, and Serafina felt her cheeks flush again. “I suppose you don’t look like an Amaranthe.”

"You know, my father's name means something in the other world." She touched at the flowers in her hand. "Revlis. They are Kings and Queens of an old Kingdom."

"Foreign kingdoms and foreign names don't mean anything here."

"No. Neither does Amaranthe, apparently," she sighed. "People still think that I am going to do...terrible things." They didn't have to say it for her to know. Her sister didn't seem to worry about what others thought about them, busy as she was in her inventions. Sometimes it was a reprieve to be with Siolene, and at other times, it was like she didn't exist either.

"Hm." Isabel seemed to consider her. "If madness is in your blood, I suppose I can be a guiding light."

Serafina's ears flicked forward. "Really?" She shouldn’t have been excited. Morholt certainly would have resented the implication. He disliked when people assumed anything of them based on the actions of their half siblings, but in this case, Serafina couldn't care less. He had books to keep him company, but here, she had made a friend. With conditions, of course, but it was a start.

“Yes." Isabel said with growing certainty. She took a step closer, "I think I see now. You were drawn to me for a reason."

When Serafina met Isabel's eyes again, she saw they were changed. Soft, like they had been in the candlelight of the temple, a memory that felt at once present and so far away. She was beginning to understand, in her own clumsy way, that there were two rivers running concurrent in her friend. At intersections they would fight for control, but when they ran side by side, there was harmony.

Isabel took her hand, and Serafina’s chest nearly burst with joy. “Come with me,” she said, and Serafina nodded. Together, they raced to the next street. Around them the walkways bustled, and even in the places where they had to squeeze one by one to get through, the acolyte did not let her go.

Eventually the road opened, leading the two of them to the center where an old stone fountain rose above piles of offerings. It was difficult to identify original structure, covered as it was in blooms of green algae and mildew, and the central basin shimmered black with saltwater. Figures milled in and around the shrine—sailors, merchants, and a single Portadore, who kept a small fire burning beneath an overgrown arch.

"We'll start with the shrine." Isabel said as they came up the path, "Your mother's a sailor, isn't she? You should be praying here anyway."

They waited for the visitors ahead of them to finish their prayers. Serafina observed that each of them had a different way: some folded their hands, others sat on folded knees, but all closed their eyes and bowed their heads. At Isabel's prompting, Serafina laid a flower at the edge of the fountain. She looked back, and the acolyte raised her hands together and clasped them. She followed her example.

"What do I say?"

"You speak gratitude."

"To who? For what?"

"For your mother's safety." Isabel offered, "You ask the aspects of light to guide her at sea and take care of her spirit."

Rolling her shoulders, Serafina inhaled. "Dear...the almighty Lights. Thank you all for looking after my mom. Honestly, though, I wish you would look after my dad too, because he's not getting any better at painting—"

Isabel made a small sound. Serafina was surprised to look over and find that the acolyte held a hand over her mouth and was stifling a giggle. Her embarrassment shifted into a grin. "What? I'm doing what you said, aren't I? What do you wish for?"

As Isabel's laughter subsided, Serafina smiled to herself. "You're not supposed to say it out loud. And I don't wish." Isabel corrected, straightening. She then clasped her hands together in a look of grim piety. "I pray."

She closed her eyes. "I pray that I do not wander astray. That the light shows me the way forward, even as I am presented with false paths."

The words sounded strange to her ears. They had a rehearsed quality that reminded Serafina of what she and her siblings had been instructed to say for formal events.

She looked down at the flowers. "Duty before all else?"

Isabel opened her eyes. She had a look that wavered, rivers in the sunlight. "...Yes, Serafina."

"Before you, too?"

Isabel's fingers seemed to grip harder. "Am I more important than my family or faith?" A wind, smelling of warmth and sea, wound through the area. Isabel's veil fluttered over her long, dark hair.

Serafina stepped closer, jostling her shoulder with her own. "What if you're important to someone else?"

The acolyte blinked away the glossy look in her eyes. "Don't be foolish," Isabel reprimanded, albeit softly.

"Hmm. Dear almighty Lights, please show Isabel the way to help me, because we're both stumped, I think," She laughed, and to her delight, Isabel joined her. "Have I prayed too much? Should I give another flower?"

When their giggles subsided, Serafina turned to face the sunny dunes behind them, and the sparkling blue water beyond. "Did you know we have a shrine? Right in our gardens." In fact, they had many. Serafina never really cared for them until now.

"I know." Isabel frowned. She began to walk down to the sand, and Serafina followed without looking back. She supposed they were done, even if her prayers had been less than adequate. "Don't you think I know that? I know where every shrine, temple, and church is. Even the hidden ones. I have to."

"Hidden ones?" Serafina turned to her with a gasp. Isabel seemed to realize her mistake far too late. She began to step away, but Serafina grabbed her hand and didn't let go. "Oh, please, you have to show me!"

"I can't—"

"Please,” she begged. “I won’t tell anyone. It’ll be our secret. I promise.”

Isabel seemed to teeter between two unseen forces, like a wave pushing and pulling from shore. She looked at the sea and then back to her. “Do you swear it, then?” Isabel asked, and by that, Serafina knew she meant an oath.

“I am an acolyte, Serafina. Anything you swear to me will be Seen in the Light.”

She realized that this would be her first one. A waste, some would have said. Serafina took both of Isabel’s hands into her own and nodded. “I do.”

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San

Canon