Copyright © 2011 Anne Bishop. Used with permission.
(Suggested reading age: 15 years and older.)
Belladonna stripped away our human masks, revealing the Dark Guides for what we are—the whispering voices that encourage hearts to turn away from the Light and feed the Dark currents of the world with selfishness and greed and, best of all, violence.
While I wore that mask, I walked among the people of Ephemera as a wizard, as one who was feared and revered because I was a Justice Maker for the most prominent citizens in my assigned landscapes—the kind of citizens who, with whispered persuasion, could do the most harm, snuff out the most Light in other hearts.
But Wizard City, the Dark Guides’ stronghold, is gone, taken out of the world and locked away with the landscapes that belong to the Eater of the World. Because the city is no longer within reach, the pureblood females we kept as breeders are also gone. Only a few of us were in other landscapes when Belladonna did that reshaping of the world. Only a few of us escaped that cage. So few of us, hiding now in the pieces of the world.
Of course, we still have some wizards—those descendents of Dark Guides who polluted the bloodlines by mating with humans. Despite that pollution, wizards have the powers that were the gifts from the Dark aspects of the world and, more important for my purpose now, they still look human.
When my true face was revealed, it was the wizards, eager to prove their loyalty to me, who found and booked passage on the various ships that eventually brought us to this city. It was the wizards who found us lodgings that allowed me to study the particular nature of this city and understand how to use it to our advantage.
I can create another stronghold here, another place like Wizard City. Quietly, carefully, I can take part of this city away from its present guardians and turn that piece into a dark landscape where we can rule again.
In the pieces of world we knew, Landscapers were Ephemera’s bedrock—the hearts through which the currents of Dark and Light flow, the sieves that keep Ephemera from manifesting the turmoil in all the other hearts. Here the Landscapers are called Shamans. They guard and guide all they can see with the complacency of those who believe they have no rivals.
They don’t know about Dark Guides or wizards. They don’t know what to look for. Blinded by that ignorance, the Shamans will be able to do nothing but wonder why pieces of their city are slipping beyond their sight and control.
We have a foothold in two sections of this city. Soon, entire streets will be under the control of my wizards. The Shamans will not find us.
And neither will Belladonna.
—an entry in the Book of Dark Secrets
A darkness has come to the city of Vision. We do not know its name or its nature, but now we are certain it is there. Shamans who tend pieces of the northwest and southern parts of the city are reporting that they can no longer see some streets they had walked last season, can no longer sense what is taking place in the hearts of the people who live there—can no longer be a voice for the world because something is making us blind and mute.
We promised you a year to rest from your duties and search for what your own heart seeks. We are breaking that promise, and it grieves me that you will have to end your visit with your nephew and return immediately to take up your new duties as the Keeper of the southern Asylum.
We know you are tired, and we know this is a difficult task—and I alone understand the cruelty of asking this of you when you are concerned about your own sanity. Shamans are not usually Asylum Keepers. We are too attuned to the inner landscapes of the people around us, and being around the broken day after day eventually breaks us too. But the bone readers and fortune tellers are all sending us the same message: there will be a convergence of allies and enemies in a place of shadows—a madman and a teacher, a guide and a monster. The madman is the reason we want one of our own as Asylum Keeper.
The council considered every Shaman, regardless of age, and we all agreed. It comes down to you, Danyal. You are not like other Shamans. You never were, and what your own heart needs is something the Elders cannot give you. Because of that and your unusual ability to see the hearts of others so clearly, you are the one chance we have to save Vision. As much as you love this city, you are seeking something beyond what you can find here. We are hoping the needs of your own heart will lead you to the person who can help us see and understand the enemy.
We will give you every assistance we can, but in the end, it is your voice that will speak for us all—and for our piece of Ephemera.
Farzeen, on behalf of the Shaman Council
They call themselves Tryad, children of the Triple Goddess. They crept into the city of Vision, pathetically hoping to gain a foothold here, but my wizards caught two of the creatures for my examination.
A Tryad is three beings who inhabit a core body, which consists of the brain (but the mind is distinct to each), the internal organs, and bones. Height doesn’t change, and there is no significant difference in weight between the aspects, as they refer to themselves. However, there are sufficient differences in muscle and body shape to be noticeable, especially between the weakest and strongest of the three. Each has a distinct face, and features like the color of skin, eyes, and hair can vary widely. Each has its own personality, its own memories, although they can share an experience to some degree.
One member of a Tryad has a brand on the left arm—a heart within a triangle. This allows them to identify others of their race, since they are never open about their presence in a city.
This ability for only one of them to bear the proof of a physical change fascinates me, so I have conducted some tests. Violations like burns or cuts on one have no effect on the other two. Despite being part of the shared core, a broken bone, if it is a clean fracture, only hobbles the one on whom the injury was inflicted, although the other two experience weakness and pain in that limb and are severely limited in its use. A fever produced in one will weaken the other two to some degree, or they may suffer a minor version of the same illness. However, if a hand is amputated on one, that hand is lost to all three. Interestingly enough, removing the eyes from one of the aspects does not blind the other two. Neither does destroying the eardrums carry over to a loss of hearing in the other two aspects. On the other hand, the teeth and tongue appear to be part of the core, and if lost in one are lost in all.
It took me some time to recall what I had learned during my training, but as I experimented with my specimens, I remembered the reports about this demon race.
Dark Guides found these creatures generations ago, before the world was broken during the war between the Guides of the Heart and the Eater of the World. Some of the Dark Guides sowed their seed in females whose hearts already fed the Dark currents of the world, so that offspring would be born with an instinct for discord—and maybe even some portion of the wizards’ gift of persuasion.
We helped them turn against their own kind. We helped them break their piece of the world away from the rest of Ephemera, and then salted their hearts with guilt and blame that soured their land, spreading those feelings like swift-growing weeds. Even after we abandoned them, our resonance in their hearts helped them crush their own hope, their own future. There is so much destruction a Dark Guide can accomplish when the hatred in one sibling is nurtured and disguised as love.
Yes, we have seen these creatures before. We have used them to change the resonance of other landscapes into something darker. When a race is so different, it becomes easy to blame them when things begin to go wrong, as things will when wizards put some effort into reshaping a place.
They call themselves Tryad. We call them scapegoats.
—an entry in the Book of Dark Secrets
Chapter one of Bridge of Dreams is included as a special preview with “The Voice: An Ephemera Novella” (e-special available in February 2012).