The wicked heroine, p.81
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.81

           Jasmine Giacomo


  Cautious, Sanych decided not to ask up front if anyone could tell her why the dome of the Navel of the World looked so familiar to her. She needed to feel more at ease first, learn about these women and their ways.

  The Silver Hand let Sanych spend many hours in the Library of Hynd. One of the mystics always accompanied her, teaching her Hyndi. The mystics also arranged for her to have use of one of the small study rooms. Sanych began to rewrite her notebook, which had been lost when the Kazhak was destroyed. She also began to collect books on trade routes and prevailing wind patterns and store them on a shelf in her small room. She tacked sea charts on the wall and created one enormous map of the waters surrounding Salience: the Middle Sea to the east, the Jade Sea to the southwest, and the Empty Ocean to the northwest, beyond the Archipelago of Juala.

  She learned that the Silver Hand had a hierarchy of ranking, according to ascendance, as they termed it. It was not based on what the mystics could do, but the strength with which they could do it. From the lowest Shayou to the most powerful Shadon, each woman had her own gift. Even those who had affinity for water could do different things with it. Sanych watched one day as two women at a fountain on the compound grounds used their magics. One could create statues of ice, while the other could melt them by heating the water in the fountain with a single finger. They made a friendly competition of it, though the Shashei’s heating power eventually overwhelmed the ice-making Shalin’s creations faster than she could build them.

  It felt as if Sanych had entered another world. While part of her mind dutifully recorded all that she saw, another part could only marvel at these women’s innate abilities. One day in the library, she asked Shashei Cheriya in broken Hyndi how this magic could possibly exist.

  “By the hearth, I cannot say,” the dark-skinned woman replied. “There has always been magic at the Navel of the World. Strangers come here sometimes, and find that they can suddenly control the wind, or read minds. If they leave, their gift vanishes, so those who embrace the gift must live here with us.”

  “Was it like that for you?” Sanych asked.

  “Yes. I came from Kauna’kana as a merchant’s daughter many years ago. As we came into the city with our caravan of goods, I suddenly felt my mind opening to other minds, hearing their thoughts. It terrified me at first, but the Silver Hand taught me control, and I have remained here ever since.”

  “If you left, your gift would leave you?”

  “It would,” Cheriya confirmed with a nod. “Only in Salience are we blessed with our gifts. It has always been this way.”

  Cheriya did not know more than that, and none of Sanych’s research or questions over the next two days turned up any definitive answers. Frustrated, the Archivist took a walk around the upper city, deciding to learn more about the city of Salience itself. Cheriya accompanied her, speaking of the only other topic Sanych discussed, aside from magic.

  “May the moon witness, Archivist, I have never heard of someone surviving being eaten by two Deep Ones in one day,” the Shashei said, shaking her head in doubt. “Perhaps it could happen in Salience Harbor, but your ship was days from here.”

  “You don’t understand. Meena has gifts all the time. I don’t know how that works, but it does. She can heal moments after she’s injured. Surely that gives a reasonable hope that she survived.”

  “Does she need air to breathe?” Cheriya asked, raising an eyebrow.

  “I don’t know for sure. I…never asked.” Sanych felt her cheeks warm. When does that question ever come up in conversation, anyway? she thought.

  “Well,” the Shashei sighed, “you may feel free to use the library, or ask anyone you want, about Deep Ones and currents, but if it did not happen in Salience…” She shrugged, her black braids swaying against her pale green turban.

  Sanych ground her teeth. Cheriya was a lovely, helpful woman, but she couldn’t grasp magic existing outside of the parameters she knew. She needed to ask someone else–

  Sanych’s thought was interrupted by a familiar sight. She saw a pale-brick building, several stories tall, that caught at her memory. It was just one of dozens of multi-family dwellings on this long, residential street. Her eyes were drawn to the second story window on the left end.

  There used to be red flowers there, in a big pot, she recalled. They smelled stinky. Her feet halted.

  “Archivist?” Cheriya stopped beside her, looking to the window as well.

  Mama made me finger cakes for my birthday. I dropped one out the window, for the downstairs neighbor’s dog.

  “Archivist Sanych, are you all right?” The woman placed a hand on Sanych’s shoulder.

  I could see the Navel’s dome from the window.

  Sanych blinked and met Cheriya’s coal-dark eyes. “I’m fine,” she replied, as her attention drifted back to the window. She felt awkward telling Cheriya that she’d lived here in this apartment building, since she’d kept the fact secret that she recognized the dome of the Navel of the World on sight, but now the situation had gone beyond that. She summed up her strange recollections to the Shashei, who listened in silence as they walked.

  “You do not recall living here, yet you remember nearly everything that is said and done in your presence,” Cheriya summed. “Could be that your mind was not developed enough to remember. You were two, maybe three.”

  “But I do remember parts. Why don’t I remember it all?”

  Cheriya sucked her lips in and nibbled them, thinking. “By the hearth and the stone, there may be a way to find out. If you trust me.”

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