I stood in the corridor outside the Keeper’s chamber. Today was my first as the Keeper’s aide. My breakfast coiled uncomfortably in my stomach. The sound of a door opening made me jump. I gave a soft squeak as Iria slipped out of the Keeper’s chamber and walked toward me. Hoping that she hadn’t noticed my undignified yelp, I straightened the blue cloth that covered my hair, and brushed away the imaginary wrinkles in the skirt of my gown. Fidgeting with my appearance was a nervous habit.
“Good Morn, little Sister.” Iria greeted, beaming brightly. Her face was kind, given to expressions of joy and warmth than to reprimanding frowns and harsh words. That smile did much to ease my nerves and I returned it.
“Good Morn, Sister Iria,” I said.
“Your shift is about to start. Any last questions?”
“No, Sister. I am ready.” Even though every sinew of my being screamed otherwise. Iria nodded, clasped my hands in hers and then patted my shoulder.
“The first day is always exciting. Do your best; remember your training and focus. She isn’t an ill-tempered mistress, so you needn’t fear her wrath.” Iria imparted. I could only nod.
“I shall see you at dinner then,” Iria said, giving my shoulder a gentle squeeze. She left my side, on her way to join the others still at breakfast and I stood for a moment, my palms damp with sweat, before the door. I gathered my courage and entered the Keeper’s chamber, my shift had begun and I could not delay. My fear quickly vanished as I closed the heavy door behind me.
The first thing that caught my attention was her eyes. Worlds wheeled in her eyes. An endless sea of galaxies lost in the dark abyss of her pupils. I saw the wonder there, my awe reflected back at me. Older than time, her face was still smooth and her skin pale, snow silk stretched over delicate bones. Hair of ebony mysteries, stars caught like diamonds among the tresses cascaded over her shoulders and pooled around her. She smiled at me, a gentle curve of rose petals. I could do nothing but stand and stare.
“Welcome, Lyana,” she said. Her voice was akin to all the pleasant sounds one could ever wish to hear. For me, it was the sound of waves breaking on the shore of my home and the wind chimes dancing on a summer’s breeze, it did much to calm me. I curtsied, remembering myself.
“I am honored to serve you, My Lady,” I said. My voice sounded rough to my ears compared to hers. She stood, leaving the black velvet couch.
The room we occupied was unlike anything I have ever seen. Endlessly, the walls seemed to stretch on into the darkness. It reminded me of being under a night’s sky and the feeling was further enhanced by the globes that moved about, suspended in air. Tiny specks, twinkling diamonds, flashed in the light emitted by larger spheres of golden, boiling yellow. There were orbs of dusty red, azure and emerald, sandy beige, and frigid blue. Others orbited in the distance, twirling spots of color.
“Come here,” she said. My legs were weak with nerves but I walked, closing the distance between us. I was careful to mind the spheres, knowing they were delicate and precious. I entered into the sea of stars and planets, standing by her side. She pointed at an orb of sapphire blue, dotted with irregular circles of green, islands on a vast ocean. I shivered, wondering if somewhere there was someone like me on the surface of that lovely marble, servant to a Keeper of Worlds.
“Take that in your hands, be gentle, though. Just let it hover between your palms,” She said. I lifted my hands; they were shaking, and flanked the orb that spun on its axis. It is strange to say and it is stranger to feel, but I could sense life, souls and cultures, happiness and hardships. It was almost too much to absorb. The people were wise, on this planet. Peace had come after millennia of wars and destruction. A way of life had been built after the great catastrophe that had submerged most of the land in water. The people were more understanding and forgiving, more easily able to coexist without hatred or prejudice. It was perfect, a beautiful, utopian world. In the minute I held that world in my grasp; their whole history was imparted to me. I could almost speak their language by the time I felt her hand settle on my shoulder. The skin burned, not painfully, where her palm rested.
She can never touch these orbs unless she intends on destroying them or creating them. Her power is too great. Hence the reason for us, the priestesses trained to aide her. We are the receivers, the communicators and without us, little knowledge would be gained for her. Her eyes closed, the long dark lashes resting on her cheeks. Specks glittered on them and I thought for a moment that it might be stardust from ages of living in this room. Her brows furrowed in concentration and I remembered to focus myself on the orb that spun between my hands. I enjoyed the feeling of complete peace and enlightenment that this planet emitted. It was soothing and it made me hope for our own world to know such happiness, someday.
“A good start, Lyana. Try to keep focused. Each distraction from you translates into a weak glimmer for me,” she said, not unkindly. She sighed, the sound slightly melancholy and her hand slid from my shoulder. I moved my hand, intending on releasing my hold on the orb.
“Do not let it go!” She said, and my hands shot forward to once more capture the sphere between my palms. She stood before me, moving gracefully and slowly, as her hands cupped the orb, taking it from my grasp. I could see the ocean begin to boil, steam rising and I felt my eyes fill with tears. She quickly shattered the world between her palms, and I choked on my sorrow for those peaceful people. Her hand lighted once more on my shoulder, spreading warmth throughout my cold body.
“It was their time. There was no more for them to learn or feel or experience. It was an old world,” she said. I wiped at my face, my cheeks raw and scorched by sadness. The remains of the planet drifted away, pulled along by the gravitational force of the sun that centered this system. Chunks of rocks and pebbles were all that was left of that beautiful world.
“Come with me, child,” she said, drifting over to a table I had not previously noticed. Here on this stretch of marble lay her tools. Mounds of clay, jars of things with faded labels and barely discernible script scrawled on them, several silver implements used to make the geography of the planet and a narrow tube of some sort of metal. From my studies, I knew this to be the instrument of the Breath of Life. Her hands grasped at the clay and she began to mold it into a sphere, all the while a delighted smile dance upon her lips and her eyes narrowed in concentration.
“Not only do I destroy, but I also create,” she said, lifting one tool, which she used to shape the continents. Her deft fingers pinched clay into mountains, while she used an instrument to construct valleys, rivers and then the ocean floor. I watched, fascinated. She was an artist, crafting a world of beauty. Placing the orb on a stand, she reached for several bottles. I could not seem to make out the contents of these vessels. Was it sand, powdered bone or ground glass? The words were lost to me, gone for ages. She poured on a bit of this and a bit of that, rubbing the ingredients into the clay.
Her hands, dusted with the particles of whatever was contained in the jars, lifted the orb and she eyed it critically. It was a dusty looking thing, pale gray, aged ivory and ochre. She grasped for the tube, her eyes never leaving the sphere and slid it into the ball. She blew through it and I could hear a faint sound that was like the winds of a dust storm or the call of an ocean in a shell or maybe the low howl of a winter’s breath on the frigid lands of the north. I was not sure. The orb blossomed with color and I watched in amazement as the ocean filled with water and snow capped the mountains, the rivers shone like silvery snakes and forests sprang to life.
She wafted toward the back of the room, although that is not right for there did not seem to be a back to the room, just endless darkness lit with stars, and I followed. We halted near a larger sphere glowing molten orange and yellow. Little spurts and sparks erupted from it, making me wince. I sidled away from its heat. She held the orb in her hands, balanced on her fingertips, and her gaze met mine.
“Sorry.” Abashed, I took it gingerly from her. Life was thriving already on this planet. I could feel everything. A hum that coursed through me, and I was everywhere at once. I stood in a sun dappled forest with the sweet summer breeze on my skin, on a night drenched beach with the cool waves of the ocean lapping at my feet, in a cold, dark cave with a blizzard’s breath chilling my face and traversing a vast, scorching desert all at the same time.
“Let it go when you feel the pull,” she said. I frowned, unsure of what she meant and then I felt it, a light but persistent tugging at my fingers. It reminded me of the feeling of holding sand in my cupped hands and letting the river water wash it away. I let it go and the planet drifted neatly into its orbit, spinning on its axis. I smiled, thrilled with this experience.
“Shall we venture further? There is a tiny planet that I must see to,” she said. I glanced at her, tearing my eyes from the planet I had released. She was grinning; not a demure, wise curve of her lips but a beam of delight. She had enjoyed my reaction, perhaps feeling proud of her talent or the fact I was new, I do not know.
Absorbed with the task of aiding the Keeper, I lost all concept of time, all concerns attached to the outside world. My hands held planets, my veins thrummed with the knowledge and life of other worlds, and I was no longer the green acolyte that had been bound with nervousness of that morning. As I stood adrift among the stars, mesmerized by the perfect dance of the cosmos, the sound of a bell tolling resonated throughout the room. It called me back to myself and the heaviness of disappointment settled in my chest. The duration of my shift had passed far more quickly than I had realized. The Keeper’s head lifted, she had been constructing a new world as the bell sounded, and she looked to me. Awkwardness was once more my companion; I stood unsure of how to take my leave of her.
“My shift is over, My Lady,” I said, feeling stupid at stating the obvious. My cheeks burned.
“How did you find your first day, Lyana?” she inquired, floating over to my side. We began to walk toward the chamber’s door.
“It was unlike anything I had been expecting. They train us for this but yet I was unprepared for the grandness of it. A universe,” I spread my hands to indicate the vastness of it all, “thriving with life.”
The door emerged from the twinkling darkness, solid and a remnant of reality, reminding me of what lay beyond. I found myself without the desire to cross its threshold. How could I return to a normal life after experiencing such wonder? I was enlightened to the mysteries of the Keeper and nothing would seem to be the same ever again. My mind whirled with queries, some too big to voice and others I knew I would not like the answers to. Were all worlds like this, a goddess in a chamber to attend to other worlds or were we just unique? Are the gods I pray to every night like the Keeper? Vertigo seized me and I grasped at the Keeper to save myself from falling.
“I’m sorry,” I said, my fingers had dug into her flesh and my skin tingled with the contact.
“No need to apologize. This happens to the novices. You’ll find you are in good company.” She laughed; it was an amiable sound without malice, and helped me right myself. I blushed and adjusted my veil.
“Have a pleasant evening, Lyana.”
“Thank you, My Lady and may you have a pleasant one as well,” I said, curtsying and reached for the door knob. I reeled out into the corridor. One last glimpse of her I caught before the door clicked shut. Beautiful and serene, she waved at me as she stood with the sea of stars behind her.
“You’re late,” Graciele said. Her pointed face was sour. I only stared at her, silently, my mouth slightly agape. She grinned, and in passing she patted me good-naturedly on the shoulder. “It takes a bit to adapt to, but the first day is the most unsettling. See you tomorrow.” Graciele disappeared into the Keeper’s chamber, her shift beginning.
I wandered to the window at the end of the hall. The sun was setting, painting the sky in swathes of soft pink and burning orange. Pushing the window open to let in the evening breeze, I noticed that my skin sparkled with stardust. A ghost moon sat in the sky, secretly pearlescent, and my thoughts once again turned to the unanswerable questions. I rubbed my hands together; the stardust glittered as it fell. What if we were being watched? What lies beyond the dome of the sky, past the impenetrable darkness of night? I shivered, shaking the errant thoughts from my head. More stardust tumbled to the floor.
Voices echoed down the corridor behind me, and I turned. Priestesses hastily scurried along the adjoining hall, called to dinner by the eventide bell. My stomach growled. I shut the window, my eyes flickering toward the moon. The spectral orb seemed to wink at me, although I know it was only the scurry of clouds. I raced toward my sisters, leaving the dreaming and stardust behind.