Diffraction Chapter 4: Stormclouds Brewing

Then Diligence in work that wells up from a heart kept still.

Patrols on the Woodwall around Northridge glanced up at the cloaked Devoted perched in an oak at the town’s edge. Most said nothing. Some murmured snide comments to their partners. Lyllithe paid them no mind.

 Thick storm clouds slid across the night sky, obscuring the stars. In the west above the Snowtips, wisps and clusters of clouds flashed, their bolts of lightning shrouded in shadow. Each spark revealed hidden layers and depths within the storm. No thunder reached Lyllithe’s ears, which made the display even more captivating.

 A short rain at dusk brought damp leaves and cold, humid air. Strands of aera tangled with ripples of aqua floating in Lyllithe’s vision, but she ignored the elemental energies.

 Pebbles and pinpricks of light hung in the air around her, like tiny stars fallen to the earth. Combined, the brightness compared to two or three candles. But in the overcast night, an eerie glow filled the tree and cast long shadows on the ground.

Her heavy fur-lined cloak kept most of the chill at bay. Still, she shivered whenever she stopped straining to produce light.

 Lyllithe considered the inadequate cloak and welcomed some misery. One more thing that’s not quite good enough.

 Two of the seven twinkles faded, and Lyllithe sighed. She looked down at the Gracemark on her right hand. It gave no glow of its own.

 Lyllithe raised her fist and squeezed. Her teeth gritted and her muscles clenched. Ten seconds passed. A new pebble of light sprang from her palm.

 The sudden absence of crickets chirping followed by soft footsteps in the grass alerted Lyllithe to a new arrival.

 “Neat trick,” a woman’s voice called up from below.

 Josephine, fantastic. Lyllithe avoided looking down. The perfect Soulforged daughter of the Light-Shield himself. She’ll probably instruct me in what I’m doing wrong as a Devoted.

 “The stars are beauty enough, Lyl,” Josephine said with a chuckle. “You don’t need to make your own.”

 “Everyone needs to practice,” Lyllithe said. Another light faded. “I heard you had a bit today.” She concentrated again and created a new speck.

 “Some ne’er-do-wells from the Militia picked a fight,” Josephine said. “I picked back. If you come down, I’ll tell you all the bloody parts.”

 Lyllithe laughed but remained still. She studied the largest light-pebble with a frown. “Not sure I’m up for hearing about it tonight, Jo.”

 “Another fight with your Dad?”

 Lyllithe shrugged. “We don’t do much else anymore.” She heard Josephine’s feet shuffle in the grass below. “I’m not devoted enough to be a Devoted, according to him.”

 “But your Gracemark must—” Josephine stammered. “I mean, it’s not a mere Brand etched by the Abbey, it’s a blessing direct from Aulis. Light Himself. An Aspect of the Divine. Your devotion is obvious.”

 “Well, it’s obvious my father knows the mind of our Aspect better than I do,” Lyllithe said. “And what good is a Gracemark with no power?”

 “What do you mean?”

 “Nothing I do works, Jo,” Lyllithe cried out. Her self-control broke, like a person holding her breath as long as possible then finally gasping for air.

 “I try to heal, and I can’t. I know how to summon Light, how to mend wounds. But I cannot make it happen. Not when I have to perform and prove myself.

 “I tried to pass the Test. Five times, Jo.” Lyllithe stared at Josephine and ticked off fingers. “Couldn’t do it. Perfect marks on the academics every time, but I can’t demonstrate power except in a crisis. Then I tried to save my mother in a crisis, and I wasn’t strong enough.”

 Lyllithe waved her hand at the rest of the town. “I’ve tried to fit in, to make friends. No one’s interested in ‘the Ghostskin.’ But everyone thinks the world of Marten for taking me in as an infant. Yet he can’t find time to be a father because he’s so busy being the Eldest to the rest of the town.”

 She flipped her hand around to show Josephine the Gracemark. “Oh, but I got this, for all the good it’s done. It’s not only spontaneous, which sets me apart from all the other Devoted in Northridge, it’s also a double Mark, which I don’t even know what that means. The very thing that should mean I’m accepted is another barrier keeping me apart from everyone else. Twice.”

 Lyllithe pointed at Josephine. “You saw those soldiers making sport of Dabry today, and you intervened. Because you Glimpsed, right? Your Gracemark told you what was happening was wrong, or however that works for Soulforged. Am I right?”

 Josephine nodded, and fumbled for a response. “I did. I mean, yes, it’s like seeing a shadow, or a flash of a daydream that—”

 “Mine doesn’t do that,” Lyllithe said. “I can’t Glimpse. I should sense purity in others, but I never do . And I can’t Strain either. I should be able to heal through the Gracemark, drawing on my strength of devotion. But there’s no power.”

 Josephine tried to speak, but Lyllithe continued. “I would love to be in your position. To use the strength of the Divine to protect the weak, to prevent harm instead of merely healing the wounded. To fight for those—”

 She choked back tears at a memory of her mother’s caress. “To fight for those I love. But I have to remain pure, or I will be cut off from the Light.”

 Lyllithe clenched her fist again and struggled until a new pebble formed. “The Light that I can barely summon.”

 A gust of wind whipped through the tree branches, rustling the leaves. Lyllithe fell silent. Two more lights winked out.

 Josephine sat down next to the tree. “Lyl, I had no idea.”

 Lyllithe huffed. “Why should you? No one does.”

 They sat for a few minutes, watching clouds roll by in silence. All the light-pebbles faded. Lightning flashes continued in the west, inevitably drawing their gaze.

 “You can do nothing wrong,” Josephine mumbled, “and still end up doing nothing right.”

 “What was that?”

 “Oh, sorry.” Josephine looked up at Lyllithe and repeated the phrase. “It’s something my father said once when I asked about the Abbey.”

 Lyllithe let the words play in her mind. “I’ve been so worried all my life about losing the Light that I never learned to use it. Everything I’ve done has come to ruin, exactly as I feared.” She looked down at Josephine. “Maybe because of my fear?”

Josephine said nothing, and Lyllithe pieced together more thoughts. “The order is so focused on purity, so worried about avoiding any stain. We preach the power of Aulis and the strength of the Light. But we act like the only safe place in all the world is hiding in the Abbey.”

 “Strength is meant to be used,” Josephine said. “Used wisely, yes. But not hidden away.”

 Lyllithe looked back up at the flashing clouds in the distance. So much power there. So much light. Why couldn’t the Light of Aulis be used to fight evil?

 Her father’s voice echoed dire warnings in her mind, but she silenced them. I’ve heard them all my life, lived for so long to avoid any hint of darkness. Maybe it’s time to do something different, to see and embrace the Light instead of cowering from the darkness.

 I don’t know how yet, but I’m going to find a way. I may not have a plan for my life, but I won’t be caught up in someone else’s.

 Lyllithe smiled and watched the clouds. “A better light-show than an Arcanist’s display.”

 Josephine sprang to her feet. “Lyl, you just reminded me, come down quick. There’s something you’ve got to see.”

 “Jo, I need some time to think through all of this.”

 “Oh, I hope we’re not too late,” Josephine said, looking toward the town’s meeting hall. “Come on, let’s go. This is just what you need.”

 Lyllithe shook her head. “Tonight’s really not the best time. I appreciate you coming out to talk with me, but I want—“

 “Me to climb up there and drag you down, apparently. Moping all night in a tree isn’t going to make you feel any better.”

 Lyllithe opened her mouth to protest, then saw the stubborn glimmer in Josephine’s eyes.

 “You know I’ll do it.” Josephine threatened. “I know a Devoted who can heal you if you fall and break something.”

 With a heavy sigh, Lyllithe gradually worked her way down from branch to branch. “What in the Seven Hells are you so excited about?”

 An explosion of blue flames erupted over the village, illuminating the night with a soft glow akin to Lyllithe’s Gracemark. While she watched the display in awe, the spiraling energies swept through the air into a vortex of hues and colors.

 Her heritage opened her eyes to the interplay of elements that created the spectacle. Is that a touch of earth combined with fire, then Refocused into magelight?

 Soft cheers and applause reached Lyllithe’s ears across the short distance from the town’s central street.

“Race you there,” Josephine shouted, already three strides ahead and sprinting.

 Lyllithe yelped and took off. The weight of frustration vanished, and she chased Josephine into the maze of wooden buildings.

 Laughter filled her lungs and she stumbled as she ran. She turned a corner and saw Josephine ahead rushing toward a crowd. I’m so going to lose.

 Another burst of blue flame sprayed into the air above the crowd. Lyllithe stopped and stared. Actual magic. Refocused energy. I’ve only read about this.

 Snowflakes fell onto the heads below. Some landed on tongues of children on their fathers’ shoulders, to gasps and resounding applause.

 Aqua, Lyllithe realized, not chilled with aera like I would’ve expected, but slowed in motion until it solidified.

 Josephine jogged back to grab Lyllithe’s arm. “Why are you standing here?”

 Another spray of magic flew into the air, scattering embers high above the heads of the audience. Lyllithe grinned and fought the urge to analyze the spellcast.

 Josephine yanked on Lyllithe’s sleeve. “I want to get a better look.”

 A wild hope blossomed in Lyllithe’s heart. So do I, Jo.

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