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Noble Sacrifice: Chapter 8: The Garden of Disbelief
Blinded Angels Book 1: Noble Sacrifice
Eight years ago, Ellis sat cross-legged on their bed in their parent’s old apartment. They pulled their Ewoks’ sheets tightly around them, holding their Silverhawks Steelheart and Steelwill in their hand. Tears welled up in their eyes and they set them on the nightstand.
They crawled onto their knees in the center of their bed and wrapped their soft Masters of the Universe comforter around themself. Leaning on the windowsill, they wept softly. Pain tore their heart shooting veins of chilling pain through their chest. Anguish constricted their breath. Their soul crisped in the cold flames. They held themself up because if they collapsed into their bed they would shatter like an ancient vase.
They rubbed their tears into their cheeks. Their breath became ragged, as sharp and broken as the shards of their heart worming through them. They raised themself up on their knees and pressed their forehead to the cool glass of the window.
The lonely moon ruled the sky over the playground in the courtyard between the apartment buildings. On the bottom floor of the opposing building, light streamed through the blinds from one window stretching across the ground between the swings and the slide. Shadows played dark against the interior illumination. They recognized the outlines of Penny Scarr and Katey Emberson laughing.
Ellis met them shortly after moving to Frederick, Maryland, and they became fast friends. They always sat together at lunch as they trudged through the fifth grade together.
Less than an hour ago, Ellis was in there with them, laughing and singing along to the New Kids on the Block. Then Penny’s mother told them it was time for them to go. Boys weren’t allowed to sleep over and they had to go home.
The words confused them. Of course, coed sleepovers were not allowed, but what did that have to do with them?
Politely, they said goodbye and made their way home. Their parents said something when they entered the apartment, but they didn’t pay them much mind. They turned the idea over and over in their mind. Why did they have to leave the party? They were just one of the girls...
They turned their light off and hopped into bed. They weren’t a girl; they were a boy. Why had they forgotten that? It was the most obvious thing about them. They were the sissy who hung out with the girls, and the other boys at school ensured they never forgot that.
Sitting on their bed, they tried to make sense of that ridiculous idea. Everyone called them a boy, but they didn’t feel like one. Before their sisters moved out, they used to sneak into their room and try on their clothes. They imagined themself in high school dressed like their sisters, with their long purple hair teased up into a magnificent mane.
Their mother would never let them have purple hair, and the image wasn’t quite right.
One day their sister, Rhonda, caught them sitting at her vanity putting on her makeup. She laughed, wiped it off, then taught them how to put it on right. Isn’t that what sisters do?
Ellis dragged their eyes from the shadow play on Penny’s window and stared at the swing set. They moved in the late summer breeze like invisible children swung on them. Their sobs calmed, but the tears wouldn’t stop.
“Why does everyone see me as a boy?” They said under their breath. Then they remembered. Pain dug into them like a predator’s vicious claw. “If there is anyone out there listening, please, let me wake up a girl. Please. I will do anything. Just let me wake up a girl, anything other than this.”
Ellis started sobbing again. They cupped their hands over their hazel eyes as their body convulsed with tears. They couldn’t understand why people couldn’t see them for what they were.
A strange sound attracted their attention to the window.
Dark shadows loomed over the courtyard.
Something blocked out the moonlight and its shadow dimmed the bulbs in the light poles.
It sounded like the beating of enormous wings.
Whatever it was hung black against the night sky, covering the stars. Ellis wanted to call out to it to take them away, but couldn’t bring themself to open their mouth.
Maybe someone or something heard their prayers and came for them.
Ellis allowed themself to imagine waking up in a different body. This one felt tight, like clothes they’d outgrown, but hadn’t had the chance to replace yet. A smile broke across their face that drove away their tears like the sun against the night.
What should they do? If they opened their window, they could call out to the shadow in the sky so it would know where they were. Or maybe this was one of those things they weren’t supposed to see or it wouldn’t come to them.
Unsure what to do, they laid down in the bed and threw the comforter over their face. They chanted the same refrain over and over in their head, “Please, let me wake up as someone else.” Every time they repeated it, they felt the same twinges of fear and hope. They didn’t know how they would explain to their parents that their little boy was a little girl now, but if they loved them like they claimed, then surely they would be all right with it.
They didn’t want to get their hopes up. After all, they had no reason to believe they would actually wake up any different from what they were now, but it was all they wanted. Then everything would be right with the world, and people might not mistake them for a boy all the time. No matter what their body looked like, they knew that was wrong.
Ellis opened their eyes. Puffy white clouds lazily wafted through the deep blue sky. Just last night, that strange person sat there debating their fate. Life was now stranger than their dreams.
A broad smile broke across their face. When had this last happened? A hazy fog lured them back to sleep in the preternaturally comfortable bed, but how could they sleep when such a strange world awaited them outside the room.
They reached under the blanket and checked the contours of their body. Nothing had changed. No matter how badly they desired it, will alone couldn’t reform their flesh. Years of experimentation proved this to them.
While they slept, someone laid out a set of clothes similar to what they wore the day before next to a cup of water with what resembled a metal microphone upside down in it, and a note.
The note read, “Sprinkle yourself with water from the aspergillum to bathe.”
Ellis pulled the aspergillum from the cup and shook it at themself like a rattle. A refreshing wave rippled over their body with each drop that hit them. After a couple of dips and shakes, they felt like they just stepped out of the shower.
Amazed. They stripped off their dirty clothes and repeated the sprinkling, then dressed in the fresh clothing.
If this was a sample of a life with magic, they were curious to see what else they would encounter here.
They opened the door carefully and looked around. No one guarded their door. Not wanting to wake up their friends if they still slept, they made their way downstairs like they were trying to sneak out of their parents’ apartment to go to a party.
At the base of the tower, they found the large room with tables and chairs set up. With everything that happened last night, they hadn’t realized that the dining hall, and the dorms were in the same building.
They ran their hand across the rough stones in the wall and tried to connect more with this place.
Sister Lydia sat at one of the tables reading a book in a language Ellis didn’t recognize. “Good morning.” She glanced over the top of the book and smiled. “I hope you are ready to have the scales fall from your eyes today.”
Ellis muttered a few incoherent sounds that didn’t morph into words. How should they have responded to that? After a moment, they said. “I am ready to see what your world has to offer.”
“More for you than for your friends, I suspect.”
“Why? Do you know something I don’t?”
“I expect I know quite a few things you don’t.” She said with a disarming smile.
“I am sure that’s true.”
“What do you want for your breakfast?”
Ellis hadn’t thought about it, expecting just to be served whatever they were having. “French toast and sausage?”
For a moment, Ellis thought they saw the same black cat out of the corner of their eye they’d seen in their room last night, but it was a tiny plump person about knee high carrying a plate of French toast and country sausage to the table.
“Don’t bother waiting on the others,” Lydia said. “Moriah got up earlier and is touring the convent with Sister Luna. Peter is still sleeping and shows no sign he will get up soon.”
Ellis accepted the plate from the tiny being, thanked them and set it on the table. “What... Who was that?”
“Oh, that is one of the domovoy. They take care of the place. Think of them as house sprites. Every building has them, you just aren’t used to noticing them.”
Ellis nodded as if that was a perfectly natural conversation to have with breakfast. How many kinds of creatures were there? They had so many questions, but didn’t want to appear overly eager, so they kept them to themself.
While they ate what had to be the best French Toast they ever had, a little old lady entered the tower. Her blue-white curly hair sat like a pompom around her wizened face. She carried a mug of aromatic black coffee in both hands over to the table. After she took a seat, she turned to the side and watched the activity out the window.
“Are you planning a party?” Ellis asked.
The old lady turned around and answered with the tenderness of a grandmother, “It isn’t every day that lost sheep find their way home.”
“We don’t know if they are staying yet, Nana.” Lydia said.
“Nothing is ever certain, dear. That is why you have to celebrate every little thing you can.” The whites of her eyes sparkled silver in the light as if they were covered in glitter. “Mother Lilith danced as she was escorted from the garden, didn’t she?”
“And she sang.” Lydia said with a grin.
“Exactly, celebrate what you have and don’t mourn what you’ve lost. That’s one of the biggest differences between us and the wrecca.” Nana sipped her coffee and continued to watch the commotion outside as if she were about to give them a score.
“Who is mother Lilith?” Ellis asked.
“The first woman,” the old woman said. “Well, not really. She was the first woman in Yalda Bahuth’s garden. She refused to bow to the craftsman’s plans, and was expelled.”
“Ellis doesn’t know our stories, Nana.” Lydia said.
“Of course not.” The old woman smiled. “Everyone calls me Nana Thea. Welcome home, Ellis.”
Ellis blushed. “Thank you, Nana, but I’m not sure if this is my home yet.”
Nana giggled girlishly. “This wouldn’t be your home, sweet child. You are not a Trivian Sister, and I doubt you would want to be. I’m sure we can find you a home down by the river.”
“Ellis is here to learn about us and our ways, Nana.” Lydia said.
“It is a lot to learn in a short time.” Nana nodded as she spoke. “So let me tell you the one thing you need to know. Here, we are free. Yalda Bahuth has no power over us.”
“I’ve never heard of him.” Ellis said.
“Because he doesn’t want his minions to know him.” Nana said and turned to look back out of the window. “Long ago, the son of chaos desired to convince the world he was the only master who deserved to be followed. When no one paid him any mind, he planted a garden to grow himself a people who would. He kidnapped two children, one was our mother Lilith. She was wise beyond her years and refused to follow his tyrannical dictates.”
“Why didn’t he just kill her?” Ellis asked.
“He tried, but the four luminaries wouldn’t let him. They helped wise Lilith escape. They are the ones who drew you to us.”
Ellis glanced from Nana to Lydia. “We got lost in the woods.”
“Mother Soteria said you found your way to their shrine.” Lydia said.
It felt so long ago Ellis wandered out of their old life. “Those statues of the blindfolded angels?” They said as the world before Graycek came into focus.
Nana smiled at Ellis over her shoulder.
“But there were only three of them. The fourth lay on the ground in so much pain.” Ellis shook the image of the suffering angel from their head.
Nana nodded and returned her attention to the window. “Because Eleleth forsook his privilege to help Mother Lilith. If Yalda would have known what he started, he probably never would have done it.”
What did that mean? A luminary, whatever that was, forsook his privilege to help. All those words made sense individually, but together they posed more of a problem.
Ellis didn’t want to impose by asking a thousand questions, so they limited themselves to just one. “So we are all the children of this, Lilith?” They asked.
Nana laughed. “No child. Her children are rare, but through us she taught the world the path to freedom.”
This was going to be harder to follow than they thought. Ellis promised themself that they would ask more questions in the future once they knew what ones they needed answered. “And what is the path to freedom?”
“Never bending a knee to anyone.”
The words came so simple and straightforward, but what did they mean? Ellis had never bent the knee to anyone that they could recall. Perhaps it was a metaphor that they didn't understand. The image provoked something in their mind.
Ellis sat back in their chair. The answer to all their questions couldn’t be as simple as that. Besides, how would anyone do that. People loved to lord their power over others. At least they did where they came from. Was it possible it was different here? People couldn’t be that different, could they? “Is that it? All I have to do is never bend a knee to anyone? If that’s true, what was all that drama last night about?”
“The simplest things are often the hardest to do.” Nana said. “The people in your world are obsessed with money and power. Always trying to get ahead of and above others. That is the path of Yalda Bahuth. That is why your kind were exiled.”
“And all I have to do is stop bowing?” Ellis said.
“It seems to me, you already have. I have never known an unbound who did, not a happy or long-lived one, anyway.”
“People keep calling me that. I don’t understand.”
“Sister Lydia and I were born knowing who we are. You had to figure it out. You had to break every chain other people placed on you to keep you in one of their little boxes. You may not have broken all the way out, but you are no longer in bondage to their labels.”
Tears welled up in Ellis’ eyes. “How do you know that?”
“I can read you like a book, sweet child.” Nana stood up. “I should go to see if anyone needs me for anything. It was good to meet you, Ellis. Good luck with your quest.”
What did she mean by quest? That sounded like someone had told them what to do, or set up a series of obstacles for them to conquer, but they hadn't.
Everything was more complicated, and yet somehow simpler than it had been before.
If this was indeed a quest, they only hoped the reward was worth whatever the price was that they would have to pay.