Prologue – Crater's Edge (a)
“It will be better with practice,” said the Briad priest, pushing me back against a table.
“I shouldn’t be forced to practice with you,” I said, giving him one last chance.
His friends, who were gathered round watching, just laughed, except the one who was holding a knife to Breeze’s thoat. He had an odd expression on his face. Outside, the blizzard gave an ominous chorus of white noise, making the restaurant feel very remote.
“If you’re not nice, it will be very bad for your red haired friend.”
“Practice it is then!”
This wasn’t going to be pleasant but I needed the practice.
I’d been practising for years. On animals. Using my special abilities to help with healing. I’d dealt with a couple of pimps and the henchmen of one of them. However, we knew that the time would come when I’d have to put my powers to serious use and I needed to be sure I could control them.
Somebody once told my fortune and said that she saw me kissing a man in a temple after which there were monsters and death. Shortly afterwards a man did kiss me, but not in a temple, and then some people died. Around the same time, a mage used Old Magic and produced some pictures of my future. One showed me dressed in a very sexy way and another showed Breeze, my best friend, and myself with a male Temple Prostitute of Strumeg and a couple of other teenagers outside the Cascade Hotel in Minris. This made some people think that I was or would become a prostitute but I don’t know what it means. What I am sure of is that some very bad things are going to happen and I will be in the middle of them. That was five years ago but sometimes it seems like yesterday and other times like a lifetime ago. Time is strange when you’re fourteen, pretending to be thirteen, look sixteen and have the memories of a woman who lived for centuries, millennia ago. Temple Prostitutes are supposed to stay in their temples and the temple of Strumeg isn’t in Minris, a village with no Temple Prostitutes. I started to suspect ... well first let’s clarify some things as Indratar thinks this may be read by people who don’t know basic stuff.
My name’s Eleprin, no family name because that would be familyist. I live in the small mountain village of Minris, in the nation of Pax, on the planet Midbar. Midbar’s a small, rocky planet which is mostly desert and nearly all the humans live in the Great Basin, which is the only place with enough water. I’m presently in Crater’s Edge restaurant, which is right on the edge of the Great Basin, west of Minris, one of few places on Midbar where you get snow. Midbar orbits a small dark star called Bet, which in turn orbits a larger, but still small, red star called Aleph. Indratar says that Bet is a brown dwarf and Aleph is a red dwarf. Midbar orbits Bet once every eighteen hours, the side with the Great Basin always facing Bet. There are magic cyan lights in the sky called sapphires, which go on and off to imitate Earth days and years. This means that there’s a three day light cycle with periods known as white day (Aleph and sapphires), blue day (sapphires only), red night (Aleph only) and black night (neither Aleph nor sapphires but you can see Bet and the other stars).
Most people know Indratar by her family name, Tianamet, and believe she’s a goddess but she never really was, the only real god is Yoho. That’s right, I’m a Winemaker, the only Winemaker in Minris who’s a nibeyah (that’s a female nibey). Nibeyim are the commonest type of psychic but all the other Winemakers in Minris (unless you count my parents who are really Trulists who pretend to be Winemakers) are anavim, the rarest and most powerful type and belong to a Winemaker order called Haprihagfen. There’s another type of psychic called katcheyim who are about as powerful as nibeyim but tend to be nuts. We call people without psychic powers, like my parents, hipsickim. Hipsickim and the three types of psychics are called the korbarim. What korbar you belong to is determined by your genes. People from different korbarim tend not to like each other but my best friend’s an anavah. She’s the red haired girl who has a thug holding a knife to her throat. Most people naturally prefer to marry a member of their own korbar.
As well as psychics, there are magi. Being a mage isn’t genetic, you become one by having a magis, a special type of mage who can detect magic and manipulate associates and bindings without artifacts, bind associates to you, having training and vowing to obey certain rules. Some people have associates bound to them but aren’t proper magi, they’re called chelases. Associates can also be bound to objects which are known as artifacts. Anybody can use an artifact but children aren’t usually allowed to. Sorry, associates are a type of what Indratar calls dark matter, which are normally invisible and intangible but can affect matter and energy under certain circumstances. Bindings connect associates to matter.
Most people in Pax are Trulists, followers of a polytheistic religion who worship Tianamet and many other deities. The thugs who think they’re about to rape Breeze and myself worship a particularly nasty goddess named Briad. Most Trulists are nowhere near that bad. There’s another minority religion called Nuhara, who are notoriously violent, although they claim to be peaceful. Trulists say they believe in fairness but they tend to be hypocritical and often favour Nuharas over Winemakers. Trulism also has Temple Prostitutes, often psychic children, and forbids psychics from marrying each other.
Long ago, when Midbar was first colonized by humans, their starship was split into many parts which were hidden at numerous Holy Sites. The parts of the ship are known as relics and it’s said that everybody will die if they’re destroyed or removed from the Holy Sites. The only Holy Site in Minris is the Winemaker Vineyard, which is run by Haprihagfen.