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Hi anyone if you are interested in being my loyal submissive message on WhatsApp +1 (513) 334-7316
Looking to share my experience with you subs
For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
October 22nd- Sometimes our heart must lead us far out of our comfort zone.
John 13: 5Then He poured* water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. We have surely heard this story before, as the Lord assumes the role of a servant for the benefit of His disciples. But, we should note that this service is among the lowest possible positions. If we are considering service to others, just how low would…
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My house pets new Chastity! The smaller the better! 😈
How to improve or retain personality?
Listen More Say lessDon’t lie even if it’s a jokeTry to keep talkingIf wrong, say sorry without arguingDon’t laugh unnecessarily / unnecessarilySpeak slowly without speaking too oftenDon’t go for less that your full potentialDon’t get involved in arguments about the unknownDon’t tell anyone that you are the bestLet others know what that meansDo not eat by wordControl yourself when angryForgive…
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My story for the @inklings-challenge is complete!
I really wasn't sure about coming up with a secondary world fantasy in only three weeks--I figured it would take me that long just to figure out the secondary world, much less the story. But thanks to brainstorming with my husband and kids, I was able to come up with what I thought (and still think) is a really interesting conceit for a fantasy world, and the story flowed out of it.
It seems to me that a secondary world fantasy is the perfect place for a story with a theme of stewardship. Imagine my surprise, then, when the main theme of this story turned out to be sacrifice, with stewardship being a secondary theme, more like faintly heard background music than an actual melody. There's definitely also some humility in there.
So here it is, On Wingéd Feet, by E.L. Bates, on #Team Tolkien for the #Inklings Challenge
On Wingéd Feet
My name is Kenna Goldenleaf. I am fourteen ground-years old, and I have been a fully fledged messenger for two years.
This is the story of my failure.
My friend Taskill and I were tree-skimming—the guardians don’t like it when we do that, but the trainers agree it’s useful for practicing agility, speed, and reflexes, and really, hardly anybody falls, and those who do aren’t usually too damaged—when the bells rang to summon us back to the aerie to receive our assignments.
“Ha!” Taskill said, skidding to a stop on the branch above my head and swiping the sweat off his face. “Rescued just in time, Kenna! I would have beaten you in another moment.”
I snorted as we started back at a more sensible pace. “Not with that path, you wouldn’t have. Or didn’t you notice that three branches ahead of you there was an empty gap, too large for even your wings to carry you across? The limb that used to be there broke off in that big storm last month.”
Dismay wrote itself across Taskill’s open face. He glanced over his shoulder to confirm my words. “How did you notice that when I didn’t? It wasn’t even your path!”
“Because I pay attention, that’s how.” I ducked underneath a leafy twig and leaped down to a branch several feet below, the wings on my feet giving me enough extra lift to land lightly. Taskill and I had really gone a long way on our race. At this rate, all the good assignments would be taken by the time we returned. “Where are you hoping to be sent?” I asked.
Taskill landed right behind me, then grabbed a branch above our heads to swing himself up and around, landing squarely a few feet in front of my position. I stuck my tongue out in response to the teasing smirk he sent me over his shoulder.
“You may pay attention, but you don’t take enough risks,” he said. “A good messenger isn’t afraid to accept a little danger, even bend the rules when necessary.”
I motioned to the leafy wilderness surrounding us. “I go tree-skimming, don’t I?”
Taskill shrugged. “Sure, but we all do. If you thought it was actually dangerous, you wouldn’t do it.”
I wanted to protest, but held my tongue. In a way, Taskill was right: I did tend toward caution, only I preferred to think of it as being sensible. Some of the “risks” he and the others took were simply foolhardy. What if their wings broke and were damaged permanently? What if they couldn’t be messengers anymore, where would they find a place then?
In my secret heart, though, I was convinced Taskill was wrong. I was sure that when I was in a situation that really called for it, I would know exactly what to do—and what’s more, I would do it. Someday, the others would see how much I was really capable of.
Taskill finally remembered I had asked him a question. “I’d like to get sent to the mountain region in the southern hemisphere. The cloudling cities there are said to be the finest in the world, and the grounder towns are pretty spectacular, too.”
“They have their own messengers down there,” I pointed out.
I could hear the grin in his voice as he answered. “I know, but you asked where I’d like to be sent, not where I think it’s plausible. What about you?”
“Someplace exciting,” I said. “I’ve done the Oak Ridge run so often now I could do it in my sleep.”
“It’s like I said, if you want more exciting assignments, you’ve got to show that you’re not afraid to take chances.”
“Shouldn’t it be more important to prove I’m responsible and reliable?” I protested.
“Sure—if you want the boring runs for the rest of your life.”
There was no chance for a stinging retort, even if I’d had one, as we had reached the aerie by then.
The messenger aeries are nothing in comparison to the floating cities of the sky people, but I still loved ours. High above the ground in the tops of the strongest and tallest trees in a dense beech grove, several buildings and platforms were connected by swinging rope-and-plank bridges and ladders. The central building was the largest of all, our communal space for meals, lessons, and gatherings. Dormitories and the nurseries sprawled out from the gathering hall, and in the outermost ring were storehouses and workshops. Obstacle courses laid out in a seemingly haphazard pattern wound around and extended beyond the buildings, marked by ropes that dangled from sturdy branches, tunnels woven of living wood, and gentle ramps from which one could leap. The youngsters training on the course nearest to us paused to watch Taskill and me sprint to the gathering hall.
“You’re late!” one cheeky brat called out.
“I’d push you off that limb if I had time, fledgling,” Taskil shouted back.
The boy laughed, and then we were at the entrance to the gathering hall. I tugged my overshirt straight, and Taskill raked his fingers through his mop of hair, dislodging leaves, twigs, and bugs as he did.
“Ugh,” I said, wrinkling my nose. “This is why braids are better.”
“Like I said, boring,” he rejoined.
We stepped side-by-side into the great hall, where Aunt Sebire awaited us.
“You’re in luck,” she said, ushering us to one of the lecture rooms. “"Uncle Yanis has not yet finished with the assignments. The best ones will have already been taken, but you won’t be left with the dregs. This time.”
I trailed my fingers along the boards of the walls as I walked. Made of beechwood planks cut from trees that had had to be felled for the good of the grove, they were worn by time and use to a smooth silver. I liked thinking about the generations of messengers before me, walking these same halls, running their hands along these same boards. Someday, far into the future, there would be another messenger doing the same, and thinking about me without knowing who I was.
Uncle Yanis raised his thick, bushy eyebrows as Taskill and I slipped into the back along with a couple of other latecomers. “Glad you could join us,” he said in his dry way.
“Apologies, Uncle,” I said.
“We came as soon as we heard the bell,” Taskill added.
The others murmured similar excuses and apologies. Uncle Yanis inclined his head, then continued.
“Next we have the Oak Ridge run,” he said, holding up a filled bag. “Carry messages from the landbound people in this area to those in the Oak Ridge region, and from the sky dwellers here to the cloud cities there. You will stay there for the rest of your assignment running their messages, then return here at the end of your time.” He looked at me as though expecting me to volunteer.
I pressed my lips together a little more firmly and clasped my hands behind my back. If they sent me I would comply, but I was not going to volunteer. Oak Ridge was a baby run. Even if it hadn’t been for my conversation with Taskill, I wouldn’t have wanted it. I was bored to death with its safety and ease.
Uncle Yanis opened his mouth, likely to give me the assignment since I wasn’t cooperating by volunteering. Beside me, Taskill cleared his throat and spoke.
“I’ll take that, if no one else wants it, Uncle.”
Uncle Yanis’s eyebrows shot upward on his forehead. “You, Taskill?”
Everyone knew that Taskill was the most daring of us all. He was always looking for more adventure, not less.
Taskill glanced at me and winked. “You wanted a chance to do something more,” he whispered. “Here you go.”
He took a step forward. Uncle Yanis scratched his head.
“Well, if there are no objections ...” he said, staring at me.
Did he think I enjoyed the baby route? Or was it that he thought that was all I could handle, that I wasn’t up for anything more challenging?
Whichever it was, I would prove him wrong.
Taskill accepted the messenger bag, grinned at me again, and left the room.
Uncle Yanis sighed. “Next up is the town of Seaside Goldenrod and its surrounding areas, with one change from the way we usually run it. It’s too close to the sea for there to be many cloud cities there, but there is one small colony out there, an experiment of sorts, to see if a city can stay aloft that close to the ocean. It is vitally important that the messages from the cities here make it to the colony, and that the colony’s messages make it back.”
The sea! The one thing that scared me. I couldn’t swim—none of the messengers for sky and land could, our wings would get waterlogged and drag us down. It wasn’t as bad for us as for true cloudlings. Cloudlings’ wings sprouted from their shoulder blades and covered their entire backs; when they got waterlogged, the cloudling sank and drowned. Without exception. A messenger might have a chance, if someone pulled them out in time, but a cloudling had none. I couldn’t imagine why any of them would want to even attempt a floating city anywhere near the ocean. It wasn’t as if there wasn’t plenty of air above land for a new city, if the old ones were getting crowded.
Regardless, this was the perfect opportunity to prove my ability to take risks. Only—was I brave enough? Could I dare going so close to the sea? What if something went wrong?
I reminded myself that if it was truly dangerous, they’d send an older messenger, or even a team of two. I stuffed my fears and concerns down somewhere near the bottom of my stomach and raised my hand.
“I’d like that one, Uncle.”
Uncle Yanis stared at me. “Are you certain, Kenna?”
The others in the room stared at me as well, and a slight susurration of whispering went around the walls. I didn’t know any of them well, but apparently they knew me well enough to be equally shocked.
Did everyone think I was incapable, just because I was cautious?
I lifted my chin and met Uncle Yanis’s eyes steadily. “I’m certain.”
“Very well,” he said heavily, and lifted the messenger bag as I stepped forward to take it.
Taskill was waiting for me outside. “Well?”
“Seaside Goldenrod,” I told him.
His eyes widened and his lips pursed in a soundless whistle, but unlike the others, he had no disbelief in his face. “Should be fun,” he said. “Wish I was coming with you.”
Part of me wished that too. Taskill always made everything more fun. Another part of me, though, was glad for the chance to do this myself. It was too easy to let Taskill take charge. I’d had enough of being the assistant.
“Taskill!” Aunt Sebire came out the front entrance and folded her arms across her chest. “Haven’t you left yet?”
“On my way, Auntie,” Taskill said immediately. “See you in a ground-month, Kenna. Can’t wait to exchange stories.”
Before I could respond, or even thank him for giving me this chance, he was gone, flashing through the branches, leaping so lightly he almost—almost—could have been flying.
“Off you go as well, Kenna,” Aunt Sebire said. “No changing your mind after you’ve accepted the bag.”
“I haven’t changed my mind,” I retorted, stung. “Goodbye,” I added out of politeness.
I didn’t take off in as spectacular a fashion as Taskill, but I did go faster than was my wont, barely touching each branch before jumping to the next, occasionally grabbing one of the hanging ropes to swing myself further than I could have jumped on my own, even with my wings to assist.
I almost came to grief more than once, the worst time being when my fingers slipped off the rope and I fell, crashing through a couple smaller branches before landing hard on a wider limb, jarring all my bones as I did.
Once I caught my breath and made sure I hadn’t broken my tailbone, though, I took off again, not giving myself a chance to feel scared over how close I’d come to seriously injuring myself. I reached the bottom mostly unscathed, and was surprised at how exhilarated I felt—like winning at tree-skimming, only better.
Maybe Taskill was right, and I did need to take more risks. I didn’t want to turn into an old woman before I even reached fifteen!
I took a moment, there at the base of the giant beech, to glance at the map Uncle Yanis had put in the top of my bag, next to an apple.
Cloudlings had an innate sense of direction along with their wings and hollow bones. My bones were lighter than a grounder’s, but not hollow, and the tiny wings behind my ankles would never allow me to truly fly, only skim along the surface of things. But my sense of direction was as impeccable as a full cloudling’s; I never needed a compass. One look at the map—made, as all our maps were, of vellum specially treated to be water- and fireproof—told me I needed to head northeast and that it would take me two days and nights of travel to reach the grounder town of Seaside Goldenrod.
I put the map back, took the apple out, and set off at an easy jog, my wings causing me to bound lightly with each footfall. This was the standard pace for messengers, unless we needed to run for emergencies or had to slow to keep pace with a grounder. Later, I decided, I would run and skim a little for the sheer fun of it, but for now I might as well practice decorum.
After all, taking risks didn’t have to mean ignoring all common sense, at least not all the time.
My travels passed uneventfully. No one interferes with messengers—it’s one of the few laws that is the same on land, in air, and in the sea. Everyone knows the story of the thieves who decided to kidnap messengers and hold them and their messages hostage for ransom. In a rare collaboration between air, land, and sea—and the respective messengers—the thieves were hounded into the wilderness, and no civilized place was safe for them.
Nobody tried that again.
So I was greeted with kindness and respect by all the inhabitants of the lands I passed through, both towns and settlers out on their own. I was even able to spend one night in a cloud city only a tiny way outside my path.
It was a bit of a jump to get from the top of a nearby pine to the lowest rung of the rope ladder the cloudlings kept slung over the edge of the floating city—they were obviously used to messengers who were taller than I—but once I made it onto the wooden platform where the ladder was anchored the inhabitants were as friendly as could be. They even designated one of their youth, a girl around my own age, to give me a tour of the city before I retired to the hammock always kept ready in the tiny wooden house set aside for messengers’ use.
My guide’s name was Elodie. She was tall, slender, and graceful, like all the cloudlings, with enormous eyes the color of the sky after a rainstorm, pearlescent hair cropped short and tight to her neck and ears, and giant wings with iridescent feathers that gleamed like a rainbow in the rich light of the setting sun.
“I’ve never met a messenger my age before,” she said, floating along a couple feet above the translucent pathway that wound between buildings and gardens. “Do you like it?”
No one had ever asked me that before. I’d never really considered it. Messengers were messengers—neither one thing nor the other, not belonging to sky, land, or sea, but to neither and to all. Our role was to connect what would otherwise be wholly separate. Liking or disliking didn’t really matter.
Oh, there were the stories, of course. Messengers who fell in love with a grounder or a cloudling and left to live with them. Messengers who fell in love with the sky or the land, who rejected their role to try to fit somewhere they didn’t truly belong. But those stories were just that—stories. Nobody took them seriously.
It was our name, after all. We weren’t cloudlings or grounders, or sea people. We were messengers. It was as much who we were as it was our role to play.
“I suppose so,” I finally answered Elodie, not knowing what else to say.
“I had a year where I was mad to be a messenger,” she said, surprising me again. “No matter how many times my parents told me it was impossible, I vowed I would become one. The next year I decided to become a teacher, the year after that a musician. Now I think I would like to be an explorer ... my sister is off at the new floating city, the one near the ocean. How exciting it is! I would love to join her, but my parents say I’m too young.” She made a face, then laughed, a soft chime of silver bells. “Didn’t you ever want to be something different?”
“It never really occurred to me,” I managed to say, still trying to understand such a foreign way of viewing the world.
I love sky cities and always look forward to visiting them, but I barely noticed any details about this one, I was so busy pondering Elodie’s words. Could a messenger do something else and still be a messenger? What would happen if one of us decided we wanted to do something different? Who would we be then?
Grounders and cloudlings followed different rules of living than we did, I knew that. That was how messengers first came to be, after all. A grounder and a cloudling fell in love and had a child who bore characteristics of both, but was neither wholly one nor the other. The grounder could not live in a floating city, nor could the cloudling live on land, so they built the first aerie in the trees. Neither of them was ever fully at home again, but their child thrived in the in-between place.
I supposed it was the same for the other messengers, who went between the land and the sea, though as I’d never met one I couldn’t say for sure.
Some messengers even now were born from a union between a cloudling and a grounder, but most came from bondings between messengers. No messenger would ever dream of entering a bonding with a grounder, or with a cloudling. It wasn’t forbidden, it was simply ... unthinkable.
I was not so distracted that I couldn’t enjoy my favorite cloudling treats of windnut scones with a frosted tumbler of dewberry cordial. I slept well in the rocking hammock, but for the first time ever I was glad to leave a floating city when morning came.
I resumed my travels in a pensive mood, which continued throughout my day of travel until I lost patience with myself and broke into a skimming run just to shake the odd mood that had me in its grip.
The run, as well as the mood, had to have been why I didn’t notice the weather changing at first. My weather-sense, a grounder trait, wasn’t as finely attuned as my compass-sense anyway (one reason why Taskill and I made a good team was that his weather-sense was stronger than his compass-sense, and so we balanced each other out), and I had sunk into a state of not thinking or feeling much of anything beyond the act of running when I was brought back to reality by a rolling clap of thunder.
I skidded to a stop and bent over, resting my hands on my legs, while I took a few deep breaths. Yes, the air smelled heavy and damp, and clung to my body like a clammy blanket. There was another odd tang to the air, though, something wild and energizing that I’d never smelled before.
The birds had stopped singing, and even the insects were quieting. Oh yes, we were in for a good storm, and it was coming in fast. I needed to get out of the woods before the wind picked up and the lightning got close. Otherwise I would be reduced to finding a burrow or hollow log to cram myself into, and that was a miserable option. I pulled out the map and double-checked my location. As I had thought, I was getting close to Seaside Goldenrod. The town was built on the edge of farmable land before the ground turned to rocks and sand by the ocean’s edge. Surely I could make it there in time, or at least to the house of someone living outside the village proper. Or even an abandoned barn, at a pinch.
I stuffed the map back in my bag and stretched my arms above my head, wishing now I hadn’t already expended so much energy running earlier. This was going to be a race between me and the storm—another roll of thunder echoed across the sky, as if in response and challenge—and I needed all my strength and agility.
I eyed the woods before me, mentally mapping out my path as far as I could see. There, from the old stump ... to the low-hanging branch ... along the fallen log ... up again and into the branches ... yes, that was the quickest way.
Drawing in a deep, full breath, I ran full pace at the stump, leaping onto it and using it to spring myself up, catching the low branch with my hands and swinging forward, letting go to lightly drop onto the log fallen across a muddy patch of ground, leaping up off it at the end to pull myself into the branches of the cluster of trees, skimming along each one before leaping to another.
It was glorious. It was the best tree-skimming I’d ever done—better, because it involved ground as well as trees. I was going faster than I ever had before, my leaps and landings more sure-footed, and I realized Taskill was right: there was an extra thrill in not playing safe.
But not, I thought, the ideas flickering in and out of my head nearly as fast as my feet flew, not in taking risks just for the sake of it. It had been fun, careening my way out of the old beech tree at the start of my journey, and it had exhilarated me. This was better. This was real.
The first few drops of rain splotched onto my face and hands, and the wind picked up strength. Ahead of me, the trees began to thin, leading to open space and hopefully the grounder town of Seaside Goldenrod. It would be tight, but I thought I would make it.
A particularly strong gust of wind nearly knocked me off my balance, causing me to be thankful for the first time for the strength and sturdiness of my bones, from my grounder side.
There was a loud crash from a nearby oak, and—impossibly—a shriek, followed by the words,
“Help! Can someone please help me! Help!”
The voice was high-pitched, breathy, full of fear and pain. It was not my imagination. But how could someone be in the oak, unless …
Dread coiling in my belly, I began climbing the oak tree. The wind was gusting more now, and the rain fell harder. This was not going to be easy. I clenched my teeth and continued to pull my way up through the branches as the cries for help grew increasingly frantic.
As last my head broke through the crown, and I saw what I had feared I would see—a cloudling with a broken wing, stuck fast between two branches.
What I had not expected was that the cloudling was Elodie, my guide from the previous evening. I had thought it would be someone from the colony out here, caught as he or she tried to find shelter from the oncoming storm.
She was crying, tears mingling with raindrops on her face, but she stopped when she saw my head rising through the leaves.
“Kenna,” she said hoarsely. “I thought I’d lost you.”
A thousand questions flashed through my mind, but I put them aside to focus on the matter at hand. “Sorry I didn’t answer you when you called,” I said, hoisting myself the rest of the way up so I could work on untangling her. I had been so driven to get to the person trapped up here it hadn’t even occurred to me to let them know I was coming.
She bit down hard on her lower lip as I clumsily attempted to free her wing. It was difficult work, and I was in a hurry. “Sorry,” I said again.
She released her lip long enough to say, “That’s all right,” before squeaking in pain and quickly biting down again.
The rain was lashing down by the time I had the wing free, and the tree, despite its sturdiness, was beginning to sway in the wind. Lightning flickered nearby, followed almost immediately by a crack of thunder. My heart sank when I thought of trying to shelter from a storm of this magnitude with an injured cloudling accompanying me.
First I had to get us both safely to the ground. I shifted around on the branches, presenting my back to Elodie.
“Put your arms around my neck,” I said. “I’ll carry you down.”
I don’t remember much of the trip down. My heart was in my throat the entire time and I was convinced I was going to either drop Elodie or slip and send both of us crashing to the ground, or else that the wind gusts would wrench her from my back. She held on grimly and I climbed down, and down, and down until at last my feet were on the ground and my head rested against the trunk of the tree.
“Here,” said a strange voice. “I’ve got her.”
Firm hands peeled Elodie from my back. I lifted my forehead from the tree bark to peer into the darkening surroundings. I vaguely made out the figure of a short, stocky boy holding Elodie upright. A groundling, I thought, and hoped he lived nearby and we could shelter with his family.
“We’ve got to get out of the elements,” he continued, half-shouting against the howling wind. “It’s only going to get worse. Follow me!”
I managed to pry my fingers off the tree trunk and stumbled after him as he guided us to the edge of the woods, still supporting Elodie as she staggered along with her damaged wing drooping down her back.
“We’d have to cross too much open space to make it to the town,” the boy shouted. “I know a closer place. Are you ready?”
I nodded, and we stepped out of the trees.
I had thought the storm bad within the woods. Out here in the open it was a thousand times worse. Rain whipped across my face, nearly blinding me, driving into my open mouth as I involuntarily gasped in shock. The wind nearly lifted me off my feet, knocking me back several paces before I could catch and brace myself.
Above the shriek of the wind and endless crash of thunder came a scream from Elodie as the wind slammed her broken wing into the whole one. Gulping for air, I forced my way forward to her right side. Between us, the boy and I managed to block most of the wind, but we couldn’t stay here for long without succumbing to its strength.
There was no point in trying to speak. Our words would have been snatched away from our mouths even as we spoke them.
The boy walked, and I matched his pace and direction as best I could, dividing my attention between watching him and watching where I put my feet. I didn’t even try to look at where we were going. Even if I could have spared the attention, I couldn’t see more than a few inches in front of my nose anyway. My internal compass told me we were heading east; that was all I knew.
I was still expecting a house or a barn, so at first my wearied mind could make no sense of the black hole that suddenly loomed before us. My feet almost balked, but the boy kept moving forward and so I automatically followed.
The absence of weather hit me like a branch to the face. I stood blinking, trying to comprehend the lack of rain, wind, lightning, or the icy balls of hail that had pelted us the last few yards. As my eyes adjusted, I saw that we had entered not a building, but a cave.
My first feeling was disappointment, if I’m being completely truthful. I had been imagining that friendly grounder family—and their warm fireplace and hot food—so vividly that this cave seemed extra bleak in comparison.
My common sense kicked back in a heartbeat later. Compared to the outdoors, this cave was a palace! I would have been happy to shelter in a hollow log to escape the storm; this was immensely better than that. The sand beneath my feet was fine-grained, if cold and damp, and the rock walls were wide enough and the space opened back far enough that I didn’t feel trapped. A loud roaring filled my ears, and mixed with the scent of the rain was that same sharp smell I’d noticed earlier, only much stronger now, but I wasn’t prepared to complain about either of those small details.
“Here,” said the boy. “Let’s get her settled.”
I realized he was talking to me. Between the two of us we got the half-conscious Elodie lowered to the ground in a sitting position, from which she promptly slumped forward, resting her head on her folded arms.
“It’s all right,” I assured the boy when he tried to lift her again. “Cloudlings usually sleep on their stomachs. Besides, this gives us a chance to look at her wing.”
“Do you know how to mend a broken wing?” he asked with a hopeful glance at my feet.
I pulled off my messenger bag, thankful like never before for its waterproofing, and rummaged through it until I found the salve, splints, and bindings we all carried in case of accidents. I looked ruefully from my small splints to Elodie’s large wing.
“I’m not sure how useful these will be.”
“I’ll get something larger,” the boy said, and before I could stop him he ducked back outside, into the teeth of the storm.
I realized my mouth was hanging open and closed it abruptly.
Elodie stirred. “K’nna?” she slurred.
I put the boy out of my mind and dropped to my knees beside her. “I’m here.”
Her breath sighed out of her mouth. “So sorry ... so foolish,” she murmured. “Was going to ask if I could come with you ... wanted to see my sister in the colony ... wanted to feel like an explorer.” The hint of a smile ghosted across her face. “You left too early ... my parents said no ... so I snuck away and followed you.”
How absorbed had I been in myself and my own thoughts, to not even notice her? She may have behaved foolishly, but my fault was as great, or greater. Careless messengers cost lives.
I patted her shoulder awkwardly. This was, at least in part, my responsibility. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll get you back home.” Somehow.
Next moment I jumped as the boy appeared out of the howling darkness, carrying a few smooth sticks of oddly gray wood—I couldn’t identify it, which surprised me. I thought I knew all the trees.
“Not much driftwood out there,” he said, shaking himself and sending water droplets scattering. “Hope this will do.” He seemed perfectly dry now, though surely that was impossible.
His hand brushed mine as he passed me the sticks, and it was indeed dry, though cold. Still, it wasn’t until I saw the webbing between his fingers that I realized the truth.
“You’re a sea person!”
He grinned cheerfully. “Not quite. I’m a messenger, just like I’m guessing you are one. Winged feet, webbed fingers and toes—grounder and sky people for you, yes? And grounder and deepling for me.”
My mouth had dropped open again. I’d always known about the other messengers, but I’d never thought much about them, much less expected to meet one.
“My name’s Bastien,” he continued.
I blinked and reminded myself of my manners. “Oh! Right. Um, I’m Kenna. This is Elodie.”
“Honored to know you both,” Bastien returned promptly. He knelt on the other side of Elodie. “I could mend an injured flipper, but I’m no good with wings. I can see in the dark and I take direction well, though, so just tell me what to do.”
I looked at Elodie, looked at the—driftwood—in my hands, and shivered. I’d never done something this important. What if I did it wrong? What if I hurt her worse? What if she was never able to fly again? It would be all my fault …
The light was dim enough from the storm and from being in a cave, and it was growing dimmer as we drew nearer to night. Bastien’s ability notwithstanding, dithering wasn’t going to make this any easier. If I acted, I might make it worse, or I might make it better. If I did nothing, Elodie would certainly get worse.
I drew in a deep breath of the oddly invigorating air. This was my responsibility, I told myself again.
“Right,” I said. “Here we go. Elodie, I’m sorry. This is going to hurt.”
The next half hour was something I hope I never have to repeat. Thankfully Elodie fainted a few moments in, and was thereby spared a great deal of pain. Even so, I wouldn’t have gotten through the ordeal without Bastien’s quiet but steady presence by my side. He didn’t question anything I said or did, and was quick to respond when I needed his hands or his eyes. Between the two of us, we got her wing patched up not too badly.
“All done,” I said at last, sitting back with a sigh. I rested my hand on Elodie’s cheek in a mute apology for the pain I’d caused her, and recoiled. “Oh no.”
“What is it?” Bastien asked out of the darkness that now blanketed the cave.
“She’s burning up.”
“What does that mean?”
I opened my mouth and closed it again. Of course, fevers would take sea people and their kin differently than they would us. “It’s a phrase we use when a person has a fever. Her temperature is rising dangerously.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” he agreed. “What can we do?”
By feel, I was able to pull my blanket and my water bottle from my bag. I dribbled a bit of water in Elodie’s mouth and wrapped the blanket around her, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough. It was too damp in this cave.
“I don’t suppose you have a blanket?” I asked half-heartedly.
“I’m afraid not,” Bastien replied. “I don’t need one. That’s what she needs, then? Warmth?”
“Warmth and water,” I replied. “Thanks to the rain we have plenty of the latter, but ...”
“Can you build a fire? I’ve seen the grounders do that plenty of times for warmth, but I’ve never needed one, so I don’t know how to go about doing so.”
Of course! A fire. I had flint and steel in my bag ... but no firewood or kindling. So much of our travels took us into and through the forests that material for a fire was never hard for us to find.
“Are there more of those driftwood trees around?” I asked hopefully. “Could you bring me some branches and twigs from them for a fire?”
Bastien’s voice was apologetic. “Driftwood isn’t a type of tree. It’s wood that washes up on the shore from the sea. I can go scrounge for some, but it will be wet. And no leaves.”
I blushed over my own mistake. At least Bastien hadn’t mocked me for not knowing. “Even wet wood is better than no wood,” I said, then was seized with sudden compunction. “But is it too dangerous for you to go out?”
From the sound, it seemed he stood and walked to the entrance. “I think the eye is approaching. I’ll be all right if I’m quick.”
“The center of the storm,” he explained. “When it calms down for a bit before picking back up again.”
“I see.” I didn’t, but I trusted him. Obviously he knew as much about storms out here as I did about storms inland.
“I’ll go now,” he said, and was gone.
While I waited for him to return, I gave Elodie some more water and pondered what to use to start the fire and keep it going even with wet wood. My overshirt? No, it was wet as well. The rain had soaked through even to my underclothes; nothing I wore would be dry enough. Perhaps Bastien’s clothes would be in better condition, remembering the way he shook off the water, but there was a good chance that whatever made them waterproof also made them fireproof, as with my bag.
Was there anything in my bag? Elodie was already using the blanket. I had brought no spare clothes, as my travel time was short enough I wouldn’t need them. My extra underwear? I blushed again, thinking of it, but I would burn them if I had to. Unfortunately I had taken advantage of my unexpected stop at Elodie’s city to wash them the previous night, and I had put them away still damp this morning, thinking to finish drying them tonight.
The only burnable contents of my bag were the messages I carried, and they were out of the question.
I rose to my feet and started pacing while I thought. Elodie had to have a fire. Bastien’s body temperature was too low to help warm her, and I was too wet. A fire was the only way to get her dry and warm enough. Yet I had no way to start a fire or keep it going. What was I going to do?
Taskill would have come up with a brilliant plan by now. Something like ... like …
My efforts to stretch my imagination were interrupted by Bastien’s return.
“Sorry it took me so long,” he said, accompanied by a clatter as he set the wood down. “There wasn’t much left out there, the waves are so strong. It took me a while to gather what I did. I hope it’s enough.”
As though his words had sparked it, an idea blossomed in my mind. Of course! That’s what Taskill would do!
“Listen, Bastien, I need you to stay here with Elodie while I run back to the forest and get some kindling for the fire.”
“It’s too dangerous,” Bastien protested.
“You said the storm is at a lull, didn’t you?” I could hear that for myself now that I was paying attention. “I can be fast—faster than you know—and I can’t get lost, even in the dark. We don’t have anything here that would work. I can do this.”
“We were at a lull, but the eye is passing. It’s going to get worse any moment. I’m sure you are fast, Kenna—as fast as I’d be in the water, maybe even faster—but not even you can outrun a hurricane.”
“A really bad storm off the sea,” he clarified.
I was tempted to ignore him and go anyway. Take the risk, I could almost hear Taskill saying in my ear. This was no time for prudence!
But if I took the risk and was wrong, what then? Elodie would die—Bastien would no doubt feel compelled to come after me and would be hurt or killed as well. Three lives lost because I thought I was invincible.
I was willing to risk my own life to save Elodie’s. I wasn’t willing to risk Bastien’s as well and lose Elodie all the same.
Taskill would have done it. He might even have succeeded. He was the stuff heroes were made out of.
But I wasn’t Taskill. There were risks I was willing to take, and there were times I couldn’t help but count the cost. This was the latter.
“All right,” I said, and heard Bastien’s sigh of relief. “But we have to do something. Her fever is getting worse. I don’t suppose you have anything that will burn?”
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Even the messages I carry are written on—well, you would call it seaweed, and it would have to be dried for a long time before it could be burned.”
The messages! Could I ...?
No. It was unthinkable. The messages were a messenger’s sacred charge. She protected them above all else. Even above her own life.
Above the life of another, though?
Elodie was now my responsibility, too. My carelessness had allowed her to follow me today, which had led to her getting caught by the wind and injured. Not my fault, perhaps, but my responsibility.
Uncle Yanis had said it was vitally important for the messages to make it to the sky colony.
Other lives might depend on it. What we carried ... people trusted us to ensure their words went where they should go.
I couldn’t betray that trust.
I couldn’t let Elodie die.
What was I going to do?
“My messages will burn,” I whispered.
Bastien said nothing. I was grateful for his silence.
I had wanted more adventure, more responsibility, but not like this! I wasn’t trained for this!
I had appreciated Bastien’s silence, but now I was desperate for him to speak. “What would you do, if you were me?”
“I don’t know,” he answered slowly. “I think—I know what I hope I would do, but I don’t know if I would have the courage to do it. But I don’t think I can tell you what to do. I think you’ve got to figure it out for yourself.”
I groaned, but I knew he was right.
As if to reinforce our impossible position, the storm returned then with renewed fury, seeming louder and wilder than before. Bastien had been right. I could not, even at my fastest, have made it to the forest and back before the hurricane returned.
I went and stood at the open mouth of the cave, letting the cold air and rain blow in my face. No, Bastien couldn’t tell me what to do. Taskill, if he were here, might try to tell me what to do, but he couldn’t either, not really. Uncle Yanis or Aunt Sebire couldn’t tell me what to do here. I had to make this decision myself.
I exhaled in a puff of white breath and returned to the center of the cave. Kneeling down beside my bag, I reached inside and pulled out a handful of precious paper.
“If I tell you how to do it, can you set the sticks up?” I asked him.
He ignored the crack in my voice. “Absolutely,” he said.
Once he had the sticks arranged, I handed him message after message to tuck in and around them. I thought about having him read the names on the outsides, see if we could save the most important, but in the end I let chance dictate which ones I used.
Everyone’s words were important, whether to and from the lowliest of workers or the leaders of the towns and cities. Though I was making the choice to destroy them, I wouldn’t set myself up as judge of whose words mattered more.
When the fire was laid, by feel I located my flint and steel. I struck: once, twice.
On the third strike the spark caught. The first message went up in a blaze. I blinked against the sudden light, my tear-blurred vision just making out the black ink words before the flame devoured them.
In the end, I had to use every single scrap of paper in my bag. The wood was stubborn and took a lot of coaxing to catch. Even once it was burning steadily, we had as much smoke as we did flame.
But eventually the wet parts burned away and finally, we had a good fire. We moved Elodie, still in her fevered slumber, as close as was bearable, gave her some more water, and then sat down ourselves. Something in the wood—perhaps it was a gift from the sea—made the flames dance blue and purple rather than the usual orange and yellow I was accustomed to.
Bastien was the first to break the silence between us. “For what it is worth, I think you made the right choice,” he said.
I stared into the magical flames. “I don’t know if it was the right choice or not, but it was the only one I could make. I couldn’t let her die.”
There was a pause while Bastien woke Elodie up enough to give her more water; as he let her go back to sleep, he asked,
“What will you do?”
I knew what he was asking. “After I get help for Elodie, I will confess my act to the people of Seaside Goldenrod and the floating city colony. I’ll collect whatever messages they have, if they trust me with them, and then I’ll go back and confess to Uncle Yanis and Aunt Sebire. They’ll have to call a council of grounders and cloudlings. I’ll tell the whole story to them as well, and they will decide what will become of me.”
A faithless messenger ... I didn’t want to think about my punishment. Would they banish me? If so, where would I go? At the very least, they would probably refuse to let me be a messenger anymore.
Elodie’s question returned to me. If I weren’t a messenger, who was I? What was I, even?
“I’ll testify on your behalf,” Bastien said, surprising me. “I’m sure the elders will let me travel that far if they know what it’s for.” He grinned at me suddenly. “I’ve never been inland before. I wouldn’t have gone into the edges of that forest if I hadn’t heard Elodie’s cries for help.”
“Lucky for us you did,” I said.
All through that long night, we talked, Bastien and I. We had to stay awake to tend the fire and keep making Elodie drink, and so we talked. Bastien told me about his home in something called an estuary, and I told him about the aerie in the beech grove. He told me about the sea cities, and I told him about the cloud cities. I found out that the endless booming I could hear was the ocean waves crashing on the rocky shore, and the odd tang in the air was from the salt in the water.
“Also probably partially from dead fish,” Bastien said, which made me laugh.
“If you come to my home and I’m allowed, I’ll take you up on a mountain,” I promised him. “The air up there ... it’s so pure and clean. Even messengers can’t stay long in the cloud cities, because the air is too thin even for our lungs to endure for long. But mountains ... ah, there’s nothing like them. You can see all the land spread out before you like a patchwork quilt, and the floating cities flittering above you like multi-faceted jewels.”
“It sounds marvelous,” Bastien said. “And a little terrifying.”
“I’ve always been afraid of the sea,” I admitted. My fear seemed a long way off and formless now, though, in comparison to the disaster that had actually befallen.
It was Bastien’s turn to grow animated as he described the deep cities under the ocean, the bubbles that surrounded them, allowing people to breathe inside the great golden domes, the way they glowed like lanterns in the cold darkness of the depths.
“There are dangers there, too,” he said fairly. “But oh, such wonders. It’s worth the danger.”
We were so engrossed in our conversation that at first we didn’t notice when the storm blew itself out. Not until Bastien got up to give Elodie some more water did he suddenly pause, his head tilted.
“The wind’s stopped.”
I got up as well and went to the cave entrance again. The sky was scoured clean of clouds and rain. Far to the east, the sun was beginning to lighten the dark, sending streaks of rose and gold across the sky, catching the flat gray surface beneath and making it sparkle.
Bastien joined me. “The sea,” he said, motioning to the grayness.”
I caught my breath. No matter what happened, I had seen the sea.
The stars began to fade as the sun continued its climb, but I could still see Alienor, the morning star, glimmering pink far, far above even the highest cloud city.
My heart expanded within me. For a moment, I felt more of a messenger than I ever had before. I loved everyplace and everyone in our world, even the terrifying sea and its mysterious denizens. I wanted to explore it all, to know people in every corner of it and make friends with them all. I wanted to rejoice with them over good news and weep with them over sad. I wanted to carry their hopes and dreams across the mountains and into the skies. I wanted to be one of the threads that bound our world together. Not for the adventure, but out of sheer love for its beauty.
In that moment, I recognized that whether the council took away my role or not, I would always be a messenger.
The moment passed. Behind us, Elodie said in a weak, scratchy voice,
“Where am I?”
Bastien and I rushed to her side. I saw the sweat dewing her forehead and the clarity in her wide eyes, and I laughed in sheer relief and joy.
“She’s going to be all right! The fever broke!”
Bastien grabbed me in an exuberant hug, and I didn’t care at all that his skin was cold and faintly scaly. I hugged him back just as I would have hugged Taskill.
There’s not much more to tell. We got Elodie returned to her people, I made my confession to the people of Seaside Goldenrod and the sky colony—which had gotten blown so far inland by the hurricane they weren’t even sure it was worth maintaining after all—and I returned here, to my beech grove aerie. Uncle Yanis did not say, “I told you so,” but I can see the disappointment in the way he won’t meet my eye.
Taskill isn’t back yet, of course. I don’t know whether to be glad I don’t have to admit my failure to him or long for his support. I have to endure a great deal of shame and criticism from the other messengers, all of whom are eager to tell me what I did wrong and what I should have done instead. Taskill might agree with them, but he’d stand by me all the same if he were here.
The council meets today. Bastien isn’t here, but I brought a message from him, written on red seaweed, telling his side of the tale. His elders didn’t want him coming this far inland alone, so this was their compromise. Even more than Taskill, I wish he were here, but I feel encouraged all the same, just knowing I have his support and friendship, even if we never see each other again.
Aunt Sebire has had me write all this out. She says it’s easier to tell a story when it’s been written than to try to remember what happened while all eyes in a room are on you.
I wish I had time to edit it—there’s a lot of personal stuff that crept in here that I’d rather not admit to the council—but it’s too late now.
Whatever comes, comes. I’m nervous, of course, but I’m not afraid. Somehow that long night helped me to know myself better.
Whatever happens, I’m still a messenger. I always will be.
I want you to kiss, lick and bow down before those feet of mine
A one of a kind mistress 🙃, are there any loyal sissy slaves around??..feel free to message me or add me on snap :- m_nora39
Very short short for the @inklings-challenge since that’s all I had time for. Go Team Lewis!
“Okay, okay, here’s one,” said Mathers.
Excitement crackled through the bow like Mathers had suggested some kind of death-defying feat. Mathers sat up, closing his eyes in the manner of a monk about to deliver a koan, and said with a wooden memorized-from-the-joke-book intonation, “Nobody tell me if the firmament theory is true.” Pause. “I’ll hit the ceiling.”
The crew howled. It was a bad joke, but Mathers, as a man, was humorless and the attempt was funny in itself.
“The permanent what?” said Liths, his three eyes blinking with interest.
“Firmament, Liths, it’s an Earth thing.”
“People used to think the sky was sort of a…a solid thing. Like a dome over the ground. And if you went far out enough, you could hit it. Like this.” Jess, who was hovering near the starboard portal, tapped the knuckles of his glove against it. “Classic Earth, right?”
Jess shrugged. “Well, full of ourselves. Thinking the whole thing revolves around us.”
“There’s only one way you guys are actually like that,” said Liths. Jess’s stifled laugh crackled the comm for a second; Liths had adopted “you guys” lately and it was funny coming out of a mouth that opened in four directions like a paper fortune teller. “It’s—it’s how you think that we’re not all like that.”
“You’re proud,” said Liths, his eyes widening as he hit on the English word he was looking for, “of your proud—your proudness. Of your pride.”
“We’re proud of how proud we are?”
“Yeah. Everybody else is proud, but they’re not proud of how they’re proud. They don’t think they’re prouder than other people.”
“God, it doesn’t even sound like a word anymore.”
“My planet,” said Liths, “the firm—the ceiling thing, we had that. We thought our planet was the uh. The floor, right?”
Liths pressed his visor to the port window. There was an urgent bent to his posture all of a sudden, an aiming, as if he were about to dart forward at the sound of the starting gun. He didn’t look at Jess—Liths’ species found eye contact a little overrated, and went by touch, so that Jess, just as he was about to float elsewhere, suddenly felt two tentacles gripping the little finger of his glove.
“Ev-ery-one,” said Liths, in hard, distinct syllables, “thinks his planet is the floor.”
Actually Scholomance is a moral philosophy of virtue and moral fiber particularly hinging on Patience/Fortitude which is why they are the final boss at the school because magic here is about intent + willpower and you only get it either a.) by sapping off other people and taking shortcuts and hurting and therefore destroying yourself too or b.) hard work, patience and perseverance, especially when it involves a ton of self discipline, I.e. El, who is virtue-in-extremis—can you do the right thing when there’s no inclination, reward, consolation, or visible draw to do it. Can you do the right thing when it’s the hardest thing, when literally every inclination of circumstance and nature and desire push you away from it, simply because it’s right? And the school, with all its horrors and dangers, is the school of suffering (for tribulations produce patience, and patience experience, and experience a hope that does not leave you ashamed), and El is especially prepared for the bigger trials because she has built up the patience and willpower and moral strength in her everyday choices of self denial. And Orion’s her opposite in that, as a heroic soul, virtuous acts are *easy* for him, but it leaves him to question if he’s actually virtuous himself, because, being easy, they demanded nothing of him. (Which is why El can kill the maw mouth wherein people are stuck in suffering, because she has the endurance to plow through it, and....actually why the end of the Last Graduate is the way it is isn’t it?)
BUT in all this philosophizing, all this insistence that virtue is the hardest right thing done even in the hardest way, it STILL stops and reminds you constantly-yes, you have to do the hard things. BUT you *do not always have to do them alone.* Virtue inspires others to step up and help to! And if everyone’s looking out for everyone else, then no one takes the last stand entirely alone! And there’s so much hope in that.
My submission for the @inklings-challenge. A bit of a slow start, probably could have done more with the theme, and I had planned to add another scene to give it a bit of a neater ending, but I think it will have to stand as it is. *** When did it start? I’ve been asking that question almost since the beginning. I think it happened slowly, then suddenly, so that I was in the middle before I even knew I’d begun. But then, I guess it’s always been like that.
I didn’t have many friends growing up. I never understood how people could just jump into a conversation or insert themselves into a group. I met Marti freshman year of high school, and she always seemed so confident and outgoing, it never occurred to me that she might feel the same way. We had a few classes together and talked occasionally, but it wasn’t until senior year when she invited me to her birthday party that I realized we were actually friends.
*** Martha Merritt was tired. Tired beyond words. Not because she’d had a particularly difficult week at work, or because her mother had kept her on the phone late the night before, or even because she had woken up at five-thirty on a Saturday to finish preparing for a Bible study later that morning, though that certainly hadn’t helped. But if that was all it was, two cups of coffee should have done the job.
It was the first Saturday in October, a gray and windy morning with frost in the air, and it had been with great reluctance that she’d left the comfort of her warm bed, turned on the coffeemaker, and settled down in her usual place, an oversized armchair by the living room window, with a lamp and a side table where she could set her books. With a thick fleece blanket, a hot drink, and a good view of the changing leaves outside, it might have been a pleasant, cozy scene, if she’d had time to enjoy it, but time was short, and she soon found it was far too comfortable for getting any serious work done. Thus she had moved to the kitchen table, where the hard wooden chair and harsh lighting would be less conducive to daydreaming or falling back asleep.
She had gone through her usual devotions mechanically, and immediately felt guilty when on their completion, she could hardly recall either what she had read or said in prayer. She briefly considered starting over, but reasoned there was no time, and thus proceeded to open to the section she needed to study.
She had already read and reread the opening of the book of Romans, copied the first twelve verses in her notebook, and diagrammed each sentence meticulously. Now she meditated on each phase, highlighting and underlining in multiple colors, looking up cross-references, and making note of Greek words. She concluded with a list of what she knew would be practical applications for the passage and the book as a whole, with a particular emphasis on holiness and obedience and encouraging each other in the faith.
Now it was a quarter to nine, the others would be arriving soon, and though studying the Bible usually left her refreshed and invigorated, she was still tired in a way she could not entirely explain, and the usual pride of a job well done was tainted by the feeling that she had been thinking too much of herself, and overestimating the importance of her contributions to the group.
After all, she thought as she closed her notebook and began putting things away, it wasn’t just her study, though it was her house, and her idea, and she usually took the lead in their discussions, and it was only natural she should want to do a good job. But Julia put in just as much work into her studies, and Emma always came up with good questions, and even Ava was starting to get more involved. And Hannah—
The thought was interrupted by the sound of a car coming up the drive. She looked out the window to see Julia’s silver sports car and set out two more mugs and a plate of blueberry muffins. A few moments later she heard the side door open and Julia’s relaxed “morning, Marti,” followed by Emma’s more enthusiastic “how’s it going?”
Upon entering, Emma went straight for the coffeemaker while Julia set her things down in her usual place and grabbed a muffin. “Ava can’t make it. She texted me last night that she wasn’t feeling well. Is Hannah up yet?”
Marti looked at her roommate’s door and then back at the clock with a slight frown, then shook her head.
“Hannah,” she called.
“I’m up, just a sec,” came the muffled reply, and presently Hannah emerged from her room, dressed but slightly disheveled, with an embarrassed smile and a wave to their guests before ducking into the bathroom.
Marti stared at the closed door for a moment, wondering if it would even be worth it to spend any of her already limited energy trying to get Hannah to participate this week. She didn’t doubt that her roommate knew the Bible and could be surprisingly insightful, and she knew that even before she started working nights, she had never been a morning person, and yet she couldn’t help feeling that she at least used to make more of an effort, and that lately her enthusiasm for Bible study had waned somewhat. She was rarely prepared and often distracted, regularly falling behind or jumping ahead of the others’ conversation and often looking things up on her phone while others were speaking only to say, when asked, that it wasn’t exactly related to the verse currently under discussion. And after a few interesting, yet fairly irrelevant rabbit trails, Marti generally thought it best not to ask her to elaborate.
Today, she found, was no different. Hannah’s phone had remained off for the most part, but she had a new toy in its place, a fountain pen with purple ink. While Julia and Emma had no trouble making up for Ava’s absence with a lively discussion on the importance of supporting missions, she followed their conversation in silence, offering little more than the occasional nod as she spent most of her time drawing curlicues and flourishes on a piece of scrap paper.
“You must have something to add,” Marti said at last, trying not to let irritation slip into her voice.
Hannah shrugged. “Not much beyond what’s already been said.”
Marti raised an eyebrow and continued to wait. Hannah shifted in her seat and crossed her arms. Her face grew red, but when she spoke, her tone was flippant, almost sarcastic.
“I mean, I don’t know, we are in the book of Romans. Like, the Romans Road? ‘All have sinned,’ ‘the wages of sin is death,’ ‘while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Seems like a pretty straightforward message.”
“Yes, but we can’t just talk about the gospel all the time,” Marti pressed.
“Be serious. How does this text apply to you, personally?”
“Jesus died for my sins.”
Marti gave an exasperated sigh, Emma giggled, and Julia broke in, “Why don’t we move on to the next verse?” Hannah said little for the rest of the study. ***
We probably would have lost touch after graduation if she hadn’t invited me to her church. It wasn’t my first time. Actually, I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember, though my family stopped attending services not long after my sister was christened. But I learned about different Bible stories and memorized the Lord’s Prayer and pondered the vastness of eternity. I read the New Testament, believed it, listed all the sins I could think of and prayed for forgiveness. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know anything.
But Marti’s family went to church and listened to Christian radio and prayed before meals, and she wore Christian t-shirts and WWJD bracelets and argued with teachers about abortion and evolution. She was fluent in a language I barely knew, a native of the culture I wished to join. In a word, she was cool. I both admired and envied her.
Sometimes I miss her. *** God, thank you for knowing just what I needed to hear.
Marti stood with her eyes closed and palms uplifted, swaying slightly to the music. The pastor had taught on the end of Hebrews 5, and he seemed to be speaking directly to her as he’d focused on the importance of spiritual growth and maturity and pressing on in spite of obstacles, on spiritual warfare and rewards in heaven. His final exhortation, combined with the closing song, left her feeling as if she could face any trial the devil might throw at her in the coming week.
The feeling lasted only until she glanced over at Hannah, who stood looking entirely unmoved. On the contrary, her voice was flat, her expression stoic, and she herself was looking at the clock on the wall. *** I used to love Sundays. The music, the people, the sense of belonging. Sometimes I miss that, but I also know I can never really go back.
When it started, before I understood, I knew there was something, not exactly wrong, but also not quite right. At first I thought it was just me. My fault I wasn’t hearing from God, my fault I couldn’t figure out His will for my life, my fault I didn’t feel what I was supposed to be feeling. And then I found the others.
It started with a video, which led to a podcast, which led to another podcast, and another, and another, and suddenly a whole community of people all raising questions I’d never even considered and confirming what I already knew: It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Some were more measured in their critiques, others unapologetically acerbic, and there were times I resisted and pulled back, when the revelations came too quickly, but they were honest, and many knew from experience how to dismantle the errors I had simply taken for granted for so long, and the truth always won out in the end.
Some call it deconstruction. I prefer untethering. The fact that it’s necessary doesn’t make it any less painful, or lonely, as you disconnect from things you never thought you could stand to lose.
Still, there’s no going back. Not when the songs that used to seem so deep and meaningful feel repetitive and sentimental, the worship leaders’ spontaneity feels rehearsed, and for all the pastor’s passion, there’s something conspicuously absent from his teaching which leaves you feeling empty.
Of course, no one else seems to notice, being as blind to these things as a fish is to the water it swims in. They preach against the zeitgeist, the spirit of this age, when the truth is, they’re as trapped by it as anyone.
It’s all so drearily contemporary. *** Not again.
The words had echoed in Marti’s mind all during the drive home. The tiredness of the previous day had come back in full force, along with a headache, and though she tried to pray, her thoughts raced and her words jumbled together until all that remained was one single plea: Please, God, not again.
“You want something to eat?” Hannah called from the kitchen as she took off her shoes and hung her coat by the door.
“I’m not hungry,” she mumbled in reply, heading straight for her room.
She closed the door behind her and immediately buried her face in her hands and sunk down against the wall. There she sat for some time, overwhelmed by fear and grief and self-blame as she contemplated, with a deep sense of dread, what now seemed to be inevitable.
She had lost friends before. Friends from high school and college, friends she’d gone to church and youth group and Bible studies with, friends she’d prayed with and gone on mission trips with, friends she could have sworn believed, until suddenly they didn’t. And she’d never even seen it coming until it was too late. *** Sunday afternoons follow a certain routine. Every day has a routine, but it’s especially important Sundays. That’s when it usually happens, and it helps to be properly prepared.
After lunch, I do the dishes, water the plants, start a load of laundry, and go for a walk. Then come in, move the laundry to the dryer, brush my teeth, and change into something comfortable. Make a pot of tea, catch up on Tumblr, and settle in. *** She had to talk to her. She had spent some time going back and forth between the Bible and prayer, and now, as night was falling, the only thing that was clear was that they needed to talk.
Her door was open just a crack, through which Marti could see that a light was on. She took a breath, braced herself, and knocked lightly.
She waited, but there was no response. After a moment, she pushed the door open just enough to poke her head inside, and was surprised to find the room empty. There was Hannah’s bed, neatly made, with two totes underneath that she used instead of a dresser, then a small side table where her phone was charging, and opposite the bed a plain wooden desk with an old-fashioned lamp, illuminating a glass teapot, tea cup, and saucer beside a number of open books. But Hannah herself was nowhere to be seen.
Marti stood in the doorway perplexed. She could see through the window Hannah’s car still in the driveway, and she was sure she hadn’t heard her go out a second time. At the same moment—she felt guilty at the thought—but it occurred to her that this might be her best, and perhaps only, opportunity to find out the truth, or at least, some clue as to what had happened. And then—
Does it even matter? You’re going to lose her anyway. It can’t hurt just to look…
The conflict lasted only a moment, and presently she was standing at the desk, inspecting the books before her. She found, to her surprise, a well-worn paperback study Bible she had never seen before, with bits of ribbon marking different sections, a daily prayer book, a gold-edged hymnal, a small, thick book of what appeared to be various theological texts, two collections of lectures, one simply a stack of papers, printed off and held together with small binder clips, on the subject of revival, the other a large burgundy hardcover with a number of theses on properly understanding the Bible, and finally, a leather journal with Hannah’s new pen resting beside it. At first glance, its contents appeared largely indecipherable, a jumble of abbreviations followed by a list of theological terms interspersed with Latin phrases.
7 TDP – :20 BOC – :30 DOW readings/psalms – :45 3yr lect. – :55 GO // 3:30 StP/L4T?/KV/RS – 5:30 SC/NC/AC/hymns – 6:30 ?
CF? L+G? — Keswick theology – pietism? simul justus et peccator coram deo/coram mundo magisterial vs. ministerial use of reason Heb. 5:13 — 1Pet. 2:2
She quickly decided against trying to read further, and being drawn instead to the lectures, she picked up the first book and began to read.
Suddenly the light changed as if someone had pulled back the curtains to reveal broad daylight, and she jumped and dropped the book as the air was filled with noise, the sound of a large crowd all talking at once.
Looking up she found herself no longer in Hannah’s room but standing at the back of a mid-sized, traditional-looking church where there was indeed a large crowd gathered, the pews full of men and women in old-fashioned clothes.
“This can’t be real.”
If anyone heard her, or thought there was anything peculiar about her clothes, they paid no attention.
At the pulpit stood a tall, balding man with a dark beard, piercing eyes, and a sharp, professional appearance. Directly in front of him, some space had been cleared and a bench had been placed, and it was primarily to the few people seated there, all of whom seemed to be particularly affected, that he seemed to be directing most of his attention. He was speaking rapidly, with great passion, and she could not at first understand what he was saying, but in a moment it became clear.
“Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”
He spoke at length on the need for self-examination, on the sins of ingratitude, a lack of love for God, neglect of Bible reading and prayer and church attendance, and the proper manner and motives with which these duties ought to be performed. He spoke of lack of love for one’s fellow man, the need to watch for their souls, and the great need for self-denial for the sake of the Gospel. He spoke against all forms of worldliness and pride and robbing God by misspent time and money and energy.*
Every so often, when he saw that his words had struck home with the people, he would stop and call on one or two to pray that the Lord would hold them in that conviction before proceeding further. The bench before him also began filling up, as some came of their own accord and others were escorted by friends who perceived that they were in the proper state of mind, and it became the subject of much prayer that they would be truly converted.
Though they were undoubtedly experiencing deep conviction and suffering a great deal of grief over their sins, he did not relent or soften his tone as he addressed them sternly:
“No doubt you have heard that anxious sinners must pray for a new heart, but this is only an evasion of present duty, and trying to throw the responsibility of conversion upon God. No, God is willing, but you are unwilling. Present faith and repentance, present and instant submission to His will, present and instant acceptance of Christ, that is what God requires of you, and all else is nothing but hypocrisy and delusion.”
He continued to testify to the immortality of the soul, the vanity of all earthly good, the satisfying nature of religion, the guilt and danger of sinners, the reality of hell, the love of Christ, the necessity of a holy life, self-denial, meekness, heavenly mindedness, humility, integrity, and an entire renovation of life and character.
It could hardly be said that Marti liked this sort of preaching, as it left her, along with the rest of his audience, fairly teetering on the brink of despair, but at the same time, she felt that she should like it, as he seemed to her a sort of nineteenth-century John the Baptist, breaking up the fallow ground of dead religion by calling all people to repent. And here were gathered young and old, rich and poor, evidently doing just that. Certainly all that he said was right and true, and the violent rebellion of her heart only confirmed that up to that point, she had not really been serious about watching and putting to death the desires of her flesh. Still, as the meeting went on and night fell outside, she began to feel much of the initial excitement wearing off as fatigue quickly set in.
Then suddenly, the scene changed, the noise faded, and she found herself in an auditorium where gas lamps were burning and a number of young men were just coming in and taking their seats.
Outside, it was once again evening, and this seemed to be a less formal sort of class, with a good deal of talking and joking while they waited for it to begin. Again, Marti’s presence went unnoticed as she took a seat beside one of the more studious among them, who was at this moment reviewing his notes, and leaning over, she began to read:
Only he is an orthodox teacher who not only presents all articles of faith in accordance with Scripture, but also rightly distinguishes from each other the Law and the Gospel… [This distinction] is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is and remains a sealed book.**
This struck her at once as an overly simplistic explanation, but before she could consider it further, he turned the page, and she continued reading:
4. The Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins, or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins.
5. The Word of God is not rightly divided when sinners who have been struck down and terrified by the Law are directed, not to the Word and the Sacraments, but to their own prayers and wrestlings with God… when they are told to keep on praying and struggling until they feel that God has received them into grace.
She bristled at the word Sacraments and glanced around her with instant distrust, which was only heightened when the man turned to the next page.
9. The Word of God is not rightly divided when one makes an appeal to believe in a manner as if a person could make himself believe or at least help towards that end, instead of preaching faith into a person’s heart by laying the Gospel promises before him.
Now she could hardly help feeling annoyed as she thought that if this was all the depth a seminary education had to offer, it was no wonder the church had been ineffective for so long. Here was a religion which seemed to demand nothing of anyone, but presumed God would do it all, with no need for any sort of personal responsibility or commitment or even a conscious decision.
As she considered this, the door opened and there entered a thin, energetic man carrying a few pages of notes. He too was balding and bearded, but where the first man might have been a lawyer or a politician, he had a more rustic look to him, his hair slightly wilder, his sideburns more pronounced, and a pleasant, slightly comical expression on his face.
Taking his place at his desk, he began to speak of the work of a minister and the necessity of genuine zeal according to knowledge, as opposed to the carnal zeal of hypocrites and fanatics. There was no showmanship in his presentation, but he spoke loudly enough to be heard throughout the whole room, and his tone was, on the whole, conversational, yet with a certain gravity and conviction which seemed to inspire the same in his hearers.
This turned out to be only an introduction to his main thesis:
“The Word of God is not rightly divided when an attempt is made by means of the demands or threats of the Law to induce the unregenerate to put away their sins and engage in good works and thus become godly; or when a endeavor is made, by means of the commands of the Law rather than by the admonitions of the Gospel, to urge the regenerate to do good.”
He quoted from memory a passage from Jeremiah and spoke of the Law being written on men’s hearts, the purpose of the commandments, the worthlessness of forced obedience, and the promises of the new covenant, in which hearts and minds were renewed and made truly willing by the forgiveness of sins.
“How foolish, then,” he declared, “is a preacher who thinks that conditions in his congregation will improve if he thunders at his people with the Law and paints hell and damnation for them. That will not at all improve the people. Indeed, there is a time for such preaching of the law in order to alarm secure sinners and make them contrite, but a change of heart and love of God and one’s fellow-men is not produced by the Law.”
He went on to warn of rationalistic preachers and others who considered the preaching of the Gospel to be dangerous as well as foolish, as they supposed it would only encourage people to be lazy and secure in their sins, and instead consistently preached ethics with the view of improving people’s behavior, without producing any inward change.
He read also from a commentary on the first part of Romans 12:1: “Paul does not say: I command you; for he is preaching to such as are already Christians and godly by faith, in newness of life. These must not be coerced by means of commandments, but admonished to do willingly what has to be done with the old sinful man in them. For any person who does not do this willingly, simply in answer to kind admonitions, is not a Christian; and any person who wants to achieve this result by force applied to such as are unwilling is not a Christian preacher or ruler, but a worldly jailer.”
All this was undoubtedly true, and Marti knew that however suspect his other doctrines might be, she could not, on biblical grounds, contradict him on this point. Indeed, she thought she would have liked to agree with him, and yet there was something there that made her hesitate.
She recalled her pastor’s words from just that morning:
“Death, burial, resurrection,” he’d said. “Growing up in church, all I heard, week in and week out, was death, burial, resurrection. And I saw people who’d been there for twenty years and never made any progress in their spiritual walks. Now, church, the gospel is important, but let’s hear what Paul is saying here: we need to grow up. If we want to reach spiritual maturity, we’ve gotta get past the basics.”
The professor was still speaking. Though there was no condescension in his tone, and she knew he couldn’t see her any more than the others could, she realized she nevertheless felt irritated, even insulted, as she did whenever she had to listen to someone explain something she already knew perfectly well.
She found herself suddenly wishing she could go home, or at least step outside for a breath of air. She stood and looked to the door only to freeze when she found there a familiar face.
“Marti?” *** “You alright?”
She knew before she asked that it was a stupid question, as Marti suddenly looked like she was about to pass out.
“Fine—sorry—I just…never mind.”
With that, she all but ran out of the room, leaving Hannah looking from the door to the book she had dropped. She briefly considered following her, but just as quickly decided against it. She would need time to think. They both would.
She sighed, picked up the book and put its back in its place, then after a moment’s thought, sat down at her desk, picked up her pen, and turned to a fresh page.
I don’t expect you to understand. Not yet, at least. I know I didn’t. Maybe when you’re ready we can talk about it.
It’s different, for sure. Some differences are obvious, others less so, but when you really look at them, you realize just how deep they are. They’re not the kind of issues you can just set aside and ignore, though I tried. I’d like to say it was out of loyalty, but if I’m being honest, I was just too proud to admit I was wrong, and it wasn’t really humility that kept me from speaking for so long.
She paused a moment, then continued.
I thought I knew a lot about church history. I thought we were pretty traditional, and that we were doing church the way they’d done it in the book of Acts, when things were still pure and simple, before the Catholic church took over and complicated everything with their religion. And then I went back to Germany in the early 1500s…
*** Resources for Aspiring Time Travelers: Untethering and Beyond:
Survey of Historical Heresies, Phil Johnson
Arianism / Part 2
History of Pietism, Daniel Van Voorhis
Christianity in America, Daniel Van Voorhis
Introduction and Puritans in the New World
Rationalism and Revivalism
19th Century Romantics and Radicals
The Rise of Fundamentalism
Fundamentalism and Modernism
West Coast Christianity
“On the Reading of Old Books”, C. S. Lewis’ introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation
The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, C. F. W. Walther
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, Prophecy and History in Relation to the Messiah, and Sketches of Jewish Social Life, Alfred Edershiem
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
*** *Adapted from Charles Finney’s Revival Lectures, Lecture III: How to Promote a Revival and Lecture IX: Means to be Used with Sinners, and Testimonial of Revivals, Chapter VI: Revival at Evans’ Mills and its Results
**From C. F. W. Walther’s The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, 1929