Nine: Wisdom and Arrogance

Luminarist + November 2015 – June 2017: Chapter Nine — Wisdom and Arrogance

Celestial Institute, a boarding school for adults, is located on the fabled world of Terra. Only those chosen by the Shining One may enter. People of all walks of life come here to hone their gifts and effect positive change. The newest recruit is Meissa, a young woman anticipating the future.

She becomes fast friends with Nadir, a man with little self-confidence whose guardian is the powerful Zenith. Upon the school throne stands Alhena, the Shining One herself. Backing them is the Acolyte of Archangels. Becoming entangled in Celestial Institute’s inner workings, Meissa knows that everyone has purpose, and her light shines the brightest of them all.

Why?

There were murmurs everywhere as Alhena skirted past the administration building. For once, the crowd wasn’t simpering after her; instead their eyes were glued to an innocent looking corkboard with a single note written on it. She couldn’t recall any announcements; usually they’d go through her and Zenith first if they were important enough to be issued by the Acolyte himself. She wasn’t able to fathom why something would have escaped her attention to be posted on a board before warranting her attention. She was annoyed that she had to push through the rest of the students in order to see what was so fascinating about this solitary sheet of parchment. Suddenly she was noticed, and students pulled away, the atmosphere thick with silent tension.

“The Examinations for the Title of the Shining One, or simply, the Title Exams, shall commence within a few days without a preemptive warning. Consider this to be your only warning. Examinations will be administered and evaluated by the Acolyte of Archangels. No further information shall be given. Challengers for the title currently long held by Lady Alhena are to report their desire to compete directly to the Acolyte,” she read aloud. “What the fuck is that man thinking?” was her immediate reaction. “Doesn’t he know that nobody can do my job? Why is he doing this?”

If that wasn’t a surprise enough, she heard a voice ring out at the back of the clustered area. “Alhena! I challenge you!”

“Who the fuck …” Alhena spun around graciously, and stopped dead at the sight of Meissa. “You!” She stared for a minute, and then laughed mockingly. “So the little dropout thinks she can take on Celestial Institute’s top student and the teacher of the Raphael program?” As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them. Laughter broke out all around them, tongues wagged like hungry dogs that caught the scent of a freshly killed carcass. Meissa appeared to be hurt, but resolve was evidently etched into her face.

“You kicked me out of the Raphael program,” stated Meissa fearlessly, so brave for that former little eight-year-old girl. “You didn’t know how to deal with my inaptitude, so you gave up on me. But let me tell you this, Alhena, I haven’t given up on you.” With that, she swiftly exited the area and returned to the Earth Tower while Alhena stood there stunned. Across the distance, she spied Zenith nodding with approval, and she felt worse. Before she could be questioned by anyone, cold blue met grass green; she looked away before he could peer into her soul any further. Her secret must be kept. She’d promised the Acolyte that she would reveal the truth about Terra to no one.

She was alone; she was always and would forever be alone.

Let Meissa try to steal her title away from her, because it wouldn’t matter in the end. In name she may not be the Shining One anymore, but her path would be the same. Meissa was no child of an angel of death. Silently she raged at her vanished father once again, cursed him for the choices he made. He had a task to complete, and failed and messed everything up by falling for his victim. Now she was here because of that forbidden union, and she refused to make the same mistake as he did so long ago. Her dream was just that – a dream, a fantasy that she couldn’t live. “I will not lay down everything for someone who can’t stay with me,” she muttered under her breath, trying to convince herself as she could still sense Zenith’s eyes on her. You foolish angel, getting involved with a human. It only leads to pain, it only leads to suffering. It’s best to cut yourself off from the three worlds and remain separate, be the observer and not the participant. She stalked her way to the administration building, up the forbidden flight of stairs to the chambers of the Shining One. How much longer would she call these rooms her own?

“And you’re gone now, Daddy,” she cried once she knew she was alone, sinking into her sheets. “I don’t know who my mother is, or if she loved either of us. Do I look more like her or you? Is my behaviour appalling to you? Would you be proud or ashamed of me? I can’t ask you because you’re not here. Everyone leaves, everyone goes. Was my mother truly worth your descent from grace, Daddy?” She choked on her tears, and began to scream with pain that she carefully concealed. It didn’t matter. No one could hear her, no one had to know.

Her screams subsided after a time, and she stared out her massive window at the Gate of Fire. “No matter how much you think you love me,” she whispered to the flames, “you won’t choose me. You can’t. It’s not an option you’d have even if you wanted to be with me.” She splashed water on her face, examining its beauty in her mirror. It made her more despondent. She would simply do her job, do what she needed to do, and continue to live this life. She saw no other way out.

Alhena eventually left the quarters of the Shining One, returned to the southern reaches of the Gate of Fire. Zenith was nowhere to be seen. She let loose a frustrated sigh, and walked to the library. He was in a cubicle on the Uriel floor, appearing haggard and devoid of life yet again. “Why?” she asked as she passed her hands smoothly over his clothed shoulders, moving up to his neck, the base of his head, up and over to his forehead, and back down to his shoulders again. Her voice thick with emotion, she asked again, “Why?”

He set down his pen, a warning clear in his tone. “I told you …”

She withdrew from him like a whip’s crack. “Please don’t say it again. You looked like you needed the healing. I wasn’t about to try anything or -“

“Alhena?”

“Yes?” Hope was evident in her voice, but she took note of the fact that he still hadn’t turned to face her.

“If I need healing, there are plenty of other Raphael students on standby.” A leaden weight dropped on to her soul, as she stood there bewildered. She did indeed go too far that morning. “We are no longer partners, nor are you to associate with me until further notice.”

“My apologies, Gatekeeper of Terra’s Fire, I … I will trouble you no more.”

When she left him at his cubicle, he deepened his breath.

Alhena kept her composure until she reached a tree near the lake, placing all her weight against its trunk. “It’s done,” she murmured to the water. “He’s free now, he’s no longer bound to me.”

“Alhena.”

She whirled around for her sight to focus on the Acolyte of Archangels, standing a little ways from her. “Why?” he asked the same question that she wanted to know of Zenith. She rushed to him, falling at his feet.

“Father,” she whispered brokenly.

He bent and lifted her to her feet, embracing her comfortingly as a father would his adult daughter. “Do you understand why your true father chose your mother?”

“I know nothing of my mother.”

“Then understand this, child.” Somehow, she didn’t mind being referred to as ‘child’ by the Acolyte. “One shred of happiness is worth all the heartbreak in the three worlds. One flicker of light is all it takes to stand against the omnipresent darkness.”

“Zenith and everyone will leave me, you know that. You’re the only constant in my life, Father. You’re my light.”

He shook his metallic blue haired head, but she could perceive a smile in teal eyes. “In time, my light too will fade, as all lights do. When the Gatekeeper eventually is forced to abandon his post, will you not chase after him?”

Such kindness in the Acolyte, and yet no soul knows more than a little about him.

“My child, when the time presents you with the opportunity and choice, will you follow in the footsteps of your father, or condemn yourself to a life of loneliness?”

“My father is dead, along with my mother.” He smiled a secretive smile. “Acolyte?”

“Is the common conception of death not merely an illusion?” he asked in his reverence. “You bear the weight of the evidence of this, Alhena.”

“And how I hate it.” She buried her face in his shoulder. “I hate being shackled like this, Father.”

“You don’t have to be,” he murmured to her. “You can choose yourself over your duty.”

——

Meissa sucked in her breath as she approached the library. In all her time here, she’d never crossed paths with this place once. She was nervous – libraries did that to her – but she knew she had to venture in to meet up with Nadir. He promised to help her with her art. “Hey, Miss Meissa!” he beamed at her as soon as she stepped on to the fifth floor. “There’s a room here to work on your singing.”

“S-singing?” she demanded, utterly shocked. “You’re not teaching me to paint or something that has to do with arts or crafts?”

He laughed. “I’d rather teach you an instrument, but we have no time for that. The Acolyte could spring the title exams on you any day now.” He led her into a small, openly designed soundproofed room, complete with a piano near one corner.

“All I’ve done is choir in school,” she mumbled, embarrassed.

“So you learned to blend your voice with others. Okay, that’s an interesting start, but do you know which register you are?” She blinked at him, not comprehending. He grinned at her, saluting with his fingers. He explained the vocal range, emphasizing that while soprano in women was most celebrated, the alto wasn’t without its merits. Sitting at the piano, his fingers went over the keys like the breeze over a still pond, leaving a wake of ripples in its passage. She stared, entranced by the fact that his eyes were closed and yet he played as if he’d memorized the keyboard and pedals. Almost like touch typing, and once again she didn’t question her thought. Angels still talked to her, even on Terra. It was a comfort, knowing that her closest companions hadn’t abandoned her. He stopped as she swayed, her dark purple closed in bliss, olive hands clasped as if she were praying. “Hey, Miss Meissa,” he interrupted her auditory moment in heaven, “you were supposed to sing along.”

“Eh?”

Amber winked playfully at her. “How am I supposed to work with your voice if I don’t know what you’re capable of? Judging register by your speaking voice is one thing – I know a Raphael student who sounds like an alto when she talks, but when she sings, she’s definitely a soprano.”

“Lady Alhena?” Meissa asked hopefully.

“Nah, a girl who would be in the Gabriel program if she wasn’t so dead set on being such a fantastic healer.”

That made her pause, she thought of Raphael’s words: Why have the Luminarists walked the paths least suited for them? “Nadir, did she secretly want to be in the Gabriel program?”

“Nah,” he assured her, “she thinks art is therapeutic, not a useful career to have on Earth. I’d say she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

“Why don’t you tell her that?”

His dark hands left the keys. “No one listens to me,” he said a little mournfully, with an air of sadness and despair she only briefly detected before this. “It’s like the only people who care a thing about me are you, Zen, and the Acolyte, bless you all.” His hands suddenly came up and waved frantically. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not angry with anyone. I’m just a support, with no real role in a big grand story to play.”

“Nadir,” she tried to reach out to him, “everyone has purpose.”

Amber narrowed at her, frightening her with that odd look that she never associated with him. “Nobody notices me, nobody values anything about me.”

“That’s not true,” she protested. “You have friends. Even if it’s just me, the Gatekeeper, and the Acolyte, you have people who look out for you.” He said nothing, looking at her blankly. “Nadir, you have a reason to be here. Lady Alhena chose you.”

He sighed and went back to fingering the piano keys. “I wish I knew why.”

“Who were you before coming to Terra?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted reluctantly. “I just remember riding this huge, tall roller coaster, and just as I was about to plummet on the first hill, I saw Lady Alhena. That’s all I recall of Earth, Miss Meissa.” His tone indicated that the topic was to be closed. “Now, I’ll play a simple string of notes, and you are to match them in pitch as well as you can, all right?”

A chill went through her body. She remembered a roller coaster too, although she knew that it was an illusion to ease her transition to Terra.

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