Nialane Antaeus/Despair of the Past, Joy of the Future
From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
I smelled smoke. Every night since I’d begun my journey, I had the same nightmare, and awoke to the smell of smoke. It all started in a field of golden grain, expanding as far the eye could reach. The fields were familiar; all farmed by my grandfather Hermarus and my uncle Astheotes. In this peaceful, pastoral scene, I could hear my cousins rushing around me. Then the words I dreaded every time I had the nightmare.
Megare’s shrill cry: “filthy Mer freak”. The muscles in my hands rippled and arcs of violet and midnight blue electricity danced across their pale blue surface.
“What did you call me?” I always demanded an answer, though the result was the same every time.
Helene, her mother’s miniature in every way, replied in her equally shrieking voice, “What they all call you, Nialane. Filthy Mer…freak.”
The electricity bolted from my fingertips like a storm had descended. Soon the fields were ablaze, my cousins escaping the fire while I stood at its edge. While I made no sound, the tears flowed from my eyes like waterfalls.
That’s when I always woke up, but this time, I wasn’t alone. My father cradled me in his lap and clumsily tried to wipe the tears from my eyes. “It’s okay, Nia, I’m here. Don’t cry.” Part of my mind recoiled at the thought of him seeing such a weak moment. Embarrassed, I was sure he was thinking how pitiable I looked, what stupid things I must have uttered in my sleep.
Instead, I was sure there was mental silence as he hummed the lullaby again. He stopped to look at me. I wasn’t crying anymore, just staring up at him in wonder. Of course—I should have remembered that he was reading my mind, and he heard everything, saw everything.
He knew about the fire, the catalyst in the equation that had ultimately led to my expulsion; that ultimately led to him. He fought a chuckle back. He found my outburst that day amusing! This side of my father was entirely unexpected; something I never would have imagined would be buried in the depths of the serious priest I had first met. Noticing that I was still gaping at him, but definitely not smiling, he stopped laughing and asked, “How long ago was that?”
“One hundred…and ninety…seven days ago.” I paused while I said it, trying to calculate.
“Have you dreamt of it every night since then?” Lines formed in his face, his brow furrowing with concern. Before I could answer, I knew he had heard my thought. I wondered for a moment how often people actually talked to him, since he didn’t need their words to understand. I made a mental note that I needed to get him back in the habit of talking since he was a little out of practice. I nodded affirmatively to signal my answer, though he already knew it.
“There is nothing about you, Nia…” he stopped to gulp difficultly. I knew he was trying not to get angry. “…nothing about you that is…” He didn’t say the word but I knew what he meant. He couldn’t refer to me with that word, even to reiterate another’s statement.
“You’re my little girl,” he crooned. He was glowing again. I was confident he couldn’t finish the sentence, overflowing with emotion as he was at that moment. But I didn’t need him to finish it; I knew what he was trying to say.
Nia's Diary, Later That Week
It’s amazing the respite that can come with such a simple act. Father seemed immensely relieved that Aunt Dexamene’s ritual had been completed, while I was relieved that everyone (especially him) had survived it intact. So much for the fear that he had accidentally whispered that day! With aunt Dex taken care of, I looked forward to him returning to his research, as boring as I found it at times. He stood in the Library for hours at a time, sifting through tomes, looking for answers for the Queen. As he read the words on the page frustratedly, occasionally he would set a volume aside and glance at me, a smile returning to his face. I found a volume of Mer tales and began to read them while he has been occupied. Despite the fact that the sheer heft of the book sitting in my lap puts my legs to sleep, I’ve persistently kept reading, trying to remember it all. Raised as an Atlantian, I had no exposure to the word “Mer” until I had begun to look like one. But unlike my father, I couldn’t read for hours on end—it became so boring.
The letter from his love he received recently had made him even happier, which I wasn’t sure was possible. Even when he is with me, he thinks of her often. It is clear to me that she is the last piece of the puzzle to bring my father what he has always desired. Maybe one day she’ll be my mother… Disappointed that I hadn’t got to meet her before she set off on her mission, I set to work on another piece, this one a necklace for her so that I could greet her with it when she returned home. I haven’t got to work any jewels or pearls into the necklace yet, but I’m sure when father has more time for leisurely activities, he’ll let me go out and look for them with him.
These past few days have passed by quickly as I’ve gotten so much opportunity to spend time with him. Where I once was alone, now there is many: more family than I can remember the names of! For now, father keeps hold of me like a precious commodity. Perhaps when his love returns I’ll get to spend some time getting to know his closest family, my aunts Dexamene and Kallidora. I’m sure there is much I can learn from them.
He began my training today. Father says I have a warrior’s spirit, persistent even in the face of insurmountable odds. It was that spirit that led me to him, the spirit that his friend Letho recognized the first time I met him. I focused on my opponent standing before me, charging fearlessly toward them. Father seemed immensely pleased with this, even though I often found myself knocked flat on my back. Father, suppressing his laughter, said I was much like my aunts in that respect. My father and his sisters are intense fighters, graceful even as the sweat beads on their brows. I am proud that father likens me to them. Hopefully one day I’ll be like him too.
Nia's Diary, the Following Week
What was left of the creature was beyond pitiful. It laid there slumped in a pool of blood, father casting a spell over it in Greek. He and aunt Dexamene perched defensively next to its shell, holding Soalonah and I back. He wanted to take us home, get us away from the carnage, the spent being they said was after one of us. We both followed him back to the temple, aunt Dex close behind us. But when we got home, father had to return, leaving me with aunt Dex and Soa.
We sat on the temple floor, collectively sighing for a few minutes. Then aunt Dex asked Soa to teach her how to sign, so that she could communicate with her better. The look on Soa’s face was jubilant as she watched her mother learn the letters. Watching them together made me miss my father greatly, even more so than I already did. I formed the letters in my lap, trying to make the best out of my despair. They looked so happy I couldn’t ruin it. Aunt Dex motioned me over, asking me to come practice with her. I knew I wasn’t getting some of the letters right but I also knew Soa was only correcting her mother’s mistakes, ignoring mine. Despair intermingled with desperation—once again I was left feeling like an outcast. Aunt Dex and Soa glowed. I asked Soa how to sign “I love you” so that one day, when father was looking at me that I could show him. She replied that it couldn’t be put into words, mimicking a heart shape with her fingers and pointing to her mother. Dex mimicked the same shape back, her eyes misting. I had reached a breaking point—I’d spent so little time interacting with my father, just watching him, and I felt like I couldn’t have that kind of relationship with him. Watching Soa crawl over to her mother and lay her head in her lap, the sadness ran over. I didn’t have a mother, and I didn’t know my father. Even though he was there I felt so utterly alone. I rose from the ground and trudged down the hall, hoping I could find the furthest corner from where they were and hide in it forever.
Soa sprinted after me, grabbing onto me and giving me a hug. I tried to fight off the tears before I looked at her again, but I couldn’t.
“It’s okay to cry,” she told me.
“I miss my father,” I whispered. I looked over her shoulder at Dex, still sitting on the floor. We talked about how lucky she was to have her mother, and how much I missed my own since she had died a long time ago. She smiled at me, trying to cheer me up.
“Let’s go be happy,” she suggested, motioning back to her mother.
We sat down on the floor with aunt Dex, and I tried to pull together a smile. But she knew, and saw straight through me, like dad. “Why do you feel like you don’t belong?” she asked me. There were so many reasons why I felt that way, but the one that dominated my mind was the absence of a relationship with my father. I was honest with her, trying not to cry. I asked her what he was like, if I looked like him. She told me of the family that had left him behind, the family I had stumbled across in writing. She spoke of the features I shared with him—his eyes, the bridge of my nose, his lips. The idea sparkled in my mind, though it hurt that I didn’t know what his eyes looked like myself.
Then father returned. His tone was full of anxiety as he spoke of the malevolent mission he had been given: to ponder the despair about to befall the Atlantians. I had known right before he returned that something was wrong, and the terror of the unknown problem was fully overtaking me. Father’s ominous words were just enough to shove me over the edge. He took off toward the altar with great speed to carry out his task.
“Don’t worry, an ally of ours has ensured the temple is safe. You can count on that,” Kydras spoke. I turned to my aunt and looked her dead in the eyes.
“I must find him—I can’t count on him being safe,” I blurted, my voice layered with fear.
“Find him, Nia,” my aunt instructed. I raced down the corridor, my feet carrying me as fast as I could force them to. Reaching the altar room, I found my father in meditation, hovering. I stood before him, in front of the altar itself, terrified as I looked upon his still body. His lack of response to my strong emotion told me right away that his mind was already closed off. I stood there until my legs could no longer hold me, then I sat down in front of him, continuing to stare at him, humming the lullaby he sang me every night to try to soothe myself. Time passed so slowly it was agonizing as I watched him, waiting for the slightest movement. Soon, his concentration broke, and he stood up.
Aunt Dexamene knew right away. “Are you alright Nikias?” she asked him.
“I’m alright,” he replied, then apologized for his earlier flight to the altar room.
She accepted his apology, adding that I had been worried about him. He looked at me and rested his hand on my head. Wearily I glanced up at him. “Speaking of which, we need to talk,” she demanded.
He gladly gave his location, briefly filling my brain with warm, loving thoughts. There simply wasn’t enough time to console me this time. Aunt Dex marched into the altar room, telling me that she wanted to speak to him without me present. Of course I wasn’t wanted. Fleeing the room, I found a dark corner near a fountain and curled up on the floor. There wasn’t enough energy left in me to weep.
I stayed there for ages, soothing my throbbing muscles against the cold stone. Wrapping my arms around my torso, I tried to hold myself, but I couldn’t muster the notes to sing the lullaby. There I slipped away into a trancelike state. My eyes and throat were stifled by a dry ache. After a time, I could hear footsteps through the ear I had pressed to the floor.
He was there. In the cold, damp room warmth radiated from him. He knelt beside me, listening for me to move. There was no light in the darkness so I knew he couldn’t see me. This time I was glad that it was the case. He waited silently for me to respond to his presence. It took me a moment to get enough strength behind me to sit up and lean against the wall. For a moment, he paused to rub his rapidly swelling jaw; I wondered what had happened to him. He handed me a small handkerchief, which I took in my grasp, then wiped my face on my sleeve. Maybe that way he wouldn’t know I had been crying so much.
“I am sorry.” His voice was laden with regret and pain.
I swallowed hard. “You have nothing to be sorry about,” I squeaked out, my voice quivering.
“Do I?” Painful regret began to layer with sadness.
“You’re…very…important. I understand that.” I choked out the words like they were lodged in my throat. The sobs were rising in my chest again; I tried to push them back down.
“You can read my mind so easily,” I whimpered, “But I can’t read yours at all.”
He was pleading in his tone; I wasn’t sure if it was with me or with himself. “I would let you if it wouldn’t harm you. I care about you. If only you knew how much.”
“Nothing is more important than you,” he told me tenderly. “I want you to know that your family is here for you. You’re with me.”
The words I had been longing to hear cascaded over me. He extended his hands to me hopefully. My body wouldn’t move as fast I wanted it to, slowly reaching out for him. He caught my grasp and whisked me into his arms, whispering in my ear, “I love you, Nia”. Unable to regain control of my voice, I thought to him, “I love you daddy.” I buried my face in his shoulder to muffle my sobs. Silently he sat there with me, holding me tightly as I cried. Finally I became silent, trying to catch my breath.
“Can you smile for me?” he asked hopefully. I forced a weak smile, my muscles throbbing stronger. “We can do a little better, yes?” he asked as he chuckled. “I have something for you.”
I perked up a little. I wanted to smile for my father, to make him happy, but I couldn’t resist the idea of a present. He whispered a few words and a glowing orb the size of my fist appeared in front of him. I was mesmerized by the iridescent golden pearl, softly gleaming, floating in the air. He picked it up and handed it to me, telling me, “I found this pearl many years ago. It contains the light of the sun, so no matter how dark it is, you’ll always be able to see its light.”
“It’s pretty. Thank you,” I whispered, staring at the pearl in awe. I searched my robe for a pocket secure enough to hold it, wanting to carry it everywhere. He still grasped my hand, trying to determine whether or not I liked my gift.
I swallowed hard and sniffed my nose. “Daddy?” I asked sweetly.
“Yes?” he replied, relieved by the change in my voice.
The question was burning a hole in my brain; I had to ask. “Aunt Dexamene says that I have your eyes. Is that true?”
He sighed sadly; I wondered why. “Even with the magic I can’t see your eyes, so I don’t know. But if she says so, it must be true.”
I leaned into him, wrapping my arms around his neck. “Don’t be sad, daddy.” I took hold of his hand and drew his fingers toward my nose, setting his pointer finger on the bridge of it. “See, I have your nose,” l cooed. His familiar smile drew across his face as he ran his fingers down to the tip of my nose. I kissed his cheek. “Your lips too. See?”
He was still the slightest bit sad, but his mood kept improving. “Did you find what you were looking for in the library?” I asked, hoping that the answer was what I wanted to hear.
“I did,” he replied sweetly.
I was wringing my hands behind his neck. “I was hoping then that maybe we could spend some time together. Please?”
He grasped around me tightly once more. “Of course little one. But I think a story first.”
Nia's Diary, the Following Week
I thought back to his words earlier that day. He told me that he would let me read his mind if it wouldn’t harm me. I was both perplexed that there was something in his mind with the capacity to do me harm, and curious as to whether or not I had inherited my father’s ability to read minds. Earlier that day, I’d recognized that Soa was ignoring the mistakes I made as I signed, and I’d known something was wrong before father came home to meditate on the destruction of Atlantis. Did I have his gift? The question was eating through me.
While my questions were eating through me, something else was eating through father. We sat together in silence; I knew he was trying to spend time with me, but his mind was somewhere else. Was it with his love? If he wasn’t in trouble, was she? Her letter had indicated she faced some sort of danger; how much I didn’t know. He sighed deeply a few times then faced me once more. Beginning with a smolder, growing bright as raging flame, his eyes were alight once more. Grateful that my thoughts were certainly streaming through his mind, I looked straight at him. I wanted him to get a good look at me, as much as was possible with his magic.
“You have your mother’s frame, but my height. You’re almost as tall as I am already!” Dad sounded proud, but somehow it was layered with a little anxiety. He kept concentrating in my direction, trying to form a clear picture of me in his mind. “What color is your hair?”
“It’s hard to explain…like a mixture of seaweed green, black, and mahogany brown,” I replied, trying to find the right words to accurately describe.
“Ah,” he sighed, “Mahogany like your mother’s, but the green is a bit darker than mine. Probably because of the brown.” At the end of his statement he thought to himself, “I wish I could see it.”
I was confused. I’d heard what he was thinking! Dad certainly had to be in distress to have let that thought slip past his impenetrable defenses; or on the other hand, maybe he wanted me to hear it. Either way, this crystal clear way of hearing him was almost alarming.
Reaching the limits of what his magic let him see of me, he reached forward, brushing my hair away from my ears. He ran his fingers along the edge of it. “My ears, definitely,” he grinned. Cradling my face in his hands, he ran his thumbs along my cheeks, tracing my cheekbones back to my ears. “You may have a few features on your face that are mine, but your face is definitely your mother’s. You look much like her.” Sighing again, I knew the memory of her had to be painful to him, especially now. He’d never really dealt with her death, just threw himself into something else to make him forget. Now, constructing the face of the daughter so clearly half him and his beloved late wife, he had no choice but to confront the emotion, however difficult the task was. I didn’t want him to think on the subject—he was already overburdened with something.
I picked up the dimly glowing pearl from my lap. “The pearl is beautiful, daddy,” I told him. He grinned widely, pleased that I had liked such a personal gift. I ran my hands across its lovely smooth surface, the pink and green flecks luminous among the soft gold.