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part five

Silver Cove

“You don’t have a sister,” Aura pointed out with exaggerated calm. “You’re an original. The name, naturally, leads one to infer that you have no parents, and thus no siblings.”

“Well obviously, she isn’t my biological sister,” he replied dismissively, “but in every other sense of the word…”

Catching the expression on her face he silenced himself, running his fingers cautiously across his lips. Aura had no doubt that this demonstration of uncertainty was, at least in part, an example of Mallos’ excessive skill in dramatic productions. The tendency of Latin people towards extravagant displays of emotion combined with a natural talent for acting meant that he often got carried away, even at the most inappropriate of moments. The trick with Mallos was to find entertainment rather than irritation in his behaviour – for although expressing amusement wouldn’t stop him from behaving that way, expressing annoyance would certainly increase it tenfold. The gentle rise in his breathing, the downcast eyes and the fidgeting of the hands made such a perfect show of nervous resignation that if she hadn’t known him for so long, she would have wavered in her belief that he was putting it on. Most of it, anyway.

“Who is she?” Aura repeated sternly, keeping her voice emphatic. Directness was the only way of getting an informed answer from him.

“Oh señora,” he professed dramatically, succumbing instantly to his Spanish roots. “He hecho mal; beat me, cast me into the desolate fire of the sun, erase me from history – for I have befouled the name of our kind. No conceivable punishment is too great for the heinous sins – ”

“That’s quite enough of that.” She settled down on one of the flatter rocks and indicated him to do the same, although she didn’t expect he would oblige her. Drama is much easier to perform standing up. To her mild surprise, however, he sat promptly on the floor opposite, rolling his eyes and grinning. In the dim light, the shadows danced horribly across his face, making the mouth appear wider and the eyes darker than they really were. “Who is she?” She repeated, keeping her voice light but firm.

“Ah,” he replied thoughtfully. He contemplated the simple question for a moment, which the kind Reader might believe indicated that the answer was more complex, but which a Reader more familiar with Mallos’ habits would assume that he did just to annoy his audience and prolong the suspense. “Her full name is Estefania Leandra Covas, but she likes to be called Leah. You would better know her as the seven-thousand-and-seventeenth experiment of Project Seba.”

Aura fell off her rock.

“You remember Project Seba?” He asked gently.

Her response was slow. “I remember,” she replied after a few moments, her voice uncharacteristically harsh.

For so were the memories which prompted that simple statement. ‘Seba’ (pronounced ‘seh-bah’) was a word of the ancient language, meaning ‘star’. Project Seba had occurred millions of years ago, when the original fairies were only a few centuries old. By their terms that was the equivalent of late adolescence, and it was around the time that the polytheistic religion began to emerge and the originals other than Aura were becoming deified. Unless deification is sought by the person being deified (and in this case, it mostly wasn’t), it’s a particularly unnerving process. To go from leading an (almost) ordinary life to becoming a figure of godly worship did not have a positive impact on the originals, creating arrogance and strife between them or playing on their psychologies until their personalities resembled a mere fragment of what they once were. As polytheism spread, some of the newly named gods began to wonder about their origins. Were they a unique, one-off creation, the result of a specialist circumstance which would never occur again, or could that circumstance be recreated? And if it could, did that mean that a new set of originals could be brought into the world?

Whether life can be created by living hands is a question which has dogged humans and fairies since the dawn of time. In the modern day, human scientists question the ethics as well as the mechanics of such a feat, but morality isn’t just something which pops up overnight. It can take many hundreds of years for morals to come about, and ethical beliefs hop in and out of fashion as sharply as hemlines. Millions of years ago, when some of the originals began to dabble in Project Seba – the series of experiments which attempted to create a new original fairy – the ethical concerns surrounding the creation of new life simply did not exist. But they developed. Over a period of a few centuries, there wasn’t a single original who could be deemed innocent of dabbling in Project Seba, and it wasn’t for about two hundred and fifty years that some of them began to develop a conscience about it. Aura was one of the first to pull out, disbanding her experiments in the highlands of Scotland. Mallos had continued much later with it, but even he had dropped out before rumour spread that Project Seba had actually created something.

The theory was simple enough. There’s no fire when stars ‘burn’; what’s really happening is that a series of chemical reactions are taking place. Through nuclear fusion, light, heat and particles too small to show up under even the most powerful of human microscopes known to fairykind as ‘stardust’ are emitted. When enough of these stardust particles come together, they fuse to form a pulsing ball of magic in its purest form – known as ‘divinity’. Over a long enough period of time, the magic evolves into a life-form. In order for the life-form to maintain divinity, the stardust has to be kept separate from any other substances, lest it become contaminated and form a compound. The compound masses can still evolve into magical life-forms, but they can’t control divinity because they don’t have the ‘pure’ roots to cope with it. These are where ordinary fairies come from. In order to work, Project Seba had to extract enough stardust from a nearby star and keep it pure long enough for it to evolve into a life-form. The invention of ‘time cubes’, minute boxes which speed up the passage of time to enable a million years to pass in a second, helped the project along immensely. The difficult bit was getting hold of uncontaminated stardust, since it involved cordoning off a star from all other matter.

How it was achieved was still uncertain to this day, since the original fairy who managed it lost his mind in the process and was unable to string a coherent sentence together ever again. It was widely believed that he succumbed to insanity after staring too long into the heart of a star. Achieved it was, however, and four hundred years after Project Seba was first conceived, from the time cube successfully emerged a baby girl.

There were few times in her life that Aura could remember such chaos. It was obvious that someone had to step up and take control, but her attempt to do so had been squashed by her conceited comrades, all proclaiming themselves deities and demanding the right to lord over everyone else. Aura had eventually succeeded in backing up her claim to the leadership position by appealing to the rest of the fairy population, over three-quarters of whom still believed she was the sole goddess. At what is today considered the fore-runner of the council meetings, some ground rules (now known as the ancient or original laws) were laid down – including the law forbidding originals from reproduction. This in itself included a section outlawing Project Seba and subsequent projects devoted to the same cause. The ‘Seba child’, as she was called, was sentenced to skimming and integration into ordinary society, and Mallos had been tasked with carrying out the sentence. The memory of this triggered a ray of hope in Aura.

“I thought she was supposed to be skimmed?” As Mallos’ eyes remained downcast, Aura felt a lurch in her stomach. “You did skim her?”

“Of course I did,” he replied, a little defensively, Aura thought. “I did everything you said; I skimmed her and integrated her into society. I adopted her. And, er…”

“Gave her immortality and eternal youth.” Aura groaned.

‘Skimming’ was the only known process by which divinity could be forcibly taken from an original fairy. For some reason it only worked on originals under the age of fifteen. The Seba child was supposed to have had her divinity removed, been adopted into an ordinary family and long since died. Of course, Aura thought as she stared furiously into Mallos’ guilty face, I should never have trusted him with a baby. The Spaniard’s enthusiasm for children was well-known even in those days, and Aura had thought she could rely on him to pass the child onto a good family where it could grow up happily and in blissful ignorance of its origins. It had never occurred to her to forbid him from adopting the child himself, or from bestowing it with more magic.

The Seba child may not be divine or officially classified as one of the originals, but she was still ‘pure’ and that would be good enough for Gwythr.

“Where is the Seba child now? Not in Shaman, surely?” Since the child was neither an original nor divine, Aura wouldn’t have felt her presence enter Shaman.

Leah could be anywhere,” Mallos stubbornly stressed the child’s name, shooting Aura a disapproving look. “But if Gwythr is after another pure female, that only leaves you, her, Allianah and Lorraine. The latter are two are still on Earth, probably with no idea what Gwythr is up to. By your own logic you have already made a case supporting the theory that it’s not you he’s really after, which leaves only Leah. She should stick out like a sore thumb… there aren’t many Spaniards in Shaman, are there?”

“There are all sorts in Shaman.” Aura’s mind was a whirl. “How could Gwythr know about her? No, never mind that now… it’s more important that we get to her first.”

Si señora,” Mallos looked immensely relieved at having dodged a lecture on the impropriety of adopting a laboratory experiment as a sister. “If she is in Shaman, there is only one place she can be. Shall we?”

He held out his large, olive-skinned hand. Without a moment’s hesitation, she placed her dainty white palms in his and the pair of them vanished.


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