Outer Flower, 45

Failed tests; Successful Experiments.

papers and potions

After his failure, the Older Skylls had handled him cautiously. They would give him time, another seven years, for discipline and reflection. That he was the correct candidate was obvious; the proof was in his thickened sole but . . .

“You are full of pride,” said Balvor of the North Wind, his voice singing with sorrow. “Come back again.”

That night he’d lain in his bed, full of defiance, vowing never to submit to a probing again. Plans, none of them feasible — killing Balvor was an impossibility at this point– flitted through his mind and then, at the height of his turmoil, the thought of a twin had sprung forth like a tiny, dormant seed in his head.

Truly, the thought had been genius.

The idea of a homunculous had been more genius still.

He worked hard from then on, gathering roots, especially mandrakes, reading the old manuscripts, breaking into cabinets to steal forbidden scrolls, studying shapes for the right corpse, killing and killing, refining and reviving, and at last his efforts had paid off. On the day he’d pulled the body from the vat and found it viable, he’d hugged it with a joy almost indescribable. The light from the man’s eyes had faded, but there was still something in him, struggling, and after Elymas had chanted a curse, that “something” was his. He’d carried the body to the work table with father-like care, and there he’d begun to work with a precision that excluded vanity, shaping the still pliable features until they mirrored his own. When he was satisfied with the semblance, he penetrated the mind, filling it with thoughts of his own choosing. Thoughts which, once plumbed, would reveal a Skyll concerned only with the good of the Tree and the garden, even when delved by the astute Balvor.

Or someone like him, for three years after declaring Elymas unfit, Balvor had been called into the Deep, the result of an untimely accident involving speed and height.

He’d fed his new man drops from hybrid plants he’d created, nectars combined with blood. Small amounts at first, then more and more until the homunculus gained Elymas’s bulk. Countless hours had been spent preparing the homunculus for its first probing: rehearsals in mannerisms, expression, voice. On the day the homunculus left his secret room under the staircase, it resembled Elymas down to his thickened sole.

Vue had been assigned to probe him. Elymas had concealed himself in the Journey Room, slipping like a cat through the door beforehand and hiding in a huge cupboard, the height of two men that someone, at some time, had fastened to the wall. He’d watched through a crack in the door.

Watched as Vue led the figure in the gray petitioner’s robe into the circle where Elymas had once stood. A solar of leaded glass was above it, sending down diffused light. Motes, disturbed by movement, flared up and down, settling on the head of his twin. The homunculus didn’t blink. Would it work? Elymas had leaned against the cabinet door, counting on the thick wood to absorb the beat of his heart.

The homunculus had passed its test with a smoothness which, toward the end, had proved tedious rather than gratifying, and by the time it had returned to his chamber (once instructed in a path, it never forgot), all paternal pride was gone.

Elymas had promptly put it to sleep, placing it in the vat he’d once kept full to the brim for the dragon. The homunculus would take less blood. In fact, with added roots and leaves, the liquid was the color of bile.

The subterfuge had been repeated countless times since. The homunculus would pass the test, satisfying whichever Skill probed him, and then Elymas would appear once again, accepting the title of Anchor for the Journey Room, meaning he would be the one who anchored the acolytes when they journeyed in the Deep. Every seven years this happened, and every seven years the Council of Skylls added another weak link.

By using a homunculus to deceive the counsel of Skylls, Elymas had violated the first of those rules given to the lamed succession of the line that followed Saar. Forever denied access to the Deep, they were to serve only as anchors for the journeying acolyte spirits after they’d been passed the test he’d once miserably failed.

For over two hundred years, Elymas had stood in the doorway of the Journey Room, posing as a pure vessel and there had been no consequences. No rebuke from Trey, the legendary gatekeeper, and no bolt of lightning from the revered Elyon. No one had ever suspected they weren’t dealing with a real man.

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