Lia pirouetted effortlessly above the wave tops. “You will yield.” she sang, and deep beneath her feet magma raced towards Merced’s surface.
“I will not.” whispered Merced, and the earth shook. Action and reaction, parry and thrust, the two remained locked in their struggle.
Lia, almost exasperated “Must it always be like this between us?”
Merced, unsympathetically, “Of course.”
“So serious,” teased Lia, now crisscrossing the surface of the ocean, searching for just the right spot. “So stubborn.” Here? No, yes, here. Right here. She sang a single note, the slightest of whispers. Merced responded with a crack and a roar. Magma broke the surface of the water, land greeting sky in a jubilant chorus of cool blue and white steam.
“Made you laugh!” Lia giggled in triumph and relief.
“Only because I wanted to.” replied Merced.
A beautiful chain of islands now dotted the seascape. They would grow, diverting cooler currents south. Hurricanes would still savage the mainland, but they would no longer have the warmer currents to draw strength from. Still, something wasn’t right. Merced seemed, well, smug.
“What did you do?” Lia asked.
Merced paused before answering, like a mischievous child, “What I wanted to all along.”
Far to the east, the oceanic plate had slipped beneath the continental plate. But as it slipped east it had also ridden north. The mountains there had grown, almost imperceptibly, but enough to alter things. Lush vegetation would spring up on the windward slope, but desert would own the leeward.
It was too much for Lia. She rode the winds to the coast, and landed gently on the cliffs where sea battled shore. She lay there for a moment, hard rock beneath her, warm sun shining down through the spray of surf. She fought down a giggle. It regrouped and counterattacked. And won.
“Made you laugh,” sang Merced, and Lia could only smile.
Of all her worlds, Merced was her favorite. The others seemed so lonely, so…eager to please. They seemed to crave her attention, and yielded so quickly to her will. Not so Merced, beautiful Merced, frustrating Merced.
“I will let you make me what you want me to be…” it seemed to say, “but on my terms, in my way. We will do this together, or not at all.”
It was tempting to stay and continue the game. But other planets needed her attention. With a last wistful glance towards the shore she rose, up and away, leaving land and sky behind as she left for the next system.
“I’ll be back.”
“No hurry.” Merced replied predictably.
Lia, though sometimes lonely, was never alone. Her worlds called out to her constantly, sometimes in alarm, sometimes in joy. “See, come see, Lia, what I have done!” they would shout across the stars. Only Merced seemed in no hurry to see her again.
“Tend to the others—I can take care of myself!”
“Proud Merced, deep down inside you want me more than all the others combined. I know you, your thoughts your moods. You do need me. And I will be back.”
“Take your time,” came the reply “I’ll stay busy while you are away.” Merced would, too. That was what both worried and delighted her.
The cold of space engulfed her, and she circled for a moment in-system, collecting her thoughts and her strength. The war had ravaged a thousand systems. So many, too many, dead. Suns snuffed out, planets shattered. Nebula to be swept out and away. Forgotten. Scattered about the stars, Lia and her Ishim brethren healed what wounds they could.
Where to next? Agron? Poor, wounded Klelel? No, Dimithepedes. It would provide the moral boost she would need before tackling Klelel again.
Dimithepedes and its seven sister planets swam into view. Green on green with just a touch of white, it seemed to dance at her approach. She sensed it as soon as she reached the atmosphere—just a touch too much methane.
Landing, she was quickly engulfed in a lush parade of greens, browns, and blues. Lia found the plant she wanted, and gently caressing its leaves with her hands, sang instructions to it and all its kind. Dimithepedes sang back to her and across the globe the plants sprouted new seeds. They would quickly take root and grow, and if they had heard her right—and they usually did—the methane imbalance would be no more.
She took a moment to relax and admire her handiwork. Dimithepedes, for all intents and purposes, was healed.
“No! Stay!” begged a chorus of colors.
Reluctantly, she took once more to the winds and above. She hummed a parting “Good-bye child. Take good care of the humans when they come. And they will come.” and made for Klelel.
With Klelel she had discovered not just a world but also a feeling. Doubt. The Chree had used one of Klelel’s moons as a battering ram, inflicting a near-mortal wound on the planet and erasing any sign of the 6 billion souls that had once called it home. Its orbit was an ugly ellipse, the planet rocked with almost 60 degrees of axial tilt.
She corrected most of the tilt, and in the process smoothed out the orbit. But some laws in nature cannot be broken, not even by Ishim. Klelel paid a price for its new orientation. Massive volcanic outbreaks began to poison the already sickly atmosphere.
Lia knew only one answer for death. Life. And she labored with everything within her to bring it back to Klelel. She flung herself through the ionosphere, sometimes shouting, sometimes singing. Some clouds she chastised, others she whispered sweet words of encouragement to. In her wake sulfur and nitrogen dioxides broke down, acid rain now sweet spring water.
Her touch went deeper than the winds. From the very core of Klelel itself she bled off heat, a crucial step, but one that took its toll on her. Exhausted, she called upon reserves she never knew existed.
“Just a few more passes,” she told herself, “then I can rest, then I…”
She never finished the thought. Pain and dread suddenly washed over every fiber of her being, and like a stricken bird she plummeted. When she regained consciousness, the pain was gone. The dread was still there, sap thick and growing. And now it had a name.
Lia rushed to Merced only to discover the planet unchanged. She pleaded “What’s wrong? Tell me, show me, help me!”
Merced seemed confused. “Lia?”
The star. The sun. Merced’s. It was…different, somehow. Deep inside, a chain of reactions had begun, reactions that Lia could not allow to continue. Unchecked, the sun would soon shed part of its corona, killing the planets it shepherded.
There was no hesitation. Doubt again, and a sickly twisting in her stomach that coldly introduced itself as Despair. She could heal a planet. But a star? Fine. So be it. A brief cry of—rage? warning?—escaped her clenched lips and she climbed to meet her adversary. And for the first time in her life, Lia hurt.
The flux from Merced’s star ate at her. She was losing the battle, and she knew it. Her flesh was melting away, yielding to the sheer force that opposed it. Not so her spirit. The fix was there, just ahead. It had to be. Just a little further.
She never knew the actual moment when return was no longer possible. If she had she wouldn’t have cared. With the last reserves of her strength, Lia pushed through the chromosphere and into the photosphere of the star. She saw clearly the what and the where, and sang to the core. Her finest song, it moved the very heart of a sun.
Quarks changed Color. WIMPs multiplied. Nova became delta Scuti Variable, and in that one fleeting moment she knew victory. The moment passed, and so did Lia. Both were no more.
Back on Merced, lightning flashed and thunder roared.
And the winds of Merced cried.
I don’t know why I love this depiction of the Angel Azul by Alejandro Lizardo so much. It’s not exactly how I picture the Ishim. But it seems to capture their essence…
Winds of Merced – debuted on Splickety’s ‘Lightning Blog!’
It marked the first appearance for the fairy/angelic Ishim. The Ishim Loi has a bit part in the final novel of the ArCon Cycle, “Pandora’s Hope”. A short story featuring Lyu and the rest of the Ishim is also in the works.
My thanks and appreciation to Avily, Lindsey, and Melissa for their patient and insightful edits. You are the best!