Foreground digital painting of character i-Aten Elena drawn © Amanda Grace Shu 2016. Background image source credit to Frank Vincentz via Wikimedia Commons.
It's time to introduce you to a new character in the Kevarya Universe, one completely unrelated to the Royal Family with which A Winter's Ball was so concerned. Their name is i-Aten Elena, or just Elena, and they provide the first hint of magic at play.
Now a note about Elena. Elena is what's known as genderfluid, a term which may trip up some people. Genderfluidity, according to Genderfluid Support, can be defined as "the feeling of fluidity within your gender identity; feeling a different gender as time passes or as situations change; not restricted to any number of genders." Elena uses singular they pronouns (they/them/theirs). Is this grammatically correct? Yes, of course it is. The singular "they" was even named the American Dialect Society's Word of the Year in 2015. Pronouns have changed from plural to singular before, and since language itself is constantly changing, the idea of what is grammatically correct is rather, shall we say... fluid. Like gender. Or, for example, the nature of Time Itself.
Speaking of which...
Elena weaved their way through the city streets, lost not in place but in time. The ground beneath them hummed; the people around them had halos of blurred air around their figures, as if they were moving back and forth too quickly for the human mind to process. Everything was insubstantial, even the sounds and senses Elena would normally use to ground themself. But that was the future for you. Infinite and indeterminate and fluid. No one could force it to be one thing or another—it was everything, all at once. That was why Elena loved it so.
The seer made no attempt to rein in their thoughts, instead allowing their gaze to wander. Back in the present world, they were in a deep trance, which meant the vision would be a long one. In long visions, every detail had the potential to be important. Once Elena’s sight adjusted to this new future world, they began to see figures emerge more clearly from the blur of uncertainties. A certain weaver would be setting up her stall at one particular spot, likely as a matter of routine, while the patterns on the cloths she would sell were still impossible to make out. The market-square evangelist of the One God would be having a heated argument with a crowd of Ancestor worshipers, but his words were inaudible, not that Elena would have cared to listen. Two laughing children would chase each other through the mass of people. Elena smiled and followed them.
The children would not see Elena. Only Elena’s guide would be able to see them. Guides were the catalysts for long visions, people whose need to send messages into the past was so strong that they brought the seer’s mind immediately to them, leaving the body comatose. Elena remembered when they had first been pulled into a long vision. They had been told afterward that their mother had wept at seeing her young child collapse onto the temple floor. But Elena had only felt exhilarated, freer than they had ever felt before. Rushing toward the unknown, both in and out of time, of their body, of gender—that was their natural state. That was their home.
“Elena,” called a voice from behind.
Elena turned. A few feet away, someone lingered in the shadows of an alleyway, half-obscured by the darkness yet still sharper than anything else in the vision. Elena’s guide was the only certainty to be found in the future. No matter how disguised he may have been to the rest of the world, his identity blazed bright in the seer’s mind: Prince Arkady fe Normonne, the King’s son and heir, the man that the Court still stubbornly insisted was a woman named Arkadya. “Elena,” he called again, and Elena approached him with a smile while their mind churned. It was not often that a guide saw a seer before the seer saw them.
“You have changed since I last saw you, Your Highness,” Elena said.
“Do you think it’s enough?” the Prince asked. “Will people know who I am?”
Elena was used to incomprehensible conversations, especially in visions. They would come to understand these words later. They committed his remarks to memory, then raised an eyebrow and asked, “Do you want people to know who you are?”
The corner of his mouth twitched. “Always,” he said.
“Then I’m sure they will.”
Arkady smiled. Elena recognized it as a society smile, a kind of mask meant to hide one’s true thoughts. Everyone at Court wore one, and Arkady had had years of practice. His expression gave nothing away—just like his mother the King’s.
“You called me here,” Elena continued carefully. “What is it you wanted?”
Immediately, they knew that he knew. His mask fell. His eyes, dark and quiet, glimmered for a moment with something more—magic? Or just the morning light? “I’m here to give you a prophecy, aren’t I? A prophecy that I already know.”
Elena said nothing, only nodded.
Arkady took in a deep breath, straightened his back, tilted his chin up, and spoke.