The more Mary delved into the recovery of the database the more she became tangled in the old story buried inside it, almost as if her own memories were finally brought back to life. At times she felt as if she had awaken from a long sleep and found herself in a room she recognized without knowing why.
She had learned enough of the old code to understand that the Que’d held technical instructions, not the story of her ancestors, and she was a little disappointed about that. After all the secrecy and the sacrifices that kept the sacred book from being lost through the centuries, she expected it to reveal the meaning of life, or at least provide some moral guidance for her future. On the other hand, the database was a never ending source of wonder, an entire alternate history her generation knew nothing about. It is said that history is written by the victors, and a couple of centuries ago, as the defeated party, the Scholars’ line had simply slipped out of existence, its every trace erased, and only its shadow stayed alive in the folk tales, carried by the vague whispers and half remarks passed down from generation to generation by the few dissenters left behind.
Mary was mesmerized by this new window into life as she knew it; it wasn’t because of the extraordinary scientific advantages it offered, although that in and of itself would have been enough, it was more because of the overwhelming realization that everything she had ever been taught about her life was wrong. She often got lost in hypothetical scenarios in which her ancestors lived their lives in the Village, where their knowledge was sought after and revered. She wondered what her own life would have been like, were she not the only one who was fair, were she not the cursed Fire Maiden. She fantasized about having that large social circle and that future she coveted, the one her lineage made impossible, in short, she dreamt about the care free pursuit of a normal life.
“There is no such thing, Mary,” the one in the mirror replied softly to her unspoken reflections.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Mary answered him, blushing with embarrassment for having her deepest thoughts exposed.
“There is no such thing as a normal life, my dear. What you see in right front of you, what you discover, that is what’s real, the rest is just a fairy tale,” he said kindly.
“How could you possibly know…” Mary whispered, dry mouthed, terrified by the idea that the one in the mirror could see her thoughts.
“Let’s just say that I’m pretty good at reading faces and your emotions are closer to the surface than other people’s,” he smiled. “All of those years you spent alone didn’t teach you to hide your feelings very well, that is something you learn through socializing.”
Mary decided to take a chance since the subject had been opened anyway.
“What is your life like?” she asked, taking the one in the mirror by surprise.
“What you see is what you get,” he said, somewhat awkward. “You must have noticed I’m here for a good chunk of the day.”
“What about family, friends?” Mary asked. The one in the mirror didn’t answer, just shuffled uncomfortably in the chair and looked for a reference manual that seemed to be nowhere in sight.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry,” the girl mumbled.
“You are so young, Mary,” he noted casually and then changed the subject. “So, what is your class schedule for today?”
She answered him and went to finish a research project she’d been working on for the last week. Layers upon layers of the ancient story mingled with her thoughts and tried to recreate the unfinished puzzle of her alternate life, the idealized one where everybody sought her company, where she was born to a well situated family, where she led the parade on the Feast of the Harvest, where many eligible young men competed for her attention. She had been painting that picture for so many years in so many different ways back in her childhood, when she wished to have her heart’s desire at least in a daydream if it wasn’t possible in real life, that she thought nothing in the world could shatter its vision inside her head. For a second, she held on to the vision of that place where she lived in in order to escape the real world, and as she gazed upon its familiar sights she was shocked to notice that her dreamworld had become flat, devoid of content, a sumptuously decorated book cover holding blank pages, a painted landscape. Even if she could have that life, which under the circumstances was about as likely as being elected to Council, what would she do with it, really? What part of that life could capture her attention enough, after all that she had learned here, to keep her happily involved for the rest of her life? What wonderful things would she miss in the process, what projects would she have to give up for the pleasure of afternoon tea, being socially desirable and partaking in Village gossip? She suddenly realized that all of those years growing up alone didn’t help make the concept of social life very palatable to her. She suddenly realized that the life she had coveted for so many years would make her absolutely miserable.
She looked around the cave and noticed that everything she needed was printed for her on demand, that all of her questions were answered, that she went to school with the other girls in the village, no different from anyone else, and she suddenly wanted to know that world out there, from which these great things flowed to her so effortlessly. She had no expectations of it, just an intense curiosity and the thrill of wonders undiscovered yet.
She didn’t belong in the Village anymore, which was just as well considering that she never really fit in. She hadn’t learned how to build social connections, that web of relationships her aunt seemed to forge so easily, and the superstitions that had followed her around for all of her young life made her as much a part of myth as the Book of Prophecy.
“Maybe being the embodiment of an archetype is not as bad as you think,” the one in the mirror smiled, amused by the silent drama of her face, generated by the expressions of her internal struggle.
“How so?” Mary asked.
“Look at it this way. How many people get a sacred text written about them centuries before they were born?” he joked.
“I don’t know about that,” Mary seriously considered the concept. “That book is mostly filled with instructions about how to kill me.”
“Details,” the one in the mirror started laughing.
“I want to see the city,” Mary blurted out with no introduction.
“I beg your pardon?” the one in the mirror asked, surprised.
“The city. The place where you live. I want to see it.”
The one in the mirror thought for a second, frowning over the logistics of the task, and then said simply.
“Oh, thank goodness!” Lucille breathed a sigh of relief upon arriving to the cave. There was such silence and peace inside this natural room open to the sky as the sun cast its last rays on the wall carvings that it made her feel as if a large weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She looked at the illuminated wall again, really noticing the fresh carvings this time. It seemed that her niece had a little too much time on her hands.
“I missed the old room,” Mary smiled as an excuse. “It felt right that the words of the Que’d should decorate this hall too, even if they don’t mean what I thought.”
Lucille breathed in the peace and rested her eyes on the warm glow of the sunset that painted the wall rose, orange and purple.
“It’s so quiet in here,” she said, remembering the brouhaha in the Council Hall, Rosemary’s empty clamor, the revival of the threat of enchantments and the debate over the blue poppies. “I’m of half a mind to stay myself,” she joked.
“Why don’t you, aunt Lucille?” Mary asked. “I’m sure they can make accommodations for you quite easily. Life can be very pleasant in here.”
“Oh, my dear child. Who’s going to take care of the Village if we all retire into hermitage?” She smiled again, trying to assess exactly how comfortable her niece was with her quasi-solitary existence. “Not everybody is suited for the life of a recluse, you know? I would miss a lot of the people from the Circle, even if we argue at times; we’ve been together our entire lives, the Village is my home,” she confessed, looking around, slightly alarmed. “Where is everybody? Aren’t the girls supposed to have shown up for class by now?” she almost jumped to her feet to prepare for the unexpected crisis.
“It’s a holiday,” Mary soothed her anxiety. Lucille scanned through the list of holidays in her mind but couldn’t figure out which one.
“Their holiday,” Mary clarified.
Lucille frowned to a thought for a second, and then started laughing heartily when she heard the remote boom of thunder muffled by the distance and the thick walls of the cave. “Of course! How silly of me, I almost forgot!” she said.
“What is it, aunt Lucille?” Mary insisted, curious.
“You mean they didn’t tell you?” Lucille continued laughing.
“Tell me what?” Mary replied innocently.
“It is The Day of Thadith.”
Mary tried to recall anything about it, but her mind didn’t find anything.
“I’ve never heard of a Day of Thadith,” she replied.
“Of course not, dear. It has been decreed that it never existed,” Lucille explained.
“Wouldn’t there be a reference about it in the Que’d or the Repository?” Mary asked.
“Both of them were written long before it, I don’t know if there were any records kept about that time, nothing but word of mouth, I’m afraid.”
“Tell me about it, aunt Lucille!” Mary’s eyes shone with curiosity.
“In light of everything I learned here I’m a little reluctant to share the folk tale with you, people make up crazy things to explain what they can’t understand,” Lucille teased, and then saw the disappointed look in Mary’s eyes and continued.
“Oh, never mind! Here goes. The story says that at some point the Scholars learned how to summon lightning, some form of electricity recovery from the higher atmosphere, I wouldn’t know. It was supposed to be a major breakthrough in technology and would have sped up the advancement of society by leaps and bounds, at least that’s what the Scholars thought. Unfortunately, that was also the precise moment when the Council started seeing them as a threat, they were worried that this power was too great to control, so they revolted against it. Of course the fact that the new technology was in dire need of fine tuning and there had been some unfortunate incidents related to it probably didn’t help the Scholars’ cause. That’s what I inferred from many different sources, you know? The real legend says that the Scholars, our ancestors, consorted with the forces of evil in order to gain power over the earth and the sky, and that power turned against them for leaving the path of righteousness. The legend says that they called the evil forces in the mirror, and promised them innocent victims from the Village, and the pact was sealed inside the mirrors as long as the mirrors existed.”
“So, that’s how they convinced people to get rid of all the electronic equipment?” Mary asked, wide eyed.
“I’m afraid so. People would do anything if they believe their loved ones are in danger,” Lucille smiled sadly.
“What happened afterward?” Mary asked.
“The trials started, that’s when the Book of Prophecy was written; every known member of the Scholars’ society and everybody in their families was banished, the mirrors were declared an abomination, found and destroyed. An edict was passed, forbidding the spread of the cursed information and the grown ups were held under an oath bound by the threat of banishment never to reveal this story to their children.”
“So, you are risking banishment as we speak?” Mary said, worried.
Lucille laughed again.
“I think that cat got out of the bag a long time ago, child. It seems like the story found you!”
“Why is it called The Day of Thadith?”
“Do you remember the Wrath of Elijhar?” Lucille asked.
“Of course, all the children were terrified! When we heard booming in the sky we were all supposed to hide indoors with candles and read from the Book of Prophecy!” Mary replied.
“Well, you have to agree that having a thunderstorm out of the blue in the middle of the desert is a pretty odd occurrence. The Scholars chose that day to remind those left behind they were still out there and we should not lose hope, so every year on The Day of Thadith, as we lit our candles, we knew they’d be back one day.”
“Why is it called The Day of Thadith?” Mary came back to her original question.
“Thadith means lightning in the old language.”