Chapter 18 – A Painting in the Clouds


Lucille returned after dark, and to her shock, she found the new cave completely transformed: a console had been installed, as promised, but also furniture, personal accommodations and storage modules. She saw what looked like a kitchen towards the back of the cave and set down the basket of food on the table.

Mary wasn’t there, and Lucille started to panic, prompting the one in the mirror to provide an explanation.

“There is an underground stream two caves down, Mary got bored and went to get some fresh water. We thought she would be more comfortable if the place looked more like home, do you think you could bring her favorite things from her room? We tried to offer her food, but she seems reluctant to eat it. Maybe it would be best if you brought her home cooked meals for a while, at least until she gets used to our fare.” He stopped for a second, to give Lucille a chance to reply, then, upon noticing the latter seemed at a loss for words, he asked. “How did things go with the Council?”

Lucille forgot she was talking to a mirror, and couldn’t suppress an irritated twitch.

“How do you think they went?” she retorted.

“Never mind, we have important issues to discuss. First of all, who we are and what we are doing here,” he started.

“Let me guess, you’re the descendants of the exiles, and are here to reunite the Fire Maiden, a.k.a the last child of the Coulter line, with her family,” she said sarcastically, because her nerves were still a powder keg from what one could only assume had been a very unpleasant evening in the Council. “I may not know how you are manipulating your mirrors, but that doesn’t mean God begrudged me the benefit of logic.”

“Yes and no. Some of us come from exiles, many of us are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the city where we settled down. I’m sure Mary’s family would be thrilled to find out she is still alive, everybody thought the worst after her mother was banished, but I’m afraid our search for her has a bit of an ulterior motive.”

“Of course it does,” Lucille sighed.

“When Abraham Coulter started to worry about the rising threats against technology, he digitized his vast library, which contains invaluable pieces of his research, and technical manuals that we thought lost for centuries, and stored it in a biometrically encrypted database floating on a cloud server,” he explained.

“Thank you, I’m so glad I got clarity on this issue now!” Lucille couldn’t help herself. “Why don’t you start at the beginning?”

“He took all of his knowledge and turned it into a large, invisible canvas, which he painted in the sky, and allowed it to be reshaped and repainted constantly by the movement of the wind and the fall of the raindrops. He bound the mirror he used to see this masterful painting with his own blood, and the blood of his most trusted advisers, so that it would not open, not even for a peak, for anybody else but them.” He looked at Lucille, to see if she was offended by the fairy tale analogy. She didn’t seem to be, so he continued.

“He spelled the original object so that it could become any mirror, but this only happens if the mirror’s guardian recognizes the essence of his blood.”

“Or that of one of his trusted advisers,” Lucille continued.

“Exactly,” the man replied, relieved that she was following the story.

“And Mary has it,” Lucille deduced.

“We just found out,” he smiled, happy. “As I said, I too come from the Coulter line, but in my case his genome was significantly diluted over the centuries and there are not enough markers left to activate the database.”

“But Mary’s is complete,” Lucille retorted incredulously.

“Not complete, sufficient. A wonderful strike of luck! Genetic variation sometimes yields improbable outcomes. We kind of guessed she expressed the recessive genes when she was born blonde of two raven haired parents. Very rare!”

“So, now you opened your magical mirror to see the invisible painting in the sky, what do you need her for?” Lucille asked him bluntly.

“Well, right now we both are in a little bit of a predicament: we still need the blood essence every time we want to see the painting, and Mary has become a wanted outlaw. Quite frankly, we were hoping that after so many centuries someone had lifted that ridiculous ban on computer technology, but it seems that it only grew to include other mundane objects.” He hesitated. “And apparently most of the developments in science.”

Lucille looked down, upset. Right then, Mary appeared from behind a boulder, with a weird water pitcher in her hand and the usual puzzled look in her eyes.

“What’s genetic variation?” she asked, making both Lucille and the one in the mirror realize she had been listening to the entire conversation.

“Why don’t you enlighten her?” Lucille suggested.

A smaller picture, depicting a mound of beans, opened up over the face of the one in the mirror. Mary took a moment to look at them, they displayed every color, from beige to purple, to pure white, dark red, spotted, variegated, small, large, round or elongated. She recognized every type of bean in the pile, naturally, any child in the village learned to tell the beans apart by the age of seven, she just couldn’t figure out what they had to do with her question.

“What do you see?” the one in the mirror asked.

“Beans,” Mary replied.

“Are they all beans?” he asked.

“Yes,” she gave the obvious answer.

“But they don’t look the same,” he said.

“Nobody expects they would,” Mary commented.

“That’s genetic variation,” he said. “What are you?”

“I am a person.”

“Why are you not like the other people in your village?”

“I’m a genetic variation,” Mary said, smiling.

“In an isolated population that experienced genetic drift,” he laughed.

“What does that mean?”

“It means that most of the life essence that allows one to be fair has disappeared from your group, and that makes it almost impossible for it to be passed along from one generation to the next.”


“Maybe we can have this discussion some other time,” the one in the mirror skirted the subject, crushed under one of Lucille’s grim stares.

“I’m sure Mary would love to learn more about that, especially considering that she has nothing better to do here, but we need to address immediate practical concerns.” She turned towards her niece. “Mary, the Council had decreed that all the information related to the Que’d and the mirrors had to be destroyed, and you, as you probably heard, are a wanted outlaw. I’m afraid you’ll have to stay here for the time being. I see you’re comfortable,” she inquired with her eyes.

“Yes, aunt.”

“Rosemary designated a few Circle members to dig through the Book of Prophecy and find a way to end the curse of the Fire Maiden.”

“I thought that was supposed to be done by keeping me in the sunlight with no water until my fair curse was lifted,” Mary commented, in a tone so matter of fact that it made the one in the mirror shiver.

“Do people actually expect her to turn brunette by slowly dying of dehydration?” he couldn’t believe his ears.

“Easy for you to say, you don’t have to face them tomorrow,” Lucille frowned, irked. “I can assure you this debate is infinitely less amusing in person.”