Imagine a civilization with a caste system that is shackled by an oppressive government and trapped by geological barriers, where the only means of escape is to join an underground community, to follow the cryptic guidance of an advanced race that lives on the far side of a perilous sea, which is veiled by a mantle of fog. Whispering Mist is the tale of Rayna, an ironically rebellious young woman, and Nyle, her treasonous yet honorable lover, and their quest for political and personal liberation. Supported by multiple subplots and comic relief, the central narrative is set between the intertwined worlds of Valaycia and Yugatania, which are ruled ambiguously by the alchemistic Vudaki, a godlike race of semi-benevolent beings who swim beneath and fly above the Sea of Smoke. As an epic fantasy, Whispering Mist employs a unique vocabulary to describe atypical creatures that populate an original world with two moons of different colors. If you seek an author who writes concisely with precision, Marley Kin will satisfy. If you seek an unconventional story, Whispering Mist will mystify.
While knitting a sweater, Celandra snuck an anxious peek at her husband. As she registered the thinning hair on his crown and the expanding grays across his temples, she felt old for the first time. With his thumb pressed against his lips, Gyan read a science book in a chair upholstered with the hide of a spotted milander. Recently, the Secretary of Technology promoted him to the rank of senior architect at the Hall of Science and Technology. A caring father, he was normally positive and rational, unless provoked, then his intense rigidity often canceled Celandra's need for peace, producing a tight atmosphere. On this occasion, their polar moods were especially extreme, charging the air with a desire for control that she could taste in their silence.
Like most wealthy families in Jelico, Celandra’s home was equipped with the Valaycian gift of electricity, but the lightning storm cut the power, forcing her to rely on candles and gas-lamps for light. Basha, their only son, was already dreaming in the wide bed that swallowed his small body. Rayna’s baby sister, Sheera, slept in the same sturdy crib that had cradled Basha, Rayna, and a long chain of ancestors before them. Oddly, they slept soundly, despite the thunder.
Celandra's family dwelt in Scarlet Hills, the pinnacle of prestige. She stopped knitting to admire Gyan’s ancestral home, realizing how much she needed the possessions that occupied her life. Each window was filled with a colorful array of stained glass, including the striking picture window in the living-room where she did most of her pacing. Every cabinet handle and doorknob she touched was made of blue gylion, a lustrous, semiprecious metal, as light blue lace embellished the various fabrics that dressed every room. The entire collection of handmade furniture held the family secrets of nine generations. Her home embodied comfort, yet something was missing.
She watched her brother, Keegan, sway in the squeaky, ashwood rocking-chair, with his sky-blue eyes half shut, his long gray and black beard narrowly concealing the modest smile that accented the creases in his face. Still young in spirit, Keegan was fourteen years older than Celandra, her only sibling. She contemplated her brother’s attitude about material things; he was both detached and generous. Rayna’s values were almost identical to Keegan’s, and that understanding infested her with dread. What bothered her even more was Rayna’s intense love and admiration for Loreen, Keegan’s beloved wife.
Footsteps on the porch impelled Celandra to abandon her knitting. She looked at Gyan and Keegan with a forced smile. “I hope this night has a happy ending.”
Gyan dropped his book. Keegan stretched his smile and rocked in the elderly chair.
The front door swung open, and Rayna rushed in with the splash and grace of a skifish as Evak swam close behind. She slipped off her sandals, pushed her tangled, auburn hair out of her face, and they entered the living-room where a gold and purple sofa waited to engulf them.
The trio stared at the arriving couple, as the lamps and candles filled the room with wild shadows.
Rayna glanced at her father. She was cautious around him when it came to the subject of Valaycia. “I still have lots of questions, but it was thrilling.”
At times like this, Celandra always took her cues from Gyan, and tonight his eyes persuaded her to let him go first. Unfortunately, his authoritarian tone was a note too high: “It's easy to let the initial thrill excite your idealism, but it's important to keep things in perspective.”
“Were you idealistic when you met them, Father?”
Gyan shook his head. “I went more out of scientific curiosity.”
Celandra saw her daughter look at Keegan, who nodded. His acknowledgment seemed to satisfy Rayna’s present need.
Gyan picked up his book and pretended to read, which he usually did at times like this.
As Rayna’s frown squinted her varicolored eyes, Celandra could smell the surge of rebellion that threatened to take possession of her daughter's mind, and panic assaulted her heart.
Evak tried to rescue the moment: “I regret not going to my visitation for the sake of curiosity.”
“I can't wait to get my other gifts,” said Rayna with an obvious tone of rebellion.
Her father briefly looked up from his book to challenge his daughter with a stony glance.
Rayna met his eyes with a thin shade of defiance, then broke the brittle silence. “I think people should talk about this more openly, Father.”
Celandra braced her body for the impact.
Nyle studied Varacus, who sat on a stool, facing a microphone in a radio broadcasting booth that had a wall-to-wall glass window and new equipment designed by Valaycian Science. The Guardian squatted between the Sovereign and the single technician who hunched against the rear wall. Nyle stood outside the booth behind two engineers, who operated a virgin sound board, watching the broadcast. Jaleena stood beside him, apparently deep in thought, fondling the firestones that crowded her sparkling necklace, the reddish tint of her blond hair augmented by the jewels’ red blaze. Near the end of his speech, the Sovereign squeezed as much water as he could from the sponge of rhetoric. Still ruffled by recently ratified laws, Nyle deplored the new policies, knowing they would spawn more damage than good, and he regretted not opposing Varacus and Governor Korchek when he had the chance. Resolved to taking a stronger stance the next time, he had no doubt that another opportunity would shed its veneer soon enough.
Varacus inadvertently intercepted Nyle's attention by turning up the volume of his propaganda. “Tomorrow, Public Media will provide every publication throughout the Republic with an explanation of the new economic system to be implemented over the next twelve months.”
Nyle concentrated on Varacus’s shifting features, as the Soverign paused to rub his sandy goatee, his brown eyes searching the floor. Maybe he would say something embarrassing to ruin his credibility. Where was this unfamiliar contempt coming from? Nyle’s recent encounter with the Vudaki streamed through his mind, flooding his desire to fathom their enigma. His eyes wandered back to the Guardian, hoping to penetrate her cryptic powers, which were complicated by her eerie attunement to the Vudaki’s mere presence, a primal interest that rivaled his own fascination.
“In addition to these improvements, I've also passed two necessary laws: one doubling the jail term for convicted rebels, and the other outlawing public protest and authorizing the establishment of a Grievance Council for citizens to voice their concerns about any government institution or activity. These changes are in the best interest of public–” Before he could finish his speech, the Sovereign was cut off, and a different voice stole the transmission: “End Oppression! Stop exploitation! Put an end to political manipulation! The Rebellion will not be silenced!”
Nyle watched Varacus bolt from his stool to lambaste the radio technician, who looked stunned by the rebels’ ability to sabotage the broadcast.
Varacus and the Guardian then left the booth.
“That was an excellent speech, Governor, until the interruption.” said Governor Korchek.
The look that Varacus gave her in response was too complex to interpret, and Nyle almost laughed. Jaleena's flattery of Varacus always seemed a bit exaggerated and manipulative. On bad days, it was sickening; on this day, it seemed absurd under the circumstances. The Sovereign's delivery was flawless, his rhetoric impeccable, and the Guardian’s magic was growing stronger, but the Rebellion’s subversion would not be denied, no matter how perfect the empty pachalge was.
Keegan stopped rocking and leaned forward, but before he could speak, Gyan reacted without lowering his book. “Because joining the Liberation is unrealistic and most people know it.”
Celandra deflected her daughter’s likely protest. “It requires a lot of personal sacrifice to make the journey, Dear, and sometimes that puts too much stress on a person's family.”
“And what about the strange man with blue skin? Why is that subject forbidden?” Rayna demanded to know. As if to emphasize her point, a rogue moonbird flew into the room. With barely a glance, everyone ignored the creature.
Keegan grabbed the space more swiftly this time. “It doesn't have to be.”
Gyan lowered his book and clenched his jaw.
The moonbird landed on a windowsill. Celandra looked at her husband pleadingly.
“I agree with Rayna,” said Evak. “When I was growing up, I didn't take the visitation seriously. It always seemed like more of a legend because of all the secrets, so it might be better to talk about it more openly. And as a far as that stranger with blue–”
Gyan rested the book on his lap and intercepted the lead. “We don't know for sure if the liberators ever escape safely. Once they leave, they're never heard from again. For all we know, the Liberation Movement could be a fast trip to the graveyard.”
“That's another good reason why we should talk about it,” said Rayna, tucking her bare feet between the sofa and her knees. “And the Vudaki never came to stop that man from–”
Ignoring the chirping moonbird like everyone else, Gyan spoke sternly. “The Lord Sovereign just passed a law forbidding public demonstrations, and he would much prefer that private debates take place in public forums.”
“So much for the freedom of speech,” said Keegan with a smile.
“What are they afraid of?” asked Rayna.
“Chaos!” her father declared.
Celandra looked at Keegan, and she could tell by his face that he almost held back for her sake, but as her brother told her many times before, ‘At times like that, an unknown force seduces me into feeding the starving soul with the truth despite the bitter flavor.’ “No, they’re afraid of the truth,” Keegan proclaimed.
The emotional charge in the room crackled, and Celandra knew that Keegan was savoring the smell. She held her breath. The moonbird called to his mate, as he always did when lost and afraid.
Gyan arched his back and sat up straighter.
Rayna narrowed her eyes and tightened her lips.
“I don’t think arguments like this are very productive,” said Celandra, trying, to no avail, to ventilate the shrinking space that was closing in around her.
“Don't take advantage of the girl's vulnerability,” Gyan said, glaring at Keegan.
Keegan halted his rocker. “I'm simply trying to foster an open discussion, which is all–”
“You're doing much more than that when you use words like the 'truth'!”, Gyan declared.
Keegan replied with more force. “Should I use words like 'unrealistic' or 'chaos' instead?”
Determined, as always, to maintain his authority, Gyan pelted from his chair and sent the book on his lap tumbling to the floor. “Where my family's concerned, in my home, yes!”
Losing control after many years of quiet frustration, Celandra sprang from her chair. “Stop it, both of you! I'm sick of all this fighting!”
Everyone looked stunned. The moonbird darted from the room.
“Come on, Evak. I've had it too, but for different reasons.” Rayna stood up to leave. “Ambassador Taloras told me that Aunt Loreen's living happily in Valaycia, Father, and I believe her. Everything about my visitation was wonderful—The lady practically read my mind!” Rayna made for the front door, her bare feet pounding the floor.
Evak shrugged with a smile then followed her.
Gyan took two strides forward. “Rayna!”
She ignored her father, escaping the house with her loyal lover.
Keegan rocked in his chair again with eyes shut. Gyan took a deep breath, forcefully expelled the air, then stomped out of the room.
Celandra remained standing, unable to move. The moonbird chirped incessantly from afar.
Newly elected as Ambassador to Yugatania, Taloras considered the weight of her responsibility. Many knew Valaycia as a land of abundance and peace where freedom saturates every grain of sand. Many knew Yugatania as a land of greed and violence where fear invades every strata of social experience, and yet the people of Valaycia still longed for the day when the two rival worlds could be reunited, as they were two thousand years ago.
The Vudaki had peeled back their misty mantle, allowing Taloras a clear sky above the sea. She sat between Semanni and Danar on a timber raft that was driven by a sail and steered by a rudder, both of which were guided by the hefty arms of Melodius. Over the next decade, Taloras and the chancellors would comprise the Valaycian Assembly, guiding their people, as well as themselves, with as much humility as possible.
Although she felt Danar’s eyes upon her, Taloras continued to study the horizon. Poised to pierce the receding fog, the sun set to the west, where Rayna and Keegan dreamed of emancipation, and dreamed of Loreen. “Loreen's worried. Keegan is close to the age of retirement. And my brother . . . is leaving soon to attempt the Secret Crossing.”
Unknown to the people of Yugatania, Valaycia was also trapped by the mountains and the sea on all sides but one, preventing anyone from migrating beyond its borders. Nevertheless, every Valaycian was free to travel among the provinces of Manganeer, Kumeron, and Targonia at any time of day or night, for no longer than seven days, returning then to their homes for seven weeks to recuperate, until their next visit.
According to Valaycian mythology, the purpose of the Crossing was to reach the ancient city of Olamus, which was shrouded in the Valley of Mountains and cradled by three symmetrical peaks. Many believed Olamus to be a portal leading to foreign lands beyond the natural barriers. Others thought the legendary site was the home of the Vudaki, which Taloras doubted, and still others believed the city to be the One Source of life. The myth's only definitive claim was that any soul who could find the holy city would discover the secret of immortality. Many Valaycians have attempted to locate the elusive summit in the valley's mesh of mountains; some have returned disappointed, and some have disappeared. How many seekers had found Olamus was unknown.
The Chancellor of Targonia Province and the Chancellor Prime of Valaycia, Danar wore garments that were loose and simple. With tremendous vitality for a slender man of one hundred and fifty-two years, he reminded Taloras of his departed father, one of the few people in the land to live over two hundred years, and one of many who had disappeared. Danar said little, but when he spoke, reassurance poured from his words. “Varacus is devising an elaborate scheme.”
Taloras shook her head. “Sometimes I feel like turning their whole world upside down.”
“I know it's tempting,” said Danar.
Taloras insisted, “There must be something we can do to minimize the harm.”
The Chancellor Prime hesitated. “Advise our guides to be more cautious.”
“Nothing more?” she asked, splaying her palms.
“We could give them a glimpse of the future.” said Semanni, lifting her long face. Like Danar, Semanni had little to say on most occasions; her purple eyes did much of the speaking.
Melodius stretched his thick lips into a smile. “That would be interesting.”
Not in the mood for a joke, Taloras quickly added, “It would also prevent suffering.”
Danar shook his head. “You know that’s not our way.”
“Perhaps the age has come for our traditions to mature in new ways,” Taloras blurted.
Danar regarded her challenge before nodding. “Perhaps.” He held her eyes affectionately. “If you feel strongly, the ideal path would be to submit a proposal to the Collective Circle.”
A touch of humility swept through Taloras. “That won’t be necessary.” She dropped her gaze. “I may be struggling with doubt, but ultimately I trust your judgment.”
Taloras exchanged a warm smile with Danar before he changed the subject. “Any concerns about Maisun's meeting with Rayna?”
Semanni nodded her curly head gravely. “I understand she was quite skeptical.”
Known as the Merry Chancellor, Melodius flashed a wide grin and interjected with sharp confidence. “Like Taloras, Maisun has a talent for shattering doubt.”
Taloras could not help but laugh at his attempt to lighten her mood. “Like most of his predecessors, Varacus does a great job of fostering doubt,” said Taloras.
As his smile faded, Danar shared a serious concern. “Along with her keen mind, Rayna has a passionate heart that can burn wild if it's not harnessed.”
Taloras agreed: “Despite her sense of humor, I think we need a more sensitive approach. Otherwise, we could lose her to the Rebellion.”
“The rebels may value freedom, but their commitment to peace is suspect, which is something she should know.” said Melodius.
As their simple craft neared its destination, Taloras informed her colleagues that the rebels were accusing them of waging a cold war, but no one responded to her latest report; instead, they stared at the glistening, inscrutable Altar of The Tides that loomed before them.
From her favorite vantage point on the beach, Taloras had studied the mythical pedestal numerous times during her long lifetime, dreaming about the sacred Rite of Transmutation she was about to witness, a ceremony that few people observed at close range. Jutting from the sea, a short distance from the shore, bolstered by a slender base that sprouted from its rocky roots on the seabed below, the circular platform was carved from the same purple rock as the magnificent formations scattered throughout the shallow waters that protruded like beauty marks from the sea's violet skin.
Melodius moored the raft to a hook that jutted from the edge of the platform, which rose to a height near his knees, since the tide was cresting, allowing him to hop onto the stone surface with ease. Taloras and the others joined him and formed a broken circle. Danar set the tone for the imminent event: “I’ve witnessed this metamorphosis many times, and it’s altered my understanding of life forever. May it do the same for each of you.”
The Chancellor Prime’s words warped the air, conjuring four Vudaki outriders from the water to drift in a tight circle around the four leaders. Taloras’s eyes slid across their smooth skin, admiring the dazzling patterns of green, yellow, and black stripes. Their orange and yellow eyes glowing like street-lamps, the cryptic beings opened their mouths to release steady streams of fire. As Taloras and her friends joined their voices to forge a high-pitched sound, a drove of blue fireflies appeared, hovering above the outriders to drink the amber flames.
Lowering her eyes, Taloras watched with reverence as a fifth ‘rider rose from the sea to pierce the ring of fire. The Chosen soaked up the heat, allowing himself to bake until he mutated into stone. Plummeting back to the sea to complete his transformation, the sacrificial ‘rider would soon recycle his life-force for his kin by joining the sweetrock that kindled the Vudaki’s collective inferno.
Upset from the clash with her father the night before, and craving another taste of the Bulakon's Zambori river, Rayna and Evak decided to visit the festive hamlet of Lurakoe. Under a dark sky, the lovers strolled along one of two parallel cobblestone sidewalks that bordered the river and its numerous docks and occasional piers. In this part of town, the only thing that separated the river from the sweltering jungle, in the near distance, was two parallel miles of raucous game-houses, gregarious dance halls, lively theaters, chatty taverns, whispering teashops, and quiet inns that waited patiently in the background.
She was captivated by the torrid tangle of greenery that spread its hot breath and wet skin across one third of Galamar's territory, before spilling into the Typhonic Ocean on the southern shore along with the twisting river that formed its spine. The jungle's western border sprawled thirteen miles into the State of Kryton. Born near the Frozen Peaks, the Zambori clove the state in two, and then surrendered its life to the ocean with its gorgeous beach of black marble sand.
Rayna’s linen blouse was damp, and the humidity forced her to tie her hair back with a leather cord. “My father’s getting worse. He’s so blind to what’s happening.” Absentmindedly, she veered left to cross one of the regular bridges, which connected one bank to the other, arching high enough for the taller river-boats to pass. “That's what I love most about my uncle. He's not afraid to tell the truth, no matter how hard it is to hear.” The soaring note of a soprano escaped a nearby concert hall to lift her spirit briefly.
Evak slid his hand along the top of a railing made of the ever-popular gylion. “I admire that, but he says too much to the wrong people, and that's a dangerous thing these days.”
“Staying here is dangerous.”
“You're right, but so is broadcasting it to the world.”
Rayna considered his words then reached over to hold her lover's hand. One of Evak's strengths was his sense of reason. “You're right. We should be careful, but I won't let my father stop me from being free. Like my uncle, I believe Aunt Loreen and Valeena are waiting for us in Valaycia. And we both have ancestors who escaped before we were born.”
“Possibly.” The bobbing of his head seemed too reticent.
Rayna squeezed his hand. “It's true!”
“All right, it's true.” He tenderly kissed her cheek.
She wondered if his sincerity was genuine. “I've always believed the magical folk stories I heard as a child about the land across the sea.” She interrupted her strides to face him. “And tomorrow at dusk, I'm taking my next step toward freedom, and if I have to do it behind my father's back, then I will.” Rayna lifted her head, searching for the lunar siblings, but the sky was drained of light. Instead, she saw a glowing oval of outriders flying by, too close for comfort. “Look! It’s them.”
“There’s so many of them,” Evak exclaimed. “And there heading east, away from the sea. I wonder where they’re going.”
Spellbound by the Vudaki’s proximity, Rayna wondered if she would ever know the answer to such questions. Exclamations of awe erupted all around them, as other bystanders caught the Vudaki’s ghostly flight.
Still scanning the sky, he said, “Rayna, I have a confession to make. I waited till now because it's the perfect time.”
Reading his face with so little light was difficult. “Sounds serious.” She glanced at the sky.
“It is.” Evak took Rayna’s wrists and pulled her closer with calloused hands. He never wore shorts, no matter how hot the weather. “You know how mad I was at my parents for not letting me go to my visitation.” Rayna nodded. “Well, around that time, I was complaining to my cousin Tonavan about it, and he offered me a better solution.”
Rayna released his hands and crossed the bridge to look down at the river’s heavy traffic. “I don't think I like where this is going, Evak.”
“He asked me to join the Rebellion, and I said yes.”
“But why?—You haven't even given the Liberation a chance.”
“I hate it here as much as you do, Ray, but it makes more sense to fight for our freedom here than to work for years to escape to some place we've never even seen.”
Rayna faced him again. “But it's hopeless to change things here—You know that.”
“The Rebellion's growing. Look what's happening in the other states.”
Her gestures kept pace with the force of her words. “And look what the government did—They're passing new laws to suffocate us even more.”
Rayna always knew when Evak was flustered because his hands became more animated. “Rayna, Sovereign Varacus and men like your father are trying to conquer the elements that keep us trapped in this geographic prison, so maybe they're waking up.” As a trio of people approached, Evak lowered his voice. “If not, the Rebellion can overthrow the government and make this a better place to live.”
His unwitting irony did not escape her. “That's more risky than what my uncle’s doing.”
She knew from the smile on his face that he understood her point. “The Rebellion's very careful about who they approach, Ray. That's one of the things I like about them.”
“Evak, the government humiliates the liberators, but they're putting rebels in prison.”
“It's only one year for the first offense,” he said with a shrug.
“And three years for the second offense.”
He threw his head back, exhaling with intensity. “I'm ready for that risk, but I'm not asking you to become a rebel. The Liberation might be
the real thing, and it's a lot safer. This way we're working against the Republic from two directions. And don't forget—The Rebellion doesn't oppose the Liberation, so you should never oppose us.”
Us? Rayna’s mind writhed with confusion, but out of that psychic puzzle a piece of understanding came into view that admired Evak since his path to freedom also demanded courage. Nevertheless, her hope was spoiled, for she wanted her lover to be a fellow liberator, who would settle for nothing less than the best. “My life just got twice as complicated.”
“Sorry.” He put his arm around her waist. “But that just gives me more of you to love.”
She felt a rumbling in her breast that drew her hand to his face. “Would you like to tell my father the good news?” A smile crept its way into Evak's mouth, as she shook her spinning head. “I was hoping we could join the Liberation together, but I guess I have to love you as a rebel. And tomorrow night you'll have to love me as a liberator when I tell Chancellor Melodius I'm officially joining the Movement.”
He eased her closer, pressing his body to hers. She slid her hands across the smooth texture of his dark brown hair, pausing to glide her thumbs along the upper edge of his handsome ears. Her passion mounted, as they both studied each other’s face, looking for new places to explore.