A Way Out
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My name is Miranda Tara. My mother is Adtarr, the Goddess of the Stars. I was born to be the Temple Seer of the Silver Mountain Celestial Temple. And I want with all my heart to be anywhere else.

The stars on my ceiling glow with a dim blue light in the mornings. They’re nothing like the real stars in the sky, the signs of my mother’s domain, but they’re still bright enough for me to see by. So, when I open my eyes, I can begin my day immediately. First, I pray to Adtarr, both in reverence and for guidance with what happens today. After that, I begin settling on what to wear for my trip into the city.

After picking what to wear, I put on makeup. Normally, if I use any, it’s only to highlight my eyes and hide the bruises across my cheeks for visitors, but today’s a special enough occasion that I give it some extra attention.

Once I’m finished dressing, I pull a sheet of paper from a cache under my desk drawer and go over the list of possible places to go to in the city of Sedra that I’ve discovered during recent library trips. Even though I’ve read this list dozens of times, I reread it again, then tuck it inside my wallet.

I lay back down on my bed and look up at the constellations of silver stars on my ceiling. Do I have time to write in my journal? I open my third eye and glance through the future: no, Prior Amon will arrive in less than a minute. Reluctantly, I haul myself back up and face the door, waiting.

A quiet click comes from the door as it unlocks, then it swings open and Amon walks into the room, turning on the main light as he enters. In his hand, he already has a silver coin, ready to toss into the air. “Call it,” he orders. After my previous scrying, I don’t even need to check before I respond “Heads,” and he flips it.

As predicted, the coin lands face-up. “Good,” Amon declares, “You aren’t worthless today.”

“Thank you, sir,” I mumble.

He glances over towards me for the first time. “What was that?”

I sigh to myself and repeat, louder, “Thank you, Amon.”

“Good.” He turns back towards the door, then pauses. “Be in the courtyard in twenty minutes, understood? Pack your bag.”

And just like that, he walks out.

With my bag already mostly packed, there isn’t much more I need to do to get ready. I look into the future again for a few minutes before leaving my room to make my way to the courtyard. Halfway there, I pause at a window to look out at the blooming morning glories running up a trellis outside.

“Good morning, Miranda!” a voice calls down the hall, and I turn to face the person coming up behind me.

“Good morning, Ms. Hayal!” I respond, smiling with a cheer I don’t feel. My illusion tutor beams, as eager to share some accomplishment as every other day.

“I hope you enjoy your trip to Sedra, but first, I wanted to show you a new trick!” She cups one hand over the other and closes her eyes for a moment, then opens her hands again. A faintly glowing blue flower floats above the palm of her hand, indistinguishable from the real morning glories outside. It even flops with pretend weight as it turns. Her face lights up with satisfaction at her own success, but then she looks to me in turn. “Go on, try to make one yourself!”

I cup my hands around empty space, focusing on a mental image of the flower and trying to will it into existence. My hands tremble as I put all the will I can muster into it, but when I open my eyes after a few moments, nothing has happened. No illusory flower floats between my hands, just empty air.

Hayal’s smile melts into disappointment. “Hm,” she sighs. “You have been practicing, yes?”

I nod, thinking about the time I spent last night trying to create stars and fireflies in my room without success.

Hayal shrugs. “Well, clearly you need more. Fit in another hour tonight if you have time, so we don’t waste time tomorrow, alright?”
“I will. I promise.”

Hayal nods, smiles again, and walks away, leaving me to walk the rest of the way to the courtyard. But as I turn to keep moving, I hear her mutter, “What good is a Seer who can’t show people their futures?”

Though I’ve been asked that before, it stings all the same. I hope it doesn’t show in my posture as I walk away in turn.

The courtyard is cold and damp this morning, the sky overcast with churning grey clouds threatening to spit rain at any moment. I’ve seen that it won’t rain in the next several minutes, of course, but past that is anybody’s guess. When I arrive, two people are already here: High Preceptor Stelan and Acquisitor Asteron, talking in muted tones. As I walk out onto the grass, Asteron looks up and nods toward me.

“Good morning, Miss Tara,” Asteron says. Stelan turns and smiles, brushing a loose gray hair out of his face.

“Ah, Miranda. Good to see you. Are you ready for today?” Though Stelan’s voice is warmer than Asteron’s formal tone, it feels anything but as he continues, “Mr. Amon has told me that you’ve had some unpleasant occurrences this month—I do hope things go smoothly today, yes?”

I respond, as meekly as I can, “Yes, sir. I promise.”

“Very good,” he nods. Gesturing to his side, Stelan adds, “Mr. Asteron will be taking you today,” as if it hadn’t already been obvious for days.

Asteron steps forward. “I’ll take good care, sir.” Stelan nods and Asteron walks over to me.

“May She guide you,” says Stelan, and we murmur it back. Then we depart through the main gate. As with every other time, I wish for it to be the last time.

Our transportation into Sedra is Asteron’s truck, a weathered hauler that he uses to carry whatever products and groceries the Temple requires. There are other drivers and other vehicles, but his truck loaded with food and goods is a near-daily sight along the Temple’s driveway. Unlocking it, Asteron waves me toward the passenger door. “If you would, Miss Tara.”

We sit in silence for a few minutes as Asteron starts the truck and we begin driving down the road. As the lights of the Temple fade in the morning fog, however, a grin splits Asteron’s demeanor. “So, how’ve you been this week?” he asks. “Have I missed anything much?”

“It’s been a normal week,” I say, unsure what I want to talk about.

“That bad, huh?” he chuckles.

“Yeah,” I nod. “Apparently, I wasn’t reverent enough during rites the other day and Amon threatened to cancel the trip. For the second time this week.”

“Really? What were you doing?”

“I was just as reverent as anyone else!”

Asteron glances at me. “Stelan thinks you of all people should be the most reverent, since our Goddess gave you your life.”

“I know! But whenever I try to acknowledge Her as my mother, someone calls it blasphemy. They want me to praise Her for it without even saying it. What exactly am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t really know,” he sighs. We both stare off down the road for a minute before he adds, “Wait, you said that was the second. What was the first?”

“Accidentally caused a woman to beat her kid…” I mumble under my breath. Asteron, focused on the road, misses it.

“What was that?” he asks.

“I made an unfavorable prediction that ended with both people running out. Literally. It took more than a day to find the right timeline to make consolation instructions.”

Asteron winces. “Wow. Glad you get to come along after something like that.”

“Yeah…” Reluctant to keep thinking about the subject, I turn on the radio. Asteron doesn’t press further, and together we listen to quiet music until we reach the city.

Sedra is the opposite of the Celestial Temple: huge, crowded, bustling, loud, a rush of sensation. It’s nothing compared to some cities I’ve seen in library books, but still the largest I’ve ever been to in person. Today is bright enough that I need sunglasses to see instead of just to hide my eyes from curious stares, but I still drink in every sight as we drive in along the main road.

Our first destination is the Sedra Public Library, my favorite place outside the Temple and the one place I can learn new things without someone else deciding what I’m allowed to look up. A sanctum where I can have my own interests with only one pair of prying eyes instead of a dozen. And even if I have to get approval for books to check out, I can always read books there.

Only, when we arrive, the Library is closed and dark, its doors locked. Not something I had expected enough to foresee. A sign on the main door says, “CLOSED FOR REPAIRS,” with no further hints as to why or how long it will take.

For his part, Asteron seems disappointed, but not like I am. “That’s unfortunate,” he says. “You were planning to spend a few hours here, right?” Both are understatements; I would have spent the entire day here if I could.

Asteron shrugs and pulls a list from his own pocket. “Well, next item on the itinerary. Shall we go to the market plaza? There are things I was going to buy while you were here, but I guess you’ll have to come along.”

“Okay, that works!” At least a market day is something I don’t get to see at home.

We park a few minutes away and make our way to the clustered stalls and stands covering Sedra’s sprawling market plaza. Asteron makes a beeline between specific spots, buying whatever goods are on his shopping list. I wander from stall to stall, taking in every sight, sound and smell and helping Asteron carry purchases back to his truck.

At some point, I end up in front of a florist’s shop, mesmerized by color-coded arrangements of a variety of flowers. I wonder for a bit if I should buy any to liven up my own room, eventually settling on buying a few seeds to plant in the spring. I’m still there when Asteron passes by, toting a few bags of groceries.

“Something catch your eye?” He inhales. “Or your nose?”

I shake my head. “Not the scents, just pretty. It reminds me that Hayal showed me a new flower trick this morning.”

“Oh! How have your lessons with Hayal going?”


“Really? I thought you were good at it.”

“No. I can’t do it consistently.”

Asteron presses on. “Can you give it a try? I’m very interested in seeing what you can do.”

“Alright, I guess.” I cup my hands around empty space, murmuring the steps of creating the illusion. I envision what I want to see: a lesser astral moth, Adtarr’s sacred animal, sitting between my fingers. Yet when I open my eyes and hands again, the only thing there is a handful of dancing sparks that fade after a few seconds.

“See?” I grumble. “I can’t do it.”

“Well, I think you just proved you can,” Asteron says. I look at him in confusion, so he elaborates: “I mean, you may not have made exactly what you wanted, but being able to make anything at all is leaps and bounds ahead of the average person! And besides, you’ve been doing fine as a Seer without illusions, anyway.”

“You… think so?”

“Of course! The most important part is foresight, not presentation.” He grins and waves towards the bouquets arranged around the shop’s façade. “Presentation’s what you’d need if you worked here!”

That gets a laugh out of me. For a moment, joking with Asteron, I can forget my own worries and stress and just be happy.

And then I see it, in the window of a shop across the street. A shirt patterned with a blue-purple nebula and speckled with stars—actual stars, not just five-pointed shapes connected by lines. It looks as if someone has looked through a telescope and put the view directly onto fabric. Somehow, I’ve never seen anything like it before, but it’s exactly what a daughter of the Stars should wear.

“Say, Miranda, you look positively starry-eyed,” Asteron says, grinning at his own joke. He follows my gaze and chuckles again when he sees what I’m looking at. “Ah, of course. What a stellar idea!”

This time I groan at the pun, but we both smile as he follows me into the clothing shop.

While looking around, I see two other things that catch my eye: a pair of pants with constellation patterns on them and a long blue cloak with a woolly lining. Not strictly necessary, but the pants are fun, and I need a new coat anyway with winter coming. Asteron looks over from where he’s examining pairs of socks and raises an eyebrow at my collection. “You realize that Stelan’s going to have an aneurysm if you wear those during work hours, right?”

“Relax,” I laugh, “I’d only wear these on off days. Besides, I’m pretty sure he’d have an aneurysm if he saw me wearing anything but the Seer uniform during work hours, not just these. But they feel… right? Does that make sense?”

Asteron shrugs and turns back to his socks, leaving me to purchase my new clothes. Though it doesn’t entirely make sense in the moment, I impulsively put them in my personal bag rather than taking them to the truck. They’re fully my own choice, so it feels important to keep them with me.

The rest of our morning is spent in the market, with Asteron continuing his shopping and me looking for anything not normally allowed at the Celestial Temple. Eventually, we find ourselves sitting outside a deli, eating fresh sandwiches.

“What else was a priority? We’ve finished the shopping, the library’s closed, it’s too early for dinner…” Asteron pores over his own itinerary list between bites, double-checking it for anything he may have missed. “Ah, we were going to visit the bank! Would you like to go now, or later?”

“Actually,” I say, “There was somewhere else I wanted to go first.”

The Sedra Stonehall Temple is the largest shrine to Thraman in Sedra, on the eastern edge of the walled central park. The eastern façade facing the street is impressive, but coming from the west is more interesting to me. The tamed parkland—itself a monument to Thraman’s ecology as well as a recreational space one can spend hours in—turns first to an ornamental garden and then to shaded flagstone patio near the Temple’s western doors. Across the Temple’s entire western face is a massive mural of the god Thraman pouring His blood down onto His namesake world to give it life.

The patio is cooler than the garden, but stepping through the doors into the hall is far cooler and darker, to the point that Asteron is left blinking as his eyes adjust. I need only take my sunglasses off to see, so as we continue in, I decide to do it whether or not it gets me strange looks.

Walking alongside me, Asteron glances around the hall as if expecting to be yelled at—a behavior I know too well from my own experience. “Are you quite sure we should be here?” he whispers. I nod and keep moving. Devotees of Thraman tend not to like those who venerate other gods before Him while literally living on Him, but I feel confident that we won’t be thrown out here.

The main worship chamber is almost empty at this time of day, with a single woman leaning over the altar facing away from us and a handful of people standing around the back of the room. As we come closer, the woman at the altar straightens up and turns around. “Good afternoon,” she begins, then pauses. “I don’t believe we’ve met; I’m Curator Sandu. Are you travelers?”

Asteron steps forward. “We’re from the Silver Mountains, visiting Sedra for the day. My name is Asteron Cadol.”

“And I’m Miranda Tara,” I finish.

Sandu looks me up and down. “Tara? It’s not often we see followers of Adtarr. What brings you to our Temple?”

“I’m here to pay my respects to Thraman.”

“Well!” she beams. “You’ve missed this morning’s liturgy, but anyone paying respects is always welcome to do so!”

Without really thinking about what I’m doing, I place the seeds I bought earlier on the altar as an offering. If Thraman is the entire world, I hope He appreciates growing a few more flowers on His back. I step back and kneel, facing down towards the ground, and murmur my quiet thanks for His existence and generosity towards us living on Him.

When I rise back to my feet, Sandu is watching me with a blend of surprise and admiration. “That was quite genuine, and unexpected from an Adtarran,” she says.

“Thank you, ma’am. And thank you for your welcome.”

“You’re welcome back here any time,” she replies, and nods to Asteron to add, “As are you, Mr. Cadol.”

Asteron bows a respectful farewell. Then, with my prayer and thanks made, we turn to leave.

Exiting the Temple, I pause on the doorstep. “Hey, Asteron? Could you do me a favor and not tell Stelan about that?”

“Are you sure? If I got a camera and you did it again, I could take a picture that would double his blood pressure!” he laughs.

After the Temple, we walk around the city a bit more until we find a tea shop that we decide to visit. We each order a drink, then search for an unoccupied table. With my gift, it takes almost no time at all for us to find ourselves sitting at an out-of-the-way table with cups of steaming tea. We once again sit in silence waiting for our drinks to cool, until Asteron speaks up.

“What’s on your mind?” he asks.

“Nothing,” I say. Evidently too quickly, because he chuckles.

“Come on, there’s always something on your mind during these city trips, and it’s been extra obvious this afternoon. Doesn’t take a genius to realize something’s been bothering you since we visited the Stonehall Temple, seeing as I’ve managed to figure it out.” Though he smiles at his own expense, it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?”

I look away, not sure what to say. “Nothing I could ask you to do.”

Asteron takes a sip of his tea, then recoils. “Still too hot,” he murmurs. As he sets his cup back down, he turns his attention to me again. “Are you sure? If you aren’t comfortable, then you don’t have to tell me. But if there’s any way at all that I can help you, I want to.”

I hesitate again, keeping my eyes fixed on the table. “Can you take the lock off my bedroom door?” I mumble, just loud enough for him to hear. Asteron is taken aback by the question, but it’s not the only thing I have to ask.

A tear wells up the corner of my eye as I continue, “Can you make Hayal stop calling me worthless behind my back? Can you make Stelan treat me like an actual person?” It comes out faster and faster, tears running down my cheeks like beads of quicksilver, a sudden release of all the unspoken thoughts I’ve kept silent but had every day for years. “Can you make Amon stop punishing me if I don’t do exactly what he wants? Can you make it so I don’t have to hide bruises when visitors come to the temple?”

Then the final, ultimate question slips through my lips without even thinking: “Can you let me wake up in a place where I want to be?” The instant I say it, I realize. I clap my hand over my mouth, but it’s too late. I’ve overstepped.

Asteron is silent, his eyes cast down. I hadn’t even thought to check the future before I admitted it, and now all the timelines I can see are the same—Asteron just sitting there, impassive, for seconds upon seconds. Even though he tries to be my friend, he’s still required to tell Stelan about my activities, and I’ve been punished for wanting to leave before. I fear that he’s going to end the trip here and drag me home and I’ll be locked in my room again and I’ll never be trusted or allowed out again and then he puts his hand on the table.

“I’m not sure I can do anything about most of those things,” he begins, then his eyes meet mine. “But, considering how badly they affect you, you can do something about them. Here and now.”

“What do you mean?” I whisper, still reeling from my own confession.

Asteron leans forward, smirking, and chuckles, “What, you want to leave but don’t have a plan for what you’d do?”

Once again, a whisper is all I can manage. “I… think I know what I’ll do.”

Asteron’s smile drops, but his eyes stay the same. “And you can find a place to stay?”

I nod.

“Then why not?”

Asteron places his hand on mine and squeezes it gently. “Don’t lose sight of what guides you,” he whispers. Then he stands and, after another moment’s pause, says in his formal voice, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. We were going to go to the bank this evening, weren’t we?”

Though it’s subtle, I see his wink as he turns to walk towards the restrooms.

So… I’ve told Asteron how much I hate it at home, and he’s encouraging me to leave? It’s so different from what I expected that I don’t know what to do. Did he mean he’d help me then pretend I ran away? Did he mean I should run away while he’s not watching? If it’s the latter, I’m wasting my golden opportunity sitting here and thinking. And it’s this fear that finally gets me to leave my chair, walk out the door, and not stop. Heart pounding and head spinning, I put blocks and blocks behind me until I end up at the edge of the parkland. Here I find a bench and take a rest until I can straighten out my thoughts.

When Asteron mentioned the bank during our last conversation, I don’t know whether he meant it as telling me to go there first or warning me that he would have to tell Amon that I would go there. I only have time to peer a few minutes into the future at once, so I can’t know for sure until I’m nearby. But I need to get money, and sooner is better. Thankfully, I know how to get to the bank from here, which is less than forty minutes on foot.

Heading to the bank is uneventful at first, until I reach the hustle and bustle of North Avenue. Coming to the end of an alley past a corner café, I glance up and down the street, my gaze catching on an unwelcome sight: uniformed police, standing on a corner a block away. I duck back into the alley and peer through the future to see what would happen if I walked out anyway—and see that within a few minutes, one or another would notice and approach me. Of course, Asteron would have to give them my description if I’ve been missing.

In most possibilities from that point, they won’t try to arrest me outright, but many involve them trying to take me to their precinct, and all possibilities include far too much delay—probably enough for someone from the temple to track me down. Back in the present, I look at myself. What part of my description would they look for the most? Maybe the wrong question. What parts of my description can I change? Oh, wait! I still have the clothes that I bought earlier, and Asteron might not have told anyone I have them.

I turn back and go into the corner café, slipping into the bathroom to change. With the cloak on top, the multicolored shirt and constellation-lined pants look nothing like the outfit that officers would have been told to look out for, but there’s still one problem: my own skin.

I can change my clothes all I like and hide my eyes under hair and sunglasses, but as long as they know to look for solidly gray skin there’s not a lot I can do to hide it. Probably. Hayal’s lessons come to mind, but so do her comments. What good is a Temple Seer who can’t actually show people their futures? What good is an illusionist who can’t create illusions?

What other choice do I have?

Clasping my hands together more for psychological effect than anything else, I try to remember every instruction Hayal has given me about creating illusions, every tip and critique. But most of all, I try to focus on the illusion I want to see. No, not want—I need to see it. I won’t think about the alternative.

When I open my eyes again, an alien sight greets me: A woman wearing my clothes, but with warm-toned brown skin instead of gray, and fully black hair instead of the slightest hint of indigo. The eyes are still my own, with black sclerae and violet irises and a third in the middle of my forehead, but the rest looks totally unlike me. With my bangs over my forehead and sunglasses over my regular eyes, I would look like just another human. As a matter of fact, I would look just like Hayal.

Newly disguised, I go back to the alley and check the future again. This time, the officers won’t notice me at all. Relieved, I leave the shadows and walk along the street towards my destination but turn northward a few blocks earlier than usual as the illusion begins to fade. Finally, back to myself, I reach the bank.

Once inside, I look into the future, see that nobody’s coming in the next few minutes, and let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. With the certainty that I’m safe for a little while, I fill out a withdrawal slip for 12,000 ioni, the most I can withdraw at once. The teller, a man with gray eyes and vulpine ears, doesn’t seem to notice my own eyes, or doesn’t comment if he does. As he checks over the slip, I wonder if I should try to strike up conversation, but he leaves the desk to retrieve the money before I say anything.

While waiting, I look through time again, trying to see further. I can open a new account, one not linked at all to the Celestial Temple, and try to transfer everything I’ve earned before anyone tries to freeze it. But fifteen minutes from now…

“Will that be all, miss?” The teller’s voice breaks my concentration before I can see everything, but the glimpse is enough. Amon? Here? Already? Surely it hasn’t been long enough for Asteron to drive all the way to the Temple and back. Unless Amon came as soon as Asteron called, which would mean he isn’t alone—any number of others could have come.

“Miss?” the teller asks again. I force myself back to the here and now, seeing that the teller is looking at me in confusion.

“Yes, sorry. Got distracted for a moment, you know?” I stammer. The teller raises an eyebrow at my forced smile, but he hands me the notes and lets me leave. Outside, I hurry to put distance between myself and the bank as quickly as I can without attracting attention. Only once I’m several blocks away in a random direction do I stop to think about where to go and what to do next.

While I have a list of other places I could go, I don’t know which to go to next, or which might be the safest from people looking for me. Maybe I should ask for guidance from the place I’ve gone for guidance to others all my life: Adtarr. A street corner isn’t the most glamorous place to pray, but better to pray now than not get the chance to at all.

By the light of the stars and the witness of time,
I seek sight and the wisdom of the divine…

Parts of the prayer feel silly sometimes, but I recite it entirely. After the full verses are finished, however, I add a personal touch, one that would never be allowed in the Celestial Temple:

Hi, Mom. I’m sorry to ask like this, but I need your help, please. Whatever guidance you’re willing to offer, just don’t let them find me and take me back. I’ll devote myself to you however I can, anywhere else. Please.

Silence. Nothing happens, no vision or voice in my head or any other response. I don’t know if I expected one at all, but either way it’s apparent that I’m on my own in deciding what to do. I wander along the street until I see a bookstore and a thought occurs to me: the maps I used to familiarize myself with Sedra’s layout are at the Library and inaccessible, but I can get a new one here.

The bookstore has both maps and a table near the back where I can study one. This is extremely helpful, as I’m in a part of the city I don’t know very well and I don’t want to spend hours wandering around without even knowing where I’m going.

While I’m still poring over the streets, however, the front door of the bookstore opens with a ring of a bell and I hear a voice I recognize asking for a map as well. Immediately, I look into the future to see none other than Emerynn, my coworker and acquaintance at the Celestial Temple, tapping her foot and standing in front of the counter. If she’s here, I have no idea how many other Adtarrans are here looking for me; it could be as few as her, Amon, and Asteron, but more might have come.

In the future, Emerynn looks around the bookstore out of curiosity, but she either catches a glimpse of me or just notices the area I’m in behind some shelves. She’ll wander over to look around, seeing me if I don’t move. But I don’t have time to try to go further back or put more shelves between us—the best I can do is hurl myself into an armchair facing away from her and hope that my unfamiliar outfit doesn’t prompt any investigation.

Seconds tick past, the future becomes the now, and Emerynn is looking right over towards where I am. If she does come over, I’m all but dead. I can practically feel her eyes on me. I’m scared to breathe.

But finally, finally, the cashier finishes counting change and Emerynn’s attention is drawn back to her business. I hear her mutter thanks and walk back out the door. Only then, once I’ve checked the future to see if she’ll burst back in randomly, can I take a breath of relief. I wait a few more minutes and then I too leave with map in hand, hoping for a space where I’m less likely to be found on accident.

The rest of the afternoon and evening follows much the same course: trying to find a place to spend a few hours or stay overnight, only to come within minutes of being found by either someone from the Celestial Temple or a passing officer. I underestimated how many police would be informed and on lookout after only a few hours, but with my timesight I can avoid them. Still, the evening takes its toll, and after having to leave a hotel before I could even get a room to avoid running into Amon again, I realize I’m still being predictable. I need to go someplace other followers of Adtarr might not be willing to go, or at least not expect me to go: a shrine to Thraman.

From the east, towering fir trees loom behind the Stonehall Temple, lit only by the stars and the flickering flames of its rooftop brazier. They look for all the world like massive shadows surrounding a campfire in a distant clearing.

Knocking on the door, I feel my anxiety building. My future-sight assured me that the Temple isn’t completely closed at night and that Sandu is still here, but I have no idea whether I can actually find safety here. All I have to go off is that Thraman is a god who favors refugees and fugitives, and the hope that I count enough as one to seek sanctuary here.

The door opens with a creak. Sandu stands there, looking tired. “Miranda Tara? What brings you back here?”

“Can you help me?” I ask, trying to speak as quickly as I can without being incomprehensible. “They’re looking for me and I can’t let them find me. Please, I need sanctuary.”

Sandu leans back, confused but apparently not incredulous. “They? Who are you running from?”

“The Celestial Temple. Followers of Adtarr.”

“Oh.” Both her eyebrows rise at that. “You’d better come in.”

Sandu beckons me inside, but instead of entering the main hall we go up a flight of stairs to the second floor. There, she turns and leads me into a parlor directly over the main foyer and gestures for me to sit. “Have you eaten this evening?” she asks, and when I shake my head, she hurries out of the room to return with an armful of dried fruit, pretzels, and granola bars.

Realizing how hungry I am, I rip open one of the granola bars and take a bite out of it as quickly as I can. Sandu sits back, letting me eat for a few minutes before speaking again.

“Do you mind telling me what happened? I don’t mean to pry, but with some general detail I can direct you to the resources and help you need.”

“I was found on the doorstep of the Celestial Temple,” I say between bites of dried apricot. “They raised me, but it was just to become the Seer once I was old enough and they’ve been having me do it since I was sixteen. I didn’t get to choose.”

“And,” I add, “I didn’t get to leave the Temple outside of chaperoned trips to keep an eye on me. I’m not even allowed to leave my room at night without someone watching me anymore.”

“That’s… concerning,” Sandu says, pausing after each word. “You ran away today?”

“I didn’t know if I’d even get another chance to leave the Temple for months, or ever.”

“You don’t need to justify it to me. But I can give you better resources now. Thank you.” Sandu begins jotting notes on a sheet of paper, though I don’t know what. She’s interrupted by a sound I didn’t expect to hear, and judging by her own surprise she didn’t expect it either: another set of knocks on the main door. “Stay here,” she whispers, then leaves the room and goes back down the stairs.

In the foyer, I hear the door creak open, and then Asteron’s voice says, “Good evening, ma’am.”

“I know you,” Sandu says, “Asteron, was it? What brings you here tonight?”

Before Asteron can say anything more, Amon’s voice rings out. “We have reason to believe that a member of our temple is hiding here after running away. She has, unfortunately, mental illness that she is supposed to take medication for.” His voice softens in mock sympathy, “She suffers… delusions. Believes in threats to her life and sometimes hallucinates things that aren’t there. Like I said, it’s normally treated, but it seems that she missed a dose today and suffered an episode; you know how it is.”

If nothing else, Sandu sounds unconvinced. “And you think she’s… hiding here? Why, exactly?”

“Because she’s predictable!” Amon snaps. He then adds, “I’m sorry. We’re rather stressed right now. A valued member of our temple has had a psychotic break and we’re terrified for her safety, but we’re guessing where she might be after searching the city all evening. Can you help us?”

“Well, unless she slipped in through a window since you knocked, I can be certain she isn’t here. Followers of Adtarr don’t exactly flock to this place like moths to a light.”

“For the love of—We’ve searched half the city! Where else could she be?”

From the tone of his voice, it sounds like Amon is ready to shove Sandu aside and search the temple himself. Knowing him, he just might, even if he doesn’t in the first future I check. If he comes in and finds me, I’m dead. I’m worse than dead. I’ll never see—no. Sandu won’t let him in willingly, but if Amon’s convinced of something, it would probably take divine intervention to change his mind. But maybe divine intervention can change his mind. An idea begins to form; he only has to believe it’s divine intervention, after all.

Once more, I close my eyes, cup my hands around empty space, and focus. Earlier, I only created a speck of light when I tried to make an astral moth, but this time I will succeed. I will. If it takes the divine guidance of one of Adtarr’s moths to lead Amon away from here, then it will happen. When I open my eyes, my hands are trembling, but this time there’s more than just a spark sitting on my palm. A single indigo moth sits there, star-speckled wings twitching as it looks around.

I will the moth to leave my palm, and it takes wing, fluttering around my arms and head. Yes! I can do it! I can lead Amon away from here, just by sending the moth down to him and then further, further away.

As it flies further from me, however, I notice something wrong. It’s flying less naturally, moving wildly and even bumping against furniture. A realization dawns: It’s under my control, which means that I decide where it flies, but for that I need to know where exactly for it to fly, and I barely know the layout of this temple. And, it seems, it gets harder to control the further it gets from me. It flies through the doorway and begins down the stairs, but in doing so leaves my sight and becomes even harder to control.

Why didn’t I think of this before trying? I may as well have saved my effort and just accepted that I can’t do anything. I call the moth back to me, dragging against a wall because I can’t see its path, but eventually it returns to my hand.

“Why can’t I just have this one success?” I mumble. The exchange downstairs is getting heated, Amon and Sandu alike raising their voices. On the back of my hand, the moth twitches again, still active but as useless as Amon says I am. “Sorry,” I say, as if it can understand me or is anything but an illusion, “I guess I shouldn’t have bothered if I couldn’t give you a mind of your own.” With that, I let it dissipate into nothing.

And yet, there is still an astral moth on my hand. And now I can feel it, the slightest weight on my skin. It isn’t mine, because I’m no longer putting in the effort to keep the illusion going, but it’s there. It leaves my hand, flitting around me like the last one did, and briefly landing on my forehead near my third eye. Then it takes off for good, soaring through the door and out of sight.

A few moments later, I hear Asteron shout over Amon and Sandu, “Sir, look! An astral moth!” Amon goes silent, and I can only guess that he must be staring at it.

“Cadol,” Amon says, “Is there any chance that could be a trick?”

“No, sir,” Asteron replies, “Tara isn’t capable of it. Earlier today she was barely able to create a spark, so this is beyond her. It might be a real blessing.”

Save for a grunt from Amon, everything is silent downstairs for a minute and I run over to risk the quickest glance out the window. The moth, just a shimmering mote at this distance, is swooping around outside, flying towards the edge of the grove. Amon is fully focused on running after it. Asteron must still be on the portico talking with Sandu, but quiet enough that I can’t hear him.

I duck back away from the window in case anyone happens to look up at it, but for the moment I feel safe. Slumping back on my chair, I breathe in and out, letting the emotions of the last few minutes—fear, excitement, despair, hope—run their course. Once I’m calmer, I look through time to see if I’m safe. In all of them, Amon follows the moth into the grove and Asteron goes after him in turn. They don’t return in any of them, so the moth must still be leading them further away. Adtarr must still be leading them away.

Before I can reflect on the miracle that has just happened, Sandu comes back upstairs and into the room, closing the door and sitting back down across from me. “That was… odd,” she says, “how the Prior was so insistent but just followed that moth into the woods. The other one, he called it a blessing. Is that true? Or was that your doing?”

“I had the idea,” I admit, “but couldn’t have done it alone. The moth you saw was a real one, so I guess it was a blessing, but for me instead of Amon.”

Sandu raises an eyebrow. “You asked for a moth and your Prior followed it, no questions asked? I’ve heard of that as a form of guidance but it’s very strange to witness. Besides, didn’t you worry he’d be suspicious of where it came from?”

“You heard him, they think I couldn’t have created it.” Shrugging, I add, “and it doesn’t matter where Adtarr’s guidance comes from, only where it leads you.”

“That’s poetic, but also very literal,” she chuckles. “Well, with that over, what will you do next?”

“I… don’t know.”

Sandu gives me another comforting smile. “I don’t mean this as asking you to go straight from being a Seer at one temple to working at another, but you can stay here if you need to, until you do know what to do next. Thraman accepts all asylum seekers, so we do too.”

I close my eyes, all of them, and think for a moment. Should I? Should I try to put more distance between myself and my prison? Where would I go right now?

I was so fixated on getting away from the Celestial Temple that even though I planned possible hiding places, I don’t fully know where to go and what to do after escaping.

Opening my eyes again, I let out a breath of tension. “I should. At least until I know where to go next,” I admit.

Sandu nods. “Alright then,” she says, “Let’s get you a place to sleep. We have rooms for exactly this.”

This time, she leads me further into the second floor, to a hall lined with a dozen closed doors. She opens one and waves me in. The room is small, with only a bed, a tiny table, and a little space left over, but it’s private enough and I won’t be found here.

“Thank you,” I tell Sandu, feeling a silvery droplet welling up in my eye.

“Of course,” she says. She turns to leave, but pauses long enough to add, “We can help you decide on a course of action in the morning.”

As the door closes, a wave of pent-up exhaustion washes over me. It’s been a long, stressful day. It’s also one of the first times I’ve slept anywhere outside the Celestial Temple. But, despite the unfamiliarity, I feel safer here than I’ve felt in years.

Laying in bed, I turn towards the window. Though the ambient glow of city lights would drown them out for others, I can still see stars shimmering in the sky. It occurs to me that Adtarr answered my prayer. So, before I drift off to sleep, I say one final thing to the sky: “Thanks, mom.”

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