Fire from the Overworld, Chapter 1 preview
“Some writers are great stylists and will write beautiful stories that say nothing new or important. Other writers are great storytellers whose tales are exciting but mundane. Only rarely do we see a writer whose creates compelling, important stories with captivating prose. B.T. Lowry is one of those rare authors whose work is not only compelling and moving, but also important to read. “Fire from the Overworld” is a terrific debut!”
–David Farland, New York Times Bestseller, Lead Judge for one of the world’s largest writing contests.
It’s like Carlos Castaneda on Brhad-Bhagavatamrta. On the brink of change, these young mystics show the potency of the inner journey and its effect on the world around us. (B.T. Lowry is) a story teller with the capacity to help us regenerate our conceptions.
-Caroline Tharp, Vice President of Gaudiya Vedanta Publications.
Chapter 1: Signals
Héyowan, an ayur in training
A cool night breeze blew through the open door of the thatched hut, yet sweat beaded on Ayur Sona’s brow. He lay flat on his back, his eyes closed. The shapes of his deeply lined face rose and fell like stony lands. His slow breathing moved the black and white sash around his waist—the colors of a Master Ayur. His heart continued to beat, but his awareness was clearly not here. A single braid—ink-black with veins of gray—snaked over his shoulders. Its tip rested beneath his hands where they lay crossed over his chest.
Héyowan had placed them there after his teacher had left his body. Teacher had slumped to the ground, and Héyowan had laid him on this mat with yellow and red stripes, then he’d placed some folded cloth under Teacher’s head, as a pillow, and waited.
Usually Teacher was gone for a few hours, but that had been two weeks ago.
Héyowan fingered his own braid, pressing his fingers into the intertwining coils of hair. Bird and lizard calls marked the coming of dawn. Pine resin smoldered in a pot in the corner, its scent mixing with the smell of the moist clay floor.
Smoke drifted through the light of a clay-pot lamp, up into darkness. Dried medicinal plants hung from the ceiling like hands reaching down, casting their shadows on the wicker walls. Teacher seemed to gaze upward, toward the realm of the Creator. His eyes were closed, but perhaps he looked with inner eyes.
If only it were true, thought Héyowan. No, he’s not in trance now.
He looked over to Yuvali. She knelt opposite him, by Teacher’s shoulders, breathing deeply with her eyes closed. She was trying to conquer her fears, Héyowan knew, preparing herself to leave her body.
At fourteen, she was just a couple of years younger than him, but she looked to him now like a small child. He wasn’t large for his age, but he felt huge next to her. In the flickering light of the lamp, her face seemed rounder than usual. Two thick braids hung alongside her brown cheeks. Her ayur clothing—a loose shirt tied with a sash at her waist, and baggy pants—seemed too large. The faint spiraling tattoo on her right cheek creased as she pressed her eyes shut and took short, deep breaths. She’d had that tattoo since he’d known her, but he’d never thought to ask her what it meant.
“Are you sure you want to travel again?” he asked her. She hadn’t tried to leave her body since the attack.
She opened her eyes, straightened her back. “I’m ready.” Her voice held strength. “You’ll try to sense me when I go?”
He nodded. He could sense her presence and thoughts even if they were miles apart, but she disappeared to him when she left her body. He’d have to learn to follow her with his mind, if their plan was to work.
“What’s it like, for you to sense me?” she asked. Her eyes were wide now, emerald green in the lamplight and peering into Héyowan.
He blushed, taken off guard. Like I’m not alone, he almost said.
Teacher had been guiding him to look inside the minds and hearts of people and animals. He could enter their inner worlds without them knowing him. But it seemed that Yuvali could see him, that she really saw him. It was wonderful, frightening.
“It’s a bit like sensing a fire with my eyes closed,” he said. “I can feel the heat, in a way. See the light behind my eyelids.”
She cocked her head, catching his eyes. “It’s more than that for me. I feel so many emotions flowing between us.”
Héyowan looked down.
“It’s not like that for you?” she pressed.
It was like that for him. He’d looked inside many minds and hearts, but always as a stranger. He felt known by Yuvali.
He didn’t say this.
“I sense you wherever you are,” he said instead, “but I can’t sense you when you leave your body. You leave, but then it’s like—”
“Like my fire goes out?”
“Like sparks going into the sky.”
She set her jaw. “Alright. I’ll leave my body, and you try to sense me.”
“I’ll concentrate,” he said. “And maybe you could… push your thoughts toward me?”
She nodded. She looked her own age again, not a lost child anymore. She let her eyelids fall, breathing slowly and deeply.
Héyowan closed his eyes, watched the lamp’s glow through his eyelids. Patterns, shapes, fears. He tried to still his turbulent thoughts. Gradually his subtle sight opened. Near Teacher’s hut he sensed the life-fires of animals, scattered across the ground, roaming on the rocks and flying in the sky. Desert plants glowed faintly here and there. Before him, Yuvali’s life-fire smoldered and flickered, a tight orange flame with green at its heart. A fine, silvery cord connected her to her physical body.
Yuvali had returned from the Overworld, but Teacher had not. She’d felt different to him since then—more confident and also terrified.
Like she thinks she’s about to die, and wants to do what she can first.
“I sense you now,” he said.
“I sense you too.”
Thoughts and feelings coursed between them like two streams running in opposite directions. They flowed side by side, swirling and bubbling where they met. Memories of playing when they’d first come to Darja village as little children. Glimpses of the visions given by Earth Ruler.
He saw her: his best friend, fellow apprentice, a girl pushed to become an ayur, a troubled child rooted more to the sky than to the earth. She guarded herself as though wounded, like a tortoise in its shell.
And he was laid bare to her: a boy who knew more of adults than they knew of themselves, who saw everyone’s hypocrisy, their discarded childhood dreams.
Now, he watched her life-fire narrow as she rose upward, then expand as if spreading in the wind. Then she was gone.
He reached around with his mind, tried to sense her. But he’d lost her.
He waited, eyes closed. A bluish flame moved sideways across his vision, somewhere outside the hut.
A nocturnal animal on the hunt. A fox perhaps.
Héyowan couldn’t see physical bodies or stones with his subtle vision, only living beings’ life-fires. The blue flame fell to the ground, moved into the distance. A background of glowing plants and worms.
At last Yuvali coughed. She inhaled suddenly. He opened his eyes as she opened hers.
“What did you sense?” she asked.
“I saw you leave your body, but then you were gone to me.”
She pursed her lips. “I watched you sitting there. Like you are now, but from above. I didn’t go very far. Well, what if we practice while I’m in my body? If I think of something really strongly, maybe you could sense that. That might strengthen our connection, then you’ll be able to see me when I go.”
She was smiling for the first time since she’d returned. It sounded like a good idea. It was fun practicing with her. Even though it frightened him, he liked to come closer to her, but…
“Will it be safe?” he asked.
“Will you be safe, when we do this for real?”
“Of course not.”
He sensed that mood in her again, that she was moving into death.
“What happened to Teacher?” he asked.
“They took him.”
Yuvali pressed her thin lips together. “The narahs.”
Na-rah, thought Héyowan, those who destroy, who make not. The enemies of the rulers of all creation.
“They could take you,” he said, “like they took Teacher. When you’re out there.”
“But I have to be able to warn you if they come, during the hunt.”
She cut him off. “Let’s just practice some more, alright? Can you think of some signals? Something I can think of really strongly, and send it to you.”
“Like what?” he asked.
“Something we both know.” She thought for a moment. “I have one.”
“Well I won’t tell you. See if you can sense it.”
The way she said ‘sense it’ made him want to come closer to her. But he remained where he was, sitting opposite her with Ayur Sona between them.
She closed her eyes. He closed his.
A moment later, his mind filled with long furry ears. Membranes spread inside them. Shiny black eyes.
“A rabbit,” he said.
She opened her eyes, grinning. “Right!”
They closed their eyes. Héyowan waited until another vision came.
“A tortoise,” he said.
They tried a dozen times. Héyowan got each one right. He felt the link between them growing stronger, the two streams mixing more with each other.
“Now let’s try it when you’re outside your body,” he said.
“Yes.” She considered a moment. “First I’ll stay close and send you something. Then again when I’m farther. We’ll find out what our limit is.”
“You’ve thought this through,” he said, impressed.
She smiled, closed her eyes and breathed steadily. He was about to close his own, but she opened one eye and said, “It’s kind of fun, isn’t it?”
He thought of the upcoming hunt, of what it would be like if the narahs possessed the mammoths. He glanced at Teacher, still motionless except for light breathing.
“Kind of,” he said.
She closed her eyes. Her breathing grew shallow and slow. He watched her leave her body, an ascending fire. He followed her for some time, then she seemed to disperse. He forced himself to concentrate, pushed away all other thoughts. He reached out his mind like stretching sap. He saw her, a faint fire.
She spoke something, not with words but— Green leaves and black bubbles. A sweet, tangy taste. He and Yuvali picking these bubbles without anyone knowing.
“Blackberries!” he said.
She moved farther off. He focused, strained. He received another message, less clear than the first: grainy wood glistening in light through a stone window. He and Yuvali rolling the thing across clay ground.
“A wooden ball.”
She ascended farther, faded from his vision. He pushed his mind after her. Sweat broke out on his arms, chest and face. She sent something… round, brown and… He strained to see, as though looking into a murky pool.
She rose farther still. He lost her completely. Maybe a flicker somewhere above, or was that his imagination? Her stream flowed away and was gone. He was alone. Isolated. Cold.
At last she coughed. He opened his eyes and the world came back to him. The pine smoke wafting through the air, the dancing shadows of hanging herbs on wicker walls.
Yuvali’s delicate face came alive. She opened her eyes and blinked several times. “Did you get all my signals?”
He felt joy and excitement from her—and deep fear.
“I sensed two clearly,” he said.
“Hmm, I sent four. What did you get?”
“Blackberries, then a ball. The third was… some kind of big round thing.”
“A tortoise. And the fourth a jar of ink. A lot of round things. I guess that was confusing.”
Héyowan considered. “With the first two, I saw us together with the objects. We were stealing blackberries, playing with a ball. I think those signals were stronger because of that.”
“Maybe. Also I was closer when I sent those.”
Suddenly the upcoming hunt filled his mind, and their little plan seemed crazy. But Yuvali seemed convinced.
“Yuvali, what if the narahs attack you?”
She looked down. “I’ll warn you, then you’ll warn the warriors. Then I’ll come back into my body. I think the narahs can’t get me then.”
“And the warriors will run? Give up the hunt?”
“Then what, Héyo? You didn’t see what happened when the narahs took over those mammoths by the mountains. I did. They killed everyone.”
They were silent for a long moment, their teacher between them with eyes closed, a face like mountains and valleys. Crickets sang.
He leaned across Teacher. She reached out, and he held her awkwardly. The streams flowing between them became rivers.
I could cross over into you now, he thought.
He could enter her and see all the people and things in her mind and heart. He could visit the center of her.
She said softly, “Let’s try it now.”
She gave a half-smile. “We’re more connected now, aren’t we? I think if I went farther, you could still see me.”
They separated, let out a long breath in unison, and closed their eyes. He saw her leave her body and ascend into the sky. He waited for her first signal.
Summer a few years back. He and Yuvali sitting around a bushy tree with broad, curving leaves, eating squishy pink—
“Figs,” he said.
She moved farther off, sent him an impression of himself dipping a fox-hair brush into—
One by one he caught them. Blackberry, rabbit, compost, a spear.
She returned and they opened their eyes. Dawn’s light pushed through the cracks in the wicker walls. He told her the things he’d seen. Each time she nodded, her smile deepening.
“I went even farther this time,” she said, “but you saw everything, and I could hear you say when you received something. I felt it.”
He caught her green eyes and gave her a smile.
How will you fight the narahs? he thought. They even took Teacher.
“Be safe,” he said, “when you’re up there.”
“I will… There’s something more I’m going to try, to get help.”
“I won’t tell you… I’ll tell you if it works.”
He bit his lip as a horrible idea occurred to him. “There’s something I could try as well.”
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