Excerpted from Speed of Light by Amber Kizer Copyright © 2012 by Amber Kizer. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
A carpet of violets rose beneath our feet, dancing to the tune the May winds strummed. Cherry trees lifted pink petals in offering. Paved paths wide enough for cars wound around the grassy hills, linking one section to another. Stone guardians and perpetual mourners of all sizes populated each plot. Benches made of granite but fashioned like tree limbs invited the weary to rest awhile. Whole tree trunks of limestone towered above, twined with ivy, calla lilies, and anchors. Up on a hill, sturdy stone monuments belonging to prominent families overlooked the best view of the Indianapolis skyline. Below us, an angel with unfurled wings held her hands out in invitation, her eyes closed as if she, too, saw beyond this life and into the next.
Cemeteries were my universal comfort place. I’d learned over the last five months that any burial place felt safe. In Colorado or here in Indiana. Wherever we went next, I knew I’d find the same peace at burial grounds. Their irrefutably homey feeling filled my heart with quiet contentment. Standing in Riverside Cemetery picking out two lots in section forty-six, one for Auntie’s grave marker and one for Juliet’s mother, Roshana, I wasn’t sure if I felt this safe because of all the dead or because the living worked so hard not to forget them. There, surrounded by monuments of draped obelisks and marble lambs, my grip relaxed. Maybe it was because the only souls coming to me were long since deceased and knew exactly what they were doing. Or maybe any earth dedicated to memories and the past was my temple, my church, my sacred ground--I didn’t know, didn’t question.
“Earth to Merry?” Tens brushed my hand with a half smile and a teasing glint in his eyes. “You okay?” His lips, too full and pink to be masculine, added to the beauty of his face and contrasted with his rugged, razor-sharp cheekbones and strong jaw.
I knew what those lips were capable of and my stomach knotted a silent answer. I’d like to lock us in a room, simply the two of us, pause the world so I could stop worrying, stop thinking, stop being a Fenestra and just be a girl in love with a boy. Just for a moment or two.
“Here comes Rumi,” I said as our giant friend, whose heart was larger than his frame, marched toward us beside the cemetery’s sexton. Rumi blew glass, acted like a self-appointed human watchdog, and threw around rare, antiquated words the way most of us said stupid things like cool and sick. His bald head was offset by a multicolored and intricately braided beard, his eyes sparkling with ever-ready laughter and capable of seeing the world painted in vivid colors.
“Merry?” Tens frowned at my half answer. He took his job of Protector seriously, even when I didn’t need him to. Was it possible to balance being entwined without being smothered? If only we could share thoughts without words, like we were supposed to. Protectors didn’t seem to have angel genes, but when paired with the right Fenestra, they shared memories and experiences from a very early age. In the beginning, Tens’s uncanny ability to feel what I felt unnerved me. Now I found comfort in not being alone. However, that didn’t mean I needed him to take care of me. I might not have superpowers, but I wasn’t helpless. I wouldn’t diminish myself to placate his sometimes overbearing sense of duty.
I snorted. In short, we were still working out the kinks in our relationship. “I’m fine. Just breathing.” Rumi brought me to this cemetery on a whim before the Feast of the Fireflies to visit his mother’s grave. We’d found grave markers chiseled with windows, like ones I saw shifting souls to the other side. They were also reiterated in the artwork Rumi’s ancestors passed down.
I hadn’t noticed the trees in February, but now the leaves unfurled like sails in late-spring breezes heading toward summer; it was as if the trees, too, had stories to share. The gentle wind whispered over us, raining petals and rustling the violets.
I glanced over at Tens. To think we were connected, entwined, destined to be together blew my mind. He was taller than most men, and his shoulders used to be straight planks and right angles but now subtly curved and rounded. His legs ate up the ground beneath him with the grace of rushing water--purposeful, intense, impossible to refuse. His deep black hair was shot through with shades of blue and purple and rust as the sun struck it. Forever too long, it fell over his ears and winged eyebrows, into his eyes. Eyes that appeared black, too, but flecked with a rich coffee brown, his pupils and irises blended. And it was as if he saw things most people missed. Maybe he did, not because he was a Protector, but because he was awake and aware of the world around him. He listened with every cell, every breath, knew the intention of every word of the people around us.
Rumi’s booming voice carried on the breeze. His odd accents and vocabulary made watching conversations with him a spectator sport. No one knew half of his words; I figured out the context and tried to look them up later. “Lass, this is Thomas. Are you sure this be the spot for your cenotaphs, your empty graves?”
“Merry, you’re sure you want to do this?” Tens leaned down into my face, cupping my cheeks. His breath was flavored by the cinnamon gum he preferred.
“Yes, they need stones and we need earth to visit.” Auntie’s remains had been in her house in Revelation when Perimo and the Nocti burned it down. If there was anything left, we had no idea when, or if, it would ever be safe enough to return there. She taught me that Fenestras are finite--if a Fenestra dies and isn’t transitioned by another Fenestra, then they are lost to the world. Which is a very good reason for the Nocti to hunt us to change or kill us. I’d helped Auntie over the window, but she couldn’t go to the Light beyond. She seemed stuck and the only thing we’d been able to figure out was her bodily remains weren’t marked, weren’t rested.
So although I could only mark ground for Auntie, we hoped to find Juliet’s mother, Roshana, somewhere nearby. Please be where we can find you. I feared Juliet would never relinquish the tight hold on her grief if we were unable to bury Roshana’s remains. It was as if Juliet couldn’t hold on to her actual mother, so instead she clung to the pain of not having a mom. Roshana had been taken by the Nocti, probably by Ms. Asura, years ago, and we had no idea where she might be buried, or if she was at all. “I won’t be back to Revelation soon to bury Auntie near Charles, and Juliet’s mother was a local, right? It makes sense to mark this ground, where Rumi’s family rests, before more time passes.”
We knew Rumi ordered plain stones for his family; mysteriously, the suspected Fenestras and Protectors had been re-marked with much more elaborate stones. We hoped to lure whoever was responsible for changing the grave markers into the open. Who are they? Can they help us find more Fenestra? Assist us in uncovering Juliet’s father’s identity? Why change the stones? Did it keep the Nocti from desecrating the remains of Fenestra, or were they mere decoration?
I rubbed my aching forehead. Too much thinking. Not enough knowing.
“This is only a tittle away from where my family’s plots are.” Rumi stroked his massive beard, today decorated with blue glass beads, and wiped his head free from sweat with an embroidered handkerchief. The late May weather was proving hot, unpredictable, and fickle.
I followed Rumi’s finger toward the gravestones of his generations. Granite window casings, swords, and foreign markings we didn’t recognize graced the ground. When they’d arrived and who carved them remained unknown. If they were Fenestra, or Nocti, or simply tied to us was part of the mystery. It would be easier to list the few things we know about us, rather than keep track of all the questions.
“I agree,” Tens offered, tipping his head to the right in a movement so slight neither Rumi nor the sexton saw it.
Custos, with her honey-and-molasses-tipped hair, hid her bulk behind an oak tree heavy with cascading flowers and poked her snout around to stare at us. Part wolf, part dog, and part divine-something-or-other, her lips curved and tail wagged. She seemed unusually pleased with herself.
I chuckled, slipping my hand into Tens’s. My fingertips tingled with the heat and strength he provided my soul like air for my lungs. If cemeteries are a safe place for me, Tens is my home.
“It’s done, then. If you’ll sign here?” Thomas held the paperwork out to Rumi for his signature and marked the two plots with wooden stakes and laminated numbers.
Today wasn’t only about closure; this might aid in solving the mystery. Calculating the risk, we’d decided to order plain stones, similar to the ones Rumi picked out originally. I hoped that by ordering plain headstones we might flush out whoever, or whatever, knew to put the special Fenestra headstones and footstones on the graves. Was it some sort of heavenly magic, or were there humans behind it? We needed knowledge, information, anything to add to our collective. The headstones delivered anonymously matched the drawings in his mother’s belongings and many of my visions at the window.
“Would you please be punctilious and let me know exactly when the stones’ll be delivered?” Rumi asked Thomas.
“Sure. I’m on it, Mr. Rumi. Not a problem. Let me just note it here.” The sexton wandered off alone back toward his golf cart.
Rumi turned to me. “I’d like to take a rubbing of the words, send it to a friend at the university to give a dekko, a look, at ’em. See if she can tell us what language is carved into them.”
“Is it worth the risk?” Tens questioned.
“I trust her. Besides, whatever is written here is on stones for all the world to see, not in an abditory, a secret place.”
“That’s a good point,” I agreed, tucking my shoulder-length curls behind my ears. They no longer wilted when I transitioned the dead, and I’d given up hiding behind wild hair colors.
“Rumi, we’re going to be late to your own meeting.” Tens checked his watch. “You willing to tell us what it’s all about now?”
“No.” Rumi grinned.