Restoring Memories

Nesrin and Ceylan had just joined the restoration staff of an open-air museum preserving the remains of an ancient city. They surveyed the ruins around them, finding very little left of the city; some scraps of wall, a few statues, minuscule traces of road.
Nesrin stopped to pet the nose of a stone lion, analyzing the contrast between her young-looking fingers and the years recorded by the moss and dirt on the statue. “Hard to believe this was our childhood home.”
“I know. I sometimes wonder if immortality is so wonderful.” Ceylan picked up a shard of pottery that broke in her hands. “All those years we were gone; we should have been stopping the decay.”
Nesrin’s mouth twitched. “The time for such thoughts is past. Just focus on what we can do now.” She flicked her fingers and the mold and grime fell of the lion, releasing the familiar grey stone underneath.

Nesrin’s Journal – Origin Story

I was born in Karatepe, in the southern region of what is now Turkey, though neither of my parents lived there originally. My mother spent her early life in the area around Persia. She was not born of a mother as I was; she was created in fire.

This was during the time when hidden ones dwelled only in the Rig-e Jenn and had a greater dependence on humans. A delegation came to King Harun and said “We have written the treaties you asked for with the children of Adam, but they request evidence of the strength of our union.”

In response King Harun called for one of his servants and said “Find me thirteen jars of olive oil.”

When the servant returned with his oil, the king removed some of his own flame and used it to set the oil alight. The flames grew and finally began to take shape. The shapes flickered between various forms; doves, horses, perytons, spriggans, and finally settled onto nine women and four men of fire who stepped down from their jars and looked around.

Harun said “These are Sila; beings like us who will marry humans and give them children, thus creating a firm bond between our two peoples. They can change their shapes to make this arrangement agreeable, and you will have no trouble sealing your treaties.”

The plan was made at a time before its faults were widely acknowledged, and so it was agreed to. Before sending them out, the King gave them names, and he called my mother Samira. Clearly he did not know his own clones, or else he would have known that Samira was not so docile as the others.

When they tired to lead her away she refused to go. “Was I made to lead a prisoner’s life? I am fire of the king’s fire and wield more power than any of you. Let the one who makes light of his hands touch me first.” When they moved towards her she created a circle of lightning around herself which removed the tips of their fingers, then she dispersed into a wild windstorm. She re-formed herself on a distant mountain where they would not find her, and thus began an age of exile.

For centuries she traversed Eurasia and Africa, abiding where she liked, and marrying who and when she cared to. Naturally one outcome of this is that I have more siblings than I care to keep track of, and only very few from my father. At one point her travels brought her to the city of Troy, where she discovered that a number of our people had broken Harun’s treaty and were secretly agitating a human war. By now she had become more sympathetic to humans than to her own kind, so she sought to mitigate some of the chaos.

When the infamous horse came through the gates, Samira warned the soothsayer Cassandra about the destruction it would bring, and she went throughout the city warning the people. Only a respected merchant named Cleontes and one other person listened. The other was killed by snakes, but that did not stop Cleontes and Cassandra from plotting together to destroy the pretend gift.

Cassandra told Cleontes “We will act at night when the horse is alone, just before our enemies plan to venture out. You can move about more freely than I. Acquire two axes and two torches. When you see that the people have moved from the horse, come and fetch me, but let no one know what you are doing.”

The plan might have succeeded except that another hidden one named Withanni possessed Cassandra and caused her to rush at the horse alone in the middle of a crowd. Withanni also alerted the people to Cleontes’ intentions, but Mother warned Cleontes that they knew, and he fled in the night.

She took pity on him because he was one of the few who had heeded her warning. When she had helped Cassandra make her own flight, she raced ahead of Cleontes to Karatepe—no difficult task for a hidden one—and when he arrived she was waiting near the city gate in the shape of a woman similar to but different from Cassandra. “Welcome, good traveler. You appear weary. Have you had a long journey?”

“Not long, but hurried, and without sleep.”

She produced a wineskin and a satchel. “Here, let me give you some water and bread. Come with me, and I will show where you can feed and water your horse as well.”

She led him to a well at the center of the town. While he watered his horse she brought him some hay and said “Anything you find in this hay is my gift to you. Use it as you see fit.”

With that in mind, he decided to feed the horse by hand rather than let it graze freely. In so doing he found enough gold coins to buy a house and set up a comfortable life.

Naturally he married her. They integrated well into the workings of their new city, and he set up a successful business as a potter.

I was their firstborn. By your calendar I was born on February 7, 1183 BC. Like all hidden ones I came into the world in smoke and sparks that swirled like roses, but like all humans I also came in with screams and blood. My first movements were abnormally clumsy for a hidden one, and I did not find my voice as quickly as they usually do. I did, however, begin to use my abilities much sooner. They say even in the womb the first time I kicked half the city became invisible, and the second time the streets turned to water. I know those stories are true because I remember. I made the city invisible because I liked playing games, and I flooded the streets because there was a drought. I would have done much more without Mother telling me stories to calm me. She called me Nesrin even then. In English “Nesrin” translates to “wild rose.” I was named after the rose in a story she told me about a nightingale. That story stopped me from creating a lightning storm because I wanted to hear the thunder.

When I was finally born I waved my arms and every hidden one in the country was exposed to the humans around them. I’d been told stories; I knew the hidden ones were supposed to be aiding the humans, and that they continually resisted this order, so I took a stab at correcting that. Sadly that was the last time I got away with such a flippant action, even if Mother had secretly been pleased.

My childhood was pleasant enough. Without Mother’s power to tap into I had to develop for myself, which was unbearably frustrating but also exhilarating. Ceylan was born a year after me, and we had grand adventures together, though those are all different stories. There isn’t time to tell them all now, but I’m sure I will tell them at some point. I tell these ancient stories often so as not to forget them myself. 3201 years is a long life to keep track of, and without my journals I doubt even I would remember all I have seen and done. Some of my stories are not worth remembering, others I have actively tried to forget, but this is one I mean to hold on to.

Snapshots of Alternatives

Jason’s roommate Jonathan nudged him awake. Looking around, Jason saw that he had fallen asleep on the couch holding a video game controller, again. He looked at his phone and saw it was 5 pm. “Great. I lost almost another full day of job searching.”

“Which reminds me, the rent’s due, and I can’t afford another month of not getting your half.”

Jason rubbed his head. “I should’ve stayed in grad school. Could’ve gotten a little job at the college… sublet that apartment with Isabelle… She wouldn’t let me sleep my life away.”

While Jason was bemoaning his choices, Isabelle was in a history museum running between the exhibits. “Madre, check out these Mardi Gras queen’s trains. This one’s from the 1800s. Vaya! Can you imagine how strong the stitching must be to hold all those diamonds in place for this long?”

Celia put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder. “It looks muy pesado to me. Do you think being a queen is worth wearing that, Niña?”

“I think they only wear the trains for the parade, and then they drape them over the float, so it’s less like wearing one and more just pretending to wear one.”

“Well in that case I hope I get to see you pretend to wear one some day.”

Isabelle instantly started imagining a royal blue cape with a big golden eagle broach at the top and ribbons flowing all the way to the bottom over an embroidered map of the world, with gears and a clock face in the middle. She was pulled from her fantasy when her eyes turned to the next exhibit. “Madre! Madre! Madre! There’s an exhibit on the Titanic!” She started to run towards the cutout of the ship, but after a few steps she and Jason both ceased to exist as their real selves broke from their fantasies.


Nesrin rode a giant dog made of fire, leading her army into the apartment complex. Waves of hidden ones led by Ceylan flew overhead while the human ranks marched beneath them with guns loaded. The snipers and ninjas had gone ahead of them on the rooftops, and tanks were left in the streets waiting. Mithal the Failure Caliph was chained to Nesrin’s dog, carrying the Bottle of Samira.

Nesrin smiled at the lack of resistance. “My day has finally dawned. Soon she will learn that no one opposes Nesrin the Half Fire, not even her alternate self.” At last earth’s moon and Venus appeared in the sunlit sky. Now she was ready. She teleported into the apartment with Ceylan by her side.

Ceylan scoffed at their surroundings. “Forgive me, Khanum, but I fail to see how even a hypothetical version of you could live here.”

“This version was weak.” Her eyes glowed black and a dagger of black water appeared in her hand. “History broke her, but she is only a wraith of a might-have-been.”

They found the other Nesrin in her bedroom writing in her journal about impersonating her mother and her new reconnaissance task. The experience had revived suppressed, panicked memories of a human war she’d been involved in. The tortured fantasies it provoked gave the darker Nesrin strength as she lifted the dagger.

The other Nesrin slammed the journal shut and closed her eyes. “No.”

The Khanum dropped her dagger and stumbled.

The other Nesrin clenched her fists on her desk. “Let the thoughts go. Just hand them over.”

The Khanum and her sister faded like smoke in the wind, sending out ripples that erased their army like a tsunami. Once they were gone, the real Nesrin collapsed into her chair, able to relax a little.

Wish Granted

Jason and Isabelle were sitting on their balcony fanning themsleves with envelopes while they opened Christmas cards.

Finally Jason flung down his envelope in frustration. “It’s a week before Christmas and it’s 78 degrees outside. Something is seriously wrong with this.”

“This is Mobile, Alabama, mi hermano. You know it never gets cold here. Trees barely even change from verde to rojo.”

Jason held up a card depicting a nighttime scene of a cabin at the top of a snow-covered mountain. “Look at this! This is what they program us to expect. In all the pictures and all the movies this is what winter looks like; they even taught us that in elementary school.” He flung his hand toward the balcony. “And look out there. It’s all a pack of lies! Would one little flurry be that much to ask?”

Almost as he stopped speaking, something small and white floated onto his wrist.

Isabelle grabbed his shoulder. “Jason, mira!”

Jason looked up and saw white flakes falling like feathers out of a torn pillow. He and Isabelle stood and almost jumped over the balcony railing.

Behind them, Nesrin was poking her head out of the door. “It’s Christmas; your wish is my command.” A second later she appeared on the ground beneath them. “Race you downstairs!”

Jason and Isabelle dashed past the cards and through the apartment to the stairs outside, too excited to even put on jackets against the newly delivered cold.

Wraiths of Might-Have-Beens

On Fridays Isabelle and Jason both had night class from 6 to 8:30. Their classes were in separate buildings and fairly far apart, so they didn’t actually see each other until Jason picked Isabelle up for the drive home. Considering they lived together, this short break from each other wasn’t a hardship for either sibling.

Jason’s multivariate analysis class was the usual snooze-fest, and as soon as the ten minute break arrived at 7:15 he shot out of the room to the snack kiosk for some coffee and a muffin. He was just opening his muffin when a voice said “Hey Jason.”

He jumped when he saw Nesrin standing beside him, causing him to toss his muffin into the air for her to catch.

“Surprise,” she said as she handed it back.

“Don’t you have to work on Fridays?”

“Ceylan’s filling in for me. I wanted to keep an eye on you and Isabelle, make sure you’re not feeling any adverse effects form prolonged exposure to the hidden realm.”

“Um, should we be?”

“Possibly. Once you have the scent of magic on you it tends to follow you. Problem is that means different things for different people. You haven’t felt or seen anything strange, have you?”

Jason patted his torso and looked at his legs. “Not that I noticed.”

“Good, then maybe you’re okay for now. I’m gonna go check on Isabelle. Let me know if you do notice anything.”

“Oh I will.”

He had a hard time settling down after Nesrin left. He ended up going for a walk down one of the halls he didn’t have class in. Usually he stayed in the section of the building dedicated to business, but now he was in the section dedicated to accounting. Accounting was what he’d almost majored in as an undergrad, before he chose business management.

Just for a distraction he stopped to look at the pictures a professor had taped to their office door. He was reading a comic about accounting when he heard someone walk up beside him and check the professor’s schedule. At first he ignored it, but then he happened to turn and gasped.

The other person was exactly Jason’s hight, had exactly his hair and eye color, and had exactly the same face. The only difference was that the newcomer was wearing a t-shirt with a lot of numbers on it. The other Jason nodded in the original’s direction, then scampered to a classroom at the end of the hall. The original Jason was frozen in place until the new one disappeared at the door of the classroom. He dug his phone out of his pocket and dialed Nesrin’s number.

Meanwhile, Nesrin had found Isabelle outside with her headphones on, practicing her Taekwondo.

Isabelle jumped when she saw Nesrin, but smiled and took her headphones out. “Hey.”

“Hey. You make that look so easy. I’ve never understood how people can lift there legs so high with such ease.”

“You mean in three thousand years you never learned any martial arts?”

“I never had any reason to. We hidden ones can defend ourselves perfectly well without them. Maybe you could show me a few motions?”

“Sure. You stand there and I’ll show you one of the head kicks.” Isabelle started to raise her leg, then stopped. “Your body is physical and solid, right?”

“By now you should know it is. All half human hidden ones have physical bodies.”

Isabelle nodded. She raised her leg to Nesrin’s shoulder, only to have it pass through and send her spiraling forward. She latched onto Nesrin in a scramble to rebalance.

Nesrin smirked. “Of course I can still turn into smoke when I want to.”

Before Isabelle could respond, she heard a voice almost exactly like hers say “Taekwondo only dates back to the 1940’s, but the tradition of what we call martial arts began roughly four thousand years ago.” Isabelle turned in the direction of the voice and found a copy of herself in her Taekwondo robe, with a group of students in front of her. The sight only lasted a second before it vanished like a sandcastle in a wave.

Isabelle tried to look at Nesrin but couldn’t turn her head. “Did… you see that?”

“I saw.” Music erupted from Nesrin’s phone. She saw the caller was Jason and put him on speaker.

“Nesrin? I think I just noticed something. It was like meeting my own reflection.”

“I’m glad you called. I was just about to explain this same thing to Isabelle. What you’re seeing are flashes of alternate timelines. You, Jason, almost majored in accounting, and you, Isabelle, thought about teaching Taekwondo. When you perform actions that reflect those other options, you briefly experience what you could have had. For just a second, the hypothetical comes closer to reality and you can glimpse another life, but it doesn’t last long enough to become real. Most humans can’t actually see their’s, but the more you interact with my world…”

Jason was the first to speak. “So we’re gonna see more of these things?

“Most likely, yes.”

Isabelle shook her head. “Do you have ghost like this following you?”

“Yes, I have them too. The last time we were at the Flee Market I saw a version where I wasn’t released from my lamp until 2018, when an old lady sold it to you and you released me by accident.” She stared into the distance. “Another two thousand years in the lamp. Still, it’s better than some of the other alternatives. You were lucky that your first sightings were neither drastically better nor drastically worse than reality.”

“I see it again!” Jason was watching another copy of himself, dressed in dark pants and a pull-over shirt, walking down the hall with a briefcase.

“Yes,” Nesrin said. “In that version you got an internship at an accounting firm that works for the college. Financially, you’re not totally independent, but you’re not doing bad.” She heard quick footsteps over the phone.

Jason said “Can we talk to these things? Maybe get a few tips?”

“I suggest you don’t try. Any success or failure your alternatives had were based on a different set of circumstances than you’ve created for yourself. What works in one reality might destroy another.”

Isabelle noticed a version of herself sleeping on a bench beside them.

Nesrin saw her move towards the image. “When these appear you have to focus on the real, move forward as if you hadn’t seen them. If you don’t feed the connection they fade away. If you do the result is variable but seldom desirable .”

Isabelle turned away and her other self evaporated.

Jason’s footsteps stopped.

Nesrin smiled. “This will take practice for both of you, but I’ll help you adjust. In time you may find they aren’t so noticeable.”

Jason and Isabelle both murmured agreement, but really that was hard to imagine when they were both looking around for more shadows of different lives.

Lest We Forget

Ceylan stood in silence while Nesrin planted a circle of poppies. She was there mainly for her sister. Ceylan had been in the hidden realm for the War; she hadn’t seen it personally like Nesrin had. Neither spoke, and Nesrin didn’t look up from the flowers, but Ceylan did notice this was the first year Nesrin hadn’t wept while she worked.

Nesrin didn’t stand when she finished. She just looked out over the European landscape, her eyes looking through the present into the past. “I should have cried.”

Ceylan didn’t respond except to put a hand on her sister’s shoulder.

“The things… the people I let… I don’t deserve for the wounds to heal. I should have cried.”

Ceylan shifted closer. “Do you still remember what happened?”

“Too vividly.”

They stood in silence for a moment.

“Would you let it happen again?”

Nesrin breathed out the response like a sacred oath. “Never.”

“Then you’re still doing all you should.”

Nesrin looked up at her sister, then nodded as a single tear fell.

Ceylan Portrait and Character Squeezes


Presenting a portrait of Ceylan, Nesrin’s closest sister and advisor to Her Exalted Highness Samira Sila the Rebellious.


Also presenting a sequence of one-clause personality summaries of the main characters and more important recurring characters, just for the fun of it:

Nesrin Halfire – Whatever she needs to be at the time.

Isabelle Clements – Once was lost, now knows where she’s going.

Jason Clements – Impulsive, unobservant, well-meaning.

HEH Samira Sila TR – Can be overcome (barely) only by her descendants.

Ceylan Halfire – Her mother’s child.

Julrane of the Sea Dwellers – The loneliest hearts are often the truest.