Chapter 5

Had I not known you,
I would be a lesser man,
even should I now reign,
in this unimagined land,
I would not be even half,
of who this day I stand.

– Alexander Durandal, circa 380 E.R.

Friends in Need

Rhaeus 26th 647 E.R.

Kiannae looked up at the sound of approaching footsteps, and found Zale walking somewhat cautiously towards her.

“Strange breeze today,” he remarked glancing around.  Kiannae let out a long slow breath, and the direction of the wind dramatically shifted.  “Oh,” he said an almost startled look creeping over his face as he fully appreciated what had happened.  He could feel it then, but far more subtle in action and profound in result than he was used to.

“Nice of you to walk up like a normal person,” Kiannae said rolling her shoulders, and rubbing her neck as the breeze came to a stop.

“I did say I was sorry about last time,” Zale sighed.  “Then I figured I’d give you some space.”

“Well, as Landri likes to point out, difficult is my way.”

“She can be a bit judgmental,” Zale offered as he sat down across from Kiannae.

“Oh, no,” Kiannae laughed, “she’s quite right.”

“They usually save teaching the elemental stuff for advanced students,” Zale mused, attempting to shift away from Kiannae’s self deprecating jabs.

“What can I say, I’m advanced.”  she said with a grin.  “I pressed Landri about it, she said they had been focusing on all the life stuff because it was farther from what I had already been taught,” Kiannae said with a shrug.

“And then you insisted she expand her lesson plan?” Zale asked curiously.

“She was hesitant at first, concerned I would fall back on mage methods, and cause myself more trouble.”  Kiannae sighed.  “When she relented to teach me however she found that my methods were not as magely as she had expected.  I always found the direct solution to an end easier, unlike Kat…” she trailed off sadly.

“You miss her don’t you?” Zale said with a frown.

“What kind of miserable question is that?” Kiannae demanded with a touch of anger.  “She was my twin, like a part of my very soul.  Miss her…yes you might say that.”  She was fiery eyed, her breath quicker, and the wind a bit more erratic to match.

“I’m sorry,” Zale said with a flustered expression and nervous tone.  His eyes darted around a bit, trying to judge how much control she had over the wind, or her effect on it.  “I didn’t mean it that way.  I was just offering…an ear to listen…”

“I…” Kiannae sighed, and the wind calmed again.  “No, I’m sorry, I can tell you were trying to be friendly, and failing miserably.  Though I don’t know why you are going out of your way for me.”

“If you haven’t noticed there aren’t a lot our age around here,” Zale said pointedly.

“We aren’t exactly the same age,” Kiannae shot back.

“Closer than anyone else,” Zale sighed.  “There is Riley and Fenric, but they are twenty five, and joined at the hip…more than figuratively.  Then there are the little kids…”

“You poor dear,” Kiannae said in a mocking tone, “with only me for company.”

“Again,” Zale sighed, “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“And if you are going to be hanging around me alot,” Kiannae said tersely, “you’ll need to learn to deal with the sarcasm.”

“Fair,” Zale laughed uncomfortably.

There was a stretch of awkward silence before Zale tried to break the ice again.  “So you are just out here playing with the wind?”

“It’s…relaxing,” Kiannae said with a shrug.  “What do you do with your free time, other than climbing around in trees, and sneaking up on younger women?”

“Not much,” Zale sighed, “about as much to do around here as there are people my age to talk to.  I miss being on the road with my mother…but father insisted I stay here for a while.”

Kiannae stood up, stretched, and with a wave of her hand called forth a gentle breeze.  “So play with the wind,” she said with a laugh and graceful twirl.  The air moved flawlessly with her, a strange zephyr that swirled in perfect sync as she spun.

Zale watched curiously as Kiannae began to dance to some unheard music.  Trails of light formed behind her hands, and smaller wild gusts whorled the light in all but unfathomable ways around her.  Leaves were lifted on the wind, and carried around her in a gentle spiral.

The light felt right to Kiannae, it was the wind, tracing forms that eyes could not see. The light came from the wind, her hands merely instruments.  Her motion itself was a whim, a whimsy, it was her forms shape on the breeze, and following its course seemed to take no energy, and even give, stollen not from the aether, but in spiraling tracks though the world.  A wind moved faster, a wind moved slower.  Everything conserved, nothing challenged.  An order emerged from chaos, and she was that order.  There was a breath to the world.  The winter would draw it in, the spring would exhale.

After several minutes of the unexpected spectacle Kiannae simply stopped, and the wind almost snapped to still, dropping the leaves it had carried like autumn colored snowflakes all around.  “So, were you going to join me?” she asked cocking her head to the side.

“I wouldn’t even know where to begin,” Zale said scratching his head.  “I know the basics of everything I just saw…but I can’t even fathom how you put it all together, or what inspired you to do so.”  He left out his doubts about the sheer power that seemed behind it, or if it was power precisely and not something harder to name.  Though he did carefully consider if flattery could be in his favor.

Kiannae huffed, strolled back to the tree, and sat against it again.  “You are going to need to work on being more interesting, you know?”

“I fear I’ll never be as ‘interesting’ as what I just saw,” Zale said with an awkward grin, gambling that playful might get him farther.

“Then I’ll have to teach you,” Kiannae said with a disappointed grumble.

“To make swirling wind and light?” Zale laughed dubiously.

“No, to be interesting,” Kiannae corrected. “Because if what you say is true, you are my best hope for company…and that, is to say the least worrisome.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Rhaeus 40th, 647 E.R.

Kiannae stood by the riverside as the other women of the circle undressed, and descended into the gently flowing waters.  At the castle she had bathed almost daily, but the druids only trekked up to a deep stretch of river a few times a week.  She noticed that only a very few would go with every group, and she was among them.  Even though the river was generally far colder than she would like.

They had left the men some distance downstream, and around a bend.  She was used to bathing around other women, and though the calm stretch of the river did not provide the same secure privacy as the walls of the castle bath, she had never caught sight one of the men spying.  That didn’t mean, she realized, it didn’t happen, or that they were not so deft as to go unnoticed.  Still, she certainly had not seen it.

She absently started to wander farther up stream, which seemed to go unnoticed as the other women were distracted chatting, or simply relaxing in the water.  As she walked Kiannae became absent minded.  On straight clear stretches she would close her eyes, and listen to the birds.  She passed a short two foot fall as she came to a third bend.  She began to wonder if she should head back, but decided peaking around the turn could not hurt.

There she found a beautiful pool, fed by an eight foot fall with large smooth stones at its base, and in places cascading off smaller outcroppings.  She wondered for a moment why the other women did not bathe there instead.  She decided it was simply too far, when the lower pool they generally used was entirely sufficient, if less idyllic.  Deciding she should bathe she stripped down, and slipped into the deep clear waters.  The pool was even slower flowing than the lower section of the river, and seemed much warmer than she had become accustomed to.  Which delighted her.

For a moment Kiannae was back at the castle, and five years old, when she was still small enough to properly swim in the shallow waters of the women’s bath.  She became completely lost in the sensation, and moved through the water with an absent minded glee.  She closed her eyes, and twirled slowly, feeling the flow of it around her.  Her training kicked in without even thinking, and she felt like a part of the stream.

Slowly her motions became more a dance than swimming.  She entirely lost track of time as minutes passed, and on into two hours.  She was at one with the river, timeless, and yet ever flowing.  For the first time in months there was no sorrow that could intrude, only a simple joy.  The way the water moved around her was delicate, perfect, and she was unaware as someone approached her private pool unannounced.

Kiannae opened her eyes at the end of a particularly successful twirl, and it took her a moment to come back to reality, and recognize that someone was standing a short distance in front of her on the bank.  Before even that had fully sunk in she realized first that it was Zale, and second that he was at eye level.  The twinge of embarrassment stood no chance against the realization that she was suspended in a spiral of water that was nearly five feet above the rest of the pool.

This condition changed almost instantly, and Kiannae found herself briefly floundering as the water collapsed out from under her.   She coughed as she struggled to regain her bearings, and get the water out of her nose, and off her face.  When she could see again she snapped into anger, glaring at Zale who stood awestruck, jaw quite literally dropped, and clearly unapologetic before her.

“You have some nerve,” Kiannae growled, the effectiveness of which was cut somewhat by another cough.

“I would have said something…as I approached,” Zale said starting to show some sign of embarrassment, “but…but what in the abyss was that?”

“Don’t change the subject,” Kiannae snapped defensively, still trying to process herself what had happened.

“Yes…yes, because me coming looking for you when the other women showed up without you, and happening upon…you…” Zale said, seemingly searching for words, “suspended five feet up in swirling water.  Yes, no…I suppose that’s not the subject,” he said defensively.

Kiannae seemed to shrink, and quickly covered her chest with her arms, finally making the mental connection between her embarrassment, and needing to do something about it.  Zale turned his back then, to his credit.  “I’m sorry,” he said, “I just…I couldn’t look away from…whatever that was.  It was breathtaking.”

“And the fact that I was naked didn’t enter into it at all?” Kiannae growled treading water again once she didn’t feel the need to cover up.

“Well perhaps you were breathtaking as well?” Zale offered in a legitimately uncomfortable tone, “but I have seen a naked woman before…that however was like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

“And when have you seen a naked woman?” Kiannae demanded accusingly.

“I grew up on the road…one sees a great many things,” Zale said evasively, and laughed uncomfortably.

“Do you now?” Kiannae chided, “such as young women bathing in private?”

“There was little private about that show,” Zale laughed even more nervously, “but I dare say that dancer had less than half your grace, and not a third your beauty.”  The attempt at flattery fell flat for its exaggeration, even if it was clear there was some honesty buried under it somewhere.

“Not helping yourself,” Kiannae grumbled.  “Would you please leave, so I can dress?” she demanded angrily.

“Yes,” Zale said, and started to move back downstream, “I’ll wait for you around the bend.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Zale heard Kiannae approach, but she simply marched past him without saying a word.  He stood for a moment uncomfortably, and then hurried after her, as her brisk pace was carrying her quite quickly down stream.  “I’m sorry,” he offered again.

Kiannae stopped, and fumed.  “You should be,” was all she found to say in turn.

“I came around the bend, and there you were,” Zale protested.  “I…should have said something, but…alright, if I’m honest you being naked probably did have something to do with it, but that was at least the third thing I noticed.”

“Name the others?” Kiannae demanded tersely, turned on her heel and crossed her arms.

“The column of water,” Zale started, “how it moved…how you moved…then naked.  I really couldn’t even see much, but yeah, I noticed…alright?  I’m sorry.”  Kiannae didn’t look terribly appease.  “I should have said something, turned my back…but…how did you even do that?”

“I don’t know,” Kiannae said.  “The same way as the wind?  I wasn’t trying, wasn’t thinking…I didn’t even know it was happening till I came out of it, and saw you.”

“Weren’t trying!?” Zale snapped suddenly, a bewildered expression crossing his face.

Kiannae took more than a moment staring at him, trying to believe the look on his face.  “I wasn’t,” she insisted.

“I don’t think there is a single druid here who could do what you just did if they tried with all their might,” Zale protested.  “And…you did it without even trying?”

Kiannae finally adopted another expression than irritation, or doubt.  She looked a bit confused.  “Are you sure?” she asked, trying to make sense out of that.

“I don’t know,” Zale said, “maybe?  I mean, maybe some of them could, if they tried, really hard.  Maybe,” he stressed.

Kiannae looked to the river, and was quite a minute.  “Why were you the one looking for me?” she finally asked.

“You are farther north than we are strictly supposed to go,” Zale said.  “I really shouldn’t have even come up here looking for you, but no one else seemed to be.”

“Is it a problem I came up here?”

“Probably not,” Zale said uncertainty.  “The river is the border most of the time, but this far north it gets fuzzy.”

“I’m sorry I snapped,” Kiannae said, on a level she wasn’t sure if she should be sorry at all, but some diplomatic urge intruded.  She doubted very much if things were reversed if she would have done any different.  Though she wasn’t sure at all she would have gone looking for Zale in the first place.  She didn’t find much comfort in that distinction either.

“No,” Zale said.  “I’m sorry.  I really…ah fates, there’s no point hashing over it.  I’m just sorry.”

Kiannae considered the young man before her.  She was still mad at him, but there was something cute about the flustered way he was acting, that cut away at the threatening feeling of being spied on, and she tried to tell herself that he hadn’t really been spying.  Not intentionally, and in that there was many some hypocrisy for all the people she had ever spied on with full intent.  Though never in the nude.  Except, well, she had considered the shape of other women bathing, wondered how she would look one day.  That wasn’t the same.  She ground her teeth riddling it all over.  It was different.

“So,” Kiannae started, changing the subject in her own head as much as between them, “am I really three times as beautiful as that dancer?”  It was playful, but mostly she just wanted to see the look of panic cross his face as he tried to figure out the right answer.  She was not disappointed, and she felt a little more even for the whole affair.

“In a few years,” he laughed, “I suspect it will be an understatement.”

Kiannae considered his response.  She pursed her lips, gave him a very shrewd look, smirked and started down stream again without another word.  She thought he’d done pretty well with that, in fact she suspected Mercu would have given it an applause.  She was less sure how she felt about that.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Jovan 3rd, 647 E.R.

Kiannae slipped from the back window of the house she was supposed to be asleep in, and into the moonlight.  It might have been easier to use the front door, but all of the houses of the glade had been grown with their only door facing the center of town, where two druids stood watch in shifts.

She peered around the corner of the house at the guards, and saw they were lost in some trivial conversation or another.  However in the bright moonlight she would easily be seen walking down any of the radiating paths that lead away from the central square.  Pulling her hood over her head she crept up to the front of the house behind hers, and moved slowly along the wall in hopes she would blend in with the bark enough to go unseen.

Kiannae stole an occasional glance to the central square, and saw that she had avoided notice.  She did not however see that someone stood in the open window behind her has she slipped past, and that he caught a glimpse of her face as she checked again on the night watch.

Clear of the house Kiannae moved into its shadow, and walked briskly into the woods.  She wondered how daft she was to be trying what she was, but decided she had to know.  She watched the bright patch of moonlight in the large clearing ahead with anxious anticipation.  She paused at the edge of the glade, gathered herself, and marched to its center where she sat, and closed her eyes.

Kiannae reached out in every direction, feeling for any large living thing.  She felt the ring of trees around her, some animals here and there, and pulled her senses back.  She could detect nothing within the field but the grass, bugs, and various critters of the earth.  “Where are you,” she whispered to herself.  “Show yourself,” she commanded under her breath.

She could feel the shift as it happened, feel the form before her, but her senses could not tell her what it was any more than ever.  It felt almost like it was a part of her, a part of her own aura.  She reached deep within herself, and tried to take stock of her being, her own essence, and then she finally saw it.  All around her, there was an otherness, a presence she had never noticed because it shared the same space as her, it didn’t just intersect, it was everywhere she was.

She opened her eyes to confirm what she knew, and stared at him, still focused on other senses.  If his skin had felt like water, his presence felt like wind.  He seemed more a change in pressure on one side, than the warmth of a living thing.  Yet it wasn’t true, the warmth was there, it just wasn’t his, it wasn’t centered on him.  He seemed just a dimple in her own presence, like a spell she had cast.  The conscious sense was not outside her in his head, but inside her own.  He wasn’t her, but he was woven through her tighter than the threads of her robe.

How had it happened, how had she become inseparable from him without even feeling it, without noticing.  It was as though he had fallen into a hole in her, as if something had stopped hurting just a little, or rather a great deal.  He had…there had been something torn out of her when Kat died, and he had soaked through that empty place, and become one.  It just was…she could see with her own senses they were inseparable, barely identifiable.  It was no wonder it had taken her so long.

“You are in me, aren’t you?” Kiannae asked of the strange boy standing before her in the moonlight.  He cocked his head to the side curiously.  Kiannae frowned, but for once did not become flustered by the lack of communication.  She pointed to the boy, then to herself, and feigned drinking as he had so many times.  There was a pause, a hesitation, and then he simply nodded.

“Water,” Kiannae said feigning drinking.  “Water,” she repeated pointing at the boy.  He sat down before her, and nodded again.  “Drink,” she said again feigning the act again.  “Drink,” she said pointing at the boy, then at herself, and repeating the act.

“Drink,” he spoke in his strange, awkward, oddly melodic way, and pointed at Kiannae.

Kiannae nodded, covered her face in frustration that it had taken her so long to understand.  “Yes, I drink,” she said wearily.  “I am so very sorry.”  It was all rushing back, it was all making sense.  The ache in her belly, the thirst, they hadn’t been the only thing that had eased when she had drank of the pool.  Another ache in the center of her had eased as well.

That wasn’t it though.  That wasn’t all of it.  She half remembered a story, a tale she had been told as a little girl after seeing her first ghost.  Only half remembered though, it was just out of reach.  Just slightly there.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Jovan 4th, 647 E.R.

The sky had turned orange, and Kiannae turned at the sound of chirping birds.  “Thank you,” she said to the boy, as she got up.  “Night, we talk again,” she said.

“Thank you,” the boy said in kind.  “Ok” he added, and faded away into the morning mist.  It had been a long, exhausting night.  The boy was learning almost too quickly Kiannae realized, but it was still slow and frustrating.  Wren had learned quickly she thought, far too quickly she had always heard.  Was it the reverse, was the ghost in her learning from her own memories.  It was a troubling thought.  It felt far more exposed than being seen by Zale…and the possibility…  She grimaced and refused to fully consider the thought that followed.

Confirmation had also only made Kiannae’s predicament harder.  She did not trust her new benefactors, nor their potential beliefs well enough to tell them the truth she had learned.  They had not noticed yet, just as she hadn’t.  The boy appeared to be a part of her to them, his aura was indistinguishable from hers, they had never met her before the merging had occurred, so there was no way for them to tell.

Kiannae doubted her analysis, the druids had detected the mage blood within her, had worked to separate it from her.  She worried that they might have harmed the boy in the process, but decided that was done, and over with.  There was no taking back what might have happened, and no pressing plans to repeat the process that had been used.

As she walked towards town she caught a glimpse of something beneath a tree.  Zale was asleep just past the edge of the glade, and in a flash she realized that he must have been watching her in the night.  Irritably she marched up to him, and nudged him with her foot till he stirred.

“So,” Kiannae grumbled, “what do you intend to do?”

“About?” Zale asked, rubbing his eyes.

“Don’t play dumb, even if you are,” Kiannae growled.

“About the boy?” Zale said awkwardly. “The boy who forms out of mist…” he added as he looked around, “and I can only presume returns to it just as easily.”

“Yes,” Kiannae sighed exasperatedly, “about that.”

“I suppose tell the elders,” Zale said with a shrug.

“Could you be convinced keep this between us?” Kiannae asked hesitantly.

“Why?” Zale asked getting up and scratching his head.

“Because I asked nicely?” Kiannae laughed doubtfully.

“You called me dumb,” Zale said perking an eyebrow, “you call that nice?”

“Perhaps you don’t want to see mean?” Kiannae suggested switching to a less friendly expression.  “He’s harmless,” she added, “and can’t even really speak for himself yet.”

“What ever.” Zale sighed. “Might keep me from having to answer for being out all night, even if I did follow you.  No promises though, if we can’t sneak back into the village unnoticed.”  He paused.  “Bring me with properly next time.  I want to meet this boy if I’m to be keeping his secrets,” he demanded.

“Deal…” Kiannae agreed hesitantly.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Jovan 5th, 647 E.R.

As the day wore on, Kiannae grew weary of catching sidelong glances from Zale.  She didn’t know what to make of his sudden fascination.  Perhaps nothing had really changed, and she was only more aware of his attention.  She wondered what he really wanted – was he excited by the prospect of meeting something not quite human, was she herself – by some broad definition – fascinating to him for the same reason?

Kiannae found herself opposite Zale over dinner in the central hall, and grew more flustered in her attempts to read his intent.  She considered jealousy for the first time.  He had made quite a point that she was the closest person to his age in the circle, and by virtue of that his best options for friendship.  It occurred to her his only romantic prospect as well.  Her boy in the mist could seem a threat, if Zale had such designs.  She smirked to herself at the thought of what his reaction would be when he realized the boy was always naked, and all but broke down laughing at the curious glance her expression brought.

As the evening meal broke, Zale pulled her aside.  “So, what’s the plan?” he asked quietly.

“Same as last time I guess,” Kiannae said with a shrug.  “I sneak off, you follow…just this time, you join me in the clearing.”

“Bit simple,” Zale said, “thought you said I needed to be more interesting.”

“Sneaking off in the dead of night, to meet an ancient being that dwells in the mist isn’t interesting?” Kiannae gave him an amused glance.

“When you put it like that…” Zale said trailing off.

“Consider that lesson one of being interesting.”  Kiannae said pointedly.  “Remember to put things the right way.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Kiannae paused at the back of Zale’s house, and wondered how long she would have to wait for him to sort out his own exit.  After several minutes, and on the verge of heading off on her own again she saw the back window open, and Zale slip out just as she had, if slightly less graceful on the landing.  She snickered as he fell on his rear.

“Remind me to add how land properly to the list of things I need to teach you,” Kiannae said quietly as he walked up to her, and dusted himself off.

“Ok, just cause a branch broke, and I am more accustomed to exiting through doors than windows, does not make me clumsy,” Zale grumbled a bit loudly for Kiannae’s taste, and she held a finger up to her lips.

“I didn’t say you were clumsy,” Kiannae said softly but with a decided smirk.  “I said you didn’t know how to land.  Clumsy might be a good word for it though – so I’ll take it under advisement.”  

Zale looked quite unamused, which only amused Kiannae further.

“Anyway, come on,” she said waving for him to follow as she turned, and walked into the woods.

Zale moved several times to speak as they walked towards the clearing, and each time decided he was short of a good opening, and thought better of it.  As they entered into the glade Kiannae simply moved to the center, and sat down as Zale stood back a few feet, and watched.  

When nothing happened for several minutes Zale began to become impatient.  “How long does this take?”

“Not a clue,” Kiannae said without opening her eyes.  “I’ve not exactly mastered conjuring him up.  I’m not even sure if that’s actually under my control.  He has come so far entirely of his own accord.  Save perhaps last night when I called for him to show himself.”

“What exactly is he?” Zale asked still impatient, and finally a little nervous about what he had not only agreed to, but asked for.

“If I had to wager a guess,” Kiannae said with a shrug, “half flesh.  A step above a ghost, quite a few steps below the Avatar.  There is an old story one of my mentors told me.  About a race of people who lived on the shores of a great lake, and who were at one with its waters.  They were all wiped out, ages ago, and one…or more lay a curse on the waters.   Or so the fable goes…but curses aren’t real.  Spirits though…spirits are.”

“Are you sure it’s wise to consort with a spirit that’s been blamed for a curse?” Zale pressed suddenly very uneasy.

“Even the story isn’t so simple,” Kiannae chided irritably.  “There are two sides to the tale that follows.  Tales of people pulled into the water and drowned, of course, but there are also stories of some being saved.”

“So then…” Zale started, “you think he’s the benevolent old spirit of a lake?”

“That could be part of it,” Kiannae mused.  “You druids do believe in a higher intelligence to the elements of the world.  That elementals are not simply the rare anomalies we find in the wastes, and far reaches, but all around us, simply passive, and usually content.  What I have learned to feel and do gives me pause to consider there is some truth to it.”

“That is what Landri teaches,” Zale said hesitantly, and sat down across from Kiannae.  “Mother was never as…preachy.  She taught me practical druidic techniques, that which was useful to our time on the road.”

“I don’t pity you the lack of preachy,” Kiannae laughed, “but it has been enlightening at times.  Still I think he’s a lot more than a simple elemental.  I believe the form he takes is an echo of his old life.”

“Does he have a name?” Zale asked, intent to keep his mind of all that could go wrong away from the village at night.

“I’m sure he does,” Kiannae considered, “but I don’t think he remembers it.”

“How do you forget your own name?” Zale asked doubtfully.

“Knowledge does not pass perfectly from the mind to the soul I suspect,” Kiannae suggested, “and you try sleeping a thousand years.  See how much you remember.”

“A thousand years…” Zale said doubtfully.

“The story is I think about that old, give or take.  At least from what I know,” Kiannae said with a shrug, and suddenly opened her eyes.

Zale looked at her funny a moment, but her gaze was not on him he realized, focused just above and behind him.  He looked up, and quickly scrambled to Kiannae’s side when he caught the sight of the boy standing over him.  “I didn’t even…” Zale trailed off, “what in the bloody abyss,” he cursed, “he’s naked.”

“I don’t think clothes carry over as well as the body,” Kiannae said repressing a laugh. “It uh, took me by surprise the first few times.  I’ve kind of gotten…used to it….kind of.”

“You could have warned me,” Zale muttered, not quite able to keep his eyes from glancing where he would rather not.

“What fun would that have been,” Kiannae laughed.  “You know at dinner, when you gave me that funny look for smirking to myself.  The expression on your face right now, was what I was imagining.”

“Oh,” Zale sighed, “everything you hoped?”

“I’ve seen better,” Kiannae said dismissively, “but still priceless.”

“Wait – don’t ghosts have clothes?” Zale protested.

“They do actually,” Kiannae frowned.  “At least the one I’ve seen before.”

“You’ve seen other ghosts before?”

“Quite a few times in my room back home actually,” Kiannae laughed.  “Though she stopped coming around after my sister and I kept trying to catch her.”

“Wait, what?” Zale demanded, but Kiannae seemed to ignore the inquiry, and rethink what she might be revealing.

“Water,” Kiannae said addressing the boy.  “Zale,” she said pointing to Zale.

“Zale,” Water said in his melodic way, and nodded.

“What else can he say?” Zale asked curiously, setting aside other questions for another time.

“A few things,” Kiannae said eyeing Zale suspiciously.  “Water, Tell Zale name,” Kiannae said.

“I Water,” the boy said, “Kiannae drink Water.  Water with Kiannae, always.”

“Did you teach him all of that in one night?” Zale asked perking a brow.

“Pretty much,” Kiannae said with a shrug, “all our prior encounters ended with an impasse.”

“Water listen, Water learn.  I learn from dreams,” Water added.

“Ok…” Kiannae said uncertainty, “that bit was new.”

“I listen to Landri in dream,” Water said, “she teach of self to Kiannae.”

“That…is creepy,” Zale said more than a bit on edge.

Water cocked his head to the side.  “Not fear I.  Water good.”

“He’s perceptive at least,” Zale said trying to relax.

“You could talk to him, and not act like he isn’t here,” Kiannae chided.

“Um, sorry…Water,” Zale said properly looking at the boy.

“I think I saw this coming,” Kiannae shook her head.  “My brother…my mother gave her entire life to him when he was born.  He learned everything so much faster than he should have.  I think this is the reverse.  Which I won’t pretend I’m comfortable with.”

“We should give you a better name than Water though,” Zale said addressing the strange being before them.

“Seems wrong to just give him a name,” Kiannae said pursing her lips thoughtfully.  “I’m sure he had one once.”

“Now who’s talking about him like he isn’t here,” Zale chided.

Kiannae sighed.  “I suppose it is unfortunate to Keep calling you Water.  Are you sure you do not remember a name?”

“I remember Aeliae,” Water said hesitantly, sadly, and held his shoulder almost as though he was in pain.  “The water took her,” he said starting to shake, “took her away.  Not called Water,” he said firmly, began to cry, and slowly came apart and wiffed away.

“That was…odd,” Zale said uncomfortably.  “Will he be back?”

“I don’t know,” Kiannae said thoughtfully, “even though he lives in me I am…not very aware of his presence.”

“What was all that about though?” Zale asked crossly.

“The tale of…” Kiannae thought back very hard to the story Mercu had told her years before, “The story of Tethis is kind of bloody.  A whole people were wiped out.  Not surprising if some of his enduring memories might be unpleasant.”

“Why do you suppose he remembered some girl’s name, but not his own?” Zale asked curiously.

Kiannae looked at Zale doubtfully, shook her head, and sighed.  “Love,” she said plainly.  Then after a moment of contemplation added with a haunted expression, “he was remembering how the girl he loved died, and how he did as well…”  She looked even more unnerved by the moment.  She was almost completely sure who he was, but she still didn’t know his name.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Kiannae glanced at Zale.  They had waited for some time for the elemental to return, before finally giving up.  As they walked towards the edge of town, Kiannae decided to press the matter.  “So, what do you think then?” she asked pointedly.

“Why not just ask me back there?” Zale sighed.  “Given it seems he can still hear us.”

“Nothing good to say, eh?” Kiannae grimaced as though joking, or hoping she was joking.

“No, he’s fine, if…rather naked,” Zale said shaking his head.  “He’s still not the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen though.”

“Oh?” Kiannae prodded half annoyed, part curious.

“The dryad wood is far more unnerving, not one ghost, but hundreds,” Zale said shaking his head, “and you don’t see them, just hear the whispers on the wind from every direction.”

“I’ve heard of dryads before…” Kiannae trailed off.

“From one of those mentor’s of yours?” Zale asked.  “Well whatever they told you, it’s nothing like being there.”

“So show me,” Kiannae said challengingly.  She set aside a suspicion she might have met one once.  She had almost forgotten the tree she had spoken to as a girl.  The whisper on the wind she thought she had heard once or twice.  Maybe.  It didn’t matter.

“It’s not up to me,” Zale said, stopped, and looked Kiannae up and down.  “The Dryad wood is sacred, and its location guarded.”

“I would assume it’s close though,” Kiannae said probingly.

“Somewhat,” Zale said and walked on.  “It’s actually part of the Sylvan land by treaty, or some such.  They don’t go there any more than we do however, and it’s largely considered neutral.”

“So who do I have to talk to, if I want to see the spooky woods?” Kiannae pressed.

“Start with Landri I guess,” Zale said with a shrug, “she’s your best bet.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Rhaeus 31st, 1148 E.R.

Kiannae looked at Landri, as she had many times that day through her lessons.  She kept thinking to ask the questions plaguing her mind, but never quite came to it.  Finally Landri got tired of the stares.  “What is it you wish to ask, but hesitate to?”

“I’ve…been reminded of an old story,” Kiannae said cautiously.

“What story is it?” Landri asked.

“The tale of Tethis,” Kiannae said with a wince.

“That’s a fairly bloody, and dark tale to be dwelling on,” Landri said curiously.

“So you know it?” Kiannae asked hopefully.

“Yes,” Landri said shrewdly, “what is it you are wondering?”

“It was told to me long ago,” Kiannae said still dancing around her point, “the thing is I’m not sure if the version I was told ever mentioned the name of the boy that the King’s daughter fell in love with.”

Landri stopped to think a moment.  “Talun, perhaps Talom by some tellings.  Why do you ask?”

“No reason,” Kiannae lied, “it just bothered me I didn’t know his name.”

Landri gave her more than a funny look, but shook her head, and moved on.

“I have heard there is a dryad wood near here,” Kiannae added then.

“Zale told you?” Landri asked displeased.

Kiannae nodded.

“I suppose it’s existence is not well guarded, though the location has been kept secret enough.”

“Could I go there?”

“Perhaps one day,” Landri said thoughtfully, “but I must be convinced that you are ready.”

“I think I met a dryad once before,” Kiannae pressed.  “I think I would like to again.”

“Where would you have met a dryad?” Landri asked doubtfully.

“Where I was born there was a lone tree,” Kiannae said.  “I asked my grandfather once how long it had stood.  He did not know.  Said it had always been there.  I remember a whisper on the wind, though not what the tree said to me, not any more.  I talked with him often, and sometimes it seemed the wind answered.  At least when I was little.  I have not been back since I was a child.”

“You are sure this was not some childish fancy?” Landri asked.  “I’ve not heard of a lone dryad before.  Only sacred groves.”

“Sure…” Kiannae laughed.  “No, but I’d like to see if it is at all what I remember.  If it is…then one day I must go back and thank that tree.  For the last answer I think he ever gave me, was to guide me to town, and save me, my sister, and my brother the day our mother died.”

Landri closed her eyes, and sat there a moment.  “I will consider it,” she finally offered.  “Let us return to your studies however.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Jovan 23rd, 647 E.R.

Katrisha put a at single tiny droplet of silver liquid up to her eye, and examined it carefully  She had managed to pull from her blood.  Two weeks of training, of watching carefully as others worked, of listening to their analysis.  Eight ounces all together sat in vials somewhere, pulled from her by others, and yet they said her blood was still saturated.

The others had stopped drawing as much out at a time, once her mental condition had markedly improved.  Ostensibly this was to allow her the opportunity to more easily discern the mage blood by volume.  Whether she really believed that reasoning she wasn’t sure, and didn’t care.  A part of her had decided that as much harm as the substance was to her, it was part of what made her special, and while she needed it out, she also wasn’t thrilled that it was being taken away from her.  To be sold presumably.  It bothered her.

Katrisha was weary, but her frustration had all but completely evaporated.  The tiny droplet she held was easily one of greatest senses of victory she had yet felt in her young life, because while it was the end result of weeks of work, the droplet itself had been produced in seconds.  She tried again, looked into her self, sought the errant power that was neither of her body, nor her soul, and pulled it to the surface.  The droplet doubled in size, it worked, in an instant she had gone from hopelessness, to complete success.

Katrisha looked in the mirror she had borrowed from Rennae, and frowned at the grey roots of her hair.  She had asked Renae about it, and been told that while possible, restoring the natural color of her hair was impractical.  Katrisha was told that if she learned how, she could do it herself, but that it was a tedious vanity that no Sister on record had ever followed through with.

A stray shed hair tickled Katrisha’s nose, and prompted her to brush it aside.  The hair fell into her hand, and touched the tiny droplet, causing the bead to wrap around, and stick to it.  She plucked up the hair, and watched the droplet slide down the shaft, slowly shrinking, as the hair itself turned silver.  She ran her finger along the strand, but it had absorbed every bit.  She felt could pull them back apart the same way she had in the first place, and did.

Katrisha looked again to the mirror, and a small smile crept across her lips.  If her hair was to be grey, she thought, then let it be silver instead.  She closed her eyes, and continued what she had begun to master only moments before.  Now though she kept her hands at her head, and ran her fingers through her hair, again, and again.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Harfast 1st, 647 E.R.

Numerous tiny orbs orbited around Katrisha, and she watched their courses carefully, summoning more.  Her once raven hair had turned a pale silver, with just a hint of blue reflected from the sky, and shimmered brilliantly in the midday sun.  She turned to consider a gathering she had sensed forming, and finally noticed out of the corner of her eye.  Brothers and Sisters of varied ages watched her work, just as they had the previous couple days.  One or two had asked before if she would teach them, and she had declined as politely as she could think how, without inviting further requests.

Katrisha reached out a hand, and with one finger touched the central orb that hovered before her, adding a new detail to the spell that was replicated all around.  She smiled when a couple people gasped appreciatively at the appearance of ribbons of willowy light tracking the course of the whirling and spinning orbs.   She began throwing out more of the smallest type which had little influence on the others, but quickly added more texture and complexity to the whole arrangement.

At the far end of the courtyard she saw Wren and Audry talking casually, and holding hands.  For the first time she really considered Wren was very much with Audry.  Wren hadn’t mentioned it directly, but he had danced around the subject a few times.  She was happy for him, though she worried that the girl was nearly her own age.

Katrisha was pulled from her considerations as she noticed the several of the Brother’s and Sisters begin to sit on the grass around her.  She recognized most of the faces, but only Celia she could identify by name.  She nodded to Celia, and reached out, brushing her finger across the occasional orb that came into reach.  Their ribbons of light were replaced by a trail of twinkling embers, or several smaller ribbons, and would begin to spin creating spirals in their wake.

After a while she got bored with the elaborateness of it all, and with just a touch to the central sphere the whole vast simulation cascaded in a series of small showers of light.  There was some oohing, aweing, and a little clapping.  She considered her gathered audience, many of whom looked at her expectantly for what she might do next.

“So what do they teach you of astronomy?” Katrisha asked of no one in particular.

After a moment of glancing back and forth between the audience members, Celia was the one to speak up.  “Nothing really,” she said uncertainty. “I know the word, what it means I think, but they teach us mostly history, reading, writing, math, and healing.”

“Fair enough,” Katrisha said thoughtfully. “It’s more of a curiosity than practical subject, so I’m not surprised.”  Katrisha reached out her hand, and formed a green colored orb with a distinct rune at its center.  “For the sake of argument, let’s call this our world, Thaea,” as she moved her hand a copy came along, slowly shrank, turned a pale blue, and formed a different rune as she set it to its orbit.  “This is our moon, I have certain fondness for it, but that’s me.  Her proper name is Laeune, the same as the old goddess of myth.”

Katrisha pulled another copy of Thaea off to the side, which turned a bright luminous yellow as it began to circle.  “This is the sun,” she said, “or Rahn.  There was a time when some thought that Rahn, just as the moon, circled us down here on Thaea.  That we were the center of the universe.  In time however observations were made that did not make this seem sensible, and some clever mages determined that it is we, that circle the sun.”

The bright yellow orb, slowly came towards Katrisha, as Thaea and the moon shifted in unison, away, and began orbiting it instead.  Katrisha pulled a tiny white orb from Rahn, and set it in a tight orbit about the star.  “This is Vhael, the light bearer.  Also known as the morning, and evening star.  It circles closely to the sun, and may be seen often just before dawn, and just after sunset.”

With a sweep of her hand Katrisha made a field of little sparkling dots between Thaea and Vhale.  “These are the embers of Rhaea, fragments of a world that once shone brightly in the morning, and evening sky.  There are carvings on old monuments that show it clearly in conjunction with the sun and Vhale.  What became of Rhaea is a mystery.”  With a wave of her hand several of the tiny specs drifted from the half arc they formed around the sun, and spiraled into Thaea.  “If you have watched the sky on later summer nights, you may have seen a great number of shooting stars, which are stray embers of Rhaea that burn up in our atmosphere.”

“What makes them burn?” Celia asked.

“Some would tell you that it is simply their nature,” Katrisha laughed.  “I will tell you what I was taught, that high above the sky there is nothing, a great void, but as the pieces come close, they enter our sky and their incredible speed sets them ablaze.  The same way that if you run your fingers back and forth across fabric quickly they will grow warm.”

Katrisha pulled a large orange orb, and sent it out over the heads of her audience, which split off many smaller spheres from itself.  “This is Jove, the father of many children if you speak of the old god.  In reality Jove is a great collection of swirling storm clouds, with many moons, some of which are nearly as large as all of Thaea.”

Katrisha touched the bright yellow sphere of Rhan, and the trails began to form behind her growing solar system.  “This is Lauris,” she said pulling a tiny sphere off of Thaea and leaving it orbiting some distance behind it, but on a very similar course.  “By some great grace of good fortune this companion to our world, which visits once every thousand years or so, always passes by, though none have determined exactly why.  Some believe ‘the dark companion’ explains our continued safety, that there is a poorly mapped invisible world that has kept us safe all these eons by pulling Lauris from a disastrous intersection in course.  Some believe there is more than one such unseen mystery world at work in our skies.”

With the wave of her hand the Jove system copied, and even more moons sprang from the clone which orbited out past the heads of the onlookers.  “This is Elisia, the distant one, and her many daughters.  She is a blue world, believed to be one immense ocean a dozen times the size of our world.  Some have tracked worlds even farther out, tiny cold things, so far from the sun as to be frozen in near darkness.”

Katrisha let the system carry on as she got up, and began to walk away.  “Class dismissed,” she laughed as she went, and with the snap of her fingers, it all dissolved away, just as her previous display had done.  She stopped by a hall entrance off the court yard, and leaned against a column wearily.  Katrisha enjoyed the attention she got for her displays, but also found the inclination to do something new and engaging for her audience draining.  It never had been before, not since she she was very little.  Some after effect that would pas she hoped.

Soft footsteps pulled Katrisha’s gaze up, and she smiled slightly as Celia approached.  “Hello,” she said kindly.  “I’m sorry if I cut that off abruptly, I was just getting tired.”

“It’s quite alright,” Celia said with a bit of forced reservation, “that was incredible,”

“I’m glad you think so.” Katrisha said with a nervous smile.  “I was afraid I got too lecturey and esoteric with all the names of old gods, and distant worlds you would be hard pressed to even glimpse in the night sky.”

“I…” Clelia said and then hesitated. “I heard you decline  the other day…when some of the other Brother’s and Sisters asked you to teach them magic.  I cringe to ask, but…might you reconsider?  I’ve been wanting to learn real magic, but the archaist won’t take me for another year, or two at the earliest.”

Katrisha sighed, and half winced, but thought better of it seeing the deflated look on Celia’s face.  “I’ll do it,” she said, “for a friend of my brother.”

“You don’t have to if you really don’t want to,” Celia said meekly.

“Of course I don’t have to,” Katrisha said with a crooked smile, “but I’ll try.  I’ve never taught anyone before though, so I make no promises.”

“No, of course,” Celia said with obvious excitement.  “Thank you,” she added bashfully.  “When…when would you like to begin?”

“It’s my free day,” Katrisha thoughtfully, “and I have nothing better to do.  Come to my room, we’ll start now, and if we do it there, hopefully the other’s won’t get the idea to ask again.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Harfast 8th, 647 E.R.

Katrisha watched as Celia tried to form her fifth concurrent light sphere, and applauded the crescent arrangement she had created, which shrank towards each end.  “Very nice,” she said approvingly, “not bad for a week, and only a few hours each day.  A good ways from the pretty swirls you could make when we started.”  Katrisha tried to maintain an even tone as she remembered the sadness she had sunken into when Celia showed her her best trick, which reminded her far too much of her missing sister.

“Thank you,” Celia said appreciatively, and popped each of her spheres in order from left to right, only to remake them as quickly as she could.

“Ok, I do believe you have that one down,” Katrisha laughed as she saw the ease with which Celia recreated her arrangement.  Katrisha created her own simple sphere. “How about adding to the spell.  I have imprinted on this one the inclination to attract all copies of itself.  Try to see the difference, and do the same.”

Celia leaned in very close to the sphere floating in front of Katrisha, and formed her’s side by side, and carefully examined the pattern, until she was reasonably sure she could make out the extra structure that had been added.  “I think I see,” she said, and tried to changed her’s to match.  This failed, and her spell collapsed.

She remade hers, and tried again.  There was a little motion, but hers came apart once more.  She bit her lip, and tried a third time, very carefully.  When she finished the two spheres suddenly flew together, and tore apart right in her face, making her jump back in surprise.

“Very good.”  Katrisha laughed.  “I’m impressed, might have taken me longer the first time, and Laurel always seemed a bit bothered by how quickly we picked things up.”

Celia smiled, and blushed from the start she had given herself.  “Thank you,” she laughed.  “You are a good teacher,” she said with a smile, and brushed back her hair.

“I’ve mostly just shown you simple versions of what I do.  You are really teaching yourself for the most part,” Katrisha said with a smirk, “but I’ll take the compliment.  See if you can make yourself a little orbital system.”  Katrisha said, and closed her eyes for a moment sleepily.

Several minutes passed, and Katrisha almost had drifted off where she sat, when Celia’s excited laugh brought her back from the brink with a large yawn.

“Are you tired?” Celia said concerned she was boring Katrisha with teaching her.

“A bit,” Katrisha said shaking her head, and focusing on the four blue spheres that danced between them in a tight little knot of eccentric orbits.  “Very good by the way,” she said reassuringly, and stretched.  “I’ve just been up very late the last couple nights star gazing.  It’s been so clear out that I couldn’t resist.”

“Maybe I could join you next time?” Celia asked hopefully.

“If you like,” Katrisha said absently, “there have been clouds rolling in all afternoon though.  I don’t think it will be a good night for it, and I probably should sleep more if I’m getting so drowsy during the day.”

“Well, maybe some time?” Celia pressed.

“Sure,” Katrisha said, and yawned again.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Harfast 20th, 647 E.R.

Katrisha leaned back against the wall beside her chamber window, and listened to the sound of the rain outside.  “I love the rain,” she sighed.

“It is a lovely sound,” Celia laughed, “and no garden duties when it’s raining.”

“I suppose there is something to that as well,” Katrisha yawned.  She opened her eyes, and watched as Celia painted the air with ribbons of light.  It had become a comfortable, familiar sight in its own right, and the ache of remembering Kiannae doing the same kept its distance for once.  “I love the snow more,” she mused, “but I guess you can’t have that all year.”

Celia gave Katrisha a funny look.  “I like the snow well enough,” she laughed, “it’s pretty, but it’s so cold.”

“I’ve never minded the cold,” Katrisha said leaning forward. “It’s refreshing, and it’s nice to bundle up tight in warm winter clothing.”

“I suppose there is that,” Celia said waving her drawing away, and forming a small orb of light which she tossed towards Katrisha who caught it, but perked a brow at the act.  Celia made another, and tossed it to Katrisha, who threw the first one back to Celia, who stopped it between them, and threw another out on a slow arc around the floating one.

“I see your game,” Katrisha said throwing the orb she was still holding around the other side at the same time, and catching Celia’s.  Celia caught Katrisha’s throw as it came around in a graceful arc, and sent it back split it into two, which twisted about the central orb in a spiral until one flew off in Katrisha’s direction.  The two kept adding spheres to the game, catching ones that came near, and sending them back on new trajectories.  Ever so often one would fly off in some random direction, and pass harmlessly through a wall.  Eventually the pair started keeping a rough score, and argued laughingly over who had last touched any stray.

They continued their game for some time, until a startled cry came from the corridor, and the girls both hunched down in mischievous giggles.  After a moment there came a knock at the door, and Celia’s mother peaked in.  “I believe you two lost something,” Renoa said holding out one of numerous lost orbs.

“Thank you,” Katrisha said with a laugh, and a wave of her hand, forming a new one, “but we can always make more.”

“Very well,” Renoa said shaking her head, and waving her hand dispersing the orb she was holding.  “Just do try to be more careful you don’t startle people.”

“Sorry,” Celia said clearly restraining a laugh.

“Have you two eaten?” Renoa said with reserved disapproval of the humor the girls seemed to have over giving her a start.

“No,” Katrisha said, “not since breakfast.”

“Why don’t you two go do that then,” Renoa said pointedly.

“Ok mother,” Celia sighed, hopped up and grabbed hold of Katrisha’s hand.  “Come on,” she said pulling Katrisha to her feet, “let’s go.”

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