The Creative Process & Young Love

The core story of O&E has been settled for about six years now, but they say the Abyss is in the details.  When Cassandra first uttered her prophetic ramblings in the streets of Brokhal, was when I first truly grasped the underpinnings of the tale I was weaving.  All at once I would argue my interest has always been in the simple humanity of my star crossed heroes.  Destined to uncommon deeds, and troubling ends.

The whole of the first draft for the original Book 1 (now Book 1 & 2) was a “mere” 135k words.  Each of the halves I split the tale into are now as long, or longer than the original manuscript, and sometimes I still feel that I am rushing things.  Telling a story woven across decades, following the course of my heroes from practically birth to their prophesied fates has certainly proven a challenge to balance.  I may one day do yet another pass, adding more abridging text to the longer stretches of skipped time, or where dates alone do not convey the break between events.  Evening out my mysterious narrator, who usually does a good job of staying neutral.  If anything I long to show some more subtle cracks in that facade, than clean up the ones that appear.

There have been many changes along the way, but as the analogy occurs for poor old Ezik, all has been in service of cutting the course deeper, and defying the rains to change a thing.  That said, Book 1 got far more love than Book 2 in the years I sat, and noodled with the manuscript and dates (I trimmed 400 years off the calendar at some point.)  Book 2 I have found around the middle, and into the latter half developed some problems.  Logistical miss matches of time.  While I am excited about the content that is filling the gaps, and think with some confidence that I am telling an even more compelling story, and will hopefully meet my deadlines, I do worry.

I am currently racing the clock, and trying to complete Book 2 by adding roughly two chapters worth of content, maybe a little more, into the middle.  Hopefully without dropping publishing cadence.  All in an effort to smooth out time, and make the twins years apart feel more substantial, and meaningful.  I do worry though that this fresh content, however compelling, may show some seams.  It will not have the years of editing passes behind it that earlier content has.

This further puts at risk Book III’s time table, since all my free time and energy is going into Book II currently, when I had hoped to perhaps finish Book III while I was publishing Book II.  A task that looks less, and less likely, but a bridge I will just have to cross when I come to it.

At any rate, I hope you will all indulge me some failures, and please, offer critique where something seems confusing, or out of place.  I really do want to hear what my readers think, and get this right.  So let me tackle some things that are troubling me:

Spoiler Warning: Discussing content for readers up to Book II: Chapter 8, slight allusions to future content without specifics.

I particularly hesitate around some moments that make me as an author uncomfortable.  I honestly get angry that they make me uncomfortable.

From such things as daring to even allude to menstruation, and there will be one more mention that naturally falls out of dialogue in Chapter 11.  This shouldn’t bother me, it actually doesn’t bother me, but it does make me self-conscious.  It actually makes me very mad that it does.  I fret, and worry about making silly squeamish male readers cringe, and on the other side that where it occurs in The Winter Frost is meant to be a painfully awkward, touching, and yes intimate moment between two friends who wind up (later) lovers.  This all gets inextricably tied up with so many hangups in our society, and I grudgingly embrace that all the more means it needs to be there.

I am literally playing here with the fantasy for many women of being rid of this nuisance in their lives (which in our world can sometimes be done with alternative versions of birth control – oh wait, relevant…) all the while shifting the trouble onto something that requires time, and attention.  While I totally romanticize this scene, I do so more as a stumbling block, because dear fates how ever much Celia is more certain at the end she loves Katrisha, and however little shame has been put on her over the topic, she just can’t bring herself to reveal her heart under the circumstances.  Which makes it harder over all.

If anyone noticed, yes I am intentionally playing with seasons and cycles here.  With winter ending, spring coming, and “skipping the fall.”  I also very much wanted to explore the mechanics of how people use their gift having subtle effects.  From mage blood poisoning screwing up Katrisha’s health, and delaying development, to Wren developing very early, to Celia being ahead of Katrisha even though she was behind Wren.

Now – onto the other side here.  Yes, lesbian (or should I say Lycian) romance.  I am apparently intent on making this labor of love as niche as I can.  I do not want to spoil anything, but I will be plain.  It is going to get so much more complicated than that, and I will be dodging around the minefield of dealing with complex sexuality in what is arguably (if accidentally) young adult fiction.  While moralizing far more ambiguously about society than about the actions of individuals.

I cringe half as much for what I will be cutting out, as for what I will leave in.  So many things that are tempting to lay out flatly, and challengingly, and all at once I am unwilling to derail my content rating on.  I will leave a great deal to the imagination where it belongs, and on the topic of things Katrisha will learn from Celia, I will suffice with the railings of a young Sylvia Grey, some centuries before:

“To think I had imagined not knowing a word for a part of my own body.  I should almost find this preferable to the realization that I knew full well at least three expressions for parts of a boy, and could not say from whence exactly I learned them.  No, worse, was the fact that I did – without context – know a word for my own anatomy.  A word that was a favored slur on my father’s lips for women and men alike.  That so plainly highlighted his innate hatred for women, to at last attach proper definition.  I rail between spite for the abusive misuse, and a wish to scream it from the rooftops until there is no power left but to describe simple fact.  All at once I am bereft of specifics, on the parts, the complexity, of an organ that even the most detailed medical texts reduce inaccurately to a vessel for other things, and not as I have found, a source of joy, particularly in aspects they have willfully forgone to even mention the existence of.”

Fates I love writing in the voice of Sylvia.  So delightfully and justifiably angry that one.

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Chapter 8

Laeune the moon,
daughter of night,
glorious barer,
of tranquil light,

she soothes us all,
that we might dream,
and takes harsh color,
from all we’ve seen,

Laeune the lover,
rhythm of womankind,
who’s gentle grace,
now guides my hand,

she brings us wisdom,
that we might yet see,
what lies before us,
there yet waiting to be.

– unattributed, circa 200 E.R.

The Moonlight

Vernum 1st, 647 E.R.

It was very late, and the corridors of the cloister were lit only by what moonlight could find a way through skylights, or the occasional window on the upper tier.  Katrisha knocked for the second time at Celia’s door, and waited uncomfortably.  She knew another Sister shared the room with Celia, and did not know quite what to say if the other girl answered instead.

A minute passed and Katrisha grew all the more awkward about the whole affair.  She hesitantly turned to leave, stopped herself, debated, sighed quietly, and turned back.  She was worried.  She had not seen Celia for three days, and their last meeting had been both brief, and odd.  Katrisha had wanted to thank Celia again for her help, but was still too embarrassed to do so publicly, and Celia for her part had seemed almost intent to extract herself from the conversation.

Katrisha raised her hand to the door, and paused, she wondered if it was worth pressing the matter so late in the evening, let alone with a stranger in the mix.  She resigned herself to leave, turned, and told herself it was nothing any way.  She stopped as she felt Celia’s familiar presence through the door.  She turned around again, but still there was a lingering moment before the door finally creaked open.

Katrisha formed a small ball of cool light in her hand that caught a glimmer of a tear on her friend’s cheek, before Celia could wipe it away.

“Are you alright?” Katrisha asked, her entire demeanor shifting towards concern.

“I’m alright,” Celia assured unconvincingly.  “It’s nothing.”

“I’ve not known you to be one to cry for no reason,” Katrisha said with a frown.  “In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you cry at all.”

“Maybe…” Celia started, and floundered.  “Maybe you don’t know me well enough.”  She seemed to think better of her words, but also to be at a lack of an alternative, and so just held her tongue on that frustratedly.

“I’m sorry if I’ve intruded,” Katrisha said distinctly taken aback.

“No…” Celia said obviously pained.  “I didn’t mean…oh fates no I didn’t mean.”

Katrisha frowned.  “It’s a beautiful night out.  I was going to go watch the stars, but I was worried about you, and as I recall I said I’d bring you some time.  I don’t suppose you would like to?”

“I…” Celia seemed quite off balance.  “I would like that.”

“This way then,” Katrisha said motioning with the hand holding the light which wifed out as she turned.  “I hope I didn’t disturb your roommate too much,” Katrisha said apologetically.

“Huh?  Oh…uh, no, she’s out tonight,” Celia stammered slightly.

“Oh, why?” Katrisha said with mild curiosity, and wondered if perhaps it was related to Celia’s malaise.

“Just…out,” Celia said bashfully.  Katrisha could almost hear the blush in her voice, and turned to consider her friend in the inky shadow between skylights.  It was a tone Maraline had adopted on occasion when talking about Lukus, often with rosy cheeks.  Celia smiled meekly.  If her cheeks were at all a different hue it was impossible to tell in the pale light.

There was a charming helplessness about Celia at times, that Katrisha could never quite place.  She was smart, quick, and bold enough to ask Katrisha to teach her magic, even when she had heard her repeatedly turn down others.  Katrisha thought the bouts of self doubt did not do her justice, and yet it was part of her charm.  It suited her in spite of itself, and left a warm endearing quality.  Truly warm was what she felt like, simple enduring warmth, like a stone warmed in the sun, but softer.

“She’s staying with…a friend,” Celia said at last, looking away mid sentence.

“Ok,” Katrisha said scrunching her brow thoughtfully, and turning to head up the nearby stairs.  “Is that why you are sad?” she asked hesitantly after a few steps.

“W…What?” Celia asked, a bit off put.  It seemed almost as though halfway through her reaction she had changed from not understanding, to defensive.  “No, not at all.  I’m quite happy for her…though I’m not fond of the boy in question.  He has gotten…better.”

“Oh,” Katrisha said uncertain that had really answered anything.  She turned back at the top of the stairs.  “I hope I didn’t offend.”

“No,” Celia said, looking up at Katrisha, some confusion on her face.  “Why…no, I can guess why you would worry that.”  She seemed to be at a loss to put her jumbled thoughts together into words.  It was amusing, if worrisome.

Katrisha cocked her head curiously to the side at her friend for a moment, and waved for her to continue following as she turned down a short hall that lead outside.  They walked up to the railing overlooking the courtyard, and Katrisha watched as Celia gazed out, and then up into the starry sky above.

After a moment Katrisha kicked off her shoes, climbed onto a rail, and sought familiar footings, and handholds on the column.

“What are you doing?” Celia demanded in a harsh whisper.

“It’s better from the roof,” Katrisha said flatly, and with a hint of challenge in her voice.

“But,” Celia protested flusteredly as Katrisha deftly ascended the column, and pulled herself out of view.  Celia stepped to the side of the column Katrisha had climbed, and looked for the footholds she had used. They were obvious enough, if terrifyingly slim and precarious.

A moment passed before Katrisha hung her upper body back down, her silver hair dangling from the top of her head, shimmering mesmerizingly in the moonlight.  “Coming?” she asked simply, her head cocked again to the side.  She waited a moment, and then disappeared once more.

Celia bit her lip, and climbed up onto the rail, gingerly testing her traction on the ridges Katrisha had used to climb.  She placed her hand nervously on a swirl near the roof, and paused to take a deep breath.  She almost had the nerve, and then again had almost talked herself out the whole endeavor when she felt a hand on hers.

Celia looked up into the silver halo framing Katrisha’s face, and into the emerald eyes that seemed to glimmer down at her in the dark.  She steeled herself, took a step up, and let Katrisha pull her the rest of the way onto the roof.  She sat with her legs dangling down, and took several quick breaths, calming herself.

“See, nothing to worry about,” Katrisha said in a kind, but chiding tone.  Celia looked at her incredulously, but couldn’t help but return Katrisha’s crooked smile.

Katrisha moved deftly up the roof, found a spot, wiggled till the tiles were situated comfortably against her back, and crossed one leg over a propped up knee absently.

Celia moved more cautiously and lay a short distance to her side.  She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to relax, trying to enjoy just being in the moment without thinking or worrying.  She looked up at the sky, and it was beautiful.  She smiled to herself at the thought that Katrisha was right, there was something about lying down and looking up at it that was different somehow, better.

Celia looked over at Katrisha appreciatively, but was distracted by a strange glint between her fingers.  “What’s that?” she asked curiously.

“That,” Katrisha said measuredly past her concentration, “is a little trick I read about, and figured out how to do.  Takes a fussy lot of precision to get what I want out of it though.  The spell itself is fairly simple – though reach and clarity are a challenge.  I have to wonder if Kiannae would be better at it, she has something of a gift with manipulating light.  It isn’t quite like anything else though, it is a controlled amplification of light, making new light based on received light.  Not quite like common methods of invisibility, which are a redistribution of existing energy.  Still, reception is the key.”

“So, it’s not just a lense?” Celia asked.

“I tried that spell once.  Easy enough, but you can only see so much that way.  Surface area is the problem.  It’s very subtle but look out ahead of me.”

“Oh,” Celia remarked glimpsing the faint glimmer of magic a dozen feet above Katrisha, and a few feet across.  The filaments connecting it down to to the glimmer between her fingers, that did still looked a bit like a lense, stray rays of light amplified from various parts of the sky.

“Even knowing all the principles, I had to recreate the underlying behavior described in the technique.  Magic is so easily lost.  All the written principles in the world amount to very little, if one cannot master the basic conversion, and there is no writing that down.  It can only be experienced first hand.  Though, I suppose one could store conversions as enchantments, but those decay, and there are diminishing returns.  Copying copies.”

“But you did it?”

“What can I say, I’m exceptional, or perhaps just stubborn.  Laurel said he did not know the underlying conversion, and had never had the patience to try and find it.  Here, let me show you.” Katrisha rolled over, and placed two fingers in front of Celia’s right eye.  Startling her slightly. “Now close the other,” she commanded.  “Be warned, it can be disorienting at first.”  

Celia did as she was bid, and gasped as what she saw changed. It was almost as though she flew forward into the sky.  “Take my hand,” Katrisha said encouragingly after Celia’s initial shock had passed, “and move it very gently.  Tell me if you want to look closer.”

“O…ok,” Celia said shakily opened her left eye for a moment to confirm she hadn’t moved, and thought better of it as the split image hurt her head.  She brought her fingers hesitantly to Katrisha’s hand, and took a deep breath.

It was frustrating at first, how the tiniest movements made the sky fly by in an instant.  In one pass she saw something, strange, and it took well over a minute for her to catch a glimpse again.  “There, closer!” she said excitedly as she managed to get Katrisha’s hand at just the right angle.  “It’s beautiful, what is it?” she asked as she examined the intricate multi colored tendrils.

“Tell me what you see,” Katrisha said carefully, with metered breaths, doing all she could to hold her hand steady, and the spell perfectly stable.

“It’s like a flower made of light,” Celia said excitedly.

“I think you’ve found a nebulae,” Katrisha said with a smile.

“But…” Celia said a bit flustered, “what does that mean?”

“It’s the remnants of a dead star,” Katrisha said struggling to hold her focus.

“Dead,” Celia said doubtfully. “Why is it so pretty then?  That doesn’t seem right.”

Katrisha lost her focus, and the intricate filaments of the nebulae vanished as magical ones dissipated in faint swirls.

“Dead is…probably not the right word,” Katrisha said as Celia turned to look at her wide eyed.  “It’s like the smoke and embers of a fire, that stretches as far as it takes light to travel in years.”

Celia baffled for a moment over all the unknown parts of that idea, finally sticking to the idea that light takes time to travel, but was quickly distracted from that train of thought by Katrisha’s face in the moonlight.  She was fiddling again with her spell, this time looking off towards the horizon.  Celia sighed, which distracted Katrisha, who glanced down at her friend’s wide grin, and smiled back absently before returning to scanning the sky.

“Thank you,” Celia said after a moment. “For showing me that…for…for everything.”

“You, are welcome,” Katrisha said again glancing at Celia’s fixed expression.  She laughed from the seemingly comical intensity of it.  It was certainly an improvement from having found her crying, but she was just as much at a loss to explain the change.  Celia could be flighty Katrisha thought, but she chided herself that she could as well.  It seemed different somehow, like a powerful unseen force was tugging at her friends emotions, whipping her back and forth like a banner in the wind.

“You never told me what was bothering you,” Katrisha said laying her hand on the roof between them, “and I think I owe you at least an ear to listen, after the other day…”

Katrisha could almost see the wheels turning behind Celia’s eyes as she seemed to work backwards and forwards over what she wanted to say.  “I…I wasn’t offended,” she came to at last.

“I’m sorry?” Katrisha pressed not having followed the train of thought.

“When you implied I might be sad that Lena was out…with a friend,” Celia said awkwardly.

“Oh,” Katrisha said, understanding the reference at least, but not the meaning.  “I haven’t thought a lot on such things, but…I know they are,” Katrisha said not sure where she was going with the line of reasoning.  “I’m also not blind,” she settled on, “I’ve seen some of the other girls and women who…are obviously more than friends.”

“They tell us it’s not…as common outside of the cloisters, and that some people out there are offended by the very idea,” she frowned, obviously concerned with her own line of conversation.

“I…” Katrisha trailed off.  “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, in fact I can’t say it is true with any certainty…but…heh,” she shook her head.  “You don’t really know either of them.  There are too men, very close to me in my life.  I know in my heart there is something there between them.”

“Oh,” Celia said, a bit surprised.  “I suppose there is that as well.  It’s…rarer, but there are fewer men amongst us after all.”

“It would seem statistically less prevalent by consequence, yes,” Katrisha mused, and looked horribly embarrassed.  “Still I don’t know it to be true.  Just glances I’ve caught, an odd familiarity they share, a touch of a hand noticed out of…” she hesitated as a hand rested on hers.  “Oh…” she said, swallowed, and the hand was quickly withdrawn.

Celia looked away mortified.

“Oh…” Katrisha repeated flummoxed.

“I’m sorry,” Celia said sitting up, wrapping her arms around herself, and turning away, as she choked back a sob.

“No…” Katrisha started, “no…oh goodness I’ve been daft, haven’t I?  I…I said I haven’t thought much about such things, and that goes…farther than just philosophically.  I’ve barely considered boys in quite some time, let alone…oh fates I’m just making this worse.” her voice had raised more nervously with every syllable.

“No,” Celia said her voice strained, “no it’s my fault, you aren’t one of us…and you came to us so troubled.  I couldn’t have expected you to notice…to…I’m so sorry.”

Celia started to move, but Katrisha caught her shoulder, then cheek gently and turned her back to face her.  “Please, I didn’t ask you to go, did I?” she said her face stricken with a flurry of emotions, but chief among them concern.  “I didn’t…I didn’t say I wasn’t willing to entertain the thought, only that…I hadn’t…yet…”  She was trying very hard to smile reassuringly, but she was far too much in need of reassurance herself to pull it off.

“I’m sor…I need to stop saying that…I really do,” she said almost angrily.  Guilt and other conflicts plain on her face.  “Fates…I…didn’t…” Celia stiffened, but seemed to regain some composure.  “Fates, I feel horrid.  I’ve…I’ve been on the other side of this.  I should have known better, maybe.  Maybe it’s just ‘cause you are older…but what am I saying, I was older than him, and I wasn’t ready…and he…found someone else.  He was also the only one…the only…oh never mind.  I’m s…no I’m not saying that anymore.  Oh Light I shouldn’t be laying all this on you.”

“It’s ok,” Katrisha said her own thoughts spinning a bit at the situation.  “As I said…I owe you at least an ear for all that troubles you.  Not just for how you helped me the other night, but because you have made me feel welcome here, like…I belong.  More so than anyone.  Well except maybe Renae, but that’s not the same.  She’s been like a loving aunt, you have been a true friend.”

“I haven’t spoiled that friendship have I?” Celia asked hesitantly, a tear rolling down her cheek.

“No,” Katrisha said brushing the tear away with her thumb, and letting her hand rest there.  “No you haven’t.  You have been nothing but kind…and considerate, perhaps too much so for your own good.  And I have repaid you to date with blindness it seems.  I think I’m the one in the wrong here, not you.  I’m willing to figure out what…might be, but I promise you, I can’t bear the thought of not being your friend.”

“Only willing?” Celia asked hesitantly, trying to reassure herself that she wasn’t pushing something unwanted on her friend, but worried as soon as it was said it might seem all the more pressing.

“Curious, confused…fates I don’t know,” she ran her fingers through her hair, “seems like a novel new way I could cause Laurel headaches, if nothing else.”  Katrisha laughed awkwardly, but thought better of her levity.  “I’ve clearly been oblivious to the very possibility, so willing, perhapsm hopeful.  I don’t know what more I can possibly offer.”

Celia leaned closer to Katrisha, hesitantly, testingly, and watched her eyes for discomfort at her forwardness, but all she could see was kindness, a quizzical curiosity, and concern.  There was no fear in those haunting green eyes, no sign of an inclination to pull away, and then there was a glimmer of determination as Katrisha pulled Celia closer, and kissed her fleetingly.

Katrisha struggled between emotion and observation.  Analysis of feelings that stirred, her heart’s unquestionable response.  Years of an untended illness had held her back in many ways, and it seemed in that sliver of a moment something in her nature yearned to make up for lost time.  Yet all of this paled in comparison to the certainty with which Celia launched into another, more lingering, wanting kiss.

Moments faded to minutes, or hours for all the difference Katrisha would have known.  Only the familiar moon that hung in the sky lied about a finite passage of time.  Gentle fingertips wandered aimlessly, trying to find their place in a dance meant for soft lips, and humorously inconvenient noses.

If lips spoke of certainty, hands spoke falteringly of all that was unknown, and unsure.  They wove a caring step of caution, overwhelmed by powerful instincts new, and undefined.  It was not unlike learning to touch magic, the moment you felt it the first time it was remarkable, but you could hardly figure out what to do.  Formless, clumsy, there was a response in kind, and then it collapsed, but you had discovered something gloriously new.

Breathless, Celia gave way, and lay her head on Katrisha’s shoulder.  It is rare to truly sense the emotion of another, even in the most intimate moments.  Yet in that instant Katirsha knew Celia’s whole world lay wrapped up in that embrace. That all Celia had dreamed of for weeks felt possible, and right at her aimless fingertips.  It could hardly have felt a greater honor, or imposition.  A responsibility placed upon her that she was unsure if she could own.  That in a moment of impulse she had accepted.

Celia laughed suddenly, and and broke the fragile impression.  “From the moment I met you,” she murmured wistfully.  “I have been trying to figure out what your presence felt like.”  She sighed and curled all the more insistently against Katrisha.  “I always wanted to liken it to sunlight, but it’s not the warm prickles of a summer sun.  I’ve finally realized what it is.  You are moonlight, a cool wash of moonlight on my skin.  Yet right now, so close to you, I think even that is wrong.  You are the ocean, warm, dark, and deep.  I feel like I’m in over my head.  I should be terrified, but I’m not.  Which is just funny, really.  I’ve never seen the ocean, never swam in water deeper than my waist.  Never even left the cloister.  Yet I am as certain of these things, as I am that this is where I want to be.  If I drowned in you, I would die happy.”

Katrisha slowly came back to the living world.  Dragged unwillingly by the intensity of Celia’s musings.  She, was afraid, but she was not sure it was a bad kind of fear.  She kissed the top of Celia’s head.  She considered the assertion, and found that a passing embrace had never let her appreciate how much different a presence could feel that close.  Not warm like a stone in the sun, but like a raindrop refracting the sunlight.  It was beautiful, serene, complex, and seemingly fragile.  Fear, lay it breaking something so beautiful with a clumsy misstep.

She wondered what the difference between love and friendship was, and tried to remember what Mercu had to say on the matter.  ‘It is the difference between the river and the stream, the sky and the breeze.  Where one begins the other does not end, and more over the line does not exist any more than we foolishly protest that it must.’

“A half pence for your thoughts?” Celia asked after comfortable silence had faded to a sliver of doubt.

“Really, just thinking about things I don’t know.  Which seems to be a lot more than I usually like to admit,” Katrisha said softly.

“Oh fates, we are in trouble if you don’t know, aren’t we?” Celia laughed.

“Troubles an old friend.  I’ll introduce you, it’ll be fun,” Katrisha mused lightly.

Celia buried her face in Katrisha’s neck to stifle her laughter.  Katrisha held her friend close and sighed contentedly, she felt very good there in her arms.  Relief had finally caught up in the emotional jumble she felt.  All the fears that had lead her to Celia’s door that night were washed away.  A part of her had worried that Celia was mad at her for something she wasn’t aware of.  Perhaps she had, been a bit, Katrisha considered.  For not seeing how she felt.  She could own that guilt, as reasonable as her ignorance seemed.  More though it felt like she had been discouraged.

Doubt nagged still at the edge of her thoughts, was this what she wanted?  It certainly felt good, it certainly made Celia happy, and she admitted to herself she would be disappointed if it – whatever it was – stopped so suddenly.  There was potential, for what she still didn’t fully grasp, but potential was always exciting.

Potential was energy in waiting, ready, and anxious to become action.  You could feel it an object about to fall.  In an electric buildup reaching to discharge.  In a fresh flame sputtering to life.  Katrisha could feel that in herself, and it was a little unnerving.

Musings of uncertainty were cut short with a gasp as lips met a vulnerable neck, and the tingle down Katrisha’s spine quickly made doubts dull, familiar things, as all that was new and unknown proved vastly more interesting.  She hummed softly as Celia explored.  Her head rolled back, and eyes closed instinctively, which lead the trail of kisses downward across her throat.

“That feels lovely,” Katrisha murmured.

“I’m glad,” Celia responded nervously.  Katrisha felt Celia’s trembling hand rest on her heart, and gave a contented sigh.  It was sweet, simple, reassuring, and filled her with an absolute sense of peace.

Tentative fingers drifted from Katrisha’s heart, as lips still worked at her neck with seeking kisses, trying to find any sensitive spot.  She felt the a gentle flow of energy into her as Celia’s hand lovingly meandered.  Gentle living energy which made skin, muscles, every cell beneath the touch hum with life.  She felt more aware, more sensitive in all the right ways to the feathery touch, and somewhere past the growing pleasantness, and distraction, it clicked in her mind, a simple logical possibility already being put into practice.

Katrisha suddenly understood something she had never even considered, that the gift could be used affectionately.  That the same principles that allowed for such practices to temporarily enhance strength, allow the body to push farther, faster, and harder in battle could also be used to make it more sensitive, more aware.

In a way Katrisha was terrified.  The simple act of kisses on her neck had already started to addle most higher thoughts and concerns.  That wasn’t making love, it was barely undignified in public.  She knew precious little about what lay beyond that point, but if it was beyond, then it had to be more…and if fueled by the power of living gift. She bit her lip trying to imagine.  It was a heady overwhelming prospect, but any fear or doubt the idea raised in the back of her mind was quickly dwindling under what Celia was drawing out of her.

Willingness, and piqued curiosity were lost concepts.  Want, was then in search of a roost, a place in her to call its own.  It had always been there, like a shadow.  Though placing the moments the specter belonged to proved difficult, and the present seemed of more import.

Katrisha could feel herself sinking to the roof, melting under Celia’s attentions.  A part of her wanted to simply let go, to be Celia’s to do with as she pleased.  It was a powerful part, but surprisingly, unexpectedly it lost a contest of will Katrisha hadn’t even imagined was under way.  Almost before she knew what she was doing she was the one looming over Celia, kissing and caressing her, enjoying Celia’s gasps of pleasure and surprise more than she could have anticipated.

They were satisfying sounds, and the sensations, and the smell of Celia’s skin was delightful.  She realized it was almost as intoxicating from the other side, and there was a touch of frustration in that.  She had wanted back some semblance of control, and though it seemed her mind was clearer, she felt no more in control.  It was her own desire determining what happened, not Celia’s.  It was her desire.  She had barely imagined such a thing existed.  A slumbering creature truly woken for the first time, and wrapped around her heart possessively.

There was so much to learn, to understand.  Katrisha was lost in the act of exploring, feeling caressing.  She was delighted with each new discovery, and tried with great success to replicate the technique Celia had used on her.  As the minutes rolled on, and as lost as she was in her task she became more unsure of what came next.  

She could guess.  Obvious places unventured, but that seemed rushed, and clearly crossed a line to yet more undiscovered country.  It was a leap she wasn’t ready to make, and she settled back beside Celia, and nestled her head against her shoulder.  Taking time to let her heart come back down to reality, all the while daydreaming fretfully of new realities.

Katrisha watched Celia’s chest rise and fall beneath her robe, and let her fingers wander over her form in the moonlight.  She loved the moonlight, but she wondered if she loved Celia.  Treasured her friendship, without question.  Adored her company, and was ecstatic from new and unfamiliar feelings, and sensations, certainly.  She was closer to Celia than she had been to anyone in her life – save her own twin – and surely that meant something.  Yes, she convinced herself, yes she could love Celia, but was she in love?  What even she wondered was the difference?  Was it passion?  That seemed far too easily available, and far too simple.  Nothing was ever so simple.

She had placed her life between a dragon, and her mentor.  Between a dire cat, and a soldier who was only a passing acquaintance.  She felt like for Celia, she would stand against the whole world.  Even her own uncertainty, doubt, and sometimes bumbling social graces.  All at once, the feeling did not seem new, or changed, just understood.

“Yes,” Katrisha said softly.  “Yes, I want to know where this goes.  But…I need to know what you expect, what you need from me, because this is all much too new.  I’m afraid…I don’t want to lose…” she couldn’t even make up her mind what she meant to say there.  Anything, she finally decided, she didn’t want to lose anything.  She already felt like she had lost too much.  She couldn’t lose Celia.

“I need,” Celia started tentatively.  “I want,” she corrected, “to share with you all that I am.  That last little bit we all keep hidden away.  I expect nothing, but I hope that you will allow me to continue to hold you, and touch you, and…kiss you,”  she laughed nervously.

“I think I would like that,” Katrisha murmured softly.  “I think I would like that very much.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Vernum 2nd, 648 E.R.

Katrisha woke to a feeling at once familiar, and strange.  She had curled up next to her sister countless times in the years they had shared their tower chamber.  The feeling of Celia’s sleeping form in her arms was different in so many ways, and yet the memory haunted her, and brought her a pang of grief, and confusion.  She clung more tightly to Celia, who stirred, and nuzzled against her chest, a relatively new sensation that washed away Katrisha’s troubles for at least a moment.

After several wandering sleepy kisses Celia looked up drowsily into Katrisha’s eyes.  “Hello,” Celia said softly, a touch of uncertainty creeping into her voice.

“Hi,” Katrisha said with the same nervous air.  She clung to the night they had spent kissing beneath the stars, and falling asleep in each other’s arms after wandering back to her bed at some forsaken hour before dawn.  

There was no regret in her for that, she was certain.  What ever was yet to be, the simple innocent awkwardness of the moment was exhilarating.  She was happy, she told herself, even as fear nagged at the edges of her mind.  Happy had been in painfully short supply for far too long.

Celia’s eyes suddenly went wide.  “What time is it?” she snapped, staring out the window at the bright daylight.

“I’m not sure,” Katrisha said, held up her hand, and a small triangular shape formed, wobbled, and pointed at in the direction of the sun.  “About mid morning,” Katrisha said absently.

“Crap,” Celia said wincing, “I’m late for garden duty.”

“Oh,” Katrisha said still half awake.

“Could you let me out,” Celia implored awkwardly, not really wanting to leave, but needing to, and lay trapped against the wall by Katrisha.

“Oh, yes,” Katrisha said and got up out of bed.  She scratched her head.  “Sorry.”

“No, please don’t apologize,” Celia said lifted up, hugged Katrisha, and kissed her firmly.  “It was wonderful, you are wonderful, and I hate to go…but I must.”

“It’s ok,” Katrisha said stealing a second kiss.  “Go, I have my own lateness to answer for, I’m sure.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Theron watched as a wrinkle on his hand slowly faded.  “Very good,” he said encouragingly.  “Age is not an easy adversary to push back,” he added.  “It’s natural, it’s one inclination of the body, but for the most part our forms want to be young, they just forget how.”

“How old are you?” Katrisha asked curiously.

“I’ll be eighty five next spring,” Theron said in a matter of fact tone.

“You don’t look it,” Katrisha said in mild disbelief, the man before her looked no older than Mercu, but was over thirty years his elder.  “You are even older than the King,” she added, though pondered that Laurel had never mentioned his age, even been evasive on the matter.  She knew that gifted people lived longer lives, had understood they aged slower, but had easily mistaken the common condition of age in the members of the court to be indicative of what she should expect.  That had been silly, but mostly just unexamined.

“I remember the King as a boy,” Theron laughed.  “Is it really so surprising how old I am?  You know Rennae is over seventy, don’t you?”

“I…didn’t actually,” Katrisha said with some embarrassment.

“Oh, yes,” Theron said thoughtfully.  “I suppose you might not have had reason to know that.”  He eyed her shrewdly for a moment.  “Something is different about you today,” he said seeming almost as though he was changing the subject.

“I…don’t know what you are talking about,” Katrisha winced.

“You lie badly when you are flustered,” Theron said with a laugh.  “You seem much happier, and yet…” Theron scratched his head, “troubled.  Yes, I see it now, you are in love…or at least right on the cusp of it.”

“I…I…how did you know?” Katrisha sputtered.

“How long did I just say I’ve been alive for?” Theron chuckled.  “And what are the core matters of spiritual studies?  You should remember that affairs of the heart are on that list.”

“Oh…” Katrisha sighed, and looked down.

“I won’t press the topic,” Theron said sympathetically, “but I am here if you need advice.”

“Thank you,” Katrisha said uncertainly.  “It’s just…I don’t want to talk about it, and yet…the whole thing is scary.”

“Such is the way of young love,” Theron said pointedly.  “It is full of excitement, and fear is after all very exciting.”

“Not terribly helpful,” Katrisha muttered.

“No,” Theron laughed kindly, “but honest.  I have known it from every angle in my many years.”

“The one thing…the thing that really bothers me,” Katrisha said as she fished for the right words.  “I never even considered loving…” she hesitated again, considering the wisdom of the admission.  It did seem a accepted state of affairs in that place, but still, she bit her lip.  “…another girl,” she finally steamed herself to say.  “And I do, I think.  At very least enough that I’m afraid I might change my mind, and hurt her, and that terrifies me.”

“I must admit, ‘never having considered’ it, is a new one by me.”  Theron mused.  “It is so easy to forget the world out there, and how it works.  Even then not so very new I suppose.  Everyone matures at their own rate, our gifts skew that problem more, not less.  The number of youth I have counseled who have found themselves hopelessly in love, or hopelessly loved…”

Theron shook his head, distracted by his own train of thought.  “When we really love someone, we concern ourselves for their wellbeing.  We are flawed creatures, prone to fickle whims, all of us, and so it is not unreasonable to fear our own impact on one dear to us.  The thing to cling to, is that you care, or you would not have this fear.  Always put that concern first, and you will do the best you can by her.”

“That…actually helps, I guess,” Katrisha said looking away.

“I have other duties that must be tended,” Theron said standing up to leave.  “Unless you are in need of more council presently?”

“No,” Katrisha said.  “No, and thank you.”

Katrisha sat in the sun for a while, and for once it didn’t bother her.  She let herself imagine the warmth was Celia’s touch.  She did love her, she tried to convince herself.  The idea was still new, and odd, and tangled up with all it meant.  She already had, she told herself.  What she felt had not changed over night, even if it had gained so many new dimensions.

The sound of footsteps in the grass caught Katrisha’s attention just as she felt the approach of a familiar aura.    He always felt warmer than the sun, and yet it never bothered her.  She opened her eyes, and smiled at Wren who was walking towards her in a seemingly casual manner.

“Hello,” Katrisha said with a half smile, “what brings you to the courtyard?”

“Oh, not much,” Wren lied.  “You seem…well, different somehow, though.”

“Oh, not you too with that,” Katrisha laughed awkwardly.

“I overheard, from the balcony,” Wren admitted with mixed humor.  “I…couldn’t resist.  To be fair I was listening in to start with, because I had already heard.”

“Already?” Katrisha winced.

“Sort of,” Wren said kindly.  “Celia was late today, there were questions.  She dodged a lot of them, and I put the pieces together from what she didn’t say.  I might not have been the only one to figure it out though.”

Katrisha sighed deeply.  “I….I don’t know what to say,” she said looking up to Wren for approval.  “I also…don’t know what to do.”

“I…wouldn’t feel right offering you advice,” Wren said looking away.

“But…” Katrisha started, “you, must know something of how this all works.”

“I know how things are for Audry, and me.  I suspect there are…differences…”  He laughed, but it seemed an odd sort of humor.  “Some things,” he started gain, “are better figured out on your own.  There is a certain…joy in muddling around at first I think.  Besides, I haven’t really figured out which one of you to scold not to hurt the other – yet.”

“She really means alot to you, doesn’t she?” Katrisha asked pointedly.

“She’s…a very close friend,” Wren said evasively.  “You, her, Audry, and Renae.  You four are the world to me.”

“I will try to do right by her,” Katrisha pledged nervously.  “I just…haven’t figured this whole thing out yet.”

“Give it time,” Wren said patting his sister on the shoulder, “and…though I don’t recommend looking it up right away, there is a book.  I know you like books for your answers.  You probably can get a copy of it from the library if you ask…  Audry was able to.  We’ve been reading it together.  It’s…enlightening.”

“What book?” Katrisha said scratching her head.

“It’s known best as the Red Book,” Wren said shrewdly.  “Written by a mage of all things…though she was really so much more.  Her name was Sylvia, Sylvia Grey for all her family tried to forget her.  I’ve sometimes wondered if she’s a distant relation to Laurel. I wouldn’t ask him though, he might be embarrassed if you did.”

“Is it that…bad?” Katrisha asked uneasily.

“I wouldn’t say there is a single bad thing about it,” Wren said sternly.  “Others, out there…” her gestured absently, “might disagree.  She was disowned by her whole family, then rose to more prominence than any of them ever had, or would.  Funny that, they disowned her, but she is the one the world remembers, while they passed into obscurity.”

“But Laurel is a court mage,” Katrisha protested.

“Of a minor kingdom,” Wren corrected, “and surely you remember Mercu’s tale of how Laurel found himself in that position?  I do.  I was there for one telling.”

“Right, Prince Darion,” Katrisha laughed, “saved him from bandits.”

“Before that he was just a mage traveling with caravans,” Wren added.

“His family was wealthy enough to have cut him off as a threat, at one point,” Katrisha said trying to remember various stories Mercu had told.

“Rich families do not necessarily have that much importance,” Wren sighed.  “Certainly not compared to a woman who openly defined the Clarions on their very border, whispered in the ears of princes, princesses, queens, and kings, and has an entire sect of Sisters devoted to her writings.  The entire order in some senses founded in her image.”

“And you are sure I shouldn’t read up on her sooner, rather than wait?” Katrisha laughed.

“She is in most post imperial history books, that haven’t purposefully written her out,” Wren said with a shrug.  “You’ll likely find more that have than haven’t though.”

< Previous || Next >

Chapter 7

As winds whip past,
lightning cracks around,
the meek shall tremble,
before a deafening sound,

midst the maelstrom stands,
blood of south wind’s own,
the terrible bound wrath,
a child of the storm.

– Druidic Proverb, circa 75 E.R.

The Passing Storm

Vhalun 3rd, 648 E.R.

Kiannae tugged at the blindfold she had been told to wear.  It wasn’t terribly effective, as she still knew roughly where she was.  She could count the feeling of passing trees, and turns.  If she memorized them, getting back would be easy.  It was annoying, nonetheless.  She was nudged, she assumed by Zale for tugging at her blindfold, sighed, and put her hands back behind her.

Landri had insisted that the blindfold was not really to keep her from knowing where she was, but to help her focused on other senses.  To come to the dryad grove communed with nature.  She was communed with nature well enough, at least to make sure she did not trip, or bump into anything.  It felt to her more distracting than helpful at the moment.  She was not focused on feeling the world, but rather on not colliding with it, or those around her.  More focused on position than meaning.

She really wasn’t sure what to expect.  The memories of her suspected past acquaintance with a dryad were fleeting at best.  Long written off as a childish fancy.  There existence had been of more note in her her past instruction than their nature or behavior.  Never so interesting as ghosts, since one lingered in her tower.  Then the whispers started.  Faint, distant, and unintelligible, but growing stronger with every step.

“…child…comes…” Kiannae plucked from the growing murmur, and tried to determine if she could feel anything different.  “…beware children…”  She could hear the words, but the trees all just felt like trees to her.  The same trees she had passed for all it mattered.  Less interesting really than the houses that druids of old had shaped from living wood.  If it were not for the words on the wind it would seem almost anticlimactic, but the words, the words were troubling.

“A new one has come to us, old ones,” Landri called out.  “She wished to meet the wood of elders, to know the dryads, to seek council from you, and for us to seek council regarding her.”

“…unwelcome…” came a cold whisper.

“Do you wish us to leave?” Landri asked, her voice tinged with concern.

The group had stopped, and standing still Kiannae reached out, desperate to make sense out of the seeming lack of otherness in the place, to explain the voices.  Trees for the gifted were slightly strange hollow things.  The outside of a tree was where the aura lived, and in the middle was…  Kiannae’s cheek twitched as she felt it.  The heartwood of the tree nearest her was alive, if ever so faintly.  A fine web of life woven through the bulk, a structure so delicate that if it was not suspended in solid wood it would be impossible to imagine it enduring.

“…storm coming…” another more distinct voice wavered after an uncomfortably long pause.

“…stormwalker…”

Each fragment seemed to be in an entirely new voice, yet all were whistfull and strained.  Kiannae felt for the wind, felt the rhythm on it.  The trees existed in a state of constant communion with the wind, it answered her politely, but but like a passing stranger, and not the friend she had thought he knew.  The elements of that place were reserved to answer their visitor, as she had grown accustomed to them doing so.  They were not hers to call, and yet, she felt welcome.

“…beast comes…” emerged with a terrible hiss.

A slight thudding could be heard in the distance, and Kiannae yanked off her blindfold.  She had felt it, like a cold fire some distance away, but only trees stood in that direction.

“…unwelcome…duty….stormwalker…”

“Do you wish us to leave?” Landri repeated.  “By your will old ones.”

“…stay…” came a terse command as heavy footfalls drew everyone to look in the direction Kiannae was already staring intently.  She couldn’t however pick out what lay beyond the dense stand of living trees.

“…protect…duty…unwelcome…”

There was a loud animal growl. Followed by the deep groan of staining wood before a deafening crack that had half the druids reaching for their ears.

“…beast kill…” the whispers turned to a defining shriek.

The falling tree filled the air with the sound of snapping branches, and though the gathered druids cringed they stood firm as they saw it was falling away from the party.  When it hit the forest floor the thud seemed to wash away everything else into a moment of stillness.  

“What is it?” Kiannae demanded looking to Landri, Zale, and the two other druids with them.  She felt a weight upon her, as she had not before.  It was like the wind had suddenly answered her call, but demanded she accept its power, her communion, not fleetingly accept her as it normally might.  It made her recoil.

“I…don’t know…” Landri said nervously, as a loud snort cut through the deathly calm.  The snort repeated several times, as though something massive was sniffing, and testing the wind for scents.

“…it comes…” the whispers picked up again, and the demanding presence of the elements receded from Kiannae, but not completely.  “…stormwalker…defend…”  It was then a request, it felt as though the world around her offered her, what she had always before needed to ask.  Still, the strangeness made her heistate.

Footsteps grew louder, and the snorting more concise as the vast head of a bear several sizes too large emerged from behind the thick growth of trees.  As its one good eye came into view it visibly squinted at the small group of druids.  It turned its head to face them, and the other eye was no more than a glowing ember of red in a hollow socket.  The beast snarled, white foam dripped from its lips, and scales shimmered along its snout.

“A dire bear…” Kiannae said in some disbelief.  She had barely even seen depictions of a normal bear before, let alone one almost as large as a dragon.  The beast stepped thunderously from behind the trees.  Boney spikes protruded from it’s shoulders and spine, moving in a peculiar undulating rhythm with its stride.

“I’ve never seen him so close,” one of the druids muttered behind Kiannae.

“I’d thought you all were exaggerating,” another cut back.

“Do we run?” Kiannae demanded.

“No,” Landri said hesitantly, “it will chase us if we run.”

“Do we fight then?” Kiannae demanded as the beast eyed the party, and licked its froth covered lips.

“With what?” Zale laughed darkly.

“Back,” Landri commanded loudly, challenging the bear, which paused, sniffed, and continued towards the druids.  “Back,” Landri repeated.

“I don’t think it’s listening,” Kiannae said pulling her aura tightly around her, an old habit from magic training, quite contrary to what she had been taught of channeling.  It gave her separation from the still imposing elements.

“Dire beats are intelligent,” Lanrdi said firmly, “not as smart as a person, but they understand intent.  Back,” she repeated forcefully, as Zale and the other two druids began to back away slowly.

“I don’t think this one cares,” Kiannae said watching the beast’s foaming maw.  “It wouldn’t be the first dire creature I’ve had to fight…the last one just wasn’t a bear.”

“Dire beasts are resistant to disease, but I fear this one is rabid, somehow,” Landri said her conviction starting to falter.

“Rabid would also be new,” Kiannae added tersely.  “What do we do now?”

“We run…” Landri said firmly.  “Run, now!” she yelled, and the druids all bolted at once in different directions, as the bear charged, and looked back and forth at its options of prey to chase.

Kiannae could feel, let alone hear the bear chase her, and ducked behind a tree as it thundered past, slid, and crashed into a great pine which cracked under the force, and fell with a groaning  and another great shriek on the wind.

“…protect…stormwalker…” the voice wailed demandingly.

Kiannae began to form a charge to strike at the bear as it shook itself.  She unleashed the bolt of lightning, and the bear visibly winced in pain, but seemed largely unfazed.  Kiannae struck again to even less effect.  As the bear moved towards her, and snarled angrily, a form emerged from nowhere as a streak, and clobbered the bear across the jaw.  The bear swatted at the new offender, whose form whiffed away into mist.

“Taloe,” Kiannae yelled in shock as the mist reformed into the boy’s shape between her, and the bear.  The bear leapt at Taloe, and Kiannae rolled out of the way as the bear crashed into the tree she had been against.  The tree cracked, but did not fall, as another agonized cry echoed on the wind.

Kiannae scrambled to her feet as the bear shook itself, and glared at her.  It lunged again, and Kiannae threw herself wildly out of the way, tumbling as she landed, and struck again from where she lay.  This attack was driven by some new instinct, a blinding bolt that set the bear off balance for only a moment.

She had for a few moments reverted to mage training, but she felt the will of something new, and yet familiar.  An element that had always answered her quietly, by magic, but for the first time offered openly to be one with her.  To give itself to her, if she would do the same in turn.  She did not ask, it offered.  It was terrifying even to touch that power, to feel it echo through her.  The air crackled around her, building to something, waiting for her answer.  The bear pushed itself upright, and turned unsteadily towards her.  She blasted it again, and the beast flinched.  She still held back, she still held onto the idea of self.  Not sure what lay past the precipice she felt before her.

Zale, and Landri turned back to check on Kiannae, and watched as great gusts began to weave through the trees.  As Kiannae called on the more familiar, safer element of wind.  It was enough to stagger the beast, and even at some distance knock a grown man from his feet.  The bear strained against the power of it, digging its claws into the dirt, and striding forward.  Lightning came then up from the ground up into the bear.  Another step closer, another heartbeat from accepting, but again refused.  She clung to the wind, pulling back from crackling energy that begged her to accept.

The beast roared in agony, and lost a few inches of ground to the wind.  It recovered though, and marched forwards again, withstanding the gale, and several more dazzling strikes.  Kiannae stood firm in its path, untouched by the elements that began to topple more distant observers.

There was a great rush of air, as Kiannae swung her hand, and a howling wind whipped through the branches of the trees.  The bear staggered sideways, struck by incredible force.  Again lightning leapt from her hands, and the bear faltered, and fell to the ground.  It lay there huffing for a moment, and then struggled back up trembling where it stood.

“…mercy…stormwalker…” the voices echoed on the wind, “…end…suffering…”  Pulling just a little bit of it from her control.  That place had a will all its own, the dryads were the true masters, and yet they were a lever without a fulcrum.

Kiannae didn’t know what to do.  Magic had not been enough.  Not even channeling wind or lighting.  Not the nature she knew, or her own power seemed capable of ending the fight.  Yet the powers offered, the powers of that place.  She feared them, but feared death more.  She opened the door, and quickly started losing sight of herself.

She glimpsing another perspective.  Somewhere far below was a human girl, that she had fancied herself.  That tiny speck felt so far away.  Then she felt it, and her eyes closed.  The illusion of self fell to nothing.  The illusion of life, of earth, of solid things.  There was only energy, and one of its truest forms answered her, as it always had, but consumed her as she had never been prepared.

In a moment she was lost, and in a moment the world for miles around in all directions was her, demanded to be her.  It was not even her will, but something new rushing in.  Kiannae saw figures she would not quite remember, standing around her, nodding approval.  They were not mages, but they had woven a spell.  That place served many purposes, though she could not name them.  The spell created purpose, manifested it, prepared it, preserved, something.

Small hairs stood on end for all onlookers, even the bears fur seemed to ripple and rise.  The smell of ozone almost burned their nostrils.  The four druids watched in disbelief, and felt almost as though ants were crawling on their skin.

Then it stopped.

Everything was still, and a bear reared up, ready to bring its full weight down upon the young woman that stood defiant before it.

Perspective.  It was like it had always been there, one just needed to know exactly how to look.  She did not need to form it, to channel it, just find it, find a path.  A path that was almost available.  Blocked only by a fickle expanse of air above.  Just a little nudge, a twist in the air.  She let go of the power that demanded to consume her as surely as her adversary, and instead shifted the air.  It split, and tore up through the heavens, and it all came down.  A terrible charge between layers of the stratosphere.  It was more than a mere strike of lighting, but an entire storm in a single bolt.  It was just enough.

The flash was blinding, thunder rattled the joints of the skull, and teeth in their sockets.  The four druids who had seen it were left dazed, off balance, or on the ground rubbing their eyes, trying desperately to see again.  A great thud, and a much smaller one went unheard over the ringing in everyone’s ears.

When at last the bystanders could see through vision speckled with dazzling dots, the bear lay smoldering, and blackened.  Kiannae was crumpled on the ground before it.  A naked boy knelt beside her, and drifted away on the wind as Landri hurried to her side, cautious of any motion from the bear.

“…thank you…stormwalker…” the wind whispered, and fell silent.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

“There is more than a little explaining to be done,” Ezik’s muffled voice declared as Kiannae stirred in her bed.

Her head was ringing like a bell, trying to piece together where she was.  Who she was made a fleeting stab as a question, and was gone.  Something itchy at the back of her mind, it refused to be examined.  Something she had forsaken the offer of, a power she had used without paying the price.  The thought that such a move came with its own cost, more abstract still.

There was a flash of a woman’s face, smiling, but Kiannae wasn’t sure she recognized her.  A feeling terrible, and wonderful at once.  There was another name on her lips, not her own, and yet so familiar.  She shook her head from the dreamy fog intruding, and focused on the argument in the other room.

“I knew of the elemental,” Landri offered, “the rest…I have no explanation.  I had taken her there in hopes of answers.”

“Why was I not told of your reasons?” Ezik demanded.

“We all have our secrets,” Landri snapped coldly.  “The girl offered me her confidence.  Which is more I think than you sometimes give me.”

“And you?” Ezik turned to Zale, “you have spent nearly as much time with her, what do you know?”

“As much,” Zale said cringing, “though Landri has had her doubts about the power I have witnessed her wield.”

“So tell us then?” Ezik demanded, and turned as Kiannae stumbled into the room, and leaned weakly against the door frame.  “Oh, look who is awake,” he said with a fierce glare.  “I’d commend you, from what I’ve heard, but I feel some chastising for keeping dangerous secrets might be in order first.”

“Taloe is harmless,” Kiannae declared flatly.

“So the boy has a name then?” Ezik sighed, and rubbed his face.

Landri looked at Kiannae shrewdly.  “That is a name I gave her, give or take.  A name from a story.  If it is truly his, I remain uncertain.”

“I think it is his name,” Kiannae said wearily, and looked as though she was about to slide down the door frame.

“Do help her, would you, Zale?” Ezik said scoldingly.

“I…yes, of course grandfather,” Zale said, rushed to Kiannae’s side, and helped her to a chair.

“You first Landri,” Ezik said eying Landri firmly.  “Why do you doubt this is the boy’s name?”

“It’s a name from an old story, the tale of Tethis,” Landri said.  “Or at least a close approximation.  Kiannae asked about the story some time ago, in particular the boy’s name.  Then called him that when we were first introduced.”

“I see,” Ezik said, and turned back to Kiannae.  “And why do you think the boy’s name is the same as from this story?”

“I’ll answer with a question,” Kiannae said testily. “If I am wrong, then Landri is perhaps right.  What was the name of the princess in the story?”

“It was…” Landri seemed lost in thought, “Aelee, I believe.”

“Then I say with very little doubt, though once again it is not exact,” Kiannae qualified a bit irritably, “he is in fact not just named Taloe, he is very much the one from that tale.”

“That’s…preposterous,” Landri said shaking her head.

“He said it, back when he was first learning to talk.  We had no name for him, and were calling him Water,” Zale offered understanding Kiannae’s line of reasoning. “He suddenly didn’t like it, and said, ‘The water took Aeliae.’”

“That doesn’t exactly prove,” Landri said with reservation.

“A boy who forms from, and returns to the mist,” Kiannae growled, “who I found by drinking from a pool in a wood that lies where the story implies Tethis was, and who remembers his love named Aeliae…who drowned…who when remembering her name clutched his shoulder as though pierced through it with an arrow, as the story says he met his end.”

“Point taken,” Landri muttered.

“So, that much is settled,” Ezik stated.  “As to what to do about the matter…that can wait.  The other issue at hand is more concerning.  I have multiple accounts, that all largely agree on one point.  You made relatively short work of a massive, and rabid dire bear.  Where they differ is how.”

Kiannae looked at Ezik, not sure what he expected of her.  “First I have a question of my own,” she said defiantly, “who, or what is a stormwalker?”

Ezik laughed.  “That, is in part what we are here to find out.”

“What?”  Kiannae demanded irritably, “don’t you know?”

“I know the title Stormwalker,” Ezik said sternly.  “I also know that no one has held it in centuries, quite a few even.”  He tapped his staff lightly. “This is where the difference in accounts comes in.  No one can agree for certain if you were just using magic against that bear, or something else.”

Kiannae frowned, and looked down at the table.  “At first I was…it was what I knew, what came to me immediately in desperation.”

“There is no shame in that,” Ezik said comfortingly.  “Magic is not a crime, just a risk to your health.  But you say ‘at first,’ please, explain.”

“It just came to me, suddenly I felt everything around me…” Kiannae trailed off, “the earth, the trees, the wind…the wind particularly…something else…the whispers…I barely remember the fight, mostly the end.  I remember the wind asking mercy, and I knew they meant for the poor beast.  Its fevered, pained mind needed to be put to rest, but it was too strong, so I…it’s all a blur really, till the very last moment, when I found a path up, and back down from the heavens themselves…and then nothing.  I woke up here.”

“It took over an hour to carry you back,” Zale offered.

“I felt some of what you did out there,” Landri said.  “I’m surprised you are awake even now.”

“Oh,” Kiannae said simply.  She didn’t like the answer, she wasn’t even sure she had done all that much.  It was almost more like she had not done something she was supposed to.  Like she had cheated, but to her surprise it wasn’t actually against the rules.  A move that could only be made by leaving the pieces right where they were.  “That still doesn’t explain what a Stormwalker is.”  She pressed, getting annoyed with her own thoughts.

“Possibly you,” Ezik mused.  “Though please girl, don’t let it go to your head.  Even dryad’s are not infallible.  They might have simply not known a better name for you.”

“But what is it?” Kiannae protested.

“Stormwalker is an old title,” Landri said closing her eyes, and then opening them again to stare shrewdly at Kiannae.  “Very old.  Dating back to the days of the shamans, many of whose traditions we still maintain.  They were mighty warriors who commanded not simply the power of conjurers, or mages, but who could channel the very essence of nature’s forces with almost no effort.  What you did might have been pure instinct, but it hardly seemed effortless, given your condition.”

“And I am…one of these?” Kiannae said dubiously.  She felt beaten, and drained.  Like she had been torn apart, but parts, did indeed feel like they had been almost effortless.  There was a cost though, sitting on the edge of her awareness.  Something bigger than her, far bigger, had wanted her to pay a price.  She had refused, and tricked it into doing what needed done.  Hadn’t she?  It didn’t feel like that memory belonged to that day, it felt like she had it all wrong.  She considered asking, but couldn’t even think what to say without sounding mad.

“Despite my own eyes, and senses, I have my doubts,” Landri said.  “There is only one known living line of something like Stormwalkers, the line of the Storm Queen…but they have become almost something else entirely, bound to their sacred mountain.”

The word bound hung on Kiannae.  Something was bound there in the dryad wood, she was certain of it, and willfully wanted to deny the notion at once.  Something that had wanted her, that had seen her as a doorway.  She shook her head slightly, but only Zale seemed to notice, and give her a funny look.

“Perhaps,” Ezik said distantly, “perhaps you are just a very powerful mage.  Perhaps you are even something else new entirely.  What ever you are, there will be whispers now, more than before.   Many still viewed you as a questionable outsider, this will sway a few, others will be all the more weary…depending what we tell them.”

“And what will you tell them?” Landri asked before Kiannae could.

“That she is one of us,” Ezik said.  “Nothing more, nothing less.  I do not believe the world is in need of a Stormwalker, yet that is not mine to say.  Let things fall as they will.  Though the body of that beast must be burned, if it carries disease that could overcome even a dire breed.”

“What of the boy, this Taloe if he is what she says?” Landri demanded.

“A nature spirit helped with the bear,” Ezik said, and smiled.  “Not quite a lie.  Say nothing more, and that only if asked.”  Ezik turned to Kiannae.  “He can remain out of sight I assume, he’s done well enough with that so far.”

“I…will tell him,” Kiannae said hesitantly.

“That’s it then, we just keep him a secret?” Zale said incredulously.

“Seems to have been his idea,” Ezik chided, “and it seems a wise one.  I believe we should simply encourage him to continue as he has.”

“Why the secrecy though?” Zale demanded.

“Because Kiannae will have enough eyes on her after today’s events,” Ezik said slowly standing.  “We need not add to the whispers with questions about her consorting with a ghost, spirit, elemental, whatever you wish to call it.  He’s part of her, I see that now, something I did not understand when I first met her.  There is no separating them, not without killing one or even both.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Vhalun 4th, 648 E.R.

Kiannae woke in the night.  She had been sent back to bed, even as conversation continued about what was to be done with her.  She was on many levels offended that she was left out of the extended debate, but also too tired to really fight a command to rest.  She looked to the door, but knew quickly the shadow that stood there was not Taloe.

“What do you want?” she asked fairly certain it was Zale watching her sleep.  He had a presence something like a leaf on the wind.  It had always been easily missed, and what the feeling reminded her of always had an odd reframing effect, that gave her moments of doubt each way.  He really wasn’t anything like Mercu, she didn’t think.  Presences were, what they were, ‘rhyme without reason’ Laurel had told her once.  It seemed a terrible answer.

“Nothing,” Zale sighed.  “I volunteered to take a watch over you.  Landri is concerned you may have done yourself some harm with whatever you used to take down that bear.”

“Thanks,” Kiannae said disingenuously, suspect of Zale’s motives, “but I think I’m fine.”

“You did knock yourself out for over an hour with that stunt,” Zale cut back, “and have not stirred in hours, even after going to bed in the middle of the afternoon.  You may yet live, but I am hardly convinced you are fine.”

“What ever,” Kiannae grumbled, as Zale walked into the room.  He looked down at her, his face lit clearly in the moonlight from her window.  His expression was one of genuine kindness, if not outright concern, and she suddenly felt bad for her attitude.  “I…”  She sighed.  “I’m sorry.”

“It’s been a day.” Zale laughed nervously.  “If you really want, I’ll head off to my own house and sleep.  Just so long as you back me up that you asked me to go.”

“I…think that would be best,” Kiannae said longing for a sense of privacy.

“Very well,” Zale said, set his hand on hers, leaned over, and kissed her forehead.  She wanted to protest his forwardness, but as much as it left her feeling he had ideas she was not sure she appreciated, there was a genuineness to the act that made her keep her peace.

After several minutes alone in the dark she sighed, and turned to a shadow that stood in the corner.  “Hello,” she said resisting the urge to snap at him to leave.  What was the point?  He couldn’t, not really.  Ezik’s words hung on her, there was no separating them.  She had known it deep down, but he had confirmed it.

“Do I…” Taloe started.  “Am I unwanted?”

“It’s not that,” Kiannae grumbled as she shifted slightly.  “I just…I don’t know what to do with it all.  I ran away to not face the mess that was left when…that was my fault, maybe all of this is too.  Maybe a Stormwalker is what I am, and maybe that means where I go, trouble follows.”

“No,” Taloe said simply, stepping from the shadows. “Trouble is with us all.  I have dreamed…long have I dreamed.  Long have I remembered as she slipped into the water, killed by those sworn to defend her…from me.”  He hung his head.

“You did nothing wrong,” Kiannae said firmly.

“I let her come with me,” Taloe said firmly.  “I let her choose a path that ended in death, in war, in the slaughter of my people.”

“And I let my sister chose a path that ended her,” Kiannae said defiantly, even realizing she had lost the contest of bitter ends by more than some small margin.

Taloe stepped closer, and set his hand on Kiannae’s cheek.  “I have dreamed of the rivers, and the paths they flow.  I saw worlds that never were, and a great and terrible queen, embittered by love denied.  I saw her rise to heights of great power, and then in madness snuff out as many lights as stars shine in the sky.  Though I do wonder if it was so simple as those visions could be understood…”

“I don’t understand.”

“Aeliae was kind, and good,” Taloe said smiling weakly, “she made a choice to live in happiness, and love, and a choice also to sacrifice that to prevent a war.  Our end was bitter…”  He shook his head.  “Kindness can bring tragedy, and folly can spare a world.  We chose not the ends, but the means.  We lived as we were.”

Kiannae shrunk under the weight of how much smaller her troubles suddenly felt.  Yet the cost hurt her no less.  She couldn’t find anything to say.

“Did you believe you could succeed, where others might fail, and perish?” Taloe pressed.

Kiannae wondered how much the creature could read her mind.  The vision of Laurel’s death mocked her, as did the fact she did not even known what had come of the fight.  If he had even been saved in the end, if it had all been for nothing.  “Our mentor.  We…she had a plan,” Kiannae offered, “to avoid the dragon.”

“Then she risked herself that others might not have to,” Taloe insisted.

“If only I were so noble,” Kiannae protested.

“You ran,” Taloe said somberly.  “Your dreams have told me this, and the pain, and madness that drove you from that mountain.  I have felt what struck you, and it pales to the memory of an arrow through the chest.”

“It is no excuse,” Kiannae defied him.  “She gave her life, to save him, and I ran.”

“I see something you do not,” Taloe said shrewdly.  “I see your death, your mentors, even both.  Countless worse ends on that mountain.  There is a shadow there, like a stain on the world.  Something I cannot see that knew these futures, urged you to run.  I can hear a whisper like a cry in that moment, that you do not remember.  I cannot see if he lived…but I can say that all but certainly one of you would have died, most likely more.”

“A prophecy made me run,” Kiannae growled.  “Guilt, for having forgotten it until it was too late.  All of it is prophecy, everything that happened.  Don’t tell me of prophecy.”

“Do you wish you had remembered?  Followed the other path, and not the one you did?”

“I…”  Kiannae rolled over forcefully, and cried.

“Do not close your eyes,” Taloe intoned as though it was wisdom once imparted to him.  Almost another voice.  “Seeings stones in the path before us is not what makes one stumble.”

“That is not what Laurel believed, is he…was he a fool?”

“I see before me a noble woman,” Taloe said firmly. “Whom you have loved, I must assume noble.  We have many reasons for the things we do, the ones we admit, even to ourselves, and the ones that drive us.  To trust prophecy, to show arrogance in the knowledge of something so uncertain is foolish, but to be blind is more so, because we do not choose what we know.  What drives us.”

“I want to believe that,” Kiannae sighed, “but I would rather she lived.  Rather we never went to that mountain.”

“I would rather that my Aeliae lived as well,” Taloe said.  “Your sister lived her life as she was, a small grace, but we have what comforts we do.”

“You can really read my thoughts, can’t you?” Kiannae asked, turning back over.

“I hear the whispers in dreams,” Taloe said looking away.

“That’s not an answer.”

“The whispers of you,” Taloe said obviously uncomfortable.  “They are like a song, that wakes, and lulls me to sleep.  I do not read, it is nothing like that, I feel.  Had I still bones I would say that I feel it there.  The rest is whispers and shadows.  Pasts that never were, futures that might yet be.  I cannot see those well, U was never good at futures, only the past, it…so rarely changes.”  Something clearly troubled him, something more than he was saying.

“Oh,” Kiannae said obviously uncomfortable.

Taloe rested his hand on her cheek again.  “Do…you love Zale?” Taloe asked hesitantly.

“Shouldn’t you know that?” Kiannae asked with more anger than she felt good about, and the hand was pulled from her cheek.

“I go,” he said, and as the words were spoken, he vanished in a swirl of mist.

“I barely know him,” Kiannae muttered into the darkness, not sure how much Taloe could hear when he was not incarnate.  She pulled her blanket tighter around her, rolled over, and stared absently at a moonlit wall, until sleep begrudgingly took her once more.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Coria 12th, 648 E.R.

Ezik looked very frail that day, as Landri considered him.  She had begun to wonder why he spent so much time staring out windows.  All at once she knew how old he was, even though frailty aside, the years had been far more than kind to his features.

“What have you learned?” Landri finally asked.

“I have made enquiries through channels available to me.  Little attention as was called to her, a half Sylvan girl from Avrale was easy to hear reference to, one with a twin, no less so.  Specifics add up easily.”

“So you have learned more of our Kiannae then?” Landri pressed.

“Yes.”

“And?”  She all but growled as Ezik reminder how aggravatingly obtuse he could be.

Ezik turned, and considered Landri at length.  “She is not some simple mage’s apprentice.  She is the adopted daughter of the court mage of Avrale.”

“Should we not return her then?”

“Perhaps that is what propriety would ask of us.  There is no evidence that a Court Mage has died in battle, so it should be possible, but I have seen many things that trouble me.”

“The stormwalker, and stormchild business?”

“Yes.”

“And you are certain it is her?”

“In my bones I feel it is another.”

“The mentor lives, have you confirmed the sister’s death?”

“One lost, one missing from court,” Ezik nodded.  “It would seem so.”

“She is owed better than what things seem,” Landri said tersely.

“She is owed the chance to grow into the woman she is becoming…though I worry if she is not owed far better than that.”

“You have always been a sly one, but this is unlike even you,” Landri said with some concern.

“You do not know what I have seen,” Ezik said, and looked out the window again.  “Not simply the vision of the eye of the storm – I have seen the storm itself.  I have seen a great war ravage the land – the world shake, and crack asunder.  I have seen armies, and dragons.  I have seen a great light go out in the east, and a shadow cast across the world at the setting sun.  I have seen my own death, quietly, amongst the grove of elders.  I will not live to the dark days that come, and yet I can still feel them, like a cold wind on the breeze.”

“Do you wish to be alone?” Landri asked uneasily.

“No – but you can not provide me what I wish.”

“Shall I leave?”

“That is up to you.  I will not mind the company.”

“You may have seen visions – but you still have not seen everything,” Landri offered, her words uncharacteristically timid.

“What have I missed?”  Ezik asked.

“The past,” Landri said somberly.

“Enlighten me,” he said with a curiosity that crept into the corners of his eyes.

“When I was but a girl, I remember my first crush.  An older man, strong, and firm, and ever mysterious.  I was a child, and he was taken, but this does not always turn away a youthful eye.  Not when he entertained more than one woman already,” Landri said pointedly.

Ezik looked away, embarrassed.  He was ancient, and felt more so.

Landri stepped closer.  “I can not say with the passage of time, such youthful attractions have endured,” she said touching his cheek.  “Yet for all the rigors of age, you are still a striking figure, and even the memory holds something compelling.  Are you sure I can not offer you what you wish?”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Coria 17th, 648 E.R.

There was light, and power.  Nothing new.  She was power, and had always been.  Eyes had glimpsed her across time, ears told only of a storm surely at the end of all things.  The mighty ocean was a pale kitten’s mewl to the roar of that moment.  Senses blinded by awe remembered only her eyes, her hair, her grace.

Those were the tales, and Ezik’s own experience.  That was till a girl bumbled into his life that bore a likeness of her face.  Yet the sadness that laden those eyes was not the same.  One the fresh pang of loss, the other filled with a joy that only the doomed can know, in the face of all the world’s sorrow, she smiled.  It was still a sad smile.

“We’ve never met,” he heard a voice with a gentle air that belied a power to rattle old bones.  It was a voice that came from nowhere, and could be heard above the din of a hurricane, and as soft as a whisper.  “Or we’ve met a thousand times before.  Who can say.”

That, was new.

“Who…” Ezik could not even quite finish.  He felt like he was sinking in thick mud, the light of that palace tried to vanish into darkness.  Shadows stood around her, such dark shadows reaching for her.  Things that wanted her power.

“You are dying,” the voice said plainly, though not without a touch of compassion.

“I am?” Ezik asked nervously.  He didn’t feel entirely right, but not as though he was dying, at least, he didn’t think so.

“From the day you were born,” the voice answered almost apologetically.  “From here I cannot even say how many heartbeats that might be away.  You are trying not to, amidst your ancient grove.”  There was a frustrated sound.  “Why is it I can only save the ones I don’t know?  Why are the ones I love always shielded from my benevolence?”

“I cannot say,” Ezik answered nervously.

“Say, no, of course you can’t.  Doing however, that is in your power.  Because you found me here, seeking your own salvation.  I fear that has already killed you.  Finding this place is not good for flesh and blood.  Much like pouring an ocean down your gullet is a poor end for your innards.”

“Oh,” Ezik said, but still didn’t feel dead.  Though he wasn’t quite sure what death might feel like exactly.

“Help me, and I will try to help you,” said the voice shrewdly.

“You would hold my life ransom?” Ezik asked of the darkness that enveloped him.

“I cannot even say it will work,” the voice offered guardedly.  “I cannot ask you, if I have already destroyed your very soul trying.  The methods at my disposal are far from fit for gentle tasks.”

“Oh,” Ezik said again.  “If it is so, then ask.  If I can do it, I will try.”

“She must not return home,” the voice said.  “Nor can she remain sheltered with you.  Find a reason, an excuse.  Send her anywhere but Avrale, and see to it she is safe.”

“Are you her sister?” Ezik pressed as it felt the moment would slip by.

“Sister?  Were anything ever half so simple, young one.”

Ezik balked at being called young.  Yet, in spite of himself he knew it was true.  “I have been asked to send a troop down to Niven,” Ezik offered.

“That will do.”

Ezik woke with a start, his eyes open, but there was only darkness.  The wind washed through his hair, and the sunlight warmed his skin.  He took a breath that lasted a season, and blinked only to find himself sitting up in bed.  He could feel his toes rooted still in the soil, the passing of centuries as he struggled to understand a single moment he had woken in the night.

He knew his beginning, his end, but all that lay between still seemed uncertain.  He stole one last kiss the morning his wife died, and one more also the morning after she had led a Sylvan woman to their bed.  He cried as he held and kissed his newborn grandson’s head, and hid those tears the last time they said goodbye.  When he could not convince him to stay.

He could see his whole life laid out before him.  He could change its direction little more than a river in the banks that held it, but he could cut his course deeper, shape the stones to never forget, and defy the rains to change a single thing he had wrought.

Then…it was gone, not more than a shadow on the wall.  It receded into the nothing from whence it had come, and hung on him like a terrible weight.  An oath he could not remember, but would abide.  A hand rested gently on his gave him both comfort and sorrow.  He glanced at her in the moonlight, still fair, so very lovely for her age.  A gift as strong as hers, she would live another forty years, Fates willing.  He doubted very much he had a tenth so many, and what solace there might have been in that moment wavered, for something told him such comfort must pass.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Coria 20th, 648 E.R.

“You are not a king, Ezik, merely an honored elder.  Remember this,” Landri said sternly.

“Then honor me, and do as I have asked.”

“You are certain?”

“Who is certain of anything.  The very shadows stir, and though you have breathed a moment of joy into these old bones, they are no less old.”

“And you have confirmed there is no sister for her to return to?”

“Yes,” Ezik said firmly.

Landri narrowed her eyes.  She knew the man well, but she was never certain of his honesty.  “You are certain that it is right not to return her to her family?”

Landri could hear Ezik’s bones creek from how tight his grip became on his staff.

“What is right?” Ezik said darkly.  “We are past the point of right, or wrong.  All that is left is what must be.”

“What have you seen?”

“The truth of things, and the danger of that truth.”

“Always riddles.”

“I’ve nothing else left.  I tried three times to set pen to parchment, to send word to her rightful mentor.  Three times I saw visions of horrors I will not speak.  The very earth calls out for this course.”

“What of us?” Landri asked more than a bit hurt.  “Will we meet again?”

“I believe not.  Though I have a great many regrets, I assure you, this is high in their number.”

“You will not change your mind?” Landri asked tersely.

“A temptation, certainly.  Yet not one worth the cost.  This journey…it may not seem it, but it needs to be you with her, and she must go.”

“Should I be prepared for battle?”

“I am unsure, be cautious though, yes.”

There was a knock, and the two druids turned to the door.

“Enter,” Ezik called.

Kiannae opened the door cautiously.  Most of her conversations with the archdruid had been less than pleasant.

“Come in,” Ezik pressed, and Kiannae did, closing the door behind her.  She glanced to Landri, who slightly averted her gaze.

“I have asked you here to tell you of a decision that has been made,” Ezik said, his tone matter of fact.  “You are to join a group that is to arrive soon, and head on with them south to Niven”

“Why am I being sent?”

“Because you are exceptional,” Landri offered.  “And a change of scenery I think could only help your disposition.”

“Let us be honest,” Ezik said.  “It is because you are too exceptional for your own good, and there are far too many whispers about you being a Stormwalker, and what that means for us.”

“Very well,” Kiannae said with a shrug, “it matters little to me I guess.”

“From any another druid, I would take that as an unnecessary statement of the obvious, if a bit flippant,” Ezik said calmly.  “We go where we are needed, and most where the winds take us, less we see that this course needs to change.  For you, I think I must say you need learn to care again.  You have a life to live, do not let yourself die with the sister you still mourn.”

“Is that all?” Kiannae asked furiously.

Landri gave Ezik a cold glare.

“That is all, child,” Ezik said with a shake of his head.  “Landri will tell you more.  I wish you well in this journey.  I hope that it will help you find direction again.  You may both leave.”

< Previous || Next >

Chapter 6

In spring the living world breaths in,
bright summers turn leaves to fire,
cold fresh autumn winds exhale,
in winter all such vigors expire.

– The Breath of Seasons, 91 E.R.

The Winter Frost

Styver 37th, 647 E.R.

Snow settled on silver hair, and Katrisha stood arms outstretched in the in a courtyard of the cloister.  She was alone, as few ventured out in the evening on winter days.  Though loneliness was an ache far colder to her than the snow melting on her skin, for the moment she was unmoved.  She let the cold in, and while it was enough to make even her shiver, it made her feel alive.

She took a deep breath of frigid mountain air, and felt better.  The cold never frightened her, and though she would soon long for warm blankets, or even a fire, she relished the energy of a coming winter’s night.  She could almost lose herself in the stillness, almost find the place that her illness had let her become lost in.  She didn’t know what that place was.  Something far away.  There was a pain in that place as sure as the one in her heart that night, but the distance of it gave her perspective.

The sound of footsteps crunching behind her pulled Katrisha from the dark tranquility she had found.  For a moment she ignored the familiar presence, and that made her feel quite terrible.  It wasn’t that she wanted to be alone, it was that she wanted to forget.  Her arms went from outstretched, to clinging tightly around herself.

“Are you alright?” Celia asked gently, and set a hand on Katrisha’s shoulder.

“All things being relative?” Katrisha muttered.

“Even so,” Celia consented.

“Tomorrow’s my birthday,” Katrisha offered.  “The first I’ve ever spent without my sister.  Not that I’m sure it’s our birthday, really.  Just a day, picked because of when snow fell in the north the year before we went to Broken Hill.  It could be of course, or the next, or today – for what little it matters.”

“Happy birthday?” Celia tried, but it seemed hollow.

“Thank you,” Katrisha said with a genuine, but begrudging air.  “A nice wish, but I don’t know if I can manage to feel it.”

“I know it…I know it must be hard,” Celia said, “but you aren’t alone.  I’m…here…”  She huffed on the last word, and clutched her robe tightly to herself, and shivered.

Katrisha turned, and looked to Celia questioningly.  It was clear she didn’t want to be standing there in the snow, and yet it was all the more clear she wasn’t going anywhere.  She was there for Katrisha, her only real friend, and Katrisha almost cried to realize it, as real a friend as she had ever had.

Celia glanced up at the sound of Katrisha’s arms falling to her sides.  The two exchanged an odd series of inscrutable looks, and Celia threw her arms around Katrisha, and lay her head against her chest.  “I’m here for you,” Celia said firmly, and Katrisha wrapped her arms around her.

“Thank you.”

“Now, can we please go inside?” Celia asked between chattering teeth.

Katrisha laughed.  “Yeah.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Kiannae sat before a wavering flame.  It danced in a stone recess set between the trunks of trees that formed a central wall of the house.  She wasn’t surprised that druids would not burn wood, relying instead upon a spell to keep their homes warm in the winter.  It was a cheat of course, though the fire borrowed energy from the aether it was paid back by the stone beneath it, which slowly turned to dust.  Entropic decay, she recalled from her lessons.  Living things were generally highly resistant, but stone, or anything without a life of its own fared poorly when the gifted tried to get around the rules.

She glanced out the window at the snow, and fought back tears for an uncounted time.  She wondered if that was the twisted thing behind prophecy.  Was it cheating?  Was that why trying to avoid fate so often went poorly?

Landri entered the room, and watched Kiannae for a moment before speaking.  “You are up very late,” she said softly.  “Not that you do not make a habit of such things – sneaking off in the dead of night.”

“So, I’m not as clever as I thought,” Kiannae laughed darkly.  “Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Yet you sit here where it is warm,” Landri offered.  “Seems clever enough.”

“I never liked the snow,” Kiannae answered, “and now I sit alone by the fire, and cry from even a glimpse of it.”  She huffed in a vain effort to steady herself.  “She loved the snow,” Kiannae muttered, even as tears started to break free again.  “I always hated it, too cold, but she loved it so much.”

“Your sister?” Landri asked understandingly.  She walked to Kiannae’s side, and sat down.

“Yes,” Kiannae sighed.  “It’s almost midnight.  Then it will be my birthday…her birthday.  I will be fifteen, and she forever fourteen.  Just one more way that she is gone.”

“It is always hardest on such days, to not be near ones we have loved,” Landri offered kindly, and wrapped an arm around the girl.

Kiannae was silent for a tentative moment.  “She’s not the only…ghost that haunts me,” Kiannae admitted.

“Do you finally wish to return to your old life?”  Landri asked.

“I…”  Kiannae sighed.  “No.  I can’t face those I left behind.  I won’t.  Only one is even of my blood, and I was never…I was not the best sister to him.”

“So you do have one family member left then?’ Landri pressed.

“One, and a half,” Kiannae laughed darkly.

Landri considered the girl next to her.  “You’ve sometimes asked I speak more plainly, might I request the same of you?”

“My brother…his birth killed our mother,” Kiannae said, “or she gave him her life.  Small difference I often feel, but I have been encouraged to think it significant.  He was never…right.  Katrisha loved him, said he reminded her of mother because he had part of her in him.  We once nearly killed eachother fighting over him.  I tried to mend my bridges, but…it wasn’t worth much I don’t think.  And now…now, I’m like him.”

“And you still avoid your point,” Landri pressed.

“I asked you about Tethis for a reason,” Kiannae said, “about the boy from the story.”

“And that is?” Landri questioned, growing impatient with the girl’s evasion.

“Can I ask you to keep a secret?” Kiannae said, changing tact.

“If it does no harm to do so,” Landri said shrewdly.

“I fear it does harm not to keep it,” Kiannae countred.  “Yet Zale already knows.  He’s promised to keep it, but I’m sure he will make a mess of things eventually.”

“Whatever it is,” Landri offered, “if I do not feel it must be told, I will keep it.  I will promise you no more.”

“I entered the Sylvan wood through what was once the lake in that story,” Kiannae began.  “I drank of a clear pool I found in a rocky stretch.  The water was so pure, seemed so clean…I think.  I think I knew something was wrong, but ignored it.  Ever since I have been visited by…an elemental…a ghost…something in between.”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Landri said incredulously.  “Half flesh of course, ghosts, the dryad wood…but…”

“Zale told me of the figure that has been seen moving about at night,” Kiannae retorted.  “Yes, something followed me, but more than that, it…he is a part of me.”

“And you are sure?”

“I have summoned him intentionally in the east glade many times,” Kiannae answered.  “He has learned to speak, learned in part from my own thoughts.  My brother learned to talk far too quickly, Taloe – he’s answered that finally, his name – has done even more so.  Try not to panic.”

“What?” Landri asked incredulously.

“The snow is pretty,” Taloe said, and startled Landri, who snapped around and backed away from the naked boy that stood in her home, “but it’s not as challenging to dance upon water that is solid.”  He watched Landri’s expression for a moment.  “I’m sorry, if I have scared you.”

“How?” Landri demanded between gasps, her eyes wide.

“I called,” Kiannae said.  “Of course you did not believe me.”

“Why is he naked?” Landri growled.

“I just am,” Taloe answered.  “I am not yet certain how I take this form, it is like a memory, an instinct.”

“What do you want spirit?” Landri demanded.

“To be here for Kiannae,” Taloe said.  “I have been considering for some time to come, and be a friend to her in her sorrow.  Yet I knew her not to be alone, so I did not.”

“What are your intentions toward her?”  Landri narrowed her eyes, and considered the young man suspiciously.  Seeing him for the first time more as male than apparition.

“Kiannae is…my shaman…the queen of my domain,” Taloe said obviously struggling to find the right words.  “I wish to serve her, to be a good and welcome presence.”

“Me, a queen,” Kiannae laughed darkly, “funny that I’ve heard that one before.”

Landri shot Kiannae a questioning glance, but didn’t press her curiosity.  “Why do you appear naked?  This is not as ghosts are often seen.”

“I am no ghost,” Taloe said, and knelt before Landri.  He offered his hand that she might touch it.  “This form…is an echo of the flesh, not of the mind.  Perhaps I could learn to come into being otherwise.  It does seem to cause distress.”

Landri reached out hesitantly, and touched the hand that was stretched out to her.  She pulled back in surprise at the sensation.  “So are you made entirely of water then?” she asked rubbing her fingers together, and finding them counterintuitively dry.

“You are mostly,” Taloe laughed, “this is why my people thought it apt to be one with the waters.  We are of the same stuff.”

“I suppose there is truth in that,” Landri said curiously, examining the structure that held the boy together.  She tried to figure out where his aura began, and Kiannae’s ended to very little success.  He appeared to be a living thing, in almost every respect she was used to seeing, just more fragile, ready to come apart on a whim.

“It would help to announce yourself,” Landri said softening her tone, “or at least to not appear behind people.”

“I do apologize, but the space before you was filled, and I suspect any other sound would have startled you as much,” Taloe said defensively.  “I also mistook that Kiannae had announced me.”

“Barely, and not half a second before,” Landri said.

“Ah.  Time is…fluid in the dream.” Taloe shrugged.

“I shall have to take your word on this,” Landri said, “but you are here now.  So I ask again to be more clear, what are your intentions towards Kiannae?”

“You ask because I am a boy, and she a girl.”  Taloe nodded his understanding.  “She mourns a sister, and I a lover.  Though mine died long ago, time…for me is not so simple.  My wounds are still quite fresh.  Though I will not deny she is lovely, I seek nothing more than to comfort a friend to whom I am literally bound.”

Landri considered him, and struggled to read his face.  That his eyes lacked whites, and were the same strange tone as his skin did not help her.

“The moon is at its hight,” Taloe said glancing up, “the night begins to pass, and the day begins to come.”

“How do you know?” Landri asked curiously.

“Because I can feel it, as sure as the tide,” Taloe laughed knowingly.

“Happy birthday to me,” Kiannae mused darkly, and glanced at Taloe, who moved, and sat beside her were Landri had been, and hugged her, as he had seen her do.

Landri watched the interaction suspiciously, shook her head, and got up.  “I will have to think if I will keep this secret.”

“I hope that you will,” Kiannae said, and glanced up at the older woman that stood beside the fire.

“Do you truly trust the others so little?” Landri pressed.

“It is not just a matter of trust,” Kiannae said firmly.  “I am already an outsider, an oddity.  I wish to protect Taloe, but also to not give the others another reason to distrust me.”

“I will leave you two,” Landri nodded, “and I will consider what you have said.”  She started to walk way, glanced back, and again considered the propriety of the situation.  “Please sleep before dawn, Kiannae.  And yes, happy birthday, dear girl.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Hivern 2nd, 647 E.R.

The snow was deep, and soft.  While Katrisha bounded effortlessly through it, Celia found herself trudging rather tediously, even along the path where it was more shallow.  Katrisha leapt, spun, and landed in a snowdrift half as tall as her, which easily cushioned her fall.

“You are crazy,” Celia chided.

“And you are silly,” Katrisha called back.

“One to talk,” Celia countered. “Isn’t that cold?”

“Not really,” Katrisha laughed as Celia trudge up beside her, and stared down into the divot she had made sweeping her arms, and legs.  “Even if it gets a little cold, I just make myself warm.  Can’t you?”

Celia frowned, and tried.  She willed her gift to the surface, and her skin did feel slightly less chilled.  “Yeah, I guess I can.”

“See?” Katrisha laughed.  “Now, have fun with me.”

Celia rolled her eyes, and flopped back into the snowbank beside Katrisha, but did not sink in nearly as much.  “You have a weird idea of fun,” she chided.

Katrisha got up, and stared down at her.  “It’s prettier when you wave your arms, and legs, like I did.  Make snow birds.”

Celia stuck out her tongue, but did as she was bid, then got up to admire her handywork.  “Wherever did you get the idea?”

“Something Princess Maraline did once, and got yelled at by her mother for,” Katrisha said.  “So, I’ve done it ever since.”

Celia laughed.  “You are terrible.”

Katrisha scrunched her nose playfully.  “Laurel doesn’t care, Mercu rolls his eyes, and it made Marline laugh every time.” She bit her lip thoughtfully, and rubbed her chin.  “I have an idea,” she said, and offered her hand to Celia.

“Alright,” Celia said uncertainty, took the hand, and stepped over the lip of snow between them.

Katrisha turned to the path, gathered herself, considered how strong the spell needed to be, and then blasted a patch almost clear of snow sending most of it away in a near perfect arc.  Little compressed beads along force lines left random spokes, little roils of force rippled the edges, and a thick dusting swirled all around them in the backlash.

“Ok, stand here,” she said to Celia, grabbed her by the shoulders, and turned her around.

“What are you doing?” Celia pressed curiously, her eyes still darting to the after effects of the biggest spell she had ever seen.  Cast seemingly on a whim like it was nothing, just something you do.  She was at once impressed, and miffed at the sheer audacity of it, jealous really, and she knew it was that.

“Just stay still,” Katrisha said.

Celia scrunched up her face as Katrisha had done a moment before.

“Keep doing that, and it will stick,” she chided.

“Will not.” Celia stuck out her tongue.

“Keep making silly faces,” Katrisha laughed, “and I will not be held accountable for the consequences.”

Celia could make out parts the spell Katrisha was weaving.  It was complex, unfamiliar, and seemed to be something new Katrisha was devising for how long it was taking.  Katrisha was soon chewing on her lip in thought, trying to work out details.  She then suddenly ran behind Celia, who turned to face her.

“No peeking,” Katrisha snapped playfully.

Celia turned back around in a huff, and crossed her arms.  “Alright, but this better be good.”

“It will be,” Katrisha said, and then audibly took a deep breath.  “I hope.”  There was a pause.  “Are you ready?”

“I guess?”

There was a rush of wind, and more blown snow, and Celia tried not to turn around.

“Ok,” Katrisha said, and Celia spun to see something that was at first perplexing.  It was almost like a mirror in white, a detailed image of herself made of snow.  Some of the finer edges fell away lightly, but the resemblance was uncanny.

Celia laughed, and clapped.  “That’s incredible, do you next.”

Katrisha nodded, and set the spell up on the ground first.  She then wove the other end more confidently than the first time.  Took a breath, and with another whirl of snow falling all around them she turned, and considered the result.  For a moment she seemed rather satisfied, and then a little sad.

Celia was distracted with having seen the spell in action, and took a moment to glance at Katrisha.  “What’s wrong?” she asked, and then instantly realized.  “Oh fates, I’m sorry, I didn’t think.”

“It’s ok,” Katrisha said.  “I’m ok.  I didn’t think either.”

“I have an idea,” Celia said.  “I’m gonna knock these over, and you do it one more time, with both of us.”  Katrisha looked confused, but didn’t protest.  Celia gave both sculptures a shove, and they collapsed almost like they were nothing.  “Ok, now set the spell up again.”

Katrisha set up the part on the ground again, and the third time was by far the easiest as things went with magic.  She then started to form the spell in front of them.

“Just a little closer,” Celia said, and Katrisha stepped sideways, and finished her spell.  Celia grabbed her hand as she saw the spell was almost done, and Katrisha turned to glance at her just as she finished, and absently set it off.  They turned around to find the shape of the moment captured.  The image of the two of them holding hands, and Katrisha’s befuddled expression.  She laughed, and Celia hugged her tightly, and buried her face in Katrisha’s shoulder.  “See, much better.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Laeur 1st, 648 E.R.

Kiannae trod through the deep snow towards the east glade.  The snow was still lightly falling, but a part of her defiantly wanted to be out in the cold, for once.  She didn’t want the sorrow to own her, she wanted to love something that her sister had treasured.  The snow was pretty after all, she thought as she looked out over the unbroken expanse of white, and trees heavily laden under the weight of a thick winter blanket.  She huffed, and watched her breath swirl out before her.

She heard the footsteps following her.  Not for the first time, but she had ignored it.

Zale it seemed had finally decided to make himself known.  “I thought you hated the snow?”

Kiannae turned to glance at him, somewhat cross with his following her as he so often did.  “I don’t like the cold, but I can fight that,” she said.  “Besides Katrisha loved the snow, and I felt I should honor her memory.”

“So what are you planning on?”

“Not really planning anything,” Kiannae said.  “How are you doing at being interesting?”

“Shoddy, it would seem,” Zale offered.

Kiannae laughed, and shook her head.  She closed her eyes, and let her gift wash over her.  She felt for the wind and the snow, she sought a will in the winter air and laden ground.  She became that will.  With a deep breath a gust whipped up over the pair, and without even thinking she lept backwards almost as if the wind had carried her.  She twisted as she came down, and the wind whorled with her.

To Zale it was hard to tell whether the wind drove her, or she the wind.  He watched, and tried to understand.  As she moved the wind picked up, and as it escalated it swirled more, and she spun more.  It was a dance between the woman, and the elements, and hard to look away from.  Yet Zale decided that the sight of it was distracting, and closed his eyes.  His own elemental studies were spotty, but he knew the principle.  He felt for the will of the things around him, and caught a thin thread of something.

Everything seemed to be humming to a single tune, a rhythm that as he opened his eyes he saw matched Kiannae’s movements.  He took a deep breath, more nerves than intention, but he found that the air responded.  He let it out, and almost felt as though he could follow her into the field.  With the next breath he did, and was in her footsteps for several strides, and then he lost himself in the power, and tumbled just slightly off balance into a snowbank.

He sat up slightly, and brushed the snow from his face, and hair.  He shivered, but as his eyes refocused a whirlwind of snow broke before him, and a smiling face of a pretty young girl amidst the falling flakes could ease even the fact that she was clearly amused at his expense.  She held out a hand, and he took it.

“Do you feel it?” Kiannae asked.

“Yes,” he said, though there were several things he felt, the pull of the elements, the cold, a sudden breathlessness that had been building in him for some time.  All of it centered around her.  She was a force of nature in more ways than he could be sure.

As the last of the snow had almost settled she let go, and sprung back into her wild dance.  “Try again!”  She hollered over the whipping wind, and with a deep breath in, and out again he did.

Half the snow from the glade seemed to return to the sky as they danced, and for some time Zale kept his balance, even losing himself to the storm.  He was but an eddy, a single swirling zephyr amidst her power, and though he felt a part of it for a moment, he knew that almost none of it was his own.  When at last the heady euphoria won, he tumbled again into another snowbank, and just lay looking up at what he had been some small part of.

It was unnerving, and beautiful.  It was more than any druid should be capable of, and that worried him.  The things he had seen Kiannae do, the ease with which she did them.  He struggled between an urge to speak with Landri and the others about it, or to keep the confidence of the lovely and powerful young woman in his life.  A part of him wanted to believe it was just magic.  That it was because she was a mage.  Yet he had seen mages, so many in his days on the road.  It wasn’t magic, but it wasn’t druidic.  It was perhaps shamanistic, old shamanic practice at its very height, reborn before his eyes.  He struggled between believing the idea, and refusing it.

Kiannae herself finally let go, and was carried at the very edge of a graceful twirl just off balance, and fell with her eyes closed into what she expected to be soft snow.  Instead she found herself caught in strong arms.  She did not think for a moment as to who had caught her, in part she had expected it somehow to have been Zale, but as her eyes fluttered open she saw instead Taloe gazing down at her.

“Is this you?” she asked dreamily, still half lost in the elements around them.  Feeling the form of them in the breeze as he held her up.

“I do not believe so,” he said doubtfully.  “I had great power over the waters once, but the air was never my domain.”

“I don’t understand.” Kiannae signed. “If it is this easy, then why do mages not practice this?”

“I do not believe it is…easy,” Taloe said, “except for you.  It is very cold,” he said with a shiver.

“Then let me fall into the snow,” Kiannae said, and as soon as the words left her lips he was gone, and a soft pile of snow caught her instead.  For a moment the cold did not bother her, for a moment she felt almost as her sister always had, but that moment did not last.

A blizzard still fell all around, and Kiannae started to struggle to her feet as it was quickly piling up over her.  A hand appeared before her, and she looked up at Zale whose whimsical half smile reminded her just a bit of Mercu.  She closed her eyes for a moment, warmth and melancholy washing over her, and took the hand which lifted her to her feet.

“Am I doing better at interesting?”

“Better,” she laughed, and opened her eyes.  For the first time she found herself truly liking Zale’s presence.  He did remind her of Meruc, his essence felt like a thing of the wind, and at that moment the wind was very close to her own nature.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

“There you two are,” Landri growled at the two teenagers walking into the village.  “What were you thinking, being out there in a blizzard like this?”

“I don’t think it’s a blizzard,” Zale offered.

“What are you talking about?” Landri balked, and gestured at the falling snow.

“We were dancing in the east field,” Kiannae offered.  “I think most of this was whipped up from the wind we called.”

“That’s absurd,” Landri shook her head.

“It is, but it’s also true,” Zale said, almost giddy.  “I’ve kept quiet about some of what I have seen before, but I didn’t just see it, I felt it…I joined with the elements she commanded.”

“Magic,” Landri grumbled.

“It wasn’t,” Zale protested even before Kiannae could.  Which left her both annoyed, but not inclined to call him on speaking for her.

Landri glared at the two incredulously.  “We need to talk,” she finally said, “about the boy, about this gift of yours, about a lot of things.”  She took a breath.  “In the house, both of you.  I want out of this snow fall.”

Kiannae huffed, and stormed off over the tone Landri was taking.  She hadn’t done anything wrong.  She threw the door open, and the other two followed, one irritable, the other sheepish.

“Just what have you seen?” Landri demanded of Zale after she closed the door.

Zale glanced at Kiannae who stood, staring out the window.  He shook his head, and sighed.  “After you started teaching her elemental channeling, she showed me how she danced with the wind.  It was…impressive, but not unbelievable.”

“She has shown me this as well,” Landri agreed.  “She stopped pestering me to teach her, and I thought the matter closed.  I agree it was impressive, but nothing that could cause…this.”  She gestured out the window.

“Later in summer, I found Kiannae when she went missing from a bathing excursion,” he continued.  “She had wandered farther upstream than we normally consider safe.”

“I recall,” Landri said shrewdly, crossing her arms, and waiting for a point to emerge.

“What I never told anyone,” Zale countered, “is when I found her she was five feet above the river in a column of swirling water.”

“Spirit!  I will have words with you!” Landri snapped loudly.

“I don’t know if anyone can just call him like that,” Zale said tentitively.

“Then you call him girl,” Landri growled in Kiannae’s direction.  She barely gave an annoyed sidelong glance.  “Or do you want me to stop keeping this secret?”

Kiannae looked back out the window, and said nothing.  After a long silence Taloe formed from swirling mist, and Zale looked away.  “Gah, it’s worse when there is actually light to see.  Seriously, can’t you manage clothing, please?”

“I will endeavor to do so,” Taloe said, “in future.”

“Did she call you, or did you come on your own?” Landri pressed.

“I try to abide her wishes,” Taloe answered, “but I appear at my own will, and I hear what she does…eventually.”

“Are these powers your doing?” Landri demanded.

“If the gift comes from me, it is beyond my control,” Taloe answered.  “I feel the song of it, the elements at her command, but I suspect not all of it is conscious on her part.”

“The river wasn’t,” Zale agreed.  “From what she said.”

“Alright, fine,” Kiannae snapped.  “I’m tired of being talked about.”

“Then tell me how you do this, if you claim to have really lifted half the snow from the east glade back into the sky,” Landri growled.

“I just do,” Kiannae shrugged, “and I did, or the wind did.  It’s not just me, like you say.  There is a will in the wind, in the snow, in everything all around me.  Once I found it, once I felt it, it was all as you say.  Gods, or whatever they are, the forces of nature, the picture they paint is in strokes so broad that…I think if I lifted the field whole, and dropped it five miles to the north it would make no difference to them.”

“That is absurd,” Landri rubbed her head.  “Power like that, it is the stuff of legends.  No one has seen a druid, nor shaman that powerful since before the founding of the Empire.”

“Now who is making claims?” Kiannae cut back.  “Mages have done more, so much more, why does it need to be something so grandiose?”

Landri shook her head.  “Perhaps you are right,” she huffed, “and perhaps it is time I consented to another of your wishes.”

Kiannae looked confused.  “So we are finally on the same page that I have done nothing wrong?”

“Wrong, no,” Landri consented, “but reckless…almost certainly.  Try not to create any more blizzards?  Show some restraint, and when the spring comes, I will see about granting you audience with the dryads.”

“No more blizzards,” Kiannae agreed with a hesitant nod.  Something in her suddenly longed for what was being offered.  The memory of Mr. Tree almost clear enough to hear, but it slipped away.

Landri turned to Zale.

“What?” he demanded.  “What ever part I played in that, was like a leaf on the wind.”

“Well don’t be,” Landri snapped tersely.  “Not until we have more answers.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Vhalun 38th, 648 E.R.

Celia knocked gently at Katrisha’s door for a second time.  She was relatively sure she could sense Katrisha within, and announced herself for good measure, “Kat, it’s me.”  She was a bit perplexed that Katrisha had not showed up all day in the courtyard.  In the months she had known Katrisha, Celia had known her to be spontaneous in the moment, often late, but still a creature of overarching habit.

Shuffling footsteps finally could be heard, and the door creaked open slightly.  Celia frowned at the miserable disheveled state of her friend when she appeared through a crack in the door.  

“Are you alright?” Celia asked with genuine concern.

Katrisha appeared to turn a shade of burgundy, and looked to the floor.

“What’s wrong?” Celia pressed gently.

“I…” Katrisha started, and grimaced a moment.  “I’m bleeding,” she said with a false indifference, becoming a bit more stony in expression.

Celia looked plainly confused for a moment, and then seemed to partly understand.  “Oh,” she said, and seemed to mull it over as though something had not yet made any sense.  “Haven’t you before, didn’t anyone teach you?”

“I knew it would happen,” Katrisha said defensively.  “Just…I don’t know, maybe I convinced myself it wasn’t going to.”

“But didn’t anyone teach you?” Celia pressed again rather intently, but shy of actually explaining what she was asking, and forgetting that Katrisha seemed a bit old for it to be starting then.

“Teach me what?” Katrisha demanded, completely flustered, and bordering on angry.

“They’ve been having Theron teach you,” Celia said suddenly covering her face with her palm, “and he’s a man, and you are so much older…you’ve been ill, and a new user of living magic…and that mentor of yours, the court mage…also a man.  All of them men.  Oh you poor dear…”

“What?” Katrisha asked again, she had started out of patience, and Celia talking around her point was not helping.

“I…” Celia said, gathered herself adopted a calm demeanor.  “Do you trust me?” she  asked.

“Trust you…to what?” Katrisha asked falling back from annoyed into confused.

“To help you,” Celia said with a kind, awkward smile.

“I…guess,” Katrisha said hesitantly, and stepped back, opening the door.

“I’ve never done this before,” Celia said quickly, “not for anyone but myself.  But I can teach you the way I was taught.”  Katrisha looked as though she was about to protest again, but simply let it go.  She did trust Celia, even if she was being infuriatingly obtuse, and not to the point.  Celia caught the expression, winced, and finally explained.  “I’m sorry, I say ‘you poor dear,’ because you have the gift, and if anyone had the foresight to teach you…you don’t need to be in this condition.”

“I don’t?” Katrisha asked cautiously optimistic.  It made sense, but she wasn’t feeling that moment like pleasant sensible things had much of a place in her world.  She had been operating almost entirely on one conversation with Maraline years prior.  She had been working from a premise that when it came around, she was stuck with it.  A princess had been stuck with it, why wouldn’t she.

“Come here,” Celia said softly, opened her arms, and hugged Katrisha close.  After a moment she stepped back, held her at arm’s length, and looked her in the eyes.  “Trust me,” she commanded ernestly, and urged Katrisha to turn around.  Celia stepped up close behind her, took hold of her hand, and placed their hands together on Katrisha’s lower abdomen.  “Pay close attention to what I do,” she said in a metered tone, “just like when they were teaching you before.  Feel what I do, and then when I tell you to, continue.”

Katrisha felt the warmth reach into her, felt the cramps she had been struggling to ignore subside.  “Can you feel your womb,” Celia asked softly.

“I…think so,” Katrisha said hesitantly, and uncomfortably.  It was such a frank word, seemed almost to border on impolite, yet Celia said it almost absently, she was trained to heal, to know anatomy.  It was just a factual word to her.

Celia focused the magic in the area precisely.  “Do you feel that?” she asked again.

“Yes,” Katrisha said with obvious embarrassment.  She was really frustrated that she was bothered.  At any inkling that something was improper in the situation, or her fault, or what she didn’t even know.  She was actually rather angry about how she was feeling, but she couldn’t even think who had taught her that the natural course of events was something untoward, or for that matter a healer, and a friend doing her duty.  Maybe it was just that it was never talked about.  She was quite irate that she didn’t already know what she needed to.  If it had not been for one day that Maraline was utterly miserable, and forward about her condition, Katrisha would have likely panicked, and run to a healer, and been terribly embarrassed…and perhaps on some level she was happier that it would be Celia teaching her.  That was odd solace.

“That is what should be there, should always be there.  That is living tissue,” Celia said taking a deep breath.  “Can you feel the dyeing part, the part your body wants to be rid of?”

“Yes,” Katrisha said uncertainty, and shivered slightly at the sudden sense of foreignness that the dying tissue gave her, she wanted it gone.

“Feel it be reabsorbed,” Celia said as her hand moved slightly, and she worked her gift deep within Katrisha’s body, “feel your it break down, and return to you.”  Slowly Katrisha could feel the foreignness, the strange cold dark sensation fade, it became part of her again, the tiniest bit at a time.

Celia worked for a good ten minutes, and then suddenly stopped.  “Do you think you can take over?” she asked giving Katrisha a gentle squeeze.

“Yes,” Katrisha said with false calm.

“I’ll make sure you don’t get it wrong,” Celia said comfortingly, and with confidence.  “I’ve been doing this for over a year.  Twice a month.”

“Ok,” Katrisha said as she started again where Celia had left off.  She could feel Celia’s gift guide hers, until finally it was simple second nature to continue.

“It’s strange,” Celia mused after a moment.  “Something my mother told me.  A piece of trivia, but it’s strange now that I think about it.  This is one of very few natural conditions that can be remedied with simple healing.  I wonder why.”

“You can’t heal things that are…” Katrisha began as she thought back.  “Wait yes, I think I did know that.  Moriel, he wears these funny little things on his nose because his eyes are just that way, or something.”

“Yes, simple healing is restorative, it can only do what the body was naturally inclined to do.  It takes magic, usually shaper magic, to fully correct congenital flaws.”

“Now you are the one using words I don’t know,” Katrisha protested.

“Seems fair for once,” Celia laughed, and it eased Katrisha’s worries greatly.

“Maybe it’s just like skipping over the winter,” Katrisha offered.  “Just moving along around the seasons.”

“You like the winter though,” Celia chided.

“Fall then,” Katrisha cut back playfully.  It hung a moment in silence between them, until they both broke down laughing.

“Enough of that,”  Celia said sternly when they had both recovered.  “Let’s finish this.”

For another ten minutes they stood like that, until at last Katrisha felt nothing within her that her body wanted to reject.

“Thank you,” Katrisha said and, let herself melt into the continued embrace.  She turned and looked Celia in the eye, and then hugged her tightly, leaning her head against her friends.  “Thank you so very much,” she said with palpable relief.

Celia leaned back, and smiled with a bit of a strained expression, and seemed to search Katrisha’s gaze for something.  “You are welcome,” she laughed reservedly, “after all the teaching you’ve done for me, it was the least I could do.”  She hesitated a moment more, bit her lip, and let go of Katrisha.  “I should go,” she said measuredly, “mother was expecting me this evening..and…yeah I should go.”

“Are you sure?” Katrisha asked a bit confused by the sudden shift.

“Yeah,” Celia said awkwardly.  “I’ll see you…” she added, and then left rather promptly.

< Previous || Next >

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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The City of Mordove

Foundations:

No one is sure precisely how Mordove was founded, or when.  There are mentions of strong stone walls in the first records to be found in ancient Palentian.  They took the city despite its defenses, and kept it as an outpost protecting against any potential Anderhale incursion several decades before the Lycian genocide.  The conquest of Lycia redoubled the importance of this outpost, which fell to Anderhale forces ten years before the Lycian rebellion retook their nation.

Ancient Mordove was sacked three times during the following decade as the three nations fought over the strategically important position.  It was ultimately abandoned by Corinthian forces after the fall of the Anderhale capitol, as Corinth recalled troops to help hold a tenuous grasp on the conquered nation.

Palentine retook the abandoned outpost, and built a new set of walls that would later outline the shape of the main academy.  Mordove went unassailed for a decade, and the general holding it refused to accept initial introduction into Corinthia when southern Palentine joined.  This meant Mordove operated as a city state for another decade, and remained an independent nation state when joining the empire under the Lord General’s successor.  This title of Lord General would persist until the treaty of Mordove restructured the city state to function more as a capital, and less as an independent body.

By the third decade of Corinth’s reign Mordove had already become a challenger to the royal academy.  The original central fortress was completely subsumed by the institution, and spilled into the surrounding city.  The main royal academy would however continue to outshine it until the destruction of Corinthia during the dragon war.

As the most renowned surviving institution of higher learning in the post war world, Mordove was the natural place to found the Council.  Representatives of all the nations of the former Empire were called to write, and ratify the Treaty of Mordove.  The articles of which helped enshrine the next few centuries of relative peace.  One of the critical articles called for the encouraging of migration of gifted to Mordove.  This was done in a number of ways, from political pressure, to stipends for gifted residents based on the strength of their aura.  Further support was given to gifted women who bore and raised gifted children.

Mordove was the place to be if one sought power or prominence in the post imperial world.  Mages were banned from military and governing positions in most lands, with a few grandfathered in exceptions for some royal lines.  A limited number of positions as caravan mages, and mercenaries were all that were left for the conventional battle mage.  Enchantment became an over saturated market, and many competent mages found themselves to be lack luster enchanters.

This did lead to a number of renegade mages forming bands of brigands, a pattern which continues into the modern era.  All together though, most mages are happy to seek out Mordove, and find a place, and a role.  Councils, sub-councils, instruction, raising more gifted youth.  Bulk enchantments for distribution by caravan where needed.  Fortune telling a perennial niche.  More mundane craftsmanship flourished, often refined with magic training.

Structure:

The city of Mordove is the largest contiguous city on Thaea with a population of nearly a million residents, and a disproportionate gifted population of over thirty percent.  More than a fifth of its residents are at least part time students, instructors, or support staff of the Academy.  Fully a third are in the direct employ of the city for upkeep, maintenance, construction, and other public services.  The overlap between these two catagorise is harder to parse.

City government is primarily managed by seven elected Ministers who represent the physical areas of the city, and eight appointed Councilors from the Low-Council who represent broader reaching concerns and disciplines.  One of these is elected by the group as Chancellor, who in turn technically answers to the sitting Archmage, but the two historically stay out of each-other’s business.

The Archmage is a mostly honorary position granted to an elder council member, and requiring their replacement as sitting council member.  The Archmage does however have a number of enumerated functional powers in directing council business, and may vote in the event of a tie, or abstain, leaving a deadlock, and direct business on.  The Archmage may be drawn from Provisional Seats, and in fact three of the past ten Archmages have been enchanters, and one Diviner.  The Archmage may also refuse the post, forcing another vote. This has happened five times in three hundred years.  The Archmage is also the de facto head of the Academy, but many have appointed all major duties to a deputy administrator.

The Actual Treaty:

The Treaty of Mordove is one of the most lengthy, exhaustive, and convoluted legal documents ever crafted.  This often impenetrable, ever growing collection of precedents, subsections, appendices, and amendments outlines a deceptively simple premise.

Kings are not mages (not always true, given a number of exceptions,) and reign at the sufferance of the Council, and the laws of the Treaty.

Only two kings have been deposed under the terms of the treaty, and a third by the super majority vote of the council, requiring seventy percent dissent, and a clear moral imperative.  The very definition of clear moral imperative is outlined in one of the lengthiest appendices, which itself has an entire volume of amendments.

If all this seems absurd it is perhaps because the council often has little better to do, given their function is not to govern.  Rather they manage who governs, the legality of their decrees, and the best interest of the world as a whole.

The Prime Council seats:

The Prime Council has 16 Members, representing the nations of the former Empire.  Their relationship to the nations they represent is however often complex, or even indirect.  The successor to each seat is sponsored by the sitting member while still alive, and need only be accepted by assent of both their peers within the Mid Council, and the members of the Prime Council.  Assent requires a vote of always one less than half the votes available.  That is seven votes for from the prime council, and whatever it amounts to among their available peers.

Voting Council members may be removed by a vote of seventy percent of the Prime and Provisional council, or the unanimous vote of the rest of the Prime council.  The prior has happened twice, the latter only once.

There are sixteen Prime Council seats, but for brevity we will discuss only the most controversial in their number.

The Clarion Ascension
Corinthia
Western Palentine
Eastern Palentine
Southern Palentine
Central Palentine
Napir

Notable is the seemingly disproportionate influence of Palentine, this must however be taken in context that these four nations are very often not in agreement, and contentious with one another.  Though Southern and Central Palentine are often more moderate, and unreliably will side with Eastern or Western, often canceling each other.

Corinthia conversely is disproportionately influential as more than a quarter of this nation has been rendered uninhabitable, and the border territories have grown ever more depopulated.  Corinthia votes reliably, and all but in lock step with Lycia.

The Clarion Ascension is made up of many smaller city-states, and governed regions.  It has petitioned relentlessly to see its power in the council expanded with additional seats, and been consistently denied.

Napir openly refuses to recognize council authority in their nation, and yet wields it with a voting seat.  This muddled arrangement however is enshrined in the Treaty of Mordove, and Napir’s very particular structure of governance cannot be adapted to council rules.  This is largely due to the unique nature of the position of Storm Queen, and the incredible literal powers wielded by this landlocked sovereign.

The Provisional Council:
The Provisional Council adds a variable number of seats that hold votes, though these seats are sometimes dropped to the lower council, it is most often enumerated as:

Enchanters
Architects – the only council seat occasionally held by an ungifted.
Diviners
The War College
Healers
Druids
Shapers
The North Eastern Tribes
The North Western Tribes
The Knights of the Empire – most often absent.
Osyrae

The Osyrean seat is particularly controversial, as Osyrae has recognized their own representation only four time in three hundred years.  King Heron recognized the sitting representative at the time of his ascension to the throne, and so the Osyrean seat is currently a member of the provisional council, in spite of his brother taking his place.  King Vharen has neither recognized or refuted the sitting representative.

As a rule the active inclusion of many of these seats is determined based on the question of the Prime Council’s view if they are both in alignment with the charter of the Treaty, and if they truly represent those they stand for.  Three times an entire Provisional seat has been dissolved, and reformed.

The Mid Council:

The junior entourage, circle of support, and heirs apparent to the seats of the Provisional and Prime seats of the council.  Mid Council members do sometimes stand for the sitting member if they are ill, by order of precedence of their understood position within the group.  Beyond this Mid Council members often make up committees, rather than deposing a Prime or Provisional member with the details of legislation.

The Lower Council:

A somewhat erratic list of guilds, aristocrats, and other intellectual circles.  They tend to grow in number, rather than shrink, as the council has proven more apt to add lower seats than rescind them.  This council has limited power or influence on the far reaching affairs of the council, but significant power over governance of Mordove itself.

The enchanted wares and textiles of Mordove are second only to those of Osyrae, but cheeper, and more plentiful.  All other rivalries aside the crafters of these two nations are locked in ageless war of refinement on their arts.  Osyrean silks and fine wools, satins and delicate dense threaded cotton from Mordove.

One of the more exotic wares from Mordove however are the work of an isolated druidic circle who have grown a small forest within a corner of the city.  These master shapers create practical, and aesthetic works of living wood, and are the last great school of shaper magic in the world.  The rise of this sub-group of the druid circle created the modern Shaper seat on the provisional council.

The Knights of the Empire:

The Knights of the Empire are recognized, and sanctioned under Council law, and only two of the Imperial Knighthoods have been stripped since the founding of the council.  One was stripped, but restored.  Three more have died out.  There are twenty three recognized Knights of the Empire, of which three are practicing mages of note, the rest primarily martial in training.  As most (Lord) Knighthoods through the former empire the title is heritable, but easily stripped for miss deeds.

The Knights of the Empire directly serve not the council, but treaty law, often with much wiggle room around the expanded volumes that have been written since the signing.  The distinction on this is often lost, particularly since the Knights were given their own seat, but it is filled less than half of the time.

Officially Knights of the Empire cary a rank slightly below that of a Duke or equivalent in any given Council land, but rarely exert this authority, and rarely would such flexing work.  Leading only to complicated political ramifications.  Though the Knights do not directly serve the council the Council does have enumerated powers to “call” the Knights to any given land to serve as they see fit.

A City by Any Other Name:

A great deal of confusion exists about the name Mordove, and competing theories swirl around possible origins.  Mor, not to be confused with the western moor, was a rather specific Anderhale word for a common rocky terrain type that is hard to cultivate, develop, or traverse.  However in old Palentien mor was simply more.  Dov in old Palentian is white, where as e was often added to Anderhale nouns to imply whiteness, and duv was their word for pidgins which are a common bird in the land.  This pattern is known to be the origin of the modern dove.

What this leads to is a bit of a miss match.  In straight old Palentien Mordov would be more white, the sense of which is not understood, and the origin of the e would be mysterious save to form the rather redundant more-white-white.  Mor of Doves is suggested as an Anderhale origin, which while not completely implausible does rub up against a general belief that Palentians first made the settlement there before fortifying it, and later being conquered by their kin.  White Mor is suggested by other scholars, as the rocky outcroppings in the area are mostly pale to white granite.  This is a plausible transitional dialect option.

Most popular amongst common residents however is the inverse suggestion of simply More Doves.  This translation gained notoriety due to joking about the overpopulation of pidgins and doves through the city.  The absurd suggestion is rejected by most, but not all scholars.  The only strong linguistic argument against it is that it is silly, but it is none the less as valid a transitional dialect solution as White Mor.

The Resolve of the Council:

In over three centuries, and baring the initial decades of marginal chaos for which records get spotty, there have been four recognized rebellions, five coups, two civil wars, three royal assassinations, and fifteen border skirmishes that have been deemed to warrant Council intervention.  The result of every single one has been controversial, and re-litigated to stalemates, upsets, or upheld only on technicalities.  In spite of this the actual force that the Council has occasionally brought to bare maintains enough fear to keep most nations on the straight and narrow.

All of this of course also ignores acts that occur outside the bounds of the Treaty of Mordove.  From internal struggles in Osyrae, to abuses of the peoples of the northern wastes, or wars between them.  Their seats on the Provisional council have proven ineffective at best, and superficial more realistically.  Given these regions are fractious the representation has been spotty if the sitting member is not of an effected tribe.  More so the two seats do not show any common interest, and in recent decades the Eastern seat is more closely aligned with the Clarion Ascension.

The single most controversial case was the assassination of the King of Thebes in 523 E.R.  This assassination was blamed on the heir apparent, shown later to be the work of his younger brother who got Council favor to take the throne.  He was then deposed, and the rightful heir freed, only to be killed in a Clarion backed coup.  This finally resulted in the installation of Queen Regent Margarite, the consort of the slain King who reigned for fifteen years till her son was of age to take the throne.  The boy however in the meantime proved to be a mage prodigy, and Margarite was left on the throne for another twelve years while the Council bickered over succession.  They finally picked the young Duke Astair, who rather than simply taking the throne instead married the aging Margarite, and deferring to her as the proper ruler till her death in 590 E.R.  He then stepped aside, naming his bastard son by his well known mistress to the throne.  The Council relented to this rather than destabilize the nation again.

This particularly egregious series of failures, and lacking leadership has left the clout of the Council in question for decades, and is considered endemic of a larger problem shown through other historic examples.

Chapter 4

A silver drop of living light,
that shimmers and shines,
but of true nature lies,

what is this thing that devours,
yet such great worth harbors,
this price for powers gained,

liquid essence of aether,
or be it cold dew of nether,
strange tangible immaterial,

a slow poison to its maker,
and boon to the skilled shaper,
the blood of we mages born.

– Writings of Queen Regent Adria, circa 40 E.R.

Mage Blood

Estae 10th, 647 E.R.

Kiannae pondered the small sprout before her.  It had been a seed not two minutes before, and yet it stood a full two inches tall.  Landri watched expectantly as Kiannae simply stared at the plant.  Slowly she reached out her hand, and brushed a leaf with a fingertip.  She felt for the will of the plant, like she had long learned to seek the workings of a spell.  There was a way it wanted to grow, a pattern to it, it was deep, gentle, and hard to read, so much more complex than the weaving of magic she understood.

With her eyes closed Kiannae pushed, she let her gift flow through the will of the sprout, let it feed the living pattern, and after a moment opened her eyes again.  It had grown, and a new leaf had started to split from the stem.  “Very good,” Landri said, “not many can accomplish that so soon.”

“It…it’s like the plant itself is a spell,” Kiannae mused, “almost infinitely more complex than any magic I have ever imagined, but I could feel it.”

“The will of life, the force of order within every cell,” Landri replied.  “The purpose, and structure of living things resonates so strongly that it creates a parallel pattern.  The Sylvans call it Ki.”

Kiannae pursed her lips.  She had considered several times to press her curiosity on what her name might mean, but had avoided it time, and again because it reminded her of the prophecy.  Now she had the missing piece, or at least part of it.  She wasn’t quite sure what to make of the idea.  Honored daughter, and, what, soul? Seemed trite.

“The practices of mages are but a pale imitation of the splendor of Thaea.  Look again, with the trained eyes of a mage, follow the threads you find, and tell me what you see.”

Kiannae frowned, and tried.  She followed the threads of life that flowed along the fibers of the sprouts stalk, along the roots, out the leaves, along the edges.  Slowly, faintly she saw a glimmer, out past the roots, a web through the earth in every direction.

It was not merely like a spider’s web, but one awash in morning dew.  A delicate thing that wove around everything, but there were buds of light blooming.  Each seemed to represent something, the aura of a bug, a new born sprout, a colony of microorganisms.  The ants were things moving along a thread, a chemical certainty to their future, their decisions made, but that of the world around them still shifting.  As quickly as she saw it, and all this occurred to her, it was gone.

“Yes, I can see it in your eyes, you saw,” Landri said with amusement.  “The web of life is subtle, but however fragile it might seem, it is more enduring than anything woven by mages.  There is a will to the world, a will to all of life.  It is stronger than the will of the stones, for they are simple things, stubborn, but ready to be pushed aside.  Stronger than the will of man, for man is but a part, a single bud on the branch of the tree.”

“If life itself is magic, then why do only some have the gift?” Kiannae asked with obvious frustration.  She had asked similar of Laurel in the past, and never been satisfied with his answers.  The assertion that life was magic just made it more dubious.

“That, is an old question,” Landri said with a sigh.  “Some think that the fibers of the web of life bind around certain family lines, that these lines are the branches of the tree, and those without the gift, mere twigs, and leaves.”

“Is all of mankind a bud on the branch, or are mere families branches?” Kiannae grumbled.

“It’s an analogy dear girl,” Landri laughed, “but you know that, and are only being difficult because it is your way.”

“So that is what I am,” Kiannae said irritably, “difficult?”

“We cannot all be the gentle brook, or the spring rain,” Landri offered with a smile.  “The mighty river and the tempest are needed too.  Yet every storm must pass, and all rivers will follow their course in time.”

Kiannae flinched, and looked away.  Causing Landri a moment of confusion.

“Surely it is not now that I have offended you so?” she asked after studying Kiannae’s troubled expression.

“It’s nothing,” Kiannae sighed.

“There is no such thing as nothing,” Landri laughed kindly, “there is that which we do not want to share, and that which is not of great importance at the moment, but there is never nothing.”

“It’s just an old story,” Kiannae muttered.

“Do tell,” Landri pressed with a disarmingly earnest smile.

“I don’t remember it well, it was something my father told to me…and my sister when we were very little.”  Kiannae sighed, and rubbed her face.  “I only…what you said only troubled me because it reminded me of my her.  He would call us both at times by the titles in the story.”

Landri perked a brow curiously.  “And what titles were those?”

Kiannae frowned, “Must I dwell on this?”

“I suppose not, if it pains you so to think of your sister still,” Landri offered.

There was a long pause, and finally with a deep sigh Kiannae repeated the words as she had many times before.  “He called Katrisha daughter of the moonlight, and the winter frost…and me daughter of summer glades, and the passing storm.”

“I’ve heard those before,” Landri said with a laugh, “the story isn’t all that old.  Unna fer Lun-ka, juer unsiler ybon,” she mused.  “Ah, but what…”

“It isn’t that old?” Kiannae interrupted both in surprise, and unease to hear the words again, to be reminded of all they meant.  She had always imagined the story one of long ago, and far away.  A wistful tale fit for small children.  She let this illusion shattering distract her from another surge of sorrow.

“No, I met the woman…” Landri trailed off and looked uneasy.

“What’s the matter?” Kiannae asked curious at the sudden silence, and expression from her instructor.  She was further distracted from her own discomfort for a moment by the fact that Landri was the one who looked like she had seen a ghost.

“Oh, sorry,” Landri said clearing her throat.  “Some think that her meeting with us druids sparked the Sylvan civil war.  Please, sit here, and meditate for a while.  See if you can glimpse the web of life again,” she said as she got up to leave.  “There is something I must attend to.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

“What aren’t you telling me?” Landri snapped as she barged into Ezik’s house, and found him staring out a window.

Ezik gave her a curious look.  “A great many things,” he answered almost dismissively.  “Please, narrow it down.”

“Son of summer glades, and passing storms,” Landri said.  “Daughter of the moonlight, and the winter frost.  Or that her name practically means…”

“Interesting,” Ezik interrupted.  “Ah, what father does not so adore his daughters, as to elevate them so.  Not that I ever had any.”  He shrugged.  “Just the one son.  I did plead with my dear wife for another.  I always wanted a daughter.”

“You are evading,” Landri said tersely, and shook her finger at him.

“No,” Ezik said in a tone more disappointed than angry, but none the less with some force.  “You are chasing the least interesting detail, and possibly nothing.  Does she look like she has Osyrean blood?  No.  What of her aura?”

“It would barley be a trace, it wouldn’t show.  And her aura…so it is bright,” Landri seemed disinterested.  “I’ve never met a Sylvan whose aura was not brilliant.”

“Dear woman,” Ezik shook his head, “you have never been one to miss the forest for the trees.  It is so unnatural it should be burned into your mind.  Look again, close your eyes, and really look at the memory of her.”

“It’s…almost like…there is a tear in her,” Landri said.

“A tear?” Ezik laughed darkly, “it is as though the very center of her, half of her very being was ripped out, and the rest fell in to fill the hole it left.  She is like a scar on nature itself.  A mage, even a healer I could forgive for missing it, but a druid of your caliber…”

“Has anyone else?” Landri all but growled.

“No,” Ezik answered uncomfortably.  “Perhaps I am getting clear sighted in my old age, and expect too much of others.  I apologize.  Yet I maintain, I could care less for her linage – if her true aura is twice what we see…even dragonborn would pale to her.  Yet the tear…”

“Her twin?” Landri offered.

“I’ve met twins before, gifted ones, dragonborn even then…and yes one died in my short time knowing them.  That was a terrible thing to watch.  I saw a soul turn to fire, and protect his still living brother.  Yet there was nothing like that hole left behind…”

“Then what of it?” Landri pressed.

“Something to watch,” Ezik answered.  He was thoughtful for a moment.  “Have you ever dreamed of the storm?”

“Once,” Landri offered uneasily.

“Do you remember the face?” Ezik pressed.

“Silver hair,” she said, “the roar of an ocean, or a thousand oceans.  Something terrible, and shadows lurking all about, like paler patches of blinding light.  I did not look at her face.”

“I did,” Ezik said.  “I did.”

“Do you really propose that she is…” Landri began to ask incredulously.

“Perhaps,” Ezik was thoughtful.  “Or another.  Mothers often look like their daughters, and there is something of the creature in that dream that seems such to me.”

“We’ve only her word that her twin died,” Landri considered leadingly.

“Do not even breath such a possibility to her,” Ezik snapped…and then calmed himself.  “You’ve heard the story as clearly as I.  A girl thrown from a cliff in a fight with a dragon, the pain she felt, so well timed to have been her death.  She has had enough trauma.  To gain hope, and learn otherwise…it could destroy her.”

“You will look into it though?” Landri asked.

“Discreetly,” Ezik agreed.  “There are too many mysteries here to ignore.  Too many portents of something powerful moving in the world.  I will ask you however; leave it to me.  Please.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Estae 21st, 647 E.R.

Kiannae had been sitting for some time beneath the branches of a large old birch.  She had heard the leaves rustle several minutes before, and ignored the young man moving stealthily amidst its branches.  There was a yelp at the snap of a limb, and Kiannae thrust out her hand casting a spell to stop Zale, and the branch he was still clinging to just a foot off the ground.  “Not what I would call a graceful leap,” she laughed, as he flopped awkwardly onto the forest floor, and she let the branch go.

“You knew I was there, didn’t you?” Zale said trying to recover some composure.

“You were trying so hard to be sneaky too,” Kiannae laughed.  “Not doing very well at it, but trying.  It’s not polite to sneak up on people you know – least of all a young woman alone in the forest,” she scolded.

“Just a joke,” Zale sighed.

“Why don’t I believe you?” Kiannae mused.

“What’s not to believe?” Zale asked defensively.

“Just something in your voice,” Kiannae said disinterestedly.

There was a moment of hesitation, and Zale sighed.  “Alright, so I thought I’d watch you, and see if anything strange would happen.”

“And what kind of strange event did you expect to see?” Kiannae demanded crossly, as though accused of something.

“I don’t know,” Zale said irritably.  “It’s just…ever since you have arrived there have been reports of a shadowy figure prowling around at night.”

“And what does that have to do with me?” Kiannae asked her expression growing shrewd.

“I don’t know, but no one really seems to think it’s a coincidence,” Zale said with a shrug.  “It’s always near the house where you are sleeping.  At first some people thought it was you, but when you were found to still be in your bed…well the rumors have been growing.”

“And what do they say?” Kiannae sighed.

“That maybe something followed you back from the forest,” Zale said with a shrug.

“Such as?” Kiannae demanded, knowing full well what it might be.

“No one knows, it seems human-ish, or Sylvan from the description, but no one has gotten a clear look,” Zale said in a flustered fashion.

“And no one has bothered to ask if I know?” Kiannae sighed.

“Well, do you?” Zale asked curiously.

“No,” Kiannae half lied.

“Now why don’t I believe you?” Zale asked, his own expression shrewd.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Estae 32nd, 647 E.R.

Kiannae woke in the night, not so much with a start, as to sudden full consciousness.  She could even remember the dream she had been having in crystal clarity, though that quickly faded.  The strange array of illogical plants that had populated that world quickly became unintelligible when examined.  The dream had not woken her, she concluded, and shook the imagery away.

She sat up slowly, looked to the doorway of the small room she had been given, and shivered at the dark silhouette that stood there.  What was most unnerving about the clearly human form – what struck her for the first time – was he had no presence.  A concept she winced to even try to understand.  Even the ungifted had a presence, even Navi’s ghost had a presence.  He hand an aura, it was visible, clear as day, and bright as any strong gifted, but it did not feel like a person was standing there.  There was no discrete otherness about him.

“Who are you?” Kiannae demanded in a harsh whisper.  Fighting off her fear, a fear she realized was centered more on the fact that as unnerving as the shadow was, she did not really fear it.

The boy stepped into the moonlight streaming through her window, and she examined his features carefully.  His skin seemed simply impossible.  It was smooth, almost translucent, its color was hard to make out, blue grey, but vaguely prismatic, and it simply didn’t look at all like skin.  His hair seemed unreal in its own unfathomable way.  It was long, and its strands seemed to flow together in the most literal of senses, becoming one thing, and yet it still shifted about almost like hair should.

“Who are you?” Kiannae demanded again, just a bit louder than before.

“Kiannae,” he said awkwardly, pointing to her.  His voice was strange, melodious, and clumsy all at once.  He then pointed to himself, raised his cupped hands to his lips, and watched Kiannae’s expression turn sour.

“I just don’t understand,” Kiannae sighed.  The boy stepped closer, and reached out a hand cautiously towards her.  Baser instincts made her want to pull back, but she held still as he gently brushed her cheek.  It was a marvelous, and all together unimagined sensation.  His touch was as smooth as ice, almost damp, but warm, and soft.  She reached out her own hand, up to the persistent mystery boy’s cheek, and touched it.  It was the same implausible sensation as her fingers trailed across his skin.  She pulled her fingers back slightly, rubbed them together, and though there had been a sense of dampness to him, her fingers felt dry, as did her cheek.

Kiannae blinked, and as her eyes closed she felt him disappear.  He was gone, and what remained was only mist, fading quickly, but all around.  For just a moment she half remembered a story from her youth.  She remembered a line about faces in the fog, and a forest that grew where a lake had been drained.  It was a ghost story, she remembered that, but ghosts were not tangible, could not be touched.  That was what she had been told, but now she was not sure if it was true.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Estae 36th, 647 E.R.

“Mages,” Landri said in a lecturing tone, “seek the power of the gods.  The Clarions, for their part, seek the immortality of the gods.  Lycians, respectably, seek only the peace of the gods.  We druids however seek instead to join with them.”

“How does that make you any different than the others?” Kiannae demanded again irritably.

“Mages, Clarions, and conjurers all care nothing for the wills of the world,” Landri added insistently. “Druids are channelers, we seek to become one with it.”

“So then, merely tools without purpose of your own?” Kiannae asked incredulously.

“The strokes gods paint in are broad.  So broad as to be almost meaningless to one mortals concerns,” Landri corrected.  “They understand our world, our little lives as poorly as we understand them in their vastness.  By aligning ourselves with their greater wills, we gain dominion to shape the smaller things in life, but always in accordance with a larger plan.  It is a partnership.  The gods do not sweat the small stuff, that is our job.”

“So you say that the druids serve the gods, plural, but largely you have spoken only of Thaea,” Kiannae said moving on.  “What of the others?”

“Thaea is of greatest importance,” Landri said shrewdly.  “She is the mother, the living world.  The others, the older gods are more like grandparents, and ancestors.  Worthy of reverence, respect, and of use, but not our closest kin.  The shamans of old favored the elder gods for their power.”

“Teach me of these elder gods,” Kiannae asked in a polite, but insistent tone.

“What do you seek?” Landri was stern.  “Understanding, or power?”

“Yes,” Kiannae answered.

“Prove to me you can align yourself with the living world,” Landri said, “and then we will consider other possibilities.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Rhaeus 30th, 647 E.R.

Katrisha sat in a tower window, indifferent to Laurel and Mercu’s conversation by her chamber door.  She also ignored the cat who sat in her lap, rooting at her idle hand that was no longer petting him.  Her black hair rustled slightly in the breeze, white roots, plainly visible in the early afternoon sun.  Her skin was almost translucently pale.  She held a hand up in the sunlight absently, and turned it back and forth with vague interest.

“The King isn’t happy about my request,” Laurel sighed. “His persistent reaction to anything involving the Sisterhood makes me think you are right about why, but I still don’t fully understand it.  Unlike his father he’s always been cordial with them, that much is clear.  Maybe it’s just saving face, maybe its more.”

“They are sending Wren I assume?” Mercu asked casually, giving little sign he was paying attention to Laurel’s musings.

“I expect so yes,” Laurel said stroking his beard.  “She’s as ill of heart as whatever else is eating her body.  I expect they would send her brother to comfort her, as little time as they have had together, there has always seemed to be a strong bond there.  Enough even to make Kiannae jealous.”

“I hate seeing her like this.”  Mercu looked again to the oblivious girl sitting in the window.

“I hate talking about her like she isn’t here,” Laurel grimaced, “but it is almost like she isn’t.  A week now, and barely acknowledges me any more if I speak directly to her.”

“I know.  It will be alright,” Mercu said resting his hand on Laurel’s shoulder.  He let go of being told things he already knew, certain it was Laurel just trying to comfort himself by saying it aloud, as though it would not be true.  “The Sisters can fix this, they aren’t allowed to stay in kingdoms on their good looks…though I’m sure they don’t hurt.”

Laurel huffed softly.  “You would know better than I.”  Laurel sighed, and walked towards the window.  He gently set a hand on Katrisha’s shoulder, and after a moment she turned her head, and looked up at him.  There was something only half there in her green eyes, and it broke Laurel’s heart to see emptiness in her expression.  “Is there anything you need?” he asked intently.

Katrisha simply stared up at him for a moment, before finally shaking her head and looking back out the window.  Laurel sighed deeply.  “A servant should be up with food in a couple hours, eat something, please.  I’ll be in the tower study should you need anything.”

Mercu stepped beside Laurel, and whispered softly.  “I’ll stay with her, I doubt I will do her much good, but I don’t think she should be alone.”

“Thank you,” Laurel said softly and rubbed his eyes before he left the chamber, and Mar slipped out behind him.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

It was late in the evening, and the first few stars could be seen in the dimming sky when a knock came at Katrisha’s chamber door.  Mercu set aside the lute he had been strumming at idly, and opened the door for two white robed women, and young man to enter.  He recognized Renae and Wren, but Audry he was quite sure he had not met.

Wren’s posture shifted when he saw Katrisha, who still sat in the window staring into the evening sky.  Wren looked up to Renae, and barely waited for a nod before running across the room.

“Kat!” he said excitedly, but Katrisha turned her head slowly, and for a moment it almost seemed as though she did not recognize her brother.  Wren frowned deeply, until at last a slight strained smile crept into the corner of her lips.

“Oh Kat…” Wren said as he leaned into window seat, and threw his arms around his sister.  “They said you weren’t well.  I guess they weren’t exaggerating.”

Katrisha leaned her head against her brother’s, and simply closed her eyes.

“How long has she been like that?” Renae asked Mercu with deep concern as they approached the embracing pair.

“Three days now, but on and off for a while, since…” Mercu hesitated, “since not long after that damn fool business with the dragon.  At first I thought it was just the trauma, and worry.  She seemed mostly there even for the wedding in South Rook, but I knew something was wrong.”

“Dearest, do you mind,” Renae said softly touching Wren on the shoulder.

Wren turned his head to look up at Renae.  He reluctantly released Katrisha from his embrace, and stepped aside.  “Of course Mother,” he said meekly with a nod, and Audry took his hand comfortingly.

Renae leaned over Katrisha, and brushed some of the girl’s hair back, examining the white roots.  She looked deep into the girl’s eyes, and frowned at the only faint recognition she saw there.  “What have you done to yourself girl?” Renae muttered as she knelt beside the window.  She took Katrisha’s hand in both of hers, and closed her eyes, focusing deeply on something unseen.

Several minutes of silence were interrupted when Laurel entered the chamber, a large book cradled in his arms.  He considered the scene at the window, and thought to announce his presence, but decided to wait.  After a moment Renae stood, turned back into the room, and acknowledged Laurel with a nod.  She raised her hand, palm up with only her index finger extended.  “I take it you will recognize this.”

Laurel stepped closer, and squinted in the dim light at the tiny silver drop balanced on Renae’s finger.  “So it’s as I suspected then,” Laurel said with a grimace.

“I wasn’t told, what you expected,” Renae said a bit coldly.

“No, and I apologize,” Laurel started a bit stiffly.  “I wanted a fresh perspective, not distorted by any preconceived notions.”

Renae nodded understandingly, and placed the tiny droplet in the palm of her hand for safer keeping.  “It’s mage blood poisoning, without question.  You however should know as well as I, it should have taken more than just a few minutes to extract that much.  It’s almost a wonder the poor girl is still conscious, her blood is…beyond saturated.”

“Yes,” Laurel said with a frown, “that’s what I thought, but to say the least I’ve never heard of a case like this.  I’ve been through every relevant book in my library,” he said tapping his fingers on the one he held. “The youngest case on record was late into his twenties, and had undergone a much slower, less severe decline.”

Renae looked back to Katrisha for a moment.  “I certainly have not heard of the like myself.  It might be her linage, there is no telling.  As I understand it the Sylvans do not practice as mages, and only mages have been observed to suffer from this.  It makes me worry more for Kiannae though.  I take it there is still no sign of her?”

“None,” Laurel said closing his eyes.  “She is lost to the Sylvan territories still, so far as we can determine.  I have no idea what they would do with her if that’s the case.  Nor do I know why she has run away, save the assumption she believed Kat dead.”

“I still cannot believe that was allowed to happen,” Renae said, anger slipping into her voice.

“No one allowed anything,” Mercu interjected cutting off pointless recrimination.  “The girls were set on that foolish course, and short of slapping them in enchanted irons I doubt we could have stopped them.”

“No,” Renae said considering Mercu thoroughly, “perhaps you are right.”  She took a long breath.  “Forgive me, I am distressed by it still, and these circumstances…”

“We all are,” Laurel said consolingly.  “I know you love Wren as your own, and have looked upon the twins with almost as much regard.”

“I…” Renae started, “yes…as my own.”

Laurel considered Renae’s response for a moment, “I’ve never pressed my suspicions…but I have looked into it in the past.  Was Adel…”

“Yes,” Renae said tersely, “and I will ask you not to finish that sentence just now.”  She turned to glance at Wren who had returned to his sister’s side.

“You have reasons?” Laurel pressed gently.

She nodded.

Laurel shook his head.  “Back to the business at hand then, I assume you can help Katrisha’s condition.”

“Yes,” Renae said hesitantly, “but more so than normal, this will only be a temporary fix.  It’s obvious with the rate of production, and concentration that this will require more than just a periodic cleansing.  It would be best if she lived with us for a while.  She will need to be trained to care for her own state, and will need time to recover.”

“I…” Laurel started, inclined to argue against the removal of his charge.  “I can accept your recommendation, reluctantly.  Beyond my own feelings on the matter, I do not relish convincing the King.  He is fond of the girl, but perhaps his current ire over…certain incidents may sway him.”

Renae seemed to ponder something deeply for a moment.  “I would offer to make the argument for you…but there are things I would rather not discuss with the King, which could make matters worse.”

Laurel considered pressing his curiosity, but thought better of it.  Renae turned to Wren and Audry.  “Please gather things for Katrisha, she will come with us tomorrow.  For now, I will resume her treatment.”

“A bit presumptuous,” Laurel remarked in surprise. “I have not yet even attempted to get the King’s approval.”

“It may be presumptuous, but it is also practical,” Renae all but snapped.  “If you can’t convince him, I will be forced to make a case I do not wish to, but I am quite certain I will win, even if I am not sure of the cost.  Besides, his authority in this matter is limited, so long as I have your approval.  You are her guardian, and her father by law, do you have any intention to change your mind?”

“Very well,” Laurel said taken aback by the severity of Renae’s tone.

Renae paused, obviously calming herself.  “Forgive me, please,” she stated in an even tone, “My frustrations are of my own making, not yours.”

Laurel considered the well aged woman before him thoroughly, he could not say that he knew her well, but in all past encounters he could not recall ever before seeing her so terse, and ill tempered.  “I will do what I can,” Laurel said, and left the healers to their work, leading Mercu out with him.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Rhaeus 31st, 647 E.R.

Midnight was upon Renae as she poured a few last drops of mage blood from her palm into a small vial.  Each of the three healers had worked in turn on Katrisha, Renae teaching Wren, and Audry in the process.  Wren had excelled – to no one’s surprise – above even Renae’s results, producing fully half of the ounce of precious and troublesome material that Renae now examined in the moonlight.

Renae wondered at the strange mercury like substance, and its brilliant shimmering aura visible only to those with the gift.  A strange accident of nature, a fluke of some mages gift, and practices, and worth a hundred times its weight in gold for its rarity, and odd properties, even if it acted almost as a poison to the body that made it.

Renae looked down at the sleeping girl in her bed and sighed.  She considered Wren who had curled up next to her, and drifted off.  She gently shifted the blankets around Katrisha to tuck her in more comfortably, and pulled the other side over Wren.

She slowly stood from the chair she had brought to the bedside, and stretched stiffly.  Automatically she sought out the more offended joints that complained from long hours hunched over.  She soothed the inflammation with practiced, near indifference, yet somewhere at the back of her mind remembered to curse the rigors of age.

Renae looked again to Katrisha, and Wren, and let a half troubled smile cross her face.  She took comfort that they could, and already had helped her greatly, but the effects on her mind, and her soul she could not be sure of.  The business with Kiannae did not help matters, and hurt Renae deeply.  She worried for how the girl could possibly be fairing.  Was she even still alive?  To be lost in the wilds, and stricken with such an illness, it was hard to imagine.

Renae pushed such troubling thoughts aside, and turned to leave.  She had been informed that the quarters she usually took up on her visits would be prepared, but she was less than sure where Audry had been taken after drifting off an hour before.  She tightly corked the vial in her hands and walked to the chamber door tiredly.  As she opened the door she found someone beyond, standing in the moonlight.  She expected Laurel, or Mercu, but who she found standing before her startled her from growing weariness.

“Your Majesty,” she said almost on instinct.

“It…” the King started uncharacteristically uncomfortably.  “It has been a long time, Renae.”

“Surely four months since my last visit does not make a very long time,” Renae said, confusion tinging her voice.

“I…” he said seeming to try on the pronoun awkwardly. “I have spoken to you many times as your King…” he said hesitantly, and at last turned to look Renae in the eye.  “But it has been a very long while since I have spoken to you as a man.”

“I do not know that you have ever spoken to me as a man, John,” Renae said bluntly, but quickly thought better of it, as the King grimaced.  “No, no please do not take offense at that.  I mean only…” she took a deep breath, and let it go.  “We were both barely more than children then.  I was no more a woman, than you a man.”

The King’s expression softened slightly.  “Perhaps there is truth in your words, but please, do not to belittle that time.”

“I do not belittle it, merely accept that I was once but a foolish girl, and you a dashing defiant young prince.  I will not pretend I do not hold fond, and dear memories from that time, but a lifetime stands between then and now.  I am an old woman, too knowledgeable of the world for her own good, just as then I was too naive.”

The King’s expression softened further.  “Would it amuse you to hear me say, I think you were the dashing one?  Climbing trees, and mocking the King’s guard with seeming impunity.”

“How the Matron ever put up with me…” Renae trailed off for a moment, but her amusement was clear.  “Still, little I haven’t had to deal with in my own time in the position.”

“Surely none of them have quite had your wit,” the King laughed.

“Oh a few, very few.  Though I dare say I’ve yet to need deal with any trying to run off with a young prince,” she said, her voice darkening a bit near the end.

“I should hope not.”  The King laughed, but darkened again.  “I feel at a disadvantage,” he started again uncomfortably, “that you, as any citizen of the kingdom know of…well the Queen, of course.  I married, quite obvious really that I moved on.”  He rubbed his forehead.  “I do love her dearly.  She is a fine, proper, and strong woman.  Possessed of sufficient wit and charm to have made my life as King content.  Yet…it’s never been my place to enquire of you.  Please do not think me an arrogant fool who imagines for even a moment you did not move on, it is just…friendly curiosity, and perhaps imprudent – I apologize.”

Renae sank into thought.  “I have had my share of love affairs, but only one has lasted.  Though we have drifted apart many times, and strong passion has long since given way to practical companionship, and warm affection.  In the end she stuck with me when I needed her most, and though we have had our times apart…she has always remained my friend.”

“Oh..” the King said, seemingly uncomfortable.

“You should not be surprised,” Renae said gently chiding the King.  “I will not pretend the Sisterhood has not earned our reputation.  We are – well, those of us who are – what we are.”

“No, it…” the King’s expression grew thoughtful.  “I have heard rumors, that I have never pressed.  Heard that you had a daughter.  In fact some say she was Adel of the North.”

Renae looked away then, she could not hold the King’s gaze.  “At last we come to it,” she said weakly, her voice strained.  “You have not heard wrong, my King.  It has been a long life, and I have been with a few other men…but none of them were the father.”

The King took a deep breath to steady himself.  “And I was never told…  You,” he began, his voice growing dire, “never told me?”

“Your father, and grandfather knew,” Renae growled.  “I don’t know how they knew, but but they knew.  I fear our daughter…” she said her voice growing softer, wounded. “She became a pawn in the conflict between your father and the Sisterhood.  We kept the secret of her lineage, and the King would continue to keep his son in check – would continue to protect us.”

“That hardly explains her end,” the King demanded, stuck somewhere between shock, rage, and disbelief.

“I tried to be a good mother, I did.  Maybe I was…fates if I know why, but she was never happy, never content at Highvale.  There was something different about her gift, she wasn’t weak, but she was never more than an adequate healer.  She left only days after she turned eighteen…I only know pieces from there.  Pieces I learned when I returned from my travels…”

The King turned and leaned on the window frame, trying to calm himself to little avail.  “The same pieces everyone knows I expect.  She traipsed about, being both healer and…” he clearly struggled with the thought, and set it aside, “till the man Ashton stood by her when Clarion zealots attacked her.  She fell in love with, and married that simple farmer,” he laughed darkly.  “Oh and how he wasn’t a simple farmer after all…and then she died defending her daughter from a wild drake.  I just…” the King choked, “I never knew it was the story of my daughter.  My own flesh and blood.”  He wept, and looked as though he could barely stand.

“I’m sorry,” Renae said sincerely.  “I’m sorry that this is the way you learn.  All these decades later, but we are both growing old, and at last it seemed it could no longer be avoided.  I wanted you to know, that…I don’t just love Wren – love the twins – as my own, they are my own…our own,” she corrected herself.

The King pounded on the frame of the window furiously.  “And why was our grand daughter left on that farm then?  Left to wind up dead of nothing more than childbirth?” he demanded frothingly.  He drew back his now throbbing hand, and rubbed it.

Renae leaned against the cold stone wall by the chamber door.  “The Ashton man…James…he was so bitter, so angry after his wife’s death.  He wanted no part of me, of the Sisterhood.  Maybe he was just afraid I would take away his daughter, the only thing he had left of his wife.  I tried eight times those first few years to visit, and he turned me away on each occasion.  The last time I made him promise me something, and in turn I would not return until her eighteenth birthday had passed.  I left a letter with him, and made him swear on Adel’s grave to give it to her on that day.”

“And he broke his word?” the King all but growled, barely restraining his volume.

“I…I am not sure,” Renae said doubtfully.  “I think perhaps that he died while she was still seventeen, and then…then you know the rest.  I was giving it time…I was about to make my excuses to travel…and Wren arrived.”  She watched the King still nursing the hand he had slammed against the stone, and started to move closer.

“So it is…” the King mused darkly.  “So it is that in mere moments I gain and lose a daughter, a granddaughter, and you wish to take away my great-granddaughter as well, while the other remains missing…”

“Let me see that hand,” Renae commanded kindly.  The King eyed her indecisively for a moment, and then relented, offering his aching hand, but looked away.  “She is ill,” Renae said after a moment of working on the abused joins, “and I will not tell you that she need come with us to live, but…I am certain it is for the best.”

Renae paused wearily, as she began to knit a slight fracture.  “You are quite strong still, you know,” she started in a kind tone.  “Even if age has made your bones brittle.  You fractured this one with the force of that blow.”  She ran her finger along the edge of his palm as she finished her work, but thought better of the familiarity, and stepped back.

The king pulled his hand close to his chest, and rubbed it still, though perhaps it was more a nervous wringing then.

“I leave it to you.  She will need to learn to cure this sickness herself.  It is a part of her, it will not go away.  She will need the care, and tutelage from multiple healers.  Do you wish for up to a year to house Sisters here at court, to seek a similar complement of Clarion priests, or to send her with us?”

“I will not involve the Clarions,” the King growled. “I struggle every day to tolerate their madness, but I will not have them trying to influence my court any more than they already do.”

“Then what is it to be?” Renae pressed gently.

“Take her,” the King grumbled, his fist clenched, but he quickly stopped short striking the stone again.  “I will have your word she will return in no more than a year.  I will know my great granddaughter, as my blood, while there is still life in these old bones.”

“You have my word, my King,” Renae said cordially and turned to leave.

“I did love you once,” the King said distantly, stopping her from leaving.  ”It was love all those years ago, not simply childish fancy.”

“And now?” Renae questioned, unsure how to respond, and not even turning back.

“Now I remember that love,” the King said distantly.

“As do I,” Renae said sadly, and descended the tower stairs.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Rhaeus 33rd, 647 E.R.

Katrisha looked absently around the simple sparse room she had been lead to by her brother.  The space was like a closet compared to her full floor of the tower, but was typical of the cloister’s bed chambers, including the empty bunk bed, as such rooms were normally shared.

“Come, sit,” Wren said gesturing to the lower bunk.

Katrisha walked to the bed, sat, and slowly turned to lay down.  It wasn’t completely unpadded, but was quite firm compared to the deep piled down she was use to.  All this however went without comment, or visible complaint.

Audry set the bundle of Katrisha’s things on a chest beneath the window, and put a consoling hand on Wren’s shoulder.  Wren looked at Audry, and smiled weakly.  “Come on,” he said as he knelt down beside the bed, took Katrisha’s hand, and closed his eyes.  “Let’s see if we can get some more of this poison out of you.”

Audry sat behind Wren, and lay her head to the back of his shoulder as he worked.  She watched with her mind’s eye, every detail of the process even though she had already been taught.  Seeing if she could glean anything useful from Wren’s more successful attempts.  Eventually she gave it up as pure talent, and gift, and instead let herself focus on Wren’s presence.

He was warm, always so warm like fire light.  Like a hearth on a cold winter’s night, even in the heat of summer the thought of stepping away from him seemed cold.

Everyone turned together as a knock at the open door caught their attention.  “I’m sorry if I’m intruding,” Celia said examining the scene.  “I had heard you two were back…with a guest?”

“Come in,” Wren said coming out of his trance like state.  “This is my sister, Katrisha.  She’s fallen ill, and has come to stay with us for a while.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Celia said as she stepped into the room, and looked down at Katrisha’s somewhat distant gaze.

“This is Celia, one of my dearest friends,” Wren said checking the pool of mage blood in the palm of his hand.  He showed it to Audry who fished for an empty vial amidst the collection of things she had set on the chest under the window.

“What’s that?” Celia asked curiously.

“My blood,” Katrisha laughed darkly.  Celia shook her head in surprise at the response, and almost took a step back.  “Sorry, it’s not…quite that morbid,” Katrisha said with a weak smile, “but I suppose it’s accurate enough, from what Renae says.”

“You are doing better to be making light of things,” Wren said as he poured the silvery substance into the vial Audry had handed him.

“Maybe,” Katrisha sighed tiredly, “and I am sorry, it’s nice to meet you as well.  Wren has mentioned you on his visits.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Celia said with a smile.

“Did he ever mention me?” Audry said with the tiniest hint of jealousy in her voice that was lost on Katrisha.

“Hmm?” Katrisha said slowly drifting off to sleep, “it’s been a year or so, he mentioned you both though.  His two best friends, that he didn’t know what he would do without.  I’m glad he’s had you…” she added, as sleep took her.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Rhaeus 40th, 647 E.R.

Katrisha sat in the sunlight with her eyes closed.  It was not her favorite place in the world, but where she had been told to sit.  “My name is Theron,” a stern but kind male voice stated somewhere behind her.  “I have been told you are Katrisha, and that I should insure you are completely with me before I begin.”

“I am here,” Katrisha said opening an eye hesitantly in the bright sunlight, as Theron stepped in front of her.  “…for the most part.”

“Good,” Theron said.  “I am the head of spiritual study here at the cloister, and yes, before you ask,” he said firmly, “men do occasionally hold such positions within the Order, when we are deemed the best suited at the time of choosing.”

“I was aware, I suppose, that there were men with the ‘Sisterhood,’” Katrisha said trying not to laugh at the miss match of terms.  “My brother has lived here most of his life.”

“So it is,” Theron said calmly, “though as I can tell from the tone of your voice, you realize that the term ‘Sisterhood’ is as such questionable.  Properly we are the Lycian Order of the Light, or a number of other long winded mouthfuls, depending on who you ask.  Many organizations refer to themselves as ‘Orders,’ and ‘Sisterhood’ stuck long ago for any number of reasons.”

“I see…” Katrisha said uncertain what she should say.

“I offer this only for perspective,” Theron said with a shrug.  “I do not often interact with outsiders, and when I do, the questions seem inevitable.”

“What…exactly is the head of spiritual study?” Katrisha asked curiously, and glad for the chance to move off of what seemed to be a sore subject for the man before her.

“Spiritual studies deal with the union of the mind, the spirit, and the body,” Theron said in a practiced lecturing tone. “We are students of philosophy, and the practical science of the material mind, nervous system, and how it interacts with the soul.  We also council on issues of the heart, maladies of the mind, and emotional distress.”

“Ok…” Katrisha said a bit distantly.

“Your condition is physical, but it’s causes, and consequences are less mundane,” Theron said in a kinder tone. “There was debate as to who would be best to teach you first.  I won the argument it seems, to my own increased workload.  The core of what you must learn is to tell the poison that your magic creates, from your own self.”

“Wouldn’t it just be easier to give up magic?” Katrisha laughed darkly.

“A jest that I have no doubt you would find impossible to follow through on,” Theron said sternly.  “For one who has known the magic their whole life, such would be like giving up part of yourself, like pretending you’ve lost your right hand.  Even if you could do it, it would be another grave wound atop so many you have already suffered, and there is no guarantee even then it would work.  That your spirit would not keep collecting wild magic within you.”

“What do you know of my ‘wounds’?” Katrisha said looking away angrily.

“A great deal,” Theron said sadly.  “I lost a sister once, and far more certainly.  She was crushed by a toppled cart in a caravan before my very eyes.  I loved her so much that I almost gave my very life in vain to save her…my mother had to pull me from her, that she did not lose a second child that day.”

“I…” Katrisha said embarrassed.  “I’m sorry…my sister, Kiannae.  She isn’t dead, if I’m here alive, then so is she.  No forest is going to stop her, she’s strong…but…”  Katrisha trailed off, and began to cry.

“I know only what I have been told, and what I am told, has been suggested to you already,” Theron said gently resting a hand on Katrisha’s shoulder.  “All that you can do, is try to find peace – find a path back to health, that you are well when she does return to you.”

Katrisha glared at Theron the last of her obstinate manner wavering.  “Where do we begin?” she asked exhaustedly.

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