Recommended age: 16+
-> Part 1 is ok, although I’d still recommend 15+
-> Part 2 explores some intense emotions, especially grief. I strongly advise discretion.
“What’s wrong?” Ris asked, looking back at me.
“Nothing,” I replied, “you go, I’ll meet you back home.” She went on, and I searched for the whisper I’d heard, the sound of something suddenly existing when it had not before. I saw, tucked beneath a tree behind the baker’s home, an outline of a person. It was strange but not the first time this had happened. They were holding a rectangle with two hands, entirely lost in thought as they stared blankly at the object.
“Hello,” I said, and they looked at me with surprise. “I’m Promise, Ris’ shadow. You must be a traveller, and since you’re already here, why don’t you join me? We’re going on a quest.” I grinned, and the traveller continued to look bewildered.
“Ok. I didn’t expect a talking shadow though,” they said slowly.
“Of course not. Now come quickly, we have to catch up to Ris,” I replied before walking through the lane to the street and through the village to my home. The traveller would come, that was why they were here. The traveller is you, and I am telling a story.
Dusk was setting in as we returned home, and we were just in time. If we were any later, Mum would yell at us for spending too much time exploring. She was wrong, one could never spend too much time exploring, but no-one was going to dispute it because she didn’t listen to that argument. Besides, dinner was usually ready just after sunset, so Ris didn’t really mind the rule. She had put her stuff down in her room and gone to get water from the well nearby, since Saryar was packing up her weaving. I hurried to the well and found Ris pouring water. I re-attached myself to her in the way that shadows do, and Ris picked up the buckets full of water – and I copied her, the way shadows do. She returned home, and her little brother Fox found and joined us. Apparently, the reason why Ris had to get more water even though she’d done so that morning was because Fox had knocked one of the buckets over. When we got back, dinner was ready.
Rumour detached herself from Saryar and I did the same, leaving our companions to clear the table. We went to Saryar’s room, which was right next to Ris’. Rumour asked me what we were acting out that night, and I said the story of the sun and moons since it was one of our companions’ favourites. It was an easy one to perform, one we’d acted out lots of times before. Ris and Saryar came in and sat down to watch us. We walked from one side of the room to the other, and I stopped to point at some imaginary beast. We chased it, hunted it, caught it.
“If you do not respect me, I will curse you with muteness for a weak!” said Rumour in a strange voice, and our companions laughed. We all blinked at the empty space where we imagined the beast, like we always did when there were two full moons.
“Stella, we caught one,” I made my voice deeper since my roll was Lumen, Argenti’s twin brother.
“Hurry up!” Rumour pretended to be the sun. We let our beast go and ran on, a neverending circle.
I sat next to Ris, re-attached. Rumour did the same.
“What’s your secret, Ris? You’ve been hiding something,” Saryar asked.
“I don’t have a secret,” she blinked.
“Hmm. Well, what have you decided for spring, will you go or stay?”
“Stay.” That was a lie, but I wasn’t going to tell.
“Really? That’s not you. What made you decide to stay?”
“So, I though staying here and becoming a spinner wouldn’t be as bad as going to Foxtown or Bunibehr by myself. At least I’ll have you, and I know people here,” Ris shrugged, “and besides, maybe Lord Ryuun will see potential in me and I could be a maid.”
“Neither of us are getting a place there, not since you have crow magic and I’m a Cursed,” replied Saryar with a laugh.
“Yeah, but you’re special, you’re one of the mirrors in the prophecy.”
“Mirrors, prophecy, just other ways to say I’m better than everyone else. If I am, why am I a Cursed?”
“Prophecies can’t always be right.” That’s why Ris had a secret.
Ris had not decided to stay when spring came. She thought a Cursed couldn’t be chosen to save people. They were twins, what difference would it make? Quests were hard and often lonely endeavours, one person against the world, so if Ris took Saryar’s place she’d save her from that. There was a time limit too, and Saryar had made no indications that she intended to begin the quest in time to save the Cursed and Enchanted, so Ris wanted to get started. She also didn’t want to stay, simply because no-one liked the fact that she had crow magic, which wasn’t a bad or useless magic as they all believed. People in her country just didn’t see the value of knowing the truth and recognising beautiful things, which was silly because there were many things Ris wouldn’t think about as being beautiful without her crow magic. Soon she’d be exploring places she’d never been to, places full of beautiful things she’d never seen before.
There were only a few days left of winter, and there were already decorations up for those leaving at the beginning of spring. Four were leaving, and it might have been six but there were complications to celebrating Ris’ leaving so she lied, and the mild sister of one of the goatherd had been accepted by Lord Ryuun. Ris shook her head to clear the strange words that wrote themselves in her soul each morning, something about a dying king she had to save except that didn’t make sense because everyone would know if Rithesanlyr’s king was dying. But the words were Solinan, being spoken directly to her soul, so a wyvern-star spoke them to her and could mean some other kingdom’s king. Ris walked to the spinner’s hut, where she, her twin, and their mother worked. Saryar was helping a friend get ready to leave though, so Ris walked alone that morning.
Ris sat on a rock in the forest, tossing a pebble in her hand. Soon the moons would rise, with only a sliver of darkness on their faces, and Ris remembered the story Rumour and I had acted out. She mentally checked that she had what she needed for her secret journey. Over the winter, she’d gathered provisions by sneaking food away from the table at mealtimes, she’d made good clothes that would withstand her journeying and tested them on her explorations into the forest, and she’d worked hard enough to earn the equivilent to a Silr in Coppies. Each person who left at the beginning of spring was given a Silr but Ris wouldn’t get one if she didn’t say she was leaving, and she didn’t say because the words in her soul commanded her not to. It was strange to be spoken to through Solinan, that strange language which the wyvern-stars used to communicate with beings in the world that had no spoken words. Ideas and convictions just appeared in people’s souls and minds when the wyvern-stars spoke to them in Solinan. Ris’ message was ‘The king is dying, the only one who can save the Cursed and Enchanted. If he dies the Enchanted will turn to death maidens and servants and the Cursed will turn to ice-cold stone, and they will not be set free. Go in the spring, alone and silent, to find those who can help. You must save this king’. That was why Ris pretended she would stay when the next year began; ‘silent’ obviously meaning that she shouldn’t tell anyone.
“If not for the wyvern-star’s message, I’d say we should go from here ere the morrow while everyone is nay able to come after us. Does that one who sent the message ken that ’twould be better if none could come after us? They said ‘alone and silent’. Nay, I do not accuse thee, wyvern-stars, I wonder. ’Twil be two days we wait afore spring comes, two more days remain until four leave with celebrations and we leave in secret, oh aye. Not a word has been spoken to others of thilke matter, so nary a soul would ken we were gone ’til night and then it would be too dark to search, and by morning we would be long gone. Aye, we will run far and swift in the afternoon and night. We’ll be far from here, we’ll be freer than we are here,” I muttered. The sky began turning orange, and I ran to Ris.
“The sun’s setting!” She caught her pebble and we raced through the forest along an invisible path over the pine needles. We’d wandered deeper than usual, but we were fast and Ris knew every trail of the game and needles. We were lucky the sun had only just set when we returned home.
Dad was back, and we had fresh fish for dinner. He and his fishing team wanted to be back for the celebrations, especially since one of them was the father of one of the people leaving. They were gone for a week, and Ris was glad they’d come back so she could see her dad again before leaving – not that they were close. The bond of being family often brings love upon the group, and Ris loved her family however much she was set apart by secrets and crow magic. She didn’t want to leave them thinking she didn’t love them.
Dad asked Ris if she was leaving, and she said the same thing she’d told Saryar, that she’d become a spinner. It was quickly accepted without a second thought, and the topic changed, thankfully, Dad told us how he and his crewmates saw a whale, this giant tail splashing into the sea, sending up a plume of seaspray high into the air.
“We were a good way away, but I could see the beast perfectly clear. Captain called out to get the nets in so we pulled them up all full of fish, and there was this eerie sound. The whale’s family was singing, and it was such a lonely song, slow and high-pitched and low-pitched at the same time,” said Dad. “You should have seen it, Fox. Most of the time the only creatures we see are the fish we catch and the seagulls who want them, but I know if anyone ever gets in the way of a whale who’s diving back to the depths, oh that’s brontide for sure. You wouldn’t want to get in the way of one of those great beasts, my boy.”
“Wow,” Fox shovelled more food into his mouth, keeping his eyes on Dad.
I got up before Ris, and took the chance to check we had what we needed. I pulled the pack out from under her bed and emptied it quietly. There was Ris’ favourite rock, a water skin, a purse, a dagger given to her by Dad, a blanket, provisions, a knotted and well-loved bundle of wool that was Ris’ toy wisp form childhood, some patching materials, and an extra set of clothes. After silently returning the things to the pack, I went outside to wait in the shadows of the houses and to watch people hurry by. Several men with armfuls of firewood went by to build the bonfire in the square, and later several women carrying baskets of banners hurried to the square to decorate the village more properly. A little girl chased an escaped chicken and one of the goatherds passed through the streets. Ris was awake by then and I heard her thinking about her dreams, one of which was about having to carry water to a well with a leaky bucket but if she didn’t fill the well then people would kill her for stealing their shadows. Her nightmares were usually as strange as that.
I remained in the shadows between the houses while Ris and Saryar ate, chattering all the while to fill nervous and excited silences. As soon as they’d finished they, and Rumour, joined me outside to loosely plan the day. Then Ris and I headed to the forest for the morning, staying purposefully within sight of the village on the north-east side. We’d been planning this for weeks. When people inevitably started searching they’d begin by heading towards Foxtown since that was the most likely choice if we only wanted to get away from Orsilnon to a town and because that was the direction everyone saw us in during the morning. The sun was warmer now, likely the warmest it would get that day, and neared its zenith.
Lord Ryuun and his wife, Gisele, sat on an ornate, cushioned bench on the dais. Wooden benches and tables were arranged around the unlit bonfire, and the villagers were quickly gathering in the empty spaces. The four whose celebration it was stood on the side of the dais, waiting for Lord Ryuun to introduce them formally and wish them safe travels. Ris and I stood amongst the crowd, waiting for the celebrations to begin so we could leave unnoticed. She fought her thoughts, tried to quiet them so they wouldn’t show on her face, tried to focus on the people on the dais. A man called for silence and it fell, then Lord Ryuun stood with his arms wide open.
“Today we celebrate these four of fifteen winters who have chosen to leave our village,” he said, turning to them. “Would you please step forward?” They stood in a line beside the lord of the village.
“Brina Lycaon’s daughter, I give you a Silr and provisions for your journey. Where will you go?”
“I will go to Foxtown,” said Brina, taking the bag. Darya Fenris’ daughter also chose to go to Foxtown, and Lylya Cerridwen’s daughter and Juniper Alaric’s son chose to go to Bunibehr. After being given their bags, each stood back in line.
“Now,” said Lord Ryuun with a clap, “let the celebrations begin!” There were several people holding instruments in one corner of the square who began to play. Those on the dais stepped down and joined the crowd, the four who were leaving seeking their friends and family.
Ris joined Saryar and her friends, who were all babbling excited questions to Lylya and Juniper. She talked nearly as much as the others, which was taken as excitement rather than fear, and she made sure her face and words were guarded from what would happen later in the afternoon. Ris was excited though, about the celebrations and for Brina, Daryar, Lylya, and Juniper, and she enjoyed herself. There was always sadness when people left Orsilnon, and the celebration existed to ease that sadness – as well as to celebrate the new year and coming of spring. The musicians played a dancing song and people who weren’t dancing moved to the outer sides of the tables while others hurriedly found partners. Ris looked to the sky to find the sun heading west, and went to see her parents. She danced with Dad for a bit before Saryar then one of her own friends danced with her too. She moved through the square in time with the rhythm of the music, towards the street her house was on, before finally slipping unnoticed into the shadows and down the way.
The chatter and music faded as we stepped carefully and silently on the cobblestones. Ris could feel her heartbeat pounding as she opened the door. She grabbed her pack and left, still careful and silent, checking for sounds before rounding a corner. Then she was in the forest, and she ran fast enough to be out of sight within several moments and slow enough to be able to check she wasn’t leaving tracks. Ris was swift- and light-footed after years of exploring the forest, and moved quicker than most could if they didn’t want to leave a trail. Only the three hunters would be able to find her, if they were fast enough, and it would be at least the next morning when they came after her. On we went, the sun sinking lower, into the twilight, into the night. The moons lit the way, and at around midnight she came to the Pinewisp River. She followed it to the sea, holding her boots and socks in one hand. At its mouth she followed the shore towards south, leaving the ways to cover her trail, running then walking then running then walking. Her breath sounded like the waves and her bare feet splashed in the shallow water. Argenti and Lumen were starting to head west, and Ris found herself a tree to sleep in.
I kept watch, through the last few hours of the night and first hours of day. Ris’ breaths were like the crashing of waves that sighed in the distance.
“They will think we have vanished like a wisp, for we are faster than Stella. We are travelling through brume, but they will not find us or catch us. Aye, we’ve run free of our cage, none ken where we’ve gone. Wise wyvern-stars, this is a lonely trail we forge, and we gladly go from Orsilnon, but we ken where not to go. ‘Find those who can help’, aye, you said that, but where are they? By Lyly, give us persistence. By Jornin, give us light and wisdom. Onwards we go, ere noon. We ran in the sea hither, but I want to know whither we will go when I wake Ris. What will she decide, to go in the sea and run or tread upon the earth amongst the bushes and grass, away there where the forest ends? Ris is content to go on in the direction we headed, but what will we find?” I wondered aloud.
Two hours before midday, I woke Ris. She had something to eat, and we went on. She walked barefoot in the shallows again until she stopped for a late lunch, then put her boots back on and walked on the earth, weaving between the bushes and small trees that formed the scrub of the region just south of the forest on the east coast where we were. It was evening when she stopped, a long night of keeping watch, and an early morning when she continued. She kept a steady pace, due just west of south.
“Hey, guess what? It’s been three days since we left, and there’s been no sign of the hunters or anyone else from the village. We’ve outsmarted and outrun them,” said Ris.
“Yeah, we planned this well,” I replied.
“I’m glad you’re here, Promise, my turtledove and loyal shadow. Besides Saryar, you are my only true friend.”
“What could I have done? I’m your shadow, and you are one of my turtledoves also – my only one, since there are none in Orsilnon we’re good friends with. I’m not a rogue.”
“No, you are my umbral reflection who has fought all these years against the call of Saryar’s Cursed-ness.”
“You know as well as I do that Cursed-ness doesn’t call as loudly to shadows like me, it’s usually only shadows of inanimate objects and rogues that get drawn in.”
Poor Saryar was a Cursed – that meant she had a piece of glass in her eye and shadows followed her wherever she went. She couldn’t do anything about them, but they were tamer and fewer in number than those that followed the old father of the blacksmith. The shadows that followed the Cursed were (for the most part) shadows of inanimate objects like copiks or tools. Except they weren’t any more, over time the shadows began to look like monsters and had become the source of many nightmares when the twins were younger. They were used to the shadows now, and knew how to live around them.
Ris thought about the quest – her quest – to save the Cursed and Enchanted. The prophecy stated that ‘Bells will ring and magic sing when the mirrors arise. Dark shadows will follow the chosen to battle. There is one who must save the Cursed and Enchanted from the moons’ two thousandth rising since the end of the GlassShatter Age. Shadows will haunt and mirrors call to the wyvern-stars, for curses must be undone.’ When the moons rose for the two-thousandth time, there would be no hope left for them. Remembering the wyvern-star’s message to her, Ris thought that was when the wyvern-star king was supposedly going to die. Except part of what she had to do was save the king, so it must have been a deadline of when the magic keeping the Enchanted alive wouldn’t work any more. It shouldn’t take that much time, but battling might, Ris thought.
“Where are we headed?” I asked, interrupting her thoughts.
“South, to Volyia. From there, we’ll probably go to Windwall.”
“Why not head straight for Eltrin?”
“It’s a crowded city.”
“Windwall isn’t a quiet village either, you know.”
“Neither’s Orsilnon; there’s never silence.” I shook my head.
“You know what I meant. If you want to escape people, why don’t you tell me to go rogue and just stay in Volyia?” Ris laughed, rejecting my sarcastic suggestion.
“I’ve got a quest. Maybe I’ll go to Kenshalta instead.”
“The abbey village, over on the western peninsula,” I gestured broadly in its direction, “sounds good. Maybe we’ll find someone to help us while we’re there. I’ve heard that some of the abbey people can help the Cursed and Enchanted.”
Ris looked at the mark on her left wrist – three indigo dots arranged so they formed a corner – which indicated suitability for crow magic. Unfortunately, just because she had the crow magic mark, she wasn’t allowed to learn any magic in case she figured out how to use crow magic. It was too late for that though. She had spent many afternoons in the forest figuring it out, and she knew how to rely on her perception for truth, and how to recognise beauty and worth in even the smallest an unconventional of things. Sometimes it kicked in naturally when she was curious, like now.
“Yes. There are three who could help us at Kenshalta.” Other times, she preferred to be surprised, which was why we had no idea what we’d find at Volyia.
We lifted our eyes to the westering sun and measured the daylight with our hands. The waning moons were rising, Argenti first then the fuller Lumen just managing to sit on the horizon. The space between Stella and the western horizon halved and we found a place to sleep – an impression in the ground surrounded by a couple of bushes. Ris had dinner before curling up beneath the sky in the protective warmth of her blanket. I kept watch as usual, since being a shadow meant I never needed sleep. The night was silent but the creatures whose day is nighttime weren’t, although they were still quiet. Fewer beasts remained awake, leaving only mice and the wind to make sounds. Clouds drifted through the sky, obscuring the myriads of stats and the moons which ensured the world would not be fully dark.
The Dark Realm, my realm, of the hidden and perhaps dangerous. We shadows may not be as connected to each other as our counterparts are, but we are alive. How is’t that we are hidden if we do not hide? How is’t that we are dangerous if we neither wield magic nor can kill without a weapon and time? We aren’t feared. I am not complaining, I am happy with my realm, only, it makes no sense,” I said quietly. A creature skittered away, tiny paws falling on the grass, and a second creature gave chase. I stood and stretched to shake the dull ache of stillness away, and crept from the impression to walk in the cold moonlight for a while. The sky began to lighten, and I returned to my companion before the warmth of gold light spilt over the horizon.
We were well beyond the forest and past the bushland, nearly halfway from Orsilnon to Volyia. Winter’s grip wouldn’t be released for another week or so, but the depth of the snow patches was less the farther we went. Ris held her rock, a grey piece of stone she’d found in the sea one day when we were all little, rounded by the relentless heartbeat-like pulsing and crashing of te Whispering Deep. It was about the size of her palm, maybe a little larger. She used to make up stories of where it had come from, and the importance it had held there, but she usually tossed it high, felt her heartbeat in its stillness, or the warmth it kept after being held for a long while. She thought about Saryar and Rumour, her parents, and her little brother Fox, wondering how they fared and how they explained her absence to themselves. Then her thoughts fell into the pattern of curiosity that meant she was simply watching as she walked, letting her crow magic show her the wonders of things she hadn’t seen before.
I re-attached myself and followed dormantly until night when I kept watch and did the same again the next day. Ris made good progress and entered the region of hills just north of Volyia. She wished she could have stew that night, but settled for some fairly stale bread, some cheese, and water. It was the last of her bread, so she’d have to go without until she could buy some in Eltrin, but she had enough food otherwise so long as she foraged, and the earth tended to be a good provider. She’d already noticed various herbs and plants, so food wasn’t a worry. What she did worry about, though, was how she was supposed to find the people who would help her. I knew from the depths of her thoughts that we’d find one within a few days, but she didn’t want to know so I said nothing. We watched the stars and Lumen, and when Ris fell asleep I sat as still as stone in a landscape just as cold.
I mulled over the last few days, the rhythm and loneliness of it. We missed Saryar and Rumour, even Fox, and I wondered how Lylya and Juniper were going.
“By Lyly, give them persistence and joy,” I murmured, my voice loud in the silence, waiting for morning. The next few days passed without event, although anticipation grew around our unanswered curiosity of who or what we’d find in Volyia.
“Is it a castle or a city?” Ris asked, then answered herself. “A city – I should have remembered that. How badly ruined do you think it is, Promise?”
“Oh, it’ll probably have ivy and moss over everything and there’ll be rubble on the ground, but if the houses weren’t thatched they’ll probably still have roofs.
“We’ll stay a few days wile we gather more provisions then, but no more than a week.”
“How big do you think it is?”
“Maybe a bit smaller than Bunibehr, but that’s being realistic. I’ve always imagined it as about the size of Foxtown,” I agreed, and Ris went on, “but then so does everyone back at Orsilnon.”
The old capital was mossy stone and frosty wildflowers between patches of snow, empty streets full of chaos from years of ruin, and a cold, eerie wind that hummed through the lanes. A couple of spires rose over the rooftops, and a crow was perched atop the highest. It cawed and flew away, and a moment later another followed. Ris took hold of her rock and we went further in, cautious but less afraid than you might expect, searching for a good place to sleep that night.
“What was that? It sounded like an owl,” I said.
“It’s daytime, owls aren’t awake. It might be a kit though.” Five short hoots sounded, and then a trill. Ris turned towards the sounds and followed them down a lane to a door that shouldn’t have had light peaking through the crack between it and the door frame.
“Hello?” she said as she opened the door. A young woman with swirling magenta stripes on her face jumped up, with one hand raised in warning and the other siezing a knife. Ris stepped back and raised her own hands in surrender. The woman lowered hers, and Ris held her right hand over her left over her heart as a greeting.
“Nors talyar litchë osuray,” said the woman, mimicking Ris’ greeting gesture. “My name is Kestrel Ikoraly. What is yours?”
“I’m Ris, and this is Promise,” Ris said hesitantly.
“What are you doing here? Where are you from?”
“I’m on a quest, to save the Cursed and Enchanted. The wyvern-stars said I’d find people who can help, and I’m on my way to Kenshalta from Orsilnon — I came here because I wanted to see what Volyia is really like. How about you, Kestrel?”
“I live here, look, and I’ve been here since I was only twelve. I grew up in Anshymys.”
“You’re Fay,” Ris murmured, looking around the room. There was a pot of boiling vegetables, a bed, and three kits curled up in a pile of blankets.
“Yes, Seelie, so there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Ok,” Ris smiled and nodded, taking off her pack. “Can I sleep in this corner?” Kestrel looked up from the vegetables, and said she could. It would be nice to have some company after the empty past week and a bit.
Ris and Kestrel ate an early dinner. Ris pulled out an apple and cut it up with her dagger to share with Kestrel. She called her kits over and clicked her tongue, and gave them some pieces of fruit. Cobalt, Opal, and Pear all chirped and munched happily. When Opal finished her piece she jumped into Kestrel’s shoulder, who lifted a hand and scratched the shimmering, silvery kit, while Pear and Cobalt circled Ris. She ran her hand over their scaly backs, feeling them purr, feeling their leathery wings. She scratched Pear on the chin and set her mind to wander for a bit.
“You cooked enough food for me, but you’re alone. How did you know I was coming?”
“I saw you.” Kestrel shrugged. I looked to my companion, who nodded.
“You’re very cordial, you know,” she remarked.
“Thanks.” Ris smiled, then stood and ent to look out the doorway. As she opened it, she looked upwards and searched for the stars; a few were shining in the deepening twilight, with more to rise or begin twinkling as it got later. She breathed in deeply just to feel the night, wondering if Saryar and Rumour were watching the stars or for our return, and remembered the Solinan words written in her soul. She felt like they were calling her, even hunting her. She closed the door.
If Kestrel thought there was no need to keep watch, well, she’d lived at Volyia for several years. I slipped outside, simply to explore. There would be time tomorrow to explore the city ruin, so I headed out to the hills, taking care to stay within sight of the ruins. I wish the moons were always full, I like their silver light, like the sun but cold. I looked out across the late-night landscape bathed in blue light — nothing is actually pitch-black, and silver light softens darkness into beauty. Anyway, if I’d looked closer I would have seen a familiar shadow and the silhouettes of some horses just over the rise. Picking a direction and following whimsy is the best way to explore, otherwise it’s mapping. I walked west, facing the ground, choosing paths that wound around the slowly-shrinking snow patches.
“Promise, is that you? Why are you so far from Orsilnon? Don’t tell me you’ve gone rogue, we’d have to capture you and force you back,” said a friendly voice. The thunder of hoofsteps pranced towards me, each rider reigning in their steed.
“No I’d never go rogue. I’m on a quest with Ris. How are you, Harry?” I replied.
“Tired. We’ve been trying to catch Kyrell again. He’s been wreaking havoc in Eltrin, there’s been some murders there and King Bhaltair wants him reminded of the consequences. But otherwise I’m fine.”
“Kyrell? That shadow is never going to listen to you.”
“Yeah, but King’s orders, you know,” said George with a smile, rolling his eyes.
“Hey Tristan. Going alright?” I asked the Enchanted leader of the group.
“As always, though the the moons’ two thousandth rising is getting closer. I am beginning to worry… I thought I saw a death maiden last week but it was probably just a wisp. How’s Saryar?” Tristan signed, his fingers quick after decades of experience, his face showing concern for himself and other affected by the GlassShatter Age.
“Last time we saw her, she was ok.”
“That’s good.” Tristan nodded.
“It’s a shame she didn’t come with you. I’d love to talk to her again,” Saoirse said.
“You can just go to Orsilnon once you’ve reminded Kyrell to be cautious. If I see him I’ll tell him, but honestly, he never learns.”
“Well it’s just ‘you won’t catch me, and I can hurt you if you do. I can use a spoon to kill, you know.’ Do you even believe it?” asked Gwena, her wisp floating around her shoulder.
“Who knows,” I shrugged. “Do you mind if I come with you for a bit?” The Night Order agreed enthusiastically. I grabbed Harry’s hand and he helped me up. His cat, Storm, was purring in his lap. If we weren’t riding, I would have patted him. We rode through the night, in the direction they’d been heading before they saw me since they’d last seen Kyrell running east. All of us had keen eyes and the Night Order were essentially nocturnal since shadows generally prefer nighttime for mischievous deeds.
“Do you miss Orsilnon?” Harry asked, looking north. We were on the top of a hill, trying to get a better vantage point to see anything untoward. I looked up, and saw memories of Ris getting teased for her crow magic, saw backs turned against us, saw myself guarding against the night in case the hunters found us. It wouldn’t have been taken well that we left without a word, let alone on the day of celebration for those old enough to choose a path, which Ris was.
“I miss Saryar and Rumour, but not the village. This is better, and every day we see something new.”
“Fair enough.” I looked away, turning back to Volyia.
“Did you know there’s a Seelie Fay at Volyia?”
“I think so. We’ve always kept well away from her though,” said Harry, bringing his horse around. Lumen was several hands above the horizon, barely half empty. Argenti would rise very soon, and after a while so would Stella. A cloud passed over Lumen, dulling the light.
Tristan’s horse reared and started moving north.
“He’s found the impish mischief-maker!” shouted George as the rest of the Night Order cantered after their leader. We kept riding, keeping a constant lookout for Kyrell. At some point, I said goodbye and slipped off the horse to go back to Volyia. The sky was paler, and a cold mist had settled over the hills, and I ran as the stars vanished. The ruined city came into view as the sun rose, and I corrected myself to face it directly since I’d veered to the right without realising. I wondered about Kyrell’s actions. Why did he kill those people in Eltrin, and why? Where was he going now? Maybe they’d angered him or hurt one of his friends, or maybe they’d gotten in his lawless way. What was he doing? I couldn’t know for certain, but I’d like to find out.
“Morning, Promise. Exploring?” Ris said. She and Kestrel were eating breakfast on the floor.
“Yeah. The Night Order came through, looking for Kyrell again. Apparently he’s been at Eltrin, Anduste knows why.”
“Oh, the Night Order, they came here a couple of times thinking I must have been a rouge shadow. Mine’s extraordinarily shy, she’s almost always dormant.” I frowned and shrugged, disappointed, but it was her choice. Some shadows lived their whole lives without making a single decision to deviate from their companion’s actions.
“How long do you plan to stay here before going to Kenshalta?” Kestrel asked.
“No more than a couple of days. I need to gather some edibles first, and then the only reason I’ll stop at Eltrin is for bread, apples, and cheese.”
“Alright, two things. First, I can command plants to grow and produce; second, I want to come with you.” Ris looked at Kestrel, her eyes bright and wide.
Kestrel stood and led us out the door, down a tiny gap between the houses, to her garden. It had various vegetables, in rows along the earth that had presumably been covered in stone when people had lived here. The street had been blocked off in both directions with rubble, keeping out the barren isolation of the town. Kestrel held out her hands as if holding a basket, and the plants swarmed towards the sky.
“Kvorae solër zausoo putygu ađ kvaear iela impara,” Kestrel said, and Ris looked at the Fay, wondering why she wasn’t speaking Commish. “Sorry, sometimes I switch. They reach up to the sky because I command it.”
“That’s really cool. Is it hard to learn?” Ris asked.
“It depends. You’re human, so you’d have to study hard, but it’s pretty easy to actually use once you’re used to it.” Kestrel knelt down and started pulling up a row of what was apparently potatoes. “That’s carrots, beetroot, and burdock.” She pointed to some other rows. Burdock was one we recognised, and we started uprooting them. Kestrel, Ris, and I worked on the garden until it was empty.
“There we go. Lunch?” Kestrel stood and stepped back, dusting the dirt off from her hands and skirt. Once everything was brought in, they ate, and headed back out for herbs and things Kestrel didn’t regularly grow.
“Honestly, do they realise a third of human magic users would have crow? Or that to declare a prophecy without being a liar requires strong crow magic? I have a sister who is Cursed, a friend who is Enchanted, and there’s someone else in Orsilnon who’s Cursed, and they’re all relying on the prophecy for their survival.”
“They are like that.” Kestrel rolled her eyes, reaching to her shoulder even though her kits were asleep beside her.
“What’s that in your hair?” Ris asked.
“Oh, just this,” Kestrel tucked her hair behind her ear, showing a silvery dragon earring wrapped around it.
“That’s really pretty. Is it silver?”
“Yeah, otherwise it would burn me. But about your quest;, do you have a plan?”
“”Sort of. At the moment, I’m going off what a wyvern-star told me; ‘the king is dying, the only one who can save the Cursed and Enchanted. If he dies the Enchanted will turn to death maidens and servants, and the Cursed will turn to ice-cold stone, and there will be no way to set them free. Go in the spring, alone and silent, to find those who can help. You must save this king.’ That’s the first step.”
“Do you know how many there are who can help you?”
“There’s three more we have to find who will join me,” Ris said, trusting her perception. “One is at Kenshalty Abbey.”
“You said there were three there who could help the Cursed and Enchanted,”” I pointed out.
“Apparently only one will join us.” She shrugged.
“Look, you said ‘three more we have to find’. I am coming,” Kestel said.
“Uh, yeah. Were you planning to before I said that?”
“I was thinking about it. In truth, the thought that I should leave here has been in my mind for a while, but I’m comfortable here and I didn’t know where I might go,” she answered, picking Opal and putting her in her lap. “Even before my mum and I came here, I was pretty… oh, what is it… secluded. Feature-Rinaes knows.” The wind outside started to pick up, blowing a few leaves in under the door. Ris rearranged herself so Cobalt could resettle in her lap.
“One of our deities. She’s similar to the Kinsynost Anduste.”
“That’s cool. What’s she in charge of?”
“The wind, which is one of my magics. I know wind, earth, and water magic. And you know crow magic.”
“Well I have it, but I wouldn’t really say I know it. Tristan, the village’s wizard, refused to teach me because it’s crow. But I manage, and I’ve practised a lot.”
“Hmm. You’ll improve with time, I suppose. I wish I could teach you, but I don’t have the knowledge.”
“So. We have food and my earth magic for when we don’t have enough. Shall we leave tomorrow?” Kestrel asked, and Ris grinned and said they would.
Ris dreamt she soared over Rithesanlyr, towards Orsilnon. She took Saryar by the hand and they flew between the glowing clouds of sunset and the cold depths of the universe, then dove almost to the ocean. A whale swam beneath the surface with its pod, dark shapes in dark waters. Ris and Saryar rose, and the pod rose with them. The whales floated in the sparkling air, so cold that a loud word might shatter the very stars that floated with them, there between the ocean and the clouds. The whales and the twins sang with their hearts, for the waters were always winter and Ris felt the keen sting of loneliness without Saryar. Soon they were drifting between ancient spires made of both stone and bramble. They wheeled and turned between them, whooping and beaming, and the whales kept crooning as they floated slowly between the highest spires and stars.
Dust hung in motes in the sunlight, and the kits cooed and chittered in the warmth. Ris and Kestrel ate, then my companion went to explore Volyia while the Seelie organised her things into her pack. I followed Ris, through the streets of ivy-covered houses and shops shrouded in dust and cobwebs. There was a tree that had pushed up the cracked cobblestones with its roots, shading a square that would probably have once been a market place. She climbed to the highest branch and looked out on the grey and green city. She could see the castle walls and towers, and decided to explore it, so after she climbed back down we chose a street that lead in the right direction.
The throne room once had a staied glass window, bit now it was shattered across the cold stone floor. It wasn’t called the GlassShatter Age for nothing; whatever had caused the wyvern-stars to crash down also made the grass break. Some magic known only to them made tiny specks of it piece people’s hearts or eyes, drawing all kinds of shadows to them. They were the Cursed. The Enchanted were those who’d managed to take one of the wyvern-stars into themselves to care for them until they were strong enough to go back home. They did not age, and when the wyvern-stars left the Enchanted they were stripped of their magic and voices. People were wary of glass and didn’t make it anymore. Ris found the way it sent the sun spinning through the hall enchanting. Yet, the pieces themselves were sharp and dangerous, and she was glad for her boots.
The throne had been removed, ad well as the rug — we assumed there had been one — and the curtains in the corridors we’d come through, leaving it bare and open.
“At least no-one would have been here when the glass shattered,” Ris said.
“Yeah.” We left words unsaid: this place is beautiful and now it’s lonely because it’s empty. Ris lingered there by the window, still and unmoving, head full of thoughts, perception hard at work as she observed Volyia as it was and how it had been. She turned with a hint of startlement in her eyes, though I don’t know why. I had been climbing a tower, my thoughts my own, before I turned back. We left the castle and went back to Kestrel.
Cobalt, Pear, and opal flew, sometimes resting on Kestrel’s shoulder, sometimes dancing upon the wind. At first, they kept turning back to Volyia, and Kestrel would call them back. After a while, they figured out that they weren’t going back, but occasionally one would chitter and hoot as it hovered in place, facing the ruins. Then Kestrel would call them and talk to them as we continued walking.
“How often do you leave the town?”
“Not often, and I don’t usually take my kits, especially if I’m going relatively far away. I’ve packed up all my things, so they know something is different. It’s strange, because they were my only company for so long, and now I have you as well, and I’m joining your quest so if I return it will be months from now.”
“Do you plan to?”
“I don’t know. What about you, will you return to Orsilnon?”
“Probably not. If I do, it’ll be because of Saryar.” Ifs and plans, all of which come after the quest. You can’t tell the future, winds may change or rearrange.
Ris unpacked the vegetables from her pack to make a stew. Her dagger lay beside her, since it had been in the way and she’d had to take it out.
“This is pretty,” Kestrel picked it up, then dropped it with a yelp. “It’s iron.”
“Yes, of course it is. Are you ok?”
“I’ll be alright,” she said calmly, slowly pouring water from her waterskin over her hand. Once it was empty, she commanded the water to float in a bubble around the burnt area.
“I haven’t done that in a while, I know what’s safe in Volyia.”
“Isn’t silver shinier though?” Ris asked, taking over making the stew.
“I don’t know, maybe. I shall keep that in mind.” Kestrel sighed.
“How did you get to Voylia?”
“My mother, Fautanas, brought me. She wanted me to see other countries and experience their cultures, perhaps even choose a place to live other than Tasyënlor or Faetarnikr. She didn’t like that so many Fay never really venture past the borders and that the majority of those how do are Unseelie. We came to Rithesanlyr last, and while we were on our way to Windwall she fell sick to we had to stay in Volyia. She got worse and worse, so sick she couldn’t tell me what herbs to find. It was Sorletuh. I stayed in Volyia,” explained Kestrel. Sorletuh was the sixth month, the last month of summer. There was an awkward silence.
“I’m sorry about your mother.” It was a while before she asked Kestrel about her father. Apparently he’d been so engrossed in his work before Fautanas and Kestrel left that she barely knew him.
Wind tore at the earth and sky as the sun settled in the west. It was a dark night, and clouds waited for dawn. The stars speckled the ski, their faint glow lighting the universe out there but too far away to illuminate the world or give any warmth. Ris was asleep, but Kestrel wasn’t quite yet. I talked to her for a bit until she fell asleep, and eventually the wind died down.
“By Jornin, give her light,” I murmured. The rest of the night was still and silent. I had no particular need or reason to keep watch anymore, but by this point it was part of the routine. Besides, I liked being my own person, it was nice to not be told that I got in the way when I wasn’t attached.
Mist hung over the hills like banners fluttering in a mistral. The sun sat glowing in the sapphire sky just as lanterns hang from lamposts. There was a crow gliding between the earth and sky, landing and strutting about before taking off again, far enough away that Ris didn’t notice it. I went dormant for most of that day, so I wasn’t paying much attention to Kestrel or Ris — or anything else, but the crow was interesting. By nightfall, the sky was grey, providing a beautiful backdrop for the sunset but no light after twilight.
“I want to explore,” I muttered to myself, looking out over the bramble- and heather-spotted landscape. “Although, it is enough to walk on towards Eltrin with Ris and our new friend, Kestrel. By Jornin, give us warm hearts to any fellows in our questing. Kestrel the Seelie Fay, such a strange friend, but then, we’re strange ourselves. Odd to have a good friend after the coldness of those in Orsilnon, but then, we had Saryar and Rumour. Kestrel is nice but somewhat stiff and formal sometimes, but I think Fay are like that. She knows some of our customs too, aye, and her magic is pretty cool. I wonder what the people at Kenshalty Abbey are like, and who will come with us.” I talked to the clouds and the empty night, looking forwards to the coming day with all its new chances.
The kits, still a little unsure of the world outside Volyia, hooted and chirruped.
“What’s up?” Kestrel asked.
“Hello!” croaked a strange voice. It was the crow I’d noticed yesterday, landing in front of us.
“Hi,” we replied unevenly in unison, hesitant and confused.
“Saw you yesterday, thought bizarre. Crow called Ink, want to join,” Ink looked up at us with one eye. Ris found it quite amusing that she had crow magic and was being befriended by a crow.
“Why?” Kestrel punctuated the question with a note of dubiousness. I started laughing suddenly, because Kestrel’s name was that of a bird’s, Ris had crow magic, and here we were talking to a talking crow named Ink.
“How can you talk?” I asked.
“Ink learnt. Want to join you because you’re peculiar — peh-kyoo-lee-ar,” Ink hopped to one side, “bird like that word. You’re peculiar; a Fay, a girl, and three kits. What’re you doing?”
“We’re on a quest to save the Cursed and Enchanted, and to save the wyvern-star king,” Ris answered.
“Wyvern-star king, that Ink can help with. Knew an Enchanted, their wyvern-star counsellor to king. Ink know a few words, and if crow teach you, girl can speak nagic. But crow don’t recognise which words, so we need find Enchanted to teach again. Ink join you.”
“Ok. That’s actually a good idea. I’m Ris.”
“I’m Kestrel. The kits are Opal, Cobalt, and Pear, according to their colours.”
“So, two more to find. One’s at Kenshalty Abbey, and from there we can plan some more,” grinned Ris.
Ris hummed to herself, a beam upon her lips. Her magic declared that the world was wonderful and her new friends were equally amazing. Friends. How marvellous to have some other than Saryar and Rumour. It was a little surprising to realise that they were our friends, even after such a short time together, and all the more special because of our lack in Orsilnon. I don’t think Ris stopped smiling for the rest of the day. The sky became clearer come nightfall too, so everyone marvelled at the stars before slowly falling asleep. I watched over them without need, for the night was silent and peaceful. I watched those specks cross the sky until vesper and then morning arrived.
While Ink and the kits danced around each other trying to understand one another, Ris cooked and Kestrel checked on her hand. She’d bandaged it to keep it clean, and treated it with antiseptic herbs. It was healing nicely, and soon it would be fine again. Kestrel re-bandaged her hand, and helped Ris with the stew. The kits and Ink started doing acrobatics to catch the moths hanging between the shadow of night and the glow of the fire.
The spires and rooftop of Eltrin sat on the far horizon, a distant grey blur promising shelter at the end of the day. Ris tossed her stone through the air and caught it repeatedly. She and Kestrel talked about their childhoods, while I talked to Ink. He’d noticed I spent a lot of time detatched from my companions, and asked my name, which he worked hard to pronounce properly but ‘Pronise’ was as close as her could get.
“You and Ris, strange ones. Ink haven’t known crow user before, or shadow so often detached.”
“How did you know she was a crow user?”
“She has look of knowing things, and of realising world’s worth,” Ink hopped along the ground as we walked, occasionally stopping to eat something. “You she treats as a sister not shadow, uou real and true to her. There be people who ignore shadows’ existence like they nothing.”
“I hope I never meet one. And yeah, we’re really close, and count each other as turtledoves,” I smiled.
“Turtldove? Ink haven’t heard that word before.” He flew along the ground a little way ahead of me to catch up.
“It’s like a close friend, a beloved and sibling-like one,” I explained. Ink looked at me with one eye, a worm in his beak, before tossing it into the air to catch it in his throat
“Very nice,” he cawed, but I don’t know if he meant about the meaning of turtledove or about the worm.
I spent some time attached to Ris but not fully dormant, listening to her perception show her the wonderful things in the world around us. The snow patches that remained were smaller and getting much sludgier, and would soon be gone as the sun regained its warmth. A butterfly flittered along in the soft breeze, its golden wings like a promise of the summer coming. There were some wildflowers with heads tilted to the open sky. The kits took turns riding on Kestrel’s shoulders and doing cartwheels in the air. Ink soared along beside them, landing and hopping about to eat whenever he saw something. Ris started humming a song and, after a while, her feet fell into the beat of it. We looked to the sun, which was about three hands high in the east. It was so much easier to measure daylight without trees in the way. This was better than our limited time of exploration we could scrape together at Orsilnon where there was spinning to be done as well as household chores. Kestrel had her hand on her shoulder even though all her kits were flying. She faced the wide horizon as she walked, her face blank but her mind surely fill of thoughts.
We’d left the hills behind, and the landscape held little interest overall, but wildflowers and sunlight can make dull things bright. Kestrel started playing with her water magic, showing Ris her skill.
“Nar angkys jaes qaru poshur fiegaunay, iela gëlaskoriau, iela faetchie olita,” said Kestrel, beginning to shape something.
“Oh, wait, that was in Faerin, sorry. I can shape a kit from water, freeze it, make it fly.”
“That’s cool.” A translucent creature was formed as Kestrel commanded and, once it looked like a kit, she made it dance in the sky like the real ones did. Then it sat on her shoulder and turned to ice.
“That’s amazing,” said Ris.
“Thanks.” Kestrel let the ice kit melt and fall to the ground for the grass.
We stopped for lunch, which was some left-over stew that Kestrel reheated by magically boiling it.
“This interesting, you heat stew without fire. Peculiar,” Ink croaked.
“Yes, it’s very useful.”
“What are we going to do with you while we’re at Eltrin?” Ris asked.
“Don’t know. Bird can ride shoulder, or stay in a tree near gate. How long will you be there?”
“I want to get bread, so probably an hour or two. We’ll camp outside — I’d rather not stay at an inn.”
“We also need some fruit. But we shouldn’t take long,” Kestrel said.
Kestrel talked to her kits, and the other two were quietly lost in their own worlds. I contemplated why the wyvern-stars had falled in 1200 AE. The Affiliated Era was a relatively peaceful time compared to the Erst Era, except for the GlassShatter Age of course. One of the few things I knew about the wyvern-stars was that they could do any kind of magic, even types no-one else had ever heard about or dreamt of. It was widely assumed that one of them had made a mistake on their way down, causing them to crash down into our world, Alehntehcith, but if that were true, what magic was so dangerous when a mistake was made? That was something only a wyvern-star would be able to fathom. THere were a few wizards who had ideas, although some wwere quite outlandish. One of the more reasonable ideas was that they were meant to chane into humans, Fay, or gnomes before hitting the ground. Another was that it had been done on purpose, that there was a traitor who’d sabotaged it. Some of the crazier ones were that something had caused the wyvern-stars to flee and some had ended up here, or that they’d come to wreak havoc. I’ve never liked those ideas, because they meant that either the wyvern-stars weren’t the most powerful things out there or that they weren’t particularly kind. They also didn’t make much sense, because if they had such powerful magic to be able to keep the Enchanted alive for a couple hundred years then surely they didn’t need to come to Alehntehcith.
The idea that made most sense to me was the first one; that the wyvern-stars had intended to come but something had gone awry. It meant they cared enough about us and our lives to experience it with and alongside us. I also thought it would be interesting to meet and talk to one, and to understand more things about them. Probably the thing I wanted to lean about most was their magic, which fundamentally worked in the same way as the kings we had access to but that their magic could be of any king. Why fid they have more types of magic? What went wrong and how, that it caused the GlassShatter Age? And there was something Ink had said too: ‘if crow teach you, crow can speak magic.’ Was their magic controlled with words only, and were there different words so they didn’t use magic any time they said those words? I’d have to talk to a wyvern-star to find out, which I supposed there’d be time for one day.
I talked to Ink about it all for a bit, but he wasn’t keen to answer my questions. Eventually we got closer to Eltrin, close enough to see some of the guards on patrol atop the battlements of the city wall. Stella neared the horizon until it swallowed her up, and we lit a fire with what dry wood we could find.
“How many Copiks do you have?” asked Kestrel.
“Fifty Coppers,” Ris said.
“I have two Guilns and a Silr, so we have three Guilns’ worth altogether. My mother brought plenty, but I lost some when a rogue went through my things one time. Anyway, some bread and fruit shouldn’t cost too much, so we’ll take twenty of your Coppers.”
“Bird stay, defend camp,” squawked Ink.
“Are you bringing Pear, Cobalt, and Opal?” said Ris.
“Yes,” replied Kestrel. Ris buried thirty Coppers from her purse in her bag and put the rest in her tunic’s pocket while Kestrel packed up breakfast. Sometimes there were rules about detached shadows, so I attached myself to Ris and we headed for the gate.
“Good morning. Where do you come from?” one of the guards said, performing to customary greeting of his right hand over his left over his heart. Ris and Kestrel did the same.
“Orsilnon,” Ris said, and Kestrel nodded.
“You’ve come a fair way. What are you here for?”
“Not as far as Glenshire.” Kestrel shrugged casually. “We’re headed for Kenshalta, though after that we’re going through brume.”
“Fair enough. If you’re looking for the markets, there one just along this street then down the sixth right.” The other guard pointed into the city.
“Thank you,” said Kestrel. We walked down the street as directed, and when the guards were out of earshot, Ris spoke.
“Why didn’t you say you’re from Volyia or Anshymys?”
“People are sometimes suspicious of Fay even if they know they’re Seelie, and if I said I came from Volyia they’d think I’m an outlaw or something.”
“Isn’t it part of your code though, to be honest?” Kestrel nodded and folded her arms. Opal landed on her shoulder, and the Fay reached up to pat the kit.
“Better for them to think we’re sisters or the like than ask why we are companions.”
“I suppose so.”
The market was a place bustling with people, full of noise and colour. We wandered until we found someone selling bread. Ris and Kestrel greeted the baker, and they chose a loaf. Nothing was said about the kits, who wouldn’t be a normal sight even though they were often kept as pets, until Kestrel let them choose which pieces of fruit they wanted.
“Beautiful creatures, aren’t they?” The seller took the fruit from beneath the kits’ paws to wrap them up.
“Yes,” said Kestrel.
“Are they all yours?” Kestrel said they were. “Seven Coppers.” Ris paid and took the parcel.
Ris and Kestrel decided to find a wizard guild, and sent the kits and me back to the camp with the bread and fruit so Ink wouldn’t be alone the whole time. Kestrel had to remind Ris she was still in Rithesanlyr, but said she could try anyway and ask to learn telepathy. Most Fay can use almost all types of magic — except sorcery healing of course, since that’s super rare and preciouss — yet Kestrel only had three types and she wasn’t even exceptional at them, so she wanted to get some training as well. They ended up at a small square with a well, where a few children were playing, but otherwise it was quiet. Kestrel asked one of them if there was a wizard guild nearby, and they were directed a few streets over.
“Hello. Do you wish to strengthen an ability or learn a new one?” asked the man at the desk when they entered.
“Both,” said Kestrel.
“I want to learn fire and strengthen the other elementals, and she wants to strengthen crow.”
“Hmm. Our fire elemental is busy today, so you’d have to come back tomorrow. There’s an earth elemental available. Now, you said you want to strengthen crow. I must tell you, we do not have any wizards with such a useless skill. We are good Rithesanlics, and you would do well to learn something different — how about telepathy?”
“Ok,” Ris replied, trying not to look upset.
Ris’ mind was vague with anger, hurt and outrage. She couldn’t reach her teacher’s thoughts, no matter how hard she tried. Her magic had shut off, refusing to even say how wonderful it was that she was being taught even a little bit of magic. Eventually she managed to calm down enough for her magic to come back, and it told her not to miss the chance to learn. She focused, captivated by the new experience of sharing her thoughts, and practised reaching out with her mind to hold a conversation. By late afternoon, she’d gotten the hang of it.
Ink had stayed close throughout the day, never straying far in his foraging. After dinner, after sunset, Kestrel danced. She stepped, stepped, leapt, repeated, circling around the fire, eyes closed with confidence. When she sat back down, she and Ris talked until their eyelids became heavy. They crawled under their blankets and slept. I don’t know what Kestrel dreamt of, but Ris had a nightmare. She dreamt she had to combine every type of magic to hold out the ever-advancing shadows. She dreamt she had lost all her magic and nobody would even look at her to teach her. She dreamt she had failed and she became a hollow shadow like all the ones she’d tried to protect herself against. She screamed and screamed into the wind until her voice was gone, and then she had truly nothing left.
Ris woke, gulping down air, to a sky full of faint stars and a world lacking moonlight. She sat up, pulling her blanket over her shoulders.
“You ok, Ris?”
“Yeah I’ll be ok”. She promptly started hiccuping, but she was fine. After she calmed down some more she got dressed and ate something.
“I’m going for a walk.” It was maybe an hour before dawn, still a bit cold and not very light. I kept half my focus on her as I continued to watch over Kestrel, knowing the movement would help her.
She meandered, mind still vague with anger and thoughts directed at anyone who’d ever made her feel worthless because of her crow magic. She glared at Eltrin, hearing the wizard’s comment again, the sneer in his eyes if not his voice, the fake kindness when he suggested telepathy. She looked north-east, back towards Orsilnon, and saw the other kids teasing her, saw backs turned against her, saw the wizard Tristan refusing to teach her any magic at all. For the millionth time, she felt the loneliness of rejection, dismissal, being excluded by everyone except Saryar and Rumour. It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair! Ris screamed in her thoughts over and over. I just want to be accepted, I just want to be accepted, I just want to be accepted. Ris couldn’t think of anything else. She walked quickly now, almost running, feet nimble and certain in their footing, hair coming undone and falling to flow in the wind. Nothing mattered out here, in the open, beneath the sky. No-one could tell her that her magic was stupid and worthless. Rithesanlic rules and beliefs were stupid, saying that a particular type of magic was useless. And anyway, her magic and her love of it had never been quelled, in spite of everything. What any Rithesanlic said about it to her was as worthless as they claimed crow magic was. Kestrel had accepted her and shown interest in her magic, and so had Ink.
Ris looked up from the ground to a world full of golden sunlight. The sun had been up for about half an hour and she hadn’t noticed. She surveyed the landscape around her, recognising none of it. She could see Eltrin’s walls though, so she walked towards that.
“I’m back,” Ris lifted her right hand over her left.
“Did you have a good walk?”
“Yeah.” She shrugged, rolling up her blanket. We were soon on our way, and my companion’s mood lifted as the day went on, and after lunch she talked to Kestrel about Anshymys. They included the kits in their conversation too, asking their opinions sometimes despite knowing full well they couldn’t really answer. Ink kept up in his irregular, back-and-forth fashion, offering stories from when he was a fledgling in Etrunbor.
Now that she knew how to use telepathy — even though she couldn’t always get it right — she could practise and get stronger. She told Kestrel what it was like to reach out with telepathy, and the Fay figured out how to do it for herself. Most of the time, though, they couldn’t hold on. Sometimes they couldn’t find each other’s mind to connect to. Sometimes they connected for a moment.
“Strange silence you keep, barely anything said last hours, last days, heads full of nagic,” Ink remarked. “You practise hard.”
“Yes, but we don’t get very far,” Ris said, thinking that if she’d been able to have ore than one afternoon of lessons maybe she’d have more luck.
“The more we practise, the better we get,” said Kestrel.
“We’re going to need some strong telepathics so the Enchanted can talk to their wyvern-stars and their fates can be changed. Then they can have their voices and magic again. Where do you think we’d be able to find any?”
“All over the place. There’s a number in Tasyënlor and I think I heard that there’s some in Bunibehr.”
“There’s a strong telepathic at Rosebarrow, crow thinks.” There was a silence, the type that’s filled with thought and concentration, and the space left empty of their voices was filled with birdsong and the soft padding of footsteps.
“How did we forget about the merfolk and sand-singers? Almost every one of them is born with telepathy. We’ll have to go to the TenthTide Shores. I think there’s a Great Tide this year, I remember my dad saying something about that,” Ris said.
“What does your dad do?”
“He’s a fisherman. I think he said there’s less of some fish and different places for good fishing during the Great Tide. I’m not sure though.”
“Fish good,” Ink said, after swallowing a worm.
“We’re talking about the Great Tide, not fish,” replied Ris.
“You said fish. Are we going sea?”
“After we go to Kenshalty Abbey.”
They walked, Ris letting her magic guide her gaze. Almost all the snow was gone now, and they went hours without seeing any of the small, icy patches that remained. With one warm day they’d melt, but the last few days had been cool. The wildflowers were bright against the grass and dirt and mossy, lichen-covered rock outcrops, and the sky was clear and blue. Argenti sat, just over half-way full, in the east on the horizon, and Lumen was a new moon so Ris couldn’t find it. Opal’s scales shimmered like the shattered glass she’d seen in the abandoned castle’s throne room at Volyia, and Cobalt’s glistened like the ocean. Pear was perched on Kestrel’s shoulder. When Ink wasn’t flying, he perched on Ris’ shoulder. The first few times he did it, she startled, and Ink’s talons dug in too far for comfort. Ris found something to pad her shoulder with until she got used to Ink and he got better at sitting there. The setting sun dyed the few clouds with amethyst and rose, and they stopped for the night.
After everyone had eaten, Kestrel took off the bandages on her hand. The burns had fully healed now, strange as it was to Ris that the Fay had been burnt by the iron in the dagger. Ris and Kestrel cut up two apples to share with the kits, and Ink nibbled a piece, and they talked for a while before going to sleep. Ris lay still, her mind empty but her head full of thoughts, facing the universe full of far-away stars, feeling like she was held by the earth above the far depths of the sky. Eventually she fell into dreams, and I watched over my friends in the cold and hushed night.
“Aye, friends. Does Ris ken the group she forms of these who can help will be her friends?” I spoke aloud in response to my thoughts. “Friends, after none in Orsilnon. I am glad our quest will give us some, for I am weary of loneliness. We are travelling through brume, guided only by the wyvern-stars and magic-told truth.” I speculated about what the future held, about who the others who could help were and what they were like, about the TenthTide Shores, about how we could help the wyvern-star king. I wondered how Sayrar and Rumour were going, realising how badly I missed them.
“By Lyly, give them persistence in everything they do. By Jornin, give them light and wisdom should they encounter darker times, and keep them safe.” I wondered how Ris’ mum and dad were, too, as well as Lylya and Juniper. After a spell of quiet observance like Ris’ occasional empty mind and head full of thoughts, everything faded to silence as clouds rolled between us and the sky to block out the whisper of the stars’ songs. Morning came, overcast.
It rained in patches; short, heave showers, and long, seeping mists. Kestrel kept them dry by directing the rain around them, creating the illusion of a bubble. Their pace was slow, and when Kestrel spoke it was a murmur. The magic was more than she was used to and she didn’t want to get worn out. Not that it mattered, of course, since they could have just walked in the rain — except it was the kind that soaks you to your bones and you feel like you can never get dry again. When we took a break to eat, Ink hopped out of the dry space created by the Fay and into a puddle, to preen his eggplant-glossed feathers. The rain cleared up for a bit after that, and the sun even came out for a while, so we got up and continued, making good progress now that Kestrel didn’t have to focus and stay careful. By late afternoon it was raining again, though. The cloud cover made it get dark early. The same kind of weather followed us for a couple of days.
Ris made two colourful daisy chains, one for Kestrel and one for herself. Weaving was not one of her strong points, but daisy chains are more like sewing, so it was easy for her to craft delight from the beautiful flowers. Her friend — yes, good, she knew the group she formed would be her friends; we would not always be alone! — was almost dancing as she went, long brown hair floating in the wild and joyous wind.
The Glawyn Ranges ran down the west coast, and Eltrin Bay was to the east. Ahead of her, Ris could see the hills that sheltered Kenshalta and the Abbey. It was on the top of the first hill Ris could see, its bell tower maybe one hand off the horizon. Ink leapt into the sky from his favourite perch, Ris’ shoulder, and soured south over the hills. The black shape shrank as he explored further, and after a bit he circled back to us.
“What’s it like?” Kestrel asked.
“Kenshalta and Kenshalty Abbey, pretty little. They a nice place to live. Crow heard strange noise, don’t know what it is.”
“A shepherd calling their sheep?” Ris suggested. Ink shook his head. She didn’t let her magic answer.
Ris dreamt of flying over the mountains, hands spread wide to touch the clouds.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be like a bird?” I asked Argenti as Ris slept. Argenti would be full soon, and the month would be over. The first month, Unexa, would become the second, Farelki.
“I can’t believe how long it’s been already. It feels like we were at Eltrin only a few days ago and we left Volyia maybe a week ago. We left Orsilnon years ago, I feel, aye, yet ’twas only a month ago. Time always travels faster than Stella, and afore you ken it, it has vanished like a wisp. Why, then, does the future appear so far away. TIme hesitates in the moment, yet it rushes along as snowmelt in spring when you look back. Sometimes even something a week ago can feel like it happened a century ago, and you feel like a wyvern-star with a soul so ancient and heavy with your sorrows and distanced joys.” I watched the subtle changes in the sky’s colour as morning crept up, listening to the noises made by creatures well hidden from anything that might want a meal.
Ris spent the day primarily in her head, either noticing everything around her or practising her telepathy with Kestrel. They managed a couple of longer conversations before the connection snapped, too. One of those times, Ris got distracted by her crow magic, so Kestrel got to experience a moment of what that was like as well. Lumen was up and in clear view for once in a while, since it was between new and its first quarter. My counterpart took out her rock and tossed it high, catching it with careless ease after so many afternoons in the forest, exploring, contemplating, trying to stay above the sea of emotions if she’d been particularly shunned that day. She hadn’t been since maybe the beginning of Litu — the twelfth month –, I think, which was good but it didn’t mean she hadn’t gotten pushed aside either. She started humming beneath her breath as we walked, facing the ground despite having no need to watch her feet.
“Look, we are almost there,” Kestrel said, and Ris looked up. Her pack felt heavy after the long day of walking; she was more tired than usual from her use of magic. Kestrel, with her own weariness from telepathy, looked at us, and we started running towards the abbey. Ris’ heartbeat pounded like her footsteps. The kits hooted and cooed as they danced in the air alongside us.
“Strange noise!” squawked Ink, flying with the kits. We could hear it too, but couldn’t quite work out what it was. We slowed as we neared the top of the hill, sky full of colour, lungs full of breath that lifted our shoulders.
Kestrel knocked on the wooden gate and, after a shout from inside and a moment of waiting, it was opened by a woman with kind eyes and a big smile. She welcomed us and introduced herself as Badger. We told her our names as she took us to the main hall and, as we crossed the yard, several children and adults joined us. Badger led us to the end of the hall, where another woman sat in an armchair by the fire.
“Hello Badger, what’s up?”
“We have visitors, Andasi. This is Kestrel, Ris, and her shadow, Promise,” Badger started, then looked at Kestrel.
Ink is the crow, and the three kits are Cobalt, Pear, and Opal,” she finished. Badger nodded.
“A strange group you make. But welcome! Welcome to Kenshalty Abbey. You can stay as long as you like.” Andasi smiled.
A bell tolled, its peal drowning out almost everything else, then the hall was full of others all talking and calling to each other. They went to sit at the long tables that filled much of the space, set with what was clearly dinner. We sat with Badger and, as more people filled the seats, two other teens joined us. Their names were October and Luna-Lupus — although she said everyone called her Lulu. Ris and Kestrel talked to them as they ate, getting to know them. When everyone had finished, Andasi called for quiet and introduced us. Afterwards, Badger took us to spare rooms we could stay in and then, once Ris and Kestrel had sorted themselves out, they went back down.
“What brings you here?” asked a woman named Roselen. She and her good friend, Cassian, had grown up in Kenshalta, she’d said.
“I’m on a quest to save the Cursed and Enchanted. I heard someone here can help me,” Ris answered, not mentioning her magic because, even for all their kindness, she was wary of being put down for it being crow.
“You aren’t the one chosen for this. What has happened?” Roselen lifted her eyebrows.
“The wyvern-stars wouldn’t lie,” Cassian said, looking up from his book.
“I was told through Solinan that the chosen, a Cursed, would come here late one night. You should be careful.” Ris and Kestrel got up.
“Something isn’t right,” Kestrel murmured. Ris didn’t reply, and they sat with October and Lulu on one of the benches.
You listen to me as I say this, and agree with Kestrel. I will not say anything.
“Your kits are so cute,” October said, scritching Pear on the chin. The green beast cooed and purred.
“They’re really beautiful” Lulu was petting Opal. “Aren’t you so beautiful?” She looked straight at Opal’s face.Opal hooted and flew around Lulu’s head, pulling strands of her ginger hair.
“Ow! Stop that!”
“Opal!” The kit sheepishly let go and sat on Kestrel’s shoulder. “Don’t do that, Opal.” She chittered, chagrined, but was forgiven with pats and scritches.
October asked why they’d come, saying it wasn’t often they got any visitors other than for trade. Ris looked around the hall for a second, then back at October and Lulu. What Roselen and Cassian said had left her unsure of telling anyone else about her quest. She told them anyway — what else was there for her to say?
“Oh, nice. Lulu, Badger, and I are good at helping the Cursed and Enchanted. There’s usually at least a few who come and stay for a while. Not that it compares to sorcery-healing. None of us are Seelie Fay. But we can give them a break from the stresses for a while, and it seems to be good enough.”
“Know anything about wyvern-star king?” Ink asked.
“A talking crow? You’re amazing,” Lulu said.
“I thought you were staying outside for the night,” Ris said.
“Crow wanted to talk. Go back later. You talking about quest, girl know anything about wyvern-stars?”he jumped from the table to Ris’ shoulder.
“I know some. You learn a fair bit talking to the Enchanted,” replied Lulu. “You know Tristan from the Night Order?”
“Yeah we’re friends. I might’ve asked him but I just haven’’ seen him in a while.”
“I saw him that night I went exploring at Volyia.”
“Well you didn’t ask him about the wyvern-stars did you, Promise?”
“Of course not.I I shrugged. They were looking for Kyrell again, so it didn’t come up.”
“Oh well,” said October.
“The Enchanted’s wyvern-stars told them about their lives amongst the stars, and some told us what they remember. One thing I remember is the king’s name, which is Lucarih’thën,” Lulu said.
“Loos-ay-rih-thehrn,” Ink hopped back onto the table. “Lucarih’thën, Ink know that. Wyvern-star king, keep Enchanted alive. He protect, he wouldn’t attack, but also, he try to change fates back.”
“So the wyvern-star king is trying to keep the Enchanted alive, that’s common knowledge. They’re benevolent, they wouldn’t try to harm us, most people believe that. He’s trying to save the Cursed and Enchanted… but he’s weak…” Kestrel thought aloud.
“Which is why he’s dying: he’s on the verge of extreme magical burnout. That’s why the queen told me I have to save him, because there’s got to be something about me that means I can help.” Ris’ magic confirmed what she’d just concluded. “I don’t know what it could be though.” She stifled a yawn.
“That’s ok, you’ll figure it out.” October smiled.
“I am getting tired. Do you want to go to bed?” Kestrel asked. They all said yes, and bade each other goodnight.
Ris lay awake thinking about what Roselen had said. The abbey was blanketed in a quiet tiredness — hang on, no it wasn’t. Bells were ringing, quite loudly.
“Why are the bells ringing so late at night?” mumbled Ris.
“I can go check,” I whispered back.
“Yeah.” I headed down the corridor and found the ringing to be louder in the hall. Badger was drinking tea by the dying fire. She was the only one still up, it seemed.“What’s wrong, Promise?” She turned to face me as I padded towards her in the dim firelight.
“Why are the bells ringing?”
“They’re not bells. There’s three giant pendulums that sound like bells, and they ring all day and night. They’ve always been here as far as I know, but they only started swinging in the afternoon of the last day of Litu.”
“Strange. That’s when Ris and I left Orsilnon.”
“That is weird.” I looked up towards the beams and trusses, and saw the pendulums. They swung to and fro, in and out of sync, chiming some unknown song that told of danger and battle. Something about it was eerie. When I went back up to Ris’ room, she was asleep. I curled up on the window sill and listened to the moon and pendulums as I pondered the things we’d talked about over the course of the day. I wondered who would come with us when we left, and how many days until we would.
I told Ris about the pendulums when she woke up. She looked up at them as she joined October at the table, and felt the Solinan words written in her soul calling her. They startled her, and she looked back down, sitting with her new friend.
“They’re strange, aren’t they?” October asked.
“Yeah. How are you?”
“I’m alright. You?”
“The pendulums frighten me a bit but I’m ok. Where’s Badger and Lulu?”
“Not awake yet. Badger doesn’t usually come down until breakfast is being packed up.”
“Do you know why the pendulums and there and why they started ringing? Badger said last night that they started on the afternoon of the thirtieth of Litu, which is when we left Orsilnon.”
“Well, it’s always been said that they’d start ringing when someone went to save a life whose existence was so much bigger than their own. It’s written in our records, from around 1192 AE. You said you’re on a quest to save the Cursed and Enchanted, right?” October said, and Ris nodded. “The prophecy also says ‘bells will ring and magic sing when the mirrors arise.’ So that works too.”
We went looking for Kestrel, who was sitting on the bell tower with a little boy.
“That’s Fraidun, that one’s Shanomar, and the really big mountain is called Millyah Peak,” he said, pointing enthusiastically. “Have you ever been to the mountains, Kettle?”
No, I haven’t. I’ve stayed quite a while in Volyia, though — the ruins west of Eltrin.”
“Nice. My mum and dad took me to the mountains once. We went up Shanomar, it was really fun.”
Kestrel decided she wanted to visit the record keeper, so she and Ris found Ink and went to the gatehous which was behind the kitchens. There, they found two men, both tall and very friendly, that Ris had seen at mealtimes and around the abbey. Kian was the record keeper, and he had a long beard that could probably hide about three books. His friend was Zathrian, whose head lacked hair and whose skin was tanned after decades of working outside. Ris asked if they could help her and Kestrel find stuff about the wyvern-stars. Kian pulled out several stacks of books from the shelves that lined the sunlit room, and we spent the day pouring through them. If any of us got stuck, Kian told us a date to look for, many of which were from around the middle of the GlassShatter Age. Zathrian told the most amazing stories in the spaces between discoveries. We bookmarked the most puseful pages and put the books in teetering piles as we went. Even so, there were books left open all across the floor around where we were sprawled. Around midday, Badger and one of the cooks brought us lunch, and Badger stayed to help. She liked, and had a knack for, history. Eventually the sunlight outside began to get cooler and more golden, until it started vanishing. We’d found a lot of useful information, and written the most important pieces on a couple of sheets of paper to keep.
A lot of the things we’d found were names and things the wyvern-stars had told their Enchanted about their lives. Not a lot of it was relevant, although much of it was interesting. One of the things they found out was that Lucarih’thën had no heir, and the only one who could take a ruler’s place was their legitimate child. There had been several similar instances, the most famous being when Queen Cahntöath’e kept King Tohruntaheng alive for a hundred years without anyone else’s help, until their daughter, Đoläröniron was old enough to rule. Queen Cahntöath’e even lived for fifty years more after the king died. That must have been what the current queen was doing, keeping her husband alive by giving him strength.
The first full moon of the year had set. The sky was blanketed with patches of wool rolled into lumps or string out agross the blue. Kian lent Ris a book to read, and she found a nice spot inder an apple tree in the yard near the gardens. Kestrel got caught up in a group of children, and Ink was sitting in one of the branches above Ris’ head. The story was one of twisted and imaginary creatures in times gone by. I wondered what our tale would be of, but mostly I sat dormant beneath the tree.
After lunch, Ris and Luly worked on the garden with some of the others. Kestrel came over too, putting her magic to use. It was nice to do something, just to let her mind process the world while her hands worked ard. Lulu was a quiet girl, yet there was something about her that was full of shadows and a bright fire, something about her was secret and dark. But she was nice, and han’t rejected Ris for her own oddness. She’d seen her wrist, marked with the three indigo dots. Very quickly, a thought came to mind and was immediately answered in two ways.
“When you continue on, I want to come with you.” Lulu said.
“Ok.” Ris smiled, and they kept working. One more to find, very likely on the way to the Tenthtide Shores.
Ris, Kestrel, and Lulu took their harvest into the kitchens. Zathrian was helping out, and he came with them to grab the last armfuls.
“That’s a lot of vegetables.” Zathrian said.
“What are we going to do with it all?” asked the cook, opening the door for them.
“Eat it,” squawked Ink, who sat on one of the tables.
“I could make a pie,” suggested Ris.
“I’ll make a salad,” Kestrel said.
“Alright. Hey, Zathrian, have you got anything to do at the moment? I’m a bit low on workers today, and I’ve got washing up that needs doing.” They got started on their tasks — Lulu and the cook made the pastry for Ris’ pie, .
“Ris, when are you planning to keep going?” Kestrel asked.
“Two more days, maybe tree. It’s nice here, but I want to keep moving.”
She could feel the wyvern-stars calling to her, almost singing. The claritity of the Solinan words made it feel like they were hunting her. The pendulums, with their constant tolling and resounding notes, still made her uneasy with their strange song of danger anfd battles. Nonetheless, it was a pretty song.
After dinner, Ris, krestrel, Lulu, October, and Bader sat by the fire. Ink sat on the back of Ris’ chaor, and Lulu was petting Cobalt. October had her cat, Louis, purring on her lap. Kestrel gave Opal scritches, and Badger was holding Pear. They talked about their childhoods, mostly asking Ris about Orsilnon and Kestrel about Tasyënlor. Ris told them about Saryar, Rumour, and Fox, and how tier shadows would act out stories for them. Ris missed themt friends could be family too. She was looking forwards to her adventures, and to continuing on again, but for now the rest was nice. Ink told them a few stories too, intil eventually they drifted away to their beds, yawning as they went.
I decided to go exploring around Kenshalta. There was a tree near the wall on the outside, so I climbed down drom the battlements. Argenti lit my way, and a gentle breeze gave a sense of life to shadows I hid in as I went. The sky was almost entirely clear, and the few clouds were thin and wispy. Other creatures were awake, some leaving trails in the grass, some calling to each other, some silently watching me as I danced into the village. It was smaller than Orsilnon. There were a few windows with candlelight still, but not many. I walked past a chicken coop and under a swaying sign for a dyer’s shop. The next turn I took led me past a sheep pen and into open fields. I followed the breeze and my nose out beneath the sky, and stood still in the cool night with grass up to my ankles and an ant trail near my feet. The sound of the pendulums could be heard even out here. They were faint though, and much more beautiful now that they weren’t the loudest sound in my ears. My natural link with Ris let me hear the Solinan words too, although they weren’t any less eerie out here where the pendulums were quieter.
I stood like stone for hours, hands empty and fingers outstretched, shadow-black eyes watching the parths of the stars, mind empty but muddled with thoughts. The grass rippled and bent. The moon- and starlight made the night’s darkness blue and gentle. I watched the night go on, eyes unseeing but soul alive and full. I felt the wind blow on, tasted its sweetness and the sense of summer it brought. I listened to the grass rustling and nocturnal predators prowling.
The sky started getting lighter. It was almost daybreak when I moved again, shaking myself and going back to Kenshalty. Wind chimes jingled and spun in the whispering breeze. I saw an older woman walking towards me — I did’t know her name but I’d seen her at the abbey a couple of times.
“Good morrow,” she said. “You’re Promise, Ris’ shadow, right? What are you doing out here so early?”
“Good morning. I was exploring. What about you, though. Stella isn’t quite up yet.” Well, not that standing stool in a field for a night counts as exploring.
“Oh, just a habit,” the woman smiled. “I don’t think we’ve talked before. I’m Eirian, the local wizard.”
“Air elements, and a bit of shapeshifting. That takes a fair bit of work though; I’m only good at turning into an owl yet. I haven’t quite got the hang of my other forms yet.”
“Thank you. Well, I’d better get going, and you should get back to the abbey before breakfast otherwise you’ll miss it.” I smiled and headed on, and she walked further into Kenshalta. She’d forgotten shadows don’t eat, but it didn’t matter since mealtimes are great for talking to friends.
“What did you explore?” asked Ris when I sat beside her.
“A bit of the village, and then I stood in the meadows until morning. I met Eirian on the way back, too — she’s the local wizard.” Kestrel asked bout Eirian, and October said she was new. The previous wizard had moved at the start of the year, and Eirian was the most experienced magic user in Kenshalta — which didn’t say a lot. But Lulu said she’d been practising every day, and was improving quickly.
Ris spent most of her morning outside, reading her book aloud to Ink. Every now and then he’d repeat a word and try to figure it out.
“Ehk-stror-dih-nar-ree. Ehk-strah or-dih-nar-ree. Why is out of ordinary if it’s especially ordinary?”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense, does it?” Ink shook his head and hopped into Ris’ shoulder, lookin intently at the pae. The letters didn’t make much sense to him, so he couldn’t read. Ris traces the [pae as she read so Ink could follow. He’s a smart bird, so he could slowly figure out the symbol for each sound if he wanted to. Very slowly, with time and effort, he might learn, but there wound’t be many chances on our quest. He had other skills and talents though.
Kestrel came up to us with her arms covered in vines and flowers.
“Wht did you do?” Ris laughed.
“Looks cool,” croaked Ink.
“I made it grow like an arm guard.”
“Because I could!” Kestrel beamed.
“Oh, hey, that’s cool,” Lulu dsaid, joining us.
“Hey Lulu.” Ink ruffled his feathers. Lulu had come to tell us that she’d told Andasi she was coming with us. Ris decided she wanted to leave tomorrow.
There was a good dinner, halfway to being a feast and, afterwards, we talked to Badger and October. We exchanged stories, and Badger told us useful information. She’d heart bits and pieces of news from other lands. Something was going on with the merfolk and sand-singers so we should be careful because it was likely we would get involved. There was a strange tree in Tezynarro that might be relevant to us, and there were a lot of shadows there. Someone from Etrunbor had found out the quest was beginning and we should find them to see what they knew. We discussed our plans, deciding to head to the TenthTide Shores, then Etrunbor, Anshymys, Tezynarro, and then back to Rithesanlyr.
Ris woke up and moved to the windowsill to read, and I wandered around the abbey. When she finished she returned it to Kian and, on her way back, Roselen stopped her, crossing her hands left over right.
“By Anduste, give her a forgiving heart,” murmured Ris.
“I don’t know what you’re doing or why, but you aren’t the one who was chosen for this quest. I warn you to be careful, Ris,” she scowled. “Worthless crow user.”
“What did you call me?!”
“I didn’t say anything.” Roselen feined innocence.
“Bells will ring and magic sing when the mirrors arise. Dark shadows will follow the chosen to battle. There is one who must save the Cursed and Enchanted fro the moons’ two thousandth rising since the end of the GlassShatter Age. Shadows will haunt and mirrors call to the wyvern-stars, for curses must be undone. So far, I have heard bells ringing nd magic singing, and both things started when I left my home. This is my quest. And I’m not just some ‘worthless crow user’, it is a beautiful power!” Ris lared at Roselen and returned to her room with harsh footsteps.
Ris packed her things and went to help Lulu. The cook gave them provisions and everyone from the abbey gave them their best wishes.
“By Lyly, give you persistence in your quest. By Jornin, give you light when all seems dark, wisdom to chose the right path, and luck in everything. Stay safe in your journeying, and return to us when it is complete,” Andasi said.
“We will,” Kestrel promised. “May we merrily meet again soon.” We said goodbye to October, Badger, Kian, and Zathrian, and the little children called out their goodbyes to ‘Kettle’.
We made our way down the hill and away from Kenshalty and Kenshalta, making good progress in the half-day we had. When nightfall came we ate and talked for a while. Sleep didn’t come easily to Ris, whose head was full of what Roselen had said. I stayed up to guard as usual, and wondered what had happened to Lulu’s shadow since it was missing. It rained lightly a couple of hours before dawn, and I made a make-shift cover to keep them dry.
I asked Lulu where her shadow was over breakfast, and she said she’d lost it.
“Who do you think Kyrell’s companion was?” Ris asked.
“I don’t think anyone knows,” said Kestrel.
“Crow want to know what like to have a shadow, like you.”
“Depends on the shadow, and if you get on well. Sometimes, they’re like a sibling and a turtledove. If they’re dormant or rogue, it’s like you don’t have one,” I said.
“Or if you’re Cursed, it’s kind of terrifying. Rumour is nice, but the rest of Saryars are a plain nuisance.”
“Oh. Is the glass in her eye or her heart?” asked Lulu.
“In her eye.”
“If we ever meet, I know somethin that can make the shadows leave her alone for a bit and just make it easier.”
“Well, it’ll be a while ’til then.”
“Bird sees sea. Sparkly like sky, blue and glistening.” Ink landed on Ris’ shoulder. If we could fly like Ink, we’d be able to see it on the horizon too, maybe half a day away. Ris tossed her rock as she walked, remembering the stories she used to make up about where it had come from. She carried it, her hand warming it, feeling her pulse through her veins where her palm touched the rock. It was steady like the ocean.
“How did you all meet? Lulu said.
“Ris came to Volyia, where I lived, and she stayed with me for two nights. I decided to join her, since I had been beginning to think of leaving there anyway, Kestrel said.
“Ink saw Ris, Kestrel, kits, and Pronise travelling. Ink thought they bizarre, Fay and girl, strange pairing. Said they quest, Ink can help, know words wyvern-stars speak, Ris could speak nagic. Need find Enchanted to teach again, crow don’t recall which words. Crow joined.” He spotted something tasty and hopped down to eat it.
“That’s pretty cool,” Lulu replied. “So you’re Fay? How long have you lived here for?” Kestrel explained how she’d come to Volyia, and asked if Lulu had always lived at Kenshalty Abbey.
“Almost always. I lived in Kenshalta before I moved. What’s it like at Volyia, isn’t that the old ruined city?”
It’s lonely. The streets are empty except for rubble and wildflowers. Everything is grey, or green with moss and ivy. THe castle there is empty, but it once had a stained-glass window. Promise and I went exploring, and we saw all the glass shattered into a thousand smithereens on the floor that sent the light dancing and spinning away to the roof of the hall. It was beautiful.”
“I dreamt I flew across the Whispering Deep and landed on a far-eastern shore where everything glowed with morning light,” Ris said as she rolled up her blanket.
“I dreamt my hands turned black like they were covered in charcoal. It started at my fingertips and spread up my arms, and there was nothing I could do,” said Kestrel.
“That’s a strange dream.”
“Not if you’re scared to end up as an Unseelie somehow — hands with black markings as if they’ve been handling charcoal is one of the things that set them apart.” Her hair fluttered in the wind that whistled as it blew. Ink turned and wheeled in the sky, and the kits danced with him. Opal trilled and cooed, landing on Kestrel’s shoulder, who reached up to pet the silver kit’s shimmering scales.
Ris and Kestrel practised their telepathy for most of the day, getting better at holding a conversation, taking less time to find each other when they reached out. It would have been so good if someone would just teach Ris, but we knew what Rithesanlic wizards were like. They were growing stronger as it was, but a teacher could have helped Ris master it by the end of spring.
Lulu cried out and stumbled, and Ink let out a surprised squawk.
“You ok?” asked Ris, turning around
“Yeah, but I think I sprained my ankle.”
“Here, let me see.” Kestrel took off her pack and got out her bandages. Lulu took her boot off to let Kestrel examine her ankle before strapping it.
“A favour for a favour. But it is fine.” The Seelie helped her up.
“How did you get so good at that?”
“I can be pretty clumsy at times.”
“Yep. Remember the time you burnt your hand when you picked up my dagger because you assumed it was silver not iron?” Kestrel laughed and rolled her eyes.
“I can’t tell the difference. It’s made me good at treating burns though.”
“You’d hope so!” Ink cackled.
“You know, it’s weird being away from the swinging pendulums. I’d mostly gotten used to them, since they’ve been ringing since the year began.”
“It feels like ages since we left Orsilnon,” I said, looking up at Lulu. Past her, I saw Kestrel snap fire into her palm again — she was practising her fire magic today, and Ris was walking with her perception.
“Maybe it has been. Who are we to tell?”
“Lumen and Argenti keep track of the months.”
“True. Time is strangle; fleeting when you look upon the past, but loomming when you look upon the future. Yet you feel the eternity of it.
“Do you know ‘The Ancient Call’?”
“I love that song!” Lulu smiled, took a deep breath, and began.
“Over time, over age,/ over song, over cry/ over price, over wage,/ over myth, over lie,/ over ice, over snow,/ worn away, withered away,/ cruel fate will rule.” She sang without seeming to take a breath at all. “Between now and then,/ between here and there,/ between earth and air,/ between you and I,/ between star and moon,/ afore we stay, afore we stray,/ soft dusk is never soon./ In the dawn, in the light,/ in the song, in the tune,/ in the running, in the flight,/ in the word, in the rune,,/ in the war, in the fight,/ we cannot stop, time cannot stop,/ the ancient call keeps you.” She started again, and I joined after the first verse and Kestrel joined after the second, singing in rounds.
“I know this in Faerin too,” Kestrel said after a couple of rounds, and sang it through in her language before we stopped for lunch.
Ris let her crow magic guide her for most of the afternoon. She noticed how the kits’ scales fitted together like perfect tiles, how Ink’s pinions spread out like fingers as he soared, how Kestrel could make fire dance in her hands as if it were alive, how Lulu had nails slightly sharper than they should have been — like a wolf’s . She marvelled at how beautiful the world was. Ris looked up at Argenti, who was a thin crescent, almost empty. Lumen would be up soon, almost full — he was further away and had a longer orbit than his sister. Ris remembered all the times Rumour an I had acted out the story of the moons and sun. Her magic said ‘look at the sky again!’, and it was as strikingly beautiful as always.
“Hello Cobalt,” Lulu murmured as the kit landed on her shoulder. “You’re very pretty, aren’t you?” She scritched him on the chin as he cooed.
“Kit shiny,” cawed Ink.
“He is, isn’t he,” said Kestrel.
“I’d have called him Lapis. I like the purple sheen he’s got.” Cobalt leapt into the air, but Lulu caught him and held him beneath his forearms like a cat. She looked at him for a couple of seconds, disappointed, before letting him go.
I went exploring, heading to the sea. It wasn’t that far away and, by the time I’d come over the rise and down the dunes, Lumen was up about two hands from the horizon.
“The moonwake is pretty, aye, silver light on the depths of the Eltrin Bay, a reflection of the universe,” I said softly, turning my face from the sea to the sky. “I wonder what the wyvern-stars look like. Imagine, if I went to live amongst the stars and the wyvern-stars, and what would it be like? Alas, I canot find out.” I sighed, and meandered into the shallows, digging my feet into the sand.
“Sometimes shadows are described as insubstantial. Like the umbra of our companions are hollow, and we are the outline. A solid outline, if that is true, for we are translucent, but ’tis nay the same. If it were, Ris’ hand would fall through me, and I could walk through walls. I am happy as I am; a half-solid, if nothing else, existence is fine.” I shrugged to myself, looking out across the rippling waters. There was some kind of boat sitting a fair way out, maybe a small rowboat, with a dark figure sitting in it.
“It might be a rogue. Technically, I’m a rogue since I’m not attached right now, but it’s usually used for those shadows who have run away without intent to return… Is that Kyrell?” The boat had come closer as I spoke, and I watched for a moment longer. “Yes. Here comes brontide.”
I crouched down to wait until he landed, unsure what sort of mood he was in. The boat hit against the sand, and he pulled it up onto the beach.
“Hey Promise. What are you doing here?” Kyrell saw me as he turned, greeting me.
“That depends on what you’re doing here.” I greeted him in return.
“I’m looking for you and Ris. Saryar said you’d left and I mght be able to find you around Eltrin. She’s worked something out and she thinks you’ll be safest at Orsilnon. Why’d you leave anyway?
“Questing. We didn’t tell her because the wyvern-stars said not to.” I looked over the rise in the direction of the others. “Did the Night Order find you? I saw them at Volyia, they daid you’d murdered some people in Eltrin and that King Bhaltair wanted them to remind you of the consequences.”
“Oh yeah, they caught up with me at Orsilnon and told me I was in trouble. Didn’t do much about it though.”
“Of course not. Why did you kill those people though?”
“They got in the way,” he answered, as vague as usual about this topic. “They hurt some of my friends.” That I could understand, and seemed most reasonable — for Kyrell. He was never really a reasonable person, although he liked for people to think he was.
“How are you going?” he asked.
“I’m ok, how about you?”
“You know me don’t you? I’m never ‘ok’.” He glanced away for a moment before looking back again. “People are just infuriating.”
“Yeah, they can be. How’s Saryar?”
“She’s confused — you guys left after the celebrations for those who were leaving. She doesn’t understand why you didn’t just be honest and participate in the celebrations.Last I saw her, she was… training for something. She’s been spending every spare moment with the wizard Tristan, and when she’s not doing that she’s either trying to talk to her shadows or fight them. The only reason I went to Orsilnon is because something happened after the first time she did that, and somehow I knew so I went to find out what was happening.”
“It’s probably cause she’d the chosen one, although how she’s meant to help if she herself is a Cursed, I don’t know.”
“Lyly knows.” Kyrell shrugged, turning back to the rowboat. “Well, I’m going back then, since I’ve found you. Tell Ris that Saryar wants you both safely in Orsilnon. Will you go back?”
“No, we wouldn’t be able to complete our quest from there.”
“Stay safe then, wherever you go. See you.” I said the same to him as he pushed himself out, and I watched the horizon until long after he was out of sight.
The first thing we did the morning after arriving in Eltrin was head to the shore and see if there were any ships going towards the TenthTide Shores we could travel with. We asked every ship but one, whose crew appeared motley, and whose reputation was one of suspicion. SOme of the other captains we’d spoken to thought they might be pirates. We decided to ask them anyway, since no-one else was going, but to be wary.
“Good morrow. I’m Captain Nebula of the Vagabond. What can I do for you?” asked the captain, who stood beside the gangplank while a couple of people loaded some barrels onto the boat.
“Hi, we’re wondering if you could transport us to the TenthTide Shores,” Ris said
“That’s a strange place to be going. Why there?” Captain Nebula asked.
“I’m on a quest to save the CUrsed and Enchanted, and we think the seafolk can help us.”
“The quest?! I will take you, and we can even leave with tomorrow morning’s tide if you like. My price for you and your friends is ten guilns.”
“I’m really sorry, we don’t have that much. We have a total of two guilns, a Silr, and twenty-one copiks. Kestrel and I can cook though,” Ris said, crestfalles but hoping they could work instead.
“I can help with other things too, like climbing,” Lulu added.
“I’ll take the guilns then, and you’ll have to help out to make it fair.” The captain agreed to the offer, and Ris took the comi pieces from Kestrel’s pack.
“Wait, you’re a crow magic user? Don’t worry, I’m Etrunborian.”
“Will the winds be at our back to speed us along, and will the Cursed and Enchanted be saved?” Rishesitated, letting her magic answer.
“The winds will favour us, and the Cursed and Enchanted will be saved,” she answered.
“Good. Thank you. Come here tomorrow three hours past dawn, and we’ll leave with the tide.”
“Thanks. See you then,” Kestrel said.
We went back to our camp for an early lunch, and Kestrel and Ris went to the wizard guild for the afternoon. I went exploring and foraging with Ink for company, while Lulu stayed with the kits. I could tell from Ris’ thoughts that she was enjoying the telepathy lesson, and the person at the front desk was a kinder person who ignored the indigo dots on her wrist. I was busy pulling up a couple of wild leeks when Ink squawked excitedly.
“Crow found piece of tiny shiny thing! Look!” I fell over with the effort of pulling up the last leek, and bundled them up so I could look at hat he’d found. He had a shard of obsidian in his beak, a long, dark piece that reflected the sunlight.
“That’s really pretty,” I said as he put it down
“Like Ink,” he said, puffing up his feathers.
We took our vegetables that we’d found or that Kestrel had grown with us to the Vagabond. We were welcomed aboard the boat and, after putting the vegetables in the galley, picked hammocks out of the unclaimed ones.Captain Nebula took charge immediately once they cast off, and there was a fair amount of work to be done so they could get out of the harbour and into the strongest part of the current. Ris was fairly steady on her feet, having gone out on the fishing boats with her dad numerous times when she was younger. Kestrel was uneasy but not seasick, but although Lulu had good balance she wasn’t feeling great. Nevertheless, we were allowed the first day to get used to the gentle movement. Ink and kits liked to perch atop the masts when they weren’t hanging around us on the deck.
We stood at the side of the deck, leaning over the railing to watch the water sail by underneath us. Out of the corner of ther eye, Ris saw movement. A girl was nestled between a couple of barrels, her brown-black hair covering half her face, about a year younger than Ris.
“Hey, I’m Kestrel. This is Ris, Promise, and Lulu,” Kestrel said.
I’m called Leyin,” she signed, fingers much slower than Tristan’s, as if she didn’t know sign well. “Are you new crew, or passengers?”
“Pasengers. Captain Nebula is taking us to the TenthTide Shores. We’re on a quest to save the Cursed and Enchanted.”
“I’m an Enchanted!” Leyin said.
“Oh, you found Leyin.” Nebula came up behind us. “I’d have told you about our new passengers last night, but I couldn’t find you. Did you sleep at all?” Leyin tilted her head from side to side, and Nebula sighed.
“Come on, you know you need to sleep. What were you doing then?” Leyin shrugged, lifting her hands to show drawings of flowers, fish, and planets scattered over her skin.
“That’s really pretty,” Lulu said.
“Thanks,” said Leyin, before turning to Nebula and signing something rapidly in way Ris couldn’t understand. The captain signed something back, before being called away by a member of the crew.
Captain Nebula started teaching Ris, Kestrel, and Lulu something called Seasign over dinner. Leyin was far better at that than the normal sign language, and it was one of the languages the seafolk used. It only needed one hand, and sometimes different meanings could be implied with facial expressions. Nebula taught them the alphabet first, and made sure they were certain of the hand shapes before they were allowed to leave the table. Ris noticed several crewmembers holding a conversation with one hand and eating dinner with the other. THey were experiences with it, their hands fluttering like the sails did.
Ris and I helped with breakfast — Kestrel ended up being unable to help out in the galley because most of the utensils were iron. SHe and Lulu were going to help the crew, since theyd been a couple short of what Nebula liked to have anyway. When Ris wasn’t in the galley she was either on her hammock or by the railing, mostly just thinking. I spent a fair bit of our spare time attached. Ris liked the creaking, the sharp flapping of the sails, the gentle burbling of both human and the ocean’s voices, bird calls, and the kits’ hootings. The breeze spelt of spring, fresh and clear, and salty. It smelt a bit like home too — stop, was it really home after the loneliness and rejection Ris glanced at ther wrist then out into black space, before turning and sliding to the floor. If a home is a safe place to go when all the world was dark, then Orsilnon was not home. Saryar and Rumour were there, though, and we’d had many good times with them. The idea of a home was a complex one.
Leyin came over and asked Ris if she was ok. She shrugged, and the Enchanted held out her arms as if asking for a hug. Ris nodded, finding it hard to remember the last time sh’d had a hug. Ris’ magic told her Leyin understood, although neither said anything. They went back to the galley, still stuck in their own minds and realities. Leyin was sweet and kind, and had such a beautiful soul despite the darkness she obviously carried. And, I thought, how dispriting and miserable it would be to live in a fifteen-year-old body for over two hundred years when she already carried so many ancient burdens of her own I couldn’t guess at. Yet, she had a fierceness and a ruthlessness one would not expect from such a quiet person. SHe was dangerous but most people would never ealise that if they only saw her surface, I thought. I could see a similar gentleness in Kyrell despite his violent and viscous toughness, and I was probably the only one in all of Alehntehcith who could see it. They were opposites like that, but very similar, and I wondered if they’d ever met.
We went over the alphabet in Seasign and started learning words. Every night, Nebula taught us some more, and after a couple of days we were able to have slow conversations. This made Leyin happy, and most of our spare time was spent talking to her — if we could find her.
“Hey, Ink,” Ris said as the bird landed on her shoulder. Opal and Pear sat on Kestrels’s shoulders, and Cobalt on Lulu.
“Ink?” Leyin asked, eyes wide. He tilted his head, peering at her with one black eye.
“Leyin!” he croaked, incredulous. “Crow know you!”
“Yes. You were a fledgling, and I told you about my wyvern-star.”
“You taught Ink to speak, nagic words too.” Leyin nodded. “Bird don’t recognise which words any longer. Can teach again? Ris needs for quest.”
“I can just teach them to both of you at the same time.” Ink squawked and bobbed his head. “You need to learn more seasign first though. I’m not telling you the wyvern-star words like this.” Leyin turned to face Ris.
“You could just write the words down,” she replied, but Leyin shook her head.
“I can’t spell. Seasign uses the sounds of words and imagery instead, so it’s much easier for me.”
The Vagabond passed between the two heads that surrounded Eltrin Bay. If we could walk over the water or fly it would probably take a day to reach either side. We were making good progress, both in travelling and in learning Seasign so we could communicate better with Leyin.
“In a sea to the far north where the waters freeze come winter, there lived a selkie fair. She had a coat of finest dappled silver, and the blackest eyes and hair. Beneath the moons she rested upon the dusty sands, and beneath the surface she swam amongst seaweed strands. The selkie’s voice was like waves, like storms, like gales. The selkie’s shell-flute was like aubades, like serein, like apricity.” Nebula signed tales as we ate.
“The first thing you need to know about the merfolk is to never ask their name because otherwise they’ll see you as a threat for having asked their soul name. Ask how to call them, or how to ask of them, and they’ll tell you their given name,” said Sahe-kel, one of the crewmembers. Ris knew a bit about the merfolk but none of their culture and, when she asked if they’d need to learn the language, the captain said Sahe-kel was the best speaker on board. She certainly was very familiar with Saaen, fingers quick when she signed in any language.
“In Saaen, to ask someone’s name, you say ‘Uhlt dorth’ liinar spaacnit fer zy’ao?’” Sahe-kel signed it as she spoke, and Ris and Lulu tried to sign it back. Lulu had been quiet lately, something she sometimes did, but she enjoyed signing so there hadn’t been a lack of words from her.
“Merfolk live in pods, each with a king and queen. Every year, the pods meet at the TenthTide Shores so the High Counsel can meet. This year, there’s a Great Tide, so there will be celebrations and festivities. The sand-singers will also be there — most of them usually are, though, but especially because of the Great Tide.”
“The merfolk and sand-singers are enemies, aren’t they?” Ris asked.
“Yes, relationships between them are uneasy and tense at best. It’s been a few years since the last big battle I think though, so hopefully nothing comes up.”
Sahe-kel explained that the seafolk often fought over territory, rights to the TenthTide Shores, whether or not they should settle their differences and live in peace, and such similar things. Most of the territory disputes were easily settled, since they’d decided long ago which regions belonged to which people, so the intruders would get punished because they should have known better. Some regions are unclaimed through, so clashes over them are harder to deal with. The clashes aren’t too bad these days,but there had been some big wars. It’s been said the great rage of the merfolk and sand-singers combined is enough to bring a fierce storm upon the oceans. Although a semblance of peace didn’t sound encouraging, it was far better than all-out war.
“What do you think the seafolk will think of us?” Ris said.
“We’re friends with them. They might think you’re strange for coming to them for help with your quest,” she answered.
“Why do you need their help?” asked Leyin, coming over.
“Almost all of them are telepathic, and we’ll need really strong telepathics to help the Enchanted talk to their wyvern-star and have their fates restored.”
“You care,” said Leyin, and Ris nodded. “So few people truly care about us. ‘You’re wonderful and powerful for saving the wyvern-stars, we respect you. But such a pity you lost literally everything when they left!’ They ignore us.” Her fingers became sharp with sarcastic exaggeration, angry with the truth of how little she had. “I’ve lived for two hundred and sixty-four years. Yet I have been abandoned, forsaken, forgotten; no-one stays by me, I am worthless. The friendship I had with Ëtacihruðuhl is not worth this.” Her face dulled, agony and sorrow clouding eyes hidden behind her hair.
“Leyin, we are your friends. You’re not worthless, and you’re not alone,” Sahe-kel reminded her, and she sighed.
“I want to help you, Ris. I’ll come with you.” Leyin looked at Ris with a faint smile. She grinned, a brief sense of calmness and completion overwhelming her for a heartbeat. She had all those who could help her, now.
Ris went to get Kestrel and Ink. Leyin told Ink she was joining us, and he hopped closer to her with one eye fixed on her with an amazed curiosity. Lulu glanced at Kestrel, and the Fay turned to face RIs and me. Our friends, our fellow questers, our teammates. The words in Ris’ soul sang, and she breathed calmly and deeply as she and the others faced the waters.
Ink sat on Leyin’s shoulder while she and Ris helped in the galley. Kestrel helped the sailors with the sails, and Lulu was napping since she’d done something to her anke — again — and Captain Nebula was giving it a chance to rest. Lulu had insisted it was fine, But Nebula was the captain and gave her an order.
“Was so long ago crow talked to you. After ship went, Ink alone. Ink chattered, spoke to self, wished had gone with. Had no group, just wander. Why all of us not good yesterdays or yesteryears? For Ink it’s fine, crow used to it, but people need people. Bird found food, slept, chattered. Do you miss Ëtacihruðuhl?” Leyin nodded, and Ink jabbered on. “Ink wish could befriend wyvern-stars, know one or few, they different and peculiar.”
“Maybe you can, once the quest is completed,” Leyin replied before going back to chopping vegetables. Ris scraped out a bowl with a spatula.
“What is that? Spatula, think is called. ‘Spatula’ sounds like ‘spectacular’. Spah-tyoo-lah, spehk-tahk-yoo-lar.”
We’d passed the very tip of the TenthTide Shores, a long, thin shoal with nothing growing on it, surrounded by the seafoam-and-sky-blue ocean. White waves danced gently up and down the sands. We hadn’t come close enough, but Nebula let us look through her telescope. Ink opted not to fly out to it, instead peering through the telescope and cawing ‘aha!’ every time he got the chance. We saw some seafolk during the day, small groups of either merfolk or sand-singers — always apart, never mingling. Nebula said there’d be more the closer we got to Carnar, their city.
Nebula brought a wooden case from her cabin after dinner was tidied away. She took out a fiddle and began playing a lively song on the deck, dancing, her cherry-red hair getting tossed about in the salty breeze, risibility shiny on her face. Leyin tapped Ris’ shoulder and told her it was a sand-singer tune, usually sung not played. Ris signed back that Nebula was amazing at playing. She played it once, then once again with Sahe-kel and the others singing it as well.
The music pulled Ris’ mind away from her world of quests to one of indigo light and silver specks glowing softly in the deep. She closed her eyes and felt the Vagabond rocking gently in the swells, felt the night air on her face, the touch of the ocean on her skin, the pound of waves falling into foamy sand. She heard whispers, the song of the moons. She saw silver, indigo, soft pink, black, pearl, azure, sapphire, amethust. Violet, teal, periwinkle. All of it flashed between focus, dancing between reality and imagination like a dream, as Ris’ heart copied the rhythm of the song, and when it ended the world seemed wrong for beong how she had always known it. Sometimes things are like that; they pull you so dar from what is and everthuing feels deeply strange when you return or realise you’re not where you thought you were. SOmetimes you even realise you’re not who you thought you were.
It was a really nice night, too, so we slept on the deck. Pear curld up on Ris’ stomach, and she ran her fingers along the kits scales as she stared out into the sky. The song remained as a whisper in her mind ans she fell asleep. I watched the sky turn west, watched Argenti set and Lumen rise, watched Stella return with the morning. Ris woke and watched the last stars fade with the night with me, and we made breakfast.
We sailed until the afternoon, progressing quicker now we were out of the juxtaposing current.
“This is as far as I can take you,” Captain Nebula said. “I can lend you a rowboat though, so you can get to Carnar. We’ll wait for you Leyin, you said you were going with Ris?” The captain asked ehr to give a message to one of the merfolk kings, King Roolauru, and Leyin said she would. Once we’d organised ourselves and the boat, we said goodbye for the time being and set towards the closest island. I did a lot of rowing, since shadows don’t tire as easily, and Ris and Kestrel helped. When nightfall came, we stopped and I kept watch.
We went along the shore, as close as we could without getting stuck. The island would take maybe a day to cross on foot. It had mangroves for cover, deep roots reaching down just under the surface, and we saw some seafolk in the deepest parts between the trees. Once, we saw a sand-singer, with her long ears and braided hair, who’d pulled herself up onto a thick root and started singing in Bidy’argn’. She looked at us and paused a moment, looking as if about to say something but then deciding against it. We continued.
Around midday, we stopped to eat and walk in he shallows for a little bit. Stella drew near to the horizon, and we found a nice sandy patch we could sleep on, and pulled up the rowboat for the night. Ris told Kestrel, Lulu, Ink, and Leyin how she got away from Orsilnon and ran through most of the night on the shore. She wondered how her twin was and wondered what she was doing, remembering the news Kyrell had brought. The next two nights were spent on open water.
When we woke, we were surrounded by seafolk.
“Are you from the Vagabond?” a merwoman asked.
“W came as far as we could on her. Only one of us is a crewmemer though,” said Kestrel.
“Are you here for trade?”
“Captain Nebula’s open to trade, but we’re on a quest,” said Leyin. There was a ripple of excitement
We need your help, you telepathics, can link Enchanted to their wyvern-stars,” Ink said, perched on the side of the boat, which was a rather precarious position.
“You’ll need to talk to the Merfolks High Counsel or our emperor,” said a sang-singer.
“Our kings are more friendly than your Emperor Marleeuhn, and nicer too,” a different merwoman retorted with a glare. “Our kings will listen, but it could take a week for their emperor to find time for you.”
“Where can we find them?” Kestrel asked.
“Roozj’eeluu. That’s a part of Carnar. Would you like us to guide you there?”
“Uhlt dorht liinar spaacnit fer zy’ao?” Kestrel asked the merwoman. She made a sign we hadn’t seen before, and Lulu signed in Commish what it meant. It was a sign-name — seafolk names were often fairly long, so they chose a sign to use instead — that meant ‘pearl’. Ris copied the sign, making a fist but not touching her fingers to her palm, holding it up with her knuckles out and thumb near her mouth, and turned it down and out. Pearl nodded with a smile. We introduced ourselves, and Pearl commented on our ‘sky-fish’, saying there was a colony of wild ones on one of the smaller islands. She pointed in a generally southwest direction.
We stopped to eat, then Pearl said she’d go to see if the High Counsel was meeting or free. Ris watched her swim down to the city below, her holographic magenta tail glinting like the kits’ scales always did. When she got closer to Carnar, Ris lost sight of her.
We decided to go swimming while we waited, climbing carefully over the sighed, one by one, after taking off our tunics and shoes. Leyin stayed in the boat with Ink. The water was still cold from winter, but they didn’t notice as long as they kept moving. Ris poked her head over the side of the boat and asked Leyin if she’d join them. She said she would, and Ris swam down and turned to go back for air a little way out from the boat. There was a splash as Leyin got in. Kestrel called out as she swam towards us.
“I’ll race you to Lulu!” Leyin said once Kestrel was with them. Lulu was a fair way off, just going where she felt like going. The Enchanted counted down, and they all tore from the boat, imitating the way the seafolk swam. Ris was coming first, then Layin overtook her. She gulped down a break of air and kicked hard, pulling herself through the water. Leyin beather but it was close, and Kestrel wasn’t far behind. Lulu pointed out schools of fish below us, andeveryone put their heads underwater for as long as they could hold their breath. The water was quite clear. WHen they came up for air, they decided they’d had enough and went back to the boat Pearl returned shortly after, saying thoday’s meeting would end a couple of hours before sunset, and three kings had agreed to meet with them.
“Hello Roolaoru, Lagol, and Sservel,” Leyin said, recognising the merfolk.
“Nors taylor litchë osuray,” Kestrel said as she, Ris, and Lulu lifted their hands right over left over their chests in greeting.
“Pearl tells us you’ve come to ask for help with a quest,” said Sseervel..
“Yeah. So, our quest is to save the Cursed and Enchanted, and also to save the wyvern-star king. THe seafolk are telepathics, most of you are really god at it right, and only a strong telepathic can link someone with another person. We need your help so we can talk to the wyvern-stars and save their king, and once we’ve done that, we’ll gather the Enchanted so they can be linked with thor wyvern-stars. The kings looked at each other, then back at Ris.
“Two of my pod members are missing at the moment, and another has gone looking for them. THey are some of the strongest. If you can find them and bring them back, we can help you. However,” concern and worry wrote itself on Lagol’s dark face, “ we fear they have been captured. If they have, they could have had their soul names forced from them and turned to evil. Uhcort ol vii Tyarth’oryinluu! It’s extrememly difficult to call them back after that, and you might not be able to do it. I will have words with the emperor if that is so, and I wonder if war will come again.”
“We will do your best to call them back when we find them,” promised Kestrel.
“We don’t want war! There aren’t enough soldiers ready for if we do atart one, and it’s not worth it over a few people,” said Sseervel.
“We’ve put up with years of them using power over us,” Roolaoru pointed out. “Let them try, and at least they can bring them back to us. Pearl can go with them.”
“Yes,” Lagol nodded, looking at Pearl, “she can help them and help her friends.”
“I don’t want war over my friends,” she said.
“What about this: if the sand-singers have called your friends to evil, we won’t ask for their help and they can be excluded from any honour it would bring them to have aided the Enchanted. If we can’t call them back from evil, we will deliver them to you to decide their fortunes. If the sand-singers have not called the missing merfolk into evil, we will leave them be and ask the emperor if he also would assist our quest,” offered Kestrel The kings spent a moment in thought.
“That is a fair suggestion. Are you Seelie?” Roolaoru asked, head slightly tilted, and Kestrel nodded.
“It’s excepllent. We accept,” said Lagol. “Best of luck to you all.” The kings turned to leave. Leyin knowed quickly and loudly on the side of the boat, and they turned around.
“Roolaoru, Captain Nebula is anchored near Tarlyuhn. She’s happy to trade, but she’d like some provisions and especially shells, jewellery, and whatever you have of teeth,” Leyin said.
“I’ll bring her those things,” he replied.
We made a basic plan quickly before Pearl went home, and watched the sunset after dinner. As the light faded, the seafolk around us left. A few came up to the boat and started a conversation with me, but they left soon after. I spent about an hour swimming, staying close to the boat, lost in thought in the quiet night. The moonwake glowed on the nearly-black surface, and the stars sang softly with the gentle burbling of the waves.
“Are you ready?” asked Pearl, and we nodded.
“By Lyly, give ys persistence. By Jornin, give us wisdom,” Lulu said.
“May the currents carry us well,” Pearl added. We started north, aiming through the mangrove-covered islands.
Pearl had a suspicion her friends, Sseersee, Hail — another sign name, with fingers splayed pointing towards the face at the side then quickly but gently turned upwards at chest level — and Iiyaurrahn were being held at the center of a half-ruined labyrinth. Apparently Sseeree and Pearl were twins, as were Hail and Iiyarrahn. Hail and Sseersee were the first to go missing and, when they weren’t found on the second day, Iiyarrahn went looking but wouldn’t let pearl come with her. Her pod was really worried ince thye’d been gone a week now and there had been several quarrels with a sand-singer tribe over the last few months. One particular sand-singer, Certuul, had been the most argumentative, and the pair of twins had been the ones who defended their pod most often. If not for that, Lagol would have assumed they’d gone exploring or adventuring. Pearl told all that to Leyin through telepathy as she swam, and the Enchanted related it to us as we took turns rowing.
“Oh hey Ris. You’re getting stronger,” Lulu said when she connected. Ris and Kestrel had been pratising with Pearl throughout the day.
“Um… I’ve got a question: which side are we on? Like, if the merfolk have been turned evil, do we leave it and let the sand-singers be punished?”
“I’m not sure. It’s not really out place to decide. If we were to let the sand-singers be punished, they’d probably take it as an offence and start a war. But we’re going to try to call them back anyway, right?”
“There’s only fourty-seven Enchanted, so we only really need the merfolk. The sand-singers can speak aloud, so wouldn’t their telepathy be generally weaker than the merfolk’s? I don’t really want to start more conflict between them.”
“If we have to bargain for Pearl’s friends’ freedom, I volunteer to stay behind,” Leyin said after a second of uiet when Ris connected with her. Her mind’s voice was gentle and a little like a child’s.
“No, we’re not oing that. We’re not giving anyone up or leaving anyone behind. You’re my friend, and anyway, you need to teach Ink and me the magic words you know.”
“What if I just teach you them right now?”
“There’s not enough time. Anyway, it’s not like you can breathe underwater.”
“That’s kin of the point.” Ris glared across the boat at Leyin.
“What’s wrong?” asked Kestrel?
“She wants us to give her to the sand-singers in exchange for the merfolk,” said Ris, making sure she didn’t lose contact with Leyin.
“We’re not using you as ransom,” Kestrel said frmly.
“Leyin, what was your magic before you lost it?” Ris asked, feeling a flash of pride that the connection remained.
“I was a shapeshifter,” she said. “It’s so annoying that it was taken when Ëtacihruðuhl left. I never got to chose all my forms, but I could turn into a dog, a kit, and a bat.” I remembered Kenshalta’s wizard, Eiran.
“Those are cute,” Ris said.
“A bat is cute?”
“It can be. Imagine them wrapped up in a little blanket, with their fuzzy head and little nose sticking out.”
“If you were a shapeshifter, what forms would you choose?” Ris took a moment to think.
“A crow, a cat, maybe a Seelie, a wisp, maybe a shadow. I’m not sure.” Leyin nodded, and neither filled the soft silence before Ris let the connection fade. She wasn’t strong enough to keep going, so she took a break.
I wish I could use magic. It would be amazing to feel its power, to experience the world so differently to normal. I knew what it was like, but only through my link with Ris. SHe wasn’t a shapeshifter, elemental, lodestone magic user, or sorcerer-healer (sorcery-healing was almost always something only a Seelie Fay could use. It would take Ris many years to learn the other kinds of magic, even if she went to Tasyënlor. If only shadows could have magic — wait, no, I take that back. Kyrell would be even more dangerous than he already was, if he had magic. Knowing him, he’d definietly be a fire elemental at the very least — and good luck to the Night Order keeping him in reasonable check if that was the case. I’d have to be content with Ris’ experiences.
“How do we call Sseersee, Hail, and Iiyarrahn back to good if they’ve been turned evil?” Ris asked.
“You’ve got to call them by their soul name,” Pearl said, her mind’s voice plain and matter-of-fact but not emotionless. “You’ve got to hold them and cry out their name while being telepathically connected, and try to push the link into them. It’s really hard, and sometimes people get bad burn-out from it.”
“I heard that a king lost his telepathy for a whole day after saving his daughter. He wasn’t especially strong though, so I think most of it was from the shock rather than from being unable to do it. Usually you’d just have an hour or so of recovery and then you’re fine.”
“How often do merfolk get called into evil by the sand-singers?” asked Lulu.
“Oh, there’s usually one or two people each year. It’s not great, but there were many more in the Tss’ernluu fer Urran-Gol’graovelaatss’uh, which you call the Years Of War-Storm.
Leyin asked how long it would be before we reached the labyrinth, and Pearl pointed into the water. There was a dark shape on the ocean floor, a fair way down but not too far ahead. We waited quietly as we came over it, and night fell.
“What are we going to do about not being able to breathe underwater?” I asked as they ate breakfast.
“You stay while I bring them up,” Pearl said.
“Going alone would be dangerous. There’s got to be a way we can help, other than just calling them back,” Kestrel said.
“You control air and water? What if create bubbles around heads?”
“That should work. But I won’t be able to fight since I’ve never tried anything like that before and I’ll need to focus.”
“Alright, sounds good.” Pearl turned pushed herself out from the boat we could get out. One by one, we climbed out and were given a bubble of air.
“Ready?” Kestrel signed. We nodded, and began the descent, anticipation building as we came closer.
We stayed together as we swam through the labyrinth. Barnacles and limpets clung to the stone, among other things Ris couldn’t identify, covering the writing on the walls that told a sand-singer legend. It didn’t take that long to get to the center, but it felt like an eternity. We heard a voice a couple of times. The merfolk were bound to the wall with stone chains. Leyin stopped when she saw them, eyes wide, turning her face away.
“Why has Certuul taken you?!” she signed in Meri, fingers quick and brusque, half to no-one, full of hatred.
“We don’t know. But leave, go!” Ris’ magic told her it was Hail who spoke.
“We can fight him, there’s six of us. Where is he?” Pearl asked. The other merfolk glared.
“Has that wretched thing-” Pearl’s tail swished back and forth.Iiyarrahn nodded, facing the floor. Pearl torched her tail with her own and her friend looked up, seeming to avoid Pearl’s eyes.
“Who is worse? We’ve got to help you!” If she had a voice, she’d have screamed. Iiyarrahn tilted her head in Hail’s direction, closing her eyes.
“Careful with him, then,” Pearl signed to Ris. She nodded, and moved next to Iiyarrahn’s brother. Kestrel made his stone chains break. His head snapped up, brown eyes narrowing with murderous intent. Ris sought his mind, and he caught hers.
“Hey! I’m here to help! Lagol said you’re some of the strongest merfolk, and we need your help, but Certuul made you evil.”
“Wrong! He gave us orders: you can’t leave.”
“Tell me your soul name. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me your soul name.”
“You’re so weak. You’ll lose your power if you try.”
“Too bad, I’m doing it anyway. Lagol and Pearl have been so worried. Anyway, what orders were you given?”
“To make a reason for war. The sand-singers want a war, and they’ll have one.”
“Are they stronger telepathics than you?”
“Of course not, they have voices. Do you know nothing of seafolk, human?
“We need you, we’re going to rescue you, so hopefully there won’t be a war.”
“Then we’ll kill all of you.”
“Even Pearl? We’re strangers to you, but Pearl is your friend.” Hail looked at her determinedly. Ris was getting anxious. She signed his name desperately.
“Maybe Ssersee can kill her.”
“No, she won’t.”
Kestrel rapped on the wall, calling attention to herself to sign that Certuul was coming.
“Now, Ris!” Lulu said.
“What is your soul name?” RIs demanded. Hail almost told her but it stayed out of reach. She said it again, quieter, and her magic told her.
“Sratin!” Ris cried out as loud as she could into her small air bubble, screaming it with her mind, hand on Hail’s shoulder, pushing the telepathy link into him with great effort. For a moment, it felt like her mind had gone numbly blank, as if it was devoid of anything at all, and she half feared she’d lost herself. Everything was vague. Ris shook her head, but ut didn’t help much. She could still think and talk and swim though, so everything would be alright. Hail looked out of it too, and began looking around with increasing alarm.
“Oh tsunamis, what are we still doing here?”
“Trying to save your friends,” Lulu said.
“Then hurry!” He turned to Ris, Leyin, and I. “Come on, we’ve got to buy them time!” We hurried down the passage, meeting Certuul halfway to the corner.
“What-?” he asked, suddenly confused.
“What are you doing, capturing merfolk who haven’t really wronged you? Leave them alone!” I replied.
“You! Why haven’t you done what you were meant to?” Certuul asked Hail. He lunged at the sand-singer, pointed teeth bared. Ris took out her dagger, but Certuul’s tail knocked it from her hand. Leyin caught it and got herself near the middle of the tangled limbs. Ris backed away a little, trying to avoid Hail as he punched and scratched Certuul’s face. The sand-singer screeched, calling Sseersee’s and Iiyarrahn’s names. He stared in shock as Leyin pulled the dagger from his side, watching his dark blood spill out slowly. Hail pulled Certuul’s arms back and Ris told the others. All I could do was wonder how Leyin learnt to be so ruthless. The merfolk were all slightly dazed, and Kestrel looked tired. There’d been no other option than for her to call someone back too, so she had very little energy left.
“You’re Fay? You must be the one giving these humans breath then, huh,” Certuul said as he brought his tail around and knocked her against the wall.
“Stop!” Leyin kicked him.
“We’ve got to get back,” Kestrel said.
“What are we going to do with him?” Lulu nodded in the sand-singer’s direction.
“I guess we leave him here. We only said we’d bring him back if we couldn’t do anything for the merfolk,” said Ris.
“Alright then. Certuul, you stay here and give us time to leave the labyrinth. If you follow us we will take you back,” Kestrel said. The merfolk eyed him warily as he glared, but he seemed to accept.
We headed back to the entrance, and Ris checked if Certuul had stayed as he was told. He hadn’t, but he wasn’t even a quarter through the labyrinth and Ris’ perception said his only intention was to look for food. We continued, eager to breathe fresh air again, knowing there’d be time to talk when we got back.
Ris gasped with relief, tasting the seaspray as she tossed her head backwards as she came above the surface. We held onto the beat, just breathing in for a few long moments. Leyin was the first to get back in the boat.
“How’d it go?” Ink asked, circling above us.
“We rescued Pearl’s friends,” Ris said. The pair of tins lifted their hands to wave at Ink.
“Hey, Ris, I’m sorry for how I spoke to you before. I’m not usually so callous or malicious,” Hail said.
“It’s ok, you weren’t yourself.”
“I should have been able to fight him off.” He became downcast and looked away, ashamed.
“Hail, it’s fine,” Iiyarrahn said, and her twin nodded.
“Thanks for releasing us.” Sseersee smiled.
“Why didn’t you just kill us on the spot, if that was what he’d told you to do?” Lulu asked.
“We’re stronger than he thought. We all had the thought to kill him right then and there when he gave our orders to incite a war, but he was too afraid to die. Sand-singers act tough and cruel, but half the time they don’t actually follow through. Eventually, we managed to poke a whole in it and get some morality back.”
“I’m stunned that he didn’t see that his control over us was weaker. If he had called us again, our resolve would never have faltered and you’d all be dead. But by the time you came, we’d managed to gain control again.” Iiyarrahn said.
“I was the worst. I only remember Certuul being very insistent that I follow the orders he gave, and I think he caught me off guard when he called me by my soul name, which was why I couldn’t fight it as easily. He had to take it from their minds by force, but he found mine easily. I fought and argued with you to give Certuul time to get back so he could deal with you instead. I was aware I wasn’t myself but it was hard to get the orders out of my head.”
“It’s alright. The fact that you didn’t kill us on the spot is proof enough of how hard you fought,” said Kestrel.
Leyin made a movement as if she’d just sneezed. Her face showed an expression of surprise, as if she’d been startled, and she said she was cold. Kestrel moved to sit next to her and lit a fire in her hand, enthralling Leyin and the merfolk. Ris undid her hair, running her fingers through the knots before plaiting it and tying it into a bun again.
When we reached Carnar, the twins went to get Sseervel, Lagol, and Roolaoru. The merfolk kings showered us with thanks, praising us for preventing the need for retaliation.
“They’d already broken through a bit though.” Leyin tried to object.
“Regardless, you’ve rescued my pod members and brought them back safely.” Lagol smiled. “Have you told them about your quest?” Sseersee nodded. We needed time to gather the Enchanted, so we made plans to return around the end of summer after visiting each country and their kings.
“We’ll be ready when you return. May the currents carry you well, the wind be at back, and the stars guide your path,” Pearl said.
“Nors talyar litchë itinerary nurks osuray,” said Kestrel, and we settled ourselves to start the return journey to the Vagabond.
“What’s it like in Anshymys?” Leyin asked.
“It’s been a while since I was there.” The wind picked up, blowing her long, brown hair across her face. “You’d think you had just walked into a dream or a fairytale. We use a lot of magic, and some of the houses are built from the trees — Tasyënlor, that is. Faertarnikr is different altogether, unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere. I went there once, when I was five. It’s such a big, crazy city. Even my mother felt lost, and she’d been there before a number of times.”
“That was before she brought you travelling?” Ris asked, tilting her head.
“Before.” Kestrel sighed. “There’s a story about Tasyënlor. It’s said there were people who lived in Anshymys before the Fay did, whose children became the Fay. We split into the two courts after a great battle, some time in the latter half of the Erst Era. The people who lived in Tasyënlor were one family, called the Rauskie Ta Rinaelaae Nasius Siltchoos. They built the palace, right near the centre of the city. The actual centre is a tree with silver boughs that bear golden apples. Surrounding it is a labyrinth, in the middle of the temple. The palace is north of the temple. Oh, there’s so many colours. It’s not like a quilt though, all mismatched and out of place, it’s not quite as vibrant. Even in predominantly Unseelie areas, it feels like it radiates warmth and that is what gives the city its colours.
“The legends say the Rauskie Ta Rinaelaae Nasius Siltchoos sang the palace from the trees themselves, and commanded them to grow that way. Sometimes a really strong earth elemental can do something like that, but it takes a great deal of strength, and to do something on that scale? They had magic unimaginable, almost like the wyvern-stars, maybe even more powerful in a sense but also more limited. I’ve told you a little about Faetur-Rineas before, Ris. She’s the one with power over the wind, as well as secrets and the past. All our deities had every type of magic, like the wyvern-stars, but they gave it up in favour of detailed control in a handful of areas.”
Ris and Kestrel had a certain confidence in their telepathy now — what had happened while rescuing Pearl’s friends had shown them how strong they’d already become and how much more they could still grow. My companion’s crow magic held a touch just out of reach. SHe was unaware of it, completely focused on her telepathy. But I listened to the magic, and it told me she had more innate strength than most users, enough to easily rival some of the most capable Fay. It told me her power would swell to the brim and almost overflow with borrowed magic before being emptied out again, and that this borrowed magic would be used to save Lucarih’thën. I glanced at Ris, who was still focused on talking to Kestrel. I turned to face the horizon, and lost myself in my thoughts. I never noticed the sunset, but I remember Leyin asking if I was alright, and answering with a nod. My mind was hazed with wondering about what Ris’ magic had revealed to me.
We woke to a sand-singer rocking the boat.
“Certuul!” Kestrel shoulted.
“What are you doing here?” Lulu said. Ris took out her dagger. She’d used it before, but was nervous at the thought of having to hurt a person with it. But Certuul was a threat.
“I’m getting revenge.” He smirked, raising his hand, eyes narrowing, preparing to use some kind of magic for harm. Ris looked at Leyin for help, and her eyes said ‘do it’ — a little too eagerly, perhaps. Water gathered around the sand-singer, dark and seething, building up.
“Don’t you dare touch my friends!” Screaming, Ris plunged the dagger into the sand-singer’s chest. He stared at her, eyes glazing over, as she tore it out again. Her heart pounded. All she could think was that his no longer did. He slipped away, the depths dragging the body down, and the swells of water settled down again.
Ris’ chest heaved as she looked over the side of the boat, then she turned and huddled in her seat. Lulu took the dagger from her trembling hands and cleaned it before returning it to the pack. She saw the well-worn and -loved toy wisp, and offered it to Ris who held it closely with closed eyes. She refused food and water. Opal curled around her neck and shoulders, cooing softly. We tried to talk to her a couple of times, but she wouldn’t even sign. Around midday, she lifted her eyes to gaze blankly at the horizon, sitting cross-legged and, as the afternoon drew on, she turned to watch us row. Leyin moved to sit beside her, wrapping her arms around her. They sat like that for a while before the Enchanted asked Ris if she felt like talking. Ris’ magic wasn’t available, so she signed with her.
Certuul was the only person she’d ever killed, the first life she’d taken that wasn’t game.
Kestrel offered Ris an apple, wizened and a little bruised in places but better than nothing. She took it and bit in.
“Kestrel, do you need to save my life now because I saved yours?”
“Yes. I will wait for a chance.” Ris nodded. Ink moved from the side of the boat to Ris’ shoulder.
“Bird not synbolisn, never forget, Ink didn’t bring death. Ink friend and quester,” he croaked anxiously to her.
“It’s ok. I know,” she said, reaching up to stroke his glossy feathers. When she finished the apple, she picked out the seeds and gave him the core.
Ris dreamt of Certuul as he fell farther away from her, except she was the one moving. The sand-singer was lying in the boat, having somehow been dragged aboard, and she was floating up into the sky. There was no sign of her friends anywhere. She drifted over the boat as it grew smaller and smaller, only a speck on the endless cobalt, not a smudge of land in sight. Then she was lost in the sapphire sky, where no stars hung like lanterns from a roof. Stars did not exist here, there were no light sources and no way to tell the way back — yet it was not dark at all. Ris knew it was midnight, although it looked like morning, in the same way you always inexplicably know things in dreams. She was lost in the empty sky, then trapped in the watery depths where there was neither up nor down, east nor west. Despite, or maybe because of, the clammy silence, everything felt malevolent even though Ris was abandoned here.
There were no sand-singer faces peeking over the side of the boat come morning. There were a few merfolk about, but they swam away when we went past.
“By Anduste, give us and them forgiving hearts. By Jornin, give us light,” Ris whispered as she rowed.
“Osyn Rauskie Ta Rinaelaae Nasius Siltchoos Kvus nors að ootënastinaeti åsaylur,” Kestrel said. It was a good day, despite the previous and the nightmares; Stella was warm, the sky was flecked with clouds, and a gentle breeze danced between plumes of seaspray.
“Brighter today?” Ink asked.
“You has crow type, right? What it like?”
“I can tell what the truth is, and I can see what’s beautiful about things.”
“Tell Ink!” He said eagerly, ruffling his feathers and nodding towards the ocean.
“Every crest of every ripple sparkles like broken glass. If you look far enough out, the sky becomes the sea and the sea becomes the starlit sky. If you sit still and quietly for long enough, an almost sleepy peace washes over you. Your eyes are so perfectly black, Ink, that I can see my reflection in them when I look closely, and your wings would carry you far away towards unknown shores if you ever chose to let the wind’s whimsy be your road home. The same is true of us, but with horses and boats and our own feet. There are treasures far below us, crafted or found by the seafolk. Kestrel’s dragon earring is as glittery as the sea and her magenta tattoos are like vines spiraling across her face. Pal glimmers like a moon on fire. Pear can be sweet like his namesake. Cobalt is ocean depths and midnight sky with only a handful of stars. We learn and grow from our experiences, no matter how dark they might get, and when we find light again we see the glistening sunlight on our scars of sorrow. That’s how the stories always go. Because in almost every way, it’s true. We spin sugar and gold from salt and charcoal, because even when we aren’t yet healed and whole again and even when we fear we could be overcome again, we will never stop searching for the day when dawn will come again. No matter what, we don’t give up, and we never let our spirits lose their flame.”
“That type best fabulous of all. Fah-byoo-lohs, fabulous… peculiar word, but bird like. Such pretty things you see!”
“I’m glad you like it. In Rithesanlyr, crow users are shunned. Everyone thinks it’s useless because we’re meant to be honest in the first place.”
“Does so else though too! Not just truth tell, and anway, you tell truth just by asking a question.”
“Question… kwehst-yehn, quest yon. Why does ‘question’ have ‘quest’ in it?”
“It comes from the same word.”
The kits were impatiently hungry, and had started pulling at everyone’s hair. I took over rowing from Kestrel and she fed them before having her lunch. Lulu took over from Ris after she’d eaten, and Leyin ate a bit before having a short turn as well. The afternoon passed as peacefully as the morning had, and when we stopped around sunset we swam until Stella sank. Kestrel helped us dry off by making flames dance across her skin and around us like blankets we couldn’t touch. Leyin stared at the fire, watching each flare rise and fade. Twice she reached out, and once she caught a flame on her fingertip. Kestrel forced the fire away from the Enchanted both times.
I swam in the cold water beneath the darkened, cloud-blotted sky. Lumen had been new a few days ago, and Argenti was only a thin slice on its way to being new as well. At the end of the month, there’d be a double full moon. I figured as long as I stayed close to the boat I’d be ok. Well, so much for that; I swam down until I was almost out of breath, and I couldn’t see the boat when I resurfaced. Maybe it was only a little way away, but the sea was dark, there was no light on the boat, and there was hardly any light to see by at all, so I couldn’t even see its shape on the waves. I managed to get myself even more lost by trying to find my way back, and eventually I gave up. I floated in the sea, trying not to go any farther.When morning came and the others woke to find me missing, Ris flung her mind out in search of me. She told me how to get back, and I discovered I hadn’t gone all that far. While they waited, they ate, and Ink came out to find me. He kept me company as I swam in the clear, bitterly salty waters, and kept me on course. I’d gotten lost many times before, particularly before Ris and I had spent much time in the forest and gotten used to its game trails and landmarks, but my waywardness will never stop me from taking a chance to explore. We made it back well before mid-morning, and were quickly on our way again.
Ink flew up to tell the captain we were back, and we were lifted up onto the deck. We were greeted with cheers and smiles, and a dinner halfway to being a feast. We told the crewmembers what we’d done and seen as we ate, hands flashing as easily as Leyin’s after so much practice. It wasn’t the only thing that had improved: Ris and Kestrel had grown stronger. After dinner, Nebula got out her fiddle and played a song we all knew. Kestrel danced with Nebula, saying she couldn’t really sing. It was so nice to be welcomed. A smile played on Ris’ lips, glad just to be included and have people she could trust. She gazed at her friends, her turtledoves, happiness dancing in her heart as energetically as Kestrel and her flames.
Captain Nebula spread out some of the things she’d bought from the merfolk on the table to show us. There were shells that had been carved with intricate, lace-like patterns, shells that had been gilded, strings of pearls, bags of beads, combs, bracelets, and a few daggers. All of it was beautiful, like sunlight caught in a silver cup.
“How much did all of this cost you?” Ris asked, holding an engraved shell to the light.
“Quite a bit, but it’s good quality and worth a lot at the markets, so we’ll earn it back,” Nebula said before taking a bone dagger off Leyin.
“I was just looking.” Leyin held out her hands, grabbing at the air.
“No.” The Enchanted frowned before picking up a comb and putting in her hair.
“That’s pretty,” Lulu said, and she smiled as she took it out again
“Lots of shiny things!” Ink hopped amongst it all, putting one eye to a bag of beads and inspecting them with intense inquisitiveness.
“They’re aureate. Or-ree-iht…”
“Ris, do you think if you saythe wyvern-star words they’ll make magic, even if you don’t say it all?” Leyin said.
“I don’t know. Probably.”
“Are you ok if I somehow got you burnt out so you can say the words safely?”
“I guess so. The only safe way is to make my emotions too strong, really. Usually that’s anger.”
“I’ll do it, but please don’t be angry at me later. I don’t mean what I’m going to say,” I said, staring down at my hands, and Ris nodded as she looked at the horizon. “Everyone s always judging you. Everyone hates you because of your crow magic. It’s so worthless, it does nothing useful, you’re worthless for having it and even more so for liking it. You can’t weave properly like Saryar and your mum can, you don’t understand people all the time, you can’t do anything, and you’re a horrible Rithesanlic. Everyone can hear me right now, they all know how horrible you are, and they hate you for it. You’ll never fit in anywhere. You wouldn’t be able to do anything if someone you love was dying. Maybe if you had a different magic you oculd protect them, but you can’t do anything. You’ll never be enough for anyone, and they’ll never accept you. Even the wyvern-stars don’t believe you can complete the quest.” Every word stung as I forced them off my tongue, every word tasted like a different poison as I let them fall on my companion. I drew my knees p to my chest and let my eyes lose focuse. Rist felt the sting and poison, and forgot they were lies spun to help with something. She made herself small, feeling all of it like it was ice and fire. Then her mind ws vague. I nodded to Leyin and moved back, wrinkly my face with disgust at the bitter taste in my mouth. I went dormant for a while, so I don’t know exactly what happened, I only remember aching. Leyin gave us both a long hug afterwards.
Ink and the kits flew between the masts. The kits hooted and trilled, and Ink cawed as he swooped down to tell Ris he was going to fly out over the ocean for a bit. Ris watched him shrink into a silhouette against the sapphire sky. Etrunbor was not far south of them now, and they’d be there tomorrow. Kestrel called the kits down, snatching Opal from the air and bringing her to her shoulder. Lulu caught Lapis, and Ris caught Pear. She looked at her friends and saw only a gold sunlight. She’d cleared her mind of burnout and forgiven me, and her friends were smiling with the same gladness in her heart. She scritched Pear on his chin, running her fingers over the ridges on his smooth scales that were like small pebbles heated by his sun-given warmth. Ink came back after a bit, eyes aglow with the sun’s reflection.
All of us were together, happy. Kestrel, who had been alone as Ris had always felt for so many years. Ink, who’d come by chance and curiosity on a peculiar group and found a place amongst us. Lulu, who had friends but who’d chosen adventure with us for a time over them, we who are as odd as she. Leyin, a silent girl with a soft and broken heart that carried more pain than I could be certain of. We were all of us outcasts, but together we felt safe. Was Ris robbing Saryar of such friendship, I wondered? However long we travelled through brume I could not care if I was not alone, whatever brontide we might encounter. Sunlight, moonlight, starlight … love’s light, joy’s light, hope’s light. Each banish the darknesses that find the dusty crevices of hearts, each fill up the holes and cracks of those that have been shattered. And here in this moment with friends who were becoming turtledoves, there was not a scrap of darkness.
Nebula played ‘The Ancient Call’ that night, and we all raised our voices with barely a breath between. It was a beautiful night, and the stars filled Ris with dreams and memories. I wondered if Saryar and Rumour looked up to the constellations and wondered where we were and what we did. How swiftly does time fly towards tomorrow, though you never notice until overmorrow that ereyesterday is longer ago than you thought it felt it to be. How quickly memories begin to fade — though people never do, their memories walking as if alive beside you, whether good or bad. Surely there could be no-one without regrets, I thought. One such regret, one sorrow, that Ris and I shared was our childhood, bare of such light we felt now because of her magic.
“You’re quieter today, Ris,” said Nebula.
“Yeah, just thinking about Certuul. He was the sand-singer I killed.”
“That’s a choice you made, and you can’t change it. He threatened your life and the lives of your friends,, and it was a reasonable reaction even though you don’t feel as if it was the right one. He was your first, wasn’t he?” Nebula asked, and Ris nodded. “It doesn’t get any easier, but you will learn to deal with it, in time. But I hope he is the only one.”
“Me too.” Ris thought how she wanted to protect Saryar from what she now felt, this guilt and shame even though what she’d done was to save her friends’ lives, and hoped she’d made the right choices.
“You are kind, and you see the beauty of things.”
“My heart was pounding, and suddenly his wasn’t. I don’t feel like that’s my choice to make, whether or not someone lives or dies.
“And what if he had killed you? He attacked you, I think it’s alright. Your remorse is a good thing but your ferocity in that moment is what kept you and your friends alive, and that is also a good thing.” Nebula paused. “Are you worried other sand-singers will come after you because of Certuul?”
“Yeah, a bit.”
“You’ll be safe on the Vagabond and on land. Tensions are indeed high between the seafolk as always, but I can’t say for certain what, if anything, the sand-singer Emperor Marleeuhn will do. In all honesty, I don’t believe he’ll do anything though, ok?” Ris nodded as Nebula drew her into a hug.
Kestrel stood at the bow watching the water slide beneath the hull, hand on her should although the kits were flying around with Ink.
“The wind is good today, but it speeds our arrival and we’ll have to deal with the crowds of TIrshyer,” Kestrel said as Ris and Lulu joined her. “It seemes like every time I think about it, the wind carries us even farther.” Ris watched the white-capped swells glide under the ship and the wind ruffling Kestrel’s hair. We whiled the day away, working and spending time together, until the Vagabond put into port late that afternoon.
We helped Nebula and the crew unload their wares in the morning.Leyin sprained her wrist in the process somehow, although she ddn’t say anything until after we’d finished, and apparently she hadn’t slept much either. Ris wasn’t excited for the inevitable crowds of the city but was glad to be on land again, and the others seemed to feel the same — except for Leyin, who was used to the crewmembers of the Vagabond and usually stayed onboard when they came to a port. But she was becoming good friends with us and, despite being anxious, she semed alright. Nebula gave us some money to buy lunch from one of the marketstalls, and we found a tree to sit under. Leyin didn’t eat much, and once she was done she flopped over on the grass as if to have a nap. Her outstretched fingers found a half-dried leaf amongst the blades of grass, which she gently placed on Ris’ knee with a faint smile. Ris found another lead and put it on Leyin’s forehead. Lulu was leaning against the tree with her eyes closed, softly signing that we should just sit fora while. Ink pecked at a worm before flying up into the tree with th kits, as Ris, Kestrel, and I joined Leyin, stretched out on the grass. It was strange not to feel the rocking of the waves with every passing moment, but it was comforting to feel the earth beneath us again.
Ris heard footsteps approaching and, sitting up, saw a Cursed coming towards them.
“Hello,” he said. “Mind if I sit with you for a bit?”
“Not really.” Kestrel shrugged.
“I’m Tyrus,” he said, and we told him our names. He sat, almost as if he fell. Kestrel raised an eyebrow in concern, but he was fine. Ink and the kits came down to investigate. Opal dared to sit on his shoulder, trilling as Tyrus beamed with carefree curiosity.
“Aw, they’re so pretty,” he said as he scritched the shimmery kit on the chin.
“They’re really sparkly in sun,” said Ink.
“You can talk?!” Tyrus looked at the crow in surprise. He bobbed his head and hopped closer, looking at him with one eye.
“Of course can talk, bird was taught,” he replied, glancing at Leyin. “But Ink can’t say a few words. Also have favourite words; really like ‘bizarre’, ‘peculiar’, ‘anfractuous’. Flight often anftractuous, and quest too. Round-about, winding. Also ‘preposterous’. Preh-pohs-ter-uhs, preposterous!” He looked down his beak as he repeated the word, looking every bit like an irked mother.
“That’s so cool,” gushed Tyrus. “Wait, so you’re on a quest? What for?”
“To save the Cursed and Enchanted.”
“How are you doing that?” THe Cursed tilted his head and leaned forwards a bit, and Ris explained ehr plan for the Enchanted. We didn’t know what to do with the Cursed yet.
Tyrus told us how to get to the castle, and once we felt like we had enough energy to deal with people we headed off. Strangers’ eyes followed us through the streets. While the guard escorted us to the throne room, he sad he’d have assumed we were jesters or acrobats except for Kestrel. I looked at Leyin and Lulu when he said that, who so often had a sprained ankle or wrist or both, and held back a laugh. The fact that the guard could immediately tell Kestrel was Fay was strange to me, although there were more amongst the general population than in Rithesanlyr, and Etrunbor was a close ally with Anshymys, so it mae sense.
The castle here was so different from the one in Volyia, although it was mostly because this one felt alive and warm. Ris remembered standing in the empty throne room, her boots crunching on the shattered glass, the smell of wildflowers on the breeze coming through the windows. Her footsteps were padded here, falling sotly on the rug. We came to a set of ornately carven oak doors and, after the guard escorting us had a brief word with the ones guarding these doors, we entered. We stopped a number of paces from the dais and curtseyed — except for Ink, who bowed his head like the guard did — and King Evander welcomed us before asking what our business was.
“So, we’re on a quest to save the Cursed and Enchanted. We’ve organised with the merfolk that we’ll gather the Enchanted at the TenthTide Shores and the merfolk will link them to their respective wyvern-stars. What we came to you for was to ask that the word is spread throughout Etrunbor so the Enchanted who live here know what to do,” Ris explained, feeling small in the high-ceilinged hall. There was a tapestries depiction of King Bhaltair the First who, as legend told, had lived with such honour and kindness that when he died the wyvern-stars merged his spirit with the eternal stars so that he became one of them.
“You are the chosen one, then?” King Evander asked.
“Yes.” Ris nodded, blinking. The Solinan words written in her soul seemed to fill her ears and her magic sat as a lump of guilt in her stomach. She, a Rithesanlic, was lying to the Etrunborian king. No-one made any movement to object though, not even the crow user standing beside the throne, and she was thankful for that.
“I will send out heralds bearing word of this.”
“Thank you, your Majesty.”
“Shh — just a moment, keep walking,” said a voice telepathically. It was the crow user.
“What is it?’ Ris already knew, but she asked anyway.
“Why did you lie?”
“”Do I realy have to tell you? You’ve got crow too.”
“You don’t want to have to explain to everyone that you stole your twin’s role because you want acceptance.” They sighed. “You have your own quest. Isn’t that enough?”
“People don’t know the wyvern-star king is dying, it won’t matter to them.”
“Fine, I won’t tell anyone. But you know it’s wrong.”
“Is it wrong to want to fit in? I’m a Rithesanlic with crow magic, a Rithesanlic who likes and uses her crow magic. My companions are my only friends and I only know them because of this quest.”
“If that’s the way you see it… Don’t forget the truth.” There was a tone of warning in their voice.
Ris’ boots crunched on the wet sand. SHe took them off and dug her toes into the sand, letting the waves wash up to her, watching the far-off horizon as if waiting. She replayed the conversation with the telepathic crow user over and over. Ris stole Saryar’s role because she wanted acceptance, Ris stole Saryar’s role because she didn’t see how Saryar could do it, Ris stole Saryar’s role because she wanted to protect Saryar. She turned on her heels and walked further away from the docks. A Rithesanlic who lied to the Etrunborian king, a Rithesanlic who liked and used crow magic. In Rithesanlyr people valued honesty, so a magic that could tell the truth was seen as useless. Ris dug her nails into her palms. It does a lot more than tell the truth.It shows you things you never knew, and shows the beauty and worth of things. She meandered towards a line of trees, stopping to listen to the echo of waves kept in a shell, stoppping to look at broken, pearlescent-indigo shell with something like lichen on the other side. Stopping to put her shoes back on because the forest here didn’t lay down a soft trail of pine needles. THere was a dandelion beside one of the trees, a weed to most but a wish nonetheless. Ris held it up and, with a breath, the seeds danced away, carrying her wish to not mass unnoticed or rejected for her strangeness. Why call a wish a weed, if wishes are wanted and weeds are not?
This wasn’t the first time someone had realised something was wrong, that Ris wasn’t the chosen one. ROselen at Kenshalty Abbey knew. Kyrell probably did, but he knew and kept more secrets than I could guess at anyway. The rogue shadow had said Saryar was trying to talk to shadows. Presumably not the companion kind like myself or Rumour, though I didn’t understand why since the kind that follow the Cursed aren’t alive. Anyway, how was Saryar meant to save anyone if she spent all her time trying to do something that wouldn’t work? Surely she couldn’t do it, that’s why RIs tried, and she had to do it before the the moons’ two thousandth rising, before the Enchanted turned to death maidens and servants and the Cursed turned to ice-cold stone.
Ris tossed her rock into the air and caught it, and threw it again. She wondered what would happen if Kestrel, Ink, Lulu, and Leyin found out wshe’d lied about being the chosen one. She refused to let her magic answer — whether because she was anxious about what it would tell her or because she didn’t want to be reminded of the truth, you decide.
“How was your walk, Ris?” Kestrel signed as she ate.
“It was ok. I walked on the beach up to the tree line, and I explored for a bit before coming back. WHat did you guys get up to?”
“Lulu and I played with the kits, and Ink went exploring and looking for shiny things. I think Leyin said she was going to have a nap, but I don’t know where she is.”
“It’ll be good if she is asleep, but I doubt it,” said Sahe-kel.
“How long as she lived on the Vagabond with you?” Lulu asked.
“Oh, I can’t remember.” Sahe-kel looked up. “Captain, has it been seabout seven years Leyin’s been with us?”
“Mmm, I don’t know. That sounds about right.”
Leyin came out when Captain Nebula brought her fiddle out, looking a little sleepy as if still disoriented after napping. Sahe-kel raised her eyebrows at that. Nebula played the sand-singer song again, and another Ris hadn’t heard.
Ink was asleep on top of a barrel with his head tucked under one wing, and the kits were curled up next to us. My friends had brought their blankets up onto the deck to sleep beneath the stars and clouds.
“It’s our last night on the Vagabond,” Leyin said. “I’ve spent so many years with the crew. It’s going to be strange.”
“It’ll take a little while to get used to land again too, without the rocking and seaspray,” said Kestrel.
“Without the salt on my face and in my hair.” Leyin paused, trying to decide whether or not to add something. “The salt hides my tears.”
“We’ll always be here for you, Leyin,” Lulu said.
“You can’t give back everything I’ve lost, even if the wyvern-stars give my voice and magic back.”
“That’s true, but we can be your friends, and we won’t abandon you. We aren’t taking anything more from you, except that you are coming with us on this quest and leaving the Vagabond behind,” Kestrel said.
“We all carry pain. You shouldn’t be ashamed of your tears,” Ris murmured, hugging her. “You are braver and stronger than you think, and we’ll help you when you have no more fight left to give.”
“Tomorrow we start for Anshymys, huh? Do you want to go for a short walk on the beach in the morning?” Lulu said.
“Yeah, sure. That sounds fun.” Leyin smiled and perked up like a wilting sunflower just watered. A sunflower, a dandelion, Leyin was similar to every golden wild thing when she was feeling ok. The yellow never faded, but it was often shrouded in midnight mist. I pulled Pear into my lap and ripped my knuckles on the back of his head.
“The stars are so pretty.” Ris pointed upwards as she lay on her back. We tilted our heads back, following her gaze.
“Do you think the wyvern-stars will ever come down here again?” Kestrel pulled her blanket over her shoulders, and Ris curled up under hers.
“Maybe. I hope they don’t crash again if they do though,” Ris said with a grin. Leyin leant against Kestrel who wrapped an arm around her, almost as if to protect her from anything scary the night might offer. She did sleep, it seemed, but only in snatches; there were times when she lifted her head to watch the horizon intently.
Ink hopped happily alongside us, carrying a shell in his beak, only to find another take it in favour of the one he already had. He hopped on, attempting to keep up with the others who were scavenging as well. Ris was secretly picking up each of the discarded shells he left in his wake. Leyin kept looking out to sea, watching, waiting, with a lonely pensiveness in her eyes. A wave crashed and the foam washed up to her feet, and she did her usual sneeze-like movement.
“I spent the day here with a friend once. I haven’t seen him in a while, though… His hugs are really good, and he protects me,” she signed absentmindedly. Ris watched the horizon with Leyin, waiting for who knew what that wouldn’t come. The Solinan words pulled at her, and she and Leyin turned to keep walking. Later, Ris showed Ink the shells he’d left behind, and he flapped and squawked excitedly for several minutes.
To the east of us were the hills the town Rosebarrow was nestled in, and to the west was the shore. The Barrow-Meadows, as the hills were called, was where King Bhaltair the First died — the one depicted in the tapestry at the castle. According to the stories, he’d fought hard in the Battle of Barrow-Meadows against invaders from the south. After the battle was over and the invaders fled, the remaining Etrunborian soldiers looked over the battlefield so they could retireve their fallen men. No-one could find the king’s body, so it was believed the wyvern-stars had chosen him to become one of them. He had been taken up and his spirit was merged with the eternal stars, and now he flies with them and watches over his people. Saryar had once helped some of the older weavers make a similar, smaller tapestry and presented it to Lord Ryuun when it was finished. Ris would have helped, but she wasn’t very skilled at weaving. Sometimes it felt like the only thing she was good at was her crow magic, while her twin could do everything else.
I stood on a hilltop, enthralled beneath the rising moons that were like foggy suns, and glimmering stars that were like shattered windows. So many fragments of light across the span of the universe; so many fragments of glass across time, that made the Cursed. The dulled, faint roar of the ocean was a mirror to the sky in the distance. I turned around to look out upon the hills, so full of folds like cloth, so speckled with wildflowers that waited for Stella’s warm rays.
“How long ago it was that I stood on the hills near Volyia. ’Twas only the beginning of this year, two months ago and nearly a third. Ere long, the night cat — the double full moon — will come, and spring will become summer. The night cat is the marker of each season’s end, and one of the twins’ favourite tales. Oh, so long ago!, the memory of the last time Rumour and I played it out for them feels archaic now, but nay. And Volyia is far from where I stand, many footsteps have we left that follow our path since we stood there. Many nights have fallen into dawn since that one when I stood on those hills and rode with the Night Order. How aberrant, how strange, it seems to me now that I did not know what would ensue, that I had yet to learn the names of our group — that I did not know Ink and Lulu and Leyin, or how quickly I would come to hold them as turtledoves.” I lowered my eyes from the constellations to the sea and returned to my friends.
“Where’d you go?” said Leyin, looking up at me.
“Exploring. Why are you awake?” I said.
“I never went to sleep.” I sighed.
“When was the last time you slept?” I asked, and Leyin shrugged. “Didn’t you sleep on the last night on the Vagabond?”
“I was waiting for a friend I haven’t seen in a while, usually they’re in Tirshyer when I am.”
“What would they be doing up that late either?”
“He never sleeps, he’s a rogue. I don’t think he’s ever been dormant in his life, either. He can be very dangerous if he feels like it, especially when angered, but he’s nice if you’re his friend. If we ever come across him, let me speak first.” Leyin looked at me with a smile.
“Sounds like Kyrell, that rogue the Night Order are constantly trying to track down.”
“He is! How do you know him?” Surprise showed in her dark eyes.
“Ris and I are friends with the Night Order, so I’ve heard stories about him before, and he’s come to Orsilnon a couple of times. Well, near, but Ris and I always spent a lot of time out in the forest. I’ve only actually talked to him a couple of times, but I think we both count each other as friends,” I said. “He wears mystery like an old, patched-up cloak of so many different fabrics. But we both know some of the kindness he harbours below his stormy surface. He is strange, and we all are too.”
“You must spend a lot of time listening to Ris’ magic.” Leyin tilted her head back to look at the stars.
“You need to sleep,” I said quietly.
“No,” she said, fingers slow to relax from the sign. If she could have spoken aloud, it would have sounded like a complaint.
“Come on. Sleep.” She made as if to say something, but didn’t. The night passed slowly.
Ris and Kestrel practised their telepathy, occasionally connecting with the rest of us too. It was strange when Ris talked to me, since I can hear her thoughts anyway, and her voice is almost indistinguishable from mine, but of course I still manage to tell them apart. When night came, Kestrel lit the fire. It was easier if she took care of it so we wouldn’t have to gather firewood — but some nights, when she’d worn herself out with her telepathy during the day, we had to go without a campfire. We also relied on her for provisions most of the time, although we could forage and there was food in the packs as well. Foraging can take quite a bit of time though, and Kestrel wanted to get stronger, so she pushed herself as much as she could. To be able to hold telepathic conversations all day, keep a fire going to cook on, and sometimes fill the pot with water drawn from the earth and air already took more strength than Ris could use with her crow magic, and Ris was considerably powerful for one who’d had to teach herself. Of course, Kestrel was Fay and already knew some magic. Ris couldn’t help feeling a twinge of jealousy, but she calmed it with a breath and the reminder that she could learn more in Anshymys.
We spent a bit of time on the beach in the morning, walking in the shallows where there weren’t so many shells to step on. Ris looked north, wondering how her family was. Saryar would be at the spinners’ hut if she wasn’t with Tristan, Fox would be at school, Dad would be fishing, and Mum would be weaving or doing housework. Such a boring rhythm. Perhaps they’d gotten used to our being gone now, and had accepted it even though they surely missed us and didn’t understand. Still, the certain uncertainty of each day with the pattern of waking, walking, eating, sleeping was so much better. Every step led us somewhere we’d never been before, and we had friends too.
“One time, back when I was looking after Ëtacihruðuhl, I spent the day with an old friend. We watched Stella set, and Ëtacihruðuhl was telling us about a wyvern-star myth that Stella was once a wyvern-star queen. It was such a perfect day. I miss them both so much, but neither will come back. How can they?” Leyin said, fingers moving quickly.
“I’m sorry you’ve lost so many friends,” said Kestrel.
“So am I.” Ris paused. “I’m surprised you don’t sprain your wrist more often, with all the signing you do.”
“I just did.”
“Leyin! You aren’t suppose a sprain yourself!” Ink cried.
“Calm down Ink, it’s fine. I’ll use my other hand.”
“Don’t sprain that as well,” Lulu said.
“I don’t try to sprain things!” Ink looked at Leyin with one eye for one long moment before pecking at a bug on the ground. Kestrel strapped Leyin’s wrist and we continued.
“Ink, what are you doing?” Ris asked as he tried to get into her pack.
“Shiny things. Crow once found piece of obsidian, want to check put with shells.”
“You could have asked me to get them out for you.” Ris pulled the pack in front of her and rumaged inside until all the shells and the piece of obsidian were lying on the grass. The crow quickly snatched up the shard of black, prancing around and waving it about in the sunlight.
“Oh wow, that’s beautiful,” Leyin said. He let her look before Ris packed it all up again.
Ris hummed to herself as she let her magic guide her gaze. Kestrel was talking to Lulu telepathically while playing with her water magic.
“You know what’s a strange word, invincible. If look, think vince should be a word Not!” Ink said, half to himself.
“I’ve never thought about that before. Is it really not?” Leyin asked.
“Vincible is, just not vince.” Ink shook his head.
“That’s so weird.”
“Bizarre. Preposterous, even.”
Kestrel blinked at the double full moon, commenting on how beautiful Argenti and Lumen were. We were lying on our backs, faces turned to the sky, blinking again when we stared at the moons. In Rithesanlyr, it’s believed if you don’t blink at the double full moon then you’d be cursed with muteness for a week. In Etrunbor, the story went that the moons were chasing some escaped sheep and a magical cat sometimes attacks them. If you didn’t blink at the cat, you’d have impossibly muddy shoes for a week. The Fay told it differently again, with the moons hunting for the cat, which would curse you to have a door handle made of iron for three days if you didn’t blink at it. None of us knew what the Tezynnarons’ version was.
At the last double full moon, Ris was running through the forest down to the ocean, on her first night of the quest, the last day she’d been anywhere familiar and the day the pendulums at Kenshalty started swinging. The abbey was a haven of sunlight, with October’s and Badger’s bright smiles, the garden, Kian with his books, and Zathrian forever finding ways to help out somehow. There’d been the bell tower too, from which the Glawyn Ranges could be seen, and where Kestrel had been talking to a little boy who called her ‘kettle’. He liked to run, his hair was dark blond, and his smile was wonky. Lulu said he was good friends with Zathrian’s granddaughter. Leyin had spent the last full moon having a feast after raiding another ship because they’d captured a couple of seafolk. The pod asked the Vagabond for help, and they’d been running low on provisions at the time.
“On the last double full moon before I left Anshymys, I talked to an ole.”
“How long before you left?” asked Ris.
“What’s an ole?” I said.
“We left in early autumn, so I think it was two weeks before that. The Sorlehtuh double full moon is special for Fay because, for the first three days of Kolny, most people go out into the forest. We have to find something, and that ‘something’ is defined very vaguely: answers, places, people, things. We spend those three days alone, and we aren’t supposed to use magic but accidental use os ok. If we meet another Fay we may ask or answer three questions. Any food we take must bee the first of the early harvest, gathered during the thirtieth of Sorlehtuh with our friends.”
“What were you looking for this time?” said Lulu.
“An ole, to answer this question: how can there be so many paths to take, so many tomorrows, but it feels like one path of a yesterday? Olses are wise but elusive creatures, and they look like great big owls. They look like people except they have the face of an owl and feathers that cover their shoulders. They wear a cloak with an elaborate pattern.
“It was midnight on the second night before I found the ole. She was standing amidst a patch of briars and she wore a crown of flowers. Her face was like a barn owl’s and her cinder-orange eyes were slanted like a cat’s. Her feathers were a mismatched collection of eggshell, amber, and silver, and her cloak was the same colour of a sky in twilight just as the first stars begin to shine. There was a heart embroidered in gold and crimson on the cloak, and she wore a silver necklace that was nearly as thin as spider’s silk. I didn’t see the ole at first, but she asked my question and I told her. Unfortunately, I only remember the first half of the answer; ‘You walk one path and never know which until your footsteps are left behind.’ The other half was more vague, so you’d think I would remember it by trying to work out what it meant. I remember exactly what she looked like but not what she said.”
“They sound really pretty,” Lulu said.
“Do they have any magic?” Ris said.
“Some do. Most don’t have any, as if they’re a dried-up reservoir. The few oles who do still have magic are a little weaker than most Fay. Their power has been slowly fading away for centuries.”
Kestrel woke them, or at least they thought it was her at first. The second Kestrel handed Ris and Lulu their packs, and Ris realised she was a shadow. It was about an hour until sunrise.
“What’s happening?” she signed, not daring to break the eerie silence. I detached myself, having gone dormant the day before.
“Unseelie, over there,” said the shadow, also silently.
“So what do we do?” asked Leyin.
“Try to avoid them.” We set off, walking in silence for a long while, occasionlly looking back to see where the other Fay was.
It grew steadily lighter, and when Stella rose we watched her spread her gold rays across the sky and over the meadows.
“Who are you?” Ris startled, Leyin did her sneeze-like movement, and Lulu looked around wildly.
“Where are you?” Kestrel’s voice responded in all our heads at once, like the first voice had.
“Who are you?”
“What do you want?”
“Why would I tell you that?” There was a grin in his voice, then a pause as if he shook his head. “No, alright, I’ll tell you. But only if you race me to the river. I want to speak properly.”
“You could just say that and come to us. Where are you?” said Lulu.
“Bird and kits just fly there, then win easy!” Ink cirlced over us.
“No, it has to be all of you. Don’t worry, I’m further way than you are.”
“We can’t really refuse, it is fair. If we want him to answer our questions we’ll have to meet him by the river,” Kestrel signed, and the others nodded. She told the Unseelie they would race.
“That’s great. Ready, set, go!” The telepathic link broke away.
We ran. Ris kept us on course until she got too tired to be using magic and running, then Ink flew in front to guide us. Ris’ feet thudded on the ground almost as hard as her heart in her chest, and the Solinan words sang
“Wait, where’s Leyin gone?” I cried. They stopped and turned.
“You left your friend behind!” said the Unseelie. “Keep running, don’t worry, she’ll be fine.” Ris looked at her friends, her own dubiousness reflected in their expressions.
“No, we’re coming back for her,” said Kestrel.
“Wait! No! Get back here!” The telepathic link broke momentarily, before the Unseelie said, “She’s run off. Continue on — if you go back for her I won’t tell you anything at all.”
“You know, we’d rather not play your games. If that’s your condition, we’re going back for Leyin,” said Lulu.
“Don’t,I need to talk to you about your quest.”
“You could have just said that at the start! This race is a waste of time.” Ris rolled her eyes.
“I didn’t know you were on a quest at first, I just wanted to do something interesting. Come on.”
“Fine,” Kestrel replied.
So we kept running, growing more tired, until finally we ccollapsed on the river bank. There we rested, dipping our feet in the cool water.
“Hope Leyin ok,” croaked Ink.
“Maybe you could fly up and see where she’s at?” said Lulu. The crow bobbed his head and took to the sky. Ris watched as each wingbeat carried him higher and farther away, and after a short while he descended. Sometimes he flew, other times Ris couldn’t see him, so he must have been hopping along beside her. When Ris could make out both their figures, she saw that Leyin was limping. She joined us only a few minutes before the Unseelie Fay.
He had a set of dark antlers rising out of his black hair. That was what struck Ris first. The second thing she cnoticed was that there was something almost eerie about him — bit only almost — even though he was genuinely trying to be friendly. His race and offer of information were strange, but Kestrel had told them one part of the Unseelie code was to follow one’s instincts.
“Might we meet as friends?” He raised his hand hesitantly, fingers outstretched beside his face, as if he was waving, but he kept his hand still. Kestrel considered this a moment.
“Nors talyar litchë osuray. Now, what do you want to tell us?” The Unseelie looked Ris squarely in the eyes.
“You aren’t the one chosen for this quest.”
“Yes she is! Ris to save wyvern-star king and restore right fate to Curseds and Enchanteds. We help!” Ink spluttered, flapping his wings indignantly.
“Believe what you want,” he said, shaking his head. “That aside, there is a gnome scholar in Ka-Sill Karst who can teach you to speak with the wyvern-stars. You will need to talk to Smaravod and say Fang sent you. Afterall, your Enchanted cannot teach you, and your crow will only be able to tell you which words he recognises.” Ris looked at Fang with a look of contempt, for he spoke as if her friends were of little use and worth; less than the family they’d come to be to her.
“We were going to go to Tezynnaro and Ka-Sill Karst anyway,” said Lulu. “Do you have anything else to tell us?”
“Oh, not really — but your shadow will probably go properly rogue soon. Shadows around here have been going missing, and there’s been news from Rithesanlyr that they’re starting to gather near a village in the Pinewisp Forest.. They say the chosen one is called them,” he replied with a pointed look.
“What for?” signed Leyin, and Ris asked her question aloud. The Unseelie shrugged in response.
“I don’t know. You tell me, since you’re the chosen one.” Ris paused and inhaled sharply, taking her pebble out from her pocket. What was Saryar doing? She asked her magic, but panic blocked her.
“Obviously because whoever is ‘calling’ them is lying about being the chosen one. Besides, you can’t call shadows like that. They must have all decided to go on their own terms. Maybe something interesting is happening in Orsilnon they all want to see. Mabe they felt like going there. The forest is pretty. I don’t know.” RIs blinked. Yes, that was it, this had nothing to do with Saryar., she thought.
“Alright, fine, don’t listen. How many people will get hurt because of what you’re doing, I wonder?” And with that, Fang turned and left.
We stayed about half a hand-span longer on the riverbank, since we had to eat, then we moved on.
“Never seen your shadow before, Kestrel. Why not?” Ink asked as he marched beside her. Ris hadn’t even noticed when the shadow reattached herself, and nor had I.
“Ëa sut tynën ëz, sëd ëa thål loondraylis kvaear ed naesa vartoon.” She stopped and apologised before repeating it in Commish, “She’s rather shy, but she must have come out because of the Unseelie.”
“Do you remember anyone from Tasyënlor, from before you went travelling?” asked Ris.
“A few, but I’m not sure what they look like anymore. There’s my father, of course, but I don’t really care about hom since he never seemed to care about me, you know.”
“Just remember we care about you and we’re here for you.” Leyin smiled. Kestrel smiled back and ruffled the little Enchanted’s hair. How close we had become, I thought.
“You ok? Quiet,” croaked Ink after landing on Ris’ shoulder and she shrugged, disturbing Opal from her other shoulder.
“Tell what’s pretty?”
“It’s not working for some reason.” The wyvern-stars’ message pulled at Ris, weighing her down.
“Not good. Perhaps tired of telepathy.” He preened for a moment, and when she remained silent he hopped onto the ground.
“Ris, are you still awake?” Kestrel whispered, and she mumbled that she was. “Can I talk to you about something?” Ris’ stomach dropped, but she turned to face Kestrel anyway.
“Yah, what is it?”
“Look, you know how Fang said you weren’t the one who was chosen to save the Cursed and Enchanted. And that woman at Kenshalty — Roselen, I think was her name — said it too. It’s weird that it happened twice, don’t you think?
“I guess.” Ris was surprised she didn’t mention the crow user who served the Etrunborian king, before remembering they’d spoken directly through telepathy. The Fay sighed and propped herself up on her elbows.
“Ris, are you lying about your quest? Are you really the chosen one?” Ris pressed her face into her hands, trying to figure out what to say. She was, she wasn’t, her quest wasn’t what she said it was.
“I have to save the wyvern-star king. If he dies, the Cursed and Enchanted can’t be saved. There’s not very long left until the moons’ two-thousandth rising since the end of the GlassShatter Age. My twin is a Cursed, and I don’t want her to turn to ice-cold stone. I don’t really know how I’ll save them yet but I’ll figure it out.” Kestrel thought a moment before speaking.
“Say you weren’t, what about the person who’s actually meant to complete the quest?”
“I don’t know. Wouldn’t they have started doing something about itby now? I haven’t heard of anything.” She forgot what she’d been told about what Saryar was up to. Kestrel sighed.
A moment with you, traveller. It’s been a while since I pointed it out. Is it ok for Ris to take Saryar’ss quest or not? Is it ok for her to lie about it to everyone else or not? She was acceptance. Please do think about it …Take a deep breath, go look at the sky — but come back quickly.
Are you done? Ok. We can sit here under my sky; it was midnight, and Lumen was bright and still swollen from the double full moon the other night. A few clouds sailed scross his face, too thin to dim his shine. The air was breath-quiet and still, the earth was warmly peaceful, and our thoughts allowed a moment. So still that you could feel your heart beating. There’s your breath in the air, mixing with the breeze that stirred the grasses and seemed to hum between the blades. The silver stars shone like jewels. Keep this moment, make it a memory, make it yours. Slowly, so slowly, the night turned to dawn, painting the sky with indigo first then rose and pyrite before the pale blue morning truly took hold, and the light woke my — or our, if you wish — friends.
Ris and Kestrel practised their magic throughout the morning. I chatted with Leyin, and Lulu and Ink were talking about various animals. We stopped for lunch when the sun stood at the peak of its arc across the clouded sky, and Ink flew ahead. When he returned he reported seeing a forest that stretched all along the horizon, and said we’d reach Anshymys by tomorrow night. We set off again, and he flew south with Opal for a while. They came back handspan or two later. The kit perched on Lulu’s shoulder and the bird perched on Ris’. He described a wide lake with a river flowing through it, which Kestrel said was the Cadential Beck.
I watched over my friends in the light blue of dawn-twilight, their chests rising and falling as if in response to the breeze. Birds, insects, and small creatures were beginning to move about.
“So here we hold, ’twixt the realms of Etrunbor and of the Fay, both Seelie and Unseelie, for a night. As if hesitating on the threshold of a change. I sit on a threshold also, here between night and sunrise. Both feel as potent, like this morrow we will walk into something wonderful and in the days to come we could walk towards an end of irreparable temper. I think we are travelling through brume,” I mused aloud as the darkness paled.
Pear stood up and stretched, before moving closer to Lulu. Leyin stirred and woke and, after a moment, so did Kestrel. The stillness and thoughtful wonder slunk away as quickly as stella rose.
“Do you think we’ll see an ole? Leyin asked.
“Maybe. We might pass where some are often found, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll see one.”
“What about the rogue shadow that lives in Anshymys?” said Ris. Kestrel frowned and thought for a moment.
“She lives west of the city, and the road avoids her territory.”
“I wonder what she’s like.” Lulu hopped over a tree root, light-footed and moving with ease.
“I wouldn’t want to meet her.”
Ris joined Lulu, zig-zagging between trees and leaping over a patch of flowers. Her years of exploration in the forest surrounding Orsilnon had remained in her memory like footsteps are engraved into stairs over the span of decades –she could almost smell the pine as she and Lulu danced across the forest. She looked up and saw the sun between the deciduous crowns of leaves above. Noon — plenty of time until sunset. Except we were in Anshymys with friends we’d made through questing, not in Rithesanlyr in our hometown. Ris slowed, remembering with a spark of longing to go back, the good moments with Saryar and Rumour. She sighed.
“What thing wrong?” Ink said. Lulu slowed to walk with us and listen.
“So, I was thinking about one of my last nights in Orsilnon with my sister and her shadow. Promise and Rumour acted out the story of the sun and moons for Saryar and me. Afterwards, Saryar asked what we were going to do when spring came. I lied and told her I was staying, and I joked that Lord Ryuun might give us a month of trial work with him. Saryar said neither of us would be chosen because I have crow magic and she’s a Cursed. Then on the night of the celebrations we left. Just like that, we vanished like a wisp.”
“You must miss them,” said Leyin.
“I do. I hope they’re alright,” Ris said.
“Sioos! Iela nar labinta ësthë, ëtch!” Kestrel called.
“Peculiar labyrinth,” Ink said, settling at the entrance. “Trees so tall they shade it all, and centre is guarded with a wall.”
“Why isn’t it all open?” asked Lulu.
“This labyrinth is probably guarded by an ole. They’ll only let one person in at a time.” Kestrel reached her hand up to pet Opal.
“If anyone goes in, we should only do one person then keep moving,” Ris said.
“You should go in, Ris.” Leyin said. Ris looked around at everyone before agreeing.
“Aekvoos ëyalau, anikau litchë inay?” Kestrel spoke into the labyrinth.
“Ëa litchë,” came the reply, spoken in a clear, sweet voice like tintinnabulum. Ris looked at the Seelie, who nodded and told her to take her boots of so she’d be able to ground herself more easily. She took out her rock and held it in her palm and, taking a deep breath, entered the labyrinth.
The chalk-white stone was smooth and cool underfoot. The path was indicated with a slightly darker stone. With each slow step, she drew in a steady breath. Her mind fell open like a book yet to be written in, her magic speaking of the dappled shade and of the voice of the breeze that swelled between the branches overhead. Her breath settled into a steady rhythm, rising and falling with every other step, as she drew near the wall at the centre. The winding, narrow path guided Ris through the inner loops, and for several minutes she was only aware of her feet on the stone.
“What’s she going to do when she gets to the middle?” Leyin asked, watching Ris.
“Find way to talk to wyvern-stars?” Ink suggested.
“That’s a good idea. She still doesn’t know how exactly she’d going to save Lucarih’thën does she?” said Lulu.
“Lucarih’thën,” Ink repeated. Kestrel shook her head.
“She also doesn’t know how to talk to them in the first place.”
“Wouldn’t she just use telepathy?” said Leyin.
“She might not be strong enough yet. Hopefully the ole will be able to help.”
Ris looked up at the path drew back near her friends.
“Use your telepathy to talk to the wyvern-stars The ole should be able to help,” Leyin said.
“Who should I talk to? “ she signed back. “The king is weak and I don’t know the queen’s name.”
“Oh yeah. Try Ëtacihruðuhl maybe.” Practising her telepathy with Kestrel was one thing, but to reach out to a wyvern-star? There was no way she was anywhere near strong enough, Ris thought. What if she couldn’t save Lucarih’thën because her telepathy wasn’t strong enough and never could be because she was marked for crow magic Aside from that, it would take a lot of strength to even reach a wyvern-star, let alone hel them. What if she couldn’t save the Cursed and Enchanted. Ris tossed her rock up and gripped it tightly when it landed. And she’d have to deal with a battle, and most likely with some death. She hadn’t coped well when she killed that sand-singer, Certuul. The sudden resurfacing of the memory stung. Ris breathed it away, still walking. She held her stone against her chest, aware of her heartbeat. The Solinan in her mind tried to remind her that she’d been chosen to save Lucarih’thën — she could do that at least, surely — and drew her into the centre of the labyrinth, where the ole stood.
The ole was similar to the one Kestrel had described, but this one wore a midnight blue cloak and a garland of ivy on their head. She looked on Ris serenely for a couple of seconds, appearing to be thinking.
“What do you seek?”
“I want to talk to a wyvern-star. I need to know how to save Lucarih’thën, their king.”
“Do you know any of their names?” the ole asked, and Ris nodded. “Good. I can provide the strength you need, but I cannot do it for you.” She nodded again and linked with the ole.
Ris felt a tingling surge of power spread into her body. It settled as she inhaled slowly, then she sent her thoughts spiraling upwards through the gold-green canopy towards the azure sky. She called Ëtacihruðuhl’s name over and over and over, envisioning stars and a swirl of indigo and cobalt. Then she found him. The suddeness almost caused the link to break but she steadied herself, vaguely aware of the ole’s talloned hand upon her shoulder. For a moment she remained silent, internally panicking that she didn’t know how to speak the wyvern-stars’ language.
“A human voice — I have not heard one in my mind for many long years.” Ëtacihruðuhl spoke first, using Commish. Ris relaxed a little.
“Yes. Hi. I’m Ris, I’m a friend of Leyin’s — she was the one who helped you during the GlassShatter Age.”
“Oh yes, I remember her. WIll you tell her I still watch over her, and that I’m proud of her, and I hope we can talk again one day soon?”
“Of course. I’m actually trying to help your king so he can help the Cursed and Enchanted.Do I need to talk to your queen to do that?”
“Yes. Her name is Hë’ӧðinðuhl.”
“Thank you.” Like the very last moment before a candle burns out, Ëtacihruðuhl’s presence faded quickly.
With the same momentum and force as a stone plummeting into a lake, her thoughts fell back into her own mind and she sunk to the ground.
“Just sit for a bit, that drained a lot of your energy.” Ris crossed her legs and sat holding her stone, running her thumb over its familiar texture. She ran the conversation over in her head, repeating Hë’ӧðinðuhl’s name a couple of times aloud to remember it. Ëtacihruðuhl was sweet and kind, and it was easy to see why Leyin loved and mised him so much.
On the ninth of Shonta, in late afternoon, we came to a road and the southern gate into Tasyënlor. We’d become used to Kestrel’s strangeness looks (compared to non-Fay) but here the streets were full of people that just radiated a sense of wonder and awe. Kestrel was in her country, and we were the outsiders.
“Where are we going to stay?” asked Lulu.
“I’m hoping to find one of my friends — he goes by Bee. I don’t rember exactly which way his house is, but I do know he lived on the eastern side before I left with my mother.” She turned right at the next big intersection, leading us through the bustling, beautifully cobbled streets. It was strange to hear so much Faerin, but it was as beautiful as its speakers. The kits perched on a shoulder each,, while Ink flew high above us for a little while longer, until he almost got lost and settled with Ris. I went dormant until Kestrel knocked on the door she hoped was Bee’s.
“…Kestrel?! Trasarae ta arzëntyae! I haven’t seen you in years!” exclaimed the Fay who opened it.
“Nors taylor litchë osuray. It’s been too long. I’m glad to seee you again, Bee,” Kestrel said, completely beaming. Bee looked human, apart from his translucent, pale gold wings that fell from his shoulders. THere was a sketch on the wall of a bee with the same kind of wings.
“He’s a shapeshifter,” Leyin said, hands slower than usual with dejection.
“Yes,” said Kestrel, seeming unsure how to respond.
“I miss my magic,” she sighed. “What forms does he have?” Kestrel repeated the question aloud.
“I have my plain, unshifted form,” he answered, and his wings disappeared, “I have my bee form,” he buzzed around for a moment, “and I have my frog form.” His frog form was small, a pale chartreuse, and had speckled stripes across his back. He leyt out a warbling chip. Ink ruffled his feathers a little and glided down to the floor next to Bee. He cocked his head and peered at him with one eye. Bee chirped again, concerned. Ink tried to imitate it, but it came out as more a a broken caw. Bee hopped forward a little and chirped again, and Ink tried again. He took a second to preen his wing before tring a different approach. This time he croaked, drawing out the sound and adding a bit of a chitter at the end.
“That sounds really good, Ink,” Lulu said.
“Thank!” he replied, excitedly hopping in a circle.
Bee changed back into his usually form, and started preparing dinner. Ris and Kestrel helped as well. Lulu asked Bee for something to feed the kits with, and after they’d eated they settled on various ledges around the room to preen and nap. We told Bee about the quest over dinner, and made plans to visit the temple tomorrow. Ris went to bed as soon as she could get there, and Kestrel joined her soon after. Ris neded to be well-rested to talk to Hë’ӧðinðuhl, and there was no guarantee any of the temple workers would be able to lend her some strength.
“I forgot most people don’t know seasign. It’s going to be really annoying to have to get you guys to translate everything I want to say,” said Leyin, hands slow, seeming uncertain, and eyes dull.
“Ugh, yeah, that’s hard,” I said.
“Makes sense. But we’re happy to translate, it won’t be a nuisance for us. Still though,” said Lulu. We gave her a big hug, and I ruffled her hair.
“It’s been a long couple of centuries,” Leyin said.
That caught me off guard. I always forgot the Enchanted don’t age, and that the GlassShatter Age was so very long agao. Ris and Saryar saw it as just part of how our world worked. It was just a fact of life, that some people were born into a life followed by shadows, while forty-seven one-powerful people were now immune to time’s ticking. But the GlassShatter Age had been so important and left such an impact that we quested to fix the things it left wrong. Time was starting to run out though, and soon Leyin would be able to age again if all went well. No wonder she mourned the friends she’d made and lost through the years; to live over two hundred and sixty years! I’d be afraid to be abandoned too.
I slipped from the doorway into the street, heading out beneath the tree where Ink roosted for the night. I wandered, curious about what the Fay capital was like. It was probably better seen in daylight, but the moonlight was beautiful too and I wanted to explore. The cobbled roads were uneven in places, but it was mostly flat, and in lesser streets there grew dandelions and clumps of moss. I passes a couple of houses with domed roofs, although the majority were A-framed or steepled. After a bit, I came to a garden with wisteria-covered trellises and a trickling fountain. I laid on the grass for an hour or so, watching the stars, until the moon stood behind a tree. I got up, meandering north by measuring the stars.
“Oh, hey Promise. Did you go exploring?” Leyin asked.
“Yeah. I think I found the temple , but then I came back. Why are yu awake?” I signed. A candle was burning on the nightstand.
“Didn’t feel like sleeping.” Her face was redder than the candlelight should have made it seem, and she’d drawn flowers and mushrooms along her legs and arms.
“Are you ok?”
“Tired.” No, if she was tired she’d at least be wanting to sleep.
“I love you. You’re one of my turtledoves,” I said, settling on top of the blankets next to her. She poked my knee, saying she loved me too. I leaned on her shoulder — and she on my head.
“You know were here with you. We’re not going to leave. And Ris is going to get Lucarih’thën to undo the damage. You won’t lose us, I swear it,” I murmured into the dim silence.
We ambled along a curved path outside the temple, treading on dappled shadows from the wisteria canopy and on marble tiles that formed stepping stones between the grey pebbles. The path came to the gate about halfway sound, and we entered. There was a broad, roofed walkway encompassing what was assumably the labyrinth carved into hedges, and shrines were evenly spread on the outer side of the walkway between long benches. Kestrel lead us around to the shrine for Faetur-Rinaes quickly before she and Ris, headed into the labyrinth while the others stayed with Bee.
Ris and Kestrel walked in pensive silence, passing any others they came across with a nod. The air they breathed seemed vitrified and delicate.
Ris’ thoughts spun out, like a spider’s websilk, towards the sun — aided by Kestrel for as much magic she could lend. She called out to Hë’ӧðinðuhl and pushed through into the dark of the universe. Ris could not find the queen, and doubt crept in. Her strength began to wane.
“Ris, hold on.” Hë’ӧðinðuhl heeded her call, and sent strength flooding through her veins. SHe gasped, as if she had been drowning, and reeled back a step.
“I’ve got you,” murmured Kestrel aloud, as well as the wyvern-star queen in her halcyon, reverberating voice.
“Hë’ӧðinðuhl, I’m not sure I have the strength for this. What if there’s no-one to help me reach you when I need it most?”
“If Saryar were to try to save Lucarih’thën, you would lose your life. You have the strength for this, Ris; you have time to grow and learn.
“A person’s ability for magic is like a jug. Everyone’s jug is a different size, although most people have a similar capacity. You capacity for magic and the strength to use it is unusually vast, despite it not appearing so from your current strength. You must train, so you can reach us on your own. When the time comes, I will provide you with all the power you need.”
“When should I save the king?”
“If Saryar calls on him before you help him, he will die. I do not know if he will even be able to reverse every fate damaged by our mistakes, if that happens.”
“Will he be able to help the Cursed and Enchanted right after his strength is restored?”
“No, he will need some time to rest,” the wyvern-star queen said.
“Ok,” said Ris, talking through her thought process, “so I still neeed to ask the Fay king to tell the Enchanted to gather a the TenthTide Shores, and do the same in Tezynnaro and Ka-Sill Karst. I can help Lucarih’thën after going back to Rithesanlyr to ask the same of King Bhaltair the fith.
“There will be no need to ask King Bhaltair, Saryar will have already spoken with him.”
“What’s she even doing? She doesn’t have any magic, but Kyrell said she was spending a lot of time with Orsilnon’s wizard and she’d been trying to talk to shadows which was why Kyrell went to her in the first place.”
“She is a mirror from the prophecy, she is doing what she must to save the Cursed and Enchanted.”
“Each person to their own paths, Ris,” Hë’ӧðinðuhl admonished. “But you are getting weak. You need to break the link before your strength and Kestrel’s runs out, else there will be backlash like there was when you spoke with Ëtacihruðuhl.” Ris nodded, forgetting she was usig telepathy rather than speaking face-to-fa ce, before ending the connection and returning to her own mind.
She and Kestrel sat against the trunk of the silver tree. When they’d first come into the centre of the labyrinth, Ris had been so pre-occupied with telepathy and calling out to Hë’ӧðinðuhl that she didn’t notice the tree. It was enormous, reaching high, and spreading its resplendent boughs over the labyrinth. Kestrel stood up to pick a golden apple each. They ate, slowly recovering. The queen had shared her power with Ris, but only to bolster the connection rather than allow her to talk for as long as she wanted.
On the way back to Bee’s house, Ris told the others the next step of the quest. We had lunch, and Ris and Kestrel had a nap while the rest of us sat in the garden. Mushrooms speckled the grass, and there was a ring at about the centre of the yard. Ink was looking for something to eat, and started hopping towards one of the mushrooms. He considered it with one eye.
“Ink! Don’t eat the mushrooms!” Lulu yelled, thoroughly startling the crow. He tripped and stumbled beak-first into the mushroom, coughing and spluttering and eventually swallowing a chunk of the mushroom he’d broken off.
“You silly crow!” said Leyin, with fingers quick and a smile on her face.
“It’s ok, that one wasn’t poisonous,” Bee said.
We headed to the palace, a waning Lumen strung up in the west above the streets, passing the temple on the way. When we arrived at the gate, the guards asked what our business was. Ris told them she wanted to speak to the king and queen, and one of them escorted us through the halls. It went as well as our request to King Evander in Etrunbor had, although this time no crow user questioned Ris. I was distracted by the rough beauty of the room.
Back at the TenthTide shores, the day before Ris killed Certuul, Kestrel told us about Tasyënlor and the legend that the Rauskie Ta Rinaelaae Nasius Siltchoos sang the palace from trees. It certainly looked like it — the ceiling came together as if it were a hollow an owl might make its nest in. The window above the thrones was beautiful too, the wood was carved so thin in some places that it let golden beams shine through, and in other places the wood was only a frame for the almond-shaped gaps that showed the clear sky beyond.
After we went back to Bee’s (who’d stayed home and had a friend over while we were out) and eaten, he showed Ris and Kestrel to a small wizard’s guild to do some telepathy training. Ink flew off to do his own thing. Leyin, Lulu, and Bee hung out in a plant nursery. Kestrel’s kits came with us, and perched on trusses while the friends gallivanted around — the workers were alright with them just chilling but not looking for anything to buy. After a bit, Leyin started drawing plants and mushrooms on her skin. There was a small water feature for water plants near the centre of the space, and Lulu investigated it for any frogs. She found a dragonfly and a wisp like the tattered ball Ris had in her pack, but the only frog she found was Bee being playful. She also found a lizard lounging on the sunlit stone tiles.
Ris linked with Lulu when she and Kestrel were done for the day, and everyone went back to Bee’s again. Ink returned, bringing with him a silver ring he’d found lying on the road, and croaking about all the shiny things he’d seen. Ris showed us how stable and confident her telepathic links were now, rightly proud of her progress. Kestrel had done some training too, as well as some fire practice.
The next day was spent baking and practising magic. We backed bread, and a tray full of Fay treats. Bee also took us down to the market to buy a wheel of hard cheese and some cured meat. Ris started getting restless to go, so it was a good thing we’d silently decided to use today to organise provisions. Come nightfall, we’d packed our stuff up and were ready to leave on the morrow.
Ris liked Tasyënlor and found Bee to be such a sweet and friendly person, but she didn’t feel comfortable staying anywhere for very long. But although she and her friends wished they could stay longer and spend more time with him, they had a quest to do. So in the morning, after Kestrel promised to meet up with Bee again once the quest was done, we left the Fay city. We journeyed westwards, along a road that would take us to a port town called Asytchët.
The kits hooted and chirped, calling to each other as they wheeled over our heads and flew amongst the trees. We imitated their cries instinctively, bouncing sounds between us as if we understood what they meant. Ink tried too, but didn’t sound nearly as good. Leyin made funny faces at us, but her hands remained still. The crow and the kits chose a shoulder each to perch on after about an hour. Lulu and Ris sang ‘The Ancient Call’, and Leyin perked up a bit at that, like a flower in a vase.
“I wish I could play an instrument. I really liked a lot of the songs Captain Nebula plays,” said Kestrel. Leyin wilted again.
“I miss Nebula and everyone else on the Vagabond.”
“They were really nice. I hope we get to see them again one day,” said Lulu.
Ink flew ahead a bit to forage for a snack. He soon came back rather hurriedly, flustered and squawking loudly.
“Death naidens and servants! Eerie things, bizzare and peculiar, but scare crow!”
“Death maidens and servants?” Kestrel clarified, and the bird nodded. “That must mean we’re near Symmetry’s territory.”
“Symmetry?” Lulu asked.
“That’s the really old rogue that lives in Anshymys, right?” said Ris.
“Yes. SHe’s actually a wrait, because she wasn’t attached when her companion died, but she was rogue for like thirteen years before that anyway. I’m not actually sure when Symmetry’s counterpart died, but I remember being told scary stories about her as a child, so she’s been around for at least thirty years now.”
“So is she only dangerous because she’s well over the five-year mark that makes us become dangerous, or was she malignant in the first place?” I asked.
“I think she was friendly, but after that five-year mark sh slowly became deranged,” said Leyin.
“How does going rogue actually work, Promise?” asked Lulu.
“Yeah, why dangerous at one year and can kill after five anyway?” Ink croaked.
“I’m not actually sure, but I think it’s like when a cat goes feral. Something about a shadow no longer being with their counterpart makes them go insane, maybe. You know how shadows are classed as creatures of the Dark Realm?” I attempted to explain, thinking through it for the first time myself, and the others nodded. “It’s like shadows exist right near the line between the Shining and Dark Realms, but when we go insane we fall from that twilight space into full darkness.”
“The Dark realm is the plane of night and shadow, and is about being hidden or dangerous, right?” Lulu said.
“Yes. Oh, oh! I think I’ve got it! The Shining and Dark realms exist side-by-side since they’re both realms of the living. Except they’re more like states of being, because a change in emotions can shift a person to a different realm. I think if a shadow is unattached they’re in the Shining Realm — they’re more alive, more connected — but the longer they’re unattached for, the more their body tries to pull them back to the Dark Realm because everyone generally stays within their realm for long periods of time just because it’s how they’re meant to exist. Shadows are just meant to be shadows, but we can be people too and it’s fun so some shadows don’t want to mirror their companions ever, at all, and they try to live like they’re not shadows. This creates a paradox; they become simultaneously in the Dark Realm and the Shining Realm, and that duality drives them insane because how can a thing be in two realms at once? I hope that makes sense.”
“Yeah, it does. And my magic says you’re right, too,” said Ris with a smile.
“That’s so interesting,” Kestrel said.
“Peculiar. But still scary things here, don’t like.” Ink was sitting on Lulu’s shoulder, looking unsettled. Indeed, there were sounds of rustling and footsteps amongst the bushes, and the canopy was thick and allowed little light to filter through. We picked up our pace a bit.
I kept watch over my friends as they slept. It had been a while since there had been a need for guarding them, but the presence of the death maidens and servants bothered them. Over dinner, Kestrel had explained that the road gave Symmerty’s territory a wide berth and the little ghostly creatures weren’t usually seen anywhere near here, so it was worrying that we’d seen any at all. Well, Ink remained the only one to have seen them, but we were certain the rustling that followed us was them. I was curious to know what they were like, but at the same time I didn’t want to meet one. Of course, now I’d thought that, one would cross my path eventually.
Attempting to distract myself, I got up and added some wood to the fire before returning to my spot on the fallen tree we’d made our camp next to. The log caught fire, and the flames licked up and down its length, sometimes popping and sending sparks skywards. It was easy to lose myself to musing, but a sound behind me woke me from my reverie brought on by the fire. I turned around to face the shadowy forest, wary, and allied my rising nervousness. The night seemed to whisht now that I watched it, and after a while of steady quiet I became a little wistful. Leaves occasionally fluttered, and crickets sang. The dim, nearly aureate firelight flickered, leaping up the tree trunks and falling to the bushes. I remembered with a smile the time Ink hopped amongst the treasures Nebula had bought from the merfolk while croaking that same word — aureate — over and again. He was honestly so adorable and fascinating.
Something stirred and pattered close by, startling me from my thoughts. I looked around, and saw one of those eldritch creatures standing near Ris. It was the same grey as a silr, and was clad in alabaster-white cloth. It was about knee-high, and wore a pointed hat much like wizards in fairytales do, and looked rather like a mushroom. It had a thin mouth and abyssal eyes, and was somewhat translucent just like a shadow. It gazed at me, and I stared back, feeling quite unsettled by the creature.
“I’m not here as an omen of death. Symmetry is on the move, as are you and your company. We are simply following her,” he said softly. I couldn’t tell if ‘her’ meant Symmetry or Ris.
“Why is Symmetry on the move?”
“There comes a strange voice in the soul of the winds, speaking of a gathering of shadows in the scrubland east of Bunibehr. She is going there.
“By Lyly and Jornin, give us a way to deal with Saryar, and by Lyly, help us prevail!” I gasped. With that, the death servant turned and forsook our camp, leaving me aghast.
“Did anything unusual happen last night, Promise?” asked Lulu over breakfast. I told the group about the death servant’s visit, leaving out Ris’ twin’s name.
“That’s worrying. Not only is Symmetry going to this gathering of shadows, but it means she’s left her territory and might cross our path. She is well past the point of becoming dangerous, and she is volatile and mercurial,” said Kestrel.
“What should we do if we do meet her?” Ris said.
“Avoid combat — but keep your daggers on you, just in case.”
“Would she be able to hurt me?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
We packed our stuff up and got underway, keeping alert. Ink went ahead to scout a couple of times, but otherwise we stayed together. I spent most of the day being dormant to avoid raising a false alarm. They didn’t stop for lunch, and instead ate as they walked. They did have a break in the afternoon though, when they came to a creek. A small troop of death maidens and servants came by, and thankfully they didn’t stay to talk. They seemed a little startled to see us, and hastened on. Leyin thought they were kind of cute, and although there was a certain charm to their appearance it didn’t change the fact that they spooked us. Once the group left the creek, Ris spoke aloud of what her magic showed her. The way the light trickled down through through the leaves, the cadence of each person’s voice when they spoke, the way Leyin’s fingers moved as if they were dancers, the rhythm of their footsteps as they fell in and out of sync with each other, the sound of the kits’ bird-like calls, the smell of dirt and new growth, the crunch of dry leaves scattered across the road. And, too, how close they’d all become. There were times we didn’t have to speak a word and we’d still understand — I guess that’s what happens when you spend three months travelling with each other. Have you ever felt that? Not just telling a friend’s mood from their behaviour, or asking what’s wrong when they’re quieter than usual, but answering a question before they even think to ask it. Even back in Orsilnon with Saryar and Rumour, Ris hadn’t been able to do that. Here, with turtledoves she’d found trying to save the wyvern-star king, she was comfortable and free and so much more than she had known she could be.
When the sun set, our luck faded as quickly as the day. More death maidens and servants came skittering around our camp, soon followed by the wraith herself. Everyone jumped up, weapons out. Symmetry stopped and regarded us for a second.
“What do you want?” said Ris firmly.
“Your voice is the one on the wind,” she remarked. “I am going to Rithesanlyr, to bring people to their knees so they can free those who go with me. These souls have waited too long for release, and they are not the only ones. Shadows will be freed as well. They should not be tied to the Cursed, and nor should they be so monstrous. You there, mirror’s companion, rogue as you are, you should join me. Why do you not turn on these?”
“They are my friends!” I cried.
“Shadows have no friends,” she answered coldly.
“I won’t join you.”
“Then I shall sunder the tie between your life and hers. This girl has lost her shadow, the Fay’s one is too timid to be her own person,” she scoffed, “Kyrell killed his counterpart and joined the ranks of the truly free. It is not so often that shadows who have the courage to be their own person are even treated as such, but as a rogue or wraith you would have power to demand that respect.”
“I am treated with the same care and love as any of my friends here! And I won’t let you kill Ris!”
“Oh?” Symmetry raised one eyebrow. “Try to protect her, then.”
She lunged at Ris, fingers outstretched with their long, pointed nails, howling like a banshee. It all happened so quickly, despite time seeming to pause and stutter. I leapt forwards, pushing Symmetry away. We tumbled into the brambles. Scrambling to get up, I felt her nails digging into my arm. Ris came at the rogue with her dagger held high, shouting something. Kestrel commanded the brambles to climb up around Symmetry’s torso and hold her in place, although she soon tore free. Ink swooped down with a knife in his beak — the same knife from the cooking utensils we’d given Leyin so she could protect herself — and successfully wounded Symmetry. But she was an old shadow; it was not nearly enough. We could not kill her. We’d be lucky to survive this encounter. Leyin slunk between everyone, returned knife in hand, and slashed at Symmetry’s calf. Shrieking, the wraith spun around to retaliate, but found no-one there. Leyin was quick-footed and faster than Stella. Lulu swiftly took her place, dagger in hand. Symmetry moved to take hold of her. Ducking, Lulu carved new lines into the rogue’s legs, before straightening up and kicking her on the side of the head. Symmetry reeled back, and Ris managed to stab her back before Lulu got another kick in. Ink swooped in with the knife again, this time missing his agile target. Screeching, the wraith closed in on Ris, who’d let her guard down amidst the turmoil. Ris backed away, raising her dagger and snarling. Lulu gave a shout and leapt towards them, and bit Symmetry’s arm. While Lulu held Symmetry off, Kestrel bound the wraith with tree roots. The earth rumbled, trembling, and rose up around her as an extra precaution.
I grabbed hold of Ris’ hand and we ran.
“She’s not the mirror!” Symmetry called after us, venom in her voice. Ignoring her, we kept going. Finally, when we could run no more, we fell to the ground, still panting. Everyone drank some water as soon as their breath evened out again, and we took a moment to process what had just happened.
“She was trying to kill you, Ris!” said Leyin. Ris was still in shock at it all, and just stared for a second.
“Wait, so Kestrel, does that mean you just saved my life?”
“Oh. In a round-a-bout way, I suppose I did. Promise did most of it, if she hadn’t jumped in you would have been dead before anyone could do anything about it anyway.” Ris suddenly embraced me, tears spilling down her cheeks.
“Thank you, Promise!” she said between sobs, before wincing and pulling away. Blood was seeping from several long cuts on her arm. The same cuts were on my arm, as well as the ones from when Symmetry grabbed my arm. Injuries caused to a shadow’s companion didn’t hurt their shadow, but this was possibly the first time I myself had been hurt. It stung and ached and burned all at once. It seemed Kestrel and Ink had gotten away injury-free, but Kestrel was drained from using so much earth magic all at once. Leyin got up to help Ris and me since she’d grabbed all our packs when we’d fled, and realised she’d sprained her ankle. Lulu had too, but she didn’t care as much, so she got the things out to clean us up and bandage our wounds — not that mine really needed bandaging, since shadows don’t bleed.
We made camp a little way away from the road, where we were less likely to be seen if the rogue or the death maidens and servants came along it in search of us. They dared not risk a fire, and after they’d eaten they burrowed under their blankets. I stood watch, pacing around my turtledoves, turning over the wraith’s words over and over in my mind — ‘Why do you not turn on these? … Shadows have no friends … Then I shall sunder the tie between your life and hers.’ They stung. I knew her words were false, she did not live my life, but they cast sparks of doubt into my heart. Still they stung; I loved my friends so very much, and they loved me. They trusted me to protect them from her while they slept! Hush, hush, I won’t let Symmetry’s lies turn me against them. Go away, get out of my head! I paced back and forth, determined to banish the thoughts from my head, but the harder I tried the more intense they became. Death maidens and servants skittered around the camp — I whipped my head around and saw their robes flash between bushes and trees. What if Symmetry found us? I was alone in the night. If she tried to kill someone, I probably wouldn’t be able to stop her. A small voice in the back of my mind asked, and what if she tries to kill you?
“Promise, are you ok?” I turned around, and saw Ris sitting up. I shrunk into myself and looked away. She came closer and gave me a hug, and I tucked my head down into my knees.
“Hey, it’s ok. I’m alive, you’re alive, everyone’s ok.”
“No, we got cut, and Leyin and Lulu sprained their ankles.”
“But we’re all bandaged up, it’ll heal.”
“What if Symmetry comes back? What if she comes in the night while you’re all asleep? I can’t protect you by myself, what if you wake up in the middle of the night and- and-” Tears fell onto my knees.
“Promise, I’m sure everything will be ok,” Ris said, rubbing my back.
“You don’t know that!” I shouted, pushing her away, my tears now hot.
“Yeah, you’re scared for me and for yourself and for all our friends. You can’t tell right now.”
“Well either way, I really think we’ll be fine,” said Ris. “Do you want me to stay up with you?” I nodded. There was no moon to tell the time by, since Argenti was just about new and Lumen was waning and even if he was up, we couldn’t see him for the trees.
Eventually Lumen showed himself between the crowns of leaves above us, by which point Stella was getting up anyway. Ris and I had spent the rest of the night in silent company. I was glad to hear birdsong again, instead of the fearful, fitful scampering of creatures in the dark. Ink was the first to wake, and fluttered down from his perch in a tree above us. He poked into Kestrel’s pack, which had most of our food, but he is a bird and cannot open things that require thumbs. Ris got out a bit of the cured meat from the market in Tasyënlor and gave it to him, which he promptly scoffed down before going off to look for something more. The little pesky thing, always hungry and mischievous. He’d probably come back with something shiny stolen from another bird’s nest. The others woke up and ate before Ink returned, and by the time he did we were ready to go. The day went much better than the past couple had. Even so, there was a time when we heard footsteps thundering after us, at which point we booked it. We had a break before continuing, and walked slower on account of Leyin and Lulu.
The forest thinned out, and the trees were replaced by turrets and houses. We headed down the main street, greeted with leers cast on us by Unseelies. There didn’t seem to be many Seelie Fay in Asytchët. The town had a straightforward layout, it seemed, with the main street leading right down to the port. There, we were met with the blinding glint of the sun on the water, the smell of bread and of fish, and the coarse voices of the sailors as they called to each other. There were a few Seelies here, who, when they saw us, quickly came over to give us assurance in this unfamiliar place.
The Seelies greeted us in their fashion, to which Kestrel responded in kind, and the rest of us performed the usual Rithesanlic greeting of right hand over left over our hearts. They introduced themselves as Arzëninta (who had arctic-blue swirls on her sun-baked shoulders), Ylarsol (who seemed to have an ethereal glow about him), and Strawberry (who wore a red cloth over her frizzy, honey-brown hair). There was nothing obviously Fay about Strawberry, and Ris wasn’t entirely certain she wasn’t human — although, if she was, it was clear she’d lived with Fay for many years.
“Are you guys looking to get on a boat?” asked Arzëninta.
“Yeah. Is there one leaving within the next couple of days?” Ris said.
“I think there’s one leaving tomorrow, but let’s go check,” said Ylarsol. “Where are you going?”
“We want to go to Tezynnaro.”
Ylarsol led us around the harbour, muttering to himself as we passed the ships.
“So where do you come from?” Strawberry asked.
“Promise, Lulu, Ink, and I are Rithesanlic. Kestrel lived in Volyia for a while. I think Leyin is Etrunborian?” Ris hesitated and looked at her, and she signed back that she was.
“Oh you use seasign?” Ylarsol asked, fingers moving with ease. Her face lit up.
“Yes. I’m Enchanted, and I live on the Vagabond — I’m helping my friends with their quest at the moment.”
“The Vagabond? Too bad you came today; she left for Skysalt just yesterday.”
“It’s alright.” Skysalt was the name of the port-town in Tezynnaro.
“I think the Sternula is carrying goods to Rithesanlyr,” Ylarsol gestured to the ship on our left, then to the one just ahead, “but the Grey Noddy should be able to take you to Skysalt. Hey!, is Captain Peter there?” He called out to a crewman on the deck, who ran off to find the captain.
“You said you’re on a quest?” said Arzëninta. Having learnt to be more careful about telling others about her quest, Ris simply nodded.
“That sounds fun. What is it?”
“We’re saving the Cursed and Enchanted,” Kestrel answered.
“Good luck.” Strawberry smiled.
The crewman returned, bringing the captain with him. Captain Peter said he was indeed leaving for Skysalt tomorrow, and that he had some space for us. We would, of course, have to help out, but we had experience from the Vagabond. We paid him the three guilns Bee had given us, and our new Seelie friends put in two guilns each so we could pay most of the fare. Captain Peter told us to come back tomorrow when Stella sat eleven hands above the horizon. Arzëninta invited us to stay at her house for the night.
In the morning, Kestrel grew a new plant for Strawberry as well as helping some of her sickly ones, and plenty of vegetables for each of them. They said they were happy to help us pay the fare, but they were all Seelie and debts had to be repaid. Strawberry was happy with her plants, but vegetables weren’t much of a repayment for Arzëninta and Ylarsol — none of them could think of something else though, so the debt was considered paid. Then, as the sun neared eleven hands, we thanked the Seelies for their hospitality before leaving to board the Grey Noddy.
Captain Peter’s crew wasn’t nearly as welcoming as Nebula’s was, and they treated us as outsiders with no intentions of befriending us. The days passed slowly, and little of note occurred, so I spent most of the time dormant. It only took a day for the group to adjust to the tilting manner of the ship, and they worked hard to earn their keep. On quieter days, Kestrel called on the wind to speed us along, and Ris practised her telepathy. After eleven days at sea, we put in at Skysalt.
Tezynnaro was hot, and open spaces appeared bleak. Stella ruled cruelly here, sending down searing, burning light. The leaves on the tall, grey-trunked trees hung vertically, swaying instead of bobbing upon breezes. Even in what little decent shade there was to be found, the air cracked with heat and moisture clung to your skin. Down near the water was bearable, where the breeze was cooled by the waves, but after we’d helped unload the Grey Noddy we ventured further into Skysalt.. Captain Peter directed us to the pavilioned amphitheatre at the end of the main road coming off the docks. The amphitheatre was a couple of steps set into the ground, and served the same purpose as the square in Orsilnon. There was a large group in the centre, chattering and laden with packs.
“Tanarook, arms wide. Mirika, hands spread, eyes open?” said a man walking towards us, holding his arms out as if to welcome us. My friends shared confused looks. The man shook his head, grinning to himself, then spoke again.
“Welcome. What are you looking for?” That made more sense.
“We’re on a quest,” began Ris, before realising she didn’t know enough about Tezynnaro to know what she was looking for here. “We need all the Enchanted to gather at the TenthTide Shores. Who should I talk to so they can spread the message?”
“Ah, Junalur with Corinew. Mirika, eyes wide, Eulypus and Noliban.” The man said to himself, using the Tezynnari way of speaking to help him make sense of us. “Skysalt Tanarook of a caransi. Karidil lives in the house with the red door down at the water.”
“Is that the person we should talk to?” Lulu asked. The man nodded, then held up a hand and shouted something in Tezynnari at his group.
“I’ll come. Molliberra on the Moonstone River in the Withered. Follow!” He smiled, moving to the front and leading us back down to the docks to find the house with the red door.
He knocked on the door, which was soon opened by Karidil, whose dark hair was almost entirely grey
“Tanarook, arms wide. Mirika, hands spread, eyes open?” Karidil said, and the man explained what we wanted. “Corinew in a canaben. Corinew running towards Junalur! You are freeing the Cursed and Enchanted?”
“Yes,” Ris nodded, feeling nervous and uncertain in this place she knew hardly anything about.
“I will tell the Enchanted as they come through. What about the Cursed?”
“They should gather in Rithesanlyr, east of Bunibehr I think,” answered Ris, remembering what Symmetry had said. Karidil nodded thoughtfully, before looking back at us.
“Well; Mirika, eyes bright — you have done what you came for, you have told me and I will tell the Enchanted. Is this all? What about the gnomes?”
“We need to talk to them too. How do we get there?” Kestrel said.
“Jirrel, face painted with Tekynorree colours — you’ll have to join a tribe temporarily. They will be able to take you to Ka-Sill Karst.” Karidil and the other man talked for a moment. It seemed he was leaving with his tribe today, but wasn’t heading in the right direction, although another tribe was planning to leave tomorrow and head towards the southern tip of the Withered Canyon before going to trade with the gnomes.
“Eulypus and Noliban. Itze, painting with Tekynorree colours?” the man asked, gesturing to us. The tribe leader considered us, eyebrows furrowed.
“We need to go to Ka-Sill Karst,” answered Lulu.
“Ah. Yes, Itze painting Jirrell with Tekynorree colours — you can join my tribe for the journey. What’s your plan for after that; are you leaving by boat from there?”
“Most likely,” Ris said.
“Ok. My tribe is leaving tomorrow afternoon, come to the canaben before then,” said the tribe leader, before saying goodbye to the other man (the canaben was the amphitheatre). “Hmm, you’ll need a place to sleep tonight… Come with me, I’ll take you to the kelding we’re living in.” On the way, we introduced ourselves properly. The tribe leader’s name was Mallekarri of the Jaquilu tribe
The kelding was a building with maybe fourty rooms, as well as a common room and a large kitchen. Mellakarri told us that when tribes came to a caransi they would live in a kelding until they moved on, and there were only three tribes who lived permanently at a caransi. We picked a couple of rooms, and settled in while Mallekarri went to get some food. After we’d eaten, he told us the usual routine for a journey. Since it was summer, the days became hot very quickly and by late morning it wasn’t worth doing much in the middle of the day — winter was alright though. During summer the tribes were generally nocturnal, during winter they were generally diurnal, and in autumn and spring — depending on the tribe — they were either crepuscular, diurnal, or nocturnal. Skysalt was the exception: it was the only place people came to trade with the Tezynnarons, so anyone living in Skysalt who wanted to trade with the sailors and merchants that came ended up being largely cathemeral. Tomorrow, Jaquilu would begin easing into being crepuscular and then nocturnal — and us with them. With this in mind, Lulu had a nap and the rest of us chilled. I pulled out the pieces of paper with all our notes on the wyvern-stars. I remembered that Badger had told us there was a person in Etrunbor who knew the quest had started and might have some useful information. We’d completely forgotten about it. I mentioned it to Ris, and her magic answered that they’d found us — Fang was that person, and had told us about the gnomes. He’d given us the name of a gnome to find and talk to.
I didn’t feel like exploring around Skysalt overnight, so I went dormant. Towards dawn, I unattached myself again so I could find Argenti. Leyin was up, so we went together. The moon, just about half empty, was resting on the canaben roof. A couple of stars were still visible, between the fleeting clouds.
“It’s so pretty,” I signed, and Leyin nodded.
“The number of moon risings is running out though. There used to be years’ worth of time left.”
“Yeah, but we’ve got the rest of the year. We’re going to Ka-Sill Karst to talk to the gnomes, and then we’ll go back to Rithesanlyr. Ris is going to help Lucarih’thën, and she’ll ask him to fix the fates, and everything will be ok.” I patted her head and gave her a hug. We kept walking, wandering down to the docks and along the water until we found a beach made of fine grains of sand. The tideline was inscribed with seaweed and driftwood. I crouched down to pick up shells and bits of sea glass, before joining Leyin in the sea spume and gentle, lapping waves. She’d rolled up her pants and was splashing in the shallows.
“This is such a good way to start the day,” I said.
“Playing in the water between sunrise and breakfast,” she smiled. “This is the Cerulean Sea, and the seafolk call it the Green-Reef Sea. I haven’t seen a reef before though.”
“Me either,” I replied, reaching down to pick up a shell the waves offered to me. “Speaking of the seafolk, we’re going to be travelling with Jaquilu and I doubt they know seasign.” Leyin made a face, sighing.
“The gnomes can use it, at least.” We stayed a little while longer, before heading back with our sea-treasures — including a polished shell and larger bit of sea glass for Ink.
“Tanarook, arms wide. Itze, painting Jirrell with Tekynorree colours. I am Alyneh,” said a woman. Mallekarri had introduced us to the tribe before we left.
“Pretty calling,” Ink croaked.
“My name? Thanks,” Alyneh smiled. “Do any of you have sky-gift — magic?”
“I’ve got crow and I can use telepathy, and Kestrel can too, as well as all the elemental magics.”
“You can help us then. Every tribe has a handful of magic users, and they help with getting provisions. I can use fire and water,” she said. “Anyway, why do you want to visit the gnomes?” So Ris told her about her quest; that she needed the Enchanted to gather at the TenthTide Shores, and about what Fang had told us.
“Corinew, running towards Junalur! My great-great-grandmother is an Enchanted, and my father is a Cursed. I am glad the quest is well underway.”
Night fell, but we kept walking for a few hours. Argenti was drawing near full, and when it was a couple of hand-spans above the eastern horizon we stopped to sleep. Mallekarri took the first watch. I sat with my sleeping companion, not wanting to go dormant but not feeling like exploring. I stroked Opal’s back and traced the outlines of her scales as her stomach rose and fell with each gentle breath, wondering if the wyvern-stars had a similar shape to the kits. One day, on the Grey Noddy, Captain Peter told us there were little fire-breathing lizards in Tezynnaro. Maybe we’d see one. Kits don’t breathe fire, and nor did the wyvern-stars, it seemed. Pear got up and moved to Leyin, that sweet Enchanted we’d adopted into our chosen family. Within a couple of months, she’d be able to use her voice and magic again — I’m sure she was growing excited. I shifted my gaze onto the kind and accepting Lulu, remembering Badger, October, Kian, and Zathrian, and all the others at Kenshalty. With that thought came, of course, Roselen and Cassian, but that was past and we were in Tezynnaro with the Jaquilu tribe. Strange that there were no crow users — if there were any, they would probably have already made themselves known by now, at least from Ris’ experience. My mind wandered back to Etrunbor, to Ris’ telepathic conversation with the crow user after talking to King Evander, then to Leyin again. She was close friends with Kyrell, and had been disappointed not to see him when we got to Tirshyer. We’d walked along the beach on one of those days before we left the city, and Leyin had told us about a friend she’d had while she was still looking after Ëtacihruðuhl. I didn’t know if she had any Enchanted friends — maybe I’ll ask her tomorrow, I thought. And I’d also ask Ris what the plan for Leyin was, since we weren’t sending her to the TenthTide Shores, or at least not yet.
“Hey, come look! There’s a desert drake!” someone called, softly but loud enough to get people’s attention. The dull-red little creature had spines along the sides of its belly, on its back, and under its chin. It also had two sets of horns that looked like branches broken off a dead, dry tree. Its expression was such that it looked as if it were sternly mocking something. Alyneh slowly reached towards it and gently picked it up. It looked around in a slight panic, but quickly calmed down and settled into Alyneh’s hand. Most of the creatures in Tezynnaro didn’t seem to be skittish.
“Can I hold him?” asked Lulu.
“Sure,” Alyneh smiled and gave the desert drake to her. She stroked it long its whole length, avoiding the line of larger spines along its backbone. Ink left Ris’ shoulder and settled on Lulu’s, gawking at the lizard, who became nervous and crawled up Lulu’s shirt.
“Ow, ah, ah! Little lizard, your claws are sharp and I do not appreciate you digging them into my skin,” Lulu protested.
“You alright?” Alyneh asked, and she nodded. Ris gingerly stroked the desert drake like Lulu had done, finding its spines to be mainly for show. They weren’t particularly sharp, and its belly was also somewhat flabby.
“They can breathe fire, right? What will it do if I hold a fire in my hand?” asked Kestrel.
“He’ll probably breathe fire back at you,” said Lulu. “I’m going to put him down, then you can see what happens.” Kestrel crouched down beside it. Everyone moved back and, with a snap of her fingers, Kestrel lit a fire to hold in her hand. The desert drake growled, its mouth seeming to fill with something, and then the fire came roaring out in a small cloud.
“Woah,” Ris said, and Kestrel stood back up, beaming. Lulu was grinning, and the kits were flying loops around each other.
“That was so cool!” Leyin smiled.
“Alright everyone, we’ve got to keep moving. Midday rest is coming soon,” Mallekarri called.
We’d adapted fairly well to being crepuscular, but as Jaquilu shifted into being nocturnal it became clear something would have to be done about Ink. The bird was a bird, and he found it hard to be awake all night. Naturally, he might wake in the night on the odd occasion, but for him, being nocturnal was near impossible. Ris decided he could stay awake during the day and she’d let him sleep on her shoulder at night. When he did stir he switched shoulders. Under Stella’s watch, he and I sat talking, and we accompanied each other on our wanderings — he searching for food, I searching to sate my curiosity about this copper-soiled land. There were so many kinds of strange trees here, and there was a wide variety even within the kind with the vertical leaves. Some had speckled yellow trunks, some had red blossoms, some had bark that peeled off in long strips. And then there were the purple trees. They had fern-like leaves and purple flowers, which snowed a purple sea on the ground when they fell. Bee would have liked those ones, I thought. We saw a snake once or twice, and found a couple of desert drakes as well. One time, Ink got too close, aggravating the lizard, and he nearly got burnt. Always curious and never cautious, he was, and whenever I thought of it I shook my head and smiled.
“Oh. It’s the first of Poniay,” sighed Ris, looking up at the light-swollen Argenti, who was nearing her zenith.
“Hmm?” Kestrel looked at her.
“It’s my brother’s birthday,” she said, “and I’m not there with him. And he doesn’t understand why I left. I never said anything about it to my family because the Solinan words told me to ‘go alone and silent’, and I left on the night of the celebrations for those who were leaving. We always have celebrations for anyone of sixteen winters who choose to leave their hometown, and if not for the Solinan I would have told them I was leaving. They probably think I hate them.” Kestrel gave her a hug, and tears spilled onto her shoulder. They sunk to the gorund.
“Dad was back on our last night and we had fresh fish. He’s always usually out on a fishing trip. I lied to him, and I lied to everyone else. They’re all so annoying but I love them and I miss them, even though I have crow and I’ve never felt at home in Orsilnon,” she signed, mouth twisted from her tears, fingers bitter and stumbling. She and I held much resent for that village, but in spite of it all we still missed our family. How forgetful are hearts!, for here is our family too, who know our love for them. But that does not invalidate this pain.
“We’ll make it up to him when we return,” I murmured, nuzzling against her arm and putting my arms around her.
“You’re going to be ok. We can sort everything out later,” said Lulu, as she and Leyin came to hug her too.
A strange, metallic sound came on the wind blowing down from the foothills.
“Shinies!” squawked Ink, jumping off Ris’ shoulder to hover in the air. It was near enough to dawn for him.
“Oh, yes, the chime trees,” said Alyneh, before calling loudly to the other Jaquilu members, “Narrabilli with Molliberra, chime trees?” A handful of them joined us, and Alyneh took us up the hill to get a better look at them. Argenti lingered for us, her silver light glinting brighter as we drew nearer, and the bizarre jingling of the trees became clearer. They were made entirely of metal and their leaves were metal disks, attached so they would move in the wind. Another gust of wind came, bringing with it the odd music of the trees. It was like a thousand wind-chimes all at once, or the rush and sigh of angry waves. Leyin covered her ears, so we headed back down on a soft angle. There were quite a few chime trees lining the crests of these hills, and their strange voices that howled and crooned and trilled reminded me of the pendulums at Kenshalty Abbey, whose never-ending peals were omens of danger and battle — although the chime trees weren’t omens.
There were so many chime trees that they still kept watch over us through the next evening. Apparently the gnomes built them in 1201 AE, as a tribute to the fifty wyvern-stars that came. Each tree was inscribed with a wyvern-star’s name. When Alyneh told us this, Leyin asked which tree had Ëtacihruðuhl’s name, and she took us up to it. Leyin traced the letters graven on the trunk and looked up to the stars.
“I wonder if he lingers near a constellation I know, so I could find him when I look up.” We left the musical trees behind, and eventually they left us too — all the while, Alyneh told us more about them. The trees with the names of the three wyvern-stars who didn’t survive also had gems embedded in them. The gnomes considered gems to be vital to the earth, a precious fruit only to be plucked for the most important occasions. Alyneh also told us that one of the gnome princes at the time had taken a wyvern-star in. But Prince Ísatrin was not strong enough, and they both died after four days.
“I remember that. Ëtacihruðuhl told me that Ísatrin’s father told him not to take Läsoliah in because he was too weak, but Ísatrin was desperate to prove his strength and worth so he did anyway. He asked his father not to speak badly of him and to remember him with affection, and on his last day he asked to be left alone even by his family. Ëtacihruðuhl didn’t say much, other than to share what was happening with the other wyvern-stars who’d come down — he was still processing it all for himself. We got closer later, but I just never heard what exactly happened with Ísatrin and Läsoliah. When Nebula took me in, one of the first places we went to was Ka-Sill Karst, and I asked about Ísatrin. They all told me different stories. Some said he became a wyvern-star because of his devotion, and that he and Läsoliah returned the stars. Some said there were many death maidens and servants on the day Ísatrin died, and that he’d either released some of them or that he and Läsoliah became death servants.”
“It is strange to me that three died of the fifty wyvern-stars who came. They live for so long, and they are wise. I forget they can die. I know they can, I know they do, aye, but we speak of past deaths and work to prevent more. It doesn’t sit well. How does the world change if a wyvern-star does die? Are they just another creature, or would it be a marked event? They seem of such importance and power that, surely, they are unable to die? Why aren’t you immortal or invincible?” I murmured, tilting my face back to look at the sky.
“What?” inquired Ink, hopping towards me. I gazed back at him, unsure how to explain my pondering. Hot sunlight slid off his feathers.
“Crow doesn’t know either.”
“Hmm… Anyway, do you think we’re close to Ka-Sill Karst?”
“Ink is bird, know we close; caves tonight. How long does Ris think perchance to stay?
“I’m not sure. Usually only a couple of days, but she has to talk to the person Fang told us about — what did he say their name was? Oh yeah, Smaravod. So probably a week.”
“Molliberra on the Moonstone River in the Withered!” called Mallekarri. We gathered at the entrance to a tunnel in the mountainside.
“Tanarook, arms wide, Jaquilu! Narrabilli, walking in the rain?” asked the gnome who came out to greet us. He was a little smaller than Leyin, but not by much. His bristly beard was unkempt, his skin was the colour of parchment, and he had gnarled ears.
“Yes, thank you. We also have with us some questers; Eulypus and Noliban, Junalur with Corinew — Cursed and Enchanted,” Mallekarri said, gesturing to us.
“Oh, you come with a message about the Cursed and Enchanted? That is good. Hold on a moment,” the gnome said to us, before continuing to speak with Mallekarri. After a bit, he led us through the tunnels to a place to stay, which was similar to the kelding at Skysalt, before taking us to talk to the king — that went well.
Ris knocked on the door we’d been told was Smaravod’s. There was a rustling before Smaravod opened the door. She was fairly tall for a gnome, she wore a cowl that sat pointed atop her head and out of which poked her gnarled ears. It also turned out that she was a shadow. I liked that; I only really knew Kyrell, and his presence was fleeting at best, on top of his volatile and mysterious nature. The only other shadow who was their own person that I’d met was Symmetry, and I had no reason to like or befriend her.
“Hi, what do you want?” Smaravod asked after a moment of hesitation.
“We’ve been told you know the language the wyvern-stars speak? An Unseelie named Fang told us to see you,” said Ris.
“Fang sent you? Alright, come in then.” Smaravod bustled us inside to an imperfectly circular living room, lit by a wide opening in the wall facing out to the Silverstream Fjord. There was a canopied balcony running along the hole in the wall, which could be closed out with a sliding screen. There were shelves carved into the rock walls, and a pair of hallways running off in different directions deeper into the rock. Smaravod gestured for us to sit, and brought us a jug of water and some cups as well as a tin of biscuits, while we introduced ourselves. The kits flew outside and joined the seabirds on the thermals.
“So you need me to teach you some very specific words in Kó’ce Tehngyü so you can help Lucarih’thën? How am I meant to know which words you need?”
“Ink and I will recognise them,” said Leyin.
“You sign — are you an Enchanted? There’s an Enchanted living right over there,” Smaravod replied in seasign, pointing across the fjord to a balcony that was overgrown with plants, to the point where Ris could see a couple of kits’ nests amongst the overhanging vines and branches. “Her name is Mystelyia. I can take you over there later, if you want.”
“Mystelyia? I know her! Last I heard of her, she was in Faertarnikr — when did she settle here?” Leyin was bouncing in her seat, grinning.
“About a year ago. When was she in Faertarnikr? I thought she’d been living up in Glenshire, in Rithesanlyr.”
“Oh so that’s why I haven’t heard from her.” Leyin sighed. “She and I lived in Faertarnikr for several years, back before our wyvern-stars left.”
“Right. That’s fair. I’ll take you over this afternoon, sound good?” Leyin nodded keenly, eyes full of light. “Now, what were we going to do?”
“Didn’t Leyin already teach her a couple of words though?” asked Lulu suddenly. I looked back at Ris, whose mind was being filled with the curiosities of Kó’ce Tehngyü. Leyin turned to face us for a second, stroking Ink’s feathers and rubbing his beak.
“Yeah. There was that one time while we were on the Vagabond, after we came back from the Tenthtide Shores. But we weren’t sure if just by saying the words by themselves would do something, so I had to get her burnt out first so I said a lot of really mean things to her.” I scrunched my face, recalling the acidic, stinging poison of what I’d said. “It wasn’t a good way to do it. Smaravod knows more about how it works, and it will also be easier for her to teach Ris.”
“Oh yeah. No, that wasn’t good.” A warm quiet sat between us for a moment.
“I wonder what kind of plants those are,” Kestrel said, pointing to a number of pots hanging on the rails of the bridges that swung between the two cliffs.
“We can look when we go across to visit Mystelyia.” I replied. “If shadows could use magic, do you think there’d be an Enchanted who was a shadow?”
“I don’t know. Probably. I’ve always wanted to know if a person could be both Cursed and Enchanted. It’d be interesting to see what that would be like,” said Lulu. “Or a shadow who’s also Cursed.”
“Oh, hey Kiamu,” Smaravod said when the door was opened. “Is Mystelyia home?”
“Yeah, come in,” answered Kiamu. She was a gnome, and wore a cowl like Smaravod although hers was pinned down around her head so it wouldn’t flap in the wind.
“Is that a Smaravod I hear?” Mystelyia signed, standing on the threshold of one of the hallways.
“Yep, and guess who else is here? Leyin says she knows you,” Smaravod gestured to a beaming Leyin. The pair of Enchanted gave each other a hug, almost bouncing around with excitement. Mystelyia seemed to be Etrunborian, but repeated the Rithesanlic greeting gesture just as Ris did anyway. She was young, perhaps younger than Leyin — although, all Enchanted were technically quite old, having lived for well over two hundred years now. It was good these two had found each other again; it was hard on them to live so much longer than anyone else and have to watch their friends die. Leyin also had Kyrell, I suppose, but he seemed to always be on the move. I wondered how long they’d known each other for.
Kiamu started cooking lunch for us all, while Leyin and Mystelyia talked — they hadn’t spoken in decades. Mystelyia said she’d just kept moving around to cope with the longevity that came with being Enchanted, that each new town was a new life. She’d been to almost every town including Orsilnon, but that was before Ris and Saryar were born. Leyin told her she’d been living on the Vagabond for the past several years and, when Mystelyia asked why she’d left if she liked the crew, Leyin explained about Ris’ quest. At that, her fingers quickened with eagerness and relief.
“Finally! How are you going to do it?”
“I’m asking all the Enchanted to gather at the TenthTide Shores, since the seafolk are strong telepathics, and I’ve heard that there are shadows and Cursed gathering between Bunibehr and Orsilnon for some reason, so I’ll get their fates reversed there. But first I need to help Lucarih’thën — he’s the wyvern-star king, and he’s been keeping you all alive this whole time. He’s getting weak, and he doesn’t have an heir so there’ll be problems for the wyvern-stars if he dies. I’ve spoken with the queen, Hë’öðinðuhl, and once I’m strong enough at telepathy I’m going to talk to Lucarih’thën and somehow help him regain his strength. I’m not actually sure how I’m going to do that, so I’ll ask Hë’öðinðuhl about it at some point soon.”
“So I have to go to the TenthTide Shores? When are you guys leaving? I’ll come with you.”
“We’re going to Rithesanlyr first, but of course!” said Leyin. “Hey, Ris, what about me? I don’t really want to leave you guys.”
“It’s ok, I’ll call on Ëtacihruðuhl for you if I can or I’m sure Kestrel can.”
“I should be able to.”
Ris dreamt of stars and warm darkness. She was drifting over the chime trees and, when she looked up, the fifty wyvern-stars the trees were built for were floating with her. One drew her into their palm, carrying her to meet the king and queen. He looked at her with his weary, ancient, black-speckled eyes, and she looked on her with kindness and seriousness.
“Seventh of Sorletuh.”
Traveller, have you considered the idea of the mirrors? They are not made of glass, they speak like I do; they are, of course, Ris and Saryar. Twins. The Cursed Saryar, with a fragment of glass in her eye and her myriad of distorted shadows from inanimate objects that latched onto her. Ris, neither Cursed nor Enchanted, who had and used crow magic despite being Rithesanlic and who lied even though honesty was valued by Rithesanlics. Both with a quest of their own, and Ris trying to do both. Saryar would surely eventually work out that Lucarih’thën couldn’t change any fates until he’d regained his strength, and then she’d try to do Ris’ quest. But she wouldn’t be able to, since it sounded like strong magic was needed. Oh, traveller, I’ve realised something: no matter how strong Ris were to get, even if she had all the years she needed, it wouldn’t be enough for her to help Lucarih’thën by herself. She’d need Hë’öhðinðuhl’s help. I don’t expect Hë’öhðinðuhl to link with Ris while she helps Lucarih’thën…
“I had a really strange dream last night,” Ris said to Kestrel and Leyin as she came into the common room between the bedrooms. It didn’t have a proper roof, only a shade cloth and wooden beams across the open hole. Many of the tunnels the gnomes lived in were old lava tubes, and the skylights were where it had burst out. The stone walls looked like dripping metal.
“What was it about?” Kestrel asked. She told them what her dream was.
“There was no context?” Leyin said.
“The seventh of Sorletuh is a month from now. We should be where the shadows are gathering by then,” Kestrel said.
“Do you think it’s the day when you need to help Lucarih’thën?” said Leyin.
“Yes.” Ris’ magic answered, as clear and certain as Hë’öhðinðuhl’s halcyon voice.
Some of the tunnels in Ka-Sill Karst were quite tall, and had a boardwalk about halfway up the walls to act as another level, and these were like streets in a city. Smaller tunnels branched off periodically, or were marked with a round door as a home. Many of the street-tunnels had a rill running through the center, with little bridges crossing it at intervals despite it usually being thin enough to leap across in — it wasn’t even because the gnomes were generally shorter. The average height for a gnome seemed to be about a handspan shorter than Ris, who was somewhat tall. What really differentiated them from humans was their gnarled ears and their sugar cookie- or parchment-coloured skin. They usually wore a cowl like Smaravod and Kiamu wore, whether they were inside the caves or out. The bridges that crossed the fjord all had hanging pots of herbs along the railings, and there were a few veggie patches in planters on some of the larger ledges. The sun was warm here and the sea breeze kept it cool — even on the hottest days, it would be perfect here in Ka-Sill Karst. There were also some fishing boats floating in the Silverstream Fjord, like white paint smattered onto a blue canvas. Out towards the Clarion Sea, there were some great long piers for ships that came in.
Kestrel and Lulu wanted to go swimming for a bit. Ris, Leyin, and Ink were still at Smaravod’s and planned to be there until afternoon. The water was warm on the surface, and there was little shallow water before the drop-off into the colder depths, but it was fairly clear as well and I could see fish below my feet. The kits dived in from the air like a gannet or some such sea bird. There was a colony across the fjord, and some of those wild kits came and joined Kestrel’s. When they came up for air, they only stayed for a second before falling back with a splash. They were like fish that could fly, or dolphins, diving in and out of the water just on the threshold between sea and sky.
Pebble-grey clouds rolled over from the east, becoming angry and flashing white, maniacal grins at anyone and everyone not undercover. The kits howled and shrieked with the wind, the wild ones returning to the colony or finding a sheltered perch in this side’s cliff, Kestrel’s ones darting into the tunnel they’d come out from. Lulu and Kestrel clambered out of the water and hurried inside, not keen to get caught in the storm.
Kiamu and Mystelia were there when we got back to Smaravod’s, and had brought afternoon tea over for us. Ris had certainly earned it, with all the work she’d done to learn the words she’d need on the seventh of Sorletuh. Only a month away! Time vanishes like a wisp. Kiamu had also brought some dried fruits and some morsels of meat for Ink and the kits, who sat on the backs of the chairs eating their spoils.
“How much longer are you staying?” Smaravod asked.
“Probably only one more day. We’re just about done with the words, right?” Ris said.
“Yup. We can do a little more practice later, if you want.”
“Yeah, sounds good.” Lightning flashed and after three seconds thunder growled. Leyin flinched and recoiled.
“Hey, are you ok?” said Smaravod, and Leyin nodded. “Do you want a hug?” She did, so Smaravod gave her one. Ris looked down, suddenly shy because she hadn’t known she was aching for affection. She had friends now, and she trusted and could rely on them, but affection wasn’t normal. Still, she took courage.
“Um… Can I have a hug too, please?”
“Of course.” She wrapped her arms around Ris like a blanket, holding tight.
“Thank you,” she murmured.
“Leyin! Hello! Are you going back to Rithesanlyr?” Captain Nebula called.
“Yep. Also look, guess who I found! This is Mystelyia, she’s an Enchanted, and we lived together in Faertarnikr for a while back before our wyvern-stars left.” Nebula came running over to us with her arms full of rope.
“I’m taking her to the TenthTide Shores?”
“If that’s ok with you,” Mystelyia said.
“It absolutely is. Come up, the tide is starting to go out,” she answered, turning and leading us to where we would sleep. “Sahe-kel, can you put that rope in its crate?”
We put our things down and headed back up to the spot Ris had found Leyin in the first time we went on the Vagabond. The Enchanteds still had the ink flowers on their legs from yesterday that they’d drawn while Ris did one last practice with Smaravod. She was gentle after spending a few days together, and I was disappointed that we couldn’t stay longer and get to know her better.
“What’s your plan, now that you’ve told all the rulers to send the Enchanted to the TenthTide Shores?” Nebula signed.
“We’re going back to Rithesanlyr, where I’ll help Lucarih’thën before dealing with the Cursed. Apparently they’re all gathering near Orsilnon, which is weird but I guess it’s useful. After that, I’ll go to the TenthTide Shores — it’s probably not the best way to do things but it’s how my plan has ended up. Or maybe I can send Mystelyia with a message to the merfolk to help the Enchanted talk to their wyvern-stars while I’m helping the Cursed.”
“I can take a message to them. Probably write it down though,” Mystelyia said, and Ris nodded.
“Mystelyia, are you going to Eltrin and taking a boat from there to the TenthTide Shores? You’ll waste a week doing that. I’m sure I can work something out with a ship that’s heading out there when we pass into Eltrin Bay, I’ll make some kind of deal and they’ll take you. Now, what’s happening with Leyin, are you sending her with Mystelyia?”
“No, I’m staying with Ris. Kestrel should be able to link me with Ëtacihruðuhl.”
“Good,” Nebula said. “How are you, Ink?”
“Crow good, excited that nearing end of quest. Quest is going spectacularly.”
“Not sleeping?” I asked Leyin, coming up onto the deck. Everyone else was asleep, including Lulu who wasn’t very comfortable on open waters. Leyin signed ‘no’, still watching the sky. There were only a few clouds, and the silver starlight seemed to sing sweet lullabies over us.
“In like a month, you’ll be able to hear my voice for the first time.” That wasn’t quite true: Ris had managed to link with her for a bit while we were on our way to rescue Sseersee, Hail, and Iiyarrahn.
“Oh yeah. Are you excited?”
“I don’t know.” Leyin sighed. “I haven’t heard my voice out loud in sixty-three years. And I’m only just realising I’ll be able to hear it again soon. I guess I’m a bit excited. But it also reminds me how long…” She looked out to the horizon.
“Yeah, I get it. Change is hard. I haven’t experienced what you have, but when Ris and I were preparing to leave Orsilnon, we were excited to leave and also scared of what might happen if we did. But here we are, and so much has gone well, and we found friends.” I smiled at her, opening my arms as an offer of a hug. She burrowed into me, and I became her blanket, and the stars watched over us all. At least she had Mystelyia from the start of the GlassShatter Age, I thought, and she has us now and she won’t lose us.
No. ‘At least’ is not ok. ‘At least’ is the bare minimum, the basics. When Ëtacihruðuhl left her, he left her without magic or a voice, and without certainty. The GlassShatter Age began in 1200 AE, and the wyvern-stars returned to the stars in 1386 AE. Leyin was fifteen at the time, so by the time Ëtacihruðuhl left, she’d lived for two hundred and one years — but didn’t look like she’d aged. I looked upwards, glaring at the universe. How could the wyvern-stars give her longevity and not provide for her in any other way? She had barely anything; she only had a handful of friends and even then she felt uncertain about us because death had left her abandoned again and again. Wyvern-stars!, you can’t do that to anyone! Now we have to fix your messes. You’re the most powerful beings we know of, so why do we have to help you? No more ‘at least’, no more ‘well now she has you’. She’s scared to lose us because you took her certainty when she took you in. Yes, she has us, but that doesn’t make it ok, and it doesn’t erase the two and a half centuries of trauma she bears.
“I’m so sorry, Leyin. None of this should have happened. You don’t deserve this.”
“Take her to the TenthTide Shores so the merfolk can link her with her wyvern-star, and look after her well,” Captain Nebula said, handing the captain of the Sternula three guilns.
“Ah, right. I will,” he said, still looking baffled at how she’d managed to swindle him into taking Mystelyia. “You right there?” Mystelyia nodded, and jumped across the gap between the Vagabond and the Sternula.
“You’ll be alright.” Nebula gave her a quick hug before leaping back over to us.
“Come back to Rithesanlyr afterwards!” said Leyin.
There were only a couple more days until we’d be back in Eltrin. Was Rithesanlyr home, at all, even a little bit, Ris wondered? She’d grown up there, it was familiar. She and I looked north-east to where Orsilnon was, far beyond what our eyes could see, and I remembered my night in the hills at Volyia with the Night Order. I remembered looking towards the horizon and seeing only what pain had been caused because of who Ris was. There were so few good memories, except for the time we’d spent in the forest — there were so few good memories except for the ones we’d made away from the people who excluded and shunned her. Rithesanlyr wasn’t home, our friends were. We had them now, and we would surely always have them. I wondered if Volyia felt like home to Kestrel, and if Kenshalty Abbey felt like home to Lulu. Ink didn’t seem to have a home, and he certainly didn’t have a murder when he found us. The closest thing to home Leyin had was the Vagabond. Still, we are each other’s homes now.
Ris and Kestrel practised their telepathy every day. They’d send Ink out ahead and connect with him to see how far they could stretch themselves. At first it wore them out quickly and they had to take many breaks, but after a few days they were able to practise all day as well as talk to the rest of us at the same time. Ris no longer needed to concentrate on the link, which had become steady with certainty and confidence, and she could even link with Leyin for fairly long periods of time. It was difficult for most telepathics to link with an Enchanted, because the wyvern-stars took every drop of magic they could when they left, draining the Enchanted dry. Everyone, whether they’re a magic user or not, has a small amount of latent power, and the only time it can be used is when a telepathic links with them, but the latent power left by the wyvern-stars was tiny and very difficult to find. Ris wasn’t entirely sure she’d be able to link with Hë’öðinðuhl by herself yet, but she still had just over a week. It didn’t feel like a lot of time but at the rate she was going she might just be able to strengthen her telepathy to where she needed it to be at.
Argenti kept me company as I kept watch over my sleeping friends. She was nearly full, since the end of the month was only two days away. She and the stars sang with me in the earliest moments of dawn — until, from the corner of my eye, I saw something break away from a group of other someones and start coming towards me. I watched them, curious and alarmed, creeping towards Ris’ pack for her dagger. I couldn’t tell if the group of somethings were people, shadows, or death maidens and servants, but whichever one it was I didn’t expect this visitor to be particularly friendly. They were silohuetted by the sunrise.
“Promise, it’s me, Kyrell.” He came close enough that I could see him better. “Put the dagger down, you couldn’t win if you tried to fight me anyway.” He was right, and since it was him I didn’t really need it. He might be dangerous, but I knew him just well enough to trust we’d be safe.
“Hey Kyrell, what are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m taking those Cursed and rogues to Saryar, for one thing. But I saw you, so I came over to see how you’re doing. What are you guys up to at the moment?”
“We’ve just come back from Ka-Sill Karst. After you told me Saryar wanted us back in Orsilnon, we went to the TenthTide shores and organised that we’d send the Enchanted there so the merfolk could link them with their wyvern-stars. Ris is nearly strong enough to reach out to the wyvern-stars by herself, and the queen told her to talk again on the seventh of Sorletuh. What’s Saryar’s plan at the moment?”
“She’s still calling to the Cursed. Or the shadows, I’m not really sure anymore. Death maidens and servants are coming too, but there’s not many.”
A memory of a voice whispered in my mind: ‘then I shall sunder the tie between her life and yours.’
“Have you heard anything about Symmetry recently?”
“Is that the rogue from Anshymys? Yes, she’s already here, and she brought all her troops of death maidens and servants. She warned us that she’d met a group of travellers on the road to Asytchët who claimed to be on the quest. Obviously that was you guys, but Symmetry doesn’t like that Ris is questing when she’s not the one who’s meant to be.”
“Oh yeah, well, she did try to kill us.” Kyrell and I sat, and I put some wood on the embers after stirring them to get the fire going again. “Wait, did she say anything about Lucarih’thën? He’s the wyvern-star king.”
“I don’t think so. Why?”
“Saryar can’t get him to reverse the fates of Cursed and Enchanted until he’s regained his strength,” I answered. “And she can’t save him, Ris has to do it.”
“Kyrell?” Leyin blinked in the soft sunlight, and got up to hug him.
“Hey Leyin, how are you?”
“I’m good. It’s been so long since I saw you. Why weren’t you at Tirshyer?”
“When was that?” Kyrell sighed.
“I think it was late Queta,” I answered.
“You’re not usually in Tirshyer in Queta, so of course I wasn’t there. Why’d it take the Vagabond like two extra weeks?”
“We were taking Ris and her group to the TenthTide Shores.”
Ink took an immediate liking to Kyrell, and perched on his shoulder. The kits woke when we were having breakfast, and were disgruntled by the rogue’s presence. He and I were different, and they seemed to perceive him as a threat; they sat on Kestrel’s and Lulu’s shoulders and squawked at him in the same way a mother bird might at a cat. But he spoke to them softly and mimicked some of their chittering, and by mid-morning they let him scritch their chins. Ris asked him all kinds of questions about Saryar, her plans, and the gathering of shadows and Cursed. She also asked about Symmetry, and Kyrell said he’d make sure she didn’t kill her.
Clouds gathered and rolled across the sky, hemming us in from every corner of the horizon, darkening as the hot noon became a hot and sticky afternoon. Petrichor hung in the air all around us, an omen of rain, heavy and beautiful — despite the storm it foretold. Lightning flashed at various intervals, not yet accompanied by audible thunder. Leyin flinched every time the flashes came. Kestrel commanded a bush to grow up around us, forming a decent shelter, and made a fire to keep us warm. The rain and thunder came, eventually, and Ris practised her telepathy. She tried it on Kyrell, who was impressed — and he rarely showed that kind of thing –, before Ink asked her to share what her perception showed her.
Petrichor and fire-warmth, the pattering of rain on grass and leaves, small crickets hiding in the grass, the soft, grey twilight brought by rainclouds. Here, against the branches of the bush, and with the fire to keep us dry, a group of questers who’d become close enough to count each other turtledoves — the rogue as well, a friend. And we were so very close to the encampment, where the Cursed and shadows gathered. Time flowed gently, falling into evening, rain now softened into mist.
“Your links are getting a bit weaker, Ris. I think it’s time for a break,” Kestrel said.
“You’ve been training intensely for I don’t even know how long for, now. You’ll burn yourself out,” added Leyin.
“But I don’t know if I’m strong enough to talk to Hë’öðinðuhl yet.”
“Take a break! Can’t practise if burnt out, gotta rest. No nagic for several days,” Ink cawed, soaring down to land on Ris’ shoulder.
“Oh, alright. Hey, Kyrell, do you know how far off the encampment is?”
“Probably three days.” he shrugged.
“Apparently it’s four, according to my magic.” Kestrel shook her head, laughing, and Ink squawked at her.
“Take a break!”
“I can’t always help it if my crow magic is going to tell me the truth!” she protested, failing at holding back her laughter.
“Oh, it’s you. Have you finally worked out how worthless you are, and you’re going back to your village?” said Roselen.
“I’m not worthless! And I’m not going back to Orsilnon, not now and not ever! I’m exactly where I want to be.”
“Well, you shouldn’t be here. You’re not on the chosen’s side, and you’re not a Cursed, so there’s no need for you to be here. You’ll only get in the way.” All Ris heard was ‘you’re in the way of the quest.’
“I’m helping the Cursed and Enchanted! I’m going to reverse their fates! I’m going to complete the quest, and you can’t stop me!” Ris cried.
“Leave her alone!” Lulu demanded.
“You made a mistake when you chose to go with them.”
“I did not. Anyway, what does it matter to you? I can make my own choices.”
“Silly you, think you can tell others what to do. Go away!”
“I don’t listen to crows.”
“Well you’d better listen to me then, because I can tie you up in a vine and set it on fire. So how about you leave us alone.” Roselen pulled a face and walked away.
“Who was that?” Leyin asked.
“Roselen. She’s from Kenshalty Abbey, and she hates Ris solely because she’s a crow magic user,” said Lulu.
Ris and Leyin meandered around the encampment, since there was little else to do. Rogues tended to stay with other rogues, it seemed, although some hung around the Cursed.
“How many of them do you think are wraiths?” Ris said.
“Probably a fair few,” said Leyin. “There’s death maidens and servants here too — do you think any of them will get released?” Ris shrugged. A wisp floated past them and, a moment later, Gwena of the Night Order passed them too.
“Oh, hey Gwena!” I said.
“Hey Promise, nice to see you again. Have you seen William, Raven, Tristan, Ronan, Loki, or Isolde? Everyone went out to talk to the Cursed about the chosen’s plan, and to keep an eye on the rogues, but something’s happened and I need to talk to them.”
“No, I haven’t. But we can help you look for them,” I offered. Gwena smiled and nodded, before spotting Tristan and going after her Enchanted leader. I told Ris and Leyin to keep an eye out for Isolde’s golden-hour sunset kit (whose name was, accordingly, Marigold), Raven’s summer-sky blue kit (who was named after his Enchanted father, Phil), and described the others to them.
“I thought you were the chosen,” Leyin said. Ris looked at her, confused and flustered.
“I am.” She blinked.
“But she acted like the chosen was someone else, otherwise she would have just said ‘everyone went out to talk to the Cursed about Ris’ plan’. And I haven’t seen you talking to them so you haven’t had a chance to tell them your plan.”
“I can use telepathy, remember. She was focused on finding the rest of the Night Order, too, so I don’t think she saw me.” Leyin stared into Ris’ eyes, before turning away to keep looking for the scattered members of the Night Order. Kestrel had asked her about it too, after what happened with Fang. She exhaled, her breath like a stormy ocean, and kept searching.
Stella rose, cool and gentle at first, but she vowed to bring a warm and sunny day. Ris lay on her blanket, watching clouds sail on overhead. The early part of morning is the nicest, and she wanted to spend it in as much peace as she was going to get before she talked to Hë’öhðinðuhl. Argenti was half-empty today, although she wasn’t up yet, and her little brother, Lumen, was empty and probably climbing the eastern part of the sky. Ris watched a bird flit between branches in the bush next to her, listening to its trills and warbles. Opal hooted from her perch on Kestrel’s shoulder, and was answered with a chirp from Pear. Cobalt must have been with Lulu, who was talking to Tristan of the Night Order, last Ris knew. Kestrel sat and they ate together. The Seelie also revealed that she’d found a plum tree nearby. Pear and Opal nosed at her sides, looking for the plums. She took them out and handed one to Ris, before eating hers then cutting one up for Pear and Opal. The red juice dripped down Ris’ chin, and over the indigo dots on her wrist. Kestrel handed her a waterskin, and she washed the juice off.
Solinan hummed inside Ris, like the summer chorus of cicadas, quickly growing louder. Kestrel looked at her, seeming to sense it as well, and nodded. Pear crawled into Ris’ lap as she lifted her closed eyes skywards and reached up and out to Hë’öhðinðuhl. She was met in the starlit darkness of the open universe.
“Your strength has grown significantly, Ris; I have no need whatsoever to hold your link together. Do you feel strained at all?” Hë’öhðinðuhl spoke, filling Ris’ head with her serene, resounding voice.
“No, not really.”
“Good.” A smile filled the wyvern-star’s voice. “Now, listen: I am going to fill you with my magic — you will be like the Enchanted. I myself cannot help Lucarih’thën, and you are human so you cannot do so alone either. However, if you become a vessel for my magic, you can help him regain his strength so the backlash doesn’t kill him. All three of us will be weakened, but he will live and become strong again within a matter of days. The largest toll will be borne by you, Ris, but you will recover by the time Lucarih’thën is ready to reverse the fates. Do you understand?”
“I think so.” She nodded, clasping her rock in her hands, feeling her pulse against the cool touch of stone. Her stomach was full of frenzied butterflies.
“Quieten yourself, and trust me.”
There was a lull, then a sense of weightiness that somehow felt suffocatingly light. Power surged through her blood, tingling a little before settling, just as it had felt when the ole helped her at the labyrinth in the forest.
“Ris?” Kestrel had moved closer, and held her head in her lap. “You look pretty pale.”
“I’m alright,” Ris said, smiling softly. “I’ve got Hë’öhðinðuhl.”
“You’ve got her? What do you mean?”
“Like an Enchanted.” Kestrel’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped.
“I know right!” She grinned. “Anyway, I’ve got to deal with Lucarih’thën now.”
“Ok. You’ve got this!” Kestrel hugged her, and she reached starwards again.
Ris could barely feel Lucarih’thën, even though she was certain she’d made a stable connection. His mental touch was light and faint, only a trace of presence. He had been stretched too thin for too long, like too little butter on too much bread.
“Call him by his soul name, and speak the words Smaravod taught you,” Hë’öhðinðuhl murmured, and she told Ris the king’s soul name. She gathered herself, breathing deeply, and spoke to him. Magic swelled inside her, dammed until the last syllable left her lips, and it flooded out from her. She felt it pour into him, filling him up like a long-dried riverbed, roiling and swirling. The tumult gradually became still.
“Thank you, Ris.” His voice felt like the ebb and flow of the tides, the crashing of waves upon rocks. She felt the sound more than heard it and, somehow, she felt safe in it.
“I will tell the wyvern-stars to speak with their Enchanted, and in two days’ time I will release the spell I’ve been keeping since the dawn of the GlassShatter Age. As for your friends, Leyin and Tristan, Kestrel and Saoirse can help them link with theirs. Oh, and also, in return for your aid and support, you may call to me whenever you want someone to talk to, from here on after.”
“Thank you, Lucarih’thën.” She let her mind slip down, and felt Hë’öhðinðuhl’s presence inside her linger only a little longer as she drifted into sleep.
“Oh, hey Ris,” signed Leyin. “How are you?”
“Mmm…” she mumbled, “tired, mind feels foggy, can’t think straight. How long…?”
“It’s early morning. You slept all afternoon and all night. Kestrel watched over you until midnight, Lulu stayed up to look after you, and when I woke up I took over.” The sky was the palest blue imaginable, the clouds barely distinguishable from it if they could be distinguished at all. Gold tipped blades of grass and very little else, but it did catch in Leyin’s hazel eyes.
“I told them how long it’ll be until Lucarih’thën can reverse the fates,” I said. Ris nodded and closed her eyes again. She was still quite out of it, but we would be here for her until she felt alright. Hë’öhðinðuhl seemed to have been tethered to the universe that was her home, instead of fully in Ris, hence how her leaving was so easy. Ris was only exhausted and dazed, unlike the Enchanted had been. I couldn’t imagine what it felt like for them, who’d held their wyvern-stars for sixty years before losing their magic and voices so they could leave.
“We did it, Promise. We saved him. We’ve saved them.”
She woke again towards noon, more alert but still disorientated. The kits chittered and squawked, expressing their concern for her. She called out to Ink, mistaking the kits’ voices for his croaks and caws.
“Where is he?” Ris asked, upon seeing he wasn’t there.
“We don’t know. He came with Kestrel, Promise, and me to make sure no-one did anything about the Cursed or Enchanted yet, but he flew off and hasn’t come back yet,” said Lulu. Ris frowned, and moved to get some food. The world seemed to tilt, off-kilter, moving too slowly then snapping forward or moving too quickly then snapping back to reality. She sat back down, bewildered.
“You alright?” Leyin said, and Ris explained. “Oh, yeah, that happened to me when Ëtacihruðuhl left. It should clear up in a couple of days.”
I went out to look for Ink in the starlight, trusting Lulu with guarding the group until I came back. I’d sent him to find someone who looks like Ris and see what they were doing, so I wasn’t entirely surprised he hadn’t come back yet but I was concerned. The various clusters of rogues had sifted themselves out from the Cursed, and were now all to one end of the encampment. They were the two main groups, with us towards the southern end, and Saryar was somewhere I hadn’t worked out yet. A small troop of death maidens and servants came up and walked alongside me, murmuring amongst themselves and, after a while, I forgot if they were following me or if I was following them. Where were we going? Maybe they were going to find Symmetry, although I was looking for Saryar. She could be anywhere amongst the rest of the Cursed, and I had no idea where to start. Maybe she wasn’t here, and Ris had been right that the wyvern-stars couldn’t be right about everything. No, there’d been several mentions of her since we’d arrived. I looked up, and saw a much larger troop of death maidens and servants, with Symmetry in the middle. I ducked down, right as she looked over, only moving on when she turned away again.
“By tomorrow night, all the Enchanted should have their voices back,” said Ris. She’d still felt dizzy in the morning, but she felt much better even though her magic still seemed out of reach.
“How are you planning to reverse the fates of the Cursed?” Kestrel asked.
“I’m still not sure.” She sighed. “To be honest, I really don’t know what to do about them. It makes sense for the Enchanted to gather at the TenthTide Shores where there are many strong telepathics, but it doesn’t make sense for the Cursed and for rogues to gather. Can’t the wyvern-stars just make the glass shards vanish?” Silent hesitation. She knew she needed to figure it out soon, but for all her racking her brain for ideas she just couldn’t make sense of it.
“You can’t work it out because you’re not the one who’s meant to,” said Symmetry.
“You’re wrong!” Ris snarled.
“Leave them alone, Symmetry,” Kyrell said.
“I’m not going to kill them, that’d ruin the fun in the battle.” She stepped away, and I nodded at Kyrell in thanks.
“This has happened enough times. What is going on, Ris? Why do people keep saying you’re not the one who was chosen to save the Cursed and Enchanted?” Kestrel said, and Ris drew in a deep breath, burying her face in her hands. “Are you really the one who was chosen to do this?” She tried to speak, but her words caught in her throat and refused to come unstuck. She could deceive herself no longer, but the sudden shock of having to accept something she’d forced herself to forget for months on end left her thoroughly overwhelmed. Her magic wouldn’t make use of itself either.
“Promise, do you know what’s going on?” Kyrell asked. I sighed, casting a look of concern on my counterpart.
“Yes.” I gathered myself, not entirely prepared to let the truth see light again – but I knew and trusted the truth, and I knew it had to be made known. “Saryar, Ris’ twin, is the one who was chosen to save the Cursed and Enchanted. Ris’ quest was to rescue Lucarih’thën – which she has now done. All her life, she’s been excluded for her crow magic, and she thought-” I was interrupted by Saryar, who’d been drawn to the commotion.
“Ris? What are you trying to do?”
“You’d have to kill me to stop me!” Ris managed to gasp, half delirious with denial and unaware it was her own twin she spoke to.
“You can’t do much right now,” Kyrell pointed out.
“Ris thought that if she could complete Saryar’s quest, she’d be accepted. She viewed the quest she’d been given as one step in fulfilling the other one and, in her buried guilt, she hid that she isn’t the chosen. She hasn’t thought of it as Saryar’s since late Unexa.”
“She was trying to do my quest?” I nodded.
“See! I was right!” Symmetry said, voice full of smugness and arrogance. I glared at her.
“Shush, that’s not helping. Saryar, no matter what Ris thinks or tries to tell you, she can’t do your quest. You are free to do whatever it is that you are planning.”
“Tomorrow, Tristan will link me to the wyvern-stars. The rogues are to help the Cursed fight their monstrous shadows, so they are weakened. The wyvern-stars will take out the shards of glass somehow, and then the monstrous shadows’ ties will be broken. They’ll still be dangerous for a bit though, before they dissipate and disappear,” Saryar explained. “ I’ll need all the help I can get with fighting the Cursed’s shadows.”
“We can do that,” Lulu said.
“Oh, by the way, have you seen a talking crow? I sent him out to find you the other day but he hasn’t come back.”
“I think so. He was hanging around me one afternoon, and flew off after I’d been talking to the other Tristan.”
“He’s not coming back. He heard that I’m not the chosen one and he abandoned us,” Ris lamented. Her magic had returned just barely enough for her to know that. Tears welled up in her eyes and spilt, heart anguished because she had been forsaken and she feared more abandonment to come within the next couple of days.
“Ris. Ris, I’m not going to leave you, I’ll never abandon you,” I swore, hand over my heart.
“We’re going to stay beside you, through whatever comes. You are our turtledove, and it doesn’t matter what you do because nothing can change that we’ve become family,” Kestrel said, kneeling down and wrapping Ris in her arms. Lulu and Leyin joined in hugging Ris, and then so did Saryar and I.
“You’re not angry at me?” She doubted their love, her lies having been found out.
“No, what you did makes sense. Even if it wasn’t the right thing. But I promise you, we accept and love you for who you are, not for what you have or haven’t done,” said Lulu.
“I’m sorry you felt you had to prove yourself. You are always enough, exactly as you are,” Saryar said.
Saryar corralled and assembled the Cursed so they each had at least one rogue, with the help of Juniper, Lylya, Roselen, Kyrell, and a couple of other rogues whose names were Harvest and Keening. I joined their efforts, and talked to Harvest as we went. Apparently his counterpart was also a Cursed, and the grotesque shadows he’d collected became such an issue that, after trying to fight them off together for a couple of years, Harvest left. They’d succeeded a little, but more kept coming. He’d told this to Saryar when he came to Orsilnon, mid-Unexa, kindling her quest into action. She and Rumour fought some of her shadows to test that it really did work, and from then on she worked with Tristan to call shadows – rogues and those collected by Cursed alike – to herself. When Saryar was happy with everyone, I went back to check on my friends and tell them Saryar’s plan.
“Guess what”” Leyin called, her face as bright as sunbeams, coming towards me.
“You’ve got your voice back!” I ran up to her and gave her a hug. She bounced on her toes and spun around, arms outstretched, singing out to the sun and wind, still grinning.
“How was talking to Ëtacihruðuhl?”
“It was really good. I miss him a lot, but I’m going to learn telepathy so I can talk to him whenever I want. Oh yeah! I have my magic back too!” She changed into a kit, her scales lavender-amethyst and mottled with snow, and flew beside me as I walked.
“Hey Promise. What’s Saryar up to?” Ris asked, only a little bitter and resentful. She’d had to accept that it was Saryar’s quest.
“The Cursed’s shadows can be fought and weakened. Everyone is helping in the battle, while Tristan from Orsilnon links her with Lucarih’thën and he’ll reverse their fates. They’re all standing ready.”
“I guess we should fight too.” She sighed and stood, taking out her dagger, but I shook my head and explained that only shadows and Cursed could have any triumph against their enthralled shadows.
“We fought Symmetry though. How is it any different?” Leyin asked, having changed back. Her voice was soft and gentle, but oh so lovely to hear.
“They were once inanimate; they are senseless, which makes them harder to fight. But I think we should try,” said Ris.
Saryar shouted something, and the members of the Night Order rode through the crowd, telling us to begin. We’d spread out among the ranks, and I ended up standing alongside Keening by trying to stay away from Symmetry. Keening was friendly and sincere, and told me a couple of ways I could attack since I had no weapon. I paired up with a Cursed and her shadow, whose names were Cerridwen and Lulla, and we began our onslaught. It was difficult to pick out a single shadow, but we had to untangle the knots and expel them somehow. The shadows shrieked at us as we struck them. Their ear-piercing screams – which I didn’t even know they could make – seemed to be about the limit of their strength, and I managed to dispose of a few quite quickly. Cerridwen and Lulla were also making good headway, but there seemed to be a thousand of them all interlaced.
Ris plunged her dagger into the seething mass belonging to the Cursed she’d partnered with. Leyin was nearby, with the cooking knife in hand. She could only hear shrieking, and feel a humming in the earth beneath her feet that must have been the sound of perished shadows being released back to how they once were. Ris took a deep breath and leapt upon the shadows again, this time twisting her dagger as she went.
“Leyin, are you ok?” Ris called, seeing that she’d crumpled to the ground.
“Too… loud!” She signed her reply before covering her ears. The shrieking and humming was unbearable now, but she couldn’t afford to shrink into herself, not with so many shadows still threatening her and everyone around her. Ris spun around to fend off another Cursed’s shadows, gathering herself up to call on Kyrell. She’d seen him nearby at one point. Somehow, somehow, she found his mind, despite her torn focus and high emotions.
“Leyin,” she gasped, and lost the link.
The shrieking became screeching, howling, screaming, so very shrill that I couldn’t think or feel anything else. There was only that painful whistling, so intensely high pitched that it would surely tear us all to pieces. And then everything was still. Rogues stood back from the Cursed they’d partnered up with, who found with relief that they were no longer Cursed. A deep breath, fresh and sweet, new and free. Saryar had done it; Lucarih’thën had restored the fates.
Time unpaused, and the people around me rejoiced together in their victory as I ran to find Ris. She was searching wildly for Leyin and Kyrell, to no avail, but we did find Lulu and Kestrel. Ris told them what happened with Leyin, and Kestrel pointed out that if she was with Kyrell then she was safe and we’d find her later. Tristan and the Night Order rode up beside us, bringing Saryar with them. She jumped down and drew Ris into a tight hug.
Stella watched us from a little past her zenith as Ris and Saryar headed towards the ocean for some time together. We’d tried looking for Leyin and Kyrell, but when Ris spoke to Kyrell through telepathy he said they’d come back when she was ok again – she’d gotten wounded while she was overwhelmed. Ink was nowhere to be found either, and could have been days away by now. Gwena and Tristan dropped the twins off, saying to call through magic when they were ready to come back. Ris and Saryar had barely spoken since the last day of winter, and even when they had spoken in the past few days it was not as warm as it once was.
“I felt so confused and betrayed when you left. I didn’t know if you were ok, or why you’d lied to me, or where you were going and if you’d ever come back. It makes sense now though,” Saryar said after they finished exchanging stories.
“It’s nice not to have to deal with the other shadows anymore,” Rumour said.
“I was wrong about quests being lonely things, wasn’t I? Did you like having Juniper and Lylya around?” asked Ris.
“Yeah, it was good. And you made some friends too. By Jornin, may they stay by your side as long as they live. I’m glad you found them.”
“I only wish I’d met them earlier.”
“What are you going to do now?” Ris looked out to the horizon, watching the way the sunlight glimmered on the ocean.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged and tossed a pebble over the cliff. “The only thing I know is that I don’t want to go back to Orsilnon. The people at Kenshalty Abbey are nice, or maybe I’ll move to Tasyënlor.” Saryar stood and took a step forwards.
“I don’t know if you can hear me from down here, but I want to thank you for these adventures we’ve had.” She lifted her eyes and one hand, reaching to the sky as if trying to take hold of it. “Thank you for looking after us through all these years, and for giving us the quests to help you save us. And thank you for providing us with friends to call turtledoves.”
“Hey, Saryar, I’m really s-” She turned to face Ris, but the ground beneath her feet crumbled and she fell, screaming, into the waves below. “Saryar!” Ris dropped to the ground to peer over the edge. The rock face was bare and straight, and the waves crashed over her limp body before dragging it away beneath the churning surface. Out of sight, out of reach, out of hope. She tried to find Saryar’s mind, pushing through her terror and dread, pleading with her magic to let her check for life. Her mind brushed Saryar’s for an instant, cold and faint. She asked her crow magic, but she was overcome and her mind went entirely blank.
Oh, traveller!, I have no answers either.
“Where’s Saryar? We sent the Night Order out to find you a while ago,” Lulu said, seeing Ris stumble back into the thinning encampment. The sun sat just above the horizon, waiting to see what would unfold. She looked up, showing her tear-stained face.
“Ris? What happened? I couldn’t find your mind,” said Kestrel.
“She fell over the cliff, into the ocean. I barely touched her mind before my magic shut off, but even then it was cold and faint,” she managed to whisper. Symmetry passed by, with her troop of death maidens and servants in tow.
“You killed her, didn’t you? You’re angry that you couldn’t steal her quest so you murdered her!”
“No I didn’t! She’s my sister, I love her!”
“You’re the villain, she was the hero, and you killed her!”
“It’s not that simple!” She grabbed her pack and put it on, and fled into the evening.
“Promise?!” Kestrel shouted.
“I’ve got to stay with her! I’m sorry!” I hoped they’d understand. She wasn’t thinking straight, and even I wouldn’t be able to convince her to turn back.
Part 2 […And Then When They Fall]
Recommended reading age: 16+
-> explores intense emotions including grief.
“I’m going out to the market,” I told Ris, and she mumbled something as I closed the door. Stella was still climbing over the rooftops, and the streets were quietly empty. Towards late morning, they would become crowded with people of all sorts – mainly Unseelies, but I’d seen plenty of Seelies, gnomes, and other shadows around too. Faertarnikr seemed to be a place where people didn’t mind who was around them, where even the Seelies and Unseelies got along and were sometimes friendly with each other when they spoke.
We’d arrived here a couple of weeks ago and found somewhere to live. Ris worked at the local tavern, and I helped out too when they were a hand short, but she was quiet and kept to herself more than I’d ever known her to do. The toll of her twin’s death had left her in shock, and she wanted nothing more than to pretend nothing had ever happened. She just lived here, in a strange city, alone apart from me, and tried to forget the accusations – she refused to talk about it, but I knew she blamed herself too. At first, once it’d had a chance to sink in, she couldn’t believe Saryar was dead – after all, she’d been too overwhelmed for her magic to be of much use. What if she had been alive, what if she’d only been unconscious? What if Saryar could have been saved, rescued, kept alive, because shouldn’t she have been strong enough after all her telepathy practice to keep her emotions under control? What if it was her fault her twin was dead? Because she tried to do a quest that wasn’t hers, and then they went to talk and Saryar thanked the wyvern-stars, and she wanted to apologise but that was when Saryar turned and fell. While we were crossing the ocean, one of the crew managed to talk to Ris about it, and helped her stay calm enough to use her magic to check. It was completely clear that second time, that Saryar was gone, and so Ris fell into despair. I couldn’t bear to see her so guilt-ridden and alone, not anymore. I had to do something about it.
“Ris, I’m going to look for Kestrel, Ink, Lulu, and Leyin,” I said when I got back to the tavern.
“Why?” she said, without looking up from her sweeping. “They abandoned me.” That wasn’t entirely true, but I didn’t point that out to her.
“I’m going to find them and bring them back to you, so you won’t be alone anymore. I know that means I’m going away, but I will return, ok?” Ris only kept sweeping. “I love you, and I want you to be ok.” Still no response, but I knew she heard me. I went to find Krinynor, the owner of the tavern, and asked him to watch out for Ris until I came back.
Me being a shadow meant I wouldn’t need to take provisions of any kind or stop for sleep, but I also wouldn’t have Ris to rely on for directions, and I was prone to getting lost. I’d also have to deal with the dangers of being rogue for such a long period of time – I usually reattached myself every once in a while. I took her dagger and the bag with the Comi Pieces I’d earnt, and walked out into the street before stopping. Which way should I go; where was everyone likely to be? Kestrel might be with Bee in Tasyënlor, and Lulu was probably back at Kenshalty Abbey, but that was all I could guess at. Kestrel first then, since she was closest to Faertarnikr. I looked in the direction of the tavern, whispering a vow to return. I hated to leave her like this, and it hurt almost as much as Saryar’s death, but if I didn’t go she’d never heal.
Somehow, it hadn’t hit me as hard as it hit Ris. I missed Saryar and Rumour as much as her, felt the weight of knowing we’d never see them again, bore the grief that they were gone. But, for whatever reason, I didn’t crumple and close myself off, instead standing up again and taking care of my counterpart – as if trying to take control to protect her. Hadn’t everything about the quests taught us that we didn’t have control and that we couldn’t do things on our own? Still.
I came to the channel as Stella set behind me, and stood a while on its shore, staring out to the Anshymys mainland. I’d have to cross it somehow, but I wasn’t sure if I could swim across it, and a raft would still have to contend with the currents.
“Ris, I wish I could have brought you. I wouldn’t be leaving you alone, and you could help me work out how to get to everyone,” I said. A cloud sailed across Argenti’s face, lingering only for a moment before passing, and the stars glimmered, steady and unending. Something moved in the water, and a pair of eyes appeared just above the gentle waves. More followed shortly, all with thick, braided hair and gilled necks, reminiscent of a family of otters or a pod of seals. They didn’t have the long, thin, pointed ears of a sand-singer, meaning they were merfolk. By some chance, the first pair of eyes to come up looked familiar, as did four others – it was Lagol’s pod. I greeted them, kneeling at the tideline. Lagol, Pearl, Sseersee, Hail, and Iiyarrahn swam closer, pulling themselves halfway up into the shallows.
“Hey Promise. What are you doing here? Where’s Ris?” Pearl asked.
“Ris is in Faertarnikr. I’m looking for our friends.”
“Why didn’t she come with you?” I explained Saryar’s death and Ris’ inconsolable grief and guilt to them.
“That’s terrible. I’m so sorry,” Hail said.
“Can we do anything to help?” said Lagol.
“I need to get to the mainland. Would you be able to carry me? I’m not sure if I could swim across or make a raft.”
“Of course,” said Sseersee.
“Oh, also, when the Enchanted were at the TenthTide Shores, did you meet a girl called Mystelyia? Her hair is about this long,” I gestured to my shoulder, “and she’s a bit younger than Leyin.”
“Yep! I linked her. She said she was going back to Ka-Sill Karst,” Iiyarrahn replied. I nodded.
“I’m glad she’s alright. Have you heard anything about where Leyin is?”
“We saw the Vagabond at Tirshyer a couple of weeks ago. Nebula said Leyin and Kyrell had been onboard but left when they got there,” Pearl said.
“Ok. Thank you.”
The merfolk pushed themselves out again, and I waded in. Sseersee waited until I’d wrapped my arms around her and settled myself on her back before she started swimming. The crossing took four, maybe five hours, and Argenti was well past her zenith when the pod dropped me off on the opposing shore. I thanked them and they wished me well on my journeying, and I traded the shore for the trees.
Morning came then night and morning again upon the ocean and its shores I followed, before I came to Asytchët. There I found Arzëninta, Ylarsol, and Strawberry. They asked how the quest had gone, and where my friends were, and I told them how Ris saved Lucarih’thën and Saryar called on him to restore the fates of the Cursed and Enchanted. I faltered, death always still full of sting, and simply said I was looking for my friends since I missed them. They’d seen Kestrel pass through on her way to Tasyënlor, but couldn’t help me otherwise. I stayed with them for the early afternoon, glad for some company for a few hours. Ylarsol showed me a music piece he’d been working on, lullaby-like for its lilting notes and pauses like flashing stars but without being lulling. Strawberry proudly showed me how her plants had grown. Their welcoming friendliness reminded me of Badger and everyone else at Kenshalty Abbey.
A rustling in the bushes followed me for a short while, before a death servant came out and walked beside me.
“Hello. What do you want?” I asked. Death maidens and servants always spooked me a little and left me unsettled, but he was the only one I’d seen or heard this time along this road so I felt more comfortable.
“Not much. Do you want some company for a bit? I know you feel the sting of death.” His voice was gentle and kind. Maybe, maybe…?
“I suppose,” I said. “My counterpart’s twin died a couple of months ago. Ris and Saryar had just finished their quests, and the Cursed’s and Enchanted’s fates had been restored. They went to talk for a while since they hadn’t seen each other in ages. Saryar thanked the wyvern-stars for their adventures and then, just as Ris tried to apologise for trying to steal her quest, Saryar stumbled and fell over the cliff. There was no reason for that to happen. I don’t understand why it did. Ris is heartbroken and grief-stricken, and she abandoned the friends we’d found. But she needs them, so I’m going to find them.”
“I’m sorry to hear about that,” he said. “Also I feel I must tell you, the only reason Symmetry didn’t kill Ris during the battle was that you’d acknowledged it was Saryar’s quest.” I nodded, gathering up my courage.
“Did Saryar become a death maiden, maybe?”
“You would want that for her? We are spirits who can’t pass into the Mist Realm, for whatever reason. Release from this is very difficult to find, since few are willing to help us. It is a dreadful fate, to be a death maiden or servant, and an empty existence,” he said, and looked up at me. “She did not, at least not to my knowledge.”
A long silence passed, unbroken even by footsteps or the rustling of leaves, seeming to stretch for hours before any more words were given breath.
“You walk a dangerous road by not convincing your counterpart to come with you.”
“I had no other choice. I’ll just have to find my friends quickly.”
“Falling into insanity takes less time than most think. The five-year mark is only when a rogue gains the ability to kill flesh-and-blood creatures, but insanity sets in so much sooner.”
“What should I do, then?”
“I don’t know that there is anything to do about it. You can only try to find your friends as soon as you can and get back to your counterpart,” he said, and I looked down but he stood in front of me, regarding me with his awful, stygian eyes. “Do not be disheartened. You carry enough as it is, and you are doing everything you can to help your counterpart. Rest assured that you will find your way through this. You will find your way.” I could not know my way until I had already trodden it. This death servant had brought me company and I was glad for it, but also such terrible words that I almost wished he hadn’t come. Faint rays of light began setting down upon the topmost crowns of the trees, gilding their edges with a thin glow, and the death servant bade me well.
The temple and palace were the only landmarks I knew in Tasyënlor, and the only other thing I remembered was that Bee lived somewhere in the eastern parts. Stella stood above her dawn, a guiding star for me today rather than a slow compass, leading me past the temple with its silver-boughed tree and through streets filled with Seelies and Unseelies going about their morning. The streets became busier, funnelling me towards a market. The smell of fresh bread sweetened the air, and the Faerin calls of merchants and traders rose above the general clamour. I hurried through to escape the noise, struggling to reach a street on the other side of the square, only slowing when I turned down a lane. A wisp floated above someone’s pot-plant, and a kit trilled from its rooftop perch – the pointed rooftops that blocked my view of the sun. Its rays still showed though, beckoning me to keep going. Soon, the streets started looking familiar; a sign showing the way down to the plant nursery, another pointing to the market Bee took us to, a thick patch of moss where a stone was missing from the road.
“Promise?” Bee came up from behind.
“Hey!” I smiled, greeting him with my hands over my heart. “I was looking for you.”
“What are you doing here, alone?”
“Ris is…” What’s the easiest way to say it? “Ris is sick, she needs her friends. Is Kestrel staying with you?”
“Oh. Yeah, she is.”
“Trasarae ta arzëntyae! Thank Loonsu-Rineas you’re ok. What happened? All I know is Saryar never came back, and Symmetry said Ris killed her, and you both took off. We didn’t know where you were going, and Ink and Leyin and Kyrell still hadn’t shown up, and-” Kestrel stopped, seeing my solemn stillness.
“Saryar said thank you to the wyvern-stars for the adventures she and Ris had, Ris tried to say sorry, and the cliff gave way when Saryar turned back around. It was an accident, and now she’s dead. She and Rumour both.”
“I’m really sorry. That’s terrible.” She drew me into a warm, tight hug, close enough to hear her heartbeat. Heartbeat, the thing that keeps you alive. I buried myself into her, taking comfort in both hers and mine, as tears welled up and poured out with a suppressed gasp for air.
“Hey, it’s ok, I’m right here. I’m here for you and I’ll be there for Ris as soon as we can get to her, ok?” I nodded, feeling a little better now although I knew the pain could never truly leave. Bee handed me a damp cloth to wipe my face with, and went to boil the kettle. Shadows can’t eat, but the warmth was soft and heartening, and it was good to no longer be alone.
Afternoon came, and Bee took Kestrel and I to the gardens. Most of the trees were patched with honey and pumpkin, although the snapdragons and roses were still in bloom, clearly well-tended. Drowsy clouds iddled overhead.
“Asytchët is closest, and we know ships that stop there are willing to take passengers,” Kestrel said, keeping an eye on her kits who were off playing in the tree.
“Didn’t Leyin once say Kyrell was often in Tirshyer when she was? Maybe they’re there.”
“Is the longer land journey worth it if they’re not?” asked Bee, trying to knot a blade of grass.
“No, but I can’t think of where else they’d be.”
“He lives in Rithersanlyr though, right? You went chasing him with the Night Order when you and Ris came to Volyia.” I shrugged, regretting my reliance on Ris’ crow magic. Kestrel sighed, and agreed we’d go to Tirshyer.
The clouds brought an early evening and the heady, earthy scent of rain. Bee sent us around to close the shutters and to help him bring in some firewood. The fire was soon crackling in its place, warming the house, and Bee used its heat to cook some soup. Soup would have been a word Ink took to, repeating it to himself for days. He usually liked words with a small handful of syllables, but soup felt rounded on my tongue and like a declaration. He’d pick at its spelling though, if we were to tell him – why an ‘o’ and a ‘u’, why not spell it ‘soop’? I wondered how he was doing and where he was. Bee dished up a bowl each for Kestrel and himself as candles flickered with the dulled, mellow sound of thunder, mimicking leaves in the rain. Outside, crickets and frogs sang their choruses. The perfect background for reading a book by the fire.
The rain fell for four days on and off before fully clearing. There was little we could do in the meantime, but Kestrel baked some bread for our travels and Bee risked getting wet to buy some smoked meat too. I spent the nights reading and, as the rain eased and cleared on the fourth night, I sat on the back porch and directed my musings to the unanswering stars.
A knock on the door prompted Ris to open it to the tavern-owner’s wife, Paekanta, who held a basket of warm scones, a lidded bowl of cream, and a jar of jam. She was usually pretty busy, but she made an effort to visit every so often. Ris welcomed her in, taking the basket and setting it on the table. She heated the stove again, having previously boiled the kettle but forgotten it, and went back out to sit with Paekanta and eat the scones.
Most of her better days where ones when Paekanta visited, although some were when Krinynor invited his workers and some regular customers to play board games with him. His favourite involved little tiles depicting fields, roads, and castles that could, upon placement, be claimed by a coloured figurine in order to gain points. Nevertheless, her dark nights were many. She’d watch candlelight flicker on her walls for hours, enthralled – but it had life; it came alive with a spark and died with only a breath. How easy it seemed. The candles enraged her, because they were the only things she could control. She had no control over life or death, she could not chose or design someone’s fate. And Saryar was gone. Her heart no longer had a beat. Did Ris’? She frantically pressed the heel of her palm to her chest. Yes. She could not answer if she deserved it.
“Even my shadow has abandoned me.” Every so often, Paekanta asked after me. It was nearly a month I’d been gone now – her pain was my guilt.
“But wasn’t she going to find your friends?” Ris shrugged. “She’ll come back, I’m sure. For now, you’ve got Krinynor and me.” And sure, they were caring, but they didn’t know her very well; they didn’t know what she’d done. Killed her twin by taking the quest. All her fault. Stupid crow magic, useless, made her broken. No-one wanted to be her friend, everyone abandoned her, even her shadow. No-one wanted her. Worthless, broken, unloved. She should never have done anything, should have stayed in Orsilnon the whole time, nothing bad would have happened. Her fault, her fault, wyvern-stars’ fault, worthless and useless, scorned and spurned. Paekanta gently took her hand and held it, keeping it away from the reddened skin where she’d begun scratching at the three indigo dots on her wrist. Ris struggled, but the Seelie’s grip was strong, and she gave up. With her other hand, Paekanta stroked Ris’ hair and brought her closer, and there she stayed until Paekanta had to leave.
The friends she’d made during the quest were not worth this anguish she bore as the cost.
“I don’t see the Vagabond, and I haven’t seen either of them,” I said. We’d been wandering along the docks, unsure where to begin looking.
“Hmm. I suppose we’ll have to look in the streets.” Kestrel turned down the next road, seeming to have picked her direction on a whim but walking without her usual signs of uncertainty. I watched the people around me and she watched shop fronts as we walked past.
Kestrel stopped and pointed to someone working in a small yard next to a blacksmith. He hefted an axe over his shoulder and struck at a log resting atop another, much more battered stump. It split in half and the two pieces toppled, a process which was repeated until the log had been split into pieces small enough to use as firewood. The shadow wiped his brow and looked up.
“Oh hey Promise, hey Kestrel,” Kyrell said. “Where’s Ris?”
“She’s in Faertarnikr. I’m bringing all her friends back to her.”
“Why, what happened?”
“I’ll tell you when we’re all together – Leyin’s here with you right?”
“During the battle, Ris called to me and I found Leyin on the ground. The Cursed’s shadows’ screaming was too loud for her, so I got her out of the way,” began Kyrell after giving me a hug, after I’d finished telling them how the battle ended and how Saryar died. “She’d been wounded and was losing blood fast so I had to get her somewhere safe and bandage her up.”
“And then why’d you go to Etrunbor?” Kestrel asked.
“Because I’m Kyrell.”
“That’s not an explanation!” I protested, but he didn’t answer – sometimes there’s no reason for what he does, except that he feels like it. “Anyway, Ris needs her friends. Do you want to come with us?”
“Sure, sounds fun.”
Leyin showed us what she’d been doing since coming to Etrunbor: she had piles of scraps of paper on her desk, all with sketches and paintings of flowers, whales, planets and stars. She showed us some drawings of a character she’d created, whose eyes were covered with flowers so she didn’t have to draw them, and of another who was like a strawberry-cow girl. When Kyrell had come back with us, she’d left her brushes all akimbo in her jar of water. She stirred them around and took them out, and proudly showed us her tiny fox stuffed toy sitting next to her pillow. The fox, whose name was Pip, was a gift from Kyrell, brought back from the market one day, had rust-coloured fur and was small enough to be balled up like a cinnamon roll in my hands. I could only imagine Ink’s bemusement, picturing him carrying Pip around by the ear.
Kestrel and I had had good weather, for the most part, on our journey to Tirshyer, but it was getting quite late into autumn and the weather was becoming increasingly bitter. It rained again, in patches for a couple of days, as if to mock us for enjoying a few days of warmth and sun, before clearing up with an icy, howling wind. The aeolian gales came just after the Vagabond was spotted on the horizon of the bay, and forced her to stay put until it all died down. She was finally able to come in on the sixth of Nymu, and we set sail the next day.
“So, you finished the quest. Congratulations,” Nebula said.
“Well, it wasn’t really us,” I replied. She tilted her head from side to side, as if to say ‘that doesn’t matter’.
“No, but you did do your quest and that was a vital part of Saryar’s,” said Sahe-kel.
“Tell Ris I’m proud of her for working so hard on her telepathy and saving Lucarih’thën anyway.” I nodded. “And I’m proud of you for taking the courage to tell your friends what was really happening and whose quest was what. That can’t have been easy.”
“Good job, Promise,” Kyrell said, and raised his hand for a high five.
“Leyin, I want to hear your voice. How isn’t it weak from all those decades of unuse?” Sahe-kel said.
“The wyvern-stars’ magic, I suppose, it’s like how I didn’t age. It feels weird though; I still prefer to sign most of the time.”
“Will you sing with us if I get out my fiddle?” Nebula stood, and Leyin nodded.
We sang ‘The Ancient Call’ together, basking in its lilting tune and cadence as if it were sunlight, the rises and falls matching the gentle rocking of the Vagabond and forcing me to match to its rhythm my breathing so I could sustain the notes. Leyin’s voice never rose clear above the rest, but I could hear that it was pretty nevertheless. Nebula’s fiddle cried and crooned, soaring and diving, and she added fanciful flourishes to the melody according to her own whimsy. When, at last, we came to the last round, she drew the note out and tied it to the wind so it could keep humming around the crew into their dreams.
I leaned on the figurehead bowsprit, watching the waves beneath me and Argenti’s broken reflection shift with every ripple. The figurehead was a selkie with her sealskin half peeled off about her shoulders. Salt hung in the air. I looked up to the constellations, and a shiver ran through me. Like when the Solinan words rang in Ris’ soul and startled her. The waves against the hull became a roar for a fleeting moment, and left me disquietened when it became a gentle burbling again. Desperately trying to shut it all out, I turned to go back down below deck.
“You feel it too, huh?” Nebula asked, without turning to face me. She was sitting on the stairs with a dying candle at her feet.
“Something’s not really right. I think it’s just the weather and the changing of seasons though, I’m not used to being at sea this late in autumn.”
“I wouldn’t know.” I shrugged and joined her on the wooden planks. “Maybe the thing I’m feeling is anxiousness. I’m not with Ris and I couldn’t have gotten her to come with me even if I tried, and I’m not there to look after her.”
“Yeah that’s understandable. I’d be worried too.” Or maybe it wasn’t that I was anxious for her, maybe I was anxious to be away from her.
Eventually, Nebula’s candle flickered out and she went to bed. I coaxed Opal onto my lap, and whiled away the night with the texture of her scales under my fingers and the sound of seafolk songs softly smouldering on my lips. Kyrell joined in at times, although he mostly kept to himself.
“Hey. Nebula,” Kyrell called as he approached the captain at the wheel. “Do you have any swords onboard?”
“Sparring.” He shrugged, grinning.
“Oh? With who, though?, because I don’t want anyone getting hurt if they don’t know how to wield a blade. We’ve got two blunt tucks we use for training down in the hold.” She gestured to the hatch.
Kyrell handed Kestrel and me a tuck and layed out a few rules before setting us against each other. We watched each other intently as we circled, then Kestrel came flying at me. Mine met hers, locked at near-equal strength, vying to overturn the other. The blades scraped together as I forced mine over and down, grazing her leg. Jumping back onto her other leg, Kestrel reacted swiftly and made to pierce my side. I blocked it, forcing the tucks up and around – to the right this time. Her blade struck my leg as I thrust mine towards her ribs. She gasped dramatically and fell to her knees.
“You win, you killed me,” she said. I smiled, and offered my hand to help her up.
“Good job,” Leyin signed.
“Imagine Ink trying to have a swordfight,” Leyin said.
“He wouldn’t be able to hold a sword,” said Kyrell matter-of-factly.
“But he does have his shard of obsidian, and he could easily use that as a dagger instead. He has his talons too,” Nebula pointed out.
“He did pretty well with a knife when Symmetry attacked us.”
“Hm.” The rogue took Kestrel’s tuck and started wielding it in a slicing figure-eight through the air. “Promise, can you do this?” I copied the motions as soon as I worked out the pattern. When he was happy that I could do it, he showed me some new techniques and we practised footwork too. He was skilled, and when we duelled I really had to be nimble to try to avoid his strikes. A fractious ferocity rose in my blood. But it didn’t lessen his proficiency; he had the final blow.
Hooting and chittering with excitement, Kestrel’s kits bounced carelessly from one perch to the next above the crowd. Our sea voyage had seemed to last an age, what with little plan and not knowing what to expect, but the Vagabond sailed into Eltrin Bay under the moons’ opposing crescents and a clefted Argenti watched us dock last night before she set. Kyrell pointed out a baker’s stall and we headed over. Nebula had kindly given us some Copiks to buy bread and preserved meats before we started for Kenshalty Abbey. We’d winter there and come back with Lulu and hopefully Ink if we found him, and the sail back to Faertarnikr to Ris. As usual, Kestrel’s earth magic would be our source of vegetables.
“You ok?” Affectionate concern shifted through Kestrel’s lavender eyes.
“Yeah,” I said concomitantly. “I miss Ris.” She reached her arm around me as we walked and Leyin reached up to ruffle my hair. Every time I’d been to Eltrin, I’d been with Ris. We had Kyrell and Leyin but were missing Lulu and Ink this time, and it was nearly winter. The entirety of the Cerulean Starry Ocean billowed out between Ris and me. I was so far away. I should have tried to bring her with me. It would be months before I’d see her again. The rhythms of our footsteps slowly fell into sync.
Ember-sparks leapt from the revelling flames into the overcast sky, winking into ash as they burned out in the cold night air, as if wishing to be our stars tonight. How like Ris’ candles, fading into a soon-gone wisp of smoke when the flame was snuffed. I listened to my friends’ voices, watching the fire with an empty mind, wishing Ris’ crow magic could show us everything wondrous about this night.
The pendulum bells at the abbey no longer rang unceasingly and, being winter, there were very few in the orchard and pastures around the village to fill the air with tune. As if all had stopped to listen to Kestrel singing ‘Requiem for the Wayfared’ in Faerin.
Endow sweet repose upon the departed.
Bar not the way to the Mist Realm,
Light the road for them
Who we mourn today
And will forever so.
We lift up our pleas that you may hear.
O, Qaru-Rinaes, queen of waters,
Bestow on them your tranquillity.
O, Pëtur-Rausi, king of stone,
Lay their soul to abiding peace.
O, Loonsu-Rinaes, queen of moons,
Guard our memories true.
O, Krësyoola-Rinaes, queen of twilights,
Keep the path aligned.
The departed are forever cherished.
Endow sweet repose,
Hear our voices,
Answer with comfort,
Until we wend.
Let not their legacy diminish.
During this verse, I murmured some of my favourite memories with Saryar and Rumour, reflecting on our time together.
We adjure your reply, offering gifts.
O, Ysing-Rausi, master of affections
O, Pëtur-Rausi, commander of fortitude
O, Inëkiela-Rinaes, provider of restoration
O, Krësyoola-Rinaes, sentinel of change,
Tend and soften the ache and anguish
Instil acceptance and remembrance
Shepherd our own hearts.
I got up and solemnly put a piece of embroidered cloth in the hearth, where we’d organised for our gifts to go. The fire quickly swallowed it, burning what I’d made the evening before.
Until our own souls wend and there reunite.
Shape the paths to cross again in mists
Keep memory bright and yearning strong,
For there we will inexorably alight –
Faithfully ascertain such fate –,
And evermore blissfully dwell.
Silence, sad and wistful, blanketed us, until Zathrian asked for a couple of helpers to bring in more firewood and everyone started moving off to do their own things. I stayed by the fire with Kestrel, Lulu, Leyin, Kyrell, Badger, and October – their presence warmed me on this hollow-feeling day that should have been full of celebration for the twins’ birthday.
Content warning: implied self-harm ideation.
Krinynor held a special games night for Ris’ birthday, and Paekanta baked a delicious cake for the occasion, but without Saryar, Rumour, and me it was meaningless. Everything felt so mercilessly, dreadfully meaningless. Two and a half months she’d been without her counterpart, the only one to have stayed with her after life fell apart. If, only if, she ever came back, it would be at least three more.
Ris watched the snow falling outside, covering the cobblestone streets, muffling the sound of children playing, biting at the edges of her room where the fire’s warmth couldn’t quite reach properly. Muddied, soggy socks hung on the mantle. A collection of teacups stood on the nightstand. Paekanta usually came this day of the week but she’d caught a cold and had to stay home, and she’d been busy last time too. A half-done artwork laid on the desk; it was Paekanta’s birthday gift to her, a beautiful bouquet of intricate flowers inked by the Seelie’s hand and left for Ris to bring to life. She moved from the rug in front of the fireplace to her desk and picked up a coloured pencil to work on it some more. Sometimes things felt ok, like now when she focused on a task, although life still often felt mangled, like when she lay in bed awake at night unable to sleep. Yet, Krinynor and Paekanta were so kind to her – mistaking her for a good person worth caring about –, and she’d gotten to know some of the other workers too… Maybe time would forget her memories and she could start again here, eventually.
But it had been nearly a year since she saw her family, and she couldn’t possibly speak to them again now, couldn’t face them to explain the reason for Saryar’s death. Just when Ris thought it might begin to ease, grief and misery found new reasons to linger in every nook of her life. Running from her past and surrounding herself with strangers didn’t seem to do a good job of numbing the pain, only stirring the coals. So, through the snowfall and early evenings, she prepared for a new journey – just like last winter, but this time the journey would fix things.
Content warning: implied self-harm ideation.
No. No. She couldn’t. Out into the fields I hurtled, blindly stumbling through the snow. I had to stop her. How could I get back to her, when there were no ships that would risk winter on the seas? Could I somehow talk to the wyvern-stars and get help? Mountains. Up on the peaks somewhere, as high as I could get, maybe there my magicless voice would be heard. By Jornin, keep her safe, help me, somehow, please! Argenti, keep your light clear and bright for me! Lumen, slender and svelte as you are this midnight, guide me truly!
On through the white, glittering snow, onwards to the Glawyn Ranges. Through all the moonlit night, dawn twilight, sunrise, still steadily progressing towards the mountains. Then hiking up, treading indistinct tracks, climbing steep gullies and over snowbanks and long-ago fallen trees, ever still closer to the peak as Stella took up her place in the pale ice sky.
At last, as Stella hesitated at the horizon, I stood atop the mountain under the endless sky. I drew in a deep breath, preparing myself.
“Lucarih’thën, Hë’ӧðinðuhl, Ëtacihruðuhl, any wyvern-star who hears!, heed my cry! Help me somehow, help me stop Ris, help me get to her and show her she’s not alone and we love her. Please.” I reached outwards, searching for some sign, my desperate words hanging in the air and slowly dissipating, waiting… waiting… waiting… But no answer came from the darkening sky, and I fell to my knees and wept.
Then, faintly, worried and restlessly seeking voices came calling my name, growing stronger and filling my head. Wyvern-stars? No, these voices did not carry their majestic weight. It was Kestrel and Leyin. They fell on me, questions scrambling to escape them, demanding where I was and what was happening. I told them, and together we resolved to find Ris as soon as the snow began melting, and I reluctantly picked myself up to go back to the abbey. The wyvern-stars had heartlessly not answered, had not heard. But my friends had, and I desperately wanted to believe it was their small provision.
Hold on, Ris, please. I’m bringing you our friends, I’m coming back. You’re not alone, I swear it.
But the hard thing is that everything we thought we could fix actually fell apart after the quest, and I don’t really believe it can all be put back together entirely and without immortally unhealing scars. To have so determinedly struggled to do something right for once and still fall short is a harrowing and heavy burden to bear.
Andasi organised a feast and a bonfire out in the fields under the double full moon for the last day of the year, which was both a celebration and a farewell to us – like last year at Orsilnon, only this time without the secrecy. And yes all the similarities between events were tiring, but they were also brimming with the anticipation of finding ways to make things ok again and forging life again out of ashes.
So in the morning we set out. Ink landed suddenly on my shoulder one afternoon, pleased to see us again but disinclined to say why he left without a word. We reached Eltrin in mid-Unexa, where the Vagabond waited for us, and, since Ris had already begun her journey, we steered towards Tezynnaro in hurried pursuit. Argenti was just starting to round out when we landed at Skysalt.
“Promise? Tanarook, arms wide – hello again, welcome,” Karidil said when he saw us resting in the shade. “Corinew in a canaben, Mirika, hands spread, eyes open? You seem like you’re waiting for something, what are you looking for?”
“We’re trying to find Ris.”
“She met with Mallekari and is going with the Jaquillu tribe northwards. I asked where you all were and how the quest went, but she gave no answer. Mirika…” He sighed and paused, struggling to find the right words. “Tanarook, cheeks wet. Tanarook and howling winds …She was wretchedly miserable, I think, but her smile was content.” My breath caught in my throat, blocking any words I tried to conjure up.
“She’s headed for the Hollow Tree,” said Kyrell. She can’t, she can’t, please, and I can’t block out the dread of what if she does.
“The Hollow Tree?!” Karidil stared at us before torrentially thinking aloud. “There are no tribes here at the moment yet you must have a guide. The Worattle tribe usually arrives in about a week, that’s too long. There’s a few people living here who could take you but they’re old, and the younger people don’t have experience. That leaves me. Jirrel, face painted with Tekynorree colours, Narrabilli with Molliberra – we shall be a small tribe together and I will take us. Molliberra standing atop the Withered cliffs – this is a serious journey ahead. We can leave by mid-afternoon.” I nodded, grateful for his help.
The first part of our journey was much like when we went to Ka-Sill Karst – apart from it now being spring, so we became crepuscular rather than nocturnal. And being apart from Ris, separated for months on end. During the hours when my friends slept, I often sparred with Kyrell to keep myself at bay and protect the others. I dared not go out wandering, lest I get lost. Now more than ever did I need my friends and to be held in company.
The second part took us northward along the snaking Moonstone River through the Withered Canyon, whose rugged walls steeply rose high up around us and whose dusty, rocky soil gave little hold to the scraggly bushes that huddled thirstily on the riverbanks. When the winds rushed around us, it whistled through the dry grasses and howled against the cliffs like a dog scratching at the door.
We marched through that valley for a long week and a half, before reaching the deafening Moonstone Cascades where the river hurled itself headlong into the canyon from above and sprayed a sparkling mist that caught the sunlight in just the right way to cast a rainbow over our heads. Mosses stretched over the boulders and crept upwards to meet the small, brave ferns clinging to the dripping rock face. Ink spread his wings and caught a thermal, soaring higher and higher, enjoying the stunning view, then dove through the waterfall and swooped back down to us and landed on a rock.
“Argh, all wet now. Soggy soggy soggy,” he croaked, and shook himself as best he could, holding his wings half out exactly like an unsuspecting person who’s just had a bucket poured over them and is now in shock and thoroughly soaked.
“Well what did you think would happen?” I laughed.
“Not be so hot and sticky?” He flapped his wings again. “It worked, but forgot crow not waterproof like ducks.”
“How do we get out of the Withered?” Kestrel asked.
“There is a staircase in the cliff face there,” Karidil said, pointing to a shadowed cavity behind the cascade on the left-hand side. “It will be dim and dank – Kestrel, will you kindly hold a light and lead the way?” She nodded and lit a bright flame in her hand, and we began our ascent of the stone staircase. It was wide enough for two abreast, and thankfully not musty or slimy – although Ink occasionally squawked at a critter scittering out of our way. Suspended dust motes gleamed in the narrow sunbeams let in through slits looking out across the Withered on the outer sections of the zig-zagging passage.
When we came back out into daylight again at the top, we found ourselves at the foothills of a mountain range. We ate lunch, then continued on instead of stopping for a nap to avoid the midday heat – the stairway had been cool and the mountains would shelter us too, and anything was better than silence.
But silence came at night, when the others slept, and I found a remnant of the howling wind from the valley had made a nest inside me. Ris was several days further into the mountains. We couldn’t wait, couldn’t waste time! They’d had some rest, now we should keep moving. I rocked Leyin but she just rolled over, so I tried waking Kestrel but she mumbled something and pulled her blanket closer around herself.
“Wake up! And Lumen!, Argenti! How could you hide yourselves when I need your light?” I cried, and thrust a branch from the pile into the fire to make a torch.
“Promise! What are you doing?” Kyrell jumped up.
“We’re wasting time! We have to find Ris before she gets to the Hollow Tree!” He put his hands on my shoulders.
“Listen. Listen to me, Promise. We’re going to find her. But the others are worn out from the day and they need to sleep.” I squirmed out of his grip and spun on my heel, determined.
“Then you can come with me. Or don’t, I don’t care, none of you seem to care enough that she’s going to-”
“Stop. Promise.” Kyrell grabbed me again. “Promise, listen, we’re going together. She needs all of us. She needs Leyin and Kestrel and Ink. You won’t be able to stop her and you’ll just end up even more alone. Trust me. Please.”
“How would you know? You killed your counterpart!”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t care! Please just stay here, stay with us. I want you to be safe, and that means you stay with all of us so we can keep an eye on you so you don’t do something foolish like this. You don’t know what to do with yourself at the moment. You’ve been separated for too long.”
“So let me get back to her!”
“You’ll get lost without Karidil. Either that or you’ll find her and it won’t make a difference, and I know even if you rejoin you’ll still be split and become a wraith. We all have to come. She has to know we came back to her. She has to know we didn’t abandon her. She has to know we love her.”
Kyrell took the torch and tossed it into the fire as I crumpled to the ground like a sheet. And I wept. Because in my heart I knew he was right and anything I could do alone would be in vain, yet the insanity and dread continually strengthened their hold and I could neither make reason against them nor hold them at bay. Kyrell sat down and drew me in close, shielding and protecting me.
Content warning: implied self-harm/suicidality.
Stella steadily paced down to the western horizon, her light no longer shining upon us but lingering in the sky as dusk arrived in the valley. The Moonstone River caught the light as we followed it up to its source on the side of the mountain where the Hollow Tree stood – where Ris sat against its sun-bleached and lightning-blackened wood, surrounded by death maidens and servants.
I stopped, heart throbbing, then ran to her with the others just behind me, scattering the death maidens and servants.
“Ris! We’re here! We came back for you! We didn’t abandon you! Ris. I love you. We all do. You’re not alone.”
“Promise, you found me?” Ris looked up at me, bewildered.
“Of course.” I searched her eyes. “How could I ever let you do this? You were lost after Saryar- after Saryar and Rumour died. You ran from it, we ran from the truth. But we needed our friends to be with us. Look, I brought them to you, we’re all together again.” Ris laughed – a cold and mocking laugh.
“No. You abandoned me. I was alone for seven months. You all abandoned me the moment you found out that I stole my twin’s quest. That I lied to you. She’s dead because of me.” She stood, leaning on the tree for support. “No, this is only a dream. I will still be alone when I wake and I will still be alone when I free these death maidens and searvants. You don’t care.”
“This is no dream, Ris. You are awake. This is real,” Kestrel said.
“We understand why you did what you did and it doesn’t change what we think of you,” Lulu said.
“You’re our friend,” said Leyin.
“We’re here for you,” Kyrell said.
“All going to be ok,” Ink croaked, taking up his perch on my shoulder.
Yet still she looked at us with disdain.
“Please, Ris. Come back with us, leave the Hollow Tree. There’s nothing any of us can do about the past.”
“Maybe.” She shrugged. “But I can make one thing better.” She reached for her pack. I grabbed her and shouted for someone to get the bag away.
“You can’t fix anything. We all just have to learn to live with it. Nothing can bring her back or undo our mistakes.” I blinked back the tears welling up in my eyes. “I miss them too, Ris, but they’re gone.”
“But I promised the death maidens and servants I’d free them.”
“We don’t even know if it’ll work!” one of the death maidens said. “You’ll probably just become one of us.”
“Please don’t do this, Ris. Don’t abandon me, don’t let me become a wraith. Live, Ris, please. Come back with us, come back to Kenshalty.” She looked around at the death maidens and servants, uncertain. One nodded, and Ris sighed. She hugged me tight, and let me take her hand and lead her away from the Hollow Tree.
I reattached myself for the night, whole again and both of us still alive, and in the morning we began the long journey back to make a home at Kenshalty Abbey. Of course these wounds would scar and ever remain, but they would heal and not be open forever, and we had each other. We are not alone.
~ The end ~