A Song in a Storm
Issa hurried to the window, pondering a banishing of ghosts, as she watched the elf reform his light well and disappear into the night. Gates and locks and keys were fairly common wards, adaptable to many uses, but she had never heard of this banishing before, and as one advanced in the ways of the Itri, she should have known it, if it were not forbidden.
As was the case in many cultures, the Itri believed that sometimes the souls of the dead remained stuck in the mortal world, living a kind of half-life, in which they repeatedly tried and failed to accomplish important things they regretted failing to accomplish while living, which understandably made them seem like monsters, to those who happened into their tales. But these were just stories Issa’s people knew were impossible, because they received the prophecies through Om’s Veils. They knew the paths each life would take, before they set out. Everyone was born and reborn into Om, in many lifetimes, or so she had believed. Yet, everything she had witnessed, herself, in Noel Loveridge proved this was not always the case.
Why would the Itri have a ward against ghosts, if ghosts did not exist? Why was that ward for banishing them forbidden to the Children of Danguin? And more importantly why did it work to block Issa’s possession of Noel?
In truth, many forbidden things had happened in their mountain of late. Her father had been allowed to use on her the powerful tonic, brought there by Noel, though the Mothers quickly deemed it a violation of Mdonyatra and Ftdonya. The Mardraim allowed the elf to utilize the light well, though it was forbidden to Issa’s people too. But this was different. How had an elf, who claimed to know nothing of Itri fahmat, learned to use a forbidden ward? Clearly, someone in the mountain taught him, but few of the Mothers’ children were ever taught forbidden things.
Which meant the elf was right. There was a great deal the Mardraim was not telling Issa, either because he believed her state too delicate to keep her informed, or because he was concerned about what she might do as a result. The elder could have told her about the wards, on the night he explained the possession, and she would have trusted his guidance, but instead he kept that knowledge from her, blatantly, and Issa had eagerly accepted this product of his distrust. By the way Noel spoke, it did not sound as though the elder taught him the banishing either.
Her memories, of what happened the night Noel Loveridge made his way through Moag, were vague at best, as if lived by another self in some other lifetime, but she recalled the Felimi had anticipated her death, believing Issa, herself, should be grateful for it. Possession was forbidden, but she had not performed this magic on purpose— she did not even know how she managed it. Their tenets were strict, out of necessity, built on countless lifetimes of wisdom gained by their people, but accidental violations were always forgiven. It made no sense that the Mothers would have wanted the end of her life, simply because she stumbled into a forbidden magic she did not understand, especially if they knew a handful of wards could be used to provide relief from the cursed thing. But no magic was forbidden without just cause, and what little Issa did know of possession was enough to warrant its prohibition, which made her wonder: what about the banishing warranted its restriction? There must be more to possession than the Mardraim had been willing to share— things the Mothers had been happy Issa’s death would prevent anyone else from knowing.
Might the Felimi have taught Noel the wards?
Bitterness blurred her vision, threatening more tears, but Issa bit them back, grinding her teeth at her inability to keep emotions in check. Questioning Ohamet about the wards, how they worked, and just who taught him and why, would have to wait until the following night, she thought, closing the tangible man out of her head, as she closed the shutters and turned to face the fragment of Noel, presently lingering there by the window, a dismal phantom, barely discernible in the lantern light. A ghost, she supposed.
The wisp had not waited outside, to be let in with his corporeal self, but slipped in through the crack under the door, while the rest of the elf paced the stoop. If he was going to be forced to wander the world as a fractured soul, for the remainder of his existence, she imagined she should not hold against him taking what little advantage his discorporate state afforded him, and perhaps she might find some advantages to be gained by him too, she thought, dimming the lantern with the snap of her fingers, hoping to make his form more apparent. It did not help.
At least now she understood why she could see the wisp so vividly, the first night Ohamet touched Moag. As though amplified by his own presence, every time the elf drew nearer to the fragment of himself in his pacing, the intensity of his minor, detached aura grew. This did not explain why he shined so brightly in the forbidden place, or why Issa seemed to be the only one who could see him, but at least it was progress, a bit of knowledge only she possessed and could put to use.
“He does not know about you,” she whispered to the shade, nodding in the direction of where Ohamet disappeared.
The light of the wanderer moved closer, brushing against her hand, and soon a sulfuric thunder of long-suffered lonesomeness filled her with regret that tasted of oblivion and radiated a violent, unforgiving hue, which tugged at her insides like the whisper of betrayal. Before she could commiserate or question why he felt betrayed by himself, the notes of the old song lilted, on the storm of him, and she smelled in their heaviness the desolation of Moag and her own inevitable extinction.
“I should ask the same of you,” she answered him coldly, an unexpected sting rising on her cheeks, as she pulled her hand back and turned for the table, leaving the light to drift in its circuitous way, close behind her. If he thought he could convince her not to return to that tunnel, he was mistaken.
It was not exactly concern for her safety that caused Noel to warn her away from Moag, though it was clear he knew she was destined to die, that Moag would be the end of her, and that this was not what he wanted. Rather, it seemed she was needed alive for now, to fulfill a purpose by her death, though she could sense within him that he was not certain what that purpose was, which she suspected was why she had found him in the tunnel. He was searching for answers, the same as her.
“I deserve to know the truth of things, as much as you. If you are opposed to that, Ghost, you can follow the rest of yourself back to the forbidden place,” she added, standing before her chair, leaning with her hands against the table, her jaw set in defiance. “I will not apologize for searching for the truth, and I will not stop. And I should not have to remind you, I have already lived my end once. Moag is a certainty that does not frighten me.”
Moag did not frighten her, but she was surprised to find connection with the wisp did.
Back in the tunnel, she felt that the spark of Noel’s soul spent much of the nine days she was lying unconscious there in her hut, lingering with her, mingling, waiting for her to recover. She was not certain why he remained or why he left, in the moments just before she woke, but there was a grave familiarity, in the notes of that song that played within him. The song, it seemed, was his feeling of her, she thought, frowning.
She had felt his fears, as well, as he recalled trying to cling to her, while Moag devoured her soul, leaving him unbound. The darkness did not take him, and neither did Om, he was simply left to wander in this ghastly form, yet his fear, in that moment, was not in being lost in the world, set adrift as he was, alone. It was a fear Issa understood, all too well. She had felt the same way, watching Harvey’s Omdet Filim brush the cloister floor, as he disappeared into Moag, even as the life left her body.
It appeared the fragment of Noel knew her, intimately, or at least he believed he did, which meant it was likely Noel’s spark could sense her when they mingled, in much the same way she sensed him— completely, which was unnerving. In their connection, everything the light gave was raw truth, as though Issa was experiencing a part of him that existed prior to thought, at the purest level of intention, unfolding within memories ingrained in his very being. As an empath, she was accustomed to feeling what was at the soul of a person, but Issa’s attainment of the wanderer was so much greater than anything she had ever known before. It made even her connection with Harvey seem as though she had spent lifetimes barely grasping at the surface of him, never truly knowing him.
It was a wonder she had not really considered before how much of a person an empath could never feel, but then again what an empath felt was often too much. This was why they were trained to carefully guard their sense of self, because it was not uncommon for young Ther to develop unnatural attachments to others, which almost always ended tragically. But Noel Loveridge had no training, and Issa was not certain her own training would help either of them, where the effects of this possession were concerned.
Even the corporeal Noel claimed to feel her, but at least that could be stopped by the wards. This connection between her and the wanderer existed only when they mingled, and the mingling worked even while Noel Loveridge was warded. The problem was that the depth of understanding it afforded Issa was exhilarating and frightening all at once, because as her heart raced in her chest and her breath quickened, she knew she wanted to feel more… and could feel he wanted more as well.
Such temptations were dangerous.
Unfortunately, if she wanted answers from the wisp, she did not see any choice but to proceed.
“The first night the elf touched Moag, you came here with him,” she whispered carefully, narrowing her eyes, hoping to improve her focus on the light of him. “I did not know it was you I was seeing, though I should have thought better, now that I understand what you are.” She chuckled uneasily at her mistake, at last taking her chair, adding, “In truth, my mind was so broken, when I first saw you, I believed you were the portion of my own soul, held captive in Noel Loveridge. I hoped I could find some way of saving myself from him.” She raised her chin at the door, willing herself to look unimpressed, though at present she was a bit awestruck by this forbidden magic and the greed that swelled inside her, as she tensed herself against the longing.
“I remember feeling you,” she continued, squeezing the arms of the chair, trying to concentrate on the grain of the wood under her fingers, rather than the strange hunger that resonated, not within her physical body, but in the spaces between the atoms of her, where she had felt him moments before. “Or at least I have a vague sense some part of me remembers you being there, while I recovered from the injuries I suffered through Moag. The Mardraim told me that I sometimes spoke of you, after I woke, though no one else could feel you— not even Harvey. They were likely looking for you in all the wrong places, because you have not come to be with me since the morning I woke, even though you know I am the only one who can sense you. You should not have stayed with me, but I think I understand why you did.”
What if whoever taught Noel the wards was trying to protect them? Did that matter now? She could not sit by and do nothing, and she fully intended to go to Moag with Noel the following night, to find out just how eager he was to work together. She could not wait, while everyone else acted in whatever ways they would, leaving her a prisoner in her home, tortured by her own fragile mind, a slave to the whims of Ohamet, as he wandered in search of whatever it was he was searching for.
Did he even know anymore? If he did, she had yet to feel it in him. But she wanted to—desperately— to feel… everything of him.
Brow furrowed, she shook her head, against the desire, and tried hard to remember what was important. She needed to know what the wisp knew, to know where he had been and everything he had seen in the weeks since she woke. She needed to understand what was happening to them, and if possession was dangerous because of the inclinations it fostered, as she was beginning to suspect, and that was why he left her, she thought that spark of Noel would surely show her, soon enough, one way or another. But the quickest way to the answer was to ask the question, and the only answer she would get was through the mingling. The Mardraim, wise as he was, had given her little choice, leaving her in the dark as he did, so she sat back in her chair, braced herself for the worst, squeezing the armrest like it might gird her up against herself, as she held out her other hand, waiting for the light of the wanderer to rejoin her, the longing a guilt-ridden tide within.
The aura drifted to her side, and the energy of him grazed her fingertips once more, with a residual taste of eagerness that lingered on her tongue like the notes of her motives might not be pure. He doubted her.
Issa smiled. “You can sense me,” she whispered, biting her lip. “Why have you not approached me before now? Why did you leave when I woke?”
Turbulent skies broke loose within him, as the melody of her played, its chorus of honey and almond flowers flowing, melancholic, backward and perfect, treacherous and delicate, with its notes as scattered as her mind had been, ever since he left her. She was not meant to belong to him, it was not his purpose there, to be with her, yet the whole of Om and Moag could not stop him from being pulled into the space of her, even now. The acrid scent and roar of a tremendous force of magic, expanding through constant and chaos, met with her and doomed them both to their present circumstances, while teaching him of the heartbreak of discovering something he should never have known and of wishing to forget what could never be forgotten. Her. But mouldering soup and the Mothers’ hateful words separated them, allowing Moag to rip her from this world, as soon as Noel Loveridge entered the darkness. He thought he’d lost her.
“The cloister? I do not understand.”
She felt the troubled breath of him in her hand, as a primordial sigh, his purpose, imbued with that tremendous force, and with this purpose came the taste of his blood on her lips and a dream, from which he never wanted to wake. The possession. All at once, Issa felt the Breath of Light she had given him, as a poison that dripped from the tip of a gracious blade, and all he wanted was feast upon it, until it ended him, which he would have gladly done, but the wards at the cloister— mouldering soup and the Mothers’ hateful words— broke them apart.
“The cloister is warded,” she whispered, as he stirred within her and the realization of what had happened became a thought between them, as though the thought belonged to him as much as to her. “The Felimi knew the wards would break the possession, and they had Harvey bring me there. They were not simply going to allow me to die. They tried to make certain it happened.”
The terror of the loss of her, as her soul disappeared into Moag, turned to a mad flight, ending in flash of light contained in a whispered breath that tasted of friendship and laughter, and she returned to him, hardly a memory of the wonder he knew her to be, but still impossible to resist, though he could only linger in the space of her now— a visitor. This was not the way it was meant to be, though. The stench of that magic of constant and chaos clung to him, even as he clung to her, knowing the Mothers had not brought her to the cloister to break the possession, but to stop Noel from accomplishing whatever it was that made the possession necessary.
“No one would know what I had done,” she hissed. His purpose for coming there… The Mothers had ended it.
Before she could ask the next obvious question, his answer flooded the cells of her. A squall of pain rose in the wanderer, holding back a billion moments that passed between them in an instant. This pain Issa also knew. It was a feeling of complete evisceration that came of knowing far too much, of holding onto every particle in the universe at once, as they stretched and morphed into something unrecognizable. It was built of a future, made of Noel Loveridge, evolving within a millisecond, as he flew through Moag and Issa fell into that vast chasm of nothingness, calling his name, even as he turned to fly to her, changing the course of everything. Because of the wards his purpose was lost, and he did not know what that purpose was, but that force was still working its magic.
“Wait. You saw the prophecies? Through me? When Moag took me, you saw the changes too?” Issa growled in anguish. She had been struggling since she woke, left to deteriorate, waiting for the elf to touch Moag, to draw forth the prophecies one at a time, but the spark of him knew them all along? “You might have helped me, yet you let me suffer?”
Like a bolt of lightning, the wisp struck at her core, the energy of him overwhelming her, no tenderness left in her song. In his fervor to make her understand, she saw the reek of a festering meal left to rot, its maggots and pustules giving it a life of its own— himself, whatever he was. He hated himself for everything he was doing. He hated himself for his lack of concern for her, as if she were an afterthought, and for being drawn to her, with every moment that passed, like a lover, driven to madness. He hated himself for touching Moag, for not touching Moag, for using the wards, for not using the wards, for meeting Taree, for wishing he had never met Taree, for ever coming to speak to her, for not coming sooner, to hear from her own lips— notes gentle and wretched— what harm his actions had caused, to accept the rage he deserved from her. He hated himself, for every breath he took on this earth in freedom, for all that he stole from her in his dreaming, for all that he lost when he lost her and when she returned. He hated himself for believing in Hope, for never truly believing, and for wishing there might still be Hope yet, when he was certain Hope was lost. Of course, he let Issa suffer her broken mind, alone, because he had his own brokenness to suffer, but she could never hate him for this, as much as he hated himself, even though he knew he had no choice.
And he wanted her to hate him, so he could leave her, without regret, and never look back, because the notes of her always had him looking back, wishing for more.
Issa was transfixed. She thought she would have run from him, if she were able, but as though she was caught up in an electric frenzy of him, all she could do was shake her head, as he pressed her into her seat, with the full force of his own anguish, but the truth was she would not have run, because she was looking back too, wishing for more as well.
“Noel,” she gasped, struggling against his self-loathing, the voracity of him causing her heart to thunder, matching him, until his hatred burst through her veins.
Dismal and minute as he was, the wisp was far from helpless, and Issa’s only defense against him seemed to be the very thing he was trying to build between them— animosity, resentment, abuse, anything but the craving of possession.
As tremendous as this hatred was, this was not all that Issa felt within the light of Noel. There was an unimaginable grief there, and the music of her swelled, triumphant as the voices of a thousand horns calling up the waters of Om, to wash over them. He despised her for feeling anything that was not to be despised in him, even as he begged her not to continue questioning, not to continue pursuing, not to feel any more, to stay where she was safe, to stay safe in that hut, without him, and let him figure out how to right what had gone so very wrong.
In this brief moment of weakness, Issa tried to break free of his grasp, but the hold he had on her was not on some physical part of her. It was as though he was affixed to her essence, to her very spirit, consuming her as she consumed him. He squeezed tighter at the light of her, demanding to know if this was the truth she longed for in him, if this was the wanderer she would have help her to know the prophecies of Moag, the changes he made, because this was who he truly was— cruel and selfish, with concern for no one else in this world, least of all for her, even though she could feel for herself, as she played within the torrent of him, that he did have great concern for her— more concern for her than for anything or anyone, more for her than he wanted to have, yet he could not stop himself from being sick with her. Prophecies or no prophecies, he stayed away because he knew no good could come of him being there, like that, and she should stay away from him, as well, because the two of them would be that poison to each other, so long as they existed, every time they touched.
All along beneath his fury, Issa could hear in the storm of him that it was not meant to be like this, that if he had any choice in anything that happened, it would be different, but he had lost his way because of her, and he had to repair everything he had done wrong. The magic had gone terribly awry. This was not for them. This was not for them, and he was sorry, and he would beg eternally for her forgiveness, for involving her, but he could not let himself betray his people by failing now.
“Please, Noel,” Issa whispered, and at last, as though touched by the whimpering of her voice, he relented. But while he set her free, the light of him remained millimeters away from her lips, as though daring her to give him another taste. She could almost see his soft eyes glimmering there, darkened with anger, tinged with fear, yearning.
“You are not speaking of the possession and wards anymore. What magic went wrong?” she asked, her breaths ragged, exhausted by his turmoil, but at least in his cruelty he gave her the truth, which was more than she could say of anyone else, and as she had learned at the Mothers’ knees many lifetimes ago, those who hated the bitter and relished the sweet rarely tasted the truth.
“Who is Taree? This dream… Is it how you got here? What have you done, Noel? Allow me to help where I can. Show me.”
The shade did not move, but only held the space between them, like it was the walls of a fortress he wished would crumble, even as he was forced to hold them up against her, forced by his loyalty and honor and pride and rage, and he would shoulder that burden until Om and Moag tore each other to shreds within him, if he had to… to protect her.
He did not mean for her to feel this, but she could not help but feel it, even though they no longer mingled. She already knew his desire to protect her was not for her own preservation. His need was to keep her safe, until he could figure out how to complete the magic that had brought him there. They wanted the same thing.
Issa lifted trembling fingers, to what she imagined was his cheek, and beneath them Noel’s soul visibly shuddered. As he pulled away once more, she smelled the worn and weary pages of the book, on the table where Ohamet left it, and among its pages she felt the words of a prophecy, so old that even the Mdrai feared its cause and consequence. In that shudder, Issa simply understood that Noel had gone to a Shaman, half a world away. He had used the man’s old knowledge, in form of a potion, to find the Children of Danguin, hidden there in their mountain, to make sense of an impossible expanse of time, eons of waiting, and there in that old knowledge he met with a source of energy he called Creation.
And echoing still within Issa, in the shuddering of Noel’s soul, was another force at work, a force that was not his own, not the Shaman’s, not even belonging to this energy of Creation that had enveloped him within its folds, showing him the way to the mountain, the way inside, and had even killed him, to bring Harvey to save him. All of their wills were bent by its purpose— the whole of existence bent, by this singular, omnipotent power. It had come from some other place, outside of time, from some other existence, perhaps even before existence existed, and it had taken hold of every part of Noel, and would not let go, until he completed the Wanderer Lives, somehow. It had saved him from Om when he died, saved him again when Issa was lost to Moag, left him to wander as that shade, while it made a thousand new ways, prophecies that poured out of the darkness of Moag and Noel himself, because the magic it intended was not complete… because of Issa, because she saved him, and then she called his name, while she was dying, and he had flown to her, willingly, a choice that could never have been anticipated, even by a force so awesome.
That choice, it seemed, was something stronger than the magic that had been cast to shake eternity to its very core, to reshape Om and Moag and make them what it willed. Issa did not know what the magic was, but that thing that was stronger— that choice— was definitely the wrong energy she had told Noel about, the energy she had called to him with, as she lay dying— the energy that drew him to her, even now.
In his shudder, she felt the inevitable end— The Wanderer Lives. She smelled her death in Moag and the purpose Noel had been brought there to instigate. It would be completed. There was no way to stop it, though the corporeal Noel seemed to be doing everything within his power to try. This was his betrayal.
“Echteri Amu Schripat,” Issa whispered. “You know what we are meant to do?”
No. No! She felt Noel cry against her, as the light of him brushed her fingertips, begging her not to pursue it. He was growing weak. She was taking everything out of him, or rather his attempt to resist her was, and Issa could feel herself growing stronger by the moment. They were enemies, not allies. This Noel felt with vehemence, and he quickly pulled away from her, moving several feet off, cowering like a wounded animal.
“Enemies?” she whispered, offended by the idea. “Look at what I have become! Even a glimmering fragment, as faint as you, has more strength than I have! Noel! Look at me! I want the end of this, not to be your enemy, not to stop you! I want to complete that magic that brought you here, so I can be released from this, even to my end! Om and Moag have both forsaken me, and you would forsake me as well, as a living, breathing being, pretending we can work together to right Om’s way, but only to use me, to take what you need from me. Would you forsake me as well, as a whisper of a shard of soul, groveling in the dark of Moag, because you cannot decide which is worse, the fact I am destined to die or the fact you are destined to live without me, once the poison you covet is gone?
“Should I not be allowed to determine my own path even now? Should I be subject to your way, as well as to Ohamet and Om and Moag and Creation and this Fahmat you cannot understand that comes from this nameless place no one can possibly know? Should I not be allowed to choose my own death when I want it? What is this purpose, sent here by this force? What does it want from us? Show me! With you or without you, I will complete it myself!”
The light rushed forward again, but rather than attack, he fell into her chest and drank deep, as a universe built of agony swirled within him, within her, doubling and redoubling in the rain and the song, until it was infinite. He could not allow it to hurt her, yet he had no choice but to let it. Still he fought, like she was the only thing to be fought for any longer, even if it meant hurting her. He was desperately trying to protect her from the pain he would cause, no matter what he did.
“Pain?” she stammered, unable to understand how he could possibly believe he was stopping her from feeling the absolute agony she had felt ever since she woke, by simply ignoring her. “You cannot lie! You knew how I hurt! You can feel it in me! You knew how fractured my mind was, even before I woke! You could have helped me, all along, but you left me, to ache alone, because it hurt you! If we are enemies, Noel, it is only because you are right! You are cruel and selfish and have made enemies of us, unnecessarily!” she spat, and from somewhere within her, in the wounded glow of him, she heard the shadow of his voice beg in answer, “I do not know what to do, Issa!”
She shivered against the emanation, like a flood of that poison rising, delicious, willing them both to drown. “You left me in misery,” she answered.
“I could not stay,” his whisper echoed, reverberating off of the empty halls of her being, as if he ran through her, searching for the strand of her light, to catch hold of her once more, so he could cling to her, as though by suffocating her with his own guilt, wringing the poison out of her with his loathing, he could console himself, by drinking her down, all at once, and make her despise him enough to force him to leave her forever. “I cannot stay with you. We will destroy each other, like this. You feel it. I know you do. I cannot stay. We feel too much.”
Every word he spoke drained his will, but the words played as her music, and beneath them, in the rain of him, drops of Noel pouring over and through her, in the taste of his blood on her lips and the song of her dancing within him, within her, in that poison, she scented the force behind that magic that had brought him there, to her end, to his victory, to Hope’s salvation— the force resonating from outside of space and time and existence, that power, inconceivable, even knowing both Om and Moag, even knowing what Noel felt of Creation in that Shaman’s old knowledge— a force conceived long ago, born there in their own universe, of the death of the Prophecy of the Last Hope of the Elves.
Issa gasped, jumping to her feet, the light of Noel falling away through her, as she grabbed the book lying on the table, but as soon as she touched it, the visceral remnants of thousands, still contained in the worn fibers of its binding, stung her hands, as though the book itself was made of the fires of their energy. Startled at feeling so many at once, so unexpectedly, she dropped the book, even as the light of Noel Loveridge met her, his anger with himself momentarily assuage and his strength temporarily renewed, by the prospect of what Issa felt within the book— what he might feel through her.
“Yes,” she nodded, her empathy surging between them. “Yes, we will read it together, Noel.”
Hands quavering, Issa ran her fingers over the cover, breathing a breath of awe at what she found, feeling her fear and inspiration reflected within Noel, who had never felt anything like it. The book was overburdened with the remains of those, who had touched it before them, including Noel himself, over the course of many years. All of them had reached for its pages in question, seeking that dead prophecy, even the Mdrai, every one of them bound by its power.
Afraid she would lose the understanding that converged, in that place where she and the wanderer mingled, Issa quickly turned the book open, ignoring the searing weight of all those hands with their questions, and took another deep breath, this one to steady herself for work more mundane but difficult. It was not simple magic, drawing on the intentions of others, often left within inanimate objects, and with something touched by so many, it was quite possible she would use up every measure of strength the two currently possessed between them, never sensing the person she sought, if there was anything of the author left to be found among those pages, considering the extraordinary age of the book.
Resting her hands on the table, she leaned over the tome, closing her eyes, trying to still her thoughts, but almost as quickly as she thought to be still, her mind drifted. Even if she had been in perfect health, she was certain the task would be too difficult for her. Harvey would be better suited for this, she thought, and as she thought of him, tears spilled down her cheeks.
He was likely sound asleep, completely unaware of what was happening to them. He had such incredible power as an empath, yet even he was unable to feel the wisp, though he had been the first to feel Ohamet speeding to their mountain, thousands of kilometers away. The wanderer believed that through the force of that dead prophecy Creation itself had somehow sent Noel tumbling down in the avalanche, to bring Harvey to his rescue, for Harvey to bring him into the mountain. And then what?
Issa shivered, refusing the idea, but it was already cementing itself inside her.
Though they saw each other daily since she woke, it had been weeks since she had truly felt her friend, and she spent so much time in states of confusion, between the prophecies and the possession, that Harvey seemed a world away from her now. Yet their whole lives, they had shared empathy with one another. For as many lifetimes as she could count, he had been as close to her as her own soul, their journeys through Om entwined… eternally, she had once believed.
Issa missed the readiness of him, his mocking impatience at her willfulness, his certainty of so much, though he was not Zhe, his very presence warm, reassuring. He was an unbelievably strong empath. Though it felt as though they had always been a part of each other, she had never understood how strong Harvey was, until Noel came to their mountain, bringing with him all of his chaos, his desperation, his will.
She smiled, her tears falling onto the pages.
From the first moment Issa felt Noel, her own willfulness had been provoked. She felt in him passions she had never felt in anyone, eagerness she wanted to understand, as he flew up the face of her mountain to the summit. She wanted to know what it was that drove him to such desperation. She had not been afraid of him, though everyone else seemed to be— including Harvey.
Had he known?
He had called Noel her wanderer in play, but they never hid anything from each other, and she knew he had felt within her the temptation of knowing something different, a spark of wanting more that had always existed within her, in every lifetime. Harvey brought her with him, to the entrance to the mountain, to help him save Noel’s life, he told her, but the moment she felt the soul of Noel Loveridge clinging to his body, refusing death, Issa had reacted without thinking. She had not known what she was doing. She had only known she wanted her wanderer back.
Why had Harvey said that? When he took her to the Mothers’ cloister, why had he told her not to forget that she was not the only one who felt drawn to save Noel? Might he have been the one, meant to perform that act of salvation through the possession? It made sense. He had greater talent than her— greater than anyone— and she had always known he would likely be Mardraim one day, though they were not supposed to consider their future lives, because as the Mothers taught them, the present was the only moment Om required. But Harvey was so much more capable than everyone.
If that force that caused all of this was so all-encompassing that it could reshape destiny, why would it allow the magic to go wrong when Issa met Noel? Why would it allow her to take Harvey’s place? What was the wrong energy between her and Noel that had driven her to rush to his aid, that energy she felt every time they were near to one another, that energy she felt even now, though they no longer mingled as he gave her space to prepare? Did they possess the power between them to change things by choice? Could they make this right? Could they rebuild that purpose together?
Though she knew better, Issa pushed against the boundaries of herself, reaching out into the night for Harvey, to see if she might be able to startle him awake, like she used to do when they were children. But as the forces of the Mdrai pushed back against her desire for her friend’s guidance, constraining her, her heart fell. The elders had built up an extraordinary fortification of occlusion around her, to keep anyone else from accidentally feeling what was going on inside that hut, inside her. Even with the wanderer there, she was too weak to break their binds, yet the occlusion did not seem to affect the possession at all.
Why did an Itri ward for banishing lost souls of the dead work? And why only sometimes, in some ways?
Growling, she shook her head, furious with herself for wasting time and energy when there was a place for work right in front of her. It had been weakness that drove her to save the elf, against her tenets, she thought, squeezing her wrists in anger. It was weakness that made her call out to Noel, as he flew through the darkness, when she knew she would die, wanting only for him to know her before she went. That wrong energy had forced her to feel Noel, clinging to life, to save him. If she had not done it, Harvey certainly would have been the one Moag took, and Noel would have completed the Wanderer Lives. She suspected her friend had known it all along.
“Baga,” she whispered, gritting her teeth at her foolishness, wiping the wet from her cheeks, sniffing back the roil of anguish that caused her heart to ache for her soul mate. She had done the right thing. As horrible as things were, as difficult as it was living this way, removed from her abilities, half the time her mind not her own, riddled with changes she could not see, without the help of Noel Loveridge and Moag, she had saved Harvey’s life when she saved Noel, and she would do it all again, a million times over, to save them both.
The ghost of the wanderer’s hand fell on her back, his rain and her song and the dead prophecy, waiting there on that table, but none of them more important, in that moment, than for her to understand what she had just done. In his rain, she heard the trickle of blood running down her hand, as the salt of his tears in her song.
“Oh…” she breathed, rubbing her palm against her temple, looking down at her wrist in confusion, quickly blotting the blood away on her skirt tail, shame filling her gut. Because of the wards, it had been weeks since she had worn a bloodstained gown, and this time she did not have Moag to blame, for her mindlessness. “I am… sorry… I do not…” She fell quiet, uncertain how it had happened, though she clearly remembered the pressure of her own flesh against her fingertips, as she dug her nails in, ripping it open.
This was the first time she could remember the act.
In answer, the wanderer was silent as a dawn mist, but she did not need him to show her, in order to know the truth. The poison they shared in the connection of possession endangered them both. The longer they stayed together, the faster they would fall apart, that is why the wards brought her stability, and that is why he left. Though together they could generate some incredible powers of their own, there was not enough of Issa’s light left within her, to keep her mind safe in the presence of him. She might destroy herself before he got the chance. It was as he said. They could not be together.
“We should hurry.” It was strange and comforting to feel him there, as a hand between her shoulder blades, holding her up, but as his energy waned, in the effort to maintain some physical presence, for her benefit, she shirked him away, huffing, “This may be the only chance we get to work in this way. The energy is precious. Do not waste it consoling me.”
Determined to focus on the book alone, she began to read, allowing the tips of her fingers to draw across the first sentence, hoping beyond hope that she and the wanderer were still strong enough, to sift through the remnants of all of those, who had entered the book before them, but it turned out she need not have been so concerned. The Book of Ages was begun long ago, by an elf claiming himself to be the great grandson of one of the only elfin survivors, of a terrible war between the races that had left no corner of the world untouched. Though the author did not write it out in so many words, Issa felt in the sage that countless millions had died in this war, millions of Noel’s people, brutally slain.
“This descendant of Eurial…” She shook her head, confused by the strength of the writer’s presence on the page. “It is almost as though he left himself here, to be felt by us, as though he knew someone would search for him.” The wanderer felt him too, and in his rain Issa tasted his pondering, but she thought surely he would be more likely to know why than she was.
The author was elderly, well over a century when he began his undertaking, and in his initial words, Issa understood that the book had been his final labor of love for Hope— to convey the prophecy. Intrigued, she delved deeper, to uncover a greater sense of this elf, in the story he told of a great flood, but in the drawing out of the next few lines, she felt a marked hesitation in his words, and the wanderer panicked.
“He knows what he is writing is in part—”
A lie, Noel felt, as the scent of his storm became staggered and striated, with foul sounds and putrid images of countless lives wasted, waiting for Hope. Issa tasted in him the oils from the fingers of those thousands, who had turned the pages of that text, searching for answers, just as Noel had done, too many times to count, just as Issa was doing now. The long snowfalls of his youth were tinged with curiosity and expectation, honor and laughter, and the vicious hand of his father, all bound up together in him, in the words on those pages. Lies.
Issa spurned the feeling, trying to maintain her sense of the author, but the wanderer’s uncertainty thundered within her, belonging to all of them— to all of the elves, born since the Fall, including the author himself. These were the questions Noel Loveridge brought to their mountain, thousands of questions that went unanswered, so many questions pent up in his agitation and urgency, all tightly woven into the dead prophecy, with his snow and his hearth fire, his stout drink and his disgust, with his beloved friends and his self-hatred… all for naught. The idea the book might intentionally not hold the truth for anyone disturbed him, yet Issa knew he had always felt this, deep down.
Noel believed the lie was the prophecy itself. He wanted Issa to show him why.
“The prophecy…” she answered uncertainly. “You know the Mdrai could not read it. I felt their confusion when I picked up the book as well.” She stretched her fingers against the memory of all those hands, burned into hers, and wiped away a small trickle of blood from the three crescent shaped wounds on her wrist, wondering how long she and Noel could maintain their connection before her mind would be lost completely.
She knew she would not be able to read the prophecy, but the Mdrai would have done everything they could to understand it, which meant they would have used all of their talents, to gain some greater sense of what was at the soul of the one who transcribed it, just as Issa was doing with the grandson of Eurial. She could have simply felt what the Mdrai left behind, but instead she whispered, “Show me.”
She tasted the desolation of Moag and a fiery orange sunset of disappointment in Noel’s rain, the blood on her lips and the poison that threatened them both, but the wisp leaned in beside her and brushed himself across the edges of the book’s leaves, and surprisingly a few pages turned, causing Issa to laugh, even as she recalled sitting in front of Noel, in a library where she, herself, had never been but understood to belong to the Mardraim— a secret place filled with an impossible number of books about magic.
That was where the wanderer had learned he could muster enough forces to act in the corporeal world when he needed to, though just barely, but his idiotic self had not realized he was not alone in that keep, no matter what the wisp did to show himself, and for him actions took a great deal of energy, so he stopped trying to make the rest of him see, and soon the Mardraim warded the library anyway, which meant the wisp could no longer enter there.
Issa smiled, knowing Noel had been fruitlessly searching for the wards among the pages of those books. That was where he always disappeared, that warded place the Mardraim made for him. She felt the magic that lingered there and understood the way inside, and as she did so the wanderer realized his mistake and pulled away from her again, taking with him all of the energy he could.
As soon as he left her, she felt the empathy drain from her. She stared at him, a violence rising up within her. It felt strange, to want to strike at him, to want to hurt him. It was not a reaction she would have had a few short weeks ago. “If we are to do this, you cannot be afraid of how much I will see or feel within you,” she demanded quietly, continuing to scan the work without him, hoping the author’s revelations would come, even as they faded. She hated that she needed him, but she did. It was as if he was Velhim to her—her only source. “We do not know how long we will be able to build this energy between us, to give us both room to work. I need you for this, and you need me, to help you figure out what you are meant to do. Where is the prophecy?”
The wanderer flew into her, and together they turned the next few pages, the shadow of his light intertwined with her, skin and bone. He did not want to leave, and at the same time he knew he must, not because he was afraid of what she would feel of him— that had been a mistake. He chose to trust her, just as she chose to save him. She tasted the poison in him, blood on her lips, and together they drank, both knowing he was right, it would destroy them, but out of that destruction would grow understanding and strength, and if they were lucky, answers. They wanted the same thing— the completion of the Wanderer Lives— though they knew they were both doomed by it— Issa to cease to exist altogether in Moag, and Noel to wander, lost, without her, likely for the rest of time.
Eurial’s great grandson died before he could finish writing the known history of his people, and care for the Book of Ages changed hands, again and again, over the course of generations, as the stories of their predecessors and descendants were recorded for posterity. As Issa and Noel flipped through the pages, they felt each new scribe grow decrepit in his longing, as though the authors themselves waited for the dead prophecy to be revealed, as much as Issa and Noel did. And indeed, they were all waiting.
The prophecy was mentioned many times in passing, yet no one recorded it, though it was clear by their writings the elves believed they were waiting for the birth of a girl, who they expected would right great and many wrongs in her lifetime. It seemed everything they believed they knew about her was made up, like a tale to pass the years, like stories of ghosts that were never quite true. As each new author began the labor, their intention to record the past in the hope for Hope’s future remained clear in their devotion, and in the weight of their forbearance, Issa knew this book was meant to belong to this girl, not to them. Still, they grew lonelier and wearier, as years carried on, even as the wisp of Noel grew lonelier, wearier, there within Issa, and all of the questions of all of his people grew lonelier and wearier, for want of answer.
There was good reason for their fatigue. Along with the lie, these authors carried a secret between them. Like the prophecy, each one held it fast, as though his life and all of the future depended upon it, and it flowed through the undercurrent of their words, so deeply ingrained in them that it belonged to each of their souls, as a part of them, as though it bound them all together, anchoring them to each other, in their responsibility to its keeping. The secret was a heavy burden to bear, but with each passing of the book to new hands, came the passing of lie and secret, both more precious than the book itself.
The lie had to be the prophecy, the wisp fervently believed, but he did not know this, and as none of the authors seemed to know the actual prophecy either, it was impossible to say with any certainty what the lie might be about.
“The prophecy is real, Noel, just broken,” Issa whispered, flopping back in her chair, pulling the book into her lap, trying desperately to scrutinize the fahmat that bound the keepers of that book, so she could unlock the truth for him. Both secret and lie were protected by as much magic as all them could muster.
“I destroyed the prophecy coming here,” she heard Noel whisper to her bones.
“No, I think the magic that brought you here was searching for why it was broken, to rectify it, but you and I broke that magic, somehow,” she answered, growing impatient, fanning through the pages quickly, until she felt the dead prophecy drawing nearer to her hand, and at last, the wanderer became a torrent for her to stop.
There it was, the Prophecy of The Last Hope of the Elves, dead as dead could be, utterly devoid of intention and Veils, very near the end of the book.
“Is this not strange that it would be here?” she asked, flipping back and forth between the surrounding pages, following her sense of the Mdrai.
The spark of Noel laughed within her, a laugh that felt to her like the sort of laughter she made, when she pretended to be impetuous with Harvey. This was exactly what the Mdrai had done— exactly what Noel had done… exactly what everyone had done, it seemed, when faced with the prophecy’s peculiar location in that book.
“Why place it here?” she frowned, but she felt in Noel that her empathy would be better than all of the guesses he might make in answer. “Well, it was written long ago, long before the original author set his hand to the first pages, even before the book was bound, Noel. And the words feel much older still, even older than the event that left Eurial one of the solitary survivors of that war that damned your people, yet it interrupts a story written by another, and he was just as lost to know the prophecy’s meaning as you are, both before and after inserting it here, purposefully, in the middle of his own story. It is included without reason or elaboration. Why record the prophecy, so close to the end of the book? Did they truly never know it before then?” she asked, and the wanderer became a cataclysm of crashing sensations, a hurricane of everything he wanted to say but could not.
In his tumult, Issa felt as though she gulped down all of the waters of The Deep Beyond Time and tasted in their sweetness so many apprehensions of the Mdrai, so many more secrets and lies the wisp was not supposed to know. She smiled, looking up at the wanderer, expecting to find Noel, grinning down at her, at her realizing what he had done, but instead she found only the light of him glistening with pride, willful, desperate. Shaking her head free of this image, she added, “You stayed.”
The light pulsed with the taste of eternity and the questions of purpose and meaning that had plagued the hearts of every man, woman, and child, who had breathed a single breath of Creation since the dawn of time. Of course he stayed, and the Mdrai, it seemed, drank and drank of the waters, even after Noel Loveridge left Om’s chambers, but they were no closer to understanding the prophecy than any elf had ever been, because it truly was broken, and they knew it, and they did not bother telling Noel the truth.
“They doubt you, just as you doubt them. Let us feel what they felt, then,” Issa answered, continuing to read, now soaking in the remnants of the hand that put the prophecy to page, thousands of years ago.
From the start, it was clear the person who recorded those words firmly believed in them, believed in the truth of them, as a prophecy, and believed they were protecting that same secret that all of the other authors of that book kept, though this prophet did not seem to know what the actual secret was, as though the secret itself became after her and birthed the lie. She was the only woman, before Issa, to leave an imprint of herself in that text, and whoever she was, Issa could feel, in the energy of her presence, coursing through the very ink of her words, that she was a Child of Danguin— a powerful one.
“She was of my people,” Issa whispered excitedly, and again the wanderer was a furious storm of anticipation and laughter, and she found herself laughing with him, “You will need to show me slowly, Ghost, so I can understand. Show me everything the Mdrai said, but not all at once! We will see what they know.”
For a moment, she felt his joy at the sound of her laughter, and like a sigh, the scent of rain was filled with song, and without words the fragment of Noel’s soul whispered, into Issa’s every nerve, the story no author would ever write in that ancient book— the story of what happened in her mountain, the day Noel Loveridge brought the dead Prophecy of the Last Hope of the Elves, to the waters of the Wellspring of Fate, to be read by the Keepers of Knowledge.
Tale of Two Mountains, Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4, Pt. 5, Pt. 6, Pt. 7, Pt. 8, Pt. 9, Pt. 10, Pt. 11, Pt. 12, Pt. 13, Pt. 14, Pt. 15, Pt. 16, Pt. 17, Pt. 18, Pt. 19, Pt. 20, Pt. 21, Pt. 22, Pt. 23, Pt . 24, Pt. 25, Pt. 26, Pt. 27, Pt. 28, Pt. 29, Pt. 30, Pt. 31, Pt. 32, Pt. 33, Pt.34, Pt. 35, Pt. 36, Pt. 37, Pt. 38