Noel headed straight for the keep, raw shame filling his belly, with each second that passed and every meter he put between them, as though the further away from Issa he flew, the more rational he became, the easier it was to see what a fool he’d made of himself, yet still, he longed to be that fool, with an ache unlike anything he had ever known. He’d given up the wards so easily, as though Isabella Asan was the embodiment of his every weakness, like the poison of her flooding his veins addled his mind, perplexing him with an unconscionable devotion he could barely see past to recognize, let alone overcome. The feeling that he’d lost her caused his innards to seethe, even now as though he could feel her being ripped away from him by Moag, like she belonged to his very being, and he knew he would lose her in the end, one way or another.
He would lose her to Moag, unless they found some way to change it, but if, by some miracle, they managed that change, once Noel saved her, he knew he had no choice but to leave her there, to lose her to whatever life she had left in that mountain, where at least she might find some solace in freedom from him, if not the joy of having her old life back. He had to let her go, never mind what would happen to him. What he felt of her, in her, with her was not real. It was purely the product of the possession and the growing obsession that stormed within him.
But she had told him righting Om’s Way was impossible, and now, he had no choice except to trust her. The trouble was he couldn’t because he felt her in his soul.
He had done the right thing, though, he reasoned, searching for some shiny prospect in all the mortal doom. Issa deserved to have some control in matters, or at the very least she deserved the truth of things. But surely this was the obsession talking, he thought, as he flew through the barrier to the keep, pulling away his warden charm and landing face down on the old sofa, to growl into the cushions at his idiocy. Growling hardly sufficed.
“What were you thinking?” he shouted angrily, his words muffled by the supple leather. He couldn’t decide if he was angry that he couldn’t see his way past the possession to reason or if it was that he knew the agony he was in for, giving her up, and that was the only answer in the end, no matter what. Of course, the question was rhetorical, as he was perfectly aware it was his usual lack of any real forethought that had brought him to this particular juncture. Clearly, the old man had been right about him.
“Heh, the old man,” he groaned, letting out a miserable sigh, rolling onto his side to breathe a deep breath of guilt at the trouble he’d made. Edward would be more than a bit upset he had handed Issa the means of undermining his authority. And Harvey would likely never forgive him, undoing all of the work they’d done trying to protect the woman.
“What good were the wards if she was going to use them to go to Moag herself?” What good were they if they did nothing to ease the obsession? They gave her peace of mind against him— peace against Moag— and now the choice was hers if and when to use them. “Christ, Noel! She will be the death of you, and you of her, unless you get her out of your head and yourself under control!” But he had a point. The wards were supposed to have given him that control, and it was obvious they didn’t work nearly as well as he’d thought, when he first stepped out of the keep, which had been an awful idea! Why couldn’t he have just waited until the next day to test the amulet, when Harvey was with her, like they had agreed? Why did he always have to do the exact thing that made matters worse?
“Well, because you didn’t actually expected them to work, did you? And it caught you off guard when they blocked Maog too, and of course, you don’t think past your own nose,” he grumbled against himself. “Or maybe you are so far gone, you were hoping they wouldn’t work? That seems more like it, doesn’t it? Either way you reacted, only to realize, after the fact, what an arrant arse you are.”
An arrant arse who’d only meant to step out of the keep for a moment, just to see if the ward for banishing worked like Harvey thought it would. He’d found himself chasing after Issa’s voice in the darkness, like a siren’s song. “My Mardraim said—” she’d uttered softly. What had her Mardraim said? He should have asked her. No, he should have done as he was supposed to do!
“If you hadn’t gone, there’s no knowing what would have happened to her in there.”
If he’d been able to think, never in a million years would he have pictured Issa as he found her standing there, a wistful phantom nearly glowing in the depths of that miserable dark, the shadow of her hand outstretched toward oblivion, a moment before she disappeared and the meaning of the world and everything in it was brought to rather specific if unexpected clarity. In that brief interlude, between grateful encounter and utter devastation, he’d felt an impossible joy… Completion in her. Despite the wards… He’d felt meaning, in the connection between them—meaning he’d never had the capacity to hope for, even with Hope to look forward to all his life. She had touched his soul.
“A product of possession and faulty wards,” he whispered bitterly. He should not have been able to feel anything of her, yet he did feel her, even now, playing in him, notes of solemn warmth that would not let him go. He needed her.
He needed to find Edward. He needed to tell the elder what happened, not lie there wallowing, but he was afraid to move, for fear of doing more damage. Grunting against the state of himself, Noel rolled over, his eyes following the stairs up into the tower of magic housed above him, where he knew there had to be a solution. Maybe not wards, but there must be something among all those books, some confluence of incantation or bewitchery that would sever the tie between them for good and rid Issa of him, though he felt a tiny flame of desire that perhaps it would not quite rid him of her. He needed her warmth. The idea of losing that left him frantic.
Noel rubbed his hands over his face, silently cursing everything he should have been doing, instead of lying there, hiding from the devil’s deal he’d just made, giving away his only security and betraying everyone else in the process. For what? For her? He could never possess her the way she possessed him. But mortal gods, how he wanted to!
She’d held out a scarred hand to oblivion, and it shook him to the core. If he hadn’t gotten there in time— If she hadn’t been frightened away— What if she went back?
Panic grabbed hold of him, and he sat up, raising the amulet’s cord over his head, but he stopped himself short of getting to his feet, squeezing all of his muscles against the desire to go off at half-cock, once more for good measure. “You have to show her you trust her, or she will never trust you!” he argued, balling the amulet up in his fist, gripping it tight against a wealth of fears and the impressive battery of urges that pummeled him from every direction.
If he showed her his doubts now, it would ruin the tentative peace between them, and more than anything, Noel Loveridge wanted for that peace to hold, so he could meet Isabella the following night, at the entrance to the tunnel, just to be close to her, to feel near to that joy and completion and meaning in her again, to bask in her warmth, even if it was just some brutally inhumane, terrifically deranged magic that had to violate every law regarding human dignity on the planet and was forbidden for a very good reason.
“Which is exactly why you should not go,” he breathed, shaking his head against the betrayal going on deep in his bones. “This is madness. You’ve lost! You are lost.”
It was madness, and that settled it. He had to trust her not to break the wards and he had to trust her not to go back to Moag, until they could go together the next night, so he could watch over her. In the meantime he sat there, chewing on the end of his thumb, knee bouncing, wondering what, then, he should do, all the while knowing the clear answer was that he should try doing absolutely nothing for a change.
“Maybe doing nothing is the answer? Sit and think and wait for tomorrow. In the morning, wait for Harvey, admit what you have done, then go find Edward.”
My Mardraim said…
“Atchem…” The Mardraim cleared his throat, looking up over the top of the desk, his brow raised to an insufferable height, as he held Noel in an accusatory gaze, while a slightly startled Noel spat a hard bit of cuticle to the floor, tucking the amulet out of sight, wondering how much of all of all of that the elder had understood through empathy, how much he grasped by the little bit of English he’d gleaned over the weeks, and how much would need explaining sooner rather than later. Edward let out an exhausted sigh, pushing closed the drawer, he’d apparently been going through before Noel interrupted, and used the arm of his chair to pull himself up from his knees, as he laid a paper carefully on his desk.
Noel barely caught a glimpse, but it was one of Issa’s drawings.
“Er… Master Frank,” he smiled, quickly choking back guilt and pride and obsession, but not before he’d begun speaking without thinking. “I am sorry for my…” No words for insane outburst— who’d have guessed? “I did not know you were…” He shook his head, his thoughts finally catching up to him.
What was the old man doing there? What was he doing with that drawing? Why was he at the keep instead of out looking for Noel when he discovered Noel was not at the keep? What exactly was that look on his face? Was that fear sparking in Edward Frank’s keen eyes?
“What has happened, Edward?” Noel asked, realizing the Mardraim must have a very good reason for having been down on his hands and knees, looking through revealed prophecies of Moag, instead of tending to him.
“Many days have passed since the two of us have spoken,” Edward answered quietly, nodding his head, leaning over the back of his chair to examine the paper before him, the fear in his eyes quickly changing to misery. Whatever had happened, apparently Noel’s guilty conscience did not matter in the least.
“You found something?” Noel hissed, clinging to the couch cushions to hold himself down. He wanted to see what was in the drawing, but even Issa had warned him away from knowing the prophecies.
The elder drew in a breath, but paused, studying the paper more deeply. “We Mdrai have had little progress with searching Om for information about your Hope,” he offered at last, without looking up. “As it is, we still find a great many of those prophecies broken, even from among the ones we previously read, as though with each moment, Om slips further from our grasp, giving way to Moag.” This was not exactly an answer.
“What does this mean?” Noel scowled, though the implications were fairly clear. Edward was concerned about the fate of Fate itself. Things were still changing, and that had him looking through the Moag Prophecies Issa had already revealed, by the looks of him for something specific. He may not even have noticed Noel was missing. Or maybe he had known, Noel thought.
My Mardraim said…
Had Edward sent her to Moag?
An uncomfortable niggling had been playing at the back of Noel’s mind, but hadn’t quite had the chance to form yet, in all his angst and what with Edward popping up unexpectedly. My Mardraim said… People talk to themselves all the time, but not in that tone. Had it been an actual conversation he’d stumbled upon in the Forbidden Place? Had someone been there at Moag with Issa? In a light well, perhaps?
“It means our work to restore Om’s Way grows more difficult by the hour,” Edward said, touching the tips of his fingers to the paper, the distressed lines on his face deepening.
Noel’s stomach knotted, half against the look on the elder’s face and half at knowing Issa was telling the truth when she said they would not be able to right Om’s Way. He knew she’d only told him to offend him, but it had not been a lie.
Then he remembered Issa looking toward the window of her hut, as if she knew someone was there, as if she hoped whoever it was would come in and save her from her frustration with him. No one had been there, though. He had listened hard for another heartbeat anywhere nearby, but the two of them were alone and Issa’s heart had thumped with such intensity that his own heart raced to catch up to her, like he was afraid of being left behind, like the warmth of her was the answer to his every question, if only he could hold onto it.
Let her go, he thought, the pain welling up in him again. You have no choice.
Through all of this, the old Keeper of Knowledge only stared at the paper, as though his answers could be found in the contrast between shadow and light Issa had created in that drawing, and he was either oblivious to or unconcerned with everything he might have felt in Noel. When Edward finally spoke again, it was in a serious tone. “We have found a link, Noel Loveridge.”
“A-a-a link?” Noel stammered, gripping the cushion tighter still, glancing toward the picture on the desk, where Edward’s aged fingers rested gently, then back to the elder’s miserable face.
Edward lifted his eyes, but not his head, his circumspect stare unsettling. “We had such little progress that, along with trying to discover any mention of the prophecy you brought to us in your book, we put our best augurs to work attempting to find continuity between the Veils and the prophecies you and Young Isabella have drawn from Moag together.”
Noel swallowed hard. “Continuity? Issa sees actual events. Her drawings… This link…” he nodded toward the desk, leaning forward, his grasp on the leather so tight his knuckles burned. “You mean to say you have found something of that drawing within the Veils?”
“A person…” Edward answered easily.
Finally, Noel stood, half tempted to hurry over and look for himself, but the pain at the idea of losing Issa turned quickly to worry. “A person?”
Who, he thought, abusing his thumb again.
“There will be others, Young Noel. It is only a matter of time until we find them all,” Edward assured him, but it did not sound so much like assurance as it did warning, and the look on his face seemed uncertain, like he did not know if he could trust Noel with whatever it was he was about to divulge.
Who? Who, Noel wanted to demand, but his lips wouldn’t form the word, and when Edward did not continue of his own accord, Noel turned to him and stood mutely willing the revelation with a silent gape, but the Mardraim simply watched him cautiously for several minutes, before adding in a reluctant chord, “It is reasonable to assume some of those attached to this prophecy will be attached to other prophecies in both Om and Moag. It is probable many among their numbers are those whose prophecies have been unwritten in Om, which has been the focus of the augurs’ work.”
The elder ran his fingertips over the surface of the image, touching the paper tenderly, as though whatever Issa had depicted on that page deserved only tenderness, and he was impossibly slow in choosing his words, but his delicacy cut far deeper than it would if only he might get it over with, Noel thought. Who? Noel’s mind cried out, but still the question could not find breath because the irrational fear that it was Issa held him so fast he wasn’t certain he was actually breathing anymore.
There was no reason for him to think it was her, except he knew her death was imminent, tied to his reason for being there, and or course, like his own, her prophecies had been unwritten and by this point everything that existed within him had begun to revolve around her. Had Moag actually shown Issa her own death? How had he never thought to wonder before? How had he been so selfish to not think she might have seen what would actually happen to her, when she claimed to have seen everything else? If it was not her, then who could possibly be so important that Edward would take such care in his tenderness?
“We must find all of the connecting Veils, Young Noel,” Edward offered gently, still dancing with that delicate truth. “If we can find more of these people within Om’s way, we could perhaps make some difference for them, but you must know it is a task that will surely take us years to manage.”
“Years?” Noel blurted, his head taking a bit of a spin as he finally took a breath. He headed back to the couch, the tension continuing to build inside him. He and Issa didn’t have years. “Issa and I do not have years, Edward,” he insisted, once more clutching the leather beside him, this time less to hold himself down and more to hold himself upright. Who was in that bloody picture?
“Which is why you must help us in any way you are able, while you are able, Ohamet. Please.”
Ohamet… Noel despised the name. It was a curse— though not when she said it. The ache of her inside him caused his head to throb. He rubbed anxiously at his temples, the place in the pit of his stomach where the woman clung to the soul of him like a torrent turning around on itself, turning around on her. They would not right Om’s Way. Would he and Harvey be able to save her?
Edward took up the picture, rounding the desk and making his way to Noel’s side, as Noel shook his head, wishing he could ask the question, even as he shirked away from the drawing, knowing it was her, though it made no sense. That was how she would die. It had to be. Edward had even told him Issa had the vision of drowning Noel in the waters in the chamber with the wellspring, but that it turned out to be herself who had drowned. How had he not thought of it before? Would she actually drown because of Noel, because of Echteri Amu Schripat?
“You have my word, our people will continue working to uncover continuity between Om and Moag, no matter the outcome,” the elder said, the smoothness of his voice meaning to pacify, but having the opposite effect, as Noel’s ears began to ring and his mouth grew dry. “We will utilize the Moag prophecies, to begin to understand who all of the prophecies of Om and Moag belong to, to reorder them, not by the meaning in the Veils, but by the progression of time, by relation of individuals and events. We have already begun the work surrounding this link, and we believe it will help us discover what happened to your Last Hope, eventually.”
The disgust that rose in Noel at mention of the Last Hope was unexpected. Who was Edward Frank, to think he had right to speak of her now, Noel thought, as he tried to recall all the faces of those drowned that had hung on Issa’s walls, searching for the image of her—terror stricken, hopeless—among them, even as the old man sat down on the sofa beside him, drawing in hand. The Mardraim thought Noel needed reminding of the Last Hope? To be promised that work would continue on, no matter what happened, when all Noel could think about was Issa?
But as Fate would have it, what the elder knew was going to happen was far worse than the death Noel imagined, before the old man laid that drawing on his lap.
It was not Issa, and oddly, as horrifying a thing as the drawing portrayed—and it was horrifying— there was a curious, intoxicating relief that flowed through him, as Noel felt his eyes grow large and his guts tighten dangerously. He picked up the paper, the “Oh,” slipping from his mouth, as if crushed out of him by a wave that came from that place within him, aching with the idea of Issa’s absence. This wave rolled over the village she had drawn, carrying earth, trees, the crumpled remains of homes and businesses, battered fishing boats, all manner of flotsam, likely even some jetsam, and people— dozens of them, perhaps hundreds, in that one picture alone— clinging to whatever they might find floating, until whatever was floating was churned under the wake with them, as the waters rose up to wash over everything, ripping souls from their earthly foundations, sweeping them away on the tide, making of them little more than tragic memories. The waters tore the life out of them, Noel thought, like when Issa disappeared. His pain and relief became the roar of that wave, destroying everything in its path.
It turned out, the thousands Issa prophesied would die by drowning were not individual events, as Noel had tried to account for them and his responsibility in the matter, when he’d first seen their terrified faces hanging on the walls of her hut. The drownings were one atrocity, a single cataclysmic event, like the end of the world visiting on a thought, passing by, like the wiping out of the very purpose of existence had occurred to it on a whim, like Om slipping away from them to be replaced by Moag, like Issa falling into the void, pulling Noel joyfully, triumphantly behind her— just happy to be near her.
“She named this prophecy A Drowning of Multitudes,” Edward said.
“Oh…” Noel hissed again, the paper rattling in his hands. Realizing he was visibly shaken, he choked down the dry knot that had formed in his throat, handing the drawing back to the elder, and returned to his feet, which carried him across the room, with a purpose he could not quite know until he got there, because he rarely thought… never beyond himself… never beforehand, only of her—thank heaven it was not her!
Momentary liberation and a disconcerting grief stopped him near the door, as he realized it no longer mattered to him who.
It might happen anywhere. Those people might be anyone. The only thing for certain from the picture was that they were close enough to an ocean that it would bring vast amounts of water tearing through their lives, wiping their entire existences from the face of the planet, rushing them away on the current of Noel’s blame, as though they were of no consequence to anyone, least of all to him.
“M-maybe Phuket?” he heard himself say, like for a moment he stepped away from his obsessed spirit and went to stand where he might accept accountability for the thing, so the rest of him could think about it logically, not that Noel was ever logical, but at least he was not thinking of her—oh, yes, there she was again.
But he could have a conversation there, with Phileas, who was the epitome of logic, and Murphy and Wells, who were both much more adept than he, about how they might stop the tide, as though the sort of magic to stop such a catastrophe existed. But it didn’t… as far as he knew. He glanced above him at the stacks, where he’d spent weeks eagerly searching for wards, and felt the anger rise within him again, as if on the swell of those waters.
Why had the elder shown him this now? Why now!? Why? No… How? How could Noel’s coming to their mountain cause such unimaginable destruction, such useless waste of life? Was so much of life predetermined that his destroying the Last Hope would result in such terror, such atrocity as nature overturning herself? Thank goodness it was not Issa though!
The anger wasn’t at Edward or even Fate’s cruelty, but at himself. Noel wished he’d never set foot there. He wished he’d never gone to Arnhem Land, to learn of the Wangarr ways, to visit the Dreaming. He wished he could turn back the clock and undo everything, to never have wondered about the absence of the Last Hope, to never have stood up to his father and left home or taken a blood oath for a Hope that no longer existed, whether he destroyed her or not, to never have gone to Bergfaulk’s, to never have had any more talent than his brothers, to never have met—
An insurmountable anguish stopped that thought dead, as his heart gave a furious thud in his ears, in his eyes, in his fingers and toes, then stopped beating altogether, like thoughts like that might actually kill him, and he grew so weak from that pain of losing even the memory of her and waiting for his heart to restart, he feared his knees might buckle beneath him as his chest constricted, cinching itself up.
No, he could not wish that. He could not give Issa up completely, even for so many thousands, even seeing them all in their final moments, lungs burning with salt, their lives worth nothing to him.
Who? Who was the link? He wanted to be able to ask, now out of guilt more than the idea of saving anyone in particular. But he couldn’t.
Saltwater burned his throat as his eyes flooded, and he wished he could be there in that picture, to drown with the multitudes, even as he struggled to swallow down the sick trying to force its way past the tightness in his chest, his jaw clenching against the fact he’d become something so grotesquely inhuman. Yet, he could not care about those people or even himself or anyone else he loved in the world, as much as he cared about Isabella Asan, as though his soul no longer responded to the rule of his own authority, but existed only by the grace of her lovely poison, slow and perfect and sweet, and the solemn warmth that he longed to hear playing within him like her laughter.
She had a melodic laugh. His heart began to beat again. Her laughter was sweet, yet he’d never actually heard her laugh, so he didn’t really know what it tasted or sounded like, but he felt it, and that feeling was his whole life.
How could the elder have shown him now? Just when he and Issa were preparing to work together? Why not weeks ago, when he was stronger?
“I knew it would be difficult for you to bear,” Edward said, as if in answer to the question Noel did not speak, the elder’s voice full of sympathy Noel did not want or need. It was far too little, too late. “I was reluctant to proceed with what work I might ask of you, to help us know the answers, to all of the questions that fill you now, including those about your… condition. We needed to find a connection between the future we used to see and the future as only Young Isabella sees it, through you, Noel. It would be of no use to anyone if we could not uncover some relation between Om and Moag. Our true work to restore the path of Om can now begin.”
Noel glared over his shoulder, his eyes a blur, his throat clenching as his jaw squeezed and his chest rumbled, and he practically gagged on his own ignominy, returning to the elder’s side and falling back into the worn hide.
“The obsession worsens, Edward. Even while I am warded, it worsens,” Noel whispered desperately. He had to tell the old man the truth. “If there is any way to break the possession— more wards?! Any other fahmat? Please, you must tell me now! You have to help me! You have to help Issa! Help her!” She did not deserve to see this, to feel this. The poor woman… No wonder she’d gone mad, knowing so much loss. And she’d told him little more than half an hour ago, all of the prophecies were as awful as this. Her. You have to help her. “Please, Edward…”
“Your souls are bound, Ohamet,” the man answered pitiably, resting his hand on Noel’s shoulder. “But you are not to blame for this.”
“Blame? Edward, I—”
“You are not to blame, Ohamet,” he answered forcefully, gripping Noel’s shoulder tight, to keep him from rising again, to keep him from running, which he might have done, though the second he thought about where he was going, he was sure he would find himself already at Issa’s side, hoping she would comfort him, when he had no right to hope for any comfort— not with such a crime as A Drowning of Multitudes facing him, and least of all from her.
They had to stop it. Somehow, they had to stop it. But she’d said they couldn’t right Om’s Way. If Noel had doubted whether or not Edward had been at Moag with her or outside the window of Issa’s hut before, his worries were abated. She had never told him. If she had, he wouldn’t still be talking about it like it was a possibility.
The old man laid the drawing face down on the the arm of the sofa and turned toward Noel with fatherly sternness. “There is nothing we can do for you or Young Isabella in the possession, however we can continue our work to figure out how your coming here changed things, to understand why, to know when these events will happen, perhaps to see what causes them, even to discover a way we can change them, for the better— with grave care, Noel Loveridge, for a tenuous future we hardly understand. For that, we need you and Issa to continue drawing the prophecies from Moag, and that, Ohamet, is why I am here begging you not to be afraid of what must be seen.”
It felt like Noel’s soul turned over inside him with such force his breath left him as a barely-stifled roar, and he shook his head against the ache of her poison writhing through him and the fury of being accused of merely being afraid, when he was truly, mortally frightened, for the entire world.
“I am not… strong enough, Edward!” To resist her, he thought. He was not strong enough to resist Isabella, and he knew Edward felt this within him, that very moment, at the soul of him, but was asking him to do what was right, what was impossible. “Those people!” he let out an aghast breath. “All of those people, Edward!” And still he did not care for them. Save her! Protect her!
“This multitude and many others require every ounce of your resolve, Ohamet,” Edward nodded. “You are strong. After all, look at what you have done so far.” He waved his hand over the drawing beside him.
An enraged exhale, full of spittle and phlegm and a formidable growl, escaped from Noel’s lips, as though exorcised from the depths of him, where he was tied to Issa and the longing to keep her, above all else. “I did not know what I was doing! I did not know any of this would happen! It was something else! Ask Harvey! It was some Velhim within me, something I— I cannot explain, Edward!”
“Harvey?” the elder gasped. “ What do you mean? What has Harvey told you?”
Noel loosed a despondent sigh. There was a such a great deal the old man didn’t know, because he’d been so busy with the godforsaken prophecies, though with terribly good reason, Noel supposed, but even so… “Edward, Issa says it is impossible for us to restore Om’s Way because The Wanderer Lives.”
“Harvey told you this?” Edward gaped.
Noel took a deep breath, screwing up his face against the truth of things, which were much more complicated, and answered, “No. Please, do not question. Listen,” and he closed his eyes, leaning back into the leather, resting his pounding head, and told Edward everything.
When he was finished the elder looked slightly deflated and far less hopeful, which was disheartening because he had not looked much better than pitiful before. There were a lot of details Edward might have grabbed hold of, to rant about or curse Noel over, but like any good Danguin, he didn’t, for which Noel was grateful, because it was difficult enough for him to get it all lined up properly in his head and into words, so it could be out the open at last, without getting lost in minutia.
“I knew she would become impossible to resist,” Edward whispered, “but I believed we would have more time.” He took up the drawing once more, turning it over, shaking his head at it, as though he’d decided the Drowning of Multitudes would have to wait.
“As for my Omdrella,” he continued, getting up from the sofa, headed for his desk, where he laid the Drowning down with a remorseful breath, “I wish you would have taken my warnings as truth. I needed you, Young Noel, to find out what happened to my grandson, what he is hiding. I am sorry I have been so distant. The prophecies…” He sighed again and turned back to face Noel, grimness dressing in him, as he leaned back against the desk. “I needed you to do your part, because I could not. I needed more time.”
“You still believe Harvey hides something from you?”
Edward smiled painfully and held out his hand. “May I examine your wards? I would show you the answer, rather than tell you, so maybe you will believe.”
Noel pulled the amulet, twisted up in its cords, from his sleeve pocket, went to stand with Edward, handing him the charm he and Harvey had labored so hard over. He could tell by the elder’s despondent expression the wards were worse than useless. How much worse was the question.
“You knew the wards guarding the magic of my people were enough to provide you some sense of separation from Young Isabella,” the Mardraim said, turning the carved stone around in his fingers. “No other wards were needed. I confess the total faith I have in my Omdrella’s abilities means I cannot believe Young Harvey would make an error in recreating them, even with wards that were forbidden to him. Did you ask him where he learned this ward you call a banishing?”
Noel shook his head. “He spent days searching for it. I assume he studied.”
“He did not tell you with whom he studied?”
Noel gave a half-hearted shrug. “You have all these books. I thought there must be others, somewhere.”
Edward gave a pitiful chuckle. “The Children of Danguin learn at the Mothers’ knees, Young Noel. The Felimi are the teachers of all Fahmat. We Mdrai have the Hall of Records to attend now, but even the prophecies used to be kept in our memories, passed on with our souls, from one life to the next. I told you this.”
“The Felimi teach all the Fahmat from memory?” Noel frowned, incapable of believing at first, looking around at the towers of books and inventions surrounding them, but remembering Edward did tell him that their memories had begun to fail them, that something had happened, long ago, that caused the Mothers to require the Hall of Records and to task the Mdrai with venturing out into the world to collect the magic of all the races.
“This place and these books are forbidden, Noel Loveridge.” Edward raised a brow. “You were supposed to tell no one of their existence.”
Noel blinked. “You are saying Harvey would have to learn the banishing from the Felimi themselves?”
“That is what I am saying,” Edward laughed wryly, getting to his feet and starting toward the staircase. “Come. Let us study, so you can know what the Mothers have had you wearing.”
After a good climb, Noel and Edward entered one of the floors that housed the knowledge of Fae, and as they walked past shelves and shelves of books, the elder explained a little about the method of categorization used by the Danguin Mardraim through the generations, with regards to all known Fahmat. It was not a simple system if one did not know it, but it made sense, Noel supposed. Yes, books of certain colors were transcribed, as necessary, by individual scribes over the generations, but what each new Mardraim was meant to transcribe was limited to certain classifications of magic— chemical, elemental, kinetic, electrical, intellectual, nuclear, spiritual… The list of magical classes was extensive and spread across all brands of magic, accounting for why there were so many colors of books scattered throughout all of the levels of that library. Ultimately, what mattered to them at the moment was that the magic prohibited by Ftdonya was transcribed every fifty years, divided up by Mardraim by sub-class, and was always bound in white and hidden away, as a precaution.
“This insured each Mardraim had some grasp on forbidden fahmat,” the elder said, as they turned a corner and met a dead end and a blank wall. “Perhaps this was in case the Felimi lost knowledge of something important, or it may be so the Felimi would not hold all of the power. Either way, a Madraim’s work was, until now, done in absolute secret.”
He waved his hand in front of the wall, and a series of symbols appeared, glowing orange. Quickly, the old man dragged each symbol to its appropriate order, the spell disappearing almost as quickly as it was arranged, and the wall turned into a door, which opened up before them without hesitation. The room beyond contained hundreds of books, bound in white. A small desk, much like the one in the room of Danguin magic, sat in the middle, a candle, stack of books, and necessary tools lying in wait for Edward to resume work he’d already begun.
“There are eighteen books on forbidden Itri wards, and all books about wards, of which there are many, were most recently transcribed by Esi Abara, who was Mardraim seven generations ago. Wards, as you likely know, must be bound to the physical, and you will find all of Esi’s books on fahmat involving physical manifestation have russet bindings, with the exception of these and other forbidden fahmat within that classification, which can be found on every floor.”
Eighteen books pulled themselves from the bookcases, floating toward the two men, as if carried by ghosts, and arranging themselves in stacks of nine before each of them. Edward caught his stack immediately, and gave Noel a swift nod, so Noel stuck out his hands, and all nine books landed in his arms at once.
“Shall we see what Master Abara knew?” Edward asked.
Master Abara knew a lot.
The Banishing of Ghosts was created by the Fae, in a failed attempt to guard their people against disembodied beings— spirits, a long lost race of human, never meant to have corporeal form, but who became so consumed by all of the bodily pleasures they could never experience that they tried countless ways of incorporating, through all manner of magic, including through—
“Possession,” Noel said quietly. “That would explain why Harvey thought it might work, wouldn’t it?”
“The Felimi have lost some of their memories over time, but very few about magic, Young Noel, I assure you,” Edward scowled. “Read why it failed. See how. Then decide if they told my Omdrella about its faults or not when they taught him this banishing.”
“You have read this book?” Noel asked, though he supposed he should not have been surprised.
“Do you believe I would allow someone to suffer a forbidden magic of my people without doing everything I might to help him? Even if he was an outsider?” the old man said. “Do you think I would allow one of my own to suffer, as Young Isabella has, knowing somehow she failed to perform the possession to its completion, without searching for her salvation? I have done everything I can, for both of you. If you do not believe me, you may read all of the forbidden works that were created by all of the races of humankind, in an attempt to thwart possession, as you are the future Mardraim.”
“Why and how did the banishing fail?” Noel sighed, shutting the book, handing it over to the elder, to replace it on its shelf.
Edward gave him a funny look before answering, “It kept spirits at bay for a time, but they managed to find ways to overcome the Itri Fahmat. However, it is a more pertinent fact that the banishing never worked properly for those who were already possessed. In fact, it had the opposite effect of increasing the intensity of obsession.”
Noel breathed out a great puff. “You believe Harvey knew?”
“I believe Young Harvey returns to the cloister every evening, when he should be sleeping.”
“But he is so concerned for Issa. Why would he give me a ward that would increase my obsession? And why does that amulet work to make me feel as though I am separate from her if the banishing does not work?”
“The Garden Gate and Lock and Key would need to be bound to the physical within you and are enough to provide a certain level of relief, if they are also bound to your possessor. It does not release you from the possession, but only erects a gateway within you, a gate for which whose lock you are the key. This particular lock,” he held up the amulet, “is bound against Issa and the key is bound to you. It protects you against many of the powers of my people, as the powers of my people are all invasive to the soul, by their nature. But they would not work quite so well, if she had performed the possession to its fullness.
“Noel Loveridge, I believe my people discovered a way to fully possess the bodies of others, to be able to take physical form, to exist as you see us today. This knowledge of what we once were was lost to us or hidden from us, I cannot be certain. But I believe that taking bodily form is what disrupted the flow of our memories from one incorporation to the next, costing us tremendous power that we never regained as a people, perhaps even causing the instability in Om that allowed you to make your way here. Righting Om’s Way might undo all of that. If the Mothers, the first Children of Danguin, are the ones who discovered the full power of possession, they would have a lot to lose by that truth coming out. They would have everything to lose.”
“And nothing to lose in seeing to my death, even if they had to openly defy Mdonyatra and Ftdonya, in attempting to take my life when I escaped Moag,” Noel hissed.
“They would have nothing to gain by protecting Young Isabella, but Young Harvey would,” Edward nodded. “He is an incredibly intelligent and vastly powerful empath, Ohamet, and adept at more magic than I can name. I cannot say how he found out what our people once were, if he found out, but I assume his nightly visits to the Felimi have everything to do with what happened to him in Moag.”
“He should not have survived.”
“He should not have survived,” Edward agreed.
“But he wants to save Issa,” Noel insisted. “I know they care deeply for each other. He will not let her go. He will do his best to keep her from all harm.”
“Of this I have no doubt,” the elder answered. “If increasing your obsession results in your death, and he feels he has some way to help her not suffer the consequences as your possessor, he would do anything for her, even against Mdonyatra and Ftdonya. He has been willing to do anything for her in every lifetime the two of them have ever lived.”
“And she has been willing to do anything for him,” Noel grumbled, knowing Issa had accidentally taken Harvey’s place in the prophecy of Moag that was Noel’s to complete. “If you knew all of this, why did you not take the time to tell me, from the beginning? Why did you have me working with him every day?”
“Because I do not believe he means to harm you. If he says he will take over the possession, as you say, and he can find a way, he will do it, even at the cost of his own mortal soul, to save her.”
“Did the Felimi tell him about what would happen to me? Do you believe they did?”
The elder nodded, handing Noel his useless charm. “Telling Young Harvey would serve their purpose and his. It would more quickly destroy you, and it would make you protect Young Isabella.”
Noel had to know the Mardraim knew his people far better than he could. He had to believe what Edward said was right. “What should I do?” he asked quietly. “I cannot use these wards, and I cannot trust Harvey to protect me, unless protecting me protects Issa. You believe he means to find a way to trade one possession for the other, as he said. Should I trust that? What happens if we fail?”
Edward grimaced, looking down at the floor as he pondered Noel’s chances. It was a long while before he looked up and said quietly, “I trust you to protect Young Isabella, Noel Loveridge, and I know Young Harvey could easily have made a charm of the wards we know worked, to ease your burden and hers. You must decide for yourself what to do about my Omdrella, whether you would continue to follow him or cut all ties. I can say that if there is a means for Young Harvey to take over the possession, it was not known by any Mardraim who transcribed the works of Danguin Fahmat, however if a magic exists or can be created to accomplish this, it will belong to the Spirit people, and if the Felimi are who I believe they are, they may be the only ones who would know for certain or be capable of showing my grandson the way.”
The old man’s brow drew low over his eyes, and he continued, “It may be necessary to make for you an amulet of those wards we know work to some extent, but even knowing how your condition has worsened, I must ask you for your help, and it will require a great sacrifice, as you will have to work closely with Issa without the wards. The link…”
“Who is it?” Noel asked at last, the fear it was Issa so far removed from him, after so much discovery, that he had forgotten all about it.
“It would be better if I did not tell you,” Edward smiled painfully. “It would make your task a grave deal more difficult. But you must know, it is one of your friends— one of the twelve you named.”
Noel turned and flew from the room at once, returning to the desk, where Edward left the drawing. As Noel picked it up and began to scan the faces of those pictured there, the elder appeared beside him.
“You will not find his face, Young Noel,” the old Mardraim whispered.
“But you said he is here!” Who was it? Phileas? Murph? His heart was barreling in his chest.
Edward touched his arm. “Young Isabella saw your friend’s death through his eyes, Ohamet,” he said. “She lived it.”
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, Pt. 39