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THE TALE of TWO MOUNTAINS- PT. 39

NOEL

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.

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

The Tale of Two Mountains- Pt. 31

A Study of Wards

Noel rubbed his hand over the back of his head and brought it around across his face, to scratch at the days-old scruff on his jaw, gritting his teeth against the foul mood souring his guts. Edward Frank had to know something happened. There was no way he could not have known, yet for three days now, he’d been absent— from the lair, from his hut… Noel had not once seen him.

Turning back to the old book, lying on the desk before him, Noel waved his hand and watched his own words disappear from the page, leaving the ancient writings of his predecessors in its place.

He’d expected a barrage of questions, accusations, protestations about putting Isabella Asan in danger, once again—after all, what he had done was foolish, even selfish. But it seemed the old fellow couldn’t be bothered. As the days passed, with no word of any kind, Noel grew more certain Edward knew exactly what he’d done and was simply avoiding the topic as carefully as he avoided Noel. The appropriate question was why?

“Damned empathy,” he grumbled, resting his arms on the desk, holding the Book of Ages out before him, as he pressed his lips together against what he knew must happen next.

Though he suspected he would be forced to test the wards alone, that first day after touching Moag, Noel held out for Edward to come tell him what to do—anything at all to do, honestly, because he never felt more alone in his life, haunted on the inside by the restless spirit of Isabella Asan. Her eagerness to return to Moag gnawed at him, and yet she seemed intent on warning him away from the darkness, often and unnervingly so, despite her own desire. Fear of causing any more harm kept him waiting around for even a small word of encouragement the second day, though all hope he would receive help had dwindled. Day three was occupied by acts of pure stubbornness— at least stubbornness was comforting, something he could definitively call his own, in the middle of this chaos he could hardly understand. Now, still plagued by the echoes of Isabella’s terror, Noel knew the time had come to take matters into his own hands, but he wasn’t entirely convinced he wasn’t being left on his own by design, and he needed to know, for certain, how Isabella—the real, corporeal, her—faired, before he did anything else.

It was not as though Noel didn’t know where the Mardraim was all this time. There was really only one place he could be. Edward’s interests rested in prophecy, that much was obvious. Noel had put off the inevitable long enough.

“Irony of ironies,” he muttered, pushing himself up from the old man’s chair, not bothering to look around as several parchments, disturbed by his disturbance, bounced and scattered across the floor.

Tucking the book under his arm, he cobbled together his light well and reluctantly dragged himself out the magical doorway, into the darkness, loudly proclaiming for anyone— or supernatural, soul-sucking monstrosity— that might be listening, “Who would have thought I would come to dread that woman more than I could possibly fear whatever truths might be buried for me in this onerous arsecrack of Fate?”

No laughter rose up from the depths, no echo of his own words in a voice he did not know, only the silent pull of the darkness answered him, with a mournful tug, deep at the root of his soul, as if to say, “Come. See.” He moaned low against the ache of it, catching his breath.

While Noel had spent the past three-and-a-half days feeling rather sorry for himself, he also managed to be a bit productive. He used a trick he picked up from Phileas, to create an under-layer in the Book of Ages, where he began compiling information. Some would frown on his defacement of the text, but a lot had happened, and he thought it important to keep a copy of everything in one place, rather than having his efforts scattered. Besides, this way he could assure he had his own copy, in the event he had to leave in a hurry. He started by transferring his notes from his meeting with the Knowledge Keepers, about the Last Hope prophecy. He’d copied the map of the tunnel he’d charted so far and his best picture of his impression of Moag, though it was hard to do it justice. He’d also recorded everything he remembered about what happened when he first entered Moag, including how it affected Isabella and, of course, what occurred the other night, when he touched it.

It was difficult not to berate himself for that bit of stupidity, but the terrible truth of the matter was if he was not already quite insane from his obsession with Isabella Asan, he was certainly well on his way, torn between two extremes— one, an insatiable desire to return to that place where the darkness deepened beyond anything comprehensible to the human mind, and the other, the periodic wailing and shrieking of his possessor in his head, which had scarcely relented since he decided it would be a smashing idea to reach out and touch Moag (because apparently his first encounter on that front hadn’t been warning enough against such recklessness). As this possession progressed, things were bound to get worse.

Noel wasn’t certain why he felt called to return to that exact place in the tunnel, where the darkness forked, but after these days spent going over the details, he had begun to believe the urge had something to do with the encompassing darkness he understood in the Dreaming. He thought, when he first set out on this endeavor, he was looking for the seers of old, who could explain the prophecy in the Book of Ages, but now, given everything, he wondered if the answers about the Prophecy of Last Hope may actually lie within Moag itself. Of course, he had no idea how to find out, except to go in there and see what happened, but before he could do that, he had to deal with his possessor.

As far as Noel knew, Isabella didn’t have the weight of a ten-thousand-year-old prophecy about the salvation of her people looming over her, driving her to erratic behavior, so it was impossible for him to grasp her longing for the darkness, when it so clearly harmed her. The other night, just as he was preparing himself to do the idiotic, he felt her shift internally, he felt her fear rise, as she urged him to turn and run. He’d ignored it, even mocked it.

No. He defied it.

What was he supposed to do? The woman had attached herself to him like some hell-spawned succubus. He couldn’t help that he was afraid of losing his mind and his free will in the process, and he figured fighting it was a perfectly reasonable reaction to discovering one had been possessed. How was he supposed to know what would happen as a result? Edward Frank certainly wasn’t any help.

“Yeah, but what the bloody hell was I thinking, touching the damned thing? Anything might have happened.”

That was why the wards were necessary, he thought, reaching the end of the path and taking flight.

He’d not yet plucked up the courage to try any of them out. Dabbling in foreign magic, without a mentor or at least making a decent study of the thing, was a bad idea. Edward should have been there.

“But he’s not.”

In the span of a moment Noel landed a foot shy of Isabella’s stoop, in the small patch of light cast by the lantern that burned in an open window. Though the rest of the villagers slept, it appeared she was still awake. He’d half expected to find her waiting for him at the door and was grateful when she spared him that bit of humiliation. Still, in silent trepidation, he climbed the steps and crept to the window, so afraid of what he might find, when he looked inside, that he actually trembled.

The place was a mess, papers and books scattered everywhere, crudely drawn faces pinned to the walls, though it was plain to see an expert hand sketched them and only faltered in the hurry to draw so many—so very many.

Isabella sat on the floor, hands and arms, up to her elbows, covered in paint tinted blue and green and umber, fingers working frantically at the canvas laid before her, though from his vantage point, Noel could hardly tell what she painted. Edward Frank sat at the table, his back to the window, studying one of the drawings—a twisted face of a man crying out in pain.

“Drowning.” Isabella’s voice came through clearly within him, before Noel even had the chance to process what he saw, and he shuddered against it, as much over the word as the clarity with which her voice intoned inside him.

Yes. He recognized the look in the man’s eyes, so lovingly drawn they were almost real on the page. The look was fear— though unmitigated terror seemed the more appropriate descriptor. The man’s wet hair clung to his desperate brow. Water trailed like an ocean of tears down his cheeks. His mouth contorted in what might be a cry for help or, perhaps, a gasp for air. But those eyes knew death was coming.

He was drowning, just as Isabella said—all of them were. Hundreds of faces, pinned to the walls, scattered and piled, crying out in desperation, as the water overtook them.

Thousands.

Noel wasn’t certain how he knew, but he understood this was the prophecy Isabella saw when he touched Moag. She was recreating it for Edward.

Noel shuddered again.

Isabella, the flesh-and-bone woman sat on the floor, with legs sprawled like a child, glanced back at the window, as though she felt him there.

Noel ducked away. He was not certain if she could see him through his light well, but even so he knew she sensed him. It was time to leave, before she drew Edward’s attention to Noel’s presence. He had seen what he came for. Isabella Asan was fine. A bit manic in her work, but apparently unharmed by his foolhardy behavior.

Of course, he knew someone would have mentioned it, if anything terrible happened to the woman. Even if Edward was too preoccupied with the prophecies to care, with everything that had happened between them, if Isabella fell ill or suddenly keeled over dead, everyone else would be quick to assume Noel was to blame and would come bearing pitch forks and torches. Still, as he took to the air, he was grateful he found her well, or well enough. From now on, he decided, he would only take careful steps, always returning to her, to make certain he did not cause her suffering. It was the right thing to do.

Yes, it was the right thing to do, but it wasn’t as though this decision was made out of kindness or compassion. No doubt, he felt awful for the woman. No one deserved to live out the rest of their life moving from one fit of madness to the next. It was bad enough Isabella struggled so greatly with the Moag prophecies, but when Edward told Noel how she harmed herself, he felt a deep responsibility for her, especially since Edward was unwilling to test the wards and Noel was certain they would help them both. But Noel’s determination to take care from now on was purely selfish. Possession led to obsession, which necessarily led to a loss of oneself, to the total control of the possessor. How would he fair under the control of a woman who was so utterly lost, herself? He had an obligation to take care of her, out of self-preservation. At least for now, she seemed content working out this latest prophecy.

This prophecy… Noel’s stomach churned. All those people…

Was he really the cause of the terrible tragedy the woman drew? Were these people destined to die because he changed the course of their fates?

It was a load of bollocks, all of it. If he did cause this, he hadn’t meant to. He didn’t even have a clue how he, an elf— Noble, yes, but not with any great force of power and certainly not with some real fortitude of principle or even slightly greater than average moral fiber about him— could be the cause… the source of such… devastation…

Either way, he had to find some way to stop this, before it got worse.

Before he made it worse.

As he hurried through the darkness, the urge to return to Moag, to find his answers, burned like fire in his belly, always there. The Isabella inside him longed to return as well, but rose in his head against the inclination, a contradiction of herself, a mighty fury.

“Not yet,” he whispered in agreement, even as he rushed through the rock wall, into the Mardraim’s hold.

It was time to make serious study of the wards.

Grabbing his pen, ink, and a spare bit of parchment from the desk, he flew up to the tower door of the room of Danguin magic. If there was one thing he learned at Bergfalk’s, it was how to properly study things, or so he believed. After all, the Nobles spent half their time there as living subjects to the Scholars’ experiments, trying to restore what magic their people lost after the Fall.

First came research.

He quickly copied down each of the Faeish scriptures that marked the door. There were twelve in all, far fewer than the hundreds that protected the room of Fkat at the Felimi cloister. Yet, he found relief from Isabella in the tiny room, so he could at least hope one or some combination of these wards would provide the woman with some relief as well. Maybe that would be enough for them.

Noel knew little about fairy wards. They were rumored to be scattered throughout the globe, though until coming to the mountain Noel had never seen any himself, beyond photographs. They were said to guard sacred places and forbidden realms, but their purposes and effects were supposedly quite vast, much more than simply to keep something safe. The floating isles of the Dark Fairies were alleged to be built of all manner of wards, for their protection, wellbeing, growth, secrecy, prosperity—the list was extensive. Likewise, it was believed the Otherworld of the Annwfn was completely hidden by wards, so well hidden even another fairy, who wasn’t Annwfn, wouldn’t be able to find it, knowing perfectly well what he was looking for and where to search.

Noel had no clue what any of the twelve scriptures meant, mainly because the various languages of the fairies were complex and intertwined, much like the roots of living things. Luckily, he expected the Mardraim’s massive library held the answers for him… except he did not know their language either.

He took his drawings and headed downstairs a level, stepped onto the landing and grabbed a random book from the first shelf he came to. Flipping it open, he was met with exactly what he expected—everything was in Danguinese. In his work with Harvey, he’d managed to learn their alphabet and much of their phonetics, but in the language of the Danguin there was meaning tacked onto every letter, consonant blend, and syllable, so that the language itself had far fewer words than English or Elvish, but those words carried a much deeper meaning than any word in English might. And it was not as though teaching Noel Danguinese was Harvey’s top priority; they concentrated on Danguin culture.

He scanned the first few pages of the book, for any of the few words he knew, but only found Panpago. As far as he could tell this book was all about boiled breakfast grains akin to oatmeal, a topic which wasn’t particularly magical.

Sighing, he returned the book to its shelf.

The magic of the Danguin was confined to the locked room. He knew the magic of Beasts was housed on a single level midway up the enormous central staircase, and all of the man-made artifacts along with many books were kept on the first twelve floors, though considering the extent of the magic of man, there could be several more floors of books dedicated to the subject. Either way, this left fifty-two floors of books to comb through, in the hopes of finding one text on Fae wards. There had to be over a million books in the library, and not knowing the language was going to be a significant problem. For now, he had to continue studying with Harvey and maybe find a gentle way to push the man into teaching him more written Danguinese. But even if he spent every waking hour he wasn’t with Harvey Frank looking through the library, he figured it would take him at least a year on each level, spending no more than five minutes per book. He certainly didn’t plan on staying in the mountain another fifty-two years. No. He had to figure out a quick way of telling which brand of magic was housed in each section, with no reference to guide him.

Think, Noel. Think.

He stood back from the shelves and looked up and down the row, taking in all the spines. On the outside, none of the books seemed the same. They were a scattered spectrum of colors, bound in various materials, the text on the spines were imprinted and inscribed with different inks. Remembering the nonsensical system the mdrai used for organizing the books of prophecy in the Hall of Records, Noel wondered if perhaps these books were organized in a similar way, not by date or topic or type of magic, but by some underlying relational meaning. If this reason was sound, then the shelf in front of him contained books with some context that wasn’t outwardly apparent, but should be evident by their contents. They were surely all on the topic of magic of the same race, but what made the book he looked at first and the books to either side of it belong on the same shelf?

He retook the book he already viewed, along with a few from either side, all different colors, different lengths, different sizes, all bound in different materials, and sat on the floor laying each in order in front of him. The book on possession was a single book, describing everything about the forbidden Danguin art, according to Edward. Based on that, it might be reasonable to assume these seven books contained one particular act of magic each, but the Mardraim also mentioned that the magic of the Danguin was not as extensive as that of other races. How many books must there be if every magical act possible had its own book, he wondered? How many would there be if each act of magic was bound in a book full of other acts within the same category? If it were Elvin, say, a book might describe everything about Light Wells and their practice, or information on light wells might be found in a book discussing how an elf is able to interact with light particles in various ways. If it were Fae, it might describe how to make iachaol or perhaps how to make all elixirs that fall in that class or instead be a reference of certain kinds of ingredients, among which one or more might be used in making iachaol.

“Am I over-thinking?”

He picked up each book, one by one, examining the cover, carefully turning them over in his hands, inspecting the spines, checking the binding to determine the nature of their making. They were all unique in every way. He opened the covers of all seven, laid out in front of him and compared. The books of man often contained pages telling about the author, publisher, date and place of production, and many other races followed suit, because the system for referencing was sound. If these books contained such information, it wasn’t easily discernible, as the writers simply started writing, at the top of each page, filling them with long paragraphs that sometimes extended for several pages before breaking off to begin anew.

But why would such information as author and date be necessary in a secret library built of wizarding magic, hidden inside a mountain no one ever visited and few very rarely left, especially a library accessible to only one man— well two, in this case? These books weren’t mass produced, at least he thought not, considering Edward told him no one but the current Mardraim knew about the library. But then again, Edward also said the Felimi sent the Mdrai out into the world, to collect the new magic of all of the races.

“These may be copies of the original works, made for the Felimi. They could have a library of their own up in the cloister,” he whispered. “But they are blind. If they do have records, they will not be books full of ink.”

He sighed so heavily the page of one of the books turned on its own. Looking down, he realized there were no page numbers. He flipped several pages in each of the books, and indeed, none of them included numbering. There were no headingss of any kind, either, no difference in text sizes or styles. In fact, the text of each book was exceedingly neat, almost uniform, however the there were minor variances in the script, and looking carefully he realized none had been written by the same hand.

Noel smiled at a memory. As if Edward actually expected him to one day be Mardraim of the Danguin people, when he showed him the book of possession he said Noel would need to copy the text at some point in his life, as part of the upkeep.

If the Danguin had been collecting magic for roughly the past eleven thousand years, how many Mardraim must there have been over that time? Five hundred? Two hundred? How long was a Mardraim ordinaily a Mardraim? How many books would each Mardraim have to copy over a lifetime? He looked around the room, searching for a pattern on the shelves. How long would it take one Mardraim to copy the works of five Mdrai, all bringing back various magic of the several races? It would not be easily done. Perhaps the Mdrai themselves wrote these books, and the Mardraim only copied them when they reached a certain state of disrepair. Perhaps some of these books were the original works, which were then transcribed in a manner the Felimi could utilize.

Noel broadened his perspective, and then he saw it. The book bindings repeated at random, and their variance was widely spread. He picked up one of the works before him, bound in a teal-colored leather, and hurried down the row a few sections, until he found another bound in the same material, then another further down. The script on the spines were identically embossed with black ink. The bind was sewn with the same color of thread and exacting stitches. He opened each in turn and found the handwriting matched.

His excitement at discovering there was a system to the book bindings, to a degree, that seemed to indicate either the original author of the work or the mark of the transcriber, was dampened by the fact that it didn’t help him with what was on the insides of the books.

Noel returned the two spare books back in their original shelves and went back to his chosen seven, once more sitting cross-legged in front of them. He turned the teal book back to its beginning and attempted to read, looking for familiar words. Now and then he found simple words or phrases he had heard before, some he understood, some he didn’t, but it was like handing a seven year old a doctoral text and expecting him to understand it. He could sound out words, mostly, but he had little idea of meaning, and it was more of the same with the other six works. It would have been much easier if any of the books made reference to the race to which the magic belonged, at least then he would know whether or not he was in the right place, but that was expecting too much for a culture that used so few words to communicate in the first place. Why would a Danguin waste time repeating the race of the magic when the race was evident based on its floor in the library?

Letting out a large puff of air, frustration at the impossibility of the task building, he scanned the first pages of each of the books once more, this time searching for words that were common between them, even if he could not understand them. Of course there were plenty of elementary words, but he was hoping to stumble across some relevant tie in the group of works, for a single word that stuck out amongst them, to give the works some context. If it existed, it wasn’t readily apparent, but then he had already lost his patience.

“There has to be an easier way.”

Annoyed, he returned the books to their rightful places and flew down to ground level with his drawings, wondering how he could study the wards without the written records, at least for the time being. He lay on the sofa, crossing his feet and resting them on the arm, and took to staring at the images of the wards, as if somehow, looking long and hard enough, he might divine their meaning. Perhaps there was some experiment he could run, to find out what each of the wards were? No, he needed to understand more about what he was dealing with first. Perhaps he could ask Harvey? But Harvey would want to know why.

“This is useless. What do I know, for certain?” he asked, laying the papers aside.

He began reciting rote knowledge of Parallels from his school days. “Magic of gods is of Energy with the Matter of Duality in the Form of Intellect. Magic of elves is of Duality in the Matter of Elements in the Form of Energy. Magic of wizards is of Elements in the Matter of Bondage in the Form of Duality. Magic of fairies is of Bondage in the Matter of Life in the Form of Elements. Magic of men is of Intellect in the Matter of Energy in the Form of Evolution.”

He knew, essentially, what fairies do is the work of life-binding. It was, therefore, reasonable to assume a ward had to be made of living matter, natural elements without any augmentation except through incorporation of further natural elements, all bound in life. By the laws governing Fae, one could not make a ward out of a synthetic material, a ward could not be made that was not bound, and the binding must occur at the elemental level. From this, one could understand the six permutations of fairy magic, which hardly mattered to the task before him, because knowing the fundamentals from his school days would draw him no closer to his goal of cracking these particular wards.

He let out a disgusted grunt and sat up, laying the wards out on the coffee table before him. He leaned forward, his ands pressed against the table, knees bouncing anxiously. What else?

Well, he knew one or more of those twelve wards made it impossible for someone who wasn’t the Mardraim to unlock the door to the room of Danguin magic. Of course, it was not likely there was a fairy ward specific to Danguin Mardraim, rather he suspected that in order for the ward that acted upon lock and key to do the necessary work of determining who could pass, the ward had to somehow be imparted with the intention in the process of the binding. The intention, in this case, was the quality or attribute of Mardraim. But how was this intention imparted?

He scratched his nose, knowing he knew exactly spit about use of Fae. Bergfalk had stressed the importance of learning Parallels, but if they ever taught anything specific about wards, Noel didn’t remember it. The trouble wasn’t the Parallels though, it was the Fae itself. The subject just couldn’t hold his interest, though he was hardly the only one.

Fae was a baser magic than that of the elves. Not that it was lesser in power, in fact, oftentimes a fairy could take more direct action than an elf, though this was in part down to the Fall. Fae was simply different. An elf could in theory make a fairy tonic, by knowing not just the ingredients and where to find or how to fabricate them and when to mix them together, but also knowing all of the properties of the ingredients and exactly how those combined to become that tonic in the fairy binding, finally arranging the elements in that way. Whereas the fairy would grow the appropriate herbs, pick them at the right time, bless them in the Faeish way, and bind them in due course, as fairies do. In the end, they would come out with the same tonic, but the elf’s work for accomplishing this task would be much more time consuming and required greater energy of the elf himself, where the energy the fairy got to do the work would be grown up from the earth, in the Fae. The binding was way down deep in the nature of things, and elves simply didn’t have that relationship with nature. Plus, it was difficult not to think of Fae as kitchen work, and who liked kitchen work, bippity-boppity, and all that nonsense?

He wondered if it would be enough to replicate a ward, the way he might replicate a tonic, if he understood it fundamentally. Or was this a bit of fairy magic he would have to learn to do the traditional way? Did he have enough fairy in him that he would have the capacity for it, if wards couldn’t be replicated? That didn’t matter now. At least one of the twelve wards worked as an intention on the lock and key. What were the other eleven for?

Well, one or more somehow either temporarily severed or at least greatly lessened the connection between him and Isabella. That was the ward he needed. It did this either directly or indirectly, as a result of its intention. Was it possible this was a protection against possession itself? That didn’t seem very likely. If so, wouldn’t it be in the book on possession upstairs? And if it was, wouldn’t Edward know exactly what it was?

A insidious seed, embedded in the lining of his stomach days ago, began to sprout roots and leaves.

No. Why would the old many lie to him about it? He would know Noel would find out eventually, wouldn’t he? Unless that didn’t matter to him . But what purpose would lying serve?

The prophecies… It would serve Om and Moag and the old Mardraim’s understanding of things.

On a sigh, Noel gathered his papers, retrieved the key from the desk drawer, and returned to the room at the top of the library. He hurried inside and opened the book on possession, still there on the small table where Edward left it. He wouldn’t be able to read this book either, he thought, frowning as he took a seat, but if there was a ward among its pages, he was determined to find it. The hour was late, but with a yawn, he leaned his elbow on the table, rested his head against his fist, and began scouring the text.

He woke sometime later, when he tried to stretch to get comfortable and sent a candle clattering to the floor. He woke so well-rested, so content with the world and everything in it that as he flew like a dart downstairs, not knowing what time it was or whether or not he was late meeting Harvey, he didn’t even care that he might be caught out, having stayed too long in the secret hold, as he wiped the crusted drool from his mouth. He had not dreamt. He had not once felt the pulled Moag drawing him to the darkness. He was halfway to the ground floor when the thought of Isabella struck him hard in the gut.

“Noel, you absolute idiot,” he whispered against the panic that rose inside him, frantically feeling for her, but unable to find her. “What have I done?” He had wanted to test the wards, but this was not how.

 

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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