Talia, p. 69

I met with Ella today. Liman, Vorel and I had met with some wizard about a game called ‘chess’, but he seemed disinterested in us, so we went to warm by the fire. Farshid was there as well. I let Ella know I was closing the League. It seemed only fair that she hear it from me, being we were the only two left. She offered encouragement, but I think she knew the League had been doomed for some time, only too polite to tell me. After closing the boxes, only one thing remains, but that is a goodbye I will make another day.

But then He arrived, disrupting our gathering. He was rude, as often, but once away from the crowd he was nearly apologetic. The recent changes have upset us all. The uncertainty of what is to come weighs heavy on every heart, even one as black as his. He was requesting I make a tunic for a dancer. One that will perform for Her. I know just the thing. Something from designs long past. Something I might have worn myself, had things been different. While I care not for Him, if the order is for Her, I will make it with love.

Later this evening we sat together to listen to the Battle of the Bards. Jamie has a beautiful voice, and tells a wonderful tale, but Ella… Ella is lilting, moving and haunting. When she sings, my emotions are pulled along with her, as if I am not listening, but partaking in the events. It broke my heart to hear her tale, but not in the raw unhealing sense. These tales, they are more intoxicating than ale has ever been. Perhaps the other bards of the city would answer a fireside call.

The statue (Talia, p. 68)

She walks through her field, snow is falling lightly, but barely sticking to the ground. It is colder than she expected. She pays no attention to where she is walking, focusing instead on the flakes drifting on the air above her, a serene smile upon her face. At the top of a rise she comes to a stop. There ahead of her, on a stone pedestal, stands an intricately carved stone figure. The red stone is smooth, the robes so detailed that they look as if they would be soft to the touch. The figure is helmed, but it is with a certainty that she knows whom this represents.

A familiar hand on her shoulder gives her a squeeze. “He can no longer hurt you.”

“Others will not be so comforted by his passing.”

“They should not concern you.”

“One is a friend.” Sadness creeps into her voice. “The other… is still one to be wary of.”

“Do not worry, I am here with you.”  The arms slide around, cradling her in a gentle hug. They stand there, together, as the snow falls, and it begins to collect on those broad stone shoulders.

Talia, p. 67

They closed the Enclave today. I know Vorel was not there; she was with me in the market when the sending went out. I was puzzled to the reason, but she made a comment that connected it all. She was worried it might be because of Him. That He had mentioned something was to happen in three days, and that time was now today. That also means Elsbeth spoke to me on the same day, but did Vorel really know the importance, or did He keep secrets from her as well?

How many of us really decide our own fates, if any? Some fight, some are resigned, but those who struggle, do they really change what would have been, or is the struggle merely part of the larger design. Of fate, or destiny, can there be change, or only the knowledge of the path set before us?

The Enclave opened an hour later. And fate or no, something was decided. I was free. The presence that had lingered, it was finally gone. He was gone. And yet, I cannot bring myself to feel happy about it. Relieved to be sure, but I find no joy in death, even of one I feared.

Talia, p. 66

She appeared in the market today as I was taking an order. The bench had been empty, but the next time I glanced over she was there. After all this time I should be used to it, but everyone else seems so distant now, as if unreal. Our connection pulses with such life that the outer world seems dull and grey. But Elsbeth was there in front of me, waiting, and the comforting thoughts were just behind. The noise of the market suddenly unbearable, I appealed to withdraw to the Dragon. I thought the fire would bring comfort; we had met there so many times before.

She was waiting in silence upstairs. The distance I thought I felt between us, now a great chasm laid bare. Was it the same for her? She spoke of death as if it was inevitable, of betrayal by those closest, and I said… I said nothing. The words would not come. I was not alone, but neither could I reach out to her. He, it seems, is lost to her as well. He has left her, and may be taken from this world altogether. I fear the outcome just as much, for her, for myself. If He was dangerous before, success would make him deadly. Is it wrong to hope for my freedom, knowing what it means for others?

I don’t expect I’ll see her again. It may be too hard if I do. But I’ll always have the memories… of what was… of what could have been… of what never shall be.

*folded between the pages, an unsealed letter*
*written in a clear and simple hand, folded, with a single rose petal pressed between the pages*

Dearest Elsbeth,

It seems life will not allow us time together. Events rush past outside of
our control. That you met, in those circumstances, I can only imagine
was a shock and surprise. But you came for me, when others did not.
I would have wished for a gentler meeting, perhaps over wine by the fire.
For any pain I may have caused, I am sorry. You have always been
honest with me, and I had wished you to know of her, to know how
deeply we care for one another. And perhaps, somewhere, to know that
you accept her, that you accept us. But that hope too, is taken from me.
We are what we are. I could not be what you needed of me, nor would I
ask you to change on my behalf. Know that I love you, and whether our
paths ever cross again or not, I will always hold a place for you within my
heart, within my memories, and within my dreams.

Love,
~Talia

*also folded and inset in the other letter, a smaller note in a more elegant hand*
My sweet Talia,

All I ever wanted was your safety and your happiness. We both know
that you could never truly be safe with me. And, I will admit, that so
long as I am who and what I am, you could never truly be happy with
me either.

Your friend cares deeply for you, that much is evident. And that, my
dearest Talia, is all ask for.

Should you ever need me, you know I’ll be there, somewhere in the
Shadows.

Elsbeth

The dance of wings (Talia, p. 65)

The field, the stream and the lake. Two figures walking hand in hand. Birds are singing overhead, a few lush green trees sprinkled around the meadow. The warm sun plays across their skin as they move. She laughs, pulling the other’s hand, leading her in a run to the water’s edge. They collapse in each other’s arms, short on breath. Taking a moment to stare deep into those eyes, she leans down for the softest kiss and speaks.

“Never leave me, Love.”

That gentle hand brushes her cheek, pushing the stray hair from her eyes. “I never will.”  Their smile is shared. A long moment passes with no words, just a look, a caress.

Above, the air fills silently with hundreds of fluttering wings. Butterflies of all colors swirl about. The pair lies on their backs, fingers entwined, enraptured by the dance and display. She lifts her free hand slowly, into the dancing cloud, as does the other, soft laughter the only sound. The wings beat against them, softer than silk, softer than breath. Lowering their hands, the swirling wings follow. Each wing a kiss against their skin. As she lies there, the cloud begins to disperse, the butterflies settling on the grass around them. The other turns to face her, a few having found their place in her radiant red hair. Lifting that hand up again to touch her face, she sees love reflected in those eyes.

A butterfly lands on her hand, catching the other’s attention a moment. Its wings beat slowly and something in the other’s expression changes.

“There is a way…”  spoken quietly “that we would never be apart…”  the wings shimmer in the sun. Her response is not verbal, just a squeeze of her hand and a light in her eyes. The other smiles in acknowledgment, their lips meeting again.

The butterfly’s wings beat faster, a hundred others around moving in unison. In moments they are filling the air about the couple. Where there were once only hundreds, now thousands dance. They swirl and dive, separate currents of color. Where the fluttering touches their skin, it leaves a soft glow. The very air around them is alive with energy.

“My love… my all… my everything…”  The light increases, casting shadows amongst the trees. Their skin afire with radiance brighter than the sun. She sees those eyes of love looking back, looking into her and she is open. No words spoken, only a thought shared between them “my love… forever…”

In an instant the pair is gone. At the center of the dance, a lone figure burning bright as a thousand suns rises within the beating wings, its arms wrapped round itself in a single embrace. Each pair of wings pulses in time, now millions, further than the eye could see. The radiant glow of each the stars of the universe of those that have gone before. The meadow gone, the light encompassing everything, spread out, an eternity.

And then the light is gone, the couple standing in the empty field, each an arm around the other, hands cupped together. She looks into those eyes, smiling.

They lift their cupped hands, and opening together, a single glowing butterfly tests its wings then lifts into the air to join the stars above.

Talia, p. 64

I failed again. The first hunt, and I failed. I remember running in fear, ducking from one tree to another, always running, then nothing. Even the nightmares after have become a wisp of memory, but I remember… I remember snow… snow and fire. And when I woke, for once, I was not alone. It no longer feels strange being held, no longer feels like I’m out of place. It feels familiar, as if I’ve always been here, as if I always will. She didn’t stir this time, I didn’t move, and I drifted back to sleep.

That morning, as she went about her business, I wandered the city. It looks so different, everyone so distant. I see faces I remember, but their eyes have changed. I dozed on a bench and nearly woke screaming when someone touched my shoulder. I don’t think I know them, did they know me? I scurried away, out of the market, past the Pride, and found myself on the doorstep of the House. Why did I go there? Why did I feel drawn to it? I let myself in, only to find Cynn sternly looking over the some recruits. She was surprised, yet pleased to see me, telling me I was faster each time. I stammered, puzzled, then I heard it. Another retainer made a sending, calling me to assist, yet I was already there. I didn’t understand.

The rest is a blur; I was walking from the estate, blood on my finger where it was pricked. Shara found me in the market, and offered her hand. Then the fire was in front of us, and I drifted off to sleep. Writing this now only makes it more obvious that there are gaps, that things are missing. But I feel safer now.

The field and the bear (Talia, p. 63)

They walk along the field, near the edge of the stream, hand in hand. The air is filled with laughs as they pay more attention to each other than the world around them. They leave the stream, chasing each other up the hill in a playful game of tag. Tumbling to the ground, arms entwined, she looks deeply into those eyes, her own love reflected back to her. Brushing the hair from her eyes she leans down to speak… and her words are lost as a great roar pierces the silence. They scramble backwards, finding themselves looking into the angry eyes of a giant bear. As they get to their feet, it rears also, towering above them, standing on its hind legs, nearly 8 feet tall. The brown bear roars again. They stop in their tracks, frozen for a moment that seems like an eternity. She snaps back to reality as her companion shoves her away. “Run!!”

As fast as her legs can carry her, she is hurtling down the rolling hills. The thundering of the bear close at her heels. Spying the gully ahead, she turns. If she can jump to the other side she will be out of reach. It is only seconds away. Pulling up all her strength she braces for the final step, and feels a massive weight strike her from behind. She is falling; the sides and bottom of the gully rushing up to meet her. Before reaching the bottom, she falls into darkness…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Cold. It penetrates her very bones. Every muscle aches, refusing to move. She can taste blood. Her eyes open to a world of white. The gully covered with a thick layer of snow, nearly burying her entirely. It is a struggle to move, the body unresponsive. Long minutes pass as she frees one arm, then the other…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Pulling herself up on the ledge, she lays again on her back, staring up at the sky. Snowflakes fall peacefully around her. So tired. To just sleep here, to rest. “You must keep moving” A soft voice touches her mind, urging her up again. She rolls to one side, and notices a lone figure standing on the next rise…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

His cold eyes make the snow seem decidedly warm, yet she can sense a fire burning within him as well. “Why do you insist on intruding?” It is not the soft voice that touched her mind earlier. It is sharp, demanding, and superior. Memories of the pulsing green light flash by, then fade.  “Leave this place, move on. Do not disturb those that have earned their rest.”  She steps backwards, adding distance between them slowly at first…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

She is sitting now, alone, huddled in the snow. Her frozen tears no longer fall.

“Come back to me.” The soft voice returns again. “Come Back.”

“I do not know the way.” She cries, her words barely a whisper against the wind.

A warm hand settles on her icy shoulder. “Then I will show you the way.”

She looks up, that radiant smile beginning to warm her entire being. She stands, pulling her close into her arms, embracing her tightly, words flooding forth. “I thought I had lost you, I thought I was alone.”

A comforting hand brushes the snow from her hair. “You�ll never be alone.” The warmth spreads between them. The snow on the fields begins to melt, leaving only the crushed, damp sheaves below. As they hold one another close it intensifies, burning, brighter than the sun. The field, now dry, ignites in the fires of passion, sweeping across the plain, leaving it blackened and barren. In a moment, in a lifetime, the fires burn down. The two lone figures walk from the top of the hill. Where they step, the ashes are replaced by fresh green grass that spreads out behind them, then ahead, until the entire landscape is brilliant again. The winding stream has found its hollow, and slowly begins to fill in, until it becomes a lake. They disappear into the distance, together.