Hurrying through the hallowed halls of the Shimmering Tower, the young mage’s gaze swept each crevice and darkened corner he passed as he ran. That he’d lost her twice already that day was unforgivable enough, but to now have lost her a third time…gods, he’d never hear the end of it. He had to find her and quickly, before he himself was found out. His very honour depended on it.
“Gods, where the bloody hells is she?” he seethed as he went. “If I catch her this time I’ll…”
Biting his tongue, he stopped by a nearby doorway, one whose door was partly ajar, a sight that filled the flustered mage with hope.
“Please let her be here,” he whispered as he pushed the door open.
“Naeve?” he said as he entered, “are you in here?”
There was nobody there.
“Gods damn it, girl!” he spat.
As his desperation climbed, he cast his gaze slowly about the room. But there was nothing to show his quarry ever came in.
Sighing, the young mage raised his hands to his forehead.
“Think, Darin, think,” he said as he massaged his temples. “Where could she be that you haven’t already checked? Think!”
But his mind was blank.
“Gods damn it…” he said at last as he lowered his hands.
“What am I going to do now?” he added his gaze pained as his eyes scanned his surrounds once more.
“And this is why I told that bloody woman not to teach that brat spells to cloak her from scrys. Overreacting my arse! How am I supposed to find her now?”
“By not acting the fool,” came a voice from behind him.
Startled, the young man spun upon his heels as his heart flew up his throat.
“Mistress Amala!” he cried as his gaze fell upon the fierce visage of the silver-haired girl standing at the doorway.
“I…I…I didn’t…I didn’t mean anything by my words earlier, upon my honour. It’s just…I mean…she’s just…well, she–”
The mage fell silent.
“Thrice in a single day,” the silver-haired girl said after a spell. “Must be a first.”
The young mage winced. Yes, he’d never hear the end of it, without a doubt.
“How long has she been missing this time?”
“Gods forgive me, you don’t even know when she disappeared?”
Lowering his gaze, the young mage shook his head as his cheeks reddened greatly.
Sighing, Amala shook her head as a deep scowl twisted her lips.
“So, why are you just standing there, then?” she asked at last.
“I caught her running into here the other day,” the mage replied, “so I thought perhaps–”
“Why are you just standing there?” Amala interjected, her voice hardening as she spoke.
“I…” the mage began, but soon fell silent as he realised the true meaning of the question posed to him, and so, bowing instead, the flustered mage shuffled past the silver-haired girl and hurried down the corridor.
The silver-haired girl watched him go for a spell, then stepped into the room and closed the door behind her, and as silence fell upon the room, she turned her gaze to the wall to her left.
“You can come out now,” she said.
Her words were met with silence.
“I know you’re in there, Naeve,” the girl said. “Come, out you get.”
Still nothing stirred.
“Naeve, if I have to come over there, I’m not showing you any more hiding places.”
At this, a soft groan filled the room as a part of the wall slid aside and a contrite little girl stepped into the room.
“You bloody cheated,” the little girl muttered as she pouted.
“Language,” the silver-haired girl said, her voice hardening as she spoke.
“Sorry,” the little girl mumbled as she stared at her feet.
Sighing, Amala held forth her arms at the little girl.
“Come here, you,” she said as she made her way to where little Naeve stood.
Fighting back a smile, Naeve hurried over and embraced her dear friend.
“Now, which lesson are you hiding from this time?” Amala asked as they parted.
Pulling a face, Naeve lowered her gaze once more.
“Hrm?” Amala said as she nudged the little girl.
A shrug was Naeve’s only answer.
Sighing, Amala went on one knee before the girl and raised the little girl’s gaze to hers.
“Young lady,” she began, “you do realise you’re going to lead this place one day, don’t you?”
“Oh, don’t you start as well,” little Naeve scoffed as she shoved Amala’s hand away. “I get fed that line everyday, by everyone. I don’t need you feeding it to me as well.”
“It’s not easy, I know, but–”
“Easy?” Naeve cried. “It’s boring! All bloody day long I–”
“Language, girl! Gods, your mouth is almost as foul as your mother’s!”
Pulling a face, young Naeve lowered her gaze once more.
“Look, Naeve,” Amala sighed as she clasped the little girl’s shoulders, “I know it’s not easy being the daughter of the Matriarch, but you can’t keep avoiding your lessons like this.”
“But it’s boring though.”
“Which one is it this time?”
“And that’s boring?”
Grinning, Amala shook her head. “Have you any idea how awe-inspiring your ancestors are? The struggles they faced, the battles they fought–”
“Not the way Mistress Fellspire tells it,” Naeve interjected. “It’s a blo…it’s a miracle I’m not snoring by the end of it.”
Biting her lip, Amala stared at the child in silence for a spell.
“Can’t you teach me?” Naeve asked after a spell
Sighing, Amala shook her head. “Remember what your mother said last time I took on your lessons?”
“Yeah,” Naeve replied, fighting back a smile as memories of past misdeeds flitted across her mind.
Biting her own lip, Amala nodded. “Yes. Though I suppose it’s our own fault, we did go a little too far.”
“I’m still not sure why Mother was so mad, though. It’s not like we killed anybody.”
“You blew up four of Master Spiderweave’s skeletons, Naeve.”
“Undead don’t count, Amala.”
Amala raised an eyebrow at this.
“You know what I mean,” Naeve hastily added.
“Well,” Amala sighed, “be that as it may, I can’t help you this time. Sorry.”
“But they’re so boring though,” little Naeve whined.
“Aww…” the little girl whimpered.
“Well…” Amala began, then a soft smile parted her lips.
“What…?” Naeve asked as she cast a slow sideways glance at her friend.
“Tell you what,” Amala replied as her smile widened. “I was going to give you a present at supper, but I can give it to you now, and in exchange you go to all your lessons for the rest of the week without fail.”
“The rest of the week?” little Naeve cried.
“That’s the deal.”
“No way in hells any present is worth that!”
“So, that’s a no, then?”
“Wait, hold, no, I didn’t say that…”
Biting her lip, Amala stared at her friend.
“What is it, then?” the little girl at last.
“It’s a tome.”
“A tome, Naeve. On Tower history.”
“What the blo–“
“Ah, ah, ah!” Amala said, placing a finger upon the little girl’s lips. “Before you say a word, hear me, alright?”
Though Naeve’s lips remained unmoving, her gaze did all her screaming for her.
“Now,” Amala said as she lowered her hand, “this is no ordinary tome on Tower history. It’s got a little…something to it.”
“Mhm.” Amala nodded. “I’ve personally selected the juiciest, most riveting and most fabulous moments of your ancestors’ past specially for you.”
“Serious?” Naeve said as he raised an eyebrow at her friend.
Amala grinned. “Would I ever lie to you?”
“Don’t answer that.”
“Then, why ask?”
“Naeve…” Amala sighed as she shook her head.
Biting her lip, little Naeve lowered her gaze briefly.
“Why do I even bother…” Amala muttered.
“Because you love me.” Little Naeve beamed, then stared about them. “Where is it, then?”
“Do we have a deal?”
“Only if I get to read it a bit first.”
“Very well. Read Tirinel’s story.”
“But she’s so boring!”
“Naeve, she’s one of the greatest mages to ever grace the Tower.”
“But she never did anything fun!”
“Yes true! All she did was do precisely what her mother said, like a good little girl. Gods, just thinking about it makes me want to throw up!”
“She was nothing like that, Naeve, especially before she ran away.”
“She ran away?” Naeve asked, her eyes widening.
Amala stared hard at the little girl. “Do you actually…listen in your classes?”
Sighing, the little girl rolled her eyes at her friend, shaking her head as she muttered under her breath.
“Anyway,” Amala continued, “it’s her or nothing.”
“Very well…” Naeve sighed once more.
“Good!” Amala grinned, then pulled free a bracelet.
“Hold out your hand and close your eyes,” she said.
“Uhm…” Naeve frowned, but did as Amala had bidden, and as she closed her eyes, she heard Amala whisper words of arcane, words that called forth a most unnerving itch upon her wrist. But it did not last long, fading before she could raise her free hand to her wrist.
“There, now open your eyes.”
Naeve did, and stared at her wrist.
“A bracelet?” She frowned as she stared at Amala.
Smiling, Amala took the little girl’s free hand and clasped it onto the bracelet.
“Clear your mind,” she said.
Not knowing what else to do, Naeve closed her eyes and did as instructed.
“Open your eyes.”
Sighing, Naeve did as Amala had asked, only for a short squeal to escape her lips as her eyes fell upon the tome floating by Amala’s head
With her smile now a grin, Amala rose and headed for the door. “I’ll be back later. Remember, Tirinel.”
“But…” Naeve began. Only, before she could utter another word, the door closed and she was alone.
Smiling herself, Naeve stared at the floating tome for a spell.
“A deal’s a deal,” she said at last, then stepped back into her hiding spot, and as the wall slid shut behind her, the little girl flipped through the tome’s pages till the page with Tirinel’s name upon it came to view.
“Right,” she said as she sat down and crossed her legs, the tome staying at her eye’s level through out. “Let’s see what’s in here…”
Swinging her feet beneath the bench upon which she sat, Tirinel crammed what was left of the roasted fish in her hands into her mouth as a deep sigh escaped her lips. There once was a time when she thought steaming was the best way to prepare fish, but as she chewed upon the succulent pieces in her mouth, the juices from it caressing her tongue in ways she’d never thought possible, it was clear this was a notion she’d have to abandon. Even the slight acrid smell hanging about her did little to dissuade her of this, and before long, she was licking her lips and pulling another morsel from the bag beside her, then taking a bite of it.
“Best idea you’ve had by far, girl.” She sighed as she turned her gaze to the fayre before her. “Best idea by far.”
It was sheer providence that had brought her to the town that day, her wanderlust very nearly taking her east rather than south, but glad she was that she came, and as her eyes wandered about the humans milling about before her, another sigh escaped her lips as she raised the delicious morsel in her hand to her lips for another savoury bite.
“Oh! Lookee there, James!” came a cry from not far from her bench. “A proper elf and everything!”
Turning, Tirinel licked her lips as two elderly men made their way toward her. Smiling, the curious mage watched the men amble over.
“We don’t get many o’ yer folk around here, lass,” said the portly one, a beaming smile upon his lips. “Enjoying the fayre, aye?”
“Of course she’s enjoying the bloody fair, man!” said the thinner friend, the kindness in his eyes drawing all the venom from his words. “Why else would she be sitting there?”
“James, man, watch yer mouth!” the first man cried before sighing and turning to Tirinel.
“Can’t take him anywhere I can’t. It’s the salt air, lass, does things tae a man.”
“Yae been huffing the same air as me these past forty years, Rufus, what yae blathering about?”
It took all Tirinel had to keep from laughing out loud.
“So,” said the portly friend, nodding at the bag beside Tirinel, “I see yae found Nettie’s stall.”
“Mmh.” Tirinel nodded as she glanced briefly at the bag. “A most wondrous selection she has, too!”
“Aye.” The portly man nodded eagerly. “Girl knows how tae cook them beauties!”
“That she does.” Tirinel grinned.
“Good thing yae came today, too,” the man continued. “She only makes them fer the fayre. Won’t even make it fer her gran’ now.”
“That’s because yae bloody nag the poor lass every bloody day,” the second man growled.
“Ah,” the man named James growled as he waved his friend’s words away.
This time, Tirinel couldn’t contain herself, and snickered at the two men.
“My apologies,” she managed when her composure returned. “It wasn’t my intention–”
“That it was,” the man named James said, a soft smile upon her lips. “But nae harm done, girl, I’d be howling meself if two old codger started bickering like some married couple right in front o’ me eyes.”
Tirinel’s cheeks reddened at this. “No, I didn’t mean–”
“It’s alright, lass,” the man named Rufus soothed. “Most everyone says James and me bicker like a married couple anyhow.”
“Aye.” James nodded, grinning. “Including his wife.”
Once more, Tirinel’s composure failed her, raising her hands to her lips as her laughter filled the air.
“Here, what yae two doing tae that poor wee lass!” came a voice from one of the stalls.
“Us?” the men cried in unison.
“It’s alright.” Tirinel grinned as she turned to the stall owner. “Truly. It’s alright.”
The stall owner stared from her to the men and back again.
“Alright,” he said at last. “But yae mind that Rufus, else he’ll talk yer ear off!”
“Look who’s talkin’!” Rufus cried.
“Bah!” the stall owner threw back as he waved Rufus’s words away and returned to his customers.
“Yae got a good laugh on yae, lass,” James said once silence returned.
“Aye.” Rufus nodded. “And with the way yae was staring out tae sea when yae sat down…”
“Does bloody good tae hear it.”
At their words, Tirinel’s smile faded.
“It’s alright, lass,” Rufus continued. “We all got things haunting us.”
“Aye,” James nodded, the softness of his gaze boring into Tirinel. “Just be sure tae laugh once in a while, aye? Always helps some.”
Tirinel nodded. “Thank you, I will.”
“Good.” James nodded and smiled.
“Well!” he added when silence returned. “Best leave yae tae enjoy the fayre, else ol’ Rufus here’ll talk yer ear off!”
“Bloody hells, man, not yae too as well!”
“Language…” James said, giving Tirinel a knowing nod as he spoke.
“Come on!” James added, then began ambling towards the stalls.
“Gods give me strength,” Rufus replied with an air of disbelief. “Yer jes’ gonnae leave this wee lass here without at least making sure she’s got a roof fer the night!”
“Oh, it’s quite alright,” Tirinel said. “I’ll be moving on soon.”
“Eh?” Rufus said, glancing up at his friend, who’d stopped and was now staring at Tirinel.
“It’s not safe tae travel at night around here, lass,” the slender human said.
Tirinel smiled. “I’m not exactly helpless, sir.”
“Listen tae ol’ James, lass,” Rufus said, his concern plain. “There’s things round here that’s got nae place in the world of the living, and them things come out when night comes.”
With her smile fading, the young elf stared from one man to the other. The fear she saw in both was real.
“What things?” she asked.
The men stared at each other before turning to her once more.
“What things?” she repeated.
Sharing a glance one more, the men sighed.
“Not our place tae speak ill of others, girl,” Rufus said at last.
“But yae steer clear o’ the coast, hear?” James added.
“Aye.” Rufus nodded.
Frowning, Tirinel stared past the men at the gentle sea beyond.
“If yae came by the north way, best head back that way, lass,” James continued.
“Aye.” Rufus nodded. “And if not, best yae head that way anyway.”
“No buts, lass,” James interjected. “Sea’s a thing of beauty, aye, but she’s got teeth.”
“And some o’ them teeth are right nasty,” Rufus said.
“So yae mind Rufus, lass,” James continued. “Head the north way, hear?”
“Or, if yae want tae see the sea,” Rufus continued, “see it in the morning.”
“Aye,” James said. “Nettie’ll give yae a room fer the night, aye.”
“Aye.” Rufus nodded. “Jes’ tell her ol’ Rufus sent yae.”
Closing her eyes, Tirinel shook her head before staring at the men with an air of utter confusion.
“What are you trying to warn me of?” she said at last.
“Steer clear of the coast, lass,” James said, his voice softer than Tirinel had heard it thus far.
“Aye, lass,” Rufus added as he held Tirinel in a pained gaze. “Aye.”
Then, as a heavy silence fell on the three, the two men sighed, bowed and ambled on.
Tirinel watched them leave in silence for a spell, but then, as her gaze turned to the sea once more, the young mage rose, picked up her bag and marched forth, her gaze set.
Standing still, Tirinel cast her gaze slowly about the house before her. As a home, there was nothing of great remark about it, save that it was built with skill. But it was the only house she could see along the shore, built some ways away from the town. And not only that, from her scrys, it was clear this was a home that a being not of this world had returned to, more than once.
“I know not what creature you are,” Tirinel muttered, a soft blue hue surrounding her, “but your reign of terror ends this night.”
Then, with her face set and her hands formed to fists, the young mage marched towards the house, towards its front door. As she reached it, however, the door swung open. Stopping, Tirinel raised a hand, lighting dancing between her fingers, but as the door opened wider, she paused.
“Who the bloody hells are you?” came a voice from the door.
It was a man, a human, of the same age as the pair who’d spoken to her previous. But Tirinel was not one to be fooled so easily, and while she lowered her hand, she kept hold of her lightning spell and instead scryed the old man.
“What the…?” the old man said as the scrying spell took hold.
As it faded, Tirinel frowned. He truly was an old man, one with absolutely no command of the arcane.
“Who’re you?” she demanded.
“I bloody live here, girl!” the man shot back. “Who are you?”
At that moment, a voice reached Tirinel’s ears. It was soft and melodic, and it sang a tune she’d never heard before, but one that calmed her heart nonetheless.
“What…?” she began as she turned.
Frowning, she turned back to the old man. He’d whitened greatly, and was staring past her at something in the horizon. Then, he turned his gaze to her, and as she stared into his eyes, she saw his terror.
“Hide!” he said, grasping hold of Tirinel’s arm and pulling her towards the open door.
“Hide, girl! Before she sees you!”
“What…?” Tirinel began, then looked over her shoulder.
It was then she saw it. An essence in the distance, and while she couldn’t make it out clearly, it was clear, even at her distance, that it bore the form of a woman and it was gliding over the water in tune with the song.
Turning back to the man and seeing the terror in his eyes, Tirinel nodded and allowed herself to be dragged into the house. Then, once inside, the man ushered her to a corner.
“Stay here!” he pleaded. “Don’t let her see you.”
With her frown deepening, Tirinel nodded. “Alright.”
Nodding himself, the man turned to the door, and as he reached it, he took a deep breath, forced a smile upon his lips and swung it open before closing it behind him. Tirinel stood in silence for a spell, unsure what to make of it all. Then, as her composure returned, she hurried to the window aside the door and, resting by its frame, peered out.
“What in the…?” she muttered as she stared at the scene beyond.
Though the essence indeed bore the resemblance of a woman, Tirinel could see right through it, as if it was some apparition. But it was more than just a simple ghost, for as it hung above the sea, the waters beneath it were still, as if the sea’s waves had chosen to give her a wide berth.
“What are you?” Tirinel whispered.
Then, the man came to view, and though his eyes were upon the apparition, Tirinel could see the smile upon his lips. But more than that, Tirinel could see the striking resemblance between the man and the apparition. Curious, Tirinel watched the man approach the apparition, and as it neared, a chuckle filled the air, the chuckle of a precocious child watching her doting father return.
“She’s his daughter…?” The young mage frowned.
As the man reached the spectre, he stretched out his hand, and in response, the spectre laughed before darting towards the man, only to fly about him and return to the sea’s surface, where it hung once more, and as the waves grew still beneath it, it bowed to the man, a deep and gracious bow akin to those she’d seen of performers in the Merethia.
“So, will you dance for me again?” she heard the man say.
“Yes.” The spectre laughed as it spun in the air. “Yes, yes, yes!”
Then, Tirinel heard the song again, and though she heard it clear as day, she could see the spectre’s lips remain still.
“What in the world are you?” she said, her brow furrowed deep.
Then, the shade began to dance, and as the shade moved, Tirinel felt herself get drawn closer to the window. She’d recognised the dance, for it was one her tutors had once tried to teach her, but one she’d hated almost at once for it made her feel like a clumsy ox, such was its difficulty. But, as she watched the shade, she marvelled at its ease, for the shade moved with such poise and grace as to put her tutor, a man highly regarded across all the performers in Merethia and beyond, to shame. For a human to move with such elegance, her skill in life must’ve been great indeed. So enraptured in the music and the shade’s dance was Tirinel that she barely noticed when she rested her elbows upon the window sill and watched the shade with a soft smile upon her lips.
Then, the singing stopped.
“What…?” Tirinel said, coming to herself.
It was then she noticed the apparition was staring at her, and there was no smile upon its lips, no laughter in its eyes, and as Tirinel stared, she watched the spectre’s face twist and darken till it filled her with dread. It was then she remembered the old man’s warning.
“Oh, dear,” she said as she slowly stood tall.
With her face contorted by hate, the shade screamed at Tirinel, a shriek that pierced her ears and sent her staggering from the window, but as she raised her hands to her ears, she watched as the water before the shade bubbled and turned before growing a long and twisted column.
Then, the spectre pointed at Tirinel, and as it did so, the column bent and sprang towards her, its top twisted to a single glistening tip, and it moved with such speed that the young mage only avoided being impaled by mere moments, the watery spear ruffling her hair as it flew over head.
“Damn it!” she spat, then called forth her protections once more.
“No!” she heard the old man yell. “Stop!”
But the scream came once more, and on instinct, Tirinel darted away from the window just as a wall of water smashed against the house, shattering the window and wall surrounding it before crashing through the house.
“Stop, please!” the old man cried.
With her gaze darkening, the young mage conjured a wind vine, wrapping it about the door and pulling it clean off its hinges before flinging it against the far wall.
“If it’s a fight you want…” she said through gritted teeth, then darted out of the house before landing in a roll just as another watery spear flew towards her, raking the earth as it darted past.
Coming to a halt, Tirinel buried her hands deep into the earth, and as she looked up at the shade, her eyes glowing with a faint earthen hue, she watched as a earthen pillar erupted beneath the shade, encasing it entirely before quickly hardening.
“No!” the old man cried. “Don’t you hurt my Bess!”
Ignoring the old man, Tirinel rose, held her hands before her and began calling forth a sphere of pure flame. It was a conjuring that turned the air about her into a flaming vortex, such was the power of her spell, and as the sphere grew, so too did the strength of the vortex.
“No!” the old man pleaded as he stood before the apparition. “Leave her alone!”
“Step aside, old man!” Tirinel said through gritted teeth as she made ready to fling the sphere at the shade.
“Leave her alone!”
“Your Bess shall harm this town no longer.”
“Harm the town?” the old man cried. “They harmed her! They killed her!”
“What?” Tirinel gasped, her concentration broken.
But, as her gaze went to the old man, her heart leapt to her throat, for her spell was such that a single break in concentration would mean the energies contained with in would be channelled against the caster, and she had yet to learn how to guard against this. And so, in desperation, she flung the sphere forth, sending it careening past the spectre and into the sea, and as the sphere broke the water’s surface, a thunderous roar filled the air as the three were showered by hot sea water and dead fish.
“You…” the old man said, his voice quivering.
Grimacing, Tirinel shrugged as she undid the shade’s earthen prison. The moment it was free, however, the shade darted for the open sea.
“No, no, wait!” the old man cried, racing after the shade. “Bess, it’s alright! Wait!”
Stopping, the spectre turned to the old man, then stared at Tirinel, the terror in its eyes breaking her heart.
“What do you mean, they killed her?” she asked as she headed for the pair.
“What do you think I mean?” the old man said, his back to her. “They killed my Bess.”
“That bastard, Rufus,” the old man continued, his voice quivering all the more as he spoke, “and that bastard friend of his.”
“Rufus?” Tirinel cried.
“Yes.” the old man nodded as he made his way to the water’s edge, his hand outstretched still. “They killed my Bess. And nobody did anything about it.”
“Rufus,” Tirinel continued, her throat tightening as she spoke. “A portly man with an easy smile?”
Stopping, the old man turned to stare hard at Tirinel. “Yes.”
“And his friend, his name wouldn’t be James by any chance?”
“Yes.” The old man nodded. “You know them?”
“Yes.” Tirinel nodded, swallowing hard as she spoke. “They told me the shore was…haunted.”
At her words, a deep sneer twisted the old man’s lips. “They sent you, didn’t they?”
“No.” Tirinel shook her head. “They merely said to leave by the north way, that the shore wasn’t–.”
“They sent you!” the man cried, his eyes glistening. “Filled your head with their fool talk of ghosts and ghouls knowing you’d come here to save the town from it all!”
“No.” Tirinel shook her head once more, though a part of her was less sure this time.
Shaking his head, the old man turned to the spectre once more, and so too did Tirinel. The spectre still remained at sea, but the old man was close to the water’s edge now, though if the spectre noticed, it didn’t show it, for its gaze was squarely upon Tirinel. Forcing a smile, the young mage took a few steps back, then crossed her hands behind her.
As if sensing her sincerity, the ghost straightened, then turned to the old man, and as it stared at him, its smiled returned and the air was filled with its song once more.
“You said they killed her…” Tirinel said as the shade glided towards the old man.
“Yes.” The old man nodded as a smile parted his lips, a hand outstretched to the shade. “Drowned her in a bay not far from here.”
“Oh,” was all Tirinel could manage.
“Yes,” The old man sighed as the apparition danced before him, its laughter ringing out into the night.
“They hurt her, you know,” the old man continued. “Took turns, the two of them. Hurt my Bess. She was pure, my Bess, and they hurt her.”
The old man laughed, a bitter and soulless laugh. “Jealousy, why else?”
“Jealous of her?”
“Not them,” the old man replied. “Rufus’s granddaughter.”
The old man glanced over his shoulder, his face hardening. “You know that family well.”
Tirinel shrugged. “I stopped by Nettie’s stall at the fayre. Rufus came up to me while I was seated upon a bench dinning on my purchase.
“Is that right?”
Forcing a smile, Tirinel nodded, but the old man’s gaze was boring into her, and soon she turned her gaze to the shade instead.
“Bess was all I had,” the man said at last, turning to the shade himself. “And I was all she had. Her parents died at sea, you see. Nasty storm. Took Rufus’s son, too. Suppose that’s why they became such good friends in the old days, her and Bess. Nettie was so close to her brother, she was.”
“Bess and Nettie were friends?”
“Yes.” The old man nodded. “They did everything together. But Bess always loved to dance, and Nettie, she always loved cooking.”
Staring at the spectre, Tirinel smiled. It was no longer dancing, and seemed content to simply stare at the old man, a soft smile upon its lips.
“So, what happened?”
“A man happened, is what, came through here some time ago. Some fancy dancer, saw Bess dancing and demanded to teach her.”
Then, the old man smiled. “Should’ve seen the smile on my Bess’s face when he said that. Spent every bloody moment with him, jumping here, sliding there and pirou…what-you-called-it everywhere. Only, her friend wasn’t liking any of it. The man was handsome, you see, and Nettie thought it should be her he should be spending his time with.”
“I see,” Tirinel muttered.
“Yes.” The old man growled. “Then, one night, they got into this big fight. Wasn’t there that night, was out at sea, but Bess told me what happened. Came to me in a dream, you see, but it was too late by then, she was already gone. After their fight, that evil cow had gone to the man, tried to bed him. Probably thought if she bedded him, he’d be hers. Only, he’d always joked with my Bess that he’d rather bed a horse than bed Nettie. Must’ve said so to Nettie’s face that day, so she killed him.”
“You heard. Poor man was getting Nettie her coat when she picked up this big statue and hit him on the head over and over.”
“Statue? Bess was there?”
“Yes, poor thing. She’d gone after Nettie, wanted to patch things up after the fight. Saw the whole thing through the window. Then, when Nettie ran out, she ran in to try to help the man, but it was too late, he was gone. But Nettie wasn’t gone long, she’d gone to get Rufus, and when they came running back, Bess went and hid. She watched them wrap the man in bedding and cart him out of the house. Rufus and James both.”
“Is that why they killed her? Because she saw Nettie kill that man?”
“No,” the old man replied. “Because she saw them dump the man’s body.”
“Oh dear,” Tirinel replied. “She followed them?”
The man nodded. “She wanted to see what they did with the body so she knew where to bring the town. Only, after they dumped the body in the sea, they saw her. She ran, of course, but they chased her down. Gods, that James is a fast old bastard. And when they caught her they… Well, when I got back, tried to get the town to do something, but nobody would lift a finger. Bloody bastards, the lot of them.”
“And that’s why she’s still here.” Tirinel nodded. “She’s not at peace.”
“Yes, I think so.” The old man sighed. “I’m about the only thing that keeps her calm, you know. Anyone comes round here, she goes right mental like before, tears them to pieces. Used to be really bad when I lived in town, but when folk started dying every night, came out here to keep her away from them.”
“What?” Tirinel cried. “You’d protectthem after they abandoned you?”
The old man turned to Tirinel. The pain in his gaze stilled her tongue.
“I’d like nothing more than to gut that Rufus and his friend, girl, as the gods bear me witness. But it was them who killed my Bess. Them and that Nettie. But letting the town suffer’s wrong, simple and plain. If I could get them three out here alone, I would. Hells, I’ve been trying to since it all happened, but they never come down here at night, and Bess never comes out in the day. I want justice, girl, not revenge.”
Not knowing what else to say, Tirinel turned to the spectre once more. It was staring at her, humming to itself as it floated above the water’s surface, it’s head slowly rocking from one side to the other as a smile danced upon her lips.
“And what’s your story, girl?” the old man said.
“My what?” Tirinel frowned as she turned to the old man.
“That thing you did,” he replied, his gaze upon her still, “the fire thing. Never seen anything like it in all my days.”
“Well…” Tirinel said as she lowered her gaze, her cheeks reddening slightly.
“What’s someone like you doing around here?”
Sighing, the young mage stared out to sea. “I ran away, believe it or not.”
“Mmh.” Tirinel nodded.
“What the bloody hells for?”
Tirinel smiled. “Because I’m special.”
“You’re what now?”
Tirinel turned to the old man. “I’m gifted, sir. My mother says I’m destined to be the greatest mage of our time.”
“You bloody what?”
“Mmh.” Tirinel nodded. “And that’s coming from a woman who things flowery speech is a crime worthy of the gallows.”
“Do you?” Tirinel said as her smile grew.
“Yes.” The old man nodded. “You don’t want to be the greatest mage of our time, you want to be you.”
Tirinel smiled. “Well said, sir.”
“Bit selfish if you ask me, though?”
“What did you say?” the young mage demanded as her smile vanished.
“Don’t know much about maging, but from what I’ve seen, you’ve got power, girl, right at your fingertips. Power to keep your loved ones safe, and what do you do? You bugger right off.”
“What do you know?” Tirinel growled. From the corner of her eye, she could see the spectre’s demeanour begin to change once more, but that failed to still her tongue. “You know nothing of my trials. Best you hold your tongue before you make a fool of yourself.”
“There’s nothing special about your trials, girl. You got responsibilities, but you took one look at them and thought ‘Bugger that, I want to be myself”. So off you trotted. Nothing special about that.”
“Have a care, sir,” Tirinel snarled.
“Have a care nothing,” the old man replied, waving her words away. “You did what was easy, not what was right.”
“Don’t presume to know me, sir,” Tirinel shot back. “You have no inkling–”
“You want to know why the folks in town did nothing about Rufus?”
“Not their problem. They had their own trials, so why carry mine as well? They did what was easy, girl, not what was right.”
At his words, all colour drained from Tirinel’s face as she stared open-mouthed at the man.
“Don’t tell me I don’t know, girl,” the old man added. “I know.”
“It’s your life, your choice. And if you chose to run, so be it. But do yourself a favour and think of a better bloody excuse, eh?”
As Tirinel stared at the man, her heart sank deeper into her chest. Every word he’d said had bored into her. In truth, a part of her had always loathed her decision, but she’d buried it, refused to listen to it. But now, as she stood on that shore, she knew she could ignore it no longer. The old man was right, she was running, no more, no less.
Taking a deep breath, the tired mage let it out slowly and stared out to sea, and on she stared as a heavy silence fell upon them all. Then, at last, she turned to the old man.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” she said.
The old man grinned. “Why? Because I sound different?”
“Well, yes.” Tirinel grinned.
“I was born here, girl, but spent much of my youth away. Lost the tone over time.”
“I see,” Tirinel replied, then turned to the carnage that was his home.
“I’ll stay and help you fix it if you wish,” she said.
The old man looked at his home, then back at the spectre and smiled. “No need, Bess and me’ll sort it.”
Smiling, Tirinel turned to the shade. Its eyes were upon her still. Not knowing what else to do, she turned to the sea.
“You’re going to have three visitors tomorrow, sir,” she said after a spell.
Tirinel nodded as she turned to him, her smile gone. “Yes.”
For a brief spell, the old man’s brow furrowed as his confusion grew. Then, as the true meaning of Tirinel’s words struck home, his eyes went wide.
“Mmh.” Tirinel nodded.
“They’ll never come,” he said.
“Yes, they will.”
Taking a deep breath, the old man turned to his granddaughter and let it out slowly.
“Then, we’ll be expecting them,” he said at last, turning back to the mage.
“Good.” Tirinel nodded as her smile returned. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must return to my home.”
The old man smiled. “Gods-speed, girl.”
As the young mage turned to leave, however, she stopped as a thought wormed its way into the fore of her mind. Standing stock still, she stared at the spectre as the hairs on the back of her neck slowly stood tall. It was a asinine thought, but one that appalled and excited her in equal measure.
“What?” the old man asked.
Staring from the old man to the spectre, Tirinel instead whispered a single word of arcane, then headed to sea.
“Girl, what’re you…” the old man began, but his words died away the moment Tirinel began treading the water’s surface, the sea ignoring her in much the same manner as it ignored the spectre.
Once she was as far from shore as the shade, Tirinel turned to the shade and smiled. Both the old man and the spectre were staring at her, and both had the same puzzled look upon their faces.
“Gods, I hope I remember how to do this,” Tirinel whispered, then took a deep breath and bowed in much the same manner she’d seen the spectre bow earlier.
Gasping, the spectre turned to the old man, whose eyes were still upon Tirinel.
“You want to dance with her?” the old man asked.
“Mmh,” Tirinel nodded, her heart beating faster with each passing moment.
Shaking his head, the old man turned to the spectre, noticing at last its gaze upon him, and smiling, he nodded.
Giggling, the excited shade clasped its hands tight and spun where it floated before facing Tirinel once more and bowing to the mage. Then, as it stood tall, it stretched forth a hand.
As the air filled with song once more, Tirinel stretched out her hand to the spectre, and together, the pair danced in the pale moon light, their worries forgotten and their laughter ringing true as the waves rolled in about them.
Little Naeve stared with lips agape as the tome before her closed in silence.
“Woah,” she said at last, staring at the tome. “Woah.”
Just then, a soft knock came from the false wall behind her.
“All finished, then?” came Amala’s voice.
“Yes,” Naeve replied.
In response, the false wall slid aside as Amala came into view, and as they stared into each other’s eyes, Amala smiled.
“So, how was it?” she asked.
Naeve’s eyes grew wide at the question. “She danced with a ghost, Amala. A ghost!”
Amala grinned. “Well, I’m not overly sure Bess was a ghost.”
“Whatever it was, she danced with it! What in the holy hells was she thinking?”
Amala shrugged. “I don’t think she was.”
Shaking her head, Naeve sat back and gazed into the ether once more. “Woah.”
“I take it you like how the tome showed you them dancing?” Amala asked at last.
“Did I ever?” Naeve grinned and turned to her friend as her eyes shone once more. “That was the best part!”
“No, I mean it! It looked so much more real than anything Mistress Fellspire’s ever done!”
“Glad you like it, then.” Amala grinned.
“Do they all have that?”
“Oh, yes.” Amala nodded.
Little Naeve’s eyes lit up at this, a reaction that elicited a chuckle from Amala.
“Now, I must read another one!” the little girl said as she reached for the tome.
“Ah, ah, ah,” Amala said. “We had a deal, remember.”
“Aww,” the little girl whined.
“Come,” Amala continued as she shuffled away from the entrance. “A deal is a deal.”
“Can’t I read one more?”
“A deal is a deal, young lady.”
“Just the ending, then?”
Sighing, Amala clasped her hands about young Naeve’s face. “Tell you what, you go to your lessons now, and maybe, if you do well in all if them, I’ll teach you Tirinel’s dance tonight.”
Gasping, Naeve stared at her friend with eyes wide, then scrambled past Amala before racing for the door, Amala’s chuckles following her as she went. As she reached the door, however, she stopped and turned.
“How do I put it back?” she asked.
“The same way you took it out,” Amala replied.
Staring down at the tome, Naeve closed her eyes and grasped her bracelet once more, and as she stood still, the tome faded from view.
“Nicely done.” Amala grinned.
“Thank you,” Naeve replied, then turned to the door, only to stop once more.
“And just so you know, I know why you said to read Tirinel,” she said.
“Yes,” the little girl replied with a sage nod. “You’re not as devious as you think you are, you know.”
A slow smile parted Amala’s lips. “Am I not?”
“No.” The little girl shook her head, then turned and left the room.
As the door closed, Amala shook her head and sighed, her smile growing.
“I’ll make a Matriarch of you yet, young lady,” she said as she slid the false wall behind her back into place. “You just wait.”