World's of Ash: A Fantasy Tale

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Chapter Thirty-Six

The large room erupted into the shouts and moans of a crowd uncertain of what it had just heard. But those closest to the Wicker Chair, and especially Lady Mist, caught everything. Any shout Mist gave was only one of disbelief.

“What do you mean?!” she asked. The noise around her abated. “It was only dreams! If you are gone, how will I…I…I mean how will Athren or Spell or even Daylin survive?”

The SpellMaker simply stared at Ash, his eyes roaming from Justice to the nape of her neck where the strap of her blue mirror hung. When he’d said she was the master of Justice, she’d lifted it a bit—she had to get a better look at the blade.

The sword still felt so light, more like a fake representation of a weapon rather than anything real. Ash couldn’t accept she was in control of it.

Even when she found ways to ignore its voice, a murmur remained. It was vague, but it was there—a patter of many feet softly tiptoeing through her mind. Ash knew. It was more as if Justice had control—how she’d used it with such precision against Amalin and her Riders left no doubt. Justice was the master, not the other way around.

The SpellMaker finally turned to his daughter. He grabbed her wrist. “My dreams never lie,” he said. “This is something I’ve seen for countless centuries. Back when I was foolish enough to let the Starlight tempt me into taking a bite, I saw when I would eventually find my rest. I have just finally caught up with it.

He sighed, and smiled sad. “But,” he continued, “everything will be fine. I promise. I may have had much life given to me, yet my life was never meant to be forever. Athren, Daylin, Spell, even you, will survive.”

Lady Mist pulled away from him. “No!” she shouted, “we won’t!” It was the first mad emotion that Ash had seen from her. All throughout the walk up the stairwell and all throughout their time in the courtyard below, Mist may have been upset at Casten, she may have even cried, but it had been a detached and very controlled bit of anger, her tears also distant, as if she was not actually shedding them even though they’d fallen from her face.

She was an Elf too in control to ever snap, yet as she flung a free hand out and pointed it at Ash, she was absolutely consumed with rage. “I, too, have lived long,” she said, “and I have seen things that prove that you, Father, are all that keeps our people safe! If this girl precedes your death, she must go! This cannot be how things end!”

A welling of agreement, of Elves suddenly yelling in what Ash thought was a weird kind of distant approval, caught Lady Mist by surprise. She went silent for a moment, but as soon as she realized she had the strange support of almost the whole crowd, she gained the courage and more of the emotion to continue.

“It is your magic,” she said, “which is imbued into the Lyrics we sing. Ever since the Father…he doesn’t speak anymore, so it is your magic which…and…with the five thrones also gone, no one has the strength you wield. I can bend light, many of us can bend light, we can also heal wounds, talk to trees, yet none of us can tap into the deeper magic you still have. If this girl is the harbinger of your demise, then let us protect you by sending her away.”

The SpellMaker merely shook his head as his daughter yelled, her outstretched hand pointing like a dagger. Ash dropped Justice to her side.

She felt as if things might be slipping into troubled waters, and she stared—or more likely Justice made her stare—and took in all that was around. She had to know what could be a threat.

The SpellMaker sighed again. “Mist,” he said, “sometimes it saddens me that since your mother’s death, you often let your emotions rule you. If you send this girl away, I will still die. My death is set in stone, most every death is, and I wonder how you can forget that?

“You know my dreams are true. You know the magic in me makes me see only what will happen and never what is false. That girl, this Amanda Jane Ash, is not something to fear, she precedes my demise, but she also precedes that which will become a new golden age for Penthya. The Father will speak again, I know it. It was my choice…my horrible choice that…but…never mind. He will speak again, that is what is important. The Father’s voice will return because this girl will set the five thrones back to working order.”

Lady Mist dropped her hand. She’d heard her father’s words, this time everyone in the room had heard what the SpellMaker had to say. Suddenly, the Elves who’d looked at Ash with what she could only describe as a detached sense of hate and anger, began to regard her with an incredibly detached sense of awe instead.

Ash stopped eyeing the room. As quickly as it had come, the soft whisper warnings that Justice had been sending ceased. She was safe.

“I don’t want to lose you,” Lady Mist said. She turned back to her father and dropped to her knees as she put her head in his lap. “Not after mother—not after everyone else. You’re all I have left.”

The SpellMaker let his hand fall onto her short black hair. She began to cry, many Elves at the doorways turning to leave, as if the sorrow of their Lady was something they knew they should not see.

“This is why I keep secrets,” the SpellMaker said. “There are some things better left in silence if they bring pain to those you love. I must die. I must so Penthya can return to glory. Now please, please rise and let me study the girl I need to study. Our people have gone. We can do what is necessary.”

Lady Mist lifted her head, her purple eyes puffy and red. She was devastated, but she smiled at the SpellMaker and attempted to gather her composure. She stood and returned to her father’s side, the room already mostly empty, except for a few other Elves who wore robes of such brilliance it was clear they, too, were almost as important as the SpellMaker and his child.

“My strongest Attendants,” the SpellMaker said. He pointed to the dozen or so Elves in colorful robes. “They will stay as I study Amanda Jane—”

“I like to be called Ash,” Ash said, the words pouring out of her so quick she hadn’t known she was going to say them.

But it seemed so inappropriate once it was out. Her face went a bright red as the hand not holding onto Justice covered her mouth. Why had she said that?

“SpellMaker,” Casten said. “Forgive this Child of Man for speaking out of turn. It won’t happen again, and I must object. How can you think of her as the master of anything?”

“Because, she is a master,” the SpellMaker said, “and besides, she is right. Everyone should only be called by the name that fits them best. It is why my name, my real one, has not been used in ages since SpellMaker is what I truly am. She is Ash, which fits since she holds in her hand a sword that has a piece of Judgment inside it. She is the master of Justice, she is Ash, and I would like her to take a step closer while my Attendants seal this room.”

The Elves in colorful robes, those who had either been far to the side of the Wicker Chair or somewhere behind Ash, moved to the many doorways dotting the walls. They spoke a jumble of words Ash could make no sense of, yet after each was done, Ash saw a jet of purple escape from their fingertips. A strange yet glorious light hit the edges of each door as everything glowed and then went dim.

The robed Elves nodded in approval and walked over to stand behind Ash. They each lifted their hands to the open ceiling as one last burst of purple flew. Some kind of energy traveled the length of the faraway limbs—every thick branch and mound of green glowing just as bright as the doorways had.

“Father,” Lady Mist asked, “why are you casting an Eavesdrop? Are we about to hear even more of your secrets?”

“We are,” the SpellMaker said, “and this Eavesdrop will make sure no one else can hear them.”

Lady Mist arched an eyebrow in surprise. “But I can hear them?”

“Yes,” the SpellMaker said, “and so can my Attendants because I need their strength—and yours—to combine with mine so we can see the truth before Eugin, Rone, and the contingent from Castle Watch arrive.”

“And when will my mother and brother get here?” Casten asked.

The SpellMaker tilted his head. “Seeing as I called for them before the sun rose yesterday,” he began, “just a few hours more. Recently, Light Bending has become like every other bit of magic that takes place in the Centaur Woods, weak and not very reliable unless I grant permission to work it. And since I don’t have the strength to grant much of anything anymore, your mother and brother will be using a much slower means of travel. They will arrive tonight or early tomorrow, and when they get here, we’ll meet once more so that another Remembrance can occur.”

Casten nodded. “You know who the Reflection is.”

“Of course,” the SpellMaker said, “which is why I wanted this room sealed until I had my most trusted associates and my own daughter understanding the truth.”

“What truth?” Lady Mist asked.

“You must understand,” the SpellMaker began, “this isn’t dangerous. It will be okay.”

“Father,” Lady Mist asked again, “what is this truth? If you have been consuming more and more Starlight, it means you’re not just weak…you’re extremely weak. Even with the help of your Attendants, casting a Remembrance is a bad idea. Why would you do that?”

“The mirror,” the SpellMaker said. He looked at Ash, his words a command she could not ignore, “take it out from beneath your shirt. Show the Reflection of Henry Ash.”

Chapter Thirty-Seven

In the end, it wasn’t as bad as Ash had feared. The Elves took the news that she had the terrible Henry James Ash around her neck way better than Casten or the Riders had. Their calm most likely having something to do with the SpellMaker and his daughter.

When Ash dug her blue mirror out, Poppa Henry standing back from the glass so it wasn’t only his eyes and forehead people could see, a few murmurs of discontent were noted, but other than that, not much else occurred. Lady Mist walked over, and the rest of the Elves in colorful robes followed suit. Instead of trying to fight or break the mirror, they merely nodded at Poppa Henry. Then they returned to where they’d been standing.

“Did he take a life to become a Reflection?” Lady Mist asked.

“Only my own,” Poppa Henry said. With his secrecy over, it was clear that his time of quiet had finished as well. “I wanted to see if I could return to Penthya inside of mirrors since I was kept out with every other avenue I tried. But in the end, I died. Quite a big shock I can assure you.”

The SpellMaker smiled. “Death is always like that,” he said, “don’t feel too bad. But it is a pleasure to see you again, Henry, I am only sorry it is under these circumstances. Your return can’t be too pleasant.”

Poppa Henry nodded. “There are those who want me destroyed, but why are you not like them? You seem as if you’ve always known I wasn’t a villain.”

“True,” the SpellMaker said. “I did always know it was Ophallo who was the real monster. One more secret I had to keep.”

Poppa Henry coughed. “But…wait…you mean could have cleared my name ages ago?”

“Yes,” the SpellMaker noted, “I could have. And you could have come to me to do a Remembrance before you found yourself locked out of this world. We make choices, Henry, and mine was to stay quiet. Now have your granddaughter walk even closer, and when we finally do a long-needed bit of magic, I will let you know the truth as well. Is that fair?”

“What…I,” Poppa Henry continued to stammer.

He shook his head and sighed. Ash was staring down at her blue mirror which trembled slightly in her hands. She could see perfect, hear perfect too, and it was all so much defeat.

“Sure,” Poppa Henry finally said. “Why not let it be fair. When the SpellMaker wants something, what else can be done?”

“Great,” the SpellMaker agreed, “glad that’s settled. Now, Ash, please come here.”

Ash took a few tentative steps until she was as near as she could get to the SpellMaker without sitting in his lap. The SpellMaker grabbed her arms. His fingers were like iron against her flesh. They kept her still even though she didn’t want to move.

“This won’t hurt,” the SpellMaker assured.

“I know,” Ash said.

Lady Mist was next to her with all the Elves in colorful robes closing in. Each leaned over and put their hands onto Ash’s arms, her head, even her shoulders. Except for Casten, every Elf in the room was trying to touch her, and once all had at least one finger upon her, Ash heard more strange and wonderful words being said.

Suddenly, she was back inside the most painful memory her grandfather had. But it was different this time. This Remembrance was less vibrant. Ash was still able to see what was going on, but the shadows of the throne room were thicker, and the Elves who’d been taken with her were ghostly. They were not at all like the solid figures she’d seen when her Poppa Henry had worked his magic.

However, Ash had a pretty good idea about why that might be. This time, the Pool hadn’t been used. She couldn’t have been happier.

In this Remembrance, whenever Ash looked down at her body or stared at the many Elves, it all appeared so wraith-like and vapory, it helped to make things less horrific. True, people did still die, but it was better. The ghostly apertures caused Isabella’s brutal slaying and Denthro’s death to look like nothing more than a nightmare.

Isabella was on the ground. Her blood so thick and brown—there was no mistaking, it was dark and oaky brown—was gathering around her when, suddenly, everything paused. Isabella’s hand was just starting to stretch out towards the younger Poppa Henry, her face a mask of anguish and determination as she tried to work the last magic she would ever use. The world stopped.

Poppa Henry, the much older version, whirled. “What are you doing?” he asked.

He and Ash were tucked away in a corner, both their heads cocked to the side as they mostly looked at anything other than what was unfolding nearby. Only Ash had every so often turned to watch the memory play out. Poppa Henry was content to simply stare at the walls and the ceiling, but when the room went still, he searched with hungry eyes ready to find out why. He put his attention onto the one man responsible for not letting the Remembrance end.

“What are you playing at, SpellMaker?” he asked. His rage grew as his form—a hazy line of white—walked over to meet a purple ghost that was standing in the center of the room.

“Calm yourself,” the purple ghost, the SpellMaker, said. “I merely stopped so I can move us on. It’s time for my truth.”

“We’re going into one of your memories?”

“One of high importance,” the SpellMaker said. His ghostly purple appearance faced all the other wavy lines of light. It looked as if he was trying to make sure everyone knew he was about to impart some very great news. “We’re going into one no one has ever seen.”

The throne room shimmered. There was no bright flash of anything—no glow of white or blue power. The room and all the bodies in it simply vanished and were replaced by something that seemed so much like the Greeting Room that Ash had just been inside of.

However, there were aspects that were off. This time the Greeting Room was not as wide—the faraway walls closer than they’d been before, the doors dotting everywhere not as plentiful either. Even the light filtering down from above seemed strange, and it wasn’t until Ash looked up that everything began to make sense. She was in a different tree.

Around her were walls of deepest red, more a burnt crimson than the rich tan she’d seen only a while ago. It was still a place where the SpellMaker sat to welcome his guests, but it wasn’t the same tree, and the limbs above, ones not nearly as thick as the oak ones in the other Greeting Room, proved that best. From the look of them, especially from the look of the leaves seen sprouting at their very tips, she was in a redwood rather than an oak.

“My other Greeting Room,” the SpellMaker said. “This was where I spent most my days concentrating on my magic and waiting for visitors to arrive. But once it was burned, I decided to create something new, something a tad larger—something better able to suit my daughter when it is her time to sit in the Wicker Chair.”

The SpellMaker was standing next to what he’d mentioned. He was to one side of the Wicker Chair as Lady Mist stood at the other. They were both up against a far wall too, a perfect spot situated so that whoever was there could easily see anyone who entered.

Ash thought that maybe this Wicker Chair might even be the same one she’d seen before. Its thin limbs did intertwine in a similar pattern, but she wasn’t sure. While the SpellMaker and Lady Mist had gone into this new memory right beside the chair, Ash and all the Attendants were much further away.

Yet Ash could still make out who was sitting in the Wicker Chair. No matter the distance, it was too obvious. He looked much younger than he did now—like how her Poppa Henry had looked in his Remembrance—but it was still the SpellMaker. He was staring down at a raven-haired woman in silk robes who stood before him—a woman who looked more important and more awe inspiring than anyone Ash had ever met.

Around the woman’s head and slipping effortlessly through her long black locks, was a garland of green and brown leaves, twigs and ivy, and a hundred other plants and flowers Ash didn’t recognize. All Ash knew was that from far away, the sight of a younger SpellMaker and of this strange woman was amazing to behold. Ash began to walk closer. She was the only one; the Attendants refused to match her steps.

“Will the Queen ever talk?” Poppa Henry asked. Ash had just realized that everything—the younger SpellMaker, this new lady too—was frozen in place, and there he was. Her grandfather came out from around the raven-haired lady. “And why have you brought me into a memory of Tallis? As far as I know, she’s dead. What does she have to do with any truth I need?”

The older SpellMaker nodded and pointed to the Queen. “I can’t bring you into the dreams I have,” he said, “Remembrances don’t work like that, or at least they don’t work well in regards to that. I can’t show you the vision I had the day that King Denthro was killed, and so I brought you here. I brought you into my old Greeting Room where I met Tallis before she rushed out of the Centaur Woods to confront a horde of Errun that were just starting to pour over the Cliffs of Random. I will let you hear what I said back when I told Tallis how Penthya could be saved.”

“But only we can hear it?” Poppa Henry asked. He looked at Ash as she reached his side. “The others stay by those doorways. Don’t they want to get any closer?”

Lady Mist smiled. “The Attendants can hear,” she said, “but, for many, it is common to refuse to look upon any image of our Queen now that the real is gone. They will not come closer.”

“But you can see her?” Poppa Henry asked.

“I don’t want to,” Lady Mist said. “I suspected that this meeting with Queen Tallis might be what we were about to see, and though I wanted to get away, something kept me back. While your granddaughter traveled with the Attendants and ended up far from this chair, I couldn’t do the same. Moving would be pointless now.”

The SpellMaker lowered his arm. “It was I,” he said. His daughter looked at him, her grim smile fading into a white line of weary acceptance. “I gave you pain so you will know, even better, how to lead.”

Lady Mist nodded. Her lips grew thinner, but she swallowed—her sad smile returning.

Ash wondered how she was doing it. How any daughter could take so much from a parent they loved, yet a parent who kept hurting them in such subtle ways? She would never accept something like that—she would never be a mother who did that—and then Ash thought of her own mom.

How many times had her mother ignored obvious displeasure to send her straight to a chair where her hair would be cut short? How many days had her mother yelled out Amanda Jane—with a voice of such resigned disappointment—whenever Ash failed to remember some news headline that would have given her free reign with the comics? Her mother loved her, Ash knew that, but she quite quickly hoped that maybe her mother was like the SpellMaker. Maybe there was pain because her mother had plans—some great scheme of leadership—Ash hadn’t yet been given insight into.

Ash shook her head. She didn’t want to think about parents and pain, and she quickly looked away from a father who was forcing onto his daughter a lot of discomfort. It helped her to realize something else that was important.

Nothing was ghost-like anymore, not Poppa Henry, not the older SpellMaker, not even Lady Mist. They’d been that way when Ash had first arrived—the younger SpellMaker, Queen Tallis, too, the only things of substance in the redwood room. Yet as Lady Mist had talked, everything had solidified.

“You will sit on my chair soon,” the SpellMaker said. He kept looking at Lady Mist before he turned back to Tallis. “And seeing my memories is something you’ll be aided in doing once that happens. I just thought getting this one out of the way would be for the best.”

“But, Father—”

“No,” the SpellMaker said. He remained stern. Ash still hoped it was worth the discomfort. “My death must happen, and now that I have fully moved us out of Henry’s mind and into my own, now that we are all back to being solid forms, I can let you see what you must.”

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Tallis moved. It wasn’t a subtle gesture.

A sudden exhalation escaped past her lips. A furrowing of her brow and a grimace of frustration was noted by Ash as well.

“I have come,” Tallis said. Her voice wasn’t subtle either. It was filled with fury, yet an undercurrent of hesitation was also there—or perhaps it was respect, maybe even fear.

Ash leaned past her grandfather’s side so she could see more. This was the first real passion she’d seen on any Elf.

Casten and Lady Mist, even the SpellMaker and Jeth to some degree, had made her think that while some Elves could let their emotions go, none would ever get lost in what they felt. But this was dramatic, and Ash finally had it. There was a touch of respect here, yet mainly Tallis was scared.

“My armies ride towards the Cliffs to protect us from the Errun who were spotted there,” Tallis continued, “our enemies are exactly where you said they would be, and while my very limited Advanced Guard did surprise them, that surprise is not lasting. Unless I get to my army quickly, gathering as many Centaurs and whoever else may come along, we will be defeated. Why in the warning you sent did you say I had to meet you?”

“Ophallo killed Denthro,” the younger SpellMaker said from the Wicker Chair. But he had slight ticks, twitches in his arms and legs—a quiver was at his cheeks, too, which made it clear he was under considerable strain. “Yet this truth is something you can never share.”

Tallis shook her head. Her frustration was growing.

“Denthro’s own flesh and blood!” All the anger and fear and a bit of the respect as well, drained from her face. “There is no way—I have met with Ophallo—his mother was a Lady in my very court! How could he…to murder his father, it is—”

“And his sister,” the younger SpellMaker added. “Which of course leads us to the worst part of his evil scheme.”

“By the Father!” Tallis exclaimed. Her face went paler, an event Ash didn’t think possible. The Queen was already as white as any person, or Elf, could ever be. “He wanted the thrones.”

The younger SpellMaker sighed in relief. “I knew you would get it as quickly as I did,” he said, “we two are some of the few who remember when Zayun was touched by a Dragon and decided to build those thrones from the purest minerals he could find. All five contain the Bright to such a degree they allow for Penthya to be the might it has been ever since David Random bound us into one nation. Ophallo killed—”

“He killed Isabella and Denthro to get that might,” Tallis said. “But that would mean he knew enough of the Black to warp the chairs after the line of Good Blood was severed. How could that be? And did he succeed? Is this battle I go to just the beginning of the darkness that faces my people?”

The younger SpellMaker smiled. “If he had succeeded, I don’t think either of us would be alive. And I know for sure that if he’d been successful, my chair wouldn’t work, yet seeing as how it is fine, everything is okay. The Bright is here; to a degree it remains in this chair, in this very room, but I am sorry to tell you, it will be leaving everywhere else soon.”

Tallis shook her head again. “What do you mean? Magic is what flows through the ground. It is as much a part of Penthya as all the good creatures that live here.”

“Oh,” the younger SpellMaker said, “I may exaggerate. But it will be bad, Tallis, quite bad. You are right, magic isn’t leaving Penthya, it can’t do that, but it will become much harder to reach. Elves, Centaurs, Talking Animals, and those who mostly have the blood of Man in them, they will be able to bend light and cast spells, but it will become much more difficult to do those things as what Ophallo did gets worse.”

“But you said he failed. Doesn’t that mean he didn’t sit on the Silver Throne?”

“I only meant he was unable to control the power he found, but he sat on it. He tried to take the Silver Throne, and it destroyed him. The magic of the chair was not as warped as he had hoped. It tore him to bits.”

“Then he is dead.”

They’d switched roles. It was time for the younger SpellMaker to shake his head.

“I only wish it were so,” he said. “But though his body was dashed, he’d set up contingencies.”

“A Reflection.”

“With the very first guard he killed when he went to murder his father,” the younger SpellMaker sighed. “He used that life and gave to it all his memories, his intent, before he went to complete the rest of his conquest.”

“And how do you know this?” Tallis asked. Her anger and rage were back, yet the respect did not return. “How do you know Ophallo is the guilty party? How do you know he isn’t dead?”

“Dreams and visions,” the younger SpellMaker said, “the pull of something, maybe the taste of Starlight which sends my mind spinning into the future. When I dream, I see what will happen, and the night that Denthro was killed, I dreamt of his demise and what would come next. It’s why you are needed here.”

Tallis shook her head one final time and fought off a quick well of tears before they could fall. “Your dreams,” she said, “they are what let us know how to sing the harvest. They are what let us know how to bring about a melody that will allow for us to talk to the trees. Your dreams protected Penthya when the last Nomen raid was about to occur, yet your dreams seem unable to protect us from everything.

“Why should I believe in them when you have yet to dream of where my husband, my daughter, or even my son might be? Why don’t you tell me of any night vision you’ve had which locates them in the Western Wilds, which locates all the Elves who have disappeared due to any event you have failed to see in any dream you have ever had!”

The younger SpellMaker rose from his chair. Tallis took a step back before she changed course and rushed at him. With arms outstretched, she pushed him down, her whole body shaking.

“What are you doing?” she asked. “Only you and your chair give my armies the protection they need until the rest of my force can join them! Do not rise again!”

The younger SpellMaker tried to get comfortable. “Tallis,” he said, but the twitches returned—the quiver at his cheeks came back as well. “I do live to follow your will, but that choice is not a binding oath of allegiance. You may be the oldest of us all, but for me, it is not by much. A decade or two is all you have on me, and though I follow you as I once followed your husband, even he knew not to question the magic I have.

“If you want my chair, take it. You know my dreams are not something I control; they are part of the magic I have that holds no explanation. If I could, I would dream the location of your husband and children in an instant. I would dream the whereabouts of every lost one from Penthya, but I cannot, and still, that does not mean that what I do dream isn’t true. I saw what should be our next few steps. You need to listen.”

Tallis stepped back from the younger SpellMaker, her hands up in defeat. “I am sorry. What you have done for all the Elves, what you have especially done for these woods, humbles me. Your dreams are true. What must we do?”

“We need to lie,” the younger SpellMaker said. “We need to let everyone think that Henry James Ash is the murderer of Denthro. Then Penthya can survive.”

Tallis hissed. She flinched back, too, rocking on her heels as a quick stream of air tore its way past her clenched teeth. She was grimacing again. It was as if she’d been burned.

“Through a lie,” Tallis finally said, shaking off the shock of the SpellMaker’s words. “But—how can that be right? My people—all our people—they need to know what Ophallo has done.”

The younger SpellMaker nodded. “Yet without a lie, everyone will soon know that Ophallo isn’t dead, and that his Reflection has gone to the place where he gained strength in the Black. I have seen what will happen when Penthya finds out that Ophallo murdered Denthro. They will rush through our woods and over the Cliffs to attack him. In a quest for vengeance, everyone will leave their homes and we will be destroyed.

“The five thrones are broken, Tallis. What Ophallo cast would have worked, but he overlooked one simple fact. The line of Good Blood didn’t end with Isabella and Denthro, it continued to Isabella’s children even when her children had in them the blood of Man which Ophallo has always thought of with such contempt.

“With Sara and Steven left alive, Ophallo could never warp the chairs completely. However, he did put enough Black into them so that full access to the Bright cannot easily return. Only true masters of magic will ever be able to sit on those chairs, only they will be able to calm them, and to get those masters to arrive, Henry Ash has to be made a villain.”

Tallis lifted a finger. A harsh rebuke, or perhaps a gentle yet firm negation, seemed at the ready. The SpellMaker hushed her.

“A lie is a vile thing,” he said. His hand was up just as quick, a few fingers waving off anything that was about to arrive. “But without that lie and without Henry being hated, Henry will never leave this land. He will join with others, join as a hero and a victim, and he will die in the Western Wilds while the rest of Penthya is overthrown by the Giants, the Nomen, and especially the Errun who Ophallo trained well.”

“Nonsense,” Tallis finally countered. She might have been a tad humbled by the SpellMaker, but a few flicks of one hand would never fully quiet her. “We have strength—we can fight without using deception. No matter what kind of magic the Errun may now know, they can never have the power we wield. We will make them pay for what they have done.”

The younger SpellMaker could only sigh yet again. “Maybe,” he said. His hand dropped to his lap. “Maybe if the Father was still talking to me…maybe if that were true and there were many who could rule all the Thrones—maybe then things would be better. But the many are not yet here, and the Father stays silent, and that means magic will dwindle to scant traces that only a gifted few can use.

“Our land will be vulnerable until the proper people arrive, all six who will bring the Thrones back to working order. And until that day comes, we must not let the truth get out. The lie of Henry Ash as a villain will cause civil unrest, a few bloody battles, but they will be battles inside of Penthya, they will keep our people here instead of having them run out into the Western Wilds, and with our people in this land, the Giants, the Nomen, even the Errun won’t attack too much. They will send skirmishes, they will raid, but if we stay in Penthya, they will never fully conquer.”

For a while, Tallis didn’t respond. She just cocked her head to the side, her long black hair falling around her shoulders to better reveal her pointed ears. Ash clearly saw the way her eyes widened in delight as whatever she was thinking ran its course through her mind.

“Six will be coming,” Tallis said, a smile crossing her lips, “like it was in the beginning, after Random arrived and ended all the fighting between Elf and Centaur, Dwarf and Talking Animal—Penthya will return to that?”

“If Henry Ash flees this world,” the younger SpellMaker said, “then yes. If he goes home and lets his son marry and have children, then one day things will be set right. I have seen that; I have seen how Ophallo will die and how the Thrones will be put back into alignment.”

“And it will work?” Tallis asked. “Even through a lie, you have no doubt this will succeed?”

“No doubt.”

“And that is all, we let Henry Ash be a villain—there is nothing else?”

The younger SpellMaker sighed one last time. It was terrible, a sigh way worse than any of the other strain Ash could tell was still upon his body. “There is one more thing,” he said. “Something you must do for my dream to come about.”

“And what is that?”

“Tallis,” the younger SpellMaker said, “you will need to let us die.”

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Ash was back in the Greeting Room, the newer oak one she’d never left. Nothing had changed. Yet the more she looked around, the more Ash was sure—everything was different.

Each Attendant, and Lady Mist, wanted only silence. They turned and walked away.

Lady Mist went to her position beside her father’s chair as the SpellMaker released Ash’s arms and all the Attendants bowed their heads before going to some far walls. They got ready to release the spell that had kept any sound from getting to the limbs above.

But their silence was so complete Ash didn’t think the purple light mattered. From the grim expression Lady Mist had on her lips and from the determined blank stares of everyone else, it didn’t appear like anything would be spoken for quite some time.

“You made me into a monster,” Poppa Henry yelled from inside the blue mirror.

His voice was sharp and cruel. It was something Ash didn’t think should be in a room weighed down by such muted introspection.

The SpellMaker sighed—apparently, it wasn’t just in memories he did that. “Pretty much,” he said. His old and wrinkled hands cupped his head as he sank further into his chair. He looked horrible, broken, as if he’d gone through an ordeal he would not survive if he had to experience it again. “I dreamt what happened to Denthro and what would happen if you were not considered to be the architect of his murder. I dreamt fire and destruction if Ophallo were revealed to be his true killer, and I made Tallis agree to a lie. Something she would not have done if I hadn’t convinced her it was for the best.”

“But why?” Poppa Henry asked. Ash found herself being pulled. Her grandfather was pushing so forcefully against her blue mirror she couldn’t stop from getting closer and closer to the SpellMaker. “If she was going to die, then why tell her anything? Why didn’t you keep your secret to yourself?”

The SpellMaker sat up straight. “Tallis needed to know because when she faced Syndon, she had to realize he’d somehow learned much of the Black. For too long we have thought of the Errun as mindless beasts. But we need to understand they have intelligence—a wicked and cunning intelligence—and the one Errun who ever had that the most was Syndon.

“You know this as well as I do, Henry. He is smart, brilliant really, and he found a way to take hold of the Black. That is why Ophallo kept returning to the Western Wilds—so that he and Syndon could learn together so much more than they ever could apart.”

The SpellMaker stared about the room. “You have to see,” he said. Each Attendant was trapped in his gaze, his own daughter receiving a quick yet stern look so she too could understand. This could not be ignored. “Each of you has to believe. When the Errun attacked, Syndon had already taken the body of his own son and was leading every Band, every Pride, over the Cliffs as Ophallo hung about his neck in a mirror not unlike the one Ash wears. It was why our sudden assault was victorious, yet not victorious enough.

“It was Ophallo who calmed the minds of the Errun when the Advanced Guard arrived. It was he who also sent spell after spell which slew hundreds of Tallis’s men before they had a chance to lay one single finger on anyone. He and Syndon would have annihilated every Elf with ease, but I kept Ophallo in check. By staying on the Wicker Chair, I kept him busy trying to deal with my magic until Tallis could meet Syndon face to face.”

The pull around Ash’s neck ceased. “But Tallis needed to know who she was meeting, is that right?” Poppa Henry asked. “You wanted her to understand that Syndon had strength and that Ophallo was with him so she’d know she was facing two magicians instead of one?”

“Exactly,” the SpellMaker said.

He slumped back into his chair. Relief—everyone had gotten it, everyone had seen—so apparent upon his face. He was obviously not expecting a single argument to arise.

His daughter disappointed him. “This is why you told our Queen she had to die,” Lady Mist said. Her voice quivered with anger. Maybe she was about to argue quite a lot. “Shouldn’t you have at least kept your secret until she got back? What if her knowing made her perish at Syndon’s hands?”

“As I’ve said,” the SpellMaker, again, tried to explain. “My dreams…Tallis had to know the full truth about them so that—”

“Forget your dreams,” Lady Mist yelled. Tears were now streaming down her face and Ash could only think one thing. The SpellMaker had pushed her too far. “Maybe our Queen was right, maybe your dreams aren’t any good if they only show you such awful things! Why her? Why? Ever since her death, you’ve had to do such powerful things—spells which make you need more and more Starlight! You’re dying because you let Queen Tallis march off into battle after battle until she was gone! Why couldn’t she have lived?”

The SpellMaker smiled and then spoke so soft Ash was surprised she could hear him. “Because it is the way of things,” he said. “When Tallis stumbled upon Syndon and Ophallo, she fought for three straight days—the battle raging below her a battle of thousands, yet she was alone in her war high above the clouds. Tallis was a great magician in her own right, the only one who could have defeated Ophallo and Syndon if she had met them one on one, but she didn’t. She met them together, and she hurt them, sent them deep into the Wilds, yet in her victory, she was set upon the path of her demise.

“What I fully told Tallis was that in meeting Ophallo and Syndon, she was going to save her people, but her magic would be so depleted that her immortality, her very essence, would be shattered to the point that she could no longer protect herself as she had for thousands of years. Tallis had to know that in facing the Errun, she would die soon after. It would have been cruel to deny her that truth.”

“But…but she didn’t kill them,” Poppa Henry added. “I saw Syndon. And…and I heard when he said that Ophallo was alive.”

The SpellMaker nodded. “That is true. Tallis merely wounded those two so badly that neither had the energy to try and reach Cathedral, or leave this world, for quite some time.”

Lady Mist’s hands flew to her face. “Then her death was for nothing,” she sobbed. “Tallis was never going to succeed in anything!”

“Nonsense,” the SpellMaker said. “Gain control of yourself. Try and see what Tallis did.”

“What, besides hasten the time of her end and condemn you to death. What did she do?”

“If Ophallo or Syndon had been able to fight,” the SpellMaker said, “Penthya would have fallen. Even if they had the same limited access to magic as we did, they still would have overwhelmed us. Tallis gave us a chance, and with them only now regaining their strength, we can survive. The rightful heirs to the thrones are coming back.”

Casten took a step towards the Wicker Chair. He was right beside Ash. “But,” he began, “but I fought, and…and I was wounded, and I didn’t want to believe, yet…yet I saw it again in a Remembrance. In Henry Ash’s world…in a place of shelves and…I saw Errun, many Errun. Ophallo and Syndon are teaching the Black to anyone who has a talent for it.”

“This, I know,” the SpellMaker said, “but though it is awful, we still have a chance we would not have had before. The six are coming, the six who can take the Thrones, and if we can just get them ready, then the wonder and the glory that I also dreamt can arrive.”

“But are the six the children of Henry Ash and their children?” Casten asked. “Because—”

The SpellMaker looked from Casten to Ash. “I know this too,” he said, “and while it is a hardship, we can overcome. We can find and retrieve the grandson of Henry Ash, and when this girl faces Pride Syndon, then Penthya’s former glory will rise.”

Ash let her eyes go wide. “What…I…” she said. There was so much shock in her voice, that couldn’t be good. “I can’t face…I don’t want to see Pride Syndon or the Western Wilds. Just let me get my parents and my brother and I’m gone.”

Casten turned to her. “And to get to your brother, where do you think you will be headed? If the SpellMaker says you’re going to run into Pride Syndon, then you will run into him, and it will only be over the Cliffs of Random that that will happen.”

The SpellMaker shook his head. “You are wrong,” he said, “as wrong and as foolish as you were when you left here instead of staying as I advised.”

“Master,” Casten looked back at the Wicker Chair. “I was simply correcting this Little for—”

“No, like the pampered yet brave boy you have always been, you were trying to let her see how you had it right where she could only be wrong. But it is the both of you who are incorrect. Ash will face her worst fears, but it will be sooner rather than later, and it will be in this very room. Syndon is coming. I know this from the last dream I’ll ever have. He’ll stand before my chair, and when he does, it will be Amanda Jane Ash who will fight him as she struggles to stay alive.”

Lady Mist stopped crying. She had ceased her weeping long before, but any final tears suddenly dried as she dropped her hands from her face. “Impossible! There is no way the Errun could ever find this place again! The Lyrics—Father, you’ve told me how you’ve strengthened them! No one else can locate Spell!”

The SpellMaker stared at his daughter. “But they can, my dear,” he said. “They can locate Spell with ease because while my enhanced Lyrics prevent anyone outside from discovering where we live, they don’t stop those who have already been here from showing the way.”

Lady Mist gasped. “Then it was Syndon.” Her face went still, all the regal air she’d had when Ash had first seen her slipping away as revelation after revelation tore at her soul. “It was he who led those Errun who came before! But…I would have felt…and…it couldn’t have…”

“Yet why do you think I used my magic to send those Errun away instead of killing them where they stood?” the SpellMaker said. “Why do you think I let them burn our old Greeting Room when I could have sent my Attendants, all my people, out to fight the instant they arrived? I let those Errun harm just one part of my city because I had to gather my strength to study Syndon. I had to prepare for this day, and that is why you must trust me. The secret I kept over Henry Ash’s innocence—sending Tallis into a battle that would cause her death—even now as I tell you that this girl has to face Syndon in this room, it is all the way it must be.”

“But Ash could die,” Poppa Henry said. His voice stopped Lady Mist before she could offer any acceptance or denial to her father’s words. “If she meets that monster alone—”

“Who said she will be alone,” the SpellMaker smiled. He stopped staring at his daughter as his eyes flicked not to Ash nor to the mirror around her neck, but instead, to Jeth. “That one, the son of Gilfort, he will be with her. You will be here too, Henry, you won’t be able to do much, but you will be here. You will watch as he saves her.”

Jeth took a step forward, Amalin at his side, until he and she were as close to the Wicker Chair as they could possibly get. “How do you know this,” Jeth asked.

“My last dream, my best dream, it let me see a little more of the end,” the SpellMaker said, “or at least it let me see the beginning of the end. If before, when Ophallo killed Denthro, I saw how Penthya might return to glory, then just the other night, I finally saw the start of what that terrible act has given us the chance to do. I finally saw how Denthro’s death and my lie will bring about a true end to Pride Syndon.”

“How?” Jeth, Amalin, it seemed the whole room asked at once.

“He will die because of you,” the SpellMaker said, pointing a finger right at Jeth, “he will die because you will kill him.”

Chapter Forty

Ash rolled over. She was in a large and downy bed—something able to fit eight or nine more people, yet, thankfully, she was all alone.

Ash rolled over again. The softness of whatever she was upon, an airy mattress filled maybe with leaves or feathers or even the supple touch of some animal’s hide, was a nice bit of wonderful to her weary skin.

She couldn’t fall asleep. Rushing through glass and water, walking along the Unkindness and the Fields of Kawshun too, Ash might have been able to deal with those things alone, but there were other issues—the revelations from the SpellMaker, knowing that out there, somewhere, were gray-skinned beasts with wide, unblinking eyes. They assaulted her each time she attempted to sleep.

Ash tried to think of how it had been when the SpellMaker had ushered her out of his Greeting Room. Maybe that would help.

With his secrets revealed, he’d turned to Lady Mist and had told her he was too tired to talk. Lady Mist had nodded approval and had looked out over the room. She’d ordered the others to show their guests to where they could stay for the night, and then she’d lifted a hand to shoot a quick bit of purple that had released the charm of silence—an Eavesdrop, it was called an Eavesdrop—that had been covering the room.

It was as simple as that, and afterwards—it may have even been as Mist had lifted that hand—Ash was approached by a very young-looking Elf with shocking green hair. The Elf had emerald eyes too that glowed from beneath a cowl covering her head. She was wearing a bright yellow robe, and she motioned for Ash to follow while a few other Elves did the same to everyone else. One in blue went to Amalin, one in orange went to Casten, and one in red went to Jeth.

The Elf next to Ash kept motioning. She didn’t have to, Ash matched her every step, but she motioned anyway as Casten and Jeth broke off in one direction, and the Elf—and Amalin, and her guide—went another.

Ash was directed towards a door she was certain had to go up—most likely into some small hall since it had to lead to one of the smaller limbs above. But that wasn’t the case. Ash had no clue what Jeth and Casten found down their hallway, but what she and Amalin discovered was something more suited for a wide and magnificent mansion rather than the top of any tree.

A crimson carpet covered the floor while a large brown ceiling towered overhead. White washed walls stood a silent guard, too, and whenever Ash turned to look to her left or to her right—it was all such a pure perfection—she had to remind herself not to blink. She didn’t want to miss a thing.

There were paintings and sculptures, mostly of other Elves, but a few were of Centaurs and what looked to be some women and men. They hung or sat next to large oak wood doors that were sometimes open, yet most often were closed. It was such opulence and grandeur, such the opposite of what Ash had expected to see, that when the Elf in the yellow robe reached the end of the hall and pointed towards another closed door, Ash didn’t know what to do.

Amalin’s Elf had already shown her inside her room—one three doors up—but Ash wasn’t able to move like Amalin had. She just stood.

“Is something wrong?” the Elf in yellow asked.

“What’s your name?” Ash said.

The Elf still had a cowl kept over her head, only a few errant locks of green and the bright shine of those eyes escaping from her heavy cover of yellow. But when asked her name, the Elf pulled everything back. In the soft light of the hallway, Ash could see that her guide was younger than she’d assumed.

“Carolyn,” the Elf said.

She smiled. Her face was as beautiful as Lady Mist’s and Amalin’s, the three similar in some way that Ash was not able to define. Carolyn had more youth in her, Lady Mist more an air of determined countenance, and Amalin a rugged and worn grace, yet all were alike, as if they were all Elf even though it was clear that for Amalin, this was not the case.

“I am Carolyn, daughter of Mythus and Yan, of House Thew of course,” Carolyn said. She mentioned the name Thew as if Ash should have known it instantly. “My father has a seat at the Council where he daily talks to King Rone and Queen Eugin. That’s why I was granted the chance to be Attendant even though I’ve just celebrated my fiftieth. It usually takes much longer for any Elf to find their way to the Wicker Chair, but being a member of House Thew has its perks. We aren’t the second strongest House on the Council for nothing.”

The asking of her name had opened a floodgate, Carolyn having words by the dozen ready for when Ash would address her. She prattled on and on, talking animatedly, rather cheerfully, as she opened the door before her and led Ash inside.

She had a sweet cadence to her speech too, a lovely melody that Ash found nice. As Ash walked into the room and found a large oval that was hers alone, with far walls that held almost as many open closet doors as the Greeting Room had had ones leading up into hallways, Carolyn told more about her family.

About how great it was and how wonderful a man her father always seemed to be. It was kind of self-serving, something said so Carolyn could make it clear what her father could do, yet Ash found herself loving every word. If she’d heard correctly, Carolyn was fifty, but the exuberance in her was so much like a teenager Ash felt at home.

She was reminded of Emily Baker. And as crazy as it sounded, Ash liked that too. She liked how after being chased by wolves, she could still find a pampered princess in another world. She just hoped that Carolyn would never be as mean as Emily.

“What did you say?” Ash asked. She propped Justice up against a wall before she walked to a bed that was in the middle of the room. She sat down on a covering of soft that was just as wonderful as the mattress beneath.

“I was saying I know how you feel,” Carolyn said. She stayed at the walls and closed some of the open closet doors. She looked in all of them first, leaving a few alone yet shutting the others after inspecting the clothes inside and shaking her head. “I, too, was brought before the SpellMaker—back when my father first petitioned for me to become an Attendant. I was taken to the Wicker Chair so the SpellMaker could see if I was worthy, and though some of the children of House Ethallis had been given the same courtesy, all had been turned away.

“But I was not. First member of House Thew to be chosen Attendant and the youngest ever since the SpellMaker started teaching the Bright. When I stood before him, he also told me he’d dreamt my future, wouldn’t tell me what he saw, one last secret I suppose, but I know what you must be feeling. He dreamt of you, he dreamt of me—it takes one’s breath away.”

Carolyn reached a door leading into a bathroom, but instead of closing it, she merely turned around as if expecting Ash to readily agree with her and start sharing her feelings. Ash got the direct impression that Carolyn was unlike any other Elf. She was prepared to talk for hours about the glories of standing in front of the Wicker Chair. She wanted to talk about things Ash hadn’t yet thought of.

“I…I’m kind of tired,” Ash said. Carolyn’s face fell. But it stayed that way only for a second. “I’m sorry.”

Carolyn smiled then laughed. It was as if the sweet melody of her voice had somehow been given a new language. Ash was certain she could hear something—I’m giddy or this is what bliss sounds like—inside Carolyn’s softest chuckle.

“Don’t be sorry,” Carolyn said. Ash immediately decided she liked her even more. “Of course, you’re tired. You stepped through water from who knows where to get here, and you traveled with me into two Remembrances—of course I shouldn’t be talking you to death. Just so exciting to finally have someone who hasn’t yet forgotten how to feel that I let the obvious slip; you need to sleep. I’ll go.”

That was something new. “Wait,” Ash said. Maybe she wasn’t that tired after all. “Why would anyone forget how to feel?”

Carolyn stepped away from the bathroom and walked around Ash’s bed. “The Training,” she explained, “back when the Unrest occurred, thousands of years ago and long before David Random appeared, we Elves were the most savage folk around. We couldn’t control our emotions, which get stronger with each century we are alive. We caused so many wars, so many conflicts, we were the ones who stoked the rage of the Dragons until they began slaughtering anything that wasn’t a Talking Animal, and we—and the Dwarves—we annihilated them.

“To know you’re responsible for the end of such a proud race, we—we killed off creatures that were tied so deeply into magic many thought that spells and charms would leave Penthya along with them. But magic remained, and we changed. King Ethoc and Queen Tallis commanded us to change. Though they were never all that good at ignoring what they could feel, they commanded us to do it, and nowadays, we deny our emotions. It’s the only way we can prevent any other species from dying.”

Carolyn paused for a breath, Ash about to add something that was on the tip of her tongue—why couldn’t she get at it, sing it aloud before Carolyn… “However,” Carolyn said, and now it was gone. “The Training begins when you’re fifty, and since I’m just starting to learn how to control everything, I can’t help but to get excited when someone comes along who will let me indulge. Lady Mist used to talk to me, but she has gotten so busy I’ve been left alone these past few months. I would like…maybe tomorrow…would you chat with me?”

There it was. Finally, Ash could sing. “Hold on,” she began, “dragons?”

But maybe there was more than one question stuck along her tongue. In all her grandfather’s stories, those amazing creatures had been absent, yet in the SpellMaker’s Remembrance, someone had made mention they were real, and now it was certain. Dragons had been in Penthya, but now they weren’t, and suddenly, Ash knew she really was too tired to ask anything about them.

“I mean,” she began again. Dragons were way too sad for now. “Forget that.”

Carolyn nodded. “Forget what?”

“Exactly,” Ash smiled. And this would be a much safer question anyway. “Lady Mist,” she said. “Can I ask about her?”

“You can ask about anything.”

“Perfect, Lady Mist…isn’t she an old Elf? How can she feel if she already has control over her emotions?”

“Her mother, that death,” Carolyn said. “Even though she is a woman, Lady Mist had a right to the five thrones, and during our Civil War, certain factions tried to let her rule. But someone or something, it hurt her—would have killed her too—to get her out of the way. Lady Mist’s mother gave up her life, her very essence, so she could live. But that extra magic, that extra life, makes our Lady a tad unstable. You saw her cry, didn’t you?”

“Of course.”

“Well, it’s because she has more of everything now,” Carolyn said. “She has more emotion, more heart, than anyone in Penthya. It makes her susceptible, very susceptible, to her feelings. She experiences so much she often likes a Little to help her talk things out since the older Elves don’t understand anymore. She used to chat with me, but I thought…I mean this has been nice, but maybe something longer…like over breakfast…”

Carolyn was back at the door leading out into the hall. She let her words hang in the air as she stood on the threshold, Ash watching from the bed, ready to lie down though she was already certain sleep was beyond her.

But she couldn’t refuse, and really, she didn’t want to. She liked this as well—this rambling conversation. Why should it end?

“Sure, breakfast would be great.”

Carolyn laughed again and Ash smiled even broader. Did all Elves sound like that when they were young? “Perfect,” Carolyn said, clapping her hands and jumping in glee. “Perfect. There is a bath drawn for you, if you would like one. The SpellMaker seems to have filled it himself, so the water will stay hot until you step in. Other than that, I chose the closets I think you will enjoy, at least the clothes in them seem like they might fit you. I hope they’re okay.”

Ash peered over her shoulder, the doors that were open and the ones that were closed were things she didn’t see how she could give any kind of judgment on. The open ones had clothes that looked fine, yet the ones that were shut had had stuff in them that had looked good too.

“They’re great,” Ash said. “I’ll definitely stick with what you left me. Won’t open the closed ones at all, I promise.”

“Well, that’s silly.” Carolyn raised a hand and spoke a few words Ash didn’t recognize. “How could you open them?”

Instantly, the closed doors wavered and pulsed. The thick oak around them rippled, too, as the doors disappeared and were replaced with windows—small ones and much larger ones—to fill the walls. In a second, what had been objects with hinges and knobs were changed into glass. Ash easily saw just how much of the day outside was almost gone.

“How did you do that?” Ash asked. She turned back to stare at Carolyn with newfound respect and awe.

Carolyn smiled one last time. “Oh, that.” She walked out into the hall and closed the door to the oval room behind her. “That was just a trick.”

Ash got up and decided a quick visit to the bathroom might be exactly what she needed. She saw how it was made with a gentle decline that gave her access to a large bath which was filled with clear blue water lightly steaming with a heat she didn’t want to resist. She took her blue mirror off her neck—oddly delighted, yet also sad to find that her grandfather was not inside.

She’d spent so much time pointing the thing to one piece of glass or puddle of water that it was strange to realize she’d finally reached a place where Poppa Henry could move without saying a word. Ash wasn’t bothered by his absence, but she also couldn’t stop a touch of loneliness as she took off the empty mirror and put it on a nearby countertop.

Another piece of glass, this one much bigger and surrounded by tiny lanterns aglow with a hidden light, was nearby. But her Poppa Henry wasn’t in that either, and Ash was relieved yet lonely all over again. He was her last bit of family around. She wanted to see him and be free of him all at the same time.

She stripped out of her shoes and jeans, out of her red shirt and the white one underneath too, and slipped into warm water that was a pleasure to her tired flesh. The water was deep enough for her to swim, and she spent a good hour not scrubbing or using any bar of soap. She floated and let the day, such a strange and weird day, drift.

When she finished, she walked out of the bathroom to find that the windows around her showed darkness and the vague rays of moonlight which poured down through tree limbs far above. It was already long into the night, and she went to her downy mattress wrapped in a thick white robe she’d found hanging on the other side of the bathroom door. Ash got comfortable, hoping and praying she would fall asleep even though she was still certain she never would.

Once more, she rolled over. She couldn’t relax. The past few hours, and it had to have been hours though she had no clock to prove it, were only letting her know that sleep was a lost cause.

She got out of bed and headed to a window that Carolyn had created, the largest out of the many that had once been a few closet doors. The thing was clear glass holding no reflection, no image of her grandfather or anything else. Instead, it showed only leaves of green and burnt red, a few bright oranges too, and a ton of jagged pine needles that lazily rolled back and forth on gentle breezes. The window stretched from her waist to the oak wood ceiling above, and Ash could tell: it looked out onto the other side of the SpellMaker’s house.

That side wasn’t like the courtyard she’d stood in earlier. It was all forest, a separate and in no way joined bit of many trees roaming in wild patterns and strange clumps as far as she could see. The moons above her head—and there still were two when Ash paused to stare up—gave her enough light so she could easily spy all the growth.

It was savage. Every bit of the forest grew along winding hills and endless valleys that only had two paths cut in them to make travel possible. Ash had no clue how anyone could make it through such a massive thing. The crawling ivy she could see from where she stood and the thorns and sharp roots she spied in rays of silver and blue were harsh obstacles she knew she could never get over without strenuous effort.

The paths—one leading from one side of the SpellMaker’s home towards a southern direction, another heading for an obviously northern route—were the only bits of salvation around. They were wide and worn tracks of brown—well-traveled roads that a multitude could traverse with ease.

But though they were large, the paths still seemed rather tiny next to such a huge forest. Ash pressed herself close to the window. She’d been wrong. One could ignore those paths and just stick to the forest because Elves, quite a few, and each in their own white robes, were walking about not too far from the base of the tree where her room was housed.

They were singing.