World's of Ash:A Fantasy Tale

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Chapter Forty-One

“My Lyrics,” the SpellMaker said.

Ash leapt from the window. How she’d missed the Elves below and their white robes—how she’d even been ignorant of their song—could be explained away. The forest was too wild, she’d been lost in its savage growth, surely that could excuse a lack of attention, but this…the SpellMaker stood outside, yet where he was at, Ash was positive that that part of the tree had been smooth a second ago—without anything anyone could ever put their foot upon. How could she have missed whatever it was that was keeping him from falling?

And the SpellMaker was dressed in white just like everyone else outside. That should have been something obvious for her to register, but she hadn’t. He’d surprised her fully.

Ash leaned back forward and took a heavy gulp to calm her heart. She saw a balcony. It was being made from the conjoined trees, bits of their limbs, and trunks, pushing out before sloping down towards the forest. A very nice walkway was forming for the SpellMaker to use.

“Sorry about that,” the SpellMaker said. “Didn’t mean to scare.” He lifted a hand, Ash’s window expanding until it reached the floor of her room. It opened too, glass sliding along hidden groves until she simply had to take one step forward and she would be with him. “I’ve been talking to your grandfather, but since he has just left, I wouldn’t mind continuing my discussions with you. Want to join me?”

Now that she could breathe again, her pulse slowing as well, Ash couldn’t think of a reason to say no. And after the SpellMaker’s sudden appearance, she was more awake. Why not.

The walkway, the balcony—Ash couldn’t decide what to call it…maybe trench, no, trench didn’t work—grew a railing for her as she made her way into the night. It reached to her waist and was something she could grab in case anything sloped too quickly for her liking.

But what surprised her, as she took hold with her right hand, was how alive it felt. The railing vibrated. Somehow, it was welcoming her touch.

“Poppa Henry was with you?” Ash asked.

The SpellMaker was content with taking it slow—Ash couldn’t have been happier. His languid gait gave her ample time to watch in awe as the balcony—yes, balcony, that was the best word—completed itself.

A few singers paused in their song when it did. They nodded respectfully before returning to their music. “Is that where he was?” Ash said.

“Of course,” the SpellMaker smiled. He fished out a locket from a pocket in the white robe he wore, something with a gold chain attached to a thick gold square that he opened and showed to Ash. Inside was a mirror; it held only Ash’s reflection. “Henry was in this for quite a while. He sensed it on me while we were talking, probably even when we were in those Remembrances. He walked over when Carolyn led you out of my Greeting Room.”

“But, he’s not there now?”

“No, he left when my Lyrics began,” the SpellMaker said. He closed the mirror up tight and stowed it safely back into his pocket. “He had to because I was going outside, and when my Attendants sing, it can be bad if another spell is around. He is a Reflection after all, and though it may seem nice that he is somehow still alive, that does take a bit of magic. I couldn’t have him with me when I talked to my trees.”

Ash stared up in surprise. “You,” she said, “you talk to trees? Isn’t that impossible?”

“Maybe in your world,” the SpellMaker said. He and Ash rounded another corner, the balcony changing colors since the tree they were beside was blue. “Maybe there the forests have been silent for so long they have forgotten how to speak. But here, especially here in my part of the Centaur Woods, my Lyrics remind the trees of their voice.”

He stopped and turned to the railing Ash still had a hand on. “It used to be easier,” he sighed. There was something in his voice and face, even his eyes, was he crying? “I used to be able to speak to them with a whisper…and…and I could hear them as easy as I can hear you. We used to have such grand conversations but…but that was before.”

Ash wanted to grab his hand or throw herself around his waist and hold tight until he felt better. “Before what?” she asked. It was all she could do.

“Before I lost his voice,” the SpellMaker said.

There was a click—audible to her alone. “Is this—” Ash suddenly knew what was wrong. “Is this the Father? About how you told Queen Tallis you don’t hear from him?”

The SpellMaker leaned his body up against the railing. “So perceptive,” but he said nothing more for a while. He merely nodded at Ash and then at the trees nearby.

Ash had thought, way back in her room, that the trees were moving because of gentle breezes, but as she looked at what the SpellMaker was nodding towards, she realized that she—again—hadn’t noticed something. The air here was heavy, almost still, yet the trees bent back and forth; their tops flowing in a rhythm Ash now saw was like the rhythm of the song the singers were singing.

For a while, everything had been such notes of hurt, yet now, as a heavy fog lifted and the music of the singers went fast and happy, the limbs over Ash’s head suddenly swayed with an increased urgency. But the next moment, the song changed back to mournful, the SpellMaker, too, back to wearing a mask of almost tears, and the trees bent low. It was a dance, a march even if the trees weren’t moving. Ash and the SpellMaker enjoyed it for some time—both restfully leaning against a dark blue railing until the SpellMaker stepped away.

“It was the Father,” he began. “Correction, it is the Father. The creator of all things, maker of every world, he talked to me. Have you ever talked to him?”

Ash blinked. Was this about church? She did go, especially on those holidays—nice Easter services and the Christmas one’s with all the lights—but she wasn’t sure if a Father had been talked about there. All she’d heard about was God…and Jesus…was Jesus a Father?

“I,” she said, “I don’t really…”

She was spared from having to go on. “Pity,” the SpellMaker said. He may not have been almost crying anymore, but it was also clear he was lost in other thoughts. He didn’t want Ash to say much. “He can speak to your soul, wash your mind with his voice, for most, he is the tiniest pull in their hearts, but I used to walk with him in these woods.”

Ash turned back to the trees. Even with those singers moving about below, she still found it hard to believe. How could any two people, especially close together, walk amongst that?

“Not side by side,” the SpellMaker explained. Had she been that transparent? “I walked and he was there, his voice like yours, I heard his every word.”

“But not now?”

“Not now,” the SpellMaker said. “He asked…he said…he told me I’d built up something…had made someone too precious…that I had to let her go, and I…but I couldn’t. I’d already lost my wife, and he wanted…but I kept her, and I lost him.” The SpellMaker sighed. “Still, I sing my Lyrics, I protect my lands, I do good all the time…won’t that make him return?” Ash didn’t know. However, she didn’t think so. If it hadn’t yet been a success, it didn’t seem like it would suddenly become that way.

“I…I,” she stammered.

The SpellMaker shook his head. The Lyrics shifted back to happy. “Golly gee pickles,” he smiled. Ash winced at his words, the SpellMaker catching every wounded look of her. “Isn’t that a saying in your world?” he laughed. “I’ve peered into a few mirrors that look in on where you’re from, and…don’t you have pickles? Pickles is a word, right?”

“Yes,” Ash had to smile as well. Such a strange man, or Elf, such a strange world too. “We have pickles, but golly gee pickles. That’s odd.”

The SpellMaker smiled broader. “Oh,” he laughed again, “always liked that word, pickles, we don’t have those in Penthya, but it sounds exotic. Always meant to use it once in a sentence, and I thought…but never mind.” He sighed again, his laughter slipping from his voice. “Golly gee we do have. Of course, thousands of years ago, it was a rather profane thing to say, yet here I am getting all bothered by the past, so I thought, why not. Go profane, be shocking for once, say pickles too, but…I shouldn’t get bothered, my emotions affect what is sung, and what we want sung is something cheerful, right?”

Ash nodded; however, and for just a second longer, her thoughts remained consumed—since when had pickles ever been exotic? “Right,” she finally said. She had to focus. “Cheerful is good.”

“Perfect,” the SpellMaker said, “so let’s talk cheer. Let’s make my words match the grin I’ve been wearing and the laughter I’ve been enjoying. What is something good, something not the past, that we can speak of?”

“The trees,” Ash said. Her voice was low, a vague whisper that seemed proper. If she talked too loud, she feared slipping into wrong. “What do they tell you?”

“The trees,” the SpellMaker mused, “what do they say?”

Had she messed up? “Yes,” she tried again, “Can I—can I know what they say?”

“Of course,” the SpellMaker said. And now, for sure, his words were in lock step with his grin. This was success. “They hold no secrets. Mostly, I hear them ask about the world, but sometimes they thank me for what I’ve added to the Lyrics. If a tree a few months before made mention of a need for water or for some new feature to bring the animals back or to keep them away, I always add it into what the singers sing, and when it finally gets taken care of, the trees never forget to let me hear of it. They have their questions, they have their demands, but they also have their appreciation.”

Ash couldn’t believe it. “That’s all?” This was an awesome subject, but it was also disappointing. “Shouldn’t there be more?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know,” Ash said. “I thought they might have some insight—something grand to tell. Haven’t these trees been here for ages? Haven’t they seen things others haven’t?”

The SpellMaker patted her on the shoulder. “Maybe for the rest of Penthya that is the case, but here, we are all Elves. Most of us have also been around for quite a while, and we have seen many of the things the trees have seen. Besides, asking a tree for advice is foolish. Trees see life differently than us, especially these trees. They don’t even walk around anymore.”

Ash peered up at him. She’d seen the tops of the trees dance without the aid of any strong wind; she’d thought of it as a kind of still yet active march, but she hadn’t yet seen a tree pick up its roots to stroll about. Every tree she saw was right where it had been a second before.

“Trees can walk?”

“You do know that King Denthro was married to a Dryad, right?” the SpellMaker asked.

“I…I’ve heard that.”

The SpellMaker nodded. “Good,” he said, “so you know that Dryads are the physical representations of trees. An oak is an oak, yet it is also its representation, or Dryad, which can look like a willowy brown-haired girl, or a strong brown-haired man. Many trees in Penthya still have that, their true selves and their Dryad self. At Castle Watch, I believe a few sit on the Common Court, but in the Centaur Woods, the trees have become much like the Elves. They have withdrawn, their Dryads reabsorbed into the oak or the ash or the willow they came from until no brown-haired young men or women are seen in this forest.

“And without them walking about, the trees are mostly just trees again. The death of King Denthro was monumental when they were awake, but now, asleep as they are, they’ve forgotten that events can happen in a hurry. They may want to know what is going on, but if I were to ask for their advice, the only answer I would get would be for patience so that events could play on without any rash decisions being made.”

Ash sighed. “But do you think the trees might wake back up? Will you ever be able to speak with them as you once did?”

The SpellMaker didn’t answer, and immediately, such strong words—idiot and moron—blazed inside Ash’s mind. Had she made him sad again?

He took her hand and led her further down the balcony. They rounded corner after corner, passing one kind of tree after another, Ash surprised at how much they’d already traversed, surprised as well at how much was still left to go. The SpellMaker’s home was truly huge, and when they were almost to the end of the balcony, he stopped once more.

“I…I’m sorry,” Ash began, “I shouldn’t have asked—”

The SpellMaker shushed her and pointed to the singers. “Since my last dream, I’ve made them sing for the trees to rise,” he said, “but so far, none of my Lyrics have worked. The trees do talk, not as they once did but they talk yet they refuse to fully wake.”

Ash nodded and listened. The song below grew in intensity as the singers in the forest gathered together. Every voice joined into one complete note, a sound that made Ash want to fall to her knees and weep, yet also run around in joy as if she could somehow do both at the same time. The note carried for a minute, then a minute more, the singers linked with clasped hands, their voices uniting further, and when it became almost too much, Ash ready to finally drop to her knees, the air around her suddenly too alive to take into her lungs, it stopped.

“That was…you do that every night?” Ash tried to catch her breath as she and the SpellMaker made their way down the last few feet. They finally reached the wild growth of greenery she’d seen from way above.

“Every night,” the SpellMaker said. He let go of her hand. He walked to one of the singers, one who was pulling back her cowl to reveal her face. It was Lady Mist. She nodded at her father as he approached. “And though the forest can refuse to fully wake, it often lets our words do their magic. The forest changes, but I do hope that this night things might be a tad different.”

“Why?” Lady Mist asked. The SpellMaker reached her side as Ash hurried to catch up. Though the SpellMaker had no problem walking through brambles and bushes, she did. It took her much longer to get to where he’d gone. “We sang the Lyrics, but nothing in them was any different from what we usually sing. Why do you hope this night things might change?”

The SpellMaker smiled. “While the Lyrics are important, my dear,” he said, “I am not down here just because I like the way you sing. I’m here for them. They are what is different.”

Something became apparent. For a while, the melody of the Lyrics had been so present that without it the world was off. It took a minute for Ash to hear—and she could tell it took a moment for Lady Mist and all the other Elves to hear as well. It was horses.

“The contingent from Athren,” Lady Mist said. She peered over at the path that angled down towards the south. “Queen Eugin, I suppose, with some Light Benders at her side?”

“Yes, those from Watch will be with her,” the SpellMaker said. The first few horses became visible as they crested a far hill. “But not as many as I’d asked for. Golly gee!”

Chapter Forty-Two

Lady Mist flinched. Ash had never seen such a thing. She’d been shocked and scared countless times—to be honest, there had been way too many of those times recently—but Ash had never seen what such emotions looked like on another. And she’d especially not seen it on an Elf who had trouble controlling what was within.

It was dramatic, the sudden widening of the eyes, the visible whiplash of a head jerking far from the unbelievable. Ash had to wonder. Had she looked the same when the SpellMaker scared her?

“Father,” Lady Mist said, “you never cuss…what is it?”

The SpellMaker sighed. “Forgive me…it’s just,” he sighed again. “I told Eugin to make sure those Light Benders brought Steven Ash and his wife with them. But they haven’t. I don’t know what this means.”

The line of horses continued. They had coats that weren’t pale but were instead full of color—some brown, some black, and one rather odd horse that was a rich and vibrant shade of red. That horse was right behind the first two to come up the path, its coat shiny and strong and with an Elf who sat upon it the most regal-looking Elf Ash had yet seen. The SpellMaker was still impressive—his might quite extraordinary and undeniable—yet the Elf on the red horse, a female with long brown hair and eyes as black as the night had once been, was the epitome of what Ash had always expected a Queen to be.

The two who were ahead of her, large Elves with blank expressions and hands kept on the hilts of their swords, were her guards—the obviousness of that fact made clear when they came to a stop near to the SpellMaker and jumped off their steeds. They quickly went to either side of the red horse.

This woman had to be Queen Eugin. The flowing silk robe she wore, the thin filigree of gold upon her head, she was the complete picture of what Ash had always had in mind whenever her grandfather had spoken about Penthyan royalty.

Eugin jumped to the ground. With a grace and perfection Ash couldn’t help but to be impressed by—a long blade that was held at her side the only thing to jiggle slightly as she landed—Eugin walked towards the SpellMaker. Even her most ordinary movements seemed orchestrated. It was as if Ash was in the midst of some special ceremony.

The SpellMaker smiled and bowed slightly. “Eugin,” he said, “why is not Steven Ash here? Why is Rone also not appearing from somewhere along the path heading to the north? Did I not make it clear that many more were needed?”

The rest of the nearby Elves were bent at the waist just as the SpellMaker already was, each of them bowing much lower than their master. Only Ash stayed upright. Again, she felt as if she should do something respectful, but the magnitude of the moment, just being in the presence of a true Queen, caused her to hesitate. For the second time since she’d entered the Centaur Woods, Ash didn’t lower an inch.

She saw Eugin look over her shoulder to inspect the rest of her party. It was a group of fifty, maybe a bit less. Most were Elves, and out of those Elves, most looked like the two guards who still stayed next to the red horse. It was a party filled with protection and a few dignitaries—the only non-Elves that Ash could see were those who wore the same green cloak and brown leather outfit that Casten always had on.

Light Benders were nearby, and the fact that two of them were two she recognized—they were the Dwarf and white-haired lady from her school library—just made things interesting. Ash was sure she was looking at a gathering that would need a lot of calming once they realized she was there.

“Bow!” someone hissed at her side. Ash looked over and found one of the singers. It was a small and slender female in a white robe with pink hair poking out through a cowl over her head. “The Queen has yet to recognize us.”

“Carolyn?” Ash asked. She immediately bent—got as far down as Carolyn already was. “What are you doing here?” But that wasn’t the only question she had. “Why is your hair different?”

Carolyn sighed. “Never mind the hair.” Her voice remained vague; a subtle whisper Ash had to lean towards to hear. “What’s important is I’m here because an Attendant, or two, always joins the SpellMaker for the Lyrics. But never has he asked for more than two, and never have I been involved, yet the SpellMaker asked for me, and now I know why.”

“Why?”

“Because of him,” Carolyn said. She risked a quick glance up as she pointed to another Elf, one on a black horse that had come to a halt behind Eugin’s crimson one. “That’s my father, and if he’s here, then your arrival is very big indeed. He’d only come if the Council was informed.”

Eugin turned back around. Carolyn instantly went silent and dropped her hand as she bowed lower. Ash stayed down too and suddenly saw what it was she was wearing. She was in a robe as white as Carolyn’s, but not nearly as nice. It was something thick and cottony instead of silky and smooth. Also, it had come from a bathroom—that couldn’t be good.

The single saving grace was that in all her recent tossing and turning, even with her walking through the forest, her robe hadn’t become too disheveled. Ash had been so surprised to see the SpellMaker outside her room—so in awe of the Lyrics, too, and how the balcony was forming; even her conversation about walking trees and pickles had been so amazing, and she hadn’t thought of how she must look, but now it was all that was on her mind. Her hair still had to be damp, its normal brown and red streaks probably matted black. All Ash hoped was that the Queen would be too busy with the SpellMaker to stare her way.

“Yes, Rone has stayed in Daylin,” Eugin said, “I thought it best if those who guard our most vulnerable city remain there to watch the Cliffs of Random. Your warning was quite the surprise. Because of it, I even decided that Steven Ash and his wife should travel no further than Athren. Besides, they’ve been undergoing so many Studies this last week that the Council and the Common Court thought it best to have them relax in one of my Holds. Everyone is fine, and until you let us know why you got in contact, they will remain that way for quite some time.”

Every part of Eugin’s speech seemed important, there was even some hidden message that Ash hadn’t seen. Some nod or flick of a hand to let the people who had bowed rise back up. Or maybe everyone rose because the SpellMaker already had. Ash wasn’t sure.

She stood up straight. What the Queen had said was echoing in her mind; her parents were in Athren. They weren’t in Watch or the Lumbrica, they were in Athren. She couldn’t believe how excited that made her. They were so close.

But then what else Eugin had said grabbed hold. A week—how could everything, for her parents, have taken a week? To Ash, it had only been a little over a day. That could mean that Peter, too, was experiencing the same. There was a chance he’d been with the Errun for months, maybe years; their savage nature something Ash didn’t know how he could have survived.

“Eugin,” the SpellMaker said. His voice was calm though Ash did catch a rise in his eyebrows. Pickles and golly gee might be about to make a return. “I made it—”

“Is she not your Queen,” another Elf said. “Has that changed?”

This other Elf was on a chestnut brown horse that was next to the horse that Carolyn’s father was on. He jumped off his steed and began to walk towards Eugin.

“So,” this other Elf continued, “shouldn’t your Queen be given your respect, or have you finally separated yourself fully from those you claim to protect? Do you not recognize her authority, SpellMaker?”

The SpellMaker turned to this new voice and lifted a hand. A sudden spark of red passed along his fingertips. It was way better than yelling the profane.

“As I told Tallis and Ethoc,” the SpellMaker said. The Elf who had spoken stopped in his tracks. “I have allegiance to our people and their leaders, but that does not make me their servant. The House of Morn may have sent you, Nawthen, but that does not mean I must suffer your rudeness. Be silent, or I will make you silent.”

The SpellMaker shook his wrist, the red dying as fast as it had come. This didn’t appease Nawthen in the slightest.

“Do you see, my Queen, do you see his insolence?” Nawthen said. “If we leave these woods, we won’t need his Lyrics, and we certainly won’t have to endure the possible threat he poses since we all know he has too much magic to be trusted. If he doesn’t call you Queen, if he doesn’t swear fealty to you fully, then who does he swear that to?”

Eugin whipped around towards Nawthen, her brown hair flying. “Be silent,” she commanded. “Or do you want me to regret the fact that I left Jaymo and Keth in Athren. I could have taken the leaders of Isthun and Findrall, but I took you because you begged me to come. Have the good sense to shut your mouth, or…or just go. Bring up the Light Benders.”

Nawthen smiled thin. It reminded Ash of Lady Mist. “Your words are mine to obey,” he said. But his voice was clenched, as if he was trying to hold back an odd display of anger. It was shocking. He reminded Ash quite a lot of Lady Mist. But how could another Elf, one so old, feel things like Mist could?

Nawthen quickly left. He walked towards the Dwarf, the white-haired woman and a black wolf Ash hadn’t yet seen. That animal sat beside the horse the Dwarf rode upon, yet the horse was not scared even though the wolf looked like it could rip it apart with ease.

“He is right,” Eugin said. She turned back to the SpellMaker. “You hardly bother to talk to anyone on the Council or the Court, and then, out of nowhere, we find you have opened your mirrors and the water in your home to the Unkindness. I am the Queen, am I not? Don’t you think I could be afforded a bit more respect? Don’t you realize that how you treat me only feeds the flame of those, like Nawthen, who advocate for us to leave Penthya?”

“I realize,” the SpellMaker said. He lowered the hand that had sparked such a strong red. He let it fall into the pocket where his golden locket was. “I know that I am the anomaly amongst the Elves, I know I am even thought of as a threat since Tallis first decided that Denthro’s death meant that no Elf should bother with the outside world anymore. The Elves keep themselves separate from Watch, and I, in turn, separate myself from most Elves. This has only bred paranoia, and, Eugin, you most of all should see this better than any. You fought with Benders from Watch, you fought for Bayden, you know how being removed from everything only creates the kind of warped mind that Nawthen has.”

Eugin sighed. “I know how Nawthen has let his fear grow. No matter how we keep our emotions in check, some feeling, sooner or later, finds its way through if we are weak, and Nawthen is weak. He’s become terrified that if we don’t flee, we will be destroyed, and while that has made him unable to control what he feels, it doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

“I did fight for Watch and for Bayden, and what did I get for my troubles? I lost another husband and I gained a son who has refused to be like his older brother. Casten stays far from my side. He chases chaos in the lands that killed his father, and a part of me does see the world as Nawthen sees it. Anymore from you or Penthya and I might just do as he says. I might leave.”

“Well,” the SpellMaker said. The hand that had been in his pocket came back out. “Now that my Lyrics have ended and he can return…I hope this isn’t what causes you to go.”

He showed her the locket.

Chapter Forty-Three

Eight hours later and they were back in the Greeting Room—the sun of Penthya standing high and bright through the limbs above Ash’s head. Back when she’d first stepped out of a puddle and into a courtyard, everything had been settling itself into night, the light from the sun a dying red, something weak Ash hadn’t bothered to study. But now, she couldn’t see anything else. The oak part of the SpellMaker’s home did keep most of the bright away, but what managed to sneak through—a deep and steady yellow mixed with dark rogue—was old. It was as if the sun here had been around much longer than the sun she knew.

Ash shook her head and slowly stared all around. Every Elf imaginable was nearby, or they were crowding at the doorways which encircled the place. There were so many bodies she finally understood why the SpellMaker had decided that the size of his previous Greeting Room hadn’t been enough. If he knew that one day a couple hundred folks would gather this close, then he’d truly let his oak grow accordingly.

Still, Ash wished he’d prepared a little better. All the Elves and Light Benders, plus Amalin, Jeth, and Casten, really everyone in Spell, was comfortably spread out, but since they were all focusing their attention solely on her, she couldn’t help but to want more distance. Maybe a hundred feet or more so that every Elf wouldn’t seem so oppressive—every Light Bender wouldn’t make her want to run.

After the SpellMaker had opened his locket and Queen Eugin had taken a few tentative steps forward, Ash had been impressed all the more. The Queen didn’t do much when she found that Poppa Henry was in the mirror. She merely lifted an eyebrow and turned to her guards. She walked over, whispered, and calmed them when they suddenly put their hands on their swords.

“Let us clean up,” she said when she’d returned to the SpellMaker. “Give us a place to rest, let me see my son who has yet to leave from inside your house, and after that, we will meet in your Greeting Room for whatever explanation you need to give.”

The SpellMaker closed his locket and slipped it into the pocket of his robe. “Of course,” he said. “Feel free to take any room you would like. We can meet for breakfast. Or will you tell Nawthen and Mythus of Henry? If you do, maybe lunch would be better?”

Eugin sighed and took a quick peek back at Nawthen. “Lunch would be best,” she looked once more at the SpellMaker. “I can’t keep this from them or from Morgan, Yorgeth, and Warven.”

The SpellMaker nodded. “Then it is settled, a noontime meeting, please, feel free to enjoy my balcony. I had it sung into existence so your horses could travel up as well.”

He hurried past Ash, his Attendants falling in line behind him. Everyone headed for the balcony as Ash quickly decided to follow along rather than to stay in the forest and deal with a group of people she knew would soon be yelling over what their Queen had seen.

But to her surprise, none did any of that. Nothing was heard as Ash started to traverse the slow and winding way back up.

She joined the rear of a large congregation of white robes. Most every Elf was gathered as close to the SpellMaker as they could get; however, a few did drop away every now and again to stand beside small windows or solid sections of wood. They spoke words that either widened those windows or created new doorways all together.

“Come on,” Carolyn said.

Ash jumped. She’d stopped right next to where an Elf had paused to speak an entrance into existence. The part of the conjoined tree that he’d been staring at had cracked wide for him to have all the space he’d needed, but once he’d stepped inside, the crack had sealed itself tight.

Ash had been looking at where he’d gone. Yet really, she hadn’t been all that interested in what the Elf had done. She was far more interested in listening to the soft whispers that were coming from below.

“It’s just a bit of the Bright,” Carolyn said. She walked over and took Ash’s hand. “In our inner stairs and now out here, I suppose, it doesn’t matter where you are, you can get to any part of this tree as long as you know where to stand. All you do is park yourself next to our dogwood or our ash or even our oak, and Spell will help you the rest of the way. Except for first time visitors who must walk the stairs to greet the SpellMaker on his chair, everyone else can speak a doorway once they’ve been here for a few hours. Do you want me to show you how it’s done?”

“What?”

“I could show you some magic. Or I could tell you the word that will let you form a door. Of course, if you have no inherent skill in the Bright, you won’t be able to do a thing, but let’s try. Do you want to know?”

“Sure,” Ash said. “But…but, I don’t know if I’m ready, and…and anyway, I was just wondering about them.”

She turned slightly and pointed past the nearby railing, her finger angling down towards Queen Eugin’s group. Mythus and Nawthen were already walking their horses up the balcony with Yorgeth and the black wolf at their side. Eugin was a step behind, she’d fallen back to talk to the white-haired Elf that Ash was sure had to be Morgan. They were whispering to one another, everyone was whispering, and Ash was freaking out. Shouldn’t someone be yelling?

Carolyn, too, stared down at as much of the group as she could see. “What were you wondering?”

“If Eugin has already told them of my grandfather,” Ash said, “why are they so calm?”

Carolyn laughed. “She hasn’t told them a thing,” she explained. “Our Queen is smart, as smart as her mother, maybe even smarter. She knows that what the SpellMaker has shown means power and position. You saw how Nawthen scolded the SpellMaker in front of her, how he questioned the SpellMaker’s authority and hers; a very embarrassing thing for our Queen.

“Right now, Nawthen is probably wondering what she heard when he was sent to be with the Light Benders, but our Queen is keeping him in line—and getting him and the others to quietly go inside—by not saying a word. And she won’t tell until they are all in their rooms, until they are all deep within a place they know is filled with so much of the SpellMaker’s might they would be fools to try and react in a violent way.”

Ash nodded. Queen Eugin was turning out to be as amazing and wise as she’d first seemed. But still, there was something wrong. “Wait,” she said, “what’s the point? The Queen remains silent, but that Dwarf and Morgan, they have to know by now that my Poppa Henry is a Reflection, won’t they tell someone about him?”

“Yorgeth and Morgan,” Carolyn said. She let go of Ash’s hand. She walked to the railing so she could lean out and get a better look. “They know that Henry Ash is alive?”

“I assume so, Poppa Henry attacked Casten—wouldn’t Casten have said something about that?”

“I don’t know, wasn’t Casten always with you before you came here?”

“No, he came for me at my house, but my grandfather stopped him before I escaped. I only saw him again when the Errun arrived, when they hurt him and some white wolf before we escaped again.”

Carolyn clamped a hand over her mouth, her face going pale. It was so strange. Whenever she laughed, Ash felt as if she should join in, and now, Carolyn’s panic was the same. Instantly, Ash felt so much fear.

“Arathus was hurt,” Carolyn said. “That isn’t good. That isn’t good at all.”

“Why not,” Ash asked. She followed Carolyn’s eyes as the pink-haired Elf stared not down at Yorgeth or Morgan, but rather at the large black wolf—one that looked a lot like the wolf that Jeth had been back when Ash had first met him.

“If Queen Eugin knows that Henry Ash fought with Arathus and that Arathus was hurt by the Errun,” Carolyn explained, “then it makes why she hasn’t spoken all the wiser. That dark wolf is Warven. He is a Talking Animal and one of the strongest Light Benders around. He is also Arathus’s mate, and he’s fiercely protective of her. Her injury on a mission he most likely approved of will have made him angry. Was Arathus hurt bad, do you remember?”

“I,” Ash said, “I think she was okay. Yorgeth, he…he grabbed hold of her and Morgan and took them away, but Arathus was still breathing, or…or I think she was still breathing.”

Carolyn turned back around. “Better to be safe,” she said. She retook Ash’s hand and pulled her closer to the tree. “Are you ready for your first lesson?”

“In the Bright.”

“Of course.”

“But I told you,” Ash had seen such wonderful things, such amazing bits of magic—she wanted to know of the Bright, of course she did, but so soon, and from Carolyn, it made the whole world feel unbalanced. “I don’t know if I’m ready.”

Carolyn rolled her eyes. “This is easy. Like I said, when you’re here, Spell will help. It shouldn’t be hard. And after you hear what I say, you can use this spell no matter where you go. If you ever find yourself next to a solid bit of anything—a rock, a mountain, a whatever—you simply speak this word and though there will be nothing around to guide you, you should be able to create a door.”

“That’s all I have to do?”

“That…oh, and one other thing.”

“What?”

“Well,” Carolyn said, “if you do decide to go to a bit of rock or to the ground at your feet, I would suggest that you don’t walk through whatever you create.”

“Why not?”

“Because out in the rest of the world, if you go to something that has nothing on the other side of it, no hallway already made by someone else, then you will have no clue as to where you might end up. Many can make a door, but it takes a whole lot of training to form where that door will go. Without Spell around to help, whatever you cast could get you killed.”

“Wait,” Ash said, “then why teach me the word?”

Carolyn smiled. “Because,” she said, “it’s fun.” Ash started to worry that the emotions inside her new friend might be turning her a tad unstable. “Don’t you think?”

“I…I…” Ash wasn’t sure what to say.

She needn’t have bothered. Without waiting for a response, Carolyn edged closer to the solid wood, a thick growth of oak that would have seemed impenetrable if Ash hadn’t just seen an Elf walk right through it. Carolyn spoke something that sounded a lot like “Adesmos,” it was what the other Elf had said as well, and the wood moved. It opened as it had opened before. It showed Ash the same hallway she’d already seen.

It turned out it was a hall reserved mainly for Attendants, Carolyn telling Ash this as soon as they stepped off the balcony and into a much smaller place than what Ash had walked down when Carolyn had led her to her room. From Carolyn’s explanation, it soon became apparent that not every Elf in the SpellMaker’s home was his student. Most were just Elves tired of Athren and Daylin, or those who’d decided that the safest place in the Centaur Woods was with the strongest magician around no matter how many times the Errun were able to locate his home. Ash learned that the Attendants were a small part of the population living in Spell, and as such, their hallway and their rooms weren’t that impressive.

Carolyn even made it known that this hallway was inside the shortest and thinnest limb to rise above the SpellMaker’s Greeting Room. It was an odd point of pride that Ash took note of only because of how Carolyn spoke it. Living in the thinnest limb, it had to have been a hardship, yet it was a hardship Carolyn appeared happy to endure.

After only a few minutes, Ash found herself back in the Greeting Room, on a far side of it she’d not noticed the first time around. Carolyn pointed to where the door she needed was. She told Ash how she could get to her room.

“You’re not going with me?” Ash asked. Carolyn had turned around—her quickly fading white robe all that Ash could see.

“No, going to go talk to my dad,” Carolyn said. “You get some rest, you look tired.”

Ash didn’t move. She watched as Carolyn returned to the end of the hall to speak a new doorway into existence, and only once she was gone did Ash feel worn. She was tired.

She went to her room without running into anyone. Most of the Attendants were still with the SpellMaker, it wasn’t a complete surprise that she failed to see a single soul, yet it was a shock that Amalin, Jeth, and Casten weren’t awake. They’d slept through the Lyrics and the Queen’s arrival, their weariness beating hers by quite a bit though Ash knew she was about to catch up.

She stumbled to her bed, keeping her eyes open only long enough so she could close the door to her room before rummaging through a few closets to find something much nicer to wear. She would never again put herself in a position where she would be in a bathrobe while next to royalty, and she changed into as good an outfit as she could find—a brown leather pants with a green cotton shirt ensemble that also had another white shirt beneath for whenever Poppa Henry returned.

It made her look like a Light Bender, and for some reason, that gave Ash a bit of peace. They were the strongest magicians around, and though many had tried to attack her, looking like them made Ash feel invincible.

The clothes were comfortable too. An added plus Ash only noticed when she realized that her two shirts and pants were like shear silk against her skin though they looked tough enough to survive a battle or maybe just an up-close meeting with a Queen.

Lastly, and with yawn after yawn arriving to drag her further into exhaustion, Ash grabbed her blue mirror from the bathroom and hung it around her neck. She put it under her new green shirt in case she woke in a hurry. She had everything she needed, and she lay down for a moment. She was tired, but she promised herself she would sleep only for a while. She even forced her weary body to rise just one last time as she quickly grabbed up her old and worn sneakers before she also took Justice from its spot against a far wall.

She put her shoes underneath her bed and lay Justice down next to her. Surely, if she slept close to something so dangerous, she wouldn’t drop off as soundly as she knew she could.

But she must have fallen away for hours. A slight nudge on her shoulder—someone rocking her—was the only thing to get her back up.

Ash opened her eyes. Sunlight, dark red and yellow, poured through her windows. As Ash looked around, the light helped her to find Carolyn and Amalin. They hovered above.

“Come on,” Carolyn said. She pushed at her shoulder again. “We have to go.”

“To breakfast?” Ash asked. She felt rested, ready to tackle the day as she went to the edge of her bed and got to her feet.

She slipped into both her sneakers, pausing only for a second to wonder how she must look. She was in running shoes while decked out in clothes that were like what a Light Bender wore. That had to be odd.

Yet this was the world of odd—of golly gee and magic doors, of red horses and Remembrances, odd worked well here, so why not? And as she scooped up Justice—held it in one hand and stood straight to stretch—Ash knew she really, really, didn’t care. She kind of liked how she had something from her world mixed in with everything Penthyan.

“No, breakfast is long over, we’re going to the Greeting Room,” Carolyn said. “Queen Eugin and the SpellMaker have explained all. Actually, well…they’ve been explaining for quite some time. Seems I let the truth out a tad early. Nawthen overheard me mentioning you while I was talking to my father and…see…that made things uneasy. Eugin wasn’t happy about it, no one was, but after Nawthen learned truth, Eugin and the SpellMaker had to take everyone to the Greeting Room to calm them down. They’ve been trying for hours to get everybody to accept Henry Ash as a victim, not a murderer.”

Ash looked at Carolyn and then at Amalin. “So,” she asked, “I won’t be ripped to shreds if I meet Warven? He knows my grandfather and I aren’t the bad guys?”

“Well…like I said…” Carolyn began.

Amalin’s eyes flashed a deep blue of rage. “Like she said,” but her eyes held something else. There wasn’t just rage there. “They’ve been trying to explain. The SpellMaker and Queen Eugin have tried to tell them certain things, but, since Eugin hasn’t fully seen that Henry Ash is not a villain, their explanations aren’t going over so well. Even with the Queen’s own son trying to tell everyone what he saw—and Morgan and Yorgeth begging to finally do the Remembrance they’ve been calling for—Nawthen still has many ready to leave.”

“Why?” Ash asked.

“Why what?” Amalin said.

“Why are so many siding with Nawthen when—”

Amalin shrugged. “People are fools. They don’t want to believe that the Errun can bend light again, and they don’t want to believe that Ophallo is evil, because if they do, then they will have to admit they were wrong about your grandfather. And if they do that, it means war, and trust me, people will do everything they can to deny war.”

“Oh,” Ash said. It sounded too terribly true to be false. “But, what—”

“We need to hurry,” Amalin said. Her blue went dim for a moment, but then she eyed how Ash held Justice. “Everyone may be fools, but Morgan and Yorgeth, Casten and Eugin, too, have finally convinced them. As of now, enough are willing to go inside a Remembrance as long as you are in attendance.”

“Another one.”

“It is the only way to show what has happened,” Amalin said. Her hands dropped to her waist, the electric of her eyes flashing brightly once more. What was she up to? “Take this,” she said. “I don’t like how you dangle such an important weapon between your fingers.”

Amalin was wearing Casten’s belt, the one Jeth had seen his family crest upon—the one that also carried a sheath for Justice. Inside the sheath was a short stick, and when Amalin took off the belt, she made sure to hold onto it, the stick lengthening as soon as it was in her hands.

“What’s that?” Ash asked. She put the belt around her waist and tucked Justice safely away.

Amalin smiled at what was now a staff. “Something the SpellMaker gave me,” she said. “Before he ever went to find you, he came by my room—handed me this. He told me I might like it since he thought it would remind me of the Kawshun and the Beacon.”

Ash laughed. “So you couldn’t sleep either. But why didn’t you come and see the singers?”

“The SpellMaker locked me in,” Amalin said. Her smile dropped as a last flash, the deepest blue yet, lit up her face. Ash understood. There was rage in Amalin, but also a deep vein of annoyance. She was ticked that she’d been left behind. “He gave me this stick. Then he told me he didn’t want me to follow.”

“He told us all that,” Jeth added as he walked into the room, “but luckily, he does want us to be with him now—let’s go.”

Jeth and Amalin led the way, Ash and Carolyn following right behind and only separating once they reached the Greeting Room. Ash was directed to stand next to the Wicker Chair with Lady Mist on one side and the SpellMaker already seated and as comfortable as he could get. Ash was made the center of attention. It was only then that she began to wish that everything was just a bit bigger.

“Enough,” the SpellMaker said, his voice rising.

For the past few minutes, murmurings of unrest had filled the air. Nawthen had been talking to Warven while Yorgeth and Morgan had been having a conversation with Carolyn. And Queen Eugin, who spoke with Casten, Amalin, and Jeth, had also been deep into her own conversation. The whole room had been overrun with a hundred different voices. It was clear the SpellMaker was tired of it.

“Enough of this constant bickering,” he continued, “Casten has told you that the Errun have bent light right before his eyes, and Morgan and Yorgeth have said same. I, too, have let you know that Henry Ash is here, he is in the mirror I hold in my hand. You have seen him, heard from him, and enough of you have already agreed to do a Remembrance. No more worrying and no more hesitation, or I swear I will send you into Henry’s memories without your consent.”

“You wouldn’t,” Nawthen said. He and Warven looked at the SpellMaker in shock. Warven growled. “You couldn’t.”

“Maybe I couldn’t on my own, but my Attendants are here,” the SpellMaker said. He pointed to the Elves still in their white robes. “Your arguments haven’t given them the chance to change clothes—they should be quite easy to find. Together we can, and will, do it. Now be quiet. Let us begin.”

“Do as he says,” Eugin instructed as Nawthen went silent and Warven did the same. “I want to see how much my world is about to change.”

The Remembrance came to a start. The magic now so familiar Ash forgot how awe inspiring it could be. Remembrances never lie, something else she’d forgotten, but when the magic took her away, it was all she heard. There were some gasps, some whisperings of an awe she no longer had, but mostly, she heard just one thing. Remembrances never lie, it was what Queen Eugin said, what Nawthen mumbled under his breath, and what Warven growled, too, as they all bore witness to Ophallo’s treachery.

However, what Ash took in the most was her grandfather. Back to being a form of white—something he apparently was if he didn’t have the energy of the Pool to make him blue—he stood in a faraway corner trying not to watch too much of what was his fourth trip into his most awful memory. Even when Ash went over to him and took his hand, he barely paid her any mind. He preferred to once more stare at the walls or the beams in the ceiling rather than the sight of his wife being murdered.

“You okay?” Ash asked. Isabella was about to cast her Last Breath.

Poppa Henry smiled. “No,” he said. “Mind if I come back to your mirror when this is over?”

“Sure, but don’t you need to be with the SpellMaker?”

“He only wanted me close for this Remembrance. Once it’s done, as long as I’m somewhere in his Greeting Room, I’ll be fine.”

“So come back,” Ash said, “kind of missed you anyway.”

The Remembrance drifted past the horror of the throne room and went into what Poppa Henry had seen in the library. It wasn’t much and nothing of Peter was there, but it showed Syndon as he disappeared, and that must have been enough. After it was watched, everything ended, a white light blinding Ash for a moment until her eyes cleared.

She was back beside the Wicker chair, the SpellMaker to her left—Lady Mist nearby as well. All those who’d been in the spell, the largest group ever, were where they had been before, and Ash could tell—the SpellMaker was spent. She didn’t think he would survive if he had to use that much magic again.

Nawthen left the spot he’d been rooted to. He threw his hands into the air and started to pace. He mumbled something in frustration as Ash did what Lady Mist already was doing. She stared at the SpellMaker—she was sure he’d become so much older than he’d been a few minutes before.

Lady Mist knelt. “Father,” concern was spreading quickly over her face, “you shouldn’t have carried so much of the burden. Why did you prevent me from helping? You even blocked your Attendants from giving all they could.”

The SpellMaker whispered. His voice so low Ash knew only she and Lady Mist could hear. “Your mother used to have that same look on her face,” he said, “if ever I spent hours and hours with my magic instead of with her. Yet I tell you now what I told her then. I am fine. It was for the best. I took most because I had to. I want you fresh. I want all my Attendants fresh for what comes next.”

The SpellMaker patted his daughter on the cheek and turned from her to stare out into the crowd. Nawthen still paced back and forth, his mumblings becoming louder and louder, yet the SpellMaker ignored him as he drank in his people, his Attendants, and the others who took up residence in his home. He saw Carolyn standing with a group that included her father, Queen Eugin, Amalin, Jeth, and Casten. He smiled at Carolyn before he moved on to another Elf in a white robe and did much the same. It was like he was telling everyone goodbye.

“What comes next?” Lady Mist asked.

The SpellMaker rose. Lady Mist instantly got to her feet and gave him an arm for support. Ash, too, put out an elbow, the SpellMaker grabbing onto them both as he arched his back and stretched. “You shall see soon, we shall all see soon,” he said. “It is the last bit of my last dream, and it will be coming in a little while. But first, let us hear from Nawthen, I am sure he has much to say.”

Nawthen whirled. This time the SpellMaker hadn’t kept his voice low, and Nawthen glared.

“Oh,” he said, “I have tons to say.”

He laughed too. It was a cruel chuckle that made Ash’s skin crawl. Unlike Lady Mist and Carolyn, it was clear that here was an Elf who maybe could have kept what he felt in check, yet his anger and a hidden fear was causing him to let go.

When he laughed, it had no foundation, no true memory to make it real. It was just an attempt to give voice to an unexpected passion.

“Watch it!” Eugin scolded. Nawthen looked at her, his terrible laughter ceasing as his head cocked to the side and an eyebrow rose. “Don’t be a fool.”

“How could I be a fool,” Nawthen said, “Remembrances don’t lie, we all said that repeatedly, so it’s true. Prince Ophallo murdered his father. The Errun can bend light whenever they please. And Henry James Ash isn’t the villain we all thought him to be.”

“Then you are prepared to give up your desires about abandoning Penthya?” the SpellMaker asked. “Tell me this is what you’re thinking.”

“Didn’t dream my response,” Nawthen said. “You’ve always wanted us to return to Watch, and you’ve played with the emotions of our Queen by singing your Lyrics so we would think we were safe instead of leaving as I’ve said we should. You’ve made Eugin ignore our advice through your magic, SpellMaker, but I have never fallen for your ways! How are we safe when the Errun have reached into parts of your very home? How are we safe when the nations outside these woods constantly go to war? The Elves need to be for the Elves! Your Remembrance may have cleared Henry Ash, but it does nothing to change my mind!”

Morgan stepped forward. “But,” she said. “Was it not you who argued for us to stay silent?”

Her voice was like Carolyn’s, filled with a touch of delight Ash was entranced by. However, there was a note of nervousness as well, a distant worry that Ash caught. It was almost too vague, but Ash was sure Justice was helping her to spot it.

The sword still knew people. As soon as Ash saw anyone, it guided her so she could size up their strengths, and their weaknesses. Because of it, she had yet another insight. Morgan was apprehensive—a soft breath of discomfort caught in her amazing voice.

And it didn’t go away until Morgan stared back at Yorgeth. It was only when he nodded encouragement that she smiled and relaxed.

“You agreed with those from Watch,” Morgan continued, returning her attention to Nawthen. “Just like them, you kept Yorgeth and me from gathering many so a Remembrance could have been done as soon as we returned from Henry Ash’s world. But now you’ve seen what we saw, now you’ve seen even more. Ophallo killed Denthro—how can that not change everything?”

Nawthen didn’t answer, instead, he slowly shook his head until he finally stopped and stared at Morgan. “And what was Ophallo?”

“An Elf,” Morgan said.

Nawthen shook his head again. “No,” he corrected, “he was half Elf. He was Elf from his mother, yet from his father, he also had the last lingering effects of David Random in his veins. The blood of a Child of Man was inside him, and that proves me right! It was the commingling of the races that turned Ophallo bad! It was the weakness of everything not Elf that warped his mind, and the sooner we get all Elves away from that kind of temptation the better!”

“This is nonsense,” Eugin said, a surprising chorus of approval coming from many at her side.

“Our Queen is right,” Carolyn’s father added.

He was just one more voice, but his words made Nawthen pause. He didn’t look angry anymore. To Ash, Nawthen only looked confused.

“Mythus,” he said, “on the way over here, you were in such agreement with me that…you can’t…”

“I was,” Mythus continued, “but now…our Queen is right. Were not the Elves once mad with emotion, were we not savages, so how can you say that any Child of Man is worse? Emotions plague us all, and finding out that Ophallo is the true villain in our history, it…it changes everything.”

“Mythus,” Nawthen said again, “even on the balcony you were with me. You said that all of Penthya was a danger, how could you ever think different?”

Mythus slowly shook his head. “I can’t ignore what I saw,” he finally said. “Henry Ash isn’t the murderer of Denthro, and if that is the case, if what I thought of as concrete fact is truly wrong, then maybe we should step back and review everything we’ve believed for the past four hundred years. Let’s…let’s just step back.”

“I…it can’t be done,” Nawthen said.

“And why not?” Mythus asked.

The SpellMaker lifted a hand. “I can answer that.” Lady Mist and Ash were still at his side. They stayed with him as he began to walk through the crowd. “It probably isn’t what Nawthen would have said, but I do know a reason why no one can review anything.”

“Why?” everyone seemed to ask at once, Ash even heard the muffled voice of her Poppa Henry chime in before she realized she’d yet to free her mirror from beneath the green shirt she wore. She quickly dug it out.

“Because she is coming,” the SpellMaker said, “she is almost here.”