Ayrella woke with the first rays of sunlight, enjoying the splendid painting of early dawn play out above her. It had been a blissfully dreamless night and the morning was spent in lazy inaction, mostly watching the shifting light and getting reacquainted with her home. Here there were no reminders of Henrich, save the framed drawings, but she still felt his presence with her and wondered if it would always be there.
Mid-morning Ikthar appeared at her door. He didn’t say a word as he was invited in, and settled comfortably in a chair at the table, looking around the room. His face softened a little at the sight of the framed picture, still on the bedside table, then he turned to look at her.
“I am to tell you what we know, so you can best determine how to proceed.” The stiff formality of his words sounded strange to her. Though he often held the role of leader of the Revered, when it was just the two of them she saw a different side. No less powerful, but quieter, and more relaxed — a different kind of strength. That he had let her see that softer side of him had been a part of the special connection between them, and she found wondering if that bond was gone forever. A question she quickly pushed from her mind. The picture he had drawn showed that he recognized her strength, but that did not necessarily mean that he was ready to forgive her for leaving.
Ayrella sat, looking at him across the table with clear eyes, trying to show the determination she had to complete this task. “Then, tell me.”
Ikthar nodded, spreading his hands out on the table in a moment of pause as he gathered his words together.
“There are three, we believe, who together are vital to stopping this….” He stopped, furrowing his brow, “We do not know, exactly, what it is we are facing. We have seen something spreading through the lands, festering. It is holding tight and we are losing our sight of the Realms.”
“They are being shaded?” The very thought seemed impossible, she had never known a time when they could not see into the Realms.
“It is drawing out the very soul of the land.” His hushed words settled over the room like a dark cloud. It was not that Ayrella had doubted the seriousness of the situation before, it had been clear that a great power was at work. She had felt it in the shifting winds, in the rumblings of battles along the borders, and the strange shifts in weather. Even within the small view of the realms that she had during her life in Kirshenelle, before Henrich’s death, she had seen that something was brewing. But something powerful enough to overshadow the Realms and draw away their souls… the very thought cause a chill to run through her.
“I cannot fight it,” the silence was broken with Ikthar’s words of frustration. “I cannot see what it is gaining. Kisha cannot get a sense of it. We can only see that it is sucking away at the land, causing strife and unrest. It is churning the weather, fighting the very Skies and taking control.”
“It…” The lost expression on Ikthar’s face was almost as frightening as the idea of something attacking the Realms. Ayrella found herself uncertain and longed to say or do something that would help. “And, what do we know of these three… the ones who are supposed to help with this?”
Ikthar shook his head slightly, but the lost look faded behind a far more familiar stone-set expression of determination, “very little. They, too, are clouded from us. Though, not as completely.” Ikthar seemed to consider her for a moment and then stood, pacing around the small room. Ayrella couldn’t help but smile, realizing that Ikthar and Henrich had the same habit of pacing when they had something they wished to share but were uncertain in the sharing of it. She let him pace in silence, watching as he seemed to get lost in his thoughts, unraveling them to find the right ways to put it all in words.
“Tell me.” She spoke softly, not wanting to jar him. He seemed to return to the room at the sound of her voice and looked at her another long moment before speaking.
“Kisha and I have seen some of these three. The others, they are only able to get the vaguest sense.”
“And what have you seen?” Gently. Ikthar closed his eyes a moment, leaning against the counter.
“Three. All young woman, interestingly enough. All with their own strengths and abilities… but none of them, I think, know what it is they can do.” He sighed, “and neither of us have been able to understand the message of the Skies, the fragmented dreams and passing visions.”
Ayrella looked up to the sky and gave a sigh of her own. “Perhaps, if this thing is so powerful, even the Skies are uncertain.” Ikthar opened his eyes, looking at her with some surprise and the slightest smile.
“Sit down,” she found a surge of confidence arriving with this realization. It should not be a comfort to think that even the Skies did not know what was happening, but strangely it was. “Let me make you some of this Lisonar Tea that Orpin gave me, and you can tell me of the fragments you have seen.”
Ikthar sat as Ayrella started the tea. Lisonar had always been Ikthar’s favorite tea, when the winds turned chilly they would sit for hours over endless cups of the semi-sweet beverage, their conversations flowing freely. And something in this familiar action, as Ayrella boiled the water and began to brew the leaves, seemed to help wrest Ikthar from his uncertainty. He spoke of the blurry visions, words, and music that he did not know how to interpret. He shared what Kisha had seen and heard, equally uncertain fragments. Ayrella took it all in, adding it to the swirl in her mind, knowing that it was unlikely a clear understanding would come quickly. Eventually the tea was gone and Ikthar had shared all he could.
Ayrella sat with the swirl for a few moments before beginning to clear the table, knowing that sometimes movement helped the thoughts to settle and find their proper place. But they continued to swirl, overwhelmingly so, as she stood by the counter with the table half cleared. She needed to think, to be alone with the information and see what she could find.
“Thank you,” she began, looking to her brother, “I will take this all in. I will search for what I can find in it, what I can learn.” She wished that she could have more certainty in her voice, but everything seemed too far from certain for that. Ikthar did not respond right away, but stood to bring the remaining dishes from the table.
“I will leave you then, to sort it all.” Again there was a stiff formality creeping into his tone.
“Ikthar…” She hesitated, looking away from him and to the pile of dishes, as though they contained something of great interest, uncertain how he would respond to what she needed to request of him. “Will you grant me the strength I need to do this? The strength to be here once more, and to undertake this role?”
There was long silence in response and eventually Ayrella brought herself to look at him. He was watching her with a blank expression and she felt a moments fear that he would deny her that aid. He matched her gaze for a moment.
“Dear Rella,” his words came in little more than a whisper, “you don’t need any strength from me — you carry more than enough of that on your own.”
“But, will you still lend me some of yours?” She found her voice shaking as she asked it, and Ikthar did not hesitate for a moment, reaching to embrace her in a hug, which she thankfully leaned into. She could feel a lightness surround her, as Ikthar helped to lift the weights from her shoulders. Henrich’s death, her return to the Horizon Lands, the decision to leave in the first place, this new journey she must undertake — all these things that weighed so heavy on her, shared at least momentarily. Ikthar held her tight as more than a few tears escaped from her eyes, and she realized just how much she had been holding in. Just as those old farmers had known just what to do and say in her early moments of grief, Ikthar knew that she needed not words, but the knowledge that she was not going to be facing this journey alone. To know that, while she may have strength that was needed, he would be willing to occasionally help lift the burden.
“All of us will do what we can,” Ikthar said as they broke from the hug, “it is the future of our own beings at stake. And even more importantly, the safety of these Realms we have sworn to protect and serve. I know you understand the importance of this, that you do not require me to tell you more, but I… and the others… are here to lend you whatever aid you may need.” Ayrella nodded, wiping away the last of the tears and gathering herself.
“I will listen to the winds and, somehow, find these three and help them on their journey.”
After Ikthar left Ayrella found herself venturing out to the lands around the city, settling on the soft grass on one of the peaks, looking out over the distant sky and waters. With deep, centering breaths she tried to relax back onto the grass, looking to the Skies, in search of what she needed to see in the drifting winds.