In the months after the demon breech, many things changed in the School. Nexus itself was hardly affected, though people had seen the towering circle of darkness and some had heard the screams from inside. Fewer still saw and none remembered the Army of Heaven that had rose to save the city, for there were many Gods in the employ of Heaven and it was in everyone's best interest that no one knew what had almost happened.
Efforts were underway to right the Tower of the Council of Entities, a task that was expected to be done by the next Calibration. The riots of the spring were a dim memory but everywhere tension was higher than it had been, as the city was slowly coming to realize that their Age was changing. A woman named Harmonious Jade was banished from the city, though not many understood the significance or what had happened.
For the Six Poses of Lightning School of Magic, the future was uncertain. Most of the student body had been preserved, thanks to the swift efforts of its faculty. Some of the Hardened Killers had been taken prisoner, having lost spirit at the death of their Abyssal teacher. Still, many children had died, the Founder of the School was gone, and no Sidereal cover-up could entirely remove the scandal of what had occurred.
Many miles to the east, the body of Final Starry Night sat in study. Captive Smile, the woman who had taken his life, had been frightened for months that the White Dragon would come back and kill her. In that time, she'd come to realize that her whole life had been one lived in fear...and that she now had the money and the time to consider alternatives. The Captive Smile who had been a prostitute had a long way to go, but in time the new Final Starry Night might turn out to be a good man, capable of managing his estate well.
Some distance to the north, the ghost of Secret Glory in Abjection prostrated itself before the Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears. His apology was clever, profound and sincere. The Lover took him to her bed that night and, as he survived until morning, he was clearly forgiven. His heart ached for the loss of his beloved Rainblown but he found himself often thinking of the White Dragon, Solitary Coil, and what became of her.
And in the rural outskirts of Xi'arna, a nation to the southeast of Nexus forged by the power of a Solar, Xilanada and Sen honeymooned in quiet solitude.
They had been here for several weeks up in a magnificent cottage that Final Starry Night had secreted away during the height of his power. The nearest settlement was fifty miles and no one from there traveled this far East. It was a quiet time, full of days spent in conversation and silence.
E'lial, Chosen of Battles, approached the cottage on foot from some miles away. He wore the Sword of Creation, the Daylight Deliverer, tucked into his coat but he came unarmored and he came smiling. And he did not seem especially surprised when he was stopped by a bird who became a woman.
Solitary Coil frowned at him and wondered what trickery he and his kind were up to now.
"Ah, Solitary Coil. Of course." E'lial paused, his mouth half open. "Actually, there is no 'of course' about it. I'm honestly surprised you're here. Of anyone, you would be the last I would expect to find near the newlyweds."
"You do not understand me." Solitary Coil smirked at him. "As your kind has never understood us. What business is it of yours where I am? What business do you have here?"
"Nothing much. Just a small offer." He smiled winningly. "I have a friend named Venerable Silk who would has some...contract, now and then, with other Solar. He'd like Xilanada to teach them Sorcery. In exchange, well, the School could certainly use another line of credit given what's happened. Unless they are moving on?"
"No," Coil said.
"Yes, I thought as much. She might fancy the offer then. Up to her, take it or leave it. Obviously you've been keeping an eye on things. How is everyone?"
"Everyone?" Coil asked.
"Oh, you know. Ava. How'd she turn out with the demon thing?"
"The Ravishment on her soul is abated," Solitary Coil said. "As much as it can be. Her hair, her eyes...those things may be concealed with Sorcery but they cannot be undone as yet. I believe she is spending the summer investigating what has fully happened to her. Ask her yourself."
"Figured that. How's Glee? Seya?"
"Busy repairing the School. Stop wasting my time, Sidereal."
"Of course, of course." E'lial stretched his shoulders and looked about. "How was the wedding?"
"You were there. Are you truly this dim?"
"And how are you, Coil? What comes now?" E'lial's crimson eyes met hers and she couldn't hold them. She lacked the surety of the future to stand up against his piercing gaze.
"I don't know," she said truthfully.
"Your whole future has been turned upside down. Your husband became your wife and then married another entirely. It's not really your fault but you two are too different to be a couple anymore. You respect the man she's marrying but don't especially like him."
"Seer of the present and future," Coil growled, wrinkling her nose at him. "What do you want from me?"
"To give you a taste of what's coming." E'lial leaned against a tree and rubbed his heel with his other boot. The bright yellow boots were unmarked with dirt, despite the dusty day. "You stay because you love her. You stay because you're still giving serious thought to Xilanada's offer, to join her and Sen so that you and she can be together. That would be bad. Sen's going to give her a son in the next two years and it will be ugly. You'll wind up pregnant too and it will be even more ugly. Don't do that."
"I have no reason to trust what you say." Solitary Coil nonetheless felt tendrils of fear and horror at having her innermost thoughts and feelings exposed before this man.
"No, you don't. But you'd be a fool to ignore it and you are not a fool, Solitary Coil." E'lial smiled again. "You're one of the smartest Lunar I know. That's why I'm offering you a choice."
"To do what?"
"To know your future in advance and do things differently. I won't rule out a future with you and the two of them. Sen's not going to live forever anyway and there are some possibilities where you and Xilanada will remarry. Why not make good use of the time you have? Why not use it to do some of the things you always wanted to?"
"I have no desire to 'see the world'," Solitary Coil said scornfully. "There is no man or woman who catches my eye. I have no desire to form my own barbarian tribe or live as my fellows do."
"Well, there's always more First Age ruins. I hear Rathess has been opened up recently." E'lial looked at her steadily. "Or you can begin chasing your dream. Your real dream, the one hidden away in your heart that Final Starry Night distracted you from."
"Freeing my people," Solitary Coil said, almost in a whisper.
"Why not? You know a great deal more than you did the last time you tried. And you have far better credentials than before. Think of it, Solitary Coil. Some of the Gods who might give you help didn't trust you last time because of the Dune People and their close ties with Erembour. But you're the Dune Woman who stood against That Which Calls to the Shadows. That's a reputation no other Dune Person has ever had. Use it."
"And they will be safe while I'm gone?" Solitary Coil asked. She felt anguish, both at the thought of leaving her wife unprotected and that she needed the woman so much still. Parts of her didn't trust this red-eyed Star Child. But he had fought beside them. Blood told much.
"As safe as they can be in this world. There are no easy times for any of you ahead. But, for at least a little while, Xilanada and Sen will be at peace. And happy."
"Good," Solitary Coil said. She looked behind her, up at the cottage at the top of the hill. Her wife was married to another. They would have a child soon. She had no place here, hadn't ever really had a place here. "Go on and give your proposal to them. I won't be here when you get back."
"But maybe you'd like to."
Solitary Coil raised both eyebrows at the remark. She sized up the Sidereal who was giving her a very warming grin. "You wish to travel with me?"
"I haven't been to the South in a long time," E'lial said. "Certainly not in the company of a becoming woman. Who knows? You might find the distraction on the road will take your mind off your troubles."
"I'll think about it."
E'lial strode up the hill with a jaunty stride that made Coil snicker. It was rare to find a man with the self-confidence to look the fool by choice. Rarer still to find one so capable in battle, as he had proved himself to be against the demons.
Solitary Coil watched the Sidereal go and sighed. It was time to go. Her people needed her, had needed her for years. Thanks to her time with Final Starry Night, she knew a great deal more about Sorcery than she had before. Maybe this time she could cure them.
Maybe she'd find a salve for her own heart in the doing.
She almost turned back into a bird to fly the trip when she remembered E'lial. So the silly Sidereal wanted to go with? Well, maybe he would be good company, come to think of it. She could pick Star knowledge from his brain and possibly have someone to warm her bed in the meantime. Did she really want company, though?
Solitary Coil took the time to think about it. Much to her surprise, she was still there when E'lial got back. And much to E'lial's professed surprise later, traveling with her proved to be far more eventful than even he bargained for.
: There are those who would note that sometimes, sometimes, you get the things you really need instead of the things you deserve.Kailan
: If people only ever got what they deserved, the world would be a more miserable place.My Novels
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