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PostPosted: Mon Oct 13, 2014 11:48 am 
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The World at Dawn
by Tevish Szat
Status: Public :diamond:


Larasa Farleth sat in the tall grass, watching the sun rise for the first time in her life. She didn’t know where she was, but she did know she liked it. Beside her was Morgan – she still held the hand of the strange boy who had appeared beside her in the field. He was about her age, she guessed, perhaps a little older. She remembered her fall, sensing a presence in that howling dark, reaching out, and holding on for dear life. She guessed he had felt something very similar.

The wonder of the world before Larasa did not fade as the sun, for it could be nothing less, cleared the horizon and cast the sky in a bright azure attended by wisps of pale white-grey cloud. However, Larasa was weary deep in her bones, weary enough that she would spend at least part of her first day in the light asleep.

“Morgan?” she asked.

“Yes?”

“I’m very tired.” She said. “I think I could rest a little, despite the light. Would you mind very much if you waited for me to wake up before moving on?”

Part of Larasa hadn’t wanted to ask that. If Morgan left, she would be alone in this strange, new world. But she had been alone in a strange and new world when she left the Fortress, and this one seemed far less threatening. All the same, it couldn’t hurt to travel alongside another person, and she had rather missed company.

“To tell the truth.” He said, “I thought I might ask you the same. So I won’t leave without you if you’ll give me the same courtesy.”

Larasa nodded, laid back, and tried to hide her eyes.

When she awoke, the sun was high in the sky, a little towards the other side from where it rose. Shortly after she began to stand, Morgan did too. He dusted himself off, and picked up a faintly glowing crystal like the powerstones that lit the vinebeds of the fortress and slid it into a pocket.

“I wonder what happened to us.” He said quietly.

“I don’t know.” Larasa replied. “I feel… like we traveled, and I feel like I could do it again, but I don’t want to. What do you think?”

“I got the same impression.” Morgan said, “But I don’t know if this is another place – somewhere that’s not Taramir – or if we traveled in time instead. I’d guess the former, but I can’t know.”

“Wherever or whenever we are,” Larasa said, “I’m kind of curious if there’s anyone else here.”

The fields extended around the two of them for quite some distance. They felt of the wilderness even if the mana that echoed in them was not the sort Larasa herself was comfortable with. In the distance, she could see what she guessed were real trees on two horizons, one way still in flat ground and the other rising up towards tall mountains crowned with white. Nowhere was the silhouette of anything like the Grand Fortress, no tall spires of stone, nor sheer walls to be seen.

“Well,” Morgan said, “We’re probably not going to find out by loitering here.”

He extended his hand to her, and, hesitantly, she took it. Morgan turned slightly and they began to walk towards the trees, and very slightly towards the mountains.

“So,” Larasa said after a lengthy time, “Were you from the Terraces back home, or lower down?”

“Neither.” Morgan replied, “I’m not from the Fortress.”

“There were other people out there?!” Larasa gasped. Even in her wildest dreams, she hadn’t imagined that. Always they said that the Grand Fortress was all that had survived the Last Dawn, sealed safely behind its walls, safe from the terrible monsters that lurked in the eternal darkness. Larasa had questioned some of that, questioned how isolated they stayed, questioned the idea no one could survive outside the Wards… but she had never questioned that they were the last humans on Taramir.

“There weren’t many.” Morgan replied

“But still,” Larasa said, “I don’t know if you know, but everyone in the Fortress thought it was death to be in the outside world.”

“Well,” Morgan replied, “I’m betting you didn’t.”

“I thought I could handle it.” Larasa replied, “And I did. I don’t even remember exactly how long I was out there. So, where you were from, what was that like?”

Morgan hesitated, and looked away from Larasa.

“Did you ever hear, in the Fortress, of the Lorekeepers of Voor.”

Larasa thought about it. The name stirred some dull recollection of stories whispered in the dark hours when the bulk of the Fortress was quiet, the fires burned low, and good children ought to be asleep. It evoked in her a sort of unease, one she desperately did not want to attach to her sole companion in this time and place.

“I think so.” She said, “But I can’t remember if they were supposed to be gods, or demons, or something else.”

“Just men.” Morgan said with a heavy sigh, “Though it doesn’t amaze me to know that other folk would think them something else. The lorekeepers are – were – an order of wizards and sages, dedicated to knowledge for its own sake. Sworn never to interfere, only to watch. By the Last Dawn, they didn’t even go out into the world, save to take infants to raise as their apprentices.”

Larasa drifted away from Morgan, unnerved by the implications of what he was saying.

“So,” she said, “You’re… one of these Lorekeepers?”

Morgan nodded, his countenance expressing sadness at the admission.

“The last one there is.” He said, “And I think from being here with you, the last one there will ever be. To be honest, I hated it. Not the knowledge, the… indolence. We watched the world through scrying glasses, set down its events in tomes no one outside would ever read. It was futile – meaningless!”

“What happened?” Larasa asked, fearful.

Morgan’s brief flash of temper faded. “When my master died, I knew what I had to do. I was the last Lorekeeper, so if all our knowledge was to mean anything, I had to give it meaning myself. I remembered something I had seen not long before, in the great, black mirror that reflected the Grand Fortress from the outside – a tiny point of light, gliding out to the north, as wings of flame.”

Larasa’s mouth hung open. That had been her! Morgan… did he know? Had he planned it this way? Yet the way he spoke was strangely comforting when the words should have been frightful.

“I thought it was stupid, hoping I’d ever find another person out in the darkness, but I had to try.”

Larasa: “I… This person, did you see them clearly?”

“No,” Morgan said, “But I know whoever could do that is braver than I ever was, because that person took the first step, from a place of fear and ignorance, into the unknown.” He looked to her, “And she’s walking right beside me, isn’t she?”

Larasa nervously scratched her head, shrugged, and avoided Morgan’s gaze a moment.

“Yeah,” she said, “But I don’t think I was really brave. I mean, I… we’re a lot alike. I was tired of everyone being scared, I wanted to do something! And yeah, I didn’t know anything about that world out there, but I’m not sure that’s good.”

“Well,” Morgan said, “I have to say I’m glad I’ve met you.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because this world we’re in now… I probably know less about it than you did about the dark of Taramir, and that terrifies me. It’s open, and bright, and it’s wonderful. I want to understand it, but part of me wants to run and hide somewhere else, somewhere familiar and dark, even if that’s bad.”

He sighed.

“But I’m not going to, because I know I don’t have to do it all alone. Somehow, that helps.”

After a brief pause, Larasa spoke.

“You know,” she said, “That’s kind of backwards.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah,” Larasa replied, a faint smirk crossing her face, “I’m supposed to be lonely and afraid and you’re supposed to protect me.”

Morgan only looked confused.

“Why would that be.”

“Well,” Larasa said, “Because you’re a boy!”

Morgan stammered slightly, and his cheeks flushed, “Well, um… if you like, I do know a little protective magic, and –“

Larasa laughed, “Relax,” she said, “I don’t need it. That’s just how it always worked in the stories the old-timers told. But I guess those are the stories that said the Lorekeepers were monsters, not cute boys.”

As Larasa predicted, Morgan’s entire face turned red. Well, that settled it – Last Lorekeeper of Voor or no, he was nothing to be scared of.

“Well,” she said, noticing he had stopped in his tracks, “We want to reach that… tree place. Forest, right? Let’s get going.”

Larasa took a step forward, then turned and held out her hand to Morgan. Sheepishly, he took it, and they walked onward through the bright, new world.

***

In the evening, Morgan and Larasa stopped by a river that flowed down from the mountains. In that time, they had talked here and there of little things, and Morgan had gotten a better feeling for his companion: she was intelligent and spirited, as well as stubborn, and seemed to respond to her own discomfort by making him uncomfortable as well, which might have been a source of frustration or annoyance if she were not so good-humored about it. She was also, of course, a girl – and by Morgan’s estimation, little though he had to compare to, pretty. That much was quite distracting.

All the same, Morgan had taken the time to observe the world around them. There was plant life in abundance, of course, but he also noticed animal life here and there: there were small insects, both flying and crawling, that came occasionally into sight and the chirping of small birds, or their shadow passing overhead. Once they had reached the first trees, Morgan occasionally gained glimpses of small, furred creatures darting amidst the branches.

What Morgan had not seen was any sign of intelligent life. The plains were a vast and empty carpet of wild grasses, the forest tangled and covered in a carpet of fallen leaves, moss, and lichen. This land had not been cleared nor trails run through it by human hands, and the wood itself he felt had never known fire nor axe, for while Morgan had never seen a tree with his own eyes, he knew well their descriptions and classifications from tomes of ages past.

That was, at least, until the river. There, he and Larasa had stopped, and drank their fill of the cool water (fortunate, for Morgan had lost the enchanted jug he had taken from the University out on Stalker’s Fell), and washed their hands and faces of the dust of Taramir. And there, Morgan had found a piece of driftwood along the shore that was not like any other.

There, washed up by the waters of the stream, was a broken sort of wooden flute. It was cracked down the middle, and Morgan guessed as he picked it up and turned it over in his hands, that the damage was why someone had thrown it away – for that is what must have happened, deliberately or not. Someone had made this thing, that much was sure, and as Morgan examined carefully the tool marks that defined its contours, Larasa noticed what he was doing.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Evidence.” Morgan said, “We’re not alone. Someone else is here, or at least was by before.”

He held out the flute to her.

“A cousin of mine played something like this.” She said, “But hers was metal.”

“I think,” Morgan said, “If we want to find whoever made that, our best bet would be to head upstream from here. Maybe there’s a town somewhere.”

Even as he said it, Morgan wasn’t sure. It’s possible that the flute, such as it was, was abandoned a long time ago, and no living habitation now existed. Still, it was something new.

“All right,” Larasa said, “That’s just what we’ll do.”

She sat down. “But not right now. I’m not exactly tired, but it’ll be hard to sleep with the sun up when we’re not dead tired, so we’d better get used to doing it this way.”

Morgan couldn’t see himself disagreeing, and lowered himself to the ground as well.

In the night – bright though it was with countless stars and a large moon, Morgan awoke. He was not sure at first why, but he had been sleeping fitfully to begin with.

Then Morgan noticed, past a few trees, a pair of yellow eyes that almost seemed to glow from the moonlight and starlight that shone off them.

Morgan stood slowly, and as he did tried to rouse Larasa from her slumber. The creature stepped closer, revealing gleaming fangs, grey fur, a long muzzle – Morgan thought it was a wolf, but he could not be entirely sure.

Beside him, Larasa stood. Morgan found himself inching towards the creature, brandishing the broken flute as though it were a weapon. Most natural animals, he had read, feared humans, and would back down or run off if challenged.

This wolf, it seemed, was not most animals, and sprang forward.

Morgan swung his fist at the creature, but missed cleanly. Its jaws came down on his forearm, and though his coat and the long sleeves underneath likely fouled its bite somewhat, he winced in pain as the fangs tore at his flesh

As the weight and force of the beast bore him back, and to the ground, a flash of fire streaked across his vision, striking the wolf in its midsection. At once the creature released its jaws, and yowled in pain. When Morgan fell back away from it and it once again had all four legs upon the ground, the wolf dashed back into the forest, the last glimmers of ember-streaked fur disappearing from view very shortly.

“Morgan?” Larasa called, immediately kneeling beside him, “are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” he lied reflexively. He cradled his injured arm against his chest and hoped irrationally that Larasa would not see.

For a moment, she relaxed, and then her eyes wandered downward.

“No you’re not.” She said, “You’re bleeding!”

Morgan gritted his teeth. “I don’t think it’s bad.” He said, in his mind cursing the fact that he hadn’t bothered to really study healing magic.

“Here,” Larasa said, putting a hand on his shoulder, “Let me help you.” She pulled at the collar of his coat, and laboriously, Morgan shed it, revealing the wound. Larasa frowned at it, and tore away the sleeve of his shirt below the elbow.

It really didn’t look too bad, Morgan thought, but it was worse than he initially hoped. Larasa following close to him, Morgan went to the river and dipped his wounded arm in, washing out the wound but leaving thin, red streams in the flow from the punctures that still oozed blood.

Wordlessly, Larasa wrapped the torn cloth around the wound as soon as he lifted his arm back out.

“Thank you.” Morgan said.

“I’m no doctor.” Larasa replied, “I hope there’s someone who can do better for you upstream.”

Morgan forced himself to smile. “You shouldn’t worry about me,” he said, “I’ll be fine.”

He wasn’t sure of that, but if he wasn’t there was little more either he or Larasa could do about it.

***

The day after the attack, the road lead upstream. It was not a trek Larasa was entirely comfortable with – Morgan tried to pretend that the bite was nothing to be concerned about, and perhaps he was more right than she feared, but all the same she couldn’t keep herself from worrying for the boy she had fallen to this place or time hand in hand with.

After midday, the river had come up against the craggy face of a mountain, and there split into two different paths up stream: one along the floor of the valley, and the other cascading down from unseen heights above. Larasa, leading the way, would have followed the valley route, for while she could not see far through the trees she could not imagine it to be a harder road.

However, as they took a rest and availed themselves of water and what little food remained to them, Morgan noticed that the face of the mountain was not entirely natural stone. There was, in fact, a weathered flight of steps leading up from near where the smaller, mountain stream flowed down to the valley floor. At a glance, they might have been natural, irregular as they were, but Larasa could not deny that the spacing, the height, and the apparent progress upwards they would lead to was more like the innards of the Fortress than anything nature shaped.

Morgan, for his part, suggested going upwards despite his unfitness for the task should it turn into a climb, and Larasa for her part could not deny that she would prefer to reach civilization sooner rather than later.

Up they went, climbing the steps carved into the mountain for the remainder of the day. When the sun began to set and the way grew dark, Larasa pushed aside the stone, forming a shallow cave in the mountainside. There, she and Morgan set themselves to rest. At Larasa’s insistence, the makeshift bandage, bloodstained as it was, was unwrapped from Morgan’s arm. It didn’t necessarily look bad, but neither was it much better, and she tied it back around as before.

Morgan looked away from her.

“You know,” he said, “if I’m slowing you down you… you don’t have to wait up for me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate traveling with you, I mean you’ve been better company the past few days than I’ve really had in my life, but-“

“Stop.” Larasa said with a sigh.

“Larasa-“

“Just stop.” She said, “I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere, and even if I was, I’m not going to just leave you.”

The words rang a little hollow in Larasa’s own ears. Didn’t she ‘just leave’ everyone in the Fortress, everyone she had really known? She had meant to go back, of course, but that didn’t change the fact that she’d left in the first place. And now? Larasa didn’t know if she could go back, though she doubted it, and more than that wasn’t sure that she’d want to even if she could. Would Morgan be any different just because she said so?

Morgan smiled.

“Thank you,” he said, “I’m glad.”

Larasa looked out of their small shelter, to the slowly darkening sky and sighed. The sooner she could stop dwelling on more serious matters, the better.

“I’ve gotten that there weren’t a lot of people around where you were,” she said, “But there must have been a few, you know?”

Morgan looked confused, and Larasa continued.

“I mean, other people your age – our age – that you were around.” Larasa had been hoping to lighten the mood, but the bafflement on Morgan’s face meant she was floundering instead, “Like… well, I mean did you have a girlfriend or anything? Not that I – well, I’m just curious, I don’t know how people do things outside the fortress, and…”

Then Morgan laughed. “I guess I didn’t exactly say it was just me and my master there, but it was. The closest I’ve had to a girlfriend would be reading through histories and dreaming how it might have been to meet Rasilla of Efaruna or Tala of Tolkas. Before you, I never even met a real, living girl.”

Larasa looked away. “That must have been terribly lonely.”

Morgan sighed. “Not as much as you might think.” He said, “I guess I might have been made for it, really. When I didn’t have duties eating up my time, watching the world and recording what I saw, I had countless tomes of histories to read, and in them all the joys, tragedies, triumphs, and failures of humanity past. I didn’t really want for the company of the living.”

He took her hand.

“Though, having it, I don’t know if I could go back.”

“Well,” Larasa said with a slight, uncomfortable laugh, “I’m not sure it’s all that great.” She said, “I mean, I was around plenty of people, but it’s not like many of them cared, or I cared about many of them.”

“Really?” Morgan asked, “Well, I suppose I’ll return your question. Was there anyone you left behind?”

“Not really.” Larasa admitted, “There are some people I’d like to see again, but no one… really special, if that’s what you’re asking.”

She took a deep breath and let it out. The conversation hadn’t calmed her nerves as much as she’d hoped.

“Well,” she said, “The past is in the past anyway. Right now, we need to worry about finding whoever lives here, and seeing if they can patch you up.”

Larasa placed her free hand on Morgan’s shoulder.

“Lay down.” She said, “We’ll need some rest.”

The next day, their trek up the stairs continued, but as they curved around the face of the mountain their goal came into view. Higher up there was a series of pagodas and gardens, undoubtedly inhabited and equally as certainly the destination of their climb. The sight alone gave Larasa a second wind and seemed to do the same for Morgan.

Around mid morning, they reached a landing, a paved courtyard with a blossoming tree in the center, surrounded by a low wall. There were other people there, and one – an older man with a shaved bald head and massive, black beard approached.

“Greetings.” He said, “I am Kaen. And you?”

“I am Morgan.” He replied, “Lorekeeper of Voor. This is Larasa of the Grand Fortress.”

“I welcome you to our enclave,” Kaen said, “Planeswalkers.”

***

“Planeswalkers?” Morgan asked. There was, in the back of his mind, some dull recognition of the term, but it was just a word, found free of context in the fading records of Lorekeepers past, summaries of past texts whose authors assumed that everyone would know what they meant.

“Forgive me if I am wrong,” Kaen said, “But you do not look like any folk of this world, so I assume you have come from outside.”

“Maybe.” Larasa said, “We don’t know, actually, but I guess so?”

“Perhaps,” Morgan said, “If you told us more about your world.”

“Ah,” said Kaen, “an inquisitive mind. That is good. We have maintained a long and storied-“

Larasa cleared her throat.

“In case you didn’t notice,” she said, “My companion was hurt on the way here. Perhaps you could help him before starting anything long?”

Kaen nodded. “Of course. Follow me.”

Kaen led through several courtyards, across high-arching bridges that spanned small clefts in the stone, until he slid open the paper doors of one of the smaller buildings. There, an older woman sat at a pale, wooden desk, reading a book.

“Yes?” she said before looking up, and when she did continued “Visitors, I see.”

“Planeswalkers, I believe.” Kaen replied.

“So young,” the woman replied, “And not making too many waves if they’re just standing here. Not like the records.”

“I have read them more closely than you, Hyna, but in any case this young man is hurt.”

“Well,” Hyna said, “Let me see.”

Morgan stepped forward, and rolled up the sleeve of his coat, bringing the makeshift bandage to light. Hyna sighed heavily and opened a drawer of the desk full of tools and bottles.

“Wolf bite, by the looks of it.” She grumbled after cutting away the bandage, “be glad I’m good at what I do, stranger.”

At this, she lifted one of the bottles and opened it, setting the stopper aside, and slowly poured from it onto the open wound. The liquid was white, thick as syrup, and faintly warm. Where it touched flesh, it seemed to be absorbed immediately. Quietly, Hyna counted to herself, pouring a rough measure over each puncture.

“There,” she said, “That should mend it in a day or two, and when it doesn’t scar you can thank my healing salves.” She put the bottle aside, replaced the stopper, and then withdrew a strip of linen cloth to bandage the now somewhat numb area. “Whatever you do, stranger, don’t pick at it.”

“I won’t.” Morgan said, and turned back to Larasa and Kaen.

“If you will permit it,” Kaen said, “I would like to present you to the other masters.

“I’d like that.” Morgan replied

“Do you think you could answer a few questions along the way?” Larasa asked

Kaen nodded, and motioned for the two of them to once again follow him through the terraces and courtyards of the enclave.

“So,” Larasa began, “What’s a Planeswalker?”

“As best as I can understand,” Kaen replied, “One who is capable of leaving one world for another.”

“Well,” Morgan said, “I’m not sure if we can do that whenever we want, but if this isn’t Taramir, we have come from another world.”

“This world is called Shang Rasoul.” Kaen replied, “And so far I know has borne no other name. I take it Taramir is not much different.”

“It wasn’t, once,” said Morgan, “thank you.”

“So,” Larasa said, “What did that woman mean about us not being like the records?”

“Well,” Kaen said, “According to our records, at least two Planeswalkers have visited Shang Rasoul before. One was a destroyer who drove the great kingdoms of our world to self-destruction. The other was a teacher who lead many of the survivors to this place. He taught us of magic, and color, and then departed when the monastery was constructed.”

Morgan thought for a moment.

“How long ago was this?” he asked.

“According to the Records, it has been nearly eight centuries since the downfall of the old world and the founding”

And, Morgan realized, under the right or wrong conditions that would be quite long enough for the works of man, at least any less impressive than the Grand Fortress, to be ground to dust.

“Are you the only people left?” Larasa asked

“There must be others.” Kaen replied, “for now and again someone finds their way up the steps, though most who do are little better than animals at first. The lowlanders are progressing, most of us feel, but we lack the resources to truly uplift them, or even determine what we would need.”

“Here we are.” Kaen said. The building they had reached was large and made of stone, its doors of ornate wood painted red and gold. Once inside, they were asked to wait, and seated on a low bench. Kaen went deeper into the halls of the structure, and soon returned with several other men and women his own age or older, presumably the masters of the mountaintop retreat.

One man, with narrow, white beard that reached his navel, stepped forward.

“Well,” he said, “they certainly don’t look like lowlanders.”

“We aren’t” Larasa said.

“Nor do they sound like them. But are they Planeswalkers, or something else?”

“We don’t know.” Morgan replied, “Until today, we didn’t even know the word Planeswalker. But I do know that we would like to learn more about what we may be, and the world we are now in.”

“Well,” said the old master, “You are in a place of learning, so it is only right you should wish to learn. I do take it both of you are decided?”

He looked pointedly at Larasa

“We are.” She said firmly.

“Then,” he said, “Your education will begin at once.”

***

After arriving in the monastery, days began to blend together, so Larasa could not rightly tell even with the passage of the sun to count by just how long she had been upon Shang Rasoul. At first, she and Morgan had been brought to many different sorts of classes: those intended to train the body, those intended to train the mind, those in the magic that both she and Morgan possessed, and those whose purpose Larasa could not rightly say she understood, though she did her best to follow the direction given in any case.

As in the Grand Fortress, the learning was interwoven with work – nothing was free, and they earned their meals, their education, and new and mended clothes tacitly by the tasks they performed.

Slowly, the lessons Larasa attended developed a pattern. In the morning she awoke, dressed herself, and knew where to go and what sorts of things she would be doing, to the point where she soon did not need to be told what her schedule was and led from place to place. Mostly, she spent her time in the training yards and terraces of the mountainside, learning more of the magic she wielded and something of what she thought was how to fight. Her training involved drawing and purifying water which helped to give the monastery drink, conjuring flames that heated hearths or forges, shaping stone to repair broken steps and slowly beginning to carve a new landing, and working the breeze that happened to drive a small wind mill. Larasa saw this, but she did not resent it.

What she did resent was how she was coming to see Morgan less and less. While she was conjuring and shaping the elements, the masters had placed him in the library, there to copy scrolls and presumably gain something of value from reading them as he did, and his magic lessons focused on what he was already best at, spellcraft that had nothing to do with Larasa’s own.

It made sense, but at the same time it stung. He was the only person on Shang Rasoul who really seemed to understand her – she tried to talk with her peers and teachers from time to time, like a person, but they knew nothing of the darkness she had seen. There were things she didn’t dare to say, and more she did that fell on deaf ears.

At least time generally permitted them to take their meals together, and have some little time to themselves in the later reaches of the evening. They had fallen to this world together, and something made Larasa feel that they needed to stay together. Even aside from that… he listened well, and never treated her like a fool as so many in the Fortress did, as her instructors here struggled to not. Morgan, the last of that dreaded cabal of the Lorekeepers, was kind and soft in a way Larasa had never seen, but with a conviction deep inside that gave her hope.

One evening, the two of them paused at a low wall, overlooking the lowlands on the far side of the mountain from the one they had approached what now felt like so long ago. Larasa looked over those lands, flowing with green and brightly illuminated in white-blue by the light of the moon, and stirrings of memories filled her. For a moment, she thought she could see Taramir from the heights of the Grandfortress, the ashen wastes in black and dark grey, illuminated only by the incandescent glow of the volcanic Crumbling Mountains. Once, before she even knew its name, she had thought Shang Rasoul a paradise, and had wondered much when Morgan said it frightened him more than the long dark of Taramir.

Now, though, there was a dull fear of those deep green valleys and bright plains in Larasa as well. They were beautiful, but also so very strange.

“Do you ever think of home?” she asked.

“Not when I’m not with you.” Morgan replied with a sigh.

Larasa looked away, thinking that he might have gotten past the fear of this place. “I guess that might be part of why we’re apart so often.”

“What? No.” Morgan said, “I’d love to spend more time with you, really I would.”

“Then why don’t we?” Larasa asked. Turning back to face him

“Well,” Morgan said, “We’d have to find it first.”

That was not the answer Larasa wanted to hear. She turned away from the balcony and began walking back towards the quarters of the apprentices.

“I guess you’re right.” She said, “It’s pretty late already.”

Morgan started to follow her as she paced over the small bridge and into a central courtyard, the stone covered in straw mats.

This is it, part of her felt, the time to determine where she stood, if she was alone on this world as she feared, or if she had someone at her side as she hoped. She stopped in her tracks. Morgan walked around to come face to face with her.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

“Morgan,” she said, “What do you think of me?”

After that perilous question, silence hung in the cool night air of the mountaintop monastery. A heartbeat passed, then two, and the silence grew.

“Morgan?”

Again a brief silence passed between then, but as tears began to fill Larasa’s eyes and sorrow fill her heart, it was a small mercy that it was Morgan who broke it.

“I…” he stammered, “I’m sorry, I don’t have the words-“

“Then don’t use words.” Larasa cried. “If you think I’m stupid, go ahead and laugh at me.” She took a short, sharp breath, trying and failing to keep her own emotions in check. “If you hate me, go ahead and hit me. I’m a strong girl, I - I can take it. Better than not knowing.” Larasa closed her eyes tight. What was she saying? Was that what she really wanted? “If-“

Larasa never finished what she was going to say, because Morgan kissed her on the lips. There they lingered for a brief moment, and then Morgan held her and spoke softly.

“I think you’re wonderful, Larasa. I think you’re kind, and driven, and stronger-“

Larasa didn’t wait any longer, but pressed herself forward, her lips against his, with as much intensity as she could give… which proved to be something of a mistake, as Morgan quickly lost his footing and the two of them toppled over, crashing down onto the straw mats.

“I’m sorry!” Larasa said, “I didn’t mean…”

Morgan, below her, reached a hand to the back of his head and rubbed it.

“I’m alright.” He said, “But as I was saying, you’re stronger than you think you are, apparently in more ways than one.”

Larasa laughed just a tiny bit.

“I guess I am.” She said, “Again, sorry. My turn?”

“If you want.”

“Morgan,” she said, “I think I love you.”

Larasa kissed him again, and Morgan held her close and responded eagerly to her kisses. It felt both like forever and no time at all before they were broken from the moment by the sound of someone clearing their throat very near by. Larasa looked up towards the sound, and immediately blushed crimson, for the elderly Master Ling was standing over them.

“Now that I have your attention,” he said, “I shall say that at your age it is only natural to wish to learn about yourself and each other, but that I believe I speak for everyone when I say it is preferable if you would do so in private.”

Quickly, Larasa slid to the side, and then she and Morgan both began to stand. Ling said nothing more, but walked away with the same slow, measured pace he always practiced.

“I love you too,” Morgan whispered to her as they stood side by side, “But I think we might want to listen to him.”

“You’ll get no argument from me there,” Larasa replied.

***

Half a year had passed since Morgan and Larasa first arrived on Shang Rasoul. The fruiting trees that were giving their last harvest there in early autumn were now blanketing the terraces of the monastery in a carpet of pale pink petals, replacing the winter’s snow.

It seemed, at that moment, like the sky was reflecting the trees and the terraces, for it was just before dawn, and the whole of the horizon, streaked with faint clouds, was glowing softly in the same hue. Soon, another dawn would break across Shang Rasoul, a glorious moment that Morgan felt would never become old or mundane.

But Larasa and Morgan would be gone before the sun had cleared the horizon.

Shang Rasoul was a beautiful world, and the masters and other students of the monastery were good people, but that place was not really their home. They were Planeswalkers, the impossible souls, wanderers of the Blind Eternities. They would go, and very likely they would return, but they had agreed that they needed to leave. If an infinity of worlds awaited them beyond, they could not forsake such a vast opportunity for one place.

That was what Larasa and Morgan had agreed, and Morgan thought that it was good. They had made their intentions clear to the masters of the monastery, and now as they stood together, looking out across Shang Rasoul’s slowly brightening sky, Masters Ling, Kaen, and Lanfen were there to see them off.

“When the two of you first arrived,” Master Ling said, “I doubted very much you were studious enough to be shaped into anything resembling decent people. You still have much to learn if you are to achieve such an aim.”

Ling paused for breath, “But you are doing very well, and I have no doubt you will make it. I am proud to have been proved wrong.”

Master Lanfen spoke next.

“I have cared for many children over the years,” she said, “and many who I have tended to, I have seen off, though never before like this. I shall wish you well on your journey, as I have those who chose to become missionaries in the lowlands. May good fortune attend you always; may you have shade to walk in, cool water to drink, good foods to eat.”

“For my part,” Kaen said, “I greeted you when you first came among us, and have had my small hand in teaching you since. I felt it only proper I should be present for your departure, but now I fear I am not sure what I ought to say on such an occasion. So I will simply say ‘good luck’.”

“Thank you all,” Morgan said, he and Larasa both giving their teachers and hosts a formal bow.

“Don’t be surprised,” she said, “When we find our way back here. You’ve done your best to make us feel at home, and we will always be grateful for that.”

The masters each bowed their heads, and then Larasa and Morgan faced one another.

“Are you ready?” Morgan asked.

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” Larasa replied. Morgan held out his hand and she took it, then stepped up close and put her other arm around his waist.

“Hold on to me.” Larasa said.

Morgan mirrored her gesture. “Trust me.” He said, “I’m not going to let you fall.”

No matter what, Morgan promised to himself. Their fall had been terrifying, and that darkness that defied all reason, the Blind Eternities, had no reason to be any kinder when they set themselves into it on purpose. But he had found her in that madness, or she him, the first time, and if it was in his power he wouldn’t let it tear them apart.

Silently, Morgan and Larasa both closed their eyes focused, their breathing and heartbeats coming in time with one another. The world around them seemed to fade, its sounds becoming duller, fainter, leaving only each other, breath and heartbeat, measuring time in a steady rhythm.

Then, the Eternities called.

On Shang Rasoul, it seemed that Larasa and Morgan simply vanished with a faint stir of the breeze, lifting a stream of petals from where they had stood a moment before, a trail drifting towards the rising sun.


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