A single lantern hung from a bronze chain, a suffocated, muted little mote of light that illuminated the otherwise pitch-black of the meditation chamber. In the center of the room, the lantern between and above them, knelt two women in deep, ponderous consideration.
Sanna, her robes stripped of their gold and bronze liveries, knelt herself, patiently at the dark periphery of the room beside the small oaken door which led to the rest of the monastery. Chiima would be on the other side of the door, she knew, minding passers-by into silence. Sanna kept her breathing even and quiet. She knew firsthand that almost anything could distract a Never-Night from recalling their visions, especially someone so sensitive as the two in the center of the chamber before her.
Five girls had fallen. Only two had flown.
Adani and another of her cohort, Chara, sat with eyes closed, facing one another. Both girls were trying to meditate, but neither could shake the feeling of adrenaline, of dread, of hot hands and maddening whispers, from their minds. At least, not at first. The gentle hiss of the lantern, the rhythmic flickering of its candle, and the synchronized breathing of each girl helped the other calm down into a meditative trance–a small, if bland, meal beforehand certainly didn’t hurt, as Sanna advised.
Sanna smiled as Adani’s eyebrows relaxed from their fixated poise, and Chara’s form straightened in relaxation.
Almost immediately, the visions started up again.
Sanna knew what the girls would not– their recollections would be polluted with one another’s memories. The first dive is the purest one–no false images would arise here–all of it prophecy. But which memories belonged to whom?
The lantern flickered in a nonexistent wind, hissing, enthralling.
Sanna’s own mind began to race, the recollection of the two pupils strong enough to wash her mind and prepare it for mnemonic bleed simply by proximity. Sanna revitalized her focus, as the girls began to breathe faster.
Adani’s eyebrows were scrunched again. No matter. It’s out of Sanna’s hands. Sweat beaded down Chara’s brow, her heavy black-blue robes and the mental exertion of recollection combining in an effort which seemed almost physical.
Adani began to lose control of her breath. Chara noticed too late, and barely managed to keep their meditation synchronized, before the lantern flickered and died.
“It is done,” Sanna said, barely finding the authority to put behind her voice in time to speak the words. Seeing a meditation–a first meditation– with such capable minds almost brought back the memory of her own inaugural flight, a mental relic locked away for only occasional study in the vault of her mind.
Adani and Chara manage to stand shakily to their feet, guided by the light filtering through the now-open door.
As the girls shuffled nervously from the chamber, Chiima stood and handed them each a waterskin.
Adani’s face soured at the taste of the liquid therein, and Sanna rolled her eyes. Wordlessly, the four wandered out of the cloister building and into the cold gale, walking along the path to the private space–half-archive and half-dormitory–which Sanna and Chiima shared.
To the north, the silhouette of the Tower of Epiphany stood, a gray shadow at the edges of the storm. Adani couldn’t help but gaze at it, transfixed. Chara could only look away. Only hours before, the tower was a mysterious, wondrous obstacle. A trial standing between the girls and their destinies. Now, it was a murderer.
Sanna pushed the door open to her own lodging, before entering. Each woman in turn stomped and scraped the dirt-blackened snow from their bare feet upon the ragged doormat before stepping over the threshold. Chiima stooped, stoked the embers of the fire, and added some new fuel.
As soon as the door had closed behind them, Sanna procured a charcoal nib and an empty tome. Adani and Chara were seated at the central table, barely finding room amongst the various sheets, scrolls, tomes, and vellums strewn across and off of it.
Sanna’s silence was met in kind, until she opened her mouth in instruction.
“We remember,” Adani assured. Despite her and Chara’s sudden determination, the fatigue and worry in their tired eyes was plain to see.
“And we know whose memories are whose,” Chara confirms with a short nod. Sanna couldn’t help but wonder if the motion was made more to hide Chara’s face from her own. Sanna beckoned to her peer.
Chiima looked up from the hearth, then, to share an impressed look with Sanna. She toyed with the placement of another piece of kindling before standing and procuring her own nib and scroll, leaning against the table before Chara.
“I saw Cavaliers battling in a mining town,” Adani began.
“Cavaliers,” Sanna asked, unable to mask the surprise in her voice. “You’re sure?”
“They had bronze armor, three of them had plumes. They’re Cavaliers,” Adani nodded in affirmation.
“I saw Bansse, furious, marching from Ighodia,” Chara picked up. I saw the confrontation between the three phalanxes. I’ve been there before, though, a town to the west of Ighodia, called Gharix Pass.”
Chiima scrawled wordlessly.
“It was… is… a bloodbath,” Adani assured.
“Who did they meet in Gharix?” Chiima asked.
“I don’t know him, but I can recognize him if I saw him again,” Chara withered.
The silence melted into the sounds of the fire, taking to the kindling and crackling vibrantly.
“I saw a Coghanese vessel,” Adani continued. “Looked like a fishing reme, completely bisected and sinking in the ocean.”
“I saw a vessel being waylaid by some monster… I’ve never seen anything like it. A shell, like a crab, or a lobster, but colossal and long like a serpent. Horrible mandibles the size of men.” Chara shuddered at the recollection. Adani nodded her agreement. “I felt the hands, too,” Chara continued, voice falling. “Heard the whispers. Like you said,” she finished, with a pointed look at Chiima.
Both students took the silence as a chance to steel themselves. Their mentors continued to scribble intently.
“I saw a fortress. A tower, something big,” Adani broke the silence, her voice catching.
“The latest memories are the hardest. Take your time,” Chiima reassured. Adani didn’t know whether to appreciate the comfort, or be disconcerted that it came from the most stoic of the Never-Nights she knew.
“A fortress. At the top, something in armor. A horned helmet, like it was in regalia. Whatever it was, it was… it wasn’t alive,” Adani cuts. “And yet, not dead either. It had eyes like a serpent, and an axe…And it was like it could see me there with it.” Adani choked back a scared sob.
“I almost thought the memory was mine,” Chara continued. “The eyes.”
“What did you see?” Sanna asked, eyebrow raised.
“An outlander. Pale as the dead, with a beat-up-looking leather coat and a tricorn cap. Walking through a storm, like the cold didn’t bother him any. Walking towards a town.”
“Which town? What did the town look like?”
“Couldn’t tell. Weather was too bad, I could barely see the lights. But his eyes…”
“The voices woke me up,” Adani said. Sanna and Chiima both stop writing mid-stroke.
“I didn’t hear any voices,” Chara said. “That’s all I remember. From when I was asleep, I mean.”
Chiima cleared her throat and handed Sanna her scroll.
“You two, pack a bag, and come right back here. Wear your gowns, boots, cloaks. We need to get to Ighodia.”
“Livery?” Adani asked.
“Whichever set feels right,” Chiima nodded. “Come right back here, don’t stop for anybody. We leave within the hour.”
Adani’s face brightened into a euphoric smile as the gravity settled in her chest, the adrenaline coursing through her once again. Chara had to sprint to keep up.
“How long do we have?” Sanna asked the stoic Never-Night.
“We may already be too late,” Chiima answered.