I cannot be the unfinished business that ties her spirit to the earth. But how can I not?
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In the silent gloom, a piano note rings out, followed by another, seeking me out in my hiding. The enchanted quill dances over the page, recording Elisha's genius as deftly as my dabbling.
In the great room beyond my little sorcerer's pantry, Elisha haunts the keys yet again, bringing her sweet presence into the darkness of the deserted manor and even into the circle of silence, reminding me of what her sacrifice has taken from us. "Why did you go and..."
My plaintive babble rings out clear within the closet, as if in a great field; yet the telltale echo holds mute, proving my circle of silence.
I nod in relief. While her enchanted music flows over my awkward curtains of stealth magic, my words do not. While my power amounts to a drop in her ocean, my work still counts. "I can save you, in spite of yourself."
The sweet, mournful notes evoke remembrances, ripples of memory with the eloquence she never could conjure in the language of words. My mind resonates to her work, singing of the cries of the gulls, the crash of the surf. I can smell the mist from a world away, the salt of the Vennian sea. The promise of dawn breaks as our enemies scatter. I want nothing more than to hold her close, to celebrate victory yet again. I reach for the gavel, to break my bowl and end my spell.
The thunder crashes above me, in sharp contrast to her music.
I curse my selfish heart. As she watches over me, with each passing day, Elisha's noble vigil weighs her down. By the time the gates of Shiadur open again, she will be too heavy to enter, denied the music of creation for her sacrifice. I cannot be the reason she misses her heavenly reward. I ball up my fist. "Why do you care so much for a wizened old lump of leather like myself?"
The skin of my fingers cracks as the piano speaks of the grand ball in the capital, leaping and swirling like the music of the orchestra. Elisha's piano dances and laughs.
We danced as the blue-clad princess chased after the rogue peasant girl in the mirror slippers, running before the falling sun dispelled the faerie glamor. I take a moment to oil my hands, rubbing in the balm and listening to Elisha's voice playing my heart as surely as the piano. I check the sacred Text before me, grinding the required herbs in mortar and pestle. At the beauty of our reminiscence, a tear wells in my eyes, and I struggle to measure the reagent.
The music trills lightly, bouncing carelessly about.
Elisha reminds me, once again, that drams and ounces matter little, if only, like her, you can listen to the magic. I, however, am reliant on my glasses even to see the magical Inner Light of the reagents. I blink away the tears and strain to see the flickering power I work with.
The orange flame upon the finely ground reagents in my mortar has turned to cinnamon.
This means its power has hardened, from spiritual to physical. While it still can send Elisha to her reward, its fires now threaten my weary flesh. I cannot continue; I will have her yet another day. With a sigh of relief, I reach for my gavel to shatter my bowl and banish my spell.
But the Text says the fires can be corralled.
In fact, I technically have the expertise. Even after receiving my diploma, a thousand times I have rehearsed the drills, much as Elisha had the talent and skill to banish the corpse-bound master of this manor. I remind myself, the story of her failure does not presage the same for me. Unlike her, I am not followed by a foolish pretender who will need rescuing. As reason struggles to summon the spirit of courage from beyond death's gates, I close my eyes to hide from the Text.
Waves of music advance and retreat, each riff softly rising and falling against the shore.
She smooths the footprints that have brought me here, leaving only the solid and the liquid. She suggests the ocean can never separate from the shore as if the same were true of Elisha and myself. Yet here in the sinews of the Text, I see the truth of what my spell would do: to her, to us. My lips crack as I frown so I oil my face before adding the line of coriander around the edge of the bowl.
The Inner Light fizzes and pops about the edges, forming a fence of orange sparks that rises and falls with the notes of the music.
I smile and nod. The circle will surely protect me, though I could hardly object if the Outer Fire burned my magically preserved body from the universe. My fingers slip and nick the circle.
The cinnamon Inner Light vents in my direction.
Dread grips my chest and pulls me from the dangerous leak. "Foolish soul," I curse myself, reaching for my gavel to stamp out the Inner Light and end my spell.
The music leaps into alarm, deep rumbling notes that echo the storm outside.
In the sorcerer's tongue I command, "Stop that," driving the cinnamon flame back into its proper place.
The sparkling orange hammers at the fissure and finally cuts off the leak.
The physical superstitions matter little, save as an expression of spirit. So long as my will conformed to the plan, these flames had to obey. Carefully I cradle the bowl and leave my curtained closet.
"Voltaire, my love." The flash of lightning brought her smile to life, lit up her long white fingers dancing over the keys.
After the lightning, her image went dark. As the music flowed about me, the keys stood still, untouched these thirteen months since the corpsebound spellmaster struck her down.
The sweet power of her music, a sending from her soul, I would have to sacrifice for her. Would this world show me any mercy like this—any mercy at all? For a moment, I open myself completely to her enchantment, close my eyes, and let the music move me.
We dance in the darkness, Elisha and I, flesh and empty space. To the Mazes Below with the peasants and their tomfoolery. Let them chant their rage to the night full of torches and pitchforks. I would send them away with a spell, far beyond the great minotaur's reach; no man should ever need approval to embrace even the ghost of beauty, the spirit of love.
And when I opened my eyes, the mortar full of my readied spell burned, its cinnamon glow somehow darkening the already heavy gloom. My chest clenched at this crime against my own struggling humanity that I committed in the name of love. In that moment, my hands rattled like an indentured skeleton, yet I placed the bowl on the piano.
Still her music flowed on with the endless drive of the babbling of a brook rushing over a ledge.
Her will soothed me as I reached in my pocket for my remaining match—a black-tipped twig. I dragged it against the steel.
The twig flared to life, a faint, violet flame barely visible in my glasses.
For one split second—the time a dram of sand would take going through my hourglass—I willed that cinnamon flame to engulf me. I recovered fast enough, I reasoned; it would only take if I truly intended it. I had cast many spells against my heart, and never one went awry. With a wistful sigh at the loss of my dear Elisha's ghost—at the last shred of decency in my world—I tossed the match into the bowl.
The Inner Light sparked, with the intensity of the sun in the midnight sky. It fizzed and growled, instantly swallowing my little coriander Circle.
Terror overtook me. If I did not know better, I might have thought my heart resumed its rhythm. In seconds the ball of fire would swallow the room and purge any construct of flesh and spirit within. As if any man could outrun the will of a spellmaster, let alone his own, I turned and ran for the door.
Yet the music pressed in, took on a commanding air. With the character of an orchestra, it marched.
I turned again to see my fate.
The Inner Light raged beyond the bowl to consume the center of the piano. Cinnamon gusts flared upward and down to the floor. The force swallowed up the piano and sucked in the stool.
My heart hurt to see Elisha leave. As the moment of my death stretched out, I nodded and opened my arms.
But the music continued, its military force at once distant and palpable. An undercurrent appeared, soft and smooth.
This march was one of homecoming. I allowed her to seep into my brittle bones, to expunge the fear as I waited.
But the fire stopped as the music shifted yet again. The flame rose just to the height of my forehead and puffed to the circumference of a door. The army in the music held their place, even as the flame took the shape of a portal.
I trembled at the invitation. So young, I had imagined my exploits lasting for years yet, possibly centuries. The libraries of the dread Amerik empire lay practically untouched. I patted the shaking flesh of my heart. I could not take such a decision in the passing of a dram!
The endless waves of music settled about me, reaching, deep and soothing. She would hold this portal, this deadly pillar of transmutation, until I truly committed, whether to this world or hers.
In endless variations, her song promised: for as long as it took.
As my heart soothed, I looked in horror at the bleak mass of calendars before me, listened to the dread silence of my future. For the first time since she had put me under the protection of the corpsebound spellmaster's devices, I saw myself truly. Living, or dead—and especially between—a world without her music had no place for me. I looked longingly into the fire ahead of me and took my glasses off.
The music shifted, playful—as a child calling out a friend in hiding, daring them to swim.
I balled my fingers into a fist, then opened them as I reached out for her. As I approached, the heat warmed, then weakened me.
With a clenching of teeth, I plunged my hand into the scalding pillar. I reached in, allowing the power of our spell to release me from the magical bonds, washing the flesh from my bones and burn the bones to powder.
Whether it was a century or an instant, I leave to others. In time, I reached for Elisha and found her hand in mine. So do not weep when you think of this curious "Tragedy of Elisha and Voltaire." I could not in a thousand years have wished for a better reward.
As we close the door and set my magic quill to rest, I bid you: take these, her melodies, and set them to your instruments. I leave them to you for the purpose I originally set them to paper: in the hopes that they might bring some echo of her greatness into this world. For myself, I have the real thing. May your life be as mine—better for knowing her.