From the studio, Usha heard the front door slam. Her head snapped up from the fantasy of azure and cobalt that was the painting she has been working on. After a moment of waiting for a salutation, she slowly set down the sapphire charcoal and picked up the gray.
Palin! She thought to herself as she darkened the tone of her work with the gray charcoal. He's the only one who would come in and not announce his presence. With a flourish of her hand, her calmly painted sky became stormy with thick, heavy clouds. She snatched up the black. And where has he been? Only the lost gods know! I'm certainly kept in the dark, no better than a stranger… Well, if he thinks I'm just going to sit here and let him come home after three months without a saying a word to him, he's got another thing coming! And with that thought, Usha threw down her charcoal. It broke in half on the floor. She looked at the fallen charcoal for a moment, then gathered her skirts and stormed out the room.
Night shadowed the kitchen, leaving only a single illuminating candle was set on the dinner table, its flame weak and paltry. A man swathed in black sat at the table, his cowl of his traveling cloak up and masking his face from view. In hands that were crippled into claws, the man held a cup of warm tea. Usha inhaled silently as she entered the kitchen. He reminded her of another tormented mage…another soul twisted bitter…
"Palin," she started, dangerously calm. He looked up slowly, at least, his head looked toward her. Only darkness was visible within the hood.
"Usha," he returned with equal brevity and a hint of derision. He looked back into his tea. Usha trembled.
"We haven't seen each other in three months," she stated coolly. "Do I at least get the pleasure of speaking to your face, or must I be content with the shadows?" Irascibly, Palin jerked off his cowl. His face had sunken, leaving cruel contours and shadows across his visage. The candlelight shone on his graying auburn hair, attempting to warm the color and his face. But there was no warmth to be found. His eyes, once a penetrating blue, were now haunted dark with pain and memories.
"Is this what you wanted to see?" he snapped, maimed hands clutching into fists. "An old man deprived of his power, without a hope! Is this what you wanted?!"
"Who are you, Palin Majere?" Usha took a step backward. "Who are you? I don't even know you anymore! You leave me for months at a time without telling me where you are going. You come back without even whispering a hello. You hide your face from me and raise your voice to me! All for what, Palin? The magic, the magic! I hate the magic!"
Palin scowled up at Usha then rose to his feet angrily. "You can't even image what I have been through! You don't understand my pain!" he spat.
"The pain of what? Watching the thing you love most go up in flames? Well, maybe I know better than you think! It's dead, Palin! The magic is DEAD! Accept it and move on. You have a family here waiting for you-"
"Shut up, Usha! Don't try to talk about what you don't understand!" Palin stalked from the table and to a nearby window, glancing out to the sickle moon above.
"But, Palin, I want to understand," Usha followed, taming her voice and sidling next to him. "You just shut me out-"
"And you wonder why?!" Palin thundered, then raised his voice mockingly. " 'Who are you, Palin Majere? Who are you?' Well, I know who I am and that's all that matters!"
"Yes, because everything has to be about you!" Usha cried passionately. Palin coldly turned his back on her. "What about Ulin and Linsha? They don't even know their father, he's never home. You're always looking for magical artifacts so you can 'feel' the magic again. That's all you care about! But the magic is dead, it's dead, it's-" Whirling around, Palin angrily slapped her across the face. Usha gasped and her hands flew to her cheek.
"What makes you think you have a right to talk to me like that?" Palin hissed in low, lethal tones, fists clinched as his sides. "I am still master of this house, no matter how often I am here!" The mage pushed past his wife and grabbed the traveling bag that still lay near the dinner table. Without a backward glance, he stalked out of the house. "I don't when I'm coming back." The door slammed behind him.
Fuming, Usha ran to her studio and shut the door. This room was the only solace she had in this house. Her half-finished painting still stood on the easel, the painted sky slowly turning darker and darker… at least in Usha's eyes. She was thankful the children were staying at their grandparents' house and weren't home to hear the latest quarrel. She closed her eyes wearily. They have heard more than their share of arguments anyway. Looking into the painting, she saw her life darkening with the sky. Frustrated, she grabbed it and ripped it in half with a cry. She left the room with the halves on the floor and walked toward her and Palin's room. It might have well been just her room for all the times he had been there.
Sighing softly, Usha undressed and slipped into soft silken pajamas. She unclasped her jewelry and went to the dresser to put it away. As she closed her jewelry box, an envelope caught her eye. It was yellowing with age, but it was definitely put underneath the jewelry box with forgotten purpose long ago. Out of curiosity, Usha lifted the jewelry box and retrieved the envelope. She opened it and found a letter addressed to herself.
Dear Usha, my love,
It has been only two days since I left home to attend the Wizard's Conclave yet I already find myself missing you. It seems like it's been years since I've drunk of your beauty, an eternity since I've heard your laughter ring out like silver bells. It's so hard to wake up in the morning not tangled in your sweet-smelling silver hair, without your skin touching mine. I feel like I'm intoxicated with the very thought of you. No matter what I do, I long to finish quickly and hasten back home to see you. I carry with me an image of how you looked the day I left. You were sitting in your studio, surrounded by the charcoals that you so love, sketching the view from your window. You were so absorbed, you didn't even notice I was watching you until I swept you up and kissed you. Do you remember that? Well, my love, I am running low on parchment. I will write again in two days and be home a day afterwards!
With all the love in my heart,
Usha sat down upon her bed suddenly and closed her eyes in pain. She could remember that day so long ago. It was set in a time when love was the most important thing. Wild magic existed, yet did not consume Palin. A future seemed so very bright. Yes, Usha remembered. Crystal-clearly…
Usha sat in the studio, busy with her latest piece. Her hands seemed to fly across the canvas, urging violets to bloom and verdant trees to grow. A tiny furrow marred her forehead as the artist struggled to capture nature's magic with her colored charcoals. She didn't notice the white robed figure casually leaning in the doorway watching her work. Palin couldn't even look at the painting. He was mesmerized by the sunlight dancing in Usha's hair, her golden eyes shining with the passion her art gave her, the tiny smudge of blue on her forehead. He crept into the room until he stood right behind her, close enough to smell the sweet pea scent of her luxuriant tresses. Quick as lightening in one fluid movement, he spun her around, lifted her into his arms, and kissed her with a fiery passion. Quite shocked, Usha dropped the charcoal and let it leave a trail of indigo down Palin's white robes. Neither noticed. Palin carried her into their bedroom and playfully dumped her unto the bed before rolling on himself.
"Palin, you are going to make my work late," she mock-protested with a giggle. Palin pretended to look annoyed before stealing another deep kiss. His lips began to travel, leaving soft butterfly kisses in their wake, and he kissed down her neck.
"Let them wait," he murmured into the nape of her neck. Usha closed her eyes in contentment, her hands gently tangling Palin's soft, auburn hair.
"I love you," she whispered. He look up at her, clear cerulean eyes filled with an almost inexpressible love.
"Well, that's good news," he teased with a sultry smile, then moved upwards to enfold her in his arms and whisper in her ear. "Fortunately, I love you even more…"
Usha glanced over at the pillow beside her, the pillow that had been cold for so long now. Not wanting it near her, she picked it up and threw it in anguish from the bed. It landed underneath the open window. Usha looked out the window and into the face of that strange, cold moon that ruled the inky sky. Turning away from that embodiment of her own despair, she buried her face in her pillow.