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Five

Parting of Destinies

I have been waiting for you. The twin elves now sat on a bench made out of the palace's wall, seeking out Crescent's namesake, the long-dead first daughter of Wolfriders Strongbow and Moonshade. It is good that you have finally decided to come; the time to act is approaching.

Seaflame unconsciously tightened her fingers on her sister's, and felt the same pressure in reply. She wasn't sure how to respond to the dead elf's spirit manifestation, the transparent presence just visible in the wall of the palace as a pale shadow, but it didn't seem to matter. Dead Crescent knew what she was doing.

I must speak alone to your sister, she said, directly to to Seaflame. I understand that you do not wish to be separated, she added as Seaflame was about to protest, but you are needed elsewhere at this time.

It's all right, living Crescent sent to her sister, squeezing her hand again before letting go. I had a feeling… that this is something we have to do by ourselves.

Seaflame looked at her pale, shy sister. Something had changed about her all of the sudden. Perhaps it was the presence of her namesake, perhaps the palace's aura, but something was different. She was… stronger-seeming, more confident.

All right, the blue-haired elf conceded. She stood.

Follow me, a new voice sent. Seaflame saw a flicker of another elf spirit form and did as –she?– asked, though she didn't particularly like parting from her sister.

The formless being lead her to another room, where Seaflame sat on a bench and waited as patiently as she could. Doubtless you are wondering many things, the dead elf sent. All will be made clear to you. Let me first tell you that you must not reveal what I will impart to you unless it is of the utmost importance, because some things should never be revealed, lest the path of this world's history be shifted.

Seaflamce took a deep breath and nodded.

Good. The vaporous spirit began to shimmer. For this I will take on a corporeal form. Seaflame was about to ask what she meant, but stopped as a bright light began to shine. She thought she could make out a body, seemingly made of that same light, but it brightened too much and she had to look away. When the piercing brilliance faded she looked back. Well, a somewhat corporeal form, at any rate, the dead elf said, sounding somewhat amused.

Seaflame was speechless. Now, where the ghostly elf spirit had been, stood the translucent figure of an elf maiden. She wore a gown like that of the Sun Folk, a delicate construction of silver and white, which seemed to float about her. Her hair, too, long golden tresses, seemed unconstrained by gravity, as if she was under water. As if the lack of connection to the world was not already emphasized enough, she seemed not to touch the ground. A slight smile touched her face and blue eyes as she surveyed herself.

Better, she sent, sounding satisfied. Then she turned to Seaflame.

"I didn't know you could do that," the blue-haired elf started to say, but the other elf cut her off with a shake of her head.

Send, she told her, mind to mind.

Why?

I cannot hear you otherwise; I am deaf, the elf sent matter-of-factly. Or I was so in life, she amended.

Oh.

The elf laughed humorlessly, but it echoed only in Seaflame's mind. My world is one of silence, she said.

Seaflame found her mental voice. Who are you? And why do you need me?

My name is Rillfisher. Do you remember?

"Rillfisher…?" Of course! Treestump's mate; Dewshine's mother! She was deafened by a sickness, and the healer Rain had been unable to help her. Then one day a branch gave way as she walked beneath it and killed her. Seaflame knew the story briefly. But what do you need from me?

A sudden flash of piercingly brilliant light, emanating briefly but sharply from Rillfisher, and Seaflame fell to the floor, unconscious.

000

It has been many years since my death, the formless spirit sent to the living maiden named in her honor. It has taken me a long time to understand all that I now know, and I can only hope you will be able to accept all in such a short period of time as this.

I will do my best, the silver-haired elf sent sincerely.

That is all that I can ask of you. She seemed to hesitate. First, let me tell you of myself, as I lived, and as I am now.

You have probably already been told that I was killed many long years ago, during the time of the feud between Wolfriders and the primitive humans who had come to our forest. At the time, I was as young as you are now, and unknowledgeable about the ancient powers of the High Ones. How could I know? The only magics used by the elves of our tribe for many generations were plant-shaping and healing, so how was I to know of the incredibly rare gift that I unknowingly possessed? It was a gift that was to destroy me- and, nearly, all those that I loved.

My family believes that I perished at the hands of a hunting party of our invading enemies while fishing in the stream.

This is not the case.

I learned later that they heard me sending to them, and that they heard my mind-scream and felt nothing more, and after finding my clothes and blood assumed that I was dead. I learned that Bearclaw saw a new skull on the Pillar of Sacrifice when he went to gain vengeance for my 'death,' and that he believed it to be mine.

In truth, I was alive, but gone from them. Dead to them. And dead I was to remain.

I still remember it very clearly. I had finally speared the fish, and was proud, ready to share my catch with my parents and tribe. As I surfaced from the water I began to send to them. Something caught my attention and I turned, crying out in fear as a shadowy form loomed over me.

After that, I never again while living made contact with my family.

I tried to fight back, but was wounded slightly so that I was distracted, and they captured me. I did not know then who they were, but I didn't try to find out, assuming as my tribe later assumed that they were humans, though they had masked their scent and I could not take the time to count fingers. One of them did something to my mind, and they took me away, unconscious and unable to tell my family that I was alive.

So they read the clues that they understood, and interpreted them in the only way they could. I was dead, taken by the humans. It was over. Death is an enemy none can overcome once it has taken us.

For me, however, it was far from the ending.

My quest was about to begin.

And none could say how far it would take me.