Between Two Worlds
NOTE: This story is part of a series. For the recommended reading order, see Beryl's Storyline.
“You can’t just leave!” Beryl said.
She was speaking to Alessa’s back as the other woman hurriedly stuffed her belongings into the pack laying open on her bed. Beryl tried to put her hand on Alessa’s arm, but the teal-eyed woman jerked herself free.
“The hell I can't!” Alessa growled. She shot a sharp glance over her shoulder, and for a moment Beryl was taken aback by the wild-eyed look on Alessa’s face. Alessa stared at Beryl for several long, tense seconds before she went back to grabbing her sundry bits of clothing and stuffing them into her pack.
“But you can’t leave!” Beryl insisted. “Not now!”
Again, Beryl tried to put a hand on Alessa’s arm, and, again, the other woman brushed it off. Alessa spun to face Beryl – her eyes were hard, and her voice was harder.
“Oh, really? And why not?” Even though she’d calmed down considerably from her earlier blind panic, Alessa was still shaking with a kind of terrible, urgent energy. “Who's going to stop me? You?” She snorted. “I came to this world for two reasons: to enjoy myself, and to maybe make some coin, and I’ve checked those boxes. I didn’t come here to get mixed up in your family drama – you brought that to my doorstep, remember? That was me doing you a favor. Well, that favor doesn’t extend to putting myself in the path of a psychopathic bitch like—,” Alessa’s breathing seemed to seize-up again, and The Duchess’s name died in her throat, “—that monster. So I’m leaving, and don’t you dare try to stop me.”
Beryl could see fear and anger competing on Alessa’s face, and there was a darkness in Alessa’s words which made Beryl shiver. She felt desperate to break through to the woman beneath the fear, the anger, but she didn’t know how. She didn’t even know how to begin.
“Alessa, please, I need your help, now more than ever,” Beryl said. She reached out and took the other planeswalker’s hand. Alessa flinched at the contact, and her fingers curled-up into a tight fist, but at least this time she didn’t try to pull away. “You know The Duchess. I don’t. I need you.”
Alessa shook her head, and she squeezed her eyes shut tight. When she opened them again, her face had softened a little, and some of her anger seemed to have bled away, to be replaced by something closer to grief, or even despair. But her look of resolve did not waver.
“Look,” she said, “I don’t want you to be under any illusions about whatever sort of connection you think we’ve got. We just met, but I like you well enough. So, given the choice, I’d rather not see you commit suicide. But that doesn’t extend to getting myself killed for you. If you’ve got a death wish, then it’s not up to me to stop you. It’s none of my business.”
“But we can stand up to her,” Beryl said, giving Alessa’s hand an insistent squeeze as she did. “If we work together, we can fight her.”
“You don’t get it – there is no fighting her,” Alessa said. A burst of hollow, maniacal laughter escaped her lips, and she sounded almost as though she were laughing just to keep from crying. She pulled her hand away and went back to packing her bag. “That thing out there in the shadows isn't human. I don't know what she is, but, if you see her coming, you don’t stand against her. The only way for you to live to see another sunrise is to get as far away as possible. I got lucky once already – I won't tempt the fates again.”
“My mother thought differently,” Beryl said. “She thought The Duchess could be stopped.”
“Yeah? Well, she thought wrong,” Alessa snapped. “If you want to believe her over me, that’s your choice. I’m sure there’s some room in her grave for you, too.”
Beryl flinched. She took a small step backward, and her mouth fell open. She felt more stunned than hurt.
In front of her, Alessa’s head drooped slightly. Her hands stopped moving, and her shoulders grew visibly tight. She closed her eyes and pressed a hand against her brow, a pained expression on her face. Long seconds passed in silence before she shook her head and turned her attention back to her things, cinching one of the pockets on the pack shut before turning around to face Beryl. Her cheeks were red, and her eyes were apologetic.
This time, it was Alessa who reached out and touched the scarred woman, placing gentle, slender hands on Beryl’s shoulders.
“Look, I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean it like that.” She looked Beryl in the eye. “It’s just you asked me to help, and this is me helping the only way I know how. You have to get out of here while you still can. I don’t know how to make than any clearer.”
Beryl was quiet for a long moment. “I can’t leave,” she said.
“Why? Because this is your home? Because you were born here?” Frustration was palpable in Alessa’s voice. “I’ve got news for you – the people you think you’re going to save, they don’t care about you. This world doesn’t care about you!” Alessa shook her head. “Because I’ve been to dozens of worlds, and – I’ll be honest with you – this one is pretty awful.”
“I know,” Beryl said quietly. “Believe me, I know.”
“So let her have this damned world, then,” Alessa said. She leaned forward, so that her face was just inches from Beryl’s. The desperation in her voice was deep and heartfelt; her eyes implored Beryl to listen. “Come with me. We’ll go someplace better, and forget about this whole thing.” She slid her hands down Beryl’s arms, drawing her closer. “Let’s go to Theros. You’ll like it there. We’ll go dancing. We’ll go swimming. We’ll screw until we’re too sore to move. Hell, we can stop on the way and pick up this friend of yours, too. She can be part of the dancing and the swimming and the screwing, if that’s what you want. I’ll make her so jealous that she’ll park herself on top of you like a dragon. But, please! You have to come with me.”
For a while, Beryl just stared at Alessa, feeling the weight of the teal-eyed woman’s pleading gaze. She could see tears welling at the corners of Alessa’s eyes. Then, slowly, Beryl drew her hands away from Alessa’s. She looked down at the floor, and she shook her head.
“I can’t,” she said. “I can’t just leave.”
“Yes, you can.”
“No, I can’t,” She could feel a lump forming in her throat, and she choked back a tear. “I can’t force you to stay, but I have to. I have to try to talk to Astria one last time, to warn her, to make her see reason. I owe her that much, if only for our mother’s sake.”
Alessa was silent for a moment. Then she sighed, and it was as though all of her energy escaped from her body along with that one exhaled breath. She went back to packing, and her hands shook as she worked, even more than before.
When she finally spoke, her voice sounded tired but resigned.
“Fine,” she said. “You do what you have to. Just don’t expect me to be here when you come back.”
Beryl walked to the door, but she paused on the threshold. For a second, she looked back, and she watched as Alessa continued to fold her things and pack them into her satchel. Alessa stood slump-shouldered, and she looked tired. But her hands kept moving, and she didn’t stop packing.
She was still packing as Beryl let herself out.
* * *
The presence of two very large, heavily-armed, heavily-armored men outside her shop’s door more or less confirmed that Beryl had chosen the right place to find her sister.
Beryl did not make eye contact with the men as she approached, but she did not try to avoid them, either. For their part, her shop’s new doorkeepers glared at her with thinly-concealed malice, but they made no move to attack her. That was unsurprising: Astria valued subtlety, and an armed assault on the steps of Beryl’s home would hardly qualify as subtle.
Besides, Beryl thought ruefully, if her sister intended to kill her, she would know to send more men.
So Beryl set her jaw, brushed past the looming guards, and went into her shop.
Astria was standing alone in the back of the darkened store. Her arms were crossed, her hands were balled into fists, and her face was frozen in a look of pure, distilled anger. All the shelves along the shop’s rear wall lay bare, and Beryl could see why: The floor around the Court Sorceress’s feet was littered with shattered glass phials and smashed clay jars. Brightly-colored potions puddled in the depressions in the rough, wooden floor; in the flatter areas, they pooled together into an undifferentiated, aromatic slurry.
For a moment, Beryl simply stood where she was, her gaze alternating back and forth between her sister and her vandalized shop. Beryl knew that there must have been hundreds – no, thousands – of potions on the now-empty shelves. As her eye lingered on the remains of those potions littered across her floor, she thought about the countless days and nights of her life which she had put into making that which her sister had destroyed in a moment’s pique.
Beryl was familiar with evil. Of late, there were times when she almost felt inured to it.
But there was something so small – so petty – about Astria’s act of vandalism that it cut straight to Beryl’s heart. That was the sort of pain an older sister knew how to inflict.
Beryl looked up to meet Astria’s gaze, and she had to suppress an urge to cry. When she spoke, she heard more sadness than anger in her voice.
“Was that really necessary?” she asked. “Did you have to do that?”
Astria ignored the question. She simply said: “Where is my box?” Her words came as a low, rumbling growl, and she stood stone-still as she spoke, so that it seemed as though her lips were the only part of her body to move.
“It’s not here,” Beryl said.
For a moment, Astria simply glared at her sister, and Beryl could see the old, familiar embers smoldering away in the black depths of her sister’s eyes. Finally, Astria stalked towards Beryl, her exquisite, handmade heels crunching across broken glass with each step.
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” she asked. Her voice was hard and dangerous. “Any idea at all?”
Beryl was so, so tired of that question. So she took a page from her sister’s book and ignored it. Instead, she asked: “Why did you hide our mother’s letter from me?”
Astria gave an indignant snort. “I did no such thing.”
“Please don’t lie to me, Astria. I’ve seen it. I’ve read it. You kept it from me—”
“—That letter,” Astria interrupted, her voice rising to a full, indignant yell, “was addressed to Beryl Trevanei. Beryl Trevanei!” Astria leveled a finger at Beryl, and her whole body shook as she spoke. “Beryl Trevanei no longer exists! I unmade her – I struck her name from the Lineage! I wiped my family history clean of her. She was never born, she never lived. You are not Beryl Trevanei,” she said, stabbing her finger at the scarred woman, “and you have no claim to anything bearing that name.”
A moment passed in unbearable silence while Astria caught her breath. Then the Court Sorceress spoke again, taking great care to enunciate each word clearly and distinctly:
“You are Nameless,” she said to Beryl, “and that is all you will ever be.”
Astria bore down on her sister until she was within arm’s length, and Beryl felt a sudden urge to reach out and strike her. She could feel her fingers curling into fists, could feel the fire surging up inside her, begging her to let it out.
For a moment, Beryl imagined what it would be like to raise up her hand, to point it at her sister, and to simply… let go.
She could do it. She knew she could do it. It would be easy.
Instead, Beryl closed her eye tight. She unclenched her fists, and she forced herself to breathe.
When she opened her eye again, Astria was still looming over her, her face uncomfortably close, her amber eyes murderous. So Beryl retreated a step. But she kept her own head high, and she did not look away.
“No matter how much you hurt me, Astria, I’m not going to give you what you want,” Beryl said. It took every ounce of control she possessed, but she held her voice level as she spoke. “I’m not going to let you turn me into the monster that you think I am.” She held her hands up in front of her, palms out, and she put some resolve into her words. “But I’m not going to apologize for taking the letter, either. That letter is mine, Astria, no matter what name is on it. Our mother wanted me to have it.”
“And you don’t think that, had she known you were going to murder her, that mightn’t have changed her feelings on the matter?”
Again, Beryl had to shut her eye tight. She clenched her hands into fists, until she felt stabs of pain where her fingernails cut into her own palms.
Gods, but Astria knew how to hurt her.
Beryl’s eye opened again, and there were tears in it. “I don’t know what she would have wanted,” she said. “But I feel fairly certain that she wouldn’t have wanted you to serve The Duchess.”
This time it was Astria who flinched. The Court Sorceress drew herself up with a sharp intake of breath. In an instant, her posture shifted from attack to one of defense.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Astria said.
Beryl shook her head. “I’m not stupid, Astria. Whatever else you may think about me, you know I’m not stupid. So, please, don’t play this game with me. There’s no time for it.”
Astria was silent for a moment.
“On that, we agree,” she eventually said. “There is very little time.”
That sent a chill down Beryl’s spine.
“You read your own letter years ago,” Beryl said. “Didn’t you?”
After an indecisive second, Astria nodded her head.
Beryl swallowed. “Did you seek her out then, or did she come to you?”
“She… made herself known to me,” Astria said. There was a tremor in her voice as she said it, almost as though she feared The Duchess might somehow be listening.
“Yet you want to become High Sorceress anyway,” Beryl continued. “That means you’re going to serve her. You’re going to serve her willingly.” Beryl shook her head. “Why, Astria?” Her voice started to shake. “Make me understand, because I don’t understand.”
“We all serve her,” Astria said quietly, “whether we know it or not.”
“Our mother wasn’t going to serve her,” Beryl said. Her own voice was growing louder, and her cheeks felt hot. “She was going to stand up. She was going to fight back.”
Astria threw her head back and laughed. She turned her back to Beryl, and she threw her arms out wide.
“There is no fighting The Duchess,” she said. “You might as well fight the sunrise, or the changing of the seasons.” Astria spun back around, and the look on her face was one of grim determination. “So why should we oppose her? Why shouldn’t we avail ourselves of the gifts she can offer? We can be destroyed by her, or we can profit from her patronage.”
“By letting ourselves be enslaved?”
Astria held her arms out to her sides.
“Do I appear chained to you?” she asked.
“Maybe the chains are harder to feel when you’re living in the Court apartments, when you’re part of a Great House,” Beryl said. She gestured around at the walls of her tiny, ransacked store. “The chains feel a little heavier down here, on the bottom of The Duchess’s order. Our mother understood that.”
Beryl stepped towards Astria. She cleared her throat, and she looked her sister in the eyes.
“It’s not too late, Astria,” she said. “Our mother wanted us to do this. She wanted us to do it together. She believed in us, Astria. Please, for her? Help me.”
Beryl tried to take Astria’s hand, but her sister just flinched and pulled away. Astria tucked her hands inside her leather scrip, and she drew herself up into an imposing posture, but Beryl could detect a trace of fear beneath that show of strength.
“The only help I will offer you is this,” Astria said. “If you return my strongbox with its contents intact, and if you swear to me that you will pursue this matter no further, I may – may – be persuaded to overlook what you’ve done. We can put this unpleasantness behind us, and no one else need ever know about it.” Astria paused for a second, then her eyes darkened, and she frowned. “Provided, of course, you haven’t told anyone else about the letters.”
“Of course not,” Beryl lied. When she saw a skeptical look on Astria’s face, she added: “Who would I go to, Astria? Who would I trust? No one would listen to me. No one. You said it yourself: I’m Nameless, and it’s all I’ll ever be.”
Astria seemed to consider that for a while before nodding her head.
“Good.” Astria said. She looked Beryl hard in the eye one final time. “Bring me back my strongbox and my letters. You have until this time tomorrow. After that, no one will be able to protect you. Not even me.”
With that, Astria walked past Beryl towards the door. Beryl did not turn to watch her. She just listened to the sound of glass crunching beneath Astria’s feet, then the sound of the door opening and closing.
Then Beryl sank down to the floor, and she cried.
She was tired, she was scared, and she was alone. So she cried.
She cried until she couldn’t cry anymore.
* * *
Beryl was still slumped on the floor, with her head buried in her hands, when a loud and frantic pounding on her shop door startled her back into the present. She had no idea how long it had been since her sister had left. It couldn’t have been that long, she reasoned, but it felt as though an age had passed.
For a moment, she considered trying to ignore the knock, but that quickly became impossible as the volume and frequency of the pounding increased. Beryl had no idea who would be so desperate to visit her shop, and she doubted that whoever it was could possibly be up to anything good.
Whoever it was could hardly make things any worse, though. Unless it was The Duchess herself – and Beryl doubted that The Duchess knocked.
Slowly, carefully, Beryl rose to her feet. She tried as best she could to wipe away the evidence of her tears, then she picked her way as carefully as she could across the glass-strewn floor. She felt mana flood into her body, felt the tips of her fingers grow warm, felt the fire start to flicker inside her – just in case, she thought. Then, after taking a deep breath to ready herself, Beryl unlatched and opened the door.
Whatever she might have been expecting to see on the other side of the door, the man she did see wasn’t it. He was a tall man, and older, with a whitening beard and graying hair. He was dressed in strange garb, with a blue cape, a red silk shirt, and fading black trousers. He looked like some sort of street performer. There was something vaguely familiar about his face, but Beryl couldn’t recall ever having seen him before.
The man’s eyes were wide and wild, and when he caught sight of Beryl, he froze, staring at her with a strange, fixated manner. A look of horror blossomed on Beryl’s face as she realized that he was looking at her blind eye, and she reached up and tried hurriedly to arrange her hair so as to cover up her scar.
“No,” the man said suddenly. “You don’t need to do that. I’m an old friend.”
Beryl narrowed her good eye at the man. “I don’t know you,” she said.
She was about to shut the door on him when the man pushed his way inside and closed the door behind himself, smiling at her awkwardly as he did. “No, I suppose you don’t,” he said, then he shook his head slightly. “Not so that you’d remember, anyway. You were very young the last time I saw you. A young child. My name’s Nasperge.”
Beryl shrugged, and gave the man a skeptical look. The name sounded foreign, but, regardless of its origin, it held no meaning for her. “Doesn’t sound a chime,” she said. “Sorry.”
She saw the man glance over her shoulder, and saw a look of confusion flash across his face as he took stock of the sorry state of her store.
“It seems like I’ve come at a bad time,” he said.
“Those are the only times I have,” Beryl said, and then immediately regretted it. She sighed, and shook her head. “Listen, I’m sorry, but why are you here?”
“Beryl, I was a close friend of Moira’s.”
Beryl froze in place and stared at nothing. It had been years since her mother’s name had been spoken in her presence, and hearing it from the lips of a stranger hit her harder than she would have expected. So she just stood there for a long time as the mysterious man watched her with growing concern in his kind – if dull – eyes. She felt flooded with memories, with the terrible recollections of fire, and screaming, and tears. She remembered the smell of burning flesh. She remembered the searing pain in her eye. She remembered the even worse pain in her heart.
Finally, though, Beryl managed to get hold of herself, and she looked back at Nasperge’s concerned face. “I’m afraid my mother is…”
Her voice trailed away, but the man nodded in understanding.
“I know, Beryl, I know.” He stared at her for a long time, a sad sort of smile forming on his lips. “I must say, Beryl, you have her beauty.”
Beryl shook her head and turned away, heading toward the back of the shop. “No, I don’t,” she said matter-of-factly. “Even without the…” Again, her voice trailed away for a moment, before she collected herself. “It was Astria who inherited the smooth skin, the perfect hair. Not me. Never me.”
Nasperge sighed heavily. “That’s loveliness. And you’re right. You don’t have your mother’s loveliness. You have your own. But I mean you have her beauty, Beryl. Her goodness. That indescribable thing that tells you, from the moment you meet someone and every moment afterward, that this person is good.”
Beryl stared at him for a long time. “Now I know you have the wrong person,” she said, and she hung her head.
The man just smiled. “And I know I don’t,” he said.
For a few seconds, Beryl did not look up. And, even when she answered, she kept her head down, trying to hide her scar as much as she could.
“Look, whether you knew my mother or not, you don’t know me, alright?”
“You really don’t remember me, do you?” the man asked, trying to draw a smile out of her with a friendly one of his own. “I would play with you, sometimes, when you were young.” He stroked his beard for a second, then snapped his fingers. “I know, it’s the name. You probably never knew my name! You probably just knew me as The Magician!”
This confused Beryl, but also seemed vaguely familiar to her, as though that word had stirred a long-dormant memory in the back of her mind. “The Magician?” she repeated.
“Yes!” the man said, excitedly. “Remember, I used to do tricks for you and Astria! And I performed at a couple of your birthday celebrations! I think the last one would have been your fifth? No – your sixth. I remember a big number six in fireworks that night. I think Moira put that together herself, if memory serves.”
Suddenly, Beryl found herself fighting back a tear, and the sensation almost made her laugh – she wouldn’t have thought it possible that she could have any tears left inside her. She didn’t remember the things this man was describing, but it all sounded wonderful. Even if it wasn’t true, she wanted it to be.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t remember that. But it sounds nice. It sounds really nice.”
The man looked sad, but, a moment later, he snapped his fingers one more time. “I bet I still remember the trick I did. I mean, I do it all the time, which makes it easy. Here, maybe you’ll remember if you see it one more time.”
The Magician reached into his cape, where there was no pocket, yet he pulled out a small, orange balloon. Beryl looked at the man quizzically, but Nasperge smiled and quickly blew up the balloon until it was slightly larger than his head. He produced a silver string from nothing and went to tie it around the end of the balloon, but he managed to tie it around his finger as well, trapping the balloon against his index finger. He tried to give the balloon to Beryl, but couldn’t shake it free. He tried to untie the string, but couldn’t get it loose, so he pulled the balloon toward him. The balloon seemed to disappear completely behind his hand as he frantically tried to undo the knot, but it reappeared when he moved his hand to get a better angle. He moved his hand again, and the balloon disappeared again, only to reappear yet again a moment later. Finally, he gave up and threw his hands up, and the balloon floated gently away, only to pop into a shower of confetti.
Beryl chuckled, and, in spite of everything else, she found herself smiling. As a child, she had always loved confetti – that was something she had almost entirely forgotten.
Suddenly, the image of a brightly dressed man performing that trick did flash through her mind, although it was impossible to know whether it was the same person as the man who stood before her now. Still, he seemed to know everything he should have, were his story true, and he had little or nothing to gain from lying to her – as least in so far as she could tell. Beryl had no intention of releasing her mana, but she saw no harm in hearing the man out. Until she could prove differently, Nasperge was just who he said he was.
“Alright, Magician, I believe you. But what do you want? I don’t think it’s my birthday, and I doubt you tracked me down just to show me your trick. So why did you come?”
Nasperge looked back toward the door, then almost spoke, but stopped himself. He looked back toward Beryl and sighed heavily.
“I came to warn you, Beryl,” he said. “You’re in tremendous danger.”
In spite of herself, Beryl laughed. “You’ve been gone a long time, haven’t you?” The words were a question, but she spoke without any rising inflection, and with a palpable sadness in her voice.
Nasperge looked at her, his face matching her sadness. “Believe me, Beryl, whatever danger you know you’re in pales drastically in comparison to the real danger.”
Beryl’s shoulders slumped. “I know my sister is after me, and a Great House, and, by this time tomorrow, I’ll have added an all-powerful inhuman monster to that list. How much more danger could there be?”
The Magician’s eyes sank at the question. When he answered it, he wasn’t even looking at her.
“More. So very much more.”
Beryl sighed. “I guess that’s not what I was hoping to hear.” She rubbed her good eye. “I don’t suppose you brought any good news?”
Nasperge looked at her closely. He seemed to be searching for something. “I hope so,” he said. “But that depends.”
“Depends on what?”
“On you. Tell me – you found it, didn’t you? You found Moira’s fire diamond?”
Beryl’s eye grew wide. “How could you have known about that?”
The Magician laughed, then leaned back, pretending to check for dirt under his fingernails as he answered. “Oh, well, you see, I was there,” he paused to look back at Beryl, “the day your mother found it.”
That took Beryl by surprise. She knew why her mother sealed the fire diamond away, but it had never occurred to her to wonder where the artifact had come from in the first place. Where would her mother have gotten something like that? And what other secrets might her mother have kept, which even now she knew nothing about? Discovering her mother’s letter had reminded her of how little she really knew about the woman who had died – who she had killed – when she was only eight.
“The place she found the fire diamond – can you take me there?” she asked Nasperge.
He smiled. “Yes, Beryl, I can. But it will be very difficult. You have to understand that there are some places that are very hard to get to, and some that simply cannot be walked to, at least not in the traditional sense.”
Beryl forced herself not to laugh at his choice of words. “You have no idea.”
Something about the tone of her voice must have drawn Nasperge’s attention, because his eyes narrowed at her. In response, she narrowed her good eye at him.
She had been trying to dance around a sensitive issue, but now she got the feeling that he was, too.
Then, suddenly, the Magician was moving, and his hands producing a strange deck of cards from somewhere in his pocketless cape. Without a word, Nasperge started shuffling, occasionally looking up at Beryl as he did.
“What are you doing?” she asked, interested but confused.
He smiled at her. “I think you and I are already playing some sort of game,” he said pleasantly. “And the best games always involve cards.”
The Magician finished shuffling and quickly dealt out three cards, all face down, with the center card further forward than the others, making an approximate triangle shape.
“An Identity Pyramid?” Beryl said, surprised.
Nasperge’s head snapped up, his eyes focusing on the younger woman. “How do you know about that? Nobody on – well, nobody around here uses the Aubedore patterns.”
Beryl looked at the strange man suspiciously, but nodded. “I’ve never seen it done,” she admitted. “But I read about it in an old book.”
“Really?” Nasperge said, sounding genuinely surprised. “Do you have it here? I would very much like to see it, just out of curiosity. Maybe it says something about the method that I’ve forgotten.”
Beryl shook her head. “I’m sorry, no. I lent it to a friend of mine.” As she said it, the image of Aloise’s smiling face flashed through her mind, and, for an instant, her chest felt tight.
“Ah,” the Magician said, trying – and failing – to hide his disappointment. “Anyway, yes, this is a simple Identity Pyramid. Let’s see what it has to say about you.”
“About me?” Beryl frowned. “Wait a minute—”
But Nasperge was already turning over the left-most card, revealing an image labeled as The Orphan.
Beryl froze as she saw the card, but the Magician did not, and he turned over the right-most card, revealing The Manacles, upside-down in its inverted position.
Beryl’s breath caught in her throat. She wanted to move, to stop him from flipping the final card, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t even manage a whispered plea.
Without a word, Nasperge turned over the third card – the central one, and the one closest to Beryl. It was The Wanderer. The Magician stared at it for a while, then looked up at the pyromancer. Finally, he snapped his fingers and grabbed the first card on the top of the deck, flipping it over immediately and setting it on top of The Wanderer.
It was The Dragon, a card Beryl recognized as an intensifier.
The Magician clapped excitedly. “Ha! Beryl! You’re a planeswalker, aren’t you?”
She stared at him in shock. “I… how do you… I mean, how do you know about planeswalkers?”
Nasperge smiled broadly. “Where do you think I’ve been all these years, Beryl?”
Beryl was silent as she updated her initial assessment of the strange man, looking at him with a fresh eye, and trying to decide just what it was she was seeing. Then, suddenly, stark realization set in. She started thinking about Nasperge, the fire diamond, and her mother.
“The fire diamond came from a different plane, didn’t it?”
Nasperge nodded. “You’re sharp,” he said. “Not that anyone should be surprised. You get that from your mother.”
“Did you give the fire diamond to her?”
Nasperge shook his head.
“Then how did she come by it? She wasn’t a planeswalker. Was she?”
The Magician’s face suddenly grew sad, his eyes drooping. “No. No, Beryl, Moira was…” His voice caught in his throat, and he grew quiet. “Well, she was many things, but she was not a planeswalker.”
Beryl nodded, beginning to understand. “You loved her, didn’t you, Nasperge?”
His eyes flashed briefly, but they died down almost immediately. He took a moment to choose his words, then he smiled his showman’s smile.
“Everybody loved your mother, Beryl. She was a beautiful person.”
For a long moment neither one of them said a thing. Finally, though, Beryl sighed.
“So, I assume this place you’re going to take me to is off-plane?”
“Hmm?” Nasperge said, as though lost in his own thoughts. But then he nodded his head, as though to clear his mind. “Oh, yes. You being a planeswalker really simplifies things. Without that, this would have taken a month, at least. Maybe more, depending on your sense of tone. But now, we should be able to…”
He trailed off, so Beryl tried to finish the sentence for him. “Planeswalk there?”
“Well, no, actually,” he said with another smile. “Like I said, believe it or not, there are some places that can’t be ‘walked to in the usual sense.”
“What do you mean? It’s another plane, but we can’t planeswalk there?”
Nasperge shrugged. “I guess, yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”
Beryl scratched her head. “So, then, how do we get there?”
The Magician seemed to think for a long moment, then snapped his fingers, and pointed at his deck of cards. He reached down and grabbed the top card, lifting it just slightly above the pile before flipping it over and showing it to Beryl.
It showed The Temple.
Nasperge smiled at her. “When’s the last time you went to church, Beryl?”
* * *
The temple had a strange sort of feeling to it that Beryl could not quite identify. She felt cold somehow, but it was not any sort of cold she had felt before. It was something deep beneath her skin, a primal, feral chill deep within the core of her spirit. Despite being dressed warmly, she shivered.
No one else in the temple seemed to notice the cold, though. Nasperge, for his part, seemed lost in thought, and had spoken few words since the two of them had left Beryl’s shop. The rest of the temple was populated by the women of the order that maintained it: priestesses and initiates and various other ranks that Beryl could only guess. Each of them wore a simple white dress with a modest cut, belted around the waist with a colored belt that might have signified rank, or might have been incidental. Either way, none of them seemed bothered by the temperature the way Beryl was.
As she looked around the large gathering area in the front of the temple, Beryl realized how little she knew about this order. It had been around for centuries, of course. Everyone knew that. But who they really were and what they really did were completely lost on the pyromancer. She seemed to remember coming here as a child, but the memories were jumbled and unclear, and ultimately they told her nothing. There was only that vague sense of familiarity that often accompanies seeing someone whose face lies just an inch beyond recognition. The stonework of the ancient temple seemed somehow known to her, but it dwelled not in the light of knowledge, but in the shadows of a dream, as though she remembered something she had not seen yet. It was strangely off-putting.
They had arrived at the temple nearly an hour ago, and Nasperge had exchanged a few words with one of the priestesses, who had hurried off before Beryl could hear what was being said. When she had asked the Magician about it, he had merely said that the priestess would make the preparations for them, but had offered no elaboration on what that could mean. Beryl’s next several questions were answered with short responses of as few words as possible, and she got the distinct impression that Nasperge wanted a moment alone.
So, with a heavy sigh, Beryl obliged, and retreated into her own private thoughts. But those thoughts provided no answers to the mysteries of this temple, or what she was doing there. So now Beryl just sat, and shivered, and waited as patiently as she could manage – which, given what Astria had told her earlier that morning, and what Alessa had told her even before that, was not as patiently as she would have liked.
Finally, after what felt to Beryl like far too long, the priestess whom Nasperge had spoken to returned, along with another, older priestess. This older woman was tall and regal, but with a kind face that wore its age well. Like the others, she wore the same simple white dress, but hers was belted with a sash of deep red. A quick glance around the cavernous room told Beryl that this woman was the only one belted in red.
The older priestess approached the two planeswalkers with a broad smile and the hurried gait of the dignified yet excited. She walked up to Nasperge first, who stood to greet her. The two leaned in close and gave one another a friendly kiss on the cheek, a gesture that Beryl found exceedingly odd for a priestess.
“Nasperge, as I pray!” the woman said, her voice quivering a little, which Beryl assumed was her natural tone. “How many years has it been?”
“Too many, Hepthia,” he replied with a smile. “Yet you look just as lovely as ever.”
The priestess laughed. “Your eyesight is beginning to fail you in your advancing years, Magician.”
“Perish the thought,” Nasperge said with his own laugh. Then he nodded toward the pyromancer. “Hepthia, I presume you remember Beryl?”
“Of course,” the priestess said, turning to face the scarred woman. “Though I doubt she remembers me. It has been too many years, I fear.” She took a breath and looked Beryl over with a sweet sort of smile, almost like a grandmother would look over a grandchild she had not seen in ages. “Beryl,” she said. “Beryl Trevanei.”
Beryl looked away from the older woman, and sadness clouded her face.
“Just Beryl,” she said.
“Oh, dear,” Hepthia said softly. “I’m so sorry, Beryl. It’s just… I knew your mother well, you understand? I just forgot.” The older woman reached over and laid a gentle hand on Beryl’s arm. “Please forgive me.”
Beryl looked back and forced herself to smile. “It’s alright.” She sighed. “Most people don’t even know enough to be able to forget.” Then she paused for a long moment, trying to decide what to say next. “So, you knew my mother?”
Hepthia smiled. “Oh, I knew her very well! We were great friends in our youths. Many of my fondest memories are of our time here together.”
“My mother was here?” Beryl said, confused. “You mean, visiting here? Or here, here?”
Hepthia opened her mouth to reply, but stopped, confused. She turned her head to look over at Nasperge, who was smiling a sad smile. “You didn’t tell her?”
The Magician said nothing.
“Tell me what?” Beryl said.
Hepthia looked back at the pyromancer, but Nasperge spoke before she could.
“I think perhaps we should begin, assuming the chanters are ready,” he said.
“Wait,” Beryl said. “I want to know about my mother.” She shook her head, corrected herself. “I need to know about my mother.”
Hepthia looked from one planeswalker to the other, but finally smiled at Beryl. “There will be plenty of time for that, my dear. But Nasperge is right. If we are going to do this, we should begin.”
“What exactly are we going to do?” Beryl asked, suddenly feeling suspicious.
“The Invocation,” Hepthia said.
Again, Hepthia turned her head to look at the Magician, but this time, neither of them replied.
Beryl wanted to press Hepthia for a straight answer, but she suddenly noticed that the other priestesses and initiates in the gathering area had stopped conversing with one another and were all staring at the three of them. Beryl unconsciously adjusted her hair again, pulling it forward and down, as Hepthia turned away and directed the women’s attention to a far-off door. Without a word, the white-clad women of the temple began to chant, their voices mingling in a strange, surreal sound that somehow chilled Beryl even more than the cold.
Hepthia made a gesture with her hand and pointed to the far door, and the white-robed women all turned and began filing toward it, without a single break in their chants.
As Nasperge and Beryl moved to follow, the Magician leaned in close to her and spoke in a whisper that she could barely hear above the chanting. “They’re going to lead us to a long hallway. No matter what the others do, we’ll follow the last woman in line.” He glanced up as the line of priestesses finished forming, then he pointed to the last one. “Her. Eventually, we’ll come to a door. Walk in slow, measured steps, and do not try to speak with anyone until we’re through the door.”
“Nasperge, what have you gotten me into?” Beryl whispered back, fear rising in her voice.
The Magician smiled. “Don’t worry. It’s just a way to get where you’re going, and unlock the secrets you’re looking for. You know, sometimes we have things trapped inside us, things which must be released in order to make us whole.”
His words sent a chill down Beryl’s spine that had nothing to do with the cold or with the chanting. She leaned in close to him as they walked. “Nasperge, what exactly do you know about me, my mother, and her secrets?”
He looked over at her, his smile dissolving. “I know that, sometimes, you need to light a fire to see through the darkness.”
Beryl’s heart skipped a beat. “Maybe I don’t want to light any more fires,” she said.
The Magician stopped walking, laying a hand on Beryl’s arm to stop her as well. “Beryl, listen to me. If you’re not sure about this, or about me, or about yourself, then you shouldn’t go in there. If you’re uncomfortable, then we shouldn’t do this.”
Beryl looked away from the older man, her face confused, wary. Nasperge leaned in close, his face and voice sympathetic.
“It won’t be easy, Beryl,” he said. “Nothing worthwhile ever is. But, if you want to go where your mother went? If you want to see what your mother saw? If you want to make yourself whole again after a lifetime of falling to pieces?” He paused, meaningfully. Then, with a shake of his head, he indicated toward the doorway through which the last of the priestesses were disappearing. “It’s through there.”
Beryl took one long, deep breath before she looked back at the Magician and simply nodded. Nasperge smiled and patted her arm, and then the two planeswalkers hurried to catch up to the others. They fell into line behind the last of the priestesses, whose strange chants echoed down the stone halls and corridors of the temple.
Slowly, the procession worked its way through the ancient structure, turning around corners and descending flights of stone stairs, until they finally came to their destination. No one said they had arrived at the specific hallway Nasperge had mentioned, but Beryl didn’t need telling. This hallway was entirely different from the rough, gray stone that formed the rest of the temple. It was smooth and decorative, covered in a surprisingly elegant wood paneling that made it stand out starkly from everything else she had seen. The floor was carpeted down the center with a deep crimson material, and the walls were lit by torch sconces that were fixed to the wall, alternating from side to side with every section of paneling.
And it was warm. It was far warmer than it had been anywhere else in the temple. Hot air seemed to blow like a breeze into their faces, driven up from somewhere at the end of the hall. It seemed like an otherworldly place, and the haunting melody of the women’s chanting only heightened the effect. As they continued down the impossibly long hallway, at regular intervals, whichever woman was at the front of the line would stop, standing and chanting opposite one of the torches as the rest of the line continued on past her. As Beryl passed these women who had left the procession, she noticed that their eyes were closed, but they continued to chant, matching the others perfectly. Beryl had never seen anything like it.
The hallway seemed to go on forever, and they were running out of priestesses, but eventually they came to the door Nasperge had mentioned. It was a massive thing, made of some kind of wood that Beryl was unfamiliar with. The door was covered in strange runes, masterfully carved into the surface and glowing slightly with a pale blue light. Beryl studied the runes carefully, and at first they seemed indecipherable, even to her expert eye. But, as she looked closer, Beryl gasped. She still couldn’t read the runes – it was possible they weren’t truly a language at all – but she had seen them before. These were the same runes with which her mother had sealed the box containing the fire diamond, the box Astria had given her to open.
There was only one priestess left who had not taken a position along the wall. She had been the last in the line, and the one Nasperge had indicated for them to follow. This priestess continued to chant along with the others, but as she did, she worked the handle of the large door. Carefully, she pulled the door open, and Beryl could feel a blast of hot air fill the tunnel. The priestess didn’t hesitate as she stepped through the door, and Beryl followed her through. The Magician followed immediately after, closing the door behind him.
On the other side, Beryl found herself on what appeared to be a wooden floor, but it was difficult to tell, because the room she found herself in was almost completely dark. The only light she could see was a faint red glow on the floor in the distance directly in front of her.
The priestess took three steps and stopped, closing her eyes and continuing her chant. The heavy wooden door was shut tight, but Beryl could swear that she still heard the other women chanting from beyond. Nasperge urged Beryl forward, and the two walked through the darkened room. There was a strange sort of silence there, and Beryl stepped exceedingly slowly, both from a lack of visibility and from a stark apprehension of what they would find. After they had moved forward perhaps a dozen paces, Nasperge spoke for the first time since they had moved to follow the priestesses.
“What is it?” Beryl asked.
“One or two more steps, and you’ll see,” the Magician said. “But before that, can you see what’s ahead? There, on the ground?”
Beryl strained her eye at the dull red glow, trying to decide what it could be. It was large, whatever it was, stretching many times the length of her body into the darkness beyond. Something about it seemed familiar, but Beryl at first couldn’t place from where. Then, suddenly, her good eye grew wide. She had seen one of these before. In fact, she had walked across one not too dissimilar.
It was a bed of coals.
“Yes, I can see it,” she said.
Holding Beryl’s arm, Nasperge took a step toward the coals. “Have you ever firewalked, Beryl?”
She swallowed the hot air. “Yes.”
Nasperge directed her to take another step. “Are you ready to do it again?”
Beryl remembered the kind old firewalker she had met in the trading town of Ra’Totse. It had been a long time since she had thought about him, although she thought about the things he had taught her far more often.
Beryl smiled. “Of course I am,” she said. “I am the woman who fire will not burn.”
“Are you?” Nasperge asked, drawing her ahead one more pace. As they took this last step, the bed of coals suddenly sprang to life, until they burned bright with flames climbing ten feet in the air and flaring to a brilliant light.
Beryl jumped back, but Nasperge stayed where he was. “Then why do you still fear it?” he asked.
Beryl looked into his face, which reflected the burning glimmer of the flames. The fire illuminated the strange room they were in, and it was nothing like what Beryl had imagined. In fact, they were not in a room at all, but standing on a sturdy, wooden bridge about ten feet wide. There was no way to tell how far it spanned. The wood, impossibly enough, had no seams. The bridge was not constructed of planks, but rather was one single, massive span. Its railings were carved in complex patterns and inscribed with the same runes that covered the door and the sealed box. It was masterful craftsmanship, the like of which Beryl had never seen.
And yet, beyond the bridge, was an even rarer sight. It was as if somebody had taken the midnight sky and turned it to velvet, then wrapped it around this strange path. The glow of the fire was occasionally reflected within the roiling, unexplainable phenomenon around her, giving the impression of stars or something similar in the distance. Beryl stared beyond the bridge for a long time, trying to make some sense of it. The bizarre, chaotic movement of the darkness was completely beyond her experience, yet like so much else today, it was somehow familiar. She knew she had never been here before, yet it reminded her of something. It reminded her of something that she couldn’t quite describe.
Then, suddenly, she realized what she was seeing, and gasped.
“The Eternities,” she said, her voice a whisper.
Nasperge nodded. “Yes. The Blind Eternities. Perhaps as someone without the Spark might see them.”
“How is this possible?”
“No one knows. It’s not clear whether or not the Sisterhood discovered this place, or whether it was shown to them by some other force, or whether something created the Sisterhood for this precise purpose. Their histories were never recorded, and there is nobody left to remember.”
“But what is this place?” Beryl asked, astounded.
The Magician smiled. “It’s what it looks like, Beryl. It’s a bridge. A bridge to another plane. Beyond those flames, there is another door, and, through it, your destination.”
“But we’re planeswalkers, Nasperge,” Beryl insisted. “If that’s where we’re going, why go through all this? Why not just ‘walk?”
“For two reasons,” he said. “First, as I told you, that plane is closed to our kind, at least if you try to ‘walk in the usual way. I don’t know how or why, but it’s been that way for a great deal longer than I’ve been alive.”
Beryl nodded, trying to understand. She had not been a planeswalker for long, admittedly, but she had never heard of a plane that kept planeswalkers out.
She heard the sound of the chanting priestess behind her, and glanced back. “What’s the story with the chants?”
Nasperge smiled again. “Without them, we’d be tumbling through the aether right now. There’s something primal about the magic of that chant. It calls out to other worlds.” He pointed through the flames, toward the door that Beryl couldn’t see. “It calls to that world.”
“So this bridge—” she began.
“—Would not be here if they stopped chanting.”
Beryl scratched her head. “But why did one chanter come through with us?”
Nasperge sighed heavily, which he seemed to enjoy. “They’ve experimented with this strange portal and their practices for centuries. They do it this way because it is the way that works. The chant helps make the aether solid, or real, or however you want to describe it. If no chanter comes through, the portal is too weak, too much like the aether you and I both know. But if more than one comes through, the effect is too great. The aether solidifies so much that no one can move through it. We’ve done an incredible amount of testing.” He got suddenly thoughtful, suddenly sad. “Good people lost their lives.” He shook his head. “No more than a single mortal can stand on this bridge at one time, and then only if they are chanting the Sisterhood’s sacred chant.”
“Mortals?” Beryl asked.
“I’m sorry,” Nasperge said. “An antiquated term. I just mean those without a planeswalker’s Spark.”
“Why should that matter?”
Nasperge thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I don’t know. I have my theories, of course, but I don’t know.”
A sudden thought occurred to Beryl, and it gave her a chill, even here. “Nasperge, how did you meet my mother?”
The Magician sighed again, then pointed to the priestess who stood over by the door, still chanting out into the darkness. “She was standing right there.”
“My mother was a priestess?” Beryl asked, unable to believe it.
“An initiate, actually. She never took her vows. But Hepthia tells me she showed tremendous promise. Big surprise there, right? Moira showed tremendous promise in everything she did.”
“So what happened?”
“She knew about the testing we were doing to try to puzzle this whole thing through. All of the chanters knew, of course. And more than anything, she wanted to see what was on the other side of that door. So, she volunteered. I thought she was going to die, Beryl, I really did. But she walked up to that flame with no trace of fear and walked straight on through, chanting all the way like nothing was happening.”
Beryl said nothing. There was nothing she could say. She tried, a few times, but nothing came out.
Nasperge laid a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“Your mother was a remarkable woman, Beryl.”
Beryl nodded her agreement.
Nasperge looked her directly in the eye. “And so are you,” he said.
Beryl tried to form a smile, but it didn’t come out quite right. Then, suddenly, she thought of something. “What’s the other reason?” She asked him.
“You said we came here for two reasons,” she reminded him. “What’s the second one?”
Nasperge sighed deeply. “The other reason is you, Beryl. You have something locked inside you, something that is keeping you from being whole. Sometimes you have to light a fire to see through the darkness. Sometimes, Beryl, you have to walk through one.”
Beryl looked over at the tower of flames still blasting her with their heat, and she nodded. “I can do that,” she said. “I’ve walked through fires before.”
“Not like these, you haven’t,” the Magician warned. “These are no ordinary flames. They are the fires that burn in the darkness between two worlds.” He sighed once again. “Every pyromancer that lives beyond their first conflagration develops some magical resistance to flame. It’s only natural. Those who can’t are burned up by their own power. But it’s still magic, Beryl. And, like all magic, it still needs a source.” He pointed at the flames. “That flame is more than powerful enough to burn right through your natural shield, because you’re not giving yourself what you need.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I think you do. There’s something inside of you, Beryl. And it frightens you, doesn’t it?”
Beryl said nothing, and instead stared at the wall of fire. She didn’t want to hear Nasperge. She didn’t want to admit what she already knew. So, instead, she just stared into the fire, and shook her head.
“The power inside you is not evil, Beryl,” Nasperge said.
A tear started to fall from the corner of Beryl’s good eye. “I have done evil with it.”
“No,” the Magician corrected. “There have been accidents, I know. But there is no accidental evil. Evil comes from intention, and you have a good heart. Your mother always thought so.”
Now Beryl was crying hard. Between sobs, she managed to say:
“I wonder if she still thought that when I was killing her.”
As Beryl spoke those words, Nasperge seemed overcome by emotion, both Beryl’s and his own. He stepped over and embraced the scarred woman. For her part, she hugged him tightly. It didn’t matter who he was, or how little she really knew him. It wouldn’t have made a difference if he were an old friend of hers, or a friend of her mother’s, or a complete stranger. All that mattered was that he was there, and Beryl needed someone to be there – even if, in her heart of hearts, she wished that it was someone else she was embracing.
After a long moment, the Magician pulled away slightly and looked Beryl straight in the face.
“I knew your mother very well, Beryl. And if she had time to think anything, I know what it was. She was thinking: ‘I love you, Beryl.’ She was thinking: ‘I wish I could spare you from this.’ She was thinking: ‘Be strong, Beryl, and do not doubt your heart.’ That’s what Moira Trevanei was thinking when she died in that accident. It wasn’t an act of evil, Beryl. It wasn’t your fault.”
Beryl wiped away a stream of tears, but more replaced them. “I didn’t mean to kill her, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t my fault.”
“Then you tell me,” Nasperge said. “You tell me why she died.”
“Because I can’t control this… this… this thing that’s inside of me. This fire.”
“And why can’t you control it, Beryl?”
Beryl’s voice broke. “Because of what I am. I’m a killer.”
Nasperge shook his head. “No. That’s where you’re wrong: The reason you can’t control it is because you keep trying to!”
She looked up at him, confused. Nasperge pulled away from her and took a step toward the fire. When he looked back, his face seemed contorted as though he were in physical pain. “Sometimes, we have things trapped inside us, things that we have to release in order to make ourselves whole. Beryl, ever since the accident, all you’ve thought about is what you might do with your power. You’ve never once stopped to think about what you might choose not to do!”
Beryl looked away, but Nasperge would have none of it.
“Beryl, look at me,” he said, his voice suddenly loud. After a long moment, she did.
“You’re living your life in fear of the past,” he said, his voice urgent. “Even when you look to the future, you’re only thinking about what you might regret later. Your past, or your future’s past, it’s all the same darkness. You need to see through it. I want to see what’s on the other side of that darkness, Beryl. And I think you do, too.”
Beryl looked up at the older man, and her tears stopped flowing. Behind her, through the eerie silence that existed between two worlds, the lone priestess continued to chant out across the darkness. Perhaps, if a voice could pierce that darkness, Beryl thought, then her heart could do so, as well. If Nasperge was right, then all she had to do was light a fire. But there was still doubt in Beryl’s mind. Too much had happened to her, too many had been hurt.
Beryl didn’t want to become someone who didn’t care about that. She wasn’t sure that she wanted to forget.
The Magician held out his hand. “Will you come with me?”
For a moment, Beryl just stared at the strange man’s outstretched hand, and listened to the otherworldly chanting which seemed to echo through the very void of the Eternities. Then she turned to look at the burning bridge which stretched out before her for as far as her eye could see.
She saw great jets of fire towering above her head, and, even from where she stood, she could feel the heat of the aetherial blaze, hot and dry on her face, like the open maw of a great furnace.
She had walked through fire before, but never like this. As she stared into the flames, she started to feel doubts forming in the back of her mind. And, along with those doubts, came their old companion: fear.
Fear. Beryl knew fear. She knew its contours intimately, knew its telltale signs: a prickling at the base of the spine, a foul taste at the back of the throat, a ghostly flutter at the bottom of the heart. She felt almost as though fear had shrouded her soul since the day her mother had died. Her mother, who had been so good to her, so kind, only to be repaid with fire.
Her mother, who, after decades of silence, had suddenly reached out to her from beyond the grave, and asked her to fight, just when everyone else was telling her to run away.
Somehow, it all came back to her mother.
Slowly, Beryl turned back to face the Magician, who still looked at her with expectant eyes.
“You told me that my mother walked through this fire,” Beryl said, her voice soft. “Is that true?”
The Magician nodded. “I wouldn’t have believed it, if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes.”
In the end, that was all Beryl needed to hear.
“If my mother did it, then so will I,” she said.
Nasperge smiled at her, and nodded. Once again, he extended his hand, but Beryl just shook her head.
“No,” she said. “I have to do this for myself.”
The Magician opened his mouth to speak, but Beryl just looked at him with her one green eye, and he fell silent.
Then, after taking a deep breath, she stepped up to the very edge of the bed of fire.
The heat was unbelievably intense – she had never felt anything like it before in her life. It seemed to crash over her like a physical wave. She felt sweat beading on her forehead only to boil away in an instant, and her good eye watered so badly that she had to squeeze it shut. She felt as though, surely, at any second, her hair and clothes would catch fire. And, for just a moment, her mind was filled with a horrible vision of her own body – twisted, blackened, smoking – being consumed by the fire between worlds, and she thought she could hear the sound of her own screaming. And, in that moment, she wanted to turn back, to admit she had made a mistake, to run.
But then, in her mind’s eye, she formed a different picture. She pictured her mother, serene and confident, with the haunting melody of the chant pouring forth from her soul, standing in the same spot where she herself now stood, and taking a step forward.
She would follow in her mother’s footsteps, and she would be safe.
I am the woman fire will not burn, she thought to herself, and she took a step forward.
She felt heat beneath the soles of her feet, felt flames creeping up the sides of her body, caressing her like countless unseen hands.
I am my mother’s daughter, she thought to herself, and she took another step.
She was surrounded by fire now. She could literally hear it all around her, snapping and popping in the void of the Eternities, hissing like a serpent.
I will not try to control the fire, she thought, and she took another step.
She could feel the hot coals shifting beneath her feet, could literally smell the heat in the air as a kind of smoky, peppery scent.
I will not try to fight the fire, she thought, and she took another step.
She could feel a strange sensation in the center of her chest now, like a flame kindling her heart.
I will accept the fire, she thought, and she took another step.
The sensation was spreading, filling her whole body with a familiar kind of warmth. Only it wasn’t the warmth she usually associated with magic. It was something else, something more primal, something which seemed to come from deep inside herself.
And, in that moment, she recognized the feeling for what it was.
She stopped walking, and she opened her eye, and she spoke:
“I am the fire,” Beryl said.
Then, suddenly, all around her, the aetherial flames seemed to flare up as one into a single, soaring jet of fire which spiraled up into the swirling darkness above. And then, just as suddenly, they were gone. The coals beneath her feet still glowed red-hot, but they did not burn. Except for the chanting of the lone priestess, all was silence.
Beryl turned around to face the Magician, and was surprised to see him holding his arm out in front of his eyes, with his gaze cast down towards the floor, so that he was not looking directly at her.
Then she looked down at herself, and she understood why.
She was glowing. And not just the usual sort of glow which she knew she gave off when she was working her pyromancy. Instead, her entire body was radiating a kind of intense, pure, white light, as the primordial fire which she had welcomed inside herself lit her from within like a blazing sun.
His eyes still averted from her, Nasperge started to speak. “How—”
But Beryl held out her hand to stop him. Then she motioned for him to join her.
“You should be able to cross,” she said. “I can hold the fire until we’ve passed. Just follow me.”
The Magician did just that, and, together, he and Beryl crossed over the bridge between two worlds.
* * *
At first, Beryl thought they were standing inside a great room. After all, the air was quiet and still, and the floor appeared to be made from smooth, black stone which had been polished to a mirror sheen, so that, when Beryl looked down at it, she saw a darkened version of her own visage reflected back up at her.
Except there were no walls. Beryl looked around in all directions, and, for as far as her eye could see, the seamless stone floor just stretched off into the distant, unseen horizon. There was no ceiling, either. When she looked up, Beryl saw neither sky nor stars, but instead was greeted by the silent, ceaseless roil of the raw Eternities.
As strange as this vast, formless space was, what was inside it was even stranger: it was filled with doors and mirrors.
At first, Beryl tried to count them all, as she spun around in a circle, with her mouth slightly agape and her eye open wide, but she soon gave up – the doors and mirrors were, quite literally, countless.
The mirrors came in a seemingly infinite variety of shapes and sizes. Some were in heavy gilt frames made from precious metals, while others were held up by simple wooden stands. Some rested atop great marble pedestals, whereas others seemed to just float in space, hovering a few feet above the ground with no visible means of support. Some were ovals, some were rectangles, and some were strange, chaotic shapes which Beryl didn’t know any names for. Reflections bounced back and forth between the mirrors and the polished stone floor, so that the whole space seemed to merge together into a kind of infinite mosaic of reflections.
The doors were all identical to the one which Beryl and the Magician had passed through to reach this strange space. They were made of a heavy, dark wood, and covered with swirling, pulsing blue runes, arranged in an unnervingly vascular pattern which Beryl recognized as the same sort of heartseal which her mother had used. The doors were freestanding, and they seemed to be randomly distributed throughout the world at varying intervals and angles.
Beryl found herself wondering if each door led to a different bridge, and if beyond each bridge there lay a different, alien world. As she did, she felt both curiosity and fear stirring in the depths of her soul.
Quietly, Beryl knelt down on the ground and, with slightly fumbling fingers, she untied the laces of her hobnail boots. Then she slid the boots off. The black stone floor was cold beneath her bare feet, and Beryl thought she could feel a low, steady vibration in the ground below her. Beryl picked up her boots and set them at the base of the door from which she and the Magician had just emerged. Nasperge watched silently as she placed the marker, and he gave her a wordless nod of approval.
Beryl watched Nasperge for a moment, and she saw a look of awestruck confusion on the Magician’s face which she suspected mirrored her own. Somehow, the fact that the other planeswalker appeared to be just as dumbstruck by their surroundings as she was made her feel reassured rather than anxious.
“Did my mother ever tell you what was beyond the bridge?” she asked. She realized that she had whispered the question, and she wasn’t sure why.
The Magician shook his head.
“In all the years I knew her, she never spoke of it.” He was quiet for a moment. “She said it couldn’t be explained, and that it shouldn’t be explained. She said that only those who entered could understand.”
Beryl looked around at the seemingly endless maze of doors and mirrors. “How long was she in here?”
“Almost a week,” the Magician said, and Beryl heard something catch in his voice as he said it. “She walked across the bridge, and then she was gone. Many of the priestesses thought that she was dead, or that she was lost, never to return.” He turned to face Beryl, and his eyes were distant, lost in memory. “Every day, the chanters assembled, and chanted, and waited. Every day, we saw no sign of her. And then, just when we were all close to giving up hope, she returned. Gods, but she had a showman’s instinct.” He smiled at that. “The door inside the temple opened, and she just stepped through it, as though nothing had ever happened. Except that she had the fire diamond with her, and she was different, somehow.”
“Different?” Beryl asked. “Different how?”
Nasperge paused for a moment, and Beryl could tell he was struggling to explain. “Maybe ‘different’ is the wrong word,” he said. “She was still herself, only even more so, if that makes any kind of sense. She was just… Moira. It was as though she had expanded somehow,” he said, his hands churning the air in front of him, as if he were trying to grasp hold of something which couldn’t be held, “and her spirit seemed to expand too, like it was filling the new space.” Then he just shook his head, and sighed. “She withdrew from the Sisterhood the very next day, and she never seemed to look back.”
“But why?” Beryl asked, still confused, still reeling from everything that had happened. “What did she find in here? What am I supposed to find in here?”
At that question, Nasperge smiled. “The only way to find out is to find out,” he said.
Beryl stared again at the infinite jumble of doors and mirrors, searching for anything resembling an obvious landmark, but finding none.
“Which way do I go?”
“Whichever way you’re supposed to go,” the Magician said. He swept an arm out in front of them in a great arc. “Follow your heart.”
Beryl turned in a slow circle until the direction she was facing felt like the right direction, even if she had no idea why. Then she started to walk.
Her bare footfalls were silent as she made her way slowly through the strange forest of mirrors and doors. The doors simply loomed over her like silent, mysterious sentinels. But, to Beryl’s shock, she discovered that some of the mirrors contained reflections.
Reflections of people other than herself.
She almost cried out in surprise when she saw the first one. She was walking past a great, gold-edged mirror that stretched to twice her own height, when – out of the corner of her eye – she caught sight of an unfamiliar face. Turning quickly, she practically jumped into the air as she found herself face-to-face with a dark-skinned elf in a dark green robe with his hair in a long, white braid that stretched all the way down to the floor.
He stared back out at her from the mirror with quizzical green eyes, and he gesticulated in Beryl’s direction, as though urging her to speak. She just stood and stared at the elf, with her hand clasped over mouth, as the reflection made several more attempts to communicate with her, none of which she knew how to engage with.
Finally, the reflection appeared to grow impatient with Beryl’s lack of a response. After a few seconds, the elf simply shrugged, shook his head, and turned away.
Beryl kept on staring, silent and dumbfounded, at the reflection’s green-robed back for a minute or more, before she shook her own head. Then, with her heart still beating a little faster than before, she went back to walking.
From then on, she started to see more alien reflections in the mirrors she passed. Not all the mirrors seemed to contain them, but many did. She saw people of all ages and races. Human men and women, yes, but also lizardmen, dwarves, giants, a catfolk, an angel, a many-eyed purple creature with no discernibly humanoid features and great tentacles for limbs, and countless other sorts of beings which she didn’t even know names for. Some smiled at her. Some scowled at her. Some looked as though they wanted to interact with her. Others seemed to take no notice of her presence at all.
Most of the reflections were unique. But, a couple of times, she passed through a stretch of space where the same reflected face greeted her in mirror after mirror. With each subsequent reflection, though, the image of the mirror’s occupant grew fainter and less distinct, until the final few reflections were little more than ghostly apparitions, which seemed to fade away into the polished surfaces of the mirrors themselves.
The effect of it all was unnerving, and Beryl was beginning to wonder if she had made a mistake, if she oughtn’t to turn back, to try to retrace her steps before she became lost in this strange mirrored world forever. In fact, she was just about to do so when she looked up at a simple, tall mirror which floated above the floor just a few paces in front of her, and saw something that made her breath catch in her throat, and her heart skip a beat.
She saw Astria.
Beryl blinked once, then twice. It was impossible, except there it was: Astria’s reflection, staring right at her from inside the mirror.
The reflected version of Astria was younger than the woman Beryl had seen in her shop that morning. Younger even than Beryl herself, she realized with a start. Also, where Beryl was so used to seeing Astria’s face set into a hard look of anger, or disapproval, or contempt, and where Beryl had come to expect to see fire in the depths of Astria’s amber eyes, the reflection’s face was soft, and kind, and calm, and the reflection’s eyes were clear and bright.
It was only then that Beryl noticed what the woman in the reflection was wearing: a simple, white dress with a modest cut, belted around the waist with a white sash. The outfit of a priestess of the Sisterhood.
Or, more accurately, an initiate.
And, as that realization dawned on her, Beryl felt as though her heart were swelling up to fill her entire chest, and as though every single emotion she had ever experienced were happening at the same time.
She took a small, hesitant step towards the reflection in the mirror, and her voice choked as she tried to form the word:
In the mirror, a look of confusion appeared on the reflection’s face.
“I don’t know,” the reflection said, in a voice that Beryl had not heard for over twenty years, except in her memories. “My name is Moira Trevanei. I have no children.”
Suddenly, the reflection’s face broke out into a broad, beatific smile. “Or do I?”
Beryl took another step forward, and she reached out with a trembling hand to touch her fingers against the mirror’s cool glass. When she opened her mouth, it felt less as though she were consciously speaking, and more as though she were just hearing herself speak.
“My name is Beryl,” she said. “I’m your daughter.”
As Beryl spoke, the reflection’s already-wide smile somehow widened further, and her eyes seemed to beam with a kind of inner light.
“I have a daughter?” the woman in the mirror asked.
“You have two daughters,” Beryl said.
“Please, I want to look at you – I want to see your face.”
The reflection seemed to draw herself closer to the surface of the mirror, and Beryl did the same, so that her face was just an inch or two away. On the other side of the glass, she could see the reflection’s excited, intelligent eyes looking at her, taking her in.
Seeing her mother there, so close, so alive, Beryl felt overwhelmed. There were so many things she wanted to say to her mother, so many questions she wanted to ask.
More than anything, though, she wanted to apologize. She wanted to fall to her knees and beg for forgiveness.
Beryl was just about to open her mouth to say something when she realized: She can’t forgive me.
The reflection of her mother had been cast before Beryl was ever born.
She doesn’t know who I am, Beryl thought with a start.
She doesn’t know what I am.
She doesn’t know that I will kill her.
And, as that realization struck home, Beryl felt her knees buckle beneath her. She sank down to the cold, polished floor, and she cried. Sobs racked her body, and tears streamed down her face. She felt as though all the guilt she had been holding inside for years had come pouring out, and she was helpless to stop it.
A look of intense concern formed on the reflection’s face, and she knelt down as well, reaching out towards Beryl, pressing her fingertips up against the other side of the glass. The reflection’s eyes turned warm and supportive, and she made soft, cooing noises, like a mother dove.
“What troubles you, child?” Moira asked. “Why do you cry?”
It took Beryl a minute before she could answer. Eventually – somehow – she regained enough of her composure to wipe the tears away from her good eye, and to look at her reflected mother without feeling an unbearable need to look away. Even then, she had to sniffle a little and blow her nose before she could speak.
“I’m sorry,” Beryl finally said. “It’s just that… it’s just that, I haven’t seen you for a long, long time.”
The moment those words passed her lips, Beryl regretted having said them. And her fears were confirmed a second later when her reflected mother’s brow furrowed into a frown of apprehension, followed shortly thereafter by a sad-eyed look of understanding.
Beryl saw her reflected mother’s eyes start to water, and she was sure that she would begin to cry again herself. But then her mother frowned again, and shook her head, and, suddenly, a smile reappeared on her mother’s face, like a ray of sunlight burning through a gray cloud.
“Please don’t fret, my child,” Beryl’s mother said. “How can I feel sadness, when I see you now? When I see the woman my daughter will grow to be?” Again, her mother smiled and shook her head. “Whatever may have happened to me, I will count myself blessed.”
Again, her mother’s reflection ran her fingertips across the other side of the glass, as though she could stroke the side of Beryl’s face. Reflexively, Beryl put her own hand up to her cheek, and felt the edge of her red, raised scar beneath her own fingers.
Beryl stared at her mother, with her long auburn hair, her beautiful amber eyes, and her soft, smooth skin, and again she was reminded of her sister.
“Your older daughter, Astria – she looks just like you,” Beryl said to the reflection. “She looks so much like you.” Beryl closed her eye for a moment. “Somehow, I think I’d almost forgotten how much.”
“My older daughter…” the reflection said, and appeared to take a moment to consider this thought. “I will count myself doubly blessed.”
“You were such a good mother,” Beryl said. The words came between sniffles, and, again, she was fighting back tears. “The best mother. Better than I had any right to deserve.”
“You mustn’t say such things,” the reflection said, shaking her head for emphasis. “Did you love me?”
Beryl nodded her head frantically. “Yes,” she said. “With all my heart. I still do.”
“Then you deserve love in return,” the reflection said, with a tone that made it clear that the point was settled. “You have a good heart, Beryl. I can tell. Anyone with a heart like that deserves to love and to be loved.”
“How can you tell?” Beryl asked. “You don’t know me. You don’t know what I’ve done.”
Moira’s reflection smiled. “I always had a talent for seeing into hearts,” she said. “That was what drew me to the temple in the first place.”
Beryl shifted her position on the ground, so that she was seated somewhat comfortably. “I never knew you had joined the Sisterhood,” she said. “You never talked about it.”
Moira’s reflection frowned a little, and then shrugged. “I don’t know why that would be,” she said. “I have no regrets about my time at the temple.”
“Why did you want to be a priestess?”
The reflection sighed. “I was my mother’s only daughter,” she said. “An only child, born to a greater matriarch of a Great House. From the moment I first showed an aptitude for sorcery, my mother was determined that I should join the Guild and rise through its ranks.” Moira’s reflection chuckled a little bit to herself. “She even fancied that I might become High Sorceress someday – that was quite an aspiration for her.”
“Except?” Beryl said.
“Except that it wasn’t what I wanted,” the reflection said. “Or, at least, it wasn’t what I wanted then. Life in the Guild is so regimented, so stultifying. Even when it comes to magic, all they care about is what you can do, not whether you actually do anything with it, accomplish any good.” The reflection shrugged again, then smiled. “So I ran away, after a fashion. I went to join the temple. The Sisterhood was just respectable enough that my mother couldn’t object, and just common enough that she wouldn’t like it. And – strange as this may sound to you – compared to life in the Guild and at the Court? I found it freeing.”
“So then why didn’t you take your vows? Why did you leave?”
Again, for a moment, the reflection’s face wrinkled. Then Moira gestured down at the initiate’s robe she wore.
“Well, I can’t say for certain, mind you, but I’m sure I know why.” Moira’s reflection gestured out at the endless maze of doors and mirrors which surrounded both the real woman and the reflected one. “The Sisterhood was working so hard to understand the mystery of the Invocation, of the heartsealed door, of the bridge between worlds. And I became involved, because I understood the magic better than most. And, gradually, over time, I came to think that maybe, after all, sorcery was my calling, that it was how I could do the greatest good, make the biggest difference. And that thought was on my mind when I crossed through the fire and arrived here.”
Beryl rose to her feet again, stretching her legs as she looked at the strange, infinite space around her.
“Where is here?” she said. “What is this place?”
Moira’s reflection shook her head, and her face turned pensive. “I cannot say. Clearly, this plane is not a natural one – it was created, by a powerful and intelligent mind. But, by whom, and when, and for what purpose? Again, I cannot say.” The reflection pointed to a nearby door. “Each door is heartsealed, and each connects this place to a different bridge, beyond which lies a different world.” Next, the reflection pointed to a mirror. “And each mirror is, for lack of a better term, a moment frozen in time. Touch one, and you leave your reflection behind for eternity.”
“But why would anyone build such a place?” Beryl asked. “Why would anyone come here?”
“Why anyone would build such a plane is, I am afraid, unknowable,” the reflection said. “As for why so many have travelled here, I suspect the answer is simple. Curiosity draws them into this world, just as it drew me – and, if I know my daughter, you – across the bridge and through the sealed door. Once in this world, the mirrors offer a great power to those who would use them.”
The reflection turned to face squarely into the mirror’s surface. “Stand before a mirror, and you cast your reflection,” she said. Then Moira’s reflection tapped a finger on the other side of the glass. “Touch the mirror, and you leave your reflection behind.” Finally, the reflection indicated herself. “Speak to your reflection, and you may have the chance to know yourself as few ever can. You may ask yourself one question, and you may be assured of an honest answer.”
“Only one question?” Beryl asked, her mind already racing as she considered the possibilities.
“What if I have more questions?”
“I cannot caution you strongly enough against succumbing to the temptation to try to learn more,” Moira’s reflection said, the tone of her voice suddenly foreboding. “We are only meant to cast one reflection during our mortal lives. You can leave more, but doing so comes at a great cost.”
Beryl thought back to the groups of mirrors she had passed, where the same reflection repeated again and again until it faded away into nothingness. “With each reflection, you leave more of yourself behind?” she said.
Moira’s reflection nodded. “You will have seen those poor souls as you came in. In their greed for ever more knowledge, they lost themselves.” The reflection’s voice became urgent, emphatic. “Please, do not repeat their mistake.”
Beryl shook her head. “I won’t,” she said. Then, turning to examine the space around her, she spotted an empty mirror just a few paces away from the one her mother’s reflection occupied, with a clean line of sight between the two of them. Slowly, she walked across to the mirror – a tall, rectangular glass set into a simple, polished-wood frame – and stood in front of it.
In the mirror, Beryl’s own reflection stared back at her, wondering, and waiting.
Beryl closed her eye, and thought about what she would ask.
Her first thought was to say: “Can I control what’s inside me?” But then she remembered what the Magician had told her, and what the old firewalker had told her before that: Control was an illusion. She didn’t need to control herself, she needed to accept herself for what she was.
She had been trying to do that. She had been trying to accept herself ever since the moment her mother had died from the fire she had summoned. As she felt the weight of her reflected mother’s eyes on her back, she wondered if she would ever be able to truly accept herself, if she could ever feel at peace with herself so long as she felt as though she were beyond forgiveness.
And that, she realized, was what she needed to know.
Slowly, Beryl opened her eye, and came face to face with her own reflection. Then she reached out, and, with the tip of a single, shaking finger, she touched the mirror’s cold glass surface.
In that moment, she felt a surge of strange mana shoot through her body. Then, to her astonishment, her reflection drew its own finger away from the mirror, and took a few steps back before crossing its arms in front of its chest, and fixing her with a one-eyed stare, as it waited for her to speak. Even though Beryl had known that such a thing would happen, actually seeing her reflection move of its own volition still sent an eerie shiver down her spine.
Still with her fingertip resting against the reflective glass of the mirror, Beryl whispered to her reflected self:
“Can I be forgiven?”
For just a moment, a look of annoyance passed across her reflection’s face. Then Beryl’s reflection smiled back at her, and nodded its head.
“Of course,” the reflected Beryl said. “But only after you forgive yourself.”
Beryl stood still for a second, as her own words registered fully.
“Thank you,” she said to herself.
“You’re welcome,” her reflection said, before giving her an exasperated shake of the head, and nodding in the direction of Moira’s mirror. “But go talk to her. We have precious little time, and she’s the one you ought to spend it with. I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know.”
Beryl smiled at that, in spite of herself.
“I guess I’ll just have to learn to listen to what my heart tells me,” she said.
“Yes, please,” the reflection said, before nodding again towards the other mirror. “Now, please, go.”
In her mirror, Moira’s reflection was smiling at Beryl.
“And now you know the great secret of this place,” the reflection said. “It can only show you what you already know, even if you don’t yet realize that you know it.”
“What did you see, when you spoke to your own reflection?” Beryl asked.
“You remember that, when I came here, I was wondering whether I was meant to take my vows at the temple, or whether I was meant to live outside the cloister?”
Beryl nodded her head.
The reflection gave a knowing nod in return. “Well, I asked myself: Is there a better way for me to serve the world? And my answer was: ‘Of course.’ Just like yours.” Again, the reflection beamed with a kind of beatific glow. “And now, I look at you, and I know that I must have done the right thing.”
“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” Beryl said. “Why did it take you a week to return home afterward?”
The reflection covered her mouth with a hand and giggled. “I couldn’t find my way back out,” she said. “All the doors look alike, and I forgot to mark the one I entered through. I must have ventured out into a dozen different worlds before I found the right one.”
In spite of herself, Beryl smiled. She pointed down at her bare feet, which were growing uncomfortably cold atop the cold stone floor.
“I left my boots at the door,” she said. “I couldn’t think of what else to do, but I figured I had to do something.”
In the mirror, her mother smiled a great smile. “Then you’re cleverer than I. I am so proud to have met you, Beryl Trevanei.”
As her mother’s reflection spoke her lost name, Beryl felt for a moment as though her heart would break in two. Slowly, she shook her head.
“No,” she said, averting her eye from her mother’s reflected image. “Not Beryl Trevanei. Just Beryl.”
She expected to see a look of shame or reproach on her mother’s face. But, instead, the reflection just shook her head.
“Are you my daughter?” she asked.
“Yes,” Beryl said.
“Did I name you?” the reflection asked.
“Yes,” Beryl said again.
“Then you are Beryl Trevanei.” Moira’s reflection nodded once, decisive and firm. “I gave you my name; it is yours to bear.”
“Other people don’t see things that way,” Beryl said, her voice quiet.
Her mother’s reflection shrugged, and smiled a wry smile. “If those others wish to brave the fire between worlds to discuss the matter with me, I shall be pleased to correct them.”
That got Beryl smiling. She reached out one final time, and put her fingers on the glass of her mother’s mirror. On the other side of the surface, her mother’s reflection did the same.
“I love you,” Beryl said, her eye welling with fresh tears as she said it.
“I love you, too,” the reflection said, with a voice which wavered but did not break. “Now, go and find your boots, before you catch your death of cold.”
Beryl nodded her head, and smiled. Then she pulled herself away from her mother’s mirror.
It was maybe the hardest thing she had done in her life, but she did it.
As she started to walk away in the direction from which she had come, Beryl snuck a brief glance back over her shoulder. In that moment, she saw her mother’s reflection looking over at the reflection she herself had left in the nearby mirror, and she saw her own reflection looking back.
They would be together, Beryl thought, for so long as the Eternities existed. Somehow, just knowing that gave her a sense of deep, profound comfort.
She walked for several more minutes before she even realized that the Magician was not with her, that she had no idea where he was. She realized that she had just assumed that he would follow behind her. Then, after she had discovered her mother’s reflection, she had forgotten about the older planeswalker altogether.
But now that she realized that Nasperge was missing, and that she could not search for him without the risk of becoming lost herself, she began to panic. The speed of her steps increased, until she was tearing through the scattered doors and mirrors at a full run.
So, when she came into sight of the door which led back to Aliavelli and saw the Magician standing next to it, shuffling his deck of Aubedore cards as he tapped one foot on the black stone floor, she felt a palpable sense of relief.
Sliding to a stop next to the older planeswalker, Beryl nearly doubled over as she struggled to catch her breath. First, she slipped her numb feet back into her hobnail boots. Then she looked up at the Magician, her confusion plain on her face.
“Where have you been?” she asked between panting breaths. “I thought you were going to follow behind me?”
The Magician gave her a cagey smile in return. “Back on the bridge, you told me this was something you had to do for yourself. I decided you were right,” he said.
As he spoke, he gave the Aubedore cards a practiced, showman’s shuffle, and there was something about the precise movements of his hands that reminded Beryl eerily of Alessa. But she didn’t have time to dwell on that connection, because the Magician arched an eyebrow at her and spoke.
“Do you feel whole again?” he asked.
Beryl had to consider that question for a long moment. Finally, she shook her head.
“Not yet,” she said. “But, for the first time in a long, long time, I feel like I want to be whole again, and like I deserve to feel that way. And that’s a start.”
“That’s not just a start,” the Magician said. “That’s the only start.” He smiled at her. “Beryl, I’m happy for you. You’re ready to become what you were meant to become, what you need to become.”
“Thank you, Nasperge,” Beryl said, then hesitated. “Or should I call you the Magician?”
Nasperge shrugged. “When you called me the Magician, you were a little girl. You’re a woman, now. You may call me whatever you like.”
Beryl thought for a second, then smiled at the older planeswalker. “I’d like to call you my friend,” she said. “If you don’t mind.”
“I’d be honored,” Nasperge said, “if you’ll allow me to do the same.”
“I’d be honored, too,” Beryl said. Reaching out, she placed her hand on the glowing, rune-covered door. “Ready to go home?” she asked.
Suddenly, the Magician’s eyes grew distant, and he shook his head.
“The world through that door is not my home,” he said. “You must return there. There is work that must be done, and only you can do it. As for me?” Nasperge sighed. “I will not return with you. My destination lies elsewhere.”
That left Beryl silent for a moment. She wanted to ask the Magician where he was going, and what he meant to do, but she sensed a certain guardedness which had suddenly grown up around the older man, and she thought better of it. So, instead, she asked: “Will I see you again?”
“That’s not for me to say,” Nasperge said. “But, for now, please take this to remember me by.” With a flourish, he fanned out the Aubedore deck, before extracting a single card from its middle. He offered the card to Beryl, face down.
Beryl accepted the card from the Magician’s gloved hand. “What’s this?” she said.
Then she turned the card over to reveal The Archmage.
“That is your destination,” the Magician said. He returned the Aubedore deck to the pocket which his cape didn’t have, and offered Beryl a little bow.
Beryl stared at the card for a moment, before she tucked it inside her pocket.
“Thank you,” she said again.
Then she opened the heavy, runed door, but she paused before stepping through it.
Beryl was quiet for a long moment.
“My mother… did you ever tell her that you loved her?”
For a moment, the Magician’s head drooped, and his eyes grew sad.
“In as many words? No. I regret that I didn’t.” He sighed, and seemed to enjoy it less than usual. “I like to believe that she knew, just the same. But, no, I never told her.”
“Some things we keep locked inside. Often, those are the things which hurt us.”
Beryl reached out and hugged the Magician, which seemed to take him by surprise. But, after an initial moment of hesitation, the older man seemed to relax, and she heard him sigh one final time.
When she released him, he did not avoid her eye.
“She knew,” Beryl said. “For what it’s worth, she knew. I don’t know how I know, but I know.”
Nasperge gave the scarred woman an amazed look.
“You are your mother’s daughter,” he said.
And, with that, the Magician went one way, and Beryl went the other.
* * *
A slow, steady drizzle had started to fall as Beryl rounded the corner of the narrow side street off which the shop where Alessa had been hiding was located. The rain threatened to turn to fat drops, and already puddles were gathering in the gutters, where their surfaces rippled in the dying light. The evening was rapidly turning to dusk, and Beryl felt a sense of acute trepidation as she made her way down the wet streets.
She needed to retrieve Astria’s strongbox. Beryl had elected to leave it in the old, not-quite-abandoned workshop, on the theory that it was safer there – whether under the guardianship of an admitted thief, or with no one guarding it at all – than it was in her possession. After all, she had expected to encounter Astria, and that encounter had gone about as poorly as she had expected. Beryl had known how desperately Astria would want the box back. What she had not known was to what lengths her sister might be willing to go in order to get the box back. Beryl had been worried that, if she had the box on her when she encountered her sister, the possibility that the situation might escalate into real and irreparable violence could not be safely ignored.
Besides, Beryl had known Alessa for all of a day, whereas she had known Astria for her entire life. The self-proclaimed “ne’er-do-well” had more credibility.
But, as much as she was afraid to admit it, Beryl was also hoping against hope that Alessa’s threat to leave had been a bluff. There was a very real part of Beryl that did not want to believe that the teal-eyed woman could care so little, that she could walk away from a world in chains without batting an eye.
Alessa had claimed not to care about the world, had said that the world did not care about Beryl. Beryl wanted so, so badly for Alessa to be wrong on both counts, even if she knew her odds were vanishingly slim.
Somewhere, deep down, Beryl thought that maybe Alessa wanted to be wrong, too.
The rain showers were growing into a fully-fledged squall, when, suddenly, Beryl heard a bell ring out somewhere in the distance – then another, and then another, until it seemed as though every belfry in the city would shake itself to the ground.
The rain made Beryl shiver, but it was the sound of the bells which chilled her to the core. She had heard those bells once before in her life. She knew what they meant.
They meant that the High Sorceress was dead.
They meant that she was running out of time.
Without even realizing it, Beryl had broken into a full run, slipping over rain-soaked cobbles and kicking up great splashes in her wake. She ran towards Alessa’s hideout as quickly as her cold, tired legs would carry her. The whole way, she felt as though her heart were in her throat, and she found herself hoping against hope.
Finally, as the old workshop came into view, Beryl’s run slowed to a walk, until she was just standing in one place, with the cold rain beating down on her face and matting her wet hair against her skin.
She stared up at the building’s long, frosted windows, and she saw that they were as dark as the night outside. Beryl felt her stomach fall, and her heart fell with it.
Then, her heart skipped a beat. Because, in a single corner window, her eye caught just a flicker of light.
Alessa Rehn and The Duchess are original characters created by Barinellos for the Expanded Multiverse. Nasperge and Hepthia are original characters created by RavenoftheBlack for the Expanded Multiverse.
Magic: Expanded Multiverse is not associated with Wizards of the Coast. This is a transformative work of fanfiction, protected in the United States under the laws of Fair Use.
All works copyright their respective creators.