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The Clouds That Hide the Stars

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“Start from the beginning.”

Triveni sat on the bench, leaning forward, legs spread, hands clasped. The woman she was interrogating, a young Swan whose wing feathers were finally lying flat after nearly an hour of chase and capture, sat beside her. Her posture was still tense, as she maneuvered herself as comfortably as she could, given that the Mist’s benches were not made for flying folk. Her pale skin reflected the glistening light from the Fountain, which danced across her cheek as she blinked, exhaled, and spoke.

“Our queen, Her Majesty the Song Carried on the Breeze, has ruled over us for decades, if not over a century. She is strong, and has carried us through many trials and years of trouble. She has lived a long, storied life, and her age has not seemed to affect her.”

That makes sense, Triveni thinks to herself. Most sorcerers seem to live much, much longer than the average mage. The woman continued.

“Recently, our stars have begun to dim. The brightest stars in the Swan, ones we have used to align us for centuries, are becoming harder and harder to see. It is not the clouds, for the nights have been clear. It must be the stars themselves.

“Within a few nights of our noticing the dimming, Her Majesty had fallen very ill. It is hard for her to walk from one end of her garden to the other. Those closest to her believe one of two things: either she is suffering because of the dimming of the Swan, or she is using the last of her power to keep it alight. Either would be…”

“Dark,” Triveni interrupted. The woman nodded.

“Dark, indeed. She does not want for news of her illness to spread to the other kingdoms, for fear of possible attacks on her people in her weakened state. However, we in her court believe that we must seek help from outside if we are to bring light back to Her Majesty. The Weavers may have useful foresight, the Willows may have knowledge of the illness, the Goldsmiths may have their own strange solutions, and you…”

“We have the healing and the Fountain, yeah. Got it.” Triveni and the woman both looked to the water cascading from the Fountain. The heart of the Mist, it gleams with its own moonlight, seemingly endless in its stream, an eternal river that flows over itself with the magic that has sustained Triveni, her mentor, her family, her comrades.

“I thought that maybe, I could fix this quickly, I just needed a portion of your Mist…I realize now that that was foolish, and I’m sorry,” the woman said, bowing her head away from the Fountain.

“Apology accepted. Don’t do it again,” said Triveni. “That out of the way, I have some questions.”

The woman breathed in and out, stretching her limbs and wings once more, before leaning back against the bench and blinking up at Triveni with wide blue-gray eyes.

“First: what’s your name?” Triveni asked bluntly.

The woman had a moment of confusion, then realization, and the smallest smile cracked the sheen on her cheeks.

“Laurelin,” she said. “And to possibly get ahead of you, I work in Her Majesty’s garden. What is your name?”

“Triveni. Apprentice to the Mist Mage Petya, Fountainkeeper.”

“Happy to make your acquaintance. Many of my errors are finally dawning on me.”

“Yeah. Second question: why couldn’t you just bring Her Majesty to the Fountain? It’d be way easier to help her in person.”

Laurelin looked away, a shadow falling over her face. “Those closest to her believe that if she were to leave the boundaries of the Swan, the stars would go out for good. It is too great a risk to take in their minds, and I am inclined to agree.”

Triveni sighed. Magic is so fickle sometimes. Even she, an up and coming Mist Mage, one of the best of her generation, knew that.

“Okay. She has to stay where she is, but she needs our help. I don’t…” Triveni grabbed the bridge of her nose, thinking. “I don’t really know what to do, but I think you’re, very technically, on the right track. I think you had the right idea going to the other kingdoms. That said…”

She paused. The Heart of the Mist is indeed capable of restoring even the most grievous of wounds. Her mentor is keenly adept at both diagnosing and healing illnesses. Despite this, from how Laurelin described her queen’s sickness, she found it hard to believe her Mist would cure it. Her Mist heals burns, broken limbs, scars, blindness, fatigue…but not magic-borne-soul-diseases.

She felt Laurelin’s eyes on her, though. River-blue eyes that Triveni can’t tell are shining from the Fountain or from tears. Eyes belonging to a woman who loves her Queen, who loves her people, and who loves her magic, just like Triveni. And, just like Triveni, she is lost, and she is scared. Triveni sighed.

“Yeah, okay. Got it. I think I’ve got some initial ideas, but it might take a little bit of asking around the Mist Mages. For now, you’re staying with us. We’ve got tons of extra beds and blankets and stuff for you to use. I’m not really sure if they’ll work all that well for your…” Triveni gestures to Laurelin’s wings, which she ruffles briefly, “...yeah, but we can figure something out. I’m the last person who wants an entire nation of mages to lose their magic, so I’m with you, but we have to work together. Does that sound good?”

“Extraordinarily. I cannot thank you enough.”

“Thank me when we get your queen cured. Do you need to let any of your people know where you are?”

“They already know. I may request that when we do our investigations, might we keep it light on the details? I trust your people, don’t mistake me, I simply—”

“I get it. You have my word.”

Laurelin smiled wide and stood from the bench. Triveni followed suit. She turned, taking one last, long look at the Fountain—her Fountain. One day soon, she thought to herself, she would need to come alone, sit by the edge and dip her hands within the water, let it flow through her fingers, and breathe, connect herself to her Mist once again, how she might’ve done when she was young. For now, though, the water gleamed, bright and reflective, and she turned back toward Laurelin, the Swan lost in the rivers of Mist, who hovered slightly above the ground, waiting for Triveni to take the lead.