The rain was still falling.
A long slow drizzle had hung in the air for the last four days, saturating everything. At about an hour before sundown each night it turned into a heavy downpour, but by sunrise it would lighten again. It was as if nature itself was crying at some great loss, or happiness so great it could find no other way to be expressed except through tears. The very presence of so much rain caused even the hardest packed roadways, traveled for hundreds of years, to soften and sometimes flow away. The clouds, too heavy to take flight into the usually blue vaulted skies, built themselves into great fortresses upon the plateau. Their wispy tendrils anchored them in place clinging like cobwebs to every living thing until there was nothing dry outside the simple wooden huts in the middle of the compound, the huts that would be her home for the next few weeks.
Just after breakfast in the big common building Associate Professor Wallens called her out in front of everyone on the site to introduce her as if she was some kind of celebrity. 'Well,' she pondered, 'I was the only new arrival last night, so I guess it’s best over with soonest.' Then she had to sit through his Orientation dissertation.
"The saturation of the ground makes the digging too easy sometimes with the artifacts being washed away along with any mud. So be careful out there." Fifteen minutes later she was free to go join her digging crew.
"RAE! HURRY!" Corbit was yelling again, she would have to talk to him about that.
"Coming!" She finished putting on a fresh layer of oilskin clothing and clomped in her oversized boots through the door of the girls' dorm just in time to run into Mystie. As Mystie began to fall backwards from the impact, her arms flailing wildly, Rae grabbed her wrist and yanked her back onto the top step. But in doing so, Rae was the one who fell into the mud.
"Can't you stay dry for five minutes? Come on, we don't have the time for you to change again. The rest of your crew is already in the trenches."
Rae got up and followed Corbit while trying to wring out her sleeves, hair and … and … oh forget it. "There are some who pay dearly to actually bathe in this stuff you know. Maybe we can make some money by sending them some of ours?" Corbit ignored this suggestion like he did all her others this morning. But he did smile this time, if only for a moment.
Rae was placed with a group of sifters. It was their job to find the minutia mixed in with the dirt, or in recent times, the mud, which sometimes flowed as easily as the rain water down the slopes, slowing the excavation of Prospector Ironbands' newest find. Just yesterday a wall on one of the dig site pits had collapsed. Had it not been for Raes' warning of the bulge, they would have lost more than tools and the pair of boots sucked off the feet of the last one out of the pit.
Today, Bron Ironband himself was in the trenches sifting through the viscous mud flow when a cry went up from the very trench on the other side of the site they had lost the day before. Far faster than anyone would have thought possible for a man of his age and size, Bron was up and out of the trench and running towards the commotion.
A very little way away, the red haired teen who had been slowly working her way through a patch of deeper mud towards Professor Ironband, turned into a new direction to finally catch up with him. The amazing thing about her was that she smiled and laughed at everyone, even at herself when she tripped adding another layer to her personal covering of mud. She was so happy to just be doing something she considered important that even the constant rain could not dampen her spirit. She had fallen a few times since leaving the girls dorm hut because of the oversized boots she had had to wear since yesterday.
Her boots failed to notice she had turned, and Rae failed to notice her boots hadn't turned when she did, so once again she fell into the flowing mud. This time her hand wrapped around an oval stone that she automatically grabbed as she was pulled free of the mud by Corbin, the senior year student assigned to help her learn her duties.
From this distance she saw that everyone at the site was clustered around and staring at a mud encrusted rock in the Professors hands. But to Bron, who held the thick square-ish lump with reverence, it was the first fruit of what he had hoped to find. He began to wipe the mud from what he considered the top of the rock and then looked up and smiled as he turned it over and found a pair of bronze buckles. The good natured laughing subsided and he paused, knife in hand. Someone thought to bring one of the field tables up to him and he laid the lump down upon it.
While his chief assistant held an umbrella over him, Bron spoke his mind as he worked the belt knife into the buckles until the tongues of the calcified metal broke free and the straps secured under them fell away. "Many years ago, during the age of the great wars, when the Alliance fought against the invading Horde, this had been the site of a Guild-Home." His voice shook with the excitement he felt as he spoke from his heart. "An age has passed … , some scholars say two ages, and the battles and legends of those warriors have now fallen into disrepute. Argued now among scholars and scorned by the every-day man, those tales have even been transcribed into steamy romance novels and animated movies for children, to teach honor and respect to a generation whose parents are too busy living their own lives to teach their children even the simplest of social graces." The straps had wrapped around a bag of some sort. That bag, meant to protect the book inside, now began to break apart as Bron carefully worked free its contents. He stopped speaking as he saw what he had found.
The large thick book, itself a work of art, was a deep rich brown with gold and silver bindings. The bindings themselves were the workmanship of a master. They were gold and formed as the heads of lions holding the bars from the opposing strap in their mouths. The spine was a layer of tiny silver links which allowed the book to lay flat wherever the pages were opened. The covers were a hardened leather so richly oiled they looked like mirror wood panels. These were held onto the chainmail of the spine by silver and gold filaments shaped like the limbs of intertwined trees. They were so finely wrought and textured that Bron first thought they were painted or gilded wood. Three slender leather straps with intricately etched buckles held the tome closed. Across the bottom edge of the cover was the flowing script of a well practiced hand. This was no mechanically printed work, but a work of art at the least, sculpted and written entirely by hand.
Bron was surprised at how strong the straps still were, even after all the years this item must have been resting in its now muddy tomb. Handing off the knife to the first person who took it, he pressed the tiny button noses on the buckles to release the straps and opened the tome to the first page. His smile drained from his face until his eyes finally believed what they saw. Maybe that is why he failed to notice the way the spine faintly pulsed an aquamarine blue as the metal parts of the buckles separated and he opened the tome.
In another realm, maybe another reality, the deathless eyes of a pale, beautiful woman opened suddenly. Her white hair framed her face as she lay upon a divan. She looked as if she had lain there for centuries in the deepest of sleeps. Without moving, her eyes and her mind began to search out the reason for the musical note that had sounded. A note she knew she had heard once before … so long ago …
The red headed girl was distracted from all the very important words Bron was speaking by the sudden warmth of the rock in her hand. She looked down to see that the rock she had found was an oval locket. As if on cue, the rainwater that had collected in the wide brim of her hat poured into her hand to wash most of the mud away from the locket. Her mouth actually fell open as she saw her name, her full name, etched into it. She turned the broach over again to look at the other side and saw the coat of arms of the Family Gordon … her family. "By the Light …" she cried out.
Bron held up the find for all to see and was turning slowly, showing off the Livery of the Guild that was the first page of this tome. He stopped when he heard the exclamation of the teenager cut through the revered silence.
The young woman, totally oblivious that everyone was now looking at her, righted the locket again and, without any conscious thought, she pressed the tiny button on the side of the frame that released the cover.
Bron closed his eyes as he again prayed for patience before speaking. He reminded himself that the Gordon Family was very old. They may even have had family tracing all the way back to the period of this tome. And it was their money that was supporting this dig. Otherwise the young lass would not be allowed into the trenches yet.
And the locket opened.
The Lady in that other realm heard the chime again. This time her eyes darted to the very place it came from and she quickly rose to a sitting position. She gestured and a globe lifted from a silver stand and drifted quickly the several feet between it and the Lady who gazed upon the scene unfolding in its wintry crystalline depths.
Bron opened his eyes and began to speak, "Miss Rae, How many times must I ask you to not say tha …". What he saw, the Lady on her divan now saw also. Bron stopped speaking and his eyes widened.
From the open locket came a warm light that caressed Rae's face and seemed to collect about her head like an angelic aura. For a moment only did the effect last, not more than a few seconds at most, but all the students there saw. When she looked up, when she looked at Bron, her eyes had a depth to them he had never seen before.
The Lady, gazing intently at the scene in the sphere, gasped as she saw the amulet in the hand of the red haired girl. Hope flared in her heart as everything about her reacted to the intensity of her mood and seemed to come alive for a moment in time. The Lady stood for the first time in uncounted years as the events in her memory stitched themselves into a bridge to this present moment.
Raes' voice, no longer that of a teen, sang out soft and clear with a timber of wisdom and maturity usually associated with a much older woman. Two words only did she speak before her eyes rolled up and her knees gave way. Two words only did she say before those closest to her realized she was falling. Those two words and the intensity of her gaze were lost on all but Bron, who would never forget.
Rae, and the Lady in White, spoke together as one, causing the rain to shimmer and dance in the vibrato of their shared words…