Chapter 52: Brave New World
“We’ve bought you something to eat,” Auriel murmured as she placed a tray of food on the cabinet beside Rose’s bed.
Rose opened her eyes and saw Lee hovering at the door uncomfortably. Perched on Lee’s shoulder, a Loris cub nibbled affectionately at his ear. Sloley? No, Sloley is dead… so tiny…
“You’re looking much better,” Auriel sounded so cheerful, but Rose could read the look in those beautiful golden eyes. Lips will lie… eyes cannot…
Rose smiled weakly, she could remember again. Yesterday her memories had gone, she had not known where she was, or even her own name. She had called herself Sara.
“Why do you keep calling me Rose?” She’d asked, “my name is Sara - and who are you anyway - where’s my mum?”
Today, it seemed, her memories, or at least a fraction of them, had returned. They came unannounced, flooding back into her head like a tsunami of despair.
Today, Rose could recall that final, fateful battle. It had won them the war. She had fulfilled Eldwyn’s prophecy, their lands were safe, and the people unified. Lord Dux and the High Councillor’s of the Afterlands had agreed on all of her terms. Even so, Rose felt only sorrow.
It was as if casting that final, fateful spell had purged her of every joyous emotion. A dark chasm had opened up inside her.
The room smelled of flowers, lifting her leaden lids to her nightstand, Rose watched a bee buzz around a crystal vase filled with bright purple blooms. Methodically the insect visited each blossom in turn. Ash? No, Ash is gone…
Sunlight streamed in through the open window and prisms of light danced along the walls. Why am I in bed in the middle of the day, and why don’t I remember…
“Why am I here?” Rose felt groggy, her words seemed barely coherent, even to her, “am I ill?”
“You collapsed after the homecoming celebrations last night,” said Lee, “Lord De Lille, made you up an elixir…”
“Lord De Lille is here?” Rose narrowed her eyes, the light made them ache and smart. “Wasn’t he…”
“Everyone is here now Rose,” Auriel’s brow furrowed as her eyes flicked to Lee. “Don’t you remember Rose, everyone returned home safely. They arrived the day after you cast the incantatio. Lord Dux suspected that you had no intention of waiting for Ka in Rhodium. He knew you would take the initiative and come here to do battle alone. They were coming here to fight with you Rose, everyone came, they all wanted to help you, Rose, only they arrived a day too late.”
Rose struggled to access her memory of what Auriel described, but she could remember nothing but snatched images. Visions of walking through ruins of the places she once new. The Oratory Library, now a fractured, heap of charred ruins, scattered with the blackened remains of the bodies of the Doucs.
A memory flickered in her mind. Lady Tesler, standing by her podium as a small ape-like creature grabbed the books from Rose’s desk, before leaping up, swinging high into the rafters of the Library to return each volume to its correct position on the shelves.
“Just let the Doucs do their job, and they will not harm you…”
Yet another species obliterated by the great Lord Ka.
Rose drifted past rows of dead Ascendants - frozen effigies of the misguided individuals who had sacrificed their lives to become one with the Djinn. Such a waste, so many…
“Rose, wake up Rose,” Auriel’s voice was a million miles away. Rose looked up from the black depths of the knucker hole. Above her hung a bright circle of light. Auriel, how did you get way up there?
Inside her room was quiet, the silence was broken only by hushed whispers and the grave tones of muffled voices. Outside, the wind howled as torrential rain pounded the windows. Then the ominous rumble of thunder stirred in the distance, the last of nature’s omens to join this foreboding symphony.
“Rose, my dear friend, my sister…” Auriel’s breath caressed Rose’s ear as she spoke, “everyone is here Rose, they’ve come to…” Auriel let out a sob, “I can’t…”
Confused, Rose attempted to open her eyes, but her eyelids were lead. Why is she so sad? We won… didn’t we?
Rose strained to lift her lashes, briefly peaking out through narrow slits. The room was dark, lit by many candles, each one illuminating a face she once knew.
The Magisters, her friends - Auriel, Lee, Ro-eh-na, Linden, El-on-ah, Che, Vega, Lyra, and even the children. It seemed everyone who mattered was there. No… not everyone.
“Rose, I am afraid it is as Lord De’Lille feared,” Lord Dux’s soft voice whispered close to her. Rose felt his breath on her face. A weak smile flickered briefly on her lips as she smelled the faint aroma of sweet pastry. Dux took her hand gently in his as he went on, “Rose, the incantatio potion you drank enabled you to cast a most powerful spell, but in doing so, it used up all the energy of your potens in one great burst. Rose, you are dying…”
Intermittent sobs rang out around the room. Auriel?
Lips brushed her forehead, gentle fingers swept hair from her brow.
“Don’t be afraid Rose,” Auriel sobbed, “we’ll stay with you, all of us. You will not be alone.”
“You are the bravest of souls Rose. Without you we would all be gone,” Lord Dux’s hoarse voice echoed in the muffled silence, “the story of your bravery and sacrifice will be heard by every child of these lands forever more. You may leave us now, but your legacy will live on in the new world you created Rose. The legislation you demanded from the Magisters is in place. We have done what we pledged to do. Equality is enshrined in our constitution. There are special orders of protection for Rougarou and the Fae, along with the right for every citizen of these lands to marry and bear children - whatever their cast or position.”
Rose swallowed, her mouth and lips felt parched and paper thin. She struggled to form the words, but they would not come.
“We have hope that you will return to us Rose,” said Auriel, “but there is no way of knowing whether you can ascend again. You are one of a kind.”
“Technically she’s four of a kind…” Lee corrected.
Lee will never change… Rose felt the warmth of love and friendship all around her. Her eyes flickered open once again, and she took in the mournful faces of her friends before her remaining strength deserted her.
The hushed voices and sounds of the room faded, drifting toward the exit of some ethereal tunnel. Or maybe it was she who was drifting? Up ahead, the light grew bright, dazzling her eyes as she watched a figure saunter towards her. At that moment Rose was flooded with a strange sense of certainty - this is not the end of my story.
Ash offered his hand, and as he spoke his lips hitched in that comical way she loved so much.
“Finally, “ he said, wrapping Rose’s hand in his, “our time is come…”