(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Aili was written by Adrienne Devine.)
This was bound to be one of the more significantly uncomfortable situations she’d ever had the pleasure of being in. Into her already overly chaotic schedule She Who Knows had asked her to have a conversational meeting with a visitor from her own world. She Who Knows rarely did that sort of thing, and so Aili was sitting at the desk in her study waiting for her guest.
She stood suddenly and tapped the summon stone. It barely had time to light up before her handmaiden and assistant stuck her head in the door. “Erin, for the duration of this…interview, would you mind taking Quail to Weldon’s shop? I told him I’d take him today, but if I wait to take him after this, we may not have time.”
Erin smiled at her mistress. “Of course, my lady. I think your guest is here, so finish what you must, and I’ll show her in.”
“Thank you, Erin. I’ll be joining the two of you after this interview.” Aili touched the stone again and it stopped glowing. She’d chosen to be dressed in her formal magi clothes for this, so she stretched as much as she could in the eggplant purple corset, shook out her black skirts and purple tinged overskirts then straightened the collar on her silvery grey blouse. Making sure her councilor’s medallion rested in the right position, she took a deep breath and stood squarely behind her desk, fingertips lightly resting on the surface on either side of her hips.
The door opened and Erin stepped through, allowing the individual behind her access to the room. “A Lady Kelly Blanchard for you, my lady.”
Kelly nodded her thanks to Erin but then noted the woman in formal clothing before her. Kelly bowed her head to acknowledge her but then lifted her gaze once more and offered her a kind smile. “Thank you for meeting with me. How may I address you?”
Aili smiled back at this unusual person as Erin quietly closed the door behind her. “Officially, I am the Lady Aili Landstar, leader of the Magi Council. I prefer the simpler Lady Aili, however.” She motioned to the chair across from her desk as she seated herself. “Please be seated, if you’d like.” A faint glow was emanating from one of the sets of closed cabinet doors and Aili absently waved her hand in the general direction causing the glow to lessen considerably.
Kelly noticed Aili’s use of magic as she took a seat. The entire room—world really—hummed with magic unfamiliar to Kelly, and she wondered what Aili’s role was with this, but she sensed Aili’s discomfort with this entire setup of the interview. Kelly tried to reassure her with a warm smile.
“So, Lady Aili, what exactly does the Magi Council do?” She raised her brows. “I am completely unfamiliar with the ways of this world, so you will have to pardon my ignorance.”
“I expected you to know nothing about our world, so it doesn’t bother me. Officially, the Magi Council oversees all the magi in our world. We’re a sort of governing body for the Magi. Magi have a higher standard of conduct than the average hedgewitch or hedgewizard and there are some things that we have rules for that we cannot ask the various governments to even attempt to handle.” Aili sighed. “Like that which is going on now—though I’m not entirely allowed to go into great detail about that. Both by the rules of the Council and by She Who Knows. She wishes that I not give everything about my present time away. The past, on the other hand. She would like to know about the past.”
The glow from the cabinet was getting brighter again. Aili shot a pointed glare in its direction. “Forgive me. It has been many years since I’ve kept more than one memory bowl active, and I’ve currently got three and a partially finished memory quilt all stuffed in that cabinet. I’d forgotten how bright they could glow as a group.” She held one hand up towards the cabinet and a slight fog grew in front of it, blocking most of the excess light.
“Let it glow if it wants.” Kelly nodded to the cabinet. “It’s beautiful and doesn’t bother me. Is there a specific memory that’s trying to catch your attention? Is that why it’s acting that way?” Of course, Kelly wasn’t sure how it worked, but she did want to explore Aili’s past, so if this was her opportunity to do so, she’d take it.
“It’s merely because there are three in the cabinet along with the quilt that makes them keep glowing brighter. Memory bowls don’t precisely like to be separated. Well, memories don’t.” Aili sighed. “I have to pull memories from my young ward to help us figure out what’s going on in his homeland, and it makes it easier on him if I pull a happy memory last. One bowl for me, one bowl for his terrible memories, and one bowl for his happy memories. The quilt, I’m building from the bowl of happy memories. I build a quilt every time I’ve filled a bowl of my own.”
Aili’s eyes narrowed for a moment, and she sighed again. “Memories are both a wonderful and terrible thing, sometimes.”
“True, but those memories are only reminders of an experience—good or bad—that we’ve had to endure. I’ve found the hardest memories to let go are the ones in which I made a mistake or was wronged. The happy memories…” Kelly shrugged, “Those are easy to forget and yet easier to summon, but it’s those painful ones you never want to remember that just won’t ever go away.” She leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees, but bringing her hands up to set her chin in her palm. “If I may say, I noticed a…less than pleasant memory crossed your mind. Would you like to speak of it? I’m certain your magic wards off any from eavesdropping, and I won’t breathe a word of anything you say to anyone in this realm, so you can trust me.” She held Aili’s gaze, hoping she would see an honest soul, one who would never judge her but one who would listen and accept her and maybe even help her accept the past herself.
Aili sagged back into her chair. “And sometimes it’s not when you made a mistake or were wronged that the memory becomes one of the most painful things you carry.” Aili looked across the room to the sitting area before the great fireplace. “And sometimes you have to wonder how and why you survived when the other person present did not.”
Kelly nodded her understanding but then softened her voice. “What happened?”
“Elisa and I were working on a project for the Magi Council. At that time, she was the lead researcher for the council. I was always a few steps behind her, both in power levels and skill.” She shook her head. “Elisa should have the position I currently hold. I should have been her second.”
Aili suddenly sat forward in her chair and reached down to one of the lower drawers on the desk. A moment later, she brought out a quilt the size of a baby blanket. It was simple in patterning, basic blocks, but it glowed even to the untrained eye. She carefully ran her hands over the small blanket and sighed.
“I don’t remember a great deal about exactly what happened, and I can’t remember the project we were working on for the council. All of the notes were lost when it happened. To this day, I still have no idea how I survived when she didn’t. Though, the healers were afraid that I wouldn’t survive for nearly two full moons.”
“Survive what?” Kelly furrowed her brows. Aili was being vague. This event had greatly troubled her, but sometimes speaking of it—especially if she had not spoken of it for a long time—could be healing.
“That’s just it. I don’t know precisely what it was. The best thing we could come up with was a magical explosion that took out nearly a third of the council’s workroom building. What little Elisa’s elder brother remembered of us talking about our project, and from the trouble the healers were having with me, we were working on something to do with healing spells being placed into bandaging which would lessen the strain placed on healers during wars. It’s something that shouldn’t have had that kind of power. Healing spells are notorious for being the lowest power kind of spells.” Aili ran her hands over the quilt again.
“Weldon and I have always thought that something else happened that day, but we can’t be sure.” She made a soft noise. “After the explosion, they found me in the council’s courtyard. The fall alone should have killed me. I was badly injured to add to the confusion. Between the two, there is no way I should have survived.”
There was a long moment of silence as Aili stared at the blanket. “Unless…” Tears welled up in her eyes. “Unless Elisa used all of her power to make sure I would live. It’s possible, extremely complicated, but it would explain her body.”
“Her body?” Kelly furrowed her brows.
“Elisa always was the larger of the two of us. Not a great deal larger than me, but still, noticeably larger.” Aili stood for a moment. “Where I am this in size, she was this.” Aili held her hand about a hand’s breadth away from the curve of her corset which marked her waistline. “She was sturdier than I, as well. I spent most of our childhood being the slightly sickly one, so I’ve never really been able to gain weight.” Aili sat back down in her chair.
She took a deep breath. “My fellow Magi, when they pulled her from the rubble, have told me that they were stunned. Elisa, who was always vibrant and sturdy, was lifeless, dull, and at my current size, I apparently could have made two of her. The healers say that all of her life force had been drained into her magic. If my only injuries came from the explosion, then she could have used her magic to get me out of the way of the rest of the destruction. But standing—she wouldn’t have had enough power on hand to do it with no warning. She would have known that she wouldn’t survive. And if Weldon and I have always been right, then by all rights, I only survived because she assured it. With her own life.”
“And you blame yourself for that.” That wasn’t a question. Kelly saw it in Aili’s gaze. “If she didn’t sacrifice her life, I suspect both of you would be dead, and how would that affect your community? There’s a reason she saved you, and I’m sure since the accident you have become more selfless, haven’t you?” She tilted her head to a side. “More giving of yourself because you feel you live on borrowed time—or perhaps stolen time from Elisa, am I right?”
“Yes.” Aili shook her head. “I wasn’t in line to become the leader of the Magi Council. She was.” Aili stood from her desk suddenly and made her way over to the fireplace, and the low table to one side. She picked up the teapot and held it between her hands for a moment and steam started to rise from the spout. “Tea? It’s vanilla chai.” She poured two cups and brought them back over to the desk. “I don’t think that the magi council would be able to handle what’s happening now if I weren’t here. I was the one who handled the situation that Revanta Company and I have figured out was the origin point of the current situation.” She cradled her cup between her hands and stared down into it. “I do a great deal for the community around me, and I’m always accessible to those who would need to meet with me.” She took a deep breath. “It is stolen time, I think I’ve always thought that in my heart, and I think that’s why we’re stuck.”
Kelly accepted the offered tea and held it in her hands. She gave Aili a perplexed look. “Stuck? In what way?”
Aili gave a halfhearted smile. “Shortly before the accident, Elisa came to me practically laughing so hard that she was crying. Her elder brother, already a master at his leatherworking craft, had approached her to ask if she thought I might consider a courtship with him.” Aili turned her cup in her hands as she stared at the quilt where it rested on her desk. “What he hadn’t known before he’d asked his baby sister about me was that I’d already expressed interest.” Aili turned the cup the other way now. “I was freshly returned from my stint aboard the Revanta as their crew lead magi, and was now alone in the world as my father had just passed away. There was no one in my family that he could ask for my hand, or even ask for permission to court me, so he’d asked my best friend. Three sevensdays later, Elisa was dead and I had survived only because of her.”
Aili shook her head. “We haven’t really progressed past the point of flirting since. I guess I didn’t feel like I should have that family since Elisa wasn’t here to enjoy life with us anymore.” She took a sip of her tea. “We are still close, he and I. I don’t think either of us has ever considered another either. I do still have strong feelings for him.”
Kelly set aside her tea and leaned in close to lock eyes with Aili. “You feel you stole Elisa’s time here in life?” When Aili gave her the slightest nod, Kelly went on, “Then you possess it. She gave you a gift, and that gift is life, and what better way to thank her for her sacrifice than to bring happiness to her brother if the two of you do have feelings for one another?”
“I suppose you’re right.” Aili shook herself and took another sip from her tea. “We’re headed right into a war, and my instincts are telling me that none of us may survive it. She Who Knows sometimes says it’s better to have had and lost rather than always wondering what could have been.” She sat her tea down and picked up the blanket again. “I still miss her to this day. I sometimes catch myself writing something down to remember to tell her later.” Aili shook her head. “Weldon still makes her a journal every year. I don’t think either of us have actually lived since we lost her.”
“The two of you need each other. You won’t forget her. She’ll always be with you.” Then she added as an afterthought, “And if you get married, your daughter’s name will be Elisa.” Kelly winked at her, but then she sighed. “Unfortunately my time here is drawing to a close.” She frowned. “And I was just getting settled in the conversation. I’m terribly sorry that I must be leaving so soon, but perhaps I’ll stop by for another visit.” Kelly smiled at her as she rose to her feet. “And I agree with She Who Knows—better to have had and lost rather than never have at all, so you’ll consider speaking with Weldon, at least?” She raised her brows.
Aili smiled thoughtfully. “Actually, Elisa practically made me swear a blood oath that I’d never name my daughter after her. I could use the name she’d planned on for a daughter. Irena.” She got to her feet as well, and waved her hands. The tea vanished, the tea set pieces were all returned to their places and the fog in front of the cabinet vanished. “I’ll walk you to the front, as I need to head out myself. I sent my ward to Weldon’s shop before you arrived, and I haven’t heard him return so I’ll go meet him there.” She frowned for a moment. “It would be interesting for you to visit our world again. Perhaps it could be arranged at a time when we’re not at the brink of war.”
“I sincerely hope you the best in the coming war.” Kelly bowed her head to her as they walked side-by-side. “Thank you for your time and all you’ve told me. I hope, maybe, it has been a small weight off you.” With that, they stopped at the front door, and Kelly smiled at Aili before pushing open the door, but the door didn’t lead to the street as it was supposed to but rather the portal awaiting to take Kelly back home. Kelly waved once more at Aili before stepping through the portal, and it vanished behind her, showing the street once more.
Adrienne Devine’s story ‘Of Mage Lights and War Machines’ has no set publication date. Be sure to stay in touch with her on social Media: