Despite our rather dramatic exit from the city, after two day’s travel in the countryside it became evident that no one was likely to follow us, despite the worries of our new companion.
We learned very little about her, other than that her name was Midina and that she’d been passing as a human for many years. She was happy to talk about anything that did not involve her past, however, and the four of us made our leisurely way southward, enjoying the beauties of the summer.
Chalimyra, who had never seen a summer outside of the desert where she had lived, spent much of her time marveling at the forest, the flowers, and the creatures that surrounded us.
From what little she told us, the three of us became sure that this summer was the first time in a very long while that Midina had felt both free and safe. But, since any attempts to ask her about her past met with silence, we refrained from questioning it.
It was Viridia, strangely enough, who quickly became good friends with Midina. She entertained our blonde companion with tales of her childhood and the village where she grew up, and that exercise seemed to keep them both from becoming lost in their own thoughts.
As for me, I was happy as well. But I often wondered, in those days, whether life would change once we reached the southern kingdoms. The life that we were leading now – on the road in the summertime, leaving all our worldly cares behind – was not one which we could continue indefinitely. And, as of yet, we knew very little about the southern kingdoms.
I often wondered if I, or any of us, had any idea what we were doing. But the others always managed to put it out of my mind before long.
It wasn’t long before we encountered an encampment of gypsies on the road. We literally walked right into their caravan one sunny morning, and it wasn’t long before we had introduced ourselves and were wandering about, looking over the wares that they hastily brought out for us.
It was Chalimyra who noticed that Midina kept staring at items, even picking them up, and then placing them carefully back.
“So, do you see anything you want?” she asked our new friend.
Midina shied away, protesting that she really couldn’t, but Chalimyra was not to be dissuaded.
“Come on, Midi,” she said, placing her hands on her hips, “It’s a present. I’ll buy you whatever’s caught your eye. How long has it been since someone gave you a present?”
Midina mumbled something in response.
“Exactly. Far too long. There has to be something here that you want.”
“But I can’t pay you back…”
“That, my friend, is why it’s called a present,” Chalimyra looked to Viridia and I for support. “You don’t have to pay me back. But if it makes you feel better, pick something practical. Maybe new clothes – the ones you’re wearing can’t be comfortable.”
It only took another minute of persuading before Midina gave in and picked out a new outfit.
The three of us were stunned by the transformation that a simple set of clothes could make in our friend. Gone were the grey, stained rags that she had been wearing all this time. Gone was the timidity which she used to cover up her true, vibrant personality. For the first time, she faced all of us with a smile, self-conscious though it might have been.
As Viridia said later, it was like the birth of a butterfly.
The gypsies were impressed as well, and between them and the three of us, we managed to talk Midina into doing something about the hair that hung down in front of her eyes.
“Go ahead,” Viridia encouraged her, as one of the gypsies sat Midina down on a convenient stump. “We’ll be right here.”
Midina smiled. “In that case, would you mind if I got it cut like yours?” At Viridia’s nod of approval, she signaled for the gypsy standing behind her with a scissors to get on with it.
No sooner had she finished, however, than another gypsy walked up to Midina.
“Every time we part to begin a new journey,” she told Midina, “we make certain to bless each other’s journeys by giving them a gift to carry with them. That’s why I wish for you to carry this with you.”
She then pulled a piece of jewelry out of her pocket and, with little warning, attached it to Midina’s forehead.
“Wear it proudly,” she told her, “If I’m right, you’ve only barely started on your journey and you have a long way to go yet.”
We ended up traveling for several days along with the gypsy caravan. During that time, we were an object of curiosity to the children in the caravan, who had never seen elves before, but we were welcomed by their elders as fellow travelers. Those were beautiful summer nights, where the four of us listened to the wise tales of the travelers around our campfire, and the crickets in the surrounding woods sang away into the darkness.
All of us enjoyed the Gypsies’ company, but Midina in particular seemed to open up around them. She still didn’t speak of her past, but every day she seemed more confident, more relaxed, and more secure. Whenever she wasn’t with us, she was telling ghost stories to the children or flirting with the young men in the caravan.
Chalimyra, Viridia and I agreed that this change in her could only be a good thing.
In the end, however, our roads parted.
It was with some regret that we said our goodbyes and set off in the opposite direction.
The four of us headed south, into the forest of Levin, where for days we saw no other living things save the creatures of the forest and the birds of the air. It was as if we were alone in the world.
For a few days, at least.
One morning as we continued down the path – or what passed for a path – we encountered a fellow traveler, who claimed that he had seen the smoke of our campfire. As fate had it, he was a fellow elf, who had recently left Aeredia, the closest of the southern elven countries.
Naturally, the four of us asked him all about it.
We talked to him along the way – since he was headed more or less in the same direction as us – and it wasn’t long before we decided to accompany him deeper into the forest.
To our dismay, things in the southern kingdoms seemed hardly any better than they had been in the north. There was no lurking shadow of war, but it seemed as if the southern elves had all the same troubles and tribulations as their northern counterparts and the elves on the far side of the middle sea. The government of much of the kingdom of Aeredia was commonly known to be corrupt, floods and droughts had displaced hundreds of villages, the Melali of the deep woods were in conflict with those nearby villages which still stood, and many rumors similar to those that had been prevalent in the northern kingdoms, that there were wars underground, aboveground, and in the air across the whole of Elphemerea.
Talon had, like so many others, had enough -”
“Dad too!” Elirand hissed in an undertone to his twin sister, earning himself an elbow apiece from Achenar and Calla.
“Had enough and decided to go north, in order to seek his fortunes in the northern elven kingdoms or in Celion. He was as disappointed in our reports of the lands which we had seen than we were in the state of the southern kingdoms.”
For Viridia, this news came especially hard, though she tried not to show it. She was shocked, at first, by the extent of the problems in Elphemerea. Then, she was disenheartened. She didn’t want to believe that the better future she had hoped for had just disappeared out of her reach.
Chalimyra, on the other hand, enjoyed talking to Talon, regardless of the news that his tales brought, or what it meant for our journey. She was, as she told him, “simply traveling” and her final destination did not matter much in the end. The fact that she was escaping from persecution in her own land, while Viridia had hoped to escape to a better life seemed to make all the difference.
Or perhaps Talon made part of the difference. It did not take us long to see that he was clever and ambitious, as well as honest and loyal. It certainly didn’t take long for Chalimyra to spend an increasing amount of time talking to him, alone as often as not.
Midina gave little clue as to what she was thinking, but it didn’t take long for Viridia and I to notice that she was extraordinarily awkward around Talon. She would speak up – her stay with the gypsies had seemingly allowed her to remember that she both had a voice and the capability to use it – then lapse into an awkward silence, and avoid answering questions.
Neither Talon nor the rest of us could make heads or tails of her behavior.
Despite Midina’s initial awkwardness, however, it wasn’t long before Talon was as much a part of the group as the rest of us. We hiked across the forest and talked long into the night together.
Together, we crossed rivers and hills. The solitude of the forest around us was pristine and absolute, as if no others existed – or as if, removed from the petty disputes and insignificant competitions of the world outside, the forest had simply learned to ignore them.
The height of summer was drawing onward, and we often traveled slowly, reveling in the hot, lazy days and unwilling to continue into the less-idyllic world. Meanwhile, at the urging of myself and Chalimyra, Talon repeated the rumors that he had heard about the ellipsis, the mysterious gateway said to be somewhere in these woods, which looked out on another world entirely.
The council of sages was held by some to be investigating it – others believed that it signaled the end of an age.
Of course, no one could verify the truth of these rumors, as all accounts stated that no one who passed through this mystical doorway ever came back.
Still, we were curious, and our resolve to look for it turned to a restless speculation on how this new world might be different from our own. Surely, things would be better – surely, a beautiful and brave new world would not be host to the lingering taint that seemed to have infected our own.
Talon was in a mood to see it as an opportunity – he had dreams of a business of his own, and a society where ruling guilds and the deciet of other businessmen did not make that difficult seemed perfect.
Chalimyra was of the opinion that a fresh, new society was one in which justice would necessarily thrive. Gone would be all the established corruptions, all the debts and favors and political manuvering that hampered equality and justice in our own world.
Midina said that in a new world, as of yet undamaged, every person would be free.
Viridia, when asked what such an opportunity would bring, decided that it would be enough for her to find a safe place to raise a family.
As for me, I had long desired to go through, just to see what was on the other side. Just to know – new people, new places, a world completely unlike our own – that was what, at the end of the day, I found most appealing about the world through the Elipsis. But to leave all that I knew, and all that I had ever known, behind… it seemed like a rash decision, and not one that could easily be repaired or reversed. Yet, hadn’t I already resolved to leave everything? I was unlikely ever, in my lifetime, to traverse Celion and return to the villiage in Antedilluvia where I grew up, if I had followed the original plan that I hatched with Viridia and settled in the southern kingdoms. It was only the hypothetical possibility of return… yet without it, the price seemed so much greater.
We were still undecided when we continued on into the woods. No one spoke much, for fear that the others weren’t thinking the same thing.
To acknowledge the fact that the five of us might be split up should our choices not be the same seemed almost like an invitation for it to come true.
To make a short story of a long journey, after walking many miles through the forest, we finally discovered our destination. The Elipsis was said to be situated in the middle of the ruins of a city so ancient that its beginning was lost to time. More likely, it, like the burnt fortresses and villages that like scars bore silent testimony to the war in Antedilluvia, had no one left to remember it.
Amidst the ruins, we halted to discuss our plan.
It was at that time that some of us started having doubts.
“We shouldn’t go any further,” Viridia told me, “We could fall through at any minute. What if one of us wanders off and just disappears?”
“We’ll stick together,” I told her.
But Viridia wasn’t buying it.
“And what if we all fall in?” she asked, “No one knows what’s on the other side, Elu – it could be the middle of a desert, or an ocean. It could be some horrible place where nothing can live. It could be poisonous, for all we know, or just simply kill us off.”
I thought she was overreacting. “We’re just here to look,” I told her, “We’re not actually going to go through, not right this moment, anyway. Don’t worry about it.”
“But you want to, don’t you?” she asked, “You wouldn’t have come all the way here if you weren’t considering it.”
“Viridia, we came because we couldn’t consider it until we knew more about it. We have to at least look and see if it even exists before we can even think about it. If we don’t find it after searching these ruins, we’ll just continue on.”
“Where, Elu? We’re not headed towards the southern kingdoms anymore, and we aren’t going back north across Celion. Where can we go?”
It took me a moment to understand what she was saying. “If wandering off into the woods is the same as walking through the Elipsis to the unknown, what are you afraid of?” I asked.
“Walking through the Elipsis. For all you know, it could be anywhere – it could be a crack in these walls, a hole in the ground – and if someone takes a step to the side to look in, they could be sucked away and then we’d have to chose between jumping in after them, knowing nothing, or abandoning them to whatever fate they fell to.”
“Viridia, all the stories say that it’s like a doorway, and that you can see the new world behind it. It shouldn’t be that hard to spot.”
“They’re stories, Elu! No one has ever gone through the Elipsis and come back alive! No one can prove that they’ve seen it!”
“Then where do all the stories come from?”
It was at that moment that Viridia caught sight of Midina heading towards a space where an arch had been knocked out of one ruined wall.
“Midina, come back! Don’t -”
“… step,” she finished, as Midina passed through the hole and absolutely nothing happened.
She turned to me. “Do not say ‘I told you so,’” she said, “The fact that one hole in the wall isn’t dangerous does not mean that none of them are.”
“I wasn’t about to,” I replied, “But would it make you feel better if we went around the walls instead of through them?”
She rolled her eyes at me, and we continued on through the ruins, skirting the walls, for nearly another hour.
We were completely unprepared when we actually found it.
In truth, nothing could have prepared us for the sight of another world, the same yet different from our own, peeping out from the gap. The fact that it was snowing softly beyond the Elipsis, while the midsummer sun beat down on our backs where we stood, only served to heighten the feeling of disjointedness.
It was a long time that we sat before the Elipsis, our reasoning going back and forth and around in circles. We all, to some degree, wanted to go through, if only to see what was beyond – but each wondered what the price of that curiosity might be.
But, in the end, we had come this far. The promise of a new world, the chance to escape the many things that troubled our own… It kept us coming back around to consider stepping into the cool draft that curled its tendrils around the empty doorframe that was the Elipsis.
In a new world, Chalimyra and Midina could leave behind forever the distant threat of their pasts. Talon was already resolved to go, as it was an opportunity like no other, and as Viridia had already pointed out, I had long since lost the fight with my curiosity.
That left Viridia.
We had not traveled so far that she could not return home. But there was no future for her there, only her past. Still, she could continue onwards – Aeredia was not the only southern elven country. There were realms to the west and across the sea. Surely, somewhere she could find a peaceful place to settle, to find love and to raise the family that she wanted. She didn’t have to come with us.
But Viridia wasn’t having any of that.
“Do you really think that I can abandon all my friends?” she asked us. “And then sit around for the rest of my life wondering where you landed? No. I’m coming with you.”
And with that last obstacle out of the way, the five of us linked hands and, before we could lose our nerve, walked forward into the Elipsis.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The fire had died and the silence around the circle was absolute. It took a long moment before it became obvious that Eluisa was no longer going to speak.
“That’s it?” Elirand demanded, “You just walked through?”
“Yeah,” Calla piped up after her twin, “What happened then?”
“And how did you get from there to here?” Achenar put in.
“What about all the people you left behind?” Anariel asked.
“Aunty Elu, if anyone can just walk through, how come there aren’t more elves here?” Lydia asked, “And what about the bad guys who were after aunt Chali? What happens if they just come through?”
“Why hasn’t anyone on this side found the gate and tried to go the other way?” Aranel asked.
Eluisa waited until the chatter had died down before speaking again. “They’re all very good questions, and I’m afraid I only have time to answer a few of them tonight,” she said. “The reason that no one has gone back is because there simply isn’t a doorway on this side of the Elipsis. We ended up in the middle of a meadow in the foothills of the mountains, and when we turned around all we could see was the horizon and the trees.”
“So we’re all stuck here,” Aranel concluded.
“Yes, essentially,” Eluisa replied. “Even if the gate were able to work both ways, in recent years I’ve heard that it is closing, and no longer reliable. With the Elipsis shut there will no longer be any travel from Elphemerea to our world. And as for ‘bad guys’ following us,” she added, smiling at Lydia, “You needn’t worry about it. It was very hard to find the Elipsis, and no one in Elphemerea knew that we had gone through it. Chalimyra was, thanks to her own quick thinking and Sayamar’s warning, well ahead of anyone who might be following her. Those who went through the Elipsis were, like us, elves disillusioned with their world and hoping for a better place to begin anew. None of them pose any threat to any of us.”
Eluisa paused a moment to let that sink in, and felt for a moment that she had forgotten something. Then she was distracted by a movement in the distance.
“Well, we finished just in time,” she told the children, “Here come your parents now.”
“Look, Achenar, there’s your mom and dad,” Elirand pointed out.
“And ours,” Calanthe added, spying Talon and Chalimyra bringing up the rear.
Before anyone could say anything more, the three of them had dashed off towards their respective parents, with Ana keeping pace as she made a beeline straight for her mother. Aranel and Eluisa were the only ones left standing by the fire as the four children immediately began to chatter.
For a brief moment, Aranel wished that she were still young enough to fling herself into her mother and father’s arms.
Eluisa, on the other hand, was busy scanning the night for those who had not shown up, and keeping half an eye on Lydia at the same time. The girl had turned away from the lights and the other chattering children, and was busy staring out at the lake, stepping repeatedly on one sneaker with the other.
Lydia watched the waves absently, wondering when her Mommy or Makir would come and get her. It was chilly out without the fire, though the day had been warm, and the darkness of the lake and sky swallowed up her gaze before it could encounter anything.
“Don’t you have a hug for your mommy?” said a voice behind her. Immediately, Lydia turned and threw herself at Midina, who had come around from the other side of the house, forgetting all doubts. She hardly even noticed that Makir was holding Orion, because there was something very important that she had to tell her mother.
“Mommy! You’ll never guess – I made a friend today, and her name’s Ana, and she helps me build sandcastles, and when we get older we’re going looking for ghosts and aliens together, and she’s right over there, I’ll show you if you want.”
“That would be lovely,” Midina replied as she released her daughter. She straightened up and glanced where Lydia pointed, and immediately saw a familiar head of red hair.
Viridia, on the other hand, had not yet noticed Midina. She was busy dealing with her youngest daughter’s sudden enthusiasm.
“Guess what, Mommy? I made a friend today, and her name’s Lydia, and she’s great and makes really pretty sandcastles and I think maybe she’s my best friend, she doesn’t make me nervous at all!”
“That’s wonderful sweetheart,” Viridia replied with a smile.
“Uh-huh – she’s still here, do you want to meet her? She’s right there -”
Viridia turned around, only to find a very familiar face staring back at her. There was a long moment of silence that seemed to stretch between them.
Midina’s eyes flicked, just once, to Eluisa, who had the grace to look apologetic. She was unsure whether she should smile reassuringly, or start praying that Viridia, whose face was a study in conflicts, would take things quietly.
“Mommy, is there something wrong?” Anariel asked quietly, as Midina smiled and took a tentative step forward. Viridia looked back, about to assure her youngest daughter that no, there was nothing wrong, but Lydia, seemingly oblivious to the tension passing just over her head, stepped forward to talk directly to Ana.
“This is my mommy and Makir, and my brother Orion, and I’m going to have another brother or sister sooner or later. Is this your mom?”
“Uh huh,” Anariel replied quietly, still looking at her mom.
Lydia looked up at Viridia calmly. “Hi, Ana’s mom. I’m Lydia Fairmaiden, pleased to meet you.”
“I know,” Viridia replied, embarrassed. “I know your mom.” She looked up, and let a real smile, though not without some degree of embarrassment, cross her face. When she saw that an equally embarrassed grin was on Midina’s face, she took a sudden step forward.
Neither one of them knew who closed the final distance, but before either one knew it, the space between them had been removed.
Viridia squeezed her prickling eyes shut as she squeezed her lost friend all the tighter.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Onward to 1.8: Friends Like These
Author’s Note ~
Anyone who remembers that at the end of Midina’s interlude, I promised the major drama was over for the founding generation
What? You all thought that there would be more drama in the ending? Well, you know how long the lack of drama lasts around here. As its summer, the next two updates should be out rather soon, comparatively speaking. Interludes in the spring always take me longest.
Also, I’m going back to slideshare, sorry for any reading inconvenience. Copy pasting this was annoying, to say the least. (Plus, in-game camera is just a shade too pixilated at this size – I always thought it was pretty good until I started sticking pictures into word and they stretched themselves out to the point that I actually noticed.) On the other hand, I learned to edit in decent-looking bloodstains, largely due to an evening spent cursing at Gimp, and the fact that I can’t seem to find any brushes or actions for it. Tears defeated me – there’s at least one step in the tutorials I found that Gimp just doesn’t do, and all the other tutorials linked to photoshop brushes, which are not compatible.
Epic picspams/behind the scenes will be up sooner or later, probably sooner.