I often wonderwhen departing this life,beyond the rush toward eternity,if I could awaken again,but a moment later,upon the shore of some distant futureWhere progenyare ancestor
Might it turn outwe were neverwhere we seemed?
Venerable Keeper Ensun, Of My Own Reflection, Chapter VII
It was the sixth midnight. The sixth attempt. Wand clenched in her hand, Tsami etched a circle of violet light in the earth and stood at its centre, staring into the depths of the figure of shadow reflected inside the crystal mirror.The shadow offered its bond, reaching out in its wordless way, and Tsami inhaled, pointing the wand above her with precision, drawing her attention towards the ceiling overhead, imagining the unreachable darkness of the earth above, and far above it the deathly silence of the forest. Beyond that, her thoughts expanded to the world and its own, ever turning shadow upon an abyssal sea, and when she came to an understanding of purest shade, of its essence beyond the confines of definition, she exhaled, bringing the wand down, pointing it at the shadow’s heart, channelling her understanding. Linking likeness, she pulled at the figure, commanding it out from the mirror, in submission onto the cave’s stony floor.The shadow wailed in anguish like a banshee as Tsami drew it forward towards her circle, and as it cried out so did Tsami, vocalising her own, mirrored pain in discordant unison.She would not falter. Not tonight.The shadow stumbled down the rocky steps, disjointed and inhuman in its motion, craning its body backwards, twisting its limbs, pulling back against her, unyielding. With every tug of resistance the shadow struck a blow to Tsami’s psyche, and one by one her mind spilled forth its secrets. The fear of being alone. Unworthy. Cursed by the neglect of another to never truly feel safe, to feel loved in this life. And as her emotions swelled, each with their own confronting crescendo, her body began to tremble and her overwhelming tiredness beget tears in the corners of her eyes.It was only after all this that the shadow struck its final blow. Her failure once again to summon it forth, to reconcile it within her circle.As the shadow breached the invisible wall of the circle for the fraction of a moment it repelled with such ferocity Tsami screamed, losing her composure as the spell was broken. The shadow slipped back behind its glass prison, dissolving as she cast down the wand to the dirt in wild anger, in absolute defeat.
In sleep she found oblivion. No images. No words. Not even a whisper.As the early hours of the morning transpired and the sun began its ascent towards its seat in the sky above the Forest Monastery of Okoru, Tsami was without body, without mind until her heavy eyes felt just a touch lighter, enough to glimpse the silhouette of her brother, Moth sitting patiently across the bed from her, humming the old, nameless song of their childhood.“There you are,” he said finally, smiling devilishly as he threw the blanket off her.Tsami recoiled, almost hissing as she snatched back the bedding and drew it over, encasing herself in a tight cocoon. Memories of the night, of failure, came back and she groaned at the thought of it all in a hope to send her brother, and her thoughts, far away.“I know what you’ve been up to, Tsami,” said Moth, proclaiming his statement to the wider dormitory, loud enough to rustle Tsami’s unease. “I saw you in the Garden of Waves last night. I’m not a fool. You’ve been going back to that cave, I know it.”Tsami didn’t know what to say, but it wasn’t as if she was going to admit it, so she stayed silent, hoping her brother would cease his baiting, that she might dissolve again into the warmth of her blankets.“I’m not going to scold you,” said Moth, congratulating himself, “but if you have been up to no good, then you really ought to see this.” He tore back the bedding once more, offering his hand to Tsami.Rolling over and observing the so seldom serious look on Moth’s face was enough to rouse Tsami’s curiosity. With dishevelled hair and last night’s robes thrown around her, she followed her brother along the open air corridor into the east wing of the monastery, into the Garden of Songs. Aptly named for the many bells and chimes that hung from the crossing canopies of the garden’s golden gingko trees, and the gentle morning breeze that always found its way meandering through, stirring the collective of small instruments into chorus.Today the old masters were gathered with the students, both the initiates and children, bunched in a crowd, and they were chatting amongst each other where usually the garden was a place for ritual; for the master’s quiet dendromancy and the student’s focused dedication. As they approached the back of the crowd, Moth pointed up at the Wordtree, proud ancient centrepiece of the garden, standing against the weathered back wall above the crowd, with a thousand tiny scrolls decoratively encased, tied to its branches or even pinned to its trunk there about amongst the chimes; of dreams recalled during the half-woken hypnagogia of the monastery’s students across the years.But it was not the scrolls that caught Tsami’s eyes, nor the crowd’s, but the birds fluttering from chime to chime, looking for a place to perch but each time being frightened away by the sudden jangling when they came in to land. Their bodies, though undeniably shaped like birds, were cloaked in glistening shadow, as if the sun had gone its merry way to rise and they had, against light’s logic, stayed trapped in a state of darkness. It was this sight of their shrouded, distorted figures that moved Tsami to push through the crowd to be nearer to them, to understand. Moth called out as he struggled to chase after her, still impaired for having to nurse his broken arm.When she reached the front of the crowd she saw Keeper Koam was already there, in her lustrous robes that seemed to glow softly with their own peculiar aura, standing before the Wordtree with the Sacred Grimoire in hand. Unclasping it, the Keeper dipped her free hand into her side-pouch and wrote out a phrase in spelltongue upon the page. Shaking off the remnants of powdered ochre, she inhaled and the words on the page illuminated, and as she exhaled, raising her hand into the sky towards the birds, twin streams of light spiralled out from the page and wrapped itself around the flock of birds, dispelling the darkness that had swallowed them, restoring their familiar, avian features.As the light dissipated, Koam closed the grimoire and turned, meeting Tsami’s eyes directly with a cold intensity, and before she could react, Koam was advancing towards her, grabbing her arm and pulling her aside.“Away,” she commanded toward the crowd. “All of you. Now.”The masters gestured to the students and the students obeyed, departing the garden. Only when the last of the students was outside of earshot did Koam speak again.“Where is it?” she said.Tsami scrunched her brow. “Where’s what?”“The wand, Tsami,” said Koam, her piercing golden eyes unflinching.Feeling as if she had been struck physically by the confronting truth of the Keeper’s words, Tsami stuttered as she attempted to piece together a lie.“I have it, your reverence,” Moth interjected, producing the wand from the inner pocket of his robe. “Here.”Tsami reacted, though not from the proudest part of herself, swiping her hands like claws at her brother, but Koam was too swift, producing a cloth and wrapping the wand as she received it, as if to touch it directly were somehow undesirable.“Tsami,” said Moth, grabbing and jolting her as if to shake some sense into his sister. “There is nothing good that could come of this… this thing.”Tsami groaned, tearing herself away. “You don’t know that,” she said. She came decidedly to Keeper Koam, kneeling in appeal.“Please, your reverence, Lightweaver,” she said, then pointed up at the birds, who’d finally managed to settle atop the Wordtree’s branches. “I didn’t do any of this. How could I have?”Koam knelt to meet her, setting aside the grimoire. “Oh but you did, child. You just don’t know that you did, and that is the problem.”The Keeper turned to Moth. “Stay with her today, and place a Word for Provocation above her bed. She must dream tonight.”Keeper Koam picked herself up, brushed the dirt off from her robes before starting out of the garden. Tsami sensed the wand’s presence slipping away from her, and as the Keeper left toward the central courtyard its absence swelled inside her, inciting agitation.She turned to her brother.“How could you,” Tsami shouted, still knelt on the garden floor. “You stole from me. From your own sister.”“I was worried about you."“No you weren’t,” Tsami snapped. “You just wanted to save face with Koam. I know she’s grooming you for Keeper.”Moth shook his head. “I’m going to pretend like you didn’t just say that.”Tsami humphed, then started chuckling to herself. “I can’t believe I let you keep the robe I found. I can’t believe I was foolish enough to bring you along with me. I should have known you couldn’t handle it.”Now Moth was agitated. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll give the robe to Koam. After all, she knows I lied to her now. It’s the right thing to do." He pointed between Tsami and himself. “That’ll make us even. It was playing with my head too, you know. I still fail to see how that wand was capable of any good though.”“Of course you’d say that,” said Tsami. “You’re too by the book to understand.” She hung her head in her hands. “I was so close.”Moth’s expression turned pensive. “I suppose… I suppose I am,” he said, reflecting on her words. "But that doesn’t matter right now. Like Koam said, I’m to stay with you.”Tsami leapt to her feet. “Don’t you understand? I don’t want you near me,” she yelled. “I want to be alone.” Then she sprinted off, seizing the opportunity to put as much distance between herself and her brother as possible, out of the garden, along the open corridor, feet clomping across the wooden floorboards. When she reached the central courtyard she cut straight through a class of scrollbearers in deep meditation, bathed in the open sunlight teeming through overhead, then sidestepped, hiding behind a wooden column in the far west corner.Tsami peeked round and watched as a distressed Moth came rushing into the courtyard, scratching his head, looking about every which way. Deciding to proceed back towards the dormitories, perhaps hoping Tsami would take the obvious route, he navigated around the class on the far side of the courtyard with great care not to disturb them, and Tsami began rotating around the column until she was sure he had moved on. She slipped out from hiding and threw off his trailing by dashing back along the northern wall, back into the Garden of Songs, stirring the attention of the scrollbearers once more with her quick steps, much to their displeasure.
The garden was empty. All mine, Tsami thought. She approached the Wordtree, observing the joyful flutter of the birds above. How could I do something I can’t remember? I’m not a sleepwalker.Glancing back, ensuring she was not being watched nor would she be found, Tsami climbed over the sprawling roots of the tree and came behind it, facing the moss-coated ancient wall as she tucked herself into the comforting groove of the tree trunk.There Tsami sat, with her turbulence, with her tiredness, and on one occasion with her tears, while the hours of the day rolled by without her willingness to embrace them, not even to eat, desiring only to have that which was hers returned. Her wand.In time the students returned to the garden, to study or simply to sit about babbling nonsense. On one occasion, the masters claimed the space for discussion and Tsami listened in keenly as they spoke of Master Whisper, eldest of elders who had long left the monastery to live, or to die according to those less fond of him, somewhere along the east coast of the island. They said he could speak to storms, that he could tame them, and command them with a ring on his finger. One of the masters, who purported to be close to Whisper claimed the ring wasn’t the only artefact held in his care, that he’d spent many years collecting curios from across the eastern continent before coming to the monastery, not least amongst them a jagged crown crafted from the jaws of a dragon.Eventually, as Tsami lay there staring at the treetops, listening to the elder’s tales, her head began to hurt. After a while her heartbeat began to pick up its pace, and though she attempted to calm herself, to be with her breath, with her body, the feeling moved through and grew within her of its own accord, and before long the feeling swelled into a full-blown sense of panic.All Tsami could manage was to lay there, staring up at the canopy, praying for the feeling to pass, as her vision slowly distorted toward hallucination, where the branches above began to writhe, becoming animated, twisting towards the sky, and the hue of the golden leaves changed, as if night had descended upon them. The Wordtree’s branches shook like a primordial rattle beckoning with its chimes for the clouds to draw over and block out the sun, and with the last of its great rustles a single leaf fell from the tree, curling itself into a scroll of black parchment, gliding down on the gentle arc of the breeze to land softly in Tsami’s lap.The turbulence within Tsami subsided and the clouds above dissipated, and in noticing the absence of feeling a calmness that could only be found in such contrast revealed itself to her. Free to move again, Tsami sat up and unrolled the scroll, pressing it out against her tucked up legs.The page was pitch black. Like staring into oblivion. No images. No words. Not even a marking.Yet despite this, Tsami could not take her eyes off it, and the longer she stared the more the page invited her to look and her eyes grew heavy with the weight of a week’s wearing, until she was no longer a person staring at a blank page but no person at all, just the deep, slumbering void. Just experience.And then she saw it.
Drawing forth out of the darkness, a temple as old as time with no earth to stand upon, terraced like two mirrored ziggurats, one pointed skyward, the other down. A hedron of shifting stone like a serpent eating itself, encased at the far border of its realm in a vast, diamond-shaped structure of crystal. A strange machination from a distant age. Of yesterday or tomorrow, one could not tell.
“Awaken!”Tsami opened her eyes. Streams of light dancing in circles around her faded. She was standing over a candlelit altar with the wand, her wand laid atop its cloth. Her hand suspended just above it.She looked back and saw Keeper Koam in a nightgown holding the Sacred Grimoire open with her free arm outstretched, directed at Tsami.“Your brother has let you down,” she said. “I suppose it was to be expected.”Tsami rubbed her eyes, unable to make sense of how it was she had arrived in the Keeper’s chambers. “I don’t understand. How could… How did I get here?”The Keeper lowered her hand. “In the land of my Order,” she said, “to the west across the ocean, the First Enlightened call it Sapath. The Greater Night. That which moves beneath the surface of the self. That is emboldened by artefacts such as this wand you dote upon. You are here because you have entered the Darksleep, that state which it moves through.”“I saw something,” said Tsami. “A vision. A place. I couldn’t say where… between shadow and void."Koam nodded. “There are many mirrors, many doorways beneath the Ethereal Isle, Tsami. They are there to trick you. I would ask you to resist such temptation, however as you have already wandered far into its lure I fear it is too late. So I am left with little choice in the matter. I must destroy the Ghost Wand.”The mere suggestion of the wand’s destruction sparked defensiveness in Tsami. The Keeper flicked her wrist over the page of the grimoire in a flourish, and tendrils of light flew forth from its pages, flailing and reaching out eagerly towards her. Tsami snatched up the wand but before she could react, the light was upon her, coiling and constricting her arms and legs, lifting her high into the air.“Drop the wand, Tsami,” said Koam, moving slowly towards her. “This is the only time I will ask.”Tsami squirmed violently in an attempt to free herself. When she refused to release the wand, Koam snapped her fingers and Tsami screamed as she felt the coiled light start to sear her flesh.Yet even still she would not let go.In desperation, Tsami closed her eyes to connect with the wand’s presence. She recalled the shadow behind the mirror she had attempted to summon. Two things in likeness she had joined. Shade and shadow. The birds about the Wordtree cloaked in darkness. Likeness taken from starlight and likeness given. The black scroll and the ageless temple. Her reason to resist.When she opened her eyes again, Tsami inhaled, pointing the wand at the chamber wall, bringing to mind the deep strength of its stone, establishing a connection to its quality. She exhaled and moved the wand, pointing it directly at Koam, and with her last-gasp effort, channelled the blended likeness of stone, of its silence and her own surrender.The grimoire slipped from Koam’s hands. It hit the floor with a resounding thud.Tsami collapsed too. The vines of light dissipated.The bedchamber fell silent.She sat up.Meeting the Keeper’s eyes, Tsami looked on in horror as the floor seemed to reach up for Koam, capturing the long skirt of her gown, her legs, abdomen, chest and arms in a full-body cast of stone. As it reached up to claim her face, Koam went to speak, to tell Tsami something, perhaps even to warn her, but there was no time. Her stunned, golden eyes drew over grey and she was still.
It was the seventh night. The seventh attempt. Unbeknownst to her whether it was guilt, cowardice, craving or the innocent need to set things right that had led her to this moment, Tsami re-etched the circle of violet light in the earth and stood at its centre, facing down the figure of shadow reflected inside the crystal mirror.With the power of a will both succumbed to, and embracing of its destiny, Tsami linked the likeness of shadow to the figure reflected back at her, and drew it forth.No hesitancy. No doubt. This night.The shadow resisted and as it did Tsami’s eyes were fixated, staring the figure down, and as it presented her fears to her once more, she confronted them. I am alone, she thought. But I am worthy. I must be.With the wand as her conduit, Tsami forced the figure to the ground in submission then dragged it crawling towards her, and when the shadow breached the circle of reconciliation, Tsami lifted the wand with both hands and the shadow’s form ripped apart, transmuted into a drapery of darkness above her. Lowering herself to the earth, Tsami assumed a seated posture and brought the shadow down, enveloping her body in its shroud. Her limbs and senses fell away, dissolving into the black, until all that was left was her sight and the image of the man presented across from her in the mirror; the one she had sought, with coiled markings of an icy glow around his arms matching Tsami’s recent burns.Her vessel.Closing her eyes, she let her mind cross over the glass, into the unknown.