Chelsea was pulled into the past. But she wasn’t looking through her mother’s eyes, as she’d expected. She could feel her mother’s heart, hear her mother’s thoughts, as if she was Marion, and yet her eyes saw things from the outside, like a floating camera peering at Marion’s memories.
Right now, she saw Marion entering the home of her mother – Chelsea’s grandmother – late at night. There was a full moon in the sky, and it gave a silvery sheen to Marion’s long black hair. She was much as Chelsea remembered her – tall and fair, with eyes that shone with pride, and yet…
She looked haunted. It was subtle, and perhaps only Chelsea would pick up on it, but it was there, a slight emptiness in her eyes, the faint aura of pain in her bearing.
Into the humble, one story home of her mother she went. Chelsea quickly knew the year this was, for somehow her mind and heart were linked to Marion’s. She felt and understood what Marion felt and understood. It had been only a year since Marion’s father had passed away, meaning Chelsea had just recently turned five.
Down the hall, Marion met her mother, and they sat together in the living room. Now Chelsea saw it wasn’t just the moonlight – there was a silvery, ethereal glint to everything within this memory.
“So you’ve begun to See, too,” Marion’s mother said softly. The way she said “See” made it clear that it was a special term.
Marion nodded. “I thought it was just you who could do it,” she said. “You were able to See from such a young age, so I thought it had passed me by.”
“Birthright Magic does not always pass from one generation to the next,” her mother said. “Neither my mother, nor hers, could See as I do. I never expected you’d be able to, but…” She smiled. “Here you are, embraced by the River of Time. And yet what you have Seen has troubled you.”
“I Saw…” Marion started, hesitating. “I Saw how and when I die. And I Saw what happens after, if only a little bit.” She leaned forward, placed her head in her hands, and her mother came and sat next to her, rubbing her back gently.
“I Saw Chelsea,” Marion said, sobbing. “She’s still so little when I go, and I can’t… I can’t just leave her. Isn’t there any way to change it?”
Her mother shook her head sadly. “What we See cannot be undone,” she said. “Though you may try. I would think you a coward if you didn’t. But what must you do before that happens? Focus now – your daughter is at stake. What do you know, and what do you still need to learn?”
“I know more than enough,” Marion said, recovering herself. “I know why I die. I’ve… come close to a terrible truth. Closer, I think, than anyone. I’ve known I was a target for a long time, but recently a shadow has dogged my steps. I cannot say much more… I know I can’t tell anyone anything, or they’ll be in danger, too. Callum and Deirdre suspect something’s going on, and it burns me not to say anything to them, but I… I must get the truth out somehow.”
“Perhaps that special item you told me about?” her mother asked. “The… what was it again?”
Marion’s head snapped up, her eyes wide in understanding. “The Memory Gem!” She looked up, and her eyes met Chelsea’s – no, not Chelsea’s. She was staring at the Memory Gem’s “camera,” or whatever it was, that recorded this memory. Marion smiled, and Chelsea’s heart leapt in her chest.
“It’s a tiny hope,” Marion said. “But… it is a hope. Yes. I’ll trust it all to Chelsea.”
Her mother smiled. “She’ll grow to be strong and capable,” she said. “Perhaps more than even you, my dear.”
Marion smiled, too, tears stinging her eyes. “Oh, yes. I know she will.”
The memory swirled and changed, and now it was a different night, and Marion was returning home to Reiner Manor after her Hunter patrol. Her heart was heavy, and when she entered her home, she didn’t go upstairs right away. She traveled back, through the hall to the center of the Manor, and then turned left, entering her study. Windowless and dark, she then closed the door behind her and, with a click of her lighter Talisman, brought the fireplace on the far side to life. It crackled high, warm and inviting, and Marion took a seat in front of it, leaning forward, staring into the flames.
She did so in silence for a long while, and the flames burned lower and lower, casting longer, darker shadows. Marion began to weep, and Chelsea knew then, this was the night. The night that she came to wake Chelsea up, the night that she gave Chelsea her crest.
In Chelsea’s mind, she heard her mother’s thoughts.
Why must I come so far, and yet… not far enough? And now I know, I know all too well, that my time is running dangerously short. I won’t discover the full truth. I can’t save my city. Callum, Deirdre, Chelsea, David… forgive me. I have kept all these things secret from you, to protect you, and yet now I see it was all for…
No. Not all for naught. Not if this works, not if I can pass the truth to Chelsea, through my memories. Perhaps she can do what I could not, but I…
I’ll never see…
I’ll never see my daughter become a woman. And neither will David, and he’ll never understand… am I the one condemning him to his fate? Did my secrets lead not just to my death, but then to his?
Oh Chelsea… please don’t think this is your fault. Please don’t lose heart. Please don’t fall into despair. I can’t imagine what pain you will soon be forced to endure… I’ll do my best. I’ll fight my fate, do all I can not to die the way and time that I have Seen.
But if I fail… I hope you will forgive me.
And I… I wish I could forgive myself… David. Chelsea. I’m so sorry. And I’ll miss you so much. It’s more than my heart can bear. Please… Chelsea… grow strong. Don’t lose your way. You’re beautiful, and strong, and smart, and so wonderfully sensitive, but I worry about your emotional sensitivity. It is a strength, but it’s also a weakness. The very same weakness I have… oh, I hope you aren’t as quick to anger as I am. I hope you aren’t as reckless as I am. Or if you are, I hope you can direct that anger and that recklessness properly, in ways I never could.
Grow up strong, dear Chelsea. Most of all… grow up well. Grow up to be good, and loving, and wonderful in ways only you can be.
And don’t be afraid. Though I’m afraid… and I know what’s to come will only put you through much greater fear than I can imagine… please. Don’t be afraid. Find your courage.
I love you so much. I hope you know that. And I hope you’ll forgive me for hiding away here, for not letting you see me cry. It’s cowardly and foolish, I know. Of course your mother cries. And of course you’ll cry, a thousand times more, after I’m gone.
Don’t be ashamed of your tears.
I still have time. I’ll cherish it with you, and with David, as much as I possibly can.
I hope my love is enough. I hope my love is as much as a mother should give. I hope my actions and words show just how deeply and unendingly I love you both.
Marion cried, on and on, until she was empty of tears, and the fire had burned down to mere embers, leaving her nearly in total darkness. She wiped at her face briefly.
It was getting later and later. She needed to speak with Chelsea, now, just in case.
Just in case her end came sooner than she expected. Just in case she lost her nerve when it was too late.
And out of her study and up the stairs she went, and Chelsea now saw that same memory, of receiving her crest, from her mother’s side. And she felt, like she never could any other way, the love bursting within Marion’s heart for little Chelsea, love that, despite all her efforts, could never be completely expressed through actions or words.
The love of a mother was a powerful, wonderful, impossible thing.
And as Marion laughed softly with little Chelsea about her new nickname – “fire blossom” – the memory swirled, and changed, and now came a speedy blur of short memories in order.
Marion was writing. She spent days and days down within the Reiner Vault, and Chelsea suddenly realized that all of the books on the bookshelves – there were hundreds of them – were notebooks, all written by hand. When she was little, she’d already seen hundreds, but now, in just a few short months, she watched as Marion filled an entire bookshelf again. She wrote furiously, as fast as she could, her handwriting pushed to the brink of legibility as she desperately fought to get down all of the things she knew, all of the most important things. Chelsea was stunned, wondering how much Marion had actually slept in her final few months, as they had still spent so much time together. Chelsea had never wanted for attention or affection, especially from her mother. In her own memories, Chelsea couldn’t think of a single time, aside from that fateful night when she’d been given her crest, when Marion had looked as if her end might be approaching. She laughed, and smiled, and danced, and sang.
And yet apparently every moment she could spare, she had spent in the Vault, writing.
And then the memories swirled, and now Chelsea knew. She could feel the knot of dread in Marion’s heart before the memory came into vision, and then there she was, standing atop a tower, with two people by her side.
Callum and Deirdre Greyson.
They were seventeen years younger, and they looked it, barely five years older than Caleb and Chelsea were in the present day. Like Marion, they’d married young, and had children young. And looking at the three of them, Hunters in their youth, Chelsea could feel the connection between them.
They were the very best of friends, the closest of allies, the fiercest defenders of each other. So when Marion turned to Callum and Deirdre to say what came next, their reactions were completely predictable.
“I can’t stay with you tonight,” Marion said, the cool midsummer breeze tossing her hair. “There’s something I must do, and I must do it alone. And I…”
“Don’t say something like that with that look on your face,” Deirdre said, grabbing Marion’s arm. She could see right through her, and Chelsea’s link to Marion’s memory meant she suddenly knew so much more about Deirdre than she ever had before. The two had been friends practically since they were born – much like Chelsea and Lorelei, they’d grown up together, and knew each other better than they knew their own selves. Deirdre, like Lorelei, knew Marion’s mind before she spoke it, and the panic on her face said it all.
“You should talk, seeing the look on your face,” Marion said, somehow managing a smile. “Please. You have Chelsea’s gift?”
“It’s safe,” Callum said, clearly not understanding all that was happening. He had been good friends to both Deirdre and Marion ever since middle school, but his honest, naïve nature kept him from being able to infer much of what was implied, even by his closest friends. He spoke plainly and expected the same, and there was a part of him that was likely in denial. He’d had time to process the black-box. Surely he must have some grasp of what Marion knew was coming.
“I have to go,” Marion said, gazing at her dearest friends for a long, long time. Doing her best to force a smile. Doing her best not to cry.
Doing her best to let them see her, for the last time, at her very best.
“I’m coming with you,” Deirdre said, still holding tight to Marion’s arm.
Marion forced out a laugh and gently pulled at Deirdre’s hand. “Your grip’s stronger than you realize,” she said. “Be careful. You could hurt someone.”
“Now’s not the time for –” Deirdre said, though she let her hand be pulled away.
“It is,” Marion said, gritting her teeth, blinking at the onset of tears. “Deirdre.” She smirked, nodded to Callum. “Take care of this oaf, will you? He’s got the sweetest heart, but he really would be quite a mess without you.”
Callum’s eyes widened, ever so slowly, as understanding dawned on him. He reached out for Marion, opened his mouth to speak…
But he never took hold of her. And whatever words he had for her were lost to the night wind, as Marion leapt from the tower, dashing off across rooftops with all the Enhancement Magic she could muster, speeding away from her dearest friends.
For she could hold back her tears no longer. And a brief glance at her watch told her that her fate awaited her.
I’ll see your face. I’ll fight. If you’re going to take me, you won’t take me easily.
And you’ll never take my friends or my family from me.
Suddenly, blurring like the scenery that sped by Marion as she ran, Chelsea got impressions and thoughts of what was happening.
There was a conspiracy, a secret group within Grimoire. They sought danger for their city.
Not to destroy it. To overwhelm it. To reshape it, from the inside out.
They were small, but they were powerful, and any who came close to them mysteriously vanished. Those of the vanished who were ever found, were found dead.
Marion didn’t know a single one of their members, but she had great cause to believe that at least two of their number were seated on the Council of Mages. At least one was the head of a Guild. All were powerful mages, many were in positions of power, but a few were complete shadows.
Their motivations, their reasons for whatever sinister, slow-burning plot they had for Grimoire came in fragments, pieces here and there of what Marion had discovered.
But beneath all of that was a set of ideals, a code that Marion only knew pieces of. And at its core was a question:
For what purpose do mages and magic exist?
And then the impressions were gone, as Marion stopped, alighting on a brick chimney, staring down into a narrow, shadowed intersection.
She’d Seen this place. She knew what was coming. A lighter in each hand, she took in a long, deep breath, and let it out. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them, they burned with fierce passion.
They burned with love.
Down into the darkness Marion leapt, and as soon as her feet touched the ground, the Shadow came for her.
Marion wheeled around, raised a lighter, and clicked it once. A starry blast of sapphire flame exploded forth, splitting outward around the Shadow and then snapping shut, surrounding and consuming Marion’s assailant.
But the Shadow came on, undeterred.
Leaping back, Marion clicked each lighter three times. Flames burst forth, azure brilliance dispelling the darkness, railing against the Shadow in spirals and arcs, torrents and bursts, darts and arrows.
But the Shadow came on, undeterred.
Marion’s eyes flashed, glittering as they reflected the shining blue of her Fire Magic. Her Talismans clicked, again and again, and with each click came a new fiery assault, a blazing, sapphire inferno to fight back against the Shadow. To fight back against her fate.
The Shadow came on, and yet it rippled, its shapeless form shuddering. It was no longer shapeless.
No. It was the form of a human.
So the illusion begins to dissipate. Now, let us see who you are. Show your face!
The Shadow came on more recklessly now, faster and more violent. Smoky vapor turned into a long, dark spear that thrust for Marion’s heart. She evaded, poured fire into the Shadow, focusing all her attention on its head.
Show your face!
The lance turned into a giant, sweeping axe, and Marion leapt over its crushing slash. From axe now to a spiked flail that bit into the street where Marion had been standing. Fire poured into the Shadow, and Marion danced, leaping here and there, evading every new attack, pouring her offensive into one goal above all others.
Show your face!
From flail now to a two-handed sword, its blade long and wide, sweeping in great arcs aimed to cut Marion down with a single stroke.
So far, the encounter progressed differently from what Marion had Seen. In her Sight, there had been no fight at all. There was hope, even if not for her survival, for some good, some truth, to come out of this desperate duel.
Show your face!
The sword vanished with smoky vapor, and now clutched in the Shadow’s hand was a new weapon, one that made Marion’s blood go cold with dread.
It was a long knife, not formed from shadow, but from steel. Its silver hilt glittered in the light, and its long, grey blade sparked when it missed Marion and struck through the corner of a wall. Marion was forced back into a narrow alley, its walls closing in around her, towering above her, looming as if to block off the moon and stars above.
Now she saw. Now she knew. Here was her last stand, in the dark. Her back came against a wall, and she stepped forward. She would not now shrink back from the Shadow, from her fate.
Show your face!
Fire blazed in defiance of the darkness, filling the alleyway, and even consuming Marion’s entire form. It did not burn her clothes, nor her hair or skin. Fire was her ally, her companion through many battles, and now she shone with the sapphire inferno of her fire, a blazing warrior, burning brightest in her darkest hour.
She screamed into the night, yelling out all of her rage, her defiance, her fear, her hopelessness…
Consumed by fire, tears fell from her eyes.
Chelsea. David. Callum. Deirdre. Mother.
I love you.
For one brief, beautiful, shining moment, fire and light beat back the Shadow, cast out all darkness.
For one brief, beautiful, shining moment, light was all there was in the night – a beacon that all in Grimoire, and for miles and miles beyond, could see.
And then, with a gasp, Marion’s scream cut off. The beacon went suddenly dark.
The Shadow stood now behind Marion. The grey dagger was buried to the hilt in her back, its blade protruding from her chest. Marion stared at it, unable to breathe, her vision growing dim.
Its work finished, with a sigh of breath, the Shadow vanished.
Marion’s lighters fell from her hands, clattering on the dark stone.
And then Marion, too, fell. But her life was not yet spent. She refused to let her last sight be of the oppressive alleyway, of the darkness that surrounded her. Her left arm had gone numb and useless, but her right arm, defying death itself, reached forward, clawed at stone, dragged Marion’s failing body forward. She crawled, inch by bloody inch, until the alleyway was left behind. She rolled, then, onto her side, and then onto her back, though it pushed the dagger in deeper.
For she knew it was over. But in her last moments, as life left her, Marion wanted to see the stars.
Light. In the darkness, it still shone. Though her world grew dark, up above her in the sky were so many lights, starry and endless. And with them shone a greater light, for tonight there was a full moon.
Bathed in silver, Marion managed a weak smile, and breathed her last.