Chapter Nine
In Which There Is Magic

N'valea's cemetery was located on the other side of the town and was larger than it should be. Lorelai stood at the bleak iron gate and peered in at the multitude of graves. So many of them were for people whose time had not come and somewhere among them was her parents' grave. 'When I die, I want to be buried beside them,' she thought slipping through the gate and making her way along the snow laden paths. She hoped that she would die of natural causes, so that she would be able to return to N'valea on time and die there.

She found the grave easily, and knelt down before it, eyes tracing over the names and dates and the inscription.

Here lies the remains of
Robert Dialeon
and
Elena Dialeon
Loving husband and wife, mother and father to
Lamia and Lorelai Dialeon
"Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them."

Lorelai brushed her hands over the dead flowers at the base of the headstone and breathed out softly as they bloomed into beautiful purple and yellow blossoms. "Hi mum… hi dad." She took another breath to steady herself. "I'm back."

.~.~.

Colin chose to settle by the fire, too cold to budge, and Nyvah joined him soon after. Peter on the other hand couldn't stand to sit around uselessly and left the two huddled by the fire to explore N'valea.

It really wasn't much different to his home, except for the snow and the houses. The layout was the same, so even though he had never been there before he didn't feel lost at all. The marketplace was crowded at this hour of the afternoon and people were selling all kinds of things he had never seen before.

There were fruits and vegetables and dairy products like milk and cheese, as well as eggs and fish and meat. He was tempted to buy something, but he remembered that Lorelai said she would cook, and she would likely shop for herself. But aside from the food, there were warm woollen rugs and blankets, and colourful liquids in oddly shaped jars, glassblowers and musicians. For a small town, it had a lot to offer, and Peter spent a full half an hour watching a man and his apprentice blowing glass into little figurines. He was fascinated, because in his home they didn't have anything like that. He marvelled that there was so much produce in a region like this.

Really, the marketplace was where N'valea varied from his home the most. He stopped feeling comfortable and just felt entertained, until he reached the blacksmith's. Here he observed the smaller man at his trade, and noted the flaws and as well as the different skills he had. Though Peter could make swords and sharpen an axe, and he could shoe a horse and he could even make half-decent armour, neither his hometown nor Cursias had any particular need for weaponry. This blacksmith seemed to make little else. He made some tools, but he was primarily working on the kinds of weapons Peter had hardly ever seen, the rare ones, and he couldn't help but be amazed by the craftsmanship of the armour and the swords he produced.

He didn't leave until the light began to dim, and he guessed Lorelai would be heading back soon. However, as he passed the children from earlier in the day, he encountered his greatest shock.

They were using magic.

The snowman they had built was moving to their great delight, as the three concentrated hard on its movements, their skin practically glowing with energy. Peter had never seen anything like it, and frankly it frightened him. No one else seemed fazed by the show, and he skittered back to the house wondering if it was commonplace here, and if so, why did Lorelai not say so?

.~.~.

Lorelai stayed at the cemetery until dusk turned to twilight. Then, she shifted, her body stiff and aching. "I suppose I should go, before the market closes up," she said aloud. This was normal to her, for every year she returned to the grave and recounted her year to them. This year had been eventful, though just as disappointing as any other year.

"I miss you both," she whispered, "so, so much. I'm sorry I'm not the person I was supposed to be – I'm sorry I didn't marry and move on, and I'm sorry I haven't found Lamia… but coming back here, I swear anew to find her. I won't give up on her."

She swept away from the grave where the flowers bloomed despite the snow, and into the market where the stalls were beginning to empty. She hurried to the first she could find. "Hello, I'm sorry to be coming so late in the day… but can I trouble you for some food? I have to cook a meal for my companions and I tonight."

"Depends what you need," the wheezy woman replied, "don't have much left this time of day."

Lorelai pointed to a selection of vegetables and then to a tiny lump of beef. "I think I can make something with that, right?" and she didn't know why she was asking this woman for advice. "Is… is it too little? Or am I getting too much? I haven't had company for a while."

The woman chuckled. "How many?"

"Two men, one boy… and they can eat a lot… but maybe they're not hungry, and I don't want to waste it and…"

"If it's two men and a boy, sweetheart, I guarantee they'll eat it all. Here," she dished out an extra lump of beef. "It's all we've got, but it'll do for a meal. All up, it's eleven copper pieces."

Taking the food back to the house, Lorelai felt exhaustion begin to wash over her. She was home again, she'd been to her parents' grave, she'd travelled for months without truly resting to get here on time… all she wanted, truth be told, was to curl up on her bed and cry herself to sleep. She knew even crying would wear her out, but it was hard to restrain herself. More than anything, she didn't feel like cooking dinner after all.

So it really was unfortunate that her business was far from concluded. Entering the house, she was faced with Peter, arms folded, and an apologetic Colin. "What's going on?" she asked wearily, shifting her load.

"I went out earlier," Peter said coolly, "and I saw children practicing… magic."

Lorelai flinched at the tone. So she had been correct to assume Peter would have prejudices against magic. "What about it?"

"That's commonplace here, isn't it?"

"That's right. Look, what does it matter? N'valea provides for the capitol and lives peacefully; no harm done. What the capitol doesn't know doesn't hurt it."

Peter slammed a fist on the stair banister and she recoiled, dropping a strange blue-purple fruit as she did. "What does it matter? Do you know the prime suspect for my family's abduction is a witch?" he shouted.

Colin scowled, stepping between them. "Abduction? How does anyone know it was an abduction? You told us there were no signs of struggle. Besides, even if they were kidnapped, who is to say it was a witch? Don't take this out on Lorelai, today of all days."

Lorelai blinked stupidly behind him. She wanted to thank him, but she couldn't muster the words. Peter relaxed a little, looking somewhat guilty. "Why did you keep quiet about this magic thing?"

"I…" she tried to regain the powers of speech. "I didn't think it was important… I didn't know about your family… that it might have been a witch." She took a steadying breath, realising that Peter didn't know she was a witch yet; Colin had managed to supress that information. "Can you just let me cook dinner, and we can talk about this later? I'm so tired."

The topic was dropped and Peter stormed into the living room, sinking into a chair beside Nyvah. Lorelai stared woefully at the fallen fruit. "I know I have to pick that up," she lamented, "but if I do, I'm going to have to shift this and I just know I'm going to drop something else."

Colin chuckled weakly and scooped it up helpfully. Sitting it in the paper bag from which it had fallen, he asked with surprising concern, "Are you going to be okay?"

She frowned again. "Going to be?"

"Yes… well, you're obviously not okay right now. But will you be?"

"Always," she sighed and turned into the kitchen. Colin followed. "I have a remarkable capability to move on with my life."

"Good. Do you need help cooking dinner? You do seem pretty worn out, and shockingly enough, I'm a damn good cook. Not sure what this is," he gestured to the blue-purple fruit, "but I'm sure I could do something with it."

She chewed her lip, lowering the food onto the table. "Well, you could help me light the stove?" she suggested, "It always takes me ages."

They busied themselves in the kitchen for a while in a companionable silence. Lorelai had decided they were making a stew, considering their limited supplies. It was while Colin was peeling carrots and Lorelai was chopping up chunks of meat that she finally broke the silence. "Thank you."

"Hm? For what?"

"It's nice… to be looked after for once," she admitted, "and for me, it's been a while. And you know… I was wondering."

Colin stopped peeling and began to slice the carrots into thin circles.

"Tomorrow I'm going to do a memorial to everyone who died that day," Lorelai told him, "I do it every year but I thought maybe you'd like to come with me this year. I use magic to do it and I know Peter would be… less than impressed. But you're okay with magic and I'd really like some company."

He couldn't help thinking it was adorable to see her behaving so awkwardly. She stumbled through her words and looked horribly uncomfortable to be coming across so vulnerable. "I'd love to, if you really want me there."

She broke into a grin. "You're in for a treat – I perform it on the cliff over the sea. Have you ever seen the ocean?" He nodded, raising one finger to indicate he'd only seen it once. "You've never seen the ocean like this. It's cold," she confessed, "but it's beautiful."

"Sounds good," he replied. "What kind of magic do you do?"

"What kind of magic? Well… just wait and see I suppose. I admit that you haven't seen me use magic much… lighting fires, drying wood. That's all the boring kinds of magic." She scooped the meat into a pot full of boiling water. "I can tell you I'll have to sing."

"Sing? Why?" She hadn't sung before, she'd muttered some strange words he'd never heard and it was done, so this intrigued him.

"Music," Lorelai explained eagerly, "is incredibly powerful. What cannot be expressed with words or movements can be understood with music. Like emotion, it is horribly impossible to describe perfectly if you actually try. To describe a person's voice as soft, whimsical, grating… that only gives you the vaguest of ideas; you can't know the sound until you've heard it. Music is the one form of communication accessible to every species across the universe. It communicates emotion more effectively than anything else. Because of that power, the strongest spells are best performed in song. Weak, simple spells need only be spoken. Some of the easiest spells don't even need to be said, merely considered. But when your goal is more specific and requires greater skill, music will carry far better than words. It doesn't matter if your voice sounds awful either, that's the beauty of music."

Colin snickered. "Everyone can sing, some people shouldn't," he quoted, "but you're right. Music is… special. Still, it must be a bit of a problem in a tight spot. If you have to sing – you wouldn't have time in a fight, to defend yourself."

"Magical duels are complicated and best avoided, but when they happen, you are sly and you choose your spells wisely. The quicker you can beat your opponent, the better. Fortunately, your opponent will also need time to gauge your skills and to sing a spell. Some users are so proficient it only takes a bar or two of music to cast a spell." She smirked at him, suddenly cocky. "I am one such witch."

He laughed at her enthusiasm, inwardly surprised that they could get on with each other so well. "But what if your opponent doesn't use magic? They could easily take you down with a sword, or a well-aimed arrow."

"The same can be said of anyone." She stirred the stew a little and contemplated her words. "For witches, particularly well-known ones, it is safest to hire a mercenary to protect them. It is difficult to find someone willing to protect a witch, and they must be paid well and watched closely for signs of betrayal. However, plenty a witch has learned that it is not impossible for them to learn the art of swordsmanship or warfare themselves. If we succeed, we can defend ourselves on two planes. It's worthwhile to try, anyway."

"Can you use a weapon?" he asked, curiosity overcoming him.

"I'm not very good at it," she said, red cheeked with embarrassment. "But I can swing a sword or a stick a little… and I can fire an arrow… poorly. My aim is lacking. I prefer to use my intellect to avoid confrontation, or at least to give me an upper hand with magic. It's okay though, I am not well-known in the slightest, so I don't have to worry about hiring mercenaries or anything like that."

Colin laughed again as he tried to imagine Lorelai swinging a sword around. It wasn't that it looked funny in his mind; actually, it looked rather intimidating. It was that he couldn't really imagine her being bad at something.

She smiled with him. "No, truly, I'm terrible."

Their amusement died instantly when Peter strode into the room. "How's dinner?" he asked, fighting to remain calm and not start demanding answers from Lorelai. "Nyvah is wondering."

"It'll be ready soon," she said and Colin was a little disappointed to hear her voice return to its usual wary standoffish tone. She had, for a little while there, been relaxed he was certain. "And Peter? I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I didn't mean to make you uneasy; but I assure you no harm will come to you here. I have to do a few things tomorrow… but we can leave the day after, if that's what you want. We can go wherever you want to."

He grunted in acknowledgement but his expression remained the same. "Call for us when it's ready."

Lorelai turned back to the stew and threw the carrot slices into the pot. "You can go and sit with them," she ordered.

He eyed the table and grimaced. Clearly she was just eager to be alone again. "Still want me with you tomorrow?"

"Please."

.~:~.

They reached N'valea sooner than they expected. This was mostly because Lamia had used magic to speed it up. Neither of them were used to such a cold environment anymore, and they wanted to be in and out as quickly as they could.

Lamia felt strange being in her old home again. Six years ago she'd left on what she had thought would be a brief trip out of town to get bread, and she had never come back. Now she stood in the snow, gazing out at what she knew was N'valea, and feeling completely lost. "I thought I'd feel good," she murmured to Henry, "but I kind of feel empty."

"Has it changed?"

"No. But I have." She shook off the feeling and pressed forward. "Come on, I'll show you my old home; my sister would've married and moved out by now… but maybe my parents will be there. They'll want to bake you a pie or something, for looking out for me so stubbornly."

Even for N'valea the weather was bitter; the sky was a steely grey and there was a biting wind blowing flurries of snow into their eyes. Once or twice Lamia got lost, unsure which direction they were supposed to be going in, but eventually they broke free of the markets and could see in the distance, up nearer the tree-line, a small and pleasant house with a wisp of smoke curling from the chimney.

The closer they came to the house, the more Lamia realised it had changed. In fact, were it not for the smoke, she would not have guessed anyone even lived there anymore. It was dark and falling into disrepair and it looked as cold as the weather outside; uninviting. It was not at all how she remembered her home.

Lamia halted, eyes trained on something nestled between two dead rose bushes. "Is that… is that a battle axe?" she murmured. "No on in my family owns something like that…"

"Perhaps your parents don't live here anymore?" Henry suggested, nudging her forward, "I can see you're stalling. Come on; it's better to just get it over with."

She grimaced, digging her heels in. "No. No, I don't like this, I'm not ready – they, what are they, what will they think?" she babbled, "It's been six years, what will I say? What will they say? What…?"

"Lamia! Running now isn't going to help. Remember why we're here. We're here to tell Lorelai what we know, right?" He smiled weakly. "And I'll be here with you the whole time, so."

Whether Lamia was going to be brave enough would never be known, for at that moment a shrill sound cut through the air. It sounded like some kind of garbled exclamation that had mid-way morphed into a scream; it was unsettling and sudden and so naturally the two standing in the snow spun around, lost their balance, and tumbled to their knees. "What on-?" Henry spluttered, raising his gaze to see a middle-aged woman stumbling towards them, shocking frizz of brown hair peeking out from beneath the fur-lined hood of her coat.

Lamia lifted her head and followed his gaze, eyes widening in surprise when she saw the woman. She was much closer now, and Lamia clearly recognised her. "Aunt Em?"

"It's impossible," the woman's high voice quavered slightly as she came to a stop in front of them, leaning down to grip Lamia's jaw. "It's impossible," she repeated with even less conviction.

"What's impossible?" Lamia asked, eyes narrowing.

"But we thought you were dead…" the woman, Aunt Em, breathed, slumping beside them. "Lamia, it is you, isn't it? I haven't gone mad, have I?"

"It's me."

Henry began to, understandably, feel like the third wheel and shifted uncomfortably. The woman's gaze snapped to him and his discomfort doubled under her scrutiny. "I guess… you know this woman, Lamia?"

"She's my mother's sister, my Aunt Emalia. Aunt Em… do… do my family still live here?"

Aunt Em's eyes traced the edges of the little house and her shoulders sagged. "Oh Lamia. We… obviously have much to discuss. You should come with me, out of the cold. You can bring your… friend?" She scrambled to her feet, brushing snow from her coat with mitted hands. "Come with me."

Lamia frowned after the woman as she moved away. Her aunt's answer was not reassuring – it was apparent that her family no longer lived in her childhood home, but there was more to it, clearly, than a simple desire for a change of scenery. Did they no longer live in N'valea? She could hardly bear the thought of having to travel further to find them. Or worse, what if she'd already missed them? What if she was too late with this information?

She exchanged a brief glance with Henry to gauge his thoughts, but in the end she should have known the answer written on his face; that ultimately if she wanted answers, she'd just have to go with her aunt now and ask her questions. As ever, where she went, Henry would follow. 'Loyal idiot.'

Blinking snow from her eyes, she hastily followed after Aunt Em, Henry trailing behind.

.~:~.

Aunt Em's house was delightfully warm, and Henry and Lorelai shed their coats at the door, feeling instantly better for it. It was a comfortable home, worn wood and soft lights, a home that had been loved and lived in for a long time.

The woman herself led them into a small rounded room that was clearly a kitchen and sat them at the table, shuffling about the room as she made them tea and some kind of soup that Henry had never tasted before. "Family recipe," Aunt Em muttered at his questioning look, but she didn't elaborate, looking fidgety and distracted.

"Thank you, for the food," Lamia broke the silence at last, "but you said we needed to talk. What about?"

Aunt Em wrung her hands anxiously. "Where have you been, Lamia?"

"I'd like to tell that to my sister first, actually. You're welcome to listen in, but I'd rather not have to repeat myself."

She scowled. "You will have a lot to explain. Oh, this is… terrible." She took a moment to compose herself, straightened in her seat and fixed Lamia with a firm, but sorrowful look. "Your family no longer lives in that house. After you disappeared… Lorelai waited until your parents came home. She told them you hadn't been home, and that it'd been a few days now. So everyone started looking for you in the woods… but we didn't really have much hope." Aunt Em shook her head, her tone shifting. "N'valea has always had trouble with… bandits and so on. Usually we're caught unawares but because half the village was out looking for you, we were lucky enough to see them this time. In fact, if they'd just been regular bandits…"

Lamia felt her stomach drop; she had a horrible feeling she knew where this was going.

"We might've had a chance. But they weren't bandits they were… I don't know what they were, no one did. Such strange creatures, I've never heard them described. They destroyed everything. Your parents… my sister… they didn't make it out alive. More than half our population was killed." She took a shaky breath, old wounds re-opening. "But we rebuilt. The place was replicated as precisely as it could be. But Lorelai, she couldn't bear it. It's a lot to take, eighteen years of age and seeing all that pain, still not knowing where you were. She didn't stay here, not even to see the town rebuilt. She came to me and told me she was going to keep looking for you."

Aunt Em stopped, letting Lamia take it all in. 'My parents are dead. My parents are dead. Oh God, oh God, oh God… but Lorelai… what happened to Lorelai?' "What happened… t-to Lorelai?"

"Mm. Well I didn't have it in me to tell her what she probably already knew; that she wouldn't find you, that you were obviously dead." Another uncomfortable pause. "Of course now I know differently. In any case, she left the next day. I didn't expect to see her ever again but… she came back a year later, a little changed, a little more broken. Came to see me, told me what she'd been doing, where she had been, how cold any trail you might have left was getting. She asked about the town, and then she asked me to take her to the cemetery. She spent most of the day at your parents' graveside, talking to them."

Henry hesitantly wrapped an arm around Lamia's shoulders. She didn't react, other than to lean into him a little more. "And is she still here? Did she give up?" he asked because it was clear Lamia wasn't going to speak anymore.

"She didn't. She spent a week here and left again, still looking for her sister. I think what she said was something like, 'she's all I have left, I'm not going to lose her'. Bit of a slight to me, really, I mean I was here for her."

"What about-?" Lamia cut in, brow furrowed, "Lorelai was going to get married, have a family of her own… did he survive?"

"He did, but he didn't wait for her, the arse."

Lamia's expression matched her aunt's, furious that her sister's beau had abandoned her. "Have… have you seen her again?" she finally asked, anxious.

"Twice more, same time every year; she comes back for the anniversary. I haven't seen her in three years now but she still comes. Sometimes she's a few days late, sometimes she stays a week, but she's usually in and out, gone before anyone can really talk her into staying.

"As a matter of fact, dear, that's why I was up at the house today. Yesterday was the anniversary of the attack but I hoped she might still be there. The house still belongs to her, though she doesn't use it apart from her annual visits. She does a little ceremony at some point during the week, it's always whenever she feels like it, so…" Aunt Em trailed off. "I haven't seen it yet. I'd bet she's still in town. After the attack, see, we didn't have many people left, but since then there've been so many people. Everyone clung to each other. There are many more children now, and N'valea is twice the size it was back then. As though for every death two lives began here. And although most people don't even know Lorelai anymore, and most people were not here that day, every single one of us stops when we see it."

"See what?" Henry pressed.

"Come outside, bring your tea. It could be today, it might not be until tomorrow… I don't know. But you'll see them, in the sky. It's Lorelai. It's a memorial. Everyone will stop, it's a chain reaction; someone will see it and freeze and stop speaking and others will look up and… just watch. In any case, I guess you've a lot to take in Lamia. A little peace will do you good."

It was true. In all the time she'd been away it had never once crossed Lamia's mind that her family could be dead. Moved away or changed or forgotten her, sure, but dead?

.~:~.

"Why do we have to be up so early?"

"Shut up. It's good for you."

"You're obsessed with getting me up in the mornings. You know I can think of better things to be doing right now. Like sleeping. Or…" Colin smirked and Lorelai's glare intensified. "What? You don't even know what I was gonna say."

"Did it involve being in bed?"

"Maybe. You'll never know now. I'm just going to keep it to myself."

"A wise decision. There may be hope for you yet."

"You still haven't answered my question." The thief shivered, tugging the furs closer to his body, surveying the dark forest ahead of them.

"Did you ask me something? All I heard was whining."

Lorelai was getting quite snarky lately. He kind of liked it. "Clever – but really, is there a reason it has to be so early? The sun's not even up yet."

"Peter is uncomfortable. We can finish this before lunch if we go now, and then we can eat and leave. The sooner we do, well, the less reason Peter has to ask questions. God knows what he might do if he discovers what I am. I did explain to you why witches make good use of mercenaries last night, didn't I? And I'm no fool; I'm not going to challenge the man, particularly when I have no desire to harm him myself."

"Peter's the real complainer in this little group," Colin pointed out, "I don't see why you make so many allowances for him."

"Because he's useful to me, and because frankly he has more chance of hurting me than you do."

"Why?" Colin snapped, offended, "Because he can swing around an axe like a wildman? Lorelai, you judge so quickly – remember how little you know about me. I could be a master archer for all you know, eh?"

She paused, tilting her head thoughtfully. "It's true," she conceded. Another pause. "And are you? A master archer?"

He snorted, rolling his eyes. "No, don't be ridiculous. Can you see me being that patient? Really?"

"We're wasting time, then. Stop stalling, let's move."

Even wrapped in Lorelai's furs Colin could feel the bitter chill of the air and was only vaguely grateful that it wasn't looking like a blizzard. He'd only once been to a land so icy before, and it was a long time ago; he had been caught in a blizzard then, and it was an experience he was not keen to repeat. He'd been lucky to survive.

He carried a small leather satchel Lorelai had handed him when she woke him that morning, and he hadn't bothered to peek inside. It was still far too dark to see in any case, and he struggled to keep up with Lorelai; if he lost sight of her dark silhouette in front of him he was sure he would be lost completely. Apparently nights in N'valea were long and extremely dark.

Lorelai herself wore her usual cloak though it was mysteriously lined with fur now; Peter had simply assumed it was a different cloak, but Colin knew better. He absently wondered if she was wearing something different underneath, for surely the dress she'd been wearing in Arith couldn't possibly be warm enough for N'valea. She also carried a bulging pack over her left shoulder that he guessed was much heavier than the satchel she'd requested he bring with them.

"What does your ceremony involve anyway, that you need all this stuff and all this time?" he mumbled to distract himself from the cold.

"A great many things. People think that when you use magic you can just wave your hand and it's that easy, but there's a lot more to it."

"Like singing."

"Like singing," she acknowledged, "it's just that magic isn't really an advantage or a disadvantage, rather it is just another skill that some people are born with. It comes with many limitations just like any other talent a person might have. It takes practice. The difference is, I suppose, that some people can become so skilled that it requires very little preparation; you might call such people 'masters' of the art. But even they have weaknesses… they are simply very well hidden."

"Are you a master, then?"

"No I'm not. If I were, I would not need all these supplies, and only a few minutes to cast the spell. I could do it," she admitted, "without them but it is very trying and I would be bed-ridden for at least a few days afterwards. It is exhausting to draw so much on oneself, without aid of other objects." She paused, even slowing her pace so that Colin didn't have to fight so hard to keep up with her. "I don't get to talk about my knowledge very often. Few people are actually interested in what makes a witch what he or she is. We're just… judged on misinformation."

"It doesn't make me special," Colin hastened to tell her, "I'm not really interested, I'm just trying not to think about how cold I am."

"Would you like another fur?"

"You have more?" he demanded, thinking of the three fur coats he was already wearing. He shook his head, then realised that she probably couldn't see in the dark. "No, it'd be too heavy. Let's just move quickly, moving helps."

Colin had been a little fascinated by Lorelai's explanations. So many people classed witches as another species, but it wasn't as though they had different biology or anything. Witches were just people born with magic, a natural talent for something which some people could learn. Lorelai couldn't see better in the dark, or smell better than he could, or hear anything better. She couldn't move faster or change forms and she didn't have pointed ears or talons instead of nails. It was why people could so easily assume she was human, because for all intents and purposes, she was.

Around the time his nose went completely numb the sky began to lighten, and Colin could actually see more than block outlines. It was dim, everything tinged a dark blue-grey, but now that he could see better he began to slow his pace, confident he could keep Lorelai in sight. The trees around them were not thinning out and Colin wondered just how long it was going to take to reach their destination. Lorelai had told him they would be able to see the ocean.

"Won't the water be frozen?" he mused aloud.

"Largely, yes, but it'd have to be unbearably cold for all the water to be ice."

"How far is it?" he asked, eyeing the trees suspiciously.

"Not much further. Stay close to me – I don't want you walking off the cliff in the dark."

He quickened his steps, puffing from the exertion; moving through snow this high was no easy task. It was almost up to his knees now. "How does the snow get so high under these trees?"

"I'd guess there'd been a blizzard recently. Snow gets everywhere. Plus, the tree branches can't hold the weight forever; it falls down." As if to prove her words there was a slow sliding sound and a branch up ahead slumped towards the ground, dropping its' load before springing up into place again. Colin shivered.

'Makes sense for us to leave early now, if it's so far away. Moving through the snow is very slow going,' he thought.

And then, abruptly, they broke free of the trees and Colin halted, surprised. The trees had not thinned out and one moment he'd been in the forest, the next he stood on a wide cliff side layered in snow. He rushed after his companion and as they neared the edge he allowed a soft gasp to escape him. The ocean stretched out to the horizon and beyond, but nearer the land it was all solid white. There were towers of ice that seemed to float on the surface of the water, where it was water, and further out he could see large flat stretches of white floating like islands unto themselves.

"Wow."

"Those blocks of ice," Lorelai informed him with a little smile, "are called icebergs. They're floating, but what you see on top of the water is about a third of the whole thing; they're much bigger below the water. And I definitely wouldn't recommend a swim; that water is freezing. You'd die from the shock more than anything."

"You're kidding! They're even bigger underneath?" He jumped, edging closer to Lorelai as a thunderous crack broke the peace around them and his eyes darted around nervously.

"Relax; it's just the ice breaking. Look," she pointed to a chunk of ice tumbling from one of the icebergs and crashing into the water below, a miniature version of its parent, floating away gradually and bumping against the solid ice that looked like land. "It's normal. I'd forgotten how loud it could be, though." She wrapped gloved fingers around his own and tugged him right up to the edge of the cliff, not releasing his hand when they stopped. Colin was grateful for the shared warmth.

For some time they simply watched the magnificent world of ice around them, the occasional resounding crack as more ice broke away. Once, an iceberg split right down the middle, and Colin just about ran for the trees when he heard it. They inched back from the edge a little to make him feel better.

"Oh look!" Lorelai exclaimed, her voice almost reverent. She pointed to something shuffling awkwardly across the ice below; something silvery grey followed by two blobs of yellow-white.

"What are they?"

"Seals," Lorelai told him, "They're called seals. Aren't they beautiful?" The silvery grey shape slid into a hole in the ice for a moment, then resurfaced next to the yellow blobs. "The white ones are the pups," she continued, "the grey one is their mother."

"Animals here are weird," Colin murmured wondrously, eyes never leaving the strange shuffling creatures.

"Enough now; I have to set up this spell. Move away from the edge, if you fall you'll die."

The light was enough to see by now, the sky a light grey and slivers of sunlight squeezing through cracks in the clouds. Lorelai lowered her pack to the ground and took the satchel from Colin, telling him to stand back while she worked. She began to pull things from the pack that seemed utterly useless to his eyes; several rectangular crates of candles, a thick leather-bound book, her spark stones, a large uncomfortable looking black blanket, a box of white chalk, four ordinary rocks. Then she turned to the satchel and tugged out a rough brown drawstring pouch, a wooden bowl and a pestle, and nine smooth black stones that all seemed perfectly circular. "What are you going to do with all of that?"

"I'm going to do a spell, dummy."

She spread the large black blanket that he now saw was made of cotton, and pinned down each corner with the four regular rocks. Then she took the chalk and began to draw on the cloth, a large circle that she proceeded to fill with another smaller circle and many strange squiggles and symbols Colin had never seen before. This done, she took the wooden bowl and placed it in the centre, dropping the contents of the brown pouch inside. He saw, amongst the odd dried plants, a few small white objects that looked appallingly like bones. She used the pestle to crunch the contents a little, and then took the nine perfect stones and set them in an even circle around the bowl on the lines of chalk.

"Are those… real bones?" he asked, feeling sick.

"They're the vertebrae of a rat, yes," she admitted, "the bones of human infants work best for most spells, but I don't abide by that, so I make do with the bones of animals." She grimaced. "It's not pretty, I know."

Now she opened the book and flipped through the yellowed parchment until she found the page she apparently wanted. Black ink swirled across the pages in strange symbols and horrific illustrations to the spidery script and Colin tore his eyes away.

"Now is a time I wish I could play an instrument," Lorelai muttered, kneeling in the snow, "it works even better with accompaniment."

"This all seems really dark and occult for a memorial ceremony," Colin commented anxiously.

"Well if I conjured everything myself," she said, "it wouldn't be. Witches need a little help, you know. Otherwise I'd probably pass out in the middle. Now hush."

And Lorelai began to sing. It was the strangest language Colin had ever heard in his life, and the rhythm was stilted, more like chanting than singing, but there was a faint melody to it that he tried and failed to trace.

"Ego facio is oblatio ad autem deos ut gratias enim eorum auxilium. Ego oro se auxilium me meminisse maiorum. Ego oro illae praebeo me eorum fortitudo et potestas. Ego volo erga incendo autem caelum, unum lux enim singulis anima capta in autem impetus porro mea domus. Nonaginta novem rubrum laternis et tres flavus laternis enim omnis victima."

Now Lorelai leant forwards and slid the crates of candles open. She took her spark rocks and struck them in the air once, and Colin watched in awe as the candles levitated from the crates on their own power, individually lighting as they floated by Lorelai's head. And he traced their path with his eyes, for as soon as a candle lit itself, a colourful orb of – well, what he wasn't sure, glass or paper or cloth – something wrapped around the candle. Each orb was a vibrant red and once complete, shadows could be seen dancing within. He counted them as they went, all the way to ninety-nine, and then another three yellow ones joined them. All lit, all finished, they drifted higher and flew gently on the air over the tops of the trees, so bright he could still see their warm glow from where he stood.

Lorelai got more comfortable, crossing her legs and pulling her cloak tighter to herself. The crates lay empty around her and the book was closed on her lap as she opened her mouth and began to emit sound.

It was music without an instrument, the sound of violins and pianos and harps trailing from her open mouth, but she wasn't speaking anymore. Colin watched her, entranced, and did not notice the lanterns in the sky, he didn't notice when peculiar waddling birds with fins like a fish slip-slid over the ice below, he just watched and listened and was awed.

Some hours later, and it must have been hours, for the sun was high in the sky, Lorelai closed her mouth and the sound petered out. She licked her dry lips and dug into her pack for a gourd of warm, sour water to dampen her raw throat. "That was exhausting," she rasped, wiping tears from her eyes and cheeks.

"It was incredible," Colin whispered, still amazed.

"The spell is more of a prayer," she explained, drinking deeply. "And then the music is… is emotion in its second most pure form, the first being in feeling the emotions keenly in yourself." She shook her head, rolling her stiff shoulders, stretching aching muscles. "As long as I continued 'singing', the lanterns would stay where they were in the sky. Now they'll drift on the remnants of the spell for a day or so until the candles burn out."

"How did you do that? With your voice?"

"Magic, obviously. Now I am tired, and I need to rest somewhere warm. Help me clean up and then help me back to the house. It is lunchtime and I need to eat and recuperate… then we must go."

And Colin did not feel the relief he expected to feel at the words, but rather a sorrow that they could not stay just a little longer. Bewildered, he stumbled forwards and began to clear away the items Lorelai had used for the spell, his eyes only once more drawn to the lanterns in the sky.

.~:~.

A/N: Oh. My. God. That was long! I'm sorry! It was so horribly info-dumpy. It really got away from me, and I read over it and thought I couldn't really take any of it out and I wanted to get the story started and I actually had so much more to add to this chapter that I can't or else it'll be ridiculously long so I had to stop there. I'm so thankful to the people who've been reviewing and patiently waiting for this chapter. You have no idea the writer's block I've been having on everything! I can't promise the next chapter will come any faster but I will try.
I'd like to make very, very clear that I don't speak Latin. I'd like to! In fact I do plan to study it someday just for the interest. But as a result, the Latin in this chapter is a very rough probably very inaccurate bit from Google Translate. I'm going to study Latin and fix it someday, I promise, or if anyone reading can speak Latin, please contact me and correct me! I hate that it's inaccurate but I wanted to get this done and I really wanted to use Latin…
Please review, anyway, and remember
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- Black-Raven-Kura