Jenya had never come home…
Calish hurried after the cloaked figure. He ran out the door of his cottage and into the street of the village. As he stepped into the street the figure was nowhere to be seen, but he noticed a crowd of people gathering together further down the street. He made his way towards them.
As he came closer he began noticing familiar faces amongst them. These were the people he'd lived his life in the village with. He knew them all, of course, yet it still felt strange to be amongst them without really being there.
Closer still and he began seeing their expressions clearly. None of them looked happy. Some stood shocked, while others stood back, sombre. A few had even fallen to their knees, crying into their hands. Even closer and he began to hear snippets of conversation.
"First Calish, and now…"
"What will happen to their daughter…"
"…below freezing last night…"
"…sick as well…"
"She must have collapsed…"
He ignored the voices as he drifted through the crowd and came out the other side. The sight on the road just ahead of him stopped him in his tracks. There, on her back in the snow, lay his wife. The physician knelt on the ground next to her as he checked for signs of life. Calish knew he was wasting his time. He could tell just by looking at her. His wife, Jenya, had died last night.
Just beyond Jenya's body, with his back to Calish, the cloaked figure knelt on the ground. Calish could just see the head of a body being held in his hands. No, not a body, a spirit Calish realised as he recognised Jenya.
Her eyes were open yet she didn't seem aware of where she was or what had just happened. She seemed to be in a sort of trance and Calish remembered the disorientation he'd first felt when he entered this world. The figure started to draw Jenya closer in towards him, wrapping his arms more securely around her.
Calish's thoughts went to their daughter, how she'd now be without parents, and he acted without hesitation. He couldn't see his daughter left alone.
"Jenya!" he cried out, "You need to live again. Don't let him take you. Our daughter needs you."
The cloaked figure turned to look back at Calish just as Jenya's eyes blinked as awareness flooded back into her. The figure then turned back to Jenya, once again pulling her close. Jenya, seeing Calish, began to struggle in his grip.
"Calish? Calish!" she cried out, tears running down her face, "Oh, my Calish. I thought you were dead. Where have you been?"
"Jenya, my love, please. You need to live again. For me, for our daughter. Don't let him take you. Tell him you're not ready," Calish begged.
"Not ready?" Jenya asked, looking confused. She looked around her, at the grey world Calish had come to know as home, "Where am I? Who are you?" Jenya looked at the figure, seeming to notice it for the first time.
In answer, the figure lifted the hood of his cloak slightly. It wasn't enough for Calish to see what was beneath, but it was enough for Jenya. She reached up and touched the face beneath the cloak as her tears came to a stop.
"You're beautiful," she said to the figure, "So beautiful. I'm glad." Calish watched in horror as she wrapped her arms around the figure. The figure pulled her even closer, and Calish watched as his wife began to dissolve away into his dark cloak. With a cry of sorrow and rage, Calish rushed forward.
"Get away from her!" he cried out. Calish stumbled through the figure and Jenya's fading spirit. He allowed himself to fall to the street below as tears fell down his face and landed as drops of shadow on the ground below.
When he turned again to face the figure his wife was gone and his cloak was firmly back in place. The figure stayed crouched to the ground for moments that stretched on like ages and Calish stood there watching, waiting for the silence to be broken. He couldn't bring himself to talk.
The greatest of sorrows flowed through Calish. His wife had been taken from him, before he'd even had a chance to really talk to her again. He glared at the figure. He'd taken her from him without a chance to say goodbye. He'd taken her from their daughter, when she needed her parents so much.
Eventually the figure stood. He took a glance at Calish, seeing the pain, sorrow and anger drawn out on his face.
"Dead is dead, Calish. We can't change that, as much as we'd like to. I'm sorry, but at least she's where she belongs now," the figure said.
"How can you be so callous?" Calish spat, "Have you seen so much death you've become desensitized to suffering?"
"You misjudge me. Don't think for a moment that I have not tried to also reverse death, or to hold on to the ones I love. I have loved and lost just as much as you. Every death is sad to me, but I know that it is better I move them on to the next world than let them remain in this shadow place," the figure answered.
"Then why won't you let me leave here?" Calish asked.
"Because I cannot," the figure said, then began walking past Calish, heading towards another house in the village. He paused as he drew level with Calish, "You'll have your chance to say goodbye one day Calish."
The cloaked figure resumed his walk to the next house. Calish stood silent as he walked away, deep in his thoughts, distracted by sadness. He turned around at one point to see if the figure was still there, but he'd vanished away into the shadows once more. Calish felt more alone than ever before.
Calish wasn't sure how long he remained standing in the street. Eventually, however, he returned to his cottage. His wife may have been gone, but his daughter still lived. He needed to see if she pulled through. He needed her to pull through.
To his horror, Calish couldn't find her anywhere in his cottage. He checked every room, trying to ignore the creeping fear that she'd died while he was gone and the cloaked figure had already taken her. She wasn't anywhere to be found.
Calish forced himself to be calm and think about the situation. He realised that everyone in the village would have known Lyrial would now be parentless. She'd probably been taken by one of their neighbours, where they'd now be caring for her. Or, she was still suffering from the disease, perhaps the physician had taken her in while she recovered.
Sure enough, the physician's was where Calish found her. His daughter was lying on a cot in a room out the back of the physician's store. Her chest rose and fell with laboured breaths as she stared up at the ceiling. Calish could tell that she'd been told about her mum just from looking at her. The fight seemed to have left her body and the disease seemed more in control than ever.
It broke Calish's heart just looking at her. More than ever he wished he could just hold her and take her sadness into him. Once again he placed his hand over hers, hovering without contact.
Calish sat with her for the rest of the day. A few times the physician came in with some food and water. He tried to get her to eat, but his daughter was unresponsive. Calish felt that something deep inside of her had broken.
Night fell, and Lyrial fell into a restless sleep once more. Calish kept his hand over hers as she tossed and turned. He cried into the night, lost in thoughts of his family, wishing they could all be together once more. He wished that none of this had ever happened. He hated the world he was trapped in. He barely noticed when Lyrial seemed to calm, the dreams seemingly stopped.
He thought about the cloaked figure. He wanted to hate him, for all he'd put Calish through, but found that he couldn't. Surely the cloaked figure had been trapped in this world even longer than Calish had. Calish didn't know how being alone in this world for such a long time could start to effect someone. He wouldn't exactly be used to company.
He cried for his wife. How he'd brought suffering to her by dying in battle. He should have stayed home, ignored the king's call for soldiers. At the time though Calish felt he was doing the right thing, fighting to protect his family. Perhaps if he'd stayed he'd also be dying with disease now too. At least his family would have been together though.
At some point in the night Calish suddenly noticed his hand was clasping something solid. He looked at his hand, feeling his daughter's in it. Actually feeling his daughter's hand. He couldn't help but laugh a little in joy.
He glanced at Lyrial just as she opened her eyes. She looked around, dazed at first, then noticing Calish. She could actually see him. Calish was more than glad.
"D-dad?" she croaked out.
"Yes, yes Lyrial, it's me," Calish said, smiling at his daughter.
"We thought you were dead. I'm happy you're not," she beamed up at him. She paused, remembering, "Oh, but mum… They told me mum died last night. She was sick as well." Her expression turned downward and a tear trickled down her face.
"Yes, mum's gone. But, she'll be alright. She's somewhere safe now, where she'll never get sick again," Calish said as he brushed the tear off her face.
"I'm happy you're alive though. I was scared something bad had happened to you when your flower never bloomed," she said, looking back to Calish.
Calish leant forward, picking up his daughter and sitting her in his lap. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her spirit close. In the cot, Lyrial's body lay, peaceful in death. It was as he'd begun to fear. His daughter was dead too.
"It'll just be you and me now," he whispered to her, holding her close, trying not to cry. Lyrial wrapped her arms around her father's neck, hugging him back.
"I'm glad. I was scared I'd be alone dad. I've never been so scared before, and I was so sick."
"It's okay now. I'll never leave you again," he cried. Shadows of tears began to fall, tumbling shadows through Lyrial's fading body. Calish held her closer as she began to dissolve into Calish.
"I do wish mum was here too," Lyrial said, beginning to sound distant.
"You'll be with her soon. We'll all be together again soon. I love you, my daughter," Calish said, the tears flowing uncontrollably now. Lyrial looked up to Calish, almost entirely gone now.
"I love you too, dad," she said, vanishing into the next world. Calish let himself cry. He didn't care how long he sat there for.
Eventually the tears stopped. The sorrow, while it never faded, became bearable in a way. It still hurt to think of them, he was still sad they were gone, but it was time for answers. When he lifted his head, becoming aware once more of the world around him, Calish was unsurprised to see the cloaked figure in the room with him. Calish still sat on the edge of the cot. Lyrial's body had been removed some time ago. He hadn't noticed when it happened. The figure stood in the middle of the room, watching as he always did.
"Did I wrong you in some way that you'd keep me trapped between worlds watching those I love not only suffer at my death, but suffer through their own as well?" Calish demanded of the figure.
"No," the cloaked figure answered, "It's nothing like that at all."
"Then why, why, won't you let me move on? Let me be with my family. Please. I've had enough," Calish pleaded.
"I've told you before, Calish, I cannot. Believe me, how I wish I could," answered the figure.
"Why not? You keep saying that you can't, but you never tell me why you can't. Or, can't you tell me that either?"
"Calish, you moved your daughter on to the next world. You did what I do."
"So is that it? You can't move me to the next world because I seem to have the same powers that you do."
"That's part of the reason, but not the whole reason."
"Am I to be stuck here forever?"
"No. I don't think so."
"You know, I'm sick of you speaking in half answers. Why can't you just be clear with me?" Calish asked, standing up, "I'm leaving here. I don't want to ever see you again until you're ready to help me see my family."
Closing his eyes, Calish pictured a place far away from this village. Focusing on the image in his mind, he vanished far, far away.
"I can't break the cycle. I'm sorry Calish," the figure spoke to the empty room before also vanishing.
For years, Calish walked. He journeyed through grey landscapes in the shadow of worlds. His only companion for all this time was his thoughts. He jumped back and forth, thinking of all that had happened, and all that could have been.
He passed spirits of the dead, lost amongst the grey as well. He ignored the lost souls. They were likely dead not yet ready to move onto the next world. How he envied them. They can't have hated this dark world as much as he did then if they wanted to stay.
At times he thought he saw the cloaked figure in the distance, watching him. When he looked closer, however, he was never there. Calish would then often shout into the emptiness, challenging the figure to reveal himself to move Calish on or make himself scarce. He never appeared.
He journeyed into cities. Large, empty streets. The living didn't belong in this world, and he had no connection to anyone living in them to be able to see them. The big empty cities felt strange to him, so he began to avoid them, sticking to the open countryside. Out there, being the only person around didn't feel so strange.
As he walked through the world thoughts began to arrange themselves in his head as emotion cooled. He reflected on all that had happened to him in this world, on the nature of this world, and he realised what he had to do.
He stopped walking, pictured a familiar location, and vanished into thin air.
When he reappeared he found himself in a valley, tall mountains rearing up on each side. This valley, years ago, had been the location of a great battle. A battle where Calish had lost his life.
Calish glanced at the spot where the arrow had pierced his body. Sure enough, the cloaked figure was standing there, waiting for him. Calish walked towards him.
"You must hate this place as much as I do. You must want to move on as much as I do," Calish called out to the figure.
"Yes," the figure responded. Then he laughed a little, "Indeed I do."
"It isn't my time to move on to the next world, and you can't move me on. You've made that much clear over all these years. But, I can move you on to the next world, can't I? And it is your time?" Calish continued.
"I believe so, yes," the figure responded.
"Then, are you ready to move on to the next world?" Calish asked. The figure was silent for the longest of times. He bowed his head and Calish caught a few drops of tears, turning to shadow before they hit the ground. After what seemed like days, or perhaps just a couple of minutes, the figure raised his head once more.
"Yes," he said, sounding relieved, "I am ready to move on."
Saying nothing, Calish stepped forward, arms open. The cloaked figure stepped forward to meet him, falling into his open arms. The figure collapsed to his knees, and Calish followed him down, wrapping his arms around him and pulling the figure close.
Calish watched as the figure began to fade, dissolving into him. As he dissolved away, Calish noticed a faint shadow begin to form around his own body. The more the figure faded, the more solid this shadow became. Before long it had begun to take the form of the cloak worn by the figure.
The figure, too faded to make out any features, looked up at Calish as the last bits of him moved to the next world.
"Thank you, Calish," he said before vanishing entirely.
Calish stood, pulling the hood of the cloak up over his head. Immediately he was overwhelmed by a new sense. He sensed locations in his mind, locations where he felt he should be. Locations where he was needed.
He shut his eyes, focused on one of these locations and vanished.
Countless years passed and countless spirits were moved to the world between worlds. Calish learnt how to move backwards and forwards through time as various spirits called to him, ready to be moved on to the next world. He was kept busy, but with control over time he could always find a few moments, or an eternity, to spend to himself.
He didn't dwell too much on the past anymore. He still thought about his family, of course, and hoped they were safe. However, he'd long come to terms that this was now his life. It wasn't much, but at least he knew he was helping people. For every spirit he helped move to the next world it made his eternal existence in this one a little easier to bear.
One day, a day much like any other, Calish felt himself pulled towards the location of a large battle. Two armies were clashing so he knew he'd be kept busy with spirits for a while.
He set about his task, helping souls ready to move on depart to the next world. He gave those souls that weren't yet ready the time they needed to come to terms with where life had led them. Eventually, they'd be ready. It was always the case.
He came to the body of a dead soldier, much like any other soldier. An arrow wound, it looked like. He bent down, ready to embrace the dead man's soul, and stopped. He looked at the dead soldier, stood up, and smiled.
"I see now. It makes sense. I understand. The moment has come. Truly, death is timeless…" Calish walked away, moving towards the next body.
Truly, death is timeless…
Elsewhere, in a village far away both in distance and time, a small, orange flower bloomed in a garden in front of an empty cottage.
And that's the end. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please feel free to leave a review.