It is a quiet day, one of many. Beau walks into his classroom, now empty, splays her hands against his desk, and says, “Got something new in the archive I thought you might be interested in. Wanna see?”
Her eyes gleam, and that tells him that she already knows his answer. Or thinks she does, and is completely correct. It is a quiet day, and he has grading to do tonight, but for now, there is a friend before him and something new in the archive, whatever that may be, and so Caleb smiles.
“Of course,” he says. Frumpkin leaps atop the desk, rubs along Beau’s arms, and then leaps off again, tail twitching.
The walk to the Cobalt Soul is familiar by now, and so are the faces inside. There are some here, even still, who would rather he not have access, he knows. But Beau’s easy confidence dissuades any interlopers from questioning them, and regardless, he is here often enough that most tolerate his presence, at the least, or would rather tolerate him than tolerate being on the receiving end of Beau’s ire. They are not stopped as they pass through the public archives and into the back rooms.
“They got it in from the Shattered Teeth a couple days ago,” Beau says. “Only just figured out how to do anything with it without breaking it. I dunno if it’s really your area, but I thought you might think it was cool.”
She shrugs, opening a door. He steps in, and she closes it behind them.
“It is nice to be thought of,” he says, with a faint smile, and she rolls her eyes. There is little in this room; it is meant for the examination of other materials, ones not fit for public viewing. He has used one like it before, though not often. It is only through Beau’s influence that he is allowed in here at all.
There is little in this room but a box, sitting on the lone table. She opens the lid, and with exaggerated care, removes a shard of crystal, just large enough that it would nestle comfortably in the palm of his hand. She lays it on the table and steps back, gesturing to it. He frowns at it, and then her.
Already, the magic emanating from the crystal is obvious, his senses too practiced to miss it. Nothing too powerful, though it feels like an intricate piece of spellwork. And old. The crystal itself, too, looks old, weathered, spiderwebbed with cracks. A miracle, perhaps, that it is in one piece.
“And this is?” He steps forward, narrowing his eyes. The spellwork doesn’t quite feel like anything he’s encountered before, but judging by the way it’s layered— “Something—there is information stored here, of some sort.”
“It’s a recording,” Beau says. “Somehow. They think it’s from pre-Calamity.”
He startles. Looks at her. She smirks.
“I said you’d think it was cool,” she says. “Not only are they thinking pre-Calamity, they’re thinking pre-Calamity. Like, right the fuck before.”
He breathes out, sharply. “For something like this to have survived—”
“A fucking miracle, right?” she says, taking the words right from his mouth. “You can play it. Just don’t break it.”
“Beauregard, I would never.”
He extends a hand. Doesn’t touch it, just lets his hand hover. It’s an intricate piece of spellwork, yes, with threads that weave and bind together in ways that seem foreign to him, but it’s not terribly difficult to figure out, with a bit of focus. He narrows his concentration, feeds a bit of arcane energy into one thread and gently tugs on another, and—
The image that appears, wavering in the air above the crystal, grainy and crackling and distorted in some spots, fuzzy in others, is that of a man, he thinks. Fey, maybe. Grey skin, white eyes, white hair. An eye-catching gold suit. Their facial features are difficult to discern, though whether that is because of the distortion of the recording or some personal quality, Caleb cannot even begin to guess. Their location is impossible to determine, the background blurred.
Their voice, when they begin speaking, is also distorted, the magic that captured their likeness faded and weathered by time, the crystal itself damaged for all that is it miraculously intact. But it is confident and precise, every word enunciated in the manner of a performer, a public speaker, and so their words are completely comprehensible.
“People of Avalir,” they say, and then pause, and continue, “and of the world. It is with a heavy heart that I make this announcement, which is to be played in the event of my disappearance, or death. If I’m not dead, then shame on you. This is private, and you should feel very bad about yourself.”
The person pauses. Caleb looks to Beau, who snorts.
“If I am dead,” the person continues, “then I’m sure I looked really awesome when I went out. People of Avalir, tonight I bring you reports of a conspiracy, one that reaches to the highest levels of our society. A dark pact, made by those in power, those who were trusted by all of us, to murder our citizens and bring about a great evil on the eve of the Replenishment, hours before our landing. Among those involved were Dean Lacrytia Hollow of the Throne of Necromancy and Magister Micah Cormorant, Speaker of the Fourth, along with several others, plotting with the devilish archmage Vespin Chloras to bring great harm to our city, and to the rest of Exandria.”
Caleb jerks at the name, and his eyes fly to Beau for confirmation. She meets his eyes levelly, solemnly, and nods.
“I don’t know the rest of what will happen here tonight,” the person continues. “I don’t yet know how this story will end. But I also report to you that the person who uncovered this conspiracy was none other than the Architect Arcane, Laerryn Coramar-Seelie herself, who was strong enough to see the truth, who brought this to light and has made all efforts to protect our fair city and its people. And I stood in her way, thinking it better to maintain the peace than to let the truth be known. Laerryn fought to overcome those who would silence her, to bring justice and hope to this matter, and I attempted to stop her.”
“But the truth will out,” they say, and their voice is somehow softer, though it loses none of its announcer’s tone. “Let the record show what happened here tonight. And tonight, let us remember those who fought to defend Avalir and the world. Tonight and all other nights, let us remember Laerryn, and our heroes, who sought to save us all. I submit my resignation as Herald of Avalir. Thank you all, for allowing me to speak to you for so long.”
For a moment, the image lingers, as if the person is going to say something else. And then, it is gone. Silence falls in the room.
“Scheiße,” he murmurs, running a hand through his hair.
“I know,” Beau says. “Like, what the fuck is Avalir? Where the fuck was Avalir?”
“There is so much,” he says, “so much that we don’t know. So much from the Age of Arcanum that has been forgotten. Entire civilizations, entire peoples—”
“And here’s” —Beau gestures— “I mean, something. It’s something. Fuck if I know exactly what it is, but it’s something. More than there was a few days ago.”
“You are right that this is not exactly my area,” he says, “but I think I am not mistaken in saying that this may be among the most important artifacts recovered in pre-Calamity scholarship—”
“—literally ever,” Beau finishes. “Definitely got that impression. So, what do you think, smart guy?”
“This is still not my area,” he says, “not my expertise. But—”
He reaches out, with a delicate touch. Plays it again, and watches the person’s face, listens to their voice, their cadence, the rise and fall. All of it, as best he can, through the distortion of centuries and a thousand disasters and a billion deaths. This is a voice of a person long gone, who lived and breathed long ago and died long ago, potentially in the onset of a disaster that would change the face of Exandria forever, and here it is, intact, an echo of a place and time and person that no longer exists, whose name is unknown and may forever remain so. An echo of a moment, that someone once experienced, and that can now be seen, recorded, studied, remembered.
It really is something like a miracle that this has endured.
“I think,” he finally says, and feels an odd weight behind his words, “that this is someone who understands the ebb and flow of history.”
“Yeah?” Beau says.
“Ja. The way they speak—they are accustomed to handling information, to sharing it. They talk like an announcer, a reporter of some kind. But, more than that—”
He plays it, once more time.
“They are someone who understands that to be told and remembered, a story needs heroes, and a story needs villains. They give both. They give names, this Hollow, this Cormorant. Vespin Chloras, one of the only figures that we still know. The worst villain in all of Exandrian history.”
Beau picks up on where he is heading with this. “And they give themself.”
He nods. “It is an interesting decision. If they recorded this with the intent for it to become history, then there was no need to implicate themself. At least, none that we are aware of.”
“You think they could be lying?”
“I think it’s very possible,” he says. “I also find it curious that they say the word ‘heroes,’ but only give one name.”
“Laerryn,” he agrees. Someone else long dead. An echo, and who is to say that after the long road that it took to get here, the echo is reflective of its origin at all? But even still. “They had a priority. Someone they wanted to be known. Perhaps they wanted to be sure that her heroics were celebrated. Lauded.”
“So they threw themself under the cart? Damn. That’s some dedication.”
He plays it back one more time. Watches as closely as he can, and is aware even as he does so that he will never know everything. So much has been lost. Too much. Even if there were a thousand crystals like this one, with a thousand messages from a thousand people from so long ago, casting blindly forward in hopes of remembrance, they would not know even close to everything. Fragments are all they have, and this is a fragment and an echo and something dead.
But it is also someone reaching out, reaching forward, calling from the past with voice uplifted. He cannot take their hand. But he can listen.
“It is difficult to remember, I think,” he says, “that the people who lived then were people. Just like us, or not so different. We do not know their names or their stories. But they were people, and they wanted their lives to matter. And perhaps to some people, what was most important was that the lives of other people mattered.”
Laerryn. It is subtle, but there: the care with which this person treats—treated—the name, the way the vowel is held just so. And Caleb cannot presume to know anything about a person who lived and died over a thousand years ago. Cannot assign emotions to scholarship, or instinct to interpretation.
But to blacken one’s own existence in favor of another, in the desperate hope that one day, the story would be told—that might be called love. And it might be called miracle.
“I think that this person may have cared for this Laerryn very much,” he says, and leaves it there.
“You might be right,” Beau says. “Damn.” She flashes a grin, quick and perhaps only a little bit unsettled. “People here are gonna have a field day with this. I mean—names, man. Do we even have any names other than Chloras?”
“Not my area,” he says, and smiles when she scowls at him. “We have a few more now.”
“Yeah,” Beau says. “I guess it’s up to us what we do with them.”
“It always is,” he says. To hold a person’s legacy in one’s hand, their memory, their name—that is a heavy thing. And as he meets Beau’s eyes, he knows she understands that. As does he. History is cobbled-together scraps, and maybe they will never find anything approaching the real truth, but names are important.
That night, he settles into grading. Essays, basic level, regarding transmutative properties. Frumpkin is curled on his lap. Essek will return tomorrow. It was a quiet day, and it is a quiet night, and Exandria feels at peace.
He takes a moment to think about the person, their message, their request. So long ago, and finally, there is someone to hear it. Perhaps the fact that the crystal survived all these years was an act of love in itself. Love can bring about miracles, and how truly human it is, in the end, to call out from the past in the hopes that someone will hear. To cry out, remember that I loved.
He takes a moment to think about a woman he does not know, that he will perhaps never know a single thing about except for that her name was Laerryn Coramar-Seelie, and there was someone who loved her. All told, that is not the worst way to be remembered.