Firesong paced through the wet grass of Companions' Field, scowling at the damp soaking into his long silk clothing and at the clouded evening sky. Curse this stupid primitive country and its stupid primitive people. How any civilized person could bear to live like this, he couldn't guess. In a Vale, the only proper way to live as far as he was concerned, you didn't get wet unless you were bathing. And there was certainly no rain! And there were hertasi to cook and clean, the jobs no Adept-class mage should ever have to even think about.
Nothing was going his way. And why should it? He was only the most beautiful, most powerful Adept in the entire damn country, in all the Vales, probably in the world. And he'd left a comfortable life in k'Treva Vale for their sake. He'd destroyed the Dark Adept who had menaced the world for millennia! But no, apparently the world didn't care about that. He should be hailed as a hero, but instead he was treated like just another person. Elspeth and Darkwind made plans without him, and those mewling babes who called themselves artificers got all the credit for combating the Storms. Applying mathematics to magic! It was sacrilege. Then again, what else should be expected from non-mages? For a moment, Firesong wished he could show off his discovery of Ma'ar's woven-magic "sanctuary" in the Void, show off his skill and genius in magic and maybe get a sliver of the attention he rightly deserved, but they'd probably say it was too dangerous and destroy it. And then he could never live through the ages to find his lifebonded. Such simple minds they all had, not to see the benefit of such a device.
And, as a final injustice, that idiot Karsite priest Karal was still stealing all of An'desha's time. Firesong thought he had found a way to solve that particular issue, when he decided that using mindmagic to coerce An'desha into staying with him was not the reprehensible idea he had first condemned it as. It would be a form of therapy, he reasoned: An'desha would need to be able to cope if his fears ever returned, so bringing them out would be helping him. And if he was reminded that he needed Firesong near to heal him, where was the harm?
It had been simple; he had touched An'desha's mind, making up excuses for his actions that he didn't remember now, and started his work, ignoring the feeling of unease that hovered around him. He had restrained some of the newfound confidence and independence, teased buried fears out of their hiding places, called up desire and need. He had then hid any inclination An'desha had to call on those spirits of his, or of finding guidance elsewhere.
Of course this was fine for him to do. It was his right. Firesong deserved the attention. He had, after all, healed An'desha and allowed him to become so independent. It wasn't as if any harm could come of this. All he was doing was making An'desha realize that he still needed help and support. If it took a bit of encouragement, well, that was just how it had to be.
But to his frustration, it hadn't worked, at least not in the way he had hoped. Instead of becoming more pliable, more willing to let Firesong comfort him, An'desha had become frantically scared, afraid he would hurt Firesong or Karal or somebody else. That there was a part of his mind that was still Falconsbane, that he would hurt anybody he was close to, that he would manipulate and torture them as Ma'ar had. He had pushed Firesong away, saying he couldn't be trusted to be near him, even as longing showed in his cat-like eyes. He must have done something wrong, must have triggered the wrong fears. Whatever it had been, An'desha had still begged to be left alone.
Firesong had eventually given up and stalked out of the ekele, leaving the Shin'a'in shivering in a corner. His firebird Aya had seemed unusually unhappy, chirping concern and dripping sparks, but Firesong didn't much care about that.
He growled in frustration, causing a few of the Companions in the Field to look up at him. No matter what he had said, he couldn't convince An'desha that he didn't have some lingering connection to Falconsbane. And all the while, An'desha wouldn't dare even touch him! That wasn't the fear he'd hoped to awaken! Rubbish, anyway, An'desha was nothing like Falconsbane, Falconsbane who manipulated his servants to fear and need-
Manipulated his servants to fear and need him.
Oh, gods. What have I done?
Firesong stopped in his tracks, guilt and horror flooding his mind. And the blue stares of the Companions around him seemed that much more accusing. He glared around at them, fearful, as if they knew what he was thinking, what he had done. How could he have so selfishly misused his powers? And what was he to do now?
Could he reverse it, undo the crime and pretend it never happened?
If he went back now, he'd have to tell An'desha what he had done to him, have to admit he betrayed the man and tried to manipulate him for his own desires. And An'desha would never trust him again. He certainly wouldn't trust Firesong to touch his mind, and even if he somehow did, the Adept wasn't at all sure he could repair the damage he'd done. And why should he be trusted? He'd broken the prime rule of a Mindhealer, of a mage: he had used his powers to harm a friend. Had tampered with An'desha's mind, his thoughts, what every person had a right to, a right not forfeit under any circumstances. Had caused pain for his own selfish reasons.
And from what he knew of Valdermaran law, Healers and Bards had been stripped of their powers for lesser crimes.
He could hear his mother, his father, Elspeth, Darkwind, what they would say when they learned what he had done. Horrified, disappointed, appalled. They had trusted him, trusted him as a matter of course, trusted that he would not use magic as he had, would not even consider it.
And he knew he couldn't face any of them.
There was only one thing he could do: he could hide. Hide in that pocket of the Void he had discovered, hide until the crime was forgotten and he could live again. He didn't care that he still hadn't found a way to transfer his soul, that he didn't know if the sanctuary would even work. All he knew was that he couldn't stay here, not where he'd be shunned and hated under the Heralds' accusing eyes, where his own allies would despise his actions.
Firesong ran through the Field, into the Palace, pushing roughly past one of the sighing Court ladies who still hadn't gotten it into her head that he was shay'a'chern, and therefore, not interested.
He hurried past Palace servants and pages, down the dusty corridors to the newly-formed Heartstone in the old Workroom chamber. Closed the door, sat and took a breath to prepare himself, and linked with the Heartstone. Took his winged form in the expanse of the Void, saw the trail leading to the Sanctuary...
:Firesong, what are you doing?:
Oh, gods. The last person Firesong wanted- or expected- to face. How? How could Vanyel speak to him here, in Haven? Of course, the Web, the damned Web, Vanyel's spirit was a part of it.
Firesong found himself no longer flying among the colorful strands of the Void, but on solid ground, or what felt to be solid ground, on some pale featureless plane, with the spirit standing before him, looking at him with a calm, stern disapproval that Firesong nearly couldn't bear. He looked down, unable to meet the spirit's silver gaze.
"Forefather! Ancestor, I was not- you cannot say I was..." He had nothing to say, no possible defense to make.
:You would run, and leave your friend in pain of which he does not even know the cause?:
"He's dealt with fear before," Firesong argued, ashamed of what he was saying but desperate not to acknowledge his guilt, "He can overcome it." How dare this spirit from so long ago interfere now? But Vanyel was right, undeniably right, and Firesong fought the aching guilt of that realization; if he hid, he would be leaving An'desha in the frantic, unnatural terror he had induced.
Somehow, Vanyel understood, and simply gave Firesong a look as if he knew Firesong hadn't truly meant that. No less stern, but no more accusing.
:It wouldn't have worked, you know.: Vanyel said, a trace of humor in his words. Of course, Firesong realized, he never could have hidden himself away. His body would remain in the Workroom while he explored the Void, and eventually someone would have come looking for him.
:It is, I expect you know, a terrible crime to interfere with another's mind,: Vanyel continued, :and an even greater one to do so for harm. It was wrong, Firesong, whatever your justifications were.:
"I know! I know! Stop telling me!" He wouldn't cry, not here, not in the middle of nowhere in front of the legendary Herald-Mage. But he had never before felt so ashamed, so disgusted with his own actions. The excuses he had made sounded so shallow now, so much the illogical product of jealousy.
:I expected better of you, Firesong, even with the influence of the Storms.:
Influence of the Storms? What? Firesong wanted desperately to cling to any excuse, any possible circumstance that could mitigate his crime, but knew that neither Vanyel nor himself would see that as honest. He should have been able to meet his ancestor's expectations, and that thought made him angry, at Vanyel for expecting so much and, even more so, at himself for failing.
"Do you think me one of you damned perfect Heralds?" he snapped, knowing the spirit didn't deserve the disrespect but unable to stop himself. It would have been easier if Vanyel were angry, certainly easier than this calm, stern questioning.
:Nobody is free of mistakes. You are not the only mage to ever misuse his powers under strong emotion. Even Heralds have, and with far greater consequences. Far worse acts that this. You can resolve your mistake.: Vanyel seemed to be remembering something far away.
It was only slight comfort. But at least he was not alone. The thought of being the only good mage to ever do wrong now seemed irrational. He didn't want to know what others might have done, things that could not be righted.
And now, Firesong knew what Vanyel wanted, what he himself wanted. He sighed, swallowing some of his pride.
"I have to set this right," he said. "But how? What should I do?"
:What do you think you should do?:
Frustration burned through him. "It's always riddles with you, isn't it?! Never a straight answer! I'd expect you to guide, not puzzle me further!" The spirit seemed unaffected by this outburst.
:If I told you exactly what to do and exactly when to do it,: he said simply, :you would call me interfering.:
That was true. He couldn't expect instructions from Vanyel, or the Goddess, or anyone. Firesong had to decide for himself how to act. How could he heal An'desha of the corruption he had wrought?
He would need to get help from someone else. And that would mean confessing what he had done. He shuddered at the idea, but knew he had no other option.
"There are Mindhealers at the Palace. I could take An'desha to them." He sensed Vanyel was waiting for more. "And tell them what... what I did to him, and ask for their help and accept their judgment."
The spirit's expression softened somewhat, and he nodded.
:Good. That is one possibility, and others may show themselves. I will trust that you will do what is needed. I believe that healing and forgiveness can be found, if you are willing to work for them.:
"I will, Forefather," Firesong promised, as the blank world around them faded away.
An'desha huddled in his small tent, barely comforted by the colorful mats and hangings that weren't really very Shin'a'in at all, and watched the room grow dark. Soon, the only light came from a few dim mage lamps and the sparks still flitting over the uneasy firebird's white feathers. Aya had been acting strangely all day, but Firesong had seemed unusually uninterested in his bondbird's discomfort.
This had all started when Firesong had touched his mind, and An'desha knew what that had to mean. Beneath the layers of confidence he had worked so hard to develop, something lurked that would prey on desire and harm his friends. He hadn't solved anything, and he doubted whether any of that confidence had been real, or just the evil's way of hiding itself.
It was awful to be alone with his fears, but at least this way he couldn't hurt anybody. He longed to be with Firesong- and that was the worst of it. He felt that somehow, being near Firesong would help him, relieve the fears, but how could he trust himself? What if this wasn't his own thought, but that of some evil part of his mind that would attack whoever came near? Falconsbane had done such terrible things. Some of that evil, the evil An'desha had thought he'd escaped, might still remain. Or worse, what if it was only him, what if his soul was so corrupted that he couldn't change it? He shuddered at the thought of that unleashed among so many friends.
In some ways, this was worse than when he had been possessed by Falconsbane. Then, he had known that the hideous acts hadn't been his fault, hadn't even been able to fight them. Here, anything he did would be his fault alone. And hadn't he come close to that already? He had nearly killed Darkwind out of jealously. The memory of that brought on another storm of fear. He couldn't trust himself, simply had to wait out the long night and hope the fears would fade. But when they did, wouldn't that make him even more of a danger? What could he possibly trust?
Firesong woke to the glow of the Heartstone in his eyes and his neck sore from leaning over; he was in the mages' Workroom. Why? Then he remembered, with a rush of guilt, what he had done to An'desha, his attempt to hide, and the conversation with Vanyel. And he still had to set things right. This was going to be awful, but there was nothing else he could do.
Outside the shielded chamber and the quiet corridors around it, the Palace was full of commotion. People running around, yelling to each other, crowding out the doors and towards the Palace gates in a swarm of gray, red, blue, and green. It was morning, and something far out of the ordinary was happening, something to stir up a group of people who had so recently been introduced to true magic, Hawkbrothers, and gryphons in quick succession. Firesong soon found Treyvan, Hydona, and the bouncing gryphlets looking eagerly out at the visitors who were the cause of this excitement. He recognized their floating craft at once: the Clan k'Leshya. The Kaled'a'in people and hertasi stood on the barge or walked alongside it, and the gryphons lounged in the sun or flew above the proceedings, enjoying the attention of the cheering and pointing Trainees and Palace workers.
The colorful parade came closer, and Firesong recognized a familiar figure among them: Silverfox, with whom he had enjoyed a few days at the old k'Sheyna Vale. He in turn recognized Firesong, and waved at him. Firesong's initial elation at seeing his friend quickly faded, and guilt closed around his heart; how could he possibly greet the kestra'chern after what he had done to An'desha? Surely a healer such as Silverfox would find his crime all the more appalling. But if he could help...
The impromptu festival went on for some time, as Collegium classes were forgotten in the excitement and the Kaled'a'in were introduced to Selenay, Talia, and the envoys. During all this, the k'Leshya gryphons strutted beside still slightly alarmed Companions, showing off their wings and jewelery to anyone who would watch, which turned out to be quite a lot of people. Eventually, mostly everyone was settled in. Firesong had agreed to have Silverfox live in the miniature Vale. He saw, with unease, that the kestra'chern seemed to note every interaction, every bit of stress, how Firesong would not meet An'desha's eyes when the Shin'a'in emerged, looking tired and shaken, to greet them. How An'desha shivered and looked away when Firesong briefly explained how he had come to be there, freed after Falconsbane was destroyed. He left them after a few words, heading towards the gardens, and Silverfox looked after him with concern.
"I sense there is something wrong here, something between you two, and that it is new," he said to Firesong. "What has happened to make you and him so anxious?" Firesong knew that this was his time to confess, to ask Silverfox for help. He should be thankful, at least, that he didn't have to start the conversation himself. He explained, hesitantly, fearfully, watching for some sign of reaction. As a kestra'chern, Silverfox knew how to only show his emotions when he wanted to, and by the end of the story, Firesong was still unsure of what he thought. There was a pause when he finished, in which his fears raged unchecked, and he said, "I know it was a thing that is... unforgivable. And I know you think me a terrible person for it..." And he was crying, as he hadn't before, only half trying to hide it. To his surprise, Silverfox moved closer, held him, calmed him.
"I do not think that. In truth, it is difficult for me to see how you were able to justify it, but these are unfamiliar circumstances for us both. Yet simply the fact that you are trying to set this right shows that you are not in normal times a person who would do that," he said, "And as for whether it is forgivable, that is a matter between you and An'desha and not for me to decide. I will give you one piece of advice, though, and that is that I do not think you should attempt to keep a sexual relationship with him. It does not benefit either of you." He was right, the increasing trouble between them had mostly been due to Firesong's unwillingness to let the relationship fade.
"There is something else I must explain to you, but first I will do what I can for An'desha. I do not have your Gifts, but I have seen people whose minds have been tangled by outside forces, and I know that the damage can often be undone with time and effort. For a shaman such as him, it should not be too difficult a task." Relief flooded Firesong, and his tears increased for a moment before slowing. He would still have to face An'desha, and that would be difficult, but he could reverse the wrong he had done even if he would not be forgiven it.
Silverfox stood, and held out a had to Firesong. "Come, we will find him and set this right."
"Why do you need me with you? You said-"
"You will explain to him what has happened. It is to easier heal a problem when you know the cause." The look on his face told Firesong this was the only way, and he resigned himself to that as they walked towards the garden.
The ordered gardens were little comfort, An'desha found, but far better than being near anyone he could hurt. The women of the court were too busy chasing handsome Kaled'a'in men to be in the garden as they usually were, which made it somewhat more bearable. He wished he had the courage to stay in Companions' Field; though they were not truly horses, it still felt more like home than the rest of the Palace grounds, but how could he hope to bring himself near creatures of pure goodness with what darkness he knew might escape him?
He saw Firesong and the Kaled'a'in approaching him, and tensed, wondering why they would seek him out. He listened to Firesong's hesitant explanation, at first with disbelief and then with anger.
He had been tricked, harmed under the guise of healing, and for Firesong's selfish wishes! Brief fury turned to disbelief and a hollow feeing of having been betrayed. And that in itself was another confirmation that the fears had been lies, the way the anger did not even chance to turn to violence.
The worst of the fears that had returned in force during the night faded like old smoke, replaced by confidence that he knew was not a cover for evil but a denouncement of it. Yet the shield was thin, and he knew he was weaker than he had been before.
"Is this a change in me I must fight all over again?" An'desha asked.
"I believe, that as no true malice was intended, the influence will be temporary if faced with proper treatment," Silverfox said. "That could be a reversal of the original effects, or-"
"I do not wish any more manipulation," An'desha said, firmly.
"Then if you will allow me to talk with you; I am trained to help those injured in mind and emotion"
That, he understood; his clan's shaman had spoke of such things.
"I will accept that," he said, and then his attention was drawn back to Firesong.
"Will you forgive me this?" Firesong asked, far removed from his usual pride and arrogance, looking for all the world like an errant Plains child who had been caught doing something unwise, playing with fire, perhaps, or hurting a horse, and lectured into tearful regret with warnings of what tragedy and destruction could have resulted from his foolishness.
"Give me time," An'desha said finally, "to see what I truly think of all this." He did not fully intend for the words to be that sharp, but guilt flashed across Firesong's face all the same. What was right? A shaman should help keep order in his clan, keep away distress and doubt. A shaman could tolerate an insult against himself. But this had been more than an insult; this had been an attack on his mind, which had for so long been the only thing he could call his own. Yet what mattered now was combating the Storms, not his personal feelings, and unnecessary tension or distress between Firesong and himself might delay the discovery of a solution. He wished he could just leave, go home to the Plains and never see these people again. That would have to wait, he knew, until the world's magic was once again stable and not threatening to tear apart. He let Silverfox take him back to the little Vale, leaving Firesong alone in the garden.
It was later, when the healing was done and An'desha had resumed work with the artificers, that Firesong returned to his temporary home and spoke to Silverfox again.
"In my Vale, for what I did to him," he said, voicing the fear that had held him even after his crime was resolved, "I would not be worthy of my family or my status."
"That would be true if you had acted apart from an unavoidable influence."
"I do not understand."
"There is a reason for much of your intense emotion," Silverfox began, "and it is much of the reason why I came here. You are a Healing-Adept, you have a connection to the earth and its energies. The Storms have disrupted these, sending the natural magic into chaotic tangles, and this has caused you stress. We have seen other mages afflicted with similar symptoms."
The influence of the Storms. This was what Vanyel had been referring to? It certainly made sense, and Firesong felt relieved to know that there was another force partly responsible for his terrible decision, and sure that he would not have done it if not for that influence. Still, he held his own responsibility and regret for the deed.
"You are certain of this?" It would mean he wasn't as terrible as he had thought, that there was a cause for his irrational feelings. Something outside his control corrupting him.
"I suspect you have suffered other impulses?"
"Yes," Firesong admitted, "For a while... I wanted to kill Karal for being so close to An'desha." The words tasted bitter and full of guilt.
"And yet you did not act on that."
"You are right, and I cannot fault your logic, yet it is... frightning to see illuminated whan I thought then and did not see the wrong in it."
"I have seen many afflicted by the Storms, and I know that once the influence is recognized, it no longer holds."
Firesong looked up at that, hope on his face. Silverfox smiled. "I trust you, Firesong. You are good at heart, as this unfortunate incident has shown. You need now to trust yourself again. I do not think that is an unfamiliar situation for you."
The parallel was very nearly amusing, Firesong thought. He only hoped he had the same resiliance and strength. Hoped he would trust himself, that others would, and that he might be forgiven. For now, there was a world to save, and he hoped to give all the help he could.