Inkspell - Blue

Wyrmroot. Earthtongue. Widow's-Relief. With a few deft strokes of his fingers, Eiran retrieved the pellets of dried reagent from his gauntlets. He swallowed around the lump in his throat as he placed them carefully in the long-handled cup he used to administer potions to those who could no longer administer them themselves and poured a vial of spring water over them.

Beside him, Caretaker kneeled as well, her hands of clay and earth covering one of her bed-bound partner's hands completely, the glow emanating from her eyes and joints far dimmer than normal. Though he couldn't read a shred of emotion on the lithos's face of clay and stone, nor an inkling of impatience from her statuesque posture, her unblinking gaze upon him kept his hand steady, his mind still.

He pulled a bamboo whisk from his workspace and whisked the mixture together, murmuring the customary prayer to Hal'Arduem as he worked. Peace. Quiet. Rest. Remembrance. For a remnant not aligned with the god of earth, he knew the words of their old, old prayer for the dying far too well. One last whisk for good measure, then he set the whisk aside and placed his free hand on the bed-bound woman's forehead, tilting her head up and back to aid in swallowing.

It was already colder than it should be.

Had he not been there, her passing would have been just as inevitable, but twice as painful for her, long and drawn out and awful. He let that knowledge carry him past his hesitation, past the little misguided voice in his heart that this shouldn't be done, that this way was somehow worse. Though Six constantly reminded him that the voice was only his instinct as a healer misapplying itself, it did little to help the guilt that would wrack him later that night when he had to reflect on the day, to sit with the memories of those he couldn't save. But still, he let the knowledge carry him past his doubt, and slowly tipped the blue potion into his patient's mouth.

As the last drop slipped from the cup and past Lyane's lips, Caretaker moved her gaze from Eiran to her partner, moved her hands from her partner's to have them sit clasped in her lap. And though he was a coward, and didn't wish to, Eiran set his cup down and watched the woman as well, his fingers tapping restlessly on the back of his other hand as they lay clasped in his lap, mirroring the lithos beside him. The potion, Mercy's Sleep, did its work as quickly as it always did. Lyane's trembling stilled, her breaths evened out, and then gradually they grew shallower, gradually it took longer for her chest to rise again after it fell...until it rose no longer.

For a few long minutes, neither of them spoke.

And then with a sigh of sand against stone, Caretaker rose to her feet. Her glow, still dim, had changed to a pale gold. She turned her head to him, and her words echoed in his mind, a sensation he doubted he'd ever get used to. "...She is gone. My Lyane…" The gold dimmed further, briefly, before brightening again. "...Thank you for performing this service on such short notice. None of our other healers would have done what you did for me - for us - this evening. Even after I begged them personally. You have my deepest gratitude. What would you ask of me in return?"

Eiran, taken aback, shook his head. "Oh, no, no, I couldn't possibly-- you just lost your partner. I wouldn't ask anything from you!"

The gold in her eyes grew a little richer in color. "...You are too kind. Now I understand why your reputation precedes you, Maker of Miracles." Eiran winced, but she carried on anyway. "If you will not ask for payment, then I shall deal in information, as all devotees of Hal'Arduem do. And don't even think of refusing me." Her eyes twinkled. "You are an outsider, but I'm sure you are well aware that the knowledge of a Lithos is a sacred gift. To turn it down would be…"

"A rejection of all that the stones stand for," Eiran finished reluctantly, his head bowed. Hal'Arduem's paragons were as formidable as he'd heard. She had him well and truly trapped. He looked up to meet her gaze and smiled tiredly. "I would not dare refuse it, so long as you insist that doing so won't cause you any harm. I know this is a difficult time for you."

"On the contrary. What I have to share with you will be the best way to honor her memory. We will need to sit with her until dawn anyway, as is customary." Eiran nodded, and after one last brief pause to collect her thoughts, the lithos began.

"Every one of Hal'Arduem's remnants seek to collect and preserve knowledge, and we lithos, as his paragons, are the purest expression of that purpose. We are as ageless as the stones themselves, and through us, knowledge that might fade between generations lives on, perfectly preserved. However, collecting the sum of all knowledge is too great a task for one of us alone, so we lithos choose a domain shortly after we become aware of who and what we are. I am an oddity among us. Rather than something easily defined and easily cataloged…my domain is love."

"I am one of the younger lithos. Praecidia was already founded by the time I was welcomed to it. Yet in my quest to understand all the forms love takes, I have still had around thirty partners. Some have left me. Others I chose to part ways with. Most…have passed on while we were still together. Like Lyane. And we lithos do not, cannot, forget. I remember the faces, names, and hearts of everyone who has chosen to stand by my side. I remember losing them, all of the ways I've lost them. Grief…is like an old friend to me. Which is why I am telling you all of this."

Caretaker's golden glow faded to blue again. Eiran knew it for what it was this time: sadness. "...I have met many healers in my time as well. A few have even chosen me as their life's partner before. All of them have struggled with this. All of them were like me, carrying the weight of those they have lost in their hearts. Perhaps it is why I am drawn to them in particular. Lyane was one. An animal doctor.” Even now, her tone was fond. “She was a stern, practical woman. All remnants of metal are. But I still held her on the days when she did everything she could, above and beyond anything that could be asked of her…and still, those she cared for left her, and all she could do was cry. She once told me that all good healers must love their patients, at least a little, if they are to do their jobs. With what I've seen, I believe it."

Caretaker laid a hand on Eiran's shoulder, and though her touch was gentle, it was still heavy. Whether from the weight of her stone or the weight of her heart, he didn't know. "Knowing all of what I told you, I offer you this: Grief is what becomes of love, at the end of all things. Embrace it, and know it as it is. It's the reflection of the love you feel for every life you touch, however briefly. You wouldn't be who you are, doing what you do, without it, Maker of Miracles. Remember this, and may it grant you a measure of peace."

Eiran sat quietly at her feet for a moment, taking in her words. He knew it all on some level, of course, which is why he carried on despite it all, but having it laid out as truth from a remnant at least 600 years his senior was a little overwhelming to say the least. As he thought on it, eventually, a question formed. "...I've reconsidered. I do have something I would ask of you, if you don't mind."

"I had hoped you would. Ask your question, healer." Her eyes twinkled again, and now he could hear the laughter in her voice.

Still, he hesitated for a moment before pressing on. "...What do you plan to do, after your part in Lyane's affairs are in order and you are left with nothing but your memories? And…what did you tell her, on the days you had to hold her through her own grief?"

"That you ask both of these questions tells me that you know my answer will be the same: ‘Honor their memory. Let the grief be your burden and your strength alike.’" She looked away from him at last, as the first rays of the dawn shone through the window above Lyane's sickbed, touching her face in such a way that she looked like she was only sleeping. "...Grief is love in another form, but it is also a reminder of how briefly we walk together. Let it guide you to cherish what you have before your brief journey together is over. And to cherish what you once had, and how it has shaped you. As long as you do that, the spirit of the love you shared will carry on."

Eiran nodded slowly, looking over at Lyane now too. She looked peaceful, a far cry from the state she was in when he first arrived. In the light of dawn, the guilt faded away. "...Thank you, Caretaker. I'll do my best to remember that."

Some time later, after all the paperwork had been taken care of and he had said his final goodbyes, Eiran stood outside Caretaker's home, turning their conversation over in his mind. Before his head had caught up to his hands, he had pulled a stone from his pocket. The seal of the Office of Records carved into it glowed as he activated its latent magic, and he hesitated. Just for a moment. "...Not emergency. Are you busy? In Tel Terrum. Paperwork to deliver." He took a deep breath to steady himself - "...Meet for tea?" - and then let the spell go.

It took just long enough to get a reply that he nearly lost all his nerve and started pacing, agonizing over his own stupidity. And then came the uncomfortable sensation, once more, of a voice not his own echoing in his mind. "Not particularly. Just got home, making letterhead. I'll put a pot on. Door's open." A pause, long enough for Eiran to think the message had ended and start off down the path, stone in hand, when the sensation happened again. "...Looking forward to it, Eiran." And the glow of the stone in his hand at last faded completely.

He stopped. He held it up to his face, eyes wide, unbelieving. Looking forward to it. Looking forward to it!!! Unable to contain his grin, Eiran started down the road again, half-jogging to move as fast as he could without looking like a complete idiot. He'd cherish this, all right. For Caretaker's sake, for Lyane's…and for his own.

Characters Featured: