there is advantage in the wisdom won from pain [tw] {Jack}

Trigger Warning: death themes


“River,” Electra pronounced carefully, rolling her tongue over the syllables. There was no word for “river” in her language, though there were many words for water and its forms – where she came from, it did not rush wantonly through the landscape, surging like an exposed artery. It trickled, pooled, froze, drifted to the earth in powdery flakes. It was precious: the most precious thing, for its scarcity and its necessity. The order of preciousness went water, timber, gold.

At least everyone seemed to agree upon gold.

The fairies of Shaman were an odd species. Or collection of species. Electra knew she had become one of them, had learned that this could happen (did happen, on occasion), but still, she felt herself radically detached from their way of thinking, their way of life. Fortunately, their court was willing to accept foreign dignitaries, even the strange ones that arrived unannounced – a young Lord of Death had paved the way for her, and she’d been recognized easily by the courtiers as someone with noble blood and bearing. She’d been furnished with rooms in the castle, audiences with the ruling family, clothing made to her specifications (their stitches were curious, but their silks were divine). It was a more familiar existence than scraping by on the peaks, but still strange. Unnerving.

For example: here she sat. A tree at her back, its trunk so thick she could not wrap her arms around it, its roots churning the earth into comfortable hollows overgrown with moss. In her hand, a “book,” a codex composed of woodpulp paper and bound in leather, inside of which their language sat, stark and unadorned. And before her, a river churned, sparkling in the late afternoon light, more water than her people could ever dream of seeing, so much that a person could drown in it. There was no word for “drown” in her language.

The closest things were “choke” and “suffocate.”

Orestes turned to her when she thought it, glowering. His silver eyes were bright with anger and pain. “Must you,” he stated in their native tongue, less a question than an accusation. “May I have a moment’s peace. This place is a luxury beyond imagining, and yet you dwell on such thoughts.”

“Peace is an illusion,” Electra murmured back in kind, without lifting her eyes from the page. She was working through a recent history of Shaman, dictionaries and lexicons arrayed before her, doing her best to piece together this impossibly specific language. There were too many words, by far. Most of them hard, abrupt, their syllables clattering against each other like falling rocks. It was a stark, literal, unpoetic language – completely unfit for describing any matters of the Goddess. Perhaps that was why She appeared to them so mundanely, in a form exactly like their own.

“Or perhaps theirs is a different Goddess, and ours has thoroughly abandoned us,” the leopard growled. Electra did glance up at him then, rebuke in her eyes. She did not have to say, or even think, her meaning. He rose on silent paws, stalked off along the riverbank, his gray rosettes blurring into the dappled light from the canopy. She leaned back, resting her head against the tree, imagining she could feel its veins drawing up the water, combining it with light. There was so much magic in this place. Her eyes drifted closed.

She felt the presence before she heard it.

Her eyes flew open again with a start. It was unclear what had triggered her magic – on Panathenaea, she had required specific rituals to commune with the ancestors, and since that fateful night she’d avoided them quite purposefully. There was a spirit she did not wish to encounter in the realm beyond. So her look was a bit wild as she sat up, disturbing the book in her lap, searching in horror for a familiar face. Instead, her gaze snagged on a seated figure, drawing meaningless symbols into the riverbank. He was turned partly away from her, a sliver of his profile the only indication of his features, his slumped shoulders telling the story of a body that had been honed for battle and drained of fight. A fallen warrior, maybe. Distinct lack of horns.

Electra’s lips pursed faintly, her brow drawn tight. It seemed unlikely that this was a messenger sent to torment her – her people had never suspected that worlds such as this existed, nor their peoples. And he seemed sad. If he had been sent for her, he would not be sad; he would be angry. Perhaps, instead of being sent for her, the Goddess was sending her to him. It would be an unusual use of her gifts, but perhaps her role in the world had changed when she changed worlds. She stood, stepped carefully toward him, her gold anklets clinking faintly against each other with every movement of her bare feet. The green silk of her chiton rustled against her thighs. She stood a safe distance away, just within his line of sight, her shadow falling over him like a shroud.

He did not seem to notice her, at first. She wondered if he would be able to perceive her, at all.

“Hello, spirit,” she greeted him gently in accented English, assuming he was a native of this place. “Is something wrong?” (“Wrong” was a word she had learned recently, a term like “bad” but used, perplexingly, to express sympathy for another’s unhappiness. Contentment, to Fairies, was “right.” Electra would never understand this moralism of feelings.) “Can I help you?”


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