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

Trigger Warning: death themes


He draws nearer. This in itself should not have been cause for alarm, but Electra was not a creature accustomed to strangers coming close. Her spine straightens, like a bow being released, and she watches him with something between fascination, pity, and wariness. He is looking at her dress, not her face, so he does not see the way she studies him. She has not looked at many men this closely. When he does meet her eyes, they are soft again.

“I am sorry,” she says gently, honestly. Her brows draw tight with sympathy. He is clinging to the color and it’s name like a lifeline, like it belonged to someone he loved. For all she knows, it might – the naming conventions on Shaman are strange to her.

He gives her his name, and she smiles a bit, amused by the single syllable, the foreign-sounding j. “It is good to meet you, Jack.” Electra cannot quit manage the dental stop – his name comes out closer to Zhack, but anything she says has a kind of grace. She listens to him with an expression of rapt attention and a shade of amusement, doing her best to follow, but many of the words are mysteries to her. Intuitions, echoes, lightning, imprint. Her eyes follow the shapes made by his lips when he says them. She will have to look them up, later. But in the meantime, he has given her a command – the sort that fairies did to humble themselves, perplexingly – and she must reply in some way. Absolve him. “I forgive you,” she says broadly, smiles again. He is expressing…concern, she thinks. Disbelief. He knows he is dead, at least – “Yes,” she confirms, for his benefit – but seems not to suspect she might be, too. It is this that she latches onto, wondering how to help him understand. “But I am not. I walk where I will.” There is a note of defiance in her tone, a flicker of the queen she would have been, in another life. “Walk and…do not walk. I am here, and you are there.” She punctuates the explanation with a gesture, attempting to convey the extreme distance between them, but he does not seem to follow. He reaches for her.

She draws a sharp breath in her surprise. Of course, he does not really touch her – he cannot reach across worlds to brush a thumb across her skin – but the suddenness of it, the audacity, is momentarily breathtaking. Nobody has ever tried to touch her without her express invitation. She blinks a few times, something between anger and excitement playing in the fire of her eyes. He is staring down at his hands as she rises to her feet.

“I am real,”she corrects him, a little sharply, “But my magic–”

Ends just as suddenly as it began.

Electra stares at the place where Jack had been, where only smooth river sand and pebbles remain, undisturbed. She must squint against the brightness of it, her pupils having adjusted to the muted gray of his shade. The silence left behind feels heavy. She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, opens them again. Nothing. Just the water, and the scintillating light.

“Who were you talking to?” the leopard’s voice rumbles, from some distance behind her. She straightens, lifts her chin.


Jack was not nobody, Electra would come to understand.

Or perhaps he was, but not to her. She finds herself troubled by the memory of him as she eats dinner that night, chewing but insensible to any flavor. She finds herself worried for him as she studies the next morning, a table full of books arrayed before her, a cup of tea steaming in her hand. The tendrils of it catch the light in sinuous patterns, like the reflections off the river. She should have told him to find the other spirits, helped him free himself from his loneliness, but she had been too caught up explaining herself. When had she ever felt the need to explain herself? She stares, unfocused, into the coils of steam, trying to remember what it felt like to draw her magic up like fluid in a siphon. But it is mute, unreachable. Her mouth is a hard line.

Days pass this way. She learns the words Intuition, echo, lightning, imprint. She is looking for forsaken when the words open up like flowers to the sunlight, blooming across the page. Suddenly, every book is sensible to her, the opacity of English purified into meaning. She shouts for her brother (no, familiar, she must remind herself. He is her brother no longer) and celebrates by reading every inscription in the castle aloud to him. Her accent is as lustrous as ever, but her syntax has coalesced into something her neighbors can finally understand. They smile at her, indulgent and relieved. For a little while, she forgets about Jack.

But it is not long.

She returns to the river on the fifth day, wearing green. He is not there. So much has happened, Electra wonders if she imagined the whole exchange – but what a strange thing that would be, to imagine. She lifts a hand to her cheek, lets it fall with a shake of her head. But she takes a circuitous route back to the castle, as if she’s looking for him everywhere.

That evening, she lights a candle as she braids her hair, and watches its reflection dance in the mirror. She almost misses him, he blends in so closely to the shadows of the room.

“Jack,” she starts breathlessly, turning and rising in one motion. She takes a step toward him, the corners of the room blurring into darkness. “Jack, you must listen to me. There are others in the realm of the dead. Pick a direction, any direction, and walk until you find them. There is no need for you to be all alone.” The foreign sounds roll easily off her tongue, even if the r’s take longer than the others. With her new found competence, her imperiousness has returned. But she still smiles, softens, once she’s said what she should have said before. “How are you? Do you remember Green?”

I figure Jack could be anywhere, really. Also she is totally in some kind of swishy nightgown.


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