The heat felt oppressive, thick with humidity, and Géta opened his room’s window in hopes of a relieving breeze the moment he got in, not even setting his flute and the new music he’d been given down first. A little breeze did come in and he inhaled the fragrance from the vaila flowers a few times before crossing the room to set his things on the shelf. He treated his flute with more reverence than it had ever before received, and the music with equal care. This first lesson with his flute teacher had been the most grueling he’d ever experienced, but he felt bright with happiness, for he’d been praised for his skill and given some difficult music to learn. His instructor, a weathered old man with agile fingers and a far greater skill with the flute than Géta felt he’d ever attain, seemed to think he was some sort of prodigy.

Géta removed his belt and laid it on top of his stacks of clothing, took off his tunic and hung it on the back of the chair, and flopped onto his bed. Perhaps he should have been tired after the long day, but he wasn’t. His mind wouldn’t stop running, going over the day from the first hour in the library. Groaning, he stretched, wiggling a little to work out kinks left over from holding his flute to his lips well over four hours straight. It wasn’t that he’d never practiced so long before, it was just the fact it had been more intense than ever.

Master Orsée was a hard taskmaster, with exacting expectations and an ear well-tuned to even the slightest mistakes. He’d kept Géta going the entire four hours, not even letting Géta rest during the ten minutes of Respite between them, interrupting practice to insist upon perfection. He was strict and firm without being cruel. It was clear music was his life, and he equally clearly expected Géta to share the Calling to music. Géta wasn’t sure he could ever match his teacher’s skill with the flute and love of music, but he thought he’d been placed in far better hands than his flute tutor back home had ever been.

Right now, Géta chewed the center of his lower lip, massaging the muscle a little because it felt a bit sore. Master Orsée’s will had kept him tense, and most of his mistakes had been playing the high notes, which required tighter lips, instead of the low notes. He flexed his fingers as well, because they hurt from pressing on the keys of his flute so hard he felt like he’d almost broken them. It was a good thing he’d had forty-five minutes by himself prior to Master Orsée’s arrival; that had been a barely-adequate warm up for the four-hour session which still had him shivering a little in tense anticipation.

He stretched again, this time sighing as his muscles relaxed, and crossed his ankles. Right now, he had about two hours until supper. He could either return to the library and read, or he could practice his flute some more. Or do the homework assigned by his composition teacher, though he thought he could just go through what he had written already and patch together a passable ditty for the class. Since he played a wind instrument, he wouldn’t be required to figure out lyrics, which was a relief. After a couple minutes’ consideration, he sat up; may as well get the homework out of the way even though the assignment wasn’t due for a few days.

Géta collected his little runs of notes and sat at the table, sorting through them. None of them were anything close to what he’d been playing, but he supposed he’d been placed in a beginning compositions class, so his skill shouldn’t be too disappointing. Shélan hadn’t seemed to think his little ditties silly or nonsensical. The Priest had actually been rather encouraging about them, critiquing them with an eye for improving them, and remembering the praise made him think he may one day find a way into a position as Court Musician. Géta shook his head to chase the dreams out and focused on his music here-and-now; most of his little song-bits bore notes from what Shélan had suggested, in fact, so he decided to use those with an eye toward making the improvements suggested as he combined them.

It took him a while, but Master Béelash hadn’t made any difficult demands, just that the song was to be a repetition of one run of notes with a bridge of different notes between two of the three repetitions requested. He examined what he had, decided he had a halfway-decent selection of ditties at three-quarter time, and spent most of the next two hours doing what he could to combine the little bits into a single coherent whole. By the time he finally gave up when the bell rang at six, Géta wasn’t sure just what he had—or if it was even any good—but he had the repetitive bits down, at least. He set what he’d worked on aside and stretched with a sigh.

As he donned his tunic and belt and shut and secured the window, Géta considered what he might do to make friends. The idea he should approach anyone still made him feel awkward and nervous, even when just thinking about it all by himself. Maybe there’d be an opportunity at supper, though. Shélan had explained most of the students at the Temple went out into the city to various establishments for supper, but he thought there just might be some people who wouldn’t object to his company. Not all the youth dined elsewhere, surely.

But when he reached the dining hall, it was to find it mostly empty, and many of those who were present adults. Priests and Mages mostly. Géta’s shoulders fell as he crossed to where the food was set out and requested a bowl of soup, took two biscuits and an apple, and turned to gaze into the room. The population hadn’t changed while his back had faced the hall; still mostly adults, and the few youth pretty young and those few who seemed about his age didn’t look like the kind of people he’d be wise to associate with. He wasn’t sure what told him that about them, but he listened to the instinct and sat as far away from those youth as he possibly could.

Géta found out how right he’d been to do so within a few minutes. There was a group of three who’d sat close to one another, and they rose in unison with their trays. He averted his eyes from them as they approached. If he’d been paying better attention, he wouldn’t have sat at this particular table, as it was fairly close to the counter where they were to return their dishes.

He felt their gazes on him as they approached, and his tongue dried and the bite of biscuit within cleaved to the roof of his mouth. Géta tried to discreetly scrape it off with a finger and heard soft, nasty chuckles. He’d been well-known enough in his neighborhood back home bullies hadn’t bothered him, even when he’d been alone, but he knew he was vulnerable here. Nobody knew him or his skill with martial arts, and he didn’t have any friends to come to his defense if he was attacked.

The trio consisted of two girls and a boy. Around ten, if he were to guess. They detoured to creep behind him, giving more nasty chuckles, and Géta resisted the urge to cringe from them. He couldn’t convince himself to look around and watch what they did at the tray return counter, but knew when they’d finished turning their borrowed dishes in.

Once more, their gazes descended upon him. He eyed the rest of the room, taking note of the Priests and Mages scattered throughout.

“Well, hello,” one of the girls said behind him. It wasn’t a friendly greeting.

Unable to give any indication he’d heard her, he swallowed.

“Teréesi said something to you, stranger,” the other girl said.

Someone poked his back, right below his neck. “We’re talking to you, boy,” the male of the lot added.

Géta closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. One of the trio made a sound—he wasn’t sure which girl it was—but a few of the Priests who’d been sitting together rose.

“We’ll talk to you later,” the voice labeled as Teréesi said, the last word inflected as a threat.

All three of the trio rounded the far right side of the table and exited the dining hall through the door to the Novices’ Dorm. The Priests, still gathered together in conversation, made their slow way to the return counter, and Géta relaxed a little, swallowing the half-soggy lump of dough in his mouth. Now he felt sick to the stomach, so he simply rose to take the remainder of the meal to the counter, reserving the apple for a later snack.

After an event like that, there were only two things which had any hope of calming his nerves: Playing his flute or reading a journal. Since his fingers still hurt a little from practice in the afternoon, he chose to go to the library to resume reading more of Auben sresaph’s first journal, but he left the apple in his room first. Then, once tucked into a chair with an ear tuned to the bells, he threw himself into reading.

It helped.

There was a folded bit of parchment in the mail catch attached to his door when Asthané opened it. Last night, he’d been able to get to sleep with some harp music on his phonograph, and he’d succeeded in sleeping a fair amount of the morning. Past Ophelan’s typical brunch hour, certainly. The folded note had been dropped so its address—his name, location, and apartment number—was visible.

It could have been from Jéesan.

He sincerely doubted it.

After gazing at it for a protracted length of time, he forced himself to take it out of the catch and flip it over. The Seal on the backside made him go cold. Baron Éeminée had no reason to contact him. That Situation was long over, his son safely out of Asthané’s “clutches.” Zéth’s father had never truly understood it was somewhat the other way around, especially with regards to his son’s activities in the Court, and had sent Zéth away to “protect” him. Even now, Asthané had no real idea how much the baron had known about his son’s doings here. Or of Zéth’s true intentions. He’d taken after his father like that: Difficult to read, even when he seemed sincere. The last sincere emotion Asthané had seen from either of them had been Baron Éeminée’s very real anger at the claims he’d made.

Of course, now Asthané knew well the monarchy of Gervés had some serious catching-up to do, socially speaking. Gervés’s people weren’t backwards, even now, except in certain views they had about same-sex pairings. These views did not align very well to official and practiced views in most of the Empire. However, when Gervés had been admitted to the Empire, it had done so with the blunt statement it needed protection and was openly using the greater body of the Empire for it. If the little struggling country hadn’t had some of the richest coal seams known of in any land in or around the Empire, it wouldn’t have been given the option of joining, due to the fact it had also been strictly patriarchal in its religious stance. The people of Gervés had adopted new views on religion with a great deal more ease and speed than expected once they’d seen what Mages could do with Gifts from the True Gods.

Asthané stepped back into his sitting room and shut the door, deciding he could go hunt down lunch after he got this nasty bit of reading done. It was certain to be painful, and he wasn’t sure he could endure much more pain, but he thought he should deal with it now, or it would just fester in his mind until he was forced to attend to it, which would only be worse than taking care of it now would be. By reading this note now, he could reply as necessary and thus end the Situation brewing.

He tore the flap around the Seal and unfolded the note, but dropped his hand for a moment before reading what had been written. Why Baron Éeminée had decided he needed to waste parchment on this missive was beyond Asthané. He’d have thought the man wouldn’t want to waste used paper on him. Closing his eyes for a minute, he shoved the memories aside, and took a deep breath before forcing himself to read the note.

———

Thané,

There are some things I feel were left unresolved between us all those years ago and would be pleased if you joined me for lunch today. I’ll understand completely if you feel nothing more needs to be said, but I want you to know what my father said to you about me could not have been the truth. You knew the true Zéth, the one my father never cared to know.

Zéth Phashréen, Baron Éeminée

———

His fingers curling into the parchment, Asthané groaned. Just what he needed. He didn’t have time for a personal Situation. There was too much to do. He unfisted his hand and read the little note again.

Actually, it was rather like Zéth to do something like this. He’d never liked leaving things incomplete. Though, Asthané didn’t understand why Zéth thought their relationship was incomplete. Zéth’s father had cut it off and, no matter what minor little machinations Zéth had been attempting at Court, he’d been a fairly obedient son. His father’s will should have been the end of it. If there was one thing Zéth had always been wary of, it had been his father’s will and temper when it wasn’t heeded, and he’d done his utter best to ensure his own activities didn’t cross any of his father’s.

Frowning, Asthané recalled times with Zéth. They’d both loved music, and he’d always thought Zéth would have made an excellent Mage—if he’d had the desire to pursue such a path and the will to disobey his father in order to do so. There’d been times when he’d thought Zéth would make a break, but after Zéth had been sent back home, Asthané had come to the conclusion it had just been another trick. Not that Zéth had been deliberately tricksy, but Asthané had grown enough to realize some things simply couldn’t be if a person didn’t want them badly enough, and he’d concluded Zéth hadn’t wanted independence enough to fight his father for it.

Of course, Zéth hadn’t hesitated to offer things Asthané had spent his youth longing for. At first, mere friendship had been enough, but Zéth had earned Asthané’s trust with respectful treatment, as if Asthané had had honor. Not that Asthané hadn’t, but as if his disowned status and his new station as a training-Mage hadn’t mattered to it. As if Zéth could see Asthané hadn’t forgotten his past or upbringing. Urged to trust by Zéth’s welcome of him and patience with his surliness, Asthané had shared his desire for friendship with Zéth, which he’d determined to keep a secret—a decision he’d made to protect himself from Zéth’s scorn because his friends had been nonexistent then—and been rewarded with more than friendship as a result.

The lunch invitation was for today. He was sorely tempted to go. To see Zéth again, to talk, to spend time with him, perhaps share some time listening to music. When they’d been younger they’d done those things a lot. Talked much, crept away to Asthané’s dormitory room for privacy, listened to music frequently. Being in a Courtier’s favor had garnered the training-Mage Asthané enough freedom in the Imperial Court to attend some pretty prestigious entertainments.

But what could he truly hope to gain? If he’d had Siéda here, he could have discussed this. Ophelan was another option, but a quick check of the time told him she’d be elsewhere; she’d said before he left yesterday that she had errands to run in the city proper. All of his friends were busy in lessons or training right now.

He gazed at the note again, then wandered over to set it on the table between his wing-backed chair and matching loveseat. What would be the harm in going? He was six years past raw youth. Seeing Zéth again couldn’t hurt as much as it had when they’d been separated. Maybe he’d loved Zéth then, maybe he hadn’t. He didn’t know any more what he’d been feeling for Zéth then. Perhaps they did have things left to say to each other.

After staring at the note for a minute, Asthané nodded. He’d go. But he’d go as the Mage Asthané sresaph Vlantil. He had some old fire-sigil tunics left from his training when he was twelve. The letter may have made his heart feel like it had when he’d been a raw youth, but he didn’t have to enter this meeting behaving like one.

He crossed to his bedroom and changed, taking his time while lute music played. One of Siéda’s records. It was just the thing he needed to give himself strength.

Asthané didn’t realize what he’d done until he was in the palace seeking a page to guide him to Zéth’s rooms. He halted and frowned, then shook his head, deciding he’d come to terms with Siéda’s death at last.

Zéth’s apartment proved to be on the second floor of the palace, near the interior. Asthané stood at the front door to it for a few moments after the page departed, tugging and smoothing his tunic down. He hadn’t yet taken the time to seek out in-style uniforms, so he still wore last year’s shirt under the tunic, and he’d become very conscious of his unfashionable appearance as he’d passed other people in the halls. Now he rather wished he had taken the time to seek out new shirts at least. It took some effort to push the silly concern from his mind and pull the chain to ring Zéth’s bell.

A response was not long in occurring. The door opened after a breath of time to reveal Zéth. He looked little different than he had as a youth. His shoulders and chest had filled out, and he wore a mustache and beard around his lips, but he still looked much the same.

“Thané?” He sounded as if he didn’t quite believe the sight before himself.

For some reason, Zéth’s disbelieving reaction piqued Asthané’s attitude. “I’ll go.” He couldn’t keep the bitterness from his voice.

Zéth raised a hand. “No, no. Please, come in. I’m sorry. I just—I didn’t expect you to come.”

Asthané entered as Zéth backed up. “Why shouldn’t I have?”

“I thought you’d be angry.”

“After six years?” He turned to face his former lover.

Zéth closed the door. “I didn’t stand up to Father.”

Asthané nodded. “No, you didn’t.”

“I should have.”

He folded his arms. “I shouldn’t have expected you to.”

“You had a right to.”

Shaking his head, Asthané turned around. The apartment was modestly furnished, the rugs worn. He crossed to the table set up with a tray cart beside it and picked up the cover hiding the main dish, which proved to be slices of boiled turkey.

“I mean it, Thané. You had a right to expect me to admit everything to Father.”

“No, I didn’t.” He set the cover down over the meat and made a gesture at Zéth with the same hand. “You’re Baron Éeminée now.”

Zéth’s expression bent, and his hands fisted. Asthané deliberately turned his attention back to the food, lifting the covers over the other dishes to find a couple of vegetables and two bowls of custard with a caramel glaze. His point had been clear: Zéth had gotten what he truly wanted, which was his father’s title. And by Zéth’s reaction, Asthané knew he’d been right. After setting the cover down over the second dish of flan, he met Zéth’s gaze.

“I’m not hungry.”

Zéth glanced around, fingers uncurling. Asthané returned to the door, opened it, then looked at Zéth again.

“I’m in no mood to discuss our past at this time. Perhaps another day.”

A pleading expression came to Zéth’s face. It was something Asthané had never seen before, but it didn’t weaken his resolve. He left the sitting room, pulling the door shut behind himself. Zéth didn’t try to stop him.

In the corridor, Asthané stopped for a moment, glancing back as he tugged on his tunic again, then shook his head and walked away. As he’d said, perhaps another day. It was enough to have seen Zéth and had the verification of why there’d been no cry of protest all those years ago. He needed some time to get past his anger.

It wasn’t difficult for Géta to determine why the instructors placed him with Phrée and Delphén for hand-to-hand martial arts practice. They were older than he was and more experienced in the style he knew. Phrée was actually about twelve and half-taught him new moves in the style, ones he’d seen his older brothers practicing but hadn’t been introduced to as yet. Aside from praising him and ensuring he learned well, she said nothing else to him. It wouldn’t have been so difficult if Delphén had been even a little talkative, but he was completely silent unless grunting or gasping in reaction to strikes.

Still, Géta determined he’d talk to the pair before the class broke up. Near the end, Phrée set him to practicing a new move in front of the mirror while she and her brother practiced more advanced sparring. When the instructors came through the room clapping their hands to announce the end of class, he stopped and turned, but the siblings were already gone. They’d moved quickly upon dismissal yesterday as well.

He sighed and went to retrieve his sword, then made his way back to the musicians’ dorm. While he was collecting a fresh outfit, he decided he should just let it go. It was enough to be praised for his efforts, wasn’t it? Did it have to matter he befriend the pair? They were both older than he, and clearly disinclined to chatter, so maybe they were as taciturn with everybody else.

Though, it would have been nice if he could have struck up a conversation.

Géta bathed and went to fetch his books, leaving his dirty clothes with the others worn yesterday. His two book-learning classes were slightly less intimidating this time, but he couldn’t find the courage to approach anyone in his mathematics class, and still hesitated to attempt a conversation with any of those in his music composition class. Upon his return to his room to trade books for flute and music, he discovered a note in his mail catch.

The fold of the cover paper wasn’t neat, and he could tell the corners had been sealed with paste, but other than that, there was nothing distinct about it—except the address on the other side. His name and “Room Fifty, Musicians’ Dorm, Capitol Temple, Édalai” written in Alénil’s untidy scrawl. The stamp affixed to the lower left hand corner was upside-down in relation to the address. Alénil must have gotten the address from Géta’s mother and sent this the day after Géta’s departure for it to arrive here today.

A grin broke out across Géta’s face, and he scrambled into his room, dropping everything but the letter on his bed. He popped the pasted-down corners of the cover page and let it fall as he unfolded the letter within. It wasn’t very long—less than one page.

———

Gé-

I hope your journey was safe and await your first letter with eagerness. We gathered last night and have all decided we miss you terribly already. Expect letters from the others when they are able and willing to write. Tell me what it’s like there. Have you seen the Empress? If not, will you? Is the palace truly gilded as they say? Are the Priests kind? What do they have you doing? Anyway, I’ll stop nagging you with questions. Just write back soon!

Alé

———

It was almost enough to make Géta cry, reminding him what he’d left behind and how difficult the last day and a half had been. Even so, it lent him some comfort to know he hadn’t been forgotten. He reverently set the letter on the desk next to his half-complete homework for his compositions class, put his books away, and collected his flute and music. Writing back would have to wait until later, after his practice session at the very least. He put the cover paper in the little coal-burning stove, then left his room with a jaunty stride.

Always wary of stirring Itai’s attention unnecessarily, even when petitioning a friend, Asthané had sent a little note requesting this visit as soon as he’d returned from Zéth’s apartment during lunch time. He hadn’t eaten, truly having lacked an appetite, and now his stomach gurgled unhappily as he considered what he’d asked Lasée to do for him. If he hadn’t felt like his agreement with Ophelan was a kind of promise—she’d ask him if he’d gone through with it—he wouldn’t have done this.

Like all the Mages’ apartments, in addition to a bedroom and sitting room, Lasée’s apartment included a third chamber, though she used hers for magic. She shut the door, and he looked around, seeking something to sit on. Aside from a stark-white circle painted on the floor in the center of the chamber and her (expensive) set of painted copper stencils for casting more powerful spells, it was completely unadorned. No gaslights were lit in here, but the room wasn’t unlit. The circle in the center had a soft glow, and Asthané shivered, certain the glow had something to do with Lasée’s Gift.

Her hand settled on the back of his arm, near his shoulder, gripping gently. “I know how you feel about such things, Thané. If you like, I could take you back out to write your questions down and come in here by myself.”

The shakes of his head were jerky, and he clutched his hands together. “I think I need to see if—” he couldn’t complete the sentence. The thought of Siéda being unrestful for worry over him was even more distressing than the idea of Summoning Siéda’s ghost. “Have you—?”

“Sought him? No. I somewhat didn’t care to know if he wasn’t at rest. I know how he worried about you.”

Asthané shifted to look at her. “If you don’t want to do this, I can go to someone else.”

“Someone who didn’t know Siéda? Someone who doesn’t know you? I think not. I wouldn’t turn my enemy away from me if I had one to make this request of me. I’m not going to turn away a friend.”

For a minute, he searched her face, looking for doubt or insincerity and found neither. After another minute, spent considering what he was about to do, he nodded. He glanced around the room. “Where do you want me?”

“In the circle with me.”

As he took a deep breath, he nodded, and they walked together to the white circle. The air over it was a little cooler, as though a draft from someplace else, someplace cooler than the living world, came through it. Only when he stopped did he realize there was a draft; it tickled the hair on the back of his neck, filled his nostrils with a cold scent like frozen soil, and chilled the tips of his fingers and nose a little.

Lasée urged him to kneel, so he did, taking a position which had been very familiar before he’d been trained enough to be sent out from the Temple. He’d been in two battle zones since he was thirteen, and had mostly fallen out of the habit of meditating, even when he didn’t have to worry about attacks. Lasée sat to his left, tucking her feet up under her knees and cupping them with her fingers. He studied her while he waited, and found himself calmed somewhat by her peace in meditation.

After a couple minutes, he sensed a tendril of power from her pass through his body. It felt like it latched onto something and took it, but he didn’t feel any weaker or less than himself for it.

“If he has lingered, he may respond if both of us make it known we’re seeking him,” Lasée murmured, voice vague and doubled, as though she spoke with another’s throat in addition to her own.

Asthané shivered at the sound of her voice. He’d heard of some sresaph Itais’ voices doing this, but he’d never actually heard it. Some, it was said, could multiply their voices even outside of trance. It was a way they used to gain attention. The attention of the living, so they wouldn’t waste opportunities; of the dead, so they would listen to learn who was seeking or casting them out. Sometimes a sresaph Itai could be called to perform an exorcism, but few lingering souls ever required such. They were much more likely to linger in hope of service or knowledge.

This was what little he knew of Itai’s Gifts—all from Lasée. Her breath steamed in the air, and he noticed his did as well, though it didn’t feel much colder. Certainly, his toes now felt cold, and he’d taken to rubbing his hands, fronts and backs, on his thighs to keep them warm, but the ethereal breeze didn’t feel any cooler. It took another couple minutes, during which Lasée’s breathing slowed and deepened further, before a soft chime drew his attention from her.

Siéda stood before them. He looked real, his clothes torn and stained from his final weeks on the border, going from one location to another seeking trouble to quell or avenge. His hair was just as red as it had been in life, his eyes the same deep brown. Even his skin was as it had been his last day of life, dark-colored with the sun. Asthané stood on his knees, reaching for him, but a hand grasped his arm at the elbow, pulling it back.

“He isn’t happy to be here.” Now Lasée’s voice sounded much more multiplied.

That—and the sensation of her icy hand seeping through the sleeves of his tunic and shirt—induced Asthané to pay attention to Siéda’s expression. No little smile graced the ghost’s face. He didn’t look angry, either, but even the little tugging at the corners of Siéda’s lips, almost always present before, was absent.

Siéda retreated two paces. “You don’t need me, Thané.”

“I miss you.” The words tore from him, complete truth weighted with grief.

“You’re strong.” The ghost regarded him with an expression of disappointment. “Go forward, Thané. It’s what you’re best at. Not to insult you, but you never let yourself lean too much upon me, even when I offered and wanted you to, when you truly needed to. You’ve always been strong and independent. I always admired you for it, because I knew I could never be so strong. If it had been you who had died out there, I don’t know what I would have done, but I wouldn’t have been able to go on for quite some time, even if I’d survived. You are my brother, Thané, and that means something to we Vénari. It is our greatest strength, and my greatest weakness. I left too many I love as I love you behind to feel willing to leave the living realm, but you don’t need me.”

Asthané lowered his arm, gradually hugging himself against the chill which crept into his body as Siéda spoke. When the silence went uninterrupted for a minute, he found the will to speak.

“I hoped you could guide me to a—someone. Another musician. Not to replace you, but one who would be what I needed.”

Siéda’s ghost came close and dropped down, sitting and hugging his legs as he used to do on those rare instances when Asthané would come to him seeking advice or just a compassionate ear to listen. His expression wasn’t attentive this time, however. It was thoughtful.

“Do you want to know what Jalza says?”

“Jalza?” Asthané blinked. This was in some ways worse than stirring Itai’s attention. “What’s Jalza say?”

A smile quirked Siéda’s lips. “Seek Wisdom.”

“Seek—what kind of advice is that?” Asthané’s voice rose in distress, not anger, as he tried to comprehend the reasoning behind Jalza’s words. “That’s what Jalza always says.”

The ghost chuckled. “It is no less true now than at any other time, and it may be more true now than it ever has been for you. You’ve learned a lot, Thané. You are not the man I met when I was a youth. You’ve softened, learned courtesy, have lost much of your wariness. You’ve learned to truly love. You’ve forgotten the pain which you locked into yourself before I met you. You’ve learned Wisdom. What is the injunction to seek even more at this time? You need it more now than ever.”

“So what should I do? Read more journals?” It was the only thing Asthané could think of. That was what the Priests meant when they said “seek Wisdom.”

Siéda rocked forward to kneel, leaning on one hand to touch the other to Asthané’s chest above the heart. “Seek the Wisdom here. The same Wisdom which led you into brotherhood with me. It will lead you to your new musician.”

“But—”

“No protests.” The ghost rose and took a pace back. “You know the Wisdom to seek, so do it. It is all I can and will tell you now or ever. You do not need me, Thané. You have other friends. Seek comfort from them, not from me, though you may take comfort in the knowledge I’ll be waiting to welcome you should you come to my side.”

Before Asthané could say anything, Siéda’s ghost turned and walked out of the circle, disappearing into the darkness beyond the soft glow. Next to him, Lasée exhaled loudly before patting his arm.

“Come along. The best cure for a case of Soul-touch is a hot bath.”

He nodded and struggled to his feet, feeling the cold in his bones now. It hurt to breathe, and the sensation didn’t end even after leaving the chamber. He wandered to his room with his hand over his heart, remembering the touch which had sent the cold to his bones and Siéda’s words. The ghost had been right. Asthané didn’t need Siéda, not as a ghost. He just didn’t know if he’d be attentive enough to heed the Wisdom his heart led him to if he didn’t have Siéda to point it out.

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