A cold chill caused Issabeau to shiver, breaking her trance as she pulled out of her thoughts of these memories of her life, back into the here and now. She gazed absently at her mother’s burial fire as it turned to smoldering ash, its smoky incense of sandalwood and patchouli spicing the fresh winter morning air. Gathering her woolen cloak closely around her, Issabeau then shoved her bare hands into its deep pockets, finding the twenty-six candles from her birthday cake she’d put there just a week ago.
This was a comforting habit Issabeau still held on to. Zarus always teased Issabeau that when she was getting on in years, she’d have to have a special purse instead of a deep pocket to carry her hundred birthday candles in. As Issabeau rolled the small smooth candles around her fingers, she turned to gaze out at the dark blue sea. Its glassy smooth surface spread out to join the inception of the morning sky, mirroring the rising sun’s pastel bursts of oranges, pinks and blues that stretched up lazily, fading out the starry night sky.
Issabeau pulled her hands out of her pockets and placed them solemnly together at her chest. Taking a deep breath in, she knelt on the frozen ground, then looked up at the fading stars to begin the Ritual Prayer of asking the Great Goddess to send forth another strong Essence to be born Sisullia.
The unwitting disciple stopped the prayer to sarcastically wonder aloud what the point of this prayer was. The Cycle could only happen on Lindorly, and Issabeau wasn’t ever going there. She sighed, her breath a trail of vapor before her. Out of respect for her mother, not wanting to break method and her mother’s tradition, she finished the sacred incantation in her honor.
Issabeau stood up slowly, stretching her weary body, and returned to the smoldering ashes of her mother. Her inherent magic protecting her hand, Issabeau picked through the burning remains to find the violet amulet of Lindorly that her mother once wore around her neck. This amulet signified she was Queen and Elder Sisullia. Issabeau clasped the necklace around her neck, on top of her own golden amulet of Lindorly.
Issabeau was about to experience the final burial rite called the Mezziane.
At once the two amulets started to glow as their magic sought each other out. Enchanted rays of violet and gold flowed out from the amulets to weave continual swirls of brilliant light around Issabeau. The wild, flowing streams of light tossing her white spirals of hair around her face while snapping her winter cloak at her boots. As the magic intensified, it elevated Issabeau a few feet above the ground, enclosing her in a cocoon of violet and gold ribbons of light. Then, with a sudden expansive burst of magic, it arched her body while the streams of light multiplied into hundreds of illuminated rays that surged forth, penetrating the forest, ocean, and sky, turning the early dawn into an instant day.
This moment was the final heartfelt expression from Queen and Elder Sisullia Katianna to her dear animals of the land, water, and air that she – who loved them absolutely – was dead.
Mournful howls, screeches, and cries of every animal reverberated throughout Creation. Time stood still during this collective grief.
Then, with a loud clap of thunder that shook the ground, the violet and gold lights and her mother’s violet amulet vanished, Issabeau collapsing into an unconscious heap to the ground.
Her mother’s sacred burial was now finished. Creation and those who knew of the Sisullia were aware that the Cycle of the Sisullia was now in the motion of change.
Including the BloodSkulls.
Stirring slowly out of her unconsciousness, Issabeau became aware of why she was lying on the frozen forest floor and freezing cold; her mother was dead and she had just finished the Mezziane. As sadness started to fill her heart, a large, cold wet nose sniffed her face. Issabeau looked up into the face of Zarus, a great white wolf from the Mountains of Canaan.
Photo Credit – Deviant Art
Issabeau looked into the eyes of her faithful friend.
“I’m OK Zarus, really I am.” she whispered.
The intelligent wolf looked doubtful.
With a weak grunt, Issabeau pushed herself up and sat next to Zarus. Unsteady and shivering, she reached to embrace Zarus’ thick neck, the wolf lying down to receive her intended loving hug. The Sisullia buried her face into the soft fur; tears swelling in her eyes while she remembered being in the intense embrace of the Mezziane, feeling its magic and the last essence of her mother as it filled her body from the inside out.
Grief lurched in her stomach, causing it to ache. Issabeau looked up at Zarus’ face, her white, glowing eyes also filled with tears.
Issabeau loved Zarus so much and at this moment it seemed impossible to be able to love the wolf more. Witnessing Zarus’ pain made her feelings of guilt rear its ugly head. Issabeau had been so caught up in her own pain she hadn’t been very supportive to her family. The great wolf turned to her but spoke not what Issabeau expected nor wanted to hear.
“There is nothing wrong with sadness Issabeau. I will mourn deeply and proudly for the loss of Katianna. The Cycle of the Sisullia and the Cycle of Creation, death, just like life, is an expected part of it. For me, my tears fall freely, and my grief openly expressed. Then my emotional energy of sadness will gradually transform to letting go, together with a deeper spiritual connection with Creation, the Spirits of my Ancestors, Katianna and our Great Goddess.”
The wolf shifted her weight to turn her long nose to Issabeau.
“It is only you who has taught yourself to deny your emotions. It is only you who remains trapped by the past that has you paralyzed with fear. It is only you who foolishly tries to conceal your pain. But do not be deceived, Issabeau, you cannot escape yourself.”
Issabeau exhaled with frustration and felt too tired to argue.
“Zarus, really?” she moaned in frustration while releasing her hug, “Now? Right now, you want to lecture me with the same speech I’ve been hearing since I was ten years-old about expressing my emotions to move through them and be free of them. You must admit, I’ve mellowed over the years since I first learned about the BloodSkulls. My nightmares and day to day anxiety, as Malfius calls it, has lessened. And I don’t wipe your paws anymore!”
“You can use humor to deflect what I’ve said, but Issabeau,” the wolf spoke wisely, “your eyes are still without sparkle, and you have little joy within your essence.”
Issabeau fully understood the deeper meaning of Zarus’ words while staring over the sacred funerary site, into the winter forest. Her heart was heavy, and she felt the sadness lurking deep inside her, like a poison in her blood. Sadness partly built on Issabeau’s steadfast belief that her mother considered Issabeau a disappointment, a failure. A failure both to her mother and to the race of Sisullia because Issabeau firmly decided she would never fulfill her destiny to become Métier because of her hatred for humans.
Even though her mother openly expressed how much she loved Issabeau, how proud she was of her, and had never once expressed any kind of disappointment in Issabeau or that Issabeau was ever a failure to her or the Sisullia, it was only Issabeau who built these inner beliefs based on her own perceived evidence that she could see disappointment in her mother’s violet eyes. Furthermore, Issabeau believed her mother died accepting of Issabeau’s profound inner shame and opinion, adding to the heavy burden of Issabeau’s heavy heart.
Issabeau never once realizing that it was her projection of herself that she saw in her mother’s eyes.
Immediately defending herself of this flooding sadness by skillfully numbing her heart, Issabeau focused on the peaceful silence in the air and thought about all the animals that cried out their farewells as they experienced their own mourning at the loss of their great Queen and Elder Sisullia Katianna, their protector and Savior.
Zarus and Issabeau slowly returned to their small home, a coastal stone castle abandoned many centuries ago. Together, they were eating breakfast. Issabeau was sitting comfortably at a small wooden table, forcing herself to eat warm cinnamon porridge with fresh baked bread and a cup of hot berry root tea. Zarus lay next to the large stone hearth, alive with a newly tended fire, eating cooked chickens. Better to watch a wolf eat cooked meat than raw. Sisullias were vegetarians, and for them eating the flesh of any animal was cannibalism. Therefore, Issabeau insisted Zarus eat cooked flesh than raw. Plus, the cleanup was easier.
Issabeau sighed while looking out at the dark grey skies through one of the iron framed windows that dressed either side of the large wooden door, that opened into the kitchen. Most of the castle was in ruins, but the ground floor kitchen was still intact, with this door used as the delivery entrance for kitchen staff.
These dark grey clouds filled the once clear morning sky along with a sudden howling wind filled with dense little snowflakes. Little snow means big snow, and big snow had decided to start this day with what looked to turn into a fierce snowstorm. A snowstorm, Issabeau thought, that could prevent Malfius from returning home safely. She could use her magic to control the snow but doing so would call even more attention to their location after the Mezziane.
Somehow the BloodSkulls’ dark magic had evolved to knowing when Issabeau used her magic. While growing up, she could safely learn and practice her magic, but in the last few years her magic became a beacon light, leading them to her. Issabeau had to use her magic wisely, making her even more angry as even this choice to use her magic freely was now limited.
This snowstorm was a blessing and a curse. It would slow the BloodSkulls down, like it would for Malfius.
An hour before her mother died, Issabeau had reached out with her telepathy to contact the gargoyle and tell him that death was near but was frustratingly unable to locate him. Issabeau figured as much because her ability to use her telepathy was weak from her absolute exhaustion. Her heart had filled with agony as she tried again to reach him, and failed, thinking that Malfius might not be there when her mother died and for the burial ritual as well. Moreover, Issabeau thought to herself with shame, that Malfius wouldn’t be there to comfort her when death finally came.
Issabeau missed Malfius. But she was also angry with him.
Photo Credit – Malfius – Drawn by artist Hannah Quinn
It was only a few days ago Issabeau begged Malfius not to leave and go for supplies, because she somehow knew her mother wasn’t going to live for much longer and explained this to him. Malfius gently explained he needed to take care of everyone, not just Katianna. It was hard for Issabeau to watch Malfius prepare for his journey and could only imagine his pain of having to leave her when he too realized that she was in the final days of her life.
And on that same day, just before Malfius departed, her mother firmly sent Issabeau with Zarus out of the castle with orders not to return until she telepathically called for them.
So, Issabeau and Zarus went for a long walk, looking at nothing in particular along the cold barren landscape as she wondered aloud why her mother sent them out of the house. What would her mother say to Malfius that could not be said to both her and Zarus?
Zarus said nothing. The great white wolf very aware of what was happening and knew she could not say a word.
Issabeau and Zarus received her mother’s weak telepathic message that they could return, and upon arriving home, they walked into a rush of heat from the blazing fire. Issabeau’s mother was sleeping, her closed eyes puffy and her frail gaunt cheeks stained from tears.
Malfius was gone.
That was two days ago, and bringing herself back to the present, Issabeau took a maple syrup cookie, popped it in her mouth, savoring its sweet flavor. Sipping back the thirst these cookies created with her berry root tea, Issabeau again tried to reach Malfius with her telepathy. Nothing.
Her mother had taught Issabeau that telepathy was a skill to be used when she was mature enough to understand the ethics of reading other’s thoughts. When Katianna finally decided little Issabeau was ready to learn, she quickly learned that it was unethical for her to invade her mother, Malfius or Zarus’ private thoughts without their permission. For that reason, when she tried just one time, she was grounded for three days from using her magic.
But using telepathy to communicate was different. Issabeau was taught how to send out a warning energy – so to speak – to let the recipient know that she wanted to communicate telepathically with them. If the recipient accepted her warning energy, then Issabeau would proceed. But if her energy was rejected, then Issabeau would have to try again later with another warning energy. But Issabeau never had the patience for this. She would just push her telepathic voice into their minds and speak to them over their private thoughts. But this tactic wasn’t always successful, meaning that her family knew how to block her pushy telepathic communication. Issabeau would get in trouble, then would impatiently wait for them to send her their warning energy to tell her she could proceed.
Nevertheless, the most exciting and rewarding telepathic activity for Issabeau was using it on humans. Humans were at her mercy because they were without magic or the skill of telepathy. Issabeau knew full well she could use it anytime she wanted without their knowledge, or permission, and they had no way to stop her. Issabeau was very aware that by doing this she was violating all the rules and ethics respecting telepathy, but she didn’t care. It was worth the risk of getting caught and being grounded for a couple of days as Issabeau loved torturing humans.
Issabeau again pushed her mind through the matter of Creation searching out Malfius’ resounding and unique life essence. She found him! He was closer to home than she hoped. His energy was strong. And he was unusually anxious about something. She could enter his mind.
“Malfius…” she queried.
“No time Issabeau…” he demanded, “prepare yourself for healing and be sure the fire is blazing hot.”
“Malfius…” she tried again.
Once again, he interrupted.
“Do as I say. Now! I’m almost home!” his commanded.
At that Malfius pushed Issabeau out of his mind. Issabeau turned frantically to Zarus, who lay stretched out in front of the fire that was blazing and warm.
“Zarus!” Issabeau snapped causing the wolf to look up in surprise, the wolf’s white ears at attention.
“Malfius is back and something’s wrong!” she yelled.
Issabeau quickly put her mug in the sink, threw on her thick white cloak, and ran out the front door with Zarus at her heels. Snow laden wind ripped at her hair as she searched the gray and gloomy sky to finally see the enormous black gargoyle carrying a large backpack while skillfully maneuvering his massive wings through the blustering snow and wind.
Malfius was landing, as Issabeau and Zarus ran up to meet him.
“Malfius”, Issabeau yelled over the wind, “what’s wrong?”
The massive gargoyle looked down at Issabeau as he dropped the backpack to the ground.
“I have to go get something. I’ll be right back. Make sure the fire is ready.” he snapped.
Issabeau quickly grabbed Malfius’ wrist, she wanted answers.
“No Malfius, we don’t need anything else.” She screamed through the snow. “The blizzard is getting worse and mom…”
Malfius stepped back; forcing Issabeau to release his wrist, and with a mighty thrust of his wings became airborne. Issabeau and Zarus helplessly watched Malfius disappear into the tempest snow.
“What’s he doing!” shouted Issabeau into the wind.
Ignoring her, Zarus started pulling the strap of the heavy backpack Malfius had left for them. Grabbing the other strap, Issabeau continued shouting as she helped Zarus along.
“Mom has just died, and I know he knows, and he didn’t even say anything! Not one word! And he just takes off without saying what’s troubling him.”
Zarus didn’t need to pull the backpack because Issabeau’s anger let her drag the cumbersome sack by herself. The wolf trotted ahead to the front door. Using her head, Zarus pushed the door open and held it, as Issabeau stormed through, and dropped the backpack to the floor. Zarus then gave the door a good push to close it securely against the gusting wind.
Issabeau’s golden eyes were blazing with anger as she started pacing around the room, her arms flying all over the place, emphasizing her distress.
“He foolishly flies back into a blizzard! A terrible blizzard!” she yelled.
Her right hand pointing frantically out the window, then again waving it in the air.
“I hate it when he doesn’t tell me what he’s doing!”
Issabeau abruptly stopped pacing, dropped her hands to her side and turned her furious eyes to Zarus.
“Why aren’t you saying anything or agreeing with me?”
The wise wolf smiled with familiarity at Issabeau’s temper. No creature or human could or would stand their ground to an infuriated Sisullia – she was too powerful.
Zarus could. The wolf was family.
“Because you’re worrying enough for the both of us”, answered Zarus.
“Yes, but…” protested a flustered Issabeau.
“No buts!” she replied, “Malfius knows what he is doing. Trust in that and in him. Take your mind off your worries by unpacking this backpack and making us some supper. I’m hungry and craving nicely roasted chickens smothered with freshly restocked seasoning spices packed somewhere in this huge sack. And you’ve hardly eaten anything in days. A small breakfast this morning and only a bit of bread yesterday. You’re getting too skinny.”
“Ha Ha!” Issabeau laughed while rolling her eyes at Zarus, knowing the wolf was right.
The front door crashed open, rattling both windows and the walls. Standing in the doorway, amongst the howling winds blowing snow into the room, was Malfius. The huge gargoyle carried the body of a large male human. The human was covered in blood, barely breathing, near death.
Malfius quickly entered the house, past Issabeau and Zarus’s shocked eyes, to the roaring fire. He bent down on one knee to gently lay the human in front of it. The front door continued to bang heavily against the wall, still admitting the winter weather, which seemed insignificant to Malfius’s return. It was Zarus who finally stopped staring at the human, and once again firmly closed the resistant door.
“What do you think you are doing!” screamed Issabeau, advancing toward the calamity.
Malfius stood tall, his head a few inches from the ceiling, as he removed a small leather pouch from around his shoulders and held it out to Issabeau and Zarus.
Issabeau stopped dead in her tracks, staring at the pouch. Something about it caused her to freeze.
Photo Credit – Issabeau – Drawn by artist Hannah Quinn
Issabeau stared up at Malfius; he had a dangerous look on his face.
“This human has The Book of Stasis.” Malfius said to Zarus. His eyes then turned to Issabeau.
“The human is dying. Heal him,” he ordered.
Standing her ground, Issabeau ignored Malfius’s demand.
“Are you crazy! He could escape, tell others he’s found us! You’re putting our lives in danger to help a human!”
Zarus cautiously walked up to Malfius and sniffed the pouch as if it were either an illusion or very dangerous.
“Malfius, are you sure?” asked Zarus.
“Yes. The ancient scrolls on Lindorly describe The Book of Stasis as being created from air, water and the light of the moon. The book in this pouch fits that description perfectly, and is like no other book I’ve seen on Creation or on the Isle.”
Zarus looked up at Malfius.
“Where did you find the human?”
But Malfius was glaring at Issabeau.
“Issabeau, I told you to heal the human.”
Issabeau pursed her lips together tightly and stood her ground. “No.”
Malfius shook his head, well versed in Issabeau’s little stubborn temper tantrums. He turned to Zarus.
“I was returning, flying over the island prior to this one, when I sensed its magic (Malfius smiling with delight): it has been many years since I felt the magical essence of the Isle run through my blood. I’d forgotten how wonderful it felt. The human was alone and barely conscious. As I turned him over his eyes told me he recognized me as he smiled trying to take the pouch off his shoulders. At that point he collapsed back in weariness and fell asleep.
“There were no signs of any other human or BloodSkulls near him. His injuries must have happened elsewhere.”
Issabeau stood looking at Malfius and Zarus, confusion written all over her face.
“What book? What magic? What are the two of you talking about? Zarus, how come you know what Malfius is talking about and I don’t?”
Malfius answered, as Zarus took the pouch in her mouth and lay it on Malfius’s chair next to the fire.
“Issabeau we will explain later. Do as I say – heal the human. His wounds are deep and he has hypothermia. I will brew berry root tea, unpack the backpack and cook everyone supper.”
“Malfius I… am… not… touching a human! I want to know what this book is about.”
Malfius bent down, glaring at Issabeau with dark eyes. He spoke quietly, with burning emotion.
“Issabeau, please, heal the human. We’ll discuss your mother later.” His voice was gentle and firm.
Issabeau lowered her eyes and turned to do as Malfius asked. She quickly stripped the human of his melting and blood-soaked clothing, and then assessed the damage. A deep cut slashed across his left bicep, another above his left eye, along with a few badly mended scars scattered across his arms, chest and legs. Quickly, Issabeau roughly dried him off, unashamed of the human’s nakedness, then wrapped him warmly in blankets.
Carefully and fighting her compulsive urge to not touch the filthy human, Issabeau slipped a hand under the blanket and lay it on his bicep; golden light of her healing magic surged into the gash, instantly repairing the wound, not leaving a trace of its existence. Issabeau’s fingers surprisingly tingled as she sensed something about this human that was unique compared to any other humans she’d encountered. Curious, and crossing into an unethical boundary, Issabeau closed her eyes and surged her healing magic deeper into the human, penetrating his essence, allowing the fiber of the human’s nature to pulse through her, exposing his truest self. Issabeau sensed nothing inherently evil or hatred, only characteristics of honor, integrity and truth. Shocked, Issabeau quickly eased her magic back and focused only on healing while telling herself that this was only a human, what difference it made if she violated his boundaries.
Issabeau moved up by the human’s head, sat cross legged on the floor and lay his head across her lap. Gently, Issabeau moved her hand to the wound over his eye, when suddenly the human stirred, catching Issabeau uncharacteristically off her guard as she quickly pulled her hand back. Issabeau watched, bewildered, as the human slowly opened beautiful emerald green eyes that stared up at her with dazzling intensity. Issabeau stared down in gaping awe at the human as he smiled up at her with truest warmth. Then, ever so slowly, his eyes closed, his face relaxed, his head turned to one side as he fell back to sleep. All the while causing a stir of distinctly unknown emotions to churn in Issabeau’s stomach.
Absentmindedly healing the wound over his eye, while wondering why her stomach felt nervous, Issabeau moved both hands to his naked and shivering chest. At once Issabeau’s attention became aware of the thick soft hair covering his chest and how solid it felt as the golden light of her magic warmed the human from hypothermia. Also (to her own surprise) for her added effort, Issabeau watched her magic cause all the old jagged battle scars to vanish.
A sudden flash of brilliant light brought Issabeau’s fleeting concentration to the thin gold necklace the human wore around his neck. Expensive and skillfully crafted, it carried a small solid ruby carved cleverly into a curious looking emblem. The emblem lay in the delicate little spot at the base of his throat rising with the same rhythm from his deep and slow breathing.
Laying his head gently on the floor, Issabeau stood up and in order retrieved a delicately carved glass jar of sandalwood oil, a cloth, towels, and a deep washing basin which she magically filled with warm herbed water to sponge bathe the human. Kneeling down beside him, Issabeau pulled back the blankets to once again see his entire naked body. But, this time she felt unusually shy looking at his body, yet incredibly curious while she slowly bathed the dried blood and dirt off his body.
Pausing as she finished, Issabeau gazed at the soft anatomy lying between the humans thighs, and her stomach stirred as she studied it. Unanticipated and shocked, Issabeau felt a strange new sensation burning between her own thighs. Once again, overcome with unnatural shyness, perpetuated by the tingling sensations between her thighs, Issabeau turned her eyes away, trying to refocus to make her body stop tingling, as she wrapped him back up enough to cover his thigh area.
Issabeau felt confused at the unknown transformation happening to her as she washed his matted dark brown curly hair. Strangely, her fingertips seemed to be attached to her burning inner thighs while in contact with his scalp. And as she moved quickly to rub down his parched skin with sandalwood oil, Issabeau continually fought with the heat now pulsing between her thighs.
Wrapping him fully in the warm blankets, Issabeau was glad to be finished touching the human. This seemed to be the only way to stop the strange sensations happening to her body as she added a pillow under his head for comfort.
Issabeau methodically and neatly put the sandalwood oil back in its proper place, threw the dirty towels and cloths in with the laundry pile, cleaned her washing basin, set it back on its wooden table, then refilled it with hot water mildly scented with frankincense. Issabeau dipped a fresh cloth into the water, firmly pressed it over her face, enjoying the warmth as she deeply inhaled the waters rich aroma. What was happening here? She’s a healer, accustomed to its process and nude beings. But this time? Something about this human’s anatomy got to her.
Draping the cloth over the lip of the wash basin, and drying her face with a towel hanging for this purpose, Issabeau slowly exhaled while gazing at her reflection in the mirror in front of her. Her gold eyes were bloodshot; there were deep dark circles under her eyes, and her hair a tangled mess of curls. It had been a long day. Last night and the morning seemed like two months ago.
Turning away from her reflection, Issabeau stared over at the human, curiosity pulling her back to look at him. He lay on his back, comfortable, completely healed, warm, clean and asleep. His damp dark brown curls reflecting sunburn highlights from the fire. His face had a youthful boyish charm, which was rather agreeable to look at, compared to other humans she’d come across. Issabeau shook her head wondering why she was thinking such thoughts about a human, and turned her attention to inspect his clothing.
They were of good quality, filthy and well worn. His long dark green winter cloak had holes and the hem of his brown tunic badly frayed. His brown leather belt had two small pockets filled with something (which clinked as if it held coins) when Issabeau removed his belt and its scabbard – containing a handsome and bloodstained sword. His long sleeved winter shirt was torn where the blade reached his flesh. His undergarments were clean and looked worn from much washing. His warm thick brown woolen pants were dirty and well used from travel. Regal tall brown leather riding boots were new in comparison to the rest of his clothes, yet still scuffed and worn.
Being the clean freak, Issabeau piled up his wet clothing, deciding they needed to be washed. One of the first lessons Issabeau’s mother taught her when she was a child, was that using her Sisullian magic to do everything would make Issabeau lazy. And with those words echoing in her mind, Issabeau hung the large cast iron pot over the fire and filled it with the human’s clothes and cloak. Then justifiably forgetting her mother’s lesson for the sheer effort and time it would take, Issabeau used her magic to fill the heavy pot, drowning its contents in a special boiling hot water elixir that would clean the clothing. Issabeau then moved the human’s riding boots and heavy leather belt with the sword by the fire to dry.
Feeling organized and finished with this task, she stepped over the human to get him berry root tea.
Questions started to swirl in her restless mind.
She wondered how the human got to the other island.
Who was this human and why was he so important to getting Lindorly back? They had been trying for years. What made him so special?
Then Issabeau remembered the Book of Stasis!
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