The space between worlds was colder than the ice atop Ojutai’s aerie and darker than the depths of depression. Even so, in the moment Esther passed through it, she felt something eyeless watching her and remembered the chill of returning to Ravnica, leading the way for Gideon so long ago.
And then she could breathe again, and felt Petrik’s hand in hers, and the breeze was warm and the sun was setting over the garden.
The Shrine to the Elements, Petrik had explained, was not the only one on Kamigawa, but Tamiyo the sage took great pride in maintaining its beauty and symmetry. Esther and Petrik stood on a path lined with a mosaic of polished tiles. To their right, a field of grain reached higher than Esther’s head. To their left, a stream meandered by, dotted with lilypads and the occasional shimmer of a fish. Somewhere beyond, the stream emptied into a marsh overgrown with ferns and shrubs.
Esther let go of Petrik’s hand and took a deep breath, turning around slowly to get a better look. “So this is Kamigawa.”
“Part of it, anyway.” Petrik grinned. “The shrine is in the middle of the garden.” He took a step in the direction they had been facing when they landed, and kept going when he was sure Esther was following.
At the end of the path, stone steps led up to five pillars supporting a stone roof. Between the pillars, a five-sided altar with five worn cushions arranged around its base, and a faint smell of incense. Two women sat on the shrine steps with their backs to Esther and Petrik, looking out at two wedge-shaped sections of the garden that Esther hadn’t been able to see before: a rock garden with boulders scattered at odd intervals, and a small grove of fruit trees that bordered the grain field.
Petrik cleared his throat as they approached the shrine. “Master Narset, I’ve brought Esther.”
One of the women stood and turned to face them. Her face was hidden in shadow as she approached, but the texture of the thoughts she projected were unmistakable. Esther fumbled in the depths of her own mind for a mnemonic spell, felt the power it required rush in from the stream behind her, and let old muscle memory sink her to her knees, not all the way down to child’s pose, but head bowed, hands clasped, the precise amount of respect due an honored and long-absent teacher in Ojutai’s house by a student deeply in her debt. And exhale.
After a long silence, Esther heard an odd muffled noise and dared to glance upward. Narset was chuckling, and the corners of her eyes and her public thoughts were full of a joy Esther had never seen on her before. Once she was sure she had Esther’s attention, she bowed, left fist pressed to right palm, a bow for an equal.
Esther blinked, bewildered, certain the joke was on her. The mnemonic urged her to accept the honor, though, so she stood slowly, knees creaking, and copied Narset’s bow.
Narset nodded. “Still a quick study. Good.” Esther did not ask where did you go? but was fairly sure she was projecting it. “Thank you for bringing her, Petrik. We will keep you from your rounds no longer.”
Petrik looked significantly out of his depth. “Happy to help, ma’am. Esther, are you—”
“Yeah,” Esther said, dragging herself out of her own thoughts. “Could you let Zofia know I’m okay, and come check on me if I’m not back in a week?”
He smiled and offered a hug. “Hey, what are friends for?”
She hugged him, and let go reluctantly, and watched him fade away. Then she followed Narset up the stairs and across the shrine to meet her patient.
Tamiyo, called the Moon Sage, was a member of the Moon People of the plane of Kamigawa. She was a renowned scholar who studied the histories of other planes and, particularly, how they felt about the moon. Narset explained all this once they were indoors, in the kitchen of a grand house that reminded Esther of her sister’s home in the Sixth District. Esther half-listened and watched Tamiyo make tea. She was tall and slender and very pale, with long harelike ears that she kept tied back with a ribbon. This, Narset assured Esther, was all normal for the Moon People. What was not normal, apparently, was that she had not spoken since Esther arrived.
“It is usual for her to be eager to share her research. But since her return from—I believe it was the plane Innistrad, some weeks ago—she has withdrawn. Something there scared her, and it has not let her go.”
Esther nodded. “Fortunately, trauma is something I know how to help with. What can you tell me about Innistrad?”
Narset held up a hand for quiet as Tamiyo brought an elaborately sculpted tea tray to the table. Held it there while green powder and hot water were measured into small cups decorated with tiny flowers, and one cup carefully handed to Esther, who took it in both hands and sniffed the steam that rose from it. It smelled like tea. It was much hotter than Esther usually drank tea, but both Tamiyo and Narset were watching her now, so she sipped and prayed she wouldn’t burn her tongue. It tasted greener and sharper than the tea she had learned to drink on Tarkir, and it left her feeling clean in ways she’d never really considered before.
“Welcome, master healer,” Tamiyo said finally, softly, after the tea had been drunk. “I don’t know that I can tell you what you need to know now. But I can prepare myself to do so.”
“I’ll be here when you’re ready, ma’am,” Esther reassured her. “That’s what I’m here for.”
Tamiyo nodded. She looked at Narset, and they had what looked to Esther like a silent conversation. Then Narset pushed back her chair and stood. “I will show you your room,” she said, and headed for the door. Esther got up, nodded to Tamiyo, and hurried after her.
“So what happened?” Esther asked as she followed Narset through a maze of corridors lit by tiny white spheres of spell-light, half her attention on a wayfinding spell Petrik had taught her.
What do you mean? Narset did not look back.
I mean I got to the library one day, and you weren’t there for my lesson. I asked around, and you were just...gone.
Ah, that. I had finished my work on Tarkir, and I gave in to the pull of the Multiverse.
Without saying goodbye?
Narset paused. Is that significant?
It damn well is! You were the only person who trusted me on that mountain! The other acolytes called me Nowhere Girl, because I couldn’t tell anyone where I came from, and the teachers never gave me any serious responsibilities. I was alone in the aerie, and it was so frustrating and depressing I begged Petrik to take me anywhere else the next time he showed up. Esther passed Narset in the hallway and turned to look her in the eye. “You abandoned me.”
Ah. Narset looked away and was quiet for a while. “It seems that I have done you great harm without knowing it.”
Esther reined in her anger. Movement for movement’s sake...that had been among Narset’s first lessons. “What do you mean, without knowing?”
“It is...difficult for me to think outside myself. Before I left Tarkir, I did not know it was a necessary skill. Working as equals with other planeswalkers has taught me a great deal, and I continue to learn.”
“I understand,” Esther said. To her surprise, it was true. “Empathy was difficult for me as a child.” Not only that, she realized; she would be lying if she said she had mastered empathy before the misadventures that had brought her to Tarkir. “I forgive you, as long as you keep in touch better from now on. Send me letters through Petrik.”
Narset considered. “Yes, I can do this. I promise to prevent you from believing that I have forgotten you.” She gestured to a door a little way down the hall. “Here is the room Tamiyo chose for you.”
“Thank you,” Esther said, and meant it about everything. “Would you mind coming by a little after sunrise so we can have breakfast together?”
“Yes,” Narset said, and smiled. “I will do this.”
Sleep did not come easily to Esther; the room was too big and too quiet without Zofia by her side. Eventually, Esther gave up on meditating and went for a walk, casting another wayfinding spell to guide her toward something soothing.
That something arrived at the end of a long hallway in the form of large double doors, carved with intricate scenes of what looked like local mythology. People of species Esther had never seen before fought towering monsters with swords and spells. Esther paused to study the carvings, but the wayfinder urged her on through them, so after a moment she pushed on one of the doors and it swung open.
The silence was even more profound beyond the doors. The spell-lights burned dimmer and bluer than in the hall, and Esther felt a vast open space in the shadows ahead of her. She thought her own light, a tiny white one, into existence over the palm of her left hand and held it above her head. The shadows it cast were of enormous bookshelves and scroll racks stretching into the uncertain distance.
The only larger library Esther had ever seen was in a university on Ravnica. She had not known it was possible for one person to own so many books. There must be something helpful here. The wayfinder led her on through the stacks, and vanished off to the left at the end of the row, replaced by soft blue spell-light.
Under the light was a low table covered by a cloth that fell to the floor on all sides. Tamiyo knelt on a cushion, studying a scroll spread out on the table and held open with other scrolls and books placed on the corners. Esther thought for a moment, then cleared her throat.
Tamiyo glanced up, and Esther was suddenly embarrassed. “Sorry, I couldn’t sleep.”
“Nor could I.” Esther thought she saw Tamiyo smile. “But perhaps this is the message from the world that I was waiting for. I should share my pain, and be open to healing, whether or not I am ready.”
“That’s not how this works.” At least not according to the Selesnyan healers Esther was accustomed to working with. “Healing happens when you’re ready for it. I won’t be able to help you until—“
“Then I shall make myself ready. Sit beside me.” Esther pulled up a cushion and sat cross-legged, resting her right elbow on the table. Tamiyo rolled the scroll shut and turned to face her. (Esther wondered how she had managed to stay kneeling for so long; that was one traditional Ojutai skill Narset had not managed to teach her.) “How do you begin?”
Esther gaped, caught off-guard for a moment by the question, then found her footing again and wrestled herself into consultation mode. “Um. Well, if you’re comfortable telling me about your situation, let’s start there. If not, I can, with your consent, look at your memories and help you figure out where we need to focus.”
“I can tell you what it is.” Tamiyo picked up one of the books on the table and began flipping through it. “I spent several years on the plane of Innistrad, researching the effects of its lunar cycle on its inhabitants. Innistrad’s moon is made of a unique metal that focuses mana, and sensitive individuals find themselves transformed into dangerous creatures on a cycle corresponding to the lunar phases.”
Esther nodded. Maybe Tamiyo had discovered something unsettling in her research? But there was no hurrying a patient who had decided to open up. Any unpleasant surprise could send them into retreat.
“Over the last few months, the nature of the transformations itself began to change. Creatures that had previously been pacified by the plane’s angels became more violent. The angels who had protected Innistrad’s humans for centuries began murdering them en masse. Strange pointed stones sprouted from the landscape, redirecting the plane’s mana flow toward one particular coastal village, and even the ocean’s tides shifted, as if there were suddenly a second moon.”
Tamiyo laid her book on the table and pointed to a sketch that covered a whole page. A monster towered over a village, its mushroom-cap head maybe reaching higher than the tallest spires of Ravnica, long tentacles lost in the distance. Below it, humans and beasts fought things that appeared to be made of more tentacles and fungus. Esther caught herself wondering if those things had once been human and suppressed that thought with a shudder.
“Precisely,” Tamiyo said. “This is Emrakul, an Eldrazi titan, a warper and devourer of planes. Lured to Innistrad by a planeswalker with a grudge, she began to remake the plane in her own image. I found myself with no choice but to intervene, alongside Jace Beleren and the planeswalkers of the Gatewatch.”
Jace Beleren, absentee embodiment of Ravnica’s Guildpact, was a planeswalker? “Excuse me?” Esther asked.
“Indeed.” Tamiyo misunderstood the question. “Maintaining the integrity of one’s research is difficult when its subject is in danger of destruction.” She attempted a stiff smile. It didn’t last. “Emrakul overpowered us. I…she…” She trailed off, avoiding Esther’s eyes.
Esther had counseled survivors of rape before, and of memory theft. Gateless folk, whom the laws that ostensibly protected all Ravnicans were unable or unwilling to avenge. As awful as it felt to even think it, this was familiar territory. She held her hands out, palm up to show she meant no harm. “We don’t have to go on if it’s too much right now. We can come back to this when—“
“No,” Tamiyo interrupted. “I need to finish this.” She looked up, tear tracks shining on her face. “Emrakul forced me to cast a spell I had vowed never to cast. She used it—she used me —to seal herself into Innistrad’s moon.”
And just as suddenly, Esther was out of her depth again. At least on Ravnica, she could report rapists to Deputy Lavinia and see justice done. But—deep breath—justice was not ultimately what she was here for. “I feel your pain,” she said. “And I’m here for you.”
“Thank you,” Tamiyo whispered. “What happens now?”
Esther shrugged. “Now I give you a hug, if you want one.” Tamiyo nodded, all of her regular composure gone, and collapsed sobbing against Esther like a puppet with cut strings.
“It’s all right,” Esther whispered, holding her tight. “You’ve held yourself together for a long time, and sometimes you just need to let go. That’s how we start healing.” She wondered wryly whether she should take her own advice with regard to Gideon, and filed the thought away to ask Zofia when she got home.
Esther began to take deep, even breaths, and eventually Tamiyo’s sobbing subsided and her breathing slowed to match Esther’s. Esther let her go, and she sat up and fished a handkerchief from some pocket deep in her robe.
“I’m sorry,” Tamiyo said. “I should go to bed.”
“Don’t be sorry.” Esther pulled the wet spot on her shirt away from her skin. “This is exactly what I’m here for. Tamiyo, you’ve taken an important step tonight, and we should celebrate that progress.”
“In the morning, perhaps.” Tamiyo’s professional detachment had returned. “Will you join me for meditation after breakfast?”
“Of course,” Esther said, silently casting a wayfinder that would lead her back to her own room. “Let me know if you have nightmares. I can help with those too.”