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Stargazing

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"Come along."

For the past two hours, Cora had been troubled by these words. She had been caught up in the command of a naive priest, and was forced to stop working on the star charts she'd been painstakingly editing in order to follow him, as required by her new geas.

During this time, she'd heard what she deemed as entirely too much of his life story: He was to be addressed as Brother Edan Lares, a Nobleman, born outside the bounds of the city of Cresley. He had been left in the care of the Cresselian Church as a child, and brought up with a duty of care toward all life within the Dusk.

Apparently that duty of care did not involve being mindful of one's words.

It didn't help that upon realizing that a Priest was in town, a select number of Eleosa's residents began to ardently follow him as well. Some carried along potted pyreflowers, seeking an opportunity to ask the priest to relocate them in the forest or field nearby. Others simply wanted blessings (some had been secretly hoping for a miracle), as it was well-known that some priests could work magic through their most devout followers.
There were even a few who set private appointments with him, in order to arrange for absolution.

As the day wore on, the crowd dissipated, and Cora was left alone with the priest. Her heart started to race as she realized Edan wasn't going to release her -- and the Command had not yet seemed to have expired. What was he planning…?

Almost as if on cue, the priest turned to Cora, and tilted his head slightly. He seemed confused, but cordial.  "Tell me, what is your name?"


"Cora Orent."

"Cora, is there a matter with which I may assist you?" he asked politely. "While I do endeavour to help as many in the Dusk as possible, I admit, I am not accustomed to helping those who do not tell me their problems."

The priest didn't seem to know that he'd essentially been dragging Cora along with him.

While it was likely that this Nobleman was exactly as he seemed, it was impossible to suppress the anxiety that rose in her chest. She had heard stories of cities where Kings captured any and all Magicians who wandered into town, regardless of whether or not they were bound to another's command. These Magicians, she had been warned, were often treated unkindly. Once you left the security of Eleosa, you could be lost forever.

It was hard not to think about the potential worst case scenarios. Everything Cora knew about Noblemen painted them as gravely apathetic, or monsters who felt nothing for the Magicians they exploited, hurt, and eventually killed.

Cora took a breath to steady herself and shook her head. "I need... I simply seek to take your leave, Brother Edan."

"Ah," he responded, bowing his head slightly, "May the wind guide you and keep you well."

Cora did not leave. Edan looked up, confused. "Why are you not--"

"I need you to actually say the words," Cora blurted out.

Edan studied her face carefully, confused as to why the customary farewell was not sufficient. As his eyes met hers, he spotted the glowing teal ring that rested within her grey eyes. He blanched as he realized what had occurred.

"I- I rescind any commands I may have issued. I didn't realize..."

Cora didn't wait to hear his entire apology, and instead fled back to her home.

 


 

Tired as she was from following around a priest all day, Cora still had enough energy to drag a large trunk with her to an empty field, just an hour before darkness was to set across the Dusk. Within it was her telescope as well as instruments for measuring distance between the smaller lights that would appear in the sky during the Dark Hour. Today's eclipse was projected to be Shadow's Hour - the day when Ombre was closest to the Dusk and therefore blocked out more light from the Sun - making it perfect for observing the stars.

While she checked to make sure the focus on her telescope was correct, she took the opportunity to glance at Ombre, making note of a mysterious new spot that seemed to have appeared on the Moon's surface. The sky seemed so unchanging from the Dusk, but there were always new things she noticed upon closer examination.

Her reverie was interrupted by a started "Oh!" - causing her to jump slightly.

Cora glanced behind her only to see Brother Edan, holding a small spyglass. He offered a wide smile before he walked over and sat near her. "I take it you're also here to see the stars?"

She pretended to adjust her telescope again in order to avoid making eye contact with Edan. "Yes," she stated plainly, hoping he would lose interest in conversation with her. It had, after all, been only a few hours since their earlier meeting - and she was unsure of whether or not she wished to trust him. There were, of course, many Noblemen in the world who held the appearance of goodness, but very few of them actually were.

They both fell silent as Cora continued to fidget with her telescope, readjusting the focus. Edan glanced through his spyglass at Ombre, trying to occupy himself until the Dark fell upon them.


It only took a moment for Cora's eyes to adjust to the lack of light, after Ombre's transit into the sun's path. Specks of light and fuzzy shapes became clearly visible to her through the telescope, and she excitedly began to scribble notes that she would have to decipher later. The sky had caused her to very nearly forget about her undesired companion, who was also happily making his own observations.

"Do you think the stars have Daemons?" Edan asked in hushed awe, as he peered at the specks of light in the sky. "They seem awful high up… They must be as lonely as the Gale if they do."

Cora looked up from her telescope and stifled a laugh at Edan's query. "I think we'd have heard of it if they did, but maybe it's the Daemons' greatest secret," She looked back into the instrument and started to measure the space between two stars. "Besides, not all of them are stars! Some are other things, like… marbles, stuck up there."

"What do you mean? They all look like they're giving off starlight from here."

"That's because you're using a spyglass. They're not meant for stargazing, you know," Cora hesitated a moment, and looked at Edan, as if sizing him up. After a brief moment, she motioned to the telescope, the teal aura around her eyes glowing brightly in warning. "Here. Take a glance, and you'll see what I mean."

Edan smiled at her again and thanked her as he took a look through the device. He stared into it for a full moment before letting out a gasp and uttered a distinctly un-priestly expletive. "Saint Baldwin's rocks, are those other moons?"

"Maybe…? They only show up during the Shadow's Hour." Cora knew there was likely more research about them, but Eleosa had only a small library, and very few books on astronomy.

"Fascinating," Edan whispered.


Light swept across the field again, as Ombre moved out of the way of the sun. Cora knew this meant it was time to pack up and go home to sleep, but she was surprised to find that she was enjoying discussing the skies.

"Let me help you pack," Edan offered. As the command took hold of Cora, forcing her to stop and wait for his assistance, the priest paused to reconsider his words. "I take that back - would you like help?"

"No, thank you," Cora responded, feeling anger rise in her. A priest such as Edan should never be so careless with his words. He seemed perfectly nice, but thoughtlessness could be worse than outright cruelty.

 


 

Cora was unsurprised to find Edan in the field at the end of the next day. He seemed to have a small cart with him, filled with the pyreflowers he'd been charged with by the townsfolk. Several of them were native to the area, and would thrive when allowed to grow freely.

She watched him carefully handle each plant, whispering small statements of encouragement to each as he rehomed them in the earth. "You'll grow strong and bloom brightly," he told one; another he'd advised that it should take care not to root too deep, as it would disrupt its brethren.

"You'll need a Magician if you want them to listen to you, Brother," Cora advised, walking over to Edan's cart. "Or else they'll do whatever they want."

Edan shrugged. "I can hope, can't I? I'm sure they'll grow well enough with their own time, especially as they spent half the day telling me exactly what sort of conditions they wished for."

A silence fell between them again, as the priest finally put his trowel down. He was done planting for the moment.

"Are you staying for the Dark Hour?" he asked, looking to Cora.

"You're the one in MY field. I should be asking you that!" Cora knew full well that the choice as to whether either one of them would stay or go was not up to her. "But if YOU are planning to stay, we should set down some rules, first."

Edan raised an eyebrow.

"First: If you command me again without my consent, I will pinch you. Hard," Cora tried to sound as grave as possible. "Second: Rescinding the command immediately will not exempt you from this penalty. If you agree to these two rules, you may not only join me tonight, but for any other night I am stargazing."

It took a moment for Edan to fully comprehend what Cora was saying - but a wide grin crossed his face as soon as it sunk in. "Does this mean we're friends?"

Cora rolled her eyes. "If only because of the stars."


The next day, they repeated their meeting in the same field, at the same time. Edan was far more mindful with his wording, after realizing that pinches from Cora meant painful bruises on his upper arms.

They were lucky enough to be able to spot two shooting stars as they laid in the grass- one of which appeared to fall in the direction of the Galelands.

"Perhaps it needed a friend," Edan posited with a chuckle. "Do you think they fall willingly?"

Cora looked over toward him. "Maybe… Maybe not. Could you imagine, that distant moon coming down to the Dusk? It must be very far away to seem so small..."

Edan nodded in agreement. "Next time I'm in town, I'll bring books so we can research the matter together. I'll bet one of the libraries in one of the Great City-States like Cymaria has an answer."

"Next time?" Cora was surprised to hear Edan speak as if he was leaving. She sat up and stared in disbelief. "What do you mean, next time?"

"I'm leaving around midday tomorrow," Edan stated plainly. "I need to complete my pilgrimage through the Dusk and return to Cresley within a year.  ...I would be honored if you'd consider joining me along my journey, though."

"I… I can't." Cora fell silent and turned away from Edan. Leaving her town? The thought of truly leaving Eleosa behind made it hard for her to breathe. She would surely be found and Obligated to serve someone she would find intolerable, and then… Then…

She didn't want him to see the tears that had started to well in her eyes. The thought of going with him was tempting - after only a few hours of observing the stars, she'd come to enjoy his company… Why should it hurt so much to have a new friend leave? She'd feared and wanted to hate him just two days ago. This reaction was unreasonable - but that conflict made her heart ache even more.

Edan gently put a hand on her shoulder. "I promise I'll come back next year," he said, "and we can watch the stars together, then."

Cora took in a deep breath to steady her nerves before she spoke again. "Command me to make the best damn telescope I can for next year."


Edan obliged.