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The Edge of Forever

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I decided to include some things you might like to know before reading. It contains very mild spoilers that will be expanded upon within the first few chapters in case you’d rather find out as you go along.

The Edge of Forever begins at a time before the founding of Arlathan in a region that we would think of as modern-day Rivain. We’re starting out in what could be considered Thedas’s version of our own late-stage, Neolithic Stone-Age period with a few key differences due to the presence of magic. This story supports the concept that the entire Elvhen race were originally spirits or descended from them.  This will also be an attempted, more realistic telling of canon events. There will be quite a bit of world-building and expansion.

The protagonist is not aware of the world of Thedas beforehand. She doesn’t have future-knowledge of any of the events or characters of the series. She only has her past experiences and memories from Earth at her disposal.     

As can be inferred so far, it’s going be quite some time before we get to the canon events of the books and games. I considered doing this through flashbacks alone, but the events that occur and the relationships that are created during the age of the Elvhen are far too relevant to the protagonist’s development to reduce them to that. She has a lot of life to live before reaching the Dragon Age.

Warnings: Non-explicit rape, Suicide Ideation/Contemplation, Canon Divergence. Most of the pivotal events will still occur, but there will definitely be alterations. 


On a lighter note, this story idea was prompted by a multitude of reasons. A strong desire to see a healthier, more fleshed-out relationship dynamic with Solas than what we were given with Solavellan. A strong desire to add a bit of color to the image we have of the empire of Elvhenan. A strong desire to see ancient Elvhen have dance battles (Yes, you read that right lol. No, I’m not sorry at all.)

Granted, this idea has kind of gotten away from me and snowballed into something way larger, more serious, and more epic than I ever intended. It started out as a cute, little, funny concept to contemplate when trying to fall asleep or listening to music and grew from there over the last two years. It has evolved so far beyond the simple romance fic with occasional dance numbers it started out as, but I love what it has become and I hope you will too!

As for an update schedule, it's basically whenever my schedule allows me to write. I'm finishing up a degree at the moment, so it won't be the fastest, but I have the story outlined from beginning to end and the pace of updates should pick up as I go along. 

So, without further ado: Shall we begin?

Chapter Text

Teraeva remembers very clearly her life Before.

She remembers it all as though it is etched in stone within her mind, forming the very foundations of her soul.

She also remembers the time that came after. That “space between” her two existences.

She is not aware of the specifics of her death though – if she were to guess - it was most likely by fire.

Perhaps she is lucky, she had always wanted to be cremated.

Tension had arisen amongst country after country, each harboring weapons capable of mass destruction; power that should never have been wielded by mortal hands. Natural disaster after natural disaster steadily destroying the populations that were not monetarily fortunate enough to evacuate to safety.

Mutually assured destruction had kept them safe for at least a few decades, but stalemates of that nature could only last so long before one side succumbed to pride or recklessness.

She recalls the fear.

People running, screaming about the end of time. About a god's divine justice come to destroy them all through fire and blood as was foretold by some holy script in an ancient tome. However, she sees no divinity in the chaos that erupted. Just carnage and death of the faithful and faithless alike at the hands of greedy, selfish, heedless leaders with too much power at their disposal. Just a planet roiling in rebellion to its mistreatment and attempting to rid itself of the festering virus of homo-sapiens once and for all.

Perhaps she is fortunate that she does not remember the gritty details of whatever bloody end met her kind.

As it is, she wonders if any of their religions got it right. She does not believe that what she experienced after death could be attributed to any of the belief systems she had been exposed to. This certainly was not any sort of heaven she had heard of. Neither did it feel like eternal damnation.

The best word she could use to describe the time between her previous existence and this one is: free. Something she remembers well from Before held a constant, ever-present of claustrophobia. Not necessarily just from existing within a physical body, the claustrophobia manifested from the expectations that pressed on her and others due to having a finite existence. Natural bouts of existentialism.

She previously lamented that her way of life had always been a snail's pace in comparison to others. Even so, the flow of time and pressures of daily life bore down on her as with the rest of her kin. Not a unique experience. The clock of her life ticking endlessly in the back of her head pushing her to action. Perhaps it was exceedingly stressful because of her modest beginnings, or maybe it was due to her youth, but she mostly remembers a feeling of discontent with the pace that life was expected to be lived. There was no time or freedom to simply be. Never enough time for peace and introspection.

Until then. Until time in the space between.

She had felt rage when she resided in that state of oblivion. Indignation at being robbed of her life.

Regardless of the pressure of existence, she had dreams and was working towards them. How dare they take her future from her? Even though the toll was exhausting and frustrating, there were so many things she wanted to accomplish. So many things she wanted to experience. She may not have led the most exciting life, but there were countless activities she enjoyed. People she loves and wanted to spend years with. Her few dear, precious friends. Her family...

Her mind stuttered at the thought them. Of her parents. Her desperately hard-working mother and father who put forth all their effort and endured endless nights of hard work to provide for her and her brother. Who left the lush Caribbean Blue Mountains, serene tropics, and warm island breezes for the cold, indifferent, unforgiving cities built of metal and steel. All in the hopes of building something better and grander for their progeny.

They must have died in the initial blast as well, and without a payoff to their hard work. Her parents did not deserve such a barbaric ending to their lives. She can only hope they went as quickly as she apparently did.

The grief at losing everyone and everything she loved ripped across her mind suddenly and sharply, so much so that she found herself wanting to scream. No sound came forth for she had no mouth with which to utter it. She had churned in sorrow and there was no reprieve from the sadness.

Trying to comprehend the extent of the loss proves a nearly insurmountable task.

An entire world... gone. Perhaps she is jumping to conclusions, but her country was not the type to sit back and simply let others destroy them with no recourse. Since they were attacked, she can only assume their leadership decided to take the others down with them. The other countries probably followed in destruction due to the domino effect of alliances and trade. Whole civilizations destroyed. Cultures gone forever. She finds herself having a difficult time coming to terms with these facts, even now.

Earth. Humanity. They built so much and created so many things and this is what it all amounted to in the end. What was the point if in the end, they just ended up destroying themselves? She supposes that she should not feel so surprised. Humans had certainly contemplated the possibility in enough literature and pop culture but, either through arrogance or humility, she had never expected to see The End in her lifetime.

Teraeva does not know how long she spent grieving the loss. Weeks, months, years? She cannot say. She was unable to measure time wherever it is that she was.

However much later, she calmed herself and looked around.

The place that she resided was in complete darkness. In the space between, she possessed no eyes to see nor ears to hear. Her own consciousness being her only companion.

Her... soul had felt spread out, for lack of a better way of describing it. Shattered.

Even now, in the aftermath, she has no concept of how long it had been, but as time marched on she’d felt herself coming together again. Her thoughts, previously fragmented and separated, became streamlined once more. She began to feel the parts of her fractured consciousness culminating.

Teraeva could feel no other presence around her which struck her as a bit odd. Surely there would be more than just her in any type of afterlife. Perhaps everyone is isolated too in their own personal negative space filled with silence and perpetual darkness.

With her soul getting closer and closer to existing as one again, she slowly became more aware of the surroundings. With time, she’d somehow become able to see and hear again, but there was simply nothing to take in. A void of existence encompassed her and she was simultaneously intrigued and afraid. Like any other person, during the time Before she had questioned the possibility of an afterlife.

The fact that she can recall anything from her life Before is extraordinary. That her conscious mind survived beyond her death is astounding, but this existence beyond the previous one fascinated her even more.

However, she recalls her fear of the length of her stay within that lonesome place. Scared of how unknown everything was. With a structured consciousness, she feared how long she would remain sane with no stimulus outside of this void where she resided.  

Teraeva had commanded herself to be calm and rest, her soul eventually drifted into something akin to sleep, a vague state of unconsciousness, for an immeasurable amount of time.

She abruptly awakened sometime later to a pulling sensation on her soul. She realized that while she slept her conscious mind realigned completely. Her thoughts felt whole again, she was whole again or as much as she could be while dwelling in this location.

Wherever it was that she’d been residing felt as though it was pushing her out. She initially fought the sensation. Despite her fear of remaining in such a desolate, dark place, she had no idea where the universe meant to drop her next. However, she eventually tired too much to continue struggling against the force and felt herself soaring.

She remembers the sights she was bombarded with. Things she can scarcely comprehend in hindsight. Lights and colors that she could not have imagined existing. She was moving so rapidly that the views were coming to her in flashes. Her journey continued on and on, she had soared through the cosmos for what seemed to be ages, until she saw green. A bright, vivid green.

And then... nothing.

Until she took her first gasping breath into a new world.

A babe, once more.

Her conscious mind was understandably muddled during her time as an infant so she has no memories of then. Her brain not yet developed enough to carry the weight of her knowledge and intelligence. As the years passed and she graduated from infant to toddler to small child, it was as though she slowly reawakened and all the pieces came together again, just as it did before when she resided in the space between after-death and now.

She has been born to a village. Judging by the surrounding foliage, the sunny climate, and dark complexion of the residents, she would guess that it is a peninsula or island in some type of tropical region. The place brings a sense of belonging. It reminds her of her parents’ homeland that they would so often visit. A small gift of familiarity in a world so strange and new.

The cool breeze and ocean mist carried in the wind often offer a reprieve from the hot sun and it can be felt even far from the coast where the village is nestled amidst the lush mountains. Elaborate homes and cabins are made from hollowed-out trees and plants. The branches twist far up into the sky, to form dwellings multiple stories tall. The people are few but they are peaceful, kind, and intelligent.

As lovely as this place is, she misses her world.  Misses everything. Her family. The places, the people, the food, hobbies, culture, movies, shows, music. What is life without music? Without dancing? She even misses things she’d never enjoyed. Things she never even noticed. Like even the simple feeling of shoes.

They are unheard of here. They have straps that wrap around the heels of their feet that tie into the rest of their clothing but, for the most part, they seem to prefer feeling the thrumming of the earth beneath them.

She uses deer hide and takes time to fashion it into sandals just to have that simple feeling of shoes back. Like she’s herself again. The villagers don’t understand it, but they don’t bother her about it either.

Everything is just so different. More often than not, homesickness is too much to handle. The vastness of the loss too difficult to comprehend. Her grief tends to overtake her when she least expects it and the silence becomes too much to bear at times. She’ll just hum and sing and dance throughout the day and sometimes she can forget that she will never return home again.

Teraeva expects the villagers to look at her as though she’s insane – she’s singing in a completely unknown language that no one has taught her - but most just listen, quiet and curious.

It would be easy for her to assume that she has simply been reincarnated to another time and place on earth. Too easy to hope that life found a way even after such devastation and destruction, if not for her and everyone inhabiting the village sporting pointed ears. Not to mention the otherworldly glow of mana underneath the irises of all eyes. They remind her of elves that were prevalent in fantasy books she used to read all throughout her previous life.

She supposes that could be easily explained by some sort of strange alternate evolutionary trait or maybe a mutation caused in the aftermath of humanity being exposed to such high levels of radiation. However, there are a few key differences between Earth and this strange place. Aspects which she cannot ignore or explain.

The atmosphere of this world is strange and beautiful. Tendrils of iridescent, transparent color sift through the air. She doesn’t know what they are made of. She cannot feel or touch it. When she reaches her hand out, it disperses like smoke or steam. The plants glow in a way she's never seen before, leaves glittering under sunlight and shining neon under the moon. The fibrous veins of them radiating bright greens, deep purples, brilliant blues.

At night, the sky looks unreal. All the stars are visible and the multicolored aurora makes for an incredibly beautiful view. There is certainly no city close by for the night sky to be so clear. The earth thrums with energy she’d never felt in her first life.

She cannot tell the passage of time outside of the rising and setting of the sun. The time between sunlight and night seem longer than they were on Earth, but that could just be because she does not have much to occupy herself with.

At first, Teraeva counted the days.

One day, then ten days, then a hundred, five hundred, a thousand. Soon enough, she loses track and figures that counting them doesn’t even truly matter much anymore.

She does not know her own age and is quite certain that no one here could tell her what their own is either outside of a relative guess in comparison to someone else’s or some kind of past event. They treat time as though it is immaterial. A non-factor. Completely unimportant.

Time moves very strangely here in that no one seems to have much of a concept of it at all. Certainly they have notions of things like “tomorrow”, "yesterday", and “seven days ago”, but the way they measure time in larger units is vague and undefined. They mostly only pay attention to the seasons and chart the stars. The constellations are what provides a general guideline for them. There are no exact dates. They do not count months or years.

It’s one of the most disorienting aspects of this new world.

The reason for their disregard of time is probably due to time not touching them at all.

Something that took her a while to notice is that there are no elderly in this place. There are babies and children, but all the adults look relatively similar in age. There are esteemed elders in their community, sought out for their wisdom and understanding, yet none of them seem physically close to even a middle age bracket. If she were to guess that any of them were older than thirty, it would be because of the way that carry themselves and their personality or aura rather than their physical looks which stubbornly remain youthful. They seem to reach a peak and then it just stagnates.

At first, she had been alarmed and thought that all people here must die before their elder years or perhaps they cast the older adults and elderly out to perish. However, as time waxed on, it showed her that these people simply weren’t aging or, if they are even aging at all, it was so slowly that it could not be observed. In fact, she feels as though she’s been a child for ages.

She considers that it's entirely possible that she has already outlived her initial quarter-century lifetime without realizing it, but would rather not think about it.

Of all these strange features found in this new world, the most damning, unexplainable one is the phenomenon of magic – real, actual magic - that abounds and inhabits every aspect of life.

Teraeva had witnessed its existence all throughout infancy, so when her conscious mind had finally fully awakened and she’d realized the gravity of what she had seen, it was mind-boggling. Astounding to one such as herself who had never entertained the possibility that it could exist outside of fairy tales or fantasy.

An entire world bound by a completely different law of physics than the one she had known.

And the people of the village command it with such ease. Performing feats with it that would have taken heavy and complex machinery to accomplish on Earth. Children, younger than her, are able to perform small, simple spells. Something she has found difficulty with.

For some reason, her mind initially has extreme issues wrapping around the concept. Creating something out of nothing is just too far of a leap for her.

Logically, Teraeva knows it does indeed come from something. It manifests from the strange energy that sings under her skin and thrums in her veins. The same energy that runs through the earth and glows in the plants and the trees.

When she’d asked one of the elders what it was, his reply was: “It is life, little one.”

The rivaling phenomenon which ties into the existence of magic is the simultaneous existence of spirits.

There are several intermingled with the populace. They come and go without issue. Some linger longer and seem to enjoy communing amongst the residents. The villagers treat them as fellow people. Some they befriend, some are not welcome. They are taken on a case by case basis just as anyone else. Understandable, considering they are essentially the same race.

So the origin story goes, her people actually come from them. Supposedly, the People were originally spirits who dwelled so long in the mortal realm and loved it so dearly that their otherworldly bodies slowly evolved to match their environment. As they insisted upon dwelling in the physical world, so did their ethereal forms follow suit.  

Teraeva learns that there are several pockets of the People that exist in various regions of the world. Her village is simply a group that preferred to explore and settle in a more tropical region of the continent. There are other villages of people that started life in the deserts, forests, or tundra of the west and south instead. Some even ventured outside of the continent to explore elsewhere.

According to the elders who are themselves – as well as the vast majority of the adults - spirits made flesh, their bodies act as more of a mimicry, an imitation of flesh and blood that becomes more legitimate with time. It is the primary reason why she and her people do not wither and die. Death is rare and difficult to occur, but it is possible, as evidenced by her mother who somehow died in childbirth. However, it will never be through old age or breakdown of the physical body.  

She learns that even though her - and most others’ in the village - body is indeed physical, there will always be a fundamental spiritual element to their existence since their physical bodies are constructs made almost entirely of fade-stuff. “You will always be more spirit than flesh,” the elders tell her. She thinks she understands what they mean. Sometimes her body almost doesn’t feel solid, as though she could float away into a wisp of energy if she willed herself to.

Teraeva assumes that this is the reason for the rapid rate of flesh regeneration after injury as well. Wounds heal incredibly quickly in this world. Faster than she’d ever thought possible in her previous life. It’s an understandable feature if their bodies aren’t completely grounded in the physical plane. Same with her being able to go long stretches of time without eating or sleeping. Her "physical" body barely has any demands to sustain it.

Her people’s origins also explains their affinity for magic - or “Fade manipulation” as her instructors correct her before bemoaning that she’s “speaking in that gibberish language again.”

There are said to be many more spirits that they do not know of who exist deep in the far reaches of “the Fade” and that probably only a fourth of them find the physical world interesting enough to dwell here. Most spirits find it frustrating and confusing because tangible items don’t bend to their will as easily, so they remain deeply entrenched in their own realm and far away from the physical one.

There are a select few - said to be even older than the village elders and rumored to be incredibly powerful from their sheer age and intrinsic ties to the fabric of the world - who visit and bring understanding from the Fade. Ancient nature spirits manifested from the energy of the very planet itself and suspected to be as old as the planet as well. She hasn’t learned much about them yet, but they are respected by most due to their perceived strength and wisdom.

They tell her of a spirit born of the energy of the sun and earth who taught the People the power of Vengeance. Another birthed from the energy of the earth and sea who brought the People Love and Justice and created the moon. As they are kindred spirits – Justice and Vengeance, two sides of the same coin – so did they join and two more kindred twin beings were born in their image. One embodies death and the other personified knowledge. 

They are received as most venerated guests when they come, although the last time they visited this particular village was long before her birth.

When she pesters one of the elders for answers about what existence as a spirit was like before gaining a physical body, he looks at her for a long while like she should already know the answer to that question, then he tells her to ask her uncle.

It’s almost sad how long it took her to realize who he was talking about. Right, her uncle. Of course. And here she was thinking the man was her father her entire life. Whoops.

Teraeva hadn’t known he was one of the spirits who took on bodies. But then, of course she wouldn’t have since they are not particularly close. If he’s her mother’s “brother” then that must mean her mother was originally a spirit as well.

Her parentage in this life is certainly a different dynamic than the first. She’s used to having both parents present in her life. They were far from perfect at their roles but she’d loved them. But, now… As horrible as it sounds, she’s almost grateful for the absence of a mother and father in this life. No one could replace her actual parents.

In this new existence, her mother is a mystery to her. She knows that she is the woman’s one and only child. Her death is considered an abnormal occurrence. Apparently, passing away due to the strain of childbirth is unheard of here. It would be difficult to believe that if not for the behavior of her mother’s closest friends who were present for the birth.

They avoid her like the plague. She can see the fear in their eyes when they look at her but can’t understand she – obviously an infant at the time - gave them that night to be so afraid. From the small bits she’s heard from accidentally walking into a few private conversations - which cut off as soon as they became aware of her presence - they truly blame her for her mother’s death. She’s heard herself being referred to as “wicked” and “dreadful” more than once from them.

Teraeva concludes that they are simply unused to the idea of death caused by physical strain or injury. Probably not used to facing the concept of mortality very often at all, but for it to be caused by something as common as childbirth? This anomaly has shaken them a great deal.

Nevertheless, she is grateful that, despite their personal misgivings, they have kept their disdain to themselves. Proven since the other villagers treat her like any other child.

If anyone were to ask, what most she knows of her mother is that, facially, she looks like the woman’s doppelganger.

“You could have been her twin for all that you bear her face, but your looks are where the resemblance ends,” is what Elderman Gethrion told her when she’d asked. The fact is somewhat disturbing since Teraeva could have sworn her face looks exactly the same as it had in her life before. Same imperfections there as well. Even down to the dimples and the sparse, tiny, flat moles splashed across her skin.

By all accounts, her mother had been a woman with a perpetually serious expression, reddish-brown skin, dark eyes, and a long, wild, dark-auburn mane full of tight curls.

However, for all that she supposedly shares a physical resemblance with her mother, she has inherited none of her severe countenance.

In personality, she supposes she bears a likeness to her fath- uncle and shares his reportedly former playful disposition. He is a tall man but, from what she's observed, tallness is a fairly average trait here. Nevertheless, it seems she will be tall in this life as well as the last.

Again she ponders on the physical similarities from both lives. Something nags at her that it can’t possibly be mere coincidence, but she pushes the thought aside. Perhaps it’s some unknown rule of the universe to occupy a similar space when transferred to another reality. She hasn’t the first clue. Save for the pointed ears and new, inherited red shade of hair that’s replaced her previous glossy black, everything else has remained the same. She resents even those small changes however, another reminder of what she’s lost and that nothing is the same nor will it ever be again. There's nothing she can do about her ears short of maiming herself but she’s strongly tempted to dye her hair whenever she finds the means to do so.

On the subject of her fa- uncle, the way he looks at her sometimes … it’s that familiar glint that she has seen in the midwives’ eyes. She knows that he is wary but she doesn’t sense any of the animosity or terror that she feels from the women. More sadness and confusion than anything.

Sometimes she wonders if he knows the truth of her, where she comes from and who she is. However, he never asks any questions about her strange behavior and random, infrequent use of a strange language. For the most part, he just doesn’t seem to know what to do with her and leaves her be.

Teraeva is often left to her own devices and has found ways to occupy her time. She ventures out to the far edges of the land and has fled the village many times in the middle of the night. Taken herself to the coast and found the shallow waters that led to the mainland. The light from the bright moons and stars guides her path.

A few animals keep her company on those lonely nights. There was a fox trailing her on one of her little ventures and she made the mistake of bringing food with her on the next trip. Needless to say, the fox is often scampering after her now.

Teraeva doesn’t mind much. She hasn’t made many friends yet in the village due to her tendency towards solitude in the aftermath of losing everything, so she enjoys the company.

Something keeps her from venturing any farther than the lush tropical forests on the edge of the mainland. She thinks she senses… something when she goes too far and always turns back before sating her curiosity.

Her uncle knows about her little expeditions. She thought she was being stealthy, but when she feigns ignorance about a particular location she frequents, his knowing, raised brow confirms that he’s aware of her outings. Still, he doesn’t reprimand her or deny her these excursions. He does, however, warn her to not travel too far inland. She intends to ask him why before she realizes that she’s afraid of the answer.

She has heard that her uncle is quieter now after her mother’s death. According to those she asks, he had been a cheerful, lively man previously. A wily fellow whose mouth was known to constantly hold a quirk at the edge, like it was waiting to be drawn into a broad grin.

She can’t fathom him being as good-humored and merry as they describe him. However, sometimes, when she watches him from afar and sees him interacting with the villagers, she imagines that she can see a bit of that brightness in his eyes.

When she needs guidance or has a question, she doesn’t fear approaching him. For all that his merriment has perished along with his sister, he remains a gentle man. Even so, she tries not to bother him too much, seeks revelation elsewhere if possible, and leaves him to his work.

He is the leader of their parish. Were she still on Earth, she would have claimed that he was a “shaman”, although he does more than just associate with spirits and give guidance. He is incredibly adept at manipulating the Fade – as to be expected of a former spirit - and learning under his tutelage is considered an honor.

He commands their people, leads gatherings, manages the hunts, approves and offers counsel to bondmate pairings, helps to heal their sick, places protective spells on newborns. He is a pivotal figure, entrenched in most aspects of village life. “Chieftain” would also be an accurate term for him, however, the People just call him “Keeper.”

A while ago he began his attempt at teaching her magic. For a man who is so well-versed in the arcane arts, she figures that she must be quite the letdown of a niece.

Her complete inability to grasp even basic concepts that he tries to make her learn is frustrating and demotivating. She excels in everything else they try teaching her. Even so, her lack of aptitude in magic means the villagers view her as a bit of a dunce.

Teraeva somewhat understands their assumption since even babies are able to weave spells that she just can’t seem to manage. They’re not particularly cruel about it, but the condescension and those “poor unfortunate child” and “silly rabbit” expressions do get a bit taxing at times.

At first, she’d had an instructor teaching her magic but, after a rather tiny mishap in which she may have, possibly, kind of, perhaps burned down the woman’s house (just a little bit), her uncle decided to take on her instruction personally.

In her opinion, the incident wasn’t even all that bad. Of course, most of the walls were gone and the tree it was settled in was nearly irreparably damaged, but there was at least half of a wall left standing and the woman still had a foundation to rebuild on, so it’s not like Teraeva destroyed everything.

The point is, she’d actually managed to create a spark of fire for the very first time, so it could be considered an incredible success story if one truly thinks about it properly.

Anyway, since her uncle has taken on her training, she has had more of a chance to spend time with him, more so than any other time in the past. They practice their lessons out along the beach on the sand. He is patient with her for a time, but she understands his exasperation when it comes. No matter how many times he directs her, she achieves no results.

She doesn’t know what she needs to do to change it. Technically, there’s nothing wrong with her. He has examined her and the magic is there, thrumming in her muscles, pulsing in her veins and bones. She’s connected to the Fade, has visited it every time she dreams, and she can feel the magic inside her, in the earth, in others, she just can’t figure out what to do with it. She understands the theory behind how it’s supposed to work, but when she tries to put it into practice, she still can’t manipulate any of the energy.

After some time, she realizes that understanding the theoretical portion of it isn’t actually the problem since toddlers and children are able to do it innately, it’s like her body won’t allow her to do it. She feels like she’s missing something. As though there’s a brick wall between her and her goal. She despises feeling stupid, so this puzzle is endlessly frustrating.

“What did you feel when you created the fire that burned down Liariel’s cabin?” her uncle asks one morning after a particularly grueling, fruitless week.  

Good lord, there must have been a better way to phrase that question.

Teraeva finds that she doesn’t quite know the answer. She hadn’t had any luck before or since that incident. Her one and only magical feat. The most that Teraeva has ever able to manipulate the energy within herself is to bring it to the surface of her skin rather than beneath it, and even that took a lot of effort. She has never been able to expand it beyond herself to create anything, neither did she make a conscious decision to create the spark.

She explains as much to him and he narrows his eyes at her.

“It was only a spark?”

Teraeva remembers Instructor Liariel walking out for a moment, pushing the energy as much as she could, then, a flash as though a match had been struck. The light winked out so quickly after though. She hadn’t thought she’d caught anything on fire until she smelled the smoke and called for Liariel.

“That’s all I saw. A flash of light like a spark of flame.”

He is quiet for a long while after that.

“And you say that it feels like you’re straining something when you try… Like it is a struggle to push it beyond yourself…” he mumbles, seemingly to himself.

“Yep, completely constipated,” she quips childishly and he - rightfully - ignores her.

After a time, he places his large hand on her chest right above her heart. The weight makes it somewhat difficult to breathe.

“Like before. Do not think about creating anything specific. Just do what you did in the Liariel’s cabin.”

She struggles again like before and can feel the magic roiling within her. And again, trying to push it beyond her skin takes so much pressure and effort. She’s lightly sweating by the time she’s able to coat herself in that layer like before. It’s not visible to the naked eye since it’s so thin, but it is there and it can be sensed.

Her uncle narrows his eyes when he feels the magic.

“Taper the expenditure down to your finger.”

At the moment, the energy is emanating evenly around her body. It’s already difficult to keep it up like this and now she has to try and focus it to a single point?

She’s only able to gather a small amount to her index finger before the strain becomes too much. And she lets the magic go with a gasp. Her uncle watches her decompress for a few moments before standing, “We will try again tomorrow.”

And they do.

The next day, the day after that, and the one after that one as well. She questions how he remains patient with her, yet he seems to have a renewed drive for this particular goal.

It’s a little over a fortnight after that night on the beach and she’s gathered more than half of the magic to her finger.

“Keep going,” he prompts her and she feels like she’s going to die. Again. She’s breathing like she’s been running for hours and the strain is bordering on painful now.

Her control wavers multiple times throughout. It takes about an hour, but she finally gets the energy gathered.

When she looks down, she starts at the dim shadow over the skin of her index finger before realizing that it is mana. Actual visible magic. Coming from her of all people. With its faintness, she still can’t determine the color but it’s there.

Her uncle takes her hand and begins drawing a strange symbol in the sand full of circles, arcs, lines, crosses, and triangles. With the addition of her mana, the marks look more like they’ve been painted in the sand with ink rather than simple indentations. The design seems like some sort of glyph.

He creates one last vertical line intersecting the bottom arc. While her finger remains in contact with the glyph he then commands her to push the energy one more time and direct it from her finger into the symbol.

With a moderate amount of effort, she does as he asks. There’s a strange clicking noise and the ground beneath the glyph quakes slightly. Then the entire symbol briefly glows bright red and bursts into flame.

Teraeva watches, astonished, as it burns. It’s not very large, perhaps the size of a small campfire and it stays confined to the area of the symbol, but it’s there. It exists and it was created with her magic.

“There are alternative, less popular ways of casting,” her uncle says, snapping her out of dazedly staring into the fire. “This is the most primitive and least efficient of them.”

He quiets down and contemplatively gazes at the flame. She waits for him to continue, but he seems content to just sit there thinking. Finally, she prompts him, “What makes it so inefficient?”

He quickly forms a blaze of fire on the sand, equal in size, strength, and diameter as hers.

“How long did that take me to cast, little one?”

All at once, she understands where he’s headed with this and her small victory turns to ash in her mouth. It took him less than a single second to create his fire, while it took nearly five minutes to properly draw her glyph into the sand.

“This style takes longer to cast since you must remember the symbol and draw it exactly right for it to function. There is no room for error,” He explains as he continues to gaze at the flames.

The precise amount of mana must be metered which is troublesome. As spirits get older, our mana stores expand and it becomes problematic to try and use such tiny amounts. Most people cast intuitively, so this style is considered unnecessarily complicated, especially when the exact same results can be produced in a moment with nary a thought.”

Both fires burn out and they’re left with the brightness of the stars above them for light.

“I have not cast with these scribbles since I was but a weak wisp. Many never need to use it at all and the wisps that do usually quickly grow out of it as they gain their bearings and learn how to perform feats by their senses and intuition alone. A focus exercise for the young.”

Right.

So, it’s the training wheels for fetus-spirits who haven’t even formed thoughts yet. The ABCs of magic.

And it’s all she is capable of.

She's miraculously born into a magical, mystical world as a magical, mystical creature and magic flowing in her veins but somehow ends up magically handicapped. 

Absolutely wonderful. 

“So, this is useless then,” she mutters.

He considers her for a moment before raising his hand and sending a wind to wipe out the sand indentations left from the glyph.

“Everything has its uses, no matter how small. You are capable of it, so you will learn it.” He begins drawing a new symbol in the sand, “There aren’t many patterns to teach since the casting-style is so generally unused, but I will show you what I know.”

That is how they spend the rest of the night. Quietly drawing and redrawing little shapes in the sand with only the sounds of the ocean waves and shine of the stars for company.

Chapter Text

Teraeva remembers her first day of school. 

It was late in August. Soon after the turn of the century. The year before, her parents had bundled her and her big brother up and moved to the south to raise them in a “less chaotic” environment. Though the summer heat was still a factor, the slight chill in the air heralded the incoming autumn. The morning had been full with giddiness and anticipation for the next new stage of her life. 

She recalls her morning plate, food piled high to the sky. Her mother had prepared a breakfast of champions for the momentous occasion. Sung songs of praises, so proud of her offspring’s progress while simultaneously forlorn about how her darling youngest child was “growing up too fast.” She must have been hugged and kissed at least twenty times before she was let out the door. 

‘Mi Raah! Where has the time gone? Already going to school? My god, I can’t believe it. So soon, too soon, my little baby… Just do your best and come home safe. That’s all I can ask of you.’

She remembers the distinct smell of ironing spray that clung to the fabric of her school uniform. Black, carefully-polished Mary Janes that shone with every shift of her foot, slightly uncomfortable in the way that all brand new shoes are before they’re broken in. Itchy, frilled socks cinched snugly against her ankles. She remembers the feel of her curly hair tightly brushed back in two braided pigtails and secured with ribbons. The heavy weight of a bag on her back, packed to the brim with school supplies and snacks.

Her father drove her to school that morning and, for the first time, allowed her to mess with his radio station. She recalls her older brother’s groan of disgust when he heard Britney Spears’s baby-girl voice singing on the speaker.

‘Ew! We can’t be related. Mom must have found you in a dumpster and brought you home. Dad, she’s adopted, right?’

Teraeva had grinned impishly and acquiesced by changing the station, however, judging by his increased groans of discontent, she highly doubts that he found “Bootylicious” any more suitable than "Oops!... I Did It Again." Pssh, what an uncultured pleb. The nerve of him not appreciating the profound musical tastes of a 5-year-old little girl.

Anyway, Teraeva recalls the feeling of finality when she arrived at her classroom and her father said his goodbyes. The dread that came after turning around and not seeing any of her family. Her mother at home where she can’t reach her. Brother already settled down in his class on the other side of the school. Father probably already driving off-campus.

Out in the world, surrounded by strangers, and left completely alone. 

It’s a very specific feeling of helplessness, being a fish out of water. Completely untethered and unsure. A type of vulnerability that she’d never expected to experience again.

Life certainly has a way of proving her wrong.

Despite her discomfort and – later on – disillusion with academia, she’d excelled at her studies. The all-consuming challenge of trying to learn a difficult subject became a perfect diversion for when her mind was overburdened by stress and unwanted thoughts.

Since Teraeva’s uncle has taught her the glyphs, she’s rediscovered this inclination once again although she can claim with certainty that she’s never faced an educational challenge nearly this difficult. Having something to funnel all her attention into is just the diversion she needed from all her annoyingly persistent, depressing thoughts of what she’s lost and she gets to work memorizing those little symbols like a girl possessed.

She’s been tracing and retracing the glyphs day and night. Committing each keystroke to memory.

The downsides to them that her uncle explained quickly become readily apparent.

Learning how to use them is as tiresome and annoying as he insinuated it would be. They are extremely finicky. Putting too much mana in them or drawing a line slightly too long or short means the defective glyph will either simply be nonfunctional - which is the best-case scenario for a faulty one - or it will, quite literally, explode in her face.

Trying to meter out the correct amount of mana for every line, circle, and cross is tedious, slow work. The strain of pushing the mana outside of herself adds to the steep learning curve since there are only so many times she can do it without becoming exhausted.

The tiniest upside is that she feels like she’s ever-so-slowly getting used to extending her mana outward and can hold it for longer periods of time. Ten seconds turn to thirty which turns to a minute and so on. 

One of the main issues is that, outside of studying, she rarely gets a chance to use them. No one is going to wait around for her to set a fire glyph for the kindling when they can just create one with a single flick of their wrist. Neither will they simply sit idly by and allow a boa to strangle them or let a tiger maul them as she tries to somehow draw a lightning glyph on it when they can simply strike it with a thought. 

Along with that issue is the attention her usage of glyphs gains her. Her reliance on such a remedial casting style has surely cemented her status as the “village dunce.” Even though they are still not unnecessarily cruel or unkind, she can’t help but feel the burn of shame when she practices using them. She doesn’t know how much of her perception of them is a projection of her own self-image, but she doubts that she’s truly making up all those pitying looks in her head.

It’s not simply their view of her that bothers her though. She’d stopped being overly concerned with strangers’ opinions back in the teenage years of her past life. Underestimation and prejudice based on things she can’t control is hardly a new experience for her and she’s faced it on far worse levels than this. If that were the only issue, she’s sure she would have just hand-waved it off as ignorance and been about her way, but it isn’t.

As time passes by, she should feel more at home in this foreign place, but the exact opposite occurs. The differences between her own world and this one grow more maddening than ever. She doesn’t quite understand the delayed response but the reality of her situation finally settles in and she’s at a loss of what to do.

Even when she’d traveled to other places in her life Before, there’d been at least the smallest semblance of similarity between cultures, countries, and continents. At least the people had been the same species, at least the sky had been the same blue, at least the basic laws of physics had been the same, at least her damn body had felt the same no matter where she’d ventured.

Maybe if she weren’t the way that she is.

Maybe if she weren’t so caught up in her own head and could connect with the villagers on more than just a surface level.

Maybe if her body worked the way it was supposed to here instead of this broken thing that won’t listen to her will.

Maybe if everything she used to define herself – each hobby, each relationship, each facet of herself - wasn’t snatched away in a single moment.

Maybe if she could find a place for herself in this fantastical world, if she could see a future for herself, but she can’t. She’s too other. Just not quite right. That one jigsaw piece that has no place in the new puzzle because it belonged to the old, damaged, thrown-away one.

That she is essentially unable to practice magic in any feasible way is seems like further proof to her that she’s not meant to be here. 

She internally berates herself for not being able to just get over it, but the feeling of discomfort grows more present with every passing day. When around the People, she tries to keep up the smile on her face, tries to give them the Teraeva they’d gotten used to before she fully regained her memories and conscious mind, but it soon becomes almost too taxing to maintain an unaffected demeanor.

Her emotional turmoil projects and she no longer finds the strength to keep it under wraps. She’s certain that the spirits and villagers pick up on her tumultuous aura since they begin to keep their distance. It all wears on her like an ever-present weight on her back, day after day.

As she grows increasingly unable to continue the façade, she finds herself retreating more and more into her solitude. The village begins to feel like a prison, every aspect of it so strange and so different and so utterly not her home.

Her excursions last more than a single night now. Sometimes she leaves for days or weeks at a time and loses herself in the forests on the island. She doesn’t know why she returns at all. She feels tethered somehow. No matter how impossible it is for her to gain her bearings in this world, the village is the only slightly familiar place to her here. Everything else is unknown.  

One day, it all becomes too much.

She’s practicing her glyphs out along the outskirts of the village and feels as though she’s going insane with frustration.

The training – especially with so little progress - is not enough to distract her from her situation. In fact, it only serves to make her irritation worse. Every time she messes up, it just rackets up her aggravation.

She’s memorized the symbols now, but she still messes up how much mana to place in each stroke and can’t draw them fast enough to be worth a damn. The building stress feels like huge masses in her throat and the base of her skull. Her eyes are burning but no tears fall. Her mind is full of rage, discouragement, and disappointment in herself.

Before, she would talk her mother or father to diffuse her irritation. Maybe play a video game with her brother. She’d put on her headphones and get lost in a song or dance until she forgot all her troubles. Now, she has nothing. Nothing and no one. She has no place here.

She places too little mana in one of the strikes and inky charge of the glyph she was practicing winks out of existence and leaving only the useless sand indentations behind. Which means she has to start over. Again.

“Why are these glyphs so damned finicky? Why are they so--?! There’s no point. It’s useless. It’s all useless!”

She jumps to her feet and kicks the sand indentations of the glyph, startling the little fox that’s been following her around since she first ventured from the village. It has strangely continued its loitering, even as her aura darkened in the past weeks. Teraeva wonders if it’s just not smart or intuitive enough to recognize the bad energy but its usual energetic yipping has become increasingly subdued along with her mood, so it must be sensing something.

Nevertheless, its reaction only serves to annoy her further. “Why are you here?! I don’t have any snacks for you!” She shouts at her in English. The fox flinches at her sharp tone and backs up a bit. “I never asked you to follow me. Leave me alone!” She gestures sharply with her arm. Her short, child’s arm. Right, she’s a child again. Another difference. Another reminder. Not the same. Not the same. Too short and stubby to dance like she used to, none of the muscle memory to paint or play instruments like before. Nothing is her own. Nothing is familiar. Not even her body.

The fox cowers yet stays rooted to the spot. Teraeva sucks her teeth and goes to tuck an annoying loose strand behind her ear. Her pointed ear. Right. Another change. Her hands wring her hair in agitation and a red ringlet falls from her long, twin plaits and into her eyes. Red. Red. Right, of course. Another difference. Another fucking---

Her mind feels like it’s in a fog as she storms further away from the village. She can’t breathe, she can’t think. She feels her mouth moving and hears her voice dazedly muttering more words in English but it all seems so far away. Birds fly off as she’s making zero effort to contain her convulsing aura but it doesn’t really matter anyway.

The next time her mind clears, she realizes she’s holding the flint dagger she usually takes with her for protection when venturing outside of the village. She’s kneeling on a cliffside overlooking the beach where her uncle first taught her the glyphs, several curly auburn locks of varying lengths litter the ground and are floating off into the wind.

Her eyes fasten on the fine red strands stuck in the jagged edge of the knife. Soon, her hand is slowly moving without her making the conscious decision for it to do so and the sharp edge of the blade rests on her wrist.

Would it even work? she wonders.

Her skin is soft and delicate, it easily yields to the blade that shallowly digs into it. Small droplets of blood well up around the edge of the knife.

It would be easy. Like slicing a fruit. Simple.

She can barely feel the pain through the haze of her thoughts anyway. She has died before. No reason to waffle about it now.

But as she watches the tiny wound close within a few minutes, Teraeva recognizes the folly in such a plot. Her body would likely heal the gash before she had the chance to perish.

Or perhaps… her eyes trail to the edge of the cliff. With numb limbs, she rises on wobbly legs and walks over to the very end.

It’s a far drop straight down into the craggy rocks below. She’s fairly certain her body couldn’t recover from that sort of massive injury no matter how resilient.

Teraeva’s eyes are wide and her hands tremble as she stares down into what could be her watery grave. A violent, vicious end but it would be so quick that she probably wouldn’t feel a thing.

She wonders how long it’d take for them to find her body or if they would even find one at all. Probably not. No one would come to look for her anytime soon; the villagers are used to her long ventures out into the wild. Waves would probably sweep her away and her remains left to be eaten by the animals beneath the sea or the scavengers flying overhead before anyone had a thought to question her absence.   

…But…

Does she want to die?

Does she actually want to die?

She hates herself for the hesitation. For the question that steals her nerve, her resolve.

It’s the type of question her father would have asked her. He had never been the easiest person to talk to and she’d usually turned to her mother for advice instead. He was gruff, strict, and a bit distant but a peaceful presence nonetheless. He had a habit of posing a single question that would knock her off her feet and actually make her think. Like there was never any real issue to begin with or that the solution was so simple, there was hardly a reason to complain.

Suddenly, it’s like her mind is actually working properly for the first time in weeks.

Do you want to die?

What proof does she even have that this would be the end? What guarantee does she have that she wouldn’t be born again and again and again into an even stranger, more foreign world? Thrown into never-ending chaos for all her days.

Do you want to die?  

Teraeva recalls her indignation at her own death in the aftermath when she was just a shattered soul floating in limbo. What a waste it would be, a second chance at life that people only hoped and dreamed about in her world before. And apparently endless youth to go along with it. The type of thing people spent fortunes trying to attain.

Do you want to die?

‘Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.’ Hadn’t her mother recited something like that once upon a time? Teraeva had never been religious like the woman had hoped she would be but her mother had continued to quote scripture, giving whatever guidance she could in her own way, even in the face of her daughter’s scoffs and dismissiveness.‘You say it’s annoying but one day you’ll miss hearing me say all these things,’ her mother had warned. And she was right. Teraeva misses her so much. Misses them all. Misses everything

In her mind like a slideshow, she sees the images of her family. Of their faces, if they could see her now. 

Teraeva, do you want to die?

“…No,” she hears her trembling voice whisper. “I- I want to live.” The tears that have been building for weeks upon weeks finally spilling over. “I want to live,” her breath comes to her in heaves as though she just ran miles upon miles. Teraeva feels the most profound sense of relief. She can’t believe she nearly lost herself. Survival instinct and panic finally settles in as she gazes down at the rocks below and stumbles away from the edge of the cliff.

The blood is rushing in her ears and her heart is pounding strongly in her chest, mind fully aware of how close to death she just was.

At the sensation of something brushing against her leg, Teraeva’s heart leaps into her throat and her entire body jumps nearly sending her reeling off the side of the cliff anyway. A strong tug at her skirts balances her again and pulls her backward towards safety. She whips around and looks down to see the fox once again, shyly seated at her leg. It’s studying her with a confused glint in its eyes.

That’s right. She’s not completely alone. She does have someone, doesn’t she? Her friend. Her first one in this damned place. Who kept her company on those lonely night adventures even when she had no food or reward to give. Her friend who she yelled at and treated horribly for no reason at all.

Embarrassment and shame burn in her. All at once, this whole episode seems so melodramatic and unnecessary.

Before she knows it, a new wave of tears well up. Christ, she can scarcely recognize herself. Who is this strange, weepy person that cries multiple times in one day? Surely it’s not her, who’s never been one for crying or tears let alone emotional meltdowns of any kind. How utterly mortifying.

She drops to her knee and approaches the creature. After an initial bout of wariness and caution from the fox – which does nothing for Teraeva’s guilt – it allows her to gather it into her arms and playfully gnaws at her hand like nothing was ever wrong in the first place.

Teraeva’s sobbing tapers down after a few uncomfortably long minutes. When she settles into gentle hiccups, she looks out into the distance to the familiar beach where she sat not so long ago drawing symbols in the sand and sighs. There’s a bone-deep weariness that settles in her soul.

That moment of weakness just now terrifies Teraeva more than anything. Reaching a breaking point like that and nearly falling off the edge of sanity? Succumbing to the desolation that robbed her joy for life so thoroughly that she didn’t see any point in carrying on?

She can’t allow herself to spiral down into the black miasma of despair like that again.

She must find a way to be at peace with her new existence. Some sort of compromise has to be made between what she was and what she is.

With her mind gradually resurfacing from the chaotic storm it was just in, she’s starting to see things more clearly again. Feels more grounded. No matter how dire things have seemed the past few weeks, she knows that all is not completely lost.

‘Find the silver lining, dumbass,’ her brother would have crudely advised her. 

Right. Silver lining.

Yes, things are different. Yes, everything she’s ever known is destroyed. And yet, here she is. Life found a way. Whatever and whoever she loved lives on in her mind.

She remembers. That alone is a lot to work with.

So, the world and the people are unfamiliar but that can be fixed, right? The world may not be her original home, but she can make it hers in time. The people aren’t hers but, then again, she hasn’t really given them much of a chance, has she?

Does she even know anyone’s names outside of a couple of her instructors and a few of the elders? Even with her uncle… most just call him Keeper but she must have heard his name somewhere before… Keeper… D- Der- Darthar-? Datharamiel?

That’s it. It’s shameful that she even had to struggle to remember. She must have truly been more wrapped up in her own head than she realized. The villagers. Most are just nameless faces in her mind. Teraeva has never quite taken the time to actually know them.

Of course, they are not completely blameless. After all, they’ve written her off in some respects because of her problems with magic, but she’s guilty of the same crime. They fed and clothed her when she was too young to even know herself and she’s scorned them, didn’t even realize that she’d decided they weren’t even worth knowing. Perhaps if she’d been more involved or if they’d known her a little better, they might not have decided on her idiocy so quickly.  

And, ultimately, they are all she has. The only other people she knows of in this world apparently live in far off places beyond her reach at the moment. Not to mention that she has a strong feeling that they wouldn’t view her lack of magical talent any more warmly than anyone on this island. So, she has to make do, regardless.

She must find a way to rectify her tenuous relationship with the villagers. Teraeva’s fairly certain that her unintentional, self-imposed isolation is probably one of the main driving factors of her short venture off the deep end. Prolonged loneliness is dangerous and not something she should have ever allowed herself to wallow in while grieving such a massive loss.

The mounting feeling of powerlessness was another factor, she’s sure. Bitter disappointment from her lack of progress with her glyphs. However, her assessment of her development is not completely accurate. Teraeva has made progress, it’s just at a far slower pace than she’d ever like. Slower than she’s used to. But she must keep in mind that this is a new existence, one where time is irrelevant and even her body is developing at a snail’s pace. Is she truly learning slowly or is this the natural pace in this world?

The physical changes are a non-issue and she’s embarrassed at herself for that being the straw that broke the camel’s back. Hadn’t she just been noting scary similarities not even a few months ago? At least she can recognize herself. Had she been born some eight-legged scaled creature with a beak for a mouth, then perhaps she’d have something to complain about. Whatever physical changes exist were taken from the woman who died giving birth to her and – in hindsight - Teraeva can admit that the unprompted resentment is vain and callous.

She runs her fingers through her cropped curls. Well, seems like she’ll have to deal with looking like some kind of botched, orphan Annie for a few months. Oh well, not like it won’t grow back. She’ll just chalk it up to new beginnings.

The more bothersome thing is that her body is small again which is, of course, annoying but it’s something that will rectify itself in time. Training her body to move and dance the way it used to will be a challenge but perhaps she’ll find some fun in it. As for her art and music, she still has the mental knowledge of the correct techniques to use, the muscle memory will be regained after some time as well.

In fact, now that she thinks of it, the more pertinent issue regarding such things isn’t that her body is incapable, but moreso the lack of tools to practice. She certainly doesn’t – and definitely won’t for a long time, if ever – have the tools necessary to put her degrees in business and technology to use, but she can live with that. It’s her hobbies that truly breathed life into her on a daily basis. Art, writing, music, dancing are what gave her life joy.

Traditional visual art and writing had been her first loves. Stronger than those was her love of dance and music. Of course, she only needs her body to dance although she’d rather move to actual music rather than just the memory of it.

Actually, now that Teraeva considers it, where are all the instruments? She digs through her memory to see if she’s noticed any musical inclination – outside of herself – anywhere here since she’s been born.

Is there truly no music at all?

No, that’s not quite correct. It is more accurate to say that they don’t have lyrical or instrumental music in any way she’s familiar with neither do they create it recreationally. If she hears anything musical (in the way that she defines it), it’s more incidental rather than intentional. There are certain “songs” and sounds that are created magically – which is probably why there’s a lack of physical instruments – and are used in communion or during the occasional bondmate processions. There’s somber, rhythmic chanting that quells the fussing of quarrelsome babies. Teraeva’s not the sole authority on what is or isn’t music so she supposes those things could be categorized as such.

But those all serve a practical purpose. She’s never heard songs sung or music made just for fun or as an idle pastime.

Truth be told, the village is usually fairly quiet and they don’t often speak or make much noise at all unless there is an express purpose for it like communication. A horrible waste considering most of their voices are beautiful in a way that she had never heard on Earth and the language is innately rhythmic and melodious, carrying notes that she doesn’t think she’d have been able to comprehend when she was a human.

Although, they did seem to like her songs when she’d sung to herself within the village. She’s pleasantly surprised since she’d assumed that they would simply be irritated by her disturbing the ever-present peace. They don’t understand what she’s saying but the novelty and pleasant melody have been enough to keep their interest in the past.

As for instruments…

She scans the foliage of the island. Is it possible that she could make them? She’s never tried to do such a thing and she doesn’t have anything close to the refined tools used to craft the ones that she’s used to, but…perhaps…

The prospect of having actual music again is more than enough to lift her spirits. Maybe the villagers would be willing to help her with the more delicate constructions. They’d most likely be able to fashion the finer pieces with magic alone.

And who’s to say she has to stop there? Pigments and paints can be made and the mediums she’d learned to use can be created again. Dyes for fabric already exist after all. Starting from absolute scratch is sure to be a challenge, but it can be done. She has a veritable well of knowledge in her brain. There’s no reason Teraeva can’t recreate what she’s lost and she has an eternity to do it.

And she could share it with the villagers. The people who are no longer with her can’t be replaced, but making new connections and friends doesn’t mean forgetting her old ones.  

The sun is setting on the horizon, there’s a pleasant chill of the evening wind caressing her face, her little fox friend is bounding around chasing critters in the bushes behind her, and the tentative image of a future begins to piece together in Teraeva’s mind.


 

Teraeva, anxious in the wake of her new revelations and resolution, spends the entire night planning.

The next day, she decides to fashion a drum out of a large fallen bough and some deer hide. It takes some effort and several days. The finished product looks lopsided and nowhere near perfect, but the sound is earthy, rich, and deep.

Once she finishes that project, she attempts to put together a tanbur, with a long stick and a flat board. She struggles to get the sound right and uses something that looks like Yucca leaves (that she had to travel all the way to the other side of the island to get) to wrap and hold the separate pieces of wood together.

She scouts the beach and uses a large tortoiseshell she found washed up on the shore and some coarse, makeshift string to create a bowl harp.

She carves a flute out of a thick branch. Creates maracas out of some pebbles and a plant she finds resembling a Calabash gourd.

Simple instruments to start out with. There are only so many that she can create by herself, but she does what she can.

She’s working with extremely limited knowledge, doesn’t have any refined materials or tools, none of these instruments were any that she was even trained in, and she was never the grandest or most talented musical connoisseur to begin with, but she loved music dearly and it is soothing to hear it again no matter how degraded the sound.

Teraeva goes out to the coast at night and spends months learning to play her little makeshift instruments until she gets used to them enough so the music sounds harmonious.

The first night she plays a song on the flute, they are silent and enraptured by the sound. She can feel the pressure of their attentive eyes on her as she plays an instrumental piece on each one. She didn’t expect for them to take to it so readily. The full spirits are the most amenable to the new sounds.

The villagers learn how to use them rapidly and take joy in the instruments. After a time, they make more of them, better and more refined than her own, using the ones she already made as a template and designing their own. In no time at all, music can be heard playing throughout the day and night. The tendrils of magic in the air shift and swirl matching the notes of the music and the beat of the drums echo the thrum of magic within the earth.

She tries her best to translate the songs, the ones that would make sense in this world. It’s a difficult task. There are many words and concepts that get lost in translation, changing the entire meaning of the songs – not to mention how difficult it is to keep the rhythm with an entirely different language – but she converts the ones possible. She doesn’t discriminate the genre.  From classic rock to R&B to traditional folk songs to reggae to pop, and more. Any and everything she can remember hearing.

At night, when they gather under the stars sharing music and food, Teraeva sings the revised songs. After getting past the initial stage fright, it comes easily to sing and share this with them.

She’s utterly stunned when, the next night, they sing along with her. They are all in perfect harmony and it sounded… beautiful or lovely aren’t sufficient words. Perhaps she’s romanticizing the experience, but it feels surreal. It’s not until this moment that she truly believes she could have a place in this world.

She rubs at her stinging eyes before the tears can run down her cheeks. She didn’t expect to be so strongly struck by the poignant nostalgia. 

One of the songs catapults her straight back into mid-July ’03.

Teraeva had been a young child at the time. Early enough in her life that she only holds a couple of memories of that year. She recalls those hot summer days when, instead of reading, drawing, practicing piano, or helping her mother wreak havoc in the kitchen by whipping up some strange yet tasty concoctions the woman felt compelled to try after finding it in whatever obscure cookbook held her interest at the time, she would while the hours away spending time with her father as he tinkered around with his car.

His radio was always set next to the hood, blaring a “Classics” station that would play songs from all sorts of genres and different decades ranging from the ‘20s to the ‘80s. There had been a song they played that always caught her attention. The jaunty tune and notes had her clumsily attempting to sing along with Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers as she tried to finish off her bowl of ice cream before it melted in the sweltering, southern, summer heat.

Hearing the villagers singing the modified verses to “Islands in the Stream” en masse sends a bittersweet knife straight through her heart.

She doesn’t know if what she’s feeling can be called happiness. But as they belt out their desire to sail away to another world, she feels a euphoric amalgam of relief, joy, grief, and desperate longing.

With the different instruments and voices, it sounds mellower. More dreamy and tropical. Of course, with the change in language, the lyrics are obviously not the same so some of the rhythm and tempo is slightly altered. Same for every other song they’re singing along to now. It’s not the same, the version she knows is lost forever, but the new rendition is beautiful in its own right.

And so it goes. With each translated song they sing with her, another painfully sweet shard lodges itself in her heart. It hurts, but she is grateful even so. Grateful that she could share them and that they could find enjoyment from the songs as well. Grateful that what she knows won’t end with her. That the world she so dearly loved is able to live on in some small way.

It is only the following day that they begin making their own. Their songs are, more often than not … longer then hers are, to say the least. Nevertheless, they sound incredible. She is happy to have been the catalyst for such beautiful creations.  

Soon enough, they begin teaching her. Teraeva can’t manage to muster up any indignation over the fact that they outclassed her own level of talent so swiftly and thoroughly. She’s simply content to have pieces of her world live on in this way and overjoyed that they love and cherish it just as much as she has.

And of course, with music comes dancing. Now this, she could do mindlessly. Even with some physical limitations of her childlike stature, simply moving to music is as easy as breathing. The People naturally began to create their own forms as soon as she shared her music. She would still like to share the ones she knew from Earth, however, attempting to demonstrate the actual styles and particular moves she’d either personally learned or observed proves a bit more challenging.

In this, she asks her uncle – who has kept a watchful, heavily-analytical eye on the processions and been a quiet spectator of her influence thus far – for guidance.

She knows that there are ways to project thoughts and memories in this world. She thinks that maybe this can help with showing more accurate portrayals of the dances along with the music as well.

He confirms that there are two different methods to do so: through sleep or when awake – both utilizing the Fade to carry the thoughts to their destination - but, unfortunately, neither are feasible options for her at the moment.

Although practicing glyphs have strengthened her focus, it has not yet developed enough to host such a gathering while asleep in the Fade, though that would be the easiest way to teach a large group all at once.

As for transferring thoughts while awake, the process would involve “opening” her mind to another party’s mana allowing them to view what’s within. She immediately roils against the idea of letting someone into her mind. Teraeva is making the effort to be more open, but allowing someone to roam around in her brain is far too much far too soon.

She ends up having to rely on the old-fashioned demonstrative way to provide an accurate emulation after all, not that she's complaining. Dancing will never be a chore for her. 

Ballet, Kathak, Bruckins, Ice-Skating, Tango, Belly-dancing, Bon-Odori, Waltzing, Hula Auana, Breakdancing, and on and on and on. Each either ones she’d danced herself in the past or been captivated by at some point in time. There are so many to cover, it would take her several lifetimes to get to them all.

There are certain styles she only remembers seeing glimpses of. The extent of her knowledge is an incomplete painting of the vibrant world she’s left behind, but it will have to be enough. Provides as much context for the subject-relativity of the dances as she can remember, hoping she’s giving the proper respect of their memory.

She knows that soon there will be variations of them made and they’ll create their own apart from them just like with the instruments and songs but, for the moment, she is content to see these things surviving again in something other than just her memories.

The stars are twinkling overhead; music, food, and merriment are thick in the air. Teraeva can’t help but to shake her head in astonishment and desperately fights a mischievous grin as she watches the People begin to challenge each other with various smooth, sharp dance movements after performing the choreography she showed them for “Rhythm Nation.”

The faintest embers of hope are stirring in her chest, her heart feels playful and light and, for the first time in a long time, Teraeva laughs.