A stranger sat cross-legged on a mat on Besaid's beach, as if it were an everyday occurrence for visitors to appear out of the water or the sky. Strange indeed: the texture of her embroidered red dress was alien to Lulu, who had grown up on an island famous for its weavers. What loom could weave cloth with warp, weft, and a third dimension at such odd angles?
The visitor sat quite still, apart from the white feathers in her black braids riffling in the wind. She seemed to have fallen into a trance. Her green eyes were fixed upon the seam between sea and sky. Her fingertips rested lightly on the blank pages of a journal lying open on her lap. Her diary was not magical, she had insisted— not like the other book she had quickly stuffed into her rucksack. Lulu was unconvinced.
The stranger started, looked about the small cove, and gave a soft laugh. "Forgive me. Being here... Besaid is so akin to the island where I was born, that I can imagine Riven is just beyond horizon."
"The only thing in that direction is Luca," Lulu said. "And I doubt you'll find blitzball interesting."
"Oh, I might," Catherine said. "I would enjoy studying that hanging sphere-pool you described. I have not seen water behave that way since I left Riven. I wonder what forces are at work here."
Lulu shrugged. "Luca's sphere-pool uses machina to hold its shape; there's no magic involved. Wakka tries not to think about it. He leaves thinking to me, he says."
"In husbands, at least, we are not much alike." Catherine smiled. "Perhaps I may meet Wakka later. Or would a stranger from another world be one of those things he 'tries not to think about'?"
"No. In fact, you would not be the first stranger to tumble onto Besaid's shores by magic." Lulu's face clouded. "If you turn out to be a dream, Catherine, I shall be annoyed with you."
"A dreamer, but not a dream— or so I hope. I do not wish to know what Lulu's 'annoyed' looks like," she said. "But what do you mean, a dream?"
"I've never been quite sure. There was a boy..." She shook her head. "It's hard to say. He floated out of the water just over there—" she pointed to the middle of the lagoon— "and he joined us and greatly aided our pilgrimage. But in the end, we learned that he was only the spirits' dreams made real. When we defeated Sin, he disappeared."
Catherine whispered with quiet triumph, "Then dreams are real."
"Well, fine, but where is he? Yuna's gone off looking for him. I can't just snap my fingers and bring him back!"
"I'm sorry." Catherine chewed her lip, torn between fascination and sympathy. "I don't know what to say."
"It's not your fault." Lulu sighed. "Either she'll find him, or she won't. So. Any more questions?"
"I don't wish to impose—"
"You're not. It's not every day one runs into a traveler from outside Spira. And you've a few more clues than he did."
"Well, then." Thrusting curiosity aside, she fell back to a less painful subject. "This magic of yours. You do not speak words when you cast a spell, not even in your own mind?"
Lulu nodded. "At the start of training, we speak the names of spells aloud. We imagine the element we are trying to conjure, much like the word-magic you use to describe things. But we cannot cast the spell until we are past names to the knowing that lies beyond thinking." She chuckled. "I have trouble not thinking. The first time I try a new spell, I'll speak nonsense to distract myself."
"Remarkable." The green-eyed woman brushed the feather of her quill against her cheek, pondering. "Your own body is as our books. But you work at the level of the Whole, which is deeper than words. Perhaps that is why you can gather atoms into elements, whereas we must link only to things that already exist. Writing is a secondhand Art."
"If you say so," Lulu said. "I'm afraid this book-magic is beyond me."
"No, I think you are beyond it." Catherine chuckled. "This is wonderful. You've given me more fodder to perplex poor Atrus. My husband is a scientist. He doesn't understand my writing, which comes to me in dreams. It defies the laws of the Art, yet links to viable worlds. That bothers him. He does not believe in magic."
"Your Art is magic. I saw you step out of the sky, Catherine. No machina wields such power."
"No, never," Catherine said with firm conviction. She reached again for the pen lying discarded on the mat where it had fallen, dipped it in the inkwell by her knee. "Please, will you show me that spell again? I want to describe this to Atrus, but my words fail."
Lulu rose from the woven mat and brushed sand from her skirts. "Of course." She was enjoying experiencing the most basic of spells through a stranger's keen eyes.
Catherine's quill hovered over the blank page. A drop of black ink hung suspended from the nib, quivering.
Truly, there was not much to see, and Lulu was tempted to demonstrate Ultima for the sake of spectacle. But that spell was too dangerous to use casually. The mage merely swept her hand upwards and brought it down with a controlled flourish. Daggers of ice fell and scattered on the sand.
Catherine scribbled furiously, lacing the white page with black ink. She was not writing words, but a glyph as intricate as those mystic signs that shimmered in the air when a summoner conjured forth an aeon. Yet this symbol was looser, all whirls and calligraphic strokes. The mage peered over her shoulder as Catherine completed the complex design. Studying it more closely, Lulu picked out a few familiar patterns: a network of crisscrosses at the bottom, a sweeping curve with a burst of squiggles at the terminus, and four vertical lines with a fan of four spines where they met in a knot at the top. All these shapes were overlapping, intertwined. Lulu was not sure whether she was imagining herself in those abstract lines or simply seeing shoopufs in the clouds.
"Are you taking notes, or is that a portrait?"
"It's Garo-hevtee," Catherine said, looking down at the page, perplexed. "It is signs like these that we use to Write our books to other worlds. Garo-hevtee is not ordinary writing; it is sacred. Each sign captures the Whole of a thing."
"Ah. We have two scripts as well, temple and common." The mage's brows knit in sudden suspicion. "You had better not be trying to make another me."
"No! Garo-hevtee does not create, Lulu; it only describes. And it would take as many signs as there are stars in the sky to describe one soul."
"Why Garo-hevtee, then, and not common writing? This is a spell, or a piece of one."
"It's not anything. It's not even Garo-hevtee, really— at least, not any sign I can recall. It just came to me as I watched you." Catherine ducked her eyes. "My husband thinks me mad. Now you see why."
"Wakka frequently thinks I'm mad," Lulu said drily. "But one thing still puzzles me. If your magic books don't create the worlds they link to, then how could Riven have been damaged by a book?"
"The book opens a link. It can affect the area where the link is made." Her face tightened. "The sphere of influence is local. An area the size of Besaid Island, perhaps."
"Show me." The mage resettled beside her on the woven mat. "I've shown you my magic. Your turn."
"But I can't! Lulu, I cannot tinker with Spira. Writing is not a power to wield casually."
"Nor is magic. I will not show you my stronger spells." The mage folded her hands, thoughtful. "What of one small change that no one would observe? A rock that no one's noticed, for example."
Catherine exhaled. "Yes, that much is safe. But I shall have to go home to Myst to write it, since that is where the root-book rests. I can copy out the Garo-Hevtee I use to show you. Would that quench your curiosity?"
"Almost," Lulu said. "Luckily, I am not tempted to follow you, since—" she placed a hand over the slight swell below her navel.
"Yes." The woman smiled warmly. "I warn you, this may not work. Being part of this world, you may not be able to perceive the change. As soon as I say it is, then it was."
"I'll know. Or at least, I'll believe you."
"Very well." She scooped up a handful of sand and scattered it over the drying ink, then blew on it gently. Only a few sparkling grains stuck. Catherine folded the book and stood. "Before I head back, I should like to take a walk. Do you mind being my guide a little longer?"
"Not at all. I haven't had anyone pestering me with questions in quite some time." Lulu winked and rose with her. "Come. You'll like the waterfalls."
Catherine departed before sunset, vanishing like a dream. Lulu was waiting for her in Yuna's cove at dawn. The mage practiced elemental spells until she felt a shift in the prime element, matter. Catherine poured out of the empty air beside her like oil spilled on water. The mage held up her linking book before she could speak.
Catherine smiled. "Thank you, my friend. And now we have a safe place to hide it." She tilted her head, adding a silent interrogative.
"The cave is there," Lulu said, lowering her voice. "It wasn't, and now it is."
She nodded, relaxing. "Did you go in?"
"Yes, and there's powerful fiends in it. You'll get to see more of my magic."
"Oh, no," Catherine covered her mouth in dismay. "I should seal the entrance, lest one of your villagers come to harm. I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize. I could use the exercise; fiends in Besaid are pathetically weak compared to those elsewhere in Spira." She pursed her lips. "But I saw what you mean about unexpected consequences."
"Oh?" That, too, brought a worried frown.
"It's all right," Lulu said. "Wakka started talking about a cave where he and Chappu once played as children. Also, some of the villagers were gossiping about it this morning. I was afraid to say anything, lest I face awkward questions."
"I see." Catherine said. "Strange that you knew what I had changed."
Lulu folded her arms with an arrogant tilt to her chin that reminded Catherine uncomfortably of her father-in-law. "I'm a mage, like you. When your magic book first opened a link to this spot, I could sense something odd was taking place here, well before you stepped through it. That's why I was waiting for you. Your magic is not white or black or anything that I've ever known, but the power of it... it was like a tent flap thrown open after winter monsoons, letting bright sunlight stream in."
Catherine laughed. "Now that's the kindest compliment I've been paid in a long while." She inclined her head towards the trail threading its way up the limestone bluff. "Shall we?"
The mage nodded. "Come."
It took nearly an hour to reach the main path back to the village: Catherine insisted on stopping to sketch a few flowers they passed along the way. Finally they reached the rocky steps that Lulu had climbed all her life without paying much attention to a fold in the shoulder of rock jutting out to the left of the trail. The mage pointed to the shadowy opening half-hidden by a spill of ferns. "There. Stay close to me."
They filed into the narrow entrance. Lulu started to conjure a torch-flame, but there was a quiet pop behind her, and a gentle orange light suffused the area. Lulu glanced back to see a glowing marble cupped in the woman's palm.
The hiss of scale against stone was a familiar warning. The spokes of a thundaga spell converged around one of the fishlike fiends as it leapt out from the shadows. Lulu swung her guest behind her, keenly aware that she had two noncombatants to consider. But these fiends were no trouble for one who had battled Sin. They fell to ice and fire, writhing in an explosion of colored lights on the cave-floor. Plumes of pyreflies spiraled upwards and faded.
Catherine watched the spirit-lights, as everything else, with rapt intensity. "Matter and energy," she said.
"Life and death," Lulu returned.
A water flan and half a dozen hungry lizards provided more opportunities for Lulu's fireworks. At length, they reached a dead end. Catherine tucked her linking book into an opening high up in the stone wall, standing on tiptoe to reach it. "Keep this secret," she said, "to protect the book, but also to ensure that none of your people blunder into Myst by accident."
"Sounds like fun," Lulu said.
"It isn't really." Catherine shook her head. "I don't travel much nowadays, and my boys are always off traveling with their father. Also, our worlds are usually less—"
Lulu whirled, and another Sahagin went down under an explosion of green scales and white lightning.
"—dangerous than yours." Catherine said, when she could find her voice. "I see I'll need a bodyguard to reach this spot."
The mage gave a slight bow. "That can be arranged."
"Yes." Catherine smiled. "And now, I'm afraid I must be getting back. I'm expecting Atrus home at any time, and he'll panic if I'm not there."
"Yes. But I'm not sure when. Thank you again for your hospitality, my friend, and for your teachings. You have a lovely world. You should be... very proud of saving it." There was a slight hitch in her voice.
"The pleasure was mine. This was far more intriguing than blitzball, weaving, or answering 'When's the baby due?' every five seconds. Come again soon!"
Catherine laughed. "Well, I can't promise not to ask, Lulu, but I will at least remember that motherhood is not the Whole of you." She reached into the cubbyhole where she had hidden the book and started to slip her fingers under the cover. Then she paused and retrieved the book from its hiding place, holding it out. "Here. Put it back when I'm gone. Be careful not to touch the picture."
The mage received the book reverently. She could sense a current of energy wafting from it, like the ghost-wind that sometimes gusted from the Farplane portal in Guadosalam. Their eyes met, green and crimson, over shared smiles. Then Catherine laid her palm against the moving image. Her body poured into it and vanished.
Lulu stared down at the picture, hypnotized by the repeating sphere-image of green sea, white sky, and a tiny island dotted with trees like spears. A faint hiss warned her to focus on this world, not the next. With a sigh, she tucked the book away and turned to freeze the lizard that was creeping up behind her.
"Someday, I may make another sort of pilgrimage," she vowed.
It was not to be.
Years later, when Vidina was older than Catherine's sons at the time of her visit, Lulu returned to the book's hidden chamber one last time. She had come once or twice, but had quickly realized the danger. It was too tempting to try the book, seek Catherine in that other world she had glimpsed through the book's entrancing picture-window.
What could have happened? Catherine had returned a few times to install a locking mechanism and seal the cave mouth. Then her mysterious visits ceased as abruptly as they had begun.
Lulu did not think her friend was one to break promises. She could only pray that the book, not the writer, had met some mishap.
Lulu was still a guardian, a bearer of secrets, and this was one she could not leave unattended. The magic book was too great a risk — sooner or later, some wanderer would find it and fall to its spell. So powerful a thing, yet so very fragile. The mage slipped her hand into the alcove and splayed her fingers on the cover, as she had seen Catherine do several times on the picture just beneath it. She was tempted to lift the cover, look in one last time...
No. There was a burst of flame beneath her fingers.
"Goodbye, old friend."
"What's this?" Atrus reached for the badly-scorched book which Catherine had added to the discard pile. They were sorting through the sad remains of his library, searching for any books which might have survived the fire. "I don't remember writing this one."
"It's mine," Catherine said, trying to keep her voice light. "The Age of Spira."
Atrus' eyes widened. "Catherine! You began Writing again and did not tell me?"
"Yes, while you were building the maglev in Selenitic. I... I wanted it to be a surprise for you, my love."
He set a hand on her shoulder. "Do you think Sirrus and Achenar went there?"
"No!" Catherine's fingers clutched her knees in a violent denial. Then she exhaled. "No. I almost wish they had. Of all the people we have met, Atrus, I believe that Lulu could have put a stop to them."
"A mage. A witch." Catherine chuckled at his dubious expression and pried the ruined book from his fingers, returning it to the pile. "She showed me magic, Atrus. True magic."