Hasver reclines in one of the more comfortable chairs in the tower’s study. He contemplates for some time, carefully considering his words before finally opening his lips quietly. “Lily.”

Although her thin paper voice does not slip into your thoughts, you become aware that the statue is stanchioned back just outside the tower, as if watching the entrance and the study.

“Lily?” he repeats, his face attempting to express the gentleness that his already nearly silent words cannot. He watches the statue closely.

The statue has its face in its hands. As you regard it, you have the strange feeling that it is slowly becoming more… visible? tangible? real?

“Yes,” comes the whisper of what must be thought, although you have no personal experience with psychics.

Hasver purses his lips, musing to himself. “Does this…” he begins hesitantly, “tax you? Does it tire you when we talk?”

… “No. That is not what taxes.”

“But something does,” he continues for her.

…”the standing is effortless, restful. It is only… the partaking which is effort. But it does not matter.”

“The partaking. The answering?” He realizes that he has turned away from the statue, forgetting its existence once more. Like a terrier catching the trail, he throttles his attention back onto it once more. “You have to… settle in. I felt it. Is that right?”

“It is sufficient.”

A wry smile crosses his lips. “You’d make a good aeon priest, Lily,” he murmurs softly, more to himself. “Where we are going,” he quickly continues in an effort not to distract her, “to the West. Am I right in assuming you cannot follow?”

“.. a complex question. Perhaps… should not is a better answer.”

Hasver rights himself in his chair. “You can’t explain. Can you?” He bites his lip, seemingly prepared for the response.

“It has been so long, I no longer know whether my body would be sufficient for the challenge. And… like you… I do not float.” was that a mental smile there at the end?

He smiles for her, a brief spark of elation in his eyes. “When we first conversed, I asked if you were a statue. You corrected me. But what we see as a statue, is that your body? Or is it something else?”

“When you see a woman’s thigh in a sitting crowd, is that her mind? When you find a penitent’s secret guilt and expand your matrix, is that their heart?”

“So it’s a part of you. Like a limb,” he says out loud to himself. He mindfully brings his volume down again. “My thoughts run to whether you are bound to the manor itself, but then… you wouldn’t even be able to contemplate a journey.” He presses his fingers together as he arranges his thoughts.

“there are many bindings in life, as you know…” and the intimation of a long draw of breath, “there is a commitment here that sustains what remains”

“I wonder if such a commitment was in any way voluntary.”

As if reciting something from rote, a fragment, “and no agreement shall be undertaken or bind the parties so agreeing unless it be undertaken with the comprehension and higher-order conscious consent of all Intelligence involved ….”

Hasver frowns. Deeply. “I signed off on something similar years ago. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision… if… there were other reasons… or if I was misled. What do you think?” he asks carefully. “Things are often very different in hindsight.”

…”I do not sense any external tampering with either your intrinsic or extrinsic mentalities.” and then an echo of your own tone, “All agreements are attempts at codified manipulation.”

“Mm,” he nods. “Very true. If you were in my place, would you seek freedom from such a commitment?”

“I do not know…”

There’s a pause as if something inside Hasver has shifted. “You know, I have a friend back home. Someone I’ve grown rather fond of. She’s been a great help to me. A source of guidance when I was lost in darkness… She doesn’t seem to think much of herself. As if she doesn’t matter to the world. I try to show her everything she’s done for me, but it’s hard. It’s… almost a compulsive thought pattern.” A moment passes. “I keep wondering how I can help her.”

“Perhaps not thinking much of herself is a way that she creates a container in which she can exist.”

“She must have great discipline,” he muses. “But do you think that’s… sufficient for her? Do you think she might… want something more?”

“Perhaps she has only been waiting all this time for someone she knew to restore her to herself.”

Hasver’s hand tenses around the staff he has leaning against his chair. “Do I… know you?” he asks, dropping the charade clumsily.

… “no. but you did.”

The staff burns with an almost startled brilliance.

“Who… how do I…” He looks sick, like a man tossed from a crashing aeroplane. “How do I…” He knocks the staff against the floor, desperately trying to find his center. For reasons completely unknown to him, he struggles to speak through unbidden emotion, a confused tear falling down his cheek. He clears his throat. “My friend. How do I restore her?”

The glowglobes in the room slowly dim toward the color of the staff which is moving through violet toward scarlet.

“When the river dries, and a pool remains, held in granite, the pool in some sense is the river, but so much has been lost….”

“When the rain that was the sea falls and gathers in a small bucket behind an old house, does the water remember the sea, freed from all its salts and weights? Or does carry with it only an old ache?”

The glowglobes and the staff are vermillion now, and the only object Hasver can see that does not succumb to the lambent incarnadine is Lily’s pale whiteness.

Into Hasver’s awareness comes the certainty that his power could compel Lily out into the dark with him.

“I don’t want to hurt you…” he whispers. His hands drift up the staff. He leans it forward into the darkness. “Will it hurt you?”
He begins to rise, trembling, from his chair.

“oh. yes.”

and although she didn’t say it, it was as if she added, “but I don’t matter”

Time seems to stop from within Hasver’s consciousness, as if his crippling indecision infected the world around him. Two forces pulling him apart. And while one of them is the Truth, literal in all its terrible glory, they both carry that thread within them. He leans heavily against his staff, choking back the undecipherable intensity that resides within his chest. “Then I will…” he finally manages… “find another way.”

Hasver slumps back into the chair.

“although I do not know why… this seems… new.”

The physical crush of the red glow begins to ebb as Hasver begins to recede.
From pure vermillion down through the scales of intensity, to a pale red shearing toward violet, back into blue…

“do you ever hear the … old… singing?” Lily asks, quietly.

“Sometimes,” he answers softly, unsure.

The glowglobes hover in the violet and then as though the gleam arriving through Lily is reaching out into the room, they turn toward white, as Hasver’s staff stops feeling like a meteor bound in steel.
“… it seems so very far away now, doesn’t it…”
and the light perhaps is the kind of light that shines through things. That shines even into Hasver.
“… and so much more sad than it used to…”
And somewhere in the great distance, even perhaps in some direction of imaginary time, there is a sound.
But Hasver recognizes that it is not singing.
It is blue inside, like the brightest star.
But it is draped in vermillion.
Like a heap of countless bodies, through which something beautiful and awful shines, and cannot help but be changed.