Monologue by an unnamed mage, recorded at the brink of the end

I wanted to tell you, in case opportunity absents itself forever, that it doesn’t matter. That your magic is algorithmic, that mine is an abstraction of reality. That yours demands cartographic soliloquies, every verse a phrase and a phase of mathematics and momentum, every word you speak a part of the map, and you build the rules as you recite them. That mine is raw sensation, synesthesic, sinewy as sex, worthless with context, worth everything on the ledge at the end of time.

Hold.

We have to hold the line.

That I can speak through my spells and you can’t. That you have the world tessellated in amber, while nothing of my magic will mark this earth, only a faint lambency, as though of candlelight staining the black-gold kintsugi bowls your mother gave us. That our friends are dying, that the gods are coming, many-bodied and million-eyed, that the fucking door won’t open, although we’ve made it keys of our bodies, keys of bone and breath and broken promises. All of this doesn’t matter.

What matters is the night when I first met you and how cold the air was, and how the ice needled my breath, and how you stood there with your hangdog smile, your hair rough-tangled, and the light in your eyes, sacrosanct in its shyness, was better than anything the heavens could stitch from the suns. What matters is that I asked you to run away with me and you said yes, and that we kept running even after our Orders came hunting for us, seven to a coven, like we meant something, like we were bigger than two people making vows of the salt-silver rain.

That they dragged us back, bound in brambles and bronze, that they made us choose between being separated or being part of the vanguard against the apocalypse, all that is of no importance. That we laughed at their ultimatum, that we said yes, that we held hands as they told us we probably wouldn’t come back, that is what matters.

What matters is that I love you and that I will always love you, and I won’t let them have you, even if I have to husk myself of all that I am and splinter the universe again. You’re mine and I am yours, and what are gods to people who have seen the continents fold up like paper planes?

I made you a promise the first night of our expedition. Do you remember that? Lying on our backs, blankets spread over the brittle grass, a charred skein of stars strung up above us. We laid there, counting the constellations as they vanished into the black, our hands intertwined, your hair still dark. I told you I’d always protect you.

You laughed. Like it was that or crying.

You said you’d keep me safe too.

I remember the Blacksmith and the curls of her long hair, like wedding rings, forever threaded with lilac, and I remember the Bard, the Cook, the Huntress, the Knights who came last, their armor gilded with rust, their Lord’s body held safe between them. There were others too, I remember that. Like the Crossbowmen, their skin mantled with scars. Like the Priest, who wore burgundy at his collar instead of white. But their faces were taken along with the names of our friends, eaten, nothing but grit in the teeth of those numinous bastards.

Don’t falter.

Please.

This is a kind of magic too, you know? The Bard told me this. Resurrection by way of oration, every retelling a species of necromancy, and if some of it fails to be beautiful, if some of it crooks from the truth, that doesn’t matter. Stories are meant to adapt. I used to wonder what was the Bard’s purpose, if she had a purpose, if there was any meaning to putting music to our massacre, if it’d be better to just forget. Easier, safer to bury our dead in the decay and pretend it was always like this.

She asked me one night what then would be the point. If we were just going to forsake what we loved, forget why we fought, forswear that chance we might make it, although the sky is unmade into fractals, why not just let the gods win? Without stories, there is no memory, no trajectory to illuminate what came before and what might come after. Without stories, there can be no hope.

The fact that the gods don’t understand this is what will ensure we’ll find our way home. Because nothing is just fact and though the world is cinders, if enough people believe we’ll make it, there’s still soil to grow miracles.

Yes, I heard that scream too. How could I not? But don’t look back. There’s not our part of the story. Ours is the chapter engrossed with the task of holding our ground. Be careful, beloved. See how they’ve creped the borders of our barriers, their villi seeking cracks, seeking the gaps made by our grief?

Let me help.

There.

I’m going to marry you when we survive this.

I decided this on the road between here and the ruins of the last elvish capital. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. It never seemed like the right time. But you might as well know now, as opposed to later or never, that I intend to marry you by salt and silver, with the sea as our witness and the mountains as our minister, by the shore at the edge of the world, by the house in which all this began. That I plan to wear white and in my dreams, you wear silk, and though there might be nothing but handfuls of hope to hold in the cup of my palm, I intend to make you a home and a hearth.

That smile of yours, that light in your gaze, the way you look at me even now, while the universe buckles under the weight of its deaths, that is what matters. You are my story, its beginning, its happy conclusion. More than anything else, more than this world, more than this life, you are what matters.

The door is open.

I think someone sold their soul to shatter that lock.

Are you ready? We can do this.

Take my hand—

Cassandra Khaw

Cassandra Khaw writes many things. Mostly these days, she writes horror and video games and occasional flirtations with chick-lit. Her work can be found in venues Clarkesworld, Fireside Fiction, Uncanny, Lightspeed, Nightmare, and more. A Song for Quiet is her latest novella from Tor, a piece of Lovecraftian Southern Gothic that she worries will confuse those who purchased Bearly a Lady, her frothy paranormal romantic comedy.

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