(Continued from - A New Year's Carol: Part the First)
Addiela frowned and looked toward the spirit, even more suspicious now. But before she could voice her new doubts, the boy spirit set his entire staff in the fire. The white wood of it burned away instantly, leaving the white crystal remaining within the flames, still unburnt and unblemished.
The spirit’s small figure rapidly disappeared from sight and the wind outside seemed to howl ever louder, still sounding like a crescendo of voices. But, despite all the noise, the distinct sound of harp music and another voice singing in a language that could only be half understood was heard.
"Rathvald is outside the window now," said Addiela, as if she could make herself believe it. "Likely he is pretending the be the next spirit."
Lif shook her head. "Nah, it can't be Slick. The voice ain't singin' 'All the single ladies'."
Addie's brow furrowed. "I am not familiar with that song."
The voice, interrupting their guesswork, echoed through the room as the invisible source of it seemed to travel until it centered upon the hearth.
Addiela, accompanied by Calidis, and walked back over to the window to properly shut it, muttering to herself, "I didn't eat Rath's special, celebratory apples this time... I know I didn't."
"I knew we should have gone pub crawling in Minas Tirith for the New Year," sighed Lif.
Eduwiges held her hands up, prepared to protect herself from any head or nose bashing, just in case this spirit was like the last one.
In the blink of an eye, the next spirit appeared dancing about the room, spraying sleet all over the floor with his movements. He looked like a young man in his prime, his hair white and curling down past his shoulder blades and in his hands was a white, carved harp that continued to play on its own. His demeanor seemed to be perpetually kind and merry as he danced his way toward the fire. Upon spotting the crystal within the flames he cried out merrily, "Well done, indeed! Love triumphs over hatred in the end, does it not?"
Elsabeth slowly nodded in agreement and tried to stay out of the way as Finchley brushed some of the sleet that had somehow made its way onto her clothing.
Addiela, having given up on her hopeful explanation for any and all of this, took a mental note of what this spirit looked like with the intention of telling Rath the next time she saw him.
The spirit paused, strummed his harp and winked at lore mistress. "You may tell this Rathvald, that there are many of me, and that the world is full of mysteries. Where you and he shall go one day, I know not. But, perhaps, outside the circles of this world, there are those he might petition to join our ranks."
"A mind reading spirit?" said Addie in response. "I do not like this..."
The spirit took no heed of her assessment and reached into the fire to pluck the white crystal from the flames. Everyone noticed that the heat seemed to bother him little. He inspected the gem for the briefest of moments and then set it on top of the hearth. "Right, onto business. I am the Spirit of Present Tense. You draw closer to the next year. You should be proud of yourselves for having come so far..." With a snap of his long fingers, his harp disappeared and a long scroll materialized and rolled down from the high ceiling to the stone floor. It was curiously blank.
Eduwiges watched, gobsmacked, and gasped, "That's a big scroll you have there."
The spirit chuckled and winked at Edu. "Smart Eduwiges! Yes, it does. It is yours to fill, all of you. So now, I shall tell you of your next task... You go on, as you have before. There must be a reason; all of you must have a reason to keep going. There is not a soul in the world that does not have at least one reason to keep moving forward, big or small, known or hidden." He then held out his hand and a single quill-pen with no visible ink upon it appeared in his palm, which he offered to everyone. "Come, come. Upon this scroll, write the very reason you keep going. Who or what are you fighting for? What is it you want? Why do you continue forward? One reason, you must pick. One reason only. The biggest, strongest reason you can give."
Silence was the response for a long minute until Nethrida nodded to herself and stood. "May I?"
The spirit nodded as the former-captain took the quill in hand. She exhaled calmly and began to scribble upon the scroll. Everyone in the room leaned forward to see what it is she wrote but, it was not her reason that appeared on the parchment. Rather, a perfect circle of numbers, much like a clock, printed in shimmering gold appeared. The company stared for a while as Neth carefully set the quill back in the spirit's open hand. Then, seeing as nothing untoward happened, everyone began to line up.
First came Eduwiges. When she put the quill to the scroll and penned her reason, a perfect golden circle appeared around the circle of numbers. This was most certainly the beginnings of some sort of clock. Instead of handing the quill back to the spirit, she passed it behind her to Finchley.
"Eh, it's so odd writing and not seein'," remarked the boyish looking looking lass. When she wrote upon the scroll, a golden filigree materialized, weaving about the edges of the golden circle like flowering vines. She gazed at the image before her with no small amount of wonder before she passed the quill to Calidis.
The ringmage seemed to write thoughtfully, yet decisively and a vertical line stemming from the center of the clock appeared in that same golden ink, pointing up at the 12th number. She then passed the quill to Xanderian who was waiting right behind her. Where the huntress wrote her reason, a pair of hands was drawn in shimmering gold, seeming to cradle the rest of the clock's image.
Xanderian handed the quill off to her sister, Xandilif, who wrote quickly, as if her reason was rather short. But, unlike her predecessors, where she had written, another clock hand appeared, slowly ticking towards the top of the clock, in ink the color of the darkest black imaginable. The elf shrugged and tossed the quill to Elsabeth.
With Elsa's reason, the golden ink appeared again, outlining arms connecting hands to a body, though the face of whoever they belonged to was blank, yet to be drawn. The woman shifted her weight before deciding to place the quill back into the still-open hand of the Spirit of Present Tense, as Addiela had taken a step back, hesitating yet again.
The lore mistress' eyes narrowed as she studied the unfinished picture, zeroing in on the black clock hand. After a while, she finally stepped forward to the patiently waiting spirit and took the quill from his hand to write. Where she has written her reason, the missing face finally appeared in golden ink. It was the face of the spirit before them; he was the holder of the clock.
As soon as Addie had placed the pen back into the waiting spirit's hands, the image began to move as the howling wind outside and the harp music heard inside, grew ever louder. The drawn spirit, holding the clock, seemed to peer down at it, as if inspecting the time. Upon spotting the black clock hand, he frowned and then stared out at Xandilif.
The elf Champion snorted. "What?"
The spirit on the scroll merely laughed soundlessly and turned the black clock hand until it reached the 12th number with the other, causing both to turn red. The image faded in an instant the scroll rolled up. The spirit by the fire caught it and bound it and the white crystal together with a blue ribbon. "So, these are your choices. How interesting."
Addiela gave Lif a look. "You wrote 'grog' or 'to punch stuff and make it bleed', didn't you?"
Finchley also looked over at Lif with concern. "Lif, what did you write?"
Lif shrugged at both of them. "Spite."
Calidis rolled her eyes and cast her gaze towards the ceiling in exasperation. "Of course, she did." Addiela's lips pursed, but she really couldn't fault the elf for her answer.
"I bet Rian wrote 'Se-'"
Xanderian interrupted her and haughtily slapped the back of her sister's head. "I wrote 'Love'."
The Spirit of Present Tense smiled sadly at the group and moved to stand in front of the fire, scroll in hand. "The present is about to give way to the future... Those of Men like to say that nothing golden can ever stay." He held the scroll to his chest and, to everyone's slight horror, began to climb into the fire. The flamed lick at his hair and his clothes, though he seemed to be in no pain at all. Bit by bit, he and the scroll began to burn away to nothingness and ash. The wind outside began to sound more like a chorus of a thousand screams of fear.
Lif sighed. "This can't be good."
Finchley, ever compassionate, stepped toward the fire, looking concerned. "Doesn't that hurt?"
The Spirit of Present Tense laughed weakly and smiled back at the lass, equally as compassionate. "A little, yes. Moving on always hurts some, doesn't it? Getting swept up by the tide of fate and destiny always hurts a little. But some things make it bearable." The scroll began to give off colors as it burned; a plethora of yellow and gold for the most part and only once did it burn that eerie dark red. Little by little the spirit burned away. "Farewell. And good luck!" Eventually, only the white crystal remained.
And then, just like that, the screams and howls outside came to a sudden stop.
Addiela took in a deep breath before turning and walking toward the window again. "Well," she said, looking back to the others. "Are we ready for the third?"
"Might as well see what the third has to offer," remarked Elsa as Eduwiges cracked her knuckles.
Neth moved to join Addie at the window. Both women gasped when they looked through the panes of glass. There was nothing to see outside save for complete darkness, as if the world outside this room doesn't exist... yet. The room inside was also dark again, save for the fire, the crystal within, and a strange shadow that was cast across the floor to the opposite wall.
"Yeah," said Lif. "We're screwed."
(to be continued)