Rain blistered against the window, the wind casting inhuman spells around the little cottage. Magda listened past its uncanny voice sawing against the stone corners and into the darkness beyond. She sat staring into the blue flames of the dream-tree fire as they rose and fell, licking the air, occasional sparks of red shot through the cool flickering phthalo. The smoke emitted a smell of damp wool and something like honey and daffodils. Feeling into the night, its textures, its sounds: something moved slyly out there, something she had detected a couple of nights ago. She couldn’t read or recognize its signature.

She returned her gaze to the flames, feeding them a curled half moon lock of hair. The flames spat and hissed then calmed, she reached into them, coaxing them, they felt almost cool as they licked up her skin, encircling her fingers. Her palms felt warm as it formed, curling and morphing. Though its shape eluded her, she could feel it touching the peripheral space just outside the mind's eye: it moved out there, slick and unfamiliar.

She sank deeper into the night, seeing into its depths. It wasn’t one of its usual travelers, the signature was different. They came and went every now and then, delivering their strange messages. Their coming and going seemed cyclical but to what rhythms they adhered wasn’t clear.

Her penumbral visitors imparted their tidings from beyond the light at the edge of the world. Whispered things, hidden truths that seemed like poetic riddles. She was just there to listen, and whatever the shadows revealed, she wove into her tapestry of secret knowledge. They were drawn to her, she knew not why, but they sought her out, trying to speak in their half recognizable language. Somehow she understood.


Fifteen years earlier: midsummer. The light starts giving a little more to the dark, was becoming dusk as she walked into the fields beyond the town where the old footpath led up through the woodlands of oak glades, past the ruins of the old monastery.

Dryads, the ancient ones, inhabited this region, at dusk when two worlds touch. Preternaturally fast, they streak through the fields like smoke, one could neither keep up nor catch them. One was told not to go near, there was something dangerous about them. Until then, they had been merely stories, although some said they had seen them firsthand, at the edges of the forest, skulking the ruins.

But on that evening, she saw it, a blur over the darkening field. Rather than being afraid, she was strangely drawn to it and ran after the fast moving figure, and was able to catch up. Perhaps the dryad being was curious as to why this human creature deigned to bother her, but for some reason she entertained her presence and allowed her to come close.

She spoke old words, words Magda would later forget. The way they were spoken seemed like another language, though the words were Aesorian, the rhythm of the speech and the way it flowed, made it seem foreign as though the words meant something else. Describing things that couldn’t be seen with the eye, rippling over her mind like the dappled sunlight over a brook, revealing shifting depths. Reality shimmered, became layered as though through a heat haze.

She then spoke in those words also, the language of hidden meanings.

She ran, Magda kept pace.

Then, when Magda looked into the face of the dryad, ancient, not quite human: the planes of her face seemed harsh, as though carved from marble or stone, large gray eyes regarded her, looking beyond her physical countenance.

Ever since that time, her ability to see into things, to use the old languages to understand things beyond the realm of the seen, had grown stronger. She had tried to keep this knowledge hidden, yet somehow, someone knew. She knew the day a dragon rider had shown up at her door, that someone had been watching. He had the same eyes as the dryad woman.

She knew also that those words had been an incantation.


Now, as Magda sat by the blue flames of the dream fire, she considered the unknown presence. This visitor was strangely out of season and it seemed to want something, it was not here to impart anything.

It was here to take measure, to gather and glean something for itself. They way it moved, without revealing itself, stalking just out of reach. But she thought, somehow she could draw it out.

So she waited, in the cottage on the edge of the amethyst cliffs. Beyond the horizon, the aurora of fragmented light: the end of the world.