Part #1 – Her Friend, the Goddess
The spirit who had been called Ganskari in her most recent life woke with a start at the end of her most recent remembering dream which had recalled to her one of her many past lives…and also bits of one of her times in Fesralde. Those bits of her in-between time in the land of the dead had been a shock. She had not remembered anything from any of her times between her mortal lives before – and she had remembered nearly all of her past lives at this point. Before now she had just had the vague knowing all spirits had. But this remembering dream had suprised her.
She was friends with a goddess…
That goddess had called her Hanithon, saying it was the name she had once, long ago, had. But the spirit did not remember that life, not yet at least. It was somewhere in her spirit's memory but it had not resurfaced as a dream yet.
But one thing truly stood out in that dream memory, more than the fact she had been friends with a goddess. That goddess had asked her to come see her whenever she remembered that they were friends, that she would like to rekindle their friendship once again. That goddess had laughed and said it was actually fun to make the same friend over and over again; that she felt their friendship grew deeper each time…even if Ganskari did not remember the other times.
Gathering her spirit together, she got out of the bed she had been given for her memory dreaming and went to the window. She looked out at the city that sprawled into the distance. The city was larger than Algrodone, the largest city in the living world. This city of the dead was apparently the only one in all of Fesralde because the spirits – most of them at least – refused to leave the general area in which stood the portal that led back to the living world. Some said it was because they feared the Guides would not be able to find them when it was time for them to be reborn.
On the street below her window milled other spirits. They were mostly despondent, pondering their next life or reminiscing about a previous one. She had been like that when she had first arrived here immediately after her death…but that had changed within only a month.
Fesralde was a land that held so much wonder. She had not seen much of it in the months since her most recent death, but she had seen enough in the few trips she had taken with a group of more adventurous souls to know that there were amazing sights to behold in the land of the dead. Her favorite place – and one that had made her heart ache for some reason – had been Astrer Lake.
In the center of that perfectly round lake was a perfectly round island, upon which stood a shrine to the goddess who was the beloved wife of Lord Yuchanit, the god who ruled Fesralde. That goddess was Lady Wenkarra…who was also, apparently, Ganskari's divine friend. She wondered now if the reason the lake had filled her with such wonder and sorrow was because of the fact she was friends with the goddess whose sacred lake it was but had not yet remembered.
As it was not forbidden to go to the home of the god who oversaw Fesralde, she could go there to find Lady Wenkarra – if the goddess was currently home in this land. She journeyed quite a bit, often seen in the mortal world, moreso than any other god or goddess. She had an Emissary, but she did not leave all the work to him. There was often a gentle rumble of desire among the mortals that the other gods would do as she did.
Being nearly a year into her return to Fesralde, she was not watched by her Custodian any longer. The woman was still there if Ganskari needed her for anything, but she had not needed the Custodian in several months. She did not need to seek permission to wander anywhere. But she was not sure if she had the ability to just appear at the divine home of Lady Wenkarra and Lord Yuchanit. She had no familiarity with the structure outside her memory. She would try, though. If nothing else she could go to the lake and walk about an hour to reach their home.
Focusing on the memory she had from the remembering dream, Ganskari simply closed her eyes and thought herself to that place – imagined she was standing before the zemamin structure. When she opened her eyes, she was there. The five-story, five-sided home of the god who ruled this realm rose before her. All around the massive building was an ornate garden.
The garden had water features and a small bower in each of the five sections of garden. Skeletal trees that looked like polished ivory rose among their colorful surroundings. While some of that color was provided by flowers, the main thing that dominated the garden was the assortment of colorful mushrooms. They ranged nearly the entire rainbow – brilliant blood red, white or orange spotted yellow ones, aqua, many shades of blue, and plenty of other colors. And they were not the small types typically seen in the mortal world. The smallest ones here were as large as her hands cupped together, but some were enormous tree-sized fungi. Crystals also grew from the ground here like plants and all had a shimmering rainbow of colors present in their otherwise clear points.
For a little while she walked around the garden, enthralled yet again at the beauty here. While there were similar gardens around the great city – said to have been added after Wenkarra became Yuchanit's wife – this one was on a much grander scale. There were tiny details here that were evidence of lots of planning and lots of love and care.
Statues – some no bigger than one's little finger – were integrated into the beds of plants and fungi. There were several little painted fairy ones that danced around a golden mushroom that gave off little glowing motes. Symbols of some sort were carved into large stones and glowed with usually either blue or green light. Beautifully cut or polished gemstones were randomly tossed in with stones that lined the paths that went through the garden.
Then, after a while of slowly strolling through the beauty, she finally heard a noise from someone. Realizing it was humming a moment later, she followed the soft sound until she came upon a sight she had not really expected but knew she should have.
Lady Wenkarra was gardening, expanding a section slightly further out from her home.
The goddess's clothes were practical for such work. Dirt covered her hands and there were visible marks of it on her clothes and face and hair. A smile graced her lips as she hummed a familiar tune – one that was from a piece create by this goddess's temple that had become immensely popular worldwide in the past few years.
Then the nickering of a horse made the goddess pause and look up…then she turned to her guest with a smile. "May I help you?" Then recognition seemed to dawn upon her. Her smile grew and she clapped her hands in obvious excitement. "Oh! It's you!"
Ganskari curtsied, even if that was probably not the proper way to greet a goddess. "I had a dream that we were friends, my lady."
"Indeed we are friends! I will be most pleased to court your friendship again."
A huff of air from behind her on her hair made Ganskari startle and turn to the dapple gray horse that she was sure she had heard nicker earlier. He looked like a normal stallion…if you ignored the fact a single antler rose from the center of his head and curved in a crescent shape, branching elegantly and giving the antler beautiful, symmetrical balance.
"Yes, Moarkal, it's our Hanithon, returned to us."
Happily, the creature bobbed his head several times, causing his mane to flutter around him. Then he nuzzled her in the neck before trotting off.
"I'm afraid I haven't yet remembered the life in which I was named Hanithon. Was I a great creator in that life or one of your priestesses?" Though…typically souls only lived two lives as priests and she had already remembered two. Could there have been a third? She'd heard of that happening.
The goddess pursed her lips. "No, you weren't either of those things. I was not even yet a goddess when you carried that name in a life."
The spirit stared at the goddess for a long time. Every life she had remembered so far – which was the vast majority of them – Lady Wenkarra's temples had been long established. The earliest she could remember in her lives so far was to when the Temples of the Muse were only a few generations old. She had kept a running tally of the years she had lived…though when the first life she had remembered fell four thousand years after the second one she remembered, she realized how extremely difficult the task of sorting them all chronologically and figure out how many years she had actually existed would be. She had done it, though, and had thought the only gaps were from after the earliest life she currently remembered.
But she was not going to question the goddess on the matter. She was sure she would remember at some point. All spirits remembered their lives while they were here in Fesralde. Those memories were a part of the energy that made the spirit, only suppressed during their mortal lives so that there could be no attempts during those lives to try to continue any previous life. After all, it just would not do for a former king to try to take over that position again in his new life when he had been born to a beggar's family.
"But when you carried Hanithon as your name doesn't really matter. It is the name of yours that has stuck in my heart to call my dearest friend."
"Why not use my soul's name?"
"Because calling you by your soul's name would impart me with a modicum of control over you, which I don't want to have. Being the Dreamweaver, the Muse…I have a minor pull on the soul. It isn't anything like what Yuchanit has, but my power still speaks to the soul, thus I have a tiny amount of power over it. If I used your soul's name, it could change the dynamic between us. It would make me just a goddess and you just a soul. I am not that. You are not that. You're my friend. I wouldn't change that for anything."
The firmness with which the goddess spoke, it brought tears to Ganskari's eyes. She was about to tell the goddess of her thanks for such an opinion…but a presence behind her sent a powerful chill up her spine. Strong hands gently wrapped around her upper arms and a kiss was pressed to the top of her head. Her entire being shuddered.
"It is good to see you again, Hanithon. We've missed you."
The soul stared ahead of her, trembling slightly. She felt numb. While she remembered she had always felt a sort of melancholy mixed with happiness at being around Lady Wenkarra, being around Lord Yuchanit had always made her wish to drop to her knees and apologize for…something. But he had never seemed to expect an apology, had always treated her with gentleness and kindness. She remembered that he had once told her he thought of her like his dearest child.
That he thought so highly of her and she did not know why – remembered now that she had never remembered why – was a point of confusion for her.
"I have been hoping you would return to see us soon." He removed his hands from her upper arms and walked around her, standing off to the side so she could see him…even if she resolutely kept her eyes off him. "I know you are likely near to the end of your period of remembering, so I wished to tell you – you have lived your final life and the position of Custodian is very much open to you, if you choose to take it. I want you to take time to think about accepting."
The news and offer made her snap her eyes up to his for just a moment. She caught the sight of his deep violet eyes…and instantly looked away. "Are you sure you want me as a Custodian, Lord Yuchanit? I feel like…like I've done something wrong, that I've upset you in some way. I don't know what that way is but it's there, in the depth of my soul, and…and I feel like I'm not worthy to even stand here."
Silence filled the garden around her and she trembled. She was not sure if she had ever made that confession to him before, but she felt like she was reminding him of something he had forgotten…or at least chose not to think of.
"Even if you have done something to upset me, it is a forgiven thing, Hanithon." His voice was quiet but still made her wince. "I would not offer the position of Custodian to anyone if they had done something that had made me truly angry with them. So fear not. You have no reason to fear me."
Though she nodded, it did not mean she did not still have that kernel of fear deep within her. She had done something that upset him…something that he should have been furious with her over. But she did not know what she had done. She did not know when she had done it, either. Though she had a feeling it was when he and his beloved wife had known her as Hanithon. In a time before Lady Wenkarra had been a goddess…a time she did not have a memory of in her soul.
She wished she remembered it!
"Will you consider being one of my Custodians?"
"I will, Lord Yuchanit," she said, looking down.
"Good." Then he turned to his wife, who had walked up to them after his arrival. He kissed her sweetly. "My sister and I are going to the Cliffs. I'll return soon."
"Give my regards."
Ganskari saw a hint of the smirk on his face from the way his cheek lifted. "To whom?"
"To the one who doesn't already know I send my regards, my silly love."
The exchange puzzled Ganskari…but she was then frozen in awe at the sound of the God of the Dead's soft chuckle. Laughter in any form – and even any sort of smile – was a rare thing from Lord Yuchanit. But his wife, she remembered, seemed to be able to bring him joy with the smallest of words and actions.
A moment later the god was gone – simply vanished from the garden. Lady Wenkarra smiled sweetly at the spot he had been for a moment, before turning that sweet smile to her. Why did she suddenly feel like she had done some offense to the goddess? She looked down at the ground once again.
"If you wish to stay and keep me company, you are welcome to help me in the garden. Or…we could go wander Fesralde. I'm keen on spending time with you again."
But she did not tell the goddess what she would like to do; she had a question instead. "Why would Lord Yuchanit ask me to be a Custodian? I wasn't a cleric of his." She had served Duarvo and Vedrolaud during her priestly lives.
"Being his cleric is not a prerequisite for being a Custodian, though the fact that more than half of souls do serve as his cleric at least once makes it seem that way, I'm sure."
"But…I did something awful to him. I know I did, even if I can't remember it. I feel like I should do whatever it takes to avoid him. That feeling is stronger now than I think it's ever been."
Lady Wenkarra rubbed her hand over a spot on her dress…where a small bulge was, indicating a pocket. She remembered she had often seen the goddess do a similar action. She had often wondered, as she did now, what was in that pocket. The goddess frowned, honestly looking a bit heartbroken. "Do you want to return to the Essence now that your lives are ended?"
"No. I'd prefer to keep living mortal lives until the end of time if I could."
"But you wouldn't want to remain here in Fesralde…"
Honestly, yes, she would, at least for a little while. The only problem was that if she became a Custodian, she would be connected to him through the ritual that made Custodians. The thought terrified her. She did not want to be connected to him…or be anywhere near him when he could remember whatever it was she knew she had done to him. She did not want to see him angry at her.
"I don't know what I want right now. But I still have time, right?" Spirits had five years between lives on average. She had spent about one here so far. That meant she should have four more years before she would automatically return to the Essence. "Don't I have time to consider what I want to do?" Or did Yuchanit want an answer soon?
"Of course you do. He doesn't expect an answer right this moment – probably not even this year. Give yourself time to think about if being a Custodian will suit you." Then the goddess looked at her a little uncertainly. "But, while you do that, do you suppose that we could spend at least some time together becoming friends again?"
"It would be a pleasure to spend time with you."
That sweet smile returned to the goddess's face. "Garden or exploring?"
She thought for a moment. "I…I heard from one of the Custodians that do the trips around Fesralde for those 'adventurous souls' that the foals have been born on the Elmodil Plains."
"They have indeed. Moarkal is quite pleased with them. There are three of them."
Those foals were of the kiracer – single-horned creatures that looked like a mix of horse and deer, but with scales instead of fur and feathers instead of mane and tail. They were one of the many creatures of myth that Wenkarra had created since her Uplifting. All those creatures had the ability to travel between Mirvegau and Fesralde…and could at times be seen roaming the mortal world as well.
And Moarkal…he was considered Lord when it came to mythical creatures. He was somewhat considered a god in his own right, even though he was, in truth, only Wenkarra's immortal, sacred animal companion – the asiksial. He was extremely intelligent and it was said he could speak with the gods, but usually chose to only speak to Wenkarra. And he was known to seek vicious retribution on any mortals who dared to hunt those mythical creatures that sometimes ventured to the mortal world…but could also bestow blessings to those who were kind to animals.
"I actually haven't gotten the chance to see the babies yet. There have been twenty-seven performances by my temples in the past month – eight of which were for royal audiences. It has been a very busy time for me. But…I'm free now and you've reminded me that I've failed to go see them." The goddess brushed off her hands on her dress, ridding herself of the dirt instantly, and then smoothed back her hair – which immediately arranged itself into an elegant coif – before holding out her hand. "Let's go see the babies."
Hesitantly, the soul walked forward and took the goddess's hand. A moment later they were standing on a vast plain near a small herd of animals that had only been seen in art and imaginations before Wenkarra had made them "real". One of the creatures looked up at her and made a strange hiccup-cough sound before bounding over to them like a rabbit hopped. The others soon joined them.
"It's because you're with me, isn't it?" Normally any of the mythical animals would run away from anyone who came near them – whether in Fesralde or the mortal world. They were less afraid of mortals who called to them in Mirvegau as it was their realm and they could not be harmed there.
"Of course." The first one that had come over nuzzled the goddess's cheek while another licked at her fingers. "If you're with me, they know you can be trusted. Plus, I think they might remember you."
"I've been here before?"
Wenkarra nodded. "You'll remember all we've done together before, don't worry."
One of the kiracer nudged Ganskari's hand and she absentmindedly started stroking the long, soft feathers that fell over its neck like a mane. "Do you think I'll ever remember what I did to wrong Lord Yuchanit?"
The goddess pursed her lips. "Perhaps one day you will."
So she had done something… "But you won't tell me, will you?"
"The memory of it must awaken on its own." She looked over at Ganskari. "But understand he holds no anger at you. You need to remember that when the memory returns. No matter how bad it seems to you, he's forgiven you."
"Have you forgiven me for it? Whatever it is?"
"There was never any reason for me to forgive you."
"Surely if I did some wrong against him, then it also affected you. You're his wife, the woman who loves him."
Wenkarra turned to her and cupped the spirit's cheeks with her hands. "I was once mortal and I understand the fallacies and faults that plague souls. I understood and never held your actions against you. You're my best friend…and I hope you'll be mine again."
"But when I remember –"
"That's the only thing that will change – that you'll remember. Yuchanit and I won't suddenly hate you simply because you remember." She pressed a kiss to the soul's forehead. "Well…you'll remember, and hopefully you'll also have other memories of our friendship for us to recount."
"You're so kind, Lady Wenkarra." Too kind, really. She truly felt deep in her being that this sweet goddess should hate her for whatever she had done.
"Of course! I am always kind to those I love." She wrapped an arm around Ganskari's shoulders and hugged her. "And I love you."
Yet, as she continued to stand there and pet the kiracer that sought her attention and watched the goddess praising the beauty of the foals, Ganskari could not help but wonder if she deserved that love…or the friendship the goddess said she sought to rekindle.
Even after they parted ways about an hour later, the spirit continued to wonder almost without ceasing what she had done to need forgiveness from Yuchanit. She had done something, after all. It was something serious, too, she was sure. She was desperate to remember that thing. That way she could figure out for herself if it was truly something that should be of as little importance as the god and goddess seemed to think it was… She truly hoped one of her remembering dreams would hold those answers.