Her mind recoiled at the array of what-if’s and to-be’s, used as it was to a single direction of time. Her heart ached as she saw all the possibilities played out before her mind from the night her family was attacked by robbers. The night she learned that monsters were very real and wore different forms then what was shown within storybooks.
If her father had run towards the kids, no one would have died. If the robbers had come a little later, they would have not entered the house and again no one would have died. If her mother had gone into the kitchen, the atrocities committed in the kitchen would have instead been enacted in the basement. If her sister had come home the night after, again no one would have died but their stuff would have been all stolen. That timeline would have brought hunters to the house the night of Marton’s initiation. More death, for everyone, and an entire bloodline wiped out. If, if, if… so many potentials if only one of the myriad of choices were made differently, or had been made differently, or will be made differently. Mariska’s sense of placement within her own timeline slipped.
There were only certain beings that were able to travel between the points of creation, from the very beginning of time, to the time-locked reality of the physical world. The Thrones, which never moved from their point of creation but could see all points of creation and interact by warping space-time. Their minds were multi-faceted like their semi-physical representations – crystalline beings of light and power. The Erif’el, guardians of the Thrones that never strayed beyond the borders of their Sepirot unless by dire need. Multi-headed creatures whose semi-physical forms often took the guises of hydras, Cerberus-like things, or creatures with multiple limbs for heads. Scary creatures. Both were very scary creatures. Scarier than anything else she ever encountered because they knew before she did what path she would choose – because they could see all possibilities.
Mariska shuddered at the thought and closed her mind from that path. If they sensed her thoughts, and believed she sought their help, they would help – in their own, alien, incomprehensible way. Often such ways were not entirely helpful to the one they helped. The help was often helpful only to them.
Her thoughts strayed to the other two who could travel these pathways. These were gendered beings, unlike the others. One male, one female, and took forms that aligned with how the middle worlds were divided. The female were the Kerib’el. The male known only as “the Thorns”. These were the ‘soldiers’ of the Erif’el and were more easily communicated with as their mind, though multi-faceted, were a bit more linear.
The Kerib’el were creatures of fluid forms. When in the world of flesh and blood, they often were mistake for water nymphs or river spirits. Some even took on the visible forms of sinewy, water-dragons when enraged. The Thorns were the males. Wiry, Mobius-strip-like, snake-like beings with no obvious head or tail. Their bodies sprouted various sized, sharp, thorn-like spikes of different kinds, they made a sliding-clicking noise when they moved. No one ever managed to find its end or beginning, mostly because they were dangerous to approach or touch. Tales of beings from the physical worlds turned to goo, “blended” by those constantly moving spines, haunted the dreams of young initiates.
However, they share this ability to view all of reality, and all of its branches within branches of possibilities, that allowed them to travel the time-streams of creation. It was this ability Mariska needed. The loss of the crown meant she could not function in the confusing deluge of choices around her. Her mind locked on the thought of that crown and mourned her fate. A wistful wish filled her being. If only she had the same ability, to be able to sort out all the choices before her like the Kerib’el and the Thorns, she would be able to continue on her quest. The emotion filled her, emanated from her, and her consciousness filled with that single sadness. It blocked out the confusion around her as she focused on that sorrowful wish. She became, for a moment, that wish and nothing else around her mattered.
A single sad note began to ring out around her like an aura of sound. It pulsed once and raced through all the branches of reality.
Something responded. A soft note, deep and very resonant in tone and texture. Mariska sensed them before she was fully aware of them. Two beings, male and female, appeared from the multi-branches of the time-stream. A single Kerib’el and its partnered Thorn.
“You do not belong here.” Their voices flowed over Mariska’s form and through her very essence. Their consciousness nearly erased her own with their powerful presence.
They pulled back as they sense her weakened state, and created a point of singularity around the three. The time-stream slipped by them as they stood still in a bubble of calm linear reality. Mariska blinked at them, too in awe to think let alone speak. The Thorn held up a part of its self, snake-like, even as it slid and rotated around itself. The Kerib’el took a watery human female form that was semi-transparent. They “looked” in her direction, if the direction they faced was an indication. Neither of them had eyes the way she understood them, and the Thorn had no true head or face.
“She belongs down-stream.” The male consciousness translated into a rough voice-touch within Mariska’s own. It sounded/felt irritated.
“Her time-line is warped.” The female voice-touch was cool and soothing like a warm bath. Their attention turned towards each other, and then outside of the bubble of reality.
“Yes, so it is… and more…“ The male was intrigued.
Mariska stood there watching them, as they seemed preoccupied with something. Were they reading her time-line? It was the only thing possible, right? They would move, duck, and weave sometimes as if surfing through the branches without leaving the bubble of reality. A thought occurred to her just then, maybe the bubble of reality traveled the streams and she simply couldn’t see past the white barrier that surrounded them?
They paused. Something agitated them. The male spun out of the serpentine shape into a massive ball of swirling spiky spines. The female shimmered and lost distinction, although she remained humanoid-shaped. Mariska’s consciousness pulled back from the barrage of information as they searched the time-lines, all the time-lines, all at once, as if seeking an answer. Then just as suddenly, they wailed, a long, horrible, soul-wounding note of pain and fear.
“She must return,” they spoke this in unison, full of trepidation and anger.
“Her path is the only way clear.” The feminine voice of the Kerib’el trilled. Its body lost the corporeal human-like form and turned into a single blob of water.
“Too many paths blocked.” The Thorn answered angrily, its body whirling dangerously, like that of a blender set on high speed.
“Too many ways barred...” The blob of water that was the Kerib’el trilled and faded off even as the blurred, spinning mass of the Thorn picked up the conversation.
“- and she will not know which path to follow…”
“- to keep the Harmony of the One Song.”
The broken conversation, where they switched between who was speaking, was hard to keep up with. Mariska’s attention switched between their floating forms, trying to discern who was communicating the concepts.
“There are too many ways to failure, death, or disharmony…” The Thorn started to speak again.
“- too many paths to choose.” The Kerib’el finished the sentence. Again they continued to switch between who was speaking. It was left Mariska light headed.
“She is linear and choice-blind...”
“- and would not know which paths lead to harm…”
“- and she must avoid those.”
“What is this?”
“There is a darkness of nothing that touches…”
“- all things. Too many endings that are premature…”
“- Void and nothingness…”
“- and not how time’s ending should end.”
“How did we miss…”
“- this nothingness?”
Suddenly they stopped all motion, all movement, and all emotion. Slowly a bubble of shock and horror flowed over Mariska’s sense. She staggered back as its intensity grew heavy and thick.
“SCION!” Their combined voices rattled the bubble of reality. The added intensity of their loathing hatred filled the bubble and nearly burst it. They swung their attention back to Mariska.
“We will help you.” They spoke in unison now. Two voice-touches brushed her own with a gentle thrust of confidence in their choice.
“There is a cost.” Mariska stumbled over the words.
There was always a cost, a balancing of favors. To keep the Harmony intact a payment was always required. To accept such help from these two, the cost would be staggering and possibly never repaid in her lifetime. Her fear was obvious to the two beings. They offered her a gentle understanding.
“The cost is protecting the One Song.”