Farseer Cailenn Ilain faced her student, they sat on the bare floor of the chamber, deep with the craftworld Ai’belcanoic. The white wraithbone walls were veined with psychoactive crystals and studded with the softly glowing soul stones of its former occupants. The air was cool but comfortable, fresh rather than crisp and both master and pupil wore light robes, their heavy cloaks hung by the rooms only portal.
Cailenn regarded her student. Eldrean Starheart was a little older than most having come to the path of the seer in her later years. Faint lines gathered at the corners of her eyes as her face creased in concentration and flashes of white cut through the brown in her tight topknot.
Eldrean opened her eyes and caught the venerable farseer staring at her. Cailenn held her gaze until the younger woman looked away.
‘Why do you flinch?’ Asked Cailenn.
‘I…I do not know,’ said Eldrean.
‘Is my face too terrible to behold?’
‘Good. I would hate to be thought ugly as well as old. Relax, Eldrean, I’m playing with you. Are you ready for your final lesson?’
Cailenn watched the tension fall from her pupil at her realisation of the jest then return almost immediately in anticipation.
‘Breathe,’ said Cailenn, ‘your passage will be much smoother if you relax. The skeins of fate will not be ridden roughshod.’
‘What will you have me seek master?’ Said Eldrean.
‘Our destination,’ said Cailenn, ‘follow Ai’belcanoic as far as you can. You may begin when you are ready.’
Eldrean closed her eyes and breathed deeply, centring her thoughts, and forcing herself to relax. She focussed, diving into the depths of her psyche for the door. She flew past memory, swept around great bulwarks of emotion, cliffs of regret and islands of joy. She rounded the headland of sorrow and beheld it, a circle of emptiness floating above a shimmering ocean. She dove in.
She felt herself come apart. Her essence shattering, her ego and id intermingling. Her phantom body dissolving. She became a cloud of potential blown by hurricane winds of inspiration. Her soul sang. A single pure note. The waveform collapsing uncertainty until she snapped back to herself.
She hung in the airless void. Stars glittered in the dark. Perspective shifted. A sudden lurch of vertigo. Forward became down and she saw the stars were not stars but the glowing ends of bright rivers of light. She looked at her feet, finding the thread that stretched away from her, following its length as it twisted and intertwined with others. Flying at the speed of thought she raced ahead, found the great galactic nexus that was Ai’belcanoic. A million souls tangled together in a bright nebula.
The cluster flowed onwards, a vast channel of lives hurtling into the future. Gossamer threads peeled away as individuals or groups diverged. Some returned, many did not. She soared past the galaxy of now and into the branches of the future.
The first great divergence revealed itself; the great comet of life that was the craftworld taking two paths. Eldrean followed the fainter of the pair, until it stopped abruptly, all the threads ended at once. She hung in space, stunned by the scale of loss. Her curiosity peaked and she backtracked from the catastrophe, flying closer and picking out a single thread from the throng. Reaching out a hand she grasped it and fell.
…she is surrounded by her kin in a wide space, a great window looks out on the stars, a lament fills the air as families gather to each other, an autarch stands sentinel by the main door, the song ends and her eyes are drawn to space, a flash, a cry, nothing…
Eldrean blinked the images away, phantom tears wetting her eyes. She turned and followed the path back to the crossroads and moved on.
The next cataclysm is different, the river of Ai’belcanoic intersecting with another that extinguished it entirely before spreading like a nuclear fireball. She delved again.
…the corridor is crammed with bodies, a rush to escape, a tide pushes against her and she ducks into an alcove to escape it, guardians charge, the crowd separates to let them pass, weapons discharge, screams of terror, she emerges into a charnel house, a roar, she turns, a massive greenskin swings a crude axe, nothing…
…she jinks the fighter, the craft nimble in her hands, a burst of fire destroys a spore, its lethal biological payload lost to vacuum, she fires again, more come apart, she fires again, and again, and again, it’s not enough, it can never be enough, they smother the craftworld in tooth and claw, a chitinous maw opens, she cannot evade, nothing…
…heavy footfalls, she cowers in her bed chamber, her mother’s blood is sticky on the floor, sightless eyes stare back at her, she cannot move, footsteps end, broken rasps of air pulled through corrupted lungs, a childish giggle fills her with terror, ripped out of hiding by her hair, a defiant struggle against incredible strength, green lenses and weeping fluids, an armoured fist closes, nothing…
Eldrean opened her eyes, raising a hand to wipe the tears from her cheeks. She opened her mouth to speak but all that came out was a cry.
‘Calm yourself,’ said Cailenn, ‘breathe deep and find your centre once more. Speak when you are ready.’
Eldrean forced herself to relax, closing her eyes again and taking deep breaths. After a few moments she opened her eyes again, composure restored.
‘I saw our fall master, disaster, decay, teeth and jaws. All came for us, over and over again,’ she said.’
‘And?’ Said Cailenn.
‘There is no escape, no future,’ said Eldrean, ‘how can we face this?’
‘That,’ said Cailenn, ‘is the final question. You will need to find your own answer.’
‘What is yours?’ Said Eldrean after a moment.
‘I’m still looking.’ Said Cailenn and smiled.