Hesa barred the door to Celestial’s Observatory after her. Communing with her patroness was not something she wished to be interrupted.

Her eyes swept across the space only through habit, to ensure that everything was still in its place. The top of one of the many towers of the Keep, the Observatory’s walls were lined in star charts, bookshelves, scroll-shelves, and other paraphernalia of the astrologian. The ceiling was gone — or, rather, replaced by a massive lens polished from a single piece of quartz. A lit hearth on the left side (powered by a mini-conflux) kept the stone walls warm, and an inset circular space in the center of the room was piled in pillows and surrounded by notebooks. There were a few tables scattered around, also supporting the flotsam of Hesa’s various research projects. It wasn’t a complete mess, but it was clear that a scholar spent time here, and scholars weren’t known for their organizational skills.

But the dominating features of the room were the telescope, and the ephemeral blue constellations that drifted through the space.

Hesa strode through one and it scattered with her passing.

Next to the inset floor circle was a plush chair with a less formal robe, thin and comfortable, thrown over it. She divested herself of her magus gear and slipped that robe on — the less physical distractions, the better for communing, and her magus gear was meant for function and not much else — then took her place amongst the pillows. It was a well-worn and oft-repeated routine, so much so that she did it all while still deeply stuck in her own head.

Hesa closed her eyes.

She focused on the spot within her that connected her directly to Celestial — the spot that felt both like the crackling pressure of pure magic and the vastness of space. She fell into it, away from the body she inhabited on the physical plane, tracing the Thread of Threads back to its origin point.

She opened her eyes.

Like all Ascendent spaces, Celestial’s personal space felt like its boundaries stretched far beyond the information her ‘eyes’ gave her. Overhead, clustered in dense profusion, were fields of stars, sprinklings of gently-wheeling asteroids, supernovae going off and receding like the twinkling of fireflies at dusk. Among low-hanging clouds of nebulae in the distance and all around frolicked the many magical creatures that took refuge in Celestial’s realm: unicorns, gryphons, small drakes, and more. Directly in front of Hesa was a Seal of Celestial, many times wider than Hesa was tall. And at its center, spun out of the fragments of the realities, floated Celestial herself.

Hesa bowed deeply and Celestial fixed her Prophet with one glowing star of an eye.

“Well, what exactly did you expect me to do about it?” Celestial asked.

Hesa hesitated. Why was she here?

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I think I was hoping you could … provide me with some outside perspective?”

“I’m of the same opinion as Artie, you know.” When Celestial saw Hesa starting to truly deflate, she gave a gusty sigh that disturbed a few of the closer nebulae into swirling iridescence and clacked her skeletal jaw together. 

Her tone shifted. “My child. I have said this to you time and time again: you are headstrong and independent, and I love that about you. But independence does not mean taking on others’ problems. The physical realm is a place for souls to come together. What good does it do anyone — yourself as my Prophet or those around you — to deprive others of agency and choice? You can’t fix everything, you can’t stop people from making mistakes or getting hurt, and to try is hurting you. I want to see you thriving and confident in yourself. You need to try to let go of the things that aren’t yours to carry, and carry your strengths proudly. 

“The Golden Paladin needs you and your connection to magic. He may be a military leader, but he is not my Prophet, and in a place where the Threads are everything, you have an advantage that no other has. Not the Golden Paladin, not Merlin. Believe in yourself, the way I believe in you. The way the Golden Paladin believes in you. And it will be alright. I promise.”

Celestial reached out a hand and brushed her fingers under Hesa’s chin, the twinkling stars that were her bones filling Hesa’s vision. She wanted to lie to herself and say that it was only the light that caused the tears wavering in her vision to fall, but in the presence of her Ascended, there were no lies. Hesa crumpled and the long-held tightness wound as thinly and as deadly as dragon-wire — of centuries of holding herself to impossible standards, of poring over maps and statistics and reports and skipping eating and skipping sleep, driven by the all-consuming need to keep her people safe, watch for the signs, never let it happen again — snapped. And she poured her heart out, her tears glittering and spinning away like little stars themselves, while Celestial held her.

She hadn’t seen it coming; she hadn’t been able to stop it. After all she’d hurt herself to do, Merlin had still snuck under her nose and struck. But that wasn’t a failing, because there was no predicting evil. There could only be reaction to it.

In trying to predict it, she hadn’t been able to react.

And here was the Golden Paladin who had made it seem so easy, and it was even easier to say that she was angry at him for being exactly what they’d needed him to be (what she had broken herself trying and still couldn’t be), but it wasn’t about him and it had never been about him.

It was always and had always been about feeling like a failure.

Of course Arthur had been right, and of course Celestial was right. But no strength of logic could bend emotion. This was what she had needed — the catharsis of release. The permission to let go.

When the worst of the fit was over, Celestial withdrew, her grinning skull seeming to smile wider as she regarded her Prophet fondly.

“You and he have a lot in common, you know,” Celestial said. “You have both experienced war; you both know what it’s like to shoulder the burden of command; you both value the people around you more than you value yourselves. I think, if you speak to him, honestly for once, you will find true accord. And I believe he longs for that moment, too.”

Something about the way Celestial said that last part made Hesa’s ears perk up, but the throes of emotion were still too knotted around her mind for her to give it much consideration just then. She felt a nudge at her hand and looked down to see a faun, iridescence playing over its ivory coat, looking up at her worriedly with wide, crystal-blue eyes. Hesa smiled down at it and fell to embrace it.

“I’m fine,” she said, to everyone — the faun, herself, Celestial. “I will be fine. I feel better, at the least.” Then, to Celestial with a bow, “Thank you, my Lady.”

“Go, my child,” Celestial said as she — and her realm — faded. “And show them what happens when you foul the Threads of My Weave.”

Hesa seems to finally be on the path to forgiving herself, and she’s ready to put most of her all back into the fight! How will the Golden Paladin react? Find out next month!

N.A. Soleil is a portmanteau pseudonym of the two authors' names.

Land of Chaos is a serial novel that we'll pick back up after these recaps! You can read previous Metacosm Chronicles stories in past issues of Tumbleweird.