As April 18th approaches, a nervous energy manifest in frenzied whispers, flying chips of marble, and needlework as fast as the flapping of pigeons’ wings rises from the bowels of The Grid and seeps into the corner of every tavern, masonry, and store, rousing residents from their sleep. Rapidly, this energy crystallizes from mist into a rope wound taut in a pulley that waits to draw back the purple curtains of the Faire. Some of this energy, however, has a habit of dissipating from The Grid into other realms: realms of pure imagination. In one such realm, a monk steps outside her sleepy hut, greets the sun with a yawn, and finds a package waiting for her.
Today, a bare naked anvil arrived on my doorstep. No note, no return address, no sign of who might have left it there. On it sat a crest, shining golden hot as if fresh from the forge. The crest was familiar to me. Painfully so. It brought back bittersweet memories of a world bustling with color and life and also the specter of death. It reminded me of a certain haughty Wood Elf.
Almost a year has passed since that accursed day, the day Adair disappeared. I was to meet her at Ardessa, by the Four Gates. But she never came. I waited a day by the Gate of Compassion. I waited a night by the Gate of Conflict. I waited another day by the Gate of Courage. I waited another night by the Gate of Constancy. I waited until the day before the Faire was to vanish into the mists again, and I to return my home beyond The Grid. Then the Bard Queen called, and I could wait no longer. I crawled into the caves of the dread Unweaver. I whispered past spiders, brittle skeletons, and the trial of the many poisons that the Unweaver visits upon its victims. What awaited me was a cache of treasure and the secret of the Bard Queen’s father.
But gold means nothing to a monk like me. Nor does the hollow victory of a hero without her comrades. Although I have long loved solitude, my journeys have taught me that no one alone can survive, let alone thrive.
Case in point: the hidden Fifth Gate that I could not open. It was bound by the twine that called the Faire into being, the twine that had hoisted the bricks of the Kenyatta National Hospital Hope Hostel, the twine that made anything possible. Adair called it the Purple Braid. I call it the Gate of Cooperation.
After I completed the Bard Queen’s quest, I sat by it, meditating on Adair. Her proud stare, blazing with determination. Her quill, always wagging away at parchment, even as she fell sick from my anti-emetic paste. (Oh, those Wood Elves and their weak constitutions.) Most of all, her pretty words, words I cannot and do not wish to emulate.
I still have her letters to me stashed away, under my bed. They are short things, only written acknowledgments that she received my reports on Aetherea. Yet they haunt me in my sleep. What if they are code, a clue to her disappearance? My beloved Sherrill, ever the pragmatist, says that I think too much, that I should leave that Faire behind me, that I should let myself forget.
People do not disappear for no reason. There is always a reason. Cause and effect. If I let my mind stray from its post, I can admit it. I fear the Unweaver found Adair before she could find it.
But as I look at the golden crest upon the anvil, the crest I now hold in my hand, I know that she still lives. I feel it. A person of her fortitude could not have succumbed so easily to the Unweaver’s will. Somewhere she waits, just like the unfinished Hope Hostel, biding her time until someone finds her. She must be saved. She must achieve fulfillment. She must not sit aside, forgotten.
The crest pulses in my fist. A heartbeat. A quickening. I knew it.
The quest never ended. It is far from over, in fact. She calls for me, the Hope Hostel calls for me, the Faire calls for me, and I know what I must do.
I must return to finish what I—no, what we—started.