The candle made a soft sputtering sound as Drai lit it with a spell on his fingertip. The wax continued to flare and bubble as he pulled the paper covering gently down over it. Each side of the paper lantern was etched with a symbol–a pair of entwined netches, bull for Taargus and betty for Nanna, their tentacles entwining around the crease of the lantern’s sides; a shalk; Azura’s star. Gently, Drai set it out on the water. It floated out, pausing for a moment over deep gouge marks in the mud–the marks of Drai’s struggle when the Mephalan cult had held his head under the water.
Had it only been months since that time? It felt like longer.
Delmadryn — Shizzal’s Telvanni — sat by his side, speaking quietly, offering encouragement. Drai listened with half an ear as he watched the lantern continue to bob and drift. The candle didn’t go out–a good omen–even when Delmadryn gave the floating lantern a push with his ice magic, sending it to spin gently about the reeds and duckweed on the other bank.
The moment would pass quickly, as he turned away to speak with the Telvanni. Drai saw the pair of them in his mind’s eye like a dream-vision, the conversation stretching away before him, Delmadryn offering and Drai answering, the two perspectives like a film over the water and the fish seen swimming just beneath. But part of him also froze in the moment, like the fish gently resisting the current, watching the lantern drift away in stilled time, the loss and confusion echoing.
“I could not reach you,” he murmured sometime later, after Delmadryn had said his piece and rose to return to the Whirling School, and Drai strayed by the river. “When I see the darkness growing tight about you, is it because you twist it into you, or only because you are now lost to my sight?”
The lantern had drifted around the bend, the candle staying lit the entire time. Drai blinked, coming back to himself, the illusion of the refracting water gone, and all was lucid and etched clear about him.
He turned to follow Delmadryn. Back to the city, and from there… he knew his purpose, now. The clarity was refreshing, but it also seemed lesser, like a clear winter morning leeched of its colors.
And then there was the night, waiting its turn, like a stalking nix-hound. Not all of the scuttlers in the brush would survive until the next day, and Drai wondered if he might be one of them.
Half a mile away, the candle in the lantern burned low, but did not go out.