I half remember your stories, sweet one. Stories that in this life I present as my own. For clarity's sake if nothing else. But so much of what I am was gained in your embrace. How I adored your stories, my love. Our stories, you called them. The sylphs that swam through endless black to come drink from the irises of stars. The church beneath the sea. Or the valley of pages. Trees with leaves of written pages. Lost tongues, you said, oldest regions of dreaming. Before the moon came, before the stars really learned to sing. I remember the quartz shells that littered the beach after morning tide, veined with ancient light, glinting like they had fallen from night into day. Some seemed carved with sigil and script, still faintly aglow, your eyes full of mirth as you cupped a few of them in your hands and told me they were indeed the corpses of stars. That they were transformed as they fell through our evening colours and into the sea. A winged girl on the beach, her palms filled with dead stars. Some of them came home with us, of course. You fashioned fine jewellery with them, studded our bedposts with them. Light should get a chance to live forever, you told me. I remember it still. Rapture. Brighter times, my love.
And later, after fires and seething silence stole everything from us. The Gate of Shepherds, or what remained of it. Held between our previous rapture and the heartbreak we came to know so well. You took me there once, to that fabled gate. A place wreathed in mist. Place of the wraith-cults that whisper now in men's ears. A ruin among ruins. Three vast stone crosses hung suspended in the mist above our heads. The ageless crows had made them their perches. The crosses still hummed, faint but deep, like a tension in the air that might part the mist at any moment. Cults of the half-light had sickened the entire region; those who would bend creation itself to mock the shepherds gate. Yet still the gate stood and stands. I remember your hair beginning to move as though underwater as we approached it. Your fingernails aglow, pulsing pink, yellow, green and blue. Your teeth lit from within when you smiled at me, eyes clearer than anything I'd ever seen. How I admired you. Your grace as you spread those grey feathered wings and rose to the perch of the nearest cross. The crows scattered at your approach, shrieking and cawing into the mist. Like children or ancients babbling in a private tongue. Your grin alight as you crawled the arm of the monument, then turned onto your back to let your wings and arms hang below. My fearless girl. Iconic, even in grief. No cults of half-light could truly slay your spirit. But you were younger then. We both were. Only just beginning to find true names for war. They were only dramas to us before the hush. Stories, I suppose. But we learned the reality of loss. The hideous brutality. We learned all too well, along with those mortals we tried in vain to protect. I see the change when I look into your eyes now, beloved, though you would hide it from me. Still a sweetheart, even for one so wild. The pain, the knowledge of horror in your gaze. How it cuts me. War has aged us. Haunted us, but still we share our songs. No shepherd need more than that, you whispered to me once. No more than a sustaining kiss, if that kiss be true. I recall we were dancing at the time. My love, that place of the shepherds shall know a full light once more. Soon the wraith-cults shall have no purchase there. I swear it to you, my Vahishta. It's my life's work. My blood and tears and joy, as you know like no other. Omkara, my beloved ones. Sincerest apologies from a shattered king. But the iris is open once again. Mercy and Grace, beyond all thrones and crowns. Such is love, if that love be true. It is your gate now, Asha.