Author: Cathy Tea
Nerraba, outlander, n’wah. Filthy elf, thief, cannibal. Milk-drinker, limp staff, coward. Soul-shriven. Vestige. I have been called these names.
And also: Brave-toothed, steel sword, Bosmer. Beeko, cerum, champion. Mystic, mage, hero.
The names roll easily off my back. I am as much one as the other.
But one title tempted me to claim it as my own, though I knew well by then that no words can name us once we slip through the rifts of time to become Unnamed. Yet this term played a chord that chimes the inner cathedral, where my soul resides–that same soul they claim was stripped from me. Something in me responded to the sound, and I knew then that not even Molag Bal could steal a soul, no matter what they say. Something in me awoke. And in walking the path laid out by this name, I remembered myself. My sister. I remembered that change brings us back to ourselves.
My father and I followed moonlight as it traveled up the stream through the meadows outside Haven.
“Look, Cat,” he said. “Our path is laid down for us.”
“Why do we follow the moons, Ata?” I asked.
“For wonder,” he said.
We came to a clearing where a dozen thunderbugs sparkled, lightning shooting between them.
“What are they doing, Ata?”
“The moon dance. It is for light! Look! They change!”
They shone white, silver, pure light. And with a crack, the charge between them lit the clearing. The flash shot us back, twenty-eight meters!
“Are you all right, kyne?” my father asked as we scrambled to our feet.
“I’m fine, Ata.” Every hair on my father’s head stretched out, crackling with electricity, pulling the follicle so his scalp looked boiled.
We laughed when our breath returned. “Well, we are alive then! Even if we are changed! The Moons will do that!”
We sat on the bluff while our hearts settled into a steady beat.
“Do you see how the moons always change?” my father asked. “They grow full and fat until they spark! And then they grow lean, and the sky is black.”
“But they always come back,” I said.
“They do. But are they the same?”
They were and they weren’t.
“There is another moon, kyne,” my father said, “the dark moon.”
“I can’t see it.”
“No, because it’s dark. But it is there. It’s there to bring the two moons together. Without it, they would wander the sky, always straying further and further apart.”
Moon Hallowed: I yearned to cling to this title, the same worn by all before and after me who walked alongside the Champions down the Two Moon Path. That was one name that meant something to me.
I walked with two sisters, Shazah and Khali, twins born during the rare alignment of Jone and Jode that allows the third moon, the dark moon, to appear. That is the alignment in which the Mane is born, and of the twins, only one could go on to assume that role. It fell to me to choose which one.
“This one was a father’s kit, too,” Shazah told me. “Khali stuck by our mother’s side. But for Shazah, it was to please Father, always.”
“Was your father a warrior?” I asked.
“No, that was our mother. And so my sister grew to love battle. Our father was a healer, a wise one, and so this one grew to love wholeness, peace.”
I thought of my father, wandering with me at his side, and his words of moons and change, to follow shadow and light, and our mother, who roamed the forests with Twig, bow in hand, to hunt the senche tiger.
Shazah walked with me through her childhood, the streets littered with sick and dying as the Knahaten flu festered in gutters and alleys of Orcrest.
“I was so afraid,” she said. “Father’s friends, his team. Each one succumbed. And with each husk, this one feared the rising of Dro-m’Athra.”
In the shadows of her memories, mist figures stirred. “I feel what you feel,” I said to her, my breath catching, my heart an ice block, my gut of empty iron. “Should we leave?”
“Leave, no. We must press on. These are but my fears, when I was a little cub. So many bodies. So much death. My father died. Our friends, his team. But he said that I should move forward. This one needs to look ahead. There is so much waiting to be done.”
At every step, Shazah would pause, to look about, to face the spectres of corpses, sick and dying, to remember her father. “He never gave up,” she said. “Even when he was sick himself. He said the Mane asked it of him, to help the others, to use his skill. What else is life for? And so he gave up his life in answering his call.”
“But maybe we can find a way to do what we’re here to do without such sacrifice,” I suggested.
“No,” said Shazah, “that is not what this path is for.”
She told me, when the time would come, that I would know who to choose, among her and her sister, which should go on to become the new Mane, and which should stay below, in the realm of Dro-m’Athra, to contain the Dark Mane.
“It must be me,” she said. “This one knows the darkness. My sister, she is strong, a warrior, and she is also full of anger. Such anger will serve her well, when she is leading our people. She will transform it into power, into strength. But here, below? No. Anger cannot diffuse hate. Only love can do that, Hallowed.”
I knew the truth of her words. I thought of my sister. She would have been grown by then–did she pour the hunter’s sharp focus into anger? How did she respond to cruelty, to murder, to slavery, to our fate?
I did not respond with anger, but I suspected, even then, that Twig did.
In Shazah’s eyes, I saw my mirror. It was not a hard choice: Only one who meets adversity with love can contain, and then dissolve, hate. The love that shone in her eyes, for it, darkness was no match.
Khali would go on to become a strong leader, this I knew. Containing the Dark Mane would have destroyed her, but guiding her people through battle and into peace? That would make her.
When I left Shazah below, in the dark realm, her eyes shown brighter than two moons, and she thanked me, Moon Hallowed.
That is why that is one name that I claim, because it was spoken with love. Only one other name has been spoken to me, by one other person, that resonates, also, in the key of love: Kitty.