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"I'm Nissa," said the elf.
"Chandra," she said, offering her palm.
Nissa clasped Chandra's hand in both of her own. Her fingers were soft, and her green-tinted eyes looked as deep as mossy wells. "Thank you."
As soldiers lifted the cauldron away from where Chandra sat, Nissa appeared, bearing a stacked armful of blankets. Chandra smiled a crooked smile at her as Nissa dumped the blankets, layer after layer of coarse, fragrant wool, into Chandra's lap. Nissa's eyes were quiet and thoughtful, green touching green. Chandra liked the way her movements were gentle, her hands kind.
Stranger still was the way Chandra's words had reached the deepest layer of Nissa's consciousness, touching the feeling that was present but unwilling to wholly manifest.
Nissa looked up, meeting Chandra's eyes. They were wide, amber pools of sincerity, and in that moment Nissa felt they could see straight into her soul. She was unused to others being able to grasp her perception of things, let alone understand how she was feeling. Chandra had done both in a matter of moments. Perhaps that's why Nissa responded so honestly. "I don't know if I can leave." The words out of her mouth, Nissa held her breath.
Chandra had stepped in at the moment that Nissa had felt the world coming apart. Chandra had reached out to Nissa and they had connected in a way Nissa had never connected to another being, not even to the soul of Zendikar.
Nissa laughed, and then she realized that laughing was something she hadn't done in a while. She enjoyed the way Chandra's nature could so easily make her smile and laugh.
I remember the pool.
Behind the power that shook the strength from my legs.
It was there. I saw it. I swear I saw it.
She was floating in green and I could breathe there.
That's where I want to be.
I need to be there.
It's an itch I gotta scratch. Crawling up my spine and under my hair. Gotta go now.
My feet have already taken me to the door. No, stop. Can't just barge in and...I mean, weird, right? Rude. I don't want her to think I'm the sort that just breaks in and...all right, maybe I am the sort who does that, but I'm trying real hard to be polite now. I just need to take a few minutes to—
Damn it, I'm already up the stairs. And I'm stomping down the hall like a big freak because my legs are shaking and my brain is sizzling. This is stupid. I'm going to stop putting one foot in front of the other. I'm going to turn around. I'm going to tiptoe down the stairs real quiet, like a little baby mouse. Any second now. Damn it, Chandra, don't open that door. Stop gawping at the ginormous flowers that weren't here a month ago. Bad Chandra, no cinnamon pastry. Just turn around, go back downstairs, and never think of doing this agai—
"H-hey. Nissa? You in here?" Yeah, that's it. Casual. Smooth. Be all nonchalant, like Liliana. Nothing gets to Liliana.
"I mean, heh, 'course you're in here. 'Cause you just talked. I mean, uh, you got a minute? Maybe?" All right you can stop talking now.
"Yes. I'm behind the kass—behind the purple flowers."
My hands are shaking. I push branches aside and walk toward her voice. The leaves feel like sandpaper. Just a little farth—
She's sitting cross-legged on a patch of moss. Dark hair unbound, spilling in waves over her shoulders, trailing across her lap. She's woven little flowers around the crown of her head. Butterflies are dancing around her. She pays them no mind. A shaft of light through the leaves paints her in golden sun. She smells like anyone's best childhood memory.
She hasn't taken her eyes off me. Just sits. Listens. Waits. It's making me itchy and I think I'm sweating.
When was the last time I took a bath? Aren't elves supposed to have super dog noses or something?
Also, I'm standing bent over under a branch, holding leaves out of my face like a freaking idiot. "Uh. Can I sit?" I'm breathing through my mouth, fighting for air, struggling not to be loud about it.
"Please." She gestures. Her arm moves like water. Just sorta flows.
Then I manage to trip and fall on my face.
"Oh!" she reaches out, but her fingers seem to bounce off an invisible bubble a handspan away from me. "There's a root..." She pulls her hand back, cradles it with her other arm.
"I'm fine!" I blurt into the dirt, then roll on to my knees and grab my head to make sure I really am. Bleeding from my face would be super embarrassing during this conversation. "Are you fine?"
She cocks her head to the side. "I..."
"Ha-ha-ha! 'Course you are. Sorry. I'm the one who fell on her face." SHUT UP SHUT UP.
I try to sit like she is, but the armor on my shins digs into my thighs. I lean against a tree, stretch out my legs, cross them at the ankles.
Wait! My feet are almost touching her knees. I shouldn't do that. She might not like that. I shift my weight, point them off to one side.
Great. Now I have a root jabbing into my butt.
She just watches me. Silent. Patient.
I giggle and try to push the hair off my sweaty forehead. I'm steaming under her gaze, skin gone molten. "I think I'm crushing your flowers."
"They'll be fine." Her eyes are so deep. When I was a kid, there was this quarry outside Ghirapur. It had filled with water, and moss and floaty green stuff grew all over it. Deep, black, still. If you fell in, you'd never reach the bottom. That's what they said, anyways. I'm standing at the edge, too scared to jump.
She clears her throat. "Can I help with something?"
I swallow, but my throat's dried up and it takes a few tries. "I—I just thought that...You know that time on Zendikar, when our minds touched? I felt Zendikar's anger, right? The power of a whole world. Your world. And it was amazing. The most incredible thing ever. But behind Zendikar, behind the anger and the power, I felt you. Your mind. And it was real tranquil, you know? You kinda...centered me, I guess. You were all calm and connected-y."
Then my brain shuts off, but my mouth keeps walking over a cliff.
"When I touched that part of you, it was like when you're swimming, and you just lie back and float, looking up at the sky. Nothing below. Just blue and air above, and everything's cool and still. You can see forever, and don't have to worry..."
WHAT IS COMING OUT OF MY FACE?
I run a hand back through my sweaty hair. "Ha ha, wow. You must think this is dumb, huh? I come in here and start spouting bad poetry—"
The tiniest of smiles. "I thought it eloquent."
I grab a strand of my hair and yank until it hurts. That will keep me focused, I bet. "Anyways. I was thinking there are times when I get super pi—uh, real angry, and usually something blows up. But I think I'd rather be able to touch that place again. What your mind felt like. Calm. Grounded. I mean..." I make the mistake of looking up and her eyes are just there, watching, and all the air in my throat jams up and refuses to move.
I struggle to pull in a breath. "I think Jace would prefer that. So I don't wreck his house. I mean, he's got this expensive stuff all over."
"I can teach you to meditate, if you wish."
"Uh, yeah." Let's go with that. Sounds good.
Her pencil-sketch eyebrows go all bendy. "Are you unwell? You seem anxious."
The entire garden is full of floaty sparkly silver things, I spent the last hour trying not to blow up Jace's house, and my heart's slamming against my ribcage like I just ran a marathon. I'M GREAT THANKS FOR ASKING.
Instead I blurt, "It's just, you've been staring at me this whole time."
"You're speaking to me. Should I not pay attention?" I swear her lip trembles. "Is this not—not polite on your world?" She looks away for the first time, and one hand tugs a grass-stem ear. The snow of her cheek is brushed with sunset color.
WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST SAY?
"Wha—uh, no! I mean...Sorry!"
I'm on my feet, slamming my head into a low branch. "Ow! S-sorry. This was dumb." I back away, clutching my head, pulling in my elbows to hide my burning eyes, stumbling over the same damn root, shaking, panting for breath, stomach churning. What did I do, what did I do, what did I do?
She's on her feet in the turn of a breath. "Wait."
"I made you feel weird. I should go. I'm just gonna go. Sorry. Bye. Sorry."
I turn and run, trailing sparks, trees and flowers smearing around me, banging through the door.
...I think I'm gonna puke.
Chandra. The blood surging hot through her freckled cheeks, the sharp, swift movements of her hands. They'd moved like birds.
Nissa fed birds sometimes, in the garden. They would peer at the seeds cupped in her hand, hungry and needing, but fluttered off when she moved the wrong way.
She'd moved the wrong way, and Chandra had flown.
"I'll go." The words had flown before she'd thought them.
Gideon turned to her. "Are you sure?" His eyes drifted down to her trembling fingers. "Nissa, you don't have to go alone."
She balled her hands into fists, stilling them. "I will go to Kaladesh. Baan can guide me. I'll..."
Bring Chandra home? She was home.
Get her out of trouble? She was a woman grown. She could do as she pleased.
Protect her? Chandra's heart was a baloth. She needed no champion.
"...I'll stand with her."
It felt right.
Chandra threw her arms around the elf. "You did it!"
Chandra's armor, still hot to the touch, poked Nissa's chest, and a strand of the pyromancer's hair—smelling of smoke—tickled her nose. And a different sort of heat, the raging fire of Chandra's boundless energy, pressed on her as well—the merest hint of a real connection.
Chandra wheeled on her and flames surged dangerously close to Nissa's face. "This is my mother! For twelve years I thought she was dead. Don't you understand? Do you even have a mother?"
Nissa stopped dead. Something had gripped her chest and was squeezing, driving the breath from her lungs.
Chandra's sudden rage seemed to ebb, as she saw the effect of her words. "I'm sorry..."
"Did you ever see Bala Ged," Nissa said, "when you were on Zendikar?"
Chandra shook her head, blinking.
"It was the home of the Joraga, my people. And when Ulamog...escaped his prison, it was the first place he destroyed." She swallowed hard. "Dust."
"So your—your parents...?"
"They're not gone, or so the elders teach us. The spirits of past generations live among us. I expect they are helping those who seek to rebuild..." Nissa's voice broke. The last time she saw her mother was long before Ulamog awakened. She knew that some of the Joraga had survived. But she had never sought her mother.
Before she knew what was happening, Chandra pulled her into another hug, pinning her arms to her sides. Strangely, the pressure on her chest seemed to diminish.
Chandra threw a wild-eyed, helpless look over her shoulder at Nissa. Her pain and rage were so fierce, so hot, that part of Nissa wanted to back away, but her hand reached out and her palm rested on Chandra's back—just as Mrs. Pashiri had done.
A channel opened between them, and Nissa felt Chandra's fire surging deep in her soul. She pulled her hand away and took a step back.
Chandra's despair was so plain on her face that Nissa wanted to embrace her and hold her to her chest. Even if it meant being caught up in the fire of Chandra's turmoil, even if it meant burning up...
"Why'd you join the Gatewatch, Nissa?"
"You're so connected to Zendikar, right? Why leave? Why come with us humans and deal with all our crap?"
"We're stronger together," Nissa said. "We can use that strength to help other worlds, the same way we helped Zendikar. I don't want to see another plane suffer like Zendikar did."
"Stronger together. That's what Liliana said, isn't it? I don't think that's it."
"What do you mean?"
Chandra's gaze rested on Mrs. Pashiri, who was sitting against the opposite wall, conserving her strength. "We're Planeswalkers, right? And that means it's so easy to feel alone—cut off, like you said before. It will always mean leaving our families behind. Leaving the people we love. I found my mom, and Mrs. Pashiri, but I don't think I could ever stay on Kaladesh forever. We're Planeswalkers—and the Gatewatch is about not being alone anymore."
Nissa blinked. "Being a part of something larger than ourselves..."
"No. Just being a part of something. Together. Having a family, no matter what plane we're on." She smiled weakly. "Having friends."
Nissa tried to remember the last person she had called a friend. Not Ashaya, the soul of Zendikar, but a person.
Mazik? Back before I ever left Zendikar, before—
Chandra was on her feet again, face to face with her. "It's not just saving the Multiverse. It's saving each other. Helping each other. Like you coming here...for me. Helping me find my mom."
"I've never really had that..."
Chandra put a hand on her shoulder. "It means a lot to me, Nissa. Thank you."
"Chandra, you should find your—your mom," Nissa said. "Save her. I'll stay here with Mrs. Pashiri."
Chandra smiled and shook her head. "You're a good friend, Nissa."
It doesn't make any sense, Nissa thought. We're Planeswalkers. We're part of the Gatewatch. We promised to help protect the Multiverse—there's so much good we can do for so many people.
But I just want to stay here.
She sat down beside Chandra and Mrs. Pashiri.
With my...my friend.
"Aside from leadership, the group's greatest weakness is Renegade Prime's daughter. She is easily provoked into rash acts, which makes the others overprotective of her. Particularly Gideon and Nissa."
The deck creaks behind me. Footsteps. I swipe at my eyes because what if it's someone I don't know? Or worse, someone I know.
What if it's Nissa?
I haven't thought about what I did on Ravnica. Every time I do, I wanna curl up and pull a blanket over my head. She was nothing but nice to me and I—It's just, you've been staring at me. I watched her die a little inside.
My cheeks and hair ignite. I slap out the flames. The footsteps get closer, slower.
Then we got here, to Kaladesh, all I did was yell at her about my mom. I didn't even think about her. Why did she even come, after I made her so uncomfort—
Oh crap. I hugged her when we were looking for mom. Twice. Without even thinking, because when do I ever? Even though I know how she twitches just when someone brushes past her. She must have been mentally clawing the ceiling. I'm such a—
BLINK. BREATHE. Don't screw this up. Just have a normal conversation with her.
"Gids came down to see how I was, and we started talking, and there was this time he got me arrested for blowing up a museum—" YOU ARE SCREWING THIS UP "—but actually he didn't want to, and we ended up on a plane where we fought this creepy I'm-a-gentleman-m'lady vampire, and then I was thinking about my mom and—"
She lowers her eyes, lashes falling. "Tell me later, if you wish. Excuse me." She turns, framed by the ornamental jasmine. All its blooms have pulled tight, sealed and green.
How do I keep screwing up like this? Innistrad gone all explodey? Perfectly fine, thanks. Talking to Nissa? Human trash fire.
That can't be my hand falling on her shoulder, making her shudder at the pull, because I know better, don't I? "D-don't go," I stammer. "I mean, you're upset. I upset you."
"No?" she says, cautiously, testing the word. "No. There is...much I don't understand. But I'm not upset with you. Believe that."
She raises a hand, and gently peels my burning fingers from her shoulder. Hers are cool and smell of summer fruit, sunset bonfires, twilight rain. Or maybe I just imagine they do. "You needn't be concerned."
Arms from behind. The scent of flowers, and a soft wind at my ear. "But not alone."
"I'll hurt you. Let me go."
Her arms squeeze tighter. "No."
"I can't do this anymore. Let me go." My stars burn the tears away, but my voice is high and wavering, the words tumbling over each other as I start to shudder. I'm falling apart. "Please just let me go."
"I can't. If you leave us like this, you'll have to take me too."
"That's not—" I can't see anything now. There's just light, and her voice.
"Don't go," she says.
Mrs. Pashiri spasms and falls, her braids in a tangle, eyes locked on me, willing me to run for safety. Dad crumples, hands clamped over the red hole in his stomach, eyes locked on me, willing me to run for safety. Dead because of me.
"Don't leave us," Nissa says, softly. "You're loved."
She opened her ears to footfalls on steel, her nose to fried food and sweat, and—finally—her eyes.
Chandra walked across the twilit platform of the Spire, loose-limbed with fatigue, rubbing the gray circles under her eyes. "Hey, Nissa. Thought you were asleep."
The curve and sway of music gave way before jagged angles of speech. Words returned in scribbles and scratches. "Sorry," she croaked. "I was..."
Chandra squatted an arm-length away, sunrise-colored eyes darting from one corner of her face to another. Nissa searched her face, warm and flush with fluttering, nervous life, but found no capacity for understanding. No context she could appeal to. No words that could explain.
Still she said, "I was listening to skywhales," and it seemed important that she should.
Chandra blinked upward. "What? Where?"
Nissa felt the curl and bustle of the aetherstreams. She turned her head, and weighed the bearings' change. "Far east, and several days south. Dawn is breaking over them."
Chandra yawned, with an intensity that made her jaw tremble and her eyes water. "You've got good ears."
"I was with them."
"But you're right here?"
She took a breath, and dove. "I can feel leylines. Or aetherstreams. When I meditate, and sometimes when I'm just sitting, I...become one with them. My perceptions, my thoughts, they slip away. I become one with the world."
Chandra rocked back on her heels, fingers lacing nervously around her knees. "Spooky. That an elf thing? A Zendikar thing? Would I drift off like that if I meditated?"
"No." Nissa looked away, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks. "It's just...a me thing."
Chandra bolted to her feet, hair sparking and lifting in ripples. "Sorry! I didn't mean to—!"
Nissa reached up. "Please don't run."
She watched Chandra's fingers tremble against the violet sky. "I upset you again." Her hair sputtered and crackled. Auroral ribbons of orange shimmered across her scalp. "I always seem to—"
Nissa's eyes squeezed shut, and she forced scribble-words into the air. "Y-you didn't!"
Chandra turned back, holding her breath, unable to meet her eye.
Nissa swallowed past the desert in her throat. "I don't speak often. I lived alone for...decades. Zendikar was my companion. We understood each other at a level deeper than words. I...I don't know how to talk to you. I'm trying to learn."
Chandra looked up, eyes wide and startled. "You don't know how to talk to me?"
"I will make mistakes," Nissa said. "Pick the wrong words. Misunderstand yours. I'll act strange and won't know that I am. But if you can be patient with me, I would like to be..." Waves of sky-song memory welled upward, symphonies of color and warmth, resonant movement and shared breath. She stilled them, reduced them, and forced out angular words shaped in a pallid shadow of acceptable truth. "...your friend."
Chandra's hands leapt out to enfold hers, warm as a bird's nest. "I dunno," she sniffled, one corner of her mouth quivering upward. "I think you're pretty good at picking words."
"It took all afternoon to decide how to say this."
Nissa jolted awake in her own body.
Chandra had collapsed against her side. Her head lolled over her shoulder, wisps of copper hair tickling her nose, slow tides of breath ebbing from her open mouth. And she was drooling on her sleeve.
Nissa had hoped this would happen; Chandra needed sleep. There would be time for meditation later. Perhaps slipping away on thoughts of water would quench the fires of her nightmares. If not, Nissa would remain, waiting to help.
But this position was not comfortable. Her arm already grew numb.
Carefully, Nissa lifted Chandra's radiant featherweight, and maneuvered so she could rest her head across her lap. Chandra stirred in her sleep, turning on to her side and curling up, pulling her knees to her chest and her hands to her face. Then her lips parted, and industrial snores pealed across the platform.
In the quiet of the sky, Nissa guarded Chandra's sleep.
It felt right.
They sat on the bench for several more minutes. Nissa was thankful for the shade. The malaise of this world was seeping into her, and she knew that it wouldn't let up until she left Amonkhet for good. The sooner they could defeat the dragon, the better.
She caught herself staring at the sky. Far above she could see the gentle shimmer of the Hekma barrier and the pale blue sky beyond. Her view of the infinite sky was interrupted by the awful horn motif on the edge of the building in front of her.
She polished off a second cup of fresh water. "Thank you for accompanying me this morning, Chandra."
"Nowhere else I'd rather be." Chandra fiddled with the straps on her vambrace, her eyes darting in Nissa's direction. An involuntary smile flitted across her face—a blush, an inescapable dash of sentiment.
Nissa scoffed. "I can think of at least twenty places I would rather be than Amonkhet."
Chandra's smile turned plain and she looked down.
The two sat in semi-silence, comfortable for one and fraught with unspoken words for the other. Nissa took a breath, allowing the churn of the fountain and the cool shade above to her soothe her nerves. Chandra kept her eyes focused on her buckle.
"I've never spent so long in cities before," Nissa said. "Between Kaladesh and here, I've had more than my share of people."
"You seem to be getting along fine," Chandra replied.
Nissa shook her head. "I have gotten better at hiding my discomfort. Being around others so often is draining."
"But not with us, right?"
The question caught Nissa's attention. She watched Chandra intently unbuckle and rebuckle the same strap of her vambrace.
Nissa frowned. Thought over her words. "Yes and no."
Fiddling hands paused, while a meandering mind searched for the words to lend shape to unfamiliar feelings.
"Friendship with all of the Gatewatch is still quite new. I'm still trying to understand what it means to have friends in the first place," Nissa said.
Chandra made a small noise and looked out on the plaza, her posture heavy and leaden, her fingers suddenly quite still.
Nissa continued. "On Zendikar, I was without the company of people for most of my life. The plane was the closest thing to a friend I had. Learning to trust has been . . . slow—and there is still much for me to learn. Understanding and sustaining friendships is daunting when one has never really done it before."
Chandra shifted awkwardly. "So . . . friendship?"
Nissa blinked. Chandra worked very hard not to stare.
"Yes," Nissa smiled.
Nissa closed her eyes, and took another deep breath, her headache receding. It felt good to confess insecurities. She smiled and looked Chandra in the eye.
"I am thankful for your companionship. You have taught me much about what it means to be a friend, Chandra. It means much to me."
"Right. Yeah." A soft smile returned to Chandra's face. "I want to be a good friend to you."
Nissa beamed. "And you are. I am trying as best I can to be one in return."
Chandra's small smile spilled into a tight but earnest one. She locked eyes with those of her friend's. "You're doing fine, Nissa."
Reassured, Nissa placed her cup on the edge of the fountain.
"I think I'm feeling better. Let us continue."
The elf stood and walked on. After a breath and a heavy sigh, Chandra followed.
Nissa X Chandra
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