The tears enveloped me, and I no longer held any power to stop them, nor held any desire, too. All this time, fighting, searching, and clinging to hope, I at last beheld the Dark Magician, and he slipped from my grasp, like water from poorly cupped hands. I had spent so many days and nights, and it had all been in vain. I could do nothing but weep, and there upon the cold floor of the Cathedral, weep I did.
Would he continue to haunt me? Disturb my dreams and plague my mind? But it was not the fear of being hounded that I cried, but rather the crushing blow of failure, and the sense that something important had been missed and sent back to the dark, never to be recovered again. I felt a great sink in my belly, and a caving of my chest; the Dark Magician had secrets that could have helped my people, my loved ones, I knew this to be true, even though I had no proof of it. The nightmares had been more than nightmares, there was more; something was boding and gathering to life in the shadows, and it would devour the West. Perhaps it went beyond the West, a threat to all the Four Points. And I felt, no, I knew, the Dark Magician had answers.
And I had lost them forever in a moment of weakness.
The clandestine creep choked me, and the cold that was the night of the Cathedral weighed on me like never yet. I failed. I failed. I could still see the Magician, there before me, his fine attire and the swirling oil of abyssal black that had been his face — but gone it was. His image was already fleeing from my memory. How could I have thought, that I was any match to the one known as the Great Illusionist.
I sat myself off the ground, and wiped the wet from my face to no avail. The dark was everywhere, I could barely see but solid pitch shapes, and a chill seemed to have swept in, an unusual chill. I suddenly realized how very alone I was, and the old fear slunk back, and I found myself yearning for my feline companion, and all his mockery. Though Burgone had been snark, egomaniacal, and terrible company, he had still been a presence, and that on its own had been a comfort. I felt a twinge of regret, of the words I had lashed at him, and our not very pleasant parting, and the tears I had just begun to grip back started to flow again, as I longed for my cat friend.
“Oh, Burgone,” I sniffed aloud to the dark, my voice cracked and feeble, “I’m sorry I was so cruel to you. You h-help me when no one else w-would.” I buried my head into my lap, bent over and on my knees, and the full flood of emotion started again. A time passed when I heard nothing but the sob of my own loneliness.
“Well! To not accept an apology of that pathetic nature I feel would be un-gentlemanlike, and in very poor taste.”
With a start I rose, my deluge of tears halting immediately, “B-Burgone?”
A light of a candlewick flared suddenly, and not only did I find myself in a different place to where I had just been, but there was Burgone, lounged so nimbly on the sconce outstretched from the wall to my left, his tail swishing down from the tip of the candle, as though he had just alighted it with his fine, fluid appendage.
“By my little fur-ends, you look a miserable wretch.”
“Burgone!” I leapt from my place and raced to him, swiping him down from his perched and into a hug, to which he meowed in absolute protest and scrambled in my arms.
“Ugh! Now look here -!” But I paid him no mind and kissed his beautiful head, to which he let out another proclamation of disgust and flew from my embrace, in a swift elegantly slip down to the floor. In equal swiftness he then turned around and leapt up upon a large armoire that hung upon the wall and shook his head declaring, “Bleh!”
“Never in my life have I been so happy to see you!” I sang.
“Never! Do that again without my consent!” he barked to me.
“I’m sorry?” I said, my smile irrepressible.
“Would you like some fellow, or lady for that matter, to kiss and coddle you without your consent?”
I halted in thought, my emotion still welling in me but my excitement had subsided. “No.” I said at last, now feeling slightly embarrassed.
“Quite right.” he said, “So never embrace me in such a manner again without mine. Now, come here and give me a good pet.”
I moved in slight sheepishness over to him, and reached up and stroked him fine down the back, and he released a magnificent purr as I scratched him beneath his chin. It was now that I began to notice my surprising surroundings. The mirror upon the oval shaped armoire was grunged to the point of no return, and any reflection it might have given was simply a green and rusted pool of algae color, to which I was slightly thankful, for I was sure my reflection wasn’t in the best of appearances currently. I turned around and glanced about me; the room was small and piled with a manner of furniture, as though it was storage, and some pieces had drapings of sheets over them. The chamber was little enough so that the one candle was enough to illuminate, and it had the smell of a dank basement about it, the walls crumbly with claylike dirt, and the earthy floor was loose beneath my feet.
“What is this place?” I asked, my voice soft and breathy.
“A room of the old vestry, before the Cathedral you know today. A little chapel used to sit in this spot before the gaping Gothic was erected, but it was sank into the ground. This is the little of what’s left.” Burgone hopped from his perch and landed upon a mahogany trestle in front of me, “The Magician didn’t always use to be this way. He was once a cleric, a devout of the Time of Conterminous. Rather than worship the Western Goddess, he worshiped the Cardines as a whole, and as a man of the Green Age, it was seen as heretical to worship any of the four gods except your own.”
I moved forward to the back wall, pushing a chair to the side, and there hung a portrait of a young man. Handsome, congenial looking; he had a sharp nose and his eyes were a light brown, soft and oval, and thick, rich golden hair decorated his head, tied into a pompadour with a lovely bow. I suddenly felt struck, as a flash of the Magician; his cane in hand, head held high, thick, lovely hair, washed through my memory.
“This is…” I breathed.
“Yes. The Dark Magician. Darling, wasn’t he.”
I turned and looked to Burgone, who stood with his front paws upon the edge of the trestle, gazing up at the portrait.
“He certainly didn’t dress like a cleric.” I said, “Why all the…well…”
I smiled, “Well, yes.”
“He didn’t spend all his life as a cleric, nor all his time.” Burgone said, laying himself down and crossing his paws, “He was the heir of an affluent family, proper and polished to royalty. In fact he was not from the western continent at all, but from the eastern land.”
“The east?” I started, turning back to the painting, new feelings and thoughts springing within me, “He was…an easterner…”
Burgone once again rose and gave several hops up the furniture, until at last setting himself upon the top of a credenza, slightly above me and level with the portrait. His tail he swished down, ticking it back and forth, gazing at the painting.
“Can you imagine, being a wealthy easterner in the West during the Green Age, and an apostle of the First Age, and then, also, a magician of the Masquerades? Astounding.”
I quickly looked up to Burgone, my eyes wide. “You mean, he was also part of the Mystics?”
“Oh yes. The Mystics were nothing like they are depicted in modern times. They were a vastly accepting people; as long as you were willing to learn, and gave love to the earth, and attended the Moon Ceremonial every month to give thanks to Adrinka, they would teach you. Early in the Green Age, many foreign feet traveled to western shores to be taught by the Mystics. In fact, they did not receive their title of ‘Masquerades’, until well towards the end of the Green Age and into the next.”
I felt myself staring slightly off into space, absorbing this new information. I knew very little of history, and only knew of the ages I had been taught by Nana; that of the First Age, the Green Age, and the current age of Despondence. I knew of the existence of other ages and times, but knew next to nothing beyond that. I did know that a great darkness swept over the West after the Green period had ended, but, sad to say, my knowledge ended there.
“What was the Moon Ceremonial?” I asked, surprised by my own sudden inquisitiveness.
Burgone’s eyes gave a sudden spark, “Do you truly not know? After all, you have been attending them for the past year…”
Heart skipping I startled back away from Burgone, knocking against a coat-rack and sending it over to the floor. I brought my hand to my breast, alarm rising in me. The longboats. The lanterns. The song. The cloaked people of my dreams.
“How do you know that? HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT?” I shouted.
Burgone said nothing, but his slit, green eyes pierced me like they had never done. His tail continued to tick, back and forth, back and forth, and blinkless he bore into me, in a way that made me feel transparent and exposed.
“How do I know? Oh, my dear, Lady Ashes,” he first mused, his canines flashing in a wry way, and then he tsk-ed, “Did you ever once ask yourself how I know of the Cathedral, the chapel before; how I know of the Magician and his past; how I came here and how I have been able to find you, again and again, in the colossal-ness that is this magic world? I ask you, how do I speak? Light lamps? Know where the hounds lie and when a trap is lurking. You took the enchantment of the Cathedral for granted, not once considering the companion who so readily helped and guided you.”
My chest thundered, and heat rushed to my face, anger and fear mixing in me. “Who are you!” I demanded, “Tell me now!”
At this Burgone almost seemed to grin, his eyes sparkling in mischief, “Oh come now, you give me too much credit. I am just a domestic cat, a feline of refined tastes and has them met. I am a pet, nothing more, nothing less.”
My mouth hung, as realization sprang to me, and I gaped as I blurted, “You’re -!”
“The Dark Magician’s pet.” Burgone stated, “Of course.”