The Mystic's Return The Mystic's Return
Suddenly, Kaitlin felt a slight disturbance in the wind. The breeze swirled around her, engulfing her, then chasing off, as of some force gently calling her. She started.
"Something wrong?" Jaana asked, noticing her reaction.
"I think she's back," Kaitlin replied.
The Dark Lord looked at them. "Who?"
He was surprised. "My god, how long has it been?"
Lady Paladin looked from one person to another. "Who's this Schala?" she asked.
"A Mystic sorceress," DL answered. "It's a complicated story... well, let's just say that we know of only two Mystics left. One is Magus. The other is his sister, Schala. But we haven't seen her around since..."
He paused, thinking.
"Since four moons ago," Kaitlin filled in.
LP shook her head. "So she's come back. You thinking of enlisting her help?"
Kaitlin felt a ripple through the earth, just a faint touch, but it shocked her senses. It had been quite some time since she had felt something like that. With a sigh she realized she had neglected the Source for much too long. But the ripple was more than that. It was a cry being sent through the world. Intuition stirred.
"Try the Time Key," Kaitlin said suddenly.
The DLE read her face, and offered no argument. He opened a Gate.
"Where will it lead us?" LP asked.
Kaitlin's voice was soft. "Schala."
They entered the Gate.
* * * * *
The room was lit with a soft blue light. Around the edges were faint traces of violet, and beyond that, darkness. The woman faced out the window, her arms outstretched in front of her. Her soft purple robes swayed gently, and her hair glistened strangely. She made no move as she heard the ball of light hum and expand. The Gate opened behind her and several people stepped out. The Gate closed, once again becoming a blue light.
The party looked around them. It was strange, that a room could have an aura. It seemed enclosed, yet infinite. Perhaps the fact that there was hardly any light accounted for the illusion. Kaitlin reached out a curious hand into the darkness. Some kind of field prickled her skin and she drew back in alarm.
The woman turned around. "Schala!" Jaana cried. The two women embraced, and Kaitlin ran over as well. The three of them had big smiles on their faces, delighted at the reunion. The DLE came in for a hug as well. He introduced the LadyPaladin, and they smiled at each other in greeting.
Schala did not mince words. "So what have you guys been up to, other than this crazy Moogle War?" the sorceress asked.
The group looked at each other, rather guiltily. Schala held up a hand. "Don't think I don't know what's going on," she said. "But I just caught the tail end of things." She made a strange twirling gesture with her hand. "And...I do know that each side is trying to recruit me."
The four exchanged another glance. Just how much did she know?
"Quite a bit," the Mystic said, answering their thoughts. They were startled. "The reason I called you here was to tell you...I'm not taking part in this war. At least, not yet..."
DL looked at Schala carefully. He noticed the tired look on her face and her rather wilted robes. Even the pendant that hung around her neck seemed to have lost some of the shine it had when he'd last seen her. "What have you been doing these last four moons?" he finally asked.
She smiled gently. "Traveling...Trying to seek the power of Lavos...I haven't quite found it yet, but I'm beginning to understand its power. And in understanding it, I can control it. Perhaps then I can help in ending this war." She gave Kaitlin a curious glance, which unsettled the druidess.
"Where have you been? What have you seen?" Jaana persisted. Schala sighed. "Much...very much...at times, perhaps even TOO much," she said cryptically. "It's been a long time..." Again she glanced at Kaitlin, who blushed slightly. There was something in the sorceress' look that said volumes, but she couldn't quite figure it out.
Suddenly the woman swept around the room, a restless whirlwind of energy. The others stepped back. "I've been to so many places, trying to figure out what it was I wanted from each one," she began, her words flowing over them as the robes flew around the room. "Somehow...I gained something from each place, yet lost something...It's as though I were leaving a part of me behind, to ensure that I would come back and reclaim it. And I've realized that's what life is. It's taking both your gains and losses and melding them with who you were, to create -- not a new person -- but a greater one.
"We are all mortal. We have a beginning and an end. When we forget that, we become immortal -- one without end." She smiled grimly. "And however tempting that may seem, let me tell you, no one wants that -- not even myself. When we lose sight of who we were, of our beginnings, we lose our very identity, and we become confused.
"The Moogle War is controlled, for now. But what I've seen is that it's no longer just another war. It's become a soul-searching one. We're not fighting for humans, or for Moogles. We're fighting the revelations about ourselves that we find as the war continues." She glanced at Kaitlin again. "And when more people realize that, where will the War lead?
"And I...I have traveled far and gained much knowledge. But I do not yet understand the full import of that knowledge.
"Therefore, I am keeping away from the War. Until I can truly control and put to use what I have learned, the power of Lavos will continue to be as destructive as ever..." She sighed.
"But Schala..." Jaana protested.
The Mystic held up a hand. "Believe me, this is for the best," she said. "I can add nothing more to this war, not without fully comprehending my new powers. But while you heal the warriors' bodies, I can help heal their souls. As the Pattern is revealed, I shall communicate with you. And if you ever need any advice, send a message through the earth or sky, and I will unseal the Time Gate."
"But how will we do that?" DLE asked, perplexed.
Schala smiled. "Kaitlin will know," she said, nodding at the young woman.
The four were startled. "I don't know how to..." Kaitlin began, but the sorceress cut her words off with a slow nod.
Suddenly Schala looked very tired. Her hair drooped, becoming an untidy mass of gray, instead of its usual silver. She closed her eyes and faced the window. "There is no more I can say," she said softly. I have made my decision."
The DLE looked at her for a long while, then sighed. "Very well. We can't force you to take part in our struggles. We will appreciate any advice you have to offer." He abruptly turned toward the blue ball and activated the gate. The room was flooded with brightness as the ball expanded into a large circle, and they saw the room more clearly. Its only furniture was a bed, a desk, and a chair. Upon the floor was a carpet with a beautiful knotwork design. The bed's coverlet and the desk had the same pattern. On one wall hung a large tapestry, its lines much more numerous and intricate than the carpet's. But the walls and floor were black; if nothing had been there, it probably would have been impossible to discern any boundaries.
The DLE stepped through the gate, LP following. Jaana hesitated, looking back at Schala. She remained standing by the window. The ninja-turned-Dragoon sighed and entered the portal. The druidess made to follow.
"Kaitlin," the Mystic said suddenly.
She turned around. "Yes?"
Schala faced her and gestured, closing the gate before she spoke. "Discontent burns within you. What is wrong?"
The woman's gaze was kind, but Kaitlin, for some reason, could not meet those violet eyes. She simply lowered her head. The older woman understood.
"I will not pry into your affairs, my dear," she said gently. But when you are uncertain, you must return to where you began, and take it from there."
"What do you mean?" Kaitlin asked.
Schala smiled. "You are a druidess," she reminded her. "Your place is among nature. I think you have been away from it too long. I've been to the ancient sites, you know, the stone circles and the tree groves -- at least, what remains of them. I've felt the power they contain, although I cannot completely tap into it. I have found that Lavos and the druids' Source are both aspects of one Power. That is why I can...sense you more easily than the others. I have become more attuned to feelings -- not only of animals, but of trees, of flowers, of all life. I think it would do you good to return to such a place."
Kaitlin sighed. "I don't know...not now, not with so much I have to do..."
The Mystic frowned slightly. She had spent some time under the tutelage of an old druid when she had visited the Great Grove, and she knew some of their ways. If a druid was hesitant to return to Nature, then things must be serious indeed.
She went to her desk, upon which were scattered various arcane potions and spellbooks. Kaitlin, watching her, noticed a red cloth spread with runes. Schala opened a small silver box and took out a ring.
Showing it to the druidess, Schala said, "This is a puzzle ring, made up of eight separate bands. The bands are locked together, but not very tightly. A drop or a pull" -- she tugged on one band, and suddenly the whole ring lay in a tangled heap on her hand -- "will disrupt its fragile harmony. But if you can make sense of the mess, if you know where to begin and in what order to replace them, then they are One again." She manipulated the bands, and with a silent snap, the ring was together.
She gave the ring to Kaitlin, who took it carefully. "Fascinating," the younger woman murmured, studying it closely.
"You see that the design is not tight," Schala continued. "So, too, are we. At times we appear strong, united within ourselves; sometimes we find that the gentlest touch will shatter us. We may then stunt our growth by trying to pick up the pieces, to re-create the person who we once were. But it is all a waste of time." She waved her hands expressively. "Every experience destroys us somehow, not necessarily in a negative way, and we always lose small bits of ourselves. Only when a major disaster occurs do we finally see the gaps, and we try in vain to regain what was there. You see that the ring, even when it is together, has gaps in it. People are the same; we always have faults, though it may take some time to realize what they are.
"Life is never simple, Kaitlin. It is a cycle of birth and death, of dust to dust, and it is also very complex. Your Celtic druids knew this. Hence the Celtic knot." With a finger she traced a certain section of the tapestry, showing that the winding design came right back to where it began.
A flicker passed through Kaitlin's mind. That's why the design looked so familiar, she thought. She looked at the ring she held, and she recognized the bands as forming another, though much less intricate, knot.
Schala put a hand on Kaitlin's shoulder. "You begin to understand. I see it in your face. You are young, Kaitlin, and your already potent healing powers are not even fully developed yet. But I am getting old, and there is still much for me to comprehend. That is why I stay away from the War. That is why I suggest your returning to the grove of your tribe."
This time it was the druidess turn to stare out the window. "I...I'm not sure if it still stands," she said with regret. "I do remember it had great power. I felt it. Perhaps that power saved it..." She shook her head.
Schala's voice was gentle. "I have said all I can. It is up to you to decide. First, though, you must return to the others. Tell no one what we have spoken about. Remember, it must be your choice. You must be doing it for yourself.
"Keep the ring with you. Someday when you understand how to read the Pattern of all things, living or inanimate, you will be able to take the ring apart and put it back together."
Kaitlin stared at the ring, which had suddenly taken on a new significance. "But, you put it back together...?" she asked hesitantly.
"I have seen some of the Pattern," Schala replied. "That limited knowledge helped me solve the ring. But there is still much I do not see." She sighed, then continued.
"There are not many more like us, Kaitlin. Like the Mystics, the druids are nearly extinct. And you are very powerful. The War needs those powers, but you must use them to help yourself as well."
She sat down and closed her eyes. Kaitlin looked at her, and was surprised to notice vague expressions cross the Mystic's face. Her countenance had changed, too; she suddenly realized that Schala did indeed look very much older, and very much wiser. How different she is, the druidess thought. Her experiences have certainly changed her. I wonder what how mine will change me?
The sorceress opened her eyes. "You must go; the others are surely wondering where you are," she said. "Tell them I have sealed the Gate after you, and remind them I will not be disturbed."
"All right," Kaitlin said. She met the woman's gaze, and something in her eyes frightened her. "Schala, is there something you're not telling me?"
To her intense surprise, the Mystic laughed. "There are many things I am not telling you," she replied. "But I know what you mean. You are indeed sensitive to others feelings." She gave a tired smile. "No, nothing's really 'wrong'...It's just that, like the DLE, I too may not be long for this world..."
Kaitlin was dismayed. "You have an incurable illness?" she asked, thinking that Schala did indeed know quite a bit about what was going on behind the War. When the woman nodded, the druidess asked, "Is that why you're talking about healing?"
This time the sorceress shook her head. "No, it's something quite different," she assured her. "But it is a kind of illness, and it's quite incurable..." She motioned for Kaitlin to come to the window. "Look out there. What do you see?"
The darkness spread out as far as the eye could see. "Nothing," Kaitlin replied.
Schala smiled. "To the untrained eye, there is nothing. But the places I've been, the things I've felt, have so affected me that this blackness is actually full -- full of undiscovered countries, unforeseen events, unknown paths. And that is what life is, isn't it? When I returned here, I thought that my world had fallen apart. Then I realized that I wasn't standing at the brink of night; I was waiting at the breaking dawn. In one direction, you get light. In the other, the darkness continues.
"I need to find the direction that takes me toward the light. The night surrounds me right now. All my travels have thrown me into chaos, and what I once knew suddenly became alien. But I understood some of what I learned, and those became the stars in my night." She pointed out the window again. When Kaitlin looked, she could make out faint dots of light.
"As much as I am a creature of the earth, I aspire to those stars," Schala continued. "They are the forebearers of the light, of the sun, and therefore they have the potential to reveal great things. The stars are calling me, Kaitlin; they are telling me to fly, to be among them. And I want to...I want to fly...Only my lack of understanding prevents me from doing so. Once I know the earth, I will also know the sky. I will be between the two, neither here nor there..."
She paused. Kaitlin asked, "And then?"
Schala kept her gaze out the window. "And then...I will lose my identity. In finding myself, I will lose who I am..."
There was a silence. Then Kaitlin suddenly understood. "No that's not true!" she said fiercely, shaking her head. "What about what you said just now, about consolidating your experiences and making yourself greater than you once were, even though you lose parts of yourself? And as long as you remember your beginnings, you will always retain your identity? Surely that factors into it!"
Schala faced the younger woman and leaned against the window. "Your wisdom is expanding," she said softly. "But in my case...well, we shall see, Kaitlin. We shall see..." She sighed and closed her eyes, shaking her head slowly. Kaitlin remained still, not wishing to disturb the sorceress.
Finally she arose out of her reverie. "But no more talk of this now." She smiled and embraced Kaitlin. "I wish you luck in your journeys."
Kaitlin's throat caught, and she simply nodded. She made to step into the portal, then she remembered something. "Wait...how will I contact you?" she called out.
But she was halfway into the Gate. She saw Schala gesturing with her pendant as she asked the question. As she felt the strong pull of the gate, she heard the sorceress' faint reply. "You will know how..."
With a flash, she popped out back onto the same ledge they had been standing on. The Gate hummed shut behind her.
"What happened?" the DLE asked. "The gate closed, and we couldn't get it open again."
Kaitlin shrugged. "Schala's sealing the Gate on her end," she said. "I was talking to her for a bit."
Jaana frowned slightly. "I hope you weren't trying to talk her into joining the War," she reprimanded. "Even though I don't agree with her decision, it is her choice and we should respect it."
The druidess shook her head. "No, it's not that, she was telling me more about her...meditations."
The DLE looked at her, his eyes slightly narrowed. "I understand Schala's need to be left alone. So we'd better not dwell on it. Right now, we need to return to Bacca and the others."
"You go," Kaitlin said. "I'll follow soon." The others nodded and left.
She stood looking out over the valley. The battle was over and many dead remained on the ground. The birds sent out calls to the rest of their flocks, letting them know there was food for the taking. Small copses of trees stood on the edges of the valley. "It must have been beautiful once," she told herself softly.
Beautiful, yes...all nature was, in fact...it had a set place in the world and simply fulfilled that place, nothing more. What a simple, uncomplicated existence. ..so different from those of mortals...There was something about nature, it was so wild and yet each form had a distinct place in the cycle. That was what people were looking for, wasn't it? They searched for an easy life, yet also wanted to be important, to have played a role in society. And to get there, people had to face crises, had to often reassess who they were and what their purpose was...But what most didn't know was that you didn't have to do great deeds in order to be remembered. Being an honest member in such an uncertain world was great already. That was why man could learn from nature. It was not only serene and soothing to the frazzled soul, but it was also the perfect society. Everything had its place, nothing was wasted, everything was recycled. It was a Great Wheel, turning round and round, without end.
But if so, did all forms in nature lose their identity? She thought about that. No...no, because they had a beginning, they had an end, all within the Cycle of Life. So everything could be infinite, yet finite at the same time...like the strange feeling of Schala's room...The link was Nature. What had Schala said? She had studied the druids. Words came back...
"Send a message through the earth or sky..."
She remembered how the earth and wind had trembled in announcing the Mystic's return...
That was it, that was how to contact her. By reconnecting with nature, by returning to her roots, once again studying the Tree of Life. She, Kaitlin, would know because she too was attuned to Nature...or at least, she was supposed to be. She sighed.
"I'm beginning to understand now, Schala..."
The words were mere whispers, but they floated on the wind. She saw the leaves rustle across the ground, and a small dust cloud formed. It traveled on its way, picking up leaves as it went. It disappeared over the horizon. A few minutes later, she saw the trees gently swaying their branches. The motion seemed peaceful, smooth, graceful. She knew then that her message had been received.
Schala had been right. She did know how.