Jan 27, 2023 12:45 PM
It's 1913 in Sicily, where Sable lives
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Teresa was a fine girl, everyone agrees. Short but strong, with a soft face and curling brown hair and patient eyes. Dutiful, kind, humble. She would walk along the shoreline and the mountain paths every day, stopping to chat with passers-by and even offer a little blessing, a kind of earthen strength that would let one toil in the fields all day and come home to eat a hearty meal.

She kept them all safe from monsters, smiled and waved with everyone who passed, cheerfully complimented and joked, was constantly receiving invitations to restaurants, little gifts, curios or wine or cheese, which she'd re-gift to someone in need as often as keep for herself. Her raiment is not so impressive as the legendary figures you hear tell of, her powers limited and not seeming to grow further, perhaps out of a lack of ambition or skill - but still. She was theirs.

Such a shame, a tragedy really, that now she is but a ghost on the hills above Ragusa.

It wasn't an especially heroic death, though everyone is quick to tell you otherwise, that she single-handedly held off a ravening horde. No, it was a lucky hit, an unlucky stumble, and a claw lashing out. The thing is, no matter how cautious and diligent you are, no matter your skill and bearing, if you roll enough dice you will eventually roll snake-eyes.

Still, the other spirit bearers descended upon the monster that did it like the wrath of Heaven. There was nothing left of it; There was hardly anything left of the hill they tracked it to.

The funeral service and memorials were very moving, and her ghost would tell everyone who visits that it's okay, everyone goes to God at some point, and she's happy to have lived with them in such a beautiful country while she could.

Whole villages grieved. It made the news in the big city, Palermo. But people moved on, over time. A new girl came to take over her watch, though this one was not a girl - a cold and distant boy who is impatient and dismissive, not at all like Teresa. He does the job, but see if anyone will bother to give him gifts of sandwiches, salami, or wine. 

And Teresa still waits, for now. Standing upon a hill and staring wistfully out to the shoreline and over the sea.

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Not everyone has left Teresa behind. One talkative, friendly girl — just ignore the people in town who claim to know her and call her a "fine young man" — still visits Teresa every day. It's not always a long visit, but Bria refuses to let the girl who died defending her community, who personally saved her at least once, who was her inspiration, whom she had a crush on for a little while, be forgotten and alone.

So every day, after her chores, after she's helped out with the family business, after she escapes the people who think they know her, Bria walks out to a pretty hill that overlooks the sea, a little picnic meal with her, and spends time with Teresa.

"The sea is beautiful today, Teresa," she says with a soft sigh, after swallowing a bite of bread and cheese. "What's the prettiest place you saw in your travels?"

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"Good evening, Bria! Oh... Here," she answers quickly. "Or... No. So many places are beautiful, in their own ways. Here may be home, but it's hardly what you want to hear about. I think... The odd shrines of Kyoto, perhaps. There's a solemnity there that matches the Vatican. Or the Nordic mountains. It's so cold and bright, desolate but pure..."

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"Oh, those all sound so lovely. I want to see them all, some day. I do love our beautiful seaside hills, but there's so much loveliness to be seen. There's so much in the world — so many people, so many places, so much beauty — and I've seen so little of it yet. I want to see more. Hearing you tell of the world beyond Sicilia is marvelous, Teresa."

Bria sighs happily and sips her drink. "How tall were the mountains? Were they snowy? Rocky? Forested? Did you meet anyone there? What brought you there?"

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"Oh, snow as far as I could see! They weren't the tallest but they had many valleys and even tunnels. I was like you. I wanted to see it all. I wandered at whim; I hardly had to worry about exposure or danger, by then. And then I had my fill, more or less, so I came home. The world is so very, very big. You can't see everything. There was a glacier spirit who I think had slept for eons... It didn't speak in words, but it felt simply enormous. Beyond even the Chinese immortals."

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"Wow. Wooow. What do spirits feel like?"

She takes another bite of cheese, and follows it with some more of her (mild, homemade) wine.

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"They're often different. Some have learned Italiam or another language. Some speak with emotions or even only by implication - with breezes or the actions of animals you have to interpret like a wave or glare."

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"Oh that sounds so fascinating. So many strange and marvelous kinds of people the world contains, to think that there are some that converse through such disparate means. Did you usually have a reason to meet a spirit, or did you just happen to stumble across them as you went?"

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"It's respectful to greet one if you're in its area, especially if you're going to linger. Some are not interested, and that's fine. Perhaps you can go to university, in Rome. Or even France, or America."

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"That makes sense, as a gesture of respect. It's like they are the territory you're visiting, so it's only reasonable to say 'hello', right?"

She flops on her back at the mention of university. "Studying outside Sicilia would be lovely. Maybe someday. I don't have a way off the island, though, and either way I'm not leaving you alone here."

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"I do admit that magic is rather freeing. I could just... Go." Sigh. "But there's only so much magic, and more than enough trouble to go around."

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"You fought so much of the trouble, too." She props herself up on her elbows and gazes at Teresa. "You kept our towns safe from so many monsters, for so long."

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"I did. It was - the thing to do. Because I could. Because I should. It's the duty of spirit bearers, after all. For all the fancy new weapons people are developing, they're far too unwieldy for monsters still."

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It's not fair that Teresa fell. Not at all.

<If this world was fair, I would be holding you, and maybe we four could restore her together>, comes the steady reply in her mind. <At the very least, we could cover more of her time between us.>

Yeah. Maya's right, she thinks.

"It's wrong, that there is so much death and loss in the world. It's right that spirit bearers try to stop it, that someone  can pick up that job if it's going to be here to be done, but the world shouldn't be like this. There should be more joy and less grief."

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"There is plenty of joy! Of family, of good food and good weather. And Heaven awaits, at the end. There will be... Rest."

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"At least there's that, the hope of Heaven to get people through, to help people cope with the deaths in this world, but the joys are outweighed by soldiers being brought back again and again by healers only to suffer and fall once more." She pulls a clipped out newspaper article from her pocket and unfolds it. "There's so much joy to be had, but people keep finding reasons to fight instead. So much room for love, but instead they choose hate."

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"Oh dear. I hadn't heard of that. Ever since Napoleon... We have only fought monsters. It is worrying. But you must find the good. Do what you can, help people - including yourself."

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She sighs and nods. "Yep. That's what it takes. Always try to foster as much brightness as possible, both to savor and to spread. Make the world richer, everywhere we can. More love. More life. More hope. More joy."

But she's smiling, by the end of it.

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"Enough of that gloomy topic. Let me tell you about Florida..."

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Many days pass like this, as many have passed before. Maybe it's a sad thing, that Bria's best friend — aside from the girlfriends in her head — is a ghost, but she certainly seems to enjoy it.

There have been worrying tidings in the interim. The Romanians have completed a new cruiser, more heavily armed than anything outside of Great Britain. It's quite the impressive ship, but ominous. The Ottomans, in a desperate attempt to hold off the increasing pressures against them, are laying naval mines in the strait. Rumor has it that a scandalous Greek spirit bearer who calls herself Aphrodite is doing scouting as a mercenary — a dangerous escalation, if true.

Despite all this, it is yet another beautiful day in Sicily, the Mediterranean lapping gently at the shores of the island, and Bria strolls peacefully up the hill carrying some bread, salami, cheese, and cannoli for her meal, along with her usual very light wine. (Nearly everyone drinks wine in Sicily, though it is not very alcoholic at all.)

"Good afternoon, Teresa," she calls as she approaches.

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"Good afternoon.

 

...You know I can't stay forever, Bria."

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She smiles bittersweetly, nodding. "No, you can't. But I can make the most of the time you have left, and stretch it as far as I can, and hope to see a genie before you unravel. And if a genie doesn't turn up in time, then I know I tried, and I know that your stories will be remembered."

She sighs. "I wish I'd dared to speak to you when you were alive."

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"If you do find a genie, there are better uses for a wish than me. Heal someone, or a hundred people. I. I'm going to Heaven soon. I'm scared, but... I did what I wanted. I was happy. That's enough."

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Her eyes water a bit. "You saved more people than I even know injured folk to heal. But. I don't have a lot of faith in a genie turning up at the last minute either way."

<I think we all know you're doing this to make up for the time you didn't have the nerve to spend earlier>, comes the soft reply in her mind.

Yes, well, maybe she is. But she was just some nobody. How could she have talked to a noble and pretty spirit bearer, how could she have taken up Teresa's time when she was alive?

A sad sigh slips out of Bria's lips. "I don't really know how to properly describe how much I'll miss you, when the unraveling catches up and you can't keep going. You were always part of what made this place home, for me, even if I only knew you from afar when you were alive."

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"It was wonderful, wasn't it? Peaceful, for you at least, and bucolic. It was peaceful for me as well, eventually, it was all routine. I... Suppose I got complacent." Sigh.

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"It fits what I remember, at least. I hope, if I ever get enkindled, that I don't let myself get complacent."

<We wouldn't let you.>

She shakes her head with a sad smile. "Did you ever find love?"

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