“Nope. I want to just… experience. If you have no expectations, you can’t be disappointed with reality.”
They made their way to the kitchen, where more people were gathered. Mostly women, but again, a few scribes. One man, whom Ava vaguely recognized, held an Irina on his lap. She squinted when she noticed that he had no talesm on his neck.
“Wait.” She tugged on Astrid’s arm. “Is he…?”
“Human?” She nodded. “Yes. Orsala is not pleased with the relationship, but then, Cam does what she wants.”
“But how do they… you know?”
Astrid frowned. “Didn’t you say you had lovers before Malachi? Irin can’t touch human women, but we don’t have the same problem. Most human men just can’t handle our energy or intensity for prolonged periods of time. Johan doesn’t have that problem, apparently.”
“But aging? Won’t she stay young as he gets old?”
“Yes.” Astrid shrugged. “It’s her choice, Ava. And his.”
They pushed past the group gathered around the table and made their way to the food that was spread out on the counter. Soon her plate was piled with meat pies and sausages made in the haven, as well as roasted turnips and carrots. There was a soup made out of pumpkin that smelled like it was spiced with chilies. She and Astrid stood in a corner, eating their dinner and chatting with a few visitors whom Ava hadn’t met yet. As Orsala had warned her, most were very curious about the new girl. The crush of people was more than Ava was used to, and she sighed in relief when people started filtering out of the house and down to the barn.
Astrid and Ava followed the steady stream after they finished their food. By the time they entered the barn, it was half-full. The training equipment had been taken away, and benches filled the room, along with heaters to chase away the cold. At the front of the room, Orsala sat, along with Sari, Renata, and another older woman with a cap of silver-grey hair. Murmurs and laughter filled the air as everyone took seats on the benches.
“Do you want to sit near the front?”
“No.” She felt conspicuous enough.
“That’s fine.” Astrid found a spot near the back wall. It was cooler, as the air leaked in from cracks in the wall, but there were enough people and heaters that Ava wasn’t uncomfortable.
“How much of the Old Language do you understand?” Astrid asked.
“Not much. Just a few things, though I’ve heard it plenty, of course.”
Astrid’s eyes lit. “You might understand more after tonight. The songs might help your understanding.”
“What does that mean?”
After a few more minutes, everyone seemed to have arrived. Ava even spotted Damien across the barn, near the side door, standing by himself but staring at his mate. Ava also noticed Sari sneaking glances at him and trying to hide nerves.
“Hmm. Something definitely going on there.”
Astrid followed her eyes. “It’s about time.”
Orsala stood, and immediately everyone fell silent.
“We are here to celebrate a new sister among us and a sister returned home.” Orsala’s eyes met hers, but luckily she didn’t ask Ava to stand or single her out in any way. She continued, a smile spread across her face. “As is our custom, we welcome our sister Ava with the songs of our fathers. It is with our voices we remember, with our ears we understand. For our fathers gave us the gift of their songs, and it is our duty to sing them. It is our joy to remember. And as we create new life and preserve the safety of those under our care—” Orsala nodded to Sari. “We hold in our hearts and minds the stories of our past and the power they give us. For as we create and protect, we reflect the will of heaven on earth.”
Ava felt a chill travel down her spine. Goose bumps rose on her arms as the room seemed to fill with a humming noise. It wasn’t unlike the hum she’d heard on the first day approaching Sarih?fn. It was a low thrum that traveled along her skin and seemed to settle on the back of her neck. Then her mouth dropped open in surprise as she realized some of the hum came from her own throat.
She barely felt it, but it was there. And as her voice joined the others in the room, a single tone rang out, high and clear at the front of the room. Astrid gripped her right hand, and another woman reached for her left. Ava felt no urge to pull away. No discomfort. She realized the hum that had started in her throat had traveled down each arm and was linked with the same resonance coming from both Astrid and the woman to her left. The noise surged with life and magic. The air grew electric, snapping around her as she felt the hair on her arms rise.
Ava was one and part of everything in that moment. Tears came to her eyes as she watched the small older woman with the silver hair stand in front of the room, her arms lifting as her voice rose.
Then the Irina began to sing.
Some joined with the woman in front, others rang out at different times, harmonizing as they joined, until the room was filled with the tapestry of sound. She did not understand the words, only the clear purity of voice. Ava continued to hum, along with the women she held on to. But as she sang, she felt it. She was connected. She was one with the Irina in the room. Irina long passed. The ones who had been lost. Others still hiding in fear.
As the song continued, images washed across Ava’s mind. Gold and light. She closed her eyes and a twisting kind of rainbow filled her vision. When it faded away, she not only heard—she saw what the old woman sang.
The glory of the angels on the mortal plane. Songs of love and joy.
Flashes like the images in the book that Malachi had shown her, and behind it all, a chorus of voices rose and fell, filling the air with a magic that elevated her soul. Fed her heart. In that moment, there was no sadness. No heartache. She had not lost Malachi, for she would see him again. In the blink of an eye, they would be together as the angels welcomed them home.
Tears streaming down her face, she opened her eyes to look for the singers. All four women stood at the front of the room, and three of them glowed with gold light. Orsala, Sari, and the old woman’s mating marks shone in the candlelight. Renata’s face was lifted in song, a single circle of magic on her forehead. When Ava looked down, she saw her own arms glowing with Malachi’s marks, saw Astrid’s mating marks lit up as well.
All around the room, the magic swelled and rose, coursing over the company of Irina and their mates. Damien stood across the room, his dark eyes fixed on his mate, his talesm lit up like burning silver. For a moment, she saw their eyes meet.
Tears fell down her face when she recognized it. It was the look she’d seen in the manuscript. The expression of perfect completion.
Then the image that Jaron had shown her rose again. The great circle in the sky. A sun twisted with gold and silver. Higher and higher it rose, and Ava realized in the back of her mind that her own voice rose with it. She closed her eyes as the sun faded away to stars. She rose to her feet as a million scattered points of light dotted the heavens, dancing in concert to a growing song.
Then a single voice rose above the others until it was all she could hear.
And Ava realized the voice was hers.