In Asharia, thousands of years pass with the same leaves on the same trees, the same blossoms opening at sunrise and wilting by dusk. To mortal eyes no seasons pass. But the day the universe became aware of its own existence was the first day of Asharia’s spring; the universe shall draw to a close on the last day of Asharia’s winter, waiting to be reborn at the next great cycle.
It was a late spring day.
Maraiya often walked along the shore of Asharia’s sea in the mornings, watching the sunlight from behind her reflected in the water, whether crashing vigorously against the sands or—as it was today—lapping gently at the shore. As often as not, her lover of the night before accompanied her. As often as not, he or she was mortal. Some day, she knew, she would be reprimanded—again—by Zanu for these dalliances, but she saw little harm in them.
This morning, Maraiya walked alone. Yet this morning, unlike nearly any other she could recall, another figure stood ahead of her on the shore just above the beach line, motionless, staring out at the horizon.
Maraiya adjusted her path, walking toward the other woman. She received no acknowledgement as she approached, but she expected none, even as she moved to stand beside her and face out to sea as well. They could hardly have made a more incongruous pair, she reflected in silent amusement. Herself, a tall feline woman with subtly mottled warm gray fur, golden eyes, and a form that had inspired countless statues, paintings and love songs across countless lands, under countless names and visages. The other, an even taller rabbit woman with bone white fur, ram horns and dragon claws, and solid moonlight eyes that even others of her kind, like Maraiya, rarely wished to meet for long. Extraordinarily—were they other than what they were—both possessed wings, but even in that they stood as opposites. The cat’s shone with iridescent silver feathers, rainbows swirling about her as she moved. The rabbit’s all but absorbed the light, blacker than a great raven’s.
They remained in companionable silence until Maraiya decided the first words to be spoken would be hers. “You are an unexpected sight this morning, Lady Inanael.”
The rabbit woman’s wings rustled, but she remained silent.
“Although,” she continued after a moment, “you are an unexpected sight in Asharia at all. Usually, if we see one another it’s me making a visit to you.” The cat tilted her head. “You rarely leave your land but for ill tidings, but since we haven’t all been summoned to Zanu’s palace, I trust you’re not here to bring dire news.”
Maraiya’s voice, as always, was honey, satin, the hearth on a winter’s night. When Inanael finally spoke, her voice, as always, was that of winter. “I am watching the ocean.”
The cat clasped her hands in front of her, and waited for the horned rabbit to continue.
“What would it take for the sea to be still?” she murmured. “For the waves to pause, the tide to remain in balance, neither in nor out.”
“That sounds like a riddle for Death rather than for Love,” Mariaya said with a curious laugh. “And do you mean any sea, or this sea? You and I may cause kingdoms to rise and fall, in our own ways. And I think you could—and shall, when it is the right time—bring the stars themselves raining down around our ears. But bring the sea of Asharia to a stop?” She pointed, tracing her slender finger through the air. “We could build a levee, a seawall. We could dig, and fashion a tide pool. Any sea can be stopped in a small place for a small time.” Mariaya considered several ways to frame her next question, then simply sighed, letting her arm drop. “Inanael, out of all of us you are quite possibly the least given to idle philosophy. Forgive my bluntness, but what is it that truly brings you here?”
At length, Inanael answered, again elliptically. “Of all of them, you are the only one who visits my land by choice.”
“Your land is beautiful, in its own way.”
“While I think so as well, I doubt any other would see that.” The rabbit finally turned her gaze away from the ocean toward the cat. “You said that one day I should—I would—come to you with questions of the heart.”
“A thousand thousand years ago.” She folded her arms, giving the rabbit a half-smile.
At that, the rabbit smiled back, fractionally. Mariaya doubted someone who knew Inanael less well would notice it as a smile. “Love is not my domain.”
“Death is not mine, yet come late winter even I shall die.” She shrugged. “Or—whatever it is we do. Yet I can tell you aren’t coming to me now because you’re in love. I would see that even in your eyes.”
“No. I…” Inanael trailed off, looking back at the sea, and flexed her wings. “We do not have the luxury of choosing our paths like mortals do, Mariaya. Yet despite that, you have always seemed so… carefree. One might say cavalier.”
“One would be wrong,” Mariaya said, tone dry. “We all must be what we are. The weight of my function is no less than yours.”
Inanael made a soft hmm nose, and fell silent for a time. “And I am what I must be. But… we can make small choices. Once in a great while, I wish to choose… brief respite.” She tilted her face up to the sky, eyes closed. “Of all of us, you are the only who has ever offered to listen.”
“You have always been the surest of us, and the most alone.” Maraiya bit her lip, then held out her hand. “I have an idea. Walk with me.”
Inanael turned to look at her, remaining otherwise motionless for several seconds, then wrapped her taloned hand around the cat’s sculpted one.
She led the taller woman up the beach, away from the water, past the sand and the sea oats. Then she sat down and folded her hands in her lap, eyes growing unfocused as she started to look elsewhere, through other worlds, other minds, other lives—anywhere people fell in and out of love, Mariaya was there. “Her… no, her,” she murmured. “A perfect moment.” She returned her attention to where she was, looking up with a triumphant smile.
Inanael knelt beside the smaller woman, wings flexing. “You are about to interfere with a mortal on my behalf,” she said, tone wary.
“No. I don’t intend to interfere with them at all.” She took both of Inanael’s hands. “I intend to interfere with you.”
The rabbit stiffened. “That is not wise.”
“We shall only still the sea a brief while. And you might be surprised how many beautiful stories begin with those words,” she replied, eyes sparkling.
After a long moment, the rabbit smiled her own fractional smile, and nodded her head once.
Lady Mariaya leaned forward and touched her lips to Lady Inanael’s, and her silver wings spread to catch and then eclipse the sun. The world became brilliant darkness.