‘HOPE AND SMOKE’
‘I need to know,
Before we fold under hope and smoke
At this time,
Tomorrow we’ll go’
– Hope and Smoke, Kiven
Artwork: ‘Hope’ by Donato Giancola
She clutches the remains of the book in her arms, the edges of its leaves curled from the fire. They still glowed. The heat she feels as she presses it to her naked breasts is the heat of hope itself. A fervent hope, coiling upwards within her like the smoke from the pages. The smoke forms wings that mimic her own, blackened by the fire that had engulfed her when she rescued the book. Smoke and ash, like a coat on her skin, are a reminder of what would have been left had she been a moment too late … Thank the gods she made it in time.
She pulls the tome away from her body, exposing her bareness to the night around her. She turns its pages with a wild desperation, their blackened edges eaten away like her courage. Her search has brought her here but what if the answer lay somewhere else? Wings beat against the darkness, keeping her fears at bay as she searched for the prayer that could save them all; a sound, still some distance away, tells her she won’t be alone for much longer.
The scent of the ceremonial blaze lingers in the air. It is acrid and fearful. Lit by priests, guarded by soldiers, its flames meant to devour the secrets she now holds in her hands. That fire burnt away her scant garments leaving her skin bare to the elements. And as the chill of the night settles in their place, she looks up at the mansion for the second time. Pillared and white against the blackness around it. Rich beyond what she knew of heaven. She recalls the moment she laid her eyes on it, a mountain of man-made walls, lit by the fire in the courtyard.
The priests had been walking towards the fire like shadows, one carrying the tome in his hands. The guards had been circling the observance like wolves, on the prowl after months of hunger. In a moment it would have been too late. From where she crouched, hidden halfway up the hill, she had done the only thing she could think of. She spread her wings and with a stormy wail she had summoned the Wilds. Within moments, that call had been answered.
Guards rushed from the courtyard up the hill towards the cacophony they heard there. Borne on the back of monstrous winds, hosts tossed the tree tops, their ululations lusty for battle. Doors slammed shut as priests scuttled inside and hid behind them, crabs in a large, luminous hole. But not before the one holding the book had tossed it into the flames to complete the rite she was there to end. She had flown low to the earth then, as fast as she could between the trunks of the trees, skirting around the oncoming guard, to dive headfirst into the fire.
In the silence that followed – the elementals whipping the flames into nothingness, her clothes reduced to ashes, the bodies of guards broken on the forest above her – she had wrapped her arms around the hope she came so far to find. Glancing down at the book now, she sees her hand has stopped on A Spell to Banish Time. This was it. A sound breaks the silence; she hears the remains of the guard making their way back to the mansion. She closes the book and with preternatural swiftness steals away into the dark night before one of them can spot her. Leaving nothing but smoke and ash and a single, black feather behind.