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The fire crackles wickedly while the old woman prepares. She hobbles. She pauses. She picks up a bottle. She puts it back down. She grunts. She hobbles. She picks up a bottle. She pauses. She chuckles to herself. She pours some of the contents into a mortar. Over and over again, until she finally settles down by the fire. Her knobby, spotted hands move the pestle around and around inside the stone mortar. She stops only to check the state of the mixture, and then continues to grind away.
“Cycles will always be and this one is beginning again.” She says. The fire responds by flickering higher and then dies down. “The five will not fail and soon the contest will be in full bloom.” The fire shrinks down to a flicker. “Don’t go so fast” she says and then she throws the mixture into the flame.

Across the city of canals, on a balcony stands a woman in fine silks. She sips delicate Nathir Oolong out of a cup made of pearl. She watches for a sign. On the other side of the city a plume of fire erupts out of a smokestack. The fire jumps high into the night sky. Thin wings unfold as it begins to soar out over the city and off into the dark. The messenger is gone after a few moments. Botai leaves her balcony and glides into her study. She approaches a desk covered in scrolls and charts. A crystal shard pulses with golden light. She touches an obsidian bowl filled with water. Stars appear in the water and a constellation glows softly. Slowly the stars begin to shift. Tears fill her eyes.
“All of creation is doomed and this is not going to help.” She said.

The old woman sits back up. She has no eyebrows anymore and the front of her hair smokes slightly. She bursts into laughter as she gazes on the ashes where the fire was.

“The five quest.

Some succeed. Some die.

All inspire.

The contest of nisse and release will be fought.

One will lose and all will suffer.

The sun is eternal.

Everything burns.

Forever and ever.”

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A Contest of Nisse and Release

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