Read me the story:
Tenli looked out over the Dawnwood with carefully detached appreciation. It was hardly possible to look at such a view without appreciation. It lay spread before him vast and perfect, a dream, a tapestry, something too big and deep and glorious for words. A wide sweep of sky, with overlapping layers of clouds painted in colors ranging from vividly savage to unbearably delicate. The endless cloak of the wood itself, draped over the undulating foothills in a thousand shades of green and blue and gray, textures playing with the light, absorbing it and flinging it back with gleaming reflections. A smoky line of foothills barely defined the most distant horizon, a hieroglyphic charcoal stroke joining sky and land.
It was a fine view, he thought. You could see a lot, from just over seventy meters up. Something splendid like this was easeful, as a last view. It had been a horrible life and it would be an honorless passage, but a last view of such immensity gave the ending some worth. He looked down, over the tower’s parapet. On this side, there was only the white stone of a little-used path, a strip of jaifryl bushes, the Cloister wall. The stones of the path beckoned him. Quick, sure, final.
To be sure, it would be better to simply leave—still the heart, empty the lungs, shut down, flow by flow, each thread of nihal and zhohar, and step forth, free of the disgusting, useless, misshapen, malformed body, into the final Light. But he was no Adept, yet—nor ever would be, it must be clear even to the Elders by now. And… he was not sure that even the most advanced Adepts could go unbidden into the Presence.
Still, it would be bad enough, going unreleased, via a quick flight and a hard landing. They would never take his name into the Song of Ra’anir.
But what did that matter? They never would have taken Tenli into the Song, anyway. Her they would Sing. The cruelest thought yet; leaving Tenli breathless with the pain of it. She— the one who had never existed at all— she would take his place in the Song, have that much of life, anyway. And he would be the one never to have existed.
Would it matter? He looked out over the Dawnwood again. If you choose oblivion, you’ll never know, and never care. You escape the pain, and everything else.
It would be worth it! The voice inside him raged, screamed. No more! He found his hands balling into tight, tight fists, his body weight leaning, pressing onto them against the rough stone of the parapet. No more shame, no more dreary contemplation of day after day, stretching out ahead of him and never, ever, never feeling right. Never feeling like himself. An endless procession of days, each a dreary ordeal of being… Not-Tenli. Stuck, crying, bleeding, lost…
It would just… be… over. Blessed, blessed, peace. Nothingness. Oblivion. Everything someone else’s problem. No more problems at all.
The stones below seemed to rush up to meet him, suddenly, and instinctively he pulled back, took a deep breath. The last breath? Filling his lungs, feeling his chest—detestable chest!—expand with air. Blood drumming in his ears. He could feel his spirit loosen within his consciousness. Poised, ready, wings spread. As though the stars were calling him. Leaning forward again, slowly, balancing.
Except… if he did this—now—with the disgusting, appalling blood in him—that would not be him, either. He heard Chenaru’s voice in his inner ear: “If you do not take charge of her nihal, it will take charge of you.” Then… this was all that Not-Tenli nihal twisting his mind, distorting him even further. That “last” breath escaped him, with a sob. Was followed by another.
The colors in the sky had shifted, muted. From far below floated up a three-beat chime from the Cloister’s ghanala, signaling the watchturn. Time seemed to pause, perfectly balanced between day and evening.
It felt like a defeat.
So did many victories, though. That, at least, Tenli had already learned. He just had to hold to that knowledge: “Feeling” alone is unreliable, incomplete. He watched the sky colors continue to shift. Motion rippled in the distance—wind coming up over the Dawnwood, sweeping down from the foothills. An almost horizontal ray of sunlight suddenly fell across the treetops, illuminating a swath of verdant brilliance, and then slowly faded. His pulse slowed.
Chenaru heard her novice’s footsteps coming down the stairs from the tower’s upper level, measured, unhurried. Her eyes closed, momentarily, with an unbreathed prayer of thanks to the Power, then she opened them.
He paused, in the doorway: Lithe, well-knit youthful frame; scraped, bleeding knuckles; eyes shuttered over with discipline. He drew in a breath in the manner of one about to speak, but then let it slowly out again, without a word.
She nodded to him: Payndi to novice. “You will do well to care for your hands before you begin assisting with meal preparation.”
There was nothing in her tone but calm observation, but Tenli suddenly felt the roiling chaos within recede further, and a light warmth, like a cloak against those internal winds, fold itself around his heart.