Time passes; that is the way of the universe. In that comes moments that define, in many ways, who we are. They also, sometimes, allow us to gather strength from our memories, and to share them with those closest to us when we are …
Time had passed in the Realm. It paused for no soul, no life, no existence—it was simply time, and, as such, it did not have an emotional attachment to the past, present, or future. Time, it could be said, had no emotion, no reasoning, no understanding of itself beyond that it was time.
However, this could not be said for those beings that existed within time itself. Their existence was defined by time, marked by it, and, in that, certain events occurred.
It had been two and a half months since the day came. Two and a half months, during which the Realm had mourned with their King and expressed their sadness to their Queen. Many had come to the Palace, their home. Others approached when the Eternals were out and about in the Realm. Some visited Tera in the Library, using the excuse of returning a book—or borrowing one—to spend a little time and ask how she was, how her Eternal was managing. The answer, as one would expect from the Queen, was a smile and a warm embrace, then she would turn the discussion onto her visitor.
For you see, Tera didn’t worry about herself. She worried about everyone else—especially her Eternal.
Some sought out Keith, but that was a bit more of a challenge. While finding Tera was never a problem, locating her Eternal required more effort. He claimed that he didn’t look for the spotlight, didn’t feel the need to be overshadowing his Eternal, that he was happy being there for her, whenever needed, always wanted. This was for certain and he never doubted that for an instant.
But it was also true that he was glad to avoid the attention. So he continued as always, a steady hand upon the Realm, guiding when needed, helping always. He might be in a coffee shop, or visiting a construction site. Occasionally he might be found working with his tools on some sort of device, or using something called a camera. But he wasn’t easy to find. Yet, wherever he was found, it was much the same as it was with his Eternal. The questions would come, he would answer kindly, and then he would ask how the other was, what the visitor might need.
Time could never change that. But time did change something else, something that left an obvious gap in both of their lives.
Into this odd situation came Cassiopeia, Tera’s dearest friend and Keith’s constant tease. Or at least she had been in the time before. Now, she wasn’t so sure.
She had appeared on the day things changed, to offer comfort. She had cried with them both, held each and wept with them. She felt their loss, their grief. She wished, more than anything she’d ever wanted before, to make things right somehow for them. Since then, Cassie had never been far away, lending a hand, or a tail, when needed … or not, for that matter. She wasn’t used to being “responsible” in times like this; she’d rather have her fun, for that was what she was best at. It amazed her how much her dearly-loved friends had to deal with: the vast amount of paper, discussions, interactions and issues that came towards them. She was more amazed—not surprised, mind you, merely amazed—at the calmness the Rulers of the Realm held throughout. She never saw either raise a voice, say a bad word. It wasn’t a surprise; they had always been that way, after all.
A short time after the day, the Eternals had returned to the human realm to undertake something they called a “memorial.” Cassie understood the concept, though in the Realm it was quite a different thing than in the mortal world. They had been clear that this was needed and it would be fine.
The flamboyant silver tail decided she wanted to understand this gathering and be a part of it. She was shocked to find how muted the colours were, how sad the event was. She fully had intended upon appearing in her finest silver dress, the one that really showed off her tail—and by that she was referring to her shapely curves, of course … but she’d never tell her tail that. Instead, black was the colour, which didn’t make a lot of sense. Keep in mind that colours have specific meanings to succubi, and this gathering didn’t have a lick of dominance to it, at least that Cassie could tell.
But there was black everywhere, the sadness was plain to see, and so, against her nature, Cassie … compromised. She had worn black … well, except for that silver metallic band she’d used to put her hair into a ponytail. She couldn’t quite let everything go after all, but seeing Tera looking human, being human … that told her everything she needed to know.
She had found a place where she could watch her friends, hear what was being said, and lose herself among the numbers of souls who came to offer their sympathy. She didn’t interfere, didn’t get in the way of what happened. She just watched and learned about something she’d never encountered before.
Some gatherings weren’t fun. They weren’t passionate, they weren’t joyful. There was a moment when—quite sadly, she thought—there couldn’t be much laughter. Being part of this gathering … hurt. That feeling remained with her for the next two months. She didn’t express it to anyone, thinking that this was something she could deal with herself. She had avoided the Queen and King, not wanting to add a concern to their lives. She even went so far as to not even try to divert Keith’s attention, not once. This, of course, was noticed. Cassie not trying something on Keith to get his attention, or, more specifically, get him into one of the many compromising positions Cassie had dreamed up, was a clear indication that something was very seriously wrong.
Then, one Saturday morning, Cassie woke to find a note on her nightstand: “Please meet me at noon, over at the fence by Tera’s house in the human realm.”
The silver-tail was puzzled, but she thought she knew who might be behind this. Sure enough, as she stepped through the portal just before lunchtime, she saw the human whom Tera called her heart, standing there in a simple suit with an odd sort of a collar around his neck. Cassie knew all about collars, but this one was odd—white, and made of starched cloth. What kind of ownership could this represent?
“Hello, Cassie,” the graying, bespectacled man said. I am just on my way to a … gathering … not quite like the “memorial” you came to before. And I feel like I need a … date.” There was a twinkle in his eye as he offered his arm.
Cassie demurred for a moment: “I don’t think I feel much like dating, and I’m not sure you would survive me.”
“Well, you might be amazed at what I can survive. But, I promise, this isn’t that kind of a date.” He nodded across the yard towards their friends’ house, where there was quite a group in the yard. This wasn’t like that first one she had been to. There was laughter, a small group of souls chatting, with the hosts near the center. Cassie noticed that Tera was wearing red, as was Keith, and they were both smiling. Looking into the distance, she saw every colour imaginable among the souls who were gathered together.
Cassie was confused, but her escort smiled, and, after bampfing herself into the silver dress she had decided against some weeks ago, she took his arm. He led her across the yard, reassuring her as they went: “I just think the three of you need a bit of a push to what comes next.” They slipped quietly behind their mutual friends, and he gave Keith a warm tap on the shoulder, then leaned in and kissed Tera’s cheek, and finally, having kissed Cassie in the same way, slipped his “date” between the two Eternals, and then quietly slipped away, answering an uncle’s beckoning challenge to argue about something called “baseball.”
In what seemed to her like a whirlwind, Cassie was introduced, brought into the gathering with all its joy. Being part of this gathering was … fun. She smiled at the stories told about the soul that was … not really missing, now that she thought about it. Her spirit was there, seen in every soul around her. The warmth, the care, the love shared was so open and joyfully so.
This wasn’t sad like the first gathering. It was something closer, something more meaningful. It was in the midst of this that Cassie realized what it was. Something that she had known for so long was held within her own soul …
That connection she had with Keith and Tera, but it wasn’t just them. With each hello, each hug and smile, Cassie felt that same connection with everyone there, a telling echo in each voice, each story, each moment. It was something that had been merely flickering within the Realm for a time, but now brought back to flame, to burn brightly in those that held that flame, carried with promise and purpose …
Upon returning to the Realm, things started to get better.
Tera’s tail was a bit perkier, her bemused smile coming back in all of its mind-melting seductiveness. Keith was more active, more part of the Realm than he had been in some time. He smiled again, and that chuckle Tera loved started to be heard once more.
And Cassie? The silver-tailed seductress was back. Her first escapade featured Keith finding himself trapped with her in his photographic darkroom. Afterwards, Keith had a new definition for ‘exposure’ that didn’t have anything to do with taking a picture.
Gathering together was, at its heart, the thing that mattered the most, no matter the when, why or how. The memories shared and made in those moments made every encounter a gathering, and every gathering worthwhile.