It had been weeks since the letters were sent out and answered, travel plans exchanged and approved, bags packed and lives organized around a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a number of Fragmented to sate the longing in their chests. Some came hoping for the best, some fearing the worst, but still they came, united by the fact that, whatever their reasons, they were all prepared to take a chance.
The sky above the mountaintop estate swarmed with activity as helicopters danced around each other, two chartered by the Abramson twins themselves and others owned by some of the wealthy guests. Those arriving by helicopter got a breathtaking view of the estate from above on approach; the whole thing was housed within a roughly circular plateau in the mountain, walled in on all sides by rough stone peaks blanketed in evergreen trees. The plateau itself was home to a small river, cascading down from a picturesque waterfall on the east side of the mountain, which fed into a lake to the north. Nestled near the river were five large, identical houses, and jutting out onto the lake was another building, accompanied by a wharf.
Those coming up the mountain by shuttle got to experience an oft-intense ride up the mountainside, occasionally threading through narrow passes and around sheer drops as the drivers navigated the winding road expertly. Upon reaching the plateau, these guests were driven through an ornate iron gate at the only entrance accessible by ground and up a hedge-trimmed driveway, where they got to see what the helicopter arrivals couldn’t until landing: the manor itself.
The manor was grand, to say the least; nestled against the western wall of the plateau, it would easily be larger than any home most of the guests would ever have seen. It was three storeys in most places, two in the wings, framed at the front with a circular driveway leading to a rounded outcropping for the entrance, and set into the landscape by an array of bushes and flowering plants. The most striking features, however, were two parts of the mansion which jutted out above the rest; at the far north end of the manor, a thin tower reached an easy storey above the rest of the structure, topped with a small round room domed in glass. In the centre, a much more striking structure rose just as tall, a massive glass dome that drew to a pointed tip, tall enough to touch the last few rays of sunlight falling into the plateau as the gloom of evening set in. The structure looked almost too fragile to stand, like an ornate birdcage replicated in glass, and if one looked closely they could see the silhouettes of all manner of tropical foliage within.
Guests stepped out of their respective vehicles and were scanned by security personnel; weapons and drugs were confiscated with a promise of safekeeping and return, quicker and more thoroughly than most gatherings half this size could manage. Luggage was taken care of by attendants while guests were led past the manor’s gardens to the entrance, where the opening festivities were taking place.
The main foyer looked more like a ballroom than an entryway, with a pair of ornate double doors opening into a large circular room with a two-storey ceiling, backed on the far wall with a twin set of curved staircases leading up to the open loft corridors of the second storey. The walls were paneled in dark wood and drew the eye up to the ceiling, where a massive crystal chandelier cast a warm glow of diffused light onto the gathering below. The first few guests to arrive, however, would find that the focal point of the foyer was not the chandelier, but the floor; a veritable expanse of shining white limestone inlaid with a smoky marble mandala, exquisitely designed with a complex motif in a style no one could quite recognize. In the air above everyone’s heads, colourful paper birds drifted about in all shapes and sizes, with no tethers to be seen. A few guests whispered about the quality - and naturally, the cost - of such lifelike looking holograms, a hint to how large of an undertaking that this gathering must have been.
There were open bars staffed by sharply-dressed bartenders on either side of the room, and similarly dressed servers wandered the room with trays of food and drink while a few hulking security personnel stood watch by the entrance, periodically muttering something unintelligible into something on their wrists. One thing every server had in common, and every guest for that matter, was an earpiece clipped over each ear, connected with a thin wire and looking vaguely similar to antique Bluetooth devices.
It was one of these devices that each guest received upon entering the manor. With just a few words to the server woman distributing them and a quick adjustment of settings, each one popped to life in the ears of its wearer, and instantly the low hum of a room full of dozens of different spoken languages became comprehensible, everything from direct conversation to overheard snippets translated flawlessly into the wearer’s preferred language. Some of the wealthier guests gathered in excited clusters after first activating theirs, gushing over the device’s ability to translate conversations without delay and in the speaker’s own voice, a feature not yet on the market in any model of translator.
Guests milled about the foyer as more trickled in, dressed in a range of styles from all over the world. The disparity of wealth in the room was distinct, and it was clear that people of all backgrounds had been invited; some more simply dressed guests stood out against the lavish background of the manor, while wealthy guests dressed to impress, looking like any one of them could have owned the massive estate. For a while though, the actual hosts were nowhere to be seen.
About an hour into the gathering, when every guest had finally been accounted for, some could notice the security personnel and servers nodding to each other, apparently listening to something in their ears. A hush fell over the crowd when every server looked up to the landing at the top of the staircases, guests following their gaze in anticipation. The light from the chandelier dimmed, and the paper birds above cast a soft glow as the hush in the crowd deepened, interrupted only by a few excited whispers.
Suddenly, the low music that had been playing came to a crescendo and some of the floating paper birds rushed to a corner of the upper loft, and emerged again swirling around a man walking out from the right side, smiling wide and waving to the crowd below. The man was tall and thin, with straw-blond hair and dressed in an outfit that might have been outlandish under different circumstances. It was reminiscent of a slim-fit white suit, with a pair of long coattails trailing behind and accompanied by black riding-style boots. Dusty pink accents around his cuffs and lapel livened up the look, but the most notable part was the cut-out window on the right side of his abdomen, which stretched from his upper ribs to his hip and drew to a point on the left side of his ribcage, exposing a thin and wiry frame beneath.
As he approached the centre, another flock of paper birds rushed to the opposite end of the landing, where emerged another man, equally tall and lanky and identical to the first, save for his head of shock-white hair and slightly more muscular build. His clothing was a mirror image of the other’s, trimmed in light blue with the cut-out on his left side. He approached much less extravagantly, shaking his head and chuckling at the other man's antics.
The paper birds dispersed when the two men reached the centre landing, and the light came back up, revealing the purpose of the cut-outs in their suits. In the light, the crowd could see large, tattoo-like markings stretching from each man’s side and across their abdomens; when they stood together they formed the motif of a blooming lotus, the righthand man’s in pink, and the lefthand man’s in blue. A few in the crowd gasped when they realized what they were looking at: unmistakable marks of the Reunited.
“Good evening!” the blond man called to the crowd, smiling wide, “and welcome to The Winds!”
The crowd broke into quiet applause, which continued only a moment before the white-haired man put up a hand. “Welcome indeed,” he repeated, tossing the other man a sidelong glance. “I am Isaac Abramson, and my showboating brother here is Raphael. Together we are the owners of this estate, and more importantly, the hosts of this gathering.”
“We are thrilled to be hosting an event such as this, and humbled by your attendance,” Raphael continued. “It is our hope that you all find your visit with us worthwhile, be it in finding your other half, or simply taking comfort in the company of people who understand you.”
“Indeed,” Isaac added. “My brother and I are among the lucky few to have Reunited at birth, but we recognize that not all are so fortunate.” His tone grew somber. “For years we have enjoyed the benefits of Reuniting, all too aware that we reaped rewards that many like us might never experience in their lifetimes. We’ve done what we could over the years to help other Fragmented find the peace that we were blessed with, but our efforts so far have been… less effective than we’d hoped.”
“So we’ve decided to take matters into our own hands,” Raphael announced proudly. “With the costs of finding one’s soulmate so dear and the consequences of becoming Lost so great, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to gather as many of you - of the world’s Fragmented - in one place as possible, and your response has been beyond our most hopeful expectations. With luck, we are hopeful that many of you will find your other halves here.”
Isaac smiled, and the mood of the room grew instantly brighter. “But we know you didn’t come here to listen to us. Therefore we invite you to relax and enjoy yourselves, and take advantage of every amenity The Winds has to offer. When you’ve had your fill of the evening, one of the attendants can show you to your lodging. Thank you all for taking this chance, and may luck be on your side.”
With that, the lighting went back to normal and the music resumed, a thrum of conversation rising once more as the guests resumed the party. Before they descended to mingle with the crowd, Raphael leaned towards Isaac.
“I thought we agreed I’d do the talking,” he murmured, low enough that only his brother could hear.
Isaac rolled his eyes. “Please,” he groaned, though his grin betrayed his amusement. “You always do the talking.”