In which Nica dreams, and Naj feels the call of his nest leader.
She dreamed of laughter.
Laughter that rose and fell like flutes, traveled on the wind like windchimes, music weaving together into a song of family. She ran towards the sounds, towards home.
She was running through a garden that was a riot of color. Yellows, reds, purples, oranges – all blending together with a background of greenery that stretched higher than her head. Her feet barely felt the soft grass underfoot, but the sudden slap of stone under her told her she was nearly there.
The protective cover of color gave way to a clearing, and her feet left the ground. An arm about her waist lifted her high, sweeping her into a flying arch that turned into a cradling hug. Her wings wrapped around them both, creating a cocoon of warmth, bouncing their laughter back to them.
Nica looked up into the dark eyes of Zeke. He strode forward as if her wings weren’t completely blocking his vision, a mirthful smirk on his lips. It was a favorite game of his to catch her off-guard, and he was one of the best cousins at hide and seek.
She twisted in his grip to look where they were going, grinning when she saw her father sitting at his sister’s side, a large fire already going to ward against the coming chill of the night. Her feathers kept her warmer than her serpent kin, but she still enjoyed watching the dance of the ember and flame.
A small dark bundle hit and clung to Zeke’s arm, pulling them all off balance. Nica squealed in delight as Zeke tilted dangerously to one side, threatening to dump her on top of his assailant. She knew her cousin would never drop her, but Leem’s grinning face was suddenly inches from hers. The small serpent quickly wiggled his way upward, until Zeke was carrying both of them towards the fire.
It was Ari, her uncle, that asked Zeke where the rest of the children were. Her big cousin shrugged with a carefree grin as he shook Leem loose before settling Nica down on a sitting stone. Ari sighed melodramatically before berating Zeke for losing his younger cousins, but it was short lived as Nema’s voice rose in a melodic, lilting song.
Though she wasn’t much older than Nica, there was a quiet serenity that hung about Nema that made the young girl feel as solid and weathered as a large oak. Nica watched her eyes close, probably searching for the ‘lost’ cousins. With a grin, Nica joined her wordless call, practicing harmonizing as Nema’s pitch and cadence shifted like the wind.
In answer, laughter and soft shouts preceded the cousins emerging from the surrounding gardens. Some joined the song, some simply fell silent as they reached the fire ring to listen. From the other side of the circle, Nica heard her mother’s rich alto join the chorus. She closed her eyes, savoring the sound of their voices weaving together in the coming dusk, a warmth of belonging swelling in her chest until tears trickled from under her lashes.
Nica’s eyes were damp when she woke and the dark warmth of the room was disorienting. There was a warm body tangled with hers, but there was no answering press at her back. The scent of serpent was strong, but it was different somehow. With a jolt, understanding returned. She was in Asylum, where she’d fallen asleep with Naj, their new dancer.
A pulse of sadness beat in her breast, hard and sharp, before it faded again to be buried under years of acceptance. She still mourned her family, but the dream had been a sweet one, full of tender memories she would not give up to grief.
She laid there for a while, letting herself wake slowly and taking care not to rouse Naj too soon. He had been exhausted and needed his rest.
Eventually her mind turned from her dream and thoughts of family to the day before her. She would likely not dance tonight, but if it was as early morning as she thought, she might have the opportunity to practice the skill she’d been working on with Ariella the past few weeks. The stage would be empty this early, the perfect, uninterrupted opportunity to get a few repetitions in. It would be one of the first times she’d performed it without the falcon keeping watch, but she had practiced often enough by now, she should have it down.
Before such a taxing dance though, she should warm up. Taking care not to wake Naj, she untangled herself from the nest of blankets and serpent. Straightening her sarong and halter, she stepped into the center of her room, stretching her muscles slowly, taking stock of what felt stiff.
When she felt ready, she began to the dance to Greet the Sun.
He woke to the gentle sound of soft footfalls. Not even sound, really, more …vibrations. The trembling filled his limbs like sunlight slowly fills a room as the day begins to break. The energy was almost like a small child, waiting patiently for her parent to wake so the fun and laughter of the day could begin. It wasn’t demanding, exactly, but it was insistent, or persistent. The feeling would keep quietly tugging at him until he noticed it, responded to it, and rose to greet the day. A soft smile touched his lips and he opened his eyes a crack to humor it.
He saw tendrils of light, ever so faint, gathering around a dancer. He blinked rapidly, certain he was still dreaming, but he never dreamed like this. Eyes closed, he could feel the pull of her, tugging at him to join her and greet the day. When he opened his eyes again, the tendrils were gone, but he could still sense the pull of them, follow the trail of them as they wrapped about her form like a tapestry. As Nica reached for the sun, the sun reached back, even here, so far underground. Naj paused, struck by a snatch of memory, flashing brightly and then gone. Wings, golden and shining, sunlight glinting on the waves, a clifftop city, built half on and half in the stone, nearly lost in the glare of the setting sun. Or had it been rising? Fog rolled in over the waves, over his thoughts. His eyes had drifted closed and he was drifting in his thoughts, tossed on a forgotten sea…
The tug became more insistent. Sure that he was awake now, it demanded that he rise and join in the movement happening around him. Without him. If he didn’t get up soon, it would move on, seeking other dancers more willing to heed the eija’s call. It would leave him behind in his musings, stuck in the past as the Now moved on. Naj conceded, rolling onto his back in the tangle of blankets, surrendering his sleep g to join the growing energy calling to him. He arched his back, stretching his limbs as long as he could make them, drawing himself out in a thin, long line. He felt a humming tendril shoot through him, racing to the tips of his fingers and toes, still pulling him upward and onward. He sat up, reaching for his toes, his waking groans joining in the low humming that permeated the room. He smiled at Nica as he rose and began the slower steps of the beginning of the mn’kai’li ramn, the song of the sun’s dance. Nica wasn’t too much further along, he would catch up to her shortly. The insistent pull would not let him fall behind.
As she began to move, Nica closed her eyes as thoughts of sunlight and joy filled her body. Behind her, she could feel the first tendrils of wakefulness from Naj.
She returned his smile, realizing she was humming the song from her dream when he began humming along. As she continued the movements, she let her humming continue as well, since it obviously wasn’t bothering Naj. Briefly, she wondered if she had woken him, but she let it go as she initiated the next round of movements. She let her body stretch to its fullest at she reached over head, coming to her toes. When Naj joined her, she moved to the side to give him room.
He didn’t linger in the movements as long as he usually would. He wasn’t rushing to catch up to Nica, exactly, half so much as her energy was pulling him along. When they met up, it would slow, and he would match pace with her. Synchronizing with unfamiliar dancers was nothing new to him, as long as he was familiar with the energy of the dance, he could match that, and synergy with the actual dancer would follow with time. It was enjoyable to be caught up in the rush of her dance, pulling him along to keep up, very much like an excited child. He found the enthusiasm catching.
She grinned as she watched Naj pace himself to catch up, and let the words slip along the notes she was creating. She set the words to the music of her feet, letting her joy and purpose greet the day.
Nica let the movements sweep her along, no longer watching Naj, simply feeling his energy add to the dance. He felt warm next to her, not as cool or still as he had when she’d first met him. It was comforting in its own way.
She felt centered, where she should be, in her element, in her nest. This was home.
She let the last note linger as she fell into the last movement, resting against the carpet as her heartbeat began to slow again, though her lips still held a smile.
He let himself move more languidly through his paces now. His heart pumped strong and steady in his chest, and his limbs seem to stretch past his fingertips and toes. He rolled his shoulders, turning the movement into a fold at the waist and just hung, letting everything loosen and flow. Then he dropped to a seated position, tucking one foot into his lap and the other under his knee. He felt inspired to run through the rest of his morning paces, habits long ingrained in him and long forgotten, or so he’d thought. With this much energy coursing through him, he couldn’t imagine leaving it to ebb slowly from him, forgotten as he went about his day. No, this should be stored up, tucked away with words and gestures into pockets of his soul, to be called on when the days were long and rest was in short supply.
As he shaped his hands into the Ahnk’nar, the spirit pose, he felt a snag in the currents of the room.
He hadn’t been dancing alone. And more importantly, he hadn’t been dancing with a nestmate of the Ahn’ki Dai. She wouldn’t fall into the same habits of energy preservation– if she had any training with such techniques at all. The only magic she’d displayed so far was incidental, latent or a mere side effect. But even with training, his Dai variations on form must look peculiar at best, being such an odd blend of seemingly incompatible magics. Sheepishly, he raised his eyes back to hers, giving her an timid smile.
“Good morning, areta. Thank you for calling me to greet the day. It was most invigorating.”
He flexed his fingers, feeling the connection waver without the proper channel, and the loose energy swirled about his hands. The space between his palms warmed, and he did his best to keep it from escaping.
She brought her head up, languidly arching her back. When he greeted her, she glanced over at him, having to pause a moment to remember that areta was an old word for dancer.
Nica gave him a small smile, her feathers ruffling and resettling as she moved to better watch him and the motions he was making with his hands. “You’re quite welcome. I enjoyed having someone join me, though I hadn’t meant to wake you.”
“I didn’t mind.”
His smile blossomed, and the happiness he felt raced down his arms to pool at the growing heat between his hands. Reflexively, he twitched his fingers towards Il’nar, to halt the spread.
He noticed her gaze falling to his hands. He lifted them slightly, as if in offering and asked “Would you like to join me in this as well?”
She tilted her head slightly, shifting her sarong as she sat beside him. Now that she wasn’t focused on stretching, she could feel a shift in their auras, almost a pull against hers. “I was curious about what you’re doing.”
His answering laugh was small and good natured. “Preening my feathers.” She made a face, as he suspected she would. The old falcon idiom made little sense coming from a cobra. “My teacher’s term. It’s energy manipulation, arrangement and storage. Nothing more complex than meditating with my hands. Hardly different from dancing.”
Though he didn’t move at all physically, he shifted his aura to make a welcoming space for her. He felt her energy flow into it without a thought, and he wondered again about her background and education. She didn’t appear old enough to have been trained before the old ways had fallen out of favor—but then, with the lengthened lives most shifters boasted, it could be difficult to tell.
Only one way to find out. Naj was surprised to find the dry voice unusually encouraging, but it was nice to be of one mind for once. He settled himself more firmly on the floor, feeling his hipbones shift ever so slightly. But that pulled his spine straighter, which drew his shoulders into alignment, and bit by bit, everything settled into place. The pooling energy in his hands flowed into the newly aligned channels, and Naj smiled.