Chapter 10, part 2

In which mind over matter proves to be very, very true, and very dangerous

Kain expression clouded in his sleep, head turning as if he could escape whatever was trying to bring him to wakefulness.

Everything was dark, waves upon waves keeping the sky at bay. There was a pressure within the weight, smothering and demanding everything sleep.

But it wasn’t the warm, dark cradle of earth that he knew and he turned from it, troubled. Starbursts broke his thoughts, erupting like bubbles to give him pops of sound. He followed the bubbles upwards, swimming with strong, sure strokes. He was a prince of earth and while this was not his domain, he would not be governed by another’s folly.

His eyes opened, unseeing in the dark room. Two forms lay beside him, their breathing deep and easy. With a touch, he nudged them deeper, ensuring they would not wake too soon. Something was amiss and he wanted no interruptions.

As he slipped from the bed, his awareness spread through the dark, touching other minds that slept in untroubled stillness. They, too, would not wake too early. He strode into the hallway, barely pausing for his eyes to adjust to the light that was already on in the common rooms.

His feet took him to the stairs, following the energy that crashed against his aura like waves beating upon a rocky shore. He was stone and this sea did not have time enough to carve him down to its will. He could not bury it, he could not dam it, but he could stand in its midst and not fall.

Distantly, muffled voices filtered into Nica’s ears. She was on the stage – her wing. She’d landed on her wing and the angle hurt. She should shift it away, but she needed to get up. She couldn’t rest here, what had she been thinking?

Even as the thoughts swirled about her head, they seemed to collide with one another. Nothing but noise. They were nothing but noise to her. Still, she pushed up on one arm, freeing the sharp pain. She tried to focus enough to tuck the wings away again, and she thought she succeeded, but in doing so, she lost the ability to keep herself raised off the floor. The noise was back and she couldn’t think. Her cheek was wet, had she fallen asleep in the tub again?

Naj reacted without thought. As soon as Nica was within his sight, his brain had a target, an answer to the urgency. Nica had danced with the shadows, and the illusions were using her physicality to manifest their own forms. The spell was eating her alive, and her soul was calling out for help. She needed power and she needed it fast, before the exhaustion took her. If Naj could feed the spell fast enough, it would release her, and eat its way through the limited energy available. But if Nica lost consciousness before he could end the connection, the phantom storm would rage on, without anything to direct it, or anything to keep it from consuming its caster completely.

Naj threw himself to the floor beside her, calling out to her with mind and words alike. Power raced down his arm as he touched her, booming in a thunderous strike that shook the stage. The spell-summoned clouds above them opened up, pouring a fierce, icy rain down upon them, and Naj shouted to be heard over the roaring wind. His hand was on fire where it touched Nica’s skin, and he poured out his energy without a thought. He screamed his defiance into the storm, pounding a fist shaped in the sigil of stillness onto the stage, demanding the spell acknowledge its limits. He dropped himself over Nica’s chest, shielding her with body and aura alike as the clouds unleashed their fury, and then died just as abruptly as any summer storm.

The spell was contained, and Nica’s chest rose and fell beneath his cheek, but Naj continued to call to her, murmuring over and over for her to come back to him, to come back to her nest, to come back to the home and heart she’d worked so long to build. He filled the plea with his desperation to have a home, to feel the warmth and safety she had built, to belong, to call it his own. He poured his need into her, praying it would be enough to keep her head above the icy waters of the Whispering Dark. Both their heads. Nica had crossed over into the s’era, the Void, to weave her shadows. And Naj had poured into Nica without restraint, racing to fill every empty thought and heartbeat, desperate to keep her with him. And to keep him with her. She made his blood sing, and he could not lose her, not so soon after just barely finding her.

Kain pushed through the curtain, uncertain of what he’d find on the other side. The arm he led with held his cheetah’s spots, though they were pale and stiff like granite.

The power on the other side pelted him, a storm uncontrolled. Lightning burned along his skin and he was glad when it found the earthen parts of his skin like a conduit, rolling the strike away harmlessly.

Hard eyes narrowed when they fell on the two forms at the center of the stage, the heart of the spell-storm. The serpent was bowed over a prone body, one hand outstretched to call order to the chaos that beat around them. Kain did nothing as the storm came to a rolling stop, thunder faint as if moving on as the magic spent itself, now cut off from its source.

The pair of them did not move, even after the spell had passed, and Kain took a cautious step forward. Now the roiling sea of Void beneath the storm was apparent – its call was what had woken him, not the errant spell.

He frowned, trying to untangle the moments that had brought them all here. Dancing, falling, dark waters… Memories? The air was too heavy, damp with tears and rain alike. He couldn’t follow all the threads that knotted around them, leaving them in a stranglehold of energy that would snarl and bury any who touched them. The spell was satiated and gone, but the hunger of the Whispering Dark still remained.

Kain paced to the pair of them, lips tightening at the sight of blood trickling from Nica’s nose. The magic had wrecked havoc on her physical form as well as mental. The serpent was fighting the mental fight commendably, he might even pull them both free of the Il’Rhea’s current. But on his own, it may not be soon enough.

He reached down to them, touching their skins simultaneously to push the strength and surety of the earth beneath them. Every grain of sand, every pebble, every stone built of memory, cemented together by every touch, every smile, every laugh shared. He pulled the memories from Nica, following the thread that the serpent was trying so desperately to tug. The serpent did not have the shared experience, the knowledge of Nica’s self to guide her with, but Kain did.

Together, they pulled her out of the magical rip tide and onto the metaphysical shore.

He’d stopped breathing.

Naj only knew this because the ragged breath he drew now burned through him like ice and fire combined. His fingers tingled with the force of it, blood racing to deliver suddenly needed air. He’d slipped into the il’m again, but this time, he’d gone willingly, and darkness hadn’t challenged his right to be there. But as he’d clung to Nica’s sinking song, the Whispering Dark had exerted her claim on him, and he’d stopped breathing, filling his mortal needs with raw power. He could drift forever like this, but the hawk had no such training. Her heart needed to beat, her breath needed to sing out, and Naj had no fire strong enough to tempt her with. He had emptied everything he’d had into the hungry storm she’d summoned up, and now he had nothing left to save them with.

A distant pulse echoed through his brain, calling, crying, cajoling– anything that might stir him to action. But Naj was empty, and the darkness was home.

Seth would not lay down to sleep beneath the ice.

He beat at it with swollen fists, the rhythmic thump keeping a time for his slowing heart. He would not sleep here, he would not. The il’m pulled at him, murmuring the sweet promises of peace that lured so many servants of Il’Dao into the dark. She wanted him, after so many years of drawing on magics that shouldn’t be his. But Seth hadn’t fought the il’m for so many centuries just to give up now.

When Naj had breathed his last, Seth threw more fury into his fists, spurred on by the feelings of the first cracks. He kicked when the ice gave way to water, slowly releasing its hold. Seth kicked, deliberate, rhythmic beats like the pounding of his fists. He would find the surface again, he would not sleep here, and he would drag them all with him. He could not stop.

And then the shore was reaching out to meet him, sand and stone realigning to cut the distance. Seth reached with a grasping hand, kicking, kicking, gasping when his head finally broke the surface. He crawled panting on the shore, using the last of his will to pull Nica and Naj to lay on the familiar white sand beside him. Only then did he allow himself to collapse, all his thoughts on his breath, in and out, in and out, until it would become natural again.

Nica was warm where she had been cold, but she couldn’t open her eyes. She was tired, so tired, why wouldn’t Ariella let her rest?

Arms were around her, strong and steady and she was safe. She was away from the driving force, away from the pounding insistence. A voice murmured in her ear, but she was too tired to understand the words. It meant sleep and so she slept.

Naj curled into the feeling warm stone against his skin, his mind still drifting safe between the sun and the sand. It wasn’t the weightless drifting of the dark waters, but he felt he was drifting nonetheless, with nothing to tie his awareness to his body. He was warm, he was safe, and that was good enough.

Miles and miles away, he knew he was opening his eyes. Across the great distance, he saw a shadow looming over him, felt the brush of hair and feathers along his cheek. But the effort to cross the space was too great, so he simply watched as the shadow fell over him, and he was carried away in a swirl of sunshine and stone.

Kain sighed as both of them gave into a harmless, less permanent sleep. Their minds were still on the metaphysical shores of the Il’Rhea, bodies and less material parts still not quite in harmony with one another. But on shore they could rest, though both were cool to his touch.

His lips twisted into a frown as he looked down at the pair before him, the last remnants of the spell fading on their skin. It was almost pretty, if it wasn’t colored by the irritation he was left with. What the hell had they been thinking?

The answer, clearly, was they weren’t. He didn’t know which one of them had started it, but he was plenty agitated to have to clean up after two of them. The serpent had done well enough to keep them both awake and treading water long enough for Kain to reach them, but he didn’t like that this was his wake up.

He stared at the curtains beyond them, lips pursing as he checked that everyone was still asleep. He was going to catch hell from Nat and Gwen for spelling them like that. Double damn.

Kain closed his eyes, letting his growing ire bleed into the rock so far below his feet. Later. It would wait until later. Right now the crisis had passed, but he still had cleaning up to do. With a shake of his arm, the stone vanished beneath his usual dark muscle.

He repositioned the serpent so he could scoop him and Nica up into his arms together. Carrying them as one, he headed downstairs, where they would at least be protected under the wards.

As he maneuvered the stairs, his destination narrowed. A hot bath would do both of them more good than a pile of blankets. Not to mention it would take less energy on his part. He had hardly drained his own resources, but it had been decades since he’d had to pull power like that. It bothered him that not only had he done it, but he had not hesitated to do so.

Decades of habit could not undo centuries of practice so it seemed. If the past was what the serpent was going to bring to the nest, perhaps this wasn’t the place for an ex Dai operative.

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