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.

Shorts: Random world building fun

I started this last month with a Tumblr post, just a collection of a few cultural quirks I knew about the various shapeshifter groups. It’s little details like that that make a world real to me.


l’den Jetta and Lemara would argue endlessly about the appropriate use of gems. Peridot or Citrine for openness in the family room. Lapiz or Amythest for the sweetest dreams. Everyone knew river rocks would protect an infant’s spirit, but brown or grey? But everyone knew, from Grandma Tala to baby Emry, that you touched the hematite studding the doorframe before entering anyone’s home. It was rude to bring an overabundant aura into another’s home.

Cera still wore a lump of it around her neck, a worrystone for when things got too intense.

The witches brought escargot to their first meeting with Rachel and the new wolves. Before anyone could even sit down, Seth pulled their leader aside.

“Let me explain to you the ways you are being rude. They are far, far different from the ways you intended.”

A young crow boy fancies a raptor girl. Even without the red shoulder flashes from her “big brothers”, he knew he didn’t stand a chance. Egging his car was just overkill. At least they hadn’t escalated it to anything physical though. He’d hate to embarrass them.

“I swear to god, Fen, no one showers more than you. You think I won’t stay the night if I get a whiff of how bad you stink? You can’t possibly have anything on my hormonal little brothers.”

Fenris watched the tigress sway away from him, sass in that ass even after the pounding she’d just taken. Damn she was fine. Not worth the beating he’d get if anyone caught the musk of cat on his breath, but still fine.

“Aww, damnit–Fen! Put some damned clothes on, would ya?”

Of course his roommate would come home right now. Of fucking course. Didn’t a tie on the door mean anything anymore?

“What does purple mean?”

Ence bounced from aunt to uncle, touching ribbons and knots, tucking flowers and leaves, planting hugs and kisses. Her father would scoop her up now and again, adding a twist and a tie, keeping her still with stories. His own mane was cropped short, as nearly all their clan wore here in the American land, but his tail still told a magnificent story.

He twirled a daisy against his little girl’s nose, enchanted by her giggle. “Purple is true love, my little one. I wear it for your mother, your brother, and you. Purple is our family, and our dearest heart.”

The last ring. Three orders of calamari later, and it came to a stare down over the last ring. Seth didn’t even want it, but Gwen had offered, and now they were at an impasse. To give your eijye food was honor, expected, but did the tigress see him as leader, or non-predator? He had to tread lightly.

“Ooh, poppers! Oh, blech! What the hell was that?”

Leave it to Bird to settle a delicate situation with barbarism.

Chapter 10, part 1

In which the dam breaks, and the floods rise

She would be lying if she didn’t admit to herself that she was smarting from Naj’s dismissal. Nica had opted not to eat anything before dancing, sore that she’d been dismissed and sorer still that she had been so affected by it.

She stood on the stage, back to the rich curtain as she stared at the stacked chairs and wooden tables. The passage of time blurred in her memories when everything still seemed the same as she’d left it. Old pain distracted her from the newer sting of the slight and she was able to take a deep, grounding breath.

Striding across the stage, she flexed her shoulders, wings sprouting from her shoulder blades. She took a moment, orienting herself to the new balance and feeling how the muscles sat differently as she moved arms and wings alike.

Deliberately trying to let it all go, she flexed her wings forward, running her fingertips along the shafts of some primary feathers. The black and white barring faded into a brilliant rust at the joint. The red cascaded down the uppermost part of her wing until it hit her back. One beat, two and she nodded to herself. She could do this.

Nica felt full of energy, better for the night of rest and the easy waking of a gentle dance. She surely felt better than she had all the times Ariella had had her practice, drowsy and half asleep on her feet. Now her movements felt sharp, precise, and she was confident that she could do it alone.

It wasn’t that she’d needed the falcon’s guidance, only that Ariella was such a finicky teacher, convinced no one could do anything right if she wasn’t watching.

Shaking her head, she pushed thoughts of the falcon aside. Getting her blood to boil would hardly help her concentrate on her dance.

Finding the center of the stage, she raised her arms high, crossing them at the wrists and posing her hands to open her energies. Her thoughts briefly flicked to Naj, seeing the similarity in the hand shape, but remembering his dismissal from her own room shut that avenue down quickly. Once on the balls of her feet, she concentrated on drawing a straight line through her.

She swayed from foot to foot, finding the right rhythm for the dance. When she was sure of herself, she began to lay the footwork that would help her build the energy necessary for the illusion she was about to cast.

Of the dances she performed, it wasn’t uncommon for her to weave illusions or suggestions to fool the skin or the ears. It seemed the body craved deceit for those receptors or at least was more susceptible to it. But the dance she was about to perform created a visual illusion and that seemed harder to fool.

She summoned as much energy as she could muster and then began.

Naj pushed against hands in the darkness, shapeless forces willing him down, willing him to forget, to sleep. He couldn’t see, couldn’t think, but he knew he must keep pushing, upward, upward, ever upwards. He must get up.

Seth struggled against the currents, struggled against Naj’s flailing hands, struggled to keep his head above the icy waters. Between the emotional turmoil and the elemental energies they’d raised but not balanced, their mindscape was awash with darkness. Like the mythical river Il’Rhea, whose banks housed the resting dead, Naj’s magic and memories and feelings swirled in chilling blackness. Waves crashed in shouts, currents pulled like so many hands, each one eager to draw him into the dance, each one calling to him with the siren song of memory. In death, such waters would be peaceful, a sweet remembrance of lives well lived. With the press of so many years, Naj and Seth could drown before their time, lost to these memories in the Whispering Dark. Seth forced his way past them all, not letting any one face attach to any one name, lest he give a voice a stronger pull than the others.

But there was a voice, pulling strong and sweet, the shining memory not tarnished with the passage of time. Naj grasped at every echo they passed, desperate and overwhelmed by the weight of them, usually kept back by Seth’s skillful hand. While Seth was able to surge ahead past the long dead ghosts with practiced ease, the golden thread was too insistent, still singing strong and resilient in the Now.

Nica.

Such a recent memory might be enough to pull them from the Il’Rhea and out onto the banks, if Naj’s heart was not so full of doubt. Worry for Nica was what had started this downward slide in the first place. Had he hurt her? Directly with his twisted magic, or with the sharper knife of harsh words? He had felt her unhappiness when Seth sent her away, amplified by their connected auras and his own hurt and confusion. Anger colored his panic– anger at his helplessness, anger at the Dai, anger at Seth for sending Nica away. He wanted to stay with Nica, where was Nica? Naj jerked Seth’s mental grasp, and Seth could no longer fight the currents and Naj both at once. A wave of helplessness crested, and they both went under.

Nica threw herself into the movements, picking up speed and layering the energies on top of one another without pause. She knew from experience if she doubted even one of her motions, the entire structure would collapse like a house of cards.

Her wings swept forward and left red in their wake, her hand swept through and left behind drops of purple to mingle and bleed into the red. A twirl and one wing swept it aside to leave a swath of inky darkness that hid her behind it. Furious motions cut through it in places, letting color accent the darkness until she threw herself through it, her wings arcing back to carry the darkness high as if hoisting the night sky itself.

On impulse, her voice suddenly broke through the silence, echoing in the large room. Ariella had mentioned building the magic was about intent, and that voice held as much will as the physical body if done correctly. Nica had never tried it, but her confidence in the picture she was weaving and the swirl of energy around her made her sure of the wordless song. With her voice, she built further layers of energy, stoking them into a fine fury to paint the tapestry above her with the colors of sunset. Her voice was void of words, but not of meaning or intent and as she danced, she wove the notes and movements together as a single creature.

A low spin and one wing swept the ground with greenery that twined and flared behind her, another pass and bursts of color appeared on the edges of the twining vines that appeared to chase her legs, trying to capture her feet in their tendrils. Sharp notes brought burst of colors in midair that took flight on their own, bursting through the sky to abruptly vanish.

Another sweep of her wings as she leapt had the air above her darkening and churning on itself, weaving greys with blues and the hint of green. A tempest rained upon her and still she danced, pushing herself to build it further.

It was more than she’d managed before, the pressure of the energies laid heavy on her skin and in her body. She knew when she finished that she would be exhausted again, but for this one moment, it was worth it.

She sang to the skies to burst the clouds and bring the rain, adding vibrancy to the life beneath her feet. When she finally stilled her feet, the vines wrapped around her ankles and she hit her knees, letting the last of the notes fade into the air as the visual magic faded with it. The fall had been planned, but hasty, and she could feel a faint throb from the impact already.

Her heart was pounding and she couldn’t get air into her lungs fast enough. It was as if she were still dancing, still drawing the energy higher and higher, to altitudes she couldn’t sustain. Spots danced in her vision and she tried to steady herself with her hands. On either side, her wings trembled with the exertion.

There was only darkness, but it was neither peaceful, nor still. Echoes of color remained, but he could not remember what color was. Or what it meant to remember at all. Self was a fleeting dream, fading into the nothingness that was Something without form, Life before chaos became order from sleep, Life as it would return once order slept again.

Within the quivering darkness, a sound. A song began, wordless, but carrying with it all that “song” meant, and echoes of light, and fire. Heat and life and wild determination cut the darkness with its cry, and Naj clung to it, the last thought before the void.

And from the sound came color, and light, and living things, growing fast in the rich, potent darkness. Vines and hands surged upward, clinging to the song, clawing their way through the night to reach for the fire painted sky. Desperation pulled at the clouds, brought swirling into life by the need for something to hold on to. And once he had a hold of them, they burst in a shower of passions too over-ripe to contain.

The Need and the vines and the Self pulled the passion down to it, wrapping around the singer to hold her close, to remember her name, to remember life and light and dancing. Self willed the vines to seek upward, ever upward, until they burst through the clouds, and his ears were filled with the rushing of water.

Drowning. He had been drowning, and now he was dying. If he could not get his head above water, could not draw a breath, he would die. No magic here would sustain him, not with the Life he held so desperately around him. These were the Dark Waters, Il’Rhea, the passage to Death, and he would find no aide given to a heart that sought the Light. Naj gave a fierce kick, and another, and another, striving towards the light.

Nica thought her heart was slowing, but she couldn’t tell anymore. There was just a dull roar in her ears that she distantly knew to be the sound of her blood.

The spots of her vision had given way to a hazy ring of darker gray at the edges. She felt cold and every blink felt sluggish. On hands and knees, she knew she should move, that she should elevate her legs, but she couldn’t remember how. Or perhaps the trouble was simply in getting her body to do as she told it. She was sure she had tried to stand, but here she stayed.

Her entire body ached, but it felt distant, though not numb. Crimson spots hit the wooden stage in front of her eyes and she stared blindly. They should mean something to her, but she couldn’t make them tell her what that was. Then they were zooming out, going distant and clearly unimportant.

Her eyes blinked once more, then refused to open. She was so tired. Maybe she hadn’t slept as well as she’d thought. A sharp pain brought her eyes wide and she was staring at a stretch of empty stage and chairs.

With a raging surge, he remembered Body, not the form he used to traverse dreams such a this, but the real physical vessel that breathed and danced and hurt. Oh, it hurt. How long had he sat like this, arms and legs crossed, containing the maelstrom of power that raged within? He stretched, and once remembered, arms and legs coursed with the urgency of MOVE! He was on his feet and racing down the hall before he had untangled that bodies meant boundaries, and he could not simply will himself to where he needed to be.

But he desperately needed to be somewhere. And some wordless part of him knew where that was. So Naj let his frightened feet take him to where he needed to be, and he hoped that his mind would understand once he’d arrived.

Previous: Chapter 9, part 3

Chapter 9, part 3

In which Naj takes the lead

“Just follow my lead.” He held his hands up in front of him, palms forming cups, one open to the sky and one pouring down into the earth. “Do you know this shape?” It was ARE, an opening prayer, and the foundation of everything. If last night’s dancing was any indication, she would know it well, but as with Marie, he opted to over explain rather than leave anything out.

Her hands mimicked his, even as her posture straightened. It was habit by now, the two years spent in Ariella’s nest had been spent training with the falcon, and she was an effective teacher, if a bit severe.

Between learning at the falcon’s knee and her family being fond of rei’ramn, Nica knew a few hand shapes, and while she didn’t recognize all the ones he had used last night, this one she was familiar with.

The ARE. All that is, all that was, and all that would ever be.

ARE – the All.” Her eyes opened, flicking to his.

He nodded, thoroughly pleased. It was beyond wonderful to be with someone who knew the old ways. It was home.

Seth eyed the hawk before him, putting her aura under careful scrutiny. She appeared just as she claimed– strong in raw power, but only rudimentary trained. The energy of the room swirled around her, drawn to the center of the nest, but didn’t stick. She wasn’t channeling. Even an aura currently inactive would draw in the power if it was well accustomed to doing so. This raptor was an areta, there was magic in her dancing, but it was incidental. Still…

Naj seemed truly delighted to be teaching, lost in the simple pleasure of it, no unsavory memories surfacing… Oh, to hell with it. Seth saw no harm in it, and Naj had to be allowed to form bonds within the nest. So he relaxed his reluctance and allowed Naj to continue. How much trouble could they get into merely meditating?

Abruptly, Naj dove right into the lesson, rolling his left hand up to join the right so that both palms cupped upward. He linked them at the thumbs, making a small x where they lay on each other.

This is also ARE, though you must narrow your focus to see it. Forget the fingers, for now, and focus on the cups made by your thumbs. Still, this is All there is.”

Her brow furrowed slightly, following his motions. She could see it, but he was right, it wasn’t obvious at first.

Her breathing fell into the steady rhythm Ariella had drilled into her, her center becoming still as she focused in on the shape of her hands.

Nica didn’t make any comment one way or another, but Naj could feel her focus, could sense her aura shrinking down to the point of her crossed thumbs, and so he continued.

He wiggled his outstretched fingers, feeling the energy dance and sing along their slender lengths, waiting to be tapped.

“Each finger pair aligns with an il’li Daeos. Li’Il, being the first to be born, are the longest.”

He touched his index fingers together, leaving the rest spread wide. Those fingers really didn’t have anything to do with the shaping of Li’Ilnar, but if they touched each other accidentally, it could be distracting at best, or potentially create a new symbol. He glanced over at Nica’s hands, making sure her fingers were out of the way, but she’d mirrored his alignments perfectly. Naj assumed her silent concentration was a testament to her falcon training– he too knew how unwise it was to interrupt one when teaching. So he pressed on, but made a point of watching her more carefully out of the corner of her eye. He wasn’t sure if he could trust her to speak up if she had any issues.

“If you wanted Il to rule the sigil instead of Li, you’d simply drop your fingers so that they touched at the nail instead of the pads. See?”

The instant he curled his fingers, he felt the energy lock, held still by the small circles his fingers created. Nica’s aura clamped down around her as well, but the only indication she gave of noticing the change was a slight narrowing of her gaze. Could she see the magic they were shaping? He’d love to talk with her at length about it, at some point. But right now, they had work to do, lest the energy slip away.

“Some prefer to change the crossing of their thumbs, as well, putting dominant hand over the other, to balance the darker force of Il. But I’ve always found that weakens the power, and I’ve never had any trouble directing the energy where I want it.”

No, the only trouble he’d had with Il’Dao was returning from the il’m, that Whisphering Darkness. With that sobering thought, he spread his fingers wide again, letting the trapped energy out. His fingers tingled with the force of it, and again, he felt the tugging of the new day. He breathed deeply to settle himself, drawing the Now deep within him. Forward, ever forward. Etren e’ramn.

“The other il’li-Daeos follow as they should: Ki’Ik, Aehr’Rhea, Anhk’Khna.” His fingers flicked through the motions, fingertips touching as he ticked off each name. Nica, he noticed, did not do the same. He imagined she’d wait, until she knew exactly what her motions might invoke. She was an excellent student, but somewhat unsettling after the rapid-fire chatter of Marie. But if Nica would wait for full understanding before acting, then he’d simple work through the lesson and check for understanding when he’d finished.

“To access only one half of an il’li, close the fist you won’t be using down, making sure all your fingers are grounded, touching your palm. Then simply touch the finger you wish to access to the direction you want the energy to flow: Li or Il.”

He touched the pinkie of his right hand to the thumb of the right, opening it up. Again, the energy raced, flying out to all corners and filling up his core.

“With everything open like this, you can fill all of the other spaces, having energy to call on as you need it.”

He opened his left hand again, bringing both of his index fingers to touch his left thumb. Light and Dark swirled in his mind, filling his thoughts and coloring the music that beat in his chest. These would be his primary resources, the Daeos he knew best. Next strongest would be his ties to h’Ki’Ik, but anything stored in the name Il’Dao and Li’Daea could be molded into the shape of any of their children, so he would fill them fullest.

Il. Dark. Li. Light. She knew the names, the motions becoming more familiar. Her aura danced as she did so. And her breathing caught, then fell back into rhythm as she realized the energies were pulling one another in her hands, shaping in her aura as surely as her muscle and bone shaped them. It was a heady feeling, but she forced herself to focus on Naj’s words.

Later, she would consider how old he was, or what tradition he followed that practiced such energy manipulation. Perhaps she would talk it over with Kain. For now though, she was learning, both this new technique and about this new serpent, pushing the coursing thoughts under to focus.

“Be careful not to overfill any one il’li, you’re new at this yet. Move on to the next pair of digits.”

The energies flowed through her easily– too easy for Naj’s liking. Either she had skill with this and didn’t know to call it in this way, or she was dangerously ungrounded from recent deprivation or distress. Either way, this could swing her just as wildly out of balance, with how quickly everything was flowing. In such a new student, there should hardly be any change at all. He should have asked, but he didn’t know what to make of this dancer who wore feathers and sang in serpent tongue.

Nica followed his instruction, letting her fingers shift through the motions. She could almost feel when she should move, as if pouring water into a cloudy jug and judging fullness by sound alone. It was an apt comparison that mimicked his words and she wondered exactly what this meditation’s purpose was. She felt centered, yes, but she could also feel her aura swirling around her, the energy pooling on itself.

Her voice was soft as she formed the last of the shapes. Clearly speaking didn’t disrupt the energies, and Naj had stopped explaining each motion. She was too used to waiting until Ariella invited questions. “And afterwards?”

Naj blinked at the suddenness of her voice. It had a low, husky quality that didn’t quite fit with how her energy roared and sparkled. Deprivation, he decided, was what had her soaking up the energies they’d raised so quickly. He had yet to even move on to the second set of fingers. Then again, his Li’Il could hold a considerable amount.

No matter. She was ready to finish, and Naj didn’t foresee needing to fall back on his reserves any time soon. He could eat at will, sleep at will, and had nestmates to curl up with when he was cold. The only thing he would need stored energy for would be areta’ramn, and he really couldn’t imagine being called on to cast anything in this nest.

He spread his fingers wide again, releasing his grip and letting his aura flow wherever it wished.

“Return to our starting posture, so everything can settle. Like laying a blanket out flat before folding it, be sure everything is smooth before locking it down.”

At that, he interlaced all of his fingers save the index pair, which he set into a steeple, then dropped down again to touch at the knuckles. He uncrossed his thumbs, pressing them into the sides of his curled fingers, then brought the heels of his hands together.

“This is the closing, locking everything in place before opening your hands in release.”

He rolled his palms towards the ceiling, uncurling his fingers. He stretched his cupped hands away from him and up to the sky, much like the eipratei posture he’d taken up the night before.

“Anything we’ve raised but not captured is now released to the ARE, and it and we are free to go about our work.”

A deep feeling of peace hovered over him, urging him to relax and bask, but first he had to see to his student. He gave her questioning eyes, checking over her aura with a gentle brush of his own. It seemed in order, but closed down like this, there were things he might miss.

It was an odd sensation, feeling the energy swirl, then settle as if it hadn’t been moving at all. But she followed his motions and the dizzying sensations passed.

She raised her hands with his and could feel her aura stretch with it, the offering vanishing to leave her fingers tingling and self strangely lighter. It was the same weightless feeling of taking flight and she blinked a few times to remind herself of her human form – even if her feathers did raise and resettle among her hair.

Nica took a deep breath, blowing it out slowly. She found him studying her and a small smile answered him. “I understand it was a meditation on the elemental energies, but to what purpose? The dance grounded and centered me, so my balance is hardly different…”

She trailed off as she thought about it, letting her focus trail over her aura. It did feel… Fuller? Was that what he meant by ‘filling’ each position? She felt more awake, as if she had more energy, but that could also be from the morning dance, or simply having fully woken.

Well. He wasn’t going to be using the energy anyways.

On a dramatic whim, Naj pinched his left thumb and forefinger together and flicked his wrist. A wave of darkness boiled from his hand, spill down and curling around the floor like smoke, It rose to fill the room around them, plunging them into a sightless nothing in an instant. With an equal but unseen twist from his right hand, a pure, white light burst forth, chasing the darkness to the corners of the room. In an unnecessary but elegant flourish, Naj called the power back to him in a curl of his fingers. It was only slightly diminished, as illusion magic hardly needed any energy at all, but it had been worth the show.

He gave Nica a wicked grin, teeth and eyes flashing with mirth.

For the purpose of showing off, among other things.”

Her eyebrows rose as her eyes widened. She recognized illusion magic when she saw it – she’d spent the past few weeks barely sleeping to master the technique at Ariella’s hand. And that was after years of pestering the falcon to teach her the technique in the first place. Illusion dances were one of the rarer and more ambitious skills available to a dancer. Partially because you had to find a master of it that was willing to teach it in the first place. There were a few in Ariella’s nest that held the skill, but only the falcon herself could successfully teach the technique behind it.

Impressive.” She tilted her head slightly as she regarded him anew. That he held the skill to do so was both commendable… And concerning. After his display last night, she was unsure of his current level of control. While illusion magic was simply that, illusion, the amount of energy it cost the weaver could be damaging if one wasn’t careful.

Do you ramn tr’vr’era as well?”

Naj’s own eyes grew wide at her question. An aret’vir’ramn, an illusion dance, was a very different thing than a ramn’tr’vr’era. To dance a shadow into being, with so much of your own energy and self involved would be costly, and unspeakably dangerous. Yes, it was doable, by why take such a risky route, when you could simply coerce the energies around you into taking the right shape?

Unless…

Naj knew the Dai were innovators, if nothing else. Ruthless, amoral innovators, yes, but Naj knew many of his skills were due entirely to their experiments and trials. What he didn’t know is where those techniques came from, and what they looked like in their original forms. And why they differed from the Dai’s way of doing them. He suddenly wondered if he should have shown Nica this at all, or if he himself should even be practicing it. It was just a meditation, right?

But to what purpose?

Nica’s question rang out in his mind, and Naj didn’t have any answers. Not ones that didn’t belong to another life, another Naj, servant of a man who was servant to a power that had shaped the world for centuries– but to what purpose? He didn’t like that he couldn’t answer that, but he suspected he’d like the answer even less.

And just like that, Naj was lost again. This raptor was proving to be a problem. Yes, she drew out of a Naj a fire like no other, but she also drew darker memories that Seth couldn’t keep repressed. Not with Naj actively pushing for them. This wasn’t going to work if the man kept insisting on living in days gone by. Seth had to ground him in the now, and keep yesterday where it belonged.

It was a mistake to have let Naj teach her such things. But it had been so long since Naj had been motivated to do anything of his own will that Seth had let it go. It was just one mistake after another in this nest– surely, Aezir didn’t think Naj would actually do well here–

But he was, little mishaps aside. He was smiling. He was dancing. Yes, he was digging, but maybe… Maybe with enough warmth and light in the Now…

The Now was a curious raptor woman, waiting for an answer to what she thought was an innocent question. Damn it all, this was a mess.

Ah, no,” Seth said lightly, pushing a blanket of il’m further over Naj’s unhappy crisis.

That wasn’t a ramn, it lacks the force and structure a proper shaping dance would give it. This was simply me taking advantage of energies already raised, and minds already attuned. A parlor trick.” He shrugged, and pulled himself more upright, as he had at the beginning of their meditation.

We’ve done enough for now, but I have forces yet to balance, so if I might have a moment?”

What he needed was time to talk with Naj again in the White Desert, and reset things to the proper order. He knew it was rude to ask for Nica’s own space, but every second he wasted, he risked Naj slipping too far into the Whispering Dark. Slap-on bandages were never meant to be used long term.

Nica smiled, careful not to show her surprise when Naj’s answer took a little too long and didn’t quite match the question she’d asked. With an inclination of her head, she agreed to his request. It was odd, how the instruction had brought them together, but now she felt the forced distance between them. Between the dancing last night and their time together this morning, she had forgotten that he was a relative stranger to her. It was something that happened between serpents, a press of will and soul that almost instantly told two serpents if they resonated and would get along well, or if they would clash. It was speculated that it was what allowed serpents to dance seamlessly together and she and Kis had spent hours talking of its origin.

Now though, that instant camaraderie had dissolved, though perhaps only she felt it. It wasn’t often she doubted how her avian heritage influenced the culture she’d been raised by.

She smoothed her sarong before she stood. “Of course. I’ll be upstairs if you need me, I’d intended on practicing a few dances before anyone else wakes.”

He nodded brusquely, hating to chase away anyone Naj might call friend, but it would be a moot point if he lost the fool to the il’m now.

Thank you,” he said quickly, trying to salvage the growing connection to the hawk, even as he pushed to get her out of the way. “I won’t be long, I just-” He hissed in a sharp breath as a particularly nasty memory surfaced and his concentration slipped. He couldn’t keep this up much longer.

It’s painful, holding this much energy out of alignment. I’ll be fine, after a moment to sort it out. I’ll come find you, so you don’t worry needlessly.”

He hoped that was enough to appease her. He was out of time, and without another word, he threw up a mental shield around them and dove into the dark mindspace he’d errected around Naj.

Previous: Chapter Nine, part 2

Character Bios: Emily

I’ve been wanting to do Emily for a long while, and I finally found a model I like. So have an Emily!

As always, you can find this on the character bios page. If you have any more questions about Emily, or suggestions on who I should draw next, drop them in the comments.

World Building June!

Reblogging this from my author blog, cause it’s basically a month of making Appendix blurbs. And I know how much y’all love world building candy (almost as much as me, right?)

Raevenly Writes

So apparently, in addition to being #Pride month, June is the month for world building–which, as you all know, is my jam. I’m following along with World Building June on Tumblr, and I’ve had a load of fun with the three days I’ve done so far. So far we’ve done a basic intro, geography overview, and touched on races/cultural backgrounds. I’m thinking of doing a weekly recap mirror on this blog, but if you want to read my entries live every day, you can find them on my Tumblr under the tag #worldbuildingjune

Fellow writers! Come join the fun!

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