1993, October 10, early morning
Brad blinked, looked around him. This looked like Skyreach, like the cliff, except that the entire sky was shimmering with shifting rainbow colours, the sunlight filtering through and creating odd effects.
Nor was he alone; sitting across from him on the green almost-grass was a WindDancer clad in snowy silks, with huge wings, the feathers a rich gold frosted with bright silver; even less than usual could he distinguish gender.
This had to be a dream, everything felt just slightly unearthly, but he couldn’t recall ever recognizing a dream as such while in it before.
The winged ‘Dancer smiled, and it was the warm friendly smile of an old friend. “L’ya, you’re dreaming.”
Skydancer, something in Brad’s mind whispered. This couldn’t be anyone else.
“Alex has been asking me repeatedly for help, to make this easier on you and Michael, and offering to pay all necessary prices alone. I think, however, we can save him from the consequences of his own concern for you both. You are lover to one of my ko’valha. Do you intend that to continue for some time?”
1993, October 09, continued yet again
WindSpinner had explained to Michael how what she called farsight and foresight typically worked. The former was basically perception of the present that wasn’t anchored to physical senses; most people were restricted to one or two senses, and range varied between individuals. The latter normally turned up as an extremely refined ability to put together information gathered via all other channels into predictions; less commonly, it provided genuine glimpses of events that would come to pass if everything stayed on the current course. In most cases, unlike a mindgift like empathy that appeared early and fully-formed but could be exercised and refined, only traces of it showed up young, and it frequently strengthened with age as well as practice.
Michael wasn’t even twenty yet, and felt rather apprehensive about what it might be like when he was forty, but that only gave him more motivation to master WindSpinner’s lessons in self-discipline.
He was getting reasonably good at focusing on a single target in his immediate area and seeing it with his eyes closed. Applying the same sort of technique, using the earlier dream and the lingering feeling from it as a guide, kept bringing him frustratingly close—he was sure it was right there, if he could only reach it, and then he’d know what was going on, he’d be able to be certain Brad was going to be okay.
He shifted position a bit, made sure he was completely relaxed physically, and took a slow deep breath, gathering all the threads of his attention together and turning them resolutely inwards.
1993, October 09, continued again
Trusting Trill to look after Michael, Alex went back upstairs. He paused for a moment to check, but his family—minus Tizzy, who was currently at her father’s house—remained peacefully asleep. Always tricky in houses that had only curtains for walls, trying not to disturb everyone else in the middle of the night. As it was, Brad remained deeply shy about sex, despite all assurances that Skyreach lacked specifically sexual taboos and recognized only consent and courtesy.
Of course, he had to make sure Brad was okay before they could get any farther on that one.
He sat down on the edge of the bed again, straightened the blankets and tucked them more closely around Brad. “I’ll make it okay, love,” he whispered, running a hand over sweat-damp brown hair. “I promise. No matter what I have to do.”
Brad flinched with a small whimper from Alex’s hand on his forehead—given that fever, it probably felt either very hot or very cold. Contact was necessary, though.
All right. A quick check of essential systems gave him reassuring results: heart-rate was rather fast as a resting rate but no worse than during exertion, blood was flowing cleanly through all major vessels, his lungs were providing a comfortable oxygen level, insulin/glucose levels were out of balance but not critical, enough oxygen and nutrients were reaching his brain. Nothing that suggested immediate life-threatening danger.
1993, October 09, continued
Michael bolted awake, heart thumping.
The utter dark of Trill’s room, in a place with no light pollution to speak of, wasn’t an obstacle to him, particularly: though the Shadowed Hills messed badly with his other senses, they didn’t stop his ability to see regardless of physical light levels.
He wasn’t sure how he felt about the fact that otherwise, here, he no longer had the peculiar ability that for most of his life he’d wished would go away. Now that WindSpinner’s explanations and advice and exercises had actually been helping him gain a little control over it, he resented and feared it much less than he had and was beginning to see it as both useful and a part of himself—and now the future looked likely to involve long periods without it.
Apparently the bit about dreams still worked just fine.
Trill murmured something sleepily in Hillin, then asked, “What is it?” She snuggled closer, tucked am arm over him.
“Something’s wrong. It’s Brad, I’m sure of it.”
On Trill’s other side, Leatha yawned audibly. “I thought your Sight didn’t work here.”
1993, October 09
Alex slept a long time the next morning; Brad, instead of getting up, reached for one of Alex’s books and spent the time practising his very tentative command of the Dyauran alphabet. It was like trying to read something written in a cipher, as long as he stuck with books written in Connaran which was basically English, but not impossible once you got the trick.
Finally, Alex stirred, right while Brad was in the midst of puzzling out a story about an amethyst dragon that also included the lyrics and music to a rather long song that appeared to need multiple voices. The Healer rolled over, gave him a shaky smile.
“You okay?” Brad asked softly, closing the book.
“Yeah. Or I will be, once it stops feeling so raw.” He looked down, up again. “I needed that. Thanks.”
Brad felt like collapsing in relief. Alex wasn’t mad at him for the trick, then. He leaned down, kissed him warmly. “D’riyes.”
That got him a more honest smile. “You learn Hillin fast.”
“The equivalent of ‘no problem’ is something I’ve heard often enough to catch it. Feel like getting up?”
1993, October 08
“Alex?” Brad murmured, nestling against him comfortably, his head on Alex’s shoulder.
“Mmhmm?” Alex was sleepy-satisfied, but not anywhere near asleep; both liked to spend a while just cuddling and talking after making love.
Brad couldn’t help feeling guilty that he was about to completely shatter the comfortable peace… but he’d spent a long time thinking today, through everything else: helping Irielle with an ointment for open wounds, watching Moth and Alex work out, watching Trill teaching Michael basic self-defence and being coaxed into joining in himself.
“Will you tell me something?”
Brad bit his lip. His own instincts confirmed Sunlark’s words: Alex had to talk. “Tell me what happened to you and Trill and Trevar while you were gone?”
Alex flinched, pulled away, rolling over to put his back to him. “No.”
1993, October 07, continued
Michael sprawled on his back across ‘his’ bed, wondering where Leatha would choose to sleep tonight: here with him in what was technically Trill’s bed, or downstairs furform with Trill.
Some time ago, Leatha had invited herself into his bed, and he hadn’t seen any particular reason to refuse. Okay, so, she was technically not human, but she was intensely physical and responsive and playful. Tantarra in Felithan, apparently, saw sex as purely for making kittens, something brief and direct, and even then was less about choice than the overwhelming urges of being in heat; given Merra with Hawk and Brad, and his own experience with Leatha, they seemed to be taking to the idea of sex as enjoyable and voluntary with enthusiasm.
It had been a little disconcerting when he’d realized that she spent as much time with Trill as with him, but only for a short time. She was a cat, she had no concept of shame; what made her incredible in bed also meant he could put no chains on her.
He decided on sleep, stripped, and nestled between the blankets. One tap darkened the quartz light—marvellous inventions, those. Warm and comfortable, he closed his eyes, let himself relax.
His hearing picked up the faint sounds of motion; it couldn’t be anything dangerous, so he tracked it without opening his eyes. Coming near the side of the bed, behind him…
1993, October 07
On Skyreach, it seemed like there was always much more to do than there was time to do it in.
Brad had spent the morning with Irielle, doing about the same amount again of the ointment and then sharing lunch with her. Sunlark had left a message with her that if Brad were willing, he’d like very much for them to get together and talk music.
Trill was planning on the five of them doing a camping trip down in the valley, just for one night, sometime very soon before the temperature dropped any further.
There was always practice, when all five could be pried away from their various pursuits long enough, which Brad predicted was going to become increasingly difficult as Skyreach reached out to include them.
Presently, he was sitting on the grass, watching with fascination as Alex and Moth attacked each other with five-foot staves of smooth wood, Moth’s golden-brown, Alex’s pale and creamy. Even to him it was obvious that Moth was doing much better than Alex was, and could have defeated him readily had he so wished.
They finally backed apart, both panting.
1993, October 06
Someone called Alex’s name from outside, while he and Brad cleaned up breakfast dishes and tried to decide what to do today.
Alex stopped, listening intently, and the call was repeated.
“Come in,” he answered, loud enough for it to carry.
The person who ducked through the curtain was certainly interesting: not as tall as Alex but taller than Brad, lean but something in the way he moved, graceful and self-assured, made Brad suspect he was stronger than he wanted to seem. Long raven-black hair was braided with ribbons, beads, and feathers, mostly bright scarlet and sun-yellow, matching the loose silky clothing he wore. He crossed the room directly to Brad, and—why wasn’t he surprised?—hugged him.
“I’m Sunlark naDalisyn. You have to be Brad. Enjoying Skyreach? It’s a fascinating place when you’re new here, n’lai? I still have very vivid memories of the first time I saw it. But I’m not going to tell you how long ago that was. So. I’ve come to invite you both to a party, and you may not decline because the party is for you. And bring the instruments of your choice, because I’ve been hearing some bragging that I have a rival, and if I do I want to know about it now.” He grinned, tucked a fluttering feather behind one ear. “Well? What are you waiting for?”
1993, October 05
The next morning, Alex suggested they spend the day roaming around the mountainside.
“I can think of a couple of cool things to show you that we can see and be back by the time the others are expecting us.”
“Sounds fun. Let’s.”
They took lunch with them, in a leather pack Alex slung over one shoulder, and departed.
The first place was a high cliff, bare rock for some six feet from the edge. Brad gazed down in wonder over what seemed like it must be the whole of the Dyaura, green and blue and gold and brown, fading off to purple-gray in the distance.
“How high are we?”
“Very,” Alex said. “Close to the top of the mountain, in fact. At night, you can see Herra’Shi’Kiyan, the capital. Well, you could see it now if you knew where to look, it’s easier at night. There are quite a few legends about this cliff. One is that from here, a group who were practising a play saw danger coming to Skyreach, back in the days before the Ski’kiyans when that so-called king kept trying to tell us we belonged to him. That gave us enough warning that we were ready when they came.”