“Help me get her up,” Derrex said.
Joban stood, gripping the back of the chair to keep his balance. Sliding his arm under Xania’s limp back, his eyes went wide. A small puff of breath escaped him. Then he was plummeting down into another world.
Great doors towered above him. They were iron and two trees loomed on either side. Their large branches worked through the bars of the doors and held them tightly closed. They trembled, even though the earth stood still. They seemed to pulse, pushing out ward as if breathing. The bars bowing out, slacking and sagging inward before bowing outward again. They shuddered and a crack split through one trunk so that the wood grinned with long wicked teeth and the bark hung from the wood like a wounded thing. Darkness ebbed from the sore, seeping out in great gobs. It blobbed down onto the ground and puddled there, leaving a slimy film where it had previously been. He took a step back. The darkness shuddered and twisted as if it considered him, but there were no eyes with which to regard him.
A tall dark man towered above him. The man’s long red hair whipped in the wind around him, snapping like angry mouths. His strangely cut coat, with its many tails, followed suit. Even the high, stiff collar seemed to swarm around its master. Joban was afraid. This creature before him was powerful and terrible. But, there was a part of Joban’s soul that wanted to join with the creature. Serve it. Worship it. It was beautiful, with its ivory skin and large brown eyes. Joban took a step forward and reached out a cautious hand; he had to touch the creature. He had to look within its soul. Joban’s fingers touched the thing’s hand and a single image emerged into his mind: a peeling, rotting corpse. This thing meant death to all and Joban knew that his life was now at the mercy of this creature. At any time it could pull on his soul and tear it away from his body.
Xania and Derrex lay together in the sunlight. The grass was warm beneath their naked bodies and the delicate breeze whispered away their sweat. They lay separated, only the fingers of their hands touching. Joban laughed. It was as if they were making snow angels together in the grass and became frozen there. Then a child came running over the hill. He was beautifully white and glorious in the sun. His bright eyes shone with love and happiness. He fell onto the grass between them and stretched his arms out to join them in the game. Except that they were too far away. The child’s arms could not reach. He stretched out to touch the hands of his parents. Xania and Derrex drifted apart, pulling away from the child. He looked back and forth between them. The boy was unable to understand their withdrawal. Tears shimmered down his round cheeks and he chased after Xania. She faded away, leaving the child alone in a strange and scary place.
Xania sat in a small room. Everything was white. A tree sprouted up and Xania wrapped her legs around its trunk. She opened her mouth and strange clicking, whines and beeps issued forth. A copy of her stepped out of the wall. Another tree sprouted up. The copy hugged it. She also opened her mouth and made the strange sounds. They began to twist together. The wood bound around them and took shape around them. Twisting up and stretching to the sky a enormous tree blossomed and bore golden fruit.
Xania and Derrex’s child stood between the large trunks of elder trees and looked up at the interlaced branches and leaves. They wove together to form a great pattern that promised structure and thought in the universe. The child reached up and plucked the leaves off the branches and then pushed the branches aside to step through. The child stood face to face with Joban. Did he know Joban was here? How could he?
“Hello, traveler,” The child said.
“Can you see me?” Joban asked.
He pressed his fingers against his chest.
“Of course. Dipak has given the weave of time to my care. I see all those who touch the threads,” the boy explained.
The child plopped down onto the ground as if incredibly tired. He laid out the leaves, overlapping them in a careful pattern.
“But, you’re not even born yet!” Joban gasped.
“Joban, you look at time as a line. In your mind it marches in a single direction, leaving the past behind and leading to the future.”
He spread the leaves out into a row. Joban sat down across from the child and looked down at the arrangement of leaves.
“Time doesn’t move this way. It is a weave. All times can touch and cross all other times, hence why you can catch glimpses of what could be.”
He arranged he leaves again in a complex pattern with each leaf over lapping several others.
“All things can be accessed, just like you have now accessed the future of my parents. You see their great love, my creation and their fall. In doing so, you have accessed me.”
He stacked the leaves into a pile and carefully poked a stick through the stack. Presenting Joban with the stack, he raised an eyebrow and smiled. Joban took the leaves and turned them.
“But, I am a string that is aware of the weave and I have accessed you through the same cross road you have accessed me.”
The child pushed the long locks of his white hair out of his face and sighed.
“It’s terribly hard to understand time. There are many things that are possible within the weave that become torn out or cut away as people move through their choices.”
The boy reached over and pulled out one of the leaves. He stared at it a moment before letting it drop onto the ground.
Joban shook his head.
“I don’t understand,” said.
“Nor will you. You are not meant to understand the weave, in any of your potential futures,” he said.
Taking the leaves, he set them on the ground. Their eyes met. The boy’s eyes were silver. He had no pupil, no white. Just a silver orb. They were like mirrors. In them, Joban could see little images of himself staring back.
“Mother must restore the balance. But it is not time. Jacob is calling her and he wants her to hurry, but it is too soon.”
The boy looked up and plucked at something unseen in the air. Examining it, he tilted his head to once side. Then he opened his fingers and released it back into the air. All only seen by those strange eyes.
“She and her sister must have power if they can conquer the darkness,” he whispered.
The other girl. How could they find her?
“They will come together when the time is right. It cannot be rushed,” he said.
Again he plucked at the air, but this time he seemed less interested in what he’d caught.
“You must help her build her kingdom. She must be a Queen and she must fight this war,” he said.
Joban wanted to protest. He knew nothing of making queens.
The child quickly looked over his shoulder, as if someone had called his name. “I must go now. Tell my mother that the end will make the suffering right.” The child rose to his feet and hurried away.
Joban sat alone. A bright light flashed and he blinked his eyes rapidly. Rubbing at the pain as his vision cleared, he found himself on the floor beside Xania and Derrex.
“Hey,” Derrex said with a nod.
Joban didn’t answer. It was difficult to breathe. Pressing his trembling hands against the floor, he pushed him self back from them.
“Nothing personal,” he whispered. Then added “I’ve just had enough for one day.”
“Yeah,” Derrex said.
Xania sat at the small kitchen table, her hands wrapped around a hot cup of coffee. She watched the steam rise off like tendrils. It was a good cup. Three sugars and a lot of cream, and it was hazelnut. She enjoyed it in sips as she tried to think things over.
Derrex was busy making himself a drink. He was quiet, only a soft clink or shuffle of steps. Xania wondered what he was thinking while he was clearing and puttering. He sighed, set his coffee on the table and sat himself down. He looked directly at her. She looked away.
“What are you thinking?” Derrex asked.
“Too much. Today has been busy. Well, the night now too and the sun is ready to come up. I need some sleep, but I’m not sure I can,” she sighed.
She sipped her coffee, then rubbed her eyes.
“Try and save the thinking for later,” he said.
She snorted. It’s not the sort of thing that you just turn off.
Derrex got up, leaving his coffee behind, “I’ll set up the guest room for you. You can crash when ever you’re ready to,” he said.
Then he left the room.
Xania stared at her coffee and thought about the man that wouldn’t have let her finish the cup and would have demanded sex. Derrex had brought her into a crazy and confusing world, but at least there were freedoms here. She thought about the hand that he’d put on her elbow. The way that hand had guided rather then possessed her. It was strange it be a person rather then a possession. But here, she was a person. She was allowed her own thoughts, opinions and desires. There was room to disagree and to argue. She had been angry and afraid. No one had punished her for feeling.
Xania finished her coffee and rinsed out her cup. Derrex hadn’t come back from the other room yet and she was beginning to wonder what he was up to. She turned the cup upside down in the sink. She sighed and tried to run her fingers through her hair, but stopped when she touched the braids. She smiled, remembering her crazy make over. She left the kitchen, wandering into the living room.
It was a simple place. Running her hand along the back of the couch as she passed, she thought how inviting it was. The muted browns and rich greens made her think of the earth and the forests. There was a carpet and little tables beside the chairs. Things were practical. She smiled. The room was Derrex on display.
She heard Derrex moving around in one of the other rooms and she followed the noise. She found Derrex straightening the blankets on the bed.
“Almost ready,” he said, looking up at her while continuing to work.
“Looks cozy,” she whispered.
Xania felt her body sag a little with the thought of sleep. Maybe she’d get some rest after all.
“Good. You look like you need it.”
Derrex smiled. He gestured to the room around him and said, “All yours.”
Xania stepped into the room. Derrex stepped passed her and she added, “For everything.”
“Don’t thank me yet, wait until its over.”
He looked sad.
“Is it ever over?” she asked, reflecting his sorrow.
“No, I guess not,” he answered.
There was a pause, as though he wanted to add something, but he decided not to. He left, leaving Xania to brood over her own gloom. She sighed and crawled into bed. It was cozier than it looked. Xania smiled, closed her eyes and fell asleep.
Xania tilted her head back and enjoyed the rain falling lightly on her face. The water rinsed away the filth and muck that had gathered upon her skin. She looked down at her hands and watched as the encrusted dirt turned to liquid and trickled away. She was glad to see the pink flesh beneath.
“Please, protect and watch over me.”
The voice was a whisper, but seemed to be carried from a great distance away.
“Guide me through the trials that lay ahead so that I might serve thy will.”
Xania turned to the sound of the voice. It was a comforting sound. Quiet and lulling. She was drawn to it. The voice seemed to carry power that belonged to her alone. She went to it, obeying its polite summons. She moved through the soft under growth of a beautiful forest where trees swayed around her. There were small animals moving about her, but she couldn’t see them.
“And please, watch over and protect Xania. Keep her safe from all the evils that plague this world.”
Xaina stopped. Was she accidentally eavesdropping on someone’s prayer? But, who would pray for her? Derrex? Yes, she could see him now, kneeling in the rain. She went to him, unable to resist his lure.
“Derrex, I’m here,” Xania called to him.
Derrex turned to her and smiled, then blushed. It was then that Xania realized Derrex was naked. She blushed in return, embarrassed by the intrusion rather than the site of his flesh. This was a natural place. Being naked here was right. He was beautiful. His silver hair was clinging to his face and neck. Light grey skin shining with the water also looking silver.
“You were praying for me,” Xania whispered.
“Yes,” Derrex said.
He still didn’t meet her eyes.
“Don’t worry. We are being protected,” Xania said.
“There is so much that we don’t know,” he whispered.
He looked back to her then. He gently touched his fingers to his forehead, his chest and then his lips.
“Sweet Goddess, I pray we can see the way,” he whispered.
“We will,” Xania said, reaching out and touching his cheek.
“I hope you’re right,” Derrex sighed.
“I am,” she said with a laugh.
Xania smiled at him and turned to go.
“Xania?” he asked.
She paused, waiting.
“Are you awake?”
How could someone be awake in their dreams? She laughed again. Then she left him, walking into the conveniently rising mists and returning to the forests where the animals were coming out.
Xania sat up in the bed. The mists still swirled in her mind. She wondered if her dream meant something. Was dreaming going to be like having visions? The thought brought a sloshing to her stomach. She got out of bed. Sleeping no longer seemed so appealing.
The lights in the living room were dimmed. She plopped down on the couch and pulled up her feet so she was sitting on them. Fiddling with her braids, she tried thinking. The voices had started after she had been hurt. That had to mean something. Was this some kind of mental break in response to the trauma? Maybe all mages were nuts. Joban and Derrex were certain that she was some kind of budding mage. And she did heal herself. There was no denying that. She wanted to, but there was no point in it. Spreading her hands out in front of her, she looked at the flawless skin.
“How long have you been up?”
Derrex stepped into the room and smiled at her.
“I’m not sure,” she answered.
She looked at the clock, ten in the morning. She didn’t know what time it was when she’d gotten it up, so the clock really didn’t help.
“A while,” she added.
“Do you want some breakfast?” he asked.
He didn’t wait for an answer.
“Yes, please,” Xania called to him while he began moving about the kitchen.
She got up and went to the kitchen door.
“I know what you’re going to ask,” he stated.
He didn’t look at her. Staring at his hands, he worked. The eggs sizzled in the hot pan.
“I have to get out of the city,” she said.
“Running blindly isn’t going to get you any where. You have to be careful,” he said.
The egg hissed again as the raw side hit the pan after a careful flip.
“I can’t do nothing,” she whispered.
“For now, you must wait,” he said.
He scooped out the eggs and served them up on a plain white plate. He handed it to her with a smile. He turned off the stove and started cleaning up.
“Don’t you want one?” Xania asked.
“No, I hate breakfast,” he answered.
Xania set the plate on the table. She looked down at it. The eggs looked up at her like a pair of angry and accusing yellow eyes. Gently poking one, she thought about leaving on her own. There was nothing that said she had to wait for these people to whisk her to safety.
“I don’t want to wait,” she mumbled.
Sliding a fork over to her, he tried to meet her eyes, but she avoided him. She sat down.
“Joban’s people are the best and they will do more than you could.”
He looked at the top of her bent head.
“Because I’m weak and useless?” she snapped. Then added, “Didn’t you get the information that you needed?”
Hot tears threatened to spill out, but she blinked them back.
Derrex laid his hands on her shoulders.
“You are marked. That doesn’t make you useless and you kicked my ass which means you’re not weak.”
He lifted her chin with the tip of his finger, again trying to make eye contact. Xania turned from him and strode into the living room. She sunk back into the couch and let the tears seep out. She couldn’t go without Derrex’s help and he wasn’t going to give it.
“I feel helpless,” she declared.
“You don’t have to be,” he said.
Derrex sat next to her. She looked at him.
“If you let us, we could train you to use your powers and how to see.”