The Half Light

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[5.2] - The Fine Art of Dreaming

She was surrounded by darkness. For how long, she did not know. All she knew was the darkness stretched on and on, not sinister nor comforting, just a nothingness.

Eventually, though Aryial wasn’t sure how, the nothingness became something else. The pale walls blended into view and the sunshine streamed in through the floor-length windows. Aryial couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment she heard the murmuring of a voice.

“Time to wake up now, time to get up Aryial.” The voice was soft, repeating the phrase over and over. “I can feel you stirring.” Aryial’s eyes fluttered open.

She opened her mouth and as if reading her mind, Ivan brought a cup of water to her lips, watching as she gulped it down greedily.

Ivan chuckled, dabbing the spot on the pillow where some water had spilt. “You had me worried that you passed out from shock or infection, but your wounds were fine and your body seemed so too.”

Aryial closed her eyes again, listening to Ivan speak.

“I assume you had one of those dreams?” He asked.

Not sure what to say, Aryial hesitated. After a moment, she nodded very slowly, lifting her head and trying to prop herself up into a sitting position. Ivan reached out to help her, fluffing up the pillows to support her back.

“I did have one of those dreams,” Aryial started. “But then I was withdrawn from it…and I didn’t wake up here, I woke up in another dream, another special one.”

Ivan looked at her wordlessly, prompting her to continue.

“It was... weird. The second one was surreal, I couldn’t move easily, I could only watch what was happening. And... and no one seemed to be able to see me either,” she wasn’t sure why she didn’t mention the stranger calling her name.

The glass clinked against the bedside table as Ivan placed it down. “That’s odd, don’t worry too much about it though.”

“Are you sure these aren’t visions?” Aryial pestered him with questions. “Are you sure it’s just my imagination?” The sheets rustled as she sat upright a bit more, jutting out her chin in thought.

He sighed and gently looked her in the eyes, his hand brushing the hair back from her face. “Dreams are from the imagination.”

“But how would you know?”

“Just trust me, Ary–”

“Nobody else has these!” Aryial interrupted, whispering furiously. “People who can dream don’t exist, Ivan! They’re old wive’s tales. Hell, people who lie don’t exist either, let alone both of these combined!”

Ivan pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a breath. They’ve had this discussion before; many, many times. “I’ve done as much research into this as I can without arousing suspicion,” he said tiredly.

The braided rope bracelet grazed Aryial’s wrist familiarly as her fingers fiddled with it. The busyness of the rest of the household bleeding from the walls and filling the silence in obligation.

“I know,” Aryial eventually murmured. “I know.” She reached for his hand, not sure whether she was trying to reassure him, or herself. Perhaps both.

A knock sounded at the door, drawing both their attentions. Lilith opened the door, pushing it open with her hip as she manoeuvred her way in with a tray of food in hand. Her gaze was disapproving, but that wasn’t a surprise. Aryial cracked a wry smile and Lilith scowled further.

“You and your strange needs, girl,” she chastised, placing the tray unceremoniously in Aryial’s lap. Ivan reached forward abruptly to stop the tray from slipping away. “You’d think that you would have learnt to be careful by now,” said the stout woman, paying them no mind.

Silver streaks had started to paint over the dark hair tinged with a sheen of green. Other than that and the few wrinkles in the corner of her mouth and eyes, Lilith had not changed much over the years. Her hair had been tightly secured in a bun as always, her pointy ears peeking out from underneath them, and her uniform was crisp as an autumn leaf.

Aryial doesn’t think she’s ever seen Lilith with her hair down, but she didn’t doubt it would reach past her backside. That was the elvish custom after all.

Lilith continued to fuss around Aryial with her characteristic annoyance. Aryial was sure that had Ivan not been in the room, she would have received a thwack from the Head chamberlain.

The corner of Ivan’s mouth quirked up as he pushed a plate of berries forward. “Eat up. After all, you did miss dinner.” Aryial shot him an apologetic look.

“Oh, stop worrying. I wouldn’t have been able to make it to dinner anyway,” Ivan said with a laugh, reaching over to ruffle her hair. She swatted him away, fork in hand.

Shaking his head with a smile, Ivan stood up and walked towards the windows. The sun was the only warm thing streaming through as Ivan opened the windows, the locks turning with a soft click. Autumn was fast approaching and the city had followed suit, the air turning frosty and the wind biting at exposed skin.

Goosebumps rose against Aryial’s arms but she ignored them as she dug into her food, lifting small bits of fruit and berries to her lips. She sat back and surveyed the room.

Though she had been here just over four weeks, Aryial still marvelled at the decorative designs carefully painted onto the ceiling. Elegant blue swirls on pale blue, almost white, walls.

Aryial shivered. She observed the two faeries, different species of faeries of course, but faeries nonetheless. Ivan held yet another book in his hands which, from what she could see, was on the arduous process of making powdered pigments. Lilith had assigned herself the job of fluffing pillows that Aryial thought were perfectly fine to begin with.

Neither of them seemed affected by the slight chill in the air. Aryial picked up a grape off the glass plate and flung it at Ivan, provoking another disapproving glare from Lilith. She was accustomed to the pair’s antics, however, and continued with cleaning without another word.

It’s too cold. She mouthed at Ivan. He raised an eyebrow. Aryial rolled her eyes and gestured to the open window, even going so far as to rub her hands up and down her arms.

Ivan snapped his book shut and straightened from where he was leaning against the settee at the same time the door burst open, revealing a frantic eyed faerie.

“My Lord, your presence is immediately required.” The faerie had managed to calm themselves enough to spit out the sentence. Ivan didn’t react, only stared coldly at the intruder. The faerie fidgeted.

“Very well,” was all Ivan said. With one last look of apology to Aryial, he left the room. Sighing, Aryial removed herself from the warm covers and made her way to the window, shutting it with a shiver.

“You,” muttered Lilith, so quietly that Aryial only barely caught it. “I really don’t get you.”

Aryial smiled and gazed out the window, hand still resting on the window lock. The world was indeed preparing for autumn, the rich summer leaves all in the process of changing their attire into one of brilliant reds and yellows. The sharp breeze danced with the trees, no doubt just as biting as a prince is fickle.

It was a beautiful sight, but it wasn’t a day to be outdoors, that was for sure. Not that there was too much daylight left though. Judging from the sun’s position in the sky, Aryial guessed there would be what, two or three tolls before dusk?

There was no way she would be able to go to sleep again so soon. Lilith interrupted her thoughts. “I have a letter for you. I have not seen the contents so I know not of what it contains.”

Aryial turned to smile cheekily at Lilith. “But, you have your own assumptions?”

Lilith just pinned her with a glare. “You know the young master would not approve.”

Aryial scoffed. As if he’d even realise she was doing it. He was about as busy as a bumblebee in summer, always doing something, always scheming who knows what.

She had to entertain herself somehow.

Aryial held out a hand for the letter and Lilith reluctantly handed it over. A bubble of excitement rolled inside of Aryial. Was it what she thought it was? She had sent out a call a couple of weeks ago and, as exciting as it was, such an early request was surprising.

The sturdy parchment of the envelope tore easily as Aryial ran a nail under it. Her eyes scanned the contents quickly.

Yes,” she whispered.

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