I stepped out of the sharp artificial light and slightly metallic tasting stale air of the vehicle, into the grey pre-dawn. It was a mild morning, the air heavy with the scent of spring, and a slight breeze lifted my hair and blew it across my face. I closed my eyes and wished I were at home - on my way to the stables, preparing for a day of mucking out and riding; or even dressing for another meeting with a newly arrived shield, and the aliens’ idea of courtship... at least that was swiftly done, as Gale succinctly informed me: when they knew, they knew.
I knew it to be true as I had vicariously experienced a successful courtship several times; the disadvantage of being a telepath was that things were more often experienced through others, rather than in person.
The vehicle had landed on a plateau to one side of an avenue of trees. Buildings to shelter the vehicles against the seasons and sun were mid construction, the builders had left their tools neatly stacked the night before and had not yet returned to them. Through the trees, I could see the tidy rows of a vegetable garden.
I had seen, as we had flown over, that the land was ripped in two by a large gorge, and this outpost was built within the valley, the buildings carved into the walls. A bridge joined one side to the other, and on the opposite side to where we had landed, the occupants were building a more normal looking village.
My feet jarred from the drop from the vehicle to the ground. The step was not so great for my long-legged brother, Crispin, and his mate, Gale, who shared the height of her grey-haired alien cohorts, standing at almost six feet. They made a handsome pair, both tall and athletic, his almost white-blonde hair a stark contrast to her almost-black-grey.
Gale handed me my bag. “Are you well, Ivy?” she asked me. “You’ve been quiet.”
“Half asleep still,” I lied. I did not want to be here, did not want to do this. Another disadvantage of being a telepath was that I did not have a choice but to go where I was sent. I was reliant on Gale’s shield, and she was answerable to a chain of command.
Wilder, the leader of our outpost, had woken us an hour before, looking as if he had just rolled out of bed himself. Nexus had sent orders for telepaths and shields to travel to the outposts, to try to identify those who intended the occupants harm, he told us, and we had ten minutes to pack and leave as we were expected with dawn at the Arcana Briar’s home.
I had seen Nexus from a distance only the one time and had found him terrifying, though Gale saw him as some sort of messiah and had assured Crispin and I that he was stern but kind. He had established one of the original outposts on the planet and was now directly responsible for three, whilst overseeing at least a dozen more, like Wilder’s outpost, and held a central role in the Alliance that governed the world.
The aliens had been amongst us for a little over six years now, establishing their outposts amongst our population. We had descended from their ancestors, so technically, we were the same people, but we were a colony world that they had abandoned when their home worlds had had a civil war and hadn’t the benefits of technology that they had had.
We did have something that they didn’t, however, and that was our powers. Or, at least, we had them in greater strength. And the powers were vitally important to the aliens, for some cultural reason I was not sure I entirely understood. They had returned intending to stay, that much was clear - in the years since their return, they had increased in number through immigration from their home worlds and formed more outposts from which they shared their medical and technological resources in exchange for people like Crispin and I, with powers, joining them. Which meant, if you were single, being open to courtship from their people.
“Hello,” a giant of a man appeared from the avenue of trees and strode over to us. He was impressively tall and wide of shoulder, with bright silver hair braided back from his face. “Are you from Wilder?” Handsome, I thought, wistfully, and someone else’s.
“Yes,” Gale strode forward clasping his forearm in their traditional greeting. She wore her armour. It had been a while since she had last done so, and she seemed uncomfortably formal in it. “He apologizes that he and Lark aren’t here. They were preparing to leave when she began feeling unwell. Our medic has put her on bed rest just to be on the safe side, but he says he thinks it will pass.”
“Perfectly understandable,” the man nodded, empathetically. “I hope the medic is correct. The family has a history of difficult pregnancies.”
“Yes, I am sorry for your loss,” Gale replied quietly.
“It is some time ago now, but thank you,” he acknowledged. “So, these are the telepaths?”
“Telepath,” she corrected, gesturing to me. “Ivy. My mate, Crispin, is an empath. I shield both as they are siblings.”
“Ah, welcome,” he inclined his head to us both. “I am called Thorn, my mate is Briar, and we are part of the leadership of this outpost. If you will follow me, I’ll show you where you’ll be staying.” He began to walk, Gale at his side. Crispin pulled a face at me and gestured for me to keep up – I had not inherited the long-legged height he had nor the pale blonde hair. “I had expected more than one telepath,” Thorn commented leading the way to a stone staircase curving down into the valley.
“Not all telepaths are able to leave the outpost,” Gale murmured. “It’s a challenging power... the greater the ability, the more the person suffers.” Unless I finished to myself, they met a compatible shield. Telepaths or empaths and shields were attracted more often than not, Gale had told me. It was a natural pairing; shields’ powers were useless to anyone else other than empaths and telepaths, and the power of telepaths and empaths were often disabling without a shield’s shelter. They were the only powers that seemed to connect in such a way.
“Yes,” he replied lowering his voice. “I can understand that.”
“I serve for both Crispin and Ivy, unless she finds a mate who can shield her,” Gale continued. “So, they cannot be separated without leaving one vulnerable. But they have a lot of experience with their powers and will be able to perform this task for you.”
The stairs levelled out. The buildings carved into the gorge walls were breathtakingly beautiful in detail. The balustrade that protected the walkways were elaborate, the top-rail worn shiny and smooth by the passage of hands over an unimaginable amount of time.
The current residents had strung clotheslines where-ever there was facility to suspend washing, so we had to duck and weave as we walked. There was another descent of stairs. “Down, and down, we go,” Crispin commented in an undertone, making reference to a children’s story.
“Shh,” I hissed at him, smothering a laugh. He winked.
The residents of the outpost were just waking up with the dawn. The windows of these odd stone-carved houses were shuttered, but many had left the ground floor shutters open, with only screens woven of branches as thick as a man’s thumb to protect the privacy of the occupants. Through these screens, an odd light glowed, steadier than firelight, and not as bright and glaring as the artificial lights the aliens used.
The active press of minds buzzed at the edges of Gale’s shield. So many people, I thought with dread. Gale was not powerful, and her shield at the best of times reduced noise to a murmur rather than a shout. It tired her to shield us both. The more tired she grew, the more leaked through. It was better for Crispin, because they were mated, but also perhaps because his ability was less intrusive than mine.
“I am afraid I can’t give you much time to rest before starting,” Thorn was saying as we crossed the second level. Dawn was brightening the sky now. “As you know, there have been two explosions at Nexus’ southern outpost, and we expect that this outpost will be a target sooner or later. We need to know as soon as possible that the people here are safe, and we need to interrogate anyone coming in.”
“So, you might be needing us for an indefinite time period?” Gale glanced over her shoulder at me and winced. “That might not work for us.”
“It will have to work for you,” he replied, his voice becoming cold. He was not used to being refused; he was a man accustomed to being in command, and people tended to obey without question.
“I am shielding both my mate and Ivy,” Gale explained hastily, reacting to his disapproval. “I am not a strong talent. There are a lot more people here, and no other shields to buffer my ability. It is inevitable that I will weary. Ivy is very sensitive...”
“I understand,” Thorn’s voice gentled. “I will see if my wife or the other Arcana here can help out, but we will be needing Ivy for as long as there’s a risk... unless Wilder sends someone to relieve her.”
Gale grimaced. “I doubt that,” she said honestly.
I drew in a deep breath. “If Thorn’s wife or the other Arcana can help, I am sure we can manage.” Crispin and I exchanged looks. Telepaths and strong empaths tended to unbalance easily. Some of those in Wilder’s camp walked a thin line of sanity. They were not dangerous, but they could not always distinguish between spoken conversations and mental ones, and some, I suspected, heard voices that weren’t there at all... I had walked the thin line myself of telepathic madness, before Crispin met Gale.
We had reached the third level of houses. There was less activity here, only a few of the houses were occupied. “This level only has three houses in permanent use,” Thorn told us. “We use the rest for transients, visitors and the like. I have been told it is more peaceful, as a result, for empaths and telepaths. I also understand that the stone walls provide some buffering.
“The house I am putting you in only has one other occupant, an Arcana who is here as a guest. I’ll put you in with him rather than a house of your own as if he is willing to help, it would be convenient. This is also the level where the cells are, if we need to use them...” he trailed off. “We’ll bring the first people by in about quarter of a turn?”
Gale glanced at me. I nodded. Might as well get started, especially if there was the potential of someone exploding the buildings here – being exploded wasn’t something I wanted for our little trio. Thorn led the way into the house and up internal stairs to the rear of a central hallway. At the top of the stairs, a bathroom to the right, a closed door to the left, and two open doors. “I’ll take left,” I said to Crispin.
“You don’t want to flip for it?” he grinned referring to a childhood method of resolving disputes.
“Crispin,” I murmured, as Thorn looked surprised. Not all the aliens understood our humour.
“Ignore them,” Gale murmured. “They have an interesting sibling relationship.”
“I have siblings,” Thorn replied, mildly. Siblings, plural, I noted. Gale had said there was a birth limit on the home worlds due to over population. Only the very wealthy could afford more than two children. Thorn must come from a privileged background. “My brother is here, in this outpost. We have an... interesting sibling relationship, too. I will leave you to it,” he decided. “I have to... well, I have things,” he finished. For a moment, as he turned and started down the stairs, I had a flash, from him, of a woman’s face, and a surge of love and worry. Briar? I wondered. He loved her, very much.
“Less than a quarter of a turn, Ivy,” Gale reiterated.
“Not enough time to eat,” Crispin grimaced.
“I’m sure they’ll have fo-” the door to their room closed behind them.
I turned to enter my room and realised I was not alone in the hallway. A man stood in the now open doorway to the chamber that shared that side.
He was a big man, as tall as Crispin, though nowhere near as giant as the silver-haired Thorn, wide of shoulder and lean of waist. He wore a loose fitted, and loosely woven shirt in a natural fibre tone, over a dark, closer fitting and thicker tunic, which matched the trousers that tucked into ankle boots with notched soles. Not the black outfits or the flowing robes the aliens seemed to favour, but something more similar to that Crispin and I had worn before Crispin had met Gale.
He wore weapons at his hips, strapped to his calves and thigh, poking over his shoulder on either side and holding back the thick cloak that he wore despite the mild weather.
His hair hung loose to his waist except for sections to either side of his face which had been twisted into thin braids. The thick locks were astonishingly black as coal for half a hand and then tipped as bright a silver as Thorn’s - as if he were somewhere between my people and the aliens. I wondered what it would feel like to dig my fingers into the thick heaviness of it and felt my cheeks heat.
His face was astonishingly beautiful, with a strong square jaw, straight brow and nose. His eyes were a brilliant green, narrowed now as he met my gaze, the irises almost eclipsing the green. He wore bones strung around his neck, in each ear, and ringing his fingers. His lips were finely carved, the bottom fuller, begging me to sink my teeth into it.
I felt heat flood through me, my heart picked up pace, and I was sure I swayed on my feet. Lust, I thought absently. I had experienced it before, but not personally. As a telepath, I often recognised experiences in others, without having had them myself. Not his, this time, however; this was entirely my own emotion. He was an empty space - a void like the shields appeared to me.
I realised I was staring at him. “I’m sorry,” I managed.
He inclined his head regally, before turning and walking away and down the stairs.
I blew out a breath and entered the room. I did not have long, I told myself. It was a large chamber, with a window looking out across the gorge, and a bed which had new blankets folded at the ends but had otherwise been stripped back to just the mattress.
I put my bag down on the bed, carefully laid out across it the dresses Gale had insisted I pack, and ran my brush through my hair, before Gale and Crispin opened the door to their chamber, laughing and exchanging lingering kisses. I did not need to be a telepath to know how they had spent their time.
“Ready, Ivy?” Crispin leaned into the room, hanging from the doorframe.
“Coming,” I put the brush down on my bed, and followed them out into the hallway and down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, to the back of the hallway, a door opened into a kitchen and eating area. On the opposite side was a bathroom and a chamber empty of furniture.
A big dark-haired man appeared at the external doorway, silhouetted against the brighter light. For a moment he held our gazes with black forbidding eyes and seemed to snarl threateningly at us, and then a silver-haired woman pushed him from behind. “Denal,” she complained. “Don’t block the door.”
The man lifted a table and carried it into the house, placing it into the small empty chamber as if it weighed nothing. The silver-haired woman pushed behind, carrying two chairs. “Sorry,” she said to Gale. “He’s Noxyim. Apparently, they don’t do common courtesy, but they are great in bed, so I tend to overlook it,” she grinned wickedly. Her thoughts were unusually transparent; what she thought she spoke, without filtering in between. Or, I amended, as a graphic image of Denal naked crossed her mind, minimal filtering. “I’m Sky. Thorn’s asked me to set you up in here and oversee things. Denal’s my mate and muscle,” she patted him on the behind.
The man said something, and turned, stalking out of the house. His thoughts were in a language I did not know, but like with reading animals’ minds, I could still read emotions and capture mental imagery. He sounded angry, but he wasn’t; if anything, he was amused, and very much in love with Sky. The latter made my heart constrict; it would be nice to have someone feel that way about you.
“He also doesn’t speak this world’s language,” Sky said, unknowingly echoing my own observations, directing her comment to me this time. “So, unless you’re fitted with a translator, he’s not much of a conversationalist. He’s gone to get the other chairs and will be back in a moment.”
Denal stomped back into the room, and deposited two more chairs onto the floor, before snarling something at Sky, revealing longer and sharper teeth behind his canines. She replied, her voice a seductive purr; I had a flash of another graphic mental image. His glower eased, and his lips curled at the corners. I flushed, embarrassed for accidentally eavesdropping on a very private conversation. She stroked his arm, with another comment, and then organised the table and seats. “There we are,” she said, cheerfully, taking the solo seat and looking expectantly towards the door; she was waiting for someone to arrive. Denal leaned against the wall, his arms crossed over his substantial chest, patiently waiting.
I looked at Crispin uncertainly. He shrugged and looked to Gale, who arched her brows; she didn’t know either.
“I’m your first interrogation,” Sky picked up on our uncertainty. “But we’re just waiting for Thorn and Briar, in case you find me guilty,” she winked at Denal. “They’re next door so won’t be long.” She was sublimely confident and comfortable about her place on this world, and intensely pleased with Denal as a mate.
“What’s a Noxyim?” I wondered taking a seat at the opposite side of the table.
“They’re from another colony world,” Sky told me. I had a flash from her of a woman my age, with a similar shade of red hair, screaming at her in fear. Curious, I delved deeper, because that was what I was here to do. It was a memory, from when she’d first arrived, of encountering someone who had not seen the aliens before. The memory twisted, as memories tended to do, into another recollection, of a grey-haired girl, in a dark place, also screaming. I pulled back sharply. For all her cheerful disposition, this woman had a dark past, I thought, grimly, glancing up at Gale for reassurance.
My brother’s mate was more than capable with the weapons she wore, I knew from experience. She had acted, not just as shield, but also as bodyguard for Crispin and me, in the past. Her attention now was diverted, however, to the door, through which Thorn and a small white-haired woman entered. Thorn smiled, the smile not reaching his pale eyes. He was reserved, waiting, like a wildcat stalking his prey, ready to pounce, alert, wary and focussed. “Thank you Sky and Denal,” he acknowledged the dark-haired man against the wall.
Denal replied something that sounded angry but didn’t hold the heat of emotion behind it. The small white-haired woman replied to him shortly. He clenched his jaw and dropped his gaze to the floor, cowed. I could feel his fear of the tiny woman, taste it bitter in my mouth. “Handy that,” Sky murmured.
“I am Briar,” the white-haired woman announced, flicking her gaze from Gale, to Crispin, to myself. She was a void, like a shield, and it was curious to me. I felt around the edges of her, and found her mind shielded, tightly. “Thank you for coming.”
“We’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for,” Gale admitted, intimidated by the company. I could not read her as I could others, as she was a shield, but I knew her well enough to interpret the expression on her face. “If you could give any clarity, that would help. Ivy is the telepath, and Crispin is an empath,” she gestured to us. Crispin took the seat next to me, folding his long legs under the table, easy going and interested in the dynamics of the room, reading their emotions as I was. We met each other’s eyes, and he arched his eyebrows.
Briar rested her hip on the table. “Well,” she considered. “We want to identify anyone who will act against us in the coming confrontation. As you know, the home worlds have issued a conscription. A number, like my husband, won’t even harbour the thought of responding, but others may. We need to know anyone who plans to fight for the home worlds, rather than us.”
Gale looked at me.
I considered. “If the thoughts are on the surface, it may be easy,” I said slowly. “Sometimes people come in thinking they must not think of the thing you are looking for, and because they do so, I can find that thread of thought...and that’s painless for both of us. You can help that by letting them know why they’re coming to see me.”
“And if they’re not thinking about it?” Briar asked. There was darkness in her; for a moment, it flashed past her shielding, and I could taste it, bitter and smoky on the tongue. I saw people flaking away to ash, and then it was gone, closed away again. It made my palms clammy, and my stomach churned.
“Ivy can dig if she thinks it’s necessary, it’s painful for the person, but she will do it if she needs to,” Gale replied heavily. “We can’t do too many a day,” she cautioned the white-haired woman. “Maybe ten, tops. My shield isn’t up to much more, and the combination of a weakening shield, a more populated outpost, and using her power so actively will wear her out fast.”
“We’ll take what we can get,” Sky replied. “Let’s get started,” she said to me, confident and cocksure, her hand stretched out and open on the table like an invitation. Sometimes the gesture of taking a hand opened a person’s mind to me, so I didn’t query and just accepted it.
I reached into her and flicked through her surface thoughts. She had promised an interlude with Denal after we were finished here and looked forward to stripping him naked and running her tongue down the hollow between his stomach muscles. I flushed, meeting her gaze and she grinned, mischievously, deliberately thinking of something very carnal and detailed visually. “I’m sorry,” I told her, and pushed below.
She grunted, her hand going to her forehead. “Ouch,” she complained. “I guess I deserved that.”
I pushed through her pain, pushed it aside, and flicked through her thoughts... construction, numbers, resources, Denal, food... Beneath her little game with me, her mind was open. I did not delve into her memories, but just through recent occurrences and preoccupations. If she were planning something against Briar, it would be present on that level of consciousness and not in memories of her past, most people did not have the ability to hide their thoughts from telepaths.
“She’s fine,” I said. I envied her the simplicity of her life. “You have nice thoughts,” I told her, releasing her hand.
She blushed. “Thank you,” she was pleased.
Briar relaxed. “Good. We’ll leave this in your hands then, Sky?”
“I have it,” Sky nodded efficiently, and gestured to Denal to move to the windowsill and joined him there, taking his hand in hers. I watched the glowering man stroke his thumb across the back of her hand, a small but telling movement, I thought. Yes, I envied her; intimacy and love were not something telepaths often got to experience for themselves... unless they found a compatible shield.
Thorn and Briar withdrew, speaking to someone outside briefly.
A man entered, his eyes flicking to Sky and then to Gale.
“Take a seat, Azure,” Sky said lightly. “The woman is Ivy.”
Azure’s eyes flicked to Gale, frowning. “The other woman,” Gale murmured.
His eyes turned to me as he slid into the seat, evaluating me with cool aplomb. He was a big man, like Thorn in build, but his hair hung white to his shoulders, and his eyes were a startling pale blue in contrast. His mind was composed, almost rigidly so. “You may begin,” he told me, calmly holding out a hand as if I were about to perform a painful medical procedure and he was steeling himself not to flinch. I took it, as it was offered, and did make things easier. I reached into him. First level, there was nothing remarkable. I reached deeper. There was nothing that concerned me. For a moment, something about the procedure with me triggered a memory, and I saw a small child... and then the blow caught me by surprise, knocking me from the chair and into the wall behind.
The very not-calm Azure crouched over me, his nostrils flaring as he snarled.
I tasted blood.
I saw Sky release Denal’s hand and leap forward, but from nowhere, it seemed, the green-eyed man appeared directly behind Azure, and Azure spun and then slid across the floor, propelled by the green-eyed man’s kick. He drew the worn leather handles of his weapons from his back, the blades forming in a shimmering golden light as he brought them over his head and took up a fighting stance before me.
Sky seized Azure by the shoulders and pinned him to the wall, the bulk of Denal behind her. “What was it?” she yelled at me over her shoulder. The room was overfilled, those who waited outside, pressing in to see what had happened.
“Nothing,” I gasped it out, registering the points of pain as a list of checkpoints. Sore behind, check. Sore elbows, check. Sore head, check. Sore cheek, check. Gale’s shield was flickering under the assault of rapid thought and emotions from those within the room and at the chamber door, and each flicker resulted in a stab of pain to my skull. “I accidentally triggered a past trauma. I’m very sorry,” I said to Azure.
“Is that it?” Sky demanded, frowning.
“That’s it,” I told her, firmly, meeting Azure’s eyes over her shoulder. They all had to calm down, and quickly, or I would get a migraine. “I’m sorry,” I told him again, my eyes filling as I fought back the impulse to cry, my own emotions on the surface as a result of the pain.
“ - ” Sky cursed and released Azure. “I’m sorry,” she said to him, “but, please, don’t hit the telepath.”
Crispin knelt at my side. “Shit, Ivy,” he murmured, touching my cheek. “Got you good. How are you feeling?”
“I’m alright,” I told him, embarrassed. The pressure was easing as Gale composed herself and shored up her shield. “Had worse. That time in Yendal, remember?”
“Yes,” he grinned, the expression not reaching his eyes. “Or that time in Neral was good, too.”
The green-eyed man’s weapons stopped glowing, the blades disappearing, until all he held in his hands were the worn leather handles, which he replaced in the device he wore between his shoulder blades. His posture eased, but he remained planted before me, even as Crispin helped me to my feet.
“Thank you, The Strike of the Honourable,” Sky said to the green-eyed man. “I’ve got it now. Just a misunderstanding.”
The Strike of the Honourable considered her words and then inclined his head in the same regal way he had to me, outside his room. He turned to face me, fixing me against the wall with that stunning green-glare. Time slowed and my heart kept unsteady pace. He reached out a hand and touched my cheek, his eyes never leaving mine. The pain eased, until it no longer felt as if the flesh and skin had been compressed against the bone. I drew in a breath, overloud in my own ears, the noise of the room around me distant.
He dropped his hand, and turned from me, releasing me from his green prison. “What is the purpose of this?” he asked Sky. His voice was deep, and called to mind still places where light did not penetrate, the slow drip of water, the silence of stone... I closed my eyes, letting the cold darkness of it calm me.
Gale put her hand under my elbow and brought me back to my seat, dropping to her haunches before me. “Are you alright?” she asked, anxiously, Crispin leaning over her shoulder. She touched my cheek. “Amazing,” she murmured, looking over her shoulder at my older brother. “Did you see what he did?”
“Yes, I saw,” Crispin murmured. “Healer.”
“Ah,” Sky stepped up to The Strike of the Honourable and murmured near his ear.
Azure ran his hands over his face and hair, groaning. “I am so sorry,” he said to me.
“It happens,” Crispin held his hands out, palms up. “We dig where there’s sensitive spots. Don’t feel bad about it.” It wasn’t the first time either of us had taken a blow because of what we’d found that others would rather we hadn’t.
I saw The Strike of the Honourable cast a glare over his shoulder before turning back to Sky.
“Do you want some water?’ Gale asked me. People still pressed against the doorframe looking in, trying to interpret the chaos inside our little room. “Can someone get a glass of water?” she asked them. Someone broke free of the crowd, heading down the hallway.
Sky came and squatted before the table. “Hi,” she smiled at me, reassuring. She was intensely curious about Azure’s trauma but was polite enough not to ask. “I am so sorry `about that. Are you alright?”
“Fine,” I told her. A silver-haired woman placed a glass of water on the table before me and retreated. “I can resume.”
“Good,” Sky approved, nodding. “Is Azure... clear?” she asked.
“Fine,” I repeated, and then leaned forward, putting my mouth near her ear. “He should see a healer, though, or whoever you see about these sorts of things.”
“Yes,” she nodded. “I’ll organise it. Ummm,” she hesitated. “The Arcana, The Strike of the Honourable says he wants to stay and make sure you’re not hit again. I can send him away, but...”
“No,” I said, hopefully not too quickly. My heart skipped a betraying beat. “I’m happy for him to stay.”
She nodded again, before standing. “Azure, you’re done,” she told the big man, with a consolatory pat on the shoulder, escorting him to the door.
The Strike of the Honourable moved over to stand just behind my chair. “Thank you,” I said, quietly. I was sure he heard me as he shifted position slightly.
“Yes, thanks,” Crispin said to him.
“She should not have been hit,” The Strike of the Honourable announced.
“No,” Gale agreed, grimacing. “But it happens more often than not. People don’t like telepaths.”
“She’s still got all her teeth,” Crispin added, cheerfully, “and her nose is sort of in the right spot, so it’s all good, right?”
“Crispin,” Gale murmured. “It’s his... defensive response,” she murmured to the green-eyed man. “He makes light of what he can’t change.”
“Hmmm,” The Strike of the Honourable made a disapproving noise deep in his throat.
Sky gestured for the next person to enter. I centred myself, took a mouthful of water to wash away the residual metallic flavour of my blood, and greeted the woman who sat before me.
I managed three more before the white-noise began to edge its way into an eye-twitching headache. Another two, and my nose began to bleed. “She’s done,” Gale told Sky, doing her best to reinforce her shield around me. When she did so it was as if the tension was released, the strings remained, but they were no longer tearing the skin from my head. “Crispin can take over once we’ve had something to eat. It’s not the same, but he can at least tell a lie from a truth, if you and I question them.”
Crispin pressed a cloth to my nose. We knew better than to try things like leaning our heads back. This was not a bleed that would clot easily and doing something like leaning back would just cause the blood to pool in my stomach, for me to vomit up eventually. Instead, I leaned forward, resting my forehead against the table and let the blood flow into the cloth. It would resolve itself in time.
A hand rested against my shoulder, the fingers against the nape of my neck. I felt the heat of the palm seep through my skin and muscles, felt the ease within, the pressure of blood in my sinuses smoothing out, until I could lift my head again. The Strike of the Honourable withdrew his hand.
“You would benefit from meditation and training in maintaining a shield around your power,” he commented matter-of-factly.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I replied, taken aback. Maintaining a shield around my power?
He nodded and withdrew, striding over to Sky. “She should not continue today,” he told her, quietly. “She needs to eat, meditate and sleep.”
“Sure,” Sky threw me a look over her shoulder. “I’ll organised the food, if she can take care of her sleep and meditating.”
Crispin snorted, and rolled his eyes at Gale who narrowed her eyes at him, cautioning. “She won’t eat,” she said to Sky. “Not for a while after. We’ll put her to bed; she’ll be out cold after this. When she wakes, we can see about the meditating and food,” she nodded to the Arcana as she and Crispin manoeuvred me from my seat and to the door. “Crispin and I will be back to it in half a turn.”
They removed my boots and dress and rolled me into the bed. Crispin pulled the blinds shut on the afternoon sun. “I could eat a cow,” he said to Gale.
“Yes, me too,” she agreed. “Will you be fine, Ivy?”
“Good,” I snuggled into the bedding and closed my eyes. I heard them leave, pulling the door shut behind them.