Here we have the Prologue and Chapter One of In Dreams, which was the first of my Valdemar AUs and also my favorite of them all. ♥ (In fact I love it so much I've got tentative plans to write both a Prequel and a Sequel to it.) It's also the only fic I'm writing where I got other people to submit characters for-- so only about half the characters in In Dreams belong to me. The others all belong to their various creators. (And lol, etcetera-cat pretty much populated 3/4 of the Collegia for me!)
Title: In Dreams (Prologue & Chapter One)
Fandom: Heralds of Valdemar
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Characters: Spirit Lyntar, Spirit Avalbane, Spirit Sashara, Spirit Aterya, Brianna Osias, Meena Norcroft, Leshie Rakmour,
Disclaimer: Valdemar and concepts belong to Mercedes Lackey; characters belong to their creators; this fic and AU belong to their author.
Summary: They are Spirits of the Forest, crystal eyed and white as freshly fallen snow, and seen only occasionally in fleeting glances. They are said to be ethereal, angels of another time and place, bound to the Earth by a spell… or a curse. And it is the destiny of those chosen as Collegium Trainees to search for a Spirit to call their own. Only two or three of each year's Trainees manage it, and those lucky souls have been lifted to a place of honor in Valdemarian society. A place where they are among the elite guard of their Monarch and Country. A place where they can call themselves "Heralds". Now a threat to the Spirits has risen, and thanks to a "Spirit" named Lyntar, things around Valdemar are going to change...
Prologue: I'm Still Here
A shriek, torn from an equine throat, echoed in the night.
It was a warning to the others, and in the utter silence that followed it there was no doubt that they had heard. The tortured sound had cut through the cold air of the Pelagiris like a knife, leaving no heart unaware of the agony behind it.
Please… please, I just want to die…
The Spirit threw her head back, even as a thick rope dropped around her neck, choking a second scream off before it could be voiced, and the one that was already snagged on her back legs tightened, yanking them out from under her. She was helpless, now, and in the face of what she knew was coming, she could only wish for the ultimate gift from the Gods. If only the Shadow-Lover would come for her… before…
She was dragged bodily across the ground, which was still half-frozen with frost from the night, and in the pale light of the approaching dawn, she vanished into the forest, her struggles having been forcefully ceased.
From the shadows beyond where the swift and terrifying attack had occurred, a pair of crystal eyes glittered sadly as a silent watcher turned from the scene and ghosted away between the trees, already reaching his mind out into the fading night.
:Another one has been taken, Aterya.:
:Sashara. Sashara is gone.:
Silence, then; :five in the last moon, then. Our numbers are dwindling.:
:Yes.: A momentary pause. :Is there nothing we can do?:
There was a sadness in the reply. :I fear not on our own, Lyntar.:
:I know not. We can only wait for our Fate to claim us.:
:Aterya, you can't mean to just stand by and let the Shadows run us into nothingness!:
No response came, and after a moment the young Spirit withdrew his mind. It was clear that his Elder had no intention of continuing the conversation. Snorting, he stopped walking long enough to crush a tiny treeling, which was just beginning to come into the world, under his front hooves.
He was angry. With Aterya, with the Shadows, with the fact that he had been born a Spirit in the first place—and he was particularly angry with himself, for being able to do nothing but watch while Sashara was taken.
He was a worthless coward, a wretched, flea-bitten windbag, and certainly not worthy of being called a Spirit at all. He should have done something—anything—to keep Sashara from falling victim to the Shadows.
There was nothing I could do.
Finally, with the sapling crushed into mulch under his feet, his anger gave way to sadness, and then to a stony resolve.
If Aterya won't do anything to stop it… I will.
Chapter One: Affirmation
Three slaps fell, all following one another in quick succession, but the girl they were directed toward did nothing to defend herself. Instead, she simply flinched as each blow connected with her flesh, stinging painfully. She would have bruises in the morning, but she would live, and the marks would serve as a reminder to the other girls that disobedience would not be tolerated.
Brianna Osias—"Bri" to most—was used to being an example, and knew that the consequences of attempting to block the slaps would be far worse than just a few mottled patches of skin: her wrist still ached when it rained, where it had been broken. That had been the first and only time she had tried to stop the abuse.
After the third smack, the hand raised as if to deliver another, then paused in midair as the owner decided against it. Yhe bottom line, she knew, was that if he damaged her too badly, none of the customers would want her.
A whore who was less than pleasing to the eye would not make the kind of money he wanted, and, sad as it was, Bri depending on the customers as much as he did, for the occasional copper slipped to her under the table, and the meals they bought her before—and sometimes after—her part of the deal was done, as well as the warmth of an actual bed to sleep in.
Of course, there were always those who preferred to simply pay their fee and cared not for the feelings and comfort of the girl, and there were also the occasional patrons who were more interested in paying a few coppers for a pretty-faced set of pells to beat on… but they were few and far between, and over the previous months, Bri had quickly learned how to pick the violent marks out of a crowd.
That wasn't to say that since she could tell which ones would be abusive, she avoided them. It was quite the contrary; much to the annoyance of her Master, she sought them out, and there were two reasons for that.
The first was that, should she be beaten black and blue in the course of a night, she would not be required to work for at least a week, and possibly more, depending on the severity of the injuries. Indeed, though he was a prick and a heartless bastard, the Master of operations did have one good thing that could be said about him.
He tended to any injured or sick girls very well, which was more than she could say about some of the other people she had worked for in the past. Therefore, if she was hurt, not only would she be able to avoid working for a few days, but she would be given excellent care during them.
The second reason was more complex, and some would say more stupid as well. She picked out those who were abusive, and insisted that she be the one to service them, to save the other girls from having to do it.
Bri wasn't very old, but she wasn't innocent either, and many of the girls who showed up at the brothel's doorstep over the course of time she had been there were not so lucky. As she understood the darker side of humanity, she was able to handle it appropriately, but some of the other girls were… well, they were far too young and stupid to do the same.
Most of them were runaways, or, like her, orphans of war. And life in the brothel, however hard it may be, was infinitely better than life on the street, which was why they sought it out.
But they were still children, even if they were no younger than herself, and she simply could not let them be the ones to take the brunt of an angry boozehound or a mark with a fetish.
And, obediently, though her insides were twisted with loathing, she stood to face her Master, and when he made as if to slap her again, she refused to flinch. She would, most likely, regret that fact later. For now, however, he was through with her, and dismissed her curtly, with an angry hand gesture and a few choice words.
"Go clean yourself up. Your shift starts in a candlemark."
"Yes, sir." Swiftly, and with the silence of a cat—but not its grace, as grace was not her strong suit—she turned and vanished up the steps, which were situated near the back of the "inn" that served as the main headquarters for the brothel itself.
Once a customer paid, he—of, occasionally, she—could take the girl he had bought wherever he wanted, with the exception of leaving the city. But in the end they always returned to the rundown inn, to fix torn clothing and to mend bruises, both physical and emotional.
Now, Bri stood in front of the cracked mirror, which was mounted in front of a water basin in the single bathing room, and shared by all of the girls who worked there, staring into the polished glass.
Sad, and somehow haunted, her eyes were the same as ever behind the already-swelling flesh of her cheek. She had been born with what her father referred to as "twilight eyes", which were a shocking and ethereal shade of pale silverish-purple that made most people she encountered do a double take.
Of course, it would have made a more pleasant difference was she had been in a more respectable trade. As it was, her eyes only made her more popular with the customers, which was both a good and a bad thing. But she had nowhere else to go: the Flame Wars had taken away her only chance of living a normal life when the Karsite troops had burned her family's farm—which was situated near the border—to the ground, killing every living thing they could find on the property, her mother and younger brother included.
As for Bri herself, she had been in town, preparing to trade goods for food and clothing, and had arrived home to a massacre. She had been twelve then, and left on her own, with her mother dead and her father at war.
I didn't make very good decisions. Sighing, she leaned down and clamped a hand on the bucket of water, which stood next to the basin, then poured some into the wooden bowl, before returning the bucket and reaching for a cloth.
Indeed, at the time, she had taken what little she could scrounge from the wreckage of her farm, and, with the horse, Hail, which she had taken into town that morning, as her only companion, she set off, intending to find her father.
Her journey hadn't ended well, and she preferred not to think about the things that had happened to her along the way. In the end, she had nothing, including Hail, as she'd been forced to sell him when she ran out of food—she had cried, to watch the trader leading him away, and at that point, her old life had ended and her new life had begun.
Why do I always torture myself by thinking about that day?
Her father, she learned later, had been a casualty of war. Or so she had been told, after the war had ended. She had never seen his body, but she had no reason to believe he was alive, as she had never seen him again.
By the time the brothel took her in, she was fourteen and nothing but skin and bones. Bri had thought herself lucky, at first, as the man whom she now called "Master" had taken remarkably good care of her, making sure she was warm, that her belly was full, and that a Healer had taken care of her pains.
Only once she was well again did she learn that he had simply been making an investment. Despite her appearance, he had seen right through it to her twilight eyes and grayish-silver hair, to the girl she could be, and had seen an opportunity.
Now I'm fifteen and a whore.
Bri was not one to cry, but the bluntness of her own thoughts made tears spring to her eyes, and she quickly wiped them away, continuing to work at keeping the swelling in her face to a minimum.
It could be worse, she supposed. She had seen the fate of those poor orphans who were left to struggle in the streets. Most of them died, either of starvation or of violence, before they were old enough to do anything with their lives. Even she, before the brothel, had been a thief.
And a good one. Her mind added, with a hint of pride, though she knew that both thieving and pride were sins. She vowed to stop her mind's trip down memory lane, and had successfully managed to concentrate on her work at hand when a light tap on the door made her look up.
Beyond the doorway, one of the other girls was peering timidly around the frame. Bri could tell who it was immediately, as only one of the others had eyes as expressive as the ones that now followed her shyly.
"Meena," she nodded toward the smaller girl, "can I help you?"
A moment of silence followed, and Meena managed to squeak her way into the bathing room entirely to stand just behind Bri and watch as she cleaned up. At fourteen years old, Meena was one of the youngest in the brothel—along with Edane—and also the reason that Bri had been disciplined, though not as severely as she had expected. The petite girl, with pale brown-blonde hair and blue eyes, had only shown up on the doorstep a fortnight before, and still wasn't used to the way things worked.
Thus, when their Master had told her to do something she didn't want to, she had very plainly told him so—and Bri had stepped in to defend the little one, knowing that it would mean a smack or two, but unwilling to let him beat Meena, who was a pure and wonderful child with a heart of gold, despite her shortcomings.
"I just…" her voice was a whisper, "wanted to say… thank you… for what you did…"
Bri smiled and shook her head, then hissed a bit when the still-invisible bruises twinged, "it was nothing, Meena." Pausing, she added, "but you need to learn—when he asks you to do something, you should just do it."
"But, he wanted me to—"
"It doesn't matter." Bri interrupted, holding up a finger to silence Meena. "He doesn't care what your preferences are, and he certainly doesn't care if there are things you're squeamish about. Remember, Meena, you came here and asked to be taken in, and I won't always be there to defend you." Sighing, she lowered her hand. "If you can learn to swim with the current, though, instead of going against it, you should be fine."
The brunette looked down. "I'm just not used to this."
"I know." A smile, and then she tsked. "I don't know if I'm going to be able to keep this from swelling up or not."
Guilt flashed in Meena's eyes. "Do you do stuff like that for everyone?"
"Stuff like what?"
"You know, like when he gets angry and you let him take it out on you."
"Ah." Bri shrugged, setting the cloth at the side of the basin and regarding her reflection critically. "I do, yes."
She couldn't help it; "I'm a gallant soul."
"Or you're an idio—oh!" Clamping her hands over her own mouth, Meena have a look of apology, making Bri giggle softly and pat the younger girl's shoulder. "I didn't mean that, Brianna…"
"Sure you did." Bri told her, somewhat sadly, "and you're probably right."
In fact, I'm sure you are.
She was not going back.
Leshie Rakmour set her jaw determinedly and reigned in Aimee, making the palfrey snort irritably. She wanted to run, and Leshie was very much in agreement, but if she was to allow her mount to do so, Aimee would run out of energy long before they reached Haven.
And though she intended to get there, horse or no horse, she was certainly of the opinion that the prior was the preferable way to go.
Though I'm not even sure if Haven is far enough away…
She decided not to think about the possibility that her family was coming after her. Once she made it to Haven and applied for the Guard… well, then there was nothing they could do… except find her and drag her back home to marry What's His Name the Duke of Nothing Important.
Aimee whickered, and Leshie patted her neck absently, glad that she had the horse with her. Even if she was somewhat poor company, she was infinitely better than most of the twits she'd had to deal with in the never-ending stream of dinner parties her mother insisted on having. Most of them were either boring, completely brainless, or so full of themselves that she was convinced, as they talked, that their egos might explode any second and leave little bits of courtier to float down from the sky like so much confetti.
Not her kind of people at all.
Normally, when the circumstances allowed, she slipped out of those kinds of parties to join the more entertaining ones in the servant's quarters, or to take Aimee or Freira out for a ride in the countryside, where all she had to worry about was if it was going to rain or not, and she never had to force polite interest in inane court chatter.
That was about the only thing she regretted about leaving; in running away, she could only take one of her two personal horses with her. She needed to get to Haven as quickly as possible, and so she had chosen Aimee for her stamina, though in truth Freira was the better trained of the two. It was a small consolation, but she knew that Freira would be taken care of, as horses were such an important part of the Rakmour legacy.
As for Aimee… she was fast, and could set a continuous pace for leagues, but Leshie wasn't sure if the palfrey would work out, assuming she got into the Guard. She would need a stout, sturdy mount then, especially if she somehow managed to be set as Cavalry, which was her eventual goal.
In any case, that would mean either selling Aimee to buy a stockier horse for battle, or simply saving what little money she had to buy one, and boarding her at a farm or stable somewhere.
Leshie wasn't too keen on the second option. She had seen the way some stables were operated, and the way they treated their horses: she wanted Aimee, stubborn mare that she was, to be treated just as well when they got to Haven as she had been back at the Rakmour Holdings.
She obviously needed more time to think on the subject.
I wonder how much longer it'll take to get there?
She had only ever been to Haven once, and she was more than willing to admit that she had slept most of the way there. But she had been five years old at the time and couldn't really be blamed for it: the rocking of a trade wagon was soothing, even if the sound of hooves on cobblestones was not.
She also wasn't sure how old you had to be to join the Guard. Though she would be turning sixteen in only three moon and thought of herself as grown, she had been told repeatedly by her mother and father that she was still just a child. She could only hope that those she encountered at Haven would be more willing to accept her for what she was.
But, really, what am I?
Nothing special, that was sure. Even thought she had been born into the Rakmour name, she hadn't been deemed worthy of Collegium training, which would have meant the possibility of becoming a Herald, as well as a sure ticket into the Guard should a Spirit not approach her on her Hunt.
Four of her siblings had been taken, which was the part that hurt the most. Her older brother, first, and when he had been accepted for training, she had, for a time, held out the hope that she, too, would be taken. But the next year came, and two of her younger siblings were accepted, and the following year another one, and she was continuously passed by.
Eventually, the hope of becoming a Trainee dwindled and died, and instead she set her sights on the common Guard. She didn't even really care if she was in the general body of troops, sent to the border, or assigned to the Palace. She just wanted to… well, she just wanted to get away.
The thought had been in the back of her mind for so many years that she could no longer remember the day it had occurred to her.
And then one day her father had called her into his study and very simply stated that he had arranged a marriage for her. She was to wed a foreign Duke. It was a political marriage, of course, and she had never even met the man. Not to mention the idea that he was more than likely to be as old as her father himself.
That was probably the point when she decided that joining the Guard now was a particularly good idea.
Leshie wasn't sure they would take her, but at least she was good with a blade, and that gave her an edge against many of the others who applied. She had seen them—farmers and the like, who had never swung anything but a pitchfork, and who certainly hadn't had the luxury of a Weaponsmaster when they grew up.
Absently, her hand drifted to the hilt of her sword. She was good with a sword, or any bladed weapon for that matter, and while she wasn't excellent with a bow and arrows, she was passable. But her real forte was with a light rapier like the one she currently carried on her hip.
It had been a gift, from the Weaponsmaster at Rakmour Holdings: he had commissioned it for her, and kept it for what he could see was coming—the day when she surpassed him in skill with that particular weapon. He had presented it to her with a half-concealed grin that was more than a little prideful, and she had accepted it with almost the same grin on her own face.
Weaponsmaster Finlay himself was excellent with a broadsword, and good with everything else, and though he could see from the beginning that she would eventually be better than him with a rapier, they both knew she could never defeat him in a fair fight with any other weapon.
Still, she was proud. And that was the day when she became Finlay's friend, as opposed to just being his student.
In reality, he was the person she looked up to: he had joined the Guard at a young age, trained and fought in wars, and then accepted the job of Weaponsmaster to be sure that those of the Rakmour clan, when they were sent out on their own, would be able to defend themselves. But of all the children he had trained, Leshie was his prize pupil.
He was closer to being a father to her than her real father, though she never would have said so to the Lord…
I should have taken the time to say goodbye to him.
Finlay would understand, she knew: he had seen in her eyes how badly she wanted out of the Holdings, and she had confided in him her desire to join the Guard. He also knew that her father had no intention of letting her do so—he would see the need behind her leaving without so much as a warning or a farewell.
Eventually, she wanted to go back, to thank him, if nothing else, for being there for her when her mother was too busy entertaining airheaded courtiers and her father was too busy with politics to care what she was doing.
If I had have slipped in and said goodbye to him, I could have asked him how long it would take me to get to Haven on Aimee's gait…
She and Aimee had been on the road, after a swift night time departure, for nearly two days. As far as she knew, it would only take another day at the most for them to make it to the Capital, but she wasn't completely sure, and she was starting to get saddle sore.
Aside from that, she was tired of having to sleep at the side of the road. She may have been born into wealth, but she wasn't naïve: camping on a main trade road was asking for trouble. It was only a matter of time before bandits or worse found her, and if that happened, despite Finlay's training, she would most likely be unable to fend them off.
Mostly, Leshie was concerned with the numbers—she was just one person, and bandits tended to travel in packs, like wolves. If she was attacked, especially while she was asleep, she would have no way of defending Aimee or herself.
As if she knew that Leshie was thinking about her, the palfrey whuffed amiably.
"Good girl." Patting the horse's neck again, she transferred the reigns to her right hand to stretch her left above her head as her eyes strayed to the horizon and the setting sun. "We should stop soon… what do you think, Aimee?"
Aimee's ears flicked back, and her gait shifted for a second before she settled back into the comfortable trot she had been moving at. Leshie smiled as she dropped her arm back to her side. Her muscles were aching, and she knew as soon as she got out of the saddle she would regret all the riding she had been going for the last two days. She was almost temped to just keep on going, in a bid to put off the inevitable stiffness and soreness…
But I'm tired, and much as I love Aimee I don't think she can get us to Haven without me driving.
With a sigh, she pulled gently on Aimee's reigns.
They would have to see about getting to Haven the next day… or the day after.
She certainly hoped it wouldn't take much longer than that.
:I don't suppose you'll listen to reason, will you?:
Lyntar leveled a flat look on Avalbane, who returned it, imitating the other stallion perfectly, and then shook his head. :You know what's been going on.: Lyntar told him, :something has to be done to stop it, or the Shadows will wipe us out all together. And Aterya won't do anything… Val, none of the Elders will!: Aggravated despite himself, he pawed the ground angrily. :She can help us, I know she can!:
:Well, at least you're staying within Custom enough to Choose a girl.:
Lyntar rolled his eyes. :It's a stupid rule, that stallions Choose girls and mares Choose boys… and it has absolutely nothing to do with the situation at hand! Stop trying to change the subject.:
:Listen to me, Val—:
Avalbane's ears flicked, and he sighed. :The Elders won't be happy, Lyn.:
:What else is new? I'm going, and you can't stop me.:
:So, basically, the answer is "no".:
A confused blink from Lyntar, :what?:
:I asked if you would be willing to listen to reason, and I'm assuming now that the answer is "no".: Avalbane clarified, :in any case, I hope you know what you're doing, Lyn. Aterya and the others will try to stop you, you know, and I don't know what I can do to help.:
:Just buy me some time.: Lyntar insisted, :if the Elders ask… tell them you haven't seen me lately.:
:You want me to lie to the Elders?!: Avalbane demanded, his ears snapping back.
:Not a lie, just bend the truth… "lately" can mean a lot of things.: His eyes focused on his friend, :please, Val…: and when the other Spirit still looked reluctant, he shook his head. :Look… Sashara is gone, Val… gone forever. How many more of our kind have to be lost to the Shadows before someone will do something to stop it?:
There was a moment's pause, and Avalbane pawed the ground nervously, his tail swishing, before nodding shortly. :Alright, Lyn, alright. You win, okay? Good luck, I suppose, and look out for yourself.: Then he added wryly; :the Companions are going to have quite a bit to say to you, assuming you're going to Haven…:
A chuckle. :You always were a glutton for punishment, my friend.:
:Some things never change, I guess.: With the ghost of a mental smile, Lyntar bobbed his head and spun, breaking into a quick canter, weaving through the trees. :Thanks, Val.:
Avalbane's response was unenthusiastic as best, and unintelligible at the most, and Lyntar could only laugh. The other stallion had never been the talking type. Really, the conversation he had just managed to worm out of him was the most he had ever spoken at one time, as far as Lyntar was aware—though he had probably spoken at great lengths with Sashara, before she vanished, and most likely with at least one of the Elders in the past.
Sashara was probably the reason that Avalbane was willing to help him at all, come to think of it. He and she had been close—Lyntar occasionally thought that their relationship bordered on a lifebond—and having lost her, Avalbane had been forced to see the reality of the situation.
Now, even though he didn't have his friend's blessing, per say, he did have Avalbane behind him in his venture, which meant that he had at least a little bit of backup for when the Elders found out and came after him, intending, no doubt, to flay him right out of his pretty silver hide. Not that he really expected the other Spirit to defend him from their wrath, but it was nice to know he wasn't quite as alone as he had originally thought he was going to be.
Besides that, as he'd managed to convince Avalbane to just twist the truth a little, he knew he would have at least a bit of a head start on the Elders—which, realistically, wouldn't make much of a difference, since they were faster then most Spirits, and with more endurance. But it was something, and with what he was heading off to do, he would need anything he could get.
Basically, when it came down to it, he was doing the next thing to breaking the law, though it was an unspoken one. He was knowingly going against hundreds of years of Customs and Rituals that had been set in place by the first Spirits, sent from the Heavens by the Gods themselves.
I don't have a choice.
Well… he did, but not if he wanted to stop the Shadows before all of his kind was wiped from existence—and he had to move quickly, he sensed. Aterya had been right about one thing, at least: the Shadows were moving faster than before. Lyntar wasn't entirely sure, but he thought that Aterya had been understating things when he had claimed that they'd lost "five in the last moon".
The tally Lyntar had been keeping in his own head told him it was more like eight or nine in the last moon, which only served to make the situation that much graver. There were only a limited number of Spirits in Valdemar as it was, and with them being snatched away by the Shadows that quickly…
His own thoughts began to get to him, and he snorted softly, though the sound was lost in the trees of the Pelagiris, along with his hoof beats, which were swallowed up by the leaves and moss of the forest floor.
Where the hell did they all come from, anyway?
It was a rhetorical question, of course, as he knew that none of the Spirits—the Elders included—knew where the Shadows had come from, or even what they were. They had simply appeared one day, announcing their arrival with a swift and silent attack on one of the young stallions—and he had vanished, never to be seen or heard from again.
Indeed, none of those who were taken by Them were seen again.
Some of the Spirits, Avalbane included, held out a hope that they were all out there somewhere, imprisoned by alive and relatively well… but privately, though he never would have said so to his friend, Lyntar was sure that they who had been taken were no longer a part of the land of the living.
It was something that very few of his comrades knew, but his Mind was one of the most powerful among them. Though he was not, and would never be, one of the Elders, he easily rivalled their mental powers, and even surpassed a few of them, Aterya included.
The reason his reverence for Aterya was so little was probably related to that fact. But the major source of his lack of respect—not just for Aterya, but for all of the Elders—was that they saw what was going on in the forest, they saw their people dying, heard their screams for help and for mercy—they saw it all, and yet refused to do anything.
Lyntar… he had heard it all, too. His mind was powerful enough that he could Mindtouch anyone within the boundaries of Valdemar—and even, occasionally, some who were just beyond the borders.
And Sashara and the others…
I'm sorry Val… but they aren't coming back.
They had all vanished, not just physically, but mentally as well. It wasn't just their bodies which had been taken. They had not been kidnapped. They could not be rescued later, after the tide of the Shadows had ebbed.
Their minds, their thoughts, their very being had sputtered and died, fading into the night only moments after each of them had been taken, and Lyntar had felt it, deep inside of himself.
And, subsequently, made a very rash vow to stop the killings. For that was what they were: killings. And the Elders seemed unable—or unwilling—to do anything about it. Surely, they, who were so close to the Gods themselves, would be able to find some way of stopping the Shadows? Apparently not.
His mind growled at the thought, and he clamped down on the anger: for when his emotions became overwhelming, he tended to broadcast his feelings across the Forest, and he needed to leave without alerting anyone. The broadcasting was a part of his enhanced mental powers, and something that he could control to an extent, but occasionally had trouble with.
This was because, he had been told when the Elders realized his potential, he was a normal Spirit, not born with the power of an Elder, and the normal Spirit's bodies were not built to house the kind of mental energy his did. It was only natural that it should get out of hand on occasion.
Now, he used the fact that his mind was as advanced as it was to his favour, scrying outward, even as he continued to run, to Search for the other mind—the one that he had found so long before, and been following with his own.
It was a special mind, like his own in many ways, and yet unlike his in just as many. Female, too. The mind belonged to a human girl, he could tell, and the power that was dormant in the relatively mundane thoughts was enough to make even his considerable power bow before it.
He needed her.
And he was going to find her, whether the Elders wanted him to or not.
:Wait for me.: He said, to no one in particular, :together, we will do great things.:
It had been a productive day, she supposed, as she sat with her back against the trunk of one of the huge trees, which grew on the outskirts of the city and continued on into the seemingly endless Pelagiris forest. She was relatively happy and relatively comfortable, which wasn't the norm for her everyday life, but did happen occasionally.
Bri treasured moments like this one, when she could relax without the fear of being caught "shirking" and just pretend that she was a normal teenager with normal worries. Unfortunately, it was also moments like this that gave her mind the time to go over the day, and usually a horrible feeling of self-loathing followed the reminder of the disgusting things she had been required to do.
Now, she tried to shut her brain off all together and just enjoy the fading light of the day for a few minutes.
She would have to go back soon. Her shift had started only a short time before, and after she had finished with the first customer of the night she had remained behind in the secluded clearing where she had serviced him. The Master wouldn't think her late if she stayed for only a short time, but he wasn't stupid. He had her practically timed, and if she took too long she could expect him to send someone out after her.
Sighing somewhat contentedly, Bri settled back against the tree, resting her head against the moss-covered trunk and closing her eyes.
Though she never would have admitted it, she was tired. Physically as well as mentally and emotionally, and considering her profession she was beginning to honestly wonder if she would ever manage to find someone who loved her.
She wasn't talking about love in the physical sense. In fact, she couldn't care less if she ever shared her bed with someone again—she'd had enough of that sort of thing to last her a lifetime. Instead, what she found herself craving was the kind of emotional closeness that was not part and parcel with the job she had.
Bri wanted someone to love, and who would love her back, unconditionally.
Keep dreaming, Brianna Osias. Her mind snorted, you're nothing but a whore. A first-class one, I'll grant you, but a whore nonetheless-
The annoying voice, which seemed to be a part of her and yet not, and was constantly in her head with her, was interrupted by the sound of hoof beats on the grass, and her eyes opened.
The rider slowed as he approached the clearing, and the beats slowed with him.
Bri resigned herself to the inevitable. She hadn't thought she was that late, but who could tell with the Master? He may have decided he needed her back right away, or the man who had brought here to the clearing in the first place might have swung back by the inn, in which case the Master would know immediately that she was skipping out.
In any event, he had obviously sent—
An equine snort, slightly to her left, made her blink and turn her head, nearly bumping into the muzzle of a horse, which took up nearly all of her vision. Snorting again, gently, it lipped her cheek.
Bri's brows furrowed, as she looked past the soft white nose—
She was looking at a Spirit.
Scrambling backward, she couldn't help the gasp that escaped from her lips, and at the sound the ethereal being whickered, sounding remarkably like it was laughing at her. She was almost annoyed, but…
It tilted its head, regarding her with one huge blue eye, and seemed to be looking straight through her, somehow.
Bri, for her part, couldn't seem to move at all.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the creature stepped forward once again, its eyes still focused solely on her, to stop only a step or two away from her. And then, remarkably, in the back of her mind, a wonderful tenor of a male voice echoed—
:Hello Brianna. I am Lyntar… and you are my Chosen.:
She could barely move, and had stopped breathing all together, pinned in place by the sheer power and strength of feeling beyond the sapphire of Its eyes. Slowly, she could feel her lung begin to ache, clawing at her in a desperate attempt to beg for oxygen, but she just… couldn't…
Oh, Gods, it didn't make sense!
She wasn't a Trainee. She wasn't highborn. She wasn't even remotely pure—not compared to those who were normally chosen to train, in any case. She wasn't anything! And she certainly wasn't on a Hunt—Spirits weren't supposed to show themselves to mortals, unless said mortal was on his or her Hunt.
So why, of all people, would It show Itself to her?
Spirits were supposed to selectively pick out the best people in the country, and she couldn't even boast being—
:I suppose you're going to start babbling about how you're not worthy, now?:
She blinked, surprised, but couldn't get her mouth to move and form a response, and the suffocating feeling was beginning to become overwhelming. Bri wondered, fleetingly, if people actually did turn blue, or if she would just die on the spot.
:I certainly hope not.: The Spirit snorted, sounding both annoyed and amused, :because then I'd have wasted a trip.: