Priceless and Celestial Blue

K. Ryan, 2006.

Written for the 29th challenge at Seanfhocal Circle.

There was an intruder in Crane's greenhouse.

Dedicate Osprey felt heavy with sickness. It made her pulse flutter, her blood beat against the cage made up of her veins, sticking her though spaces; spiking without scars.

Spiking without scars….These words, running around her head, sticking themselves to the insides of her eyelids, were grandiose and borrowed from someone else's world. They did describe how she felt, and since her entire world hinged on another, it almost made sense for her thoughts to borrow their vocabulary.

Osprey shuddered. Even that sounded like him.

That was how she had wanted her life to be. She had been lucky to find herself a mentor who was genuinely worth following. Her life had been shaped while she asked him questions, and he had forced her to build up a thick skin when she didn't like the answers he gave. Most of her life had been spent carefully following his patterns.

Now—ten, twenty, almost thirty years later—Osprey was lost. She plucked at her robes, hating the cheerful yellow, picking with needle-scarred fingertips at the new black hem. She kept catching glimpses of herself—how could she not, in a place full of glass?—and the plump, stern-faced old woman she saw made her blush. Osprey had never blushed.

Her thick skin was dissolving, covered in a clear film that stoppered her eyes and mouth. It was panic, all chill-burn.

I can't do this, she thought, all on her own.

Swallowing, stiffening, she opened the inner door, eyes blinking as they always had against the sudden brightness of ceramics and magic.

"Don't people ever ask for permission, these days?"

The voice was haughty, it always had been, but Osprey winced at the strange, too-young thread in it, something that wasn't meant to be heard from a man with dead white hair and clouded eyes. Not from someone whom she had admired for years, who had been her better at everything and conceded nothing. It wasn't a voice that belonged to someone she loved.

"Why are you here?" The voice was confused, outraged. "You are not from this temple. I don't know you! If father's trying to force me to come back while he thinks he still can—"

"—Crane, it's all right." Osprey tried to smile, but could barely move her lips. Her voice was faint and choked, not the soothing tones she wanted. "Come with me, now."

"Crane? Dedicate, who are you? I'm still Isas until I finish this novitiate and I cannot do so will you still here!" The old man jerked his head, glaring. "Stone Circle, are you? I don't care how much father's bribed your pox-ridden, blasphemous temple. I will be seeing Honoured Feverfew about this, mark my words."

Osprey held out a hand. "Isas, I'm Dedicate Osprey. If you'll just come with me…."

Crane sneered. "You are far too servile for any Dedicate. Leave me." The old man turned away from her, picking up a priceless blue porcelain tea-cup with one hand, only to stare in horror at empty space as it slipped from his thin, shaking fingers and shattering at his feet.

Crane cried out, wordless, and Osprey's heart broke. She walked all the way over to him, reaching up to grab his shoulders. "…from yanjing," he was mumbling.

"There now," Osprey whispered, holding him and hating herself. "It's not your fault." Her voice cracked, like the cup. "None of this is."

Crane blinked, trying to pull out of her arms. "Niva? You're not Niva."

Osprey shook her head, smiled a little. "No, I'm not." Slowly, she pulled back from him, trying to preserve some last shreds of his ever-precious dignity, though one small, traitor hand stayed on his arm. "Just come with me, now," she said. Somehow, someone had to take control.

It took a long time for Osprey, First Dedicate of the Air Temple, to walk out of the greenhouse, Crane blinking and being towed in her wake like a child.