The woman stood in front of the control panel, her hand waving back and forth over the two levers. Her eyes darted from Sirrus to Achenar and back to the panel, but still she did nothing.
"Look, we have to set everybody's memories back right again," Achenar said as calmly as he could. "The amber lever. Turn the amber lever to begin the process."
The woman took a deep breath and nodded. She rested her hand on the amber lever.
"No!" Sirrus shouted, which immediately made Achenar swing the crossbow around to face him again. "You'll kill me if you do that!"
"Hurry!" Achenar ordered. "Before the memory chamber gets too weak to power the transfer!"
"Don't listen to him!"
The woman was looking all over now, at the ceiling, at the chair in the far corner, then back down at the panel. She was shaking her head and breathing fast, and her hands were touching neither lever now. They were waving in the air, one hand momentarily resting on her forehead, then tugging on a lock of hair that had fallen into her face.
She looked at the amber lever again.
"No!" Sirrus leaned forward in the chair, meeting the eyes of the stranger. And that made the woman hesitate even further, much to Sirrus' annoyance. This woman was all the more irritating in person than she had been in all the times father mentioned her to Sirrus.
"Trust me, use the amber lever."
"No, you'll kill me! Use the silver one, now!"
"The silver one!"
Achenar made a mistake then, stepping forward to point at the amber lever, trying to make the stranger's task easier. It brought his crossbow in range of Sirrus' hand.
Sirrus glanced at the bow and then back at the stranger. The woman was shaking his head even more, hands darting from one lever to another but not pulling either one. There wasn't time for this!
"You really have to trust me," Achenar pleaded at the woman. "This is not my little sister, we're running out of…"
It was quite a convincing speech, Sirrus thought. Achenar really was concerned. Achenar did care about dear Yeesha and…and Sirrus saw the woman look at Achenar and tilt her head to the side, and Achenar nodded. The woman still hesitated, but it seemed was getting closer to a decision…
That simply couldn't be allowed.
Sirrus leaned forward, his hand pulling the crossbow from Achenar. There was barely enough time for Achenar to say anything before Sirrus fired the crossbow, and the arrow struck Achenar in the back, sending him staggering a few paces forward.
A strangled sound escaped the woman when he saw Achenar fall.
"Sirrus…" Achenar fell to his knees and turned around, looking up at his brother. His hand reached forward, clutching the bottom of the chair. He looked up, and Sirrus thought for a moment his foolish older brother was trying to find some vestiges of Yeesha left in this body. Terribly sorry, brother. Once I am free from this chair, you won't be able to find anything of Yeesha again.
"Never could control yourself, could you, dear brother?" Sirrus whispered.
Achenar didn't have a response to that, though he was trying desperately to formulate one. A raspy sound escaped Achenar's throat, another attempt at speech, which Sirrus ignored. It wasn't worth it, trying to decipher his brother's garbled words at the moment of his death.
Sirrus turned from the body of his brother to look back at the woman. She was backed up against the wall, seemingly unable to take her eyes from Achenar's body. Her face was white as chalk.
"Unfortunately," Sirrus continued conversationally. "He proved to be more intelligent than I anticipated."
The woman finally tore her gaze away from the body to look at Sirrus.
"No matter. I won't insult you by demanding that you let me go now. I'm sure Father will be along soon. Having one more dead body around will only make my performance as Yeesha that much more convincing. At least until he finishes teaching me the Art."
"He won't believe you," She finally said. Her voice was shaking, but she didn't look away from Sirrus. "I've known Atrus for more than twenty years, and Yeesha her entire life. I don't care how good of an actor you are, you'll never convince them. Atrus will know it's not Yeesha. He's never going to teach you."
"Perhaps," Sirrus said, lifting the crossbow. "And if he does?"
She didn't say anything.
"He won't," the stranger finally said, and she sounded completely sure of herself. "I know it."
Sirrus was tired of this, and he fired the crossbow a second time.
This arrow hit the woman squarely in the chest. The blood sprayed against the panel and the levers, and she collapsed onto the floor.
"And if he does," Sirrus coolly informed the stranger's body. "I'll dedicate an Age to you, then, to honor your foolishness and your hesitation which enabled me to become master of a thousand worlds."
No one answered him, and for the first time in twenty years, this didn't bother him.
Yannin was in charge, as usual, of watching the harvester.
She knew it wouldn't be good to complain. Protectors didn't complain…they did the task they were given, and they did it to the best of their abilities. It was honor enough to attain the status of Protector at all, and since she was the youngest Protector, it made sense that they would give her the menial task of watching the harvester while the others handled the crisis.
No. It was not a menial task. It was not. There was only one harvester left now after the first was destroyed, and that was, in a way, Yannin's fault. She should have been watching that one more carefully, she should have been around when it happened, she should have stopped the person who destroyed it, she should have seen this the last time she Dreamt. But she didn't.
The other Sisters weren't very happy about that. They didn't directly blame Yannin, but it was obvious by Zanika's disapproving look that she should have been more cautious and aware.
Yannin sighed and rested her elbows on the rail, staring at the harvester. Much of the water was removed from this particular chamber, and that stranger who she met a few days ago was the one who did it. But she knew that the stranger would, and so did the other Sisters, so as much as they didn't like the idea of a stranger playing around with their harvester, they let her do it. Anya informed Yannin that she would and she had to, since it was going to be vital to stopping the crisis. But she had done her task and was now somewhere else, and Yannin was in charge of watching to make sure nothing else happened with the harvester.
"And until that stranger comes out," Anya had said. "Then you must talk to her and bring her to me immediately."
Well, she didn't see anyone for the past hour. And the harvester looked safe. And this was…well, boring.
Anya guarded the active memory chamber. Moiri and Raeane were Dreaming. Zanika had been helping the stranger…she told Yannin the day before that she had to be the one to show her into Dream. And Caradell was alerting the village.
All those were interesting, active tasks. That left Yannin, the youngest, to watching the harvester.
But she wouldn't complain. Absolutely wouldn't. It was boring but it was necessary. And she should be glad that they accepted her into the Sisterhood as young as she was, so naturally her tasks, while important, weren't going to be as active as the other Sisters. And the collecting of memory globes had been her task in the first place And that was that.
Still. She was bored. She didn't like being bored.
Zanika said it was because she was a Child of Fire, "which often leads to impatience in younger Protectors," Zanika said to her, voice tinged by years of wisdom and experience. Yannin sometimes got the impression that she was the only one who tolerated Yannin and was the driving force in allowing her into the Sisterhood.
Anya probably didn't like her. She was sure Caradell didn't. She didn't know about Raeane or Moiri yet, and…
Yannin, you're not six anymore. You're all Protectors, all Sisters together. It's immature to spend time thinking about whether or not the other Sisters like you. If they all didn't, they wouldn't have let you in.
Sometimes Yannin wondered, though. Sometimes she felt six, especially when Caradell was talking to her. Yannin wished she could be wiser like them, patient as them…which she knew came with time, but still.
There was a movement from the path to her left. Yannin stood up straight and adjusted her amulet, looking attentive and pretending that she never looked anything but.
Instead of one of the Sisters, a girl came barreling around the corner. Her hair was blond and tightly braided, and her dress was clean and washed. Yannin had only seen her a few times, but knew her immediately.
"Yeesha! Child, what's wrong?"
Yeesha was mostly Anya's charge, since they were both children of water. She was even younger than Yannin and from a place other than Serenia, yet she managed to earn the respect of all the other Protectors.
Yannin knelt down and opened her arms, and Yeesha flung herself into them and buried her head in Yannin's shoulder. Yannin wanted to immediately ask what was wrong, but for the first time in her life, decided to wait. Maybe that was what the Sisters meant about patience. Instead she wrapped her arms around Yeesha and stroked her hair.
Yeesha wasn't crying. She was just standing there with her cheek on Yannin's shoulder and her hair getting up Yannin's nose.
"Yeesha, what happened?" Yannin asked after five minutes passed.
"My brother," she said into Yannin's shoulder.
"What about him?"
This startled Yannin so much that she gripped Yeesha's shoulder and held her out in front of her, eyes wide. Yeesha didn't meet her gaze…she just stared at the floor and kept one hand around Yannin's wrist.
"My brother and my father's friend. Both of them, in the old memory chamber. Please come quickly!"
Yannin stood up, breath coming fast. In the front of her mind was shock and a little bit of panic…two people, both strangers to Serenia, dead in the same day? How was that possible? But in the back of her mind was a faint, tingling excitement…something was happening, and Yannin was at the center of it.
"Why come to me, Yeesha? You were always so close to Anya,"
Yeesha looked at the sky this time and reached one hand to her hair, looking to run her fingers through it, but then realizing it was braided and letting her hand fall to her side again. "Anya…I did not know where she was. With all that happened, I knew I had to find one of the Sisters, and you were the first that I found. It is very urgent, please, I need you to come immediately."
Yannin hadn't known Yeesha as well as Anya did, or she would have noticed the odd, formal way Yeesha was speaking.
"I'll come." Yannin held her hand out.
Yeesha took her hand and led Yannin down the path…down the other path…and then in the direction of the old memory chamber.
"Why would anyone be here?" Yannin asked. "The chamber hasn't been used for a long time now. It's too dangerous to go in there."
"I do not know," Yeesha replied. "It was not my idea. I was only brought here by Achenar…I did not know what he wanted at first, only that it was something terrible!"
It wasn't that far to the old memory chamber. Yeesha led her to the door and pushed it open, and Yannin followed her inside.
The memory chamber was dark, and the sunlight filtering in through an opening near the top was the only thing that gave any light. It smelled old and musty, and that made Yannin stop. No one had been in this chamber for years because it had gotten so old, and the memory chambers were deadly when they were old…
"It's safe," Yeesha said, tugging on Yannin's hand again. Yannin was still reluctant, but Yeesha just came from here so she would know better. She followed her up the stairs, and then…
Yannin stepped back in the doorway, covering her mouth and nose with her hands. She was closest to the stranger, who had fallen near a panel with two levers, an arrow embedded in her chest. The other was close to a chair, and the arrow was in his back.
She had seen this before.
They all had.
It was the first time that all the Protectors were shown the same possibilities at the same time. While normally there were thousands of future possibilities, for the past few days, there had been only three. And all three of them ended in the death of two people, both who weren't Serenian. The ancestors never showed who it was who died. They never gave names or faces. Yannin had asked her spirit guide why, as it seemed wholly absurd…if they knew the names and faces, they could see how events would pan out and warn those who had to be warned. But her spirit guide said it was the business of the Protectors right now to guide, and it was not their place to decide. The final task, they said, lie in the hands of that stranger.
"Oh, by the Ancestors," Yannin whispered. "Yeesha…"
Yeesha didn't step through the door. She just clung to Yannin's hand, holding it so tight it was almost painful.
"Yeesha, you need to tell me what happened," Yannin said, forcing her voice to stay calm and steady.
"I was at home," Yeesha began, clutching Yannin's hand tighter, and her voice was every bit as quavery and uncertain as Yannin's was calm. "And I was…I was…going to see my fath—dad's friend for something, because we've been friends for quite a long time. But then when I was leaving my room, I heard someone come in…and…and it was Achenar!" with this, Yeesha promptly burst into tears. Yannin knelt back down and pulled Yeesha into another hug. "And he…he…he…took me here," Yeesha said between sobs. "And he had this chair…and…and he tied me to it. He said all sorts of awful things to me…about what he wanted to do…he was going…to…to…"
"Shh," Yannin said soothingly. "Don't worry. You don't have to tell me everything now."
"I do," Yeesha sniffed. "Because…because it was so horrible! He said that he was going to put me in Dream forever and steal my body to learn how to write Ages from fa—dad! And he almost did. He was going to kill me!" Yeesha's sobs renewed for a moment before she calmed down enough to finish. "But then she came to save me," she pointed to the stranger. "But Achenar didn't want that to happen and then he shot her. Then Achenar was going to turn the chair on and kill me except she got shot by him…and then they were both dead and I don't know what to do! She was my best friend! And…and Achenar was my brother! How could he do that to me?"
Yannin didn't have an answer for that, so she didn't say anything at all.
"We have to find Anya," she said after a time when Yeesha had calmed down. "She'll know what to do."
Yeesha nodded, fiddling with her necklace.
They left the old chamber, and Yannin was never more thankful to be in open air than now. Death always walked hand in hand with everyone in Serenia. It was a neighbor, a friend, a guardian. It was nothing to be feared. But this was not the same death that touched the hands of the Protectors and showed them infinite possibilities and distinct certainties while in Dream. This was murder, madness, some terrible happening brought by those from another world into one of Serenia's most sacred places.
Yannin was nineteen, the youngest Protector, not in the Sisterhood more than six months. She didn't know what to do. She didn't know why they accepted her if all she could do was lose her head at the first sign of a crisis and go running to Anya or Zanika or someone who knew what they were doing.
"What's wrong?" Yeesha asked.
Yannin shook her head. Perceptive child, she was. Anya was always so proud to have her as a fellow child of water.
"Are you afraid?" Yeesha asked again, trotting to keep up with Yannin's brisk pace.
"No," Yannin lied, giving Yeesha's hand a squeeze. They followed the path down to the newer memory chamber, and Yannin took a moment of solace in its familiarity and peace.
She rapped three times on the door. "Anya?" she called softly.
Nothing. Anya was probably Dreaming.
"Who is it?" Anya said, what felt like years later.
"Yannin. And Yeesha."
The door opened a crack, and Anya's curious face peered out. She was the second youngest, but was still Yannin's senior by at least eight years. Anya glanced at both of them, then gestured for Yannin to follow her inside. She shook her head at Yeesha, and the girl nodded, leaning wearily against the side of the flower while Yannin went inside.
"Has it happened?" Anya asked, shutting the door tight, her face pale and drawn.
"Yes," Yannin replied. "Two of them, just as we've seen."
"But we don't know which two, do we? We never did. Who was it that died?"
"Achenar. And that other woman."
Anya sighed deeply and lifted up her amulet, staring into the blue crystal. But the amulet made no sound. It had nothing to show her.
"Tell me exactly what happened. The others are still Dreaming and might already know."
Yannin relayed the events on to Anya, who still didn't look at her. When she finished, Anya sighed even deeper and let the amulet fall back onto her chest.
"And Yeesha? Is she…"
"She is alive and doesn't look physically harmed. But she won't recover from this easily, Anya. She saw two people she cared about murdered and was betrayed by a brother she loved. She's too young for that,"
"She is wise beyond her years." Anya replied almost instantly. "I know her well. Where is Atrus?"
"I don't know."
"Didn't you think to ask her?"
Yannin bit her lip. She didn't.
Anya sighed. "Yannin, you have to learn to…" then she cut off and shook her head. "There isn't time for me to lecture you. There is too much we have to do. Yannin, I need you to go find Caradell and tell her what happened. I will talk to Yeesha." Then she walked to the door and opened it, putting an arm around Yeesha and guiding her inside. Yeesha looked at Yannin, and for a moment their eyes met and Yeesha smiled. But it was an odd smile, and Yannin had to shake her head to be clear of the peculiar sensation that there was something wrong she was missing. Then Anya cleared her throat and indicated that it was time for Yannin to leave.
She did, watching as Anya closed the doors again.
Watch the harvester. Wait for the stranger. Go tell Caradell what happened, even though it was likely she already knew. For a moment, a lovely, shining moment, life seemed to have taken a turn for the…well, interesting…for Yannin. But it was only a moment, and now her usual tasks were returned to her.
But she couldn't complain. She wouldn't. She was a Protector, and it was her duty, no matter how boring it was. And it made sense, since Yeesha was safer with Anya anyway.
She shrugged it off and set off down the path to find Caradell.
Something didn't feel right. There was something strange happening, and Anya wasn't sure what. But it was there all the same, niggling at the corners of her conscious mind, and prodding vigorously in her unconscious. She wanted to Dream and see if that would help her get a hold of it, but there wasn't time for that now.
Anya took a deep breath of the chilly night air, running her hand over the top of her amulet. It was no help to her. It didn't allay her fears. It also didn't help that she wasn't sure what her fears were.
Yeesha's story was genuine enough. The poor girl was nearly beside herself with grief and terror. Naturally she should be…from what Anya knew, the girl hadn't experienced more than the death of an insect or lizard at home, and was unprepared for the terrible things that happened today. And all the Sisters had seen for some time now the deaths of two people, and two had died today, so that too made sense. It was illogical that anything should be bothering Anya about this. It all fit. It all made sense.
No, not all of it. There was murder involved. Murder was wholly unnatural for Serenia. That was it, then. That was what had been bothering Anya. Murder. Frightened them all.
The sun had set, and Anya had elected to allow Atrus and Yeesha to stay in her family's home for the night. They were sleeping now, but Anya couldn't, so she sat outside and stared at the stars and hoped that they would give some sense to things. But they were just stars and would always be such. Stars never offered guidance or truth.
It had been a horrible day for everyone. Yeesha was exhausted and had fallen asleep on the floor the moment she sat down. The poor girl wasn't crying now, but somehow her blank expression and silence seemed all the worse to Anya. It was too much to happen to a girl so young. And horrible what Achenar had tried to do…the very thought made Anya's skin crawl. Removing one's memories before they died for such nefarious purposes was absolutely unheard of. It didn't surprise her, though. She was young when Sirrus and Achenar were first brought here, but she remembered them all the same, and felt she knew them well after all the stories her predecessor told her about them. If anyone would come up with such a horrible plan, it would be them.
Yeesha said that she fled to Spire to seek Sirrus' help, but Achenar followed her, and he died trying to stop Achenar from taking her to Serenia. She had no way of confirming that as the truth, but Atrus seemed to believe that. It made his grief all the worse, since he had expressed to Anya once the fear that Sirrus was just as wicked as he had been twenty years ago.
Anya sat on the bench outside and closed her eyes. The cool air and the stars did nothing to allay her apprehensions. There were stranger forces at work than she cared to think about, and she suddenly wished that all this would pass as quickly as possible and they could go back to living their lives as they had before. She wanted all this grief and madness to be taken away from Serenia. Let it go back to Tomahna where they lived. Atrus was a strong person, he could take care of it. He and Catherine could watch over Yeesha and make sure she was well. As a family, they could help each other through these difficult and trying times…far away from Serenia.
It was a selfish thought.
Anya shivered, pulling her sleeves down over her arms. She opened her eyes wide and shook her head, trying to keep those thoughts away, but they kept intruding, refusing to let her brush them aside. Such terrible things had befallen such a good family and she should not be wishing that they would take those terrible things away from here. She should be helping them.
The door opened and was immediately followed by a muttered apology.
"I didn't know anyone was out here," Atrus said, going to shut the door again.
"It isn't a problem," Anya replied. "You can stay out if you like. I find it easier to think when it is dark. It is the closest to Dream we can achieve while awake."
Anya always found it difficult to talk to Atrus, and it was obvious he felt the same. She was close to Yeesha, but Yeesha was always open to the ways of Serenia and its people. Atrus was always so guarded and seemed to look at it with a perpetual sigh on his lips, wondering how such a mystical place could be born out of the Art's scientific principals. He never understood Dream, and though he was proud of Yeesha learning the ways of the Protectors and being awarded her own amulet, she knew it was just the pride of a father for his daughter instead of full understanding in what she accomplished.
"Is Yeesha still sleeping?" Anya asked.
Atrus nodded. "I put her on the bed," he shook his head. "She's too young for this. She doesn't deserve to see such tragedy."
"She is stronger than you think," Anya replied, glancing back over her shoulder to the window into the room where Yeesha was sleeping. The curtains were drawn and the light was out. "Despite being so young. Not even our own Protectors are able to Dream as she can at her age. Yannin is the youngest of us to achieve that status, and she is nineteen. Yeesha is only ten. It takes a great deal of strength and bravery to venture into Dream while so young."
"I would imagine."
Atrus didn't sit down next to her, but didn't go back inside, either.
"You will have to take care of her, though," Anya added. "Earlier today, she was taken into Dream by force. Her memories were removed from her body while she was still alive. I do not know how long she was in Dream in that manner, but…but it is unheard of here for such a thing to happen. Her spirit guide would have kept her safe," Anya added, noting the sudden look of horror on Atrus' face. "But it is still not natural. It is …extremely strange that such a thing should take place. It has not happened in my lifetime, and I don't know what effects it may have on Yeesha. How does she seem to you?" It was the most Anya probably said to Atrus without Yeesha there since they had first met.
"She seems fine," Atrus replied, sounding surprised. "Well, not fine, but…but considering what just happened, she seems…as anyone would expect someone to react. She was terribly distraught when she came to Tomahna and brought me here. She loved Achenar and his betrayal naturally hit her hard. She grew up with Maria and loved her too."
It took a moment to realize that Maria was the name of that woman who came here. Anya suddenly felt extremely guilty that she didn't even bother to ask the woman her name. She blinked vigorously a few times and shook her head. There was no reason to feel that guilt. She had just assumed that the ancestors would tell her all she needed to know, including the woman's name. But the ancestors had been silent.
"Well, just watch her," was all Anya could think to say. "I am sure she will be fine as long as she is with you and Catherine."
Atrus said nothing to that, and Anya turned away. This was all new to her and she greatly disliked the fact. She was capable of helping people deal with their grief…it was one of her duties as Protector. But this sort of grief was a stranger to Anya and she didn't know how to react to it. Neither did Atrus, apparently. It only resulted in two people from different worlds whose only common bond was a sleeping girl inside staring awkwardly at each other outside.
"I'm sorry," Anya finally said when the silence stretched on for minutes.
"I am sorry. For all that happened. If I was able to stop it from happening, I would."
Another long moment of silence before Atrus opened the door again. "I'm going to stay with Yeesha for the night," he said. "Sleep well, Anya."
It was the first time he addressed her by her name instead of as just Protector.
She smiled. "Good night, Atrus."
He closed the door, and Anya looked skyward again, but the sky did no more to clear her mind than it ever did. She wanted to believe what she told Atrus even though it was difficult for her to. She had to offer him hope and solidarity, which is what she gave to everyone who lost loved ones in Serenia. It was expected of her, and no matter her doubts, she couldn't let it cloud her duty.
With that thought, she went back inside too, and then to sleep.
She was the first person in the courtyard the next morning, despite the fact that it was Moiri's turn to ring the bell and therefore Anya had no reason to get up this early. The sun was barely up, and the air still cool and humid from the night. She arrived before the first bell and peered in the Hall to see if anyone was Dreaming, but the Hall was silent, all the incense put out last night. Of course everyone would be home right now. It was just her, pacing through the courtyard at dawn.
"Worrying again, Anya?"
Her pacing stopped and she turned around, startled for a moment, but then relaxed when she saw Moiri coming towards her.
"I'm not worrying," Anya replied instantly. "I was awake and figured coming here would be the best thing for me to do."
Moiri shook her head, striding past Anya to ring first bell. "So you could worry here instead of at home, I suppose," she said with a sigh, pulling the cord to strike the bell.
Anya didn't say anything, just pressed her lips together and turned away from Moiri. They got along well, just were, as Caradell often said, opposite sides of the same spirit. Moiri was the free-flowing stream, the bubbling fountain, the cheerful summer rain, and Anya was the river that came up to a dam and stopped until the dam broke apart. Caradell always had a way with words…Moiri just said it meant Anya worried too much.
"Stop," Moiri ordered after the bell had chimed seven times. "Stop pacing. You're making me nervous."
"Sorry," Anya sat down instead on the steps leading up to the Hall. "I'm surprised no one is Dreaming."
"Why? Everyone is tired, at home with their families, like you should be. Isn't Yeesha and Atrus with you?"
"They're sleeping. I didn't want to disturb them, but I couldn't stay asleep any longer and had to come here. There's just…so much wrong with this, Moiri."
"I know." Moiri left the bell alone and sat down next to Anya. "But your worrying won't make it any better. The ancestors left the last task on that woman, and she…"
"Failed," Anya said suddenly, the word sounding almost angry on her tongue, and she was surprised to hear herself say that.
Moiri was, too. She sat up a little straighter and stiffened. "We do not speak ill of the dead who have done no wrong," she said almost sharply. "She was not of Serenia and therefore could not have understood our customs and what was asked of her. She did the best she could with what she was given. We should respect her for being as brave as she was, venturing into Dream in only a short amount of time and doing it only to help someone else."
Anya knew the truth in Moiri's words and looked down at her amulet, turning it over in her hands. What Anya really should have said was that she failed, as a Protector, as a friend to Yeesha, even as nothing more than a child of water. She should have seen at least something of this, she should have done more to help, she should have been with Yeesha or at least found her. She realized now that she had been expecting that stranger to do it all, and she had done almost nothing...
She assured Atrus countless times that everything would be fine yet couldn't bring herself to believe the same.
"I am sorry, Moiri," Anya said heavily.
"It is already forgiven," Moiri's formality dropped and she rested a companiable hand on Anya's shoulder. "There has been much sorrow and chaos here, and it will take time for it to settle, even for us. You are as that woman was, you know. You both did everything that you were able, and the rest…" she glanced behind her at the hall, then touched her forehead and Anya's. "The rest was left to the spirits and what they willed,"
Anya nodded. "I know. It is just hard to accept that when..."
The two were interrupted by Yannin running through the courtyard and tripping over her long skirts, flailing in the air for a moment before righting herself and walking towards the two older Protectors as if nothing had happened.
"Good morning, Yannin," Moiri said, touching her forehead, and Anya did the same.
"Good morning," Yannin said breathlessly. "Are you both well today? I heard the bell, I thought I was late…"
"Late for what?" Moiri asked.
"I don't know, late for something…" Yannin looked around frantically, her long hair whipping her in the face, her hands smoothing her dress repeatedly. Anya sighed again, this time with slight annoyance. She knew it she shouldn't feel annoyance for another Sister, but Yannin's constant forgetfulness and absentmindedness had bothered Anya from the start.
"You're not late for anything," Moiri said smoothly. "It was only first bell."
"Oh. Because I'm usually late, which is never good, whenever…"
"You're not late."
"Well, that's…that is good," Yannin faltered, going from frantic to embarrassed in only a few moments. Then she glanced behind them at the open Hall, and bit her lip. "Is it too early to Dream?" she asked, her voice suddenly a whisper.
"It is never too early to seek wisdom when one is in need of it," Moiri replied to the anxious girl.
Yannin nodded, not taking her eyes off the doorway, now fingering her necklace nervously.
"Has the amulet shown you something?"
"Yes," Yannin looked down at it. "Near the old memory chamber. I know I shouldn't have gone back there, but…"
"You shouldn't have," Anya interrupted. "There is much that we must all do together as Protectors to untangle the evil events that surround it. You should not have gone alone and looked without the rest of us there."
"Anya," Moiri said softly, resting a hand on her arm. "Do not be angry with her. She is young, she is impatient. She is scared, we all are. She worries in her own way."
Moiri was the river that flowed around the dam instead of waiting to break through it, Anya thought with a sigh. She should let Moiri talk to Yannin and keep silent herself. Yannin had done nothing wrong…you couldn't fault a child of fire for being the way her life was as written on her cloth.
"My apologies, Yannin," Anya said.
"What was it that you saw?" Moiri asked, rising and walking over to Yannin.
Yannin didn't seem so inclined to say. She played with her amulet again, sighing, then glancing from Anya to the Hall and back again.
"Anya," Moiri said. "Wouldn't it be best for you to meet Atrus and Yeesha right when they arrive here from the village? It would be a kindness to them to see a friendly face."
"Of course," Anya stood up and nodded. "Thank you, Moiri. And I am sorry, Yannin, for being so short tempered today."
"It's fine," Yannin answered.
Anya left the two Protectors and walked down the paths until she came to the place where they brought people from the village. So coming here early didn't do much to help clear her thoughts as she had hoped it would, and now she was curious as to what Yannin was so distraught over. Perhaps she would ask Moiri later, if the older Protector was inclined to tell her at all.
Anya met Atrus and Yeesha a short while later when the balloon brought them from the village. Atrus looked like he hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, and Yeesha was as solemn as before. She greeted them and clasped both of their hands tight and was given a weary smile from Atrus in return.
"I am sorry I wasn't there when you woke," she said to them. "I had much on my mind, as I'm sure we all do. Did you sleep the best you could?"
"Your mother gave us pancakes," added Yeesha. "They were exceptional."
"She does make good pancakes," Anya answered. "Atrus, what…"
"I think we need to get home," he said, his voice strained. "I need to find Catherine. I don't meant to leave so suddenly, but I am sure you understand."
"I do," Anya laid a hand on Atrus' shoulder, and then a moment later realized that Catherine still didn't know what happened here. Anya was so used to the way Serenia worked where everyone knew what passed by the next day. She stepped closer to Atrus so that Yeesha couldn't hear and said, "Nothing will be disturbed. We will leave it all as it was, and when you are ready, you can come back."
Atrus didn't say anything for a moment, but she could see him working to stay calm. "Yes," he finally said. "Thank you."
"Shall I walk you to the Stone Forest?" she offered.
"Yes," Yeesha said. "I want to see the water spirits,"
Anya nodded, and the three set off down the paths, walking in silence. They crossed the courtyard and Anya smiled to Moiri who was standing at the entrance of the Hall, lighting the incense. Yannin wasn't there anymore, presumably Dreaming or having gone back home.
"I think from here we should go on alone," Atrus said when they reached a willow tree, the fluff falling around them, turning the air hazy and white. Atrus had stopped right under it and was almost obscured by a sudden burst of fluff made from Yeesha pulling on a tree branch. The girl looked fascinated by it, holding a ball in her hand, running her finger over it and staring as if she had never seen a fluff before in her life.
"How many trees are there here?" she asked, though it seemed she was asking the fluff. "A hundred? A thousand?"
"I don't know. You'd best ask Caradell, she knows everything about the trees here." Anya replied softly, taking the fluff from Yeesha's hand. She knelt down and brushed the stray wisps of Yeesha's hair aside. "Be brave, my sister," she whispered. "Be strong for your family and for yourself. And never forget those who have passed on." She kissed Yeesha's forehead before standing up again. "My best with all of you. Tell Catherine she is in all our thoughts as well."
"Thank you, Anya." Atrus replied. He took Yeesha's hand, and they set off down the path. Anya watched them go and stood there for some five minutes afterward, staring at the path that wove its way through the forest. She felt something tickle her cheek and reached out, catching a fluff in her own hand. Anya looked at it, soft between her fingers.
What would happen now, she wondered. But she didn't have an answer, and decided this wasn't the time or place to think of it, so she let the fluff go. It drifted off on the wind and floated off down the path until she couldn't see it anymore, and she brushed the remaining fluff off her head and walked away from the forest.
Sirrus had no interest in hushed voices behind closed doors. It would be far too predictable, what those voices were saying. It had always been so with mother and father and their private conversations. On Myst, he and Achenar usually listened, ears pressed to the door or the keyhole, trying to catch what little snatches they could. But that was a long time ago, when he wanted to know what they were saying. It didn't matter now.
Their conversation now would no doubt involve mother becoming hysterical when she heard the news, and the two would stay awake all night in what he supposed was a living room, sometimes speaking, sometimes not, and when the morning came, they would have made a decision. He assumed that their old pattern of long discussions would not be any different after twenty years.
The night was warm, and he was not used to it. Nor was he used to the dry, cool air of this desert that Tomahna was situated in. It blew through the trees, and he watched the leaves move with the wind with an odd sort of fascination. Perhaps it was the same sort of fascination that had him watching the lights earlier as the insects flew around it until they struck it one too many times and fell to the floor.
Now the voices in the living room were raised, but he was too far to make out exact words. He didn't remember the last time they argued. He didn't remember the last time they had spoken unguardedly, either…willing to shout whatever came into their minds to each other. On Spire they spoke past the cold metal bars of the linking chamber and no one said what they were truly thinking.
Sirrus folded his hands and stared out at the rushing water. Running water, too, was something he would have to get used to. He was unaccustomed to the sound, to the smell, to the idea of being able to walk down to a stream and throw something in, watching it be carried away by the current.
Ah, they were quiet. They were afraid, of course, of speaking too loudly and distressing their dear daughter, even though she was supposed to be asleep, not standing at the balcony staring at the rushing water.
So the Serenians seemed sufficiently fooled. He thought he would have difficulty with Anya, as she was the closest to Yeesha. But they hadn't had an excessive amount of contact, so there weren't any problems. The only problems he did foresee was if he had to return to Serenia later. He wasn't yet certain if he could keep Anya believing for an extended amount of time that he was Yeesha. She might catch on. The others, however, it wouldn't be a problem.
Mother and father were too distraught to bother thinking too hard on it. And what would they have to suspect? The only one who knew was that woman and Achenar, and they were dead. And Yeesha, who knew what happened with her? Perhaps she was dead, perhaps she was still trapped in Dream. That didn't matter either, for she was of little consequence now. The coffin that still held his body in suspended animation was hidden, and it was doubtful anyone would be able to find it, locked as it was in a secret passage underneath the old memory chamber behind a color lock that no one knew the combination to.
All that was left, of course, was learning how to Write. He knew he would be perfectly capable of that once the time came. And once it did, he would only have to keep up this absurd charade long enough to learn what he had to learn.
Sirrus picked up a rock and examined its pitted surface. For the first time in years, everything was going exactly according to plan. No one suspected anything, and as long as he didn't do anything foolish, they'd have no reason to.
He tossed the rock over the edge and watched it fall. This had been, he decided, an excellent day.