Chapter 10: Nightmares
A/N: No, I'm not dead! Thank you for all the lovely comments, here and elsewhere. If you want a more frequent update on the progress of this project, check out Goldenlake forums or my A03. Still, I'll keep posting here until it's completion. Enjoy!
There were many irritating things about Tris Chandler. But the one that plagued Niko most was her insistence on having their lessons on the beach.
It was not just any beach-it's wild, grey, rubble-strewn spaces were a lesson. The first time they'd stood there, Niko wincing as grit and stones worked their way into his boots, Tris had turned to him, smiled, and said that there had been small cliffs all about the place, and lovely, clear sand. "Until I tried to be clever and kill a storm."
Her tone was easy, but serious, eyes matching the early morning light. "All students," she'd said. "Are a bit stupid. And some can be stupid and powerful at the same time. It's a dangerous combination."
"I," Niko had said, hearing waves flicker and slip and grumble all about him, and trying to keep his words clear, "Can't do anything with the weather."
"No, but we're going to find out what you can do, boy." Tris's smile had been thin. "I suspect it's powerful enough."
Since then, Niko had had nightmares about waves. Waves and stone and Tris's voice, constant and exasperated, as she told him not to strain so, not to run forward trying to grab visions like they were pennies thrown from a cart. They breathed and counted and Tris told him of her own Sight-how time and the right books and her weather magic had allowed her to see snatches of other lives on the wind-futures that could be breaths or whole seasons away. She heard their voices, felt their touch on her face.
"It's why I'm a little mad," she said-sanely, sitting on the sand with her knees drawn up, skirts stained with salt. "I'll do my best not to pass that on."
Niko had to think-he had to breathe, in meditation patterns that would have made Kiam shout and curse and, eventually, skulk away to sulk. Control over the body could, if you were very lucky, lead to control over the mind-and control over the mind might lead to control over what was outside it, in all their colours and tricks and not-quite truths.
Niko's head, he was sure, would explode.
"Nonsense!" said the teacher, smiling as a stray breeze-gleeful and absolutely against any current-sneaked through her braids. Her hand was around his, her pulse rising as it matched his own. Her pulse always matched his own. Control. "There are risks to this, but combustion of any kind is not one of them."
"Do you have to be...be so...glib?"
Niko swallowed, surprised at his own words, at how easily they'd burst from him. As if he'd never been taught to be quiet around his elders and betters. Tris, in her turn, only looked tired.
"What," she asked him, "Do you need?"
Niko stared. Tris, shaking her head, let her hand tighten about his.
"You meditate beautifully," she said. "You learn theory fast, and well, and you know it. But you're not so clever yet that you can fool me. I know there's something wrong. Is it the speed? Yours is a different sort of magic than weaving or smithing or making things grow. It's not going to show itself with all its colours all at once. You know-"
"-I don't know what the point is."
A leap in his pulse, carefully matched, caught, and slowed. She breathed, and Niko, used to beach mornings and her demands, couldn't help but breathe with her, until his heart felt less like it was going to tear through his skin.
"I don't," he repeated. "See. All of this-" he waved his free hand. "It's so often wrong-even for you, and you usually know when you're hearing a real voice or seeing a true picture. I thought that it didn't matter-the future part-since it's at least useful to see present and past, but I can't even do that regularly, and the future is..." he swallowed. "Stupid. Wrong. It just gets people's hopes up."
Tris did not look away from the sea. "Your father?"
"How do you-oh, of course you know. Sneak."
"Ha. Hardly." Tris shifted enough to glower one-eyed at him, light glinting off her spectacles. "I Saw you and your family the way I Saw all you children-rapidly and without warning, or much control. In your case, you were telling that silly sister of yours-"
"-half sister. Don't interrupt. You were telling her that you had seen a future that made her happy. Considering that I found you a fatherless and singularly awkward waif out in the mountains, I am assuming it did not go well."
It was strange, how sometimes Tris's words failed to match her voice. Niko shivered."Can I fix it?" he asked, very soft. "I want to fix it so that I'm never wrong."
"Ah," Tris sighed, pulling her hand away. "That's impossible-but we'll always try."
Now he stood a little apart from his teacher, looking out to sea. The air, even here, was thick with heat, the waters seeming thick and sluggish with it this close to shore. All slow, faintly gleaming trails of green and blue amidst the grey.
"Don't search for a particular thing." Tris's voice was faint, caught in the small rill of cool air that blew past his cheek. "For now, just cast your mind out. Use the waves, if you like. They can pull you out..."
"I can't work it out." Pareskeve, curled up on the roof of Discipline cottage, alone and small. Her eyes were hot, her voice scratchy and strained, and she pushed the small bundle of papers she was holding away from her as if they burned. They fluttered and scattered-of course they'd do that, Niko thought. You have to be gentle with them-but his breath caught as she, rather than trying to catch them up again, seemed to crumple. He was there, but not there, and saw with unseen eyes as the girl burst into small, painful tears.
One of the papers flew up, then. Obscuring her and pressed flat to his sight, as if he stood behind a window. On it, he saw letters, drawn with appalling penmanship and obvious care.
Niko blinked. Swallowed. His throat was tight and his tongue thick in his mouth.
"I...nothing in the future."
"But something. There was something."
He told her. He felt like the old soothsayers in traveller's tales, telling her-as if he feared a whipping for speaking words that were trivial, but true. Instead, Tris only shook her head, smiling.
"I think," she said, "That your gift lies in lost things."
Night noises woke Paraskeve. Not creaking or bird calls or the rasp of leaves against Discipline's windows, but the other sort. Crying, hard-and-muffled, full of clenched teeth and snot and pain. It was the sort of crying where people punched things, where some people shook and shook with it, like a fever or a fear. Mire crying.
Walking across to Niko's room, feet quiet on the old mix of rug and wood, she had to stop several times and remember that Niko was the keep out boy-fierce and solitary and probably angry at the very thought of someone hearing him. Nightmares, she could almost hear him think, were for people like like Paras. Not for him. Not for his learning and the year he had on everyone else. He was no screaming boy.
But he sounded frightened, now.
Biting her lip, Paras stepped inside.
Niko was tangled in his sheets- his straight, thick hair smeared across his brow; his whole body left clenched and hard by the dream inside it. He didn't even flinch as she sat on the bed. She was invisible, sitting there, Should she wake him? No. Not too fast. She remembered drunken sleepwalkers from the family troupe, turning and smashing the people who tried to lead them back to bed. And it was dark in here. Too dark for a sudden wakening. Her own eyes, still more used to night-guarding than close stitch work, did not need a candle.
And all of his look burnt down.She sighed, straining to see, straining to filter out his noises and cries and the fear in the room. It was still an empty place-all books and bare windows. Her embroidery lay abandoned by his desk, rumpled and sad.
Barely breathing, she stood and walked to it, feeling the cambric and silk cool and familiar against her fingers. Even with her eyes, there wasn't enough light to see the design, but she did not need it.
And Niko didn't, either.
Working by touch-and, she now knew, a little whisper of the magic Sandry had shown her-she unpicked three of the longest, strongest lengths of thread. Simple colours, splendidly dyed. Blue, and red, and grey. Their ends were ragged, and they were all-over kinks, but she let the rest of the work slide out of her hands as she drew them out.
Silk, Sandry had said, loves you.
Well, if it loved her, than perhaps it might take light for her. The little traces of light that were in any room, no matter how dark, so long as there was a window and eyes to see. For her, if she just asked with all her best manners-if she only coaxed-the silver might glow with moonlight; the red with the downstairs torchlights that still came up, just faintly, through cracks in the floor; the blue with everything that lay between their shadows.
Niko Smythe woke slowly, eyes sore and throat worse, his head full of pasts people wanted to forget, and presents that could hardly be lived through. And waves. All of it, cut with the sound of waves and Tris's voice-not telling him to try, this time, but to stop. To just stop, because there was no use to him anyway. Unknown futures would turn into dying presents and dead pasts, no matter what he did.
But there was a warm weight against his legs, and the room was full of silver light.A girl was sitting on his bed.
"Yeah." The glow in the room seemed to come from her hands. It threw her shock of curls into sharp relief-caught the scrawniness of her face and arms. "Didn't want to wake you up too fast. People do crazy things with nightmares." She shrugged, still working. "It makes sense that mages would be worse. Even little ones like us."
"But you..." Are confusing!"Wanted me to wake up?"
"You were having a nightmare." She said this easily, as if it wasn't a bad thing to be heard crying at eleven-which was almost a man's age in some countries. His father had already been working at eleven.
Niko sniffed, trying to sit up. Trying for dignity. "And you're making me a nightlight?"
Paras only shrugged.
This made her smile. "Magic," she said, in an odd, scratched-up mix of pride and amusement. "What else? What were you dreaming of? It helps to talk, sometimes."
"Magic," said Niko. "What else."
Paras swallowed. "Well," she said. "I'll leave you alone once I work out how to tie this off."
"-don't. I mean...please. Paras. Please don't tell the others?"
A laugh, now. Quick and not, though he bristled, mean-spirited. "Not a word," she said. "I promise."
"I was...I was rude to you earlier." He said. "I'm often rude to you. I'm afraid you make it easy. And that's rude, too, but it's true. You're one of the strangest people I've ever met and so-so-"
"-I really don't want to know," Paras said, eyes fixed on her braiding. "Really."
"I think I can teach you to read," he said, diffidently. "That is, if you want."