The Beast Within
Chapter Fifty- Three – Mirror Reflection
They left Coveya Kurg'annis and were back to the front gate of Anya's farmhouse before any of them had realised it. Standing by the warm flames crackling enthusiastically in a brazier, the farmer Janik blinked at the party in surprise. He certainly did not expect to see any of them again this soon.
"Why, ye surely have some nerve—" Anger quickly flared in his eyes. But his words were cut short by Leela stepping forward and giving him a slight bow of her head.
"Allow me to assure you, Janik. Our purpose of returning here is not for doing your daughter any harm." She looked at the old father's wrinkled face earnestly: "We are here to beg you to grant us another chance to spend a few moments with her."
"You may be present the same room with us, should you have any concerns." the air genasi assured.
Janik glared at them sceptically for a good long minute before scrubbing his beard reluctantly: "Neigh, ye can all get in. But don't ye do anything dodgy there, or I will hold ye all responsible! Me poor gel is suffering enough, let me tell ye."
The druid thanked the farmer and lead her party into the thatched roof farmhouse. His daughter Anya was in pretty much the same state as the last time the blue hagspawn and Leela saw her, gliding around the room, humming a tune to herself, touching furniture and small items in an absent manner, with half a mind somewhere else. Her hums paused at the sound of her guests' entry and stared at them in surprise.
"Ganneyev love! How nice…" She gasped and her cheek flushed in pink: "But you shouldn't be here! I've told you to wait until my time to sleep. You must not come to me now, father will see!"
"By the Gods, this is serious." Okku's brow shot up as he regarded the girl's dream-like expression: "Are you sure you didn't sneak into her dream and seduced her when we weren't looking?"
"Unfortunately, I've been preoccupied to fulfill the other appointment in that particular realm over the past few days, grandpa bear." Gannayev wagged his index finger: "So whoever this Gannayev love was, it's definitely not me!"
"We can't get on solving the problem if she isn't asleep." The wrinkle between Leela's elegant silver brows deepened: "I fail to see how we are going to achieve that."
"Simple. Leave that to me, Lee." Safiya clicked her tongue and twitched her mouth to one side: "Just make sure you don't stay too long this time. My back still aches after sitting on that damp stone floor for hours."
"It shouldn't be too hard this time, Red Wizard." Okku drawled: "We got shelter, warm fire, rugs on the floor, and look," He tilted his head toward the table by the hearth as the Thayan wizard mentally searched for the correct spell to cast upon Anya: "Ales! I'll stay, they can take all the time they need!"
"Yeah, right. Right, I think this should do." The Red Wizard straightened her back and pointed out her finger at Anya. The farm girl stared at her; suddenly looking alarmed when she saw her lips move and several guttural sounds coming out. Too late. Magic erupted from her slim hands. Within seconds the farm girl's eyes began to drop.
"Wha… what are you doing… I… I…" She collapsed onto the floor and fell asleep immediately.
"I only wish we are not going anywhere with strange creatures charging at us on sight." Leela shrugged as she set down on the rug in front of the fire: "Somewhere nice and sunny and… Sword Coast like." Somehow, seeing Bishop again in the dreamscape made her really homesick. She wanted nothing more than breath in the familiar sent of West Harbour's swamp and feel the moisture wrapped around her fingers again at this moment. How long had she been away now? And whatever those hags in the Coven told her, she knew nothing of her old companions and comrades. Other than Bishop, who appeared to be definitely dead, the others still remained unknown.
Bishop was dead.
But she knew that already, did she not? She knew that when she held him in his arms, months and months ago, in that collapsing ruin, when the King of Shadow was defeated. There was really no point to feel the ache, though numb slightly, after all this time, was there?
Yet, she still felt something, something she could not really pinpoint. Much like something regarding the certain handsome hagspawn beside her.
She rubbed her eyes with the heel of her hands, feeling exhausted. Mayhap entering dreamscape to investigate Anya's strange infatuation would not be as bad as she thought.
"It's the dreamworld Anya created, I don't think she is the girl who would adore monsters." The dreamwalker tilted his head at her, jerking her out of reverie, with a small smile curled at the corner of his chiselled lips, sitting down next to her: "But still… ready?"
"Can I say no?" Leela smiled wryly: "It was my idea to save her in the first place, wasn't it? Ready when you are."
Gannayev slanted a side-glance at the druid. She had been most insistent to drop by Janik's farm on their way back to Mulsantir, for a reason he somewhat understood. No, he did not think she believed there was something going on, but proving there wasn't really anything going on and saving the innocent farm girl was possibly what the air genasi had in mind.
But why did she want to prove it? He could not help himself but wonder. Surely wanting to help the desperate father was only part of the reason?
"Right beside you, my sweetling." The blue hagspawn turned his attention back to the task in hand and grinned mischievously before closing his eyes.
"You know, this reminds me of Ashenwood." The air genasi took an deep breath as soon as her eyes adjusted to the light behind the mist hanging between the woods: "Snow, quiet forest, and birds singing in the trees."
"Best of all, no weird and hideous looking monsters, am I right?" Gannayev pulled himself up to his elbow and smiled down at her.
"And that, too." She smiled back.
The dreamwalker chuckled. Before he opened his mouth and said anything else, faint sound of laughter trickling through the woods made him pause. He tilted his head to one side and tried to listen to the giggles. Leela blinked slowly. She heard it, too.
"Aha," A small smile tugged at the left corner of his mouth: "Is that what I think it is?"
"Let's find out." She found her feet and followed the sound through the fog, with the blue hagspawn closely behind. The groundcovers hidden track stretched some distance before making a sharp turn and opening to a small clearing. As they approached a small bramble bush near the edge of the glade, the sound became clearer and it did not take them long to figure out they found what they were after.
Anya was in the embrace of another man. Her face was in pure rapture. The man, with board shoulders, long pearl-blue long hair, and the tilting soft voice that was so familiar to the air genasi, buried his face in the her jet black hair and inhaled deeply. She gaped transfixed at the couple, who were completely oblivious about the others approaching.
The man… this couldn't be right, the man was Gannayev.
"Oh, this is good, so very good, I am very impressed," She heard the dreamwalker murmur next to her and she snapped her head around to regard him with an arched brow. If this one was the real Gannayev, then who in the world was that one who was hugging the farm girl?
"Now don't tell me…" She slowly shook her head.
"All in appropriate time, my dear sweetling." The blue hagspawn half turned toward her and winked: "But let me assure you, I am the real one here, the one and only who found a certain air genasi beyond beautiful. Now I suggest we watch and see how will this rendezvous work."
"Right…what did you just say?"
"Sssh." His fingers were on her lips, soft and warm and with the scent of him. The dreamwalker tilted his head to the clearing, telling her wordlessly to focus on what was ahead of them.
Leela slowly turned her gaze back to Anya. The farm girl was moving against the other Gannayev's chest, with her hands around his waist.
"Sir Gannayev." She sighed contently.
"Yes, my dearest Anya?" The other blue hagspawn stroked her hair tenderly and pressed a soft kiss on the top of her head.
"Nothing. I simply love saying your name." Anya half raised her head and smiled at her lover.
"And it pleases my ears to hear it, my love." The other dreamwalker cupped the farm girl's face between his hands and kissed her.
Gannayev beside Leela began to groan: "I think I am getting sick."
The druid chuckled softly, despite herself: "Why, but you are exactly like that, Gann."
"No, I am not." He glared at her.
"Oh, yes, you do." Leela gave him a bright toothy grin.
"There is a distinct difference between romantic and sickening mushy, my dear sweetling. Whoever that is out there had made such a poor performance, no respectable theatre will accept him should he decide to make it as a career." The blue hagspawn shook his head: "Right, time to put the end to this."
He got back to his feet and moved around the hedge they've been hiding behind for the last ten minutes. At the sound of someone's intrusion, Anya jerked her head up, immediately tensing and looking about her nervously.
"What?" She gasped anxiously: "Who's there?"
The other Gannayev gallantly pushed her behind his back: "Stand back, my dear love. I will protect you."
The blue hagspawn beside Leela chuckled amusingly: "Protect her? By the spirits, she's the cause of all this! And you…"
"I must be seeing things," Anya blinked in bewilderment: "There are… two of you, Gannayev?"
Clearly she wasn't the only one who was puzzled at the sight in front of them "Do you know this half-blooded mongrel, my love?" Said the other blue hagspawn.
"Mongrel?" Gannayev choked: "What does that make you? A half of a half?"
"Have a care with your words, villain. Or I shall make you dine upon them." The other dreamwalker's eyes glowered with anger and he hissed.
"This is very entertaining." Leela rolled her eyes and looked around: "What's this place, by and by, Ashenwood?"
"Ashenwood? No," Anya shook her head: "This is our home, where we are able to be alone without father seeing... I found this glade one night, while—"
"While you walked the borders of sleeping and waking, yes, yes, I know how this came about." Gannayev folded his arms and nodded admiringly: "For a novice, you are very, very good. My mistake was that I didn't realize that you possessed such power, Anya - an oversight, but I cannot be perfect in all things - what, did I say something funny?" He shot the air genasi a slight annoying glance.
"No," Leela covered her face with her left hand, trying to suppress a giggle: "Carry on."
"Right…" The dreamwalker slowly looked away from the air genasi and back to Anya and her imaginary knight: "Now this fantasy of yours must end - that Gann there, he is a fantasy you have conjured up, and he is becoming a wedge between you and the waking world, Anya. And… he also has a terrible fashion sense, and the nose is all wrong."
The druid had to press both her hands over her mouth to stop herself from laughing. The blue hagspawn gave her another weird look.
Anya arched her left brow and darted her eyes from one Ganneyev to another: "I do not know who you are, but you are not the Sir Gannayev I know."
"Gosh, I certainly hope not!" The dreamwalker looked at the other hagspawn in disgust: "You can't seem to get me right from the looks of it."
The other Gannayev evidently offended by his words: "Anya, I believe this thing is here to hurt us - stand away from him, I shall handle this." He growled.
"If it's a fight you want," The blue hagspawn's eyes narrowed, with sparks crackled between his fingers: "Then that's how this must be settled."
"Boys!" The druid felt it was time to intervene: "We are all adults here, there is no need to behave like silly children in the schoolroom, yes? Now, Anya," She turned toward the farm girl: "Consider how fortunate you are now, there are two Gannayevs who compete for your love. Which one of them loves you more, do you think?"
"What?" Said both Gannayev in unison, both their heads snaping in her direction.
Anya's confused expression was cleared at once: "You mean… this is a contest?"
"What are you doing?" The blue hagspawn hissed at Leela.
"Just play along." The air genasi whispered back: "So what do you say, Anya? Which one?" She turned to the farm girl again.
Gannayev's silvery brow shot up: "Prove, you said? There will be price to pay for this, my sweetling."
The other Gannayev already stepped forward. He picked up Anya's hand and kissed each and one of her fingers.
"My dear, sweet, Anya." Said the other blue hagspawn: "You know how much I love you. I am only whole when you are around."
Anya closed her eyes and sighed contently, while the dreamwalker wrinkled his noise and had an expression of someone who just tasted something sour.
"Ewe," He shook his head: "Revolting—and so unimaginative."
"Now it's your turn, Gann," Leela's lips quirked up, the sudden sparkle in her velvet sapphire eyes in a face which expression remained sombre: "I guarantee you have more eloquent words for love than he does."
"Humph…" Gannayev's deep blue eyes reflected the gleam as those in the air genaisi's: "Very well, stand back. My words might ignite a passion so fierce this dream will catch on fire."
He moved past the other dreamwalker, and pushed him aside: "Arh, Anya…The glade around you is poor home for a beauty"
The other Gannayev appeared flustered: "I need to share her with no one!"
"Indeed?" The blue hagspawn quirked his brow: "I would not fetter Anya's movements, I would allow all to gaze upon her - for even if they should, only I can appreciate her inner beauty."
Leela slanted a side-glance at the farm girl, who was now covering her mouth with both her hands and her eyes were glittering with unshed tears, moving beyond words to make a sound.
"A master indeed." She murmured in astonishment under her tone as she watched the contest continue.
"What?" The other dreamwalker fisted his hands at his sides: "He tells lies! I love you! I am only whole when you are around."
"Tsk-tsk," The real dreamwalker chuckled: "Anya, I am whole at all times - for you are with me always, no matter what distance separates us."
The conjured Gannayev's face went pale, while Anya suddenly blinked and looked at her surroundings, as if she had just noticed them for the first time.
"Oh, my…" She shook her head, disbelievingly: "I've been such a fool for a Gann I've created out of nothingness!" She stepped forward, reached out her hand and touched lovingly at the dreamscape blue hagspawn for the last time before speaking softly almost to herself: "I think it is time for me to wake up now."
The other Gannayev looked at her longingly and suddenly gave her an sad smile, before everything around them turned blank.
"Time to go, my sweetling." The dreamwalker's hand threaded through Leela's.
The druid gave him a slight nod and waited for the blinding light to consume them all…
They woke up and found the farm girl hugging her father Janik, who was overwhelmed with joy that his daughter was finally returned to normal. Having realised he had neglected her for so long, he vowed to stay at home more often than he was.
To thank them, the farmer also invited them to stay for one night, trusting that there would be nobody to visit Anya in her dreams. Over the supper he had prepared for them, Leela saw Gannayev bend his head over the farm girl, evidently exchanging something. The young woman nodded her head eagerly, while occasionally shutting the air genasi envious glance.
"What did you say to her?" She could not help herself but ask, as they all sat around the hearth and enjoyed one of Janik's finest brews.
"She's a dreamwalker in the making," The blue hagspawn sipped his ale: "I offered her some advice on learning to block out fabric of thoughts when travelling in the realm of dreams. One does not come across another dreamwalker easily in their lifetime, my sweetie. How fortunate I am to met two."
"You've met other dreamwalkers in Rasheman?" Leela blinked.
"Oh yes, he's in Mulsantir. I think I mentioned him once before." The dreamwalker nodded: "I can make the introduction when we are back."
"You will?" The air genasi grinned: "I would like that."
"Course you do," Gannayev grinned back. He tilted his head to aside, reached out his hands and brushed her cheek with his knuckles.