Jelana was frowning. “This was five years ago, you said? That doesn’t make sense. That makes no sense at all.” She started pacing. “Has An ever spoken to you when those spells came over her?”
“Spoken?” Mattan asked, perplexed. “No, not that I recall.”
“But five years ago . . .” She stopped, and turned to face him. “Was she wearing the Star-Stone that night?”
“The Star-Stone?” Mattan frowned. “Jelana, that was five years ago. I don’t remember.” After a moment, he added, “She always wore it in those days, didn’t she?”
“Mattan, think! This could be important.”
“That was a long time . . .” His voice faltered, and his eyes grew wide. “I do remember! She was wearing a necklace I bought for her a few years earlier, before she started wearing the Star-Stone constantly. Just a cheap thing. I mentioned it, and she seemed confused. But it wasn’t the Star-Stone.”
Jelana nodded. “That makes more sense,” she said. “The Star-Stone protected her from the Other. Mostly. But with it gone . . . but still, the Other must have been stronger than we realized, sooner.”
“And this ‘Other’ is killing her,” Mattan said flatly.
“Oh, no!” Jelana said. “That’s something else entirely. The Other wants her alive. At least . . .” Her voice trailed off. “You tricked me!”
“Not intentionally,” he said. “But something is killing her, isn’t it?” He looked away. “And I made it impossible for her to come to me for help when she needed it.”
“*Could* you have helped her?” Jelana asked.
“I don’t know, Maybe. I could at least have stood by her.”
“If I thought you could have, I would have brought you in long ago, no matter how many quarrels were between you.”
(*Going back to earlier discussion of what happened that morning.*)
“Why were you the one to bring An here?” Jelana asked.
“Because it was the right thing to do? If she’d let me. Because,” he shook his head. “Because I thought I might have caused the problem. Or at least contributed to it.”
“What do you mean?”
He shook his head again, and began telling her about the dinner the previous night, and what happened when he touched the necklace.
“I hadn’t realized it was magic,” he said. “Or I would have been more careful. But who charges up anything wooden with magic?”
“Daved would, he gave her that necklace.” Jelana said.
“So she told me,” Mattan said. “Yes, it makes sense that Daved would do that.”
“But you can sense magic?”
“Didn’t you know that?”
“Somehow, I don’t think that ever came up,” Jelana said dryly.
“Well, yes, I can sense magic. I also pull magic out of things when I touch them. I can’t control it. I even pull a little bit of magic out of the air, always.”
“And it goes into your hair?” Jelana asked, reaching out to touch a blue strand.
“Some of it. Some comes out in the things I make. But anyway, when I touched her necklace, An . . . blurred . . . for a moment. So I was afraid that was part of the reason she was in so much trouble the next day.”
Jelana looked thoughtful. “Hold out your hands,” she said.
“Just hold them out. I want to see how you react with magic.”
He stepped back. “You’re going to change your hands to water again, aren’t you?”
“Mattan, be sensible. It’s just water. I’m water. It won’t hurt you.”
He took another step back.
“Stop being so ridiculous. Do you want to help An, or don’t you?”
He stopped and took a step forward at that. “Of course I do,” he said.
He held out his hands, and Jelana took them in hers. After a moment, her hands melted in water that enveloped his hands. He shuddered and closed his eyes, but didn’t try to draw back.
“I don’t even feel any magic when you do that,” he complained.
“That’s because I’m not magic,” Jelana said. “Now, hush.” She held his hands for another few seconds, then dropped them.
Mattan pulled back, and rubbed his hands on his pants.
“Interesting,” Jelana said. “That was . . . odd. No, none of this was your fault, just that . . . blurring last night. The necklace was made to stand up to Tolly, after all.” She looked trouble. “I wish I had know about this years ago.”
“What’s going to happen to Anilyne?” Mattan asked.
“Happen? For now, she’ll sleep. In the long term . . .” Jelana looked troubled.
“Most people do, in the long term, you know. Eventually.” Jelana looked away. “Not me, of course, maybe not Daved. And you know how long Tolly, and even you, have lived. But most people.” She straightened. “And now you should go.”
“I need to stay here,” Mattan said. “Watch over An.”
“No, you don’t,” Jelana said. “Daved and I will watch over her.”
“And take her back when she’s ready.”
“I’ll take her back.” She looked over at Mattan. “Please, Mattan. We’ll take care of her. Really. You don’t need to. Bringing her here was enough.” Her face softened. “She doesn’t want you here.”
Mattan stiffened. “Of course she doesn’t. Why should she?” He turned to leave.
“Not like that. Mattan!” Jelana grabbed his harm. “Please. Try try to understand.”
Mattan looked down into her face. “Understand what?”
“Mattan.” She paused. “What was An like? Before?”
“What do you mean? You’ve known her for years.”
“How would you have described her, the An you knew, say, five years ago?”
“Oh.” He thought a moment. “Beautiful.”
“Mattan!” Jelana gave him a little punch. “I meant personality. What was she like?”
“Oh.” He thought again. “Very smart, of course. Stubborn. Fearless. Interested in everything.” He took a big breath. “I could never keep up with her. And, of course, just fun to be around. She made everything sparkle.”
Jelana looked at him for a long moment. “And the person you’ve seen the past two days? What is she like?”
“Isn’t that Anilyne?”
“Yes! Of course she is! Don’t ever suggest otherwise. Especially if she can hear you. But how would you describe her?”
“I’ve barely seen her.” He thought a bit. “Quiet. Distracted. Afraid.” He gave a big sigh. “Defeated.”
Jelana shook her head. “Not defeated. Not yet. She’s still fighting. But she’s running out of hope.” She placed her hand on Mattan’s arm again. “But she still remembers what she used to be like, Mattan. She knows you do, too. She’d have given anything for you not to have seen her like this.” Jelana paused for a long moment. “Allow her some dignity, Mattan.”
He turned away from her, looking out toward the waterfall, but not seeing it. “I understand,” he said, brokenly. “I’ll leave.”
“She’ll be more like herself when you see her again,” Jelana promised. “And, Mattan . . .”
“Yes?” Mattan turned back and looked at her.
Don’t let it be too long before you see her again.”
* * *
An woke comfortably in Daved’s woods, her head clear and not painful. She was so comfortable that she just lay there for a moment, not moving, luxuriating in the feeling that the world, and herself, was once again in focus.
“How did I get here?” she wondered aloud.
“Mattan brought you,” Jelana’s voice answered matter-of-factly.
An jerked up. “Mattan?” she said, looking over to where Jelana was sitting on the ground, doing some stretches. “Mattan? Why did he bring me? He hasn’t even spoken to me in . . . I don’t know . . . years.”
“Apparently you two spoke at length yesterday.” Jelana said, continuing to stretch.
“Did we? Why?” Fragmented memories trickled into her consciousness. “Oh, durst! What must he think of me? Why on earth did I try to talk to him?”
“He’s very worried about you. As is Jasin. And the others. Even Tolly.” Jelana stood up, continuing to do stretches.
“Tolly? How did he get involved.” She started rubbing her temple with her left hand.
“Headache coming back?” Jelana asked, coming over and putting her hand on An’s forehead. After a moment, her hand dissolved into cool water. “A bit soon for that, isn’t it?”
“I shouldn’t have waited so long before coming,” An said. “Everything seems to be blowing up around me.”
“You definitely should have come sooner. But that first delay was our fault. Daved and mine.” She rested her other hand on a tree, affectionately.
An closed her eyes again.
“Did you know that Mattan can sense magic?” Jelana asked.
“What? Can he?” An thought a bit. “No, but that does explain a few things, doesn’t it?” She paused. “He doesn’t shut down magic, like Tolly does, does he?”
“No, but apparently he does absorb it. I wish I’d known sooner. The blue hair should have told me something, though.”
“Mattan is easy to overlook.” An sat up again, and perched on the edge of the seat.
“If we had known, if we had even thought it possible, we would have called him in long ago to see if he could help.”
“You called in everyone else.” An wavered a bit. “It’s not your fault.” She lay back down. “Why do I feel so much worse than usual?”
“You were pretty far gone, An,” Jelana said gently. “By the time you got here, you were staying in focus by sheer act of will. Probably helped that you had touched my brother, even for just a few minutes. But another couple of hours, even less, and Daved might not have been able to bring you back.”
“An . . .” Jelana said, then stopped.
“What is it?”
“An, what happened between you and Mattan all those years ago?”
“What? Jelana, that was, how long ago was that? five years ago? At this point in time, what difference does it make?”
“I’m not sure, but . . . something has come up, and it might make a lot of difference. Just humor me, An.”
An closed her eyes, and lay very still. “If you insist, Jelana. But there better be a good reason.” She took a couple deep breaths. “We had scheduled to have dinner. Mattan was coming up every couple of weeks to Haranbeth, for business, he said. We’d eat together, go to the theater, other stuff, while he was in town, when I could get away from work. I had never dared hope that he was there for more than business. I’d been disappointed before.” She paused for a long time, and Jelana came over and took her hand. “I’d just talked to Jasin on the phone that day, and I was so happy, I was almost dancing. Mattan seemed happy that night, too. He seemed younger. He’d been seeming younger the previous few months as well. Other people had begun to notice it, though they didn’t put it that way. We both laughed a lot that night. Then, later, he became serious, and everything started going wrong. My words kept coming out all twisted, and he misunderstood what I was trying to say. Then . . .” An stopped completely.
“What is it, An?” Jelana said gently.
“Do I have to go on?”
“An. Please. Daved and I are here with you. Naught will harm you.”
“I must have given him one of my ‘death glares’, as Jasin calls them. I don’t know. Everything blanked out, and I got a far worse headache than usual. When things cleared, Mattan was holding my wrists down against the table, and was shaking with fury. He hurt my arm.” She rubbed her left wrist absently, and turned her face away from Jelana, as tears began welling up in her eyes. “I don’t know what happened.” She took a deep breath. “There’d better be a good reason for this, Jelana.”
“It’s all right, An,” Jelana said gently. giving her hand a slight squeeze. “Just a little bit more. It still might be important.”
“Mattan looked at me, straight in my eyes, and said something about hate, and drew himself up and walked out. I don’t understand. He’d seen my ‘death glare’ before. He was the only decent guy who’d seen it, and was still willing to hang around.” An pulled her hand away from Jelana, and covered her face. “I hope that’s enough for you, Jelana.”
“Just a question,” Jelana said, even more gently. “Just one more question, An. That’s it.” She reached into the air, and pulled out a tissue, and handed it to An. “Were you wearing the Star-Stone that night?”
“What?” An looked up and stared at her. “Jelana, that was five years ago! You expect me to remember? I *always* wore the Star-Stone back then.”
“Yes, but were you wearing it that night?” Jelana asked. She reached her hand back up to An’s head, and her hand turned to cool water again. “Please. Try to remember.”
“That feels good,” An murmured. She closed her eyes and thought. “No,” she said at last. “No. I was so happy. I didn’t think I needed it. Instead I wore an old cheap necklace that Mattan had bought me long before. He’d probably forgotten it. I was so happy.” She sighed. “I had already learned that bad things happen when I’m happy. I should have known better than to let myself be happy like that.”
“It’s all right, An,” Jelana said, giving her a quick hug. “Why don’t you go back to sleep now? You’ll feel better. Then we’ll talk more later, child.”
An sat up and looked at Jelana, her eyes wide. “No! Not this time!” she said. Then she slumped over, asleep.
Jelana laid her down carefully. Then she looked around. “That last push was a little obvious, don’t you think?” she said, disapprovingly. “You could have been more gentle.”
“She will wake up feeling better,” a voice said, as a man entered the clearing.
“You don’t need to watch her, Daved?”
“She will just sleep now, and awaken on her own.” Daved came and stood next to Jelana, looking down at An’s sleeping figure. He reached down and brushed the hair out of An’s eyes. “It was the Other?” Daved asked.
“Five years ago? Certainly. Daved, will she remember our talk when she wakes up?”
“Do you wish her to?”
“It’ll make things easier when I tell her Mattan’s side of the story.”
Daved nodded. “Then she will remember.” He frowned for a moment. “But she will not remember the shame of her tears, though.” He frowned again. “Why should she be ashamed of crying anyway?”
Jelana smiled. “Still things you do not understand, love? An thinks of herself as strong. She thinks crying is weak. so she doesn’t like admitting that even she cries from time to time.”
He stood considering this for a moment, his hand reaching over to take Jelana’s. Then he shook his head. “It still makes no sense, love,” he said, plaintively. “She was deeply injured those years ago. They both were. And all the rest of the time the Other has injured her. Why should the tears of remembering bring her shame?”
Jelana laughed and hugged him. “You do well enough for a bunch of trees,” she said. “Even I don’t always understand humans, even after being raised by them.”
* * *
An woke up again, and looked around, puzzled. It was much darker than it usually was when she awoke out here. Jelana wasn’t around. She touched the wood of the bench she was lying on, but she didn’t sense Daved’s attention. We was still there, of course, but it felt like his attention was far off.
“Hello?” An called out, uncertainly.
“An!” Jelana’s voice sounded a bit breathless, if that were possible, then both she and Daved bounced into the clearing, both looking just the slightest bit disheveled. “You’re awake!”
An eyed them both suspiciously. “What have the two of you been up to? Daved, you have leaves in your hair.”
Daved reached up self-consciously, and plucked the leaves from his hair.
“We were dancing,” Jelana told her. “How are you feeling, An? What do you remember?”
An looked puzzled for a moment. “About what?” she asked. Then she glared at Daved. “Twice! You put me to sleep twice! I’ve told you not to do that! At least not until I was ready. And ask first.”
“I am sorry, I forgot. I will try to remember to ask,” Daved told her. “But you needed the rest.”
She glared at him for a moment more, then turned her attention to Jelana. “And you! You made me tell you about Mattan, all those years ago. Why? It still hurts.”
“Of course it does, An.” Jelana came and sat beside her, and Daved faded back into the woods. An felt his attention resume in the wood of the bench. Jelana continued, “it is important.” She paused. “An, you hit him.”
An looked at her, puzzled. “Who? Daved? No, wait, Jasin, earlier.”
“No, not today. Five years ago. You slapped Mattan.”
An shook her head. “No, that can’t be right. I’d remember. I wouldn’t hit have slapped him.”
“It wasn’t really you, it was the Other.”
An shook her head harder. “No. The Other wasn’t that strong back then. You remember, we talked about how it’s been growing. It couldn’t have done that.”
“We were wrong.” Jelana looked at her closely. “That’s why I kept asking about the Star-Stone. We already knew its magic kept the Other repressed. Without the Star-Stone, and with sufficient motivation, she could control you that much. It’s even possible that she was able to influence you indirectly into not wearing it that night in the first place.”
An drew back a little. “No wonder Mattan walked out.” She shook her head. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“Why didn’t either of you tell anyone else?” Jelana asked. “You might have straightened everything out long ago.”
“I couldn’t. It was personal, and I was ashamed.” She rubbed her hand across her eyes. “Great, now I’m crying again. I just wish I had known. I would have . . . I don’t know what I would have done. Mattan refused to even talk to me.”
“Enough of might-have-beens,” Jelana said. “Do you remember what happened last night? Today?”
“Last night? Why?” An considered. “I came to town. Jasin and Belinda were busy working, didn’t have time for me, so I went straight to my room to rest for a little bit. Woke up hours later. Had dinner late.” She sat up straight. “Mattan was there, wasn’t he? He came and sat with me.” She paused and thought some more. “I asked him to, didn’t I? I’m surprised he agreed. He must think I’m an idiot. I doubt I was making much sense.”
“He did mention that,” Jelana said. “That you were not making any sense, not that you were an idiot. He was very worried. Keep going.”
“Keep going? That’s all I . . . Oh, Mattan wanted to see my necklace. I was afraid to take it off, I was having enough trouble keeping in focus even with it, but of course I couldn’t tell Mattan that. So I let him touch it, and everything went blurry.” She shook her head. “What happened after that?”
Jelana smiled. “That fits with what he said.” she said. “I don’t know more. Now, about this morning?”
“This morning?” An considered again. “I got up, joined the family for breakfast. Couldn’t really eat, though. I should have come over then, but I wanted to spend what time I could with my nieces before they left. For all the good it did. We went and walked at the city park, climbed up to the top of the Overlook. I was fading in and out at that point, but was too stubborn to say anything. The cool breeze seemed to clear my head for a bit, but then things really started going weird, and I could hardly breathe, so I tried to go down the stairs, so I could go sit down on a bench on the Promenade, maybe get my breath back.”
“There are benches on top of the Overlook,” Jelana observed.
“I . . . I must not have been thinking clearly. Everything narrowed. Like I was in a well. Then, halfway down the hill, everything shut down. I couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t move, could barely breathe. I was so afraid I’d fall, and there were still so many steps.”
“You didn’t call out?”
“My voice was gone. Then someone caught my arm. Was that Mattan? What was he doing there? Things started clearing a bit, and I was less afraid.” She rubbed her arm, where Mattan had held it, and frowned. “Jasin was there, too, wasn’t he? Helping to hold me up. Jasin’s always been there for me, I don’t appreciate him enough.” She took a deep breath. “I could see a little, hear a little, then, but nothing really made sense. It took a moment for my mind to translate anything.” She shuddered. “What happened to me?”
Jelana looked at her. “Were you still frightened, An?”
“No. Yes. At the time I was terrified. I’m a little better now. What was Mattan doing there, anyway?”
“Arguing with my brother about cabinets,” Jelana said gravely.
“Never mind, go on.”
“That’s about it. Suddenly Tolly was there, and everything snapped back into place. For a little bit. I could see and hear and talk again. He walked me down to the bottom of the hill, and I sat on the bench. Then Mattan took me here. I don’t remember much else.”
“What about Jasin?”
“Jasin? What about him?” She suddenly sat up straighter. “I hit him, didn’t I? Jasin. How could I have done it?”
“It wasn’t you, and you didn’t.”
“Didn’t I?” An slumped in relief. “I tried, though, didn’t I?”
“It wasn’t you, An.”
“The Other again.” An closed her eyes and shook her head. “It grows stronger as I grow weaker, doesn’t it? It’s feeding off of me, isolating me, driving off the people I love. Even Jasin and Belinda pull away sometimes. Jasin always watches closely when I’m with his girls. Not that I can blame him. And Mattan, of course. And the Other isn’t even what’s going to kill me.”
“It’s all right, An,” Jelana said, gently taking her hand. “We have enough for now.”
“Daved’s not going to put me asleep again, is he?”
“No, no. You’ve had enough sleep here.”
“Why did Mattan have to come back? I was content enough without him.”
“It’s all right, An. I promised them I’d bring you back well, and we aren’t there yet. You need to be able to smile.”
“Smile?” An produced a weak parody of a smile. “You mean like this?”
“Somewhat. Only real. Is there anything *you* would like to talk about?”
“I’m no longer working. I thought maybe I’d move here, or possibly Sandy Beach, and continue my research, that I’ve always been too busy to do much with before. Then I’d always be close, and could come to the woods whenever I needed to. Maybe I could even do some traveling, see more of the world before I . . . before.”
Jelana looked at her. “You’re no longer working? Why? The Other again?”
An nodded. “Unfortunately. It started showing its face at work, insulting people, the last couple of months. People I considered friends. I couldn’t stop it. Not that I ever could, but sometimes, with Jasin and Belinda, or the girls, I seemed to be able to surface sooner. My bosses ‘suggested’ I take a six months leave, paid, to get myself under control again. So I took it. But there seems little point in going back.”
Jelana put her hand on An’s shoulder, comfortingly. “You’ve always loved your job.”
“It’ll be all right,” An said again. “I have often wished to have more time to visit Grandma, we could combine our research. But I’ve been afraid . . . afraid for years that if I spent more time with her, the Other might be able to drive her off, too.”
“You can’t be afraid, An. You’re stronger than the Other is. Don’t let her rule you.”
“Easy for you to say,” An said, rebelliously, then laughed. She grew serious again. “I still have to tell Jasin and Belinda that I’ll be looking for a place to live.” Her eyes went wide. “Oh, no!”
“What is it, An?”
“I’m not sure, but I think I may have told Mattan, last night. In the worst way possible. I’ve got to straighten things out.”
She started to stand up, but Jelana pushed her down again.
“Not yet, child. Unless you want to walk back to town on your own.”
“I could, though,” An said. “It’d only take me an hour. I have the energy now.”
“You only think you do. Soon, though.”
“Jasin and Mattan were talking about me last night,” An said thoughtfully. “So, if I told Mattan, he probably told Jasin, and everything Jasin knows, Belinda knows. What a mess!”
“We’ll figure things out, An. We’ve learned a few things, some today even. Daved thinks we’ll be able to figure out how to squash, or at least suppress the Other.”
“You think so?” An sat up straight again. “That’d be such a relief. I want to live for a long time, but if that won’t be possible, I want to at least be . . . be myself, not whatever the Other is.”
“An,” Jelana said solemnly, “I promise you this. I won’t let the Other take over you utterly. If that happens, if we’ve lost you completely, I won’t let it go on. I’ll kill you myself, first.”
An looked at her for a long moment. “I’m going to assume that you meant that to be comforting.”
“One more thing, child. . . “
“Yes, O ancient one?” An said with a little laugh.
“It’s time, An, it’s past time, to tell your family what’s going on. Tell Jasin, he’s guessed most of it already, he’ll help you tell the rest.” When An didn’t immediately answer, she continued, “If you don’t, An, I’ll tell him myself. I promise you that. It’s that important.”
An nodded. “Yes, You’re right, of course. I should have told him long ago. It’s just . . . it will be hard.” She stood up. “Should I tell Mattan?”
“I’ll give you what help I can, An. And whether or not you tell Mattan, well,” she paused, and gave An a long searching look, “that’s entirely up to you.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“You’re welcome. Come on, I’ll take you back.”
* * *
An walked into the sitting room, and stopped short when she saw Mattan sitting at the table, sketching. She stared at him, taken aback. “What are you doing here? How did you get in?”
“I just wanted to make sure that you made it back safely,” Mattan said, gathering up his papers, and stacking them neatly in a folder. “Jasin knows I’m here. Now that I know you’ve arrived, I’ll just be going.” He put the folder into his carrying bag.
“No, wait.” An took a deep breath. “Don’t go, yet. You just surprised me, that’s all.”
He stood up, and placed his carrying bag over his shoulder. “It’s all right, An,” he said. “I understand. I can go.”
“Mattan,” An said, taking a couple steps closer. “Please, stay. Jelana will come with Jasin in a moment, and I’ve got someth–“
The world collapsed around her, and she was floating in a familiar greyness, while static filled her ears. “Not now, not now, not now, not now–“
“Not now what?” Mattan’s voice came to her as from a great distance.
The world righted itself again, and she opened her eyes as the greyness receded back into everyday color. She found herself looking up into Mattan’s brown eyes, framed by the blue lashes and brows, as his hands gripped her upper arms, and he looked down at her, concerned. “What happened?” she asked fearfully, then swayed slightly.
Mattan steadied her. “Watch out. Are you all right?”
“I will be. What happened?”
“Nothing,” he said. “Well, almost nothing. You just took two steps toward me, and said ‘How dare you!'”
“How dare you what?”
“How should I know?” He looked at her closely. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“More or less.” she said. She touched her right hand to her temple. “How odd.”
“I don’t have a headache.” She looked up at him again. “Why are you holding on to me?”
He looked embarrassed. “I was afraid . . . I didn’t want to be slapped again. But you didn’t try.”
“Mattan, please,” she began, looking up into his face. She stopped, suddenly confused whether she wanted to say, “Let go of me,” or “I need a hug,” and continued staring into his eyes.
He looked back, waiting, then dropped his hands self-consciously. “I’m sorry, Ani–, I’m sorry, An,” he said. “I shouldn’t have . . .”
She shook her head. “It’s fine, Mattan,” she said. She looked up at him again, and frowned. “You’ve cut your hair. And not long ago. It’s still mostly brown.”
He laughed a little, and ran his hand through it. “I suppose I have,” he said.
“An, does it matter?”
She thought a bit. “No, I suppose it doesn’t. It’s your hair, after all.” She took a deep breath. “Mattan?”
“Were you trying to tell me something earlier? In the car I mean? You did drive me to Daved’s woods, right?”
“Don’t you remember?”
She shook her head again. “The last couple of days are sort of a haze,” she admitted. “I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I know I wasn’t thinking straight by then.”
He nodded. “All right, then. Ani, An, I mean, I tried to tell you, I tried to let you know . . .” he took a deep breath. “I was wrong, An. All those years ago. I was wrong. And I’m sorry. I hope you will be able to forgive me. Eventually.”
“Oh,” An said, her mind suddenly blank.
“That’s pretty much what you said earlier, too,” Mattan said. He gave a slight chuckle. “It’s all right, Ani-An. I understand.”
She shook her head, and sat down weakly. “I don’t know what to do with that.”
“With what?” came a voice from the doorway. Jasin and Jelana came into the room.
“Jasin!” She jumped up and gave her brother a hug. “I’m glad you came.”
“An,” Jasin said, hugging her back. Then he pulled back, and looked at her. “You’re looking much better.” He glanced over at Mattan, then back at An. “Jelana said you wanted to talk to me?”
“I was just leaving,” Mattan said, picking up his bag again.
“No, stay,” An said, holding his arm. “You’ve somehow become involved with this, too. Please.”
Mattan looked at her, then over at Jasin and Jelana, who was looking on in suppressed humor. “Anilyne . . . “
“An,” she said.
“An, then. Are you certain? I don’t want to impose on family.”
“Mattan,” Jasin said, “the lady asked you to stay. I suggest you do so.”
Mattan looked around at them all again, put down his bag, and sat down on a couch. “As you wish,” he said.
An sat down on the couch opposite him, her every line tense. Jelana slipped in behind her, putting her hands on An’s shoulders. Jasin sat down beside her.
“An, what is it? What did you wish to tell us?” Jasin said, gently.
She looked from Jasin to Mattan, and back again. Jelana gave her shoulders a little squeeze, and whispered, “Tell them, An. It’s time. It’s passed time.”
She nodded, and took a deep breath. “Might as well get the worst over with.” She took another deep breath. “I’m going to die.”
Neither man reacted to that, just continued to look at her encouragingly.
“You knew?” An said, outraged. “How did you know? Who told you?”
“You did, An,” Mattan said. “Last night. At least, I thought that’s what you meant.”
“I guessed months ago,” Jasin said. “But you never actually said anything, and I . . . I hoped I was wrong.”
“What happened, An?” Mattan asked. “Is there anything I can do?”
An started to shake her head, but Jelana gave her shoulders another little squeeze, and said, “That remains to be seen, Mattan. Go on, An.”
“Remember me giving the Star-Stone to Glorina a few years back, Jasin?” she asked.
He gave a little laugh. “Remember? How could I forget? Mom chewed my ear off every time we talked for months because of it. She couldn’t understand how I wasn’t outraged because of that on my girls’ behalf.”
“I’m sorry, Jasin. I didn’t know,” An said. “Mom was plenty angry with me herself, but I didn’t realize she took it out on you.”
“Go on, An.”
“Anyway, I knew it protected me from other magic, but I never realized how much until after it was gone.”
“I thought you gave up on seeking other magic,” Jasin said. “That you passed on the task of working on bringing back magic safely.”
“I did give it up. By that time, there were so many others doing the same thing.” She smiled ruefully. “But it apparently had not given *me* up. Remember why I had to quickly learn to do it in the first place?”
“You sort of ‘fell into it’,” Jasin said with a chuckle.
“Yes, and that still kept happening,” An said. “I always thought the Stone was doing that, but it must have been me.”
“I’m not surprised,” Jasin said, thoughtfully. “Remember? When we were bringing back the unicorns, you fell into that sinkhole to find the buried unicorn horns. And a couple other things as well.”
She frowned. “Was that before I got the Star-Stone? I had forgotten.” She shook her head to clear it, then looked over at Mattan. “You remember that?”
“I’m not sure you ever told me that part,” he told her.
“Mattan, I’ve heard you can sense magic. Is that right?”
“Yes, somewhat,” Mattan said cautiously.
She held out her right hand to him. “Can you feel anything?”
“An . . .” He looked at her for a moment. “I’ll try. But I think you won’t learn anything that Jelana and Daved haven’t already told you.”
He moved over to sit beside her on the couch, took her hand in his, and closed his eyes. After a moment, he shook his head. “If I may, Anilyne. An.” he said absently, and placed his hand on her shoulder. Jelana stepped back a little. Mattan frowned, and sat silently for another few moments, a listening expression on his face. Neither An nor Jasin said anything.
Mattan removed his hand from her shoulder, and sat back. “That was . . . odd,” he said.
“What was?” An asked, curiously.
“At least it wasn’t that writhing mess of earlier today,” Mattan said. “I don’t know. What did you do to yourself?”
“Nothing. It was an accident,” An said.
“I don’t think you could do that accidently,” Mattan said.
“It depends on how hard you try.”
“How hard did you try, An?”
“Never mind all that. What did you see, Mattan?” Jelana asked.
“It’s like . . . two branches, ropes, tentacles, I don’t know what, twisted, intertwined, knotted together. I don’t know. Either one alone, I could probably draw out, with time, but not they way they’re knotted.” He looked up at Jelana, who had placed her hands back on An’s shoulders. “Could they be . . . cut?”
“Not where the know is, Mattan,” Jelana said softly. “We thought about that. If we had known . . . she didn’t come to us until later. But that knot . . . It’s right in the middle of her personality. If we cut there, we’d lose An, too. She’d still be alive, probably, but she wouldn’t be *An* anymore.”
“Oh,” Mattan looked shaken. “We can’t have that.”
“Definitely not,” Jasin said. “An, what happened? How long have you known? Why didn’t you tell me?
“I got hit by one blast, the first worm or whatever you want to call it, a few months after I gave the Star-Stone to Glorina. I was out at the Library ruins at Haranbeth, and leaned against a stone wall, and fell through. Of course, the archeologists were all excited, because there had been nothing to indicate that there was anything behind that wall. But I found myself in a small room, filled with small items, a lot of artwork, pottery, statues. Tolly would have been thrilled. I think at least a few pieces have ended up in his collection, later. But one piece, I hardly noticed it, but I picked it up without thinking. I don’t even know what it looked like. But I had to reach around other more interesting pieces to find it. Idiot. I should have thought, then I would have left it alone. But, anyway, it bit me, or gave off a spark, something, and I dropped it. It exploded with bright light, and shattered into dust. And don’t think I didn’t get chewed out by the archeologists for destroying a priceless artifact. I didn’t know what happened then, but I know something changed then.”
“What changed, An?”
“I don’t think whatever it was was evil, just left unattended too long. Perhaps it was poorly fashioned to begin with, and when the magic started coming back, it was left unbalanced.”
Jelana said, “Jasin, she came to visit you a few weeks later, remember? Winter festival?”
Jasin frowned. “Which year was that?”
“(*Daughter 1*) had just been (*whatevered*),” An said.
Jasin’s face cleared. “Yes, I remember. An was a bit withdrawn that season. I didn’t think anything of it then, maybe she was tired. But later . . .”
“Daved saw her at that dinner, and told me she was under some sort of magical malignancy. We called her out to the woods . . . “
“I didn’t really want to go. It was cold. Though I’ve been out there in worse weather since. I’d not been feeling myself for a couple of weeks, but just thought I was coming down with something.”
“Daved could see her better in his own woods, but couldn’t quite figure out how to draw it out yet. It’s a lot easier to add magic to something, someone, than to pull it out. It was quite small, and we thought we’d have plenty of time to figure out how to get rid of it before it grew big enough to be more than just a bother. So we decided to just seek council at that point.”
“It wasn’t going to be more than a nuisance,” An said. “Tire me out, that sort of thing. Once I knew what was there, I could compensate for it.”
“We should have done more,” Jelana said. “We didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Mattan looked grim. “That’s why you kept saying you wish you had known about me sooner. I could have drawn out that one strand. It just would have taken time. Perhaps with some help from someone who could see better.”
Jelana nodded. “If we had any indication that you could do that, we would have called you in, no matter what had gone wrong between the two of you.”
“So,” Jasin said, “you didn’t tell me at the time because it seemed like no big deal. You don’t tell me every time you catch a cold, after all. Then what happened?”
“I was up in Lichtenland. Mostly for the skiing up in the Kirion Mountains. I also stopped by the Viltin Library, to visit Peter.”
“Peter mentioned you’d been there,” Jasin said. “He didn’t mention anything happening, though.”
“He might not have known. I’d gone off for a walk, by myself this time, not with friends like at Haranbeth. Out on some trails, well marked. I’d been there before, thought it was safe. Thought that if there was anything there to open it, it would have long ago.”
“But you were wrong.”
“But I was wrong. I was just out of sight of the Library walls, when I saw a flash of light off to one side, and stepped off the path to see what it was. The ground opened up beneath me, and I found myself in a cave, with sparkling light.” She stopped for a moment.
“Go on,” Jelana told her.
“It was evil. I don’t know how long it’d been there, who put it there, or why. It was on a long, low shelf of rock. I could barely see it through the sparkling lights, other than the glowing eyes, but it called to me, and I picked it up.” She put out her right hand, as if in memory. “And then, my other hand knocked it down. Like before, it gave a bright light, and shattered into dust.” She shook her head to clear it. “And there I was, in an ordinary looking cave, just grey rock. Not even any interesting colors. I could see and breathe again. But the evil was gone.”
“Inside of you?” Mattan asked.
“No, we don’t think so,” Jelana said. “Just the power entered her, not the intent. Though if she had held it longer, taken it out of there, who knows what would have happened.”
“Wait a minute,” Jasin said. “I thought that magic was just a power, and couldn’t really be good or evil on it’s own, just what you did with it.”
“True,” Jelana said. “Raw magic. But when many people, over a long time, use magic for evil in one spot, or with one artifact, it becomes harder to do any good with it. It twists. And some magic bound items are twisted to evil, just like the Star-Stone, and the Sun-Stone and Moon-Stone, for that matter, are twisted to good.”
“I told the grounds people at the Library about the cave that I found, so they could block it off again, but didn’t tell them what I had found there, since it was gone without a trace. Later, they asked me how I had managed to make footprints leaving the cave in the dust, without having made any going in. When I tried telling them that the dust wasn’t there when I went in, they just gave me funny looks.”
“So, there was no evidence about what you saw,” Jasin said.
“Daved and I visited there after An told us the story,” Jelana said. “Enough time had passed, and enough other people had visited the cave that it was hard to get all the details. There was obviously a higher residual background magic level there, but not much else. Daved said there had been protections set up there, whether to protect the cave, or the outside, he didn’t know. But they had worn thin long ago. Probably before the magic went away. And when it came back, the protections were almost gone. But once An broke the statue, the magic bound to it . . . untwisted . . . and tore and scattered the statue apart. There had been other magical devices keeping the area preserved, but they were all bound together, with the statue as their center-point, and when the statue shattered, they all turned to dust as well.”
“It was right next to the Library, Jasin,” An said. “When the magic was gone, it would have been mostly harmless. But when it came back, at best it was a slow poison to the kids and teachers there. But at worst . . . what if one of them had found it instead of me? It may have been a while before anyone found it, but it would grow stronger. Strong enough to call someone to it, and then who knows what would have happened?”
“So, it hit you when you broke it,” Mattan said, “but it was no longer evil?”
“No longer evil, but still strong and concentrated magic in that cave. It dissipated almost instantly, by the time anyone else came back, it’d be hardly noticeable.
Mattan nodded. “And this formed the second worm-string thing? But how did they get tangled together like that?”
An and Jelana exchanged glances. “We don’t know, Mattan,” An said. “It took me a while to realize that still more was wrong. I think there was something else interfering with my perception.”
“It was the Other,” Jelana said, flatly.
“You don’t know that,” An protested.
“An, we’ve been over this. If you had gone to someone less perceptive than Daved, they probably would have seen the same short-cut, like Mattan suggested, of cutting the knot. And, unless they were super-skillful, you would be gone, and the Other would have been able to pick up the discarded personality fragments, and take over, and no one would have been the wiser.”
Mattan shuddered. “An would have been gone, and no one would even have noticed?”
“Depending on how clever the Other was, not for a long time. Daved and I would have seen, but only because we knew An in the first place.”
Jasin turned pale, and left the room hurriedly.
“Mattan, Jelana, please,” An said, weakly. “Enough of this.”
“An,” Jelana said gently, “it won’t happen now.”
“Not that way,” An said. “But the Other has been growing stronger. You know it has. And it’s been leaking. Sometimes . . . I have trouble telling which thoughts are mine, anymore.”
“This ‘Other'”, Mattan said. “I’ve heard An talk about it before. What is it? Where did it come from?”
“I wish we knew, Mattan,” Jelana said. “She’s been with An for as long as I’ve known her.”
Jasin frowned. “An started developing those ‘death glares’ back when she was attending Library. Mom thought it must have been something neurological, and took her to doctor after doctor.”
“No one could find anything wrong,” An said. “I finally had to put my foot down and say, ‘No more tests!’ They weren’t finding anything, and the tests kept getting more and more invasive. Of course, magic was still almost unheard of then, so none of them even considered the possibility.”
“Mom still doesn’t believe in magic,” Jasin remarked.
Mattan looked from one to the other. “But . . . didn’t she carry the Star-Stone for years before An did? How could that work?”
“We don’t know, Mattan,” An said. “She only wore it occasionally, but still . . . she must have at least seen it glowing at night.”
“Illusion,” Jelana said. “Like those performers do. One can accept almost anything, if one doesn’t believe it’s real. She just knows better than to believe everything she sees.”
“A useful trait sometimes, certainly,” Mattan said. “But still . . .”
“So, I can’t tell her about everything I’ve been doing to bring magic back safely. I can’t make her understand why I passed the Star-Stone off to Glorina rather than to one of Jasin’s girls, or Thrandri, or her daughter. And I can’t tell her why I’m dying.”
“Stop a moment, back up,” Jasin said. “Why are you dying? What are those . . . things doing to you?”
“Swelling up with magic, for one thing,” Mattan said. “There on the stairs this morning, she was so full of magic, she couldn’t process anything anymore.”
“Daved can drain off the magic,” Jelana said. “But we can’t get rid of those things, or even stop them from growing. So they just fill up again.”
“And the more they grow, the faster they fill,” An said. “And apparently, they give me very few symptoms until they’re just about ready to burst.”
“Part of that is the necklace,” Jelana said. “It helps slow down the magic absorption, but it also helps hide the symptoms. We wanted you to be able to live as normally as possible between drainings.”
“It isn’t working,” Jasin said.
“‘As normally as possible,'” An said, tiredly, rubbing her temple. “Not ‘completely normal’. It’d be far worse otherwise. Please, the magic is tearing me apart. Perhaps literally. But I’m not dead yet. Can we talk about something else now?”
“You’ll have to tell Mom,” Jasin said. “And Thrandri.”
“I know,” An said. “But not tonight. I’ve had enough to do tonight.”
“I’ll help you, An,” Jasin said. “we should be able to find some way to explain this that will even satisfy Mom.”
An nodded, and relaxed back into the couch. After a moment, Jelana gave her shoulders a final squeeze, and stepped back.
“Mattan,” Jasin said, looking at them both, “You’re still holding An’s hand.”
“Am I?” Mattan looked down to where their hands were joined. “An, I’m sorry, I didn’t think . . .” He tried to pull his hand away, but An just held on to it tighter.
“Jasin,” An said softly, “mind your own business.”
“So, that’s how it is?” Jasin said, trying to hide a smile. He casually stood up, and put his hand on An’s shoulder. “Good luck, sis,” he said. Then, looking over at Mattan, “And you, I’ll be watching. Don’t you dare hurt my sister again. And do try to keep that idiotic grin off your face.”
“Jasin,” An said, looking up at him. “Go away.”
“I’m going, I’m going,” Jasin said. Jelana lightly gave An’s shoulder a squeeze, then followed Jasin out of the room.
An and Mattan sat for a few more minutes on the couch. An didn’t say anything, or look at him, but neither did she relinquish his hand.
“Anilyne,” Mattan said, after a bit, “What’s going on?”
“‘An'”, she said automatically.
“Mattan, I’m sorry, I’m just . . . I’m just terrified. Every time I’m happy, something terrible happens. I’m afraid . . . if I let myself . . . I might be about to let myself be happy.”
Mattan thought for a bit. “An,” he said, quietly, “Was the last time you were happy . . . five years ago?”
She looked at him and smiled a bit. “Don’t flatter yourself. Of course that wasn’t the last time I was happy. That wasn’t even the worst result from being happy. But I’ve learned to watch my feelings, to be careful not to let them run too high.”
“We’ll find a way, Ani-An. I promise you that I will find a way to free you to be happy again.”
She looked up at him. “No, Mattan. Don’t promise. Not when you don’t know what to do about it.” She took a deep breath. “For now, let’s just start with having supper. I’m starved.”
“I’ll bet you are. When’s the last time you’ve eaten? Where would you like to go?”
“When? Probably breakfast.” She furrowed her brows a little. “No, I couldn’t eat more than a bite then. Last night? But most of that . . . never mind. Where? Anywhere but here. Too many eyes that know me here.”
“Those eyes only want the best for you.” Mattan thought a minute. “I know a little place out in Sandy Beach. Serves Toleran food. Though that’s close enough we can’t guarantee that we won’t meet anyone who knows you, though.”
“That’ll be fine.” An smiled. “Just give me a few minutes to get ready.
* * *
Later, much later, Jelana entered the sitting room, and found Mattan sitting on the couch, half dozing, with An sleeping beside him, her head in his lap.
“What have we here?” Jelana asked merrily.
“Anilyne asked me to stay a bit,” he said. “She said something about being afraid of nightmares. Though I suppose that that might have been some sort of ruse. He looked down at her face, and lightly brushed the hair out of her eyes. “Then she fell asleep, and I’ve been afraid to move since.”
“It wasn’t a ruse,” Jelana said, coming and sitting on the couch opposite. “An has nightmares, terrible nightmares, especially the first couple nights after we drain the magic off. I try to stay nearby when I can. Usually I can ease her out of a nightmare, sometimes even without her fully.” She looked down at the sleeping figure. “Usually. After the first couple of nights, they apparently go down to a much lower level. I think. An stops complaining, anyway.”
“Poor Anilyne,” Mattan said, putting his hand on her shoulder. “And I think we’ve seen how bad things get before she starts complaining. But I haven’t seen any signs of a nightmare, she’s been sleeping peacefully.”
“It would have been obvious,” Jelana said. “Interesting.” But she didn’t say what she found interesting. “So, how was the evening?”
“Ugh, don’t ask. If our goal was to keep Anilyne from being happy, then tonight made good progress toward that. Though at least she was a good sport about things.”
“So, what happened?”
“Let’s just say I should have taken her somewhere else. Anywhere else. Though not here, of course. Or I should have said no, instead of just assuring Anilyne things would just take a few minutes.”
Jelana laughed quietly. “It couldn’t have been as bad as all that.”
She looked him over. “So, how are you doing, Mattan?”
“I’ve slept a little, I think,” Mattan said. “But I need to get up early tomorrow, I mean today,” he corrected, glancing at the clock, “to play the organ at the Gathering. I’d really prefer to have a few hours sleeping horizontally beforehand.” He smiled down at An’s sleeping face. “She is beautiful, isn’t she?”
“You need to tell her that, not me,” Jelana said, half teasing. “Because it seems that telling *me* An’s beautiful really won’t get you anywhere at all.”
“But I’m not . . . I must have told her that, sometime or other, all the time we spent talking.”
Jelana laughed. “All that time you spent talking, and how little you two actually know about each other. What did you talk about anyway?” She put her hand out, as Mattan opened his mouth. “No, don’t answer that.” She looked at the sleeping An thoughtfully. “I think we’ll be able to let you go get your rest, Mattan,” she said.
“I don’t want to wake her.”
“Don’t worry about that. We’ll manage. And if she wakes up, I’ll see to it that she goes back to sleep again.”
“She hates being made to sleep.”
“I know. That wasn’t what I meant.” Her face softened as she looks at Mattan. “I’ll sit with her, Mattan. I don’t need sleep the same way you do.”
He nodded. “What where you thinking?”
“I’ll just slip this pillow under her head,” she said, holding one from the couch. “And you slip out. If we do it smoothly enough, she won’t even notice.”
“All right,” Mattan said, dubiously. “Let’s try it.”
They made the exchange, and An didn’t awaken, though she mumbled a few words they couldn’t quite hear.
Mattan stood looking at her for a little bit more.
“Go on home, Mattan,” Jelana said. “I’ll keep watch.”
Mattan nodded, and started to walk off.
“Oh, one more thing, Mattan,” Jelana said after him. “Be careful. Somehow or other, you seem to be giving the Other strength.”
“What? I can’t be.”
“The Other surfaces far more often when you’re around.” She held up her hand to stop his protest. “It’s true. She’s surfaced three times in the past two days, each time when you were near. Most of the time, it can be months between surfacing.” Jelana looked down at An’s face. “Long enough that An can start to forget and allow herself to be happy again, until . . .”
“Something bad happens,” Mattan finished for her. “Something bad always happens when she’s happy, she says. Jelana, I’ll do whatever I can for her. Should I stay away from her?”
“No, Mattan. You also seem to give An herself strength. But don’t marry her, until we’ve gotten rid of the Other.”
“Who said anything about marriage?” Mattan said, and left.