“Are you ready to start?” Jelana asked.
“No,” An said. “But let’s get it over with. I don’t think I can go to sleep with everyone watching me anyway.”
“Well, not if you’re tensed up like that,” Jelana remarked. “Lean back, close your eyes, and breath slowly. Think of things that make you happy.”
“Happy,” An murmured. Her eyes flicked to Mattan and back. “I still can’t believe you managed to talk me into this.”
“You’ll be safe,” Jelana assured her. “If this works, it’ll teach us how we can rid you of the Other for good.”
“In the meantime, I’ve got to let it take me over. On purpose.” She shuddered. “Just like I’ve been trying to keep from happening.”
“It’s all right, An,” Jelana said again. “I’m here, Mattan is here, Tolly’s in the next room. Naught will happen to you.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about,” An muttered. “I wish Jasin were here, too.”
Jelana and Mattan exchanged glances. “We’ve been over this, Anilyne,” Mattan said. “Jasin would be unprotected in the face of magic. Jelana can’t be hurt, and I’m at least somewhat protected from it. Tolly can shut it down entirely, just by entering the room.”
“But we don’t know that the Other uses magic,” An said.
“The Other is magic. She eats it,” Jelana said. “I’ve felt it, Mattan’s felt it. But we can’t get rid of her until we can find her. We’re trying to force her out into the open by making her feel stronger.”
“You know the Other can hear every word you say,” An said. “It’ll know this is a trap.”
“We’re hoping it’ll be too arrogant to care,” Mattan said.
“This isn’t going to work,” An said again. “Or if it does, it’ll be just what it wants. The Other is too smart for you.
“Hush now,” Jelana said. “Look at me, An.”
An looked. Jelana took her hands. Jelana’s hands turned to water, covering An’s hands thoroughly. “Relax, relax, breathe slowly. All will be well.”
An’s eyes closed. “I know what you’re doing,” she said, without opening her eyes.
“Of course you do,” Jelana said, her voice still calm and soothing. “I learned it from watching you.”
“Should have known better,” An said, but sounding much more relaxed. She took a deep breath.
Then, suddenly, her face changed, and her eyes opened. Jelana pulled back.
“You wanted to talk to me, did you? I’m here.” She glared at Mattan. “Arrogant, am I? You should talk.”
“Yes, you are here,” Jelana said. “Do you have a name?”
“Don’t you wish you knew, water-girl? Names give power, I learned that long ago.” She continued to glare at Mattan. “Mattan Olmin. Mattan Oldman. Mattan Tollson. How long has it been since you went by your real name?”
“I’ve never denied–” Mattan began, but Jelana shook her head.
“Don’t debate with her,” she said.
An’s face smirked. “You think you’ll find something out. But you won’t.” She glared at Mattan again. “She’s not for you, old man. I’ve been watching. I’ve kept her from you before, and I’ll do it again. She’s not as strong as you think.” She looked at Jelana. “Giving me power won’t help you find me. It’ll just make it easier for me to finally, finally, get rid of her. I’ve been waiting long enough. And he won’t be able to do anything but watch.” She looked at Mattan again. “It hurts, doesn’t it, hearing my words coming out of her mouth? I’ll hurt you worse by the time I’ve finished with her.”
Jelana said, “Why? You don’t like me, but you really hate him. Why?”
“An likes him. Isn’t that enough?” She threw back her head and laughed. “And you don’t know who I am.”
Mattan turned his face away. “I never knew I could hate An’s laugh,” he said.
“Yes, turn away,” An’s voice said, with bitter mockery. “Just like you’ve always done. Where were you when she needed you? An’s dying now. You could have prevented it. Turn away. Just like you did with me. And I’m glad. I’m glad. I’m glad I drove you away, drove everyone away. I’ll drive Jasin away too, everyone she loves. She can’t stop me. You can’t stop me. Didn’t even know I was here, did you?”
“Mattan,” Jelana said warningly. “Don’t listen.”
He turned back to face An. “An, that’s enough,” he said, very sternly.
“That’s enough, An,” she said, mockingly. “Think that will work now? An’s not here, Mattan. I’m the stronger one now.” For a moment, a flicker of emotions crossed her face, then settled again in that cruel mockery.
Mattan took a step closer. “No. You won’t win this.”
An’s face smiled. “Oh, won’t I?” Suddenly her hand reached under the pillow, and pulled out a knife.
“Watch out, Mattan!” Jelana shoved him out of the way as the knife slashed out. It went right through Jelana, leaving her unharmed. “I won’t let you touch him,” she said.
An smiled even wider. “You won’t have to.” She turned the knife around.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Jelana said, and grabbed both her hands. Her hands turned to water.
An smiled even wider, and didn’t even attempt to pull her hands away. “Think you can hold me this way, do you?” she said, contemptuously.
“Yes,” Jelana said.
“Oh, you’re strong, all right. I’ve seen what you can do with those hands of yours. But you don’t know everything, you see.”
Mattan grew cold seeing the smile grow even brighter. “Look out!” he shouted, trying to reach for Jelana.
But it was too late. Lightning arcs, blue and yellow, covered both women, dancing upon their skin, focusing on their joined hands. Blue, green, white, brilliant flashes.
For half a second, Mattan stood frozen, as neither of the women made a sound. Even the lightning flashes were silent. Then he bellowed, “Tolly! Help!” and took one step forward to grab both Jelana and An by the arms to try to separate them. He felt the magic lightning dance over his own skin, and felt his body trying to pull in the magic, the antsy feeling he got when he pulled in too much magic, with no way to release it, increased ten-fold.
Tolly came bursting in through the door, and took in the scene in a moment, the three of them locked onto each other, Mattan’s hair blazing like blue fire. He ran toward them, but before he reached them, Jelana arched away from the other two, and fell backward. Tolly reached out to catch her, but she turned to water as she reached him, and splashed onto the carpet. For a moment the water beaded on the surface of the carpet, then began soaking in.
“Jelana!” Tolly shouted, kneeling to touch the surface of the puddle. “Sister!” He got no response, then stood again, and faced the other two.
“What happened?” Tolly demanded.
Mattan was still grasping An’s arms. “I don’t know. But Anilyne isn’t breathing.” He gently lay her down, and took a deep breath.
“But what about Jelana?” Tolly asked.
Mattan spared a glance at the puddle. “I don’t know. I can’t help her. I might be able to help Anilyne. Leave me alone.” He took another deep breath, and began mouth-to-mouth on An.
Tolly sat next to the puddle, and gently ran his fingers over its surface. “I’m here, sister, Jelana,” he said. “We’ve always said, naught can really harm you. I hope it’s true.” He sat back and covered his face with his hands. “After all these years . . . millennia. I thought she’d outlive all of us.”
An coughed. Mattan drew back, as An coughed again, and her face regained color as she resumed breathing. “Good girl,” he murmured, and smiled gently as he ran his fingers lightly down her cheek. Suddenly he stiffened, and pulled his hand away.
“Tolly,” he said in a strangled voice, “step away.”
“But, Jelana . . .”
“Tolly, step away.” His voice was filled with anguish.
Tolly rose and went to the far side of the “What–“
“Whatever happened,” Mattan said, coming to sand by him. “Whatever happened, pulled all the energy out of Anilyne’s body. Do you understand me?” Mattan was pale and shaking. He sat down abruptly on the floor, and crossed his arms over his knees, and buried his face in them. “That means . . . that means the only thing keeping her alive at the moment . . . is the little magic that leaches out from those magical growths that are killing her.” He was quiet for a long moment. “Which means, if you go near her . . . if I touch her . . . she’ll die. And we’ll have killed her.” His voice dropped off to a whisper.
“No . . .” Tolly said, horror slipping into his own voice. He took a deep breath, and steadied himself. “I’ll get Jasin. Someone ought to stay with her.” He went over, and pulled the door open with a bang, and jumped back.
Jasin stood blinking on the other side of it, his arm raised to knock. “I heard shouting,” he began, then Tolly grabbed him by the arm, pulled him into the room, and shoved him toward An. “Ow! Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”
“An’s dying,” Tolly said bluntly. “We need someone to stay by her and keep her breathing.”
“An?” He was next to her in a flash, and touched her face gently. “Poor An. What have they been doing to you?” He sat on the couch, and drew her head onto his lap. He glared at the other two men. “What have you done to An? He looked around the room. “And where’s Jelana?”
“There,” Tolly said, indicating the puddle on the carpet. “My sister is there.” He sat down next to Mattan, his face likewise buried in his arms.
Jasin looked from one to the other, helplessly, then back to the pale on his lap. “What happened?”
“We were arrogant,” Mattan said, not raising his head. “We kept telling Anilyne that nothing could go wrong, that between the three of us, we could stop anything the Other did. But what did we know?”
Jasin found himself staring at the wet spot on the carpet. “Jelana?” he said. “Is she . . . alive?”
“I don’t know,” Tolly said, wearily. “I don’t . . . hear anything when I touch the water. It just feels like water. But we’ve always said, naught can really harm her . . . so, I don’t know.”
Jasin nodded, then said, “Have either of you called Daved? Let him know?”
Tolly and Mattan looked at each other. “Ah, no,” Tolly said. “That would be a good idea, wouldn’t it?”
Jasin sighed, and shook his head. Then sat up suddenly as An murmured, barely audibly, “No need . . . Daved coming.”
“What was that, An?” Jasin said.
“I’m here, An.”
“Jelana? I . . . killed her.”
Jasin looked helplessly at the other two. “We don’t know that, An. Need to wait and see what happens.”
“Necklace . . . Jelana . . . Daved . . . strength,” An murmured, each word softer than the one before.
“What was that, An?” Jasin said. “I didn’t understand it.”
“Jelana . . . necklace . . . strength,” An said again. “Help.” Each word was slower and softer still.
“Something about a necklace, Jelana, and strength,” Jasin said to the other two. “Do you understand what she’s trying to say?”
Mattan looked up. “Daved gave Anilyne that necklace,” he said. “His magic is in it. Maybe Jelana can get strength from it.”
“Is that what you meant, An?” Jasin said.
“Ye . . .” An’s voice tapered off.
Jasin shrugged. “Worth a try, I guess,” he said, carefully working the necklace around her head.
“Jasin . . . Mattan . . . goodbye,” An whispered, then gave a large exhale.
“No, you’re staying with us,” Jasin said. “An, keep breathing.” He gave a sigh of relief when An inhaled again.
Jasin handed the necklace by it’s chain over to Mattan, who carefully laid it on the puddle on the carpet. He watched it for a moment.
“I think it’s doing something,” Mattan reported. “The water is gathering around the necklace, covering it.”
Tolly sat up and looked closely. He sighed with relief. Besides the water forming a shell around the necklace, it appeared to be rising out of the carpet a little, sparkling on the surface.
“You’ll be all right, Sister,” he said, patting the surface of the water. Then he smiled. “I can hear her again. She isn’t really saying anything, but she’s there.” He looked around at the others. “I’ll go call Daved.” He quickly got up to leave the room.
“Tolly,” Jasin called, just as he reached the door, “Call Belinda as well. Let her know . . . Tell her I won’t be back.”
Tolly nodded. “Will do, Jasin,” he said, and left.
Jasin sat softly talking to An, while Mattan sat and watched the shimmering surface of the puddle from the other side of the room, while he tried to think of something he could do that wouldn’t make things worse.
Tolly came back and sat beside Mattan. “I left a message for Daved,” he said. “He didn’t answer. But he seldom does. If he’s on his way, like An said, it won’t matter. But if not . . . at least he will have heard.” They both sat silently for a few more minutes.
Then there came a demanding knock on the door. Before Tolly could get up and answer it, the door banged open, and Daved strode in.
“Never seen him move that fast,” Mattan murmured.
“What happened to my wife?” Daved demanded. “What have you done to her?”
“She’s here,” Tolly said gently, pointing to the puddle. “We haven’t be able to reach her. But we think she’s still there.”
“Of course she is,” Daved said harshly, brushing past him. “What happened?” He dropped down beside the puddle and lightly ran his fingers over its surface. “Worse than I thought,” he said, his voice softening. “But you’ll be all right, my love. Soon, you’ll be all right.” He looked around, his hand still on the puddle, and stared at Mattan. “Tell me what happened.”
Mattan gave a short summary of the evening, in a low, monotone voice.
“I see,” Daved said, when he had finished. “Rather made a mess of things, didn’t you, son?” He looked down at the puddle. “Love, how could you have been so foolish?” He looked over at Jasin. “And, An?”
“Still breathing,” Jasin said. “But she hasn’t said anything else.”
“Let me know if that changes,” Daved said. He picked up the necklace, and brought it back to An. “This was a good idea,” he told her, as he gently placed the necklace back over her head. He briefly took her hands. “I’ll tend to you later, An. You just hang on. Do you understand?” He waited for a moment. “She lies. You just hang on.” He waited a moment more, then nodded, and released her hands. “Good.”
He stood. “So much to do,” he muttered. “So much to do.” He went to the closet, and pulled out a large wooden bucket.
“Was that there before?” Mattan quietly asked Jasin.
“No, hush,” Jasin said.
Daved put the bucket down beside the puddle, and frowned as he sat down beside it. He ran his hand lightly over the puddle’s surface. “I’ll think of something, love. We won’t leave you there.” He paused. “Yes, I know it must be uncomfortable.”
Tolly smiled ruefully. “I couldn’t get anything off of her at all.”
Daved glanced at him. “I’ve been lending her some strength. And she’s not nearly as . . . loud as usual. But she does know you’re here, and it means a lot to her.” He thought for a moment. “Can one of you get me a towel? A large one? And wet?”
“I’ll get it,” Tolly said. “Jasin, are they where they used to be?”
Jasin nodded. “Haven’t changed that much in the guest-rooms since you sold us the place, Tolly.”
After a moment, Tolly returned with a large wet towel, and handed it to Daved.
“Thank you,” Daved said gravely, and took it, and draped it over the edge of the bucket, one end in the puddle. “Can you climb this, my love? I’ll lend you what strength I can.” He sat with one hand on the puddle, and the other one in the bucket. He looked around at the others. “This will take a while,” he said. “Then, I will see if I can do anything for An.” Then he lowered his head to concentrate on the bucket, seeming to turn to a wooden statue.
No one said anything for a long while. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, at first no more than a drop at a time, water began to fill the bucket, and the puddle began to shrink. After about half an hour, the water had filled perhaps a third of the bucket.
Suddenly, loud in the silence, though he spoke softly, Jasin said, “An’s stopped breathing.”
Mattan started up, but Tolly’s hand on his shoulder made him sit again.
Daved looked up, then said to the puddle, “You just keep going. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Daved went and sat next to An, and took her hands. After a moment, she gave a long shuddering breath.
“An,” Daved said. Then, more sternly, “An!” Her eyes opened, and looked at him. “Not you!” he said. “I want An.” He flicked his finger against her forehead, drawing a “Hey!” of protest from Jasin. Daved glanced at him. “The Other didn’t think I’d know the difference,” he said.
An’s eyes closed slowly, then opened again.
“That’s better,” Daved said with satisfaction, though Jasin couldn’t see any difference. “An, I can’t stay long. Jelana needs me. Do you understand?” He nodded. “Good.” He continued holding her hands. “An, this will not be easy, but I need you to keep breathing. That’s all. Can you do that?” He paused. “Well, don’t listen to her. She lies. It’s not time yet. I will tell you when it’s time.” He listened some more. “Jasin is sitting with you. He won’t leave you.” Another pause. “Yes, Mattan is still here. But he can’t sit with you yet. Too much can go wrong.” He looked over at Mattan.
“I’m here, Anilyne,” Mattan said, his voice shaking. “I’m here. I’m sorry, you were right, this was too risky.”
“None of that now,” Daved said, sternly. “We can assign blame later. Now, we just need to keep both of them going.” He looked back at An. “It will be all right. You will see.”
“I’m here, too,” Tolly said, just for completeness. “I’ll keep an eye on Mattan for you, An.”
Daved said to An, “Can you hold on now? You’ll be able to rest soon, this I promise you.” He listened again. “Of course,” he said. He gathered her limp body in his arms, and gave her a long hug, then laid her gently back down, her head in Jasin’s lap again. “Keep talking to her,” he said to Jasin. “Let her know she isn’t alone.”
Jasin nodded at Daved, and began speaking softly to An. “You’ll be all right,” he began.
Daved looked back at the bucket. “You were supposed to keep going,” Daved said sternly, to the puddle, “Not go the other way.” He sighed, and sat down, again putting one hand in the bucket, and one on the puddle. “This was supposed to get easier as we went on,” he muttered.
Another long time went on, silence only broken by Jasin’s quiet murmuring, occasionally with Mattan saying something as Jasin paused. After the water level in the bucket approached half, it appeared to be rising faster, almost going fast enough to be seen.
“That’s better,” Daved murmured. “Yes, it’s easier to pull than to push, isn’t it?”
A few minutes more, Daved stood, picked up the dry towel, and handed it to Tolly.
“She is done now,” Daved said. “Now, this puppet is out of energy, and must rest a bit. I have used more energy than I can rapidly replace.” He looked over at An. “She is still breathing?”
“Yes,” Jasin said, looking up.
“Good.” He sat in the nearest chair.
“But–” Mattan began, but it was too late.
Daved’s body had stiffened, and it sat there, eyes open, quite obviously just a wooden puppet.
Mattan came over and looked at it. “That’s . . . that’s disconcerting,” he said.
“I hate it when Daved does that,” Tolly said. “But he’ll be back soon. For certain definitions of ‘soon’.” He went over to the bucket, and ran his fingers over the surface of the water. “How are you doing, sister?” he asked. He glanced over at the inanimate puppet. “He’s gone for now, but he left his puppet behind.” He listened again, then shook his head. “Just rest, now, Jelana. I can’t understand you. Perhaps Daved will understand when he gets back.” He glanced over at Mattan as he removed his hand from the water. “She’s complaining about being cramped and tired. And she seems to be rambling a bit. Though that may only be because I’m having trouble understanding her. But she thinks she’ll be all right after a rest.”
“Good,” Mattan said, looking back over at An. “Seeing Jelana collapse like that . . . I didn’t think anything could hurt her.”
“Apparently we were wrong,” Tolly said, wearily. “But perhaps, not really. She should be fine, in time.”
He stood again, and began pacing. “I wish there were something I could do,” he muttered. “When will Daved be back? All this waiting is making me antsy.”
Mattan’s hand twitched. “Tell me about it. I need something to do. Something to fix. To make. Though I don’t know if I could think clearly enough to work at the moment.”
Tolly’s mouth quirked. “Not going to design a stroller?”
Mattan groaned. “At the moment, I couldn’t even design a cabinet.”
“Sit down, both of you,” Jasin said. “I’m still trying to talk to An here.” He sighed. “I don’t know if she can hear me or not. I’m not getting any response from her at all. At least she’s still breathing.” He ran his fingers down her cheek. “Just keep breathing, sis. We’re watching out for you.”
After what seemed like a long time, Daved’s body reanimated, his eyes blinked, and he took a deep breath. He looked around at them all.
He stood, and lightly ran his fingers over the surface of the water in the bucket. “Yes, I know, love,” he murmured. “Soon you’ll be able to stretch out and rest in your waterfall. But we have to deal with An first.” He listened. “Yes, that is an idea. And if it worked, it’d be easier. For all of us.”
He looked at Mattan. “How do you feel, son?”
“What’d she say?” Mattan asked, irritably.
“I see what you mean,” Daved said to the bucket. “Jelana told me that you’d been absorbing far more magic tonight than normal, far more than was good for you, with no way to let it out. It’s making you crabby.”
“Crabby? I’m always crabby,” Mattan muttered. “What of it?”
“If your could give that magic to An, it would give her the energy she needs.”
Mattan’s face lit up, then he shook his head. “I can’t give magic, I only take it in.”
“Yes, you see,” Daved said, “I might be able to fix that. For a time. If you’re willing. And she’s willing.”
“But what about,” Jasin began.
“Sorry, child,” Daved said, “But you don’t get a say in this matter.”
“She’s my sister,” Jasin said.
“And if I couldn’t reach her, we’d consider what you said. But as it is . . .”He sat by An, and took her hands again. “What do you think, child?” An’s eyes opened. “No, I don’t think there’s much risk to you. Or to him. Perhaps both together.” He paused. “An, I’m feeding you all the energy I can, here. It’s not enough to let you fully wake up. Perhaps in the woods we could do better. But not now, when I must also help my wife. Mattan’s got energy to spare right now.” He listened again. “Yes. If he’s willing.” He dropped her hands and turned to Mattan.
“What is that risk you mentioned?” Mattan said. “Both together?”
“Nothing. Negligible,” Daved said. “But I’ve never done this before.” He looked away uncomfortably. “There is the slight chance that you might end up grafted together. But not likely.”
“Grafted?” Mattan said. “What does that mean?”
“I do not know what it would look like in humans. I only know trees. And Jelana says it will not happen, anyway.”
Mattan shook his head. “But this will help Anilyne? Let her ‘wake up fully’ as you said?”
“And help you as well,” Daved said. “Give me your hands.”
Mattan held out his hands, and Daved took them for a moment.
“Yes, I can use this,” he said. “You are filled, over-filled with energy. It would make things easier, for both of you. But it will take time.” He looked around. “Perhaps the rest of this night. It’d be best if you’d both sleep.”
“They’d find the bed more comfortable,” Jasin said. “I will carry her.”
“Can you?” Tolly asked. “She is taller than you.”
“Not that much. And I’m stronger than I look.” Jasin looked down into An’s still face. “She’s my sister. I have to do something.” He looked back up at Tolly. “You’re right, though. She . . . she can’t help any at the moment. And you are stronger than I am.”
Tolly reached down and gently picked An up, her head resting on his shoulder.
Mattan followed behind the other two, feeling a bit numb. He glanced at the bucket of water on the floor, where Jelana waited, patiently, or perhaps impatiently.
Daved placed his heavy hand on Mattan’s shoulder. “Courage, child,” he said. “We will get through this. And we have perhaps learned more tonight than you know.”
“It won’t matter, in the end, will it?” Mattan said. “Anilyne will still . . . It won’t matter.”
Daved shot him a glance. “Haven’t you figured it out yet, son? If An is to live, it must be as An. A thousand times better to die as An than it would be to live as the Other.”
Mattan shuddered, remembering those eyes filled with hate. “Yes, it’s just . . .”
“It’s not too late yet,” Daved said. “There will still be time for you to say you love her.”
Mattan jumped a little. “What? What makes you think . . .” he glanced at the bucket again. “Did Jelana tell you . . . That’s right. Whatever she knows, you know. Even worse than Jasin and Belinda.”
“Perhaps you should talk to her,” Daved said, also glancing at the bucket. “You . . . you need rest.”
“I’d prefer not,” Mattan said, shying away.
“It’s only water,” Daved said, looking at him again. “She would like to give what comfort she can, as it is. Water will not hurt you.”
“Thinking water than can read my mind,” Mattan muttered. Then, with a sigh, he went over and sat next to the bucket and very gingerly placed his hand just touching the surface of the water. It instantly welled up and covered his hand.
“‘Just water’ indeed,” Mattan muttered. Then his eyes went out of focus as he felt Jelana speaking to him. “Don’t go laughing at me now,” he warned her, as he felt the laughter in his mind, followed by more serious images. After a bit, he withdrew his hand. “I understand now,” he said. “I know all three of you’ve tried to tell me before. We have to get that . . . person out of her. Even if it kills her.”
“We will, Mattan,” Daved said. “We’re closer now than we were before. Even tonight’s . . . trouble . . . has helped. We are close to figuring out how to do this, and An’s life will be easier.”
“But not longer,” Mattan muttered.
“You don’t know that,” Daved said, putting his hand on Mattan’s shoulder again.
Mattan nodded. “Let’s do this then.”
He went into An’s bedroom, where Jasin and Tolly had carefully laid her body down, her head supported by pillows.
“Is An comfortable?” Jasin asked Daved. “This would be so much easier if she could talk to us.”
Daved smiled as he gently laid his hand on An’s forehead. “She is well enough.”
Mattan sat beside her. “Anilyne,” he said, taking her hands. “Anilyne, I . . .” He looked up at Daved. “May I kiss her?”
“If you wish,” Daved said, removing his hand from An’s forehead. “You will not like it, though.”
Mattan hesitated. “Will it . . . will it be An that I kiss, not the Other? She said she wanted me to be sure.”
“It will be An,” Daved said.
Mattan gathered her up in his arms, and kissed her lips. She lay unresponsive in his arms, her eyes remaining close. After a moment, Mattan looked up at Daved questioningly.
“She’s awake,” Daved told him, placing his hand on An’s hair. “She . . . thanks? . . . you,” he continued, uncertainly. “Just hold her.”
Mattan kept his arms wrapped around her, murmuring gently, trying to ignore Jasin and Tolly trying not to watch them.
“That’s enough now,” Daved said eventually, with a glance to the other room.
Mattan reluctantly laid her down again.
“Lie down next to An now,” Daved instructed him. “No, not that way. Head at the other end.”
Jasin handed Mattan a pillow, as he laid down, and looked up at Daved. Daved took An’s necklace off of her. “Give me your hand,” he told Mattan. “No, the other one.” He laid the wooden circle of the necklace on Mattan’s palm, and twisted his hand over it.
“Ow!” Mattan said.
Daved looked down at him curiously. “That should not have hurt you,” he said.
“It was more of a surprise,” Mattan said. “What did you do to me?”
Daved looked troubled. “I don’t . . . I have not the words. I cannot . . .” He hesitated. “I wish Jelana were here. It will not harm you, though.”
Mattan nodded. “Let’s do it then.”
Daved placed Mattan’s and An’s hands together, each holding the other one’s arm. He frowned at them. “When they sleep,” he muttered, then said to Jasin, “May you find for me another towel?”
“All right,” Jasin said, leaving, and returning with one.
Daved looped the towel loosely around their hands and wrists, then lightly laid his hand on top of it. The towel condensed until it wrapped their hands snugly.
“Is that comfortable?” he asked Mattan, while laying his hand on An’s head.
“It’s fine,” Mattan told him.
“Good, good,” Daved said. Then to An, “Sleep now, child. You’ve held on long enough. Now you can rest.” After a moment, he came over and put his hand on Mattan’s head.
“I don’t need . . .” Mattan began, then his eyes closed, and he began lightly snoring.
“Sorry,” Daved said softly. “I should have at least let you finish your sentence.”
He looked at both Jasin and Tolly, then took An’s necklace and laid it on the night table. “Do not move that,” he told them. “I must take Jelana home now, and I will need it to find my way back. I will return in the morning, as I can.”
“No one will touch it,” Jasin promised.
“Also,” Daved said, “Watch them. If either of them stop breathing, separate them. Instantly.”
“More watching?” Jasin said. “Do you think that will happen? Also, the towel? Those don’t tear easily.”
“It will tear if necessary,” Daved said. “Now I must go.”
He walked into the other room, picked up the bucket, and walked out the door. Jasin followed him, and opened the door immediately after Daved had closed it behind him, and looked up and down the hallway.
“Gone,” he reported. “I wish I knew how he does that.”
“Don’t think about it too much,” Tolly said. “The only thing I know, neither one of them actually does any magic. And that gives me a headache.”
He went and sat on one of the chairs in the bedroom. “Looks like we’re in for the long haul. Want me to take the first watch?”
Jasin shook his head as he sat in the other chair. “No, I think we’d better watch together. I’ll get out the cards.” He glanced at the two sleeping figures on the bed. “How odd. They’re breathing in unison.”
* * *
An woke, and started to stretch, and realized her right hand was bound, though not uncomfortably. She sat up as best she could, looking around her familiar room at Jasin’s place. She saw Mattan, still asleep, his hand bound to hers, and the whole frightening mess of the previous night came back to her, being unable to do anything as lightning flew from her hands and she lay inert, unable to see, talk, hardly able to breathe, as the others had moved around her.
Tolly sat in a nearby chair, his head lolled back as stentorian snores came out of him. An smiled.
She could hear someone singing and clattering and the kitchenette, and a delicious smell wafted out to her.
“Jasin?” she called out.
“In a moment,” Jasin’s voice came back. Then his head popped around the corner. “Good, you’re awake. Anyone else yet?”
“Doesn’t look like it,” An said, leaning back on the pillows again. “Do you think you could release me?”
Jasin came to the bedside, and grabbed a couple of pillows from the couch to help prop her up.
“I don’t know,” Jasin said, looking troubled. “Daved should be here soon. You both are fine at the moment. I’d rather he did it, since there might be a chance that he actually knows what he’s doing.”
“Oh,” An said. “Could you hand me my necklace?” She waved to it, beyond her reach on the nightstand. Jasin shook his head.
“Sorry, An,” he told her. “Daved put it there, and told us all not to touch it. Said he needed it to find his way back this morning.”
“Oh.” An frowned. “That makes some sense, I suppose,” she said. “I know he can find his way to Jelana, wherever she is, and back home again. But not anywhere else. Unless he sets himself a beacon, I guess.” She suddenly sat straight upright.
“Jelana!” An said. “Where is she? Is she? Did I . . . Did I kill her? What happened to her?”
“It’s all right,” Jasin said. “You can relax again. The last I saw of her, Daved was carrying her home in a bucket. But he didn’t seem particularly worried.” He thought for a moment. “Not that I’d be able to tell. It did seem to take a lot of effort to get her into that bucket, though.”
Ann nodded. “I remember Daved coming to talk to me, pulling me out of a dark, frightening place. I might have been dreaming.”
“‘She lies’,” Jasin said.
“‘She lies.’ That’s what Daved said to you.”
“Is it? I remember it was dark, cold. I was all alone. Couldn’t find any of you.” She shuddered. “All I could hear was a voice saying none of you really wanted me, that you’d be better off without me.”
“She lied,” Jasin said again. “I was right there for you, An. And I know that all of us would be far worse without you.” He nodded at the sleeping form on the bed. “Especially Mattan.”
She looked at him. “Jasin?”
“Did Mattan . . . kiss me last night? Or was I dreaming that too?”
“‘Fraid he did, sis.” A buzzer went off in the kitchen. “Got to run, or I’ll burn breakfast.”
She laughed. “You have Tolly right here, and you’re cooking breakfast yourself?”
“He was sleeping, didn’t want to wake him,” Jasin’s voice came from the kitchenette. “Besides, I make a perfectly fine breakfast. Even Tolly thinks so.”
From the chair, Tolly gave a loud snort, sat up, and looked around, blinking. He ran his fingers through his already wild hair.
“Oh, hi, An,” he said. “What are you doing here?” He looked around again. “What am I doing here? Where’s Glorina?”
He stood up, stretched, and wandered off to the bathroom.
“What is it, An?” Jasin’s voice came from the other room.
“Tolly really doesn’t wake up well, does he?”
“Can’t say I’ve ever had a chance to observe.”
An looked over at Mattan’s sleeping form. “Mattan’s not waking up,” she said to Jasin as he came back to the room, carrying a tray.
“Can’t say I’ve ever had the opportunity to see him wake up, either,” Jasin said.
“But we haven’t exactly been quiet.”
Jasin looked at Mattan’s face. “Don’t worry about it, An. He’s just sleeping.”
“I hope Daved comes back soon,” An said. “I’d like my other hand back.”
“I’m glad to see you acting more like yourself,” Jasin said. “This week has been unnerving. And when I saw you there, not breathing . . .”
An shuddered. “It was just as bad where I was, let me tell you.”
Tolly walked back in. “Ah! Good to see you looking so well.”
An smiled up at him. “Good to see you, also.”
A moment later, a knock came at the door, and Daved walked in. He smiled when he saw An awake. “Mattan still sleeping?” he said. “You are looking better.”
“Daved,” An said, hesitantly, “How is Jelana? Did I . . . I didn’t kill her, did I?”
Daved smiled again. “She is . . . resting. She . . . says not to worry about her. A few days rest . . . she gains energy from the sunshine, from the plants, even,” his smile widened, “from the trees. She insists that I tell you that she knows that it was not you, we all do.”
An nodded. “I’m glad to hear it. I was so afraid.” She held up the bound hand. “Do you think you could separate us now?”
Daved started. “Of course. I had forgotten.” He touched the cloth around their hands, and it loosened, and turned into a towel again. An gratefully pulled her hand back and shook it out, while Jasin reached over and grabbed the towel.
Daved touched her forehead for a moment. “You need to eat,” he told her.
“I will. How is Mattan?” she asked.
Daved touched Mattan’s forehead. “He is harder to read than you are,” he said. “He . . . also needs to eat. He should wake soon.”
“In the meantime, I’ve made breakfast,” Jasin said. “Do you want any?”
“That’s what I’ve been smelling,” Tolly said. “Lead on. I’m hungry.”
“Be sure to leave enough for the rest of us,” Jasin said with a laugh.
An stood up, wavered, and put her left hand to her head. “Dorst. Do I have a headache.”
Tolly was immediately by her side, offering support. She smiled up at him as she took his arm.
“It is to be expected,” Daved said. He turned his attention to Mattan as the other two left the room. “Time to awaken,” he said, touching Mattan’s forehead again.
Mattan opened his eyes, and blinked unseeing at the ceiling for a moment. Then he sat up, stretched, and looked around. “‘Morning, Daved, Jasin.” He nodded to An’s rumpled pillow. “Anilyne all right?”
“She’s fine,” Jasin said.
“As well as she can be, considering,” Daved said.
Mattan looked at Daved, keenly. “And . . . Jelana?” he asked.
“She is resting,” Daved said. “Not much worse than the times she’s insisted on being in human form too long.” He gazed off into space for a moment. “She’s asking that someone bring back her motorbike,” he added, with a wry smile.
“I’ll see to it,” Jasin said. “When I have time. Would she mind if it took a few days?”
Daved looked thoughtful for another moment. “It’ll be a few days before she can use it, probably,” he said. “That should be fine. Let her know when it is there.”
Jasin nodded. “As you say.”
Mattan stood up, frowned, and put his left hand to his temple. “Dorst, do I have a headache,” he said.
“It is to be expected,” Daved said again, but he looked troubled.
“There is breakfast in the next room,” Jasin said.
“That might help,” Mattan said, then uncertainly made his way to the next room.
Jasin was about to follow them, when Daved grabbed his arm.
“Watch them,” Daved said, warningly.
“Again?” Jasin said. “What’s wrong?”
Daved didn’t answer immediately, staring off into space for a moment. “Trees may be grafted without harm,” he said at last, “but humans are different.”
Jasin stared at him. “Daved, you didn’t graft them, did you?”
“I do not think so,” Daved said. “I did not intend to. Just watch them. If they are grafted,” he looked thoughtful again, “we’ll have to think of something.”
Jasin shook his head. “Do you want any breakfast?”
“This puppet cannot eat,” Daved reminded him. “But . . . I will come to sit. And discuss.”
Through breakfast, they only talked about light things. Daved watched them all with his bright eyes. An tried to be cheerful, but kept lapsing into silence, rubbing her temple. Mattan, once he had a bit of food in him, kept up a light banter with Tolly and Jasin.
Daved’s eyes flicked back and forth between An and Mattan, and he frowned.
After Tolly and Jasin had cleared up the breakfast dishes, Jasin came and said to Daved, “Now, what did you wish to discuss?”
Daved shook his head. “Not now. This evening. Both An and Mattan need to rest today. I thought when they woke they’d be ready, but they are not.”
“What do you mean?” An asked, rubbing her left temple again. She caught Mattan looking at her, and lowered her hand again.
“He’s right,” Jasin said. “You’re better than you’ve been, An, but you’re still not quite yourself this morning.”
An glared at him.
“Quite understandable,” Jasin said, hurriedly. “Everything you’ve been through.”
“You’re going to make me sleep again, aren’t you?” An said to Daved.
“I fear so,” Daved said. “Mattan as well.”
Mattan groaned, and rubbed his head as well. “Can’t say I like the idea, but I still feel rather fuzzy-headed this morning.” He paused to consider. “If I’m just going to be asleep today, can I at least go home? Wash up, sleep in my own bed?”
“‘Wash up’?” Daved looked perplexed. “But you are not dirty.”
Mattan shook his head as he rested his face in his hands.
“I’ll explain it to you later,” Jasin said.
“All right,” Daved said. “But no, I want you where I can find you, if something goes wrong.”
“It’s just on the other side of the alley,” Mattan said. “Just a few steps away.”
“It isn’t the distance so much, Mattan,” Jasin said. “Though, as I understand it, Daved’s puppets only have a limited range . . .”
“I’ve seen Daved use his puppets much farther away than the woods than this.”
“We all have, but did you see them move more than a room or two? He can send them to a great distance, but if they’re beyond a certain area, he loses them, can’t find them, and they go . . . inert.”
“Like it did last night.” Mattan sighed.
“How about this, Daved,” Tolly said. “Let Mattan go home, wash up, gets a few things, then comes back and sleeps for the day. Would there be any problem with that?”
Daved considered. “Jasin, go with him.”
“What? Why?” Jasin asked.
“I can take care of myself,” Mattan said.
“To make sure you come back,” Daved explained. To awaken you should you sleep beforetime.”
“I’m not sleepy,” Mattan said.
“I’ll come, anyway,” Jasin said.
Mattan shook his head. “Not necessary, but if it makes Daved happy.”
Daved looked at An. “You may ‘wash up’, or whatever else you need to do to prepare.”
An laughed in spite of her headache. “May I? Poor Daved. You still really have trouble with some human ideas.” She stood up and gave Daved a light kiss on the cheek. “As it is, Daved, I would very much like to ‘wash up’. Thank you.” She left the room by one door, and Jasin and Mattan went the other way.
Daved and Tolly were left alone for a bit, looking at each other warily.
“So, tell me, Daved,” Tolly said after a moment. “How is my sister, really?”
“Resting, as I have said,” Daved said. “She would like to see you, Tolly. But she says she might not be able to speak to you yet.” He shook his head. “She also says to tell you that she is fine, but she is not really, yet.”
He paused for a moment, staring off into space. “You are not supposed to be listening in, love,” he said to the air. “Sleep. Rest. Lose yourself in the waterfall.” He looked back at Tolly with a small smile. “She says not to listen to me, that she is fine.” He paused again. “And she will be. Just give her a little time. The sun and the water are giving her energy again. But it might be a day or more before she is ready to leave her waterfall again.” He paused. “But not much more.”
“I’ll try to come out and see her this afternoon,” Tolly said. “Tell her that. Need to go home myself, first. See Glorina and the kids again. Maybe take a little nap.”
“We need someone to watch the sleepers,” Daved said.
Tolly frowned. “Are you certain about that? Jasin and I watched all night, and nothing happened.”
“It would be safer.”
Tolly considered. “Jasin and I are all tuckered out from watching all night. And he should probably at least put in an appearance at his office today, and not leave his partner feeling that he’s dumping everything on her. Belinda’ll be busy already, starting the day at the restaurant. And of course, Glorina’ll be busy looking after the kids. Not to mention, not feeling as energetic as she is at other times.” He thought a bit longer. “I don’t know if we want to bring anyone else in on this, though, do you? No one else’s families are anywhere close.”
Daved considered. “Perhaps we could bring in a unicorn?”
Tolly laughed. “Really? Look where we are, Daved. Right downtown. What there is of it. I know you get them in your woods and by the pool all the time, but they don’t like coming in to town, even one in the heart of Unicorn Country like we are. And even a little one like this one, not some big metropolis like Haranbeth or Telnbeth. They’d need a much better reason of their own to even enter the town, and you’d not be able to get them indoors, or up to the second floor for anything.”
Daved considered again. “And Jelana is unable to right now, of course.”
“Of course.” Tolly thought again. “I expect that Glorina would be willing later, if I took care of the children. Or got a baby-sitter. It might be a rest for her.”
Daved nodded. “Do that, then.”
An returned to the sitting room. “I think I’m ready, Daved,” she said. “Are you sure you really have to make me go to sleep? Not just something for the headache, and try to go on?”
“It is not that type of headache,” Daved said. “Lie down on the bed, and we will see.”
She laid down tensely, and Daved came and stood beside her, lightly touching her forehead. “I am sorry, An,” he said.
“You’ve never been sorry before.” She closed her eyes. “Just do it then, and get it over with.”
“Sleep well, An,” he said, and tapped her forehead. Instantly, her body relaxed, and her breathing slowed.
In the other room, Tolly muttered to himself, “‘Do that, then.'” He shook his head, wryly.
When Daved entered the room, Tolly looked up with curiosity. “An’s asleep then? How can you do that when I’m here, so close?”
“It is not magic,” Daved said. “Just sleep. And sleep is natural. Like water and trees are natural.”
Tolly snorted. “You could fool me,” he muttered.
“Why would I wish to do that?” Daved wondered.
“Never mind. Never mind. It’s just an expression.”
“Another one?” Daved shook his head. “How do humans ever communicate with each other, when everything means something else?”
“We manage,” Tolly said. He nodded toward the door to An’s room. “She all right?”
Daved looked toward the door as well. “No. But she is sleeping, dreamlessly, peacefully. She will sleep until evening.”
“That may be enough.” Tolly said, “I’ll call Glorina, we’ll figure something out, Daved.”
After he left, Jasin and Mattan returned, Mattan carrying a pillow under his arm.
“Look, I know you have pillows here, perfectly fine pillows, but if I’m not going to get to sleep in my own bed, again, I’m at least going to use my own pillow.”
“I didn’t say a thing,” Jasin said.
“So, where do you want me?” Mattan asked Daved.
“Jasin?” Daved asked.
“We’ll put you in the next room again,” Jasin said. “The one with the connecting door. That will make things easier, but will let both of you have at least a little privacy.”
“Right,” Mattan said. He went in and laid down on the bed. “I’m ready.”
“You will feel better when you awaken,” Daved said.
“Just do it then, and get it over with.”
Daved placed his hand on Mattan’s forehead, then stepped back. Mattan’s eyes were closed and his body relaxed.
Daved turned and said to Jasin, “Jelana has suggested that I just leave my puppet here, and not take it with me when I return to the grove.”
“You think that’s a good idea?” Jasin said.
“If you need me, that will be faster,” Daved said. “It takes me so long to transport my puppet from to somewhere not in my woods.”
“Fine, then, I can see that,” Jasin said. “But not here, though. Or in An’s room. I don’t want either of them to see you if they suddenly wake up.”
“They will not,” Daved said. “But if you think that is better.” He went to An’s room, picked up the necklace, which was still lying forgotten on the nightstand, and carried it over to the table in the sitting room, and placed it on a decorative plate there. “If you need me, touch the necklace, say my name, and I will come.”
“I’ll remember,” Jasin said.
“I will go now,” Daved said. He sat down on a chair, and suddenly was just a wooden statue, staring off into infinity.
“Whoa,” Tolly said, walking in behind Jasin. “I hate it when he does that.”
“It is a bit creepy,” Jasin agreed. “Do you think it’d be more or less creepy if we covered him with a sheet?”
Tolly considered that for a moment. “I really don’t see how it could be any more creepy.”
“That’s what I thought,” Jasin said. “Be right back.” He stepped out of the room for a moment, and came back with a sheet under his arm, which he unfolded, and placed over Daved’s body, Tolly helping to straighten it.”
Jasin stepped back, and looked over the mound critically. “Don’t know for sure, but I think that’s a little better.”
“We’d best not let him find out, though,” Tolly said. “He probably wouldn’t mind, of course. But Jelana would probably kill me.”
Jasin chuckled. “Well, let’s hope we don’t have to call him, then.”
“Glorina will be coming in an hour or so,” Tolly said. “I’ll keep an eye on them until then. You can go rest, whatever else you need to do.”
“Belinda said she’ll come in and check on them when she can, even if it’s just for a minute or two.” Jasin quickly told him about the necklace. “I’ll see you this evening, if not before.” He went to the other room, kissed An lightly on the forehead. “Sleep well, sis,” he said, and left.
* * *
That night, Jasin brought up a tray of covered dishes from the restaurant, figuring that they’d wake up hungry. He sat by them as they ate.
“How did you sleep?” Jasin asked.
“I don’t know,” An said. “I don’t remember any dreams, though, which is rather a relief.”
“The same,” Mattan said. “Though I’m not as much on edge as I was this morning.”
“Your hair is blue again,” An remarked.
He ran his hand through it. “Is it? Too bad. Only to be expected, I guess,” he said. He looked over at An. “Are you yourself again this evening?”
“How should I know? I think so. I feel like the Other is watching, but at least it is quiet.”
“I better uncover Daved’s puppet,” Jasin said, pulling the sheet off of it. “He might be back at any time.”
“Oh! That’s creepy,” An said, looking at it. “Does he . . . does he abandon his body, his puppet, like that often?”
“I’ve only seen it a few times,” Jasin said. “And he only leaves it somewhere safe, where it won’t be disturbed.”
“Why did you cover it?” Mattan asked, with idle curiosity.
“Because, to quote An, that’s creepy. I really doubt he’d mind, but I’d just a soon he not find out.”
“Just in time,” Mattan said. “He’s waking up.”
They watched as the skin again grew flexible and flushed, the body drew breath, and the eyes blinked and came into focus. Then Daved sat before them again.
“You are awake,” he said to An and Mattan. “I had thought you’d sleep until I arrived.”
“They woke on their own,” Jasin said. “And ravenous.”
“Good,” Daved said. “Is Tolly here yet?”
They exchanged glances. “Is he coming?” Jasin asked. “He didn’t mention it earlier.”
“I called him. Jelana wishes his presence.”
“Jelana?” An said. “How is she? Will she be here?”
Daved shook his head. “She is still resting. It is still too hard for her to keep form.”
“But she is all right?” An asked. “Or she will be?”
“Once she has rested, she will again be able to keep form, and will visit you,” Daved promised.
Tolly came walking in from the elevator. “I did go visit her this afternoon,” he said. “She was able to talk to me. Didn’t say much, didn’t try to materialize, though.” He smiled. “She will be fine, An. I’ve seen her worse.”
“I just . . . feel so guilty.”
“No one blames you, An.”
“Please, everyone, stop saying that.”
Daved said, “I’m afraid we must make you sleep again, soon, An. I know this is difficult for you.”
“Again?” An thought. “You’re going to try again, aren’t you? Let the Other out?”
“We are still discussing what to do next. Whatever we do, must wait a few days for Jelana to recover.” He paused. “Jelana and I have a bit of a puzzle to figure out. We do not wish to do anything to you without your knowledge and understanding. But Jelana also points out that whatever we tell you, the Other also knows, and that will give her time to prepare. That may be how she was ready with an attack the last time we tried something.”
“Yes, that certainly is a puzzle,” An said. Then her face changed. “How dare you men assume you can decide what to do to me!” An screamed. She raised her hand as if to hit him, thought better of it, and elbowed Tolly in the stomach as he came up behind her.
He winced, but caught at her shoulders anyway. She wheeled away, managing to break one shoulder away from him.
“You little, little man,” she said. “You think you can run the town, but you can’t run me.” She pulled away further, and backed into Mattan. “And you!” she spat at him. “You’re the worst of all.”
Mattan wordlessly put his arms around her shoulders. She continued glaring at him for a moment, then her face collapsed again.