At the cottage, midday
Anas carefully wielded the knife, dicing the onions. “Are these enough, little one?” he asked. “Or do you need more?” Somewhere outside the house, Mehe’s rhythmic hammer strikes against a nail were clearly audible over Goldeneyes’s soft muttering as he tended to the herbs in the garden.
Niqi looked over at the board, shaking her head. “I think one more…” she murmured as she sat peeling the carrots. She turned her head to the side slightly and wiped her cheek on her shoulder.
He nodded, picking up another onion and began to peel it. “Meheaaris talks a lot to himself,” he said quietly. “I think he’s used to living alone.”
“Gil used to do that too,” she offered. “When he first took me in.” She finished peeling the carrot and started to clean up.
“Does he still do it?” he asked, dicing the onion.
“Sometimes,” she nodded. “I don’t see him as much anymore.” She sat at the table absently lining the carrots up in front of her.
“Why not? Has he been busy?” Anas swept the diced onions onto a plate before setting the knife down. “Here.”
“What?” She looked over at the plate. “Oh. Thank you.” She picked up the onions and carried them to the stove, placing them into the pot to start sweating. “He spends most of his time with Silannah now,” she shrugged. “Which makes sense.”
“Do you miss him?”
She looked over to him, her blue eyes dim. “Very much,” she said quietly. “I’m lucky to have Æl, you, and Mehe though. Else I’d be alone.”
“You’ll always have me, Niqi.” He smiled gently at her. She stirred the onions, added a bit of salt and pepper and turned to Anas. Wandering over to him, she wrapped her arms about his waist. He chuckled, gently placing his hand on the top of her head. “Is there anything else I can help with?”
“Could you find the stew meat? I will start cutting up the carrots.” She squeezed him tight before releasing him. “Thank you… for everything.”
“You’re welcome, little one.” He glanced around the kitchen with a frown before calling out, “Mehe!”
“Yes?” an identical pair of voices chorused. Goldeneyes’s face appeared at one window as Mehe peered in from another, both wearing the same curious expression.
Anas blinked at the duo. “Uh… where’s the meat for lunch?” Niqi glanced back and forth between the two, a small laugh popping out. The Sin’dorei and Ren’dorei men arched an eyebrow at her in unison.
“I’ve dressed it,” Goldeneyes said, pointing towards a covered bowl on the table with the trowel in his hand.
Anas glanced at it. “Right. Thank you, Meheaaris.” He picked the bowl up, uncovering it.
“Hmmm,” came the reply before Goldeneyes returned to his work. Mehe shrugged at Anas before disappearing as well. The ringing of his hammer resumed shortly after.
Niqi crawled up into a chair and leaned up in her knees. Pulling the cutting board over, she started chopping the carrots. “I’m still getting used to having Mehe and Goldeneyes here,” Anas said. He carried the bowl to the sink before carefully rinsing the meat.
“It has to be hard on top of what happened to you,” She frowned. “Mehe told me. Anas, why didn’t you say?”
“You were already so upset. I couldn’t make you feel worse.” Anas sighed. “You needed me, little one. Besides, I’m getting better slowly but surely.”
“You’re so good to me… I… I don’t deserve it.” She pushed the chopped pieces aside, picking up another.
Anas blinked, glancing at her. “Of course you do. If our places were switched, would you think I didn’t deserve to be helped?”
“You’re… you’re a good person. You can help people, heal people… save them…” She choked out. The knife slipped from her hands falling to the table with a clatter. She buried her face in her arms.
Anas rinsed his hands, wiping them on a cloth. He stepped to her and lifted her into his arms. “You’re a good person too, little one,” he murmured, hugging her gently.
She cried into his hair, holding on to him. “What if he… what if he was right? That I am only good for… for…” she wasn’t able to finish the words.
He shook his head. “That’s not true. You’re an amazing friend and a wonderful seamstress. You helped Mehe and myself when we were going hungry. You even let us live here, in this house that was intended for you and Ælithil.” He stroked her hair comfortingly. “You’ve helped us more than we can ever repay you, little one. I’m so glad to have you in my life.”
She held on till she managed to get control over herself, at least a small amount. “I’m sorry. You… Oh Light, you shouldn’t be holding me… you’re supposed to rest!” She leaned back, looking at him, concerned.
“I’m not straining myself, little one.” He kissed her forehead.
She hugged his neck and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, big brother,” she whispered into his ear. She cleared her throat a little. “We should probably keep working on lunch. Mehe will be working up an appetite and Goldeneyes…ummm, maybe?”
Outside, Goldeneyes growled almost inaudibly as he continued weeding. Anas’s ears twitched as he glanced towards the window. “We should,” he agreed, setting her gently on her feet.
“Did I say something wrong?” she asked in a whisper, seeing him move. She crossed to the stove to check on the onions and give them a stir.
He shook his head. “You didn’t,” he said quietly. “But it seems that Goldeneyes doesn’t trust you.”
Her ears drooped. “Just like with Mehe…”
“Well, he’s technically also Mehe.” Anas rested a hand on her shoulder.
“I know. But this one has a whole different reason for hating me.” She set the spoon down and smiled. “Mehe… um, your Mehe, he was really kind to me last night.”
“My Mehe?” Anas chuckled. “What did he do?”
Niqi’s eyes dropped to her feet. “He insisted on setting up the blanket for me. Made it nice and cozy. He even tucked me in. And when I woke him with my crying, he came out to check on me.”
He smiled. “Mehe is a kind man. I’m glad he was there for you when I wasn’t.”
“He’s kind of blunt about it though,” she laughed ever so lightly. “He just wants to fix it.”
Anas grinned, handing her the bowl of meat. “Did he?”
“Kind of? I still had nightmares, but waking to you both there made it better.” She picked up the bowl and added the contents to the pot. Taking a whiff, she closed her eyes. “That smells wonderful. What did he add to it?”
“It’s his own recipe, I believe.” Anas peered into the pot. “Something he invented.”
“It’s like… Autumn…” she looked at it again. “I’m going to finish the carrots. Do you think you could stir that a bit?” She made her way back to the table. Her hair dropped into her face as she started working. Sighing, she pulled it back with a tendril and started chopping again.
Anas stirred it with the ladle. “Do you and Ælithil cook together?”
Niqi smiled, laughing a little. “No. There’s no kitchen in the tower. We mostly get food from the taverns and such.”
“Right. Though if you had the chance, would you like to cook with him?”
“I would love it. Although, I honestly don’t know if he can cook.” She sat there, pondering it.
“Maybe you should ask him about it,” Anas suggested. “Who knows? The two of you might end up with something else in common.”
“Perhaps,” She grunted, practically standing on the chair to get leverage on the last, and largest carrot.
He glanced over his shoulder at her. “Need help?”
“This carrot is defeating me…”
He chuckled. “Let me do that.”
Heaving a sigh, she set the knife down and got out of the way. “Defeated by a vegetable…”
Anas picked up the knife and set to chopping it up. “I wonder if Mehe would grow these as well as his herbs,” he mused. “Having our own vegetables sounds wonderful.”
She walked over to the pot, pouring in a bit of water. “I bet he would if you asked him to.”
“I will.” He grinned, sweeping the chopped carrots into the plate. “There, all done.”
“They can go in in a little while…I wonder if some tomatoes would taste good in this with the spices….” She looked outside considering her options.
“Sounds like a good idea!” Anas set the knife down. “Though I don’t think we have any at home right now.”
“Well then I guess we’ll have to go without for today.” She walked over to the back door and sat on the steps. She watched the flowers in Mehe’s garden sway in the breeze as she picked at the hem on her borrowed shirt.
“Goldeneyes really has a pair of green thumbs.” Anas walked over to the pot. Picking up the ladle, he began to stir it again. “Ever since he came here, the plants have really been flourishing.”
“They are very pretty. I wonder what he does?”
“He weeds them, applies fertilizer, talks to them, waters them.” Anas smiled. “I think they really make him happy.”
“Well it’s working. And seeing him smile a little would be nice, I guess.” She shrugged.
“Even the bloodthistle is growing so well. Did you see all the blooms they’ve put out?”
She shook her head. “I haven’t gone out there. I…didn’t want to disturb anyone.”
“You mean Goldeneyes?”
“Yes,” she whispered. She peered around, nervous she’s being heard.
“He won’t hurt you,” Anas said firmly. “He knows you’re my sister and that Mehe and I would never allow you to come to harm here.”
Niqi shivered despite his words. “All right. I will,” she swallowed. “I will go look.”
He nodded. “I’ll go with you if you want. Though it’ll have to wait until this is done.” He lifted the ladle to his lips, tasting it. “I think it’s missing a little something. Here, try it and tell me what you think.”
She got up and moved to his side. Taking a taste for herself, she nodded. “It needs…hmmm, Oh Light! The carrots! We didn’t put them in yet.” She grabbed the plate and dumped it in.
He laughed aloud at that. “Mother Moon, how could I forget? Thank you, little one.”
“I did too. It’s ok, this way they won’t get too mushy.” She carefully stirred them in and set the ladle aside.
“That’s true.” Anas sniffed the aroma wafting from the pot and sighed. “It smells so good. You’re a wonderful cook, Niqi.”
“You think so? I used to hang out in the kitchen when Minn’da wasn’t paying attention. Cook was nice to me. He would let me help sometimes.” She climbed back up into the chair and leaned back. She winced and jumped forward.
Anas started. “Elune above! Are you okay?”
She nodded a little, tears having sprung to her eyes. “I think whatever Mehe put on my back yesterday is wearing off.”
“Your back?” Anas moved closer, concerned. “May I have a look?”
Niqi turned so he could look. She put her hands on the back of the chair and rested her head on them.
Anas carefully lifted the hem of her shirt, frowning at the variety of mottled colors marking her back. “I… could heal it,” he said hesitantly, “but it would hurt. Or would you prefer I help you reapply the ointment?”
“It already hurts,” she sniffled. “Would… would it help you practice?”
“No. I don’t want to cause you more pain.” Anas lowered the shirt. “I’ll get the ointment.”
“It’s ok… if you want to try.” She offered it gently, knowing how sensitive it was for him. “Practice would make it better for you, right?”
“It would.” Anas sighed. “It’ll hurt, but it’ll be fine once I’m done. Are you sure, little one?”
“I’m sure. Do you need me to do anything?” She adjusted herself in the chair so she was fully stable.
“No.” Anas lifted her shirt once more to expose the bruises. “Just try to hold still.” His eyes shifted to purple as the shadows swirled towards him. Niqi gripped the back of the chair, took a deep breath and held it.
“Mother Moon, guide my hand,” he murmured before gently touching her back. The icy magic seeped into her flesh, spreading from his fingers. It yanked broken blood vessels together, scouring away the visible marks on her skin. Niqi gasped and gripped the chair harder. She whimpered, but did her best not to cry out, at least at first. “Hold on, little one.” Anas’s brow furrowed as the final marks vanished from her skin. He lifted his hand, allowing the shadows to retreat.
She cried out as he finished. As the cold subsided, she took a few gasping breaths. “Oh Light…” she choked out.
“Are you okay, Niqi?” Anas asked, touching her shoulder.
Her breathing leveled out as she nodded. “I’m okay. I’m okay. Oooh wow.” She set her forehead against her hands. “That was intense. Are they gone?”
“They are.” He lowered the hem of her shirt once more. “I’m sorry for hurting you, little one.” A small sound at the window made his ears twitch. He glanced over, only to see Mehe and Goldeneyes peering in, watching him. Goldeneyes wore an expression of awe while Mehe gave him an encouraging nod. “She’s okay,” Anas said. “I just healed her bruises.”
Niqi flushed a deep purple when she realized they were watching. “It’s all right,” she reassured him. She turned around and leaned back. Smiling up at him, she sighed. “All better. Thank you, Anas.”
“Glad I could help,” he said, smiling in relief.
“It was cold. Like that thing that came out of me,” she observed. “Like ice with spikes.”
Anas blinked. “Something from the Shadow then?”
“I’m not sure. It just happened.”
“It could be,” Mehe said as he entered the kitchen. “The Shadow and Void are characteristically cold.” Goldeneyes stepped in a moment later, closing the door behind him.
“So then I…” Her eyes went wide, surprised.
“Is that very surprising?” Mehe chuckled wryly. “We are Ren’dorei after all.”
She shook her head. “It’s not that. I’m just not very… um… skilled? With magic.”
“Shadow and Void magic is very different from the arcane.” Mehe bent over the sink to rinse his hands as Goldeneyes disappeared into the guestroom.
“But how do I control it? And… how do I do it again?” Her voice was a blend of frustration and curiosity. “I wasn’t trying to do anything. It just happened.”
“That would require opening yourself to the Shadow.” Mehe glanced at her. “It can be unsafe if you don’t know how to suppress the whispers. But, if you want, I could link with you and help keep you steady.”
“Link with me?” She looked to Mehe, her brow furrowed as she tried to work out what he meant.
“He means join your magic with his,” Anas explained. “He’ll be able to help keep the flow under control.”
Mehe turned to Anas. “Will you help as well, dear one? I could use your strength if it goes awry.”
“But… is it safe for Anas to do that right now? I don’t want to harm him.” She wiggled from the chair and moved to the stove.
“I’ll be okay, little one,” Anas said reassuringly. “Mehe knows how to draw upon my power without hurting me.”
“But only if you both want to,” Mehe said firmly. “The Shadow is only slightly safer than the Void, but not very much safer.”
Niqi stirred the pot a bit, set the ladle down and turned to Mehe. “I don’t want to hurt someone because I fling Shadow magic without knowing how.”
“But if you don’t know how to control it, you might accidentally hurt someone,” Anas said with a sigh. “I know I did when it first happened to me.”
“You did?” She placed her hand gently on his arm. She shifted in place, her tendrils curling around each other. “Could you help me with the control?”
“Yes,” Mehe said calmly. “It’s how I taught Anas.”
“Then, it’s a good idea, I think,” she wiped her hands on the cloth by the sink.
Mehe nodded. “We can try after lunch if you want.”
Niqi nodded and bowed her head to him. “Lunch is almost ready. Just a few more minutes until everything is cooked through.”
“Anything I can do to help?” Mehe glanced at the pot. “That smells really good.”
Niqi giggled. “You think so? I didn’t pick the seasoning, but the rest Anas and I did together. Anas rescued me from the evil carrot.”
Mehe chuckled. “I’m glad he did.” One of his tendrils curled up to caress Anas’s cheek tenderly.
Anas turned his head slightly, brushing his lips over the glowing limb. “Niqi did a wonderful job holding out against it though,” he said with a grin.
Niqi smiled at the two of them. “Not sure I would say that… “ she quipped. “Light save me, you two are precious.”
Anas laughed. “I’ll get the bowls. Would you help me wipe down the table, my love?” Mehe nodded, picking up the cloth.