Niqi peered at the guest room door. She took a couple of slow breaths before stepping towards it. Goldeneyes sat on the bed, peering out at the bloodthistle. He seemed lost in thought. “What if I tried mixing it with…? But would that work?” he whispered to himself. Niqi raised her hand and softly knocked on the door. The Sin’dorei man started, glancing at the door. “Yes?”
Niqi opened the door just a small amount. “Mister Goldeneyes? Sir? Ummm, lunch is almost ready.”
Goldeneyes peered at her for a moment. “I’m not hungry,” he said.
“Are you certain? The way you dressed the meat, it smells heavenly.” She chewed her lip a moment. “I could bring a bowl to you, if you would rather be alone.”
“I’ll be damned before I eat anything prepared by a Greythorn,” he said flatly.
“All…all right. I’m sorry. I just wanted to help,” she closed the door and wandered out to the garden. She flopped down in front of the bloodthistle, staring at them as tears streamed down her face.
“Niqi?” Mehe said, stepping out after her. He frowned, seeing her tears. “What is it? Did Goldeneyes say something?”
“I was just trying to help…”’she whispered. “But he won’t eat because I helped make it.”
Mehe sighed. “Honestly, if I didn’t trust you, I’d be the same way. He needs time to see you’re not who he thinks you are.”
“I don’t think he’ll even give me a chance, Mehe. I don’t know what the other Greythorns did. But it must have been bad.” She reached out, gently touching the vibrant bloom.
“I don’t know,” Mehe admitted. “He doesn’t talk much about his world.”
“How did I make you see, Mehe? That I was all right?”
“I saw how much you care about Anas.” Mehe sat down beside her. “And I could tell you’re a genuine person. That’s what matters to me.”
“So just being me?” She dropped her hand down into her lap.
He nodded. “Yes. Now come, let’s have lunch. Anas is waiting for us.”
She nodded and worked her way to her feet. “All right.”
Mehe stood as well. He gently brushed her tears away with a tendril. “Come,” he said, turning and stepping inside. “I’ll have to find Ælithil later as well. Should I wait near the shop or would he be anywhere else?”
“I’m not sure. He just found out about a friend who died on the tree. He went to ask family about it.” She made her way to the stove. “Shall I serve?”
“My deepest condolences.” Mehe shook his head. “I think Anas wants to serve. He’s really happy that he was able to heal you.”
“I’m glad I convinced him to try then,” Niqi smiled. She crossed to the table and found a seat. “It hurt, but my back feels a lot better now.”
“Good.” Mehe smiled as Anas placed the food before them and handed out the cutlery.
“Okay then, let’s dig in,” Anas said, grinning widely. “I can’t wait to taste my little sister’s cooking!”
Niqi smiled. “I do hope it’s good. It’s been a while since I cooked anything.”
“I’m sure it is,” Anas said, picking up his spoon.
Niqi followed suit. Dipping in, she took a bite. “Oh Light. I need to know what he put on this. It’s wonderful.”
Anas glanced at the door to the guestroom. “He’s not joining us for lunch?” Niqi shook her head, looking at the table.
“I’ll give him some,” Mehe said, getting to his feet. He filled a bowl with some of the food.
“He won’t eat it,” Niqi said sullenly. “Because it was prepared by a Greythorn.”
The two men stared at her. “He said that?” Anas asked, frowning. Mehe pursed his lips, glancing at the door.
“He did. It’s fine. He doesn’t trust me.” Niqi took another bite, shrugging. She did her best not to get upset, but her drooping ears and tangled tendrils gave her away.
Anas placed a hand on her shoulder. “I apologize for his behavior, little one,” he said softly.
“It’s hardly your fault, Anas.” Her tendril grabbed ahold of his hand.
“I really want you to feel comfortable, safe and welcome here, but it’s not working out that way.” He sighed, gently squeezing her shoulder.
She smiled sadly up at him. “I do feel safe with you and Mehe here. I’ll manage. Let’s just… have lunch. Maybe he will change his mind?” She tried to sound hopeful.
“I daresay he will,” Mehe said. He resumed his seat before taking another bite.
“So, umm, how does it work? To make a pressed flower, Mehe? I’ve never done it.” She turned her attention to the Ren’dorei, offering him a small smile.
“Hmm?” He glanced at her, his spoon halfway to his mouth. “I pick one that seems appropriate to press, cut it a little if it’s too thick then put it between a pair of small wooden boards and tie them together.”
“We should get some ice cream sometime, little one.” Anas smiled at her. “It’s been so long since we did that.”
Niqi smiled up at him. “That sounds amazing. I would love some. Should we try new flavors or the same as last time?” She took another bite looking at the closed door.
“Maybe we could try something new this time.” Anas glanced at Mehe. “Would you like to join us, my love?”
The Ren’dorei man nodded. “Just no mint. I hate mint.”
“Lemon is my favorite, though Anas introduced me to cookie dough. Maybe another fruit option? Like strawberry?” She tipped her head to the side. “Why no mint?”
“It’s just…” He pulled a face before shaking his head. “Damn well tastes like medicine.”
Niqi giggled. “All right, no mint.”
“Strawberry sounds nice though.” Anas chuckled. “We should try that. Who knows, it might even go well with the other flavours.”
Niqi finished up her bowl and headed towards the sink to clean up. “Berries and lemon are good together. And chocolate. So I bet they will.”
“Only one way to find out! We’ll have to get it.” Anas helped himself to another spoonful.
“Go to the city and get some…” She smiled faintly.
“We’ll do it sometime,” Anas said, smiling at her. “Unless you’d like for us to go with Mehe and meet Ælithil?”
Niqi took a moment to consider it. Looking up at Anas’s face seemed to make her choice for her. “No, brother. You need rest. I can see it on your face. You shouldn’t be taking a trip into the city yet.”
“She’s right, dalah’surfal. You need to rest.” Mehe finished his meal and stood. “I’ll go ahead and look for him.”
Niqi crossed over to Mehe and reached out for his dishes. “I’ll take care of that, Mehe. You relax for a little while.”
“It’s fine. I’ll do them.” He nodded before beginning to clean up. “Would you want Anas and me to link with you so that you can try delving into the Shadow?”
“Will you show me how? I have no idea what to do.” She looked to Anas nervously. “I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
Anas smiled reassuringly at her. “You’ll be fine, little one. Mehe knows what he’s doing.”
“Well, then yes. I would feel better if I had some idea what was happening.” She wiped off her hands and moved to Anas’s side. She gently smoothed down his hair while she waited for instruction.
Anas smiled at her before rising to wash his dishes as well.
Mehe dried his hands. “First, what do you know of the Shadow?” he asked, setting the cloth down.
“I know it’s the balance of the Light. And that it has been twisted by people into something evil, but it’s not.” She pushed her messy hair behind her shoulders.
He nodded. “It’s dangerous, but no more evil than the Light is. It simply is and it’s not to be feared.”
Behind him, Anas carefully set the washed cutlery aside and wiped his hands dry. He turned towards them, gently placing a hand on Niqi’s shoulder.
“Why is it treated as such?”
“People like things in black and white.” Mehe shrugged. “Also, because it’s the opposing force of the Light and the Light is seen as good, it’s easy to follow that the Shadow must then be evil.”
Niqi nodded. “All right. I guess that makes sense.”
“Delve too deeply into the Shadow and you’ll find the Void.” Mehe grimaced. “It’s far more powerful, but also harder to control. If you’re not strong enough to keep your feet, it’ll drag you under.” He glanced at the Kaldorei man. “Anas is better versed in its use than I am. I prefer to avoid it.”
She smiled at Anas. Turning back to Mehe, she furrowed her brow. “But, because we are Ren’dorei, should that not make us more able to deal with it?” She settled into a chair to listen.
“On the contrary,” he said wryly, “It makes us more vulnerable to its bloody whispers. The Void tempts you to draw more and more upon it. It can and will drown out your consciousness, fragmenting your thoughts, and eventually break your mind.”
“So that’s why they are so loud when I’m upset…” Niqi pulled her knees up and set her chin on them. “The meditation I’ve been learning helps. But they’re still there.”
Mehe nodded. “It’s what we have to endure as Ren’dorei,” he said, a note of resignation entering his voice.
Niqi closed her eyes and sighed. She took a few breaths and tried to relax. “So what do I have to do?” she asked quietly as she opened her eyes once again
“I’ll reach out to you,” Mehe said, his eyes turning purple. He sent out a tendril of power to the Ren’dorei girl, probing gently. “Can you feel it?”
Niqi’s eyes shifted slowly as she nodded. “It’s cold.” She felt an odd sensation reacting from within herself. She chewed her lip as she attempted to focus on it.
“Good.” Mehe nodded. “Try linking with me. If it helps, close your eyes and visualize that you’re taking my hand.”
“All right.” She closed her eyes and pictured it as he had described. As the hands in her mind touched, she gasped, jumping at the sensation.
“It’s okay, don’t be scared,” Mehe said calmly. “This is how you link with someone. What do you feel now?”
Niqi took a shuddering breath. “It’s like a tugging. But it’s cold.”
“The touch of this magic is always cold.” Mehe watched her face carefully. “Are you okay with this? Do you want to continue?”
“I’ll help if it makes you feel better, little one,” Anas offered, squeezing her shoulder comfortingly.
Niqi took a few breaths and nodded. “I want to learn.” Her tendrils wrapped around Anas’s hand and she squeezed her eyes a bit tighter, trying to hold on to the visual.
Mehe nodded. “Now, I want you to feel along from where we’re holding hands back towards the source within yourself.”
She nodded slowly. Her brow furrowed a few times and her head tipped and moved one way, then the other.
Mehe glanced at Anas. “Will you link with me, dear one?”
Anas nodded, his eyes turning purple as well. He reached out, forging the link with familiar ease. His power trickled through the link, mingling freely with Mehe’s.
Niqi’s eyes snapped open wide when Anas joined the link. Mehe smiled at his mate before returning his attention to the Ren’dorei girl. “Now, I want you to visualize that source within you as a ball filled with water. Hold up your right hand and imagine it trickling slowly down your hand, pooling in your palm.”
“Gods… is it always so….” she shook off the thought, refocusing on the lesson. She closed her eyes again, picturing a ball slightly larger than her hand. She reached out towards it, both in her mind and physically. As she started picturing the water, the color shifted. “It’s turning black. Why is it turning black?” Her voice took on an edge of panic.
“It’s the Shadow,” Mehe explained patiently. “Deep breaths now. Remember you’re here and you’re safe with us. Just let it trickle slowly into your palm.”
The tendril’s grip on Anas’s hand tightened as she took a few deep breaths. She focused on the image, the dark water dripping started as a few large drops before suddenly flowing quickly. She screwed up her face, “No…. it’s…”
Mehe reached out at once. Anas’s power flowed gently through him as he focused it, soothing the flow of the magic within the Ren’dorei girl. “You’re okay, Niqi. We’ve got you,” he said.
“Breathe, little one,” Anas murmured. “Focus but don’t force it.”
Niqi choked back a sobbing breath. “I am trying to make it trickle. But it came so fast!”
“It can do that,” Mehe said calmly. “You’ll get better at it with practice. Don’t worry, Anas and I won’t let you fall.”
The girl took another breath and tried again. This time she managed to take it from slow drips to rapid ones. She sighed, relieved. Focusing again, she pushed it a bit past a trickle, but not as hard as the first time.
“Good,” Mehe said encouragingly. “Just like that. How do you feel now?”
“Oh Light this is hard. I um…. a little better? It makes my head spin a bit. And I can hear the whispers now.” Her fingers moved in front of her like she was attempting to cup her hand.
Mehe nodded. “The whispers will always be there when you work with the Shadow and the Void. You must learn to pay them no heed.”
“Look at your hand, little one,” Anas said softly.
She opened her eyes slowly before gazing at her palm. Gasping, “Is that from me?”
“It is,” Anas said with a smile. “You’re doing very well.”
Her focus slipped and she opened up further, the shadows pulling down around her arm. She clamped down on it just as it reached her shoulder.
“Close your eyes,” Mehe instructed. “Focus on your breath. Keep breathing in and out slowly.”
Her purple eyes slid closed. Air flowed slowly in her nose and back out. The swirls retreated to her elbow and stayed around the lower portion of her arm. “Come on…” she whispered mostly to herself.
“I think we’ve done enough for today,” Mehe said, nodding at Anas. “You should rest, Niqi. I’ll need to search for Ælithil.”
Niqi opened her eyes, hurt evident behind them. “I can get it! I can… I… ”
“I know you can, little one,” Anas said, smiling at her. “But Mehe’s right. The Shadow isn’t something that should be forced. It’s not safe to push too far on your first try.”
She dropped her hand, letting it fall to her lap. “All right. I’m sorry I didn’t do very well,” she said softly. She glanced down at the shadows still clinging to her arm. “What do I do now?”
“You did well for your first attempt. Now close your eyes,” Mehe instructed. “Picture the water flowing back up your arm into the ball.”
She did as he asked, the shadows curling away and dissipating. She let out a relaxed sigh.
“Very good,” Anas said, pride in his voice. “That’s wonderful, Niqi. You did so well.”
“I’ll let go now,” Mehe said before releasing the link. The purple faded from his eyes and Anas’s.
As the link released, Niqi’s body visibly slumped. “Oh Light, I’m so tired now.”
“You should rest.” Anas peered at her in concern.
Niqi put her head down on the table, curling her arms around her face. “I’ll be ok. I’ll just take a minute here.” She closed her eyes, shuddering a little.
Anas sat down beside her, his brow furrowing in worry. “I think she might’ve overexerted herself,” he murmured.
“It’s okay. She can rest here with you. Keep you company while I’m in the city.” Mehe glanced out of the window at the sky. “I should leave soon if I’m meeting him at the shop.”
The little Ren’dorei shifted slightly, but didn’t raise her head. “Why am I so tir…” she mumbled.
“It’s okay, little one.” Anas patted her back gently. “Working the Shadow can be exhausting. Do you want to go to bed?”
Niqi shook her head. “It’s your bed. I can rest here.”
“I’d rather you rest there, where it’s more comfortable,” Anas said. Mehe nodded in agreement.
The door to the guestroom closed with a soft click.
Niqi slowly raised her head, blue eyes turning to them. “All right. Are you…are you ok? I didn’t hurt you, did i?”
Mehe smiled wryly. “We’re fine. Really.”
“I’ve been doing this with Mehe for a very long time.” Anas smiled at his mate. “We’ve had a lot of practice.”
A relieved sigh escaped her lips. “Maybe someday I will be better at it,” she yawned. She slid down from the chair and hugged Anas.
Anas hugged her back. “Off to bed now,” he said, drawing back to smile down at her. “Hopefully when you wake up, Ælithil will be here for you.”
Releasing Anas, she turned to Mehe and smiled faintly. “Thank you, for…well everything.”
Mehe nodded. “You’re welcome,” he said simply.
She turned and walked to their bedroom. Climbing up into the bed, she pulled the pillow close, clinging to it. She closed her eyes and whispered to herself, “Please just let me sleep, please. Please don’t let him be there.”
Anas’s ears twitched. He threw Mehe a worried glance.
“I need to go to the city,” Mehe said softly. “Can you look after her, dalah’surfal?”
Anas nodded. “Be safe, my love.” Rising, he kissed Mehe’s forehead before stepping into their bedroom. “Is everything okay, little one?”
Niqi hugged the pillow tighter. “He’s gonna be there. If I sleep. He’s going to be there again…” she whimpered.
Anas sighed sadly. He climbed into bed beside her and hugged her. “I’ll hold you. Would that help?”
She nodded and curled into him. “I’m sorry. I… I just…” She yawned wide. “I’m scared he’s really there.”
“He won’t be. Not as long as I’m here.” Anas stroked her hair gently. “Sleep, little one. I’ll be here.”
She took a shuddering breath and let herself drift off to sleep.
Anas pulled the blanket over them both. He held her close as he slipped into slumber as well.