The year went on, and day by day, life continued in Heldlirsch Bluffs. Ayanna did not get to know anyone any better than they had--the toil of life in the fields did not afford her much time for idle chatter, between the octaweeds and the triffids and the care of her father. And the dreams.
The dreams haunted her every step of the day. She awoke each morning, sure she had been about to set foot into the mouth of a cave or cavern, atop a high place with the Bloodwood all around. It was always at dusk or dawn--she could never be sure, but the Eyes were usually in sight. Sometimes the Witch's Eye would twinkle green, or it might be the Beggar's yellow gaze shining forth. But she was never quite sure how she had arrived. Had she walked? She awoke tired as if from a long journey, but that was also attributable to the work in the fields.
But it was not just the cave. A voice haunted her, not just a voice but a full-throated, many-toned voice, speaking sounds that seemed like words, words she had no understanding of, and it felt like she had not the intelligence to begin to undertand them. A shining, golkden aura hovered at the edges of her sight in her dreams, ad which ever way she turned to see where the voice wwas coming from, she found it hovering, as if the voice were coming from all around. Which was an absurd though, she realized one day, as she had stood up to drink from her water jug. Voices don't have a visual compenent. You can't just see someone talking.
But her skepticism did not banish the voice, nor did it banish the dreams. She dreamt of pushing aside vines, linp tendrils of a roper tree that hung as if entranced by some sort of music wafting from before her. She dreamt of walking through cold, frost-rimed trunks of trees dormant in the waning of the year, her breath a fog in front of her from her repeated exhalations in her exertion to climb up to the promontory that she knew the cave had to be on. And when she arrived at the top, she saw the cave on a knob farther away, not at all nearby. She had miscalculated her direction.
Every night, she set out to find the cave, whether she wanted to or no. Every morning, she awoke either frustrated in fruitless search or hopeful, just on the cusp of discovery.
At lunch one day in the fields, she and Viskani were teamed. Viskani was a mage, and reluctant to be in the field--but there were not enough people to afford anyone an escape from field duty. So Viskani would work beside her, dithering. And in his dithering, he liked to talk.
"Hey, Yana, do that trick with your fingers again."
Aayanna's eyes rolled almost of their own accord. She tossed him an octaweed. He caught it, letting it wrap its little rooticles around his wrist.
"No, seriously, I wanna see."
She turned her head to him. "I wanna see you dig out these octaweeds. We don't have enough barley, we don't get bread. We don't get bread, we don't eat."
Viskani clicked his tongue. "Yeah," he said. "Like we don't have plenty of lowenberry." The nutritious fruit was in plenty around the bluffs, the flowers of the early autumn swelling into bulbous, purple flesh that Aya had loved to eat when Tyr could sneak it into the city.
"Don't you talk to me about lowenberry," Ayanna snapped. "This--" she grunted with the effort of disentangling another octaweed "--is old line crop. Our bodies are used to metabolisng it. We don't know about lowenberry." Lowenberry was also on the extensive list of contraband items in Vindulan. Aya had the fortune of being Tyr's spouse, and Tyr had the fortune of being a Secondson, and moreover, brother to a Conciliar--the High Conciliar, in the end.
"Pah, old line. I eat it all the time, it's great. Never been better. Shoot, I can even do this now!" Viskani made a grand swirling gesture with his hand, and a tiny, thin line of flame followed his index finger, lingering in the air. He continued, tracing symbols that stayed in the air as his hand moved on, impossibly spelling out in fire writing "Ayanna is a butt."
Ayanna threw another octaweed at him through the lines of fire, and they dissipated like a hallucination.
"Go soak in a cave," she said, immediately feeling ashamed that she had said something so incredibly lame.
But Viskani actually stopped, entirely missing the octaweed, which fell to the soil again, writhing about with its tenatcles for a plant to wend them around. "No lie, you get them too?"
Ayanna's self-recrimination stopped short as she took in what he had said. "Get...what?" she said, unsure how this would play out. No, she thought to herself. There's no way this is happening.
"Oh, come one, the cave dreams. Yesha was telling me about hers, and then I told her mine, too. You're getting the cave dreams, right? Please tell me you are, because I really don't want to be the crazy one here."
Ayanna nodded slowly, grateful for the shift in Viskanu's attitude--he was usually on the lazy side, and often put up a bit of a churlish front. But she knew he had a soft spot, and she knew he wasn't entirely the hardness he liked to project. "Yeah, they're wild, right?"
"Wild...is not a word I would use." She didn't want to think about it all that much. "Do you find it every time?" she asked, anyway, attempting to sound disinterested. She had a burning desire to know the answer.
"Find it? Like, it's always there, it's just sometimes out of sight, you know?" Viskani fidgeted and picked up the octaweed he had missed, drawing its tentacles through his fingers gently. "But it's not the cave that really gets me. It's the voice." Ayanna tensed up. "The voice...IT finds ME. And it's not some human voice, or even a saurid, like one of those purtha growls. It's...dark."
Ayanna's brow wrinkled. Dark wasn't the way she would describe her voice. Viskani hurriedly added, "Like it matters, it's just a stupid dream, right?" He laughed and dropped the octaweed, punting it clear across the field.
"And you know you're getting that, right?" Ayanna said with a clear tone of distatste, her hand on her hip. "Yeah, I know," Viskani said. And he sauntered off in the direction he had kicked the weed, pausing only once to look askace at Ayanna, And his face was...odd. Something like regret, maybe?
Her dreams weren't dark, and the voice wasn't dark. And certainly she could say she hadn't felt found, or hunted might be the word that Viskani would use if he had felt more free to speak. No, the voice she kept hearing was something like a guide, perhaps. It was never intrusive, only seeming to sound off as part of the dream, like an observational quality.
Later, as she gathered food from the dining hall to take back to her father, she saw Chenley conferring off to the side of one of the tables with Yesha. She steered her tray, laden with pumpernickel and beets and lizard steak, over in his direction, scanning the hall to be sure to at least notice if Viskani was in the room. She saw no sign of his stringy, black hair hanging down from his pale face, and made a direct line for Chenley.
He noticed her, and his face widened in pleasant surprise. Ayanna nodded over toward a table where there were still few sitting. "Manna day, Yesh," she said pleasantly as she came close to the pair. "Kenna day, Yanni," Yesh replied playfully. "Aren't you taking that to your father?"
The question stung, but Ayanna smiled bravely. "Yeah, I'll get there," she said. "He's been ok today, it's all right." She lwered her voice. "I wanted to catch up with you, and I don't know when I will soon," she added. Yesha's face went quiet, and her mouth puckered in an o of surprise. Chenley cocked an eyebrow. "The Child is with you today, Ayanna. Will you tell it straight?"
"No games, but I want to ask you one thing," Ayanna said as they sat down. "Is it a cave for you?" Chenley's head bobbed up and down gently, as if he had already heard about it. Yesha's face went quizzical. "You're the third person to talk to me about this. First I told it to Viskani, and then Chenley here."
"Do you know of anyone else, have you asked anyone who hasn't had these?" Ayanna dreaded hearing that they might be alone in their dreams. "N-no," Yesha stuttuered out. "I only told Vist because...well, I don't really know why, to be honest." Chenley put in a finger, saying, "I had overheard you when Vistani was telling you about HIS dream, and I wasn't sure I should say something, but now..."
Ayanna turned to Chenley. "What is it about Vistani? Do you--do you think he's having the same dreams?" Yesha was the one who shook her head, though. "I don't trust him," she blurted out. "I know that sounds bad, but...I mean, he talked about a cave too, but the way he sounded, it was more like he was..." Chenley interrupted her again. "Hungry?"
And Ayanna heard a clcarion bell ring in her head. That was precisely the word she was looking for to describe how he had looked when he had exited their own brief chat. Like he had been starving, but not for food. "So do they mean something?" Ayanna asked. She was looking at Chenley--he was the clerk, after all.
"I have theories already, but let's not talk further about it," he said, tapping his nose. His eyes darted up to the span of the hall, and out of her periphery Ayanna saw Viskani stroll up with his ususal lackadaisical stride to the lunch counter. He hadn't noticed them yet. Ayanna realized that she had staed far too long. "I'll be seeing you, friends," she said. "Let me know," she added significantly at Chenley. He nodded sagely and began poking at the food on his tray as Ayanna walked as unhurriedly as she could out of the hall, trying not to attract the attention of anyone. Not least of all Viskani.
As the sun went down over the Bloodwood, and the pterids croaked their hoarse cries, Ayanna's father finally closed his eyes. The fire in their hut's hearth had burned down to a gentle flicker, and Ayanna's lamp was the only light by which she was able to read. She was reading again her mother's letters to Tyr--the loving hand with which she wrote the words, but also the words themselves spoke to her, though they were not addressed to her.
They spoke of the simple love her parents had sahred, and of the support that Aya had always given to Tyr in his eccentricities. Ayanna drew a breath, a long, shaky one as she fought back tears that obstreperously rolled down her cheek anyway. Tyr was already asleep, and Ayanna now read silently to herself instead of to him aloud.
She talked about her life in the farms, and how he had pulled her away from it--and how glad she was to be in the city. WHere Ayanna had always taken for granted the streets of mid and buildings of rude brick, baked into hardness by the heat of the blazing summer suns, Aya was describing some new thing she had seen in the market square, or delighting in the sparkling of the bay, or talking about some new sea creature she saw in the nets of the fishermen on the quays. And she realized that while Tyr knew all this, Aya was sharing with him the novelty of her experience, and she gave that to him as an act of love.
And as she read on, she found she was reading about herself--her own memories, but from her mother's perspective. Ayanna had such a clear memory of that day, and a chill ran up her spine as she read it from aya's eyes, and felt herself full of a golden glow. Her vision blurred as tears filled her eyes, the memory stained by her charred, blackened body being pulled out of the rubble of the laboratory hive that Tyr had worked from. A crackle from the slowly burning logs in the hearth popped, startling Ayanna in her revery, and she whiupped her head back and forth in alarm. And in the darkness, just on the sides of her vision, she saw a faint glow of gold.
Am I asleep? Ayanna asked herself. She did not answer, but a voice did, or seemed to. It responded in the bell-like sonorousness of the voice from her dreams, the Voice, the entity that seemed to be guiding her in her dreams. But she heard it remotely, as if her wakened state imposed some sort of barrier to hearing. The voice had stopped speaking, and the glow had faded from her vision as Ayanna returned to full consciousness of the here and now. The sky outside was black with the fall of night, she could see through the rough squares she had hewn and sealed herself.
Tonight, she decided, she would seek for the Voice, and try to find this cave she had been searching for night after night. She wondered if Yasha and Chenley were experiencing the same sort of waking dream as she had--and if Viskani were, would his be different? She had avoided talking to him about his version of the dreams, though he had broached the subject to her. After the revelation Yasha had given about the differing nature of his dreams, Ayanna didn't trust that he was necessarily in step with her experience--it had resonated poorly with her, as if something that the voice had told her had warned her from something like this.