“Dana, do you fink we can find dem?” Seff asked, his voice hopeful and reverent.
“I’m sure we will, Seffy. We’ll find them,” Dyana replied. She believed it; she could feel the truth of it, but not anything like hopefulness—it tasted like bitterness on her tongue.
As the afternoon quickly sloughed into evening, she let her mind wander into a dark and lonely future as they huddled together for warmth; or more accurately, they huddled together so she could keep Seff warm. Using her vitality to produce enough heat to keep him warm was good practice, and she would need the practice anyway, once he was reunited with his kin and she had to find somewhere else to start over.
Maybe she should marry? She still felt too young, too wild for that. She was of the proper age, and older than lots of new wives, but… What was she supposed to do with a man around? The only one she’d ever been close to was her father. There hadn’t even been any boys near her age in the tribe. And she didn’t have any skills to run a home, even a humble one. The only thing she knew how to cook was flatbread, and she could roast a fish. She never wove or sewed, or, well, what were women even supposed to do? She’d spent too much time training with her father. Any time she’d spent with the women, the food was already cooked, the clothes already made or mended, the nets already tied, the fish already cleaned…
All she knew how to do was keep an eye on the little ones so they didn’t play ‘jump in the fire.’ Who would want a wife like that?
Or maybe that was the wrong way to think of it. No, of course it was the wrong way. I come bearing the richest of all dowries, she told the faceless, barechested man covered in necklaces and bracelets who came to ask her to wife. I know the secret arts of the Great Old Ones, and I will teach our children. Watch, I’m going to punch this tree in half…
Before finding out Seff had a family, she had just needed to find a home for them and she could’ve started teaching him. He would’ve been as mighty as her father. The darling boy had a strong heart and a quiet spirit, and eyes that looked until they understood. He was something special.
And by the spirits, he was getting warm! Even in the chill of early night, she found herself sweating, which never happened even in the daylight. She must have been lost in her reverie and given too much essence to warmth, because they were roasting under the blankets.
She looked down at Seff, and found him grimacing, eyes wide, both fists clenched tightly over his chest. It shocked her back to full awareness. “Seffy! What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
She flapped the blanket a few times to circulate the air and cool down a bit, but Seff barely responded. His skin was as healthy as before, but he felt too hot, and he wasn’t sweating; only her. She opened the blankets all the way, hoping to cool off whatever sudden fever might have come over him.
He leaped from her arms with a start and dashed across the snow toward a tree. He stopped there and hopped from one foot to the other, waving his arms in a pained manner. At first she thought he had needed to make water and held it too long, but then he turned and squatted, and she sighed.
He produced no soil; only a pained whimper. He stood and opened his mouth and leaned with both hands against the tree like he wanted to vomit, and all the worry that Dyana had forgotten rushed back into her. “Seff! What’s the matter!” she cried, trying not to sound desperate.
She stood and rushed to him, but at his gyrations and convulsions she held back from picking him up and making it worse. “What’s going on, Seff? Tell me!”
“Somefing can’t come out!” Seff cried, almost a desperate wail. His legs and back went rigid and he stared up at the sky and tried to make himself cough. He whipped his tail more violently than she had ever seen, so quickly it whistled. His face contorted in pain.
And then she felt the energy coming off him, only the barest hint of it. It was a strange essence, unlike hers or her father’s. Nothing like anyone’s; she could hardly even tell it was there. It was like getting a glimpse of a color the eye was never meant to see, a whisper on the edges of perception. Was it… some kind of fairy power? Had Wolfscar left some strange magic in him on accident?
She tried yanking the energy out of him directly, using her will to suck it away by force. Nothing happened. She focused her thoughts and tried again, but nothing happened. That should not have been possible—she had killed a deer once by sucking the life out of it directly. Her father had beaten her severely for even trying, but she’d done it.
She had to make it flow—that was all she could do. She fought back the panic and tried to picture the channels. Spirits, guide me, please guide me. Father, I need you.
She dropped to her knees and took Seff’s shoulders. “Where is it? Where is it inside you?”
“Ev’ywheww!” he gasped. Tears streamed down his face, but he couldn’t gather enough breath to start a good cry. He had grown positively rigid.
She hastily carried him back to the nearest blanket and lay him down on it. He wanted to curl up in a ball, and she had to force him to stretch out. He moaned in discomfort.
Calm, Dyana, calm, Dyana. The basin gathers all, and the circles meet at the… She used her thumbs to press points on his lower abdomen, and Seff gasped in pain and shook. She rubbed a bit, and when she pulled her thumbs away, the spots were turning a bright purple against his blue skin, so vividly they almost seemed to glow.
No, they were glowing. They were actually glowing, faintly but noticeably.
“It huwts! Dana!” wailed Seff. He tensed and shuddered, and the heat pouring off him grew more intense.
The spots she had pressed faded far too quickly. His body was fighting it, closing off the channels to keep from being overwhelmed. They needed to be open, to flow, or it would destroy or cripple him, like a fever that burns away too much.
“Seff, we have to! This is bad! Be strong, okay? Or you won’t see your parents again! Wolfscar just saved your life, remember? So you have to be strong!” she insisted. Again, she pressed open the channels at the lowest points, and again he squirmed and whimpered pitifully.
This time she didn’t stop. She went to the next, and the next, working her way up his abdomen, but she quickly realized that something was wrong. Points that should have kept the channels flowing did nothing. They caused no pain, no reaction at all. Or was she forgetting where they all were? It had been a while…
She fought to remember, to blank her mind to resist the panic and fill it again with knowledge. It didn’t work; it stayed blank. Seff looked at her with desperate eyes. They glinted with silver like a cat’s in the darkness and dripped with tears. This was beyond her. Her father could have done it, but he was dead. She needed more time, more practice.
By the spirits, she did not want to watch him die or become a cripple. Not now. Not after everything. She wiped tears of extremity from her own eyes, then took his hands and said, “Seff, you have to try and breathe it out! Take a big, deep, breath, as big as you can, and try and breathe it out. Over and over. You can do it! Come on, Seffy. Take a breath!”
“It huwts!” he screamed.
“I know! Take a deep breath! As big as you can!”
“Dana!” he wailed. His cry broke her heart.
She watched the veins in his head bulging and saw his pulse; his heart was racing almost too fast to count. He sniffled and a line of blood dripped out his nose. She tried her hardest to sense what was happening inside him, to detect the strange energy that burned inside him. She felt the heat of it on her skin, but only the faintest whisper on her subtler senses. If not for seeing the other effects right in front of her, she might think she was imagining it.
He took a hasty breath, but he tried to make it a big one. He puffed out his stomach and poked his elbows out to the sides, then pursed his lips and blew like he was blowing out a candle. His little lungs emptied far too quickly. He closed his eyes and whimpered in pain.
“Slower, Seffy. You have to do it slower. Imagine all the weird stuff blowing out of you each time. It’ll follow your thoughts, but you have to focus. Come on. Please. Please do it,” she said. Her voice wavered, and she knew she was coming close to losing her composure herself. She dare not cry. She dare not.
Seff took another breath, slower this time, puffing out his chest and stomach both. He held it in and raised his eyes to meet hers.
She met his gaze calmly. Comfortingly. She nodded.
A flash of bright red appeared on his right eye, and he howled and slammed both hands over it. He kicked and rolled wildly, screaming in short bursts, gasping in between. “It’s coming out my eye!” he managed to shout.
“Seff!” Dyana yelled in a panic. Her mind filled with blindness and lightning. “Seff!”
She tried to pull his hands away from his eye, but he twisted and fought, screaming with a shrillness that hurt her ears. She fought back harder. Pinning him to the ground and sitting on his legs, she got one little hand away just long enough to see blood squeezing out from between the fingers of the other.
“Seff!” she screamed again and ripped his hands away with all her strength. Fresh blood across half his face and in the well of his eye gleamed red. She gasped; it was gone! There was nothing left but a gaping hole, no eyelids or…
No, that was wrong. Seff jerked, and some of the blood dripped away to reveal his eyelashes. She pinned his arms against his chest and gingerly wiped some of the blood away from his eye. He screamed all the while, harsher and more desperate; but she could feel the ball of his eye. It was still there.
Was he cut? Had the magic burst out of him physically, tearing his skin? She wiped away more and more of the blood, but found no wounds underneath to explain what had happened.
“Seff, open your eyes. Look at me!” she said firmly. She had no idea if that was wise; she still couldn’t think.
He shook his head and clenched them tighter. She took a deep breath, gritted her teeth, and placed her thumb just under his eyebrow. The blood made his skin sticky. She pressed up and forced his eye open.
A piercing ray of light burst from Seff’s eye the instant his eyelids parted and shot far into the sky. It missed her head, but he wasn’t looking at her. The boy stared up at the sky, a beacon of pure light brighter than any lantern bursting up from his open right eye and reaching high into the heavens before it faded against the blackness.
They both stared up at it in wonder. The light never faded or diminished, although it vanished each time he blinked.