Samir had gathered his cards up and settled more comfortably against the wall. Bolt was next to him, stretched out so he could watch the door, but pressing up against Samir’s thigh, providing warmth. Samir periodically reached down to scratch his head and Bolt’s tail thumped.
Krys, too, was keeping close, tucked in Samir’s jacket and bumping her head against his chin, demanding scritches. Neither animal seemed happy in here, but that unhappiness was subdued, not the sharp state of panic that would have been a sign everyone was in immediate danger.
Shuffling idly, Samir let his mind float, letting everything settle without focusing in on anything too closely. The magic had revealed so much so quickly, and not just in the things they’d seen. The bigger picture was starting to form, and it wasn’t a pretty one. He was going to have to face it soon. He was going to have to sink into it, stare it down, and try to think his way out of it.
He drew a card. The four of ice. Of course it was. “Thank you. I hadn’t noticed.”
No reason to be sarcastic to the cards. They’d tried to warn him. They’d warned him of everything.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t take it seriously.” He spoke to Bolt, who, unlike the cards, seemed to be listening, ears perked and tail thumping. “There was just so much else going on. I got distracted.”
The wonderful thing about dogs was how they seemed to understand. Bolt’s brow pulled together, like he was really considering what Samir was saying.
“This wasn’t supposed to be complicated. It wasn’t supposed to be dangerous. I was just going to ride down with Lysander, find out what happened to Arshtar, then go home.
“The problem, of course, is that home is complicated, and has been for…well, forever. I don’t even know what home is supposed to look like. I’m starting to feel like every choice I’ve ever made was mostly designed to put off having to make that decision.”
Bolt whined and lay his head on Samir’s knee, still looking up at him.
Samir scratched his ears. “I’ve been hiding. I know that. And look where it got me.” Taking a deep breath, Samir focused on the cards again. “So what’s the next step?” After a pause, he corrected himself. “What’s my first step?”
This time, the card he drew was Transformation, which might well have been the cards jerking him around again. Its central meaning was all about exploration and understanding of the self, of finding new aspects of one’s identity without losing touch of your true nature. “Yes, I know. That’s what I need. But how do I get there?”
Although he couldn’t help but note, Transformation was one of the three Powers that grouped together and were usually associated with the Order of the Wing. The first of those cards, the Wylde, traditionally had the Archwizard of the Wing on it, and, in fact, Samir’s deck had that card bearing Sheluna’s face. The third card that was part of that group was Death, and hadn’t Samir seen that card on this trip?
It was all part of the slippery bigger picture, and it was still just out of focus.
The door opened and Varajas and Ruan returned. They were both carrying broken chairs, which Ruan smashed further against the wall, and then assembled the pieces into a fire. The heat was welcome, the bright, living light, even more so. They settled in across from Samir, and still, no one had said a word.
Until Ruan looked up from the fire, meeting Samir’s eyes with fierce intent. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I misled you. I used you. It was unconscionable, and I can’t even claim I was doing it out of a sense of duty, because that was a lie. I twisted my duty—my oaths—into knots just so I could justify doing exactly what I wanted because I was still angry.”
Samir was starting to get a sense of the real Ruan. Now that he’d literally spent some time both in Ruan’s head and in Varajas’s mind as he was thinking about Ruan, Samir had a much clearer picture. Of both of them, really. “I’ve decided to conditionally accept both of your apologies. For now. While we’re still trapped in here. There’s no point to fighting.”
“Fighting doesn’t have to have a point. Sometimes the fun of it is the point,” Varajas said.
Samir gave him as icy a glare as he could manage, and was happy to see Ruan doing the same. “Why are you like this?” Ruan demanded.
Varajas’s only response was a fond smile that made Ruan blush and look away. It was an intimate exchange, and awkward to witness. Not just because the moment seemed like it should be private, but because Samir understood it, in a way he shouldn’t have, because of the invasion they had all shared into each other.
The elephant in the room, as it were. Maybe that was the place to start. “We all saw…well, we all saw it. Witnessed through each other. And I know it’s uncomfortable, but we’re going to need to talk through it. I need to know I’ve got all the pieces right. Because I’m starting to think I know what’s happening, and if so, then I know what we need to do to get out.”