Wispy tendrils of smoke rose and danced from the altar, creating a gossamer web above before blurring into a thin fog near the ceiling. The burning herbs with their heavy-sweet scent made Lesara’s eyes water and she struggled to keep her composure.
A familiar, comforting pressure, like a hug filled her mind. Her brother. A surge of emotion pushed at her heart, wanting to cling, but she gathered her will and pushed instead. Kalshen traveled the Emerald Dream, a realm between sleep and waking. That she sensed him meant she was on the verge of passing out. An image of her mother’s stern face intruded, the usual pale white glow of her eyes bright enough to swallow her silvered irises.
An unpleasant tickle snaked up her spine and she struggled with its coils tightening around her throat. She tried swallowing around a dry lump before dutifully bending her head. Her mother’s visage faded. The uneven sound of her pressured breathing pounded in her ears. Drums, it was drums. Lesara’s tapered ears twitched back to catch the sound better, her eyes on the weaving smoke in front. Silence now.
Colors rose from the smoking herbs in a rainbow haze, forming shapes. She stopped breathing, her eyes darting to pick them out, but they wavered and the room began to follow their dance. She closed her eyes to fight back the quaver of nausea rising from her stomach. The water inside sloshed, pushing the nausea farther up her throat and her stomach growled, angry with her recent fasting.
Concentrate! Her mother hissed in her thoughts. Lesara stiffened, rigid, preventing any cringing or whimpering as the too-familiar psychic needle shot through her mind. You’re nearly there!
Lesara forced herself to breathe in more smoke, fighting a protest in her lungs. She opened her eyes. The room continued its quivering snake dance with the tendrils of smoke. Through it she saw glowing, blue orbs streak toward a canopy of burning trees. Wisps? One of the orbs stopped and hovered in her field of vision; the vague image of a face within blinked and moved closer.
Let go… An urgent whisper. She felt a warm wave rush in like a summer breeze spreading through her from all sides to her core. A tingle followed, sometimes sharp, airborne grains of sand on the beach. She tried opening her eyes, but only roiling blackness greeted her vision. The sea painted before her, lit by an ethereal moon-kissed glow. Kalshen turned to smile and beckoned.
“WEAK!” An ocean wave smacked her down, gasping for breath, before choking on smoke. Smoke. Lesara struggled on the soaking floor of the hazy room. Her mother’s stiff and angular form wavered, the bucket in her hands more clear than anything. Lesara watched a small drop of water fall from its lip to the puddle around her. She turned her head, eyes following the smoke snakes slithering out the opened door to her right.
“Mother…” She coughed. “I saw…” Lesara struggled against hunger and exhaustion as she pushed herself off the floor. Kalshen pulled her into sleep. Damn him.
The bucket clattered to the floor and her mother rushed to help her up. “You saw?” She breathed.
“Wisps…” She finished, pulling at her memory for more. Nothing.
“Wisps?” Ysareline straightened and Lesara nearly slipped back into the floor with her sudden lack of support. “That’s it?”
Lesara hung her head, locking all emotion away. No emotion. Tears threatened regardless and she forced herself to remember the last time she cried. Control. “Burning trees….” She bent over the puddle, her knees aching against the hard floor, and pretended her veil of white hair was a shield. She fixed her gaze on the ends curling in the puddle. When her voice no longer felt thick she cleared her throat. “I’m sorry.”
A heavy sigh. “At least you saw something this time. Get up, go bathe.”
She heard her mother’s footsteps retreating and pushed away from the floor, sitting with her legs folded under.
Ysareline paused in the door way, polished fingernails tapped the door frame where her right hand rested. She turned her face to one side without looking over her shoulder. Her own mane of long white hair pulled back in a sharp pony-tail, contrasted the smooth bone structure of her face and soft lavender skin. “The Lady of Mysteries demands far more next moon. Help her up.” She disappeared from the doorway.
Lesara almost started when she felt two sets of hands wrap around either shoulder and under her arms. “Ashala’eluna,” They both intoned as they started nudging her toward the door.
She tried shaking herself free, then shoved them off. “I can walk for myself.” She straightened and attempted her best march ahead while her legs felt like water. She refused them even a cursory glance, though a thank you tried escaping. She gritted her teeth against it and led the way to the enclosed hot spring.