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Chapter 43: The Dream Argument



The departure of the university crowd had made the second floor of the beer hall far less lively, but Eni barely noticed. Her attention was so utterly absorbed by the peril papers she was carefully reading that she couldn't have said how many times a server stopped by to refill her mug of cider. For his part, Tsar had sat quietly after his revelation, apparently content to wait patiently for Eni to finish.

She had asked him if he could be more specific about where the magic he sensed was, but Tsar had simply shrugged his shoulders. ”Don't know where to look,” he had said, ”You will.”

He hadn't spoken another word after that, and when Eni at last finished her reading and stood up to leave he was on his feet an instant later. She settled her tab with the friendly waitress and then walked out the door, her head full of pieces that didn't quite seem to fit together. The disappearances and the murders certainly reminded her of similar stories from the days of the Scourge, and Eni supposed that Orlioch might actually be right. But even when monsters had been at their most deadly, they had been seen.

No one had noticed anything.

Mammals and even a few avians had simply turned up dead, and while all the bodies had been found by the water Eni knew that wasn't as good a lead as the more optimistic journalists suggested. Everything in Terregor was near a canal or the lake, and whether the murderer traveled on dry land or lurked in the placid water the end result would be the same.

Eni sighed as she realized her thoughts were simply going in circles, shaking her head and catching Tsar's eye. He cocked his head to the side in a wordless question, and she shrugged her shoulders helplessly as she kept walking. ”I know what's been happening in Terregor now,” she said, ”I understand why the City Guard is baffled; this has been going on for weeks and the trail's completely cold.”

The trail's gone cold.

The words echoed through Eni's head and she shivered suddenly, the coolness of an Oktow day replaced with something far more bitter and biting. For an instant she could feel snow pressing against her cheek and freezing the spaces between her fingers as she lay helplessly on the icy ground, and her eyes widened with horror. No sounds met her ears except the mournful howling of the wind, the chatter of the city utterly gone, and all she could see was an endless expanse of whiteness under a miserably gray sky.

And then Tsar touched her shoulder.

Eni nearly jumped as reality reasserted itself, the soaring buildings and meandering waterways of the city filling her eyes once more. Tsar's paw was still on her shoulder, and Eni realized he was draping his cloak around her. The rough fabric was somehow soft to the touch, worn to nearly silky smoothness in places, and it felt like the wolf. ”Looked like you needed this,” his voice came from behind her head.

His words were bland as he pulled his arms away, the weight of the cloak keeping it in place. ”I…” Eni began, and she hated the quaver she heard in her own voice.

She cleared her throat and tried again, blinking rapidly. ”Thanks,” she said, ”I really need to get another jacket.”

Eni turned and forced a smile onto her face, as though showing the right expression would make her feel what it conveyed. She was going for a light and joking tone, but her words felt thick and stiff, and she pressed on. ”I need to be careful,” she said, letting out an awkward laugh, ”If I walk around in the— If I don't stay warm, my winter coat will come in.”

The word ”cold” had died on her lips, and she could feel Tsar's eyes boring into hers. He had noticed how she hadn't been able to finish her sentence, she was sure of it. ”It's funny,” Eni continued, and the words were just flowing out of her mouth, a little too fast to control, ”Normal hares change color and grow thicker fur every winter. I never did in Siverets, but the weather there is really mild. I thought I was lucky, seeing my parents always being a bit too warm, but then I moved to the Circle. The third winter I was in Terregor we had some of the— Some of the worst days on record. And then I started shedding and growing a new coat.”

Eni laughed again, the sound very nearly hysterical, but she couldn't stop talking. Tsar was watching her wordlessly, and she babbled on, letting the story finish. ”I was so surprised! You should have seen what I looked like,” she said, gesturing vaguely at her neck to suggest the massive and fluffy dewlap she had developed, ”I had to have my citizenship papers updated, too, because the patterns in my fur change a bit. It's not like they really show, normally, but you—”

”Eni,” Tsar interrupted, his voice quiet as he took a step closer, ”This is real.”

Tears Eni hadn't felt were streaming down her face and she nodded miserably. ”I know,” she said, ”I know, but I just— When I remember what I saw… It feels like this is the vision. That the reality is me alone in the snow and the c—c—cold.”

She stuttered as she forced the last word out, but it was like pulling a sliver out of her finger. There was an instant sense of relief, the nagging fear easing just enough for her to realize how enormous it had been. ”It's not,” Tsar said gently, and he reached out and squeezed Eni's paw.

The pads on his fingers and palm were rough and hard against hers, but they were wonderfully warm and undeniably solid. There wasn't the same spark of raw power Eni had felt the first time they had ever touched, but she could feel Tsar nonetheless, his strength like a river behind a dam. ”Real,” Tsar said, his voice solemn, and after a moment he disentangled his paw from hers.

”Thank you,” Eni whispered, and Tsar nodded.

She took a deep and steadying breath, pulling the borrowed cloak tight against her body. It was a bit too long for her, the hem dragging on the cobblestones of the road, but Eni didn't care. ”My apartment's not far,” she said, and she could feel her pulse slowing, ”Come on.”

They walked in silence for nearly half a block before Tsar spoke. ”White?” he asked.

Eni turned and looked at him in puzzlement, glancing around to see if there was something she had missed. In the lull between the lunch hour and most mammals getting off of work the street was very nearly empty, and neither any of the buildings reaching for the skies nor any of the few other pedestrians about were white. ”What?” Eni asked.

”Your fur,” Tsar said, ”When it changes. Still white?”

”Ah,” Eni said, and the smile that crossed her face was genuine, ”Yes, still white. A brighter shade, if you can believe that. And my markings get bigger, instead of just being on my belly and back, but nothing that shows, really.”

She laughed and ran her fingers through the tuft of fur atop her head. ”This gets longer too, but it gets longer everywhere,” she said, ”Still, I heard from a lot of mammals that the only way they knew it was me was because they figured there couldn't be two Aberrant hares running around Terregor.”

Something occurred to Eni and she looked at Tsar more closely. ”Do you have a winter coat?” she asked, ”Some stories about the Slayer say you're white or red. I always wondered if that was really you.”

”I don't,” Tsar said, and although his face remained unreadable he ran his fingers through his shaggy mane in a way that might have almost looked like embarrassment in another mammal, ”But it was me.”

”What happened?” Eni asked.

”Slayed a monster in… Eidraspes, it was,” he said, ”Its sap got on me.”

”It bleached you?” Eni said, utterly fascinated, and Tsar nodded, his muzzle crinkled in distaste.

”Smelled awful,” he said, and she bit back a grin at his expression.

Eni's memory of what the Lotophagi had shown her had faded back into the depths of her mind, and although she desperately hoped it would stay there she had the sense it wouldn't. She had never experienced anything so intensely, and in some terrible way Eni felt as though something inside of her had soured. What would happen the next time it snowed? Would she even be able to touch it, to feel it against her fur and keep moving?

Or would the vision overwhelm her once more?

They were questions Eni knew she needed to answer, but for the moment the feeling had passed, and she did her best to keep it that way. ”But what about when you were red, then?” Eni asked, looking to Tsar, ”What made that happen?”

”I did,” Tsar said, after a moment's hesitation, ”I was… curious.”

”Curious?” Eni repeated.

Tsar didn't answer immediately, but Eni waited patiently as she led the way across a bridge and into one of the smaller and cozier neighborhoods in Terregor. The building her apartment was in didn't stand out particularly from the buildings on either side; it was tall and narrow like all the others, with skinny windows surrounded by graceful arches. ”My mother was red,” Tsar said at last, ”When I was white… Seemed like a chance to see.”

Eni nodded slowly as she walked up the steps to her building, rummaging through her satchel for her key. ”I think I understand,” she said, ”I never did look much like my parents.”

Eni emerged at last with her keyring and opened the door to the building with a satisfying click. She felt as though she could hear a hundred different locks being opened, but there was no mistaking the sound of the one that led to her own little home. ”But both of them were normal hares,” Eni continued, ”Was your mother an Aberrant? I don't think I've ever seen a red wolf.”

Tsar shook his head as he followed her into the narrow entryway to the apartment building. There wasn't much to see; just a polished tile floor, a neat stack of mailboxes, and rows of doors. ”She was a kalak,” he said, and Eni couldn't place the word; it had to be one in his native tongue.

He must have seen her look of confusion, because he added, ”In Jarku, bolshalisa.”

Eni frowned; she had never heard of the species before. ”Wolf's fine,” Tsar said, shrugging his shoulders, and without his cloak on Eni could really see just how different his build was from a normal wolf's.

She wondered if his mother had been as slim, but before she could consider the matter much further they had reached the door to her apartment. Eni unlocked the door and threw it open, and as she stepped in she tried to see it through Tsar's eyes.

Her apartment was three stories tall, which would have been an outrageous luxury in most cities but was simply the norm in Terregor. It was, in effect, three rooms stacked one on top of the other, each quite tiny and connected by a spiraling wrought-iron staircase that gleamed dully in the light that came in through the windows. As small as the rooms were, they doubtlessly felt even smaller to Tsar; every single wall was lined with bookcases, and neat stacks of books covered almost every flat surface. The fine Meleterin rug she had picked up in Renaica years ago was barely visible beneath all the books, the woven pattern of interlocking geometric symbols all but hidden.

A fine layer of dust coated everything and swam in the air where their footsteps disturbed it, catching the light and softening it to a hazy golden color. Tsar glanced up, looking past the balconies on the second and third floors to the vaulted ceiling that loomed over everything. ”I'm sorry it's a mess,” Eni said apologetically, gesturing around to take in the first floor.

Besides the bookcases, she had her desk shoved into one corner, the top of it stacked so high with books that her typewriter and adding machine were almost completely hidden from view, their wooden cases shut around them. Behind her desk was a map of Aerodan absolutely covered with her meticulous writing and pins connected by colored strings, mapping out years of how she had searched. Beneath the map were all of her old journals, the covers battered with travel and faded with age.

Eni had been working up to the very minute she had left months ago, and even the chair behind her desk was covered with books; in preparation for her last trip she had copied passages out of a few old atlases for directions. Tsar didn't say anything, the wolf continuing to look around, and when he caught sight of her desk he stepped forward, carefully navigating his way across the few bare parts of the floor.

”That's a decade's worth of work,” Eni said, not hiding the pride in her voice as he stared at the little markers that crisscrossed the Cradle.

Tsar turned his head in her direction, and then gestured with his tail to take in the books lining the cramped apartment. ”You've read all of these?” he asked.

”All of them,” Eni said, ”This is my personal collection.”

She laughed and kicked the floor sheepishly, sending up another puff of dust. ”I could have a bigger apartment if I didn't spend so much on books,” she admitted, ”But I'm not here very often, and all of these…”

She sighed contentedly, breathing in the wonderfully familiar smell of paper. ”They're important,” she said, ”In a way, every single one helped me find you.”

”Are they all stories?” Tsar asked.

”No, I've got just about everything,” Eni replied, ”Peril papers, atlases, ledgers, diaries…”

As she spoke, Tsar had stepped away from her desk and was looking at the neat rows of shelves, all tidily organized. He was silent for a moment, obviously taking in her collection, and Eni spoke. ”Would you like something to drink?” she asked, ”You didn't touch your mead.”

”Yes,” Tsar said, and then nearly as an afterthought added, ”Please.”

”My kitchen's upstairs,” Eni said, and she brought him up the staircase to the second level.

It was strange to hear another set of footsteps against the cold metal steps as she herself walked up them; Eni couldn't remember the last time she had a guest. ”I've got water or…” Eni began, peering into the narrow pantry crammed next to her little cast iron stove.

”Or tea or wine,” she finished; there really wasn't much.

She had a few half-empty jars of spices, a battered tin of tea leaves, and three dusty bottles of wine she had received as gifts from Aza and never gotten around to drinking. Otherwise, the shelves were the only ones in her entire apartment that were bare, and she looked back to Tsar. ”Tea, please,” he said quietly, and Eni pulled the container out.

”I don't know if I still have any honey,” she said, remembering Tsar's request in the beer hall, but he simply used his tail to point at the cabinet that hung over the stovetop.

”In there,” he said, and when Eni opened the door she saw he was right; there was a small ceramic jar tucked away behind a canister of salt.

”You could really smell this?” Eni asked as she took the jar down and tried to get the lid off, ”It's not even open.”

It was harder than it should have been, the honey so old that the lid was practically glued on. Tsar wordlessly gestured for Eni to give the jar to him as she continued her struggles, her palms slipping fruitlessly against the smooth walls. ”Yes,” he said as he forced a claw into the narrow gap between the jar and its lid, popping it open and neatly catching the top with his other paw.

Eni shook her head as she got out her kettle and filled it with water, placing it on her stove after lighting the appliance. ”I can't imagine what that's like,” she said, ”To smell so well, I mean.”

Tsar shrugged. ”You don't have to imagine,” he said, so quietly it was barely more than a whisper, and Eni knew he was right.

She had experienced for herself what it felt like to experience the world through Tsar's senses when she had seen his memories of Idrun. ”I…” Eni began, trying to pick her words delicately, ”It's like sand running between my fingers. It's there, in my mind, but the… The shape of it is gone. Does that make sense?”

The wolf nodded solemnly, his eyes catching hers. ”Mentalism is difficult,” he said, his voice a bit louder and very nearly conversational.

”Have you come up with a way for me to practice yet?” Eni asked hopefully.

The wolf's face was unreadable at first, but then it softened ever so slightly. ”I have,” he said, ”After tea.”

Eni laughed. ”Thank you,” she said, ”Here, let me give this back.”

She carefully took Tsar's cloak off and offered it to him, being careful to keep the hem off the floor. Her cramped kitchen, with its little dining nook set next to one of the windows, wasn't as full of books as some of the other parts of her apartment, but the table and chairs were both covered with dusty stacks. Tsar accepted his cloak wordlessly, smoothly slipping it on, and Eni busied herself gathering up the books to make a spot for him to sit. ”I'm going to get another jacket,” she called over her shoulder as she collected an armful of tomes off the chairs, ”I've got one in my bedroom.”

Tsar nodded as Eni hurried off up the stairs, moving as quickly as she could while weighed down with her precious volumes. She hastily stacked them near her bed and then rummaged through her closet until she found her spare jacket, pulling it off its hanger and slipping it on. She had it halfway buttoned when she heard the kettle begin to whistle and she ran back down the stairs, fumbling with the strap at the neck.

”What do you think?” Eni asked, spreading her arms and gesturing down at her jacket.

It was a bit darker than the one she had discarded after the Lotophagi's attack, with a higher collar and a sharper cut. She wasn't sure it was quite to her tastes, but the same tailor who had made her old jacket had offered it at an irresistible discount the last time she had been in his shop. It had sat in her closet ever since, but Eni regretted her decision; it was surprisingly comfortable.

”Sharkskin,” Tsar said, his tone as blandly neutral as his face.

Eni blinked. ”You're right, it is,” she said, and then it occurred to her why he might have pointed the material out.

”It doesn't— It doesn't smell, does it?” she asked, a touch anxiously, lifting one sleeve to her nose to take an experimental sniff as she wondered if she was about to learn why it had been so cheap.

She had met plenty of mammals who hated the scent of the sea, and while the leather didn't have any odor she could detect she had no idea what the wolf's nose was telling him. Tsar shook his head. ”Sharks are good eating,” he said, and then he seemed to realize that said nothing about the jacket itself.

”It's nice,” he added quickly.

He didn't speak again as Eni poured two steaming mugs of tea, giving him one and the little jar of honey. Tsar used most of it before offering it back to her, but Eni shook her free paw and he put the lid back on. They sipped at their drinks in silence, but to Eni it felt companionable and she almost felt sorry when the moment was over. ”Mentalism,” the wolf said at last, setting aside his empty cup, ”You've done it with me. And Fenris. How was it different?”

Eni frowned, running a finger around the lip of her cup. ”It's…” she began, ”Fenris was simpler. I think that's the right word for it; there just wasn't much to his mind.”

”You made him do what you wanted him to,” Tsar said, ”You made him stop attacking you.”

”I don't think I actually succeeded, to be honest,” Eni admitted, ”I just wanted him to get off me, not… Whatever it was I did.”

”Describe it,” Tsar said.

Eni had a vivid flash of the overwhelming power of the command she had forced into the barghest's mind, the order that had seemed to render him comatose until Astrasa had somehow made her escape with him. ”It was… It was like…” Eni began, groping for the right words, and as she glanced around the cozy second floor of her room the answer hit her.

”It was like looking for a book,” Eni said excitedly, ”His mind was like a library, and I was looking for a particular passage. And I found it, too.”

”Good,” Tsar said, ”What about me?”

”You?” Eni said, and her feeling of triumph faded, ”I… I couldn't control it. I was just… seeing what you were seeing.”

”My mind is more complex than a barghest's. By a little, at least,” Tsar said, and although he spoke the words gravely Eni smiled at his dry joke, ”I've… structured my mind.”

He was quiet a moment, and then he suddenly asked, ”How many books do you have?”

”In my apartment?” Eni asked, and when he nodded she rubbed at her chin thoughtfully.

”Maybe about fifteen thousand?” she guessed.

”You said the University has millions of books,” Tsar said, ”Would it be easier to find something there or here?”

”Well, that depends,” Eni said, ”All libraries—all good libraries—have a filing system of some kind. It might not look like it, but I've got a method.”

She gestured to take in their surroundings. ”I've got all my peril papers on this floor, in those shelves over there. And they're organized by the city they were printed in and the date,” Eni explained, ”The University has more items, and they've got a more elaborate filing system, but the principle's the same.”

”And if you didn't know what you were looking for?” Tsar asked patiently.

”Well, definitely here, then,” Eni said, ”Not as much to look through.”

”Same as with Fenris and me,” Tsar said, and Eni nodded slowly.

”I think I understand,” Eni said.

”The key to mentalism is understanding the mind you're searching through,” Tsar said, ”If I didn't know you kept your peril papers on the second floor, I'd need to search your apartment until I found them, and then look for the one I wanted. If I didn't know what a peril paper was, I'd need to learn that before I could even begin looking.”

”I can see why it's difficult,” Eni sighed, ”But how can I practice?”

Tsar shifted slightly in his seat. ”You've been in my mind,” he said slowly, ”And I've been in yours. I saw what the monster showed you.”

Dawning realization hit Eni. ”You mean you'll… come into my mind?” she asked, half-sure he was about to tell her she had the entirely wrong idea.

”If you'll allow me,” Tsar said.

Neither one of them spoke for a long moment, and Eni studied his features. His pale eyes were earnest and yet somehow solemn, his paws clasped together and resting on the table's surface. ”Will it be dangerous?” Eni asked, and as Tsar opened his mouth to answer she quickly added, ”For you, I mean. I don't know what I did to Fenrir, but what if…”

She trailed off, swallowing hard as she imagined what she might have done to the poor beast. Maybe he was still a catatonic lump that the Woemaker had disposed of when it became obvious he would never awaken. Or if he had, maybe the barghest was plagued with vivid recollections of the control Eni had exerted, the same as herself. ”I'll be fine,” Tsar said, interrupting her thoughts, and Eni thought he almost looked touched at her concern.

”When can we start?” Eni asked, and Tsar gave the answer she had half-hoped for and half-feared.

”Now,” he said simply.

Eni bit her lip, glancing out the window. The afternoon sun still lit up the sky, and if the Archivist's schedule was the same as it had always been they had at least a few hours before he'd be free. ”Alright,” Eni said, ”Let's do it.”

Tsar looked about the little kitchen. ”Not here,” he said, ”You should lie down.”

”Does that make it easier?” Eni asked.

”Won't hurt if you pass out,” Tsar said, and Eni had a sudden mental image of the two of them slamming their heads into each other as they fell unconscious and then collapsing out of their chairs to the floor if they tried practicing where they were sitting.

”Right,” Eni said, ”We'll use my bedroom, then. I, uh, don't have a lot of empty floor space.”

Tsar stood wordlessly, his cloak swirling around him. The light made him look somehow more vibrant than he usually did, his eyes glittering like jewels and his fur luxuriously glossy. Eni led him up the stairs to the only part of her apartment he hadn't seen yet, although it wasn't really any more impressive than the rest. She had a small lavatory with a separate room for a bathtub and a washbasin, but the rest of the third floor was taken up by her little bedroom and its closet. There were very nearly as many books as in the rest of her apartment; her low bed, with its cheery Nihu-style comforter in elegant watered silk, really was the largest and clearest flat surface in the entire suite. As Tsar walked in after her, though, Eni saw the obvious problem.

Even if she shifted books as best she could, there was nowhere for Tsar but the bed.

The wolf didn't seem perturbed by the possibility; he was keeping his tail close to his body, obviously to prevent himself from accidentally knocking something over, and she caught his gaze traveling to the various curios she had on top of her dresser. ”That was a gift,” Eni said, gesturing at the fragile shell comb he was examining, ”From my mother.”

Its natural iridescence caught the light, sparkling like an opal, and Tsar looked back at Eni. ”When you're ready,” he said quietly, and Eni knew she was simply stalling.

Eni took a deep breath, settling herself on top of her comforter and feeling a bit foolish as she did. She never slept on top of her bedding, and it felt strange to look up at the familiar ceiling when it was still light out. ”How do you…” Eni began, pausing as she tried to phrase it right, ”How do we do this?”

”On your side,” Tsar said, gesturing for her to turn, and she rolled over until she was facing the bookshelves lining one wall.

He climbed onto the bed next to her, lying on his side so that their heads were facing each other. His nose was remarkably close to hers, and she could feel the puffs of his breath and smell the sweetness of honey on it. ”Touch my face,” he said, and Eni hesitated.

”Are there specific spots I should be touching?” she asked, one arm half-raised and extended.

”Doesn't matter,” Tsar said, and she supposed he was right; she had been pulled into his nightmarish vision when her fingers had simply brushed against his head.

Eni reached out, splaying her paw so her thumb was against his muzzle and her other fingers rested on the curvature of his head around his eye socket. She could feel the steady beat of his heart as she stared into his face, and as he held her gaze Tsar reached out with one paw and delicately touched her head. ”What now?” Eni asked, and Tsar's answer was immediate.

”Breathe,” he said, ”Match mine.”

It took Eni a moment to synchronize her breaths with his, and his pale eyes were utterly fathomless as they simply lay there, their chests rising and falling as one. ”Close your eyes,” Tsar said, and Eni did.

”Concentrate on what you feel,” he murmured, his words slow and soothing, ”Can you feel the power in me?”

She could. The tips of her fingers seemed almost to tingle with what was inside the wolf, and even with her eyes closed she felt as though she could see him. She could hear his heart and his breathing, her own so perfectly matched to his that she could barely tell the difference. ”Yes,” Eni whispered, trying not to lose her focus.

Colors were dancing behind her eyelids, colors too vivid for words and in impossible shapes. They didn't look like anything, neither geometric nor organic, but somehow Eni had no doubt that she was perceiving Tsar once more in a way that had nothing to do with the physical world. There was grace and strength too raw and primal to be reduced to anything as mundane as flesh or bone, the dazzling forms dancing in time with the wolf's steady pulse.

Eni let it all wash over her, and she couldn't feel the smooth silk of her comforter under her any longer. She couldn't hear the murmur of water running through the apartment building's pipes or the clatter of hooves on the street outside. There was nothing but her and Tsar, and as she watched and listened even that division seemed to fade. There were more shapes and colors floating across her awareness, incredible ones that she heard as much as she saw, and Eni knew it was her own power she saw.

It wasn't like comparing a raindrop to the ocean or a seedling to a tree. She didn't feel dwarfed by him, as she had always feared she would be, but their energy was different in a way that defied comparison. It was as though he was the sun and she was the moon, the same size in the sky and yet otherwise so different as to have little else in common. His magic boiled off him while hers felt somehow serene, glowing where he burned. Eni had no idea how long she took it in; it might have been seconds or it might have been hours, but the passage of time didn't matter.

Reach out.

It was Tsar's voice, but it didn't come in words or get carried by the air to her ears. It was more like a sensation, a dreamy combination of memories and feelings that conveyed the weight of what he meant.

Eni strained, pushing for Tsar, and she could feel her mind stretching as though it was a limb. It felt somehow utterly alien and yet entirely natural, and even without fingers she knew when she had grabbed him. What she had felt, when she had been limited by her own flesh, was nothing by comparison, and she felt more keenly aware of him than she ever had before.

Open your eyes.

His thoughts came again, without language and yet with understanding, and Eni did as he asked. Tsar's eyes met hers the wall of her bedroom behind him, and Eni offered him a smile. ”That was the first lesson?” she asked, and as Tsar took his paw away from her face she did the same.

Tsar didn't answer immediately, nimbly rolling off her bed and standing. Eni heaved herself upright with far less grace; it felt as though the floor was tilting and shifting underneath her but she at last managed to get up. ”No,” Tsar said, and he pushed her bedroom door open, ”This is.”

Eni blinked, looking around for any sign of what he meant. All she saw was her apartment, which seemed the same as it ever did. Her mother's comb was still on her dresser, alongside a vase with a single dried flower in it, and the light streaming through the window still had the same rich golden color of the afternoon. Tsar padded out of her bedroom and onto the small balcony surrounding the staircase, beckoning for Eni to follow. She did, and once she was out of the room her mouth fell open.

Her staircase kept going up.

Eni tilted her head back and stared; the twisting curve of cast iron ascended impossibly high, stretching so far up that Eni couldn't see the ceiling. The staircase simply vanished as a black speck, and when her disbelieving eyes looked down Eni saw it was much the same. Her apartment had become infinitely tall, floor after floor stacked atop each other into eternity.

”This is my mind?” Eni asked, feeling a sense of vertigo overcome her as she stared over the edge of the balcony.



”A choice,” Tsar said, leaning against the railing with an almost casual air, ”Your mind isn't an apartment. This is a simile.”

”You mean a metaphor,” Eni corrected automatically, and then she laughed.

”I'm sorry,” she added, ”It's just… This is incredible.”

Eni glanced around; much like her actual apartment, all of the walls she could see were lined with bookshelves. ”What are the books, then?” Eni asked, ”Memories?”

Something seemed to shift almost imperceptibly around them, and Tsar shrugged even as Eni tried to see what had changed. ”If you want them to be,” he said, ”When you master mentalism, it can be anything. Books or floors or rooms… But you won't need it to be anything.”

”Why not?” Eni asked, examining the nearest bookshelf.

”You won't need the metaphor,” Tsar said, and although his words were simple she instantly grasped what he meant.

If she was in full and total control of herself, she wouldn't need to see her mind as her apartment or the university or any other physical location. It would be the raw and primal flow of her magic itself that she perceived, unfiltered and unbound. ”Can you do that?” Eni asked, and Tsar shook his head.

”No,” he said.

”Well, you're doing a great job of teaching so far,” Eni said, and Tsar considered her for a moment.

”Your favorite story,” he said, ”Take me to it.”

Eni nodded and started down the staircase; in reality she knew she had a copy of The Seven Labors on the first floor of her apartment. It wasn't until she had started walking down the stairs that it occurred to her that it might be impossible to walk to the first floor of her infinite illusory apartment, but before the thought had the chance to do much more than take shape she was suddenly standing in front of the proper bookcase.

Eni stumbled as her foot went for a step that wasn't there; in one moment she had been on the staircase and the next she was exactly where she wanted to be. Her stomach churned for an instant and she shook her head; when she looked behind her Tsar was still standing there. ”You don't have to walk unless you want to,” Tsar said, and Eni nodded slowly.

”I'll try to make it smoother next time,” she promised, and she pulled the book from the shelf, ”Here it is.”

Tsar gestured for it and Eni gave it to him. For a moment, the wolf simply held the book, and then he flipped it open and began to read. ”'The waking world owns me, but I am yours,' the warrior proclaimed, his gaze piercing Lady Almara's eyes with such intensity that even the stars above paused in their endless course,” Tsar said, and he read the words with perfect fluency.

The wolf didn't stutter or pause, reading the entire passage as naturally as a storyteller, and Eni gaped at him. Tsar closed the book and gave it back to Eni. ”That’s the start of your favorite passage, isn't it?” he asked.

”How did you do that?” Eni asked, ”Earlier today you could barely read the engraving on a statue.”

Tsar's muzzle didn't as much as twitch, but she got the sense of a smile from his eyes. ”Because you know it,” he said, ”This is your mind, not mine.”

Eni reeled at the implication, but she realized it also explained how he had been able to open the book to exactly the right spot. ”Could you do it with memories?” she asked.

”In your head, books are easier,” Tsar admitted, ”But… Try picturing books with a strong emotion tied to them.”

Eni nodded, and as she considered his request the shelf in front of them suddenly went empty and then started filling in again with books. Eni couldn't keep a smile off her face as she looked at the titles on the spines. The Seven Labors was still there, of course, but so was the first draft of her thesis, the one she had shown to the Archivist after months of work. There were the golden pages of The Phoenix's Almanac, the first truly great treasure Eni had ever uncovered as an antiquarian and the one that had forged her reputation. At least a dozen other books were nestled on the shelf, and no matter how valuable or worthless each one was Eni loved them all.

”What now?” Eni asked, once the books on the shelf seemed solid and real.

”I pick one,” Tsar said simply, and he casually reached out for a book that wasn't quite like any of the others.

It was thin and cheaply printed, the covers little better than cardboard, and as Tsar flipped it open Eni's ears burned in horror. ”Not that—” she began, but before she could finish the room around them dissolved with a stomach-churning lurch.

They were in her washroom, and Eni had the bizarre vision of seeing herself, lounging in the tub. Steam rose off the hot and soapy water, softening the memory's fur. Her toes poked out of the end of the tiny tub, curled tightly, and her mouth was half-open and her ears flushed. Tsar was staring mutely at the vision of Eni, the book in his paws forgotten, but there was another copy of it in the room. The Sultry Dreams of the Saine was in the right paw of the other Eni, carefully held above the water in the bathtub, and her left paw was beneath the bubbles, reaching for—

Eni leaped at Tsar and pulled his copy from his nerveless paws, slamming the book shut. The sound was unexpected and enormous, louder than the doors of Wordermund's tomb opening, and the room collapsed in on itself around them. It seemed to pull inward, the edges of her vision fading to a black and empty nothingness, and for a moment it was like seeing the edges of a set onstage, what had once been convincing collapsing into a poor imitation of reality.

When Eni opened her eyes again, she had no doubt that she was actually back in her apartment; she pulled her paw away from Tsar's head as though she had been burned. Tsar himself rolled over onto his back, flinching away as he sat up. ”That was—” Eni began, ”What you—”

”I'm sorry,” Tsar said, and his eyes didn't meet hers, ”I shouldn't have—”

”It's not—” Eni said, but Tsar talked over her.

”I should have let you pick,” Tsar said, his voice slow and even, ”I shouldn't have… ogled you. Not at the river. Not in your bath. Whatever that memory was, it's yours. I promise I'll never look at it again.”

Eni felt the blood slowly leaving her ears as her heart slowed, and she carefully scrutinized Tsar's face. He looked entirely sincere, and Eni swallowed. Perhaps he was just lying to spare her feelings, but if he really had no idea what he had caught a glimpse of she had no intention of explaining. ”It's not your fault,” Eni said, ”I… I didn't know that book would be there.”

Tsar nodded slowly. ”That's the danger of mentalism,” he said, and Eni didn't answer.

She groped for something to say, and then her eyes fell on the window. The light coming in was fading from red-orange to purple, and she realized that their experience must have taken hours. ”We… We should go see the Archivist now,” Eni said, trying for a business-like tone, ”He should be free.”

She stood up and smoothed down the front of her new jacket, giving it a sharp tug. Tsar was on his feet a moment later, and Eni looked to him. ”It's fine,” she said, although she didn’t quite believe the words, ”One day we'll look back on this and laugh.”

”Maybe you will,” Tsar said, his voice the very essence of dignity, and Eni smiled at the idea of herself laughing while the wolf remained as stoic as ever.

The awkwardness in the air seemed to have vanished, and as Tsar followed her out of her apartment Eni tried to put it all out of mind. There were much more important matters to consider, and she only hoped the Archivist would have answers.












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