A Visit to Pyu Rika

The Voyage Home

The day had long swept past breakfast when Aimeé lifted her head from a comforting pillow. The sun was just starting to angle into the sills and Aimeé wondered if the time for lunch had passed as well. She disentangled herself from the sheets without waking Hektor, who she had not imagined to be a heavy sleeper. Few were, among Captain Shondar's crew; constant readiness seemed to be an endemic condition of the seafaring life.

She pulled her robe across her shoulders and looked down the length of her body. She touched herself for a moment and confirmed that she was still as sore as she had been last night. A brief clench of nether muscles told her that her backside was equally abused. She had heard Darynn tell her many times that it was a survivable, even pleasurable state. Despite the bodily aches, a sense of well-being hovered about her soul. She liked the person she had been last night. She regretted that she had had to wait for a spell to make her so.

She looked down at Hektor and hoped that he, too, would be pleasured by the memories of last night. She had sorely used him; where he had but one organ, she had had the use of two, and if hers were sore this morning she worried about the condition of his. But he would survive, she imagined, and be none the worse for it. Men were like that.

She knew she could probably not have Hektor again, but she found herself wanting Darynn, or Shondar. She wanted another man soon, but only from the small list of men of whom she approved. She tried to think of someone else, Filo's roommate Aldol perhaps, and the worries, the fears, the scars of experience rose within her. She did not want to become rapacious, uncontrollable, monstrous. She did not want to be like her old master. For a moment, looking at Hektor and the beauty of his golden hair, his fair face illumined by the creeping rectangle of sunlight, and she knew that the wounds Teltirray had inflicted on her were his responsibility, but the scars that remained were hers.

She slipped out into the hallway. There was nobody else visible, although she could clearly hear voices down at one end, shouting instructions to one another. She could not understand what they were saying.

She returned to her room, where she found Asmah lying in her bed, curled up, sleeping. She smiled. Another innocent. There was a bruise on her right cheek, but she seemed otherwise unharmed. It was safe now to cast spells; muttering softly to herself, she slipped her hand along the length of Asmah's body and found no lasting harm. Another notion and another spell and her concerns were dispelled: Asmah would not be with child from her adventures last night.

She shook the girl gently, calling her name. Asmah stirred, then turned and looked up. She uncoiled suddenly and turned over, kneeling on the bed. "Forgive me, my lady."

Aimeé giggled. "Is it proper to kneel on my bed if you're caught sleeping in it?"

"Oh!" Asmah reacted with a kind of horror, sliding off the bed and onto the floor, ducking down until her forehead touched the carpeting. "Forgive me."

Aimeé felt a pang of regret. She had meant it as a joke, but Asmah had not taken it as such. "Asmah, sit back and look up. Please stop acting quite so much like a slave to me. I have been a slave. I hated it."

"Yes, my lady."

"Is there a place where I might bathe?"

"There is the women's bath downstairs. It is used by the ladies of the court. You would be free to use it, as an honored Mage guest of the King."

"Then I think I should like to do that," she said. "Can you make it so?"

"Immediately!" Asmah said. Aimeé smiled as she left, and wondered if Asmah's turn of cheer was due to her escaping punishment or her having something useful to do. Asmah returned with a fresh robe, this one made of a thick, thirsty material, and two towels. "Follow me?"

She led Aimeé through the grand palace, down two flights of stairs, and down another hallway to an open area near the rear courtyard. They crossed an space open to the sun and into a broad, low building. There were no windows, only covered airlets decorated with abstract patterns just beneath the cornices. Inside, Aimeé heard the sounds of laughter. Asmah opened the door and allowed Aimeé to pass.

There were three large pools of water, and the floor inlaid with a mosaic of such delicate blues and reds that only a master mosaicist had ever touched those stones. There was no roof; the space was open to the sky. It was shockingly warm. There were several other women in there, perhaps ten, all of them older than her, and all of them accompanied by a bodyservant such as Asmah.

"My lady, over here?" Asmah said, pointing to an open space laid with only blue, lined in yellow. Aimeé did as she indicated, and Asmah helped her with her robe. She stood there and watched as the other women focused on her, some admiring, others with the narrow eyes of calculation. Aimeé chose to ignore them as Asmah pushed a low wooden chair into the space. "Sit, my lady."

Aimeé did as she asked, then closed her eyes as Asmah doused her body in several buckets of water. She tried to hold still as those small hands slipped over her neck, her chest, her belly, down to her thighs and calves. Asmah nearly made her delirious with the attention given to her feet, fingers spreading her toes, thumbs about her ankles. Then up her back, to her shoulders, her hair. Asmah doused her head once more, careful not to let the water drop into her eyes, and washed her hair. The water was very hot and laced with something to dissolve the oils in her hair.

Then there was more water falling down over her breasts and onto her thighs, down her back and over her feet once more, hot and sweet and delicious. Asmah, she realized with a kind of regret, might have made someone very happy, one day, if she had not had every spark of rebellion punished out of her by the time she reached majority. She would live twice as long as Aimeé, perhaps, but by then she would be a perfect citizen, not a thoughtful one.

She wondered if Asmah might make her happy. She rejected the idea. She would learn nothing from loving Asmah except pain, and Asmah would have a hard time understanding why.

"You are cleaned, my lady. Would you like to spend time in the pools?"

Aimeé shook her head. "No, thank you, Asmah." She rose and stretched, feeling better. She had not slept enough since the Ritual, and she felt that as well. She turned her back to the women. "Where is the water you used for washing?"

"It is... a mix, my lady. There is a little in that pail, there."

"Give me a cloth, please."

Asmah handed one to her, and she used it to wash her sex completely, then splashed with clean water. "Thank you," she said without explanation, but Asmah smiled and nodded. The gesture could not have been lost on the women behind her. "Have you washed, Asmah?"

Asmah nodded. "Right after the Ritual ended, my lady."

"Then let us go back to my room. It is time to go."

After they had returned and Aimeé had dressed, she watched as Asmah repacked her clothing. She wanted to say something to Asmah, something that would express her regret at not getting to know the younger girl any better. Nothing would come. It was simply not their place, as guest and servant, to exchange such pleasantries. But she couldn't just leave Asmah like this.

She fretted at the hem of her skirt. "I'll pull the seams loose if I continue." She had already started to do quite a good job of that, some of the hem fraying where she had busied it. She stood and let it fall to her ankles, straightening it out with her hands. She walked over to where Asmah stood, facing away from her, folding her garments. She placed her trembling hands on Asmah's shoulders. "My lady?" the young girl said suddenly.

"What happened to you yesterday?" Aimeé said.

"You mean, during the Ritual?" Aimeé nodded. "I... I was down in the serving quarters, with the others. We.. we found solace in each other. A few guards came down and used some of us. I found one I liked, a handsome young man. He treated me the way a man treats a woman."

"Was he rough? Mean? Did he hurt you?"

"Rough, of course, but no, not mean, and he did not intend to hurt me. I was sore afterward, that is to be expected, but I did not resent him. It was what we wanted. It is what all people want during the Ritual. To let loose their baser passions." She looked up at Aimeé. "All men and women are base creatures, filled with evil. It is only our civilizations that make us behave in interest to one another."

Aimeé opened her mouth to respond, but could think of nothing to say. She looked at Asmah's cold, gray eyes, emptied of all but the most fundamental of feelings, and she knew that she would be glad to get out of Pyu Rika. Three days ago, the city had seemed so beautiful, so tempting, but now she knew better. They had taken everything about being human and bleached it of all its color, turned the passionate into the ritualistic and banished the rest. Asmah, she realized, was undergoing this process of being drained, as were all the young people here. By policing their every moment, by giving the young of this city no place to hide and nothing to do but be obedient, Pyu Rika ensured that its elders would be perfect citizens, ready to obey, ready to defend the city and its ways.

"Forgive me," Aimeé said. "I did not mean to ask an impertinent question."

"You are a guest, and I am ordered to serve you. There is nothing impertinent in anything you could possibly ask of me," Asmah said. "If I cannot answer you, I will say so."

"I understand," Aimeé said, knowing that her "cannot" may also have meant "may not." "I am trying to understand you and your ways. Is it like this... out there? In the city?"

"Is it like what, my lady?"

"Is the palace a reflection of the city, or a response to it? Do the people down there live as finely as those in here?"

"As well as can be expected," Asmah said. "We have no beggers, no prostitutes, no thieves of any note. It is not a city with problems. It is a whole. It lives and breaths on its own. It can tolerate visitors, but only those it invites."

Aimeé shuddered. The more she heard Asmah talk, the more she wanted to get out of this place. "My lady, what is wrong?"

Aimeé shook her head. "I-- forgive me, Asmah. I miss my home. It has been a while since I last saw it." Asmah nodded. "I will let you get back to packing." She walked away from the girl, taking a deep breath as she did so. She looked about the room with its dark panels and its unlit recesses and she thought that such beauty was wasted on a people so obsessed with the preservation of order.

"Do I have it wrong?" she whispered to herself. She couldn't imagine an entire city being bound up in a dream like the one she experienced. The sadness she felt was doubled by the realization that she was going to leave this place, and when she did the powerful truths she had learned from herself and from Hektor would go with her, and unlike the citizens of Pyu Rika she would not suspect their lovemaking as a sign of her and Hektor's innate evil, but...

She could not complete the thought. There was something missing, something nagging her imagination. She could not let it go. She followed it, batted at it within her mind as a kitten might bat at a butterfly. She wanted that moment of thought, she wanted to know what truth she was missing.

Asmah brushed by her, called down the hallway to another. A man with a cart came, pushing it readily, and they loaded Aimeé's luggage onto it. Their actions distracted her and she shook herself. "It is time to go, my lady."

Aimeé nodded. She was led through the palace to the back entrance, through the open courtyard to the oval room with the fountain at one end and the settling place for the flying house at the other. She waited there as Darynn, Talen Silisto, and Hektor all joined them.

It was the first she'd seen any of them since the Ritual. Hektor tried not to look at her but she would have none of that. She walked over to him and opened her arms. He nodded, fitfully, and finally acquiesced to an embrace. "You did well," she whispered. "I will not forget you."

"Th-- Thank you, Apprentice Aimeé."

She turned to Darynn. He looked none the worse for wear. Perhaps a bit tired about the eyes, but that was to be expected. He, like the rest of them, had had only a few hours of sleep since the Ritual had ended.

She felt awkward with him. She understood him better, today, she thought, than she had in the past, but she still did not understand all of him. Perhaps she never would. His smile and his own offer of an embrace was as warm and humane as she had ever seen, and she fell into it. Although haunted by her curiosity, she was still happier to be in his arms than anywhere else. "You appear undamaged." He said in in such a way that assured her he would not have expected otherwise.

"I found a safe haven."

"So I have noticed," Darynn said. "To know so makes me happy, Aimeé. You again show both your wisdom and your youth in one victorious motion. You should learn to play King's Feint."

"You will have to teach me." The smile blossoming on her lips would not stay down. "I'm happy you're well."

"I am, too." That was more cautious, less willing to admit that his own well-being was to be assumed after the spell. "Come. Let us be out of this place."

"Before you go," said a loud voice from across the sunlight circle, "I have a gift for each of you." King Rohani stepped out, his two massively armored bodyguards standing close behind him. A servant stepped forward with four small, wooden boxes, each held shut with a tiny, brass latch. Each was labeled with a name. "They are different for each of you. They are mementos. Please, remember us by them."

Aimeé picked hers up. It was rather heavy and she wondered what she might find inside. "Open then when you are on the water," Rohani said.

"We shall do that," said Darynn. "And now, your Majesty, I and my follow mages would take leave of you, by your grace."

"You have it." He reached out with both hands for Darynn's, who clasped them tightly. "Thank you, old friend, for your assistance in helping the city survive its night."

"It is my pleasure, King Rohani."

Rohani made his way down the line, thanking each of them in turn. Aimeé bowed and said, "Thank you for you kind civility." Rohani merely nodded his response.

They turned towards the flying ship, the Door of the City. Before she boarded it, she turned and saw Asmah standing to one side, and she stepped out of the line to approach her. She reached out with her hands and pulled Asmah into a hug. "Thank you for your attentions," she whispered. "I would have liked to have known you better."

"I would have liked that as well," Asmah whispered back. Aimeé finally walked into the ship. This time, no one from the city accompanied them. It lifted of its own accord.

It flew as steadily as before, as if secured to some invisible beam that guided them up over the ragged mountaintops and down onto the beach. Aimeé's ears popped along the way and the whistling of the wind made conversation difficult.

The ship landed with a soft jerk and all of them disembarked. Hektor and Darynn pulled out most of the luggage since they had the most strength and the least struggle. Down the mountainside, in the water, Aimeé saw the Heartwood waiting for them, and a few minutes later she saw a small boat coming towards the beach. Shondar was in it.

They met somewhere in the middle of the path. "You are still alive!" he roared, grinning. "Good, good! I was beginning to worry. There was quite a storm last night, good for the barrels but not so good for the stomach. I am pleased you are all well! You have much to tell me, or maybe not. You are mages, after all. But come, come, we must load up the boat and be away from here. I am anxious to get home again."

Darynn nodded, as if the exhaustion of the last three days had caught up and he could not find the strength to form words. Together, they hauled their bags and crates down the path and onto the boat, and Aimeé found a place to sit somewhere in the middle. Her booted feet waited in a shallow puddle as the rest boarded.

Shondar tried not to make conversation on the way back to the Heartwood, and for that Aimeé was most grateful. She was not in a mood to make conversation. They made it back to the ship, and after she climbed up the rope ladder, she made the briefest of apologies before going to hide in her cabin.

She tried to sleep in the warm, quiet room, but she could not. The creaking wood and lapping water were not what kept her awake, but her mind with its wheeling, spinning, seeking affect would not let her rest. She finally rose from her bunk, opened the door, and walked down the corridor barely wide enough for one man to Darynn's door. She knocked.

"Yes?" came the voice on the other side. Tired, and perhaps angry at being awakened.

"Master? It's Aimeé."

"What? Oh, come in, come in."

She opened the door tentatively and found him lying on his bunk, a book over his chest, one hand on his forehead. "I was trying to sleep and could not," he said. "So I tried to read and could not. Are you having the same problem?"

She nodded. She sat down on the edge of the bed and regarded him. There was a pall to him, different now from what she had seen in the past. He returned her gaze. "Aimeé?"

"Why?" she whispered.

Darynn did not have to ask what she meant. "Because the alternative would be that people get hurt."

"They are already hurting," she blurted. "The servant they assigned me, Asmah, she is being destroyed even as we speak. You called the spell the Life of the City, but that is the only life the City has. Otherwise it's dead, it's cold and it's gray. It is no mistake that the murals on the floors are made of black, white, and shades between, master. Those people wouldn't know color if it bled out of them." The words tumbled out of her, rapid, painful, and when she was done she found herself crying, her hands clenched at her side. "How can you condone that?"

Darynn looked away. "Because they ask me to. And because I make the Ritual safe. It's the one thing an Eros mage can do for them."

"Because they cannot do it for themselves, correct? To have an Eros mage among them would be too disturbing, too tempting, too much power, too much color, too much life for them to accept and live with! By all the Gods we don't believe in, how can..."

"It is the real price," Darynn said. "They believed that they could tame man, remake man, cast him in some image other than what he was. And they built their little city on top of the bones of the Dragon, knowing they could tap into whatever was buried there and live the lives they wanted. The longevity and health are side effects of a life without real dangers." Darynn looked at her. "A life without risk can be a long life, but it is not fulfilling. And the biggest risks, Aimeé, the biggest dangers, have nothing to do with climbing mountains or casting spells. The biggest risk one takes is in here." He pointed at her chest. "The biggest risk we take is to offer up our hearts to be broken. At Pyu Rika, that risk is taken..."


"Far less often than we would dare it in the real world, but I would be the last to say 'never.' I cannot believe they are that far from the human blood they carry within them, no matter how often they are exposed to the Ritual."

"And you, Master?" she asked. "Does it bleed you dry as well?"

"I think I am immune to that effect," he said with a sigh. "I think it is simply something they need from me, and so they leave me alone. As you said, they need my color." He had dropped his hand into her lap, and both of them seemed to notice at the same time that he was idly stroking her thigh. "My need for you seems as strong as ever."

She smiled at him. "Is there anyone else you... assist this way?"

"No," Darynn said. "Not in this way. I am trying to reduce the amount of suffering they are determined to inflict upon themselves. Is that so bad, Apprentice? Am I an evil man for doing so?"

Aimeé looked down on this man who had saved her life first, and then taken her in as his apprentice. She considered all that she knew about him, all that he took from her, all that she took from him. "I do not know. For a moment, two days ago, when we first arrived, I thought that it was a fair trade, the first one-eight of Asmah's life for seven-eighths contentment. But she did not have the choice, and she will never have the chance I have, the chance to be what I want to be."

"A chance you almost never had," Darynn pointed out. "The world is rarely so black and white as your battle with Teltirray, Aimeé. And it was only afterward that you could see the nature of the battle. What were you the day before you fought him?"

Aimeé sighed. "I trust you, Darynn. I love you. You have never given me a reason to doubt your wisdom or your guidance. But I... I don't know that I'm ready to live in this world."

"It's the only one I have to offer," he said.

"I know." She rose. "If you'll forgive me, Master, I think the exhaustion is now catching up with me. The sun is setting, and I would like to sleep."

"Sleep well, beloved apprentice."

Aimeé awoke shortly before dawn. Already an orange hue clung to the eastern horizon as she stepped out onto the deck. The air felt cold and the sea had an easy, comforting smell. Hektor was standing on the forecastle, one hand raised with something grasped between two fingers. He stood for a moment, examining whatever it was carefully before putting it back in a small leather bag. He turned, and looked. "Apprentice Aimeé! I did not know you were there. I hope you are well?"

"I am, Mage Hektor," she said with a smile. "Have you recovered from your visit to Pyu Rika?"

"I have," he said, taking a deep breath. "There will be no storms today, and probably not tomorrow. The winds will be slow, but steady, for the rest of the day. We will make progress away from there."

"Is that what you want?" she asked.

"Yes," he said, quickly. "Yes, I do want to be as far away from there as I can get, as quickly as we can get. It scares me to think of the place, so cold, so formal. A city of ghosts where once every four years a man from the outside comes and pours fire into their hearts."

She nodded, but could not find the words to express how deeply, how fully, she understood him. "I am glad to be out of there as well. I wonder if Shondar's people felt anything, as far away as they were, during the Ritual. I should hope not."

Hektor nodded. "It is... It is unwise of me to say this, Apprentice, but... thank you for your attentions that night. I think I should have gone mad if there were no relief from the dreams and the needs. I hope to never experience that again."

Aimeé said, "Not even the needs, not a little?"

"App...Apprentice Aimeé. Don't say such things."

"Hektor, what you felt was just your manliness unchained. There is nothing wrong with it when harnessed by a strong and good will. You have both, Hektor. Someday you may make your wife very happy."

"I... I do hope so, my lady," he said, blushing hard. "I am pleased you think so."

"I do."

"Ah, good morning!" said the voice from the deep that was Captain Shondar. "I trust the two of you are comfortable this morning?"

"Yes, thank you," Aimeé said. He walked over to her, a full man, complete. He had what he wanted out of life and needed nothing more. She envied that in him, even as she found her mind awakening to the memories of pleasure he had given her. When he was close enough that she had to start looking up at him, he grinned. "And you, Mage Hektor. Tell me about the weather."

Hektor described the coming day in much greater detail than he had to Aimeé. Shondar looked thoughtful, then nodded. "Excellent. A day to wash down the deck, tie off the frays, polish the brass. A day for chores, then."

Other men were already moving about the boat. One reached over and rang one bell as the sun broke over the horizon, and suddenly the ship seemed to swarm with sailors. Shondar turned and watched with peculiar satisfaction as these busy men went about their duties. Some checked the sheetings, others took to moving supplies out to the kitchen. Soon, the smell of a small cookfire streamed out past Aimeé and Hektor. "Where is Darynn this morning?" Shondar said.

"I do not know," Aimeé said. "He may still be sleeping. I understand that his duties at Pyu Rika very exhausting."

"In a good way, I hope," Shondar said.

Aimeé bit her lower lip, and Shondar merely nodded. "I will leave you, then. Go see to him. He may be in need of friendship and comfort."

Aimeé almost wanted to complain that she was in need of the same thing, but there was no hope for it. Instead, she walked down the narrow steps into the rear where the guest cabins were wedged and knocked on Darynn's door. There was an immediate reply: "Come."

"Master?" she asked as she opened the door.

In the morning, he looked haggard and old. Such a clear illustration of his weakness surprised her and saddened her, making it clear just how much his recent duties had drained him. She sat down on the bed next to him. "Are you well?"

"As much as to be expected. I did not sleep well."

"I did not, either."

"Have you forgiven me?"

"I... Yes. I have. You are a good man, Darynn, in world that asks much of compromise from you."

"Ah, compromise. If only we all knew how compromised each of us truly was." He sighed. "Forgive me. In my old age I grow cynical."

She smiled. "I love you, Darynn."

"Oh, a bolt from the heavens this morning!" Darynn replied, chuckling. He leaned over and touched his head to hers. "You are a gift once again, Aimeé."

Aimeé could feel the cord between them grow strong and familiar again. She wanted him to love her body as much as she appreciated her spirit, and she wanted to see him look as he did when he was in the throes of love. "Darynn?" she asked, her hand now touching his leg. "Are you feeling manly this morning?"

He smiled at her, and the short distance between them became shorter as he kissed her. "Oh, Aimeé, I could be enstaffed for you any hour of any day that you wish for me."

She kissed him back, rose from her chair and slowly pushed him back down onto the bed. He sighed softly as the two of them merged, becoming one body, merging into one hungry creature. She pressed her breasts to his chest, knowing that was one of her features he did not appreciate as most men might but she could not help it. It made Filo so responsive. He did not surprise her as his hands reached around her to caress her back and then down to her ass, touching her in ways that made her thrill. She was unashamed of the way her body responded to him and his simple hunger. Men were men, and she loved the ones she had brought herself to trust. Darynn she trusted most of all.

She reached between them and unclasped her robe. Darynn was still dressed in a nightshirt that reached down to the floor. She could feel the hardness in his middle, feel the body underneath hers reacting to her attentions. "You are so beautiful, apprentice."

"Darynn," she whispered. "I'll have to get off you to make you naked."

"Then do," he said.

They parted just long enough for Darynn to take off his robe, and then he turned his attention to Aimeé's simple blouse and skirts. His fingers moved with experience down her buttons, exposing her full bosom, her soft belly. They were not the trembling fingers of youth, as she experienced with Filo, but the competent hands of a man who had done this a thousand times before. She watched as he unclasped her skirt. All fell to the ground in one simple motion and she was left standing in but her socks and bloomers. He hooked a thumb on the pants and soon she was divested of those as well.

"You are a beautiful woman," he sighed, caressing her belly with the back of his hand. "If only I was made to appreciate it the way your young guardsman does."

"You appreciate me well enough," she said, pushing him back down onto the bed. "Now, teacher, show me." She straddled his hips. Her hand found his cock and aimed it for her opening. She descended upon him, and at the touch of the head to her nether lips her whole body flowered into the being she had always known she was. Wanton. Willing. Loving. Her cunt was awash with hunger for him. She impaled herself upon him.

He gasped as his erection plunged into the naked warmth of her body, and the two of them joined in mankind's oldest spell, the oldest magic. The most dangerous. Aimeé's eyes flew open as she suddenly understood, then she stared down at Darynn. He nodded. "This," he gasped as he pushed himself up, deep into her. "This they fear."

She lowered her mouth to his and kissed him. "Oh, gods, Darynn," she whimpered as she bucked against him, thrusting hard against his hips, taking him deep with each stroke. Over and over, she freed him only to entrap him once more. Their bodies shook the bed. Aimeé could feel her climax rising. She needed him. She needed to feel his seed within her. It wouldn't take, but that didn't matter. She needed it anyway. She needed to feel him. Darynn's face was red with exertion, his body taut with immanence. She pushed against them. "Come, come," she whispered. He arched his back suddenly and then cried out, his cock suddenly harder than it had been seconds before, his body shaking violently as he came within her. And she felt it. She felt it all deep inside her, spreading from her cunt to her soul, a distance that was no distance at all. She cried out, and tears pressed behind her closed eyes. They fell like threatening rain onto Darynn's chest. "Oh, Darynn."

He smiled. "You understand. Thank you, Apprentice Aimeé."

"I wish..." She gasped, needing more air. She took a few deep breaths, then looked up at him. "I love you, Darynn."

"I know," he said simply. "I love you, too."

She lay next to him, his cock slipping out of her as she eased down to the bed. "Gods, Darynn. How can anyone be so afraid?"

"Because it is the first magic, and the most wild. We should be afraid of it. Love cannot be tamed, Aimeé. It cannot be understood. It simply must be accepted."

She cried then, openly and unashamedly. "Oh, Darynn, those poor, horrible people!" The agony of Pyu Rika mixed with the pleasure and contentment he had brought her, and she knew nothing would ever make sense of either.

He held her. Her sadness passed. She raised her head. "Are my eyes red?"

"They are."

"I guess... I should wait to leave. I wouldn't want the Captain to think you were abusing me."

"Let us both get dressed. There is some water there, in that bottle. Use it to wash your face." She did as he suggested, and the two of them dressed. "Have you looked in your box?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"Nor have I. Let's look into mine, now." He reached into the trunk by his bed and pulled out the box, opened it. "A glowglobe," he said. "A pretty one. Reading light quality." He admired it. "Why don't you go fetch yours?"

She did, returning after only a minute. She was nervous. She did not know what to expect. It was barely too large to sit in her hand. She undid the latch as Darynn watched, lifted out a small chain. At the end was a tiny locket and, inside, a glass cage. Darynn gasped. "Why...?"

Aimeé knew what it was. She could feel it. Inside the glass cage rested a tiny sliver, no larger than a hair. A shard of bone from the Dragon. She put it back into its box. "I shall never have need of this," she said.

"No," Darynn said. "I wonder what Rohani means by it."

Aimeé stared at the box. She wondered too.

The ship sailed on to Barraminum.