Disclaimer: Everything recognisable as relating to the world of Velgarth and the kingdom of Valdemar is the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey. Character designs of Trannen Ashkevron and Ambassador Shadowflame used with permission of Cat McDougall.
Notes: A subdivision of Murphy’s Law states that as soon as a writer is out of reach of their laptop, any and all writer’s block they may have been suffering up until that point will vanish completely and utterly. Darn you Murphy!
“You’ve done something to me,” Michael narrowed his eyes and stared at Giff. “What have you done to me?”
Giff stared back blankly, :What are you talking about?:
“You,” Michael levelled an accusatory finger at the Companion, “have done something to me. I want to know what.”
:Uh…: Giff blinked and Michael gritted his teeth.
“Since you shoved me in to this utter acid trip of a place, I’ve just been merrily accepting it and that is not normal.”
:Oh,: Giff flattened his ears and looked contrite. :Um…:
“What did you do?”
Mental throat clearing sound. :It… ah… it wasn’t me, it was Hirrn. She and the Groveborn thought it best that you adjusted to Valdemar and everything a little bit at a time.: The Companion paused to see how Michael was taking the information. :So, um, Hirrn gave you some mental buffers—:
“So I wouldn’t go stark raving bonkers?” Michael interrupted. It wasn’t his Companion who answered him, however.
:Broadly speaking, yes.:
Both Michael and Giff turned to stare at the door. It was ajar and the large, dappled grey, form of Hirrn was occupying it.
The kyree wrinkled her nose as she looked penetratingly at Michael. After a moment her posture indicated that she was distinctly under impressed. :You are on the verge of a concussion,: she said, before rolling her eyes in a remarkably human gesture. :Why is it that young males are convinced of their own immortality?: A snort. :Come on, we’ll get you sorted out.:
The kyree reversed back out into the corridor, then turned to walk away.
Hirrn looked back over her shoulder. :And I’ll explain some things to you, if you keep up.: With that, she set off down the corridor, claws clicking on the tiled floor.
:I’d go with her if I were you,: Giff advised. :She’ll probably explain things better than I could anyway—: Although the Companion stopped there, Michael could easily complete the sentence; and you’re less likely to throw things at her.
Michael thought briefly of the size of the distinctly lupine-like kyree, and her equally large teeth. Well, he’s right.
Levering himself off the bed, Michael winced as his ankle twinged, then stuffed his feet haphazardly into his trainers (which had escaped the clutches of the housekeeper) and limped out the door. He fully expected to have to try and run to catch up with the lupine Healer.
To his surprise, she was waiting for him a short distance down the corridor, sitting regally in the centre of the floor.
She gave him another one of those peculiarly penetrating looks before standing up. :Nice outfit.:
Michael sighed. “Thanks.”
:You’re welcome.: Hirrn twitched her whiskers a few times and paced forwards. :The main dispensary is this way.: She set off at a speed that Michael could, despite his limp, keep up with her.
“What have you done to me?”
She eyed him sideways and huffed out a sigh. :You’ve not seen anyone about that ankle, either, have you?: The question was apparently rhetorical because Hirrn didn’t give Michael any chance to reply before she continued, :honestly, human males—!:
Michael felt vaguely like a goldfish, opening and closing his mouth a few times. “What have—“
:Here’s the dispensary.: Hirrn turned sharply left and came to an abrupt halt, almost tripping Michael up.
The kyree ignored him and Michael blinked and looked curiously at the large pair of double doors in front of them. They were glazed for most of their length, and, where Michael expected to see door handles, bore noting of the sort. Instead they both sported a flat oblong sheet of some kind of iridescent crystal.
They looked like the double-swing doors in the hospital. Yeah, if the person who built them was told to work along the lines of ‘medieval meets Star Trek’.
Hirrn flicked an ear at him then sat back on her haunches and touched one of the crystal oblongs with a front paw. The lock in the door clicked open. :Mages,: she observed. :Have their uses.:
Standing up, the kyree nudged the door open with her nose, before jerking it to indicate that Michael should precede her into the room.
The air inside was… not cold, but certainly cooler than the corridor; it was also distinctly arid feeling, Michael stopped a short distance in and eyed the shelves— some open, some behind more glazed doors set with oblong crystals— all filled with neatly stacked boxes, jars and bottles of every shape and size imaginable.
It looks like a dispensary… was all he could think, in a bemused fashion.
The door clicked shut behind them as Hirrn kicked it before brushing past the young man.
:Let me see…: the kyree muttered to herself, looking at the shelves with an intent familiarity. :I know you can read Valdemaran thanks to that witless excuse for a dyheli King-stag, so you can fetch for me; it’s for your benefit anyway. First and foremost; a mild analgesia mix for your injuries in general—: Hirrn dabbed one paw in the direction of a shelf. :The small boxes with the yellow labels.:
Michael hesitated for a moment before stepping over to the indicated shelf and removing a small square box constructed of thin wood, a bright yellow label pasted on the lid and over one side, sealing it shut. The block script on the label read Analgesia Mix One— Mild pain.
The kyree interpreted his confused silence and expression. :Pressed tablets of sugar and flour containing willowbark, alem lily root and vervetin. Taking one three times a day for the next few days should help your ankle and… other injuries…: Hirrn diplomatically didn’t look at Michael’s utter shiner of a black eye, but he flushed anyway.
“Um, thanks…” he mumbled.
:Next… for the outside…: the kyree tilted her head to one side and worried at a stubby whisker with her tongue. :Ah— the bottles with the yellow and green labels, on the shelf next to the Mix One tablets—:
Michael dutifully shuffled the box he was holding to one hand and retrieved a cream-glazed pottery bottle, firmly sealed with a cork and wax. The contents sloshed about when he gave it an experimental shake; something that he stopped when he realised that Hirrn was looking at him.
:Wormwood and white willow in spirit; good for bruises from the outside only and tastes like the devil’s own leavings.: The kyree said in a tone of amusement. :I wouldn’t suggest drinking it— what is that infernal racket?:
Michael was about to ask what racket? when muffled noises from somewhere outside of the dispensary became audible to him. Apparently, as well as looking wolf-like, the kyree possessed a similarly keen sense of hearing. The sound of many footsteps hurrying here and there, followed by a strangely dislocated thumping sound and a greasy feeling to the air./p>
Hirrn’s nostrils flared and she raised her head. :They’re opening a Gate straight to the Healer’s Archway—: she said, somewhat cryptically. :That cannot be a good thing.:
Before Michael could ask just what a ‘Gate’ and a ‘Healer’s Archway’ could be— and why those two things in conjunction were bad, he found himself being rather effectively chivvied out of the dispensary, a short way down an entirely unfamiliar corridor and rather abruptly deposited in a tiny scrap of a courtyard garden.
:Companion’s Field is through that gateway,: Hirrn said distractedly, indicated a narrow gateway cut into the stone wall that formed the far perimeter of the courtyard. :Your Companion should find you with little difficulty— I’m afraid I have business elsewhere—: From the way that she kept glancing over her shoulder, ears pricked to catch sounds too faint for him to hear, Michael guessed that the kyree was going to go and interfere with whatever the Gate at the Healer’s Archway was.
Sure enough; she had barely finished speaking before turning with a spring and vanishing into the building.
Which was when Michael realised that he had just spent a mildly irritating half-hour being dispensed herbal medicine and gaining no information what-so-ever.
“Great,” he groused, out loud. “All the creatures with the weird talk-in-my-head mojo are obsessed with being cryptic!” None of the plants in the courtyard seemed inclined to comment. After a moment, Michael sighed and decided that he may as well try and find Giff. At least the Companion would be able to show him where his room was.
Box of tablets rattling somewhat, the young man limped gamely through the gateway that Hirrn had indicated and found himself standing on the edge of a small meadow, bordered on three sides by trees and bushes. A single path wound across the meadow from the gateway to the trees, where it vanished. A resigned sigh, and Michael made his way across the meadow, blinking slightly as he followed the path under the trees.
After a small amount of winding through the most ordered ‘wilderness’ that Michael had ever encountered, the young man found himself standing on the edge of a much larger… well, field was hardly the word for a grassy open space that had horizons. The path petered out, so Michael gamely started walking up the slight hill that he’d come out at the bottom of. The grass was over-long for easy limping, so walking was something that required far more of Michael’s attention than it should.
Consequently, Michael would have been hard put to say just who was more surprised when he reached the top of the hill and was nearly bowled head over heels by a pair of Companion foals.
He yelped and sprang back, fumbling to avoid dropping the box and bottle that Hirrn had given him; they both yelped, skidded to sudden, ungraceful stops. Michael found himself being stared at by two pairs of very wide, extremely blue, eyes, and was yet again surprised by the sheer amount of expression that apparent animals were able to generate. He was also uncomfortably aware that his own expression was somewhat similar.
“Uh…” Michael tried, unsure of how to deal with talking white horses when they were also children, “…hello.”
Both foals stared at him with a kind of mad amazement.
Michael stared back at them, unable to think of anything more to say. After a moment, the foals became bored and began to dance around each other; gangly legs flying every which way in a masterful show of limited co-ordination. Michael watched them for a moment, then elected to continue walking in the hope that he would either find Giff or (less likely) a building that he vaguely recognised.
It only took a few steps for Michael to realise that the foals were following him; well, for a given value of ‘follow’. It would be more accurate to state that they seemed to be playing a game that meant that all of their other games of chase and catch could only take place within fifteen feet of Michael himself.
I’m walking across a field, after being doctored by an outsize wolf, and I’m being orbited by a pair of juvenile talking horses. Michael sighed. Welcome to the new and improved reality; now with ninety-seven percent less in the way of an explanation! Sadly; it was true. He’d gone with Hirrn because— well, primarily because she’d said so, and she could probably bite clean through a car door without noticing— but also because Giff had assured him that the kyree would explain just why he’d spent the last few days happily and passively accepting the fact that his life now included talking horses.
Have I gotten an explanation? I think not! Michael jerked himself to a halt long enough for the foals to cut in front of him; both were making the most bizarre set of excited squeaking and neighing sounds, then continued ambling forwards aimlessly.
That doesn’t surprise me. Helping would involve explaining things to me, and no-one wants to do that.
:Michael?: Michael jumped, then cursed as his ankle twinged. Looking around, he saw that one of the not-too-distant Companions had left off grazing, and was heading towards him at a trot. After a moment, it became apparent that he had a rather spectacular bruise masquerading as his nose, and Michael realised that it was Giff.
:What are you doing out here? I thought you were talking to Hirrn.: The young stallion drew to a halt just in front of his Chosen, absentmindedly lifting up his head to allow the two foals to run in front of him, then around him.
Michael shrugged, making the tablet box rattle. “She talked at me, foisted off these on me—“ he shook the box and bottle, “—then muttered something cryptic about ‘gates’ and ‘archways’ and vanished.”
Giff’s eyes widened. :A Gate’s been opened directly to the Healer’s Archway? That can’t be a good thing.:
Michael gave the Companion an exasperated look. “That’s pretty much what she said, and it still makes no sense.”
:Oh.: Giff looked apologetic. :Um… Gates are a magical means of travelling large distances instantly,: he said, his Sending flavoured with explanatory overtones. :And the Collegium and Alliance mages got together a few years back and thrashed out the basics of how to build the anchor points for Permanent Gates, so it wasn’t just the Adept Mages that could activate them. There are three in Haven; the Palace Gate, Mage Collegium Arch—: a fleeting impression of an ornate doorway, somewhere inside a building that Michael somehow knew was the Palace itself, followed by a less ornate, freestanding archway in the middle of an otherwise-bare square stone room, :—and the Healer’s Archway, which is used to Gate badly injured people straight to the House of Healing.: That was accompanied by the image of a gravelled stone courtyard, at the centre of which was a large, carved stone archway, surrounded by a perfect circle of paving stones.
Michael digested this burst of— remarkably coherent— information. “I see,” he said finally.
:Which is why,: Giff said. :A Gate being opened to the Healer’s Archway is rarely a good thing.:
Michael had a brief flash of the entrance to the E.R.; of the many people who walked, stumbled, or were wheeled, through the battered sliding doors. “I… see…” he repeated slowly. His thoughts seemed to have become strangely syrupy and slow moving, and he felt strangely lethargic.
“Damn it!” Michael shook his head violently and fought the calming feelings that were trying to hijack his brain. “Your bloody mind tricks are messing with my head!”
Giff stepped back uncertainly and flattened his ears.
Michael gritted his teeth and concentrated on shoving against the wave of wellbeing that was threatening to drown him. “I’m from Chicago!” he said loudly. “I’m from Chicago and I’m an intern in City General hospital on surgical rotation, and I live in an apartment block, in an apartment that owes most of its structural integrity to the posters on the walls, with two incredibly irritating fellow medical students!” He paused for breath then continued, voice getting louder and louder until he was all but shouting the last few words.
“I commute to work on the El and think twenty-four-hour shifts are normal and the only reason I went to the Seven/Eleven on Monday night was because the Neanderthal known as Ralph had drunk all the milk and beer yet again!”
Giff had retreated several steps and was looking at Michael like he was an overly full colostomy bag; full of shit and liable to explode at any given moment. The other Companions in the vicinity had also given up any pretence of grazing and were shamelessly staring at the unfolding drama.
Another wave of wellbeing tried to sneak up on Michael and he struggled against it, feeling as if every vein in his head was about to explode. “I like beer and cable television and Super bowl Sunday!” he shouted, “I do not like nature or camping and my absolute worst idea of a way to spend the rest of my life is anything to do with horses, particularly if the damn things insist on talking— all— the—TIME!” He stumbled slightly as… something… inside his head gave way and everything— everything— suddenly snapped in to a sickening kind of focus.
The wooden pill box exploded as it hit Giff above his left eye, raining splintered bits of wood and small white pills down on the grass.
:Agh!: The Companion jumped violently. :What in the name of Kernos are you doin—: the ceramic bottle shot past his right ear and Giff shied violently sideways.
“Screw—!” Michael bellowed, “YOU!” Before Giff could formulate any kind of response, Michael had lurched around and stumbled off at a run; heading off in to the depths of the Field. He had no idea where he was going and, quite frankly, he didn’t care.