Dax kept scratching at her fingers, feeling his eyeballs beginning to bulge; Kaire’s seemed to be growing too, until he realised that was the light from them, the glow swelling in the darkness and as his eyes filled with tears.

Funny, you’d think… the number of times we’ve done this… I’d have some safety word by now…

He tried to get a word out, anything. The pressure on his vocal cords was immense. Through gritted teeth he spent his last precious sips of air on a whisper. “Thhhhssss…”

Kaire suddenly gasped; the glow in her eyes vanished and she let him go. “Oh. —Athellus.”

Air rushed into Dax’s body and he reeled back. Grasping at his throat he tried to swallow a couple of times, just hearing a click. After a second or so struggling, he scooped up a little of the water and drank. To his surprise it actually tasted like some sort of medicinal tea, with a metallic edge to it that wasn’t unpleasant. The warmth of it trickled down, soothing the pain, and seemed to run through his entire body.

“That’s right,” he said, when he could speak again. “Athellus. He’s still your partner. He risked his life to… to bring you back. You owe him not to lose it again.”

Kaire was looking up at the stars now, her arms wound around herself, her hair plastered to the back of her neck. “Athellus can’t save anyone.”

“He already did, back there.”

Dax thought for a moment, then took the plunge. “I think he loves you. Not the same way he feels about Adree, not romance—something else.”

A laugh, delicate as the edge of a very sharp knife. “People always think love is the weakness of the undying.”

“I don’t think that’s it,” said Dax. “But Athellus knows what you are, he’s seen you tear through whole… whole armies, cough up blood, trusted you to handle the Librais, something designed to kill Guardians. And every night he still sleeps with his back to you. He might love Adree, but even I can see that you and he… belong to each other. And maybe that’s not love, maybe there’s no word for that.

“Or maybe there is. Your word. Banru.”

Kaire shuddered. Glossy ripples went across the surface of the steaming pool.

“Tell me about your ban-reth,” Dax said.

“It’s irrelevant now.” She breathed out. “It’s over.”

“No, it isn’t. Tell me.”

Dax swam closer. The water of the pool was lapping across the starburst scar on his chest, the scar of travelling between worlds. “Athellus said ban-reth happens when someone’s close to death. They have a dream, and the Greater Powers give them a second chance in return for working for them.”

She said nothing.

“It happened after that… the Far Reach, right? You said it broke you. I’m guessing that’s the closest something—someone like you could come to dying. Is that how it happened?”

* * *

She doesn’t know where she is. Always, the Gating energy that beats through every cell of her body keeps her orientated to some degree, but even that, her most basic instinct, is gone now, dissolved into the pain along with everything else. The air itself seems to be grating through down to her bones. Her body is not healing fast enough—how can it? The forces of the Far Reach have fused most of her skin and muscle together, blinded her, driven her mad.

In her agony she is tearing at her own body like a scorpion stinging itself to death. But even when her immeasurable power turned back on itself, extinction cannot come and never will.

Then the pain dulls, abruptly. She knows she is not alone and turns to confront the intruder, but there is no one there. Her body is slipping sideways away from her, somehow, though her mind is standing still. She’s falling into a blackness she doesn’t know. But there is still someone there. And after a moment, she can hear them.

* * *

“I’d never dreamed before,” Kaire whispered. “Never slept, never dreamed. They took me and showed me, they told me I could be more. I could be even more powerful. But I had to learn, first, I had to learn what my power meant. I had to learn how to be sane.”

“The Greater Powers wanted to make you stronger?”

Kaire glanced up at him. “They had no choice. Don’t you understand? A banru’s “life” is over, as he knew it before. The Greater Powers can only heal. When a banru is made, he has to grow, he has to keep going, but he has nowhere left to go except… except himself. To become… more, not different. That’s what ban-reth is. Power, and your self.

“And for those who can die, that’s more than enough. It’s your limitations that foster your growth, like a tree growing stronger and healthier when it’s pruned. But I have no limitations. I never did. So when I was healed enough… I was given some.”

“Like a human shape. And a partner.”

“To teach me sanity,” she said. “I needed sanity to understand. True creation takes effort, time, concentration, understanding. If I’m the opposite, I’m also the equal. To take existence apart, bit by bit, should take as much care and attention as it did to put it together. To create, or destroy, you first have to know. It would have taken all my time to know enough. The Greater Powers knew that.”

She looked at the sky again. “But it’s over.”

“You keep saying that,” said Dax. “Why? Because you lost control?”

“Because all I think about, every day, is that loss of control. However I channel it, that is the source. If the Greater Powers want me under control, Athellus should have incapacitated me, like we swore an oath to.”

Forget ‘incapacitation’, he should have damned well hacked her to pieces when he had the chance.

Dax looked at her with compassion. “But you went back to this shape. And I think I know why. You want to stay banru, and Athellus’ partner.”

“He’s broken too badly.” Kaire let a handful of water slip through her fingers. “He won’t even be able to save himself. The Librais showed me blood in his future. Thick as oil.”

“Do you want that to come true?”

She opened her mouth, then closed it again.

“See?” said Dax, kindly. “You’re changing. If you were the thing you once were, all the way, you’d want to see Athellus suffer. But you saved him on Lailenus Street. You nearly tore me apart because you thought I’d hurt him. He is teaching you and you don’t even know—”

“Enough!” Kaire’s sudden snarl echoed off the buildings. “Save your lecturing. This is the end. When the water and silence are done, so am I. I am… I…”

The soft sound of the water flowing between them swallowed her words.

“Kaire.” Dax reached out for her.

“No.” She slowly moved away, splashing in the water. “No. Don’t… don’t touch…”

Dax stretched out his hand to her. “Kaire. Please.”

For a long time she stared at him, then she reached out and laid her hand in his. The incredible heat had gone; her skin was cool as alabaster.

Dax closed his fingers around hers, and raised both to his chest, holding it against the skin so she could feel his heartbeat. Her touch seemed to amplify it, resonating the sound through them both and out into the night. The endless ruins of Nones finally felt alive.

 

He stayed with her, until dawn.

 

 

 

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