Snow whirled around the airship. Blizzard conditions, the captain had said when they’d entered the storm. Keben hadn’t believed her then, but now that the airship was lurching every which way he rued that decision. Kay, the ship’s captain, wouldn’t let anyone off the bridge while they were in the storm. Keben clutched the arms of the chair he was strapped in, chanting prayers under his breath. If Kay heard his whispers, the red Kacheek ignored him, which was for the best in Keben’s mind. That way she could focus more on keeping the ship aloft and out of danger.
The crew of the airship kept up a constant babble that filled Keben’s ears, and behind that noise was the constant hiss of snow impacting the Moltaran airship. At least he couldn’t see. Keben took comfort in that. If he’d been able to see where they were relative to the ground – or anything else – he would likely be unable to think at all. As it was, he simply couldn’t think clearly. The white Zafara’s stomach seemed to vanish for a moment as the airship lurched, and the void it left behind was panic. He heard Kay’s laughter, bright and clear as a songbird’s tune, over the crash of noise and wished yet again that she had the decency to let him go back to his room so that he could pretend he was on a seafaring ship and not one of air.
The hiss abated for a second, and Keben took a breath. Maybe the storm would clear now, or the winds at least would die down. Kay took advantage of the moment of relative silence to call out, “Almost down, folks! Just a little more storm-weather, and then we’ll be down by Winter’s Valley.”
“Taelia’s blessing,” Keben whispered, relaxing his death-tight grip on the chair slightly. The airship felt like it was flying more smoothly; compared to how it had been, the rise and fall of the ship was nothing. The Zafara closed his eyes, resisting the urge to reach out with his mind and see what Sayang was doing right then. Proteus hadn’t said anything when he’d asked Keben to go down to Terror Mountain, but the old mutant Scorchio had been smiling in a way that had made Keben flush slightly. Proteus had just laughed at his reaction and then said that that he was the best ambassador – peace-maker, really – who could be sent right then.
Keben hadn’t complained until he’d seen Kay and realized that she was going to be taking him down to Terror Mountain. Even then, he hadn’t minded until they’d entered the blizzard. Then he’d begun half cursing her stubbornness and half blessing her skill. Now that they were almost down to the ground, he was looking forward to the ice and snow that matched his fur so well. Even if he was going to try to get inside as soon as possible, he still loved the atmosphere snow created.
Sayang told him that he got cold too easily, but he didn’t care; it was just as nice to watch the snow fall from indoors as being out in it. The fiery red Kyrii was desert-born, though, and Keben sometimes suspected she had no sense of temperature at all. A jolt of the airship brought Keben back to the present space and time, and he glanced up to see Kay standing in front of him, arms crossed. The Kacheek raised an eyebrow, tapping a foot on the floor. “Would it be too much to expect thanks?”
“No,” Keben said, starting to unbuckle himself. “But it would be to expect me to pay attention.” He set aside the last buckles and rose. “Thank you for being a good pilot and knowing how to navigate blind, Kay.” He meant every word, no matter how sarcastic he sounded when he spoke to her.
Kay’s mouth twitched up in a slight smile. “Have fun, Dreamer.” She raised a hand in what could almost be a salute before a clatter near the controls caught her attention and she started calling cheerful insults at the crewmember who had accidentally made a mess.
Keben watched the red Kacheek go for a moment with a smile before turning and making his way back to the cabin he’d been assigned. After picking up his bag and slinging it over his back – he’d put on his Gabar-fur coat at the first storm warning – he headed down to the ramp out. Slipping between the workers unloading various supplies for the members of the Traitor Republic already at Terror Mountain, Keben entered the snowstorm. The snow didn’t affect him. The wind cut through to his bones, though, even through his thick coat, and while the cold felt wonderful for those few moments before he began shivering, he preferred not needing to feel it.
Closing his eyes, Keben took a breath and felt for the village with his mind. He knew that he’d normally be able to see the village where the Republic had set up camp from where Kay had landed, but with the storm everything was more difficult. There were advantages to being a Dreamer, however; one of them was being able to find other people, especially people one was strongly attached to. Sayang’s bright mind, therefore, was simple to find. Light raced through the Dreamer when he touched her mind, trailing fire in its wake.
Keben caught his breath, blue eyes snapping open. The electricity still rushed through his blood, and he started running. The motion was relaxed and fluid, no matter how awkward it looked in all the snow. The storm raged all around him, the brush of snow and wind on his white fur a caress more than a club or knife now that he’d felt Sayang’s fire. She was still there in his mind; he hadn’t completely released the Dream-state. It had taken him years to discover that he could stay in the Dream-state even while fully awake and alert, but the results were worth the effort.
As he ran, Keben tried to remember what time it was in Winter’s Valley. When he’d left Faerieland, it had been above Meridell and drifting towards the Lost Desert. The light and warmth there was so much different than at Terror Mountain. That he could see at all, even if it was just shifting patterns of white and gray, meant that the sun was still up. How much that meant as far as time went, the Zafara wasn’t sure. Sayang would likely know, but she wore a watch. That, to Keben, was cheating. He smiled at the snow, starting to see the warm golden glow of the village lights through the haze.
Keben released the Dream-state, staggering as Sayang’s fire left him and slowing his pace towards the village. The golden light grew stronger, and at last he reached one of the guide-ropes strung between buildings. Taking hold of it, Keben increased his pace, not minding that he was essentially walking blindly through the storm. The reward was worth it. When he reached a pole, Keben felt the knots marking where each led until he found the distinctive triple-knot Sayang used. As he began following the rope, Keben caught himself smiling. He doubted he could cull the expression, even if he wanted to.
When he reached the wooden door, Keben hesitated for a moment before opening it. Wind swirled snow in behind the Zafara, and he quickly closed the door. After shedding his coat, boots, and bag, Keben followed soft candlelight to Sayang. The rough floor caught at his thick socks, and Keben began walking more slowly. Listening for any signs of Sayang still being awake, Keben smiled as he heard the scratching of a pen.
Before entering the room Sayang was in, Keben knocked gently on the doorframe. “Hey,” he said softly.
Sayang looked up. In the candlelight, her dark eyes glittered with fire. Her goggles rested on the table she sat at, not on her head as usual. Unbound, her red hair slipped over her shoulders, one lock curling around to frame the Kyrii’s face. Her leather jacket hung on the back of her chair, and she wore loose black pants and a tight yellow-gold shirt with a red sunburst carefully embroidered above her heart. For a moment, Sayang stared at Keben. He just waited, still smiling. Then she stood, letting the chair fall to the floor with a clatter, and launched herself at him.
Keben laughed, stepping forward to catch the Kyrii. Her supple form wrapped around him, strong arms hugging him almost too tightly for him to breathe. He didn’t hold her as tightly, but that was simply because she’d trapped his arms under hers. The Zafara closed his eyes, letting the scent and feel of his friend surround him. “Remind me why I let Proteus send you off like this,” he murmured, releasing Sayang enough to see her face.
She smiled. “’Cause I’m the best we got.” She closed her eyes, leaning against him. “Nice a’ Proteus to send ya, didn’t need to.”
Pulling an arm free of hers, Keben stroked her hair. “It is.” He glanced at the table, and then said, “How long have you been awake?”
“Too long,” she muttered. “Up ‘fore dawn, work on strat’gy. Stay up, work on supply, keep up wi’ rest o’ you.”
Keben held back a sigh at the Kyrii’s old accent and her slurred words. “Thought you’d left that behind, ‘cept on special occasions.”
“This ain’t?” Sayang looked up at him with a smile. In the firelight, the shadows under her eyes were even darker, the lines beginning to mar her face more prominent. “’course it's special, Keb. You’re here.”
“Come on,” Keben said, slipping an arm under hers. “Go to sleep. I’ll still be here when the sun rises.”
“You’d better be. I’d hate for this to be a dream.”
Sayang’s speech had sharpened back to its normal state, Keben noted with amusement. He let Sayang guide him to the room she slept in and sat by the disorganized pile of patchwork bedding until he heard her breathing slow into the deep pattern of sleep. Quietly, Keben made his way back to where he’d left his bag. Reaching inside, he found a carefully wrapped package. He unwrapped it gently, and a little bit of his heart eased to see that the rose he’d carefully packaged was still intact.
Rose in hand, Keben returned to the room where he’d first found Sayang. Finding a blank sheet of paper, he used Sayang’s pen to carefully write a message in the flowing script he’d learned as a child.
It’s Valentine’s Day. Did you realize that, when I came? Is that why you stayed up? I doubt it, but I can’t be sure.
I do suspect that Proteus realized it when he sent me. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d invented a pretext to send me. But no matter what the reason, I’m glad I’m here in time for this day of all days.
You know that the fight goes on endlessly. The battles will never cease until sun and stars return to our land – our time. But know that I’m here whenever you need me. Whether you need a hug, someone to talk to, or just a place of peace in this time of war – I’ll be here for you, now and forever.
I know this isn’t much, and I know you already know this, but sometimes it’s the simple things in life that are the sweetest. The joy of being with a friend. A stolen moment of laughter. Even sleep and dreams. I know you’re busy. So am I. But let’s find the time for some simple things. It’s there. I know it is. Let’s find it, and look at the beauty of the world we’re fighting so hard to save.
Love, as always,
With a soft smile, the white Zafara placed the note and the rose both by her goggles. He contemplated the room for a moment, then righted Sayang’s chair and carefully replaced her jacket on the chair, caressing the soft leather that was almost a part of the Kyrii. When that was done, Keben blew out the candle and went in search of his own place to sleep that night.
No matter what, he’d be here when dawn came, that day and for as many days thereafter as he could. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.
It had to be.