Brin is awake without perceptible transition, lying on a stone shelf with Narregan behind her, one arm draped, sheltering her in his sleep. His breath stirs the small hairs on her neck. She shrugs his arm and pushes herself upright, feet dangling above the floor at the edge of the stone shelf. He does not awaken.
The dreamless suspension enfolding them all has lifted. Across the chamber, Jo’nas, too, slumbers. The glowb, covered but for a sliver by Jo’nas’s long coat, allows more than enough muted radiance to reconnoiter. Nearby, the two great dogs are stirring themselves, yawning, stretching.
Her fingers trace the rigid plating of Narregan’s battledress, mapping the contours of his body through its outer shell and under-armor. The august Lords of Order have surely favored her in this life, that she would be paired with this one. Of all those others with adequate prowess and aptitudes and resolute fighting spirit, none could match this one’s effortless precision, nor his gift of improvisation. She had known from the first sorting that he was worth fighting for, even if she had to fight him to ensure the binding. From that pairing evolved one of the most formidable joinings of Warrior and Guardian the U’chah Aca’chi had ever recorded.
Who else could have stood with her to breach the Oldest Enemy’s impenetrable fortress? Which of the Brethren could have faced down the Dark Nee’m in His own lair and live to tell it? What other could have prevailed against the Enemy’s most terrible ally sent to consume them? Beyond that, who could have supposed that this grave and perilous weapon would renounce his Oath of Constraint and seal with her as heart-bond? Sometimes the shifting currents of circumstance, by which ONE reveals in glimpses the ultimate mystery, are kind.
They remain enclosed within the vessel, a round-cornered, rectangular chamber hewn from native stone long before their arrival. The floor and encircling shelf are smooth, polished by frequent wear over what must have been many yonn. Carved pilasters brace heavy wooden beams which, in turn, support a high ceiling. Within it, the framed opening through which they had entered by way of a crude but sturdy ladder—no longer in evidence—remains sealed.
A cool nose shoves its way into her free hand, the brindle male. She fondles his muzzle. He rears up, forepaws on the shelf beside her, and leans down to nuzzle her face. He is a substantial individual, larger and heavier than she, easily Jo’nas’s size. She takes his rough face in her hands, tugs gently on his scruffy beard and moustaches.
“It is clear you and your mate are of our a’chi now. If we are to travel together, you will have a worthy name. I will call you Baruhl. It is the name of a Warder who went to Soulbridge many yarnn past trailing a powerful legacy. It suits you.”
The fawn bitch, hearing Brin’s communion with Baruhl, crosses the stone floor to present her tousled head for caresses.
“And you, naa’m of gentle, displaced beasts, I name Kwee. It is a sound my sister, Swon, makes in her sleep.” The memory rides upon a bittersweet smile.
Brin rises. The dogs fall in beside her. They seem restless, as is she. Something will have to be done about a familiar insistence away from this sanctified place.
Her senses open outward. The energies of living beings resonate beyond. She kneels, arms embracing both of the rumpled creatures. Now is now and whatever happens now will happen.
Air wrinkles in a way air seldom does and swirls for a turbulent instant into the space Brin and the dogs had occupied.